Thursday, December 24, 2015

I believe

One of our two kids may be just pretending to believe in Santa Claus this year. It's okay. He's 10. One of these days we may have to tell him what's up. We have never made a big deal about Santa, beyond the standard traditions of sending a wish list letter and leaving out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve. But I've always worried about the day he asks questions for real and I have to give him for-real answers.

So whenever my kids ask me if I believe in Santa Claus, I say I believe in everything Santa stands for, all that he means: generosity, care for everyone, magic, excitement, and love. I tell them that believing in Santa is not just for little kids but for anyone who feels these things during the Christmas season. I never really swear by all the fairy tale details, but I say instead that I've never actually seen Santa Claus in person. 

These are the things my mom said to me, and eventually I got it. I don't remember feeling betrayed or fooled; I felt loved, and I loved my parents even more when I realized the bounty under the tree each year was really from them. 

Yesterday, Happy mentioned that some of the kids in his class were teasing about believing in SC. He said he feels sad for kids who don't believe. But he said it in a way that was really asking me a question. We were out running errands at the time, buying last minute gifts and eating a nice lunch out. A lump formed  in my throat. This may be the day we talk about Santa, I thought...or maybe let's wait until January. 

We came home to a mailbox full of Christmas cards, one addressed to the boys. It was a letter from "Santa's Elf Twinkle," detailing all the excitement of Christmas Eve and the treats Santa brings back to everyone at the North Pole. Adorable. I wish you could have seen Happy's face as he read it aloud to his little brother. Wonder, joy, magic, anticipation. He ran upstairs and taped the letter to his wall, right next to his bed. 

The best part of this letter? I have no idea who sent it.

This, my friends, is the spirit of Christmas -- a random act of kindness that brings unexpected joy.

This is Santa Claus. And I believe. 

Merry Christmas! 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas cookies... and other holiday tradtions that may not happen

Tommy's Park in Old Port shines bright
I sat frantically on the phone this afternoon, refreshing my browser page in an attempt to purchase tickets to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens "Gardens Aglow" exhibit this weekend. The website kept telling me that there were no times available -- how can this be? There aren't possibly this many people in mid-coast Maine who need to see holiday lights as badly as we do. Come on! If this doesn't work out, what will we do this weekend that will make us feel cheerful and special and holiday-ish? Once I got a voice on the phone, I felt even more frustrated as she told me of the parking problems and crowds; not helping my cheer levels.

Holiday traditions! We all have them. Or at least we think we do. Recently I've been feeling awful about the lack of Christmas traditions in our household. Yesterday afternoon, for instance, as we walked home from school, I asked the kids if they wanted to go to the mall to see Santa. I anticipated "YEAH! Woohoo! I can't wait!" from two glittery-cheerful little kids. But what I got was, "Nah, not really." From both of them, even the littlest one who still believes in the Big Red Jolly Guy. We haven't baked cookies this year because Honey can't eat them. And now we won't see any big light displays.

When I as a kid, we definitely had holiday traditions, and there was a lot of pressure around them. My dad is a traditions guy, like Clark Griswold. Every year, there were things that HAD to be done in order for the Mellos to enjoy the holiday season: Picking a tree from the farm, hauling it home and letting it sit in a bucket of water for a couple days before setting it up on the 2nd weekend in December, so it didn't dry out too soon before New Years. Driving around in the evenings to look at lights, usually in the same neighborhoods because the same people put up the same beautiful displays each year. Attending our friends' neighborhood dinner on Christmas Eve, then walking to church as Santa came by on the firetruck. Baking hundreds of different kinds of cookies to make baskets to take to neighbors and tins to mail to friends. Visiting Santa at the mall or local garden store, long after I weighed more than Santa wanted on his lap. Hot wassail simmering on the stovetop, Christmas CD's on shuffle in the giant Sony stereo. Gramma and Grampa arriving on December 23rd so we could take them to The Carriage House for a fancy anniversary dinner. Every year the same routines...ahem, I mean, traditions.

The Hess trucks come out at Christmas time!
We did have beautiful Christmastimes, it's true. My dad loves Christmas so much that what made our traditions special was the love and hope he shined through them. But you know the holidays that stand out most in my memory? The ones where family traditions veered slightly off course. Like the year my dad was in the hospital with a kidney stone, or the year Mom was laid out awaiting the birth of my sister; we all climbed into the big sofa bed with her big pregnant belly covered in bows while Dad handed out gifts. One Christmas we had a giant squirrel in the house, which meant no candy or cookies in the cabinets, and we came down Christmas morning to find Mr. Squirrel raging in the Have-a-Heart trap; my brother and I were convinced Santa had lured him in there for us.

One year we were in a fender-bender while on our annual drive-around-and-look-at-lights sojourn because Dad jammed his brakes on to see a particularly brilliant display. And the time he drove the van into the garage with the fresh-cut tree on the car roof...which bent up the garage door frame and scraped up the car and sent all of us into fits of laughter.

Or there was the Christmas that my Muslim friend spent the week with us, and we ran to Kmart to buy him boxes of candy and socks so he'd have things to unwrap Christmas morning like the rest of us. There was also the Christmas after Mom passed away, when we couldn't even see the tree through the mountain of gifts Dad had purchased, trying to fill the biggest hole that ever was.

As I hung up the phone today and regained my cool, it struck me: Are the best memories intentional, planned "traditions" -- forced! -- or do they just happen? Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to make everything so frigging magical? Why can't we just let it be, find the magic in each and every small moment?

I look around now and think about some of our current beautiful, memorable in-the-moment traditions:
  •  Realizing after 6 years that the Mr. Christmas ornament actually plays music and syncs the lights on our tree in time... amazing!
  • Zippy putting on the green Eagles Santa hat immediately upon walking in the door after school each day, then wearing it all night, every the happy little elf he is
  • Shitty pop-music holiday music in the background everywhere we go, until someone says "I really hate this song" and we realize we're humming along anyway
  • Hearing the incessant sound effects from the fleet of Hess trucks that came down from the attic with the decorations, mixed with giggles and singing while two brothers who are five years apart in age play together
  • The glee on Honey's face when he comes home from the mall with armloads of gifts for me and the boys...and the way he looks forward to the Black Friday circular in the Thanksgiving newspaper every year
  • Naming our favorite light installations every time we drive through town, as if each time is the first time we've seen them
  • Two cats snoozing side by side on the tree skirt, glowing beneath the colored lights...they so rarely tolerate one another, but the tree skirt is magical
  • Building gingerbread fortresses out of graham crackers on a whim after school, then playing flashlight tag outside to burn off that frosting-induced buzz
  • Little boys who get excited when they find a toy for their brothers at Walgreens or Target or Hannaford when we're out running errands
  • A civics lesson at the dinner table when Happy asked us about why so many people are freaking out in our world these days, which lead to more talk of peace and love and tolerance, which is what I truly wish this season could be about
Tradition-shmadition. Christmas is fun when we're not making ourselves nuts. We're all here together. We're healthy. We're happy. Our toes are warm and our bellies are full. I want my children to remember the moments, not the routines. I want them to have a sense of peace and calm, a season of love and giving and gratitude. And two parents who haven't exhausted themselves forcing it to be all perfect and magical all the time.

