Mismatching Mugs For Love

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On one of our first dates, we wandered around a shopping village holding hands. I’m sure we both had iced coffees in our free hands. It was August of 2005.

We wandered into one of those kitchen supply stores. The ones that have little sampling stations throughout the store of fancy dips and fancy pretzels. Hal loves that stuff. We wandered separately and then together and then separately again. Down the aisles, looking at all the cute plates and gadgets and popcorn makers and hot chocolate sets and cheeseboards.

We knew from the first date we were done looking for each other. I had an inkling from one of the two dozen phone calls, before we even had our first date, that we would get married. Every item on the shelf in this kitchen store was like a crystal ball into the future that we had ahead of us. The home we would would set up. The meals we would have together. The mornings and the nights. I was pretty sure he felt the same way. I know I did.

We found ourselves at the wall of coffee mugs. They were “4 for $12” or something like that. Hal picked a dark blue and a purple. I already had a purple in my hand and was choosing my second color. We were going to get two mugs each for $6. The moment I saw Hal had already picked a purple mug, I instantly put mine back. I knew that these mugs were all going to live together in the same kitchen cabinet some day. I wanted them to make sense. I wanted four different colors. It was a very clear decision for me then. And it’s a very clear memory for me now. I picked light blue and green.

Those mugs got packed up to live together, as predicted, about 8 months later.

They’ve stayed mismatched throughout apartments and  jobs.

Babies and pets.

Healthy days and sick days.

Life and death days.

Happy, sad, and status quo days.

Times of fear, discontent, and times you just want to scream until you can’t scream anymore days. I hate those days.

Times of joy and excitement. Positivity. Optimism.

“Things are going to be alright” days.

“Whew, that was a close one!” days.

Our mug collection has grown over the years to epic proportions. We sold a bunch at a garage sale one year and still have too many more packed up in the attic. But these four mismatched mugs are always front and center in the kitchen cabinet. They bring me right back to that kitchen store in those early dating days. Before we could possibly could know what we had ahead of us. Those mismatched happy colors.

The perfect match is actually a mismatch sometimes.

 

Eat ‘Em Up…Yum

Just reminding myself of some things at a time of some stress…

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I put this whole pancake syrup container in my mouth at lunch the other day. Unopened. I was demonstrating to a friend the level of stress eating I was at lately. If it’s not nailed down and is remotely edible, I will put it in my mouth.

I’ve tried to start being more aware of what my triggers are. It’s like having an ‘out of body’ experience. I watch myself as I eat another unsatisfying and poorly made bagel with insane amounts of butter. Or another slightly stale cookie or potato chips.

It doesn’t matter if I have a protein bar, placed smugly in my purse that morning with the best intentions. I will eat that sucker too. And sometimes not even remembering the first bite to the last.

I can’t stress enough how I’ve never been a skinny mini. I’ve always liked to eat what I wanted when I wanted. It’s not the weight I’m…

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I’m That Mom Who Cries At Everything

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My mother was constantly caught off guard by commercials in the 70’s and 80’s. She would just stop and stare at the television , instantly engrossed in the Band-Aid brand tearjerker or Folger’s coffee warm and fuzzy wakeups with surprise visits from grown coffee drinking children. And every time the commercial came on, she would stop and watch it like it was the first time. And then she’d cry. Not a debilitating “crazy person” cry. But she would be teary-eyed for a few minutes as she went back to cooking or reading Good Housekeeping or admiring my brother’s latest Lego creation.

I didn’t understand the concept of ‘happy tears’ as a child. I’m not sure most kids do. I can remember asking why she was crying after one of those commercials had done their damage. “Because it was happy,” she would say.

I’ve never been a crier. I’ve found all it produced was a headache. Instead I would find myself deep in thought, bordering on meditation, when something very serious or sad happened. When all my brothers, our spouses, my nieces, and my father gathered around my mother’s hospital bed to take her off life support, I remember being very calm. I was more concerned about the comfort of everyone else. I didn’t want to break down. I just took in the moment. Removed myself and immersed myself simultaneously.

Three months later I suffered the worst loss. My two year old son, Noah, died in a swimming pool accident. He was our only child. Of course, shock played a big part in the non medically sedated state I usually I found myself in. I just went on auto pilot from day one. I had no idea I could do that. I just did. My husband needed me. I needed me.

Two and a half years later, I became a mother again. Miriam Phoenix was born and we were about to emerge from the worst and re-enter the best again. It was a happiness magnified by the most giant magnifying glass ever. It was also incredibly complicated. This sadness and happiness needed to make friends if we were going to be the parents Miriam deserved.

I found that the tears flowed more easily at the happy stuff. The firsts. The first time my husband spoon-fed her. The first time she mimicked my voice. The first time she kissed me before I could kiss her. The first time we all walked together, Miriam in the middle holding our hands. To everyone else we looked like a normal family. The grief was always going to be trailing behind us. I would always try to outrun it. But I was terrible in gym. And sometimes it caught up to me. But I didn’t cry. I just didn’t.

Miriam had her nursery school Holiday Show a few weeks ago. As I sat waiting for it to start, I looked around at all the other parents. They were laughing and commiserating and simply being normal. I waved to a few mothers I knew. I went back to being immersed and removed simultaneously. My mother bubble.

The show started with the older kids. They filed out in front of the giant bulletin board decorated with construction paper candy canes and dreidels in one white-shirted line.

And I lost it. I started crying. This wasn’t even my child’s class! I just cried and felt it all so strongly. I glanced around at how many of the other parents were unaffected by the cuteness of this. How hard these kids worked on this show! Learning their songs and their adorable hand motions. I was overwhelmed. This will never happen again. These kids. These songs. How can you not cry?

Miriam’s class was next. My cheeks hurt from smiling at her. She was so proud. She loved the audience. She was totally in the moment. I cried. I looked around to see if I could find any fellow criers. Nope. Not a one.  Maybe it’s me. I want more criers in my club. Happy criers love company.

I will continue to cry at every Back to School night. Every teachers conference. Every time Miriam pushes me out of the door of her classroom and says “Mommy, gimme a kiss. And a biiiiiig hug” and throws in a “see-you-later-have-a-nice-day!”

In fact, the happy tears rolled down my cheeks just this morning. Miriam woke me around 6:30 am to tell me that she was having so much fun in her new big girl bed. And then she went back to sleep.  I just let the tears roll and eventually went back to sleep myself. I will cry happy tears every day and I encourage you all to do the same. And let’s all meet up in the tissue aisle one day, ok?

 

 

 

 

Hang Your Cape on the Door

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The one-eyed cat is running frantically back and forth between the kitchen and the bedroom. The fat lazy cat is sitting in the laundry basket that is finally empty after an hour of folding clothes I don’t even remember anybody wearing. The basket is still a little warm somehow and she is not budging. It’s midnight and I am hanging up my cape for the day. A little glass of sake will swirl and swish around in my brain just enough so that I’ll be able to sleep.

Because quite honestly, it’s not going well right now. Let me clarify. It’s actually going just fine. Certainly a zillion times better than it’s going for many other people. But I was just aggravated today for so many tiny things. I can list them.

-It’s all going by so fast. And that makes me sad and pisses me off.

-I feel exhausted most of the time. I feel aches and pains that I know I shouldn’t but my extra pounds and lack of exercise time contribute to feeling like a blob of a woman.

-I let the world of Facebook pictures get to me sometimes. I know it’s bullshit. Those kids are not perfect all the time. I’m jealous of their vacation. I’m jealous of the fact that they have more than one kid. I’m ashamed of the pasta and chicken nugget meals with zero vegetables we end up eating most of the time. I’m too tired to argue.

-I lose it sometimes. I don’t yell. But I freeze in this defeated state and my eyes tear up and sometimes an actual tear rolls down my cheek. Not often but sometimes.

-I have small anxiety attacks. I worry about money and jobs. I worry about our health. I worry about our safety.

-I wonder if we’ll ever get to Disneyworld. Or even back to Dutch Wonderland.

-I question my parenting. I know I’ve got the fun part down. I’m a really fun mom. But I worry about the other stuff. I know there’s no handbook. My mother never used one. And I turned out just fine.

Just like the old motherly saying of “everything will be better in the morning” I wait to see if that’s true. I hang up my cape. Actually its my daughter’s cape. But I can pretend they make it in my size. Because they should.

 

 

 

 

The Secret Shame of the Pickle Barrel Dream

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When I was about eight years old, I awoke from a dream like I’d never had before. I felt dirty and guilty. Very guilty. I tried to forget this dream ever happened. I wondered for years what could be wrong with me for even having these thoughts! I must be sick! A pervert! A one track mind! I’m only eight!! C’mon brain! Think about Barbie dream houses and Barbie Winnebagos!  Think about your “Madame Alexander Dolls From Around the World” dressed in traditional costumes doll collection! Think about anything but the PICKLE BARREL DREAM!!

I held this dream deep inside me for another eighteen years. And like a secret weapon; like a shank fashioned from a plastic fork Martha Stewart may have hidden in her underpants; like an Oscar acceptance speech that miraculously appears out of Meryl Streep’s cleavage; the story came out into the light.

The scene was a dumpy kitchen in a dumpy house in New Brunswick New Jersey. An after party of an after party. The bar had closed. My friends and I still wanted to drink. We were young and fabulous and even cooler than we thought. We wandered down Louis Street to somebody’s house. Lots of familiar faces. It was such a great time in life. You remember those days? I certainly hope you had them too.

We were talking about movies and books and bands and the conversation went towards shows we loved when were growing up in the mid 1970’s. And in the din of youthful chatter and raucous laughter, I made the following announcement:

“I once had a sex dream about Larry Storch from F troop.”

The room got quiet for 5 seconds while that sentence sunk in. The guy I had my eye on for a few weeks, that I thought was totally out of my league, stopped talking and turned his whole body towards me.

“You what?” he asked.

It was GO time. Time for this story to make its debut from my subconscious. As my friend Copper says “Own your freaky self!”

With a beer in my hand, I begin to recount this dream to this kitchen full of people…

I was a little girl in a saloon like setting. It was also a butcher shop/deli/fish market. My mother and grandmother were there talking to the man behind the counter when something caught my eye. I wandered away a few yards to this man sitting in the corner next to a pickle barrel. With pickles in it. Of course. He was dirty and hairy and had a ripped white t-shirt on. His hair was a mess. He was scruffy. This man looked exactly like Larry Storch. Agarn from F Troop. He smiled at me and I smiled back. Wordlessly, I put my hand on his arm and stuck my finger into a hole in his white t-shirt. He offered me a pickle from his pickle barrel and suddenly I felt a hand grab me. It was my mother. She was furious! She pulled me away from him right away and Larry Storch started to laugh. That made my mother even more furious. My grandmother left all her meat wrapped in butcher paper in the store and we all left the saloon butcher/deli/fish market. In the next scene in the dream, I’m in my grandmother’s kitchen. My mother is standing, arms folded, and very upset. I’m spinning on her high-backed light blue vinyl kitchen chairs. Around and around while they discuss what to do with me. They are explaining to me about how it’s not right to touch a strange man. And also never to take a pickle from a man I don’t know. I didn’t understand why.

Even stronger than the details of the dream are the feelings I woke up with. The feelings of being bad. I had a hard time looking at Larry Storch the same way again. No one could find out about this dream. It was a secret I carried with me for many years. Until this after party of an after party.

The room erupted in laughter. It was cathartic. It was weird. It was slightly embarrassing.

“That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard!”

“What the hell?? That’s hysterical! Do you have any other dreams you want to tell us??!! HAHAHAH!”

I became “the girl who told the Larry Storch dream story at that after party.” What a claim to fame?! I loved it.

Sometimes the stories we hide the most are exactly the stories we should share first. Full disclosure. Around a pickle barrel.

P.S. That guy in the story who I thought was out of my league? He wasn’t 😉

 

Don’t Think. Just Paint.

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Miriam picked two ceramics to paint. The letter “M” and a sea turtle. Hal chose a Japanese maneki-neko piggie bank. Literally it translates to “beckoning cat” and it’s believed to bring good luck to the owner. There’s a nail salon in town that has one in the window. Miriam has loved seeing that cat, waving one battery operated paw at her, since she was a little baby. It’s like they know each other from a past life. Their connection is so oddly strong.

I’ve always loved theories about luck. Good luck. Bad luck. Before we lost Noah, when life was more normal than I’d realized, I thought alot about how to boost my good luck. I followed all the old wives tales I’d learned from my mother. I’d tested them as a child though.

“No shoes on the bed.” I can clearly remember putting my shoes on the bed to see what would happen. I’d look around my room and wait for something to fall off the wall or a window to break. I thought the bad luck would be immediate. Like a scene out of Carrie. It didn’t occur to me as a child that bad things can happen later.

“No opening an umbrella in the house.” I actually tested that theory once by opening an umbrella for the count of ten in the house when no one was watching. Our central air conditioning broke down the next day. The guilt was too much and I confessed.

When we were trying to get pregnant again with who would eventually be the miracle Miriam, we searched for signs that told us we were on the right track. Along with large doses of medical science and good old fashioned sex, we searched for signs. Dragonflies became symbols of hope that Noah was still with us in some way and he was helping. The appearance of cardinals or ladybugs. The name NOAH appearing on keychains, cups, and any souvenirs we’d find at rest stops on one of the drives to nowhere we’d take because we just didn’t know what else to do. These items were a punch in the face and also a blinding bright light. To see his name was to know he’d existed. And also that in some way he was still here.

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Miriam chose the letter “M” first. She loves the alphabet like me. I hope she has my obsession with font styles one day. The font expresses just as much as the word it spells. Hal was still carefully painting his Good Luck cat so Miriam got to do a second project. She narrowed down her choices to a monkey, a squirrel, a penguin, and a sea turtle. One thing she does do is make a good decision.

“Which one?” I asked.

“The sea turtle,” she definitively answered.

I stopped myself from starting the “are you suuuuure???” exchange because I knew she was sure. She did not get her decision making skills from me, that’s for sure.

She painted her sea turtle so many colors. Sooo many. She would say things like “I’m making such good art” and “my turtle is so happy.”

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I didn’t do a project this time. But as I helped Miriam, I glanced all around thinking about what I will paint when I can come back (alone) to use the rest of our gift certificate to this cool studio. Mugs we have enough of. Figurines are Miriam’s department now. The thing that caught my eye were the dishes and platters with long poems or parts of stories hand written on them and fired glossy and complete. My handwritten words, my imperfect painting, handmade with the colors I choose. This would be what I would do next time.

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Miriam overcame some fears of getting dirty with her paint stained hands. She concentrated on the task at hand. Painting. Hal shut his hurting mind down for a little while I hope. He just painted this cat for his daughter. I daydreamed  about what I would create. I thought about how we got to this point. The three of us. Painting. Was it luck? Was it good fortune? I think it’s dangerous to think too much about it. Dangerous and distracting. The bad things that have happened and will happen.  The good that has happened and will happen. You’ve got to just “make such good art” like Miriam says. And really try to believe it.

 

 

I Need a Hug

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Miriam fell out of her bed last night. That’s the first time it’s happened. I heard her struggling and making sounds and then I heard her say something that sounded like “I need a hug”. And then soft crying for mommy.

I went into her room and there she was. Tangled in her princess blanket on the floor, confused and exhausted. If I had to put the scene together like an episode of CSI, I’d say it appeared she was trying to get to her new friend a few feet away from her big girl bed. R2D2. Oh, and he’s a garbage can by the way.

She’s really hit it off with R2. He used to be Daddy’s friend. But since R2 met Miriam,  they are inseparable. Miriam carries him from room to room. Good thing we don’t have many rooms. R2 is kind of awkward.

Tonight R2 has a toy pig and two troll figures in his belly. And he’s standing right next to his Princess Miriam’s bed. She’s almost asleep.

Sometimes we all need a hug in the middle of the night. Hug a pillow. Hug a significant other. Dreams of hugging a secret crush or a celebrity. Dreams of hugging a loved one no longer here to hug. Hug a well-worn stuffed animal or the book we fell asleep reading. Hug yourself to stay warm on this freezing windy night. Find what gives you comfort. And hug it. Anytime you like. Even in the middle of the night. Even if it’s an R2D2 garbage can.

 

 

The Highest Form of Flattery

13216_1483215040301Our babysitter just texted me at work with this picture. She’s great with sharing all those little moments I miss on lazy Saturday’s. The message along with this picture was:

“I just asked her if she wanted mac and cheese and she said ‘hold on I need to work for a little bit’ and this is her right now lol”

Adorable for so many reasons and also an eye-opener. She is so obviously imitating me. I squeeze in writing time everywhere. I’m like a crazy person when I’m working on an idea. Usually if she is engrossed in her tablet singing and studying letters and watching videos about toys and surprise eggs (yes I know WTF?), then I’m sitting right next to her with my laptop pouring my guts out into coherent sentences. We are always together. I never want her to think I’m choosing a computer or phone over her. That actually upsets me a lot for this generation. She shows me what she’s watching and I show her what I’m typing.

Sometimes when she really wants to imitate me and go right to center of my heart, she pulls out her “computer” too. My friend Shari gave me this Elmo computer for her when she was really little. It belonged to her girls. It’s adorable. And now it’s Miriam’s way to be like mommy. She types on the keys and Elmo actually says BEEP BOOP BOOP and there are program cards that slide in to the screen. But Miriam knows the act of typing is “mommy working” and nothing makes me happier.

It just occurred to me recently that one day Miriam will be reading all of this. All my stories. And she won’t always be four years old. One day she’ll understand them and hopefully I’ll still be around to talk about everything she reads. But if I’m not, she’ll remember her mommy typing and playing. And playing and typing. Just like I remember my mom working on the adding machine late at night when she did the bookkeeping for my father’s gas station. Or her calling me to come lick the raw cake batter off the beaters of the mixer. Or when I would stand by her bed in the middle of the night and wake her for no reason. She always opened her eyes with a smile even though now I can understand how tired she must’ve been.

Miriam is watching me. She’s watching her daddy. She’s really watching. And I want to give her the best view I can.

 

The Power of Positive Fruitcake

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On my knees digging around for 50ml minis of Smirnoff vodka while an anxious customer waits for them behind me, just slightly too close for comfort, I realize how fortunate I am. And I also realize how I’ve reached a point of determination like never before.

Time is also flying like never before. Like the way our parents said time would fly when we were young and days lasted forever.

But the thoughts of fortune that popped into my head while I was on my knees in my old brown corduroy pants had nothing to do with my weekly paycheck or my great coworkers and boss. Because yes, I know, that’s more than many people have. It has nothing to do with my good health or incredible friends or my bond with my husband or the gift of my daughter. It’s something else.

I have a passion. For writing. For telling stories. The funny, the sad, and the in between. I never feel more alert and content than when I’m stringing words together. Hokey, right? But true. It wakes me up on my most dragging days. I look forward to it like a promising date. Like a date you think could have potential. Like the kind of date when you can’t wait to see what he kisses like.

As I dug around for the 50ml mini bottles of vodka for this too close for comfort guy, with his cigarette stink coming off him, my pissed off inner work ethic kept yelling at me “Get up off the f’ing floor!”

So I just write. I give into “the compulsion to scribble” as my friend Deb called it once. She also told me to keep going. To write without fear. Just keep going. And knowing that I have the outlet of my keyboard to look forward to keeps me plowing through the passing hours. And that’s where the fortunate part comes in.

I consider myself so lucky to have this urge to write. I can’t imagine not having a passion for something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be tangible. It doesn’t have to produce a finished something. It can just be the act of doing it. Dancing. Acting. Reading. Knitting. Drawing. Teaching. Comforting. Cooking. Gardening.

I used to do some writing for my job. I wrote wine descriptions. And I think I was pretty good at it. I used fun descriptors that customers enjoyed, laymen and snobs alike. I had one wine I used to sell by describing it as the Willy Wonka wine because it reminded me of the Everlasting Gobstopper. Like the gum that Violet chewed until she turned into the blueberry pie, this wine had layers of flavor as you drank it. “Willy Wonka Wine” said it all and I found it very effective.

One day I used wrote the phrase “Christmas fruitcake” to describe a wine (actually the words of the winemaker) and the wine world screeched to a halt. Or at least mine did. Flavors of nuts, raisins, toffee, dried fruits, and spices placed under an umbrella term that everyone understood turned out be an insult to the powers that be. So I was told I could no longer write about something I love. Wine.

I’m not going to lie. I cried. And I got really angry. And hurt. And angry again. Then slowly the mention of the word “fruitcake’ simply became a joke. Almost like how the mere mention of the names Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin became the joke.

(Quick but important side note…corporate politics and strange bedfellows is really what caused me to lose the writing duties. Not my ability. Not my knowledge. Not even the mention of Christmas fruitcake)

So again, I turned lemons into lemonade. Fermented grapes into wine. Day old bread into bread pudding. I was more driven than ever to write since now it was limited only to my off hours. So thank you to the jackass who took that away from me. It’s cool. No, seriously it is. You’ve given me a running joke for the rest of my days. And who doesn’t like a joke? You’ve reminded me of my childhood dream to write ever since I wrote a descriptive essay about a pencil that blew Mrs. Kelly’s mind in second grade. I can still remember how proud my mother was after that parent/teacher conference. She had a copy of that essay in her hand and smiled down at me. And like my friend Deb, she told me to keep writing.

My boss (not the aforementioned jackass) came into work two days after Christmas and handed me a solid square of tin foil. Inside was a piece of fruitcake. The joke is there. And the support is too. That piece of fruitcake practically screams “Don’t let ’em get you down!”

From the too close stinky guy waiting for his vodka to the corporate bullshit, don’t let them take your passion people. If you are fortunate enough to have one. Keep going. Without fear.

 

 

 

 

 

A Dear Mark Letter…

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Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

I’ve been thinking about you a lot. And I want to thank you for so many things.

In 2008, I was a first time Mom. The loneliness and difficulty was overwhelming. My husband told me about Facebook. “You’ll really like it! Go on it. Find your friends. It’ll help.” And it really did. The world got bigger than just the living room filled with teething toys and burp rags. Thanks Mark.

In 2010, my mom died. My friends from the four decades of my life who remembered her kindness sent so many messages of love. My wall was busy. Thanks Mark.

Three months later, my son Noah died suddenly in a swimming pool accident. I don’t remember the status my husband posted that night we got home from the hospital. I don’t really ever want to see it again either. How else do you spread such an awful piece of news with the least amount of pain? I imagine the disbelief and shock in seeing that status in our friends’ scrolls was huge. No more silly stories posted. Like the time Noah yelled “Look! Clock!” in the middle of town at the big clock on the side of the Children’s Place store. Only problem was Noah couldn’t pronounce the letter “L”. There would be no more silly stories for a long time. Just short messages until the humor and light slowly started to creep back in. Thank you, Mark, for helping me communicate from the darkest place.

Over the next two years, we found ourselves in the difficult world of fertility. I found so much support in the Facebook world and felt much less alone. Over the next two years we also battled grief and depression. Again, Facebook made it less possible that I would just disappear. Facebook friends were now looking for me when I couldn’t leave my bed. We moved to a new apartment two towns over. I had started a job in a wine store one month after I became a mother without a child. My husband, Hal, went back to work. He was struggling. I threw myself into my job. Hal was barely holding on. I guess I went on autopilot. It must’ve seemed like I was doing great. I pushed outward. Hal pulled inward. And when we met in the middle at home together, we were still that couple on our wedding day. Just very, very lost and sad. But as silly as it sounds, Mark, Facebook was the only way we still felt connected to the world. And as we watched our news feed scroll by filled with pictures of vacations and children getting older and birthdays and pets and new cars and silly stories and good news and bad news and news in between we felt still felt alive. In limbo maybe. But alive. Thank you Mark.

Then our status was filled with big news. Amazing news. We had a baby. A girl. Miriam Phoenix was born four years ago today actually. Thanks Mark for helping us with the baby announcements. No stamps required.

Then I decided I had lots more to say than simply funny status updates everyday. Usually a few times a day. I started my blog and linked it to Facebook. I started a professional page on Facebook and started to connect with people from around the world. People who thought I was funny. People who had also lost children and needed support. People who needed to know that they could keep going. After all, I found a way. And I needed them too. Because the road is not easy.  And I need to look backwards sometimes to keep moving forward. Thanks Mark. Because of you, I was published for the very first time and hopefully will continue making my childhood dream of being a writer come true over and over again.

Thanks Mark. Do people say that to you often? I hope so. To have changed how the world communicates is pretty incredible. I’m just one little story here sending out ripples as far as Facebook will take them. Thanks Mark.

Your Facebook Friend.

Erica