Fly, baby, fly!

“Can we go back to UOP tomorrow, so I can jump again?” Seth asked me.

“Not until Friday,” I told him.

“Oh,” he said. “That’s sad.”

Seth and I were cuddling on the couch, talking about all the fun he had learning to Nordic Ski Jump at Utah Olympic Park today. Because, what’s better than spending a Friday afternoon, when you’re eight, learning how to fly? I’ll tell you what’s better: Being 42, and watching your kid learn how to fly.

seth on the fly

Seth on the fly. (photo credit: Stacey Border)

I’ll admit, in the moments before he took his first run, my heart was in my throat. And then—he flew. First off the 5-meter hill, then off the 7-meter hill, and then, off the 10 meter. Like he had been doing it his whole life. I couldn’t contain my excitement. Neither could he.

 

He sure made it look that easy.

The odds may have been stacked in his favor to love it. He loves skiing, he loves the idea of getting “big air,” and one of his BFFs, Josie, has been doing it for a year, already.

IMG_0740

Check out Josie’s cool jumpsuit and nordic skis—almost as cool as that big grin she wears when she’s jumping (well, and most of the time).

She, too, fell in “love at ‘first-jump’,” according to her mom. Josie and their friend Daniel kept offering tips and encouragement to Seth.

Plus, the coach, Anders Johnson, a three-time Olympian who was the youngest Olympic Ski Jumper in history, is the son of a friend of ours. (And he’s a great guy who easily translates his love of the sport for the kids.) Um, cool much? (I sent his dad the following text, today: “Your kid coached my kid at UOP today. I’m a little farklempt.”)

Cooler, yet: Seth went to UOP as part of Park City Youth Sports Alliance Get Out and Play. See, Park City School District has half-day Fridays, and YSA offers lessons in multiple disciplines of several sports, on Friday afternoons:  skiing (alpine, nordic, alpine freestyle, nordic jumping), snowboarding (recreational and freestyle), skating (hockey, figure skating, speed skating), and more. YSA grants scholarships so that students who wouldn’t ordinarily get exposure to these lifetime sports get to play, too.  Kids are bused from school to sports venue, and back.

Parent volunteers buckle boots, adjust helmets, help the kids get themselves and their gear on and off the bus, offer snacks and the occasional comforting hug after a fall. I was one of those volunteers today: they let me run the rope tow —which was almost as cool as the time I was volunteering at the ski jumps during the Olympics, and someone told me to put a tank full of hot chocolate on my back and climb the steep stairs next to the jumps, so that I could offer the judges a cup of cocoa.

But nothing was as sweet as hearing my boy whoop and holler as he landed each jump, and then tell me how much he loves this sport.

So, after he asked, nicely, the third time, if he really had to wait until Friday, to jump again, we signed him up for the Hoppers program at UOP, so he can jump Tuesdays, too.

“I don’t care if I’m good at it or bad at it,” Seth said. “I just want to keep doing it.”

IMG_0741

This grin—proof of fun.

 

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Gratitude, Dammit.

I don’t make a conscious decision to be grateful every day. Gratitude is a fact of my life. Every morning that Jeff gets up to take the dogs out, make sure the espresso machine is warming up, and gives me a time-check so I get out of bed on time, I’m grateful. For that matter, every morning he doesn’t do it, because he’s away working, I am grateful for the days he’s home. Every time he plays the piano, we have a family sing-along, we enjoy a meal together, my kids come home from school and tell me about it—I’m grateful. And health? Don’t get me started. Even a paper cut is a gift, after facing down an endocrine disease.

But I spent a solid 20 minutes, Thanksgiving morning, silently condemning myself for being  mad about a fireplace. Because what I just wrote, above, is the tip of the iceberg of the aspects of my life that deserve my thanks. I mean, what the actual fuck—so many blessings, one minor inconvenience.

But,  (whine, whine) our new, highly-touted, not inexpensive fireplace wouldn’t turn on, for the third time in a month and the second time in a week. I’m not someone who needs things picture-perfect, but it didn’t seem like a lot to ask that the damn thing work when we hosted Thanksgiving dinner. After all, the service guy had been here Tuesday. It worked for six hours. And on a chilly Thanksgiving morning, I found myself emailing the dealer, tweeting the manufacturer and giving myself shit for doing so.

Maybe I would have been less pissy, overall, And more inclined to hold my complaint until after the holiday, if my interactions with the owner of the company that sold me the unit had been better. (He never apologizes, makes excuses, and trips all over himself to justify poor customer service. Um, you’re a fireplace company, so no need to mansplain to me that the cold season is your busy season; but do let me know why you’re telling me how many techs you employ when it’s clearly not enough to meet the demands of your business. Please. I’m not yet at the point where I’m willing to drag the company’s name through the mud. I have faith this will be resolved.)

