Carnation Days



I read Ms. Bixby’s Last Day in a single sitting, on an airplane en route to California for 
vacation. My mind, filled with excitement of the week to come, full of big events and 
exciting outings, slowed and focused as I turned the first pages of 
John David Anderson‘s novel.


Three hours and many tissues later, I set the book down as we hit the tarmac, looking 
at vacation in a new light.

There are many things to say about this book. I could write about teachers and the 
tremendous impact they have in the lives of our students, or tell you about the ones 
that mattered most to me. I could write about boy friendship and the way it is honestly 
explored and depicted in Topher, Steve, and Brand. I could write about the ways our 
small acts of kindness to one another have a ripple effect, beyond our wildest
 imagination, or about what it means to be truly seen by another person and 
celebrated for who we are. All of these themes appear in the pages of this at times 
vulnerable, at times laugh-out-loud funny, always perfectly voiced novel.
But instead, I’m going to write about carnations. As in, the flowers.
Please continue reading at All the Wonders

Bring a Book!

I’m delighted to be featured at All the Wonders this week talking about one of the most often heard phrases in our home – bring a book!

Summer has always been analogous with reading for me, as far back as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the other summery things too—the swimming pools, the backyard barbecues, the roasted marshmallows, summer camp, the fireflies, the road trips, all of it. But for me, those things all had one thing in common—the book that was (and still is) always tucked safely in my bag. Just in case.

Now, as a mother of two young boys, these are the reminders as we get ready to leave the house:

Did you brush your teeth?
Yes, you have to wear shoes!
Bring a book!

And at least one member of our family takes that last reminder very seriously.

Reading at Six Flags…
and at Go! St. Louis marathon…
in between customers…
and at the beach. Like mother, like son here.



Today, I’d like to share a few book recommendations for all the places you or your children might find yourselves this summer. They range in age from picture books to young adult. So, brush your teeth, grab your shoes, and above all, bring a book!

Please continue to All the Wonders to see my recommendations for books for the beach, summer camp, the pool and more …

The Measure of a Year

I have thousands of photos sitting on my computer and a decade old abandoned promise to myself of making digital photo books out of them.  I have this pipe dream of sitting down in front of my computer and choosing a handful of favorites to represent each year, tossing them onto a pre-made template and hitting the order button.  Nothing fancy, no text, not letting perfect be the enemy of good enough, just simply done.  It has yet to happen.

I just sat down and started scanning through the photos of this past year, thinking maybe I’d start now and work my way backwards.  As I scrolled through them, I couldn’t believe everything that transpired in 2015.  It feels like the year just started, yet I have tangible proof that a very full year has indeed passed.  I also have tangible proof that I take way too many pictures of my cats.

But without these pictures, my own introspective year in review would be left to the whim of my ever-changing emotions.  Catch me on a good day, and I could tell you it’s been a banner year.  I could rattle off the things accomplished, the lessons learned, the trips taken, the babies born, the lives joined in marriage, the highlight reel.  Or, following a week of rain and dreary skies, my vitamin D deficient self might tell you that it’s been a hard year.  A year of difficult parenting moments, challenging medical diagnoses for many that I love, a year of loss, a year of global struggle, a year that brought me to my knees on more than one occasion. 

But my pictures tell the whole story.  I can look at any random picture from this year and remember how the moments almost always held multiple emotions. 

Like this one, when I hit the road with my two boys in January and drove to Texas, excited for an adventure. How we got derailed nine hours in by a migraine, trying to recover at a booth at a Braum’s in Oklahoma.  Trudged the last two hours to Dallas, feeling relief and triumph upon arrival.  I look at this picture and think, oh Jess, you don’t know what’s about to hit you.  Maybe don’t call Jason from Joplin and brag about what great time you’re making so you don’t have to eat your words later, over ice cream and Imitrex.

Or this one, at my aunt’s bed & breakfast in Texas, helping my granddad settle in for a winter’s stay, his first winter without his wife of 64 years by his side.  We were so grateful to be with him, yet we all missed her so much behind our smiling faces.

This could have been any mid-winter’s day, escaping the house for a change of pace.  We had so many good days in our first year of homeschooling, but this one probably wasn’t one of them.  This one was probably a hard day, a second cup of coffee day, an “I need a break day.”  

This picture, of my basement after I got rid of over 40 bags of stuff in 40 days.  That was a process, and it was a highlight of my year.  I loved hearing from all of you about your own journeys with your stuff. However, my basement doesn’t look like this now, and I’m still processing that.  Which means you’re probably going to hear about it later.  😉

The boys on our family farm in Indiana.  My first visit back in many years, to celebrate the life of my grandmother Gigi.  A realization that our family gatherings are likely to continue to be marked by loss for years to come, that the co-mingling of joy and grief is an ever-present thread in life. 

My happiest place is always by the water, but this picture was taken on a day that we received bad news about a family member.  Liam is joyful in this shot, and I am heartbroken.  He jumps off the dock again and again, and there they are, joy and grief, holding hands.

It rained incessantly this summer in St. Louis and this was my favorite of those days.  I laughed so hard that I cried as we started kicking puddles at each other, riding our scooters in the gutters, watching cars drive by, passengers staring at us like we were crazy.  Maybe we were.  But this day felt like healing.

A failed attempt at a photo shoot in crazy wind during a beautiful week away at the beach.  Strike that.  Not a failed attempt.  This looks about right for my family. 

Our sweet new kitten Eragon (left) with our Ginger cat (right), who we lost this year after 14 years together.  Joy and grief, grief and joy.

When Jason comes home from work and we are accidentally wearing matching clothes.  And I look up at his smiling eyes, with the lines around them that remind me how damned lucky we are to have had so many years together, and how our house becomes home again every day when he’s here.  

The pictures tell the whole truth, if we let them.  We get to choose which pictures we keep and curate and catalogue, much in the way we choose the way we view our memories.  We get to choose the way we measure a year.  And since I often find my truth in the lyrics of musical theater, I’m going with Jonathon Larson on this one.  All of it can be measured in love, if we let it.  There is no grief without love, no loss without love.  No moments of loneliness or frustration without love.  The joy stems from love, the laughter and the tears.  And when I look at my pictures from 2015, that’s what I’m going to remember.  I’m going to remember a year that I fiercely loved. 

“In daylights,

in sunsets,

in midnights,

in cups of coffee…

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love.”