In Gratitude to Brian Doyle–Prayers for Ordinary Things

Brian Doyle, who penned two of my all-time favorite essays, Joyas Voladorousa tribute to the beating heart, and Leap, died at the end of May. I love Brian’s writing, especially his essays–they are exuberant and joyful and magnanimous and funny and thoughtful and always probing into the workings of what it means to be human in a world both bewildering and beautiful.

Brian Doyle wrote about being Catholic in a way that made me glad to be Catholic. His writing helps me appreciate both the mess and the glory of the church, makes me glad for the sacraments and the ritual, prods me to hold more than one truth in my trembling hands.

Brian Doyle wrote so many things in his way-too-short life–essays, fiction, poems, and prayers–oh how dearly I love his prayers. In fact, since his death, I have taken to carrying around a small but powerful book, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. This little book, published in 2014, is a miracle in itself–a reminder to cultivate gratitude. The titles of the small prayers are reason enough to pick it up. Here are a few:

Prayer in Thanks for Decent Shoes

Prayers for Cashiers and Checkout-Counter Folks

Prayer for Women Named Ethel and men Named Elmer, for We Wiill Not See Their Likes Again

Prayer of Thanks for Hoes & Scythes & Spatulas & Toothbrushes & Binoculars & the Myriad Other Tools & Instruments That Fit Our Hands So Gracefully & Allow Us to Work with a Semblance of Deftitude

Prayer of Bemused Appreciation for Handheld Mobile Devices

Prayer of Thanks for Suntan Lotion


Last Wednesday I visited my good friend and walking and writing partner, Julie, in New Harmony, Indiana where she was attending the West of the Moon Creative Retreat led by the equally fantastic Terry Price and Dave DeGolyer (known in literary circles as Lafayette Wattles). If you haven’t visited New Harmony, you are missing out. Lucky for me, I live an hour up the road, so when Julie invited me to visit, I said, “Hells Yes!”

I arrived in New Harmony in time for the West of the Moon Reading at Sara’s Harmony Way. The abundance of talent, spirit, and soul in that room blew me away. I love readings and the chance to hear original poetry, fiction, and essays in a small venue. Dave and Terry have created something spirited and soul-tending in their creative retreat.

After the reading, Julie and I got a bite to eat, and then we went back to the hotel where we started pulling books out of our bags, and guess what–we were both carrying the little book of prayers by Brian Doyle. It shouldn’t have surprised me as this sort of thing happens all the time with Julie–we are forever reading the same book at the same time without knowing it. We often have the same books in our to-read piles. Just two weeks ago, Julie sent me a book I had been wanting to read but had yet to buy.

We laughed sitting there in the small room holding the same small book in our hands.

The next morning, as we drank coffee and tea back at Sara’s Harmony Way, we decided to write our own little odes to Brian Doyle’s uncommon prayers. I thought I would share the exercise and our prayers here. It’s fun. If you give it a try and would like me to post your prayers, I would be delighted. I plan to write a few more myself.

Here are the instructions for writing Prayers in Thanks of Ordinary Objects:

  1. Set your timer for five minutes jot down a list of ordinary objects.
  2. Look over your list and choose one.
  3. Set your timer for ten minutes or as long as you like and write a prayer of thanks.


Here are the prayers we wrote that morning:

A Prayer of Gratitude for Cloth Napkins by Julie Stewart

Thank you for cloth napkins, the washed softness of them on my cheek when I wipe away the errant dab of mayo. For providing a home for my daughter’s outgrown calico dresses, so that each time I pick you up from your place at the table, I touch her childhood again, what she was wearing when we sat outside on a blanket sharing a bowl of popcorn and a grape popsicle, the meal that consoled us earlier that day I had thrown a sippy cup at the wall and popped off the top and spilled grape juice, staining the white wall purple. Thank you for being small enough that I could salvage the section of fabric that remained unstained. Thank you for folding yourself up, crisply ironed, so that each time I retrieve you, it is like starting again, a new day, a change to nourish myself and clean my face of any messes I leave behind. Thank you for nestling the knife and spoon, waiting to meet the fork that stands guard on the left. Thank you for being square, for having sharp edges and straight lines, when so much of life is complicated, for being able to be folded in half once and then again to make a neat rectangle, but when life gets fancy, for being able to become a flower or fan, for being both beautiful and useful, the true measure of thing’s value. Thank you for coming back to the table again and again, never letting yourself be tossed away because life got a little messy.

A Prayer in Thanks of Spoons by me

Thank you for spoons, for their slightly ovally cupping. For their perfection in soup and sauces, for the way they make tasting easy, the way they hold liquids aloft and towards your lips, for their scooping and stirring and scraping. For big spoons and wooden spoons and plastic spoons, for those tiny spoons covered in a soft material that changes colors when the food is too hot—imagine a chubby baby without a spoon in his little curled up fist–eyes poked out, food not eaten if there were no spoons. Wait, imagine ice cream, yogurt, creamy tomato soup, oatmeal, milk shakes, banana pudding without a spoon, imagine iced tea in need of a little sweetening without a long handled spoon. Think of hot gravy, steaming in its boat on Thanksgiving without a sweet ladle to puddle it onto mashed potatoes and corn. Oh good glory to spoons and the way they feed us. The way we take their image into our beds, the way we shape our bodies in their likeness to hold each other close. Oh spoons.






