Sunday, February 18, 2024

Notes on Brokenness

My husband is remodeling our kitchen, and yesterday he came to the part where you have to take the tile backsplash off the wall, and I thought, Hey, I can do this part. Give me the hammer. Maybe I have some latent aggression that needed to be released, because I enjoyed smashing the backsplash tile to bits. 

Outside there was snow on the ground and everything was muffled. Not just from the snow but from the noise cancelling headphones I was wearing. Smashing tile is loud. It is also hard work. 

Some of the tile came down with barely any effort. One tap and it split right off. But most sections took time. Strategic placement of the screwdriver-like tool I was using, angling it carefully along a crack, and then giving the hammer a nice solid whack. Sometimes I gave it too strong of a whack and broke the wall underneath. 

Which seemed like a problem, but my husband said, no. It can be fixed. With my husband, anything can be fixed. This is no small thing. And I say this as a person who once believed that I was irreversibly broken. I thought I hid it pretty well. But there were cracks. I thought I hid those pretty well too. Here is something I learned: 

No one is irreversibly broken. And if you want to fix something, it can be fixed. 

The old tile is gone. The smashed bits already hauled off with the trash. There is no going back now. My husband is scrolling through YouTube videos on how to repair walls. I'm searching for new backsplash ideas and bookmarking the ones I like. 

There are so many beautiful possibilities. Why didn't we take care of this years ago? Here is something I am learning:

It is never too late.


Sunday, February 11, 2024

This Kind of Happiness

The mourning dove couple is back in their old nest on the porch. Drinking my coffee this morning, I hear them cooing and immediately feel happy--spring is here!!--before worrying that this is way too early for mourning doves, and spring should not be here. It's barely mid-February. 

You said the same thing last year, my husband tells me. I go back to check my journal, and sure enough, he's right. Sort of. It was the end of February when the mourning dove couple returned to their nest. I feel slightly less worried now. If we are all hurtling toward some cataclysmic climate change cliff, is it wrong to be grateful that it also comes with cooing mourning doves and a few sunny warm days in February?

I read the news and despair. I stop reading the news and feel guilty. Shouldn't I know what's going on? A friend stops over spur of the moment and we walk around my neighborhood, marveling at how lovely the weather is. After she leaves, I am restless. I try to write some more in the book I'm writing. I try to read some more in the book I'm reading. I give up on both and take another walk, this time with the dog. 

She trots along with her tail wagging, pausing every now and then to wriggle on her back in the grass. She loves spring. I don't have the heart to tell her it's winter. At the toddler story time, a little girl shows up early with her dad. She couldn't wait for this, the dad tells me. She's been talking about it all week. 

Me too, I say, and I laugh because I realize I actually mean it. 

The little girl whispers something to her father and he nods and says, She wants to know if you're going to do the Wheels on the Bus song. 

We sure are! I say, and the little girl squeals and claps her hands. Later, when the room fills up with kids and their grown-ups, we all squeal and clap our hands. 

How are we blessed with this kind of happiness, the kind that delights in silly songs and wriggles on its back in the sun? How did we ever lose it? 

How do we remember and hold on?

Sunday, February 4, 2024

10 Things I Learned from Doing the Toddler Story-time at the Library

1. It is a full-blown workout. This is not the sit quietly on the floor with your legs crossed kind of story-time. This is singing at the top of your lungs with hand motions, rolling, bouncing, hopping, rocking in a pretend boat and driving a pretend car. When it's over, we are all ready for naptime. 

2. It's a big bummer when the bubble machine breaks, but the toddlers get over the disappointment fast, happy to wave the brightly colored gauzy scarves I've passed out and/or shake the rattly egg-shaped shakers. 

3. Everyone likes being greeted by the sheep puppet. Even the shyest kids, the ones hiding behind their grown-up's legs. One glimpse of the sheep puppet and they're timidly toddling over to boop the puppet's nose. 

4. Boop by Bea Birdsong is a good book to read to two-year-olds. Boop, if you don't know it, is a story (and I use the word story generously here) about a dog and his nose and how it's everyone's job to give the nose a little boop-y tap. The story builds with other comically drawn dogs all wanting their noses to be booped and ends with the directive to boop your own nose. 

5. I was nervous before I did this story-time, thinking about other teaching and public speaking experiences I've had (a lot), but realizing that my experience with the toddler set is zero. Unless, you count my own kids, but that was so long ago, can I even remember it? 

6. I can.

7. When you're speaking to any audience, it's good to scan the crowd, pause here and there to look someone in the eye, smile. This works with toddlers too. It helps if you're sitting on the floor with them. It helps if you've got a sheep puppet on your hand. 

8. The songs will stick in your head for days. (For a fun example of this, try: "Driving in My Car." You've been warned.)

9. There is a lot of planning involved in story-time. Choosing a book that can hold a small child's attention, the music and rhymes and particular fingerplays. The set up. The take down. The sanitizing of toys, which all inevitably went straight into someone's mouth. But I like this kind of planning. And I don't mind the clean up. 

Gathering up scarves and eggs, I have a flashback of my young mother self, picking cheerios off the carpet and sanitizing the teething rings, the weird quiet in the house after the kids have been put to bed, knowing the noisy busy day will start again tomorrow, with the crying, the giggling, the whining, the kisses. How never-ending those days were and then, one day they ended and are gone forever-- 

10.  until you sign up to do the toddler story-time at the library. 

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Rule Maker Rule Breaker

Last week I made a list of rules for myself and then I broke them. I don’t think I even made it a day. Who am I kidding. I didn’t make it an hour. The rules all had to do with how I use social media and consume news, and basically, how much I use my phone. (TOO MUCH!) 

The rules seemed like really good rules. 

What inspired me to write them was I am working my way through The Artist’s Way again and there’s a chapter about “blocks.” The idea is that just as we’re starting to break through, feel more creative, and play around on whatever project we’re working on, we self-sabotage and reach instinctively for a block. Drugs or drinking. Spending money. Overeating. For me, it’s the damn phone. 

The task we were supposed to do in Artist’s Way is write a list of things we promise we will no longer do. 

I had a fun time making this list.

1. I will no longer jump on my phone in moments of boredom.

2. I will no longer scroll through the news headlines.

3. I will no longer check emails on my phone. 

4. I will no longer mindlessly watch videos on social media. 

I made the list and promptly jumped on my phone, scrolled the news headlines, checked my emails, and mindlessly watched videos on social media. 

Surely something else was going on with me. The Artist’s Way asks us to answer honestly: 

What is your payoff in holding onto the block? 

I wrote, “It confirms my worst feelings about the world and about myself. That I lack focus. That I can’t tackle a project like the one I’m working on. That I can’t follow through on anything. That I’m acting like I have all the time in the world when I know that I don’t. That it’s okay to waste my one wild precious life because who cares.” 


I shut my laptop and picked up my phone. 

Something strange happened. An old friend emailed me out of the blue, kind words about something I’d written. At the same time, another old friend texted me. And another. I’m not lying. Three people I haven’t seen in years, all saying absurdly nice things. 

Too nice. I escaped back into the phone. 

Really, what was going on with me? I had a funny flash of my fifteen-year-old self making up rules, how to act, how to talk, how to eat, how to dress, how to fix my frizzy hair. So many rules. How could I help but break them? 

"Do one lovely thing each day for yourself this week" 

is the next task in The Artist’s Way after the phone block one, and I can already feel myself making it a rule. I can already feel myself breaking it. 

But here is something I want to try: What if I don’t call it a rule, a task, a promise? What if I don’t write it down or even think about it? What if I just take a moment, right now, and do it.



Sunday, January 21, 2024

Lost and Found

Working the information desk at the library and a patron asks if there are any reading glasses in the Lost and Found. Let me check, I say, and I pull out the bin and sift through the left-behind winter hats and gloves, a dropped baby shoe, a nice pen. 

I don't see any reading glasses, I say. When do you think you might've left them here?

Oh, I didn't leave them here, she says. I forgot mine at home.

It takes me a minute to process this. The patron wants to use someone else's lost reading glasses? 

Is this...allowed? It doesn't feel allowed. Regardless, there are no left-behind reading glasses in the bin. The patron is bummed, and she jokes about how blind she is without her glasses and how there's no way she can interpret the form she needs to fill out and fax. She'll have to drive home. 

I'm still stuck on the part where she asked me to rummage through the Lost and Found, but I'm also sympathetic. I can't see without my reading glasses either. In fact, I keep them perched on my head, always. I slip them off my head and offer them to the patron, and she is delighted. I am delighted by her delight, while at the same time, wondering if I am a fool and what if I forget to ask for them back and when I do, should I sanitize them? 

I don't know why I'm thinking about this. 

It's the middle of the night, and I am sleeping on the couch downstairs with the dog who is sick. Correction: I am trying to sleep. Instead, I am writing this post in my head and listening to the dog being sick. Her stomach has the gurglies. Something she ate yesterday? Who knows. Let's just say she has a sensitive digestive system. I've already let her outside once (at 2 am), watching from the back door as she desperately raced out across the snow. It's sixteen degrees. 

And then we're back inside, both warming up. The last time I slept downstairs was May 2020. I didn't get much sleep then either. Our daughter, who had been studying abroad and stuck there during the early part of the pandemic, had just flown home, and my husband and I were dutifully following all of the rules on the CDC website. Basically: Treat her as if she is teeming with a virus that could kill us all. 

For the required two weeks quarantine, we gave her the upstairs--bedroom, bathroom-- and moved ourselves into the living room downstairs. I left her meals on a tray at the top of the stairs. I wore a mask and gloves when I did her laundry. During the day, we took walks or sat outside on the patio, six feet apart. On rainy days, we facetimed. The two weeks lasted forever and then it was over. We gave her long-awaited hugs and lived together in our bubble for a year. A great gift, I understand now, despite all of the fear and craziness of the time. 

The patron gives me back my glasses without my having to ask, and I wipe them off with hand sanitizer, no big deal. A few weeks later, down in the Youth Department, I lose them. They must have fallen off somewhere when I was shelving. I have to pull holds and I can't read the tiny call numbers on the list. A little boy sees me crawling around looking and starts crawling around looking too. 

In a few minutes another little boy joins him, and then, both of the boys' mothers, another child and their nanny, a whole silly group of us on our knees, peering between the shelves and under the furniture. 

What I'm trying to say made more sense to me in the middle of the night, the dog's stomach rumbling in the dark, my worries keeping me from sleep. The large and small ways we try to help. The gifts we share with one another. All of our foolish and lovely gestures.   


Sunday, January 14, 2024


I've been watching the TV show The Bear. It’s very good. If you don't know it, it's about an acclaimed master chef named Carmy who inherits his family's sandwich shop after his older brother commits suicide. He decides to come home to run the place, and it's very stressful for him (and for us, watching). The crew is skeptical about the changes Carmy wants to make. In the kitchen everyone is used to doing what they want and yelling at each other. 

What I like about the show is how when they are not yelling, they are telling each other where they are and what they are doing. Behind! they will say, when they are walking behind someone. Or, Corner! when they are racing around a corner. When someone gives them an instruction, they say, Heard!

Sometimes they say Heard! when they are having an uncomfortable conversation. I like that, I say to my husband. We should try that. 

Heard, he says. 

This is important to me because I know I am not always a good listener. Sometimes I tune out without meaning to and burrow into my own head. Or I get distracted by what else is going on or by a thing I'd meant to do. My family will joke about how I stand up in the middle of conversations to pace around or to do a household task. 

Some days I literally cannot sit still and feel like I might crawl out of my own skin. I don't know why I'm like this. Well, I do sort of know why I'm like this, but I'm starting to wonder how much knowing can help with potentially changing. 

The Bear isn't really about what goes on behind the scenes of a restaurant. It's about a person who is struggling with grief and loss. The long term, seemingly never-ending effects of trauma burrowing into all of the nooks and crannies of the kitchen, into Carmy, and into his family and friends. 

It's a funny story too. And most episodes are heartbreakingly lovely as the people strive to do better, be better. How they begin to learn, one by one, that there might be another way to interact with each other without the yelling and the contempt and the casual cruelty. 

How when they say Heard to each other, we know they are really trying to listen. 

Sunday, January 7, 2024

A Bear, a Pillow, a Pomelo

The bear was a black bear and it was dead. Probably hit by a car. The body rolled a little way off the road and down into the woods. My friend and I were walking our dogs, and I stopped to take a picture of the bear, but then I said, Wait, what if it's not dead? 

My friend laughed. If it's not dead, we run. 

Later, we all went on a hike. There was snow on the ground and the trail went straight uphill. We were all wearing sneakers and it was slow-going. Why are we doing this? I kept thinking. But then we reached the top and I understood. The view. I don't know how to describe it. I took a picture. 

This was New Year's Eve. Every year for the past twenty-four years my family has met up with the same good friends to celebrate, except for 2020, when we met up over zoom. This year my husband and I almost cancelled. He was getting over being sick. I was afraid I'd catch what he had. 

But he felt better and I was okay and off we went. On the drive we talked about our health and how when you have good health, you don't think about your health. But when you have bad health, it's hard to think about anything else. It makes you wonder about time and how you want to spend it. 

After the hike we browsed around thrift stores and I kept looking at pillows. I don't know why. The cushiness. The color. There was an orangey one I kept going back to and finally my husband said, just buy it. So we did. We were using cash. Long story, but we had some, and I said, let's play a game where we can't use our credit cards for anything until the cash is gone. 

This meant going into gas stations to pay for gas, something I have no memory of ever doing in my life, and I had to ask the clerk how it worked. She said, you tell me how much gas you want and you pay me. 

But how did I know how much gas I wanted? A tank? How much is a tank? I know she thought I was a weirdo. Also, one week into this new only-cash lifestyle, and I think our credit card company is probably worried about us. Have we been kidnapped? Are we okay? 

We are doing great! 

On the drive back, I am a pro with the gas. Let's mix things up, I tell my husband. Do other things differently. Just for funsies. We go grocery shopping when we get home and walk the store in the opposite direction we usually shop, ending up at the fruit and vegetables. We buy two artichokes because we have never bought fresh artichokes before. We buy something called a Pomelo because we don't know what it is and it is large and round and green and why not? 

Turns out it tastes like grapefruit. I take a picture of it.