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I’ll Stop the World and Melt with You

By | monkeys, thoughts | 6 Comments

Happy Day After Valentine’s Day friends. Hope yours was filled with love — the exact kind of love you were looking for, whatever that may be.

Lucy and Zoe celebrated Friendship Day at school yesterday. Each student brought in valentine friendship cards to hand out to the other students — one for every kid in class. For Lucy that meant 23 cards. For Zoe, 22.

“Heck!” I said, back when we first got the notices about Friendship Day. “Why make plain ole cards? Why not make 45 hearts out of melty beads and hand those out instead?” And for some reason, everyone agreed with me. Silly silly family.

But thanks to the cheap child labor, we were able to complete this project without outsourcing. We started almost a month ago, and filled much of our plentiful spare time with making hearts. This consisted of filling a small heart-shaped tray with a hundred or so colored cylinder-shaped beads, arranged in a lovely colorful pattern, of course, and then ironing them. The heat from the iron melted the beads and fused them together so the heart could be removed from the tray and stand alone. Zoe and Lucy worked on them during the day. And at night, while watching Season 1 of The Riches on DVD, Bob and I worked on them.

Then Wednesday night after dinner we assembled them all, looping white tags festooned with Sharpie red and pink hearts. 49 total (we added 4 so the girls could give one to each teacher).

It was triumphant. Jubilant. A huge undertaking with a beginning, a middle and a proud, celebratory end. We’ve never done a long, drawn-out project like this with Lucy and Zoe and they did great. They were excited about the initial idea; they didn’t get tired of it, even after weeks of making hearts; and they saw it through to the very last white tag. And they were so happy to be giving the hearts away to their friends. I don’t know how they came by such a zen approach to belongings, but they love sharing things they love with people they love. Bob and I spent lots of energy talking about the hearts — our favorites, the most unusual, the amazing diversity of them all. Every single one was precious to us. But Zoe and Lucy had no hesitation giving them all away — not one word of reluctance — and came home talking about the next melty bead project we were going to undertake.

I, with my pack-rat ways, could learn a lot from them.
As usual.

xo, L

The mind of a 16 year old

By | thoughts | 8 Comments

When I was in the 11th grade I lived in France for the year, on a sort of exchange program. 60 of us Americans lived with French families and went to school in Rennes, a smallish town in Brittany, 3 hours west of Paris. I was deep in the throes of being a teenager and life was full of extremes anyway, all highs and lows with nothing in between. But living in another country, learning a new language, thousands of miles from my family, every day was downright fecund with potential adventure. The amount I learned that year still awes me, and the fact that I made it home in one piece, despite being a sensible girl with a good head on her shoulders, makes me shake my head in disbelief. Oh the bullets dodged.

This was, amazingly, also the only period of sustained journal keeping I have ever achieved. In addition to recording the life-is-awesome ups, the life-is-scary-downs and the gosh-but-aren’t-adults-annoying bershon of being a teenager (and living abroad), I made many lists in these journals. Things I would do that month. People I missed back home. People I didn’t miss back home. Things I would do once I got back home. Things I would miss about France. etc etc etc.

One of my favorites is a list called “Things I Like” that I wrote when I was supposed to be working on an Art History paper. It is clearly the list of a 16 yr. old in its bald declarations of newly acquired self-awareness. It bridges the gaps between being young and grown-up with an utter misunderstanding of what being grown-up is all about. But it strives so hard to be happy, about everything. And I like how it gets more earnest toward the end. Here it is, without editorial interruption (the parentheticals here are actually in my journal):

    THINGS I LIKE:

