Advent 2022 – Cradling the Light (Hope)


I love candles. The glow of a single flame banishing complete darkness in a single ring of light. One our way to meeting/church, I pointed out the sky to my daughter, a spot where the black rain clouds were broken and streaks of brilliant blue sky showed through. The light beyond the darkness, the sun waiting after the rain. I love a rainy day as much as the next introvert but in that moment, it was a lovely reminder of the vividness of hope, even the smallest notion of it. We can cup our hands around hope’s candle flame, feel the warmth of it, heat that could burn if one gets too close but can deeply warm if held gently.

As we enter this time of Advent, of expectation in the Christmas season, I want to take your hands, Friendly Reader, and place a bit of hope in them once more. Hope is always present, always available in whatever moment we need it, but particularly powerful in its small doses. Just enough hope to fill a candle flame is plenty, because that means that it is not totally dark. There is light. There is hope.

Our eyes hold on to light, they seek it out, even the merest pinprick of it. In 1941, vision scientist Selig Hecht, worked out that, with a clear, unobstructed view, the human eye could see a candle light flickering about 30 miles away. As long as there is light to be found, there is also hope. Hope of leaving the tunnel, hope of morning after a night of storms, hope of finding what has been lost. Our eyes cradle light, for we cannot see without it. So, in a sense, we are always on the lookout for hope, to find it, cradle it, and let its light dance in our eyes like a candle flame.

Stepping into Advent, into the beautiful chaos of the holidays, I want to cradle hope’s light, to hold it close against the darkening days of winter, against the difficult responsibilities and realities. I don’t only want to cradle it for myself but to share it with those who may also need it, those whose candle flame feels weak and sputtering. Hope and light are ultimately meant to be shared. Many little flames can create a great light, as we all know. May our cradled lights create a glow of hope that breaks up the darkness and remind us in love and faith and gentleness that everything will be okay.

No matter what holiday you celebrate, if any, hope is for you, Friendly Reader. No matter what you are expected or yearning for, hop is there for you. Here in your cupped hands, your candle flame, your light of hope is right here. Hold on to it, but keep an eye out for those whose light is low. Let’s help each other hold on to hope.

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Ushering in October


I don’t know about you, Friendly Reader, but I am definitely feeling Fall-ish. The air has crisped a bit here, the sun is bright, the sky is blue, and I can already see some leaves starting to warm into reds and golds on the trees. Last night, I cleaned my little house a bit, sweeping September out with the wash and trash, and prepared for October’s arrival with twinkle lights, warmly-scented candles, comfiest clothes, and blanket nests on the couches with some of my favorite soul-refreshers.

I did not grow up in a world with Fall as a season and so have learned to cherish it as something beautiful and comforting and magical. It is change that fuels that feeling — though, yes, the feeling is often the opposite for me — but it is change to a quieter time. In the Fall, all start to make ready for winter, for rest, for dormancy. From the flora to the fauna to the folx, we all make preparation in Autumn, and I have come to crave it, especially in the last ten years.

I need this change. I need this preparation for wintering, for dormancy. I need the permission of Fall.

I need to know that it is okay to swaddle and start to hunker down. It is okay to hobbit inside my little home, cozy and warm and provisioned. The rapid time of the Holidays will come soon enough and then the deep quiet of winter. It is okay for me to embrace this time of change, of preparation, of movement towards quiet.

I need Fall with its cozying as much as I need Spring with its burgeoning life. I need the permission that fall gives me for warm clothes and cozy knits, for weighted blankets on my bed and a fire in the hearth, for twinkle lights and caramel-pumpkin-scented candles. I need the warmth of its colors amidst the cool of its air.

I need Fall. Autumn is a must for me now. I do not know how I might ever live without it again.

Welcome, October! You came in so beautifully, and it is so good to see you. Stay for a good long while, yeah?

The Comfort Struggle


I have been thinking lately — why do I sometimes struggle with being comforted? Why does it feel nigh impossible to just sink into the gentleness of others and let myself fall apart if needed? I have been going through a difficult (even scary) situation of late, but I have been given overwhelming support in it, thank God. However, as I said to my husband the other night, I still struggle to be comforted by that support. I feel it. I acknowledge and am grateful for it. But I feel as though something is missing in my reaction to said comfort.

Why am I not moved to relieved tears by the succor that is being offered to and in defense of me? Why do I feel as though I recognize and appreciate this comfort on a cerebral level but it hasn’t pierced my heart? I feel somewhat heart-numb, like the comfort can come to the moat around my soul’s castle and call out its support and furtherance, but it cannot enter the inner sanctum and be welcomed there. Amidst all the comfort, I still feel alone, even though logically I know that I am not.

I never though that I would struggle with being comforted of all things, with knowing that I am loved and championed. My darling husband gently suggested that maybe the comfort I have received, while good, is not necessarily the comfort I am needing. But I do not know how to reconcile that. I do not know what comfort I do need, how I need to be poured into, how my heart needs to be ministered to. And that hurts as well: being so disconnected from myself (or at least feeling so) that I do not know what it is that would make me feel that comfort down into my bones.

If you are feeling this, too, in whatever moment you are currently standing in, I’m sorry. I don’t have an answer or a fix. But I can tell you that you are not alone in it.

I’m Still Here.


If you think I have been avoiding you…you’d be right. I’m sorry. I have been avoiding you. It’s not that I haven’t been trying to write. I have! There are any number of drafts sitting here, I promise you, but it has honestly been a real struggle this summer. A struggle to put my heart down into words. Now with the beginning of another school year looming, I am feeling way too vulnerable for my own liking. Things are spilling out way too easily, and it makes me feel even more out of control than I am in reality. I am feeling ALL the things right now.

I feel guilty for trying to rest this summer instead of doing the work to find another job. Attached to that is the sense of recklessness of even considering a different job when this one has so many “benefits” (read: life necessities). My guilt also extends into envy of those who have taken the plunge into new chapters outside of teaching. Envy of their faith, courage, attention to and action for their mental/emotional/physical health.

I am anxious as I have now entered into the enmity a small group of individuals who patently disagree with some of my stances as a teacher. I have said that I would be willing to lose my job over ensuring my classroom is an inclusive, welcoming space. Will I be indeed be called upon to do so? We shall see, I guess. So far the support and love have been loudest, but it doesn’t stop the anxiety.

I am tired from a summer that was quite busy with activity and ended with my spouse and I catching COVID and getting hit hard with it. Our vaccinations kept us out of hospital but we still had a rough time of it and are still in physical recovery mode after the fact.

I am nervous as I have new team members and a new principal to learn how to work with this year, as well as a new grade-level curriculum. So much to assimilate and implement. I am trying my best to take it one step at a time, though. Boundaries and work-life congruence have always been a struggle for me, and I have been trying to improve that. Trying not to be overwhelmed can be overwhelming in itself, however.

In some ways, I feel as though I wasted these weeks, the time I could have devoted to writing. I did serve myself by reading a fair bit, though, a good mix of new and familiar books that proved a safe hiding place for my soul. But I do miss the words flowing out of my pen and keyboard. I miss insights and contemplations blooming in my mind and then pouring out in a way that I can understand. That’s a large part of the difficulty lately, I think: understanding my own thoughts. I struggle to explain, struggle to write, struggle to understand me. So here I am, babbling on as honestly as I can even though it may not make a great deal of sense.

I haven’t given up writing, dear readers, but it is hard right now. I will keep trying, keep working to understand my own heart and mind. So much has happened and changed over the last few years that often I feel like a person I do not recognize or know, and it’s been a long time since I felt that way. It’s a struggle, yes, but I shall keep trying. Keep going. Keep stepping. Keep breathing. I’m still here.

A single rose bloom still hanging on after a fierce summer storm that broke apart entire trees.

Everlasting Words


This morning, I sat on my front porch in an unseasonably cool breeze and set myself to the task of continuing to read through books for our new curriculum adoption. One of said books is Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming. As I read her fluidly-beautiful narrative set in chronological poems, two in particular stood out to me: “The Beginning” and “Composition Notebook”. These chapters capture so beautifully exactly how I feel about words and writing. I do not recall the first notebook I received but I have a feeling that my reaction was much like hers, coupled with the desire to start writing right now!

My daughter has recently begun writing her first independent narrative story, appropriately a fan-fiction piece about one of her favorite cartoon shows. I cannot express my joy at watching her get excited to put her ideas down in writing. It is simply amazing to see her “creating art with words” as she put it today.

I have been writing for approximately 33 years — stories, poems, song lyrics, speeches, essays, and articles — and I hold it as one of my greatest talents and delights in life. Lately, however, writing has felt incredibly difficult. Not the words themselves, truly, but, as Rachel Macy Stafford so succinctly stated the other day, “it’s hard to publish words in the world right now”. I want to write to help and heal, to be authentic and open, to welcome those who might need something deeper in a world full of quick quips that lodge in our brains and hearts like darts. But I am unsure of how to do so or what to say when I am struggling so deeply with feeling existentially exhausted myself.

I am trying but so often feel as though my trying isn’t enough. These chapters of Woodson’s book, however, feel like a tug on my heart, reminding me of what I love (to write) and why I love to do it (because it might mean something, somewhere, to someone). I want to embrace the infinity of words, “how wonderfully on and on they go” (62). Even if it is not perfect (or what I think is perfect), even if it feels too open, too honest, it might be just what some other soul needs in that moment. If only I am but brave enough to set that offering of words down to be what it will be.

