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.

Happy Birthday, Elena: You’re 6! (and a month)

Posted by julie on Wednesday, 17 September 2014, 12:40

Elena, Sally Mann-style


Silly serious faces at the ball game


My two favorite little sisters

Dear Elena,

Nearly every morning, you wake me up: “Mom, I’m hungry.” I open my eyes to your smile, sometimes on the pillow next to mine, but more often hovering in the doorway. I prefer those mornings to my early-run mornings when my alarm jars me awake at 5 a.m.

Your little face lost its baby-tooth grin when you lost your first tooth less than a week after your 6th birthday, just a month ago. When I compare photos from your first day of Kindergarten at Edison to your first day of Kindergarten at Waldorf, this year, I notice how much you look like a big kid now: lost tooth, thinner face, longer body. The little kid is gone, but, thankfully, her sparkliness persists.


Waiting for the teeter totter to drop

You entered the Eugene Waldorf School this fall, and your summer birthday means you are in Kindergarten again. Transferring you to the Waldorf school was a hard decision for me; I know you didn’t want to leave your old school, especially your friends. But you are social and fun, and I know you’ll find some new friends (and play soccer with the old friends). You were also really enjoying the academic work that Edison gave you. You were learning to read, add, and subtract. Those pursuits will be put aside for two years for you as you enter the Waldorf world of imagination, cooking, and playing outside. It’s true that I look forward to the day when you will lose yourself in books…

At the Jog-a-thon last May. Elena ran 4.5 miles in an hour. Yes, I was impressed.

At the Jog-a-thon last May. Elena ran 4.5 miles in an hour. Yes, I was impressed.


Mom, do I have fern water on my head?

Although you aren’t reading full books yet, you can still entertain yourself for hours. Sometimes I find you drawing, or creating something with stickers, or setting up an art sale on the street corner, or arranging small items on your floor in ways that make sense only to you. While you love other people’s company, you are also one of the most independent people I know.

If we let you, you would play four sports, sing in a choir, dance, and take gymnastics classes, leaving time only for eating and sleeping. I am not a fan of overscheduling, but that becomes difficult to tame when you have a child who wants to do it all.


West coast mermaid


Blowing out the candles on the lime cousins’ birthday cake that Gramma made

You and Sylvan have started to have a real friendship, wherein you create imaginary worlds, dance, and pretend that you’re a fairy princess marrying a boy in a tutu. When that playtime works well, I am charmed. More often than not, it ends with you whine-screaming, “Sto-o-p!” after some perceived or actual injustice. I won’t miss that whine-scream when you grow out of it; I promise.

You have known how to ride a bicycle for over a year, but you are still struggling with starting and stopping. I’m considering picking up another small bike, so you don’t have far to fall and you’ll feel more comfortable (We gave away your small, training-wheel bike during a garage purge. Sorry!).


Putting together her bro’s Ikea nighstand

You, my dear, like dresses more, perhaps, than anyone I know. I don’t know why you have any trousers at all. My advice to you: keep wearing dresses and being a tough, outdoorsy chick. People will use words like spunky to describe you (in fact, they already do!).

Your Mom



Don’t mess with me, or I’ll shoot you with my bear popper

Tamolitch Pool Hike

Posted by julie on Monday, 23 June 2014, 10:39

To celebrate summer, yesterday we hiked up to Tamolitch Pool, also called Blue Pool, where the McKenzie River comes back above ground after disappearing as groundwater for a bit. The two-mile hike to the pool—mostly in shade except for the last half-mile or so, which is over lava flows just beginning to grow shrubs and trees big enough to offer shade—was the perfect length for our family on a day with temperatures in the low 80s. The kids parkoured all the rocks and down trees for the first mile, then they settled into a hike. Everyone was ready for a break when we reached the clear, cold water of the pool (of which I have no photos; a Google search will probably give you some good ones). The pool is difficult to reach, so we opted out this time. We’ll climb down next time. At least one of us was brave enough to enter the 36°F river on the hike out. I know that my feet were numb in about 11 seconds.




Mid-hike meditation


Ooh, that’s colder than I expected


The bravest one of all of us (always)


Birthday Ride (only a week late)

Posted by julie on Friday, 13 June 2014, 12:20

Doesn’t he look like he’s adjusting the camera and getting ready to show you how awesome the place is where he is? He’s right.

