Right Now

A Friday night, on the eve of the holiday season:
Volunteers and silent auction items are in place. It’s showtime for the annual fundraising gala benefiting a local charity of choice. 

It’s not until the guests begin to arrive, that I realize much planning has gone into this night, but not into what I’m wearing.

As I witness the drooping neck lines and flowing dresses multiplying around me, I see: “You go girl!” And: “What? This old sparkly thing?” And: “Reporting for volunteer duty! Let’s get this show on the road.” (That one is me.)

I am in a pencil skirt, fitted turtleneck and cropped blazer. Not casual, not dressy...not fun. Why did I feel the need to look more Barbara Bush than Michele Obama tonight?” 

A friend approaches and immediately I see that she has shed the volunteer Mom garb and is rocking a playful black dress. She looks stunning.

“You look fabulous!” I say, as she reaches me. 

“I’m overdressed,” she leans in, “And, I have turkey arms.” She then shakes her arm to show me.

I shake my head and laugh. What are the appropriate words to convey sincere confidence?

“Glass of wine?” I ask.

She nods and we are off, together, in pursuit of liquid courage.

The next morning:
I wade through pictures of holidays past, in search of images for a “look how far we’ve come” montage for this year’s holiday card. I decide this route is the path of least aggravation after wading through the one thousand pictures (no joke) on my phone and not finding a single image that rises to Christmas card level.

The first envelope I open sports shots of John and Will surrounded by pillows. John is almost two and Will is not yet one. I am immediately transported to a time when capturing the Christmas photo was a day long endeavor (minus naps and feedings of course). 

The boys are propped on each other and pillows with pops of red. Knowing the back-then me, the hints of red were surely chosen to suggest the sentiments of the season.
That me was always tired. Come to think of it, so is this me. 

There are probably twenty photos of my cherubs (remember the days when you HAD to print them all?) Will looks like he’s either scared out of his mind or going to take flight, and John is the cool older brother with a “you know I could drop him, right?” look. 

Viewing the slices of history one after the other, I can hear myself: “Okay, look at Mommy. Look at Mommy. LOOK at Mommy!”

It’s a funny thing to witness stages long gone in pictures. Life looks softer, less serious. I never ended up using any of these pictures, opting for a photo from a later session. I now see I could have used any of them. They’re priceless. 

I spend another minute reminiscing and close the envelope. I dig my phone out of my purse and vow to find something in the current archives.

Ten years from now, I won’t care that the image is slightly blurry or that Will is wearing neon green sweatpants or John is rolling his eyes in a newly pre-teen kind of way. That will be what prompts me to remember. This season.

And next year, I vow, I will flaunt an “I’m here because I want to be!” outfit at the annual gala. 

Because here, right here, is where I want to be. Turkey arms and all.


It was a simple class assignment. Interview an adult about a time when someone helped them out. A purist exercise in who, what, when, where and why.

“A big moment?” I asked my son, John.

“Whatever comes to your mind first; that means, it was important enough for you to remember,” John said.

I began to dig deep for a ‘Lassie saving me from the well’ moment in my past. A magic memory when a stranger or a loved one turned my life in a new direction or saved me from impending doom, or...

Was kind.

Two immediate memories zoomed in. The first was an old neighbor from way way back, when it was just my mom and me in a little brown house on a hill. 

And in true, ‘I walked to and from school in ten feet of snow fashion,’ may I add, in those days in Upstate NY we routinely were clobbered with extreme snow. It rarely made the news, but it always meant digging out.

And so, it was Mr. Waterman, my then seventy-something year old neighbor, who quickly came knocking at memory’s door.

“Well, there was a man, when I was about your age. He was older but he had a snow blower and he--” I began.

“Is this the guy whose house smelled like old newspapers that you used to visit and listen to his stories?”

I nod. Apparently this wasn’t the first time memory had summoned Mr. Waterman. 

“Well, Mr. Waterman used to come plow our driveway when there was tons of snow and I just remember how it felt to look out our front window and see him, a frail older man taking the time to help a single mom and her daughter. Because if he didn’t come, it was me and Mimi out there. And the truth is, it was mostly Mimi.”

John looked up, not sure what to do with that story.

