90 year old napkins

My grandmother turns 90 soon and to celebrate, we’re throwing a party that will send her to an early grave. Just kidding, 60 would have been an early grave. This party might send me to one, and that would be early but also deserved. 

When my grandmother turned 80, we threw her a big catered affair, attended by a great number of friends who are not invited this time because they are dead. It was quite a party, I’m telling you. 

A lot changes in a decade, especially once you make past 80. She said to me the other day on the phone while we were in an actual fight over this party “You don’t know what it’s like to be 90.” What could I say?

I forget sometimes that she’s not 80 anymore. She got all worked up before that party too. She’s a perfectionist and a worrier and a real force to be reckoned with. I remember spending a day driving around with her to shop for party supplies and how tiny the glass of wine seemed at dinner, how ordering another seemed pointless because that wasn’t going to do it either.

And then an hour before her party started, a kitchen cabinet fell off its hinge and smacked her in the head. She was okay – just a little shaken up – but another family member remarked later it had been like a Wizard of Oz moment. Before the head bonk, her party loomed like a terrorizing tornado. After the head bonk, the air felt oddly tranquil, my grandmother sedate in silver sequined slippers.

The fight her and I got in about this party, like most fights, wasn’t really about the party. It was about something that will be hard to remember 10 years from now. Already it seems silly and sad that I chose to get upset and react. Usually when I talk to her, I keep my emotions in a separate box, locked from the inside, and they understand well enough to lay low. This time Hurt Feelings heard me on the phone and said “I’m hungry.” Righteous Indignation heard and said “Yeah me too…let’s go ask for a snack.” 

Probably my lowest point in the argument with my 90 year old grandmother was when I told her we probably shouldn’t be planning this party in the first place. We should have just taken her somewhere nice for dinner instead. She never asked for a party in the first place, but it was already too late to call off and cruel of me to say, even though we both knew it was true. 

I had a dream about the party the other night. It was something about tiny, delicious sandwiches and I hadn’t ordered enough. Good lord, I am not a party planner. I don’t even like parties when all I have to do is show up. But I said to a friend a few weeks ago, before things got so crazy, that the difference between this party and her 80th is I’m sober now. Theoretically I have more energy and focus, though much less free time. I just wanted my gift to my grandmother to be a nice party. I am not giving up. 

Yesterday I called to go over some details with her. She told me she picked up napkins specifically for a 90th birthday party. I asked where on earth she found those and half-jokingly she said “I don’t even want to talk about it..this is all your fault.” She then talked about wanting to make this special cranberry cake she used to make all the time and last made for her 80th birthday party. I told her not to buy any more anything for the party and to skip the cake and put her feet up instead.

The difference between 80 years old and 90 years old seems to be less physical and mental stamina to do all the things you still think you should be able to do. I told her about my dream and the tiny, delicious sandwiches being just out of reach and she laughed and said “See, you worry too much too.”

Before we got off the phone, she got in a quick reminder that I shouldn’t vote for the candidate I’ve known I’d vote for since I was a little girl. Righteous Indignation paced behind the closed door but did not come out. (Hurt Feelings was stuffing her face with tiny, delicious sandwiches.)

My grandmother’s party is just before the election. Some moments I don’t know how we’re going to make it, how it’s possibly going to work out that either side will be happy with the outcome. The divide between perspectives is so vast it’s like we’re looking at two completely different landscapes.

If I think back to her 80th party and the days leading up to it, it felt the same then. And that party turned out wonderful overall. Because, my god, nothing is ever perfect, but we have to look at the big picture and remember it’s about the people at the party. When my grandmother complained about the state of her yard, I said no one is coming to this party for the view or the food or decorations. They’re coming to see and spend time with you, to offer congratulations and well wishes on turning 90 years old. 


Happy Little Clown

One of the men in writing class belches loudly, repeatedly. He does not say “excuse me” or otherwise acknowledge he has done anything unusual other than an occasional accompanying “oof.” 

This reminds me of my husband’s favorite episode of Naked and Afraid where a couple, in their desperation and deep hunger, catches and eats a skunk that has just  eaten a rotten lizard. Afterwards, the couple erupts in incessant, painful belches, the man even leaning into a tree to better let them out.