Kids’ lunches packed? Check. Air in bike tires? Tire patch kit? Sport chews that are really candy with salt in them? Check, check, check. Kids’ swimsuits in their backpacks? Check. Phone numbers in cell phones for YMCA (where both kids will be by 1 p.m.) and kind friend who agreed to shuttle boy-child to YMCA? Yupper. Caramel latte for the mom who’s given up caffeine? Do you have to ask?

And we were on the road by 9 a.m.! Date birthday! Life is so good.

Aided by my caffeinated caramel latte, I chatted for the entire drive up the McKenzie River, my patient husband nodding and agreeing and even offering opinions every now and then. We started the bicycle part of our adventure at White Branch Youth Camp, site of many near-misses while snow tubing with fellow grad students in the late 90s. I have no idea how we survived that CCC-era ski slope converted to a tubing hill. So steep and fast and icy! White Branch is about four miles, and nearly 1200 vertical feet (at 2440 feet), below where I’ve started this bike ride up to McKenzie Pass on the old McKenzie Highway before. So help me.


While those first 1200 feet and four miles were rough, after I relocated my (daughter’s) backpack from my back to my handlebars and lay stretching on the asphalt, my journey improved dramatically. From Alder Springs Campground—where the second snow gate was still closed, thus ensuring a car-free journey to the Pass—the road hairpins through tunnels of Douglas fir, hazelnut, western hemlock, and sword ferns, climbing 1100 feet in the next five miles. We had run into my friend and sometimes adventuring partner, Suzanne, and her friend, Bruce, who’d started a few miles below where we started. Powered by catching up, Suzanne and I forgot about the hills. Once we reached the top of the switchbacks, the last seven miles, which climb 700 feet to the Pass, felt like a cruise. The road opens up into long, open straightaways punctuated by small climbs past meadows, vernal pools, and trees getting progressively shorter.

Then, there’s the lava, flows from Belknap and Little Belknap Craters that created the strange and lumpy landscape of McKenzie Pass. We passed lava tubes and nunataks—islands of forest the lava flowed around. In the last couple of miles before the Pass, views open up to North and Middle Sisters, just 6 miles southeast of the highway.

Around the corner, we reached Dee Wright Observatory, which is really a fairy castle constructed of lava. That meant we were at the Pass and I could eat more “sport chews” and stretch my back again. There was a rotating cast of perhaps 15 cyclists at the Pass while we were there, including three preschoolers and a Kindergartner whose strong dads had pulled them up the hill. I’m so soft.


After some ground squirrel photos and a divine cheese plate (well, gnawing on a hunk of cheese and taking bites of crackers tastes like a divine cheese plate when you’ve earned your lunch), we re-helmeted up for the ride down. Downhill! While my mortality weighed on me as I squeezed my brakes around the first few turns, I eased into it, and pretty soon 30 mph (more?) felt thrilling rather than terrifying. One or two of Chris’s spokes broke on the ride down, and Suzanne’s brake pads were shot, so the two of them limped back down while I was able to completely appreciate the wind whistling in my helmet. I reached the car first, but my dear husband suggested I keep riding, that he’d eventually pick me up. Our relative speeds were so similar that he didn’t catch me. I stopped because I reached Highway 126 and didn’t want to ride with more and faster traffic.


Chris drove home until he said, “I’m tired. Wanna drive?” He was snoring in the passenger seat before I started the car.

Go, Baseburners!

Posted by julie on Wednesday, 4 June 2014, 21:28


The best game in the world! The 3rd and 4th grade Baseburners (along with Mr. S, back in 2nd grade due to a Waldorf technicality) played their first baseball game of the season this sunny, warm evening.


Avoiding ball 2. He’s VERY good at waiting for his pitch.


Watching ball 3, which was nearly a strike.

Sylvan played short stop for an inning and then was clocked on the chin/ear by ball 4 during his first at-bat (thank goodness for batting helmets). This is the first year that the boys pitch rather than the coaches, and the opposing pitcher pitched very fast and a bit erratically. Sylvan cried and asked for ice, so I went to buy some instant ice packs at the nearby grocery store. By the time I’d walked back, he was ready to play again. I wasn’t expecting that, and I’m pretty psyched that he was ready to get back on the horse rather than give up.


Ready to go back in.

