Pecking Order

When Jakey was two or three, he used to declare “the boss” for the day.  He would say things like, “Daddy is the boss today!” and it meant that Dad got to decide everything for the day.  Sometimes I was declared boss.  But let’s be real, he crowned himself Baby Boss on Day 1.

Now it’s a well known truth amongst groups of animals that there is a pecking order.  It seems to be the nature of things.  If you’re the dog, or the youngest child, the fingers are always somehow holding their noses, and pointing at you.

And as Nate can attest, our house is no different.  He has been blamed for countless missing items, broken items, offensive smells, muddy footprints, crumbs, fingerprints, flooded bathroom floors and candy wrappers stuffed behind couches.

Earlier this week, I came home and was gazing out the kitchen window as I cleaned up after dinner.  Wait… is that my new flip flop way out in the middle of the yard?

I go out and retrieve it and place it back with its mate, next to the front door.  A little while later, James mentions offhand that earlier that morning, he found his flip flops flung off the back deck— somewhere between the chicken coop and the steep hill that descends into the Chicken Nugget Danger Zone of Fox Apps.

I casually mention this mysterious flip flop phenomenon to the boys.

They feign ignorance.  I’m probably embellishing but I remember some whistling and toe scoffing and renewed curiosity in the merits of our ceiling.  What I do know is that Nate floats the following theory, “Do you think our chickens did it?”

The pecking order is in full effect.

Fortunately he has the good sense not to propose the tadpoles.  Though they’re absolutely at the bottom of our household food chain… literally.  Sando tried to eat one of our frogs tonight while Papa was visiting.  But I digress…

A day or two later, the mysterious flip flop caper comes up again and Nate asks, “But how exactly would the chickens kick the flip flops so far?”  And he’s officially outed himself.

Nate really needs a dog.


My house is invariably filled with Jacob’s nature projects.  Just in recent memory we’ve had an “insect collection” he created in a cardboard box with various bugs impaled on toothpicks… a cost-conscious entomology exhibit?  A water bottle filled with rosemary next to my side of the bed.  An incident where he captured an entire jar of bees at Nate’s baseball game.  This spring’s only live display in his entire class with a terrarium of beetle varieties during the unit on insects.  The expired moth the size of my face he found in a Days Inn stairwell and brought home from Pennsylvania.  Oh, and let’s not forget the largest, most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen captured and then put in my freezer for safe keeping.  The boys called it a “spant” (spider ant).  Google called it a Jerusalem cricket.  I called it the fastest way to losing your TV privilege for a week if it isn’t removed from my freezer immediately.

This afternoon, at school, he found and tamed a praying mantis the size of a spant.

So, this blog has chronicled close to eight years of nature loving, pet needing, trivia winning, animal magnetizing, Wild Kratts watching thrills and spills.  And of course it’s all catching up to us now…

Over Memorial Day weekend, Angela had her birthday at a beautiful local vineyard with a Pinterest perfect house, outdoor fireplace and pizza oven.  The kids spent several blissful hours playing in the trough fountain filled with river rocks… and the most darling miniature frogs.

Jake caught frog after frog.  He was in heaven.  They’d had an entire weekend of all you can drink sugar and minimal sleep and now unlimited amphibians!

We ended up bringing three or four home in our little plastic terrarium.  After one night, I made the boys take the tiny Barbie frogs down to the creek so we wouldn’t end up with a tank of cuisses de grenouille.

A day or two later, Jakey says, “Mom, what do you think this is in the tank?  Do you think they’re eggs… or poop?”

Turns out, it wasn’t poop.

So now when we want to go out of town for the weekend, I hire chicken-sitters, and worry about who’s going to take care of our 19 tadpoles and 5 baby frogs.

We’re learning a lot as we witness the development of tadpoles (also known as renacuajos in Spanish) into little frogs.  There’s nothing like drinking your morning coffee while watching tiny little legs sprout.  Mmmm, drink it in.  The current danger is that once they turn into frogs, they sink like stones.  Despite the dry stones in their tank, unfortunately there have been a few Darwinian casualties… croaked.

