On Mother’s Day, An Ode to Letter Writing

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday.

I want to start by acknowledging we all have different stories to share. Some readers may be mourning the loss of a mother or friend, others processing a difficult parental relationship; some may be desperately wishing to become a mother while others are finding the very role of motherhood complicated and overwhelming. For anyone struggling, I’m sorry for your loss, hurt, frustration, or grief.

Today I’m sharing a piece of my story. This essay (or whatever one can call it) has been sitting – untouched – for several years, but I always wanted to share it on Mother’s Day. But where? With whom?

Now I have a space.

It’s long (shocking) and I’m aware it could use plenty of restructuring. But I tried to limit edits of the original draft because…well…it struck me when I pulled up this file – Mom writes long. Really long.

It’s a bit of a family joke how much I take after my mother. We look alike, sound alike, and think alike. We both have a tendency for “smoke to come out both ears” when we get worked up (translation: we’re stubborn and emotional). Apparently, I’m told, we even eat ice cream the same way.

But more than anything, I write like she writes.

The working title for this essay was An Ode to Letter Writing, but at the core sits A Letter To My Mother.

an ode to letter writing

One of my earliest memories is of Mom perched on the edge of a wooden chair – complete with forest green crocheted “footies” (to avoid scuffing our 1970s-era dining room linoleum) – in front of the Christmas tree.

I was about four, though this same scene was repeated for years, so I’m sure to be amalgamating memories. I always found a place on the floor by the tree; blonde hair, blue eyes, bubbling with the delight reserved for four-year-olds on Christmas morning. My father would have been there too, having made the concession of waking thirty minutes early to shave and get dressed. Two older sisters and a brother. And Mom, sitting on her chair, clipboard in one hand, a blue Bic ballpoint poised in the other.

Christmas Eve would have found her hunched over that same clipboard. Stockings stuffed – including toothpaste and soap for every member of the family (which, once unwrapped, would be back in the communal pile under the bathroom sink before the turkey was on the table) – and breakfast prepped in the refrigerator. Her world in order, Mom would sit, ruler in hand, preparing her grid. Recipient on the horizontal, giver on the vertical. This careful tracking was as traditional as the cinnamon coffee cake for breakfast, the scented Avon mistletoe figurine on the mantel, and the vintage star (with questionable wiring) glowing atop our tree.

And so Christmas found us – Dad smelling of aftershave, the coffee cake baking, Mom with her pen. One at a time gifts were unwrapped. This year, a stack of Nancy Drew books from Grammie, the one with a fiery temper who was continually offering unsolicited advice but was, nonetheless, recognized as a top-notch gift-giver. Next up, an alarm clock for my brother. A sweater for Mom. Some Licorice Allsorts for Dad.

Throughout the festivities there was, without exception, strict adherence to a single rule: before opening, admiring or using a gift you paused to announce the giver. And another block in that grid would fill up.

These were snapshots of our life and Mom was recording.

Before the ball dropped in Manhatten on New Year’s Eve, our local postal team carried away the results of Mom’s dutiful records. A thank-you to the opinionated grandmother (those Nancy Drew books sit on my daughter’s bookshelf today). A note of gratitude to my other grandmother, a soft-spoken woman whose cheerful smile (which she removed each night for a bath in Polident) belied the fact she was widowed by 35 with three small children. This year she had sent an elaborate tea set. My own children still use it, nibbling on chocolate chips and Cheerios piled on impossibly tiny plates, pouring Diet Pepsi out of the faded purple teapot. I wonder if Mom’s thank-you captured the generations of use ahead?

Another note for a wealthy aunt and uncle. The arrival of their Christmas parcel was a tradition itself – wrapped in brown paper and plastered with stickers, this was a gift that kept on giving. First, there was the anticipatory journey to our local post office, parcel notification in hand. Then the first glimpse of that giant box – bigger and heavier than a child dared hope. At home, Exacto knife in hand, the outer shell would be carefully removed to reveal a pile of boxes wrapped in beautiful wrapping paper. Double-sided tape, crisp corners, and lux ribbon were a given. Seeing those gifts under the tree was a perpetual delight and I always saved their gift for last.

The thank-you note for sisters Hazel and Marion (who always gifted Quality Street chocolates) would be hand-delivered at church on Sunday night.

Somehow, Mom managed to capture all the magic of that giving and receiving in her letters, maintaining relationships the way she knew best – through words and a $0.45 cent stamp.

