gratitude-a-thon day 2021: “the days are growing,” she said

Today, the darkest day of the year reminds me of my mom.

Not that my mom was a dark person, just the opposite. Today, my mother would say, without fail, her face lighting up the room, while darkness seemed to descend around 11:00 in the morning (not really, but it felt like it) “Today is the shortest day of the year. Now the days start growing!”

This made me howl with a combination of laughter and irritation. How could she be happy on such a dark and gloomy day, I’d wonder. That women ran on hope, is the answer, She was always looking for brighter days, even on the blackest of the year.

My mother’s six year battle with lung cancer began its final stage on December 15, 1989. She called me to tell me she had a headache. I didn’t think much of it, but she insisted she had a terrible, terrible headache. It could be sinus, I said. It could be a migraine. There was a bad sound in her voice, a cancer sound.

The next day, my sister called to tell me that she was taken in an ambulance from our house to the hospital and they were doing tests. I felt my body go numb, each part of me, completely void of feeling. I began to float, but not in that good way that happens when you’re in love. My husband and I went home that night. I remember walking into the hospital room that first day and my sister being sort of crouched in the corner in a chair, her husband standing next to her, my dad there, and somehow the timing was exquisite, as the doctor had just walked in to deliver the news that the cancer was running around the lining of my mom’s brain like a marathoner.

It fell to my sister and I to determine a treatment plan, whether we should agree to allow her to get radiation along with a shunt in her skull to directly deliver chemo. We struggled, since nobody would tell us exactly the outcome of this little plan. But she delivered us her final Christmas present, when after her first date with radiation, she said loud and clear, “No more.” We only agreed because we’d bumped into a doctor in the elevator who told us if we pursued the chemo and radiation, she’d be blind in month or so and would only live another six months. I’m sure he didn’t realize the gift he was giving us, as no other doctor we’d asked would be so honest, spitting out gibberish, like “you never know. Everybody’s different.”

We knew.

Without treatment, the hospital would not allow her to stay, so we were forced to move her to a hospice an hour from our home. If you told me I’d ever be able to be in a place where everybody was dying, I’d tell you I would not. But it was one of the nicest and warmest and most transformative places I’ve ever been.

So, as the rest of the world was preparing their houses for Santa’s arrival, decorating their trees and shopping for gifts, baking and singing christmas carols, I slept with a pillow over my head. Not being able to tolerate food, I lived on little cartons of vanilla soy milk. My sister and I were glued to one another. We went back and forth to the hospice, on the winding back roads of Connecticut, lined with tall trees and bodies of water. We lay in her bed with her, holding her, morphine coursing through her veins, wishing for some of our own.

On December 21, my mother could no longer speak, so she didn’t tell us that the days were growing while darkness fell over us. This would be the first of all the important things I would never hear her speak again. It barely mattered to me, my whole life was darkness that month. (I’d just found out I’d never have a baby. But we all know how that turned out!)

I won’t bore you with the rest of the story, but my mother passed, as we hit a deer rushing to her side (a call at 2:30 in the morning that she was in the last stages, threw us into the car). We didn’t make it in time. She was gone when we arrived.

But every December 21, I say what she would have said, “It’s the shortest day of the year, but now the days are growing!” I say it to whoever will listen. I say it all day long. And I think of my mom, because she is the one who always brought me light, no matter what day it was.

gratitude-a-thon day 2020 (yikes): dance it out

The vaccine is starting to roll out. This is the light at the end of the dark, black, dirty tunnel that we’ve been waiting for. iT’S NOT A TRAIN! No, we’re not nearly in the clear, no, you can’t invite Santa in for Christmas dinner (or anybody else, either), nope, it’s not business as usual. BUT, there is hope. And frankly, in a year like 2020, hope is like finding out potato chips have no calories. Hope is freaking EVERYTHING. EVERY LITTLE THING

I love this video so much I want to marry it. It’s healthcare workers at Boston Medical Center celebrating the arrival of the vaccine. These brave and selfless souls deserve this moment. I could watch it all day and night…..

GRATITUDE TO THEM AND ALL THE FRONTLINE WORKERS OUT THERE EVERYWHERE WHO’VE BEEN KEEPING US GOING. This one’s for you. You have my undying gratitude, forever and ever.

gratitue-a-thon day 2019: getting through it

Last Saturday you needed like, a head to toe waterproof beekeeper suit with thigh high fisherman’s boots to even take a step outside. It was a New England classic. The kind of winter weather that always makes me cranky, but this year, with Covid, and spending time outside being so much more important, the rainy, sleety, snowy, windy dark at 3:45 day, made me anxious and angry. This was what I have been dreading since the start of Covid. “Imagine this in the winter….,” I’d often say during the light and bright summer months of this virus, contorting my face into a “can you even” expression. Little did I know back then that we’d find out, that this pandemic would actually not only still be plaguing us during the winter months, but throwing out bigger numbers than the amount of lies spewing from Trump’s twitter account.

