Other People’s Stories

Last month, a very random, very intriguing, very odd thought occurred to me:

How many stories are we in?

Lemme back up. Every one of us has stories where strangers play the starring role – the hilarious stories, the devastating ones, those times when someone did something extraordinary or was a complete jackass. Those stories become family lore.

Which means that complete strangers are a part of my family’s history. Like the man and his son (we assume) who were headed out of the theater after seeing the first Shrek (yes, Nick and I watched cartoon movies even before we had kids). The man was holding the little boy (who was maybe three years old) and telling him, “Look – every time other people think something’s funny but you don’t think it’s funny, you don’t have to yell out, ‘THAT’S NOT FUNNY!'” This amused us so much – the young lad, clearly not understanding the Shrek jokes that went over his head, becoming mad when everyone around him was laughing at what was OBVIOUSLY NOT FUNNY… and then yelling at them to stop – that we have told this story for more than ten years.

We also have a story about the guy in front of us in the dairy barn at the Minnesota State Fair who turned around and paid for Ella’s and my ice cream, just because. We told everyone about him and still revisit his kindness ourselves from time to time.

I have no idea who these people are. Moreover, I doubt that they have any idea that they are being discussed around someone else’s dinner table (or blog *cough*) – and yet we share this bizarre connection because they have helped weave the fabric of our family’s life.

I’d just never stopped to think about the fact that if other people are in my stories, surely I’m in other people‘s stories, too.

People who I’ve never met have talked about me – in the car on the way home from the theater, near the copy machine at the office, over Thanksgiving dinner. I am a fixture in other people’s stories.


(Side note: a parallel idea occurred to me after returning from a trip to Disney World as a kid. I noticed that the same family was in the background of more than one of our photos – on different days, in different locations – which meant that my family was probably in other families’ photos, too. Which led to my wondering just how many strangers’ photos I appear in. Which led to a vague idea for a movie [a thriller? drama? Academy-award-winning, obviously] centered around searching for the random people in photographs. If you have insider cinema connections, do let me know. This could be big.)


Some stories, I can probably anticipate. I broke my leg rather spectacularly in third grade: tripping over a classmate while playing capture the flag and then being accidentally slid into by another classmate (exactly where the break was), then attempting to walk on those bones (which, according to the doctor, were broken so badly it looked like I’d “fallen from a second story window)”, then screaming “loud enough to wake the dead” (according to my BFF). It was epic and is certainly part of my family lore… but it never occurred to me until now that perhaps my classmates remember it, too.
Yes, the cast ran the length of my leg. And yes, I was hospitalized – for 8 days.

Maybe, when my third-grade peers share stories about That Time In Elementary School, my wake-the-dead screams play a prominent role. Or maybe, when they visit a museum and see a kid on crutches, they tell their date of the time when their classmate was carried up the staircases at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by their teacher. (True story. Every time she hoisted me into her arms, Mrs. Danielson would say, “Good thing I ate my Wheaties today!”)

That story – the broken leg – I can understand being included in someone else’s anthology. It was an obvious, shared Moment. I’m sure there are more, however; Moments that I thought were private. Like that day in middle school when I stepped out of the orthodontist building and onto a sheet of black ice that sent me flying sideways – as though my legs literally had been knocked to the side by some unseen force – and crashing to the ground. My mom and I laughed so hard, we could barely breathe; when we tell the story nearly 30 years later, we still chuckle. I don’t remember anyone else being around, but what if someone was (like, sitting in their parked car or in the building across the street)… and they saw it… and they’re still chuckling about my ridiculous launch? My “private” Moments may not have been so private after all.
Braces, seventh grade.
This is just… Um… Wow.

And what about the times I don’t remember at all, the Moments I didn’t know were Moments? Did I cut someone off and cause them to miss a flight? Did I say something breezily casual (“I like your necklace!”) that turned out to be the only positive thing someone heard that day? Did I say something in passing that wasn’t meant to be heard (“Omg – is he blind?”) but someone did hear and their son was blind and now I’m the cautionary tale of how people can be asshats?

So many possibilities, really.

These kind of Moments happen often for people whose professions put them in contact with masses of folks on a regular basis: healthcare providers, transportation workers, cashiers and retail employees. I would venture that doctors, taxi drivers, and waiters have entire volumes of their lives where random people are the central characters. And teachers? Oh heck yes. Ask any teacher for a “good story” (whatever that means to him or her) and you’d better pull up a chair, turn off your phone, and pour yourself a glass.

