That Time of Year

September should be the official start of the new year. It has all the makings—leaves rustling, pumpkin infused drinks and front stoops, youngsters buying backpacks and oldsters feeling the urge to sniff number 2 pencils. September is the sweater draped guidance counselor suggesting you consider what comes next. 

January is the “Enough partying! What are you doing with your life?” aunt reminding you that it’s time to take down those tacky ornaments and do your taxes after you’ve shoveled the driveway. 

Which is why December is so important. Imperative, really. Sure it’s thirty-one days choked with obligation but if we’re lucky the real-deal moments seep in too.

Like how grandma’s kitchen floor groaned underfoot as she’d lovingly bake that next batch of cookies. There was always a next batch of cookies.

How it felt to hope with all hoping that you were getting that thing. The thing that is now hard to recall but the feeling, the longing, all these decades later remains.

The twinkle of candles and conversation around the table. Time spent listening and praying that no adult would take notice that I—the only kid for many years—was paying attention. I learned a lot by just being at the table.

Eventually when asked, “Holly, what do you think?” I reveled in officially being part of the conversation. And on years when I didn’t have an answer, I’d vow silently that I’d have one next year. An exercise in goal setting 101—more productive than any class I’d ever take in college.

Now, as the person who often sets the table and buys the cookies (didn’t inherit the baking gene) and lovingly makes the roast, there’s a different kind of longing that invades the season.

A desire to linger even when the magic is hard to locate under all of the wrapping. To breathe in time with loved ones still at the table. To pray for the health, happiness and dreams of the future table setters. 

A deep respect for all of the past Decembers. A nagging knowing that this December will soon be in that category too. A child-like hope that January will be kind.

Happy Holidays & New Year!

Where Daisy will be when the clock strikes midnight.

To Weed or Not to Weed? That's the editing question.

Five years ago I was doing a lot of walking with our newest family member. Round and round Daisy and I would go; endless traipsing to drain new puppy energies. I felt like a first time explorer in my own neighborhood, noticing details that I hadn't picked up on before.

Details are matches for the creative mind, sparks to narratives that create a life of their own. Details are different than facts, often quite the opposite actually. 

Take the young couple who at the time had just moved to our street and were attacking their formerly neglected homestead with a vigor that made me tired just watching. From the grace of his wave and her razor sharp stride (not to mention impeccable taste in wreaths), I assigned him to pharmaceutical sales and she marketing. She was this close to a big promotion and they wanted kids but were unsure of the timing. Best to get the house in shape immediately, just in case.

Farther around the block was a single level yellow home inhabited by an elderly woman who’d managed an office at one of the large insurance companies in town. Despite her passion for work, her true love had been her children and husband. But, all had left her, through life’s natural stages of attrition. Now, so much energy went into her tedious day-to-day routines that she was unable to make it to the edge of her backyard where a pesky weed was flourishing, ravaging her carefully appointed row of shrubs.

She would thank, maybe even bake, for a passerby who would just yank that thing. That’s the narrative I’d created as I made my way on to her property. That’s right, I was two steps in with my cute puppy in tow, when reality called. 

“What are you doing? That is not your weed!”

I backed away as only a semi-sane person would do and hurried us on our way, hoping that whoever did occupy the dwelling was out or at least not looking out the window.

I took another route the next day and the day after that. After all, that weed would still be calling my name.

I’ve long had a precarious relationship with weeds. In the garden, I’ve learned to eliminate the almighty weed early in the season. Through much trial and error, however, I now know that it’s best to work around most weeds from the mid-season point on. Neatness can quickly become the enemy of the harvest. 

But, the weeds I detest most are the non-literal writing kind. 

I am a lover of origination. The free flow of getting words down on the page. The internal magic that leaks out as ideas and characters are forming is complete bliss to me.

My “writers block” comes after the first draft is done. Choosing what gets to stay and what has to go is agony. I can spend hours twisting myself into knots over the simplest of phrases. Deciding one minute I’ve struck profound, then the next complete drivel.

Which leads me to a recent coffee walk with two very good friends. We were mid-banter, solving our worlds’ problems when we passed the house, the one level where I’d considered trespassing years before.

“Look at that!” I chirped, temporarily halting motion. “Do you see that tree? That was once a weed. A weed that I watched grow for weeks and weeks and almost pulled but I didn’t and now it’s a tree!”

Luckily my friends know me well and are not phased by my variety of crazy.

The shrubs that were once the yard’s center of attention are now dwarfed by the tree. It’s up for debate if the shrubs and the tree co-exist in visual harmony. What’s not up for debate is if I’d yanked that weed all those years ago, there would be no tree. 

Which is exactly what I’ve learned about editing over these last few years. Sentences become stories that become manuscripts that with luck (and editing) become books when we give protruding thoughts that don’t belong room to breath. 

Like mid-season pruning, editing necessitates a deeper understanding of process, a healthy respect for weeds. 

It will always be more comfortable to yank those suckers before they make a mockery of what would otherwise be neat. But then we’d miss out on the trees.

Summer. In the Garden.

The 2019 line-up: tomatoes, snacking peppers, basil, wax beans, beets, lemongrass, summer squash, zucchini and pumpkins.

This year’s stars? The beets and wax beans. I’ve always had a thing for wax beans—the ones in the can. Salty, soft vegetable candy—that’s how I saw them as a kid.

As an adult, in the garden, they are crisp and earthy, a touch sweeter than their cousin, the green bean. They barely made it into the house this summer for proper cooking. I mostly munched what I picked as I pulled weeds.

The beets were more than fulfilling but I didn’t plant enough. They’re literal, beets. They produce exactly the number that you plant. I have always loved the taste of these ruby gems but feared the cooking, wondering if they were worth all the mess? 

After sampling preparations, I found my stride. Peeled just like a potato, cut into bit size chunks, roasted then drizzled with a little honey, and served on salads with feta cheese or as a colorful weekday side. Yum! Yum! Yum! I no longer fear the almighty beet.
Which leads me to the usual MVPs.

Squash, you are my go-to, eat up space, feel good crop. So what the heck happened this year? You took over, as you always do, decisively invading but wow did you underperform. You were all flower and no fruit. I assume it was weather related. Maybe high heat followed by monsoon rains aren’t your optimal growing conditions? I could research reasons on your lackluster results in articles titled, “When Squash Don’t Produce.” But I’m choosing to acknowledge something more existential going on here. You’re sending me a message, aren’t you, Squash?

It’s time to stop fearing that extra space in the back of the garden and plant crops that I love. I don’t really crave you. I end up giving most of you away to neighbors and co-workers who have a noticeable squash hangover by August 1st. 

Dear Squash:  You’ve served your purpose over the last nine years. Thank you but I won’t be needing you next year. 
Finally, there’s the all-star tomatoes unfurling in waves of color well into fall. I planted many varieties this year—yellow, heirloom, purple cherry, beefsteak. Their pompoms of color have only just begun to pepper surrounding green in a veggie fireworks display. 

Tomatoes are the dessert of the garden, unapologetic in their balance of sweet and demanding. Pulling the gardener back from new season preoccupations. To summer, in the garden.

Postscript: Holidays & Other Natural Disasters

A week before Father’s Day I left a survey on Rob’s favorite TV-watching chair. 

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Just a few questions to help us to better understand how you’d like to spend Father’s Day this year.”

He didn’t exactly roll his eyes. It was more of a “I am so being set up” look. He scratched a few responses and, in less than five minutes, I had a clear picture of what the ideal Father’s Day looked like, to him.

Coffee on the deck with me in the morning; 
Driving range; 
and, a “fish dinner” with homemade brownies at home. 

In the gift section, he circled HOMEMADE AND SENTIMENTAL, an option I’d included as a joke. After all, he has two teenage boys and a wife who doesn’t bake or craft. 

I handed the survey to the boys later that night and said, “I’ll sip the coffee and make the fish dinner, the rest is up to you.”

Guess what?

We did everything on the list. We even watched Meet The Press (no conspiracy involving European football on Father’s Day!) 

I shopped for a smorgasbord of fish and happily cooked it while the guys went to the driving range. John baked the brownies and both boys made a homemade card to accompany the gift Rob had bought himself (smart guy). The boys wrapped the gift in cardboard paper and covered it with their favorite corny Dad mantras, including “Feedback is a gift,” “Power of Now,” and “Happy fall, y’all!” (He says it ALL year.)

Here’s what this little exercise taught me. As much as we think we know what the people we love are wanting and feeling…how could we? It’s kinder and less complicated to ask.

Turns out, “Feedback is a gift,” and there is “Power in Now.” (Even on pesky Hallmark holidays.)

Wishing you a warm, wonderful summer.
See you in the fall y’all! 

Holidays & Other Natural Disasters

Grandpa Gregg, Aunt Linda, Me & Mom
My grandfather was a larger than life, complex figure. He was my champion. He would part the room in my presence, tell everyone that I was his granddaughter, buy me bottomless Shirley Temples and coax me into singing a song or two in random restaurants where he happened to know the guy leading the band. 

Time with Grandpa was like a Frank Sinatra movie meets Little Miss Sunshine.

There was one tradition that happened every (and I mean EVERY) year with my grandfather that confused me to no end.

On major holidays, and especially his birthday, there was inevitably a moment when he would raise his large Grandpa voice and proclaim: 

“That’s it! Now you’ve done it. You’ve ruined my birthday!” 

As the oldest grandchild and usually the only child in the room, he never directed his ire at me. He saved his discontent for the more seasoned children and spouse in the room who rarely raised an eyebrow when his rant came.

I remember thinking: Why is no one concerned that weve ruined Grandpas birthday? 

Fast forward to
A birthday in our household this year (person to remain nameless, wink, wink). We were at a restaurant of his choice after a long day of tennis that didnt end as hoped. The birthday boy looked exhausted, like he was about ready to hop on a red-eye, when he leaned over to me and said, Mom, no singing, right?

I smiled. No, of course not.

Id already asked the waiter to bring a dessert with candles. I hadnt asked her to singso that didnt count, right? And anyway, who doesnt like a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday on the anniversary of their arrival on the planet?

My fourteen-year-old son.

Soon after, our waitress arrived with a gaggle of other waiters and robust song commenced. Heads turning, candle burning. Teenager smiling, the most awkward of smiles.

I leaned in after they left and said, Sorry I ruined your birthday. 

He looked at me, annoyed. You didnt ruin my birthday.

No, but the day hadnt gone as expected and it happened to be his birthday.

I told him the story of Grandpa Gregg. A glimmer of recognition passed through his eyes.

Yeah, you ruined my birthday, he said, this time with a genuine smile. 

Fast forward to

Mothers Day, 2019

Day before had been a marathon workday. I was running on adrenaline when I awoke later than usual on Sunday morning, ready for the onslaught of motherly gratitude.
House was quiet, teenagers still sleeping. A bright gift bag was perched on the kitchen table. 

Not long after, thoughtful husband was heard in the kitchen clanking bowls. Teeing up the love, I asked, What are you making?

Pancakes. Want some? he said.

I dont eat pancakes right now (on middle-aged eating plan) and he knew it.

Its Mothers Day! I exclaimed. 

Yeah, I know, he said, sheepishly.

Ill give you two options of how it went from there

I very sweetly said, No worries, Ill make myself some eggs. Because after all I have three men in my life who routinely show me how much they love me; and Mothers Day is the definition of a Hallmark holiday; and there was a beautiful gift on the table.

I rather robustly said something like, Fine, go ahead and make yourself breakfast, its not like its Mothers Day! and then huffed off into the other room to watch Meet The Press (which wasnt even on because of a soccer game.)

Yup, there was a full-fledged conspiracy involving European football and pancakes to ruin Mothers Day.

I wish that before each holiday there was a questionnaire. A simple survey that read, What do you need this year?

Cause when my kids were little, them sleeping in and me watching TV by myself on the couch with a cup of coffee would have been the definition of heaven. But now, with time flying on by, I can picture a day when theyre not even upstairs and that scares the begeebers out of me.

And some years, like when youre 8 and have a party at Bounce U, youre more than okay with a group of friends singing to you. Then other years, you just want to eat a hamburger and for everyone to leave you alone.
I hope that when Im gone, my kids and their kids will sit around and tell stories involving my sage wisdom and undying love. More than likely theyll have some other memories to haul out too. Ones that involve holidays and trips to Staples and throwing a shoe. 

I get it now, Grandpa. 

Im already working on how to ruin Fathers Day.


I recently had the pleasure of visiting Chihuly Garden and Glass, a museum in Seattle, Washington. I knew Dale Chihuly’s glasswork to be colorful and whimsical; what I didn’t anticipate was the overwhelming experience of taking in his creations one after the other as we wandered from gallery to gallery.

Prior to seeing Chihuly’s work in a collection, I’d only ever observed his large-scale glass pieces in venues that played up their grandeur. Chandeliers in ballrooms or hotel lobbies that screamed: look at me! 

In their native space, Chihuly blends his work with his inspirations. Textiles, photographs, architecture, and nature mingle alongside the glass sculptures they incited. It’s an honor to peer into the world of an artist, to glimpse the well from which creativity flows.
I was particularly excited to learn that Chihuly and I share a favorite flower. I’d never seen the fleeting blooms growing in their wild state before Chihuly’s garden. But, there they were scattering their bold inspiration.

ranunculus | rəˈnəNGkyələs:

Pillowy perfection.
Buds bursting
 This way, that
Pink, yellow, orange, red:



It happens every year. The must sort this and toss that bug. A drive to lighten the load and let excess stuff go. This year it happened early, timed perfectly with the start of a new year.

I tackled the unruly kitchen cupboards first. Why are the serving bowls in with the Tupperware? Making things make sense felt good. The hall room closets came next. Coats that no longer fit. Doo dads that went with other doo dads that weren’t around anymore. Mittens and gloves and…
Rolls and rolls of manila paper. Portraits made for me by Will in preschool. Fifty-seven portraits, to be exact. Taking up space, quite a bit of space, in the back of the closet. 

Memory candy:

As John departed for kindergarten, Will filled-in his big brother’s shoes at preschool. Will had the same teachers, same classroom, same, same, same, so I figured his experience would be the same. Not so much.  

First day, at pick up, his teacher pulled me off to the side. “Will didn't want to do the class craft but he drew a portrait of you instead.” She smiled non-judgmentally in true wonder teacher mode. (Love you, Mrs. Letizia!)

“Wow, look at me!” I said, as she handed me the stick figure drawing. Will was already half way out the door. He didn’t really care what I thought of his drawing; it was time to go. 

“Why didn’t you want to do the craft?” I asked, in the car.

“No one looked like us in the magazines,” he said. 
Aaahhh. Will came out of the womb a fact based guy. When he didn’t see literal cutouts of us in the magazines they’d been given to recreate a family portrait, he drew the real thing to match the reality in his head. 

Rule follower and people pleaser don’t always go together, even at three.

Weeks rolled around and each day he’d come out with the same picture. He’d shove the grayish white paper in my direction, like he was presenting a hall pass to a monitor.

The portraits kept coming for most of that first year. I started tucking them in the closet in disbelief at how quickly they were accumulating. I frequently boasted to Rob that the portraits were always of me. It was hard to mistake the two dots in the center of every drawing. I was the only one in our house sporting those.

A few years after preschool, I unearthed the old artwork and showed them to Will. I pointed to the round dots. “Those always made me giggle.”

“They’re knees,” he said, matter-of-factly.

I laughed, assuming he was embarrassed.

“There was this episode of Sesame Street where Elmo explained which body parts were important and at the end he said, “Don’t forget the knees! Without those your whole body will fall apart.” I didn’t want you to fall apart so I always drew the knees.”

Knees? Knees! Leave it to him to not only remember the episode but what Elmo said.

This year, mid-sort, I showed the haul to a now eighth grade Will, reviving the first day story (which he had already heard a few times). I pointed to the dots and before I could get the next word out, he reaffirmed, “Knees!” Then, recited Elmo’s words with classic certainty.

“So you didn’t want your old mom to fall apart?”

“Everyone falls apart without their knees.” He smiled. “According to Elmo.”

You can probably guess where the portraits are now, post cleaning binge. Yup, right where they were a year ago and where they’ll be a year from now: in the back of the closet taking up as much space as they need.

I considered saving just one or two, since they are all very much the same. But on the edge of high school and college, and whatever comes next…

I am going to need every last one of those knees.