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, compelled 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;-)

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.

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



Just as spring is gradually thawing the cold earth and coaxing the trees to finally trust their tender leaves and blossoms to the warming air, so I am emerging from a period of winter in my own life. You’ll notice I have “grace” in the title of this blog.  That is not primarily because I like the sound, or even the grace that the shape of the word itself holds.  I desperately need grace in my daily walk and often forget it is there for the claiming. Loss is difficult, and, having recently experienced it,  I  find myself reluctant to emerge and trust the world.  Heck, on a good day I have great difficulty with that “t” word. 

Katie Couric once said, “Life is a series of reboots,” and that resonates with me.  If you look at my path so far, “reboot” is my middle name.  So now, yet again, I am taking a leaf from nature’s tree and, with prayer, pressing forward.  It is time again to trust in God and His grace, and in myself as His creation.  Last weekend that meant I mustered up the courage to show up at our church worship team rehearsal with my violin.  Now mind you, I come from that structured, orchestral background; jamming with a bunch of guitarists and a keyboard is not really my forte.  I had no intention of putting myself out there during services, but somehow that is exactly what happened.  Did I fall flat on my musical face?  No.  I received grace in abundance as I was able to forget myself and simply become part of the music.  It was such a joy to be part of a group, contributing my talents to something worthwhile and uplifting.

God is not done with me yet.  May I embrace grace fully and bloom where He wants me, and experience the joy that brings.


The Letter

I have recently experienced a loss very close to me — my Dad. Among other things I am so grateful to him for is how he helped me through his example and support to join the Air Force, where I met my husband 29 years ago and started our family. Something about profound loss makes me want to embrace the precious gift of family and love. At one point I was close to throwing the promise of that gift away, but my future husband wrote a letter to me that changed all that. It’s all in “The Letter” under “Poetry and Serious Stuff”.

Oh, There’s No Place Like Home….

imageIt is two days after Christmas; four days since our eldest’s birthday; ten days since our first house guests arrived for the holidays.  The fresh snow outside etches our bare branches with a beauty and evenness no human hand could match.   Today is quiet and still, far removed from the rush of holiday activities. Just two weeks ago I was engaged in frantic preparations — painting, cleaning, hanging pictures, decorating.  Now, food eaten and presents opened, our youngest has come and gone, our eldest and husband soon to follow, like some unwanted rewind.  I am trying to savor the moment, but thoughts of “to dos” intrude, unwanted but not unbidden.  Soon, this year will be filed under past Christmases, retrievable through images and memories. For now, though, I will sit in our sunroom and watch the wind shake snow showers from the fir trees outside while I listen to the soothing sounds of conversation just a room away. The feel of our youngest daughter’s head against my shoulder is still fresh in my mind, and I pray that it all will be etched surely in my memory to prolong the joy and comfort I feel right now for a long time to come.

The Reluctant Mariner


As I clung to the dock pier, I felt the canoe slowly shift under me and then David’s quick shout before I unceremoniously plunged into the water, struggling to gain my footing on the soft lake bottom. My life vest fruitlessly hugged my chin as I surveyed our green canoe neatly inverted in front of me, still tied to the dock just a foot away.

I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent, rational, and coordinated individual.  Add water, though, and all those sterling qualities go by the proverbial wayside. Maybe it’s the time I inverted myself in the inflated ring when I was six or the dunking I took in my teens that involved holding me under the water until I could flail my way, sputtering, to the surface. Perhaps it was that fateful spring sail on a frigid Michigan lake with my then boyfriend.  Crammed into a small sailboat designed for one, we capsized when the tiller became stuck behind him. I remember the shock of the cold water and my gasping for air, certain my life was at an end.  Of course it wasn’t nearly so dire, and David took me in hand, calm and reassuring as he righted the boat and pulled me back in.  I’ll never forget his rakish grin as he surveyed my soaked clothes and asked, “So, would you like to sail some more or head back?”  At the time, I had no idea what was so funny.  “Take me back,” I said through gritted (and chattering) teeth, my dignity and appearance both in shreds.

David is now my husband of 28 years, and I can boast of having successfully evaded small floating conveyances for the duration.  Despite his love of sailing, our military life (thankfully) kept us from living close enough to the water to own a boat.  When we were stationed near San Francisco and had access to the Presidio Yacht Club, I participated by remaining on terra firma and watching my family sail on glorious (and intimidating) San Francisco Bay from a safe distance.