Friday, November 27, 2015


I'm lying on an Aerobed in my brother's finished basement, listening to the sounds of my blissed out, over-fed, super-loved children's sleepy time breathing. Tomorrow we'll go home after a beautiful couple of days with my family. Bittersweet sleep.

This room itself contains bits and pieces of my childhood holiday memories scattered all around: a needlepoint acrostic of all our names that my mom stitched in the early 80s (before my little sister was born) displayed next to my mom's portrait; a photo collage of snapshots from the early 90s -- in one I'm shown holding a Sports Illustrated with Christian Laettner in the cover; a framed photograph of our entire Stock-Mello family snapped on a Thanksgiving perhaps 20-25 years ago -- that may have been the last time all the aunts and uncles and cousins were together before mom's illness changed us all; a crazy quilt on the Aerobed sewn by my great-grandmother -- she made one for every one of her grandkids, and now we three Mello kids each have one, miraculously saved and intact some 50 years later. The weight of this quilt calms me instantly. The sight of it floods my heart with warmth.
Great-Gramma's crazy quilt

We played tag with the kids at the playground yesterday before dinner, giggling and chasing one another until we all had stitches in our sides (and had to stop to stretch our creaky legs and backs). My boys are so lucky to have this uncle and aunties and grandfather in their lives.

It has occurred to me more than once this weekend how different this is from what most families know. There's no tension or forced togetherness at holidays. There's no need for booze just to get through the day (though a bottle of wine or two does make it more fun!). Nobody comes in at the last minute before dinner or bolts before dessert. Of course we carry wounds, but we've forgiven one another countless times over the years. And we are all here this weekend, hunkered down on a sectional sofa to watch the Macy's parade in our jammies because we love to spend time together. It's a rare gift.

As wacky and grumpy and snarky as we may be apart, we are amazing when we're together. My siblings and I have grown into fully complementary adults. Like this crazy quilt that's held up through decades. Or this needlepoint acrostic with our names woven together. Each of us equal parts serious and silly, with one providing balance for the others whenever necessary. We read each other well, knowing when levity is in order or when it's time to change a subject all together. And you know that little voice that tells you every now and then to call someone you love? It happens. Often when we need a calming voice or a sounding board. We just know.
The Mello Fam, circa 1992

We grew up in such a traditional family, with traditional values and traditional traditions. My father has never been one to stray comfortably from "this is how we've always done it." Yet remarkably, he does now. We all go with the flow now. It seems the only tradition that has stood the test of time is just being together. Such a blessing, really. 

Last night we sat around with guitars and a ukulele, humming and strumming and giggling over improv'ed thanksgiving songs. Hokey, goofy, warm. I glanced between my brother and sister at one point and thought "this is a perfect moment; stash it away." They both were smiling their matching brilliant white-toothed smile, eyes framed with a few barely visible lines that hint at years of joy and flashes of intense grief. I hope they felt it too, that perfect moment in our super sibling triangle. I want to always remember them this way, as the singing, smiling, tag-playing full-grown humans that my children adore.
My favorite turkeys
My mom admonished me long ago, during a particularly ugly spat with my brother, "These are the people who will know you best and ONLY ones who walk through life with you. Be good to each other." It's true. They are. And we are. 

That's a lot to be thankful for. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Those four little words

Zippy and I have been cooped up together for three days while he recovers from a pretty nasty upper respiratory yuck. We have snuggled through 24 hours of fever. We have watched approximately 37 hours of Spongebob and 29 hours of Paw Patrol. We have wiped at least 2 gallons of snot. It's been a hella couple days! 

As he started to regain energy this evening, he also started driving me bananas. Finally, while I tried to clean up dishes and he insisted on spinning circles through the kitchen while shrieking some horrible toy commercial jingle, I told him he needed to go in the other room because I was losing patience. I spoke through clenched teeth the way my own mother did when we realized she was about to transform to Mrs. Hyde. Thank God he picked up the cues and retreated to the corner of the dining room. I breathed. Deeply. 

Still not sure what's at the center of the page, but I sure do like the text.
Three minutes later Zippy returned, coming up behind me as I loaded the dishwasher. "I told you I need a break!" I snapped, before turning around an looking into those giant eyes. He quietly presented me with this drawing and a big mushy kiss. "I really love you, mommy." And of course I choked back tears because if there's only one thing I know in all the whole big world, it's this: I ❤️ you Mom. 

This little boy pushes every one of my buttons, it's true. Most days I can barely keep up with him, physically and mentally. But at the end of every day, in the quiet space before we all fall asleep, there's nowhere better than huggled next to this child, his wiry wiggly body finally relaxed, his long eyelashes sheltering those big green eyes (remember when they sparkled bluer than topaz?), and all my hopes and dreams and wishes for him floating in the air around us. 

Angel babe

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Happy Maine-iversary

Right about this time last year, we rolled into the rest stop at Kittery, just across the bridge that marks the Maine state line. One hour from our new home.

We'd been driving all day, with just a few stops here and there, and we all felt jittery and excited and anxious. You know, lwhen your legs feel all twitchy because they've been folded up all day and you've been drinking Cokes and sucking lollipops. The black sky sparkled with a zillion stars -- night seems darker here, maybe because there are fewer people and less light pollution -- and I leaned back to stretch my neck and back. I breathed deeply, yoga-style, while the kids ran and jumped and played around the Smokey the Bear statue. And that's when I smelled it: White pine and salt air. That magical combination that brings back every happy vacation memory from my childhood. Here we are, I realized, in the place I've treasured my whole life for its wide open spaces, rocky shorelines, wild blueberry hillsides. And we live here now. Maine.

