O Brother(s), Where Art Thou?

My two brothers are driving across the country – with Tyrone. You can track there journey here. Really, it’s the pictures with Tryone that crack me up…People need to borrow that dog for their cross-country pictures, he adds an amazing element…

We are preparing to trek to Florida – sans Tyrone. Road trips are on the mind…Here are my top 4 road trip memories:

1. 1990 Family Trip to Disney. 2 adults, 3 children, 1 cassette tape (of a Christian Comedian) I kid you not.

2. 1997 Youth Group Trip to Chicago: you know you are in high school when 2 days in a packed 15 passenger van sounds incredible. Not so incredible, on the way home. Things were a bit tight as Daniel had to hug the bumper that had fallen off the whole way back…

3. 2002 Erin and Nina: Texas or Bust. We stopped at as many Cracker Barrels as we could (there are 57 between Harrisonburg, VA and Austin, TX) and quickly learned that Traveler’s Checks had become a part of history (even our unused ones)

4. 2004 Travis takes me to Prince Edward Island. As we crossed the final bridge, he learns that Anne of Green Gables was actually a fictional character. “She’s not real?! We came this far for someone who just exists in a book!”

Any great Road Trip Memories? Scars? Feel free to share advice for the trip down I95 – besides of course telling us to stop at South of the Border. That’s a given.

Things That Have Never Happened Before…

…happen all the time.

Today, I carried Olivia, kicking and screaming out of the above government agency.

“I don’t WANT to leave the D-M-V! I don’t WANT to leave the D-M-V!”

Back inside, hopeful, active and suspended drivers, with their eyes glazed over, waiting for numbers such as A467  to be called, stared – mouths gaping open – in disbelief.

Have these words ever been uttered before?

Perhaps it was the joy of watching the different number and letter combinations flash on the digital screen.

Or maybe it was the french fries I bought her prior to entering. It was our second DMV location of the day and the very helpful employee at Location 1 (which does not renew licenses) informed me that, according to the computer, the wait at Location 2 (where I needed to go) was 4 minutes. I had quickly plugged 4 minutes into the Globally Recognized DMV Wait Time Equation (multiply times 30 and start continually smacking yourself in the face), and realized we would need some supplies.

Or it could simply have been the excitement of seeing the DMV potties. We are in the Tour de’ Public Restroom Phase of Potty Training…a routine that makes my skin crawl but I continually  succumb to, drunk on Potty Training Hope that this will be the turning point.

Whatever it was, Olivia really enjoyed her time there today.  And I have to confess it was my most pleasant DMV experience, yet. The wait was brief, the lovely woman who assisted me was so kind and efficient and happy to inform me that if I keep behaving myself and stay on top of my paperwork…I do not have to return for EIGHT YEARS.

Eight years.

Will Olivia be as easily enchanted when she is ten?…(Come to think of it,  thinking about a ten-year old Foo actually might be more mind-blowing than the most blissful day at the DMV).

Remembering With Thanks

Some of my favorite words ever are “Read this book. It changed me.” I find I am the one usually saying them, and then thrusting a book into someone’s hands.

The tables were blissfully turned the other night when a sweet friend gently placed Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts into my hands.

It is unlike anything I have ever read. This honest, raw Canadian Farmer’s Wife is introducing me to Eucharisteo – and I didn’t know how much I needed it.

In My Next Thirty Years…I Will Focus on Knowing the People I Know

Tuesday, I got a text from my Mom…”Turn on Oprah now. Tom Hanks just surprised her.” I turned on a moment late but not too late to be swept up into the Emotional Fiesta that is Oprah’s farewell. Not to this life, not to television but to the networks…

Naturally…I got choked up.

And then gave myself the familiar reminder: “You don’t really know these people.”

If you were going to climb up into our attic and sift through one of the large plastic bins, quite officially labeled,”Nina’s Archives,” somewhere between piles of old yearbooks and prom pictures, you would find a white plastic binder. Within its pages are newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and film reviews scrawled in earnest, slanting print.

It’s my Tom Hanks Scrapbook. And its thorough and exhaustive, and a bit haphazard – aesthetics having never been my strong point.

I was his Self-Proclaimed Biggest Fan. I watched his movies, and researched his roles. I was always proud to say I was loyal before the Oscars, before Forrest and Jenny, before he became everyone’s favorite.

I wrote him letters. I tried various addresses. I found people who knew people who lived next to people who worked with him and used them as couriers. Then there was that fateful Spring Break in LA with the star map, trying to find his house. That was not a proud day. That was the stuff of crazed, weird people.

I never got a letter back, even from a fan club, or publicist. I never met him.

And as I grew older I did start to wonder, “What would I say to him, if I did?”

I actually had a book called How to Meet and Hang Out with the Stars. But it didn’t do too much to boost my confidence. Face it, we just don’t move in the same circles.

And my circle is rich and both ever-expanding and wholly complete. What if my life’s work was to love these people deeply? What if I really did it? How much time would I have for all the variations on “fan mail”  that adult life conjures up?

Because really, Oprah hasn’t shaped me. She has articulated some powerful things which illuminate those who have shaped me and how. And I have their phone numbers and, for the most part, they let me know where they live.

And tomorrow, I will probably watch the Final of Final Farewells. I love Oprah – and I love cultural milestones. But then I will go out and love this place where I live, and these people that I do life with…And we will probably walk the same places we walk every day, and see the same sights and be thankful. And be anticipating…big things happen in small places all the time…


Foo is into puzzles. As in obsessed. As in, I can’t keep up with her voracious puzzle appetite which finds me at Dollar Tree at least twice a week restocking our puzzle supply. (Only the best.)

Dollar Tree sells 24-piece puzzles in all sorts of Disney,Pooh and Old Testament motifs. So, throughout my day I am separating pieces of Goliath’s shield from those of Ariel’s fin. 

 Foo started blowing through the 24-piece ones, so I took a leap and got the next size up – 100 pieces. Unfortunately, 100 piece Dollar Tree-Practically-Disposable-Puzzles have pieces far too small for 2-year old hands to manipulate, regardless of their aptitude and/or mother’s belief in their potential as a future engineer.

But guess who can do them?

Tonight we were right on time for bedtime. Baths were done. Snack was eaten. Teeth were brushed. And then I heard it: “Mommy, please can we do The Real Tricky Princess Puzzle?” And I could not resist. I’d already done it today, but I wanted to beat my time.

Foo dumps it out. And bails. And there I am hunched over my floor. Determined. Crazed. Desperate to work out in this very tangible form all the small ambiguities and frustrations of daily life. EVERY-PIECE-HAS-ITS-PROPER-PLACE. I-CAN-FINISH-THIS. WHEN-I-FINISH-THIS-IT-WILL-BE-DONE-AND-LOOK-DONE-AND-NO-ONE-CAN-TAKE-THAT-AWAY-FROM-ME.

And as I worked, and the sun continued its descent, the world around me faded. I heard them – vaguely. At one point I did have to remove a child from my shoulders, emphatically stating, “Mommy is working on the puzzle. Give me a moment.” Another time, I interrupted my own concentration reverie to shout “HAS ANYONE SEEN SNOW WHITE’S LIPS?”

I did, at one point, hear Sophia observe,”Wow, we’re going to bed late tonight.” I had to ignore her. I was so close. Predictably, they both joined back in near the end – wanting a piece of the glory.

 “TA-DA!” We all shout when we finished. “We did it!” We slap high fives and head off to read bedtime stories. When I say Good Night and shut their doors, I feel far more satisfied than I probably should…and quickly start in on “Jonah and the Whale…”

Say it, Ralph

Tomorrow is Graduation Day. I am not graduating. But I think half of my neighbors are. Parents are here, U-Hauls are parked, and students are running down the street with crumpled up graduation gowns in their hands. I almost volunteered to iron this one girl’s – the way she was carrying it did not bode well for its appearance tomorrow morning.

Perhaps that will be my contribution next year. I will put an ironing board on the front porch and offer services to the street. Sophia dreams of having a Lemonade Stand. She can set up beside me. It will be real classy.

Today involved parties and picnics and dinners out. Tomorrow will be ceremonies, rituals, rewards, and more dinners out (jealous). But of all the pomp and circumstance in which I am not involved, yet living smack in the middle of, Wednesday night was my favorite. Wednesday night our house shook with the noise that surrounded it. Cheers, laughter, and overflowing parties in every direction.

Wednesday was the last day of finals. Wednesday night was one of those rare moments when the aggression of time is suspended. It was the pause after an end, but before the next beginning.

 They didn’t know their grades yet, parents hadn’t arrived to help pack up. And it didn’t matter who had a plan for “next year.” They were celebrating. The past and its issues were forgotten and the future and its anxieties went for a brief moment, unexamined. They were celebrating.

So we went outside for a few minutes, to join them in the street. To remember the importance, the discipline, of jubilation.

May-September once again hold the promise of many celebrations. In our extended family, we have a graduate school graduation, a high school graduation, two 80th birthdays, and an epic move to the west coast – a heart-wrenching distance, but a life-changing opportunity. Somewhere in there I will turn 30,  toast to eight years of marriage, cry my eyes out at some highly anticipated weddings, and we will travel as a family of four to Florida, Griswold-Style – fingers crossed for a celebration, not a grievous journey.

I am hoping for Wednesday Night moments within each of those occasions…intervals where I truly live inside my life, and taste the goodness.

What are you celebrating this season? Take some time to dance in the street…wrinkled or not…

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.”                                       

  Ralph Waldo Emerson