All that has changed with our move to New Hampshire.  I found a home half a mile from David’s beloved Bow Lake. I urged him to buy a sailboat and promised to go with him, my traumatic memories evidently dulled over the years.  We rented a dock on the lake and used it for our canoe as we readied our bargain sailboat with the swollen dagger board (which had aborted our maiden voyage  by refusing to drop into its designated position, but I digress.)  Our lovely green canoe harkens back to the small Michigan Lake we lived on as newlyweds.  There it was a brand new apple red model that we would take out in the early evening, paddling languidly along the shore, drinking in the cool evening air —  at least that is what I remember.  Alas, it seems my memory is as faulty as my seaworthiness. Who knew water was so….fluid?  As I stood there, soaking wet and shivering next to the inverted canoe, I’ll admit my first thought was “take me home!”  David looked at me expectantly, not saying a word.  Twenty eight years of marriage will change a man.   I looked at him, my husband who loves the water.   “Well I couldn’t get much wetter; let’s go out.”

Twenty-eight years of marriage will change a woman.  I clambered back into the boat.

Thank God I’m a Country Girl* (*with some reservations)

It has been just short of a year since we left the perfectly manicured world of our suburban home near St. Louis for our wooded setting in Strafford, NH . I had always thought of New Hampshire with a healthy dose of nostalgia, having lived here for 16 years before leaving at the ripe old age of 26.  A scant 30 years (or so) later, I’m back and am learning the reality of living with nature.

Our eight year old home in southern Illinois sat on a 1/2 acre lot, thoughtfully wooded behind the margins of our perfectly sown and maintained grass.  Underground sprinklers discreetly maintained the optimum moisture level and periodic lawn applications kept weeds and undesirables at bay.  Utility lines were underground as well, and our vinyl siding promised untold years of a mostly maintenance free exterior.  Twice a year, I would drag my dear husband out for concentrated weed abatement and shrub trimming in our flower beds.  It was quiet and predictable, and, dare I say it, aesthetically nearly perfect.

From that existence, we moved to our “vintage” 1980s cape set on three wooded acres.  Power lines crisscross our front lawn and trees abound, freely dispensing branches, leaves, and debris onto the grass below.  The woods just behind our “seasonal” pond are deep and mysterious — and littered with dead branches and years of decaying leaves, far from the neat idealized version I thought I remembered.  As for the house, this is New England, so painted wood trumps vinyl.  The deck , house, and our shed predict an epic painting project in our near future as paint peels and blisters.  Inside, the relentlessly wallpapered and bordered walls promise many months of laborious stripping, wall repair, and painting.  (I wonder why the woodwork and ceilings in each room needed to be painted different colors, but I digress.)  Early on, the reality of living in the world of the elements and exposed power lines quickly sunk in.  We experienced a multi-day power outage in our first weeks and installed something expensive called a transfer switch for our expensive new generator.  We discovered our 27 year old oil furnace was nearing the end of its natural life and that most of our windows need replacing.  Leaves overwhelmed us in the fall, along with hundreds of stink bugs that decided to move indoors, and the process of killing the crabgrass left us with a totally dead lawn in the late summer (who knew it was all crabgrass?).  We resurrected the planting bed only to find that we were running a food pantry for the local wildlife because it lacked the exhaustive security measures needed to keep various critters out. I fought the unending battle of removing lawn debris by dragging all those small (and large) branches and piling them next to the outdoor fire pit behind the house (someday we’ll actually burn them).  I think the impressive pile of wood now houses a family of raccoons.  Just today, I saw that some of our hostas had been unceremoniously decapitated, no doubt viewed as some deer delicacy.

I admit it; I am out-maneuvered and outmatched.  As my mother-in-law says, we have a “country” property, which means anything green or colorful is desirable despite its provenance, and a little wear is to be expected.  What I do know is that it has been a true delight to witness the beautiful plantings that have surfaced to mark the changing of the seasons — phlox, peonies, daffodils, lilies — the flame of autumn leaves, and the cool green of spring in full leaf.  I can’t describe the joy I feel when I go outside, look around, and think “I live here,” with more wonder than frustration.  We have grown to love the lines and quirks of our home, and will take our time in slowly making it our own.  Surely the years ahead will bring new challenges, but it is good to be home.