Our first morning in Portland, checking out Back Cove
This was a far cry from how I started the day, mind you. As we left South Graylyn Crest, I bawled. I'm talking snot-bubbly, knee-buckly, air-sucky, squinchy-face weeping. I was terrified.

Honey and Happy were in one car, Zippy and me in the van, both vehicles packed to the ceiling with the things that couldn't go in the moving truck, including two cats, four houseplants, one goldfish and a crayfish in deli containers on the front seat. The truck had pulled out the night before and we'd slept on the floor in our empty house. I drove past my friend's house, waved a last goodbye, and just couldn't pull myself back together. Even after a stop at Wawa for coffee and our last soft pretzels, I couldn't stop sniffling -- and I was so distracted a man came running at the car to rescue the giant coffee I'd left on the roof as we pulled away. (Then I cried even harder thinking of how I'd almost lost my coffee.)

We were leaving our families in New Jersey and Philadelphia. We were leaving our friends and our church in Delaware. We were leaving our jobs. We were leaving our schools. We were leaving our home of 8 years empty...yet unsold! And we were driving 500 miles to a city we'd only visited a couple times -- to a rental home we'd only seen in online photos.

What's more, we only had one income: Mine. Honey had quit his job in Delaware and had nothing lined up in Portland. We hadn't yet enrolled Zippy in preschool, so we didn't know where he would land, either. We figured we had enough money in the bank to get us through three months (without any emergencies, of course). And we had help with our rent from my new employer for three months.

And it was November. In Maine. Where it's dark by 4:30 in winter and snow starts to fall around Thanksgiving.

Portland Head Light. I'll never get tired of this vista.

Ho. Lee. Shit. Even as I write these words, I cannot believe we did this. Can you believe we did this?!

We leaped. Jumped with both feet right out into unknown everything. Come what may.

Yet here I sit, one year later, in our comfy little home listening to Zippy tell me about his field trip to a children's play. I started the day with a PTO meeting, then impromptu coffee with a new friend. Happy and Honey are at a Cub Scout meeting planning their next hiking adventure; tomorrow one of Happy's friends will come over to play after school. The boys walk hand in hand to school each morning, and everyone in the neighborhood knows they come as a set. Honey has an even better job than the one he left behind, working for one of the top companies in Portland. We do swimming lessons, art lessons, Scouts, Bible study group -- just like we always have. And I'm starting to recognize faces of people I know in the farmers market on Saturdays.

Portland is our home now. This quirky little city full of hipsters and lobsters and camera-toting tourists has felt right from the start, even as we tromped through mountains of snow last winter. I watch the sun come up over the cove as I make my way to the office every morning, and every evening I marvel at the pinky-purple sky as I come home. I breathe deeper here, savor moments more fully. My wardrobe consists of jeans, cardigans, yoga pants, and hiking boots. People around me move with less urgency, and I often sense that time off is more valued than time on. Nobody looks at me funny when I collect pine cones and fallen leaves in the park. They don't blink when I pull over to take a photo of a hot-air balloon on a weekday morning commute. Nobody giggles at my older kid's yen to play ukulele or my younger kid's penchant for spinning. We fit into this city's groove.
These wackos amaze me every day.

We're spending this weekend in Acadia National Park, the place where my family vacationed so often, the place responsible for my yearning to take this leap. It seems the appropriate spot to celebrate our first Maine-iversary, to say thank you to the One who provides all things. I'm looking back over this year with awe and wonder, amazed that my kids get to grow up with the pine-and-salt air in their nostrils. And I'm looking at each person in my family with new appreciation. We are brave. We are grateful. We are cozy. We know now we can do hard things.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Winter is coming

Golden leaves overhead filter sunlight onto my face; brown leaves underneath cushion my bottom from the chilly earth. I'm sitting under a tall oak tree, nibbling carrots from the farmers market across the park. A couple of squirrels run frantically nearby. One stopped just a moment ago to collect the nub of carrot stem I'd tossed aside. He looked at me with warning in his eyes, like "Why are you sitting there? Don't you know winter is coming?!"

The farmers market bustles this morning. Mobs of people wearing fall jackets and riding boots with necks wrapped in decorative scarves tasting apples and yogurt and mushrooms. The air feels crisp yet charged with a frantic energy. We're all stocking up for the winter, saving squashes and Brussels sprouts and jars of pickles, but also turning our faces into the sun at every turn. We need to store it up. Just like the squirrels. 

Winter doesn't fool around here so as October wanes we all scurry: Play more outdoors, spend time with your friends, preserve and store as many fresh fruits and veggies as you can, find your boots and snow pants and down coats. We know that as Thanksgiving inches closer, so does the snow and bitter wet wind. And the darkness; tonight we set our clocks back so tomorrow it will be dark around 4:00. (That's so hard for me.)

It's okay though. Seems to me a fair trade for summers and falls as glorious as these. We earn these beautiful clear-sky days over months of harshness. Mother Nature wants to be sure we deserve August in Maine!

My family approaches our one-year Maine-iversary and I feel particularly pensive and grateful this morning. This move may have been the bravest thing I've ever done, we've ever done, and it's changed us as individuals and as a family in large and noticeable ways. Mostly for the good, I think. We had to put every bit of faith in God and in one another to pull us through huge unknowns. And we've found out how to find joy in simple things and everyday moments. 

In coming weeks, I hope to write more about how we've grown and learned this past year. But for today I'm soaking in this fall air and basking in this sunshine. 

God is good, y'all. And Maine is, too. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

All I can do is soup

A friend is going through something pretty scary and terrible right now -- a health situation about which most of us would say "Oh, that's my nightmare" -- and I haven't been able to figure out how to help her. I mean, I pray for her and listen to her and cheer for her, and I try to run interference when others ask too many (or too few) questions about her condition. But I feel like there's not much I can physically do to help. When someone you love is sick, don't you want to just wrap your arms around them and will the sickness out of them? I do. I want to use the power of my love to pull the illness out, like that big guy in The Green Mile. Alas, I can't do that, not ever, but certainly not this time. This time it needs more than hugs.

The air today is crisp in all the ways you'd imagine fall in New England should be: chilly and breezy and sparkling with sunshine. The leaves on our trees are just about at their peak color, which means the air around them glows. There's something about the light in autumn, isn't there? It comes at a different angle or intensity and everything looks sharper, more vibrant and urgent.

