You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2017.

mikeIn which Michael discusses his enterprise restoring and renting vintage Airstream trailers (Nomad Mobile Motor Lodge), his dream to be a backup singer for Emmylou Harris, the fundamental energy that dogs give him, and wishing to be independently wealthy so he can use his magic litter wand.

Listen to the podcast here.

3:09am 4-year-old comes into my bedroom, climbs over me, says “covers, please,” and squeezes himself as close to me as possible.

3:10am Not satisfied with level of closeness, 4-year-old says “Hug.” It is a statement, not a question. A directive. I reposition so he’s nestled into my armpit and shoulder region, in such a way that my shoulder will certainly be sore in the morning.

3:11am For a moment I foolishly think we can all fall back asleep.

3:12am 4-year-old starts subtly writhing around in a manner which experience tells us means he has to pee. I know now that he is warm and snuggly from my body heat and the quilts and does not wish to subject himself to the cruel 72-degree air temperature in our home. Nevertheless, I say “bathroom break!”

3:13am To set a good example, I get up and use the bathroom in our bedroom while encouraging him to do the same in the hall bathroom, knowing it will be less bright in the hall bathroom but he can see well enough to pee from the motion detecting nightlights in the fall. He says “I’ll just go after you.”

3:15am I return to my bed and he’s not only fast asleep again but taking up the entirety of the space I recently occupied, despite the fact that he’s 25 inches shorter and significantly narrower than me.

3:16am I go into my office, which is really now the dog’s room. She has marked it so well that calling the carpet cleaner is at the top of my list of things to do. We are working with a dog trainer. I think maybe I can carve out a space to sleep on the dog’s futon.

3:17 I discover that the dog is inexplicably wide awake and making sounds with her mouth like she just ate, even though no food is available to her at this hour. I wonder what food might have been inadvertently made available to her but I am too tired to look around. Because she is awake, the dog wants to be pet and scratched and spend some quality time licking my hand.

3:20am Instead of lulling the dog back to sleep, my attentions have stimulated her and she’s even more awake. I am falling asleep but it turns out I can’t really relax when she is licking my arm.

3:21am I decide to try my luck sleeping downstairs. I move a large pile of toys off the ottoman onto the table already covered with toys and stack them precariously. I move the stool over in front of the big comfy chair where I often slept when I was pregnant because it was the only place I could get comfortable. But the dog has detected my attempts to go back to sleep and has come downstairs.

3:22am The dog goes to the back door as if she needs to pee so I open it for her. Apparently I am standing too close to the door because she refuses to go out. I sit down in the big chair. She goes out.

3:24am I get up to close the door when she comes back in.

3:25am The dog walks over to the dining room table and barks. This is the place she always stands to bark and we don’t know why. She rarely barks anywhere else. There is no food on the table. There is food in the kitchen but she does not bark in the kitchen. Ever. Because I cannot deal with barking at this hour and do not want her to wake up anyone else, I get a bully stick off the top of the fridge and throw it in the crate that I cannot make myself lock her in at night.

3:26am While the dog chews on her treat, I attempt to settle into the blue chair. I put my phone and glasses on the arm and spread the afghan over me. Because I am more awake now, I play several turns in Words with Friends and Hanging with Friends. I spend more time than I should trying to use all my letters on a triple word score. I can’t do it, so I play “cobbled” for 47 points instead.

3:36am The dog is finished with her treat and wants to go out back again. I curse and let her out.

3:38am She comes back in and barks at the cds.

3:39am I go back upstairs. The dog follows.

3:41am The dog and I sit on the futon and I scratch her.

3:45 The dog turns and looks out the window plaintively as if she is waiting for a long lost love to return.

3:50 The dog lays down and rests her head on the arm of the futon, weary of waiting for her love.

3:52 The dog turns around several times and goes to sleep.

3:53 I am completely awake.

4:22am I return to my bedroom to find the 4-year-old curled up perpendicular to his still sleeping father. The 4-year-old is no longer under the covers. I scoop him up, remembering how I went to the chiropractor earlier in the day because of excessive carrying of the boy and the dog that was killing my shoulders and upper back.

4:23am I carry the boy back to his room, careful not to smash his head into any doorways or bookcases and risk waking him.

4:24am I tuck him into bed. He mumbles, “I don’t want to go back to bed.” Not knowing how awake he is, I say “I have to go to the bathroom but I’ll come right back,” knowing part of that is a lie. I recall the recent conversation with my 10-year-old about when it is ok to lie, like if you’re protecting someone from being captured by Nazis. Also, now.

4:30 Hearing nothing more from dog or boy, I return to my bed.


What makes Danielle feel loved and cared for: “When my children crawl into my lap even when it’s 85 degrees because I’m home to them.”

Who should be honored in a museum? All those anonymous Black women who do the hard work people don’t acknowledge. “It’s so many women and it’s work that has to be done. I just want somebody to know their names.”

Listen to the podcast to hear more!


“I would like to spend 24 hours with Pablo Neruda in a yurt.” –Alex Aspiazu

DianeUlliusHear Diane’s answers to these questions!

  1. If you could switch places with someone for a day, who would it be and why?
  2. What’s the most significant way you’ve changed over time?
  3. What can’t you live without?
  4. If you could replace any part of your body with an artificial part guaranteed to never fail, what would you choose?
  5. If you wrote a book, what would it be about?

    Listen here:

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 2.48.22 PM.pngEpisode #25 of Five Questions, in which Susan Aarhus discusses how other people’s successes make her feel, how music has shaped her relationships and made her “a piece of something larger,” the heartwrenching experience of taking her daughter away from her foster mother, and more.

Not even the sharp scent of permanent markers, used to outline bright and wobbly letters on a sign

Nor the lavender spray, meant to soothe and relax us

Or the white neutralizing product, ordered online by the gallon solely for this purpose–although it does work for a while

Can truly conquer or claim victory over the acrid odor of dog pee that now permeates the carpet in my office, the room also claimed by

One stubborn hound

I had the privilege of leading the service this morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, in a fabulous collaboration with Ashley Greve and Bob Blinn. Our wonderful artist in residence Maya Rogers led the music.

You can watch the service here!

I included this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye as part of my prayer and meditation.

Different Ways to Pray

There was the method of kneeling,
a fine method, if you lived in a country
where stones were smooth.
The women dreamed wistfully of bleached courtyards,
hidden corners where knee fit rock.
Their prayers were weathered rib bones,
small calcium words uttered in sequence,
as if this shedding of syllables could somehow
fuse them to the sky.

There were the men who had been shepherds so long
they walked like sheep.
Under the olive trees, they raised their arms—
Hear us! We have pain on earth!
We have so much pain there is no place to store it!
But the olives bobbed peacefully
in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.
At night the men ate heartily, flat bread and white cheese,
and were happy in spite of the pain,
because there was also happiness.

Some prized the pilgrimage,
wrapping themselves in new white linen
to ride buses across miles of vacant sand.
When they arrived at Mecca
they would circle the holy places,
on foot, many times,
they would bend to kiss the earth
and return, their lean faces housing mystery.

While for certain cousins and grandmothers
the pilgrimage occurred daily,
lugging water from the spring
or balancing the baskets of grapes.
These were the ones present at births,
humming quietly to perspiring mothers.
The ones stitching intricate needlework into children’s dresses,
forgetting how easily children soil clothes.

There were those who didn’t care about praying.
The young ones. The ones who had been to America.
They told the old ones, you are wasting your time.
Time?—The old ones prayed for the young ones.
They prayed for Allah to mend their brains,
for the twig, the round moon,
to speak suddenly in a commanding tone.

And occasionally there would be one
who did none of this,
the old man Fowzi, for example, Fowzi the fool,
who beat everyone at dominoes,
insisted he spoke with God as he spoke with goats,
and was famous for his laugh.

Here’s my reflection: The New Kid

The New Kid

Picture me, age 7, wearing a sunshine yellow Izod shirt and matching cotton shorts, missing a couple teeth, cruising down the sidewalk in blue and white roller skates. I would happily skate up people’s driveways to see who was available to play. Some days we watched monster movies with Geoff and David, some days we twirled batons with Amy and Karen, some days we played king of the hill on the pile of mulch in the Perrys’ driveway. It was all very suburban and lovely. Until…

After I finished second grade, our neighborhood elementary school closed and became a police station. The kids in our neighborhood were sent to two different schools, one of which included the gifted program that I had been assigned to. I was nervous about going to a new school, but then third grade started, and I found my people, and absolutely loved my new school. One of my best friends from third grade remains one of my best friends today.

Meanwhile, back in my neighborhood, something strange was happening. When the kids I used to play with in the cul-de-sac realized I wasn’t going to school with them anymore, they stopped playing with me. Or speaking to me. Somehow, they got this idea, whether it was from their parents or each other or who knows where, that I thought I was better than them. I didn’t. I wasn’t. Just because I was going to a different school with a different program did not mean I didn’t still want to ride bikes and play tag with them. I did. But I wasn’t allowed to anymore. They unceremoniously unwelcomed me from their midst. It was awkward and painful. They assumed something about me that wasn’t true—that I was suddenly arrogant, or a snob, even though I wasn’t behaving any differently than I had when we were hanging out in their basements. But that was that.

Fast forward a few years to ninth grade and another fork in the academic road. My friends from junior high were scattering to different high schools. My neighborhood school did not have a stellar reputation. I had heard rumors of chain-wielding gangs of immigrants roaming the hallways. Somehow, I bought into some bizarre stereotypes. I assumed the worst. So, I found a math class I could take at another, allegedly better, high school, and transferred. And I had the absolute worst year of my entire public education career. At this school, which was much richer and much whiter than my neighborhood school, people were mean to me. I was turned away from activities I wanted to do. Hardly anyone in my classes spoke to me. I was miserable. I made a handful of friends who sustained me that year, mostly people from the literary magazine who considered themselves willing outcasts of the school’s elitist culture. By the end of the year I was willing to face the prospect of roving gangs at my neighborhood school because I figured they couldn’t possibly be more unkind than the privileged white kids I’d been surrounded by all year.

First period in 10th grade I walked into Mr. Lunsford’s biology class at my neighborhood school and a whole bunch of people, most of whom I had never met, seemed surprisingly, genuinely happy to see me. As the days and weeks went on I was warmly greeted by familiar faces from elementary school and total strangers. I felt at home instantly. And guess what? No threatening thugs anywhere. Whatever I had assumed turned out not to be true. Surprise!

Recently I’ve been reading this book—Wonder by RJ Palacio—with my daughter at bedtime. I read it originally when it came out in 2012, and it’s one of my favorite books. Wonder is about a boy named August Pullman who is starting middle school and he’s nervous. Not just because he’s been homeschooled his whole life, or because it’s middle school, but also because he has a severe craniofacial anomaly. Genetics conspired to make Auggie’s face startlingly different from typical faces. By age 10 he has already undergone dozens of surgeries. When Auggie introduces himself at the beginning of the book, he says, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Our only insight into Auggie’s appearance comes from his description of people’s reactions to him. Stares, gasps, kids running away on the playground. At his new school, all but a couple kids give him a wide berth. They cover their mouths when they whisper about him, but he knows exactly what they’re saying. Many of them play a cruel game they call the Plague, where they try not to touch Auggie, even in passing, and if they do they have to immediately wash their hands to prevent catching what they somehow imagine is the disease that caused Auggie’s facial differences.

The few kids who actually get to know Auggie discover that he’s awesome. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s kind. He loves all things Star Wars, and playing video games, and when his dog Daisy licks his face. But because he looks so different, most kids, and many parents, don’t give him a chance. They make assumptions, such as that the school made an exception to admit a student with special needs who requires extra accommodations, none of which is true. One mom goes so far as to Photoshop Auggie’s face out of the class picture, saying he just doesn’t fit in.

Later in the book we do read a detailed description of Auggie’s looks from the point of view of his big sister, Olivia. She is realizing that there’s the Auggie she sees, of whom she has always been fiercely protective, and the Auggie that other people see. She is candid about the effects that having a little brother who looks so shockingly different has had on her life. She is loving, and patient, but also weary. And honest.

Olivia’s voice is one of several we hear in Wonder, in addition to August’s, which is one of the reasons I love this book so much. Mr. Tushman, the director of August’s school, says at one point, “there are almost always more than two sides to every story,” and RJ Palacio offers us windows into the many facets of this story. She wrote a companion book in 2014 called Auggie & Me, which tells the same story through the lens of three other characters, including Julian, who is Auggie’s greatest antagonist in Wonder. Just as so many kids make assumptions about Auggie based on his looks, the reader makes assumptions about Julian based on his behavior. Clearly, he’s just a jerk, right? But there are, as Mr. Tushman points out, almost always more than two sides to every story.

Our brains are hardwired to categorize for survival—is this creature friendly or likely to eat me? Is this food edible or poisonous? But what happens when that desire to classify everything you see gets out of control? I struggle with this constantly. Is that person thinner than me or fatter than me? Does that person have holes in her clothes because she can’t afford better clothes or because she’s trying to be fashionable? Why is it fashionable to have holes in your clothes? My brain goes into overdrive. So while I want to be welcoming, while I aspire to be friendly, while I deeply wish I were the person who goes over and sits down at the lunch table where the different looking new kid is sitting all alone on the first day of school, I don’t know if I really am. I am convinced that sometimes my assumptions—about someone else or myself—get in the way. What if that person who is crying just wants to be left alone? What if I am insensitive because of my white privilege? What if I ask an intrusive question because I am curious?

Sometimes this interrogation of myself keeps me from being welcoming, inclusive, or brave. Our theme here at UUCA for September is welcome. So today I’m making a commitment to be more welcoming, everywhere I go, whether I am greeting the new kid or I am the new kid. I’m making a commitment to not let those questions and assumptions ricocheting around my head get in the way of reaching out to someone. I’m making a commitment to remember that there are almost always more than two sides to every story, and to do what I can to listen to all the sides.

One of the great characters in Wonder is Auggie’s English teacher, Mr. Browne, who teaches his students about precepts—words to live by—and encourages them to come up with their own. I’ll leave you with Mr. Browne’s precept for September, a quote from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

May it be so. May it be so. May it be so. Amen.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,258 other subscribers


Follow You Ask a Lot of Questions on

Listen to my podcast: Five Questions with Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
%d bloggers like this: