Dear College Student

A few years ago, I was walking on a New England college campus in spring and came upon a cherry tree in blossom which, upon closer examination, was decked out in tiny paper cranes. It was striking for its senselessness and beauty, two characteristics closely associated, in my mind at least, with college.

Now, as I drive through a college campus on a cold Tuesday morning in spring, I’m confronted by students who seem hardly present, just going through the motions. These students slump along, eyes on their phones, carelessly decked out in workout wear, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.

And let me tell you: college is for many things, but most of all, college is for caring. Read More »

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Guest Rooms

It’s been another too-long stretch since we headed back to our panhandle origins and I’m feeling the ache this April as the snow just keep seeping in whenever we think we are solidly into springtime.

While I was grateful to avoid the arduous trip down to Florida while pregnant or with a newborn, life doesn’t stop for morning sickness and aching backs, and I’ve got a whole crop of new babies to meet when we head down in a few weeks.

This will be our first time not staying at our childhood homes when we travel back, but I think with the birth of Elizabeth we’ve finally outgrown our parents’ houses. It’s a bittersweet point: we will have more privacy and better sleep when we aren’t sardined into the houses that saw our teenage years, but it’s tempting to feel a little exiled.Read More »

Breaking Up with Facebook

I got my Facebook account in 2005. What this means is I have never been a grownup without Facebook, save the occasional stretch of a couple weeks at a time at Lent or in Uganda with limited internet access. Some good things have come out of it: renewing and deepening friendships when geography or life stage brings us into proximity, selling my kids’ old stuff to only semi-strangers, having a rich and mildly embarrassing collection of internet-hosted photos from the last 13 years at my fingertips at all times.

But mostly I waste a lot of time.

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What I Don’t Do

Three years and two children ago, I wrote about a Shauna Niequist essay that has stayed with me for years now. In it, she writes,

“And this is what Denise told me: she said it’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.”

The idea, from an essay excerpted here, and found in her book Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace and Learning the Hard Waycontinues to challenge me. Read More »

Am I a Bad Friend to Fix Unhealthy Stuff?

My naan is always a little too small and tall and this does not stop me from eating it hot from the oven.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a baker at heart, not a cook. My favorite things in the kitchen are caught up in the baking side of things: the feel of warm naan dough in my hands, Pippin and Scout’s help rolling molasses spice cookies in Demerara sugar.

But increasingly people I love can’t eat the things I love to make, and I find myself feeling guilty serving them even to people in the clear. Do we ever really need brownies?

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The Discipline of Christmas Cards

Since Pippin was born five years ago, I’ve been sending out photo Christmas cards each year. It’s an opportunity to take stock of what’s happened in the year, of what’s worth reporting, as I sift through pictures from the year and maybe add a message. It’s an opportunity to be grateful.

If you’ve had a new baby this year you can combine the Christmas card roster with birth announcements or baby gift thank you cards. And if you haven’t had any babies in this or any year STILL SEND ME A CARD. I want to see your face and I will leave your card hanging for an embarrassingly long time. (You can even take hilarious pictures of yourself with your pets, like my sister does.) Whatever you choose, you’re giving a little beauty to the people in your life.

It doesn’t have to be a big and expensive ordeal. Use your Google address spreadsheet. Buy postcards — they’re less expensive and require cheaper stamps, and you don’t have to write a long personal message. Timeliness isn’t that important. Send 12 Days of Christmas cards, or new year cards, if you’re getting a late start this year. If you get an early start next year, you can buy a voucher or get 50% off deals around Thanksgiving.

Watch a movie and knock out the whole set, or challenge yourself to address five a day. Sit beside the fire listening to Christmas music or a good audiobook.

Put in the effort and start your year off right — not with more stress but with a small, thoughtful hello to the people who have touched your life this year.

Your friends will be glad you did.

Do you send Christmas cards?

Sisters

Today my little sister turns 30. Today our little family also continues the long, giddy, exhausting process of adjusting to growing a bit larger with my kids’ own little sister finally here in our arms. And both have me thinking about sisters.

I have lousy pregnancies and probably it’s slightly insane that I keep enduring pregnancy (always secretly hoping for different results, but as one friend said, I have a pretty damning data set at this point). But one of my big driving factors, one of my best sustaining thoughts, is how much I’ve loved going through life with my sister.


We are, it must be admitted, dramatically, often comically different people. (Gamely attending a kid’s birthday party with me recently, she was asked her main areas of freelancing, and with only a deep breath, admitted cooly to the inquiring Catholic moms, “Sex and relationships.”) When we were kids, we squabbled a lot, but couldn’t resist reconciling — who else were we going to play school or grocery store with? She’s the only other Floridian I know who basically can’t swim, and when I come across something on the internet I find bizarrely funny, she’s the first person I want to share it with.

Even when we fought mostly bitterly, it’s been such a gift to have someone who grew up the same way, who knows about our mother’s penchant for lipstick or the way our dad blared classic rock on Saturday mornings while he waxed the car. We are very different, but I admire so much about Beca. She can put anyone at ease around her, while I stumble through small talk. She mustered enough determination to survive the cesspool that is Brooklyn [my opinion, not hers], carve out a freelance career, and light out for Atlanta. She’s also an enthusiastic and indefatigable aunt to my kids, snagging them books and gummy bears and gobbling their bellies till they squeal with delight — and while I don’t require that you like my kids, I’m going to like you much better if you do.


I got through my pregnancy with Scout knowing I was giving Pippin the gift of a sibling, and I was buoyed through the long and waddling months carrying Roo, knowing that our house would someday have the laughter and arguments and comradeship of sisters: like the Dashwoods, or the Marches, or the Penderwicks, or the Grimm girls. Scout and Elizabeth are only a few months further apart than Beca and I are, and I can’t wait to see their friendship and sisterhood develop in the coming decades.


And I’m forever glad to know my little sister will be there to watch it, too.

30 After 30 (At 32)

Last year, I revisited the goals I’d made in 2015 for my life after 30. (You can read the original goals here.) I thought I’d do the same again this year.

Going well:

In addition to mostly keeping up with last year’s accomplishments, I can check off finishing Middlemarch and I’m on my way to learning how to cook red meat well, thanks to Beef Week and my overstuffed deep freeze. We also started to explore Charlottesville and Staunton, even in my waddlesome state. My flowers on the table rate probably hit about 60%. It’s a start.

That’s right. I read the hell out of you, Middlemarch.

Going meh:

  • Fitting in long walks at every opportunity. This is almost entirely pregnancy-related, though, and I’ve spent almost all of my 31st year pregnant, so I’m going to let it slide.
  • Plan another trip like the Dales Way. Well, I got knocked up. And I didn’t travel except once, I think, this pregnancy, and that was perfect. Maybe for 2018? We’d like to at least do the Virginia Creeper Trail. Or, you know, we could go big and go back to Inkland. That would be dreamy.
  • Celebrating the liturgical year. But! We got St. Nicholas Day and Michaelmas, All Saints and All Souls, so it’s not total despair city, even though we didn’t even dye Easter eggs till fall. (Darn you, morning sick Lent.)

 

Praying for the dead in a cemetery, as you do.

Most importantly, though, I think I came a long way in learning to be more gentle with myself and the people I love. I can thank a fairly crappy pregnancy for that, but I was forced to begin to learn how to prioritize, to let little things go, and to try to enjoy my family instead of striving for exhausting perfection when my body literally couldn’t give anymore. Pregnancy meant I had to let a lot of plans and goals go, but look what I ended up with: a snuggly newborn curled on my belly as I write this. What could be a better 32nd birthday gift?

 

Siriusly Old

This summer we bought our first van to make space for our third child. This was maybe evidence enough that I am getting on in years, but it really took our free trial of Sirius XM to bring it home to me.

After slowly mastering the headlights and how to park the behemoth, I moved on to exploring the dial, and found, to my slight embarrassment, that two of my favorite stations are Pop Rocks and Prime Country.

Both date me pretty seriously, especially when I cut through campus and pass college students who maybe weren’t even born when these tunes debuted.

And it’s weird, right, the alchemy that nostalgia plays on our tastes? There are, of course, songs that fill me with delight just like they did in 2000: anything from Dixie Chicks’ Fly album, for instance. But there are also songs I never owned or wanted to own, but which I now greet with enthusiasm, associated indelibly as they are with my pop-punk little sister when we were in high school, or my freshman college roommate, who had far better informed tastes than I ever developed.

I feel, cruising past today’s freshmen, a little embarrassed by my musical selection (as if even the hippest music blaring from a minivan might somehow impress undergrads).  I feel embarrassed, that is, until I think of my parents and their enduring love when I was growing up for both the local classic rock station and the “‘80s, ’90s and today” station. The memories of those songs form the soundtrack of my early childhood, of Saturdays when my dad washed the car and morning commutes to summer camp with my mom, so much more than whatever was hip at the time. (In fact, I remember being marveled at in third grade for not knowing who Boyz II Men were, even though I could have told the kids quite a lot about the Eagles.)

So, on balance, I’m grateful to have found a nostalgia niche for my generation, as the grey hair begins to fill my hairbrush and I stare down 32. I’m glad to be reminded, on my way to the grocery store, over the chatter of my chatty progeny, that before this era, I was mostly the same person: scrawny and introspective and shout-singing the same lyrics. It’s a world in which I hold a membership earned by those gray hairs, a world to which I can introduce my children, one scratchily, enthusiastically sung old hit at a time.

When you were young indeed.