not the way we expected

They lay next to each other and listened to the rain.

So life hasn’t turned out right for either of us, not the way we expected, he said.

Except it feels good now, at this moment.

Better than I have reason to believe I deserve, he said.

Oh, you deserve to be happy.  Don’t you believe that?

I believe that’s how it’s turned out, for the last couple of months.  For whatever reason.

– Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night

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How She Does It: Jessica Lahey


It’s an honor to feature Jessica Lahey in this How She Does It profile.  Even though we’ve never met in person, I feel like I know Jessica.  I was thrilled that she joined the lineup of writers in This is Adolescence, and I read her writing – in the Atlantic, on her blog, in the New York Times – regularly.

And her book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, is an absolute marvel of honesty and rigor and gentle reminders that truly one of parenting’s central tasks is just getting out of the way.  I read it and loved it and am looking forward to reviewing it in a couple of weeks for Great New Books.

In short, reading the The Gift of Failure felt like staring in a mirror.  The book’s central tenet is one I share without hesitation intellectually, but it is also one I fall short of meeting in myriad ways on a regular basis.  Jessica’s persuasive writing helped me see what stands in the way of my being the parent I want to be.  Since reading it I’ve given Grace full responsibility for making family dinner one night (she did great, and told me afterwards that she felt proud of herself), stopped re-folding clothes in Whit’s closet that aren’t as neat as I’d like, and given both children more daily jobs around the house.  I also watched Grace make a mistake with her job (she walks a local dog twice a week) and work her way out of it, including direct communication with the adult on the other end.  I stayed out of it, even though I could easily have helped.  It was a learning experience all around, though there were certainly some tears.

I’ve been telling everyone I talk to about The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.  I recommend it immensely highly and am delighted that Jessica agreed to be profiled today in How She Does It.


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

Don’t hate me, but I spend the first 20-30 minutes of the day in bed, awake, eyes closed, allowing my mind to wander. It’s that untethered, stream-of-consciousness thinking that helps me come up with ideas, plan my day, decide what to write that day, and get ready to work. I used to get up with my kids when they went off to school, but when I suffered a bad concussion in 2013, I found I needed a lot more sleep, and that has persisted. My kids responded by getting more responsible and self-sufficient in the mornings, and my husband helps them out if they need it.

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

Jeans, my purple Glerup slippers, and a comfy t-shirt/sweater. The clothes may vary, but the Glerups are a constant. I love them.

How do you and your spouse reserve conflicts about scheduling?

We use a shared calendar so I can see his call schedule (he’s an Infectious Diseases physician) and he can see my schedule and the boys’ schedules. I run every speaking date by him before committing, and try not to schedule them when he’s on call.

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

Every time I’ve second-guessed my gut feelings about what I should do, I am wrong. I’ve learned to trust that immediate gut reaction. If I’m really not sure about something, I talk to my husband. Don’t tell him I said this, but he’s often right about what I should do.

What time do you go to bed?

9 or 10.

Do you exercise?  If so, when?

I walk, I horseback ride. I hike in the woods. I take bike rides. In the winter, I skate ski (cross-country skiing that’s fast) at least three days a week near my house. I used to run a lot but it’s not fun anymore, so I just don’t do it. I usually get out in the late afternoon, while my kids do their homework, because I work until they get home.

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

Almost every day. Go-to dishes are “salmon and noodles” (salmon, broccoli, soba noodles, and teriyaki sauce), roasted veggies and a chicken from our CSA farmer, sushi rice and some kind of raw fish, shrimp, whatever is fresh at the store. We also have what we call “scavenging nights” where everyone fends for themselves.

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

They have always liked that I’ve kept teaching hours because I’m home when they are. I don’t think they really get what I do as a writer, because they don’t see me do much other than read books and sit at my computer and do some social media and talk on the phone. I think they think it’s cool that I’m in the newspaper or on television, but they’d never admit it.

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

When you stop working to spend time with your family. Stop. Shut it down and pay attention to your family. That’s hard for me, but I’m working on it. My agent does not respond to emails on the weekend, and I totally respect that about her.

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

Favorite Artist?

My father. He does architectural watercolors.

Favorite jeans?

The ones I get at the thrift store for $2.50 to garden in.

Shampoo you use?

Whatever my hairstylist sister tells me to buy or gives me as a present.

Favorite book?

84 Charring Cross Road

Favorite quote?

“I decided to make my life my argument.” – Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Favorite musician?

My guitar-playing teenager.

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

Stinky, a stuffed version of Rotta the Huttlet from Star Wars. My younger son cried with joy when he received it as a birthday gift after a treasure hunt orchestrated by his big brother.


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Do people still read blogs? And, NINE years.


Our dessert at least week’s 15 year anniversary dinner.  Appropriate also to celebrate a 9 year blogging anniversary!

Tomorrow, September 15, marks nine years I’ve been blogging here.  Can we talk about that?  NINE YEARS.  No wonder I often feel like a broken record.  But still, I have no plans to stop.

Last month, I read Vikki Reich and Nina Badzin‘s pieces (Nina’s inspired by Vikki’s) about whether or not people still read blogs with interest.  I have certainly observed a decreasing amount of engagement here, and a flattening readership.  But I still read blogs myself.  Every day.  I still miss Google Reader, but I read my newsblur subscriptions every single day.  And the truth is, as I’ve written before, after years of feeling a lot of pressure and urgency around writing a book, I now think that what I am first and foremost is a blogger.  Writer, maybe.  Book writer, I’m not sure.  Blogger, yes.

I love blogging.  Writing here is a habit I have no intention of breaking or changing.  I love the engagement with readers, the other writers I’ve gotten to know through the blogosphere, and am regularly deeply moved by what I read on other blogs.  For me, the answer to the question of “are blogs dead” is an adamant no.  Blogs are changing, no question, but they are still relevant to me.  Maybe that conclusion makes me a dinosaur, but it’s definitely the one I draw.

I do share Nina’s view on list posts, as well as her admission that I’ve written them (probably my best-known piece is a list: 10 things I want my daughter to know before she turns 10 – as an aside, that daughter is about to turn 13!).  In general, that’s not my jam, and I don’t love the way the bloggy world has embraced that kind of writing.  As is true in many aspects of my life, in this respect I seem to have OMOF (the opposite of FOMO) – no worries at all about missing out.

Sometimes, though, I feel like I’m writing about the same things over and over again.  Maybe it’s a spiraling, a getting deeper into a topic as I continue to circle around it.  But maybe it’s a being stuck, too.  I honestly don’t know.  Perhaps it’s just part of the deal when writing regularly for nine straight years.

Nine straight years.  For a long time, I celebrated this blog birthday by asking you what things you would be interested in hearing about.  I don’t exactly know why I stopped, but I’d like to revisit that request today.

I’d be grateful if you’d share a few things you’d be interested in my writing about.

I look forward to hearing from you.  And thank you, thank you, Vikki and Nina, for getting me thinking. I know I’m thankful for both of your blogs and hope you keep writing.  As long as you do, I’ll be reading.


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life is not lived in the future

But she grasped the urgency of the moment, knowing what almost everyone in France knows, which is to say that life is not lived in the future.  “Seize the moment,” she said.  “Pay attention to your life right now.”

-Kate Betts, My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine

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Fifteen years


How is it possible?  Fifteen years went by in a blink.

The years have been turbulent and placid, full of adventure and calm, one house, two children, visits to four continents, and over 50,000 digital photos.  We’ve had bad luck both hilarious and terrifying, cars totalled by falling trees that were struck by lightning (true) and children having anaphylactic reactions to nuts (also true).  We’ve also had extraordinary, miraculous luck, in the enormous form of a heart transplant but also in tiny ways every day.

We summitted Kilimanjaro together within six months of meeting, but as the minister said on our wedding day, Kilimanjaro is nothing compared to marriage.  And he was right.  It’s been a walk both more difficult and more breathtaking than I could possibly have imagined.  Our ascent of Kilimanjaro was marked by a golden late afternoon in the sun where you washed my hair for me and a long, slow slog to the top in a white-out blizzard.  Both of those experiences in a single week, along with more than I can count along the spectrum both meteorological and emotional.

Just like life.

I look at this picture and I’m struck by the palpable joy, by the deeply familiar place (we still go there most weekends of the summer, and each time I walk through this space I stop and remember the strains of Maybe I’m Amazed and this exact moment), and by how young we both are.  Young and optimistic and hopeful.  Fifteen years have sanded the rough edges off of us, there’s no question about that, as well as allowed some of our tendencies to harden into traits.  I hope there’s been more gentling than hardening.  Honestly, I think that’s a good a wish for a heading-towards-long marriage as I can think of.

I love you, Matt.  Happy fifteen years.  Here’s to well more than fifteen more.

Anniversary posts from past years are here: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011


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A new year


Sunset on our last evening walk to the harbor, August 29, 2015.  This is the place where we celebrated our wedding, (15 years ago Wednesday!), and I love that we so regularly visit it during the summer with our children.

I loved Jena Schwartz’s post about her Blue Moon Vows.  Truthfully, I have never been a New Year’s resolution-maker.  New Year’s itself makes me sad, mostly, with the bald way to highlight’s time’s forward motion.  Undeniably, despite this undercurrent of sorrow, there is something new-start-ish about January, and while I don’t make resolutions I feel that surge of energy, that blank-slate sense of possibility.

This time of year always feel like a new beginning to me, too. Something in my spirit will always beat to the academic calendar, and as such the start of a new school year feels both sad and promising.  Summer, my favorite season, is over, and we’re entering something new.  And this year I’m feeling the impulse to say some things out loud.  Less, perhaps, about making promises to change and more about things I now know to be true that I don’t want to lose track of.

1. I will keep protecting my quiet time with my children.  This summer reminded me with punch-in-the-gut force of how limited is the time I have left with both Grace and Whit living with us.  I want to soak it in, to be here.  That has a variety of implications for how I live my life.  Because it’s my most essential priority it is easy to line everything up to support it.

2. I will remember the list of things that are non-negotiable for me to love my life. Sleep, quiet, exercise, time with my dearest friends and my family. It’s a short list, and every item on it is essential.

3. I will remember that I am the sky, and my emotions are just the clouds.  This is so so so so true.  I tell this to my children, and of course it rarely sinks in, at least not in the throes of moments of heartbreak or fury, but I need to keep remembering it too.

4. I will remember to be here now.  Nothing is more important.  This is all we have.

5. I will remember not to eat too much bread or sugar.  It fills me up and I always feel badly after.

6. I will tell the people I love that I love them.  A lot.  See #4.

What are you focusing on this fall?  Do you feel the same sense of a new beginning as I do at the outset of a new school year?

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that defines you

I hope you’ll discover, as I have, that its not what lands you in the dark woods that defines you, but what you do to make it out.

– Joseph Luzzi, In a Dark Wood

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Summer 2015


August sunrise, Cambridge MA

Summer 2015 was replete with memories and full of the intertwined joy and sorrow that I now recognize as the fundamental rhythm of my life.

In June, we went to Canobie Lake Park to celebrate school being out.  Grace graduated from 6th grade, which I vividly recall doing myself.  Some combination of this graduation, my 15th business school graduation, and Grace herself made me suddenly, startlingly aware of the ways in which everything is changing.  Parenting a tween, which is rapidly becoming parenting a teen, is not for the faint of heart.

Grace and Whit went to a couple of day camps near our house.  We went for long walks in the still-light evenings, admired sunsets, and read together in bed.  We spent weekends as a family down on the water.  We ate ice cream.

In late June and early July, Grace and Whit spent two weeks with my parents and their cousins.  We had a wonderful reunion of my sister and her family over the 4th of July, which is always a time we gather since my mother’s birthday is July 3rd.  It was a sunny and happy long weekend, full of laughter and shouting and fireworks and my father reading Swallows & Amazons and my mother opening gifts after the traditional angel food cake.  I loved every minute of it.

Grace, Whit and I spent a night at Great Wolf Lodge.  A night was plenty.  They loved the waterslides and the late-night ice cream sundaes though they both agreed one night was enough. While we were there my new goddaughter was born to one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She was born on Whit’s 1/2 birthday and her mother is Whit’s godmother, and that coincidence made me irrationally happy.  I can’t wait to meet her.

Grace and Whit then went to camp.  It was not an easy drop off.  Both of them were tearful, and I was anxious about leaving them.  It didn’t take long for me to realize, though, that in my opinion the value of camp is not in spite of but because of the homesickness.  In fact part of what I hoped to buy with my camp tuition was a few days of discomfort.  So that was fine.  Then things smoothed out, though at the end Whit had some additional challenges.  It’s fair to say that hers was a terrific summer, and his was good though not as spectacular as last year.  They can’t all be The Best Summer Ever, and some difficulty is part of what I’m hoping for, I realize as I walk through adolescence with these children.

I wrote about my favorite books of the half-year at the end of June, and unfortunately did not read a lot else over the summer that I adored.  Kent Haruf’s luminous Our Souls at Night is an exception.  My favorite quotation from the book is here.  I also loved his book Plainsong, and enjoyed some great nonfiction, including Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed (which I plan to review next month for Great New Books) and Julie Lythcott-Haims’ How to Raise an Adult.

After camp the four of us went to Basin Harbor Club, on Lake Champlain in Vermont.  This was our sixth year in a row and we absolutely loved it.  I feel a real tension in my parenting life between horizon-broadening adventures and the comforting cadence of ritual.  Both are important to us as a family, and to me as an individual.  This is a tradition that has come to mean a lot to our family, and a downright glorious week.  There are more memories than I can possibly list from the week, but I wanted to mention two.  Several mornings I woke up at dawn and crept out of the cottage to for a run along now-familiar roads.  Each time the sun rose as I ran, stopping me (literally) in my tracks.  Secondly, on the last morning, as we walked to the waterfront for the last time, a formation of geese flew overhead, honking.  I stood and looked up, hearing Mary Oliver in my head, feeling the brush of fall against my skin.  Here we go, I thought.

We spent the last weekend of August with my parents at the shore, in the place where so many of our summer weekends happened.  It was a weekend of lasts: last sail, last tennis game, last ice cream and sunset.  It was beautiful and bittersweet at the same time.  Just as life is.

How was your summer?

I’ve done these end-of-summer reflection posts for several years: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 (an aside: I have been blogging for a long time).

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An August hiatus


Last weekend on the ferry on our way home from Shelter Island.  I might do a little of this – napping, resting, closing my eyes – over the next month.

Like I did last year, I plan to take August off from blogging.  I plan to spend the month living the vast design, and really paying attention to it, and I look forward to returning in September!  I hope you will be here.

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The Goop Questionnaire


My love of random questionnaires and of the minutiae of our lives is well-documented.  I do think that it’s in the tiny stuff that we can see glimpses of the entire, shimmering whole of life.  I also think that random details are just plain fun.

I found the Goop questionnaire recently and thought I’d close out July with my answers to the (lightly edited) questions.

Go-to weeknight recipe?

Have been toying with a whole post about this, actually.  We have some family favorites that include pulled chicken sandwiches, Asian stir-fry chicken with rice, maple candy pork chops, fish tacos.

First job?

Management consulting.

Next job?

I hope, writer.


My high school English teacher, Mr. Valhouli.  A couple of people in executive search I won’t name.  My first friend from my first job, A.A.G.


Cambridge, Massachusetts

What would you put on your neon sign?

Be here now.  Same thing I’d put on my tattoo, if I had one.

Wouldn’t leave home without?

Something to read.  Lip balm.  A hair tie.  My phone.

Essential beauty products?

Lip balm.  Moisturizer.  Mascara.

Wouldn’t fly without?

Something to read.  Lip balm (are you sensing a theme?).  A sweater.

Things you buy in bulk?

Perrier.  Toilet paper.  Frozen waffles.

Favorite book?

Ooh.  This is hard.  Novels: The English Patient, Light Years, Gilead.  Poetry: anything by Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Adrienne Rich, Stanley Kunitz.  Memoirs: Devotion, The Gift of an Ordinary Day

First celebrity crush?

Hmmm … an 80s rock star maybe.  Peter Cetera?

Favorite movie?

Stealing Home.  It’s sad that that’s all I can come up with, I recognize that.  Movies are a real weakness in my cultural vocabulary.  As is television.

People on speed dial?

My mother, my husband, my two or three BFFs with whom I speak on the phone.

Preferred form of exercise?

Running and yoga.

Drink of choice?

Coffee.  Water.  Occasionally, wine (red, white, or pink depending on the mood and occasion).

Proudest moment?

The births of my two children.

Perfect Sunday afternoon?

A walk around the neighborhood, dinner at the dining room table, and reading in bed with a child on each side of me.

 I’d love if you wanted to do this questionnaire and share your answers!  More generally, are you as fascinated as I by the random detail, by the mundane minutiae, by the ways light catches on the tiniest corners of a life and seems to, momentarily, illuminate it?




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