My mother is an extraordinary woman. She raised four children, managed a household, worked part-time as a nurse until we were teenagers, and then launched a big career. She is a doer. She patiently led us through Bible-verse memorization for Sunday School, cooked every meal from scratch (with a little help from Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup), and created handmade Christmas gifts for decades. If you wanted something done, you asked my mother. Amidst the baked hams and scalloped potatoes, the cross-stitched mason jar toppers, the endless years of diapers – she wrote letters. Every two weeks, for decades, she wrote letters to my grandmothers. These recorded births, deaths, blizzards, new recipes, and the status of blooming peonies. They bridged gaps of time and distance as her own children grew and married. Miscarriages and stillbirths, cancer, surgeries. There was a lot of hard to share. But also awards, graduations, successes, new jobs, weddings, and the arrival of grandbabies. Often written in long-hand and spanning multiple pages, they were crafted at the dining-room table unless we were on summer vacation – then letters were written by the flickering light of kerosene lamps.

Perhaps most memorable to everyone were her Christmas cards (which were distinct from her Christmas thank-you notes; the holiday season warranted two letters from my mother). She devoted entire days to this activity.

As Mr. Zukerberg’s dorm room lay far in the future, this was her form of connection. She wrote to the bridesmaids from her wedding, classmates from nursing school, distant family members, friends old and new, and the church members we saw three times a week. In early November she would get out her tattered address book and work systematically from A to Z. American recipients were prioritized, since theirs took longer in the postal system and needed to be dispatched first. The cards weren’t ornate, always purchased on a post-Christmas sale the previous year. But the letters they contained were a work of art.

She told the same stories, recounted the same highlights over and over – but in a personalized way – all in her meticulous handwriting (only in recent years has she finally succumbed to the siren song of a more generic, typed Christmas letter). To the uncle who traveled for work, inquiries about destinations and hobbies; to someone whose loved one had passed, words of sympathy and hope. A few people responded in similar fashion but most, if we’re being honest, just attached their name to a generic greeting.

Yet my mother persisted. Year after year after year. Like spring follows winter, Mom’s letters were a constant; each one tinged with the beauty of recorded history. Her words gave meaning to our family story – a meaning that comes simply by sharing and connecting.

When I was 13 we moved. I likely wrote before this point, but here my recall starts. My letters, addressed with loopy adolescent handwriting, were filled with details of high-school drama. I sent these letters for years. I wasn’t looking for anything in return (and got few replies), which seems odd for a self-absorbed teenage mind – but even then I comprehended that the very act of writing was a gift of sorts. I shared my stories, my youth, and the world of possibilities in front of me, mostly for the benefit of elderly seniors (think: small Baptist church) and a few childhood friends I’d left behind.

Then one day I received an unexpected response.

I was in my final year of an undergraduate degree in Biology. The requisite hours spent dissecting pig fascia were behind me and I was doing a victory lap of sorts. Sitting alone in a summer rental, I opened a hand-addressed package. I didn’t recognize the sender information. The dull yellow of the mailer envelope was covered with black scuffs, paying homage to its journey.

But let’s back up and introduce a new character to my story.

Her name was Nina and she lived at the end of the road. When I say the end of the road, I mean that literally. The road that skirted my childhood home stretched up and down hills, twisted and turned, lurching precariously close to the side of a cliff face before it abruptly ended at the ocean. And there, nestled on the very edge of a cliff – near the very end of the road – was Nina’s house.

Nina was an artist, her husband a fisherman. The wharf from which he worked was at the bottom of that cliff. They attended our church, and I accompanied my Dad through years of visitation. Visits where Leroy, her husband, introduced me to his homemade pickled herring (an acquired taste, but a delicacy I loved) and showed me the jewelry he made from sea glass and stones tumbled in their basement.

Leroy died, Nina aged, and I moved away.

But I also stayed, I think, through my letters. I like to imagine those notes perched on Nina’s kitchen table, stuffed into her napkin holder. Or maybe my letters served as bookmarks in the novel on her bedside table. I wonder how she read them? I like to imagine she couldn’t wait. When she opened up her mailbox, did she smile? Did she save my letters for the end of the day, or tear open the envelope on the walk across the street? Did she laugh with me? Did she laugh at me? Hopefully both.

But Nina never wrote back. Not a single time in all those years.

Now back to that package. The letter was from Nina’s daughter, someone I don’t ever recall meeting, informing me that Nina had passed away. Nina, maker of homemade fish cakes (her home always smelled like fish, which wasn’t entirely pleasant). Nina, owner of the wood-paneled living room where I sat in a floral-patterned swivel chair and watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy because we didn’t have cable, but Nina did and she would sometimes invite me to stay for fishcakes with a side of Vanna White. Nina, who always set aside a special bag – (shhh: don’t tell anyone, it was a bigger bag) – of Halloween treats for me.

