The Child First and Always

On Design Mom this week, I’m sharing ideas about supporting our friends who have children who are sick or have been hospitalized. Design Mom has such a caring community, and I thought it would be helpful to offer each other ideas about how to support friends when they’re in this difficult situation.

My dear friend Dianne’s son bravely faced leukemia twice, and she graciously sent me an email with kindnesses her friends and neighbors offered, as well as a wonderful list of the ways that she appreciated the children’s hospital where he stayed. That was just beyond the scope of my column on Design Mom, but too beautiful to go un-shared. Below are Dianne’s words about the wonderful place that cared for her son, and the ways they also cared for her family.

Primary Children’s Medical Center has this motto:  “The Child First and Always.”  Everything we saw seems to align with this.
a) One night, my son and I were coming back to his room on the 4th floor of the hospital, in the immune compromised section of the hospital (mostly cancer kids).  Somebody had just “called a code,” meaning they’d signalled a last ditch effort to preserve a life.  We were in the lobby by the entrance to the unit, and we saw folks in scrubs RUNNING, top speed, to that room, as if they had no other concern in the world.  They worked until sweat stood out on their foreheads, they ran for anything that was needed, and all attention was on the one little human in this world struggling to stay alive.  We ended up seeing this event again in critical care, and more distantly in another part of the hospital.  It didn’t matter if the kid was half grown or an infant, already damaged by brain surgeries, or brilliantly intact.
b)  At the other end of the urgency scale, we saw daily kindnesses by all levels of hospital personnel, including the custodial staff, who made it a point not to waken a sleeping kid, to respect bathroom privacy, or to help a teenage kid have a sanitized room but not interfere with a “guitar hero” game with friends. The social worker assigned to our son’s unit made it possible for him to have a homecoming night at the hospital, including figuring out a way to reserve the hospital theater for him, get his measurements for tux rental, and find a spot for dinner on the hospital roof at sunset. Homecoming night was also a real gift by his date.  She had been elected to the homecoming court, and she would have been honored if she’d gone to the high school dance that night, but she decided to spend the evening with our son. She wore her formal (giving a thrill to the little girls in nearby hospital rooms). And she spent the evening as if there was no where else she would even think of being, including the extra work of 2 hours of solitary driving to be there.
c)  We saw an impressively famous pediatric oncologist come back to the hospital on a Sunday night after one of his long-term patients had died.  He was off-duty, had no professional obligation or assignment, but simply came to sit with some bereaved parents and talk about what a great kid their child had been.
d)  There is a box that is a prayer roll where parents, friends, siblings, etc. can put the names of somebody for whom they’d like prayers offered;  I think it’s an interdenominational offering.
e)  Hundreds (maybe thousands) of cozy, charming, funny, lovely or comforting quilts are donated every year.  They come in infant size and fabric, or teenage boy size and fabric, or everything else in between.
f)  Celebrities, athletes, and other famous public personalities lavish time and attention on hospitalized kids.  This includes visits by Miss America, former astronauts, quarterbacks, Olympians, rock stars and Santa Claus. Non-famous people also donate time generously. When we were there (off and on from 2002 until 2009), there was a volunteer in ICU who spent 20+ hours every week holding babies, and he’d been doing this for more than 20 years, since his infant grandson passed away in the same facility decades earlier.
g)  Make a Wish is a local and national miracle that makes it possible for sick kids to go to Disneyworld, or to have a day as a fireman, or to get a pony, or a lap top, or meet LeBron James.
h)  The Jewish Community Center, just south of Primary Children’s, donates temporary gift memberships to parents of hospitalized kids.  This includes all amenities at a lovely and well-appointed health club, Gold’s Gym times ten.

Busy in Brooklyn

Justin and I are in Brooklyn for part of this week, staying in a friend’s apartment while she’s away. We’re in Park Slope and loving the tree-lined streets and brownstones, the cool restaurants and friendly people, and this cool little apartment we’re staying in, with its sweet little garden out back.

Also, I met this really nice mariachi player on the way to the Brooklyn Flea.

