Things that make my heart beat fast

Lately, I’ve been paying attention to the little physical sensations you get when you’re excited about something.

You know, that racing I-can’t-wait feeling when you’re doing something you love?

I don’t know what made me start notice these things, but I’ve been paying attention to the little things that jumpstart my heart.

Here are a few of them:

1. Home Goods.

I recently pulled my cart out from the line where all the carts were jammed together near the entrance, and caught a glimpse of these pillows.

My heart seriously fluttered as I steered my cart toward the display case.

“Calm down,” I told myself. “They’re just pillows.”

But believe me, they weren’t just pillows. They were the most perfect pillows in the world for the blue sofa in the beach house.

I texted Doug to see whether he liked them, and when I didn’t hear back, I left without them.

Big mistake.

When Doug finally saw them, signed off on their beauty and perfection, I returned to the store, and they were gone.

That is part of the thrill of Home Goods.

If you like something, you can’t hesitate. You have to pull out the debit card and buy the darn thing right then and there.

Some people get this high from gambling in Vegas, I get it from shopping at home fashion and kitchen stores.

My heart was aflutter at Pottery Barn yesterday, where I saw this basket.

Oh, the things I could do with that basket — a storage place for one of my many stacks of paper, or a place to store piano sheet music. And then there were the vintage keys, the dish with the vintage typewriter. I wanted them all, but I left with only the basket. (See even though I have a racing heart full of excitement in home stores, I also am the master of restraint.)


I’m not always shopping when this excited feeling takes over, but there’s something about a housewares store that gets my blood pumping.

I could browse in Sur La Table for hours, admiring little cooking gadgets and appliances — mini doughnut pans, red and white checked wax paper sheets to wrap sandwiches, line baskets and who knows what else? And those new ice cream machines — a-mazing.

Just writing about Sur La Table makes me want to abandon this blog now, and head for the mall.

2. Baseball tickets.

That’s another tingle producer.

Not just any tickets. I’m talking front row behind-the-dugout kind of tickets, tickets that force you to act civilized because you could get your face on ESPN at any given second; tickets that get the Orioles mascot giving you high-fives, and Orioles staff members coming to visit you — tickets that keep me eternally indebted to my uber generous friend, Greg.



(Tickets to our awesome Nats give me the same joy, even though we sit far from the front row.)



What little things bring you joy?

My list is long — Christmas parties, new babies, much-anticipated weddings, family parties, the produce department at Wegman’s, my car with blue-tooth  that allows me to talk and drive safely at the same timecoming home from a walk and finding Doug home early, seeing my girls’ phone numbers on my caller ID when I know they’re walking home from school.

What small things in your everyday life make your heart pick up its pace?

Leave me a message, and let me know.


If it’s not one thing, it’s your brother

I called my brother Kelly last week and for the hundredth time, I said, “You’re okay with me writing a memoir about our family, right?

It may never see the light of day, but if it does, I need to know everyone is okay with it.”

I’ve been working on this book for about three years now, and Kelly has generously shared his memories with me every time I’ve called him.

For three years, I’ve repeated the question, “Now, are you sure you’re going to be okay with me writing about your life and our family’s lives?”

“Yeah, yeah, I don’t have any secrets to hide,” he always says.

So last week when I asked him again, he said, “Well, it’s not like anybody will know it’s me.”

“Yes they will, your name’s all over it!” I told him…again.

“You didn’t tell me that!” he said. “I thought you were just writing a book based on our family and we would all be anonymous.”

“Ah, no! It’s a memoir —  a nonfiction book about our family life, which means it’s true. Your name is everywhere!”

I never know whether he’s teasing me when he says things like that because he’s very good at teasing me.

He’s had many years of practice.

“I might have to put a hit on you,” he said.

Yes, you read that right.

He said  he might have to “put a hit” on me, his sister.

He says shocking things like that all the time.

And I’ve written several of them in the true story about my family — you know, the non-fiction memoir I’ve been asking Kelly about for three years?

The one that is not just based on truth but is actually, really true?

Kelly and I are 10 months apart and when we were kids, we were inseparable. My mom said, “What one didn’t think of the other one did.”

I write about that closeness and the years of separation that followed when he chose the path of rebellion, and I chose the one he said was the life of “a goody two shoes.”

(I wasn’t exactly a goody two shoes, but compared to him, I could have qualified as a nun.)

While I was only up to mischief, he was up to trouble.

We took entirely different paths in life.

I write about those divergent paths. And, he’s freely shared facts that I would never have known if he hadn’t bluntly told me.

I could write only the good things that happened in our family, but then it wouldn’t be real, and there wouldn’t be anything to learn from it.

There also wouldn’t be a story arc or any point to it.

Kelly’s comments about the supposed “based on truth” book that hid his identity reminded me of something Anne Lamott said.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

I love that wisdom. And it’s the perfect comeback to a teasing brother.

I’ve repeatedly asked all my family members how they feel about me writing a true book about our lives.

They all have given me the go-ahead.

Even with their nods of approval, it’s still an ethical dilemma. So every time I need reassurance, I ask my mom about it.

