Thankful Countdown #11: Nathan

When I drove Nathan to school this morning (he usually rides his board, but he had a ton of extra stuff today so I drove him instead), I was thinking about the day after he was born. November 19, 1999—his birthday—was one of those gorgeous autumn days we get here sometimes, an anomaly of a day when you only need a sweater outside, and the light manages to find the last bits of glow left in the leaves still on the trees.

But in the late morning on the day after he was born, it started snowing. Kendell had just left with Haley and Jake, and the nurses left me alone, too. So I opened the blinds and sat in the hospital bed, holding Nathan and watching it snow. It was one of the most peaceful and sweet moments of my life. It was the time when I finally got to start building our relationship, independent of everyone else wanting to hold him and admire his incredibly long hands and feet. (When he was born, his feet were already too big for those newborn baby socks, which was a hint at the rest of his life: enormous feet.)


You have a baby and you can’t help wondering…who will he be? How will he turn out? And I am starting to see it. From that incredibly sweet baby he has grown—oh my, has he grown, 6’ 2” tall already!—into a teenager, with all the accompanying stuff. Braces and homework irritations and interesting girls. He loves eating and can put down an extraordinary amount of food for someone so skinny. He likes going to the gym and lifting weights. He is an artist and spends hours drawing, with pencils and his new discovery, black fine-tip pens. He’s #25 on the basketball team. He gets really good grades and is in Honors history and English. He loves knives (this is his oldest affection…one of the first things he did when he could walk was try to get into the kitchen knife drawer) and has some impressive butterfly-knife skills. He likes skinny jeans and cotton shirts and looking nice. And right now his hair looks exactly the way he wants it.

_MG_4902 all 4 kids 4x4

But all of those things don’t exactly capture why I am grateful for Nathan. He was one of my life’s biggest surprises, a joyous surprise. From the second I found out I was pregnant with him (three months in already!), I had this sense of him as someone who is both fierce and gentle, and that is exactly who he is turning out to be. Fierce in his affections and dedications, sometimes in his anger. Gentle and good. He is a loyal friend and he doesn’t like when the people he cares about are upset. He inherited Kendell’s penchant for getting stuff done—if something needs to be done, he’ll do it without much complaining. He’s polite and happy and funny, and again...none of these words are really capturing it. He’s not a perfect kid of course—who would want perfection? But he is an awesome kid, and I love him so much, and I am entirely, thoroughly grateful I get to be his mom.

Thankful Countdown #12: Creativity in Whatever Form it Takes

This year, I decided I would participate in NaNoWriMo, which is a thing that aspiring writers decide to participate in all the time. I’ve never done it—tried to write a novel in a month—and I didn’t feel quite ready to tackle an actual novel. Instead, I decided that my NaNoWriMo “word count” goal would be 28. Twenty eight days of writing, to be specific. Real writing. I didn’t care about word counts, I just wanted to get down a few of those stories that have been weaving around in my head. Polish up some of my essays. Work harder on my Persephone sequence. I wanted to use the month as a way to work out a writing schedule. To make a writing habit.

So far, seventeen days into November, my word count is one.

Yep. One day of writing. On November 1, Kendell had to go to Salt Lake, so I went with him. I sat in the Salt Lake City library with my laptop, and I wrote away. I several times found myself in that happy place when words are doing exactly what you want them to do. And the writing itself wasn’t bad. It wasn’t marvelous, but it was working.

I think it was those moments that made me not keep trying to write. It felt…precipitous. Like walking along a cliff, somehow, and if I fell—or, when I fell, by finding myself back in the unhappy writing place I’ve been in—I might never get back. Of course, not trying means not being there, too, so being afraid because I was enjoying the process is downright silly. But there you  have it.

I think if I could go to the Salt Lake City library every day, and sit by a window, and look over at the fluttering artwork hanging from the ceiling, and write, then I could write.

I also know this is an excuse.

My first NaNoWriMo is a bust I think.

It’s also just the hectic-ness of my life. I want to make it work but I haven’t figured out the way yet.

Actually what I haven’t done is figure out how to overcome my addiction. My little scrapbooking problem. Because, yeah. One day of writing this month. Roughly 1500 words. But I have made eight scrapbook layouts.

Amy sorensen year I made thanksgiving

(You can read more about this layout by clicking HERE.)

