The best way to say thank you


My husband and his mom, sometime in the seventies

My husband and his mom, sometime in the seventies

It was gray and damp, that Thanksgiving Day in 2001, but the weather didn’t matter.  It was the day my husband proposed to me, in the middle of a hike, right before a big family dinner.  I was sitting on a log and he knelt down in the dirt and produced a ring.  I, in turn, produced incoherent babbles of surprise and joy.

We headed from the hike to my parents’ house, where we called Scott’s family and had the fun of sharing our euphoria with them.    Ever since, Thanksgiving has had a warm place in my heart.  It was a day when I had something new to be thankful for, a day when Scott’s family first became part of mine.

This year, Thanksgiving will have a different feel.  Over the holiday weekend, we’ll be having a funeral Mass for Scott’s mother Joan.  Her death was a surprise; though she was having some health issues, she was still active and vibrant.  No one expected the sudden seizure, the ten days in the ICU, the lungs that finally gave way.

Her death has given me so many things to ponder.  Not just the reality of death, or the nature of heaven, though those have been very much on my mind.  Rather, it makes me think about how we can honor the people we love and have lost.

And Joan was eminently lovable.  She was a strong woman, but it was a gentle strength, a solid core clothed in kindness and graciousness.  She donated so much time to her community; her volunteer work kept her busy, but not too busy to write thoughtful handwritten cards to family and friends.  From the first time I met her, she welcomed me with such warmth, making me feel instantly at home.

And I miss her.  Though our homes were far apart and our visits were not as frequent as any of us wished, she was so much a part of our summers and holidays.  The album of my memory is full of snapshots: Joan playing badminton with her grandsons, Joan laughing over a funny story about the boys, Joan humming as she cooked dinner in our kitchen weeks after my oldest son was born.  I remember that last memory with such fondness.  Joan was so happy to be there, visiting her new grandson, and the soup she made was a tangible expression of her love.  Taking care of others was something she did very, very well.

When I think about how to honor Joan, how best to show her that I love and miss her, the answer is clear:  I can honor her by loving her son, by being the most supportive wife I can be.  As a mom myself, I know that there is no dearer wish for a mother than to see her son end up with someone who thinks he is the cat’s meow. I think I do a decent job of showing Scott how much I love him, but the daily stresses of life can sometimes make me snappish and self-absorbed.  That’s something I’d like to change.

Because the guy who proposed to me on Thanksgiving thirteen years ago is the guy I would choose all over again, in a heartbeat.  As the holiday comes around once again, I realize that I am deeply grateful to the woman who raised him and made him the man he is.  Though I miss her, some of her best qualities live on in him.

And all this points to a simple, beautiful truth: The best way to say thank you is to love, and to love completely.

Great Thanksgiving books for kids

Christmas books for kids are easy to find. But Thanksgiving books?  Not so much.  In the area of children’s literature — as in so many things — Thanksgiving gets the short end of the stick.

But in our family library, we have two Thanksgiving books that help get all of us – myself included — into a proper holiday frame of mind.


Thanksgiving is Here! by Diane Goode is a pretty simple, almost plotless picture book. Grandma and Grandpa host Thanksgiving for a huge, sprawling family, whose members arrive with frequent ringing of the doorbell and throw themselves right into the joyous celebration.  They help with the cooking, move the furniture, push tables and mismatched chairs together, clean up afterward, take a post-meal walk, and just generally enjoy each other’s company.

But even though the story is basic, the book is wonderfully compelling.  There’s a nice rhythm to the words, and Goode’s drawings are fabulous.  Each family member has so much personality, and the pictures of the family activities manage to capture the cheerful chaos of a huge family gathering.   My kids love this book, and I do too, because it reminds me of why I adore Thanksgiving: it’s a holiday that is all about loved ones gathering together around a table and enjoying each other’s company.  You don’t need more than that in life, really, and this gem of a book is a colorful reminder.


Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin is a classic from my era (written in 1971).   It’s about Maggie and her grandmother, who live in a house on the edge of a cranberry bog in New England.  Grandmother has a top-secret famous recipe for cranberry bread hidden behind the fireplace, and the plot starts to spin when they have two guests come over for Thanksgiving and one of them just might be trying to find and steal it (the cad!).

