Distilled to Beauty

Posted by julie on Thursday, 12 January 2017, 5:43

Yesterday, I found out that an author whose work inspires mine is dying of an inoperable brain tumor. While I’ve wondered if my headaches were due to something serious, his migraines have actually been caused by a brain tumor. For the past year, before I write, I’ve been reading a poem or essay of his—any poem or essay—as inspiration. His way of crafting words into moving pictures, of taking an apparently mundane moment and reminding me of its singular value, reminds me how much beauty is possible.

I wish I didn’t feel like cancer had just run ramshackle through last year. Three friends under 50 died of cancer in 2016. The 37-year-old runner. The 43-year-old artist. The 49-year-old dancer. One left a 2-year-old, one two teenagers. I suppose if I had to find the significance in all this—not really the point, but something positive—it would be that I know all three of them distilled their lives to places of beauty and love in their last months. Surrounded by friends, doing only what inspired them, they had figured out the essence of how they wanted to live.

Their lives and deaths are not lessons. As a human, though, struggling to find some meaning, I can find much. I can choose to live differently. I can spread as much love as I can—inviting others over, helping friends and family who are struggling. I can decide to just create—spending time making beautiful things. I can forgive—moving on from perceived past injustices. I can live as much as my friends did—finding and moving with their passions. Eventually, I hope to leave those I love with memories—sharing laughter, kindnesses, moments, saying “yes” to my children.

I can also leave the world more beautiful than I found it. In this time of political furor, it’s going to take a whole hell of a lot of beauty to overcome the ugliness that’s on the horizon. So, every day, I really have no choice but to do the small things. I must do the work. For my friends, for family, for myself, I must help to create something beautiful.

‘Tis the Season—for Baked Goods

Posted by julie on Monday, 5 December 2016, 10:47

Bouche de Noel

Our kitchen has been toasty and sweet-smelling for the last couple of weeks. From pumpkin biscuits to cranberry-orange scones to Elena’s special shortbready sugar cookies to holiday cupcakes and a bûche de Noël, we have quite literally kept the home fires burning.

Above is our first attempt at a bûche de Noël, or yule log. I baked and rolled it, using this recipe (see my photos at the bottom of this post for my notes on the recipe). Elena and I decorated it the morning it was to be won at a cake walk. We’re so happy it turned out so well, because we didn’t have a back-up plan! We’re quite proud, really. The shelf mushrooms were Elena’s idea, and they really sell it, I think. We sprinkled the iced cake with Wilton green sugar, along with powdered sugar. The mushrooms have Pirouline stems with vegan marshmallow tops sprinkled with cocoa powder. The birds (and plate) were dollar store finds.

Then, for her matinee Elf Jr. performance yesterday, E and I made and decorated cupcakes (from a box; a girl only has so much time).


I follow in Mom’s footsteps: holiday baking really can get you in the holiday spirit!





First and Last Backpack of the Season: Divide Lake

Posted by julie on Monday, 10 October 2016, 12:08




Is it October? Are the windows of sunshine short and powerful and even more precious after days of rain? Then it’s time to go backpacking before that window closes for good! For our first and last backpack of the season, we hiked to Divide Lake, nestled under Mt. Yoran (yes, there were lots of urine jokes) and just northwest of Diamond Peak in Oregon’s Diamond Peak Wilderness.


My all-time favorite mountain, Diamond Peak, displaying it’s early-season mantle of snow.
The contrails were quite persistent this weekend, which happens, I’ve read, when the stratosphere is humid.

Our trip was sandwiched between a dance class and a soccer game, so, door-to-door, we were gone 24 hours. Even more notably, I don’t think we heard a single complaint, even though Elena’s grown-up-sized backpack was digging into her shoulders.


Elena pointing out the beautiful fall color of the huckleberries

The hike to Divide Lake is 3.7-4 miles with 1000-1200 feet of elevation gain, depending on your source. We forgot any real trail motivators–jelly beans or sour gummy candy–but the kids stayed motivated by coming up with silly book titles and authors. This started with Urine Lake, by I.P. Freely; my favorite, however, was Coyotes, by J.K. Howling.