  • Friends
  • Mom, Dad & Mike
  • whipped cream
  • music I know the words to
  • orange t-shirts
  • people who dress well
  • responsibilities (the fun kind)
  • neat handwriting
  • being tall
  • big sweaters
  • worn, ripped Levi’s
  • new sneakers
  • old bluchers
  • feather pillows
  • good talks (interesting, deep, etc.)
  • pierced ears
  • being in control of myself
  • fresh squeezed orange juice
  • warm summer nights w/a breeze and sailboats bouncing in the water
  • nicknames
  • flags
  • acting grown up
  • snowfalls at night
  • being and feeling safe
  • ragg-wool socks
  • bring so tired i can hardly keep my eyes open & then being able to go to sleep
  • microwave ovens
  • long hair
  • big, soft towels
  • waking up early on a weekend & realizing I don’t have to get up
  • chocolate milk
  • my bedroom
  • vacation
  • thinking I’m not going to like something & then being wrong
  • crying when I need to
  • being able to say what I want to somebody when I need to say it
  • straight teeth
  • pictures w/great memories attached
  • watching a really good skier on a hard slope
  • perfect plans working out the way I wanted…
  • L.L. Bean Catalogs
  • salty, unbuttered popcorn
  • not having to put on an act in front of people
  • good looking people (girls &/or guys)
  • laughing uncontrollably
  • pretending
  • cream of wheat
  • red
  • diet coke
  • fires
  • little kids (of any age)
  • inside jokes
  • smiles : )

I love how the innocence of the list is punctuated with brief but sharp depths: – pierced ears – being in control of myself – fresh squeezed orange juice -…

I love the magnanimousness of “little kids (of any age),” spoken as only someone who has just gotten a taste of life as something other than a little kid can. Like, “Aw yeah, little kids are great. Just look at em all runnin around, doin stuff. Not carin about anything. Aren’t they great?”

But mostly, I like imagining myself spending so much time poring through my head, coming up with the things on this list. I’m sure it felt good to write some of the more confessional items here — deep thoughts are exhilarating for a 16 year old girl. It’s thrilling to have words to go with all the new emotions. But it’s also exhausting, so once those were written, it must have felt just as good to write the less serious ones. Lighthearted and simple. A point-counterpoint chicken soup for the teenage soul.

And I still like orange t-shirts.

Are you a list-maker? Do you have any journals or other “snapshots” of your teenage years that reveal your childhood giving way to adulthood? Do you remember when you were 16?

xo, L

Lost

By | monkeys, photos, thoughts | 8 Comments

Things have been hopping chez Upside Up — we’ve lost our first tooth!!

As the 2nd of 3 possible shoes drop in the fallout from Lucy’s accident a couple of years ago, the dentist had to wiggle Lucy’s top front tooth out on Tuesday. She was very brave, and now she’s very very proud. I’ve caught her a couple of times standing in front of the mirror, smiling at herself. And she’s fascinated by the way the hole in her mouth has altered the way she speaks (or “thpeakth” as it would now be said). And the gold Sacagawea Dollar was a nice bonus, plus a note from the tooth fairy. Written in silver.

And I’m excited about it too. But I have to admit to feeling a little wistful about it as well. One of the things that has surprised me about being a parent is how attached I feel to the particulars of any given age or stage Lucy and Zoe are at. And then when they grow out of that stage, as every kid does (and in ways I would not have thought momentous before I had kids), I feel an elemental sadness at bidding that stage farewell. Their growth feels more like a falling from grace. An innocence lost.

I’ve been aware of this feeling since the first time we fed the girls rice cereal. Previously, their mouths had never touched anything that didn’t come from my body. And the cereal felt like such a besmirching of their purity. Like it was something that could be avoided. If I were a better parent, for example, I would have been able to prevent this contamination from happening. It’s completely irrational, of course, and I know it makes me sound unstable. So I came to terms with it and learned to love the freedom from having kids strapped to my chest 24 hours a day (duh). Just as I came to terms with their gummy mouths filling with cute little tiny chicklet teeth. Just as I will come to terms with (and eventually fall in love with) Lucy’s new gap-toothed smile. To help me with that coming to terms, I share with you now:

Lucy’s Mouth: Five Years in three snapshots

lucylean
8 mos. old. Big gummy smile. Like a capital D on its side.


