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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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Book Release: Everbloom

April 1, 2017


“We read to see elements of our own hearts, experiences and stories reflected back to us in the words of others. This collection is just that: stories that help us feel seen, known, and understood. Honestly and beautifully told, this book will keep you in good company along your own journey.”

                                        Shauna Niequist, bestselling author of Present Over Perfect

Long, long ago in a lifetime that now seems like galaxies away, I wrote down a goal.

It was a nea year life list, and I wrote down all the great and wondrous things I wanted to achieve, accomplish and do in the coming years. It was, simply, “Publish something. Anything.”

Until then, I had not published anything beyond my own blog posts, and I was dreaming big dreams.

It wasn’t long before I did, publish something, that is. It was MomSense magazine, and they accepted a little essay I’d written about taking my son out for ice cream. I remember getting the notification that I’d been accepted, and screamng and crying with joy. It was a big moment for me. Even my then-five-year-old was excited, taking my face between his hands, “I’m so proud of you, Mom!”

Since then, there have been many more. An astonishing number, honestly, when I sit back and count. Over 100 articles, blog posts, and essays. I’ve written for natationlly-distibuted magazines and local news outlets, I’ve contributed excerpts and quotes to other authors’ books and I’ve guest-blogged a number of times.

It is pure joy to see one’s own name in the by line. Pure joy (and disbelief).

April 25 marks another milestone in an author’s life. The shift from online to print is a big move, yes, but even bigger than just print….books. A physical book, traditionally published, internationally distributed.

Now, mind you, this is just a step up, not the final leap. It’s not MY book. It’s A book, of which I am a part.

A collection of essays, an anthology of heart-felt stories of life, and growth, and bloom.

There is nothing in this for me, save the joy of being a part of something bigger than myself, a book that, we hope, changes and empowers lives. If this sounds interesting to you, you can preorder a copy here. Buy it for a woman you love.

I’ll be sharing more — an excerpt of my own essay — as the release date moves closer. Stay tuned. Thanks for cheering me on. 

Grace and peace in abundance!


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New Adventures!

March 28, 2017

I know, I know…I never blog anymore.

But I have been writing.

Lots and lots.

Here’s just a few things coming up in the next few months….

I’m now a contributor with the City Moms Blog Network for my local area, and I’ll be posting twice monthly at Seacoast Moms Blog. Stay tuned for dates and specifics! City Moms Blog Network was created “To connect moms to info and parenting perspectives unique to their communities; to provide a positive voice for motherhood internationally; to support women in the growth of their businesses; and to help brands reach their audience.” Thrilled to be a part of our local team.

How perfect that I was able to share my experiences with moving and re-establishing community with LIfeWay’s ParentLife readers! The May, June and July of 2017 issues will feature my Tips For Moving series that covers everything from what and how to pack, what to expect, and ideas for putting down roots in your new community.

And finally, releasing in just a few weeks, a book of essays. And I’m in it. But I’ll tell you more about that in a few more days.

So there you have it. I’ve been writing. I’ll try to share bits of what’s being published here with links to the full content so you all can check it out and let me know what you think.

Grace and peace in abundance!


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The Great Parenting Experiement

January 26, 2017

It had been a little rough at our house.

We had Captain Drama, who shouted answers to all questions, ricocheted into defensive when you batted your eyelashes at him, and could, willfully and with malice aforethought, summon tears on command.

And then we had a preteen. Moody and uncooperative, and he kinda smelled funky at the end of the day. His organizational method for his room could be summed up in one word “Floor.” He responded to all requests with an indignant “Whaaaat!?”

Please feed the dog. “Whaaat?!”

Please clear your dishes off the table.   “Whaaat?!”

Please do not wipe toothpaste on your church clothes  “Whaaat?!”

Please do not leave your dirty socks on the dining room table.  “Whaaat?!”

You get the picture.

So Gabe and I came up with the brilliant plan to turn the tables. At 4:30pm one Sunday afternoon, we announced to the children that we would be trading places for the next two and a half hours. We provided them with a list of all that needed to be accomplished by the “parents” during that time including preparing and cleaning up dinner, feeding all pets, cleaning up the toys, getting ready for school the next day, etc. etc.

As the “parents” they were responsible for getting the “kids” (Gabe and I) to help out so that all could be accomplished in said time frame.

Now, begin.

First, they told us to clean up all the LEGOs in the family room. Gabe turned and went outside the play with the dog, I sat down next to a LEGO box and began assemblihg a space ship.

They tried again. Gabe was told to come inside. I was ordered to put the LEGOs IN the box. So Gabe and I began throwing LEGOs at each other.

They started yelling. I began rolling around on the floor. Gabe kept playing with the dog.

They yelled some more. I started crying and told them I can’t DEAL with this and went running back to my room and slammed the door. Gabe lay spread-eagle on the carpet, singing a song from “Frozen” and starting up at the ceiling.

At this point, about 15 minutes into our experiment, they both started crying. “I can’t do this! It’s too hard!”

Game. Set. Match. 



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Worth Repeating: When’s It MY Turn?

January 17, 2017

If you like clean and tidy, it’s best to just turn in your kids and your expectations. The two cannot coexist.



Maybv the greatest mom version inside of us is the one who doesn’t necessarily feel like showing up. The one who doesn’t want to give up the last Hershey kiss. Whoe doesn’t want to leave the weekend getaway with her friends. Who doesn’t want to get up early and taxi kids around or sit at the ball field for hours on end. Maybe the greqatest mom doesn’t want to cancel her hair appointment for a field trip or spend her spare cash on new vollyeball shoes, or give up her Saturdays for travel tournaments.

Maybe the greatset mom is the one who doesn’t always want to be…but does it anyway.


I had the pleasure to serve as an editor on this book, and I’m so thrilled to see it now in print. A truth-telling, raw and honest look at motherhood, by three women who aren’t afraid to show you their scars. This is a tough business, mothering, and while there is lots to laugh about, there’s also lots to cry about and in this book you will find both.

When’s It My Turn? A Collection of Short Stories (and Temper Tantrums)

byt Melissa Rixon, Christi McGuire, and Terri Mirikitoni

When Your Baby Isn’t A Baby Anymore

January 12, 2017

PicMonkey Collage

I wrote this two years ago.

We had our first parent/teacher conference of the year with our younger son’s second grade teacher, and as we’ve experienced every year, we spend half our time talking about older son and how he’s doing. They all rememeber him so fondly. They all are eager (as are we) to see what great and extraordinary plans that God has for this amazing and extra-extraordinary 11-year old.

But something bothered me about this conference. His grades were all equally good. His enrichment experiences were also. His only poor mark was in handwriting, and her comment to that was “I’m not concerned. I know that he’s perfectly capable, he just isn’t choosing to do so.”

Finally, I voiced the words out loud that had been worrying me for months. “By this age, we knew that his brother was a builder, a creator, and inventor. His aptitude for construction and mathematics were already exceptional. But this one…where is he exceptional? He’s good at everything, it seems, which leaves me unsure of where to encourage him. What can I do to develop his passion, his talents? In what area is he truly exceptional?”

His teacher looked at me with 20 years of wisdom and learning in her eyes and just smiled wryly, then answered.


I sat back and sighed. ‘Tis true, so true. The deadly dimples have bloomed into a full-fledged capacity for reading a room, creating humor, delighting crowds and generally charming the socks off of anything within a 20 yard radius.

This morning, as I exited my bedroom and walked down the hall after getting ready, I heard his voice from the dining room calling out to me.

“Mommy? Mommy is that you? Come see me! I have not yet seen your beautiful face this morning!”

His older brother muttered under his breath: “Nice one, Prince Charming.”

Was he charming me? By all means, yes. Did I mind? Not one iota. That boy is welcome to continue charming all and sundry, because clearly, this is HIS gift and talent and passion!

Let’s just all start (continue) praying that boy uses these talents for good and not evil. As I’ve said before, he’s either going to be president or an evil dictator. The jury is still out.

>Friday Favorites: Boys!

And this, four years ago.

Lulled by routine and structure, we find solidarity for a time. Naively, I am caught off guard – still –  when the calm breaks out into storm and once again, my insurgents are rattling locks, testing boundaries, vainly searching for weaknesses. Or not so vainly…

I am reminded of the cunning creativity of the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park. Dinos that think. Or rather, out-think.

Do you ever get what you want by complaining? I ask, annoyed.

Yes. He says, looking me dead in the eye and smirking. I do.

And finally, this….five years ago.

Eyes bright.
Cheeks rosy.
Your little face, 
my own personal sunrise,
peeps over the edge of the bed. 
Eye to eye, 
nose to nose, 
you dimple good-morning, 
curl into my side.

More puppy than boy,
you never walk.
You gallop, frolic,
tumbling from point A to point B
hops, jumps,
climbing up, climbing down,
and it always ends with a race that you always win.

Physical. Tyrannical. Volatile, and lovable.
Determined, and forceful.
A tornado of emotion, one moment furious,
the next moment laughing,
easily cajoled out of temper
by a silly face or new discovery.

Animated, you never simply tell a story.
You illustrate with eyebrows and dimples, hand motions and volume.
Fearless yet fearful – the carousel still brings you to tears.
New faces, large crowds, or a doctor’s office,
and you bury your face in my neck.
On your own turf,
you are master and captain,
boss-man and president.

Happy, angry, laughing, tears, dimples, and temper.
My baby, my beloved, my boy, my last.
My sunshine.

Here we are, on the brink of ten.

Legs growing so fast I can barely keep him in jeans. His sweet baby softness has been replaced by muscles and sinews and lean, but yet….

The dimples are the same.

The smile, it’s the same.

The easy laugh and bent to perform, the same.

When he sleeps, the eyelids and wide brow, they are the same.

