Three Good Things, the Cozy-Up-to-Fall Edition


Hooray, Fall has officially arrived in these parts. We’re talking a chill in the air, leaves on the ground, and a need for warm beverages of all kinds. I may or may not have taken inventory of my sweaters…and then ordered a couple more off ThredUp. Don’t judge.

I’m a little sorry to see October – my most favorite of all the months – go. I celebrated the start of it by finally framing the print I got for Katie’s nursery all those years ago, and the end with a frenetic, sugar-laden spate of birthday and Halloween parties. Now it’s time to look ahead to Thanksgiving…and maybe to break out the early, cozy Christmas music. (Like I said, don’t judge.) But first: my good things of the last month.


Three things I’ve loved:

Libraries, and other people who love them, too. When I got back into reading, I really got back into using our library system. And I’m not alone: our neighborhood branch is full of people every time I’m there – scanning the shelves, using the computers, sitting and reading with their kids. So when a columnist tweeted that “nobody goes to libraries anymore,” and that we should “close the public ones,” he got a whole lot of pushback – in the form of 110,000+ replies — and especially from Alex Halpern, who calls himself “The Angriest Librarian.” I love the Angriest Librarian.

How Reese Witherspoon is changing Hollywood for women. An interesting look at the power Witherspoon commands, and the niche she has carved out for herself. But beyond that, I loved the thread in here about how her life as a reader has shaped this part of her career, and how much of her studio’s work is aimed at lifting up stories by and about women. Plus, her Instagram book club feed is a total delight.

Parents who turned heartbreak into doing good. After Rebekka and Randy Hauskins’ daughter Hayden was stillborn in 2010, they spent a year paying off their hospital bill. They went on to create Hayden’s Helping Hands, a non-profit that helps families in similar situations pay their medical bills. They’ve since helped pay the hospital bills for 43 families. What an amazing service they’ve done for other grieving parents.

Three things I’ve learned:

A Philando Castile memorial fund erased school lunch debt in St. Paul. The fund’s sponsor originally wanted to raise $5,000 to help kids get their lunches, just as Castile did in his job as a nutrition services supervisor at a St. Paul school. Then the fund raised over $72,000 – enough to pay off all the school lunch debt in the city. (School lunch debt remains a stigmatizing problem across the country, though, and fundraisers have collected tens of thousands of dollars in many other cities, too.)

How a cheerleader became the face of the Pam Am 103 attack. Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, killing 259 people, including 35 Syracuse University students on their way home from a semester in London. Every year, SU celebrates Remembrance Week in honor of the students the school lost. As we get further from the bombing – none of the undergrads at SU now were even alive back then – and the same stories have been told multiple times, it’s hard to bring a new angle to the story. This Daily Orange piece manages to do it, by telling the story of the cheerleader whose tear-streaked face became the viral picture of the disaster.

Don’t bother buying the good cinnamon. I can go through buckets of cinnamon in my fall baking – what pairs better with apples and pumpkin, really? – so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Washington Post’s taste test showed it’s not worth spending extra on the “really good” stuff. (From my own experience, though, I’d say good vanilla is worth every penny.)

Three things I’ve been grateful for:

A sleep coach. Katie’s never been a great sleeper, and there have been a few times in the last three years when I’ve considered turning to a sleep coach. But then the phase would pass, and she’d finally settle into some semblance of a sleep routine, and I’d catch up – a little. But this fall? No dice. She finally broke out of her crib in early August, and that freedom combined with the upheaval of starting at a new preschool has destroyed her sleep (and ours). When we hit almost three months of not sleeping through the night and sharing our bed with a fidgety three-year-old, I had to call in the big guns. Our consultant digested my copious notes about Katie, her schedule, and her sleep patterns to come up with a set of recommendations for us. Some of them are unconventional, including sleeping downstairs outside her room, to help her stop waking overnight, but at this point I’ll try anything. (I knew she got it when her report started with this assessment: “Strong-willed. Attached to mom.”) We’re not fully through the fog yet – and now we get to deal with the end of daylight savings, eeep! – but I can see it clearing. Sleep, how I love thee.

Podcasts to get through some difficult days (aka how to stay engaged and keep resisting without totally losing it). It truly seemed like the world was spinning off its axis on some days in October. On the days when I just couldn’t listen to another hour devoted to the stressful news of the day (or week, or month, or year), but I didn’t want to fully disengage, I was glad to have episodes from some of my favorite go-to podcasts to help me process my anxiety (see, The Mom Hour, The Edit Your Life Show, Selfie).

