Monday, November 30, 2009

Family Secret

Emma Amundsen was born in 1896. She married a young man named Fritz Erickson, and they left their homeland of Finland to start a new life in Ketchikan, Alaska, where Emma gave birth to their daughter, Dorothy Jane.

Emma is my great-grandmother. I never gave her existence a thought, as I never heard her name mentioned and cannot recall a single story involving her presence; I suppose I presumed she died at childbirth or in my grandmother's youth. You can imagine my shock to discover that Emma had been living in Alaska throughout most of my childhood. And you can understand my sadness to learn that she was buried in an unmarked grave. When my mom found out, she climbed into her car, drove to the Palmer cemetery, and paid for a plaque engraved with Emma's name and dates to be set above her resting place.

So many questions . . . did Emma and my great-grandfather divorce? I do not know. Did she run away? I do not know. Was she institutionalized due to poor health or mental illness? I do not know. Did she ever hear that her only daughter gave birth to seven children, or learn that those seven grandchildren of hers produced at least 16 great-grandchildren, or dream that those great-children would go on to have more than 15 great-great-grandchildren? That even though she was no longer included in the family, Emma Amundsen Erickson held a place in her own legacy that could never be erased?

I do not know.

Dinner last night: turkey tetrazzini

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

"If you're like me . . . you're perfect."

A tightly-wound woman in a Target commercial delivers that line through clenched teeth and a fake smile as she begins preparations for the holidays. Christmas is a competition for her—let she with the most beautifully decorated home win. She's kind of funny. And kind of scary. A lot of woman get so caught up in creating the perfect Thanksgiving dinner and the perfect Christmas morning for their families that they lose sight of what's really important about this time of year. Note to self: it's not the eggnog.

As I bustle about my house today, making up the spare bed for our weekend guests . . . and pre-making food for tomorrow . . . and stressing out about whether or not to use the convection bake feature on my oven . . . I'll try to keep my eye on the big picture. Tomorrow's holiday is not about producing a table straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Happy Thanksgiving, ya'll. God is good.

Dinner last night: cheeseburgers, seasoned fries

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Moose on Deck

Moose are not skiddish creatures. This skinny-legged twig-eater couldn't have cared less that Daisy, our dog, was barking hysterically or that I was blasting my air horn like a mad woman.

Despite our noise-making, Moosey Moose moved right on up to the lilac bush growing outside my kitchen window.

My, what large nostrils you have . . .
"The better to smell tasty lilac leaves.
These smell dead, but I'm not picky."

My, what big teeth you have . . .
"The better to eat tasty, dead lilac leaves.
Hey, I'm a moose, not some fancy gourmand."

My, what big eyes you have . . .
"The better to look at your barking beagle.
By the way, she doesn't scare me one bit."

Dinner last night: penne with bolognese

Exactly one year ago today:

Monday, November 23, 2009

When Did This Happen?

One of the benefits of staying home full-time with twin toddlers is witnessing their milestones. I get to see them learn new things every day. I watch over them as they eat, play, and laugh together. We share a common language. They know by the tone of my voice when I'm joking and when I'm serious; I understand what they mean when they ask, "Where's my effens?" or "Can I have mo seal?"

On the other hand, because I'm with them every day, I don't notice the small changes that strike others as slightly miraculous. Friends who haven't seen the girls in a while will exclaim, "I can't believe how tall they're getting!" or "Wow! Look how long their hair is!"

My girls are growing up.

Dinner last night: chicken and rice enchiladas, refried beans, corn

Friday, November 20, 2009

Baby Needs Her Baby

Our new dog, Daisy, distracts me. How am I supposed to blog with a cute little beagle snoring and twitching at my feet?

After her morning potty break out in the freezing cold, Daisy bounds into the warm house, grabs her squeaky toy, and races through rooms at breakneck speed. After a couple of laps, she literally jumps onto her doggie bed—falling asleep before her body has fully settled into the cushion.

Daisy dreams of running through a meadow of dog biscuits
with froggy baby at her side.

