When Kids are Involved, When Is a Risk Worth Taking?

A good column in Outside about how much risk is too much when you have kids.

When Kids are Involved, When Is a Risk Worth Taking?

“Having a child opens you up to death in a whole new way.”

Our birth-class instructor had said it in passing. Now I understood what she meant.

Peter and I stood in the cabin of our Cal 25, a once-sprightly, now put-out-to-pasture sloop and struggled to tune the spit-crackling marine radio. We’d arrived by car at Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle the night before and slept on board, nestled below the bluffs. Now, as I looked through the cabin’s companionway, the new day was not promising. Metal halyards, strung to the forest of aluminum masts, snapped and clanged in the fitful gusting wind, like an Indonesian gamelan orchestra.

We found the NOAA channel.

“Small craft advisory in effect until tomorrow night. Wind waves two to four feet…Southwest winds 15 to 25 knots…rain…”

None of this would really have mattered—in fact I like getting stuck, having a guilt-free excuse to lounge and read—except that the boat was a share. Our allotted five days were being eaten away.

Not to mention, our one-year-old daughter, Molly, was kicking around our feet, adding a whole new dimension of tension. Generally, in past adventures, Peter and I had managed to strike a pretty good balance between risk and safety. At least we’d survived. But now I imagined our cherubic child plummeting like a bowling ball down into the bone-aching depths of the Sound. I tried to reign in the horrific thoughts that began whipping through my mind. I could recognize them as improbable, but that didn’t keep them from coming. We decided to wait until late morning. Maybe something would change.

Nothing changed. There are 1,400 boat slips at Shilshole. Not one boat budged.

With Molly encased in pile and stuffed into a kid pack, we climbed the stone breakwater that shelters huddled boats from the open sound. We stared across white caps to Bainbridge Island on the other side.

“I think it’s something like 23 nautical miles to Langley,” Peter said. “Maybe we could try the first leg and see how it feels.”

In general, we’ve found the best way to gauge risk is to get as close to it as you can, whether that means figuratively or literally—by talking to someone else in a similar situation or by carefully nosing in yourself. We decided to nose in. But first we made a safety plan.

Our original goal had been a five-day, 70-mile trip. We’d zigzag our way north to Anacortes, meet up with my dad, then tack our way west to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island where we’d hand the boat over to its other owners. 

Our new plan was to venture out one leg at a time and reassess. We jury-rigged a harness for Molly, tying one end of a rope around her waist and the other end to a cleat. (There are no doubt actual harnesses for this purpose, but we didn’t have one.) If somehow Molly came loose and was thrown overboard, I was to plunge in after her, while Peter tried to bring the boat around. I’d done some long-distance swimming in the Sound and knew too well the feeling of petrifying cold. It starts in your extremities and colonizes your body like an ice cube freezing from the outside in. But I was a strong swimmer and Peter was better with the boat. If we felt we were getting in over our heads we could always turn back.

Returning to the boat, we started the motor. We tentatively putted our way out to the entrance. We peaked around the end of the breakwater. Creeping out into the open, we were quickly swept into a rising, falling, rocking, rolling immensity of water and sky. Sliding on a wet deck, I frantically raised the mainsail in an attempt to stabilize us. This helped. I opened a hatch and looked down below. We’d wedged Molly between pillows in the V-berth in the bow, so she wouldn’t slide every time we rolled. Far from panicking, she’d simply fallen asleep.

It struck me, in retrospect, that without the anxiety of “what ifs?” and the dire imaginings of worst-case scenarios, the rollicking ride was a total blast. I remembered that as a child, eyes closed, I’d spin and spin, drunkenly staggering until I fell, loving the physical feeling of careening out of control. When had I lost that? I guess when I’d come to the realization that sometimes bad things happen when you’re out of control. Things you can’t take back. So then comes the risk assessment. But for Molly, at one, there was no assessing. She’d entrusted her parents with that. We were feeling the weight of the responsibility.

Several strenuous hours later we sailed into the dock at Langley, a charming town of about a thousand on the south end of Whidbey Island. Peter and I felt exhilarated, relieved, empowered, triumphant, and glad to stop. Molly, oblivious, was cheerful as ever. Springing off the boat onto the rooted planks of the pier, Peter said he’d never been so grateful for land and shelter.

This is why it’s worth taking a risk, albeit a calculated one. For the chance to relish what we have, spurred by the recognition that for that moment we could have lost it; and for another small triumph in our battle against fear, another notch in our quest of a broader world. Of course, everyone has a different tolerance for risk, and fear is an important survival response. But sometimes it’s worth pushing back.

I’ve been thinking about this lately.  We are going on two backcountry hikes this summer.  No cell coverage.  No safety net.  Just Jordon, Mark, Oliver, (the dog), and myself.  We are heading both times in to what we know is bear country.  We have known others that have run into and been threatened by bears in these places. 

Jordon doesn’t care. He’s the same guy who went exploring in the most violent neighborhood in America at night by himself.  He has broken into abandoned apartments to find homeless people who often are high or have mental health problems.  Psychologists say he has an undeveloped sense of fear. 

Yet there is something said to being truly afraid and overcoming that fear.  As a mother one of my biggest fears is something will happen to my boys.  This summer will be a process of letting go and embracing that risk.  We’ll take all the precautions that we need to, a survival and first aid kit will be one of them but if something does go wrong… well that is where the adventure begins.

When Your Friend Is On the Stand at the Ghomeshi Trial

Published at Canadaland

When Your Friend Is On the Stand at the Ghomeshi TrialDay two of Henein’s questions and Lucy’s answers confirm almost every fear survivors have about reporting sexual assault. Forever-ago emails are dredged up one by one, revealed in a deliberate and increasingly “damning way” for maximum rhetorical impact. Lucy remembers none of these messages, but is asked to field each one in the moment, and at some points is forced to read their content aloud.

The point of all of this heightened drama is to weaken Lucy’s reliability and credibility in the eyes of the judge. (By Ghomeshi’s choice, there is no jury in this trial.) But in the moment it just looks like base cruelty—a complex and very publicly orchestrated process of deeply shaming a victim who dared to come forward. When Lucy’s “fuck your brains out” email to Jian is posted on numerous courtroom screens, a group of older women behind me audibly gasp, seemingly not because they are scandalized by the content, but out of sympathy for what Lucy is currently enduring.

My experience in the courtroom on this second day is a blur of increasingly emotional responses. (Again, how can anyone accurately recount the things they wrote thirteen years ago?) From where I sit the process looks entirely abusive and re-traumatizing, but Lucy’s resolve never wavers. “[She] is staying very calm and bright. It’s incredible…” Boesveld tweets that day.

Lucy’s testimony that she knew she would inevitably run into Ghomeshi in entertainment circles, and that she therefore only wanted to see him on her own terms, resonates so strongly with my own experiences—I was similarly terrified of running into my abuser after the fact. “Ghomeshi assaulted me and afterwards I tried to neutralize it and make it a friendship,” she tells the court, a sentiment that speaks directly to so many survivors who have done the same. As I watch her calmly and carefully explain every piece of email placed in front of her, I’m amazed by her resilience, her ability to articulate such complex emotions to people who may struggle to understand them.

There is something heartbreaking about the overall tone of the messages that Henein presents. I am struck by Lucy’s humour and casual language, and the way it seems like she’s trying to make an unimaginable situation as normal as possible, to both quiet her complex and painful feelings and apologize for what she’s endured. (I’ve learned over time that it is always Lucy’s way to be apologetic.)

By the time Henein reveals the climax—a now-famous “love letter” that Lucy testifies she has no memory of writing—and asks her to read its closing line (“I love your hands”) to the court, I’m no longer strong enough to keep my personal feelings concealed. I hear Lucy’s words on the stand, “Women can be assaulted by someone and still have positive feelings for them afterwards,” and I start to cry in court. When Gillian turns to me and asks if I’m okay, I feel selfish that I’ve made such an upsetting moment for a friend about my own personal trauma.

When we have our second lunch in the victim/witness services room, we try to keep the tone as light and positive as possible, flipping through that ridiculous O magazine and mocking the terrible décor. The worst is now over. Lucy won’t have to face Henein again, and after more than a year of waiting for this moment, she can finally move forward with her life.

As we eat, I reiterate over and over that it doesn’t matter what she did after the assault. It doesn’t matter if she was kind, or loving, or sexual to a person who abused her. In some ways I feel like I’m also saying it to myself. There are tears, and worries now, but one thing remains certain after such a harrowing courtroom experience.

Lucy’s words about the letter, spoken on the stand, replay in my mind: “That doesn’t change the fact that he assaulted me and I never gave consent to him.”

I don’t know what  I can add to this except the last sentence.  Sadly in my experience, that is the last thing people cared about. 

Italian Layered Salad Recipe

Italian Layered Salad RecipeIngredients

  • 6 cups bite-size pieces iceberg lettuce (1 pound)
  • 1 bag (16 ounces) broccoli slaw (6 cups)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
  • 1/2 cup creamy Italian dressing
  • 1/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese (1 ounce)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


  1. In deep 3-quart serving dish, layer lettuce, broccoli slaw, beans, onion and bell pepper.
  2. Mix mayonnaise and Italian dressing until well blended. Spread over vegetables. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours until chilled or overnight. Sprinkle with parsley just before serving.

This and that

It’s been a weird week.  In the past I have posted a lot about the Jian Ghomeshi charges and violence against women.  With the Ghomeshi trial underway this week, my site has seen a lot of hate filled comments not towards Jian Ghomeshi but against me writing about sexual violence and rape culture, especially in my home country of Guyana.

My blog isn’t that popular, it gets under visits a day and is largely recipes and life updates but when I am getting countless hits and lots of misogynist comments, you realize how bad the problem confronting women is.  Even talking about violence against women sets some men off.

Why is it like this?  Gabor Mate writes that men who are abused at a young age, often blame their mother for failing to protect them.  They later project that on to all women and become abusers towards women themselves.   It continues that cycle and since it isn’t a rational behavior, is extremely hard to change.

The end result for me is that I have to delete a lot of hateful and threatening comments.

Around here….

  • Jordon got me some lightweight jogging gloves which will be perfect for hiking.  We got a pair for Mark but Oliver was a problem.  No one makes those kinds of gloves in kids sizes.  After looking all over the place, Jordon found some youth medium batting gloves which will work great for him.  He’s ecstatic.
  • He also got Oliver a wide brimmed camouflage hat.  It will keep the sun and rain off him while hiking this summer.  He also like the idea of his head being completely invisible.
  • While camping, we plan on doing some smokies and things like farmer’s sausage.  In the backcountry it isn’t that hard to find a stick but at a camgground or picnic site, it can be.  We picked up four long wiener sticks so we will be set for hotdogs, farmer sausage, smokies, and smores.
  • We are not watching the Super Bowl today.  The two Super Bowls that Jordon didn’t watch live, Denver won, the many that the did watch, Denver lost.  Instead we are watching Departures, which has become our favorite series on Netflix while we wait for the game to end.  We are wearing Broncos gear though. 

Slow-Cooker Spicy Queso Dip Recipe

Slow-Cooker Spicy Queso Dip RecipeInstructions

  • 1 cup milk
  • 8 oz queso melt cheese
  • 8 oz white American cheese slices, diced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, seeded, finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 can (4 oz) chopped jalapeño chiles, drained
  • Tortilla chips


  1. In 2-quart microwavable casserole, mix milk and cheeses. Microwave uncovered on High 5 minutes, stirring every minute, until creamy.
  2. Meanwhile, in 10-inch skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Cook onion and garlic in butter 3 minutes or until tender. Add tomato; cook 2 minutes longer. Stir in chiles.
  3. Stir vegetable mixture into cheese mixture until blended. Spoon dip into 2-quart slow cooker. Keep warm on Low heat setting up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with tortilla chips.

Buffalo Chicken Potsticker Recipe

Buffalo Chicken Potsticker RecipeIngredients

  • 4 tablespoons oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • ½ cup Frank’s hot sauce (feel free to add more or less depending on your spice tolerance)
  • 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 48 round dumpling wrappers
  • ¼ cup blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt


  1. Heat pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons oil. Cook the onions and celery until translucent and transfer to a mixing bowl, along with the ground chicken, hot sauce, cheese, and salt and pepper.
  2. Wet the edges of each dumpling wrapper with water, add about 2 teaspoons of filling to the center, and fold in half. You can also pleat them.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a cast iron or nonstick pan over medium to medium-high heat and add the potstickers (you’ll probably have to cook them in batches). When they’re golden brown on the bottom, add about 1/3 cup water to the pan. Cover and steam the potstickers until the water is evaporated.
  4. While that’s going, mix the blue cheese and the chopped green onion with the sour cream or yogurt. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the dumplings along with the blue cheese sauce.

The Original Anchor Bar Buffalo Chicken Wings Recipe

The Original Anchor Bar Buffalo Chicken Wings RecipeFifty years ago, Teressa Bellissimo decided to fry up chicken wings she had set aside for soup to quickly feed her son’s ravenous friends at the family restaurant, Anchor Bar, in Buffalo, New York. Since then, Buffalo wings have, of course, made their way into American food lore.


  • 8–10 cups of canola or peanut oil
  • 2 ½ pounds fresh chicken wings (12–16 whole wings)
  • Optional: Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup Anchor Bar Wing Sauce
  • ¼ cup melted butter for medium spiciness, or to taste
  • Celery sticks
  • Blue cheese dip


  1. Heat oil to 350° in a Dutch oven or other deep, heavy pan. Split wings at joint, if desired. (Either use the tips, or freeze them to make stock later.) Pat dry.
  2. Deep-fry wings, without crowding them, at 350° for 10–15 minutes, or until completely cooked (no red juices) and crispy. If necessary, fry a couple of batches to avoid overcrowding. Drain on paper towels. Anchor Bar doesn’t season its wings; if desired, sprinkle on sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Thoroughly whisk hot sauce and butter in a bowl; add more butter for a milder mix, less butter for more spice. (Anchor Bar has always used margarine, but we recommend butter or light butter as more natural options.) Toss wings in mixture until completely covered. Do this quickly so that chicken meat is still hot when served. For a lighter version, instead of deep-frying wings, bake them at 425° for 45 minutes.

To Serve

Place on a platter with a clutch of fresh celery sticks and a small bowl of blue cheese dip that’s either purchased or made fresh from a mixture of crumbled blue cheese, sour cream, a little buttermilk, sea salt, ground black pepper, finely chopped chives, and a splash of fresh lemon juice to taste.