Beth Caldwell. After being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2014 — and amid rounds and rounds of difficult treatments — Beth became a fierce advocate for more funding for research into MBC, which kills 113 people every day and yet receives only 7 percent of all breast cancer funding. She founded the non-profit MET UP to raise more research dollars, and she taught me so much about the politics and the reality of cancer funding (see, pink washing). Even as she faced her own mortality this year, she fought tirelessly against efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid funding; we were lucky to have her in our court. I’m glad that our paths crossed then, and I only wish that they had sooner. She loved bourbon and eggnog lattes; smart-ass t-shirts and socks; and her family, not necessarily in that order. Beth died this week, and I miss her already. I’ll think of Beth whenever I wear my own smart-ass socks, and I’ll do as much as I can to raise that 7 percent. Give to MET UP here and to the memorial fund set up in Beth’s name at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center here.


Smart-ass socks, in honor of Beth

What have you loved, learned, and felt grateful for lately?

Three Good Things, a Reboot

I’ve written and rewritten the top to this post, and planned and shelved the actual posting of it. It’s felt wrong to post lists of good things when such horrible things keep happening – when, in the words of Jimmy Kimmel, it seems like a window to hell has been opened.

But then I remember that it’s in these times that we need to look for the good. We need to be reminded that even amid horror and hate and heartbreaking sadness, good things do happen every day. They’ve felt a little hidden at times in this last year that I’ve been away from these posts, but the more I look for the things that make me smile, the more I find them.

And so, as the first notes of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” ring in my ears, I give you what I’ve loved, learned, and felt grateful for lately.

(Full disclosure: Some of the items on this list may be old news to you, but I still think they’re worth counting.)

Things I’ve loved lately:

  • The Hamilton soundtrack. Yes, I may have been one of the last people on Earth to catch on to the wonder of Hamilton. I’ve caught up this year, endlessly streaming the soundtrack, watching and rewatching the PBS documentary, scrolling through #ham4all social media posts – and starting to plan my trip to see the show. What’s your favorite song? “Dear Theodosia” has felt particularly resonant to me lately.
  • I Mom So Hard. There’s so much truth in these moms’ videos, and I laughed so hard at their live show that I cried. Any of their episodes is an instant 5-minute mood brightener.
  • Pret a Manger’s spiced pumpkin latte. You didn’t actually think I’d get through a whole October post without mentioning pumpkin, did you? I treated myself to my annual Starbucks PSL on Teddy’s birthday, but I grimaced at the price tag and even I had to acknowledge that the taste is a little…lacking. Enter the Pret SPL: more pumpkin, less $$$. Now if fall would just get here and stick around so I don’t have to sweat my way through my coffee, that’d be great.

Things I’ve learned:

  • What will happen when Queen Elizabeth dies. This exhaustive piece from The Guardian goes into great detail of “London Bridge,” the plan for the days after QEII’s death. On the one hand, it’s kind of creepy. On the other, it’s fascinating. “It will be 10 days of sorrow and spectacle in which, rather like the dazzling mirror of the monarchy itself, we will revel in who we were and avoid the question of what we have become.”
  • How to support your favorite authors. Are you on Goodreads? Did you know that you can help an author just by shelving their book? (It gets them greater visibility as other people search for books with similar titles, genres, etc.) I learned this and six other tips for supporting writers you love – apart from buying their books – from my favorite book blogger and podcaster, Anne Bogel (of the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and What Should I Read Next? podcast).
  • Stephen King’s writing lessons. Last winter, I finally read Stephen King’s On Writing, and I understood why so many writers say it’s an indispensable part of their bookshelf. His story of selling Carrie is striking: it came after lots of rejection, when he and his wife had so little money that they were living in a trailer without a phone. The publisher sent a telegram to tell him he’d sold his book. On Writing is part memoir, part writing lesson. He expanded on those lessons in this Q&A with Jess Lahey. Good stuff.

