Last winter, my twelve year old and I finally finished The Lord of the Rings. Now we’re well into The Black Cauldron, the second book of Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, but we miss Tolkien’s books. When we’re out walking our dog Mocha, we still talk about them and mull Frodo and Gollum’s relationship, Sam’s loyalty, the dancing, forest-loving Tom Bombadil (Who the heck is this Tom Bombadil?), and, of course, the ring. We’ve spent a lot of time unpacking that ring, dwelling on its creator, bearer, influence, and fate. The ring’s always starting trouble, and the obstacles born of the ring’s nature and destiny create great conflict. [Read more…] about Trying in Trials
My kids are eleven and thirteen years old, and my current work in progress is a middle-grade novel. Between the kids and the book, I’m up to my eyeballs in middle-school struggles, successes, and changes. It’s no wonder I’ve been thinking about my own tween years lately.
I turned eleven in 1984. When I was in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, a lot happened. Prince’s Purple Rain was released. For the first time, a woman—Geraldine Ferraro—ran on a major political party’s presidential ticket. Scientists identified HIV as the cause of AIDS. I saw Sixteen Candles at the movie theater. Ghostbusters. Amadeus. The Color Purple. Ronald Reagan was President of the United States. Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union. I played a lot of Super Mario Bros. The first .com was registered, and the first version of Windows was released. Pop stars sang together and raised millions to help the starving in Africa. Ordinary people held hands, formed a human chain across the United States, and raised even more money. Planes were hijacked. A volcano erupted. The earth quaked. A nuclear reactor exploded. A space shuttle did, too. The Oprah Winfrey Show debuted. Comet Halley visited our solar system. [Read more…] about We Are the World
If you have kids, you probably can recall something they did or said early on in their lives that seemed quintessentially them, a moment that encapsulated their very nature. I remember visiting my in-laws one afternoon, some months after the August birth of my first child. My father-in-law was trying to make my baby smile by teasing her about her nickname (“Pumky? What kind of name is Pumky?”). She was sitting on my hip—hadn’t, in fact, even started walking or talking yet—and it was clear from her expression, she didn’t appreciate what her grandpa was saying or how he was saying it. As soon as he fell silent, she blew a raspberry. It was a gratifying reaction. You tell him, Pumky. She still has that moxie. [Read more…] about Care for Character
I miss my grandma’s soup. Several times, I’ve tried to recreate it but can’t find a recipe that reproduces it exactly. The results might taste good, but they don’t taste like Grandma’s soup.
The fault could lie with the ingredients, not the kale, white beans, and potatoes, but possibly some missing seasoning or a wrong addition. Maybe it’s the chouriço. The brand I find at the grocery store very likely isn’t the one Grandma kept stocked in her freezer, courtesy of her sisters. Whenever my great-aunts from Taunton, Massachusetts, visited us in Jamestown, New York, they’d bring Grandma plenty of chouriço, along with linguiça and big round loaves of sweet bread. Clearly, not even Grandma could make her soup taste like her soup without the correct brand of sausage. [Read more…] about Yearnings
Of all the damage this pandemic has wreaked and the changes it’s wrought, my kids’ giving up the piano shouldn’t rank high on my list of woes, but the piano sitting in my house these last couple of years, increasingly untouched and ignored, has bugged the heck out of me. As pianos go, it’s on the small end—a spinet. Yet even a small piano is a big instrument, and lately, given its silence and untapped potential, it also seems like a big sad symbol. [Read more…] about Joy to the World
I’m tempted to rename this fall—my fall, anyway—fail. All fall, I have failed. I haven’t planted bulbs for the spring yet, gathered hollyhock seeds, weeded the flowerbeds, cleaned out my bedroom closet, stuck to my diet, stayed in better touch with family and friends, or organized the pantry, all of which I promised myself I’d do. I haven’t even kept to my first-of-the-month blog post schedule. Here’s November’s: late! [Read more…] about We All Fall Down
Woods curl around our house, and on the scrubby lot to our south, opposite a strip of young aspens and oaks, sits a shack, half-hidden by brush and surrounded by wildflowers—asters, daisies, buttercups, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, purple vetch. The little structure boasts a tiny window, uneven roofline, stovepipe, and white door. Twenty years ago, when I first saw it, I thought of Charlie Bucket’s house in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, quirky, ramshackle, small but teeming with family, grandparents included, and packed floor-to-ceiling with love.
I didn’t notice it until the bird began occupying it for long stretches, clearly focused on the business of incubation. This bird—a cardinal—had built her nest in the Rose of Sharon outside our half-bath window. The clever cup of woven weeds, leaves, and twigs rested low in the bush and close to our house: a snug location, protected from spring showers and summer storms, and, for me, a lucky location. I had a front-row seat to a cool production.
But it wasn’t easy to get a glimpse of the eggs. For a while, all I could make out of the nest’s inhabitants was the female’s brownish head and alert eyes. Sometimes she’d sing. The male cardinal lingering nearby would bring her food, swooping into the bush, a flash of gorgeous red. [Read more…] about The Nest
A little after the birth of my daughter, I started writing early in the morning, and for the past twelve years, this ritual has satisfied me for many reasons, not the least of which is the pleasure of having a few quiet hours every day to myself. I could get into all of the other wonderful ways this vocation has enriched my life, but I want to be honest here and discuss a downside. Writing regularly has complicated what was once a profound and unmitigated delight: reading.
My husband Michael and I met twenty years ago. On one of our first times out together, we went to the cinema to see The Fellowship of the Rings. It was a great date. Certainly, the fellowship could have stood a little femaleship and (cripes, Hollywood) some diversity. And yes, I found the backstory detours and not-an-ending ending disconcerting. Still, the fantasy adventure had some things going for it. The mischievous Merlin-y Gandalf, the sweet and earnest Frodo, the terrifically terrifying Elf Queen Galadriel, and all that Legolas-Aragorn-Arwen gorgeousness, plus the stunning landscapes and special effects (Arwen’s summoning of the flood!) and the sweeping score, enhanced with a little Enya mystical magic: They dazzled me. Michael and I were transported. [Read more…] about Likably Unlikely