Huckleberry Friend

We're after the same…

note: This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on October 14. You can leave a comment there or LIKE it using FB (it would help me with the HP editor-gods). 


Hal from 2001.


“‘Cause now we’ve got bad blood
You know it used to be mad love…” ~ Taylor Swift

My 6S and I, we’re having a moment–a DTR (Define the Relationship), if you will.

I used to experience a tiny surge of bliss every time I touched my life-partner, but lately when I hold my phone, I worry I’ve crossed into codependency.

Love is blind.

In an effort not to totally self-destruct, I’ve started to treat my cell like the hot potato it is (no exploding Galaxy Note pun intended). You’ve read the articles (undoubtedly on that itty-bitty screen)–about your phone’s addictive properties, the Pavlovian pleasure pings, the time suck-age, and the strange but real phenomenon of feeling more isolated from your fellow humans because of “social” media. Blah, blah, blah. But have you considered the more sinister possibility that your phone is a conduit for your own hostile behavior, that it might be turning you into a deviant, a boor, a Donald Trump?



Ah, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, you say, and a phone is just a phone–a talisman, a thing.

I’m not so sure. Remember Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey? As a kid in the 70s, I watched 2001 late-night at a friend’s house, and the idea of a computer running us instead of the other way around–it about scared my sleepover, Ms. Pac-Man pj pants off.

I also saw the 70s blockbuster: Network. And guess what? I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.


Here’s how your phone is Hal-ing you, and why you might want to get out of your chair, open the window and yell IMAHAINGTTIA:

1. LOL=Lying Out Loud. Sometimes text abbreviations don’t even have the plus of being fewer syllables than actual words, and we’re no longer just typing alphabet soup-isms, we’re saying them–to each other’s faces. OMG, CYA, TTYL, and my least favorite: LOL. Saying LOL is exactly not what it purports: laughing out loud. It takes something as organic as laughter and turns it into dehumanized text-speak. For me, it’s the opposite of the desired response to a witticism. Saying LOL is sheer laziness, or, alternatively, I’m not that funny. And don’t tell me you’re LMAO when you’re barely chuckling.

2. Hal’s rewriting the rules of engagement. I had an al fresco, gorgeous fall lunch with a friend recently during which I swear the conversation was framed entirely by: the story of her phone. Look at the Craigslist couch I’m bidding on, look at the galvanized pipe closet I want to DIY from Pinterest, check out this (faked) photo of a creepy clown stalking the middle school parking lot. I had to keep my reading glasses handy long after the menus were swept away, TYVM. It would’ve been cheaper and more efficient to simply follow each other’s Instagram feeds.

3. Where two or more gather, so will I be
… so sayeth your omnipresent device. All phones in a basket at the start of a social event is so 2010. There’s new unwritten etiquette: If there are more than two of us, I can fade in and out of the convo at will, in between gazing lovingly at my phone–or fooling around with it under the table. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up. I may have to ask five times who, what, when and where we’re talking about, but I’ll catch up. Later I’ll sigh, wondering why my friends and I have such superficial discussions, why things never go deep. And here’s a classic: You’re at a dinner party and someone innocently brings something up, like a movie. But, egad, he can’t remember if the star is Ryan Reynolds or Ryan Gosling. You know what happens next: the draw, then an IMDB race so intense it almost crashes the host’s Wi-Fi. Too many of these moments and you know what really crashes? The party.


The Ryans.

4. This phone has been flagged. Your boyfriend just heard me pee, then flush. When did it become okay for you to gab–on speaker–in the next stall? We still have girls’ rooms and boys’ rooms, last time I checked (except at Target). I don’t want to share my bodily functions with your beau, and I question why you do. May your device be drowned!

5. You’re texting and driving. Just a little bit, you know you are. I am too. WTH are we thinking???

So, is it time to call it quits? I don’t know how to kick Hal to the curb–if you figure it out, let me know. As much as I long to wriggle free, I don’t want to miss a business call, or, God forbid (and I say this in all seriousness), the group text that my friends are meeting up for drinks.

But I’ve begun to pour cool water (figuratively, of course) on the hot and heavy.