Times They Are A’Changing

It’s true what they say–the less you write, the harder it is to write. It’s been a month since I’ve written here, and I suppose it’s about time.

The past month has been one of enormous change. But aren’t they all? We like to think we’ve got a handle on living, a sense of what’s coming, a method for navigating our particular circumstances, but that’s an illusion–or at least I think it is. Things are changing all the time. Things are enormously changing all the time, but mostly we don’t notice.

Take Peanut for instance.

In the last month, Peanut graduated from high school, enrolled in college, and flew off to New York for a quick five day trip with her lucky mama–that’s me. I hadn’t spent that much alone time with my girl since those first almost three years of her life–her older siblings were in school every day and her little brother hadn’t been born yet.

Peanut was not what you’d call a “good” baby. She cried a lot. She wanted to be held non-stop. But I had time, so I carried her with me everywhere, and I taught her to love the up and down motion that occurs when your mother is doing squats while holding you. This turned out to be a pain in the ass–MINE–pun intended.

But you know what else those early years with children taught me?

You never get it right.

Babies and toddlers are constantly reminding us that we have to go with the flow. And things are always flowing with those tiny growing beings. Just when I thought I had Peanut on a sleep schedule, she got a cold and the sleep schedule went out the window. Just when I thought I had a pretty good meal plan going for Sheldon, her little brother, he tossed his chopped broccoli sopping in butter to the floor and has not since eaten a green thing.

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, in one of her many books or interviews or online classes says that change is always occurring–at the cellular level. IN other words, there is no stasis. (Forget for a moment that I did not direct you to the quote or section in her work and decide for yourself that you will look her up, order one of her books, listen to one of her many teachings on the Internet, and you will be forever changed although according to Pema, you already are.)

We cannot stop the march of time.

Cells reproduce and die, neurons snap, wounds heal and reopen and heal again. Children throw gloriously ridiculous purple faced fits and then sit calmly for hours. Hawks hatch from big hawk eggs in a nest down the street and fly away before you can zoom your binoculars in to get a look. Bird shit is washed away in the next rain and you’ll never find that nest again. This is the way it goes.

I fight change all the time. And fighting change is a hopeless endeavor, a losing battle.

I tell myself all the time–you’ll never get it right. I know it sounds pessimistic, but it’s actually pretty damned freeing.

A long time ago, when my two oldest children were toddlers only 15 months apart, Anne Lamott told me (no, not directly, but I like to pretend we are friends) that I was going to fuck up. It was a revelation to me. I remember nodding my head in wonder and relief because I was an uptight little mother worried about every tantrum, every banana not eaten, nap missed, watering eye, runny nose, all the scabs and bruises and those breathless NOs screamed with a demonic ferocity before red-faced and tightfisted my child collapsed into a writhing mess on the dirty vinyl floor.

I’m gonna fuck up, I thought. And everything changed. If I was going to fuck up, I might be able to just enjoy this glorious mess we call life.

Of course, I never remember this, but I’m a wee bit lucky because my kids and my husband are experts at reminding me that we all fuck up.

I hope they never stop because when I stop worrying about fucking up, I start looking around, amazed and awed by the ever-changing landscape that is life.


What Jimmy Kimmel Said

63 years ago, an 11-year old boy who loved baseball sat right next to his mother while a kindly old pediatrician explained to him–you have a hole in your heart. This meant for that young boy, no baseball, no track, no basketball.

I imagine this appointment broke that little guy’s heart, and his mother’s too. They didn’t have a lot of resources, and whatever disappointments they were handed, they took chin first. I have a picture of them in my mind, sun filtering through a high dusty window–dust motes flickering in the air. There were no tears.

Not quite 20 years later, my dad had open-heart surgery at The Cleveland Clinic to repair that hole in his heart. He had a scar that began at his belly button and traveled up almost to his collar bones. My mom remembers seeing him for the first time post-surgery, the breathing tube running into his throat–he looked like he’d been hit by a Mack truck. Family legend has it that her knees gave out and she sank to the floor right where she stood.

He survived the surgery (and another one 40 years later) and continues to live even though his heart still gives him the business. But his heart disease was a pre-existing condition. My parents spent the next 40 years, making sure that he had some sort of employee-sponsored insurance plan, and my dad worked his damn ass off–that’s for sure. But when he changed careers late in life, my mother went to work to make sure they had insurance. It wasn’t a given–not until they aged into Medicare.



30 years ago, a skinny college student with short hair, packed up her 1974 Dodge Gold Duster and drove home. Her parents were admitting her to a psych/eating disorders unit with her consent. She could no longer remember eating a meal that hadn’t been fraught–food was both enticing and frightening. She couldn’t eat with control like other people. The vomiting. The shame.