This is the kind of day you want to breathe in, absorb, bottle. I walked around the West End around mid-day, noticing people with hands shoved deep into pockets, scarves wrapped around necks, walking just a bit more quickly than usual. Winter is coming. (This line is as foreboding here as it is in  Westeros, let me tell you; the biggest difference, so far, is we don't have White Walkers to contend with.) It's already snowing in Caribou, ME, and Stowe, VT. And as I burrow deeper into my coat collar, I am thinking of my friend, impressed with how she is adapting to her new normal. Every day must challenge and frustrate and embolden her, yet she's taking it as it comes. Mostly I am thinking about her freshly bald head, imagining how unusual this cold air must feel on head-skin that's always been covered by a blanket of hair.

I suppose winter takes on a whole other level of foreboding when you're dealing with radiation treatments and the uncertainty of your prognosis. I don't know how to help my dear friend, but as I walk through town today it strikes me: Soup. I can cook soup! I can't cure cancer, but I can provide nourishment and warmth and a delicious respite from take-out food. I can pour all my wishes and love for her into a pan, simmer it a while, and meditate on how blessed I am to know her.

When I get home and start gathering my ingredients, I realize most of what I'll use to make the soup has connection to our mutual friends: Potatoes from one friend's family farm. Carrots from our friend who bought too many at the farmers market. Kale that I picked out with another friend, laughing about the way Zippy eats raw kale out of the fridge like a bunny. As I scrub the potatoes, I pray over them. As I peel the carrots, I sing. And of course as I chop the onions I cry (but this doesn't count as special because it happens every time).

I'm putting together  a Portuguese kale soup that my father's mother used to make for us (a recipe that Dad and I have simplified over time because who really has time to make homemade stock and boil dried beans?). As I brown the linguica, I think of my Vovo and aunts and cousins, invoking their blessings and love, too. I taste the salty cured sausage and transport to the warmth and laughter of my father's kitchen as he prepares linguica at every family gathering; it's hard to come by linguica in New Jersey so Dad hoards pounds of it in his freezer. He saves it only for special occasions, but I can find it every time I go to the market in New England.

Finally, I pour a little extra red wine in the soup and inhale as the alcohol cooks off. One of our favorite things to do together, my friend and me, is try new restaurants and enjoy good wine and food. And we laugh, oh we laugh.

I love to cook but don't do it often enough. Not like this, anyway. True cooking is an act of love that my family generally takes for granted. They turn up their noses at most of the new dishes I offer, so I tend to get into a rut, preparing only the stuff I know they'll eat gladly. Cooking Trader Joe's mahi mahi burgers or stir-fried chicken is not fulfilling, though. It fills our bellies but not our hearts. This soup is really the only tangible thing I can do for my friend this week. I can't take away her tumor, but I can peel and cube and sautee and stir, measuring carefully but tweaking here and there to add richness and complexity. I hope this soup warms my friend's belly and makes her smile. More than anything, I hope it fills her with the love and healing I've poured into it ... along with the extra wine.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Big girl, small plane

I am never more aware of the size of my body as I am when I fly. Especially now that I live in a small city and often have to travel on smaller planes. From the minute I step aboard, ducking my head just to make it through the door, hunched as I walk to my seat, I feel every eye on me. The flight attendants generally give me the sad-sorry eyes first, then the true awkwardness begins.

My head rubs the ceiling as I squish myself down the aisle. I pull my arms across my body, hugging my backpack for comfort, and feel the hairs on my head standing up from the static. Or maybe my hair stands up from sensing the anxiety of every person I pass? "You've got to be kidding. Don't you dare sit next to me!" their eyes shout. Some look right in my face, as if willing me away psychically. Others look down or fiddle with the seatback pocket; if they ignore me, don't face their fear of having to share with the giant, then I won't possibly take over their armrest. Usually there's some idiot with a comment, too. Something exceedingly unwitty like "Watch your head!" or "Hey, shorty!"

This is actually a SPACIOUS JetBlue seat. There was a good
quarter inch of space between my knee and that seatback bar.
The window seat means I'm crammed into a coffin-like space, but at least I have a place to lean my shoulder. Sitting in the aisle means my shoulder gets smacked by the drink cart at every pass and every hip of every person who has to use the bathroom.

Once I squoosh myself into my seat, there's my timid smile at the person next to me, my unspoken apology for my broad shoulders, long legs, and wide hips. And then my inward small prayer -- "Please, God, let this seatbelt fit" as I expand the little strap all the way to its limit, then exhale as it clicks. Whew.

I doesn't matter how big or small the person next to me is. My shoulders are wide enough that I have to pinch my arms into my lap to avoid spilling into my seatmate's personal space. One of the funniest things I've ever attempted was typing on my laptop in a tiny plane. Picture a t-rex on a laptop and you've got the gist. And I swear, even the smallest seatmate will have no qualms about usurping that armrest. In fact, usually the smaller seatmates take up the most space. I see it as a deliberate passive-aggressive attempt to show me that just because I can reach the tall shelf at the grocery store doesn't mean I get everything my way. On my last trip I sat next to a round little woman whose feet didn't even touch the floor, but her forearms were all over my space. I did not help her pull her luggage down from the overhead bin, either.

Believe it or not, the most enjoyable flights I've had were spent sitting next to an equally large person, someone with super long legs or a really broad chest. This means a whole lot of awkward jockeying for position in our first few moments together, then a lot of stiffness and awkward movements throughout the flight. But most of the time we realize we're in it together, and we can laugh a little. In these cases I usually offer to share snacks. Care for some jelly beans? Trail mix? Now it's okay if our arms touch throughout this entire cross country trip, right? Once a large seat-mate stiff-armed the seat in front of me through the entire hour-long flight to keep it off my knees. He was one of the most gallant men I've ever met!

Which brings me to the source of the most pain: the reclining seat in front of me. I don't need to go into detail on this because you get it by now. Just imagine that rigid wire that frames the seatback pocket pushing against your patella for 3+ hours. It's as painful as it sounds. Yet the real fun comes when the occupant of that seat can't get comfy because of the fat wallet in his back pocket, and he keeps jamming his seat into my knees so he can get settled. My shrieks of pain go unheard because his music is too loud in his ears.

