Loving our Children

McNutts with Santa 2012I’ve had a hard time sitting down at the computer lately…in part because I’ve been really busy with One Call for All, and in part because the emotions are hitting so often and fast, I can’t really make sense of anything.  My hope is to be able to sit down and write next week.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a link to my friend Robin’s blog.  I mentioned her before – she beautifully writes about loss and survival.  Robin wrote a piece this week that brings in the saddness from Newtown, and talks about all families – the common thread of courage.  http://www.griefgratitude.com/

As always, we are grateful to our friends and family for helping us navigate these uncertain waters.  I can’t wait for school to be on break so that Greg and I can spend our time with Wes, our puppy Rooney and our extended family.  Big loves to everyone.

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Celebrating Sweet Hannah

Today is Hannah’s 2nd Birthday.  I have been in and out of melancholy for the past few weeks, holding her so close to my heart that it physically hurts.  A fall cold that has never really gone away has turned to a lingering tightness in my chest.

 As always, there are reminders of Hannah everywhere we look.  The beautiful, watercolor skies we have had over the past few weeks during an unexpected clearing at sunrise or sunset; a surprise hummingbird grabbing a drink at a friend’s feeder on Halloween eve; the mustard-yellow banana slug that Wes and I saw on a walk today.  She is here – we feel her love and energy.

 Yesterday I went over to Seattle in the morning by myself.  I walked from our home to the ferry, listening to music.  I listened to Alexi Murdoch – one of my favorite singers.  From the first words, tears began to flow.  Orange Sky is one of my favorite songs of his, and now when I listen to the words, I hear Hannah.

 Attached is a video of Hannah’s first two years, including photos from our visit today to her bench.  As she is so good at creating, the sun came out and the rain stopped as we played on the beach and released balloons with messages to her up to the heavens.

 Enjoy the video and the song – it may take a bit of time to load,  and the pictures are a little grainy in order to fit the blog size restrictions. 

Hannah is our Orange Sky.

Hannah’s 2nd Birthday Video – Blog

 Love to our baby and much gratitude to all of you for being a part of our lives.

 Below is a piece of artwork that I saw on my visit in the city yesterday.  The artist is Brian Andreas, and a number of his pieces are in our home.  This one is called “Living Memory”. 

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To be of use

When I think of ‘island time’, I usually think of slowing down.  That doesn’t seem to be the case for our family.

 We’ve been back on the island for just over a month and have had lots of action.  There were things we expected – Greg resumed his ferry commuting and life crossing the sound; Wes began first grade at Wilkes Elementary and has started piano lessons and  swimming lessons; we celebrated my birthday and the 6 month mark of Hannah’s passing.  But life has also brought us a few unexpected twists that are really exciting.

 On Tuesday, we will bring home Rooney – our darling 8-week-old Wheaten Terrier.  Rooney is named after one of Greg’s favorite soccer players, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney.  She is a local island dog, found through our moms yahoo group on the island and living just a few minutes up the road from us.  Wes and I went to meet the puppies on my birthday, and Wes knew which one was for us.  He kept saying, “mom, that’s her.  I just KNOW that’s her!”  As we’ve been getting to know her on our frequent visits, we are learning that she is a little dog with a BIG personality.  Yikes!  We are preparing for some exciting days ahead.  We can’t wait for her silly energy, her playfulness and her love.  She is a welcome addition to our family.

 But for me, the warp speed is wrapped around my work.  If I could have sat down to write the perfect job for myself, I would have included a role focused on the community, where my skills in marketing, non-profit leadership and strategy could be of use.  I also would have included the fact that while I want work that is fullfilling, I also want to be able to devote time to our family, writing, and taking care of myself.  I would want a role that is part time, but where I could fully show up when I was working, where I knew that the work was making a difference in people’s lives.

 What I didn’t expect was that the role would present itself to me the first weekend we were home on the island.

 While reading the local newspaper that first Sunday morning, I saw an ad for the Executive Director at One Call for All.  I was immediately drawn to the ad, as I have been a long admirer of the organization and its work (see here for details).  Moreover, the role was 50%, allowing for the balance I was seeking in a future role.

 Long story short, after a few interviews and lots of discussions, I’m in!  I began jumping in feet first last week, as our annual “Red Envelope” campaign to every household on Bainbridge Island will go out with the help of more than 100 volunteers stuffing envelopes together last Friday…a great time to start. 

