Grace to Laugh

Living and Laughing in Grace

One Hot Mama

Just another day in paradise.

Summer in New Hampshire — beautiful land of trees, mountains, lakes, and — the beach. In fact, there is so much nature here, the human population almost seems an afterthought. Small wonder that creature comforts often fall into that same category. Our modest cape home doesn’t have air conditioning, but I, heat intolerant as I am, inexplicably like it that way. There is a certain virtue in throwing the windows open late at night, fighting with errant insects, and flipping the switch on the noisy sucking contraption that is our attic fan. The house is much stingier about releasing amassed degrees than it is about hoarding them, but I celebrate the loss of each thermal unit. It also helps that we are near a beautiful, and cool, lake under the canopy of tall trees. In fact, I love everything about New Hampshire summers except the handful of triple-digit days, and…the beach.

I know for some this is heresy, but for a state that is second only to Maine for tree cover, the wide expanse of unprotected ocean front seems oddly out of place.  Just last weekend we ventured to the shore for a birthday celebration, the lure of loved ones trumping sand. Our traffic app showed lines of red snaking to the shore; we resisted, hugging the back treed roads as long as we could. Parking was like an advanced game of Tetris. We kissed one car’s rear bumper, leaving enough room for someone to block us from behind, considering ourselves lucky as cars crept by in search of precious parking real estate. We had pulled up next to Dave, father to a one-year-old, and watched as he pulled a storage locker’s worth of paraphernalia out of his truck to maximize fun in the sun. The birthday girl greeted us. “Did you bring chairs?” Why, no; the only things we thought to bring were sunblock and a small cooler – no chairs, no towels, no umbrella, no snacks, no bug spray, no sunglasses, no hats, no thick-soled shoes. We were woefully unprepared.

Undaunted, we set off across the sand. I slipped off my flip flops, only to be rewarded by Venusian surface temperatures, the sand surrounding my feet in flesh-searing heat. I limped as fast as I could to the bone-chilling water. I could no longer feel my feet. The sun was unrelenting, complemented by the salty, sticky residue of ocean which gave my erupting sunburn a nice “bite.” As I chased shifting umbrella shade to preserve my pristine porcelain hue, others happily lounged in full sun, the better to build their burnished bronze surfaces.  Nearly 120 minutes later, we retreated to cool air-conditioned shelter for lunch.  All too soon, the sun worshippers were again lured by the siren call of steaming sand and frigid surf. I longed for cover. We went in the opposite direction, navigating the beach crowds to again seek the relative solitude of our tree canopy.  I threw open the windows to the cooling air. It was good to be home.

No one in sight.
No one in sight.





Faux Fur

This is New Hampshire country, far from the ordered world of suburban subdivision living I know. Secure in the (somewhat) familiar and predictable existence contained within the walls of our home, I never know what awaits me outside. One thing is for sure — nature comes to you. Last week it was a large snapping turtle, lured by our vernal pool and sandy backyard soil. After several test excavations, she found the perfect spot for her eggs and left us to watch her underground incubator for the next 12 weeks or so.

Some of our tenants are less welcome. A large groundhog moved in under our attached shed and proceeded to dig cavernous holes in our yard. We decided to relocate it and set a large crate trap with the lure of enticing melon. The melon disappeared, but the groundhog was large enough to defeat the trap door, no doubt amused at our feeble and transparent efforts.

Yesterday, though, I saw the door had been tripped again. This time, a soft set of eyes quietly regarded me from behind the metal bars. This creature was not a groundhog, but somehow looked familiar — the small size, the gamine face with a touch of white; the spiked and rounded appearance of its coat. Could it be?  Of course —  it must be a hedgehog! A woman of action, I sprang into motion, emailing my husband and calling a friend to share the surprising news. Oh, and I looked up “hedgehog” online. Undaunted by the inconvenient datum that hedgehogs aren’t native to North America, I also found a NH hedgehog breeder and rescue organization. Convinced I had an escaped pet, I called them and left a message. Always thorough,  I also called our local university’s extension service. My mind was racing. What did it eat? When would I have the time to drive it to the hedgehog breeder?

