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Spooktacular 2014

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Yesterday was Lehigh’s Spooktacular, a major event hosted by Lehigh’s Community Service Office, and spear-headed by our friend Carolina Hernandez. It is such an amazing event! The bambinos have looked forward to this all year, and it did not disappoint! Games, crafts, food, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, pumpkin-carving, and lots and lots of attention from so many awesome Lehigh student volunteers. A spectacular Spooktacular 2014!!!

P.S. This year Kyle is Percy Jackson; Meera is Elsa; and Owen is a Star Wars Sith!


Mocktail Party with Kappa Delta

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We’ve been hosting a ton of events at our home since we moved back in for this academic year. The renovation of the apartment has made the space so perfect for inviting people in, and we’ve been really maximizing it. In the past 7 weeks, we’ve hosted 8 different events.

Tonight, though, we had what I think was my favorite event in our entire time of living on campus. I know, for sure, it was Meera’s favorite. We invited the wonderful young women of Kappa Delta sorority for a study break/“Mocktail Party.” It was so enjoyable and lovely and warm and fuzzy and inspiring and uplifting. We have relationships with a bunch of these women (some of whom lived in Sayre with us last year; some of whom have been students of mine), and I’ve always been super impressed with them. But it was awesome to have them all together in our home. I cannot tell you how inspiring it is for me to see these smart, ambitious, beautiful young women taking on the world. I loved every minute of the event!

Meera was thrilled-beyond-thrilled to have a home full of “girls.” For a long stretch there was serious drawing/coloring going on. Meera was in heaven!


But the cutest thing of all was the hostess-gift they brought for me/us:


It was such a fabulous experience! I haven’t been blogging, but I don’t want to forget about this one.

Yes, at some point, I’ll post about the renovation!

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Oh goodness gracious! I have been flooded with email requesting that I post about the apartment renovation!!! You all, my dear readers, are such a wonderful and loyal bunch! Thank you for caring. Yes, ok, yes, at some point I will do a big post on the apartment renovation! (I have about a million photos of the whole thing; it will just take me a while to work my way through that project.) But yes, it will happen. Thanks y’all!

The Blogging Blues

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Well, folks, I’ll be honest: I’m having a really hard time blogging this academic year.

You know, I started this blog on October 11, 2006. That was exactly 8 years ago yesterday. It was also, not coincidentally, the exact month that my first book came out in print. I say, “not coincidentally,” because I had finished that project and was needing a major creative outlet. The blog became that for me in many ways. A lot has happened since then (including a second edition of that book, due out later this year).

I’ve had ebbs and flows in my blogging over all these years — times when I’ve blogged a lot, and times when I’ve blogged a little less, but I’ve been pretty consistent at it, and I’ve found myself compelled to do it, and I’ve enjoyed it. But these past couple of months — in particular, these past couple of weeks — I just don’t have it in me.

And I know why it is. It is because I’m working on some other things that are consuming my creative energy. I have a couple of projects going right now that are really acting as my creative outlet. I can’t say how long this will last, but I have decided that I’m going to (for once in my life!) cut myself a break and not beat myself up over it. I know I’m disappointing a lot of readers by not being regular with my blogging. I feel really bad about that. But right now, I need to devote my energies to some other things. I’m sorry.

But the thing is — these other things I’m working on are really exciting for me! I am really needing to focus on them. So, for the time being, I’ll just be frank: my blogging will be spotty at best. I won’t be consistent. My posts may be few and far between. But I will hopefully put some stuff up from time to time for the sake of keeping it going and not ending it entirely. I don’t know if maybe sometime soon I’ll have the compulsion to blog regularly and frequently and consistently and in-depth again (Braydon thinks I will). For now, I just don’t want to feel badly about my lack of doing it. So, I’m trying to take the pressure off by just letting y’all know what is going on here in Never-A-Dull-Moment-Land.

Speaking of creative outlets…

Meera continues to draw/paint/color every single day. And I love that about her. She’s a girl after my own heart — a girl who needs to express herself. I am happy for her, and I’m happy to see her expressions. Above is a drawing she did yesterday. This marks a major milestone in that, for the very first time, she’s drawn something with 3-dimensional perspective. The person (who is, as labeled, [spelled phonetically by Meera], Sacagawea) is standing in the foreground with the mountain peaks behind her. This is a big step for our girl. [Note: she also signed her name both “Meera” and “Maira,” which is, according to her, her “Spanish name.” ???] Anyway…. I wanted to post this drawing because it is a big deal for our little Artist. She was 100% unaware that she had done this special 3-D thing… which is, really, the coolest part of all. She’s just developing, without being too self-conscious of herself. I wish I could say the same about me.

