Global Positioning System

For Mother’s Day a couple years ago, my husband gave me one of those GPS watches so I could track my time and distance when I run. I love it, because I am a dork. At the time I was training for my first (and potentially last) half-marathon. It is fun for me to sit at my desk, download my activity and admire the little red line on the map and blue elevation gains chart. I like to see the miles add up, and uploading my run from the cute pink device to the computer serves as my equivalent of a running diary.

I play a little game to motivate myself when I run. I try to make the second mile faster than the first mile, which is generally a “gimme” because I walk the first quarter of a mile to warm up. Really, it’s to make sure the dog is “empty” before we pick up the pace, which believe me, is not significantly faster. Then just for fun, I challenge myself to make the third mile faster than the second. If I’m in for four miles, my goal is to make the fourth mile faster than the second mile, knowing that it’s going to be hard to beat the third mile, and on the rare occasions that I continue for 5, then the fifth mile has to be faster than the first mile, all of which indicates that the law school inflicted brain damage appears to be permanent.

Before I even step out the door for my run, I have a map in mind of the route I plan to take. Notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, my inner perfectionist control freak likes to think she‘s still in charge. The difference between me and the app is that I map my run before I go anywhere. He-Who-Is-In-Charge (or is He?) can only take so much of my shenanigans before He shakes up the ant farm.

The other day I head out for my run, armed with poopy bags, my GPS watch and a four-mile plan. After about the first mile I realize that I have a technical issue, and in the interest of discretion, I should head back home. But this detour is not part of my plan, and there is no way that I can hit my target speed (if you can even call it speed) if I turn home at this point on my path. I live on a hill. There’s a reason I can round out the third mile faster than second mile. I cheat. I know the route that I’m going – because I’m the one who planned it – and the 3rd mile is still on the downhill slide.

Reluctantly, I head up the hill. I had intended to get in another couple miles, but I’m so annoyed that I’m ready to call it a wrap as soon as I get home. I’m not sure why I’m feeling bitter. Maybe it’s the simple fact that I don’t like stopping. Or maybe it’s just really poor planning that teenagers and their mothers suffer hormonal swings simultaneously. But in my mid (okay, late) forties, I am getting better at breathing. After a few sighs and a couple more inhales, I realize I can still hit the four mile mark – even if not within the time I had hoped – by changing my route to a figure eight instead of an oval. Undaunted, I head out again. Okay, slightly daunted. But not defeated.

There are four high schools in our little town: the public one, the private one, the catholic boys’ school and the catholic girls’ school. Three of the schools are located within two blocks of each other, but the catholic girls are sequestered way up at the top of a hill. It’s a beautiful campus, and they are closer to God up there. And farther from everybody else, which if I had any daughters, would appeal to me as well. To get there, you have to take a couple curvy streets, none of which are particularly well-marked, serving as an effective “moat” around the castle of princesses.

As I’m settling back into a running rhythm, a flustered grandpa driving a sedan asks me how to get to the girls’ school. Maybe he’s on his way to watch his princess play basketball? Or to hear her sing? He’s probably late. I stop, and I get out of my own head long enough to give him directions. I wouldn’t have been in this spot at this moment if I had been on the route I originally intended. Maybe I was supposed to be here now. Not for myself but for somebody else.

Maybe it’s not all about me.

A lost elderly gentleman and a crabby middle-aged mom manage to bring light into each other’s paths. Somehow the Divine, with a little shake of the ant farm, transforms my sullen, selfish self into something else altogether. In what surely must be one of my less attractive states, surly and stinky, I could still bring light and direction to another person. And he brought a gentle reminder that — even armed with my fancy pink GPS device — I am simply not in control. My role is to be myself. Perhaps I could accomplish that with just a little more grace.

One of my favorite meditation instructors begins and ends each of his classes with a slight bow, hands pressed together, and the Hindu expression “Namaste.” Which translates approximately as “The divine in me honors the divine in you.” Humbled, I uttered a quiet “Namaste” as the man drove away in his gray Honda. It occurs to me that we just may be the answers to each other’s unspoken prayers. Maybe, if I pay attention, the simple fact of my presence is enough to bless another’s soul. His presence blessed mine.