Dear Hal,

You had me from hello, but things have got to change…


Heartache to heartache…

I used to pride myself on being one of those polite, phone-face-down on the restaurant table types. But lunch is a battlefield. No promises, no demands: Lately I shove that dang thing into the depths of my purse, with the used Kleenex wads and lint-covered breath mints where it belongs. This works well for me, mostly. (Except for the time last week when my daughter’s school called. Five times. Still, what’s 45 minutes, already? It’s not like the kid was choking.)

To facilitate the pocketbook plunge, I bought a watch to tell me (and only tell me) what time it is. So when I’m feeling like it’s time to, I can glance surreptitiously at my left wrist–probably while you’re checking your phone.

Clever, huh?

I also had to come to terms with the fact that my phone was a possessive jerk about weekends, and I needed to make time for me. I’m not a doctor on call, after all–so don’t hate me if I don’t immediately Like your FB post about your garage-made moonshine or your 7-year-old’s visit from the tooth fairy. I’ve started something I call No-Screen Saturdays, and I so love what it does to restore my soul, sometimes No-Screen Saturdays bleed over into Sundays. After a two-day Sabbath, by Monday morning, I’m fresh. An overflowing inbox? Bring it. Pop-up ads for The Way to instantly lose belly fat? No biggie.

Until around mid-afternoon Tuesday. By then, I’m fried again, and it STBM.

p.s. Want to sign the No-Screen Saturday pledge? Sign up on this site’s FB page or leave a comment below. This is real. And you will be held accountable (i.e. if you post a selfie or your kindergartner’s soccer team’s score, you VIOLATED your vow. Instant bustification.) Let me know how you do!


I, _________________________, pledge that I will not stare at screens on Saturdays. I will be present with myself, my thoughts, and the people I’m with. I might even go outside or read a book. Exceptions to No-Screen Saturdays include:

  1. Texts about important meetings times/logistics (i.e. let’s all meet at 6:00 for tacos and ice cream).
  2. Netflixing at night with a buddy. This is the new-fangled equivalent of picking up a tape from Blockbuster. Pop some corn and cuddle-up guilt-free.
  3. Calls to 911 or to order pizza or to say hi to your mom.
  4. Navigating. No one, including me, wants to use an actual map.
  5. Ubering. Who doesn’t love an Uber ride?



Get Behind Me, Boredom!

I’ve been afflicted lately, as we settle into a quiet house sans-twins, of the deadliest sin of all: boredom. There’s no excuse for it, really.

I confess my restlessness to the spouse. “Thank you Lord,” he teasingly pray-scolds over dinner, “For this good, plentiful food—and that we don’t live on a backstreet in India.”

Duly noted, dear.

I don’t know why, but something in my temperament demands a high fascination factor—multiple times every single day. Whether it’s the joy-surge that comes  from spotting chickadees splashing in the bird bath or a conversation that connects or an idea that comes bounding off the page of a book, I’m on the lookout for enthrallment like my grandmother fished for loose coins in the couch cushions.

She drove me nuts with that.

Of course, one has to be keen for chickadee sightings, and one isn’t always keen. Therein lies the rub. When the afternoon brain-fog creeps in, with the heat of an everlasting summer melting my mind into mush, or the fourth load of laundry threatens to crush my spirit, I trudge along like everyone else. But I’m not sure everyone else so violently rails against It: routine, rut, reality.

I’ve been doing some math in my humanities-shaped head: Boredom equals loneliness does not equal gratitude. Gratitude, the great eradicator of ills–how I under-utilize your super powers!

I am at my worst while my special needs youngest is at her after-school therapy and I’m hovering the area waiting to pick her up again. Said area has its relative perks: a Target, a handy post office, a good grocery, the ubiquitous Starbucks with its drive-thru line wrapping around the building. But one recent Thursday afternoon I can’t bear these, for some reason, so I drive ten minutes off the beaten path to an older street, lined with cafes and galleries and boutiques. I’m content as I settle into a little place, however contrived, playing Edith Piaf songs and selling artisan cheeses and cappuccinos. Four o’clock, the drudgery hour, takes a turn–suddenly I’m well-caffeinated and adding a character named Simone into my Kentucky-set novel.

La Vie en Rose…

Goals. Life in pink.


Sorry, Starbucks.



Creature Comforts

Just as the weather turns fall-ish (insert Handel’s Hallelujah chorus here) and my mood lifts with every degree the thermometer dips, I get sick. I’ve caught the most miserable of colds, the sort that makes your teeth hurt.

When the husband’s home, Lukey puts the kettle on for tea, but my baby works from 9 to 5 9 lately, so I’ve spent startling amounts of time alone on the sofa. I don’t like to watch TV by myself—I’m not sure why—and so it has been me, a box of Kleenex, the ticking of the mantel clock and the good, sighing dog.

I didn’t set out to do it (I’m not a fan of themes), but I’ve stocked this room with things I like, so I guess it’s not surprising that there are friendly beasts everywhere–figurines and pictures and lamps, even a woodland animal print on an armchair. This room is where we talk and read and nap and write, and while I look around in dazed congestion, the coziness of it closes in.


Put a bird (and a dog and a sheep) on it.

Fittingly, I am reading a lovely book by Elizabeth Goudge—if you don’t know her, get to the library toot sweet. In her novels, she writes descriptions of home that make my heart ache for, well, home. Here is twilight at Devon’s Weekaborough Farm:

“The candle flames and the flames of the burning apple logs, having it all their own way now, seemed to breathe and glow like living creatures, and slowly and triumphantly the grand old kitchen came into its own…” ~ from Gentian Hill


Late 18th century England (or anywhere, for that matter) had its hardships, I know, but in novels like Gentian Hill, the past’s charms make one overly romantic reader wonder if she was born at the wrong time. (Perhaps Mrs. Goudge, writing in the 1940s about times gone by, also suspected this of herself.) She describes the farmhouse kitchen as a large, roughly square room with two great mullioned, western-facing windows with deep window seats; flagstone floors; whitewashed walls; and a white ceiling crossed with strong oak beams, fitted with iron hooks for hams and drying herbs. The room is sprinkled with oak furniture “shiny and black with age” and pops of color provided by scarlet curtains and scattered red rugs and Blue Willow plates on the dresser. But the kitchen’s “greatest glory” is its fireplace, filling nearly the entire north wall—“almost a room in itself.”

Um, yes, please.

Another beloved and thoroughly British author writes of “eternity framed in domesticity,” one of my favorite lines in All The Books. Mrs. Miniver, a collection of Jan Struther’s World War II-era vignettes, long ago won me with its gentle insight and humor. (If you haven’t seen it, don’t miss the movie starting Greer Garson.) Winston Churchill appreciated these essays, which originally appeared in newspapers. He is said to have claimed they had done more for the Allied cause “than a flotilla of battleships.”


Operator? There’s a Nazi in my kitchen… but never mind. I fed him toast and tea and he’s gone now…

Both Mrs. Struther and Mrs. Goudge adored their rooms and their dogs and birds, and I’ll bet would’ve been as quietly glad as I am for a brief illness that sweeps one away from shops and commitments and calendars into house arrest.

Home arrest, that is.


French Connection

I’m an equal opportunity anglophile and Francophile.

It looks as if I might start writing a bit for a French corporation. Likely I’ll be singing the praises of circuit breakers, but that’s okay. Writing is writing, and France is France.

I know, it’s only Tuesday, but to kick off next weekend, consider a football break (yeah, right, you say) with entertainment that has a bit more je ne sais quoi:

French blogs. Google Translate misses the mark by miles, but I enjoy the pretty pictures, nonetheless. Superb fodder for lifestyle fantasy: Garance Dore; My French Country Home; and Mode in the City.

A Very Secret Service. A bizarre spy spoof with elements of Mad Men and The Office. From the series’opening scene, hilarity ensues. Love the bureau’s cocktail cart. An (imported) Netflix original.

Ensemble et C’est Tout. I’ve sung the praises of this warm, quirky film in this space before–forgive the double-plug. I promise you’ll get used to the subtitles in the time it takes to uncork a bottle of Bourdeaux. If you like Audrey Tautou, French food, and the bonding of unlikely characters, bon appetit!

Delicacy. More heart-warming Audrey Tautou, with fabulous clothes to boot. Unconventionally tres romantique.


She reminds me of another Audrey…

Populaire. No Audrey, but a sweet Eliza Doolittle-ish story with a fresh-faced heroine and an adorable Henry Higgins. Retro and relentlessly cute. Makes you want to scour flea markets for a vintage typewriter, preferably in pink.









Finishing: A Novel Idea

I’ve done it twice, but three times has not been a charm but a curse. And yet I’m within shooting distance, wrapping up novel number three.

I’ve been wrapping it up for the better part of a year.

But now I have a bee in my bonnet. I am finishing this SFD if it makes all my hair fall out. Then I’ll nicely ask the spouse to take me to dinner, somewhere with napkin origami and little mints with the check.

After that I’ll enter even deeper, murkier waters: a second draft.

On afternoons like this when it’s a struggle—I tell you it’s practically spiritual warfare—to resist a nap, I don’t know why I write.

It’s not for the big bucks. Or the fame. In fact, so far fiction has opened a world of waiting and hurt and frustration and waiting some more. And writing stories doesn’t have the legitimacy of, say, kicking doubles butt in a tennis match or landing a real job. What did you do today? Oh, I sat around and made some stuff up. For kicks.

But I’m whining, and I hate it when writers whine. It’s fruitless, and, much worse, it’s unbecoming.

Because most days I’m glad I get to do this hard, scary, beautiful thing. It’s an honor, a privilege, a treat like butterscotch or bacon.

Have you ever heard Seinfeld scold a fellow comedian about whining? It’s inspired:



New Levels of Empty Nest Syndrome-ness 

I spend the afternoon in a funk when I realize the friends we scheme to ask in for drinks later would be invested in the Georgia game. (I’m in the mood for talking indie movies and big ideas. And, yes, I do annoy myself.)

I am not throwing a football party, I announce emphatically.

And then I take a nap, in protest of all things Saturday and suburbia.

Poor, poor husband of mine. Do you see what he has to deal with?

After dinner, I challenge him. Now what do we do? Sit here and stare into space some more?

As if it’s his fault that a) our girls grew up and left for college, or b) the SEC scheduled an evening match, or c) I’m having a day.

But the husband gets out the Bananagrams, turns on a record (Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass) and pours me some Green Label. Pretty soon I’m cleaning his Bananagrams clock and smiling. We drift outside to the hammock, where we swap childhood stories and earliest memories, and then head back indoors for some impromptu singing in the kitchen and cold Cokes.


All in all, not a bad night.

The next morning, I thank the spouse for his graciousness and for making me feel better. He grins mischievously.

“All I had to do was throw a few games of Bananagrams.”

Nice try, babe, but I don’t think so.

My latest Huff Post effort made the front of HP’s Entertainment section Monday. But fast-forward 24 hours, and poof! it’s gone like Will Byers, to (Internet) parts unknown. I’m always amused by what bumps me off, this time I think it’s something about the 50th anniversary of The Monkees. Not that my ST piece is life-changing. With 12 FB Likes, it’s apparently not going to change my life… #notviral

Take a look if you’re curious, but NOT if you haven’t finished watching.

“Three Ways ‘Stranger Things’ Echoes Sunday School”


“You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest.” ~ letter from John Keats to Fanny Brawne


from “Bright Star,” a must-see

Two weddings and an anniversary, oh my!

Saturday we celebrated twenty-two years of marriage (yes, we feel old) by attending two weddings, the first a home wedding at our dear friends’ antebellum farmhouse. An abundance of Queen Anne’s lace and hydrangeas and other sweet touches—and a beaming bride—echoed Anne and Gilbert’s wedding.


The second, an evening affair, was held outside a storied, old brick manse. The bride, all fair skin and pale blonde curls, looked like a dream in ivory, and what photographers call the golden hour enhanced the effect.

But. Two weddings in one day—in the warm stickiness of the South—made for one tired Highly Sensitive Person. (Ugh. My newly discovered label, adding to introvert and dreamy and odd…) So after an hour or so of DJ-spun hits from the eighties and nineties, someone I know took her glass of wine and headed to the moonlit kitchen garden, where the night sounds of crickets and tree frogs almost drowned out the distant beat of “Footloose.” On the way, I was questioned by the woman in pearls who seemed to be running the show: “Ma’am! Ma’am! Can I help you?” “I was just… going to look at the garden,” I answered sheepishly. Busted, I thought. But she softened, nodding. “Ah, the music is loud for you. There’s a park bench you’ll enjoy.”


