Making the rounds

guitar heroWe are spending the weekend with my brother, his wife, and my seven year old nephew – about two hours away from Bryan’s family. We started off the weekend by playing Guitar Hero for about two hours, which, I have to say, is the only video game I have been able to beat my husband at. Ever. What can I say? I gots me some rhythm.

And also? It warms my heart to hear my nephew singing “hit me with your best shot” as he rocks the guitar with Pat Benetar.

computer budsMy nephew bonded with Bryan as he worked, playing his Game Boy along side his chair. He’s a pretty smart kid, trying to figure his uncle out. He already knew Bryan liked Guitar Hero, so he asked him to play a football game with him on the Playstation and Bryan was like, No dude, I don’t do sports games. So then he asked if he’d play Lego Star Wars, and Bryan was all over that.

Later when Scout was wandering aimlessly, Bryan told her to go lay on her bed, and she did. My nephew’s eyes bugged out and he said, “You mean, she does what you tell her to??” Bryan thought that was pretty funny.

Around seven the first night my nephew, who is an only child, asked me when “the little kids” were going to bed (Ruthie had been singing at top volume and Thomas was running around growling at everyone – all while Guitar Hero was blaring on the tv). “They irritating you already?” I asked, laughing. He smiled. “Me too,” I said. “But it’s going to be a couple hours.”

hot tubbingWe wrapped up this evening by lounging in the hot tub, and Ruthie got to practice her newly learned breath-holding skills from her summer swim lessons. She’s more daring in the water, now, and was willing to do some running jumps into the pool after she saw her cousin doing it.

As a side note, we went to Disneyland on Wednesday with Bryan’s brother and his family and had a total blast. I can hardly believe it, but my kids lasted for TWELVE HOURS at the park – from 8am to 8pm. Thomas slept in the stroller for about an hour, but still…TWELVE HOURS. Ruthie was asleep before we left the parking garage.

More on that later – I’m actually working on a video.

Don’t hate me because it’s sunny here.

Somehow I’ve managed to maintain my current weight this week even though every flat surface in this house is covered with something sugared or baked. I mean, for cryin’ out loud! I nibble a little here, and I nibble a little there, but for the most part I have avoided a full throttle gorge.

Christmas EveToday, Christmas Eve, it is delightful outside. It is the sort of day that requires one to use the word “delightful.” I’m wearing my summer capri pants with sandals (no socks, of course), and the kids are barefoot out in the yard. I told my mom this – my mom who lives in Minnesota – and I was ordered to “hush up.”

It’s true that a change of circumstances has lifted my Christmas spirit. While I would like to say I learned to find joy in the midst of my circumstances, what really happened is that I found sun and warmth in the midst of the Seattle rainy season.

Not very spiritual, but extremely practical.

It also helps that there is Christmas cheer everywhere in the Zug Clan. In fact, the evening we pulled up to my brother-in-law Brad’s house for dinner and saw his house wrapped in lights with lighted Santas in the yard, Thomas said, “Wow, daddy, that’s a lot of Christmas!” Bryan’s dad’s house is decorated, too, and even our camper has lights on it with a candy cane lined walk leading up to it.

A smattering of 2nd cousinsYesterday we spent the evening with all of Bryan’s cousins on his mom’s side. We last saw everyone two years ago, so it was fun to ooo and aahhh at how big everyone’s children were. There are six cousins in all, plus spouses, plus a million kids between everyone so it was a packed house, but so much fun.

I’m looking forward to some post-Christmas fun activities, including, but not limited to, a trip to Disneyland and an excursion to the Joshua Tree National Park.

If you are bored, or missing me, or both, follow my witty Twitters, which come more frequently than my blog posts.

Big Day for Rodica

RodicaThis is Rodica. She’s an eighteen-year-old girl from Moldova (it borders Romania – I had to look it up) that my brother-in-law, Dave, met on one of his many trips to Moldova/Romania. He makes several trips a year there through a missions organization, and often takes groups of kids there from the college he works at as a missions trip for them.

I’m not totally sure of the timing, but within a couple years ago Rodica was electrocuted in an accident. Her right arm was amputated as a result, and the fingers of her left hand are now fused together. She has some movement in her thumb, and can grab things like a fork by pinching her thumb to her hand, but other than that she needs lots of help. Dave was able to raise money for her airfare and secure a medical visa for Rodica to come to the US for a medical consultation and possible surgery to have her fingers separated.