Mr. S went back in at 3rd base, and he made two great plays, which resulted in the 1st and 3rd outs of the inning. First, he grabbed a grounder and threw it to 1st. Then, he caught a pop fly! His teammates hugged him. I love those guys.


Showing that grounder who’s boss.


And tossing it to 1st. He couldn’t make it across the infield a couple of weeks ago, but practices have improved his throws a great deal.

Go, Unicorns!

Posted by julie on Monday, 19 May 2014, 9:40

I need to share this, because it’s too perfectly wonderful not to bare itself to the world. Unicorn/soccer design work and photographs by Chris Miller, dad extraordinaire. With special thanks to the world’s best girls’ Kinder soccer coach, Bob Chandler, who may have had as much fun as the girls.


Happy Birthday, Sylvan: You’re 8 2/3!

Posted by julie on Sunday, 11 May 2014, 21:58

The state of Sylvan at any beach—running in and out of the waves.


You patrolled with me this winter. You’ll probably be a full patroller before I will.


I told you I’d give you a quarter if you went out to swing in your underwear with no shoes. You put on sandals, trousers, and an unsnapped jacket, telling me where I could put my quarter.

Dear Sylvan,

Four and a half months ago, we made a big switch, transferring you from our neighborhood elementary school to the Waldorf School. We really wanted to love our neighborhood public school: it’s full of smart, caring staff; it’s four blocks away; we fit neatly into the community of families there. But you were oh, so unhappy. While I don’t know that you’ll ever love school (I can always hope), you’d gotten to the point that you cried every morning on the way to school. “I hate it. I don’t want to go,” you’d say. I started thinking what you needed was a therapist, that you were eight and depressed. It just broke me. I’d drop you off and cry as I walked home.

Moms can’t always fix their son’s problems—­nor should they always try. I waffled, but we visited the Eugene Waldorf School, where your current teacher gave you an hour-long interview on the Saturday before Christmas, asking you to throw a beanbag with him, stand on one foot, skip count, draw, follow directions, and answer some written math problems, all in a very soft, patient voice. Your Dad and I looked at each other, nodding without nodding.

And now? You’re definitely a happier human. You come home from school muddy and paint-laden. You never complain that you don’t want to go to school. You play a pentatonic flute, write beautiful cards in Spanish, and knit, all as part of your everyday curriculum. There are things you don’t like—eurythmy’s not your favorite, and some students’ behavior surprises you (building a culture of respect can take years; in the meantime, you have classmates that take advantage of that, because, hey, they’re in 2nd grade).


Waldorf mud


Your valentines this year, which you had to make for your classmates at the Waldorf School. Your bookmark valentines were beautiful, and you never once complained about making them (that’s different from years past, let me tell you).

And you went back down a grade because of your summer birthday, which means we get to keep you for an extra year when you’re 18. As difficult as parenting is for me, as excited as I am sometimes to run away into the woods by myself, I already appreciate that extra year.


Cousin reading. Dom looks unimpressed, but I’m not sure he likes Sandra Boynton.


Your first state-wide chess tournament. You finished strongly, and I think you were most excited about the salt water taffy in your trophy.

While you’ve always loved listening to music, especially as you go to sleep, you’ve started to reach that tween obsession with some pop songs. I get it; I’m into some of the same songs, especially “Pompeii” by Bastille and “Let Her Go” by Passenger. While you’re doing other things, you hum “Glad You Came” by The Wanted.

I wish you and Daddy could see eye-to-eye more often. I sometimes feel like a middle child when you two are misunderstanding each other. I understand both of your frustrations, and I just want you both to sit with me and gaze into each other’s eyes until you can understand each other. You both just desire respect from the other, or that’s what it looks like from the outside. Dad wants you to acknowledge him, to listen, and to follow through. You want him to understand that not all sibling altercations are your fault and that sometimes you need more than a cursory instruction before you’re ready to move on. In thirty years, you’ll both belly up to the bar, sharing a (root) beer while you refer to dear old Mom as a hopeless hippie.

I love you and your soft, soft cheeks,


I just thanked my lucky stars that when snow grounded us in Chicago overnight, you two were my travel companions. You took it like pros, actually getting excited about the mile and a half that we (I) had to walk to make it to the cots from which we were unceremoniously roused at 3:45 a.m.