This seems a good a time as any to confess my irrational fear that one day I will be forced to go on Naked and Afraid as a contestant. In childhood, I had a similar discomfort around skydiving, a resigned wariness that one day somebody would confront me with a parachute and waiver form and force me onto a nearby, quietly idling plane. I would not like to skydive or have a terrible case of the lizard belches, and so I keep a professional, compassionate demeanor towards my belching classmate. I do not make eye contact with anyone else in the class during these belching spells. 

The class is taught by a clown. Oh, did I not mention that before? Oh funny thing, must have slipped my mind. He doesn’t come dressed as one, sadly, but it was mentioned on the slip jacket of his book that he passed around, plus I already knew because I looked him up online before signing up for the class. It was not a deterrent, though my husband thought maybe it should be. 

“I think secretly you want to be a clown,” he said because it was Saturday evening and we’d both had naps and were feeling jaunty. 

“I do not want to be a clown,” I said. 

“You’re awfully fascinated with them,” he mumbled. 

I was about to argue when it all came rushing like an end-of-life flash: The bright red 78 record about a happy little clown named Squee Gee that I played so loud and often my mother yelled up the stairs “ENOUGH!” Or the cat I picked from the shelter for his bright nose and puff of white fur across his chest like a ruffle and silly – some would say clownish – demeanor. My favorite TV show is about a clown, though he is not joyful or intentionally funny. I also wrote a short story once about a man coming out as a clown to his parents on Thanksgiving and this very blog has its own tag for ‘clowns’ which will get attached to this post, perpetuating a problem. 

So maybe I do have a thing for clowns, but I do not want to be a clown. I do not want to perform and dance around for people, joyously or menacingly, especially not for children. I do not want to wear grease paint or itchy wigs, though the big shoes seem pretty comfortable. I definitely do not want to work with balloons, which make me nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs or me in a room with a belching classmate. 

“Look, I can’t help it that my teacher is a clown,” I said to my husband a little too testily. 

“And there we have it,” he said, “a line straight out of an after school special.”

Non-breakable (with normal use, whatever that is)

The Creepiest Thing – a Halloween(ish) piece on Waltbox

Not to brag, but we were on the creepy clown bandwagon since John Wayne Gacy Jr. ruined clowns for everyone. Click below to read a guest piece on Waltbox and be sure and follow his blog so you don’t miss out on any creepy good fun through the rest of the month and stellar writing year-round.


Clowns are pretty much automatically creepy. But what about a clown who does lots of very bad things, then paints a portrait of your spouse? Kristen of byebyebeer is the next guest poster of the season with this creepy piece about a creepy thing that is very creepy. Yikes! The Creepiest Thing from byebyebeer The creepiest thing I […]

via The Creepiest Thing — waltbox

Dag life

At the winter dance I won a prize for Best American Accent, though mine was the only one in the room. Being hammered on Passion Pop, a sickeningly sweet drink I luckily could not find when I returned to the US, added showers of confetti and glitter to the memory I’m sure were not there.


The prize was a gift certificate for a clothing shop in town catering to women over 70 or anyone in need of obscenely large packages of tube socks. Someone called it a “dag” shop and I figured out what that meant without google, which had not been invented anyway. You could buy lace trimmed handkerchiefs and bobbie pins or those slippery, translucent scarves to cover hair curlers, but I had a dickens of a time finding something, anything, to buy with my major award.


Dag was an affectionately insulting term I learned while living in Australia. It refers to someone or something that is unapologetically unfashionable and is maybe the American equivalent of Dork, though it derives from Daglock, or the dung-cake lock of wool around the hindquarters of a sheep, which we call Dingleberry over here, though not often. Language is heady, complicated business.


I fell in with a crowd that may have been described as dags, mild misfits less concerned about social status than I was accustomed to. I was recruited by the leader in the restroom in a case of mistaken identity (naturally). My doppelganger lives in Australia, you see, and the leader splashed sink water over the stall door thinking I was her and then recoiled in horror when she realized I was the new exchange student. And so she apologized and we became fast friends and she invited me to sit with her and her friends at lunch. Come to think of it, I also met my best friend from elementary school in eerily similar circumstances, so restrooms might just be where I make meaningful connections.

I spent the next six months feeling loved and accepted by a group of three girls and two boys. Sleepovers were always co-ed and we stayed up late watching Friday night videos, a novelty since I had grown up with MTV and took them for granted. They took me to my first concert in Sydney – Roxcette – though I didn’t care one way or another about the music. I remember my Australian friends as fresh faced and funny, innocent in many ways my American friends and I were not. I was tight lipped about my own past because it felt good to start over and be someone I should have been all along.

Although it had been sweltering July when I left the US, the east coast of Australia was in its own mild state of winter. I remember boarding the plane in a sweater and jeans and not believing they would be necessary. Everything was a mild shock to the system once I got off that plane.The house where I lived smelled like the strange, sweet oils and soaps my host mother used. A new cat curled up on my bed every night. Just beyond the house was a quaint town center with a cricket pitch and of course the dag shop and a chemist where I was forced to choose from an unfamiliar, exciting array of shampoos. The first time I ordered a hamburger I wasn’t sure I would like it with fried egg and beets, but oh I did. I took tea with my milk and sugar instead of coffee. My world had turned upside down and I fell madly in love.

What I probably fell in love with was my old self in new surroundings. As an American, I was a curiosity to others, a novelty, but to myself I was the only familiar thing around. I became my own source of comfort and expanded to become gregarious and chaste and found these traits suited me. When I returned to the US, I wondered for a long time if I wasn’t born on the wrong side of the planet. Had my doppelganger been unhappy in Australia? I found myself wishing I’d thought to ask her. We could have worked something out before my visa expired.

In recovery speak, they call that pulling a geographic. It’s when you hit the reset button by fleeing your current surroundings and it’s not supposed to work, but it did for me that one time. Of course, it didn’t really because I had to return home. The other kind of reset is much harder and takes time, often decades, and sometimes tedious effort.  Many, many years later I feel it from sobriety and middle age, a deepening comfort and sense that all we really need to do is click our heels to come home.



Me in one of the shirts I picked out at the dag shop. I still miss that damn cat.

Enough hats for everyone – revisiting 52 days sober and my old blog

Two years before I started this blog, I had another one called Enough Hats for Everyone. The name came from an overheard phrase at the beach. A frazzled mom hollered it at her ten kabillion children, who were all clamoring for boogie boards and attention and, it would seem, hats, which admittedly doesn’t sound like any kids I know. But my husband was there and he remembers it too. We were in our early to mid 20s and I remember being brutally hungover that afternoon. My hangovers were legendary, if only in my own mind because I kept them to myself as much as I could. Hey, those hangovers were a big part of why I quit and saved me a lot of future suffering, so I’m eternally grateful. 

Anyway, I stopped posting on the old blog in April of 2012 and took it down a few years ago but never deleted it. I thought it would be fun to post something I wrote when I was less than two months sober. It was the first mention I could find about not drinking. It was interesting to read the numbered list of things I’d learned so early in sobriety. Number 1 and 5 are still totally true. Number 3 is fortunately not an issue except for the rare occasion when I miss drinking. Number 4 surprised me because I don’t quite remember it that way, but maybe I was just pleasantly surprised sober sex was possible. 

There are all kinds of things I could write about anonymously or with my name attached if I were a different sort of person. Maybe I will one day, maybe not. I recall the reason I started this blog is because most of the 30 or so readers of my old blog were not sober and I worried they would think less of me if they knew I had to stop drinking. I felt the need to separate what felt like two separate identities. And now, on this blog, I know I’m posting more than before and I know I’m all over the place in terms of sobriety and non-sobriety content, and I’m not sure what that’s all about. I know it’s hard to keep up with, and the frequency is likely just a phase (so bear with me or whatever, I won’t take it personally). I just know I love to write. I’ve always told other people to write about whatever they want to write about. If it moves you – if it’s in your heart – write about it. 

I never deleted my old blog because it meant a lot to me. I think I wrote some pretty funny stuff back then. I remember starting that blog because I was going through some personal stuff and while I wasn’t dealing directly with it in what I wrote about, it gave me a spark I didn’t know was there. And that is why a lot of us write and keep writing. 

 August 9, 2011

I haven’t had a drink since June 20, 2011. There’s no significance to this date, though it just struck me that I’ve been sober all summer. I’m incredibly relieved to tell you it’s been a really good summer so far. For those who know me socially, the not drinking thing may come as a surprise. Or maybe not.

I had my first drink in seventh grade at a sleepover. It was peppermint schnapps and it was only like two sips, but the way its slow burn crept up from my throat to my head felt like coming home. I had my first drunk in ninth grade and started one of those sobby, sad affairs until I discovered that beer was kinder than liquor. But two decades later, beer stopped being kind.

Here’s a tip: don’t drink when your life becomes stressful. Ha. That’s a good one, I know. Anyway, it’s hard to know which was the chicken and which was the egg.

Speaking of eggs, I can’t ignore genetics and my grandfather George, who drank himself to death in his 50s. The one time I met him he reeked of body odor and booze. The only thing I remember about him is his smell and how he pushed a set of closing elevator doors back open with both arms while exclaiming “I AM STRONG AS AN OX.” But they were the kind of elevator doors that would have opened for anyone – even me, an eight-year old kid.

George, in better days

Here are some things I learned, so far, in my summer of not drinking:

1.) I am much happier sober.

2.) It’s generally easy not to drink when I take it one day at a time.

 3.) But damn, seeing condensation on a pint glass triggers something in me, and probably always will.

4.) Sober sex is even better than drunk sex. (go on, try it some time)

5.) I feel just as creative and have as much fun as I did when I was drinking every day. This is the biggest relief of all. Ok, maybe #4 is.

I hope to be able to tell you what a sober fall is like too. I don’t take for granted that this is a gift I’ve been given, but that I have to work at it. Yes, I do AA meetings. The fellowship and support is an indescribable gift. If that sounds a little culty, so be it. Live and let live.

I’m happier and my kids have their mom 95% back and I’m much easier to live with now that I’m not struggling with crippling hangovers and an obsession the likes of which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

And hey, this isn’t a preachy post. I know lots of fine people who enjoy fine beers and other fermented and distilled beverages. I wish I could be like them sometimes, but I recognize that I am different.

It turns out Reading is a magical land

Lately I don’t look forward to the same family traditions like I used to. I didn’t used to be like this and find it’s a byproduct of sobriety. And so the thought of going to the same Oktoberfest that we’ve already been to 9 times in the last 10 years held as much appeal as a trip to the hardware store.

My family did not share the same epiphany that trying new things is more fun than sticking to what we already know we love. And so I met general resistance when we headed to the new-to-us Reading Liederkranz Oktoberfest celebration, which only grew when we had to park in a muddy field in the rain and catch a shuttle bus.

(Have you been on a school bus recently? And I mean one barreling down steep, wet hills or straining to climb them, always seemingly on the verge of losing control or tipping over? One of the many gifts of youth is we don’t appreciate the daily dangers we lived until much later.)

This “new” Oktoberfest turned out to be so much fun. 4 out of 4 family members said they would go back. And remember,  3 of us don’t drink so it was all about the food, music and people in lederhosen cracking whips on the dance floor. (We saw a slightly different version, but still, whips!)

On the way there, my husband noticed a sign for the Reading Pagoda, and we took a slight detour on the way home to check it out. Perched at the edge of Mt. Penn and lording 600 feet above the sprawl of Reading, Pennsylvania is a 7-story Japanese pagoda. Built in 1908 as a luxury resort, the original owner had to sell it when he ran out of money and the city denied him a liquor license. The next owner sold it to the city for $1, which is how much it costs now to climb 87 steps (verified by my kids) to the top for sweeping views of the city and closeups of Wawa and Chik-fil-a signs through the 25 cent tower viewer. That’s what my kids zeroed in on anyway.

At the top, we also found a Japanese bell cast in 1739 and inscribed with an end-of-time prophesy, as well as assorted memorabilia behind glass cases. It smelled old and familiar, like my grandparents’ basement before Sunday dinner. My husband said it smelled like “hot dog farts” which was probably more accurate since I did notice a woman eating a hot dog in the ground level cafe.

This is why I get tired of sticking to the same tried and true favorites. We’ve lived within an hour of Reading for the past decade and finally got there. We plan to head back soon, but next time we’ll try something new and that wasn’t even my idea.


How to catch a squirrel (in your dreams)

I suffer from crippling bouts of early morning insomnia. People offer suggestions such as “limit screen time before bed” or “stop being so crazy” but still my eyes fly open regularly at 3am. I have a patented move I call Pillow Cloud™ whereby I fold mine in half and wrap it around my head, leaving a small hole for breathing, and sometimes this buys me a weird dream or two. The cat usually recognizes it as a kind of shield and will not step on me to initiate Food-Time Wakeup™, though sometimes the sensors get clogged with feathers or the two devices otherwise do not communicate. 

The bonus of early morning insomnia are the dreams when I do manage to fall back to sleep. The other night I dreamt there was a squirrel in my basement and I had a dickens of a time catching it with my bare hands. When I finally grabbed hold long enough to open the door and fling it into the backyard, I noticed a woman catching another squirrel in a much more effective, professional manner. The trick was, it seems, grabbing a squirrel by its ears, at which point it becomes docile and compliant. It was certainly my subconscious’ knockoff of the way a cat carries kittens. (translation: please don’t try it at home but if you do, comment in great detail about the experience.)

clever squirrel wins your money and evades capture

The dream, lazy as my subconscious is, was born of an incident the night before involving a cricket in our basement. In the time I went upstairs to get something to catch it in, the cat was all over it in wild chase. I did manage to wrestle the cricket away and release it outside, saving its life and our indoor sanity, but no doubt depriving the cat of a little fun. This might explain all the early morning stepping-on. 

This morning in my facebook feed, I saw the following update: “I found a squirrel in my car!”

Another update from a different person read: “I’m getting a pet monkey!”

In both cases, I believe the exclamation points are warranted and not just braggadocious. (not recognized by spellcheck. FYI.) Both updates were from people I went to high school with and just saw at our 25 year reunion. I’m not sure what it all means except it’s hard to feel accomplished when others are literally living your dreams.

A trio of treats before two

It wasn’t even 11am when we witnessed a grandfatherly type make a pass at a female clown. He asked what her name was and when she told him Sweet Heart he said “That’s a pretty name. Can you share some of that sweetness with me?”

“Right now I’m working,” she said, more resigned than annoyed, like it happens all the time, men hitting on her when she’s in mustard yellow ringlets, full clown makeup and shoes the size of Texas. Her words forced our attention to the agile flicks and twists of her hands as she pumped and threaded balloons into a skeleton before our eyes. We were well down the street of the festival before we noticed the skeleton only had one eye so we’ll never know why. Maybe he’s winking, I suggested.

The haircut place had its own fun.  I was buried in a garish children’s book about mummies and only put it back (sheepishly) once I realized my kid had been called minutes ago and I had no excuse to still be reading. Mummies are fascinating but eavesdropping is safer because you can pretend to be thinking about grown up things.

A guy in his 30s was in the chair closest to me with a young pink-haired stylist on one side and another woman, his girlfriend or wife, giving orders from behind. “Take a little more off the top, but not too flat” she instructed, while the man sat looking dim but content. I wondered if he was mute or foreign, but after the woman wandered off to talk to another stylist, he yelled across the room “Hon, how do I want my sideburns?”

I studied his haircut as surreptitiously as possible once the cape came off and he stood and fairly beamed. The cut suited him, if only because I’d  never seen anyone look as happy as I feel when I get a good haircut. He swaggered over to his lady and took a bite of the apple she’d been eating and they traded it back and forth for awhile. Once I saw a small child share an apple with a dog but that was kind of cute.

On the way home, we parked by a trail we hadn’t been to in ages and weren’t the only ones to neglect. Already narrow paths were eroding into the creek. I had to warn the kids not to fall in but they were busy jabbing each other with sticks. Several large trees had fallen across the trail at various points. I banged my shin hard climbing across one, not because the walk was cursed but because I was in jeans with a belly full of cheese curd from the festival.

We took the high trail by mistake and came out above the mysterious amphitheater and had to go the long way around a meadow of goldenrod and bees. We’ve always wondered about this amphitheater in the middle of the woods. Who dragged the lumber a mile from the trail head or maybe across a raging creek to build it? And why? Has it ever been used aside from mock pulpit lectures by power-hungry children on family hikes?

Sadly it’s in bad shape, and my shin too, though I managed a series of selfies.


The top photo is me not understanding how to work the timer. (My oldest daughter’s expression is my favorite part.) The middle picture is me not understanding mirror images and which side to sit on. Third time’s the charm!


Still running (after all these years)

i do it for the sunsets

I’ve been a runner for about 5 years. I still feel funny calling myself one, but read an article a few years ago that said if you accumulate piles of sweaty clothes on the floor, you get to call yourself a runner. And so I am a runner.

I started running when I was about 6 months sober. I’d gained about 10 pounds when I quit drinking. How could this have happened when I’d cut out easily 1,000 calories a day? Witchcraft possibly, though more likely dessert even if I still can’t get the math to come out right.

Most of us feel the octopus effect when we give up drinking, that sly tentacle reach for another substance once we manage to get one in check. For many it’s food because food is delicious and comforting and we need it to survive so there’s always plenty around.

Running became a way for me to lose that extra weight but it turned into its own reward. Here is why it continues to work for me.

It costs nothing to run. 

This of course is not strictly true. We must invest in a pair of good running shoes. I buy my $100 pair for half-price when our local running store holds a sidewalk sale on last year’s models. I get running clothes on the cheap because I’ve found all brands trap the stink. Race fees add up if you’re into that sort of thing. Most of my running is done on roads where I live, which costs me absolutely nothing.

Then a funny thing happens a couple times a year and takes me by surprise every time: daylight fucking savings. I go from the freedom of being able to run safely outside before work or after dinner to not at all. So I join Planet Fitness because it’s $10 a month and I can run on treadmills and occasionally get hit on by old men. One guy said “I want you for Christmas” only I had earbuds in and took them out because I thought he was trying to tell me something less disturbing. Christmas had just passed like a month ago.  Then he talked about his wife for a few minutes and continued making the rounds to the other ladies on his super early Christmas list. His wife was not going to have a good Christmas.

There are also too many TVs at the gym. Bad news and infomercials splayed like gutted fish. I take my glasses off at the gym so everything is fuzzy and leave my earbuds in. I do this because it’s only temporary and in order to be a runner I have to keep generating sweaty piles of clothes.

I get to do it by myself. 

This is notwithstanding awkward social encounters at the gym, i.e. see above or that time an attendant had to ask me to switch machines because mine was making a funny noise, me red-faced thinking I broke it with cloddish heft though maybe it was furious effort or the fact that a hundred people use it per day.

For some, running is a social activity. I see lots of women chat side-by-side on treadmills. My sister belongs to a running group that meets on Sundays to run 10 miles over hills on purpose. Somehow it still sounds fun, but I’m a solo runner. The first time I slipped out the front door in sneakers and earbuds, I looked back for the spotlight and prison guards. I was really getting away with something, a working mother of two with this delicious hour to myself with no questions or demands.

Running also gives me time to think. I’ve pre-written almost as many blog posts on a run as I have in the car, and I spend way more time there. I love being in my own head, listening to favorite songs. I love spending time in nature. One morning I saw 2 doe, 2 fawns (still with polka dots), a heron, a fox, a half-dozen squirrels and at least a dozen bunnies, plus a guy walking a dog. This was all in the span of a half hour.

I don’t have to be the best, which is really fortunate. 

I used to feel embarrassed by my pace. Others made the point that at least I was getting out there or that it wasn’t a race, though sometimes it literally was. In five years of running, I haven’t gotten a whole lot faster. The longest distance I’ve run is about 8 miles, which is a far cry from a marathon. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to run a marathon. I also don’t want to put the work in to get a lot faster. I stopped tracking pace and distance in spring so I literally don’t know how fast or far I’m running.  I do feel stronger and leaner the more I run. I get to eat 5 cookies and still fit into my pants. Those are the numbers I care about.

Running makes me feel good. 

Let me be clear that I do not feel good while running. Around the 15 minute mark I usually feel better than I did at the 5 minute mark, but it isn’t like getting a massage or taking a nap. Running, like any strenuous activity, is really hard. What feels great is being done with the run. I literally get an endorphin boost so that I feel a little high for about an hour afterwards. (There is no subsequent crash either.) Mostly I suspect it feels good because I know I got out there and did it.

I get to share it with others. 

This goes against what I said about it being a solo activity, but both of my daughters run too. I wonder sometimes if I’m like a pageant mom who strong armed them into it, but I don’t think so. Or maybe I made running look good, though I’ve seen myself in the mirror afterwards and don’t think that’s it.

My oldest is in her second year of high school cross country. Those girls are hard core. They got up at 6:30 am six days a week all summer long and ran 3-5 miles in some of the hottest, muggiest weather I can recall. My daughter did this despite the very real fear she would not make the team. In fact, she fell short in the timed trial, but the coach let her stay on and she’s well aware what it feels like to be the caboose. She’s the kid who crosses the finish line after some spectators move on because they assume the race is over. Each time she gets close to the finish line, I cheer loud and tear up because I know it’s fucking hard not only to run but to be the very last one. I’m beyond proud of her.

My youngest is about to start a running program at her elementary school. We got her new running shoes and gave a pep talk about how it takes time and practice to get better and stronger. She is not brand new to running so she knows this already. In December, her and I and maybe her sister too will run a 5K race to celebrate end of season. Three miles is almost a cake walk once you’ve done it a few dozen times, so I’m looking forward to being there for her.

Teenaged me, who couldn’t even run a mile in high school, would be in awe of both of them. Adult me knows running beats booze and boys. Every parent wants a better life for their kids and I hope mine will choose to channel stress into something positive and rewarding.

Running works right now for me, but it won’t forever and it isn’t the only way. There’s also walking or biking or maybe knitting, all of which are easier on joints. The key seems to be finding something that is equal parts torture, er, challenge and reward. Taking the healthier routes seems to naturally lead to the next right path.


Yesterday was one of those rare September Saturdays when we had nothing to do, so of course we fixed that. The four of us loaded into the car and rolled past hills and horse drawn buggies into Amish country. When we stopped for gas, there was a young Amish man in a wide brimmed straw hat and suspenders pulling in on a bike with no pedals. He used a credit card at the pump to fill up one of those red plastic gas containers. The soft curve of his mouth and lack of forehead burrows suggested deep contentment, not unlike the usual expression of a dog or a non-Amish person napping at the beach.

Every time we head out this way, I remember the fantasy I have of running off to join an Amish farm. As with all fantasies, this one is not well thought out and I wonder where it came from. Are the peat farmers perched on gently swaying branches of my family tree to blame? Maybe it was just the smoldering Amish sponge bath scene (the first time the previous five words were strung together on purpose?) from Witness.

If you want to kill an Amish fantasy or any fantasy for that matter, take it to a PA Dutch smorgasbord. We line up like cattle to drink lukewarm pepsi from frosted plastic cups and leave half-eaten pieces of fried chicken for starving pigs. The best part of the buffet are these enormous diorama paintings in the lobby. Everything is over-sized at the smorgasbord, but these feel right.

On the drive home, we muscle through clouds of manure and a town where every resident had the same idea to haul their castoffs out to the lawn and see who will pay money to take it away. Soon the sun will set and they’ll have to pack it all back into boxes or bags and pretend they still love it.

Our kids beg us to have another yard sale, but really they just want to drink lemonade and eat brownies in the front yard while strangers appraise bad decisions with hands folded behind backs, heads cocked to feign interest before moving on to the next bad decision. I find it too embarrassing so instead we drag bigger household items to the curb the moment we’ve decided their joy-bringing days are over and later look out the window and they’re gone, vaporized or beamed to another planet for all I know. Clothing and shoes are tied up in garbage bags and delivered to donation bins within the week by a spouse who fights clutter like its crime.

Even though I’ve never read the book on the Japanese art of decluttering, I do the thing where I ask if each item brings joy and then get rid of it if it doesn’t. It may be unfair to expect that of a pair of boots in the first place, but I had three pair at the back of the closet that brought nothing but pain. Earlier this week I got rid of a pair of shoes because one made a sound not unlike a small squeak toy with each step. I threw them away on a whim at the carwash, placing them neatly at the top of a mound of life detritus and later hoped no one thought “oh look, a new pair of shoes!” It took the doc martens I bought in college over 20 years to start squeaking, and even though I can no longer wear them to work because the hallways are too quiet, I don’t throw them out because they still bring joy.

The cats, in their usual helpful way, take turns climbing into storage bins and on top of clothing piles I’m trying to work with. It gives me an idea for a series of books called Organizing With Cats. Organizing Your Kitchen With Cats, for example, would feature tips about the best way to clean and store cast iron pans alongside photographs of cats resting in stockpots or surveying progress from the top of the refrigerator (protip: assess cleanliness by checking the bottoms of paws) and would make the perfect addition to any yard sale.