I fell down the stairs today.

I am not old. My bones are not yet brittle. I found myself, tumbling the entire length of our long staircase, landing in an undignified thud at the bottom. I couldn’t stop it from happening, even as I watched the walls fly by, my shoulder banging into the wainscoting, and my tailbone hitting the landing. I think I made a frightening noise, because within seconds, all four kids and the dog ran to me.

I was dazed and confused for a few moments, feeling my body, trying to discern if I was actually hurt, or just rattled. I think, were I a couple of decades older, it would have been a potentially catastrophic fall. Now, hours later, my shoulder is sore, my lower back is tender, and three fingers on my left hand hurt quite a bit—though I don’t recall how that happened, I must have jammed them. I also skinned my elbow. I am otherwise sound.

It’s got me thinking though—or as Carrie would muse, “I couldn’t help but wonder…” how much we depend on each other to make it through this fraught mortal journey. When we are young, we are supple and flexible, and usually surrounded by people who love us and are watching out for harmful things we do not yet understand. As we get older, we are full of the hubris of young adulthood, stronger still, flexible, and brave. I’ve come to believe this belief is necessary to function when we starting out, otherwise the perils of what might come would paralyze us.

As we get older, we can start to see what all the fuss is about, all the things from which we were protected when we were younger—and even the dumb luck that may have graced us over and over. We look at our parents with new eyes when we ourselves become parents. “Oooooh, I get it now, mom…” as we watch our own hearts walking around outside our bodies for the first time. How does one even live this way? I don’t know, but the locus our bravery is forever permanently moved outside of us.

It’s like the ever-opening lotus. For the first time today, I felt my own fragility, and my children felt the unfamiliar rising of their own strength and bravery in the possibility—even in the inevitability—that mom was breakable.

We’re like waves at the sea. We each have our out path to the shore, swelling, growing, cresting, crashing, rushing up the beach, and gradually ebbing back into the eternal sea. I  notice my own mother’s hands looking more like my grandmother’s hands each time I see her. I notice my own hands staring to bear the gentle signs of years of caring for others, knitting, cooking, writing, and living creative life. There are veins that once were deeper, skin that is more translucent, rings that spin under my knuckles.

And life goes on.

I hope I don’t fall down the stairs again any time soon. Or maybe ever.

Material Culture & Daughters


You will die. You will not live forever. Nor will any man nor any thing. Nothing is immortal. But only to us is it given to know that we must die. And that is a great gift: the gift of selfhood. For we have only what we know we must lose, what we are willing to lose… That selfhood which is our torment, and our treasure, and our humanity, does not endure. It changes it is gone, a wave on the sea. Would you have the sea grow still and the tides cease, to save one wave, to save yourself?
—Ursula K. LeGuin

Disheveled and disgruntled as only an 11 year-old after a tedious school day can be, Abigail flopped into the raveling thrift-store chair opposite my desk. It’s everyone’s favorite chair; threadbare on the arms, an earthy green brocade with sea-blue weft threads, thick and heavy cushions worn to the shape of humanity with time. She stared over my shoulder out the window, opened to the unseasonably warm January afternoon.

I let her be, alone with her thoughts, keeping one eye on her as I quietly wrote. Her gaze shifted to the wall over one of the bookshelves lining my tiny office. A linen tapestry hangs there, embroidered with blue morning-glories. “Did you make that mom?”

I look at the piece of needlework, flashing briefly through dozen different walls in my homes on which it has hung. “No, I didn’t. I bought it at an estate sale decades ago.” I have reached the point in my life where I still feel young enough, but it’s possible for me to say a sentence like that and for it to be true. Decades ago… I have lived enough time now that decades ago seems close enough to touch.

“Why would someone sell that?” she asks, admiring what surely is familiar to her. It’s hung nearby her whole life. The fine linen square, once intended to cover a small table, is now covered in late-afternoon rainbows from the prisms hanging in the sunlit window.

“Hmmm.” I stop typing quietly and regard my daughter. Her hair is deep brown like her grandmother, but she has my wild cowlick on her hairline, splitting her bangs forever into disarray. Her eyes appear brown, until they are hit by sunlight, where they show their true deep green. I think the Punnett square precludes a brown-eyed daughter from two green-eyed parents I smile to myself. “I don’t know why anyone would get rid of something so pretty. And it’s not just that it’s pretty, it’s an example of material culture. By material culture, I don’t mean fabric—though it is fabric—I mean the things women make that denote their own histories.”

As I suspected this would, it piques her interest. She is so bright, and so interested in what is happening around her. She moves through the world in a bit of a cyclone, trailing bits of paper, glue, ink, rocks, sand—anything that has captured her imagination this week. We discuss women’s history, and how the gatekeepers of what we know as history have often been men, and women’s work is historically quieter, harder to find, but it’s there. And this is why I buy linens and samplers and recipe cards at estate sales. Some people don’t recognize this for what it is: women’s history, speaking just as clearly as the trumpeting of men, but quieter, and requiring eyes to see it.

She looks at me, her mind visibly rolling these stones over. “Is this why you write, mom?”

My heart flutters. “Yes. This is why I started writing, for certain. I was a young mom at home, not even pregnant with you yet, and I wanted a connection with my grandma. I missed her, and while I have things that belonged to her, I didn’t know what she thought, what she felt, when she was home with three little girls. So I started writing.”

“It’s kind of weird that there’s a record of every day of my life on Dandelion. I mean, I like it, but I don’t know anyone else who has something like that.” She is relaxed, staring out the window again.

I smile at her over the tray of pens and papers and candles on my cluttered desk. “Yeah, I guess maybe it could be weird. But it belongs to you, this story.”

“I like it. I like reading back over the stories of when we were little. I like the memories that are there. I like knowing dad is there, too.”

I nodded at her, resting my chin on my hand and closing my computer.

We talk quietly for a while about history—mine, hers, her great-granmother’s, and about my idly imagining someday, maybe someone, would find what I thought would be a humdrum life interesting. She laughed. She already knows that’s not exactly how things worked out.

“I’m hungry.” She peels herself from the great green chair and circles the desk to lean on me, her version of a hug, and kisses the top of my head. Our enormous dog trails behind her in hopes she will bless him with scraps of her snack as she heads downstairs.

It’s time to introduce her to Laurel, I think.

Changes & Random Crap

IMG_1042I’m going to whisper this, because it’s so monumental, I don’t want to jinx it:  Bean wore jeans to school today.

Levi’s 501 button-fly original jeans. I know that’s not even worth mentioning for most kids, but this is a child who, at 14, has never (ever) worn anything except the softest sweatpants (no bumpy seams!), snug velvety leggings (which have morphed into athletic compression tights as he’s gained teenager size) and shorts. That’s it. He’s never worn any other type of pants.

He used to cry if his pants were “flappy” and couldn’t tolerate anything that tickled his skin. Last week, Jon and I found a pair of Levis on clearance in his size. They were dyed a bright turquoise, which made me think perhaps he’d give them a shot. I left them on his bed, and left him alone. Last night, while I was in my office, I overheard Jeffrey explaining how to manage the button fly and showing him how to fasten them up. I held my breath, but said absolutely nothing.

This morning, he got up, and instead of putting on his fancy pants, or his party suit, or his tights, he put on his 501s. He came into my room and asked me to help him cuff them, and then went happily off to toast his English muffins like he’s done 5,110 other mornings. He did wear a tie-dyed shirt—I mean, we can’t be getting too crazy.


In other news, I am in the stage of writing a book where the writer does everything humanly possible to avoid sitting down and starting. Jon called me out on it earlier in the week. “I see you’re trying not to write.” he observed, as I was fixating on fixating the under-counter cabinet lighting in the kitchen. Jerk.

He’s right. There’s a new book fermenting, and I don’t want to do it. Why is it so painful? Why does it have to get to the point where not writing it hurts more than finally giving in and putting my butt in the chair? Be a writer, they said. It’s so much fun, they said.

Speaking of, I am the guest speaker at a book club this Saturday night. If you’re in the DC/Metro area and want join us, message me. (this actually is one of the fun parts of being a writer…)


So government shutdowns suck if you’re a federal employee. There’s a crap ton of misinformation and propaganda out there about government jobs, and it’s mostly wrong. When the government shuts down, it hurts the lowest paid workers the most. Congress all still gets paid, but the janitors, cafeteria workers, office assistants, secretaries, cooks, and even the regular white collar jobs? They don’t get paid. They may eventually get paid when whatever they are fighting over passes, but there is no guarantee. There is also no way of knowing how long a shutdown will last. How many of you could make it three weeks on no income and still honor all of your commitments and bills? It’s incredibly stressful and the people on the bottom rungs are the ones who are hurt the most.