I know that if I want to pursue my writing ambitions, I need to scrapbook less. I can’t give it up altogether, of course. Because I will always believe in the power of stories mixed with pictures and something visually appealing. I will always feel like I have a responsibility to do this craft. I’ll always love it.

I just need to find a way to make it my second-favorite response to the creative itch.

While I was planning my NaNoWriMo, I was also thinking about doing what I think of as a one-topic month. This is when I pick a topic, usually something that goes with the time of year, and scrapbook as many photos of it as I can. I’ve done this twice in Octobers (Halloween), and several times in January (Christmas, although this year I’m thinking about actually doing it in December), and once in May (birthdays). It’s a good way to use up a lot of stuff and get a lot of stories down on paper.

Our happy thanksgiving

It also uses a lot of creative energy.

I sort of set myself up for a NaNoWriMo fail by printing all of the best Thanksgiving photos from the past ten years or so. I couldn’t just ignore that tempting sack of photos. So grateful for Jake
And the little pile of new supplies I’d rounded up in October. So instead of writing very much at all, I’ve been scrapbooking. But also thinking about scrapbooking, and why I enjoy it so much, and what it fills for me. Why do I turn to pretty paper when I’m feeling creative? I think it’s partly because it’s easy. In The War of Art there’s a discussion (several in fact) about resistance, and how what you want to do but resist doing is the very thing you should be doing. I want to be writing but I resist writing. I want to be scrapbooking…so I scrapbook. There is absolutely no resistance. It’s like sinking into a warm bath.

Thanksgiving 2013 haley

Plus, with scrapbooking there isn’t really the nearly-guaranteed threat of rejection. Even if I were trying to achieve some scrapbooking notoriety, the most important thing (for me) has always been my main audience, which is my family. It’s a sure thing that they will like them. Or at least not reject them!

WCS Sat Sketch Amy Sorensen 11 8 2014

(Based on THIS sketch.)

Still, as I’ve been scrapbooking and thinking about scrapbooking, I’ve also been thinking about writing. About what I want to do, about why, after having this ambition for so long, I still want to be a writer when I grow up. It is partly, of course, that crazy dream that I’d write something that people loved, and purchased—the hope of supporting myself financially with words. But it isn’t only that. It is going to writing conventions as a presenter instead of an audience member. It is the thought of having a shelf in my house with my own books on it. It is the long-awaited answer to the 17-year-old I used to be. But even more than all of those, it is that feeling. That being in a moment when words flow, when story creates itself, when time passes without me noticing because I was caught up in that process. (“At the point where language falls away/from the hot bones, at the point/where the rock breaks open and darkness/flows out of it like blood, at/the melting point of granite/when the bones know/they are hollow & the word/splits & doubles & speaks/the truth & the body/itself becomes a mouth” is how Atwood puts it.)

I have been in that moment, which is a sort of a place. One that is so exhilarating that it is terrifying; the place I want to be so badly I won’t let myself enter.

I will always be grateful for scrapbooking. I will always be a scrapbooker. But I am, today, despite my NaNoWriMo failure, grateful for the building I feel going on within myself. A sort of…burgeoning, like lava (or, I suppose, like Atwood’s melting granite). And for the feeling I have within myself that it is coming to the surface, my ability to find that place and then stay there, making something new.

Thankful Countdown #13: On Cooking, with a Recipe

Even though my mom is an excellent cook, I can’t say I learned all I know from her. She taught me how to make chocolate chip cookies, and pizza dough. She taught me to serve vegetables with every meal (even though I don’t always follow her example). She taught me spaghetti sauce and beef stroganoff and cheese potatoes, but I don’t think she ever really taught me how to cook. Instead, she taught me to cook. Which is a fine distinction. What I mean is that I learned from my mother that moms cook for their family, and so it is something I do for mine as well.

Something I enjoy doing for them.

My sisters are good cooks, too. From Michelle I learned chocolate zucchini cake. From Suzette I learned chicken noodle soup and chili and meat loaf. From Becky, guacamole salsa and *.

Books taught me, too. Not just cookbooks, but novels. Every time I eat avocado, I think about the scene in The Bell Jar with the avocado pears stuffed with crab salad and I am a little bit more careful with my cooking methods. Heidi’s grandfather taught me the redemptive power of cheesy toast. And I cannot read (or watch, for that matter) anything set at Hogwarts without immediately baking something delicious.