Things I’ve been grateful for:

  • Read Something, Anything Book Club. We started a book club based on the premise of, “let’s get real, a bunch of moms probably aren’t all going to read the same book every month.” Hence, the read, something – anything – name. Some months we all bring different books to discuss. Others, most of us are lucky to have glanced at headlines. But the club has given me renewed incentive to find some new books, and my favorite read of the year (The Boston Girl) came on the club’s recommendation.
  • Good health, and good work on health care policy. As I approach my 10th (!) cancerversary, I’ve been reminded often that I was healthy, until I wasn’t. Much of this year has been dominated by health – Teddy’s, on a micro level, and on a more macro/work level, a seemingly never-ending battle to save the Affordable Care Act. I’ve shed a lot of tears on both accounts, out of frustration and exhaustion and fear. I’m so grateful that Teddy’s healthy, and that we’ve been able – at least so far – to stave off efforts to repeal the ACA. (On a related note, there are so, so many allies in the health care fight to be thankful for, but chief among them are the Little Lobbyists – families with medically complex kids who helped policymakers and the public understand the very real risks to cutting health care funding and rolling back important protections.)
  • The Calm app. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that this year has been a tough one. Not all of my coping mechanisms have been the healthiest, but I am thankful that one of my friends nudged me to buy the paid version of the Calm meditation app. I use it most nights to fall asleep, Teddy and Katie love its kids’ sleep stories, and during the worst of health care this summer, I did a 3- or 5-minute meditation before I dove into work. I may or may not have also used its “emergency calm” meditations a few times in there, too.

What have you loved, learned, and felt grateful for lately?

A Belated, Grateful Goodbye to 2016


This is my year-in-review post, albeit a week or so late. Hey, that’s just the way 2016 went.

So, it’s been a while. Happy New Year. How are you? How have your fall and early winter been? I’m not going to blow smoke: the election knocked the wind out of me, and my funk translated into a real season of writer’s block.

Oh, who am I kidding? 2016 felt often like a year of unending writer’s block. It sucked the creativity and the prose right out of me – but that pales in comparison to what it did to so many other people. It was a rotten egg of a year, in altogether too many ways.

You don’t need me to rehash the stinkbombs that last year laid. But, with this being a so-called year-in-review post, I suppose I should at least take a look at how my goals for 2016 ended up.

When last we checked in at mid-year, things were looking good. I was on track to meet most of my goals.

And then, the #suckysummerof16 hit. Followed by the fall funk. What’s that they say about all good intentions? Let’s review.

I wanted to read. I missed getting lost in books that weren’t about baby sleep and toddler temperament. I picked out 11 books that I’d had on my to-read list and said if I read even half of them, I’d consider it a win. Guess what? I read 19 books! I’m almost certain that that’s more than I’d read in the four previous years combined. Some fiction, some non-fiction, some that stunk up the joint, and some that left me clamoring for more. (The best of the bunch: Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, and A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles, by Mary Elizabeth Williams.) But I read only two books in the entire last quarter of the year, when I spent more time falling into (and digging myself back out of) social media rabbit holes than turning pages.

I wanted to write. Well, I did…some. I had designs on writing for the blog once a week, submitting to more and different sites, setting aside time each week at lunch to write. Not so much. But I’m grateful to Lacuna Loft, Scary Mommy, and The Manifest-Station for running strikingly different pieces of mine. As I’d missed losing myself in others’ writing, I miss getting lost in an essay of mine own, now. It’s time to get back to the keyboard.

I wanted to work out. I found barre, and I loved it…for a while. Then it got kind of repetitive, and less fun, and I lost steam. And then our treadmill literally started smoking, and my butt found a cozy and warm place on the couch. You know how this story goes. I’m not beating myself up for not finding a consistent workout habit in 2016; there were many points through the year when I simply needed some mindless TV and a cup of tea and my pjs more than a water bottle and a running mix and my sneakers. Some years are just going to go that way. All that said – my mental health now demands that I change it up in this department in 2017. Stay tuned.

I wanted to dress up. Ah, Stitch Fix. Such a fun friend for a while, but it turned out to be one of those who’s good for a season but not for a lifetime. That’s okay. I loved trying on the clothes, and writing the recap posts, and learning more about what’s in style and what looks good on me. It was a great way to swap out the old, ill-fitting clothes in my closet for things that I’m excited to wear. I also tried out Rocksbox (jewelry rental!) and Rent the Runway (fancy dress rental that now isn’t stuffed in the back of my closet!).

I wanted to get out, and get away. I count this one in the success column. I went back to my annual girls weekend, we got out for date nights, and we finally got away for a kid-free night to a friend’s wedding. Gotta keep a good streak going this year.

I wanted to get back to gratitude. I have never regretted taking the time to keep a gratitude journal. As I’ve told many people, I believe firmly in the power of gratitude; the more I look for the good, the more I find it. And yet, I went quiet in my gratitude journal for long stretches of 2016, most notably from November 8 on. It was a time when I arguably needed to pay more attention to the small things I was grateful for every day – because even in a time when so much has felt uncertain and frustrating and scary and infuriating, good things have still been happening – and yet I couldn’t pick up the pen. I lost the string on my daily habit, and on my lists of the things I loved, learned, and felt grateful for each month.