I won’t give away spoilers, but let’s just say that it’s a sweet story about not jumping to conclusions, and about not judging a book by its cover.  There’s a little theme of forgiveness at the end, too, which is nice.  And the illustrations are so colorful and charming, with that unique early ’70s picture book aesthetic. They are evocative, too; the drawings of the house by the bog always make me feel Thanksgiving-y and oddly nostalgic, even though this California girl would not know a cranberry bog if she fell headfirst into one.   It’s a darling book, and it even has a recipe for cranberry bread on the back cover … a nice touch.

Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving titles to share?  Please do!

Who says we don’t have fall in California?

Here are some photos from my wanderings in the past week.










The tree below is a liquidambar tree; I always remember it from my childhood, because the street where my piano teacher lived was lined with them.


When I was young, I loved to walk down her street in the fall.  The leaves were not only gloriously colorful, but they dried so nicely and made such a satisfying crunch when you waded through them.   I can still hear them, and feel them under my shoes.  Isn’t it amazing how those memories stay with you?


Even inside the house it looks like fall, thanks to this bouquet from my thoughtful guy.

I think my kids may be getting tired of me oohing and aahing over the beauty and color I see all around me.  On the other hand, isn’t that what moms are for — to help you develop an appreciation for the important things in life?

Happy fall!

Thought for the day



I love this quotation.  More and more, I agree.

And on a completely different note: If you’ve ever looked up from a home decorating magazine and gazed around your house and thought, “No one in their right mind would ever write an article on THIS mess,” then you’ll enjoy my latest article.  It’s called “If a Home Magazine Did a Feature on my House,” and you can read it over at

Happy Friday!

The Book Pile: Willa Cather, Phryne Fisher, Ross Poldark, and more

So books!  What have I been reading lately?

Well, work has been so crazy for the last six weeks that I’ve mostly stayed away from the heavy stuff. I’ve put away some pretty mindless chicklit, the kinds of titles that I’d be embarrassed to share here.  But even among all the beachy stuff, there have been a few titles of substance that I’m happy to crow about.


Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather was an unusual read. It’s not so much a novel as a series of vignettes about two priests who settle in New Mexico.  It’s lyrical and beautiful; Cather doesn’t shy away from the brutal aspects of life on the frontier, but there is a vein of hope and human goodness in this story that links all of the different episodes.  It makes me want to read more Cather, and to spend more time in the Southwest.

Apparently the Poldark series of books by Winston Graham (first written in the 1940s) were made into a popular British TV series in the 1970s.  I haven’t seen the series, but I’ve just read the first two books, and they’re terrific.  They take place in eighteenth-century Cornwall, a place I love to read about (blame Daphne DuMaurier), and they center on the young squire Ross Poldark and the various people in his world.  Love! Loss!  Family feuds!  Sassy servants!  Mining!  It’s all here, and it’s a treat. (Ross Poldark is the first one in the series, if you’re planning to start.)

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My mom is a huge fan of Gladys Taber, a mid-twentieth-century columnist/writer who lived in an old farmhouse in Southbury, Connecticut.  She wrote several books about her life in New England, and this past summer, my mom gave me the 1959 book Stillmeadow Sampler.  It’s arranged by season, and is a compendium of Taber’s musings about living in the country, about cooking, about family, about dogs, and about life in general.  It’s an utterly delightful book, the kind of book you read with a cup of tea on the table next to you.   Highly comforting.



This past summer, Scott and I got  hooked on the Australian TV series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.  It’s based on a series of books by Kerry Greenwood, and I just had to check them out.  So far I’ve read four, and they were great; the setting of 1920s Melbourne is unique, and the characters are a blast.  I can’t really call them “cozy mysteries”; the stories are a little too dark for that, and Phryne Fisher is not a cozy kind of character, though she is certainly an entertaining one.  She’s sort of the female James Bond,  adventurous both outside and inside of the boudoir (even moreso in the books than in the TV series — skip these if you can’t stomach bedroom scenes in your mysteries), and she has a fabulous cast of supporting characters.   These are very engaging mysteries that keep you guessing.

So what have you been reading lately?