Still, trying to square the incongruity of material discontent on a day of gratitude was not my idea of a good time. So, I dispensed my electronic complaints—conscious that I could be grateful, too, for the ability to express myself, succinctly—and threw myself into the true warmth of the holiday:

First stop: Pie Breakfast, in which five families bake 90 pies and invite the whole town. It’s a fifteen year-old tradition that each of the five used to take turns hosting in their home, but has grown so big it’s now at Hugo Coffee, fittingly, in the town’s visitor welcome center.

Next, to the market for some last-minute ingredients, then home to prepare for our dinner. IMG_0319

I set the table, had Seth decorate the place cards, and then set about being the bottle washer to Jeff’s Chief Cook role. And what a player:

By the time our guests arrived—each bearing bags heavy with side dishes, dessert, and even more flowers, we were overwhelmed with gratitude for the ability to create a warm, delicious meal for our friends. The trappings of the friendships represented at our table were reason enough to be grateful. We had a family who are new to the United States, new to Park City, and new to our lives, and it felt great to welcome them to our home. The other folks, Keith and Shari, we’ve known since our first year of Park City—whereupon we discovered that Jeff and Shari knew each other in childhood, in New York.

And, as is our custom, Jeffrey settled in to play the piano after dinner. The minute he played the first notes of “A Thousand Years,” by Christina Perri, Seth materialized by his side, to sing it.

It’s Friday afternoon as I type this. The damn fireplace isn’t on, still, but as we listen to The Piano Guys’ new album, their version of A Thousand Years, comes on—it’s our first listen, so a pleasant surprise—and Seth starts singing from his watercolor-painting perch in the kitchen, I’m warmed by gratitude.

 

Has Mass Media Turned Us Into Label Mongers? [TEDx SaltLakeCity]

On a recent afternoon, I found myself in an airport boarding lounge with a certain swath of humanity. Flying from hub to hub, as I do, there are usually a fair number of nationalities and cultures represented on the passenger manifest. This day was no different. Soldiers in uniform. Women in saris. Middle-aged white men whose button-down shirts strained against their midsections. Middle-aged white women wearing capri pants and colorful t-shirts, sensible haircuts and sensible shoes. Young families. Children and adults with special needs. Buff, sporty guys. College students. Business women and men of varying ethnicities. Young families. Grown men who were calling out to each other from across the room, in recognition. “Yo, let’s crack open a couple of beers on the flight!” And the guy who stood in front of me, so close that it seemed that he had determined, from his perch of 6’5″, that my 5’1″ stature indicated that I required less personal space than he did. Taking in Mr. SpaceHog and the Dude-Brahs yammering on about their beers, I suppressed a chuckle, and shot a quick text to my husband. “In honor of the pending return of “Flight of the Conchords,” to TV, I’m gathering material for my series, ‘Flight of the Douchebags.'” Boom, right there, I had reduced the flying public to one label, one caricature. I watched as we all boarded the plane, and settled ourselves.

Once aboard, people were, in fact, polite, respectful and self-effacing as they interacted with their seat-mates. “You’re stuck with me,” one man joked to another. “I’m in the wrong middle seat,” confided the man sitting next to me. “Maybe I can get away with it.” Then, unable to perpetrate a minor breach of social contract, he moved. A woman in a sari walked past, trailing a lovely perfume after her. A soldier settled into a nearby seat, his posture rigid and perfect, his diction clear and polite as he answered inquiries from his own seat mate. Collectively, at the suggestion of the flight attendant, we applauded the members of the military who were flying with us. Truth be told, she didn’t even get to the end of her sentence—”We have several members of the military on board, so would you join me in a round of applause?”— before the passengers burst into spontaneous applause. At once, we were more than the sum of our parts, we were more than the individual nationalities and ethnicities and agendas and schedules among us—we were a grateful public. I’d been reading horror stories about people having ugly confrontations on planes—from the religious conflicts on El Al flights to Israel, to the personal-space seat-back debacles that had made the news here. There were ethnic slurs that reportedly disrupted another flight. I was, to be honest, a little nervous about the way others might behave on the flight. Nothing untoward materialized. This isn’t always the case, and people, in moments of acute fear in the cultural consciousness, tend to express it more. This flight wasn’t happening in one of these moments. But I remember the way people behaved a little more than a decade ago, when our nation was gripped by the fear of worst-case scenarios. Hell, even now, watching HOMELAND, we’re asking ourselves to question how to manage our fear of “others,” and which of our collective trust issues need to be confronted.

