Bits and pieces

Monday, November 24, 2014

I'm going to just jump right in and pretend my last blog post was yesterday - not June 3. Good lord. My early New Year's resolution is to do much, much better.

In my long time away, I kept a list of thing I could - and wanted to - write about, i.e. books read, products found, articles loved. So here are a couple of those thing to kick off the start of a new commitment to blogging.

It feels like a million years ago now, but over the summer I read, among other things, Big Little Lies, The Arsonist, and, most recently, And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass. I hated for this last one to end, so I'm now rereading Three Junes and plan to go back to I See You Everywhere, two earlier Glass books I loved. Quick tip: And the Dark Sacred Night revisits characters from Three Junes, so if you read Three Junes first, it helps (but isn't necessary).

I was chatting with a friend on the playground not long ago about the death of Boston Mayor Tom Menino, which led us to how we keep up (or don't keep up) with the news, and she told me about the skimm. Have you heard of it? It's a daily email highlighting the news stories of the day (or, really, the previous day) and - more important - explaining those stories in simple terms. Whoever writes the skimm is funny and smart and keeps things brief, and I love it.

I'm also loving a new-to-me blog that has nothing to do with the daily news. It's called The Mom Edit, and it's a fashion blog, but a kind of everyday, mom-ish fashion (in the best sense of the word), with articles such as "Seven Ways to Style a Basic Grey Sweater Dress," "How to Tie Your Scarf Like the November J. Crew Model," and "That Time I Wore My Mom's Dress to New York Fashion Week." "The Mom Edit" is really for new mothers trying to get back to their more stylish selves, but Shana Draugelis writes in such a down-to-earth, fun way that it works even for those of us whose babies aren't babies but who still need help getting dressed each morning.

My youngest daughter, Livvy, who is nine, asked the other day if iPhones were invented when I was little, and she was shocked when I told her there were no iPhones when she was born. Imagine. It reminded me of this fabulous article in The New York Times Style Magazine about how - despite what we might tell our children - life wasn't really better in the old days, when we didn't carry our phones with us and there was no Internet to keep us connected 24/7. "We can't become hostages to the romantic notion that the past is always a better country," Andrew O'Hagan writes. "There's a few million girls with flatirons who will happily tell you the opposite."

Photo: Free People

Of birds and babies

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

We are having a little wild kingdom moment outside our tame, suburban home. Somewhere on our property - under the house? behind the garden shed? - lives a particularly smelly skunk. This skunk is not just visiting, we believe. It has set up permanent residence. We know we should call animal control, but have we? No, we have not. Instead, we live with a sense of daring (or dread) every time we open the door to let Clementine the dog outside. She's been sprayed before. We know the drill. And recently, when I was weeding in a particularly fragrant part of the yard, I expected each time I looked up to be staring into the beady eyes of a furry face. So far, thankfully, he (or she) has not made an appearance.

Meanwhile, in the front of the house, in a small tree by the side door, a soon-to-be-mama bird has carefully built a nest and spends most of her days tending her eggs. The egg part I can only surmise, because I haven't yet brought out a chair or step-ladder to look in. And that's because she's always there. The only time she flies away is when I walk out the door, and then she swoops down in front of me and swoops back up into a different tree nearby. Startled, I give a little yelp every time.

Some background: When I was small, we visited friends at a farm in Maine. They had several outbuildings, and we slept in one. One afternoon, I went back to the room, closed the door, and immediately realized there was a bird trapped inside that was frantic to get out. It flew back and forth across the room, flapping its wings. I was terrified. I don't remember who got out first - the bird or me - but I do remember that feeling of being trapped myself. As a result, I've never been the biggest bird fan. I'm more of a bird-avoider.

Which is why it's ironic how happy I am about this mother bird sitting in her nest outside our door. I could do without the swooping, but she's so patient to sit there each day, with her little beak pointing toward the sky. She's so motherly. And what skill to build that nest! I'm impressed with the whole operation. Sometimes, before I get in the car or do whatever it is I've come outside to do, I stand for a moment and watch her, and I think she might be looking at me, too. I suspect she won't stay long after those babies are born and learn to fly, but for now I'm glad she's here.

