Category Archives: travel

I want to tell you about our Christmas

 

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My mom, with stockings

When I was a kid, my family always did Christmas the same way.

The setting was the house my dad built—a Lincoln-log cabin deep in the Vermont woods. Christmas Eve, we’d go to bed too excited to sleep. In the morning, the three of us—my brother and sister and I—would thunder down the stairs to see a tree piled high with presents; stockings hanging from nails on the chimney, stuffed to overflowing. We’d tackle the stockings first, make tea for our parents and then fall on the presents like hungry animals. And at night, we’d feast.

When we were kids, it was magical. When we were adults, we kept the tradition going. My mom would hunt down most of the stocking stuffers—funny gag gifts from Newbury Comics; little gourmet mustards and hot chocolate packets; useful kitchen implements from Board and Basket, where she kept a seasonal job just for the discounts. Some of the few happy memories of her childhood involved giant piles of gifts under the tree, so she’d always buy massive stacks of presents.

She’d also take the lead in cooking Christmas dinner. As adults, my brother and sister and I would contribute appetizers and side dishes and desserts, each of us fighting for kitchen space. My mom was the ringleader. She’d hover over us with cooking tips and admonitions to dry off the knives and put them in the rack and don’t put that in the dishwasher.

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My sister’s gift-wrapping masterpieces

 

Over the years, we added to the traditions. My sister and dad started a Christmas village, which grew more elaborate as the years went on. While the rest of us were haphazard present-wrappers, my sister would wrap hers with artistry and precision. My brother had his memorable cheese ball recipe and I brought my dark chocolate pie back every year. There was boozy Mad Libs, moonlit sledding runs, and spiked Egg Nog during the Lord of the Rings marathon. My dad would make popcorn in a giant bowl, perfectly balancing the salt and the butter; stirring it all with his hands.

Every so often, one of us would come home trailing a Christmas orphan; a sweetheart or friend who didn’t have anywhere else to go, or who’d lost the fight over whose family to spend Christmas with. My mom welcomed them all with open arms, buying them presents and making them their own stockings.

These were our traditions. And every year, no matter how far we traveled, they brought us back together.

I never would have thought before my mom died that our Christmas would die with her. I believed it was all of us keeping it going; not just one person. But I’ve learned that when you have a loss like this, there are only two things you can do: reproduce the traditions in exacting detail, or run away.

This year, we’re all scattered. My brother lives in Washington DC with three kids and a demanding new job. My sister’s in Boulder—too far to get back easily. They’re staying put this year. And I can’t stand the idea of Christmas without my mom, so I’m running away. It’s my first Christmas away from home, and I went as far as I could go.

One of my fears is that as the years go on, it will be harder and harder for all of us to find our way back to that cabin in the woods. I hope that isn’t how this goes. But in the meantime—for the first time—I’m replacing snow with sand. Spiked hot chocolate with lime in my beer. I plan to sit by a beach and pretend Christmas isn’t happening; to forget about presents and see if a human being can survive a whole week on tacos alone.

I’m not promising anything, but I may even make this a tradition.

 

 

My Relationship With Running

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Me after running my first marathon.

My relationship with running used to revolve around my relationships with men.

When I was in my early 20s, I had a boyfriend who wanted me to run with him. I was not a runner. I had sports I loved—skiing and horseback riding, hiking and swimming—but I wasn’t into team sports or anything really physically grueling. Or maybe the sports I loved were physically grueling, but I didn’t see them that way because I loved them. But running just felt like pure misery, and I had no interest in making myself miserable.

He didn’t just want me to run with him–he wanted me to be the one pushing him. I thought he wanted to be dating someone much more athletic than I was at the time–maybe someone who was the top scorer in field hockey and the fastest freestyler on the swim team and ruled at gym volleyball. None of those things were me. I don’t hate people who were good at team sports, of course, but at the time I hated the person I thought he wanted me to be, because I felt so much pressure to be that.   And when we went running I hated every step.

Later, I had a different boyfriend. We’d been dating a while when he suggested going on a run together. At the time I’d been going to the gym for about a year, taking yoga and pilates and spin and martial arts, trying to settle on a sport that would sustain me. I wanted to be more active. I wanted to keep my jean size. I told him I’d run with him, but not to pressure me—I’d probably be slow, and I didn’t like to be pushed. I said he should just go ahead of me and we’d meet up at the end.

It was beautiful, that run. We were on a beach, and the sky and the sea were just endless. I turned on my music and started running and breathing in time with the ocean waves and just lost myself. By the time I looked up—miles later—I’d left him far behind.