The real irony is that I'm often spending $500 or so on a ticket. And I can't enjoy the fruity water and snacks I packed because they're under my feet, thanks to every available overhead space being filled by an oversized carry-on bag, and there's no way possible for me to bend enough to reach my own stuff. You know how they tell you to fold over your knees in case of emergency landing? No stinking way. I'm a goner.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A shiny pink colon

I know a thing or two about colons, both grammatically and physiologically, and I'm a big fan of each. In writing, a well-placed colon makes us stop and pay attention to what's coming. It's dramatic and sometimes even a bit sexy. Not so with the other colon. Although it can make us stop and pause (and run to the nearest toilet), it's rarely dramatic nor sexy. Let's face it: Our colons are poop pushers, and nobody really likes to talk about poop. (That is, unless they are any of the three males living in my house.*)

My mom died way too young because she was embarrassed to go to her doctor when she started having poop problems. I'm still so angry with her about that, 20 years later! Even more, she didn't just die, she really suffered. For years. First through painful surgeries, then the indignity of a colostomy bag, then countless rounds of chemotherapy that left her bald and weak. And let's not even talk about the pain she endured as cancer ravaged every one of her systems in her final months. These things were not her fault, I know, but my sadness and anger over her death only deepen when I think that it could have been prevented, either by her going to the doctor sooner or by the doctor asking the right questions about her damn poop.

Now I have a colonscopy every 5 years to make sure my own colon remains shiny and pink and healthy. In between those checks, I'm like a poopologist, paying meticulous attention to how many times I go to the bathroom in a day, size, shape, color -- you get the gist. I even ask my husband and children embarrassing questions about their poop, and I don't get at all upset when a kid calls me into the bathroom yelling "Mommy! You gotta see this one!" I eat as much fiber in a day as possible, sneaking oat bran into pancakes or beans into, well, everything. (And yes, I take Beano so as not to embarrass myself and all those around me.) And I drink water like it's my job because I hear colons really appreciate that.

Yet as today's colonoscopy -- my third -- edged closer, I found myself tensing. This creepy, hateful voice in the back of my head kept whispering "she was only 4 years older than you." I would push that voice away, punch it in its ugly face, but it sneaked up more than once in just-before-sleep thoughts or even a couple times in the middle of reading a manuscript or checking my emails. Like a mosquito buzzing viciously around my ear. Even yesterday as I was going through the "prep" (which is a polite way of saying super-intense laxative-induced toilet-hell), I found myself thinking, oh God, what if they find something? What if I have to have surgery or go through chemo? I can't be sick to my stomach like this for more than a few hours! Nobody in this house can take care of getting their own snacks or remember to scoop the litter box, for Chrissake, I CAN'T DIE! (Yes, I spiral like that -- from medically prescribed and controlled diarrhea to brutal, cancerous death in minutes.)

We all know our fragile little lives can change permanently and incomprehensibly in an instant. We read all the time about dramatic and horrible things like car crashes, running accidents, or random violence that cut young lives short. But what about occasional dizziness or difficulty pooping...things we totally don't think about in our ultra-busy days? It happened to my mom. In the last two months alone, two of my dearest friends have been diagnosed with brain tumors, seemingly out of thin air. How is that possible? One minute you're planning a birthday cruise to Alaska, the next you're on a surgical table with someone poking in your brain. What the hell? And let's not forget that I sat with Honey in the hospital just a month ago, mere hours after a glorious sunshiny hike along the Maine coast, wondering if this was the bout that would do him in.

In a blink, a snap, before you even know what hit you. It all happens too damn fast. And I'm all too aware of the genetics that I carry -- the cancer and the diabetes and the high blood pressure -- all of them game-changers. They're all sitting here with me now, in fact, hanging out on my shoulders and tickling the hairs on the back of my neck as they so often do, the jerks.

Yet here's the good news: On this day, at this moment, my colon is shiny and pink and happy. No abnormalities noted and a discharge paper that reads "See you in 5 years." I'm going to grab my kids and my husband into a gigantic, awkward family hug this evening, and we're going to pray in gratitude for my shiny, pink colon. We'll pray in gratitude for the "butt camera," as Zippy termed it, that has set my fears at ease for now. And we'll pray in gratitude for the endocrinologist and nutritionist who are helping Honey to battle his genetic trash, too. We'll also pray in gratitude for my friends with their fancy brains, because we know that they are resilient and strong and they will teach us how to be so, too. We'll pray in gratitude that my mom lived a brief yet gigantic life, that she touched so many others with her smarts and her generosity and her love -- and we'll be grateful that because of her fight, we now know how important our poop truly is.

* It should be noted that the three males in this house who love to talk about poop were completely horrified by the colon photos I showed them this evening. And you may thank them for talking me out of posting those photos here. Even though they are gloriously beautiful to me!

Resilient is more than strong

I don't think I wrote about it here, but my word for 2014 was Grace. I selected it from a bowl at church and pored over it for a few months, studying the morphology and religious and lay interpretations if the word. I found over the course of a few months, the word grace came up often in sermons and speeches, but also in conversation, readings, or general "symbols" around me. Maybe because I was thinking about it and paid more attention...or maybe because the universe was trying to get me to pay attention. 

In fact, when I came to Portland for my interview -- the one that eventually led us on the giant leap-of-faith relocation adventure we've been on -- the company took me out to dinner in a beautiful restaurant that had previously been a church. Its name, I'm sure you'll guess: Grace. I smiled inwardly throughout dinner, grateful and gracious (and hopefully graceful) and winking at the universe for this big flashing sign that everything about this idea was okay. The next morning I met an old friend for breakfast and I told her about the interview and the experience at the restaurant, saying "you might think this is silly, but..." and I watched tears fill her eyes. "It's not silly at all, T," she said, "because I've been going through a really hard time and on the drive over here I prayed for clear, visible grace and gratitude to get me through this week." Ta-da! That, right there, be Grace with a capital G.

Fast forward to the first week of January 2015, two months after our move, a time in which we had snow up to our knees and cold like I've never experienced, no friends locally, children who were homesick and having trouble making new friends, Honey and I both with brand new jobs (his at the time a really bad-paying brand new job), a big empty house 500 miles away, and a whole lot of bills to pay. The days in Maine in January are short; darkness falls just beyond 4:00pm, so by the time 8:00 rolls around, my body was telling me it was time for sleep. But I think some of that sleepiness was depression, too. You know that if you just go to bed early, maybe read a stupid book for a little while, tomorrow will bring new happies. 

