What Else Would I Do on a Friday Afternoon in Summer but Plant Flowers?

Last week started out chilly: clouds and rain in the valley on Monday and Tuesday and then, when the clouds pulled away in the late afternoon, the mountains covered with new snow. During those sweet, cool days, I found myself thinking “I know that summer hasn’t even really started yet, but I’m ready for fall.”

White hosta flowers

I have a complicated relationship with summer. On one hand, I love so many things about it: the expansive freedom with the kids out of school, flowers, hiking, summer running & summer running clothes, the long evenings when the light fades so slowly, and a light breeze from the mountains kicks up and cools everything off so it’s all just perfectly warm. Mowing the lawn, lying under the trees watching the pattern of green leaves against blue sky, walking with bare feet across shady grass. Fresh corn at the farmer’s market, a watermelon in the fridge at all times, peaches—peaches!

But on the other hand, being hot makes me grumpy, and I live in Utah, where it’s hot. Plus, I’m uncomfortable all summer. I just really hate wearing shorts, because I don’t feel like they look good on me. I wear a lot of knee-length skirts to work, but honestly: I just want to wear my comfy skinny jeans, but if I do, I’m hot and prickly. And I can reverse dip as much as I want, but I continue feeling self-conscious about my triceps (I’m genetically predisposed to bat wings) so I feel sort of naked not wearing a cardigan to cover them up—but who wants to wear a sweater in 100+ degree heat? Not this girl who hates to be hot. And then there’s swimming. I’m not sure anyone except girls with thigh gaps likes hanging out in a swim suit, because inner-thigh chafing is a real, and really annoying, thing.

Obviously, my complicated relationship with summer is built squarely on top of my body issues, which I try to keep in perspective because it could always be worse, but summer makes it really, really hard to keep in perspective because my body is so much more exposed.

But that thought, so unbidden—I’m ready for fall before summer even really starts. It felt so much like my winter perspective, when I was really struggling with my depression and I didn’t want spring to come because the contrast between how I was feeling and what the world was expressing was just too much. I’m doing better, but I don’t want to slip back, and that yearning—for coolness, for darkness, for endings—felt like a backward motion.

So I resolved to delve straight into savoring summer. Savoring this summer, when Kaleb is newly-12 and trying to navigate his changing relationships with friends. When Nathan is 17, his last summer before everything changes and he, too, is ready to move on. When Kendell is starting to feel a little bit healthier, when despite some knee issues I’m ready to commit to running in a way that’s felt elusive for a while. When we’re all just a little bit committed to sun tanning (after prepping our Utah-white bodies for Hawaii).

To savor summer, I’ve been sitting outside on the patio more, eating a meal. And trying to find pleasure in the sunshine (instead of annoyance). And putting on a pair of shorts every now and then. Just trying to live in every day, in each now, instead of looking forward; trying to feel the goodness that is here (even amid the hard parts).

Wandering, quite often, around my garden, stopping to literally smell the roses, but also noticing where I needed more plants, and which plants need extra help (my rose bushes are infested with aphids, shiver). 


Friday was a summer day I could savor, especially sweet, and I want to remember the good bits of it.

In the morning, after Nathan and I went to physical therapy (we are both having knee issues!) we went out on the patio to eat a little breakfast, and he noticed a little quail family. The parents were shepherding the babies along the edge of our fence, and then they got to the corner. The mom flew to the top of the fence and squawked—“come up, come up!”—but the babies were too little. Nathan and I walked quietly over to the fence, so we could see better what was happening. The dad was lifting the babies, one at a time in his claws, into the gap at the top of the fence, and then carefully setting them down on the other side (in the yard without the two big dogs). The mom squawked at us so we didn’t get closer, but just watched until all the baby quail were deposted into the deep grass under the neighbor’s grapevines.

It was a privilege to witness.

Then I went to the greenhouse. A couple of weeks ago I dug out a flower bed that was making me a little bit crazy—full of morning glory vines and two different flowers that were taking over everything, crowding out my favorite blue-black iris. I dug everything out and tossed it all, except for the iris (which came from my dad, so I want to revive it if I can). So I needed something to put there.

Visiting the greenhouse is one of the pleasures of summer. I love just wandering for a while, picking the tags out of plants and reading about them, then putting them back. Taking my time to pick out just the right things. It used to be harder—when I had kids who came with me. Now, no one wants to go but me, which is bittersweet. I’d like to spend the time with them, but the solitude is nice, too. I wandered and I kept adding stuff to my wagon: petunias, and a pale-pink hollyhock, some shade ground cover, a couple of new columbines, two gorgeous lupines.

