Thoughts on Wine and Insecurity

Sep 27 2012

I live in Oregon wine country, and it’s grape harvest season. Pretty soon the back roads by our house will be full of fall wine tourists, and truly, it’s an idyllic time to visit our valley with its vine covered hills and evergreen forests, clean water and invisible air, and, of course, our llama farms which are a constant source of comfort because they relieve my fear of the ever-impending zombie apocalypse; frankly, folks, while the rest of the world is at war with the undead, we here in the Willamette Valley will be too high on leg of llama and fantastic pinot to know what hit us.

Living in wine country does present one fundamental problem for me, though, and it’s this: I’m an idiot wine taster with no real skills, an utter lack of wine knowledge and underdeveloped taste buds.

In fact, the awareness of my own wine incompetence (note the word incompetence — I didn’t say wine incontinence, which is a different problem altogether) kept me from wine tasting for years, sure that I’d embarrass myself or others.

Now? Now I go. Now I do it anyway. Now I’ve accepted the gift five kids have given me; my dignity’s been missing for years and I can ignore Embarrassment and Insecurity almost as well as I ignore MomMomMomMomMommyMom, which is to say I can ignore them long enough to get something done before I eventually have to look them in the eyes, explain that waiting their turn is important, and then soothe their fears or feed them a snack or wipe up their messes.

Now, wine tasting might look like this:

Say, hypothetically, a friend takes me to her favorite winery and we try their 2007 Pinot Noir.

She swirls the wine in her glass — round and round and round again (and round again) (and round again) — and talks about its legs and fermentation.

I bravely note its color — red — and, while we wait for the wine to open (which is, I gather, different than opening the bottle and is code for you’re-not-allowed-to-drink-it-yet-Beth), I share my superior, in-depth knowledge of fermentation, too. In particular, I ponder the fermentation of the average adolescent boy and my current hypothesis that successful middle school teachers are born with olfactory disabilities which allow them to function at a higher level in their unique environment than someone with a typical sense of smell. I bet good middle school teachers are as bad at wine tasting as I am.

My friend rolls her eyes, and we taste the wine since it’s apparently (finally) open for business.

I take a swig, I swish, and I swallow, pretty proud I knew to swish.

She gently slurps the wine into her mouth and holds it there, pulling off a stunning reverse gargle by sucking air through her pursed lips to aerate the open wine. She doesn’t dribble — not even once — and then she swallows.

We discuss. By which I mean, she uses words like earthy and spicy and dark cherry undertones, and I think things like mmm and good and this has the distinct flavor of wine.

My friend is knowledgeable. A budding expert, in fact. Full of information about pH balance, soil conditions, new oak vs. neutral oak, and the various effects of cold years on grape production. I think I know a lot about soil conditions, too, but I’m fairly certain she doesn’t mean soiled pants, soiled bathroom floors or that one time when I was very pregnant with twins that I accidentally soiled my closet. Long story.

Someone recently complimented me on my fear-free life and lack of inhibitions.

“You’re so self-assured and confident,” she said. “Does anything make you feel scared?”

I said, “Bahahahaha!”

But she didn’t laugh with me, so I followed up, “Oh. Seriously?”

And she said, “Seriously.”

And I was stunned, because everything I do is done with fear — wine tasting, writing, parenting, life — and my inner voice repeats, “But if you do that, if you risk that, if you say that, if you put yourself in that inexpert position, someone’s going to find you out.” My inner voice is VERY LOUD; I was surprised she couldn’t hear it and shocked she only saw the results of my second voice — the very, very quiet one I work hard to trust — that whispers and dances and says, “DO IT ANYWAY. Live life. Take risks. Taste.”



100 Pairs of Panties

Sep 25 2012

My kid owns more than 100 pairs of panties.

More than.

Like, 109 or 120 or 2,300 or something.

We sorted clothes for the start of school, an annual chore I mentally schedule for July and accomplish no later than oh-crap-it’s-September, when I noticed one kid’s panty pile growing to mountainous proportions. Curious, I started counting pairs, tossing them one at a time into an old, broken Ivar’s clam chowder box.

I stopped counting at 100 because the chowder box was full.

At one hundred.

One hundred pairs of panties, folks. For just the one little tush.

I decorated my front porch with a few dozen this morning because I’m too cheap to decorate with pumpkins while the prices are still high, and also so, you know, you could witness a bit of the insanity.

Honestly, with that many unders, if my kid changed them every day she could go 3 months without needing to do laundry.

