we are saying thank you and waving dark though it is

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

– W. S. Merwin

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That’s the inside of our 2012 holiday card.  This week, the world oozes gratitude.  I think that is wonderful though, frankly, I think it would be better if we could spread out the Thanksgiving week explosion-of-thankfulness throughout the year.  There are lots of ways I try to put this into practice in my own life and in that of our family.  Every Sunday night, at family dinner, we say “compliments” to each person, in which we thank them for something they did that week, big or small (everything from “thank you for driving me to hockey” and “thank you for leaving me and Caroline alone during our playdate” to “thank you for giving birth to me” and “thank you for working so hard so we have food on the table”).  In 2012 I asked Grace and Whit what they were most thankful for, and they came up with the list above.  This week I asked them again.


“I’m grateful for a lot of things.”

“Like what?”

“Ummm…. well, I mean, okay, well, that I have a computer and food and I get to spend time with you and you’re not always at the office.  I’m thankful for everything I have because I know a lot of people don’t have enough.”


“I am grateful for my family, for my friends, for my teachers, for the food I eat, for my parents who work hard, for all the toys and things and clothes I have.  I’m grateful that you can enroll us in sports.  I’m grateful for books.  I’m grateful for my fish.”


“I’m grateful for my father’s immense good fortune and health.” (the full miraculous story of my father-in-law’s heart transplant is here and he has since had a kidney transplant).

What are you thankful for?

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And still. And yet.


The truth?  It has been a difficult month.  For a few weeks now I’ve been having that world-is-slightly-off-its-axis feeling more days than not.  A soul-level unease that manifests in clumsiness, over-reactivity, and exhaustion.  Do you know this feeling?  I’ve been dropping eggs and feeling more impatient than usual in various parts of my life, taking things personally (despite my own constant reminders to others and myself that I realize things are almost never about me) and forgetting things, sleeping hard and soundly but never feeling quite rested.

I’ve also been more aware than usual of trust, feeling cautious about where I place it, observing that everywhere I go people seem to be talking about other people.  This makes me more and more uncomfortable, this behavior.  As I’ve acknowledged many times, I’m a porous person, but lately that aspect of my personality is frankly overwhelming, and I can’t get out of my own way.  Every day I am startled by sharp words and sliced by unexpected, jagged emotions.

And still.

And yet.

The parade of glorious sunsets out my window takes my breath away and almost every night my heart lifts as I tuck my children in.  There is so much beauty here, even in a month that has been difficult for reasons I don’t understand.

Is this what happiness is, the awareness of all this grandeur even in the midst of painful hours?  I don’t know.  I told someone recently I’m not sure traditional, unalloyed “happiness” is part of my emotional arsenal.  But this feeling may well be contentment.  And that, I’ll take.

This is relatively new to me, this thrum of peace underneath all of the emotion.  In July I observed in myself a sturdy sense of joy and it’s this that is carrying me now, I think.

Inside me there has been a kind of deep settling and an emotional sigh.  Now, when I glance at all the corners of my life I notice both the piles of dusty regrets and the glittering treasures.

I can’t imagine a better way to live my life.  And for this, I offer the most profound thanksgiving I know how to express.

I say the only prayer I know how to say: thank you.

I posted this last year, on November 27th, and it’s exactly how I have been feeling for the last several days.  Maybe it’s a time-of-year thing.  I sure hope so.  Can’t keep yelling and dropping eggs!

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Books are the best present

Books are, without exception or doubt, my go-to present.  The holidays are hurtling towards us, and as I do every year, I’m starting to amass gifts for the people in my life.  Last year I shared the books I was planning to give to various people in my life and I loved hearing your suggestions back.  Some of my go-to books are perennial and don’t vary year to year.  For example, when I have a small child to give a book to, I’m likely to choose Miss Rumphius, Roxaboxen, Space Boy, and the others in the small-child category from last year’s post.  Equally, I often give Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Volume One or the work of Katrina Kenison (especially The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir) and Dani Shapiro (especially Devotion: A Memoir) to adults.

But on my list each year are also recent finds, either by me or by my children.  So, here are a few books we will be giving this year.  I’d love to hear what’s on your list.