As I was checking out, there was an older gentleman behind me. He looked at all of the plants I was buying and said “I hope you’re not planning on planting all of that today!”

“What better thing could I do with a summer afternoon than plant flowers?” I responded.

He cautioned me to plant them quickly and get some water on them, and then he said “your husband is a lucky man. I love a woman who plants flowers.”

(I consciously decided to be charmed by this instead of skeeved; it really could go either way, right?)

Flowers 1

Then I went and all afternoon I planted flowers. Sixty petunias, and the hollyhock, and the lupines. Even some zinnias, which never transplant well but maybe this time will survive. As I worked, I spent some time thinking about each of my kids, and my sisters, and my mom. I gathered up the stones I unearthed as I dug and, instead of tossing them, decided to pile them up in an empty spot of one of my flower beds. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, or even why I felt compelled to keep them, but they just make me happy.

I got a little sunburned on my shoulders and the tip of my nose.

When I was finished, I took off my gardening shoes and dragged the house around the yard, watering the flowers while the freshness of the grass soaked up through the soles of my bare feet. Once the new plants were properly watered, I sprawled out in the grass under my sycamore tree. I watched and listened to a pair of crows fly and caw through my treetops, watched the clouds move through the sky dappled with the leaves above me.

I took some deep breaths and I realized: summer is OK.

Flower bed

(I can't wait until the petunias start filling in and spreading out; this flower bed is going to be luscious with them!)

Women's History Month: A Collection of 31 Personal History Prompts

Womens history month 2017
When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to read was a series of biographies called Childhood of Famous Americans. They were hardback books with orange covers, and told about the childhoods of, yes, people who grew up to be famous Americans. I think I checked out every single one my library had at least four times, but with one caveat: I only wanted to read the stories about girls. Amelia Earhart, Mary Todd Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Pocahontas, Louisa May Alcott, Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Annie Oakley (oh how I loved the Annie Oakley story!), Martha Washington, Molly Pitcher, Abigail Adams.

I can’t quite pinpoint exactly why I didn’t want to read stories about boys. Maybe because my family, with our four sisters, was so girl-centric. No one told me I couldn’t read stories about boys. (Actually, the more I think about it, if someone had told me “girls shouldn’t read stories about boys” I would’ve been more likely to read the boy stories.) No one told me girls’ stories were better. I just, when I looked at the names on the spines, felt a deep sense of boredom and even annoyance at the boys’ names.

But it’s a long-established fact that I was a strange child.

I have since learned to read about men in history, too. King Henry VIII, Walt Whitman, William Blake, Van Gogh, Degas, both Lewis and Clark are especially fascinating to me. But I will always be more drawn to women’s histories (Anne Boleyn is far more interesting than Henry, who just blustered around being a complete jerk), as they have always felt like the stories most imperative to know. Whether in novels or in non-fiction form, I like reading the stories of how women have influenced their current times. I like knowing how they lived, the details of their lives, how they dressed and cooked and interacted with people and with the world. I like discovering how, despite the limits of patriarchy and social mores, they achieved their remarkable achievements, or they lived their quiet, average lives.

March is Women’s History Month, and I have been thinking all February, since I wrote this post about writing down your stories, about how I could contribute. Because I don’t think that only important women’s histories are valuable. I think those “average” lives that most of us are living are important to document, too. One day, those stories will be histories, and someone in the future will be interested in learning how we lived, what we thought, how we dressed and cooked and interacted with the world.

So! Today I am posting a list of 31 questions for Women’s History Month. You could answer a question every day and then, on April 1, have told a chunk of your stories. I’m going to answer all of the questions, and I am planning on sharing some of the responses on my blog. I wrote the questions like I used to write essay questions for my students: several different sub-questions to flesh out the more general main question, to help you structure your thoughts.

If you want to play along, don’t make it complicated. You could use a notebook or your computer (or, heck, use your phone if writing long things with your index finger doesn’t drive you nuts!); you could post on your blog or keep it private. You could ask your mom, daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, grandchildren and/or best friends to join you. You can write as short or as long as you want; some questions will evoke more words than others.

Later in the month, I’m also going to post a list of photo prompts for recording your personal history.

I hope you’ll join in. Let me know if you do. Here is the document:

Download Womens history month questions

Just download the PDF to get started.

Happy women’s history month! Happy writing!

