Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Let's Go Camping

 Going camping always makes me question my sanity.

Let's pack up so much stuff we have to attach a rack to our trailer hitch and put a cargo carrier on top of the car just to hold everything, and leave our strong, sturdy home for a windblown tarp in the wilderness. 

We'll forgo our comfortable beds for air mattresses that have a 90% chance of going flat during the night. 

We won't shower for days and the kids will use up all my baby wipes cleaning their filthy feet. 

We'll do our business in a stinky outhouse that has peeping chipmunks lurking inside. 

The kids will be cranky from lack of sleep and will spend all day alternating between shrieking with playful fun and sobbing that one of their siblings has wronged them. 

It will take half a day to unpack our stuff and settle into our campsite. And then once we're really comfortable, we'll pack it all up again and go home. 

No wonder my parents never took us camping. 

But somehow, like a truly insane person, I keep doing it. I tell Mr. Brown Eyes, "Let's go camping," like it's the easiest form of vacation, involving very little planning or preparation. 

Maybe someday I'll learn. 

But I kind of hope that I don't. 

Because there is something about being in the clear, cool air, the quiet so loud it resounds in your ears, looking up at a breathtaking spangle of stars, that will send me camping again and again, no matter the hassle. 

Somehow the bad parts always seem to fade to the back of our minds, and all we remember is that camping is beautiful and fun, and let's go all the time. 

Ok, maybe not ALL the time.

I do love sleeping in my bed. 

Happy Camping, 

The Brown-Eyed Girl

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Really Big Trees

 Who knew trees could be so fascinating?

I have seen pictures from the Redwood Forest, as I'm sure most people have, and I would usually shrug and think, "Yeah, those are some really big trees."

But seeing them in real life was unreal. Pictures don't do them justice, words seem insufficient. They ARE really big trees, and they are AMAZING. 

We actually stopped first at Sequoia National park, where the species of Redwoods known as Giant Sequoias reside. They are shorter than the coastal Redwoods but much wider. More rotund? I'm not sure what the right word is in tree-speak. 

But both species of Redwood were breath-taking and made us feel like tiny human beings. Insignificant creatures that only live for maybe a hundred years, while some of these trees have loomed for thousands.

As we cruised the winding mountain road, the first Sequoia that loomed over us made me feel like we were in a forest of giants. Like something out of a fairy tale. 

General Sherman, the largest tree on earth in terms of volume, gave us a glimpse of what mice must feel like with us towering over them. 

I just don't have words. 

Ok, maybe I have some words. 

I think maybe sometimes I treat other people's problems like really big trees--something I brush off because I don't really understand. I know I probably won't ever step into those problems and experience them firsthand like I did the trees, but maybe I can learn, and we all can, that we all experience mortal life differently. Maybe I can learn that what might just seem like a big tree to me is real and immense to someone else, and I can have a little more sympathy and compassion. 

And I learned that some things in life are just beyond description. 

Really Big Tree Lover,
The Brown-Eyed Girl

Monday, July 5, 2021


My mom was the kind of person who didn't like to go to the doctor. 

She hardly ever got sick, so it never seemed to matter. 

Except when she really was sick. Really sick. But she brushed it aside as nothing because she didn't want to go to the doctor. 

Months later, even she couldn't ignore her pain anymore, and she was admitted to the hospital. The doctors there discovered she had a massive tumor blocking the duct to her gall bladder. The cancer had spread throughout her body, causing other complications, including blood clots.

I imagine by that time her pain was excruciating. She was put on a pretty high dose of pain meds. Treatment for the cancer was discussed, but it was so far advanced there wasn't much they could do. 

I think by that time Mom knew her life was nearing its end. 

I spent as much time with her in the hospital as I could, and in the beginning, when she was coherent, we talked about everything. One day we got on the topic of my kids, and how sometimes I just had a hard time being nice and not yelling when they were driving me crazy. 

"You should make a poster," Mom told me, "that says 'Kindness begins with me.' And put it somewhere where you see it all the time."

She went on to tell me that "Kindness begins with me" had become her motto in the hospital, that she tried to remind herself of it when dealing with the nurses and doctors constantly bombarding her, running tests, taking blood, giving medication. 

Those words are a testament to how amazing my mother is. There in that hospital bed, during her last days on earth, her broken body wracked with pain, she thought of other people. Not herself. One might say she had every right to rage at the nurses if she wanted to. But she didn't. She considered their feelings. She made them laugh. She was kind to her very last moments. 

I haven't made that poster yet, but when I feel my patience thinning, the words "kindness begins with me" resound in my mind.

I have a long way to go, but, someday, I hope to be just like my mom. 

Be kind,

The Brown-Eyed Girl

Monday, June 21, 2021

Summer Magic

 Who doesn't love vacation?

Ok, my mom didn't, but that's a story for another day.