I didn't have a church yet, so I decided to pick a word at random to study: Resilience. This word has intrigued me for a long time, since attending a talk in which the speaker told us -- an audience of all women -- that being strong isn't necessarily the answer to life. But being resilient is key. Resilience literally means the ability to rebound or recoil, but in human terms it's more. In schools these days there's a lot of talk about developing "grit" in kids -- which is really just jargon for developing resilience to persevere through difficult situations. 

Every human being will face change and uncertainty, sometimes every single day. We know this. Throughout this year, I have pondered this word resilience at length, rolled it around in my brain and chewed on it with my morning oatmeal. I think, really, resilience is what it means to keep moving forward when faced with crushing news, how the very experience of moving forward shapes us and forms us into Full-Grown People. Being resilient means acknowledging the blisters on our feet and the scorching heat of the desert, wallowing for a few moments in the pain, then picking up the backpack and hiking up the hill and out of the valley.

I wear a piece of sea glass on a long chain around my neck. It's a simple piece of jewelry presented by my grandmother years ago; my sister and cousin have similar pendants, too. Sea glass is a beach-living thing, obviously, and we spend a lot of time nowadays searching for it in the sand. But this particular piece means more to me than just a pretty ornament to remind me of sunny seaside days. Think about sea glass, about its life cycle: A bottle or dish is dropped in the sea, whether purposely or not, where it is battered and bashed by time and elements. Genuine sea glass can take 7-10 years to wear into a smooth, small piece. During that time the glass loses its sharp edges, it's smoothed and rounded and changes shape multiple times. Its shimmer dulls, its surface becomes pocked and scarred in unique ways. It may even change color, as happened with ancient bottles that turned from green to black (the most valuable sea glass, by the way, are the older pieces). 

But then...after all that tumbling and changing, a child finds it on the beach and hands it to his mother, who tucks it into her pocket. She immediately begins planning the wire she'll wrap around this piece; it's perhaps too big for a ring but would look amazing as a pendant. She holds the glass in her hand and feels its smoothness, the cold comforting weight. She knows just the friend to present this pendant to, as well, the friend who is dealing with more adversity in two months than most people see in a lifetime, as a talisman and gentle reminder of love, hope, and transformation. 

What was once a plain old bottle is now a gem -- a "reverse gem," made by man but refined by nature, with potential to be turned into something way more beautiful and meaningful by creative, nurturing hands. Sea glass, to me, has become a major symbol of resilience. Which is why I wear this piece over my heart, why I clutch it when I feel weak or scared or hurt. I bet that bottle felt overwhelmed when it was tossing in the sea, too. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Grow old along with me. Pretty please.

I glanced into the mirror as I rinsed my hands last Sunday morning. The face looking back shocked me: dry skin dotted with acne and a sunspot on the cheek, lines and pores more visible than ever; hair speckled with grays but lacking any lightness ("as we get older, unfortunately our hair loses it's luster," says my rainbow-haired 20-something hairdresser); bloodshot eyes sunken behind puffy folds of skin, crows feet wrinkles forming in their corners; a chin that's quickly moving south and a jawline getting rounder, thanks to the 12 (!) pounds of "winter weight" I'm carrying. (But let's be honest: We know this weight's not going on summer vacation.) I don't like much about this picture.

I shlumped back into bed with a big dramatic sigh. "God, I look old. And I'm fat. And my skin is horrendous. I'm hideous."

"You're beautiful to me. Always," he reassured as he pulled me closer.

"How can you tell? Your eyesight is terrible. You're so old you can't even see me."

He rolled over and wrapped his arms around me, radiating warmth against my back, kissed my neck and ran his hand along my arm to rest on my elbow. He whispered, "I promise, you're beautiful. Always. But...," he tweaked my elbow, "your boob used to be much softer."

As I fell into giggles, he kissed me again. Softly, gently, because he knows I'm fragile right at this moment. We adjusted our round bellies so we fit comfortably next to each other on our sides. I relaxed into that moment as I realized this, yes, this is what it means, the reason we are Us, the reason we are really good together even all these years later. His beard is flecked with gray and his eyes have lines around them, too, but he's so much more handsome; there's wisdom in those grays and laughter in those lines. He gets me. But more, we like each other. We laugh. We roll with the tides of life.

When I picked our wedding song, "Grow Old With Me," it seemed sweet and sentimental: "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be." I was 24, he was 27. We were so young, we thought we were right in the midst of The Best. Yet growing old together seemed romantic, faraway, idealistic. "Grow old along with me, two branches of one tree."

But here we are, 15 years later, and it's happening. We're growing older together, discovering the best really is yet to be. In fact, the best is happening every day whether or not we're paying attention to it. Two healthy growing kids that challenge and surprise us and fill us with joy; one miscarried baby that shattered our spirits but reminded us how much we yearned to be parents again. Four near-death illnesses that have taught us how to be strong for each other, how to ask for help from those who love us. Two parents' deaths, which showed us that life cannot ever be taken for granted. One layoff, four new jobs, each transition proving that there will never be enough money yet somehow we always live comfortably. One major relocation and life reboot: moving to a new city without even knowing what our rental house looked like, facing foreclosure on our empty house with aplomb, knowing whatever happens next, we will handle it. And every day, through every phase, no matter what, when he comes home, this man wraps his arms around me and I melt. That is my favorite moment of each day. All these years later, I still feel a tiny thrill when I hear the key turn in the door and know he's home. I'm whole.

Today is our wedding anniversary. But he is in the hospital, fighting tremendous pain and feeling scared and helpless. I am at home, caring for our vomiting child and harassing our realtor about our big empty house. It's been a shitty week. I probably should feel sorry for myself, but I don't. Instead I'm looking at photos of us and our kids over the last year, grateful for the smiles and the sunshine and all the excitement and newness we've experienced together. Yes, I hate it when he's sick. It's terrifying and frustrating and maddening. But even when he's not in the hospital I fight back fear of losing him every single day; I often wake in the night to make sure he's breathing beside me. I don't really know how many times I can brace myself for his death before it actually kills me instead.

But this is Us. It's part of who We are. No matter how hard the hardest days are, even the regular days are so worth it -- and the great days, like the time we played hooky and spent the day together meandering through Boothbay, or when we took the kids to the National Zoo in a rain storm -- well, the great days knock my socks off. He is my companion and greatest cheerleader. He is the only person I can be completely honest with. He has given me these amazing children, and when I watch him as a father, I am awed by his wisdom and humor and firm yet patient style. Also, he thinks I'm beautiful no matter what.

