Friends, Pie, and Facebook

On Easter I baked a new pie which hinted of lemony, salty deliciousness in every bite. The recipe came from a magazine that was sent to me by a dear friend and baked in a yellow pie plate given to me by another. This is a story of friends, pie, and the power of Facebook.

A few weeks ago I received a thin brown envelope in the mail. When I opened it I pulled out a magazine and a two-page handwritten letter from Sue, a college friend and sorority sister who now lives in North Carolina. When she saw this pie issue she immediately thought of me, went out to purchase another copy, and then took the time to write a note. I was touched by her kind words and the effort she put into this simple gift.

Last week we traveled down to Alabama to spend a few days along the coast and also see friends of ours. One rainy night we invited them over to our little cottage to share wine, pizza, and many stories. Evelyn gave me a beautiful yellow pie plate, knowing how much I love to bake. My heart was grateful for this sweet present and the thought she put into it.

The remarkable thing about these two women is we would not be friends today if was not for Facebook, this mighty, often invasive, yet connective social media platform. Through Facebook posts I have gotten to know both of them through photos of their vacations, children, and pets. They are both kind, intelligent, and compassionate women, and my life would be emptier without them.

I met Sue at college after I pledged a sorority. We took classes together, yet we each had our own circles of friends that often didn’t intersect. After graduation we both went our separate ways: me to various cities and teaching jobs, she to Kansas City to teach and then work at Hallmark. A few years back we reconnected through Facebook, and then introduced each other to our husbands, children, and menageries of cats and dogs. When I retired early because of a health diagnosis, she messaged me to say she also suffered from it. She has continued to give me sound advice on how to manage it, from diet to vitamins. We both adore Pat Conroy books, the lilting and weighty sound of his words and we both mourned his passing a few years ago. We are intrinsically connected through books, good writing, and mutual admiration for one another.

I went to junior high and high school with Evelyn, but we were not friends. She ran with a wilder (her words!) crowd, breaking rules and howling at the moon. She and I existed in different universes. I attempted to quietly walk within those restrictive rules, believing I was unnoticed and invisible. When she first requested to be my friend on Facebook, I had to search my mental rolodex to remember who she was, but it did not take long for us to become true friends. Our children were close in age, and we ended up having much in common, despite the miles between us. After the tragic loss of another high school/Facebook friend, we reached out to one another and haven’t let go. Now we meet once a year down on the coast of Alabama. We laugh and cry and hold onto to one another through joys and losses, various medical procedures and health scares, stories of our children, and the precarious state of this country.

I adore these two women and count them among my dearest friends, even though Sue now lives in North Carolina and Evelyn in Alabama. Facebook has made it possible to be virtual pen pals, sharing our lives and our hearts with every message and photo.

Facebook is in some deep disgusting shit these days. It has allowed outside entities to scrape our data without our permission. Mark Zuckerberg has a lot of explaining AND fixing to do in order for us to trust him again, if that is even possible. Many, including me, have felt exposed and vulnerable. I’ve tightened up my privacy settings and removed apps that automatically connect to Facebook. I contemplated severing my ties to this behemoth, yet, here’s the thing. I like being connected. I adore seeing pictures of friends’ kids and grandkids. I love the inspirational sites I follow that often give me ideas for other blog pieces. Following journalists such as Dan Rather and Connie Schultz continue to offer up sane words for this fractured nation of ours. Through Facebook, I am even able to share my own crazy rambling words through this blog. Over the past few years I’ve attempted to purge negativity and ignorance from my page, which is a difficult and ongoing task. I no longer comment or try to debate with those who have different views than mine. If I am terribly offended, I unfollow or unfriend, and I also understand if others have done the same to me. I choose to discover intelligent information and bask in remarkable joy through my feed. It is my prerogative. 

This is what I seek and often find in my social media platforms: hope. Hope in these far-flung friendships. Hope in the work of scholars, scientists, teenage activists, and poets. Hope in every photo of a new grandchild, sunset, and spring flower. And hope in pie. There is always hope in pie.

 Atlantic Beach Pie was created by Bill Smith, owner of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. Recipe courtesy of  Our State  Magazine.
Atlantic Beach Pie was created by Bill Smith, owner of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. Recipe courtesy of Our State Magazine.

My Three Prayers on This First Day of Spring

I do not consider myself religious in the traditional manner. I have attended various churches over the years, often searching for community and clarity, yet none of these institutions have presented me with any sense of peace. Public displays of faith often cause me to wriggle in my seat. Cognitive dissonance pokes at my messy brain. Every time I hear, “Let us pray,” the little stubborn girl in me with scraped knees and crooked bangs stomps her foot and cries, “Make me.” Just the term “organized religion” makes me question everything it represents. Faith, to me, is mysterious unanswered questions that cannot be contained in human-built cathedrals. It is private and personal and non-compulsory.

