To you, at the pool, in your thirties.

June 28th, 2017

(for Mallory, who asked me to)

You are in your thirties–and which particular year isn’t apparent to me or at all important to you. Those second-place digits are just mathematical points along the blazing tail of a comet with you at its head, on fire with everything, hurtling towards the middle of your own life. 

So much is settled now, and so, there is so much to un-settle. Almost everything still feels possible, if not plausible, but for the first time you have–if not a sense, a rumor–of finitude. Somewhere in the distance, doors are closing, but you don’t live there yet. You spend your days picking and sorting through possible futures as if flipping back and forth through the pulpy pages of a choose-your-own-adventure story.  You decide to marry. To divorce. To stay together. To have a child. To not have a child. You decide you will have the affair. You decide you won’t. You decide your marriage can survive your spouse’s affair. You decide it can’t. You take the job, quit the job, start the thing, quit the thing, do the next thing. You decide to have children or you don’t. You decide to have the child you didn’t decide on. You decide you didn’t choose the child you couldn’t have. You decide you’re into women, or men, or both. You decide you don’t need god. You decide you do. You decide you can’t take one more minute. You decide to give it another shot. You pretend you are choosing, even when it’s not a choice. You pretend you didn’t choose, even when you did. So much on the outside is settled now, and so you are free to be unsettled on the inside. You boil beneath the skin of stability that stretches across your days.

You are more beautiful now than you have ever been, or will ever be–between childhood and old age–and it’s this volatility that makes you so–this late summer storm of your life. At last. You are becoming who you are. 



How to Ash Wednesday

March 1st, 2017

7:09 Wake up, reach for your phone, remember it’s Ash Wednesday and you were going to start the day contemplatively. Go find journal instead and start writing.

8:00 Kids are gone, break out meditation app you are paying a monthly subscription fee for, but have never used past the free trial period. Meditate for 10 minutes.

8:10 Pray using morning Daily Devotion from Book of Common Prayer.  Pray for your loved ones, your near neighbors, and a couple of people who frankly scare the shit out of you with their crazy.

9:30 Download audio edition of contemporary Bible translation to listen to while walking the dog. 

11:00 Get a shower, eat fish for lunch, share Deep Lenten Insights with husband. You are killing this whole Lent thing. 

12:00 Head to the church office where you work part time, login to Facebook to let everyone know you are killing the whole Lent thing. 

12:05 Wonder where all your co-workers are today, anyway.

12:20 Realize they are all in the sanctuary because DUH Ash Wednesday. 

12:30 Review plan with family to attend 6:30 Ash Wednesday service together. Plan surprise take out catfish meal to reward their cooperation. For once, you will all be in church together.

2:00 Get hungry, wander up to the parish hall kitchen, forget you’re abstaining from meat until the last of a leftover grilled chicken breast from the weekend fundraising event passes your epiglottis. 

2:30 Check email to see how you’re doing with your Lent Madness bracket. Nothing, because it’s Ash Wednesday, stupid. Get annoyed that you have to wait another whole day to see if your chosen saint is kicking the other’s saint’s ass. It’s all for the sake of fun and learning, but you better win, goddammit.

2:45 Evening begin to unravel as husband remembers he has other plans. You’re feeling magnanimous, though, because 10 minutes of British-accented guided meditation goes a long way. You tell him to where to get ashes to go, and to do what he needs to do, with your blessing.

5:00 Pick up middle son from film club. He wants to be dropped off at a friend’s house for the evening. You say no, but then capitulate on the condition he declare a Lenten intention. He does so, and it leads to such a great conversation about Ash Wednesday that you miss the turn for the catfish place and settle for McDonald’s filet-o-fish instead.

6:15 Arrive early with 2/5ths of your family at church. The oldest is needed to help in the nursery and the youngest has been drafted to stand in for the entire acolyte team. Take a seat by yourself in the transept pew where you can keep an eye on him.

6:30 Service begins. Resolve to be attentive, mindful, and present throughout.

6:55 Come “to” in the middle of the sermon, wondering if anyone’s ever left chewing gum on the underside of the pulpit rail. You have no idea what’s happened up to this point in the service.

7:00 Notice your youngest child, seated behind the altar in full view of the congregation, doing rhythmic gymnastics moves with his cincture. Wonder if you can discreetly fashion a pea-shooter from a pew card.

7:05  Someone’s phone is going off, and OH SHIT, it’s yours. Because it’s Wednesday, and the alarm is set to remind you to pick up kids from youth group. You scramble to retrieve it, thinking if you can’t deactivate it at the first touch, you’ll just throw it away from you as far as you can, like a grenade.

7:10 Ashes. This is it, maybe your favorite liturgy of the church year. You go up with the choir and your lone acolyte. “Remember,” Father says, “You are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” You look at your son, your golden one, the last baby, kneeling next to you. “I remember,” you whisper. Amen.

7:30 Realize during the offertory, youngest child has been missing from his seat for at least ten minutes. As you make eye contact with one of the clergy in the universal code for WTF???, said child emerges from God only knows where and resumes his position.

7:40 Communion. You love everyone. All of them. The ones you like, the ones you haven’t met, even the ones who are serious pains in the ass. You love every single one, at least in this moment. And as they turn from the altar rail with their smudges of ash, you realize you may live to bury many of them. Or perhaps they will live to bury you, to comfort your husband and children, to remember you as one of theirs.

It’s all dust. Remember, remember.

I believe in eternal life, you told your middle son in the car, just hours ago. It’s the love that lives on. Only it’s not something you believe. It’s something you know.

With all my heart amen.

February 12th, 2016

This was my first prayer.

Dear God, thank you for all the wonderful things you have ever given us.  Keep Mummy, Daddy, Emily, Kaila, Suzy, Eeyore Beth, and Lambie safe. Let us have no bad dreams, or anything like that.  Let there be no arguments tonight, and let me not cry when Poppy dies. I love you with all my heart, Amen.

I prayed it for the first time when I was eight years old, because Sister Wilhelmina had told me I could ask God for anything, in my own words. I repeated it verbatim every night, until it became chant. I remember it as clearly today as the phone number I grew up with.

The words changed only a little across childhood. Petitions adapted to circumstance. I eventually stopped interceding for my little sister’s and my favorite dolls and stuffed animals. My grandfather died in the spring of that year. I didn’t cry, and I took that for mercy. I had sensed it was asking too much, too late, for the cancer to go away. Strength against the coming grief was the next best thing I could imagine. My dog Kaila died a few years later, and other pets came and went. So did my parents’ arguments–my father’s word for his late night tirades–and their absences were mercy, too, if not the same as peace.

By the time I was in my teens, I also asked, “forgive us for all our sins, and help us to forgive others” (I always prayed in first person plural-it seemed like it was asking an awful lot for just one person). Sister Wilhelmina didn’t teach me the “five elements of prayer,” but they all made their way in there somehow: thanksgiving, intersession, petition, adoration, confession. I understand some of these things a lot differently now than when I was a child, but as prayers go, I could do worse–often do worse–than to be thankful, ask for deliverance from my fears and grace to face them, expect mercy, beg pardon, and love with all my heart. 





February 11th, 2016

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Remember you are dust, and to dust, you shall return…”

Our priest comes to my seventeen-year-old, my firstborn, and I look sideways and up to watch her press her charcoaled thumb to his forehead beneath the swoop of his bangs. Then it’s my turn.

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

“I remember,” I whisper. Then wait, still kneeling, while she marks my other two boys with ashes. Were they dust once? Floating in sunlight?  Kicked up from a hard dirt road? Rising from the pages of an old book? Did I breathe them in before they entered the dividing cells, inhabiting flesh and bone of my flesh and bone? Are we not each other’s to keep?

No, I remember. Dust to dust.

I return to our pew with tears treacherously close to breaching my lashes, not from morbid sadness, but from the stark beauty of the liturgy, and the release of surrendering to what is. Ash Wednesday brings me around to face what I spend most days of the year frantically trying to outrun: the truth that all things must pass away–are passing away. I kneel down and assent to life’s terms, and in return I get a glimpse of what it’s like to be fully present in the present moment. To briefly feel as connected to everyone else at the altar rail as much I do to those I call mine. To see how we all belong to each other, and to God, for keeps.



Losing the trail

November 12th, 2015


From the day my first child was born, there was a blazed trail to follow. Sometimes I followed it exactly. Often I took detours. Either way, it’s been my guide.  I’ve wended my way through parenthood more or less along the same path my parents walked with me.

But here, sixteen years in, we come to an unmarked place. Here the path is broken.

I try to imagine my son meeting my sixteen-year-old self, and decide it would be an acquaintance my present self would be wary of, as I’ve been of certain kids who come around from time to time–the ones whose parents we never see, who leave only after everyone else has been summoned home, who seem to be pretty much on their own.

Where are the parents, we wonder among ourselves–“we” being the parents who exchange phone numbers, consult over curfews, and do routine fact-checking by text. Don’t they care?

Mine did care, and I always knew it. Always. But my memories of being taken care of end with my sixteenth birthday (perception is probably the better word…I’ve never been on the street–I was absolutely provided for). No blame and no shame here: my father was very sick, my mom was doing her best, I was being a pain-in-the-ass teenager, and we were all shipwrecked and rowing in different directions through a terrible, terrible storm. We lost each other for a while.

When we came back together, I was on the other side of 18, and our relationship picked up where it would have with a young adult and her parents. And went on from there. Though darker days lay ahead with my father, my parents have both been there for me in ways that others have envied. They’ve shown me what a gift acceptance and support is to grown children who are still growing. Those “missing” years are just a few pages from a much larger story.

Except that I’m parenting a sixteen-year-old of my own now, and it’s sometimes strangely counter-intuitive. I have to remind myself that he still needs me. That even as he is appropriately pulling away, it’s also appropriate for me to pull him back. To be the counterweight tug at the end of the ever-lengthening, ever-loosening safety line. Sometimes I have to remind myself that we’re not finished here yet, when my biographical clock tells me we ought to be.

Growing up is such a pushme-pullyou continuum, maybe every parent of a teenager feels this way. Like half the time we’re just guessing–how much slack to let out and when to pull up tight. One minute you’re talking to an emerging adult; then the child reappears. Maybe it’s disorienting by nature.

But the uncertainties are layered for me. The hardest work of parenting is withdrawing your own baggage from your child’s journey. Sometimes my son wraps his giant arms around me, and I realize with a pang that I haven’t really hugged him in a few days. Then I panic, thinking I’m not being present enough, that time is running out for us. And I know by the anguish in that thought–the hot tears in my eyes as I type it–that it really has nothing to do with here and now. This is my haunted place.

Seven years ago, as a tornado was bearing down on us at night, my seven-year-old son woke up to see Mommy and Daddy carrying his sleeping brothers downstairs to shelter, and believed he had been abandoned. For the minute it took Patrick to sprint back up the stairs for him, this was his reality. Not that we had more kids than we had sets of arms and were coming for him as fast as we could, or that he was in no more danger than any of us, but that he had been left behind. I know that no matter how many times we revisit that moment with him and give it context, and even laugh about it, a part of him remains in that room, small and terrified and left behind. 

We all have haunted places. In them, aren’t most of us children, believing ourselves to be all alone? The awful thing about raising kids is that it leads us back to those left-behind selves. The beautiful thing is that we go back as parents, and maybe we can retrieve them.

The words that were their names.

May 8th, 2015

mothers and daughters

“Make in your mouths the words that were our names.”

Archibald MacLeish, Epistle to Be Left in the Earth

The words we are called by in life are scratched in dust, delible as our bones. Write them in ink, in stone, in blood. In time, time fades them all. 

Women’s names fade fastest, pencilled in so lightly at birth, expected to trade that word for another. Who gives this woman her name? Her father, his father, his father before him.  Loaned, not given. Not hers to keep.

I wanted them back. Their names. As many as I could recover, linking daughter to mother, beginning with my mom. I always knew her mother and she always knew her mother’s mother. But my great-grandmother Ruby was orphaned, and that was as far as I ever hoped to get, until I read her mother’s name on a baptism certificate, and saw it spelled out again in the helix runes of my DNA.  Then months later, another name. Followed by another and another. Like secret notes written to me in lemon juice, turning visible in the incandescence of my longing to know.

I stopped at fourteen, on the other side of an ocean. Fourteen generations of women, mother to daughter; sixteen when you count my sister and her daughter, my namesake.

They’re only names and dates. Beyond my great-grandmother, I don’t know anything about the kind of women they were. What kind of mothers they were. What they hoped for, where they were wounded, what they achieved–save for one thing: they each brought a daughter into the world. And for that, I owe them everything. 

Now I can thank them by name. 

Sarah Moore

Born 1588 in Ipswich, Suffolk, England

Died 18 Jan 1663 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts


Judith Greenleaf

Born 2 Sep 1625 in Ipswich, Suffolk, England

Died 15 Dec 1705 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Sarah Somerby

Born 10 Feb 1644 in Newbury, Massachusetts

Died 19 Jun 1672 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Judith Hale

Born 05 Jul 1670 in Newbury, Massachusetts

Died 12 Aug 1757 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Judith Moody

Born 6 Aug 1699 in Newbury, Massachusetts

Died 12 Jan 1741 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Ann Follensbee

Born 6 Nov 1722 in Newburyport, Massachusetts

Died 1780 in Newburyport, Massachusetts


Sarah (Sally) Noyes

Born 31 Oct 1760 in Haverhill, Massachusetts

Died 9 Nov 1822 in Haverhill, Massachusetts


Susannah Ladd

Born 13 Sep 1779 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts

Died after 1850 in Penobscot, Maine


Susannah (Susan) Lyons

Born 17 Mar 1810 in Readfield, Maine

Died 21 Feb 1844 in Cooper, Maine


Climena Vance

Born Mar 1841 in Cooper, Maine

Died 21 Apr 1905 in Mattawamkeag, Maine


Ida Lyons

Born 1859 in Woodville, Penobscot, Maine

Died before 1893 in Mattawamkeag, Maine


Ruby Nancy Coombs Boynton

Born 29 June 1887 in Maine

Died 1954 in Milltown, New Brunswick


Ferne Alberta Neilson

Born 1 Jan 1909 in East Millinocket, Maine

Died 4 Nov 2001 in St. Andrews, New Brunswick



my mom


Thank you.


Arkansas, for better and for worse.

April 1st, 2015

Nineteen years ago this month, I moved to Arkansas. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time–I thought I was visiting for a couple of months while my boyfriend and I figured out our next move. If you had told me there wasn’t going to be a next move for at least the next two decades, I probably would’ve been on the next plane back to Mexico, or Canada–really, anywhere but here.


Visiting one of my many happy places in Arkansas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.


When we moved our bags out of his parent’s spare room, and into a Little Rock apartment with a one-year lease, it was still a temporary layover. During one of many late night gatherings there, an older guest (younger than I am now), asked how I was liking Arkansas, and I, being an ugly Canadian abroad, answered her honestly. 

She made that sad-eyed smile that Southern women are so very good at. “Well, I’m from here, and I love it, so that makes me sad. I hope we’ll change your mind.”

Doubtful, I thought, pitying her for having obviously not seen anything of the world.

Five years later, sitting in a tourist-filled cafe on the coast of Maine, that exchange came back to mind, when a big sun-burned man in Bermuda shorts ambled over and asked where I was from.

“Canada, but I live in Arkansas now.”

He wrinkled his red nose, threw back his head, and brayed. “WHY?”

I think that was the first time I ever used the word Yankee with a modifier in front of it. I wanted to kick his ass.

Both those conversations have come back to me today, as the “religious freedom” legislation that was passed by our state legislature makes headlines around the world, and people wonder WHY anyone would want to live in a place like Arkansas.

I’m from here now, and I love this place. It makes me so damn sad and angry. 

Since that day in Maine, I’ve been on a mission to change people’s minds about our state. I’ve happily used any influence and platform I have to shine light on the natural beauty of our land, the fascinating and talented people who live here, and the diversity of voices and values that isn’t reflected by headline news. That task has gotten a lot easier in recent years. When people ask where I’m from, the response is almost always positive and curious: “I’ve heard cool things about Little Rock,” or “It looks beautiful there.”

It is. There’s just some ugly things happening right now. As misbegotten as this particular bill is, it’s not even the craziest thing to come out of the current legislature. I’m afraid you’re going to see a lot of negative headlines coming out of Arkansas over the next few years, that will make you ask, WHY?  And though it’s gotten a whole lot harder, I’ll still be on a mission to show you the Arkansas I love, and I’ll still be itching to kick the ass of anyone who writes it off as backwards place. Right after I kick the asses of all the people who are giving them ample reason to think so.

Update: As I wrap this up, it’s been announced that Governor Hutchinson has asked for HB1228 to be amended before he will sign it into law.

40 days of Lent Ideas for Kids (and Parents)

February 17th, 2015

2014-02-05 07.37.52

Oh HEY, it’s almost Lent. Good times sure do fly when they get rolling. My mom’s been visiting the last three weeks, and I haven’t wanted to miss one second with her. She leaves to go back to Canada tomorrow, so my Ash Wednesday will seem especially quiet. I plan to go to church for ashes, then do some journaling to discern what my Lenten commitment needs to be. 

This will be the third year in a row I’ve observed the season of Lent, after a long lapse. I look forward to it now, knowing that as imperfect as my offering will be, I’ll learn something from it. Two years ago, I gave up ALL THE THINGS and learned that I have issues with perfectionism. Also, that Lent isn’t supposed to be a very special episode of Extreme Makeover. Last year, I gave up criticizing/correcting Patrick, and learned how very often it was on the tip of my tongue each day to do so. And that a simple practice can be infinitely more meaningful than a grandiose one.

I learned about Lent as a child, growing up sort-of Catholic. Every year I’d promise to give up candy, and every year, I blew it. And missed the whole point. WHY DOES JESUS HATE CHOCOLATE?

Look, forty days is a LONG time when you’re a kid. This year, instead of expecting my boys to keep something up past the point that they even remember what it’s all about, I’m offering them a different focus each day. One simple intention to practice each day, for forty days. 

I’ve come up with a list of 40 small ways of observing the “three pillars” of Lent: prayer, fasting, alms-giving (where fasting means an act of self-discipline, and alms-giving means an act of service). You’re welcome to adopt/adapt them for your own family or tradition (or as a mindfulness exercise– meditation or loving thoughts can substitute for prayer if prayer is not your thing). My ideas are written with older kids and adults in mind, but younger kids could participate with a little guidance. 

Feel free to print 40 Days of Lent Ideas for Kid and Parents and use what’s useful to you. The printable is formatted so each idea can be cut as a strip of paper. You can fold them up and draw them from a jar, or you can glue them to card stock strips and make a Lent paper chain like I’ve seen on Pinterest. Some paper chains are assembled first, and taken apart one link at a time as you count down to Easter; some are built day by day as you count up.

Or maybe you’ll come up with some other ideas and share them here.

Meantime, if you’re still thinking about giving up chocolate for Lent, here’s a handy flow chart to help you decide. Just in the nick of time.

party animal 


Connecting the dots

January 22nd, 2015

In a damp, dark castle--deliriously happy.

I was updating my Goodreads shelves a little while ago, and noticed that all but two of the books I logged for 2014 were historical non-fiction or fiction. Add to that, 44 hours of recorded lectures on history. Add to that, who knows how many hours of historical documentaries and dramas on video.

I’m on a bit of a kick.

One of my favorite things about being my age is forehead-smacking insight into my own life. Like I’ve been working on a connect-the-dots picture for forty-plus years and can suddenly see the pattern emerge. 

SMACK! I love history!

I’ve loved history all my life. I always preferred historical books to nearly any other kind. As a kid, I was mad for those picture books that showed ancient Roman villas or medieval castles in minute detail. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up. The museum is the first place I want to go in any new city. In the last few years, I’ve discovered a passion for genealogy–not just mine, but everyone’s. Microfiche readers excite me. I’ve almost trained Facebook to only feed me headlines that involve dead kings in car parks.

How didn’t I know this? Obviously, I love history. But I didn’t see it before. I was just going from dot to dot. From this thing, to that.

It’s wonderful, this eureka feeling. But a little wistfulness follows it. I wish I’d known some of these things sooner. When I was eighteen and miserable in college, majoring in what I thought I was supposed to do, and hating it, I wish I’d known that I loved history. 

And while I’m wishing, it would’ve also been good to know that transitions are tricky for me. That I have a fierce competitive streak. That I hate repetition. That I’m capable of lasting relationships. That I would love being a mother. That too much solitude and not enough sunlight is detrimental to my mental health.

I wish I’d known me better.

It’s not very enlightened to admit to regrets. I don’t know how you come this far without rueing some of the time spent on detours and dead ends. But I guess they were dots in the puzzle too. A straight line doesn’t make a very interesting picture.


Lucy Van Pelt is my spirit animal.

January 20th, 2015


We went to see the new Peanuts exhibits at the Clinton Presidential Center this weekend–the comic strip, not the legume, as everybody under the age of 20 seemed to think when I mentioned it. Kids today.

I had an invitation by virtue of being a local “mommy” blogger, the presumable hope being that a dozen of us–and our five hundred adorable kids–would help promote the exhibits through our social media channels*.  Come Saturday morning, however, two out of three of my adorable kids were unavailable or unwilling to participate. My sixteen year old, for once, had nothing better to do, so it fell to him to be my entourage.

“Be adorable,” I told him, looking 8 inches up into his eyes. My eldest baby-man is six feet tall and growing. I’m 5’4″. Several friends sitting behind us in the lecture hall wondered if I’d brought a date.

We had a great time. It was sweet to see my big kid talking to the toddlers and younger kids, many of whom are growing up before my eyes, on my phone and computer screens. They are his internet cousins, in a way. I see most of their parents a few times a year at least, when anyone makes it easy, fun, and tax-deductible for us to get together. I’ve met their spouses. I know their stories. Some of us have become very close. We’re a community.


Feel the love. That’s Christen Byrd’s sweet daughter in the middle, #bufflogals on the left. The cutie on the right belongs to Sonya K.


I should mention the exhibits were worth seeing, too, in case you’re in Little Rock and can see them. One is valentine-themed, the other, football. I love the Charlie Brown football gag. Of all the Peanuts gang, there’s a special place in my heart for Lucy. I was also a bossy little girl often frustrated by other people’s inability to see things my way–the RIGHT way.  I was forever setting up clubs with me as president, only to have everybody quit before I even got through reading my exhaustive bylaws.

Good grief.

We also learned a lot of interesting things about Charles Schulz. Principally, that it’s Schulz, not Schultz, which was shocking news to me. And that he hated the Peanuts title, which was imposed by the syndicate. Probably the big east coast one running the Christmas racket.

Schulz was a phenomenally disciplined artist. He drew that strip for nearly fifty years. It was very cool to see some of his rough sketches. I love to see an artist’s process, and for my artistic sons to see it, too. It’s a great antidote to perfectionism. Even the virtuosos throw stuff in the wastebasket. 

Of course we got photos taken with Snoopy. Because no one is cooler than Snoopy. Am I right?


(I assume you guys are getting these references. I’m pretty sure no Millennials are reading this blog.)

And my kid was adorable, if I do say so myself. 


So if you were a Peanuts character, who would you be?  

 *Disclosure: We were invited guests of the Clinton Presidential Center, and got treated to a very nice lunch. Nobody asked me to post anything. Where cool things about our city are concerned, I’m happy to brag.