3 1/2 yrs old. Bucky beaver. Bangs by Lucy.


5 yrs old. Toothless (“toothleth”) and proud.

If you have kids, which of their stages have been difficult for you to say goodbye to? What were you grateful to leave behind?

And for everyone (those with and without kids), do you remember losing your first tooth? I totally don’t, which is both uncharacteristic and unsettling. Tell me your story to see if it jogs my memory. Lucy wants to hear the story.

xo

Clearing house

By | kirtsy, monkeys, photos, thoughts | 7 Comments

Whoa — where has the time gone? Life, as I believe I’ve whined before, has resembled an avalanche lately. And since my little blog carries the smallest return-on-investment of my many projects, it has been relegated to the back burner, of the neighbor’s stove, across the street, diagonally. And it’s a tiny old 2-burner stove that takes forever to heat anything, if it works at all. Which I’m not sure it does. Sorry.

It isn’t you, it’s me. I swear.

I’ve missed you though. And I think about you often. And I’ve been stockpiling some things I wanted to share with you. So hold onto your hats, friends — this is your lucky day! It’s an Upside Up Clearing House! Randomness galore. With pictures!

First things first:

I’m especially pleased with the BACON VIEWING WINDOW because it means you can get a really good look at Uncle Elmer’s STRAWBERRY FLAVOR! Gummy Bacon. FOUR SLICES!

Three blocks from our house, there’s a great little market called The Common Market. It’s like a cross between the newsstand where we bought Mad Magazine when we were kids (remember the huge candy selection and novelty toys?) and a mini grocery store. From April to November, there’s a small farmers market outside called the Tailgate Market — an appropriate name because many of the vendors of beautiful organic, local produce actually sell their stuff off the back of their trucks. Inside the store there are fine wines, a huge beer selection, a wine bar, a deli, snacks, coffee, and funny novelties and toys. And lots of bacon stuff.

In addition to the Gummy Bacon, I also found these:

They smell exactly like bacon, and taste smoky. Yummy in the morning for picking eggs out of your teeth.

+ + +

When we lived in Durham, there was a small old grocery store called the Red & White. Walking in there was like walking into 1962 — little shopping carts, little aisles, a real butcher, local produce, cashiers who called you “hon.” It was right up the street from our house and I shopped there whenever I could. One day I found this hanging out in the refrigerated section:

It leaves me a little speechless, but processed meat is, in general, a confounding issue for me, so that’s not surprising. I’ll let you form your own conclusions.

+ + +

Moving away from the pork products and on to the little dumplings in my life, there’s this:

At Costco one day, I had Zoe and Lucy with me and they were both, miraculously, sitting in the cart for pretty much the whole journey. Sometimes at Costco, rather than navigate the doublewide cart around every corner (especially in the food area, where it often looks like one big cocktail party with people milling around the hors d’oeuvres tables), it’s easier for me to park the cart in a spot and run over to grab something quickly. When I do this, the girls and I have a little joke where I say, “I’m going to run over there for a sec. DON’T DRIVE AWAY!” And while I dash off, they work their hardest to get the cart to move. When they succeed, hilarity ensues.

One of these times I glanced down at their feet while I was walking back to the cart and the two feet in the middle — one zoe foot and one lucy foot — were intertwined and swinging back and forth, as though the two feet belonged to one pair of legs on a coy girl sitting on a porch swing in a poodle skirt. See how the two middle feet in the picture are blurry? And how the two outer feet aren’t moving?

The incidental twin-ness of this took my breath away. These two people have spent so much of their life together that their bodies don’t even know they’re separate. One brain goes “My dangling legs need something to do. Hey! Let’s swing!” And the other one is all “Yes. Let’s.” And two of the legs start to swing, but they don’t happen to belong to the same body.

If two 5-yr-old friends were doing this, it would be the activity. Like, “Hey, let’s hook our ankles and swing our legs together.” And they would giggle all the while. But Zoe and Lucy weren’t even conscious of doing it. Their attention was completely focussed on moving the cart as far and as fast as they could. I love this.

