World Cancer Day

Today, I’m thinking about my mother-in-law, just as I have every day for months.

But, I’m not just thinking about my mother-in-law as she is struggling through the last, grueling phase of cancer.  I’m also thinking about my very best friend in all the world, keeping her sights set on her children’s futures as she fights leukemia.  I’m also thinking about my colleague, much younger than I, as she wages a head-to-head battle with osteosarcoma.  And, I’m thinking about friends, coworkers, family members from all parts of my life who have swallowed this terrifying diagnosis, “winning” and “losing” their private wars.

I’m also thinking about my father-in-law, whose life for months now has been devoted to the unimaginable task of caring for his wife, partner, best friend around the clock as she slowly slips away.  I’m thinking about my husband and his siblings, who are silently saying good-bye to the woman who kissed their boo-boos and pulled them in close beside her when they had bad dreams in the night.  I’m thinking about my own daughters, whose ears lean in to listen more carefully for clues as they overhear whispered conversations about their grandmother.

I’m thinking about my friends who have watched their own loved ones endure painful sores, unbearable nausea, and grueling treatments.  My friends who have themselves struggled with the unmatched mental and physical fatigue of juggling medications and dosages, building wheelchair ramps, and coordinating countless doctor appointments, CTs & PET scans.  I’m thinking about my friends who have relied on the kindness of Hospice workers to patiently and lovingly guide them through a “natural” part of life that we will forever struggle to understand.

Then, I think about myself.  My husband.  My parents.  My brothers and sisters-in-law.  My daughters.  My nieces and nephews.  And I think, this cannot continue.

We must make changes.

In my eyes, the only solution lies in prevention, and it starts small.  We cannot be caught by surprise.  Readers, for World Cancer Day, what are you doing to prevent cancer in your own inner circle?  What small step can you take today to reduce your own risks?  How can we protect our children from their own cancer stories?

Let’s start today.

last nights

The last night of summer is always bittersweet. 

I’m filled with a mess of emotions, so much so that my chest seems swollen.  The sadness of losing the freedom & ease of summer days with my two favorite girls.  The excitement of seeing friends & work family each day again.  The eagerness for the comfort of the familiar rhythm of “real” life routines.  The thrill of the return of daily challenges & creativity.  Apprehension at the memory of the stressful, fatiguing weekly workload.  And the amazing, heartwarming joy I feel every year as I fall in love with a new batch of 40+ babies. 

Summer’s return will come sooner than we think.  On that last night, we’ll look back over the year & see how time has flown. Our babies will be taller, smarter, and a just a little bit less our “babies” than before.  For a while, I will wish I could rewind and go back, praying for just a little more time.  Knowing that’s not possible, I’ll remind myself to love the moment I’m in.  

And so tonight, on this last night, I remind myself to be grateful for this night.  Love this feeling.  Celebrate this mess of teary-eyed smiles, nostalgic laughter, and school girl anticipation.  

This — these nights, these feelings — is the stuff life is made of, and it’s beautiful.


le deuxième jour de gratitude

Just over a month into my summer, I realize I’ve grown disconnected from my practice of gratitude.  Straying from my routines ultimately means straying from more than just that.  On the thirty-sixth anniversary of my birth, I find myself listening to favorite songs in the air of a cool summer night, enjoying the company of a thousand crickets.

As my eyes close, this iron table disappears, and the outdoor chair beneath me transforms to the familiar wicker rocking chair of my classroom.  Seated before me is a ring of eager, young faces.  “Gratitude Friday!” they remind me.  Submitting to their excited pleas, we commence the turn-taking.  I beam with joy as my students celebrate our weekly tradition, squirming on their feet as they wait for their turn, giggling with each of their friends’ personal thanksgivings.  

At last it is my turn.  Taking a moment to listen to my heart, I find so many things for which I am grateful.  

Tonight?  My backyard.  Music.  Crickets.

But there’s so much more.  

I woke up today.  And, God willing, I will rise again tomorrow.

Quiet moments alone in cool weather.

The rain that grows my grass and makes my flowers giggle and smile.

Old friends who remember who you were, way back when, and help you remember yourself, too.

Love, of all kinds.

Looking into the faces of my babies and seeing myself.