Three months. Probably longer.

Every once in a while, the ridiculousness of managing clothing for a family of seven smacks me in the face with a giant chowder box of panties, and I wonder how did this happen?

Of course I know.

My kid has a big sister. The big sister has friends. And they all hand their clothes down to the littler kid.  As they should. (And whew!) Fortunately for our family of trillions, we live in the Pacific Northwest where repurposed everything, rabid frugality and the extra-sanitary cycle on my energy-efficient washer are considered heroically green rather than grody.

But the chowder box is making me wonder. What does the Western world do with all its leftover, wearable underwear? I mean, other than the thousands of people who give them to me. You can’t give unders to Goodwill, can you? Can you? And if not, then what? Make a quilt? Window sconces? Oven mitts?

Friends, I need somebody to let me in on your undie-management secret. STAT. ‘Cause I’m beginning to seriously consider opening a handmade scrunchy business on Etsy. I’ve got supplies that’ll last years. 


P.S. A mom friend from SoCal who has, you know, standards recently asked me what I thought: “Hand-me-down shoes, yes or no?”

I didn’t understand the question.

What is this “or no?” I thought. This should read as a statement: “Hand-me-down shoes: YES.”

It took me a few minutes.

So. You see why I need your help, yes or no? (You see why I need your help: YES.)


I love you. You’re not alone. Knock it off.

Sep 21 2012

Dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, sweet child, whom I love very, very, very, very, very, very much,

Knock it off.

You are driving your family crazy, man.

Crazy to the moon.

And when I say “your family,” I include you in it, ’cause I can see it in your eyes, this confusion at your own behavior. This mystery at the vitriol that erupts. This wondering at the drama. This fact that you’re driving yourself crazy, too. And I assure you, you’re not alone.

You’re not alone. You’re not.

Even though your attitude rises every day, as faithfully as the sun rises in the east, and shines upon us all with steady heat, but beats the hottest on you as you stand on the equator of your life, you’re not alone. We are all here with you. For you.

But knock it off.

Even though you regularly spend time in your room, contemplating the 56th WOW, MOM and the 34th GEEZ of the day — a WOW, MOM and GEEZ that you delivered at the angry top of your lungs because your mama asked you to kindly remove your shoes from the hallway where she tripped over them on her way to the toilet — you are not alone. I am with you, in my heart, because I WOWwed and GEEZed my mom, too, and I know what it is to lay there on an unmade bed, misunderstood, with furious tears in my ears and “think about what I’ve said.” I know, believe it or not, even before I send you there, that “thinking about it” sounds a lot less like “I shouldn’t have said that and I’m so sorry” and a lot more like “DEAR GOD, my mom is SO STUPID and AGAINST ME and I HATE HER and IF I RAN AWAY, SHE’D BE SORRY.” And that’s OK. I understand that it’s just part of this life right now.

But knock it off.

You are doing so well at your new school. You’re finding your way and meeting new friends and sticking up for old ones and working hard and learning piles of new things, some of them even academic. I know that adjustment periods are hard. Finding new rhythms when life changes takes a while. I know that you’re using every single ounce of your energy to grow your changing body and to maintain good behavior at school. And I know that means you have nothing left to give when you get home so we get the goo and the angst and the nerves. I know you give us the yucky parts because at some deep level, you trust that we can take it. You’re right. We can. And you’re not alone. We’re here with you while you figure it out.

We’re here.

But knock it off.

I say this in love. Knowing that you can’t. But that someday you will

Knock it off.

And, you know, when you do? Years down the road? When you knock that ‘tude off and come back to us in the fullness of yourself and we look back on this crazy time and laugh? I will love you no more then than I do right now, kid. Because I already love you all there is.

You are not alone. You’re not. And I love you.

Now knock it off.



Vocabulary Matters

Sep 19 2012

Conversation between my teenager, my husband and me:

Abby: You didn’t save me any chicken last night.

Me: What? What was last night?

Abby: I had dance ’til really late. I came home and the chicken was gone. You didn’t save me any.

Me: Huh. That’s weird.

Abby: It’s not weird, Mom. It’s mean.

Me: Well, I’m not sure I’d say it’s mean. That might be a tiny exaggeration, right? Mean implies intent, and I certainly didn’t intend to not save you any chicken.

Abby: Seriously? You fed all your other children food. Just not me. Unkind.

Me: Hey, Greg. Did you know we didn’t save Abby any chicken last night?

