Just an assortment of things, almost all beautiful:

  • Since I won’t be here on Oliver’s third birthday because I’ll be in Bali that day, I spent a few hours with him yesterday. I had some kind of seriously awful gut thing going on so it wasn’t as long as I’d have liked, but it was so wonderful being with him. He and I went to one of the neighborhood parks, the one on the elementary school grounds where he will be going in just a couple of weeks. He played on the equipment, we blew bubbles even though it was too breezy to make chasing them much fun, he ate lunch, and he ran around. I watched him wandering around, running, talking to himself the way he does, and my heart ached so hard. Oliver has something going on — the current educational diagnosis is in the autism neighborhood — but most difficult is his pretty profound speech delay. So I watched that beautiful, darling boy running around, in his own world, and I cried pretty hard because I so want to know him. I so want to share things with him, know what he thinks without guessing, hear his wonderings and his wants and his needs and his funny. At the moment that’s not how it is to be with Oliver, but I know it will be one of these days. I don’t think he feels lonely; he seems keenly aware of how much he is loved. One fun thing to do with Oliver is to look at the phone together. We had the camera on and turned to selfie mode, and he was grinning as he held down the button for dozens of long bursts. He caught the really beautiful shot I included here. See the delight on his face?
  • My dear, dear friend Becci (hi darling Becci!) sent me a Crazy Zauberball. I have always wanted one, and somehow she chose a colorway that I always wanted, too. The other day I opened my mailbox, expecting the usual day’s allotment of junk mail, and instead there was a nicely wrapped box, fit snugly into the mailbox with my name facing outward. I had no idea what it might be, even when I saw Becci’s name and address in the top right corner. I literally ran into the house and unwrapped it (even more nicely presented inside the outer brown wrapper, with a “just because” note) and when I pulled out the ball I jumped up as if I’d been electrocuted. It was the last thing I expected, and I instantly started crying with all the joy — the joy of having a friend who would do such a thing (and just because), the joy of her thoughtfulness and knowing, the pleasure of the long-wanted yarn, and the delight of finding just the right project for it. I decided on a project that others have made with the yarn, a scarf called Baktus, because it looks amazing and it’s a simple knit—I want to make it on my upcoming trip. In the way these things work, forever more I’ll feel all the love and joy when I wear it, remembering Becci, remembering making it in Indonesia. That’s one thing I love about knitting, it holds the space for all of that.
  • I can’t properly talk about how humiliated I feel over having that hangover on Tuesday. I feel such shame about it. I’m 58, I have so many ways to manage upset, and I drank enough to have a hangover? It’s hard to talk about it but I feel like I must — maybe this is some kind of self-flagellation, maybe I shouldn’t, but shame and humiliation is exactly what I feel. I mentioned that feeling to Nancy, and she looked puzzled, which puzzled me. Shouldn’t I feel shame? I talk relatively often about AA, which I only know about because of my husband; I know that they believe self-loathing doesn’t get you anywhere, and certainly not to the same place that self-compassion will take you. I’m trying that, trying to have compassion for myself that evening, acceptance of myself and what I did. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again; I sure learned a lot, including the fact that a hangover can be a really terrible mood, which I didn’t know. I’m sorry I did that — I say that out loud, and to myself. It’s funny; I even find this beautiful, even though it’s such a dreadful feeling. But it’s beautiful to stumble along, fall down and get up, bruise yourself, heal yourself, and be helped along by others. I think that’s really beautiful.
  • We just lost Derek Walcott, a poet whose words have meant a lot to me over the years. I first encountered him in 2001, when I knew a poet who loved him. I’m sorry this is in a jpg instead of text, but I can’t find it copy-able and I don’t want to type it all out. This poem relates so beautifully to the end of my last bullet point:

  • Tonight I will sit with the women in my book club to talk about this month’s book, which I didn’t like at all I’m sad to say (The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood, review here). But I will love being with the women, who share my political world view and who are SMART, screamingly smart, and compassionate. We meet at Joyce’s house tonight — she picked the book — and she’s making us a vegetable pie and salad, and I’m bringing Topo Chico and dark chocolate, and I look forward to the communion with all my heart. For now, though, I pack for Indonesia. Happy Sunday, everyone.

bouncing kisses

Somehow I’ve set my phone to back up every picture I take to my laptop. I only realized this when my hard drive was so full the computer quit working, and I started poking around to solve the mystery. And there they were, thousands of pictures and videos, saved to a folder buried in the file structure. In addition to all the images, I found a somewhat random collection of other files — pdfs and text files and Word documents, all saved and long forgotten. Most of the file names were descriptive enough, but one was just titled “ms.doc” so I opened it, thinking it was a client’s project I’d accidentally saved in the wrong place. And what I read felt as detached from me as if I hadn’t ever seen it before, but the stories were clearly mine. I have no recollection of writing them, page after page after page, but they are definitely mine. Weird. Maybe that’s the hazard of being a compulsive writer-of-stories, and a person who is now very good at forgetting things.

Anyway, this one was written in a way that brought me right back to that experience, to those lonely and exhausted years, those summer nights, those sorrowful feelings, so I thought I’d give it some air and let it breathe a little. Here you go, a story from the very early 1990s:

“Let’s go bounce our kisses off the moon.” This is what I told them every night, after their baths, that long summer in Virginia. The nights were so hot and steamy my glasses fogged up when we stepped out the front door, and my shirt clung to my skin within seconds. They were little, then, and always clean-scrubbed and shiny in their fresh pajamas and nightgowns. There was something fantastical to them about going outside in their nightclothes; they always looked at each other with sneaky little grins, as if they were getting away with something. It had been his idea, before he left, this whole bouncing kisses off the moon thing, as if they could throw theirs and he’d catch them, in the other hemisphere.

“Mommy, does Daddy feel our kisses the way you do? How does he get them?” they’d ask, in a hundred different ways. Katie was the oldest and knew this was just a game, but she went along for the sake of her little sister and brother, the same way she gave me a sideways smile when they’d talk about how clever the Easter bunny was to think of hiding their baskets underneath their beds – the last place they’d have looked. She knew what we were up to with this story, but the way she threw her kisses, the way she looked so hard at the moon as they flew away, I knew she was hoping that somehow they’d get there, somehow he’d feel her yearning for him and know that this one, this special kiss, was just hers, for him. Marnie and Will always gave a little jump when they kissed their hands and threw their kisses into the air. Marnie was just the right age, really, believing in the magic. She’d turn to me with light all over her face, letting the kiss go on its way as she gave one to me, too. Will was usually unsatisfied with just one toss and jump, so he’d push the kiss on its way with both hands a few times, each push getting its own jump. “Daddy is gone,” he’d say, and then he would run into the house, upstairs to his bedroom to play. “Yes, Daddy is gone,” I’d say softly to myself. “Daddy is gone.”

Saturday mornings the kids gathered downstairs, watching cartoons before breakfast. At the top of the stairs, I’d ask, “What shall it be this Saturday morning,” doing my best imitation of the silly-pompous way he used to ask that question, “waffles, or pannnnncaaaakes,” dragging out the last word as he did. “Pancakes! Pancakes!” they’d say, jumping up from the floor. The girls jumped once and ran to me, but Will just kept jumping around in circles, singing, “pannnnncakes, pannnnnnncakes, pannnnncakes!” and waving his hands like little wings. Of course pancakes didn’t mean pancakes, it meant their dad’s pancakes, shaped like Mickey Mouse, or like a silly unicorn, or sprinkled with candy if we had it, or cupcake decorations. Nothing as boring as a plain round pancake with butter and syrup, there’s nothing fun about that, Daddy always said.

“Daddy makes better pancakes than you do,” Will said again this Saturday. “Yours are too round and the legs are too short.” Katie glanced at my face and scooted her chair a little closer to mine, and asked if she could have another pancake, please. “I wonder what Daddy’s doing this morning,” Marnie said. “I wonder if he got our kisses last night? I want to draw monsters with him, I want him to come home now.” Her eyebrows pulled together and a little pout started forming around her mouth. Touching my hand, Katie turned to Marnie and said, “It’s OK, Marn, I can draw with you this morning!” I looked away, out the glass door into our large backyard, littered with leaves and fallen branches from the recent storm. I sat still, unable to move my gaze, as the girls ran upstairs to get the jar of markers and the big blank book Marnie and her dad filled with funny monsters, and palm trees, and dogs that waved their paws. I heard them turning the pages, turning clumps of pages, trying to find an empty space that hadn’t already been filled on Saturday mornings, before he left.

“Mommy? Are you crying, mommy?” Will asked. I coughed a little into my fist and turned my shining eyes to him. “It’s OK, Daddy will come back!” he said. Will put his arms up, the signal he wanted to be lifted out of his booster seat, so I got up and lifted him out of the chair and watched him run upstairs, to draw with his big sisters.

Daddy said he would come back. He said.

* * *

In the funny way the world works, sometimes, this story continued to echo into the world. Marnie incorporated some of it into a personal experience she had, and put it in a truly beautiful book she wrote and illustrated called Particle/Wavewhich you can buy for only $8.

It reminds me of the way our experiences have such long echoes and ripples, how a moment can transform and connect past and future. And it makes me cry.

three things: 12/31/16

1)  Well, an end to this year and a face turned toward the next. God almighty. I don’t need to say all this again; it’s been present to varying degrees in my last posts, but it’s the last day of the year so I have to include it. I’m scared of the future and grateful as hell to have my arms linked with others in the resistance. We’ll lose more battles than we’ll win, but we’ll pull each other up and keep going. I have never dreaded a coming year more than I dread this one.

2) Thank you for sticking around with me, for coming to my little cobwebbed corner of the Internet. Thanks for reading, for commenting if and when (and where) you do, for accepting the little things I offer, and for accepting me, which you do by returning. If I offend, I’m grateful that you don’t bail on me but instead leave space for me to have my own view of the world. I hope I do the same for you. (Unless you voted for Trump, in which case I have no space for that.) (None.) (Whatsoever.) (But otherwise, you do you and I will be damn glad of it, whether we agree or not.)

3) Here is a wonderful year-end/new-year poem:

BRAND NEW ANCIENTS (by Kate Tempest, surely a pseudonym)

See – all that we have here is all that we’ve always had.

We have jealousy
and tenderness and curses and gifts.
But the plight of a people who have forgotten their myths
and imagine that somehow now is all that there is
is a sorry plight,
all isolation and worry –
but the life in your veins
it is godly, heroic.
You were born for greatness;
believe it. Know it.
Take it from the tears of the poets.

There’s always been heroes
and there’s always been villains
and the stakes may have changed
but really there’s no difference.
There’s always been greed and heartbreak and ambition
and bravery and love and trespass and contrition –
we’re the same beings that began, still living
in all of our fury and foulness and friction,
everyday odysseys, dreams and decisions . . .
The stories are there if you listen.

The stories are here,
the stories are you,
and your fear
and your hope
is as old
as the language of smoke,
the language of blood,
the language of
languishing love.

The Gods are all here.
Because the gods are in us.

The gods are in the betting shops
the gods are in the caff
the gods are smoking fags out the back
the gods are in the office blocks
the gods are at their desks
the gods are sick of always giving more and getting less
the gods are at the rave –
two pills deep into dancing –
the gods are in the alleyway laughing

WOW. Right? I’ll end this post with some pictures that make me just so very happy, in the hopes that they give you a smile, too. Y’all be safe, and hope to see you next year.

My sweet Katie and her beloved family
Our darling Oliver, so happy with his big Christmas gift because it has numbers on it
beautiful, glowing, angelic Lucy
This one is so great because it’s my Katie’s sense of humor. I crack up every time I see it, even out of the corner of my eye. That girl.
My beautiful Marnie, and her beloved family
I love this stage, where they turn their heads completely sideways to get a new look.
Wonderful, glorious Ilan, how I miss him.
Such a happy, photogenic little guy. And a genius, I’m pretty sure.
bamboo rafting in Yangshuo, in southern China
Lijiang, China, so special
so happy in Shaxi my lips and gums dried out from all the insane grinning
and all the happy boat rides on Manistique, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
That wondrous snow storm we had in January, can’t forget it!
or lying in a hammock next to the Nam Ou, in Nong Khiaw, Laos
enjoying the beach on Koh Mak, in Thailand

So many other pictures I’d need — holding Ilan for the first time, holding Lucy for the first time, walking slowly while Oliver collects acwons, time spent with beloved friends, waiting with Marnie for Ilan to be born, a meeting of my poetry group (why don’t I have a single picture of that!) — but these will do.

Love to us all, and solidarity, sisters. xoxoxxo

five things: 12-15-16

I’ve been unable to be here for such a long time, and for such a variety of reasons. Since the election, my reason has been that I am stunned into silence, and the monologue in my head is chaotic and scared and inflamed daily by the news, which I can no longer watch. But I miss writing here regularly. I miss the discipline of thinking through a thought, an observation, a wondering. I miss the discipline of sharing something with others in a way that might allow them to see what I see. I miss my little space. Since the election, one of the many difficulties I’ve been having (so many of us have been having) is figuring out how to live. And I mean that. Do we re-organize our lives to fight? Against what — it’s everything. Where do we even begin? Mercifully there are millions of us here in the resistance, and since none of us can do everything, there is a bit of comfort in the size of the resistance — I can identify my hill to defend, knowing that others will rally around the rest of the horrific landscape.

Or [and] do we draw inward, remembering that we are still alive, that there are people in our lives to love, art to create, friends to care for, food to relish, books to read, attention to pay, and in that way put something positive into the world? I keep swinging there but it feels like enjoying a nice warm cinnamon bun while the world burns around me.

And of course the answer is that we try to find the balance — remember that we are still alive, that there is love to give and receive, life to live, and find our hill to defend. Assemble it all into a workable life.

But then Aleppo. South Sudan. And all the rest, the refugees everywhere. They’ve been there for a very long time and I’ve found a way to live with them, without paying them more than a glancing thought on occasion, the thought of which wrenches my heart.

I don’t know, I’m working my way through it like we all are.

This morning I saw this post on Granta, Five Things Right Now, and I thought it was just so very lovely. The writer shares five things he’s reading, watching and thinking about right now. I thought following that model might give me a path back into writing here, so:

  1. She is married to Wallace Shawn

    I’m reading the collected stories of Deborah Eisenberg, and honestly I can’t recommend them enough. Initially I downloaded a free sample and was swept into the story in the first sentence. It’s a big book, 992 pages, 27 stories, and it took me quite a long time to figure it what it was about them that made them so special. She masters the ambiguity of life, the kind of ambiguity that we resist by imposing a story on top so we don’t have to feel uncertain — not quite understanding what a person means, not quite getting the dynamics of a group of people, not quite knowing enough of the history to be sure of what’s going on, not quite believing someone, not quite feeling certain about our own experience. And the world of each story is so complete, I finally realized that in some ways it’s like walking slowly past an apartment building in New York; the life has been going on inside that apartment before you came near, and it will continue after you pass, so you’re just catching the bit of story as you pass and you’re left to make of it what you can. THAT’S what her stories are like. You feel like you’ve glimpsed a tiny segment of a whole world.