For close to 60 days, I lived on a split-third floor in a residential psych hospital. Half the floor housed mood disorders and half the floor housed eating disorders. There was overlap. I was not cured when they released me a few days before my 21st birthday, but the long stay did disrupt the cycle of binging and purging that marked the hours of my days.

There would be no more treatment. I now had a pre-existing mental health condition. Insurance companies could attach this nifty little thing called a rider to insurance policies. A rider excludes coverage for certain conditions. I aged out of my parents’ policy because I was no longer a student and I was 21, so insurance was out of the question until I was married and on my husband’s policy. I learned quickly to omit those 60 days from my health history.


In 2013, my 14-year-old daughter lost 25 pounds, drank a ton of water, and stopped menstruating. I thought she was following in Mom’s footsteps, but I could find no evidence that she was purging. In fact, it was weird, she was drinking sodas and gobbling down big bowls of Captain Crunch and Frosted Flakes. She had never been a sugar girl. She’d always preferred popcorn to Pop Tarts, peanuts to pie. I couldn’t figure this one out.

There was the strange issue about her smell though. She smelled like fingernail polish remover. I sniffed her. It drove her crazy. I sniffed her some more. She frowned and pouted and peed like mad. It took me a day or two of sniffing, but finally I looked it up–breath that smells like fingernail polish remover. And there it was–diabetic Ketoacidosis.

The nearest children’s hospital is almost three hours away. The ambulance was just the right size for the nurse and the IV delivering life-saving insulin and my daughter. I tried to climb in there with them, but there wasn’t enough room, so I had to travel with my husband. It was a quiet trip.

Insulin, test-strips, meters, needles–they aren’t cheap, but they cannot be done without. Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune disorder. My daughter’s pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. There is no option for discontinuing treatment other than death. As we prepared to leave the hospital–to begin our post-diabetes life, the social worker told us–You are lucky the affordable health care act is in place. She was even a little scoldy, perhaps she was tired of arguing the ACA’s benefits–without Obamacare Type 1 Diabetes can be a nightmare for young people.


Just last week, while I sat in a hospital room with my dad who was soon to have his  heart shocked back into a sinus rhythm after a year of atrial fib, the House of Representatives voted to repeal and replace certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

While our president mouthed all over the place that pre-existing conditions would continue to be covered, the  new provisions allow states to apply for waivers that would let health insurance companies offer paltry policies. These policies wouldn’t be required to cover the 10 essential health benefits mandated in the ACA. States who wanted the waivers would have to set up so-called high-risk pools — to protect insurers from high-cost patients–like my sweet daughter.

My daughter, Peanut, and is 18. She graduates high school in one week. She can remain on our health insurance policy for 8  years. But what happens when she leaves our policy? What happens when she graduates college but finds a job that doesn’t offer employer-sponsored health care? She can’t go one day without insulin. How does she survive?


Peanut on her way to Prom May 2017 (dad and Wonder photobombing in back left corner)

Here’s what a caring gal told me on FB about my concerns: if one of my four children was in a position where medical premiums or costs were incurred I would advise them to disconnect their internet, get a cheaper car or take the bus, and eliminate things that weren’t essential to take care of that responsibility.

I couldn’t respond to that.

How do you respond to that?

I guess this post is my response.

I’m going to leave you with Jimmy Kimmel who said it all so well.

Another War Poet: Siegfried Sassoon

While the press gushes over President trump and the “decisive” action he took against Syria without questioning why it’s better to bomb than to accept refugees, I have been reading some poems by soldiers who refused to  gloss over the ugly facts of war. Here is a poem by Siegfried Sassoon.
At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow’ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to, meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

So, the Election

I started a shit storm on my FB page by posting this meme:


It made me uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, in fact, that I wanted to delete the entire post. I felt FB naked up there. Everyone who cared to (probably a lot fewer people than I imagined) could read what people were writing on my page in defense of Donald Trump. Others could see that I violated a new sort of FB creed–the one that says you shouldn’t post about religion or politics on your feed because it’s unseemly. I felt very unseemly, folks.

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine posted an hysterical photo of his wife, their two babies (under two years old) and himself on Halloween. One baby is dressed in a sweet little costume, and both babies are frowning and crying, while he and his wife smile with the sort of pained smiles that young parents often wear. Under the pic, he explained that he doesn’t often post pics to social media because he thought it too easy to only show the fake parts of our lives.

What a bad-ass thing to write!  It is easy to post pretty pictures that depict happy families, children winning awards, delicious home-cooked foods, bottles of good wine, sun-drenched afternoons–and we all like to see these things. I know I do. I love to see my friends living their lives to the hilt with beauty all around. God knows, all I have to do is turn on CNN to learn that things aren’t all that peachy.

And still, my friend has a point about the fakey stuff that occurs on social media sites or anywhere else we are trying to create perfect stories for the consumption of ourselves and our friends (and enemies too, because God, don’t we like to stick our bright, shiny happiness right up in the faces of those who rub us the wrong way?  okay, maybe that’s just me).

So back to the shit storm. I didn’t take it down.