Greg: What was last night?

Me: Dance. Abby was out late. We didn’t save food.

Greg: We didn’t?

Me: That’s the way I heard it.

Greg: Huh. I guess we forgot about her.

Me: EXACTLY. That’s what I thought, too. SEE, ABBY? We’re not being mean. We’re being thoughtless and neglectful.

And this is why vocabulary matters, folks. Language is a precision instrument; we must teach our children to use it correctly. 

Can I get an amen?

Abby totally agrees.


Gloria Day

Sep 17 2012

Gloria Elizabeth Krueger
September 2, 1972 – September 17, 2002

I’ll walk your grave today, friend, and I will laugh, and I will cry. So very grateful for the time I had with you. So very sad that you’re not here.

I can’t believe it’s been ten years.


Ten years today.

Ten years of thinking you could just burst through my front door, any minute, full of life, full of joy.

Ten years of remembering your compassion and your art.

Ten years of missing your clean laundry, piled so high on your bed it touched the sky and forced you, like an ongoing lover’s quarrel, to always sleep on the couch.

Ten years of hearing your whispers on the wind and feeling you beside me while I walk the trail behind my house.

Ten years of wondering at your gift of always making me feel good about myself and privileged to live this life as uniquely me.

Ten years of milestones.

BIG milestones.

You’re an auntie, Glo! You would’ve LOVED that. And your friends’ kids? They are legion. And beautiful.

I have five now. FIVE KIDS.

Abby’s 14. Not 4 anymore. Not 4 like she was on the night that you died. Not 4 like she was on the night that I curled up with her in my bed and tried to stifle my sobs so I wouldn’t scare her.

Why are you crying, Mama?
Oh, baby girl. Gloria died today.
Is she in Heaven?
She is, baby. I know for sure because she took some of my Heaven with her.
It’s OK, Mama.
I know, baby. I just miss her already.

Ian’s 12, now, and Aden’s 10. You saw their picture that summer before you left, and we went to Guatemala the next spring to bring them home. We named Miss Aden for you, you know. Gloria Aden; my joyful, determined, messy, smiley kid — like you, like you. And she beams every Christmas when we sing Angels We Have Heard on High, belting “GLO (oh oh oh oh) OH (oh oh oh oh) OH (oh oh oh oh) OH RIA! In egg shell sees day OH…” with gusto and terribly off pitch, proud of her name, and comfortable in her skin. So very much like you.

We have twin boys, too, like the baby brothers you adored; oh, how you would’ve laughed your way, thrilled, through that discovery. You’re pregnant? With twins? And they’re boys? YAY!

Five, Gloria. FIVE. Can you believe it? Even a little? Because I still can’t, quite honestly. You would adore them, my wild children; they’re crazy NUTS. And sometimes naked. Like we were the summer night we ran all the way down that mountain, a pack of wild women wearing only running shoes and freedom.

It still makes me smile.

You would’ve turned 40 two weeks ago, Glo. The big 4-0. And you would’ve embraced it, I think, the way you did 30, with eager anticipation, delighted to enter a new era.

We just didn’t know then what kind of new era was coming, did we?

You left us for Heaven on September 17. Ten years ago.

On the hardest days — the days I’m disheartened and I wonder whether I really believe in God or Heaven — you pull me there with you, the strength of your life so vibrant and full that it’s impossible for me to think such a Light can be snuffed. You must be somewhere, Glo. And it must be magnificent. It simply… must.

When I pray — help my unbelief — I hear Gloria whispered softly in my mind. Because the love of Vivid You is often an easier touchstone to find in the dark than a God too big to understand. This, I think, is much of what it means to be Jesus to each other.

I miss you, friend.

I can still hear your laugh.

And I love you.


Oh, friends. I know I’m not alone. If there’s someone you miss and want to honor, please do feel free to leave their name and dates in the comments below. Also? Here is a piece of my heart. You may use it to shore up yours. I think a patchwork quilt of hearts is the only way to make it through, sometimes. Don’t you?


Easy Peasy Apple Cake

Sep 14 2012

Easy Peasy Apple Cake

It feels like my whole little world is ripe right now, as the blackberry season ends, the tomatoes grow fat, and the apples start to drop. We’re full swing into our back-to-school madness, and this mama and her kids want to drop, too, heavy with soaking up all of September’s changes and willing to lay on the hard earth and rot for a bit if it means we can rest.

The weekend is almost upon us, and I’m greeting it with both relief and a driving need to bake. Or can. Or freeze. Or cure meat. Anything to stock the pantry and the root cellar for the hard freeze of winter. Nevermind that I don’t have a root cellar and that our part of Oregon rarely freezes hard at all. Apparently, this is the time of year Mama Me must hunker down and gather my chickies into my nest despite the fact they’ll immediately try to peck each other’s eyes out; honest to God, as long as I can bake something with cinnamon or nutmeg or pumpkin spice, I do not care.

I’m sitting right now at my dusty patio table watching the rusty shovels lie impotently against the fence, which we didn’t stain for the tenth year in a row. The lawn mower sits half on and half off the grass, and two chairs are upended, catawampus, the last remnants of summer forts. The first leaves are starting to change even though it still smells like summer, and the fall breeze rustling in trees is making me nervous because it sounds just like a twenty-pound bag of rice spilling on the kitchen floor.

These are the sights and sounds and feelings at the beginning of fall, and so I must bake. I don’t know why or how that makes sense, only that it does.

This weekend, I’m baking apple cake. My kind of apple cake. The kind that’s easy peasy. The kind that’s possible with five kids underfoot. The kind that’s pretty. And rustic. And works for breakfast or dessert. Or lunch or coffee. Or second breakfast or afternoon snack. With apples and cinnamon delivering an awesome performance on center stage. There’s really nothing more I can ask of a cake. Unless it can bring me a beer.

And so, without further ado, I present to you…

Easy Peasy Apple Cake

First, cream together 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of soft butter.

I highly recommend hiring a five-year-old boy for this step. They’re vigorous mixers and they’ll work for licking the bowl. If you don’t have a five-year-old boy of your own, I’ll bet you can find a mama who’ll loan you hers for cheap. Perhaps for the low, low price of keeping him overnight.

Next, add two eggs.

Then, add 1 T. vanilla, 1/2 t. salt, 1 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. baking powder, and 1 c. flour.

And by 1 T. vanilla, I mean a giant splash or one glug. I’ve never measured vanilla in my life. Also, don’t forget to leave out the salt. I do that every time, and it doesn’t seem to matter. This is art, not science. Well, technically it’s chemistry but it tastes like home and hearth and happiness so I’m sticking with art.

Gently, barely mix it all together and pour the batter into a greased pan. I use a cast iron skillet ’cause it’s somehow perfect for fall, but you can use a 9×9 glass casserole dish or a pie pan… knock yourself out.

Cut and layer apples for the top. You can go for pretty or just pile fruit on that thing. The batter’s gonna grow over it, anyway, so it won’t matter in the end. There’s just something about fall that rewires my brain and make me fan my fruit like this:

I can’t help it.

Then sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar.

And throw on some pats of butter.

Just for giggles, you know.

And pop that pan of Ah, it’s fall! in the 350′ oven for 30 minutes. Or longer. Up to 40 minutes, perhaps. You pick. I slightly underbake mine (and broil the top for 2-3 minutes to crisp it up) because I leave it in the skillet — less to wash when the baking pan’s the serving pan — so my lower baking time allows it to keep cooking for a while after I pull it from the oven.

Serve warm. Or cold. Or lukewarm. With whipped cream. Or ice cream. Or all by itself.

And then pass out for a while.



Easy apple garnish, anyone?

If you cut an apple in the middle, instead of top-down,

…there’s a star inside. It’s fun. It’s easy. It’s more likely kids’ll eat their apples. Win/win/win.


And, hey! This recipe is also good for other fall fruit. Like plums.




Easy Peasy Apple Cake:
the short, boring directions 

Cream together:
1 c.sugar
1/2 c. soft butter

Gently mix in:
2 eggs
1 T. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. baking powder
1 c. flour

Pour batter into an greased pan.

Top with:
2 c. sliced fruit
2 T. cinnamon sugar

Bake: 350′ for 30 minutes


What’s your favorite, easy way to use fall fruit? Do tell! Add links if you’ve got ’em. I’m always on the lookout for new, simple, delicious recipes.


Couch-to-5K or 5K-to-Couch? Decisions, decisions.

Sep 13 2012

I really wanted to title this post “Butt Weight, there’s more!” Because it’s about running and why I run and my weight, and, you know, butt weight, there’s more. But then I thought that title might be mean to me, and I’m trying to knock that crap off. So, well, this is the conversation I had with myself abou tit:

But it’s funny!
But it’s mean.
Butt it’s funny!
Yeah. I totally saw that. Knock it off.
Fine. Forge tit.
I think you meant to type forget it.
Oops. Those t‘s and the tricky space bar always mess me up.
You’re the most immature person I know, Beth.