Thanks for reading everyone. Please keep checking back. I am here, just slightly pre-occupied.


Quote of the Day re: mean girls

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Today, after school/work, I was making dinner in the kitchen while Meera sat at the counter coloring and talking to me about her day. She was telling me about something really mean that two girls did to her at lunch today (classic girlie exclusive behavior where the two were purposefully leaving Meera out of a snippy-nasty little game they were playing). After telling me her achey-heart lunchtime story from today, Meera waited for my reaction~~~

Heather: Girls can be so mean.

Meera: I know! And that’s what I’m gonna have to live through for the rest of my life!

Despite the fact that I know (both from direct first-hand personal experience growing up as a girl myself, and from all the research I’ve read on the topic) that this sort of thing is — unfortunately — totally typical, it nonetheless makes my heart ache for my girl. First grade is tough stuff. And the actual school work is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Boys vis-à-vis The Blog

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I am still trying to play catch-up, with so much still to post about. In the meantime, I have to post this photo (above) today, specifically per Kyle’s request.

During a day-trip to Philadelphia on Sunday, walking down the street (after having stopped for the most delicious gelato), Kyle stopped me and asked me to take a photo of us together, “for the blog.” Owen overheard this, and jumped right into our selfie (bunny ears over his brother and all), in order for me to capture the shot above. Unfiltered, unedited, I love it for the moment that it captures: the boys vis-à-vis the blog.

I had always thought that as the bambinos got older I’d eventually stop blogging for their sakes. I figured that one or all three of them would reach a point where they wouldn’t want photos of themselves plastered online for all the world to see; or that they’d become embarrassed by their mother’s blogging; or they’d decide it was time for their online presence to be fully within their own control…. or something like that. Instead, strangely enough, and much to my surprise, it has — at least so far — been quite the opposite. While Meera, at age 6, is still pretty much oblivious to the blog, Kyle and Owen, at age 10, are fully aware of it and embracing it more and more with the passing of time.

Kyle and Owen now frequently talk to me about their ideas for blog posts I should write (or not write), or point out photos I should take (or not take), or tell me stories of their experiences in regard to the blog (“Hey mom, did you know that Suzie’s mother reads the blog?!” or “Hey mom, Joey’s dad makes that recipe you posted on the blog!” or — the latest, from today: “Hey mom, we showed our whole class the blog today in Tech Lab!” um, what?!?!!!). It is all very bizarre actually. But it is what it is: the boys are seemingly leaning into the blog rather than pushing it away.

I’m not sure what exactly made Kyle want this photo so much, or why it is important to him that it is posted. I wouldn’t have taken it, and I wouldn’t have posted it. But we seem to be turning some sort of corner with blogging, or maybe turning the page to a new chapter in it. My hunch is that as time marches on there will be more material here that is more and more heavily influenced by what the boys want to see posted (or not). Never a dull moment.

Coming Home

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We’ve been living on campus for two years now. It is fully, now, feeling like home, for real.

When we came home at the end of the summer — after having been gone for seven weeks — what was most striking to me was this: it was upon driving onto the campus that Kyle, Owen, and Meera announced “We’re home!” It wasn’t as we walked in the door of our apartment, or even pulled up to Sayre. It was when we turned right up Mountain Drive and began to wind our way around South Mountain that they got excited; it was when we turned left into “The Hill” that they were practically jumping out of the back seat. “We’re home! We’re home! We’re home!”

Lehigh feels, to them, like home. It seems extraordinary to me.

And home, for them, feels really good. It is their familiar, their safe place, the axis on which their world turns. They were so happy to come home; to get back to Lehigh. This too seems extraordinary to me.

It has been quite a journey we’ve been on. I don’t want to forget the nuances of it.

As adults, Braydon and I are thinking about “home” on a different level. But as kids, Kyle and Owen and Meera aren’t thinking about it as much as they are just feeling it. It is so clear to me, now, as we embark on our third year here, that they feel that home is Lehigh. Lehigh isn’t just where Mommy works, or where they go to see a football game every once in a while. And Lehigh isn’t perfect. But Lehigh is their place, their world, and their place in the world. And it is a place that they are pretty realistic about, but that they like and feel good in. Our little apartment is, for sure, the center of their universe, but the whole of Lehigh — the entire campus — is their home.

After an amazing summer, we came home.



7 Weeks of Summer, 2014

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The J-M’s Summer, 2014

Last summer was our first since moving onto campus. We spent the bulk of it traveling away from home (7 Weeks of Summer, 2013 post is here). We loved it. This is a major perk for us of living on campus: because we have no mortgage we can justify the financial cost to travel, and because we have no house/yard/property to maintain we have the freedom to travel. This is big for us.

Summer 2014 was the best summer of my entire life. It was crazy — yes. And it had its challenges — yes. (This kind of travel with 2 ten-year-olds, 1 six-year-old, and 1 puppy is sort of crazy-challenging!) But it was crazy good and challenging good. Oh my gosh, it was good!

We spent 4 weeks in South Carolina, 1 week in Mexico, and 1 week in New Hampshire. With travel days in between, it was a total of 7 weeks. We spent exactly 4 hours at home — only to unpack and re-pack once. We did not sleep in our own beds one night.

In fact, we didn’t sleep in our own beds for 10 weeks. On June 4th movers came and packed up all of our possessions from our tiny on-campus apartment. On August 12th we slept in that apartment again for the first time— but in a greatly enhanced, totally renovated, twice-as-big apartment. Over the course of 10 weeks, while we were (technically/literally) home-less, our apartment was completely reconstructed. That is a whole story that will be appearing soon in a separate post. It was a big summer, to say the least.

Technology is an amazing thing. Because of it, Braydon and I were able to work from wherever we were all summer long. With only one exception (a work trip that Braydon had to make, in order to be at some meetings in person), we did what we needed to do to keep all of the balls up in the air for an entire summer away from home. As a result, we got to spend an enormous amount of time bonding as a family, relishing our kids while we still can, re-grouping, and re-charging. I’ll never regret the time and money we spend on this sort of thing. All of the other sacrifices we have made, and continue to make, in order to be able to live this way are so worth it.

Thanks for following along on our journey.

I am sorry for my lack of posting in the past month. Since arriving home in mid-August I’ve been completely succumbed to an incredibly intense period of unpacking and re-settling our new home, starting school for me and the kids, re-establishing all semblance of routine, and starting up another year.

Our life is rich and full beyond belief. Thanks to all who find some reason to read here. You inspire me to keep on posting. And I promise I will be better about it in the days to come.

Happy Fall!



“I am crabbing at the marsh.” ~Meera

NH Summer 2014. Grateful. (1 of 3)

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grateful beauty def top

What could I possibly say that I haven’t said before? I posted about this trip for the first time in 2007, and have posted about it every year since. I looked back at the posts today and rediscovered — as I so often do — one of the things that I love most about keeping this blog: the archive that it has become for us, documenting some of the greatest parts of our family life. NH Summer Trips:








And now here we are, 2014. And everything I’ve said for the past seven years remains true. And there is so much more too.


Pre-kids, Braydon and I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ cottage on Winnipesaukee. The period of time when we were losing my grandparents (my grandfather’s death, my grandmother’s Alzheimers) coincided exactly with the same period of time that I was forming the foundation of my adult life. I was in my twenties, in graduate school, living in Boston, duking it out with Braydon to try to create a true-to-ourselves relationship that would be lifetime-lasting. The cottage at Lake Winnipesaukee became a place where we spent many a summer long-weekend getting away from two grueling doctoral programs and multiple grimy steaming-hot urban Augusts. At The Cottage we would plant plants and water them, we would mow the lawn, we would scrub the place and fill the motorboat’s gas tank and fix little things here and there — but mostly, we simply got to enjoy all of the pleasures of The Cottage. The crystal clear water of the lake, the motorboat and its endless adventures, The Cottage with its generations of storied history. We simply received the gifts of a beautiful place that became a refuge for us.

Mostly though, in our twenties, Braydon and I would sit at the end of the dock and talk. Mostly we were figuring out our past, figuring out our present, and figuring out our future. We learned so much about who we were and what we were becoming and who we wanted to be through those conversations at the end of that dock. What would have become of us if we hadn’t had the gift of that place to sit? It is a profound privilege that cannot be understated.

This was not something we earned or deserved. We didn’t work hard to get it, nor do anything special to receive it. It was something given to us with virtually no strings attached, something precious, and something we were always, always, always grateful for. All we had to do was respect the place and treat it with reverence — which we always did.


There was history before that too. The cottage had been an important part of my individual trajectory. For my college years it was an escape — a place where I could run to and hide, thanks to my grandparents who seemed to somehow know what it meant to me and always made it available to me. Often I went there when I was needing solace and healing. I’d go there to retreat from the world and lick my wounds and recover. I don’t know why or how, but The Cottage always reminded me of who I was and wanted to become, and it always made me feel like I couldn’t give up. I always felt healed there and I’ve always been profoundly grateful for that. What would have happened if I hadn’t had that place to go to and hide?

