Good night Guineas

We have two adorable guinea pigs. The first is an albino escape artist we acquired by accident. Our relatively large garden was used for outside activities during an Earth Day Festival in 2015 held at the neighboring church.

A woman who owns a small farm brought a dozen guinea pigs and created a mini petting zoo that Saturday. Three or four days later, my husband was looking out the window and a little blur of white caught his eye among the lush green of the garden.

“We have a rat in the garden,” he erroneously concluded. Our garden is the pooping ground of local neighborhood cats and visible from the sky should a bird of prey be flying overhead. Yet one little guinea pig had somehow survived all by herself in our garden for three days.

When we informed the farmer of the little Houdini in our garden, she asked if we wanted to keep her.

Our first reaction was “no,” but my son, who had spent most of Earth Day petting these lovable little creatures, had other plans.

He turned into a regular little salesman, promising the world to us if we would only keep the guinea pig. We explained all of the responsibilities that come with owning a pet. My husband made it clear he would not be taking on any of said responsibilities. My son listened to all of it and then looked us in the eye, as he stated his vows of guinea ownership.

“I promise I will feed it, clean the cage, pet her daily and love her.”

We shook on it.

At first, he took his oath seriously. He fed her, helped with cleaning the cage, petted her regularly, named her.

Oitje (pronounced O-Chee) made it into school “share and tell” reports, was a recurring subject in the stream of digital photos and those first few months, he only needed to be reminded once in a while to feed her.

But guineas aren’t exactly the most ideal house pet for a kid. They don’t greet you at the door in a rush of excitement, like a dog, or beg you for attention. They don’t jump on your lap like a cat and chase their tales. That would be a tall order, considering guineas don’t have tails.

In other words, all of the attention is a bit one-sided. You have to reach into that cage as they cower at your outstretched hand and swoop them up. You have to conduct mini guinea pig therapy sessions to calm them down. Eventually, they purr like a cat, and they are cute and cuddly, but . . . .her life seemed a bit sad.

We went online to see if our guinea might be depressed. Research indicated that guinea pigs are social creatures and live  much longer, happier and healthier lives if they are in the company of other guineas.

A trip to the same farm resulted in guinea pig number two. In contrast to Oitje’s smooth, straight and white fur, and bulging red eyes, Coco was a black and tan with luscious wet black eyes you might encounter in a Disney movie. The pads of her feet even had a dark color.

Unlike Oitje, Coco was a nervous wreck. She didn’t like to be held nearly as much, would run like you were a hawk with talons if you even got near the cage. But she had her own winning qualities. Coco was a verbal little creature. She squeaked in the morning to remind you that she and her cage mate also needed a square meal to start off the day.

Two guineas meant investment in a larger cage, which dominated our tiny living room. It also meant twice the amount of pooping and peeing, more frequent cage cleaning, more food.

After the initial excitement wore off, I seemed to have inherited most of the responsibilities. I know the drill from my own childhood. You beg your parents for a pet, promise them the world. You get the pet and you are so excited! But as all the responsibilities set in, you realize these creatures require a lot more of your time then you had initially thought.

Wouldn’t it be better for them to be with a family who was more interested in them? This debate went on for a good six months. Finally, we came to a conclusion. Yes, Coco and Oitje deserved a more exciting life, with people who were willing to put in the time. And, we wanted that rectangle of prime living room real estate back!

We listed them in a Facebook for-sale group and within a few days, we had our first appointment.

Last night, a lovely young couple who had just purchased their first home came by our house to see them.

“We want an animal presence in our home,” the young man explained. Not a cat or a dog,  but a starter animal to go along with the starter home, I interpreted.

The young woman held each guinea pig and I saw instant love on her face that was so familiar. My son had looked at them that way when he first held them.

“Yes. We’d love to have them.”

While my husband packed up the food and bedding supplies, my son started explaining what they liked for breakfast, when they get their dry food, that they like their hay in the late afternoon.

We secretly watched through the window as the taxi came to pick up the young couple with cage, food, and two lovely guinea pigs packed in a perforated cardboard box for their trip to their new home.

“Good night guineas.”

This morning, when I was slicing apples for my son’s lunch, there was something missing. I didn’t hear that high pitched fluting of Coco: “Breakfast! Breakfast! Don’t forget about me!”

Tears streaked down my cheeks. My son came to me and asked what was wrong.

