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Hope Like A Heartbeat

December 12, 2017

A noun. A thing, elusive and ephemeral. To grasp, to cling, to clutch. But slippery. Sliding away when we’re not paying attention. Open hands, it’s gone. Again.

A verb. A choice. An act of myopic faith, blurry in the distance but promising. What might be, what could be? Active belief in possibilities as yet unseen.

Hope in a family with Huntington’s Disease is a risky business. We’ve hoped and held on to hope for so long already. Hope slipped away the day I knew my mom was dying. Hope returned, a tiny flicker of belief that perhaps my life would not end the same as hers.

Hope, like a heartbeat, pulses in the background, at times strong, at times so faint it barely exists.

I may not carry the Huntingtin gene, but there are people I love who do.

Hope began to beat again, this week, when a drug company in the UK released the results of trial using new methods to treat HD.

The results are promising.

Weary, we lean down and pick up Hope again. Choosing to believe, choosing to carry this thing we’ve held and dropped so many times before. Tucking it back into our pocket.

Perhaps, this time, we won’t have to let it go.

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A Love Letter to a New England Summer

August 25, 2017

It is nearly midnight but I don’t want to go to bed. Because when I wake up, it will be the last Friday of summer and it will all be over. On Monday it will be school, and schedule, and routine. 

This summer, our first full summer in New England, was extraordinary. It was full of all the things that summer should be. Swimming and sunburns and mosquito bites. Add a dash of poison ivy because it is, well, everywhere and to go without it is to never walk in the woods and what kind of life would that be?

It was ice cream and warm rain, cut grass and baby goats. It was small town parades and eating outside, food trucks on the parkway and the farmer’s market. It was plane rides to faraway places, heavy lidded boys with brown cheeks and tousled hair. It was air thick with humidity and sweating as you step out of the shower. It was a little work, a lot of play, staying up too late and sleeping in too long. 

It was all that summer should be.

But now, it’s over. 

Fall is peeking around the corner. The forecast proves it. She’s ready for her turn in the spotlight and we love her, we really do, but summer….

A New England summer isn’t anything like those long, drawn out seasons of the west. She’s only here a moment, and when she’s gone, she’s gone and she’s not reappearing for a long, long, LOOOONG time. 

Tonight I’ve got the windows open. The crickets, a cacophony outside my window. Tomorrow will be back packs and school supplies, sharpened pencils and notebooks. It will be laundering all the new school clothes and pulling the long-sleeved shirts and jeans from the back of the closet and drawers. (It will also be astonishment at how much their feet can grow in three months, but I digress.) Tomorrow will belong to fall and I’ll have to put on a sweater to walk them to the bus stop on Monday. 

But tonight…tonight belongs to summer and to the crickets and to me. 

Things I’ve Learned Since Moving to New England

July 24, 2017

June 21 marked the one year anniversary of our exodus to New Hampshire from Northern California.

It’s been quite a year — we survived the winter splendidly — it was quite fun, in fact. Spring, however, was not so much fun. It was cold, and raw, and the 9th wettest May on record. Mother’s Day nearly done me in — the rest of the country (it seems) was hanging out by the pool and we were still in hats and mittens. But summer did arrive mid-June, on schedule, and we are now gallivanting around to fairs, the beach, and eating our body weight in locally produced ice cream. It’s a good life! 

For those of you who still think we are crazy to leave La Buena Vida of California…here’s a few things I’ve learned in the past year:

  • The most frequently accessed app on my phone is The Weather Channel. I am obsessed. But for good reason! Like Forrest and his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. And just because they said that three days ago, does not mean that’s what’s going to happen today. Meteorologists around here are local celebrities; they really have to be on their toes! 
  • Having lived in Maine, I already knew that Autumn was spectacular. But it’s nice when memory doesn’t exaggerate.

  • Car seat warmers: Not a novelty. Essential to survival.
  • Mittens not gloves. If you live here, you know. 
  • Winter is a time for rest. We never had that in NorCal — when the sun was shining, we just HAD to be doing, and going. It was kind of exhausting in hindsight. When the storms roll in around here, we actually do hibernate. By the fire, in our PJs, with a good book. It’s a beautiful and refreshing thing to have permission to Just. Be. Still.

  • Wind chill is a thing. A very important thing. (And, may I repeat, mittens, not gloves!)
  • Hats are not a fashion statement, nor are they optional. After a haircut in the winter, I ended up wearing one around the house and to bed for about three days until my scalp acclimated.
  • Bluebird Days are the very best kind of days.

    blue·bird
    adjective
    noun: bluebird day: denoting or relating to a period of time characterized by sunny, cloudless weather, typically after a night of snowfall.

