Tag: Gratitude


Year of Plenty

I don’t know how to describe this year. I keep trying to find words and coming up just short of unintelligible emo lyrics croaked over a wailing guitar. I realize that after the upheaval of 2007, this is saying a lot, but we’re nearing the end of our most challenging year as a family to date. It seems that every week since July, there has been some new circumstance beyond our control, and we’re currently dealing with some things we never would have imagined having to face. It all compresses on our mindspace, pulls us thin.

And yet, despite huge losses, we haven’t gone without. Even in the midst of betrayal, injustice, and good old-fashioned misfortune, we have always had enough food and love to go around.  I keep trying to weave our circumstances into the cosmic net of suffering, but when I take a step back, all my raveling ends connect to the simplest reality: plenty. Every fall from security this year has landed us in unexpected provision, and somehow, impossibly, we have always had plenty of what we truly need.

That’s what we opened our house up to celebrate last weekend. A group of friends who have been like family to us, who continue to overfill us with companionship and kindness. A house large enough to host them, to invite the sprawl of Thanksgiving in to linger. An enormous turkey which had the whole supermarket talking and barely fit in our oven. Side dishes and laughter and everyone at the grown-up table and Cheers! in an overflowing circle. Plenty.

 Our eighth turkey together... awww

I’m especially thankful this year for impossible provision, for these chances to re-learn the whisper of miracle, for far-flung hopes, for the beautiful souls buoying us, and for hunky Italian poultry named Luigi (naturally). What are you celebrating this year?



Life has felt off lately. It’s not that I’m having trouble adjusting to work but rather that I’m having trouble fitting Everything Else around the shaded blocks on my calendar. Recharge time has auditioned against grocery shopping and lost (hey, we’ve still gotta eat), and I’m always surprised by how quickly my perspective begins to flounder when my schedule fills up. I just get so focused on the task directly in front of my nose that I don’t notice which way I’m walking. Then comes an unhurried morning like this, the opportunity to rendezvous with myself, and I realize I have no idea where I’ve ended up.

I could be anywhere—a plateau overlooking wide horizons, a sinkhole hidden somewhere, a thicket of brambles, a strange new world—and the not-knowing spins my head off its axis. At the risk of outing myself as a control freak, I only feel like I can relax into my life when I’m sitting securely atop it, when I can survey it and take inventory and toggle wrongs into rights with a flick of my wrist. Getting lost inside my own head space seems like the ultimate failure.

I’ve been thinking about gratitude this morning as well. I know people who swear by gratitude journals, by counting blessings, by thank you notes turned into holy liturgy, and it certainly couldn’t hurt my pessimistic nature to stretch its neck to the other side of the fence once in a while. I’m not on top of everything—or possibly even anything—right now, but I’ll take inventory nonetheless…

…Of my wildflower daughter with the honey-kissed hair and freckled nose and my other daughter with the hair like a curtain of sunbeams and the laugh crinkles, both wearing tutus and singing variations on a theme of  “Ring Around the Rosies” in the other room…

…Of this job that asks of me my training but not my life and gives back more than it takes…

…Of the daisy constellations in the spring-green universe of our backyard…

…Of the weekend ahead penciled in for adventure and relaxation and games of hide and seek through lakeside trees…

…Of the gift of choice… and the greater gifts that I wouldn’t have known to choose…

And tallying up the bounty surrounding me, I still may not know exactly where I am, but I discover that I’m glad to be here.


Au Revoir

Dear husband,
I’m enmeshed in the seventh traffic snarl of the morning, though this one seems to be more of a Gordian Knot. No one has moved for the duration of my Vampire Weekend album, and several motorists are now rummaging in their trunks for survival rations. The bus driver from two cars behind has been walking up and down the ranks encouraging us to give up hope. If we don’t make it to the airport next week to pick you up, you’ll at least know where we are (A1 off-ramp in front of the Birra Moretti outlet, second guardrail down).

This has been an interesting morning, and not just due to our satanically early wake up time. The girls have plotted together to insure that at least one of them needs the bathroom at all times except when we are actually in one. Magellan’s engine light is on, its oil light is too, and the Italian traffic we have come to know and love has already added two hours to our return trip. I’ve put together a charming visual presentation of the morning so far, compliments of my cell phone camera:

While sitting in traffic is not among my favorite activities on the planet, it’s honestly not getting to me too much today. My thoughts are back at the airport with you, and every kilometer I’ve driven has felt like stretching a heavy-duty rubber band. That’s how it should be, I think, but it doesn’t change that heading home without you is a confusingly conscious effort.

