Fourteen Years, Then France

IMG_2947To spend ten consecutive days with him is something I never dared dream.

To spend ten consecutive days with him in France is nothing I could have ever conceived.

He was a toddler when he walked into our lives and our hearts fourteen years ago. And when he left nine months later, we knew we would never be the same.

He was our foster son; and each day he was with us, every move we made, every thought we had was for him. We held his hand as he negotiated our city’s streets, read to him every night stories about the world we live in, narrated to him all he heard and saw. We loved him and watched him grow and learn.

And when he left we didn’t know when or even if we would ever see him again. Our plan was to try to find him when he was eighteen; and, if he consented, we would tell him who we were, share stories and photos of his time with us.

But he beat us to it.

On a July morning last summer, I rose to a still-sleeping house and made my way downstairs. I poured a large glass of orange juice and turned on my computer to check my email. And there in the subject line the name I had carried with me every day since that cold November day in 2000 when we first met.

Sixteen years old and living a mere 42 minutes away.

And so soon we met. Again.

It was alternately effortless and all-consuming, a beginning and a natural continuation.

We shared conversations and connections. The topic of travel came up.

I mentioned I was planning a trip to France. I told him if he wanted to go, we could figure out a way to make that happen.

He did. And we did.

First passport, first flights, first everything.

Paris, Arles, Nice.

And I once again and fourteen years later had a front-row seat . . . observant and awestruck, wondering if words existed to capture any of this and finally realizing they really don’t.

But perfect moments do.

Whether on a too-cold November night in 2000, at a computer on an early morning in July, or on a boat moving dreamily along the Seine.

They come when they come.

And when they do, nothing is–thankfully–ever the same.

To Every Day but New Year’s

Hellos are fleeting and overrated.

Goodbyes are empty and simply no good.

But

The time in the middle.

Both the surprises and the predictability.

The causes and the effects.

The Tuesday night dinners.

Pilled sweatshirts and jeans.

Smiling for no reason.

For every reason.

And crying out of necessity.

And other than on cue.

Used and worn.  Slightly dented.

Tired eyes and wrung out.

Yet still walking forward

And welcoming more.

Kindnesses unbidden extended.

And received.

With gratitude and dignity and without expectation.

The script abandoned.

Letting go and letting in.

The calendar more tool than symbol.

More convenience than edict.

The time in between.

The middle.

Life.

 

This Ordinary

“Just write about your writer’s block.  Everyone will understand.”

Advice from my ten-year-old.

And though he is arguably one of the wisest people I know, I had to tell him that most people don’t really find a writer’s process all that interesting let alone being regaled with the stories of the occasional bout of writer’s block.

He countered, “Well, then, tell them why you have it.”

Why I have it . . .

Well, it’s simple really—and anything but.

I have writer’s block because something so unexpected and profound yet so remarkably perfect and easy has occurred.  It’s all I want to write about but yet I can’t.

Countless hours spent thinking; a web of memories untangled, tens of thousands of words contemplated . . . and nothing.

Which brings me back to why . . .

Why–when this is such a good story, such an unbelievably happy turn of events–am I so uncharacteristically hesitant to do what I do best and shout it from the rooftops?

Is it because it’s not just my story?

That’s what I have consoled myself with over the last several weeks as I looked day after day at a blank monitor, stared at the fingertips that have always been so accustomed to moving across the keyboard with far less thought than I generally like to admit, why when the few words did come to me, I wrote them, saved them, and promptly put them away:  It’s not just my story.  I have to be judicious, show good judgment.

But tonight as I walked through my neighborhood, dark and quiet, the salty air washing over me, I realized any block I was experiencing had nothing to do with my being smart or overtly sensitive to the feelings of others.  I mean, I try to do, to be both of those things in every facet of my life.  But as a writer, it has always been my contention—if not my compulsion—to write what I know, what I need to write, let the chips fall where they may.

I wanted to believe my writer’s block was because I was, am a nice person.

So noble.  So magnanimous.

But that isn’t it at all.

IMG_8734It’s because even though this story is so remarkable, it’s not; because even though things like this don’t happen every day, or ever, this story had to continue.

It is the period at the end of a sentence that’s been unfinished for the last thirteen years.

A logical conclusion and a custom fit.

A fairy tale ending, but still beautifully, blissfully ordinary.

And no one wants to read about ordinary.

And I don’t want to write it.

But live it?

I’ve been waiting thirteen years to live this ordinary.

Fabulous Fiction and a Forever Friendship

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”  –Mahatma Gandhi

Jenny TropeaSome years ago I walked into my classroom and was met by one of the brightest smiles I had ever encountered.  Her name was Miss Tropea then, and she exuded from the moment we were introduced such grace, poise, and passion.  We taught English together–and though it was not for as long as I might have liked, our bond has remained.  Her soul is gentle and kind, and her positivity is unparalleled.  I feel honored to call her my friend.

