Friday, December 31, 2021

2021: Year in Review

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

 1. What did you do in 2021 that you'd never done before?

* published a book
* took tennis lessons
* vacationed in Michigan
* traveled to Milwaukee
* went to Disney World without kids (work trip)

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I love new year's resolutions, even if I don't keep them all! I'm not feeling super motivated this year, so we'll see if that changes. 

Last year's resolutions (with current commentary in italics):

* daily yoga (even if it's one downward dog)
Not quite daily... But definitely most days. I did really well for a while, fell off for a bit at the start of the school year, got back on the wagon, dropped off around Thanksgiving. But I am more stronger and more flexible than I was a year ago, and I credit that to more days doing yoga than not doing it.
* no new clothes for me until June
Nope. I definitely bought clothes. But mostly of the gently used/consignment variety, which I'm trying to be better about.
* more veggies
Hmmm. I forgot about this one and didn't really track it. I did really well with green smoothies when the weather was warm, but when romaine lettuce got sad looking at the store, I fell off the wagon. We tend to do the same veggies (we all like broccoli!) but I should probably kick this up a notch.
* boost savings account
Yes... boosted it, then used it, then boosted it some more. Lots of short term savings that I want to continue to amp up... I'd like to take a vacation and renovate our bathroom.
* buy used/local
Yes, but I want to do more of this as well. 
* revise novel
Ongoing process, but getting closer to completion, thanks in large part to my amazing and supportive writer's circle of Academic Mamas Writing Fiction. How does one do anything without a network of supportive women friends? 
* involvement in equity work at kids' school
This is ongoing. I'm not sure how effective I am, but I will continue involvement, especially as school board elections are approaching.
* read 65 books

Resolutions for 2022
I'm still pondering these. This is the first year I'm not really feeling resolutions. I kind of know what's working (yes, I should continue to do yoga & get back to drinking more green smoothies) and what's not (doomscrolling) but it's hard to feel motivated or resolved toward self-improvement when the changes I most want to see are outside my control (global warming & pandemic). Still, I suppose that controlling what I can is helpful and I do want to make measurable progress on my novel & be purposeful in some other areas. So I'll keep thinking & maybe post an update on this later.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My sister-in-law, JoAnna, had her third baby, my niece Turing, who is the chillest, happiest, most delightful baby.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes. In addition to our beloved pup, Cooper, we lost my grandfather on my dad's side and both of my mom's brothers. I also have friends and coworkers who are mourning grandparents, parents, spouses, and pets. It was a rough year for loss. 

5. What countries did you visit?
If you count drinking my way around the world on a work trip to Orlando that included an evening in Epcot, I really traveled! In real life, we did not leave the U.S., but I did make it (masked & vaxxed) to Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Florida.

6. What would you like to have in 2022 that you lacked in 2021?
The end of this f&$%ing pandemic.

7. What events from 2021 will remained etched upon your memory?
Our summer vacation, vaccinations for the kids giving me some relief (pre-omicron), email responses from people who read my book & that time my parents took 5 grandkids (ages 9, 7, 4, 3, and 2) on the Polar Express train ride and on their return from the "North Pole," there was a car stuck on the tracks, which meant they got stuck on the train for 2 hours.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Publishing my memoir about Eliza. I wrote about how I felt a little let down or embarrassed to self-publish it, but I am proud of what it contains, and proud of myself for forging ahead with it and realizing that it wasn't about the recognition of a traditional publisher. I'm awed (and a little heartachy) by the way it continues to have steady sales. Most of all, I'm humbled and honored by the responses that I've gotten and so grateful that I had the capacity and most of all the support & encouragement to do this in memory of my Baby Duck. 

