new york city kid in arkansas
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Troy just took Huck to an all-day quiz bowl tournament and left me here on the couch in front of the fire and the Christmas tree with a pile of books, a snuggly dog and a cup of coffee. I’m recovering from a painful strained intercostal muscle under my right ribs, and since we’re all in the thick of the most wonderful time of the year, I’m also recovering from overstimulation (and last night’s nightmare wherein Troy was diagnosed with Garlic Cancer, whatever that means for my subconscious). It’s these quiet, hygge moments I love the most.

This last week Huck wowed us with choir and orchestra concerts, and next week will be his piano recital in the midst of finals. Listening to him work on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” has given us new respect for poor little Janie in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey loses his mind during her attempt to get it just right. My work days are filled with five and six year old snow fairies, elves, toy soldiers and reindeer with the most wonderful co-worker in the world whose only flaw is the painful laughter she causes my intercostals, while Troy does his serious work with even younger people. We simultaneously love almost every minute of it and long for our upcoming two week vacation.

Back when Huck was a baby I was forced to slow down and stay seated longer than normal. It was really good for me and my anxious, fast-beating heart. This latest ailment has a similar requirement, though without the breastfeeding, and I think it’s my Christmas season mixed blessing. Can someone refill my coffee, please?

Happy Hygge Holidays from the couch.

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A few days before my Uncle Ronnie had the accident that led to his death, I heard this Eels song that I’ve listened to a hundred times before. The song begins this way:

“You’re dead but the world keeps spinning
Take a spin through the world you left
It’s getting dark a little too early
Are you missing the dearly bereft?
Taking flight and you could be
Here tomorrow
Taking flight, well, you could get
Here tonight.”

Having no idea that we were about to experience the world spinning without Ronnie in it, the lyrics that stood out to me were “taking flight, you could get here tonight.” I wondered who I would be most happy to receive a surprise visit from like that, and wouldn’t you know it? Uncle Ronnie and Aunt Dottie were at the top of the list.

Our world somehow keeps spinning. In the midst of grief, I did a play of monologues with talented, passionate women that raised a lot of money for Magdalene Serenity House (Love Heals).  I helped organize a festive event of music and art at the school where we work, and Huck made first chair viola at All Region Orchestra. I watched my home state elect a woman Democrat for Governor, proving the existence of miracles, and we spent a few glorious days at the Lake of the Ozarks with my sister and her family, proving the existence of gratitude. And of course Troy and I took flight and joined family and friends in Virginia a few weeks ago, taking a spin through the rich world our uncle left behind. We joined loved ones from New Jersey, Florida, California, Washington, New York and Kansas, all of us with that heart-clench feeling that Ronnie would have loved to have been there.

At his memorial service, son in-law Elliott said that Ron had given him a profound burden of gratitude. He quoted his friend: “Blessings come at us so relentlessly, we are forever in a deficit position. We never get all of the thank-yous or goodbyes properly said, which leaves us, each one, living with a burden of gratitude.”

May we all be so lucky.

Thanksgiving 2005 & 2018

(Photo Credit Russell Sharman, who with Cheryl attended this All Region Orchestra concert since we were far away.)

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Fall has come a bit early to Fayetteville, and it snuck up on me so quickly that I can hardly concentrate. One day it was mostly green and the next all red, orange and yellow. I can’t really keep conversations going because I’m so distracted by this temporary magic that’s every where I look. When it gets like this, usually in early November around these parts, I get almost panicky trying to be in the present moment, knowing that it’s going to soon be over. My failed objective every autumn is to calmly take in the breathtaking beauty and then let it go.

About six weeks ago my parents began some intense planning for “end of life” arrangements, and part of their process was that my dad began calling my Uncle Ronnie, his brother in-law for the past 52 years and one of my very favorite people, to get advice and support. They discussed cremation, living wills and my dad’s art work. And then, just like that, within a few days of their last phone call Ronnie fell down a flight of stairs and never recovered.

As a Kansas kid, my New Jersey aunt and uncle were exotic, attentive and always fun. This opinion only grew as I did, and how I loved sharing them both with Troy. Their Summit home was where we parked our bodies and furniture waiting for our New York City life to begin, and it is where we returned time and time again for Thanksgivings and other visits. City lovers themselves, they often made the drive or the train ride into Manhattan, treating us to dinner and Broadway shows, sightseeing at the Rockefeller tree and the Christmas window lights most every December. They never missed a single play either of us were in, no matter how awful. They moved to Virginia a few months before I got pregnant with Huck, and so that became our new favorite place to visit. Four Octobers ago Ronnie and Dottie even made it down to see our new home in Fayetteville and me on stage in “Proof,” finally understanding the appeal of this southern town.

It’s been an October of grieving, but the end of this month has also brought awe to my sad heart. I know that leaves change colors because of a lack of chlorophyll caused by the fewer hours of daylight and the changes in temperature. These beautiful, sought after leaves are dying, after all. The trees are preparing for winter and reminding us to do the same. They say that leaves can change colors early because of tree-stress. The tree perceives a threat to its well-being, and so changing colors early is a defensive mechanism that allows the stressed out tree to eliminate at least one source of trouble. Troy says it’s because of all the rain.

Whatever the reason, I’ll take it.

October 2014

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After waiting a few extra minutes for Huck to come out of the house and get in the car to head to school this morning, he finally appeared with his oversized backpack, fashionable lunch bag, trusty viola and heavy box of 60 candy bars that he’s selling for a dollar. I chuckled under my breath at how many accessories he carries to school each day as I caught a whiff of his amazing smell. So I said, “You smell amazing.” “Oh, I just put on some lotion,” he replied. “You smell more amazing than lotion,” I countered. He concluded,”Oh, I also put essential oils in my shoes. And sprayed myself with lavender.”

I can think of no better story to describe my 13.5 year old son than this one.

To donate to his EPCOT trip fundraiser click here:


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My dad, who has known me my whole life but remembers me best around age 16, thinks of me as a passionate, temperamental person who sleeps till noon in a chaotic and disorganized bedroom full of 1950s posters. It’s hard for him to picture me as what he calls “domesticated” with a full-time job, a husband, a child and a mortgage. He gets fits of giggles if I say anything too grown-up sounding at the end of a phone call, like for instance: “I should probably start cooking dinner.” This can push my many buttons, as I’m in fact middle aged and basically keep three humans alive each day, but now I’m starting to understand.

I’ve got Huck stuck around age ten.

I like to brag that we haven’t really seen signs of the terrible thirteens, or whatever we’re supposed to call them. Huck is pretty sweet, sensitive, still very dependent on us, a constant conversationalist, quite cuddle-obsessed. I’ve even hinted that maybe I was ready for him to become moody and withdrawn. But then I remembered that this summer when we went to the pool, he often asked to stay home. When we took him to the Pacific Ocean, he didn’t even put on his swim suit. He begs us to go on dog walks without him. “But you have so much fun at the pool,” I say. “You’ve always loved the beach!” I exclaim. “You enjoy fresh air and exercise!” I shout.

No, I don’t. Not anymore. I never did!

My version of Huck belongs in the same place as my dad’s version of me; sweetly up against our hearts as we get older and older. And I wish I could sleep till noon.

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This will always be the summer I remember as “that time when Huck got taller than me.” Other notable events include several trips to Kansas, Steven Universe, Huck volunteering at the library, Troy’s wildflower mound, my last time to be Summer Camp Director, the 7hills Youth Council at the Farmer’s Market, a 2:30am movie shoot, our California vacation, water parks, TheatreSquared’s Professional Development Institute at Petit Jean Mountain, a terrifying flat tire on the highway, Fiber Arts camp, Minecraft camp, Dungeons and Dragons camp, Austin Farnam Photography, Huck losing interest in our swimming pool, shaved ice, outdoor concerts, Sunny killing moles, all new bosses at work, and Huck’s voice changing without us noticing.

Last weekend we went shopping for school shoes, and with the help of his fellow almost-eighth-grade friends who are always a busy text thread away, Huck chose black high top Converse, just like I used to wear in the late ’80s. Goodbye, flip-flops.

I guess summer can end now.

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Huck, who loves to alphabetize books onto shelves and should probably be a librarian one day, suggested we reorganize our bookshelves together. In doing so I discovered not only an insane amount of dust that pretty much amounted to another dog, but also some old baby journals Troy and I faithfully wrote in during Huck’s first four years. I knew reading these would be a wonderful experience for the two of us, but I was surprised when Huck took pleasure in hearing old stories as well. You’d think everything that ever happened had been recorded in The Adventures of Huck baby blog, but apparently not.

I also found some large scrapbooks that I semi-faithfully kept during Huck’s first nine years. The last one is half filled with cards and the kind of memorabilia you would expect. But then it appears that right around his 9th birthday this task became too much for me, and instead I shoved things into it for later. I did not know later would take four years.

I quickly realized that part of the problem was the need for large 12×12 scrapbook paper to go into the photo sleeves so that cards and things could be attached to it. The inability to find such paper must be what ended the project all those years ago, but now I work at a school with scraps of paper and random things in various closets that no one uses. The next day I went into what used to be our drama office and is now a storage for all artsy-crafty things donated and undiscovered. Within seconds I found a pile of old, dusty scrapbooks filled with unused 12×12 whitish paper. I took what I needed and then stopped and looked around the room, marveling for a moment at how much things have changed over my four years at The New School. And then I realized the real reason I stopped having time for the scrapbook project.

Yesterday at work I said goodbye to three of my very favorite people. They packed up their offices like so many before them over the last difficult year, loaded their cars and/or moving trucks and left the school for good. I sort of had a lump in my throat for most of the day, and I told Troy and Huck I really needed a good cry. Huck asked, “Do you mean a happy cry or a sad cry?” and I said, “Yes.”

Five years ago today we left New York City for our pilgrimage to Fayetteville. I’m reading “The Grapes of Wrath” right now and keep combining the two journeys in my mind, dwelling on how difficult it is to leave a place you love in hopes of loving the new place even more, how difficult to say goodbye, how difficult change can be. Fourteen years ago tomorrow I took a positive pregnancy test, which means about 5000 Troy-made smoothies. Change is also good.

Time to finish that scrapbook.

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We left New York for the Ozarks five years ago, and in all this time we hadn’t taken a trip by airplane until early this month. Huck has inherited my talent for anxiety, and since travel halfway across the country can bring that out in a person, I had to do my very best to hide mine so that he would relax. He’s exactly my size now, and so it was no surprise that on the first Southwest leg of the trip to Las Vegas not a single person offered to change seats so that he could sit with his little mother. We three were separated at the back of the plane and I felt all kinds of frustration until I realized he was fine and I had just been given 2.5 hours of alone-time.

We started our California vacation about an hour and a half north of San Francisco in a beautiful place with an incredible view called Helen’s House with our dear Texan friends Shannon and Greg. It didn’t take long for Troy and I to begin planning to retire at Helen’s House, even if it meant living in a tent. We visited beaches, the redwoods, a winery, the Golden Gate Bridge, and added to our many ridiculous inside jokes from years and years of Longhorn friendship. We spent time with our dear friend Amy and her dog Huckleberry in Oakland before taking a 12 hour train ride to LA where we joined more dear friends Dusty, Natalie, Tony, Martel and Loy. There we hiked, beached, rode a ferris wheel, ate, drank, replaced our good-for-nothing rental car, visited Dreamworks, and played Mafia like old times. Our last night in that glorious state found us surrounded by former New Yorkers, most of whom have made LA their home, and not a one of us had changed much since last we met, aside from the tall, slightly familiar looking children following us around.

Well, there may have been a few more laugh lines.

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Here we are again in beautiful, warm, green, flower-filled, allergy-ridden, busy May with its end-of-school-year events, spring parties, graduations, awards ceremonies, concerts and summer plans afoot. Huck hears the gorgeous weekend forecast and complains that his parents will abandon him for the backyard (he prefers the non-buggy air conditioned climate). Sunny paces around anxiously waiting for more walks and dips in the neighborhood pond. Troy can’t stop planting, pruning, mowing and watering, and I can’t stop purchasing comfortable lounging type lawn furniture, which says a lot about our personalities.

As I’ve heard people say: “Can’t Complain.”

My sister Jeni and I were recently talking about how much our little brains always need something to worry about. Both of us had just experienced some work stress and general parental anxiety that fulfilled that need quite nicely, but then about a week ago we found ourselves without anything urgent or upsetting hanging over our heads (not counting school shootings and cancer). We began frantically brainstorming something, anything problematic in our personal lives that needed to be solved. And like an answered prayer, the white porch rocker I’d ordered online arrived with a strange hole in the left arm rest. Oh, this was unacceptable! I excitedly ran to the computer to demand a replacement part ASAP, almost happy for this setback. A fellow worrier who had just come off a very stressful semester shared with me her latest invented concern: finding the perfect travel shoes for a trip to Europe. Thank God for the seasons in our life when the true suffering disappears momentarily and is replaced by the fake kind.

Every now and then I give Sunny a humble rawhide bone, and when I do she looks at me sadly, like she doesn’t deserve such a treat. Once she knows I’m far away in another room, she decides the bone is safe to put in her mouth. Then she slinks past me to another room with suspicious eyes, as if I might steal it. After a few minutes she slinks back to the original room, and after a few more of these strange journeys she finally eats the whole thing up in under a minute.

Troy and I just celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary, Huck has nearly survived a very good 7th grade year, I just got a much longed for job promotion, and the rocking chair company promptly sent us not one but TWO perfect arms without holes. Sometimes I feel like Sunny Dog with her lil’ bone, not sure what to do with such a gift, maybe worried about how quickly it will be gone. Recently while driving to work I saw a mom and her toddler son playing together near a pond. Queen’s “Pressure” was playing in my car, and the whole scene felt like a sad movie and I had to look away. I used to be a mom like that with a boy like that and very little pressure during those sweet long days without a job. It’s the time of year, I know it is. Things are ending and people are saying goodbye and a certain little voice is beginning to change and a certain baby nephew turned 17 today and I really, really need something to worry about. I pulled into the parking lot in time to sing along to one of the very best endings:

“Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the  edge of the night
And loves dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
Under pressure

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This spring break we got Huck a new bike whose color matches the beginnings of the season, and we finally fixed Troy’s old bike. We discovered the decade-old HBO miniseries “John Adams” and this great new show called “The Voice,” now in its 14th season. We went on dog walks, bike rides, family hikes, short runs and long dentist appointments together. We read many books and we played many board games, all of which I won by some strange streak of spring break luck. Huck taught himself to make more homemade tortillas than our family could possibly eat. We sent Troy to the eye doctor and got him some glasses that cost more than his entire collection of “readers” from Dollar Tree. Some of us played laser-tag and video games while others of us slept in each and every blessed morning. We planted marigolds, basil, sunflowers, petunias and other magical things, and we took our allergy medicine. We sat in front of our fireplace when the weather felt more like winter; on other days we got suntans. This morning we waved palms. And we finally replaced our refrigerator’s water filter.

In other words, we took the whole week off.