Armpit Knees

Here’s something to think about: If you can call your little toe “pinkie toe,” why aren’t the back of your knees called “armpit knees?” This bit of philosophy was brought to my attention by Kaiden. The other day he said to me, “Mommy, my armpit knees hurt.” It took me a moment to figure out what body part he was talking about. But of course it makes perfect sense to a 4-year old still figuring out words and what things are called that the area behind your knees – which is very similar to an armpit – would be called, what else, an “Armpit Knee.” I think it’s pure logical brilliance.

So that got me to thinking. Shouldn’t the front of the elbow then be called “elbow armpit?”

Apparently, both of these zones have official scientific names that don’t make their ‘armpit’ relationship clear at all. The back of the knee is called popliteal fossa, which to me sounds more like the name of a primitive ancestor unearthed in Africa than a body part, and the elbow crease is anticube or anticubital area. Doesn’t that one sound more like a word you learned in fifth grade sex ed and then tried to look up for yourself in that book you found under your parents’ bed? Or maybe that was just me.


Finding Stillness in Shirley Canyon



It may be ironic, or just timely, but after writing about how hard it was for me to do nothing yesterday, I think I actually achieved it today! And all by accident.

Last week, I was asked by fellow yogi and photographer, David Renaud, to be part of a series of profiles he is taking of people doing yoga. He has shot most of the yoga teachers in Tahoe, and I was flattered he asked me. His goal is to snap pictures of at least 100 people, and I was to be number 25. Sounded lucky. All of his photos are taken outdoors with some part of Tahoe as the background. I suggested we shoot in Shirley Canyon in Squaw Valley, where I knew the many waterfalls would be in full bloom with the spring snow melt.

Well, Shirley Canyon was absolutely stunning. We arrived around 10 a.m. and did a short hike in to find a good spot for shooting. We could hear the creek and waterfalls before we even saw them. When we finally stopped to set up, the creek was roaring so load we couldn’t hear each other if we were more than a few feet away. I stood on some granite boulders with a large waterfall behind me. The scene is so picturesque and perfect in Shirley Canyon that it almost looks fake, like a ride at Disneyland: clear mountain water pouring over fallen logs and huge rocks, some waterfalls ending in calm pools, others churning into gushing rapids. You almost have to knock on the boulders to make sure they’re not constructed out of paper mache.

I have heard a lot about photo shoots from Siig, whose passion is filming. He’s told me that a huge part of it is sitting around while the photographer finds the right angle, the right light, the right moment. Well, he was right. But you know what? I absolutely enjoyed it. I found myself standing on a boulder with the warm sun on my face, staring at the beautiful snow-covered mountains of Squaw Valley, listening to the deafening plunge of the waterfall behind me. Sometimes I would hold a pose while David shot, other times I just waited. But it didn’t matter. It was so beautiful and calming and relaxing.

And then I had a realization – at moments, I was doing nothing. Just standing in nature, being still. And that was enough. It reminded me of a saying I have pinned to my bulletin board: “What you are doing is the most beautiful thing.” Maybe I should look at that more often.

Searching for Nothing

beerI have no idea what to do with myself right now. Siig came home early and took the kids to a friend’s house so he could drink beer with his buddy Mike. (Don’t worry, Mike has two kids so Kaiden and Kaya are entertained.) Articles written. Laundry done. Bills paid.  Shower taken. Stuff organized. Hmmm, so I guess that means I have absolutely, positively, NOTHING to do. Nothing? I don’t even know what that is anymore. How do you do nothing?

Let’s see, I could watch TV, have the remote all to myself. That sounds luxurious. I could watch my favorite, guilty pleasures – America’s Next Top Model or Keeping up with the Kardashians. But wait. We just switched out satellite TV  for cable to save money so I don’t think I get those channels anymore. Bummer. Now I’m going to have to watch something educational like the History Channel or PBS. Scratch that.

What else could I do? Lying down and reading a book sounds divine, but I’ve finished my book, as well as my most recent Time. There’s always napping, but I suck at sleeping. It’s hard enough for me at night, so it’s sure as heck not going to happen during the day. I’ve already gotten some exercise today biking the kids in the chariot, so I don’t need to do that again. I could start dinner, but we are barbecuing tonight, and that is Siig’s domain. Wow, finding nothing to do is a lot harder than I thought. I guess after two kids I am out of practice.