In this TEDx talk, my friend Bassam talks about his experience as an Arab-American, how immigrating from Egypt to America changed his life—and even precipitated changing the way he asked others to address him, so that he was able to make others comfortable with the idea that he’s more like other Americans than not. One piece of this includes what happened as he was boarding a plane in late 2001—and how his presence, his appearance, made the other passengers uncomfortable. He’ll make this point as part of a larger point—just watch—but it reminded me that the flying public, and the public in general, is often battling against greater undercurrents than whether people will feel inclined toward politeness. If we feel threatened by other people, how much of that threat is influenced by the media we consume? How much of it is about perception, rather than the reality of a multi-cultural society of people just trying to make it home in time for dinner with their families, to spend time with their friends, to meet their work deadlines?

I thought about the ways in which my thinking toward my fellow passengers had shifted in the space of a few minutes. In the tension-filled moments during the boarding calls, I needed labels—and humor—to keep my wits about me. As the relief of reaching our assigned seats took hold, there was a sudden solidarity among us—spurred on by the flight attendant’s suggestion that we do something small, but meaningful, together.

As I watched Bassam’s talk, and he urged his audience to “triangulate the truth,” I realized that it’s not only good advice for media consumption, but for our own thought processes. It feels like a smart challenge to listen carefully to the ways in which we assign value to ideas, and what notions in our own minds we need to challenge with a new perspective.

Bassam’s experience and perspective—on lots of topics—are things I am fortunate to hear and learn about over dinners and lazy afternoons that our families spend together in and near our homes in our town. I’d heard a lot of these ideas, in different conversations, before. But hearing it as a cohesive, thought-provoking presentation is a privilege. Watch. Think. React. And tell me what your take-away is in the comments.

Against the Herd

TEDx

I dedicate this talk to –and in honor of– my parents, Toudy & Suma,
who taught me to be a citizen of the world,
to be critical-thinking and non-conformist,
and, most importantly,
to be empathetic to and stand up for the plight of others.
I owe the person I’ve become to them.

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Running with Ed

I will do anything—anything—to support education. And, as it turns out, so will tons of my fellow Park City residents. I’m not talking about endless hours of school volunteering, committee meetings, homework help, or even schlepping around town to tutoring sessions. Many, many of us do that, too. But we all turned out on Saturday in teams of five-10 humans of varying age ranges, for Running with Ed, a 38-mile relay that passes every school in the district, plus a few other scenic spots. Created by the Park City Education Foundation, the race raises hundreds of thousands of dollars to support programs in our awesome school district.

Go, Team! Powered By Proforma, ready to race

Go, Team! Powered By Proforma, ready to race

 

Let me tell you this: I never run more than 5 miles in a day. So, as I recruited a team—including my kids, another family with two kids, and our friends Kathy and Mel—I looked for a mix of fun people who would take on legs of varying length. I committed to a 5.15 mile leg of the race, from City Park to Treasure Mountain Junior High School. Which sounded fine to me, until mid-leg, when I realized I would be climbing FOREVER AND A DAY through a mountain trail in the blazing midday sun. Thankfully, I got to share a few strides with my friend Carey (who smoked my sorry butt, but whatever), which made the run more fun. But, I digress. I was in awe when my friend Kerrie said she’d run two legs, back-to-back, and do an extra mile with all the kids. And when my pal Kathy said, she’d way rather run the short, impossibly steep, leg up to Utah Olympic Park.

Like everyone, we had our pre-game rituals—ours included running behind schedule, forgetting hats and going back to fetch them, eating bagels in the car on the way to meet the rest of the team, plus some impromptu breakdancing.

Pump up the jam!

Pump up the jam!

The team spirit of the event—not just our team, but all the teams, exchange station sponsors, race volunteers, spectators around town—blew me away. As Jeff said, “It felt like a block party for the whole town!” One where the official food is donuts. No joke—donuts were featured extensively at every exchange station. Plus, candy, orange slices and water. Our friends at Educational Advantage offered dozens of Krispy Kremes, for instance. At Trailside Elementary School, there was sparkling cider in plastic wine glasses. Teams had elaborate costumes. I ran behind one woman in a demure tutu (thank you Pink Tutu Lady for keeping me going), alongside a woman in a bumblebee-striped t-shirt, behind a man in camo base layers, that, perhaps, were not the most well-thought-out costume. As I jogged behind one runner in this getup, I dubbed his thin shorts, “TMI shorts.” Sorry, dude—maybe a base layer under your base layer next year?

We hooted and hollered at various decorated vehicles, like this one.