If you pay attention, you can pick up cooking tips and tricks from almost anyone who cooks. My library friend Julie taught me about All-Clad pans (I’m still saving up!). My friend Sophia taught me about how food, really good and memorable but never fancy-in-that-expensive-way food does more than meet just nutritional needs. One of my co-workers from twenty years ago taught me a cheesecake trick that I still use, and just last week my sister’s sister-in-law taught me how to make perfect hot fudge sauce. Because it’s not just technique or motivation—recipes are so good to share. Family recipes are the best ones, I think, tried and made true by years of repetition. Tweaked to perfection.

I don’t really watch a lot of TV, but I like the Food Channel to be on sometimes if the house is feeling too quite. It’s good background noise because whenever I stop to pay attention, I learn something new.

I’m not an especially inventive cook. I think I have the basics down, but I don’t have that creative spark that allows a person with a bag of frozen lima beans, some corn meal and a fresh piece of fish to turn out a gourmet meal. But if I know what I’m cooking, I can generally do it well. (Albeit fairly slow. In fact, I might be the world’s slowest chef!) I love to bake, and if you need a dessert, I am generally your go-to girl.

It is a skill I’m grateful for.

Especially as my kids are getting older, I am finding that I cannot always have an answer or a solution for them. We don’t always get along or see things the same way. But there is something restorative in eating together. I feel a little bit like I sprinkle into spaghetti sauce and whisk into broccoli soup the things I cannot say or they cannot hear, so that when they are eating they are consuming my advice or knowledge or love. I have baked I’m-sorry-for-throwing-a-piece-of-cheese-at-you macaroni and cheese for Jake, I-miss-you red bean burritos for Haley, thank-you-for-knowing-I-needed-your-help chicken curry for Nathan. I scramble every ounce of love I have into every pan of scrambled eggs I make for Kaleb.

Food binds us together. We eat to celebrate, to have a reason to get together, to have an excuse to be in the same room at the same time. But cooking binds in a different way. It’s one thing to eat at a restaurant but an entirely different thing to eat at the dinner table. We might squabble over food and I might get frustrated over everyone’s pickiness. But I am grateful that I learned from my mother that being a mom is partly being a cook. I’m grateful I can cook things that at least one of them loves, things that nourish their bodies and hopefully their spirits. I’m grateful that cooking helps me feel, in a small way, creative. I’m grateful for all the people—from celebrity TV chefs to the lady at the grocery store who helped me pick out a better spaghetti squash—who have taught me what I know. I’m grateful every day brings another chance to try again.

And I’m grateful for how food unites us.

Last night, we had Nathan’s 15th birthday dinner, which is our family tradition: the birthday kid gets to pick the meal, and the grandparents come. We eat with a tablecloth and pretty dishes (because that is part of it, too…the food, but also how the food is served, and whose hands have also used those dishes); we tell stories while we eat. Nathan chose Shanghai Buffalo Wings for dinner and cheesecake for dessert.

_MG_4873 nathans cheesecake
Baking: one of my skills. Cake decoration: not so much.

As I made the cheesecake, I thought about that long-ago coworker, Pat, whose secret to good cheesecake is to put some cornstarch in the filling, to help it set well. I remembered making the same cheesecake for Christmas last year, and the first time I made a cheesecake (I set off the smoke alarm in my kitchen because I didn’t know the butter from the crust would seep out from the sides of the pan), and how much Jake and Haley also love cheesecake. That is part of the pleasure of cooking as well, how it is wrapped up in memory and tradition. The cheesecake cracked and it was slightly runny in the middle, but it didn’t matter to Nathan, who was happy to eat it anyway. It didn’t matter to anyone, actually, except for my own little inner Alton Brown cooking critic, but I hushed him with a little chocolate fudge sauce.

I’m just grateful I could try to make a cheesecake!

Pecan Pie Cheesecake
(modified from this recipe)


 1 ¾  cups gingersnap crumbs
 ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
 1/3 cup butter, melted
¼ tsp nutmeg
¾ tsp cinnamon

 Pecan Filling:

 1 cup sugar
2/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 ½ cups chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 tsp cinnamon
dash nutmeg

 Cheesecake Filling:

 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 ¼ cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tsp corn starch
4 eggs
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix the crust ingredients and press into the bottom and sides of a spring form pan. Bake at 350 for 8 minutes.