If you’ve known me for four minutes, you know that I hate winter. I.HATE. WINTER. I abhor the cold, the pile of clothes you must put on to be outside without turning into Frosty the fucking Snowman, the ice you have to chip from your windshield, and contend with under your feet. I’m a summer girl all the way. Give me the sunshine, the ability to walk outside with warmth on my shoulders and flip flops on my feet. Give me flowers and fertile green trees and beach and barbecued steaks and my little patio filled with people and wine and a fire in the fire pit and white twinkly lights……Andyway, the idea of having Covid and winter together like an off-key duet of the devil and Mitch McConnell, has been haunting me ever since I heard the word “pandemic.” It sounded like a I should just make my reservation at the acclaimed McClean Hospital, booking a nice suite for December through, say, May.

But back to last Saturday–I knew I had to do something, get out of the house, despite my lack of appropriate clothing options. I decided a chicken soup was in order, so headed to the store and bought the supplies. I came home soaking wet and got out my a-baby-could-take-a bath-in-this pot and threw two chickens inside with water and some veggies, salt and pepper for flavor to simmer all day. Then I began to chop. Thick leeks with circles that reminded me of tree trunks, and onions that made my eyes water and green celery, which I had to keep replenishing on account of I kept eating it, and big fat carrots. That was all I could do until late in the afternoon when the chicken had slow cooked. Then I did some online holiday shopping, went down a few google rabbit holes, read the news, wrapped some already purchased gifts, watered the plants, cleaned up my room, did some work, hopped on the stationairy bike and stared outside as it got darker and more hideous by the minute. At 3:30, I finally called it, lit a candle in my room, crawled into bed and read. And that’s when I thought. ok, this is what you’ve been dreading all these months since March–this day–of bad weather and darkness combining for cataclysmic misery and, well, it wasn’t so bad. I was safe and warm in my comfortable bed, with my dog laying right next to me and my kids and husband occupying themselves with work and tv and eating and we were all ok.There were people dying in very high numbers from Covid, their family and friends struggling, suffering, which hardly compared to having to stay in side for a day. It wasn’t the best time I’ve ever had, but I was getting through it without wanting to take cyanide and that’s when the gratitude came roaring into the middle of the room to say, “Hey, this is it, this is your worst case scenario and you’re fine.”

And so, I realize that this horrible, horrible virus that’s surging like a tsunami across our country during the cold, dark winter is like everything. You must take it a day at a time. You must do what you can for yourself and others to get through it. You must pray or meditate or telepathically communicate with your source of hope that we will all get through this frigid blackness. Every day that passes is a day I am getting through. And holy gratitude on high for that.

gratitude-a-thon day 2018: small biz faves

I know Small Business Saturday was last week, but I have a new idea–let’s make it Small business Saturday until Christmas (and beyond)! See, Covid isn’t just dampening our spirits, it’s taking a toll on small businesses, but a girl’s gotta gift, right? So, I’m suggesting we support those retail establishments who aren’t big and Amazon-y, but special and magical. When you purchase gifts from the following stores, you’ll not only be giving cool gifts to your loved ones, you’ll be helping these stores get through an unprecedented season of crazy. All of the following stores just happen to be owned by women (except Good). This is a tough time for any retail establishment, but small in particular, so if you’re buying, please consider how you spend your money. It’s never been more important. Here are my personal favorites.

Portobello Road However long this store has been open is however long I’ve loved it. Super cool jewelry, from affordable to splurge, cozy cashmere, tops and bottoms and scarves, leather bags and belts. Always a great bowl, or book. To die for pillows by Kevin O’Brien. Curated by Marina Kalb and Kristina Lyons, this is a shop to shop. If you go: Check website first, for hours, and when it’s sunny, you’ll find a great array outside, including sale items (I love a sale, don’t you just love a sale?!) . Or just hit the internet for a plethora of gifts you’ll want to keep yourself! (LITERALLY, AS I WAS WORKING ON THIS LIST, I GOT AN EMAIL LETTING ME KNOW PORTOBELLO ROAD WOULD BE CLOSING PERMANENTLY ON DEC 31. This is devastating news, because for 13 years, it’s been a go-to for gifts to give, and gifts to get (my family could always make Christmas or my birthday easy, by just walking in the door). Treat yourself by heading in or shopping online before the doors close. SAD FACE EMOJI HERE.)