In this shutdown this last weekend, I know people who had to come home from vacations they’d planned a year out, because all scheduled leave is canceled and recalled in a shutdown. Transit and airport employees don’t make a lot (salaries are public record, look it up) but they had to buy last minute tickets home to report for duty, on their own dime, to a job they didn’t know if they would be paid to do. Consider that. Think about what that would do to your finances and family budget. If they had not come back immediately, they would have been AWOL and could have been arrested. That’s what a government shutdown means on the ground to regular workers.

It’s not all mid-six-figure salaries and fat cats. It’s blue collar workers living paycheck to paycheck trying to take care of their families. And it’s millions of them.

We’ve got to find a better way move this country forward.

I support CHIP fully, and I am grateful it’s been funded for 6 more years. It’s the only civil thing for a nation as rich and broad as this one to do. I fully support DACA. I support Dreamers. I want our representatives to do right by these people and protect them under the law. Do it. Do it now. And don’t roll anyone else over with the bus while you do it.



The dog doesn’t leave my side. Well, that’s not entirely true—he’s afraid of the bathroom, and if I’m in my bedroom reading, he will sneak into Jeffrey’s bed and I’ll shortly hear his rumbly snore. There’s nothing like the snore of a 165 pound dog shaking the floor. Really. If I am in my bedroom doing yoga, he is insistent that he help. That’s another issue.

My office seems to be his favorite place to nap. He circles twice and then flops heavily on the floor, sighs deeply, and starts another nap. It’s a hard life. If I change chairs or move around, he faithfully gets up, circles the tiny room, and flops again at my feet.  I’m pretty sure he can’t tell time, but every afternoon, just before 3:00 he rouses himself, gives a big back-arching stretch accompanied by a wide yawn, and then heads to the office window behind my desk.

He stands still, ears cocked forward, eyes scanning the street below. It will be a good twenty minutes or more before Bean and Abby round the corner, but he stands at attention, never leaving the window.  I believe he hears them before he can see them—his vision is compromised—but I know he hears them when his tail begins to batter the back of my desk chair. He stands there, wagging with joy, listening with perked ears, until they round the corner and he finally sees them.

As soon as he sees them, he spins around and races out of my office and down the stairs, where he presses his nose against the glass in the front door, his whole body wagging with joy, while Bean fumbles with his key in the lock.

Every. Day.

He’s a more accurate timepiece that the old German cuckoo-clock I restored that hangs in the dining room. I never know what hour it’s going to chime, but the dog…the dog knows.


Missing Pieces


In the lucid and surreal manner of dreams, there is no before, but instead it begins with the overwhelming ripping and burning  intensity of the baby crowning. Reaching down with my fingertips, I can feel the downy head leaving my body, a euphoric cocktail poured over the agony of my body tearing apart, forming a gateway for another life.

The little body slides from me, still tethered with the pulsing blue cord and streaked with crimson, and is placed on my chest. A redhead, another son, with new-penny lashes and the faintest veil of copper haloing his soft velvety head. Complete complete complete, my mind swirls, I have been waiting for you!

I wake up with tears on my cheeks and pillow.

Another child was always part of my plan, but life was life and didn’t care much for my plan. Abigail was 4 months old when we lost David to drugs the first time, and in retrospect, I cannot fathom going through what the ensuing years brought with an even younger baby added to the nearly crippling load I carried. And yet… the missing has never gone away.

I thought enough time had passed now. Abby is eleven, Bean and Jeffrey are both in their teens. I have a step-daughter I love who brings me additional delight—my basket is full and I am keenly aware of my own blessings. So why am I still dreaming of that baby?

There was a pregnancy after Jon and I got married four years ago. We were surprised, but incredibly happy, as we braced for starting over with a new caboose. Eight weeks in, I lost that baby, and we both grieved for what would not be. It forced us to really look at our lives and ask ourselves what direction we wished to move. I had to face the fact that the miscarriage was incredibly taxing and stressful on my body and it took me a long time to recover and feel healthy again. Hyperemesis in one’s early thirties was one thing, in the early forties, entirely another. Was it worth the risk?

Jon and I both nearly lost our mothers to complications from later pregnancies and miscarriages. I had to weight the very real needs of our children here with the idea of another who haunted my dreams, and the physical limitation of my body. It was a teary decision for both of us, but we definitively closed the book on that chapter of our lives.

Neither of us regrets it.

And yet, I still dream. I dream of the little redheaded boy I am missing, and that dream is persistent, recurring, and very, very real.  There is nothing I can do about it; the limits of the physical world hemmed us all in.

I’m sorry, baby. I am sorry for time, for addiction, for aging, for the impermanence of open doorways. I am sorry that circumstances made it impossible for me to bring you to our family, regardless of how much I wanted you. I don’t know how these things work. As a matter of reality, I’m not certain of very  many things at all as I get older.  But I am certain that I love you.

Anew 2018

IMG_2128It remains to be seen what 2018 will bring, and if it will be better than last year, but at the moment, I am feeling very (very) cautious stirrings of optimism. I am aware that in even saying that out loud (such as it is) I am opening the door to be knocked on my ass. Today, at this moment, I am willing to risk it. Tomorrow? We shall see.

Several weeks ago, I was the invited guest at a joint book event for The Burning Point and for my friend Rachel Hunt Steenblik’s book Mother Milk. As I was preparing my remarks (on the fly, from the stool in front of a room full of people, as one does.) I realized a stretch of prose actually worked as a poem. It was unexpected.

When the call came
when the letter arrived
when the sunlight finally
fell on your face
the struggle fell away
and you only remembered
the beauty.

It was like childbirth
We brought forth
our future.
Every choice we made
what raw materials
would be in the hands
of tomorrow.

Some days took years
and were times
of transition
where we thought
we might die.

Some years were full
of euphoria
or rushing release.
Most years were
slightly uncomfortable
until we remembered
how to breathe.

So there’s my first poem. It may not be any better than the angsty crap I wrote on my t-shirts in Sharpie at art school when I was 16, but I’m putting it out there anyway.

New Years resolutions haven’t ever been my thing, but I am making a few small(ish) changes and acknowledgements. I stopped writing after I turned in my manuscript for TBP last year. I hear it’s natural after such a cathartic project, but I also realize I need to write like some people need their Diet Coke. I work out my mind, clear the chaos inside, find the northstar, whatever you want to call it, I do it by writing. Not all of my writing is here, and I have a couple of book projects that are still in embryo, but here is where I turn to most faithfully. At this point I doubt anyone is reading, considering blogs have gone the way of the wooly mammoths, but just as when I started and had zero readers, I have never been writing for an audience. I write for my own sanity and center, and sometimes I even do a good job. So we are back to the beginning where perhaps someday my grandchildren will find this interesting. Or not. I do it for me and that’s enough.

I’ve deleted my calendar apps from my phone and computer, and moved to a paper calendar and journal format. I cannot believe how much more productive I feel swapping out this format. There is something about putting pen to paper that transcends a well-designed little icon on my phone. I need that visceral touch. I need to scratch things off my to-do list, and to messily move things around with arrows and boxes and whatever pen color is on hand. It feels good.

I’ve deleted some social media from my devices, too. I know lots of people are doing/have done this. I’m a late adopter? I’ll still use it when I want and when it suits me, but I’m less and less interested in keeping up with a thousand different streams of thought when I can barely keep on top of my own.

Christmas was good. Very low key. We spent the week before in New York City with (most of) the kids. It was free form and completely enjoyable. We didn’t get into any shows, and didn’t really have a master plan, but spent each day just sort of going wherever sounded good. We rode the Staten Island Ferry back and forth, which remains one of Bean’s very favorite parts of NYC. We ate a lot of cheap slices of pizza, and found some good restaurants. I got to meet up with some Manhattan friends for brunch, and we hit the Christmas market in Bryant Park. We caught services at Trinity Church, and spent a whole day at The Met. I rode in my first NYC taxi, and took the subway a bunch. It was a perfect holiday, and we were back home by Christmas Eve.

New Years week found us filled to the rafters with Tennessee and Missouri family. I love having people fill my home. I don’t mind the chaos, the clutter, family everywhere—it makes me happy to be surrounded by people I love.

Now it’s nearly mid-January and the kids are all finally back in school. The winter cyclone of arctic air pretty much shut down the eastern seaboard for the first week of the year—even yesterday we were still in the single digits. We’re not used to that level of cold, and our homes and infrastructure isn’t either. Everything shut down. The trade off is that we get miserable summers where everything molds and the heat index sucks the life out of you; we’re not supposed to get crappy ice vortexes of winter.

Today is my first day all alone since December 15. If you’re an introvert you probably know how I’m feeling at the moment. As much as I love the holidays, I can feel my tank filling as I sit here in the quiet of my office, no tv, no video games, no kids, no ambient sound at all except my little space heater and the dog softly snoring nearby.

Happy New Year.