Make the pecan filling while the crust is cooling. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and butter in a pan, and bring just to a boil, stirring often. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl. Temper the eggs by whisking in about 1/3 cup of the sugar mixture, then whisk them into the rest of the filling. Add the pecans and cook, stirring constantly, until thick, about five-six minutes.

Let cool while making the filling. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil.

Beat the cream cheese, brown sugar, flour, and corn starch together until smooth and entirely lump-free. Whisk the eggs, cream, and vanilla together in a separate bowl. Pour into the cream cheese mixture and mix again, until all of the ingredients are incorporated.

Spread the pecan filling on top of the crust, the pour the cheesecake filling on top. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Wrap the pan with tinfoil.

Pour the boiling water into a 9x13 glass casserole dish, and put that on the bottom rack of the oven. Change the heat to 325. Put the cheesecake in the oven, and cook for 70 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the cake continue to sit in the oven for one hour. Then, slide a knife around the edge, and put it in the fridge to chill.  At the very least, give yourself four hours for chilling, but it’s really better if you serve it the next day.

Thankful Countdown #14: I was One of the Nine

Sometime Tuesday night (or early Wednesday morning) I sat up in bed, entirely awake. (As opposed to the times I sit up only half awake, like last night when I nearly fell out of bed after sitting up and shouting "Taco Bell!") It hit me that I had gone to sleep without praying, which I confess I do more often than not, but which I should not have done that night, as something I had been praying for had happened: Nathan made the basketball team. I wanted and hoped and wished and prayed for this not because I'm a sports fanatic (or even really like basketball) but because he wanted it. He wanted it so badly, and so I wanted it for him. Wanted him to have a team, and the experience of being an athlete, and to find his Thing, the certain something that everyone needs to define themselves with in high school.

(I would've wanted it just as badly if it were a non-athletic goal he had.)

Plus, he'd worked so hard on improving his skills, going to almost every open gym, even the ones at 6:00 a.m. So I hoped. I encouraged. I helped him nurse along his minor injuries. And when he told me on Tuesday night that he'd made the team (after teasing me with snuffling and slamming doors when he came home), I was so, so happy. I rejoiced with him.

But I didn't express my gratitude in prayer that night. Even though I'd been eager to express my want in prayer.

So, that late night or early morning, after I'd prayed, I snuggled in my bed and thought about gratitude. I thought about how so many people I know are doing the daily gratitude post on Facebook or the photo on Instagram, or by writing about it on their blogs. I've done that in the past, too. This year, it sort of felt like a book I'd already read. Like a thing I didn't need to do because I'd already done it before, and what would I even write about, having already hit the major things in my previous posts?

Then I thought about the story in Luke, when Christ cleanses the ten lepers, and one comes back to thank him. "But where are the nine?" Christ asks. But they were not to be found. "Go thy way," Christ says to the thankful man. "Thy faith hath made thee whole." I pondered on those other nine healed lepers. Did their leprosy return because of their ingratitude? I don't think it did, and I almost don't think it matters what happened to them. What matters is what happens to the thankful man, who is made whole through his faith.​ I think this is different than the cleanliness that the nine had—the kind that just happened, miracle or not. The faithful man's effort made him whole, and the illustration of his faithfulness was gratitude.

We cannot, I think, be whole without gratitude. And I don't think that stops being true if you are not a person of faith. Everyone, believer or not, feels better—happier, more fulfilled, more aware—with gratitude.

Lying in my bed in the dark, I chided myself, because even if I wrote about the same things I wrote about before, they are things (people, experiences, blessings) that I am still thankful for. I still have them. Can we ever just stop being grateful? Just have already filled up our gratitude quotient? Even without any startlingly new blessings, I don't think so. The consistent blessings might just be the sweetest.

So here I am, writing about being thankful. Full of thanks.​ I don't want to fall into the group of the nine any more. I want to be grateful because I know I have been blessed. And because I want to feel it, more keenly, the happiness those blessings bring. I am grateful, today, for gratitude itself. For being reminded of how important it is, for the act of watching and for the richness that brings to the world.

My Hyacinths are Already Spent

How can April already be halfway over?
I'm perhaps a little bit too insistent that my favorite season is autumn. It's probably because it's so gloriously moody. But every year, spring reminds me that it is fairly incredible as well, even if in an entirely different way. It's all the newness everywhere, the fresh color of the light, the way tiny leaf buds appear overnight. The return of color.
I love spring.
But already my hyacinths have bloomed and finished; the dead stalks need to be trimmed back. The daffodils that weren't picked by errant children are just on the other side of perfectly blossomed. And there will only be a few more days to lie under the blossoming plum, looking through pink flowers to the blue, blue sky.
This year, somehow, spring is also teaching me that it is about the swiftness of time, the ethereal quality of beauty and newness, the way you have to grab it and see it right now, before it is gone, because it will go. Spring is full of luminosity, and of numinous moments, and the only way I know to hold them for a second is to write them down.
01 texture
Some spring things I've done so far:
  • Been woken by a storm. Usually it's only rain, and this storm had rain. Thunder, lightning, and hail as well. But what woke me was the wind. It was blowing so hard early Sunday morning that I sat up straight in bed, my heart pounding, feeling like something was trying to get in. My startled waking-up woke up Kendell, so we went and stood by the back door and watched the storm and then, when it calmed back down to just rain, went back to sleep in the soft-again silence.
    03 down low

  • Gardened so long I got a sunburn. I am enjoying my yard this year more than I have in many recent ones. I think I used to love gardening so much because my little kids would be playing around me while I worked, and then I fell a little bit out of love because they turned into big kids. I had to learn to love the solitude of it, and the simple satisfaction of physicality. I miss watching my kids while I dig in the dirt (and having them come & help me weed or plant or prune), but I am learning to love it for other reasons.
  • Sat on my front porch while the hyacinths bloomed. Is there a lovelier fragrance than hyacinths? Maybe lilacs. I have two big clumps (one pink, one purple) by my front steps, and sitting there on a warm-ish evening while the scent wafts on the wind is one of spring's greatest pleasures for me. I talked to Haley while I did this, and watched Kaleb practice juggling his soccer ball.
  • Bought something new. Maybe because my birthday is in April...but it doesn't feel like spring until I buy a new something pretty to wear. In a lucky coincidence, I found a dress I've been eyeing since January, finally on sale, so I snapped it up. I'm saving it for Easter!
    08 light

  • Put on a pair of sandals. There's something liberating about air blowing around your toes again. Plus, they are faster than boots.
  • Admired my flowering plum tree. It's still misshapen from that late snow a few years ago. Probably always will be. But lying underneath it when it's flowering, looking up to the blue sky (all in the guise of "stretching" after a run) is one of spring's sweetest pleasures.
  • Appreciated spring running. This will happen more than once. You're running along a road you've run 1,000 times before, and you're full of running happiness anyway, but suddenly you realize how beautiful it is, with the thousand shades of new green, and the flowers in the yards, and the blossoms on fruit trees. Even the dandelions add to the color. You get this burst of sheer, sweet, true joy that makes the whole world seem impossibly perfect. Bliss. (Now I can't wait to run past lilac bushes.)
  • Planted something new. I've actually only done this part way: I've bought a bunch of astilbe starts. Now I need to finish digging out the devil's flower (aka delphinium, which is a plant I babied and nurtured for years until BAM it took over every single inch of free dirt under my maple tree; I've now dug it out four times but it just keeps coming back) and the other devil's flower (penstemon, which really is magical when it blooms in August—I have the margarita variant, which is a sort of dark purple/electric pink mix, but which is choking out everything else in the planter by the porch,including my favorite iris) before I get them planted. But buying is half the fun anyway!
    IMG_2237 grecian windflowers 3x4

  • Scarfed down spring meals: anything with asparagus. Lemon cake. Blueberry lemon bread. Macaroni salad.
  05 distant
Stuff I still want to do: 
  • Sit on a park bench while Kaleb plays with his friends, just to feel the way the sun warms my scalp. It's so nice not to be cold all the time!
  • Hike to where the wildflowers are.
  • Get a pedicure. My toenails are looking pretty sad.
  • Practice handstands with Kaleb.
  • Make a berry cake.
  • Go to lunch with Chris to celebate our birthdays.
  • Eat breakfast outside. 
  • Get some more photos of the kids. Especially Jake!

What are your spring traditions?
04 up high


Gratitude #5: Observance

On Wednesday night, Brian Doyle spoke at our library. I was late, but as I was walking in he said this:

If you pay attention, every moment has holiness.

I don't always achieve it, but I believe it being observant. In paying attention and noticing the—the way a thing feels. Even if it is a hard thing, except lately I am more and more adept at avoiding feeling what is hard.

I am working on not doing that.

Because even the hard moments have holiness, if you look at them closely. If you feel what they feel like.That's because holiness doesn't equate with joy. At least, not always. Instead, for me, holiness is presence. Is being alive instead of just living. The rough. The buttery. The delicious or sweet or bitter.

These are all rich.

For my own personal soul candy, I'm grateful that I've developed whatever level of observance I have. It centers me and helps me cope. It makes things mean more to no one else but myself, which is all that I need or, really can ever control.

Tonight, I stayed up late, preparing Thanksgiving. We are having two this year, since my niece is leaving on an LDS mission right before the real one. Tomorrow is the first one, with the niece.

Well, today is, as I've stayed awake until Saturday.

I made roll dough, pie crust, and cranberry mousse. I made an enormous mess. I talked to my boys when I could coax them upstairs and I listened to music—the same playlist I listened to in Italy—when I couldn't.

I sang along.

I stood with my face in the steam rising from cranberries popping into softness in sugar. It's a delicate smell, the cranberry sauce. You have to get close and pay attention to really smell it, but when it's mixed with the fragrance of rising yeast?

That is Thanksgiving, even two weeks early.

Later, once all the making was done and the washing of pans and bowls and mixer parts finished, I went outside to take the garbage and the recycling out. It was misty and cold, since it rained today and there is snow in the mountains. Nearly a fog, but a faint one, right on top of the blacktop. The sky was clear, so I stood in my neighbor's driveway and looked at the stars—Orion, and the Big Dipper, and all of the lights without names. The moon was nearly full and there was a ring of cloud around it. "Sax and Violins" by Talking Heads came on and I just stood, shivering but happy. There were sparkles of frost on the crispy leaves.

"We were criminals who never broke no laws." I actually sang it out loud, and then I realized how weird I must've looked: covered in flour, with sticky bits of cranberries splattered on my forehead, in my pajamas. Standing in the neighbor's yard, looking at the stars, singing out loud.

At 1:00 in the morning.

But it was worth the potential my-neighbors-think-I'm-weird risk. Because love will keep us together and alive. Because looking up, looking weird, looking around—these things make it real. You miss everything if you don't look. Observance makes things holy.

I'm watching while the birds go flying home. (Even though there were only stars, clouds, mist, the moon, and darkness in the sky.)

Gratitude #4: Don't Roll Your Eyes!

A few weeks ago, I decided I couldn't stand the mess that my closet had become. I went through every shelf and every hanger, and I was ruthless: if I didn't love it or need it, really, anymore, then I put it in the donate pile. I tossed ancient sweatshirts, plenty of computer-industry t-shirts, and lots of under Ts because it's true I only wear the black or white ones. I got rid of pants that were just-barely-too-short or never really fit right, skirts that were just the wrong length (mid calf doesn't look good on me) or too fluffy, jackets that looked dated. Shirts that were too small or fit my arms weird or didn't meet my long-enough-in-the-torso requirements.
(I took all of this to the D.I., and not three days later my sister-in-law told me about a consignment shop that will actually buy your used clothes, if they're in good condition and didn't come from Old Navy. Sigh.)
I realized, looking at my newly-toned-up closet (all the extraneous flab is gone!), a couple of things:
1. I have gotten much better at buying things I'll really wear. Most of what I got rid of has been hanging around for quite awhile.
2. I've gotten stuck in a clothing rut, wherein I wear the same eight things over and over.
3. I have a lot of cute pieces I should wear more often.
4. I own a lot of cardigans.
In fact, I don't think I got rid of a single cardigan. I did, however, just last weekend add a new one to my collection. When Kendell saw what I was buying he said "I know you're a librarian, but do you really need to buy another cardigan?"
As this one wasn't just any old boring cardigan, but a color blocked one in a perfect length and with long sleeves (I like longer sleeves that reach down to my palms if necessary), I ignored him and bought it anyway.
What can I say? I love cardigans. (But not, ever, ever, cardis. I can't fully explain why, but that word makes me shudder.)
And yes, it's sort of a librarian thing. But what you might not realize is that libraries have their own weather systems. Sometimes it's hot, and then you can take your cardigan off. Sometimes it's chilly and you can put it back on. (This does, often, happen on the exact same day.) Sometimes it's so cold your hands are freezing and you can barely type, but you're in luck because your cardigan has longer sleeves and at least you can cover your palms. We librarians don't necessarily wear cardigans as fashion pieces (although, I do have several that I think of as "decorative cardigans," which are cute but not really very warm), but because we never know when it's going to be freezing at the fiction desk.
When I came home from shopping and hung up my new cardigan, I looked again at my skinny closet. And I decided I needed to make a goal to get out of my clothing rut and actually wear some of those cute pieces I own.
I started this on Tuesday by wearing this corduroy jacket:
to work. I love it. It's a particularly "Amy" sort of piece, with the muted colors and the paisley print. But halfway through my shift I had another realization: partly why my jackets remain mostly unworn is that I don't enjoy wearing them. I feel restrained. Stiff. Held in place by my clothing. What's worse, while they do add a layer of warmth, they lack the coziness that's inherent to a soft cardigan.
So yeah. Maybe they are the fashion equivalent of a toddler's blankie, the soft warm thing she can't go anywhere without. (Blankie...cardi...maybe it's the infantile association that makes me shudder?) But not only do I love cardigans, I'm actually grateful for them. (I told you not to roll your eyes!) For their portability (you can shove one in your work bag or sling one over the back of a chair), their ease of access (you can take a cardigan off without feeling like you're taking off your clothes, as you might in a non-cardigan-type sweater), their structure (you get to do two things in a cardigan, wear a shirt and coordinate it with something else, so two statements at once, even if the cardigan is saying "Librarian"). I'm grateful to have a versatile collection so I can grab one when I'm running late, right out of my closet, instead of having to dig it out of the laundry room.
I'm grateful for their soft, warm, coziness.
What article of clothing are you grateful for?

Gratitude #3: Words

But not just words in themselves. The way that, say, you wake up aching from one of those certain reoccuring dream tropes (on that particular morning, for me, it was gymnastics) and then you happen to read something that isn't exactly the same but still means the same, like

the way you watch yourself
in a recurring dream.
You never lose your touch
or forget how taxed bodies
go at the same pace they owe,
how brutally well the universe
works to be beautiful,
how we metabolize loss
as fast as we have to.
                (William Matthews) 

I dream that way because I haven't forgotten how my taxed body went anyway, and because I am still metabolizing that loss, and then I felt that sad happiness that I was never able to write it that way but at least someone else could.

Later I read this, from a Marge Piercy poem:

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

And then this, from a Delia Ephron essay:

"Our job as writers, as we begin that journey, is to figure out what we can do. Only do what you can do. It's a rule I live by. . . . If you only do what you can do, you never have to worry that someone else is doing it. It keeps you from competing. It keeps you looking inside for what's true rather than outside for what's popular. Ideally. Your writing is your fingerprint."

Reading—words—writing. All of it, for me, intersects with life, and if I am open, if I am actively reading and paying attention, I learn what I need to know, I am comforted in a way I didn't expect, I find parallels between my life and someone else's (usually nothing like mine) that lift or enlighten or calm.

Words, and the intersections they make, cause me to stride through my life with much more confidence. With more peace. I need them to be who I am. That, to me, is one of the magics of words, how other people's lives, complete strangers or utterly fictious beings, illuminate mine. I come to know some of what they know, and in this way am made wiser.

I've been known to neglect seemingly-important things, like laundry or cleaning the bathroom or figuring out dinner at a decent hour, in order to keep reading. Sometimes this causes conflicts in my world, and probably it seems selfish. Probably it is selfish. Because it's about me and what I need. Even though I need it to perform the rolls I'm needed in.

It's circular.

Yesterday I read this beautiful and heartbreaking essay in American Scholar. It has almost nothing of "me" in it: it's written by a man, who has two young daughters, and is dying of cancer. None of which are experiences I am having. But still. The intersection, for thirty minutes or so, of Christian Wiman's life and mine gave me a little more life in my life. It made me feel, think, imagine, fear, and tear up. It was what he said about grief, and Christianity, and living; he made me nod and say yes:

"Experience means nothing if it does not mean beyond itself: we mean nothing unless and until our hard-won meanings are internalized and catalyzed within the lives of others."

Which is saying what I am saying, except with more wisdom, and which is why reading is more than just a story, and why writing will always tug at me, and why I will always be grateful for words, despite the conflicts: because they are they way that my experiences and other people's are given meaning.

Gratitude #2: Other People's Babies

Last Saturday I was busy sewing this:


(Sewing a whole-cloth baby quilt for my new nephew.)

My sister-in-law had her baby on Halloween, and I can't arrive at a new baby's house without something soft and warm! While I sewed, I thought about my sewing machine. Kendell surprised me with it on the Christmas morning I was pregnant with Kaleb. I burst into tears. Like—real, live sobbing. Like I had to leave the room I was crying so hard. Not just because he had surprised me with something so awesome, but because I had visions of all the quilts I'd make for my own babies.

Except there wasn't going to be more babies. Just one more. Who I love desperately, of course.

But for a long, long time, I wanted one more.

So sewing baby quilts became a way to feed my baby hunger. I couldn't seem to make another baby happen in my family, but I could still celebrate someone else's baby by sewing for them, and that eased my ache a little bit. Holding their newborns did, too.

Eventually my baby hunger began to fade. 

On Sunday, we stopped by my brother-in-law's house. His sister, who is the person I was making that blanket for, was there with her new baby, and his daughter, who also has a new baby. Two brand-new babies at once! I was in heaven.

As they always do when there is a new baby around, my family members started joking with me about when I would have another one. I pointed out that I am 41, and did my standard joke about needing a younger husband before I'd be willing to have another baby. But I realized ( this is a knowledge I must continually reaquaint myself with) that I really am not baby hungry.

I don't want a baby.

That ache is gone. I am left with another sadness. I hear friends say things like "when I had my last baby, I knew I was done." I never had that feeling. Even though I don't want another baby, I still feel like I missed a baby I was supposed to have. Either between Nathan and Kaleb, or after Kaleb.

I wish that I had a six-year-old as my youngest, so that Kaleb would have another kid his age to play with, instead of having only teenagers to hang out with.

I don't know what else I could've done to have called that missing child into existence, but I missed the opportunity. And while the baby hunger has gone away, I don't know that this other feeling will ever leave me. It is a strange sort of missing—a person who never existed. And yet I do feel this continuous loss.

Sometimes, when I am counting my kids at, say, Disneyland, I find myself counting to five and looking for the one I'm missing. Then I remember it's the one I never had.

So I held my latest nephew. And I held my latest great-nephew. Holding babies without feeling baby hungry is sort of a strange thing for me. It doesn't heal anything because the sore is scarred over. Instead, it's just a baby: sweet, and adorable, and precious. A new person!


holding Eli, the twentieth kid I am an aunt to.

They don't alleviate my feeling of having missed one of my children. But other people's babies remind me that babies still are born. That babies are awesome. That one day I'll maybe have my own grandchildren.

So I am grateful for other people's babies. To sew for, to hold, to coo over. To drench myself in that newborn smell. To stretch out my heart and to give me hope. 

Gratitude #1: He Makes me Laugh

(I am making no promises about blogging a gratitude every day in November, even though that would be really awesome if I managed it! My goal is 15. We shall see!)

One of the things I love about Kendell is that he makes me laugh. We have a similar sense of humor and neither one of us is easily offended. Plus he knows what's funny to me so he'll point it out. Or just spot random stuff. For example, some Halloween-day funnies:

  • We were waiting in the carpool line to pick up Kaleb, and some kids walked out of the school with their mom. One of them was dressed like a policeman, and Kendell said "Look! It's a tiny little male stripper." I was talking a sip of my beverage right when he said this and I totally snorted liquid out of my nose. I didn't realize until he said it that that was exactly what I was thinking.
  • Then we spent the rest of our waiting-in-the-carpool-line time googling male stripper names. And laughing, but luckily without any beverage spewing.
  • I made sugar cookies in the afternoon, and some of them were shaped like ghosts. He kept sneaking over to the (non-frosted) cookies and just eating the arms off the ghosts. 

Don't get me wrong: sometimes Kendell makes me scream. Or cry. Or throw things. Once he made me so mad I started swearing like a sailor right in front of his mom.

But the fact that he makes me laugh all the time? Goes a long way in making the crazy less crazy. Plus, who would want a marriage without laughter?

I'm grateful for his sense of humor and his willingness to "go there" and make me laugh. Until I spew beverages out of my nose!


kendell and amy
(That IS his smile!)