To know Jenny is to know goodness, to know thoughtfulness, determination, and empathy.  So, when she emailed me recently to share some very big news, I smiled–a lot.  My faith in the universe is continually restored when good things happen to good people.

Please allow me to introduce to you Jennifer Tropea O’Regan, author of “Confessions of a Bookaholic,” who is sharing here a dozen books that need to make their way into your beach bag this summer!

Thank you, Jenny, for sharing your love of reading with others, for your friendship, and for supporting women at every turn.

Confessions of a Bookaholic: Your Essential Summer Reading List

Dishing, musing, interviewing, and promoting the HOTTEST NAMES in women’s contemporary fiction

by Jennifer Tropea O’Regan

Whether you yearn for a tearjerker, thriller, or are simply a chick-lit devotee, my list of awesomely addictive books will keep you enthralled through Labor Day. My recommendations cover a gamut of page-turners, including Allison Winn Scotch’s soon-to-be-adapted hit and Emily Giffin’s unconventional story of love and loyalty.

Emily Giffin, the beloved author of such novels as Something Borrowed and Where We Belong, returns with an extraordinary story of love and loyalty—and an unconventional heroine struggling to reconcile both. The One & Only is unequivocally Giffin’s most cinematic novel to date. Friday Night Lights meets When Harry Met Sally  . . .  (I have high hopes George Clooney will play hunky Coach Clive Carr on the big screen!) ;)

All Fall Down is the story of a woman’s slide into addiction and struggle to find her way back up again. With a sparkling comedic touch and tender, true-to-life characterizations, this tale of empowerment and redemption is Jennifer Weiner’s most poignant, timely, and triumphant story yet.

Tempting Fate has been artfully described as a Scarlet Letter for the 21st century. Jane Green expertly depicts a woman trapped between contentment and temptation, crafting an insightful look into married life . . . A spellbinding triumph!

The Theory Of Opposites follows the trials and tribulations of Willa Chandler-Golden, daughter of a top self-help book author, as her marriage, her job and almost everything else in her seemingly stable life goes off the rails. Allison Winn Scotch’s sharp and witty sensation has been picked up by Jennifer Garner’s production company. A must-read before it hits the big screen!

The Matchmaker is a touching new novel from bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand in which a woman sets out to find love for those closest to her . . . before it’s too late. Hilderbrand’s up-front style pulls the reader into the minds of her gorgeously nuanced characters leaving us longing for more.

Internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen delivers a lively, compulsively readable novel about the intricacies of marriage and commitment–and how small kindnesses can restore familial bonds after an estrangement in Catching Air. (Devoured this gem in 48 hours!)

Emily Liebert has a gift for constructing true-to-life, humorous discourse. You Knew Me When is an authentic novel full of nostalgia–the perfect read for anyone who has ever longed to reconcile with an old friend. This novel resonated with me long after finishing.

Internationally bestselling author Catherine McKenzie’s latest book may be her best yet. Hidden explores the interconnecting lives of a man, his wife, and a woman who may or may not be his mistress. Filled with nail-biting tension until the very last page, the ending will leave you speechless!

Someone hand me a tissue, please… Balancing sorrow and humor, In the Mirror is an exquisitely poignant novel and an evocative homage to the things that matter most: family and friends. Kaira Rouda‘s novel resonated heavily after my husband’s plight with cancer.

NYT-bestselling author Sarah Jio delivers an invigorating blend of mystery and romance! Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Songs) is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers an enthralling and earnest take on how the “great green room” might have come to be. Delightful and uplifting, it lingers long after the last page . . .

Gone Girl meets Gossip Girl in Tatiana Boncompagni’s Social Death, a breathless thriller about the murder of a beautiful socialite and the scandalous secret she dies trying to reveal. Money and fame can conceal all manner of deceit, but only for so long. This riveting page-turner will keep readers up well past bedtime . . .

When a 14-year-old runs away, her parents turn to social media to find her–launching a public campaign that will expose their darkest secrets and change their family forever.  Don’t Try to Find Me is a suspenseful and gripping debut for fans of Reconstructing Amelia and Gone Girl. A transfixing, emotionally enthralling, and chillingly plausible read, Holly Brown is an up-and-comer!

Additional authors I recommend without reservation: Stacey Ballis, Caprice Crane, Amy Hatvany, L. Alison Heller, Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, Jen Lancaster, and Susan Wiggs.

In addition to fostering a love of literacy within her unprivileged high school students, Jennifer has many noteworthy philanthropic accolades. During her husband’s plight with cancer – she single-handedly raised over 3,000 books for the Johns Hopkins Hospital Oncology Patient Library. Jennifer is now sharing her unbridled passion for reading via Confessions of a Bookaholic–a page dedicated to celebrating female authors. Follow her on Facebook (Jennifer Tropea O’Regan) and Twitter (@Jenny_Oregan).

And Another Door Opens

I was there one strange night in New Jersey when he had to hand over a roll of film to officials after photographing a series of smokestacks that he may or may not have been authorized to photograph.

I have stood by his side in the bracing cold on the streets of New York City so he could get the perfect shot of a doorway or a window or a shadow on the sidewalk.

I have drifted off to sleep at night as he has slipped outside to photograph our own city streets.

I also watched him gently fall into call center work to pay his graduate school bills.

And as he rose through the ranks to program and project manager positions, earning enviable salaries commensurate with his work ethic and smarts, I saw his love of photography move to the proverbial back burner—never leaving his side but relegated to a mere avocation as the demands of work necessarily enveloped him.

And then a layoff.

IMG_4333A recalibration.

A hearty and heartfelt discussion of what is truly important, of what we ought to do with the very short time we are given, of the advice we’d give to our own children in a similar situation.

Remembering the adage, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

I have always known Don Farias was a photographer.

And now he is Don Farias, Photographer.

His business.

His life.

One of his great loves.

Now center stage—his and ours.

A Day in My Life: January 2014

Though my photography skills are amateurish at best, I was intrigued when Clair Dickson, editor of The Creative Mama, asked if anyone might be interested in this project.

The details are fairly straightforward: Each month capture 14 images from any one day in your life and post them (with as much or as little commentary as you might like) on the 24th of that month.

I like this idea so, so much.  So often the photos we choose to share, while often lovely, poignant, and even at times breathtaking, are regularly posed, carefully selected, and heavily edited.  This project challenges you to document an ordinary day–which, of course, is laden with the mess and minutiae of life.

And while photos such as these will never replace the beauties hanging on my walls, they will offer something equally breathtaking to my children: accurate, authentic glimpses of our very real life together.

[Please click here to visit another take on this project–Jhona Oberholtzer’s blog We Weirdos Need to Stick Together.]

Early morning time on the Kindle

Early morning time on Oscar’s Kindle

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Two new cookbooks to peruse as dinner gets planned

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Breakfast is finished, and they are off to play.

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There is no reasoning with a cat.

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Life is expensive.

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The new table gets a dose of mineral oil.

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A digital native at four

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Minecraft

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Guitar in the morning with Dad

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Picking up contributions for our local food pantry in the pouring rain

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At least it’s not snow!

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For our local food pantry–two shopping carts full

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My favorite candle on a cold, rainy night

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A multiplication game fascinates and delays bedtime.

To Another New Year

IMG_3718I am no Pollyanna, barely even hopeful most of the time.  I try to dwell somewhere in the realm of realism and function best when my sense of humor, if not the absurd, stays firmly intact.  But, as 2013 draws to a close, like many, I tend to reminisce and become a tad introspective.

To make this exercise a largely positive one, I thought about listing all that was good about 2013, all that was affirming, noteworthy, and ultimately memorable.  I scanned my calendar and felt fortunate that I could come up with a hearty, if not incomplete, list.  But as I started to write, it became apparent that for everything that was good about the outgoing year, there was plenty that was not.

And it would have been easy, so easy, to stubbornly inhabit that space—to focus on the negative as I squarely kicked 2013 out the door, determinedly declaring “good riddance.”

But I don’t want to bid adieu to 2013’s challenges.  The challenges of 2013, indeed of every year previous and every year to come, are what define me, what make me better, stronger, smarter.  A life of nothing but pleasure and ease, while perhaps initially intoxicating, is not a life.

We are here to learn and to grow and to become the best versions of ourselves possible; and to do that, I believe, we can’t always get what we want when we want it; it means that sometimes we are dealt a hand we weren’t expecting, never even saw coming.  It means we have to struggle and to cry and to feel pain and negotiate loss.

So, I will not start 2014 with a belief that it will be the best year ever—because it won’t be.  It will be a year, like every other year, with a balance of tears and laughter, sickness and health, struggles and comfort.  Some moments may be devastating and some may be astounding.  But if I am lucky, it will be a year of learning and growing; and instead of seeing the new year as a “fresh start,” I hope what I have learned will ultimately help to shape what comes next and that I will carry 2013’s lessons with me.

I am here and you are here.  To 2014, a year like and paradoxically unlike any other, and to all it holds and can hold—the good, the bad, and everything in between.