For Me



Before the search for circles of color
And spring shaped chocolate 
Before ooey gooey homemade cinnamon buns 
Made with real butter
I’d run

To the chock full fridge
choked with leftovers and pickles and
Twelve kinds of mustard 

There they’d always be

In shades of
Carnation
Orchid
Lily
Tulip

Polly Flinder smock dress hanging
Thoughtfully I’d grapple
Perfect match or 
Favorite?
Rarely the same

Carefully, finally…
I’d choose
The right one 
For me.


Early on, I’d told him the story.

How my mountain of a Grandfather would stock the refrigerator with single stem flowers and pearly pins in colorful boxes on Easter morning.

The cast of characters would change. But each year they—the corsages—were the same. Well not the same exactly. But there. Like spring’s calling card, waiting.

And so on cue I’d run to assess the selection before ceremoniously informing my grandfather of my decision. He’d proclaim the one I’d chosen: taken. My aunt would invariably pretend that too was her favorite before relenting. Everyone knew. As the oldest granddaughter, first pick was mine.

All those years ago, it was an already out-of-date tradition, one that meant the world to me. Though I don’t think I could have articulated why.

This year on Easter morning I entered my kitchen with mock excitement intended to rouse cynical teens.

“Did the bunny come?” I called out before my senses flooded. A small pink box with a single orchid sitting on the kitchen table.

“For me?” I asked, with familiar anticipation.

The one who chose me smiled.

It looked strange, out of place, lopsidedly pinned on my bright sweater. The corsage actually fell off half way through mass. (How the heck did I get that pin to stay on my dress when I was nine?) But, it felt amazing. 

To be remembered.



May 6, 2000
Happy Anniversary to the guy I'd choose EVERY time!


What's In Your Junk Drawer?



Next to the stove, near the garbage, is where my junk drawer lives. 

It holds:
Indiscernible doodads that could be important (once I figure out what they are);
Items that I’m not ready to let go of;
Instruction manuals that I may read someday (but probably won’t);
Ribbon (who throws ribbon out?);
Things that I know I shouldn’t purge like pennies and paperclips and;
My go-to tool for cutting and tightening.  

I “sort” my junk drawer once or twice a year. Other than that it is largely untouched—which is why, a couple of months ago (deep breaths here), when I opened said drawer and noticed its contents were halved, I panicked.

“Boys, what happened to the junk drawer?”

As you can imagine, my tween and teen stared back blankly. “The what?”

I should have instantly known who the culprit was. My likes things neat husband. 

For people with spouses who leave rooms looking like a tornado came through, I realize this might sound appealing. But, I assure you, this mostly admirable trait can wreak havoc on the natural order—my order—of things.

“You can’t honestly tell me that you’re going to miss anything that I threw away!” he said.

(Deep breaths, deep breaths.) 

What my husband doesn’t understand is that I will now miss EVERYTHING he threw away. Because I don’t actually know what he threw away! That’s what makes a junk drawer a junk drawer—there is no need to overthink the contents because they’re safe in their “place.”

There was only one thing to do…

Sort through the trash in dramatic fashion, with my husband watching, so that he could see firsthand what golden fodder had inadvertently been tossed.

A magnet we bought right after John was born that says: “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow!” I mean, really? Is that not sage sentiment?

A pile of dull, eraser-less pencils. I definitely would have pitched them on a routine clean, but you better believe with an audience, those suckers were sharpened and put back into homework circulation.

Other priceless items…too meaningful to remember…were saved that day. Along with a renewed understanding: Keep your hands off my junk drawer!

My reaction surprised even me. The daughter of a “collector” I vowed early to minimalistic ways. A family member once asked, “Are you moving?” years into us living in our current house.

I believe in purging. But, I guess I believe in holding on too.

After all, I spend chunks of my day examining my writing junk drawer. Musing over scraps of memories and inclinations that may prove useful someday.

Wading through:
Experiences that instruct who I am today;
Foggy recollections that hold pieces of emotion still yet to be explained;
Hurts that rarely serve me well, except on the page;
Glory days (the proverbial ribbon of life) and;
My treasured notebook.

It’s important to have a place where the junk of life—priceless and otherwise—hang out until we’re ready. To let go of those eraser-less pencils.


So...what's in your junk drawer?


All Because I Couldn't Find A Chaise

I was young, though I didnt feel it, and determined to try something new. An unchartered mode of expression to get those creative juices flowing.

My outlet of choice: Upholstery 101.

What better way to spend two nights a week? Especially after Id relegated our pre-marriage furniture hodgepodge to the basement, leaving our living room mostly empty. 

Id upholster us a fashionable space! Where to start? The answer came to me while flipping through a Coastal Living magazine.
A chaise! Bigger than a chair, smaller than a sofa. A chaise would take up some real estate in my cavernous living room and go perfectly by the awkward picture window. And, provide a resting place of solace to read and sip and write and dreamand…where does one find a chaise? One preferably with amazing bones, like the one in the Coastal Living photo?

I scoured tag and estate and garage sales with not a lot of luck, none actually. Until there in the classified section of the paper I saw it. Like a personal message just to me. The word, in a laundry list of offerings: antique chaise for sale!

The next morning I arrived early. Or, so I thought. The garage sale proprietor looked puzzled when I inquired. The what? Oh. No. That sold.

Who knew there was another soul out searching for a chaise? Dejected, I turned to leave.

But, I do have a baby grand piano. Want to take a look?

Um. Baby grand piano…chaise…not at all the same.

It was time to admit that this search was over.

Sure.

Moments later, I was doing the polite thing, asking myself, What is the appropriate amount of time I should spend so as not to offend this woman and get the heck out of here?when I was ushered into a very full living room and saw it. 

The piano. It instantly took my breath away. 

Im trying to make room so I can move my mother-in-law in,she explained.

I called my husband, We dont want a piano, right?

A what?” 

Baby grand piano. Its really beautiful.

I bought the piano, then immediately had buyer's remorse. 

What did I just do? I bought a piano?! All because I couldnt find a chaise?

Perhaps the most profound disconnect of this impulse buy was that I dont play the piano. My piano-major-in-college mother had insisted I take lessons, but I was so bad at it that my teacher used to let me sing (that I loved) while she played.

Rob did play growing up. There is much family folklore about the hours hed spent practicing to the dismay of his siblings. But in all the years of dating and marrying and moving and babies, Id only ever heard him tickle a chord or two on my mothers upright.

We did not need a piano. We needed furniture and diapers and baby doodads and better insulation andit cost as much to bring the piano home (turns out moving a baby grand piano is not so easy) as it did to buy the thing. 

But, there the beautiful piano sat, in our otherwise empty living room. Rob did start to play again, a bit. My mother played every chance she got, filling our home with music on each visit.

Then, not that many years later, my mother (Mimi as the boys call her) began to bring books, introduce lessons and simplistic songs to both boys. Before long these tutorials transformed a passing love of banging on the pianoto a pursuit for then four-year-old Will.

Today, the beautiful piano, rarely stands idle too long. Between Will’s profound quest to get the next piece off of the page and time spent accompanying his brother (turns out John loves singing like me), the piano is at the center of what we now call the music room.” It shares space with a bass, a ukulele, a banjo, a guitar and a trumpet. Theres a comfy couch in there too, one not upholstered by me.

I never did learn to upholster anything more than a footstool. Wasn't my thing. Or, maybe I didn't give it the time. 

But, heres what I have learned in all that time since...

It all works out for a reasoncan also mean You dont need a reason for it to all work out.

It just does. As long as you keep your eyes open and wide. 

Because most decisions are like the piano. Life gets built around them, making the journey infinitely more interesting--way better--than the original picture you had in mind.


