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Don’t stumble over what’s behind you

Don't stumble over something behind you with link.jpgYou know that cliché, “It hit me like a rock”?

That happened to me last year. And among all the amazing, wonderful, beautiful moments and people that surrounded me, I had a hard time getting over the sudden, startling change in my life.

I kept looking back, reliving the moment, the words that were said and unsaid. Overanalyzing, asking the same questions in my mind over and over and over and over again and expecting an answer that was never going to come. It shook my confidence, broke my trust, and left me staggering.

Stumbling over the past kept me from finding sure footing in the present. Sometimes it still does. Yesterday it was a phone call that that brought it all back. Dammit, I thought I was past this.

Don’t we all do this sometimes?

Sometime it’s a grating tiny pebble in your shoe that keeps you off balance until you remove it. Sometimes it’s a chunk of broken concrete that trips us, sending us crashing to the ground. It hurts, but we get up and limp for a bit before regaining our full stride.

And sometimes it’s a boulder barreling full speed that smashes into us, flattening us, leaving us battered and broken.

I have always thought of myself as an optimist, and I still do. I am grateful for those who let me lean on them, whose laughter and love and belief in me kept me upright. I embrace the opportunities this abrupt change presents. And yet, pieces of that blasted boulder still break off and hit me in the back, causing me to look over my shoulder and trip over the past.

We all carry an unavoidable load of loss and pain that can weigh us down, slowing our steps. Looking back is good. Remembering, and grieving, can be healing and cathartic. Stumbling over what’s behind me is not productive.

The road ahead leads me to beautiful new places, full of possibility — and inevitably, a few cracks in the pavement along the way that have the potential to cause another spill.

There will always be missteps, times we wish we could go back and start over or change what happened.

And when we can’t, we must face forward and skip over the stones that appear in our path.



Another year on the nice list for Mom

I watched the touching Spanish IKEA commercial that went viral about kids writing two letters – one to Santa, and one to their parents. It turns out the kids asked Santa for lots of toys, but their wishes from their parents were very different. They wanted more time with them, they wanted to be listened to.

I asked my son what he would ask me and Dad for that wasn’t a material thing. He didn’t take long to answer: “I want to know the truth about the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns and all that stuff.”

Not the response I was expecting, but I shouldn’t have been surprised giving his growing skepticism. A lot of my friends with kids this age are struggling with how to approach this. (You can read my previous post about this.)

We settled in for a talk. I told him flat out: the Tooth Fairy is not real. And leprechauns, I don’t know. I’ve never seen one. (These leprechaun traps kids make today weren’t a thing when I was growing up. I had never even heard of them until H wanted to make one a couple years ago.)

“So….Easter Bunny?” he asked.

I opened my mouth to reply, with a sigh, but before I could answer, he blurted out, “Do I REALLY want to hear this?”

“I don’t know, do you?”

“Well, I don’t want to know about Santa!” he said, quite emphatically.

santa package.jpgSo we left it at the leprechauns. And I decided it was time for another Package from Santa. I ordered the package (this is a pretty cool thing if you’ve never done it  (, this time editing the letter to reflect his questions. It arrived last night. He squealed when he tore open shiny envelope from the North Pole (Whew! Another year on the Nice List!) and sat down to read the personalized letter.

“I know you’re almost 9 now and you’ve been hearing from other kids that there is no Santa Claus and trying to decide for yourself what you believe. Your parents and I have been thinking a lot about what to tell you,” Santa wrote.

“You said you wanted the truth, so here it is: the magic of Santa is real.” (More squealing.)

“But you’re such a smart boy and ask so many questions that you have figured out a few of my secrets. You’re right, it is hard for me and the reindeer to fly all the way around the globe in one night…and your parents sometimes help me make sure your presents get delivered.”

It went on to congratulate him for this good works and successes during the year and to wish him a happy birthday, which falls on the day after Christmas.

He beamed. He jumped up and down. He was thrilled. He was relieved.

He was not completely fooled.

“So exactly how does Santa get the presents to you guys?” he asked.

To tell or not to tell? He wants the truth. He wants to believe.

So I told him what I believe to be true: It’s all part of the magic of Christmas.

I hope that gets me on the Nice List.



Count your blessings every day

It’s easy to talk about all we’re grateful for on Thanksgiving.

Our family has been trying to make a habit of counting our blessings all year long. The idea was born on a crazy-making day when everyone was complaining and whining. I suggested – ok maybe screamed – that we all take a minute to think about something good that happened that day.

The good thing that day was the beautiful box my son made asking us simple questions: What are you grateful for? What good happened to you today? Easy questions with often profound answers that undoubtedly change our perspective. A few months later, we went to a paint-your-own-pottery place and he decided to make a more durable Gratitude Jar.

We slip colorful pieces of paper in the box and jar and share them over the dinner table several times a week.

I’m often overcome during the reading.

I’m grateful for a sunny day.

I’m grateful for true friends.

I’m grateful there was no traffic.

I’m grateful for my thriving family, my funny son and my sweet husband.

I’m grateful for coffee. I’m grateful for wine.

I’m grateful for music, for books, for laughter, for tears.

I’m grateful for our home, our health, our sense of humor. Especially that sense of humor.

Sometimes we’re grateful for simple things we usually take for granted. I’m grateful for my coat, my umbrella, my dinner on the table, my bed. My son always wants a little more stuff. He’s almost 9 and thinks more stuff would make him happier.

Sometimes he’s grateful for Minecraft. Sometimes it’s the money he got in a card from his Grandma. Or doing well on a math test or having a friend over.

