The Best Spring Play Ever

After getting roped into producing Rocco’s play last fall, I made a promise to stay away from ropes. Probably forever. So when Leo’s auditions for Pinocchio rolled around last January and the e-mails asking for a producer went from pleading to threatening to despairing, I said nothing. I avoided eye contact with members of the PTSA board when I ran into them at the grocery store. I despaired along with the rest of the play parents. Oh no! What are we going to do?

(We all see where this is going, right?)

I knew it was a risky move to attend the school’s game night in January, which would be swarming with PTSA board members. I knew it. So I prepared. I prerecorded a message in my brain and played it on repeat the entire evening: Do not say anything about the play. Do not say anything about the play. Do not say anything about the play.

But the PTSA leads have powerful magic. Suddenly, inexplicably, there I was, standing next to the Communications Chair, thinking, Do not say anything about the play, Do not say anything about the play,  while saying, “So, did you find anyone for the play yet?” In one swift motion, she grabbed my hand, raised it in the air, and yelled across the room, “HEY JENNIFER! WE GOT ONE!”

So there you are. Here we are.

Fortunately this time, two other hapless souls got roped in with me, and fortunately, they turned out to be two of the nicest, most capable, supportive people I’ve ever worked with. We were Rachel, Rachel, and Eva. The Three Rachels, as I liked to call us. We were…The Producers.

Over the next two months, I garnered enough stories and incidents to write my own version of The Best (Worst) Christmas Pageant Ever.

For example, the entire box of donkey ears went missing the day before the play. Then a kid found the intercom button during a performance and used it to send messages to everyone in the green room. The director couldn’t make it to the second performance. A scene was accidentally skipped, leading to Cat and Fox appearing on stage without their costumes, singing their songs as two random people. During intermission a game of football broke out using Geppetto’s wig as the football. I broke up a fight between two kids mere inches from going on stage, using only body language. The costume room grew so ripe with the smell of feet by the third performance that we almost had to forego costumes altogether, for the sake of everyone’s health.

And the Band-aids! Don’t get me started on the Band-aids! Behind the stage, kids kept coming up to us holding out bloody fingers and arms and legs—once, a forehead. Had the audience been paying close attention, they would have grown alarmed to see that with each new scene the actors were growing more bloodied and bandaged. We went through so many Band-aids, I had to make a line item for them in the budget.

In short, there was DRAMA.

Despite my resistance to signing up, despite the work, the headaches, the 100 e-mails each day, I miss it all. I miss the Rachels. I miss the kids singing along behind the curtain. I miss making cheesy jokes about noses in my pre-show speech. (I’d write some here, but there’s snot enough time.)

It feels kind of like the post-wedding blues. Before the wedding, before the show, there’s so much excitement and bustle, so much coming together of people, so  much pageantry and so many unforgettable moments, it’s almost like everyone gets married a little bit. Then it’s over and wham-o, you’re just normal people wearing sweatpants, sorting through apples at the grocery store and avoiding eye contact with the PTSA board members again. (One of which, I should mention, I’m married to. It makes family dinners very awkward.)

Anyway, I’m sad it’s over, even though it’s a good thing it’s over.

Still, I am not producing another play. Or going to another school game night. I mean it this time!

Leo, Age 11

Leo had a birthday last month, so this blog post feels like a late assignment. Can I still get full credit on it?


One big breath and suddenly he’s 11. Gangly, skinny, strings-for-arms Leo—the fifth grader who makes funny faces whenever the camera’s on, who runs like a newborn giraffe, and who is sweet on stuffed animals and games of physical violence.



How to sum up Leonardo da Beto, as he calls himself? Well, to start with, his eating habits could be better. He waits for dinner to be done so he can scrape it all into the yard waste then go to his room to “read,” which sounds like a whole lot of candy wrappers crinkling. In fact, all he asked for his birthday was candy. Thank goodness he got so much; now he can eat in March.

PXL_20230211_010319027.PORTRAIT copya

His science experiment was about cotton candy, because of course he has a cotton candy maker. What did you think he eats for lunch?



(Originally there was a bag of cotton candy hanging in the blank spot, but he ate it.)


When I told him we were going to get cats in October, he said, “And who’s going to clean the litter box?” like he was the parent and I was the child. “I’ll clean the litterbox,” I said. “I’ll clean their litterbox, I’ll feed them, I’ll clip their nails, and I’ll play with them.” So who does Matcha choose to snuggle with?

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She wants absolutely nothing to do with me. She found a kindred spirit in Leo.

Leo sometimes gets picked last for kickball, but he still loves playing. He got a smaller role in the play this year and said, “They probably thought the bigger roles weren’t exciting enough for me.” He loves reading but insists he doesn’t. He likes soccer and videogames. He refuses to wear pants.


