Tag Archives: milestones



It’s hot here, and humid. This is not atypical for this place and this time of year. It’s been such an emotional week, and I’m spent. Our extended family is wrapping up an emotional journey, and we’ve followed along with their photos through our own tears. The daily news is hard to stomach, and the cycle never ends. And there’s the natural emotional pull that comes with family milestones, big and small. I feel this on the eve of each birthday, as we say farewell to another year of life. It’s a mixture of gratefulness and relief. We’ve survived to mark another tally mark on the yardstick of life. The heat and humidity takes me back to that place seven years ago, walking through a garden, breathing, stretching. Attempting to calm the nerves for what I knew lay ahead. Blissfully unaware of the even harder work beyond.

I did not know, on that steamy July morning, that the practice of breathing would become such an integral part of my life as it has unfolded. I relied on it to get me through the excruciating hours of pain that night. I learned to stretch it into patterns that saw me through gripping anxiety to a more peaceful acceptance of change. I lost it in the throes of grief; it escaped out the same pipe as our screams and cries, only returning in shallow whispers that kept me near home and still. I practice it now in ujjayi form, twice a week, on a mat. I practice it in rhythmic form, three times a week, on gravel paths and hills. I draw more strength from it than I could have imagined seven years ago.

It seems rather silly to think that the act of breathing can be such a vital component of change – we don’t even have to think about it as we do it. But still, I wish that there was some way to convince the world to take a deep, cleansing breath. Each morning, before each thought, and certainly before speaking or acting.

It’s silly, I know. But still.

twenty-one + twenty

I went into this past weekend in some sort of funk. (You might have picked up on that.) I was tired and out of sorts – not angry or bitter at all, just sort of… resigned to it all. I kept trying to push through things, breaking them down into manageable pieces – which is supposed to help, I know – but I couldn’t really get out of the cycle of feeling like there is no real end in sight, no matter the effort I throw at things.

Luckily, I realized that line of thought was getting me nowhere fast. Saturday morning I woke up, headed to yoga, and then headed back home for the rest of the day. I had plenty of things I needed to do on the computer, but M was working on our taxes, and I decided that sitting at a desk all afternoon wasn’t really going to make me feel any better. Instead, I made some coffee, sat down in the living room, and decided to tackle some of the accumulation in there. We tend to collect things near the front door – things that need to head out to other places – hand-me-downs, Goodwill donations, etc. We’d been good at sorting through these things and organizing them, but it had been awhile since I’d actually loaded things up and delivered them. There was a box my mom sent home with me after our last visit, and an even bigger box she brought with her from the visit before. I filled up the trunk to overflowing, played a few rounds of Go Fish! with F, and then set to work on the boxes.

There were two large ziploc bags stuffed full of maps and brochures, and dozens and dozens of ticket stubs. I pulled out the contents of the first envelope and I was completely sucked in. Maps of almost every city and town in Italy, walking paths mapped out in pen, notes scribbled in the margins, hotel names and phone numbers listed, train schedule notes, tallies of lunch expenses and how many postcards I picked up at the station.

There were envelopes full of letters – somewhere along the way I found an early one from my grandmother that detailed how she could send two page letters to me with one airmail stamp. That explained why every single letter I received from everyone while I was living in Italy had two sheets of paper, tiny words written in neat rows on both sides of the sheet. Letters from friends I haven’t talked to in decades, letters from friends I still talk to today. Letters from my sister describing her senior year of high school, how much she missed me, how often people asked her about me. My mother’s letters always ended with a handwritten accounting statement of my finances, my dad’s typewritten letters always included a photocopy of his favorite Far Side cartoon from the calendar on his desk. Two of my college friends would co-write their letter together – they were full of newsy gossip about all the dramas that occur in architecture school when a small group of people are forced to work together in tiny studios day and night.

There was no email communication while I was away. I called home at a certain time each week, accounting for the six hour time change, timed to hit right around dinner time at my parent’s house. There were copies of the faxes I would send – I would photocopy pages out of my sketchbook and tape them to the fax sheet, scribbling notes around the edges. The bags didn’t include the postcards that my family received, but their letters referenced things I wrote in them, which brought back lots of memories of that time.

I can’t believe I saved all of those train tickets – how many trains did I take that year? I guess I could count and see. It doesn’t seem like me – I don’t hang onto things like that anymore. Outside of the subway map we kept a copy of a few weeks ago, how many maps do we actually use? The paper kind of maps, you know. Not many

I’ve been thinking about Saturday afternoon a lot this week. Something shifted in me as order was restored in my living room, as I went through that box, piece by piece. I’ve asked myself if I think I’m a sentimental person, and I’m not sure how to answer that. I like to think that I’m not overly sentimental, but I think that’s because I attach some extra baggage to that word. Sentimental means holding onto something from the past – and that implies the inability to part with things just because they should carry meaning with them. That the object itself is more important than the memory of it. Sentimentality feels like a slippery slide towards uncontrollable clutter (at best), lack of resolve (at worst).

The more I followed that line of thinking, the more ridiculous it seemed to me. I can divorce the idea of sentimentality from the objects themselves. I can be glad that these particular items were saved, stored away for some future (present) moment of recollection, without feeling any pangs of guilt over the other remnants of past lives not tucked away or the future objects that will have fleeting moments in our lives before moving right along. I can just as easily summon the memory of an afternoon spent at a cafe table in Sienna, sketching the fountain wolves with long, arching lines of water spewing from their mouths, from the feel of rough pavement under my feet or the sound of voices layered underneath the sound of babbling water, as I can with a spent biglietto. 

In just about twenty-four hours (depending on how quickly I can wrap this thought up) I’ll turn forty-one. Which means (because I am me and this is how I do me), that I’ve been thinking about this lately. I remember that turning thirty was no big deal, but thirty-one came at me like a lightning bolt, a most unpleasant feeling that lasted for awhile. Forty seemed fairly anti-climatic as well; it actually turned out to be a rather fun age. I’ve braced myself for forty-one, just in case. I like to be prepared, if nothing else.

But here it was, spread out in front of me. Twenty-one. Twenty-one, armed with a sketchbook, a eurorail pass, a few lire (numbers managed still by my mother), long weekends with a wrong-folded map, frayed around the edges, time. I felt like the release of those memories should have heightened my current feelings of anxiety and longing for more time, sweet, unencumbered, agenda-less time. But they didn’t. I just saw me – in the scribbles, in the planning, in the sketches and the letters and the notes about dinner, and the feelings conjured up by the discovery of a hidden alley or garden wall or winding stair. I just saw me.

A week can get away from me. A month, perhaps. Sometimes even a tough year. It was a good (and needed) reminder that the passage of time does not represent a loss of opportunity – or self. It’s just what it is, and nothing more.

(But maybe I’m just not the sentimental type.)


Here’s to forty-one, and twenty-one, and finding me in all the spaces in between.

scenes from a party: six and twelve

6-12 Birthday

We did it! We pulled off a party for both girls at the same time, and last night they both said they had so much fun, so I’m calling it a success.


The week before the party was pretty busy – I mapped out a plan for the evenings and that plan included a lot of party prep.

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I made F’s last birthday hat (I’ve made them for both girls’ birthdays up to six), and even though they rarely actually wear them at their parties, they like having them on display on a shelf outside of their rooms. Other than the whole six / twelve thing, our theme was pretty loose. We stuck to gold / metallics and dots, and we found these colorful sixlets for decoration and eating, and gold plastic coins (not chocolate for a July melty mess) for game tokens. The girls requested dark chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate icing – I took these photos of them because the outdoor ones were just a little melted by the end of the party. Or as F called them – perfect.

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I had planned to have the girls’ names spelled out in cookie pops in these cupcakes, but we failed to remember that we had used a styrofoam base for the flower pops we did ten years ago – the cupcakes just weren’t strong enough to hold them. So we let that idea go, and it was fine. We had more than enough sweets to go around.

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As the kids arrived, they filled out prize bags with their names, and then filled them with treats and blowers and rock candy pops.

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Then the games began. M organized the games by age at the beginning.

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And he even made this yard sized version of “Kerplunk” for the little ones. This was definitely their favorite. They were really into figuring out how not to drop the balls into the bucket. This will be fun to set up on our Thursday Night Blues hangouts.

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After the kids earned some gold coins they got to cash in for some prizes. F is demonstrating that you can wear all of your prizes at once. Her friend D is demonstrating being a six year old boy next to a girl in a photo.

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We served four different kinds of sandwiches that M’s mom and I assembled the night before. My dad sliced up a ton of watermelon that we served on ice in our big white bin. We had big bowls with the girls’ favorite chips, red grapes, and water and lemonade to drink.

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We did our best to assemble all the kids behind the birthday girls at candle time, and we succeeded in getting most of them.

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E had twelve golden candles and F had six. E’s went out in one big breath, while F’s took just a little more effort. I love this series of photos – especially the first one. After the first blow, F’s checking out E’s status.

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The older kids took over the tables, and the younger kids…

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…well, they seemed just fine on the ground next to the trash can! The grandparents dished up a lot of ice cream too. You know, to cut the chocolate a bit.

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Then it was time for the final challenge – this one pitted the twelve year old’s against the six year old’s. E and F were ready – they had already planned this water challenge out, and came prepared with beach towels and swim goggles. Each girl balanced an empty water bottle on their forehead and each had a funnel inside of it – big for F, little for E.

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The kids lined up in age groups and had to run, relay style, with a filled cup to each girl. With arms outstretched, they had to pour the water into the funnel and then tag the next player. The first team to fill the bottle would win.

I know the pictures below are a little blurry, but I loved seeing how excited the kids were, and I also loved how my girls were such good sports about it. I kind of thought F would bail, but she was all business.

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The six year old’s pulled off the win! And then Dad celebrated by dousing E with the rest of the water, much to the amusement of everyone. A few people questioned his sanity, but he pointed out that E’s a good sport and they do this sort of stuff to each other all the time. He also pointed out that he did NOT dunk the little one. Different kid, different ballgame for sure!

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After the party was over and we took four carloads of stuff home, we opened family gifts together. There might have been some confetti in one of them.

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There might have been Taylor Swift tickets in another!

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It was a big day, but we weren’t done yet. We all braved the crowds and the mugginess to see the lanterns at the garden.

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The lanterns are really beautiful all lit up, and the china sculptures are incredible too. I’m glad we went, but the kids were pretty wiped out by the end – and the grownups too. I’m ready to get back to quiet mornings there later this week!

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On Sunday morning everyone started to say their goodbyes. The girls’ cousins stayed for a quick trip to the zoo, and a send off lunch in the CWE. We headed home to a quiet house, just a little bit of laundry, and a lot of leftover cupcakes. No complaints about any of those things.


To SIX! To TWELVE! Hurrah!