“No Coco whistling.”

He gave me a comforting hug and stood there with me in the new silence. There are far greater challenges over which to shed tears, but saying goodbye is never easy.

“They’ll be happy in their new home,” he consoled.

Wishing you a happy stage in your next journey little ones.


Sarah Turner from Bend, OR Coming to Europe!

I have this close friend Sarah Turner* from The States who keeps saying she wants to come visit me in Europe. Sarah’s a high school counselor in Bend, Oregon. She’s totally into hiking and running, has been happily married for over a decade, is close with all of her siblings, enjoys her job. In other words, she has a great life.

But then her husband cheated on her with one of her best friends who happens to be the wife of her husband’s boss. It’s a total cluster f*&k, as you can imagine, not to mention humiliating. So there she is, 36 years old, suddenly divorced, betrayed by not only her best friend, but her husband (I never really liked that guy to be honest). Did I mention that her mom passed away not long ago? I’ve been worried about her because these are big, disruptive life changes all at once.

X003Most of our communication about all of this has been through email and PMs on Facebook. But she called me up at 4:00 in the morning (forgot the time change) to tell me something totally out of character; she left her job and has just embarked on a solo-trip through Northern Europe to rediscover herself! At the end of her trip, she plans to visit The Netherlands for some appointment she has scheduled in Amsterdam, and will have time to visit me in The Hague!

I’m really impressed. It’s pretty gutsy to travel all by yourself through Europe; especially for a woman who’s never left the continental U.S. and has a hard time picking up foreign languages. As I recall, she’s also a bit afraid of the dark and she became a vegan a couple of years ago. Hmmm. Not sure how traveling in Europe will work out for a vegan. That’s got to be hard.

I’d love to introduce Sarah to some of my single friends, because she really is quite a catch. But it’s obviously too soon. I wouldn’t say she’s in a man-hating phase, but more like she just needs to be totally on her own and remember what it’s like to be an individual.

I hope Sarah doesn’t mind me sharing all of this personal stuff on my blog.

Want to get the full scoop on Sarah Turner, then you might want to click here. I understand you can read quite a few intimate details about her.

Nadja Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot visits The Hague

Last week my British friend invited me to see Nadja Tolokonnikova speak at Border Kitchen. Nadja reached international fame in 2012 when she and her feminist Pussy Riot bandmates were arrested on charges of “hooliganism” when they gave a spontaneous performance at a Moscow cathedral.

Image from Border Kitchen website

She served two years in a Russian prison for her act of hooliganism. During her sentence, she worked 17-hour days sewing uniforms. But that’s not what she wanted to talk about with the interviewer and audience at Paard van Troje. She wanted to talk about starting a revolution. I could almost hear  a punk version of Tracy Chapman’s famous song playing in the background. Yet at the same time, Nadja’s approach to starting a revolution is much more in your face.

When she first started speaking, I was put off. She dropped the F bomb like a rapper, she didn’t always answer the interviewers questions and she made a lot of generalizations. It didn’t seem to be a matter of stage fright. On the contrary, she seemed quite relaxed and content to digress from the topic if she so desired. I thought I was in for a long, awkward evening at the hands of an anarchist.

I soon realized it wasn’t her who was undergoing a bout of awkwardness; it was me. I was in an adjustment period. Nadja’s presence and her way of thinking were foreign to me. As I let go of whatever preconceived notions I might have had, she emerged before me as a true revolutionista, or in this case a  революционер.

She wasn’t interested in being in the spotlight for the spotlight’s sake. She didn’t care about fame. She knew that she was risking her life just about every time she partook in acts of rebellion in Russia. But she just chose not to think about it. No point. We all die. And better to live your life fully engaged and stand up for what you believe in, then living in fear. Not exactly her words, but that was the sentiment she conveyed.

The more she talked, the more I realized that Nadja is a unique brand of brilliant. She is strong, optimistic, driven, detached. When she talked about celebrities and politicians she’s met from Madonna to Obama, I didn’t get the idea she was name dropping. It was more like telling it as it is.


Here is my attempt to summarize some of the best insights I received from her talk. These are not her exact words, and could very well misrepresent what she said. But they are my attempt to recall from memory what she said over a week ago.