Ironically, as I relinquished to need to control my route, I found security simply as a child of the universe. As usual, my run – though not how I planned it, or maybe because I didn’t  – has brought me perspective.


Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. Namaste.

The “Ours Baby”

When Tim and I married, we blended two families of three into one family of six. Together we have four sons, and no, we are not going to try for the basketball team. Or the girl. If God wants us to have another baby, He is going to have to drop one off on our front porch in a basket, Moses style. God Himself, that is, and not my mother-in-law. (Just in case she’s getting an idea.)

We also combined two cats (his) and a little black dog (hers), all of them male. My only chance at adding a girl to our ranks was a female puppy, but I really didn’t want one.

I love my dogs, but I do not confuse them with my children. I bristle at those billboards that say “Pets are children too.” I hope not, because I have never left my sons in a box with a piddle pad while I ran to Trader Joe’s for eggs.

That having been said, it’s embarrassing how smitten I am with our puppy.

I did not want another dog. Just for the record, I didn’t even want the first dog. Predictably, I fell head over heels for the little black dog anyway. Have you seen how adorable the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is? Ridiculous. It’s just that dogs are a lot of work, and I didn’t harbor any illusions that the kids – even the ones begging for the dog – would be picking up the poop or getting up at o-dark-thirty to let the puppy outside.

I wanted a tiara.

The rest of my family wanted a puppy.

Tim and the boys began their research project in pursuit of the perfect canine addition to our many-footed family. They looked at pound puppies and purebreds, and stumbled upon what appeared to be an ideal match. Reluctantly, I agreed that if they could find one within a reasonable distance, I would consider it. In light of the fact that there were only three breeders in the country, I thought this was a safe bet.

They found one nearby.

The “ours” puppy is a French Pointer, a hunting dog known for his high energy, agility and good temperament. (Think smaller, gentler German Short-Haired Pointer.) Because breeders seem to be a breed of their own and we are not a hunting family, we spent a good deal of time convincing the breeder we would be worthy of this dog. Tim and I are also known for our high energy. Our dispositions are generally reasonable but improved by a run. We hit the trails every day, and the dog would have four boys, for crying out loud.

The breeder already had six hunting families lined up to choose their dogs, but eventually agreed that we could have the seventh pick of the litter. Unfortunately, they were only expecting six puppies. All of which is to say, that we could have the reject. And even though my chances of having a female compatriot in the testosterone zone were looking slim, I was starting to think that I might get through this phase without picking up a single puppy “prize.”

But then there were seven puppies.

We do not know why none of the hunting families chose our puppy. We affectionately call him our “defective hunting dog.” He is handsome and stoic, with a dark coat, and he was the biggest of the litter. Maybe it’s because he does not like wet feet or inclement weather. Or early mornings. Like a child afraid of the dark, he wants a human to accompany him in the backyard. He has a flat personality but a sweet temperament. Oddly, he’s a reluctant eater. His littermates were pointing at butterflies as young as two months, and they now retrieve pheasants in the Dakotas. Our dog still points at butterflies, and hunts for a warm sunny spot (unoccupied by a cat) for his post-run nap.

To his credit, the defective hunting dog is equal opportunity in his loyalty. The boys and my husband all believe that they are his favorite, unlike the little black dog who everybody knows is very attached to me. As for defecto-dog, I’m his favorite, too, but I let the boys think what they wish.

The “ours” puppy is absolutely gorgeous when he runs, and to watch him climb up and speed down hills? Forget about it. Stunning. More than once, drivers passing by have stopped their cars to ask about our dog. When Tim and I are not running together, we occasionally even argue about which one of us gets to take the dog in the morning.

I told you it was embarrassing.

I had a criminal law professor in law school whose resemblance to Andy Garcia insured the attendance and attention of at least half the class. By his own admission a frustrated philosophy major, his favorite question was, “Who’s the judge?” His point being that issues of right and wrong remain essentially subjective. Experience and perspective influence whether a quality is rendered an imperfection or an asset. Sometimes the “best” is simply a matter of opinion.

Which is certainly true in the case of the ours puppy.

It’s raining lightly this morning, which I consider a welcome relief from the September heat. I am looking forward to running in the drizzle, but defecto-dog is not. He looks at me like I’ve lost my mind, resisting the lure of the leash, looking uncannily like the dog Max in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

My dog would never have made it in the Dakotas.

