Stepping Back

You know those lessons you think you’ll never have to learn the hard way?

That somehow you are just beyond that experience and it will never catch up to you?

And then you get hit upside the head?

Like when you’re seven and convinced you’ve made your best friend for life… and then they move to Nebraska.

Or you’re twenty and think you’re invincible… and then you break your leg on the first day of vacation.

Or maybe you’re twenty-six and think you can keep working the extended hours you have been, manage a final year of grad classes, maintain the mileage you’ve been running, travel on the weekends, AND grow a human… and be just fine. And then all of a sudden it’s a Tuesday night and you are so exhausted you feel physically sick. And finally, bitterly, tearfully, you admit that you are, in fact, not superwoman.

This was my Tuesday night. And after a fretful session of weighing the pros and cons, I ended up taking a sick day on Wednesday.

But why was it so difficult for me to come to terms with taking that day?

I didn’t have any meetings on the calendar. For about the first time in three months I felt like I was caught up on all of my projects. I knew I was going to check in with emails and projects throughout the day. It was seemingly the perfect day to take. But I still hated picking up the phone and making that call, because I did not want to seem like I was not committed to my job.

Two years ago I drank the Lean In juice. I am a feminist and I’m thrilled about the strides women have made and continue to make in advocating for ourselves and for one another. We are ready to encourage one another and push each other to reach our goals. And it’s excellent.

But what about when we need to take a breather?

Our voices seem to fall flat when it comes time to admit that maybe, for a moment, or a day, or longer, we don’t have it all together. We are so busy trying to prove that we are devoted to our careers, families, causes, and hobbies that we perpetuate this around-the-clock, back-breaking cycle.

The support women provide to each other when we’re leaning in, should also be offered when we need to take a step back.

More importantly, we need to give ourselves the permission to take that step back, so we can be at our best when we are leaning in.

Sometimes, you might not be able to keep all the plates spinning. Sometimes you need to take a break. And that’s OK. You are not any less accomplished, driven, or devoted if you do.


Gunner has no qualms about slowing it down.
The moon and Venus on a morning run.
The library at Moraine Farm… have you ever noticed how much you can tell about a person by the books on their shelves?
Gunner has no qualms about slowing down
Baby S, due March 2016.

Lessons Learned Selling T-shirts

As sometimes happens in life, I was assigned a project that I didn’t volunteer to be a part of. I guess that occurs even more once you have kids and they have class parties and extracurricular activities, but it also happens in the workplace.

The organization I work for is participating in a national contest where healthcare facilities film a 90 second video and have to raise at least $2000 for a charity. We selected a local charity that supports women with breast cancer.

We decided our pillar for fundraising would be selling pink t-shirts. As a committee, we have taken turns selling, and in the past two days, I have spent approximately ten hours selling at different locations.

At first my ears fell deaf to the stories that flooded in from everyone who bought a tee-shirt. They all mentioned how their cousin, mother, or even how they had breast cancer. I knew that this is an important cause, and I could tell all of these people had been through a lot, but I still felt removed from it all. The next day my mindset was changed.

At one of the locations I have been selling at, my table has been set up at the end of the hospital cafeteria cash register line. The people standing in the line get to awkwardly stare at my display and me, and I get to awkwardly attempt to smile back at them from thirty feet away. I was all set up one morning before the lunch rush hit, and I saw a man wandering back and forth between each section of the cafeteria. His feet seemed to have a purpose, but his mind and stomach did not. He was walking around and glancing at the stations, but it looked like he was not really registering what dish was at each spot.

He finally picked up something in a clear clamshell package and made his way toward the cashier. As he stood behind two people buying what were likely late morning snacks, he saw my table in all of its look-at-me-now, hot pink glory, and the tri-fold poster that sat atop it. I could see him squinting to try to read what the poster said. I had drawn it up with an extra fat tipped sharpie marker the evening before, while memories of ninth grade science projects washed over me.

He paid for whatever was in his clamshell package and slowly, but deliberately, walked up to my table.

“Hello,” I said as cheerfully as I could.

“Hi,” he replied while barely casting his glance at me and continuing to read the poster. He was of medium height, slim, and dressed sharply wearing an ironed button-down shirt, tucked into denim jeans that were held up by a brown, leather belt. “What’s this all about?” he asked.

“We’re participating in a national video contest and the guidelines require us to raise at least $2000 for a charity. We’ve selected the Pink Ribbon Girls charity, are you familiar with them?” I asked.