Leo still gets bigtime emotional now and then. He can’t be rushed and can’t be asked to do too many things at once. He has a hard time with constructive criticism. Sometimes we have to tiptoe around him.


But usually he is happy.


Really happy.


Sometimes he is blonde.


Sometimes unicorn-y.


But always, always, he is my baby because that’s what’s happens when you’re born in last place.

Or, as Leo would say, Best Place.


Owl, Donkey, and Goat

All my writing projects are stalled for one reason or another, so I’ve been going through my creative writing folder, deleting the embarrassing and playing around with the funny or poetic. My favorite so far is a document where I dumped a bunch of conversations from the boys when they were younger. I planned to write a book featuring Owl, Donkey, and Goat, where Vincenzo was the owl, Rocco the donkey, and Leo the goat. Will this ever happen? I don’t know! But I decided to share with you the first entry from that journal because it made me smile.

            Owl sat in the back seat lecturing Donkey, who had just waved goodbye to the sky.
             “You can never say goodbye to the sky—it will always be there.”
             Donkey kept interrupting the lecture to wave goodbye to the sky.
             “Now I’ve waved goodbye to the sky several times.”
             Goat, meanwhile, sat placidly in the middle seat eating the blanket he was wearing after soiling all the clothes he was wearing earlier in the day. Mom glanced at back him. He stopped chewing and smiled back with crystal clear eyes.
             “The clouds are going away,” Donkey said.
             “No, the clouds are coming,” Owl said.
             A heated debate ensued.
             “The clouds are coming, right Mom?” Owl asked.
             “M-hm,” said Mom, who hadn’t been listening.
             “Told you!” Owl said.
             Donkey released an unholy scream. Mom rewound the past minute in her head, the part she had heard but hadn’t listened to, and cued into the debate.
             “Boys! Boys!” the screaming stopped. “Maybe you are both wrong. Maybe the clouds are staying exactly where they are and it’s us that are coming or going.”
             That was a complex enough thought to quiet them for a bit, except for the sounds of chewing.

The End

Last week I finished revisions on my twelfth and final story for the Woodland Creatures collection. Twelve stories for summer, twelve for winter, with a cast of characters who have become as dear to me as my friends. When I reread the stories, the twists and turns, the spots of humor, the brand new slurry words I put together myself—it delights me as if I’m reading a story someone else wrote. I don’t even cringe. Imagine, Me! Not cringing at my own work! (I’ve already cringed a dozen times rereading drafts of this blog.)

I attached the twelfth story to an e-mail and sent it to my writing coach, then sat there feeling…everything. Happy and sad. Empty and full. Rich as a dragon sitting on her jewels. Lost as a knight without a quest. Joyful as a kite taken up by the wind. Empty as an echo. Full as a sunset. Quiet as a corner.

I’m trying not to look at what comes next—that word that starts with the letter “q” and closely rhymes with “worrying.” I have such PTSD from previous attempts at doing that q thing that I can’t even write the word without reaching for a paper bag. But I have to go forward because I want these stories to make it into big hands and little ones, into circle times and rocking chairs, into libraries and pillow forts and backpacks. I want kids to grow up with these stories filling their minds and shaping their hearts.

So I clicked “send” on the twelfth story. Then I wrote all my thoughts and emotions in my journal and finished by adding, And now, I will rest awhile.

I sat there a moment more, thinking how nice a rest is going to be.

Then I started thinking about the second story I ever wrote. The one about the boy in the pink, glitter, light-up boots. The one I loved so much.

So I opened it up.

And then I got to work.

Perfectly Boring

For Martin Luther King Day we just did regular things instead of three-day-weekend things. The boys got haircuts, I got in some workouts and a pedicure, Kevin roasted a chicken, I  binge-watched Alone, we went to my nephew’s basketball game, Rocco made a new friend, Leo memorized his monologue, and V cram-wrote an essay. The weekend was as boring as it was lovely.

All this is to say I’ve got nothing to blog about, so I will do what I do to make myself more fun as a substitute teacher: put up some cat pix and videos.




The cat pictures, too, are boring but lovely.

They’re getting older and bigger, just like my human kids. It’s louder now when their heads thump on the ground during wrestling bouts. Just like my human kids.

We started taking them for walks. When we get the leash, Boba purrs and runs toward us.


Matcha is not sold on the idea yet.


She spends most of her time sniffing around the door trying to find a way back in while Boba paws at the other side of the door, trying to find a way back out. He cries throughout the day now, which he never used to do. I’m not sure if outside time is a net gain or loss for his happiness.

Don’t be sad for Matcha though; her happy place safely inside, flying.