Update: She did it! The babies are here! They hatched soon after I wrote this post, and no step-ladders were used in the taking of this slightly blurry photo. Instead, a friend of Holt's climbed up on his shoulders and snapped away. Welcome to wild kingdom, baby birds.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

And so it begins - or ends, as the case may be. I have a niece graduating from high school (and moving from China to college in NYC) and a daughter moving the much shorter distance from middle school to high school.

So I'm thinking about graduation gifts and trying to channel the mind of an 18-year-old (the 14-year-old is easier, since I live with her). What I've come up with are all things a certain 40-something also wouldn't mind having. Isn't that the sign of a good gift - something you'd want for yourself?

Jewelry, of course. I love this navy brass bracelet and its straightforward name, 'Love This Navy Brass Bracelet' from Isabel Harvey.

In case my niece (or yours) is more of a necklace girl, there's this 'I Heart You' necklace, because I do love her, and I'm sure you love your graduate, too. Also from Isabel Harvey.

I'm a pushover for aviators. I particularly like these new top-bar shades from Madewell.

I haven't yet read Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts On Kindness, but I'm a George Saunders fan.

David McCullough, Jr., an English teacher at the high school my daughter will attend, gave a graduation speech in 2012 called "You Are Not Special," that was picked up by media outlets around the world. He turned that speech into a book of the same name, and I'd like to both read it and give it as a gift.

Both my daughters have these cameras (like the Polaroids of old), and they love them. My 8th grader often brings hers with her when she stays over at a friend's, and the photos she takes are very fun. I think a freshman in college might like one to help document the year, so I'm putting the Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera on the list as well (and adding a box or two of film).

I got into the graduation spirit last night when I read a speech given this month to graduating seniors at the University of Texas at Austin, called '10 Life Lessons From a Navy Seal' about what we all can do to change the world. You can read it here, if you'd like.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength." ~ Maya Angelou, 1928-2014

(Photo by John Chillingworth on

Bits and pieces

Friday, May 23, 2014

Some favorites from the week:

Going outside for the very first time.

I loved Maine and Commencement, both by J. Courtney Sullivan, so now I'm reading The Engagements, and yes, it's a good one.

Some thoughts on age and beauty.

A nanny's love.

And a reminder that it's never too late to start.

I hope you have a happy and fun long weekend, with lots of down time and good things to eat.

(Photo by Jessie Webster for Smitten Studio.)

Mother's day

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I'm a teary mess every time I watch a P&G "Thank you, Mom" ad, such as this one called "What I See," about a mother who was told her daughter would never walk or talk. "I never saw the things my child couldn't do," the mother says. "I only imaged what she could."

I also am a sucker for any kind of "Life Lessons From Mom" list. There are endless variations as we approach Mother's Day, including "25 Things I've Learned About Being a Daughter in My 50s," "7 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice for New Moms," and "7 Things Mom Taught Me About Living," from The Huffington Post. (Why so many lists of seven? I have no idea.) In any case, I read them all.

Last night, I had my own, very small "what I learned" moment or, like the Oprah column I sometimes used to read, an "aha"moment. My son, Holt, got an invitation to a Bar Mitzvah for this coming Saturday. (This was a last-minute invite because he has just gotten to know this boy from his baseball team, and the original guest list was put together months ago.) He may know a couple of the kids at the party, but most he won't.

To understand this "aha" moment, you should know that I am not a big-party kind of person. I love small get-togethers (my husband likes to joke that I prefer parties of two people or fewer), and I love the kind of socializing that happens spontaneously on the playground, on a driveway, or on a walk with friends. But giant gatherings of people I don't know? Not so much.

After reading the email invitation, I went to find Holt and ask him what he wanted to do. There were a few logistics to figure out, but when that was done, he said, "I'd like to go." And before my "what I learned moment," I had a bad-parenting moment.

I said, "But will you know anyone?"

He said, "I might know a few."

I asked, "Do you at least want to think about it?"

He said, "No, I'd like to go."

And then - at long last - the aha moment kicked in. I realized that a.) he's not me. He doesn't share my dread of big parties full of strangers, and oh, how happy I am he doesn't. B.) Never project (an offshoot of "A," and one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn - over and over again - as a parent). And c.) he's brave, and I could and should be braver, too. I could be more like him, instead of the other way around.

So this is my list. Not seven or 25, just these "Three Things I Learned From My 12-Year-Old," in honor of Mother's Day.