Nina the artist.

Her daughter wrote to tell me how much Nina had appreciated my letters. The letters that shared how my world was growing as Nina’s got smaller. That Nina was gone. The bulky envelope contained several of Nina’s paintings, watercolours she’d made in her little studio (also perched on the side of a cliff; she clearly didn’t have any issue with heights). Her daughter said she hoped the art would leave me with happy memories of Nina. Her art and my “art” bonding us across time and space.

And I do believe letter writing is art. Like sculpture and oil and lyric. The canvas – heavy paper, hotel stationery, Hallmark cards. The brush – a pen, pencil, crayon and, yes, even a keyboard. From the first tentative letters scribbled by a preschooler to the final, halting scrawl of an aging parent.

I’m not sure what place letter writing has in the modern era. In a world where our stories are told through the filter of Instagram or within the confines of 140 characters.

I send fewer letters in the mail now. Christmas cards, the occasional thank-you note. But each month I write and e-mail Family Updates – lost teeth, first bike rides (without the safety net of training wheels), potty-training successes (and failures), kindergarten concerts; the ups and downs of life have all made the cut. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, glimpses of our family’s life show up on screens down the street, across the country, and then ping-pong around the globe – Portugal, Denmark, America. I’ve saved every e-mail, full of details that would be hazy for me (newborn era, anyone?) and forgotten entirely by the kids, without this written history.

Julia Cameron talks about piecing together the story of her grandmother’s life simply by reading through her decades of letters in which she [the grandmother] recounted “a series of small miracles. [Her] secret lay in recognizing the quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is in the gift of paying attention.”

Letters help us pay attention. To celebrate more fully – find delight in the ordinary and share it with others; to grieve more deeply.

A few years ago my daughter performed in a local church play. A neighbor happened to be in the audience. The next day we came home to a plate of cookies from that neighbor – congratulating my daughter for her performance on stage (and Levi’s in the pew; he was shockingly well behaved for a then-toddler). Delighted by the cookies and the praise, my daughter picked out a thank-you card; a doughnut covered with sparkles that read “Thanks, with extra sprinkles!” I don’t know what she wrote, but I’m suspecting something along the lines of: “Thanks for the cookies. I liked them a lot.

It’s a start.

I watched her from the front window as she looked both ways and crossed the street in fading April light. She was in her pajamas already, a polar bear one-piece ensemble that should have been sent to the hand-me-down box months before. Delivery complete, she came home flush with accomplishment. There was silence for a few weeks and then a sudden appearance by the neighbor at our back door to express appreciation for her note. A beautiful cycle of thanks and connection and relationship, bridged with words.

You don’t get many hand-written notes these days,” said our neighbour, somewhat wistfully. “It’s really nice, you know.”

Actually, I do know. That’s why I write letters. That’s why Mom writes them, and why I hope my daughter writes them too. I can’t force her, of course. But I’ll keep writing mine and hope she writes hers. Maybe even to me.

Things come full circle, I suppose, and I now get a letter from my Mom every day. They aren’t handwritten, but they have Mom’s fingerprints all over them. She sends out hundreds of words (I told you I write like she writes) via our family text chain. Every day. My siblings and I know what wildlife she and Dad spotted through the front window over breakfast. What neighbours they passed on their afternoon walk, how her quilt is coming along, and what vegetables she’s planning to plant come June. We hear about blizzards and doctor’s appointments and art classes and, sometimes, the state of her laundry pile. Yesterday I learned all about her canoe trip down a local river; Dad, apparently, took a nap on the shoreline after their picnic lunch. I can’t remember, but I suspect she told us what had been on the menu. Egg salad sandwiches, perhaps?

It’s wonderful. Every word and description of her day makes me smile. Especially because I know This too shall pass.

This Mother’s Day, I’m so thankful for my mother. For everything she did, and does, for me. And for the deep impact of her written words over the years.

This letter, for lack of a better description, from me – well, it’s for her.

To my Mom, to Nina, to my daughter and all the other special women in my life – Happy Mother’s Day.

Header photo by Kate Macate on Unsplash

Do You Have a Compliment? Give It!

To my shame, I leave a lot of compliments/verbal affirmations unspoken, especially to those I love the most. And I want that behaviour to change because I know I’m overlooking the power of (genuine) compliments.

A few months ago I wrote about an unexpected incident in a checkout line at the DollarStore. I was masked, as were all the people around me, and I wasn’t expecting an interaction of any sort. But then the woman behind me leaned forward to say how much she admired my earrings.