I haven’t written much here lately, but I’ve been busy over at Design Mom. This week’s column is about a piece of art that I love more every time I think about it, and the stories we share as families. Last week I wrote a little about aging, and how my perception of what it means to be old is changing. One of my favorite things about writing for Design Mom is the great community Gabby has created, and I love that her readers share their thoughts. The comments about aging were interesting and validating, and as they so often do, taught me a few new ideas.

Another of my recent favorites was sharing my friend Cristin’s “Summer of Service,” her brilliant plan to help her kids learn that service can be a simple and regular part of our lives. So inspiring.

Here in Brooklyn, our friends (that we don’t actually know all that well, but enjoy so much just the same) Mara and Danny, introduced us to great Thai food and gorgeous views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the city. Connecting with friends when we’re traveling makes the trip so much sweeter.




Story Corps in Real Life!

A little trip was just the thing our family needed this weekend. It was a little hectic getting ready to go, but once we were on the freeway, I felt so thankful we were all in the same place for a few hours, with just each other, and just a few distractions. When we arrived in St. George on Saturday afternoon our first stop was the splash park, and Justin and I gasped in delighted disbelief when we saw the Story Corps trailer in the parking lot.

I was just excited to see the trailer and the project in real life. I love everything about it and I wrote about Story Corps on Design Mom last year, but Justin had a story in mind, a great story about working in potato harvest as a teenager. Their schedule was full during our short weekend visit, but the producer took Justin’s phone number and said she’d call if they had a cancellation. I had a good feeling, and on Sunday morning they called. I knew they would!

We left our boys with Justin’s parents and hurried down to the trailer. Producer Leslee explained the process and I “interviewed” Justin as he told his story. It’s a great story about being a teenage boy away from home, about liking girls, and tv dinners, and long hours on a combine as it harvests potatoes from the field. Then…there’s drama, and fear, and humanity, all right there during potato harvest. I loved asking Justin a few questions about it, and I love that he recorded it. I love this project, that validates stories and oral history, and the simple act of recording it, without polish or perfection. This would have been a great weekend anyway–family fun and good weather and breakfast out on the patio and a really satisfying nap and nice conversations and fresh peas from the garden–but being inside the Story Corps trailer was icing on the cake.


Listen To Me: Come to “Listen To Your Mother”

Listen to Your Mother gives Mother’s Day a microphone all around the country with 24 events featuring  live readings by local writers. I’m thrilled and honored to be part of Utah’s first Listen to Your Mother show with these inspiring women, most of whom I’ve just met and already admire tremendously. They are local writers, bloggers, mothers, thinkers. They have overcome–and are overcoming–incredible challenges. They have lived–and are in the thick of living–incredible lives. And they’re sharing and smiling and doing their work that makes the world a better place.

You’ll love this show, and the hearts of these writers. You’ll laugh and cry and come away grateful you’re alive, so I hope you’ll be there on Thursday, May 9 at Thanksgiving Point. Buy tickets for yourself, your mother, your sisters, and your friends.

Utah’s director/producer Heather Johnson has been a devoted Listen to Your Mother fan for years, and now she’s bringing it to Utah. It’s something she’s dreamed of doing, and this year it will happen. I really am honored to be part of this cast that brings Heather’s hard work and vision to light. High five, Heather!

And I’m so thankful to my brilliant friend Meg for encouraging me to audition. In this, and other important things, I ask, where would I be without Meg?


Our Sleeping Boy

He asked to fall asleep in our bed at a moment when all the stars of adorability had aligned, and we agreed. We both worked on our laptops as he nestled between us.

Though his breathing has slowed and is steady, his pulse races compared to mine as I watch a vein on his neck beat-beat, beat-beat along. I know he’s asleep before I can see his eyes because his lips are just parted, in an expression saved only for sleep, or intent tv watching. When I lean around the pillow to be sure, his eyelashes are closed, a soft dark curve against his flushed cheek.

And if there had been any doubt, it vanishes when, for good measure, he snores one distinct, resolute six-year-old snore.