This extraordinary organization has a unique mission, through an appeal to all homes on the island, we raise money that is distributed to more than 85 local non-profits that are designated by the donor.  And the awesome thing is that 100% of the designated funds go directly to the organizations chosen by the donor!  Last year, the community gave over $1 million back to our local non-profits through this effort – a huge sum of money that goes a long way in making all of our lives better.

 As I was preparing for my first interview, I was looking through some boxes of things from my past work.  In the first box, I found a bunch of things I had hung up on a bulletin board above my desk.  I found a poem by Marge Piercy that perfectly fit my hope for work, and what work means to me.  I think I found my place at One Call for All, and can’t wait to dive in.

 I’ve learned over the past few years that sometimes things are just meant to be, and the less you have to work for it, the more right it is.  I felt this time after time with Hannah – from the doctors that entered our lives, to the homes and transitions for all of us.  While each move was challenging in its own way, they all happened in our lives without the pushing and shoving that I’ve felt in the past.  We’ve been vulnerable – open to what may come, and listened to ourselves as we stepped into these new adventures.

 I’ll continue to write, posting on the blog when it feels right.  I plan to keep the big picture of my writing going, telling Hannah’s story and helping her continue her role as teacher.  But now I have this new work…this place to be of use.

 Poem: “To be of use” by Marge Piercy from Circles on the Water. © Alfred A. Knopf.

 To be of use
 The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
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In Blackwater Woods

I love the poetry of Mary Oliver.  I’m grateful to have found her as a young woman, introduced by my Aunt Gigi with a volume of her poetry for my 22nd birthday.

Today is Mary Oliver’s birthday.  She is 77, and from what I understand, still going strong.  Her work is timeless, and she continues to produce new volumes.


A friend posted on Facebook today with “In Blackwater Woods.”  This is one of those poems that I knew, but until today, I didn’t really know.

Happy Birthday, Mary Oliver.  Thank you for your insight and grace.

(To make it even better, attached is an archived link to “the Writer’s Almanac”.  If you get through the first few minutes, you’ll hear Garrison Keeler reading this poem)


In Blackwater Woods

by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

“In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, from American Primitive. © Back Bay Books, 1983.

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Open your heart and drink.

We are moved. Two weeks ago this weekend the moving truck picked up our belongings from the home in Seattle and delivered us back to our house on Bainbridge Island. This move across the sound isn’t a long one, but there is so much to it for us.

Hannah only lived in this home on the island for a short time. She was born in November and spent a few weeks in the hospital. We returned home, then began our stays at Seattle Children’s in mid-December, and never had a full week without a stay at the hospital until we moved in March of 2011 after her longest consecutive stay in the ICU. If we look at the numbers, Hannah never really lived in this home.

But she is here, everywhere. Outside, the sights and sounds of nature bring us to her – mama and baby deer nibbling our grass; butterflies flitting around the garden; the few late season hummingbirds that swing by. Our back patio is a wonderful spot to sit and relax and observe. Within moments, Hannah is present in nature.

In the house, we have been able to recreate the spaces we love. It is funny to move back into a home you once occupied…things seem to just fall into place again. Our friends helped us host the garage sales last summer that allowed us to shed so many things. Yet still, we have a house filled with memories and furnishings. On Saturday we unpacked the final box – placed the final pictures. It feels good. That kind of good that is deeper than a sense of satisfaction…it feels right.

And yet the tears flow more in the past two weeks than in the past months. The anonymity we had in Seattle is now gone, and we are on an island that knows us and our story. We are fine…we are strong…we have Wes…and yet our hearts ache every day still, for the baby whose life we had welcomed just a few short years ago.

Sometimes it feels like the 16 months with Hannah didn’t happen. How could that life of crisis – ambulances, hospitals, rescues and uncertainty have been ours? We did what we had to so that our family could be whole and we could have our children with us. We were able to love Hannah with as much intensity as any parent can a child, and keep Wes growing and thriving. How did we do it?

I have so much to write, and don’t want to overwhelm myself or any readers on the first blog post for a month, so I’ll end with a video that I received through a friend that recently lost a loved one to Lymphoma. I think when we face health issues (perhaps more than any other time in our lives), we feel gratitude. We see life through new eyes…appreciate small things that may have not even made our radar before. This video is that. Written by Louie Schwartzberg, it is from a recent TED talk and focuses on Gratitude.

