Soul Care

Poached Eggs, Flowers, Quilts and Surrogate Grandmothers

Poached Eggs, Flowers, Quilts and Surrogate Grandmothers

We spent about 12 hours on airplanes over the weekend, swapping time zones to travel to and from New Haven to be there for Grandma Jeanne, and to be in community with everyone whose hearts she had taken up residence in.

We practiced spelling words for the third grade Bee on the plane. We caught up with family, and cried, and dressed up and sat in a beautiful old chapel with impossibly tall stained glass windows, and let the kids play by the creek in their good shoes, and ate delicious little steak-and-horseradish crostini.

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We drove back to Rhode Island and slept hard, and fed the ducks, and toured a house for sale around the corner. The woman who owned it had passed away, she was over 100 years old and I thought about the stories that 1960’s wallpaper could tell.

Bixby clambered into his old ride-on car with his knees pulled up to his chest and zoomed up and down the quiet street. We talked around the table over plates of homemade chicken Milanese, and over mugs of tea, and outside on what ended up being the first really spring-like day.

Mostly though, over the past few days, I’ve listened. See, Grandma Jeanne wasn’t my grandma, at least not by blood. I was content to listen, partly because I love hearing the stories, and partly because it feels awkward to lay claim to a grandmother that isn’t officially “mine”. But Grandma Jeanne has been my surrogate grandmother — something I think my own grandparents would be grateful I’ve had the gift of enjoying all of these years.

I remember when Grandma Jeanne and Pop-Pop still lived in the house on Autumn Street: the steep backyard was terraced into a garden, the structure of it lovely even in winter.

Inside was all sunlight and warmth.

Artwork from their world travels and photographs of family spanned the clean, milk-white walls. Upstairs, presented with pride, were a few gorgeous handmade quilts hung carefully on the walls, their stitches telling stories of their own.

Poached Eggs, Flowers, Quilts and Surrogate Grandmothers

I feel lucky to have met my husband’s grandparents while they were still living in that house: lucky to have witnessed a small slice of their life in that love-filled home, where so many poached eggs on toast were served up and the candy dish was always full.

But most of all, I feel lucky for the time I got to spend with Jeanne in the years after her husband passed away. My own grandparents were all gone by then, and without fanfare, Jeanne took me into her brood like just one more little duckling.

We shared a love of mystery novels — she adored Louise Penny and Martha Grimes — and always talked books when we got together. She took such an interest in my work, always asking to see my latest blog post or a recent article I had written for Houzz. She wanted me to help her design her apartment in the assisted living facility after she moved out of the house on Autumn Street. When I brought photos for her of Bixby, she told me with utter sincerity that she thought I should be a photographer.

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I think a lot of people hold their own families so tightly that there’s no space for anyone else to get in. But if you’re lucky, sometime you’ll run into another kind of person: the kind that has not just a warm smile, but a warm and open heart that seems built for kindness. Especially where grandchildren — and great-grandchildren and surrogate grandchildren — are concerned.

Process of Elimination

For the past nearly-four years, we have been living in an apartment. It’s a lovely apartment, steps from my mom and brother, a few blocks from one of my oldest friends, walking distance from Trader Joe’s, a delightful cafe, a running path by the beach and a great school we love. My husband takes the ferry to work, 20 minutes later he’s in San Francisco; on the boat ride home he can have a beer and look out at the sun setting over the bay.

But it’s in a city where we can’t hope to buy a house, not anytime in the foreseeable future. It’s an apartment without a yard where my outdoors-loving kid and I crave open, wild spaces. It’s in a city where the air is regularly “unhealthy for sensitive groups” which makes me nervous since I had asthma all through childhood.

Process of Elimination: On the Beauty of Saying Not for Me

These past almost-four years have, in a strange way, felt like limbo. Enjoyable, for all of the reasons above, but with an undercurrent of transience. How long will we be here? Where will we land next? I hate the feeling of not knowing, even though we are the people doing the deciding. I wouldn’t want someone to tell me where to live, and yet in a small way it feels like that would be easier. I crave limitations. When the world is too wide-open, it’s scary not knowing where you’re headed. With a course charted, I can relax into the journey.

I’ve been slowly piecing together a patchwork of not-heres to help determine where that great big “you are here” arrow might land next.

First, after reading This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick, I decided to cross off any place too far to drive to a good friend or relative’s house within an hour or two. For us, that narrows the options down to just a handful of circles on the map. Unfortunately, some of those circles are still thousands of miles apart, begging the question: how else can we decide where to go?

I know what I want: A walkable town, good coffee, independent bookstores, clean air, beautiful nature, quality schools and public resources like parks, playgrounds, walking paths and libraries. A nice big yard where we can have a dog and a treehouse. My work is portable, but my husband will need to stay near at least a mid-size city.

Process of Elimination

We took a quick overnight getaway to one potential locale over the weekend, and I was instantly disappointed. It was near areas I’m quite familiar with, and I thought I had a better sense of things. But after arriving, I quickly realized that seeing a place with eyes to living there is a different proposition altogether.

I didn’t like the treacherous curving roads with no sidewalks — I imagined my son trying to navigate them on his bike, and felt my heart jump into my throat. The densely oak-y hills felt strangely oppressive. Pulling into the parking lot of the junior high school, we were greeted with a roof that needs replacing and a cluster of mostly temporary buildings surrounded by chain link. I came away feeling dispirited and down.

But as the experience percolated in my head a bit more over the next 24 hours, I realized that this — the ugly school, the tummy-twisting roads, the oppressive trees, all of it — was a gift.

It’s a gift to be able to say, that’s not for me.

It’s a gift to be able to name what’s not working.

It’s a gift to be able to walk away: to cross something off your list and say, nope, not going to happen.

Where has that left us? Honestly, I don’t know. There are still communities near the one we checked out that have potential, and then there are the other (much farther away) circles on our map to weigh. But being able to cross this one place off our list of potential places is like taking a bag or two of castoffs to Goodwill — it’s not the whole shebang, but it’s a beginning.

A bit of space is opening up, and that’s worth celebrating.

Moments of Beauty: A Peek Into My August Gratitude Practice

Hello my lovelies! Some of you may remember that last month I started a gratitude practice. We’ve all heard about the far-reaching benefits of gratitude (it’s been found to boost happiness, strengthen relationships and more) but keeping a gratitude journal can seem like just one more thing to do. Since accountability can help cement a new habit, sharing my list is a good way to boost the chances that I will continue making gratitude a regular practice in my life. Why don’t you join me?

Moments of Beauty: August Gratitude Practice

I had an idea that recording my list on twitter would be a quick and easy way for me to keep up with what had been a spotty-at-best practice, but after testing it out for about a month I’ve decided it’s not for me. Instead, I’ve been keeping a running list in my bullet journal, and I’ll share a segment here each month.

Here are a few little moments of beauty I captured this August…

Little pink baby cheeks and toes on a wee niece.

Finding independent bookstores wherever I travel. It feels like home.

Sand and sea as far as the eye can see.

Big wedges of watermelon on the deck, juice dripping down arms.

Being with so many favorite people, all under one roof.

Heirloom tomatoes from my mother in-law’s garden, carefully packed and driven all the way down the eastern seaboard.

5pm on the deck of our rented beach house, icy G&T in hand.

Finding a Little Free Library specifically for children’s books!

Learning to run.

Waking up at first light, dawn on the beach, just me and the dolphins.

Sunrise over the ocean, all quiet where the wild horses roam.

Fresh heirloom apples, first of the season from our favorite farm.

Honey bee crossing! Homemade sign declaring the presence of a thriving hive.

Saturday morning, fresh coffee, stack of cookbooks. Listing favorite recipes to make this fall.

Escaping town for the cool blue of the reservoir, lush green trees, lizard spotting with my son.

Finishing a book that feels so satisfying you can’t imagine picking up another one.

Camping with old friends. No cell service. Lots of stars.

Next steps: Look for themes to boost your joy.

Looking back at this list, I’m noticing nature, fresh seasonal foods, and books. (No surprise there, hah!) If you make your own list, reflecting on any themes that crop up can be illuminating: if there are certain things, people, or experiences that tend to light you up and bring you joy, why not make room for more of the same? Intentionally choosing to do small things that make us happy (and increase feelings of gratitude) is a wonderful way to gradually move your life into alignment with your truest callings.

What are you grateful for? Feel free to link to your own gratitude list in the Comments.

August Gratitude Practice

Moments of Beauty: July Gratitude List

We've all heard that gratitude can do us good — expressing a thankful appreciation of what we receive has been shown to boost happiness, improve health, strengthen relationships, and help us deal better with adversity. In an effort to develop my own gratitude "muscle", I've started keeping a gratitude list. But instead of writing a list on paper, I'm tweeting gratitude. Since I nearly always have my phone within reach (for better or for worse...) this has actually felt easier than past attempts. I've simply been recording the little moments of beauty and meaning, as they occur to me.

Each month I'll be sharing my list on the blog, and I invite you to do the same if you feel inspired to join in. Now, on with the list...

Moments of Beauty: July Gratitude List

In July I am grateful for...

Trader Joe's coconut cold brew on ice in my favorite blue mason jar.

Having a child old enough that I can bring a book to the park — and actually sit back and read.

Knowing there are wise women like @corrigankelly out there in the world sharing their gifts.

Spending a summer Monday morning learning magic tricks with my son.

Afternoon sun, making everything it touches gleam like liquid gold.

Running for 20 minutes — without walking once — for the first time ever.

Picking flowers from our front yard to press: California poppy, rose, lavender, and sage.

Enriching my life (and my reading list) with the bookish community that is the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club.

Ice-cold beer with a wedge of lime, a fresh stack of books from the library, and the whole weekend stretching out ahead.

Beautiful silver-haired lady riding her bike - fast! - by the shoreline, pure bliss.

Our Sunday night agenda: Quick pickles, grass-fed beef burgers on the grill, watermelon for dessert. Yes.

All the July tomatoes.

There are over 25 (what!?) Little Free Libraries now in my hometown. One of these days I’ll take a walking tour of all of them.

Standing in my kitchen, snap the stem away, inhale: the scent of tomato vines brings me right back to my grandfathers garden.

Peeking into all of the beautiful front yard gardens in my neighborhood. Summer flowers abound.

Finding a fairy door, carefully constructed and complete with spiral staircase and deck, attached to the side of an oak tree.

The moment my husband comes home, hops off his bike, and unloads a secret treasure trove from his bag: piles of juicy, perfectly ripe stone fruit from the farmer's market.

photo: LUM3N on Unsplash

What are you grateful for? Feel free to link to your own gratitude list in the Comments.

Moments of Beauty: July Gratitude List