As a teenager I can remember strapping my little sunfish sailboat — my most prized and valued possession in the world — onto a car and driving it over to the cottage. My Popop would help me get it off the car and into the water at Winnipesaukee (which was no small feat given the rocky ledges and the steep decline down to the lake). I spent most of my time on that sailboat at the lake where I grew up — Lake Ossipee — but I have vivid memories of sailing it at Winnipesaukee too. Winnipesaukee felt so huge and vast and unknown in comparison to Ossipee where I knew every single nook and cranny of that much smaller lake. As I think back on it now I wonder how much that had an impact on me? It seems so symbolic to me now: the bobbing along on my most beloved boat, all by myself, pushing the boundaries of my own horizons and expanding my known.

My grandfather would sit out front trying to keep an eye on me with his binoculars. But I was often out of sight, hidden by the islands or the jutting peninsulas on either side of The Cottage. I never liked to sail on the open lake as much as I loved to explore the coves and inlets. It made my Popop so nervous, but he always let me do it. In fact, to be honest, I felt encouraged by him. When I’d return to the dock my Nana would always have Swedish Ida Kaka cookies waiting for me. Those cookies are always thought of as Christmas cookies, but instead of rolling them in green and red colored sugar, in the summer she’d give them to me rolled in pink sugar. Still, I always felt a little strange eating them in flip-flops in summer. But she knew they were my favorite, so she’d make them in The Cottage’s little kitchen, and demand that I go home with the whole batch packaged up in a tin. And so, at Christmastime, whenever I eat them, in a strange twist, although they are indeed Christmas cookies, I always think of summertime at the Cottage.


I have strong memories of The Cottage from my childhood too. As a young girl I learned to waterski there with my sister Stina and our cousins Karen and Eric. My grandfather would drive the boat so patiently and my parents and my aunt and uncle would all cheer from the shore, the back of the boat, or the lake. I remember my mom in the water, well past her waist, cheering for us. Now I know she stayed there because one of us would inevitably fall, and fall again, and it was easier to just stay in the water than to keep getting in and out to help us. I loved waterskiing. I always knew it was a treat. Not something for the everyday, and not something that most people could ever enjoy. Waterskiing was a privilege. I remember being profoundly grateful even at a very young age.

My mom and her sister learned to waterski there too. The Cottage was passed down to their aunt and their mother from my great-grandparents, who had built it as a replica of the country cottages in their homeland of Sweden. I’ve heard so many stories from my mom of her childhood and teenage summers at The Lake. And I remember my Nana telling me her stories as well. And my aunt, and my great-aunt.

The summer I was 28 years old, Braydon proposed to me one morning at the end of the dock at The Cottage. Believe it or not, although it was a marriage proposal, at the center of our conversation that day was the gratefulness we both felt for this place we loved so much and what it represented to us. It, for us, represented a history and lineage of one branch of our entwining family trees; it represented privilege and power; and it represented the idea of making the most of what you’ve been given.


This idea is at the core of our lives to this day. The idea of receiving what you’ve been given with mindfulness and gratefulness, being aware of it, and making the very most of it. For us, making the most of it involves using every gift we have — material, intellectual, spiritual, and otherwise — to do good in the world. For us, it means maximizing advantage to contribute to the common good; using what we have fully and wholly; empowering others with our power; discerning our capacities and doing the most with what we have. To squander one’s gifts, particularly the gifts of privilege and power and — importantly — opportunity, seems, to me, to be the worst possible wrongdoing.

That — at the essence — is how we try to live our lives. This post is getting philosophical, and I don’t want to go on and on and on about it. But I’m putting myself out there here and I’m tired of holding back. For me now, at age 42, the essence is becoming the everything. For me now, at age 42, The Cottage is still symbolically representative of all of this when I look at it in the best possible light.

It is, of course, all much more complex than this. The Cottage too represents decades and generations of family tensions and old ragged histories that spin into today. If you look closely you see the rot in the wood, the rust on the metal, the wear and tear of five generations of use. I don’t know how much longer it can hold out. Which only makes me that much more grateful for it.


I wish that my great-grandparents and my grandparents could read this so that they’d know how grateful I am. I am glad that, if they choose to, my parents and my aunt and uncle can read it now. And maybe someday my children and my niece and nephew will read it too. It is hard to talk about the depth of things at family holidays or birthdays or funerals. That, I think, is one of the reasons I write about things like The Cottage here… because it helps me understand my own thoughts and share them with others if they choose to read them.