Thank you, Lord, for sympathetic historic venue ladies and cool iron seats and the smells of sage and lavender and a secret spot to kick off punishing shoes and run aching feet through grass. And, I suppose, thank you for making me quirky enough to need such things…

After a bit, I reminded myself that no amount of quirkiness grants me pardon to be rude, so I reentered the scene and smiled and watched folks with more sensible footwear cut a rug on the dance floor. There were plenty of other wallflowers, but it was too noisy for conversation.

And then my understanding groom suggested we go.

As we Ubered (now apparently a verb) back to our hotel in a quiet Camry, the spouse and I made an uncanny connection with a young man from Afghanistan, who didn’t mind our questions and shared his hard story with us. He’d been back over with American special forces, but his bride told him after they married, “No more army.” Shortly after that, she told him, “No more you.”

“I still love her…” he confided.

On a day of unions and remembrances and swirly hearts printed on programs, a lump formed in my throat. We pulled up to the Hilton and the husband squeezed the driver’s hand. “Hang in there, my brother.”





Labor Day weekend=the homecoming of the college freshmen after three long weeks. One twin greets us warmly but casually and goes up to settle in for a nap; the other cries when she walks into her freshly painted bedroom—“Sorry I’m just emotional right now.”

Poor child. Homesickness is real, and it’s hard, especially for a Highly Sensitive Person. (Takes one to known one.)

“You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you.” ~ Eilis in Brooklyn

Eilis at Ellis

In the end, my HSP second-born likes her room’s new color scheme—ivory walls (four coats, thank you very much) with shiny blue-gray trim, a crisp white matelasse coverlet on her iron bed. And in the busyness of laundry and mashing potatoes for dinner and baking—blessedly once again there are too many cooks in our small kitchen—she forgets her worries that “home will never feel the same.”

Oh, Anne, Green Gables will always be here for you…

anne sad

Stupid Studies

That first evening, over cheeses and olives, the four of us are laughing like no time has passed. Maggie, the napper, hands us a blank map of America she has filled out with the states and their capitals. “Surprise!”

This is what she’s learning in honors-level university courses?

“Actually, it’s part of SS,” she says, “Something my roommate and I are doing in our spare time to catch up on all the things we didn’t learn in high school.”

“And SS stands for?” I ask.

“Stupid Studies!”

america map vintage

It’s true: Maggie mastered AP calculus but wasn’t metaphysically certain, until she took matters into her own hands, whether Chicago was in Illinois or Indiana. Ouch.

“Next we’ll go over the presidents,” she says. “Or maybe world geography.”

Calling All Humans: Check Out this Book

Super cool blogger Steve Austin has been super cool to answer some of my queries about how to become an Internet sensation. (Thanks, Steve, but no luck yet.) Steve is an awesome writer and thinker and has such an inspiring story, messy and full of grace. To coincide with Suicide Prevention Month, Steve, has published his book, From Pastor to a Psych Ward: Recovery from a Suicide Attempt Is Possible. Check it out!


“Stranger Things”

stranger things

Who’s not binging on this Netflix wonder? Who doesn’t love the eighties references, Winona’s big, crazy eyes, the high-rise jeans and The Clash? A friend called “Stranger Things” addicting but “mindless” entertainment. But, no! We’re thoroughly nerding out on it at our house, going back to the first and second episodes to catch hints and themes. I love me a show where nothing’s wasted: everything said points to something else. For (a small) example:

“The Demogorgon is tired of your silly human bickering!” ~ Lucas in episode 1

(Side note: I can’t believe I like a show with something called a Demogorgon in it.)

My theory: I’m not through all eight episodes yet—it takes time to make a careful study—but so far it seems a vanishing happens directly after discord: Will and Dustin’s bike race (“I’ll kill you!” Dustin shouts when Will gets a head start); Barb’s pleading for Nancy not to disappear upstairs with bad boyfriend Steve; Nancy’s “You’re not who I thought you were” argument with Jonathan in the woods. All this conflict leads me to science teacher Scott Clarke’s description of the Upside Down: “It’s a plane out of phase, a world of monsters. It is right next to you and you don’t even see it.” Unless, maybe, we taste darkness when we fall into silly bickering, isolating ourselves from others.

The show’s out-of-phase planes (in addition to the Vale of Shadows) include but are by no means limited to: child versus adult; cynic versus believer; geek versus bully; earnest science teacher versus unethical experimenters. And there’s the reckless Han Solo style do-gooder (Hopper) versus the Stand by Me-like band of boys’ quest to find their friend, Will, who according to Mike, in Dungeons and Dragons “could have played it safe, but he didn’t. He put himself in danger to help the party.”

ST’s characters’ emotional centers are out of whack like the compasses in episode 5, “The Flea and the Acrobat.” Their own stuff—anxiety, grief, jealousy, wanting to be different (or the same)—gets in the way of them doing what we’re yelling at our screens for them to do: share information and work together. With a plan.

I haven’t yet figured out the series’ Jesus story. If you’re keen, every good story echoes the gospel story—crosses to crowns—and this one has E.T. written all over it (in which misunderstood sacrificial lamb parallels abound). My bets are on Eleven to prove savior. She is a girl of sorrows. And those doe eyes!

I could go on, but I’m starting to sound like my Star Wars fanatic husband. And I’ve insisted all these years that I hate science fiction!

I haven’t slept well lately, thank you Duffer brothers. After shutting off Netflix at 1 a.m. the other night, we were beginning to doze when ST’s monster sounds came—not just in my mind—and I shook the spouse in terror and stared at The Wall. Ah, but I had shut the laptop, not paused or stopped the show, and ST had suddenly started back up in the darkness with the breathing and gurgling and hissing of you-know-what.

Electrical blip or something more nefarious? You decide.





You’ve finished arranging the toss pillows in your freshman’s dorm room, so you tell her one last time to eat her vegetables and not to wear white after Labor Day before you issue a lipstick-y kiss goodbye. Then you curl up in the backseat while your spouse drives in silence and you ache. What to do after that day, after you’ve arrived back home?

What’s to follow wandering empty rooms, sobbing and wailing like a toddler: “I want (insert your child’s name here)!”?

Not that I’ve done that.

Dumping (because that’s what it feels like) your kid for their first year at college, I’m here to report, is as heartbreaking as you imagined. One normally stoic mom I know cried for 24 hours straight; another lost it in the grocery store when she realized she didn’t need to buy her daughter’s favorite foods.

We’ve just endured a double whammy—dropping our twins at separate schools. (That’s two empty bedrooms—and two tuition bills.)

Here’s why the whole business sucks, and sucks hard:

That’s your baby. You’d have to be a masochist to pull out old photos right now, but you do. You need a minute, thank you. This feels a lot like grief. An era has officially ended. The days when your beloved peed the bed and sassed you and stuffed a Barbie down the toilet seemed to drag endlessly, but those exasperating older moms who warned you time would fly—they kind of nailed it. Damn them.

Are the best days behind you? You wonder, what’s next? Shopping for a mother-of-the-bride dress—something with sleeves to hide arm flab? Grandparenthood? You didn’t sign up for that. If you’re like me, you trick yourself into thinking it was you unpacking your dorm room Just The Other Day. But you notice a bald spot on your husband’s head. You look in the mirror: another day, another Oil of Olay fail.

What’s my purpose?
 No one’s asking for a ride to dance class or for you to proofread a term paper. There are no lunches to pack, no school forms to sign. What, exactly, did you do before you spent all your energy making sure the earth spun on its axis? And now—who needs you? Would anyone notice if you stayed home and ate ice cream out of the carton all day? Would anyone (besides your boss, if you work) care? Are you even a real parent anymore? You know what people say dismissively when you’re not around: Oh, their kids are grown—like they’re dead or something. Truth is, sometimes it feels like they are…

Depressed yet? Hang in: There are—there have to be—ways to get through, to soothe that punched-in-the-gut sensation that feels freakishly like your first high school sweetheart left you for a cheerleader.

  1. Your kid made it to college! What a smarty pants. Congratulate yourself for making such a bright, capable person. It’s a distinct possibility she’s about to have the best four years of her life. She’s going to find herself, come into her own. The world’s her oyster.
  2. More closet space. At first I couldn’t walk past my girls’ rooms, but now I’m finding it particularly healing to wash the bed linens, touch up the paint on the walls where the posters hung, bag up the last of the last for Goodwill. I put a big desk in one of the bedrooms for a make-shift office. A room of my own—at least until someone comes home with four sacks of dirty laundry.
  3. Dinner for two. It feels a little awkward at first, but, ready or not, a new chapter has begun for your marriage. You find you sort of have to be nice to each other—there’s no one else around to talk to. So you make an effort. Around here, night one sans children included cocktails and candles, fresh flowers and sautéed seafood. Admittedly, night two degenerated to a delivery pizza in our pajamas, but that too had its bright spot: leftovers. And—this is huge—the living room is ours again: we can Netflix out in the open, at any hour, no matter how many f-bombs they drop on Bloodline.
  4. Beware: good times ahead. The shift from a parent-child to friend-friend relationship is weird, but sweet. I remember eating up with a spoon any visit home, however imperfect, as a student and then as a young adult. I still like going to see my parents. What’s not to like? (Besides those occasionally heated political debates or the way your dad keeps the thermostat at 80 degrees in August.) There are familiar smells, home-cooked meals, silly traditions, folks who know you best and love you anyway. And—though you’ll have to pick your moments—you still have plenty of worldly wisdom to offer your college-aged offspring. I’m 45, and I still need my mommy. Sometimes.
  1. Schemes and plans.The best balm yet: I’ve made a list of goals, from professional to practical, spiritual to financial. The world’s your oyster, too. You could, I don’t know, decide to ask people in for supper on Saturday evenings. Maybe make a new friend or two. Finish that novel. Volunteer, or spend more time with aging relatives. There’s no time like now to write a great story with your life. I printed at the top of my goals my overall purpose: love God, love people. Them’s no small potatoes, if you think about it. Brainstorming my goals—thus shifting the focus forward—was the thing that kept me from the edge. You know, the one where you flop down on your child’s deserted bed and hug her pillow and moan with pain… Not that I’d do that.

So during my recovery days, I’ve unsubscribed from annoying emails (sorry, Forever 21); organized my CDs (classical, standards and a very small box marked “other”); and nearly abused my public library privileges. I’ve even pulled an Edith Wharton a few times, taking tea in bed and writing the morning away. (If I call tapping away on my laptop—with shameless bed-hair and my “Jesus Loves Me But I Drink A Little” t-shirt—pulling an EW, it feels better. Imagination, my friends.)

Edith Wharton bed

EW’s bed at The Mount

I get a little put out with my lack of stamina and my body’s need to be horizontal, but then someone knocks on the door with a homemade meal, and it’s all good. The spouse even scrubbed the bathtub this afternoon. (After I slathered it in Scrubbing Bubbles and handed him a brush. “This thing?” he said, holding the scrubber like he’d never seen such an object before.) But he muscled up on the job, and the tub is gleaming.

Not a bad life, huh? I don’t recommend surgery, but if you have to… savor the aftermath as much as you can.

Y’all, I even have a bell next to my bed.

Here are some of the good things that have happened at our house lately:

ensemble cest tout

I splurged and rented this for $2.99 on Amazon in the wee hours of the morning. I fell in love with this movie (not hard: Audrey Tautou, a handsome stranger who cooks, a grand Parisian apartment—note the Art Nouveau bathroom). The title translates, roughly, to “Together is all.” I’m such a sucker for stories of unlikely friendships. (In fact, I realized that my 2 2/3 novels are just that.) The next evening, the family watched the film. (Don’t judge—my girls are 18). The credits rolled and we decided to try our hands at crepes. (It’s a pity I was wearing sweats for our impromptu party, but I did dab on a little lipstick.) And so at 11 p.m. we had ourselves a feast of browned butter crepes, dressed with Grand Marnier-sweetened whipped cream, dark chocolate sauce and orange peel. We sauteed and whisked and caramelized listening to my “other” category CD, “Left Bank Groove,” a goofy collection of songs you might catch yourself tapping your foot to while sifting through the sale rack at Anthropologie.

Thinking ahead to the two weddings Luke and I will attend on the day of our twenty-second anniversary, I shopped Modcloth and came up not with a dress but with shoes that make me smile. (No, I’m not on pain meds.) I don’t know what I’ll be wearing, but it will have to go with blue sparklies… I’m already hearing “Dancing Queen.”

blue sparkly shoes

Am I too old for these? Wait, don’t answer that.

Just thinking about trading flip flops for these makes me feel all fancy-pantsy.

Well, that was a whole lot of fluff. I recommend the writing in bed and the movie—and most definitely the bell. But don’t you dare order the shoes. (I know you’re dying for some blue glitter in your life…)






Madeleine L’Engle

If you’ve poked around here, you know I like to write fan letters to authors. I’ve never written a note to one who has passed. But who knows? Maybe Madeleine’s listening. She was always listening.

Dear Madeleine L’Engle,

I never knew you, but I miss you. You’ve saved my skin more than once.

There was the chilly Connecticut afternoon my mom picked me up from school and took me to hear you speak at the local library. I was just a kid—you’d never say “just a kid”—and I’d never before been in a room with an author, not to mention one I’d read and admired. I decided on the spot that the whole funny business of thinking and writing and talking about ideas was for me.

The Newberry Award-winning A Wrinkle in Time chronicled the adventures of the Murry family, but I was always an Austin family girl. I grew up alongside that great, warm bunch and saw the pain and beauty of coming of age through Vicky’s eyes. I’m rereading the series now.

I take heart when I think of your long battle to get A Wrinkle in Time published. Twenty-six houses turned it down. I don’t claim to have a gem like yours on my hands, but I’m battling, too—I know you would understand. You’d been published before, but Is this a kids’ book or an adult book? muckety mucks in Manhattan, so in love with labels, wanted to know. Turns out Wrinkle was both, and it showed Them all when it sold gillions of copies.

Here’s what you said, and we’ll never forget it: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

And this, too: Before I grasped what the word introvert really meant, I read your Circle of Quiet, and you showed me a way. Permission was granted: I started go at my own pace, to breathe a little easier. You said yes to people with all your heart, but you needed your escapes to the brook. I don’t have a brook, but I manage with a hammock and the bathtub and solitary walks and a chair in the corner of my bedroom.

I revisit sections of Circle at least once each year.

As I approached middle age, I wondered why churchy church was starting to rattle me and why it seemed we’d tossed over mystery for an exaggerated (and sometimes smug) sense of certainty. Then I read “Bright Morning Star” and I knew I wasn’t alone.

When I started to write in earnest, I was surprised by the zen of the process. I threatened to squash it with structure and the cerebral, with outlines. The joy and the wonderful fear of not knowing what’s coming next would have, perhaps, flown, had someone not given me a small blue copy of Walking on Water.

The other day, you sent me another reminder. I’ve been flailing about with a young adult novel (oh those pesky labels, again) for a couple years now—too long. (I banged out my first book in six weeks, my second in a few months. You were crazy prolific, so you must have learned not to overly agonize.) I’ve been fretting that my third story is too quiet. (My stories are always “too quiet,” so say the encouraging but ultimately spirit-crushing rejection notes.)

And then I stuck Camilla Dickinson in my suitcase for a trip last week. All these years, I’ve remembered Camilla’s silvery green dress and her fancy dinner date with her father. But I needed to be prompted about the gorgeousness of a book in which what’s at stake is a girl’s soul. There’s no doubt, sensitive Camilla is going to come of age—we all have to—but hanging in the balance is how. Will she choose numbing every emotion like her father or being alive like Frank? Will she be fragile like her mother or strong? Will fear run her over and will she learn to reach for the nearest source of security, or will she accept change and uncertainty as part of the messy affair called life?

All this and more is wrestled with over New York (the city is one of the book’s beloved characters) walks and talks, over dinners in diners and drugstores, in apartment living rooms and inside Camilla’s own head. Every moment of grappling is, to me, more impactful than all the book world’s vampire battles and dystopian sagas.

Through it all, the novel’s dysfunctional parents and the manipulative best friend, it’s clear you loved the entire motley crew (well, maybe not Jacques). To love is to create, you’ve said. You gave your characters free will and let their flaws reap their havoc, but you loved them.

Would Camilla, elegantly written and published in 1951, be published today? Where would an introspective tale, sprinkled generously with adverbs, of a 15-year-old princess facing grownup problems like alcoholism and adultery and suicide and disability fit? Who, They would demand to know, is this book for, teens or adults?

The answer, of course, is both.

Most Un-Muffinly,




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