So today I share these words that gave life to me today with you, dear ones.

What I Learned From My Mother (Mother’s Day 2022)


This is going to perhaps be shocking to read, in all honesty, but I hope you will bear with me. One of my favorite memories of my mother is of the few times that she has lost control of her language (forgive me, Marmee). Now these occurrences have been very few and far between indeed (and very well may be all in my imagination, right, Marmee?), but, as I have grown older, I have come to realize something.

Those few moments of true emotion expressed in perhaps less-than-genteel language have given me permission to in fact be imperfect myself, to feel strongly and be free to express it with those with whom I feel safe. The fact that my beloved mother, in the midst of being the superhero of my life, is also blessedly human, so I can be, too.

Women are held to such toxic, harmful standards, even today in 2022 as more feathers are violently ripped from our wings to keep us from flying. Being shown her humanity and taught that my own is not a sin are of immeasurable value. That is what I learned from my Marmee, not the words that she let slip in those emotional moments. I learned how to mess up and apologize, both of which I have done throughout my life. It gave me a way out of the shame of my own perfection, though it has taken the better part of 20 years for that lesson to take.

Thank you, Marmee, for losing your tongue a few times and teaching me how to exist with humanity, honesty, and, yes, even with grace. It has made me a better person, partner, friend, and mother. Thank you! Happy Mother’s Day!

Picnicking Weather


In early Spring of 2006, Ben took me to meet his paternal grandmother (we were getting married, after all). Afterward, we decided to take a picnic to the local Conservation Club to have by the pond. We went to the grocery, grabbed stuff for sandwiches and the like, and headed off. I hadn’t had a picnic, really, since I was a child. Cookouts, yes, but not a picnic.

Growing up, we we would sometimes take Saturday picnics to a lovely cove on the north end of the island. The grass was soft leading down to the sand of the little beach, the tropical firs waving in the ocean breeze and the sun sparkling on the water. It was novel and a getaway from the normal pace of life. We would come home full, salt-skinned, and sun-weary, and I loved it.

This picnic was quite different from those of my childhood but no less special to me. It was a celebration of the nearness of our wedding, our claiming of each other before important family members. It felt like a declaration of our commitment to one another in a way and this picnic the feast of our betrothal. I have been thinking and considering what I would like to do to celebrate my 40th birthday next year and, you know…a beautiful picnic for me and my dear ones might be just the ticket.

Blooming into May


All around my house right now are flowers. I have baskets of impatiens hanging from the top of my porch in brilliant purples and oranges. There are braided hibiscus trees in plots just before the porch, one with a bright yellow bloom already nestled among its green. And standing sentinel by the side of the house are brilliant red mandevilla, already heavy with blossoms on their little potted trellises.

I do not usually have so many plants about because, to tell the truth, I have a black thumb and cannot raise anything flora that depends upon me for survival. But I am so glad to have these flowers and their glorious colors around to brighten my spring. I miss my hardy, self-sufficient annuals at our previous home and how the little garden plots in the front and side of the house would bloom with snowdrops, daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, and lilies every spring and summer, and it gave my heart such joy to see such gorgeous life filling my little world. I love flowers and their elegance, their detailed meanings, heady and intoxicating aromas, even though I am not the best at cultivating them.

That’s rather like life, isn’t it? I do not have to be good at everything or an expert in the process to be able to appreciate the beauty of the result. I do not need to hover over and control every little detail for a venture to be successful; there are some things that really do take care of themselves. Things do not always need to be perfect for me to be grateful and plans do not always need to be laid out to produce a wonderful result. I am not good at raising or taking care of flowers or plants, yet they cover my head in beauty and fill my imagination with gorgeousness, and for that I could not be more grateful.

Fiction: Dolores’s Decompression


 Disclaimer: The character of Dolores Madrigal and Abuela Alma Madrigal do not belong to me but to Disney and Disney Animation Studios. This is entirely a work of fan-fiction, inspired by Disney’s Encanto.

As Dolores Madrigal approached the shimmering golden door of her room, it swung open in welcome to greet her. Her scarlet skirts whispering about her ankles, Dolores wrinkled her brow at the cacophony cascading around her from all corners of La Casita de Madrigal and quickly stepped through the door. It swung shut soundlessly. In fact, nothing in the room made a sound. The plush, soft room, warmed in reds and golds, seemed to swallow all sound down into its fullness, from the tap of Dolores’s sandals to the tinkling of her earrings. Not a single sound at all.

    A great gust of a sigh groaned out of Pepa and Félix’s eldest child as she visibly deflated.

    Silence. Blessed silence, thank the Miracle!

