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I'll Cook the Food, You Save the World


One afternoon last summer I was sitting at the kitchen table processing a bushel of tomatoes while Emily sat across from me reading Charlie Wilson's War. It was as hot and sticky as one would expect from August in southern New England; a time of year when I’m best known for laying low during the heat of the day, keeping only my hands busy while the remainder of my wilted self rests in the curtain-drawn darkness of our south facing home. I dislike closing curtains, but my mother insists that closing them cools the house considerably on hot days, and you know how moms are always right. 

Without invitation, I began explaining all things tomato to my lucky audience. How to grow them, varieties we like, methods of processing and preservation. I must have held at least half her attention because she put her book down and said to me, “I really wish I was interested in this sort of thing, but I’m just not. And that’s kind of sad because I appreciate the importance of these skills, and I’m sure someday I’ll want to know how to do these things, but right now, I really have no interest.” There was a slight sadness to the moment, not felt by a mother who wished her child capable beyond the realm of reciting the complete works of Kurt Vonnegut, but by a woman who knows the value of laborous day to day work, yet leans in the sophisticated direction of academia. A woman reconciling the thought that although she’d prefer to spend her time surrounded by stacks of Russian poetry, at the end of the day, dinner still needs cooking. “It’s okay,” I told her. “When you decide to grow a garden and do some of these things for yourself, just call me and I’ll walk you through it.” She was genuinely satisfied with my response. Maybe even relieved to know that it was in fact okay, she could still learn these things down the road.

My daughter has started a new job teaching debate, public speaking, and oral advocacy in a women’s prison. The program is intended to provide effective listening and communication skills to a population that, beyond incarceration specifics, has largely led difficult, impoverished, marginalized lives. In many cases, a lack of the very skills she’ll be teaching contributed to their current arrangement. Someday these women will leave prison, and the goal is to not return. It is proven that for people with an ability to speak carefully and effectively, listen thoroughly, and advocate fiercely, the rate of recidivism is significantly decreased. This program is the perfect fit for the unique abilities that Emily has (proving there really is something for everyone), and I’m just feeling proud to see her emerge as an adult in this way.   

On the phone this weekend, listening to her describe the first days of training and orientation, I could only think of this: Don’t worry about those tomatoes, kid, you already have one heck of a skill set. Providing people with tools to effectively listen and communicate is an incredible contribution. Some would argue that we need these skills today more than ever. So how about this: I‘ll grow the tomatoes and cook the food, you go ahead and save the world. Dinner is at six... don’t be late. 

Until Daybreak Finds My Pillow


Deep into winter now. The holidays are packed up, Emily has returned to school, seeds have been ordered, and we continue to define our new normal. All good things. Fresh air feels amazing in tired lungs as I contemplate the number of layers worth removing in order for skin to meet sun. The brief rise in temperature had us thinking of sugaring, and how nice it will be to enter the season more set-up than ever before. That the investments we’ve made in both sweat and dollars have been worth it. We don’t make syrup commercially, but we do make about as much as any backyard operation can expect to make. It’s too soon though. The temperature dips and frosty air hangs tight. I hope for snow. 

Sometime last winter I stopped using an alarm clock in the morning and I think it’s been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done for my health. I realized that with Emily settled into life at college, and me being self-employed, I’d finally reached a point in my adult life where I could truly craft my days. (Well, as much as any tax-paying citizen can, that is.) I’ve always been a morning person, and as a homeschool mom who also had paid work responsibilities, it wasn’t unusual for me to set my alarm for 3 or 4:00 in the morning in order to have a workday before the homeschool day began. I did this for years. It felt easy in my thirties, but then, most things felt easy in my thirties. Firmly planted in middle age now, I need to be kinder to myself. The truth is, I don’t sleep much longer than I did before, but allowing my body to rest until it feels fully rested seems like one of those wise mid-life things to do. And of course, not being woken each morning by the incessant beep-beep-beep of an electronic device is a godsend. Feels like I’m making deposits in the health bank each and every day. This is good because I just made a big withdrawal when some kind of crud made its way through our home; a given after the amount of close contact we’ve recently had with other people. But while Adam and Emily were both down for the count (fevers, body aches, the whole nine yards), I hung out at about a 3 or 4 on the sick-spectrum. Not too bad. Not great, and there was a day and a half where I felt like I was shouldering a hundred pound head, but overall my severity and duration was marginal compared to theirs. Because I got off easy, I’m able to analyze the why! Heh. My anecdotal conclusion is that in addition to chugging fire cider and nettles infusion and honey/ginger/lemon/ACV tonic and elecampane and spruce tip cough syrup - all with olympic effort, I came into the whole thing incredibly well-rested and balanced. Or, maybe it was just a matter of chance. Yeah, probably that. I shouldn’t be too punchy for fear of a karmic Mack flu-truck coming for me. Hopefully it would at least wait until daybreak finds my pillow, because alarm clocks - of any kind - are no longer welcome here. 

I hope you're all feeling well... seems like a doozy of a winter out there. (Try turning off the alarm clock if possible!)


Thank you sincerely for your thoughtful comments about my father. I want to let you know how much I appreciate you taking the time to reach out. xo

More of the Same Good Life


My father departed from this world during the pinnacle week between Christmas and New Years. He made it through Emily’s birthday, then Christmas Day, then he waited some more until he knew Emily had safely landed in Mexico to compete in the World Debate Championship. He was so proud. There was no way he would interrupt her getting there. He wanted her on that plane and she was. Once all of that was taken care of, he quietly slipped away during what many consider the holiest, most sacred time of year. It was poetic.

I'm not sure there's a prettier funeral mass than one at Christmastime. Our family church in Eagle Lake is of mid-century design, the altar beautifully finished in Scandinavian woodwork, warm and well-crafted. It was dressed for the season in a celebration of elegantly decorated Christmas trees, dozens of red and white poinsettias, thick garlands of greenery adorned with red velvet bows, and fragrant, plump juniper wreaths. The trees and garlands dripped with white twinkly lights while the earthy scent of frankincense permeated the entire space. I wouldn't have changed a thing; it was absolute perfection. 

I don’t really know how or what to write after the passing of my father. We’ve known this day was coming for six years (tomorrow), but it doesn’t change the enormity of his absence. Words fail to capture. You quickly realize it’s not the end of human life that feels unacceptable, but the absence of a loved one’s life in your own. Eventually you do find a way to accept it, but you do not grant approval. On the way to Eagle Lake we passed a hunting shop we’d never noticed before; Adam and I wondered if it was a good one. My first thought was, “Let’s ask dad when we get to the house.” But quickly realized asking dad is no longer an option. Old habits. We miss him, and we’ll never not miss him.

Anyone that knew my father would say he died young. Even though dad made it to 70, his cancer diagnosis came as a freshly minted 64 year old. And if you knew dad, you knew he was a young 64. My father lived a good life - heck, he said it was a great life - but in the end, it was not a long one. When the diagnosis came, he’d just taken early retirement, bought a lake house in his dream location, and even had his sights on one of those delightfully unserious pontoon boats (one of his many selling points in getting mom on board with his incredibly remote retirement plans - it worked!).

I’ve only addressed dad’s cancer a handful of times here (a pinch more on Instagram), yet it has been the elephant in the room for my family for over half the time of this blog's existence. That's pretty crazy now that I stop and think about it. And while it never consumed us, nor did we wallow, there was almost always some aspect of life with this disease to tend to or discuss outside the scope of this screen over the past six years. If I'm being real specific, it's probably safe to say there has not been a passing day throughout this time that did not include a related text, phone call, or conversation among my immediate family.  Cancer became a character in our story.  

We planned a mass of Christian burial which involved selecting music and readings that felt foreign to my worldview, but were incredibly beautiful and fitting for dad. I chose a reading from the Book of Daniel, a little ominous and foreboding as one would expect from the Old Testament, but this last part spoke to me deeply:


But the wise shall shine brightly

like the splendor of the firmament,

And those who lead the many to justice

shall be like the stars forever. 


In his homily, Father talked further on this, speaking of the stars and how they guide us, of us being the guiding stars for each other. I loved that he spoke to this because it is exactly why I’d been drawn to the reading. Sometimes we look to the stars, sometimes we are the stars. No beginning, no end. One in the same. 

My father was a fine guide. In fact, for as long as I can remember Adam has literally called dad his "guide." Whether by quietly inspiring others as he went about his simple life of working hard and expecting little, or in more obvious ways such as teaching hunter-safety and conservation classes, guiding young hunters in the woods, pointing out deer rubs on trees, placing them in specific tree stands for optimal sighting: Like the stars, he guided many. And also like the stars, he did so without realizing just how luminous he was. 

My father will be remembered as a hard working quiet man of integrity. He was a content person who never wanted for more in life, who never felt he deserved more or was owed anything. Sure, at the end of his life there were a few moments of what could be described as “disbelief” that this is how it was all going down (you could tell he felt it was kind of a bullshit way to go), but still, in six years of living with terminal cancer never once did he complain or ask, “Why me?”  He would say, “If you're given a bad hand, shuffle the deck and deal again.”

It did not take a cancer diagnosis for my father to live his best life; he did not die with a list of regrets or things left undone. Dad felt his life was wonderful; if he could have asked for anything in the end, he simply would have asked for more of the same good life he’d already been living. That's a rather nice place for a man to reside in the twilight of his days. May we all feel so rich in the end.