Over 140 comments later, I am still trying to figure out why it bothered me so. Why I felt ashamed. You see, I want people to like me. It’s as simple as that.

It comes down to vulnerability. (Seriously, Brené Brown)  To be vulnerable is to be susceptible to emotional injury, easily hurt, to be susceptible to attack. We look at vulnerability as a weakness, but I am learning, a wee-bit slowly, I think, that vulnerability is a strength. Vulnerability is the only place where love can thrive.


This election is important for more reasons than I care to write about here, but the fact that so many folks are going to vote for Donald Trump is, in my opinion, the most compelling aspect of what is going on in this election and in our country.

People are in pain. And whether or not I understand the pain or its origins, I won’t dismiss it. In fact, I believe we dismiss it to our peril. Donald Trump is banking his bid for the presidency on our dismissal. His fear-mongering, his hate, his outlandish lies all depend on our continued determination to dismiss a contingent of the population I prefer to pretend doesn’t exist.

That’s why I allowed myself to be vulnerable on FB this week. That’s why I left that post up and engaged in a lengthy discussion about abortion. I made a vow to myself when Donald Trump got the nomination that I would listen to the often ugly and hurtful things he and his supporters said, that I would not whole-cloth dismiss him or his support as an ugly anomaly.

It’s hard.

I don’t like it one bit.

But if I truly believe (and I think I do, I think I do, I really think I do) that love is big enough to hold us all, then I have to practice love–dammit–and this week that meant being vulnerable on FB, listening to shit I didn’t want to listen to, engaging in conversations I didn’t want to have, leaving it out there so anyone could read it.

I want the election to be over. I want to weep with uncontrollable joy when Hillary Rodham Clinton wins the election and becomes the first female President of the United States.

Until then . . .

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.  I’ll meet you there–Rumi


I Get To…


For the last four years, October’s shorter, leaf-blown days signal the end of tennis season. This year, as the mums fan out in yellow and orange and deep purple blooms, as the Burning Bushes in my back yard go red, one oval at a time before dropping leaves like feathers on the grass, as tiny webs fly through the air and stick to my still bare arms, October ushers in the final tennis season.

Peanut is a senior, and last week she played her last high school singles match and qualified with her spunky doubles partner, Marie, for the state tournament where she will play her last high school doubles match.

Each of the three years prior to this one, I’ve welcomed the end of tennis season, the last of the all-day-long Saturday tennis tournaments, of the after-school matches that run from 4-8:00. Welcomed the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night Subway-less suppers, the end to the midnight oxy-wash laundering of the dingy white tennis jersey. And because Peanut has Type 1 Diabetes, the end of tennis season means that we don’t have to worry so much about overnight lows or stress-induced highs.

We catch up on our TV shows, the ones we have been DVRing since the new season began. We take walks at night and eat sit-down dinners.

As we all know, I’m a dreader. Normally, I would be dreading the state tennis tournament in Chicago. I would dread the long drive from southern Illinois. I would dread the city traffic, the distance between the different tennis sites, the cold weather, the early morning matches, the old Holidome where where we stay every year, but something funny has happened to me. I’m not dreading it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve dreaded one silly thing since tennis began.

This year, I get up early on tennis days to make sure that Peanut’s uniform–one white track shirt and a black skirt–are clean and folded. I pack the cooler with cold drinks and nuts and ibuprofen. I fill the car with gas, if the meet is not at home. These are not new things. I’ve been doing them since Peanut entered high school as a freshman. What is new, is that I look forward to all of it.

I’m not all-slumped shoulders with a deep woe-begone voice chanting in my head, “Another fucking tennis match, and I won’t be home until 10:00, and we’ll have to eat at Subway or McDonald’s for the 15th time this week.” The woe-begone voice never even showed up this year. Instead, I am Mrs. Giddy Anticipation, beaming out rays of happiness and joy. I get to attend another tennis match and watch my girl play again. I get to watch her hit her low heavy ball cross court. I get to sit with the other parents or joke around with the other tennis girls who call me Mama Bridge, and instead of embarrassment, I embrace it. I am Mama Bridge.

Is it possible that the ever-annoying, interfering auto-correct is correct when changing dread to dream or read or bread or tread? Has something changed? Is it me?

I think so.

About a year ago, I decided to insert get to for have toSomeone suggested it in an essay or a book. It might have been Shonda Rimes in her funny, smart, and entertaining memoir, Year of Yes.

I have to say, I always thought I should to learn how to say NO before I worked on yes, but because a wise, book-loving crone sent this book to me, I thought I’d check it out–and guess what, she was right. Shonda thought I should embrace my wonderful life, and I think little by little, I took her advice.

I don’t know if get to for have to came from Shonda or Pema or Glennon or Brené or Katrina or Amy, but I’ve been reading a LOT of women this year, women who know what it means to fail, to strive, to fall down, to dare getting right back up, to laugh, to cry, to be flawed and beautiful human beings, and by Goddess, I’m learning something.

I don’t know what will happen when tennis ends, but I don’t have to know. I’ll probably cry when Peanut hits her last volley, tosses the ball up for her final serve. I’m sure I will grieve a bit, the way I grieved when Peanut’s brother Lefty’s pitching career ended. Endings are a drag.