Hopes and dreams for the future, without which our lives would have no direction.

Bridges and breezes and beautiful, wide-open spans of water.

Stories, real and imagined.

Cardinals, climbing in my tomato plants and reminding me that miracles are real.

Afternoon drives with no destination.

Smiling with strangers.

Laughing with people you love.  


The smallness of my life within the hugeness of this universe.  

This moment.  Right now.

Aujourd’hui, je suis reconnaissant. 


ma noce

I’ll never forget that red light.  

I sat next to my maid of honor in my teal Ford Escort, laughing about the Teeny Beanie Baby in the McDonald’s Happy Meal.  There was really nothing too funny about that little ladybug filled with tiny plastic “beans”.  In my head, I felt the eyes of all the passengers and drivers sitting in the lanes around us, peeping into the windows at the young bride driving down the road in her veil, and I couldn’t help but laugh.  “What a sight I must be.”

Much of that night is lost to me forever, wrapped up a blur of faces, emotions and a lovely, antique white French bustle.  Only a handful of moments from that day have stained my mind like spilled red wine.


July 1, 2000 — my père et moi

Walking arm-in-arm with my Daddy. Popping up onto my toes for our first kiss as man and wife. Standing alone with my groom, after it was all said and done, and feeling — for just an instant — like we’d just met again for the first time. First dances, hugs from favorite relatives, a stream of toasts, and smiling till my face hurt.

In the honeymoon suite, bird seed rained down as I hunted and picked for all the hidden pins, my deep brown hair spilling below my shoulders. Even in those moments, the memory of the night we’d lived was fuzzy. How was it possible that it had only been one day since the rehearsal?

Now, thirteen years later, my memories of that day have hardly changed, though our lives certainly have.  When you’re just a few weeks shy of twenty-three, it’s all so vague.  “Marriage” seems entirely abstract, despite the fact that you’ve witnessed marriages succeed, and marriages fail, all around you for your entire life.  At thirty-six though, marriage is more real than the wedding day.  Mortgages, jobs, laundry, grocery shopping, health and family.  It is the air we breathe each day, from the moment we wake to the moment we wake again.  

The wedding?  It’s all so vague, with only pictures to prove it ever really was at all.  

Mais, il m’aime encore, et je l’aime un peu plus fort.



On my refrigerator, a magnet hangs.  It’s been there ever since my grandmother sent it to me, in a package amidst any number of other little surprises, more years ago than I can remember.  It says,

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” 

On most days, I forget it’s there.  But on those chance days that I glance at it, or picture it in my mind, or hear the words whispered between my thoughts, I let it simmer deeply.  I stir it.  Slowly.  Thoughtfully. 

What does this mean to me today?

Over the years, this magnet has pushed me to action again and again.   In the early days, it might have meant lacing up my sneakers and heading to the gym to try out that new class or workout.  It’s led me to ignore my butterflies and pick up the phone to make the phone call I’d been avoiding.  It pushed me to ask questions, tell the truth, try something new.  Put myself “out there”. 

Be vulnerable.

I would say that this magnet has given me courage, but it hasn’t.  Truly, the courage was there all along, buried beneath the fear.  Ma crainte. 

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” 

Forgive someone.

Reach out to someone.

Dare yourself to start an adventure.

Get out in the world and do what you’ve dreamed of doing.

Plant your garden, tear out the carpet, learn to cook.

Go back to school, go camping, go to Africa.

Sample the hot sauce, buy a guitar, start a blog.

Go to the doctor.  Quit your job.  Sell your house.  Buy a house.

Walk up to that person that you’ve been avoiding and say, “Hello.  Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

Tell someone you’re sorry, or tell them you love them.

Set a goal and invest in yourself.

Do something – anything – that scares you today.


Then, be grateful for your courage.  Be grateful for the strength you possessed all along.  Be grateful when you succeed and even if you fail, because either way – you did it. 

And then, do it again tomorrow.

le premier jour de gratitude

There is a picture that’s hung on the wall in my bedroom for as long as I can remember, even still today.

blessed art thou among women

I received Blessed Art Thou Among Women as a gift from my uncle about thirty years ago. I’ve often thought what an odd gift it was for an uncle to give his niece, especially one so young. It’s possible he thought of me when he saw this photo because the girl looks so much like me as a girl, but I’ll never know for sure.

For years, I’ve stared at her face and wondered what she saw. I’ve looked at her mother’s hand on her shoulder and her turned cheek, wishing I could just hear the words she whispers. I’ve never stopped wondering about these two. Never.

Forever, visitors have said the same thing, “Is this you? Is this your mother?”

“No,” I reply, “it’s just a picture of a girl.”

Today, it dawned on me. Is it possible that he gave me this because he knew he would die? Could it be that he gave me this everlasting memento, knowing I would never know for sure why? After all, in my unknowing, I’ve never stopped wondering. And my wondering will never let me forget. Because of this photo, my blurry, patched-up memories of him are anchored in my life. They are nailed to my wall.

Right or wrong, today it made a little more sense to me.  And for that, I am grateful. For this photo, I am grateful. For my memories, I am grateful.

Just as I looked into the giant, glowing sunrise this morning and felt energy swell in my chest, just as I filled my ears with the music of my daughters’ songs and felt my daily cup of joy brewing, I will look into this girl’s eyes and feel my heart warm with memories of an uncle long passed.  An uncle I barely knew and never understood, but one whose love still swims in the air around me tonight.

Merci, mon oncle.

à la prochaine

les histoires

Perhaps it’s the writer in me, or maybe it’s just a romantic inclination, but I have a vision of myself, gray and aged, telling the stories of my life. The stories come alive in the air around me, and those listening to them lean towards the words, like a bed of tulips leaning towards the sun. Their hearts smile, their eyes tear, and their sides ache from laughter. 

Some people’s stories are amazing. Saturday_Evening_Post_The_Saturday_Evening_Post_-_July_22_1939_Joe_McCarthy_NY_Yankee

A friend told me a story recently about a beautiful woman who, lifetimes ago, appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. But that wasn’t all. She lived a life filled with accomplishments, family, romance, and legacy. Her stories have lingered in my mind for weeks.  Her once-in-a-lifetime experiences, contributions to her community, brushes with espionage, serendipitous rediscovery of love, and years of commitment to her family are stamped upon my consciousness.  Her stories are worth telling.

I imagine on a day long ago, a day not unlike today, those stories humbly took their root in her life. For every destined chain of events, there had to be a seemingly uneventful morning. Before each unforgettable moment, there must have been an hour long forgotten. 

In these days of my life, when days seem quietly busy, nights seem hours too short, and hours seem easily forgettable, I will look hard for the stories of my own life. I will listen with bated breath for my own promises of adventures, opportunities, and great love. I will listen for the music of my memories and capture the colors of my dreams. 

And one day long from now, as I close my eyes and conjure up the moving pictures in my mind, even into the years when they begin to slip slowly out of my reach, people will breathe tightly and listen closely. 

My stories.  My stories will be amazing. 


à la prochaine

bonne année

New Year’s has always been emotional.

I remember watching the ball drop on television on New Year’s Eve 1989, and thinking, “Good-bye, 80s…..whatever that means.”  In the last moments of the year, the experiences of the year are still too close to understand what it means to bid the year farewell.  With the exception of a night of cocktails or network specials televised from some cold street far away, it is just another end to another day.

Except the world tells us it should be so much more.

Which makes me fearful.

I become afraid.

Will I slowly watch my life pass by, year by year, without ever really achieving all that I should or can?  Will I sit here, New Year’s to New Year’s, letting the world live lives better, more exciting, more accomplished, more fulfilled than my own?

Or, will I succumb to the pressure and find myself, once again, standing on a crowded sidewalk somewhere, freezing and cringing between strangers’ bodies, hoping this is going to make me happier in some earthly way?

And resolutions.  Oh, the resolutions.  The silent pressure of Day One-One, whispering in your ear, “This year will be different, but only if you promise.”

It’s fear talking.

That’s fear telling you that you need to change.  That your life isn’t good enough already.  Fear hisses in your ears, “You need to be better…now.”

But is this true?

Aren’t we all perfect just as we are?  And if so, perhaps the promises we should be making are to see this perfection in our souls every day.  We should promise to sing loudly over the whispers and screams of fear.  Sing a song of love.  Find the beauty and take a wild swim in it, letting it wet our eyes and fill our ears.  Taste its salt on our tongues.

So today, on this frightening Day One-One, I will take my fears in my embrace and kiss them.

I kiss the fear of living a life unfulfilled.  I kiss my fear of failure.  I kiss my fear of financial misfortune.  I kiss my fears of fading youth, insufficient beauty, failing health, lonely days and nights, and heartache.  I kiss my fears of losing loved ones, fast growing babies, and pain.  I kiss this nagging fear of empty words and rejected works.  I kiss my fear of judgment and disdain.

I kiss these fears and smother them in love, because love speaks louder than fear.  Always.

And tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, on the far less frightening days of the new year, I will remind myself of this promise of love.

May it be so with you, too.

à la prochaine et bonne année

un petit moment avec deux visages

Squinting into the sun, for a moment she remembered how temporary all of this was.  This amazing day alone on the water would be over before they knew it. 

Pulling a blanket over her shoulders, she leaned into his chest.  If she closed her eyes and concentrated, maybe she could remember exactly how it felt to touch him so freely. 

Breathing deeply, she wanted to remember how he smelled, salty and sweet. 

She wove her fingers into his right hand as he pulled her tighter.  She stared at his hand in hers, taking mental photos of his fingers, the scar near his knuckle, the vein climbing up into his sleeve.


He watched her reach for the blanket and carefully twirl it up and over her shoulders like a choreographed dance. 

Reaching one hand out of the cape of warmth, she slid her long hair out, revealing glimpses of the fair skin of her neck.  He imagined pressing his lips against that smooth skin, feeling her bones just beneath the surface, breathing in the scent of her hair.

She sat back, resting her shoulder against him, but not close enough.  Wrapping both arms around her, he scooped her in closer.  Her hand emerged from beneath the blanket and laced its tiny fingers into his with a gentle squeeze. 

He closed his eyes, willing this moment to last.  The salty air forced itself into his lungs as their boat cut through the water.  He remembered her clear eyes looking into his as he smiled down at her. 

“This isn’t enough time,” he thought, cursing reality.

He begged his memory not to fail him.  He wanted to remember how she felt in his arms.  He wanted to remember her chin, her hands, the way her eyes glinted in the sun like the waves. 

For a moment, he thought of sailing away from everything.  Just keep right on going.  Run away and hide her from the world, tuck her away in a quiet corner of the world for only himself.  He saw the two of them sitting alone in a tiny cabin, warming each other from gray winter weather with hot baths, mugs of hot coffee, and quilts for two.

But the world said no, and he knew it.

Looking ahead towards the sun, he didn’t want to speak.  Just breathe.  And try to remember everything.


Dusted off a little fiction work tonight.

à la prochaine


At a writing training today, I scratched out this little scene as a response to A Quiet Place, by Douglas Wood.  The exercise led me to discover two things.  First, I miss sharing the writing with people….people other than 4th graders, that is.  (Who, by the way, are great for any writer’s ego.)  Second, “sharing” my writing is MUCH easier on my nerves when done virtually through a blog, rather than read aloud to a room of your peers.  That’s much harder than it sounds!  (A good lesson for this teacher to remember.)

I’ll have to push myself to write to publish more frequently soon, rather than only writing for myself.  Relight the fire.

* * * * * * * * * *

When I was younger, I used to bury myself in the depths of my hanging clothes and between my stacks of shoes.  I’d shut out the world with a “click”, and feel the silence fall from between the hangers and hug my ears like muffs.  I might cry, or write beneath the light of a 60-watt bulb, or lay on my back and find images in the popcorn ceiling, hiding my legs beneath the cool of long dresses.  Some days, I would open my eyes to find red creases and itchy carpet marks on my cheeks, drool puddles on the top of my hand.  I’d hear my mother softly open my bedroom door.  “Jenny?”  She’d ask my empty room where I was.  Maybe I’d sit still, frozen like a rabbit in a bush, fearing my discovery.   Maybe I’d emerge, with a shy smile and blurry eyes.  Whichever I decided, I knew I’d return one day, for one reason or another, to my quiet place.



À la prochaine, chère écrivain