So I didn’t do it. Kudos to Mature Me! Woot!


A few years ago, the Couch-to-5K running plan changed my life, although, lately, I’ve been working very, very hard at perfecting my own special invention, the 5K-to-Couch plan.

In case you’re not familiar with it, Couch-to-5K is the remedial learn-to-run program for those of us who always, always came in last in the middle school, one-mile, around-the-track, yes-you-have-to-run-even-if-you-fake-cramps, President’s fitness challenge run. When I was a kid, I could take you DOWN in sprints. But an endurance run? Anything without the words “-yard dash” in it? Nope. None of that. Not even a tiny bit.

The President’s fitness challenge taught me one important life lesson: to detest running. And also to hate chin-ups, or, in my case, chin-up, singular, with my PE teacher lifting from underneath. Come to think of it, I hated all the kinds of sit-ups, too, where I wasn’t allowed to cheat by rolling on my back, lifting my feet, and pretty much just rocking on my hind-end in a general sit-up-like motion ’til that part of the class was over. So there were three important life lessons I learned before entering high school.

Honestly, the fitness lessons from early in life worked well for me until after college. I was neither in nor out of shape, thanks to an OK metabolism and a meh-attitude about buying bigger jeans. I got by fine. Then along came life as a mama and, as bonus gifts, I found myself with whole lotta extra pounds and no time to exercise. I know that sounds like an excuse, but I’d like to present to the jury infant twins, the need to advocate for my kids with special needs, a desperate sleep deficit, and pots full of room temperature, off-brand mac-and-cheese that weren’t going to eat themselves.

I started running when my youngest turned two.

I know. WHAT?

But I did.

At that particular point in life, I was beginning to suspect that it was a bad sign to find myself regularly out of breath while walking to my mailbox, so I thought I might give running a try.

Desperate times, friends.

You guys, C25K starts with 2 minutes of walking and 60 seconds of jogging, and then it repeats, and I will NEVER forget those first 60 seconds because I was ECSTATIC to discover my body could do that. Sixty seconds! IN A ROW!

OK. I just reread that, and I think maybe it sounds sarcastic or like I’m making fun of me, so let me just say. I’m not. I was stunned. Amazed. Thrilled. Hopeful. And I was not more proud even when I crossed the finish line of my first 5K race, slower and more pathetically shin-splinty than any of my friends. The truth is, no accomplishment, no completed goal, can match the terrifying courage required to take that first, lonely step. That step is success.

Over the last year, trying to juggle a job, kids, marriage, and increased writing put running on the back burner. I wasn’t happy about it, but I was intentional about it. I sacrificed my body on the altar of Other Things, and I was OK with the choice. For the short term. But I knew all the while, from the beginning ’til now, that it would have to change.

It’s a funny thing, making real life choices that cause various measures of good and harm. It’s the constant cost/benefit analysis of being human, I suppose. Magazines, movies and books rarely tell us that every decision comes with a cost. But, of course, when you’re a mama and you choose every day between reading another Dr. Seuss book and allowing yourself to go potty, you know it’s true. (You also know you can read Dr. Seuss to your kidlets while you’re sitting on the potty because you’ve tried it and the cost is only dignity which is probably long gone and an easy price to pay, but still… decisions = paying a price. Sure enough.)

So it’s time. My brilliant 5K-to-Couch plan is at its end, and Couch-to-5K is coming back. In part, I’m making this change because it’s time to be a better mommy, and running, it turns out, delivers a mind-blowing endorphin release that ushers me back to gentleness and kindness from moody, mama angst. My kids need me to run.

Do I regret my time with 5K-to-Couch? Nope; I refuse to regret doing what I needed to do.

That’s the thing I’m learning about this life. It’s not about making it perfect or even about balance. Not at all. This life with kids is too extreme — too full of rapid change — for perfection or balance to grow deep roots before they’re dislodged by another lifequake. And that’s OK. It is. We mamas learn to manage every day with new rhythms, using what works and discarding what doesn’t. Today, running is my rhythm.

These are my feet, under my desk.

And they are not going to run themselves.

So off I go, friends, to tackle C25K.


Here’s to life, and to new old rhythms.