New traditions

Friday, March 29, 2013

Earlier this week we went to our friends' home for a Seder dinner, which was the first Seder experience for my children. They had no idea what to expect but liked all of it: dipping bitter herbs into salt water, drinking grape juice in place of wine, learning the symbolism of the various foods on the Seder plate, and listening to the Passover story. It didn't hurt that our friends are funny and relaxed and very good cooks. I'm hoping that learning a new custom might mean that they'll be open-minded when I tell them my idea for decorating eggs tomorrow. Though Easter egg decorating in my house has always meant smelly vinegar and dye, I loved the eggs I saw on See Jane Blog, which were made using Sharpies. Sharpies can be a little smelly, too, but aren't these eggs pretty? I'm pretty sure tradition will win out and I'll be pulling out the vinegar, but it can't hurt to try. I also love the Easter tree my sister made this year, shown above. Very fancy and fun. Have a happy Easter if you're celebrating, and happy Passover, too.

(Top image: Elizabeth Bear; Bottom image: See Jane Blog)

Fun and fancy

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It's hard to tell what color my bike is (black) because it's usually covered in mud, much like my dog (yellow). I ride it on paths through the woods near our house when there's no snow, and Clementine runs along. It's a perfectly good, no-frills, a-little-too-heavy bike, and I very much don't need a new one - but I can dream. This bike (admittedly more for urbanites than muddy path-riders) from The Martone Cycling Co. is so fun, so Spring-y, with a big built-in basket I love. The bike - there's a men's and women's version - has a two-speed gear system that shifts automatically depending on how fast you're going and how steep a slope. It comes in white, black, red, silver, or gold, each one with a quirky red chain. Yellow dog optional.

(All images from


Monday, March 25, 2013

I spent the weekend sitting in a dark high school auditorium watching hundreds of girls (and a few boys) dance in a competition called "Showstoppers." I've made "Dance Moms" jokes too many times, and I've sat through too many awards ceremonies where, to the dancers, the difference between a second-place gold and double platinum is everything, while to me it's just confusing.

But there's much that's good about these events, and it's taken me a little while to understand that. My dance career began and ended with one ballet class in Kindergarten. My daughter Kate, on the other hand, has loved to dance since she was small, and she thrives on these competitions with their two-hour-ahead arrival times, multiple costume changes, and in-depth discussions afterward of what worked and what didn't.

Every time I see her on stage with her teammates, I get a lump in my throat. Every single time. Partly it's because they seem so joyful. Partly it's because any awkwardness they carry around with them in the rest of their lives disappears on stage. Partly it's because I can't imagine choosing to or being able to get on stage and do what they do. And it's the choosing I admire most. Perhaps some of them have dance moms who've pushed them to be there. But mostly, I think not. I think most of these kids have chosen to dance on a stage in a high-school auditorium on a Saturday night. They're from different towns, different studios, and are different ages and abilities, but they have this one thing in common. And I'm happy to have been there to watch.

(Edgar Degas. Dancers Climbing a Stair.)

Happy weekend

Friday, March 22, 2013

I bought this small, square photo of the Empire State building from this Etsy shop the other day. I'm planning to frame it and put it somewhere, but for now I'm keeping it propped up by my laptop. It's not the only one from this photographer I think is beautiful. I also love the graphic black-and-white ones from Venice, as well as the very Spring-like dandelions and birds over the ocean. And of course one winter shot, just because we're not quite done here. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

All photographs by Tracey/raceytay


I read a short profile the other day of Jaume Tapies, the chairman of Relais & Chateaux, a luxury hotel group. He travels the world checking on hundreds of properties and searching for new ones. What stood out to me about him is the fact that every single night he writes in a journal, recording what he did that day and who he met. "One day I'll look back and be able to trace this incredible history," he said, "but it also helps me remember where I've been."

Right after reading about Mr. Tapies, I read an article in Martha Stewart Living by David Neibart. Neibart is a dad who one day realized his children had nothing tangible to look at, the way he had a box of photos when he was little. His family's thousands of photographs were stored on the computer and rarely looked at. So he bought some journals and began to fill them with pictures and stories about what his kids did or funny things they said. His children look at the books all the time now, and if there ever was a fire, he said, these journals would be the first things he would grab.

I've always wished I was better about writing things down when they happen. I didn't finish a baby book for any of my children, and I never even started one for my youngest. Fortunately, my sister has made books for them, and I'm so grateful, but she lives across the country and (sadly!) misses the day-to-day stuff. Neibert said keeping his journals made him realize how much he otherwise would forget. I don't want to forget. So though I can't guarantee I'll stick with it, my resolution for spring is to be a better record-keeper, to remember where we've been.

Landscape into art

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I sometimes play a game with myself when I'm scrolling through Pinterest. I look only at the images - not where they came from or who posted them - and wait for something to jump out at me. I try not to "repin" or even "like" anything unless it almost startles me - its beauty, its familiarity, something. So much of what's pinned starts to look the same, and I love the feeling of seeing something different that moves me.

I felt that way when I came across a series of paintings (not on Pinterest!) by Katherine Downey Miller, an artist who grew up in the town next to mine and still lives and works nearby. Our local magazine profiled Miller and talked about her connection to nature and the land.

Her paintings are so beautiful and remind me why I live here, despite another snowstorm yesterday and gray and white everywhere. Miller turns this landscape into art, into something to celebrate. And I couldn't resist adding the painting at the bottom, which for me makes a different kind of connection.

All images by Katherine Downey Miller

What would you do differently?

Monday, March 18, 2013

I was a little under the weather last week and, because of that, I'm behind on almost everything, with one exception. Being in bed gave me a chance to go through the very tall stack of magazines on my bedside table.

Last night I got to Real Simple, where I read the winning essay of the magazine's 2013 Life Lessons contest. Each time I read one of these essays, I cry. This time the writer was asked, "If you could change one decision in the past, what would it be?" Adrienne Starr tells of her decision to stop singing after years of going on auditions and finding a measure of success as a professional opera singer.

I loved her writing and her message, but I also was touched by one small detail. Starr talks about quitting so completely that she no longer even sings in the shower. But there's an exception, and that's her infant niece, Daphne. Daphne is the only one she'll sing to, and when Starr becomes ill and loses her voice during treatment, it's Daphne she practices with.

"Daphne had always been the perfect audience," she writes. "She would look me directly in the eye as I sang song after song. If I stopped, she would wave at me with her tiny hand, urging me to go on." I have a giant soft spot for aunts and nieces, and I loved that this baby girl played a role in helping Starr do just that - to go on.

You can read the essay here, if you'd like.

Photo by Thuss + Farrell

Change of scene

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Today, on a whim, I took Clementine somewhere new. Every day we walk to the pond near our house, where she can run off-leash through the woods that surround it. The paths around the pond are one of the reasons I love where we live. But today I needed a change of scene.

So we got in the car and drove to a town reservation where dogs can run off-leash on different paths through different woods, and where I can look at houses. There's something about looking at a house from behind that feels more personal than the typical from-the-road perspective. The architecture is often more interesting. You see grills and soccer nets and potting sheds that are hidden from the front. I like to imagine the families that live there, and I like to imagine us living there. And for Clementine? The bliss of all those new smells.

Oh, snow

Friday, March 8, 2013

It's snowing again, so much so that the kids have a snow day and may be going to school in July. Clementine the dog has remembered that she loves snow with all her heart. The adults around her don't love it quite so fervently. Still, there are signs of spring. On Sunday, we'll lose an hour but gain an hour of light. And I'm not sure what these yellow blossoms poking through are, but they're a hopeful sight among all that white. Have a wonderful weekend, whatever your weather.

The Language of Flowers

I promise that there are books I read that I don't write about, and some I don't like enough even to finish. I just happen to have read three recently that I've loved. First there was this, and then this, and I've just finished The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

Because of the subject matter, it's not an easy book to read, and the main character, Victoria Jones, is not always easy to like. The book begins on her 18th birthday, when she becomes "emancipated" from the foster-care system. She is completely alone (and thinks she likes it that way), with little hope of finding a way to support herself. She has one thing working in her favor, though, and that's her gift with flowers. She once had a foster mother who loved her and wanted to adopt her, and this woman, Elizabeth, taught her what each flower stands for - for example, Lavender, mistrust; Magnolia, dignity; Myrtle, love.

Victoria does find a job and, with it, a purpose, but the past haunts her. She makes terrible choices, and you want to shake her even as you root for her. At the center of it all is the long-ago relationship between Victoria and Elizabeth, which unfolds over the course of the book. Their connection is poignant and heartbreaking, like the few other relationships Victoria tentatively forms. There are ups and downs until the very end, but it's so worth reading to get there.

A good response

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I imagine there have been hundreds of articles written on the subject of people being rude online. In Sunday's New York Times, for instance, there was an opinion piece about how "nasty" comments by readers affect how other readers interpret a story.

I'd been thinking a bit about reader comments, even before I read the Times article. One of the blogs I read regularly is written by a husband and wife renovating a home. I also follow them on Instagram, and most of the photos they post there are related to their house project.

Twice recently, after this couple posted photos, someone said something unkind. Not the sort of nastiness the Times was talking about, but not very nice. And each time, other readers jumped to the bloggers' defense. They didn't like what was said and seemed to feel protective of the bloggers.

The comments went on and on, back and forth. And then, both times - and this is the whole reason for this story; you knew I'd get there eventually! - the bloggers responded, but rather than being even the slightest bit defensive, they defused the situation by being funny, gracious, and kind. If they were offended by any of it, they didn't let on. And that was that.

I thought about how easy it would have been for this couple to react, even just a little bit, or perhaps make a point by staying silent. But that's not what they did, and that made all the difference. A good reminder for this mother, brand new blogger, wife, friend, neighbor, and sometimes reactor.

Photo by Jennifer Green


Monday, March 4, 2013

My two daughters love sleepovers with all their hearts (the younger is just getting started). They would have a friend or 10 sleep with them every night if they could. Of course they can't, especially with a mother who doesn't quite share their passion. I'm a fan of a good night's sleep and an advocate of beds, preferably one's own.

So there's always a tiny sense of worry on my part when a sleepover is coming up. But then - every single time - it's just fine. It's fine even when it's not fine, if that makes any sense at all. Even when a child has to go home in the middle of the night. Even when another child can't sleep. Even when all children are up at an ungodly hour of the morning. It's still OK. Everyone will sleep well the next night. Last night's popcorn will be vacuumed from the couch cushions. Everyone will have had a good time. Why I can't remember that beforehand, I don't know.

But then, the other night, I was reminded. It was late, and I was turning off lights and locking doors when it occurred to me there was someone asleep in every part of the house: one daughter and a friend in the basement; the dog in the family room; my son and another daughter upstairs in their rooms; and my husband in our room. At the risk of sounding like a big sap, it made me happy. It was a nice moment. And I didn't even mind the sound of four feet tearing up the stairs very, very early the next morning.

Photo by Simply Seleta

The Secret Keeper

If you haven't yet read The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, you must. I've been known to exaggerate how good a book is, but this one really is. When I was a little more than halfway through, I told a friend who had read it that I wasn't sure I wanted to continue. It was at a perfect point in the story, and I was feeling panicky it would end badly. She told me to keep reading.

"The Secret Keeper" is about three friends in London during World War II and then later in the 1960s and again in 2011. It's historical fiction, a murder mystery, and a love story. But it's also about family, friendship, marriage, and the secrets people carry. As you read, you may find yourself going back to reread certain sections. Possibly the entire book.

Bits and pieces

Friday, March 1, 2013

It's been a bit of a crazy day (really just a crazy afternoon). But I'm looking forward to the weekend and hope you have something fun planned. After spending some time online yesterday, I came across two new-to-me stores you might like.

I went a little crazy buying sticky notes and pads of paper from Poppin. I even got a new wall clock for our laundry room. Love all the orange and white in particular.
I'm always running out of return-address labels, and though I could print my own, I fell for these personalized stamps from The Penny Paper Co. The store's owner, Lindsay Stephenson, also has a fun design blog called Little House Blog

Have a happy weekend!

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