Dinner last night: chicken soup, southwestern eggrolls

Thursday, November 19, 2009


When I say my in-laws live a few towns away, I'm not talking about an hour's drive through the suburbs. Because we reside in Alaska, a visit to Grandma's house involves a half-day's journey over 370 miles and a trek across the marsh, up the mountain, into the pass, over the river, and through the woods. Service stations are few and far between—even if we manage to make it to a gas station, the restrooms aren't always working. And so it was on a sunny weekend in the summer of 2002.

My husband had stopped at an old Chevron to fill up his pickup and let our 4-year-old daughter take a bathroom break, but the restroom was out of order. Being the good Alaskan dad that he is, my husband pointed our toddler toward the bushes along a hurricane fence that ran across an empty field sitting next to the cracked asphalt of the service stations's parking area. The dirt lot was undeveloped, full of rocks and sticks, with not even a tree to hide behind. Being the good Alaskan kid that she is, our daughter did not hesitate to run out there to take care of business.

As my husband set about fueling his truck, a strange feeling overcame him. You may know that feeling. It's the tap tap tap of God's finger on your shoulder, as an inner voice warns, "Listen up. Danger's on its way." My husband glanced over to where his little girl was wrestling with her waistband, intent on the logistics of going potty in the wild. He looked to his right across the field, where he saw two Rottweilers headed straight for her.

Alaskans witness marvelous moments in nature. A bald eagle will snatch a fish right out of the water and keep on flying. Two rams can hit each other with such force the air booms with the sound of their horns crashing together. You learn a thing or two about hunting and prey, watching through high-powered binoculars as a wolf takes down a moose calf. I'm not exaggerating when I say that on that summer day, racing across that dirt field, those dogs were intent on one purpose. Running as fast as they could, ears laid back, teeth bared, their eyes were trained on their target. There was no tail wagging, no barking, no uncertainty. Those dogs were going to attack a baby girl.

Before his brain could even process what was happening, my husband's instincts took over. His hand dropped the fuel hose, and as the nozzle hit the ground, he was already taking off. His body lunged forward in the sprint of his life. Everything around him was crystal clear: his daughter now standing motionless, frozen in terror by the sight of the advancing animals . . . the owner of the dogs, half a mile away, shouting thinly for his pets to come back . . . and the dogs galloping low to the ground in fluid, determined motion. My husband knew the very life of his child depended on him reaching her before the canines.

His feet hit the soft earth of the field, and without slowing, my husband bent forward. He swung his arm down and scooped up a stick, using only his peripheral vision, while the main focus of his eyes never wavered from the dogs closing in on his unmoving little girl. History shifted, and the purpose for the many years he'd spent training on the basketball court and running cross-country changed in a split second. The speed and strength he had developed as an athlete was no longer about leading his team, or winning races, or placing in the Seaside Marathon—his ability to run and to run fast was meant solely for this match against a pair of attack dogs. As he charged straight into the path of the oncoming killers, he lifted his arm and let out a primeval roar fueled by testosterone, rage, and certainty that death blows would follow. Rottweilers, meet Alpha Male.

The dogs stopped. Stared. Sized the human up. An eternity filled those few seconds of time, a mere moment, but one that ticked past in slow motion. Then the Rotts pivoted. I wish I could say they yelped and ran away as fast as they could, with their tails literally tucked between their legs, but truth be told, they loped nonchalantly back toward their owner on the far side of the field, refusing to act cowed or intimidated. Game over. No big deal to them. My husband turned to gather up his tiny child, she crying and his hands shaking now that the threat had been removed.

If you ask my daughter today, she will tell you that she mostly recalls the dust billowing up behind the dogs as they raced toward her. Although she couldn't articulate it at the time, she now can admit to feeling completely vulnerable standing there in her underwear, too petrified to bend her knees and pull her pants up, staring at the monsters bearing down on her. She didn't understand the concept of death, yet her young mind realized with horror that those dogs meant to eat her.