The line from the video that I was drawn to while watching the first time was “Open your heart and drink.” Allow yourself the 10 minutes to watch this – it is SO worth it.

My heart is open and we’re drinking in home.

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Wish You Well

It is reunion season.  This past weekend, it was my high school 25th reunion.  For many reasons it didn’t work out for me to go.  I enjoyed seeing photos of my classmates, and reading about the connections on Facebook.

Talking about the past few years still feels overwhelming to me.  It is nice when I run into people who know about Hannah – then I don’t have to start from the beginning and comfort them, or worse yet, try to not talk about Hannah when I tell the story of “what’s been going on with me” since we last spoke.  If the person with whom I’m talking doesn’t know about Hannah, either way, it is awkward.

I was able to make it to a beach party hosted by a couple that I’ve known forever.  Many of the friends there I don’t see often, and a few I haven’t seen since my early years in college.  It was wonderful to see them, and to reconnect on some of the funny, simple things of our earlier days.  I love that you can transport back in time, and be that same, goofy 18-year-old that you were when you all started hanging out.  I’m so glad to have been able to linger at the party, and for most of the folks to have known about our situation so that it wasn’t the center of conversation.

This week, I came across a song that makes me think of those old friends in my life. It’s by Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Hines.  As I looked up the video for this song, I was amazed to see that Justin has a rare genetic condition – Larsen’s Syndrome.  This is very different from Hannah’s, with a host of different symptoms, but I’m sure this young man has spent many weeks in Children’s Hospitals throughout his life and his parents supported him, feared for him and loved him just as we did our girl.  I love seeing and hearing what is possible from such an inspirational guy.

The song’s lyrics connect to where we are in life – transitions, reconnections.  Sweet Hannah passed away four months ago yesterday.  I held her in my heart as we sat on the beautiful beach, and admired other families with their little gals.  Hannah would be 20 months old now – and I see her in my mind, so full of life.  I see her with wispy brown curls hanging down to her shoulders, and her laugh is full and clear.  What might she have now, 8 or 10 teeth that show when she smiles, and the same high dimples in her cheeks as Wes?  As I see babies her age, I feel transported to her.  It is just recently that I am able to see baby girls and not feel that deep, aching in my heart…I can now be happy for the family, and I can connect with the baby and delight when they give me a response. 

It was again a lovely sunset last night.  These warm days, there are few hummingbirds near our home, but there are wonderful butterflies.  Whenever I’m out walking, I often have a white one that comes close (I think they are actually moths, but they seem so much sweeter).  I say a little hello while it darts around me, I get a reminder of our constant connection to nature, and I feel like I’ve had a brief visit from Hannah.

Wish You Well

In times like this
I start to ponder all the things we’ll miss
We can always reminisce

When you come back from the grey beyond
with moonlight in your hair
I will meet you where that dark road ends
and it won’t be long until we’re there

Once, once again
we’ll talk about way back when
Oh but until then, I wish you well
Oh, I wish you well

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Songs of Home

 These days, music is hard for us.  I think no other sensory input brings up emotion quicker for me and Wes than music.  Just a few bars, and our eyes are filled with tears and we start melting.  It seems to overwhelm Wes each time – he seems okay, then looks at me, opens his arms and climbs into my lap.  Oh, how I love our sweet boy.

 This weekend, Greg and I had a lovely night away at the Salish Lodge for our anniversary.  At dinner on Friday night, we sat in the Attic bar and had a table with a beautiful view of the Snoqualmie Falls.  There was a singer in the bar that evening, and he played many of the classic hits from the 70s that we love – those great songs that can be sung with a guitar, where you know all of the words having learned them during childhood (in my case, listening to KJR on our little transistor radio in our playroom).

 The singer took a break, and came back as our dinner arrived.  His first song after the break was “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles.  One of our favorites, but also one that in seconds brings tears to my eyes.  Our kids are never far away, and that evening we were reminded of our Hannah again and again.

 Upon our return to Seattle on Saturday morning, we confirmed that WE ARE MOVING HOME TO BAINBRIDGE ISLAND!  We had been waiting for a few details to fall into place, and now everything has come together.  Our plan is to be on the island in the middle of August to get settled a little before Wes starts first grade at Wilkes Elementary.  We are thrilled to be coming home.