So now you know that’s how I get my classes to behave: by promising them cat videos if they can get their SS packets out in 60 seconds.

Of course, when I sub I always bring Mei Mei, our family’s stuffed duck. Mei Mei loves participating in class discussions and pointing out trash on the ground. He got jealous of all the cat pictures I show the kids at school, so I had to take some of him as well.

Here he is drinking from a faucet:


Looking for his sock monkey Mo Mo under the fridge:


Sleeping in a cute position (what a faker!):


Going for a walk. He spent the whole time complaining the leash was too tight.


Playing with his favorite toy:

The things we do for our pets.

New Year’s 2023

While we’re not big fans of New Year’s, we are fans of our New Year’s Eve party, and specifically of the mystery Lego game we  play. Ahead of time, each person builds something out of Lego bricks and snaps a picture, then takes it apart and put it in a bag. At the party, guests take a bag and build what’s in it without seeing the original. The replicas look like derpy versions of the originals. My favorite was the llama, which started out looking like this…


and ended up looking like this.


I just want to hug it!

Another attempt somehow spawned an extra llama plus a feeding trough, all from the same Lego pieces!


What started out as a parrot ended up as that same parrot’s shady older cousin.


Fortunately, in the next round he pulled things together as Mall Cop Parrot.


There was a clock tower that somehow got shorter with each build:



A polar bear eating a penguin.

(As McStreamy pointed out, polar bears exist at the north pole and penguins at the south, so the only way this is possible is a tragic zoo mauling.)

And  a WWII-era Orca. Yes, that’s a rotating machine gun attached to its face.


As is tradition, the adults left the party at a reasonable hour and Kevin went to bed so I stayed up with the kids. Without my tech support, none of the countdown shows would cast to the TV or do full- screen mode, so the stroke of midnight found us all crammed around my phone, watching a 1 x 2” video of a toothpick-sized Space Needle erupting in fireworks. At least, we think that’s what it was. It might have just been a commercial for a Sonicare or something.

And like that, the holidays were over.

Usually the post-holiday blues wait a while to come, letting me think I escaped them before sneaking in the backdoor. This year, though, they came before holiday break was even over. On Sunday I took the family to see Puss In Boots to forget about being sad. It worked, but only for a little while and now Kevin keeps asking if I want to rub his belly.


I think I’ll go with the llama instead.

White Elephant Christmas Spectacular

I love Christmas music. All through December it brings me back to the old-fashioned kind of Christmases of my grandparents’ youth. I insert myself into each of the songs, singing yuletide carols by the tree while Jack Frost nips at my nose and the night wind whispers to the little lamb.

As lovely as those songs are, and as they’re about me and my Christmases, they are also not at all like my Christmases. For example, where is the carol about playing poop shoot in front of the tree? Or the one about unwrapping phallic pieces of art? Where is the song titled But What Happened to the Plastic Fetus?

Alas, there is no Christmas carol for us, but at least there this blog post which may lack some of the rhyme and brass, but if you imagine the whole thing being sung by Michael Buble, we’ll call it close enough.

Come, let us harken back to a Christmas past, a Christmas of the year last, when we won the white elephant gift exchange by walking home with Smokey Sue (she smokes for two!). You probably remember her from most of your nightmares of last year.


Well your nightmares are over (or at least will be more interesting) because we gave her a little makeover. She is no longer Smokey Sue, she is now…


Take a minute. Let your hearts be aglow with her merry show.


There was much cackling and rubbing of hands in our dungeon—I mean basement—over the past couple months.

Smokey Sue had originally come from my brother’s family, so when they looked at the big pile of white elephant gifts on Christmas Day, they steered clear of this one.


They went for something safer.


Which made this moment even better.

Mwahahaha. (Sounds a little like falalalala, right?)


What was in the decoy, you ask?


Ah yes, the tiny babies of the cucumber photos! Here they are, in their own Christmas special. Warning: eat in good lighting.

Another favorite gift (there were so many, many good ones) was a Magic Jinn that guesses what animal you’re thinking of, but not just any Magic Jinn—one whose nose button had broken off, so it came with a pencil that you had to stick in its nose to make it work.


There was also a game of Poop Shoot that my oldest sister had an uncanny knack for winning.


And this blanket of baby Vincenzo. He will be going to college with my nephew this January, and he didn’t even have to write an essay with a personal story or show documentation of his volunteer hours and AP classes to get in.


This next gift gave Disco Sue a run for her money.