Now we have two tanks, no thanks to me.  One for babies and an “aquatic terrestrial” set-up for froggie graduation.  $4 tank from the thrift store plus $115 in various items from PetSmart.  Not sure who the smart is referring to but I have a feeling it’s not us…

Last weekend James had a very concerning but important epiphany, “Jame, do you remember what everyone kept complaining about at Angela’s birthday?”

“Uh no, what?”

“How exhausted they were from the frogs croaking all night long.”


Nate Date 2

Last weekend I had a hot date, both Friday and Saturday nights.  You know it.

Friday evening Nate and I painted the town red… or more like turquoise blue.  When I asked him out I was fairly surprised at his response.  I mean of course he said yes, but when I asked him what we should do he exclaimed, without a moment of hesitation, “Paint toes!”

Took the words right out of my mouth. I’m always in need of a pedicure so of course I was game.  I can certainly get behind a manly pedi.

It turns out it was his first time.  He got cold feet as we pulled-up to the nail salon.  Turned out he was shy about a stranger touching his feet.  He told me his brother only let’s his dad touch his toenails… uh, TMI?

In the end, he quite enjoyed the warm shoulder wrap and foot soak.  He was disappointed that he didn’t get much of a massage— the tip certainly reflected the oversight, though he may have turned the other cheek given the complimentary Sprite.  So far so good.

We headed to the restaurant he’d picked out.  Subway.  He told me he’d heard it was good and that they’d have Airheads.  I thought about calling my emergency “out.”  Is this why we’ve only double-dated since September 2013?  He ordered a ham sandwich and it came with a red plastic Cars watch.  After he’d convinced me to program it for him, it’s all he talked about.  At one point I was eating my inedible salad while he ate his sandwich standing up in front of the entrance.  It was odd.  He seemed like he was enjoying himself but maybe a bit distracted… he kept looking at his watch and yelling out the time.

We headed downtown for an after fast food stroll.  We held hands.  We both got limoncello gelato at Giussepe’s.  Turns out we both love lemon.  Every few minutes he’d blurt out the time.  6:32!  6:34!

At Barnes and Noble he tried to race me on the escalator.  He’d completed some kind of summer reading list— seven books about Plants fighting Zombies and something called Avatar.  He talked a lot about “airbending.”  I don’t even know.  He got some kind of free book called “I Can Read!”  Well, maybe?  He had me read him the menu at Subway and the gelato shop so I’m not so sure… I do know he can read a watch.  6:54!  Is he counting down the seconds till this date is over?

He really wanted to go by the Apple store so we spent a few minutes at the short table in the back.  And then it was time to call it a night.  I asked him to walk me to the door and he asked why.  I told him he should always make sure a girl gets home safely and that if he’s lucky, he’ll get a goodnight smooch.  He raced right on in to show-off his blue toes and his red watch to his roommates.  Figures.

The next day he went to the Ravine water park in Paso.  Lucky for me, his pedicure got chipped and he immediately asked me out again.  I knew it was love at first sight.



Over the week of July fourth, we braved three airplanes and several hours in a car to get to one of my most favorite places on Earth, a 100+ year old train station dragged up the mountain and converted into a hunting cabin on 3000 acres of Pennsylvania wilderness.  Flatrock is a super special place for us.  It holds hundreds of family stories across several generations.

Jacob has been to Flatrock three times so far— once when he was a few months old and still small enough to be bathed in a turkey roaster, once when he was three and picked-up a live mouse by the tail with his fingers, and now when he was eight and can catch tarantulas in jars.  Nate’s first trip to Flatrock was when he was about sixteen months old and busy spending hours toddling over the edge of various decks straight into the depths of countless rattlesnake dens… I didn’t get to pee for three days.