Most of the uphill to Divide Lake is in the middle mile and a half, so the last ridge walk is a welcome and beautiful cruise into the lake. New snow near the lake meant damp socks, snowballs, and cold fingers! We ran into more people on this beautiful October day (five day-hikers and two backpackers) than we usually see on a summer weekend in Oregon. The backpackers, camped at Divide Lake, had shortened their trip after realizing that there’s already real snow in the mountains.

Once we found a campsite, layered up, and set up our tents, we grabbed our headlamps and headed to an outcrop overlooking the lake, where we ate our take-out burritos as the sky darkened.


Why don’t we have campfires more often?

At 5 a.m., Sylvan coaxed me out of my tent to come sleep under the stars with him. He saw an impressive 11 meteorites before falling back to sleep (We realized before we left town that the Draconids meteor shower would be in full swing, so we knew to be on the lookout.).


Managed to get the bathing suit on, even though the temperature was in the 30s


But this kid is tougher than Mom. He actually swam in the lake, despite the sun still being behind the ridge!

A superb trip. This spot’s a keeper, and so is my beautiful family, with a husband who said, “Yes, let’s go backpacking” (even though we had just 24 hours), and held me to it and kids who are just plain fun and awesome. Oh, and we even heard pikas, the cutest of all the lagomorphs!

Look, we can even be nearly normal. At Notch Lake, because the sun was never shining while we were at Divide Lake.

Look, we can even be nearly normal.
At Notch Lake, because the sun was never up while we were at Divide Lake.







A good-bye

Posted by julie on Wednesday, 5 October 2016, 12:59


Today is one of those days she would have loved. This morning, hard rain washed over the whole world; and, now, the sun shines steadfastly in a blue sky skimmed with fast-moving autumn clouds. She would have asked to go outside, standing patiently by the back door and turning to look at me. Five minutes later, she probably would have stood on the other side of the glass and asked to come back in, maybe meowing or even tapping her paw on the glass. Unless it was one of those days when she lifted her small, orange, dark-rimmed nose to the sun and closed her eyes and realized that she might want to nestle down in the damp grass, like a wild animal. I would have found her there, hours later, fast asleep and oblivious to me, curled up like a fox with her tail over her nose.

My Tephra. The thing about grief is that it feels so profound, so singular. My experience, of losing a cat who’d been part of my family for 18 years—longer than my marriage, older by 7 years than my oldest child—is hardly exceptional. Every day, people lose family members, pets, and pets who’ve become family members. That is life; it is paired with death. None of us escapes.

But I hadn’t lost Tephra. Not until last week. To me, she was singular, exceptional. Her death is profound.

Now, I walk around this house, which is deeply empty except for me, and I catch Tephra in everything. Anything cat-sized near the floor fools my eye. The laundry basket at the top of the stairs, the compost bucket just outside the back door, the pile of clothes left just outside the shower—I look again, then I feel my heart fall. They are just the laundry basket, the compost bucket, and the pile of clothes. They will never again be Tephra, ready for a scratch behind the ears or a long pet down her silky back.

I return to my desk and watch the clouds skidding across the fall sky, Tephra’s hair still stuck in the window screen. I tilt my face to the sun, and I close my eyes and sob.



Elena is 86 Months Old Today!

Posted by julie on Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 23:57

Still at it

       SONY DSC

Dear Elena,

You look so old these days, with your long, long hair and long, lean legs.

You spent your last days as a 6-year-old in New York; actually, you spent nearly four weeks there this summer. Not only did you love it, but my parents and my sister loved it—and you. You were helpful, charming, responsible, playful, and you didn’t want to come home. You swam, climbed, had a pedicure with Aunt Jenny, went to yoga with Gramma Mia, hiked with Grampa Dick, put together puzzles with Uncle John, taught Miss June to swim, picked veggies, and went to horse camp (you and Gramma even found jodhpurs at a 2nd-hand store!). You never once caused a problem for your grandparents; not once did they notice you being stubborn or finicky or unkind. Darling girl.