So. This is Us. Growing older together. In the prime of our lives, hiking along rocks on the edge of the bay one day, calling an ambulance and clinging to hope the next. Newlywed-me had a slight inkling of how hard marriage can be because I watched my parents struggle through better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health. In fact, I almost broke up with him after my mother died because I was so afraid of loving someone so much that I would feel pain and fall apart the way my father did without her. Thank God I stuck with him! Can you imagine what I would have missed out on? I joke sometimes that I wish I'd known about his genetic disposition to Bad Health Things before we'd married...but really, what good would that have done? I adore this man and I love the life we've created. I would have missed out on everything.

I did not realize way back in my 20s when we got married and picked that sappy wedding song that growing old together would be my greatest wish every single day. I also didn't realize, when I said those vows, that our worse would make us better, our poorer would make us richer, and our sickness would make us healthier.

Happy anniversary, lovebug. Grow old along with me. Pretty please.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I love-hate my house

Our big, empty house still has not sold. We listed it last July at a price that would allow us to break even; it's now listed almost $50,000 below what we paid for it in 2006. And it will likely sell for even lower than that. I feel physically ill when I think about how much money we have thrown away on this place.

This house has in fact been a major source of stress and anxiety since the moment we signed the papers. When I think about our first winter there -- when I look at photos of my sweet Happy, just 18 months old opening Christmas gifts on the bare tile floor because we couldn't yet afford an area rug -- I taste the sour fear that we wouldn't be able to maintain the place, let alone pay the mortgage every month. It's ironic that now that we're in a better job situation and not even living in the house, we still face major financial hardship because of this building.

The annual first-day-of-school pic
in front of Bachmania
We've been house-poor for almost a decade, never really able to make the improvements we wanted in the 8 years we lived there. We bought the house at the peak of the market, just before the big real estate crash and recession, and the monthly mortgage payment has always been too high, more than we could really afford. I held my breath every time we turned on the heat or a/c: Old house, old systems, and I've been constantly worried something huge would give out and we wouldn't be able to replace or fix it. Miraculously, we've eked it out, even through job loss, an expanding family, and significant changes in income. Just before we moved, we sunk more than $10,000 into the place, replacing the master bathroom the week before and the entire roof the day after we moved out. I haven't even seen what that new roof looks like. Surely it's spectacular, as far are roofs go.

It wasn't really the right house for us from the start, an ugly split-level like all the others around it, lacking character except for the large semi-private yard. It didn't have the right space for large people with growing kids either. The kitchen was too small; the garage served as our pantry. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub that was too short for my long legs. The ceiling in the family room is low enough that if I wore heels, I had to bend my neck slightly at the bottom of the stairs. The master bedroom was just big enough for our bed and dressers, barely room enough for two 6-foot adults. There were cave crickets in the laundry room, for heaven's sake!
I spent many hours reading and
drinking wine on this deck.

Ironically, despite the ill-proportioned rooms, it was too much house for a busy young family. Cleaning inside took hours, and maintaining the yard took entire afternoons in the spring, summer, and fall. Most weekends, by the time the yard work was done, we were too tired to enjoy the yard. And now I'm actually paying someone to do the yard work, which I hate even more because I'm still not enjoying the yard!

Here's the punchline: I miss that poorly laid-out, time-sucking, money-draining house. I miss sitting on the beautiful deck shaded by 60-foot trees in the late afternoon. I miss eating tomatoes from my garden. I miss sending the kids out back to play together on the swing set. I miss working in my little desk in the back corner of the sunroom, watching the family of cardinals in the weeping cherry tree. I miss hearing the high school marching band in the fall; in fact, that was the sound that made us want to buy the house in the first place. I miss each of us having our own space to spread out, Happy drawing in the sunroom, Honey watching football in the family room, Zippy playing by me in the dining room while I cooked on a Sunday afternoon. I miss a fire crackling on Christmas morning or the entire family gathered around the table singing happy birthday. I miss sprawling on the sectional sofa with bowls of popcorn on a Friday night in front of a dumb kids' movie. I miss waking to the hum of the neighbors' lawn mower, or watching the fireflies twinkle in the trees outside our window.

I miss our neighbors, who were always friendly and happy to see us. I miss having a bunch of children for Happy and Zippy to play with whenever they stepped out the front door. I miss walking to the park or library whenever we wanted. I miss the moms at the bus stop each morning and the way my heart would swell when I saw all our kids bound off the bus together in the afternoons. I miss catching up with friends at the swim club on our street or seeing familiar faces in the coffee shop on a Friday morning.

We could cram a lot of people in
for birthday parties.
Stupid house! I'm so mad that I miss you! I never liked your structure, your small rooms, your upkeep, your expense. But you were our home for a long time. In fact, I lived with you longer than any other house in my life. Your belly was where our older son learned how to walk and where I rocked my younger son as a newborn, staring out the front window at the small Japanese maple and basketball hoop in the front yard. Your backyard held countless family cookouts, hosted neighborhood friends for campfire marshmallow roasts, grew delicious vegetables, and served as final resting place for our beloved cat. In your rooms we rode out two hurricanes and two extreme winters. And you always provided space and warmth for our family and friends. You really sucked at being a house, but you were really good as a home.

Being responsible for a big empty house 500 miles away from where I live is wearing me down considerably. I have missed out on a lot of sleep worrying about the house and wondering why it's not been purchased yet. I feel every person who walks through and doesn't make an offer hates it, and I do take that personally. But I understand because I, too, hate this house! I would like nothing more than for an asteroid to land on it.

I know, however, that when the day comes that we actually sign it over to a new family, I will weep.

Monday, April 27, 2015

All that is right

This afternoon I called the police because I witnessed a man beating a woman on the street. I saw a few dozen homeless folks waiting outside the soup kitchen, as I do each morning and evening. I turned on the news and writhed as I watched reports of Baltimore burning, another rage-fueled episode in our country's churning racial struggle. This story eclipsed, at least for a little while, news of the devastating earthquakes and avalanches in Nepal that have killed thousands in one of the world's poorest countries.

I spent a lot of time today noticing things that are wrong with the world, until at last I grew weary and sad. Then I came upstairs to bed and saw this, and I quickly remembered all that is right on our beautiful, fucked up planet.

