Category Archives: Life lessons

Turning to poetry

Sometimes, you just need a poem to help make sense of the world. Poems to heal your heart or to hear an echo of emotions for which you haven’t found the words.

My aunt sent me this Brian Andreas this week and, yes!

Last week, I described myself as a kind of secular humanist to a co-worker and we spent the tail end of the webinar we were watching talking about what that means in the context of faith. It’s so refreshing to have a friendly conversation about beliefs. I marvel at the work of poets past and present. Here are excerpts from two works that recently left me breathless. Reading them together, I see a connection:

From The Diwan of Shams of Tabriz, by Jalaluddin Rumi

Forget the world, and so
command the world.

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.
Help someone`s soul heal.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd.

Stay in the spiritual fire.
Let it cook you.

Be well-baked loaf
and lord of the table.

Come and be served
to your brothers.

You have been a source of pain.
Now you`ll be the delight.

You have been an unsafe house.
Now you`ll be the One
who sees into the Invisible.

I said this, and a Voice came to my ear:
If you become this, you will be That!

Then Silence,
and now more Silence.

A mouth is not for talking.
A mouth is for tasting this sweetness.

From “Home” by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.

Are there poems that have been speaking to you? Good Bones by Maggie Smith is another.

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Becoming a soccer mom

The majority of family videos from my childhood are really just hours of shaky footage of little kid soccer games. The recordings are essentially my dad yelling “GET TO THE SPOT” while he points the camcorder at a random spot on the grass and gestures wildly to my younger brother. We watched the tapes anyway a few years ago, when we were really missing him and just wanted to hear papa’s voice.

Emmett started soccer today, and it was honestly pretty emotional for me. My dad would turn 81 on Monday, but he’s been gone since 2003. In my memories, my dad wore two “uniforms” – either his work suit with a bunch of architect pens in the pocket, or his soccer attire, which consisted of a too-tight T-shirt and too-short Umbros. Last night, we made sure to get an XS pair in honor of Papa Rudy, so we could channel him in practice. My brother got him a ball and shin guards (the tiniest!) for Christmas.


Soccer was background noise to my childhood. The TV was often turned to Telemundo with my dad cheering along with every GOAAAAALLLL! Papa was frequently yelling in Spanish at my brother’s club coach, while I hid behind a book as a bored sister on the sidelines. I did actually play my freshman year of high school (no-cut team!) just so that my dad and I might have something to talk about. Mostly, I planned the team social events and rode the bench, but it was a season of connection a few years before my dad died.

We signed Emmett up for the Junior Menace indoor league soccer for 3/4-year olds so he’d run out his wiggles in the depths of winter. (I have no designs on trying out for club teams and making my life revolve around my child athlete.)


It’s weird to think about this morning as dipping my toe into the world of being a “sports parent”- especially since I think Emmett might be more of a theater kid than a jock. I’ve read a little bit about how being mindful of the way you talk to kids about their performance “I love to watch you” versus “You’re so good at,” or “You should have,” keeping the focus on the joy of the activity instead of their success.

The kids practiced ball-handing fundamentals and ran around in the HS gym at Central Campus. Emmett was a good listener and the exercise definitely tired him out.


My eyes welled up as I watched him play in a newly focused little way, and I actually thought “Papa would be in heaven right now if he could see him.”  And, well, maybe he is.

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Cherry pits and buried fish

Sunday dinner al fresco – grilled potato and blueberries and steak cut into pieces my toddler boy can pinch between his fingers, but mostly avoid in favor of the bowl of cherries in the center of the table.

He stands on the wobbly chair and takes one at a time, offers the shiny fruit to me. First, I bite the cherry in half. I carefully remove the pit and place the splayed cherry on his plate. He devours one after another before he tries to remove the stone himself – working his tongue around the pit, celebrating as he spits it out and swallows the rest. His face and shirt are smeared with the burgundy juice, his chiclet teeth showing pink tinted as he smiles.

Earlier this afternoon, beyond the brick patio, under the hostas, we’d buried his goldfish. The fish had been a second birthday present and my boy would turn three the next week. The fish had fooled us, making a long drama of his death – playing possum for weeks until ‘tap’ ‘tap’ he’d squiggle back to swimming shape. “Just kiddin’, mom!”

But today, our sweet fish had swum his last. As we dug the small hole for the garden grave, I remembered the date. Thirteen years exactly since my father died. My father, a lover of goldfish. I’d patted the earth and tried to imagine our pet departing as a messenger — full of stories of a boy whose hazel, long-lashed eyes reflected into his tank days that dance between imagination and discovery and skinned knees and hot wheel cars and dirt piles and pancake breakfasts and rhymes and books and baby sisters and bike rides. Days my dad will never see.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 8.26.43 PM

I’d gifted this fish to bring joy, of course, but part of me also hoping that he would be the first whisper of death, before my son could know a loss so deep. We buried that fish, and I cried, and my son — who everyday grows before my eyes but astonishes me still — consoled me with the earnestness of someone who believes his pet will someday swim again.

Reach for another cherry and let the juice run down your chin.

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My mom did a brave thing last month. After decades as a dedicated dental hygienist, she finally left a practice where she felt under-valued. She walked out the door without any acknowledgement and closed a chapter that — despite its struggles, also defined her as a professional. Her patients loved her, although I have no idea how they forged such strong bonds when her hands were in their mouths the majority of a visit.

I can’t say my mom’s retired, because she’s still working a few hours a week at another practice and dedicating full-time hours to be there for my grandpa, who just turned 94 and needs help staying in his own home. But she definitely took a leap.

My mom and I joke a bit about our daily parallels — getting up in the night to tend to someone else’s needs, or how the surprise appearance of bodily fluids can derail a day. The physical nature of caretaking the very young or elderly. On this mother’s day, I want to send her — and all of those who are reprising the role of mother for their own parent, a special thanks.

What you are doing takes courage, grace, a sense of humor and compassion.

This woman who is child, mother, grandmother – selfless, selfless, selfless.



Interesting Smithsonian article – “New Evidence that Grandmothers were Crucial for Evolution.” 



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Adulting made easy: Will in a day

Although I’ve technically been an adult for more than a dozen years and have a career, home and two kids, sometimes I still feel like a fraud. (Like: I’m in charge here? Psych! I still stand in front of the fridge and eat shredded cheese directly out of the bag!)

Lately, though, I’ve been confronting my unofficial adulting to-do list, and it’s making me feel a lot more confident and capable. I mentioned we recently refinanced our mortgage (now paying less for a 15-year  than we did for our 30-year, and got $10K in forgivable home improvement funds thanks to NFC!) and was feeling lots of momentum after crossing that off the list. I. Can. Do. This.


card source: snark shop

So when I saw Geoff Wood post about his spouse Hope Wood’s “Will in a Day” program, I was intrigued. Before Joe and I got on the plane for our trip to Boston, I spent a night freaking out about what would happen to our kids if we died. Creating a will was one of those things that we never got around to after having Emmett, but had always been nagging at my conscience. Now that our family is complete, it felt like the responsible thing to do. I just didn’t really know where to start.


Hope is a tech-savvy attorney and super friendly (her brand is all about problem solving), so that helped eliminate the intimidation factor. I also really like that she lays out her menu and fees, time-frame  and expectations on her website, as well as an online scheduling tool, so it was easy for me to find an afternoon Joe and I could both take off a couple of hours to devote to the task. Turns out that Hope works out of the Insurance Exchange building (the one with the Travelers Umbrella), just one floor up from Joe’s office!


In advance of our appointment, Hope sent us a series of questions, so Joe and I were able to discuss things like executors, guardianship and items of sentimental value we’d want to leave to our kids. It saved time in Hope’s office, and it also made us realize how few of our possessions actually really matter to us. (I sense a garage sale this summer!) We took care of a will, forming a trust and healthcare power of attorney in just about two hours, and she even provided refreshments and snacks as well as counsel. Snacks!

The hardest part of the whole process was probably trying to determine who gets Wilbur in the catastrophic event that Joe and I both perish, because he’s not super popular with our families. But at least now our dog won’t be inheriting our millions…. of pennies. In all seriousness, though, don’t pull a Prince.

Disclosure: Hope and I worked out a discount when I offered to blog about my experience. My opinions are my own. She’s also offering $25 off bookings before June 1!

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Another kind of mom guilt

I’ve struggled to put into words how I’ve been feeling lately.


I’m not overwhelmed or down on myself. It’s not the blues, although when I brought up the subject with my sister-in-law tonight, I burst into tears. Luckily, she knew exactly what I was trying to express without me fully articulating it.

I feel guilty. Not for being a working mom, or not having a spotless house, or not packing the most healthful lunches. It’s different — a visceral, almost survivor’s guilt. I have a warm home and a beautiful baby and whip-smart toddler and supportive spouse and food in the fridge (although the fridge itself might be on its last leg).

I’m suspicious of my happiness, almost ashamed of my good fortune. I’m ever so grateful, but also kind of waiting for something to shatter, because it doesn’t feel right that I should be allowed to be so content when there is so much suffering in this world. I keep up with the news (maybe too much), and almost daily there’s a story that brings tears to my eyes.

Apparently postpartum hormones are changing at around the four-month mark, and I acknowledge that’s probably a strong contributor to why I am feeling everything so deeply. But  I need to acknowledge my emotions and how motherhood has changed me. I don’t think I was ever indifferent to suffering, but when your heart starts to live outside of your body in the form of your children there is this intense vulnerability and resulting empathy.

I will admit here that I’m not someone who likes to think of things in terms of being “blessed,” and that my spiritual framework is pretty different from a lot of my Christian blogger friends. It’s hard to detach these complex feelings from the tendency for many to have a religious solution, but I’m really not interested in that. A conversation for a different time, perhaps.

And so…I record these days here and in my line a day journal, and find comfort in the beauty of a good book. Currently reading “Cutting for Stone,” by Abraham Verghese. {This NPR book club review is from 2011, not next month}

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Personal histories

Do you have an emotion or feeling, that when you experience it, you feel most like yourself? Like a favorite pair of jeans that you slide into with familiarity, worn-in at the right places.

I recognize mine as a mix of contentment tinged with the kind of sadness brought on by realizing the fragile, fleeting beauty of a moment. I experience a kind of nostalgia-in-real-time, this hollowed-out glow.


Over Thanksgiving, I re-discovered an old journal, stacked in a box in my childhood closet. It spanned the fall of my Freshman year of college until the very beginning of the following summer. The first entry – in which I recorded the arrival of my new goldfish, Gilbert Blythe – was exactly 12 years before the birth of my daughter this October.

My unfiltered musings were sometimes insightful and other times cringe-worthy, and it made me both happy and sad to reconnect with that less-cynical, wide-eyed version of myself. I was in love, then heartbroken, navigating early adulthood and wondering about the future. I’d tucked in ephemera from those months, too. A ticket stub to a Yonder Mountain String Band concert, a maybe-we’re-breaking-up poem I’d e-mailed late one night, and the printed-out response, mass messages I’d sent with updates from my work as a summer camp counselor and  inspirational sayings scrawled on postcards. Old journals are the best.

My friends and I had just discovered Brian Andreas, the Decorah Iowa-based artist/author whose StoryPeople workshop Joe and I saw during our pre-baby weekend this fall.

At the beginning of my journal, I inscribed:

I asked her what she planned to do with her life & she said she was way beyond that point already. I’m just happy I remember to be there when it happens, she said.” – Brian Andreas

And hanging over Eileen’s crib is an Andreas print – “Her Laughter

2015 has been one of my favorite years. I’m happy to be here.


As has become a maternity leave ritual, I listened to this  On Being episode, “Making – And the Spaces We Share” that same week I was reading my journal, and quilting a Christmas stocking for my daughter. There’s a part of the interview that talks about the similarity between art museums and churches in that they are both a space to be alone together, in private reflection among a crowd. I think that the most-me feeling I describe is a feeling I often experience when I’m in that alone together space. And, re-reading my journal, those inspiring lectures and long trail runs, train rides and artistic spaces encouraged growth.


P.S. Joe and I have continued our tradition of writing year-end letters to each other, and now our kids (!!!) on St. Nicholas day. We write about the highlights of the year and wishes for the next year and put them in stockings to read on Christmas. I started to keep all of the years in a scrapbook and I think it will easily become the thing I grab in the event of a fire. We drink hot chocolate and I cry a little when I write them.

P.P. S. Related: My “Letter from my former self” post

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Girls of 2015

I’m always surprised by how excited everyone seems to be that I had a little girl as my second (and last!) child. I love being a mom to a boy and raising him to value and respect women, and would have been totally content with two little dudes. But I’ve got to tell you – pink clothes explosion aside – having a daughter in a time when there are so many inspiring women breaking barriers is pretty exciting.

There’s still so much work to be done to achieve gender equality on a global scale, but this really made me smile:

Semi-related, Joe and I listed to the audiobook of “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg” on our Thanksgiving travels while the kids were sleeping. (We ‘checked it out’ of the library using their Overdrive app!) Her story is super inspiring, but what impressed me so much was the example of an egalitarian marriage that she and her late husband, Marty, shared. Also, I know what Eileen’s next Halloween costume should be 😉


We also tried to get through (and completed the first set) of the “36 Questions that Lead to Love” featured in the New York Times.

I-80 is so boring, so I have to resist the urge to spend the entire ride scrolling through social media, which is unfair to Joe while he’s driving. I’m feeling super grateful that the only minor meltdown we had in 12 hours of total travel time was a rough patch around Newton on the way home. Bonus points for getting to breastfeed in the Mississippi River McDonalds twice in one week! Ha.

P.S. Joe made this butternut squash mac & cheese as a Thanksgiving side and although Emmett pushed it away after half a taste, it was a hit with the grown-ups!

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Mantra of a second time mom

So much is different this time around – partly because the second baby has her own identity, preferences and quirks, but also because I am a different woman than I was in the first month of my first child’s life.


Part of the difficulty of transitioning into life as a mom wasn’t the late night feedings, or the early morning wake-ups. It was shedding that skin of selfishness and negotiating what it meant to be a mother in addition to all of the other things I am and hope to be. Over 28 months with Emmett I have developed much more patience, I have worried and seen that worrying doesn’t lead to much more than a headache, I have reveled in the unfolding of his personality and our expanded family life. I’ve learned that — just when you think you’ve got things figured out, the winds shift and what worked like a charm yesterday isn’t going to cut it anymore. Re-calibrate.

I’ve proven to myself that I can be a mother and all of the other things I want to be — just not necessarily all of them at the same time. It’s not to say I’ve never dropped a ball during this juggle, but I’ve discovered the joy in trying. I’ve appreciated the gentleness of Joe’s spirit always coming to my rescue when I’m hanging by the last frayed nerves.


Eileen is such a sweet baby. She’s found her voice and has an appetite that tethers me to the couch for stretches that can seem to go on and on. But, this time, I’ve been able to believe myself when I think some iteration of: This, too, shall pass. This is a phase. Babies don’t keep. 

I’ve been reading passages of Big Magic out loud to her, a manifesto on what it means to live creatively. Elizabeth Gilbert encourages us:

You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.

I’ve recognized that motherhood, parenthood, the daunting and divine task of raising human beings — is a creative endeavor. And in the feedings and diaper changes and mundane acts of love, there is a challenge to give this child the best version of ourselves we possibly can. (Sometimes this requires a deep breath and a hot shower.)

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A Storycorps interview about my grandpa’s WWII Service

This summer, at our family reunion, I recorded an interview with my grandpa about his service in WWII. I had some trouble uploading it to the StoryCorps app initially, but in honor of Veteran’s Day, I thought I would try again this morning, and it worked!

The interview is about 23 minutes long, and I’m grateful to have been able to record and share it. It’s interesting to hear the turn of events that dictated my grandpa’s time in the service. He served in the Pacific, and some of his extra training beforehand probably kept him safe — which resulted in my own life more than 40 years later!

Listen here. 


Thank you, grandpa – and all veterans – for your service!

P.S. This is my post about my first StoryCorps interview with my grandpa. He really wanted to talk about his war experience!

Perhaps at a family Thanksgiving, you can collect stories of your own!

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