  1. On Trump. Yes he’s an ugly fascist pig, but it’s a good thing to have that ugliness out in the open where we can all see it. He’s in your face and you can’t ignore him and his ugly attacks on women, the environment, muslims and immigrants. These policies are not hidden and happening behind doors. You are fully confronted with what he’s doing right out in the open. The question remains, what are you going to do about it? (Start a revolution, perhaps?) We can all do something, no matter who we are. We can all take action and stand up for what we believe in. You can see Pussy Riot’s Make America Great Again Trump video here (not for those under 18, or with delicate temperaments).
  2. On communicating with ‘the other.’ When she spent time in prison, she met people with whom she would have never come into contact in her life outside bars: pro-Putin Russians and other people who had completely different opinions than her on almost everything. But they all became friends. How? Surprisingly, she referenced  Acts Chapter 2 of The Bible, to explain her approach to communicating with those who don’t agree with you.
    Acts discusses people speaking in tongues during Pentecost and suddenly being able to understand each other. I don’t think it was about all of these people suddenly speaking Polish and French and all of these different languages. I think it was about people actually being open to ‘the other’ and listening with their heart to one another, being willing to step inside their shoes and see the world from their perspective. That’s what I tried to do in prison. I walked in their shoes. And from there, we could communicate and understand one another. Damn. Nadja has a good point.
  3. On humor: I was one of a half dozen Americans in the audience who raised my hand to ask a question. I notice that I often seek out humor as a way of dealing with the disaster that is Trump. (Think Borowitz report from The New Yorker, or most Late Night shows). Afterwards, I feel a release of pressure, but also a release of the desire to take action. Does humor make us passive?
    Nadja’s answer to my question was also a relief. Here’s my summary of her response. I have activist friends who think humor detracts from activism. But I believe that we do need humor. In fact, humor makes life better, both in and out of prison. It’s hard to listen to people who are serious all of the time. Humor is a way of connecting and taking a serious problem and making it approachable. In other words, humor is a valid tool in starting a conversation and a platform for taking action.

I should probably also mention that Nadja Tolokonnikova wasn’t just there to talk. She has authored a book called: How to Make a Revolution. She’s also started a prison reform project and a media website, Mediazona, with the idea of keeping the world informed about human rights abuses in Russian prisons and calling for prison reform.

“I’m just a damned Russian peasant,” she said as she finished up her presentation to thunderous applause. She might very well be a damned Russian peasant, but she’s a damned impressive Russian peasant, fueling the fires of a revolution in her wake.




Compost and Marches

Today, while I was at a composting workshop, women all over the world were participating in Women’s Marches, standing up against racism, sexism, all sorts of isms, speaking out for our health, our equality and forming connections to forge a new beginning. I would have liked to be marching with you, but I had a previous commitment. Yet, I think the compost workshop and the Women’s Marches have something in common: Both are addressing the garbage out there and are figuring out what we can make of it.

Women’s March Amsterdam. Photo:

Composting takes time. All of those bad apples (corrupt politicians), rotten tomatoes (evil corporations), banana peels (unethical policies and laws) and lemons (need I go on?) need to be broken down to size, mixed in with leaves, hay (common sense) and earth (a dose of reality) and given time to just sit, stew and rot a little further.


You could just leave that garbage all on it’s own for a year and it would eventually break down of its own volition (impeachable actions, poor performance and caught in the act of breaking the law), or you can poke it with a fork (put on the pressure), turn it over (make them accountable), expose its underbelly (self explanatory) and all the heat and gases building up in there and the process of break down and transformation speeds up.

Women of the world and all others who support us, through our combined efforts, patience and collective work, we will transform that waste into a thick and nourishing soil in which to plant new seeds and grow new crops. Together, we can turn garbage into gold.



I’ve done myself a favor this year and skipped the resolutions. Or more honestly, I’ve had too much going on in my head to give this New Year’s tradition even a fleeting thought. So when a perky woman far fitter than me struck up a conversation on the topic in the gym locker room, I was surprisingly honest and fessed up to my ‘resolutionless’ state.

“Do you have any resolutions?” I returned, expecting a conversation about fitness goals.

“No,” she admitted, “But if I were to make one,” she began, slowly thinking about the idea, “It would be to help my boyfriend live through the year.” I soon learned that her boyfriend had been diagnosed with cancer a few years back, had undergone chemo last year. He had been declared cancer-free. Their absolute joy ended when a routine check-up revealed that the cancer was back with a vengeance.

