35 Things I've Learned After 35 Years

I never understood people who didn't look forward to their birthdays. Adults who moaned, "Ugh, don't even talk about it!" confused me. Don't even talk about it?? That day that everyone celebrates the fact that you're walking on this planet with cake and presents??

But this year, when my wife asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I cried and said I didn't want to think about it. A difficult year and the sense of being somehow behind on the path of life left me feeling like time was moving forward without me. And my birthday was a very specific representation of that. 

I had a new understanding of all those folks who hate their birthdays. 

I came around eventually and talked to my wife about celebrating, ultimately enjoying the cake she baked and the evening with friends. And I started thinking about all that I've learned in the last 35 years, all the ways I'm not "behind," all the ways I've really got my stuff figured out.

So here they are. 


35 Things I've Learned These Past 35 Years

1. An episode of Murder She Wrote is a satisfactory antidote to a bad day at work, though two episodes makes the escape complete.

2. Giving friends a second chance when needed is almost always the best policy. No one is perfect, and most of us have received second chances we didn't even know were second chances. 

3. Sparkly shoes can step in for self-confidence when necessary.

4. No emotion lasts forever, at least not in the same form. 

5. A contagious laugh is way sexier than cleavage.

6. Buying the smaller size because you're going to lose a few pounds is never a good idea.

7. The right shampoo really does make a difference. 

8. Learning to accept love and support from friends may be one of life's greatest struggles. And gifts. 

9. The world is not a fair place. Trying to mend wounds for others feels better than dwelling on what feels unfair to you. 

10. Ratios for water to grain are: rice - 2:1, grits - 4:1, oats - 2:1. 

11. Making things with your hands heals your soul.

12. Use of the Oxford Comma is a point of controversy in the U.S. even though your eleventh grade English teacher beat it into you as the word of God.

13. Your partner cannot read your mind, and their kindness is no less kind because you suggested it. 

14. Friends have love languages too. Learning and accepting the ways friends care and receive care will go a long way toward meaningful relationships.

15. People will disappoint you, and you will disappoint people. That's usually not the end.

16. A non-greasy, non-smelly hand lotion is a thing to be treasured. 

17. Prayer is about what happens inside. 

18. No matter what size you are, you're still you, with all the same gifts and failings.

19. The tension on a sewing machine is a dark and mysterious force that must be honored and feared. 

20. Tending plants in your own vegetable garden is a special kind of wonderful. 

21. Gratitude works. 

22. If you can't find gratitude today, you might tomorrow. (Repeat.)

23. Facebook can make you feel connected or disconnected, depending on how you use it. Commenting and engaging feels better.

24. A Sunday afternoon on the couch with a good book is Heaven. 

25. Avoiding all conflict will result in losing opportunities for closeness. Sometimes fair and honest arguments are the path forward.

26. It is best to get your skis onto the ground before you slide off the lift. 

27. Any day with kitchen dancing is a success.

28. Cheetos will not solve your problems. (See #21).

29. Compassion is more likely to bring about change than judgment - in yourself and others.

30. Fresh flowers on the table make up for a little messiness elsewhere.

31. Any person who can regularly make you laugh until you cry and/or pee just a little in your pants is to be cherished as an angel on Earth.

32. Everybody has shit they're working through and not talking about.

33. Reading the recipe slowly and carefully before beginning a new dish is probably a good idea.

34. Asking for what you need is generally the best way to get what you need.

35. Everything will not be okay. Some things will. Others won't. With time, that will be okay.


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Tuesday Morning


I got up early to write, but my words aren't ready for you guys yet. Maybe they're not ready for me yet. Or I'm not ready for them? 

After an hour of writing, I got back into bed and snoozed with my wife and then snuggled with the pup. The high is 90 today, and I'm lazing here under the sheet while I should be up showering and getting ready for work, letting Navah run around and put all the fans in the right windows to pull in as much cool air as possible after last night's rain. 

I'll be late for sure, but sometimes a Tuesday morning calls for extra snuggles. 

These Days: July


basking in the lasting glow of my days at BlogHer
chowing down on refrigerator sugar snap pickles
wishing the summer would never end
failing miserably at meal planning
listening to The Name of the Wind on audiobook (for 27 hours!)
looking forward to a new knitting project
trying to catch up on weeding the garden
spending extra time outside whenever I can
loving late night conversations with my wife
rejoicing that I get to see my sister two weekends in a row
ruminating on what type of pie I should bake next
making an effort to take a long walk every day
calling friends for long chats
practicing gratitude

p.s. These Days: May

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I turned off my alarm this morning for the first time in months, at least for the first time when I hadn't prepared a post the night before.  

I heard the little chirping crickets sound, and my only thought was No. I swiped the screen and fell immediately back asleep.  

The tiredness is unsurprising, but you would think that after a weekend of talking blogging and writing and the power of online media, I'd be leaping out of bed to share my voice with the world.  

And yet.  

The BlogHer Conference was deeply inspiring, and the energy in every room was powerful enough to need its own registration. I told my therapist that being in the audience, listening to the keynote speakers and the Voices of the Year readers and videos and open mic participants, felt like a cross between the most loving church and the U.S. Women's World Cup game. We were there to cheer. We were there to be moved. We were hungry for it. 

I had tears in my eyes more moments than I can count. A couple times they spilled over. Once, when someone's words were too true and too beautiful and too painful, I had to head to a bathroom. As I stood with my back against the stall, silently sobbing, I heard the door open and the sound of a woman choking back tears. I opened the latch and peeked out. I didn't know her, but our red-rimmed eyes met and we hugged each other and held on while we wiped our wet faces. 

In her interview up on the BlogHer stage, Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma, spoke of her evenings hanging out with fancy people (aka Oprah, etc) as going to Disneyland. It's amazing and magical, but when you come home, she said, there's a big pile of laundry and you still have to get up and go to work the next day. 

I spent a weekend in community with the most diverse, empathic, and empowering group of women I've experienced. It woke a craving. Or at least helped me put a name to it.

And I came home to a life that is lovely in so many ways but not quite Disneyland. 

I want to keep it alive, but I don't quite know what that looks like amid the work days and the dog walks and the laundry. I know I can't wait until next year. I'm hungry now.  

I'm hungry for the person I am when I'm open to all that community and connection, when my heart is full and ready to give.

I hope I brought that girl home. 


p.s. A very different experience from three years ago for me.


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Friday Photo Gratitude

Stealing a bit from Soulemama's weekly {this moment}, I will be posting a single photo, no words, every Friday as a practice of gratitude - for the simple and extraordinary pleasures of life, for the ability to capture them with my camera, and for the honor of sharing them with you. 


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Friday Photo Gratitude

I will be on vacation next week, so ktmade will be quiet. But I'll be back July 6th! 

Stealing a bit from Soulemama's weekly {this moment}, I will be posting a single photo, no words, every Friday as a practice of gratitude - for the simple and extraordinary pleasures of life, for the ability to capture them with my camera, and for the honor of sharing them with you. 

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Simple Weaving

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At a friend's house in middle school, I played with one of those little looms that kids used to make potholders. I don't know how I'd never encountered one before, but I was enamored by the way a simple over and under pattern with stretchy fabric loops could hold together to create something so thick and sturdy. 

Since then, looms and weaving have fascinated me. The end result seems magical. But beyond making a multi-colored potholder, I always considered weaving something that was done only on giant expensive looms by people with exceptional skill. I sought them out at craft fairs. I watched women in a dark little shop in Guatemala, adeptly sliding the shuttle back and forth. 

I actually considered buying a loom once when a coworker told me his mom was selling one (after I went on about my desire to one day weave), but I ultimately passed, primarily because of my penchant for purchasing craft-related things and then allowing them to languish. 

So when I started to see these weaving projects on the internet a couple years ago, I was intrigued. But it took me a while to jump on the bandwagon, mostly because the weaving I'd always appreciated was functional - making scarves or blankets or rugs. The artsy little wall hangings popping up on every craft blog seemed a bit weird to me. 

And then Elise Blaha Cripe created a massive one, and it triggered again that fascination with all things woven. Since then, it's been on my never-ending crafty to-do list, and I got very excited when I saw some tutorials for weaving without purchasing a loom (see purchasing penchant, above).

Last weekend I finally sat down with all the materials, created my little cardboard loom and got to sending that yarn back and forth. 

Oh boy, is this addictive. I wove for four hours straight, until I was finished. I couldn't stop. The  motion is meditative, like knitting is and crocheting has been for me. 

I used this tutorial and this tutorial primarily.



I'm pretty sure I completely screwed up getting it off the loom. The stitches are inconsistent, the fringe point is a little off-center, and I messed up a couple rows without realizing it. But I love it in spite of its imperfections. Or because of? I love it mainly because I so loved making it. 

The lighting in this room is terrible, so the pictures leave a little to be desired, but as I sit here on the couch, I'm looking at my weaving, my ticker tape quilt, my instagram magnets, and my rag quilt and feeling so much gratitude for materials to craft with, working hands, and a home to display the things I've made. 



p.s. You are so loved.


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Saratoga Springs: Ducklings

This past weekend, I visited Saratoga Springs, New York with my dad and sister for our annual father-daughter weekend. None of us had ever been, but it proved to be a delightful town with great restaurants, a fun main drag for strolling and popping into stores, a charming bed and breakfast, and a lovely little public park filled with ducks and precious little ducklings.

We spent a good twenty minutes following them around paparazzi style, trying to get close enough for good photos without getting pecked to death by their protective mamas. I got a bunch with my iphone, including this video, and then went back with my real camera later in the day.

Taking pictures of these cute little things was the only way I kept myself from trying to reach for one because all I really wanted to do was pick them up and pet and snuggle them. When I was really still, some of them got close enough that I might've tried, but I know it would've ended disastrously, so I turned on my adult brain and just happily snapped these photos.

p.s.  Butterflies

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This Week in My Garden: May 7, 2015

And so it begins. 

There's nothing particularly inspiring about the garden right now, except that there are sugar snap seeds in the ground and a trellis to support them once they're growing. 

Aside from those little guys, things are looking...rough. 

The first snow last winter surprised us, and we didn't get the garden (or our yard, for that matter) cleaned up. So I'm making my way through the beds, pulling out the old dead plants and piles of leaves and pine needles and putting in topsoil and compost. 

The weather is unusually hot right now - at least the highs (80s), so we'd probably be fine putting everything in the ground. But it still feels early, and I'm waiting for that last cold snap. The peas are hearty and the one thing I absolutely knew we'd be planting because I could probably eat a whole garden's worth by myself. 

Because we belong to a CSA and get a farm share during the summer, we've been factoring that in to what we'll grow - aka things we wouldn't mind having a ton of (from the CSA + from our garden) or things that we really want to preserve for winter. And we're also conscious of not overwhelming ourselves, which has happened to some extent for the last two years. We get busy with work and let the kale get mauled by slugs or the basil get devoured by Japanese Beetles. So we're trying to be realistic. Hence a full bed of wildflowers just for the prettiness factor. 

Here's the plan: 

As you can see, we still have some holes to fill. 

We're continuing with a few things that haven't worked out in the past in the hopes that changing position in the bed to get more sun might help (tomatoes, zucchini, melons). The last two years I've ended up with pounds of green tomatoes in September, and while I love green tomato salsa,  I'm really looking for some red ones to cook with and preserve. We got a squash mold last year on our melons, zucchini, and delicata squash that took them out completely. I think we got two tiny zucchini and 2 delicatas. I'll be on the lookout for that this year and watering in the morning instead of the evening so that the plants have a chance to dry out during the day.

Cucumbers aren't on the plot right now. I'm on the fence. We had such a tough time with them last year, I think because of lack of pollination. 

Our chives haven't come up, which is making me nervous because I think they usually have by now. And I'm afraid that the thyme and rosemary didn't overwinter successfully. I keep checking every day, but still no sign of life. 

What you can't see here are our blueberry bushes and raspberry bushes on the other side of the yard. We planted the raspberry bushes last year and got a nice small crop. 

I can't wait for the days when I come home from work and walk through the beds with a big bowl, picking off the ripe fruits and veggies to bring inside. I still think it's a miracle.  

Link to your garden posts if you have one, or tell me what's happening this week in your garden in the comments. 

p.s. Our 2013 garden

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I Promise: Vows for my Dearest Friends

My wife and I wrote our own vows, heartfelt and specific expressions of our particular love. A mix of aspiration and realism, they were promises of who we hoped to be for each other while recognizing our own limitations. Writing them was an exploration of the type of person I wanted to be in this relationship. I felt honored to share mine with my wife and to be the recipient of hers on our wedding day. 

I've been thinking a lot about friends lately and what makes a good friendship, a friendship that lasts. I've known some of my closest friends for almost half my life, more than double the amount of time I've known my wife. And there are newer friends that I'll likely know and adore for another half my life. They've talked me through breakups, cried with me over losses, and rubbed my back when I'd had too much to drink. They've partied with me and called me when times were rough. These friendships have sustained me. 

In romantic relationships, at least the ones that choose the traditional route of marriage, the couple makes promises to each other about what the rest of their relationship will look like. Here's what you can expect from me. And even in those long-term relationships without marriage, I think there are conversations about what one partner can (or can't) promise to the other.

Perhaps other friendships are different, but in my experience, even the best of friends don't have those conversations. I've made promises to my friends, of course - I'll keep it a secret, I'll be there for you after you break it off, etc. But I've never set it out in full. I've never said you're so important to me, that I sat down and thought about who I want to be and who I can be in this relationship.

So here goes. These vows that are both aspirational and realistic, promises of who I hope to be for my dearest friends while recognizing my own limitations. 

Dearest Friends,

I promise to always remember your birthday except when I don't, in which case I promise to wake up panicked in the middle of the night and send you a verbose belated birthday text that includes a substantial number of exclamation points and emojis.

I promise to verbally (or in writing) agree with you about how horrible your boss/significant other/roommate/parent/sibling is behaving, but I also promise to offer gentle, sensitive questions if I think you're going to extremes (which of course would never happen, but just in case).

I promise to dance with you at trashy clubs and in kitchens and living rooms and grocery stores and on sidewalks and create more ridiculous memories. 

I promise to read emails from you and respond to them promptly except when I don't, in which case I promise to feel terrible about it and think about the email every single moment that I am away from a device with a screen.

I promise to tell you if you have something in your teeth, mascara smudges, or a wardrobe malfunction. 

I promise never to post a bad picture of you on social media, even if it includes the best picture of me that's ever been taken.

I promise to celebrate your joys and grieve your sadnesses, and I promise to share my joys and sadnesses with you.

I promise to give you the benefit of the doubt and to tell you if I'm feeling hurt by you or angry with you in a way that is compromising our friendship.

I promise to listen and try to understand your point of view when we disagree.

I promise to carry you in my heart for the rest of my days.  

p.s. Blue Moon.

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The 13 Year Quilt

2002. Washington, D.C.

I was a graduate student - theater - living alone and far away from my family for the first time in my life. My studio apartment was 325 square feet, had a half-wall of tiny appliances, and was furnished (by my mom and me) with a futon, a rectangular card table, and a black and silver tv stand from Walmart. Making friends outside the dorm life of college was more difficult than I had expected. That first year, I spent many weekends by myself, watching a lot of television and channeling Mary Tyler Moore as I wandered the streets of Dupont Circle. 

I watched entire afternoons of HGTV. It was a little less trendy back then, and my favorites were the Carol Duvall Show and Simply Quilts. I crocheted while they presented holiday centerpieces and masterfully pieced together works of art. Quilting seemed out of my reach, requiring skills and paraphernalia I didn't have.

The day they shared the denim rag quilt and described it as a great beginner's option, I put down my crochet hooks and immediately searched for the episode and instructions on my computer.

To my weekend wanderings, I added thrift stores and the Goodwill, where I rummaged through piles of jeans and racks of shirts to find just the right fabrics to cut up.

I got a sewing machine for Christmas.

2004-2006. Silver Spring and Bethesda, Maryland. 

Kept company by Meredith Grey and McDreamy, I traced around the cardboard square template with a sharpie. Down the legs of a pair of men's Wranglers and up the back. With a good pair, I could get 12 squares. I needed 180 for the whole thing.

To my pile of thrifted plaid garments, I added the left-behind shirts of a former high school boyfriend and one of my college loves as well as two men's button-downs that I'd worn after coming out my senior year, a move that I had hoped signaled my newly-minted lesbian status to the ladies around me.

I bought spring-loaded scissors and kept a rubbermaid tub filled with denim and plaid under the bed I shared with my then-partner.

2007-2009. Washington, DC. 

The rubbermaid tub and my sewing machine sat in a series of closets as I moved from apartment to apartment with my then-girlfriend (now wife).

Law school left little time for crafting, and the piles of fabric looked to me old fashioned in the worst way.

2010. Washington, DC. 

My inner crafter, thought deceased, had simply been hibernating. She revived almost immediately upon graduation.

At the dining room table of our Logan Circle apartment, I oriented the sewing machine so I could stitch together squares while watching back-to-back episodes of Little House on the Prairie and waiting out the 5 months until my law firm job would begin.

"You've been carrying this all around for 8 years?" Navah asked, incredulous.

"Yep," I nodded.

"I didn't even know you sewed," She said.


Rows of alternating denim and plaid sprawled across the living room floor with numbered sticky notes pinned to their tops.

My sewing machine broke.

2015. Richmond, Vermont.

With a freshly painted craft room calling, I opened the old rubbermaid box. Nine rows of fabric stitched together and six waiting to be added.

I listened to the sound of the needle moving up and down through the layers of material and watched each pattern go by, remembering.

"I'm going to finish it," I told my wife. "And I think I might actually like it again - this whole denim and plaid thing."

She laughed and said she'd believe it when she saw it.

I shouted up from the studio - "Finished!" - when I pulled the last bit out from the sewing machine.

I snipped the seams for days (weeks?), through Modern Family, Six Feet Under, The Good Wife, BoyHood, Top Five, Scandal, Interstellar. I bought new spring-loaded scissors, these specific to rag quilts and the primary reason that I can still use my hands after cutting 10 little snips in every seam.

The couch, the floor, the table, my clothes, Navah's clothes were all covered in tiny little denim threads. "The cost of art," I said.

Two cycles through the washer and dryer, carefully cleaning out the lint filter every 15 minutes, and it was over.

13 years older and 500 miles further north, I am sitting under this beautiful fabric time capsule as I write these words.

I think I'll call it my gratitude quilt - for all the days and weeks and television shows and friends and loves and thrift stores and scissors and sewing machines and rubbermaid tubs that traveled alongside me to this moment with the sun not quite up, my dog on the floor beside me, my wife asleep down the hall, and the only sound the tapping of my fingers on the keys.

p.s. The first quilt I ever finished

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Boiled Peanuts (or How to Be a Southerner)

My college roommate got married last May down in that part of northern Florida that is essentially synonymous with southern Georgia. 95 degrees without a cloud in the sky, the air hugged us tightly as soon as we walked outside. We spent a day and a half fanning ourselves while we cut stunning gladiolas from her mother's front yard for the centerpieces, swatting away mosquitos under the Spanish moss, and wiping the sweat (excuse me, the


) and melting sunscreen from our brows as we carried tablecloths and homemade strawberry cake into the garden center where she would say "I do" to her long-time boyfriend under the oak trees.

We woke happy and hungover the day after the wedding, rummaged through the refrigerator in our bathing suits, and dumped leftover corn on the cob and barbecue sandwiches and beer into a cooler. We shoved ourselves into a couple cars with the bride and groom (now husband and wife) and headed south for a few hours at the beach, a little friend-accompanied pre-honeymoon.

Before we turned left onto the long straight road aimed toward the Gulf, we stopped at a little wooden hut where an older gentleman sold us boiled peanuts for five dollars. We breathed in the smell of the salty brine and with soggy napkins crumpled in our fingers, we passed the hot bag around the car.

The beige sand stretched along for miles, and we sat on the edges of a sheet under the pop-up canopy drinking and snacking and telling stories. When it got too hot, we waded into the calm water and tried not to step on the horseshoe crabs zipping around underneath us. The sun started to dip below the horizon, and we rolled up the sheet and walked barefoot back to the cars.

We drove back in the dark, tired and sandy and satiated.

Boiled Peanuts 



, with much gratitude

Raw peanuts in their shells (not roasted)


1. Dump about 2 pounds of peanuts in their shells into a stock pot and cover with water plus an inch or two more.

2. Bring to a boil.

3. Add 1/2 cup salt and turn down to a simmer.

4. Simmer covered for 1 1/2 - 2 hours and then check to see if the peanuts are soft. (I actually had to cook mine for about 4-5 hours. I think I didn't add enough water in the beginning - I added more - and perhaps had them on too low of a simmer).

5. Once the peanuts are soft, turn off the heat and let them sit in the salty water for at least a half hour.

6. Drain the peanuts in a colander and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They can be reheated in the microwave or eaten cold.

Shout out again to EJ

, who made this walk down memory lane possible by sending me the peanuts and the recipe. Thank you thank you thank you!


You can go home again


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This Is The Day

Growing up, I loved the summer days I spent hanging out in church auxiliary rooms at Vacation Bible School. If you're not familiar, VBS is essentially a week-long day camp where you make craft projects and play games and learn some Bible stories. 

And you sing. 

At the end of each day of Vacation Bible School at my Methodist church, we'd file into the pews in the little chapel and sing camp songs. This was my favorite part. 

This was the part where your teacher might put her hand up to her ear in the universal sign for I Can't Hear You, Please Shout At The Top Of Your Lungs. And fifteen little seven year olds would gleefully throw their heads back and yell out the words to This Little Light of Mine until they were hoarse. 

As an adult, you're expected to hit the right note and keep your voice as clear and soft and in tune as the voices around you. As an adult, you're expected to regulate. Don't get me wrong - I love singing in choirs and making beautiful music. I love harmonizing and the goose bumps that come from a perfectly executed pianissimo. 

But shout-singing, that realm of the uninhibited child, has always felt a bit like prayer to me. 

One of my favorites was a call-and-response style number with these words: 

This is the day
That the Lord has made
Let us rejoice 
And be glad in it.

I taught it to my wife early on in our relationship by shout-singing it one morning to pump myself up before classes. By then I had changed "the Lord" to "God" in my own rendition. It didn't take Navah long to learn the basic tune, and it quickly became a staple get-pumped-for-the-day song around our house. One of us takes the leader lines, the other repeats back with gusto, and when we get to the words that call for unison, we each try to sing-shout louder than the other as I yell THIS IS THE DAY THAT GOD HAS MADE and she yells THIS IS THE DAY THAT HASHEM HAS MADE (because that's how you do interfaith right). Jammer wags his tail.

It's silly, and it's also my most joyful prayer. It's a thank you to God (who or whatever I believe that to be on my ever-evolving faith journey) for this exact day, a reminder to myself that there is hope and possibility in the act of waking up to a new sunrise, that there is something inherently magical about being alive to experience this life, that happy shouting is a heart opener. 

When I started thinking about a project for over the doorway in our main living space, I knew immediately what I wanted - a symbol not just of the potential in every day, but of the joyful exuberance of the little seven-year-old I still have inside me. 

I painted and stained this wood board with the line THIS IS THE DAY over the weekend, and when I stepped back from hanging it up, I squealed and giggled involuntarily. 


This is the day. 

p.s. Another of my favorite childhood songs

Goals and Balance

Yesterday when I got up to do my morning writing, I opened Gmail and sent some long overdue emails to several friends. It was a complete and total breaking of the rules. That quiet hour is sacred - no email, no twitter, no facebook. Just get out of bed and put words (blog words, fiction words, essay words - not email words) on the page (or screen).

I set certain creative goals for myself - I am meeting them, and this is the path. Determination and commitment, sacrifice, early mornings, and following the rules.

There is this image of the crazed writer - romantic and laudable - slaving away at his (always a him) typewriter in the rented room in the attic (always an attic) to finish the manuscript or the play or the essay that will seal his fate as one of the greats. He will forego sleep, food, comfort, haircuts, company, everything just to get those words on paper. That image calls to me with a sweet, syrupy voice. It promises fame and fortune and, most importantly, a singularity of purpose that avoids all of life's confusion and messiness. If only I could be as strong as that writer, it could all be mine.

But I am weak.

Thank the sweet lord. I am weak.

I need sleep and food and the company of good friends. I forget sometimes. I follow the voice a little too far down the path, and I start to see a frenzied look in the eyes in the mirror, a sure sign of commitment to the image, to the rules, instead of commitment to the creativity.

Yesterday I woke up early. I opened my computer, and I wrote to my friends instead.

p.s. A friend told me once that the Universe gives us the same lesson over and over again until we learn it. This is clearly part of my curriculum. 

Rekindle That Spark

Perhaps it's been a while since you and your wife/husband/partner/spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend got together, and maybe things are a little...stale.

You love them dearly, of course. But maybe all the time you spend scheduling repair men and taking the animals to the vet (and chauffeuring the kids and fighting about chores and hosting visitors and cleaning the house and and and and...) has you out of the habit of noticing each other.

Maybe you haven't really stopped in weeks, or even months, to notice how easily the conversation flows between you, how relaxed your body is next to theirs, how often they make you laugh.

Maybe it's been a while since you really noticed what a beautiful smile they have. Or what a beautiful smile you have when they're in the room.

I have a simple solution for you. It sounds silly, but I promise you, it's not.

Make a photo book.

If you haven't made a book of photos from your wedding, congratulations.  You have prime rekindling fodder.

If you're already set with wedding photos or you aren't married, make a book from your vacation or your birthday party or a mini-book from that perfect date you shared a couple months ago.

This is key: Sit down next to each other, and look through the photos on your computer. You know the ones - the ones you took (or your photographer took) and that have since been waiting, invisible in a folder on your desktop.

Choose a photo book vendor (Adoramapix, perhaps), and spend the next few hours reliving that happy occasion while you drag and drop smiling photos that will remind you both - every time you look down at those pages on your coffee table - of how insanely lucky you are. Tell each other stories about the event that you already know but love to hear again.

