Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Narnia

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What Was On My...


Agenda: NaNoWriMo, a visit from my in-laws, a visit from my family, hosting Thanksgiving

Nightstand: I am the Cheese (again), Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, and Horten's Incredible Illusions.

Head: a hand-knitted and felted beret. It's been cold!

List of Gratitudes: apple-cranberry pie; bathtubs; buttons; chapstick; chiropractors; comedy; dry wood to start fires in the fireplace; fresh eggs; flash lights; good recipes; herbs; ice cream; jam;  liquid measuring cups; maps; Neutrogena Norwegian formula hand cream; pencil sharpeners; rearview mirrors; sharp scissors; spoons; slippers; salt & pepper shakers; soap; towels; tissues; universities; vegetable broth; Vitamin C drops; words; zippers.

Mind: the brain. The brain's chemistry. Memory. Neurology. Neurologists. Life. Death. How it all fits together into story.

This has been a whirlwind month, brought to you by the letter F. Friends. Family. Food. Fatal chicken diseases. Fleece. Fires. Field trip. Forgetting. Fiction.

Lots and lots of fiction. 2500 words on a daily basis until I reached 50,000 words, qualifying for a NaNoWriMo win.

Lots and lots of food, going hand in hand with lots and lots of family. Two nights at the local seafood restaurant--once with in-laws, once with my family, pizza take-out, breakfast out with my in-laws, Chinese one night, and a Thanksgiving feast with dear friends and family.

One more chicken down, with another one currently suffering from ectoparasites and one more with a bendy leg or a neurological disease, not sure which yet.

Fleece and the fireplace. November in NH. Need I say more?

Field trip to the art museum, reminding me of the many galleries I visited when I was a child, and my favorite mirror room at the Albright-Knox.

Next up: December which will be brought to you by the letter, C: celebrations (birthdays, galore), Christmas, cookies...


Well, friends. I did it.

I wrote a brand new novel in less than 30 days. It is very, very rough, but it is there in fledgling state, and I will proclaim February to be NaNoRevMo: National Novel Revision Month.

Care to join me?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What Was On My....


I'm a little late this month because of what was on my:
NaNoWriMo preparation, visit from ma mere, Halloween festivities.

Horten's Marvelous Mechanisms. A fun middle-grade read. I'm looking forward to the next one.

revisions of middle-grade humor, sample chapters for a different middle-grade humor, and outline for NaNoWriMo novel. Phew.

...knitting needles
a rainbow ombre woolen cowl for my sis. Upcoming: a pumpkin alpaca/silk chunky weight cowl for moi.

the food dehydrator, working at constant capacity, dehydrating the bushel of mutsu apples I picked up last week.

A new story. Though I don't like to talk about my writing while I'm drafting, this new project has to do with memories and the workings of the mind. It's going to be difficult to write for many reasons, but the advice to write what you think you can't pushes me to step out of my comfort zone. So I'm letting my mind play with all kinds of memories while I metaphorically walk toward the edge of light.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Saying Goodbye

From the earliest days of married life, you watched from the window as the Gingerbread Man left.

You watched him as he left to walk to class. You watched him as he got in the car to drive to work -- the Honda, then the Subaru, then the Saturn, then the Ford.

After the Ford became scrap metal, he biked to school. Four years of biking year-round in Michigan -- it's no wonder you watched him back then; he might have returned to you as an icicle. When degrees were granted and school was finished, you watched him drive away in the Toyota as he went to claim the other side of the desk at the university. Sometimes, you watched him commute again by bike, though not in winter.

You've watched all these years, catching a last glimpse as your love went away for the day. Coat on, a skip in his step, car door slammed or a bike helmet clipped on. Sometimes he sees you and smiles and waves. Often he doesn't, and you watch unobserved from the window.

When you've watched until the last wheel is out of sight, you turn to your work of the day.

When the gingerbread boys came along, you began watching them as they left. When you walk the youngest gingerbread boy to school, you leave him at the edge of the school yard and watch him as he walks down the school's sidewalk. On the days he takes the bus carrying his enormous trombone, you watch until the bus is a yellow blur through the trees.

Somehow you feel incomplete if you leave before they do, if you leave before you get to watch them as the school bus drives off. Somewhere deep in your mind, it seems as if your mere presence at their departure is enough to ward off any danger they might chance upon during the day.

You know that's silly, but you remain visually tethered to them until they're gone. You know the day will come when the gingerbread boys will leave for a long time, for college, for travel, for a wife. And when they do, you'll be watching out the window until you can't see anymore.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


You find yourself in the midst of a crowd. It's a brilliant fall day, the day of the cross-country middle school league championship. Runners in different color jerseys stretch and mingle while they await the start time.

You are wearing your mom-hat, there to cheer on the oldest gingerbread boy. You find him. He is eating. Nine times out of ten if you were to go looking for the gingerbread boy, he would be eating. Such is the life of a growing boy. You wish him luck and offer him water and carbs.

