What can I use that I already have?

What can I use that I already have?

“What can I use that I already have?”

Here’s an unsolicited peek into my somewhat odd routine: what goes on in my bathtub. Don’t be scared, it’s not what you think. I take long baths in all seasons, sometimes more than one a day, even in addition to a shower. Other than my car, the bathtub is the closest thing to an office I have. Since the advent of the smartphone (and to be honest, it was before that too, just more cumbersome) I use my time in the tub to reply to correspondence, make my class playlist, read, set my schedule, order things that I need online. Like vitamins. Or a one-inch necklace extender for my niece. Or next month’s book for book club.

Online list fulfillment, for goods or information (can I use my stand-up paddleboard on Medina Lake?) is so immediate that it’s easy to overlook all that is right in front of us. Like many, I’ve been thinking-trying-hoping-planning to downsize, to purge, to live more simply and save more money. So, this morning with that in mind as I noticed I was near the end of the tub of my favorite moisturizer, wondering if there’s a backup in the hallway linen closet… it hit me: “what might I use that I already have?” Two birds, one stone?

I’m not suggesting skipping the Cerave and using coconut oil, (although, let’s be honest, we already know I’ve DONE that for everything from moisturizer to mouth-pulling and hair-taming), but I do have drawers and closets full of things that I either need to use, donate, or pass on to someone else. The gift bag I saved last week when friends brought me gourmet chocolates (which didn’t last 48 hours), the reader glasses I inherited from Jane, a pricey hair product that my sister passed on to me because she didn’t love it, the complimentary promotional notebook from my husband’s software conference (I could open a notebook store at this point.)

These things are taking up space, waiting for “someday,” I guess? Even if each of them wouldn’t be my first and best choice, I believe they’re worthy of being used, and why can’t I compromise on the ideal for certain things? I can’t imagine a friend would object to receiving a gift in a re-purposed gift bag bearing the name of a chocolatier. Or that I (or anyone else) would notice a temporary change in product on my rarely-styled hair. Usually, old hairspray and sweat are keeping it atop my head in a scraggly bunch with some small help from something containing elastic. And for all the notebooks I fill with ideas, essays, and lists, why would I need to buy one with a cartoon cat demonstrating yoga poses on the front cover?

My friend has given me her extra high-end cosmetics, and still an internet ad for a cool eye-brightening stick has reeled me in. Candles are in almost every room of my house, and I don’t light them very often. And does anyone really need designated “travel pajamas?”

It might be fun, or so I told myself this morning, to work my way through these things taking up space: my mom gives me the conditioner packet from her hair-color box, and our heating and cooling annual checkup included a free cooler-bag. Stuff is junk, yes. But I mean, I DO travel around with homemade peanut butter and often fruit in my car, so at some point that bag might not be a bad idea!

It won’t go perfectly, but imagining myself creating space, downsizing, having less clutter, and donating or repurposing more of these things to have calmer closets and emptier surfaces is appealing. I know I won’t be awesome at this, but I’m going to try.

And, then,

What I AM a little better at, what is less practical, is turning the sentiment (“what can I use that I already have?”) into a more figurative question.

Part of my job, if my job(s) include yoga instructor/student or a wannabe writer, is thinking that way: off the mat, outside the box.

As we strive for personal improvement by reading another self-help book, continuing our education, learning a new skill, making ourselves busier by doing ALLLL the things…adding to our schedule and resumé and activities list and that of our family members as well…

What if we each take a moment each morning and ask ourselves, “what can I use that I already have?”

If you’re a stellar soup-maker like my sister, and now have an emptier nest, you can share your gift with someone lonely, ill, or elderly. Most single people might be more inclined to open a can than go through the work of making homemade soup for themselves, so there’s nothing more appreciated! If you have tons of old books, you could write messages in them before donating to a local bookstore (there still are a few!) or make the message and the book choice even more personal and use it as an ACTUAL GIFT in a REUSED gift bag for a friend’s birthday with the promise of a picnic together. Last week a friend told me that when her daughter moved into a new home, the next-door neighbor gifted her a cutting from a plant. It had been given to that neighbor years ago by the previous owner of the home she had just moved into. What a precious connection! Could you take your dog to visit a nursing home? In the past year and a half, we’ve all seen people who sew make and share masks, a perfect example of this idea. A Facebook friend across the country, a real go-getter whom I only know once-removed through my husband, invited me to an accountability group of people trying to support and motivate each other. And don’t even get me started on the friend who came over to shovel a few tons of gravel for our firepit while we weren’t even home helping!

So, we are doing it already, right? But next time you’re tempted to overextend yourself, to stress yourself out trying to think of what you can do or give or be to someone…ask yourself that question:

“What can I use that I already have?”

I don’t mean just when it comes to giving gifts or sharing things. Let’s be honest, we’re not all going to do this instead of buying gifts (or at least I hope not!) But to add richness and purpose to each of our lives, instead of constantly asking yourself what MORE you can add to accomplish more, to contribute, what about what’s sitting in the crowded closet of your personality, the jumbled shelves of your talents and skills? Why add more to the pantry when its already so well-stocked?

If I could draw, I’d want to make the best custom cards. With clever sayings in them! You’re funny? Make someone laugh today. A stranger, even. You’re an awesome mom and your kid just went to college? Reach out to a young mom who may be struggling and remind her in your wisdom how these long days come up painfully short. Remind her of one of your favorite parenting hacks. If you used to be a bartender, don’t just serve wine at the next gathering, make a signature drink! If you’re direct, let that serve someone well by not skirting around an issue. (Thanks, Kim W.)

Your advice is invaluable. Your experience is needed. Your special talent can fill a gap like spackle today. There’s that quote about judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree, or something. Why do we try to climb the trees if we are so beautifully suited to the water, and vice versa?

Amy Grant sang, “Do you protect what you already own?”

My yoga teacher used to quietly say, “everything you need is right here.”

Ask yourself: “What can I use that I already have?”

Happy Trails…

Happy Trails…

My husband Jeff and I have driven south on I-77 to various parts of North Carolina about a kazillion times over the past 20 years. That’s the kind of math I do. Mostly together, although we’ve each made our solo trips as well. Back in the day when I was working a more traditional office job, we’d leave at the end of workday and arrive late in the dark of night. In more recent years of self-employment for us both (if one would want to refer to me as “employed,”) we’ve been able to leave whenever we want, since technology now allows almost a normal workday for his consulting business. It’s a route we know well (I only know it well because it’s one interstate, idiot-proof right up until the end) and have done in the darkness, the rain and snow, in old cars, new cars, and rental cars.

Depending on which relatives we are visiting, the drive can be anywhere from 7-9-ish hours. Sometimes people balk at that, especially knowing the serpentine West Virginia turnpike is included, but we love our hours in the car. That turnpike is my favorite part, and I’m the one who usually gets to drive it. The best trips are those taken in Red Snapper, the name of my 2015 Volkswagen GLI 6-speed. She’s not a youngster anymore, and neither am I, but we are bonded. There’s nothing like a road trip in the car you love. Jeff enjoys the drive, but he’s also a fan of flying anywhere. Me, I’d rather drive 8 hours than fly for one. The packing, the people, the pressure…to me, that’s an annoying way to travel.

Snapper and I took that very trip the day before yesterday, returning our granddaughter to her home after a week-long visit in Ohio. It was just the two of us in the car, my 7-year old grandgirl and me, and while we did leave fairly early upon awakening that morning, we had one stop about an hour from our house to see some extended family in their newly purchased home. From there, Kennedy and I had a fun, uneventful ride which involved plenty of car snacks (the key to any road trip) and a book series about fairies on Audible. Kennedy didn’t even take a nap the entire drive, and I assured her that I would not, either!

I prayed for safe travel, always have. Sometimes on these drives, I notice dozens of police patrol cars, waiting to pick off anyone speeding. My cruise control is always set for a particular number not too terribly far past the speed limit, so I’m not usually too worried about them. On this trip, I noticed very few speed traps. It was, however, the day after the fourth of July extended holiday, so I’m sure it was now a slower day to get back to a normal weekday presence. What I did notice, however, was the plentiful number of cars, from Ohio to West Virginia to Virginia and now North Carolina, pulled over and changing a flat tire on the shoulder.