I left that boyfriend behind for real a few years later, but I kept running. In the several years since I started, I’ve run two half-marathons, one marathon, and countless 5K’s. Running is my moving meditation. It’s the place where I feel most powerful and most at peace.  I love the toned, sculpted legs it gives me and the way I feel like I’m on springs just walking down the street. I love how my endurance makes other sports almost effortless—like rock climbing or horseback riding. I never get tired.

Last year, though, I got a headache. It lasted for four months continuously, and later became debilitating neck pain. It’s too much to get into here, but you can find the start of that series here. It was hell. I don’t know exactly what caused it still, but as I recover, it becomes more and more clear to me that running has something to do with it. These days, when my neck hurts, it’s usually because I went running the day before.

I know what I have to do. Stop running. Not forever—but for longer than I want to. I need to let my neck heal, do a lot of yoga, and build up my strength. I’m almost all the way better but still delicate, and yoga is what brought me through that particular health crisis. I know it’s what my body needs.

But letting go of running is so hard. While I was visiting my parents in Gettysburg, I had the most beautiful run. I went down a country road, discovered an old pre-Civil War graveyard, and daydreamed about novels I have in the works. I went past fields full of cows and old stone farmhouses and roads lined with daylilies. I wanted to go for hours.

I don’t want to break up with running. Stopping for a length of time brings up all my fears. That my endurance will die, and I won’t want to pick it back up again. That I’ll gain weight (yeah, I know it should all be about health, but for me it isn’t). I’ve let go of so many things in the past few months, mainly to heal my neck and devote myself to my novels. This was the one thing I wanted to hang onto.

But the stakes to this are high. The headache absolutely ruined my life. I would do anything to keep that from happening to me again. Now my body is asking me to give up running, and I hate it. But I have to do it.

This week, all I’ve done is yoga. So far so good on the neck. I miss running right down to my bones. But last night I took a two-hour walk to the Williamsburg Bridge and back. I listened to my running music and daydreamed about my plot. I didn’t get the high I get when I run—but for now, it will do.

Summer Shenanigans

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Obligatory cannon ride.

I’m from Vermont originally, and I think that’s why I love summer so much. Our summers are generally mild, and those 98-degree, sticking-to-your-seat, God-I’ll-die-if-I-can’t-go-swimming-right-now days are few and far between. They are precious. They are to be enjoyed.

In New York, summers are hot. I don’t know if it’s the pavement or something about convection or what. But I love it. Where most New Yorkers are complaining about the sweaty subways and diving into any store that has air conditioning, I am scantily clad and happy. I love the heat. I even love the humidity. Bring it on.

So what have I been up to, besides sweating all over the place? First, I’ve been throwing myself into my romance novel with renewed abandon. I’m writing a historical (ish?) romance set at the end of the Roman Empire. I’m obsessed with it in a way I haven’t been in a long time, and I’m going nuts with all the thoughts I have lately about writing romance and what works and what doesn’t. I’ll be writing more about that here.

I’ve been getting my poetry chapbook ready for publication and planning my launch party. In addition, I’ve been writing poetry in little pieces. A second chapbook is starting to look possible.

Finally, I’ve been traveling. I went to see my parents at Gettysburg for a long weekend around the first of July, and then almost immediately went to Florida with a friend to pick up a 1981 Westfalia. Seeing as how I know how to drive stick and all (I consider this one of my superpowers, along with scary grammar skills and making a perfectly balanced dipping sauce for Vietnamese summer rolls).

My hero in the romance I’m writing is Alaric I, the famous Visigothic general. I’ve been thinking a lot about how you see a landscape differently if you have to use that landscape to stay alive—and keep your soldiers alive. High ground is important. Stay away from narrow ravines. You’ve got nothing if you don’t have a baggage train. Gettysburg was a great canvas on which to paint a battle; it really had a lot of clear examples of terrain used to best and worst advantage.

(For example, in Pickett’s Charge, the terrain the rebels ran up was very slightly uphill, culminating in a stone wall right under the cannons that funneled the troops into a deadly point. Looking at the terrain—and with the benefit of hindsight—it’s easy to see why it was so disastrous).

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Me and the Wheelness.

Florida was beautiful after that. There was so much amazing seafood—the oysters abounded. I spent time by the pool and the beach. I wrote my romance novel and taught my friend to drive stick. We lay awake at night and traded secrets and dreams. I even got some poolside yoga in.

Now I’m back in Bushwick, trying to get back into a rhythm. I’ve got another trip planned for the beginning of August, and it already feels too close. I’m trying to take things one day at a time and not feel overwhelmed. There’s always too much to do and it’s a lie that summer days are long. They’re never long enough.