+ + +

Also, I tried to write a whole post about my sk*rt trip to Houston in December, but it never got finished. So I’m just going to show you the awesome picture taken by the stunningly talented and beautiful Karen Walrond of the sk*rt chicks, together in Houston.


Gabby, Me, Laura.

Big things in the works for sk*rt in 2008, so stay tuned. This picture was taken at the end of a hard-workin day. Our brains are actually larger here than they were that morning.

+ + +

Last but not least, a shot of the prep for our big New Year’s Day party (where 118 people tromped through our house on a beautiful 60° day and ate collard greens and black eyed peas con queso. For the second year in a row our good friends the Whetstones spent NYE with us, en route from Chattanooga to Durham. This means not only do we have people to drink champan-ya with, but we also get help with the NYD party prep. It takes a lot of collard greens to make 118 people lucky and wealthy for a whole year. Here’s the evidence:


De-stemming collards on the living room floor.

That’s it for the clearing house. I think I have shown you all the photos I’ve been wanting to show you over the past few months but never got around to. Thanks for watching. More life-y stuff coming soon.

xo

ZOOB revisted

By | thoughts | 7 Comments

Back in 2005, Bob and I actually wrote a note on all the holiday cards we sent out. My handwriting is angular and choppy, and when I wrote “best wishes for all good things in 2006” about 100 times, Bob pointed out that it actually looked like it said “best wishes for all good things in zoob.” Which it did.

This year we didn’t actually personalize all our holiday cards (apologies to those of you who received them and felt slighted by the impersonal pre-printed generic holiday message), but the few I did said something along the lines of “here’s hoping for all good things in 2008.” And don’t you know it looked suspiciously like “here’s hoping for all good things in ZOOB.”

Which means, of course, that this year is going to be a lot like 2006, but in ALL CAPS! Awesome!

To launch it for you, I’m going to post, again, in case you didn’t record it the first two times, the recipe for the WORLD’S BEST collard greens, which, if you didn’t know, work in tandem with black eyed peas to bring you wealth and luck in the COMING YEAR (see what I mean? All caps! And in a run-on sentence no less!).

This is reblogged from last year and the year before but I promise the recipe is just as good. And please understand, when I say that these greens are the WORLD’S BEST, what I mean is that people who swear they hate collards/cabbage/spinach/kale/ have been seen going back for seconds of these greens.

Here you go:

Braised Collards

  • 4 bunches of collards, long stems and tough ribs removed
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup Brown Butter (recipe included)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground dried chipotle
  • Pepper vinegar (recipe follows)

Wash the greens thoroughly in a whole lot of water (I fill my sink and wash them in there). Place the dripping wet leaves in a pot of water, add salt (to taste). Cook the greens for about 10 minutes (until they’re all wilted and reduced down quite a bit). Remove to a bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Heat 1/4 cup unsalted butter on medium-low until it turns brown and nutty. Strain off the milk-fat solids. (This is something I make a big batch of ahead-of-time and keep in the fridge.) Increase the heat to medium. Add the onion, garlic, pepper flakes and chipotle, stirring occasionally until the garlic is lightly colored and onion is soft. Add the greens, their reserved cooking water, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for 30 minutes and taste again for salt (they can use a lot). You can continue cooking until the greens are “within an inch of their life” or you can stop here. The longer they cook, the better they’ll taste.

Serve with pepper vinegar on the side.

Recipe for Pepper Vinegar: 1 cup white vinegar + 4 oz serrano chiles. Drop the washed and dried chiles into a bottle that has been freshly washed in hot, soapy water. (A narrow neck bottle is preferable so the vinegar can be drizzled rather than poured, but it doesn’t really matter.) Bring the vinegar to a boil in a small pan, then transfer to the bottle (via a measuring cup or some other easy-pouring device). Let it sit uncapped until cool. The peppers will absorb some of the vinegar. Add more vinegar to fill the bottle, then cap and set aside in the cupboard. The vinegar will be best if you make this about 6 weeks ahead. But you can speed the process by using sliced peppers rather than whole. Fwiw, whole peppers makes the finished bottle a little more artistic looking, but the main goal is spicy vinegar for your collards, so taste trumps all.

(Thanks to Deborah Madison for the original base recipe, and especially for the brown butter secret. You have been helping me for many years to make people’s New Years just that much luckier and fortunier.)

———–

Happy New Year everyone! Hope ZOOB is, for you, all that it promises to be. Filled with luck and fortune and lots and lots of love. And all those other things you’re hoping for as we hit this annual reset button.

GO O8!!

+ + +

The GO O8 art is from our New Year’s Day party invitation. Planning to be in or near Charlotte on Tuesday? Email me for directions!!

Black and blue

By | thoughts | 10 Comments

Things are a little overwhelming here in Upside Up land. Busy work, dad surgery, kid disequilibrium, travel. For the most part, it all seems relatively survivable, but not without a little pain. Or at least a few tears.

I walked Zoe and Lucy to a friend’s house a few weekends ago and shot leisurely autumn pictures on my walk back. This bird was perched, inanimate, at the tippy tippy top of a large heavy holly bush. I stood watching for a minute, then took this picture. Shot another immediately thereafter that lit the bird, and then moved on. When I reviewed the pictures, I tweaked the lit photo a good bit, then looked again at this one, which I realized I liked much better. I like the black and blue twilight. The leaves have all fallen and the color has that eerie chilled backlit quality that tells you instantly what season it is.

I’d like to learn from that bird. It’s cold out and there aren’t any leaves left on the trees, but if I sit on this high branch and wait, maybe someone will put out a bird feeder. Or at least I’ll get to sit quietly by myself for a few minutes. (I wonder what task list awaited this bird back at home.)

And then eventually, if I’m patient and diligent, I’ll get to feel like this again:

But for now, I need to get back to work.

xo

Legacy

By | thoughts | 10 Comments

I would love to say that I grew up cooking at someone’s knee. That I spent endless hours of my childhood in a steamy, bubbly kitchen dusted with powdery-flecked-shafts-of-light and me perched on a stool watching my grandmother’s every move, waiting for those moments when an oversized spoon was touched to my lips for me to learn taste. I could entertain you with tales of unrecordable family recipes and booming, day-long family feasts. Here, have a seat in my kitchen and have a cup of tea while I bake a pie, and I’ll tell you all about it.

Well, no. Not quite. I do love to cook, but that story is not my story, although we do have unrecordable recipes and booming, day-long family feasts.

Me, Mattie and my cousin Brian
Me, Mattie and my cousin Brian – Thanksgiving 1997

Mattie taught me that kind of cooking — the kind that doesn’t have a recipe. Although she didn’t actually even teach me. Mostly, she cooked while I watched and asked questions like, “How much flour did you just add to those pan drippings to make gravy?”

And her answers sounded like this: “What do you mean how much flour? You look at how much drippings you have and you add enough flour. If it tastes right, you added enough.”

She wasn’t being mean, or rigid, just sensible. As if to say “Don’t worry about measurements — just cook.” Like I needed to concentrate and just do it right.

So I watched, and ate, and watched, and ate. The best fried chicken I have ever to this day put in my mouth. The flakiest fluffiest biscuits. Sweet potatoes that tasted more like pudding. The most comforting chicken pot pies. And sometime after college I started trying some of her recipes on my own. This usually involved a long phone conversation with Mattie where I took extensive notes that didn’t make sense as I wrote them. They involved instructions like, “Then you add your bake powder. Taste it. If it don’t taste right, add some more.” Some recipes required 2 phone calls.

But I bumbled through, and kept trying to serve people dishes that I called “Mattie’s (insert food here).” And after years of earnest practice, I can actually make consistently good buttermilk biscuits having never had a recipe in front of me. I can make fried chicken that mostly comes out right, but sometimes doesn’t. And much of the time, I have good gravy to add to the meal, but sometimes not.

In trying to cook like Mattie, I have come to understand a life lesson that applies to far more than just cooking (as any good life lesson will): if it doesn’t taste right before it’s cooked, it certainly won’t taste right after it’s cooked.

And that’s always the key — getting it to taste right, or getting it to taste just like Mattie’s. No other taste will suffice. I make fried chicken that Bob thinks is great (because really, fried chicken is sort of inherently great), but I’m unhappy if it doesn’t taste just like Mattie’s. That mysterious blend of inexact amounts of salt and spices and secret ingredients.

The first year Mattie didn’t cook Thanksgiving, it took 7 of us to replicate her meal. Seven people. To put together a dinner usually made by one person. And she was coaching us every step of the way. But we were all very proud of ourselves because it tasted pretty much just like Mattie’s. Which is in itself something to be thankful for.

Today will be our first Thanksgiving without Mattie. I spent the day yesterday making “Mattie’s Cornbread Dressing” and “Mattie’s Turkey Gravy” (my assigned tasks for the group’s “Mattie’s Thanksgiving Dinner”) and I probably called my mom 6 times to ask for clarification of one thing, or to discuss options for interpreting another. After all was said and done and it turned out mostly Mattie-esque (the gravy tastes a little of too much flour, but once it’s on food, it’ll be fine — good enough), I had time to reflect a little bit. Thanksgiving for my family, and hopefully for yours, is a happy time. A time of thanks, of course. So I know I should be winding this down by talking about how grateful I am for Mattie. How lucky I was to have so many years with her humming her way around my grandmother’s and my aunt’s and my mom’s kitchens. How very fortunate I am that I can make her biscuits.

But I also feel sad. Sad that Mattie’s cooking is no longer an activity but a subject. That her gospel purring is no longer something to listen to but to talk about. That her seat at our table is no longer a presence but a legacy. Plain and simply, that I won’t get to be with her today.

I hope your Thanksgiving is as full as I know mine is going to be. That you get to spend time being happy, reflective, grateful, and loved. Full of emotion. Full of thanks.

Mattie and my mom
Mattie and my mom – Thanksgiving 1997.

Thank you note

By | thoughts | 11 Comments

Dear You,

Two years ago yesterday, I invited you to join me in an Upside Up movement, whatever that meant. Since then I’ve written almost 300 posts, left my home and returned to my home, learned how unexpectedly vast and diverse and intertwined the blogging world was, made some great friends, sent my kids to kindergarten, and learned a lot about myself as I coerced my long dormant writing muscles to rejoin me in life.

Sometimes I write regularly, sometimes I go weeks without writing (like currently), but this space is always near the top of my intentions. It is a room I can retreat to to parse my thoughts — even if I don’t end up sharing them with you. It is a forum I can access when I need your opinion or advice. It is a podium I can pace around if I want to share my opinion with you. And most importantly, it is a never-ending blank page. One that challenges me each time I deign to write something — each time I try to translate the stories in my head. The adrenaline rush of “I have something to say. Where do I begin? Nobody is going to want to read this. Then make it great so someone will want to read it” is so seductive. Even when I’m exhausted or preoccupied or depressed and can’t imagine ever writing another word, I’m still enticed by the challenge of the blank page and the prize of your willing eyes.

I realized long ago that I was not a journal writer. I tried to be, many many times, because I believed I needed to be a journal writer. That it was a failing of mine that I didn’t keep a journal. But let me tell you, with the exception of the uber inward-focussed high-school year I spent in France, I never wrote one single word worth reading in any of those journals. It was lazy writing and it lacked focus. And it embarrassed me every time I went back to re-read anything.

When I discovered blogging (thanks to the staggeringly talented Ian) I realized instantly that I belonged here. And I didn’t even know where “here” was. I just knew that this form of essay writing was exactly the journal I needed. Why? Because it was journal writing with audience.