She always says the same thing. “It’s true! Every word of it is true! We all know the stories and there’s no sense in hiding any of it.”

There’s an old saying about airing dirty laundry that haunts me too.

So when my worries get the best of me, I again go to my mom, who says, “It is what it is.”

She is right.

We all have to own our stories one way or another.

It’s just a little frightening when you decide to own and share them, and you have a brother who threatens to put a hit on you.

If I come up missing, you’ll know who to track down.


Goodbye Summer

Summer 2012.

It’s officially over.

My girls have returned to college.

The house is quiet.

The bedrooms are clean.

The junk food is tossed.

Tonight will just be dinner for two.

My house feels like one of those deflated Snowman decorations at Christmas time.

You know, the ones that stand all puffy and bright at night, and then collapse into a big heap at the end of the night?

It’s not a bad thing.

It just takes some getting used to.

So to cheer myself up today, I’m going to list some of the things I won’t miss…

(Brace yourselves girls.)

  1. “Dance Moms” blaring from the TV.  Who invented this show and what is wrong with them? Who wants to watch a loudmouthed dance teacher yell at pretty little ballerinas and make them cry? And who cares about all the melodramatic mothers that like to fight with each other?  The minute I hear those screeching voices in my house, I cringe, complain and ask, “Why do you watch this show?” Well, now that you’re away at college, watch away girls. Fill your minds with that uplifting, educational program all you want.  I will thoroughly enjoy never hearing those carping voices again…until Christmas, at least.
  2.  “Criminal Minds” marathons. I admit I’m fascinated by crime solvers, and enamored with Hotchner, Derek, Reid and Garcia, but watching shows about sick, twisted murderers for hours on end can be disturbing. And you know the addiction has gone too far when you accidentally come across a quiz online that says, “Find out which Criminal Minds character you’re most like,” and you take it. Just for the record, I’m most like Spencer Reid, who is a genius, just saying.
  3. Sweet Frog frozen yogurt runs. Okay, I really will miss these little outings but it’s time to stay away from that place. A woman my age can only have so much pomegranate or strawberry yogurt with bits of fruit and even bigger bits of candy.

Now that I’ve reminded myself of what I won’t miss, I’m feeling a bit more cheery.

So, now, I think I’ll erase all the programs from the DVR that I don’t like.

I’ll gaze at the carpet in the bedrooms that I haven’t seen all summer.

And, I’ll dream of going to the beach in a few weeks while both of them are hitting the books.

Ah, Carolina Beach Retreat is waiting…

I’ll get by just fine, you’ll see.

Being an empty nester has its good points.

I loved summer 2012, and I’ll miss having a full, busy house.

But when I have those lonely moments, I’ll reread this list and make myself feel better.

Personal, Uncategorized

The Tyranny of Why

In one of Doug’s recent personal coaching classes, his classmates gave him the title of “Yoda” because of his gift of wisdom.

Yoda, the renowned Jedi master in the Star Wars universe, trained Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Jedi.

In our house, I am Luke Skywalker trying to glean knowledge and insight from Yoda, my Jedi master.

I want him to share his positive psychology and personal coaching skills with me.

When I tell him that, he says it’s hard to counsel and coach your family.

I don’t understand this, and continue to pester him to at least try.

I want to tap into his well of wisdom. I want him to answer all my troubling questions that start with the word “why.”

One night as we were going to bed I rattled off a list of “why” questions and waited for him to share his wisdom with me.

Instead, he looked at me and said, “We need to get to bed. I have an early flight in the morning.”

“But what about all my questions and all that Yoda wisdom I want you to share?”


He had already fallen asleep.

I was left alone to ponder my “why” questions long into the night.

The next day while waiting to board his flight, he called and said, “We need to discuss the tyranny of why.”

That one phrase was the stroke of genius I needed.  Why didn’t I consider the “tyranny of why” and why didn’t I come up with that beautiful phrase?

(Check out that irony…I still can’t move past why.  Why didn’t I think of that? Why didn’t I realize I was asking unanswerable questions?)

When my dad suddenly died of a heart attack, and when I was diagnosed with cancer, and at many other times in my life, I got stuck on the question why — like a needle stuck on an old record album, repeating the same sound over and over.  Then I realized those questions were tormenting me and leading me nowhere.

There were no valid answers that would give me the peace I needed. Those questions were holding me back and preventing me from healing and carrying on with my life.

I started rephrasing my questions, starting with the word, “how.”

How can I learn from this? How can I improve? How can I develop more faith, compassion and understanding?

That recognition transformed my thinking, which changed my responses.

So when Doug reminded me of the futility of why, I started reframing some of the questions I’ve been asking.

I don’t know why some things don’t go according to plan. I don’t know why we feel prompted to make certain decisions and then end up disappointed because the decision didn’t lead to what we wanted. I don’t know why people I love have to hurt.

But, asking all those unanswerable questions will never lead me or anyone to a healthy, healing path.