DSC_1196 DSC_1211

Cheers! (Fizzy-juice style)

Cheers! (Fizzy-juice style)

We giggled at the presence of a limo, provided by a sponsor to the team who raised the most money in the weeks leading up to the race:

Relay in style

Relay in style

 

At each leg, the rest of the team picked a spot to meet the running members and escort them into the exchange point. It wasn’t planned—I decided to go meet Lance and his pal as they approached Ecker Hill Middle School, then the kids decided together to run the last 50 yards of the killer Olympic Park hill with Kathy. Our kid-led runs included the leg from Jeremy Ranch Elementary School to Ecker Hill Middle School, Park City Mountain Resort to City Park, and Trailside Elementary School to the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse at Newpark.

Running up Utah Olympic Park Hill with Kathy

Running up Utah Olympic Park Hill with Kathy

 

And, then, we made a “thing” of it. Here we are with Mel…

Running with Ed, Running with Mel

Running with Ed, Running with Mel

 

And then my boys and I found a way to run the last mile or so with our teammates, and gathered a few more team members to cross the finish line, together.

Woooooot!!!!

Woooooot!!!!

Our family’s business, Proforma Peak Printing and Promotions, is a race sponsor. We created the step-and-repeat where teams pose for pre- and post-race photos, the route guidance signs that keep runners headed in the right direction, the lawn signs that racers place in their yards, declaring, “I’m Running with Ed!”

Look how much fun we had—and how cute we look in front of that step-and-repeat! We even did a few other projects—like team running shirts for a few clients, and the swag bags for the event. As the de-facto team captain, I was too distracted by, you know, all the other things I do in a day, to order screen-printed t-shirts, so I did the next-best-thing (or maybe even the better thing) and had the kids decorate our team shirts. They designed the logo—a battery—and wrote “Powered by Proforma” on the back of each shirt. Very cute.

We finished! (Two team members departed early for a birthday party!)

We finished! (Two team members departed early for a birthday party!)

This Ragnar-sponsored event, has a home-grown feel. Though, as a non-competitive runner—really, seriously, I have such short legs and small feet, that I look like a cartoon character, blurry from the waist down, when I run—I had to say, it was cool to see the actual athletes glide by me with their perfect runner form, and still yell out, “Good Job!” as they passed me. Our town takes a lot of pride in this event, and it shows. In fact, when Mel took me to a hot yoga class at our neighborhood studio, Tadasana, the next day, the instructor gave the event a nice shout-out. “Who ran? Show of hands?” she asked, before we began. “Thank you for supporting our kids’ education! Let’s stretch those hips!”

Here’s a cool video recap of the event, from Park City Television. For the record, the editor of this video had access to footage of me, mugging for the camera, arms raised in victory, looking like I was absolutely enjoying the endless hill. You will see, at about 00:58, that the editor made the choice to show, well, a different perspective.

Any way you slice it, the day rocked.

(all photos courtesy Jeffrey Rothchild)

S@&t working moms say

Twice in two days, I was struck by the hilarity of the juggle.

First, a chat with my friend, ski coach and favorite congressional candidate, Donna, about why we can’t seem to do one thing at a time, and how frustrated we feel about doing things only partly to our standards. We live fragmented lives, and hope for the best.

Then, the next morning, I haul my butt to the gym. The butt is tired. It did TRX on Monday (ouch), spin on Tuesday, in which its buddy and neighbor, the lower back got tweaked, and then skied itself into oblivion on Wednesday. There was a twisted ankle at some point in the ski day, and I resolved to keep my butt in a chair for one day.

I am not good at the whole butt-in-the-chair thing—sometimes I write while standing up. And in order to write (butt-in-chair activity of choice and necessity), I must have my brain turned on. Which only happens if I exercise, first thing. Sadly, I don’t exercise before I get dressed. More on that, in a moment.

Anyhoo, I was attempting to take the day “off” from exercise. Which meant I was not going to attend my friend Keri’s “Buns and Guns” class. This involves many squats, lunges, curls, flys, and plyometric jumping. It is an aggressive, grueling 75 minute workout. And I love it. But, on this day, I would simply rock the elliptical ARC machine in the cardio loft. Keri pulled into the parking space next to mine, and we headed for the loft, together. We hopped on adjacent machines. We chatted. She looked at me, her expression a little bit off—”I didn’t eat breakfast. I don’t feel right. I’m going to grab a snack.”

This is not unusual—she’s a busy working mom. Meals get skipped. It happens. She returned, fed.

“Why don’t you just drink a smoothie?” I asked, after she explained that breakfast had fallen victim to the morning rush of trying to sign forms, write checks, and all the other crap we have to do in order to ship our children off to school in the morning, prepared.

“That’s the funny thing. I made one for them. But not for me,” she said.

And then, she looked at me. Really looked.

“Um, did you know your t-shirt is on, inside-out?”