She doesn't remember her dad being there at all, until he appeared out of nowhere to pick her up and hold her close. My daughter knew then that she'd be okay.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

7 Hours, 2 Minutes

This time of year, daylight is short and darkness is long. The thermometer is sitting a hair above 0° and won't be moving much over the next couple of days. It's a good week for stoking the fire and catching up on my reading. And eating cookies.

Alaskan sunrise at 9:14 a.m.

Dinner last night: lasagna, green beans, Caesar salad, bread

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cold and Flu Season

What day is it? Where am I? What's going on, and have I missed anything?

A stomach flu hit our home exactly one week ago. It started with the baby of the family, moved to her twin sister by Thursday, hit my husband on Friday morning, then knocked out my 11-year-old daughter on Saturday. By Sunday, everyone was weak and exhausted, but feeling better. I used the reprieve from my duties of wiping up vomit and distributing Tylenol and popsicles to my aching, dehydrated patients to engage in the more typical household chores of cleaning and organizing the kitchen, scouring the toilets, and finishing the laundry. I'm not stupid. I knew the flu bug would hit me with a vengeance, and it did at 3:30 in the morning.

Because of Mother's Foresight, my family was able to make it through Monday without me. The kitchen was stocked, clothes were folded and put away, and the girls' backpacks were packed and ready for school. I slept the day away, with a break here and there to run into my clean bathroom and kneel at the porcelain throne.

The only member to emerge unscathed from the past week is my 9-year-old daughter. Don't ask me how she resisted the germ-infested environment that is our house, because her skeletal frame doesn't carry a single extra ounce of fat that would help cushion her from the effects of a 24-hour flu bug. She's a skinny drama queen who would have loved for nothing better than to be rushed via ambulance to the hospital for a treatment of IV fluids and antibiotics.

My husband thinks all the sugar she's been consuming on a daily basis since Halloween has somehow protected her.

Dinner last night: popsicles, Tylenol

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Braces Off

My eldest daughter wore braces for a year, not to straighten her teeth but to move things around to make room so the rest of her adult teeth can come in properly and to fix an overbite. Or so I'm told. What do I know about malocclusion or palatal expansion or frenulum labii superious? Knowing my luck, "braces" are just a big orthodontia scam that separates guilt-ridden parents from their hard-earned cash.



Do you think my 9-year-old jack o'lantern will need braces?

Dinner last night: honey chicken, rice, corn on the cob, green salad

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

I recently watched a video clip of a guy interviewing random people on the street. All of them could name the President of the United States, but when the man with the microphone asked if they knew the Vice-President, most of them were stumped. And despite the recent media coverage of health care reform legislation, not a single person could name the Speaker of the House who was instrumental in its twelfth-hour passage.

I try not to judge their blissful ignorance too harshly. Perhaps they merely experienced a moment of nervous memory loss when the camera and mic were shoved in their faces. Maybe they were foreign tourists who were unfamiliar with American politics. And if they truly didn't possess a clue who Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi were, I suppose there's a certain relief knowing that Americans are living their lives, busy and happy and unconcerned with the machinations of Washington, D.C.

Today, however, I hope my fellow citizens are a little more aware. More reflective. More grateful. Today is November 11. It's the day that our country has set aside to honor our war veterans. I hope you'll take a moment in your busy day to remember the price that has been paid so that we can wander our streets, shopping bags in one hand and ice cream cones in the other, oblivious to who was elected Vice-President last year.

Dinner last night: onion soup

Monday, November 9, 2009

Just Like That

It's winter.

The first snow of the year fell over the weekend, blanketing the ground in white. I pulled out all the winter gear—the snowpants and the boots and the warm hats and the wool socks—and we headed outside to play.

I don't like to wear mittens.
But I don't like cold hands, either.
What to do, what to do . . .

Don't worry about the white stuff, peoples.
I'll turn it all yellow for you.

Dinner last night: tacos

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Touch the Drapes and You're Dead

Tie-Dye is our cat. She showed up on our doorstep shortly after we moved into our home almost three years ago. She comes and goes as she pleases, although throughout this past summer, she expressed little interest in stepping foot inside the house, preferring instead to hunt mice and the occasional bird.

