And then she was 14.

Claire is 14.

This girl of mine, not entirely mine, this girl of the world. She of another mother and mine all the same. She is at once sweet and surly, kind and impatient, brilliant and sorely incapable of discarding her trash.

She is mine, not entirely mine.

And today – or as close as we know it – she is 14. Long-limbed, questioning, always listening to (or playing) music, she beguiles me. It makes sense that her roots are Hunan, for she is full to brimming with spice.

Superlatives simply are not enough. Not enough to describe her and certainly not enough to hold her. It occurs to me that she’s two-thirds of the way to 21. And I think, how can it be? Wasn’t I just handing her baby-self, all gangly and gnat-bitten, a Cheerio while sitting cross-legged on a Hunan hotel carpet? Wasn’t she just wide-eyed at her big sister, seemingly after days-on-a-plane, locking on to her like a heat-seeking missile? Wasn’t she just in elementary school, hefting a trombone much bigger than she?

And where will she go from here?

She is a delight, occasionally a challenge (as is her teenaged obligation), and always an honor to parent, this girl of mine.

Mine, not entirely mine, this girl of the world.

Claire 14

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It’s never random

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It’s not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” ~Ashley Montagu

She came out from behind the counter.

We had flown for a couple hours, found our way through a foreign airport, then driven for quite a bit. The drive was up into the mountains, the flatness of the hazy city fading far into the distance.

And then she came out from behind the counter. She came right out.

And she welcomed us. They welcomed us. Like long-lost sisters – which in some sense, we were – to a place so far up in the Hunan sky.


It was as if she already knew that this was a homecoming which of course she did not, could not, until sometime later. In our dishevelment, we were embraced and treated as family, warmly, resolutely. Family.

And it was crazy, even if it wasn’t random. Crazy in the sense that it felt like the most foreign home I’d ever been to. But home it was. From the initial embrace, it was full-on hospitality wherever we went. Almost as if she got out the word.

From walking down the street (smiles, waves, big toothy grins) to gifts from the orphanage director (he labeled himself her Chinese Papa) to the magical breakfast soup maker who shyly allowed her photo to be taken.

Director Zhou

So what do we take away from experiences that seem, in may ways, other-worldly? For me, it’s a sense of destiny, a belief that these connections were meant to be.

There were people whom we didn’t know – prior to those few days in July – but whom now we call friend. There’s a bit of a miracle in that, particularly in the whirlwind of the present day. The differences hold little meaning for us now. We are, at once, all the same. It’s not random.

Soup Maker

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Secretly incredible.

Why did you do all this for me? he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.” “You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.” ~E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

Secretly incredible

We came via planes, trains, and an automobile. We had never looked each other in the eye, before that day. We came with excitement. With anticipation. And we hugged so, so tightly.

There are the moments that define us. Graduation, marriage, childbirth, child-having, divorce, illness, a death. The grand moments. The ones we call momentous. The ones about which books are written.

And then there are the smaller moments. Where we don’t expect the boom.

So then why do they resonate like they do? We feel it. In our bones. And even more in our souls.

#JoySisters Toronto-style

Secretly incredible indeed.

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Viola and Solitaire

Surprise is the greatest gift life can grant us. ~Boris Pasternak

Yep, it took me by surprise. As we waited to check in at the international counter, I noticed an elderly woman quite a bit ahead of me. She was the spitting image of Viola. A Chinese Viola. In a light blue sweater.

Traveling with her family, she seemed to pay no attention to me. But I watched her. The wrinkles, the small glasses, the whitish hair still with a touch of darkness in places.

And those eyes. Viola’s eyes, surrounded by crinkles.

I was so taken with her that I pointed her out to my eldest. Saying, “look at her,” and pointing towards the light-blue-clad elder, I explained that she looked like my grandmother. The one whose elementary-school diploma hangs on our kitchen wall. There was an other-worldly calm about her, and I felt it.

And then there was the lengthy delay. The panini, the $8 airport bottled water. People magazine. Checking Facebook and playing solitaire on the iPads that were conveniently stationed and wisely bolted to every bench and table.

As we slowly inched closer to our revised departure time, the girls took a walk. So there I was, playing solitaire at a high-stooled bench.

And then, there she was.

Standing at my left elbow, without any introduction or reserve, my little old lady had come to pay a visit. She seemed to appear out of nowhere. I hadn’t noticed her. I wasn’t even sitting at the correct gate for our flight. And, yet.

There she was.

Watching me intently, she seemed intrigued by my moves. I smiled. She came closer, reinforcing the lesson that in Chinese culture there’s no such thing as personal space. She watched as I tapped the screen. Her face seemed puzzled. I pointed. She pointed back. We seemed able to agree that aces were ones.

Yī, she questioned? Yī, I nodded.

And then red 9 on a black 10. She said jiao and sí, the Mandarin words for 9 and 10.

I nodded.

She continued to watch. Then all of a sudden it was she who was tapping the screen. Deliberate in her shaky pointer-finger way, she began moving jacks onto queens, sevens onto eights, murmuring the numbers in Mandarin.

And then she won. She patted my arm. Her eyes twinkled. It was enough.

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Sometimes it’s the same moments that take your breath away that breathe purpose and love back into your life.

~Steve Maraboli

A couple of months ago I keynoted at a women’s event. My message can be boiled down into something pretty darn simple :: stop and take a moment for yourself at least once a day. I suggested strategies for doing this and explained how it had worked for me during difficult times.

And then I promptly forgot it. I mean, I completely forgot my own advice.

I didn’t stop. Not for a day, an hour, or even a moment. Looking back, it seems as if there always were things to do, a business to run, volunteer responsibilities to fulfill, a family to tend to.

And that’s all good. In fact, it’s terrific and it’s how it should be, and I’m really oh-so-grateful for the richness it all brings.

But I want – no, I need – to #takeamoment.


I need to stop. Stay stationary. Observe. Breathe. Because, you see, I’m about to embark on an extraordinary adventure. Which I know will be fast-paced, unusual, super-duper foreign, and full of rich experiences.

As I finally start to pack (at T-19 hours), I realize that I need to stop. And write. And breathe. And feel the discomfort which tightly hugs the excitement. Both are present.

And that’s okay.

So here’s to taking a moment wherever we are. Tossing clothes into the dryer. Working on a spreadsheet. Pulling weeds. Boarding a plane.

Breathe. Be there. Absorb. Don’t just push through.

Listening to my own advice this time. As I prepare.

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The Fish Market

“There’s always a bittersweet kind of thing, but I feel like everything had to work out the way it is. Everything that had to happen, happened.”       ~Bruno Mars

Stone wall, Alexandria VAI went to the town, almost forgotten but long remembered. The water was there, a chill biting through my windbreaker. Quaint, with stone and bricks rubbed smooth and worn. Chipped and dimpled dark wood warmed the surrounds.

The place. I hadn’t been there in 30 years and yet I felt drawn to it. Each song that played in the tavern – each one! – was from the era I remembered well. How could that be?

The evening walk was windy. As we meandered by, suddenly the water bore two sculls, moving rhythmically, the coxes’ voices shouting above the din.  The shops were filled with items reminiscent of days and years past.

Everything acted like a dinner bell, that familiar reminder of home.

Alexandria harbor

And so, I remembered. The people, college roommates and old boyfriends. Girls with boys’ names. Laughter. Long drives on spring break. Cherry blossoms and summer humidity.

Something that felt a lot like love.

Street lamp, Old Town Alexandria

In the moment of an early spring evening, so different and much the same, it felt like a welcome.

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The remembering. . .

“I recall the experience sweet and sad. . .”   ~Walt Whitman

I couldn’t help thinking about all the mothers. About the sisters. About the wives, partners, and girlfriends. Yes, without a doubt, there were men who mourned. And in fact they bore the brunt of the eyewitnessed sorrow.

But for these moments, I thought about the women who, though not on the battlefield, necessarily were victims of the battle too.

gatekeeper houseI couldn’t help feeling those feelings. The watchful days. Clocks ticking off the hours. Yellow ribbons dancing in the breeze. The waiting and wondering. The trying to breathe.

The prayers across the ages, for the Watch was one known intimately by generations past and future.

Vietnam memorial

The strength required of them. The going-on. The day after year after decade beyond.

The remembering.

base of column

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Nourish to me is nourishing food, nourishing your family, nourishing your life. ~Jamie Oliver

Today’s black beans came from a farm.

Black beans

The farm seems like a sacred place. It’s at once quiet and active, the green growth visible, the tomatoes and peppers widening as you watch them in the sun. Behold the artichoke.


Thinking about it reminds me of summer and life and the twists and turns that led me here. In the green, in the shadows, in the dirt. Always with the sun.


Broken and flourishing all at once. Nourished.


{Check out Oles Farm and its Promised Land CSA}

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The how was not my job.

When you are brave enough to sink into your deepest longing, you will move through the fear and discomfort of not knowing “how,” of not believing it’s possible, to understanding why you want what you want. And then. . . you will make choices. You will make big moves. I dare you to move. ~Melissa Mulligan

Sometimes it’s right there. In front of your face. Outside your back door. In your neighborhood. In your blood.

Present in your long-ago visions.


And yet you doubt it, wondering ceaselessly about the how. Obsessing over considering the consequences, the challenges, the inevitable hurdles.

But then you think about it again, and your heart sings.

P9175929And you know, deep down, the rightness of it all.

The integrity that spills over, carving a swath wide and long. The creativity. The light.

Humor and spreadsheets and shovels and sun shine. Grace and pickups and relationships and mulch.

Being the guide. Accepting guidance.

Spring is right around the corner.



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What I know. . .

“Write about what you know.”   ~Cathy Zielske

What I know becomes different the moment I write about it. It becomes real. Tangible. I can feel it in the shivers.


Last week, I wrote ::

For me, visioning has opened up the Universe. When I look back at the pages I created just a year ago, I find myself staring at my current life. At the dreams. 

The ones that I created.

How does “real” become real-er? I don’t know the answer, but I know it happens. It’s as tangible as the wind whipping around the windows, the towering snow piles obscuring my view, the thanks of a woman outside the coffee shop, the bulbs that are ready to burst.

There is such beauty in this knowing. The warm shower of inspiration. The pouring of the toast.

As real as it gets.




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