(Side note 2: I was reminded by a friend a while back that, although certainly teachers’ stories are entertaining and enlightening – often containing true “teachable moments” that resonate far beyond the classroom – there is still a great value in not sharing all of those stories… at least, not with every audience and not without discretion. Kids deserve privacy even when they do the darndest things. They especially deserve it from those whose job it is to educate them and make them feel safe. It’s a lesson I’m still learning; I so appreciated the reminder.)

It used to be that we only heard about friends’ Moments when they told us in person. Today’s social media makes it incredibly easy for those Moments to become public. Sometimes, this really pisses me off — like when I see a story about someone live-Tweeting a  couple’s breakup, complete with photo “evidence.” (I realize that, because it’s happening in public, this is no longer truly a private moment… But that doesn’t mean I think it’s cool to share another person’s horrible experience with the entire world just for the sake of entertainment.)

Other times, stories about strangers make me remember why it is so fantastic to be a part of the human race. Without social media, the larger world would undoubtedly be unaware of ordinary-but-remarkable Moments (like this time when a young Target employee helped count an older customer’s change, inadvertently teaching a lesson to the other customers in line) – and, as I’ve said before, I think that sharing kindness is pretty much always a good idea.

Now more than ever, all of our lives are intertwined. At any moment, we can become Moments in someone else’s life. At any time, we can enter into other people’s stories… even when we don’t realize it.

Which is a super weird and kind of creepy thought.
It’s also inevitable so I’m gonna try to roll with it.

I have no idea how many people’s stories I’m already in – but I’m going to do my darndest to ensure that I’m in future stories for positive, and not cautionary/asshatty, reasons.

Or, at the very least, I hope I’m a source of comic relief. I mean, if anyone actually saw Fenwick drop a deuce by the candles or Jambi pop a squat in produce… or if that poor man I terrified in Puerto Rico has recovered from his heart attack… or if the other passengers on the plane noticed the ginger ale dripping from my seat… I’m probably well on my way.



We Really Did It

It was cold tonight. I worried that the girls’ hair – still wet from showering just ten minutes ago – would crackle and freeze.

After the first tentative glides, grins spreading across our faces, I looked in disbelief from one to the other. “Oh my God. We did it. We really did it!”


It’s been a weird winter. A few cold days, sure. But the snow? It’s just not happening. Seven measly inches so far (compared normal average of 40″ by this time). While this is actually lovely in many ways, it has not boded well for one of our most favorite winter pastimes: the ice rink.

After our warmest December on record and not even the slightest chance of getting the ice to set, Nick declared shortly after January 1st that he just isn’t feeling the rink this year. Too much work, too few days when the ice might be skate-able; maybe next time.

I was crushed. I’m not sure if that’s because I actually love skating (given that I’m a terrible skater, this seems a bit unlikely) or just because I love the idea of skating, but the thought of not even having the chance to skate made me really freakin’ bummed. I decided to ask the girls what they thought; if I was the only one who wanted the rink, it was probably silly to have it. If they wanted it too, it was probably worth it.

They wanted it.

When I said I’d build it, they were incredulous. You’ll build the rink??” As though maybe I was suggesting that I’d capture a caribou and ride it across the lawn, Chuck Norris style. (I doubt that Chuck Norris has ridden a caribou, BUT HE COULD.)  I told them I most certainly could – and would – build the rink.

So I did.

I sized up the spot in the yard, conferred with the girls on how big we wanted it (smaller than last year so it would freeze more easily and be simpler to maintain), set up the planks (with the girls’ assistance), and put ’em together. With bracket-y things. And screws. And a drill. It was beautiful.

IMG_3532Exhibit A: NO SNOW. Nope. Nada.

Three days ago, the moment for filling the rink came: at least a week of lows in the teens and highs below freezing. It was time.

IMG_3568Exhibit B: January 10th. Still no snow.

I knew what I was doing; I’ve watched Nick for years. When I turned on the hose, it was 50* but was predicted to drop to the teens by nighttime – perfect.

While all of my plans went exactly as – well, planned  the weather decided to be… difficult. Oh, it dipped into the teens, all right. But it did so in the span of 90 minutes (rather than many hours), ushered in by a wind storm so violent, it knocked out power in our neighborhood for over three hours that night. Almost instantaneously, the once-pristine rink was filled not just with standing water but gazillions of leaves and several dozen sticks and branches.

In case you were wondering, an ice rink with the consistency of a thick soup doesn’t make for very good skating.

With Annie’s assistance, we removed as much junk as possible. Then, we waited. I hoped that by today – three days after filling – it would be frozen enough to go.

Things started off well (freezing as scheduled!), then took a turn for disaster (snow melted into the surface and turned it into very deep sandpaper). Disheartened, I had all but decided that maybe Nick was right to skip this year; maybe, with this bizarre weather, it was just impossible.

I wasn’t quite ready to give up, though. We were this close… So I crossed my fingers that maybe a few buckets of hot water would fix things up.

Six hours later, with just enough time to skate before the girls went to bed, I held my breath and examined the earlier repairs.

The ice was smooth.
Not perfect – some bumps remain – but absolutely skate-able.
Thirty minutes later, we were on it.

By God; I know how to make an ice rink. SWEET FANCY MOSES!!



The girls and I just kept laughing. Annie – ever the daredevil – took one hesitant step (slide?) onto the surface and then was ready, cutting curves around our little rink. Ella – ever more cautious – was surprisingly sure of herself. “Mama, we made this! So I know it’s good. I’m going to work on gaining confidence so I can skate more.”

We made “fishies” and practiced crossovers, spun and glided. At their request, I played Adele from my phone; we circled and soared to “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” and “Sweetest Devotion.” We watched snowflakes – huge, glittering – fall to the ice in the floodlights. The air was refreshingly crisp; we didn’t even notice the cold.

And over and over, we kept coming back to the same idea: We made this. We did it. We built it and it worked and now we are on it and it is glorious.

“Mom, how come everyone always asks if we have figure skates?”

“Yeah! It’s not like only boys can play hockey! Why couldn’t we have hockey skates?”

“Besides! Hockey skates are way more comfortable than figure skates!”

“Right! Girls can wear hockey skates, too.”

“Girls can do anything!”


Tonight? We really felt like we could.

So very proud of themselves.
Also? Wearing hockey skates. Because we can do anything.

Happiness Here!

In the past week or so, I’ve seen a lot of people saying that 2015 was the Worst Year Ever (Dave Barry’s take on this was, as usual, one of my favorites. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait).

I get it. Between ISIS and drowned refugee children and terrorist attacks and mass shootings and Donald Trump and racial violence and the unsatisfying season finale of Homeland, 2015 was rough. On a more personal level, my year was like some unpredictable*, careening* mine cart: all over the place, practically whiplash-incuding, hard to really catch a breath, and moving so damned fast, I nearly missed the diamonds in the mine. Certainly not The Worst Year Ever… but there were switchbacks where it briefly skirted with the possibility.

(*is there really any other kind of mine cart?)

My 2015 had so many highs. Travels, big birthdays, a new nephew (the cutest baby in the history of the universe; no arguing) and brother-in-law, happiness at work, DECLUTTERING THE DANG HOUSE (can I get an AMEN!), and everything that Adele has done. It also had some really deep lows – chief among them the difficult loss of three people, losses that have affected me so strongly and paralyzingly, I wondered if I’d entered another Depression.

The mine can be dark, y’all. The Great Ride Of 2015 wasn’t really my favorite.

With that said, 2015 was hardly a bust. A year ago, I set some goals for myself – and, by gosh, I more or less met them.

More sleep. Okay. Bad example. I still suck at this.

More forgiveness. Trying. Hard.

More piano; more tea; more books; more cooking; more water; more letters and cards. Check, check, check, check, check, check! There are times when these slide, but I’ve gotten into much healthier habits with them.

More communication. A work in progress, but I am much more likely to respond to an email or text right away. Sure, half the time I’m saying, “I don’t know,” but it’s a start.

More courage. I took some big steps this year. They’re kinda private (sorry for the annoying vague-ary), but I’m proud of me.

More television. I still watch woefully little television. I still want to change that. 

More Jesus. Yep. Found my Sophia Community. Found Jesus. Turns out, he’s totally down with super-liberal, often-cursing, doubting, hopeful, anxious, dream-filled moms. I really dig him.

More listening. Not sure how well I’m doing on this. Maybe I should ask for opinions? HAHA. 

More giving. Absolutely. Is there anything that feels better than giving? Not so much. 

More gratitude. This is something I actively worked on all year and am still focusing on (given that reaching a gratitude limit is pretty much the stupidest idea ever, this is probably a good thing). Really appreciating – really living in that moment, seeing what you have (instead of what you don’t) – is one of the hardest things for me to do, but also the most rewarding. 

Because, when it comes down to it, my life is wonderful.
It is the life I want. And I love it.

To help all of us (well, the girls and me, really; I kind of didn’t tell Nick about it until like four days ago) focus on the good instead of the bad, at the start of last year, I put a jar in the kitchen. Beside it were a stack of notecards and a pen. I gave simple instructions: when something makes you happy, write it down and put it in the jar. It wasn’t an everyday thing. I didn’t mandate it for myself or for the girls; rather, when the moment struck (or when I reminded them), we filled out cards and dropped them in.
happiness jar12

We never did anything else with the jar until two days into 2016 when we all sat down over dinner, emptied the contents into a bowl, and read them.
happiness jar1
It was marvelous.

There were the things that would make just about anyone happy.
happiness jar11
{Snow day!}
Unless you’re a parent whose schedule was knocked on its end by said snow day. Then, you’d probably add “wine at noon” to the jar.

happiness jar5
{friendly neig(h)bors}

There were little, specific-to-us moments that made us smile.
happiness jar9
{Decorating gingerbread houses with J and Z}

happiness jar6
{reading Stole brother interview}
{having big island pin(e)apple}
For the uninitiated (myself included; I had to ask Ella what this meant), the Stoll brothers are characters in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I guess Ella read some kind of interview with the characters and she really dug it.
If you are also unfamiliar with Big Island Pineapple – a snack from NatureBox – I highly suggest familiarizing yourself with it. We receive a box of it monthly and it has basically changed our lives.

There were the little moments – at the time – that turned out to be not-so-little in hindsight.
happiness jar2
{Taking Phoofsy to Charleston.}
This was the last trip she took. I’m so, so glad we did it.

There were also moments that, quite frankly, we’d forgotten about – but that made us all grin upon remembering them.
Some were cheery…
happiness jar8
{Having the golf lesson with Sarah!!}
When we visited my dad and Meg over the summer, they set Ella and Annie up with golf lessons from one of their club’s pros – a woman who was just awesome. The girls were absolutely smitten with her.

Some were not entirely cheery, but still good, overall.
happiness jar7
{I am thankful(l) for doctors and nurses. Sticker + cord = EKG}
Last winter, Annie had an EKG. Everything turned out fine and we had excellent interactions with all of the healthcare providers – which, obviously, made enough of an impression on Annie that she decided to put the experience in the happy jar. Complete with medical equation, of course.

Unbeknownst to us, our babysitter had been sneaking cards into the jar. Hidden among the memories were half a dozen messages like this:
happiness jar10
{I am thankful for: babysitting my favorite little girls in this world! Love you both!}
How cool is that??

And, from time to time, there were little notes like this:
happiness jar4
{my parents because I love them so}

… which made us smile and gag a bit at the same time.

The cards ran the gamut – visiting family, having playdates, successes at work or school, being grateful for snow (then planting gardens… then summer swimming… then fall pumpkins…), seeing movies, holidays. The only thing they had in common was they were all positive memories; ninety-six happinesses that made up our 2015.

Turns out, the mine was full of diamonds after all.

I’m not making any official resolutions for 2016. Instead, I’m going to continue to hold myself to last year’s ideals and to focus on two large-scale themes: connection and appreciation. ‘Cause that’s what it’s all about for me at this place and time.

On New Year’s Eve, as we sat at my mom and stepdad, Steven’s, table, I said that 2015 had been too much for me and I couldn’t wait for 2016. Almost immediately, I regretted that statement (and told the girls so as I tucked them into bed that night) – mostly because it was only partially true. Yes, last year was a lot to handle, and I am certainly excited for 2016… But not just because I want to get the heck out of dodge.

I also can’t wait for 2016 because there is so much fantasticness that’s bound to happen.

By this time next year, Ella will be in middle school (omg), we’ll have welcomed additional babies into our (extended) family, we’ll have traveled places and experienced concerts and movies and books, the US will have elected a new President, and we’ll only be five months away from Star Wars, Episode VIII.

We’ll also have just read the contributions to 2016’s happiness jar (complete with spiffy new label). I’m so looking forward to the moments that will fill it.
happiness jar13