But you know what, endings are also beginnings, and I’ve been practicing all year at beginning again.

I’m learning, friends. I’m sure I will dread again, but I hope to remember how damned good it feels to dream or read or tread or even eat bread.

Tomorrow I will hop in the car, stop to pick up my awesome mom who is going with me, and drive our happy asses to Chicago. I plan to sing the whole damned way.

Does It Make You Kinder?

Last weekend, I spent four days in Michigan with a group of women friends. This might seem a little braggy, but I have a hellacious bunch of women friends. I’m fortunate in so many ways, but I am born under a lucky star charmed in the friends department. Over the next few months, I plan to write a bit about friendships between women because as I near 50–I’m four short months away–I have never been more aware of the absolute necessity of good women friends.

Let me tell you about this particular group of friends. There are seven of us although only five made it on the Michigan trip. I like to think of us as a writing women’s collective. We met in graduate school and fell in love with each others’ voices first and then with each other. We are a wordy lot. We write group emails and group texts. We share essays and novels in progress and short stories and blogs. And we talk and talk and talk.

We get together a couple of times a year. In Michigan we continued our tradition of walking, talking, eating, drinking, writing and reading. We hiked the Sleeping Bear Dunes of Lake Michigan and took long walks along the shore of Crystal Lake and the Betsie River. We enjoyed burgers smeared with bacon cherry marmalade and swooned over parmesan crusted toasted cheese sandwiches. We waded into Lake Michigan even though the water was so cold goosebumps pricked up all over my body. We completed a 1000 piece book puzzle in 48 hours and then whined (this was maybe only me) that the puzzle was finished.

We stayed up late drinking wine and roasting marshmallows. We made s’mores with dark chocolate covered caramels with sea salt. OH MY GODDESS, they were decadent. We talked politics for ten minutes at a time. This was not because we disagree on the big issues, but rather because we felt a ten minute bitch session about Donald Trump, his policies, and his incomprehensible rise to the top of the Republican ticket was more than enough when the air was ripe with birdsong.

We’d stop talking for a minute, take in the white bark of the Birch trees and the caw caw of two crows high up in the branches, poke at the fire, swat at a mosquito and then begin talking again.

Because there is so much to talk about.

I could use this paragraph to list the variety and complexity of the overwhelming problems we face today, but I seem to do that a lot, and each time I make a list (global warming, poverty, the lack of equitable education, the continued objectification of women in church and in society at large as well as the dominance of rape culture) I  am desensitized to the possibility of change and the questions we must ask ourselves. After all, if I can sum it up in a few words and sandwich them between other words and use some pretty bullet points or em dashes, then perhaps the anxiety that wells up in my gut and threatens to sit me on my ass for the next 24 hours can be avoided.

The truth is it’s pretty damned hard to live with and in the questions.


Questions, however, might be a good place to begin.

Like I mentioned, we talked our mouths off this weekend. We talked about the environment because we were surrounded by a beautiful one. We talked about young black men being shot because there is barely a weekend that goes by when another tragic shooting isn’t in the news. We talked about clowns running around in small towns because it’s kind of funny and supremely weird. We talked about cultural appropriation in literature and in life. We talked about books. We always talk about books.

But mostly we talked about being women, about menopause, and oppression, about vaginas–one of us is irritated by the wholesale use of the term vagina to describe the vulva or the clitoris or the labia–and boobs and rib fat and the glory of inhabiting instead of being at war with our bodies.

We talked about religion/church/spirituality because we all believe that God is love and that divine love resides both in these bodies we are learning to inhabit and in the body of the world. One of us was a hospital chaplain, one of us a theology student, one of us a former Catholic, one of us a doubtful and often reluctant but still-practicing Catholic (that’s me), one of us a joy-filled agnostic, and all of us seekers.

Let me tell you about my good friend, Lori. She’s smart. And she’s funny as hell. She is a storyteller and speaks with brazen honesty. Her strong voice is both tender and tough as nails with just enough twang to let you know she has spent the bulk of her adult life in Texas. Lori is long on love and short on bullshit. She’s got the truth in her sites and she doesn’t pull any punches to get there.

A few years ago, she and her very lucky son (because she is his very smart mother) were having a conversation about religion and church and Chick-Fil-A. Some of his friends’  families were patronizing Chick-Fil-A in the guise of a certain sort of Christian support for the corporation’s anti-LGBT stance.

Lori told her son that religion, that church should make you kinder. She offered him a hard-earned question she had asked herself when leaving her own faith years ago, “Does it make you kinder?”

We all stopped talking when Lori offered it to us. “Church or religion. It should make you kinder, right?” she said.

Yep, it should.

You see, I’ve been thinking about questions all year, allowing myself to settle into uncertainty, but damn this one’s got an answer. I’m sure that there will be times when “Does it make you kinder?” won’t be the only question I need, but for now I think it’s a pretty good place to begin.