My Presentation at Life, the Universe, and Everything: thoughts on Success, Social Anxiety, and Inherent Coolness (or my lack of it)

Two weeks ago, I presented at Life, the Universe, and Everything, which is a writing conference in Provo, Utah, that focuses on science fiction and fantasy. This is my third time presenting there, and I think it was the time I was most prepared.

My library friend Pat and I present together. Our topic is the best science fiction and fantasy books of the previous year; she talks about picture books and junior chapter books, and I do the young adult novels.

Maybe because this was my third year and I really understood what I was doing.

Maybe because there were so many good YA books in 2015 to talk about.

Maybe because more people came to hear us than I expected.

But this year was definitely my favorite year of presenting. I managed to use my time almost exactly right and only had to rush on the last two books. Plus, at the very end, someone slipped in late and came up to ask me for a handout. She said “I was rushing to get here but I couldn’t get here in time. I heard you speak last year and I really wanted to listen to you again!” and I said “Yeah, Pat is pretty awesome” (she’s being presenting since LTUE started) and she said “no, I meant I wanted to hear you.


That totally made up for the fact that my name was spelled wrong on my sign and that they didn’t put my bio in the program (again).

I love presenting at this conference. I love presenting, in general. This is one of my weird quirks, and it surprises people who know me well, because I am an introvert through and through. When I am sitting in an audience at a conference, or walking around, I’m uncomfortable and anxious; I wish constantly that I had the skill of striking up a conversation with people I don’t know.

But speaking to a large group of people is totally energizing to me. It’s just so fun. I always finish LTUE with more determination to be noticed as a writer, because I would like to present there not only as a librarian (who got the spot by default when another librarian couldn’t present) but as a writer who people want to listen to. So for that woman to tell me she wanted to hear me: well, that pretty much made my day!

After my presentation, I was feeling energized and excited and social. I actually talked to a stranger in the bathroom! Then I raced across the conference center so I could listen to Shannon Hale talk. I love her YA novels and I’ve heard her speak before and always enjoyed it. That hour, she was speaking with an editor, a publisher, and another author about their favorite fantasy and science fiction books. With a wider scope and much more off-the-cuff, then, it was basically the same topic that I’d presented on.

It was interesting to listen to the discussion from my librarian’s perspective. People in the audience—and these are people who are invested in these genres—were scribbling down notes and titles, but there was only one book mentioned that I hadn’t heard of. It made me realize just how much I have learned by working at the library.

But as the conversation went on, my energy and excitement started to drain away. I looked around the room and realized just how many people were there. More than double the amount who were at mine. And they had a sort of energy, a breathless, soaking-in-everything-my-idols-are-saying sort of spirit. I watched the presenters speak and their confidence and presence were undeniable. They know each other, have worked together, have a history and a camaraderie that’s casual because it is comfortable. I thought of my writing ambitions. I imagined myself in a place where I have finished my novel and it’s been accepted for publication. Even if—even if I ever manage to achieve that long-held and seemingly-unachievable dream: even then, I will still only be me. The shy and awkward lady who, when she does manage to say anything in a group setting is usually either wildly inapplicable or just sort of lame. Being a successful writer requires more than only writing—it does require that ability to integrate yourself into things, to be able to interact with people who don’t know you.

And it’s an ability I lack.

Deep down in my bones, I’m not…I’m not cool, I guess. I’m not the kind of person who attracts friendships or relationships. I can’t network. My worst nightmare is having to go to a party where I don’t know many people and I must somehow figure out how to mingle. Kendell, who is the opposite of me in this regard, thinks it is only a skill I haven’t learned yet. Maybe he is right. But he’s never felt, either, what I feel in a social situation: the rush of terror, the absolutely blank mind, the way my heart pounds and I know I look stupid and it’s just people around me but I just have no idea how to fit myself into the mix.

After Shannon Hale’s presentation, I went out into the lobby, which was full of writers and creative types sitting around together on cream-colored couches and chairs, laughing. I stood in front of the fireplace and pulled my phone out, so I could turn the ringer back on and check my messages, and just then Kaleb called. “No, you can’t have any friends over, not until I get home,” I was saying, when I noticed that Shannon Hale was walking across the lobby. Right toward me, and I think she heard the tale-end of my conversation as she walked past, “Sure, you can have a cookie, I’ll be home in twenty minutes.” And I thought…if only. If I, too, had that thing. She has kids, I have kids. If only I could just, somehow, strike up a conversation like a normal person.