I imagine you’re somewhere over the Alps right now, and I wonder about the likelihood of scoring a turkey dinner on a European airline. We’ll do our Thanksgiving after you get back, even if it’s just sneaking some bites of stuffing while we hang Christmas ornaments, but I can’t quite forget that today is the holiday itself. It’s part of my heritage no matter what country I’m in, no matter whether or not we can spend it together. So happy Thanksgiving, dear. I’m thankful that I still miss you before we’re even done kissing goodbye. I’m thankful that our car is more of a captive audience than a casualty of the traffic today. I’m thankful that I’ll get to spend the evening with friends and you with family and that we have about a billion forms of technology to keep us connected while you’re away, and finally, I’m thankful that my heritage allows me to spend this afternoon napping… even if has to happen on the A1 off-ramp in front of the Birra Moretti outlet, second guardrail down.



A Daily Dose of Beauty ~ September 2010

September 1st – Listening to our new little reader entertain her sister with a Seuss classic.

Natalie trying out her new reading skillz on her sister

September 2nd – Getting treated to an exclusive performance of The Best Circus Show EVER!!! with the world-famous ringmasters (and tightrope walkers and clowns and trapeze artists and magicians and unicyclists) Natalie and Sophie.

September 3rd – Watching the follow-up to the circus show: The Best Puppet Show EVER!!! (It was.)

September 4th – Finally checking out the local library that looks like a pink spaceship—to the girls’ delight—and bringing home a stack of storytimes.

September 5th – Appreciating how this week’s preacher included the Sunday-schoolless kids in the sermon and kept it short and relevant… as opposed to last week’s long droning discourse about Tamar and Judah. (The mind, it boggles.)

September 6th – Getting a fresh burst of excitement about this fall when Sophie exclaimed, “Natalie and I are about to go to school, and Mommy’s going to write and write and write! And make lunch!”

September 7th – Trying very, very hard not to giggle at the dinner table as the girls seriously discussed the perils of pooping.

September 8th – The usually horrible Festa dell’Unità playing Stevie Wonder through our open windows just when I needed a dose of happy.

September 9th – Watching a marathon of the girls’ baby videos with them, no matter how desperately it makes me want to cry.

September 10th – Introducing the girls to the magic of Totoro.

September 11th – Ending a full day of shopping with… more shopping, and speculating about all the fun memories the girls will make in their new fall clothes.

September 12th – Turning a failed picnic into an afternoon of games and relaxed conversation with one of our favorite families.

September 13th – Sending two thrilled little girls straight into the arms of their favorite teacher at school.

First day of school! 2

September 14th – Meeting the words I’ve been trying to find for years as they tumbled out of my fingers onto the page; mornings like this are why I write.

September 15th – Seeing evidence of my sweet girls’ care for our family and each other in action.

September 16th – Enjoying roasted tomato soup with a supersized helping of friendship.

September 17th – Snuggling up for a movie night with my favorite husband.

September 18th – Taking Natalie out for a mom-daughter shopping date and chatting up a storm.

September 19th – Indulging my inner heathen and taking a much-needed day to relax and watch the clouds blow by.

Vivid - 4

September 20th – Squelching my fear of failure and utter hatred for running to complete nearly three kilometers with my longsuffering Dan.

September 21st – Easing back into teaching English and remembering how much I really do enjoy it.

September 22nd – Accepting a last-minute playdate invitation and getting to know the warm and bubbly woman who is Natalie’s future mother-in-law.

September 23rd – Kissing my girls goodbye and watching them gallop hand-in-hand to their classroom, giggling all the way.

September 24th – Discovering an entire group of friends who share my background and are working together to forge a future full ofhope.

September 25th – Baking illegal chocolate cake with plenty of sticky-fingered help.

September 26th – Cracking up with the rest of the church band after an increasingly awkward list of song selections, including the same one called twice in a row.

September 27th – Being treated to the most delicious pretend picnic of all time by my dear Sophie who came home sick from school.

September 28th – Having a little dance party with myself to this song while putting on my makeup.


A Daily Dose of Beauty ~ August 2010

August 1st – Playing piano for church without the perspiring palms or misplayed notes that usually plague me.

August 2nd – Giving Natalie my pink pen and encouraging her to go to town on letters; this teaching process is making my English-nerdy heart so happy.

August 3rd – Compensating for the lack in stores by making bread and butter pickles from scratch (with coriander picked from our balcony, no less!).

August 4th – Spending a family evening at the park to breathe fresh air and recharge.

August 5th – Catching a mesmerizing sunrise mere seconds before the day turned overcast.

August 6th – Chilling with my brother-in-law over lunch, grateful for family who are also friends.

August 7th – Deciding on the spur of the moment to pack our lunch and go camping near Pitigliano.

August 8th – Spending the most delightfully lazy Sunday swimming in the pond, picking fruit, and relaxing as a family in the great outdoors.