This summer’s trip was so much fun.  Shelley, Kashava and Shaddai came all the way from Michigan and the Pittsboro Birds came up from North Carolina.  We really missed the Wilsons but they were certainly there in spirit, as we enjoyed slice after slice of Honey Baked ham.  It was a reunion of cousins and aunts and uncles and recently befriended locals.  Only James would be strolling through two different towns in Central Pennsylvania and run across two people he knows.  I mean really, the Camp Cook as he’s leaving the Bellefonte YMCA, and then his new buddy Buck, in a sub sandwich shop?  I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t been there…

We fished in the stream and the pond.  Nate was especially determined— catching ten fish at the pond.  I did in fact win the “Bass Fishing Competition” and was the only one to pull a big brookie out of the stream, but, I mean, I have a reputation to maintain.  The little pack of boys spent hours chasing each other around the second story, starting water fights at the spring, and harassing salamanders by the dock.  Two-year-old Bry Bry was hilarious.  He spent most of the trip doing “‘neak attacks” which involved sneaking up on you and pinching your knee.  If you do it back he declares, “I’m.  Not.  Happy ’bout.  Dat!”  And stomps his little square foot.  He’s also laid claim to “his Jacup.”  I can get him good and riled up about “my Jacup.”  I love pushing a two-year-olds buttons… and don’t worry, Bryan can hold his own.

James put on another memorable fireworks show but despite all the talk, the dock remained standing.  We adventured to both the Bear Cave and the Indian Cave.  The boys uncovered two arrows and an old campfire full of arrow heads at the Indian Cave.  Granddad almost rode a stone toboggan over the side of a wooded mountain but fortunately, disembarked from the stone age seesaw just in time.  A lighthouse puzzle was completed.  Several gallons of Penn State Peanut Butter Swirl mysteriously evaporated.  And we basked in the luxury of a real shower.  Flatrock has gone from the 1800’s witch’s kitchen to Chateau Flatrock to Mar-a-Lago.  The Sutz has never been nicer.

We enjoyed all of our normal haunts– time in Selins Grove with the beloved Ruds.  The boys had stars in their eyes at 11PM when they gazed out at the lighted pool with a diving board and a water slide.  I think they slept in their bathing suits.  We spent hours in an indoor basement pool at the State College Days Inn.  We walked miles around campus, attempting to hike-off the ice cream cones we ate that were the size of our heads.  And then the boys put me on a train in Harrisburg to a long girls weekend in NYC.  They ended the week like kings, swimming all evening and topping it off with a “kids all-you-can-eat rib feast.”  The Red Lion Inn had no idea how unprofitable that promotion would be.

Flatrock List

Hmmm… I wonder who added “A Xbox” to my travel list?

Bless Your Heart

Sometime in December, I found myself browsing the shops downtown… a rare and special escape.  I was wandering around one of my favorite galleries and came across a little bowl full of wooden hearts.

Now when I was a kid, I didn’t like hearts.  Too girlie.  No i’s dotted with hearts in my name thank you very much.  I did have a favorite rainbow heart shirt that I remember wanting to wear every day, but I think that spoke more to my second grade love of rainbows…

Now these hearts, these hearts were different.  They were smooth and warm and like a perfect pebble.  They called out to be held tight in the palm of my hand.  On a whim, I chose a big one for James and a matching littler one for myself.

Since then, these two little pocket hearts have carried us through a lot of hard days.  Hospital rooms.  Terrifying tests.  Lobbies.  Long car rides.  Rooms full of huge machines and laser beams.  Hundreds of miles and weeks of nights alone.  Through endless days of waiting and hours of praying.  They’ve protected us and connected us.  A comforting little reminder that we’re co-captains of Team James and the huge crowd of teammates behind us.

James’ heart is now kind of indigo, as one would expect from the Baron of Blue Jeans, the Sultan of Selvedge.  Mine has a warm patina from hours of centering all of my positive thoughts and energy and love.  We still carry our little pocket hearts on especially important days.  Otherwise they’re at home.  In a dish next to my alarm clock, by James’ keys, on the sunny windowsill above the kitchen sink.  A gentle and reassuring reminder of what matters.

We are so deeply grateful to have the love and support of so many friends and family.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Bless Your Heart

Chicken Nugget Fucillo

It is with deep sadness that the family of Chicken Nugget Fucillo, of San Luis Obispo, announces her passing after a sudden and tragic snatching by an unidentified wild canine, on Friday, June 16, 2017 at 10:36am. Chicken, or as her friends called her, “Nugget,” will be lovingly remembered by her adopted family, as well as her dear step-sisters, Chicken Sando and Chicken Death Destroyer.

A native of Santa Cruz, Nugget grew-up in the mountains.  The offspring of a broken home, she was raised by her working mother and never knew her absentee father.  Just three months ago, she set-off with her step-sisters to pursue their lifelong dream of moving to the Central Coast.   All three sisters prefer to go by their middle names— Nugget based on her beautiful McGolden coloring.  Her successful career as an entomologist earned her deep admiration by numerous experts in the field.  In her spare time, Nugget enjoyed rolling in the dust under the deck, eating lizards, mothering, and taking relaxing bubble baths.  She was a great lover of meal worms, and known for her sweet disposition and knack for taming human children.  As her brother Jacob reflected, “She was too nice if you ask me.  And a leisurely runner.”

Nugget served on the boards of numerous organizations including Indian Knob’s Early Risers, the SLO Chapter of Poultry Entomologists, and chaired the Neighborhood Watch for two and a half months.

A celebration of Chicken Nugget’s life will be held at 7 pm on Sunday, June 18, at the Squire Canyon Coop with the good Reverend James officiating.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to BRUNCH: Buk-buks Rallying United AgaiNst Chicken Homicide.

Chicken Nugget

Chicken Nugget Fucillo
? – June 16, 2017

What About Bob

When I was in high school, one of my best friends, Kristen, had this thing for the name Bob.  Honestly, I never understood it.  She just loved Bob things and Bob people and Bobby pins.

Then I went to college and I met another Bob lover.  His name was Brian and he drove a motorcycle and liked being called Bob.  I set him up on a double date with my other Bob lover but shockingly, Bob love is not enough to guarantee a love connection.

Then our uncle Bryan started “Bobbing” the boys.  It became this irresistible bit between them— Uncle Bob and his Bob nephews.  Come to find out, he also had an Uncle Bob.  And it’s his go-to name for kids with names he can’t remember.  Unfortunately it was just too catchy… I showed-up to one of Jake’s first baseball games and the team and all the coaches are cheering for Bob.  Who’s Bob?

Wait what?!  My son with the thoughtfully chosen, classically strong name with a simple modern nickname, has asked his entire team to call him Bob?

When asked, Jakey just told me, “It’s just my funny jokester name Mom.”

I had to introduce myself to other baseball moms as “Bob’s mom,” otherwise they had no idea who I was talking about.

This weekend I told my original Bob-lover about my new Bob-lover.  She thought it was brilliant— some sort of sign of his intelligence and powers of persuasion.  She uses the name Bob daily in her job— her go-to example.  I, on the other hand, am hoping the Bob fad will fade.  Perhaps just a coping mechanism during a year of significant upheaval and change?

A few weeks ago, Jacob forgot his hat at the beach house when the van der Schalies and the Palms and the Bullock were visiting.  Sarah says she figured out it was ours because “Cora said Nate and Jake call things Bob.”  A few hours with them and bam, Cora’s got their number.

Now Nate’s hat has the name Bob under the bill… the fad is not fading.  It’s spreading.

June 7

This past Thursday, James drove up for his first PET/CT scan in awhile.  It’s hard not to feel easily distracted and sick to my stomach leading up to these tests, and then waiting an undetermined amount of time for the results.  And then *poof*, they show-up in the Stanford app… cryptically written in a language reminiscent of English, primarily to be interpreted by the level of the person who finally calls.  You know things are good when the call comes from someone with a desk job.  That’s the best.

This morning my spidey sense kicked-in as I was walking from the break room to my office.  My backpack buzzed—James texting me.  Somehow I knew it was about the results of the scan.  Coincidentally, today marks six months to the day from when all this began.

Gratefully, the report was good news: No abnormal FDG activity to suggest recurrent or metastatic disease.

Thank efFingDG.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Grand Slam

Tonight marked our final baseball party in a series of 54 events spanning four months.  Signing-up for baseball is essentially taking on a second, part-time job.  Even when you consider that there is no mandatory San Luis Snack Shack Duty.

