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Like Sands through the Hour Glass…

By 8:15 this morning we were off kilter. School had been cancelled the night before do to a forecast of snow. I wrote notes for the girls, knowing they would wake with a start and the grumps, angry I had not allowed enough time for some mind sucking television. I was hoping to start the day right, to pretend we were normal for 30 minutes. That waking to our new reality did not have to be a dramatic situation. It didn’t work.

While there was no school, there was also no snow. It was cold and grey, the sky pregnant with promise, but no guarantees. We had family in town and volunteers lined up to help. By 9:15 we were all staring at each other. Dunkin Donuts had run out of munchkins and Cheyney declared a hunger strike as determined as Ghandi. In an effort to stay ahead of the day, I tossed Greg’s pants in with Cheyneys sheets, a daily occurrence as she tries to end the pull-up trend. While I removed the belt and searched the pockets, I did not look carefully enough and placed Greg’s phone in the washer with the rest of the bundle. He kindly announced my oversight as I mumbled to myself one should empty their own pockets before placing pants in the hamper. As I stormed out of the house, two children yelled at me and Greg inquired where I was going. “Out” I replied. I felt like a rebellious teenager, armed with a car and attitude screaming get me the hell away from all this that pulls me down.

I circled the regular route wondering where I could park my angry self for a day at the “office”. Since I had already purchased coffee with the donut debacle, I could not stop at my usual haunts. For the second time in a week, I found myself in the public library parking lot. While I searched for a spot, I noticed mothers with children and bags filled with books. I had stumbled upon toddler story time and began to weep.

When we moved to Raleigh 10 years ago, my one child was less than a year old. As my husband set out to work each day, as his own boss with his own parish, I stayed home for the first time since maternity leave. I unpacked boxes and arranged furniture, wondering when I would make a friend, find the perfect park, create my new routine. Somehow I found story time and  it became our first regular thing in Raleigh. Sue-Kitty started each week with the same songs about A for Alligator and D for when we all sat down. Coco named her this because of the puppet she used each week, carefully hidden in a basket until the stories were over. Kitty would pop her head out to signal “stamp time” and the children would line up, arms extended and wrists exposed, to see what mark would be left on them. We never missed a week and often stayed at the library for 2 hours, browsing and reading, spending time together because we had nothing else to do. When Anna arrived a year later it became more challenging to arrive on time or stay after but somehow we were still regulars. By the time Cheyney was born, our schedule did not mesh up and we rarely made it to Sue Kitty’s class. Her temperament wasn’t quite right for the quiet solitude reading required, still isn’t. Gradually our names and faces faded from the librarians vernacular just as I had in college. My freshman year I was on a first name basis with Pulitzer Prize winning professors  but did not know who I would ask for a grad school recommendation four years later. The distance gradually built up in baby steps. As the Moms struggled to hold hands with their children crossing the parking lot, I was reminded me of simpler times and problems.

How did I get here? A working mother of three -with a husband recovering from bypass surgery – who storms out of the house leaving everyone to sort it out for themselves? One step at a time I suppose. I feel trapped between the kindness of friends who long to comfort and the cold aloneness of no longer fitting in. Of wanting to be part of the happy but not being able to step both feet in. Of knowing that even if things feel okay for 10 minutes it is only because I am too scattered to remember the hell I am living. The kids have lashed out, mostly at me (who else is there?), saying I am stupid and the worst and slamming doors and kicking and screaming. They fight over who has been in the bathtub longer, who gets to use the hairbrush first, who picks the show. I know this is misdirected fear. I feel the exact same way. I don’t want to be living this either. For the first time in my life, I want to go backward not forward. I want to pretend none of this happened and that the rest of our lives will not be forever changed. But the only way out is through. And I suppose that is how we will get out of it, one step at a time.

What now?

It has been two weeks or maybe two years, it’s hard to tell my body is so weary. When I check the calendar and dispose of the dead flower arrangements, it is confirmed that fourteen days ago my husband had a heart attack. A fortnight since I sat screaming at the UNC basketball team and hiding from a tornado inside a pantry with seven kids and two other moms. A lifetime ago when I stomped around and sulked about what a jerk he had been the night before, while his arteries were slowly choking off blood and oxygen to his brain and heart. A moment in time that marks our B.S. life (before surgery) and our A.D. (another day) one.

I was warned the waiting would be the hardest part. By Sunday morning the surgery was scheduled. I sat listening to the cardiologists say Greg will need triple bypass surgery, blahblahblahblahblah, heart of a 70 year old, blahblahblahblahblah, really great surgeon, blahblahblahblahblah, gonna need church on a treadmill/total change of lifestyle, blahblahblahblahblah. We made calls, parceled out children, asked a friend to walk the dog. I stood angry and scared as I watched my husband bloated with medicines lie helpless in a hospital bed, not needing the change of clothes I had naively brought that morning. Why couldn’t they let him shower? Start clean shaven. Because it would be a totally stupid waste of water and time. Instead they shaved his legs, chest, and wrists twice. Made spaces for ports, and lines, and cameras to be fed down his leg and extract the vein which would be used to replace the defunct arteries in his heart. I tried to get him to do laser hair removal this fall; my way would have been a lot easier.

Sunday night was the worst night of my life. As my middle girl, the one who looks most like her daddy, lay quietly next to me, I jolted every fifteen minutes. I walked through the valley of the shadow of death. It was black and cold, with whisp-like bats soaring directly at my head. I kept ducking and darting, spelunking all around this cave of hell, longing to find the devil with red horns and some fire to warm me up. I felt like an animal in the wild, running for safety, hoping I had enough energy and luck to survive until daylight. I remembered Mrs. Hanchey making us memorize the 23rd psalm in fourth grade. But I could find no rod or staff to comfort me. No green pastures or still waters. I knew perhaps if I could hang on til morning I would be able to find some of those things. I called the nurse at 4 am -thank God for overnight operators and night-shift nurses who serve and pray and comfort even the crazy spouses sobbing into the phone. She assured me Greg was fine, resting better than most and he would be ready in the morning.

