Tag Archives: new year

My Word for 2017

Last night when I had finished writing in my gratitude journal, I took the pen and scrawled one word on the back of my left hand: WRITE. By the time I rolled out of bed this morning, the word had already faded between my pillowcase and cheek, but there was enough of it left to give me that nudge. WRITE.

So natuarlly, I spent most of the day clearing four bags of donations and two bags of pure-T trash out of the kids’ rooms. I rearranged furniture and glued broken Christmas ornaments together. I finished a book (My Sunshine Away) and started the next one (Hillbilly Elegy). I ate the last of the Jordan almonds that I bought for Christmas because they were Daddy’s favorite. I bought dog food and folded laundry. I exfoliated and moisturized (eradicating that reminder to WRITE along the way). I wished G’s mom safe travels on her way back to Brasil. I took the kids to a movie. I even started a Facebook thread about choosing a word for 2017.


Folderol–that should be my word. Because now it’s 11:28 p.m. and I’m still chasing my tail.

I thought about “act.” Or “speak.” I want to dedicate this year to action and speaking my truth and speaking up for what I believe in. Then Jenna suggested “listen.” Isn’t that even more important than speaking? Maybe I need to focus on listening this year. When Vivi and I were cleaning in her room, I found a picture she had drawn of G and me arguing while she and Carlos sat in a porthole on the cruise ship. Oof. Do I really need more Speak? I need more Listen.

Friends suggested many gentle words: present, open-hearted, patient, kindness, grace, peace, smile, hope, light.

I’m not feeling like it’s going to be a gentle year. They suggested some fighting words too: rise, resist, courage, strength, grit, going, fierce, tenacious, valiant, endure, stand, endeavor, persevere.

I pondered words while I folded laundry. You can’t be doing laundry on New Year’s Day–it’s bad luck. I considered words while I ran to the grocery store to buy greens and peas. Gotta eat some peas for luck and greens for money on New Year’s Day, right? I tried out words while I swept under around the kitchen. If you sweep on New Year’s Day, you’ll sweep someone out of your life.

I celebrate the new by following old superstitions. Even though I know it’s all silliness, I follow the traditions because they remind me of where I come from and they give me a little illusion that I can control where I’m going.

And the one New Year superstition that I hope does prove true is the idea that whatever you’re doing at midnight is what you’ll be doing for the rest of the year ahead. I’m tapping away on my keyboard. Writing is the thing that I do to rise, resist, keep going, persevere. It’s my way of being fierce, tenacious, and valiant.

Writing is also where I find peace, how I practice grace, how I remain present. My best writing is kind and open-hearted and light.

So my word for 2017? WRITE.

And the grandfather clock that my Daddy made for me is striking 12 bells. Happy New Year, y’all. Let’s go find our stories.


Now I’m Leaving Normal, Headed Who Knows Where

If I’ve been kind of quiet for a few days, it’s because I’ve been sitting around feeling sorry for myself.  I’ve been sick with that Creeping Crud for 3 weeks.  Even with the Mucinex, VapoRub, Sudafed, neti pot, chamomile tea, Breathe Right strips, humidifier–I still can’t breathe, can’t talk, can’t sleep.  And my physical weakness coincided with the demands of kids being out of school, the holiday bustle, and G being sick as well.  I feel like I’ve been staring at the wall for a month.  Somebody call me a wahhhhmbulance.

Even when I could drag myself in to work, it was different too.  Four dear friends are gone from the group of eight who had Christmas lunch last year–two out of jobs, one consumed by a huge project, and one off to Chile for five months.   So much work to do, and not as many co-conspirators.  Harumph.

Chaos rules the house.  The decorations need to go back up in the attic but I hate to say goodbye when it feels like I just got them all up.  There are the broken ornaments that need to be glued back together–the gumdrop ball that Carlos tried to eat, the seal from Bar Harbor that lost a flipper, the pink baby shoe that shattered.  And the presents still need to be put away!  The cookies seem to be the only things getting put away in a timely fashion.  Blargh.

My children change so quickly that I wonder who I’ll meet every morning when it’s time to wake them up.  Sometimes it’s good change–like when Carlos was pushing his Jeep up the driveway the other day and turned around to wave, blow me a kiss like usual, then he added, “I love you!” for the first time.  Sweetness.  Sometimes the change is more ominous–like last night when I told Vivi to pick up the scraps of paper from her snowflake craft project and she gave me a massive eye roll.  Perhaps it’s her first, but I know it won’t be her last.  When I called her on it, she explained with her best first-grade logic that she was just exercising her eyes in a completely neutral way and I happened to interrupt her right in the middle of it.  Uh huh.

And writing.  It’s supposed to be my happy place but I’m overthinking it.  Freezing up, like the weather outside.  I wrote a spot-on piece about living in the moment for New Year’s Eve (There Is This) and ever since then I’ve been afraid to write anything else because I keep looking over my shoulder to admire that piece about…not looking over my shoulder.  Duh.

So to recap:  Waaaaah.  Harumph.  Blargh.  Uh Huh.  Duh.  Where is my NORMAL???

I guess the lesson we all learn if we get to grow up is that we can sit around crying for normal or we can live the day we’re handed, no matter how lumpy or strange or viscous it might be.  I made a decision yesterday to shake myself out of the rut and within an hour, this verse from a Cowboy Junkies song popped into my head:

 “Leaving Normal”

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the high plains of Expectation
And I’m way past the lowlands and the deserts of Failure and Doubt
And the last time I passed through Satisfaction
I felt like a stranger there
Now I’m leaving Normal and I’m heading for who knows where…

Yeah, I don’t hang out on the high plains of Expectation any more–I am generally happy in this place and don’t need Fabulous.  And I have made it out of the deserts of Failure and Doubt…most days.  But Satisfaction?  I should buy a little vacation house there, meet some of the locals.  And the only building in Normal is a bus station to get you out of there.

In the song, the woman continues on a Greyhound bus, headed who knows where and she’s POSITIVE about it.  Leaving Normal is moving on. Onward and upward.  I’m trying to follow that advice, so here are the things I’ve done to kick my own ass today:

1.  I signed myself up for this weekly lesson on writing by Alice Bradley, delivered right to my Inbox so I can get better at the craft of writing.  I am going to be less afraid of writing, especially when I do it well.

writing class

2.  I signed myself up for WoW Boot Camp, the fitness program that I loved for two years and I’ve missed for three years.  I am going to feel strong again.

boot camp

3.  I talked to my friend Betsy the nurse practitioner about this Crud and she suggested a steroid for the bronchial inflammation.  So by Monday, I should look like this:

woman on steroids

I took a few actions.  Pity Party CANCELLED.  Honestly, I have better things to do.

And what do you know?  Those friends that I’ve been missing so much?  We got together for our regularly scheduled Friday lunch and who should come walking in but our world traveler!  Erica is home and the sky is looking bluer already.  Hooray!  Salsa verde and hugs all around.  


Here’s Margo Timmins singing “Leaving Normal” if you’d like to hear her belt it out.  I would pay money to listen to her read the phone book.  One day I’ll tell you about the time I rode a train across Canada with the Cowboy Junkies and Margo and I talked about her dog eating rocks.  Dang, I think with that one sentence, I’m starting to sound like myself again!

There Is This

there is this

New Year’s Eve finds me wistful.  Contemplative.  To be honest, I’ve never liked New Year’s Eve much.  There’s such expectation that it will Be. Big. Fun.  I never seem to be able to be present, even when I’m all dressed in sequins and have a glass of champagne in my hand.  That plodding moment when we count down to an exact moment on the clock…then we find that the exact second passes and the one after it is just another second in the billions we live and no more “new” than the one before it.

Years are created by humans.  The changing of one to the next?  Sometimes leaves me feeling anticlimactic.

Or maybe it’s the cold medicine.  I dunno.

I remember one New Year’s Eve in particular, the last one I celebrated with Richard, six months before he was diagnosed with leukemia.  We had just bought a house and moved in together.  He had finished up a grueling semester of teaching.  Instead of going somewhere new on our traditional trip between Christmas and New Year’s, we decided to go somewhere familiar instead.  We returned to The Reefs in Bermuda for a week of pink sand and drinks in the hot tub.  Ahhhhh.

It should have been relaxing, but I had a Plan.

We had the love.  We had the respect.  We had the house.  We had the commitments.  According to my plan, it was time to get Married, by jinkies.  And what better place to expect a proposal than on a pink sand beach at midnight on New Year’s Eve?  I had it all planned out.  In MY mind.  I bought the black velvet dress with the sequins scattered across the shoulders.  I bought the beautifully ridiculous shoes.  We dined and we drank champagne.  We danced on the veranda to “At Last.”  We wore silly hats.

And instead of being present for all that fun, I was wrapped up in a big ball of resentment because the hours kept ticking by and he hadn’t asked me to marry him even though this was the PERFECT setting and….GAH.  He was blowing it!

My mood improved after midnight when I finally let my plan go.  And got out of those stupid shoes.  We put on sweats and walked down to the beach.  He smoked a Cuban cigar and I drank a last glass of champagne.  Not such a bad night after all, there under the stars and by the sea–once I got out of what was supposed to be and looked around at what was.

A gray-haired man in a tuxedo came down to the beach all alone.  He carried one gold balloon close to his chest.  We wished him a happy new year.  He returned the wish.  He held up the balloon, shrugged, then he started to cry.  “I lost my brother, David, eleven years ago.  Damn AIDS.  I promised him that I’d always remember him and send him a balloon whenever there was a good party that he had to miss.  Seems silly, right?”  I put my hand on his arm as the ocean wind thumped the gold balloon against his chest.  Not silly at all.

The three of us stood there close together while he told us about David.  He held the balloon aloft and said, “Happy New Year, David!  I love you.”  As he let it go and we watched the balloon sail heavenward, I raised my glass and Richard lifted his cigar.  I gave the man a long hug and he returned to the hotel.

I’ve been thinking about that night today.  About David and the gold balloon.  About Richard, who did ask me to marry him, but not that night.  How we live so much of our lives outside of the present, in memory or in plans.  It all reminded me of this poem by Barbara Ras, which I give to you now as a New Year’s wish:


You Can’t Have It All

by Barbara Ras

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.


May you live in the New Year, and what’s left of the one we already have.  May you breathe deep and know that you are loved, the second before midnight and the second after it.

A Ritual for the New Year

burn the past

I’ve grown up with many traditions related to welcoming in the new year.  It’s best to eat black eyed peas and turnip greens for money and luck.  I wouldn’t think of doing laundry on New Year’s Day so I don’t wash someone out of my life.  Same with sweeping–can’t be done on that day.  I like to kiss someone on New Year’s Eve at midnight, because whatever you’re doing at that moment is what you’ll be doing the rest of the year.

A few years ago, I started my own ritual for New Year’s Eve. It’s a tangible, visible way to leave the past in the past and draw a clear line between the past and the future, right at that moment when we mark the start of a new year.

In the evening, I gather a stack of paper and a nice pen.  On each slip of paper, I write one thing that I want to say goodbye to from the old year.  Maybe a fear, a regret, a mistake, a poisonous relationship or a bad habit.  Write it out, fold it up, and stack it in a pile.

Once I’ve made my stack of farewells, I start a nice fire in the fireplace and pour a hot toddy.  When the fire is going and my insides are glowing, I throw the whole pile into the flames and watch it go up.  GOODBYE.

Call it corny if you will, but I feel some sense of empowerment from doing this ritual.  Just as gratitude becomes more concrete when I write it down, the separation from the negative things in my life becomes more concrete when I watch them turn from paper to ash.  When the negative stuff is burned up, THEN I’m ready to write out my resolutions!

The first year I did this ritual, I kept a special paper box on my dresser and slipped notes into it over a matter of months.  Didn’t have a fireplace that year, so I burned it all up on a cookie sheet on the deck–that was a little worrisome!  But it felt good.

The next year, Fartbuster and I did the ritual together.  We sat before the fireplace making out our slips.  At one point, he looked up and said, “Are we going to read these out loud?”  I assured him that we weren’t going to share them.  He scribbled something and folded it up tight.  I’m pretty sure it was the affair that he wrote on that slip.  Well, THAT didn’t go as expected!

hot-chocolateThe year Richard was in the hospital, I had been up to be with him for Christmas, so I was home alone for New Year’s Eve.  Being alone stunk.  New Year’s Eve had been our adventure time.  The previous three years, we had celebrated the new year in Delft, Munich, and Bermuda.  So yeah…pppffffffft.  That first slip was easy to write:  CANCER.  After that, I had a hard time.  It had been a horrible year, but I still had hope.  I still believed that if we could just get rid of that stupid leukemia, everything else would be great.  So I threw cancer on the fire and drank my hot chocolate with Bailey’s.  And I cried until I felt a little better.  

Rituals aren’t magic.  They only carry the power that we invest in them.  This one feels good.  If you’ve got some things you want to say goodbye to in 2013, give it a try!  

Saturday Snort–Some Suggestions for Resolutions

More exercise?


Lose a few pounds?


Get back into your skinny jeans?


Or curb that excessive awesomeness?


Make a Resolution To Practice Gratitude

I write about gratitude a lot, and gratitude journals in particular.  Several of you have mentioned starting the practice for yourselves…so how about now?  Why not add gratitude journaling to your New Year’s resolutions?  

This week, when you’re out shopping for gifts for others, wander on over to the bookstore and buy yourself a beautiful journal.  Put it by your bed.  Each night, jot down at least 5 things that you appreciated from that day.  It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence or punctuated or spelled correctly.  This journal is for you.  

Here’s an early blog post called “Gratitude Grows” that I wrote about the stack of journals by my bed.  It’s been growing there since 2004–that explains the dust.  Richard was still alive in the bottom of the stack.  The purple one is from the year we bought this house.  The red one holds the year he died.  I met G and my children higher up.  The stack has grown by one more since I took this picture.  

gratitude fixed

Wordless Wednesday–Bluebirds

Today is my first day of this new year.  I am so glad.  


The Navajo identify the Mountain Bluebird as a spirit in animal form, associated with the rising sun. The Bluebird Song is sung to remind tribe members to wake at dawn and rise to greet the sun:

Bluebird said to me,
“Get up, my grandchild.
It is dawn,” it said to me.