For children (mostly older, though it’s worth noting that my kids, 9 and 12, still like picture books):

Rosie Revere, Engineer (Andrea Beaty) – Both Grace and Whit love this funny, inspiring tale of young Rosie and her unquenchable desire to invent things.  She’s briefly daunted by negative feedback but bounces back with positive input from a mentor.  I love this book and recommend it to children young and old of both genders.

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun (Joshua Glenn) – To call Whit obsessed with this book is a ridiculous understatement.  We’ve been giving this as a present to any and all birthday parties all fall, and this year many boys close to our family will receive it under the tree.  The highlight of Whit’s fall, perhaps, was meeting Joshua Glenn in person.  The follow up book, UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone, is also excellent.

Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World (Cynthia Chin-Lee) – This book tells the story of 26 women whose lives and work impacted history.  The illustrations are a beautiful mixture of collage and drawing.  I’m always a fan of books that showcase the often under-reported achievements of women and I think Amelia to Zora does so in an approachable, entertaining way.

The Secret Series Complete Collection (Pseudonymous Bosch) – Whit has devoured this entire series with an enthusiasm I’ve not often seen.  A great gift for an elementary-school aged boy (or girl) who is looking for a world to dive into.

Grace for President (Kelly DiPucchio) – I wish the protagonist in this book wasn’t named Grace, since my adoration of the book (which my children share) has nothing to do with her name.  I cry every single time I read it.  Every. Single. Time.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) (Malala Yousafzai) – Grace loved this book and, having read it, was incredibly excited by and invested in Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize win.  Interesting and inspiring non-fiction for tween girls.

For adults:

Elements of Style: Designing a Home & a Life (Erin Gates) – This book would make a beautiful hostess gift and would please any design-minded woman on your list.  In addition, Erin’s voice is both hilarious and deeply honest and compelling.  I wrote a more complete review of my most-anticipated book of 2014 at Great New Books.

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace (Anne Lamott) – I love every book of Anne Lamott’s I’ve ever read, and her newest is no exception.  Lamott manages to make me feel like she’s speaking directly to me, and as though she has access to the innermost reaches of my heart and mind.  I loved this book.

Dinner: A Love Story: It all begins at the family table (Jenny Rosenstrach) – This book isn’t new (though the companion volume, also wonderful, Dinner: The Playbook, is) but I love it and plan to give it often.  Jenny’s recipes are easy and delicious and more than anything, her philosophy is one I embrace.  I believe in family dinner and we do it whenever we can (though that’s certainly not every night, and I do think that the outsize pressure to have family dinner every night can be punitive to mothers).

It’s been a year of fantastic novels!  If you have a novel-lover on your list, I recommend All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (reviewed here), Euphoria by Lily King (mentioned very briefly here), Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (reviewed here), and Lila by Marilynne Robinson (reviewed here).

What books are you giving this holiday season?

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Art, prayer, and the eye of the storm

I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm.
– Saul Bellow

Another beautiful quote from Glenda Burgess’ gorgeous blog.

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How She Does It: Alyssa Hertzig


I can’t remember exactly how I met Alyssa online, but I thin kit was through the phenomenon of the Binders Full of Women Writers this past summer.  Since then I’ve been entirely smitten by her blog, The Sparkly Life, which covers an eclectic mix of style, fashion, beauty, links, and parenting.  Her weekly link roundups are not to be missed.  I was delighted when Alyssa agreed to participate in my How She Does It series.

Alyssa is the Beauty Editor at Brides Magazine.  I highly recommend her Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest feeds too!  She’s funny, smart, and has great taste.  What’s better than that?  Alyssa’s children are younger than mine, so I live vicariously through her in some ways, for example when she posted about her son’s adorable first birthday party or her daughter’s toddler-version-of-fashion-blogger outfit.

Without further ado, I’m honored and thrilled to introduce Alyssa.  I hope you love her wisdom and humor as much as I do!

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

My day starts when my daughter wakes up, which unfortunately, is almost always between 5:30 and 6 a.m. (I haven’t set an alarm in years.) I go downstairs, make her breakfast, pack her lunch, make a fruit-greens-and-almond-milk smoothie for myself, and then sit down at my computer for a bit until it’s time to start getting ready for work. (My son doesn’t wake up until 8 a.m., which is basically a dream.)

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

99 percent of the time I’m in a dress or jeans. I almost never wear a top and a skirt (or a different type of pant) because that requires a lot of thought about what coordinates with what and my brain just does not want to be a stylist at 7 a.m.! I’ll do a pair of dark skinny jeans, boots, and a sweater or top/blazer if it’s a more casual day; a dress if it’s a day where I have a lot of meetings or events. And then I’ll almost always throw on a big statement necklace. It’s the quickest, easiest way to take even the most basic outfit to the next level.

How do you and your spouse resolve conflicts about scheduling?  

My work life has a bit more flexibility, so I’m usually the one who ends up changing plans (or staying home from work) if there’s a scheduling snafu. It’s one of the few downsides of working part-time.

Do you second-guess yourself?  What do you do when that happens?

Not a ton, actually. Occasionally, sure, but my bigger problem is indecisiveness. Once I’ve made a decision though, I’ll usually just go with it. I try not too worry or second-guess too much—I’d never get anything done!

What time do you go to bed?  

Around 11:30pm. I should go to bed earlier, but the evening is my primary work-on-the-blog time (and my main unwinding time!), so going to sleep any earlier is tough.

Do you exercise?  If so, when?

I do—although I wish I was able to go more. I go to Pilates twice a week (one group class, one private). I try to fit in one other thing each week (typically Spin, barre, or yoga), but if I’m being honest, it rarely happens.

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

Because we have a nanny during the day and I get home after they eat, I am not usually the one cooking dinner for my kids. I do make their dinner on the weekends, but my kids are both going through a picky stage, so I wouldn’t really call what I do for their dinner “cooking.” My daughter will usually eat a hot dog (no bun) or chicken fingers, rice or soup, and green beans (one of the few veggies she’ll eat!). My son will eat any of those things, too, but he’s a little more adventurous—his favorites are meatballs, broccoli, and feta cheese.

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

Recently my four-year-old daughter said to me, “I wish work wasn’t a thing. I always want you close to me.” And my son has recently started screaming and crying every time I leave in the morning. That’s tough. I know they don’t like me going to work, but it’s important for them to see me having a career, doing things that I love, being happy. And I know that I’m happier when I’m working—part time. I am very, very lucky that I am able to work part-time, so that I really have the best of both worlds.

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

Just do your best. That’s all you can do. And you’re doing great. There will always be someone on Instagram who looks like she’s “doing it all” better than you. But your kids think you’re doing a damn fine job—and they wouldn’t trade you for that Instagram mom for anything in the world.

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

Favorite Artist?

Marilyn Minter. I dream of having one of her pieces on my living room wall.

Favorite jeans?

Rag & Bone Kensington Skinnies

Shampoo you use?

Whatever they happen to be using at the blowout bar! ;)

Favorite book?

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb are two of my all-time favorites.

Favorite quote?

Right now I’m very into “Comparison is the thief of joy.” In our Instagram/Pinterest/Facebook world, it’s very easy to look at someone else’s life (or body or job opportunity or whatever) and think how much better your life would be if that thing was yours. But it’s not and the constant comparison is just going to make you upset. I try my hardest to remember this quote whenever I feel that comparison/jealousy rearing its head.

Favorite musician?

I’m a closet Katy Perry fan.

Favorite item (toy, clothing, or other) for your children?

I’m trying to think of something besides “the iPad,” since surely I would look like a better mother if I mentioned some cool, educational, indie toy. But I just can’t think of anything that they (and I) love as much. We’re an iPad family. There, I said it.

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We have lived in our house for a long time.  We moved in in the summer of 2001 with plans to stay here for a few years before moving on.  As it turns out, we are still here.  This fact has several ramifications on our daily life, almost all good.  One in particular is on my mind lately.  This house is full to the rafters with memories.  Every room holds ghosts.  This is the house in which we celebrated our first anniversary.  It is the house in which I sat two days later and watched the television coverage of 9/11, my new husband in LA, having flown out the night before instead of that morning .  It’s the house to which we brought home both of our babies from the hospital.  These walls have witnessed joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, first birthday parties and baby showers and engagement celebrations and many tantrums and even more glasses of wine.

Dec06.Grace writing (1)

I thought of this the other day when I stood behind Grace in her room as she rubbed cream into her face before bed.  I could not see myself over her head in the mirror because she is almost as tall as I am now.  Suddenly the image of her 4 year old self, standing in the same spot in the room, concentrating hard to write her name, spindly letters sprawling across the paper on the easel, almost knocked me over.  The Margaret Atwood poem that was the preface to my college thesis, Spelling, rose to my mind:

How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.


The next morning I walked into Whit’s room to find him sitting cross-legged in the yellow-upholstered glider that stands in the corner of his room, reading a chapter book.  I spent so many hours in that glider, rocking him, nursing him, watching the moon out the window of his room.  And here he sat, buzz-cut, almost 10, reading to himself as he rocked quietly back and forth.

The past is animate in every corner of this house.  I sat in the kitchen rocking chair with a week-old Grace on my lap, looking mutely at my doula and nodding silently as she encouraged me to seek help for my already-overwhelming post-partum depression.  I labored by myself with Whit in the darkness of night in our bedroom, pacing back and forth, Ina May’s book open at the foot of our bed.  I have taken more pictures than I can count of Grace and Whit with their grandparents on the yellow couch in our living room.  We have celebrated Thanksgivings, Christmases, and hundreds of family Sunday dinners at our oval mahogany dining table.

I’ve written often about how time confounds me, about the ways that the past rises up through the present, augmenting and haunting it at the same time.  This is something I experience on a daily basis in my own home. The past and the present are layered together in a way that enriches my everyday life and tints it with sorrow at the same time.  When you’re this aware of the past, it seems to me, there’s an inevitable thread of loss and longing that is sewn through your days.  While I don’t think this is true merely because I’ve lived in my house a long time, I do think I confront specific and highly-textured reminders of what was more frequently because of that.

Even now, as I write this, I’m sitting  in the room where I paced for so many hours, a colicky Grace in the baby Bjorn, hoping she would finally fall asleep.  I am looking out the window at the tree whose branches I watch cartwheel through the seasons every year.  Down the hall is the bathroom in whose tub a baby Whit giggled, his plump body in a starfish-patterned bath seat.  When I walk downstairs I will wade through memories from over 13 years.  And the ghosts who populate those memories make me simultaneously sad, grateful, and intensely aware of my own life.

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All the sadness of life

There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. And yet it eludes us completely. All the sadness of life lies in that fact. – Milan Kundera

Thank you to Mary Kathryn Countryman for reminding me of these marvelous lines.

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Things I Love Lately: the book edition

I’ve been reading some excellent books lately, and wanted to share some of them.  Please, I am curious: what are you reading?

Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel): I admit it took me a few chapters to get into this story, but once I did I was hooked.  It’s a darkly glittering tale of a post-apocalyptic world that ultimately concludes that humans are good, art endures, and the world we take for granted now is breathtakingly beautiful.  I can’t recommend this book enough.  It’s a riveting, unsettling story whose characters I can’t stop thinking about and whose pages contain indelible images of beauty.  Mandel’s novel reminds us to see the beauty that we don’t even notice around us. I believe this book would make a terrific movie. (read my friend Jennifer’s thoughtful and compelling review of Station Eleven here)

Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message (Tara Mohr): I devoured Tara’s book, underlining madly because so much of what she said made so much sense to me.  Playing Big is a call to action, a reminder of all that women leave on the table when we don’t speak up, and a careful diagnosis of the ways in which we sideline ourselves without even realizing it.  In every chapter Tara unfolded an insight that I’d never seen that particular way before, and I frequently gasped as I read.  “This book was born out of a frustration and a hope,” says Tara in the introduction, and Playing Big helped me both understand my frustration at certain constructs in the world and allowed a new hope about what might someday be to bloom.

Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters (Carla Naumburg): “Mindful parenting is about remembering that in any moment we have a choice about how we engage with, and respond to, the details of our lives.”  I love this quote so much that I instagrammed it, and it’s been running through my head like a banner ad ever since.  Yes, yes, and yes.  Carla’s book is sensible and reassuring, sensitive and wise, thoughtful and realistic.  I dislike parenting books as a general rule, but Parenting in the Present Moment feels different.  It’s a book about how we live our lives.  Period.  Plain and simple and powerful.  I highly recommend it.

Lila (Marilynne Robinson): This was one of my most-anticipated books this year, and the honest truth is that when I first read it I was slightly disapppointed.  I found the narrative, which cuts back and forth between history and the present day, a little bit confusing.  But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the story, and that tells me that Robinson’s book is another masterpiece. Like Gilead, Lila‘s pace is deliberate, and reading the novel felt like attending a sermon or praying.  And yet for all the parallels between the books, Robinson beautifully differentiates Lila’s voice from John’s.  This is a powerful tale of redemption and grace, and reminds me of what religion, at its best, can be.  I loved it.

I write these posts about what I’m reading and thinking about and listening to and loving lately approximately monthly.  You can find all the others here.

What’s on your bedside table, your kindle, and your mind lately?

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State championships


warming up

On Saturday, Grace ran in the Massachusetts middle school invitational championships.  It was a beautiful, bluebird day, the cloudless sky arcing, crystalline blue, overhead.  As we drove out to the race, she fretted.  “I just want it to be over,” she said.  “I know,” I told her.  “This is the worst part.”

“Well, no,” she corrected me.  “The worst part is standing on the starting line waiting for the gun.”  I nodded.

We found her coach and two teammates who were running in their respective age-group races.  Not for the first time, I thought about how dissonant it is that running, the most solitary of sports, can require dealing with a huge crowd when you’re racing.  Grace’s age group (5th and 6th grade girls) numbered 193.  As her start time grew nearer her face grew tighter, her demeanor more anxious.  Her coach and I both urged her to go take some short jogs and she did.

Matt, Whit and I all stood on the starting line to hold her spot as she jogged somewhat listlessly around.  She’d just come back, Friday afternoon, from a four-day, three-night field trip in Vermont with her class.  It is a wonderful trip renowned most of all for how exhausted it leaves the kids.  Every single one of them apparently falls asleep on the bus home.  She had slept a solid 12 hours on Friday night but still, I could tell, she wasn’t dealing with a full deck.  She had also missed practice all week, as well as two races, which she was aware of.

Matt gave Grace a hug and a kiss and took off with the camera to find a spot on the course.  I stood behind her and wrapped my arms around her shoulders.  She murmured that she felt like she was going to throw up and asked me why she did this at all.  She was trembling with nerves.  I leaned my cheek in against hers and just hugged her tighter.  “Are you cold?” I asked.  She had peeled off her warmup pants and was wearing shorts.  She shook her head.

An official with a megaphone walked across the course and instructed all parents and coaches to leave the starting line area.  It was time for our children to be on their own.  Grace turned to me, a stricken look on her face, and I gave her one more hug and our secret sign for “I love you” before falling back several feet.  I stood behind her, blinking back tears, watching.  I could see her wings fluttering under her shirt as her narrow shoulders shivered, some combination of fear and cold.  She glanced over her shoulder and mouthed to me, “This is the worst part.”  I laughed and wiped at my wet cheeks.  Once again, the metaphors write themselves.  I let go and I stood back.

And the gun went off.

I stood still, quickly losing her in the enormous, pounding throng.  Whit and I watched until we saw her white sleeves in the front pack, heading up the first hill (or “incline,” as they call it in cross-country).  And then we headed to the finish line, because I didn’t think I could bear watching her as she went.  I could feel my heart beat all the way up and down my arms and blinked fast to keep the tears from spilling down my cheeks.


As I waited for her to come back into sight, I couldn’t help thinking, she’s in the woods.

I stood there, squinting, trying to see the first girls as they emerged into the home stretch.  Finally I saw someone coming.  It was not Grace.  A few more girls thundered by.  They were all pretty close together.  I saw her white long-sleeve shirt and began hollering.  She looked good but, truthfully, she looked tired.  I saw someone fly past her and almost laughed out loud at her startled expression on her face. She glared at the finish line and sprinted towards it.

She finished seventh.

We took a team picture, she began to catch her breath, and then we drove home.  Once we were in the car she admitted that she was disappointed and she cried a bit.  The litany of regrets began.  She had beaten the third place finisher in a race just ten days ago. She wondered what would have happened if she didn’t go to on the field trip.  She had had a cramp while running. If she hadn’t wondered what if she wouldn’t be my daughter, I realized as I drove, staring forward, my heart aching.

Still: seventh.  In the state.  I am immensely proud of her.  I think she’s proud of herself, though I think she wanted to do better.  Had circumstance been different, maybe she would have.  Who knows.  She has already told me she has a goal for next year, which is to do better than seventh.

The moment I’ll remember from the day isn’t the panting child with a medal around her neck or the glimpse of her coming out of the woods, heading towards the finish.  What I’ll most vividly recall is “Parents, please back away from your children.”  And the look on her face when I did.  And then watching her run away from me.


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