I walked through the parking garage with a mix of feelings. Both deflated but still certain that my presentation had gone well. I suppose none of my anguishy angst matters in the least, not until I actually manage to achieve that first goal—to write something worth noticing. But there’s also that other tug—even if I can achieve that goal, will it matter? If I can’t also manage to market myself, to network, to talk to people, will I be successful anyway? Or am I doomed from the start?

Mornings Like These

Sometime in the night, it started snowing. I wish I would have witnessed it—the snow falling in the dark. Sometimes that hush wakes me up, but I slept soundly last night. It came silently and we woke to snow. Not an enormous storm, just three or four inches, but enough that we needed to shovel. Kendell needed to be to work as early as he could, and Nathan had an early-morning PT appointment, so I hurried through the breakfast prep and then bundled up to shovel.

It was still falling, just a little, and the light was just on the brink—somewhere behind the clouds, the sun was just about to rise, but it was still just a little bit dark. Just enough that the falling snow could still sparkle in whatever light it could find.

We shoveled silently together, Kendell and I. Just the scrape of the shovel and the very faint sound of snow hitting my coat. I was thinking, while we worked, of how good a simple pleasure it was: shoveling snow. Breathing in fresh air, working our bodies, doing something productive. Being here, taking care of our own place that we love. This place with so many memories. That moment: that is love to me. That is what matters.

Then Kendell said “I want to move somewhere it never snows, this is miserable.” And I laughed long and hard, because that is our relationship, right there. Me trying to savor and find something lovely, him being practical.

Shoveling snow

We finished the driveway and the sidewalks (we live on a corner lot, so we have a lot of sidewalk). We cleaned off Jacob’s car, and then Kendell took Nathan to PT for me, so I didn’t have to drive in the snow. Kaleb came out, dressed (in shorts, I’ve given up that fight!) and ready for school, but more than a little bit disappointed that all of the snow was already shoveled.

So I gave him the other shovel and we cleared off our neighbor’s driveway and sidewalk. We talked while we worked: about the girl he has a crush on and how he found out she is adopted, so then we talked about adoption. We talked about spelling words and his essay for social studies (which he had to re-write after the school computer he was working on crashed) and how sad he was that he won’t be able to play soccer at recess today (too much snow).  We talked about some friends he’s been having friend trouble with.

We talked about how to shovel snow.

We finished up the neighbor’s yard just when Kaleb’s ride to school got here, so I hugged him goodbye and sent him on his way.

Mornings like these: this is what I love. This is happiness. Just spending time doing something with my family. This is what I want to savor. This is what I hope I always remember. This, to me, is the very definition of a good life.

Sometimes when I find myself in the middle of such happiness, I get a little bit afraid. I worry that it is the calm before some dreadful storm. But then I take a deep breath and remind myself I can’t control the storms. They come, silently or ferociously, and all I can do is deal with them. All I can do is keep looking for and savoring what is lovely, no matter the storm. All I can do is talk, or work in companionable silence. All I can do is love them as much as I can, these people life has given me.

{What I Love} no 21: about my life

When I started this {what I love} series, I had two goals: try to blog every day, and try to capture some everyday stuff that I love. Of course, being me, I gave that first goal my best shot knowing I probably wouldn't accomplish it, simply because I can't always fit blogging into my day. And there are several everyday things that I meant to blog about but didn't, namely my affection for:

  • the perfect chocolate chip cookies (a blog post wherein I meant to share all my CCC secrets)
  • listening to entire albums instead of a playlist
  • my favorite facial products
  • my dermatologist
  • specific things about each of my children
  • the extra shelf Kendell built for me in my kitchen closet
  • my pretty spot
  • anything caramel related

(if you add it up...I did 21 posts and had 8 more topics to go, so I at least did have 29 things to blog about!)

Failures aside, I always meant to write today about the things I love about my life right now. This is different from yesterday's post in that I was going to look at my life from a wide angle lens and point out the highlights: these things are awesome and I am so glad my life has given them to me.

But as I sit down to write them, I find I can't do it.

This is because some recent developments have left me doubting these wide-angle highlights. Yes—these things make me happy. But if I were unselfish, perhaps I would be able to give them up in order to make my family more happy. For example:

I love my job. It makes me happy knowing that I get to work with, write about, recommend, and otherwise interact with books. I love the people I work with. I love just being able to say: I am a librarian.

BUT: my job is only part time. With budget issues and the economy, there isn't a whole lot of room for advancement. And it doesn't really pay very much. Am I being selfish by staying in a job I love when I really could find a different full-time one that paid me much more? If I did that, I could provide my kids with things and experiences I cannot do now.