“No. But that doesn’t shock me. I can’t think until I’ve exercised. And, apparently, getting dressed requires thought.”

“Shoot, you’re ahead of me: You ate breakfast.:

And, scene.

Juice Fast, Schmuice Fast….I Want a Burger!

It started out innocently enough. Or, perhaps, not innocently, at all. My kids got sick.

Obviously, there was only one thing to do: I bought enough produce to feed an army, and then I set out to puree it into a variety of tasty combinations. It was my reflexive response to both children falling ill on the second Monday of the new year.

Salad in a glass

Salad in a glass

After the strep cultures (one positive, one not yet positive), there was a prescription to be filled, and a request for yogurts, and for chicken soup. Which I was more than happy to make, from scratch, because it’s one of the few things I do well, always.

As I chopped, sautéed, simmered, and stirred, I thought: Immunity. Must. Boost. Immunity. This would be my own kind of Survivor challenge—husband away for the week, children sick and hanging out ON MY PILLOWS in my bed, Sundance Film Festival looming. I would make many juices and shakes, in an effort to scare germs away.

Then, my dear pal Florida Keys Girl posted, on Facebook, that she wished she were the type of person who liked kale smoothies. I felt, in that moment, fortunate (and a little sorry for her). I LOVE kale smoothies. I like to drink my lunch—most of a salad, plus some protein powder and almond milk, and I’m good. It’s quick, effective, and I can sip while I work. Salad requires two hands (or one hand and more coordination than I posses), and a table. A smoothie is a one-handed operation, to be executed anywhere. The couch, the car. I can type and sip. I can drive and sip. And I am easily distracted. Often, I make a salad and forget to finish it. I’m not like this at breakfast or dinner, mind you. I like to eat. But lunch is hard–it’s a flow-stopper. One would argue (and I have argued) that the midday meal should be savored, enjoyed and treated like a proper break, a mental reset, if you will.

But, seriously, I don’t have time for that. So, I drink my lunch. And, yes, dear reader, it would be more fun to drink, say, martinis, for lunch. Or wine. Florida Keys Girl makes this point even more persuasively, by the way.

But I have to drive places in the middle of the day. So.

Anyhoo, I set out to follow this one-day Juice Cleanse. It had shown up in my e-mail, because health writers get those sorts of things in our e-mail in-boxes. Nevertheless, a juice cleanse is something I never, ever thought I would do. When other people announced their juice cleanse intentions, I would say things like, “I like food.” But I was starting it in the middle of the day. So, I reasoned, I could make half a go of it. So, I had about half the juices and smoothies (“Dad,” said Lance to Jeff on the phone, later. “She was running the blender, ALL DAY!”), and then I made soup for the kids, and decided I should eat some. Hey, it was liquid. With noodles. Yum. Of course, because I’d only half-cleansed, I was still hungry. So I had grape nuts. And almond milk. Which is a smoothie ingredient. Which is good for you, right? Right.

Grape Nuts in Almond Milk = smoothie? Maybe not.

Grape Nuts in Almond Milk = smoothie? Maybe not.

The next day, I made another round of smoothies and juices. All hail the Blendtec. These juices were filling, I figured, because I had not used a juicer to get rid of much of the fiber. Yes, I thought. I can do this. Then, for dinner, I made quiche for the kids, and, well, eggs are liquid until they’re cooked, so I ate some. And the roasted fingerling potatoes. Because, vegetables have a lot of water in them, so same diff.

Still, I couldn’t help notice that the Juice Cleanse had some mojo.

People, over those first days, there was, I dare say….a lot of peeing. Wow. Who KNEW? By the second morning, I found myself feeling decidedly not bloated. Which was sort of a surprise, because I hadn’t realized that I was bloated, at all, in the first place. Maybe this had some merit. Especially since running the infirmary here at the Rothchild Ranch had 86’d my gym workouts for the week. And (the ultimate insult) my Wednesday ski clinic. Anyway, I figured that not-bloated-feeling meant my two half-days were adding up to something. Then, a three-day cleanse came into my in-box. And I thought…maybe I can do this. I could try to do three full days, next. Or maybe two—since I had the equivalent of one day under my belt. Hmmm….