About 30 years ago when I worked for the local franchise of Cox Cable, I worked with a woman whose husband was a police officer. One day on patrol on the nearby interstate, he pulled over to help a stranded motorist, and a distracted driver plowed into him with sufficient force to knock him right out of his footwear. I didn’t know the man, and I barely knew his wife, but that image has always stuck with me. I have considerable anxiety whenever I see people loitering near the side of the road, especially on the highways. Nowadays, people are standing around using their phones, not even thinking about keeping safe distance from the traffic whizzing by. I’ve been a broken record cautioning all the kids in our family as they obtained their driver’s licenses over the years to get far away from the vehicle and call for help. Some fervent prayers are said when I pass a person crouched and changing their own tire, without the benefit of flashing caution lights or much help.

We enjoyed the drive, popping gummy bears and sharing a Pop-Tart. We stopped to gas up and refill our snack tank as well with yogurt and granola, cheese and crackers near Tamarack, West Virginia. Kennedy was excited as ever about getting to both of the upcoming tunnels cut right through the mountains. As we neared the big hill (as my husband calls it) aimed to pass Mt. Airy, North Carolina, I said to myself (silently), “after all these years of uneventful trips, please don’t let us get a flat tire like all of these people! The last thing I want is to strand a 7-year old on the side of a mountainous road.”

Truly, rain or shine—and at least one time it was fully 8 hours of pouring rain—we had never had a problem on this drive south, nor the return trips north. Well, sure, there was the one time about 15 years ago when Jeff went alone, using my mom’s green minivan, and discovered he had no brakes as he slid down the interstate hill, but that was the only exception. He’s fine. He had to get to a service station and find a way to get his brakes fixed or replaced to continue. I remember being at a workday lunch, seated outdoors with my friend, when he called to tell me what was going on, but I quickly blocked out what might have happened.

My present-day internal prayer was answered, in a way. We did not end up with a flat tire. Instead, a semi-truck a few vehicles in front of us had shed his tire treads, or however that works, and that created a big problem for several vehicles. I saw the big black impediment flying first as it approached the car in front of me. With two full lanes of high-speed traffic and a narrow shoulder with a big valley drop beyond it, there was nothing to do but ease off acceleration and hold the wheel in both hands as the giant black rubber demon was spit from the rear of that vehicle, through the air and into the smiling grill of Red Snapper.

It felt like playing leap-frog with a car, as we heard (and felt!) the loud roll of an object beneath us giving us an ungraceful lift. I had been in the left lane, passing, so I kept both hands on the wheel until I could change lanes right. Kennedy just said, “what was THAT?!” but seemed unperturbed, and that’s the reaction I gave her right back, explaining what we had just hit. There was a sign for a rest area up ahead, and I planned to stop there and take a look. My tires felt fine, the steering wasn’t pulling to one side or the other, and no gauges were setting off alarms. As we approached the rest area, however, I could see that the exit ramp leading towards it was closed and blocked off. As we kept going, I knew we had some damage underneath, or were perhaps dragging a piece of the actual shredded tread, because I felt as well as heard a rhythmic dragging from the underbelly of Red Snapper.

We exited the interstate and headed towards a Marathon gas station, promised less than a mile ahead. The slower the vehicle went, the louder it was, and I gratefully pulled into the parking lot and told Kennedy to stay in the car while I looked at the damage. Poor Snapper’s jaw was fallen open, and the dragging I had heard was the shield, like a turtle’s thin under armor, ripped apart and dangling at various places. It had been riding along the road, and parts of it had been resting on the moving tires like they were sanding stones.

I was easily able to snap my little red car’s mouth shut again, but as for the thick, smelly, road-rash burned plastic shield, it was too big for me to handle. It was still too secure to pull completely off, but it couldn’t be left dangling. I opened Kennedy’s door and invited her inside the gas station with me. She unbuckled her seat belt from around the booster seat, reached for my hand, and I said,  “we’re gonna fix this with girl power.”

Inside, I found a narrow store, smaller than most, but adrenaline told me we would make something work. I had been looking for bungee cords, but in their absence, found some good old sturdy duct tape. I’m from Parma, Ohio, and my dad was NOT talented in the household arts. I grew up in a culture of duct tape. I remarked to the young woman behind the cash register what our situation was, and she said that she had a special clearance table with zip-ties and bungee cords. “Oh! Then I will take both of those too, please!” When I asked her to cut the packages open for me, she reached into the right front pocket of her threadbare jeans and pulled out her own knife to do so. Girl power, indeed.

Back at the curb, with Kennedy standing beside me to supervise, I used a combination of my newly purchased tools to shore up the dragging parts of my car. It all felt pretty secure, but we still had a couple of hours to go. We hopped back in the car, shared a few good sprays of what she calls “handzitizer,” and were on our way back to Interstate 77 South—this time, staying in the slower lane. I called Kennedy’s dad and told him what had happened, just so that he could call some local body shop or dealership while it was still the workday. I wanted to have the car looked at before I pointed it back up north for 500 miles the next day.

We stopped one more time along the route, after hearing the drag return, and recommitted my support strategy. By the time we pulled in to see Kennedy’s parents and little brother Jackson waiting for our arrival, we were again dragging a bit. But we had made it, safe and sound.

“Better than a flat tire,” I thought to myself. More expensive, maybe, but if it kept us from being sitting ducks on the side of the road, still my preference.

I could have opted to try and have the car fixed while I was there, but Hurricane Elsa was promising that adding another day to my planned date of departure was probably adding two days or more unless I wanted to drive in constant rainstorms and high winds. Early the next morning, I showed up at the local VW dealer and asked for mercy. I told them what had happened and requested that they’d hoist Snapper up and make sure whatever was going on under there was safe and secure enough to drive her all the way to Ohio safely.

Without hesitation, they were ready to help. A small-framed young man with dark hair came around from behind the counter and walked out to look at the car with me. He asked for my keys and took the car right back to put her on the lift. While he did that, I chatted with the two other guys in the service check-in department. One hailed from Michigan, a word that many Ohio State University football fans won’t even say out loud (he told me Michigan claims Toledo, and in an earlier life I would’ve told him he could have it, but now I’ve got a nephew who lives there). The other jovial bearded dude was about to take a motorcycle trip to Willowick, Ohio, in a couple of weeks to meet his wife’s father for the first time. We joked, we compared notes on places we knew or had in common, and then I retreated to the waiting area so that I could text my progress to my family.

The waiting area was a small but colorfully appointed alcove with murals of various VW models painted on the walls. My eye was drawn to the image of a red car with a street sign painted above it: Happy Ave.

Ah, so my prayer had not only been answered, but with a little extra wink from my dad.

Instantly, my mind went back to another trip to North Carolina that I had taken, long before I was married at all, around 1990, to visit my best friend who was stationed there with her Marine Corps husband. That trip was taken in a white diesel VW golf hatchback, the one my dad had procured for me to drive in high school. It was becoming overheated in the mountains, smoke under the hood and red lights on the dash, when the small-town mechanic we managed to coast towards suggested only that it be towed to the Volkswagen Dealership in Winston-Salem. Still a kid in most ways, around 20 years old, I remember calling my dad, sobbing. “What should I do?” “I have to rent a car!” “It’s going to be expensive!”

Hap laughed. Chuckled, more aptly. I could picture his smile, and I knew he was actually somewhat delighted by my predicament, once he knew I was safe. When I mimicked the accent of the mechanic, and lamented at the time lost both on the way to the destination, and then on the way back to pick up the car, he simply said, “but look at all the interesting people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

Two and a half decades later, I would recycle that message as I delivered my dad’s eulogy.

Yep, Hap’s fingerprints were all over this.

Rather quickly, the tidy young man who had first taken care of me came back to hand me my keys. Everything looked in order, and they had been able to simply remove much of that plastic protector that had run the entire length of the car like a ribcage to protect the organs of Red Snapper.