    The downside of this, of one story of ambiguity and uncertainty after another, is that the imbalance of it all gets to be too much and for heaven’s sake I just want to read something where my understanding can settle. So I’ll read two or three short stories, then I’ll return to the other book I’m reading, then I’ll pick it up again and read a story or two. I’m really loving them (with an exception or two) and her writerly voice is wonderful:

  • “the two of them had pursued, in the stale, fruity afternoon sunlight, the protean task of being mother and daughter.”
  • “A little colorless sunlight had forced its way around the neighboring buildings and lay, exhausted, across the floor.”

2. I have to tell you about this wonderful meal I made for my poetry group Christmas party. I’m not an original cook, but I’m a very good recipe follower; I have good skills and years of training, getting dinner on the table for me and my kids every night, so I’m always grateful for a good, solid recipe I can trust. There were going to be 6 of us, and we’d be eating on our laps, so instead of the African stew I considered, I ended up making Smitten Kitchen’s butternut squash and caramelized onion galettes. The crust was made differently than any I’d ever made (with sour cream, and with an unusual combining technique), and if you aren’t careful to really cut in the butter finely enough, it pools when you bake it. I’ll come back to that.


So the filling is roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, fontina cheese, fresh sage, and some cayenne. It’s SO GOOD — you could just assemble the filling and serve it as a side dish and make people very, very happy. Instead of making one big galette, I made individual little ones, really pretty. And no, I hadn’t cut in the butter finely enough . . . and so it pooled, and I could hear it sizzling a little while they baked off. About halfway through the bake, I pulled the pan out of the oven and tipped it into the sink so the excess butter could drain off, and then let it bake the rest of the way until it was golden. Here’s the deal: I think that bit of melted butter really helped crisp up the bottom and edges of the galettes, because they were so crisp, so flaky, and the whole thing was so delicious I had to force myself not to eat the extras. You can make the filling ahead of time, and the crust, too. You can assemble them ahead of time. SO delicious in every way.

3. I’m thinking about the solstice coming up, and wondering why that moves me so deeply every single year. I am never unmoved by the winter solstice, nor by the variety of ways humans respond to it. So long ago we made noise, scattered light, in part because we didn’t know yet that the light would return . . . and that really touches me. We have created special holidays at this time of year to help us manage the dark, create a promise of light to come. The winter solstice concert at St John the Divine, in NY, is one of my favorite experiences and I’m so grateful that I got to go to the concert twice. (Here is a post I wrote about it, and here is another post I wrote about the winter solstice, complete with a couple of poems you might enjoy.)

4. I haven’t really been watching much lately; I’ve just had to keep the television off because I can’t yet bear any mention of T (nor can I say his name) or see his face, and it’s non-stop coverage of him, it seems. But I have made sure to watch Saturday Night Live, seeking out anything with Kate McKinnon in it. She’s so wonderful. I know you saw this, but here it is anyway. I’ve watched it so many times, and I know I’ll watch it at least that many times again.

5. I’m missing my son terribly. I go in and out of waves of pain, always; it’s just a question of whether they’re unbearable or potentially deadly. I came across this picture and every cell in my body cried.

My arms feel the slight weight of him. I smell the tender smell of his little head. I feel his arms around my neck, and his head nestled against my shoulder. And I don’t know how to do this.


Another happy birthday for me

Where I started. Graham Texas, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should've put a blanket over me!
Where I started. Graham, TX, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should’ve put a blanket over me!


This was such a spectacular year in my life, it boggles my mind. How can my life just keep getting better and better? And yet it does. These aren’t the best pictures from my year, or of each place, but they’re the ones I labeled “happy Lori” when I filed them away; this year,


We went back to Vietnam, and to a tiny fishing village on the coast of Thailand.

happy me, in Tam Coc
happy me, in Tam Coc Vietnam, in one of my favorite places: on a little boat in a gorgeous landscape

We went to southern China.

happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo
happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo — I was drunk on those karst mountains, man.

We went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

happy, flying around Manistique Lake
happy, flying around Manistique Lake, getting to be part of a place that was important in Marc’s life.

Next week we’re off to Laos again, and back to that same tiny fishing village in Thailand.….so only the happy anticipation of that trip properly belongs with this year of my life.

My family grew so much this year!

Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn't know Lucy would be coming, too.
Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn’t know Lucy would be coming, too.

My grandson Ilan was born in March, and I got to be with Marnie and Tom in Chicago for a month, to welcome him to the world and to take care of their sweet family. Tom reached out to me this year in a way I will never, ever, ever forget (my eyes instantly fill with the hottest tears every time I think about it), and Marnie’s regular weekly phone calls to me are an ongoing treasure, more than she knows.

happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan's life
happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan’s life
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.

My granddaughter Lucy was born in Austin in September, and I got to stay with sweet Oliver so Katie and Trey didn’t have to worry about any of that, and then I got to welcome Lucy home. The easy chances I have to see Katie, opportunities to spend time with her (which I love, she’s so sweet and funny and smart), opportunities to help out a little and be their regular old Pete, those moments are the real stuff of life and are a big glory in my heart.

so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl
so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl, applet of my eye
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together, and listening to him call me Pete.

The BEST Halloween costumes — their mamas are so creative.

I got to cast my vote for a woman, for president. Two heroes entered my psychological world this year: Hillary, for the way she just keeps moving forward, she never gives up EVER, you knock her down and she gets right back up, ready to work as she has for at least 30 years; and John Lewis for his quiet persistence for 40 years. When I feel like giving up, I always think of them both, now. This year they joined Mister Rogers in my own personal pantheon.

happy and crying, my steady companion combo
happy and crying, my steady companion combo, but especially present as I voted.

I read so many wonderful books this year; especially, I found Vivian Gornick, Lidia Yuknavitch, Irene Nemirovsky, and Lucia Berlin, new favorites; Nemirovsky died in the Holocaust and Berlin is also gone, so I can only cherish the books they left behind — but Gornick and Yuknavitch (the latter most especially) are still writing, and on my forever watch list, now. My beloved poetry group continued meeting at my place throughout the year, and they shared so much extraordinary poetry with me, and taught me so many things I can never repay them. Our monthly meetings focused simply on reading and talking about poetry, all of us hyper-thrilled about that, what a pinch-me gift, man.

I spent time with so many beautiful friends in Austin and New York — and made new friends, too, an ongoing source of joy, to make new friends at this stage of my life. I’m so lucky to have friends who take me as I am. And I’m also lucky to have friends all over the world (shouting out especially to my antipodean beloveds, whose love I feel this far away, but also to friends in England and France and Canada. I fear this makes me seem like an extremely old person going on and on about these new-fangled devices called telephones, but I was once again blown away by Laura, calling me from Perth to sing Happy Birthday to me).

I’m always shy about getting a picture of us together, and I don’t know why — I so love having your pictures.

getting mehndi with my Cindy; I thought about using the photo of us celebrating my birthday together, but I liked the rhyme of “mehndi with my Cindy.”
my darling, precious friend Don, who calls himself (and is, in my life) my Jewish father.
A subset of the “book club” women, my dear friends. Some are missing from this picture, (Anne, Diane, Jen….) but always with me otherwise.
Nancy, my boon companion and quirt-wielder and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
Sherlock, one of my oldest, dearest friends. I wish I had a picture with Peggy.

This year I tried oysters and now cannot get enough. If I had a million dollars I would eat a million oysters. Thanks, Sherlock, for showing me how to eat them. And thanks, Nancy, for eating them with me too.

from the first batch, eaten with Sherlock
the first dozen, eaten with Sherlock
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Marc's surprise for my early birthday celebration. He knows me. :)
Marc’s surprise for my early birthday celebration. 🙂
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.

I went back and forth to New York City, and while that’s also quite hard and wearing, I never fail to also feel so lucky, like I get the best of two very different worlds. Marc and I continue to find our way to make things work for us, and I’m so grateful for that. When I’m in Austin, his morning texts start my day off with great joy (and usually mystery), and when I’m in NYC I delight in his delight in making food for me, and in the way he always takes my hand. We both grew this year in ways that were good for us individually, and definitely that were good for us together. Would I have dreamed any of this was possible in late 2012? NO. Even though I love every gritty, urban street and curb and subway platform (well, almost), I never get tired of walking in Riverside Park, ever.

my beautiful park during the epic snowstorm
and on any day in the spring, summer, or fall
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once

I survived a few very hard things — in largest part because of my own strength, forged and honed over my 58 years of sometimes-difficult life, and in critical part because I have the best friends, who check on me all the time, like Dixie inevitably does and always at the right moment; who say my name to me over and over when I’m lost, like Nancy did when I was despairing one night; who call me darling, like Anne does when I’m in deep need; who sit next to me at parties or anywhere else when I’m barely there and help me through, like Lynn did at a big happy birthday party; who reach their hands out to me in ways immediate and virtual (oh gosh, all of you), and who also laugh with me, and share themselves, which is my favorite thing. The violent reappearance of my brother, after decades, and with scary threats, was probably my worst trouble this year, in ways most people can’t understand. That one nearly done the old girl in…..but I’m still here, blowing and going. And speaking of that, a book was dedicated to me this year:

I cry no matter how many times I read it.
I cry no matter how many times I read it.

I didn’t have nearly enough work all year; another year has passed without my son, an ongoing pain I’m not always sure I can bear; I caught the flu a couple of times, the worst on our terribly long travel day from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Trat to Mairood; the Republican candidate for president has left me feeling terrorized all year and I am praying so hard that goodness prevails; and as stressful as those things might be in moments, they pale in comparison to all the rest. Yep, being 57 was amazing. I’m the luckiest person in the whole world, with the best life, far better than I ever dreamed it could be, it would be.

Fifty-eight. Amazing.
Fifty-eight. Amazing.

Let me tell you this. It’s really a privilege getting to be 58. I’m proud of it! It’s a privilege to have lived so many years, to have seen the wonders and survived the pain; it’s a privilege to learn and grow; it’s a privilege to soften and open. My hair has more bright silver in it — so beautiful! Why would I want to pretend that isn’t true? When I smile, now, you can see the evidence of all the years I’ve smiled. My skin is changing, my memory isn’t the same, and that’s OK because it’s part of it, and I’m grateful to have the chance to have every part of it, every last bit.

Thank you for being in my life with me, in whatever form you’re here. Thank you for the words, the touches, the drinks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners, the happy hours, the notes, the calls, the many, many ways you hold our connection. Your presence, your words, your friendship, and your faithfulness mean the world to me, and I count myself so lucky to you know. Happy birthday to me, and now on to the next! oxoxoxoxox

the wave

Hokusai's wave
Hokusai’s wave

It’s a matter of perspective, there: Fuji is just off in the distance and so therefore foreshortened, but Hokusai played with that to show the power of the wave, the power of that force, big and strong enough to crush a mountain.

The Japanese know about tsunami; Haruki Murakami’s fabulous story The Seventh Man tells about a young boy whose friend died in a tsunami wave and he remains ever haunted and afraid. As he finishes telling his tale around a campfire, he pauses and says,

‘They tell us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself; but I don’t believe that,’ he said. Then, a moment later, he added: ‘Oh, the fear is there, all right. It comes to us in many different forms, at different times, and overwhelms us. But the most frightening thing we can do at such times is to turn our backs on it, to close our eyes. For then we take the most precious thing inside us and surrender it to something else. In my case, that something was the wave.’

I linked the story title to a translation that appeared in Granta, but I prefer the translation that was performed at Symphony Space, and I heartily recommend that you listen to this magical performance, by John Shea. There’s a brief introduction to the program (which comprises two stories) and then Shea starts reading the story. If you can listen in the dark, at night, it’s all the better. Here it is, so amazing.

I’ve recently been knocked down by a tsunami, an experience so thoroughly unexpected that I don’t think I could’ve been any more surprised if my 34-years-dead father knocked on my door with his bony skeletal hand. It hadn’t been anything I’d been fearing, because I didn’t think it would ever happen.

Even more, I didn’t think the consequences of it could happen to me anymore, I didn’t fear them because I felt safe from them, past them, healed. The thing was the fiery, violent reappearance of a long-lost family member, but the consequence was being thrown right back to how I felt as a child, all the terrible, terrible feelings I had, the body states I had, the terror, the up-is-down version of reality and how confusing that is. The word-twisting, where X is said to me and then hurled in my face as something had said. (“But wait….you’re …. I didn’t say that, you did… but wait….”)

I’m coming up on 58 and felt solid, stable, reasonably sure of who I am, and I’ve been working so hard for 36 years to rout out all the poison, to drain those wells, to discover who I am, and to have enough time and distance between me and them so they couldn’t destroy me. I thought I’d done it. I felt strong. And then it was all gone, swoosh.

I’m a little bit grateful for what has happened because it put me right back there and I am a grown-up now, fully remembering how it felt to be the child I was, in all its horror. I’m taking notes, trying to bear the feelings which do not feel bearable, and weren’t bearable back then. They are now, even if they feel like they aren’t. I learned a lot about the lost family member that makes me feel even sadder. But now I know all three of them, my birth family, who they are, and nothing mysterious remains.

And so I move forward knowing that I can still be taken back, no matter how strong I feel — which is itself a kind of better strength, I guess. Feeling invincible just begs for the knocking-down, perhaps, and so knowing that I can be knocked down forces me to stand a bit loosely so my legs can absorb an unexpected hit, to stand with my hands open at my sides inside of in fists at my waist, all invincible-like, which might let me be knocked over. And importantly, knowing that I can be knocked down softens me and keeps me open. I would much rather all this hadn’t happened, no lie, but since it did, and since I survive, there are good things to take from it.

A *very* important thing I learned — well, wait, not learned but was reminded of once again — is just how good people are, just how quickly they reach out, and in so many ways. How quick they are to do anything, even if it puts them at risk. How quick they are to tell me who I am, who they see, which I really needed in this instance. I called this ‘self-knowledge by reflection of consensus’ and by that I mean that a large, global choir of people tell me who they know me to be, and so (a) because there is a large, global choir that itself means something about me, maybe, and (b) who they know, and how consistently they describe me, means something too. Maybe it means something about them; maybe it means that kind, loving, generous-hearted people surround me, and I know that’s true. And so again I remember that we need each other, I need you (and desperately), and I’m grateful for each and every one.


No way to catch up so…..

Gosh, I don’t even quite know where I am. I slept in my own bed last night for the first time in five weeks. I made coffee in my own kitchen, with my own gear, this morning. I took a shower this morning. I had to try to remember how to do all those things here. I have only one very very busy week here that includes time babysitting my darling Oliver, helping prepare for his 2nd birthday party, and then attending the party and spending the whole day with my little Katie family . . . and then to New York for three days before we go on to China for 15 days. WHERE AM I TODAY?

I was in Chicago for four weeks, and we imagined that the bulk of that time would be helping after the baby was born but it didn’t work that way. Two weeks of waiting with Marnie and Tom, long days talking and watching old Top Chefs and Marnie and I lying in bed together to stay warm, talking and killing time and snoozing. Even though that’s not how I’d have most preferred to arrange the time, since it meant Tom and I both left the same day (he had two weeks of leave accumulated), it will always be so special that I got to spend that time with her, waiting for her son to be born. I’ll never forget it.

The easiest thing is just to do a photo post. If you’re my Facebook friend you’ve seen some of these, and you know the gist, but here goes:

ready to leave the house
just before we left for the hospital the day Ilan was born, Wed March 8
We knew it would give us a great story, so instead of taking a cab or Uber to the hospital, we walked to the train station and then transferred to the bus. Sweet kids.
on the way to the hospital
HILARIOUS Marnie. Tom and I and the guy standing behind Marnie are a little more circumspect. 🙂 NOT ONE person on the train offered Marnie their seat. Not one.
chicago march 8
This was the view from their hospital room — Lake Michigan, a beautiful sunny day. I posted a picture on FB and Instagram but no one knew the significance except us. 🙂
outside the hospital
I dashed out for lunch
hospital hall
and spent a whole lot of time pacing this hall outside Marnie’s room.
me during marnie's pushing SO HARD
The very long hours of her agony were hard on the mama, I’m telling you. Very hard. Harder on her of course, but mamas, you know.
Ilan birth stats
et voila! I heard his very first cries and started sobbing.

I’d spent some hours in the waiting room — a large, nice enough room filled with grandparents-to-be. The hospital was top-notch, part of the Northwestern system, and the other grandparents were professional people with lots of education (it just came up among them). I sat in a corner, writing on my laptop and listening. One set of grandparents had been waiting 25 hours by the time I arrived, so they’d heard stories through the night. Grandparents reappeared in the room to announce that they’d seen their grandchild and everyone cheered. The room was filled with quiet conversations AND THEN a woman burst into the room complaining loudly:

“Oh sure, he lives right here in town and he’s retired already but I get here first? That’s typical. That’s why I divorced him 40 years ago.”

Our eyes got wide and we were all drawn into conversation with her. How she only had to push a couple of times with all 6 of her kids, her labor took just a couple of hours each time so this grandkid would probably be born fast too, but he probably wouldn’t make it, typical him.

The conversation came around to grandparent names, and most were typical: Grandma, Nonna, Nonny, Gramma Carol, Pete (me!), and then it was her turn: Grandma The Diedelhoff. Grandma The Diedelhoff. We all burst out laughing. It fit her so much. Her ex-husband finally showed up, reeking of Old Spice to the point that I had to leave the room before it gave me a migraine. I’d have divorced him for that Old Spice alone.

ilan into the world
And there he is, my first picture of darling little Ilan. I think this is THE first picture taken of him, so he’s about an hour old. He looks FABULOUS for being an hour old, don’t you think?
those tiny little wrinkled feet in his daddy’s hands.
my first time with Ilan
my first moments “alone” with Ilan. Everyone else was just on the other side of the room, but he and I had some eye contact time. When I walked into the room the first time, Marnie introduced us to each other by name — that was the moment I learned his name — so he already knew I was Pete, but I leaned down and told him firmly that I’m his Pete, and that I will always be on his side, and that we will have lots of adventures together. He seemed to take it seriously.

To get them home a couple of days later, I rented a car and brought the car seat to the hospital, and it was harrowing driving them home — I remember feeling that same way when I was driving my own babies home. New human being in the car! Be careful everyone, be careful! Drive safely!

The next two weeks were pretty routine. I took a couple of middle-of-the-night shifts but the kids mostly wanted to do them themselves, so for the most part I’d take Ilan at 7 and they would get 2 or 3 more hours of sleep. Those hours were extraordinary; Ilan was always in such a good mood then, quiet and watching, and for the most part I just held him. I held Ilan, tried to help the kids when I knew a helpful way to do something with a crying baby (amazing how it comes back, bodily, even if I couldn’t have said it if asked), and cooked. I cooked and cooked and cooked, and baked. We had yeasted waffles and cinnamon rolls twice and lots of big dinners (and their friend Paul fed us four times, big feasts each time). I was there for Paul’s birthday so I made him a fabulous birthday cake.

sometimes Ilan just slept during our early morning time together
He LOVED this spot — a changing pad on the coffee table in the living room with a view out the big windows. He would just lie there so quietly and still, staring at the sky.
WHAT? What just happened in my diaper?!
This is my FAVORITE picture. He's in my arms so I had a hard time catching the shot, but that pose, that half-open eye, that little knit hat (courtesy of Becci!), so adorable.
This is my FAVORITE picture. He’s in my arms so I had a hard time catching the shot, but that pose, that half-open eye, that little knit hat (courtesy of Becci!), so adorable.
lots of cooking. This was a farro risotto with roasted butternut squash and kale. Yum.
breakfast with a newborn in the house, a la Pete.
cinnamon and orange rolls ready for their final rise while the kids took Ilan to a routine pediatrician visit, after a VERY rough night.
Paul’s birthday cake — Pecan Cream Cake, from Saveur Magazine. Google it, this is a fabulous fabulous recipe.
A slice -- it's light and moist and filled with finely chopped pecans and unsweetened flaked coconut and it stayed moist until the last piece was shared three days later. If you and I are ever together in person and we're all bringing something to a potluck, this is what I'll be bringing. Always.
A slice — it’s light and moist and filled with finely chopped pecans and unsweetened flaked coconut and it stayed moist until the last piece was shared three days later. If you and I are ever together in person and we’re all bringing something to a potluck, this is what I’ll be bringing. Always.

I hated leaving, since Marnie was still recovering and in pain (and they live in a two-story home), but my time had run out. My last night, Marnie and Ilan slept in my room with me so I could help one last time and Tom could get an uninterrupted night of sleep before his first day back at work. It was so damn sweet I can hardly write about it without crying. Marnie would nurse Ilan and then I’d take him. He and I went to the nursery and I rocked him, and for a very long time I lay in bed with him snuggled next to me, watching him sleep. My arm was wrapped around him and I could hear his little quick breathing, and smell his little head, and I could feel my daughter on the other side of the bed, hear her exhausted snoring, and it was just one more experience that I’ll never ever forget.

This photo covers my life in such a funny way. These are keys to my homes — and they aren’t fancy vacation homes, but they are my homes. L to R: keys to my home in Austin. Keys to my home in NYC, with my metrocard. Keys to Katie’s home in Austin. Keys to Marnie’s home in Chicago, with my metrocard. I have yoga mats in Austin, New York, and Chicago.

When I got home yesterday, I got to see my dear friend Nancy for a couple of hours — lucky, since she’s gone now for a few days to see old friends in Kansas — and then I met Katie, Trey and darling Oliver for dinner at Chuy’s, a place that has a very very special place in my heart. Oliver looked huge! After holding tiny little newborn Ilan, and putting those tiny newborn diapers on him, Oliver looked like a teenager. 🙂 They got to the restaurant before me, and when I walked in and he saw me, he wiggled and grinned so big it melted my heart. I can’t believe he’s about to turn two, how fast that time has gone.

I didn’t get any reading done, to speak of, but I did finish the Ursula K. LeGuin book I was reading for my year-long project so I hope to write that post very soon. I missed the idea of writing on my blog, but it was such a blur of waiting and quiet and crying and cooking, the idea of it was about all I could muster. I gained ten pounds while I was gone and I didn’t regularly do yoga, and the only walking I did was back and forth to the grocery store, so I’m thrilled to return to my routine while I can, before we head off to China.

For now, I just have to remember which set of keys I need. xoxoxoxoxo

grandmother (again)-in-waiting

I’ll never know what it’s like to wait for a daughter-in-law to have a baby, but I just can’t imagine it’s the same experience as waiting for your daughter, no matter how close you might be. How can it? (What do I know. Maybe it can be.)

But I do know what it’s like — three times, now — waiting for your daughter to have her baby. Marnie’s due date is coming right up, two weeks from now, and I’ll get to their home one week before the due date assuming she doesn’t go into labor before then. She is all I can think about, all day long. When I wake up through the night, my thoughts are only with her. It’s going to be hard to be in NYC this coming week.

I remember all these feelings when Katie was pregnant, and I feel them again:

It’s such a close, close, close feeling of connection, a deep tenderness, an understanding of what is about to happen to her and she doesn’t know, because you can’t really know the first time. Her entire everything is about to change and she will never be the same again.

It’s a feeling of anxiety, as I think about the extreme pain of my own three labors and I don’t want her to suffer.

It’s a feeling of worry, as I think about all the ways it might go. As long as he’s born healthy, how he got here doesn’t matter at all, but I do hope surgery isn’t required — though if it is, I’ll be there with her for a few weeks so I can help. She lives in a two-story house and I’m in good shape for stair running.

It’s a feeling tinged with fear, as I remember that there’s no guarantee it will go perfectly and that we’ll all leave the hospital with him. The odds are enormous that we will, but they aren’t perfect odds. I think about our Gracie, and my devastated Katie and Trey. (And then I think about our adorable, happy, smiling Oliver and I smile like the sun.)

It’s a feeling of mind-blanking excitement as I wait with them to see his little face! What will he look like? Will he look like Tom? Tom’s family’s genes are pretty strong and the majority of the grandkids look like their family. Our little Oliver looks like his dad, and Marnie’s baby might look like his dad. One of these days I hope a grandkid gets the roll of the genetic lottery dice and looks a little similar to Pete in some small way. 🙂 But I can’t wait to see this one’s sweet face, to look into it and know that he’s in there already, he is who he is, who he will be, and we’ll watch him bloom and blossom.

It’s a feeling of heart-fluttering anticipation about walking into the room when I can and seeing my dear daughter holding her baby. I wonder what her face will look like? I have a pretty clear image of what Tom’s face will look like — some version of his face when they got married. All he wants is a home and family with Marnie; he has her, and they have a beautiful home, and now their first child. I imagine he’ll be in bliss. Marnie will have gone through that labor, so her expression will have more complexity, I imagine, but I don’t know! I just can’t wait to see her face.

It’s a feeling of big anx-worry-BLE!!! as I think about the hours I’ll wait in the waiting room with no idea what’s happening to my girl. As long as I’m nearby, just a question of feet or yards, it’ll be a tiny bit bearable. A tiny bit. I don’t know how mothers who can’t be nearby bear it.

Here I was, pregnant with her. This is the only picture I have of that period. I was 26.
Here I was, pregnant with her. This is the only picture I have of that period. I was 26.

And of course I remember my experience of her birth. Relatively speaking, it was quick and simple, especially compared to Katie’s birth, which was long and required six hours of pitocin — with zero drugs, not even the ones that “take the edge off.” But with Marnie, I think my labor started around 5am, and we waited until 8:30 to call my friend who was going to come stay with Katie. We were in the labor suite by 9:30 and she was born at 12:30. I didn’t have to be induced, I had no drugs, and the way I remember it is that the doctor broke my waters and Marnie washed out of me. She was clean as a whistle and her eyes were immediately open. There was a small-ish window a little bit higher on the wall, and the sun was shining on us. March 3, a sunny, beautiful Sunday in Austin. At one point during transition, probably, the pain became so bad that I had an out-of-body experience; I was up in the corner of the room, looking down on myself, and I thought, oh, look at her, she’s suffering so much. But that’s quick, 7.5 hours total, only 3 hours in the birthing suite, and then a simple birth. No stitches, no trouble, and home six hours later.

And so I think of my little girl, Marnie Elizabeth. If you hover over each image you’ll see the caption. In her life, we’ve called her Velvet, Peach, Scrappy, Emmie, Beppie, Bop, and Marn. Soon a little boy will call her mama.

Pete waits.

just a lot of OMGs

In random order, O.M.G.:

  • How have I not read any Tom Robbins as a 57yo person?? Thank heavens Peggy posted a quote by him, which led me to comment on it and led two friends to tell me how great Jitterbug Perfume is, leading me to immediately download the book and start reading it and O.M.G. Here’s the quote that kicked off the whole thing for me (thank you Peggy and Anne!):

beets“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets. The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.”

I ended up highlighting the entire first few pages, including the epigraph and the introduction, and throughout the early pages my highlighting is more evident than the non-highlighted stuff. Just, wow. How did I miss him for so long? I think I got him confused with someone else, some writer who does a lot of pulp books, but I can’t quite think of who it might me. OH! Harold Robbins! Yeah, very different.

I’m also newly and re-smitten by Per Petterson — about as opposite a writer as Tom Robbins as you could ever imagine. Where Robbins is out there in plot and inventiveness of language, Petterson is quiet, interior, and dreamy. Here’s my review of I Curse the River of Time, and I can’t recommend it enough. It was my third read of that beautiful book and I know I’ll read it at least a couple more times. I’m currently reading Out Stealing Horses (the guy is great at titling his books, that’s for sure), and moving between Petterson and Robbins is a head-banging experience.

  • I am hardly going to be home in Austin for the coming weeks and months, OMG. It’s all good stuff — my grandson’s birth and the luxury of time helping my daughter and son-in-law, a trip to southern China, and NYC time on either side of those great experiences. Still, I dearly love being home in Austin, in my cozy little place, with my own way of living my life and feeding myself, with my dear friends and family and weekly time with Oliver and Katie, with book club and poetry group and happy hours and brunches and coffee breaks, with nightly walks and an easy stop at Torchy’s Tacos (click here for images, you’ll want to eat there right away). When I’m in NYC or Chicago or southern China I’ll be so happily immersed in all that’s going on, obviously, and my sweet little home will be whispering in my ear. Queenie….come home….. will be home for Oliver’s 2nd birthday, no matter what. That’ll be a big day for us all.
  • I’m so glad I was in NYC for the historic snowstorm! Just, wow. It was amazing. In less than 24 hours we got nearly 27″ of snow. It was pretty hard to take a bad picture that day, but still I think this one I took in my beloved Riverside Park is pretty fantastic:
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It's not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It’s not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
  • We have some amazing travel coming up this year. Southern China in April, so excited about that (and also a little scared), and also the UP in July — the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! We’re going to Manistique Lake, a special place in Marc’s life. His family had a cabin there; actually, his grandfather bought it before Marc was even born, and he went all the time as a kid, and then at critical times during his adult life. Both blogs are set up. We’d been planning to go to Alaska in July so I could see humpback whales, but the places were already sold out so we’re diverting to Manistique and planning for Alaska next year. It’s a gorgeous Plan B, and also without any of the anxiety we have about China.
click the image to head to the blog
ditto — click the image

And a final BIG picture OMG. My life is pretty amazing at the moment and so I pause to acknowledge it. My little Katie family is flourishing (and Oliver is amazing) and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my little Marnie family is flourishing and about to grow and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my friends remain essential to my heart and well-being; I have work; the back-and-forth pleasures of Austin and NYC are mostly great, and the less-great stuff is a bearable price to pay; I’m in excellent health as far as I know and my eating and yoga and meditation makes me happy on a daily basis; I’m writing my own stuff and it’s good; I’m reading amazing books that enrich me; and my little year-long project has been surprisingly meaningful already. It’s so important to pause and look around during the peaceful happy periods, to see all there is, to sit with it and be grateful for it.

OMG. xoxoxox

Happy birthday to me!

“Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

Today I turn 57. In the last year, I had truly extraordinary times, so many joyous times, easy happiness for months on end, one deeply painful issue that still hurts and in fact hurts more than I think I can bear sometimes, and one dark period and one deep dark black period. This is long, but I have so very much to be grateful for, and you’re in here, I promise you. I learned a lot about myself this year; what a treat, that you can keep surprising yourself for so long. I kept my promise to myself this whole year in terms of eating well and mindfully, and doing near-daily yoga and meditating and walking. I celebrated our precious and happy Oliver turning 1, and the news of my darling Marnie’s pregnancy with a boy, arriving at the end of February. Two grandsons, what gifts, as I watch my family, the little family I tried so hard to make, grow into the future.

Since my last birthday I traveled a lot. I went to NYC every month, except the two months Marc came here. I went to Chicago on Mother’s Day to see Marnie and loved sitting in her booth at Zine Fest and seeing people respond to her beautiful work. Right after my birthday last year we went to Laos and Cambodia; in March I went to Colombia; in July I went to Norway and saw the midnight sun; in 13 days I return to Vietnam for the fifth time. Seeing the world, a treasure I never thought would happen to me, but it has for the last 10 years.

This year I celebrated the birthdays of my dearest daughters Katie and Marnie, and their families, and my friends. With my book club boon companions, we read books, we ate good food, we laughed so much, we went to happy hours together, we saved each other in one way or another, and our friendships deepened even more. With friends near and far, I enjoyed love and friendship and laughs and commiseration. With Traci I had two lunches each month in NYC and hours of sharing ourselves with each other, such a treasure. Dinners with Craig in New York, though not nearly enough of those, always rich in laughter and feeling seen and known. I even got to see Sherlock this year, but not my darling Peggy. Dear friends in Austin, in other states, in Europe and Canada, and even on the other side of the world, down under — all very real to me, very important, dear friends. Although I already knew this, I learned even more about how critical friends are to a full and happy life, and sometimes to life itself. My friends saved me last month in a very real way. So many walked right into that deep, dark hole and held my hands gently and brought me back into the light, friends in Austin and New York and Connecticut and Pennsylvania and France and Australia, just staggering. Friends, riches beyond compare. Daughters, wealth beyond compare.

a friend interlude -- my book club women, so much love
a friend interlude — book club women, so much love. missing Dee.

kandoI have a chosen family that carries me gently and with so much love, and I feel the same. Sherlock and Craig, my brothers. Peggy and Dixie, my sisters. Don, my Jewish father. Nancy, my….no idea, just my dearly loved family. I feel like there is so much more to say there, but I don’t know the words. I’ve done without a mother for 57 years, so I guess it’ll go that way, but I have a big enough family to hold and enfold me. And then of course my birthed family, Katie and Marnie, who I simply could not do without. Their husbands, always so good to me and to my daughters. I’m so grateful for my sweet family.

Since my last birthday I read so many books, mostly for work, but some for pleasure: Did You Ever Have a Family; A Little Life; Do No Harm; four of the Karl Ove Knausgaard volumes titled  My Struggle; On the Move, Oliver Sacks’ memoir; A House in the Sky; The End of Your Life Book Club; The Empathy Exams; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; The Unspeakable; Kafka on the Shore; She Weeps Each Time You’re Born; Norwegian Wood; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Station Eleven; Dept. of Speculation; The Laughing Monsters; West of Sunset; The Children Act; The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing; Loitering; The Bone Clocks; Everything I Never Told Youand Cutting for Stone. Of these, my very favorites were the four giant Knausgaards, A Little Life, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, Station Eleven, Loiteringand Dept. of Speculation. And then there were so many I reread for the remembered pleasure, including the one I’m rereading for the 5th(?) time, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. That always feels like an autumn book to me for some strange reason. So many I reread, I can’t even remember. The gift of literature, my oldest and most consistent love, I guess.

Every month but one, I think, poetry group met in my house and we shared truly wonderful evenings together, nearly all of the poetry beautiful and expansive and moving. Those friends taught me so much about poetry, and I’m so grateful for their generosity. I learned some new poets to follow, like Frank Bidart, and two of my friendships in that group deepened a lot. I found new music thanks to my very dear friend Val, who sent me an album of Imagine Dragons because she thought I would enjoy it, and at just the perfect time, and added a lot of Iris Dement to my library, thanks to my beautiful Traci. Around Austin and New York, and around the world, I ate a lot of fabulous food and will be drinking a whole lot of amazing tea (thank you Sherlock and Peggy). And I cooked a lot of fabulous food too, including this buttermilk biscuit jag I’ve been on and can’t seem to stop—especially since I discovered Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, and received some of Karyn’s delicious honey from her bees. Books, poetry, music, food, so many riches.

And the ordinaries, the moments throughout the days and weeks that give me peace and ease, or simple happiness, or even joy and bliss, which I am grateful to experience on a regular basis. My morning coffee routine, a deep pleasure never taken for granted. Weekly coffee breaks with Nancy, communion in the deepest, real meaning of that word. The real pleasure of my sweet little home, and the way I get to welcome people into it. Drawing, which I learned how to do this year, a regular joy and wonder. Nightly walks and stories in my ear, meditative pleasures. Sitting on my patio in the cool moments of a day, feeling the soft air on my face and the quiet joy of having my own space. My so-cozy bed, my refuge at the end of each day, crisp white sheets and a soft comforter.

Of course Facebook makes it easy for people — far-flung people — to wish you a happy birthday, but it’s always so surprising to get the emails, cards, gifts, and notes from people who remember. Like Kty in Paris, who remembered — how? how did she remember this? — that I love yellow flowers. People who remind me about Big Daddy or Mister Rogers just when I need to remember them — how do you do that? Little interpersonal touches that show me that somehow I live in the hearts of people in so many places. It doesn’t feel like there is a big enough gratitude for touches like these.

OandP090215No one ever knows what the coming year will bring, me least of all. I’ve noticed that the things I worry about most tend not to happen, and I never once imagined the dreadfulest things that happened. I guess, if it’s not too greedy, I’d like another year like this past year: daughters and their sons and husbands, friends far and wide, books, art, poetry, good food, travel, continued good health for me and Marc and everyone I know please. Gee, that looks like a whole lot to ask for. I expect and hope to travel to Chicago in February for the birth of Marnie’s and Tom’s son, and I expect I won’t get nearly my fill of my kids and grandsons, even little Oliver who lives up the road a ways.

I’m damn glad to be here and I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for being here with me, and for celebrating my birthday with me if you do. Thank you for living this life with me, for the ways you keep me going, the ways you share yourself with me, and the ways you encourage me with so much love. Thank you for the times you let me love you. I’m so grateful for this past year, which was an absolutely wonderful year in almost every way. Even the dark times mattered, even though I did not like the suffering. So happy birthday to me, and many more! On to 58!

p.s. I’ll bet you knew that I cried while writing every single word. xoxoxox

Lester Tricky

When I was a little girl, I had a younger cousin who liked to stick bobby pins in the electrical outlets, and when sparks came out she’d laugh in absolute delight and say, “Lester Tricky! Lester Tricky!” Some adult would come running and tell her that electricity was dangerous and she shouldn’t do that, but you could see in her eyes that she would never listen.

I’ll come back to Lester Tricky in a minute, but first some context. My life is extraordinary right now. Just utterly extraordinary. Yesterday was Katie’s birthday and I got to spend some hours with them, and some time all alone with little Oliver, who isn’t feeling very well right now. Molars, I think. When I went home afterwards, I made a yummy dinner, and then feeling too extraordinary to sit still, I went to a pie shop with my new book of poetry and relished that warm chocolate salted caramel slice. I came home, still feeling too extraordinary (but also too full of pie), so I laced on my sneakers and headed out for a steamy walk — the only kind you can take in Texas this time of year.

Marnie had introduced me to a wonderful podcast called Song Exploder (I strongly recommend it to you!); song writers focus on one of their compositions and talk about the creation of it in fascinating detail. I selected a band I’d never heard of (Sylvan Esso) talking about their song “Coffee.” (Here’s a link to the specific episode, recommended!) The episode grabbed me from the beginning, and so I was hooked and lost in the conversation.

one of Austin's nicknames is City of the Violet Crown
one of Austin’s nicknames is City of the Violet Crown

It was that violet kind of twilight, and the cicadas were buzzing in the air non-stop. I walked past one family of deer, and then another, and then two little fawns that seemed to be on their own. The twilight deepened a little more, and the cicadas grew louder. As the conversation drew to a close on the podcast, the episode ended with the entire song played. And as I listened, I felt the top of my scalp, like electricity was dancing in my hair. It moved down my cheeks, down my neck — still alive in my hair — and down my arms. I saw goose bumps come up on my arms, and it kept moving down my body, down my legs — goose bumps there too — and into my feet. I looked up and there was a brilliant half moon right overhead. I looked to my left and there was a large male deer standing there looking at me.

ElectricityIt was extraordinary. It felt like everything else around me was on pause, there was no traffic on the busy street nearby, the cicadas seemed to stop, the breeze went on pause. I blinked slowly, swallowed, looked up at the moon, down at my arms, and closed my eyes. I just stood there in that moment, lit up with electricity. I remembered Lisa, and Lester Tricky. I felt the whole of my life, everything behind me and everything stretching out in front of me, my family continuing on into the future, me as an ancestor of all these people who streamed into the world through me. I don’t know how long I stood there on the sidewalk with my eyes closed. I think when the song ended, the spell was broken. I opened my eyes, the breeze seemed to pick up again. I heard the traffic nearby. I took a deep breath and looked up at the moon in the darkening sky.

I can’t guarantee that the song will have the same effect on you (but I do recommend that you start by listening to the podcast about it, linked above; it’s only 13 minutes long). Just in case, here is the official video of it. I love the female singer’s voice, and the eerie moodiness of the song, and now forever it’s stained purple for me.

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I love being me. I don’t think I’d be anyone else for any amount of money.

loving the newbie

That is her very precious grandfather, Kiki, when he first met her. He too was smitten.
That is her very precious grandfather, Kiki, when he first met her. He too was smitten.

The split second I saw Katie in the process of being born, I was so hard in love I could hardly bear it. Of course I loved her before she was born; I loved her while I was carrying her, giggling at her little hiccups, rubbing my tummy in my effort to be closer to her. But man, it was like a ton of bricks fell on me when she was born.

And then it happened again when Marnie swam out of me on that sunny Sunday, and when Will was born that spring in south Texas. Gosh, it was so physical, so huge and overwhelming, and I’ll never forget it. Of course I’d known them for months at that point and had imagined them incessantly, so meeting them, seeing their little faces, that wasn’t my first introduction.

There’s something to that biological umbilical cord, perhaps. I’ve never been a big fan of babies at all, at all, but my babies, wowie. I wondered what my experience would be when our little Oliver was born.

The moment I saw him I loved him and would do anything in the world for him — and what’s also true is that it was in my head, mostly, and a large part of my love for Oliver had to do with my love for Katie. I was so filled with joy and happiness that he was here, that Katie had her baby, that she and Trey would be taking home this little baby, that was my overwhelming feeling. I loved Oliver through my love for Katie.

But I felt a little bit worried — why didn’t I feel the same huge physical love for this sweet baby? Friends told me not to worry, that it would come, that it’s different with the first grandchild. The love is there, but it’s just different at the beginning.

They were right about the fact that it comes, that the hugeness and physical part of it does come. Over the last few months I’ve felt it inside me when I see him, when I spend time with him. Over the last few months, I’ve missed that person when I don’t see him. I miss Oliver. I don’t miss ‘seeing my grandson,’ I don’t miss getting to be with Katie’s baby. I miss Oliver. He is such a person, so specific, and of course he’s the happiest, most easygoing kid I have ever seen so he makes it easy, but even if he weren’t, it has happened: I am in love with that kid. It’s physical.

So if you are expecting your first grandchild, or you’ve just become a grandma, and you feel like your love is in your head, don’t worry. It’ll hit you one day like a ton of bricks.

I’m going to be away from him a lot for the next month and I may just have to arrange some Skype sessions with Oliver’s mama. How can I be away so long?

Happy Friday, everyone! xo


Last night we celebrated the birthday of one amazing woman in our book club. We gathered at a cool Indian restaurant near downtown; the last time I ate there it was a food truck. This happens a lot in Austin.

my wonderful book club (minus Karyn, who was traveling) and various husbands, friends, sons, daughters, sisters.

It was an exceptionally joyous evening, I thought; we love celebrating together, and we make a point of celebrating birthdays, but there seemed to be something a little extra special about last night’s celebration. It was also a lovely evening, early spring, soft.

While we were there last night I realized all this, but it was in looking at this picture this morning that I felt washed over with gratitude. This group of people, this welcoming, loving, warm, intelligent, loving group of people represent so much of my beautiful life in Austin. The beating heart of it is Katie and Oliver, of course, but when I think about what makes my life so large and textured and beautiful, it’s big: it’s Katie’s little family, these beautiful people, my poetry group, Nancy who I still cannot believe my great good luck to know and love and live next door to, Cindy who crosses so easily into my honest heart, other friends I care about and simply don’t get enough time to see on a regular basis. My beautiful, sweet home. This place, Austin, that is the most deeply familiar place I’ve ever lived — two of my children were born here. Bluebonnets. Deep Eddy. Great food. Live music.

I’m so healthy it’s amazing. How lucky is that?! I’m strong and look pretty good for an old gal and have enough work and get to see the world but I have my solid base here.

I look at that picture and easily remember the last time I was at that restaurant a couple of years ago. It’s where I first met two of the women in the picture, actually, but I barely remember because I was in such terrible shape that I’d forced myself out the door and couldn’t wait to hurry home and crawl back into my bed to cry. Two years ago. Then I had Katie and Trey, horrible grief over losing everything, and the house I’m renting. And now, just look. Everything is as different as it possibly could be. I’ve been sitting here trying to see if there’s anything that isn’t different, and the answer is no, not really. It’s all so different. Even our grief over Gracie has found a level that allows us to live with it.

Dang, y’all. Life can pull a 180 and even though you think it’ll always be dark, it really isn’t. Lucky, lucky me.

on being known

As you’d rightly guess after reading this blog for a little while, being known is of value to me. I don’t want to hide myself, to keep who I am a big secret. I do have secrets, of course, and there are aspects of me that aren’t exactly secret but that are saved for only some people in my life. Still, I enjoy seeing that my people know me.

I get this one A LOT.
I get this one A LOT.

It shows up in my Facebook feed, in a silly way; the number of posts about grammar, Peeps, and Brian Williams/Alan Cumming that people put on my wall is quite amazing, and they always make me smile. I think I am most known for my undying love of the Peep. 🙂

One thing my birthday fortnight showed me is that my friends know me very well. The gifts they gave me were spectacular, and while I will thrill to wear each item, use each item, read each book, etc., it was the way they showed how closely my friends have paid attention that was the biggest blessing. “That [gift] reminded me of something you’d wear.” “I saw it and thought of you.” “I noticed you wear [x] and thought you’d like it.” I felt showered in love and affection from everyone who celebrated with me, and the specifics of it all made it feel specific to me, and that was pretty damned wonderful.

My birthday fortnight started with a card from Dixie that just delighted me to no end, and ended with a bigger-than-imagined celebration with Cindy — sushi and a bad dessert followed by a restaurant change and champagne and key lime pie. In between were all the joyful celebrations, big and small, and time with my daughters and their families and all that love, and the joy of celebrating getting to be here for all these years. In between were thoughtful gifts, big and small, each one to be cherished as a reminder of the giver. (Except for the incredibly luscious dark chocolate peanut butter cups which will be cherished until they are gone and but a memory.) In between was a polka and a waltz with my beautiful Marnie smiling at me and poor Tom, flu-sick in the wings; in between was a rainy-day sushi happy hour with Katie and Trey, and Oliver sleeping like a baby while we ate.

The funny thing about my friends and family is that with each one, there is at least one very deep way we are alike, some place we touch each other and know each other. I’m not a party person, although I can be very very happy at a party with my friends — people I know and feel comfortable with. I most value the time I get one-on-one with them, where we share ourselves and try to know each other. I love getting to know you, and I thank you for wanting to know me.


p.s. I have finished reading a couple of books, I’ll write about them shortly in case you are interested in them! xo

loss and suffering

heartTalking about a mother’s heart is a schizophrenic experience for me. There I’ll be, talking about how full mine is, or how broken – because I am a mother to these people – and then I’ll remember so pointedly that it’s not true “because” I am a mother, because my own mother and plenty like her do not have these feelings.

I have 953 pictures of just him, and only 3 of those are from the past 9 years. I always loved this one, he is so beautiful.
I have 953 pictures of just him, and only 3 of those are from the past 9 years. I always loved this one, he is so beautiful.

My son is estranged from our family. He disappeared from us entirely in 2005, into New York City. I was living there too, and not knowing where or how we was doing made me feel, every single day, like I would die from it. From the fear, from the heartache, from the worry. I emailed him every single day, without fail, never knowing if he got them. For a brief period I discovered where he worked and would stand on the opposite corner, where he wouldn’t see me, and just watch. “Ah, he looks OK. Today he looks OK.” He held all the cards and all the power, and my fear was that if he saw me he would quit that job and then I wouldn’t even know that much about him. And so I’d watch from a distance because knowing that he was alive mattered more than the rest.

Thanks to my oldest daughter’s efforts, he rejoined our family, tentatively, for about a year, and we said some of the things to each other that we needed and wanted to say, and then he disappeared again and simply will not respond to any of us. The last time I saw him was August of last year (he lives a few blocks from me in NYC) and he doesn’t answer our calls, never responds to our texts or emails, he just stays away. When will I see him again? Will I? Will I hear from him ever again?

It’s a very hard thing to talk about for so many reasons. Too many parents respond with judgment and cold assumptions, they make thoughtless remarks. I do not need anyone to remind me—ever—that I have made mistakes in every avenue of my life, including parenting. I imagine some parents respond in judgment because it lets them feel safe: she must have done something so bad to deserve this and I know I haven’t, so it won’t happen to me. I hope it doesn’t, it’s excruciating. But I don’t and never will regret the thing I did that precipitated his leaving nine years ago, even if I never see him again. I felt that way then and I feel that way now. He was in a bad place and I tried to save his life, knowing very well that he might never forgive me. But he would be alive in the world and I decided I would live with that.

What is wrong with me – all the other mothers talk about their kids, complain about this little thing or that little thing, oh those kids – and I have this one who chooses to be gone. My heart is broken every single day, missing a chamber, dead in spots from lack of blood there. I feel shame and sorrow and impossible loss, and exquisite pain that every single day he makes the decision not to be in our family. I have a friend who understands personally what this feels like, and just having that little spot of true understanding has been such an experience of grace. And I got a note from one of my daughters with an expression of compassion that was so profound I’m bleaching out the pixels in her email from reading it over and over and over. There is such a balm from compassion and empathy from your adult children, I’m telling you. You wait a long, long time, hoping that someday they understand things, and sometimes they do.

Once in a blue moon I remember that my own mother and I have no connection – I haven’t seen or spoken to her since spring of 1987, and I won’t see or speak to her ever, for any reason. I won’t go to her funeral, if I even get the news that she dies. Is my son’s absence about the universe coming around to smack me down? How can my estrangement from my mother and my son’s estrangement from me have anything at all to do with each other, the situations could not be more different, and yet I am the common point to both. Pain ripples out a very long time from old boulders thrown into deep lakes, and maybe Will’s estrangement is a long slow ripple.

I have absolutely no idea what the pain of a child’s death is like. I watched my grandmother deal with my father’s death, and I watched my daughter deal with her daughter’s death. That’s a place I hope I never learn personally, I cannot even imagine. I’ve heard widowed and divorced women talk about which is worse – “At least yours died and didn’t leave you!” “At least yours could always come back!” – and there’s just more than enough sad truth in both losses. I am so glad my son is alive, and there is a cutting horrible pain in his choosing this.

Life is a mess and so are we as we try to live it. We fuck up out of ignorance, out of shortsightedness, out of our own brokenness, out of being human, and things are not always neat — maybe they never are neat. I try to extend that same understanding to my son, that he is perhaps fucking up out of his ignorance, his shortsightedness, his own brokenness, his humanity, and his life is not neat. Unlike my mother with me, my love for my son endures and will be echoing inside me to my last breath, whatever happens with him in the interim. And I am every day filled to the brim with love and appreciation for my beautiful daughters, I cannot neglect to say that.

Introducing Oliver (and Pete!)

We were both a long time coming, I’ll say that. Katie, Trey and I arrived at the hospital at 6:30am on Thursday; they didn’t sleep a lot the night before and I didn’t sleep at all. We all had our own set of things that kept us awake, and most were probably overlapping. A unique one I had was that my sweet little first baby was about to undergo a whole lot of stuff. I had worries, anxieties, fears, excitement, anticipation, wishing-I-could-suffer-instead-of-her. The general mama stuff, you know. I’m waiting to hear from them how they want me to handle showing images of him, but these have been shared on Facebook so I’ll go ahead and share them here. I am not meaning this to be a ME! ME! ME!-heavy post, I’m just protecting their privacy and showing the path through my own tired face. Here’s the story in pictures:

"My sweet boy: You're off to Great Places. Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting...so get on your way!" -- Katie's caption
“My sweet boy: You’re off to Great Places. Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting…so get on your way!” — Katie’s caption
around 4 in the afternoon. Waiting, still kinda fresh about it. C'mon, c'mon, c'mon.
around 4 in the afternoon. Waiting, still kinda fresh about it. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.
a little less fresh by now. Around 9:30pm I think. C'mon, Oliver. Come on down, we're all waiting. What's up with you, stubborn boy!
a little less fresh by now. Around 9:30pm I think. C’mon, Oliver. Come on down, we’re all waiting. What’s up with you, stubborn boy!
almost midnight, we're all trying to catching sips of rest when we can. COME ON OLIVER. Seriously, now. Come on.
almost midnight, we’re all trying to catching sips of rest when we can. COME ON OLIVER. Seriously, now. Come on.
Just before 3, a quick dash to the OR and he's here, at 3:41am. Face up at a funny angle, had to make his own kind of arrival. Look at those little froggie legs! Oliver Hudson Lowery, born on March 28th at 3:41am. 8lbs 6oz and 20 inches long. He has a full head of hair and already has mom and dad wrapped around his finger with his pouty bottom lip.
Just before 3, a quick dash to the OR and he’s here, at 3:41am. Face up at a funny angle, had to make his own kind of arrival. Look at those little froggie legs! Oliver Hudson Lowery, born on March 28th at 3:41am. 8lbs 6oz and 20 inches long. He has a full head of hair and already has mom and dad wrapped around his finger with his pouty bottom lip.
I am thoroughly exhausted, but finally: Introducing Pete! Oliver's grandmama.
I am thoroughly exhausted, but finally: Introducing Pete! Oliver’s grandmama.
The dynamic duo of Oliver and Pete -- watch out everyone. For real.
The dynamic duo of Oliver and Pete — watch out everyone. For real.
The mini-me version of his dad. Like, EXACTLY.
The mini-me version of his dad. Like, EXACTLY.

And so there we are. When they have a photo they like and want to share of the three of them, I’ll post it. They are both over the moon with joy. He’s a champion nurser and he’s great at peeing on kind nurses. Katie has taken to the whole thing with ease and grace, but that doesn’t surprise me. She and Trey continue to show me again and again and again why they are so perfect with and for each other. And now their little family has three beating hearts if you don’t count all the dozens of other beating hearts all around them.

Welcome to this world, little Oliver. My name is Pete, I will be one of your trusted guides.


grand mothering

Soon my grandson Oliver will be here, and of course I’m thinking about him — thinking about his chubby little cheeks we’ve watched in all the ultrasounds, thinking about how much we’ve watched and worried as we’ve waited, and thinking about what it will be like to be Pete to a little boy, whose hand I will hold, whose heart I will cherish, and whose parents I will be so glad to support.

I could NOT take my eyes or my heart off of her. My first little girl, so dazzling.
I could NOT take my eyes or my heart off of her. My first little girl, so dazzling.

But more, I’m thinking about my daughter, and what it’s like to be her mother at this momentous transition. I have to tell you, I’ve been crying a lot. I know the myriad ways her life is about to change, she is about to change — at every level, cellular, intellectual, emotional, moral, spiritual, hopes, dreams, self. It’s all about to change, and she knows a lot of it already after her love for her daughter Grace, but she hasn’t yet had the chance to hold a baby in her arms and watch it watch her. She hasn’t yet watched her baby move around in the world, become who s/he is going to become. She has made the kind of heart-wrenching decisions for her child that mothers have to make; she has born the pain, but she has not yet born the wonder, and I know that is about to happen for her and it makes me feel so tender toward her, mothers, it does. It cracks my heart open and I just want to pause this moment and live in it for just a little while.

I know lots of women who long to be grandmothers. I was never one of those, except as it related to my children’s wishes. If my children wished to have children, I wanted that for them. If they didn’t, I wanted that for them. Their lives are theirs to live, as I have lived mine, and their choices are theirs to make and live with, as I have made and lived with mine. All I want of my life — all I’ve wanted since 1982 — is that the lives that come through and after mine are different, better, more whole. And that continues now.

I want my daughters to have a mother around who will be thrilled with them, mourn with them, come help through those hard 5pm hours; a mother who will come over and babysit so she and her husband can have time out — even if they just go out and talk about the baby. A mother who brings a pan of lasagna, a big salad, a cake when she is just exhausted. A mother who comes over when everyone is sick and rolls up her sleeves to help. I didn’t have that, and wished I did. I wished I had a mother to share it all with, a mother who could help me now and then when I felt I couldn’t do it another day, a mother who knew what I was going through, a mother who was excited for and with me. I want my children to have a grandmother for their kids, something I was not able to give my own children — a grandmother they know adores them, who takes them away on little excursions, who always has treats for them [secretly], who has a very simple and whole love for them, uncomplicated and constant. O I want that for my dear children so much.

Over the last couple of days I have been so thick with some kind of feelings I can’t quite articulate, I can’t get near the center of it, but I know it has to do with the enormity of my love for this girl, who is now a woman about to become a mother.

she was ten years old then, and just so sweet
she was ten years old then, and just so sweet

I’ve had to bear the incredible and unbearable pain of witnessing her pain and being unable to do one damn thing about it, my own pain paling in comparison. I’ve watched her off in the distance, on an island I knew nothing about, me waving and jumping from the shore. And now I get to bear the incredible and almost unbearable joy of witnessing her transitioning to this new stage of her life, the stage she has longed for and dreamed of, and again I can only stand on the shore and wave and jump. I am so damn glad I am here to do that.

I can’t wait to tell you when Oliver gets here. It should be any day now. I hope I can bear all this love without my heart exploding. xo

an itinerant marriage

at Nobu after our wedding.
at Nobu after our wedding.

My life is complicated. Blah blah blah, so is yours, so is everyone’s. The way mine is complicated relates most pointedly to my marriage, which has been thrown up in the air. I moved to Texas in November 2012 because my husband and I were planning to divorce, and my heart was so thoroughly broken. I didn’t want to find someone else, I didn’t want to date for fun, I was just starting a new version of my life without a partner and that was that, and that was always going to be that. In the first few months we tried a couple of different things that didn’t work, we tried letting each other go, and the letting-go didn’t work, either. And so we arrive at my complicated life: I visit him 11 days/month, but I live in Texas the rest of the month.  My real life is in Texas, my residence is there, my bills are there, my tax burden is there, my heart is there. More or less. When Oliver is born in a few weeks I’ll stay Texas-side for a prolonged period, but after we get back from Greece I’ll stay in New York until the Yale gig starts.

I miss him terribly when we are apart, though I have such a rich and wonderful life in Texas and I love it with all my heart. I love my life in Austin. I love my friends, I love my poetry group, and my book club. I love all of that. I love being so close to family, especially since Katie will be having her baby soon. I’m glad to be near her and Trey, I’m glad to be here for Oliver’s birth, and I’m glad I’ll be close to him while he grows up. I wish that could be true for all my children, because my family matters the most to me. I wish I could also live right down the road from Marnie and Tom, and I wish Will would be part of our lives. But I am near Katie and Trey, and I feel so grateful for that.

When my husband and I are together, because we have missed each other so terribly, and because our time is precious, we really just focus on each other and want to spend the time we have together, while we have it. We make plans, we do things, we decide not to do them after all, we change plans, we do nothing, we sleep in, we relish the pleasure of touching feet at night, of sleeping spine-to-spine, or spine to tummy, the pleasure of knowing we’re there, the pleasure of talking in the night if we wake up, the pleasure of being there if the other has a nightmare. Those little pleasures are not ours to take for granted anymore, because we do not live together.**

And so my time with people gets compartmentalized, though it kind of suits my temperament anyway. I’ve always preferred to spend time with people one-on-one, or one-on-two (three is a max, for me). I’ve never been a big-gang person, a big party person (ok, like not at ALL), and for the most part when I’m with you, you have my undivided attention. I want to soak you up too. I want that vivid space between us to vibrate, I want to be real with you there and have you be real with me there, too.

For my real-life friends, here and there, I miss you when I am not seeing you and when I am seeing you I am SO so happy to be seeing you. I’m sorry for my away time wherever I am, and I hope you can accept this aspect of me and my life because it’s just kind of fundamental, even as it is exaggerated now because of my itinerant marriage.

**and to continue the complicatedness, and to be perfectly human about it, I also really relish getting back to my own little place where I live alone, and to being alone in it again so that when I go in the bathroom whaddya know, the seat is down because I left it that way. And it may be lonely at times but it is also all mine and the way I want it and I like it that way too. Why is life so hard.  🙂 When my life fell completely apart in November 2012, if you’d told me I would LOVE living alone so very much I’d have argued with you as hard as I could.

A quick rundown on some recs for you:


  • I read Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala, which is a memoir of the devastating loss of her entire family — parents, husband, two young sons — in the tsunami that hit the southern coast of Sri Lanka on Dec 26, 2004. It’s a killing memoir, crushing, shattering, and if you have ever experienced the kind of grief that you aren’t sure you’ll survive, you’ll appreciate it very much (here it is on Amazon).
  • I’m thrilled to start reading Lorrie Moore’s new collection of short stories (!!!) titled Bark the moment it publishes on Tuesday.  (order/pre-order it here!) Between her and George Saunders (and Alice Munro) I could read short stories the rest of my life. If you’ve never read any Lorrie Moore, start anywhere but I completely loved Birds of America and read it over and over again, always with surprise.


  • Watch All is Lost as soon as you can. It’s the Robert Redford movie — by which I mean he is the only actor in the movie, and just about the only sound is the boat and the various storms he encounters. There is so little dialogue as to be inconsequential, although what there is is great. We watched it on Valentine’s Day and I am still kind of haunted by it. It’s about the existential experience of being entirely alone in the face of the universe and facing death, but it’s SO much better than Gravity. So much better. (Although the cinematography in Gravity was good, I absolutely give them that.) As the NYTimes review says, “An opera thunders in the silence.” My husband doesn’t like slow movies, doesn’t like character studies, and this movie completely captivated his attention from beginning to end.

Watch something big and good. Read something big and good. Think about something big and good. Talk to someone about something big and good. Involve yourself in a big and good meal, all the way. I always love it when that is possible.


work day

Today, no work for me beyond getting Oliver’s quilt top made, sewing a couple of crib sheets, and doing some writing. It’s another gorgeous day here, although not 82 degrees like we had yesterday (“only” 71, I’ll take it). A side-by-side comparison of my place in Austin yesterday and NYC yesterday:

Marc and I had such a Valentine’s Day blast yesterday. My day started with valentines in my email from him, and then a knock on my door and there was my daughter Katie, standing there holding a box of Krispie Kreme donuts and a container of chocolate milk. Ah, my sweet girl. I started making spaghetti sauce around 11am so it could simmer all day. At 6, I took my laptop into the kitchen and turned on Skype, and Marc and I made our dinners together.

that's him on the laptop, cooking in NYC while I cook in Austin. We talked to each other the whole time.
that’s him on the laptop, cooking in NYC while I cook in Austin. We talked to each other the whole time.

We both had spaghetti with homemade sauce and big salads. When we were ready to eat, I moved my laptop to the dining table and we faced each other and ate dinner. We actually looked at each other and talked more last night than we would’ve had we eaten together, because we usually watch The Daily Show or Colbert while we eat. It was so great. We cleaned our kitchens together, then we stretched out to watch a movie together. The timing was tricky because we both had to start the movie at the same moment but we did it. The laptops were there so we could see each other, talk about the movie. (We watched the Robert Redford movie, All is Lost. Almost no dialogue, and only him on the screen. Amazing movie.)

When the movie ended, we talked a little bit and then wished each other sweet dreams and logged off. It was actually a wonderful Valentine’s Day, even though it was very nonusual.

Today I’ll open up my house so the fresh air can flow through, and in addition to sewing and writing, I’ll make a lemon cake to take to brunch tomorrow. Busy day for me, but every bit happy. Sunshine makes me happy. Making things makes me happy. Writing makes me happy. My sweet little home makes me happy. Daydreaming about Oliver makes me happy. My children make me happy, and my husband. My family, my friends, all of you “out there” living your lives make me happy.

Happy Saturday. xox

V <3


Yes! Happy Valentine’s Day everyone, even those who want to grouse that it’s just a day for Hallmark to make some money. We love you grumps anyway. Whatever the day was originally about (not at all clear), now of course it’s just about celebrating love. And so, while I celebrate in a distance-way with my husband, I also celebrate the love I share with my beautiful, beautiful children and their husbands, my now-pineapple-sized grandson Oliver, my family Karl and Dixie and Sherlock and Peggy, my beloved friends in Austin and New York and all the various places I’ve lived, my dear friends I’ve met through this blog and Facebook and Ravelry and all the other odd places we meet these days. In all the different ways we can love each other, I love you.

It carries a lot of weight, this crazy day — reservations at restaurants made weeks ahead of time, flower and candy and gift pressures, in-your-face gut punch for the momentarily heartbroken, blech. Really, it’s just about the love, and nearly everyone has someone they love, someone who loves them, and that makes us all very lucky. And that’s worth celebrating. Since my husband and I are not together today, we’re doing the 21st century version of celebrating together. We’re making the same dinner, and we have the same movie, so we’ll set our tables and then get on Skype and eat together, and then watch a movie together. Not our very best V-Day, but not our worst, either.

I’m also thinking of a friend of mine undergoing a surgical procedure today and I send non-stop zingings of love and light and energy his way, including to the medical team taking care of him today. For 20 years this day has carried a special meaning for him, so the timing of the procedure today is strange and coincidental and apt. A few more 20-year runs for him, please. If you do this kind of thing, please send good thoughts his way. You can call him what Katie called him a long time ago: Homie G-Dog.  A good heart day for you, Homie G-Dog.


not THAT kind of sad….

i feel you, little snowman!
i feel you, little snowman!

….but the one in all caps. SAD. Seasonal. Affective. Disorder. You know what? I think one thing that’s going on with me is just this long-acting gloomy gray-skied winter! I’m in Texas and this is winter, I’m getting ripped off! Our pay-off for the miserable hot summers is that we get these gloat-worthy lovely mild winters, so where’s the complaint desk, I’m getting in line. (Yeah, behind all of you having much worse winters, Chicago, New York, the east coast, the midwest, boo hoo you poor Texans having gray skies and some freezing temperatures bite me, I imagine you saying.)

That hit me yesterday, yet another miserable non-Texan winter day. I’m missing the sun, but I’m also missing the son, my boy, who is once again in retreat, not responding, not a word in five months (even through the holidays, nada), no answer to emails or calls or texts, just the big zero. Silence. He does this, and it shreds my heart. So I’m missing the sun/son and I think that’s a big part of this heaviness I can’t seem to shake.

Because really, if you were to haul out a giant set of scales and put my troubles on one side and all my riches on the other, that sucker would be weighted by the good so heavily it’d send the couple of troubles flying, like a trebuchet. Oh my god. And even though I’ve been walking around in this sad misty funk, even through all this, I’ve been shaking my head at how much wonder there is in my life. Oliver will be here next month, we’ll get to hold him and pinch him (well, out of love of course) and kiss his chubby little cheeks and see who he is. Katie will be a mommy, Trey will be a daddy. Marnie is about to start a new chapter in her life, Tom is burning it up at his job.

I mention lightly but more than once that I’m blue, and BOY do people put their arms out to me. My goodness. Dixie. Karyn. Peggy. Dee. Nancy. Cyndi. Traci. Faith. Jane. Anne. Becci. Little touches maybe, big full-body hugs maybe, daily loving emails maybe. Eggs, even. (Delivered, even!) Lunches. Dinner with Lorrie. “How are you”s. “Thinking about you”s. “Doing OK?”s. “Hey, neighbor”s. “Can you swing by?”s. Kisses, even. Smiles.

And I ask a personal favor of several people — something that’s extremely difficult for me to do, just a little bit harder than allowing you to help me if it will put you out — and of course no surprise, all the people I asked immediately and enthusiastically said they would help me. And so I get to learn, I get to etch away a bit of that wall, let some air and light in, start the process of it crumbling. And in doing the personal favor for me, those who did it gave me such gifts. Nancy says can you come over, and then she and her husband proceed to tell me things I will cherish forever, and I walk back to my place on a thick cushion of air, and believe in myself a little bit more than I dreamed I would. And Traci says something I will cherish forever, and save in a little file to read when my faith lags. And with their encouragement, and Peggy’s hand, I try something and I will be OK even if it doesn’t work this time. How could I not be? Look at what I have.

And you know what else? I am grateful every miserable day of this gray, cold, miserable winter, that it was not like this last winter when my life was in shambles and I was so utterly devastated. If I’d felt like that and it was this weather? Yikes. I shudder to think. Instead, I remember last February working on my patio in a sleeveless t-shirt and shorts, potting plants in the blue-skied sunny days. I’m actually strong enough this year to just mope around a bit and feel funky and unclean (yeah, I’m not showering all that much) but not be in more trouble than that.

While I’ve been moping around in the gloom, all these people have been softly holding me up and other good things have been happening. I’m now officially the poetry and prose editor for a new journal called Red Truck Review: A Journal of American Southern Literature and Culture. When the site is up, I’ll share the link. More information on that as it gets up and running. The first issue will launch mid-March. Through this opportunity, as the net works, other opportunities may come my way. I know people now who know people and this is how the world works. I’m writing, a lot, and seem to have flipped some switch about it, more ideas on that to come in another post.

And so I have very little work, several tiny jobs that all together don’t cover my rent. And so the crazy thing is still hanging over me and will be for more weeks, and crazy for my husband too. Crazy is crazy-making, not to be too redundant there. But it is! Those are big frightening things, I am definitely not minimizing them. By no means. They’re just not the whole thing. By any means.

Feeling mighty grateful and wiping the mist off my glasses. xoxo


loveSo! A week from today is St. Valentine’s Day (remember the St.? I think we’ve Hallmarked that word out of the day at this point, but that’s what we called it when I was a kid). The morning news shows are talking about flowers and what you should know before you order, the shops are full of gaudy cards and even gaudier red-cellophaned boxes of chocolate, and however you might feel about the commercial part, telling people you love them is a good idea. Somehow the ‘holiday’ seems to have shifted toward romantic relationships exclusively (unless you’re in elementary school), but that’s such a shame. If you don’t have a romantic relationship, there are still people in your life that you love, and who love you, and you can celebrate those relationships too — it’ll be good for you and good for them. Here are some ideas:

  • A little gift, something they always wanted but never got. This one requires forethought and knowledge of the person, so it’s not for everyone — but what a gift. And it needn’t be a big thing, of course. A box of charcoal pencils, a collection of watercolors for the wish-to-be artist. A childhood toy, longed for but never received. You’ll knock their socks off partly because they will feel known and seen. And that’s what it’s about.
  • Amnesty and forgiveness. Finally, just let that thing go. But don’t tell them in a “yeah, I forgive you for that shitty thing you did to me” way. Wrap it in a new beginning, a frame of understanding and accepting their humanity and loving them. (You’ll get a gift back on this one.)
  • A box of something that smells wonderful. Be creative and look outside. If there’s a childhood memory you can track down with a smell, do that! If they love the smell of leather and tobacco, do that. If they love orange blossoms, check out your florist.
  • A little still life. It’s easy to see all the nests in trees and bushes, here in our harsh winter. Pull one down, place little objects in it. A brief bit of life, held in place.
  • Do a chore for them! Mothers, if you’re lucky enough to live near your kids, I imagine your grown daughter would be shocked if you showed up to do one of her chores. OR make it easy for her and her husband to celebrate together — take the grandkids and leave a little bit of cash behind, if you can afford to do that.
  • Stick little notes in surprising places, and if you can, slip them in places they’ll discover as the day goes on. One in a coat pocket, one in the underwear drawer, one in the purse or briefcase or wallet, one in the car. Tiny little notes — Post-Its, even. Tiny little notes.
  • Your complete and undivided attention. Whoever it is, wherever they are, you can do this. See them if you can, and truly focus on them. Smile and feel the love you have for them, and just look at them. Listen to them. Keep your phone in your purse or pocket — or in the car.  Talk about real life, how things are in their life, their dreams, their day, their worry.

I woke up this morning thinking about how lucky I am in love — Marc, my children and their husbands, my adopted family members, my friends bound in love, my friends connected by like, I am rich rich rich RICH.

I leave you with a funny poem about love:

Love Explained

Guy calls the doctor, says the wife’s
contractions are five minutes apart.
Doctor says, Is this her first child?
guy says, No, it’s her husband.

I promise to try to remember who
I am. Wife gets up on one elbow,

says, I wanted to get married.
It seemed a fulfillment of some

several things, a thing to be done.
Even the diamond ring was some

thing like a quest, a thing they
set you out to get and how insane

the quest is; how you have to turn
it every way before you can even

think to seek it; this metaphysical
refraining is in fact the quest. Who’d

have guessed? She sighs, I like
the predictability of two, I like

my pleasures fully expected,
when the expectation of them

grows patterned in its steady
surprise. I’ve got my sweet

and tumble pat. Here on earth,
I like to count upon a thing

like that. Thus explained
the woman in contractions

to her lover holding on
the telephone for the doctor

to recover from this strange
conversational turn. You say

you’re whom? It is a pleasure
to meet you. She rolls her

eyes, but he’d once asked her
Am I your first lover? and she’d
said, Could be. Your face looks
familiar. It’s the same type of

generative error. The grammar
of the spoken word will flip, let alone

the written, until something new is
in us, and in our conversation.

the universe responds

waterLately — I don’t know exactly for how long — I’ve been submerged. Not deep, not in the black water, just underneath the surface, close enough to pop my head up and take a breath. Partly it’s what we’re all dealing with this year, a really harsh winter, one storm after another, exhausting our resources inside and out. I need some sun — you do too, I’m sure. And partly it’s because there has been a lot of hard stuff happening to me and to people I love. Nothing fatal, and even the hard stuff seems to be finding its level. My dear friend who had a huge health scare is going to be OK. And so his wife is going to be OK and I, his friend, will be OK. One family member came through a really rough patch with a great decision. Scary, yes, but the right decision and the relief that brings. Good people die for stupid and sad reasons and the world is just like that.

And so yesterday I was again home alone all day, with some work (thank you universe, for a little run of little jobs now could I get a bigger one please?), and just feeling under the water. I could see the sky, but it was cloudy. I ate some beans. I was not feeling all that great.

But then my phone rang and it was Dixie, who has been sending me these little loving emails every single morning — I see what she’s doing there — but it was Dixie on the phone. And if you’ve been around these parts for even a day, you know what kind of call it was. It was a Dixie call, and how could all that love do anything but lift my spirits? Such a sweet surprise, and such a spirit lifter.

And then I ate some more beans. Then I decided maybe I’d make one cupcake — you can do that, you know. One cupcake. No frosting. Just a tiny little bit of cake to go with a cup of tea. And I kept working. Seven o’clock. Eight o’clock. Nine o’clock. Nine thirty. And then my phone rang.

Who would call me at 9:30? The caller ID — my heart stopped, is my friend in some kind of trouble? We thought he’s out of the woods. But no, no trouble, just his wife — my beloved friend — calling to tell me something. To encourage me, to share an opportunity with me. “We’ll do it together, let’s do it together. And if it works for one of us but not the other, we will be so happy for each other. Let’s do it. You should do it,” she said. “You are so good.”


There I’d been, feeling weighed down and burdened and not so good. You know the blues’ll do that to you. You should do it. You are so good.

We both reassured ourselves that of course we won’t get in, we don’t even need to worry a tiny bit about how to pay the hefty tuition — it won’t matter, we won’t have to worry about it. But let’s do it anyway, I will if you will. You are so good. (She is so so good….) And so we decided that we will do it anyway, we will say YES to ourselves and that cracks the universe open every time we do it. Say yes. Say YES.

I remind myself of an old joke. A guy is stranded by rising flood waters, so he climbs up on the roof of his house. The waters rise. Some other guy comes along in a rowboat and tells the guy to get in, but the guy says, “No, the Lord is going to save me.” So the rowboat guy moves along and still the waters rise. Another guy comes by in a bigger boat, “No, the Lord is going to save me,” he says again. The waters are rising, he climbs up on the chimney. A helicopter comes by and drops down a ladder — “Climb up!” the rescuer shouts. “No, no, the Lord is going to save me.” The waters rise, the guy drowns. He gets to heaven and says, “God, why didn’t you save me?” And God said, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what  else do you want me to do?”

Look at all these people swimming up to me, throwing ropes my way, calling out to me with so much love, with so much tenderness, with so much care. It never ever ceases to amaze me the way humans can be, the way we keep an eye on each other, the way we extend our love again, and again, and again. The way you might feel a little bit sinky and then what do you know, someone calls out of the blue to say she loves you. And then what do you know, someone calls out of the blue to tell you that you are good. Some days that’s just exactly what you need to hear. Thank you my darling Dixie, and my beautiful Peggy, and Traci for popping in with love, and Becci for leaving notes with love, and Marnie for sharing her life good and confusing with me, and today for the huge joy of time with Katie.

Yes universe, YES. How can I say anything but yes.

[and for you, a little prezzie. I brought this poem to my poetry group on Tuesday night, and it’s kind of dazzling. It’s by Christian Wiman, published in his collection Hard Night (2005, Copper Canyon Press). Read it aloud:

Rhymes for a Watertower

A town so flat a grave’s a hill,
A dusk the color of beer.
A row of schooldesks shadows fill,
A row of houses near.

A courthouse spreading to its lawn,
A bank clock’s lingering beat.
A gleam of storefronts not quite gone,
A courthouse on the street.

A different element, almost,
A dry creek brimming black.
A light to lure the darkness close,
A light to bring it back.

A time so still a heart’s a sound,
A moon the color of skin.
A pumpjack bowing to the ground,
Again, again, again.

blessed or lucky, take your pick.

Honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to begin counting the ways I am blessed, or lucky, or however you might wish to organize it. I wouldn’t know where to start, but without a doubt I’d have to start with people. In absolutely NO particular order:

kkHow lucky am I to be near Katie while she is pregnant with Oliver?! After having lived far away from my daughters for so many years, I never take for granted the riches of being so close to Katie that we can suddenly decide to spend a day together. Go shopping together. Eat with each other. Katie and I can spend a day making things for Oliver — another blessing in my life, little Oliver. And Trey, goodhearted, caring Trey, Katie’s husband. Whenever I go to their cozy home, Trey hugs me, a long, real hug, and he looks me in the eye and we are truly glad to see each other. LUCKY me.

mgHow lucky am I that Marnie reaches out to me and shares her life with me! When things go wrong, she writes me immediately. When things go well, she writes me immediately. She calls me every Saturday for a long catch-up, and if for some reason either of us can’t talk on Saturday, we reschedule. How lucky am I that her sweet husband Tom is as much my son (like Trey) as if he were my own? How lucky am I?

And how lucky am I in the friends department? HOW LUCKY?! Karyn invites me to her house by a river, in the hill country, for the weekend. Karyn and her husband take me into their lives, and with such deep love and affection. When she writes me I feel honey in my heart. Dee sends me my whole family tree, just because she is kindhearted, and pays attention: I’ve been blue, and she wrote me to be sure I realized it was a gorgeous day yesterday. Cyndi texts me and invites me to everything she does, and opens her heart to me and introduces me to all her friends, with a generous and laughing heart. Lynn calls me after hearing of a really crappy day, just to say What the hell! and commiserate with me. Debbie comes to my house for dinner and we talk for a few hours, comparing life stories and understanding each other in a very specific way. Sherlock and Peggy share their happiness and troubles with me, and it’s the trouble-sharing that makes me feel most part of the family. And I share mine with them. Faith sends me emails that make me smile, and I cannot wait to get to know her better. Lorrie writes me with an invitation for a fun and easy evening out, to distract me, and even offers to treat me. Paying attention, being generous and open-hearted. Traci is always in my heart and life, and responds to my trouble with an immediate warrior stance, and I know without a second’s question that if something happened to me, she would have my back. And she would avenge me too, and our eyes fill with tears. Jeff was my health coach but is my friend, and we share a giddy love of Shakespeare and Moby Dick and how many people in your daily life can you geek out over that stuff with, I ask you?! And Nancy, my darling and brilliant neighbor, always looking out for me and helping me, and always with a dry dry sense of humor that makes me chuckle down to my toes. And then Dixie, my sweet and darling loved one, and her husband Karl — family with the biggest and deepest meaning of that word. I am loved unconditionally, and Dixie always assumes the very best of me, and gives me the benefit of every single doubt. We should all have someone like that in our lives. For a lot of us it’s our mother, and I never got that but instead I got Dixie and that’s a more than fair trade-off.

And my online friends, Kristie and Laura and Linda and Mary and Megan and Pamela and another Laura and Anna and Josh and Paula and Becci and knitting friends and book friends and people who comment on occasion and lurkers. How lucky am I!

The world is full of beautiful and generous people, just longing to find other people. It really is. Obviously it isn’t only full of those kinds of people, but you are sadly missing the boat if you don’t realize how many people there are around you who are huge on the inside, and longing to find other people. Longing for you, perhaps. It often feels to me like I can’t turn any corner without running into yet another person of depth and splendor. Lucky all of us.

And people come to my house each month to read poetry to me! Seriously! Another friend has a spare ticket to Billy Collins at the Paramount next week and invited me. Poetry! And I met Nick Flynn, let’s not forget, my most cherished writer.


And through my work I meet people who care so much about words, which is my favorite thing in the world after my people. Traci brings me a new writer, Amy, and Amy and I click, and Amy is a wonderful storyteller and now she is my person too. And Ron, a brilliant storyteller, and Mia and all the rest. Not all the rest, a great many are just people who want to write their stories and that’s good, but in the mix are these brilliant storytellers, and they are in my daily life. Daily! I get to read all day long and make a little money from the reading. And then I read at night. When I was a girl I used to wish I’d get paid to read. I GET PAID TO READ.

lori mama elephant2And I see the world — I see the world! — and I ride in a boat down the Mekong River, and in a small boat on a nameless river in the mountains of Laos, and to an island off of Borneo, and I bathe an elephant in Sri Lanka and chase a sperm whale in the Indian Ocean, and I sit in a tiny boat in the middle of the Ganges for the morning puja and later watch the ceremony where the Brahmin put the Ganges to sleep at night. I hold the hand of a tiny Hmong woman in the mountains of far north Vietnam — her as small as a child, leading me over rocks and streams. And I grin while panting for breath on Macchu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, and I cycle through Amsterdam and Enkhuisen, and I cry in front of Notre Dame in Paris and imagine Quasimodo, my old friend, and I drink a beer in Glasgow, and Katie and I eat in pubs in Ireland, and gape at the Giant’s Causeway in Belfast, and I watch the crimson-robed monks in Yangon, and I run from monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud. I cry at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul because I never dreamed I’d see it in real life. I eat figs off of trees on the coast of Croatia, I snorkel in Honduras, I eat very well in Oaxaca. I make my way through the crowds in Phom Penh during the Water Festival a couple of days before the terrible tragedy that kills more than 300 people. I feed monks in Luang Prabang, and wave at them in Cambodia. I eat amazing food all over the world.


And I’ve come to accept and like myself, after all these years, and to appreciate the parts of myself that are most central. OK, I’m a smart girl, I’m fine with that finally. OK, I am open and I cry easily, I am OK with that. And guess what: my friends are smart girls! I LOVE THAT! And my friends are openhearted, and I love that!

I am so very lucky.

at Nobu after our wedding.
at Nobu after our wedding.

And I get to keep finding my way with Marc, who I love more than I’ve ever loved anyone else, and he challenges me and we challenge each other and we have both grown so much. I get to be in two places I love, and it adds stress and hardship but it also gives me so very, very much. I am so lucky.

I am so lucky.

And so I don’t have much work right now, and friends and loved ones are having difficult times, and children starve and women suffer and men go to war and life is hard. And in the middle of all this, I am so lucky. I have a beautiful little home to live in, so comfortable and mine, and another home to visit on the Upper West Side (upper upper, as my friend Craig says with a snooty accent) in New York. I have not one home, but two!

I am so lucky.


When he was a late-stage drunk, my dad’s stomach hurt all the time. How could it not, when he opened his eyes and started pouring vodka down his throat to get out of bed, and kept it up until he passed out at night? I remember telling him he should go to the doctor and he said, “But they’d cut me open and everything would be black, and they’d just sew me up and send me home to die.”  Although he probably consciously meant it in a literal sense, he believed it in a metaphorical sense too.

my very young dad. i think he was 18 here, the year before i was born
my very young dad. i think he was 18 here, the year before i was born

My poor dad. He’d been a sensitive little boy, the second child (first boy) of a really mean, vicious drunk father and a strong, bitter, hateful mother. He was sickly, with bad kidneys, and he grew up in such crushing poverty. They could only afford pinto beans, but he was unable to eat beans, which enraged his jerk of a father. My dad loved to hide behind the couch and read, and play silently with his little cars. If only he’d been born into a different family.

that's me, about 6 weeks old i guess. he apparently hadn't figured out how to support my neck. :)
that’s me, about 6 weeks old i guess. he apparently hadn’t figured out how to support my neck. 🙂

It’s nearly his birthday — December 20 of this year he’d have been 75, had he lived. Since he killed himself before his 44th birthday, I cannot even begin to imagine him as an old man. For most of my adult life, two specific days of the year knocked me back on my heels: his birthday, and the anniversary of his suicide, in March. I’d be laid low for days and days, unable to be in the present. Over the years, I have moved through so many different attitudes toward my dad — furious, and devastated, and bewildered, and furious again, and lost, and tender. I’ve kind of landed at compassion for him, although I suffered mightily at his hands. A couple of Octobers ago, Katie and I went to his grave in Taylor and I found my way to a different place with him. But however I have felt about him over the years, it is true that I got so much from him. I have his hands, exactly, although mine were never cruel. I share his long upper lip and his height. I definitely shared a love of books with him, and suffered with him about that; my mother hated that we both read, hated it with a vengeance. I shared a love of old movies with him. I got his tender heart and soft spirit and sentimental soul. Like him, I have a fondness for corny humor and wordplay. He was the only one who cooked for us, and I smile remembering him standing at the stove, scrambling eggs for our dinner when mother was out with her boyfriend.

He did a lot of things badly, out of his own suffering, and then he’d suffer more for having made us suffer. He never once escaped from the eddy of self-loathing. Childhood is not destiny, that’s the message of my own life, but he was not strong enough to move beyond the pain of his own. He just wasn’t. I was, but he wasn’t.

I was very lucky to find a few other dads in my life who were good to me in a way he was unable to be, other dads whose hands were gentle, whose words were kind, whose care was constant. But no one else, obviously, could be my real dad. That could only be him, Melvin Frank Peters. His mother and siblings called him Butch, for some reason, and I grew up calling him Frank, to appease my mother, so calling him “dad” always sticks in my throat, gets stuck on my teeth coming out of my mouth, sounds weird.  I can call him “my dad” but not Dad.

my dad, seeming happy, with his bitter old mother holding me, and his stepfather, who loved me
my dad, seeming happy, with his bitter old mother holding me, and his stepfather, who loved me

Just thinking about him a lot right now with a tender heart. My poor old daddy. It’s strange to cry for him, but it is awfully nice to find my way to compassion for him. Anger and rage eat you up inside, but you have to get there, and I am grateful to have this kind of tears in my eyes.

If you had a wonderful dad, you’re so lucky. If you didn’t, I hope you find your way to something that nourishes you and enlarges you.  xo


If you are also my Facebook friend, or if you read comments here on my blog, you know Dixie. So many of my real-life Austin friends ask me about her, because she’s such a big part of my life and I refer to her as my sister (or some variant on that). I’m driving to Dallas for the weekend to spend some time with Dixie and her wonderful husband, so I thought I’d take a minute to introduce her just a tiny bit — enough so you know a little, but not so much to invade her privacy.

Me, Dixie, and Katie, last Christmas. We had just lost our little Gracie, so we were all reeling and if you look very closely, you can see the shock on our faces and the emptiness in our hearts.
Me, Dixie, and Katie, last Christmas. We had just lost our little Gracie, so we were all reeling and if you look very closely, you can see the shock on our faces and the emptiness in our hearts.

So who is Dixie, anyway? When I got married in 1979, my new husband Jerry came with a ginormous family — all of whom became my family. Jerry’s dad, Kiki, walked me down the aisle. His parents became mine. He had (still has) 5 siblings, 4 brothers and a sister, and they took me into their hearts. He had lots and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins, so many that I never met some, and there’s one or two I may have met but I was always confused because they are a nicknaming bunch; some people have multiple nicknames so maybe I met this one or that one but I don’t know for sure. Even after Jerry and I divorced so many family members remained my family, which moved me then and moves me still.

Jerry’s aunt Oopie (Kiki’s sister…and see what I mean about the nicknames?!) is the most angelic person I’ve ever met in my whole life. Oopie was physically tiny, bird-like, sweet and precious like spun sugar, but big and strong and enormous in her heart and spirit. If Oopie loved you (and Oopie loved nearly everyone), you were loved. And Oopie loved me, a lot. One of Oopie’s daughters is Dixie, so Dixie was my husband’s cousin. The funny thing is that I knew of Dixie and her husband but never really had the chance to spend time with them when I was in the family. It was only in the last couple of years that Dixie and I connected with each other — and through Facebook of all things, as I recall — but it feels like we have always been connected and living in each others’ hearts. She is very much my sister, in the deepest ways. She is like her mother in nearly every way, primarily in that if she loves you, are are LOVED. And she loves me. (But if you cross or hurt someone she loves — her kids or grandkids, anyone very close to her — you had better watch out, man!) Aside from my kids, Dixie is mysteriously the only person in the world I just implicitly trust and would ask for help if I needed it. It’s just something about her, and her husband too.

And so I hit the road again, with a bit of home waiting for me when I arrive. Warm loving comfort, open arms, good food and wine, hours of talking, and the very real pleasures of focused time with loved ones, the best of the holidays. I can’t wait — only family could get me back on the road after such a prolonged absence from my sweet little home, but when you are as lucky as me in the sister department, you take the chance when it presents itself, no matter what. I hope you have half as good a weekend ahead of you! Counting down to Christmas, so much good to come.


birth and rebirth

Finally, we are sharing our long-held secret. My oldest daughter Katie is pregnant again, and with a little boy. He will be born at the end of March, and as you can only begin to imagine, we are over the moon with joy. Here is his tiny little foot, a picture I’ve looked at so much I’m surprised the pixels themselves aren’t bleached:

see that tiny little foot? those tiny little toes? he kicks his mommy with that foot.
see that tiny little foot? those tiny little toes? he kicks his mommy with that foot.

For now we are calling him Oblio, some of us, because one name Katie and Trey are considering is Oliver — that beginning O made Marnie think of the main character from the movie The Point: Oblio, the little round-headed boy in a kingdom of pointy-headed people. The most perfectly wonderful boy in all the land. My kids loved that movie when they were growing up, and we still reference it all the time. So we call him Oblio as a placeholder name, and out of so much love and family history. His existence is the rebirth of our hopes, the rebirth of Katie’s and Trey’s roles as parents, the fulfillment of thousands and thousands of hopes and wishes and prayers and secret thoughts and murmurings. His existence is the rebirth of my forthcoming existence as Pete to someone in the world, someone I will love all my heart, and someone who will love me. His birth will be even more momentous than other births, because we will inevitably be thinking about our little lost Gracie, who many people believe will be watching over him, and his parents, and aunts and uncles, and grandparents, and extended family and friends forever more. His life will be surrounded by love and guidance and friendship and care and possibility. His heart will be held softly by all of us who will love him forever. His little feet will be held in our hands in wonder as we fight to keep from nibbling those little toes. His little face will be held in our hands as we kiss his soft little cheeks. He will be lovingly diapered and held and rocked, and then one day his little hand will be lovingly held as his mommy walks him to school. As his daddy walks him here and there. As his Pete walks with him wherever he wants to go. And we hope one day we get to watch him be the big brother to a little brother or sister. We expect he might have curly hair like his daddy. We expect he will be adorable. We know he will be adored and cherished, always, and by so very many people. And so with this, the cat is out of the bag. Secret knitting can come out into the light. Secret plans can be spoken of. Hallelujah! Once again, Katie will be a mommy, Trey will be a daddy, and I will be Pete. Hallelujah!

the last of those anniversaries

There was a 17-day period last year that was the worst of my whole life, and I cannot imagine such a thing will ever happen to me again. Nearly my whole life crumbled under my feet, and very little was the same at the end of it; mercifully — an enormous mercy — I still had my precious children and I was still alive, but everything else was gone. My granddaughter. My daughter’s desperate longing to be a mother. My marriage. Where and how I lived. My dreams. Poof.

this was me then, a year ago yesterday. makes me cry to see all the sorrow in my exhausted face.
this was me then, a year ago yesterday. makes me cry to see all the sorrow in my exhausted face.

One year ago yesterday I boarded an airplane with three giant suitcases filled with clothes. I didn’t have a key to anything or any place. I flew away from New York, believing I’d never live there again. I left friends, hoping to stay in touch. I left a small number of books, planning to return to pack and ship them. And that’s it. Me plus clothing in bags. Been there before, never thought I’d be there again. (But I survived.)

One enormous loss was the belief that finally I’d never have to move again. I’d lived at the same address for six years, longer than I had ever lived at one address my whole life. Three times as long as I’d ever lived at one address, actually. My 80th move took me there, and I believed — finally, I believed — that I wouldn’t ever move again until I was dead. I fought my way to that belief, resisting allowing myself to believe it out of fear, fearing that becoming comfortable about that would make the pain unendurable if I lost it. But finally I did come to believe it. And the pain was in fact almost unendurable when I lost it. (But I survived.)

One year ago yesterday he drove me to the airport and spoke sharply to me on the way, making me cry even harder. He helped me get my three enormous bags into the airport and then turned and walked away, and I stood there in shock. (But I survived.) Here’s what I said about it last year:

Yesterday was machine gun fire, a giant rollercoaster, take your pick of metaphor. After getting an hour’s sleep, we left for the airport and wrestled my three giant suitcases to the airline check-in desk. Southwest Airlines agents are perky and seem to assume that everyone they encounter is a  happy person, going to a happy place (!) oh-so-happy! She kept apologizing for having to charge me for a third bag, and was insistently pressing on me about the trip while in my head I was screaming, I’m moving, these are all my clothes. This is my husband — we are leaving each other, I am moving, please stop. I sat alone at the gate for a very long time, stunned and blank.

Remembering all this brings the terrible pain back into my chest, the blankness back into my mind, the tears back into my eyes. Waiting for me in Austin was my beautiful and devastated daughter Katie, reeling and blank from her daughter’s funeral just a couple of weeks earlier. My solid and loving son-in-law Trey, reeling too. And they opened their arms, their home to me. They absorbed me with love, put their aching arms around me. There was so much to do — I didn’t have a fork, even. I landed at the airport around 1pm on a Saturday, and by 3pm that same day I’d rented my place and bought a couch. The next Monday Katie and I drove to San Antonio to pick up the car I’d bought.

Somehow, Katie and I bought all the things I’d need to make myself a home. Somehow she found it in herself to press me not to shortchange myself and just get junk, knowing it would eventually make me feel terrible to be surrounded by plastic, temporary things when I felt so temporary myself. Somehow she and Trey helped me make the transition two weeks after I arrived, leaving me to grieve alone in my new home, and leaving them to return to their own lives alone together to continue their grief. (And we all survived.)

A year ago yesterday I stood on scorched earth, a place I’d stood many times, a place I feared ever standing again, a place I believed I could never endure standing again. A year ago yesterday I and my life were saturated by loss and devastation. (But I survived.)

A year ago yesterday, one of those extraordinary serendipitous moments happened to me, as they frequently do. On the flight to Austin, I turned a page in the book I was reading and came upon this poem, the most perfect thing I ever could have read:

The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

The poem gave me strength and courage, as did knowing that Katie and Trey were waiting for me, and boy the poem was the truest thing ever. I was not done with my changes; I will not be, until I draw my last breath. I had so much pain waiting for me, when I thought I’d already endured more than I could. I had so much heartbreak waiting, when I thought my heart was already shattered completely. I had so much growth ahead of me, when I thought the root was dead, finally, killed by too much suffering at the end of a life of too much suffering.

What I didn’t know, a year ago yesterday, was everything. I didn’t know the pain still to come (so glad for that); I didn’t know the harshness January and February would bring me (so glad for that); I didn’t know I’d find such beautiful things in myself, I didn’t know how strong I am even though I thought I did; I didn’t know my life would become better than it has ever been, filled with so many people who would just open their arms to me and take me in. I didn’t know I’d build a home for myself. I didn’t know I’d be surrounded by people. I didn’t know I’d thrive. And I certainly didn’t know I’d find my way back in New York City regularly, I certainly didn’t know I’d find some way to stay connected to my husband, I certainly didn’t know (and in fact would’ve bet everything against it) that he would change so much, so deeply, and in the ways I most needed. I assume I’ve made similar changes. I didn’t know I would in fact get to travel — didn’t know I’d go to Java and Bali, didn’t know Sri Lanka would be in my future, a year ago. I didn’t know that from my place of such tremendous want, I’d end up with such enormous surplus.

Just goes to show you. It ain’t over til it’s over, no matter how it looks in the dark. Katie, Trey, thank you for the ways you gave ME a home and a safety net, and all your love. Marnie, Tom, thank you for your optimism and support, assuring me I would be better than I dreamed. All that isn’t limited to a year ago yesterday, of course — it came before and it continues after that anniversary, but when I was at my greatest need, you held me. For such an unlucky person I am the luckiest person in the whole world.

I’m 55. 55 years old.

my last day as a 54-year-old.
my last day as a 54-year-old.

Today — my 55th birthday — I am again in the air, flying away. And so I will miss your Facebook birthday greetings until late in the evening, and I will miss your notes and emails but when I see them, they will make me feel loved. I’m ridiculously silly about my birthday; when I used to work in an office, if the UPS guy showed up on that day I’d suddenly demand that he sing happy birthday to me and he usually did, in shock. (Who does that?! Seriously.)

So many people who read this blog are new to it — my Austin friends, for example. For those of you who have been around for a few years, you may remember this and if so, I’m sorry for repeating. This is the post I wrote when I turned 53, modified and updated to fit. Happy birthday to me!

* * *

I’m mid-century modern. I know that most people think of architecture and furniture and decorations when they hear that phrase, like these:



I was born in the small north Texas town of Graham, on November 6, 1958 — mid-century….mid-last-century, which is pretty weird. That year Dwight Eisenhower was the President, hula hoops the rage, NASA was created, Sir Edmund Hillary reached the South Pole, and Elvis was inducted into the army. There was a crazy economic recession that year; the average price for a new house was $12,570; monthly rent was $92; average annual salary was $4,600, and gas cost 25 cents/gallon. Volare and Tequila were popular songs; popular movies were Vertigo, Gigi, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. On the tube, people watched Candid Camera, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jack Benny Show, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (in black and white, of course).

I was the first-born child of an 18-year-old girl and a 19-year-old boy, both high school dropouts. One dear grandfather was an oilfield roughneck until he retired, at which point he was the janitor at the hospital; I’m not sure he made it to 8th grade. One grandmother was Comanche; she preferred to live alone in the woods.

Everyone’s lives are far too complex to summarize…..certainly in a silly little public blog post. But here, as I turn 55 years old, I can say these things with certainty:

  • My life has been much, much better than it had any right to be, given its start.
  • Becoming a mother redeemed and saved me.
  • For most of my adult life, I’ve felt like I was 27. I think I feel like I’m 28 now.
  • I’ve gone places I didn’t even know to dream about when I was growing up:
    • physical places like Hanoi (Vietnam) and Varanasi (India) and Arequipa (Peru) and Enkuisen (The Netherlands) and Istanbul (Turkey) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Bagan (Myanmar) and Raab (Croatia) and Luang Prabang (Laos) and  Yogyakarta (Java) and Ubud (Bali); the Ganges and the Mekong Rivers;
    • emotional places like so far gone in love with my children;
    • intellectual places, like getting a PhD (I thought grad school was just like 17th grade, and if you wanted to just stay on after you got a bachelor’s you just kind of kept hanging around);
    • life places, like working on Madison Ave for a big-ass publisher and living in Manhattan.
  • You probably do get to have everything, just not all at once, or when it would be most convenient for you.
  • The trick: get up at least one more time than you fall down.
  • Literature and poetry can save you.
  • Art too.
  • You’re stronger than you imagine.
  • Laughing helps.
  • Love is gold.
  • Hope isn’t about pink ponies and rainbows and sunny happy feelings; hope is that thing with feathers that perches in your soul, and you need it.

Since my last birthday, my life has changed so dramatically I hardly recognize it. On my last birthday, I was in such deep grief from our losing Gracie and from having to leave Katie I was reeling. We re-elected Obama on my birthday two days after I got home. And the next day, my marriage apparently ended, poof. I packed my clothes in my suitcases, left New York City, a place I loved so much, and flew to Austin, to start over from scorched earth. Since my last birthday, I learned how very strong my kids and I are. I learned that somehow I made an extraordinary family even though I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I learned that I am strong enough to clutch the bedsheets and bear being right in the middle of the pain without looking away. I found such beautiful, beautiful, beautiful friends in Austin, and kept my connections to equally beautiful friends in New York, so my life got so much bigger. I made my poetry group, a monthly source of deep pleasure. I created a beautiful little home that looks like me, and is comfortable. I took a solitary trip to the desert, to Marfa, to do what people have always gone to the desert to do — to reflect, study my heart, shift. My husband and I decided to see if we could find our way together somehow and we went to Java and Bali in the spring. I flew back and forth to New York City several times, to Chicago once to see Marnie and Tom. A client flew me to Beverly Hills for a week and put me up in a sweet little B&B. Sherlock and Peggy flew down to spend a long weekend with me. I got to see Neko Case performing for a taping of Austin City Limits. I learned that a terrible crazy person is suing me and so I hired my first-ever lawyer. I got to meet Nick Flynn and spend time with him. I read a lot of good books and poems, ate so many delicious meals, laughed for hours and hours and hours, cried for that many too.  I learned that I enjoy my own company, and that I can do this. I learned my very own life, my very own self, and I wouldn’t have done that without the bomb blast to my life. In a life with a lot of competition for this title, this past year definitely wins “The Most Dramatic Year of My Life” award.

The coming year will bring more of the same (but not the bomb blast please): flying back and forth to New York, a trip to the Catskills in a couple of days, a trip to Sri Lanka in a couple of weeks and a spring trip to Greece. Hours and hours of laughing with my children and my friends, my dearly loved people, all of you. At least one giant surprise. Shared meals, shared afternoons and lunches and walks. Shared quiet times, shared private conversations, shared group fun. Lots and lots of reading and writing, two of my favorite things to do. Time spent with myself in the deep pleasure of solitude. And this Christmas, Marnie and Tom come from Chicago, so all we’d need would be Will, and my sweet little family would all be together. The five of us will celebrate the holiday with great joy and wonderful food.

So happy birthday to me, to another fine though difficult year behind, and another one to come.  If you haven’t made it to the 50s yet, I heartily recommend it as an excellent decade of life.

how beautifully leaves grow old
how full of light and color
are their last days
~john burroughs

love xo

“How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

Remember those? Did you have to write them in elementary school? I think kids may still do this, but I’m not sure since it’s been a long time since I had elementary school aged kids in my life. How did I spend my summer? Is yours a blur too? Ironically, I had no vacation in summer; I went to Indonesia (Bali! Bali!) in spring, and I’m going to Sri Lanka at the end of fall, but summer was local. Kinda.

In June I spent a lot of time with friends — dinners and lunches and drinks. I saw an old friend from high school, Sheri, and was blown away by her, by learning how much we’d had in common back then and neither of us knew. Was this the month I had the surprise trip to Beverly Hills for a week and saw other old friends from high school? I think it was! I had the privilege to stay at Katie’s house for a week to dog-sit while she and Trey had a real vacation, the first since their honeymoon. (Wish I could do that again for them.)(Really wish I could.)(I would, in a heartbeat.) 

one of her dozens of gorgeous photos
one of her dozens of gorgeous photos

In July Marc visited and I got my tattoo and had many many lunches and happy hours and dinners with darling friends, and went to the Iron & Wine concert at the Paramount and cut off my hair and colored it red-orange. July was a colorful month.

August took me back to NYC, where something really horrible happened, but I was glad I was there when it happened. I have a lawyer. I also had lots of lunches and dinners and drinks with beautiful friends, spent a summer night in a pool under the stars drinking red wine with friends, saw my beloved son twice, and welcomed Breaking Bad back, with a lot of squeals and WHATs?! And the end of August brought my loves, Sherlock and Peggy, to Austin to visit me. I miss them every day.

Summer ‘officially’ ends with Labor Day, so we’re peeking into fall, which is going to be crazy busy for me. In September, in addition to spending time in New York I have something on the calendar every single day. Not one day without something scheduled, all good. Of course something terrible (see August) could happen this month, I need to be prepared for it, but as a dear friend reminded me on Thursday, so much of what I thought unthinkable when I was younger is now thinkable. And . . . plot twist!

Katie used to keep a public blog and every late December, she’d do a year in review post that I always loved. She included stuff that was happening in the world, too, which was extra fun because I’d already forgotten that stuff, but it was just fantastic reading her year in that summary. You get such a different view like that — the high points, the things you’ll probably remember — than you get making it through the days. It’s like seeing NYC from a bridge, or the air, as opposed to walking the streets. Both are pretty good, but the distant view is simply beautiful. Even if there are bad things in the summary. Do you do this at the end of the year? I like doing it, even in this season review. It makes me see my life with some perspective, which is always good.

Saturday, gotta love a good Saturday, right? I’m off to the park.

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