To honor our lives

To honor our dreams and to honor our loved ones and to honor our rituals and our lives is precisely what literature is endlessly trying to teach us.
– Allan Gurganus

Thank you to my friend Glenda Burgess, on whose beautiful blog I first found these perfect lines.

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The slipstream of life

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I dislike talking about being busy.  I’ve said this before.  We are all busy.  Everybody’s life is full.  I know this is true, and discussion of being busy feels like both an excuse and, frankly, a bit of a bore.

Lately, however, my own life feels particularly abundant, as it were, with demands, responsibilities, and, yes, joys.

Every single day it feels like I step into a slipstream in the morning and am carried along all day. Sometimes I am unable to take a breath. The truth is I can’t decide if this is good or bad feeling.  Sometimes the whitewater of my life makes me feel out of control, and that I definitely hate.  Other times, I’m aware that I truly love everything I’m doing, or at the very least I value all the responsibilities.  Furthermore, I choose them.  While I still feel somewhat overwhelmed, it’s hard to feel unhappy or complain in this situation.

I chose this.

Remembering our agency is a quick way to gratitude.  It’s an effective way to stop feeling victim-y and overwhelmed, too.  Busy is not bad.  Busy is not unique.  Busy does not have to be the end of the world.  How fortunate we are to have so many things that want our attention! (this reminds me of a piece I wrote a long time ago, about how the work-home tension is one of deep privilege).

Even so, it’s sometimes hard to maintain our – my – equilibrium when life is rushing at me like whitewater.  Still (continuing), I want to be still (not moving).

Years ago I wrote about stillness, and how I realized that it was never going to arrive, but instead be something I needed to actively seek amidst the activity of my full life. I think all the time – daily, at least – of TS’s Eliot’s lines from Four Quartets, We must be still and still moving. Being still in the middle of the busy-ness, that’s the goal, at least for me.  Finding ways to breathe and to be here, mostly because without doing that I miss my life.  And as I remind myself, over and over again, I chose this, this manifold set of responsibilities and identities which unfurl, shimmering, piling upon each other, beautiful and daunting at the same time.

More and more I’ve been instagramming with my made-up hashtag of #everydaylife, and I think in part that’s a way I force myself to stop and notice.  Sometimes those posts are the sky, sometimes they are the chaos of my kitchen island while the kids do a Chemistry project, sometimes they’re the scene as we head out the door in the morning.  When I stop and take a picture, and think to myself this is my everyday life, I am still.

For a brief moment, only, but still.  Still.

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Twelve years old

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Dear Grace,

Yesterday you turned twelve. It seems incomprehensible that you’re this old, and at the same time I can’t imagine you not being the right-now you. That day that you arrived on your due date, in a driving rainstorm after a long, long labor, seems like a lifetime ago. Many lifetimes.

For a few years I’ve been describing you as liminal, and maybe, in fact, all children are. Childhood is, after all, evanescent, and as I’ve said before every single day holds both new vistas and losses both big and small. It’s all an endless halleluia and a constant farewell. This moment feels particularly precarious, more on-the-edge than ever, though, as though we’re teetering on a fulcrum, about to plunge into a new world. And I’ll be honest: there’s a lot I fear about what’s to come. I worry our closeness will fray and never recover. I am trying to trust the red thread, even as I let it out, knowing that letting you go is my primary task right now.   But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I feel fears about your impending teenagerhood and sorrow about already being here in this moment of parenthood.

This was your fourth year at sleepaway camp but the first time you were homesick.  I can’t help thinking this was the last gasp of attachment before you push off for the other shore, for adolescence and young adulthood, for good.

You are already a young woman in so many ways. You are over 5 feet tall and I can wear your flip-flops. The physical changes of adolescence loom ever closer, and I’m watching puberty sweep through your peers. You are still all angles and planes, your body a symphony of sharp edges and long limbs. You have long, long legs that I like to joke you inherited from your godmother. You have thick brown hair and olive skin that tans on contact with the sun. The only features you inherited from me are your deep mahogany eyes and your cleft chin.

You have a wary, cautious demeanor and are always extremely aware of the world around you. You are sensitive and thoughtful and prone to take things too personally (I have no idea where you get this trait from). Despite my desire to focus on what your body can do, not what it looks like, and to protect you from society’s emphasis on female appearance, I can see in you a newfound understanding of how the world evaluates you by how you look, and it stirs panic in me.

