Category Archives: family

August

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A lot’s happened at our house in the last two weeks.  I returned to my job at my wonderful school, this year assisting in the Threes class with a lovely new teacher. Already I know it’s going to be a fabulous year.  Hubby has been working his arse off to get the IT running at a new business site in Atlanta, often working 12-14 hour days. Patrick got a promotion and due to people quitting, at 26 years old, he is now the senior premium auditor in the State of AZ for the insurance company he works for.  Go, Patrick!  Eve is looking forward to finishing the last two years of her Biology degree while working part-time in a doctor’s office.  We were sad for her that the summer job in the mountains being an EMT for the fire fighters didn’t work out (she couldn’t pass the physical test), but she picked herself up, dusted herself off, and made a new plan.

And William?  William seems to be in a state of denial that in six days we will be moving all his worldly belongings up to Flagstaff to settle him in for another year at Northern Arizona University.  He and his girlfriend lounge about binge-watching tv, stopping only to get fast food or a pizza or sweetened coffee drinks.  I’m glad they’re not starving students like I was back at ASU in the late ’80’s (I once sold my textbook a week before finals so I could go barhopping with friends), but I know that my lean years have made me appreciate that nowadays I can order pizza any time I want.  William’s summer job money will be running out soon, and he will be on a strict school budget come next week.   And I’ve warned him that either he packs stuff from home . . . or he will be scrounging at garage sales and Goodwill for the stuff he forgot.  He is a man of few needs, so I’m sure all will work out.  My urge to “mom him” is very hard to suppress, so I’m grateful to be back at work when else wise I might be sorting through extra boxes of dishes and pots and pans to see what he needs.  Our renters at our house near ASU left EVERYTHING, so we own all one would need to furnish a kitchen.

Hubby and I are sad to have William leave.  I’ve never been good at transitions.  While my heart knows it’s time to move forward, my body seems to fight me all the way.  I find myself feeling awkward and in the way. Words are hard (anyone who has ever met me is frowning at this because I am typically very verbose).  I am clumsy.  On the second day of school I was wearing my skirt inside out—luckily Hubby noticed the tag hanging out before I left the house.  Another day I had a pimple coming up on my nose (SO not fair in my fifties!), and another day I spilled my entire cup of coffee into my purse on the drive to school.  I thought the large, squat cup was secured between my purse and lunchbox but when I turned a corner it dumped (nothing was ruined).  Yesterday I washed William’s new bed sheets with a few eye glass cloths from my purse, and some gum was apparently caught on one, so his new sheets ended up with gum on the hem.  GOOD GRIEF.

But all in all, I think we’re doing okay.  Sometimes change hurts, but in this month of August in the year of 2017, I feel like the pain is worth the eventual progress.  I believe my family of five is all moving forward in great ways, even though we’re not getting enough sleep, we’re feeling anxious, and we’re feeling a bit clumsy.  August is a month of great change for many of us with school starting, kids going off to college, and recently, huge political unrest that makes all of us feel uneasy.  Take care of yourselves.  Listen to that inner voice.  I listened to mine tonight which said stay home and make Chicken Makhani and watch terrible Marvel shows with your youngest son and your husband.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

 

 

Summer’s End

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I always have a song running through my head.  Today’s lyrics were “after the boys of summer have gone.”  Really creative, oh brain of mine!  Tomorrow I return to my job at my wonderful school, and while I am so excited, part of me always feels melancholy about leaving summer behind.

This summer was one of extreme periods of busyness followed by extreme periods of laziness. Hubby and I took vacations to Mexico and then a few weeks later to London and Paris.  After that I visited family in Illinois for a week, and Hubby is currently on business in Atlanta. Preparing for trips takes a lot of energy, as does recouping afterwards.  Between vacations, I facilitated the remodel of our house by Arizona State University where our college-aged children lived for the last seven years (and then sold that house). I’m not sure how I had time to be lazy.  But I did.

I had goals this summer to go the gym daily, yet with my youngest son home from college for the summer, I found myself wanting to stay home to hang out with him, eating grilled cheese sandwiches while watching Games of Thrones, New Girl, and The Ranch. Isn’t it so much more fun to watch tv with friends??  I hope to find my way back to the gym once William and his girlfriend, Katherine, return to Flagstaff in a few weeks, and I don’t regret the five additional pounds around my waist from couch potato-ing with them while eating pizza and french fries.  William is my youngest, and I’m keenly aware of the fact this may be my last summer having one of our kids living at home.