I love that I work part time. Not working full time means that I can take my younger kids to a charter school because I am here to drive the carpool. It means that on at least half of the school days, I am home when the kids get home to talk to them and see how their days were. It means that if they get sick at school, forgot their lunch money or gym clothes or physics book or violin, I can usually help. It means I can go grocery shopping on a day that isn't Saturday, I can do laundry at 9:45 on a Wednesday morning, and I can spend a day cleaning out my pantry (like I did on Monday). Those things all help my family, I think.

Working part time also helps me. It gives me solitude. It gives me time to do things like scrapbooking, quilting, and writing. It means I can be fairly dedicated to exercising without having to get up at 4:30 every morning to fit it in. It means that twice a week I go to a gym class nearly in the middle of the day. None of those things help my family—they only help me. They provide little peaceful pockets that I draw from when things are not peaceful.

BUT. Again—if I were being unselfish, wouldn't I be willing to give up the solitude and the little peaceful pockets? Shouldn't I be willing to do whatever I can to make my kids happier? Things like extra violin lessons, karate class, a bigger house so everyone has their own room, an extra car, fancy vacations: those things are out of our financial reach right now. I'm not really about accumulating extra things, like more clothes and more video games and more stuff. But the experiences that money can buy? I want to be able to give my kids those experiences. Is my selfish devotion to solitude keeping those things out of our reach? There isn't another answer to that question except for "yes."

I love that I am starting to work on my writing for real. These have been baby steps, but they are moving me forward nevertheless. I am starting to find some of my old determination and dedication. I am starting to not feel as silly as I have felt, working on an essay or a story. Starting to work through the process of submitting.

BUT. Isn't this simply a pipe dream? How many people want to be writers and how many people actually accomplish it? Is it just another way that I am being selfish and failing to provide everything I can for my family? The odds of me becoming a successful writer are ridiculous.

And so on it goes. I'm finding myself doubting nearly everything I could rightfully say I love about my life. Feeling like I am being narrow-minded and, here's that word again: selfish. Maybe it can be traced all the way back to the day I decided to be an English major instead of taking the nursing route. I was determined to get my degree in English because it was what *I* loved, not because it was what would help my family the most.

So I don't know. This is a fairly morose way of ending my supposed-to-be upbeat {what I love} series. I'm just finding I can't fake it today. I'm finding that I just need to think about my options and my choices in a more critical light, one that takes what I need less into consideration than what my family needs. Knowing that what I would love right now is finding answers.

{What I Love} no20: present in THIS moment.

Today I want to rant—about kids not listening to me, about carpool drivers who think the "don't turn left into the carpool lane" rule doesn't apply to them, people in ginormous SUVs blocking the McDonald's drive through exit, the never-ending drone of politics on the news, the stupid bill before the Utah senate that would ban any sex education except for "abstinence only," the facts that I can't get rid of this cold and my printer won't work and my computer is making me nuts.

Except (despite the obvious lack of posting) I've been trying to encourage myself to look on the positive side. Before I started writing I listened to a news segment on the recent high school shooting and then I put my (fevered) head down and wept because none of my gripes really, really matter in the face of how fragile life is. What if that happened this morning at one of my kids' schools—a shooting? I didn't hug Haley goodbye this morning because she was running late and in a hurry. I did hug Jake, but we hardly had the chance to see each other or say anything meaningful. And while I did hug, kiss, and say goodbye to both Nathan and Kaleb (after notletting that Escalade turn left in front of me), I also shouted at them this morning because they were rough housing instead of getting their shoes on.

Not a perfect morning. But I have them—for now. Who ever thinks that when they send their child off to school it will be the last time to say goodbye? It is unbearable. So instead of griping, I am going to try to look at what is good in my life right at this very second and let go of the minor irritations:

  • One day in late February or early March, the birds come. I don't know what kind of birds they are—small, black and white things that swarm my sycamore trees. They sit vertically, somehow, on the trunk, or hop from branch to branch. I don't know what draws them to those trees; you'd think the apple tree, with its few shrunken apples, would appeal more. But it is always, for a few morning hours in late winter, the sycamore trees. They are there this morning, right now outside my window, chirping their small, wild songs. Soon they will fly away to whatever their next stop is on their migration route. I love this morning and am grateful I got to be home for it.
  • It snowed last night. When I walked to my car after work, it was falling in the calm, windless night. Enormous flakes. I love any kind of snowstorm, but that is my favorite: when there is no wind, so the flakes fall straight down, and if you stand still and look up all the vertical rush makes you dizzy. It's drizzling snow again as I write, a thin, nearly-rain sprinkle adding an almost-imperceptible layer to the snow from last night that's still on the grass and on the tree branches. The birds don't seem to care.
  • My snow crocus are blooming right now. Seeing color again makes me untenably happy. Right now they are shut tight because of the snow and clouds, but as soon as the sun comes out they will open. Sometimes I think those little flowers are foolish for blooming so early. Usually though, I think they are brave, spreading color and the hint of coming spring into the cold.
  • Hot beverages are helping a little. Accompanying my racking cough I have a killer sore throat. (The odd thing: it only hurts on the right side of my throat. Weird, yes?) Since Thursday I have lived on raspberry zinger tea with a bit of honey and a swirl of milk and on hot chocolate. (Obviously my no-sugar aspirations have been subsumed in the face of my stupid cold.) A recent favorite: McDonald's caramel hot chocolate. I've also been known to make Kendell stop at the gas station for a piping-hot cup. It's the piping-hot part I like the best but I've never had an affection for gas-station hot chocolate until now.
  • Thanks to my friendly copy store, I can finish a project I should have finished last week. In fact, I need to do that now. Which means I'll be using stamps and a few scraps of patterned paper and maybe some ribbon, and while I know it's strange, those things all make me happy.

What is good about your moment right now?

{What I Love} no19: not feeling The Love

I woke up this morning after dreaming about Ragnar all night. Not just dreaming about it, but talking and moaning quite a bit, too, according to Kendell. (Just to recap: Ragnar is a relay race, which you run with a team of 12 people; each team member has three different legs.) I told Becky last summer, after we finished our first one together, that of course I'd run Ragnar again with her. And then I didn't think much about it, because I don't tend to get anxious about races.

But this morning, after all my dreaming, I'm anxious about this race. My first leg in particular, which is 7.2 miles long—all uphill. The ascent is 1743 feet total, but there are some downhill stretches, too. As soon as I could wake up and get on the computer, I started trying to find places around here where I could do training runs that would compare. And not much does. Even though I live by the mountains, I live in a valley. To run consistent steepness I must run in the mountains, which does make me anxious. I mean—I love to do it. But I get nervous, thinking about the possibility of Bad Guys Chasing Me Down.

And maybe it was just the fact that I didn't sleep well, and I have this horrendous sore throat and headache. Maybe it's because my friend's very-good news yesterday cracked open some old scars for me. Maybe it was that I spent an hour at Jake's junior high this morning, and junior highs tend to reawaken those old, unpleasant memories. But the I-can't-run-this-race panic has completely overflowed into full-out I'm-a-pathetic-loser darkness. My brain starts clicking out lists of all my failures, like how if I had a friend who was also a runner I could run those mountain roads with her and not be afraid. Something sparks the cascade and then it's just all downhill from there, and this morning the spark was the race and it sent me spiraling.

It is so easy to be overwhelmed with that combination of fear, loneliness, ineptitude, failure, and self-disgust. Which is an odd thing to write about in an "I Love This" sort of blog post. But, this is me, and I always knew this sort of post was coming, even without the particulars. I always fail at cheery optimism. It's just not my natural state, which is why I try harder to be cheerily optimistic. Sometimes the pessimissm knocks me over. I don't love feeling this way. I don't love how that darkness is always sitting just behind my shoulder, waiting to pounce. And how weak I am once it does.

But I also know this: it does pounce. Maybe it pounces upon everyone now and then. And I know, once the darkness goes away, it will reveal a little bit of light, a way to do what right now seems impossible. I know that the fear will goad me to do things I don't believe I can. And while I don't love this process, I know I need it, and so I value it, if only for what I can learn from it.

{What I Love} no18: the 811s

I have a confession: I hope to never be a children's librarian.

A few weeks ago at work, we had a meeting with the children's librarians and they told us about all the things they do in their division. As I listened, I felt all my energy being sucked out of my body. Just from listening. I am starting to learn a (perhaps ugly?) truth about myself: while I loved my children when they were little and I loved having my own little people around me and doing all of the little-person stuff that comes along with them, and while I love my little nephews and nieces (including those of the "grand" variety) and I love my friends' kids and I can't wait to have grandchildren—I'm not sure I love kids. Does that sound awful? I don't know. I just so much prefer doing library stuff with teenagers and adults. I desperately don't want to spend my twenty working hours at the library planning story time. Or hosting story time.

Except, there is something magical about working on the children's side of the library. The way that children's faces light up with excitement when they find what they were looking for, or the sound of their childish voices which they try to keep at a whisper but it's so very hard when you've just spied the exact flower fairy book you've always wanted to read! And the way that they are not afraid to hide their happiness and enthusiasm. So I'm glad I get to work on the children's side every once in awhile.

Today was one of those once in awhiles, and I had only been at the children's desk for about two minutes when a patron asked me one of my favorite types of questions: "Are there any books of poetry for children?" Are there! why, yes, right over here in the 811s. My personal favorite section of the dewey decimal system, because it's the home of American poetry. Sometimes when I am feeling restless at my reference desk, I wander over to and browse for a few minutes in the 811s. I pick up a book and read a poem and then put it back or, if the poem was extraordinary, I take the book home with me. But it's not only the poetry I love in the poetry section. It's just the sheer proof of many people working on writing poetry. Of presses putting their faith in poems by publishing them. Of the existence, the physical existence, of poems in the world.

But I confess: the 811s on the children's side have a special place in my heart. I love children's poetry. Love the well-written stuff that's inventive and doesn't use forced rhyme or a sing-songy rhythm and assumes kids are smart enough to be delighted by a clever metaphor or an unusual image. I loved reading children's poetry to my kids and hope that memory sticks with them. I love that we have Shel Silverstein and I love that there are dozens and dozens of other children's poets who are also good.

And I love it when someone asks me that question: Where can I find the poems? Because I can always, always show them!

Do you have a favorite dewey decimal number?

{Edited to add: a list of my favorite children's poets}

Karla Kuskin
Eve Merriam
Douglas Florian
Tony Milton (she did the covers for the US versions of the Harry Potter books, too)
Theodore Roethke's Dirty Dinky and Other Poems (although this one is a little dark)
Jack Prelutsky
Paul Janeczko
Rick Walton
Constance Levy
Karen Jo Shapiro


{What I Love} no 17: my old photographs

On the morning that my dad died, my uncle Roe—Dad's brother—brought my sisters and me an unexpected and priceless gift: their mother's photo albums. My Grandma Elsie was quite the photo buff; I trace my love of pictures and scrapbooking directly from her example. In these albums were photos I had literally never seen before, including this one:

Grandma florence
which is of my other grandma. I love so much about this picture, not the least being that both of my grandmas found themselves at a function together, and one of them took a photo of the other. The purple glasses (I own those now!), the fancy plates, the doll bottle; Grandma's outfit and hairdo (so very seventies!). It's not the most flattering photo of her—no one looks especially photogenic when they're swallowing—and almost makes her look mean, which she was not ever capable of. She's the person I associate with complete, pure love, the kind that doesn't ask for anything back. This photo accomplishes two other things: takes me back to how it felt to be loved unconditionally by Grandma Florence and reinforces the love I have for Grandma Elsie.

There is this one:

Amy mom becky michele
which is me as the baby, with my mom and my two older sisters. I can't believe how much my sisters resemble the daughters they would one day have! and look at that paisley print on my mom's shirt!

But my absolute favorite one is this one:

IMy mom and dad spring 1972 5x7 crop
t's hard to tell, but my mom is pregnant here with me. I almost can't stand it, this makes me so happy—a photo of my pregnant mother. I love it for many other reasons (look at the stripes on those pants!) but mainly for the look on my dad's face. He loved her! And she loved him back! Since I know what would come for them in the following 40 or so years, this brings me an unmeasurable (and unnameable) happiness. Seeing proof that they loved each other alters how I feel about myself. It makes me feel more certain and secure.

It also reminds me: photos matter so much. Sometimes I wonder. The difference between then and now is enormous. Back then, photos were meted out carefully, one film frame at a time. Now I can easily snap 100 in an hour if I want to. Now we are overflowing with photos. Will they matter as much, given the abundance? I hope so. I think so. Maybe in a different, more familiar way. I know that to you, who "know" only me in the pictures, these are just old photos.

Someone else's old photos might be even less interesting to look at than someone else's vacation pictures. They matter to me because I know the people in them. I miss the people in them—my grandma who's been gone for more than twenty years now, of course. The healthy laughter of my father, which I haven't heard for half a decade even though he's only been gone for six months. But that version of my mom, too, young and still looking forward. I miss that even though I never really knew her like that. I miss those young times in our life, when we lived on the little red house on the corner by the library, with raspberry canes in the backyard and my best friend Teresa down the street. I miss the me who could still do anything. I miss my Grandma Elsie, whose presence is there by way of being the photographer, who I mostly missed my whole life because I didn't know her well enough.