She is staying with Dave and my sister, Jody, in Iowa, but today they are in Cincinnati at the Shriner’s hospital that offered to treat her for free. At today’s consultation the doctors will let Rodica know what her options are, and she will make a decision about what she wants to do. It’s possible that within six months Rodica could have use of her hand again!

When I saw Rodica at my nephew’s wedding in Kansas, I nearly fell off my chair as she greeted me in full English sentences. Only several months before when I met her in June, she knew not a lick of English, and we were all performing charades to communicate. She has been in school this year as a Junior, is running on the cross country team, and I heard Dave tell someone that she made the honor roll.

As I got to know her more that weekend in Kansas, I was getting a kick out of how resourceful and confident she is, knowing exactly what she wants and how to get it. As we attempted to organize our hotel room to make way for a cot, she took charge of the situation and began nudging bags around and telling me where to put things.

From the public computer in the hotel lobby, Rodica pulled up these pictures she had found of her home town of Nisporeni. It is a beautiful countryside, and in many of the pictures she was able to point out a certain grove of trees she’d hiked past or a road she’d walked on.

Please be thinking about and praying for Rodica, so far from home and facing so many serious decisions. If you are interested in donating money or airline mileage awards toward her travel between Iowa and Ohio, and ultimately back to Moldova again, please send me an email (jenzug at gmail dot com), and I will hook you up.

Diary of a Kansas Wedding

I am back from the land of Maxwell House coffee. My sister actually told the couple who served us the rehearsal dinner, “Could you please make the coffee a little more like coffee house coffee, and a little less like church coffee?” I appreciated her effort, because strong Maxwell House coffee is much better tasting.

My nephew’s wedding was very sweet with just the right amount of pink and softness, and it was in a beautiful old Mennonite church on the Kansas prairie. Isn’t this dreamy?…

Wedding Chapel on the Kansas prairie

I was sad at times that Ruthie wasn’t with me to hang out with all her cousins, but being kid-less also meant I could be put to hard labor setting up the church and putting it back together again. When I called home on Friday morning to tell her I was decorating the church, she said, “I wish I was there to help you!” Proof that leaving her at home was the right decision!

Hard labor was my task, because after I tried countless times to tie a wired ribbon bow I remembered why I left all the foofie stuff up to my best friend at my own wedding. My sister-in-law, Nicole, was the bow master.

bows

It’s not often that my brother and sister and I find ourselves in the same place all at once. I think the last time this happened was at Gordy’s funeral in 2005, and before that at my wedding in 2001. It was fun to catch up together, lounge by the hot tub, play games in the hotel’s family room, and document how many different conversations about football can take place within a 24 hour period. I am now schooled on the finer points of who’s rank will go down if USC wins the next game. I think.

I even got into an intense political discussion with my dad and brother at dinner Saturday night, testing out my political awareness now that I’m no longer a political apathetic. I was enjoying myself and would have kept going down the checklist of issues, but my mom – She Who Cracks Under Intense Conflict – nervously pleaded for us to leave the restaurant.

I crashed in the same room as my mom and three teenagers – my niece, Kara; my nephew’s girlfriend, Karina; and Rodica, the Moldovan girl living with them (more on her later). We were packed in there, and the mess was messy (Rodica kept pointing out the boys’ room was not as messy), but we also stayed up late watching movies and talking about hair. Plus, the boys’ room was stinky.

crowded hotel room

I learned that my niece has a Facebook page. When I discovered this, I almost blurted out, “I’ll add you as my friend!” Then my brain got a hold of my tongue, reminding me that it is not cool to have your 36 year old chubby aunt as a friend on your Facebook page.

We also got a kick out of my seven year old nephew following my college age nephew around. Everywhere. Drew. Drew. Drew. That’s all Jake was about, was Drew. Fortunately, Drew is awesome, and the sort of magnetic personality that draws all seven year olds everywhere to himself. No wonder he’s majoring in elementary education. Also? Jake must have been jealous of Drew’s girlfriend, because he asked her, “Why do you follow him around so much?” Uh, backatcha?

cousin drew, cousin kara, cousin jake

My nephew, Jesse, is all grown up, and his new wife, Kaley, seems very sweet and confident and aware of what she wants. There was no bitchy stressed-out bride vibe coming from her at all. She was wonderful.

the happy couple

Besides drinking coffee from a can, I will leave you with the other clue that I wasn’t in Seattle anymore – a sign posted at the Wichita Airport’s baggage claim:

I'm not in seattle anymore

Fourth of July

On the 4th we drove North to Bellingham where my dad has a condo on Lake Whatcom. The weather was beautiful, the kids were great, and the food was yummy. And there was plenty of laziness going around for everyone to enjoy.

That night I drove home, and around 10pm we were on the stretch of I-5 between Marysville and Everett, in a valley with tree-topped hills off in the distance to the East and the South. Bryan was reading and the kids were asleep and I was listening to Brandi Carlile as loud as possible, feeling refreshed in my introverted bubble.

Then, as I looked out over the valley I saw puffs of fireworks all along the treetops, stretching for miles along the thin line between tree and sky.

It was as if God had sewn a sparkley fringe around the horizon.

Things I never expected would happen

I love to watch Conan O’Brien, so when I visit family in the Midwest I love to watch him consequence-free because prime time television programing begins one hour earlier there than here in Seattle.

As my mom channel surfed one night, she happened to land on NBC just as his show was beginning, and I squealed for her to stop it here! stop it here!

She commented about how weird he was, and I said, Isn’t that just GREAT? And I gave confirming giggles as he hopped and preened and jerked around awkwardly on the stage, his solid mass of hair flopping around as he went. And then he did that marionette move in which he pulls on the ‘strings’ attached to his hips – my favorite thing EVER – and my mother burst into laughter.

SEE?!?! I exclaimed, isn’t he just the WEIRDEST kind of funny???

And the channel surfing stopped, and my mother and I enjoyed the silliness together.

Iowa: worth enduring the heat

We spent three days in Northwestern Iowa visiting my sister and her family, who live on a small, extremely dreamy farm. They live in Dutch country, which is to say the young boys are tall, strapping, and very clean cut, the farms and in-town homes are quaint and well maintained, and the churches are all Dutch Reformed.

As in other visits to my friend’s farm in Ellensburg, WA, Ruthie spent the majority of her time barefoot and wearing a sundress or swimsuit as she and Thomas frolicked around the property. There was seemingly miles of well groomed lawn on which to do somersaults, as well as patches of tall grass in which to explore.


On the North side of the property is the obligatory patch of trees to block the frigid winter winds, on the South side of the house stand three grand trees to shade the house from the summer sun, and all around the perimeter was a cut-lawn path of grass where my sister and her dogs walk for exercise. They are surrounded by corn fields that are farmed by someone else, but this time of year it provides for a lush green landscape view.

Just days before our arrrival one of the two sheep had birthed a lamb, and two of the cats had birthed a litter of kittens. What more could one ask for on a trip to a farm? We were all in a state of awe and wonder at the beauty, the newness of life, and the fairy-tale existence we city-folk like to think those country-cousins live.

We spent all of Monday evening in a town far away watching baseball. In Iowa, the school baseball season is in the early part of the summer (not in the spring during the school year), so hundreds of families gathered at a baseball complex to watch freshman, JV, and Varsity games of girls’ softball and boys’ baseball – with some parents (including my sister and brother-in-law) straining to see what the excitement was on one field while sitting in the stands of another field.

I felt very home grown middle America that day. All we needed was some apple pie.

It was very difficult to leave the farm with its cute red buildings and baaah-ing sheep, especially knowing it may be several years before we can return. But I’m thankful my children will have the memories of visiting Auntie Jody’s farm, and seeing real live sheep that they have so far only seen in books.

See all the photos here.

Really? Has NOBODY invented teleporting yet? How hard can it be?

I survived a three hour flight to Minnesota with the kids Friday night despite the fact that our Northwest Airlines flight was delayed TWO HOURS. Never did I think a flight would be delayed TWO HOURS – twenty minutes, maybe, but TWO HOURS did not cross my mind – so the kids and I were at the airport promptly, which is to say TWO HOURS prior to our scheduled departure.

What do YOU do in an airport with two small children for what has now become FOUR HOURS?

We rode the subway between terminals several times, we ate dinner, we went to the bathroom more times than a male dog and checked out various drinking fountains, and then BLAM – a kids play area appeared before me somewhere near the B Gates and we were in energy-burning heaven for over an hour.

Thank you SeaTac airport: you saved my life and the lives of all those unsuspecting passengers on flight 168.