You have started to recognize wit and to tell jokes. Sometimes those jokes fail, and even that’s funny: Instead of “Dad, can you make me a sandwich?” followed by “Abracadabra, you’re a sandwich,” you said, “Dad, can I have a sandwich?” followed by the punch line that no longer makes sense. Which cracked all of us up.

You’ve recently turned the corner and discovered that the street is lined with books you can read! You now spend road trips going carefully through Highlights magazine, reading all of the stories when previously you only found the hidden pictures. You finally get it, why the rest of us are so enthralled with books. They’re full of stories!


You play soccer like a girl on fire. A few of your teammates have noticeably improved their ball-handling skills and have an intuitive understanding of where they should be on the field in a given situation. What you lack in those areas you make up in sheer speed. The other day, the assistant coach said, “You know, they’re going to have to start watering the field; otherwise, you’re going to set it ablaze.”


Elena, you have been reminded by your new teacher to be kind with your words and actions. When I told her that I hoped that wouldn’t continue, she said, respectfully and calmly, “Oh, I bet it will.” Then I told her that you’d chosen the nickname “Spicy” for yourself that very afternoon. She laughed and nodded. She understands you.

Other kids’ parents say things about you like “assertive,” “go far,” and “knows what she wants.” And they’re right. You are fiery, and sometimes—especially when it comes to sibling relations—that’s challenging. But what more could I ask than a hot-pepper daughter who knows what she wants and laughs while she goes out and grabs it?





Happy Decade to You!

Posted by julie on Monday, 21 September 2015, 11:16

Fun with McKenzie Pass panorama


Enjoying the porch with Great Grandma Kay in Ohio

Dear Sylvan,

A whole decade. 3652 days. In 2005, those days were filled with swaddling, swaying, and shushing. In 2015, it’s more like skateboarding, screaming, and…still shushing. You’ve just wrapped up the ten years of your life when you will change the most, growing from a frustrated, crying, 7-pound infant to a smiling, small but sturdy, whip-smart adventure boy. I am so grateful for the change!

In June, you and I headed up Black Crater near McKenzie Pass. It’s 7.6 miles with 2500 feet of elevation gain, all on good, wide trail. After two miles of climbing, you admitted you weren’t sure you could do this, that this would be the longest hike you’d ever done. I assured you that you could do it, but told you we could turn around at any point. Then, you just kept walking; we chatted about what to do if you have a medical emergency while hiking, which you took appropriately seriously. At the summit, we took ample silly photos of ourselves with the Cascade volcanoes magnificently arrayed behind us. I suggested that we trail run some of the way down. You took the lead, running parkour-style off of logs, and I had to really run to keep up—I don’t think I always did!


Not quite getting our jump together, but having fun anyway

We just gave you a skateboard for your 10th birthday, and you are the level of excited that every parent dreams a gift will impart. Yesterday, we brought the board and parts back into the shop to have it put together, and you chose grip tape for your board that has a kitten chasing a butterfly with a rainbow in the background. That illustrates perfectly how little you care what others think of you. You love the grip tape, and that’s that. The long-haired 25-year-old woman helping us was suitably charmed.

As she stuck down the grip tape and screwed on the trucks, she asked you questions about your summer and about school. When she asked your favorite subject, you had a hard time choosing between Games and Math. That sounds about right. Games class appeals to your active side, the one that admires your friends for their speed and agility, the side that is constantly ranking you and your friends according to athletic ability. Math comes naturally to you (although I may not want you to read that until you understand that having a growth-mindset, especially when things come easily, is invaluable to your future learning). Math appeals to both your logic and also to your outside-the-box creativity, making challenging puzzles fun for you. I know you’re also looking forward to woodworking, hand-working, and playing the viola this year in school (one of the things I really appreciate about your school is that I couldn’t teach you any of those things, unlike the curriculum in a typical 4th grade). You seem to really enjoy going to school; before school started, you said you were excited to see your friends again, that not seeing them was your least favorite part of summer.



Hitting the via ferrata in the Valle di Fanes with some cousins. What could be better?


Flying into Lake Bled

Other things you are right now:

  • Learning to be empathetic
  • Largely even-keeled, unless you feel unfairly blamed
  • Sometimes a wild beastie, padding around the house on all fours
  • Appreciated by other parents, who say things like, “I love that kid.” They can’t hear the loud noises you emit prior to 7 a.m., before I’ve had my coffee.
  • A reader! I can’t believe the number of pages you plow through. I’m just jealous.
  • Appreciative of Dad jokes. You also analyze them: “Mom, I don’t think the octopus ten tickles joke is a Dad joke. It’s actually funny.”
  • Taking after your Dad when it comes to the satisfaction you get from getting rid of stuff
  • A holder of hands, if only across streets, and completely unconsciously and unself-consciously

Sort of how it goes around our house

Ten years. I could have gotten four Master’s degrees, read 250 books, climbed 400 mountains, become a pretty damn good fiddle—and guitar—player, and learned Italian and Spanish fluently. Instead, I had you, you adorable devil. And, as much as I have been known to whine about a decade of stay-at-home parenting, I couldn’t be happier that you are my dear son. This next ten years, though—the ones where you spread your little wings into the big, wide world and find other people to love—I’ll be climbing mountains and working on my Italian, in between sessions of lying on the couch reading Moby-Dick.




Silly selfie

9 Things I’ve Learned from Having a 9-Year-Old

Posted by julie on Wednesday, 17 December 2014, 14:02



In lieu of a 9-year birthday letter, which I somehow never go around to, there’s this:

  1. 9-year-olds can win games without me having to “throw” anything (Who am I kidding? My 9-year-old has beaten me at chess for years. And Stratego? I don’t think it’s winnable—at least not by me.)
  2. While my 6-year-old still lags and complains of fatigue when we hike, 9-year-olds can charge! I can already foresee the day when I won’t be able to easily keep up.


  1. 9-year-olds hear and notice everything, and they cleverly try out words they’ve heard, some of them inappropriate, while looking at me to see if it’s okay (it’s not).
  2. 9-year-olds are capable of high-level thinking (mine is diagramming sentences at school right now). When your 9-year-old is tiny, adults sometimes underestimate him because they think he’s younger, then are amazed by the vocabulary and ideas that spring forth from him.
  3. On the other hand, 9-year-olds (my 9-year-old) like to be silly, too. Sometimes they growl and perhaps pretend to be four-legged mammals (and become frustrated with grown-ups when they don’t adhere to this plan).


  1. 9-year-olds are capable of increasingly higher-level empathy. For my 9-year-old, this means that he even realizes the impact his simple chores, like unpacking his lunchbox or clearing the table, have on my life. While he still likes to push his sister’s buttons, he’s just as likely to help her with something she can’t manage by herself—because he sees things from her point of view!
  2. “Fashion” is an evolving concept, and good fashion is different to every eye. The 9-year-old who lives in our house has, over the past year, started considering his clothing choices. Instead of knee-high wool socks with athletic shorts and a button-down shirt, he might wear a shirt with a belt over it—tunic-style—and a purple silk cravat. And maybe a cape, because sometimes we get a little Middle-earth up in here.


  1. 9-year-olds are well on their way to being the people they are trying so hard to become. I can inject some good manners and try to instill some (of my) values, but my 9-year-old definitely thinks for himself (I suppose he always has; he’s just more vociferous about it now).
  2. 9-year-olds are fun! Mine reads interesting books, likes to giggle, gives his own special (disgusting) kisses, and likes to work out beside me in the living room to Fitness Blender videos (wearing only his underwear).

I know that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, he will become old enough that he will start to pull away from me, so I’m going to snuggle with him now, even if he makes fart noises.



Up for Adventure: In Search of the Leonids

Posted by julie on Monday, 17 November 2014, 12:52

Still dark. While I didn’t see this meteor, I think there’s one in the upper right-hand portion of this photo (you may have to click on the photo to get a large enough version to see the meteor).

Very rarely is the sky completely clear for a meteor shower in western Oregon. We’ve been skunked even during the relentlessly clear summers we brag about—sometimes by smoke, sometimes by fog, always by light pollution if we don’t have the energy to go farther afield. But, when the forecast is for 22°F at 4 a.m., you can bet it’s going to be clear.

One cold, November night in New Mexico, 13 years ago, I woke up in my sleeping bag and happened to look at the sky as I was falling back to sleep. One of the benefits of eschewing a tent is that you may just wake up on the night of the Leonids meteor shower, which you didn’t even know existed, and have difficulty returning to sleep because you wouldn’t want to miss a meteor.


Looking west. I think the bright star near the center of the photo is Capella in the constellation Auriga, and I’m pretty sure some of the constellation Gemini is in the upper left corner of the photo.

We couldn’t see the Perseids last summer due to the weather; might we be able to catch the Leonids? First, I convinced my kids that waking up at 4 a.m. would be an adventure. If they gathered warm clothes before bedtime, maybe we would wake them up and try to see some meteors in the “morning” (term used loosely). My darling husband was only a slightly harder sell. I was surprised, because he likes his sleep. After a little dark sky and clear sky research, we decided to head east toward Oakridge, stopping at the east end of Lookout Point Reservoir, just across the railroad tracks in a grassy parking area. While we could hear traffic (and even see it if we weren’t looking at the sky), our location-picking was right on! It was dark, clear, and close to Eugene.

While I recommend the location, I also recommend arriving longer than 60 minutes before civil twilight. It just wasn’t dark enough for long. The real problem, though, was that this just isn’t a big “storm” year for the Leonids. Apparently, every 33 years or so, the Leonids can produce hundreds of meteors each minute. In 1833 and 1966, the Leonids produced spectacular storms. From my sleeping bag in the Gila National Forest, 2001 was impressive, too. Chris and I saw one meteor this morning; the kids missed it. But, snuggling in sleeping bags and drinking hot cocoa, they didn’t care a bit.


Tomorrow morning’s show might be even better, since the moon rises nearly an hour later. Go ahead; go on an adventure! A word to the adventurous, though: if you head out on a 22°F night, sleeping bags and hot chocolate aren’t merely nice to have; they’re a necessity.

(Please don’t tell my kids’ teachers that I woke them up at 4:25 a.m….They were just so game for an adventure, as my patient husband pointed up when he roused the kids at oh-dark-thirty.)



How we dress for ballet in Eugene

Posted by jonesey on Friday, 24 October 2014, 5:41
girl wearing ballet clothes and rain boots

swan puddle?

A Running Playlist

Posted by julie on Sunday, 19 October 2014, 21:19

Oregon Coast 30K. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

Because I was severely under-trained for my 30K trail race yesterday, I developed a running playlist of songs that I hoped might help me power through. On the last 2.5-mile uphill slog, this list definitely helped:

  1. We No Speak Americano, Yolanda Be Cool & Dcup
  2. Beautiful Day, U2
  3. Just Can’t Get Enough, Depeche Mode
  4. Around the World (la la la la La), A Touch of Class
  5. Pompeii, Bastille
  6. Heat of the Moment, Asia
  7. Stacy’s Mom, Fountains of Wayne
  8. Boom Boom Pow, The Black Eyed Peas
  9. Pour Some Sugar On Me, Def Leppard
  10. Low, Flo Rida (feat. T-Pain)
  11. Without Me, Eminem
  12. Dynamite, Taio Cruz
  13. Little Talks, Of Monsters and Men
  14. Wake Me Up, Avicii
  15. Say Hey (I Love You), Michael Franti & Spearhead (feat. Cherine Anderson)
  16. Glad You Came, The Wanted
  17. SexyBack, Justin Timberlake (feat. Timbaland)
  18. Timber, Pitbull ((feat. Ke$ha)

Because I borrowed liberally from other folks’ running playlists, I thought I would share this list, in case you’re wandering around the web, searching for music inspiration for a tough run. This list comprises about 67 minutes of music. I’m on the lookout for some good stuff to extend it a few more hours.