I hope you have a happy one.

Bits and pieces

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Three things I'm loving right now:

1. The idea of hot-cross buns in the morning. Did you know hot-cross buns are a traditional Good Friday food? I did not know, and we're not having any (!), but don't these look good?

2. This book by one of my new favorite authors. Also this one, which a friend recommended, and this, which for some reason I put off reading but then couldn't put down.

3. These Chicago White Sox players wearing 'Boston Strong' T-shirts in their game against the Red Sox gave me a lump in my throat. We'll be in our usual spot on Monday cheering loudly for the runners in this year's marathon, and without a doubt I'll have another lump in my throat as they go by.

I hope you have a very happy (long) weekend.

(Photos by londonbakes for Food52 and AP photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

For sale

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

For two years (OK, three), I've been talking about having a yard sale. There are corners of the basement and attic where I've stored throw rugs, dining room chairs, art prints, a bed frame - all things we no longer have need of or room for. And yet, that yard sale hasn't happened. Partly it's finding the time to organize and execute; partly it's feeling unsure about pricing; and partly it's the idea that there's a better way. There are so many online marketplaces beyond craigslist to buy and sell, and I'm intrigued.

My latest intrigue is Hunters Alley (affiliated with One Kings Lane). Have you seen? It's like poking around a great flea market where someone has weeded out the bad stuff. As a result, I'm making very little progress on the real-life corners of the basement and attic - the art prints, the chairs, the throw rugs are all still there - but I'm having a wonderful time imagining the buying and selling I could do.

And so winter turns to spring.

This will happen, someday.

(Guanajuato Knoll Tulip Chair on Hunters Alley).

Bits and pieces

Friday, March 21, 2014

Some favorites from the week:

This story from the Huffington Post about a boy who's finding his own path.

This article from Vogue Magazine about how maybe Frenchwomen don't always do it better.

The Vogue article led me to this collection of short stories by the same author, Danzy Senna.

This high-octane moisturizer. My sister told me about it a few months ago and said it worked wonders for her feet. I tried it on my dry, cracked hands, and it's as good as she said. It was used originally by dairy farmers on cows' udders.

The J. Crew April style guide that arrived in my mailbox. Now that it's officially spring.

(Photograph by Charlie Napier for Gardenista.)

Wake up!

Friday, March 14, 2014

This is our morning: When his alarm goes off at 6:30, my 11-year-old jumps in the shower, dresses, comes downstairs to make his lunch and eat his breakfast, and is out the door at 7:10 for a 7:50 start time. Clearly, he has yet to enter his teenage years.

Meanwhile, at 6:45, I knock on my 14-year-old's door until I hear her say she's up. At 7:00, I call up the stairs until she calls back down that yes, she's up. At 7:20, I walk upstairs to confirm she's out of bed and in the bathroom. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. At 7:35, if we're lucky, she flies down the stairs, grabs her backpack, runs back upstairs for whatever she's forgotten, and is out the door by 7:40 for the same 7:50 start time. No breakfast, no teeth brushing, a still half-asleep 14-year-old.

And then there's my 9-year-old, who has the luxury of sleeping until 7:45, eating a leisurely breakfast, and walking to school for an 8:30 start time.

Three different scenarios based largely on age (and a little on temperament).

So I was fascinated by this article in The New York Times about the shift in some high schools - finally! - to later start times. Why, I've always wondered, is a first-grader starting school at 8:30 while a Sophmore has to be there an hour earlier? According to the Times, researchers have found that teens who get eight to nine hours of sleep a night learn better, are less likely to be late, get in fights, or be injured while playing sports. Another variable? Fewer car crashes in schools that start later. And for those who say, "Get these kids to bed earlier," (and that would be me), the research also shows that teens tend not to be drowsy until around 11 at night (and of course their pinging screens don't help).

A later start date may not happen for my older daughter when she's in high school, but it certainly seems logical. Imagine the calm that could be our morning. I'm even going to pretend for the moment that the bedroom in the photo above is hers :).

(Photograph from


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

As soon as I heard about the new book Still Life With Breadcrumbs, I reserved it online from the library. It's the story of 60-year-old Rebecca Winter, a famous photographer whose career has floundered and whose bank balance has dwindled. In an increasingly desperate effort to fix her financial situation, she rents her lovely and loved apartment in New York and moves to a less-than-charming cottage in the country. Her only choice, she realizes, is to start again.

Anna Quindlen has been a favorite author of mine for years, and I must not be the only one: When I picked up the book, the librarian told me I was the first to check it out but that there were 497 "holds" on it. In other words, many, many people were waiting for me to finish. So I read quickly and enjoyed every minute.

"When Sarah was gone Rebecca looked in the mirror. She realized she hadn't looked in the mirror for several days. Her hair reached to below her shoulders, and she'd taken to wearing it in a stubby braid down her back. She sighed. 'I look like one of those women,' she said to the dog, who looked as though he understood what she meant, although she wasn't sure what she meant herself. One of those women who let themselves go, who paid no attention to how they looked? One of those women who had given up, like the ones she saw in the market in the city sometimes with their canvas shopping bags, buying one grapefruit and a box of eight tea bags?" ~ from Still Life With Bread Crumbs


Monday, March 10, 2014

I have a like/like much less relationship with Instagram. I enjoy it for myself but have decidedly mixed feelings about it for my two older children. I'll save that discussion for another post.

Among those I follow on Instagram are photographers, lifestyle and fashion bloggers, several food stylists, many new mothers, a publisher of an online travel magazine, and one English farmer. What they all have in common is a wonderful way of looking at their world and sharing it with the rest of us. Here are four favorites:





Bits and pieces

Monday, March 3, 2014

Five things I'm loving right now:

1. I am not much of a cook or a foodie, but I'm loving the website Food52. Have you seen it or, even better, do you get it as a daily email? I love the clean, stark photography and its simple presentation. To be honest, I have yet to buy any of the kitchen items for sale or try a recipe, but I look forward to reading it every day.

2. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty. A good beach reach while it's still very much winter here.

3. My current Facebook obsession is Susie's Senior Dogs, spotlighting elderly dogs around the country that have been abandoned and desperately need homes. Thousands of people are seeing this page and, best of all, adopting these sweet, gray-faced pups.

4. An opinion piece in Sunday's New York Times about what people learn in their 40s. My very favorite: "There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently."

5. Ellen DeGeneres as Oscar host. She may have gotten some mixed reviews, but I loved everything about her performance, from her opening monologue to her Glenda the Good Witch costume change to ordering pizza without money to pay the delivery guy. She made me stay up hours later than I had planned.

(All photos from Food52.)

February days

Friday, February 14, 2014

February 13: big snow, again; much shoveling (and wondering if someday we might invest in a snow blower); one stuck car (mine, trying to back out the driveway); children out early from school; dog so happy to go out one door and come back in another, around and around; two walks through the woods, in an effort to tire out said dog; snow turning to icy rain; and a mad dash past bedtime by the only one of us left who gives out Valentine's Day cards to 21 children in her class. We were happy, Clementine included, to sleep.

February 14: wishing you calm weather, a very happy Valentine's Day, and if, like us, school's out next week, a little break from your everyday February routine. xoxo


Thursday, February 6, 2014

"One winter morning, Peter woke up and looked out the window.
Snow had fallen during the night.
It covered everything as far as he could see."
~ Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day

Yesterday morning, we woke up to snow covering everything as far as the eye could see. The kids slept late and then spent the day outside, Clementine was in snow heaven, and we're expecting more on Sunday. We may not be as happy at the end of June, when school is still in session because of too many snow days, but for this moment, with a winter wonderland out our window, it's good.

And then to sleep.

Bits and pieces

Monday, February 3, 2014

Four things I'm loving right now:

This book and this book. "The One and Only Ivan" is written for children, but if you were to ask me for a very short list of favorite books, this would be on it. Meanwhile, "The Goldfinch" is keeping me up much too late at night.

This is not a painting (or, rather, a print of a painting) of my children, but it could be, and it makes me think of them every time I look at it. I bought it from this Etsy shop.

This spoon, made in a 6th grade woodworking class. Like Ivan, it's a one and only.


Friday, January 31, 2014

In the introduction to Maddie on Things, author and photographer Theron Humphrey (Maddie's owner) says he woke up one morning with this idea: "I would go into the world, traverse all 50 states in 365 days, and meet one person a day, every day."

But the best part of the story, Humphrey says, "is about the dog that came along for the ride." After quitting his corporate job, Humphrey adopted Maddie from a local animal shelter. She jumped in the front seat of his truck, and that was that. "One morning I figured I needed a photograph to remember how we traveled together," he writes. "So I picked up Maddie and put her on the roof. She just stood there and smiled at me. Good things seem to start that way. You know, small."

I bought Maddie on Things at the same time as Mary Oliver's Dog Songs. Clearly, I was in a dog mood. I love Oliver's poems about the many canine companions she's had over the years, and I love Humphrey's photographs of his patient, athletic, very sweet Coonhound. You can see more of Maddie on Humphrey's blog

Percy, Waiting for Ricky
by Mary Oliver

Your friend is coming, I say
to Percy and name a name

and he runs to the door, his
wide mouth in its laugh-shape

and waves, since he has one, his tail.
Emerson, I am trying to live,

as you said we must, the examined life.
But there are days I wish

there was less in my head to examine,
not to speak of the busy heart. How

would it be to be Percy, no
thinking, not weighing anything, just running forward.

(All photographs from


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When Kate, who is now 14, was about two, I sent a picture of her to my cousin, an artist. I hadn't asked him to draw a picture of her from that photograph, but that's what he did, such nice cousin that he is.

I love that portrait of little Kate, but in terms of framing and hanging, I waited long enough that there was then the issue of Holt and Livvy. It didn't feel right to have Kate up on the wall and not her siblings. So for now, the drawing remains in a box, and I take it out about once a year to admire it and think about whether there's something I could ever do for my cousin in return for drawings of the other two.

In the meantime, I went into a Land of Nod pop-up store after the holidays. It was full of good toys at greatly reduced prices, and I bought a mosaic art kit, thinking it was something Livvy might like. It included paper boards, sheets of stickers, and instructions on how to make - of all things - people portraits.

Livvy started by making a portrait of a boy, who just happened to look an awful lot like her brother. So of course we decided there should be a Kate and Livvy - finally a complete set! - and I'm hoping I'll be more on top of the framing and hanging this time around. I'll always love the first Kate portrait and won't give up the dream of someday having two more, but these will tide us over nicely for now.

How do you say... ?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Y'all vs. you guys. Highway vs. freeway. Rotary vs. traffic circus. Sneakers vs. runners. How do you pronounce caramel? What do you call a large motor vehicle used to carry freight?

I rarely think about the fact that I call a water fountain a water fountain rather than a bubbler; or that a long sandwich made up of cold cuts and lettuce is a sub, not a poor boy or a bomber. But according to this quiz from The New York Times, most people who live where I live talk like I talk, and those from other states say it very differently. I don't have a word for the night before Halloween, for instance, but some people call it goosy night, cabbage night, or devil's eye, depending on where they live. Who knew?

I love this one: How do you pronounce the words Mary, merry, and marry? My answer is "all three are pronounced the same," yet others say "merry and marry are pronounced the same, but Mary is different." Or, "Mary and merry are pronounced the same, but marry is different." Wow.

I've always been quite certain no one would guess I'm from the Boston area from the way I speak. But it turns out that "parking the car in Harvard yard" is not the only clue.

(By Josh Katz and Wilson Andrews for The New York Times.)

Must eat

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Yesterday after school, my older daughter Kate ate an avocado for a snack. She cut the avocado in half, sprinkled on a little salt, and ate the whole thing with a spoon.

I'm telling you this only because an avocado is not Kate's usual snack of choice. It's not her brother Holt's, either, but he thought it sounded good and had one as well. Watching them with their avocados reminded me of this article from the Huffington Post about the 25 foods we all must eat in our lifetimes. Usually articles about things I should do or places I should go serve only to make me feel bad, knowing it's unlikely I will do or see many of them.

But I was intrigued by the foods someone thought I should eat, including lobster rolls (most definitely), freshly made whipped cream (yes), and lardo, an Italian cured back fat (probably not). Number 22 on the list is avocado sprinkled with salt (and a bit of lime juice), eaten with a spoon. So we're on our way, or at least two of us are.

New year

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"For what it's worth ... it's never too late ... to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of, and if you're not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again." ~ Eric Roth, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Wishing you the happiest 2014, filled with startling sights and people with different points of view.

(Photo from

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