I received a prompt email from the hedgehog people, who gently told me the odds this was an errant hedgehog were unlikely, but possible. If so, they were standing at the ready to assist. I decided to take a picture of my little charge and took the time to take a good look. On closer inspection, the features I had been so sure pointed to a quintessential Wind in the Willows character now looked markedly different. The nose wasn’t so pointed, the fur not so spiked. Still cute and endearing, I now realized this was no hedgehog but a groundhog of the child variety. More than a little embarrassed, I emailed the hedgehog people apologizing for my hasty taxonomic classification. Afterwards, picturing a distressed groundhog mother nearby,  I relented and let the little one go so he could reunite with his doting parent. He scampered off, no doubt eager to set up permanent digs chez nous.

The next day, I received a return message from the extension service. Jay couldn’t suppress the chuckles as he replied to my message but duly gave me information for the right people to call in the case of errant (as in the wrong continent) wildlife. I called him back, and we shared a good laugh. I may live in the country, but it is clear to everyone I am no country girl.

(Not a) Hedgehog

All that Glitters…

Last week, an old (and precious) friend treated me to an incredible trip to Las Vegas to celebrate a milestone birthday. Why Las Vegas? I’m not really sure — it was more impulse than anything added to a curious fascination with slot machines that dates back to 1988 when our young family was in the Vegas airport for half an hour between planes.  Lulled by those shiny spinning sirens, I abandoned my husband with an infant in a dirty diaper so I could make an offering of my spare change. I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me.

Even the airport has changed dramatically since that time — its sprawling concourses lined with an incredible array of enticements to lose your money, the new strip so full of opulence and attractions, it was hard to know where to look first. Where else can you see the Statue of Liberty silhouetted against the Eiffel Tower ringed by a roller coaster? Laura and I set out to explore these monuments to entertainment and excess, and I couldn’t help but try to capture the cacaphonic sights  with my camera. Laura, in contrast, insisted on taking  pictures of us telling me how she focuses on people when she travels rather than the scenery.

It wasn’t until I was traveling home that it hit me. Laura was right. I had focused on the glitter and missed what had really stood out to me — the people. We made connections almost everywhere starting that first morning with the transplanted artist and part-time tour guide from Portland, Maine who had been lulled by Las Vegas’ 24-hour wake cycle. He offered us a quick and helpful orientation, and I could hear his affection for his adopted city as he spoke to us. Looking for inexpensive jewelry in a store that was being ousted for something more upscale, I found the owner was from Jordan, and we talked about the turmoil in that area and the heartache that comes with having to leave a homeland you love. In Tiffany’s we met Peter, a passionate young man from Puerto Rico, and we learned more about the lack of opportunity and financial woes of this beleaguered U.S. territory.  We gained fascinating insight on art and the creative process with Susan in the Chihuly Store at the Bellagio. She had known Dale Chihuly for over twenty years, and her excitement in showing us the remarkable translation of his initial sketches to stunning three-dimensional  artworks was truly inspiring. We connected with Miyuki on our spa day at the Mandarin Oriental and she shared the sweet story of how she met her American husband in Japan while working at a theme park (he was a Viking). Then there was the amazing Vearn (his real name), a tour guide atop Paris’ Eiffel Tower. A celebrity in his own right, autistic,  and graced with an amazing photographic memory, he knew everything about the city (including the fact that we were in Paradise and not Las Vegas), down to detailed statistics and the notorious history of each and every hotel. His personal story, both heartbreaking and uplifting, impelled me to have our picture taken together.

Laura, me, and Vearn

On the way home, I sat next to Isolde, a remarkably beautiful educator who was contemplating her next chapter. Her heart for encouraging youth to embrace self-worth and find their own path was inspiring and compelling.

Next time I go somewhere, I will look for the human stories beneath the landscape. These are the memories I want to capture.  There will be more photos of faces, and less of glitter.

Oh, by the way, I did scratch my itch to play the slots. Although I was up by twenty cents, I got greedy and lost it. That’s Vegas;-)


There are all types of beauty in the seasons — the lushness of early summer where color and vegetation abound; the sepia hues of late fall as once-resplendent leaves finally drift to the ground; the hush of a new snow that lavishly etches dark tree branches. Right now, in our little corner of the world, it is still early spring. Daffodils are appearing along with a few wildflowers, but tree leaves are tightly furled against the still-cool nights. This is not the season of panoramic views, but one that invites you to look closely to see the beginnings of what is to come.

Our lives go through seasons, too. After the winter comes the spring. If you look closely, you’ll see the  clear promise of the beautiful flowering to come.

Now Accepting Manure


The Sign

I was driving to an appointment the other day using my favorite routing system – the languid back roads that gracefully traverse our beautiful corner of New Hampshire. I rounded a corner, and a sign posted in front of a neat white farm home assaulted my senses. “Accepting Manure” it proclaimed. My nose wrinkled as I thought, “I would never want a load of excrement, let alone pay for it!”

It made me think, though. Manure is very useful if you know what to do with it. No one ever grew champion crops using sanitized soil. This farmer knew if he wanted the best results, he needed lots of smelly organic material. I thought of recent events in my own life—apparent reversals and challenges. Normally, I think of obstacles as undesirable and long for a life of absolute calm and predictability. Now, I thought of how much I had been growing in this nutrient-rich environment.

Just that quickly, my perspective shifted. Maybe I should stop wishing for  different circumstances and welcome the growth medium I was being offered. It’s good stuff if you know how to use it.


The Chest

The Chest
The Chest

I was sweeping the floor this morning, moving the broom around the familiar contours of our kitchen that include the two wooden stools we purchased nearly 20 years ago and the side table made in Ankara in 2003. The house was quiet, as it is every morning, punctuated only by the soft gurgle of the coffee pot. Then I looked up and saw it – the chest. A wave of unexpected emotion rushed through me. It had been a while since I had really seen her; I sat down on one of the stools, overcome by a flood of memories.

It was twenty-six years ago. David and I were living in Indiana with our two young daughters. Living in a modest ranch, we were awash in diapers, toddler clothes and baby food. I struggled to find room for everything. We heard about a guy who made pine furniture. It was our first commissioned piece – a pine two door cabinet, complete with rustic carved door panels and hearts. It had three shelves, perfect for storing anything. I thought it was beautiful. Soon after bringing it home, we discovered the simple wooden latch was placed too low, perfectly positioned for little hands to open and help themselves. We added another latch too high for them to reach, even on tiptoes.  At some point, I decided the plain pine finish was too plain and stained it barn red, adding a leaf design and painting the hearts green.

Although many possessions and pieces of furniture stayed with us through the years, the cabinet was special. It said “home”. It has been with us through multiple military and non-military moves – a pantry in Indiana, an armoire in Illinois, a game cabinet in California. When we moved to Turkey and put most of our things in storage, the cabinet was an exception. It made the trek overseas. Somehow, putting it in our Ankara apartment gave me a comfort that transcended the language and culture barriers.

Now, our children grown and far away, it sits in our New Hampshire kitchen, the doors well-worn around the upper latch, the 90s remodel looking decidedly dated and out of sync. The last time our family was together, I talked about painting it a neutral gray. I shouldn’t have been surprised when our daughters loudly protested. After all, it bears the unique fingerprints of our family’s life. Now that I see it, I love it just the way it is.

Hello? Is anyone there?

The Onion, Feb 4, 2016, Plows Working Around Clock...

From The Onion, 2/4/2016, “Plows Working Around Clock to Keep NH Roads Clear of Campaign Signs”

The news spread quickly through our small town Facebook page – a large black SUV with New York plates and tinted windows was making its way slowly down Rollercoaster Road. Any other time, such an occurrence would be suspicious, but I live in New Hampshire. The apparent mystery was quickly dispelled – Bernie Sanders volunteers were canvassing elusive Strafford voters house by house, which in our enclave takes some searching as most homes are nearly invisible behind a dense veil of snow-laced trees.

Our little village has about 4,000 residents and not a single stop light. Statewide, NH’s approximately 800,000 voters are a mere one-half of one percent of the 150 million voters nationwide.  By the way, about 45% of NH voters are registered independents, the better to court by both parties. The nearest city boasts all of 30,000 residents, about the same as our previous town of O’Fallon, IL, a former farming community. Incidentally, Illinois has nearly ten times the number of registered voters as our current state. None of that matters when you consider that we have the first presidential primary.  With all the candidates running this year, it’s hard to avoid a campaign bus or yet another town hall. I believe if we lined all the candidates up equidistantly across the state, they would be able to see each other, mountains and valleys notwithstanding.

Just as our small lake community’s population swells in the summer, so does the population of NH in the months before the primary. With the influx of out-of-town campaign staff, volunteers, and every conceivable media outlet with all their people and equipment, it feels like our diminutive and quiet New England state has become downright corpulent, raucously swelling well beyond the propriety of its borders. Not only are campaign signs and workers everywhere, diners are doing a bustling political breakfast business, and competing campaign events are common. Some residents relish in the energy and attention; we are largely staying out of the fray and letting our endlessly ringing phone go straight to voicemail.

Finally, thankfully, the primary is this Tuesday; I will do my civic duty and vote, and, yes, I will be waiting and watching for the results. Beyond all the hype, I do care about the future of our country, but I won’t be sorry to see the busses, the breakfast events, and the candidates go elsewhere. We’re almost out of eggs.

You Say “Tomato”, I say “Tomato”

We recently had professional painters in our home to finally transform our previously wallpapered music and dining rooms (a real treat as I look at the DIY free-form version of interior wall coating that is predominant in our home). They left the rooms pristine — perfectly painted, every trim gap and misalignment now invisible, not a stray brush mark in sight. After, I rushed to put the rooms back together, the better to enjoy the results. My husband called later. “What are you doing?” “Filling holes in the painted rooms,” I replied without thinking. There was silence on the other end. “I’m hanging pictures,” I helpfully added. He sighed. I get it –the way I hang pictures makes absolutely no sense, but I persist. I wondered what my methods might look like if I wrote my steps and equipment down as a “how to”. Check out “How to Hang Pictures” under “Miscellaneous Musings”.  Can you relate?

How to Hang Pictures

hammering with a shoe


No Regrets

Another New Year and a new opportunity to take stock of my life as I, oh-so-reluctantly, dismantle the comfort and warmth of Christmas lights and decorations and start January with a fresh slate. Mother Nature helpfully provides the backdrop of fresh, white snow, the better to take up my pen and create my next chapter. What will the next year hold for me and my family? Will this be the year I really break out and live fearlessly?

Taking stock also means reflecting on what I’ve done, or, perhaps more accurately, not done. I’ve found myself looking more to the past to dissect every action or inaction and its result and grade myself accordingly. I’m a pretty harsh grader, I must say. Here are just a few examples from January 2015.

Goal: Lose the rest of my excess weight. Result: Did you think this year would be any different?  What’s Next? Try again for the 20th year in a row.

Goal: Find and start my next dream job. Result: Barely got out of the starting gate. What’s Next? It’s back to the drawing board to figure out what that dream job really looks like before I’m eligible for social security.

Goal: Exercise regularly and eat healthy. Result: Decidedly mixed (see first goal), but better than the last year. What’s Next? What else? Recommit yet again; giving up is not an option.

Goal: Learn to be more patient, kind, thoughtful, and generous. Result: Ms. “Get ‘er done now” and Ms. “Let me tell you what I think” are still in the house. What’s Next? Sigh….

Yet, as I look on the perfect blanket of white snow outside, I think of a new resolution this year — to look back and have no regrets. Everything I’ve done, or not done, said, or not said, is mine and mine alone. I may fail forward, but I can learn from my mistakes without shackling myself or my spirit to my perceived failures. I can strive and fall short without feeling insufficient; I can reflect without self-judgment or punishment; I can forge forward in my imperfect but wonderfully made self. May this be the year I make purposeful steps on my fresh canvas, learning to embrace just who and where I am and not waiting for an impossible ideal before I hit the “go” button. Snow_Path


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