By all accounts, this was a tiny gesture. I wasn’t overly chatty in lineups before the pandemic. I’m introverted and, rightly or wrongly, tend to hibernate in big social settings (including the chaos that is checkout lines).

But that comment? It made my day.

I thanked her, told her my husband had bought them for me (which she seemed to find particularly endearing), and we went our separate ways.

But here I am writing about that compliment. Months later.

I felt particularly sorry for cashiers during this pandemic. They interact with a steady stream of people all day while standing on their feet in masks. It must have been especially exhausting and scary in early days pre-vaccine.

I typically visit our town’s small grocery store several times a week. One cashier always looked especially tired. She was clearly apprehensive about her front-facing position and wore 3-layered masks long before it was the standard recommendation. Sadly, I’ll admit I still don’t know her name, but she stands out to me because she had the nicest masks.

Every time I ended up in her lineup I made a point to comment on how seeing her and her beautiful masks (such pretty patterns!) was a bright point in my shopping experience. And every single time her eyes would light up and she’d tell me where she bought them (a local farmers market) and that taking the time to source nice masks was a big boost to her spirits.

My compliment was entirely genuine – her masks were lovely and I did notice. But it would have been easy to mumble “Debit please” and scamper out of the store, leaving the compliment unspoken.

And so often I do leave compliments unspoken. Why?

I went out to coffee with a new friend recently and she wore a simple – but lovely – sweater. It was a shade of blue I can’t properly do justice; rich, warm, bright, and happy (because I think “happy” is a great colour descriptor). She wore matching earrings; paired with casual jeans it was a perfect outfit. The entire time we were together I kept thinking about how well the whole ensemble suited her. But it felt…awkward to say anything. I haven’t known her very long and how do you even inject that information into a short conversation?

At the end of an hour, when she got up to leave, I finally got up the nerve to blurt out: “That sweater and colour look great on you.

Not surprisingly, she looked elated to receive this compliment. Maybe she didn’t think anything about her outfit when she left the house or maybe she spent a long time curating it. Either way, it looked fabulous…so why not tell her?

I know there is a fine line between patronizing comments and true compliments. I try to be authentic, but sometimes it can be about quality AND quantity and I’m determined to work on both.

And I think that’s where attention plays such a central role. When we’re on the lookout for the good and the beautiful in life – for the magical way the lights blur when I take off my glasses to look at the Christmas tree, for the reset that comes from sitting down at a table with a bowl of comfort food and some candles – we can be more open to seeing and sharing that delight with others.

Compliment God – look at the beautiful blue sky, listen to the crashing of the waves, taste a delicious meal and thank Him for being such a great Creator. Compliment your spouse – for their outfit or gorgeous eyes or romantic gesture. Compliment your children – on their beautifully illegible place cards or on giving the best bedtime hugs or for their empathetic response to a sad friend. Compliment someone’s earrings or their hard-to-describe-happy-blue sweater.

And if you see someone wearing a beautiful mask, go ahead and compliment them too and thank them for injecting beauty into the world in a simple way.

Your turn. What’s the nicest compliment someone has paid you recently? How did it make you feel?

FYI: The earrings I reference are the top left pair in this picture. Simple, but one of my favourites with sparkly Swavorski crystals.

Header photo by eleni koureas on Unsplash

Good Friday + Let Me Tell You ‘Bout My Jesus

It’s Good Friday. Normally this is where I’d share details from the week, but I recently – unexpectedly – received the following text from someone I’m just getting to know:

As I mentioned yesterday, my relationship with Jesus permeates my life. But too often I hold back in sharing with others because, quite honestly, I’m conscious of how I might be (negatively) perceived. So when someone reached out to say that a song about sharing one’s faith reminded them of…me!?…I chose to see that as divine encouragement to tell you more about “my” Jesus.

As a launch point, I can’t put it more succinctly than C. S. Lewis, who wrote:

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

I believe the following truths are of infinite importance:

I believe every human is of infinite value, created by a God who loves us and longs to have a relationship with us. The message of Easter is how Jesus’ sacrifice provided a way for us to enter into an eternal relationship with Him.

On a personal level, I believe I am saved by the grace of God by acknowledging I am in need of salvation due to my personal sin. Sin is anything and everything (in word, thought, or action) that separates me from a Holy God. Salvation is the restoration of that broken relationship. I cannot earn God’s favour, and only a perfect Saviour can redeem and restore that relationship, by doing so on my behalf. It requires trusting in the sacrifice that Jesus made – death on a cross despite His blamelessness – to cover all my sin, past, present, and future (that’s right – it continues).