My quiet pleas in the dark, after the television goes off and the covers are drawn close, seem to give me the most hope. These silent prayers have evolved from begging for a boyfriend to pleading for more money to watching over my children and grandchildren. They are my confidential petitions, asking the universe to gently shower love over all whom I adore and even that which causes me to twitch and squirm. They also contain confessions of my brokenness and failures, requesting directions on how to navigate the sadness. They are exclusively mine and not open for public consumption. 

I recently reread Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. She defines prayer as, “…talking to something or anything with with we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. (In fact, these are probably the best possible conditions under which to pray.)  Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history we are loved and chosen, and we do not have to get it together before we show up.” She then suggests three essential prayers we all have in our arsenal: Help, thanks, and wow. They are simple devotions, communicating honestly with whatever deity we feel we have a connection. 

Help. Help me pilot this journey with grace and kindness and truth. Thanks. Thanks for good coffee and true friends and warm, flaky pie. Wow. Show me the wonder of the universe, whether it is experiencing the grandeur of fog coming in over the Golden Gate Bridge or being there for a beloved cat as she takes her last breaths.

I acknowledge I am stumbling through this spiritual odyssey of mine. I find glory in great literature, faith through any song of James Taylor’s, and sacrament in dazzling sunsets. I’m angry at injustice. I do not tolerate blatant lies. I march when I can in the name of love. I make mistakes. I struggle to forgive others and myself. I question everything. I know I am a mess: a beautiful, crazy, complicated wreck, yet I still throw back the covers every morning, put my feet on the cold floor, and figure out how to live this day in love.

I ask for help. I offer thanks. I bask in wow.

“Love falls to the earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun also rises.” ~Anne Lamott


The Constant of Pi

Pi Day, according to The Guardian, is “…an annual date of celebration in the mathematical community because March 14, or 3/14, using the US convention of dates, looks like 3.14, which is pi to two decimal points. Pi is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. The value is always the same for any circle.

For someone like me, who has a severe math and science disability, there is something oddly comforting in the imagery of pi, even if I don’t totally understand it. Pi is constant. Pi’s value is constant. Pi defines a circle’s circumference, which has no edges. A circle is strong and difficult to break.

We humans tend to gravitate toward circles because they often represent calm, peace, and safety, while sharp, angular shapes can manifest anxiety and fear. Think of all the circles we have embraced throughout history: Stonehenge, King Arthur’s Round Table, labyrinths, fairy rings, prayer circles, wedding rings, sports stadiums, and mysterious crop circles. Even our DNA is a series of interlocked circles, those building blocks that tell us who we are and where we’ve come from. Circles represent infinity, a defense against all the chaos the world throws at us. When someone we love is hurting, we circle the wagons. When we link arms, we are stronger.

When I think of the circles in my own life, I am reminded of how we all are connected. Sometimes our circles intersect, uniting us through marriages, babies, friendships, and even divorces. Every time we enter or create a circle, we forge a connection, which then becomes part of our journeys. Our bonds are our stories, even if they are cracked or fractured. I will forever be connected to my ex-husband and his family’s circle through our sons’ circles. We have a shared history, making our lives one big interwoven patchwork-like Venn diagram: deeply complicated and ultimately beautiful in its uniqueness.

On this particular Pi Day, I baked a lemon chess pie to bring to my book club circle, this group of women who gather every week to discuss love, spirituality, and the deep questions of life. I’d love to send pies to all my circles, warm them with layers of buttery crusts and rich fillings, to remind them of our connections and how they are a constant in my sojourn through this life.

“Life is a full circle, widening until it joins the circle motions of the infinite.” – Anais Nin

A Well-Needed Sad Day

Yesterday I took a sad day. I didn’t have a fever or a stomach ache. Instead, I was engulfed in heavyheartedness. The day was devoted to Gilmore Girls and other mindless television. I ate chocolate. I made pasta. I pulled out an adult coloring book and filled in fairies’ wings with different shades of Crayola pencils. I took an extra-long nap. I cuddled with Finn, our big furry cat. I sat with my sadness. I wallowed.

Last week we made the difficult decision to let our other cat Zooey go. We both were with her at the end, petting her soft fur and whispering into her ear. It was heartbreaking. The next morning I cleaned with a crazed mania, trying to rid the house of evidence of her illness.  I spent the next week in a daze, traveling to my hometown for a quick overnight to help my mother-in-law, and then a few days later up to Chicago for a visit with my youngest son. I didn’t have time to really acknowledge the loss of this cat, the void she was leaving in our home.