This fall you started running cross-country for the first time. I wrote about your first race and someone wise commented that watching a cross country race is a good metaphor for parenting. I get to watch the start from an intimate distance, watch you run away, and then you disappear for a big chunk of the race. And then I stand there, vigilant, eager, proud, my heart fluttering as I wait for your return.  You are very fast; when we run together, which we occasionally do now, I can’t keep up with you.  Another metaphor: I trail you, watching as you take flight.

You are a true introvert. A few weeks ago a friend who is also on your soccer team came over after school to do homework, have dinner, and I took you together to practice. As I tucked you in that night you burst into tears and admitted that you were exhausted from the day. I asked what you meant and you explained that while you’d really enjoyed the visit, you realized you really needed the downtime alone between school and practice. Oh, how I relate to this need, this preference, and this tendency.

These are complicated social years, and I know you worry about friendship, loyalty, and what it really means to be popular. Though my goal isn’t to be your “best friend,” I’m deeply grateful that you still talk to me. I can’t protect you from the world., but I can make sure that home is your safe place.

You wear camouflage leggings and gold ballet flats, an orange down coat, jeans with flowers printed all over them, and dark brown Uggs. Your bed is your haven, as mine is for me, and you sleep on sheets printed with peace signs and clutching the two teddy bears you’ve slept with since birth. You need a lot of sleep and are quickly reduced to tears and frustration when you’re tired.  You  make your bed every single morning with a dedication that reminds me of, well, me.  I asked you recently if it made you feel like your life was under control and you nodded knowingly.  “I just have to make it,” you said.  Me too.

You sometimes leave me notes on my bedside table, on April Fools’ Day you and Whit short-sheeted our bed, and I have framed the painting of two people sitting by a lighthouse watching a sunset that you made for me while at camp this summer. You love to read though I’ll admit to disappointment that certain classics that I have eagerly foisted on you have failed to capture your imagination.  Some of my very favorite times are when we sit in my bed together, reading side by side.  We just finished Harry Potter #7, reading aloud together, and I felt a wave of real sorrow that it was over.  We started reading #1 together when you were in first grade.  Something big is over.

Every year of your life I have loved you more. It just keeps getting better and better. The reason I exist in a thick fog of loss and mourning about time’s passage is precisely because I love these years so much. The consolation prize for this sadness is, of course, that I get to be your mother always, even as the particulars of and landscape within which that relationship takes place change.

On Saturday night, as I put you to bed, you were sad.  You didn’t want to turn 12, you said, you didn’t want to inch closer to being a teenager, it’s all going to fast, you want life to slow down, you don’t want to grow up.  I ached as I listened to you, something deep inside me of course recognizing this sensibility, this sensitivity.  I wish you could just feel pure joy and simply rejoice at what comes next every day.  But I know I can’t, and I know now that you can’t either.  So I’ll just say that I swear, with every bone in my body, that as life gets more complex it also gets deeper, more rewarding, and more joyful.  I can’t tell you not to feel that sorrow that’s so inextricably wound around every transition, but I can tell you that there’s just as much breathtaking beauty and head-spinning happiness.  I promise.

I love you, Gracie girl, I always have, and I always will. Happy 12th birthday. It’s been a breathtaking, glorious, sometimes dizzying ride so far, and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. I just hope you will keep holding my hand.

To the girl who made me a mother, my first baby, my only daughter, I love you.

Mum

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trust our heaviness

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

~Rilke

I found this short passage on Jill’s beautiful blog, A Thousand Shades of Gray, which is a daily read for me.

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This is Adolescence: Eleven

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In the last week of each summer, we traditionally spend a day at a beach north of Boston. Lately, these outings have felt like encounters with the tide. Last year we stood on a sand bar, marveling at the way it shrank under our feet as the tide came in.  This year my children built a sand wall and watched it disappear under the onslaught of the rising tide.

Eleven is like this. It is the last visible piece of childhood’s sand as the tide of adolescence comes in, inexorable, welcome, but bringing anxiety in its wake, too. That tide whose approach we watch with both wonder and fear will change the landscape forever. It will dismantle many things even as it makes space for new ones.

Eleven oscillates between closeness and the distance I know she is supposed to be pushing for. Mothering an eleven year old is bringing to life all the academic study I did years ago about the mother-daughter relationship. I’m living that which I studied so closely, and though I understand what’s happening intellectually, it is still emotionally difficult.

Eleven walks a neighbor’s puppy by herself. She is responsible and organized, and lets herself into the house I have never seen, collects what she needs, and returns the same way. It is a small universe that she controls by herself. She also sleeps with four stuffed animals, all of which are dogs. She wants to be a vet.

Eleven can beat me in a set of tennis and can always, every single time, get a soccer ball past me. This summer we went for a run together for the first time and she left me in the dust.

Eleven can wear my flip-flops and is almost my height. She runs a six minute mile and is fluent with technology in a way I will never be. She doesn’t have her own phone yet but I know that’s coming soon. She still sleeps with the two teddy bears she’s had since infancy. She likes to snuggle before bed and still says prayers that include “thank you for giving me everything I need and most things that I want.”

Eleven started running cross-country for her school this year, and I can’t watch a race without tears in my eyes. There’s something about watching her go, seeing her take flight, cheering for her sprinting towards the finish line, that makes me cry. A wise reader pointed out the metaphor that I can’t stop thinking about: she’s running away from me, and I’m cheering for her, on her team no matter what, even when I can’t see her.  Though I can’t see the part of the race that happens in the woods, I can imagine it, based on my own experiences (of running cross-country as a high schooler, myself, but also of being an adolescent girl).  Her path and my own feel interwoven, but that identification is largely in my head.  The woods she’s running in, and the tracks she makes through them, are hers and hers alone.

More and more, Eleven is in the woods.  Her world is her own. I have less visibility into what she is doing at school and the use of email and instagram has allowed her to develop friendships I don’t know as much about. I trust Eleven and we still have a lot of rules about internet access and social media, but I’m aware of her autonomy and growing privacy. This is just another manifestation of the separation that I know is healthy and right.

This was Eleven’s fourth year at sleepaway camp but the first she was homesick. In the sagging middle week of her 3.5 weeks at camp, there were tearful phone calls and sad letters. Then, as the days towards pickup shortened, the mood brightened, and equilibrium was restored. I can’t help thinking this was the last gasp of attachment before eleven pushes off for the other shore, for adolescence and young adulthood, for good.

For now, I will curl up next to Eleven at bedtime and listen to her stories about her day and cherish every minute of time she wants to spend close to me, both physically and emotionally. I can see the tide coming in, and I know what it will bring with it. I’m still looking forward to what is ahead and trying to trust, that like on the cross-country course, though she’s about to disappear into the woods, she will circle around and come back towards me.  She will have a smile on her face as she sprints towards the finish line, and she’ll see me standing there, and I hope that will make her glad.

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This is Adolescence

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Last year, I was happy to participate in This is Childhood, the writing series that captured snapshots of each age, 1 to 10.  The series became a book, available now on Brain, Child (a great holiday gift!).  Now, I’m delighted to announce the launch of This is Adolescence, a series which takes off where This is Childhood ends.  This series is the brainchild of my friend, Allison Slater Tate, for whose company as I enter this next phase of motherhood I am deeply grateful.  My oldest child is 11, and hers is 12, and we communicate regularly about this moment’s particular joys and challenges.

Starting tomorrow, a writer will be sharing their reflections, personal and universal at the same time, on parenting children in adolescence.  I’m flattered (and nervous!) to be kicking us off with eleven.  The lineup of writers includes some of my personal favorites, and it is a distinct honor to join them.

Eleven – me
Twelve – Allison Slater Tate
Thirteen – Bethany Meyer
Fourteen – Catherine Newman
Fifteen – Jessica Lahey
Sixteen – Marcelle Soviero
Seventeen – Shannon Duffy
Eighteen – Lisa Heffernan

I hope you will enjoy this series as much as I know I will.