When I say that, I risk a few things. First of all, it’s obviously egotistical to assume there will be any audience for this sort of self-indulgent writing. Secondly, it risks revealing that I’m a closet (or not) narcissist who thinks everything she says is brilliant and deserves an audience.

Actually, I mean neither of those things. What I mean is that having an audience keeps me accountable. You keep me from being lazy. You ensure that I will spend at least 30 minutes crafting a 5-word post, and later, be glad that I did. You ensure that when I go back and re-read what I’ve written, I will actually find it enjoyable. You keep me writing.

Did you know I was a creative writing major in college? And did you know I hardly wrote a single word in the 14 years between graduating and starting this blog? Since then, not only have I put words on a page nearly 300 times, but I have also managed to create somewhat of a chronicle of at least two years of Zoe and Lucy’s lives. (You should see the journal I tried to keep when I was pregnant. Boorrrring. Oh my got, was it boring.) Also I now find myself, as I was in college, in an almost permanent state of asking “is this something I could turn into a story?”

And all that is a gift I could never have asked for, would not have even known how. And which I will cherish as long as my cherish muscle works.

So I’m here now to thank you. Thank you for all that I’ve written — that you’ve enabled me to write. Thank you for taking me places I never even knew existed. And thank you for being such a kind, supportive and constant audience. I love you all — I mean it.

xo, Laurie

Before the fall

By | monkeys, thoughts | 9 Comments

The other day, Lucy and I were walking to the library (how awesome is that — walking to the library. I love my neighborhood). The house on the corner had a hedge of volunteer mimosa trees growing en masse. Their feathery xylophone fronds called out to Lucy so we moved slowly past them, Lucy’s hand lightly grasping the wispy leaves as they grazed her fingers and then folded into themselves shyly. She wanted to take one with her, but each time she tugged, the leaves zipped off the stem leaving her with nothing but a handful of green confetti.

Finally we reached the end of the mimosas and left them behind. We continued on past the colorful bungalows that fill our neighborhood, past that breezy, postcolonial, white-draped porch, past that washed out Elvis bust with ruby red lapels, past the house that was our second choice when we moved here a year ago, past that creepy giant stone head propped up against the shrubs. I was asking Lucy about about the head — where could it have come from? — when a sudden loud crack made us look up. And with no more warning than that, a heavy 25-foot-long tree branch crashed densely to the ground, ten feet in front of us, completely covering the sidewalk. Had we been 30 seconds further into our walk, it would have fallen right on top of us.

There is no way, had we been directly beneath it, that I could have gotten us out of the way in time. Not to dwell on the “if” of this non-tragedy, but the best I could have hoped for would have been to quickly sandwich myself between Lucy and the branch, with the additional goal of not crushing Lucy when the heavy branch, a sizable tree unto itself, crushed me. Which is really to say that within this particular “if,” I would have been useless. But thanks to the volunteer mimosas. Thanks to Lucy’s fascination with plants and flowers and everything else in the world. And of course, thanks to my atypically not hurrying her along (because these plants that we see every day, they are keeping us from our important duties at the library this busy Saturday). Thanks to all that, the fallen branch was just another fascinating thing to look at along our walk. Wow! we said. Why did that branch just fall out of that tree? Let’s pretend we’re in the jungle as we wade through it.

As parents, we’re expected to guide our children through life. With somewhat of a forward motion. With some interesting stops along the way. And safely.

The thing is, sometimes it’s our kids who do all that, while we just stand by uselessly and watch. Not that Lucy knew anything about the branch that was slated to break our bodies. But she was moving at her own pace. Which is most definitely not my pace. And Lucy’s pace not only taught us about shy wispy mimosa trees, but it also kept us safe from big powerful oak trees.

I have so much to learn. Thank goodness Lucy and Zoe are here to teach me.

Where else is Laurie?

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