American Girl

I’ve seen them pop up on Facebook. Maybe you have too? 

Sort of tacky, sort of cute, mermaid blankets made of everything from alpaca fleece to woven polyester. So when my sister suggested that my niece Rayme might like one, I enthusiastically began the search. The procurement of girly things fills this mom of boys with instant holiday cheer. 
After consulting several websites, I found one on Etsy in my niece’s favorite color: teal. Two shades of teal, in fact. Oh! What shopping delight! Until I clicked Add to My Cart and this is what appeared:

“Don’t forget your American Girl Doll! Bet she’d like one too!”

“No, no she would not!” I screamed at the computer.

I have for some time possessed an illogical disdain for American Girl Dolls. I have absolutely no right to feel the way I do. I don’t have girls and I am too old to have partaken in the craze. I’m from the Cabbage Patch era. We knew they were ugly and we loved them anyway.

I do, at some level, realize that American Girl Dolls are harmless…maybe even slightly inspirational? But they cost SO much money and are trying SO hard to be every girl in a ridiculous stereotypical way that renders them Barbie without the boobs (in my ever humble opinion.)

However, I do know someone who has an American Girl doll…one that she loves VERY much. My niece, Rayme. 

I was introduced to her doll last summer while enjoying a beautiful sunny day.

Watching Rayme cradle her beloved in a towel, I asked, “What’s your doll’s name?”

“Isabelle.”

“Tell me about Isabelle. She’s kinda quiet.”

“She likes to dance and sew.”

(Insert dramatic throat clear here. The one that sends my sons running.)

“Dancing and sewing?” I repeat.

“Yeah. She’s a really good dancer.”

“That’s cool. Someday she may like other things too. In addition to dancing and sewing.”

“I don’t think so.”

Persistence is deeply embedded in our family tree.

“Isabelle might be a surgeon, or a scientist who cures cancer, or the first American Girl Doll President! You never know. She should keep an open mind. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Isabelle likes dancing and sewing. Just like me.”

Like mother, like daughter. Who could argue with that? Not even me.

“She’s lucky,” I said. “Cause you’re pretty amazing.”

Rayme smiled, knowingly. “Can you watch her while I go swimming?”

“Of course,” I said. 

Isabelle and I spent some quality time sunning ourselves. She told me about her dreams to be the first Broadway dancer to sew her own costume. I made her promise that she would always eat three square meals and not give in to the worldly view of what a dancer should look like. 

It was a good, casual chat.

I clicked: Add to My Cart again and bought Isabelle a mermaid blanket too. One just like her mother. 

That is what Christmas is all about, right? Showing those you love how much you love them, just as they are, just as you are—which in my case means flawed and perpetually pushy.

Besides, this Christmas while we’re roasting chestnuts around an open fire, sipping hot cocoa, I’ll hopefully get some more time with Isabelle. Further opportunity to pummel her with possibility, future President and all of that. 

And, I’ll need Isabelle to stay warm. Because this may take a while.

Postscript: 

Isabelle now plans to dual major in Dance and Neuroscience. 

And, she LOVED the blanket.





Focus


Two Thursdays ago, 7:30 pm.

I was:
In my car, waiting for my son to wrap up his robotics meeting;
Eating a leftover sandwich (dinner);
Texting my sister;
Adding “Order Balloons” to a to-do list;
Obsessing about something I’d just said in a meeting;
Pondering the future of my publishing career;
And listening to “This Is Where We Live” on the radio.

The topic was “How to Be More Creative” and the guest was the “Director of Mindfulness” at local insurance giant, Aetna.

(I’m paraphrasing here:)
“We think having multiple e-mails open at a time while listening in on a conference call is multi-tasking. But, what we’re really doing is skimming the surface. And, that’s not conducive to creative thinking,” Mr. Director of Mindfulness said.

Uh-yup.

I put my phone away and turned up the radio. For the next 29 minutes I listened to words and concepts that I already know but continually need to be reminded of.

As the show’s jingle signaled the end of the program and 8 pm, I took my phone back out and texted my son: Done? Time to go home!

Five minutes later, with no response, I got out of my car and went inside to the “engineering paradise” that is my son’s robotics coach’s basement. Coach was wrapping up their meeting, giving them their homework assignment, reminding her team of the upcoming meet and all of the work still yet to be done.

The doorbell rang. She continued. The doorbell rang again. Her son asked, “Should I get it?”

“The person will figure out to come in,” she instructed. “That’s what keeps us from getting stuff done. Distractions. Focus, it’s important.”

Sigh. Clearly the universe was not giving up on its tutorial. 
Multi-tasking makes daily life go ‘round, obviously. There’s not a human among us, man or woman, that can run a household, raise kids, have a career, or care for an aging parent without mastering the art of doing this on the way to that. 

But when it comes to creating (writing a novel, forging a political movement, finding a cure, programing a robot) doing multiple things at once usually accomplishes one thing: Nothing.
Focusing isn’t easy. The rewards often aren't immediate. Other endeavors may suffer and it can feel like (gulp) wasting time.

My entire adult life has been one big trust fall exercise with time. (And, I’ve spent more time on the ground than in its loving embrace.)

Last spring I had the honor of being a Writer-in-Residence at the Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard. My assignment: finish the second (or was it third?) draft of my young-adult novel.

I love goals. Goals are teddy bears for the achieving soul, soft spots on which to rest an inexhaustible quest for accomplishment. Proof of time well spent.

Up at six, I’d re-read what I had written the day before and tackle one new chapter, reward myself with coffee, two more hours, shower, more writing, maybe lunch or a snack, and more writing. Then (because there were some really amazing writers sharing the space) I’d attempt to casually make dinner plans, not giving away any hint of how desperately I needed to speak to a human. 
I had warned everyone back home that I’d have limited access to the internet and e-mail. It was just me and the page, and…

On day five, I physically could not write anymore. Worse, I didn’t want to write anymore. And that was scary, because my love affair with words is one of the great loves of my life. 
I called my husband. “I’m thinking of coming home.” 

“Yes! You really should come home.” That’s what I wanted him to say. But, he didn’t. Because he knows me. 

“Go for a walk. Go to the beach. Go out to lunch. Step away from the desk.”

The next morning I slept in and then took a drive. I stopped at a local library and signed up for a drop-in young-adult book discussion. I tried again. 

Still, something wasn’t right.
I changed the point of view of the chapter I was working on;
I wrote really bad poetry;
I stared off into space;
I read the first few chapters of the already published young-adult novel in my bag, and then…

Admitted to myself that one of my main characters was in need of a major overhaul. I’d strung traits together that were too much like real people I knew, making my character wishy washy and boring.

And, so I began—playing. Mind-mapping. Writing new passages. This exercise set me back, moved me temporarily further away from my goal. But I did it anyway, because I had the time.

The residency taught me that more time doesn’t always produce more. But, it can produce better. It also taught me that being present to a task is different than setting a goal. 

Goals are dictated by time. Focus demands a faith that what we’re doing, with our time, has value.

And that, in a nutshell, has always been the issue for me. Giving myself permission to value what’s important, to me, with no guarantee of success or worldly approval.

Which leads me back to my son’s robotics team. They’re developing a prototype for a hybernaculum to save the bat population from White Nose Syndrome. Turns out that the number of bats in the world has dramatically decreased due to this syndrome and therefore bugs carrying devastatingly dangerous diseases like Malaria and Zika have flourished.

This team of kids, in addition to programming robots, gathers multiple times a week to tackle issues beyond the scope of quick understanding. Make no mistake about it—they’re trying to win a competition. But they’re also learning skills that will serve them well into their adult years.

How to focus. 
How to tackle a complex problem, together.
How to trust that their ideas have value.

Whether or not they ultimately win the prize.