But despite all the missing, these photos bring me so much happiness. Perhaps because of the sadness. They are proof that all of us existed. Proof that I was once small and just beginning and could do anything. All of our trails took us places no one could have planned or imagined. They also inspire me: Keep on taking pictures. Even if we have too many. Too many is better than too few or not enough, and I don't know what I might capture that will be a trigger, that will take one of my children back to some time in their life they need to remember existed. More photos, always more, as I continue moving forward on the path that started long before I can recall.

{What I Love} no16: more than One Book

"I don't understand," this old conversation goes. "Why do you have to bring home so many books? Kaleb has a pile and Haley has a pile and you have 17 piles and they're scattered all over the house."

Actually, it's not even a conversation. It's sort of a rant that I try not to respond to anymore, because just as I don't understand Kendell's lack of interest in reading, I don't think that anything I say will help him understand my interest in reading.

"It's not like you can read more than one at once," the rant generally ends.

That's another thing I don't tell him anymore: of course you can. Read more than one book at a time, I mean. Well, I suppose not literally at the same time. But I am often working on more than one book. For example, right now I am reading:

1. Waltzing Again, a collection of interviews with Margaret Atwood. I'm keeping this in my van to read when I find myself waiting for someone (usually the carpool). I haven't gotten very far, and I might not finish it before I have to return it, but that's OK because I'll still get something out of it.

2.  Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. This is my main book right now. It has to be because it is long. It took me nine months to get to the top of the hold list, though, so I'm determined to finish it. I grow more and more picky about the kinds of fantasy I want to read. If it's too evocative of Tolkein, if it falls into cliched or formulaic characters or plot points, if the main character is impossibly, invincibly good at his or her given skills—these things tend to annoy me and lead to me not finishing the book. So far, though, Thronesis very slightly only a little bit Tolkein-esque, and that simply in the language; I'm finally deep enough into the story that I can keep all the characters straight. I think this is a fantasy I will finish. If I'm not reading it, I keep it in my purse so I can snatch a few extra reading minutes here and there.

3.  The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster. My friend Doug loaned me this amazing book nearly a year ago. I put it in my "read soon" pile and then never got to it, but he let me know he needed it back so I'll be finishing it tonight. It is completely unlike anything you'd expect from Forster—no British high society. Instead, this is a short, swift, and entirely fierce  dystopia. It is so good that I am ashamed both for taking so long to read Doug's copy and for not knowing it even existed before he told me about it.

4. Mudbound by Hilary Jordan. Even though I think Kindles might just bring about the end of the (literary) world as we know it, and even though the new Kindle commercial-—the one with the mom sitting on the beach reading her Kindle, and her kids are over in a pavilion also reading their Kindles, and she says something like "it's the best way to read" and I want to stab her eyes out so she has to learn braille and give up her wanton reading ways (that sounds more violent than I intended) (and also please note that if you are a Kindle reader I will only want to stab your eyes out if  you are also self-satisfied and, you know, all wealthy about it like the woman in the commercial)—obviously makes me a little bit crazy, I have a confession. I don't own a Kindle but I do have the Kindle app on my phone. Unlike Kindle Commercial Lady, I don't love reading on the Kindle, but I do understand the appeal a little bit more. I'm treating it as my back up: if I forgot my book and find myself stranded somewhere with nothing to read, then I crack open this Kindle book. (Usually this happens in a movie theater.) I got it one day when it was the special deal of the day on Amazon, for just a dollar. While I didn't love Jordan's most recent book, I am enjoying this one in the small bits I've read so far. 

5. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. I've been listening to this one while scrapbooking, cleaning the house, or, once, running. It's a World War II story told from a handful of different perspectives: Iris James, who is the postmistress of a small Massachusetts town, Emma Fitch, who is the new wife of the doctor in the same town, and Frankie Bard who is reporting on the Blitz in London. As I love books with multiple points of view, this works for me. I'm not as sure about the audiobook thing—I haven't quite got the knack of following along with the story. But the story! It is moving and inviting.

6. The Translated Poems of Tomas Transtromer. Transtromer won the Nobel for literature last year. I am working on understanding his thinking—some of his poems are simply bizarre beautiful objects I don't understand but still appreciate for their beauty. I want to also understand them.

I almost didn't realize it until writing this list just how many books I am reading at the same time! Totally doable. Totally pleasurable, especially when random bits from completely different books magically intersect, each informing the other.

Are you a reader of more than one book at a time? Or do you focus on just one? And what are you reading right now?