Here are some of the other shows I loved this summer:

Indian Summers is a great drama set in the Himalayas in 1932.  The show focuses on the social politics of the British Empire and the birth of modern India.  If you loved Downton Abbey, you will likely appreciate this PBS mini series which has great acting, dramatic scenery, and beautiful costumes.  Watch it on Amazon Prime.

You can watch Versailles on Netflix.  If you loved The Tudors, this is right up your alley.  I was fortunate to visit the Palace at Versailles a few years ago and found this historically- accurate series to be very interesting, not to mention quite titillating with all of the sexual conquests.  Again, very beautifully filmed and wonderful acting.

I love New Girl.  I rewatched the whole show on Netflix with my kids this summer.  It’s clever and hilarious and awkward, and I love it so much.

Rectify.  OMG.  I can’t seem to talk any of my friends into watching it.  I had no idea there was a fourth season on Netflix, and since it had been so long since I watched the first seasons, I started over from the beginning.  The acting is amazing.  The pacing and tension reminds me of Six Feet Under, but I love Rectify so much more.

I re-watched old favorite movies like The Right Stuff, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, 13 Going on 30, Millers Crossing, and The English Patient.  Okay, I’ll admit I like many different genres, but I love revisiting an old favorite.

This summer may be one of the best I’ve ever had. The angsty words from the Eagle’s Boys of Summer are still playing on repeat in my head, but I’m feeling so hopeful and excited for a fabulous new school year ahead!

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

 

 

Home, Then and Now

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It is 7:30 pm on Sunday night, and I am in the middle of cooking my mother’s famous lasagna recipe.  It involves making your own bechamel, and it is the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted.  I seem to remember that she found it in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine which seems hard to believe, but you must remember that in the late 1960s and the early 1970s Julia Child was on tv encouraging housewives to venture away from meat loaf and pork chops.  I’m not going to share the lasagna recipe here because lately I’ve found it hard to amaze my dinner guests, which is not surprising when the NYT and Epicurious send us their best recipes on a daily basis.  Better, sometimes, to reach back in time and return to the classics.

Tonight I was so happy chopping onions and garlic and stirring pots and singing along with Florence Welch and then it occurred to me that WHOOPS I’d forgotten about the pasta. Our stove is awful and takes forever for a burner to heat, so now I am in a holding period waiting for the ziti to cook.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I am making my mother’s famous lasagna recipe using ziti, simply because the lasagna noodles located on the top shelf (way in the back) were so petrified they quite possibly may have been purchased during Obama’s first term.  You see, our cupboards are very deep, and I am short and cannot see to the back.  And I’m lazy to fetch a chair to look into the bowels of my cupboards.  I hope I gain back some of your faith when I tell you I used fresh oregano from our backyard garden in the meat sauce.  That’s about all that’s left growing in this tremendous heat. That and a basil plant that has quadrupled in size during the few months since I bought it at Trader Joe’s.  I completely forgot it was there and am sad thinking about all the days when I could have had Caprese salads.

I’m making this complicated lasagna recipe so Hubby will have comfort food when he comes home to an empty house each night during this coming week.  William and his friends are off camping up north in the cool mountains, and tomorrow I get on plane to see my aunts and uncles and cousins in my hometown in northern Illinois.  I have not been in three years and am so excited to see my family . . . and to see and feel and smell the town where I was born and where I lived until I was ten years old.

In my dreams I ride my bike down the streets of this little old town.  I go through the squeaky screen door to hug my grandmother and then at other times, I have coffee with my Aunt Linda and my cousin Bridget.  In my dreams, memories of my young self get tangled up with the reality of the older self I am now.  Because I am the oldest of three, I keep the childhood memories of this place for all of us.  I tell my brother about driving to Grandpa Koppen’s house when a tornado was coming, our mother shouting at us to roll down the windows, we will be there soon!  Our own basement was mud walls and big spiders, and grandma and grandpa were just up the street with a lovely finished basement complete with pool table and full bar.  I say to my siblings, don’t you remember when we lived on Grover Street and Aunt Linda and Uncle Bill and Matt and Bridget lived just twenty steps from our own front door?  Their dog, Arfrang, was so cute and was always jumping at their screen . . . and their spunky little cats, Amos and Andy, were so fun to chase and pet.  Remember Thanksgiving and Christmas at grandma and grandpa’s when we would sit at a fancy long table in the dining room?  Then after dinner the men would smoke and drink, and the women would do dishes and talk in the kitchen.  So much laughter, and I remember it all so fondly.  I try to keep this place of my youth alive for us because I am the oldest thus have the most stories, and this is the place where we were born.

I could share here many more childhood memories from my small town in Illinois, but a big storm is moving in, and I’d rather watch that through the window than continue driveling on here.  We have lightening and huge storm clouds and a rumbling of thunder in the distance.  We so rarely get weather here in the desert; this storm is a treat.   As always, thank you for reading my words.

Cheers,

Mary

 

Home at Last

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Friday night Hubby and I returned from a two-week vacation to London and Paris.  We saw EVERYTHING.  (Seriously, everything.)  We walked ten miles each day, plus rode the Tube (in London) and the Metro (in Paris) many miles to get to where we wanted to be. Mostly we saw tons of art, but also magnificent historical architecture and beautiful gardens. We stayed at really cool hotels (CitizenM Tower of London and Residence Foch) and consumed lots of fish and chips and hamburgers (the meat there is sooooo delicious compared to the ground beef you can buy in the States) and British craft beers.  Hubby and did not get in even one fight, which I consider pretty amazing. Things got dicey on our last day in England, when Hubby insisted on reading EVERY didactic at the Greenwich Museum, and I was so done that I considered pulling the fire alarm and then at dinner pretended I had poisoned him (“are you dizzy?  blurred vision? throat tightening?  No?  Hmmmmm). But overall, it felt like a second honeymoon, since we’ve never gone away for more than five days without the kids before.  We celebrated our 29th anniversary on the hotel balcony with a spectacular view of the Tower of London and felt pretty damned fortunate.

The best thing about a fabulous vacation:  Coming home.  Our youngest son, William, did an excellent job of holding down the fort while we were gone—feeding and caring for our five pets and keeping the house clean is not an easy job.  His best girl, Katherine, helped out, too.  I left William a credit card and I’m sure I’ll cry when that next bill arrives and I see how much money “we” spent at Dutch Bros Coffee while we were away. Apparently we also paid him in beer since our keg of expensive IPA was empty.  (College kids—what are you going to do??)

Today getting groceries I was so happy to have eye contact with people again. My experience was that in London and in Paris, there is absolutely no eye contact with strangers, unless you are a waiter serving dinner or hotel staff helping you as their guest. I did not like being invisible.  I like to smile at people and have offhand chit chat.  I can count on one hand the people who talked to us:

  1.  The French woman at the coin laundromat who spoke no English but was able to guide us through the very unfamiliar laundry system.  I gave her my most sincere smile, accompanied by a “merci beaucoup” and felt so grateful.  Hubby and I were already feeling irritated at not being able to find the darn place having walked a mile in all directions in a fancy neighborhood, each of us carrying black hefty bags of dirty laundry!
  2. The “skin heads” on the Tube elevator in London who alerted me that the doors would be opening in the opposite direction from where I was standing.  We’d traveled so much that day and I was daydreaming, not noticing that the 20 other people on this large elevator were facing the opposite direction.  I said, “Thank you! I probably would have figured it out eventually!  I’d think, where did all the people go?  Why am I all alone?”  They proceeded to do a bit which included the guy saying, “Dear Diary, Month 15 and I’m still in the Tube elevator.  It’s not all bad.  It’s warm in winter and cool in summer.  People leave bags of chips. I’m happy here.”
  3. The woman whose feet my suitcase fell on in the Tube.  She glared at me so hard I thought I might burst into flames.  Seriously?  I was carrying a huge paper sack which held three Starbuck’s London coffee cups and three London Toblerones that were gifts for the kids.  It was unwieldy and when I shifted, my bag fell over.  The part that landed on her feet was not heavy and I apologized sincerely, but she was just mad and mean and well, I’m sorry that when you ride the Tube you are so grumpy.  I love riding the Tube.  I love watching the comings and goings, and the families and the groups of friends and the handsome young men in their skinny suits headed to and from work  (I especially love that).
  4. The young man on the Tube escalator that kept me from falling backwards when  my huge, embarrassing, American suitcase started to fall off the step behind me.  I started wobbling and made a sound like “ooooohhhhh,”and he heaved my case up to the step and gently kept me from falling.  Oy vey, so embarrassing!  If you’ve never been on a Tube escalator, I can tell you it’s very stressful.  They are inclined at an extreme angle and go up four floors!  As a person who is afraid of heights, I can say going up is easier but going down I look at my feet and breathe slowly in and out so as not to scream out, “We’re all going to die!!!!”  Which would be really embarrassing.
  5. The business woman at the St. Pancras train station in London who so nicely gave me directions to where to catch our Eurostar (Chunnel) train.  This station is HUGE and is the only international station in London.  It’s super cool . . . if you’re not in a hurry to catch a train.  I mistook her for a station information attendant because she was in a suit and was standing next to the Information sign (most stations have these with staff positioned there to answer questions). She did not laugh at me and was very sweet.  Hubby, on the other hand, mocked me endlessly, so much so that anytime we were lost after that, I asked him, “Shall I go ask a stranger how to get there?”  If you don’t get lost while on your Europe vacations, then you’re just not doing it right.  We spent two hours one night looking for a restaurant called Hot Box that some website had recommended.  It was not a “good lost” since it was in a business area with huge sky scrapers.  We finally found the place.  HA.  Long picnic tables in a dark room with expensive hamburgers.

One reason I’m glad I was completely invisible in Europe:  I was the only person wearing leggings.  Here in Tempe that’s the norm!  Next blog will be European fashion tips!  Stay tuned!

Cheers,

Mary

Flip Flops

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First of all, I’d like to remind everyone to stay hydrated.  I got a little sun stroked Wednesday and somehow in my dehydrated delirium ended up with the song Telephone Man stuck in my head.  It’s been three days . . . and it will not go away.  STAY COOL!!!  You do NOT want this to happen to you!!!

Today is my Grandma Summer’s birthday.  She would have turned 100 years old today; sadly she passed away 15 years ago after a short battle with cancer.  She was one of the most important people in my formative years.  She taught me about gardening, how to cook, how to be silly, and above all else, she taught me unconditional love.  Florence Charlotte Summers Erbentraut was a very special person, and I think of her often. Happy Birthday, Grandma!

The last time I wrote was from the cool beaches of Rocky Point, Mexico.  Last week in Tempe, AZ, the afternoon temps were close to 120 degrees every day.  It truly is a dry heat, and I’ve been comfortable enough living my life in the usual manner.  I liked having the grocery store practically to myself because when it’s this hot, most people take care of their errands in the morning.  In a few weeks when monsoon season begins is when I will be really uncomfortable.  I do not care for high humidity which brings out the cicadas that buzz all day and night, setting my teeth on edge.  The humidity and cicadas stick around through mid-October, so I’m focusing on the “good parts” of summer:  magnificent towers of clouds building in the east each day, frequent dramatic monsoon storms, night swimming at the community pool, and best of all, having my college kids home for the summer.

I’ve not been as productive as usual because Eve and William are watching New Girl for the first time and it’s super distracting.   I try to do the dishes or start dinner or fold the laundry, but next thing you know, I’m sitting on the couch giggling along with two of them.  What’s better than watching a favorite show with your favorite people???  School begins for me August 7 and for them August 28, so we have oodles of summertime left to get stuff done  . . . and enjoy lazy times together.

I’ve been doing a bit of shopping and am having such a hard time finding blouses long enough to go over leggings.  My middle-aged muffin top is not accommodating to blue jeans, and I realize soon the summer clothes will be out of the stores.  The one style I CANNOT STAND is the cut-out shoulders.  UGH.  Seriously, who looks good in that???  I’ve seen young women pull it off, but for the most part . . . NOPE.  It’s worse than the horizontal stripe fad that lasted too many years.  I find myself saying YIKES in my head whenever I see anyone wearing this unfortunate type of blouse, but then chide myself even louder (in my head), BE NICE!!! Be SO glad you can’t read my mind, because it’s a little wild and crazy in there.

I fear people will be saying YIKES when they see me wearing my adorable new straw fedora.  Every summer my face gets too much sun, so in an effort to avoid having a burned beak, I bought a trendy straw hat.  My kids saw me in it and said, NOPE, but I say YEP.  I sound superficial, but I’ve always loved fashion and style.  As a girl, I spent hours pouring over the JC Penney catalog and saved up $6 for a pair of culottes when I was seven years old.  I don’t remember the actual pants, but I remember the saving and pining for them like it was yesterday.  My mom was always sewing something, and I spent hours as a child playing amongst the bolts of colorful fabric at Cloth World and Hancock. Fashion is a creative outlet for me!

Today we spent an hour in the JC Penney just down the road.  Hubby needed new flip flops (his current pair is ten years old, and I insisted he upgrade) and then he tried on blue jeans and then he tried on more flip flops.  It felt like we were there forever, so I walked up and down the cool aisles, getting in some excercise . . . and humming “Hey Baby, I’m the telephone man. Show me where you want it, and I’ll put it where I can.”

Cheers,

Mary

The Day I Almost Got Run Over by the Light Rail (and Other Stories)

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On this quiet Wednesday evening, I’m trying to remember everything I wanted to tell you.  I leave notes for myself, but days later I can’t crack my own code of shorthanded and abbreviated words written messily in pencil on small scraps of paper.

One story I DEFINITELY remember is called, “The Day I Almost Got Run Over by the Light Rail.”  It goes like this:  A few Fridays ago, my adorable sister-in-law LeaAnne and I were cleaning out the last bits of stuff from the ASU House so as to ready it for sale.  (My kids lived there during their college years.)  How we ended up with 20 cans of paint, four large containers of pest control poison, two packages of weed killer, etc., I’ll never know, but we were responsible citizens and drove a whole trunk full of haz mats to the Tempe recycling center on University.  On the drive back we were chatting and when I came to a red light by a train crossing, I remembered that one is never supposed to stop one’s car on a train track.  So I was careful to come to a stop a few yards in front of the tracks.  Lea and I continued to chat, while I kept an eye on the light which seemed like it was red for way too long.  THAT’s when LeaAnne made a strange noise, and we both screamed as the railroad arm came down and bounced off the hood of the SUV.  Then we heard the clanging of the train alert, and I madly tried to put us into reverse.   I’d only driven Hubby’s new car once before and the gear shift is super awkward, but PRAISE THE LORD, the driver behind me had left space, and I backed up JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME as the light rail trains swished by in both directions.  I was shaking and looked around for any sort of warning I may have missed, but all I saw was one small street sign announcing, “Do not park on XX.”  Well.  THAT would have been good to know.  The next day I texted Lea and said, “I’m so so so sorry for almost getting us run over by the light rail yesterday.  Do you think we would have been smart enough to jump out of the car if we were on the tracks??”  She didn’t respond . . . so the next day I texted her again and she said, “I’m still wondering!!!”  All’s well that ends well, and I’m 100% certain I’ll have anxiety anytime I’m near a train crossing for the rest of my life.

Here’s a short list of other interesting moments from the past few weeks:

  • I binge-watched on Netflix Anne with an E, which is an adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, which were favorite books when I was a preteen.  I loved every moment of this new series and am so sad that Season Two will not be available for a whole year.
  • I bought a squatty potty from Amazon which had been recommended by teacher friends and by my naturopath, but it turns out Hubby and I are naturally good at doing our business.  This weird stool thing actually worked against me, and when I went online to return it to Amazon, I was given a full refund and was informed they did not want the item back.  Imagine that!  (Let me know if you’d like to try it.)  (Note to self:  Do NOT buy trendy healthcare products.)
  • As long as I’m oversharing, I’ll confide that one hot day last week I decided to go for a long walk in pants that were very uncomfortable and developed a heat rash on my keister.  I was applying Desitin cream before bed each night and the problem was almost resolved.   I put the tube of Desitin in the same drawer as the toothpaste and one night when I was sleepy, I accidentally applied Colgate Optic White which had quite the opposite effect as the one which was desired and again, I think to myself, how can I be so bad at life when I’ve been alive for so many years????
  • I’ve not been able to lose any additional weight which I partially attribute to the fact that a little orange tube of Braunschweiger caught my eye at the grocery store a few weeks ago, and it’s become a sinful late-night snack.  I love it on Saltine crackers. When I was a child, my mom often packed liverwurst on white bread with mustard in my school lunchbox.  It’s not good for you nutritionally and is full o’ fat.  I love it.
  • Today I found a website called MyAnimalWeight.com where I found out my weight equals 7.9 honey badgers, 8.8 ocelots, 14.2 raccoons, 39 hairy tree porcupines, and almost HALF A LION!  Definitely one of the strangest websites I’ve visited–you MUST check it out.   I’m hoping to lose one honey badger by the end of the summer and a raccoon in the Fall so I’ll be slim for our oldest son’s wedding in January. Goodbye liverwurst . . . I’ll be seeing you in my dreams.

Cheers,

Mary

Comings and Goings

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It’s been a weird month with lots of comings and goings.  During the last week of April, my family members went in all different directions, and I was left here at home. Patrick was away on a business trip; Hubby was away on business.  Hubby came home, then Patrick came home (he lives just a mile away).  William was home for 36 hours and took his girlfriend to Prom, then caught the shuttle back to college to study for finals.  Eve was working her job and packing to move, then she was in Spain with friends for more than two weeks.  She came home and was in town less than 24 hours before she packed up her little car to drive up the mountain and report up north for her new job.

All of these comings and goings are hard on a mom.  When someone is leaving, I worry and fuss over them, wanting to lessen their load by helping with luggage, travel snacks, copies of passports.  “Is there anything else I can do?” I ask (too many times, which I’m sure is annoying).  And then while they’re away, I worry that some terrible thing has happened.  I wake with a start at 3:10 am—did something happen to Eve in Spain?  I’ve heard about people getting a chill, waking at odd times, somehow knowing when a loved one is in trouble.

But the most torturous part of comings and goings are the returns: I’m filled with anticipation and can’t wait to see my peeps. One recent Friday, William finally arrives and is here for two minutes before he’s whisked away by his friends, me barely getting a minute to give him a hug and notice he needs a haircut.  Especially deflating was the day Eve returned from Spain.  I knew her flight was landing at 9, so I was happily cleaning the house and had favorite “Eve foods” in the fridge.  I kept looking at my phone and at the front door.  I was positively GIDDY! Her flight was late, and she texted when she landed.   Ruby and I nervously watched the driveway through the front shutters, and finally at 1:30 I texted, where are you?  She’d gone to her boyfriends and it wasn’t until evening that she came by for a short while.  I felt ridiculous—she is 21 and of course she wants to be with friends.  Expectations are everything—why haven’t I learned that lesson yet?  That was supposed to be the best day ever, and instead it was a terrible day for me . . . and I have yet to hear the complete travel report about Spain.

Of course part of all of this is I am grumpy to be left behind. I’m a big baby about that. Picture me sitting in my quiet house, the only interruptions being the occasional cat fight, or Ruby barking out the window at dogs walking by, or maybe the ring of the phone with people wanting to sell me solar panels or home security systems.  I sit on the couch reading a novel, occasionally looking up at the front living room window, sighing dramatically. Then I remind myself to plant my own garden, to decorate my own soul, to seek out friends when the house is too quiet.

But mostly what’s hard these days is the missing of my kids being here at our house with us.  I want to see their faces, I want to hear their stories, I want to laugh with them over some silly thing, I want to eat a meal with them, listen to a favorite song together.

I read this poem and understood exactly what Tyler Knott Gregson meant (though I think he wrote it thinking not of his children, but of his wife):

I will miss you
always,
even in the moments
when you are right
beside me
and I do not think
it is a weed
that will ever stop
growing.
It will always live there,
but my god
it grows the most
spectacular
flowers.

This is the life lesson I’m trying to learn right now:   To accept the comings and goings and instead of being angsty and demanding and an obligation to my grown children, I want to be a calm wise thoughtful person—a person my children want to return to to share their stories.  I’m so proud of all three of them, and I’m happy for all their adventures.  I want to be peaceful and patient and serene, knowing deep down in my heart my children will return to me when they are able.  Like in the children’s book, The Runaway Bunny, I want to be the tree they fly home to.

Cheers,

Mary