Day three as Nurse Mommy—one child goes back to school, the other does not. I make my morning smoothie. And then, I make a green juice–my favorite from the previous day. Avocado. Broccoli, kale, chard, arugula, lemon.

there's broccoli in them there smoothies

there’s broccoli in them there smoothies

Then, a berry smoothie. The cleanse instructions say you’re not supposed to wait more than two hours between smoothies (Courses?). But this is my issue—I can’t remember to stop working to eat lunch most days. Hence, the salad smoothie at 2:50 pm, most days. So, I got three drinks in eight hours, not six, and then I had a big gap in the hours that consisted of: pick up kid, collect assignments for other kid, pick up antibiotic for second kid who FINALLY got a strep diagnosis confirmed, buy more smoothie ingredients, unload said ingredients into fridge, prepare snacks for kids, take healthier kid to karate, call spouse on business trip….HOURS, and no food. Nothing but the smell of burgers grilling at the bar next to karate. Suddenly, there were no other foods in the world that seemed as appealing as a burger. Still, I went home, I made up for lost time, sort of. Green juice with celery, spinach and cucumber. Then, coconut water, berries and protein powder.

Then, while helping a child with homework, I roasted the remaining head of kale. Because it’s yummy. And I couldn’t blend another damn thing.

Kale, chewable version. How novel.

Kale, chewable version. How novel.

More peeing. I must be doing something right. Except there are four drinks left unmade in my day. And I’m good at juice cleansing until 10 pm. Which is, I’m told, a very bad time to eat. There is actual food in the fridge. Things I could chew, swallow. Feel in my belly. Enjoy. I’m all for this. Except—I’m feeling, good. Energized. Plus, I don’t want to feel bloated. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling that the only juice worth drinking is grape–aged grape juice. From Napa. Or Sonoma. Or Burgundy. Or the Loire Valley. Or Trader Joe’s in any other state than Utah. (I can hear my pal, grapefriend, cheering madly from the bleachers.)

I’m pretty sure that I’ve confirmed that I cannot live on salad smoothies, alone. But I’m glad I have this little weapon in my arsenal—fun new recipes, and a nice little pick-me-up to remind me why I should not eat too many burgers.

All of which just underscores my favorite mantra: Everything in moderation. Including moderation.

In which I meet the Baker Twins—and get inspired

You guys—the coolest things happened during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. No, I did not meet Robert Redford (this time). I did not hang out with Zach Braff, or Kate Hudson. Instead, I got surprised by a film and some very cool up-and-coming talent—and inspired to push my own creative endeavors, further (more on that in another post). THIS is what Makes. My. Sundance. It’s the week when I have my choice of films that may never see a mainstream movie theater. And the week when I get to meet interesting producers and directors just standing in line. The week in which I always say, “Yes,” to interviewing an actor I’ve never heard of.

Enter, Shauna Baker, from a film called Drunktown’s Finest. Like Braff’s film, it was funded, in part by a Kickstarter campaign. Unlike Braff’s film, it was inspired by a story on ABC’s 20/20 that reported on Gallup, NM as “Drunktown, USA,” because of the high incidence of alcoholism and crime rooted in the nearby Navajo reservation. Filmmaker Sydney Freedland, who grew up on that reservation, made the film to highlight the struggles of coming of age in such challenging circumstances. Her presentation was artful—because while the circumstances these characters face may seem dire and hopeless, the overriding message is one of strength, resilience and community.

A few hours after screening the film, I met the Baker twinsImage

Shauna has a sister, Shannon, and they have built their careers together. The twins were born in the Stellat’en First Nation Reservation, as part of the Carrier Dene Tribe in British Columbia. I set out to get their perspective on why this is an important film—but I got a great chat on lots of topics, ranging from Cross-Fit (“You have to go to an all-women’s gym,” Shauna explained, in a no-nonsense manner. “It’s all about empowering each other. And you have to eat Paleo—which is basically how we grew up eating—or else you’ll bulk up.”) to building a successful acting career. (“I got my degree in business,” Shauna explains. “So from the start, I knew we’d have to treat this like a business.”)

These are women who can hunt and fish—and clean the animals they have killed—but cannot speak their tribe’s native language. “Our grandmother speaks it, but it’s a dying dialect,” explains Shauna. “She’s the one who insisted we go to college. It was a priority in our household.”

It’s that blend of tradition and modernity—an understanding of the value of both—that has led them where they are. “It was my dream to be in entertainment,” Shauna says. “But I didn’t know how to do it, and Shannon was the one who said, ‘Let’s do this, together,’ We can figure it out.”

I didn’t know how else to ask, so I just put it out there: Did their teamwork approach, the fact that they have each other, help them succeed in life “off the rez?”

Their answer was unequivocal—and practically in unison. “Without a doubt,” they said.

Interestingly, the interview could well have been for a business magazine, as the women detailed their strategy for creating their careers. Their story is equal parts bootstrapping discipline and adventurous moxie. “When we were first booking modeling jobs, we had a “business line” which was our only phone line,” Shauna says. “So when people called, they thought they were talking to our agent or an assistant, not us—it made negotiating our rates so much easier.”