When your package arrives in the mail, rip it open together and turn the pages of your book with a mixture of glee and gratitude.

Then wrap your arms around your wife/husband/partner/spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend and don't let go.

p.s. You can read all about our wedding here

The Montreal Botanical Garden (or Why I Take Photos)

I guess sometimes being a person who takes lots of photographs - or being around a person who takes lots of photographs (sorry, Navah) - can get annoying. I've heard people say things like, "Put down your camera. Enjoy the moment." And for a while, I took that in. I had this kind of itching concern every time I lifted my lens that perhaps I was getting Enjoying The Moment wrong.

It didn't keep me from taking pictures because there was some deeper, louder voice shoving my camera into my hand and telling me to shoot, woman, shoot. So I did. 

But there was this quibbling little thought in the back of my head that somehow I was messing it (enjoyment) up. 

And then recently I came across the hashtag #elevatetheeveryday, and I started using it in my instagram posts. And when I was out on my walks with the dog, often cold and cranky and tired, I started carrying my cell phone in my hand, keeping the camera app at the ready, and looking around as I walked to see if there was something beautiful I could capture. 

And almost every time, there was. The way the light was coming through the trees, the way my shadow fell on the ground, the way a particular leaf looked against the snow. There was always something beautiful or meaningful or worth seeing. And I realized that by engaging in that practice, I was enjoying my walks in a way I never had. 

Perhaps there are people who can just say to themselves, I am going to find beauty in this moment. And they do. But that doesn't always work for me. I can be stubborn in my crankiness.

My camera helps me to slow down, look around, and notice. My camera pulls me out of myself and into the world. My camera is a conduit through which I find beauty, through which I enjoy the moment. And it's not about being a brilliant photographer, thank goodness. It's about taking the time to honor the "everyday" beauty right in front of me. It is, I suppose, another way to practice gratitude.

So this weekend at the Montreal Botanical Gardens, I clicked away, and I didn't apologize for it. Not to anyone else (though no one was asking me to), but most importantly, not to myself. There was nothing to apologize for. I wasn't getting it wrong. 

For me, being in a beautiful place with my camera in my hand is getting it exactly right. 

p.s. As hard as it is to believe, Spring - aka beautiful flowers right here - is truly not that far away...

When Life is Hard

It's one of those times.

When I walked my dog yesterday morning, it was -16 degrees. And back home, our furnace is broken. It's leaking for the second time in six months, the temporary fix having given way and forced us onto the internet to look blindly at every review for an oil boiler we could find before taking that big financial plunge and buying a new one. To reduce the leaking, we're avoiding using hot water except when absolutely necessary and relying entirely on our pellet stove to heat the house.

The pellet stove can turn the downstairs into a summer oasis, but the upstairs (where the bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchen are) can't get above a balmy 59 degrees. It's not too bad with a hat and scarf on, but putting that first toe onto the floor in the mornings is rough. And then, recently it's been doing weird things that make us concerned that it might shut itself down (causing the temperature in the house to drop and possibly our pipes to freeze) or catch on fire while we're not home.

And in addition to our heating issues and some other personal things, one of our garage doors is broken. And the door of our freezer is popping open almost imperceptibly each time we shut the refrigerator, something which we only discovered after it was slightly ajar all night, resulting in a major energy waste and a bunch of freezer-burned food. And the dog has had an upset stomach for reasons we can't identify. And my phone keeps shutting itself down every time I use it to take a photo. And I have a stye on my left eye.

Life feels so hard right now.

I'm overwhelmed by the number of things needing my attention and the financial outlay required of us. It seems that we're constantly rearranging our schedules to be home for a repair man or to take the dog to the vet. 

Right now the tiniest bother sends me over the edge.

This morning, when my closed toothpaste tube fell off the counter onto the bathroom floor, I yelled out, "OH COME ON" and huffed and stomped my foot, incensed that I had to reach down and pick it up.

It feels like crap, being this angry and overwhelmed, thinking the world has it out for you.

Before I lose it completely, I've been experimenting with a very gentle gratitude practice.

In the moment when I am most irate and overwhelmed about a particular thing - for instance, the broken boiler - I stop and ask myself one question: Is there anything in this situation that I can have gratitude for? Anything at all?

Usually, I can come up with something. At least one thing. In the case of the boiler, I came up with more than one.

I'm grateful that our boiler gave us a warning before dying completely so that we have time to buy a new one and weren't left without any heat or hot water.

I'm grateful that, though it wasn't in our budget, we have the money to buy a new boiler.

I'm grateful that we live in a place where someone will come out and install a contraption in our house that will heat the whole place with the push of a button.

I practice it with other things too - the garage door, for instance.

I'm grateful that we have a garage - what a luxury!

I'm grateful that someone will come out and repair the motor to our garage.

I'm grateful that we can afford to have someone come out and repair the motor for our garage.

And, most of the time, it works. I feel better, less cranky, less overwhelmed.

It doesn't always work, though. Sometimes I can't find anything to be grateful about. And that's okay. That's where I am in that moment. It's not because there isn't anything to be grateful about. It's because at that particular juncture, I can't get out from under the negative feelings to see the good.

I'm human. And expecting myself to be something other than human - some superhuman person who feels gratitude in every moment of my life - is a recipe for disaster.

So when I can find the gratitude, I brush off the welcome mat and bring it some tea. And in those moments, I'm grateful for gratitude.

Here's the other thing about this gentle gratitude practice - it's not a moral thing. Perhaps being grateful is the moral high ground. But focusing on morality isn't going to help you when you're down in the dregs of a life-is-hard mental meltdown. Being grateful because you should be grateful doesn't work in my experience. It just packs on another couple emotions - guilt and shame - to the anxiety, anger, overwhelm, depression that I'm already feeling. No, if you practice gratitude, practice it because it feels good. Be self-serving about it.

When you can stop long enough to recognize the overwhelm/life-is-hard spiral, be good to yourself and ask whether there's anything you can be grateful for.

If there's not, then set the question aside. Don't berate yourself. Just acknowledge that right now is just too hard and try again later. But if you can find something to be grateful for, sit with that gratitude. Honor it. Experience the moment of peace when your mind shifts away from anxiety.

It won't change the situation. Life will still be broken and expensive and wrong and not how you wanted it to be and maybe, sometimes, even devastating. But in that moment of gratitude, some little part of you may also know that life is miraculous and kind and beautiful.

One last note on practicing gratitude: it's a very personal thing. Because we're all human, experiencing our emotions in our own ways, and because a morality push rarely works on the gratitude front, it's rarely effective to tell another person to be grateful. One of my biggest pet peeves is the "at least" commentary in response to something I'm dealing with. I tell someone that my hair looks like crap that day, and they respond with "At least you have hair. You should be grateful for that." I say that my car is broken down, and they respond, "At least you have a car to get fixed. You should be grateful for that."

And it's not that I shouldn't be grateful. I should be - there are lots of people in worse-off situations. But like I said earlier, gratitude as a moral imperative rarely works for me. I just end up feeling ashamed and guilty (and annoyed with the "at least" person). Gratitude as a gentle reminder to release, if only for a moment, the negativity that is holding me hostage? That is helpful.

It's funny to me to be sharing a post about practicing gratitude. I can be the complainiest of the complainers, and I often feel like overwhelmed is my constant state of being. But that means I have a lot of opportunities to practice pulling myself out of the depths.

And when I'm able to, when I can get out from under it all to see the good, I am so grateful.

p.s. Practicing gratitude is constantly practice, at least for me.

My New Studio (!!!)

When we walked through this house for the first time a couple years ago, there were a ton of things I loved. Prime among them was the office in the basement. I immediately claimed it as my future studio, and the thought brought me heaps of joy. A space of my very own, where I could write and sew and think creative thoughts and, most importantly, leave unfinished projects lying around without making a mess in the rest of the house.* Squee!

Of course, many things got in the way of my making the studio my own - life, work, other rooms in the house - and it wasn't until I decided, rather impulsively, to paint the walls in January that the space really started to become a studio. Prior to that it held all of my creative things, but in such a state of disarray that it was virtually unusable.

I don't have a before photo (terrible, terrible blogger), but I have these two from when we toured the house before we moved in. So just use these as a base and then add in a bunch of boxes and random crap all over the floor.

I had originally planned to paint the space a neutral - white or a light gray - and then add color with lots of bright things on the walls. But I bought a gray that didn't really work out, and I guess I took it as a sign that I needed something a little bolder, brighter, more cheerful. Since I finished painting, I've spent 30 minutes here and an hour there getting things up on the walls and organizing a plethora of crafting, photography, and writing paraphernalia. I've enjoyed remembering things I'd forgotten I owned and finding a place for all of it (mostly in two not-pretty shelving units in the closet).

But more than anything, I am delighted to be using this room, to be actively engaging in creative pursuits on a regular basis. Obviously I don't need a special room designated entirely to my creativity, but it certainly does feel nice!

So if you need me, I'll be in my studio.

Wall paint - cerulean skies and isis wept
Desk made from cubes and old door
Art on either side of sewing table by Sherry Cook
Embroidery above sewing table - ktmade
Quilt from my grandmother on chair
Fabric bunting - ktmade for our wedding chuppa
"Create" wall art - ktmade

*I still leave knitting projects all over the couch. Old habits die hard.

p.s. I was so excited when we moved into this house - for so many other reasons.

Invisibility: The Internet's Greatest Gift?

Here's a question for you:

Why does anyone blog?

Put more specifically, why does a person with no celebrity status ever think that people (aside from their parents and closest friends) will want to stop by the little corner of the internet they've set up to share photos of their living room or their garden or their summer vacation, to explain their thoughts on common core or marathon techniques or the minimum wage or homeschooling or the particular merits of a neutral color scheme in the living room (spoiler alert: it lets you change your look seasonally at low cost with accessories in "pops of color!")?

It sounds ridiculous.

And yet perhaps one of the most fascinating phenomena of this particular moment in time is that, apparently, the person who believes that people care enough to follow their little story is not crazy. Folks will follow. Some point to the social media frenzy as a narcissistic tragedy of modern culture. Perhaps there are elements of truth there. But it's not the whole story.

What seems both more apparent and less traumatic is the complete fascination that we have with each others lives. If internet behavior is to be believed at all, people do want to know what you did over the weekend. They'd like to see pictures and read about your mishap with the dishwasher. They want to sign on to Facebook and hear about how potty training your toddler is going. They want to know who you're planning to vote for in the upcoming election, what type of shampoo you just switched to, what articles you're reading, why you've decided to stop eating gluten, and how you made that quilted table runner.

Not everyone, of course. Some will scroll through or will jump off a page after a quick scan of the photos, but a shockingly large number of people - more than most folks could rally on a street corner with a flyer that promised "Come see photos of this stranger's holiday decorations!" - are showing up to read the stories, from the short twitter versions to the multi-scroll blog post versions, of people they don't even know.

* * *

In an episode of This American Life, John Hodgman asks people whether they'd rather have the ability to fly or the ability to make themselves invisible. Through the responses, a picture emerges of the people who choose to fly as bold and guileless and the people who choose to be invisible as ashamed perverts (who want to watch other people have sex) or thieves (who want to steal clothes or sneak into movie theaters without getting caught). As someone who instantly chose the invisibility cloak, I questioned this outcome.

There is no doubt why I want to be invisible - to spy on other people's lives. In fact, for weeks after hearing the episode, I caught myself in moments of fantasy where I had the power to stand hidden in someone else's living room and watch them have dinner with their spouse.

I'm not denying the sneakiness factor, but spying is such a sinister word - what I'm really talking about is an intense curiosity about other people. How do they behave when they're alone washing the dishes? What do they talk about with their spouse at night after the kids are in bed? What makes them cry or dance around the kitchen? And perhaps, yes, what is it like when they have sex?

Of course, there's no doubt some self-comparison in it: Does she eat spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar after a bad day too? Does that couple also fight about drawers left open in the kitchen? Does he talk to himself in the mirror? Are they like me? Am I normal? How much the same are we? How much different?

* * *

The internet - for better or for worse - is a giant invisibility cloak. Slip it on and cruise around other people's lives unannounced. See what they had for dinner last night, what made them cry, what they're fighting about, and even what turns them on if you want. They've put it out there for all to see, but chances are, they're not thinking about you showing up. They don't even know who you are.

Much has been written about how the anonymity of the internet turns people into the worst versions of themselves, and there are truly deplorable instances out there. But the vast majority of internet perusal appears to be of the invisible sort. We "like" a birth announcement, retweet a funny joke about our favorite tv show, comment on our best friend's blog. But for the most part, we scroll through unannounced. We lurk. We stand silently in someone else's living room and satisfy our curiosity.

And maybe that's not a bad thing.

In all the fear of anonymity and the "selfie culture" and the concern about a tragedy of narcissism, the incredible gift of invisibility gets forgotten. Perhaps curiosity killed the cat, but it's also responsible for the majority of human progress. It is by being curious that we learn. And here, on the internet, we can satisfy that curiosity without being perverts or thieves. We don't have to sneak into someone's house under cover of dark to find out if they're pacing back and forth, paralyzed with fear about the zombie apocalypse.

Nope. They have kindly invited us in by sharing their entire zombie apocalypse strategy (minus the exact location of their safe house, of course). People share their stories of depression, and we find comfort in the knowledge that someone else's brain works like ours or we realize that the way we've been telling our friend that it'll all get better hasn't been helping, or we file it away in the back of our mind and remember it one day when our ten year old says he wants to die. A woman posts on Facebook about her kid's struggle at school, and we give our coworker a break the next morning when she's cranky because we remember that she had to get two children into their clothes with lunches packed and onto a school bus before we were out of our pajamas.

Someone posts about their mother's death and we include them in our prayers that night (after we call our moms). We read tweets from gay people if we're straight, black people if we're white, disabled people if we're able bodied, people who have mental illness, people who have kids when we don't, and we get a glimpse. We get perspective. We get knowledge. If we're having a good day, hopefully we say a quiet thank you to them for sharing their lives so we can learn from them.

Our curiosity is our connector. It's what gives us the desire to learn. And social media is curiosity's workhorse.

Through Twitter, I travel to Iraq, the Gaza Strip, a gluten-free kitchen, the bed of a depressed author, the streets of Ferguson, the writers room of my favorite tv show, the hallway of a high school, the desk of a jewelry maker. And I go many of those places with not just a media-approved story. I go there with a regular person whispering 140 characters into my ear about their opinion or their experience, what they think is funny or sad or poignant or unacceptable. And every one broadens my understanding of the human experience - even the ones that make my jaw clench.

Every one helps me better understand what it means to be a person muddling through this confusing landscape.

On my best days, they allow me to see the world through someone else's perspective. On my worst days, they confirm that there are others out their grappling with similar demons.

I started here with the aim of sharing why I stopped blogging a year ago and why I'm thinking about blogging again. But I couldn't get that question out of my mind - why do we share at all? This is my answer.

This is me, taking off my invisibility cloak, walking into your living room and giving you a big juicy kiss on the cheek.

Thank you for the photos of your child in their Halloween costume, for all the Facebook posts about how much you hate your job (though I hope you aren't friends with your boss or coworkers on there), for the tweets about your morning coffee habit, for the blogs about your home renovation, for the posts calling for prayers and assistance, for the times you told us what you had for dinner, who you voted for, how you fell in love, how you fell out of love, why you started meditating, how to build a compost bin, what you believe (or don't) about God, why you homeschool, how to make your grandmother's cornbread, and on and on and on.

Thank you for letting us in.
Thank you for your stories.

I have some I'd like to share too.