“You’ll want to get that replaced as soon as you get home,” he cautioned. “And don’t drive too crazy on the way.” As I handed him my credit card, he waved my hand away.

There was a time I used to appreciate when a man would be so deferential to a young lady, making sure I was well taken care of in a situation like this. I realized now, I appreciated a young man being deferential to an older woman in that same way.

I drove myself home, a little slower than usual and with the music not quite as loud so that I could hear the subtle complaints of my car. Being restrained a bit reminded me by contrast of how much I enjoy the relative freedom of the open road, a sunny day, a scenic route, loud music, open sunroof, and a fast car. For all of his sacrifices for us, I know now that my dad had this same enjoyment; that’s why he drove as he did, and as much as he did. That’s where I get it from, I guess. I feel so close to him on those drives, finding myself grinning or becoming aware of a tear in my eye, depending on the song on the radio and the current view.

Toby Keith and Chris LeDoux sang, “Now our windshield’s a painting that hangs in our room…it changes with each mile like the radio tune…”

A careful 9 or so hours later, I was home safe and sound and cutting into a rotisserie chicken with my hubby. (Unrelated, Jeff has told me that if someday I don’t make it back home to him, he will probably eat rotisserie chicken about three nights a week.)

And just this morning, one of my sisters told me that back when we were kids, riding in a yellow Suburban we had nicknamed “the Looney Bin,” she had asked Hap about the thick black curls of rubber on the freeway as we headed to a beach vacation. Heck, we may have even been heading to the Carolinas! She said that he explained to her how perilous they could be when they flew off of the 18-wheelers into traffic. Something he was worried about on those trips, maybe.

I don’t pretend my dad has special powers up there, now.

But “Our Father” does.

Ain’t nothing to worry about, really.

Ain’t nothing to worry about, really.

I’ve been known to name self-pity as my number one pet peeve. I can feel empathy for anger, grief, even forgive lies and betrayal, but I cannot tolerate self-pity. Nothing lights my fuse faster.

At the same time, I’m a person who is undeniably prone to melancholy when the season changes, when cold and darkness encroach. Much of the year I’m flitting around, every bit as annoying as a fly at a picnic, spreading a ridiculous positive attitude or at least some humor, even if it’s caustic.

So when the heavy, dark, and sad turns inward on me, my pity parties happen alone or with just my husband as witness. They don’t involve many words or even complaints. They involve longer baths, more comfort foods, even later sleep-ins (I’m not a morning person. Nor a night-owl. I’m best from 10 to 2.) and a few tears…lots of cups of hot tea and guilty-pleasure television, curled up quiet with a blanket. Missing my cat.

I know that I have an easy life. Sometimes, the ease and joy give me guilt…because, why just enjoy the good stuff when you can muddy it up with a useless emotion like guilt? I do try to share with others my joy, as well as tears, to verbally tickle and warmly support, to send texts or cards or mac and cheese as a way of assuaging that guilt, as a way of trying desperately and unsuccessfully to deserve or earn my relatively healthy, happy daily life. Cognitively, I know that’s not how it works. But I am profoundly grateful, profoundly fearful of the other shoe to drop, and profoundly compassionate by nature.

I guess I feel that if I so abhor self-pity in others, then I certainly don’t have a place for it in my own head since I’ve already decided I’ve got an easier life than “they” do. Almost across the board, I do feel like that’s true. So I have to keep the sadness at bay, the dark and heavy that descends on all of us at some point, and not always necessarily when things are going wrong.

The tiniest little things, the most off-hand sentence thrown about, can help me with this. And that’s just what happened last week. No fanfare or explanation needed, just right to the heart of the matter.

Without specifically naming the concerns of that day, because we all take turns having the same ones in general (a dying relative, a global pandemic, a friend with a terminal diagnosis, unnamed anxiety about the future, a family member losing a job, and all on the same day…) I will simply say that one day last week, I woke up in the morning as I always do, next to my husband. Feeling my feelings, I curled towards him as I hugged my pillow, and said something like,

“I just wake up so afraid of everything.”

And with no probing question, no eyeroll, no valiant attempt to change my mind, he simply responded,

“I know, but I’m here with you.”

If you know my husband, you probably think of him as loud. Maybe funny comes to mind. Or if he has insulted or criticized you, which is probable, maybe a more colorful adjective. He is too full of confidence and candor. He tends to be a cynic. His positive qualities are innumerate, but I won’t list them because this is about how no matter what his snarkier characteristics are… there he was being Jesus. Being God.

“I know, but I’m here with you.”

Meanwhile, here’s me, the one praying daily for the Holy Spirit to “bless my words, guard my words, and inspire my words…” and it looks like that paraclete landed right on my husband instead, at least on that day.

Whatever is going to happen to me, to you, to any of us…

“I know, but I’m here with you.”



When a baby is born and you pass her around, you wonder what she is thinking as she lies in your arms. Living in another state from our grandchildren, we spent the newborn visits hogging the first baby, trying to absorb her and letting her absorb us…hearing our voices, feeling our sway, sensing our scents. On her tummy, and eventually on her back, once she was stronger, her dinosaur bones, I would slowly spell out the letters of her lengthy name with my index finger. “K…e…n…n…e…d…y…”and finish with a big tickle up the neck, “KENNEDY!”

I could soon enough see that she came to expect it from me. Which was, of course, the point.
Eventually the child could walk and talk…funny how that happens, and quickly…and her mama turned the spelling of her name into a rhyme, “K-e-n-n-e-d-y, that’s my name, I’m sweet as pie!”
And, as kids will do with every parent’s perfect plan, Kennedy twisted that rhyme into her own ridiculous singsong, apropos of nothing, “K-e-n-n-e-d-y, that’s my name, football pie!” Then the laughter, the glee.

I’m sure I did the same thing thirty years ago on the back of the baby girl who named me Mamie, albeit with a much shorter name, K-a-t-i-e. I have done it using the few letters in Noah. “Again, Mamie!” The unique arrangement of letters in Loftyn. I have barely begun to do it on the quickly broadening back of Jackson, whom we haven’t seen since late December, as he grows and forgets while we all quarantine in our respective states. I may have done it only once to the new Myles.

My calendar tells me it’s almost time for what would have been my monthly hair color appointment at my friend Mary’s salon, and I remember a wonderful woman who retired from there named Penny, whose gentle, capable hands at the shampoo bowl reminded clients of a loving grandmother. Penny always made sure there were no suds in your ears and that the water was never cold.

Beyond even that date will come Easter, when sometimes my sisters and I would crash our hard-boiled eggs into each other, “egg fight!” Someone wins, someone loses, but then everyone wins because two of us like yolks, while one of us likes only the whites. It is often a holiday that my brother-in-law has had to miss because of work, likewise his son, the chef, cooking for families who prefer a restaurant for their fancy ham, maybe pork belly and farm-to-table eggs.
My mind wanders to their other son, all six foot four of him…did he let me draw his name on his back for comfort as I “rode” the MRI machine with him as a toddler? He’s married now, and his wife gives the longest, most heartfelt hugs of anyone I have ever known.

Just outside both my back and front doors, birds are building nests. Spring is dawning, which would usually be yet another excuse for a pedicure with my mom. Last time we went together, before her winter vacation in Florida, the young women massaging our calves with lavender sugar scrub were discussing an Instagram post in which some unknown harlot tagged our girl’s boyfriend. Should she text him? Ask him to explain? Or become Nancy Drew first and confront him with evidence?

As the weather warms, I yearn to climb onto my stand-up paddleboard, hibernating in the basement, and to lunch with my friend afterwards. And to reach my fork to sample from her plate, or share some fries, maybe a sip of each other’s beer.

Zoom and Facetime prevent the grandkids from forgetting our faces, as does an old-fashioned letter written to help bridge the chasm. Distance isn’t the problem; my best friend and her husband drive across town to stand six feet from their grandsons. My sister does the same to see the babies she moved residences this past year just to be closer to. Her daughter had ice cream delivered. Proximity is not the problem.