  • The advent of spring is very much like that part in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy leaves the monochromatic world of Kansas and wakes up in Technicolor Oz. It’s JUST LIKE THAT.
  • I’ll never buy ice cream in the grocery store again. Because locally made is a THING around here, and there are so many places to choose from. I’ve made it my personal mission to try every version of Moose Tracks that exists. So far, Richardson’s is the best, but only when it’s purchased at Stillwell’s on the Riverwalk, Exeter. 
  • Hearing the words “poison ivy” elicits the same physical response as does the word “lice.”  
  • After nearly six months of cold and freezing temps, any sunny day over 60°F is sufficient for wearing shorts and/or sunbathing. 
  • Spirea, Ninebark, Doublefile Viburnum….(flora of a truly exquisite nature I’d never even heard of before.)
  • Mosquitoes still bite even when it’s pouring out. 
  • Farm-to-table is more norm here than exception. We have farm-to-table Mexican, pizza, burgers…you name it, we got it. So much yum.  
  • Tick checks. Every. Single. Day. 
  • Baby goats are addictive. And they do not smell. They are joy, on four legs. And sometimes, two. 

  • Getting out of school in late June seems awful in theory, but given summer’s late start around here, we will be enjoying a full month of summer in August while you people are back in the classroom. 
  • If there’s not at least three festivals, fairs, parades, or cook-offs to choose from every weekend in the summer then something is terribly wrong. 
  • Traffic is not. There really is no such thing around here, unless it’s 95 at the front or back end of a holiday weekend. But that’s easily avoided. When locals complain about the “awful traffic” in Exeter, we just giggle. A whole 10 minutes! So brutal. More than three cars at a stoplight is what the locals call traffic.
  • Remember the film Doc Hollywood? The quaint, small-town life where everyone knows each other and the town parade and fair is a huge deal and it’s all so charming and story-bookish? Well, that life really does exist. Whether it’s the town’s 300th anniversary parade (yes, you read that right. Stratham isn’t as mature as most towns around here, at ONLY 300 years old….) to the Memorial Day parade, to fireworks over the river, to the Independence Day re-enactment of the delivery of the Declaration of Independence to Exeter on July 16, 1776 (complete with horseback couriers and Royalist hecklers) to the local 4H exhibits in baking and sewing and horticulture at the town fair. That life is real, and we’re now living it.

In short, as I’ve said before, I feel like I am finally home.

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My History with Huntington’s Disease: Writing From The Inside Out

May 2, 2017

Mom and me, spring of 1992, my sophomore year of college. Her decline had already begun, and this is one of the last “normal” photos I have of her.

As you probably already know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

I took this opportunity to rip out my own guts and wear them on the outside for a while, and I wrote about my mother’s decline into mental illness as she began to succumb to Huntington’s Disease.

To say I feel a bit exposed is a understatment. But, this illness, this horror, it needs to be brought out into the light. The world needs to know. The suffering has to stop. There are so many people still at risk. Some of them I love.

This post, The Story Of An Enabler, is running on the Redbud Post website this month. I hope you’ll take the time to read it. Take the time to share it. Take them time to spread the word.

The suffering has to stop.

 

An enabler is a person who encourages or enables self-destructive behavior in another. So often we think of enablers in terms of addicts and alcoholics or the mom who keeps feeding her 700-pound, bedridden son. People who keep hidden what everyone else can already see. We think of them with derision and judgment, as if they had a choice in their actions.

Perhaps, though, we, the enablers, are creatures just as broken and bereft as the individuals we try to protect. Desperate victims in a dark-shrouded world, who cannot see a way out of the darkness.

The beginning was subtle. She began to worry about strange things. She became convinced that odors of any kind would make her sick and refused to allow any cleaning products in our home—she even demanded that hotels we visited not clean our room with anything but water. If she encountered any kind of construction work or gardeners, she would flee immediately, running home to lock the house and close the windows lest the smells or the dust make her sick. Or worse, she would approach the crew and demand they stop their work, regardless of the circumstances or employer.