We have a special pair of gloves, the Mouse Gloves, which we keep next to the mudroom door and which we use at least once a week to pick up a dead mouse or shrew that Tie-Dye has left for us in the garage. They used to be partially eaten, but recently they've been left whole and pristine. Sorry. Circle of life, and all that. My 9-year-old used to be saddened for days after seeing a poor little dead mouse on the garage floor; now she just shrugs her shoulders, pulls on the Mouse Gloves, and tosses the corpse into the woods.

Mice are not the only things to feel the wrath of our cat's claws. Tie-Dye has shredded the base of my lilac tree, by using it as a scratching post. Now that winter is approaching, and Tie-Dye is taking her daily 6-hour nap indoors, I'm a little concerned about what she plans to use inside the house to sharpen her claws once she awakens and feels like stretching. So far, it's been the Berber carpet, which provides a nice rough surface for her to grab and pull. I don't care too much, since it's old flooring that we're planning to replace as soon as we have the money, or Tie-Dye destroys it, whichever comes first.

Like the woman said . . .
Circle of life, little mousie.

Dinner last night: hamburger quiche

Exactly one year ago today: Two Kims for the Price of One

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Meet the newest addition to our family. She came with the name Daisy, which I wanted to change to the similar-sounding Paisley. The moniker Paisley would not only complement the name of our cat, Tie-Dye, but would also pay homage to our puppy's favorite napping spot: the paisley arm chair in front of the fireplace. However, no one else in the family appreciates my choice, and the twins can't pronounce it . . . so Daisy she stays.

Daisy is an 8-month-old beagle. A co-worker of my husband insisted that she was only giving the darling canine away because she has a newborn and can't handle both a baby and a young dog. She assured my husband that Daisy is potty-trained. And doesn't bark.

First word of advice? Never believe someone who's giving away for free a purebred beagle puppy. Daisy poops like there's no tomorrow. All over our floor.

And the baying when we leave her alone? Let's just say that my new phrase before running to the grocery store is, "Call out the hounds, Jeeves." Then I shut the front door, cover my ears, and sprint to the silent haven of my minivan. Beagles know how to howl.

On the flip side, beagles are one of the very best breeds to have around children, which is good to know, considering I have four. Daisy is loving and sweet and rejoices in the chase. My kids absolutely adore their new pet. They run after her through the house, throw balls for her to chase, and take her for walks. We're the perfect family for an energetic dog that requires a ton of attention. When my girls have finally tired her out, Daisy lets them snuggle up against her on her doggie bed.

Dinner last night: sweet-and-sour chicken over chow mein noodles

Monday, November 2, 2009


I survived.

Friday evening, my daughters opened our doors to their friends and trouble flooded in. Shrieking, giggling little girls in costumes hit this house and rocked the foundation as they ate, played games, and bobbed for apples like insane children with water-obsessive disorders.

I fully intended on taking wonderfully composed, well-lit photographs that would showcase the joy and spontaneity of childhood. Instead, I spent the evening in the kitchen stirring melted caramel so it wouldn't burn to the bottom of the pan.

You'll just have to trust me that the kids had a lot of fun before collapsing into sugar-induced comas.

The pizza and the watermelon were big hits. Much to my surprise, the cupcakes went uneaten. It wasn't like the kids tried them and went ptooey . . . they didn't even touch them. Delicious chocolate frosting. Yummy cream cheese delights. NOT A NIBBLE! Learn from my mistake, Moms, and don't bother with cupcakes—they've jumped the shark.

The tote bag decorating station was a great success. We set tables up in a nook, away from the madness of the family room, and after the initial flurry of girls making their own bags, the craft area provided a quiet, creative outlet to which girls returned in small groups throughout the evening to perfect their creations.

Hope you all had a fun-filled weekend, and I look forward to surfing around blogs and checking out your pictures of candy-grubbin' munchkins.

Dinner last night: lime-grilled tilapia, rice