Sunday, May 28, 2023

One little goat has blues eyes

and his little horns are just beginning to poke out. When he tries to jump on my shoulders, he slides off. Note to self: next time you sign up to do Goat Yoga in the park, don't wear a slippery shirt. 

But the other goats manage to clamber up, no problem, so maybe it's only Baby Blue Eyes. I can't stop laughing at his little clompy hooves. The way his mouth scrunches up when he's eating grass out of my hand. When he piddles on me, I surprise myself by laughing. 

Maybe this is me now, finding joy in the little things. The toad I find nestled in my thyme. The cupcakes a regular patron brings into the library to share with the staff. The free mocktails my husband and I are handed when we stroll into one of the trendy shops in our neighborhood. 

This is a thing now, apparently. Mocktails. The bartender who makes the drinks explains it to us. We want to be inclusive, he says. Why should drinkers have all the fun drinks? 

The drinks are fun. Refreshingly cold and gingery. There are mocktails at a party we go to later in the week too. The party is outside, at an urban farm downtown. Between the interstates and interspersed around a struggling neighborhood are twelve city blocks of vegetable and herb gardens. The volunteers raise money by selling the food at farmers markets. They give food away to people who live in the community and teach anyone who's interested how to garden.  

My husband and a friend and I wander under the trees, carrying our mocktails. Teens from the neighborhood give tours and guide us through the interactive stations. Paint a rock. Make a nature-inspired collage. Assemble teabags out of freshly cut herbs. And here, says one of the volunteers, pointing at rows and rows of greens, is the U Pick Garden, where everyone is invited to take whatever they need. 

Even flowers, she says, because don't we all deserve something beautiful? 

At the farmer's market close to our house, one of the farmers is selling mocktail mixes. Mango and orange it says on the label. Our daughter is visiting for the weekend, and she immediately perks up. Mocktails! she says. I love these!

We buy a bottle, and after we clean up from the Goat Yoga goat piddle, we crack open the bottle, and my husband joins us on the patio. Okay, the truth is, it's just mango and orange juice and... is this really worth fifteen dollars a bottle? 

The evening is so unbelievably lovely I don’t even know how to describe it to you. 

Yes, we decide. 



Sunday, May 21, 2023

Each chive blossom contains one small bug

and for a moment, I am in awe, an entire world in my herb garden, and I am just a visitor, clearing out the weeds, untangling the thyme, which is creeping out onto the patio and winding around the outdoor furniture. I am in a constant battle with my yard. What to leave alone. What to cut and yank. The bugs to flick away. 

The ones to smush. 

This bug looks like a ladybug, so it's on the cute side when it comes to bugs. I have to put on my reading glasses to get a better look. I make a snap decision. Smush it. But now I feel a twinge of guilt. In my defense I was in the middle of making Chive Blossom Vinegar. 

Here is the recipe:

1. Pack a jar half full with chive blossoms. 

2. Add white vinegar. 

3. Let it sit for two weeks. 

4. Drain the soggy blossoms, and wah lah! A lovely, purply-colored vinegar for tossing on your salad.

Meanwhile I am reading a book about awe, called Awe. The author is a scientist who studies awe, carefully detailing what awe is ("the feeling of being in the presence of something vast") and how experiencing that feeling can help us (it takes us outside of ourselves, reminds us of our connection to each other and to the wider world).  

The book is broken into sections on where we can find awe, such as being in nature, listening to music or looking at art. There are studies on how awe can positively affect our minds and bodies. I believe all of this, and like the author, I want to feel awe every day. 

But the biggest takeaway of the book is that it doesn't have to be a big momentous occasion to catch the benefit. Because how many times in your life do you get one of those? I'm thinking of a few years ago when my son took my husband and me to Yosemite and that first glance at the mountains rising up around the bend in the road and how we all gasped at once. Or the time I wandered into a random church in Prague and I was all alone in the quiet space and found myself bursting into tears. 

Those chive blossoms aren't really blossoms, but pink-purple balls, each one made up of thread-like strands--petals, fronds? (another thing I don't know) and so intricately designed, it is almost a shame to lop them off, drop them in a jar. 

But a wonder too, that together we can make something beautiful.  

PS. Next time I won't smush the bugs.  


Sunday, May 14, 2023

I'm only here to ride the elevator

is what it says on the little boy's t-shirt. He's a regular patron at our library who comes in once a week with his grandfather, and as his t-shirt makes clear, he likes to ride the elevator. 

This was impossible when the elevator was closed for repairs (FOR A YEAR but who's counting), a major annoyance for pretty much everyone--the staff who had to heft books by the armloads up and down the stairs, the parents with babies in strollers, anyone with bad knees. But the little boy was actually cool with it. 

The broken elevator was a seemingly endless source of interest to him. Why was it broken and when would it be fixed, and how... And you should've seen the joy and wonder on his face on the days when workers were there, actively working on the elevator. 

He reminded me of my son when he was about the same age, a day at the zoo a million years ago, there to see the animals, but instead we sat for two hours on a bench near a fenced off construction area and watched a cement mixer pour cement. Another time when my daughter laughed hysterically in the driveway as a stray cat wound around her legs. 

I can still hear her high, sweet voice singing over and over: "Kitty go round me! Kitty go round me!" And what do you do in moments like that except exclaim yourself. Look at that cement mixer! Or, You're right, what a silly kitty! Until you swear you can feel it too, the joy and wonder of a three-year-old.

This morning I headed out into the garden. Mother's Day, for me, means a day of planting, and I am all business. Setting out vegetable seedlings I bought from the farmers market and flower seeds carefully collected last fall. The gardening tools and plastic planters. The graph paper notebook I use to chart out where to plant. 