I plan to get back to my Three Good Things posts later this month, but for the time being, a few thoughts that I haven’t captured here, yet:

  • Katie turned two in October (yes, I still owe her a birthday letter).
  • I hit my nine-year cancerversary in November. I had two regular visits with my endocrinologist in which he used the terms “stable” and “low risk.”
  • All things Royals, including Netflix’s The Crown, which served as a welcome distraction in the weeks around the election.
  • My kids fell in love this year with everything Christmas, including light displays — “More lights, momma! I see more lights!” — and my all-time fave, the Muppets Christmas album…to the point that we may or may not still be listening to it. “Five go-o-o-l-d rings, bah-dum-dum.”

I’m okay with a little leftover seasonal spirit in the form of Kermit and Miss Piggy carrying us into the start of 2017. I’ll have more to say soon about what I hope the year ahead holds for me, but I’m wishing right now — for those near and far — good health, love, and PEACE.


Three Good Things [09.06.16]

photo by Wes Powers

Welcome to the newest installment of Three Good Things, the thank-god-summer-is-over edition.

You, dear reader, may have noticed that I skipped a TGT July roundup. Because July (and most of August, for that matter) sucked. What I had termed the summer of fluff became the summer of fuck this shit. #suckysummerof16


Photo courtesy of the always on point Treacy sisters.

You don’t need me to recount all the horrible, no good, very bad things that happened this summer. But a summer of fluff it was not. So much so that I couldn’t get it together to list my good things, because although good things were happening, it felt altogether too Pollyannaish of me to write a list of them when people were legitimately dealing with so much hurt and violence and anger and sadness and sickness.

But…here we are with the end of the summer behind us, and in the interest of getting back up on the gratitude horse (or whatever mangled metaphor goes here), I give you what I’ve loved, learned, and felt thankful for this summer.

Three things I’ve loved:

  • The current-day recreation of the meeting of C.C. Bloom and Hillary Whitney. Ah, Beaches. Best movie ever for when you need a good, cleansing cry. And I will never hear “You Are My Sunshine” without thinking of it. Hand me a tissue? (Related: did you see that Lifetime is remaking it? Really not sure how I feel about that.)
  • Make-a-Wish created a bakery for a teen with thyroid cancer. What a cool, lasting project for a girl who has traveled a hard road but hasn’t lost her interest in spoiling others with delicious baked goods. Maybe she’ll even create some good low-iodine treats! (By the way, September is both Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month and Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Have you checked your neck yet?)
  • Tagging along with friends to the pool. We finally accepted friends’ long-standing invitation to join them at their pool, and all we could ask was, “What the hell were we waiting for?” (In my defense, I was scared that my sometimes “high-energy” children would endanger themselves or others…) But it’s a little piece of heaven, complete with an awesome toddler pool, shaded picnic tables and grills for cooking out, and a sand playground. Oh, and you can bring in booze. Mark this as the summer I was reintroduced to boxed wine, and I loved it.

Three things I’ve learned:

  • Skills and attributes of great listeners. I’ve fallen all too often and deeply into the trap of being half engaged, hearing but not actually listening. I appreciate the explanation of six different levels of listening here.
  • Lots about adoption through foster care and of kids with special needs from the Coffee + Crumbs podcast. I love stories about how people’s families came to be, and these moms’ honesty moved me.
  • How the Newseum’s front pages exhibit comes together. The Newseum is one of my favorite museums in D.C. —  I’m not crying at the “What’s News?” movie, you’re crying at the “What’s News?” movie — and even when I don’t have the time for a full visit (or want to pay the $23 ticket price), I love to look at the front pages from around the world. I know print newspapers are going the way of the dinosaur, but a screenshot of an online news site just isn’t the same.

Three things I’ve felt grateful for:

  • Another healthy baby in our family. Welcome, Ophelia Jane! That marks six grandkids in just under four years for my parents, with Ophelia evening the score to three girls and three boys. And she’s Teddy and Katie’s sixth cousin within just a few years of them between our two sides, which makes me so happy in advance for all the cousin playdates and sleepovers to come. My cousins are still some of my very best friends, and I hope all of our kids will feel the same.
  • The return of routine. August 23 — the first day of school — couldn’t come quickly enough in our house. Covering Teddy’s summer break took a mashup of camps, sitters, random days off for B and me, and a few short trips thrown into the mix. Tack on a bunch of work travel for B and it all added up to a real lack of routine for our little guy who thrives on knowing what to expect (and let’s be honest here, for his parents who do, too). It was so nice to finally answer the daily question of “Is today a school day?” with “Yes. YES IT IS.”
  • A late summer vacation. That mashed-up summer schedule kept us from taking a long vacation, but we didn’t let the start of school get in the way of a quick weekend getaway last week to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Kitschy rides at Dutch Wonderland, ice cream, and swimming in the hotel pool in Amish Country, followed by steamers and beer (and yet more ice cream) when we returned to D.C., went far toward making up for so much of the rest of the summer.

What did you love, learn, and feel grateful for this summer? 

Three Good Things [07.05.16]

TGT July

The grill’s cooled down, the empties have been added to the recycling bin, and the fireworks have ceased their explosions in the sky. July 4 is behind us, with the rest of the hot, hazy summer stretching out in front. As we’ve eased into slip and slide season, I’m finding lots to love, learn, and feel grateful for.

Three things I’ve loved lately:

  • A look back over 20 years of great TV. I found Alan Sepinwall back when he was writing his recaps of The Wire for the New Jersey Star-Ledger. The Wire’s long since ended and Sepinwall has long since moved on from the Star-Ledger, but his reviews keep me following him, and I often feel like I haven’t fully “watched” a show until I’ve read his accompanying review. His two decades as a critic have featured some pretty incredible TV highs.
  • The ultimate wedding playlist. My recurring nightmare about our wedding was that the dance floor would be empty. We hired a great DJ, and yet I still fretted about the playlist (and the do not play under any circumstances list). Love this analysis from Five Thirty Eight of the top wedding songs and artists, and the reason that songs from the mid-1960s, early 1980s and the last few years top the chart. (And yay, September is #11 on the list! Any day, all year round, every wedding. Our dance floor was packed from the moment that played until the music stopped.)
  • The Jerk in the Mirror. On getting your body through cancer, and everything after. This line so resonated with me, as I struggle to stick with some healthier habits: “Perhaps it’s high time I acted like I plan to stay awhile.”

Three things I’ve learned:

  • Bridget Jones’ Diary was a thinly veiled Pride and Prejudice remake. I just read (and loved) Eligible, a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Only after I raved about it did a friend clue me in on the parallels between P&P and Bridget Jones…which I’ve seen no fewer than 10 times. Um, yeah.
  • All about dashes. As you may have noticed in reading my stuff, I have a thing for long sentences, and I’m an unabashed dash (and comma, and parenthesis) lover. As JoAnna Novak explains, “The dash is my go-to fix, my sentence extender, my comma absolver, my elastic-waistbanded jeans at the Thanksgiving feast of language.”
  • Joey + Rory is going to be a movie. Rory took hundreds of hours of video of Joey before Indy was born, in her first months of life, as Joey went through cancer, and as she died. They’re turning that footage into a movie that will be shown for one night only – on September 20, across the country – and I’m so going to be there. With a box of tissues, or six, in hand. Come with me, whether in person or virtually?

Three things I’ve felt grateful for:

  • Voxer! My “internet friend” Sarah – so-called only because we met through the internet, but we are actual friends – introduced me to this voice messaging app, and I’m loving it. It’s a great way to connect with people when there isn’t time to write long emails and there’s more to say than quick texts can convey. I’m especially loving it for keeping up with more of the daily minutiae that’s part of my best friend’s family’s life – and keeping her up to speed on what’s happening in our house, too.
  • The reaction I received to Rediscovering Babar. It took me 11 (or more? I can’t remember now) pitches to publish Babar, and I’m so thankful that it found a home at The Manifest-Station, where I’m regularly moved by quiet, pensive essays. I’m proud and still a little surprised to be among those voices. And I’m grateful, too, for the feedback I got to what was one of the most personal essays I’ve written. It was tough to write and tougher still to publish, but I’m glad I did.
  • The first week of summer. I took Teddy’s first full week of summer vacation off, and after a quick trip to Boston, the staycation portion of the week was a great way to ease into a somewhat more relaxed summer schedule (albeit with the still-regular morning wakeups and lunch packing for camp and daycare). We watched too much TV (thanks Pop network for midday 90210 marathons and on demand for the first season of Dawson’s Creek), ate munchkins and lots of popsicles, hit the pool and the playground, and lazed around the house. Aaah.

How’s your summer getting started? What have you loved, learned, and felt grateful for lately?