When we get stuck asking “why,” we become like obsessed dogs chasing our tails and making ourselves so dizzy that we fall down and collapse, ending up worse off than we were before the hopeless, useless chase.

photo credit:

Sometimes there simply are no answers that will wrap everything up into neat, understandable packages. Sometimes we just have to wait for the beautiful, slow gifts of healing and perspective to settle over us and finally give us the peace and perspective we crave.

In the meantime, it’s nice to remember the Yoda wisdom about the “tyranny of why.”


A long lost friend

Yesterday I logged into Facebook and saw a face I haven’t seen in years.

It took me by surprise because it was a face I haven’t seen since 1993.

It was the face of a dear friend of mine from college.

We took political science classes together, including a class called “sim-Con,” that was a simulated Congress.

We loved talking politics and journalism; Shakespeare and law.

I was a journalism major. He studied pre-law, determined to become an attorney.

After graduation, he and his wife moved to California where he went to law school; and I moved to Washington, D.C.

We kept in touch, calling each other occasionally. I visited he and his wife in California; and they visited me in D.C.

He was one of the friendliest people I ever knew. He seemed to know everybody, everywhere. And, if he didn’t, he introduced himself and quickly became best friends with strangers.

He had a big generous smile, an easy, unrestrained laugh, and so much drive and ambition.

He always seemed to become the teacher’s pet too. His charming personality won over everybody that knew him.

He was an achiever — he became an Eagle scout, served an LDS Church mission, graduated Cum Laude from law school, become a local political leader, a soccer and t-ball coach; was elected president of the Kiwanis Club and more.

He and his wife had five beautiful children.

Then, in the summer of 1993, I came home from a beach trip with my family.

I listened to the messages on our answering machine and found a message from a woman whose name I didn’t recognize.

Then she said she was calling for my friend’s wife to let me know my friend had died.

“He committed suicide,” she said. “We thought you should know.”

I was so stunned to hear that message that I replayed it about 10 times.


It seemed impossible.

He was not the type to commit suicide.

I never knew why he did it; and as far as I know no one else did either.

So when I saw his photo on Facebook it startled me.

It was posted by his family to wish him a happy birthday.

His family and friends wrote memories of him and how much they loved him.

Now I can’t get his face out of my mind.

My long lost friend.

He never gave any hint of being lost, sad or hopeless.

I will probably never know what drove him to commit suicide but I  know what he was like when he lived.

He made a lasting impression on everyone.

Even still he is making an impression by his photo on Facebook.

I guess in the end that’s what we want — to live the kind of life that people remember, the kind of life that makes other people smile.

And it has to be okay to have some sadness rolled up in those memories because that reminds of how much they meant to us and how much we miss them.

Seeing my friend’s picture on Facebook this week reminded me of how much I still miss him.


August Means Missing My Grandma

Every August, my late-Grandma Larsen organized a family reunion at Kelly’s Grove in Hobble Creek canyon .  Every year was the same — bring a family picnic lunch, a dish to share, and a lawn chair; then, plan to spend the afternoon visiting.

When we were kids, we quickly ate our lunches and then played in the ice-cold creek, where we also put our watermelons to keep them cold. We played in the outdoor amphitheater, hiked on the trails and played softball.

Grandma always made Lady Betty cake, raisin-filled cookies, and pink popcorn.

She was an excellent cook and even baked homemade bread into her nineties.

After she died at 93 years old, my mom mailed me a package that held two of Grandma’s aprons. When I saw them, a sweet nostalgia washed over me. I held them up to my face and inhaled deeply, hoping to smell her scent of the Pond’s face cream I always smelled when she hugged me.

I wear one of those aprons every time I cook, and love just taking a moment to remember her.

I remember trying to follow her carrot pudding recipe one year at Christmas time and it was a disaster. There were no directions except “steam in cans or bottles.”
I called her and said, “About how much flour do I need? The recipe just says ‘add flour until stiff.’”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “Just until it looks right I guess.”
“Well, how much cinnamon?”
“Oh, until it tastes good.”

I had to give up on her Christmas pudding.

When I got a job working for President Reagan in the Education Department, I told her I’d send her an autographed picture of him.

“Oh, I’d love that,” she said, without a pause, “because I need some new toilet paper!”

One year for my birthday, I came home to my apartment in Northern Virginia and found my mom and Grandma, from Utah, sitting in my living room.

My mom said, “I worked so hard on your birthday present (a homemade Cabbage Patch doll) that I couldn’t bear to just send it in the mail.  So we decided to fly here and give it to you in person.”

We went to Harper’s Ferry one afternoon, and Mom saw a sign for “fresh, hot Virginia peanuts.”

“Oh, I’ve got to get some of those for Bob,” she said, talking about my dad. “He’d love those.”

Grandma said, “You know they won’t be fresh and hot when you get them to Utah, right?”

For the rest of the trip, Grandma teased my mom about those peanuts.

Even when they were packing to go home, Grandma said, “Sandra, I hope you have room for those peanuts.”

By this time, we all had the giggles and couldn’t stop laughing.

Oh, how I would love to have a family reunion and a good laugh with Grandma again.