He looked me in the eyes for the first time, “very familiar,” he said and gave an ironic chuckle. “My wife is upstairs receiving a chemo treatment right now.”

My heart sank. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” I said in the way you try to offer words that will never meet the need that is there.

“My wife may already have one of these, I’ll go back up and check with her, but if she doesn’t, I’ll be back down to purchase one,” he replied. “This is a great cause.”

“I’ll be here until 1:30,” I smiled and replied softly.

As I watched him turn the corner and walk away I felt the sadness of his situation fill me heavily, sandbagging my feet to the ground and dismissing any lunch pangs I had been feeling moments earlier. I thought about his wife, a few floors above me, sitting there hooked up to IVs, and I wondered if she was getting nauseous. I wondered if that is why he took such a long time trying to pick something out. I said hello to a few more people who walked by, sold a handful of shirts, and then I saw the same man walk past the check-out line and across the cafeteria again.

I looked left and then right, making sure I didn’t have a drove of customers coming, and then I left the table to enter the cafeteria. I saw him kneeling over the fruit and cheese cups with his back to me.

“Sir?” I asked to get his attention.

He turned and I could see he was on the phone. I could also see his eyes were now slightly swollen, the edges rimmed in red.

“Sorry,” I mouthed as I put my hands up and took a step backward.

He looked surprised but gave me a half-smile, threw his eyes in the direction of my table, and stuck one finger up in the air, letting me know he’d stop by in a minute.

I returned to my table and looked at the pink shirts in their neatly folded stacks. I had spent half an hour sorting sizes and folding them carefully to set out in a nice display. I smiled and said hello to the people walking past, and then I saw him standing in line to buy something else. I can’t remember what it is now. A pudding cup? A  bottle of water? We made eye contact as he waited to pay again and made an effort to give each other a half-smile.

He approached the table and I thankfully did not have a lot of time to think about what I was going to say.

“The theme of our video submission is Survivors and Patients: The Real Superstars, and we’d like your wife to have a shirt,” I said.

“Well thank you, but she may already have one.”
“We just started selling these yesterday, I don’t think she will. What size is she?” I asked.

“Well, I’m not sure, maybe a medium”

I handed him a medium. “Here you go, we want her to have this.”

“Thank you, I’ll take it up to her and will come back down to make a donation.”
“No,” I said. “She’s the reason we’re doing this. We just want her to have it.”

“Thank you very much,” he said. I could see the red rims of his eyes magnify behind tears that now rested in his bottom lids.

“You’re welcome,” I smiled at him.

“I’ll be back,” he said.

“No, I don’t want to see your face again!” I said, and regretted it a second later. I hoped he understood I meant it in a joking “don’t-come-back” sort of way and not in a mean and bossy way.

He threw the hot pink shirt over his right shoulder and smiled as he turned to walk away.

The day before I encountered this man, another man had come up to our fundraising table at a different location and told a committee member that he did not want to purchase a shirt for himself, but that he wanted to buy two shirts for other people.

The shirt I gave away had been paid for already. It had been purchased by someone, most likely a stranger, who knew that there was another person in the world that needed that shirt. He anticipated a need, and gave openly.


P.S. If you want to learn more about the Pink Ribbon Girls charity or wish to make a donation visit

Leave of Absence

It’s been awhile since I’ve put pen to paper outside of work to do anything besides make weekly grocery lists. In all fairness, I’ve been preoccupied with other things. I finished my first year of grad school, Levi and I bought a house, and I’ve been acclimating to a new job. With deadlines and home improvement projects and meetings, I assured myself it was fine to push writing to the back burner for awhile. The busy won’t last forever and the busy is now. Right?


There will always be something else.

I have effectively been using my busyness as an excuse to not write. And the longer I have put it off, the less sure I have become about jumping back in. As the days have turned to weeks, and the weeks have turned to months, I’ve started to question myself, my angle, and the very syntax of my sentences. So my logical solution was to throw myself further into home remodeling and work deadlines, while peppering in some social activities and traveling. As time passed, I diligently reassured myself that I’d get back to writing when things slowed down again. It would be just like the awful cliche of riding a bike – right? I could just pick up a pen and a piece of paper and go?

I remembered one Saturday morning in college when I biked 12 miles after not riding a bike for a few years. I could do it, but mannnn was it painful afterwards.

And I decided that’s the only way to start again.

Whatever you’ve been putting off – or finding what you think is a very plausible excuse for – stop it. Whether it’s postponing a project, not calling an old friend, or keeping yourself from doing something you love, don’t delay any longer. It might not come as easily at first as it once did, but the only way to get back into it is to stop making excuses and start making time.


Working / running in the ABTA 5k
Working / running the ABTA 5k
kayaking the Charles River in Boston
kayaking the Charles River in Boston
Wedding season is in full swing!
Wedding season is in full swing

The Dog’s Not Dead

The sun was shining. I was a day away from rolling my car windows down for the first time in 5 months and feeling cool spring air roll into my vehicle, heated from the sun beating against the black leather interior.

I had been at my new job for a week and a half and I had driven 110 miles that day visiting different facilities.

6 months ago the guys changing my oil told me my rear brakes were worn down to 2 mm. But I never know who to trust when it comes to cars – and it felt like it was braking fine. “Later,” I told them.

Within the most recent week my car felt like it was braking soft and over the 110 miles I had driven that day it had started to squeak when I braked. Now, I thought.

I called the shop and told them I’d be bringing my vehicle in that night after work. I called Levi when I got off work and he said he would come pick me up when I dropped my car off and that I should call him when I got close to the shop.

20 minutes of highway driving, poor singing, and mind-wandering later I grabbed my phone to call Levi back, and I saw the notification on my home screen.

4 missed calls. All from Levi.

I hadn’t turned my ringer back on when I left work. Levi never calls that many times in a row. He didn’t leave any voice-mails. He didn’t send any texts. I dialed him. No answer. Five minutes later I was turning onto the street of the repair shop and I tried calling him again. No answer.

Something’s wrong I thought to myself. Levi never calls that many times. Why wouldn’t he leave a message? Why didn’t he pick up when I called him back? Was the space heater unplugged when I left the apartment this morning? Were all of the stove knobs turned off? Was there anything left out that Gunner could have eaten?

Gunner. Something had to be wrong with Gunner. Levi had just parked in the apartment parking lot when I talked to him on the phone earlier. He was going to go inside and take care of Gunner. I knew Levi was home safe. So it had to be Gunner.

I drove past the repair shop and zeroed in on the minutes and miles that were between me and home. I took the corners too fast. I tried to tell myself that nothing was wrong – but I was also bracing myself for the worst.

What if Gunner is hurt and Levi is driving him to the vet? What if Gunner is dead and Levi is trying to figure out what to?  “Don’t be ridiculous,” I told myself. “Gunner is not dead.”

I pulled in the parking lot and saw Levi’s truck there. Well, they’re not at the vet. Gunner’s dead, I thought. I got out of the car, willed myself into the apartment, and told myself to breathe. I turned the key in our doorknob, and while doing so I tried to listen for any confirming sounds that Levi and Gunner were inside – alive and well – maybe playing tug-of-war with a toy.

I couldn’t hear anything so I opened the door. I couldn’t see anybody when I stepped in. “Hello?” I called out.

Gunner came bounding around the corner and Levi stepped out of the kitchen into the hallway.

“What’s going on?”, I said with a mixture of relief, anger, and accusation.

“YOU’RE NOT DEAD.” I said as I grabbed Gunner’s face in my hands.

“Dead?” Levi laughed and looked at me like I was crazy.

“You called four times and didn’t leave a message. You never call that many times! You didn’t answer when I called back!” I laid out my case.

“I was calling you because I got a quote for your brakes from another auto body shop and wanted to let you know before you went to the shop you had called. I didn’t answer because I was walking Gunner and forgot to bring my phone with me,” he said perfectly calm, slightly amused, and still looking at me like I was a little crazy.

“Ahh…” I let out a recognition of plausibility. “Well…..the dog’s not dead.”

The brakes got fixed. Gunner was fine. I got the ringer on my phone turned on. And then I wondered how I let myself get to where I was – nearly convinced that something terrible had happened.

Why do we do this? Why do we let our minds leap to the worst possible conclusions? I think we believe that if we prepare ourselves for the worst, then we can handle whatever the situation is. We hedge our bets. But what we seem to forget is that we can’t control what will happen, and that we will handle the situation regardless.

There is a quote that says “worrying is like walking around with an umbrella waiting for it to rain.” I keep an umbrella in my car, but I don’t carry one with me everywhere I go. AND I usually need the umbrella when I’m not in my car... so I just have to make do with my coat, or end up getting soaked in the rain. 

We can try to plan and prepare and imagine what’s going to happen, but we can never control everything. It’s time to stop wasting energy and effort on worrying and worst case scenarios, and start placing more faith in knowing that everything will be OK in the long run. 

Puppy Gunner – March 2011
photo (2)
St. Louis – March 2013
South Dakota – July 2014

Brevity: When You Use the Right Words, You Don’t Need Many

The January 2015 issue of Brevity Magazine came out this week and it is teeming with thought provoking creative non-fiction essays that pack a punch. All pieces in Brevity are 750 words or less. The writing is concise and astute and the writers featured demonstrate a deep understanding of the craft – telling a meaningful and evocative story in such a short space is no easy task.

I am grateful to have some space in this issue’s Craft Essay section to share some thoughts on critiquing.

To check out this issue’s essays visit:

To read my craft essay on critiquing visit:



On Wednesday I was walking Gunner and I saw 13 robins sitting in a tree. 13. I was confused and my heart jumped a bit with hope. It’s been four years since I have spent a January in Ohio, but from what I can remember growing up here, and what I know of the places I have spent Januaries over the last few years, robins are a sign that spring is around the corner.

But let’s be real – there is no way that spring can be arriving in Ohio on January 14th.

January 14th in Ohio means at least two more months of possible snow storms and headache inducing skies plastered gray, and salt built-up on cars, and scraping windshields, and fingers and toes turning white and blue. January in Ohio means get ready for February – typically the roughest winter month for the Buckeye state.

So why the robins? Why the sunshine? Why the weekend forecast showing temps in the mid to upper 40s?

The meteorologists have provided thorough explanations of pressure systems and shifting fronts. I’ve heard some people say bitterly that this little weather warm-up is just a tease…

But I can’t help but think, couldn’t it also be a reminder? A suggestion that the cold and gray dinge of winter – and any hardship in our lives for that matter – is only temporary? That eventually the sun will return and daffodils will poke their yellow faces up and all of this too shall pass?

I still wanted an explanation for the group of robins in the tree so I searched it. One of the top results listed was an article on OSU’s website from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; “Robins No Longer a Sign of Spring,” the headline rang out. I felt the impractical hope from my gut reaction to the robin sighting on Wednesday dim.

Spring is not coming now. But it will. And until then, whatever explanation you find for the warm weather this weekend, I hope you enjoy it like I plan to – wearing sunglasses, walking dogs, drinking a margarita, and feeling the sunshine on my skin.

Sentimental Set

After it was gone I tried to find a picture of it, but I couldn’t locate one.

I could find lots of photographs that it appeared in, but none where it was the focus. This piece of furniture that three generations of families have gathered around. The chairs that have been reglued, and reglued, and reglued. The sixth chair that was broken during a too-rowdy weekend. The chair that he draped a damp towel over the back of and its telling water marks. This table and chair set that bears nearly fifty years of stains and scars, each carrying with it its own story.

It owes us nothing.

This piece of furniture that pulls us in.

When I was growing up it was our eat-in kitchen table in Powell, Ohio. The formal dining room set was reserved for things like Christmas and Easter, so this dining set was where we ate our family dinners most nights of the week.

Homework and meals. Art projects and coffee.

Place settings ranging over the years from paper plates, to my mom’s everyday Poppies on Blue pattern, to my grandmother’s china.

Candles blown out and prayers said. Weekday spaghetti dinners and summer chicken grilled Sundays after church.

Just a piece of furniture? Or a constant? Something we can return to. Something that is there for us to gather around to celebrate the good and try to make sense of the bad.

It has traveled with Levi and I from Columbus, Ohio, to St. Louis, Missouri, to Brentwood, Missouri, to Springfield, Illinois, to Aberdeen, South Dakota, and back to Ohio again.

We didn’t believe the chairs could take anymore glue. They wobbled and creaked with a simple slide in and slide out.

We needed a new set. Something sturdy. Something that we can hopefully have around for another three generations. So when there was a family selling a formal dining room set we saw it as an opportunity. We could replace our current kitchen table and chairs, and whenever we get a house, we can move the new set into the formal dining room.

“Give it to someone who needs it,” my grandma and mom both said of the old set.

I did not go with Levi on the farewell drop for the old table and chairs to our local Goodwill. Yes, it is just a piece of furniture. An inanimate object. But it was ours. My grandparents, my parents, and then mine and Levi’s. It is where decades of birthday parties and family meals occurred. Where bewildering math problems and seemingly unsolvable life problems both found solutions. It was an inanimate object, that fostered generations of life and living.


In honor of this girl’s wedding approaching this week!

All sisters eat dessert under the kitchen table right?
The kitchen table and chairs. All sisters eat dessert under the kitchen table right?