Some modeling gigs followed, then an appearance on Tyra Banks’ talk show, a “fluke” of a role on Smallville—“And then I said, let’s try acting,” Shannon says, making it sound for all the world like a whim. It’s clearly anything but. “Being at Sundance just gives us the opportunity to be around talented people, to inspire us to work on our craft, more,” Shauna explains. “That’s what people don’t get—it’s not luck, it’s work, it’s dedication.”

So, tell me, when is the last time you were inspired to improve at something? What’s the “Sundance” in your life that gets your creativity flowing, your drive rebooted?

Zombie Boy

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Let this spookerific photo be evidence of an over-scheduled child…

This is what a five year-old boy looks like after a jam-packed morning. 9 am karate tournament, 10 am basketball game, 11am birthday party with bounce houses. (Ok, he didn’t really turn into a zombie; the birthday featured the considerable–and heretofore unknown to me–face-painting talents of my friend Belinda.

Somehow, he still has enough energy left to zombie-chase his beleaguered older brother around the house.

Happy Halloweeeeeek…
(yes, we narrowly escaped being drafted into a spooky 5k at the field house & are planning our errands to avoid the trick or treat madness at the outlet mall…)

Photos from bball and karate to follow…

Sad, sad day

I was thinking about scaffolding today. A piece of mine has fallen apart, and I’ve been struggling to make sense of it. If you’re very lucky, as I am, you have a core group of friends, and the community around you as external support–but the strength of that communal support often comes from the friends who aren’t the every-day contacts, but those you see with some regularity, more by happenstance, or by shared circumstance, than by design.

This morning, I learned that Debbie, a woman I’d become friendly with in the years I’ve been a mother, died of cancer. We’d spent many hours together—sitting on the sidelines at toddler soccer, mucking about at mommy-and-me gymnastics, dancing and singing with our kids in music class, chatting in the nursery of the church where the class met, bumping into each other at events and activities. I wasn’t part of her inner circle of friends—though I count many of them as my friends, too. But she and I were part of each other’s scaffolding—serving as part of each other’s extended support network, often acting as sounding boards as we wrestled with school choices, parenting dilemmas, vacation plans, family-of-origin dynamics, childhood stories. You can cover a lot of ground without ever going to the mall together, or attending each other’s birthday dinners.

When I learned she was ill, I offered up some concrete ways in which I might be helpful. “I know you have your close circle to meet a lot of your needs. But know, too, that I go to the supermarket nearly daily, and that if you run out of orange juice, I will pick it up for you,” I wrote in an email. “I’ve been on the receiving end of well-intentioned offers of general help, and couldn’t ever muster to figure out what I needed.” She’d asked me for prayers, and I said, yes, of course. I told her, too, that as much as I enjoyed hearing from her, I didn’t need a reply. Of course, she wrote back, with a matter-of-fact explanation of her treatment options, which had changed. “I’m looking for a doctor who will prescribe chemotherapy that will buy me time—anything more than a year.” Reading that broke my heart, even as I felt inspired by (and understood completely) her fierce determination to spend as much time as possible with her family.

I can promise you, the very least interesting piece of information about Debbie is that she died too young of a horrible, aggressive cancer. What I liked, admired and enjoyed about Debbie was the way she lived—interested in everything, reading, running, thinking. She lived well and fully, immersed herself in her daughters’ world, in the warmth of her church community. She was utterly devoted to her girls, her husband, her family life. There was a glow about her, a warmth that emanated from her heart (and, perhaps, explained the unseasonably warm, golden weather we have had the last couple of afternoons). She mothered with the kind of strength that we all hope for, the kind of faith and belief that we should all strive for.

Debbie amazed me—our conversations revealed a mix of pragmatism and spirit, centeredness, studiousness and spunk. Before she became ill, she and her husband took a trip to Paris. Grandparents flew in from out-of-state to stay with the girls. I remember feeling totally impressed by her plans, and, also, slightly mystified. I remember saying, “You’ll never regret a week in Paris with your husband,” while thinking that I could not even consider trying to pull off such an endeavor. It seemed (to me), that Paris could wait for some season, a long time from now, when my kids are older. Today, I was thinking, maybe, on some level, she felt a sense of urgency. Maybe people who are with us for less time than you’d expect them to be are gifted with the innate understanding that the time for Paris is now.

Today, before I learned that she’d passed away, I was out for a walk with a close friend whose daughter plays soccer with Debbie’s daughter. “I just feel silly getting wrapped up in my own problems,” she said to me. “Look at what Debbie has faced—it makes me feel silly for getting bogged down by daily life.”