Love wins. Every time. It has to. It simply must.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The universe will right itself

Dear Grace,
The story of your birthday party has touched me: the friendships between you and Justin and between your mom and Tammy, the outpouring of support from friends and family and strangers, photos of you smiling and dancing in your beautiful teal gown. You don't seem comfortable with all the attention, but as your name suggests, you bear it graciously and gracefully and gratefully. In the short time I've known your family, I have admired your mother's humor and poise, and I've enjoyed your brother's quirky brilliance. And now I know and respect your resilience and wisdom. 

I thought over and over while reading and processing your story, "I can't imagine what that family is going through." But I realized today that's not true. I lived this hell that you're in now. And truly, the fact that it took me a little while to realize that may a testimony to the fact that someday, you too will heal. You may never feel whole and you will carry deep scars, but you will heal.

Here's how I know: My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer just before my 18th birthday, during my first year of college. My brother was 16, my sister only 8. My mom was 47 when she died almost four years later, just a day short of her 48th birthday. Doctors gave her four months to live when first diagnosed; she fought and scrapped and struggled for almost four years. And so did the rest of us. We supported her in every way we could: we prayed, we ate weird foods and juice combinations, we held her hand through experimental treatments, we took lavish vacations to try to forget. I fought with my mother often during her illness, usually over petty things but sometimes over huge hurts; looking back I know I was angry with her for ruining my college years, and she was surely angry with me for being young, healthy, and away. 

We never, ever talked about her dying. Not once. Even though death lurked around every corner, every decision, every sleep. I can't even look at photographs from that time because she looked sallow or swollen or hairless or scared, even when smiling. My mom stopped treatment around May of my senior year so she could be well enough to see me graduate from college. She looked beautiful that summer, gray wisps of hair growing back in, color returning to her cheeks. We children naively thought she had kicked it, she was getting better. Only she and my dad knew she was dying, finally. She wanted to go out with grace and love. And she did, in August, just four very fast months. 

Watching someone you love suffer is one of the most horrible pains you will endure. I know your dad is strong and brave, and I know he fights valiantly for the sake of your family. But you, my sweet girl, you are even stronger. In one of the articles about your party, you're quoted as saying that someday the universe will right itself, like perhaps you'll win the lottery or have flowers brought to your deathbed when you're nearing 100 years old. I smiled when I read this. Because you know what? It will. The universe will right itself. You have a long, beautiful, fulfilling life ahead of you. And you know what else? You know how to persevere, how to lean on others when they offer to help, how to enjoy small moments as they are happening. These are lessons that many full-grown adults won't ever learn -- or will learn too late after things fall apart. The universe will right itself. Twenty years from now, you will remember this party with mixed emotions. You may not really want to look at the photos. But over and over throughout your life, you will draw on the strength you've gained. You will remember the examples that your parents have set for you, how your father fights with every ounce of himself and your mother stands tall and wraps her arms around you all. You will remember that love exists even in the most horrible moments, and you will remember that humans are mostly kind.

My mother was diagnosed nearing my parents' 25th wedding anniversary. This put a particular urgency and poignancy behind renewing their wedding vows. Remember, she'd been given only months to live, so we decided to do it up! We filled the church with friends and family. My brother and I sang their wedding song, my sister carried flowers. Their best man surprised them by flying in from Canada. We had a huge party in our backyard -- music, lights, catered dinner, lots of beer. People from throughout my parents' past and present gathered to celebrate them. To celebrate life! To celebrate love! To celebrate the here-and-now and to show the scary-future "hey, you ain't so tough." We had a happy, care-free day during a terrifying, pain-filled time. One of my favorite photos of my parents was snapped on this day: my mom in her white skirt, laughing over a frilly cake with my dad, tanned and beaming in his summer suit. Her green eyes shone bright that day, and that's how I want to remember her. 

This party will be that memory for you, I hope. A celebration of life -- yours and your father's -- and a time when people could come together and show you how much you are loved. Remember the way he smiled at you during that dance. Remember the lightness and the joy in that room. It will buoy you.

You are resilient, Grace. You will grow and shine and keep on living, even in the face of horror and despair. The universe will right itself for you as it has for me. I know it will. In the meantime, please know how much you are loved.


I wrote this letter to Grace after reading this article about her Sweet 16 party, which a mutual friend had crowd-funded for her. I know both families casually, know that each endures pretty significant health stressors, and feel humbled by the way they all carry on with humor and unselfish acts of love. We never really know what those around us are carrying. Yet another reminder to be kind, always.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The sweet spot

Honey started his new job a couple weeks ago. As much as I like having a second paycheck in our bank account every month, I really love it that he's happy. And even more...I love it that he's happy and home with us in the evenings. We both have tiny little commutes now, so for the first time in our marriage, we all get home around the same time. Honey and I spend time together in the kitchen while one or both of us prepares dinner. He helps with the cleaning and shopping, and he's been much more active in getting the boys ready for bed in the evenings. You know why he does all this? Because he's relaxed. And because he knows that when he does more around the house, I'm relaxed. He loves me so much that sometimes it's hard for me to understand or even accept.  Even after all these years. 

Still can't believe we live here
It's difficult for me to relax completely, of course, even when things are going so well. Especially when things are going so well! I suppose this is why prayer and meditation is so important. I'm trying hard to be grateful, to live in the moment. To realize that we are truly in a sweet spot right now and I need to save as much as I can in my memory bank. It's wonderful, this life of ours. Sometimes I'm even a teeny bit embarrassed to tell people how happy we are at this moment. Such a Pollyanna! 

This funky little town, these jobs we love, this chance to reboot, these kids so full of energy and sparkle... I am so very blessed. Here and now. The sweet spot.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The color of grace

This evening on our slog home from work and preschool through treacherous snow-laden streets, I felt stressed about getting to Happy on time, anxious about my cross-country trip tomorrow, upset about our house not selling, and weighed down by countless other worries stomping across my mind. I felt pretty grumpy, clenched.

Then I looked out the window and noticed the sky over the cove was exactly my favorite color. The color my bridesmaids, my sister-friends, wore at my wedding. The color on the walls of Zippy's bedroom in our Delaware house, where I nursed him and sang to him in wee hours that belonged only to us. The color of the sea-glass medallion my grandmother gave me that I wear around my neck, over my heart.

I think this is grace, right? That small voice that says, "Be still and know that I am." The reminder that life is beautiful and interesting always. The assurance that I am blessed and protected and always will be provided for.

Even at the end of a crappy day. Well, no: Especially at the end of a crappy day.