This summer



My lil freshman


Brother selfie : )

Here's what we made with some of that lovely produce. #summerDiveDog waiting for his daddy to come back. He has to wear a correction collar so I can keep him from jumping in after the seals & sea lions. He's obsessed. #Monterey #boat #doginaboat

First day, 7th grade <3Power struggle over the middle seat.

uploadSome summers are lazy (I’ve heard). This wasn’t one of them, but we did sneak in a week at the beach right when it started at the end of June. I can’t even remember everything we did, but I do remember getting up a 4 a.m. two days in a row for Willow’s softball tournament and driving around Lake Tahoe to the fields as the sun came up. Ace went on the boat with us in Monterey Bay and swam around a little, kept an eye on the birds and sea lions, slept on my feet while we waited for Scuba to come back from his dive. Lex graduated from high school. Sophie quit soccer. My brother and his family came to visit. I went to New York for work, started going to yoga at 6 a.m. again, quit drinking booze. Read The Goldfinch and Happiness for Beginners and All the Light We Cannot See.

We took the girls camping, rarely saw the boys, didn’t eat dinner outside as much as we did the last two summers because we kept running out of daylight. Discovered pickle-flavored popcorn and talked about moving to the coast. I worked a lot, Scuba worked more. Ace finally lost a few pounds, so when I take him to the vet later this month I won’t be in trouble. I guess that means we walked him more often?

It’s still summer for a few more days, but we’re mostly into our fall routines now. Alex starts school next week, the rest went back a month ago. It’s dark when I wake up, and I had to grab a sweater and put on socks to go to the kitchen and make my coffee this morning. I have two boxes hidden away and partway filled with Christmas gifts and I bought an ornament on Saturday. I love this transition. My favorite time of year. I haven’t written much about the hard stuff that’s been going on around here (or anything at all, obviously), but I feel like I’m starting to get my footing back, maybe. Just in time.

Parenting requires much more of me than I ever anticipated, and parenting teenagers is amazingly complex. Sophie isn’t shy about discussing her particular challenges, but I’m choosing not to go into much detail publicly. It’s not for me to tell. But I can say that today she started at a new high school after being out of school for over two weeks, and that I’m hopeful this fresh start will give her what she needs to do the work she needs to do to find her footing, too.

Tough, love.


Toward the end of last October, I thought to myself, This is the hardest month I have ever had. In November it became the hardest two months, December three. Where are we now? Month seven?

I was making sandwiches this morning for the kids’ lunches — pb&j because I read someplace that’s what nutritionists put in their kids’ lunchboxes (haha, sure they do) — and I thought about that some more. Has this really been the hardest time I’ve been through, ever? Is parenting a child who is struggling emotionally (to put it mildly) and having far too many difficult and scary moments and days worse than being the mother of a tiny four pound baby, born too soon? Is it shittier to not be able to help my child right now than it was to not be able to help my father when he was so frail and dying and in constant pain? It’s just busywork to distract myself, this comparing and ranking. I know it doesn’t matter. I am here right now.

I am so tired. Dramatic but true: It feels like my skin is made of glass and I’m hollow. My eyes hurt. Sometimes I walk through the grocery store and my legs are so heavy I feel like I can’t possibly take another step, that I should just puddle onto the floor and sleep until everything is better again. But I don’t, because I’m stubborn and sort of practical. And because Scuba calls me on his way home and says, Don’t worry about dinner. I’ll get it. You relax some, okay? He texts me, I’ll pick up the carpool on my way home tonight. He is holding my hand when I wake up in the morning, and he booked a beach house for a week for us this summer.

I don’t think things happen for a reason. I don’t think the universe puts challenges in my path over and over until I am freed of them by learning their lessons. But I do know the feeling of having my heart crack open and break. Horrible, yes, but at the same time, what comes rushing in to fix it is so tender and surprising. I’m completely worn out and wrung out right now. Sometimes all that’s left of me is the part that loves, and it takes my breath away, the strength of that piece and how it’s inverse to how awful I feel.

Last night for an excruciating hour I stood hovering in my child’s bedroom doorway, unwanted. At one point I thought about my heart, how it’s pumping blood, still, even though I am sure it’s broken. You know that thing you learn in science class about how if all your veins and arteries and capillaries were stretched out end to end, they’d wrap around the earth four times? I thought about that, and about how someone sitting in the same room can actually be farther than 60,000 miles away from you sometimes. Even if they live in your heart.

Happy, New Year

IMG_4943I miss our Christmas tree. We went up to the mountains and the kids picked a perfect one. There was no resisting the opportunity to recreate the photo I took few years back at the same tree farm, so I posed them. The original, though? Not posed. I said, Hey! Lemme take your picture! and then got so much undeserved shade from each one of them.


IMG_5410We had a really great Christmas this year – hosted at our house both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It was an awesome blur of cooking and eating and cousins.


I’m mad at myself for not taking enough photos.

A few days after Christmas, my sister’s first baby was born. He is ridiculously cute.


Even (especially?) when he sneezes.

The day he was born I sat next to my sister’s hospital bed and held him for hours while he slept and we talked. It’s been such a long time since my kids were babies; I was a little nervous at first to hold him. It’s different holding a newborn now that my first baby is eighteen and getting ready to start college. I couldn’t help but say that it paradoxically all goes by too fast — eighteen years in an instant made up of so many days where it felt like bedtime would never arrive and the clock dragged through impossibly long afternoons.

Tile crush


Paris Metro 1 terracotta tile from Tabarka Studio 

I can’t remember how I got to the website of the place that makes these tiles, but it’s now open in at least one tab on my different devices that connect to the internet because I cannot stop scrolling through the choices they have and picturing all the different ways I can use them in the house so that I can look at them every day. Like, we need to build some stairs to somewhere so I can put all the different Paris Metro ones on the steps, like this:


And, of course the kitchen:

I’ve decided not to look at how much they cost, because I don’t think this tile fixation is about that kind of reality — it’s just a healthy, terracotta painted in deliciousness, soothing, mental escape, that I want to put on the wall around the fireplace in the living room and on our bathroom floor. And walls. Also, the kitchen backsplash and embedded into the countertops around the kitchen sink. And the entryway floor. OMG.

There’s a showroom near us, in a dog-walking friendly town, so maybe I’ll get Scuba and Ace to go down there with me tomorrow, and maybe they will sell me just one single tile and I can put it on my desk and set my coffee cup on it every morning. It just might change my life.

Day of the FacePaint

Happy Halloween!

A photo posted by Jenifer Monroe (@jenmonroe) on

Willow was having a hard time figuring out what to dress up as this year, so we hopped on Pinterest to find something we could DIY at the last-minute. I’d ordered some very inexpensive basic t-shirts in a few colors for myself a few days before, and the white was like tissue paper and totally see-thru so I happily donated it to her costume. About five bux worth of face paint from Affordable Treasures and that was that.  And, since we had the face paint here, I went ahead and did my own face.  

Face painting #harderthanitlooks

A photo posted by Jenifer Monroe (@jenmonroe) on

After I’d done that, thinking we’d be staying home and handing out candy that night, Scuba was all, Let’s go get tacos! So, I went with him out for tacos with that face on. It was a little weird, and sort of fun, but next time I’m making him dress up, too.

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo

I keep forgetting that Scuba hasn’t set his nightstand clock since the time change, so I feel like I’ve had more than one extra hour this week, even though I want to get in bed for the night at 6:45 or so. I know that once he does change it, I won’t realize and I’ll lose an hour. It all comes out in the wash, right?

I took the photo above at the Taos Pueblo, which was one of the stops on my trip that I’d really like to take my little family back to see. I’m something like an eighth generation Texan on my mom’s side, but that’s pretty much no big deal to the people who have family homes there dating back 1,000 years. If you go, and you should, make sure to take the guided tour. I admit that I’m usually a little too cool for school and turn my nose up at those, but these tours are led by people from there, and are very much worth your time and your generous tip to your guide. There was a funeral happening there the day we visited, so we had to wait in the parking lot for a little bit for them to open. As we walked around with our guide taking photos, we could see the houses in the distance where the family was gathering. I bought Christmas ornaments and fry bread and a bracelets for the girls that ended up being too small. And photos. I took so many.



Taos Pueblo ChurchFry BreadTaos PuebloAlso, we spent some time talking to a photographer there, a woman whose grandmother told her that Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams both were self-entitled assholes who acted as if the native people and their culture were there to supply their creative needs. They didn’t respect when and where it was okay to take impressions of the people and their lives and their homes. They were so full of themselves, she said, they felt entitled to use anything in their art, like it was up to them. And I couldn’t help but think about what incredible, magical photos Ansel Adams may have been able to capture if he’d just listened and been more respectful.



After I voted today

I looked up late this afternoon and saw the moon, almost full and very bright and low and big. A few geese flew across the pink sky far away, above the treeline and just beneath the moon. Probably they were different geese than the ones who live in the parks here all year long. I think those geese just chase little kids and leave the soccer fields covered in poop and get in my way when I try to run on the creek trail through the park. They’re pretty much jerks. With wings.

When I see geese flying like I did tonight, on their way someplace warmer like normal geese, I always think of Houston. Probably that’s not what pops into *your* head when you see geese flying, but maybe that’s just because you weren’t there with me that one time when I stepped out the back door of my dad’s house in Houston just as a very intense formation of geese flew over the roof of the house behind me. I think they were flying north; I don’t imagine that geese would need to fly south from Houston. I bet it was getting warmer back home and they could finally go back. I didn’t know they were there, but we did this seamless, choreographed (though not) thing where I opened and stepped out the door just as the first one flew over and the sound made me look up. I saw them and stopped and they flew over so low, just barely skimming over the top of the house while I was totally still except for my chin tilting up toward them as the last ones in line flew over. It was just a second. I could feel their focus, though. Those geese were serious and determined and headed to a specific place. When we were working with a trainer with Ace, she said when I walked him I needed to be in charge of the walk, and that it would help if I had a picture in my mind of where we were headed. If I thought about that, Ace would sense it and know that we were headed somewhere and that I was in charge. He’d follow me. That’s what that migrating goose vibe was – the dogwalker vibe.

So maybe it was their collective focus down so low close to my head, or maybe it was just that I’d never seen geese so up close before, but something carved those couple of seconds into my memory. It was humid and the sun was going down. It was just a really cool thing to see and to feel.

We spent a lot of time in Houston looking up at the sky. At storm clouds and lightning, at that sun. At the stars. My brother and I used to sometimes lay on the top of our dad’s silver Buick to watch thunderstorms roll in or the sun set. Or we’d lay the lawn chairs in the back yard all the way back to look up at cloud shapes or an electrical storm or fireworks on the Fourth of July. The sky is more of a presence there. More active than it is here in California, at least weather-wise. Like, you wanna keep one eye on it for trouble. But it’s also just thicker and heavier. The humidity sometimes demands your full attention and you can’t help but squint at it convinced that you’ll see the wet fog and clouds that you can feel in your lungs when you breathe.

This year

 The Camera Shop in Santa Fe. They were nice and didn’t rip me off when I needed a new lens cap.

This year I was all, I’m *totally* going to NaBloPoMo it up! So of course November the first comes and goes and blogging doesn’t cross my mind one single time. Whatever. It’s okay. It’s November! Let’s blog (pretty much) every day! Yay!


Arizona road

Arizona. That sky is addictive and I’d like to go back and be under it some more.

Petrified Forest sky

Looking down is pretty rewarding, too.

Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest

The Petrified Forest was my favorite stop on our trip. It’s such a perfect living metaphor, I love it: You see it from far away, and it doesn’t seem like much. Kinda drab. Blah. Then you get into it, and you notice a shiny, colorful piece of rock. Just one, maybe. And then? Everywhere you put your eyes there’s this gorgeous color. All over the ground. And the more you see, the more you see. And it’s the same place it has been for a very, very, long, long time, but every time someone sees it for the first time (or in my case, the second visit but the first time I *saw* it), it’s new. And hopefully, every time someone leaves, they take with them not a rock, but a lesson they needed — about openness, or judgement, or delight, or patience, or beauty. About keeping an eye out for color when all you see is drab. About perspective, and appreciation, and wonder.

1504-36a-570A 1504-32-00207My great-grandmother, Bea, and my great-uncle, Ed, in the Petrified Forest 100 years ago when you could still drive wherever and climb around and bring pieces home with you.

I imagine her showing these pictures to someone and telling them, Oh, the photo doesn’t do it justice. You should see the colors! And even 100 years later, with an awesome camera that captures color and very complimentary late-afternoon magic hour light, I feel the same when I look at the hundreds of pictures I took that day. You really should go there, I think, near the end of the day when the sun is getting low, and see it yourself.

I’d like to take a swing at deciphering my lessons from the Petrified Forest, the real reason that I think it grabbed me by the shoulders and took my breath away. So I’ll claim some of all the things I listed already, but for me, it mainly has to do with living and dying. Mostly dying. I like when it seems as though maybe is nature taking pity on us and sharing hints about all the unknowns. Look, it seems like she is saying here, you think these trees are all dead, but really they’ve turned into something intricately beautiful. And so will you.


Or, you know, maybe the trees just got jealous of that sky and they spent all the energy they had trying to copy those colors and they petrified themselves.


Chapter One

For about thirty years I thought that I would write a book about the trip I took this summer. I didn’t think about it every day, but it was settled in my mind. An eventual fact. I pictured making the trip in the fall, and (I don’t know why) I thought I would drive alone. Slowly. Stopping whenever I wanted to. In my daydreams, I traveled in a silver Airstream, and for a really obnoxious couple of weeks or so I thought I wanted to find a typewriter from 1914 to bring along. At the end of every day, I’d park the trailer, crack open a beer, look at the old and new photos, and type up my story. The Airstream windows would be open as the southwestern sun went down, the breeze billowing the curtains as I worked at the typewriter, the paper coming out the top tinted by the fading orange light.

I know.

Look. I’m sure you have some sappy daydreams, too. I’m just being honest.

2014 was always so far away until it wasn’t. In 2012 I met a documentary filmmaker. Wouldn’t it be incredible, I thought, to make the trip with her? Or, maybe I could invite this really talented photographer I know, and also this blogger who does all these great interviews? We could travel together and each do our own project – me on the specific trip my great-grandparents took, and them from a broader, 100 Years Later perspective. Last year, a published author I know encouraged me to get a book proposal together for him to share with his agent and I started it and restarted it and picked up back up again so many times. A literary agent pressed her card into my hand and asked me to call. And I meant to. I honestly thought I would.

When I couldn’t get anywhere with an outline and book proposal I thought I just needed to take the trip first. How could I know what the story would be like (coffee table photo book? Memoir? Biography of my great-grandmother?) until I’d taken the trip and figured out what it was. I bought myself an extravagant, lovely journal so I could at least write about things as they happened, every day. I carried that journal through eight states (nine if you count changing planes in Texas) and it is still blank.

Now I’m back home with a couple thousand photos and so many thoughts and memories and feelings to process. The trip was an amazing success. It was nothing like I imagined it would be. It was better than I hoped it would be, missing sunset-lit Airstream and all. It was quiet and it was often ordinary, except not really. I am probably not going to write a book about it. I’m not saying never, but what happened that I can’t really explain is that it doesn’t feel like it needs to be anymore. It’s gone in my head from, This is going to be so cool! I should write a book about it! to That was one of the coolest things I ever did. I’m so glad I went. I’m not sure if I’m a flake or if I’m just content with the experience, but I don’t need to.

Of course I very much want to document the trip for myself my brother and my kids and anyone else who is interested, but I’ll do it here instead of on the URL I bought a few years ago. I’m tempted to kick myself for failing after being gifted this rare opportunity, but I don’t think any book ever written because it should have been came out worth reading. The only good ones are the ones that have to be written and I don’t have one of those.



This is the first stop on my trip, though it’s not really part of the 100 years ago trip – the house in Liberty, Missouri my grandmother lived in when she starting dating my grandfather in the mid 1930s. Her father built the house, and this is taken from the side. That porch. Swoon.