The Divinity in Me Acknowledges the Divinity In You

As she stirs us from resting pose, Savasana, at the end of our yoga practice, my instructor invites our class to lie on our side for a few more breaths. After that, we will sit, legs crossed and palms together. “Namaste,” she will say quietly to us and bow, and we will answer, to her and to each other, “Namaste,” a Sanskrit word that means, “The divinity in me acknowledges the divinity in you.” I’ll say it thousands of times, I expect, before I really understand it, but I love to be reminded that divinity is there. In me, in you.

Funny how divinity manifests, right? Today my divinity was such that I dragged myself to yoga and away from the call of my bed. “Come back,” it whispered, “come back and disappear for a while.” I chose yoga, but just a few poses in, the weight of moving was heavier than I’d expected and I resisted my mind’s silent invitation to quietly slip out the door and back to my home. OK, fine, back to my bed. A quiet triumph, I chose to stay.

It was mind over matter, in the smallest way, my divine self looking out for me. I stayed at yoga to honor that part of me, to lengthen into warrior pose and lean into triangle, to twist out toxins and stretch my ever tight piriformis, to take deep breaths for balance in half moon, and reach my hands to the sky in tree pose, hoping my outstretched arms would run across an answer or two that I could pull down from the heavens.


P.S. I came home and took a nap.



Today, fearing the worst sort of foul play, I helped search a park for a missing teenage girl. Turns out, she rode her bike about 10 miles from home and spent the night in a church. I don’t begrudge her or her family one minute of the time I spent worrying for her, praying for her, or looking for her. She is safe. What a relief.

Today I listened to my teenage friend, a bright young girl with an old soul, as she told another friend and I about the anxiety and the sadness she’s felt since the structure and identity of her family changed seven months ago. My other friend offered her perspective on fear and heartache, but I said little of what I thought and felt. Another time. Tonight I am thinking of my beautiful young friend who is learning—too young? who am I to say?—to navigate the inexplicable gaps and attendant pain that are sometimes left by those proverbial “circumstances beyond our control.”

Today I sat around a table with twelve women, most of whom I’ve never met before, and we read our stories of motherhood. I nodded in agreement and laughed in sympathy and felt my heart change and open as we shared the sacredness of our common ground—our motherhood, and our humanity. These are stories of identity, exhaustion, mystery, the deepest love, heartache, sorrow, healing, hilarity, learning, and becoming.

I did not clean anything today. I did not make dinner. I did not answer emails or cross a single thing off my to do list. Today was a day filled with people, and it was glorious.

P.S. You and people you love can also hear the inspiring, humbling, laughter-inducing words of the same twelve women who showed me the most beautiful glimpses of humanity tonight. On Thursday, May 9, at Northern Utah’s first Listen to Your Mother Show. At tonight’s rehearsal, the power of these stories sunk deep, and I want you to feel it, too. Come.




On Books and Sunday Mornings

First thing Sunday morning, E ran into our room and said, “Can we read now? Can we find out what happened with the cougar?” In theory, I suppose it’s my parenting dream to be awakened by enthusiastic cries for reading, but in practice, I wanted a bit more sleep. Within a few minutes, though, all of us were snuggled in our bed. “We need a bigger bed,” Justin said before he started reading aloud the final chapters of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s The Boys Return.

E discovered this series of books at school (another parenting dream: the boys introduce me to good books!), and he was just delighted as he told me about the cast of characters and their boy vs. girl rivalries and friendships. He seemed to get such a kick out of these families and their stories. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him respond to characters like this, like they were friends he genuinely liked and admired, so I did a little research and found some of the books in the series at our library. He began reading The Boys Return on his own at home, but by the end we were all on board, equally worried about the threat of the town-encroaching cougar.

There are a lot of kids in the book, which can be challenging for writers and readers, but E had them all straight, and would often clarify for us by pointing them out on the cover. Although I’m sure E sympathizes most with the boys, the girls are equally strong, clever, and interesting. That boys vs. girls rivalry is an endlessly entertaining theme for a third grade boy, and I think that’s what E is loving most about these books: they are such good entertainment for him, full of friendly competition, camaraderie, family dynamics, adventures and misadventures, and good jokes.

