Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Family Weekend

I spent this past weekend in Cleveland with my whole family. 

We flew in from New York and my parents drove in from Pittsburgh. 

We talked and ate and watched a movie and best of all, I got to hang out with these kiddos.


Making green cupcakes of course

That started off like this

And ended up like this


And what's a good baking adventure without eating the frosting as we go?



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

This is Thirty-Two


My birthday was eleven days ago. I turned thirty-two.

It was a Saturday. I woke up to flowers at the bottom of the stairs and walked through a surprise snowfall to a friend's house for lunch. I celebrated at night with my oldest and closest friends with dessert at one of my favorite Upper West Side locales and then with french fries and nachos at a Manhattan Steelers bar, cheering for a Steelers playoff win that, sadly, never happened.

I talked to my parents and to my sisters and my niece and nephew sang to me over Facetime. I got text messages from my cousins, a singing card from my grandma, and a glove/mitten hybrid situation from my best friend that made me wonder why I haven't been wearing mittens instead of gloves this whole time.

It was an ordinary kind of day - and a quiet one - full of friends, family and fun. Just the way I like it. It was also the beginning of a brand new year - a year that will be anything but ordinary. A year that promises change of the most enormous kind. The kind of change that will divide my life forever into before and after. The kind of change that we've been keeping a secret for more than three months. The kind of change it's finally time to share.

This is going to be a really big year.

This is thirty-two.

Thirty-two is going through fourteen months of fertility treatments - of hope and heartbreak and grief that brought me to my knees and almost broke me into pieces - and then finding out I'm pregnant on a random and rainy Thursday night this past October after absolutely zero fertility treatments at all. 

It is knowing without any doubt that things happen when they are meant to happen. That I can try my hardest to control every little thing, but in the end, there's some higher power out there that may have a different idea about the way it's all supposed to go. Thirty-two is a brand new appreciation for the ways that life can surprise. It is witnessing a miracle in my very own life, and knowing in the deepest part of me that this really was the way it was meant to be.

Thirty-two is laying in a darkened room holding David's hand and staring at a monitor while my doctor shows us a real live person that we created all by ourselves and understanding that this is a moment that will be etched in my memory for as long as I live. It is standing just on the brink of enormous and humbling change and feeling a gratitude so huge that it seems almost tangible in its presence. It is trying hard to soak up these days in the "before" when it is still just us, just two people who met and fell in love and got married and somehow made something brand new that is a little bit of each of us, and knowing that there is something extraordinary waiting for us in the "after".

Thirty-two is realizing that the rocky road that got us to this place is a part of my story now. It is an experience I can't forget or wish away and I'm not so sure that I would even if I could. It seems so cliche to say that - like it's what people always say when they go through something terrible and come out the other side - but for better or worse these months have changed me and have taught me what it means to hold on and to let go and to stop planning so hard for what may or may not be. When I told my friend Alisa the news she said to me, "some things can't be planned when they are already written in the stars," and I know now that she is just exactly right.

Thirty-two understands now more than ever the importance of telling our stories. Even - maybe especially - the hard ones. Because the truth is we all have rough paths to walk and by telling our stories, we allow people who have been there before to walk that path with us, and show us the way through. And if thirty-one was about putting my head down and plowing through the tough stuff, thirty-two feels a deep and abiding responsibility to tell the story of the last year; to turn around and hold out my hand and my heart to the women who might be walking this path behind me. To tell them that I've been there now, and that I can show them the way to the other side.

Thirty-two is tough because the past year has toughened me, but I also know that that's not such a bad thing. Because being tough means making sure I get exactly what's important to me, even if what's important is just to skip the laundry for an extra hour outside in the summer, or to have a really good dessert. Because thirty-two understands that life is short and this is the only one we get and you really don't want to be the one looking back on all the times you should have sat in the sun or just eaten the damn cupcake.

Thirty-two is different than all the years that came before it, and not just because of the big changes ahead.

Thirty-two is taking my health seriously. It is having regular check-ups, actually getting myself to the dentist twice a year, never going to bed at night without washing my face, and finally deciding to make strength training a part of my regular routine because everyone says I'll thank myself later, even if I'm a little skeptical. It is also understanding myself enough to know that no matter how healthy my eating habits are, I will never give up french fries, and I will never learn to like kale because it's disgusting, no matter how many people tell me it's the most super of all the superfoods. Whatever that means.

Thirty-two is making my friends and my family a priority. It is tending to those relationships and feeling lucky in the people who populate my life - people who hold my stories and know me all the way through. It is being old enough to understand that the friends I have now are the kind that last lifetimes and knowing how important it is to have people who knew me then and know me now and will know me when. Thirty-two is remembering the friends my parents had when I was growing up and still have today, the ones who raised me just as much as my own parents did, and being a little stunned to realize that we are that age now and we are the ones watching each other's children grow.

Thirty-two is celebrating a lot of babies, but very few weddings. It is having a house and a mortgage and a community with a synagogue where we pay dues and where I might even chair a committee, mostly because they asked and I couldn't say no. Thirty-two is real grown-up stuff. But it is also having a neighborhood full of people who take care of each other and knowing that we were lucky to end up in this place.

Thirty-two is looking back and knowing that there is a lot of life behind me and that some choices really are irrevocable. But it is also realizing that the choices I have made were more right than wrong, understanding that, hopefully, most of my life lies ahead, and believing, as I stand at the beginning of a brand new chapter, that the best is still yet to come.

So, really, thirty-two is a giant privilege. Because just to be here, to live, to be making a family, to have purpose and people to love who love me back? This is what it's all about. These are the things that matter.

This is thirty-two.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The House At the Bottom of the Hill


I take this picture at least a few times every year. 

It's morning. Early. I pull out of my driveway, my mind solely focused on my daily trip to Dunkin Donuts for a caffeine hit before I start my commute to work. But then I glance to the right at my house, and I stop.

Since the day I moved into my house, I've have loved taking pictures of my house. Even  during those first few months when I wasn't particularly interested in living in the house, I still had pictures of it. In rain and snow, under sunshine and clouds, and in all seasons, I have stopped on my way to work and snapped away.

At first I took pictures because it was especially fascinating to me that, after eight years of renting Manhattan apartments with rooms literally the size of closets and tiny storage spaces that could only charitably be described as closets, I actually owned a house with appropriately sized rooms more than enough closet space to accommodate my needs. But after awhile, I started actually living in my house and stopped being fascinated by it. After awhile, it just became home.

It became the place where I woke up in the morning and the place I returned to at night. It because the place where we laughed and planned and made memories to fill the previously empty spaces. It became a safe place for wishes and dreams.

In short, it became home.

But I still take pictures. All the time.

They don't look much different from each other. The pictures, I mean. The picture I took on Friday morning after an unexpected snow is exactly the same as the one I took last January at the beginning of the first of many, many snowstorms we had last winter. The picture I took at the beginning of November features the same fall-colored leaves as the one I took at the beginning of November last year. 

But I like them, these pictures look alike. Because they remind me that even when everything around me is changing, my house still stands there, strong and sturdy and the same as it always was. For almost one hundred years my house has sat right on that lawn at the bottom of that hill and kept watch as my street changed with the times.

Things change so fast. Sometimes it seems like we are all hurtling through life at a breakneck pace, just trying to keep up with each other and with ourselves. And frankly, it can be flat out exhausting sometimes. So it's nice - and even comforting - to know that there are some things that don't change. That will always stay just as they are.

Like my house at the bottom of the hill, waiting to welcome me home.

Friday, January 9, 2015

"Wonder, or radical amazement..."

Surprise morning snow

"Wonder, or radical amazement, is a way of going beyond what is
given in thing and thought, refusing to take anything for granted, to regard 
anything as final. It is our honest response to the grandeur and mystery of
reality our confrontation with that which transcends the given"
-Abraham Joshua Heschel

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Open Boxes: A Book Review



When Christine Organ asked me to review her brand new book, Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life, I jumped at the chance. I "met" Christine a couple of years ago in the strange and beautiful blogging world to which we both belong, and we connected right away. Her writing about faith, love, family and presence is beautiful and when she reached across the vast ether of this digital world and took my proverbial hand, telling me that it was ok to share, and that my stories were safe with her, we became more than just blogger friends. We became actual friends.

Knowing her, and knowing her writing, I knew that her book was going to be special.

I wasn't disappointed.

Open Boxes is a book of Christine's essays focused on the idea that by opening our eyes to the sacred in our everyday lives, our lives become richer, more connected, and just a little holier than they were before. She writes that by focusing on the small things - words from a stranger, a first snow, laughing until you cry - we can connect with all the different parts of the life we are living and we can paint our world with a more brightly colored brush.

Christine is honest and brave in her writing. She tells stories of love, of parenting, and of the everyday. She tells stories of joy and stories that cast a spotlight on the hardest parts of life - the parts that a lot of us only whisper about under the covers in those quiet and secret moments before sleep. The result of this is the sense that she understands deeply what it means to live - really live - in her days, and how to connect deeply with all the parts of herself and of her world, the good, the bad and all the parts in between. Her optimism is contagious and her words are inspiring.

It is evident on every page that Christine has found the grace in her moments. That she has her eyes wide open to the absolute miracle it is to wake up in the morning every day and to be alive.

And because her eyes are wide open, she makes it easier for us to open our eyes as well.

In her essay An Uphill Battle, Christie writes, "It can be easy to get consumed with the uphill battle, putting our heads down and soldiering on, but sometimes we need to stop and just enjoy the view. Sometimes we need to pause, if only for a moment to catch our breath and marvel at where we've come from, and consider where we are called to go."

The essay comes early in the book, but as I read on, I kept coming back to this passage, to these words which, more than any others, sum up the message of the book. We are all going to have times in our lives that are easy and times that are tough and times where we feel like we are just trying to make it through the day. But the beauty is in noticing all of these moments - the good and bad, small and large - because paying attention to all of this allows us to hold on to the good ones and learn from the tricky ones because for better or worse, these moments make up our lives and shape the people who we become. And it is in this paying attention where we find those wells of hope, faith and resilience that help us to make it through.

Christine's essays are gripping and her voice is gorgeous, making it tempting to gobble up this book in one big bite. But if I could make one suggestion, it would be to read slowly. To settle in and to soak up every word. Because there are great lessons to be learned in these pages, and Christine is a willing and wonderful teacher.

Thank you so much, Christine, for the privilege of reading and reviewing this book. It was an absolute pleasure and I loved every word.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Birthday Weekend

This past Saturday, I turned thirty-two. 

Every year on my birthday, it has become a bit of a tradition to post some thoughts about the day. Some random, some less so. You can see the posts from the last two years here and here. I can promise you that a post about thirty-two is on its way. Not today, but soon.

Thirty-two arrived on a quiet and snowy day. It brought with it a lunch with friends in my neighborhood, calls from my family during which various sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews sang happy birthday, an Upper West Side dessert with my oldest and dearest friends that included ice cream and Nutella crepes, followed closely by incredible french fries at a sports bar with scores of Pittsburghers for the Steelers-Ravens playoff game.

It was, in short, the perfect kind of birthday.

Since my birthday was on a Saturday I couldn't take pictures of the flower-petal trail that led me down the stairs of my house in the morning towards more flowers and a person-sized balloon, or the cake that my friends got for me that followed lunch in the afternoon, but here is a little snippet of Saturday night.

If each year begins as it means to go on, thirty-two is looking great.