 “Home is wherever we are if there is love there, too”.  We first heard Jack Johnson’s song HOME in the Curious George movie with Wes.  In fact, Jack Johnson was the first musician that Wes knew by name and would request when we had our impromptu dance parties.  This song seems so fitting for us – we’ve made home wherever we’ve been – responding to life and being willing to migrate.  It feels like such a treat to return to the home that we never intended to leave (and that we didn’t appreciate until it wasn’t ours any longer).  We are grateful for the family that kept our house a home over the past year, and look forward to rediscovering all that the island offers.  We are also thankful for the family that let us create a home in this wonderful 100-year-old house in Seattle.  It will be forever in our hearts.

 For our Seattle friends, please reach out in the coming weeks – we’d love to get together and spend time in the city with you (and of course, you are welcome to visit us on the island!).  For our island friends, we can’t wait to be with you again.

 As Jack sings,

 I gotta get home there’s a garden to tend
All the seeds from the fruit buried and began
Their own family trees, teach them thank you and please
As they spread their own roots then watch the young fruit grow again
This old trail will lead me right back to where it begins

So I try to understand what I can’t hold in my hand
And whatever I find, I’ll find my way back to you
And if you could try to find it too
‘Cause this place has overgrown into waxing mood
Home is wherever we are if there’s love here too

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With a fresh sunny day in Seattle yesterday after days of rain, the birds once again returned to our yard.  I love seeing them – so focused and yet so happy.

Greg and I had a very low-key anniversary, hanging out with family in the afternoon, then joining friends for dinner at one of our favorite local spots.  It felt like such the right way to celebrate our 14th anniversary, laughing with friends that Greg has known for more than half of his life. 

We have both grown up so much during our marriage, and the past few years required that we either came together or moved apart. I’m grateful we chose together – it is making this sad, heartbreaking journey of grief possible.  We have this story together – one that is uniquely ours – and we have years to continue writing it.

This weekend, we’ll have a night away at the Salish Lodge – just 45 minutes from our home, but our first night away in over two years.  We are both looking forward to the getaway and are grateful for the ability to have a little space from home, even if just for a night.

In a card that Greg gave me yesterday, there was a short write-up about hummingbirds. As I’ve mentioned before – we see Hannah in nature everywhere, but the places we see her most are sunsets and hummingbirds.  I think this info on the hummingbird says it all:

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration.  The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.


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Life Lessons

Wes at Gasworks Park on Father’s Day 2012

Today is the three-month mark of  our sweet Hannah’s passing.  I miss our girl every moment of every day.

I’m trying to devote a few days a week to writing, carving out focused time at the computer.  Yesterday I felt compelled to explore how to take a story that takes hours to tell, and find its core.  What would it be like if you only had 5 minutes to tell the story?  What about 1 minute?

On Bainbridge Island there is a non-profit called Field’s End that serves the writers’ community.  I have admired their program from afar, not ever feeling confident or ready to explore a class or to attend an event.  I read that they are doing an oral storytelling evening in July.  The theme?  Away from Home.  The challenge?  Tell a story in 5-minutes, no notes, no cheat sheets.  The model they are using is from The Moth, a non-profit in New York where oral storytelling is taken to the stage and to radio.

After thinking about this for weeks, I finally took a stab at this challenge.  I spent the day writing – long essays, even a fairy tale version.  It felt great, and while I am likely not going to set foot on a stage anytime soon to orally tell this story, I love how it came together and how it brought me to the essence of our girl.

I was reminded of a quote by Joseph Campbell, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Our life lessons from Hannah.

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I’m grateful for so many friends reaching out to me. Over time, I look forward to sitting across the table from you – really catching up.  I savor each moment.

After lunch today with a good friend at one of my favorite cafes, I was thinking of our talk and listening to music on my way home.  I heard the song “Thankful” by Rumer (from the album Seasons of my Soul),  and replayed it again as I sat in front of our house.

Greg’s family has done a bit of genealogy along the Vail side (Greg’s mom Marilyn’s maiden name, and the inspiration for our Hannah’s middle name).  Many generations back, there was a woman in the Vail family named “Thankful Barnum”.  The part of her name that we were always drawn to was the “Barnum”.  She was the sister of P.T. Barnum from the Barnum and Bailey Circus.  We thought the name “Thankful” such a curious one -not one you hear anymore.  However just like other classic names of virtue like Hope, Grace and Faith that continue to be popular today, I understand completely why a parent would name their daughter Thankful.

I’m thankful in so many ways.

Thankful (Rumer – Seasons of my Soul)


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