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Eight Ways to Be and Have a Friend

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This month on the Here Year has focused on friendship.  My friends and those I love the most have been firmly on my mind all month.  The thing is I’ve struggled with what to say that is new, to be honest.  I believe that true, honest, deep friendship is one of the most essential parts of a full and contented life.  I believe that certain fertile moments in our lives lend themselves particularly to making friends.  I believe that a person’s closest friends can tell you an awful lot about them and that who we truly love shows us a lot about who we are.

I have always loved my friends, and am truly blessed with wonderful people who are close to me.  Sometimes I hear from readers, though, that it all seems easy and smooth.  That’s far from the truth.  I’m not always a picnic to be close to, that I know.  I’m over-sensitive and take things personally, I react quickly and sometimes strongly, and generally I’m a pain in the ass.  I assure you: nothing in this life of mine is always easy or perennially smooth.  Please know that.  Part of why I feel so strongly about friendship is that I’ve learned, often through heartache, to value and defend those relationships that matter the most to me.

Aidan has often blogged on the Here Year themes with lists, which are a mix of reflection and action suggestion.  I love this format.

So, a few thoughts on ways to be, and have, a friend:

1. Remain Open.  I think the key to those particularly fecund friendship-making periods in our lives is that they are moments of real vulnerability.  When we let down our guard and reveal who we really are, that invites others in.

2. Be Loyal. Remember the other person’s feelings.  Include them. Consider how they will feel about something.

3. Be Trustworthy.  More than once people have been shocked to hear that I knew something about someone else and never said anything.  I’m always surprised by this shock.  To me, “don’t tell anyone” means don’t tell anyone.  Period.

4. Keep in Touch. It’s simple and doesn’t take very much time at all.  Just a quick “I’m thinking about you” means the world.  Email and text have made this so much easier.  Remember and mark birthdays (paper card is ideal, or an email or text, or, if it comes to that, a FB message) but the random “you’re on my mind” message or “I saw this and it made me think of you” can mean even more, in my opinion.

5. Say How You Feel.  I don’t think we tell the people we really love and value that enough.  Just say it.  To be maudlin, we never know when we’ll get the chance again.  Text it if you don’t want to say it out loud.  I can’t tell you how much I cherish the expressions of warmth, gratitude, and appreciation I’ve received from others.

6. Defend Each Other. That quote about what the silence of our friends hurting more than the words of our enemies comes to mind.  Oh, yes.  I’m watching this now with Grace, in 6th grade.  Sometimes we have to stick up for those we love, even if it means going against the easy current.  Do it.

7. Listen. Friendship is made of attention.  I believe this entirely.  I am still learning to listen without jumping in with suggestions, observations, reactions.  Just listen.  Pay attention.  Don’t be distracted.

8. Show Up. There are certain things you just show up for: weddings, funerals, christenings, big birthdays.  I regret missing some of these in the lives of some of those I love most, though I can honestly say the decision has never been a casual one.  Still.  Show up if you at all can.  It always means so incredibly much to me when others make the effort.

What are your thoughts on the most important things to remember about friendship?

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those moments when she stopped and thought I’m awake!

The sun was out after a sojourn behind some clouds.  Planes glinted in the sunlight and gradually diminished in the distance, leaving a trail of noise.  A light breeze took the edge off the heat.  The moment struck her as perfect, in the way that quotidian moments sometimes did.  She tried to freeze it in her mind: the acid sweetness of her apple, the crunch of it against her teeth, the smell of the grass.  It was cheating, in a sense, to circumvent the natural sifting process of memory, but she found that those moments when she stopped and thought I’m awake! as though in the midst of a dream, were ones she remembered with an uncommon clarity.

– Matthew Thomas, We Are Not Ourselves

Thank you, Lacy, for sending me this perfect passage.

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How She Does It: Raluca State

Raluca State’s blog What Would Gwyneth Do is one of my daily reads and has been for a long time. She runs a regular interview series called I Don’t Know How She Does It which definitely inspired this very series here.  For that reason, and because I admire her so much in general, it’s a huge honor to feature her words here.  Raluca’s blog has an addictive mix of content and is all written in her approachable, wise, wonderful voice.  I wish I lived closer to Raluca as I’d love to meet her.  What Would Gwyneth Do covers tyle, fashion, and design, music, cooking, working motherhood, and a million other things.  I highly recommend checking Raluca’s blog out and know you will be glad you did.  I was thrilled when she agreed to participate in this series, the stepchild of her own wonderful investigation of working motherhood’s particular joys, beauties, and challenges.
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 Photo credit: Fawn Christiansen