The girls are scheduled to run first. The course follows a trail through the woods surrounding an immaculate golf course then doubles back to end yards from the starting point.

You and the youngest gingerbread boy follow the crowd of parents as they line up at the edge of the starting point. You cheer for the girls as the gun signals the start, then you follow along to the one-mile mark, the place where the girls emerge from the woods to skirt the edge of the golf green. Someone has a cowbell and shakes it as his runner goes by. You shout their names, encouraging them, clapping. "Go, go, go!" You look for the faces of your friends' children. "Good job!" you cheer. "You're doing great!" You're doing great.

When the runners thin out, the youngest gingerbread boy pulls you towards the finish line. You watch the clock. 11:36. 11:47. 12:04. 12:14. The lead runners are visible. The first one crosses the finish line. 12:42. The next one comes in. There's a trickle, then a flood as girls race to the finish.

You look at these beautiful children, on the cusp of being teenagers, their faces red and sweaty and earnest. Some are triumphant as they cross the finish. Some are clearly in pain. Some are huffing and puffing, steady runners. Some can hardly walk. Some look like they're going to vomit.

They are vulnerable. They are trying so hard. They have pushed themselves to their limit. And you are inspired, moved by their earnest faces, filled with love for these kids you don't even know. As you watch them, the thought comes to you that these are the children you write for. This is your audience.

This is why you write.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Beverly Shores, IN

Beverly Shores, IN, location of much mirth and many writing shenanigans

Monday, September 30, 2013

What's on my...


...Agenda: Septemberfest (in which I annually face my fear of heights and climb the rock wall), Country Fair (snapping photos of the gingerbread boys participating in the blueberry pie eating contest, the sack race, and the tractor pull), end of our CSA (good-bye my weekly five pounds of tomatoes), picking and canning peaches, and the third annual Quirk and Quill writers' retreat

...Nightstand: An odd assortment. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain; Doll Bones; The True-Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp; The Suitors of Yvonne; Very Good, Jeeves; I Am the Cheese

...Stovetop: Apple sauce and apple butter. Quarts and quarts of it.

...Catalog of Fears: Dying chickens, spiders, saying the wrong thing, missed flights

...Desk: Novel #3, CATHEDRAL. Revisions, revisions, revisions.

...Mind: Memory loss, brain connectivity, creativity, winterizing the chicken coop

I look forward to September with all the energy a mother with boys at home for the summer can muster. That is, I race toward it.

As soon as it hits, I'm back-pedaling. Whoa, nellie. You want me to wake up when? Every day?

Such is the cost of a constant string of free daytime hours in which to write. Here's to October.

(with gratitude to Sandra Nickel for inspiration)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


When the hiccups strike, there is one tried and true remedy that you use: your husband. You go to him and he wraps his arms around you and you feel calmness washing over you. Your blood pressure drops. Your breathing deepens. You relax, and the hiccups go away.

Tonight the youngest gingerbread boy sat by your side as you read to him. He hiccuped. You suggested he get some water.

"But I can't reach the glasses. Can you do that thing? That hug thing?"

So you open your arms and he settles in, chest to chest. You can feel him relaxing as you hold him. The hiccups disappear. But you stay that way, enjoying the feel of his bean-pole body against you for a short time.

Love is the best defense against hiccups.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Great and Powerful Oz

In a rare departure from insomnia, you slept last night, and you dreamt that you woke up. It was later than you would have liked. You went to a grassy hillside to wash your hair, shampoo and conditioner at the ready. You kneeled down, flipped your hair over your head, then carefully poured a pitcher of water over it. When it was all wet, you reached for the shampoo, but it was gone. Water dripping into your eyes, you peeked under your curtain of hair to look again, but there was no shampoo, and there was no conditioner.

You called your sister's name, shouting it with irritation. "What did you do with my shampoo?"

She clicked her tongue. "Nothing!" Then she flounced away to finish getting ready for school.

In the meantime, water was dripping down your back, and it was 8:15 now. You didn't have time to wash your hair anymore, but what could you do? Your hair was all wet.

"Mom!!! Where's my shampoo?" Your mom came, and with rightful indignation, she pronounced her innocence in the case of the missing shampoo.

You woke up then, recognizing your childhood inclination to think that Mom was the Great and Powerful Oz. She would know where the shampoo was, and if she didn't she should. But of course, she was off doing whatever your dreamland mom did, probably something similar to what your real mom did, and whatever that was, it had nothing to do with your shampoo and conditioner. Your own gingerbread boys do the same thing--assuming that you must know where the key or the action figure or the tape or the piece of fluff must be. You're MOM, after all, and moms control the world.