“Okay, I just thought of something else. I was living in my first apartment in Boston and I was by myself on Easter morning, because I had something going on at work the next day and my family was six hours away. My college boyfriend and I had just broken up. I remember that because I was sitting around in my pajamas feeling sorry for myself, when the doorbell rang. It was a little girl, who lived in the apartment next door, whom I’d never really met, holding an Easter basket, for me. ‘Happy Easter!” she said and handed me the basket.”

At this point, I glanced over at John, whose eyes were rolling back in his head. 

“Thanks, Mom. Got what I need,” he said.

I don’t actually think I made the cut; pretty sure he ended up consulting his dad for the “real interview.”

But the conversation got me thinking, really thinking about the many many good samaritans I’ve known. Strangers who stopped to help me in the rain, when my car broke down on the side of a major Boston highway. Co-workers who invited me into their home when I was new to town and knew no one. My now sister-in-law who had the vision to inconspicuously set me up, at my own party, with her brother. 

Still, it was telling to me that it was Mr. Waterman and the little girl next door (whose name I’m not sure I ever knew) and their simple acts of big-heartedness, who first popped to mind, all these years later.

I think Maya Angelou knew what she was talking about, when she said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Proof, that long after the details get fuzzy and the years blend together, how it feels to be the beneficiary of someone’s unsolicited kindness...remains.

Walking the Dog

“Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass.” --Walter Pater

That quote hung above my desk, at the well-known art museum where I worked, in my late twenties. I’d left a highly creative environment in advertising where autonomy and spontaneity reined, for a much more stoic and formal atmosphere. And while centuries of creative exploration adorned the walls of the galleries downstairs, they had very little to do with my day-to-day duties upstairs, I quickly found out. 

Somewhere during that time I discovered that quote and it resonated. It was the beginning of me, defining for myself, what art was and my relationship to it. And so, when my mind would lock in a mental maze of regret, or worse, boredom, I would make the time to walk amidst the Monets and Manets. To let my mind wander, before returning to my 4x4 “office” overlooking a concrete wall.

The quote was my reminder: Take a walk.

These days, a quote isn’t necessary to remind me to walk. Now, I have Daisy, my furry affectionate, not-a-labradoodle labradoodle (fodder for another blog). There’s nothing like a four legged companion to dictate strolls at the beginning and end of the day. Walking a dog, like writing a book, requires routine dedication. Regularity helps things along.

When Daisy first arrived at our house, I read all the books. The ones that tell you exactly how to train your new pet. In each volume, there were chapters on walking. Instructions on how to show my new pup who was boss. But the endless steps required in a day already full of obligation, left me just wanting to walk, with my dog. So I did. 

Consequently I would often have to run to keep up, leash tugging against her collar. Finally, one day on a whim, I dropped the leash while frantically grasping the handful of treats in my pocket, in case she darted and I needed to will her back.

But instead, a funny thing happened. Daisy looked up at me, as if to ask: "What’s up?" Then, miraculously kept stride by my side. That’s how we’ve walked ever since. I’m pretty sure that was the intention of all the instructions in the how-to books, we just got there a little later, in our own way. 

The other night, on a right-before-bed trip around the cul-de-sac, Daisy abruptly stopped mid-walk and looked up. Which, of course, caused me to stop and look up too. There we stood, both transfixed by the most amazing full moon. I might have dutifully taken her out, mentally checking the walk off the to-do list, never seeing the bright orange harvest moon hovering above me, had it not been for Daisy. Dogs have a magical way of guiding their masters too, I’ve found.

Yes, these days, Daisy, comes to me proposing frankly that I give nothing but the highest quality to my moments as we walk.

And for that I am eternally grateful. Because all these years later, I now know just how fast those moments pass.


Many moons (and jobs) ago, a friend and I had a saying: “The mums are out.” It was a simple but clear message, summer was almost over. 

These days another routine event symbolizes a shift in our collective family season. The start of the school year.  

As that imminent date approaches, Rob and I have learned that taking a vacation, toward the end of August, affords us the ability to hang on, a little longer. Stiff cool breezes and the occasional “not quite a beach day” accompany us but it’s worth it...to pretend we have the power, to make summer stay.

This year we headed to Little Compton, RI to a house perched high on a hill overlooking a semi-private beach. It was the ideal location to savor summer. 

On day one as the boys took their first of many early-evening dips, I challenged them, “You swim along the shore, while I walk to the lighthouse.”

I pointed toward the tall structure in the distance. The picturesque dome glistened in the almost setting sun. 

I walked, they swam. But before long, Will was practicing one of his swim team strokes as John dutifully tried to catch up with me.

“It’s okay, just swim, we’ll get there tomorrow!” I yelled from shore.

The next morning, with Daisy in-tow and coffee in-hand, I began my early morning stroll. The beach looked different than the evening before, the sand was no longer visible. Our stride was somewhat labored by shifting rocks and shells. Daisy stopped frequently to sniff, her senses awash in seaside glory. We slowly made our way in the general direction of the lighthouse. 

A few minutes later, I heard feet.

“John? What are you doing up so early?” It was a stupid question, John is always up early but somehow I’d thought: Maybe, just maybe, on vacation he’d sleep in.

“To the lighthouse?” he asked.

“To the lighthouse,” I confirmed.

We talked as we walked. About his upcoming ascent into middle school and my latest manuscript. (John is an excellent sounding board.) But as we approached the final leg, conversation stopped. There was a now obvious obstacle in our way. A rapid current pumping a semi-shallow pool of water into a nearby outlet.

“We’ve got this,” said John, still in his pajama pants. 

“Um,” I pointed to the pants. He rolled them up.

We plunged in and before long were knee deep. But Daisy was having none of it. She plunked herself down, in the middle of the water, her nose barely visible, in protest.

“I think we better try this later,” I said. We turned around.

The next day we ventured off-site on a sandy beach adventure. The day after that it rained, a welcome break from sun and surf. And, the day after that family joined us. It was a full, fun vacation.

On the final morning, as I packed the contents of the cupboard and analyzed the leftovers in the fridge, I realized: We never made it to the lighthouse.

The clock read 6:37 am and John was, for once, still asleep. I tip-toed into his bedroom. 

“John,” I whispered.


“Want to go to the lighthouse?”

Five minutes later we both quietly crept down the rickety steps to the beach. The tide was, for the first time all week, on our side. The shoreline was wide and sandy, clearing the way for easy passage.

“What was your favorite part of the vacation?” I asked.

“Surfing,” he smiled. “How about you?”

“The rainy day.”

The minutes flew by and too soon we approached “the lighthouse.” Which wasn’t actually a lighthouse at all. Our desired destination was, in reality, a massive house dangling off the ocean bluff, with a lighthouse-like turret. Probably the master wing of what looked to be a seven thousand square foot house. Just before the home’s perimeter, a mound of rocks stood as a barricade to casual passers-by. We climbed the rock pile and gaped at the mansion beyond. No longer craving to go any further.

“This counts, right?” John said.

“Yup,” I said, as we turned around. “Time to go home.”

And it was. Time. To pack away the beach toys, wipe off the sand. Time. To pick the tomatoes, buy the mums. 

Time. To let go, of summer...

Deep in Summer

I’ve never been a light packer. Just ask my husband who usually ends up lugging my bags to and from, asking, “What did you bring?” 

I vowed to do it differently this time for our 24 hour, just us, excursion to Block Island. A change of clothes, a bathing suit, and my notebook. (I never leave home without my notebook).

Sitting on the ferry, we position ourselves on the deck and bake in the ninety degree heat, graced by an occasional breeze. It feels like we are traveling far far away, or at least that’s what I imagine as I watch the boat let go of the mainland and all my daily responsibilities. 

When we arrive on the island, I am surprised by the volume of people waiting at the ferry for guests or to board. It is a Tuesday. Our fellow vacationers seem to know exactly where they are going. 

Not us. We walk in the general direction of where we think our B & B is, and on the way stop for lunch at an oceanside restaurant. Clams dipped in butter, glass of cold white wine. Yum.

Next we find our B & B. It is charming but quirky. We drop our luggage, don our suits and fill our little cooler with necessities. It is then I notice Rob has a book. He is vastly more prepared, than I, for the beach. The downside of “packing light.”

Luckily, as we depart our “cottage” I spot a little library across the street. Rob is busy picking two chairs from the provided pile. “Be right there,” I say, and head across the street.
Approaching the front door, I see a small cart of books and my heart flutters with anticipation. Book sale?

“There’s more inside,” a fellow rummager offers.

“Thanks,” I say.

I pause for a moment realizing I am in my bathing suit with nothing else on but a t-shirt. And, I am carrying a cooler with a bottle of wine sticking out. Classy, very classy. I just hope the expanded book sale cart is right inside the door. 

“Can we help you?” a friendly librarian inquires.

“I was told there were more books for sale?”

“Down those stairs, Room B.”

“Thanks.” So much for “right inside.” 

I travel into the depths of the public library and can hardly contain my excitement upon entering Room B. Shelves and shelves of books from every genre and time period. I wander aimlessly, a bit overwhelmed. A sign reads: Books $1.

Uh-oh. I am carrying a cooler, not a purse. I pour through the front pocket of my whale decorated bag and thankfully find a wad of three singles. 

I’d left Rob five maybe ten minutes ago, carrying our chairs to the beach and am pretty sure by now he’s wondering where I am. I need to choose quickly.

I looked at the shelf in front of me and see:
The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
Always wanted to read that one.

Cupcake by Rachel Cohn
Never heard of it but love the cover.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
I am pretty sure I saw the movie but never read the book. (Hate when I do that.)

I make my way to the front counter and hand the dollar bills to the friendly woman. 

“We’re having a sale today, three books for one dollar.”

What? How is this possible? I resist the urge to return to Room B.

“What are those?” Rob asks, as I approach with my armload of books.

“Some books I found at the library right across from the Bed & Breakfast.”

“We’ve only been here an hour, how’d you swing a library card?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” 

“Not really,” he says.

I lay the books on my lap. Where to begin? And that’s when it hit me. It’s my turn. To play agent. These three authors will have to win the right to have me read more...in just one sentence.

“A cappuccino cost me my life.” 
Great first line...want to read on, but this game has its rules.

The Witching Hour:
“The doctor woke up afraid.”
Um, okay. Why?

Like Water for Chocolate:
“Take care to chop the onion fine.”
This first line thing is stupid, I decide. New rule: Read the entire first chapter, then decide. 

Back to Cupcake:
I read about Cyd and her new life in New York City. She is having second thoughts about her decision to part ways with her high school sweetheart. She sets out in search of a truly great cappuccino and is disappointed. And so am I because by the time I finish Chapter 1, I don’t care about her search for self or her cappuccino quest. Go to Starbucks, I think and am immediately embarrassed by my judgy mid-life reaction. Let’s face it, I’m just not this book’s demographic. 

Moving on...

The Witching Hour
Secretly I know this book is my beach destiny. It’s thick and meaty and Anne Rice wrote it, for God’s sake.

But by page two I can’t figure out if the Englishman and the doctor are having a conversation or the doctor is remembering the conversation. And are they in New Orleans or California? No wait it says the California man. 

“Are you reading all three at the same time?” Rob asks, looking up from his book.

“I’m conducting a test. These authors have the first chapter to win me over. It’s like I’m the agent and they’re the client.”

“May the lightest book win.”

“Ha ha. I’m taking them all home.”

I continue reading The Witching Hour. It is interesting but requires more brain power than I have on this day. I find myself thinking of our dinner reservation. Do I have time to shower? Do I need to shower? Where is my literary dedication?

Moving on...

Like Water for Chocolate
The first page is full of descriptions about food and cooking. It is pleasant and magical, and then:

Tita knew perfectly well that all these questions would have to be buried in the archive of questions that have no answers.

I read the line again and then stare at the ocean. I think of Room B. Of all those books on the shelves. Of my own, not yet on the shelf. 

I read on (and on and on).

“We’d better get ready for dinner,” says Rob, looking at his watch, quite a while later.

“All I need to do is throw on a skirt,” I say, still reading.

“I guess you found the winner?”

“Yup. Just ten more minutes,” I smile.

And for ten more glorious minutes, I am lost. Buried, actually. In the archive of beach reads from seasons past. Pondering questions that have no answers. 

Deep in summer.

To Each His Own (Tomato)

“What’s the point? By tomorrow they’ll be back,” says my eleven-year-old after weeding a row of tomatoes, in our garden.

“Yeah but in the early weeks we have to show them who’s boss. The weeds get less ambitious as the summer goes on.”

I’m not sure if that’s true, but that’s what I tell myself, and now, my son. It keeps me going. It is slightly illogical, after all, to toil over an amateur patch of dirt hoping tomatoes and squash and peppers will spring forth.
He’s been out here, with me, from the very first year. Listening to my stories about gardening when I was his age, digging the holes, harvesting the fruits of our labor.

Last year, he asked me point blank. “Mom, are you sure this is worth it?”

Every year I vow that I’m going to add it all up: the hours, the supplies, the water...and see in quantitative terms, if it’s “worth it.” But I never do. Because, well, who has the time when there is so much weeding to be done. And, if I did I’d most certainly come to the conclusion that it’s more economical to just march myself to the grocery store. 


Can you put a price on a homegrown tomato? Or, a sunshine yellow squash? Or, a piece of pumpkin art from your very own patch? Don’t think so.

I garden because I want to. It’s that simple. Call it a post-forty right of passage. Suddenly the fact that nothing is guaranteed, including time, becomes crystal clear. And choices on what to do with free-time do too.

I would never choose to camp my way across the country. But each year millions of people do just that. To each his own. 

Finding “what we want to do” with the time we are given, is no easy task. But most of us, if forced to rate our daily to-do list in the same manner in which our eyes are examined at our yearly check up, “number one or number two?” would know in an instant, what tugs at us. 

And then the work begins. 

Degrees are earned, books are written, gardens are grown, one course, word, and plant at a time. It’s a buggy, weedy mess, pursuing what pulls. But it sure is worth it, most of the time.

It’s a life lesson I’d love my offspring to learn sooner than later. 

Currently their life’s landscape is largely defined for them. They don’t get to choose whether they do math or read each day or learn a foreign language. But someday, they’ll decide if any or all of those things, matter, to them. 

Already my youngest son chooses to play any sport that involves a ball, spends countless hours learning jump rope tricks, and is teaching himself the ukulele. 

My oldest, the (hopefully) aspiring gardener beside me would rather perform for hundreds of people, ride his bike by the hour, and watch re-runs of Murder She Wrote.

“One more row?” I plead. 

“We better get some good tomatoes this year,” he says.

He already knows. There’s no guarantee that the tomatoes will ripen. And even if they do, they could have the dreaded blight like two years ago. But odds are at least one or two plants will ripen on cue, sprouting the unforgettable taste of summer. 

And I know. With each weed conquered, he’s one step closer. To a garden of his own. 


Last summer I tried, more than usual. To make my flower beds flourish.

As is well documented in this blog, I am a vegetable gardener. I like getting my hands dirty, watching my food take shape. Flowers require knowledge of what goes where. They’re finicky and bring out the perfectionist in me. And so I choose vegetables. 

But last summer we hosted a family reunion. My clan was slated to spend many hours over a three day period in August, cross-generationally catching up in my back yard. Full flower beds were a necessity. 

Insecure about my flower growing abilities, I started early. I planted and prodded, and kept careful track of the balance of annuals and perennials. Of proximity and color families, of timing and then...

About two weeks before the festivities, the dog days of summer set in. A heat wave cast its magic spell, flowers drooped, many bit the dust. My beds lacked their intended pops of color and were decidedly unimpressive. 

I began frantically taking-out and shoving-in new plants, finally following advice that had been given early-on by an accomplished family gardener, “Plant three times what you think you need!”

And it worked. My flower beds, if only fleeting, were a vibrant backdrop to “days of yore” conversation, lawn golf, and many many meals. 

Fast forward to this year, early May. 

As I wait for the kids to get off the bus, I stare at patches of green, starts of stuff, not a color in sight. I have no ideas what’s what. And, thankfully this year it doesn’t really matter.

It’s like after you wake up from a long sleep and yesterday’s coifed hair-do is a haphazard beautiful mess, that works. Until it doesn’t. (Which for me is usually about an hour after I decide a shower isn’t necessary).

Weeks from now, with the sun beating down, this season’s plants will be purchased, watering regimens analyzed, and weeds will inevitably emerge.

But for now, my flower beds just are. Growing slowly. And I get to watch and learn. What took hold, what didn’t survive the winter. And it’s beautiful, in a green nothing and everything kind of way. 

It’s ( finally) spring!

Poscript Pic:

What a difference three weeks make!

(Not) In Vein

“Where are you going?” I ask. 

“The lab for blood work,” he says.

“It’s 6:45 am.”

“Lab opens at 7.”

“What blood work?”

“From my physical yesterday. Routine stuff. Want to come?”

“Sounds fun.” Who wants to get blood work at 7 o’clock in the morning or any time for that matter? 

“I’ve had the same slip, you know, from my physical three months ago,” I say with snark. 

“Who doesn’t get blood work done when a doctor orders it?”

“Me. I hate getting blood drawn. They can never find my veins.”

“Come on, it’ll be a date.”

Worst idea for a date I’ve ever heard of. 

“What about the boys?” 

“They can handle an hour here by themselves. You know you want to.” He floats me a flirtatious, goofy look, then takes matters into his own hands.

“Boys, your mother and I will be back with bagels in an hour. Call us if anything comes up.”

I throw my coat on in disbelief, over what I’m not exactly sure. Maybe the fact that we have an eleven and nine year old that can actually be alone for a little while. Or, that I am like a horse being led to slaughter to get my blood drawn. Or, that after fourteen years of marriage, getting blood drawn now constitutes a date.

Before long, we are in the car. “Which one are we going to?”

“Downtown,” he says.

“The one on Western Boulevard is less crowded.”

“Baby we’re going downtown.” He leans in, “It’s closer to Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Alrighty then. 

Soon we are “downtown” climbing the stairs to the second floor clinic. A familiar nervous pit now fills my empty stomach. He opens the door to a half-filled room of kindred early birds.

“Told you,” I whisper. We get in line.

“Good morning,” he says, to the white coat wearing human behind the counter.

“Sign in please,” she says.

I follow behind him, ready to sign too but I see he’s written Holly & Rob Howley.

“You’re a real Romeo.”

“Play your cards right and I’ll buy you a coffee.” 

Five minutes later, a woman holding a clip board calls, “Holly & Rob Howley, Room 2.”

Wow--is this a thing? Couples getting their blood drawn in tandem?

“That’s us,” he says, taking my hand. I follow him into Room 2 where he proceeds to get into a full-blown conversation with the woman who is about to poke us with needles. I sit silent. He is done in what seems like four seconds.

His new friend turns to me. “You’re up.” She cracks some corny joke about being extra careful labeling the vials. “Imagine if they drew your thyroid levels off your husband’s blood?” She and he laugh. Blood humor.

“Okay, I’ll see you in the waiting room.”

Seriously he’s choosing this moment to abandon me?

“Your husband’s a nice guy,” she says.

“Yes, much nicer than me,” I say. 

She laughs.

Ice broken, I add, “I hate having my blood drawn. They can never find my veins.”

“No problem. See this?” She taps her name-tag. It says Sue, Phlebotomist. “Veins are my specialty.” She then goes on to tell me all about how the word ‘phlebotomy’ means to cut a vein in latin and how latin is a dying language and then something about today’s SATs...and then:

“Okay, we’re done.”

“Done?” Even with the vein cutting latin explanation, that was quick.

“Yup, you are good to go. If you have time,” she hands me a small card with a web site. “A survey.”

“I’ll give it to my husband, he’ll actually fill it out.”

She laughs.

“How’d it go?” he asks, looking up from the paper.

“Coffee, please.”

We drive to get the boys bagels and us coffee, and then begin our trek home. I am in disbelief when I see the car clock and realize it’s only 7:37 am. “Wow that was quick.”

“Quick is my speciality,” he winks.

Oh brother.

“We could make this an annual thing,” I say.

“I vote for more frequent,” he says, eyebrows raised.

"That's what all the men with big veins say.” I smile.

Aaahhh life at forty. Full of mixed metaphors, phlebotomists and fun. And coffee, lots of coffee.