I love vacations. When I was a kid, my family went on a road trip every summer. I remember being too excited to sleep the night before we left, then waking up with the sun and sleeping in the car. We'd cram in our old van (until I got older, then we rented a van every summer), drink soda and eat fast food, see new places, and visit cousins. 

I love to see that same excitement in my kids when we go on trips. And even though I don't feel grown-up enough to be the Mom--sitting up front, handing out snacks, shushing arguments, holding Mr. Brown Eyes' hand--I love that part, too. 

Sometimes Mr. Brown Eyes and I get grumpy on vacation. Late nights + long drives + wild, shrieking children = one of us, or both of us, is going to snap. And I feel so bad when it happens, like we've ruined this fun family time together and all that our children will remember of vacation is that Mom and Dad didn't let them have any fun. 

What makes me feel even worse is that I don't ever remember my parents being grumpy with us while we were on vacation, not even the time we got rear-ended in Seattle in the middle of the night. When after being awakened by the crash, I sleepily asked my dad, "Is the van dented?"

But my parents weren't perfect, and I can't imagine that we ever got through a two week vacation without some level of bad moods. What matters, though, is that I don't remember that part. What I remember of our vacations is playing on the floor of the van (no, I would never let my kids do that today), picnicking in the forest, hiking to a waterfall, laughing with my cousins until we cried. I remember the ice cold water in Lake Michigan, juicy strawberries from my grandma's garden, the wind whipping my hair as we ferried across the Puget Sound, dazzling fireworks in a summer sky.

If my parents ever lost their patience with us, the happy memories we made were enough to drown it out. 

I hope the same thing happens with my children.

I hope, thirty years from now, they look back and remember magical summers full of thunderstorms in Lockett Meadow, mangoes on the beach in Rocky Point, lush green vistas in Oregon, and lots and lots of laughter. 

And maybe a little grumpiness, too.  And an unanticipated inspection at the border. 

But mostly magic. 

Happy Summer,

The Brown-Eyed Girl

Monday, June 7, 2021

Writing On

 What do you do when you feel discouraged? 

This whole writing thing gets me discouraged a lot. Between the fact that it's been four years since The Unicorn Hunter was released and I still don't have a sequel out, and the inadequacy I feel as a writer every time I read what real writers write, discouragement is often just part of the game. 

I usually deal with it in one of these ways:

1. Go to bed. Tired Brown-Eyed Girl + anything negative = debilitating discouragement. Usually a good night's sleep sets me straight and freshens my perspective. 

2. Curl into a ball and cry. While this does sound like the sissy's response to discouragement, a good cry every now and then is cleansing for the soul. It gets the gunk out, helps me reset, and again, freshens my perspective. 

3. Vent to Mr. Brown Eyes. Usually this one happens unintentionally. I just sit next to him to talk about our day or even to just say good night, and feelings come pouring out. Every husband's dream, right? But he is amazing in that he stops what he's doing and listens, sympathizes, and offers actual helpful solutions. He helps me look at the situation with a fresh perspective.

I'm sensing a pattern here. 

Being discouraged is a matter of perspective. That's right. It's choosing to take a negative outlook on what's going on in our lives. I can look ahead at my future as a writer and see a bleak and dreary desert, I can choose to see my writing as inferior and take my rejections personally. Or I can remember that I write because I LOVE it, not because I have to be published, and thus see the future as a road that is winding and steep, but full of spectacular views. 

If I've learned anything from being published, it's that discouragement will stalk my every step if I let it. Every bad review, every rejection, can drag me down and make me feel like writing is a waste of my time. 

I used to think discouragement meant failure. It meant things weren't going right and I should just give up. When I read the first bad review of my book, I thought my writing life was over. But it wasn't. In that case, I got a good night's sleep and the next day I knew I wanted to keep writing no matter how many people hated what I wrote.

Now I know that if I choose to give up at the first discouragement, I will never succeed. I guess that is the difference between those who succeed and those who don't. 

Of course I would be remiss in all this talk of overcoming discouragement if I left out God. In every scenario, He is a huge part in lifting me when I am down. I think some discouragement is so deep and all-encompassing that it is impossible for us to rise above it without His help. I truly believe in the power of prayer. 

However you lift your view above the clouds of discouragement, whether it's sleep, crying, venting, prayer, or something else, know that the clouds will part. 

And the view will be awesome. 

Writing on,

The Brown-Eyed Girl

Tuesday, June 1, 2021


 What makes a house a home?

I lived in the same house until I was 18, and then I moved back when I finished college. A sturdy brick house built by my dad, big enough for eleven kids as long as we shared rooms, nestled on a spacious acre where we could roam and play. 