    The sound of her sigh did not go far, seeming to drop off a soundless cliff just in front of Dolores as she made her way to and collapsed onto her bed. In the corner, a great tub tacitly filled itself with steaming water fragrant with cattleya orchid as the young woman let herself sink into the stillness. Here in her room, nothing could get to her. No chaos, no cacophony. She could not hear anyone’s cries, complaints, soliloquies, or secrets. Nothing made it into this room, not even through the window overlooking the tub being warmed by the afternoon sunlight.

    A literal cone of quiet.

    The only thing welcome here was Dolores’s own thoughts. She could finally hear them here, but she found them to be exhausted and sad. Keeping everything sorted was a monumental task, as was pretending to enjoy it, to glory in “serving the community” in this way. 

No, not the community. She served Abuela. Abuela expected her to listen in on everyone’s goings-on and doings. Abuela liked to be informed, but she really had no idea of just how much Dolores did indeed know. And some secrets were just not meant to be shared, not even with La Familia Madrigal. 

Abuela did not need to know about Catalina’s third miscarriage, as the woman had not even told her husband she was pregnant for fear of it happening again. She kept her sorrow hugged close and had every right to grieve in private. Dolores would leave a bouquet of Lady’s Mantle for her on her kitchen windowsill tomorrow.

Abuela did not need to know how Rosita’s parents–in cruel contrast to her lovely name–called her plain and undesirable, worrying that no one would want to marry her. Dolores would buy some bronze-gold ribbons for Rosita’s beautiful auburn hair, saying that she had too many to use them all and thought they would bring out the pretty sunlit undertones of her curls.

“So I am both spy and secret-keeper,” Dolores sighed, reaching up to take out her earrings and massage her earlobes. They itched a little. She’d heard chattering in the walls again. Rats, maybe? But what did they possibly have to talk about?

And then there was Mariano. It took a Herculean effort not to sigh at him. So handsome, so sweet. The way he played and sang for his madre after dinner, the way his papa used to do before he died. The way Mariano made up poetry while he worked…

Poetry for someone else.

Just her luck to be the girl who knew everything but that no one knew. 

Abuela never saw it: the way people in the community would go quiet around her or only talk in pleasantries and trifles. Everyone knew she could be listening, could be telling. Even her brothers and cousins called her a blabber-mouth and so rarely-to-never trusted her with anything of themselves because they expected her to run and tell Abuela. Maybe she had a lot when she was little, true, but she was grown now. Different now. Not that that made a difference to anyone else, though.

Undressing and slipping into the hot, sweet water with a soft hiss, Dolores sank in up to her neck, letting her body warm before slowly slipping beneath the surface into the watery, weightless tranquility of the tub. Here, she heard nothing, saw nothing, weighed nothing. The heaviness of her humanity did not count here under the water. If only she could breathe, then she could stay. Stay right here, where it was soundless and soft and safe.

Taste of Memory


Have you ever tried to recreate a taste memory? When I was picking up a few things from the supermarket this week, my eyes fell on a package of English muffins. Instantly, I had the starkest memory of bread, butter, and strawberry mingling together in an amazement of breakfasty deliciousness. The memory was so strong that my stomach growled in want.

Yes, Dear Reader, I bought the English muffins. On Saturday morning, I toasted one nice and crispy, slathered the halves with butter and strawberry jelly, and settled down with my coffee. That first taste…ohhhhhh! It was the beginning of summer all over again! Creamy, crispy, and sweet, it poked just the right spot in my brain. It is rare for taste to have that strong a memory power over me without having actually tasted anything. I love food but scent has always been the most closely-tied sense to memory for me. So to have such a poignant taste-based memory was both striking and startling, and I’m finding myself wanting more of it. More of tastes that poke my brain and connect me to nostalgia and comfort so strong that all I can do is devour what’s in front of me.

It happened again yesterday afternoon as my family and some friends met for dinner at a local Latin cuisine restaurant. As I tucked into Venezualan beef, white rice, black beans, and sweet, soft plantains, that first bite of meat and rice hit so hard that I felt the taste memory of it in my sinuses. I stopped participating in the table conversation and concentrated wholly on the food before me, reveling in familiar flavors, perfect textures, and comforting combinations.

In days that are still indelibly difficult at times, moments like these have become equally, unspeakably precious to me. Moments of tumbling into happy and remembering that, yes, life is full of good. The world may be on fire, or we may be angry at it, or cowed/beaten down by it, but there is still brightness, still moments of light. Maybe it is in a familiar bite, a comforting sweet, a warm cuppa cradled in your hands, or the smell of popcorn reminding you of fun nights at the movies or fair. Let’s savor those moments of brightness, of comforting deliciousness, hold them close, and devour them down. May they become new memories that comfort us and make us smile on the harder days.