9. What was your biggest failure?
Probably parenting related, but nothing enormous stands out. Just the ordinary day to day failures of oversleeping, losing my temper, etc. Maybe the time we went out to of town for several days and I laid out all of Gee's outfits and then left them on her dresser, not packing a single thing for her.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I woke one night with the worst pain I've ever experienced in my foot (and I've had natural labor without pain killers four times). I was sure when I pulled my foot out from under the covers it was going to be black and blue and would require surgery from some bizarre injury or internal bleeding. Instead it looked completely normal, but it hurt worse than anything. I think I was suffering from nerve pain. It kept me up for a few hours despite taking ibuprofen and then I finally dozed off. When I woke in the morning, it was sore but not excruciating. It's been fine ever since. WTH??? Fortunately I have otherwise remained healthy and free from injury.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Kate Baer's poetry books, a Plum Paper planner, Aerosole driving mocs, and an Ethan Allen chair from FB marketplace (why yes, I am living like a rock star, aren't I?)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
* governor of Kentucky
* my daughters' teachers who are amazing
* everyone navigating this pandemic without being an A-hole
* my spouse, per usual, especially for carrying on while I had an unusual number of nights away from home this fall

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Insurrectionists at the capitol on January 6, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, pandemic-deniers, people banning books and those trying to create a stir over so-called critical race theory in schools. 

14. Where did most of your money go?
childcare, groceries & (finally and happily) extracurricular activities!

15. What did you get really excited about?
thinking in June that the pandemic was ending, girls' weekend with college friends in Columbia, writing retreat in Iowa with my friend Julie 

16. What song will always remind you of 2021?
sad girl autumn songs--Taylor, Adele, Brandi & also Olivia Rodrigo

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- happier or sadder? happier
thinner or fatter?  NO LONGER ANSWERING THIS QUESTION BECAUSE ITS IRRELEVANT... as I tell my kids, the way you look is the least interesting thing about you.
richer or poorer? breaking even?

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
seeing my grandpa before he passed away

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
laundry (why is there sooooo much laundry?)

20. How did you spend Christmas?
At home with my parents and MIL. It was a rough Christmas Eve--one kid had a big meltdown and I got mad at D for how he handled it (or didn't). But we had a nice Christmas. Girls loved their hover board & weather was unseasonably warm. 

21. Did you fall in love in 2021?
with Baby Turing, showering at night, and Iowa City (on an away-game weekend in early November). Also with Gee saying, "I want to hold you" or "I need snuggle you" when she wants to be picked up. 

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Sex Lives of College Girls. Mindy Kaling is a genius.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I wouldn't say hate, but I would say a good handful of people really bummed me out. A lot of them are elected officials.

24. What was the best book you read?

Top 5: 
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
The Guide by Peter Heller 
The Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley

In nonfiction, The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee was the most important and eye-opening book I read in 2021. 

I also loved two memoirs: 
Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile (definitely do this one on audio) 
Lady in Waiting: My Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner (do this one to assure yourself that being part of the British aristocracy is actually a nightmare)

Honorable mentions go to these fantastic page turners, all of which I would highly recommend):
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (endearing octogenarians solve mysteries!)
Who is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews (kept me guessing & tore through it in a weekend!)
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (not my typical genre, but I was completely absorbed)
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (I really, really loved this book club read)
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman (super fun thriller--great on audio)
and The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (because I'm a sucker for a good Jane Eyre re-imagined)

25. What was your favorite musical discovery?
Taylor's re-release of "All Too Well" was all the angst I needed to express in 2021, and Adele's new album + Brandi Carlile's new album are perfection. Leslie Odom Jr.'s Christmas album is also wonderful.

26. What did you want and get?
a summer vacation with my family

27. What did you want and not get?
the pandemic to be over (just like last year)

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Promising Young Woman -- I watched very few films this year, but this one was a mind-blower. Really dark, though.
side note: I look nothing like Carey Mulligan, but I would still want her to play me in a movie about my life.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 41 and it was unremarkable? We went to dinner and the kids were ill-behaved. The next day we left for Indiana to visit family. I have made a conscious decision not to get into an existential funk about my age, but also to invest in a quality skincare regime. 

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

An end to this pandemic. COME ON ALREADY.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2021?
Skinny jeans are the new uncool mom jeans and I can't wrap my head around it except to acknowledge that I am officially super old because I can't believe the jeans these college kids are wearing lolololol but for real they are hideous. So I guess my personal fashion concept is uncool mom who prefers soft stretchy pants anyway.