Home was messy and full of broken things that needed repair, but it was home. It was the place where I felt safe, the refuge I could return to when girls at school were mean to me, where I could be completely myself in a world where everyone only saw me as the quiet, shy one. It was where I laughed with my sisters and nestled next to my mom. Where I returned from my first date and cried over my first heartbreak.  I know the spot where my brother punched a hole in the wall, the perfect patch of sunlight in the living room, the second-story door that used to lead to nothing, the archway that everyone bashes their head on. 

I have a new home now, that I've built with Mr. Brown Eyes. It's where we have brought home all four of our babies, where we have laughed and cried and dreamed together. 

But somehow my childhood home remained "home," too. I would drop in to visit my parents several times a week, sometimes spending the night with my kids, always greeted by my mom's home-cooking. I always felt like it was still my house.

So when my dad mentioned selling it after Mom died, I almost felt like I was losing someone else I loved. 

The house is staying in the family, but soon it will hardly resemble the place I grew up. With Mom gone, it's slowly been emptied of the boxes (and I mean boxes) of things she kept--our grade school report cards, pictures, notes we wrote her--her closet full of yarn, and the smiley faces that brightened every corner. As my brother prepares to move in, the furniture is moving out, and last week my sister and I took the pictures off the walls. 

The change hurts, but I've known it was coming, and as I've prepared myself for it I have realized that the things we are getting rid of are just things. They aren't what made the house home. Even the house itself is a thing. Its four walls and leaky roof sheltered us, but what made it home were the people inside of it and who they helped me become. 

I hope my children remember their childhood home with fondness, but I also hope they remember that home is in your heart, and you can keep it with you always. 

Home Sweet Home,
The Brown-Eyed Girl

Monday, May 24, 2021

Sibling Love

Sibling love can feel so fleeting.

One minute my children are best friends, laughing with pure joy at whatever game they're playing. But in the next instant that can turn upside down, and suddenly their fun is riddled with "you're playing it wrong," "you're not the boss of me," and "I am NEVER playing with you ever again."

Little Blue-Eyed Baby is often at the heart of the kids' disagreements and ruined games. He's the baby of the family and, let's face it, the baby of the family gets away with murder. He steals toys, kicks down block towers, and generally instigates the older kids to retaliate. Which they usually do. And then he cries.

I try not to, but I often instinctively blame the older kids every time Blue-Eyed Baby cries, even when the baby is not entirely innocent. Of course this creates hard feelings, and there have been times when the older kids grumble that they wish they had never had a baby brother. 

When this happens I remember a typical morning at a park over a year ago, right before the world shut down over Covid 19. The bigger kids had a great time swinging, running in the grass, and shooting each other up into the air on the teeter-totter, while Blue-Eyed Baby, who wasn't even a year and half, toddled around after them. 

I noticed that there was a hole in the middle of the teeter-totter where a bolt was missing, but didn't think much of it. I stayed with Baby Blue Eyes while the other kids played, until my Brown-Eyed Girl, Kora, started crying that she had hurt herself. While I consoled her, the two older kids jumped onto the teeter-totter and immediately rocked it into the air.

Baby Blue Eyes started fussing. I looked over to see that his finger was stuck in the missing bolt-hole. I reached over to help him pull it out. 

And shrieked. 

The inner mechanisms of the teeter-totter had crushed my little boy's finger to the point where the tip was just barely hanging on. 

For the next several minutes I didn't pay attention to anything else as I clutched my whimpering baby to me, blood dripping on the sidewalk, and dialed 911. While the operator took what felt like an eternity to patch me through to the fire station, I staunched Baby Blue Eyes' blood with a diaper and tried not to lose it. As soon as the ambulance was on its way, I called Mr. Brown Eyes and told him to come RIGHT NOW.

Mr. Brown Eyes raced to the park from the store a couple of blocks away. He gathered Blue-Eyed Baby into his arms and rode with him in the ambulance to the hospital. 

That's when I turned to my other three children, all crying quietly on top of the jungle gym. 

At that moment, it didn't matter how many toys their baby brother had stolen from them or how unfair it was that I took his side every time he cried. Their little tear-stained faces told me how much they loved him and how worried about him they were. 

I held them close and we cried together. They said prayer after prayer that Baby Blue Eyes would be ok, and they spent the afternoon at their aunt's house making get-well cards for him. 

They were as relieved as I was when Baby Blue Eyes came home that night, freshly stitched-up and already back to his silly, spunky self. For the next two months he wore a sock on his hand to keep him from pulling his bandage off. 

I wish I could say that since that day they have treated each other with greater kindness and patience, but they're still kids. They have many years to find new things to fight about before they realize they can be each others' best friends. 

But I know, when it really comes down to it, that they care about each other. 

And as long as I remember that, their spats and arguments and "I'm never playing with you again" threats don't bother me as much.  

Sibling love outlasts all that. 

Especially when your little brother has super-powers in his finger. 

It could happen,

The Brown-Eyed Girl