Our tree is, as I like to call it, a mutt tree. It’s covered in the mishmash of our history, in every color under the sun, randomly hung with the love one can only give a beloved family mutt. Instead of a tree topper we have a star being clung to by the Abominable Snowman – Jeff & I found him our first year of marriage and he’s now an indispensible honored guest. Inside, near the trunk of the tree, is nestled a teensy bird’s nest inhabited by a sweet little red bird and her eggs, simply because in my mother’s family it is a tradition to have a nest in the tree. There’s a walnut shell painted like a strawberry and a cookie Santa head, made in my extreme youth. There are random plastic icicles, vestiges of my childhood tree that I am fiercely protective of. There’s a brass angel from the year of my birth, engraved with “Beth, 1977” because my parents were still convinced that I would be called Beth at that point in my young life.
My mother had a tradition of making (or, occasionally, buying) an ornament for each of us four kids each year. Then, when we grew up and flew the coop, we were presented with a box of all 18 ornaments, plus the ones we had made or been given  over the years. I still get misty every year when I open that shoebox and relive the memories of each one – and I can still tell the stories.

Yet, despite all these beautiful relics of earlier versions of me the thing I think I treasure the most is something a little newer, a little less family oriented, a little more ordinary – or extraordinary, depending on how you look at them: a collection of hand sewn & starched snowflakes.


On September 11th, 2001, I boarded a plane in Baltimore and flew to Detroit for a quick stopover on my way home to San Diego. We reboarded, taxied to the runway, and sat. And sat. And returned to the terminal, where all the televisions were turned off. There were frightened phone conversations, and then we all crowded into the bar to watch, on the only TV available, planes crash into the Twin Towers.

23, unemployed, I was heading home from a visit to a dear old friend with nothing but change in my pocket. I had wisely left my credit cards at home so I couldn’t spend more than my budget – which I had, of course, spent in full. I had no cell phone, no computer, no way to contact my family who knew only that I was flying from the East coast to the West coast that morning. I was terrified. I sat down, alone and penniless, sobbing.

Two women were immediately at my side – two women who, when sitting next to me, looked like they could have been my mother and grandmother. Mary and Sadie.  They stayed with me all day, as the airlines brought us lunch and offered us toiletry kits. They paid for my phone call to my mother to assure her I was alive. They rode with me to the hotel the airlines provided free that night and were my roomies, washing our underwear in the sinks and sleeping rolled up in sheets since they wouldn’t give us access to our luggage. They paid for my meals and the hotel the next night, and waited in endless lines with me as we attempted to get to San Diego. They watched endless CNN with me and we railed together against commentators who said impossibly offensive things. For three days, until we made it to Southern California, those two ladies were my family.

Mary, my pseudo mom, was from Buffalo and was headed to San Diego to see an ailing aunt. Sadie was a north county San Diegan. I talked to them both within hours of getting home – checking in, laughing over how good it felt to FINALLY have our luggage and clean clothes. I sent them both thank you cards and some money to cover what they had spent on me over the three day ordeal. And then there was silence.

That Christmas a card arrived from Mary, stuffed to the brim with gorgeous lace snowflakes she had made herself – because that was the only snow I would get that Christmas, she said. She wanted me to have a little white in my holiday.
For the next few years, I would get a card from Mary each September 11th with a pressed pansy inside – for remembrance, she said. But what brings her to mind the most – what reminds me of the whole thing, the planes and the fear and the community and the hope and the love – is the sight of those snowflakes on my tree, hanging in my window, pretending to fall.

I don’t know where Mary is now, or Sadie either.

But I remember.



Tomorrow I go home.

But not really. Kind of.

You see, a year ago my mom sold the house I “grew up in” – we moved a ton when I was little so this house had held the most, fifth grade on, and was all that I held dear. Her moving felt fine from a distance, and though I wondered how it would feel when I got back to SoCal it never really affected me much.

Till now. Every time I start to picture what this trip will mean, I picture our breezy backyard with the plastic adirondacks and the years-unused jacuzzi where I had my 12th birthday party. I picture the big master bathroom with two sinks where we’d do face masks as a family. I picture the kitchen table where our cat would do her “Bible dance” before retiring to the chair in the sunny windowed corner by the yellow plaid painted walls. I picture the glider overlooking the gully beyond the house and the rampant cottage garden in front of the window. I picture the teeny bedroom that held so many slumber parties and cryfests, that was pink and yellow and coral in turn and whose closet still hides my treasures. I simply can’t imagine what a trip “home” means without these landmarks – physical landmarks, but landmarks of the soul, too. That house has so many imprints of our family, of me, that it simply cannot be empty of us now. Regardless who lives there now, we do still, too.

So, I’m travelling with not a little trepidation, trying to create space for myself to grieve and feel sad – over something as silly as a roof and some walls, and something as deep as the history of who I am. And I’m trying to remember that no matter the address, I am indeed going home. To my roots, to my sandy beaches, to my Mexican food and my Oscar’s breadsticks. To my family. And to a big part of me that will always be in southern California.


coupon casting

One of the most endearing, and oddly nutty, things about my father:

He sends me coupons.


Every week, a bulging envelope arrives in my mailbox, full of everything from diaper coupons to “save $5 when you eat at Olive Garden.” Which we don’t. I used to find it rather worrisome, what coupons my dad sent – did he really think about whether I’d use one for KY Jelly before he put it in the envelope? Shudder. But now I realize that he simply sits, as he has done every Sunday morning since I’ve known him, at the kitchen table and methodically cuts every coupon out of the paper. He pulls out and files the ones he’ll use… and the rest are sent to me. Ensure, Southern Comfort, Similac, Alpo. I am 32, don’t generally buy hard alcohol, and have neither an infant nor a dog. Yet here they are.

Today’s batch, pictured above, cost 3 stamps and was nearly an inch thick. That teensy pile to the right? That’s the ones I’m keeping.

Shhhh. Don’t tell Dad.

I don’t know what I’d do if they stopped coming.


fairy tale day

Her name was Aurora, and she was a princess.

I, myself, was a grump. Certifiable. I came home tired and itchy and allergy riddled, alongside a prolonged problem with my appetite that is driving me nuts (namely, that it is totally unrelated to actual stomach hunger and need for food). Thinking sleep might help I cuddled up with Olive for a nice little nap, but as all 3 year olds do, she napped shorter today when I needed her to nap longer. It’s a superpower they have, I think. I woke up grumpier.

Our crazy, shrill doorbell buzzed and as I grumped, groused and harrumphed Olive spoke out the window with our neighbor about going out to play. Which, of course, meant I would have to go out to play, because a 3 year old cannot be trusted – even in the company of a nine year old. I yanked on her tennies, gathered my keys and a magazine that I intended to torture myself with by staring at and not being able to read for kid-watching, and stomped down the stairs.

Aurora, for her part, was warm and friendly. And while I should have been grateful that this sweet, much-older girl had any interest in spending time with my preschooler, I was short and clipped and stodgy. Like the old hag all wicked witches come disguised as. And this little girl with long, flowing blonde hair convinced me that we should walk to the park – where she then proceeded to play with Olive for the next hour and a half, watching out for her and coming up with games they could play. I, for my part, was left to read my beloved magazine without interruption and only an occasional cursory glance around the playground.
I never even had the chance to pull out any apples, and the ugliness and grumpiness dribbled right on out of me.
And we all lived happily ever after.

true friend

I have an old-fashioned shiner – the first of my 32 years minus 2 days – and it was given to me by none other than my nearly 3 year old daughter… which she will point out to you with a note of mild pride in her voice – I gave my momma a black eye.

It’s interesting how people respond. Most ignore it. Some look at me with worry or pity or, like the cashier at Target, an impressed approval. I try to wear it like a badge of honor, at least after covering it as much as possible with concealer – I haven’t worn this much makeup since junior high.

The best response by far, however, was from my dear friend Mary. As we chatted I saw a look of horror pass her face and then, not a moment later, she asked very solemnly what had happened. Her relief upon Olive’s admission was palpable and she said, “I had to ask. I debated for half a second but I thought, no, I have to. Because I can’t imagine Jeff would do that, but if he hit you it would have to be reported.”

I can’t think when I’ve felt so loved.


did I mention the bedbugs?

…probably not, since that was the same time that the rest of life fell apart, including my computer. Well. Whoever said “don’t let the bedbugs bite” was a complete moron because, honey, if those buggers want to bite you there ain’t one thing you can do about it. Not one thing.

Being the nerd that I am I had to reread Harry Potter before I could go see the new movie and I was sitting up reading beside a restlessly sleeping Olive. Her cheeks and arms were covered with red splotches the pediatrician had identified as hives, though we couldn’t find anything around she could possibly be allergic to (save the brand new dining table – which I cleaned & oiled in case it was the varnish!). Out of the corner of my eye I saw a little something moving and realized it was a small bug on the sheet beside me. I flicked it off. A few minutes later another little something was crawling up the page of Half Blood Prince and when recognition dawned and I leapt from the bed another couple teeny brown insects scurried behind the pillow I had been leaning on. Without a moment’s hesitation I started sobbing.

Little things had been eating my little girl as she slept, nibbling her little round cheeks and below those pretty hazel eyes! How could this happen? How did I let it happen – for nearly two weeks – before we figured out what it was? They had eaten me, too – while I traversed Hogwart’s they’d been munching on my shoulders and upper arms. It was 2 am and I ran in to Jeffery, still sniffling, and announced that we had bedbugs.

Thus began our saga of vacuuming, buying new beds and linens and pillows, spraying, washing everything Olive owns in super hot water and on dryer setting “high.” And it paid off.

…for a month. Then the sneaky little things showed up in our bedroom, and then in the couch. So, to illustrate our quality of life right now – all three of us sleep on the bunkbeds in the 2 year old’s room. Twin sized bunk beds. Mmmmhmmm.

And now, in these tiny lifeboat-sized beds, we wait for the magic that is the exterminator to come and rescue us.

Hurry, please!


scenes from a life

A kid in my morning class takes a nosedive and I immediately grab him into my lap and hold him close as he cries. He smells, as one of the OTs described it, like a farm. I know this boy is in a shelter; he never wears clothes that are the correct size. It’s hard to put the smell aside and comfort him, but how can I not?


Riding the bus, taking home the kids from the early class. Our newest kid is screeching at the top of his lungs and talking about “Teacher Poophead.” I’ve already tried directly asking him to stop. How do I play this? Do I deal with it head on or ignore it? Ignore it, I decide, it’s a play for attention.

It persists for the entire half hour he’s on the bus.


Okay, we decide, it’s feasible. We can afford to have another child – we’ll shoot for next summer so I don’t have to use any maternity leave.

Despite the fact that I’ve been yearning for this, I am nothing other than terrified.


“Hi, honey. I’ve been in an accident.”

The car is totalled, due to no fault of my hubby’s. No one was hurt. But we will surely be a one-car family for a while (how long?) which means I will be housebound six days a week.

We’re lucky – so lucky – that nothing worse happened, that the school bus picks me up and drops me off daily at our doorstep.

Still, this is a dismal outlook.


Olive and I, stuck home all day on a Saturday, watch the Aristocats, bake chocolate chip cookies, and dance.

We do the “hopey popey” and as we turn ourselves around I wonder…

What is it all about?

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