I could stare out my window and watch the lilacs bloom, the afternoon thunderstorm threaten but not produce, the pine trees stand regal and watchful and wise while the aspen trees quiver in the breeze beneath them. Wait. I think I just wrote something poetic. That’s something, the opposite of nothing.

It’s hard enough for Americans to do nothing – programmed as we are to always achieve and do, do, do – but I think it’s even harder for women, especially mothers, to just completely chill out. Usually, there is always something to do every second – dirty clothes to pick up, crumbs to clean, dishes to put away, forms to fill out, mouths to feed. To do nothing sometimes seems like a waste of a precious resource, a moment to complete some task. It almost feels awkward to sit still, foreign. We have forgotten the language of nothing, or maybe we simply never knew it.

For some reason, I don’t think men have this same problem. Or maybe they just interpret doing something differently than women. I think for men, something includes drinking beer and watching TV, preferably sports. So maybe I should take my cue from them. I just need to go upstairs, crack open a Budweiser and find the basketball game on ESPN. Then I will finally have achieved the art of nothing.

Crap. No more ESPN. Guess I better stick to doing something. I’m much better at it.



I have never been a great sleeper, but lately it seems my choices of how I feel in the morning are one of two things – drugged or tired. I fall asleep fine; it’s the middle of the night or early morning hours that haunt me. I wake up anywhere from 2 to 5 a.m. – because my bladder calls, Kaya lets out a yell in her sleep or a dream ends – and that’s all it takes. I’m awake, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I think my body gets confused. It was asleep, and now it is awake, so it thinks it must be time to get up. I try to talk sense to my self: “No, it is most definitely NOT time to get up. It is still dark and you need at least two more precious hours of sleep.” But my body just won’t listen. I guess I get my stubbornness from somewhere.

My insomnia reached an all time high last spring. I basically did not sleep for the entire month of May. I thought I was going to go crazy. I feared for myself and my children when I was behind the wheel with only two to three hours sleep. Finally, after a horrible two days sleep-walking through my sister’s graduation weekend at Claremont – where I broke down and cried at dinner because I hadn’t slept in so long – I saw a doctor who prescribed Ambien. Ahhh, Ambien. She soon became my best friend, my keeper of deep sleep and sweet dreams. For the past year, we have a had a good relationship. I figured out how to self-dose –  if I woke up at 3 a.m., I knew I only needed a quarter of a pill to get me back to sleep.

But in the last month or so, our relationship has gone awry. I would either take too much or not enough, making me either tired in the morning or feeling in a cloudy haze all day, like I was an astronaut slow-motion walking in space. After a month of not sleeping last year, I am terrified of that sleep-deprived feeling, but I also do not enjoy feeling like my head is awash in bubble gum. It’s strange, not feeling yourself. It makes me wonder how drug addicts do it day in and day out. But I guess their whole point is not to feel, whereas I would like to feel like plain old Melissa again.

Today, I slept straight until 5 a.m. without the aid of medication, which is sort of a cause for celebration, but not really since I would have much preferred to have slept until 6 or 7 a.m. I don’t need a ton of sleep. Seven hours is fine, sometimes I can even make due with six. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep seems like a pipe-dream to me, but I guess a girl’s gotta dream, after all. I just hope I’m still dreaming when that first crack of sunlight peeps through my window at five in the morning.

Cheeseburger Bird

Another sign of summer in Tahoe is the infamous Cheeseburger Bird. No, I am not talking about a flying Big Mac, but a bird whose three-syllable song sounds like it’s saying “cheeseburger.” This is one of the first things I learned about Tahoe when I moved here, taught to me by Siig’s friend Gavin, who also informed me that the Cheeseburger Bird’s chirp can sound like it’s saying “hangover” or “lame loser,” depending on your frame of mind. I’ve decided not to pass on this useful tidbit to my kids, who enjoy listening for the Cheeseburger Bird. I did tell Kaiden, however, that the bird can say “Storm Trooper.”

Lately, Kaiden has been asking me what the Cheeseburger Bird looks like. I realized I have no idea because I only ever hear the bird, not see it. So, on the off-chance that someone else from Tahoe had posted something about the Cheeseburger Bird on-line, I decided to Google it. Wow! In a sign that yes, everything under the sun can be found by Googling, I not only discovered a YouTube video featuring the bird, but also a poem devoted to the feathered creature and its real name, Mountain Chickadee. I guess the Cheeseburger Bird is not a Tahoe-only phenomenon as I had thought, but can be found everywhere in the Sierra Nevada. It came as a bit of a surprise to me that the Cheeseburger Bird is so well known. In fact, Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort discusses it on their web page.

As my friend Bree pointed out, the Cheeseburger Bird is the sound of Tahoe in summer. But personally, I would much prefer to hear the Chocolate Bird’s song. It would go someting like this: “eat choc-o-late, eat choc-o-late.”

bird    YouTube – Cheeseburger Bird.

Siig, a skate, and Tahoe

Siigo Skating Talmont

Siigo Skating Talmont

I think this photo captures Siigo completely and the free spirit that he is. This is at the top of one of the steepest streeets in Tahoe, Talmont, where Siig lived in a total bachelor pad when I met him eight years ago. He used to love to skate Talmont, and still does when he gets the chance. Note the bare feet and Coors Light in hand, and the beautiful view. Can’t beat that.

We drove behind Siig while he skated down. Kaiden wanted me to hit him and watch him fly in the air, but I thought better of it.

Kaiden's portrait of his dad

Kaiden's portrait of his dad

Me and the kids

Me and the kids

Of Horses and Farmers’ Markets

Aug & Sept 08 073

Kaiden - minus the red cape and goggles - riding Mac last year.

Besides the melting of snow and my husband disappearing into landscaping season, for us there are two things that signal that summer has arrived in Tahoe: the return of the horses and the farmers’ market. The Alpine Meadows Stables sits at the beginning of our road, and the horses serve as a barometer of the weather and the seasons. In the fall when they leave, we know winter is on its way; when they re-appear in the spring, we know the cold is over and the joys of summer are about to begin.

Over the last few weeks, the kids and I have been anxiously awaiting the horses’ return and all that it symbolizes. Every day we would drive past the stables and look for signs of thawing and indications that the cowboys were preparing to bring the horses up from their winter pastures in the foothills. About three weeks ago, we got excited. The stables were free of snow; the recent rain and warm weather had melted it all, sending it into Bear Creek. Then, about a week later, we let out a yelp as we drove by – there were trucks and horse trailers there. For the next few weeks, we competed against each other to see who would be the first to spot a horse, but the horse trailers were empty. Time passed as we watched the cowboys’ progress preparing the stables, clearing the mud and fallen trees, setting up the fences.

Finally, about three or four days ago, we drove by and voila! – five horses. The kids started yelling the names of their favorite horses – Mac and Merrylegs. Everyday, a few more horses arrived until now there are more than 20. As soon as the cowboys put up their sign, we are going in to feed the horses carrots and let the kids go for a ride. For the little ones, the parents guide the children on horseback through a small loop around the stables. For $5, you can’t beat it.

The first time Kaiden rode a pony, he was 2 years old. It was totally unplanned. He had just found his ski goggles and was in his bright red cape-wearing phase and was sporting his green Crocks. I’ll never forget him on that horse, wearing yellow goggles, a red cape, no shirt and green shoes. Quite the Kodak moment, but of course I didn’t have my camera with me.

Besides the horses’ arrival, the Foothill Farmers’ Market also starts this week. We love going there to buy fresh fruit and veggies, especially blueberries which go like hot cakes, and socialize. But the real reason we go is the Balloon Guy. Oskar the Balloon Guy is the hot attraction for the kids. He is like the Pied Piper and at any given time during the day is usually surrounded by at least 10 kids and their moms who encircle him with strollers and bags of produce. Most kids ask for the usual balloon characters – a dog, a cat, etc. But no, not Kaiden. Last year he completely stumped Oskar by asking him to make a skeleton. But Oskar hung in there and used a bunch of white balloons to make something that – to the eyes of a 3-year old – looked like a skeleton. Kaiden was a satisfied customer.

This year, Kaiden has informed me he wants Oskar to make him Batman, and Kaya wants a Barbie. Hmmm, I think Oskar has his work cut out for him.

Kaya on Mac last year

Kaya on Mac last year