When I walked in the door on Tuesday afternoon, Finn greeted me with pitiful meows. “Where have you been? Where’s that other one? I need you. Pay attention to me. I can’t believe you left me. Don’t ever leave again.” I know. I know. I’m personifying, yet that’s what it sounded like. Poor kitty. Then, suddenly, I was knocked off my ass with the ghost of Zooey, and deep despair finally overtook me. I plopped on the couch, and didn’t leave it for almost a day and a half, except of course for bathroom breaks, snacks, and a quick shower. With my husband away on a business trip, silence echoed throughout the house. I allowed myself grieve.

Today I am stronger because of my sad day. I will welcome joy back into my heart. These furry housemates, as a friend of mine calls them, teach us much, but the hardest lesson is learning how to live with the sorrow of letting go. My heart will probably always have a small fissure in it, left by the black cat with the bitchy meow. Our Zooey.

 The day after we said our goodbyes to Zooey, my husband texted me to ask how I was doing. My reply was, “Sad.” I then asked how he was doing. He replied, “surprisingly affected.” I texted back, “Honey, that’s your heart.
The day after we said our goodbyes to Zooey, my husband texted me to ask how I was doing. My reply was, “Sad.” I then asked how he was doing. He replied, “surprisingly affected.” I texted back, “Honey, that’s your heart.”

Clinging to Joy

“For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

As I sit at my kitchen table, the rain blows against the windows. The wind catches the porch furniture as the metal chairs clatter on the wood. Thunderstorms on a Monday morning can be despairingly gloomy, yet I glimpse spring scratching to appear. The end of February and the beginning of March in the Midwest are fickle times. Snowflakes juxtaposition themselves against 70 degree days. One doesn’t know whether to grab gloves or sunscreen when heading out the door. These days, though, teach me patience, because I know warm days are coming. Nothing will block the bursting of pastel flowering trees that scatter the roads and sidewalks. Spring is a force that will not be stopped. It comes, despite an errant blizzard or a late March ice storm. It will come.

Nature gives us life lessons. It is easy to complain about cold, wet days. We grumble. We growl. But joy perches gracefully within reach. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.” If we choose to see misery, that is what will be dumped in our laps. Even in the deepest of pain, we can choose to see sparks of joy. It may be the cat warming himself on the sunlit floor or a favorite song popping up on the radio or knowing spring will be here soon.

Sparks of joy are everywhere. A pile of to-be-read books on the kitchen table. The scraping sound of the wreath against the front door. A pot of yellow daises. A morning text from my husband. The cooing of doves nesting in our eves. These are what I choose to see this morning.

I acknowledge the world is a dark and dangerous place. Slain children fill my nightmares. Flags at half mast prick my tender heart. A confused and insecure man tweets vile messages as Rome burns. We are precariously teetering on those cliffs of despair. But…but I also hear fierce and articulate teenagers fight the norms. I feel mothers and fathers mobilizing to protect their children. I see hope. I spy joy, even as the mourning continues.

Because joy is not an empty promise made by slick sideshow preachers or slimy politicians. It is here, for deep within our anger and grief lies joy and love.

“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” – Joseph Campbell

 We must be warriors. We must be warriors for love. We must be warriors for joy.
We must be warriors. We must be warriors for love. We must be warriors for joy.

My Pens, Our Children, My Grief, Our Grief

Back when I was teaching I graded papers with Paper Mate flair pens. I would buy packages of these thin multicolor markers at Target and stockpile them in my desk. I was drawn to specific colors, especially purple. Purple was regal. It was power. It was respect. Every time I used my purple flair pen, I hoped my almost indecipherable scratchings would be noticed, understood, and remembered. These markings were how I often “spoke” to my students. It was my ancient wisdom delivered through side remarks and proofreading edits. I rarely used red because research stated that red was thought to elicit negative emotions from students. Red is an intense color. It signifies love, fire, and blood. So I tucked the red pens back in the drawers and instead used less impassioned colors to remark on essays, homework, and speech critiques.

After I retired and began journaling, I gave up the flair pens. I didn’t like the way they flowed over the pages and often bled to the other side. After experimenting with various brands, I found Paper Mate Ink Joy gel pens. I am still drawn to purple and pink, and usually leave the red in my desk.

On Wednesday in honor of Valentine’s Day, I decided to pull out the red pen for my daily scratchings. I admit it felt odd to write in red, this pen color I had cast aside for years, but I scribbled three pages of ideas for possible blog posts. Bright red words on crisp white pages. I then tucked my notebook away and got ready for a luncheon I was hosting for a group of women I’ve grown to love.