32. What kept you sane?
Marco Polo, text threads, book club, writers circle, (so basically, female friendships) + teamwork with David + weekend visits from my parents + snuggles with my kids + working at a university that is actively invested in protecting faculty, students & community from Covid-19

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Kamala Harris, Andy Beshears, Laurel Bristow on IG

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
I mean, if we're ranking them, it's got to be the attempted government coup endorsed by ousted president, Donald Trump. Pretty alarming.

35. Who did you miss?
Still missing my friends from my old job. My Bubba, Cooper. And of course Eliza, who would be eleven and in fifth grade this year.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
My writers circle! Angie, Jenni, Margaret & Raechel. 

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2021.
2021 taught me to just do the things and figure it out--self-publish the book, sign up for the tennis lessons. It taught me that I will get so much more reading done if I embrace listening to audio books (hot tip: I listen in the bathroom while I shower/get ready). 

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
From "The Story" by Brandi Carlile:

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But those stories don't mean anything 
When you've got no one to tell them to, 
it's true
I was made for you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Cards & Envelopes

Photo by Ranurte on Unsplash

A woman named Brooke Styche posts on Instagram as @almosteverydaypoetry and I love what she writes. 

She recently posted a poem that took my breath away, that took me right back to December 2010:

The stack of Christmas and sympathy cards on the table
wishing us a merry
a sorry for,
sending us comfort
and joy--

I hang holidays on the ribbon in the kitchen,
want to tuck heartache in a drawer
for after gifts and stockings,
for after what should be--

but in their envelopes, I cannot tell them apart.

I remember wanting desperately in the midst of my blackest grief for everything to go back to normal. I couldn't possibly have a normal Christmas. I couldn't possibly feel like celebrating anything at all. But I wanted to feel that way, and I was afraid I'd never, ever feel that way again.

I still haven't learned how to tuck heartache in a drawer, how to fully compartmentalize happiness and sadness in separate spaces. I think the trick is to let them mingle, to know that the only flavor that tells you you're alive is bittersweetness.

I don't think there's anyway I could have known how life keeps growing around pain, if you let it. How love fills in so much of the hurt, while still always leaving a place for the one who is missing.


Today is my friend Julie's daughter Anna's birthday. I don't feel like I should write about other people's stories, but Julie posted photos on Instagram today, of her pregnancy, and of Anna, that were so beautiful they took my breath away. 

I look at Julie's photos, at the delight in her pregnancy and the devastation after, and I am confident of one thing: If love were enough to keep these babies alive, they'd be here with us.


I was thinking a lot about Sandy Hook yesterday. I could write about gun control and fear and post a gorgeous Kate Baer poem about what it feels like to send your babies to school in a country that thinks owning guns is more important than protecting children, but I was also thinking about how any day is someone's worst day. How each morning, we can't tell by the outside of the envelope what kind of day is opening. 

How terrifying it is to love so much and be so vulnerable. To know that our children go out in this world and all we want is for them to live their best lives and also please, please don't concuss yourself on a park bench while sledding or fracture your spine slipping off the uneven bars or breathe in this virus that won' t go away or step out in front of that car going way too fast in a residential neighborhood. 

If love were enough to keep them safe, they'd all be here with us.


I'm wishing all of us comfort. And joy where we can find it. May all your envelopes hold holiday cards. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021


It’s an odd thing to celebrate a birthday of a boy who no longer lives. But I suppose it is no odder than loving a child who is simply a memory. - Redneck Mommy website

I'll remember you, Eliza.  In eleven years, in eleventy-hundred.  And I'll love you forever.  It's just what mommies do.

In January of 2012, I started the draft of a blog post that was inspired by a post written by Tanis Miller. At that time, her blog was called Redneck Mommy and she wrote about her son's eleventh birthday. I saved the link to that blog post, and that line with which it started. I remember being really struck with the idea of "loving a child who is simply a memory." I copied the link and then I wrote those few sentences, a promise to my girl. I wish I'd copied & pasted the rest of the post because the last few weeks I've been thinking about it. I remembered--nearly ten years later--that it was so meaningful to me, that I wanted to go back to it and see if I felt the same in ten years, when I was celebrating (is that the word for it?) Eliza's eleventh birthday.