I Feel Bad About My Neck Sweat

It’s early summer, and I’m standing at the pharmacy counter in CVS, waiting for the nice pharmacy staff to get my bundle of over-priced prescriptions. It’s a big prescription day, so I’ve walked here wearing a back pack. The temp outside is in the mid-70s, but the humidity is sky-high.

I walked here beneath trees swaying, leaves shimmering in the light wind. I should be comfortable, but I’m not. My body is hyper-aware of how fucking hot I am all the time, and is overcompensating in the sweat department.

Sweat runs–no pleasant trickling here–down my back and front, soaking the waistbands of both my underwear and my shorts. Sweat drips under my nose and all around my hair line. Sweat puddles in the hollow my bra has created in my rib fat–as an aside, the rib fat was a surprise when it popped up unannounced the day I turned 40. There is too much sweat for the expensive sweat-wicking tank top to handle; in fact, I have come to believe that tank-top salespeople are out and out liars. But nowhere am I sweating more than my neck.

Yes, it’s true, my neck sweats. Copiously.

I could be wearing an invisible sprinkler collar. That is how much water is rolling down my neck. I could water a peace lily with this neck, or provide ambience for your backyard garden…


Pretty, right. No, not if it’s your neck, and a very nice woman with gentle brown eyes is gathering your prescriptions and you can’t get too close to the counter, lest you leave a puddle of neck sweat by the cash register. Luckily, I find a pair of tube socks in my back pack–who knows why they are there, probably from a long car ride when I thought my feet might get cold, back in the 90s when I still got cold–so while I wait, I wipe at sweat with socks. They are surprisingly absorbent.

“Yes, I’m wiping my neck with a pair of socks. Menopause.” I say with what I hope is a humble sort of humor when the pharmacy tech returns.

“Oh yes,” she nods knowingly,  “I remember that.” She hands me a stack of prescriptions and looks me in the eye, “It does ease up.”

And I believe her, but I’d like a date. Like in 6 months maybe?

You see, I’m having a hard time concentrating on things that really matter with all this sweat pouring down my neck. I mean, the world is heating up, and Donald Trump is running for President and folks like Matt Lauer let him lie on TV, and the ocean is full of the little plastic beads from our exfoliating face washes, and pre-teen girls are wearing words like “chastity” on the asses of their too-short shorts, and our milk is pumped-full of hormones, and our drinking water is an antidepressant cocktail. Who the hell gives a shit about neck sweat?

The truth is I don’t spend a lot of time looking at my neck. In  I Feel Bad About My NeckNora Ephron wrote that her dermatologist said the neck begins to go at age 43. I’m 49, and my neck looks ok. It might be the extra layer of fat or maybe long-awaited benefits of oily skin. My parents promised me years ago that my genetically oily skin (thanks Dad) would save me from wrinkles when I got older. Yes, they actually thought that a future without wrinkles would appeal to a 16-year-old with acne. Kind of hostile of them, huh.

Last night, my sister and I were walking, and I began a rant about this neck sweat problem, and she had the nerve to say, “You know, I never notice all the sweat until you draw attention to it by rubbing your neck and talking about all the sweat.”

I draw attention to it? What?

“It’s funny.” I say, and then I kind of push her a little bit because maybe she will fall down and take it back. She doesn’t fall down, though. She just laughs.

Here’s the thing. Neck sweat is kind of funny and kind of gross. I’m a lot tired of sweat. Menopause arrives with a myriad of not-so-wonderful physical and mental changes–grouchiness, rib fat, sleep problems, hot flashes, achy joints, anxiety, and that’s just a taste, but the one that is knocking my socks off (and into my backpack, apparently) is the sweating.

Here’s the kicker: sweating is pretty awesome. My own body-operated natural a/c. My internal cooling system knows the truth: I am one hot cookie right now, and it acts accordingly with volumes of cooling elixir. Sure, I’d be happier if that elixir were a little less noticeable, a little sweeter in scent. But sweat’s good!

I mean men sweat all the freaking time, and they don’t give a rat’s ass because they’re MEN, and who doesn’t like a sweaty man. But let’s not forget that if their neck sweat were bothering them, there would damned sure be a pill for that shit by now.

And yes, there are pills for some menopausal changes, but I’m partial to my Lexapro–I’m sort of a one-pill gal. So I can either embrace my sweaty neck and grow up to be a proud and sweaty crone or I can put my sweat on the back burner where it’s sure to douse the flame.




Love Showed Up

My wedding was everything I wanted it to be and more.–Newly Married Isky

I’ve been thinking about my daughter’s wedding since we packed up the last box of lights and drove away from the outdoor pavilion the morning of July 31. How did it end up such a beautiful occasion when planned for a mere four months by two women almost continually at odds?

I should explain this. Isky is my second child, my first daughter. She came into the world with a puffball of bright red hair and a high-pitched wail. That kid was not one day in her childhood a pushover. She tried my patience at every turn. She wanted to know “why” and “how come” and “when” and “how” and “why not” from the time she could speak, and folks, she said, “I’m gignoring you” and “that’s ridicurus” when she wasn’t quite a year old.