Laughing together at the book’s jokes is one of my favorite things about reading with the boys. I love seeing what makes them laugh, and how, when I think something might go over their head, the writer’s tone rings true, and cracks them up. Their favorite conversation from the end of the book goes like this:

“Caroline, could you possibly make the effort to forget about ghosts for one night?”

“It won’t be easy,” said Caroline.

“Do you think it’s too much to ask that you stay in your bed until morning?’

“I suppose not,” said Caroline.

“Do you think your father could have one night of peace and quiet before spring vacation ends?” he asked.

“I’ll try,” said Caroline.

“Then get the heck to bed,” said her father, and she did.

Cue the giggle, and then the predictable, irresistible repeat. M, in his best fatherly voice, with a huge grin on his face, said “Then get the heck to bed.” More laughter. And lots of gratitude, for good books and this beautiful little family all snuggled together on this bed that somehow doesn’t seem to small anymore.

Justin Hackworth’s Photography Workshop

I’m excited to tell you about Justin’s upcoming workshop for beginning photographers. Space is limited, so I hope you get to go. It’ll be a whole day of great information that will totally change how you’re using your DSLR, and all those diagrams in your manual will finally make perfect sense!

If you’ve never spent a day with Justin, you’re in for a treat. If you have spent a day with Justin, you know you’re in for something great. He’s such a fun and passionate teacher and you’ll leave the workshop a more confident, more knowledgeable photographer because you’ll have plenty of time to learn, practice and ask every question you’ve got.

Here’s a bit from the workshop description:

This workshop is for beginners who’ll learn how to use their DSLR cameras in a fun, helpful, and hands-on atmosphere with an enthusiastic teacher to dispel all the mystery surrounding those knobs and dials. Through class instruction and hands-on photo shoots, photographers will begin to understand how to use their camera as a creative tool. We’ll cover aperture, shutter speed, ISO, lenses, white balance and other tools to help you create beautiful photographs.

The entire day of instruction is $225, but there’s a special price just for you. Tell him Vinny sent you. Just kidding. Tell him I sent you. But seriously, there is a special price.

Email Justin directly at to sign up!


Trusting Process, Thinking Small

Image by Justin Hackworth.

Art? You just do it.
– Martin Ritt

In my life, that’s been easier said than done. Waaaay easier.

I’m working through The Artist’s Way with a group of friends. (I wrote about one lesson I’ve been learning over at Design Mom.) It’s my fourth time beginning the book in the last 13 years, and I’ve finally gotten past Week 7 (of 12). It’s a real personal triumph. Last fall, when my friend Mindy Gledhill spoke at Creative Collaborative, she referenced The Artist’s Way and then joked, “I don’t know anyone who’s actually finished it.”

I nodded knowingly.

Several weeks later when I was feeling the pull of the book again, I knew I needed some accountability and I emailed Mindy to see if she might want to join me. She knew a few other friends would be interested, and then a few more friends joined us, and it’s been so much fun to talk about creativity and process, blocks and discoveries under the guiding influence of Julia Cameron’s words of wisdom.

One of my favorite truths from The Artist’s Way, one of my own personal blocks to doing creative work, is the fear of the finished product. I’m so worried about the end result that I have a hard time getting started. Julia Cameron calls it an “addiction to anxiety in lieu of action.” I worry about creative work instead of doing creative work. Although I would freely, wisely advise others to take baby steps, I ignore my own advice.

This is just what I needed to hear:

“We fail to see the many small creative changes that we could make at this very moment. This kind of look-at-the-big picture thinking ignores the fact that a creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps.”

So I’m trying to dismiss that big picture, for now, and focus on work that is fun, timidly trusting process over finished product, and asking myself what the next tiny step is. Forsaking later, I’m trying to ask, what can I do now?

P.S. On my birthday last week, Justin posted the nicest thing on his blog. His birthday was last month. My tribute to him is forthcoming.