But the post isn't there anymore. The blog has archives but they only go back to February 2013. I don't know why. Sometimes things feel too tender for this world, and maybe that post was one of them.

Photo by Timothée Duran on Unsplash    

On her birthday, I feel too tender for this world. Nudge me ever so slightly and my tears will spill over. It's a day like any other but of course it's a day like no other in my life.

Any day is a day without her, and I've already had a thousand days. 4,015, to be exact (or not exact, because I'm not figuring in leap years). And yet this is the day where my throat feels tight and my temper feels short and my heart feels heavy. This is where I want a wish that comes true without undoing all my other wishes that have come true. This is where I want just one more thing--one more girl--to make everything complete. Except, again, it's not just a day. It's always and every day.

Maybe this is just the day that I give myself permission to bring that longing up to the surface, to look it in the face and to remember--as long as I can stand it--how painful it is to rip yourself apart to bring a baby into this world, knowing that baby has already been ripped away from you. 

How did I survive? How does any of us?

I think people don't talk enough about how tedious grief is. How many times can we rehash the same sorrow? But the other thing about losing a child is that the grief is always new. Tonight, I miss a ten-year-old. Tomorrow, I'll be missing an eleven-year-old. And when I say I'm missing her, I mean, she was here and now she's gone. I felt her skin and bones. I wiped blood from her nose. I held her tiny little body. I have her footprints. I can provide physical evidence, not just that unreliable eye witness testimony. She was here and now she's gone and those facts don't change in eleven years.

I've been thinking about eleven.

Eleven is the year you get your letter from Hogwarts.

Eleven & Eliza are alliterative.

Eleven is the last year of elementary school. 

Eleven is little, but also big. When I was little, my friend Erin and I would dress up and play pretend and we would always say, "And pretend we're twelve" because to a couple of seven-year-olds, twelve was glamorous and grown. Even when you're seven, you know that eleven is still little. It's just on the cusp of everything that comes next, and wouldn't I love to see what that would be for her.

I wrote a book called Unimaginable about a baby I've spent eleven years imagining. But maybe eleven is unimaginable to me.

My friend Monica and I got to know each other in middle school, although we didn't really become friends until high school. She says that she can imagine Eliza at eleven because she knew me at that age. I don't trust myself to imagine her at eleven, although once when I was collaging in a journal, I cut out a little girl in a Tommy Hilfiger ad who had on sunglasses. Somehow, I was convinced she looked like a preteen Eliza. Is that what eleven might have looked like? Confident and cheeky, with shiny brown hair?

I study her sisters--a brown eyed girl, a green eyed girl, a blue eyed girl, light brown hair, medium brown hair, blonde hair, and I wonder who looks most like Eliza. Who acts most like Eliza? How would she be different from three variations on this genetic combo? It baffles me the way they look and act so much and so little like me and like each other. They are each so fiercely themselves. What clues can they give me about who Eliza would and wouldn't be? I wish I knew. 

That's the heart of it, right? That's why grief might be tedious but never gets old. I'll always wish I knew her and everyday she would have been someone a little bit different. I miss every age, every stage, every moment.

That paradox of grief: it's constant and constantly changing, shifting, sliding, slicing, soothing. The love, though. That's the same. 

Ten years ago, when I tried to imagine what the eleventh birthday would feel like, I couldn't see any of the details. But I knew then I'd love her forever and of course I was right about that.

So here's to eleven years without you, my beautiful missing girl. My winter baby. My favorite name. My first child. My almost dream come true. My most joyful pregnancy. My greatest sorrow is not knowing who you would be today. 

Eleven years ago, I never could have believed I'd make my way to this full and happy life, but the root of the root (and the bud of the bud) is that part of what fills up this life is the space my heart keeps just for you. 

Eleven years, always & forever.