I am the opposite of a three-year-old. 

It is sunny and warm and before long I am sweaty, dirty, stopping only when my kids, long grown and flown, call to say hello and catch up, and then it is back to work. Digging, mulching, labeling, falling into the rhythm of it, the dog snoozing nearby, overhead a mourning dove making that coo coo coo sound I love, my fingers in the soil, and then

Look! on a lettuce leaf a slug, its weird tiny antennae twitching. Instead of flicking it off how I normally would, I scooch in closer, on hands and knees now, grinning like a goofball, 

careful and curious as a child. 

Sunday, May 7, 2023

At the Cactus Store

you can buy a miniature cactus. You can pick out a lovely little container and decorative rocks to fill it. You can buy an adorable hat to put on your cactus. Or skip the hat. I skipped the hat. (It was five dollars, which seemed a little over the top to me?) But otherwise, I was getting a kick out of the entire process. 

There's a table in the back room of the store where someone assists you with the planting. How to loosen the cactus roots and set it carefully into the dirt. How to tamp it all down with the decorative rocks. A handy instruction sheet for cactus care. 

This is an actual store within walking distance of my home. It's next door to the Colorful Stones Shop and the place where they sell vegan ice cream. Last week less than a mile away, in the opposite direction, there was a drag race. Apparently, one hundred cars showed up to race along with dozens of spectators. 

It was eleven o'clock at night and the spectators ran out into the road and stopped cars that were driving by. They were clearing the street so they could have their drag race. I didn't hear it when it was happening, even though the police were called and shots were fired and the one hundred cars sped out through the side streets in my neighborhood, the streaks of headlights caught on various people's Ring cameras. 

The dog and I slept through the whole thing. 

I was conked out from multiple hospital visits. I don't know what the dog's excuse was. Maybe she caught some of my anxiety. Maybe she's just old. Or she needs the rest. We all need the rest. The patient is back home and doing fine. But it was a close call. 

The world is a close call. 

For a day all my neighbors can talk about is the drag race, oh my god how dangerous this was and what if someone got hurt or worse, but then we all let it go. I can tell you one thing I know for sure: It is relatively easy to take care of a miniature cactus. 

Give it a good watering once a month. Basically, that's it. It doesn't feel like enough, but what are you going to do?

You do it. 

Sunday, April 30, 2023

The coffee machine in the hotel room doesn't work

It's sort of the same kind I have at home, so I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. I added the water. I popped the little coffee pod into the correct slot. Is this thing on? Is it plugged in? 

It doesn't help that I haven't had my coffee yet. I am bleary-eyed and groggy. And I'm feeling anxious. I'm supposed to be leaving the hotel for a writing event soon. I'm slated to teach writing classes to middle school students. Trust me when I tell you I need coffee for this. 

At least from what I remember, I do. The last time I did a school visit was February 2020. Driving up the day before--(only a two hour drive but still)--I am also anxious. It's a mixture of driving alone (never been a huge fan), wanting to do a good job with my writing lesson, and a residual worry leftover from the major surgery my loved one went through several weeks ago. He's got a follow up appointment today. While I am teaching the middle school students. 

But okay. I can do this. Leave him for the night. Drive two hours. Teach writing classes. Make a cup of coffee... That first week in the hospital, a friend told me I could do hard things. But what if I can't do easy things? 

I trace the coffee cord. Unplug it and plug it back in. Squatting in front of the machine, I notice there's a graphic on the bottom. Directions! 

I have to put on my reading glasses to decipher it. Ha! Apparently, there's an order of operations to this device. 

1. Insert the coffee pod. 

2. Add water. 

3. Set your coffee cup under the Where the Coffee Will Come Out thingy

4. Press the On button.

I feel like I've summited Mt. Everest when I hear the familiar gurgle emanating from the machine, see that first welcome shot of coffee sputtering into the cup. The writing classes go well. What I want to say comes back to me. The kids are sweet. 

But I hit another snafu on the way home. Before I leave the event center parking lot, I plug in my phone GPS and the sound doesn't pick up on my car. What is wrong with this thing? I run through every possibility I can think of, and then, just let it go. 

If I want to get out of here, I'll need to do it old school, by paying attention to the road signs. 

Everything was fine at the follow-up appointment. But a few days later we are back in the hospital. That first drive in the dark to the emergency room, the walk past the ridiculous Chihuly glass, I think I might lose my mind. 

I don't know how things work anymore. And what the hell is the order of operations? 

I have no idea. All I know is somehow the coffee got made. And twenty miles into the trip, the GPS flicked itself on loudly, its calm, steady voice leading me the rest of the way home.   

Sunday, April 23, 2023

I am in a battle with grubs

the grubs are nibbling away at my front lawn, slowly, or maybe, not so slowly, taking it over. This is not a new problem. But now it's spring, and I actually have to deal with it. How I am dealing with it is how I deal with a lot of problems. 


This means researching. Talking about it with my husband and kids. Journaling. Talking about it with friends. Attending a lecture at the library called "Gardening with Nature in Mind." Talking about it with random strangers. And finally, just bucking up and taking action. 

The action entails getting down on my hands and knees and digging up the dead patches of lawn, finding the grubs, and plucking them out one by one. Their wormy goopy curled-up bodies initially activate a major ick response in me, but eventually, I get over it. This is war and I am going to win it. 

You are not going to win it, the "Gardening with Nature in Mind" teacher says emphatically, during her lecture. Nature always wins. 

I write these words of wisdom in the Notes feature on my phone so I won't forget them. Also, some other interesting tidbits, such as:

Plants are talking to us; we just don't understand the language.


If you're poisoning your lawn, you're poisoning you.