And then game day. I showered and dressed ready to knock one out of the park as they say. They wheeled him to pre-op at 10:30, shot his butt with morphine while he sang a song about his “lower back with a crack” which made everyone laugh except the prisoner patient chained to his bed next door. And then we waited. Six and half hours of surgery. 30 second updated every two hours: “all is going as expected”. We ate health-food snacks in the sunny courtyard of the hospital, pretending it was college or “My Own Private Grey’s Anatomy”. We whittled the time away, stopping for a prayer huddle towards the end. We waited and hoped.  They never stopped his heart. While his chest was splayed open like a fish being gutted, the heart thumped the entire time, slow and steady, never missing a beat. We saw him with chest tubes and monitors and holes and stitches all over his body as he lay sedated but fixed. His head turned when I said the girls names and told him Roy wanted a walk. Medicine and surgeons and nurses and discovery are truly miracles for which I humbly thank God.

So what now? Recovery? A new life? It’s not that easy. What took 44 years to break down will take more than 2 weeks to build back up. We are literally being carried by thousands of friends who are praying cooking, driving, sitting, chatting, working, loving for us. The work is shifting from the skilled hand of doctors and caretakers back to us, the owners of these lives. It feels a bit like being a first time parent when you are so tired and emotionally drained from getting TO the baby part it seems absolutely absurd anyone would dream of handing you a life to manage on your own. Only there is little joy in this new life. And it weighs heavier than anything I have carried before. For those who want to know how to help I have two answers. First: Bear with me. I am not myself. I don’t know what day it is or who needs what permission slip to go where or how to write a marketing report or blog post or even how to parent. I don’t know if I have slept or merely closed my eyes. I am trying to put one foot in front of the other but even that is hard. Second: Offer each other glasses of water. Anne Lamott says that’s how we know the light of God is getting through. Be kind. Love your children. Run outside (you can take a hot shower when you are done). Eat good food. You will not find the answer in retail therapy or really anywhere indoors. Breath. Because you can.

Ever True


The front hallway of my high school was a bevy of information, a collage of people and how they spend their days. Today I suppose it would look like a facebook homepage. There was Mrs. Carr in reception always wearing a cable knit cardigan and streaked hair set in the same style for 38 years. She controlled the in and out slips, the forgotten lunches dropped off and notes for early dismissal. There was the faculty lounge housing teacher mailboxes and old sofas where teachers would grab moments in between classes to plan or grade or converse or stare out the window. Next: the test calendar where teachers had to write what class was being tested on what day so no grade would have more than 2 tests and 2 papers on any given day. Then: At the change of seasons, a sheet of paper taped to the wall announcing who made the cut for each athletic team. There was always a crowd of girls, scanning the list, hoping to find her name and trying to remember who else was on it; inevitably more than one would quietly turn away rushing to exit the building before allowing the tears of rejection to sneak out. Next: the chalkboard which had some hierarchy for who could post what and where but I don’t remember the pecking order. It mostly contained that day’s special events –a crepe sale fundraiser for French club, Sextette a cappella practice during lunch, where the yearbook layout meeting would be. Occasionally a graffiti posting of some girl hearting some boy would sneak up in the bottom right hand corner. In spring it was covered with congratulatory postings of college acceptances. Finally: the mail slots, listed alphabetically by grade. Here is where we received official school communication: graded tests and papers, folded lengthwise with the grade in the bottom right corner of the last page so no one else could see what you got;  notes from teachers “to come see me” or letters from colleges. It is here where my dream of Brown University first began. The lacrosse coaches had contacted a handful of us our junior year with a desire for us to come to campus and potentially play.

I was recruited. Eventually more letters from other colleges came and phone calls and visits after that. But this was big news. An ivy league, division I school had noticed and wanted me. It was exhilarating and empowering.  Just when my class of 42 was seeming too cramped, when my hometown had become too predictable, and my parents (who had done everything to foster and uplift me and prepare me to soar) seemed to be doing nothing but holding me back, I received a hand written letter from a woman who said, you have potential and I can do something with it. The process continued on a summer day in Providence. My mother and I met Wendy Anderson and Carolan Norris, saw the astro-turf field three stories up on the roof of the athletic complex, and started to believe in a dream that I could be an impact player for the Brown bears. The college tour of New England was essentially over and I wanted to go nowhere else. I was accepted that winter and my dream became a reality.

The experience was not all rosy. What big life moment is? I loved Brown University. I loved lacrosse and my team and playing college sports. But I didn’t love Wendy and she didn’t love me. I am not sure either of us were very lovable at the time. I was naïve and raw with a bravado that fueled me to be tougher than most. She was tough and undisciplined in how she motivated her players. Once during a team meeting my freshman year, Wendy announced she had never seen a bigger butt than mine –and this was coming from a field hockey coach. She played mind games and favorites and stole self-confidence from players whose skills and desire crumbled because of it. Luckily for me, negative feedback worked. I can’t say I reached my potential as a player at Brown but I can accept my role was just as big as Wendy’s. And  regardless of  our shortcomings, who I am today as a person is better because of Wendy.