She wasn’t an easy child, no, but I’ve always known that in the long run, she would be okay. I created a mantra of sorts when I told myself and anyone else who would listen, “She’s a pain in the ass now, but she is going to be one helluva’n adult.” Isky knew how to stand up for herself; no one was going to push her around. And God help them if they tried. At 5 ft tall–with a low center of gravity–she doesn’t push easy. Just ask her dad about the time he tried to push her into the lake.

Three years ago, in St. Louis, her dad and I watched her leave us at 3AM. She was moving to Georgia, with a backpack and a suitcase, following a man she’d known less than two months (they just got married), and while we both wondered if she was making the right decision, we admired her spunk. She strode off on those short little legs like she’d been flying to Georgia her entire life–and this was only her third time on a plane. We waved until she was out of sight, but she never waved back because she didn’t turn around, not once. She was full steam ahead into her new life.

Her sheer bullheadedness, insistence on a vision, and sharp tongue made our planning activities tense-ish. She knew what she wanted, and she expected to butt heads with me. I knew what I wanted too–and it was to not be planning a wedding in four months time. I will say it again although I have said it before, I am not designer-ish. I am not decoratey. I don’t see the point in pretty invitations or table runners or expensive flowers when you have hydrangea bushes bent over with blooms. And to be honest she didn’t want too much if you’re not the sort of woman who gets married in a hotel room in front of a murphy bed.

So Isky and I grumbled at each other while we planned. She felt disappointment many a time over because I didn’t pay attention to what she said–this is not a new complaint from any of my children as I tend to be a little dreamy and not-listeny. In my defense, if you give birth to four children and don’t learn how to tune them out, then you aren’t going to have any time to think about books or words or songs you want to remember, but my ability to tune people out could be called high art–subversive style. I, on the other hand, was disappointed she couldn’t see that even though I appeared dazed, confused, and slightly angry, I was, in fact, listening and planning.

How did this thing turn out so well?

Love showed up.

Love showed up in the hands of my four margarita-drinking, funny-as-fuck, talented and gracious cousins who called one day and offered their hands unasked. Hands that made table-tents and mason jar tags, hands that brought love and tiny lights and wire, picture frames, hand-painted signs, and big doors. and then hung these offerings in a wide-open outdoor pavilion that hours before had housed golf carts. My cousins’  hands turned that place into a shabby chic reception hall. And then those same hands stacked chairs and packed boxes when it was over.

Love showed up in the hands of my sisters from other mothers who drove from far-flung states. Those hands took pictures I couldn’t take myself, poured wine on my back porch before the wedding, and brought me ice-cold water to counter the flow of champagne. Those women were my Sister Sledgehammer and Attila the Nun. They were my motherofthebride’s maidens and they came with extra diapers for little Wonder and a pack of cigarettes for you know who. They watched for things I might not see and will remember all I might forget–like living journals those gals.

Love showed up in the strong, capable hands of my sister from my husband’s mother. She took my Isky under her warm and loving wing. And you better believe it, she has the best all-time wings. She did all the hard stuff Isky’s mother didn’t know how or just refused to do–like discussing table decorations and creating wonderful bridal party brunches. She texted pictures of flowers and listened, really listened to what Isky wanted. Loved showed up in her boundless basket of bride’s goodies–body tape and safety pins and needles, thread, and chalk–and in her cadre of beauty grandkids.

Love showed up in my sister’s hands too. Hands that held my own. Hands that carried flowers and hung lights and sheets of white to create a fake wall. Hands that took those same things down the next day. Hands that wrapped jars with twine and poured glasses (whole bottles) of wine. Hands that were and are so strong and present that I barely need hands of my own. In fact, I can say that there were times when I couldn’t tell where my hands ended and hers began. Her hands were and are my hands.

Love showed up in the hands of my parents, in those petunias that my mother carefully nurtured to their cascading brilliance on the wedding day. Love showed up in my parents’ carefully manicured lawn and the porch bedecked in tulle. Love always shows up in my dad’s hands, in the hankie he has at the ready and in his insistence that he buy your drink. Love showed up in his graceful and slow dance with my mom at the reception, in the way they love each other and have taught all of us how to love. The truth is that love shows up wherever they are, always.

Love showed up in the hands and the person of Fr. Bill who blessed the beginning of a life together for Isky and Chris, who took the kids’ promises and held them up before all of us, whose faith in love and goodness shone brighter than the late July sun.

Love showed up in the hands that prepared the food. In the hands that raised the groom. In the women and men who gathered round Isky and Chris. In the dancing and the music and in little Joy and Wonder who did 100 jigs at their parents’ wedding.

Love showed up.

Love showed up.

Love showed up because it was there all along. There for the taking just like those beautiful hands.

I didn’t have to ask for help one time, but it was given over and over and over. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to ask for a hand–but when I looked around during Isky’s wedding, I saw what all those hands can do.  If this is the lesson I am doomed to learn over and over, well, I guess I lucked the hell out.


Me and the Beautiful Bride Photo by Sara Finney Photography


Thank God, Amy Krouse Rosenthal is NOT a Man!