The good news in all of this was that our now 7:45 departure time would put the majority of the flight after the kids’ regular bedtime, which is roughly 8:30 or 9 – and they did indeed sleep for over an hour.

The bad news in all of this is that my poor mother had to pick us up at the Minneapolis airport at 1am. By the time we were the last ones off the plane and took all the late-night janitorial detours through the airport to the baggage claim, installed the car seats, drove home, had a snack, and got everyone into bed, it was 2:30 in the morning here (after midnight for me).

Poor mom. She’s a night owl like me, but this was stretching it. What a trouper.

I nearly threw Ruthie off the balcony when she woke up at 6:30am Seattle time on Saturday morning. She completely bypassed me sleeping on the sofa bed outside her room and tried to make a run for grandma’s room, but I just HAD to stop her since grandma really WAS up until 2:30am. Ruthie was so devastated to be intercepted from her beloved Gamma that she threw a total fit of heaving sobs which woke her up anyway so I was feeling like a total shmuck.

(paranthetical observation: giving a spirited child what she wants disrupts others (waking up gamma), yet setting boundaries and toeing the line ALSO disrupts others (throwing fits that wake up gamma) – so what the hell is a mother to do???).

But my mom, the ever graceful Marge, simply crawled into bed with Ruthie and me and we all got what we wanted in the end: a little more sleep, and a whole lotta snuggle.

The Christmas Wrap

We had a great Christmas Eve with my family, and a relaxing Christmas Day at home. It was fun to see the kids really getting into it this year, and I love to see them connecting with their grandparents.

I think the highlight of the weekend was when we ‘called’ Bryan’s mom on the new computer we bought her (via Sightspeed and a webcam), and she was able to see her grandchildren for the first time in a year. At first she didn’t get it, and thought she was watching a video. And when she realized she was actually having a conversation with us, I think she was a little choked up. It was a very festive occassion, and I know Bryan was very proud to be able to do that for his mom.

I’ll be off line for the next few days as I am running away from home with my good friend, Sarah. She has been my friend longer than anybody else I know (sixteen years!), and we have been on many adventures together. We swore that even after we were married with children we would still break away for ‘free-spirited’ weekends, and only now are we finally making it happen for the first time.

Ciao, everyone!

Spilling the Beans

Tonight I followed a trail of links to an article on writersdigest.com titled, Spilling Secrets, and it articulated the dance I do whenever I think about the book I REALLY want to write. Even writing this post makes me nervous. I’ve written and rewritten three paragraphs already, trying to address this subject in the least controversial way possible.

My whole family does the dance, it seems. We all talk to each other about the elephant in the room just fine, but nobody dares to address the elephant itself and says, ‘Hey, elephant – why did you do that? What you did hurt me.’ We just continue to talk about the elephant as if he weren’t there, and try to find healing amongst ourselves.

I am a split personality. My gum chewing sassy bad self says, ‘Fuck it if they don’t like it. I must speak!’ I’m exhausted from 25 years of dancing around the subject and just want to TALK about it, already. And NAME it.

But then my sensible fragile conflict-avoiding self says, ‘Whoa – but I still have to eat a TURKEY with these people once a year.’

I am grateful I did not hastily pen a memoir in my twenties. For one thing, I was a terrible writer back then – horribly dramatic and without Voice. But also, maturity of years has tempered my perspective. I see things differently, more graciously. I’m gaining insight into person, motive, human nature.

And Recovery has humbled my perspective. I no longer see myself as better. Or holier. Or exempt. I’m on the same Crazy Train as everyone else. What I write now will not be finger pointing, and for this, I am grateful. I no longer want to blame. I just want to understand.

Lately, the question I have been asking myself the most is, ‘What is my point?’ Is self healing a good enough reason to expose the family secrets? I know I will find healing for myself in the process. But at what cost?

Deep down, I know it will come to me. I know there is an angle, a theme, a point. I know that once I start writing down the memories, the conversations, and begin to piece them all together, I know there will be a Meaning. But I must trust the process. I must write, or it will never come to me.

500 Words about my bad mood.

I tried writing this weekend, but I just couldn’t make it happen. I stared for quite awhile at my empty computer screen, but nothing was coming to me. I even tried to think of something to write that I wouldn’t necessarily post on my blog, but still… nothing.