But we are crazy about him. He’s terrific with our kids. And as long as he’s had his morning run, he’s calm around the cats and the little black dog. The breeder need not fret – this dog runs a marathon or more every week, and he has four boys to call his own. We are grateful that – for whatever his flaw – this ridiculous dog has landed in our equally ridiculous family.

I didn’t quite get the girl dog, but I did name him after my favorite female character in To Kill A Mockingbird: Scout. He’s not exactly a hunter, but he’s our ideal family dog.


Wishing you light and strength. And a perfectly defective dog.

Calendar Collision

Sometimes it bugs me that there are only 365 days in the year. And then those days repeat and events start to converge on the “same” day in different years. After enough years, each day develops multiple overlapping meanings, such as when a national event like 9/11 falls on my goddaughter’s birthday. Which it does. Who gets the day?

We have several instances of calendar collision in our blended family. Tim’s first wife and my sister share the same birthday; Sam’s deathaversary falls on the same date as one of my now niece’s birthday; one of my cousins died on Tim and Debbie’s wedding anniversary. In one of the twists of the calendar, Sam and I were married on the same day as Tim’s parents. Well, not exactly. Same day, different years. We were married on their 28th anniversary. But of course we didn’t know that at the time.

Sam and I had been married for just over 15 years when he died, and the date that would have been our 16th wedding anniversary was a remarkably difficult day. One of those days that arrived, despite my best efforts. I closed my eyes and held my breath, but the clock kept ticking and the calendar page turned. Of the days during that first year as a widow that took my breath away, my wedding anniversary was one of the hardest. Only the parties to a marriage can know the significance and intimacy of that day. After Sam’s death, it was a harsh reminder that I was single. He was gone. The anniversary that would-have-been, wasn’t.

It is hard to say goodbye.

I was surrounded by Sam’s family on a summer trip to the Sierras for that first anniversary that wasn’t. I don’t know whether that made it better or worse. On the one hand, there were aunts and uncles and cousins available to entertain and safeguard my boys while I melted down. On the other hand, an argument with an in-law sent me — literally — running for the hills. I ran farther than I had planned (farther, in fact, than I had ever run at all) at altitude, listening to an album by Jason Mraz. “Details in the Fabric” still makes me think of that tearful, miserable, intensely therapeutic run. Good for the heart, I suppose. And good for the broken heart as well.

In all fairness, it would not have taken much to spark my emotions into orbit that particular day. My head and my heart were at odds with each other, trying to reconcile the fact of Sam’s love with the matter of his death. It should have been our anniversary; we were supposed to be together, celebrating. But he was dead. And by his own hand. It was all so wrong. I faced into the ugly, messy reality that now comprised my life, I reached a place where the impossible had happened and somehow I was still moving. Through the heat and steep terrain, through the beauty and the pain and the sweat and the tears, the broken heart beats. It is no small miracle. With family by my side (for better and for worse), I was embraced by their love. As were my children. As was Sam. Unbelievably, our hearts hold on.

I honestly didn’t want or expect to find love again. I had been married to a man who loved me for who I was, and I was grateful for what we had. Truly. Some people live their whole lives without experiencing a love like that. It ended too soon, but I had it.

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. I felt better after my run.

Even better after my cousin made me an omelette. Because snacks are key to the process.

But while we’re on the subject of sparks… On the opposite end of the spectrum that day, was a phone call toward the end of the day from a man I had met recently. The cell service in the mountains was spotty at best, so the fact that his call came through at a time I happened to have reception must have been the work of divine providence. Tim had also been widowed, and I was calmed by the sound of his voice and the fact that he cared. He knew exactly what day it was.

I had met Tim a few weeks prior. Mostly because my friend Susan thought I could benefit from talking to someone who was in the same leaky boat. I never imagined that the love of my life would be waiting for me there.

Meanwhile Susan kept telling me “Tim’s just a nice guy.”

Every time she said that I wanted to meet him less.

As it turns out, Susan was right about having somebody to talk to. Tim and I spent two plus hours chatting at lunch. She failed to mention, however, that he was also nice-looking, which sort of distracted me from my intention never to fall in love again. After Tim and I had been dating for a couple years, one of my nephews was reading the morning Los Angeles Times, and says, “Hey Dad — George Clooney looks like Tim!” Tim would like me to point out that while he and George share the same color gray hair, Tim is taller.

Also, as Susan told me, Tim is in fact a nice guy.

By my second would-have-been anniversary, I had fallen in love with this wonderful man. Even so, I spent the afternoon in bed (alone) with a migraine.

I can’t recall the details of subsequent years, which is as it should be, I suppose. I observed several would-have-been-but-wasn’t anniversaries by taking my headache and a book to bed. But time and healing (which are two separate things) do their work, and ultimately it made no sense to me to count up all the anniversaries I didn’t have. This year, for example, it would have been… let me calculate… 22 years, but the “would-have-beens” don’t count. Sam and I were married for 15 years. On the timeline of my life, our marriage shaped who I am and the lens through which I experience my world, but I don’t wish for a past that was not or a future that is not to be. It makes more sense to me to think of it like this: Sam and I were married on this day 22 years ago. A joyous day, to be sure. Like many other beautiful days we spent together.

As painful as it was to say goodbye to Sam and our life together, it was crucial, because that process opened my eyes and my calendar to present possibilities. I would not be here now if my heart and head had been stuck tallying anniversaries that weren’t. The anniversary headache has been gone for years.

In fact, this year the date nearly slipped my mind completely, because we were focused on a momentous celebration: Tim’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

Fifty years.

That’s. Just. Wow.

The day has transitioned from “our” day to “my” day to “their” day. I no longer feel the desperate need to cling to that day as my anniversary, although I do think of that happy wedding day. On our family calendar, the day belongs primarily to my in-laws.

Naturally, Tim and I have our own day. Lots of them, as a matter of fact. We have some happy calendar crossover as well. For example, Tim proposed to me on my parents’ wedding anniversary. I am grateful. And head over heels for my Tim. With a little luck and exceptionally good health, we hope to reach our own 50 year milestone.

While my history continues to have relevance, I have learned to put the past in perspective. There are not enough days in the year for every significant happening to claim its own exclusive square on the calendar. Which now I (mostly) consider a positive. The overlapping events point toward the heart’s capacity to hold the full range of our days.


Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And days enough to share.

The Best Worst Thing

A few months ago, one of our pastors noted that 90% of his ministry is interruption. Ministry and motherhood have a lot in common.

I adore my vibrant boisterous puppy pack of boys. They consistently populate the top 5 on my list of things I’m grateful for. But I do cherish those still, quiet moments right after the boys all exit the house to go to school, leaving me home with the dogs. Part of the dogs’ charm is the fact that they are always happy to see me. Plus they don’t speak. Not to mention that the dogs will never leave me and go off to kindergarten.

Or to college.

As much as I enjoy the unstructured, flexible times of summer, I really appreciate the consistency and progress of the school year. It is also true that I have a penchant for freshly sharpened Dixon Ticonderoga pencils. And an enormous gratitude for the teachers who share some quantity time with my children.

I want my boys – all four of them – to know and believe that they are the answers to my prayer. They might not have realized that this was what I meant when I was counting the days for school to start, and upon reaching the anticipated day began to dance and sing (cue the Christmas carol tune), “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Maybe I should work on my delivery.

For many of us, the path to motherhood takes longer than nine months, and there are more expressions of motherhood between a woman and a child than those defined by a biological bond. I suffered my first miscarriage within six months of my wedding. And even though my husband and I were not anticipating starting a family quite so early in our marriage and even though I would not be feted on Mother’s Day for years to come and didn’t yet sport a baby seat in my sedan, I was brokenhearted. And the experience began the process of molding the mother I would become. Looking back, I can finally smile, seeing that the ache of loss — while never replaced — would be eased by the knowledge that my inner mother’s heart was beating, being opened and softened and prepared.

I cannot remember where I read this idea, but according to one spiritual tradition, the soul is on a journey through multiple levels, and each lifetime’s purpose is to reach the next level. Certain souls simply need to be loved — even for a very short time — to reach the next level. Sometimes that need is met in just a few months, not even long enough for the soul to emerge in a tiny squalling form, but long enough for her mother to open her heart. I found this mystical explanation of miscarriage very comforting, because I already loved that little soul even though I never held her squirming body in my arms. I still hold her in my heart.

And my path of motherhood began.

The motherhood journey is rarely linear or tidy. It is not exactly a walk in the park. There are many firsts, and each stage brings its own challenges and joys. It requires lots of snacks. It is easy to see the children change and mature in the annual family Christmas photo, and even if the parents look pretty much the same from the outside, their inner growth is just as significant as the visible growth of the kids.

The step-motherhood journey features harrowing precipices, treacherous weather and foul language. But the views are spectacular. I note with some bemusement that my oldest step-son was born the same month as that first miscarriage. I did not give birth to this child, but I love him as my own.

The transitions are washing over our family in waves as the summer wanes. For the first time, our oldest stayed at college all summer, coming home for just one week. His arrival was so dearly anticipated and celebrated that we call him the Prince. I felt so full and happy to have all four boys home and under my roof. Sunday morning all six of us filled a pew — those boys’ shoulders are pretty broad these days — and I could not be more pleased with my brood.

Just as I have adjusted the quantities of bread and of brisket in my grocery cart, our week with all six of us together ended. Junior high started last Tuesday, which is wrong for so many reasons. But I don’t have time to ramble about that because high school started two days later, and then our college boys flew the coop. The senior left Sunday, and my husband and I took the freshman on Monday. In the course of a week, my nest has expanded and contracted, and I’m left breathless.

The college drop-off is the best worst thing. I don’t know why I thought it would be easier the second time. It’s everything our son has prepared for and all that his father and I have hoped for him. We even had a private conversation with the President and Chancellor of the University, which made me feel that much better about our son’s decision. And while it was painful to say goodbye to our fledgling college student, I was not at all unhappy to leave the Central Texas sweat fest.

Now I’m back home in a remarkably quiet house, and I am feeling a little bereft. As if it’s possible to feel just a little bereft. It’s like being “slightly” pregnant.

In fact, this feeling has several parallels to being a little bit pregnant. I’m exhausted, overwhelmed, happy and excited, and more than a little nauseated. There’s also the nameless dread. Am I afraid for my child’s safety? For my own? Will we survive this ordeal with our relationship intact? When will I open the door to the “big” boys’ room at home without the tension in my throat and welling in my eyes? For once I cannot tolerate the sight of their tidy beds and clean floor. It makes them seem so much farther away. When I see the boys’ car parked in the drive, my heart lifts, in the habit of thinking that they’re home and then sinks, realizing they’re not.

But still. There is that little bubbly feeling, like the very first time I felt the baby move about four months into my pregnancy. Even as my stomach sinks, my heart lifts with hope. I am excited about the possibilities, both for him and for myself. The Prince will graduate this year and spread his wings even further, and Thing #2 is embarking on his college path.

My greatest joy as a mother comes from my sons’ moments of independence. First steps. Their own words. Words to express their own ideas. Little things than turn into big things. Washing a dish. Doing his own laundry. Driving himself. Calling for help. Or not. Knowing when he needs to. Making his own plans.

They’re out of sight but not out of mind, and certainly not out of heart’s reach. I’ve already mailed several packages. When I sent his health insurance card, along with the responsibility for monitoring his own health care, I experience a momentary panic. Who is going to sneak baby kale into his morning smoothie? Nevermind. I don’t think I want to know.

I receive mail too. A personalized card, referencing our conversation on move-in day, signed by the President of the University. I am not so naive to think that he personally takes notice of every single student on campus, but he knows a lot of them. I watched them high-fiving and calling him “Kenny.” He creates a culture of caring, and I relax just a little, knowing that my son is in such a place.

As I think about my sons’ accomplishments, my heart swells, and I am grateful. Of course, my pride leaks out my eyes. It is hard to imagine feeling so empty and so full simultaneously. If my heart wasn’t so full it wouldn’t hurt so much when they leave. If — before I had any children — I had known how painful if would be to let them go, I would have readily agreed to pay this price. Leaving is exactly what I’ve groomed them for. The opportunity to grow up and create a life of my own is, after all, the gift my own parents granted me.

Of course, I couldn’t have known quite how difficult this process would be. But if I do my job right, the kids will become independent, and there are other silver linings as well. Some things are simpler. I spend less time at the grocery store, although not much since we still have two teenage boys at home. And I am starting to look forward to some honeymoon time with my Tim. We’ve sort of walked this path backwards: when we first got married, we jumped right into a life with a mortgage, four kids, two cats and a dog, and after the children are “grown and flown,” we will have time just the two of us.

For now, I will sit outside and enjoy the full range of this moment, tissue in one hand, a celebratory glass of wine in the other. Even as my nest is emptying, my heart is as full as ever. I have held these boys in my arms, I have held their hands literally and figuratively, I have waved as they drove off — or as I did — and through it all, I hold them in my heart.


Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And a full heart.

A Walk With Intention

As a student and a bookworm, my favorite place on most any campus is the library. Even as a parent, my favorite volunteer activity is my allotted time in the high school library. Some of the sweetest, smartest and strongest people I know are librarians. I might like to be one when I grow up.

Libraries promote inspiration. Even without picking up a book or opening the pages, the sheer number of volumes, authors and subjects is humbling, and the overwhelming variety of voices, stories and styles motivates and encourages budding authors. Libraries also provide a haven for subversive activity. And I don’t just mean the kind of activity that can be shushed by a glare through spectacles. I mean the revolutionary kind where young people encounter new ideas, access cutting edge research, and cultivate an understanding of other people. Ideally, it is a place where children can learn to think for themselves. 

I engage in my own brand of counterculture activities on my library shift: I smile at stinky, surly teenagers. Sometimes I pray for them. Yes, in the public school. I gave a presentation to the students at the public school last year, and the principal advised me, “You know you can’t say, um… the F word here,” by which he meant Faith. So I don’t say it out loud.

But I can walk it.

I have made it a practice to pray around the public schools. Every week I walk the dog along a route which literally encircles both the public and the private high schools (and mentally extends across the country to include my college-aged sons, their friends and my friends in education). According to John O’Donohue, “Wherever one person takes another into the care of their heart, they have the power to bless.” So, today, on the traditional start date for the academic term, I walk around the schools with gratitude for the faculty, staff, students and parents investing in the education of children. I take them into the care of my heart, and I offer a blessing as this school year begins:

May divine wisdom and mutual respect guide all those who contribute to the academic life — teachers, students, parents, counselors, administrators, staff, volunteers, directors, coaches, facility managers, coordinators, groundskeepers, crossing guards and security personnel.

May the school community flourish within a spirit of patience, appreciation and progress.

May the individuality of each student be honored and nurtured.

May light, inspiration and understanding guide conversation, in the classroom, on the field, in the hallways and at the lunch table. And on the phone. 

May integrity and initiative motivate each student to apply his talents and her gifts in creative, relevant ways.

May parents, step-parents, foster parents and guardians delight in their child’s success and honor each child’s uniqueness and wholeness.

May those students approaching the end of their tenure complete their programs with stamina and honesty. May they enjoy their achievements and use their capacity in the service of life.

May each kindergartener and college freshman and all those transitioning to a new school gain confidence in their new surroundings while maintaining connection to the love, support and faith that brought them to this threshold. 

May the lessons of responsibility, initiative, diligence and flexibility be celebrated.

May mistakes be understood as guideposts for improvement and not as examples of failure. May there be perspective, discernment and harmony.

May the reluctant student find purpose, momentum and joy.

May all students be inspired by possibility, challenge and laughter.

May student leaders structure innovative, effective, inclusive programs.

May faculty and administrators be beacons of calm, generosity and compassion. May they discipline with firmness and gentleness.

May all who contribute to campus life — from preschooler to professor — learn to speak each other’s language.

May the broken-hearted find connection and wholeness, befriending life through art, athletics, literature, challenge, a kind word from a classmate or colleague, or a smile from a volunteer librarian.

May all who participate in education experience rest, safety, unity and hope.

Obviously, it’s a long walk.

The principal of the local public high school will remain blissfully ignorant that I pray on and around his campus several times a week, primarily because his internet security system has blocked my SushiTuesdays website. I presume this is because of the “shit” in the middle. Ironically, the faculty and administration at the boys’ catholic high school, as well as several clergy friends who subscribe to my blog, let the Su-shit fly. Go figure. 

May the invisible, vibrant grace bless us all.


Wishing you light and strength on your educational path. And a quiet, comfortable spot in the library.