if we were having coffee

Thank you, Elisabeth Ellington at The Dirigible Plum for the inspiration and format I’m using for my slice today.

If we were having coffee, you’d know you were part of my small group of close friends because I’m not a have-coffee-with-just-anyone-chit-chat-kind-of gal. We’d get right to the point, and I’d expect an honest answer when I ask, “How are you,” and you’d get the truth from me.

Also, I’d probably be drinking tea because I rarely do coffee after that first morning cup at home. You’d know that and laugh at/with me for bringing my own tea bag. But you’d know that I can be a little particular about food and drink, and it wouldn’t bother you.

If we were having coffee, we’d ask each other about our children, or pets, or both, and we might compare notes about worrying about an aging parent who still lives on their own and too far away.

We’d definitely talk about what we’re each reading right now, and I’d have to rummage down in my purse to find a pen and a scrap of paper or reach for a napkin to write down the titles you shared because we both know I won’t remember them otherwise. You’d say, “Don’t worry, I’ll text you.”

If we were having coffee, I’d want to know what great recipes you’ve discovered recently, where you like to take long walks lately, how your regular tennis game is going, and what tips you have for helping me get started on a major closet purge.

I’d tell you that my Sunday pickleball game is my church these days, and I have mixed feelings about that, but I’m not going to wallow in the guilt. The laughter on the Sunday morning court does me a world of good, I’d tell you, justifying my absence from a house of worship just a little bit. And you’d probably tell me to lighten up, that is just as it should be, and not to sweat it.

If we were having coffee, you’d ask me if we have set a wedding date yet, and when I shrugged and told you we hadn’t, you would not press. We’d move on to a lighter topic like growing dahlias or summer vacation plans. We’d finish our coffee, sigh, and admit it was time to get on with the rest of the day, stand on the sidewalk a few minutes longer and hug like we meant it before waving goodbye and vowing to do this again soon even though we both know it might be months before we make that happen.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for hosting the annual Slice of Life Challenge. My life would be smaller without writing. I am proud to be participating in my 10th annual SOL writing challenge with you.

candles and cloth napkins

The napkins are never ironed or perfectly folded. Who has time for that? Sometimes they don’t match each other and often they clash with the color of the plates. The candles are usually tea lights in chipped glass votives that would benefit from a good scrub in hot water. But, cloth napkins and candles are almost always part of our dinner routine. Dinner might be as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich or eggs scrambled with leftovers from the vegetable bin. And we often eat sitting on the sofa, watching the evening news or catching up about the day, rather than at the table or kitchen island. But cloth napkins and candles are my non negotiables. Cloth napkins mostly. Somehow, they make even a thrown together supper feel just a tiny bit special.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for hosting the annual Slice of Life Challenge. My life would be smaller without writing. I am proud to be participating in my 10th annual SOL writing challenge with you.

The return of the bookworm

My reading life has suffered in recent years. Sometime after the initial shock of life in Covid wore off, I lost interest in reading. Could not focus, did not want to sit quietly with a book, neglected to read the NYT Sunday book review. Books and I parted ways. They were replaced by Netflix and Hulu series, long walks in the countryside, sourdough bread baking, and Zoom conversations with family and friends. Reading has always been central to my well-being, though. And I began to miss the things that reading does for my heart and brain- filling me with new information, quirky characters, delightful plot twists, scenes in faraway places. In December, I vowed to recommit to reading for pleasure. I dusted off my library card, subscribed to a blog that features reading reviews, and started reading the Book Review section of the NYT again. Since then, I’ve completed five books- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Signal Fires, Between Two Kingdoms, Fellowship Point, and Demon Copperhead. Up next: We All Want Impossible Things and Lessons in Chemistry. My reading life is alive and well again, and I am better for it.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for hosting the annual Slice of Life Challenge. My life would be smaller without writing. I am proud to be participating in my 10th annual SOL writing challenge with you.

Slowing down

Time works differently in the Bahamas. Everything does. This is my first visit, but I’d been told. I am reminded of this as we approach the rental car area in the Marsh Harbor airport (if you can call it that- no line and one man sitting behind a small counter, smiling at people exiting the building that consists of just a few rooms under roof on a spit of sandy land). We show no ID, sign no paperwork. We are told to proceed to the parking lot spaces marked Rental Wheels and look for the car with our name on it. Okay. We are in no hurry.

We find the car, lift our bags into the trunk, get inside, giggle in relief that it seems to run, remark on the scent of air freshener, and realize we have no idea how to get to where we are going. Into town first to find some food. We don’t have a map. There are no signs or clear indications of how to exit the airport parking lot. Time for an adventure, we both say at nearly the same time. We are in no hurry. The week has just begun. Time works differently. Here, and on vacation.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for hosting the annual Slice of Life Challenge. My life would be smaller without writing. I am proud to be participating in my 10th annual SOL writing challenge with you.

What’s In A Name

In March of 2019, more than a year before I cracked open most of my adoption story, I drafted a Slice of Life I never published- about my name. Today I’m returning to that draft. Revising. Ready to publish.

The nuns who cared for me in the convent orphanage called me Mary Ellen. When they nestled me in my mother’s arms four weeks after I was born, they did not share an explanation for my name. Perhaps there wasn’t one. I was born to an unwed Irish Catholic couple my parents were told. Mary Ellen was a good Irish Catholic name. She was a nurse they were told. She wanted me to be raised in a Catholic home. They were not told that her name was Mary Ann. Perhaps the nuns did not know. My parents changed my name to Lisa. They gave me a middle name, Siobhan, to honor my Irish heritage. It’s a name I have always cherished, sometimes wishing it was my first name. Turns out the unwed couple married and I am the eldest of their three children. My two siblings have Irish names that begin with the letter S. This is what we share. 


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for hosting the annual Slice of Life Challenge. My life would be smaller without writing. I am proud to be participating in my 10th annual SOL writing challenge with you.

Never say never

The alarm on my phone begins to beep at 5 am and I slide my hand to the nightstand and fumble to silence it. I climb out of bed and feel my way to the bathroom where I’ve piled leggings, a t-shirt, and sneakers. The latch on the door clicks too loudly as I close it so I can flip on the light. Pulling on my exercise clothes while moving towards the sink, I brush my teeth, splash my face with water, and use my fingers to arrange my hair into an almost ponytail. Clutching my phone, I ease the bathroom door open, tiptoe around the bed, step into the hallway, and halt until I activate the flashlight feature so I can light my way to descend the stairs. In the kitchen I fill my water bottle, grab the car keys on the island, and head out the back door. It’s 5:10. The dark drive on country roads is not my favorite. I do not turn on the radio or connect to a Spotify playlist. My eyes sweep left to right, searching for deer who always seem to lurk just around each blind curve and at the edge of road. By 5:23 I’m pulling in to my destination, the tires of my car crunching over the gravel on the driveway. I park, grab my rolled up exercise mat and cycling shoes, and walk toward Helen’s studio. The lights are on, the music is going, and each of us is finding a bike, changing shoes, climbing onto our bikes, and clipping in. We smile and say hi. There is conversation but not too much. It is early. We are all still waking up. And we are here. Class begins at 5:30. I’ve always said I am not an early morning exerciser. I would never do that, I told those who know me best. But I can, and I do, and I am. Doing IT. Exercising before the sun rises. It feels good. I am proud. Of me.

We talk on the phone

We talk on the phone a few times each week. Often I call as I leave work between 5:30 and 6, just before she settles down to watch the evening news- full volume because she won’t wear her hearing aids. And because she doesn’t wear her hearing aids, she can’t hear the phone ring, even when the tv isn’t on. Though she rarely hears the ring, she almost always hears my voice as I begin to record my message on her answering machine. She picks up then. Phone conversations are usually choppy. She says the sound from my cell phone isn’t clear. We agree to disagree about the reason she cannot hear me. We talk about her day, the weather, the neighbors, and the news. Sometimes she tells me something she told me the last time we spoke. I pay attention, wondering if I should worry. As she speaks, I listen to her breathing and the strength of her voice. I listen for clues about what she isn’t saying. I tell her the simple version of my day, knowing she is no longer my thought partner and that too many details will overwhelm her. And she tells me I’m working so hard and asks me if I’m getting enough time off, if I’m sleeping, and if I’m taking care of myself. I say yes, even when it isn’t true. Our calls are usually brief, no more than ten minutes, often five or fewer. I wish she lived closer to me, or I to her, and I could stop in for a visit, or we could eat dinner together. And I try to feel gratitude that at least we can talk on the phone.

Days Like This, SOL #1

When it’s not always raining there’ll be days like this
When there’s no one complaining there’ll be days like this
When everything falls into place like the flick of a switch
Well my mama told me there’ll be days like this

Yesterday was not one of those days. Thick fog made the drive to school a little harder and a lot slower than usual. Emergency vehicles charged onto campus just as children spilled out of cars and skipped into the building, turned our usually cheerful arrival routine into a tense and distracted moment for many. I held my phone and read updates to the admin team in one hand while opening car doors, greeting students, and smiling and waving to parents with the other. I was not fully present during one of my favorite daily routines. And then, just as the sky began to clear and the rhythm of the day seemed to even out, we received a school-wide emergency alert. Out of an abundance of caution, we brought children inside, off playgrounds and fields, made sure all exterior doors were closed and locked, and sheltered in place. Adults acted quickly, holding their own worry behind their reassuring smiles, wondering what was happening. For the next two hours we carried on. Classes continued, children learned, teachers projected calm. Nobody could enter or leave the building, but the day hummed along as normally as possible inside our school. It was good for kids. It was hard for adults. And then, we got the all clear. Within minutes children were back outdoors, in the warm sunshine, picking up their games just where they’d left them hours earlier. Yesterday was not one of those days when everything fell into place. Or maybe it was.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for hosting the annual Slice of Life Challenge. My life would be smaller without writing. I am proud to be participating in my 10th annual SOL writing challenge with you.

What’s saving me right now

I first heard my father say, “February is the longest month,” long before I was old enough, wise enough, or experienced in life enough to have any idea what he meant. When I was small, and he would sigh and utter some version of that sentence during the final days of January, I probably thought he was testing me, making sure I knew February was actually the month with the fewest days in the calendar. I get it now. Despite being only 28 days long, February seems to go on forever. By February, I am craving light and warmth, neither of which is abundant. Forsythia comes into bloom, but otherwise, the land remains brown and bleak, and in my efforts to hasten spring, I buy tulips from the grocery store, which then look slightly out of place, ahead of their time perhaps, on my kitchen counter.

Anne Bogel, aka Modern Mrs. Darcy, writes a what’s saving her life right now post each February. I stumbled on her post from last year the other day, and today, on the eve of the longest shortest month, I am reminded to pause and look for the small things that are bringing me joy.

So, what’s saving me right now?

Nearly nightly fires in our fireplace. Nothing beats the warmth that slowly spreads beyond the hearth and takes the chill off the entire family room.

The orchids on my office window sill that just came back into bloom. Despite my best efforts, all of my orchids, at home and at work, are wildly healthy, and four of seven are covered with buds and blooms on their long, elegant branches.

My local library and the online catalog that allows me to request a hold and retrieve a book easily when it becomes available. Fiction. Fiction is saving me right now. The news and the world are hard. Slipping into a story for a bit at the end of most days is a welcome relief.

Soup. And a recently resurrected recipe for beer bread. Winter comfort food at its best. Dinner. Done in a flash. Leftovers for days.

Turtlenecks. You can never have too many. Well, I can’t. They are my go-to top from October- April.

Winter walks. I like them best on sunny afternoons but sometimes have to settle for overcast evenings. They are best when completed with a friend. Walking and talking- free therapy in the fresh air.

My friend Helen’s cycle/yoga class. She calls it Spoga. I call it the perfect workout in the perfect spot. Her studio has floor-to-ceiling glass windows on three sides, and it feels like you’re exercising in the treetops. Good music. Always sweaty and hard. Hard to think about anything but getting through that ride and stretch and that makes for a great brain break.

And writing. Writing is saving me right now.

sharing my story #sol

Even after many rewrites and revisions, my essay wasn’t Modern Love column worthy, so the rejection email from the editors wasn’t a surprise. Still, the writer in me was ready to test some version of my story with an audience. When my colleague who arranges for speakers at our weekly Upper School chapel wrote to me asking if I could step in on short notice to fill an unexpected vacancy, I jumped at the chance and got to work tinkering with my piece, reframing it in a way that I hoped would resonate with 300 or so ninth-twelfth graders and 30 ish adults. As I often do, I turned to trusted colleagues who knew the audience well, to test my thinking. While I’d taught quite a few of these students when they were in our Lower School, I did not know their teenage selves well.

When the moment to speak came, a calm came over me, replacing the nerves I’d worked to keep in check for the previous hour. After, as students filed out of the auditorium, and nearly every day since, I have heard from someone about what they heard, felt, thought. The feedback ranges from simple to stunning. And I am reminded of the power of sharing our stories.

A recording of the story I shared is here. My part begins around minute 19.