Late one night when I was a junior in college, she called, whispering into the phone that my dad had just tried to kill her…

Read More

 

If you’d like to read more about HD, or about my history with Huntington’s Disease:

My Story: Why I Write

On Death, Joy, and Tattoos

What Not to Pray (Unless You Really Mean It)

The Waiting: On Fear, Friendship and Snorkeling

Friday FAQ: Life After Huntington’s Disease

On Belonging, Friendship and Surviving Renae’s Hikes

Pray for a cure.

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Making New Friends Was Easier In Elementary School

April 21, 2017

Once upon a time, all it took to make a new friend were four simple words: “Do you wanna play?”

The end. Off we scampered to the swings, or the monkey bars, or the shady spot under the redwood trees that lined our school’s grassy field, and the deed was done. Friends made, simple as that.

(Keeping them was another story, but that’s not my point.)

These days, making new friends is much harder and far more ridden with angst. Doing so on your own turf is hard enough, but couple that with moving into an entirely new locale, doubly so. 

Making new friends, these days, takes guts. A willingness to put yourself out there, and risk rejection.

This week, my first post went live on the City Moms Blog Network, a nationwide blog collective with hubs all over the country. I write for the Seacoast Moms Blog which caters to the moms of the Seacoast region (Maine, New Hampshire, and northern Massachusetts). I wrote about this struggle to make new friends, and all the feelings involved.

Check it out! Let me know what you think.

Mom-Dating Takes Moxie: Making New Friends After A Move

“Do you want to meet for coffee sometime?” By the time I got the words out, I was sweating. She hesitated before answering. I was certain she was trying to find a way to decline. But then, she smiled.

“Sure! Do you want to bring the kids or should we get a sitter?” Huge sigh of relief–yet another Mom-Date on the calendar, and my quest for making new friends continued.

I’m the new kid around here, a transplant from the West Coast where I’d lived pretty much my entire life. Yet, I was undaunted at this move to New England. I’m friendly! I’m outgoing! I thought that somehow I’d find my new community if I looked hard enough. A ready-made home team of players to be a part of our new life. They would invite me over, and their kids would love to play with mine. We’d just KNOW we were meant to be BFFs from day one…

Yet, after months of desperate loneliness, I realized that making new friends wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

Read more…

Don’t forget! The drawing to win a copy of EVERBLOOM will be at 5 p.m. EST on April 25 – release day! Anyone who is a current subscriber of this blog is automatically entered to win.

Do you find it easy to make friends now that you are an adult?

What’s your favorite pick-up line? 

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Worth Repeating: Everbloom Excerpt “We Write” (And A Giveaway)

April 18, 2017

The Everbloom collection releases in just a few days, and to celebrate, I’m giving away two free copies of the book.

 

The winners will be selected from the subscribers of this blog.

If you already receive my posts via email, you’re subscribed, and you’re alreayd in. If you don’t, and would like to do so, you can sign up here. Be sure to follow the instructions for the email verification to ensure you are fully subscribed.

Do you know someone who might benefit from this book?

Everbloom is an anthology of work by women of Redbud Writers Guild with essays, stories and poems. Readers will be empowered and inspired to find their own voice through the transforming power of story. These stories connect to a deep need within all of us to discover God’s guiding hand in the events of our lives.

In this book, compelling personal narratives and poetic reflections of pain, loss, struggle, beauty and redemption give an invitation to draw closer into the love of Christ. Insightful writing prompts encourage a response of faith and imagination at a deep level, providing a guide and friend for those who walk through these pages with so many generous storytellers.

In The Motherless Mother, my contribution to Everbloom, I share my experiences losing my mother to Huntington’s Disease. Simultaneous with this extraordinary loss, I became a mother in my own right, and The Motherless Mother outlines this painful journey, as I grew from darkness, desperation and loss into a confidence in myself and my own motherhood. It is a story of light emerging from darkness — shattered glass still shines; even in brokenness we still can reflect God’s healing and guiding light.

Do you know of someone who might benefit from this book? Ask her to subscribe, too. Final winners will be selected on release day, April 25. That’s just a week from today!

I also want to share with you just a bit of the introduction to Everbloom.

This says it all, all of it, the why, the who, and what you can expect from this anthology of essays and poetry.

We believe

in the singularity of our coffee mugs

as companions to

sermons, essays, proposals

composed alone,

but shared and shredded

as sisters.

 

We write

through cancer,

deadbeat fathers,

bipolar daughters,

dementia mothers,

and if He gives

a deep water immersion

of courage, our secrets.

 

We envy

the unattainable,

the Proverbs 31 woman

and we try, yes, we try

to climb Kilimanjaro,

crush HIV,

dance out urban decay,

set a table,

catch a fish,

and feed them.