The Cottage today is a whole other era — a new evolution different from each of my own stages and phases with it as I’ve described them above. Today, for the one week a year in August that I spend there, The Cottage has become mainly about my own kids — the youngest generation in our Engstrom-Johnson-family-lineage. I’m never there alone like I used to almost always be when I’d be there in my teens and twenties. Now, for me, it has swung back to something resembling what it was for me as a little girl: a family cottage on a beautiful lake where we come together as grandparents and parents and grandchildren for fun in the summer. Now, for one week a year, it is all-action all-the-time. It is all about the kids. It is the motorboat, and it is waterskiing and tubing, it is eating and swimming and kayaking and — re-introduced in 2014, my long-lost-love: yay! sailboating! — and I am truly, deeply, grateful for it all. I’m certain, too, because I know them well, and because I make sure they understand the depths of it, that my own kids are grateful. The 5th generation is grateful. The Cottage has been shared once again. And while so much changes over time, and while each of life’s stages morphs and evolves, the one thing that I know for sure has remained consistent about my experience of The Cottage is my gratefulness.

(for post 2 of 3 click here)

NH Summer 2014. Grateful. (2 of 3)

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MorMor and MorFar

Grateful. Grateful first and foremost for my parents and my aunt and uncle who have made a commitment to keep The Cottage, and all its riches, in the family. Grateful that for one week a year my parents share it with us. Grateful for the endless hours that MorMor and MorFar spend on the boat with us, all over the lake, obliging the ceaseless demands for “faster! faster! faster!” from the front of the boat. Grateful for the fact that my three kids know the sight of wide open spaces and the feeling of wind in their hair and the taste of crisp spray from a boat speeding along on the waves of a clear mountain lake.

morfar's boat 2

Grateful for the millions of dollars my parents spend on gas for the boat. (Ha! hardly an exaggeration: just about millions of dollars!) Grateful for the daily trips to the marina’s gas station. For the frozen ice pops that the bambinos are given from the college kids with the coveted summer job of dockside gas-pumper.

gas station

In 2014, I am grateful for the new sunfish sailboat. My parents bought it used this past spring, and they cleaned it all up, and it is in excellent condition, and I fell in love with it — like, really, really in love with it — instantly the first time I sailed it. This is huge for me. It connects the dots all the way back for me in a deep way that I really can’t articulate. I am so grateful to my parents for recognizing that in some way and acting upon it, and for buying that boat. I am grateful that somehow they understand this little-sunfish-sailboat thing about me. So grateful.

sunfish 1

To be able to sail with my own kids is more than a dream come true. How amazing is this? Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming.

sunfish 6sunfish 4

Pinch me again. My 6-year-old daughter is learning to waterski. And she is loving it. But I am loving it more— seeing her expression from the back of the boat as I watch her do this thing. It is awesome. I am so grateful.

waterski M

I get such a kick out of the fact that she, after years of watching her brothers and her cousin waterski, had the hand signals all down pat — memorized perfectly — without ever having been officially taught any of them. I am still laughing out loud, right now at my computer as I write this and look at the photo below… She did the signal for “around again” over and over and over and over…

M waterski again 2

…and after all those years of being solely in the waterskiing spotlight, with no competition, now the three big kids are the ones watching from the back of the boat! It all comes around kiddos! And now we’re going “around again!” and “around again!” and “around again!” for the little one! And now it is your turn to watch and watch and wait and wait for your turn to come again. I am so grateful.

M waterski and 3 watch

Oh believe me, they got their turn. The big three still dominate the waterskiing spotlight. They got new water-skis this year because they’ve outgrown the ones they learned to waterski on. They’ve graduated up and they’re becoming really decent water-skiers. This year they continued on their mission of mastering the art of going in and out of the wake, holding on with only one hand, and beginning to move toward their ultimate goal of slalom skiing. It won’t be long ‘till they are up on one ski. Beyond grateful for healthy, able-bodied, ambitious young bodies and minds.


waterski O out of the wake

waterski K out of wake

Grateful for tubing. MorMor and MorFar’s Christmast present to their grandchildren this year was a brand-spanking-new big-and-crazy tube. It didn’t come out of the box until August. But it was a huge hit, well worth the wait!

tubing 2 copytubing kom fartubing 5

That tube was a wild and crazy ride—

tubing 1

Some might say a little too wild and a little too crazy—

tubing kom 3tubing kom 2

So grateful for so much fun.

tubing kom  4

Grateful for the relative calm of kayaking.


Grateful for swimming.

jumpK and O in water

Sadie and M

Grateful for swimming in the moonlight with glow-sticks—

swimming with glowsticks

Grateful for good food. Among other things, New England lobsta’ and steama’s to be precise—

lobster Osteamerslobster dinner

Just so grateful.

grateful beauty 2

(for post 3 of 3 click here)