But you don't always know where the key or the action figure or the tape or the piece of fluff are. You do not control the world, even if you control much of their little world. You are not the Great and Powerful Oz. You're just the man behind the curtain.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Finding yourself without a computer makes you strangely giddy, untethered, though any normal person would feel frantic at the potential of losing three novels, countless other writings, and years of photos. Instead, you danced in the kitchen this morning. You canned tomatoes. You renewed your acquaintance with your drawing pencils. You made muffins.

You feel seventeen again.

Perhaps because when you were seventeen, people didn't have computers. Well, some people did, but there was no email, no internet, no Facebook, no time wasters. You couldn't read someone's blog from Tennessee, because there were no blogs. No vlogs, no podcasts, no technobabble.

In fact, there was not much babble of any kind in your life yet, either. You hadn't started writing fiction.

Now, without a computer, you cannot work. You are on an enforced vacation.

The computer shop said they might have the computer for as long as six days. The bad news is that it might be kaput. The good news is that at least the important stuff is backed up.

Maybe tomorrow you'll slide down the bannister. Or make a cheesecake. Or read a book from cover to cover. Or paint your toenails. Or do any number of things you did as a seventeen-year old.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Laughing at the Rota Fortunae

Yesterday, you and the Gingerbreads hopped in the car and drove south. You had plans of traipsing through a museum and introducing the gingerbread boys to the famous Russian Faberge eggs.

Which you did.

It was lovely, and the eggs were magical.

And then it was time to leave, which is when the fun began.

Rain, rain, and more rain. Heavy rain. There was a strange sound coming from the rear passenger tire, like something was caught in the treads. The Gingerbread Man checked it, but saw nothing. Ten minutes later, you'd got yourself a certified flat tire. The Gingerbread Man pulled off the highway, and as every good father should, made the gingerbread boys participate in the act of changing the tire.

Except the tire won't be changed. Car jacked up, lug nuts off, donut at the ready...but the tire won't budge. The Gingerbread Man hammered at it with the wrench. He tugged. He lowered the jack. He hand-tightened the lug nuts and drove on the flat, hoping the weight of the car would take the tire off.

Not a bit.

You looked up at the sky, grey clouds lowering. It had stopped raining, but thunder threatened. You looked at the side of the road under the trees: poison ivy. You hoped for a stray policeman or a wandering mechanic to come to your aid. A truck stopped on the other side of the road, then moved on. A car pulled up behind you, but too far away for them to be interested in your woes. They, too, have car problems. A pick-up truck with a trailer pulled over in front of you. And then they left, too.

The Gingerbread Man continued to pummel the tire. The tire continued to defy him. The gingerbread boys wandered up and down.

Then came the sweet and surprising sound of an air wrench. It was a surprising sound because it came from the direction of a state forest. You walked towards the sound. Where there is an air wrench, there must be a proper hammer.

Indeed there is. There is a whole shop full of tools, tools used in rebuilding a 1906 wooden sloop. Men who rebuild 1906 wooden sloops are heroes in your book--and not just because they loan you hammers.

Armed with a hammer worthy of Thor himself, you all trudged back to the stubborn vehicle. The Gingerbread Man began hammering. And hammering. And hammering. He hammered for a good twenty minutes before the tire relinquished.

Just as the rain returned.

The Gingerbread Man finished changing the tire, while you and the boys took shelter in that car. Then you returned the Thor hammer to the Boatman. He gave you a tour of his sloop, and you continued on your way home.

All was well until the oldest gingerbread boy informed you that he had a migraine. O, happy day. This, of course, meant that you would be holding the bucket for him in the wee hours while listening to his agonized cries.

Which you do. 3:30 am to be exact.

And then you get up at 6:15 for a 7:00 am meeting at the school.

Rota Fortuna, I can only laugh. But it is time that you swing the other direction.

Travel Tuesday: Hagia Sophia

detail Hagia Sophia,

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


You've waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Biding your time through June. July. August.

Day to day, week to week, month to month, tending to immediate needs: food, clothing, shelter. You knew that the time would come. Soon.

And now it's here.

The blank canvas of a day. School's in session, and the words you've kept at bay all summer are ready to burst forth out of their dam, flooding onto the page.


Monday, August 19, 2013

The Jungle

At the fervent request of the youngest gingerbread boy, you make your semi-annual foray into the jungle that poses as your garden, bearing no fewer than three different types of clippers.

Clover, black-eyed Susans, and lily-of-the valley compete for real estate under forsythia, snowball bush, lilac, and some kind of thorny thing.

But over, around, above, through, and under is The Beast. Once upon a time, some past homeowner thought it was a good idea to plant The Beast, a leafy green thing that sends out runners and tendrils and grows at an astronomical pace. Turn your back, and the thing will have a death grip around your neck.

You do battle with it twice a year, cutting, hacking, ripping until it appears submissive.

It never is.

Before you know it, The Beast is back in full force, threatening your patio, your bench, the grill, the ENTIRE BACKYARD.

So you pull out your clippers and do battle.

It's starting to get the better of you. You bring the cuttings down to the compost pile, and realize you'd never make a good farmer, gentleman farmer or otherwise. You always kill the wrong stuff.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Feeding Your Soul

You spend the school year feeding your tribe. It seems like all you do is pack lunches and make dinners.
But that’s not entirely true—you also spend a great deal of time in the car and quizzing math facts and helping create a whale-on-stilts costume. You attend concerts and track meets and recitals and musicals and field trips.
And you write. You revise. You revise some more. You revise until you're sick of revising.
By the end of the year, you are drained. Bone-dry drained. Nothing left drained. Drain-o drained.
You need to feed your soul.
IMG_1805So you go to Istanbul. You see the Hagia Sophia. You see the Blue Mosque. You visit a Turkish bath. You eat something called "The Imam Fainted." You climb a mountain and visit a monastery. You bike around an island.
IMG_3443You go to Greece. You see the Parthenon. You visit the Delphic Oracle. You climb to more monasteries. You swim in the Aegean sea.
You loved Istanbul and you loved Greece, but you come home and still feel drained. Drained and jet-lagged.
IMG_4379So you go to Vermont to visit your alma mater. You hug dozens of people. You meet new friends. You give a reading. You talk shop. You go to lectures.
You love VCFA and you love your writer buddies, but you come home and still feel drained. Drained with a whole lotta laundry to do.
So you go to your in-law’s camp, a place with no wifi, no cell phone reception, no television, no cable. You canoe, you hike through the woods, you build bonfires and create the consummate s’more.
But when you come home, guess what? You still feel drained. But at least you have hot water again.
You do laundry and repack, this time for a yearly tradition: WTHS, the What the H(eck) Sabbatical.
Karen, Beth, Heather, Ginger, Frauke, Joy, Lisa
Karen, Beth, Heather, Ginger, Frauke, Joy, Lisa
There are occasions when you need an unknown something, and no one but a sister will do. Though you only have one biological sister, you were lucky enough to pick up six more along the way, sisters with a varied and long history joined by parentage, schooling, marriage, and friendship.
And once a year, you check in.
Lisa, Heather, Joy, Karen, Beth, Frauke, Ginger
You see your sisters on the second weekend of August, the weekend of WTHS. It is a weekend sans husband and children in which the answer to any question is "What the h(eck)!" It is a weekend in which you doff sense, and don sensibility.
"Do I want ice cream for breakfast?" What the h(eck)!
"Should I buy these shoes?" What the h(eck)!
"One dessert or two?" What the h(eck)!
glasses WTHS
Heather, Joy, Ginger, Frauke, Karen
This weekend is no span of simple gluttony; you also wear tiaras. You carry wands. You laugh. You laugh some more. You laugh until you cry. In fact, one of you is an academically trained humor specialist and comedian. You laugh until it becomes an aerobic activity, and you can justify that ice cream for breakfast.
You return home and you no longer feel drained. And it doesn't matter how much laundry you have to do, because you have a tiara and a magic wand, and maybe it'll just get done all by itself.
liberty bell photo bomb
Beth photobombing Ginger at the Liberty Bell
Everyone should belong to such a group. It's good for the soul.
And the funny bone.

(Cross-posted at www.quirkandquill.com)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013


First you pack the granola bars.

Then the marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate, snacks, and mini boxes of cereal just like any self-respecting mother would do. (Right?)

You grab boxes of crackers and pasta and cans of tuna and kippers. You take peanut butter and plan on packing the fruit and vegetables tomorrow.

Though you've hardly been home this summer, you are looking forward to leaving once more.

There's a cabin in the woods where you will unplug and unwind. A cabin in the woods without wifi, cell phone access, telephone, tv.

There is, however, electricity and hot water and a fire pit. There's a tree house and a canoe. There's an old, old refrigerator and a half-stove, together with a conglomeration of cutlery and kitchen goods. There's Othello and Battleship and cards.

You're packing your knitting and some Rafael Sabatini novels. Nothing like a little swashbuckling by firelight.

This is summer.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013


You go to bed on Saturday with a painful lump in your right armpit. It's not romantic, but there it is.

A lump. A red lump. And it hurts.

By Sunday night, you have a matching pain in your left armpit.

By Monday morning, it hurts to move your arms, a difficult thing if you want to, say, shower, or eat, or get dressed, or even, for that matter, roll over in bed, something that you're champion at. You ignore these things until you can ignore them no more. You know they're just lymph nodes doing their cleaning thing, but you've got things to do and places to go, and you don't have time for infections right now.

It's time to visit the doctor.

As chance has it, your doctor is on holiday this week, but the Other Doctor has an opening, this very morning. Bully for you.

The morning's visit includes a very slow computer, one urine sample, and two vials of blood.

Of the three things, only the blood is elusive. The nurse stabs your arm ever-so-gently. She wiggles the needle around. It feels like she stabs again, and then a third time, but you've taken an oath to never watch as blood is being drawn from your body, so you're not quite sure how many times she attempts the draw. But your arm is nearly purple from being in a tourniquet and apparently, nothing is happening.

The nurse withdraws the needle and attempts the other arm. Alcohol swipe, tourniquet, fist, poke, and....nothing.

There is a vein there, right? You do have blood running through your body, yes?

The options: go tomorrow morning to the vampires at the hospital, or have the other attending nurse make a stab at it. (Ho ho ho)

You go for the other nurse. Let's get it over with. She chooses the first arm with the fat vein situated in a weird angle. Alcohol swipe, tourniquet, fist, and you turn away anticipating the stab and begin babbling about when you take the gingerbread boys to get shots or have blood drawn, you pop a piece of chocolate in their mouths as soon as the needle hits skin.

You wish you had a piece of chocolate.


There is no chocolate to be had, not even a granola bar or a peanut. Nothing but lint and receipts in your purse....and success! Two vials of blood later, you're dismissed.

A morning of bravery and sore armpits sans chocolate. You'll make up for it when you get home.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Istanbul

A great wall of china
(near the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey)

Gentleman Farmer

You go out to the porch, slip on your sneakers, and walk down to the chicken coop. It's time to visit the girls. You walk down the steps, past the blackberry brambles, through the woods and enter the pen. Already you hear their peepings. Though you can stoop down to look through the small door leading to the ramp, you open the large door so as to see all of the bundles of black and white and tan feathers peeping away.

You squat down to see them better, to be less threatening, and watch as they hop down from the roost, visit the feeding trough, investigate the nesting boxes. They peck, peck, peck even if they are pecking at nothing at all.

Hard to think that six weeks ago, there were no chickens, no coop. Now the coop stands, complete with stained glass window (salvaged at the transfer station), three doors, ramp, and sturdy wire surrounding the pen. It's been less than a week since you picked up the girls, all eight of them. Four buff Orpingtons, two Wyandottes, and two barred rocks.

Though you and the Gingerbread Man decided not to name the chickens since they are livestock and not pets, you see their characteristics the longer you stand there, and it's hard not to name them. One of the Wyandottes likes to roost. The white-headed barred rock is an intrepid explorer. The black-headed barred rock hunts mosquitoes. The little buffs hang out in the nesting boxes. One of them is at the bottom of the pecking order, and you worry a bit for her. She looks pretty scraggly.

You watch them for a long time, until the mosquitoes get too bad. It's nice to have some female friends, even if they're just chickens. Perhaps someday you'll sit out there and read your revision to them and they'll cluck.

But for now, they are just eight pullets, peeping away, hopping up on the roost, pecking at the feed, slurping water.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Friday, June 28, 2013

Magic beans

A bean is just a bean.

Except when it's a magic bean.

Except when it's a plate of magic beans eaten at a monastery at the top of a mountain on an island in the Sea of Marmara.

You have just eaten such a plate of beans with shallots and parsley and tomatoes and olive oil, along with a plate of aubergines with yogurt, and dolmas.

And then you hiked down a cobblestone street away from the monastery until you reached the place when the phaetons were, and took a carriage ride back to your hotel, a place that has incense in the rooms and yoga on the patio.

And it's only day four of vacation.

Maybe tomorrow you'll come across a magic fish.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Birthday

It's hard to remember being nine. Often it's hard to imagine being a boy. But if you try hard, you can put yourself into the mind of the youngest gingerbread boy and create an explosive birthday party.


You source 6% hydrogen peroxide, buy alka-seltzer, visit the fireworks store. You purchase nearly a case of 2-liter bottles of diet cola, and enough mentos to make the cashier at the grocery store raise his eyebrows. You research bag bombs -- sandwich bags with vinegar and little packets of baking soda. You clean out small paint canisters for rockets of water and alka-seltzer. You make tee-shirts with iron-on decals saying "Ka-boom!" for each of the guests.

And you make a fudge tunnel cake, in the hopes that it will ooze from the center when you cut it. It doesn't, but that's ok, because it's accompanied by Party Cake ice cream, gross to you, but nirvana to nine-year olds.

The day comes, sunny and 78 degrees, a far cry from the year you did a pirate birthday party when it poured. The boys make bag bomb after bag bomb, laughing as the sandwich bags bubble up with gas until they explode. They drop mentos into diet coke, shrieking as a geyser sprays up twenty feet. They dump yeast into bottles filled with hydrogen peroxide and dish soap, giggling at the foam that erupts. They set up alka-seltzer rockets. They eat cake and ice cream. They hold their ears as the Gingerbread Man launches fireworks from the driveway.

It's not bad being nine. Not bad at all.

Happy birthday, gingerbread boy. You've exploded my world, that's for sure. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Oxford

River Cherwell, Oxford, England

Where would these punts take you?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Dream

Last week, you dreamt. It was a vivid dream. You were in your mother's house, and it felt the way it used to feel when you lived there--like home--the bits and pieces, the pictures on the wall, the furniture. All of it was like a mix between Mary Engelbreit and a Meg Ryan film set design. It was home, and you were comfortable there.

The problem was that it was June.

It was June, and the Christmas tree was still up.

Friends were coming over, and you saw your surroundings anew, with fresh eyes, with the eyes of someone who might find it strange that the Christmas tree was still up six months past its expiration date, no matter how charming the ornaments, no matter how graceful the shape of the tree.

You are embarrassed. You are embarrassed that your mother had not dismantled the tree. You are embarrassed that you have not dismantled the tree.

How could you have let the time pass--six whole months? How could you have not noticed that it didn't belong there anymore? How could you have not taken the time to put it away?

The friends leave, and you set to work. The ornaments are lovely, you think as you take one down, then another and another, tinsel and paper and hope and history. The ornaments may be lovely, but the needles of the tree are yellowed and brittle. They stab your hands, and fall off the branches with the slightest touch.

When you wake, the dream stays with you. That morning, you chuckle over the random plot of your dream.

That evening, when you think about the dream, you feel as if your subconscious is nudging you toward your to-do list. How very far behind you are.

Days later, when the dream comes flitting through your memory, you think neither of the randomness of your dream, nor of your to-do list; you're simply left with a longing. You miss that which no longer exists--Christmases that have long since past; the feeling of safety and comfort that were once provided for you; the home that is no longer there.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The River

It is 93 degrees. It should not be 93 degrees. It should be 73 degrees, but no one commands Mother Nature, and it's been over 90 degrees for the past few days. The house is hot, the gingerbread boys are hot, you are hot, and the freezer full of Klondike bars is depleted.

After chores, the Gingerbread Man packs up watermelon, chips, apples, water, towels, and buckets, and the four of you walk to the river.

The trail through the trees is cool and green, and already, you feel the heat of the day abating. You come to the clearing and pass by the pond, inhabited by turtles and frogs and cattails, the place you go ice-skating in winter when it freezes over. Right now it's murky brown; it's hard to believe it's the same place of white winter magic. The heat oppresses you, and you hurry back into the trees.

A short boardwalk leads you onward, and after a quarter of a mile, the trail turns parallel with the river. You follow it along passing a sandy area with a big tree until you reach the stream. It's the same stream that runs through your backyard, although here it is deeper.

You cross over the stream on the wide trunk of a fallen tree, foot after foot just like when you were young and pretended the street curb was a balance beam. You keep going, following the gingerbread boys to your special place, the place the Gingerbread Man discovered shortly after you moved here.

It is an inlet with a small, sandy island guarded by the ruins of an old stone mill. The river runs quickly here, the spring current so strong that the Gingerbread Man has trouble keeping his balance. But here in the small inlet, the river is shallow and rocky, and the water runs cool and soft over your feet.

You walk out into the stony river bed, letting the water cool you. Starlings dart overhead, a dragonfly zooms by, and you remember a visit a few years ago when you watched fish leaping in the water. It seemed as if they leapt for joy. There were no fish leaping today, but the peace of the water washes over you, and you watch it roll over stones in the middle of the river, continuously moving, washing away your worries and fears and frustrations of the past week, washing away the heat.

The oldest gingerbread boy grabs a bucket and fills it with water while your back is turned.

"Look!" he says, "A crayfish!"

You turn to look, and he dumps the cold water all over you.

The cold water shocks you, and you shriek, laughing. The water is delightful. The river is just what you needed.

It always is.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Clothesline

Once upon a time, back when there were only three of you, you packed up all your stuff, loaded it in a truck, and drove (westward ho!), landing yourselves in Michigan. It was time for a Life Adventure. The Gingerbread Man had finished an MBA, and together, you decided more graduate school was in your future. So you sold your house, ending up five-seven-nine hours away from your respective families.

Faced with your situation, most women would get a job with a paycheck, but you are not most women. You had a job, a full-time job and then some: the gingerbread boy. He just didn't come with a paycheck. You know some would be quick to criticize that choice, calling you selfish or stupid or a drain on society. But you weren't.

Instead of making money, you made do. You knew the difference between want and need. You owned your car. You owned a house. There was no cell phone, no cable. You had dial-up internet, but no consumer debt. You had a Kitchen Aid. You knew how to make bread. You knew how to can. You knew how to knit. You knew how to sew. You kept a garden. Sometimes you walked places because you didn't have gas money, since gas had inched up over $2.00 a gallon. And the Gingerbread Man constructed a clothesline in your yard out of 4x4s and rope.

Once a week, you would carry the heavy baskets of wet laundry up the basement stairs, out the side door, over the small deck, down the stairs, past the pine tree, to the spot with the sun. You'd take a towel out of the basket, shake it out, its wetness snapping, and pin it up while the gingerbread boy played in the grass or swung on the swing or investigated the sand box. Retrieve, shake, pin. Retrieve, shake, pin. The repetition had a zen-like quality to it, so by the time you were done with one load, you were calm and ready to face whatever came next. You needed calmness in those days; the gingerbread boy had lots of needs requiring lots of patience.

If the sun were strong and the breeze was brisk that day, some of the laundry would be dry by the time you brought up the next load. You would walk down the lines, feeling towels, sheets, pants, dry and stiff and crunchy. You loved that feel; there was texture to it, but the texture would soften almost immediately, leaving you only with the sweet smell of the fresh air that no detergent company has ever been able to replicate.

You moved on after graduate school was over, and you miss that clothesline. Your needs are met now, and most of your wants are too, but you lack a sunny spot in the backyard in which to hold a few 4x4s and some rope, a place for the wind and the sun to make magic.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Because That's What We Do, Isn't It?

It is raining and I am tired. The youngest gingerbread boy was up last night at 12:42 am, then 1:30 am, then 2:15 am.

And he wants me.

Not that Daddy is an option right now considering he has shingles and is down for the count himself.

It's me he wants to hold his head, to get a wet washcloth, to sit by his bedside, to read to him, to carry him to the bathroom. To be.

And the whole time he says, "I love you so much, Mommy."

And he says, "I don't want to miss school. I haven't missed school all year because I was sick, and they give out prizes at the end of the year."

And he says, "You used to call me sickie-poo when I was little and got sick."

And he says, "I wish I didn't feel so awful."

And he says, "Will you pray with me, Mommy?"

So I pray with him and I call him sickie-poo and pumpkin. And I sit by his bedside. And I rub his back. And I hold his head over a bowl. And I bring him a wet washcloth. And I give him sips of water. And I read to him.

And I am exhausted. And my back hurts from perching on the edge of the bed. And I am cold. And it is dark. And the rain comes down. And I want to go back to bed.

But I don't. I call him sickie-poo and pumpkin and take his temperature and bring him chewable ibuprofen, grape-flavored, and I hold his head over the bowl and get him a wet washcloth and wash my hands for the millionth time.

Because that's what we do, isn't it?

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Once upon a time, you read Cheaper by the Dozen and you thought you'd like to have a dozen kids. How different that would be from your childhood, much of which was spent alone. Everyone would always have a playmate. It would be insta-party, all the time.

Then you had one child.

And a second.

But you didn't make it to a third, or a fourth, let alone a twelfth.

Two are party enough.

It's hard to remember the Before, the sans children, the time when you could sit on a sofa and read a book if you wanted to. Or you could go out if you wanted to. You could have whatever you wanted for supper, and not have to accommodate a picky palate. There were few tears, and no fights, and the quiet was immense.

But so was the emptiness.

Motherhood is such a complicated thing. It should be as easy as delivery: take a deep breath and push. But delivery is painful--not easy--and the pain doesn't stop once a child is born. The pain continues, though it moves upward from belly and bottom to head and heart.

You love and you ache and you hope and you plead. And your expectations of what motherhood "should" be are never met, but what you have is somehow better than what you expected, even if it's not perfect.

Especially if it's not perfect.

You look at your infant and his smooth soft cheeks, his tufts of hair, the curve of his lip.

You see your toddler, with his graham-cracker-dusted hands and his will and his want. You're toppled by his exuberance.

You send your baby off to kindergarten, and he seems so big...and yet so little.

You watch your school-age boy master Legos and multiplication tables and bikes.

Before you know it, you send him off to a social. A dance.

The days are long, and the years are quick.

What could bring more joy?

And yet, what could bring more sorrow?

You know you should savor each day, and you try to, but the days really are long and sometimes you just want to be alone. There are big personalities in these children of yours, and they clash frequently. They have great gifts, but great gifts come with great challenges. It takes everything inside of you to calm and to quiet and to teach. Somedays, it takes more than what you have to give.

Tonight, you ache to be by yourself. You love, yes, you love, but sometimes you need to remember who you are and who you were and how it feels to breath all by yourself and what you looked like as a little girl, back when you thought a dozen children was a good idea.

And so you hide away, squirreled in a dark corner somewhere and look at pictures your mom just sent you, pictures of you as a baby, at four, at six, at eight. You hardly remember your childhood, perhaps because your mind is full of the details of Life Now. But you look and you look--backgrounds and expressions and people and clothing and furniture--and there out of the blue, you're looking at the round face of the oldest gingerbread boy. But it's not him, it's you. You cup your fingers around the long hair. Yup. It's his face. You flip to a different picture. There's the expression of the youngest gingerbread boy. They are now what you were then.

Did your own mother feel such complicated feelings about motherhood? Does motherhood still feel complicated to her now? A great big soup of love and fear and worry and exhaustion that will never go away?

You put the pictures down. Motherhood is immense and long and weighty. But it is also sweet and full and surprising.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Walking preserves your sanity. So you tie up your sneakers, pop in your ear buds, and around the loop you go.

Well, you think, there are better things that preserve your sanity, but walking is the cheapest. And the most accessible.

You set a good pace--enough to get your heart rate up--one foot pounding the pavement after the other. It's rained, and that means one thing during spring in New England: slugs. You watch where you step.

You stand up straight, shoulders back, moving from the hips rather than from the shoulders.

Before long the music gets to you.

The fact is, you're a dancer. You've always been a dancer. From the time you were little, doing "Red Dances" and "Blue Dances" in the living room, to the time you performed with dance companies much later.

You're a dancer.

Dancing is what preserves your sanity.

But there's no stage and your body is injured and doesn't always do the things you want it to do.

So you walk.

Walk, walk, walk, walk.

Walking is boring. And the music. Oh, the music. Your mind begins choreographing, and in your head you're spinning and twisting, arms and ribs undulating. Your feet are moving, and in your mind, you leap, no longer earthbound. Your pace slackens as your imagination takes over your movement.

A bird calls out, and you are back on a street in your neighborhood, not on a stage somewhere. A street with slugs on it, and ferns unfurling by the roadside. A river flows nearby. And your feet are walking, walking, walking.

There's no one here.

The road is before you.

The road is empty, and wide.

Just like a stage.

It's tempting. So very tempting. One of these days, you're going to do it. You're going to dance down that street like it's nobody's business, with only the trees and the ferns and the lady's slippers and the woodpeckers for audience.

But not today. Today, you're going to walk. Maybe tomorrow you'll dance.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Small Things

You are forced to arise this morning when the youngest gingerbread boy knocks on your door.

"Mmph," you say.

He takes that to mean come in, because a few seconds later, the door knob squeaks, and the door opens. If allowed to wake up on his own, the youngest gingerbread boy is painfully cheerful in the morning.

"Good morning, Mommy!" He walks around to the other side of the bed, moves the pillow, and climbs in. "I came to see you."

You crack an eye open. It's hard to be anything but happy in the face of such filial devotion.

"Is it Mother's Day tomorrow?" he asks.

"No, not yet."

He snuggles up to you. He's been asking you when Mother's Day is for weeks now. There is a large wrapped package hiding in the other gingerbread boy's room, and the waiting is almost more than he can bear.

The siren call of morning cartoons sounds, and he leaves you for some PBS. That's ok. You got a morning snuggle, a hug and a kiss, and now some quiet time for work.

Later, there'll be cleaning. There will be planting. There will be piano and cello. The soundtrack of your life has moved on from the Peanuts theme song and Moonlight Sonata to Red Balloons and the Entertainer. Once, it was Pomp and Circumstance, and every time you walked from room to room, you felt obligated to walk a slow step-touch-step-touch-step-touch.

Graduation is still far away for your gingerbread boys, though. You still have a few more years to mold their characters, to teach them what they need to survive. And in the meantime, you're grateful for the morning hugs and kisses from the younger, for the fist bumps and half-hearted hugs from the older. You're grateful for a sunny spring morning, for the trees lifting their lacy branches into the sky, for the lily-of-the-valley that's springing up at the edge of the forest. You're grateful for the breath in your lungs, and the space of a whole day awaiting your will.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Don't Forget

You go to bed certain that you are going to die.

(Of course you're going to die. Everyone is going to die.)

You know this, but it feels very close for some odd reason. Is this a premonition? Should you be scared? You think about death. You think hard about death, and come to the conclusion that you're not afraid to die, but you still have a lot of work left to do, and you pray that God won't take you until you've cleared the decks at least a little bit.

The night passes, and you don't die.

You wake up, very much alive, but unable to remember your phone number. You roll over, hear your bones settle into a new position, and concentrate on your phone number. It distresses you, this forgetting, and you think about growing old.

You think about losing your mind.

You wonder if the days will pass by unnoticed, day after day, until you are no longer young, but, in fact, very very old. You wonder if the day will come that you turn the stove on to make tea, then wander outside, forgetting that the stove is on or where exactly it is that you live. You wonder if you will forget who the Gingerbread Man is.

You wonder if you will forget who you are.

Don't forget.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Sometimes you just have to scrub. Pull out the rubber gloves, the cleanser, and scrub your heart out. It feels good, this scrubbing. Too much time has passed since the last scrubbing because you've been occupied with parties, wrapping, packing, traveling, more traveling, snow, not to mention whale costumes with laser eyes.

The scrubbing got set aside for sanity's sake. But the whale costume is done, the parties are over (at least until Groundhog Day), the wrapping has been disposed of, the packing has been unpacked, the laundry done and folded, and the wanderlust has been satisfied for quite some time.

Stuff has been put away, and now it's time for scrubbing. Some muscle and some cleanser and everything shines once more. Some sweeping, some mopping, some vacuuming.