No, I am not surprised by Amy’s gender. I have known it all along; Amy is, after all, one of my favorite authors. I am just glad that I could read her newest book for adults, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal (hereafter to be referred to as Textbook AKR because Amy has a long-ass last name) this summer. A couple of months ago, I picked up Late One Night by Lee Martin, another favorite author of mine, and charged through one chapter before I remembered my New Year’s vow–only books written by women this year.

Textbook AKR, Amy’s newest book, will be released next Tuesday, August 9th. I’m feeling a little braggy here, but I received an advance copy. I’ve read it three times already. I was lucky enough to see a call for a group of advance readers who love Amy’s books, and I applied with a hearty “Pick Me! Pick Me!” And they did.

This means that in June, when the rest of the world was without Textbook AKR, I had a copy in my hot little hands. And my hands were hot because I was on the beach.

I want to tell  you why I love Amy’s books and why I love her-no I’ve never met her, but if you’ve met me, you know that I am ultra-lovey and like to throw love around in all directions.

Ten years ago, I discovered Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It’s fair to say that I had never before been so delighted, enchanted, and enthralled with a book. I have given hundreds (okay, exaggeration) of copies away, and if I were to give you mine, I would have another in two days thanks to Prime shipping. When I teach creative writing classes, I use the basic structure of the book–encyclopedic listings–to help students find structure and a way into their own lives. Hell, I used the structure myself in a blog post a couple of months ago.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, my 500th copy of this book, is always close to me. It is one of the only books I never have to look for–I do not have an impeccable shelving system for books in my house. Books are everywhere, tucked onto bookshelves or beside bookshelves, on shelves in closets, in stacks on the coffee table and on the end tables, in big plastic bins in the garage, in a staggeringly high pile on the back of the toilet. When I need to find a book, I might be searching for hours (not an exaggeration). This isn’t the case with Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I have been unable to find it only one time because the biggest book thief of all time, my husband Eric, stole it from my bedside and took it to work.

I’m telling you this because I want you to understand just how freaking happy, how filled with joy, how jumped up with anticipation I was when I found out that Textbook AKR would be in my hands before it was even released. I’d been waiting for new Amy for a long time.


Because this book is a gift, folks. That is why I love it. It’s a gift. All of Amy’s books are gifts, but this one feels even giftier than the rest. Maybe it was the beach, but I don’t think so. In fact, I know it wasn’t the beach. It’s the gift of connection.

I had a bad teacher with some kick-ass red boots one semester. (I mention the boots because they were so red and so kick-ass that I was shocked she didn’t live up to them.) However, self-involved as she was, she taught me something about writing that I have carried with me ever since. While lots of other instructors and writers were talking about tension, she talked about connection. She contended that connection could be the beating heart of any piece of nonfiction. I believe she was and is right. I believe connection is why I can’t get enough of Textbook AKR.


page 121, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I have read this page so many times, to remind myself that we are, all of us (maybe not Donald Trump) doing our best at this very moment. I need the reminder. I love the reminder. The reminder is a gift.

If that were the only page in the book, it would be enough. But thankfully, it’s not!

The book is a textbook,  and who doesn’t love a textbook? Okay, lots of you don’t love textbooks, but I do. There is nothing better than a big hard-covered textbook filled with words and pictures and graphs and multiple choice pre-and post tests. There is little better than a new book period.

I love imposed structures. I love the way Amy brings her life together under the headings of Geography, Social Studies, Art, Science, Romance Language, History, Music, Math, and Language Arts. Every page is a surprise. And there’s a ton of white space for notes and thinking.

This book is also a textbook because it is a book with a texting component. I didn’t think I would love this. I don’t really like texting all that much. And I’ll tell you that you don’t have to text to enjoy Textbook AKR, but do text. It’s so much fun. The texting component is about connecting.  It’s immediate connection. It’s cool and fun and unique. I texted on the beach, and I felt like I was talking to Amy while watching the waves come in.  It made me happy. In fact, I smiled all the way through this book. I am still smiling.

And that is why I have pre-ordered two extra copies.

I want to be part of the gifting of this book. I want to be a force of connection between this book and two readers. I want to be generous because generosity too beats in the heart of Textbook AKR. 

All you have to do is share this post, and I will enter your name into a drawing for one of two copies of Textbook AKR. In the meantime, I suggest you pre-order your own copy because if you win one of mine, you can be generous too and give yours to someone who needs love and connection–hell, we all need love and connection, right.

Here’s something else: if you haven’t read Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Lifeyou are in for a treat because the two lucky winners will also receive it–a double set. Again, all you have to do is share this post on Facebook.

If you are interested in reading more about Amy or Textbook AKR, here are a few links you might want to check out:

John Green on Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s home on the web.

Chicago Tribune on Textbook AKR

Amy Krouse Rosenthal all day 8/9 in Chicago’s Millennium Park


There’s something else about this wonderful book. It’s about getting older. It’s about how precious each and every day/person/connection/chance encounter is. It’s about standing still and racing towards the future, grabbing up each moment like the gems or flowers they are.

And so I leave you with another page from Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.


page 47 Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal