the air smells like Christmas

We arrived at our destination late and hungry. I lost my keys in my purse. We tore through the apartment to find them, and there they were in a place we checked dozens of times.

As we stepped out of the car though, we were greeted by the beautifully nostalgic smell of Christmas.

The men were in heavy duty jackets and snow pants, but they were unloading the precious cargo with care. The trees had arrived.

We left the biting night and slipped into the restaurant. Those smells were quickly replaced with the warmth of food. The trees were forgotten as my sister and I dove into a foodie frenzy.

Outside, the work continued.

When we emerged hours later, the trees seemed to have doubled. The wind had spread the pine smell. I stopped to take a picture and was greeted by an older man, bundled.

“It smells like Christmas,” I said.

“Do you want to buy a tree?” he asked.

“I can’t have them in my apartment, otherwise I would,” I said.

“We have small ones,” he said.

Then he called over the younger guys.

Sensing that I was engaging in yet another lengthy conversation with strangers, my sister sought refuge in the car for warmth.

“She wants to buy a tree,” he said.

I hesitated, and the man politely told me they were just setting up and not ready to sell.

The older man disappeared, while the other two told me they would open on Black Friday. They asked if I lived in the area and would come back.

“Do people line up at 3 a.m. on Black Friday for your trees?” I playfully asked.

“No!” he laughed. “I’ll be sleeping. No lines.”

Then older man suddenly appearing holding a smaller tree.

“This one,” he said, smiling. “She wants to buy this one.”

“It’s beautiful,” I said in awe but also slightly uncomfortable I would have to walk away.

His face radiated with pride. The farmer and his crop were almost glowing in the moment.

The farmer would have tied it to my car had the others not stopped him.

“I’ll come back,” I said, taking one last deep breath of the air.

“Thank you,” I smiled and turned away.

The farmers waved goodbye as we left behind the smell of pine. The magic of the farmers market didn’t fade.

the last laugh

Some people need to get the last word. Todd needed to get the last laugh.

Every summer the incredibly uncool, nerdy Malloy kids would make the annual trip to ValleyFair with super cool Uncle Todd. This excursion involved a lot of planning, especially who would sit with Todd on the rides.

He rounded out the older kids’ foursome, which was supposed to make the experience less awkward and not leave anyone out. But we would fight over who would be stuffed next to the 6-foot-5 guy taking up a ridiculous amount of leg room, arm space and pooled over into the seats.

Despite these quibbles, we had a blast.

The pinnacle of the trip was the pilgrimage to the Wild Thing, which I know I was not the one to convince Mike, who is scared of heights, to ride. That was all smooth-talking Todd.

As we waited in line, I insisted we needed to figure out how we were going to pose for the picture. We needed a strategy. I wanted to see something awesome when we walked out of the tunnel and into the souvenir screen trap.

We had it down to a science, knowing where in the tunnel the lights and cameras were positioned, timing how many seconds we had to do something good. We knew we had one shot to make it perfect.

For some reason, Mike and I thought it would be awesome to get a picture of him pretending to choke me, while I held a gun made out of my hands to his face.  That’s the kind of middle school bad-assery that only comes out of Catholic school.

I don’t remember Amanda’s instructions. But I do remember Todd remaining calm and collected, not commenting as we plotted.

My memory still churns up the moments of the dark tunnel and flashes, the anticipation, the carefully planned action, then realizing when you are moving fast and going down, fake choking becomes real choking. Haven’t made that mistake again…

As we returned to daylight, we laughed and screamed, rushing to see our gloriously epic photo.

And then we saw that Todd had bombed it. There he was expressionless, bored and annoyed. Our, “Look!” Became, “Todd! You wrecked it…”

He could not stop laughing. The whole way home, he kept laughing. Years later, we’d pull out the picture, and he would laugh at how he skunked it. Grandma still laughs at it.

Aug. 31 would have been Todd’s 41st birthday. I pulled this out the night before and couldn’t help laughing and still feeling that dammit, he won.

As someone who needs to always get the last word, maybe Todd is trying to teach me something. How different would life be if we went after the last laugh?

silent night

It is snowing in Minnesota. Winter is upon us, and I can’t help but feel inspired. I love the snow. Everyone has to slow down when it snows. We’re forced to prioritize what is important and necessary. It’s a shared experience that brings about some more empathy, patience and understanding.

I find that the stillness of the snow brings me peace, quiet and reflection. The world is dusted with a fresh canvas, awaiting disruption. When it snows, I often find myself bundling up to walk. I love just to get lost in the serenity that has fallen upon the busy city.

I ventured out in the latest snow storm to clear off my car and run it, hoping to avoid any mishaps or a dead battery before the heavy flakes arrive overnight. The glow of the streetlights illuminated the glittery, powdery flakes that danced to the ground. The relatively untraveled sidewalks beckoned me. I couldn’t resist and wandered to see what would be revealed on my journey.

The crunch of the fresh snow under my boots brought the first spark of joy that kept me going. I can count on one hand the number of cars that passed me. I could hear the scraping of two shovels, and the only living creature that noticed me was a curious dog, happily playing in the powder.  I trudged along the path, peering at the lit Christmas trees in the window and admiring the thoughtful decorations outside the homes. I was delighted to come across icicles on a red house with sparkling lights. They looked almost fake perfectly dangling.

The snow left me breathless and in awe. As I gazed above and marveled in its majesty, suddenly “Silent Night” started playing in my head. I was overcome with peace and gratitude to be alive.

Something similar happened to me once before. After spending a day in the newsroom covering a mass terror attack, I called my brother, who was 9 at the time, to go for a walk. I needed to clear my mind in nature. We set off for the Arboretum after my shift. We went for a walk in the early spring with cameras in tow. Suddenly, my brother began humming the Lenten hymn “Were You There.” I remembered it was Holy Week.

There was something so beautiful and innocent in that moment, it was seared in my memory. Here we were, walking together along a path where signs of life were re-emerging. The world didn’t seem so lonely and scary. This child had awakened that feeling of peace and gratitude.

I smiled at the memory, and suddenly became aware it was rather cold. As I circled back to my starting point, I passed landmarks of my childhood and recalled the childlike simplicity of the world. The silent night brought me home, and the snow continued its descent.

The heat was overwhelming and almost suffocating when I opened the door to the building. I did not want to go inside, but unfortunately my legs were freezing in ill-suited yoga pants. I entered my cozy apartment to find my 30-minute adventure resulted in a helmet of fresh snow coating my head.

I grabbed a fresh cup of tea and sat to watch the snow, thankful for the stillness and grateful to be alive as the snow melted, trickling down my back.

our last meal

I wish I remembered the last thing I said to you, but I don’t. I remember three things: what we ate, what I overheard you say, and the hug goodbye.

I decided to make Grandma and Grandpa breakfast after the post-Thanksgiving festivities. Grandpa had a seizure that weekend. You were there. You watched, helped and called me, panicked. I was always the first to answer your calls in a family emergency. No matter what, we could reach each other and get the family phone tree started.

I made scrambled eggs. You asked if we had cream cheese to put in the eggs. One of your favorite concoctions. Unfortunately, we did not. But the eggs still turned out OK. I remember we went to the cabin one summer, and I intended to make Grandma a cranberry citrus bundt cake for her birthday. It required so many special ingredients, including crème fraîche, and I had to go to three grocery stores to find it. When I woke up, you had used the precious ingredient in your scrambled eggs. I wanted to be angry, but it was delicious. I don’t think I ever told you though.

We had waffles. I remember when you were in high school, and I would spend the night. Grandma and Grandpa would make us waffles in the morning, and I couldn’t believe how many you could eat. I didn’t like maple syrup. You told me to eat waffles with peanut butter, which I always thought was weird. I made fun of you, while secretly enjoying it. I rarely eat waffles another way now. Once for your birthday, I went to Mall of America for hours stressed out searching for the perfect gift. All I could find was craft peanut butter. I was so worried it would look cheap, so I got you three flavors. You raved about that peanut butter. It was probably the best gift I gave you, and I never underestimated your love of peanut butter again.

I also picked up special lamb sausage from Whole Foods. The kind that was patties made specially by the butchers. I didn’t know you were coming, so we had to share the sausages, and everyone was asking for more. You came into the room as we were sitting down, and again, impressed me with the number of waffles you could eat. Of course, you were a foot taller me, so you definitely. But I felt like that 4-year-old again, in awe as I watched you eat.

It was after the meal, when I overheard what would be those last words I remember. Grandpa apologized for not getting you up North to the cabin.

“It’s OK, Dad. I really think God has a plan, and everything happens for a reason,” you said.

You told him he had found better doctors now. The medicine was re-calibrated. Everything was going to be OK. I hadn’t heard you talk about God or serenity for many years. You sounded peaceful, happy.

Then you came out of the room in a hurry to go find those wine glasses that looks like beer mugs for your friends. It had been your mission all weekend to find these. We even looked, but you were determined to see for yourself. All I could focus on was those words. I wanted to write them down. I kept replaying it in my head trying not to forget it.

Suddenly, you gave me a great big hug. We probably said I love you; I’ll see you soon. I don’t remember. I wish I did, but sometimes those details escape us when we aren’t looking for the meaning of mundane moments. I thought I would see you in a few weeks anyway. Yet, I didn’t want to let go. Then you were gone.

It’s been three years now. I miss you. But I inherited two of your favorite kitchen items. I have your cast iron skillet and alien juicer that I use daily. I forget about the day as I cook, and get lost thinking about the meals we ate and words that were left unsaid. And how could you be so genius to put peanut butter on waffles?

trusting the journey

I need to make a confession. I’ve had this domain for longer than I would like to admit. I delayed its birth as I kept obsessing over what to write and how to start. I am finally starting, but I need to let you know I have no idea where this is going.

Professionally, I am a journalist who spends the work week entrenched in world and national news of the day. Weekly, I slide into my night school role as a graduate student pursuing a masters in English, specializing in literary journalism. The rest of the time I occupy a busybody, crazily (and happily) running between volunteer commitments, family and friends.

However, I am starting to seek and appreciate more quiet moments in life. Those moments of inspiration come when least expected, and the key is listening when they strike. Sometimes I will snap a picture, other times I jot a note down. Sometimes I just take a deep breath and appreciate the what the world has shown me. This blog is meant to be a collection of those moments and thoughts that are guiding my life.

The motivation to start the blog came when I was driving. I used to be terrified of navigating to a new destination. The anxiety overwhelmed me to a point where I often talked myself out of getting behind the wheel. However, when you become a community journalist, you quickly get over it. It’s not an option. Half your day can be spent in a car driving to always changing destinations to produce uncertain results.

In my car, I found freedom, strength and serenity in driving. It became my sanctuary. A place to clear my mind, rock out to music, sing too loudly or cry. As Minnesota drivers know though, the roads become unpredictable in inclement weather. As I drove down the road Sunday, a cloak of fog surrounded me, covering what was familiar and known. I ventured over a bridge I have known since my childhood, but I could not see the end. Yet it struck me as poetry rather than panic. It was a kind reminder that sometimes we have to trust the journey, even when we enter blindly.

I invite you to join me on this journey. So welcome, fellow writers and wafflers. Let us see what unfolds.