Later, I head back outside and fill three yard-waste containers with dead lawn and goopy grubs. If they are speaking to me, I can't hear them, but I can imagine: Leave me alone. I want to eat grass. I want to snooze with a full belly in my warm bed of soil. I don't care about the destruction of your yard. 

I realize as I write this that I am not writing about battling grubs. I am writing about relationships that pain me, but have no clear resolution. At least no resolution that I can see, and this is--I promise you!!-- after an obsessive amount of researching and journaling and talking talking talking.

The gardening expert at the library reminds us that it’s all about finding the balance between changing the things you can and accepting the things you can’t. 

I haul the yard waste containers up to the curb for trash pickup. In the bare spots of soil, I drop clover seeds and plant flowers. I know there are more grubs burrowing under my knees. I will let them go for now. 


Sunday, April 16, 2023


Yesterday my plants were crushed by a maintenance guy. Which upset me, to put it mildly. 

These were lovely hostas, their stalks poking out, their leaves just on the verge of unfurling. All of this gorgeous spring weather we've had this week, and I'd been outside sprucing up the garden, reveling in the sun on my skin, a much needed break

from the visits to the hospital, the multiple back-and-forths, the simmering-under-the-surface anxiety, but that was over now and tucked safely in the rearview mirror. 

Everything is fine. We are fine. I am fine. 

I tend to the plants in the evenings. Set out dishes of fresh water for the toads. I find one asleep in a pile of leaves when I am combing through the matted oregano, scoop it up, a heart-sized ball thrumming in my hands.

A younger version of myself would have screeched in surprise, would have tossed the thing without a second thought. But old me, new me sets it back down in the oregano patch, close to his water dish. His, her, their? I know nothing about toads, 

but I suspect they want what all of us do. Gentleness. Care. Or maybe I am thinking too hard. Maybe all they want is to live on this earth, undisturbed. 

I know the maintenance guy didn't notice the hostas, didn't purposely grind his boot over them when he was doing maintenance on our air conditioning unit, which happens to be located at the edge of my garden. He was preoccupied by his job, just going about his business, and who can blame him. 

Still, the crushed plants crushed me. When I found them, I was over-the-top enraged and in tears, and possibly alarming the neighbors. My husband consoled me for a minute and then escaped inside to take a nap. I stayed outside with the toad, nursing my anger. I have a right to be mad! 

But even as I was reassuring myself, I knew it was more than a crushed plant that was crushing me. Sometimes we need an escape valve, a release from bottled up stresses. And as far as releases go, this was a damn good one.  

Anyway, the air conditioner is fixed. The plants will come back.


Sunday, April 9, 2023

Hanging out in a hospital waiting room

is like being stuck at the airport. Nothing is under your control. There's a lot of walking, sitting. Waiting. Before I leave the house, I even pack the same things. My laptop and power cord. Phone charger. Snacks. A bottle of water. A nice hefty churning chunk of anxiety comes along with me too. 

I imagine the flight being delayed. I imagine myself missing the connection. I imagine the plane dropping out of the sky. 

When I am at the airport, I always read a book. And then, after, I will forever associate that story with my travels. This time I am reading the book Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. It's historical fiction, set during World War Two, and has no parallels to me, my life now, and why I am presently sitting in a hospital waiting room. I love this book. I love every exquisite sentence. 

Ten chapters in, and my loved one is out of surgery. All went well, they tell me. I am greatly relieved. I move from the waiting room up to the patient's room and now the real waiting begins. 

One long day and I know this place. 

The Jello cups. The muffled hallway sounds. The pattern on the hospital gowns. One day. Two. The nursing staff leaves, and the new staff arrives. And the next group. And the next.  

In my book the main character is a woman who works at the naval yard and is training to be a deep sea diver. I didn't know they let women dive back then. Or work for the navy. The suit she wears weighs two hundred pounds, and for a moment, when they close her up in it, she is terrified, as if she is trapped in cement. But when she slips below the water line, she finds her bearings in the murk. Her task is to tie a knot. 

Above water I fumble opening Jello cups. The nursing staff changes over again, but now I know everyone on every rotation. I race home to walk the dog, and I am back at the hospital. Pass the information desk, a hallway with dangling lights, the always crowded Starbucks. A Chihuly glass installation. Why is there a Chihuly glass installation in a hospital? Who knows. It's pretty, though. 

Meanwhile, the main character ties the knot underwater. She rises to the surface, triumphant. I've lost track of time. Three days. Four days. Another dash back and forth to let the dog out. She sniffs around the garden where only a week ago, I planted lettuce. Now, like a miracle, a sprinkle of green. 

Five days. Six. Someone tells me it's Easter. Back to the hospital, another miracle.

We're going home. 

Sunday, April 2, 2023

I was going to plant lettuce yesterday

but it was too windy. It was too windy for a lot of things. Instead, I went to the grocery store. I was thinking about storms breaking out across the country and school shootings and a person who shall not be named getting indicted and who knows how that will end up, whatever kind of carnage this might unleash. 

I was standing in line to pick up a prescription at the grocery store pharmacy, and the line wasn't moving. I did one of the calming-breathing exercises my therapist taught me. The calming-breathing exercise was not really doing it for me. The line was not budging. The song "Under My Umbrella" by Rihanna came on and I found myself swaying to the music. 

When she says, You can stand under my umbrella ella ella, ay ay ay, I starting singing the song under my breath, laughing a little too, because it just seemed odd to me that this song was playing as the grocery store background music. I remember when this song came out, and my son, who was in middle school, used to sing the AY AY AY part at the top of his lungs. 

That was sixteen years ago. Now, I am feeling old and one of my loved ones is having surgery this week, and the truth is there is no space left in my head for storms or school shootings or indictments. 

Time for more calming-breathing exercises. Or maybe time to try something else? Last week when I told my therapist I was a little anxious, she said I might try "leaning into the anxiety" instead of struggling to squelch it. Take a brisk walk, she suggested. Or dance to loud music. 

The theory is that if your heart rate's already up, just go with it. I went with it in the line at the grocery store pharmacy. I went with it later when I was standing in line at the garden center, buying my lettuce seeds. When I got home, I braved the weather and took the dog for a walk. 

The wind blasted us, and for a few minutes, we were pelted with hard icy drops of rain. I had my earbuds in, the umbrella song on repeat. The dog and I walked briskly, and then we ran. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

In Another Country

It's sunny here and warm. The kind of warm that feels like a hug. My aunt hugs me when she picks me up from the airport. We get to talking before I finish sliding my roll-y suitcase into the back seat. My aunt is a talker. And if you know me in real life, you know that I am a talker too. When we get together, the talking is next level.

Before we hit the highway, we've covered the book I was reading on the plane, what's up with her friends in the condo community, how the little dog she's been dog-sitting is settling in, book banning (we're both against it), the weather (supposed to be hot this weekend in this part of Florida), and all the latest news on my kids--

with a dizzying digression into the past, as my aunt recalls funny stories, sad stories and everything in between about the kids when they were little, about the kids (me and my siblings) when I was little, about the kids (her and her siblings) when she was little, and weirdly, none of it feels in the past. 

My kids are five years old, and I am five years old, and she is, and all of it is happening, is always happening.

And then we are here, in her cute condo with her cute little foster dog, who is suspicious of me but decides to give me a chance. My aunt and I talk way past my usual bedtime. We talk in the morning after she wakes up, earlier than her usual waking-up-time. We talk over lunch. Over dinner. And up late again. And just when I think maybe we are talked out, she tells me a story,

which reminds me of a story, which reminds her of another one. It's been quite a few years since I've visited her, but when I slip outside (WHEW IT IS HOT!) to take a walk, I wonder if I will remember the layout of this neighborhood, the route to a pond where there's a walking trail and all of these condos looking very much the same. What if I get lost?  

But as soon as I set out, it comes back to me. A turn at this corner, a turn at the next. The pond with the signs warning me to beware of the alligator, which I have never seen (but sorta want to!) The palm frond designs etched into the sidewalk squares. A beautiful bird that I don't know the name of, but I snap a picture of it, and only later, remember that years ago, the last time I was here, I saw the same kind of bird and thought the same thing. 

Maybe it is the same bird. Maybe I am the same person. Maybe time stops in this place, and I am always taking pictures of those creepy and yet somehow adorable little lizards that scuttle across the path as I walk. Around the pond, the heat really starting to get to me now, and back to my aunt's condo, only overshooting it by a couple of condos. I have to double-back, where I find her

just setting out the little dog--and it really is so different from her last little dog, the one she loved for years--and yet, it is entirely the same. 


Sunday, March 19, 2023

I still haven't finished painting the closet

but I have made serious progress on it. The scraping. The caulking. One coat of primer, and yesterday,

another coat. But then I got stuck for a few hours contemplating the ceiling. First, because I realized I didn't have any paint rollers, and painting ceilings, I've learned, is much easier with a roller (and much more professional-looking too). So, off I went to the hardware store to buy rollers, mid-job, and somewhat paint-spattered. 

Also, I had less than a quarter can of ceiling paint. Would that be enough? I paid for the rollers but passed on the paint, and let me tell you later, what a nail biter that turned out to be. But whew, it was enough. 

Ceiling done, and now all that's left are the actual walls, the part of "painting the closet" that most people imagine I'm talking about when I say I am painting the closet. 

Everything takes so much longer than I imagine at the start. 

The book I began writing three years ago, for example. A messy draft "finished," but it wriggled around all over the place, morphing into several possible books. The therapy I started last year, just a little tweak of the psyche, I thought, at the beginning, but it has morphed along too, spiraling in multiple directions, 

breaking me open in ways I never dreamed, and still, barely past the scraping and caulking phase, and nowhere near the finished product. I know I know, deconstructing the very core of your own self isn't like painting a closet. Or writing a book. 

I'd put that away for a while, (the book writing) and a few months ago, plunged back in, trying to trace the various potential storylines and finding what seemed to be two decent possibilities. A friend told me, Hey! Why not write both books? And I laughed and laughed, but then I seriously considered it. Why not? 

The brainstorming and revising, the caulking and priming, the tearing apart and forgiving—others, myself— 

maybe the point isn’t perfect completion, but gathering the tools, dipping the brush, moving past the beginning, and somewhere into the middle, 

where it’s good enough, for today. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Painting the closet

seems like it would be a fairly easy goal, 

a small project to check off a to-do list. I mean, I've painted entire rooms, entire houses, so what's the big deal with a closet is what I was thinking, when I set this goal, last year. 

I can get it done over a weekend, I said to myself, 

fifteen weekends ago. This is a small closet in my husband's office. But first it was our daughter's bedroom, Year One of the Pandemic, when she bounced home and nested here, and it was such a terrifying, anxious time, but also, beautiful in a strange way. The closet 

was a magnet for things, a catch-all, and not just stuff belonging to our daughter. Boxes of papers. Photo albums. Framed pictures that don't seem to fit anywhere on the walls. Musical instruments from the time when the kids played viola in their school orchestras. 

It took me a good four or five weekends to think about emptying it, to do the actual emptying, to find places for all of these things. One long weekend of looking at the violas (For the record, we have two kids and four violas), of calling the kids to see if they still wanted them.  

No. I don't know. Maybe, they said. 

One weekend I dug out an old jacket of my daughter's. It fits me perfectly. Not my style at all—much more fashionable—but I wear it out to dinner one night and feel like I am a different person.  

Maybe the kind of person who can paint a damn closet in a weekend.

But first I have to scrape off the peeling paint. The house we live in is nearly one hundred years old. There are so many many layers of paint. And I quickly discover, as I begin scraping, a layer or two of wallpaper buried in there too. I manage to do one half of one wall before quitting. A few weekends later, I try again. 

Uncover another layer, what looks like hand painted flowers, so surprising me mid-scrape, that I have to quit again for three weekends, four. 

When did I become this person, 

who can't finish an easy task, who scrapes into the past, and gets stuck there, gazing longingly at the pretty pictures on the wall? I don't know, but weekend fifteen, sixteen, whatever this weekend is, I am digging in deep, back to my old self, forward to a new self,

settling somewhere in the present, 

a present where I don’t imagine painting the closet, but do it. 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

You Made a Difference

is a thing we do for each other at the library where I work. 

What happens is you notice a coworker going above and beyond, maybe they're being extra helpful with a patron, or maybe they've stepped in to assist you, and you want to give them a little shout-out, a mention, a virtual pat on the back. At the library we have a special online form called YMD, and we fill it out and send it to the person who YMD-ed.  

It feels good to give them out. It feels good to receive them. For a long time, I thought that was all there was to it. But then I sent one to a coworker, and later she thanked me, and said she'd won a few hours of paid time off. Apparently, all of the YMDs for a particular quarter get thrown together and one name is picked out to receive this bonus reward. 

We need to do more of this, I said to my coworkers last week. Not on the off chance that we might win the bonus time-off hours, (Although this is GREAT!) but because it's an all-around nice way to treat each other, to recognize what are coworkers are doing, and to show our appreciation.

I feel so strongly about this that I volunteered to sit on the library's appreciation committee. This is a big deal for me because I have an aversion to committees. 

This goes back to 

(1) my first teaching job fresh out of college, and I was so amazingly young and naive about the ways of the adult working world, and we'd be sitting in these all staff meetings and someone would bring up a problem, and the principal would say, "Why don't you discuss that in the committee?" And I would think, hmm, what is the committee? 

Until one day, I brought up a problem and was directed to the committee, and whispered to the people at my table "What is this committee?" and they all laughed and whispered back, "Oh, Jody, you silly girl, there IS no committee." 


(2) when my kids were in elementary school and I was such a gung-ho volunteer that I sat on EVERY committee and I got so ridiculously enmeshed and burned out that when my husband found out his job was being transferred out of state, one of my first thoughts was YES! I CAN QUIT ALL OF THESE COMMITTEES. 

But anyway, I like this Library Staff Appreciation Committee, so far, (we've only had one meeting) but already, we had fun brainstorming cool things we can do to show the staff appreciation. First order of business: Oreos for National Oreo Day, which is March 6, in case you didn't know. (I didn't) 

Also, I don't really care for Oreos. But I do appreciate the gesture to show us appreciation. 

I was thinking about all of this on my drive home after the committee meeting and still feeling the after-glow from a YMD one of my coworkers had given me that day (for helping with the Baby Storytime the week before), and so I was late to start my afternoon writing work, but trying to gear myself up. 

Something about my writing work: the YMDs have to come from within. I truly believe this and have always been okay with it, but then I opened up my email and was surprised to see a YMD of sorts, a message from my Substack account with a note from a reader, 

along with some information about a pledge-payment feature the account offers and how to handle subscriptions if you choose to activate this feature. Until that moment, I hadn't even known that payment was an option, but I was still stuck on the message, the kind words from an old friend (coincidentally, a million years ago we sat on several committees together). How lovely and out of the blue to hear from her, and to know that she reads my words and likes them. 

And I hope she won't mind if I give her a little shout out now:

Dear Cindy, 

You made a difference. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

On Robot Recipes and Baby Storytimes

This week some writers I know were quietly freaking out about the new AI Chapgpt.

Apparently, you can ask it to write books. Oh my God, my writer friends say. What if the robots put us all out of business? As I am not presently in the business, I have been watching this conversation with some amusement. Okay, sure, someone's going to ask AI to write a book, and some publishing company is going to publish it, and some people will fork over the twenty-something bucks for it, 

but some people buy pet rocks.  

Meanwhile, my computer-programmer son asked AI to write him a recipe for a stir fry that featured "local vegetables and ground lamb." The AI generated all of the ingredients and the steps. At the end of the recipe, it added: "Enjoy!" The meal was delicious, my son said. We live in a strange new world. 

But I forgot all of that the other day. I was busy. The library's weekly Baby Storytime needed a sub, and I’d volunteered. Another co-worker partnered up with me and it was a good thing too. I really had no idea what I was doing. Read a story? Sing a song? I wasn't exactly sure what Baby Storytime entailed.

Turned out it was a Whole Big Thing. Props. Bins of toys. An iPad loaded with music we were meant to play. A PowerPoint so parents could sing along. But these parents were pros. Many of them come every week. They know the rhyme tunes and the fingerplay gestures. We all had a blast, and I didn't think it could get any more fun, but then, my co-worker brought out the bubble machine. 

The library has a bubble machine? How did I not know this? In only a few seconds bubbles shot out all over the room. 

I'd been sitting on the floor throughout the story-time, and I stayed there, watching the toddlers dance after the bubbles, the babies crawling around or still plunked on their parents' laps. I was having weird flashbacks to library story-times when my own kids were little. The weird part is that many of the parents in the room are the age of my kids now.

But here's a fun fact: no matter how much time has passed, you never forget the words to the "Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round" and "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands." 

For a moment, this strange new world is familiar again. I clap my hands.   

AI chatgpt-created Stir Fry with Lamb and Vegetables

Bubbles at Baby Storytime

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The dog has a new toy

and it's too much for her. Any kind of special, over-the-top, bone-like toy tends to put her over the edge. It's exciting at first, and she trots around with it clamped in her mouth, looking for a place to plop down and take her time with it, savor it. But that quickly turns to panic. The toy is TOO good. It must be protected!

Next step is the hiding. Outside to bury it? Or, in the case of crappy weather, inside? Which leads to more frantic decisions. Under a blanket? Under the couch cushion? Inside the couch cushion?  

The last time she had a fancy toy like this she wore some of the skin of her nose off during all of that manic nudging and covering. I don't know why we thought this time would be any different. 

But we are people of hope. And love for our dog... And impulse buys.

Speaking of, I have to confess I haven't been doing very well on my Purposeful Purchasing promise. Only seven weeks into it, and I've bought books (these were signed at an author event and I really really wanted them!) and a new pair of jeans (total boredom impulse buy, but I sorta needed them). 

On Valentine's Day I bought a box of chocolate covered strawberries. But I can slip that in the food category, right? And a plant (a gift). Other gifts: Comfort Soups for friends recovering from surgery and a dear friend mourning the loss of a loved one. 

Also: a new furnace. And a dinner out with friends. Tickets to an author event. An airline ticket to visit a faraway and much missed friend. A new dog toy.

I was going to say, forget that stupid resolution. I obviously have trouble with spending. But then I went back and read what I'd actually agreed to and realized that except for the new jeans, I haven't broken any of my own rules. Old Me of Seven Weeks Ago made exceptions for gifts. And furnaces. And food. And even dog toys.  

But that really was an impulse buy and a dumb one, knowing what we know about our dog. There we were though, in the pet store, buying her special easy-on-her-digestive-issues million-dollar dogfood, and everywhere you looked there were all of those fancy toys and forever-lasting bones and colorful balls and teeth-cleaning chewy-sticks. 

We bought the toy and three minutes after giving it to our dog, and seeing her panic, we took it away. 

A lesson in something. Making rules versus breaking them. Taking a chance versus facing reality. The entire cycle of hope and love. Forgiveness too. For the dog and her not so funny fears. 

And for us, for forgetting before remembering again. 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

One day it is spring

a balmy 74 degrees that breaks records in our area. The next day it's winter again. The weather doesn't know what to do with itself. 

When I walk the dog, I wear a sweatshirt and have to shrug out of it before we've made it halfway around the block. In the morning it's back to a coat and hat, a scarf knotted around my neck. I don't know what the dog makes of this. 

The gray sky. The sun. The snow clump in the shady part of the yard. The flowers poking up. But I am having trouble getting my bearings. In therapy I have a breakthrough. 

This is something I haven't talked about with many people--the kind of therapy I'm doing--but it's a big part of my life lately, so I'll mention it. It's called EMDR. Which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Basically, it's a way to manage traumatic memories that are still impacting your life. 

When I first heard about it, I was skeptical, but I was curious too, and open to trying something that might alleviate symptoms. Six weeks into it, and I am finding it weirdly helpful. I only wish I hadn't waited so long. 

For one moment during a session I have an alarming feeling of dizziness. Caught between the past and the present. It's breathtaking. But then the therapist leads me in a grounding exercise (Another handy trick I wish I'd known about years ago), and I am back where I started, but somehow seeing myself for the first time. 

Later, I walk out into the oddly warm day. I bundle up against the cold. The dog scampers happily ahead of me, tail twitching, ears perked up, no matter the weather. 

Sunday, February 5, 2023

All week I was reading a book about the secret life of groceries

which a friend had recommended, but I'd put off picking up because I wasn't sure I wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes with my groceries. I suspected it might not be great. 

And I was right. I don't know what to do with this information. I have to eat, which means I have to shop for my food. I know the case can be made that I can grow my own food, and I do, sorta, but I can't grow everything, and it's not like I want to raise chickens in my front yard. (Note to my friend who keeps joking about sending me chickens. Please don't.) 

Some backstory: my front yard has a grub infestation. I discovered the problem last fall, when in the process of cleaning up leaves, I raked up large chunks of the lawn. Turns out grubs had eaten the grass roots and now entire sections easily roll up like an old carpet. Pesticides seem to be the go-to solution, but as a rule I don't spray anything in our yard. After some further research, I learned that chickens eat grubs...  but I don't have chickens.

And I don't want them (I REALLY DON'T, DEB!) But a potential fun small business idea (courtesy of my engineering-brained son who lives on a farm): 

"Rent-a-Chicken," where you rent out your chickens to people who have grub infestations. How it works is you set up a fence around the grubby area and let loose your chickens to do their thing for a few days. Come back with your truck to collect the chickens, and on to their next grubby destination! 

But back to The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by Benjamin Lorr. The story is equal parts fascinating and terrible-- whatever Capitalism has to do to give consumers what they want at the moment they want it, and as cheaply as possible, which regardless of how you want to spin it, involves horrific treatment of the people laboring at the bottom of the supply chain. 

The book isn't all dark though. There are chapters on the man behind Trader Joes and one marketing woman's quest to get a coleslaw-like relish on the market and what it's like to work at the fish counter at Whole Foods. Also, what happens on the nights the workers break apart the ice and clean out what's been collecting under that counter. 

Yeah. Probably you don't want to know this. But I hope you will read the book all the same. In the fall when I first discovered the grub infested grass, I had a brief moment of horror, followed by another moment of Let's Pretend I Just Didn't See What I Just Saw. I tamped the dead clumps of lawn back down and decided I'd worry about it later. 

But here I am approaching Later, and I still don't know what to do about the dead lawn. I don't know what to do about the complicated feelings I have about my groceries either. Be grateful, for one, that I have an abundance of food, that someone--many some-ones--did what they had to do to get it to my grocery store. 

And maybe it's time to start looking into renting some chickens? 



Sunday, January 29, 2023

Delightful Blather at the Library

Last week the circulation manager at the library where I work was shelving books and I was sitting at the help desk and the two of us were chatting how we do--I can't remember what we were talking about--but I said something about how we could blather all day, and just then a patron nearby piped up that he liked that word,


and why don't people say it anymore? Well, I have no idea, I responded, but I say it all the time. Which got the three of us talking about other words like that, my favorite being the word delightful, something the circ manager often says, and every time she says it, I think: I like that word. 


I want to say it more. 

How perky it sounds and how happy, especially on gray cold days, January sliding into February, and all of the crappy news of the world, the terrible ways we treat each other on display again and again, it's hard sometimes to remember how people, the world, can also be delightful.   

I just looked up the definition of delightful and it means "causing delight," and so I looked up delight, and that means "please someone greatly," which pretty much captures it. It was me the other day having a ten-minute discussion with a four-year-old and his grandfather about the library's broken elevator. (Long story about the broken elevator) but the delightful part of it was how curious and concerned the kid was and how patiently the grandfather explained how elevators work (or don't work, as the case may be),

or another day when a preschool class of kids tromped inside out of the cold weather and a little boy kept tromping right over to the desk and hugged me, no idea why, but I'll take it. That day, my husband and I had to get a new furnace, and when I got home, the dog was closed up in a bedroom, frantic about noisy strangers in the house, and I went up to keep her company, which only sorta alleviated her stress. 

Probably because I was borderline frantic myself, thinking about how much money a furnace replacement was going to cost us. Plus, it was cold in the house. Later, when the new furnace was at last installed, I could hear my husband and the furnace guys downstairs blathering, laughing like old friends. 

Right then the heat cranked on and wafted through the vents, and let me tell you, it was absolutely delightful. 


Sunday, January 22, 2023

This week it was very gray

and that has leaked into everything, de-coloring life from day to day, the dog walks and my work at the library, the meals with my visiting daughter and son-in-law, the afternoons where I sit and try try try to write. Have my moods always been so susceptible to the weather? I complain about it at dinner,

the impenetrable, seemingly never-ending grayness of winter in Columbus, Ohio, and my son-in-law, who has just cooked us another fantastic meal, mishears me and thinks I said "gray anus" and so that is what it is now in my head, Gray Anus Weather. Meanwhile,

at night we are watching The White Lotus, a show about wealthy people at a luxurious resort, which reminds me of old favorite shows from my childhood Love Boat and Fantasy Island, but taking it to such a wild dark place that all of us crammed up on the couch with the dogs can't stop gasping in horror and/or cracking up. Humans are so terrible and ridiculous. 

I have sworn off the news but it still creeps in. More gun deaths. Crazy politicians and stupid fights in DC. The price of eggs. I am reading a book about memory and how our default setting is to forget. Don't worry, the author says, if you forget where you left your car keys or if you can't remember why you entered a room, the important thing is you know what car keys are, and you can find your way out of the room. I am embarrassed to admit how greatly relieved I am to read this. 

The author also says that we are more likely to remember emotionally significant events. Most other things slip away forever. Unless we write them down. The trouble with me is I write everything down. 

My daughter and son-in-law head home, and our house is quiet again. Lonely. In the morning (I was going to say "when the sun comes up" but there is no sun) So, to revise: In the morning when the sky lightens, it looks like it is going to be another gray anus day. 

Instead, it begins to snow. Thick and swirling and quickly covering the bare tree branches, the lawn, the street. The whole world outside my window grows white and bright. I want to revise again. It’s going to be a good day. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Two Dog Week

Once upon a time I hated dogs. I was afraid of them. And for good reason. A dog I had growing up bit my face, his teeth tearing through the side of my mouth, a part of my lip left dangling. 

I was twelve. I loved that dog. His name was Sam and he was a rescue. He was sweet. And also, vicious, hurling his body against the front door when anybody dared to knock. But until the moment he bit my face, he had never been vicious to me. The thing was

I'd been stupid, leaning over to kiss his darling face while he was asleep. I'd scared him and who could blame him for lashing out. Not me, is what I'm trying to say. We all do things we may regret when we're afraid. 

But still, there was the matter of the bloody mouth, the dangling lip. I knew I needed help, but being something of a rescue myself, I wasn't sure where to go for it. My stepfather, for example, had threatened to kill the dog. My mother did not typically react well in a crisis. But twelve is old enough to know when there are situations too difficult to navigate on your own.

In the end my stepfather did not kill the dog. My mother did not react well to my bloody face reveal but pulled herself together and got me medical care. Life went on for all of us, me, with a scar no one can see, and for the next twenty-five years, a terror and hatred of dogs. 


I got a dog. I won't bore you with the details of her intelligence, her adorable-ness, her loyalty. Over the next ten years what first began as a tolerance, quickly turned into friendship, into love, and beyond that, a love that could extend to other dogs too. Which brings me to the events of this week when my daughter and son-in-law asked my husband and me to watch their dog, and halfway through the week, my husband went out of town,

leaving me alone with the two dogs.

During the period of my life when I was afraid of dogs, I did not know how different dogs could be from each other and I did not really care. A dog is a dog, is what I thought, and please get it the hell away from me. But here I was this week juggling the two dogs, my sweet Zooey, and the bigger, and I don't want to say dumber, but maybe... not quite as intelligent, but still darling, lumbering, goofy Louie. 

I have gotten such a kick out of them, Zooey and Louie, clambering up beside me at night on the couch while I read, their forays into the backyard, bonding over their mutual outrage at the existence of squirrels, our ridiculous walks around the block, the two of them continually stopping to sniff or pee in opposite directions, a near constant crossing and crisscrossing of leashes, leaving all of us tired out and ready to snuggle again.

Once, I hated dogs. Once, I was afraid of them. And all of that fear and anger tangled up inside my childhood self, solidifying as I grew up, becoming an integral part of who I was.

But last night alone in the dark, a warm body pressed on either side of me, the snores and sleepy sighs, the thumps of their hearts, I felt more of that old self untangle. 

Dear Sam, I'm so sorry I scared you. Dear twelve-year-old Jody, it wasn't your fault. 



Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Case of the Mysterious Smell

It was burnt plastic. Actually, more like burnt metal, my husband insisted. Either way something smelled bad in the living room, and it was freaking me out. 

The logical culprit was the Christmas tree. It's a fake tree with strands of lights already strung in the branches, and this year (the fourth year we've put up this tree), we'd noticed that some of the lights had fizzled out. Was there faulty wiring in the tree, something wrong with the electrical cords? 

My husband and I sniffed carefully around the branches. We unplugged the light strand. The plastic-y (metallic?) burning smell did not abate. Or maybe it did? It was hard to tell. The smell basically had permeated the entire room at this point.  

We'd just been sitting down to watch the latest installment of a show we've been streaming, the mystery series CB Strike that my brother had gotten us hooked on when he was visiting over Christmas. The show is about a British down-on-his-luck detective who teams up with his plucky receptionist to solve gruesome murder mysteries. It's very well done, despite the gruesome-ness. 

At the same time, I've been reading a mystery-thriller set in Ireland written by my friend Edie Pattou. The book is a manuscript she asked our writing group to look at and I was immediately caught up in the story. A missing girl. Perhaps several missing girls. A plucky American author (struggling with some demons) teaming up with a grizzled Irish detective (struggling with his own demons). 

The point is I had mysteries on the brain. What was the source of this horrible odor in the living room? If it wasn't the Christmas tree, could it be... 

the TV? 

The TV is situated very close to the Christmas tree. It's also quite a bit older. Maybe eight years? What is the lifespan of these things? My husband and I sniffed around the back of the TV screen. The multiple cords. The firestick thing-y. The speakers. Any one of those could be the cause. We unplugged it all. And still, the burning smell. 

Oh my God. What if the house was on fire? 

My husband, (the grizzled detective) (as opposed to me, the plucky heroine battling anxiety demons), checked on the smoke detectors to make sure they were all in working order. And then he began googling replacement trees, replacement TVs. Only day 5, 6 or whatever into my New Year's Resolution to be more purposeful about spending, and darn it all to hell, were we going to have to buy something?!

I went to bed with the burn-y smell in my nostrils, the gruesome British murder mysteries and Edie's missing Irish girls, all twining up in my head. In the morning when my husband and I were getting ready to do our morning yoga stretches with Kassandra with K, I switched on the lamp next to the TV. It did not turn on. 

I checked the cord. My husband peered over the lampshade at the bulb. He gasped.  

The Case of the Mysterious Smell.


Sunday, January 1, 2023

Purposeful Purchasing

Is my New Year's Resolution this year, inspired by an essay in one of the books I read recently, Ann Patchett’s These Precious Days, in which she details how she quit buying anything for a year. 

Like Ann Patchett, who heard about this idea and immediately thought: HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? But then, another thought: WHY NOT? I too find myself buying things I don't really need, and worrying about the endless pursuit of stuff and what that does to me, to us, to the planet. 

But then, I circled back to the HOW part. Ann Patchett created some exceptions for herself. Buying food, for example, or really, anything you can purchase at a grocery store. Also, she allowed herself to buy books. (She's an author and a bookstore owner. Books, she decided, had to be an exception.)

But I work at a library. And as much as I enjoy buying books, it's pretty clear that I don't really need to. 

Maybe I can actually do this! I explain to my husband my new plan for the year, and he is intrigued, but more interested in the exceptions we'll have to carve out. What if something breaks? (See: refrigerator) or, we need, say, lightbulbs?

Okay, to buying a new appliance. But lightbulbs, we can buy at a grocery store, my one exception. Ditto: stuff like, shampoo. I tell him he can make any exceptions he wants. Tools, for example, and supplies for his woodworking projects. We spend the six-hour car ride to our annual New Year's Eve multi-family/multi-day gathering celebration going over more exceptions. 

Gifts? Sure! Dog toys? (the dog is panting anxiously in the backseat) Okay! 

By the time we arrive at our destination, we have a refined plan. Not No Buying Anything, but something more like a flow chart model of spending that we call "Purposeful Purchasing." 

Before buying anything, we will now ask ourselves:

Do we really want this thing? 

Can we do without it? 

Can we reuse or repair or borrow?

Can we buy this thing locally or at a thrift store?

Do we really really really want this thing? 

I write the Resolution in the New Year's Eve book and it is now official. But first, one pre-exception. 

At the annual Buy Food and Fun Stuff before the New Year's Eve party, I go a little crazy with whatever the opposite of Purposeful Purchasing is, buying copious amounts of junk food, a rice cooker (my son mentioned that he wished he had one) and an absurd candy bouquet located by the check out.

The candy bouquet makes me laugh, later, when I walk by the snack table, all of that junk food and plastic and the silly floppy bow. Don’t need it. Don’t even want it. But the ridiculousness of it gives me great joy. 

The real joy, though, is for this place, the people gathered here with me. My husband, our kids and their significant others, our longtime friends. This is all I want. This is all I need.

Here. Today. The perfect way to ring in the New Year.