Then he writes something like this, that he’s grateful for happiness, and my heart swells, knowing my message is getting through to him.

h grateful

Granted, sometimes we’re better at it this gratitude thing than others. We have been through our trials this year, as have you all. Some days just suck, as my son says. Many of us are struggling with loss and pain and stress. Others are coping with hunger, joblessness, homelessness, loneliness, illness, addiction. No matter our circumstances, someone certainly is in a worse position. No matter our wealth, someone surely has more.

When I’m down, I look through the piles of paper I’ve saved and stuffed into gallon Ziploc bags, and I’m reminded how bountiful my blessings. So I try – as corny as some may find it – to find joy in every day: A giggle, a song I like on the radio, a message in marker on a pink slip of paper that reminds me someone loves me.

Happy Thanksgiving.






Rushing toward imperfection

My in-laws are early. My hair is wet and I have no makeup on. I wanted to make the pie before they got here, but of course I am out of one ingredient, so flour and sugar are all over the kitchen. My husband is running the vacuum, and my dad is frustrated over computer problems. My son is pounding on the piano and the dog is going crazy jumping and barking over all the excitement. I have to get to the airport soon to fetch my brother, and the sheets for the guest bedroom are still in the washer.

Happy day before Thanksgiving!

This is not the way I wanted this morning to go. I’m not a good housekeeper, and I don’t really bake. But we’re hosting everyone this year, so I wanted everything to be spic and span, as my dad would say, for our out-of-town company. I didn’t strive for perfection, and no one expects it out of me (seriously no one), but I was hoping for more than abject chaos.

I mean, is cool, calm, and collected too much to ask for the day before Thanksgiving? Apparently so.

But here’s the truth. This is kind of me, kind of us. I wait until the last minute to do things, so I don’t have any leeway when things go awry. I laugh at myself so it’s ok for others to laugh along with me.

And in this moment, I am grateful for the noise, because my house is full of people I love. I am grateful for the imperfect morning, because I have the whole day ahead of me to improve upon the way it started.

I have 20 minutes until the oven timer is done. That’s plenty of time to slap on some makeup, make the bed, post a blog, and get to the airport.

Plenty of time.



Looking past my flaws to find a clearer picture

I do not take selfies.

Cute pic of me and my kid? Love it. Date with my hubby? Of course. Girls’ night out? Sure. But you better believe you’re not going to tag a photo of me and see it show up on my social media with my approval.

And posting a photo of myself, alone? No way.

The last time I had photos taken of me alone was for my high school senior portrait. That was the age of the black drape in the studio, not the on-location photo shoots kids take today for multi-picture graduation announcements.

I love those announcements. I adore photos my friends and family post on Facebook and Instagram. A couple of my friends have done some modeling, and they are just natural beauties behind the camera. If I was ever under interrogation, a threat of a day in front of a camera would be an effective form of torture to get me to spill all my secrets.

In my professional life, I have supervised countless photo shoots, putting the subjects at ease, assuring them they looked great and the reviewing the pictures afterward and knowing I had told the truth. I admire people who post pictures of their bellies after baby, their make-up free faces, and themselves at their most glamorous. I’m inspired by Whitney Thore’s NoBody Shame campaign, and I’m a big fan of Dove’s Real Beauty ads.

But I have never quite been able to get there myself.

So when many people I trust told me I needed a better headshot on my website, Linked In, and this blog, the idea of having my picture taken pretty much made me feel like this:

katherine 2015-28

Fortunately, I have cousin who is a talented photographer who graciously agreed to help. I told her I wanted to spend a total of 5 minutes in front of the camera and the rest of the time catching up.

But Sara’s a pro – and she loves me – so she took me to a picturesque park on a beautiful fall day and spent a long time shooting in a lot of pretty places.

When she sent me a group of 35 shots to review, ( 35!!) I initially cringed. Oh my God, I am fat. Is that a gray hair? I should have touched up lipstick. My eyebrows are too thick. Can you see those wrinkles? And oh my God, I’m fat.

All I saw were the flaws. Sara told me she loved the pictures, and that she saw in them the person she admired: “kind, strong, dedicated, loving, funny, and faithful.”

“I hope you see that person too,” she wrote.

I wish I did too.

Why is it we are so quick to compliment others and criticize ourselves? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” we tell our kids. But we call ourselves ugly, disgusting, fat, without a thought. And we believe it.

It’s taken me weeks to be brave enough to post these photos. After much agonizing (Glasses, or no glasses? Smiling or serious? Far away or close up?) I did choose one for Linked In, but I added it to my profile with the “notify your network” button turned off. I looked at this post dozens of times before hitting “publish.”

It’s not that Sara didn’t do a beautiful job. She did, and she was a great coach.

“Is that a real smile?” she asked a few times.

It wasn’t. I don’t like to smile too big in pictures because I think it  makes my face look even chubbier.

But when she caught me with a genuine smile, I have to admit I kind of liked how I looked, which I’d say is happy:

katherine 2015-14

Plus, thanks for the windblown hair, Sara.

As our feet scrunched through piles of crisp, colorful leaves at the end of our morning together, Sara had an idea: recreating photos we have all taken of our kids playing in autumn’s bounty. I grabbed piles of crunchy leaves and threw them in the air with wild abandon while her shutter clicked. People walking by gave me odd looks, but we were laughing so much I didn’t care.

katherine 2015-34

All photos by Sara Montgomery.

It’s not the most flattering picture, but when I look at it,  I see laughter and joy. I have a wonderful memory of a special time spent with the cousin I love and admire, who helped me see myself through a different lens, imperfections and all.

Hm. I guess I just posted some selfies.