Five years ago..

On this day in 2012, we were closing in on the first anniversary of my dad’s death. Dad was on our minds and in our hearts more or less constantly.

Then a monster walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 6 teachers and 20 children. Addie was 6 years old at the time, the same age as many of the children who died. She was full of questions about these children: what did they like to do, what did they think when the shooter came into the school, were they afraid. The idea of these children dying alone, without their parents, distressed Addie so much. A few days later, she came to me with a solution. She said, “Do you think Papa was there to help those kids when they died? So they didn’t feel scared?”

And I said the only possible thing I could tell a 6-year-old child struggling to answer an impossible question: “Yes. Papa is taking good care of those kids for their families. You don’t have to worry about them.”

Please go to the memorial website today, look at their photos, and read the stories of these women and children whose lives were taken for no reason at all.

    Happy Anniversary!

    I fell head over heels in love with Dave about 21 years ago. I married him 19 years ago. Between then and now, my feet landed back on the ground- in the best, best way. Dave and I have found our way together through the whole gamut of experiences- from awesome to “fuuuuuuck.” Standing at the altar nineteen years ago, there was a lot that I didn’t know (including that Dave would shortly step on my wedding dress and rip a hole in it. Just saying). I knew nothing about what was to come; I was just excited to spend it with this man by my side.

    Today, I know a lot more about good times and bad times, and those things that can strengthen you or pull you apart. I know a lot more about the deep well of goodness in Dave, his essential groundedness, and his easy strength. I understand now that he will never, ever, get any better at being places on time. I also realize that I’m not always a peach to live with, either- and he accepted the whole package. More than ever, I understand that I know nothing about what is to come.

    And I’m so, so glad to experience it with Davey. Thanks for being my buddy. Looking forward to our fifteen minute drink tonight, after Kid Activity Carpool.

      Monday Afternoon

      CAM [wandering into the kitchen]: What can I eat really fast, before Homecoming Olympics?

      GABBY: First you have to tell me what ‘francophone’ means. Is that French?

      CAM [looking through the fridge]: Maybe I’ll just have some cereal…. so, ‘francophone’ is an English word. It means “French speaking.”

      JULIE: So guess what the word ‘anglophone’ means?

      GABBY: “Angler-fish speaking.”



      GABBY: Points for originality?

        Shopping with Gabby

        Cammy has attended a couple of high school dances. It’s easy as pie: I take him shopping a week or so beforehand, he quickly finds pants (black) and a shirt (black) and a tie (color dependent on the date). Easy as can be. Not so with Gabby; this year she is actually going to Homecoming with a date. At first I thought it was going to be just as simple; Gabby has never been a fan of too much fuss and too many frills. She didn’t even want to shop: she picked out a dress on Amazon and asked me what color Converse she should wear with it. I thought I was home free…. until the dress came, and it was too big, and it didn’t look the way she had envisioned it….. and I said, “Well, we can go shopping and you can try things on-” never thinking she would go for it and hiding my surprise when she said, “Okay. I’ll get my shoes.”

        The boutique we went to was stuffed with variations on a single dress theme: lace and rhinestones on top, short fluffy skirts on the bottom. Gabby did try on a couple like that and thought she might like one in particular, red with red lace appliques and pockets (in retrospect, she talked about the pockets so much that I think they were her main motivator). She also tried on something totally different: a sleeveless sheath dress, with rays of rose gold sequins radiating out from a center point. When she was trying to decide between the two, one of the sales girls helpfully said, “Well, if you want to be sure that you get something similar to what the other girls are going to wear, go with the red. That way you know you won’t stand out for looking different.”

        Now we’re trying to figure out what color Converse goes with rose gold.



          I started my new job as a full-time faculty member a few weeks ago. I’ve been busy- in all the best ways. It’s been great. And in the meantime, here’s what’s happening in the rest of my house:

          • Cammy, for whom jobs keep falling into his lap, has scored yet another awesome job. He’s working at a nearby athletic facility, once again recommended to the facility by someone who knows him. His hair continues to get more and more luxurious. He is a junior and starting to be much more serious about looking at colleges, WHAT.
          • Lishie ended a season of up-and-down competitions on the upswing, placing 5th overall (and even more exciting: one of the judges placed her 1st her soft shoe round). Now she’s splitting her time between dance and golf AND a boy came to the house and held up a sign, Say Anything-style, asking her to go to Homecoming. This is uncharted territory, my friends.
          • Addie J finished up her purple belt testing just this week. She’s also changed her Halloween costume from a fox to one of the Disney princesses, to go along with her group of friends. This is much easier for me, so I’m onboard.
          • Due to my new job, and due to the fact that Dave’s job is based out of Atlanta, he has been home for the after-school runs more often than I have. I told him yesterday that he is the new Mom. He told me that we’re all in trouble. Don’t believe it for a second. (Granted, we’re only a few weeks in. Anything can happen, right?)
          • So basically, I get up early and get the kids and myself out the door. Afternoons and evenings are a free-for-all and sometimes we’re not home and finished for the night until 9 or later. And our steady schedule of out-of-town every weekend has continued apace (not this weekend, burglars: we’ll be home). So that’s why I’ve been MIA: for all the best reasons.
          • Speaking of all the best reasons: I’m headed out now for drinks with a friend. I will try to carve out more time to update here in the coming weeks.

            Incredible Summer

            This summer has been absolutely epic; one of the most fun, activity-filled, travel-crammed summer of our lives. I know I’ve been way lax in updating here and that’s the reason: I have hardly been home to post. Here are some highlights:

            Heres Cam using his wheels and easily outpacing his competitor. Also, check his flow game.

            Here’s Cam using his wheels and easily outpacing his competitor. Also, check his flow game.

            Cam spent his summer playing lacrosse; coaching youth lacrosse; refereeing youth lacrosse; caddying; and just this week he was hired on at a new lacrosse facility opening nearby. I love watching him play and I love the friend group that has emerged from these experiences. Somehow he managed to visit a couple of schools as well, because this kid of mine is gearing up to choose a college and I can’t believe it. Also, I know I told you he was letting his hair grow per the lax “flow game” style; his hair is sensational. For real.


            Hard to believe this is the same hot mess who wears tshirts and sweats every day.

            Hard to believe this is the same hot mess who wears tshirts and sweats every day.

            Gabby graduated eighth grade with honors, joined the high school golf team, and completed her very first high school course this summer- a course which, because of its difficulty, can only be taken by Honors students. Gabby hardly slowed down to earn a high A in that- while (to be honest) most of her focus was on dance. Here she is, holding the first award she won since spraining her knee in May; if you like her dress make an offer- because she’s getting a new dress made for this fall. This dance thing is EX PEN SIVE.

            This was taken on her 11th birthday, and she is just aglow with happiness and excitement.

            This was taken on her 11th birthday, and she is just aglow with happiness and excitement.

            My JJ turned 11 this summer, and has cheerfully come along as we dragged her to six different states- some of those more than once- for lacrosse and dance and vacation. In between, she somehow managed to attend enough taekwondo classes to earn a new belt this summer. As I write this, she’s at summer orchestra camp, no doubt being a human sunbeam as usual.

            Quite naturally, I assumed my new office would look just like this. It does not.)

            Quite naturally, I assumed my new office would look just like this. (It does not.)

            Oh hey: I got a big kid job this summer too. Starting Monday, I begin work as a full-time, tenure track Assistant Professor. I have been solely freelancing for 6 years, so this is completely wonderful and exciting and will be an adjustment for all of us. I have no idea who’s going to water the garden now. (Yes I do: it’ll be me, at like 9pm.)

            Here I am in Dingle, expressing my opinion this band name. For the record I was wrong: the Dingle Berries were awesome.

            Here I am in Dingle, expressing my opinion of this band name. For the record I was wrong: the Dingle Berries were awesome.

            Also, I just returned this week from Ireland. My four siblings and I took our mom back to the place she and my dad used to love going. The 6 of us basically burned that island down- it was a nonstop, balls-to-the-wall blur of castles, pubs, castles, pubs, castles, and pubs. (Also pubs.) Meanwhile our spouses stayed home to be on kid detail and keep things running, for which I am so grateful and appreciative.

            Looking forward to starting this new chapter next week, on the heels of this spectacular summer.

              Happy birthday Gabby!

              Fourteen years ago, Gabrielle Cait was born at almost 9pm. After dithering around all day, she suddenly decided to make her entrance- so quickly that my doctor (who had gone home for dinner) wasn’t even there for the delivery. Also I did not get my epidural and yes I am still salty about that. Here are fourteen things to know about Gabby:

              1. She inherited my dad’s gift for nicknames and one-liners. Example: she knows a kid she calls “Taste the Rainbow” and another kid she calls “Sprinkles.” Then there’s “The Turnip” or, when referring to Dave, “Darth Ginger.” (Side note: considering my siblings and I recently nicknamed two people “Mumbles” and “The Dandy,” I shouldn’t be surprised that she does it too.)
              2. Her hair is a force unto itself- thick and curly and she loves it. A few weeks ago she wore it down for a dance competition, accidentally sucked in a big mouthful while dancing and had to stop and take it out before she choked. Actually happened.
              3. Gabby likes to write and to draw. We got her a sketchbook and charcoal for Christmas, and she frequently spends the late evenings either sketching something or writing something. Sometimes she shows me and sometimes she doesn’t.
              4. We have a garden every year, and Gabby participates in planning it out and also taking care of it. She has books on different kinds of herbs; her specialty is different kinds of tea for different health purposes.
              5. This year Gabby decided to join high school golf. She did it the way she does everything: she decided it looked interesting, and she plunged in headfirst.
              6. Her picture should be next to the word “self-confidence” in the dictionary.
              7. Even though she tends toward her mother’s school of “Feelings? What are those?” –Gabby is very sweet to her siblings and especially to Addie J. I frequently find little notes from Gabby to the J in her room: “Have a great day! I love you!” or a drawing of a fish; little things like that, for no reason.
              8. Gabby thinks she might want to become a forensic scientist. Or a psychologist. Or a veterinarian, as long as she doesn’t have to do surgery and “cut any animals up. I would feel terrible, Mom.”
              9. She is really intensely interested in all kinds of nature, from the herbs she researches and grows…. to the jar in her room that hold the bird skull she found outside. Which is next to the jar that holds all the teeth she had pulled last winter. It’s pretty grim on that dresser, to be honest.
              10. This kid competes at the second-highest level in Irish dance and is determined to reach Open Championships. I love to watch her dance- but I actually love to watch her perform at shows even more. Because when she’s performing and not competing, you can really see the joy she takes in dancing, and it makes her beautiful.
              11. She and I do the Color Run together every year. On the opposite end of the activity spectrum, she and I have been watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for three summers now. We’re allllllmost to the end and I think her favorite part is all the 90s outfits.
              12. She took her first high school course this summer: a reading seminar course which is only open to students on the Honors track. I am so proud to say that Gabby earned a high A in that course.
              13. If she takes my razor out of the shower one more time and doesn’t return it, I will scream.
              14. She has been a force of nature her whole life, and she makes my life bigger and better and fuller. I am so lucky to be witnessing her world takeover, one day at a time. Love you, my Lishie. Happy birthday.

                What I found in the armoire

                For a long time now, I’ve kept much of my professional paperwork in a wooden armoire in the dining room. And by “kept” I kind of mean “haphazardly stacked,” by the way. It’s a really cool vintage wooden armoire, in which I stored my clothes when I lived in New Orleans– and it was never a great receptacle for paperwork. Being really cool as it is, the armoire has a false bottom; and since it’s been filled (read: “crammed”) with my paperwork, I haven’t opened it in a few years.

                I spent yesterday clearing my paperwork out of that armoire- sorting, organizing, etc.- and it turns out to have been exactly five years since I opened the false bottom. Because the only thing in that secret space- which was otherwise totally empty and clean and smelled like warm old wood, putting me instantly back in New Orleans- was a stack of cards. Now, I am notorious for not caring at all about greeting cards. I have been known to flip over a card, read the price, and say to the giver, “Listen: next time, just put the card back and give me the $3.99.” Also, I have no recollection of putting them there, so it was like: what are these?

                They were sympathy cards that I received for my dad. Not the cards people brought to Dad’s service, and not cards which went to my mom: these cards had been mailed directly to my house by the givers. I sat on the floor and read them all. “Your dad was a great man,” one said.”Not many families have the spirit and love of your clan,” another said. My friend Ann’s parents wrote the sweetest note, referring to themselves as “your Minnesota Mom and Dad.” The notes went on and on:

                “As a fan of your blog, I couldn’t help but be a fan of your dad.”

                “A nickname from Ron himself was a coveted gift!”

                “Even though so much time has passed, please know that I am here for you.”

                “Behind his no-nonsense signature expression, Guido exuded warmth and light.”

                “Ron and Joann deserve all the credit in the world for creating and nurturing such a loving, honest, hilarious, close-knit family.”

                “We are so grateful to have witnessed your father’s love.”

                During those devastating first few months after Dad’s death, I felt as though I was constantly wrapped in a hug by people who loved us. I felt that again yesterday- sitting in a beam of sunlight on my dining room floor, smelling New Orleans, and reading heartfelt words about my beloved Dad. No wonder I kept them.

                I put them back in the armoire. Maybe I’ll forget they’re there- and then some day, years from now, I’ll have the bittersweet pleasure of stumbling across them again.


                  I won’t wash it.

                  In my parents’ house where I grew up, there is a little closet in the bathroom we always called “Dad’s bathroom.” I used to be fascinated with this closet as a little girl; tall and very narrow, it contained a series of shelves that went all the way up to the ceiling. Dad kept his work clothes in there. It was also a great place to hide while playing hide and seek; I remember sitting in the bottom of that closet many times, with Dad’s jeans and sweatshirts and socks piled on the shelves above my head, surrounded by that very specific Dad smell: Kirk’s Castile soap and machine oil.

                  Not long after Dad died, I went into that bathroom to discover that Mom had cleaned out the medicine cabinet. I immediately turned around, my heart beating fast, and opened the closet door. I was afraid she had cleaned that out as well. Instead, there it was as always: sweatshirts and jeans piled on the shelves, the smell of Kirk’s Castile and machine oil wafting out. I was so relieved. In the years since, I have gone into that bathroom every single time I’ve been at Mom’s house, and opened that closet door and just looked at Dad’s stuff, surrounded by that very specific Dad smell. Who knows why, but that closet became my comfort object.

                  Yesterday, Mom and I were doing a little cleanup at her house, to prepare for out-of-town guests. Suddenly she was walking out of that bathroom with an armload of Dad’s clothes. “Let’s get these out, to make room for towels,” she said. And this is such a good thing, you know? For Mom to be able to separate Dad’s memory from Dad’s things, and to use her home in the way that works best for her- instead of living in a museum every day. “That’s awesome, Mom,” I said, and I went in and helped her unload the shelves, all the way to the top. We put all his stuff in my car so that I could take it to Goodwill, the closet now full of towels and smelling like fabric softener.

                  When I drove home, it was like I was sitting in his closet, completely surrounded by the scent of Kirk’s Castile and machine oil. I walked in the door, found Dave, and I covered my face like a child and sobbed for five minutes. It’s amazing, how important these little touchstones become, isn’t it? I texted my siblings the whole story and used this gif to illustrate how I drove home. You can laugh, by the way; I’ve discovered that grief is frequently quite funny. Behold me, driving the car filled with Dad’s clothes:

                  …And although my siblings all laughed, and we all agreed it was a good step for Mom to take, I also said, “I won’t donate anything until you all have the chance to come and see what’s here.” And Jill said, “I’m crying, and I want to see his jeans with the rolled-up cuffs,” and I know exactly what she meant and how she felt.

                  It’s all on my dining room table. Cammy put on a sweatshirt of Dad’s and said, “Can I have this but not wash it? It smells like Papa.” I hugged him, smelling Kirk’s Castile and machine oil. “Yes, you can,” I said.

                  “I won’t wash it.”

                    Happy birthday, JJ!

                    This is still what she looks like in my mind.

                    This is still what she looks like in my mind.

                    Yesterday, my Addison Julia turned 11 years old. This is completely shocking, because I just had her the other day. She was very excited about her birthday and woke up very early- which wasn’t that fun for her, since there isn’t much to do at 6am- and she was happy and chatty and animated all day long. Not unusual, obviously.

                    Addie J reminds me to slow down and be present now, rather than focusing on what’s next. I think of her as my little one, so I was surprised, this year, to hear her teachers using the word “leader” to describe her. But then: maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Addie, in her low-key way, certainly does like to express herself. For a couple of years now, she has been experimenting with short hairstyles of various extremes (she’s currently working an undercut bob, probably my favorite so far). She absolutely will not put on any piece of clothing she doesn’t like– and what she does like, she confidently wears regardless of anyone’s opinion (case in point). Addie is in that fleeting sweet spot between little kid and big kid; she’s interested in makeup and iPhones, but she still loves stuffed animals and Moana. She has a talent of making people around her feel happy and accepted, just as they are. No wonder she is a leader.

                    Addie has made me a happier person since the day she was born. She came into our family as a wonderful surprise- the best surprise I’ve ever had- and it is my privilege to watch her grow into herself. (It’s really cool that, out of all the children in the world, Dave and I actually got the best three. That worked out really nicely, didn’t it?) Happy birthday, JJ. I’m crazy about you.

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