During my sophomore year, I was called into Wendy’s office. It was after practice and we were showering in the locker room when the assistant coach popped her head in to tell me to get upstairs in the office. Crap! I quickly began to catalog my memory of any recent actions that would land me in trouble. Had I mouthed off in practice? Been late for the game bus? Skipped class? All were probably true but I could not pinpoint anything out of the ordinary that would require special punishment. I was told to sit on the couch and the door was partially closed. My stomach began to twirl like it does during the national anthem before a game. Wendy asked me how I was doing. This was not good –the warm up before the hatchet; what had I done? I told her fine, trying to hide the fear causing my voice to shake. She asked me if I thought Brown did a fair job with women’s sports. It was 1991. Yes I said, relieved I wasn’t in trouble but still scared this was a set-up. She asked why I thought that and I said well because I get to play lacrosse and there are lots of women’s teams at Brown. Wendy explained our budget from the athletic department did not cover the cost of home game officials and if she did not fundraise, we would not have a program. I was confused. We got sticks and a pair of gray shorts and a t-shirt that was all washed for free on a giant safety pin? I began to think about my boyfriend on the men’s team and all that he got. I had stolen more gear from him than I ever was given as a female player. And he still had ample supplies. While he got turf shoes and cleats, my girlfriend and I would drive to the mall each season with our parents’ credit cards and buy our own, both from the boy’s department. The men had sweats and jackets and shoes and uniforms and extra coaches and more players and, well, EVERYTHING. I saw Wendy’s point and was surprised. Brown did a better job than most schools of complying with the 1971 law passed by President Nixon requiring gender equity for all opportunity. While I was busy being a college student-athlete, Wendy was quietly fighting a battle she had started as a female athlete in the 1970s. She was crusading for the right to play.  A year after that office meeting, a gymnast from Brown filed the first ever Title IX violation. After years of litigation, Amy Cohen won, and had her program reinstated.

The news spread like a hacking cough on a small airplane. One post on facebook, multiple forwards, comments. Former teammates, players, coaches, and friends huddled together to remember. The search for photos, old war stories, a blog written to remember the past.  Friends of mine who have never seen a lacrosse field posted condolences to the news Wendy Anderson had passed away. She had struggled in life, most of it fighting for change. Yesterday morning she lost her ten-year battle with brain cancer at the home of her parents on the Cape. And the passing is filled with irony and mixed emotions.

First and foremost, we are sad for her family and friends, for the end of a life that came way too soon. We are also thankful she is no longer in pain of any kind, finding the peace and wholeness she searched for down here. Death always takes one’s breath away –no matter how long the struggle with illness or age. It can be years in the making or days. Despite knowing we all end up the same way, we are caught off guard when it comes. The finality feels so wrong.  Maybe because it is.  Wendy was a trailblazer for women’s sports. She influenced thousands of female athletes who are changing the way women and sports and the world are viewed today. And for that, I am very, very grateful. 

The Weight of Waiting

She lay there quietly,  sliding her teeth across the top of her lip to release the final strand of skin clinging to the rest. It is a delicate process in the winter, removing the cumbersome shred without drawing blood. It’s like picking scabs from skinned knees in the summer, you go too early or too deep and new blood is drawn. I have never known my grandmother to do this. She tends to figit with her hands, rubbing the thumb along the first knuckle of her forefinger as if keeping time to a graceful waltz. Mimi would sit in a club chair in her living room, under the painting of a Bermuda beach scene. A small tray of crackers and cheese rest on the table with a small bowl of nuts beside. Ice cubes clink against her waterford highball containing the nightly scotch and soda. Cocktails float over gentle conversation about the horses or dogs while I wait, anxiously looking for the right time to ask for a memory, a snippet into her life which seems from a long ago time, one closer to literature than present day. One of my earliest memories of Mimi is from the movie On Golden Pond.  I watched Katherine Hepburn love and push a grumpy Henry Fonda as she belted out “You old poop” and thought to myself, I bet that is what Mimi is like. Until her seventies and the move to Charlottesville, Mimi seemed more like a movie star than grandmother, always keeping the distance but drifting into our lives for a brief visit between horse races in Europe and her pink sand home. Grandmother was not on her list of things to do, mothering wasn’t really either. So we took what we could get, a story about her parakeet she trained to talk or pictures of her jumping Chitter, the horse who stood 18 hands high.

Mimi and I had become close in the late 80s. My teacher had the foresight to assign a term paper in which we would write about a woman in our family to show one did not have to be famous to be a part of history. We were spending Thanksgiving on the farm and I brought a tape recorder and microphone to record the voice and story of a person whose blood travels my body yet I barely knew. I sat on her dressing room floor as she reclined in her chaise recalling a life long lived. The loss of her father at age 4, growing up in Switzerland, Radcliffe, New York City, children, divorce, new life. When asked of her first husband, the one who left her on Christmas Eve 35 years before, she simply said I do not want to talk about it. She skipped over the midlife crisis and stay in Silver Hill mental hospital. While she could not choose what happened in life, Mimi could edit the facts however she wanted.

I had driven to the hospital all morning, leaving my own children behind. It was to be the final trip to visit this 97 1/2 year-old fighter. I made the same drive three years ago at Christmas to say goodbye as her body was shutting down, lungs and heart too sad from watching her 16th dog be put to sleep. It was time. Her husband Bob was blind and hunched, his once strong body crippled by sciatica. We were insisting on selling the farm and moving everyone to where they could be cared for by trained professionals. I was a day late, having been trapped by two inches of snow on Christmas night. Having nursed my own grief with cocktails, I decided my reflexes and the roads were too slippery to set out on the 26th. But she was waiting for me, hanging on, for our final goodbye.

I had never seen her lying down. Unlike my maternal grandparents who had us in their room every morning for snuggles and stories when they visited, Mimi simply came down stairs dressed, ready to be served breakfast. It was a surprise to see her with tubes coming out of her ears and arms, looking frail. But I had been prepared by my uncle and the medical staff who were simply trying to make her comfortable. As the door closed she turned her head towards me and in an affectionate drawl she said “Hello Darling, I am so glad you came. And don’t you look fabulous, not quite so fat anymore.” I knew she was back. Despite the charts and  levels and machines, my grandmother was 100% present and living. We talked for 30 minutes and I listened as she told me the nurses were trying to make her fat. I told the staff and my uncle they were wrong, Mimi would be just fine. And 12 days later she checked out of the hospital and into her own apartment. While her cardiologist could not explain why or how she is living, Mimi got a dog.

But surely this was the end. Now 97 1/2, Mimi had broken her hip, getting out of bed in the middle of the night, for reasons no one can explain. The 17th dog had been put to sleep the week before, having died of cancer. Surely it was a sign and she was choosing her time to go. The animals, the farm, her husband -all gone. The house was sold, turned into a winery, and the possessions divided on paper and sitting in cartons on my parent’s basement floor. I was okay with it, we had already cheated death and said our goodbyes. She was in bed, sitting up in a wool sweater from Trimmingham’s. The wood buttons showed it was an old favorite, the varnish smoothed shiny from years of being pinched through the grosgrain ribbon hole. She and her companion Jamaica were talking quietly. Waiting. The same drawl greeted me: “Hello Darling, I am so glad you came.” (No commentary on the waistline this time. )

It is an odd sensation to sit with a loved one when both know the purpose of the visit. The quintessential elephant in the room. She was frustrated and thirsty, having to deny herself any liquids in case the surgery was coming. The lip dangled as she tried to shred the skin. She looked at me and said: “That tacky woman Helen bites her lip at dinner all the time and now I am doing it. Dammit.” I offered her my lip balm and she cherished each circle around the mouth. As I returned the container to my purse I realized I probably just gave my grandmother the worst cold I have ever had in my life. But what would it matter? She was insisting on the surgery and no one said she could survive.

Mimi and I signed her life away 29 times that day. Each doctor came in, asking questions about how she felt. She was fine, wanted the surgery, didn’t want to be a cripple the rest of her life. When one nurse asked for her birthday as S.O.P she said: “well it was so long ago and I can’t really remember.” The nurse agreed and smiled. With each new medical visitor Mimi worked harder, answering the questions saying I am between a rock and a hard place and I choose the rock. Like me, Mimi will always die trying rather than wondering what if. We talked about life, more mine than hers, and the great-grands -one of whom is her namesake. In a moment of levity, Mimi asked: “If I can, do you want me to come back and haunt you?” Only with advice I assured her.

The doctors came in and said they were refusing to do the surgery. The cardiologists could not recommend it, the anesthesiologist would not do it.  Mimi insisted on going ahead anyway, knowing this was it. She looked at the doctors and said: “what are you scared of? I am fine with going to meet my maker and frankly a bit curious.” As I watched the exchange we both seemed to wonder, will there be trumpets?

We still don’t know. Mimi came through surgery, spent less than 36 hours in the ICU and returned home four days later. A week ago she got her stitches out. Over the weekend, the nursing home tried to give her pneumonia, taking x-rays and putting us all on alert. I am not sure what the obsession is. When she goes, she goes. But in the mean time she will live.

Be the Light!

Ahhh is it any surprise I turn to writing on a day like today? I have been to the news and facebook,and the phone and my kids beds while they are sleeping and even church this morning to hear what could possibly be said about Friday in Connecticut.  I have found a bit of comfort in all those places and tons of grief and pain an anger. It is a senseless act of violence with such enormity of pain and waste of human life and potential it seems silly and belittling to the lives lost to talk about anything other than their sweet little faces and their favorite colors and what was on their Christmas list. It seems callous to focus on anything other than the heroics of the teachers -people we pay $41.38 and hour if we assume they don’t do any work outside of the actual school day- who lied to the shooter while hiding the children in a closet. To focus on those lives is to focus on the light and the good. It is to remain hopeful. And that glimmer of light is exactly what the victims families need. Because right now it seems too hard to even breath.

Do you remember the show Hill Street Blues? I was on the edge of the appropriate age to watch an evening police drama but with an older brother, who was sometimes my babysitter, I managed to see more than my fair share of this great show. The theme song itself  starts with a slow simple piano, making way for a  70s Gerry Rafferty sort of jingly synthesizer, the 80s instrument which was everywhere from Cats to Hooked on Classics volumes 1-19. The hook before the theme was always in the briefing room, officers filing in for a day of work with talk about the day’s cases. In the first 5 years of the show, Sergeant Esterhaus would dismiss his cops and then grab their attention again with: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.” In 1984 a new sergeant put his own mark on the squad. After 4 years of Reaganomics, the opening quote for Sergeant Stan Jablonski became: “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.” Not a surprising shift for the most “me” focused decade in our country’s history.

Today, we seem to be living more of the Jablonski’s way of life. Thoughts like: the world has become so crazy we better stock up and protect ourselves. Adam Lanza’s mother was supposedly a “preparer,” living with three weapons because she was a single woman who needed to be prepared to protect herself and for the end of the world. Ironically, her son used those exact “preparations” to kill her and many others. If we aren’t practicing two wrongs make a right, we have digressed back to an eye for an eye. It will never work, just ask the Romans. We need to take a stance, to demand reform. We need words on paper that change into laws. Stop with the semi-automatics weapons and the concealed weapons or the denial that mental health is a very real and very powerful problem in our country with hidden symptoms and an even more elusive path for getting help. Will this stop tragedy? Nope but if it saves the life of just one 6 year old it is worth it. Just like changing drunk driving laws has cut down vehicular deaths. As my brother  wrote last  Friday “Remember, now is not the time to talk about gun violence. Later is too soon too. After that is too late. Then it’s too soon again.”

What are we waiting for?   For enough time to work for social justice or gun reform or mental health coverage?  For someone else to say sorry first? To admit I have a problem and I need help? To touch your child again.. or not? Advent is the season of waiting. As Christians we wait with bated breath for a tiny baby born in a manger. But the good news is already here so why aren’t we spreading it more readily? We are the difference in this world. We are the light. We are  the shepherds and the wise men and the inn keeper. We are the ones who come as we are, tired and stinky and quirky, traveling great ways on a hunch that one day if we huddle together in a small space, bringing what little we have to offer, that will be enough to change the world. We have to be because we know the whole story from beginning to end. And we know that without it, darkness and sadness win.

If you aren’t Episcopalian, you might not know we have the best church music of any denomination. This is a fact. The word of God is spoken in the lyrics and the tunes created by those such as Handel and Bach are evidence of the genius in God’s creation. Today we sang one of my favorite hymns, #67, Comfort, Ye My People. It is sung in staccato which makes it some what challenging if you aren’t familiar with the tune because you have to arrive on top of each note, bouncing on it like a trampoline rather than sliding thru it. This device makes the music joyous, moving it forward with energy. How fitting for Advent. It seemed a bit happy for today but when I read the words, there could be no more fitting message. I have translated it below but included the real words after.

GOD SAYS: Comfort my people. Comfort those who sit in mourning beneath their sorrow’s load. Speak to them about Jerusalem and peace that is waiting for them. Tell them God covers their sins and warfare is over. Hear the voice of those crying in the desert, calling to us about repenting since the kingdom of God is now here. Obey the warning and do whatever you can to get there. Shape Up! Make straight what was crooked, make the rough places soft. Be true and humble as if you were living with a king (or celebrity idol). Because the Glory of the Lord is everywhere and all of us can see: nothing will break the power of God.

*Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load;
speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet him,
and the hills bow down to greet him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o’er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.



Don’t Be a Turkey

I found a photo between the refrigerator and cabinet. It is curled on the edges and the colors are slightly faded. The scene is from 11 eleven years ago, our large family gathered on the side lawn of my cousin’s house where we gathered for Thanksgiving. It should be blown up, in a fancy frame next to the one from last year, where my grandmother the matriarch sat front and center with half the family. The finding is fortuitous as we get ready for this holiday weekend. The dining room table is stacked high to over flowing. Homemade crostini, wine, Jezebel, nuts&blots made the old-fashioned way, in the oven (with margarine). Parkas, Sunday dresses, and Christmas presents: a step stool, a Jake and the Never Land Pirates boat, a bracelet. The refrigerator downstairs is stocked with dip, cream cheese, sour cream and more wine. We are preparing for a journey, up 95 with the rest of the country. Our “guest” room belongs to our youngest daughter and thus the other unused room in the house serves as the staging area for our trek to Connecticut to see The Cousins. We were a young married couple, from Richmond, the last time we did this in 2001. The last cousin had married the summer before and then the world blew up that September and we were all a bit sentimental to form new family traditions and cement old memories. The Kids Table was taking over, hosting in a younger generation house and all contributing to the meal. We were 17 3/4 strong that Thanksgiving -our hostess giving birth 4 days after the guests left.

I made this same journey every year of my childhood for both Thanksgiving and Christmas to see The Cousins. My mother would lay everything out in the guest room (there were just 2 kids in my family) starting the day after Halloween. Ice skates always went in as my grandfather lived on a pond in backwoods Greenwich and it usually iced over before the turkey was cooked. The adults would don skates in formal Thanksgiving meal attire, ties, blazers, and long overcoats. One year my mother was sure it would be too warm for the pond to freeze so she saved herself the effort of finding our skates in the attic. Mistake: a Nor’easter blew in the night we got there and skating happened the day after. Skates were found for everyone but me, my age 7 sized foot too small. But you can skate in sneakers, especially if they are Zips. They are just a lot more slippery and you have to fall to stop. I have a photo of my grandfather standing in his fur-lined Chesterfield,  holding my hand, letting me glide around him in circles. My engineer father would do major projects on his Dad’s property, getting out the electric chain saw and loving an excuse to chop things down in the woods. Then a photographer would come and capture the moment. Those large groups of people I love, standing amidst fallen crunchy leaves hang on my parents’ walls.

These memories of people, MY people, are strong and rich like a good gravy stirred from the drippings of a well roasted bird. By no means are they perfect. I remember the time my cousin and I punched each other during a game of Ghost in the Graveyard. I was bragging, having evaded her  for a third trip around the house and she was pissed. She punched me and I tattled. We were both sent to her room while the Moms were told by their mother how terrible the parenting was. (My cousin and I were, by that point, upstairs giggling at how silly grownups are). There were the annual money conversations where my grandfather would ask my Dad and uncle into his office, close the doors, and discuss the economic status. I have always wondered what truly was discussed and whether it was straight dictation or a true conversation. The doors would open 30 minutes later and the meeting would adjourn, no details shared with the rest of us. It seemed very grown up too. One year I was admonished from Christmas Eve dinner for giggling, uncontrollably, during the grace. No idea what was so funny I just know the more I bit my tongue to try and stop the more my gut rolled and tears streamed down my face. I didn’t even care I had to skip spaghetti but I was devastated to be allowed out of captivity only to find all the new fangled ice cream treats called a Klondike bars had been eaten by the other kids and the Dads.
And there are the funny stories too like eleven years ago when my husband had so many Dark and Stormy’s on Turkey eve with my cousin Perry, he could barely keep down the stuffing the next day. Last year half of the family gathered in Charlottesville with my 95-year-old grandmother. She is still with us but too weak to make any journey. I feel a bit guilty thinking of her in the nursing home, eating a mooshy bland meal with jarred cranberry jelly. Her mind is still with it at points but I hope she sleeps through the Turkey buffet. She would find it tacky. My oldest daughter and her cousin made a fabulous puppet show and dance. The production was proof, sometimes two chiefs can work together.

Traditions. Why do we do it? It takes a hell of a lot of effort, money, and patience to gather. But I have a theory. I think we keep recreating snippets of our childhood, hoping to modify it a bit, keep the good and toss out the bad. It’s a great big “Do-Over” if you will, the chance to be a better self while still sharing our own imperfections with those who have been added to the clan. It is our glue, the thread, weaving different patterns and fabrics together to fortify us from the dailiness of a crazy spinning world. I think there are some guidelines to a happy holiday so here my suggestions:

1. Spend a lot of time outdoors. Grown-ups and kids. Most towns have turkey trots now. Six of us signed up to run this year. Nothing like 5 miles before a big meal. But if running isn’t your thing, take a walk, kick the season’s colorful foliage, sit in a rocking chair on a porch. Breath in crisp air.

2. Make the effort. To get there. To be Happy. To be Kind. To snap the family photo (not everyone has to be looking at the camera). To make a fancy cocktail, signature dish or whole meal. Get the good stuff out. There are probably enough people around to help with the cleanup. Besides when else are you going to use all the stuff you had to write wedding thank you notes for?

3. Surround yourself with people. Even if you are an introvert. It doesn’t have to be all day. You can curl up with a book for most of the afternoon. But sharing is part of being alive. If you don’t have family and are not a cook, go to a soup kitchen or nursing home and serve food. Find a church service. Share the gift of yourself.

4. Stop to be thankful. For what you have. For what you don’t. If it isn’t what you want, vow to change it by next Thanksgiving.

5. Tired is not an emotion. I have stolen this idea from Glennon Melton and am obsessed. Tired is often a mask for hiding emotions. Emotions are tiring but when we name them and share them -with our selves, our God, or our partner- we have a lot more energy to feel. And that allows us to be open to new, happy memories

Tomorrow morning I will drop the kids at school, fill the car with gas, and pack the trunk. I will assure the dog he is coming with us. Load the ipod, pack the dvd player (it is a ten hour drive y’all). I will fill the cooler with my southern recipes shared by my new peeps: pimento cheese, yeast rolls, pickled okra, and stuffed jalapenos. Swing by Cooper’s for some barbecue because Yankees think barbecue means burgers on July 4. I will check the glove-box 4 times for the E-Z Pass since there are seven tolls between here and Southport. I will remind myself not to yell at the drivers or the traffic. I will triple check the camera is packed. Our crew has changed a bit since the one I just found on the kitchen floor. We have added NINE to the new generation, topping at ten cousins. Bob, my grandmother’s husband is gone and she of course will be alone in Virginia. Greg’s parents will be in Pinehurst. We have added Guy and Lisa. The backyard has changed but my hair is surprisingly similar though there have been many renditions between then and now. I see us on the slate patio with the Long Island Sound in the background. Inevitably someone will not look at the camera. A few will have half-mast eyes. Someone may be fuming from some comment about where to put the gravy boat or water goblets. But we will be together and it will create a new memory for me and my kids. Happy Thanksgiving.




Click. Whirl. Click. Whirl. Click. Whirl. Around and around it goes keeping time better than a seasoned drummer. There must be something in the dryer hiding in a pocket. A coin, a clergy collar stay; a piece of sea glass. Hopefully it is not a melty thing like the blue crayon that turned my dryer into an aquarium diorama  last year. It is the sound of an unscheduled morning, all kids in school, husband at work and the dog lounging on the bed, thankful to have quiet. He seems to like the new temperpedic pillow as much as I do, if only he knew it cost $60 on sale. The weather is cooperating with my mood, a sunrise of orange and gold stripes giving way to heavy gray clouds which threaten rain. A day to stay at home, if not in bed, dreaming of soup and comfort.

The luxury of this time. I was in a meeting last week where we started speaking of the need for quiet and how our crazy busy lives had no time for it. Really I thought…whose fault is that? My first job at a boarding school required morning chapel every day. Assigned seats, coat and tie attire. I think it was no coincidence my seat was directly behind the headmaster’s so he could monitor any snickering or tardiness from me. Once a week the chaplain would conduct a meditation service. All 500 of us were required to sit silently and ponder. For FOUR minutes. It was an eternity. At times I would count to 60 4 times, others 30 8 times. Occasionally I would be transported asking my mind to blank and let myself drift. My point is not that meditation had a profound affect on me. Rather, 4 minutes can be enough. Turn off the car radio. Lay in bed and stare at the ceiling. Sit. 4 minutes. See what happens.

I have been traveling through the valley of the shadow of death lately and it’s not the Halloween decorations around town either. Things that once seemed concrete and known appear more like ghosts wafting in the breeze.  There is a metallic taste in my mouth, a feeling of nausea and hunger rolled into one. Demons of doubt wrestling with dreams and visions I had for my future. Jealousy, fatigue, permanence, cold seep into my brain like a leaky roof allowing the rain to drizzle down, rotting the wood and core of strength. It is an all out gory horror film, this doubting future I am fighting down. With hatchets, and swamp creatures and shrill screams coming from victims as they trip over the stick in the woods. I hate horror movies, gratuitous gore with no plot, predictable to say the least. But sometimes my life feels the same way -fill the calendar up with so many activities and places and things we end up running from place to place screaming at one another. It’s as if Jason and his hockey mask are lurking around the next corner, ready to wrestle us to the ground with a machete. Well maybe not as cliched but the pattern is predictable. Kids too tired to go, insist on going in a rushed fashion. Fight over car seats. Parent one intervenes, parent two sits”quietly” critiquing terrible parenting skills of other parent. Kids continue to act up. Parent two tries “better” tactics, equally ineffective. Parent one proclaims “you just undermined what I was saying”. Kids sense discord among the ranks, ratchet up bad behavior to next level. Arrive at destination, head in opposite directions so as to not interact with cast of horror film.

Have you ever had that? A moment in time when you realize you are not on the right track? That you are really not headed anywhere at all? Just swirling around, things moving through you. And at you. It feels ghostly, as if I am watching my life on a movie screen, unable to stop the unfolding scene. My first reaction is to quit. To get up and walk out, turn the movie off. But then what? This isn’t a movie, it’s life and it keeps going. The three little lives I am helping to build keep progressing forward and they need me, not just as a robot marching through the day. I need myself to have days that coincide more with the voice in my head.

I just read an article about the editor of Food & Wine Magazine. She says all her time is split between work and family; she does not need me time because those two areas are “me.” They are her fulfillment and joy:  sounds like success to me. I do not have my answers, let alone “the” answers but I am finding a dimly lit path. It starts with stillness and conversations with God. It has strong, wise friends who are good counsel and ask hard questions. There is sleep and hugs and warm soup. And a lot less running from scary monsters.



I was supposed to write this blog five days ago when we were all focused on remembering. But I haven’t taken this year’s “first day of school” photo either so let’s just say I am working on my time. At my wedding 13 years ago, we somehow missed the all important Christmas card photo, the one with my family plus Greg. My Mother was crushed and so I said let’s redo it. Redo what? her pragmatic self asked. The shot; when Greg and I come home for Thanksgiving. Let’s get dressed up again and stage the photo in the church courtyard. We did and it was fabulously fun. We got to admire one another and how good we still looked. We laughed at the the funny stories from the reception that had not happened when we were supposed to be taking this shot for real. There was no stress about getting grandparents safely to their pew or checking to make sure all the groomsmen were present and accounted for. We relived the day and the pictures show it. Big grins. And in a way more realistic since the wedding was over but the marriage was just starting.

People have been asking me lately how do I have time to write a blog. Answer is I don’t. But you don’t have time to read one either so that makes us even. But only sort of because I am constantly writing a million blog entries in my head, it only takes effort to sit down and spew them out. But afterwards I feel lighter and more right with myself and the world. Perhaps that is why write and right sound the same. So the week got away from me and I was going to skip writing about September 11 all together because I missed it. But that’s not true. Each summer, when we drive back and forth to Maine I suffer through the traffic of the George Washington Bridge and toll just so the girls can look out their windows and see the skyline of the Great Big Apple, like I did as a girl. IT LOOKS SO DIFFERENT without the twin towers. Do I dare say it looks less impressive? Each year on September 11, I think about when Greg and I lived in Manhattan almost under the shadows of the towers. He gave his first sermon in English in St. Paul’s Chapel, the one a friend from seminary turned into a first aid station because it was in the midst of ground zero, yet miraculously unharmed. I read stories about a man trapped underneath in the subway station, the same one I used to walk Sunday mornings when it was dark and quiet and empty. I thought about my cousin whom I love like a sister and worked for a company whose people were wiped out on that day. She was home, on bed-rest waiting for her first baby to come and watching the news in her hormonal state and losing it. About her brother in a meeting in midtown who saw the plane hit and slammed his notebook and abruptly said (with a few swear words thrown in) I am out of here and ran to Grand Central and got the last train out to Connecticut.

But what has been nagging me about September 11 is my Dad. A man who spent 29 years serving the country in the Navy. A preppy New England boy who wound up in NROTC at Auburn after being stuck at St. Paul’s, an all boy boarding school for eight years. Needless to say co-eds far outweighed the hassle of basic training and he was happy to be in the south although it was a VERY different world from the one in which he grew up. Imagine going from the woods of New Hampshire surrounded only by boys and male teachers from elite families to civil-rights-angry-alabama. My father’s NROTC unit was put on “stand-by” when James Meredith was attempting to enter the University of Mississippi. While Dad’s fraternity brothers talked about that annoying nigger, he was learning how to help the National Guard if the same thing happened in Alabama. I remember him telling this story when I was learning about the civil rights movement in high school and thought how cool my Dad was part of history. When I asked if he was scared or worried or mad or what was he feeling, he shrugged and said, I was just doing what I was told. Doing his duty.

So it should not be surprising to learn he volunteered to help when the plane crashed into the Pentagon. His office was across the six lanes of 395 and he could see the hole from his office window. What many don’t think about is the papers at the Pentagon are not for everyone’s viewing. Whether you agree with that or not is not the point. The area could not simply be opened  to any and all volunteers. Think about how spooked everyone was: we had just been attacked by 4 planes. So my Dad, with a full time job and top level security clearance, took on a midnight shift of cleaning and sorting through the rubble. Many did. Showing up and doing what they could. He did not wear a uniform or end up in People magazine. Most people don’t know he even did it. But he does. And I do.

I remember exactly where I was when the second plane hit. I had eaten toasted pumpkin bread with Greg, Joe, and Sarah at Betsy’s in Carytown Richmond. Greg had dropped me at The Martin Agency and as I walked in our atrium, the three story high tv was showing the second plane slice through the World Trade Center. I remember thinking it went it but didn’t come out which must mean the whole thing must have blown up. I was terrified thinking of my cousins and college friends living in the city and wondering if they were ok. But today a week and eleven year later, I remember peoples lives were changed or ended just for showing up. And for those of us lucky enough to still be here, we could be changed too. By showing up and doing what we can.


The first day of school pictures flood my facebook account. Perfectly brushed ponytails and grins the size of orange peels convey a sense of independence and confidence better than words. The bottoms of our backpacks have traces of sand and salt water fishing in the bottom, now mixing with permission slips and classroom supply lists. The excitement is almost measurable in my girls and the photos of their friends as we embark on another year. Somehow these kids seem to start fresh each August, like squash and zucchini pushing through the late August dirt of a garden. No memory of the scorching July sun or the doldrums of a cold February without outdoor recess.  A sense of wonder and creativity oozes through the toothless grin of my 7 year old as she tries to spread grape jelly on to the bread for a sandwich. “Mommy they should make a spoon-knife combo because the jelly is so slippery.” I agree and explain how the spork was invented for salad bars so why not a spife for jelly? My 9 year old reminded me to sign her agenda -my daily homework- after she turned the lights out in her bedroom, and thank God because I had completely forgotten…already. It is intoxicating to watch their enthusiasm and realize a summer outdoors has created stronger, more independent, and energetic kids.

Beginnings marked with official calendar dates are easy to jump in to -even if I still believe it is un-American to start school before Labor Day. We are participating in a nostalgic tradition marked by supply shopping, perfect-first-day-outfit picking, and jitters as we go to sleep on the last night of summer vacation. I can still remember the crocheted tank top sweater I wore on the first day of 8th grade. I had found the directions in the back of my September issue of Seventeen magazine, the one that weighed over two pounds and came to the beach everyday of the August of 1985. I ripped it out and showed my Mom, the most can-do, hand-crafty person I know. As we walked to the beach with baby oil and chairs, I brought my summer reading assignments (school and magazines) and she brought her needles and cotton thread. Needless to say, I looked incredible with my Esprit turquoise capris, an aqua tank top and my freshly knit sweater, that looked somewhat like a shrunken hammock hanging over my lithe 85 pound frame. The first day outfit was probably the highlight of a school year marked by a lot of lows as I straddled the bridge between big kid and young adult, fighting authority every step of the way. I suppose that too is a ritual, growing too big for an old skin.

I wonder if I can shed some old skin during this upcoming year. The more blogs I read or people I meet, it seems we are all at a crossroads, a shifting from home and babies and chaos to self. Not in a centered, selfish way but in a more exploratory way of: what is my passion, my role, my calling- in this next phase of life. It seems we have just gotten out of the making meals for new Moms vortex and jumped right into bringing cheese straws for a funeral phase. What happened to the middle place? The one where everything is really really good and easy and happy? Did I miss it? Was I too tired or too busy or too angry to notice the nirvana next to me?

The mood in Raleigh is somewhat subdued on the beginning of this school year. There was a bad car accident involving 4 girls, seniors in high school, coming home from a weekend at the lake. Instead of matching folders and spirals to each subject, or passing notes in the back of calculus class, one of the girls is in a coma, fighting for her life. And while it seems almost cliche because this seems to happen every year, either at the beginning or the night before graduation, it breaks my heart open. At 18 I drove around all the time without a seatbelt, it wasn’t a law and the cars didn’t beep to remind you back then. I bet we even swerved off the road and over corrected a few times but still I am here, safe and sound, plodding around wondering what I am supposed to be doing with my life. What a luxury to be able to ask the question! To not have the assignment of sitting in a dark hospital room praying for the life of my teenager. To not be exploring new cancer treatments with my 9 year old or visiting a grave side wondering what my 4th grader would have worn to school had she made it past third grade. To not be starting 10th grade without a Mom who lost her battle to ovarian cancer.

It is all in the perspective isn’t it?

When people ask me where I am from, I answer in paragraph form. I moved a lot. This 8 year stint in Raleigh is the longest I have lived anywhere. So I am not sure why I keep wanting the big question -what will I be when I grow up and what will I do with my life?- to be such a short answer. I will be lots of things, some good and some bad.

What will I do with my life? Live it, because I can.

A Risky Move

It is never a good idea to write about a beloved icon, especially after he dies. It is particularly risky when said icon represents all that is good about the place you live, as a transplant. But bear with me here and I promise to tread lightly. Andy Griffith, or more accurately Sheriff Andy Taylor is a legend, a representative of good clean living, where right and wrong stood clearly on opposit sides of an invisible line. For those of us watching reruns in the turmoil of the 70s, where latch key kids and divorce and free love were being played out in real life, he was an ambassador of morality where things were literally spelled out in black and white.

But going back to the real person, Andy Griffith, it appears much more complicated. Born on the wrong side of the tracks and considered “white trash,” show business was a a way out of town and a destiny which looked less than promising. Perhaps that is why the Sheriff in the show seemed so patient with the wrong doers. While right always prevailed, it seemed to pain Sheriff Taylor to have to punish the culprits who had made poor decision in the 27 minute episodes. It was as if he was saving the bad guys from themselves. And so to did the show save Andy Griffith from himself. When the show left the air, the good appeared to get pushed to the back burner. The human Andy Griffith divorced two times and lost an adult son to drug abuse. It was easier to parent Opie on film where the script was clearly written. How many times as a parent have I longed for clearly written words to spell out a solution to my daughters complaints and issues? But like most Hollywood endings, Griffith got it together, revived his soul and career with Matlock (a show I have never seen) and passed away a legend with strong religious faith, happily married to his third wife. Those of us longing for our own Mayberry here on earth are sure he entered the pearly gates whistling his theme song to Saint Peter.

Information about another public persona was also revealed this past week. Anderson Cooper admitted to Andrew Sullivan -and the world- he is gay. Cooper claims he has never denied or publicly discussed his orientation because as a celebrity and journalist he wanted to keep his private life, private. And while it shouldn’t matter or surprise anyone that the the best looking news anchor who is the younger son of the writer Wyatt Emory Cooper and the artist, designer, heiress Gloria Vanderbilt  is gay, the information is somehow newsworthy.  For someone who has a made a career of uncovering the truth, this does not seem like such a leap. Perhaps he was fearful we would tie Anderson the person to Cooper the reporter? Maybe. As a culture we are obsessed with celebrities, thinking we are one big break or stunt away from being the next star. One only has to watch half an episode of The Kardashians or Jersey Shore to realize no talent -except for showing the world how much air is between your ears- is required. Maybe Anderson Cooper was worried we would become so obsessed with his life, we would no longer pay attention to his work. Valid concern.

It seems we choose what we want to know. The Pa of Andy Griffith Show was always patient but firm; does it matter the off air Griffith was less stellar as a Dad? Anderson Cooper’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina revealed the gripping details of the suffering of NOLA citizens; who cares who he sleeps with? Maybe it matters to some. But what if we used a filter not to judge but to take everyone at their best? What if we suspend disbelief long enough to imagine the scripted sherriff could be the real Andy Griffith? I think God does this for us each day. It’s called grace. He knows we are broken sinners making the same mistakes. But somehow we are given the chance to try again, with a little more patience, more humility. More knowledge. Through God’s unconditional love, we are given the grace to become who God sees us as-perfect in the image. So as you walk about whistling the catchiest of all theme songs, remember the ideal Mayberry may be Mt. Airy, NC but it’s our choice to live it.

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