His perfection was accepted in place of my imperfection. His pleasure in me is not based on my performance; it is based on my acceptance of that which I couldn’t do for myself. And my first response to this grace is to love and cherish this Saviour – my Jesus – and “to enjoy Him forever.” My next response is to love my neighbour (everyone around me in this world).

Depending on where you are in your spiritual journey this could sound radical (most world religions suggest there is a scale or balance – that we earn rewards, on our own merit) or like something out of a fanciful myth where things like “sin” and “eternity” and “salvation” have no basis in reality.

Sadly, some may also see “grace” as the rationale behind horrific abuses that have been carried out at the hands of so-called Christians. This is wrong – these people are not following the Jesus of the Bible.

Wherever you are in your faith journey today:

  1. I’m not here to convince you to love and follow Jesus; that’s between you and Him. But I do want to share the Good News that impacts my everyday life.
  2. I don’t have all the answers (and be wary of anyone who says they do). I’m just a simple girl trying to live out her faith to God’s glory. Being a Jesus follower doesn’t mean I get everything right or that I’m promised or expect health and prosperity. It does mean I view the world, the people in it, and my purpose on this Earth with a God-shaped lens for now and eternity.
  3. It can be easy to get lost in the weeds – in arguments over denominations and church politics or to focus on the countless atrocities carried out under the banner of faith. But at the heart of the matter is that simple message that I have been saved by Grace alone (absolutely nothing I’ve done – or could ever do -would be enough to “earn” this), am loved and secure with a current hope and an eternal future. All the rest can quickly become noise distracting me from the heart of the message.
  4. I don’t want you to think God asks us to check our questions and doubts at the door. When I wrestle with God it’s a full-contact sport and I believe it is always better to engage with Him honestly than to ignore Him completely. God meets me where I am – weary and broken, fighting and reluctant, joyful and assured.

And that brings us back to the words of C.S. Lewis. You, the reader, are entitled to think I’m wrong or silly or misled – to believe Christianity is false and of no importance.

But I hope we can all agree the message of Easter can’t be moderately true.

His love is strong and His grace is free
And the good news is I know that He
Can do for you what He’s done for me
Let me tell you ’bout my Jesus
And let my Jesus change your life.
(My Jesus – Annie Wilson/Crowder)

I respect and appreciate the diversity of faith groups represented in this space but if you have questions or want to know more about “my” Jesus (who wants to be “your” Jesus) feel free to reach out: elisabethfrostblog@gmail.com

Header photo by Neal E. Johnson on Unsplash

He Was Right About the Dishwasher…

Fact #1: I love our dishwasher. Until a little over four years ago I had never rented, owned, or otherwise lived in a space with a dishwasher. I know some people willfully go without, but I hope never to be without a dishwasher again.

Lest you worry about my home economic skills – I still find myself elbow-deep in suds at least twice a day, so I keep my dishwashing skills finely polished.

Fact #2: I have a tendency to act like an obstinate toddler, especially when someone is telling me how I should do something.

Fact #3: I love to be “right”.

For years my husband has (only occasionally, to his credit) suggested my method of loading the dishwasher is less efficient than his own. Depending on my mood that day I would either nod absently or launch into a 10-point lecture about how my method is very efficient, Thank you very much, and likely superior.

John recently asked if I could please start loading the dishwasher his way and instead of nodding (with no intention of actually following through) or bursting into a tirade, I agreed – believing that I’d soon prove this dishwasher debate once and for all and emerge victorious, complete with a Dishwasher Genius crown upon my head.

You know where this is going, right?

He was 100% correct. Absolutely, indisputably correct. His way is not only more efficient, but it is also much easier to load and unload the dishes.

For years, mostly because of my pigheadedness I’ve stuck to my way. Why?

Now lots of the time I am right when I enter a debate over big – or small – matters (there is, for example, only one correct way to load toilet paper and I will never back down on that debate; thankfully John and I have always agreed on this critical point).

But lots of the time I’m not right. And it can be hard for someone of my personality to cede an inch. Why do I have such resistance to being open-minded? Why not learn from others, why not try new things?

Sigh. I’m not sure, but I’m now very happily loading the dishwasher “his way” which leads me to wonder what other things I’m making unnecessarily difficult because I’m channeling my inner toddler.

Your turn? Have you ever had to serve yourself a giant slice of humble pie?

Header photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The Impact of the “Right Words” (My Soup & Sandwich Oasis)

I’ve admitted before that I sometimes wonder if I dwell too much on the hard and melancholy in this space. I think hard events shape us the most but it’s easy to only see – or share – the light and superficial.

Several times now I’ve mentioned my “Soup-and-Sandwich Oasis” and people always chime in to say how sweet this arrangement sounds. Today I thought I’d tell the behind-the-scenes story about how this treasured friendship came to be.

On a picture-perfect day (bright, sunny, birds shining – a truly moviesque setting) I walked into the hospital for a routine ultrasound. It had been a rough pregnancy and I was tired. Tired of vomiting. Tired from the anti-nausea pills that, ironically enough, left me bed-ridden with fatigue (I wasn’t hurling my breakfast, but I could barely button my pants). Tired because growing another human life – at least in my experience – is exhausting!

I walked out a few hours later running on adrenaline and shock.

The radiologist told us, very matter-of-factly (I find it incredible what details become branded in my mind during stressful events; I can still remember the print pattern on the doctor’s capri pants and I remember thinking – in the middle of it all – “How could someone wear patterned pants that are so distinctive when delivering potentially life-changing news. Why couldn’t she be wearing blue jeans or black dress pants so there was at least one detail I could forget?”) that there were a number of concerning abnormalities on the ultrasound.

Due to the risks associated with invasive testing, we elected to monitor the issues.

So we did lots (and lots) of monitoring, but there were no answers. For exactly 130 days I had no idea what life lay ahead for me, for our family, or for our unborn baby. There were statistics and best guesses but absolutely no concrete answers.

Over the course of my experience, I met other women who had received similar news and kept their grief and fear close to their chest. And while I simply smiled politely when cashiers at every store gestured toward my growing belly, with those closest to me I felt compelled to share this burden of uncertainty.

Most people responded in one of two ways, both of which were well-intentioned.

The first response: “Everything will be okay.

Me: Yes, it will be “okay,” but “okay” could also mean life-altering in ways I never anticipated.

The second response: “Oh, I knew someone that received X,Y or Z diagnosis! And guess what? The baby was born healthy!

Me: Yes, that is their story, but I don’t know the end to mine. I can’t flip to the last page yet, and I’m scared to reach the ending and somehow I have to find a way to get up each morning and read through the next page and then the next, not knowing what might be revealed on that day’s page. This is one book I can’t skim.

For years I had been looking for a spiritual mentor. Someone I could talk to about the challenges of life through the lens of a shared faith. There was a particular woman in our church to whom I felt strangely drawn but, aside from pleasantries, we never interacted directly.

The day we shared the news with our church family she came over and told me the most loving, impactful words of that entire 130-day period.

She looked me straight in the eye (remember, we really didn’t know each other well at this point) and said: “You call me. Anytime you need to talk or want me to pray. Day or night. Call me and I’ll be there for you.”

And that was it. No telling me it would be okay. No mention of other people’s stories. Just a wholly genuine offer for 24/7 support.

I never did call her at 2:00 am, but knew I could and that left an indelible mark on my life.

For months we e-mailed each other, almost daily. She listened to everything I had to say. She listened as I wrestled with deep questions of faith; to my fear, to my joy.

When our baby was born healthy the emotional rollercoaster continued as I felt both tremendous relief and guilt. (Most people assumed there would be only relief, but I felt extreme guilt over my relief). And this friend was there for all of that too.

This friend is 42 years older than me. She has weathered many storms in life – storms I hope to never have to navigate. Through it all we have developed a wonderful friendship.

What started as e-mail exchanges slowly became in-person visits. She would cook me lunch and we would talk over cup after cup of tea. She treats me like a daughter, yes, but also like a cherished friend. We are, as Anne would say, kindred spirits.

Last year, she started calling her home my Soup-and-Sandwich Oasis and the name stuck. For my 22 in 2022 list, I made it a goal to visit her 3 times this year. After a long hiatus due to COVID restrictions, I was able to visit in February and as I got up to leave she asked: “Maybe we can aim for an even 4?

By this point in life, I hope we’ve realized that friends come in all shapes and sizes. And I’m here to say if you have the chance to invest in friendships with those a little bit older and, chances are, a little bit wiser, I can almost guarantee you’ll be richly rewarded!

Your turn? Do you have friends that are significantly older (or younger)? If so, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve learned from them?

Header photo by sunorwind on Unsplash

Hard Days Can Have Happy Endings

The last Friday in February was an especially tough one.

John was out of the country, his return delayed by weather. Again (the same thing happened two weeks previous).

I was home. It was a snow day. Thus the kids were also home. Again. (I love my kids, really and truly, but they have been home SO, SO, SO much these last two years and there can be too much of a good thing.)

We did laundry and ate breakfast and put out the garbage and read books and generally set ourselves up for a good day. But I was not in the right headspace.

I’d had a migraine on Thursday. I woke up tired and grumpy. I had some difficult work calls looming that were going to require my full attention. I simply didn’t want to put on my “Mom” cap for another long day home alone (the kids had been off on Monday, too).

At 9:15 am I told the kids to go play quietly and promised videos around 10:00 am because I needed to prep for those meetings. I made the mistake of adding the disclaimer that I might put on a video as early as 9:45 am.

At precisely 9:45 am, a knock came on my door and the kids came in very enthusiastically (not even waiting for an Enter, which they are usually good at pausing for) looking for those videos I had promised.

My response was not pretty. I wanted – and needed – those extra 10 minutes in silence. I apologized for yelling (but then tacked on another little rant about needing alone time).

My boundaries were all justified and necessary, but my approach was flawed. I texted a friend and told her “I just need to get to bedtime.”

But really, I just needed to get to supper. I lit candles. I turned on twinkle lights. I heated up leftovers – Mac N’ Cheese and savory soup (comfort food at its best). We ate slowly. I spent time quizzing the kids on “big” words – a favourite new mealtime activity. We lingered after the food was gone.

At 7:15 pm my friend texted to congratulate me on reaching the bedtime hour; by this point the kids had made their way outside to sled on our little side hill with a friend.

I sat on my bed reading a book, listening to them laugh hysterically; the snow was still falling and the moon was full. I couldn’t have scripted a better ending to our day. They came in cold and wet and very happy and we made hot cocoa and lit the candles again. They hit balloons around the living room and I pumped music through the speakers. There was more laughing.

It was an idyllic evening if ever I saw one. But it took wading through a lot of rather unpleasant stuff to get there.

Hard days don’t always have happy endings. I know this. I’ve had lots of hard nights too…but sometimes what can feel like a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (thanks, Alexander), can end up being alright or even great.

And that’s a win in my books.

What about you; any recent days that started with a bad morning but morphed into a “happy-ending” sort of day?

Header photo by freestocks on Unsplash

What Love Looks Like To Me (Spoiler Alert: It Involves Ugly Crying, No Makeup, and Some Vomit)

Years ago, before we were married, John and I met a lovely middle-aged couple. Let’s call them Hank and Ethel (chances are the real couple will never happen upon this blog post…but just in case).

Ethel told us, very casually over supper one evening, that Hank had never seen her without makeup.


Um. What now?

Hank would go to bed, turn out the lights, and then Ethel would remove her makeup and crawl in next to him in the dark. The next morning she’d get up before he started stirring – in the dark – to make sure her makeup was in place for the day.

Ethel also birthed four children over the course of their marriage and when her due dates started getting closer, she would simply put on a fresh layer of makeup at night, choosing to sleep with foundation, mascara and eye shadow all neatly in place (the latter being a beauty product I don’t even own!), rather than risk being seen au natural.

Feminists are shuddering in horror but Hank and Ethel had a very happy and contented marriage. Really. Ethel felt most comfortable being seen in makeup – even around her husband – and they simply did what worked for them. It takes all kinds.

But can I just say, I’m so glad I’m married to someone who has seen me at my absolute worst. Over and over and over again.

And he loves me all the more for it.

He always tries to make me laugh and see the lighter side of life, but can also sense when I simply need a shoulder to cry on. And I don’t mean delicate sniffling while clutching my homemade lace handkerchief (an impossibility since I neither do handwork nor do I own a single handkerchief, lacey or otherwise). I mean full-blown guttural ugly-crying guaranteed to leave giant streaks of snot over his shoulder. The kind of sobs that wrack the body from toe to top.

When we learned our unborn baby might be born with severe health challenges, he rocked me time and time again as I cried (daily) during the ensuing stressful months. When our baby was born – miraculously – healthy, he held me as I cried tears of relief and guilt. When I couldn’t nurse our babies (as I so desperately longed to do), he saw my tear-streaked cheeks and my self-perceived “broken” body and loved me more, pulling me close before heading off to heat up a bottle of formula. (Side observation: I do cry a lot.)

Even before those babies came along, when I was in the throes of morning sickness, he would sit beside me as I cradled the toilet. He’d bring cool cloths for my forehead and rub my back as I hurled blueberry muffins after an ill-timed back-road car ride.

That takes love, folks.

In the hospital when I was hooked up to catheters and begging for laxatives (childbirth is a miracle, but it was also incredibly traumatizing and decidedly unnatural for me), he brought glass after glass of ice water.

I’m also now realizing I’ve mostly listed ways motherhood has made me cry and/or vomit (sorry kids; I love you, but I’ve also cried buckets over you). In reality, he’s been there for everything else, too.

He sees me in every state of disarray (see discussion of catheters, vomit, and laxatives above) and isn’t phased in the slightest. He knows how selfish and irrational I can be; he tolerates nitpicking and complaining and my endlessly cold feet and hands (for which he patiently warms up Magic Bags night after night after night). I think it likely goes without saying that he routinely sees me with no makeup.

He knows me and he loves me. And the combination is crucial.

I know people for whom Valentine’s Day is unspeakably hard. People who are widowed or separated or involuntarily single. People who have – or are – struggling with miscarriage or infertility. People grieving the recent death of a parent or friend or child. And I want to acknowledge that Valentine’s Day – like any other major celebration – can represent the hardest of hard days on the calendar.

If you’re reading this today from a place of hurt or loss or grief, I’m so sorry. Life is hard and things don’t always work out the way we’d choose if we got to script our story.

And for this reason, I almost didn’t post anything about love. But then I remembered something I read several years ago:

Don’t take what you have for granted – celebrate it. Don’t apologize for what you have. Be grateful for it and share your gratitude with others. Are your parents healthy? Be thrilled. Let them know how much they mean to you. When you honour what you have, you’re honouring what I’ve lost.

Brené Brown

So today I want to celebrate my husband, especially, but also my children and parents and siblings and friends. For the people who love me and who accept me – flawed as I am. With or without makeup, laughing or crying.

I am grateful for what I have and I hope wherever you are today – whether this is a season of loss and grief or one filled with hope and joy – that you have a chance to pause, reflect, and celebrate the love in your life.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite quotes about love and relationships:

The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them. Thomas Merton

Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” C. S. Lewis

Friendship is the jelly in the sandwich of marriage. It holds you together on the days when life pulls the plate out from under you. Darlene Schacht

Being in a long marriage is a little bit like that nice cup of coffee every morning. I might have it every day, but I still enjoy it. Stephen Gaines

Love is what makes two people sit in the middle of a bench, even if there is plenty of room at both ends. Unknown

Friends are better than money. Almost anything money can do, friends can do better. In so many ways a friend with a boat is better than owning a boat. Kevin Kelly (*Sadly, we have yet to befriend anyone locally who owns a boat, but we do have a friend/neighbour with a pool, and I can attest to the fact it is way better than owning our own pool.)

When, over the years, someone has seen you at your worst and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him– or herself- to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. Timothy Keller

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you. Winnie–the–Pooh (A. A. Milne)

To my tribe of friends, my little family crew, and especially to John – from the tips of my toes to the top of my head, I love you.

I can almost guarantee there was a potty joke immediately before this shot as it is the only way both kids would simultaneously be so jolly. Sad but true.

PS. He even finds my perpetual head-tilting in pictures…endearing. Good thing as there is a pronounced head tilt in. every. picture.

Header photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

Life Hack: Fill in E-mail Recipients At the End

Ever sent an e-mail before it was finished and then had to send a second e-mail to apologize and admit your toddler had been sitting on your lap and hit the send button with their jam-laden finger? No?

Me neither…

A trick I’m employing more and more these days: fine-tuning the content of every e-mail before adding in the recipient(s).

In the past, my first step when composing an e-mail was to fill in the recipients. Because of the nature of my job, this can involve a complicated web of Cc (and even Bcc) contacts. But it made sense, right? I was a start-at-the-top-and-work-my-way-down sort of communicator because that’s how it’s always been done.

Frustratingly, though, I was regularly finding that by the time I got to the end of my message, the content had shifted enough from my original intention such that I needed to add or remove recipients. So then I’d have to circle back to the top and spend time agonizing over making sure I had the right people removed and the right people added in – all while making sure I didn’t accidentally hit “Send” too early.

Can I just say – it is so much easier to tackle this step after the e-mail is ready to go out the proverbial door?

Not speaking from experience here, but I’m sure there are horror stories of people preparing an e-mail rant about a colleague or tendering a resignation only to get an apology or promotion in their inbox; cue relief and a mad scramble to delete the damaging draft only to inadvertently hit send.


While I can’t help you with the content of your e-mails, I can suggest you start adding in the recipients after the content is completed as one way to avoid awkward digital interactions.

*Full credit goes to my husband for this hack – it’s something he’s been doing for a while, and since I’ve adopted the same practice it has almost certainly saved me from numerous awkward or unnecessary follow-ups.

Would this tip have come in handy for you in the past? Any other great e-mail hacks?

Header photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash