Our disappearing paths

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I bought this coffee mug in 2016 at the Glacier Point gift shop in Yosemite National Park to add to my collection of mug memories. My son and I were on day three of our summer trip to California. Printed on it is a quote from naturalist John Muir.

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

It was the perfect senitiment to capture this adventure of ours through central California. We’ve hiked a lot of paths together over the years, and more than a few of them have been dirt.

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Giving him the love and space to create his own future

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My son and I stood at the summit of Baldy Mountain, on what felt like the top of the world. He wanted me to take his photo sitting on the edge. I have no idea what was going through his mind as he sat there, looking toward the dissipating haze of New Mexico’s eastern horizon, but my spirit brimmed with the emotional memories of the day he was born.

In the months before his birth, I voraciously read every how to be a parent manual out there. I believed that parenting could be treated as an academic enterprise, just another subject to learn, an expertise to be acquired. When challenges arose, I’d just flip to the right page for the answer.

The day we went to the hospital to be induced, I felt confident that we had this thing under control. I’d put myself through Dad 101 and was ready to roll.

Then everything went to hell.

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Foggy memories

My work parking lot is adjacent to a large cemetery. This morning, a dense fog enveloped the trees and headstones, and reminded me of the way the memories of those lost fade with time. It’s up to us to honor them by sharing their story along with our own.

Good morning, grandma

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Years ago, my uncle sent each of his nieces and nephews a crystal vase in memory of my grandmother, who loved her cut flowers. This morning, the sun cut through that vase to leave a rainbow through my kitchen. Good morning, grandma. Thanks for the smile.

The power of a photograph

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I wonder if the early inventors of photography understood the impact they’d have on our humanity. These static snapshots awaken our memories, fill us with nostalgia, and remind us in both joyous and heartbreaking ways how these moments of life and the people in them are ephemeral.

A note of gratitude

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I am so thankful for the life I have right now. No buts. No conditionals. I am simply thankful. In less than an hour, the kid and I will be on the way to spend Thanksgiving with family in Connecticut. In a year where I learned that nothing is guaranteed or permanent, I will disconnect and wade through that imperfectly beautiful chaos that family often is, so that I can cherish those moments of perfection that only family can be.

I encourage each of you to do the same. Put down your phones and be present where you are. We’ll all be here to enjoy your photos and stories on the flip side.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Know that I am thankful for the unique perspective each of you brings into my pretty amazing life.

The lesson of the walnuts

I chose my steps carefully around the furrowed trunk of the black walnut. Ripening husks littered the floor of the Illinois Arboretum nut grove, greasy black flesh waiting to stain a poorly placed shoe.

I closed my eyes and took in the earthy lemon scent that filled the air, a fermented sweetness that fell on the good side of decay.

I remembered the time I was hiking with scouts, and surprised them by finding a just-fallen fruit along the trail. Many of them had enjoyed walnuts in chocolate chip cookies, but wouldn’t believe that the green orb in my hand was one and the same. In a moment of lost discretion, I plunged my finger into the flesh, digging towards the hull that would prove to them a walnut grew inside.

Three weeks later, my fingers lost the dark hue of the juglone that stained my hands.

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Thank you, unconditionally

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My son opened our bedroom door this morning, with a “Happy Thanksgiving! Is it okay if I let Gem and Tigerlily in?”

“Of course,” we chimed back.

Within seconds, eight paws, two tails and a preteen turned our bed into a Thanksgiving morning of smiles, purrs, snuggles and laughter.

As I watched my son close his eyes and go nose-to-nose with an equally winky Tigerlily, my heart melted. The compassion that he has shown with our new kittens astounds me as I watch their mutual bond, pure and unconditional, grow each day. Read More

New heights

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I’ll admit it.

I’m not good with heights.

I wouldn’t go so far as saying I’m petrified of them, but climbing to wide open heights doesn’t exactly top my list of favorite activities.

When I learned we’d be climbing the 100 stairs of the fire tower at Forest Glen Preserve this last weekend, I knew I’d have to harden my constitution. After all, as scout leaders we encourage our boys to step out of their comfort zone and grow. I’d need to do the same. Read More

Finding her pack

A few weeks ago in Dubuque, Iowa, I saw my sister Monica for the first time in two years. I can’t say I ever expected our reunion to happen in the City of Five Flags, more than 1,000 miles away from her home in New Hampshire and a decent four-hour jaunt from our home in Illinois. She and her dog Trip were in Dubuque for the DockDogs World Championships. If you’ve never seen DockDogs before, just imagine water olympics of the canine kind. Monica and Trip qualified for the “high jump” event — called Extreme Vertical. Read More