Nate’s Team, Cal Poly Red, celebrated the end of the season tonight with a game of kids versus parents, followed by a round of kickball and a water balloon fight.  I don’t know when I’ve laughed so much.

Unfortunately Jacob’s team, the Hooks, got knocked out of the playoffs by the Grasshoppers last weekend.  Jakey enjoyed the season and got on base most times he was at bat.  His strength is speed.  He had his team calling him Bob the entire season… but that’s a story for another blog.

It was probably for the best as all of us, except Nate, were a bit worn-out from baseball four nights a week.  Nate is still up for hours of catch and practicing his swing on the baseball tetherball practice pole.  This week we found out Grandma never learned to use a mitt.  And she’s not about to start now…

There was one game at Sinsheimer where I shivered on the sidelines, right through the dinner hour, famished from a light lunch and what seemed to be an interminable number of innings.

Two other families with impeccable foresight and enviable planning laid out a beautiful, fluffy picnic blanket.  There were chips, salsa and guacamole as the first course.  Then, then they unveiled a lovingly wrapped basket of piping hot taquitos.  I don’t know what was served as the third course, I had to get up and move behind the other team’s dugout to escape the mouth-watering torture…

At that moment I actually missed the Snack Shack.  In a moment of ravenous weakness, I almost regretted writing Nacho Cheese, The Shack, Keeping Kosher, Dirty Jobs, and Home Stretch.  An entire body of work criticizing plasticized dairy.  Years of lamenting my Saturdays hocking inedible junk food and, in an instant, my food snobbery evaporated and I would have emptied my wallet for a paper boat of salty, stale chips and orange cheese…

Nate the Great received his trophy today with great pride and an admirable solemnity during Coach Matthew’s team speech.  He was recognized for his two home runs and gained a reputation as a big hitter.  There’s definitely a little spring in his step.  I’m just bummed we missed his second homer while we were out of town for our anniversary weekend.

I’m told it was so exciting, he passed his teammate at second before rounding third and bringing it home.  That’s my boy.


This Sunday I had such a special Mother’s Day.  I actually slept past 5:45am… probably because Saturday’s combination of baseball plus birthday party bounce house plus beach with besties equaled beat for everybody.  I awoke to a perfect cup of tea in bed while the boys made me a beautiful bowl of yogurt and berries.  Then I was showered with presents.  Ice cream shaped bath bombs to use in the new barn bathtub, a travel mug, and an array of talking, whirling, buzzing cards that instilled endless anticipation and giggles from the boys.  Mysteriously, a few days prior, Jacob had plied me with information on how to give a foot massage.  One of the cards had an exciting mechanical wonder with a circus announcer’s voice— as I opened it, the wheel would spin, landing on all sorts of “mom” gifts like back rubs and breakfast in bed.  Somehow I got all the prizes.

Jacob made me a special clay caterpillar that holds a little portrait of his smiling second grade face.  It has a circle that says “feel better” to represent the “hole in our family from Daddy’s sickness.”  The caterpillar has an unidentifiable little friend with feet stuck to it because he had extra time.  Nate made a little ceramic heart box that he gave me at Friday’s Dia de la Familia.  It was a surprise lunchtime celebration where the kids sang songs in Spanish, served us cinnamon cake, strawberries and lemonade, and then walked us each through their best art and a heartfelt letter.  Jakey also made me a little bouquet of flowers from the yard and put them by my alarm clock.

If that wasn’t enough, we walked the Bob Jones trail while the boys rode their bikes, enjoyed some beautiful coffee at the new shop in Avila, and then had lunch at Rooster Creek with the best service I’ve experienced in over a year.  That afternoon I got to take a nap, look at my iPad, and spend an hour visiting one of my favorite little shops downtown…

The day ended with a tasty dinner, chocolate-covered strawberries and a relaxing bath.

I tried not to think about Chicken Nugget as the last occupant of our tub… we’re now pretty sure she’s not dying and she’s just broody.

After a day like Sunday, it’s no wonder she wants to be a mommy.  There’s really nothing better.