Special Moments

I have three doorknobs from old Victorian houses. They sit right in front of me near the kitchen bar where I write. An Etsy artist has converted these doorknobs into clocks—and I love them. For me each doorknob represents a house with its rich history and many moments. Here I often pause and think about our moments. Especially at the start of a new year.

I had a moment this week—and I bet you did, too. Mine happened after our big Christmas brunch, a long-held family tradition inspired by son’s love of cheesy eggs and bacon—although he no longer eats bacon.

But on Christmas Day and for weeks before, I am more Martha than Mary. I clean. I scrub. I bake coffee cake from my mom’s recipe and ice dozens of sugar cookies. Then on Christmas morning my family comes, and there is a flurry of opening gifts, surprises, and the experience is laced with eggnog, coffee cake, and followed with cheesy eggs and potatoes.

This year my three grandchildren received a Gingerbread House kit from Santa. After brunch, amid all the chaos and toys, they seized on this gift and headed to their workspace table—my unused dining room. Macy, the seven-year-old, had the two-year-olds in tow. After she ripped open the box and scanned the directions, she carefully doled out the gumdrops to little Stevie and the icing tube to Harper. Macy held tightly to the candies. For over an hour they labored over the gingerbread walls to create designs and decorations that would rival any Jackson Pollack painting.

Eventually the sounds of children’s voices called to me like a Siren, and I found myself slipping silently onto a dining room chair where these little cherubs were fully engaged. Even I was in the moment. Three lovely children on Christmas day were playing together. Exuberantly. Even joyfully. Their fingers were covered with icing and they were eating as much of it as they were using to decorate and glue candies and gumdrops onto the walls of the deconstructed gingerbread house.

What happened next surprised me. When their design looked complete, Macy tried to glue the four walls of the house together with icing, but each time she stood the walls up, they fell. On her first try the children were quiet with surprise when the walls collapsed. But then the magic that seems to come of Christmas kicked in. Without a word Harper and Stevie held the walls for Macy as she plastered the edges of the gingerbread house with more icing. When they were ready, they let go again. But this time one of the walls broke in two as they all tumbled over. No moans erupted. Instead Harper giggled first. Then they all laughed, and she added, “This is a silly house and needs a new design.”

They studied the pieces. “I think we can stack two walls together and make two beautiful cookies,” Macy announced. Then she looked up, caught first my eyes and then the eyes of her cousins before adding in all earnestness, “Play is hard work. Sometimes you have to help each other fix whatever breaks.” The cousins nodded. “We will make cookies instead of a house!”

“Gingerbread cookies,” shouted Stevie, clapping his hands.

“Gingerbread Oreos,” Harper corrected him. They squealed with delight. And that was my moment. Children at play. Children in the moment. Children reminding me that laughter, joy, and fixing things together works whether you are seven or seventy years old. In 2019 I am holding tightly to this special memory.

Wishing you a new year filled with moments to cherish and share!

Community — Wherever You Find It — Matters

“How did you ever find Skaneateles, New York?” a friend asked when I said I was heading there for a book event. “It’s a lovely hidden town,” she explained, “but when you said you were headed to New York, I hoped you meant the Big Apple.”

Truth is I did not know much about Skaneateles. I looked it up and found it was in upstate New York and about 62 miles from Rochester and 140 miles from Buffalo. The most recent population count was 7,209. Make that 7,211. My friend, Sarah Goode, and her husband Kevin had visited there a few years back and decided to stay. Permanently. She and the local librarians invited me to come and talk about my book, and the work I love doing — sharing stories and the power of our personal writing. I went.

The first day Sarah and I hiked over to Skaneateles Lake, a charming “Finger Lake.” On our hike we passed dozens of small little shops sporting local art, women’s apparel, cooking goods, and locally made treats. Small and unique shops such as the Chesnut Cottage and the Rhubarb Kitchen Shop. At each stop someone said “hi” to Sarah, and often someone would wave at me, too, and say, “You must be the author!” Let me make this clear, I am not famous. Not even remotely. But this gracious town had plastered posters of my talk in the shop windows. It was heart-warming how they reached out to me!

We made our first stop at the community hub. It is the Skaneateles Library where librarians extraordinaire, Nickie Marquis and Deanna King, welcomed me as any writer dreams of being welcomed — they had promoted me, set up press interviews, and accommodated my talk with the perfect space and the latest technology.

That evening I opened my talk with a bit of my story. A tale of teaching story and writing to students, cancer patients, veterans, and writers. As is often the case, the crowd was eclectic in age and experience, but there was one common denominator. The room exuded an energy. A positive energy that could only come from a place where people felt a part of something wonderful. A caring community.

I shared stories of a Marine who wrote his way past his PTSD from combat and a stage-four breast cancer patient with a newborn who wrote a blog to help her find her find her path through cancer. I closed with poems by a woman who has overcome the trauma of rape by creating “you can overcome” poems. The audience laughed and even teared-up with me. They understood our need to break our silence, find our words, and use them to heal and transform our lives.

Afterwards, the locals asked wonderful questions. “How do I begin to write my story?” “How do I write about my trauma and not hurt others?” A local lawyer in purple tennis shoes stood in a long line to greet me, “I just wanted to say thank you for coming here. I had forgotten the power of writing, and I know I must tell my story!” The next night, a tall stately woman with a cream-colored straw hat, stopped me at the library’s guitar concert to whisper. “Thank you. I want you to know I am inspired by your work. Last night I pulled out my journal for the first time in a long time. I had forgotten how we need to find and share our stories.”

And I knew it was true. It was important to come here. The community I found was a treasure I will hold in my heart for a long time. It will make me work harder to build and find a greater sense of community in my own life. Small towns can be gems. Community — wherever we find it — matters even more.