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Mac and Cheese

I pulled into the driveway after grabbing a few items from the grocery store.  Spring weather had newly sprung so all the neighborhood hooligans ran around outside.  Jack paused from the kid mischief going down in our front yard and turned in my direction.  From the serious look on all the other kids’ faces, some mystery needed to be solved or monster defeated.  It could have been in the middle of their favorite game, ghost in the graveyard, I’m not sure.  (I still don’t understand that game, no matter how many times the boys explain it to me.  All I know is there are ghosts and zombies and all them end up running from their hiding place screaming bloody murder.  Normally, I have to check about four times each game to make sure nobody has been murdered or maimed.)


When he saw me pull the car in, surprise and shock spread all over Jack’s face.  Immediately, he ran over to the driver side window and motioned for me to roll the window down.  I obliged.


Jack:  You are back so soon!


Me: Yeah, I only got three bags worth of groceries.


A satisfying realization changed his body language.  His shoulders and core relaxed.


Jack: OOOH.  I thought you were going hardcore shopping.


Then he leaned into the car for a hug and smacked me on the cheek.


Jack: I’m so glad you’re home.  You smell like mac and cheese.


And with that compliment given (and it was the highest of high accolade because mac and cheese is his favorite food in all the world), he hopped off to go back to playing with the neighborhood juvenile delinquents.  I brought my apparently non-hardcore groceries into the house with a smile and a warm glow in my heart.  


Jack doesn’t crack open like that very often.  Most of the time he is inside his own head, a habit he gets very honestly.  But when it happens, he can make you feel like a million bucks.  I’m not sure if he knows his own power over Tim and I.  If he ever tells us we smell like mac and cheese again, we both may just roll over and give him anything he wants.  We best not let him in on this secret weapon of words.


Maybe I’m more impressionable because as the boys get older, the more nostalgic I get.  The baby and toddler snuggles have been replaced with video game hangouts, deep dinner conversations or goofing around in the rare moments we don’t have somewhere to be.  Each of them are coming into their own and it is so fun to be a spectator.  From day one, Tim and I treated them as individual whole people, not half adults or big people in waiting.  But the older they get, the more their individuality shines.  They have more of their own ideas to share and more opinions to formulate.  Slowly they are separating from us.  Physically, the need us less and less as the days accumulate, but emotionally we are still their guiding star.  Normally this evolving would make me sad, but I know that they will always be our boys, whether they are little or not.


Today Jack is nine.  Our baby is nine.  NINE.  He is goofy and smart and sensitive.  His self proclaimed nickname is Sweet Fart, but he is still Jackie and Jackanoonie to us.  Last week, he hit his first home run, a three-run home run no less.  He is still a string bean, but no longer little in any sense.  Recently, all four of us have a new obsession: Magic the Gathering.  This game elevates our nerd to a whole other level and we are proud.  So far, Jack has beat us more than he has lost.  One on one, I have been unable to win against him.  He’s a wiley, strategic, smart one, that baby Jack.  


I am thankful I get to watch him in action everyday.  And for the individual he is and the layers he is adding on.  I am thankful for his sense of humor that he gets from Tim (instead of me, thank goodness).  And for his mechanical, crazy smart mind.  I am thankful I smell like mac n cheese to him and that he still kisses me on the cheek in front of his friends.  I am thankful for the previous Jack, the now Jack and the Jack to come.  All of them will always be my baby, even the future Jack, no matter how big and tall he grows.

Mac and Cheese

adventures in adulthood

Axe Hoarder

My long game is genius.  


It all began a year and a half ago when we moved into our new house.  You see, I love to garden and grow edibles.  There is something magical about going out into your own backyard to harvest dinner.


It’s also sort of a Hansen thing.  My Mama Addie sacrificed lawn space along her driveway to sow precious seeds.  My parents have always had a garden.  I don’t ever remember coming in for lunch in the summers.  We grazed along the bean poles and climbed high in our huge cherry tree to get the ripest berries.  I’m sure my mom bribed us to come in for PB&J sandwiches so we wouldn’t break our necks, but it’s nostalgia, I can remember whatever I want to remember, so there.


My parents now have what you could classify as a small family farm.  Fruit trees and berry bushes are fenced off to keep those rascally deer away.  They live on a hill and don’t have any flat space so my dad poured cement steps into the side of a hill to create ample growing space.  Whenever we visit in the summer, we go home with a trunkload of veggies.  Like I said, magical.


As soon as we moved into our home, I bought a composter right away.  For the last 18 months I meticulously saved all compostable material.  Sometimes this meant scooping things out of the garbage and yelling at the rule breaker who was wasting precious dirt making material.  Composting is not easy.  It also makes you a slightly crazy hippie.


The first fall we lived here, we took out 13 trees because gardens need light and also, I don’t want to live in a tropical rainforest.  My skin needs that vitamin D and so do those veggies (Do they?  I think they need the sun for photosynthesis but is it vitamin D too?  I don’t know and I’m too lazy to google right now.)


The next step took us all last Summer.  The people that lived here before us apparently loved a good plant sale and deposited their bargain hunting finds into every single inch of dirt space.  We ripped everything out of the back garden because most of it was overgrown and untamed.  Plus, it just seemed easier to start with a blank slate.  I’m sure there were beautiful flowers back there but I’m not a flower expert so it all had to go.  


My goal for last Fall was to get the raised beds built and filled so all we would be responsible for this Spring was planting.  This obviously did not happen because procrastination also lives in our house with us.  That and we discovered so many addicting shows to binge watch.  Game of Thrones and Dr. Who are higher on the list, sorry garden.  Also the issue of an enormous ant hill took us weeks to overcome.  Life can’t always go as you plan, am I right?


All of this long game took me to yesterday.  Tim and I built the beds on the weekend and put them back into the garden.  Then we saw the problem.  The beds sat all wonky and uneven and looked like complete trash.  We may suffer from extreme procrastination, but we will not tolerate un-level, un-precise crap  We decided then that a tiller was necessary so I happily jaunted off to Home Depot to rent one.  Secretly, I was psyched to wield this dangerous power tool.  That, of course, didn’t stop me from groaning and complaining about the hassle of picking it up and all the hard work it would schedule.  Tim rolled his eyes.  He saw through my facade and told me to have fun as he drove off to work.  He knew I would.  I did.  And it was AAAAAAAwesome!


My first roadblock of the day presented itself as a huge stump the tiller could not attack.  I needed to go back to Home Depot for the big guns.  And by big guns, I mean an axe.  I needed to hack that stump into the depths of hell if my garden beds had any chance of laying level.  Nobody wants crooked garden beds.  That axe was necessary.


So I drove back to my beloved Home Depot.  I knew exactly the aisle I needed because six months previously I had wandered the entire store looking for a “weed popper.”  Tim’s dad helped us with our sprinkler system and with ripping out the back garden.  We first encountered that evil ant hill then so he sent me to the store to get a remedy, oh and also he said we needed a “weed popper.”  I had no idea that this was not the official term.  I guess the Pell family has their own language.  “Herkin” is included in their familial language too and I’d never heard of that one before either.  I deduced it to be an adjective, being the synonym of enormous, but I digress.  After getting several confused looks from the store employees, I finally figured out that a “weed popper” was a tool that gets dandelions out of your lawn.  I still don’t know what the official name for that is because I am a Pell and those things are weed poppers. Forever and ever, amen.


My hunt for the weed popper gave me a thorough knowledge of the store layout.  I also remembered that shovels and axes lived in the same aisle as weed poppers, a few blocks away from the ant killer granules.  So when I walked into the store yesterday, I didn’t even need to pause for my eyes to adjust to the inside light.  I gave the nice greeter/front door helper/enabler a smile.  My strut said, “Nope, don’t need your guidance.  I know exactly where I am going.  I am going to the freaking axe aisle because I am going to axe some shit up when I get home.  And I know how, too.  I know everything there is to know about axes. Axe Expert is on my business card.”


Confidence oozed out of my pores.  I began to glisten with badassery.


I sharply pivoted down what turned out to be the wrong aisle.  I was one off, so sue me.  To cover for my error and to maintain an unruffled pace, I continued down that lawn mower aisle and took the back way to the axe home.


My self-assuredness waned when I saw there were 50 different axe options.  Do I want a wood handle (hickory or cedar)or a fiberglass?  Straight or curved grip?  Double or single bit?  I mentally crossed off the 500 pound titanium axe because it was out of my price range and I needed to work out a few more months in the gym before that purchase seemed prudent.  Luckily, nobody witnessed my hemming and hawing.  (I know, because I side glanced enough times to make sure.)  So I grabbed the best one, a 3.5 pound single bit with a straight, fiberglass handle, and headed to the cashier.


Nobody tells you what carrying an axe does for your self confidence.  


Let me pause for a second for some necessary history.  Previously, I’d been having a rough couple weeks.  One hour I would be up then I spend the next day and a half, down.  Sleepy, irritable and fuzzy had been the default, even when a reprieve would enter in for a few hours.  My average demeaner slipped into a dimmer level each progressing day.  I did not see any light at the end of the of the stuffy, dark tunnel, until I picked up that axe.


As I walked to the front of the store, I gripped my shiny new tool down at my side.  (Don’t worry, I didn’t throw it over my shoulder like a lumberjack, I’m not a total idiot.)  I pride marched past a few other customers straight to the self-checkout lane.  (Self checkout lanes were made for people like me.  If I don’t have to talk to anybody extra, I will always choose that option.)  I was a little tempted to flaunt my purchase to the cashier and other customers in line, but I know my weaknesses.  And one of them is oversharing. In this instance, I would have probably explained my entire store experience, long game gardening plan AND axe knowledge incompetency so I chose to remain aloof.  I had to keep up appearances.


And so then I drove home to hack shit up like a total badass.  


Nevermind the fact that I realized halfway through my stump slicing that my axe was dull.  Do you even have to sharpen these things when they are new?  They must be like knives right?  You don’t have to sharpen razor blades when you pull them out of the box.  (I just googled it.  Yep, I should have picked up a file and other sharpening tools.  This explains all the trouble I had with that offensive stump.  Apparently, my prized tool was “dangerous and ineffective” but whatever, we are losing focus.)


This whole experience made me realize I may become an axe hoarder.  Whenever I’m feeling down, or fudgy, or if I feel fat, or if I’m questioning my parenting strategies or life accomplishments, etc., all I need to do to feel better is to march down the axe aisle and make a purchase.  That will bring back to the light for sure.  But what am I going to do with all those axes?  Do you think there is a Pinterest page for axe art?  Maybe I can make an axe wreath.  Or incorporate some wood palettes to make an axe rocking chair or an axe fountain.  The possibilities are endless. Also,  I am not a waster so I will definitely find ways to make all these new axes useful.  Please don’t judge me when you go through my belongings after I’m old and gray and have died.  Just think of my collection of four million axes as my gift to you.  Really, I’m just bestowing badassery onto you.  You’re welcome.


Still high on my axe purchase, I went grocery shopping at Costco.  I don’t even need to tell you how bad this combination is.  Included in my brimming cart: the 6 things on my list, plus 27 more packages of “family size” snacks, and a 15lb bag of lemons.  


What the eff am I going to do with all those lemons?  I don’t even know, nor do I care right now.  One thing I do know, is that I am in no way making homemade lemonade.  I’ve tried that already and it’s hard.  Maybe I’ll just put them on display in a pretty bowl so when visitors come they will realize I am actually an adult.  Okay – let’s be real – we hardly ever have visitors beside the neighborhood kids, but at least those hooligans will have a renewed respect for me.  A bowl of fresh lemons is a magic elixir.  So is buying an axe.  

Moral of the story: Do what you gotta do to get your badassery back, even if it means hacking up fresh lemons with a new, dull axe.

Axe Hoarder 3


Axe Hoarder 2

Nailed it. Or axed it, whichever you prefer.


being an introvert, letters, Tim

For Claudia

Recently, Tim left his old work home for a new work home.  This new adventure has proven to be a great fit, all the details lining up for him professionally and personally.  All four of us are pinching ourselves daily at how well the transition has gone.  I’m not going to lie though, both Tim and I are still a little anxious, waiting for some unforeseen ball to drop.  Pessimism is alive and well in the Pell Household, but we are furiously trying to push it out the door so we can enjoy this new ride.


Going into this transition, we both knew we would mourn the loss of his old work team.  They have all become family to us.  Initially, they made the first move and graciously ushered all four of us into their lives even though they didn’t have to give us any light of day.  I have a feeling that, in general, this doesn’t happen quite often in the corporate world.  They are still our family, and our love for them hasn’t changed, but we will miss our easy access to all of them.  


These team members hail from all over the world.  Costa Rica, India, South Africa, Scotland, Ireland, Luxembourg, China, Japan and of course, the U.S.  All of them taught us invaluable lessons and we experienced irreplaceable adventures with them.  They gave us a world view and world experience; we will be forever indebted to them for sharing that with us.  Along with us, they watched our boys grow up.  They let them jump and bounce behind them down the cobblestone roads of Luxembourg, Germany and Amsterdam. We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and professional milestones together.  And even though Tim won’t technically be part of the team anymore, all four of us will be cheering them all on from the sidelines.  


The awe-inspiring force of nature who leads this whole ragamuffin band of personalities is Claudia.  She is humble and kind and would never brag about herself or self promote.  I wanted to let the whole world know how phenomenal she is, and what better way to do that than post it on the interwebs for the whole world to see.  So, Claudia, here’s to you.




I’m going to attempt to put into words the gratitude, awe and love I feel for you, so here goes.  It is inevitable, all the words that follow will fall short.  My feelings toward you and what you have done for Tim and our family are too giant to be contained on a page.  But I will try because you deserve to know at least a fraction of how much you have impacted our entire family.


From day one you were always more than the “boss.”  You saw Tim, truly saw him, for all his strengths, weaknesses, creativity and potential.  You saw him as more than just an employee or a direct report or even a fellow team member.  You saw more and you brought to light bits and pieces even he couldn’t see.  He could let his sarcastic humor flow freely around and you let him use it to strengthen your team as a whole.  You weren’t afraid to look to him for his people reading skills.  Just like you, he knows how to uncover others’ hidden strengths and develop the potential he sees.  He always looked to you for your calm, confident, steady light.  You weren’t intimidated by him, most people are by the way, and that’s where they get it wrong.  You didn’t mind him being bold and blunt because you are refreshingly the same.  You are confident in yourself and leadership capabilities so you don’t mind if someone excels, you are fueled by it, as a leader should be.  You poured your logical encouragement into him and he flourished under your precise direction.  You didn’t back down when his stubborn streak showed up either; you kept pushing through, reminding him of a better way.


Tim always described your leadership style as “minds on, hands off” and that’s what he needed to be motivated and to create and to lead others.  In my opinion, that kind of people management is the best kind.  You made space for new ideas, creative solutions and the innovative systems.  You didn’t care how it got done, just as long as it got done.  You always checked in to see how you could help in case he was stuck, always offering a kind affirmation or gentle suggestion.  You supported him so he could support others. The trickle down effect worked brilliantly.  Through your example you taught him how to be an effective leader.  You encouraged his innovations without any hint of micromanagement.  You weren’t afraid to push him or  gently remind him of areas where he needed to devote more energy.  You weren’t afraid to give feedback to him, or even receive some from him.  Your confidence in yourself, and in him, poured out and colored all your work.  All of his projects have your name watermarked on them.  All along the way, iron sharpened iron, just as both of you needed.


While you led him, you simultaneously built trust.  He could always rely on you professionally, knowing you would always be fiercely protective of him and his work.  The mother grizzly has nothing on you.


When you saw Tim, you weren’t single minded.  He wasn’t just a corporate peer, you also saw his other life roles.  Your vision included the boys and I, and that meant the world to me. Yes, Tim worked for you, but you valued his time spent as a husband and dad.  You didn’t see those roles as inhibiting his work life, you knew they enhanced it and you welcomed all of us into your life.  When you saw Tim, you also saw our family.  I know that says volumes about Tim, but it also speaks to your stellar character and investment into his personal life.


Even though I’m grateful for your confidence in Tim, there may have been one time your faith in him was a bit of an overstep.  At least now we both know he can’t be trusted to drive a large vehicle in a foreign country.  Or I guess we now know to get the maximum insurance policy on rental vans.  On second thought, don’t ever let him drive in Europe again.  I won’t either, I promise.  Also, don’t entrust cowbells into his care, he will ship 145 of them to Germany in his carry-on.


Personally, I’m glad I found a kindred spirit who could logically and exactly categorize why we are kindreds through Myers-Briggs letters.  Thank you for introducing me to Susan Cain and sharing in a mutual appreciation for Brene Brown.  Thank you for showing me I’m not the only one who thrives in the stillness.  It’s refreshing to find someone else who is loud in her own quiet.  You showed me that I don’t have to yell to be a strong leader.  Creativity and innovation don’t always need maximum volume.  There is a time and place for the roar, and you don’t shy away from it when necessary, but a clear and quiet voice is heavier.  Thank you for showing me how brave it is to be confidently quiet.  That kind of voice is bold and pierces the soul.  It also makes sure shit. gets. done.  The corporate world, and the world as a whole, needs more voices like yours, never silent, just calmly, courageously leading.


While Tim and I appreciate your presence in our life personally, there is something even greater that I haven’t even touched on yet.  Teaching our boys about feminism and raising them to value both men and women equally is very important to us.  You are our tangible example that women can do anything men do.  Because of you, the boys will grow up thinking it’s old hat to have a woman in leadership, in the corporate world, the tech world, in all the world.  They will know that you don’t have to sacrifice your femininity to lead.  Your femininity is a strength, just as your direct and bold communication and your passion for developing people as whole leaders.  Because of you, when they hear the label, “boss”, they won’t automatically picture a man.  Every single day when you walk into work, you are decreasing their unconscious gender bias. Whatever life path and career they choose, they won’t be intimidated, or God forbid, be demeaned, by a boss who happens to be a woman.  They will remember that their dad thrived under your leadership.  Because of you, they will have high standards for any boss, male or female.  They may not fully realize all of this until they grow up, but Tim and I will keep teaching them and reminding them how we need both men and women in every sector of life, equally.  Gender is just a surface detail, character and strength are what matter in a leader.  You have set the bar high, for all four of us.


So lately, in the Pell Household, we have been mourning the loss of your constant contact in Tim’s daily work life.  We know it’s not really a loss, just a transition to a new adventure, but it sure feels like an empty hole.  I know Tim will continue to learn from you, but now is the time for him to leave your nest.  You showed him the mechanics of how to fly but now comes the scary part of taking that first step off the ledge.  Because of you and all the skills you’ve molded in him, I know he will soar in this next role.  He always will in every step of his career because you showed him how.


It’s also exciting to know that you will continue to develop the leaders already under your care, as well as teach and mold new ones.  Your talent for leading and caring for others needs to keep spreading.  I’m afraid we may have been a bit selfish with you.  If I could have my way, Tim would work for you for the rest of his career, but I know that can’t be.  More people need to see your way; they need to be under your direction.  They need you to push them to the next level.


Thank you for being fiercely loyal.  Thank you for not taking any of Tim’s shit.  Thank you for welcoming Luke, Jack and I.  Thank you for showing us beautiful bits and pieces of Germany.  Thank you for not rolling your eyes when our boys threw a horrific, jet lagged tantrum in the Luxembourg airport.  Thank you for being a strong, brave and kind leader.  Thank you, Claudia, from the deepest part of my heart.


P.S. Thank you for introducing us to “Kaffee and Kuchen.”  Our afternoons will never be the same.

Kaffee und Kuchen 1