My sister gifted it to me years ago when she was into glassblowing. She said it was Dr. Seuss-inspired. You may feel it was something-else inspired. Or you may not, depending on how long it’s been since you were a seventh grade boy. As dear as the piece was to me I had regifted it to a sibling for their birthday and they gifted it to someone else for their wedding who gifted it to someone for a baby shower and so on until it disappeared. Poof! Gone! I thought we had lost it for good, but turns out it had just been crashing at my sister’s place in Vegas for a decade. It made for an awkward moment when it went through the X-ray machine at bag check.

As it came down to the last gift, we thought our stomachs couldn’t handle another bout of laughter. But then my younger sister, the vegetarian, opened the final gift.


So none of this would make it onto a postcard by Courier & Ives. All of this might land us on Santa’s naughty list for next year. But it’s not so bad when the wandrin’ path down leaves you laughing all the way.

A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight…
Laughing all the way

Cat Tree

And how are the cats doing with the tree, you ask?

Actually really well!

It was a little too pointy on top, but Matcha fixed it.



And a little too ornamenty.


Then Matcha realized we didn’t have an angel, so she volunteered herself.


She has to come down every once in a while to eat the carpet, so it’s a good thing she’s learned to get to the top so quickly!

Taking care of our Christmas tree is a tough job, but some cat’s got to do it.


(It’s a good thing they’re so cute.)




O Plastic Tree

For various reasons and through many, many four-against-one conversations, we decided to get an artificial tree this year. Which means no more this.



Kevin pointed out it doesn’t have to be forever. Maybe it will just be for one year, then we’ll go back to the Christmas tree farm. I said, but what if we like it? And we had to start the conversation all over again.

We went to Nordstrom to pick one out. Normally it is raining freezing rain sideways when we pick out a tree. Here, there was no weather.. I missed the complaining. My socks were way too dry. I walked around each tree with a rotten egg look on my face. Nearby, a lady browsed athletic T’s with her son. Ignoring how unnatural this was, I explained that we were getting an artificial tree this year and how it feels like we’re giving up on life, you know, like we are now those people who say Christmas is too much hassle and pretend they’re not home when neighbors deliver cookies. She smiled. “I’ve always had an artificial tree.”

See?!! That kind of thing never happened when we picked out a real tree.

I have always preferred a scraggly, gappy tree to a full one. This one delivers.


Maybe a little too much.

Also, it smells like plastic. At least, it did until I painted some branches with pine oil that smells like a forest in the bottle but like toilet bowl cleaner on our tree, which is why all of our windows are open despite the freezing temperatures and the sideways hail that is coming inside.

Well, at least one of us is still complaining.

Oaxacan tacos
Black beans
Christmas cookies

Not a Christmas Letter

Ah! Blogging! I forgot about you! I spend all my extra time giving skritches to the kitties. The cats are good, except for all the jumping on counters. They always have an excuse, like “But there was a bug on the ceiling,” or, “Boba did it first,” or, “We can’t read.”

But then they do something like this and we forgive them.


Here’s the rundown on the boys: V still working at Bobae, avoiding our questions about homework by hiding in his room on his phone, and pinning his brothers to the couch while he still can, as Rocco is making a run for him for on both height and weight. Rocco is also making a run on V for time spent in his room on his phone and finishing up school soccer. Leo is usually found rolling around the carpet asking what there is to dooooooo because he doesn’t have a hobby and he also doesn’t have a phone.

Maybe I’m not being fair. Let’s hear it from the boys themselves. What are you all up to?

V: Uh…homework? *shrug* And I ranked up in Valorant?
Me: Is it spelled V-A-L-O-R-A-N-T?
V: Yeah. Like the word.

R: Absolutely nothing!
Me: Come on, you have to give me more than that.
R: IDK. Give me a moment to think.
School timer: beep beep! beep beep! beep beep!
R: I have to go now.

L: School, week with all of the activities at school, Christmas break coming up, and that’s really it.
Me: What are your thoughts on the cats?
L: They are cute and cuddly but the slightest bit annoying. At least they stopped climbing the Christmas tree though…

As for me, life has been contentedly boring. I have been happily writing for a couple months instead of angst-ily writing. It’s the combination of having a set of woodland creatures to write about (6 winter stories and I’m starting my 6th summer story today!!) and working with my writing coach. She is a smart, encouraging grandmother of a person who asks questions like, “Just how would a squirrel and a mouse turn a river into a swimming hole?” then pokes around YouTube to find a way it can be done. Having her on my team is like having a warm batch of cinnamon rolls on my team.

And finally, Kevin. He recently upgraded his free scooter from Google for something bigger. He no longer looks like a circus clown riding around on a tiny bike and instead looks like a big Italian guy on a Vespa.


That’s as close to a Christmas letter as it gets around here. I hope you’re all enjoying the pre-Christmas fun!

Cashew chicken
Broiled asparagus