I thought for a moment—I’d been wrestling with similar thoughts for weeks, and, yesterday, the inner struggle was so intense, but nameless, so that when someone remarked that I lacked my usual spunk, I couldn’t pinpoint why. I’d tried to chalk it up to being tired. It wasn’t until I heard from a friend that Debbie was struggling, that I understood my uneasiness. Still, I couldn’t settle my mind. Now, I could: “You know, I think it’s disrespectful to Debbie—and the life she has led—to think like that,” I ventured. “Don’t you think she’d give anything to be around for more months or years of fretting over her kids’ well-being, feeling frustrated by school, or messy rooms, or just plain being there for them?” I’d been up late the night before, talking through some fourth-grade angst with my son, even as I had a looming deadline. “I sat there with him and felt so honored that he wanted to talk to me about it all,” I explained. “And I felt so grateful that I could be there, that nothing else mattered.” Even in my frustration that I couldn’t solve the problems for him, that I doubted if I was getting through to him, I understood that what mattered was my being there. It goes further than the urgent entreaties to hug your loved ones, to savor every moment, that I was tempted to post on Facebook last night. They didn’t capture the meaning I was trying to divine from the details.

I can’t know what she would give for another day, how she felt, and what kind of peace she found in preparing herself and her family for the fact that they’ll need to find a new normal, without her.

But, today, it was clear to me that the best way to honor her life is to continue to be part of its scaffolding. I reached out to her closest friends, people who are also my friends, to offer condolences, support, hugs. The calls were equal parts instinct and thought. “I’m calling to check on you,” I said to one friend’s voicemail. “I’m here for you, and I am thinking of you and I will see you later today.” I assumed I would see her—we are usually at school pickup together. I bumped into that friend in the hall at school an hour later, both of us there to have lunch with our kids and take them to the book fair. We exchanged a look. I felt, in that moment, that we were, inadvertently, honoring Debbie by going to lunch at book fair week; it was, perhaps, something she might have liked to do, too. As we walked, my friend mouthed “Thank you,” above her daughter’s head. “I love you,” I mouthed back—which seemed not at all strange under the circumstances. We’re not that kind of friends, but we both understand love and how it lifts you up. I meant that. Love, I knew, might help. She broke away from her daughter’s class for a moment, crossed the hall and grabbed me in a hug. “That was such a surprise,” she said. “It meant a lot to get your message.”

“I had to call,” I explained. “I’m here for you.” Tears welled up for both of us;  she reached for her sunglasses that had been pushed on top of her head. “Time for my glasses again.” I texted another friend, and I asked her to make time soon to share her favorite stories of Debbie. I shared the news with a few others. These connections meant a lot to me today—I’m feeling the loss, and I knew it would mean something to those who loved her best, to know that they were not alone, that her life meant a lot to many people, and that her relationships with them were worthy of condolences from every corner.

It’s part of what makes scaffolding so strong. I’m so grateful Debbie Cheng was part of mine. I hope she knew how many of us were truly grateful for her presence, her friendship. I know her husband and their daughters will be the beneficiaries of all this scaffolding, the support of the families who loved Debbie, and who love them. I hope, too, the girls will grow up to have the kind of central support she had, and the kind of scaffolding their mom shared with so many of us. I wish only peace and comfort to those who knew and loved her best.

Rest in peace, my friend. You are, already, missed.

(P.S. I welcome comments, below, from anyone who knew Debbie and wishes to share memories, here.)

Halloween Helpers

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Our neighbors have four children whom we have watched fly from their nest, one by one. By the time we moved here, they were deep enough into the rituals of parenthood, that they knew the importance of creating a village on our block. Their teenagers each had the benefit of our watchful gaze. That is, they had the threat of such a thing. We were not yet parents when Sue started calling to say, “We are going out of town…the kids are staying. You’ll keep a eye out?” For what, we had no clue. But we agreed. Then, when Lance was born, Sue helped launch the next generation’s village. She threw a shower for him, and our neighbor’s newborn daughter. Their birthdays are days apart. They are the kind of friends who, without question, “get” each other. Little Brother worships his big bro’s sweet pal, and her older sister, who babysits them.

Today, as our neighbor’s daughter and son-in-law were flying across the country from the East Coast, to visit with their infant son, Sue invited the four younger kids to help decorate the house for Halloween.

Let me explain something: Utah takes Halloween seriously. No one more so than
Sue. She and her husband preside over the type of silly haunted house that attracts people from the Salt Lake Valley to visit. And, for several years, now, these four kids have gotten to participate in the decorating–and in adding to the atmosphere on Halloween.

I’m grateful. These neighbors, these dear friends, are giving our kids the kinds of memories they’ll keep always. And, I suspect, they are giving our kids the message that they watch out for them, cheer for them, share sadness when it comes. But today was just plain fun.