A Little League Litany of Thanks



Hey God –

Remember how, when I was a kid, I couldn’t throw a ball to save my life?  Remember how my softball career consisted of one inglorious season in fifth grade?  Remember how, when my parents asked me what I liked best about softball, I said that my favorite part was getting drinks out of the cooler once the game was over?

So who could have predicted that 1) I’d one day have a son who plays baseball  and 2) I’d love having a son who plays baseball?

(I guess it’s safe to say that You could have predicted it.  I sure didn’t.)

And as this season nears its end, I’m going to try to put my feelings into a little litany of thanks.  Because, when it comes right down to it, for all the driving to practices and sitting on hard bleachers and constantly washing of dirty socks, there are a great many blessings to be found at the ballfield.

So here goes.

Thank you for games played on warm spring evenings when the light is beautiful and you are delighted to be outside.  Thanks also for games played on windy cool evenings when you freeze and wish you had another layer, because either way, you’re away from the computer and out in the fresh air … and sometimes you need that much more than you realize.


Thank you for coaches who teach kids to respect the game, each other, and the umpires. Thank you for coaches who see the potential in their players and draw it out.  Thanks for the time and energy and heart they put into the game and our kids, not because they are getting paid but just because Baseball.

Thank you for gangly middle school umpires who go out there and have to make hard calls that  they know might not be popular but who do it anyway, often while standing right in the path of errant foul balls.  Thanks for their strength at sticking to their guns and trusting their instincts.

Thanks for the Snack Shack, where you can get soda on a hot day, coffee on a freezing one, donuts at the 8 AM game and pizza at the 6 PM one.  Thanks also for the many candy options that keeps bribable younger siblings entertained.  (Special shout-out, God, to those fabulous ring pops, which take more than an inning to finish.)


While we’re on the subject, thanks for other younger siblings who find your own child and somehow find ways to entertain themselves with dirt, spilled chalk, and any toys they happen to bring.  Siblings’ Club at the ballfield!  It’s a good thing, God.

Thanks for the community of other parents who, over the course of a season, you get to know well. Thanks for the cheers and encouragement they give to your kid as he’s up at bat.  And thanks for the fact that sometimes, they have the inspired idea to bring little goodies for the adults in the stands.


A Mother's Day mimosa?  Why yes, please.

A Mother’s Day mimosa? Why yes, please.

Thank you for making me face something about myself: that I can, under certain tense conditions, veer awfully chose to becoming one of Those Parents who spontaneously erupt in outrage at a dodgy call.  I always said I’d never be one of those parents, and oh my, it’s much easier to be them than I thought. Thanks for the lesson in humility, God.

Thanks for the fact that every single game is a chance to practice detachment and going with whatever comes.  Even when it’s a nail-biting game that I really want our team to win, I’m finding that I can get myself to the point where I think – and actually believe –  Hey, we’ll be just fine if we lose.  That’s a helpful spiritual attitude to cultivate, on the ballfield and in life (St. Ignatius of Loyola called it “indifference” — the good kind.)


And I have to give thanks for something else, too: the fact that even in a losing game, something good can happen.  The game where you get clobbered by thirteen points might be the game where your kid gets his first RBI or one of his teammates catches a fly ball that would make Pablo Sandoval proud.

And all this points to another thing I’m thankful for, God: that playing Little League is really not about the win, but about constantly putting on the cleats and warming up and going out there and challenging yourself to do a little better each time and realizing that if you have that attitude, you can still hold your head high no matter what the final score is. That’s a lesson that resonates both on the ballfield and off.  In seeing my son and his fellow players this season, I see how true it really is.  Thank you for that.

Oh, and one final thing: Thank you, God, for your wonderful trickiness in giving a totally unathletic parent like me this sporty little kid who is broadening her world in ways she didn’t even know she needed.

Play ball!

A mother’s touch

Detail from Song of the Angels by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Detail from Song of the Angels by William Adolphe Bouguereau

“I don’t know why God chose to enter the world as an infant; there are many possible reasons, I’m sure.  But I like to think that maybe it’s because God, too, wanted to feel the warmth of a mother’s touch.” 

– from Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses

A blessed Mother’s Day to all.

An ordinary extraordinary life

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Ruth.  She was born in 1919 in Brooklyn; when she was seven, her family  moved cross-country for her father’s job (he was a cinematographer for early Hollywood).

Ruthie on the left, with her father, mother, and sister Jessamyn, 1926

Ruthie on the left, with her father, mother, and sister Jessamyn, 1926.

It was a job that involved travel but also risk.  He died when Ruth was eleven, of illness contracted while filming a movie in Borneo.

Though Ruthie grew up without a father, she had a devoted mother and sister, and many happy childhood memories.  As a teenager, she met a fellow student, Baxter, and they became high school sweethearts.


Baxter, a gifted artist, taught himself how to make cameos so he could make one of Ruth’s profile (I will pause while you swoon).  He wanted to give it to her as a ring but her mother thought a high school girl was too young to accept a ring from a boy, so he made it into a necklace for her instead.


A few years later, they got engaged.  They were married in 1941.


They loved squaredancing and boats.  They loved family, and created one of their own:  one girl and three boys.

Squaredancing, 1950

Squaredancing, 1950














Eventually they settled in Santa Barbara, in a small tract home.  Their two older children married; grandchildren came into their lives.  Then, in 1973, Baxter died suddenly of a heart attack while on a Boy Scout hike with his two youngest sons.  In her early fifties, Ruth was a widow, navigating life without her beloved soulmate.  Always a homemaker, she suddenly had to enter the workforce (she worked as a baker in the  local junior high school cafeteria) while raising two teenage boys.

And that was what she was doing when I first was old enough to know her: Ruth Elizabeth Stuart Adams Wolf, my grandmother.

Grandma and me, March 2016.

Grandma and me, March 2016.










I’ve been wanting to write this post for the past two weeks, ever since Grandma died on April 13th.  It’s felt a bit daunting, though, because I want more than anything to do my grandma justice.  And since she passed away, I’ve spent so much time reviewing her life and my experiences of it, and trying to put into words just why she was such a special lady, beloved by many.

In the process, I’ve been thinking about what just it means to live a meaningful life.  What sort of impact do we leave on the world?  When we die, what is taken out of the world?   When we go, what do people remember and miss?

By one measure, my grandma’s life wasn’t  notable.  She never had more than a high school education.  She did not have an impressive resume.  She never made a large salary.  Her world was very small; it was a big, BIG deal when we took her on a trip to England in 1996 (her ancestral homeland).  But she was perfectly happy with what she did have.  Few things gave her more pleasure than her little house, surrounded by garden. She was a fantastic baker and an accomplished seamstress and knitter.  I have homemade scarves, needlepoint, dolls that she has made for me over the years.

As small as her world was, though, her death has been felt like an earthquake by her family.  We all feel like the ground has come out from underneath us.

Because Grandma was always there: a rock that didn’t move even when everything around her did.  Her home, the home in which she was still living at the age of ninety-seven, was the place you went back to for holidays or for family get-togethers.  She’d have the Snickerdoodles baked for you, would serve you tamale pie.  For breakfast she’d have these Swedish coffeecakes that were like heaven in your mouth.  She was always glad to see you.

Grandma's snickerdoodle recipe

Grandma’s snickerdoodle recipe

At various points over the years, when family members were in transition or crisis of one kind or another, she’d give up the spare room and welcome them home.  Coming home was like entering a museum of your own life; the walls of her home were plasted with framed photos, and she created volume upon volume of photo albums, carefully documenting the lives of her four kids and grandkids and great-grandkids.    And in her own quiet, understated way, she had your back – always.  It was a family joke that if you said anything critical of Grandma’s kids, she would never forget. Her kids and their kids were her raison  d’être.  She believed in them – us – fiercely, always seeing potential.

Grandma and her kids, 2008

Grandma and her kids, 2008

Others were the recipient of her kindness, too.  Every Christmas, she’d put together baggies of homemade cookies for the Arrowhead water delivery man, the postal carrier, the men who picked up her garbage.  At her celebration of life last weekend, I met her next door neighbors, who moved in last year from out-of-state.  They told me that Grandma had come over and said she wanted to host a coffee for them, so they could get to know the neighbors.   “We were so touched,” said the wife.  “No one does that kind of thing anymore, but your grandmother did.”   At age ninety-six, she was still spreading the welcome in the way she knew best: with homemade cookies and an open door.

And Grandma had a great sense of humor too.  She was a huge fan of the Martha Stewart show years ago and watched it religiously.  When Martha was arrested for insider trading, Grandma was indignant.  She proudly wore an apron my uncle had bought her:   FREE MARTHA it said on the front.  Seeing that slogan on my gray-haired eighty-something grandmother was a sight that will always make me smile.

But though Grandma was so many things to so many people, she was the most modest person you can imagine.  And I’ve been thinking about how she represented the polar opposite of the selfie culture of today, in which we put ourselves out there constantly, hungry for recognition and approval and likes.  Grandma didn’t need recognition and approval and likes. The doing of a thing was its own reward.  She lived quietly, happy with her home and garden and family.  She didn’t need or want anything more.  It strikes me that this is an increasingly rare quality.

Moving into the house, 1961

Moving into her new house, 1961

To see everyone who gathered last weekend was quite something.  More than eighty-five people came to her home, the small happy home in which she lived for fifty-five years, the home in which she died.  We shared food and stories and memories and laughs and tears.  And Grandma’s spirit was so very much there; alive, actually, in all the people who were shaped by her example and absorbed the lessons she quietly taught.

So no: she didn’t make a lot of money or have an impressive degree or a long resume.  But she did make a home that, for decades, has been a place of peace and welcome.   She had four children whose devotion to her knew no bounds and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who loved her more than they could put into words.  And in a changing world where image is often valued over substance, she showed everyone the power of quiet dignity and concrete acts of kindness, done simply because they are the right thing to do.

I love you, Grandma.  Thank you.

On Grandma's fridge, in her writing: "When God measure a man he puts the tape around the heart not the head."

On Grandma’s fridge, in her writing: “When God measures a man he puts the tape around the heart —  not the head.”


Pretty Picture of the Day



Flowering dogwood at the Filoli Estate, Woodside, California.


“Taste and See” has arrived!

Thus far, my week of spring break is notable for two reasons, one bad and one good:

1) I came down with the worst cold I’ve had in at least five years

2) My new book is here!

The good news is that #2 is so exciting it even makes up for for #1 (and, given the awfulness of this cold, that’s saying a lot).  The box of books from my publisher arrived on Monday afternoon, and I had to wait until last night to open it (Scott was out of town, and I wanted him to share in the big unveiling).  It was hard, I tell you: it was kind of like those kids and the marshmallows in the classic psychological experiment.  I had to draw on reserves of willpower that I haven’t used in a while.

But at last he came home and at the first opportunity I dove into the box.













And here it is!











I had seen the cover before in a digital format, but there is nothing like seeing the real thing.  It’s so pretty; the colors just pop.  (I love that Loyola Press design team – they are so insanely gifted.)

Front cover (I am never far from Kleenex these days)

Front cover (I am never far from Kleenex these days)








The design of the back cover is gorgeous too ... I love the circles.

The design of the back cover is gorgeous too … I love the circles.








As is fitting for a book about the senses, I immediately opened it and breathed in the marvelous new-book smell, gulping it down like oxygen. (I will try that again when the cold is gone — not sure I got the full effect through my congestion).

So it’s here in three dimensions, this book that has meant so much to me.  In a lot of ways, it’s the book I’ve been wanting to write my entire adult life.  Now it goes out into the world where it will hopefully entertain and encourage others.

Starting with Scott.