ebb & flow

Life can be a beast.

Sometimes it gets to you, it invades your thoughts, your heart.  You become angry, feel helpless.

But I also believe life is like waves in an ocean.  Everything ebbs and flows.  The tough times help us appreciate the good times.  The sadness helps us know the full extent of the happiness.

We flew home from Jamaica last Saturday.  It was a long day.  Snow and ice rain delayed flights … cancelled flights.  We spent far too much time in a dumpy airport bar with Pizza Hut  personal pies.  I felt as though I’d never felt so tired.  (Which is saying something, as I am intimately familiar with fatigue!).

But on either side of that misery was family, our home, goodness.  Home cooked meals and evenings of laughter.  Palm trees, blue ocean — soft blankets and drifts of white snow.

Snow has begun to fall again today.  The skies are gray.  I had to cancel my girls weekend because somewhere along the way, I got a head cold that knocked me sideways.

But Christmas is around the corner.  Family and good food and snuggles.  Ebb, flow.

for our love and loyalty

I stood in a field on Saturday, in the pouring rain, on a much colder September 2nd than is usual, and it was bliss.

I own an absurd amount of clothing for weather — and if you know me at all, I’m not an outdoorsy type.

But I am the oldest daughter of a Penn State alum, an alum myself, the sister of an alum, the first child of a still married couple who met in State College in the early days of 1973.

I don’t know what life is without Penn State football.

Until about seven years ago, our seats were EFU, row 64, seats 25, 27, 29 and 31.  To be precise, when I was very little, it was just section EF, before they built out the suites and the upper deck of restrooms and concession stands.  As an awkward child I remember the questionable bathrooms at the top of the stadium, rickety and insecure.

I have grown up attending PSU games.  Tom Bill was a quarterback who played for the Pop Warner group (ahem, the Flemington Falcons) my brother and I belonged to in middle school (me, as a gangly adolescent with a triangle hair cut, braces and bright red and white wire-rimmed glasses).  In 1994 we watched the best offense I’ve ever seen on the field at Penn State, led by Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter.  I tell anyone foolish enough to listen about my deep and unwavering love for Kerry Collins, and the magic of Freddie Scott’s one-handed catch against Iowa.  I had student tickets in college for one season — long enough to know that Penn State for students is a completely different event than it had been for me my entire life.  I drove to Florida in a rented van with people I no longer have any contact with to watch the 2006 Orange Bowl go into triple overtime.  During the first game I took my husband to, we sat at night, in freezing and unrelenting rain, completely inappropriately dressed, until the bitter end.  Lou had raised me that way.

Seven years ago my dad decided to make moves.  He started counting his accumulated points with the Nittany Lion Club. He made a deal to buy my uncle’s tickets (so they were in his name).  And when our greatest PSU football tragedy occurred in 2011, we moved our seats down over forty rows and closer to mid-field. Lou Simone was not turning his back on his alma mater.  We did it over a few seasons, because of the rules of ticket ownership, and my dad determinedly made sure there were butts in our seats every game.  He got himself a reserved parking spot (something that came in mighty handily when I could barely walk in 2014).

My husband — not a PSU alum — has been indoctrinated.  My brother moved to Texas, only getting home for one game a season.  But not John and I.  We go as often as we can.  We stand in cold, in rain, in snow, in 30mph winds.

This season began with a rout of Akron, and spending the day with John’s fraternity brothers drinking beer (or wine for me!) as the parking lots emptied.  On Friday, after my brother’s arrival Thursday night, we will all head up again for PSU v. Pitt.  We have made the crazy decision to get the tailgate catered (pulled pork and chicken sides and macaroni and cheese … oh my!).  And no matter what happens, whether it rains, is cold, has gale force winds — we will all wear blue and white.  We will sing the Alma Mater.  I will cry (I always do).  And we will enjoy our 2017 family PSU game.

the first of december

I woke up this morning; the sky was a pale, rain-washed blue and the air crisp in the early morning ~ a welcome change from yesterday’s muggy warmth.  December had begun.

Fourteen years ago, my grandfather passed away on December 1st.  I’d only known one grandfather ~ my mother’s father ~ and I hadn’t known him very well.  Three thousand miles of vast blue ocean lay between where I was born and raised and where my mother’s family lived.  But I’d loved my grandfather.  With his thick, white hair and equally thick, cable-knit sweaters.  He wore slacks, and a collared shirt every day that i knew him.  He took long walks around the walls of Berwick-Upon-Tweed with a pair of heavy binoculars (the better for bird-watching) and he spent his afternoons in the sitting room on the second floor of their home.  Sometimes reading with the radio crackling in the background.  Sometimes watching sport on the TV.  I watched several summer Olympics in that room with my Grandfather.

He’d been sick for a long time prior to leaving us all.  But death still catches everyone off -guard and death is irreversible.  Nothing could bring him back once he’d gone — not for an apology, a last cup of tea or round of golf.  Not for a final conversation, his words carefully chosen and his Scottish lilt humming like a lullaby.

I loved my Grandfather.  I loved his thoughtfulness, his quiet consideration.  When David and I were little (David was named for him), he took us to the library in Berwick and we were allowed to check out a book each.  I remember several inconsequential things about that book — that it had a huge silver square in the front cover (probably a scan, or tracking device for the library); that its inner cover was orange and yellow and the pictures were big, and colorful, the words large black font along the top.  I believe it was about dinosaurs (Dave & I liked dinosaurs).  But what I remember most was Grandpa allowing us to climb into his big arm-chair onto his lap, and wrapping his arms around us, he read us those books.  He explained the things that confused us. He taught us.

My grandfather truly valued education.  I think – maybe – he thrived on it.  All his children are very intelligent and curious.  Some use this gift to continue learning, some use it to control other people.  I guess that’s how intelligence works.

One of my very last conversations with him happened when I was twenty-one years old, and I’d come to visit my English family during my semester studying in Rome.  We were in the sitting room, Grandpa in his arm-chair, me on the sofa.  We were having tea.  He asked me about my studies.  What I was learning about while in Rome.  What I liked, what i didn’t.  We talked about the art of taking notes during class.  It was the most adult conversation I ever had with him.  Maybe he saw my mother in my eyes — in my smile.  Maybe he heard her in my words.  I think my mother is the most like my Grandfather of all five of her siblings.  (Well, the grandfather I knew.  He was different when they were young — damaged by the war, angry at life perhaps, for its cruelty).

I know he loved me.  He loved me, and he loved my brother – even when he didn’t understand us.  He loved my mother and he loved my father.  He did the best he could by us – even though we were so far away, so foreign to him.

The morning he died, we’d taken family pictures in the living room before Dave & I headed back to school.  My Mama Bear wanted to send them to him, to he and my Granny, since Grandpa was so sick, and in hospital in Melrose (for some reason that name sticks with me).  Dave and I got in the car and had a painfully long ride back to Penn State.  My mother called me — twice.  Once, to find out where I was, the second time when I was unpacking in my room.  I don’t remember what she said.  It was calm at first.  Her voice was even.  But I remember crumbling, as though my legs suddenly gave out.  I lay in a ball on the floor of my room.  The carpet was hunter green.  I cried for a long time.

I ate Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner that night.  Watched an episode of “Band of Brothers” with my roommate.  I don’t think I will ever forget those details.  The feeling of the carpet, the smell as I gasped for breaths while sobbing.  The texture of the blankets on the couch while I lay, nearly comatose, staring and not seeing the TV.

I think of him often.  And I always think of him today.  I also think of him on May 17th — his birthday and the day I graduated from college (a fitting tribute to him, I think).  I graduated six months after he died, so it was a bittersweet day — May 17, 2003.  But I am eternally grateful for the gifts he gave me.  Grateful for the DNA I have from him, for my love of academia, the way my brain works.  I am grateful for the time I had with him, for the memories that I will try to never lose.



and then it was summer …

Things happen so quickly.

For months, we were all building up to our family visit, and then before you knew it, everyone was back home, having survived a whirlwind of intensity for several days, but now onto other things in life. My brother is at home, and his epic ‘Dazed & Confused’ party is today.  And then, before you know it, Jo will be flying back to France.  And Dave will be heading to South America to climb another mountain.

For John & I ~ we have dinner at our favorite restaurant for our anniversary (three years of wedded bliss!!! eight years since our first date!!!) and then a trip to Iceland to celebrate his 35th birthday.  Moving to yet another new office & then my work people coming over for food (the pressure!) and new restaurants opening.  Heading to Jackson Hole again (after four years! how has it been that long?!?) in September.  Football, holidays.

When we were little, time stretched lazily before us.  Summer days filled with buzzing bees, mud pies, exotic explorations into the depths of the neighborhood woods.  Bike rides and stick hockey.  Whole worlds could be formed and destroyed in the time between when you fled the house in the morning until you trekked home as the sun began to sink in the sky, hungry for dinner.  Imagination was king.  Inconsequential things were full of untold magic.

The weather this year has been strange. We went from 50 degree days of gray skies and rain to full-fledged summer in less than a week.  Today the high is 90, and we’ve already shut the windows and switched on the A/C.  This morning, as we sipped coffee and waited for Dora to arrive, we ruminated on the fact that come July, we will have lived in our own house for a full year.  And we’ve furnished and decorated it.  And paid the mortgage on time.  We are fully grown up.

Adulthood is odd.  It seems to be a constant exercise in filling time. Categorizing things in our worlds to create order and sense.  We all slog to work, and then flee home.  We cook dinners.  We have children.  We begin the process all over again.


I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

Not to be depressing, but what’s the point?  I mean, yes, I like my nice house and my slick car.  I like my husband’s Jeep and driving with the roof off.  I like ordering clothing online, and buying insane facial products. I like having sushi twice a week. I like all those things, so I work in order to have the money to pursue what I like.  But honestly, what’s the point?  Each person’s life is a grain of sand on a huge beach in relationship to time.  We are all scurrying here and there, learning languages and looking at art (well, sort of.  I mean, people don’t do that as much any more).  We’re suing people, and being audited.  We’re updating labor laws, and stream-lining tax processes.


Is it to give ourselves some sort of purpose? I mean, IS there a greater purpose? Is there a reason that a tiny blue planet, third from the sun of THIS solar system, is populated by bi-pedal creatures without body hair? What is the reasoning behind their existence/ their evolution?  What is the grand plan?  If – in the end – things mean nothing at all, then shouldn’t we all re-focus how we spend our 80 – 100 years breathing?

For me, I guess it all comes back to children.  I never had a strong desire to have children.  But now, John and I are in the minority of people our age without them.  Everyone says that having children is life’s greatest purpose.  But … seriously, why?

So they can grow up, and slog to work and flee home… cook dinners, do laundry.  Have more kids? Somehow, that just doesn’t fully make sense to me.  (I know I will be told it’s because I don’t have children, so I couldn’t understand.  Totally fair.  But I’m not going to pop out a child just to see if that somehow changes things for me).

Anyway.  I’ve found that the older I get, the faster time goes by.  Like how an hour-glass always looks like it’s speeding up as it nears the end of the sand.  Everything happens so fast.  Nothing lasts long enough.  Days slip by in a blink.  We all still feel like we’re seventeen.

But we’re not.


Last June, nearly my whole immediate family gathered in Belford Northumberland to remember my Granny, who had left us at the ripe old age of 93 the autumn before.  The American contingent of the family, and my youngest cousin (who had recently relocated to Japan) were unable to be there for her funeral, so we planned something different.

Cancer fucked it up.  Cancer seriously sucks.

So my brother, husband and I went over, and represented our little family.  And in the heady rush of being surrounded by a lot of people who look a lot like us, we all committed to seeing each other more often than every six or seven years.  Trips were planned and itinerary discussed.

But we are of a generation of big words and smaller follow through, so while the dream sounded amazing, it also sounded far away and slightly unlikely.  And then… all of a sudden … it wasn’t.  And on Wednesday night, my youngest cousin (who sometimes feels like what I would guess having a sister feels like) arrived in Philadelphia with her husband all the way from Tokyo.  And Thursday morning dawned and my brother and his French lady-love flew into Baltimore.  And today, as I sit on the local train all the way home to Thorndale, my aunt and cousin arrive from Scotland.  And for a few brief days, we will be a big family, all together, looking shockingly alike, from many different cultures.

I never knew that not all families are like our family.  The amount of emails bouncing from the U.K, Italy, Australia, the U.S. and very occasionally Japan would make your head spin.  But that’s what makes it sort of cool.  No matter how much distance exists, no matter how many wounds have been inflicted (mostly.  some are never forgotten as I am patently aware) ~ we are each other’s family.  And we not only love each other, but we like each other.  No matter how much time lapses between visits, and hairstyles change and people get married and divorced, it feels like no time has passed at all.

I feel overwhelmingly full of love right now.  And so happy to have my brother at home for a little, and my cousins here (for the first time ever!!) and my Mama to be surrounded by two of her sisters (the good ones, wink wink).  I cannot wait to get off the train, and spend days just being part of this big, breathing thing called family.


There are moments in life that take the breath right out of you.

You’d thought you had every side protected, every loose string accounted for — but that small sliver of weakness leaves you raw and exposed and it’s so sudden, and so unexpected, you spend a fair amount of time staring into space, uncomprehending.

Marriage isn’t easy.  I feel super blessed, because I married the right man and we are best friends — he’s my favorite person to be with, to laugh with, to hold hands.  But marriage isn’t just about two people who dig each other’s company. It’s so much more than that.  It’s every breath, it’s every challenge, it’s every triumph.  It’s every mountain, whether you want to climb it or not.  John and I have been together for over seven years (!!!) and we’ve faced poverty, multiple sclerosis, MEN type I, our parents health (which includes cancer on both sides), difficult family relations, a dog who is a vegetarian, frustrations at work, depression …. The list is not short.  We’ve also found solace in each other, in the quiet moments eating soup and watching mindless TV, in buying a house together, in traveling to new and exciting places, in brother-in-laws, in food and wine and football.  And I know that no matter what we come across on this road of life, we’ll get through it together.

Eight years ago, my grandmother died.  She ate steak and banana cream pie at the casino days before she passed away, so she went out on a good note — I hope.  I miss her every day — not in that aching, I-can’t-continue-to-live kind of way.  But in the I-wish-I-could-call-and-b.s.-on-the-phone kind of way.  She moved in with my family when I was five years old, and she made breakfast for my brother and I every morning before school, she was there when we came home, she chased us with a wooden spoon when we made her mad, but she also spoiled us rotten when she thought my parents weren’t looking.  She was stubborn as a mule, and very opinionated but she was every kind of fabulous.  I was her little girl, her only granddaughter.  She bought me so much clothing (in an attempt to ignite in me her love of fashion and jewelry and perfumes …. it didn’t totally work).  She tried to get me to collect porcelain dolls.  She fed our dogs potato chips.

She died and two months later, I met John.

I think she sent him to me.  I know, I know — it sounds naive and ridiculous.  But I think she knew I would need someone solid beside me for my life’s journey.  She probably knew things I didn’t know yet.  She probably knew the man I was with at her funeral wasn’t the right man for me.  She was right.

Sometimes life takes the breath right out of you.  And nothing seems familiar.  Or fair.  And in the end, I guess you just have to hold your precious people close to you and hope and pray for the best.  You have to believe you’ve made the right decisions.  And if I’ve only made one right decision in my life, it was choosing John.  And I will do anything and everything to protect that, to protect him and to protect us.  And I think that’s the best thing — maybe the only thing — I can really do.

my mother’s daughter


The older I get, the more I see my mother and my father in the things I do, the decisions I make, the way I smile.  Family is such a strange thing — these people who raise you, who influence every nuanced part of who you are without you even realizing it … Until time passes, and you catch your reflection in a mirror, out of the corner of your eye, and instead of seeing yourself, you see your mother.

My mother is incredible.  She is the most amazing human being I’ve ever had the privilege to know.  She is wise, and thoughtful and diplomatic.  She is beautiful and funny and creative and kind.  She is all the good that exists in the world.  I am a fraction of her (by default of DNA, really).  A shadow of who she is as a woman.  I am constantly impressed by her — in big ways, in small ways … really, in all ways.

I am inordinately proud to be her daughter.  Just to know her, to have been raised and influenced by her — I consider it the greatest gift I’ve ever received (followed closely by meeting my husband, who is also one of the world’s truly good people).

I don’t have the words, or the ability, to properly articulate how much I love my mother, my father, my ‘little’ brother, my aunt. I have been gifted with the most incredible family — people of impeccable character, integrity.  I don’t say it enough — don’t tell them often enough how much I love them, how endlessly grateful I am.  Life seems to get in the way — petty, insignificant things that shouldn’t but do consume the hours, the days.

I am so proud to be my mother’s daughter.  I think she is incomparable.  She is perfection.  And I love her more than any word, no matter how beautifully crafted, could ever explain.

the second

Today was rife with challenges, but setting all that aside (work politics will never not be work politics, no matter the industry, no matter the time) it wasn’t a terrible day.  I got home a little later than normal — possibly due to the steady rain – and the man and I set to packing more boxes.

It’s sort of crazy how packing tires you out.  I can feel the tension reaching a pitch perfect point in my shoulder blades, and it seems so odd that I feel it so acutely.  What is so stressful about putting things in boxes?

Today was a tough day.  Both personally and professionally.  Have you ever faced a decision, a situation, and you really don’t know what to do?  Not a moment when you know the ‘right’ thing and the ‘wrong’ thing and can’t decide — but a situation when you really have no idea how you want to handle it?

Yes.  I’m there.  And it’s excruciating.

So just for my own peace of mind — to be able to say something in my own defence even if I’m shouting into nothingness — I am not a bad person.  I have never been a bad person.  I may have made bad decisions, but inherently, I’m not a bad person.

However,  I can’t convince people who feel otherwise of my belief in who i am.  And honestly, the older I get, the less I care.  If you don’t like me, if you think terrible things about me, well, first – I’m not interested in having you in my life.  And second, I don’t care anymore if you’ve never really gotten to know me past your assumptions.

All that being said, it is different when it’s family.  And there’s the rub.

If I could continue to ignore the situation, I would.  But I’m getting on a plane in three weeks, and things will be addressed so I need to figure out how I want to handle it now — and just do it.  But there are SO many factors, so many sides, so many shades of each color ….  It’s driving me nuts.

Life.  She’s a real corker sometimes.

dear john

My head is so full of conflicting thoughts I don’t know where to start.

I guess I’ll start by saying — again, repeatedly, forever — I miss you.  Because I do.  I miss you to the very core of my being, and the feeling envelopes me, it hangs in the air of our home, it blankets us as we sleep.  The missing you, the emptiness, it never stops, it never ends.  It is real, and complete and unimpeachable.  It is life when you are not here.

I began today by making brownies.  I don’t know why.  I don’t need brownies. I wasn’t even really craving brownies.  I think I just wanted something to do that had nothing to do with work.  So now I have a pan of brownies, and they will either be completely here by the time you get home, or they will be completely gone. I cannot guarantee either outcome.  It depends how the next few days go.

Next up — this afternoon I head into the city for a tasting — it’s a crudo tasting (please don’t be jealous — and I say that so you are just a little bit, just a smidgen jealous, which eases the ache of your absence just a bit, for a moment).

Lucy has been a pro — I know she knows you aren’t here, and because of that, she’s so gentle with me (99% of the time — she really loves the snow!! — until it freezes in her feet) and at the same time, utterly forlorn.  Her eyes are filled with confusion mixed with sadness.  Where is daddy?  And ps.  She still doesn’t tolerate any version of anything related to LoTR.  Even when you aren’t home to completely capitulate to her big, brown eyes.

Right now, my obsessive checking of the weather tells me that Monday could be dicey.  I hope it is not — that’s just something I don’t want to deal with while you are away.  But if it is, I’ll do a short day in the city and make sure I’m home with Miss Lucy.  For her benefit, as well as my safety (who wants to drive during rush hour when freezing rain could be involved?).

I’m hoping to spend all of tomorrow in my pajamas on the couch.  I know it sounds like the epitome of laziness, but this week has nearly beaten me, and I’m tired and palpably sad. It is during this time that I cannot predict the fate of the brownies. I’m looking forward to Wednesday for many reasons — you will be home, and our little family will be whole again, but also I have my next infusion.  And I am very much looking forward to that.

January seems to be slipping through my fingers faster than I can keep up —

I hope you are enjoying sunshine and warmth.  Please know that I love you, am enormously proud of all you do and your success, but mostly I’m hella grateful that we somehow found each other and despite everything (bad timing, weird circumstances, vast disapproval) we stuck with each other — we knew it was bigger than all that bulls*t.

You are my everything.  And I am utterly and completely humbled by that and by your partnership.  Thank you.

I love you.  Be safe.

tis the season

This morning, as the man and I carefully unwrapped ornaments and hung them thoughtfully on our Charlie Brown tree, I reminisced about how our lives have grown in the time we’ve been together.

Our first year, everything was a merge of ‘my’ stuff and ‘his’ stuff.  And slowly, year by year, things have become ours, ornaments with history and meaning — commemorating special times we’ve shared.  A golden leaf from Jackson  Hole, a horse-drawn carriage from Williamsburg, a snow globe in a stocking from Hilton Head.  I love that warm fuzzy feeling when the paper peels back to reveal what had been previously tucked safely away.  The first ornament we hung this year was a beautiful boxer with a red and white scarf, given to us by our great friends (it looks surprisingly like Lucy!).  John asked her where she wanted to hang it and she replied with a quizzical look and a suspicious sniff of the ornament.  It was adorable.  She’s still not one hundred percent sure she understands why there’s a live tree in the living room.  But she seems okay with it.

It’s always sort of interesting to contemplate the holidays as you gear up for them — how celebrations change and how they stay they same, how you personally feel about the time of year.  This December feels uncharacteristically mellow — I ordered our Christmas cards the first week of November and they are all sitting neatly stacked in ‘domestic’ and ‘air mail’ piles by the front door.  We have essentially completed all of our shopping, our tree is up, and we aren’t having a party this year ….. So that’s that, right?  It feels a little bizarre — anti climactic and strangely un-Christmas-y.

I have led a somewhat charmed life to this point — in that there was not a lot of drama during Thanksgiving or Christmas growing up.  When my brother and I were young, we spent Christmas Eve with our Italian relatives (Italian-American — my dad’s side) and there was always a table heaping with food (the seven fish my friends) and I barely ate any of it — and we all ran around and had wild conspiracies about Santa Claus and it was glorious.  And Christmas day was spent at home, opening presents and then eating a huge British Christmas lunch (my favorite) and then lounging around in sweatpants watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ while messing around with all our new swag.

But as you grow up, and become part of another person’s family and holiday celebrations, you begin to realize that things morph — I think it has a lot to do with children, actually — and even if things had stayed the same, they would inevitably also be very different.

On our very first date, John and I wandered down the main street of Manayunk, grabbing drinks at bars that we would otherwise never have gone into (in an effort to avoid running into anyone we knew …. it’s a long story).  We ended up sitting outside at a tiny bar at one end of the strip, telling each other how much we loved Christmas, why and millions of stories of minutiae that we remembered with glowing detail.  It was June then, and I remember hoping my beer would never end, and that I could sit and talk with this wonderful man forever.

Luckily, that wish came true.  And the first year we lived together, every inch of our apartment was decorated for Christmas — ornaments and garland and twinkly lights festooned every corner of every room.

So this year, with our understated decorations, and no party on the agenda for the first time in four years, it feels quiet, and subtle … and somewhat out of character.

I’m glad this year is going to be low-key, and I’m glad that as of the seventh of December, we’re pretty prepared for the holidays.  I just hope this isn’t the beginning of the end of the magic.  Because to me, this as always the most magical and beautiful time of year.  And to imagine that feeling fading — well, that just about breaks my heart.