The angel kiss between his brows, that darkens when he’s upset or tired, ever the same.

Morning cuddles, hot skin toasted from the swaddle of blankets, the same.

The size may be different, but the baby within the boy, ever the same.



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The Perpetual Stranger: On Being Known

January 10, 2017


Church has been a part of my existence since birth.

I was at church, cuddled and coddled and passed around, from infancy onward. In 43 years, I’ve attended just four churches as a regular participant. The one of greatest duration, the Campbell Church of Christ, has been my home and family for a combined total of 34 years.

I’ve left the Campbell Church twice. The first time, I was moving to New England – Maine – to be closer to my then-boyfriend, Gabe. I remember vividly the Sunday I left, voices lifted in worship trailing behind me as I slipped out mid-service through the side door for the airport.

The second time was seven months ago, ironically, for similar reasons. I was moving back to New England – New Hampshire – with my husband of 18 years, Gabe, and our two sons. I posted this the week we left:

For nearly 40 years I have been nurtured, loved, supported, and a few times, carried by, the imperfect, authentic, and compassionate people who make up the Campbell Church of Christ.

We leave here with heavy hearts, knowing we will never find another family quite like this one, but hopeful in the belief that God will provide us with another imperfect, authentic, and compassionate group to walk beside in this next chapter.

Thank you for showing interest in me when I was an awkward and angsty teen.

Thank you for carrying us through loss, illness, disappointments, even death.

Thank you for cheering me on through 16 years of school.

Thank you for welcoming me back as a newlywed, for enveloping my new husband into the family.

Thank you for getting us through the early years of parenthood, three moves, endless hands to help remodel and haul and landscape.

Thank you for so many hot meals on the darkest days.

Thank you for mothering me when I was motherless.

Thank you for loving my boys, for offering childcare and education that loved them and taught them and nurtured them.

Thank you for the sacrifice of literally hundreds of volunteers, for years of VBS, and camp, and Christmas programs, and so much more, just so that my kids would feel connected, inspired, and engaged.

Thank you for your transparency, for your willingness to grow and change and refine.

Thank you for the worship. Every last note, every a Capella, every keyboard, and every guitar, for four-part harmony, and Great Songs of the Church.

Thank you for looking past our flaws and failures, for empowering each of us to see ourselves as He sees us.

Thank you for all the unconditional, grace-filled love.

Never once did we ever walk alone.

We are grateful.

Upon arriving in New Hampshire, we set about promptly trying to fill that emotional and spiritual void. With open minds, we pulled into a new parking lot nearly every week, little white churches with charming New England steeples, optimistic and hopeful of what we’d find within the clapboard walls.

But we didn’t find Campbell.

Sunday after Sunday, I sat in a strange pew in a strange building, trying to warble along with songs that are somewhat familiar, looking around and seeing no mortal soul that I have ever met before. Sunday after Sunday, different strange buildings and different strange pews, but the same stranger – me – every time.

Many of those Sundays, I sniffled and gulped through the service, trying to keep myself from all-out sobbing.

I was not prepared for this schism, this painful extraction from my spiritual kin. It was agony. Longing for, but not fully understanding why, the gift of being known.

To be known – to walk into the room, and like it or not – be enveloped in bear hugs. Pestered over weekday duties. Anecdotes offered. To see faces I’d known for decades or more.

I was a daughter of that church. I even remember my first Sunday there, it was June, and my parents had just moved to the area from Blacksburg, Virginia so that my dad could attend graduate school. We slipped in the side door then, late, a bit lost, and my uncle, who was working for the church at the time, jumped up from his seat to envelope us all in a giant hug.

From that point onward, it was home.

I knew how to welcome the stranger, but I never learned how to be one.

And thus, every Sunday for the last several months, my heart cracks wide open in these places of worship. Weeks have turned into months and I’ve found that what I used to anticipate I have begun to dread. Another Sunday as a stranger. We would stay with one church a while, a few weeks in a row, trying to find a place for ourselves. The people we met were reserved, but kind. Good people, who loved Jesus.

But it wasn’t Campbell.

Even still, we’ve been blessed by the experiences of all those different churches. We took the opportunity afterward to talk with our boys about how they felt and what they experienced. Some things were very unusual to us (much to his horror, my 13-year-old inadvertently took a cup full of wine instead of juice in one communion service). In another setting, my 9-year-old noted that he was the only child in the entire service — a good indication that it wasn’t the family-oriented body of believers we were looking for.

And as so many have said before, there is no place quite like Campbell. I knew this when we left, but I didn’t fully understand.

In hindsight, I would have lowered my expectations on finding a new church right away. We should have simply attended and visited with no intention of deciding, not for several months anyway, allowing ourselves – or rather, me – time to grieve the loss. Time to fully accept, head, and heart, and soul, that we would not ever have exactly what we left behind, but we would find a family again. Realizing that wherever we go, community is what we make it out to be. It won’t be easy, to rebuild, but it is possible.



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