No Ish in Friendship

What Are Three Happy Words?

Happiness is a personal topic. It's somewhere north of asking about hygiene habits but south of religion or politics. Ask someone what makes them happy, and they’ll have answers.



What is happiness? 

What does it feel like?

And look like?

And is it in our control? 


These are just a few of the questions that my book club and I explored at our recent gathering.


First, let me be more precise. I said book club, which likely suggests toiling over literary themes and the satisfaction of a particular ending or…no. We are not that kind of book club. 


Our club is also not the kind filled with people who gather but haven’t read the book. We’ve all read the book and likely ten others since our last meeting. We’re just generally more interested in each other. We’re friends. 

We have varied lives and interests and philosophies on all sorts of things. Our desire to spend time together is not predicated on seeing everything the same way…but it is firmly based on a fierce respect for each other’s happiness. 


The collective gasp if one of us has been wronged. Tears shed followed by murders plotted if someone or something has messed with one of our kids. Those are common friendship themes explored—whether the book in question obliges or not.


So, it was not one bit of a stretch for me to ask if they’d dive into this somewhat abstract topic when all they wanted to do was pour more wine. I came prepared with scraps of paper and markers. And off we went.

If happiness were an animal, which animal would it be? 


This question was answered with uber speed.

Lab, yellow lab, puppy, sea otter.


Note to self: happiness and animals generally go together.

Three words that describe how happy FEELS…


Now, this where all hell broke loose. Okay, not really but there was a certain level of panic coming from a book club bestie.

“What do you mean how happy feels?” Her look was incredulous. I started giggling as the others stepped in, to give examples of their words. “I was a math major!” she said, as though this explained it all—her aversion to digging in about how happiness felt.  

We had a good laugh as I tried to let my friend off the hook. This exercise was after all voluntary, I reminded her. There were no grades being given, and absolutely nothing at stake.  But she wouldn’t have it. She is a rule follower, by nature. She sputtered before adding her words to the pile.

The final question, by my own estimation, was the hardest. But my happyish focus group did not find it that way.

Do you believe happiness is always within your reach?


Yes, yes, yes, yes-ish (tee-hee).


Score one for decisiveness. 

So, what is the sage wisdom, in this the fledgling stage of my very serious happyish research? 

I’m still gathering data.


BUT I can conclusively state that there’s no ish in friendship—the actual letters are there but they’re in a different order, which may be the point. 


Happiness, for me, feels like...gathering with an eclectic group of friends who show up willing to dig deep and simultaneously scratch the surface of life’s big questions. And it’s a bonus if the book is good too.  



I started to write my annual blog…about summer in the garden. About my amazing tomatoes and the herbs-a-plenty, and the flowers that didn’t flourish but arrived with sparing splendor. I was busy crafting metaphors about my writing and the boys, and time moving on and…


Something stopped me. I just wasn’t feeling it. 


Which is weird because weaving words into sentences—that’s my happy state. And, tending tomatoes and flowers—is my happy place. Throw in my two awesome boys alongside the most loving partner a gal could ask for—and all that should add up to happy with a capital H.


But honestly, I’m more happyish.












Which feels more than and not enough ish.


I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one out here who feels this way. The sheer number of non-fiction books with Happy in their title tells me that there are more than a few of us out here wandering in ishland.


So, I’ve decided rather than fighting the feeling—or the lack thereof, to lean in.

Between now and “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year!” (insert sarcastic laughter), I’ll be exploring the origins of ish and how to get from here to there…and where there even is anyway.


Open invitation…if you’re a long-ago friend from places of origin, or a writing soul that I met while toiling over our craft, or a parent that I PTA’d alongside, or a former or current colleague…..or…..reach out: 

Let’s exploreish this topic together in a future blog. 


In the meantime, please enjoyish these photos of tomatoes from…summer in the garden.

Re-Nesting (It's a Thing!)

The Gambler circa 1980 something

Re-nesting is a thing. And if it’s not a thing, let’s make it a thing. Cause I need something to get me to the other side of milestone May.


Re-nesting is like the well-known burst of domesticated energy right before a person gives birth, known as nesting, but at the stage when the birdling is about ready to be released from the nest out into the world. It’s the conscious act of purging the inevitable clutter associated with the busyness of a full throttle life. (I say “conscious act” because bursts of energy are no longer viable at the re-nesting stage.)


Put simply: Re-nesting is a way to productively use the volcano of unrest associated with saying goodbye to the humans you love most by ridding your life of the crap that’s weighing you down. 


Now that I’ve defined the term (lookout Marie Kondo), let me illustrate what I found during a recent bout of re-nesting—in my basement.


Clothing Time Capsule

It’s hard to remember exactly when the final decision was made. Not to have a third kid. But judging by the clothes I found in our basement—it was around size 7 or 8. That’s when I stopped storing and started on-site purging from the closets of my two boys.


That was almost a decade in, and over a decade ago leaving a lot of clothes waiting in bins. I’d thought about sorting the clothes many, many times over the years. But the emotional fortitude required to peer back in time and then decide what to do with those clothes was overwhelming. 


So, they sat and sat and sat—until the re-nesting began. 


After the many years of angst about the mountain of clothes in my basement, here is what I found: not much. Sorting my sons’ clothes was not nearly as overwhelming or emotional as I’d imagined. The memories lingered, for sure. Some clothes were washed within an inch of their last thread, many barely used, and others I didn’t remember. But the process did not pack nearly the emotional punch I’d been bracing for.


Mid-sort, I reached out to neighbor friend at the beginning of their journey. They confirmed that between their own kids and lots of family, they’d put the clothes to good us. It felt amazing to hand them all over.


Except for a few time-capsule pieces that I’ll saddle the boys with one day. Which leads me to the bulk of my sorting…


WHAT Are Those?

I hadn’t fully appreciated the massive volume of boxes that I’d inherited from my mother over the years until the re-nesting began. She’d brought bags of this and bags of that on her many visits. And I had a vague memory of a large unloading around the time we were moving into our first house, and I was pregnant with my oldest. 


I shoved those boxes into a storage closet and over the next 20 years (yes, 20!), I moved them from space to space, house to house waiting for “the day” when I would give the contents a once-over to make sure I wasn’t throwing away priceless family memorabilia. 


What I did not realize until “the day” that would turn out be a week arrived was that my mother had packed up my entire childhood bedroom without purging ANYTHING. Imagine opening boxes that have been sitting in your basement for two decades and finding…


·      A McDonalds takeout bag of letters, receipts, and random life memorabilia 

·      A Kenny Rogers concert program

·      Every art project you ever made (art was NOT my subject)

·      Every letter ever written you by people ranging from your first crush at summer bible camp, to your deceased grandparents, to high school besties, and people that you haven’t the slightest idea who they are but claim to know you so well that they…wrote you a letter.

·      And your extracted wisdom teeth (yes…you read that correctly)


There was more, so much more. 


After comparing notes with a few friends, apparently, this is a common occurrence—parents dumping childhood stuff on their offspring right around the time of a milestone, like a marriage, or the purchase of a new home, or the birth of a first child.


So, lookout boys, just when you’re settling in…that’s when I’ll show up with your trophies, academic accolades, and art projects from third grade. I will, however, spare you your wisdom teeth. You’re welcome.


Priceless No More

The next category of items was of my own collecting. Décor from the early stages of adulting—when candles meant sophistication and lampshade versatility was a must. 


I found thirty-two lampshades. I also unpacked several candelabras. My younger self was much fancier than I remember and did so much entertaining that she needed different styles of candelabras for every occasion. I do still love a good tablescape but candles and their eloquent holders no longer speak to me. I’m in a tealights and fresh flowers phase. 


Hopefully a young Holly clone happened into the local Goodwill during the week of the purge and found these no-longer-priceless-to-me treasures. If so, they are now swimming in candelabras. 


That Box Is Not Special

Finally, I wish to share a public service announcement of sorts. 


To the person out there who just bought a medium-sized appliance, say a computer or microwave or espresso maker who is contemplating keeping the box it came in because it’s the perfect size for any number of items that you can’t think of at this moment…listen up. This message is for you. 


Take out your scissors and collapse that sucker. 


Otherwise, you’ll store that box for years and years and it will procreate into other similar sized boxes that you’ll convince yourself probably contain priceless something-er-others. Until eventually you peer inside those boxes to find nothing but packing materials and outdated appliance manuals. 


Again, I repeat, take the box to the recycling bin. Now. Like this minute.


And to the other Me’s out there who LOVE to wrap gifts. Maybe you’ve just ordered an item on Amazon, and it came in the most amazing box. What constitutes an amazing box, a non-gift wrapper might wonder? Box lovers know them when they see them. 


For me special boxes are usually two pieces with a top that is a different color than the bottom, it’s made of sturdy material, and big enough to hold a pair of flat shoes or a scarf—and here’s the most important trait—it’s a shape that doesn’t give what’s inside away.


I have a message for THAT person. The box in your hands is not special. You don’t need to save the box. There are plenty (too many) boxes in the world. Another one will come along at the exact moment you need it. Recycle the box. Now. Like this minute.


You’re Winning

If you’ve read this far, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. You likely figured out much earlier than I did to recycle your kids’ clothing as they were growing. You’re probably not hoarding lampshades. And there’s no random wisdom teeth in your basement (that you know of). You are winning, my friend.


But if, like me, this season of milestones is forcing you to unpack an excess of emotion—know that you’re not alone. There’s a lot of us out here sorting. Trying our best to create space for what comes next while honoring the many labors of love that came before.


And unfortunately, there is no special box for that. 


(So, recycle that box. Now. Like this minute.)




No resolutions for me this year. No dry January or cleansing regimens or familiar “eat less carbs” mantra. There was not an ounce of “new me” inhabiting this been-there-done-that girl as the clock struck 2023. 


I was good enough, as is. It was time to listen to the algorithm of middle age. Engage my comfy clothes and find the new intellectually curious binge watch.  


First Sunday of the new year, firm in my lack of conviction, I headed off to church with my people. As we sat waiting for the service to start, I pushed away the to-do list of tasks that had been punted during the “most wonderful time of the year” and let the music overwhelm me. I thought of bacon and mugs of coffee…and…


“Choose a word from the basket,” the pastor said to the congregation. “The hope is that it provides you with inspiration for the year ahead.” Then she proceeded to illustrate through thoughtful example, the many ways in which this practice had guided her in the past year. Nodding parishioners surrounded me. They too had been moved by a word extracted from a basket last year around this time. 


Nope. I would not be pulled back into the vortex of be better, do better. 


I sank further into the breakfasty thoughts and prayed I would draw a universal word that meant nothing or everything. Or better yet one that gave me permission to let it all go, like: acceptance. 


When it was my turn, I drew a card, then passed the basket along to my son. 


“What did you get?” he asked.


How was I to explain to my almost twenty-year old that no matter what this silly word was—I was done with the wanderlust associated with the turning of the calendar page. That I’d said good riddance to the exhausting pile of never-ending expectations that kept us all tethered to the idea that one should forever be and do more. 


He was still staring at me. Fine.


I looked down at the blue card. 


Shoshin. It was oh-so-appropriate that I’d have to look mine up. Later.


“Shoshin,” I said. “What’s yours?” 


“Joy,” he whispered.


I smiled. Joy is exactly what I wished for him in the days, weeks, and years ahead. And a word I gladly would have embraced for myself.


He handed me his phone; he’d already looked up what Shoshin meant. As I read the words, a kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions flooded my bacony brain. 


Shoshin, a Japanese phrase meaning beginner’s mind. An attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions.


My first thought was: Is this some kind of spiritual joke? My second thought was: Is that even possible? 


I generally pull off a can-do attitude. But openness? Lack of preconceptions? I am a person built on intuition. I’m likely to give people and situations the benefit of the doubt, but right underneath is a tiger, ready to pounce. To clean up the inevitable mess that I see everywhere as I plot through my day. 


Not to mention, I just had a birthday—a milestone one—that comes with a lot of life baggage better known as experience. What was the point of experience without the accompanying shorthand of quick judgments?


I dropped the little blue card in my purse, and the service continued. But I couldn’t shake the word and the feeling that Shoshin, along with breakfast, was exactly what I was craving.


Being at the beginning again was almost unimaginable. Was it even possible this late in the game to recognize the familiar patterns of wasted time or impending defeat—and believe that a new outcome could rise? One that I never could have imagined or feared?


Fear lived right alongside my new “no self-improvement” philosophy if I was being honest.


Could beginner’s mind be the pursuit of living without the panic that came with all the experience? Could I face the day with a maybe or even yes attitude, no longer burdened by the obvious patterns of predictable disappointment?


Like the latest software upgrade at work that we were expected to embrace even though the upsides were “in the cloud” and all the very visible downsides lived with us as we scrambled to find our files and the smallest modicum of productivity.


Or the many, many exciting strides I’d made in my first passion—writing—that yet again, recently had resulted in a publishing cul-de-sac, and not the scenic kind.  


How would someone with beginner’s mind approach those scenarios? 


To the software update, Shoshin might say:

“A software upgrade means future capacity for productivity! So what if right now you can’t send e-mails or find any documents? Pause = rest. And when I am finally back up and running, and way behind on every project, with an unrecognizable desktop…that’s when I’ll dig deep and search for questions—ones I don’t even know I should be asking—then listen with an open mind, never once thinking: Was any of this really necessary?!”


To the publishing disappointment, Shoshin might say:

“Trust! You’re getting closer, Holly! Rejection isn’t a no…it’s the universe passing the ‘you’re almost there’ baton. Of course, your stories will find their way into the world.”


The fact that I was contemplating the concept—even if I wasn’t crystal clear on what beginner’s mind truly meant yet—surprised me. I’d arrived a mere hour ago, resolute in my lack of resoluteness. 


Now I was leaving church wondering what would happen if I gave myself permission to view daily annoyances and hard-fought pursuits with more awe and less prediction? What if I trusted that I’d get there—without necessarily knowing where there even was?


The premise excited me—still does. 




 “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”  
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970)


























































A lot of life is spent waiting. For news. The hard work to pay off. For the chips you didn’t eat to tip the scales in the opposite direction.


In its most positive form, the one we teach our kids during the inevitable sideline moments, waiting is a rite of passage wrapped decoratively in words like patience and faith.

In its less glamorous form, waiting looks like a whole lotta nothing, especially to those of us who find ourselves entering, quitting, then re-entering “the busy pageant” where worth is assigned by the lack of time and attention, we pay to ourselves and each other. In that competitive circuit, looking out the window, re-reading a favorite book, binge-watching horrible TV is efficiently labeled as unmotivated and lazy.


But what if the highly motivated, productive people and the slovenly, wandering daydreamers share more DNA than the piano teachers of our youth led us to believe? 


What if


The infuriating nature of waiting was THE common experience that united everyone—the extroverts and introverts, the agreeable and disagreeable, the neurotic and blasé, even (stay with me here) the democrats AND republicans!


What if people in fast forward alongside their idling counterparts, joined idiosyncrasies to create a new brand of waiting? This emerging practice could be known as Effective Waiting and defined as: the harmonious balance of pause and productivity. The practice would be integrated into K-12 curriculums. And humans would receive master’s degrees in waiting from lauded universities. Then, Effective Waiting would become THE top ten trait of highly successful AND completely average people!


Until slowly, over a lot of time spent waiting, Effective Waiting would become ineffective. And a new generation of waiters would necessarily emerge and once again unite over the mind-numbing, life-sucking, you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me nature of…


“Thanks for waiting, your call is important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available representative.”




What if…


NOW WHAT? Wandering At The Edge (of 50)

The day my youngest son began kindergarten, I invited a group of friends—my coveted playgroup—over for coffee. I had the whole morning timed out perfectly.


Will would get on the bus, I’d hit brew on the coffee maker, lay out the beautiful new mugs purchased just for this occasion, add muffins, and voila! The makings of a milestone morning surrounded by the people who’d helped me through sleepless nights, potty training, and deciding that the scootch crawl was developmentally okay.


There was only one problem. After Will got on the bus, I promptly went to our bedroom, with my husband following closely behind, and fell apart. I still recall the look on his face—the visible confusion about what I was attempting to process. 


“Now what?” I asked.


“I thought you were having the girls over for coffee?” he said.


Omg. Did he really think I literally meant “now what?” as in like this exact moment? How could he not feel the enormity? We were at the precipice of all that had come before and all that would come next. Both of our sons were out in the world, spending as much of their waking day with other people as they did with us—with me. 


And to be clear I was the one emotionally dangling, not Will. He’d gotten on the bus willingly, with his too-big backpack of favorite books and snacks. And he’d be home in three short hours. Kindergarten was still a half-day proposition back then. 


I tried again, to have my angst validated as my first guests arrived. “I can’t believe he’s in kindergarten. Now what?”


A parent who’d already been through the paces said simply, “That takes a while. Today just drink coffee.”


Just drink coffee? Interesting perspective—and not that different than Rob’s, just a little less annoying because it was coming from a girlfriend.


The larger point which well over a decade later, I now understand, is that any one day, is just a day. Being the mom of a kindergartner is not that different than being the mom of a kindergartener minus one day. But it is very different than being the mom of a newborn. 


On day one when I gazed at my startled, hairy, handsome son—kindergarten might as well have been the moon.


And on that same day, at thirty-two, the thought of turning fifty was…well…definitely not a thought. I had more important things to do than age. But it happened anyway. 


Are you metaphorically with me here?


If my own personal movie trailer could have prepped me, on that day, for the next eighteen years, I’d have thought…that’s a lot and pretty great. I also would have been prematurely exhausted and confused. 


Life generally makes more sense in rewind. 


I know how lucky I am. To be here, getting older, contemplating twilights. I now appreciate that what comes next won’t magically sort itself out on a random day commemorating the number of times I’ve rotated around the sun.  


And I also now fully embrace that it’s human nature—or at least my nature—to want milestone days to feel monumental. Which is why I’ve stocked up on coffee. And wine. 


For Now

Last summer was a blur…a weepy, sticky haze of emotion. With my oldest just graduating from high school, a global pandemic finally in the rearview (psych!), and my impending reality as a half-empty nester— pride, relief, and fear overlapped like a rubber band ball ready to snap.


Except in the garden. 


Last season was the first year, I cut the fluff. All that remained were the essentials. 


Flowers—for cutting in heaping arrangements.

Tomatoes—for many batches of my ceremonial sauce.

Herbs—because they make everything better.


Out with the squash.

Only dabbled in peppers.

And the addition of a wildflower border in the back!


It was pure joy even if, as usual, by early August the entire garden blended with the wildflowers. Weeds have their own degree of beauty; I now comfortably rationalize.


Then—with the swiftness of a first winter storm, late August moved in. Dorm prep was in full motion and there was finally freedom to fly away on vacation with the fam before we were down a member. Serendipity left me ill-prepared for what came next. 

Covid quarantine. We were among the first Delta variant alumni to utter, “Us? No. We’re vaccinated.” Such idyllic times.


Through those strange, strange days of disbelief and dread, it was the zinnias and tomatoes that kept me sane.


A friend with proximity to medical advice, fielded truly delirious questions like: “If I make sauce, and freeze it, is there any chance that when we defrost it months later that we’ll get Covid?” And “Is there any chance of me giving Covid to my neighbors while outside picking flowers?”


I am indebted to her decisive and empathetic emojis. 


As abundant offers emerged for staples like soup, beverages, reading material, supplements, and the coveted oximeter (much more effective than panic in reading oxygen levels btw), I’d text: pick some zinnias and tomatoes! Scissors on the garbage can! 

Last Summer's Haul

Then, I’d add a paranoid quip like: “Don’t worry, I wore gloves when I took them out there!”


I find humor to be a highly effective delusion-masking tool.


It was an unusual period. Add in that we sent the boys away to their grandparents' cottage because as the kind CDC woman put it, “If they haven’t gotten it by now, they’re safer out of the house.”  Just what every parent mourning her child about to leave for college wants to hear.

Still…as bursts of energy emerged…


I made batches and batches of sauce.

Flooded the house with flowers.

Fielded fun pictures from friends enjoying their zinnias and tomatoes.


What a colorful, juicy contradiction last summer was. Happy running alongside fear, with gratitude the ever-present assist. 


This year, summer’s middle is fast approaching, and I don’t yet have a descriptive. It’s too early to label this full, yet quiet, (where am I?) time. 


Except in the garden. In there, the flowers, tomatoes, and herbs are popping alongside the mostly manageable weeds. Harbingers of a beautiful August. 


Thankfully, it’s always summer—in the garden. And that’s enough, for now. 

This Summer, So Far...