August 9th – Indulging the compulsion to write despite a jillion-long to-do list.

August 10th – Appreciating and clinging to my dear husband all the more in light of a friend’s divorce.

August 11th – Cracking up over the girls’ lyrical interpretation of a light saber fight.

'Let's play Star Wars; I'll be Yoga'August 12th – Waking up to the first morning of Dan’s unexpected mini-vacation.

August 13th – Getting a free jazz dance performance by Natalie in front of the Duomo in Orvieto.

August 14th – Introducing our house guests to the magical, laughter-producing power of the Wii.

August 15th –Slurping up homemade Nutella malt milkshakes—with cherries and chocolate sprinkles, of course—in  four-part harmony.

Nutella malt milkshake

August 16th – Spending the last day of Dan’s work vacation doing nothing, glorious nothing.

August 17th – Finding a wiggly tooth in my five-year-old’s mouth and cheering together for the fantastic process of growing up.

August 18th – Watching my husband step up and offer unconditional love and support to friends in need.

August 19th – Hiding safely inside while Dan and his brother played a hilarious version of tennis with the bees infesting our balcony.

August 20th – Baking cherry chocolate cupcakes with Sophie, who kept smiling up with a chocolate-smeared face to exclaim, “We are the best bakers!”

August 21st – Giving some family TLC to our balcony garden; home improvement projects always make me happy.

August 22nd – Unexpectedly not having to play piano for church, performance pressure dissolved instantly.

August 23rd – Taking myself out to shop for clothes in  luxurious solitude.

August 24th – Enjoying our typical summer evening of freshly-baked baguette slathered in stracchino and a side of ripe, red watermelon, eaten together on our balcony while the sun melts out of sight.

August 25th – Journaling through some tangles in my brain and gaining perspective in the process.

August 26th – Scanning approximately 50,000 pages of the girls’ artwork from the last month, like taking a vacation  in their funny, colorful worlds.

August 27th – Rising above a heavy rejection letter to work on a story and finding I still have the capacity to enjoy writing after all.

August 28th – Taking a spontaneous trip with friends to Isola Polvese for a day of ferrying, picnicking, and playing on the beach.

Sophie opts not to get in the lake

August 29th – Watching and trying out circus acts with the girls at the children’s festival in the park below our house.

August 30th – Being blown away once again by the brilliant, saturated colors in the evening sky.

August 31st – Falling even more in love with my creative Miss Natalie upon reading her color chart.

Mommy [saying 'Masr'], Sophie, and me with colors



A Daily Dose of Beauty ~ July 2010

July 1st – Poking around the kitchen at Eilean Donan Castle and thanking the Powers That Be that I’m not actually a scullery maid.

July 2nd – Hiking through Glen Affric hand-in-hand with Natalie who sang her superspeed version of “You Are My Sunshine” to me on repeat.

Mommy and Natalie hiking 2

July 3rd – Careening with my crazy little family down the grassy dunes at Nairn Beach.

July 4th – Catching the total glee of the girls as they spent the morning whizzing down water slides.

July 5th – Eating Indian takeout on the floor and laughing over mis-translated menus with my very favorite husband of seven years.

July 6th – Surviving the hike up to Arthur’s Seat as a family and feeling on top of the world.

July 7th – Finding, in a very Private Eye move, the Tesco Superstore whose address had been written wrong. Without GPS. In an unfamiliar city. In which one is expected to drive on the wrong side of the road.

July 8th – Chowing down on piping hot fish and chips to bid farewell to a wonderful two weeks in the UK.

July 9th – Sharing a chair lift with my wide-eyed Sophie up above the quaint streets, serene river, and fairy-tale castle of Vianden.

July 10th – Splashing away the afternoon sweat in a Munich creek with dear friends, water cannons, and plenty of giggles.

Natalie picking a fight

July 11th – Spending time with friends in two different countries and finally falling asleep in our own soft beds; it’s good to be home!

July 12th – Opening a care package from a friend who somehow knew I needed to start the week with glitter and a good book.

July 13th – Watching an episode of Wipeout with the girls and cracking up together at all the good, clean painful, mud-splattered fun.

July 14th – Seeing the thrill radiating from Sophie as we watched Toy Story 3 in the theater.

July 15th – Sorting photos of our trip, each click a newly-minted memory.

July 16th – Taking the afternoon off to read a fantastic book guilt-free.

July 17th – Cracking up as my fearless husband swatted wasps out of the air so his much-more-fearful wife could enjoy her evening outdoors.

On the hunt for wasps 2

July 18th – Hosting a pool party only hours after setting up the girls’ inflatable pool… and it being a smash hit!

July 19th – Joining in the girls’ silliness in the pool and remembering the magical combination of water and children’s imaginations.

July 20th – Driving through a gold-tinged evening with the windows down and the music up—one of my favorite simple pleasures in the world.

July 21st – Filling an even trillion bottles with bright pineapple limoncello with Dan and thrilling to think of the friends who will enjoy them at Christmas.

July 22nd – Beating the heat with popsicles and pools and realizing I don’t miss air conditioning anymore.

July 23rd – Modeling my old ballet gear for my star-struck girls and dancing the morning away with them.

July 24th – Bobbing around in the turquoise waves of the Adriatic with my little fish of a Natalie.

Mommy and Natalie in the waves 1

July 25th – Chilling in our friends’ Brazilian hammock in the beach breeze.

July 26th – Playing airplane (now with turbulence!) with the girls until my legs gave out and we were all breathless with laughter.

July 27th – Doing my first reading lesson with Natalie and catching the infectious joy on her face as she read “Zac the Rat” cover to cover on her own.

July 28th – Doing my second reading lesson with Natalie and discovering the joy hadn’t worn off.

July 29th – Picking richly brown coriander seeds one at a time from June’s cilantro patch as my thoughts shifted from salsa to pickles.

July 30th – Impulsively inviting friends over for games… and having them accept just as impulsively.

July 31st – Finally getting all the photos from our Scotland trip captioned and neatly distributed online; it’s so good to be done!


A Daily Dose of Beauty ~ June 2010

June 1st – Despite the month opening with some sad news, feeling immensely grateful for my sweet girls, my thoughtful husband, and this little adventure of a life we’re building together.

June 2nd – Salvaging a rained-out holiday with board games, friends, and—best of all—cake!

June 3rd – Slipping away from motherhood for a glorious evening of aperitivi and grown-up conversation with girlfriends.

June 4th – Wishing we had some fresh fruit in the house only to run into the downstairs neighbor who was holding a big platter of cherries, freshly picked from the backyard, all for us.

Cherries from the backyard

June 5th – Nibbling strawberries from our little balcony garden and daydreaming about next year’s crop.

June 6th – Ending a long, busy day with the first watermelon of the season—sweet, sticky, and even more delicious for being shared with a crowd of friends.

June 7th – Eating the first peaches of the season with whipped cream and reaching something close to Nirvana. (Can you tell we love fruit around here?)

June 8th – Brainstorming gift ideas, a challenge that always makes me happy.

June 9th – Daydreaming about campgrounds in far-away lands and the Loch Ness monster we plan to meet this summer.

June 10th – Starting to feel that thrilling pre-trip giddiness that makes writing packing lists the most enjoyable activity in the world.

June 11th – Melting from the cuteness overload of Natalie (wearing a pink teapot) and her friends in their end-of-the-year preschool musical.

Emma and Natalie

June 12th – Seeing the girls shimmy to the sagra music blaring over our friends’ barbecue.

June 13th – Watching Sophie run full-speed to the front of our church during the Sunday School program so she could sing next to her sister.

June 14th – Cheering with a roomful of fans when Italy scored its first goal in the 2010 World Cup.

June 15th – Playing Hullaballoo with the girls and getting my silly groove on.

June 16th – Singing “You Are My Sunshine” in four-part harmony (well, in four parts, at any rate) with the rest of my sweet and goofy family before bed.

June 17th – Glimpsing the most glorious orange and purple sunrise with a soundtrack of a thousand blissful birds—the only real upside to being awakened by a crying child at 5:10 a.m.

Late spring sunrise

June 18th – Putting together fun Father’s Day surprises for guy who makes our world go ‘round.

June 19th – Picking out a new big-girl car seat for Sophie as a family and marveling at how well these girls of ours are growing.

June 20th – Getting a giant so-glad-to-know-you hug from an hours’ old friend.

June 21st – Teaching our girls the fine art of steamrolling.

June 22nd – Finishing the world’s longest Teux Deux list in happy anticipation of our upcoming trip.

June 23rd – Conquering my fears, taking a risk, and meeting a deadline that holds a large chunk of my current hopes at stake.

June 24th – Driving through the wooded hills nearby glittering emerald and gold in the morning light.

June 25th – Packing up the tent, locking the door behind us, and setting off for our next big adventure!

June 26th – Tumbling out of the car after a looooong day of driving and introducing the girls to the hilarity that is the trampoline.

June 27th – Taking an evening stroll around Cambridge and imagining myself at one of their impressive universities.

King's Parade

June 28th – Running from an unfriendly delegation of cows along Hadrian’s Wall until our whole family was out of breath from laughing.

June 29th – Wandering through the Scottish wilderness in the evening light and having my legs swept out from under me by the incredible beauty.

June 30th – Winding up through the Highlands blasting the Fratellis—Scottish bliss.

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