Reach, Pull, Breathe

I swam a mile on Sunday.

Reach, pull, reach, pull, reach, pull, breathe.

There is a lovely rhythmic silence that joins me in the water. With each reach I pull in strength and calm and each breath carries more worth than the one before.

My worth.

My value.

I felt very emotional upon leaving the gym last month after signing the membership papers and paying my first dues. I haven’t earned a regular paycheck in fifteen years and, unfortunately, the value I place upon myself is often wrapped up tightly in that fact.

So, when I walked into that gym for a casual tour, I had no intentions of signing up that very day. But I entered the lap pool area and I breathed in the faint smell of chlorine and I watched the woman in lane three reach and pull and breathe and I remembered that overtaking silence when water fills your ears and you are alone, truly, in your journey from end to end. with only your own strength propelling you through the water’s resistance.

It’s been a dozen years since I last belonged to a gym – back when I lived in another state, back when my abdomen swelled with my third child, back when I didn’t question my value quite so much because I carried it inside me and felt it kick, because they were always standing right in front of me reaching their arms up and asking for juice.

They’ve been getting their own juice for a while now.

My husband joined a gym the very month we moved to Illinois.
But he earns his keep.
My teenagers got memberships for Christmas.
But they get the student rate.
My twelve year old joined the club swim team this year.
But maybe this is her sport.

I am not an impulsive person. If you saw the effort and detail I put into planning our family vacations, you would cry a little.

But I did this impulsive thing. I signed the membership papers. I paid the dues. And I cried a little on the drive home.

I swam a mile on Sunday.

Reach, pull, reach, pull, reach, pull, breathe.

Lessons from Winter Break

This post was supposed to be published on Monday morning but my blog was broken, probably from  lack of attention.
Anyway, do me a favor, whatever day it is when you read this, pretend it is Monday morning. Thanks.

I sit here in my quiet house and do not miss the noise, not yet, at least. The mess remains and builds as messes tend to do, but the children are finally back in school after the longest winter break in the history of all mankind. It was extra long to begin with, then Polar Vortex: 2015 Edition arrived and added to it’s length.

After over three weeks, they begin their second semester, my daughter’s very last semester of high school. She is already celebrating the fact that she is a second semester senior. Let the slide begin.

I’ve learned some things over this long winter’s break.

Lesson #1

My capability to live sanely without some sort of routine expires after two weeks, especially when the thermometer reading contains a negative sign.  I am not a creature of habit. I am actually quite horrible at voluntarily establishing new habits, something I hope to work on in 2015. But silence, order and routine are good friends of mine and I begin to miss them when they are absent. I will be ready to break from routine when summer arrives, but, for now, I welcome its return.

Lesson #2

Never stand too close to a wall or door when sneezing.
Let’s just say that my forehead hurt for a few days and leave it at that.

Lesson #3

I’m pretty sure the spirit animal of Hannibal Lecter wants to kill me.


That squirrel sat atop my garage all morning long.  I stood at my kitchen window and it stared at me. I walked outside to put the trash in the dumpster and its little beady eyes followed my every step. I think it may have licked its chops and I’m pretty sure I heard it say Clarice. Getting groceries had to wait for another day as my path to the car would have taken me right under its perch and I didn’t want to die that way. I haven’t seen Hannibal since that day. I suppose Polar Vortex: 2015 Edition was good for something.

Lesson #4

I want to live in Stars Hollow.
Cheerio and I began watching Gilmore Girls together a few months ago, but ramped up our binge watching significantly over winter break. We still have to finish the last season so NO SPOILERS.
Stars Hollow is a magical place where the snow is always clean and fluffy, yet it’s never quite cold enough for Loralei to button her jacket. It’s a place where the vegetables are always perfect and fresh and the coffee is always hot, as is the person who pours it. Luke Danes is currently challenging Charles Ingalls in his role as my pretend boyfriend.

Lesson #5

Being a reader makes me feel better about myself.
I go through reading/non-reading phases. There are months during which I don’t finish a single book and there are months when I devour half a dozen (Books, that is. Not doughnuts. Though there are those months, too. Why is it that the word “dozen” automatically elicits visions of doughnuts in my head?) I love to read (and I love doughnuts), so much sometimes that a book consumes me and I find it difficult to do anything else. But I prefer this to not reading any books at all.

Here are the books I finished over Winter Break:

  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – This book didn’t grab me right away, but I am very glad that I stuck with it. I came to love the characters and the perspectives that they offered.
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – I liked the idea of this book. I love the setting of a small bookshop on an island. But I never really felt like I got to know the characters, and for me, how much I love a book almost always comes down to character development. I enjoyed reading it enough, but it will not go on my favorites list.
  • Out of the Easy by Ruth Sepetys – This is probably my favorite of the books I read over break. A coming of age story found in the Young Adult section, this book made me know and love the characters and the setting (1950s New Orleans).
  • The Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh – My mother gave me this short book to read. It is more of a long essay, written in the fifties, about being a mother, a writer, and a woman. This book was written at the time that my grandmothers would have been my age. I found it both comforting and a little disconcerting to look at it from their perspectives and to realize that the women of today and the things we feel, the thoughts we think,  are not all that different from those of our grandmothers and our mothers.

    “…I want first of all – in fact, as an end to these other desires – to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well that I can.”

    Sound familiar? Apparently, our grandmothers were right there trying to map their courses in the same way we are now trying to map our own. I like to think that my grandmothers are still along for the ride, pointing me, ever so lightly, in the right direction.

See? I didn’t just sit on the couch binge watching Netflix for the whole Winter Break. I also sat on the couch reading books.

Christmas Past, Christmas Present, Christmas Future

Christmas Past

This is my favorite Santa picture of my children, circa 2003.


We have one who is losing it, one who is trying to hold it all together, and one who looks like he just farted.

It’s a classic, really.

If we are going to discuss Christmas Past, let’s dial it way back, shall we?


Again, with the farting,

My small Ohio hometown used to print children’s letters to Santa in the local newspaper.  If I were going to write one today, it would include an alarm that sounded every time a piece of laundry hit the floor, but one of those high pitched alarms that only teenagers can hear. And world peace.

Christmas Present

The decorating and shopping are finished  As family tradition holds, we have baked cookies, delivered some to neighbors, and displayed a complete lack of self control in eating the dozens that remained.

The season has included two trips (for me) to Downtown Chicago – one with my Mom,


one with Cheerio and friends,




both with pizza and doughnuts.  In case you are wondering, the winning combination thus far is Pizano’s (pizza) and Glazed and Infused (doughnuts). More research is required.

Christmas Future

This time next year, Cheerio will be a teenager, the boy will be a fully licensed driver, and I will be anxiously awaiting the return of the oldest to the nest.

Never mind the future. Let’s just focus on the present.

Hoping this holiday finds you well fed and well loved and filled to the brim with whatever you wish.



This Is Adolescence – Seventeen

As I write this, I am visiting a tree farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There is an old farmhouse, a gazebo, a barn, and a pond. No internet. No TV. There is my family – husband, children, my parents and our dog.
We are here because it was her wish. She sits in the yellow lounge chair looking out over the pond with her tea and oatmeal resting on a tray atop her lap. She will turn eighteen soon and asked to mark these last moments of her childhood with a quiet weekend away with her family.

This is Seventeen.

This is Seventeen

Seventeen is ACTs and college visits. It’s football games and dances and “Can I take the car?” Her calendar is full and her to-do list teems with appointments and work and assignments and application deadlines. Seventeen is forging a path toward her future.

Seventeen throws the frisbee in the street with her younger brother, knowing that the time to do so is limited and fleeting. She sits behind her little sister on her bed twisting her straight wet hair into braids so that she can have curls in the morning. Seventeen whispers to me later, “She will turn thirteen without me here.” She is mourning the path already traveled and the moments that she will miss while she is out forming moments and memories that are hers alone.

Seventeen drives to Chipotle to eat dinner with friends. She makes the very best omelet you have ever tasted and bakes brownies at ten o’clock at night for a meeting she’s running after school the next day. She grows more capable of sustaining herself everyday, but still wears that comforted look when a mom-made grilled cheese sandwich is placed before her, sliced into two triangles with white cheese oozing from the middle. I watch that contented smile stretch across her face as she takes her first bite and I think, I will make her a grilled cheese sandwich whenever she asks, even when she is forty, just to see that smile.

This is Seventeen too

Seventeen goes to work hostessing at a local restaurant and earns a paycheck that she deposits in her newly opened checking account. She swipes her debit card to pay for her after work snack and stops by the grocery store to pick up supplies for a party at school. But her Dad makes sure her tank is full and her mom visits Target to buy her the shampoo she likes. Responsibilities are shifting from our shoulders to hers, not all of a sudden though, but ounce by ounce so that she can get used to the weight and we can get used to its absence.

Seventeen discusses social issues and history and religion and the happenings of the world from a place of knowledge and depth. Experience will add points and planes and fill out the edges, but her emotions and ideas are valid and of value. Seventeen year olds possess perspectives that are too easily dismissed as young and naive by those of us who passed seventeen long ago. I cringe when I hear myself do it, when I feel my face smirk in condescension. She has a lot to learn, but a lot to teach as well. Seventeen is capable of real connection, real contribution, real love. I should know. I was seventeen when I met her father.

She takes the train to the city to hang out with friends. She drives to Wisconsin to attend a graduation party. She takes a bus to an overnight college visit. I hold my breath while she is gone, trying to block the mental images of all that could go wrong. I grasp for the memories of myself at seventeen and the hunger I harbored for independence and freedom. I know the shifts and changes and defining experiences surging toward her as she straddles the line between child and adult. Now is the time to test the waters. Now is the time to venture further while still returning to the comfort and safety of home every night. I know these things to be true, but that doesn’t stop the worry. The worry is always there. I suppose it always will be.

Seventeen marks the end of something and the beginning of so much more. She looks ahead with eager excitement, then behind with nostalgic sadness. I do the same.

I wish for her, my Seventeen, all of the adventures that she seeks. The thoughts of her moving on, her exit from childhood, are omnipresent these days. A lump has permanently lodged itself in my throat; the sadness, undeniable. But this sadness is outweighed by my excitement for all that awaits her. It is outweighed by the gratitude I feel to know her and for the chance I have to watch her soar.

I look at her, my Seventeen, her feet tucked behind her on that yellow lounge chair, her black curls falling out of a messy ponytail, and I see a woman before me. She wears the same big smile she wore when she was a girl. The sound of her laugh fills the room, just as it did the first time we heard it. Her eyes light up when she is immersed in nature in the same way that they always have.

And my breath catches at the sight of her, in the same way that it always will.

Seventeen is an ending and a beginning. The next chapter is cued, the page nearly turned. I can’t wait to see what happens next.


This essay is part of the This Is Adolescence series. Since writing this my Seventeen has become an Eighteen. I look forward to reading all about 18 next week here. I also urge you to read beautifully written essays detailing 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have.

This is the Farm

This is the farmhouse where the record plays
And the grandparents, the dog, and the twelve year old stays.

Lundgren Tree Farm





This is the barn where the critters abound,
The teenagers bunk and the art hangs around.

Lungren Tree Farm - barn


This is the gazebo, the rowboat, the pond,
Yellow chairs sit waiting and the bridge leads beyond…







…into the woods where moss carpets the ground,
The pine smell hangs freely and absorbs every sound.




We stayed at the Lundgren Tree Farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (just over the Wisconsin border) for a long weekend in October. We traveled there at our nearly eighteen year old daughter’s request to unplug and unwind with family.


The farmhouse, built in the 1880’s, was bought in the 1960’s, along with the surrounding acreage, by a judge/artist who planted thousands of trees and renovated the barn to include an office, an artist studio, and two bedrooms. He left behind his artwork and vast record and book collection for his family and their guests to enjoy. The farm is rustic and rough around the edges and not for everyone (insert sounds of critters in the night here), but it was a perfect place for our family to reconnect with nature and each other while disconnecting from everything else.

There was a campfire,


many walks in the woods,


and time spent lounging and reading and playing games.




There may have been some time spent in a tree with an axe and war paint after hearing “wolves” at dusk. Don’t even ask.


I scoffed at my husband’s slack line purchase, but like the unicycle and giant bubble maker, we got our money’s worth out of it, and he wins the “I was right” crown once again.

Slack line

There were wild turkeys and deer, pileated woodpeckers and bald eagles. Of course, I only got a picture of a squirrel, so you’ll just have to take my word about the rest.


Meals were shared.
Adventures were had.
Time was spent well.


Life is good.


They came in droves, in capes, and in wizard hats. They carried wands and smiles and snacks to share. The pile of shoes by the door grew larger until it nearly filled our entire porch. I stopped counting pairs once the second layer started.

My husband and I took shifts answering the door and pointing teenagers in the direction of the basement. There were ones I knew well and ones I was meeting for the first time. They shook my hand in greeting before descending the stairs, each new person receiving the same raucous cheer. By the time the last arrived, the basement had become a convection oven, a wall of heat formed of teenage energy. But that didn’t stop them from clapping and greeting each new arrival, yelling her name, welcoming him, no matter who he was, into their magical night.

Do you know what it feels like to be received like that? To be welcomed as you are and embraced so fully and openly? I don’t know if I do, not anymore at least. Adults don’t greet each other that way. Adults have a lot to learn.

Many were here in lieu of the homecoming dance. Many arrived after leaving the dance early. In our community, Homecoming weekend is a time of celebration. There are football games and a pep rally and a community parade.


The weekend culminates, of course, with the Homecoming dance. A homecoming dance is not for everyone though. Some feel uncomfortable in the crowd. Some feel unwelcome. Many, my daughter included, have tried it before and know, by the time they are seniors, that it is simply not for them.

Knowing this, Rosebud planned an alternative where everyone who chose to would be welcomed and accepted. The party only began at our house before moving to an all night Harry Potter Laser Tag event (hence the capes, wands, and wizard hats). By 10:30, they had all cleared out and headed for the laser tag venue, but not before thanking us profusely for the many boxes of pizza and the use of our basement. Many of them even apologized for the noise level. Many grabbed cups and food boxes to throw in the garbage on their way out. I vacuumed the popcorn out of the carpet, preparing the basement for round two – my son and his friends spending the night after returning from the dance.

We hear all of the time about the hard part of raising teens. And yes, sometimes it is HARD. But I’m here to tell you that, if you can look past the eye rolls and hear beyond the audible sighs; if you can wade through the shoes at your door and the popcorn on the floor; there is something beyond. There are lessons offered that can only be learned from the young.

I don’t mean to paint a perfect picture. High School can be a brutal place. There are cliques and drugs and bullies. But, there are also some incredible young people there – people who work very hard to do well and choose well.

People who will welcome you into the room with laughter and cheers, no matter who you are.

I was lucky enough to be in the presence of some of those very people Homecoming weekend. For those of you who worry for the future in the hands of today’s youth; for those who lament the passing of the “good old days;” for those world-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket types, I have some people I would like you to meet.

My daughter returned home the next morning, the good energy of the previous night still radiating in her smile. She hugged us and thanked us for allowing her to have so many people over. My husband and I nodded and looked at each other as she headed off to bed. We both know what’s coming, the leaving that lies ahead. We grin at each other through cloudy eyes.

It was a very good weekend.


My Cheerio,

You had your first swim meet this weekend. Competing against swimmers who have been doing this for years, you stepped up to that platform and dove headfirst into the water.


I don’t know if I would have had the courage at your age to do that – not the diving in part, but the trying something new part. I watched you, your events marked on your arm with Sharpie, shuffling your feet as you waited your turn. That shuffle is your tell, a dead giveaway for nerves.

Nervous, scared, anxious, but taking the leap anyway. Never let anyone tell you that you are not brave.

You turned twelve on Tuesday. Twelve years ago we brought you home to our Kentucky country home and the days started whizzing by. Now, here we are, in our Chicago suburban home with a 5’4″ sixth grader. I’m not sure what happened in between to make you who you are, but I am grateful for every last second of it.

Welcome to Twelve, my love.