Today, the sun shines and more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit are promised, so I will take my mom for a ride in the car since we’ve been shuttered at home together-ish. Side by side. Last week when we did the joyride, we stopped in the driveway of her best friend who came outside to chat from a distance, bundled in an over-sized Cleveland Indians jacket. The boys of summer, benched for now. If we do the same visit again this week, we may have to call that our Easter since it is a holiday usually shared with her family…our family.

Months ago, as regular flu season kicked up, I stopped ending my yoga classes by giving everyone a gentle neck massage. Some folks say that’s their favorite part of class. Others, like my friend Joolz, only tolerates it. She doesn’t want to reject my touch, but she is one who has trouble relaxing, finding peace at the end of practice. Which makes her appearance there even more valuable to me.

Mass on Sunday is on TV for now, and while I may have balked at the exchange of so many handshakes at St. Bridget’s and often surreptitiously squeezed sanitizer into my hand and my husband’s (or once, the open handbag of the woman in the pew in front of us!) I do miss the waves, winks, and thumbs-up of those friends, each of us easy to find in the same pew week after week. The big ones and the little ones. Some of us grabbing breakfast afterwards. I miss the Eucharist. It is called Communion.

My original yoga guru ends class by saying “unity in diversity; all are one.” I miss meeting her for coffee after class. I miss the group of faces I would see at noon on a Wednesday, and even more the several with whom I shared tiaras and mimosas one year ago today for a 50th birthday celebration. Thanks, Timehop.

Before this all happened, we had Thanksgiving and an 80th birthday party for our mom. We had a Christmas with the kids. Before this happened, we rang in the new year on a mountaintop from a hot tub while fireworks exploded in the valley below. Before this all happened, we made it to the in-laws in Florida for a golf visit. Before this happened, we had a weekend in Quebec with our friends. Before this happened, we celebrated our bestie Ken’s birthday.

Before this happened. And now this has happened. And everything from this point on will be “after.”

I just miss touch.


(Photo from Mother’s Day 2019)


Love Lifted Me


The weeks leading up to my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary in 1994 were tense.

After so many years of bowing to the desires and demands of his wife and three daughters…my dad had ceased shaving.

My tan, athletic little fireball dad who had gone salt & pepper before my birth in 1969, who by this anniversary was definitely heavy on the salt, had decided for the first time in his life he would let his facial hair grow.

To be fair, this was the closest thing to a mid-life crisis Hap ever had.  This and a very inexpensive, very yellow old Porsche convertible which would come a few years later. 

But Dolores, our mother, was NOT having it.


“Because you look like Kenny Rogers!” she’d say, with a grimace.

And while Kenny was a very nice looking man, that was not the look she wanted to see on the face of her husband. And she was not playin’…she was not pleased, she was not kind about it. She was punishing him in ways small and large, I’m sure. We were scared–if Hap didn’t shave, if the cold war continued, what would happen when they showed up to the fake event that would actually be their surprise anniversary party and were barely speaking?

Luckily, through whatever marital manipulations will remain unknown to we three sisters, as the date neared Boots somehow prevailed and Hap shaved. They showed up to the party and were greeted by the two grandchildren they had by that time, along with the best friends, coworkers, and extended family they had cultivated during that long marriage. They cried tears of joy, and as the saying goes, a great time was had by all.

They were treated to a slide show of memories, and part of the soundtrack to that slide show was “Through the Years” by Kenny Rogers. It was their song, their family song–not their song as a young dating couple, but their adult, grown-up life song:

“Through the years, through all the good and bad…I know how much we’ve had, I’ve always been so glad to be with you…through the years, I’ve never been afraid, I’ve loved the life we’ve made, and I”m so glad I stayed right here with you…through the years.”

It was just a song, but an emotional one. My dad was a huge fan of country music, the country music before it would have a surge in popularity with younger people after that time. Before artists from Kenny forward would sway it towards pop. His country music was Ronnie Milsap and Lynne Anderson. I remember watching the Barbara Mandrell show with him as a kid and arguing that I preferred her sister, Louise Mandrell. He shook his head, “no way.” He liked Barbara. He liked that she could play so many instruments, a petite scrappy blonde who took on that steel guitar like other women took on baking. As her own song says, Hap was “country when country wasn’t cool.” Oh, sorry, he listened to country when it wasn’t cool. He may have owned a plaid shirt and a straw cowboy hat to wear to a convention of other financial planners and insurance salesmen, but he was not “country” the way Mandrell meant it. Not in the real ways, but I’m fairly certain he lived vicariously through Little Joe Cartwright and the Big Valley Barkleys.

Back at the anniversary party in 1994, Kenny Rogers’ voice took us all on an emotional photographic journey of our longtime neighbors and friends “through the years,” which included a third generation of children playing in the same two backyards. And while no more Kenny Rogers songs were included in that day, as I awakened this day in 2020 to the news of Kenny’s death, my mind’s eye shows me quite a few other snapshots that Kenny Rogers’ songs frame:

A cassette tape of his greatest hits played over and over…and over…on a driving trip to Nashville, when my parents allowed me to bring my best friend and next-door neighbor Kristine. It is only as an adult that I realize they wanted me to bring her to keep me occupied so that I didn’t annoy all the joy out of the vacation for my older sisters. There were several of those trips, so I cannot recall if that was the same one that also included the family/neighbors on the other side, which would have included Sandy and Karen, my elders as well.

My days in Tennessee were eclipsed by thoughts of a boy named Mike who worked at the stables of Loretta Lynn’s Dude Ranch, who gave me a peacock feather. It was obvious he was in love with me. I was a pre-teen. I assume he was old enough to have a work permit.

I wrote a few postcards on that trip, one to yet another neighbor and friend, Lisa, to whom I had written something like “the trip is fun, MOST of the time,” which was a dig at Kristine getting on my nerves, and me on hers, and a lesson learned when my mother (who was about to mail said postcard) handed it back to me with a “shame on you, that’s unnecessary.”

I wasn’t yet at the age where I bought much music for myself. I had listened to (and ruined) many 45’s and albums of my sisters in the early 70’s, fought through a few of Hap’s 8-tracks, and then when cassettes came out, I just listened to whatever was in my parents car. So, some Kenny Rogers. I loved the song Ruben James, “you still walk the fertile fields of my mind…faded shirt, withered brow, calloused hands upon the plow…loved ya then, and I love you now, Ruben James.”

Over the years Kristine and I shared many choruses of “Coward of the County” and “The Gambler,” and I privately swooned over “She Believes in Me.”  “Lucille” took on a new shine when in my adulthood, my coworker/friend Maureen told me a story about an automotive breakdown using the lyrics, “ya picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel…”

But after childhood, I didn’t really follow Kenny Rogers, and his signature low growl in songs like “Lady” annoyed me. Years later I joined in the mocking when he had plastic surgery and those eyes were wound up a little too tightly. I never really sought his music again. I felt like he was making an aging attempt at being a sex-symbol.

But his song, my parents’ song, “Through the Years,” was the closest thing to an anthem our family had, and it was revisited on many anniversaries after that. My parents would go on to celebrate their 50th anniversary. By their 52nd, my dad was in a nursing home. By their 54th, he was gone. Sirius satellite radio continues to bring songs like that into my car, and when that happens I laugh, or cry, take a snap with my cell phone and text it to my sisters and my mom. Same thing happens with John Denver’s “Sunshine on my shoulders,” Sunshine being the name of our childhood dog. Thank God for music.

Now, it’s March 21, 2020. One of my sisters texted me this morning about Kenny Rogers’ death and how it made her cry, for all the reasons illustrated above. Kenny’s death might be getting more airplay today if we were not in the midst of a global pandemic of Covid-19, Corona virus. My husband keeps telling me to write about the worldwide crisis, to document the days we are all quarantined so we can read it and remember the details years from now. I haven’t done that yet, because what can I have to say about it–what we ate that day? What time we Face-timed the grandkids? Who of us still have jobs?

Instead, here’s my offering today. Kenny Rogers has died, and his music is part of the soundtrack of our lives. Hearing the clips of his songs again makes me smile. Nostalgia is strong, and I still know every word to those songs. Thank God for music, have I said that already? During this terrible health crisis when countless will be sick, many will be lost, and more will be devastated financially, I will go online and hopefully find one of those Kenny songs I sang after playing it over (and over, and over) on that trip to Tennessee, and I hope the sentiment rings true to us all:

“Love lifted me, love lifted me. When nothing else would do, you know love lifted me.”

Love Lifted Me


My wallpaper


Whatever you’re feeling angsty about, you have no right to. You don’t even have a real job! You don’t have children of your own to worry about. Is that why the unnatural attachment to pets and parents? How can you still be Catholic after…everything? And with a mouth like that. Wow, you’re a grandmother? I don’t check social media (eyeroll) but I did see your post about… Not to criticize, but. A boob job is not okay. I would never do Botox.  But coloring your gray hair is? Nail polish is allowed? You’re criticizing the Facetune app but you literally got a facelift. You don’t look like any yoga teacher I’ve ever seen. There’s water in the basement again. And another mouse. We will have to pay someone to take this house off of our hands someday. But you don’t even try. You could occasionally DO something instead of going out to play. You say Namaste but your disdain for the local weather girl is public. Holier than thou. I wish I had someone to pay my bills all the time. Maybe if you work at it your house will look better…your face will look better. Stop complaining. My pet peeve is self-pity. I hate winter I hate winter I hate winter I hate winter. I can’t stand the grey. I remember my dad saying he was starting to wish away five months of the year and now I’m doing the same, but when you age you don’t want to be wishing away that much time because you realize it’s not an unlimited supply. I hate the hourglass. Always have. I love being alone but I hate never being alone, never having privacy. I can laugh that I have the body (and the shoes!) of a drag queen but the nose of a toddler. So much guilt about things I’ve said or done in the past. I scratched Bryan in first grade and Russ in 9th grade and I haven’t been as reactively angry since. I don’t even have enough anger to punch someone, or a wall even. That’s weird, right? I cry when I’m mad. Right now I have two moods, gentle anger or melancholy. And all the self-talk to cheer. You are the baby. You are not the favorite! You are the favorite. I miss my friend. You used to be the favorite aunt. Just when they were little. You lost it along the way. He didn’t mean it that way. Your husband was so nice. I’ve never been a cat person. Now I’m lost to this cat. He didn’t mean it that way. He’d do anything for anyone. Show-off. That mouth. I should be writing. It is all written in my head, so much, years’ worth. Like laundry that’s clean and even folded but never gets put away. You’ll die without that laundry being put away and no one will know anything. But who would care anyway, enough to read it? Who would read it? YOU don’t even want to read it. And then you do and and WOW that’s really good! Wait, you think that’s good writing? Who dressed this weather girl, seriously. Idiot. Hot yoga is a gimmick? Self-pity is my number one pet peeve. I just want to drive by myself. I just want to have once looked the way I dreamed. It’s only because of someone else that I got a degree, or a certification, or a license. Where is the me? Gluttony is a sin. Food, and stuff. You have always been overweight, even at your skinniest. Strongest person I know. Strong. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I seriously cannot believe anyone smokes. Alcohol doesn’t like me anymore. My intentions are always good. Jewel, as a really young person, once said publicly that you can control your own thoughts and so now I do. Back when I was up all night listening to her howl. Be better. It’s not fair that not everyone gets to see what I see some days, the squirrels, the heron. Fall makes me so melancholy. I hate morning. I hate awakening. I hate winter. I used to wake up with the window open and feel the breeze, hear the birds, feel the weight of his purring body on mine and smile. Now without the purring I don’t even notice the breeze or the birds…yet. Why was I born in relative prosperity when someone is waking up on a dirt floor, cold? I didn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it! Why do you always land on your feet? It’s not fair. You don’t deserve it. One of us is going to get sick with cancer and have to care for the other. One of us is going to die. That used to feel so far away. I miss Hap. I want to achieve more but I don’t want to work harder. I should walk today, but I might sit here and watch Bravo. Fast on Mondays. No TV on Mondays. Games people play. Don’t be so hard on yourself, you don’t deserve it. One of these times the mammogram will come back bad. I don’t want to stop eating, God I love food. I want to be a vegetarian. I don’t want to be a vegetarian. I want my hair longer, one last time. I want my hair as short as a guy. Am I too old for that? Am I too young for that? Am I too ugly for that? Pretty is as pretty does. That’s what my mom always said. I can’t see my own eyebrows very well anymore to do them. Just because you go to church doesn’t make you a good person. Why do you people put your kids through this? I wish I would’ve had a flat belly just once, even if it was when I was young. Younger was uglier for me. We just have different values, that’s all, not saying whose are better. It’s like Jedd Clampett’s yard out there and I wish I cared more or wanted to do something about it. You always think you’re right. Eye roll. I’m super cool because I drive a stick shift but I’m tall and arthritic to sit so low in a car now. Seriously you’re not that old. I cannot believe you’re this old. When did it all get to be behind instead of in front of? We can suck it up, we can be the bigger person (people.) Let them do what they need to do. It’s okay. It makes me anxious when you act like an old person. Will I find you at the bottom of the stairs one day? Will it be fast or slow or dramatic? Can’t I just eat what I want and not gain weight. Does every menopausal woman cry once a day about absolutely nothing? What will I eat when I get home. What do YOU have to be depressed about? Must be nice to be you. What’s it like to be you? Fifty and to be honest I’ve never once for more than a day had a clean polished car or a clean polished house. I love the restful feeling of walking into the neat person’s house but I know they don’t often feel restful like me so how does this all work? Will I ever get it together? Obviously not and most of the time that’s okay. Laughter. Thank God for that, and now can some people not find that everything can be funny? Make me an instrument of your peace, send your Holy Spirit to bless my words, guard my words, inspire my words, actions, asana practice, and even my thoughts that they may glorify you God and best serve those you place in my path today according to your holy will for them. Help me to serve from humility and not ego and make me better. The other night I woke to the sound of a storm through the open windows, the kind of noise and breeze and bliss me and the Peeps would enjoy together, and as I lay there and cried I heard the big family of deer walking by under my window, just a different animal to keep me company. That friend that I love but is so bitter and negative and doesn’t know it. Its not THE BFF by the way. Wasn’t that a nice daily prayer tho, but the one that comes even more often is please don’t let me be such an asshole. Please make me less of an asshole. What’s my purpose here, anyway? Thanks for inventing ice cream, whoever you are. Suck it all up, buttercup. Everyone’s got stuff. All misunderstood.

Every day is Fathers Day…


Not long ago, I found a letter that my dad wrote to me in April, 1987. The reason for the letter was my high school senior retreat day at Padua High School. It was a beautiful surprise to see my dad’s handwriting again, all confident, cheerful and scrawly, and to “hear” his voice again in those words. When I saved this letter and put it away, I’m sure I never gave his words another thought. The thing is, though, I didn’t have to remember his words, because every single day, he told me the same things in his actions. It amazes me how much his own words mirror the words I used later in his eulogy to describe him and his life. This is vintage Hap, solid advice! And it reminds me that while we may think the most important thing we can say to someone while they’re here is “I love you,” the greater gift may be to say, “I know that you love me.” The letter is pictured here, but difficult to read, so I will transcribe his words: (spoiler alert!! He spills the “secret of life.”)

Mary Beth,

Time for our Father Daughter talk! (Equal billing)

Mary, the whole world is yours if you shut out the negatives. Don’t think the bad of anything. Enjoy your work–your school, now or ever. Please try & be happy with any situation you’re in. I know it sounds stupid but you can make or train yourself to accept & enjoy all challenges. It’s never too hot, too cold, too far, too anything. Don’t be afraid to reach out. I enjoy you & I love you & I want you to be a doer. Mary, honest, the secret of life is to love man and God, don’t dislike, nothing is worth the emotion of hate. I tease you about your loving me. I know you do. I get a lot of mileage out of teasing you about it. It’s really more important to me to know that I love you. You & your sisters have always thought of me & are nice to me, you all know I loved you. What I really want you to realize is how special Dolores Mae is. None of us can comprehend how much she loves. The nicest thing you can ever do for me is to treat mom as the special person she is. Then treat yourself as the special person you are. Reach out & enjoy. Please care enough about the people you know & live with to be a positive influence on their lives. I truly believe you are special. Take whatever school or job you may & love it & enjoy it until the next one. Try to enjoy everything & every one. I wish I had realized much earlier in life how special the gifts of God are. End of lecture. I love you. I will never not love you. -Hap


The Road Home


(written October, 2013)
In an educational exercise one October morning, I had been instructed to describe the day’s color. The word which immediately surfaced was lucid. That afternoon was no different: the individual leaves on the arms of autumn trees viewable in high-definition against the clearest blue sky, still dry air, and a sun nearly painful in its brightness, closer to white than yellow. With my mother in the passenger seat next to me, I turned left into the ten-car parking lot of the monument showroom. While our task of picking out the headstone for my recently-deceased father’s grave was…well, a grave one, our moods were as light as the Indian-summer day. I rolled my eyes sardonically, noting that instead of a concrete curb barrier at the head of each parking spot, there was a sample granite grave marker, complete with engraved names and dates. “That’s creepy. I feel like I’m parked on a body,” I said. She laughed good-naturedly: we had suffered enough, and our family was an irreverent lot, even in mourning. “Shall we take our coffee in with us, or leave it in the car?” She asked. We decided to carry our eco-friendly travel mugs inside; I had made it at home, strong and subtly hazel-nutty, and this chore could undoubtedly take a while.
We strolled casually towards the showroom door, taking in our surroundings: this would not be anywhere we’d visit often. Life-sized, bone-white statues of the Holy Family flanked the glass doors, while off to the left a grassy patch incongruously boasted a rough wagon, a slatted-wood cart on wheels, full of cascading flowers. The prairie meets Jerusalem meets the 21st century, where nearby a mega-watt digital sign runs a silent, solemn commercial of sober but satisfied faces. A highly-polished marker on the ground near the door revealed that the business was opened in 1969, the year I was born. The still-living founder’s face was etched onto the stone, and I imagined that this must be an eerie sight for his family. I reached for the heavy door and ushered my mother inside.
We stepped into a wind-chiming, welcoming store, devoid of any discernible scent, hushed but not cold in atmosphere. High-ceilings and full walls of windows made the space seem whitewashed on such a sunny day, almost cheerful. The first visible items were tchotchkes: “God Bless the USA” bumper stickers, Swarovski-crystal one-decade rosaries: “great for travel!” Pewter car-visor clips saying “Bless this trucker” or “Drive safely, someone loves you!” A bowling angel attached to a lapel pin came with a poem about getting closer to a 300 game. Further in, larger and heavier items began to appear: garden statues of St. Francis of Assisi, in his humble robe, gently regarding the birds and animals around him, and small fiberglass benches, designed to look like stone, just big enough for one seat and the diminutive angel perched on the armrest. Here, we were approached by a tall, handsome woman about my mother’s age with a gentle smile and a decidedly tentative “are you ready for any help?”
Since we were ready for help, having no idea how to begin the process of choosing our headstone, we introduced ourselves to Marie, who happened to be the wife of the founder. I decided against asking her if it was unsettling to see her husband’s face on what amounted to a grave-marker when she walked in to work each day. Marie led us with her outstretched arm across the store to an interior wall on which hung dozens of heavy granite rectangles, fully engraved with names, dates, etchings of photographic quality, hearts and flowers. The samples ranged from the size of a large book to the size of a small bed. Some had rough, geography-class-rock borders with quartz-like sparkles, while others were polished like a kitchen countertop with salt and pepper just beneath the glossy surface. Colors ranged from wet putty to the amber of rich Oktoberfest ale, to azure with milky, translucent chips, to the blackest black night, with or without the accompanying stars. Here, by some silent mutual agreement, we became solemn. Somewhere between the veteran’s insignias and the teenaged girl’s senior picture, scratched artfully into her eternal social-media profile picture, we adopted the hushed manner appropriate for those in the presence of the tenderest of souls: the too-soon departed. And isn’t anyone who is loved and missed taken away too soon?
Marie, in her conservatively leopard-printed cardigan and fashionable metallic flats (right up my mother’s alley!) expertly and quietly described our particular options: we couldn’t have a raised stone because my dad’s grave was in the first row near the road at the cemetery. That was fine with me – I had always associated raised headstones with horror movies and Halloween lawn decorations. I was in favor of a low-key, flush-to-the-grass marker. I made a joke about the word “flush,” because my dad’s gravesite happens to be near the restrooms at Holy Cross Cemetery. Marie threw her head back and laughed. We did, however, have size and color options. When my mom asked me for my opinion, I suggested that she choose what she thought Dad would like. Then, I remembered that this one four-inch thick slab of granite would mark the grave which eventually would hold both of my parents. “You’ll be under it too, one day, so pick whatever you think is pretty,” I said. My mom chuckled in acknowledgment as she sipped her coffee, surveying the sample wall, and she and Marie, being contemporaries, opined conspiratorially about stone colors, fonts, and graphics. I deliberately retreated, catching only fragments: Marie, her polished, square fingertips grazing my mom’s elbow and her nose wrinkled, “I hope you don’t like the gold lettering on the Norwegian blue, it just doesn’t look as nice,” and my mom graciously acknowledging that “you sure get lots of ideas by looking at these!”
Half an hour later, in an office with a sage-hued desktop constructed of the same highly-polished granite as the gravestones, we faced Marie as she stood over the left shoulder of a lanky young man in Ray-Ban glasses whose thin fingers raced across the computer keyboard, projecting a mock-up of our headstone onto the wall behind them. After we nodded and murmured our assent, Zack plinked the print button like an ebony piano key and left the room wordlessly. My mom had chosen all the specifics: color, font, a wedding ring with the date of their marriage to be etched in between the names Hap and Dolores, the sentiment “Together Forever with God” at the foot. After signing approval on the invoice, we spent at least twenty minutes chatting further with Marie as if we were long-time family friends.
We all agreed that we enjoyed drip coffee from the pot better than the now-popular K-cups. She and my mom showed each other photos of their grandchildren, a new generation of grandmothers pulling out their iPhones instead of school-photographs. Marie was elated to learn a Nordstrom Rack store had just opened nearby. We could have chatted for hours; we had fun. As she walked us out, back through the store which somehow struck the perfect balance between dignified and cheerful, we agreed to come back soon and shop for less weighty items. There were ornaments and freshly cut flowers for sale, memorial cards for pets and decorative blankets to be tossed casually over the back of a sofa. Racks of cards, religious and secular, stood sentry near seasonally scented candles in pumpkin-shaped glass jars. As we climbed back into my SUV, our empty coffee cups standing upright in my ample handbag, my mom thanked me, remarking in an echo to my own thoughts about what a positive experience it had been. “We’re doing really well,” I thought to myself.
Hours later, driving home alone from a group tennis lesson which had produced equal parts sweat and laughter, an inexplicable and immediate grief welled up inside me and burst forth into the approaching dusk as I sobbed, suddenly and wetly, at sixty-five miles an hour. I still felt that the day, the task completed with my mom, had been fun. But a practical voice in my brain reminded me that I had just picked out my parents’ headstone, and what an obscene chore that was. I missed my dad viscerally; more than that, I realized that at some point in my future, I would walk back inside that showroom’s heavy glass doors, alone or maybe with one of my sisters, to inform them that the final year of the second-deceased could now be engraved onto the Norwegian blue granite she had chosen herself on a lovely October day. I wondered if Marie would still be there, and I thought of good, strong coffee and my mom’s smile, and as I gripped the steering wheel, my knuckles white at ten and two, I wept in fat tears and keening sounds like a child; a child who has lost her parents somewhere.

Beam Me Up

Beam Me Up

“Beam me up…

Gimme a minute

I don’t know what I’d say in it…

I’d probably just stare, happy just to be there

Holding your face.

Beam me up…

Let me be lighter, I’m tired of being a fighter

I think…

A minute’s enough


Just beam me up.”

She fell in love with the song from Pink’s “The Truth About Love” album as soon as she heard it. The dramatic instrumentation, the tender, heartfelt vocal, the melody soft but strong with those minor keys of angst, building the feeling. She shared Pink’s song and the lyrics with plenty of people, because the song reminded her of profound losses: her sister’s baby, eventually her own father (…in my head I see your baby blues.)

The only detail that didn’t sit well in a song so perfect it always drew a tear and required a replay was the part about a minute being enough. What is that about? How could a minute be enough when you long for and miss someone so desperately, and then you get to be “beamed up” to see them again? A minute could never be enough.

Her dad is in her dreams, sometimes. Fairly regularly, in fact, but never the focus. His presence there is purely incidental: it is a holiday at home, so of course he is in the family room in his chair, or outside with the grandkids. She hears his voice in reply to someone’s question, catches a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye smoothing back his shock of white hair the way he always did. He’s there, as he should be, but in the dreams she is always conscious of the looming dementia. In the dramatic irony of a dream, she knows about the dementia because it has come and gone. She knows everything about it, about what’s coming, but he does not. She awakens troubled and anxious, vestiges of her sleep-self worrying that he is still driving but losing his sense of direction, still talking but sometimes seeing things. She’s afraid he will mention a puppy under the table or a bug skittering in the corner. In the dreams, she’s stressed, holding it all together and not sure what to do. But some part of her consciousness always knows it is a dream, because she knows how all of this ends. She simply can’t stop it this time, any more than she could in real life. The dream isn’t about him, so it doesn’t matter. She’s just dreaming, and he is there. Just like the pets and the kids and the occasional former co-worker or high-school classmate. Like intricate puzzles put together with a few of the wrong pieces, forced in awkwardly, dreams are.

One September night, still warm enough to sleep with the bedroom window open for the sleek purring body of her black cat to somehow relax into the tracks of the frame, she understood what it meant to be beamed up.

She dreamed, and this time it was just her and her dad. There was no context, no preface. They stood outside in the darkness facing each other, as suddenly as if they had both been dropped there like a slide from an old projector. Outside of what or where, she didn’t know, couldn’t tell. A place, a building maybe? They were a mere few strides apart, facing each other in the almost-blackness. In a fraction of a second she understood that this dream was different: he had already died, and he knew it. The dementia had come and gone again, and he knew it. And he knew that she knew it all. Revelation was instantaneous. They rushed to approach each other with arms open, no time to waste. He wore a shirt she didn’t recognize, the only thing that wasn’t familiar to her. They hugged, and her dad was once again the right size; the right height, a bit shorter than his youngest daughter in adulthood (he had introduced her around the dementia ward as “the tall one”) so her face was over his shoulder at the crook of his neck, the right density. His back and shoulders were smooth and strong and bullish, the way their dad had always been. Robust, immovable in a hug. He smelled like dad, the cloud of soap and toothpaste and shaving cream that had always breezed behind him as he rushed down the stairs, the last one to shower in a houseful of females. Somehow she could even see his tan in the darkness, sense rather than see the glossy blue-against-white of his mischievous eyes. They hugged strongly—tightly, but not hard, he was so staunch and she gripped the muscles of his back for emphasis. She knew this would be brief, and she rushed her tearful, joyful words, “oh, we love you and miss you so much!” And because she had always joked with him, added, “we don’t want to, but we do!”

He chuckled, still in the hug, unable to see each other’s faces except in mind’s eye, and said, “I know.”

Then they pulled back, still linking forearms but facing each other in this unnamed night-place. His smile was perfect, lighting up his face in its familiar jocularity, and he said to her, with just a trace of disbelief and humility, “I really love it here.”

Her heart spilled over to hear those words. She had already believed he was in a better place, THE better place, and it was what he had believed too. But to see him, feel him, smell him, and recognize the same wonder in his voice that she had heard him use in the past to describe a mountain, or a golf shot, or a talented child, or a great meal, convinced her down to her soul. She grabbed him again, sliding her arms around his shoulders and squeezing his meaty clavicles with her fingertips.

“I’m so glad,” she choked out near his ear. And she meant it. And she wanted him to know that she meant it. She was so happy for him, and she was desperate to impart the whole remaining family’s love and joy to him in what she inherently knew was a very brief opportunity. She squeezed him tighter, burying her face in him. He squeezed too.

She woke up.

Just like that, she was back in her bed at around three in the morning, her husband asleep next to her, her cat curled up and humming, the sounds of the night falling softly through the screen. The whole thing had taken no time at all. A hug, a few words. But now she could feel her dad in her arms. His voice and scent and warm, living skin lingered. She hadn’t hugged her dad that often when he was alive; she would be more inclined to chuck him on the shoulder, while he would have yanked a piece of her long hair from behind and then dodged her retaliation. She felt, for a moment, what she supposed could be called bliss.

The vestigial flavor of that dream lingers, and she deliberately goes inside her thoughts to enjoy it from time to time. She had her dad back, her real dad, tangible in her arms. And then one day, a couple of weeks later, her earbuds delivered that beloved Pink song while she was walking to one of her sister’s houses, to collect the mail or let out the dog, on a sunny, end-of-summer day. Now, it all made sense, and the lyrics didn’t leave her frustrated any more. A minute was all it took.

A minute was enough.

*Coming back to an oldie from 2016. Many yoga mats later…and having inherited my beloved late yoga teacher’s shared mats… What is Your Yoga Mat Made Of?


Nov 7, 2016 

What Is Your Yoga Mat Made Of?  

When I first started taking yoga, I borrowed a mat from the studio. Why invest in a mat if I wasn’t sure I was going to stick with it? It was one of those extra thick, Pilates-style mats which I now know made the balancing postures even more difficult than the thinner sticky mats. That Christmas, my husband bought me a yoga mat – basic industrial blue, the last one I would have ever chosen. But on that ugly mat, I began to fall in love with practicing yoga. Eventually, I bought my own mat, chosen solely for color and a cool hippie design stenciled on it. It was a dark beautiful eggplant color. As it wore with use, I kept it rolled in my car “just in case” I’d need it after I bought my new, lighter, spongy lavender mat. Then I began to see physical results from my months of regular yoga, and I realized it might be time to spend a little more money and buy a more serious mat that wouldn’t show wear and tear, wouldn’t send little foam flecks like sparks from under my toes when I rolled over them between urdhva mukha and adho mukha. About a hundred bucks later, I had my current salmon-colored mat with a microfiber mat-sized towel for those hot, sweaty practices. I keep my “newer old” lavender mat rolled up in the trunk, too! And now, I even have a super thin travel weight yoga mat to whip out at any hotel, beach, or home visit.  

But none of this is what I mean. Yoga can be done with or without a mat, on almost any surface. But many of us hold onto our yoga mats like a lifeline. Why? Because of what our yoga mats are really made of.  

My yoga mat is made of the tentative trepidation with which I first stepped onto it that day when the only other two ladies in class were tan, taut, and physically perfect. It holds the quivers of my first weak chaturangas and the hot breath of what I didn’t even know yet was ujjayi pranayama. It held me up when child’s pose brought me to tears, buckling under the weight of my dad’s dementia. It bears the crescent grips of my fingernails as I fought to raise myself up into wheel and free myself from the heavy anxiety of knowing the cell phone in my car might be buzzing with bad news again. It has silently observed the friends I have made simply by their silent nearness in practice. It has absorbed every single intention I have offered up during a practice, which means it has been a silent witness to my first yoga teacher’s dying Greyhound, another teacher’s emotional abuse by business associates, another’s grad student angst, another’s lost dog the week before her wedding. My mat has been under my arm and under my feet when my mind was full of my sisters sending their children to college, my neighbor’s entire family being stricken with cancer, the lump I felt on my rib.  

My yoga mat has soaked up the gratitude I have poured out in my yoga practice, for a life so abundantly blessed. For a husband who works so hard so that I can play this instrument called yoga, among other things. For the continued endurance of the sick twins of one of my yoga-mates, and the Rottweiller at our practice who will only move in for a hug after she hears the word “Namaste.” For the teacher who reminded me that we are all just beginners. It has stayed rolled in its bag but was still present when three of us decided to share a cup of tea and tears instead of Asanas one day. It is the vessel which contains so many of my prayers, my hopes, my goals, my pain. I have relaxed in bliss on my yoga mat. I have banged my head in frustration on it – wiped my brow, fallen on my knees. Curled into a fetal ball on it, as we all do sometimes whether by design or out of necessity. It pushes me; I push back. My sweat, spit, pulled hair and chipped nail polish are all part of my yoga mat.    

Sure, I can wash it…and I do, from time to time. But thankfully, my yoga mat will always be made of the fabric that it helps create: the drinking in, the letting go, the reaching out and holding on. It feels my weight, heavy some days, light as air others, steady at times, slippery and shaky. I have made a fool of it, and I have glorified it. It is my magic carpet and my oxygen tank, my magic mirror and my security blanket. It’s like those old Levi’s…the more I beat up on it, the better we work together. All of me, poured out and broken, rolled up and carried away: that’s what my yoga mat is made of.  



Twenty years married,

We are

Dreaming new dreams at midnight

Suspended over the valley

Under constellations

And stardust like freckles

In the moon-face

Of the Carolina night sky.

And in the morning,

We are

Tall, white weeds

In a garden of humble, cheerful dahlias

As we kneel on the cold, unyielding floor

No padded kneeler or gilded anything,

Just unselfconscious voices in hymns we know.

On the same day

When an inescapable hurricane rages

And willing soldiers have been slaughtered,

We are somehow given everything:

Awash in friendship, new and old

Bound to our families, here

Or gone ahead, waiting and winking.



Just found this in an old file of my own. A school assignment, maybe a prose poem. Wow. Takes me back.

Mary Beth Tweardy

February 21, 2013

Lewy Bodies

He sure does like his coffee, the blacker the better.  A fresh pot in the afternoons at his office, adding more dark grounds to the damp mound in the filter. There goes that bug, shirking behind the file cabinet. So many files. He knows that page is here, but not what folder it’s in. Paper cuts burn every time he washes his hands. He washes often because occasionally he can see a tiny mouse skittering away when he snaps the light-switch in the morning. Lunch is always out: Alfonso’s, where the waitress knows his favorites. Lately, the pasta is sticky.  He never preferred thinner noodles and this is why. The ends become gummy, clumps of sauce and cheese but who can tell what he’s eating anymore or what file it is in. He can’t wash his hands when it feels like his gloves are on, but at least he can shift the stick in the Subaru which sits, stalled. Since the pasta isn’t as good anymore, he eats cauliflower, the steamed head yielding to the fork’s tremors.  They pour a non-dairy creamer pod in his coffee, and he shoots it like Drambuie. Someone asks about pudding? Or marshmallows? So he gropes for a file – found it! “Pillow,” he answers. 



I’ve been urging, stalling, resolving, beating myself up for literally YEARS now about using this little blog. Just to get myself to write, no matter how insignificant. And on the rare occasion when I have myself in front of the keyboard with my iphone list of notes/reminders of what to write about…I remain uninspired.

But then I opened an email to a group of ladies at the gym to let them know about a couple of yoga events, and in “talking” to them, I ended up with a big fat email that they probably don’t have time to read…but also, “chatting” with them via email like that changed my mood and my day. The thought occurred to me that I could’ve written the same thing, organically, for this little blog and it would be the same–probably too long and without purpose, but so what? Read it or don’t, what do I care? I can still check off the “I wrote SOMETHING today” box. And now I will, just by copying and pasting that email. And in thinking of the things that email took my mind to…well, they made my day better.

Who cares if anyone gets anything from it? I DID! Duh. The elementary insights that come in my 50’s never cease to astound me.

Maybe by age 80 I will be like a functioning adult.


“Happy Monday. Happy MLK Jr. Day. Happy inauguration week. Happy second half of January. For a laugh, I looked up what “month” January is and the following things came up:

  • National Bath Safety Month
  • National Blood Donor Month
  • National Braille Literacy Month
  • National Hobby Month
  • Hot Tea Month
  • National Oatmeal Month
  • National Soup Month

Soooo, be careful in the tub–no hair dryers, ya hear? If you feel safe donating blood, give it a try. If you are ever interested in hearing about the process of donating platelets/plasma, let me know…a longer process, but so valuable for many people (cancer patients for example) and you get your own red blood cells back so it can be less taxing on your own energy. I don’t have much to share about Braille literacy, other than I remain truly amazed at what people can accomplish and “read” through their fingers. As for National Hobby month, do you have a good one? Let’s not call yoga one, since it’s just part of your lifestyle. I would call cooking one of mine, or writing. Hot tea month? PREACH! All winter, I’m drinking hot tea. My go-to is Earl Grey with a bit of honey and a splash of milk in a favorite mug. Thich Nhat Hanh says of tea:

“You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.
Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.
Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.
If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the
future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of
You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.
Life is like that.
If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone.
You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life.
It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished.
Learn from it and let it go.
The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.
Worrying is worthless.
When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when
you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the
present moment.
Then you will begin to experience joy in life”

National Oatmeal month? I can report that Panera has a delicious steel-cut oatmeal on the menu, even for call ahead/takeout if it is morning, with pecans and berries. Delicious! Remember you can make a batch of oatmeal in the crock pot and reheat it with more milk or whatever days later. That way you don’t have to stand over it cooking. Because that slow cook oatmeal is so much yummier than the instant, really….and that way you control what goes in. I like raisins, cinnamon, a little honey. And as for National Soup month, that’s every month for me because my sister who lives almost across the street LOVES soup, and with her kids now grown and gone, she shares some at least every week!! Best part is, she usually just makes them up as she goes along. I find that some of my friends who don’t consider themselves good cooks are intimidated by soups. If that’s you, just dive in and try! You can roast any vegetables in the oven or steam them or sautee’ them or boil them (tomatoes…. or butternut squash…leeks…broccoli….sweet potatoes…ANYTHING) and then add veggie, chicken, or beef broth…or canned tomatoes…or leftover V-8….use the blender or potato masher or immersion blender… add leftover rice from last night’s dinner! Or a can of black beans. Frozen peas. Fresh garlic. See where I’m going with this? Just make it up. If you’re not an expert on spices, look at some recipes just for inspiration. Tomatoes like garlic and basil. Pork likes sage or thyme. Cauliflower likes a little milk, cheese, and caraway seeds…. 
Okay, well didn’t THIS turn into a giant long email! It changed my day, because I woke up cranky and blue and just hopped on to send you all the free yoga link– so thanks for being here and helping my day take a turn!!
Peace, love, and namaste….MB

Roots and wings


I schlep myself to the bathroom this morning and open the window to this beautiful sky and this promising day…and from this old house squatting over this neglected yard, I see the cheerful stoic sun hovering over that tiny structure…the one a little toddler @stevenkrivos used to call “DA barn.” And I think of two gentle men whose hands put that little shed up, the elder one who kept it neatly stocked with the yard tools that a normal responsible homeowner uses not only for his own property but for the lackadaisical neighbors 😉, that man and his bowling/golf buddy, my dad, up there in the sun and maybe giving me a wink, and too many of the next generation of the family up there with them. The little family next door moved down the road apiece now, just like my sisters…and now their kids and ours floating a bit further- #rootsandwings as my sister’s tat reminds us. This “compound” as Jeff jokingly called it nurtured three generations of us. I complain about this sagging property (the house and yard, not just my face and chest!) all the time but today, I just want to bear witness to the roots that allowed the wings. My mom next door, all my sissies not too far, their kids each just a little farther, and our dads and other sissies in the clouds. So thanks, little barn, for standing witness and not letting it all disappear. I SEE you, and I remember. Hap, George, Brian Krivos, Karen and Linda, we remember. Ellie and Dolores, we know you’re the real roots. And ALL of you grandkids, we know you’ve got the wings. Make sure your own kids have a chance at gnarly mighty old roots like these. And there you have it. This is what happens when I take a first-morning glance out a dirty screen at an old, wintered scene as spring promises to come home to the compound.