Later that afternoon a news alert came over my phone. My heart lurched. I turned on the television to images of police surrounding a school, of terrified students running from the building with their hands over their heads, of parents pacing the sidewalks with cell phones in hands, of first responders working on victims. I stopped breathing. News trickled out. Injuries, then fatalities. My mind raced through the familiar halls of this school, imagining the terror. Even though I had never stepped foot in this building, I knew it. I saw bulletin boards, textbooks, and desks. And then my mind went to cowering kids, frantically texting their parents. I caught a glimpse of teachers fiercely protecting their students, yet thinking of their own families. But mostly it saw blood. Bright red blood splashed against artwork and lockers and fallen book bags.

I am sad. I am angry. I am grieving. 

During my last few years of teaching I participated in code red drills, and every single one filled me with anxiety and dread. After one particular drill the assistant principal came to each room informing us of our errors. When he came to mine he told me I was “dead.” I still remember the sick feeling as he said this to me. I was dead. No, I couldn’t be dead. Not in this “safe” classroom of mine where I spent every day teaching Romeo and Juliet or listening to awkward speeches or working on yearbook pages. No. No. No. 

Code red. There’s that color again. Red. Our school colors were red and white. Red and white. My breath is ragged. My heart is cracked. Red and white.

Even though I no longer walk the halls, I am still there. I want to protect those kids from everything that hurts them. I want to swoop in and whisper, “Everything is going to be okay.”

We are the grownups. We need to work together to protect our kids. Yes, it is a gun problem. Yes, it is a mental health issue. Yes, it is a parenting issue. Yes, it is a political issue. Yes, it is a money issue. Yes, it is a societal breakdown issue. Yes, it is an isolationist issue. Yes, it is OUR issue. We need to own it, and come up with realistic, non-partisan ways to solve it. For OUR kids.

I am a retired teacher. I am a mother. I am a grandmother. I am the mother of a Navy veteran and a police officer. I am the step-mother of a teacher. I am the sister of a principal of an elementary school. I am friends with teachers. I am a liberal who loves this country. I am friends with conservatives who love this country. I am a non-gun owner. I am friends with gun owners. I am a writer of love, of heartache, of peace, of struggle, of simple joys and complicated pain. 

Part of me wants to use a red pen every day until we can come together to work on what is breaking us apart, yet I will leave it in the drawer. I can’t bring myself to put the red pen to the crisp white paper. It’s too painful, for I’m still grieving. 

But first a little about February

I don’t know about you, but I welcome February. January is sad and dark and loaded with slimy germs. I coughed and hacked my way through every depressing day while the cold medicine made me dizzyingly disoriented. Now that I have convalesced, today right before I opened my eyes, I said a quiet, grateful prayer for this new month.

February. A month of cinnamon red hearts and wild Mardi Gras celebrations and the solemn first days of Lent. We honor past presidents. Football gets its own special Sunday. We await what the groundhog will see. Every four years an extra day is tacked onto the month. But why? What is the history of the shortest month of the year? It involves Romans, superstitions, and some math, so bear with me here.

Our modern calendar dates back to the ancient Romans. Romulus, the first king of Rome, devised a ten month lunar calendar which began in March on the new moon before the spring equinox, and ended in December. But what about those winter months, you ask? Since it was mostly an agrarian society, the harvest was over and most Romans were just trying to stay alive during those cold days. 

The second king Numa Pompilius decided the calendar needed some tweaking, so he added two months and synced it with the actual lunar year, which is approximately 354 days. The new months of January and February had 28 days each, but even numbers were considered bad luck to the Romans. Numa added one day to January, but no one really knows why he left February with 28. Some say it was because February was host to many festivals that honored and purified the dead, so why not just leave it unlucky. Sounds like a good story.

This 355 day calendar did not stay in sync with the seasons, so every couple of years an extra day was added to February, but it was placed after the 23rd instead of the 28th. Go figure. Politicians added or deleted these days according to their whims, so many Romans still didn’t know what day it was. Confusing.

In 45 BC, Julius Caesar revamped the calendar and aligned it with the sun instead of the moon. Ten days were added, with an extra day to February every four years. Now the calendar was closer to cycle of the sun and was 365.25 days. 

That’s it. The calendar has been revised over the years to accommodate Christian holidays and seasons, but it still closely resembles the Roman model. February, that short month of purification, gives us pause. We send Valentines. We cuddle. We drunkenly stagger throughout raucous Mardi Gras parades. We spread ashes. 

We anxiously await spring.

“The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.” – William Cullen Bryant

(And because I am always an English teacher…)

Hogelback. Jonathan. “Why Are There Only 28 Days in February?” 2018.

McAfee, Melonyce. “28 Days?” 27 Feb. 2007.

Reilly, Lucas. “Why Are There Only 28 Days in February?” 1 Feb. 2017.

“Why Does February Only Have 28 Days?” PBS Digital Studios.  23 Feb. 2015.