1. Tell me about the first hour of your day? (I often describe mine as being “fired out of a cannon”)

The first hour of my day is surprisingly mellow…most of the time. My son is three and a half and always wakes up first, around 630am. Luckily these days he is a serious daddy’s boy so he tends to go to my husband first and pulls him out of bed to pour his cereal. I get to snooze for a few minutes while they do that and gather my thoughts for the day. It always takes me a minute to focus: what day is it? What’s on my calendar today? What do I have to look forward to? What do I not have to look forward to? I like to do a quick assessment before I get out of bed. I have to wake my daughter (she is seven) and lure her down to the kitchen. We’re incredibly lucky because my husband and I both work from home so while we need to get our kids dressed, fed and washed up to get out the door on time, we can usually handle drop off in casual clothes, make-up free and with a coffee cup in-hand because we are driving right back to the privacy of our home offices. We like to keep the mornings as relaxed as possible – no TV, no music on weekdays (a ton of it on weekends), natural light, and patient voices, wherever possible. I also don’t micro manage my kids in the morning – both of them, even my three year old, can pick out what they want to wear (I edit their wardrobes on the side so everything is mommy approved, for the most part) so there are fewer arguments and hiccups in the morning.

2. Do you have a work uniform that you rely on for getting dressed? What is it?

Since I work from home, my uniform is definitely on the more casual side but it’s not (always) yoga pants or sweats. I like leggings or jeans and layered tops for cooler days. A tee under a chambray or cardigan. In the summer, I am in dresses every day. We live in southern California and it gets warm so I like to feel breezy and cool. I try to do a little make up every day so I don’t fall into a work-from-home slump. A bit of BB cream, a cream blush and a little mascara and I am set for the day. For work events or meetings, it’s a lot of the same but I will always throw on a chic blazer (my favorites are Helmut Lang and J. Crew) and a pair of heels (Cole Haan are super comfortable) and a little more makeup.

3. How do you and your spouse resolve conflicts about scheduling?

I am very lucky in that my husband and I share our parenting duties 100%. We both work full-time from home so our schedules tend to be fairly similar in terms of limitations and flexibilities. It means we can swap pick up and drop off duties as needed, we can attend school functions together or solo, and we can cover for each other when needed. It is an incredible set-up for this chapter of our lives. We are also very good about recognizing each other’s need for personal time – I always make sure he has a few early mornings to go surf, he will cover bed time if I want to go to an evening yoga class or a cocktail with a friend…and we make that a priority not only for ourselves and each other, but for our family dynamic.

4. What time do you go to bed?

Early, ha. I am usually in bed by 9 and most nights asleep by 930pm. And yes, that typically includes Friday nights. On Saturdays, I might stretch to 11 or 12. But that’s a stretch. I like to stay I party on east coast time ;) My routine is a little geriatric in nature – I diffuse essential oils and put lavender oil on as well. I typically have a candle burning and like to do some deep breathing and stretching before I pass out. My husband finds it all quite amusing to watch.

5. Do you exercise? If so, when?

I do. Sort of. I was one of those lucky gals who never had to worry about diet or exercise until I hit my mid 20s. Unfortunately, ten years later, it is still a struggle to make it a priority. But I try to. That means I typically aim to break a sweat at least five times a week and usually succeed three times per week. My work-from-home status comes in handy here because I will often sneak out for an early morning or mid-day class during the week and then always go to one on the weekends. I was a Dailey Method devotee for the past few years and it did wonders for my body, but have recently switched it up and started yoga. I tried it many years ago and didn’t enjoy it but now I have gone back with a different mindset and I am really liking it. You need to be in the right mindset for yoga, I think.

6. Do you cook dinner for your kids? Do you have go-to dishes you can recommend?

Yes, yes and yes! Menu planning is one of the pillars of my life and I blog about it all the time. It helped us get on a budget, helped clean up our eating habits and put family dinner front and center on the priority list…right where it should be. Sometimes it’s simple – tacos, homemade pizza, burgers – and sometimes it’s more elaborate – broiled salmon, roast chicken – but it’s a very important part of our lives. I also love to bake for my kids. Something about homemade muffins (I pack mine with zucchini, chia seeds and flax seeds for extra goodness and chocolate chips for extra flavor!) in the morning makes my mama heart sing. Most Sunday afternoons, you will find me in the kitchen with my two little sous-chefs. I want to set them up now for a long, healthy relationship with food and cooking and family dinners.

7. Do you have any sense of how your children feel about your working?

Yes. I think they are both annoyed and proud of it. They are definitely annoyed that my cell phone and laptop are always at the ready (one of the few cons of working for yourself and working from home – you are always working). I have been trying my best to put those distractions away, physically, when I am with them but sometimes it just isn’t possible or realistic. Most people don’t end their workday at 3pm so when my daughter comes home and my emails are still active, I need to be able to respond to them. On the other hand, they are proud. I have heard them talk about mommy being “her own boss” and my daughter is starting to understand what it means to have an income, where our money goes, etc. She asked me if I had more than $10 in the bank the other day and was beyond excited when I said yes. I think she gasped ;) We also try to remind them that our situation is not typical. Most mommies and daddies don’t work downstairs in their house. Most mommies and daddies can’t be at every drop off and pick up and school meeting and event. We are lucky that we have the best of both worlds and they are learning that so it makes those late-night and weekend emails a little easier to accept.

8. What is the single piece of advice you would give another working mother?

Take it one day – sometimes one hour – at a time. Don’t worry about next week’s schedule or how you’re going to pay for preschool in three years or that you missed last month’s PTA meeting. How was today? Did you do your best? Were your kids happy and healthy? Did you feel fulfilled? Tired, maybe. Burnt out, likely. But fulfilled? I often say that some of my most exhausting days are also my most fulfilling and I like to look back on each one, individually, and give myself a little pat on the back.

And, inspired by Vanity Fair, a few quick glimpses into your life:

Favorite artist?
My daughter. She really is quite good.

Favorite jeans?
Madewell for more affordable, J Brand for less affordable. Always dark and typically skinny…they can work on girls with curves, I am sticking to it.

Shampoo you use?
Pantene for more affordable, Bumble & Bumble for sort of affordable and Frederic Fekkai (way less affordable) in my Christmas stocking every year.

Favorite book?
The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

Favorite quote?
So many come to mind, but I am going to go with this one from Ira Glass. Does that count as a quote??

Favorite musician?
I am very fickle when it comes to music and my tastes are all over the board, but I am going to say Michael Jackson. And anything on The Lumineers radio on Pandora. And a little Jay Z, always.

Favorite item (toy, clothing, or other) for your children?
Any kind of book for my daughter, she is such a bookworm and it makes me so happy.  We buy a lot of books. H&M or crewcuts for clothes and PLAE for shoes, they last forever and look super cool. We also like Native Shoes for the summer months. Finally, our Oeuf crib. It has seen 7+ long years of daily and nightly use and holds so many memories from both our kids and it still looks great.

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Things I Love Lately

Glenda Burgess’ blog is a must-read for me, but this post, Permission, struck me even more than usual.  “We are done with life when we cease to engage with our dreams.”  Oh yes.  How true this is.

I can’t stop listening to A Life That’s Good by Lennon and Maisy.  So, so good.  Makes me cry every time.  Thank you to Katie Den Ouden for knowing that I would love it and for sending to me (is there anything better than an email from a friend that says “I thought you might like this”?)

Recently I started reading Happy Healthy Kids and the site is a trove of useful information.  Last week’s post on the best TV shows for older children was really wise and full of good suggestions (and resonated with my kids’ recent passion for Survivor).

It was Julia Fierro who pointed me to Last Night’s Reading, which I fell into headlong and in love with at once.  Kate Gavino’s marvelous illustrations are coupled with quotes from writers that I kept writing down.  “We are always becoming.  It never stops.” – Richard Blanco.  “It’s my job as a writer to pay attention.” – James McBride. “We write to inform ourselves of ourselves.” – Julia Fierro.

I just finished Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, which I really enjoyed, and am now reading Marilynne Robinson’s Lila.  As expected, it is grave and beautiful, solemn and powerful.

I write these Things I Love posts approximately monthly.  You can find the full archive of them here.

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