Mid January

Two weeks and more than 30,000 words—100-plus pages—have poured from my mind into my computer. I still don’t know what it will all amount too, but it’s coming out. Doing deep dives into memory, talking to friends who were there to verify times, places and happening, and then spilling all the emotion onto the page. It’s catharsis.

I hold hope for the seeds planted these winter days.

2017

It’s 6 am the second day of the year and I am up alone, in my office. The sky is grey and dim out the window, the barest hint of the day on the horizon, silhouetting the bones of the dormant deciduous trees in the yard. If it were a Bob Ross painting, it would be a cool little winter scene using pthalo blue, liquid white, and van dyke brown. But there would a little golden light on in the tiny cabin.

My heater is at my feet, warming my space while the rest of the house still sleeps. I can feel the deep, rhythmic rumbling from Tiberius, snoring on the floor in the boys’ room.

My mind is overflowing. I’ve been writing. Seriously writing, more than I have in years, and while I am just beginning, it’s as though the tiny chink I chipped from the dam unleashed a flood. I go to sleep with words swirling around in my head, and I wake up with paragraphs and memories and sentences that require me to rise, and get them out.

There’s no telling  what’s good seed and what’s chaff, I suppose that’s to be sorted out later, but I’m more than a little surprised at the deluge of words cascading over me. I wasn’t prepared.

New York City, Part II

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So… Jon’s and Jeffrey’s Christmas present was their trip to Green Bay to see the Packers play at Lambeau. My Christmas present? I got a weekend in New York City! Jon held down the home fires while three of my girlfriends and I met in Manhattan to celebrate one of us having an important birthday. It ended up being an absolutely fantastic weekend.

Until this year, I had never set foot in New York. This year, I have been three times, and I am utterly won over, and I can see why people fall in love and move heaven and earth to live there. I still don’t think I’m a city dweller, but I can absolutely see the appeal- and if I were younger, and sans kiddos, I’d be easily swayed. I love walking everywhere, taking the subway, having everything, at any hour, at your fingertips. It’s a crazy, enticing, swirling, amazing place to be.

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This is the cheese counter at Mario Batali’s market. I stood there, the old California cheese commercial from my childhood running through my head, imagining if I won the lottery (if I played the lottery) that this would be one of my first stops. I did by a small wedge of Vela dry jack and carried it with me all day, snacking off it.

Midtown was a mess because of the Secret Service detail now assigned to protect the (unfortunate) president-elect. Part of the congestion was just Christmas foot-tragic, but here were also extra police, barricades, and a heavily armed assault presence visible. It was a little disconcerting, to be honest.

We went to Trinity Church for Sunday services, and were fortunate enough to be there for the fourth Sunday of Advent. I wrote up how I felt at BCC, if you like that sort of thing. It was stunningly beautiful, and we visited the famous inhabitants interred there prior to the service.

We walked about a million miles, managed to see two Broadway shows (because I know amazing people who have amazing connections, and I am so freaking lucky!), ate amazing food (street and otherwise, because serious, is there better food anywhere?), and spent a cold afternoon at the Met. The museum, not the opera. And I may or may not have burst into tears in the early twentieth-century American arts and crafts wing. I need about three days alone in the Met, just for future reference. One afternoon doesn’t even scratch the surface- I never even got to the paintings!

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But we had to be back towards midtown, where we had another show to catch that night, and it was pretty important…

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Yeah. I know. I know its not fair. I know. I do feel bad. I did honestly ask if there was another friend who might deserve the ticket more than me… but when it comes right down to it, you’d have probably said yes, too. I don’t regret sharing this experience with my amazing friends, celebrating one of their birthdays, crying and laughing together, getting late-night dinner after the show at Juniors. It was such a beautiful New York night.

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Merry Christmas Eve

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Here we are again, another trip around the sun, sitting at the nadir of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere at least- nod to my Southern neighbors) where light has waned to the longest night, only to have the sun be reborn on the solstice, the Solar King to rise again with the tide of the year. That’s one of the reasons we celebrate the birth of the Messiah at the winter solstice- just in case you were curious.

Christmas Eve has always felt like the holiest day, much more than Christmas itself. The night, pregnant with possibility and hope, holding the world at bay for just a moment, is where the real joy and peace lie. I relish this time. The subtle hum of electric excitement in the children, even as they’ve gotten older and less chaotic. The anticipation of what is coming— and while we experience that temporally as presents, it’s really our spirit keying in to something so much more important than new Lego or Beats headphones.

On this night, we acknowledge that darkness triumphs only briefly, no matter how long or how dark the deep winter night. Watch the skies, track the stars, do the math (yes, math! it’s how the Magi knew!) look for the light rising on the horizon, it returns. It always returns. It grows and gathers strength, rising first and shining best.

The sun is reborn. The Son is born.

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Painting “Nativity” by Brian Kershisnik

Day 27: Grandparents

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Resuming the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Twenty-Seven.

Where to even start. My very first memoir piece was about my grandma. My memories of her are deep and vast, and she is associated in my subconscious with safety, love and softness. She was flawed and imperfect in a million ways, but she was also a place I always knew I was safe, and she is woven through the years of my life in strong and visible threads. There are reminders of her everywhere in my home and in my heart. Abigail is named for her, and I took her surname when I got divorced. I was wrapping myself in that security, even thought she (and my grandpa) were long gone.

I didn’t know my grandpa as well, but what I did know of him was legendary. He was not a small man, either in stature or personality. He, too, was deeply flawed and imperfect, and they divorced before I was born. But they never stopped loving each other, that was clear to anyone who knew them. Grandma would always twinkle, even as she would call him a sonofabitch. Jack would refer to her with a tenderness he reserved for few others, always calling her by her full name.

I have two more sets of grandparents, but neither informed my life to the extent of Kathryn and Jack. My biological paternal grandparents were unknown to me until I was an older child, and I got to know them a little bit in their later years before they died. They were deeply kind and good people, and regret I didn’t get to know them better. Their home was full of artwork and photos of me my mother had sent them over the years. It’s kind of surreal to realize there are people who love you, who have loved you, for years before you knew of them.

My other paternal grandparents were more distant- not for any reason besides the fact they traveled extensively and were almost always on the road to somewhere. My memories of Virginia are of holding her hands, riddled with arthritic bumps, but remembering how soft they were. She died when I was young, and my grandpa rapidly remarried- several times. I don’t remember all their names, but I do remember when his big fifth-wheel would be stopped at our house, on his way to somewhere new, or returning from another adventure.

Day 26: Daily Tasks

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Resuming the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Twenty-Six.

There aren’t very many things I *have* to do each day… I’m both fortunate and cursed by that reality. The way I’m wired is I am what appears to be fallow for stretches of time, and in crazy bursts of creativity and productivity, I get *everything* done in a short span of time. Then I sit back and appear fallow again. The truth is more complicated, because what looks like a sleeping field is really a calm surface with a million micro-movements happening invisibly. But I know how it looks.

So back to my days. I write every day. I feed my family every day. I put things off every day. Until suddenly I don’t. Most household and mothering tasks I find neutral. I neither love nor hate them— I am fully cognizant of the fortune of having modern appliances and a comfortable, warm, safe home from which to run my family. I don’t mind laundry- it’s pretty easy to stuff my machine full of similar colors and push a button. In an hour it’s all clean. That’s pretty awesome. Folding it, on the other hand…

Does anyone else have a Laundry Chair in their bedroom? I throw the clean, warm laundry on the bed, fully intending to fold it, and then at bedtime, I realize “Nope. Not happening.” and it moved to The Chair. Sometimes we repeat his little dance for days on end. The kids have their chores, but they’re pretty simple- unload the dishwasher, put their (occasionally folded) laundry away, clean the bathrooms as assigned, feed the dog.

The daily task I actually enjoy is cooking.

Being in the kitchen, dicing, chopping, slicing, prepping mise en place, stirring bubbling pots of alchemy, all things that calm my swirly mind and bring me happy peace. I love my good knives, my heavy cutting board, my beautiful island with the maple counter, my kitchen full of well-loved and well-used tools. My kitchen, while small, is organized and utilitarian, and while I occasionally curse the lack of cabinet and counter space for multiple projects, actually works very well for what it is. Just remind me of that next time I curse as the spices fall on my head when I open the cupboard…

Lambeau Field and Snow…

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So remember what I said about trading buying stuff for having experiences? The trip to New Orleans was part of that- my attempt to say “yes” far more often to things outside my comfort zone. I’m also encouraging the kids to do the same.  So… the day after we got back from New Orleans, Jon and Jeffrey got on (another miles-free) flight to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

My uncle holds season tickets at Lambeau Field- and he has since 1954, when his parents were original investors in the Green Bay Packers. I honestly think when Jon learned this is when he decided he would marry me. Apparently, this is a very big deal to football-y type people, and both Jon and Jeff were beside themselves with excitement. They spent the weekend with my uncle and cousin, on the frozen tundra of Green Bay.

I wasn’t there. I stayed safe and warm at home. I watched on TV and I got the play by play from my boys, until their phones died or their fingers froze, I’m not sure which was first. The Sunday morning of the game, Jon texted me, “Today, football is being played the way God intended it-in the snow, in December, at Lambeau Field.” I don’t think he’s ever been happier- though he did wear his Broncos hat. Jeffrey more than made up for it with the Packers swag. It snowed the *entire* game.

I’m so grateful for family. The picture of Jeffrey with my uncle and cousin are three of the four McKay men (Bean is the only one missing), Grandpa Jack’s descendants. I’m just so happy this happened.