This bright woman before me in her orange tank top, sleek body and model-like face was facing the very real prospect of death taking her partner away from her. Wherever I had been in my head, I was now completely present, listening to her. When she finished her story, we looked at each other in companionable silence. I opened my arms and she stepped into them for a hug.

We talked further as we left the locker room and I shared a bit of what was going on with me. She listened without judgment and one more hug was exchanged before we moved on to our work outs.

I found myself at the gym a week later, planning to run on the treadmill as fast I could to clear my mind of its clutter and address the pent up energy in my body. An employee was cleaning the last two unused treadmills, and I greeted him as I waited. We chatted about the dirt that collects on all of the equipment. He said something else, and I didn’t understand his heavily-accented Dutch.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he said in perfect English with a smile on his face.

“Oh. Yes,” I replied. This was pretty much a conversation stopper. He had moved onto spraying down the next treadmill anyway, so I began my workout.

Did he know he was referring to words uttered during a burial service? Speaking of death? That we are all mortal, that we all return to ashes and dust? Of course he did. I had heard these words so many times in my life, and thanks to Hollywood and my number of years on this planet, they have moved across the scale from profound to somber, predictable to trite. Now they had swung back to profound.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Had this man spoken out of context? I mean, he was simply cleaning dust off of machines at his work place. But no. Not at all. His words spoke of the present moment and the transience of all things: worries, life stage, the windows, the building, the treadmill, you, me. We will all return to dust. I half expected him to disappear, to have been a figment of my imagination.  He had moved on to vacuuming.

Happy Freaking New Year.

I know I sound rather somber, but I’m sharing these encounters for a reason. Here’s some other words you’ve heard a thousand times both on and off the silver screen: Know the value of life; it is a present not to be taken for granted.

Can I do that? Now that would be a hell of a resolution.







My Country ’tis of Who?

It’s been a hard week: Husband sick, son sick, a friend suddenly taken to the hospital for an appendicitis,  T. winning the U.S. election. Regarding this last sickness, how did this happen and what does it mean for the future of America? The future of the environmental policy, world trade, communication and politics?  The security, rights and liberty of fellow Americans who don’t happen to be white and male? These are the questions on the minds of many.

The shock from the election is so pervasive in The Netherlands that when friends and acquaintances in this multi-cultural country see me, one of the first things out of their mouths is along these lines:

“My condolences.”
“You must be shocked.”
“How are you holding up?”
“How did this happen?”

img_2542Just as this tattered Old Glory is sacrilege, so is the hate, sexism and racism so rampant throughout the Trump campaign. I understand in a way how Trump happened–people are angry and fed up with a system that makes the rich richer and everyone else poorer.  I understand anger, but not the anger that got him elected.

My anti-establishment, no more business-as-usual anger was of the Bernie Sanders variety; an anger channeled into positive change with clear, decisive actions and planning to make it happen. I believe the anger that got T. elected spawns from a darker source filled with fear and hatred of the ilk found in this Facebook collection of posts called ‘Day 1. Trump America’.

Here’s just a few examples:

Not even 24 hours yet. My friend’s sister, who is Muslim, had a knife pulled on her by a Trump supporter while on the bus by UIUC campus. (November 9th, 2016 tweet by Sarah Harvard)

One of the posts also shows a caucasion male being beaten by a group of African Americans. His crime? Voting for Trump.

And on the flip side? How about this photo?

Posted on Twitter on November 10th by Avarice Gambino. Photo purportedly in Durham, NC

According to this collection of tweets and Facebook quotes, Latin American children, Muslim women and African Americans are being threatened and told to ‘go home.’

Yet America is their home. Their country, your country, my country, just like the song goes: My Country tis of thee. Sweet land of liberty. Of thee I sing. But in the current state of affairs, I wonder. My Country ‘Tis of Who? I don’t know anyone who voted for Trump, and I don’t recognize the America that has been showing its colors this past year.  I’m extremely concerned what will happen to our country under his leadership.

According to a New York Times article this morning, Trump is planning to enlist Mr. Ebell to help take on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Activists labeled Ebell as one of the top seven “climate criminals.” My stomach is turning at the thought.

Mr. Ebell, who revels in taking on the scientific consensus on global warming, will be Mr. Trump’s lead agent in choosing personnel and setting the direction of the federal agencies that address climate change and environmental policy more broadly. See full NYT Article here.

Because all of the four-letter words just weren’t enough to express our frustration, we introduced a five letter word to our collection. The ‘T’ word is an expletive we don’t even want to hear in our household at the present moment.

This is not a spontaneous, reactionary missive. It has been slowly building during the last year as I’ve read and viewed the racist, sexist things that T. img_4443has said during his campaign and throughout his televised, caught-on -tape life.

Although I am an American living abroad, I am still an American and I still relate to my culture. But since Tuesday’s election results (hell, since the beginning of the campaign!), I’ve felt less enthusiastic about donning my former favorite sweatshirt.

Looking for a kernel of hope, I turn to Bernie Sanders to see how he’s responding (after of course his campaign’s initial post-election response of “We have nothing nice to say right now.”).  Here’s a Berning quote that gives me hope.

“To the degree that Donald Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
~Bernie Sanders Facebook Post on Wednesday, November 9th, 2016.

What if Trump America (excuse my French) won’t be the racist, sexist, mysoginist, wall-building, isolationist, climate-change denying country we think it will be?  It isn’t a one-man government and there are protections in place, politicians with years of experience, a whole checks and balances system built into governance.

What if he can actually deliver on his big promises of employment for everyone, and an America for all Americans? (Just to clarify, Mr. Trump, all Americans = every U.S. citizen, no matter race, country of origin, disability, religious affiliation, sensuality or lack thereof, sexual orientation, gender or party line). Perhaps there’s a silver lining somewhere in there, waiting to be discovered or revealed.

Or as my mother (jokingly?) said yesterday morning, perhaps the End Times really are near.

100-100-100 Trash free challenge

Recycling is so popular in our neighborhood, that the glass, paper and plastic recycling bins at the end of our block are often overflowing. Considering that my family alone drops off a bag each of glass, plastic and paper every week, this excess comes as no surprise to me.

I totally support recycling, but on the other hand, where are these supreme heaps of paper, glass and plastic recycling coming from? In a country where Albert Heijn, one of the largest Supermarket chains in the nation, sells its cucumbers individually wrapped in plastic, I’m guessing that most comes from packaging.

I’ve had a vague goal of cutting back on the amount of plastic, glass and paper that enters our home by changing my shopping patterns. I’ve done a bit to address this by using cloth bags and getting my unpackaged produce at Joe’s Vegetable shop. Yet laziness and convenience seem to undermine my desire to take it a step further. It’s like I need a waste-reducing support group to get my lazy *ss in gear.

But then something remarkable happened!  Duurzaam Den Haag announced the 100-100-100 challenge: 100 families, living 100 percent trash-free for 100 days. What? How could you live trash-free? And when they say trash, are they just talking about trash, trash? Or do they mean having zero waste–as in no paper, plastic, glass, food scraps, etcetera?

One way or another, I wanted to find out, and in doing so, signed up my family to participate in this ridiculous challenge. Am I going to turn into some uber-recycling, make-your-own-toothpaste, zero-waste scary person? And is that really so scary, or is it that the idea of changing our patterns is scary?

imageThe kick off event aptly began on Halloween evening and it was packed. Far from being scared, the crowd had a restless enthusiasm you might expect at a Holland’s Got Talent show–people amped up and ready for the challenge to begin.

The excitement was palpable as a woman spoke about her zero-waste lifestyle. The applause for the program initiators was just shy of thunderous and I was swept up in the energy. Then it got even better. I met up with my neighborhood group aimg_4406nd we all shared our thoughts about the program. We each received a goody bag with an electric scale to weigh our trash, a nifty cardboard recycling container for batteries, led lamps and small electronics, a bar of soap wrapped in newspaper and some start-up instructions.

My neighborhood What’s app group is on fire. We encourage each other, share tips and research and we’re already planning a cooking evening (what to do with left overs) and a composting workshop.

In the first five days, my family has managed to avoid opening the main trash can in the kitchen, thus producing zero waste (rest afval). I haven’t cleared out the small bathroom trash cans as of yet, which are filled with true trash–tissue, cotton swabs, dental floss, the occasional band-aid, etcetera. But we have been slowly eliminating items from these trash cans as well. Did you know you can recycle wooden tooth picks in the vegetable, fruit and garden waste bin?  And although we save the cardboard inner role of the toilet paper, sometimes they end up in the trash (laziness!) instead of the recycling bin. Those days are now over.

Did you know that in The Hague, tin cans, drink packs and bottle caps can be recycled via the plastic bin? That baking paper can not be recycled?

This week’s challenge was to count how many times you open a new package. You’d be surprised at how quickly it adds up, especially if you count each individually-wrapped tea bag. The subtle changes we can make to reduce waste and recycling material become self-evident. We could purchase loose-leaf tea, for example, and in doing so eliminate all of those little envelopes and tea sacks. We could skip the plastic bag at the bakery by opting for an unsliced loaf and placing it directly in a reusable bag. The possibilities are slowly but surely unfolding before my eyes and I have rediscovered my rose-colored glasses upon the path of 100-100-100. We’ll see how long they stay intact!





Thanks Tom Hanks

A few nights ago I was at a restaurant with a friend. The counter tops were white, the floor made of a smooth wood. My friend waited for me at a table while I leaned on the counter, trying to get some menus.

That’s when Tom Hanks approached me with one of his trademark smiles breaking across his face.

“Kristin! How are you?” he greeted, embracing me in an American hug.

“Great. How are you doing Tom?” I responded, hugging him back.

“Fine, fine,” he nodded.

“Oh my God!” My friend remarked in the background. “Hi Mr. Hanks. I just loved you in Captain Phillips,” she gushed. “And I’m so excited to see your new film!”

“I’m sure he’s never heard that before,” I chided, giving my friend a casual smile.

Tom shrugged off her compliment and then squared up to me with his shoulders as if about to deliver a mini, fatherly lecture.

“I really miss your playing, Kristin. You were so good! You’ve got to get out that saxophone and start playing again,” he stated emphatically.

“Ah. Well. Yeah,” I fumbled. Up until this point, I had been solid, no star-struck jitters bungling my speech or coloring my cheeks; no need to point out to Tom that we actually don’t know one another as far as I knew. My mind wasn’t bothering to analyze the illogical nature of our interaction. I mean, I didn’t want to insult the guy. And honestly, where had he heard me play? It’s been over a decade since I played with any regularity out in public with bands like Antara & Delilah, Ska’s The Limit, Jah-B-One, The River Project, The Hi-Hats. Just like my playing, besides Jah-B-One, none of these former bands still exist.

When I woke up from the dream, I had to laugh. Tom Hanks a fan of my playing from over a decade ago? I know how he got into my head–the poster of Inferno that has been at tram stops and all over the city announcing his latest Da Vinci Code-related film. inferno_movie_poster.jpg

But Tom’s dream-message had some staying power.

“You’re not going to play that now, are you?” my husband asked as I opened up the dust-covered case of my alto sax one morning.

“Yeah. I am. But don’t worry. It probably won’t be for more than a few minutes, considering I have zero embouchure.” Not to mention old reeds and other problems associated with being out of practice. I started playing and surprisingly, the saxophone made some rather pleasant sounds. It also made a few squeaks.

Picture of proper embouchure for saxophone players.

My son came into the room and climbed onto the couch behind me, watching intently.

“Can you play Star Wars?” he asked. I started thinking of the theme song, and before long, I was playing a rather shoddy, but nonetheless passable version of it.

“What else can you play?” he asked excitedly. By the time my four minutes of playing were over, my son had already decided that I should order music of all the songs he likes, so I can play them properly for him. He also wanted to try to play the sax himself.

It’s been three days since the dream and those four minutes of playing, but the sax is still in the living room, rather than the upstairs closet. And it’s calling me back.

Thanks Tom Hanks!

Hold Still: A Disjointed Account of Four Moms on a Saturday Afternoon

There were four of us at the table, and six of our little people among the masses of children jumping and screaming on the indoor trampolines. We sat on the hard metal stools drinking cappuccinos, our mile-a-minute conversations flowing; the music blaring over the loud speakers mixed with the  high-pitched screams of fright and pleasure a familiar soundtrack of motherhood.

Despite a median age somewhere in the mid-forties, we seemed more like teenagers the way we each fondled our smart phones, engaged in multiple disjointed conversations randomly interrupted by work-related texts, the display of YouTube videos and Facebook posts. We volleyed between bouts of concentrated dialogue dedicated to one topic and bullet point statements interspersed with interruptions both physical and virtual.

A: “I’ve been drawing lately.”
B: “Ahh. Check out these photos from my friend in Italy.”
R: “Shall I get another round of lemonade for the boys or can they share your pitcher?”
K: “Those photos are beautiful . . .”
A: “I drew this one for my nephew.”
B: “You can share our pitcher.”

I haven’t always been a smart-phone-toting, attention-deficit disordering conversationalist. Much to the frustration of friends, family and co-workers, I used to be one of those people who left my cell phone at home or didn’t even bother to check it when I had it with me. I refused to have it in the same room with me as I slept, not wanting the disruptive electromagnetic radiation near me and my loved ones. I even considered my friends who couldn’t seem to put their cell phones away as not only lacking in social graces, but clearly bored with the idea of living their own lives.

But then I got an iPhone for my birthday last year. Not only an iPhone, but the latest and greatest iPhone 6s. My eyes gleamed with the same excitement as my son’s when he gets a new Lego set. In Amsterdam and Los Angeles I saw billboards with stunning images taken with the iPhone 6s. Friends envied the amazing photos I could take, and the billboards dominating the airspace along the Los Angeles freeways during my summer visit seemed to buoy my sense of being on the cutting edge. Friends nodded in approval when they saw my phone as if I’d accomplished an impressive feat, when all I had done was unwrap a present from my husband. I don’t follow the trends when it comes to latest technology and I was surprised to be on the forefront, if even for a nanosecond. Oh, but where was I?

“Here’s a design I did for my coffee mug,” A. shared as her eyes darted between us and the series of pictures of her artwork she had pulled up on her phone—pastel water colors of names painted in calligraphy-like letters, cityscapes and other daily life mages. The children came and went like parakeets in a city, flocking to us and making short work of the beverages and snacks before fluttering off again.

Our attention shifted back to her artwork. One beautiful piece had a batik-like background in the shape of an African nation.

“I made this one for my maid. She’s from Ghana.”

This particular piece reminded me of an art opening I had attended the night before about immigration, culture and crossing borders, with art by husband-wife team Anna Kurtycz and RUDEK. I scrolled through the pictures I had made and the conversation segued to this current exhibition at the Victor Laurentius Gallery in New Babylon.

The topic of immigration made the rounds, our various opinions about poverty and taxes and the wealth of nations somehow morphing to food and culture. A Facebook post popped up with a photo of a new nephew born that day. We marveled at this tiny baby boy before we sped off to a series of photographs featured in a Time article entitled Hungry Planet: What The World Eats. The pictures of families from around the world surrounded by the foods they consume within a week held our attention spans for a good seven minutes before we were onto YouTube videos of Hillary with funny voice overs, a magazine suggesting that yellow was the hip color of the season and handing over change to the kids to purchase ice cream.

Conversations held during mom get togethers with a flock of children in tow have always been a bit disjointed. But this outing spoke of a new level of mom-multi-tasking ADD. Would I go back to my pre-smart phone life? Not for a second. Our interaction was media-rich, stimulating, exciting, fast-paced. Is my ADD behavior getting worse? I believe so. I can’t even tell you if I have presented today’s events in chronological order. Now that I think about it, I think that we looked at that glossy magazine at the beginning of the afternoon, not just before we left.

As I clicked on a new What’s App message from a client, I heard something that threw me.

“She has the iPhone 7,” R. said, pointing to A.’s larger, sleeker phone. It happened, just like I knew it would. I am no longer jogging out in front of the pack. The slightest ping of disappointment was quickly outweighed by relief: I could slip back into my more comfortable technology role of late adapter.

As we collected our red-cheeked children and prepared to head home, I felt like one of them: overstimulated, excited, exhausted. I thought about the old days. Hand-written letters, a well-worn notebook to jot down your thoughts, the heft of a hardback dictionary in your hands.

Maybe I’ll write a letter when I get home or read an old-fashioned paperback book; dim the lights, close my eyes and go into meditation. Something to balance out that media-driven, thoughts-akimbo afternoon.

Yet here I am back on another screen, writing a blog post with post-dinner plans of picking up where I left off on the eBook version of Sarah Mann’s Hold Still.

The title of her memoir comes from Sally asking her children on countless occasions to Hold Still as she takes their pictures, the hours of concentration demanded of both subject and photographer to get the perfect picture, the tedious and time consuming process of developing the film. This process required every ounce of concentration dedicated to the present moment, and then to the moment after that. Can anyone Hold Still anymore?