Oh, we feed them,

words.

Every word,

we write,

for Him.

 

excerpted from We Write, by Margaret Ann Phlbrick

 

Two winners will be randomly selected from all blog and newsletter subscribers. I will announce the winners next Friday, April 25 at 5 p.m. EST.

I can’t wait to share this book with you!

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Dear Susan Branch: How This California Girl Fell For New England

April 4, 2017

Dear Susan,

I can call you Susan, can’t I? I feel as if we’ve been BFFs for years. I still have the cookbook you inscribed, via your cousin and my-then boss, Chris Nichols, after my post-college move to Portland, Maine. Those three years in Portland were my first real taste of New England living, and it cleearly wasn’t enough. I cried the day my husband and I decided to head back to California — I wasn’t done.

It took 16 more years for us to find our way back east, this time to the seacoast of New Hampshire, and for this reason I write:

I feel as if I’d been away all my life and have finally come home.

People ask me all the time what a California girl is doing here in the northeast, and don’t I hate the winter, and how can I even stand it? I shrug. I don’t know, but I feel like I am home.

Pinching myself, I still sometimes whisper, as I’m driving along tree-lined back roads, past farmhouses, barns and shingled cottages that are my every day….I live here! I live here!

This isn’t a joke. This isn’t a dream. I live here.

It is, yet, surreal. That this land should feel so familiar to me, when it is so very different from the world I have always known and loved in the west.

I was born for this life, this seasonal climate, with ups and downs and in betweens. I was born for candles in the windows at Christmas and stomping through snow banks. I was born for forsythia in April, lilacs in May, and peonies in June. I was born for ice cream that is a priority, not an after thought, and seafood fresh off the dock. I was born for clapboards and shingles, Cape Cods, and salt boxes. I was born for graveyards by every roadside,

(But not poison ivy and mosquitos. No one was born for those.)

I will forever love that California sunshine, and there are days (like today — with snow on the ground — April Fools!) when I will dream of dancing on the beach in the middle of winter, but I am grateful, ever so grateful, to finally be home in New England.

While unpacking, I made a discovery that brought everything together.

I was just sixteen when we first met, or rather, when I discovered your cookbooks at the shop where I worked. On Friday nights when I was closing, I’d sit at the counter poring over the illustrations and beautiful words. You were the original lifestyle blogger before there were lifestyle bloggers. Before Martha Stewart, who painted a picture so refined that we, none of us, could ever attain, you painted pictures and words that made New England come alive. It was real and it was attainable. Even for a little teenaged girl in Sunnyvale.

You painted a picture of a world I had never before seen — autumn foliage in colors so bright it was like walking around inside a box of crayons. Clapboard cottages with black shutters, white steeples against a bluebird sky. And a love of food, family and opening a home up for the sole purpose of loving on others. I have dutifully followed your suggestions for hostess gifts and dinner parties, Christmas decorating (everything should sparkle), and champagne cocktails. We love the same things — England and Jane Austen and Beatrix Potter — and we still think fondly of Laura Ashley and how she simply made the world more beautiful.

Your influence over my cooking (which, I will confess, was rather lacking when I started out in the world) was invaluable. One of my standard mottos in life and baking: Susan Branch is infallible. Yours were the recipes in which I could always trust the outcome: Sole Meunière and Elaine’s Famous Sugar Cookies, coconut cake and lemon linguine. Cream cheese potatoes and cookies for Christmas Nuts. Stuffed zucchini (go to bed skinny!), beer bread, and the only — the only — apple pie that could ever hold a candle to my mother’s.

I didn’t write down her recipe before she died. Yours saved me.

You wrote about Farmer’s Markets before they were all the rage, and gave me the vision for a kitchen garden that would take me another 10 years to create. My babies’ early days were captured, each of them, in a copy of your Baby Love. 

In the words of Anne Shirley, you’re of the race that knows Joseph.

Illustration and artwork by Susan Branch.

 

With a bit of shock — I can’t possibly be this old — I see you’ve re-released Heart of the Home 30th Anniversay Edition.

All that is to say,

Why do I feel so at home in New England?

Because Susan Branch made it so. 

From one California girl to another, thank you for helping me fall in love with New England. Thank you for casting a vision for a teenaged girl, who never knew anything other than concrete and asphalt, of a world where sun and sea and snow come togeyther in glorious communion.

With delight, I count myself among the F.O.S.B.

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