Category Archives: letters to my loves


This morning when I left the house, my grandfather was still with us. This evening, when I return home from an unfocused day in the office and a few hours of auditorium sitting and winter choral music, it will be different. In the span of a few short long weeks, we’ve welcomed the newest member to our family and let go of the oldest. Somewhere in the middle of this short long day will be me in a wooden chair listening to my daughter speaking at a microphone, and then music. Somewhere else will be my mother, missing her father and missing this music as well. We three girls, each of us gave him the gift of a new name – father, grandfather, great.

Next to our front door hangs a typewriter on the wall. Here’s the story I wrote about it two and a half years ago:

Three years ago we brought home a Remington manual typewriter that belonged to my grandfather. It was housed in a cloth covered case, and we had it sitting out on a table for awhile with clean white paper at the ready. E would occasionally type on it – the clacks of the keys created an uneven staccato and the space bar only worked occasionally. She wrote a few letters on that keyboard, until the ribbon started to fade and the space bar seemed to give up the fight.  

There is a letter she typed once: 
Dear grandma,
Did you have a good trip?  How long did it take you to get here?
When will Grandpa be coming here?  Maybe we can go to the zoo!  Don’t no [sic].  We can build a parking lot one day when you are here or maybe we could make a world record.
Love, E
We packed up everything in the living room a few months later, and the typewriter was relegated to the basement, along with everything else. Out of sight, out of mind.
A few years went by and then we were ready to repopulate the room with our squirreled away treasures. M’s hand was newly broken at the time, and so I lugged up heavy crates of books and objects from the dusty, musty space below. The typewriter case left a greenish cast when I placed it on the table. I tried to wipe the surface of the case down with various wipes, thinking it was dusty, and then fading, the greenish color of the material chipping from the surface. M walked in and declared it was mold and then I realized he was right. The case was beyond saving, and the dust cloud I was covered in now felt toxic and gross. I put it on the back porch and opened it up to rescue the typewriter.
All those places where palms and fingers had rested and inky words had been forged – all of those areas were covered with billowy white clouds of mold, black spots lingering in the centers. The mold had attacked the paint finish of the typewriter housing and left ghost-like silhouettes of hand prints in its place. I bagged it in plastic immediately and thought about ways to clean it, to make it safe and usable again. I washed it, I bleached it, I scrubbed it with various levels of grit and elbow grease. I rinsed it, but the mold was stubborn and wouldn’t go away. I wrapped it back up in plastic, and left it for awhile – sad that the machine that I wanted to sit on the library shelves, the machine I wanted the girls to be able to load library cards into and type away on, the machine that belonged to my grandfather and now to me, no longer worked. I felt sad, I felt guilty, annoyed, and slightly repulsed.
There it was – a typewriter in a plastic bag. I didn’t know what to do with it. My first instinct was to pitch it and wash my hands a few more times. Do you know how hard it is to throw something away like that? Hard enough that it wasn’t happening.
My second thought was to continue bleaching it until all the mold was gone – removing the various mechanical pieces and parts to get in all the nooks and crannies. Do you know how hard it is to watch your children play with something that was once covered in black mold? Hard enough that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the click-clacking away like I used to. I’d harp at them to wash their hands, and I’d lift the machine to stare at the underside to make sure the mold had not survived and returned.
My third thought was to donate it – drop it off in a bin somewhere so that maybe someone would find it and love it enough to save it despite the eaten away finish and non-functioning, overbleached parts. But I felt guilty about it, wondering about others that might pick it up and not know how gross it really was.
So I did nothing, except to sulk and feel badly about something that I failed to take care of and appreciate enough.
I should add another aspect of shifting to my list from my earlier post. Shifting is hazardous. Shifting places things out of sight and out of our care, and there’s a general risk to this sort of thing. I thought I could stack that typewriter in its case on a shelf in an old basement and expect that three years later I’d find it in the same condition as when I first set it there. It wasn’t, and now I had to shift my thinking about this thing before I could move forward. Otherwise it was just going to sit in a plastic bag on the back porch forever.
It was a beautiful object. It was old in that retro-attractive way. It was outdated, in that same way. It was a departure from the computer, iPad, smartphone keyboard. It had one function – writing – with no other distractions like the internet or reply messages. It was going to look good on those library shelves, surrounded by printed books bound in leather. It belonged to someone that I love. He used to type me letters on that machine and mail them to my college address. I loved having it.
Some of the greatest examples of creativity come from a sense of nostalgia. But nostalgia can be crippling as well; a complex mixture of longing and recollection and melancholy and happiness and sorrow and pining and guilt. I needed to make sure that whatever I did with the typewriter emphasized the idea of happiness and recollection. I also need to make sure I let go of the melancholy and the guilt.  It’s an object, it got old and damaged and that was disappointing. But still, it was just an object. Everything has its own lifespan, and I need to always remember that this is a fleeting notion, temporal. We can shift our perceptions, our outlook, our ideas of value and worth.  It’s not always easy to do it, and sometimes it takes a little while – bagged up in plastic on the back porch – before we can summon the nerve to make the shift.
I cleaned it again. I let it sit out in the sun on my birthday and drink in the spring breezes. I painted it white, first the bottom and then the top. I’m going to mount it on the wall, and hang a typed message above it – something to see when I first walk into the house and last before I leave. We won’t be able to type letters on it any more, but that doesn’t stop the letter writing, and doesn’t stop the stories.
There are always stories to tell, even when the ribbon runs dry.


Yesterday, as I was looking through your old party invitations, I started thinking about your sixth birthday party. As soon as I saw those cards, everything about the process of making those specific cards came rushing back. We had a newborn at home, and I was still in the very thick of that fog. We had turned our studio space into a nursery for her, and so our bedroom was overflowing with extra desks and piles and piles of art supplies and various shelter magazines. Slowly but surely, we were working our way through the mess, but the piles seemed overwhelming.

Except to you. You saw the possibilities there, and decided that you’d like to throw an enormous art party – a “monster” art party – and bring all of those supplies to share with your friends. I was sold. I can remember those late summer afternoons, the way the sunlight would light up my bedroom, the way you would curl up on the bed with me and flip through page after page of those old magazines, looking for letters to cut out. We made tiny piles for each letter of the alphabet on my desk and then we sorted them out to make the invitations. Your dad would occasionally whisk you out of the house for an afternoon of swimming or biking, and I’d sit at that desk with the baby sleeping behind me, and glue tiny little letters onto those invitations. I can remember the sound of the blues band across the street, remember the muffled voices of deli visitors outside, remember the August heat just outside the window and the feel of the breeze from the ceiling fan above, the sleepy sighs of your sister in her cradle, the quiet rhythm of gluing paper pieces one by one.

I remember this so clearly because I was finally starting to feel normal again, and the only thing that I wanted in those early days of infancy – your sister’s and yours – was to feel like myself again. To feel like I could lose myself in something creative and produce something in the end that might make me smile. And there you were, my sweet girl, nudging me along in this journey, celebrating those little steps in the way that you always do. You have always been my biggest fan, perched at my elbow, watching quietly as I work, pitching in when I need you, or running away with an idea when I’m stuck.

A few weeks ago in church, our pastor told a story about her grandmother and the food that she would make. No matter what time of the day or night their visiting car would pull into her driveway, her grandmother would always fix them “a bite to eat”, and every meal would include flaky biscuits dropped into a hot skillet. She’d ease their middle of the night homesickness with toasted bread generously covered with cinnamon and sugar. There were so many familiar foods in the story, and so many objects in her grandmother’s kitchen that became a central part of her story – the cast iron skillet, the toaster, the glass cake stand that always, always had their favorite cake perched on it, waiting for their arrival. All of these things were offered to the grandchildren after her passing, but there was only one thing they all wanted, and it wasn’t the skillet or the toaster or the cake stand. They all wanted the yellow stool that sat in the kitchen, the one that their grandmother pulled up to the countertop, right next to her elbow, right in the middle of the action, where each child in turn would sit, never shooed out from under her feet.

Last week, after putting your sister to bed, you headed back downstairs with me. I had some cookies to bake, and you wanted to help. We divided up the ingredient list and started assembling the canisters on the table. I double checked the list, and then you smiled and said “Just one more thing, Mom. Don’t forget the yellow stool.”

You melt me with your words and your dimpled smile and your enthusiasm for all things created and crafted and cute. You can assess a situation and swoop in wherever you are needed, picking up fussy toddlers, settling kid disputes, rounding up children in organized and creative play. You’ve gotten a lot of practice this past year – volunteering after school at your sister’s school and working as a camp counselor this summer. When you walk into a room the place lights up. Everyone is glad to see you, and I understand why. You make everything better. You make everything more fun. You make everything lovelier, brighter, more delightful than it was before. Everyone wants you hanging out at their elbow.

I’m so grateful for your presence in my life and the many ways you magnify the joys within it. I’m looking forward to all of the projects we have in store – I can’t wait to work with you on each of them. Last night as I fell asleep, I thought about you as a newborn, as a six year old, as a twelve year old, and beyond. I thought about our next big project and pictured your long, lanky teenage body hanging out with me in the kitchen or spread out on the window seat next to me, book in your hand, coffee in mine. And then I promised myself that the first thing I’d buy for that new space was a yellow stool. Thanks for always reminding me that the best part of every single thing I do is having you right there beside me.

Happy birthday my sweet, sweet girl.


I got up this morning just after six and headed out the door for an early morning run. When I quietly eased open the front door of our condo, the clock said 6:12. By the time I got down the stairs to the beach the sun was making its way up from the horizon and I checked the time again. 6:18. For a moment I thought it was the moment, until I realized we’re currently in another time zone and I still had a long hour ahead of me. I laugh at that reminder – how perfectly perfect a memory is that? I run and run and run, sweat pouring off my body, til I get to the point where breathing through my nose just isn’t cutting it. I don’t use headphones at the beach, I just listen to the sound of my breathing, two beats in, two beats out. When I round the bend and see the driveway it’s 7:18, and I know it’s really this time. I’m equal parts exhausted and elated.

You are here. Six times over. Each year a gift. Each year equal parts exhaustion and elation.

We gathered around you in your bed last night and told you stories about the day you were born. You begged and begged for more, even as we backed out of the door. You are angry that your day ends earlier than ours, but being five has worn you out. Your moments of equilibrium are rare these days. You motor around at top speed for hours on end, collapsing into a spent pile of tangled limbs and hair at the end of it. We cannot feed you enough to fuel your whirlwind; we pull you back to us every few hours, an action that is met with firm resistance on your part.


You awaken and the world brightens up around you. The sunset is you. Six circles, six gifts. Each year I ask for another, just the same. Equal parts exhaustion and elation.

Happy birthday my sweet, sweet girl.