With Fall in the air I’ve entered into project mode. Most people get this cleaning bug in the Spring, but for me the Fall is the season for reorganization and deep cleaning. I think it’s because I do NOTHING all summer long and now that I’m forced to be inside I realize how great the Nast is around here.

Also, I feel like a low level cranky person these days. I’ve been the Sweden of mood swings – not particularly joyful, not particularly depressed. Just blah. It makes for less anger outbursts, but I also feel like I’m not very much fun. I’m capable of HAVING fun, if fun happens to land on my doorway, but it just seems like too much energy to go out and MAKE the fun happen.

Moods like this also make me prone to jealousy and lack of contentment because I see other happy, well adjusted people around me and it makes me want their friends or their stuff so I can be happy and well adjusted, too.

But The Marge is arriving tonight. That’s my mom, and she’s the cutest 72 year old I know. She’s a teacher, and for the last 20 years of her career she taught/administered at the preschool level so she is just a DARLING with my kids.

She also breaks out into song at random moments. Like when she suddenly remembers something she’ll say in a sing-song voice, “I forgot to call the deeeeeeeeentiiiiiiiiiiiist….” Or she’ll sing a song about taking out the trash, or she’ll just make up some sort of tweedle-dee-diddle-dee-doo to fill in the empty space.

And it’s hereditary, too. Only it skips a generation like the twins gene because I do not have the gift of song, but Ruthie does. She sings EVERYTHING she says now, and she sings it slow and dramatically so it takes FOREVER for her to follow through on something you’ve asked her to do because she first has to sing, “OOOOOHHHHHHHH KAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY, MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! IIIIIIIIIII WIIIIIIIIILLLLLL DOOOOOOOOOO THAAAAAAAAT!”

The other day I was with my girlfriends and one of them mentioned she had talked to her mom and we all gasped in sympathy. Then we just giggled about how, when some of us say we just talked to our mom, we have to go out for coffee to debrief. I’m happy to report that I do not have such a mom, and I hope all you locals will get a chance to see The Marge this week.

And look at that, even at the mere discussion of my mom I’m already in a better mood.

Dot Com vs Lake Wobegon

We spent Labor Day with my dad and step mom at their new vacation condo on Lake Whatcom in Bellingham. We had told Ruthie we were going to visit Grandma and Grandpa’s new house on the lake, and when we got there she asked them if their old house was broken.

It was classic – reminded me of the time she asked if our burned-out hall light needed new batteries.

It was a perfect, lazy afternoon, spent sitting on the patio, sitting on the dock, sitting in the grass, and eating ourselves into a disgusting state of shock. My dad has an endless supply of potato chips and French onion dip, and it even follows him to new homes in new cities. The dip stalks me whenever I visit him and I can’t resist it.

But I digress.

My step mom was talking about the single family home values on the lake, how people were buying up little shacks or smaller older homes and tearing them down or gutting and adding on. I looked around the lake and saw large, modern, mansions.

Bryan’s college friend grew up on Lake Sammamish East of Seattle, and his parents still live in their small cabin-like home while all the houses around them have been torn down and rebuilt as big white boxes that stretch the entire length and width of their lot.

I asked Bryan why he thought this happened, why the lake front properties in Western Washington seemed to be reserved for big city executives making six figures. I come from Minnesota where it seems like everyone has a cabin on a lake or knows someone with a cabin on a lake, whether it’s one room with a wood stove, or a house with rooms and a kitchen. There’s always somewhere for the common man to go fishing for the weekend, even if it’s a small motel resort along the highway.

Dot Com vs. Lake Wobegon, he said.

It’s true, I guess. Here, it seems the Lake Life is for the privileged few, while in Minnesota, it’s as much a way of life as the ‘hot dish’ is a way of life, and eating dinner at lunchtime and supper at dinnertime is a way of life. At least that’s how I remember the remote, quiet lake on which our cabin was located. There, Lake Life was decadently simple, and slow, and relaxing. It was where we read books, and took long walks, and listened to the loons, and watched deer crossing the field.

I love my dad’s condo on Lake Whatcom, and I suppose even in the absence of wildlife, his lake home is just as relaxing at the cabins of my memory. It’s a beautiful home, and will be a fun place for the family to gather. I loved the lapping of the water against the retaining wall, the sound of the speedboats and the kids screaming from their inner tubes, and smelling the familiar lake smell.

My children will have grand memories of visiting grandpa and grandma at the lake, and I guess fond memories are what’s important.