This store has no equal. The end.

Nesting on Main This second floor shop is like a winter wonderland and each Christmas, they decorate every square inch of this second floor space to compete with Santa’s workshop. You’ll find some holiday treasures in the form of candles and decorations, clothing, and lots and lots of the unusual. If you go: You’ll feel like it’s really Christmas. If you don’t, you’ll still get some holiday spirit online. 

I so appreciate all the work that goes into making Christmas so, well, Christmas-y!

Thistle Hill is a new find in the last few years for me. Kelly Hochsprung has a great eye. Her store is full of bedding you want to curl up on ASAP, and clothes you want to live in, for, well ever. A drool worthy line of Il Bisonte bags gets me every time (one of my fave Italian stores). Candles and creams and jewelry, too. If you go: Check hours, and enjoy yourself! Kelly is as nice as they come. Shop online, too.

This is a really beautiful place. Try not to buy everything.

Shake the Tree Marian Klausner, owner of Shake the Tree nestled in the amazing North End knows how to mix up fab jewelry with cute clothes, perfume, cards, books, housewares and decorations at price points you’ll appreciate. Who knows how she does it, I’m just glad she does! If you go: work up an appetite, and hop around the corner to Mike’s Pastry for a Lobster Tail to go! (MY TRULY FAVORITE DESSERT)!

A tiny taste of all the goodies Shake the Tree has for the holidays. I always walk out with a bagful.

Kodomo What’s prettier than Charles Street at the holidays? Kodomo’s hand picked, comfy and cozy, stylish and ethical kid’s store. Jasmine Punzalan has such a keen sense of style, I wish she’d open a store for adults. (Pretty please…….) Meander in for an eye candy stroll, or shop online–her site and Instagram feed are good fun, too. 

This is such a special kid’s store. The clothes are next level.

Good Back on Charles street, where it belongs, this long-standing store is always a must-shop. From jewelry to home goods, apparel, scarves, wraps and hats, this is one of of my hall-of-famers. And if you go, you can do a two-fer with Kodomo, since these two special shops are within blocks of one another. Win-win. Online shopping works, too.

Not just Good, great!

Curds & Co. You like cheese? You like cheese boards, things that go well with cheese, like jams and nuts and wines? You like a great looking store? You like really smart sales help who know what they’re doing? Then I’ve found your favorite new place to shop. I go to the one in Brookline Village, but there is also one at the Boston Market and now a cute cafe in Brookline Booksmith, too! And talk about a great gift–we’re talking the CurdBox. I recently bought a vintage cheese board that’s bigger than my downstairs powder room! Jenn Mason has the goods. And I have a new addiction!

Hello, my name is Toni and I have an addiction to Curds & Co.

Joanne Rossman, Purveyor of the unnecessary & irresistible A hidden gem, in Roslindale Village. If you’re lucky, Joanne and her new pug rescues, Nana & Nicco–Miss Rita Rose passed away last May :(–will greet you. Unique finds, great books, decorations, apparel and one-of-a-kind vintage gems await you. If you go, do a few loops of the store because you’ll keep finding new stuff. If not, Jonne’s imagination is online, too.

You never know what you’re going to find in this little store.

Elements/Jill Schwartz If you like jewelry (and I do), head over to Elements and take an online shopping trip. This whimsical brand has been churning out must-have earrings bracelets, necklaces and ornaments for decades, with a vintage eye and a bring the bling. Mega talented Jill Schwartz has a way with a bead! Great stuff and Instagram feed, too.

One of this year’s adorable ornaments. I’m ordering now!

Brookline Beauty Nails & Spa.Ok, this isn’t a retail shop and maybe you’re not having your manis and pedis as usual because these are the sacrifices (I’M KIDDING, here, of course), but after walking by this place 50 times (my dog route) and peering in the window to see large acrylic dividers separating client and manicurist, I decided to give it a try. (My old nail salon didn’t look like they were doing much of anything to keep people safe, so i abandoned ship). So, I took my claws and dry as a desert feet in, for just one treatment. Just to see if I felt safe. Helen and Celine, sisters, own BBN&S and are not only incredibly nice, they offer one of the best mani pedis I’ve ever had (and that’s saying something). And they are also obsessed with safety. Masks are mandatory, washing hands upon entering is a must. There are the dividers, and an air filter system, too. When weather allows the door is wide open. The salon is spotless and the pedi chair is super comfy. Only two customers are allowed to be in the space at the same time. And I gotta say, I feel completely safe. And seriously, they nail the nail art! Not that I’m a nail art person, but you should see the stuff Celine can do! This girl is an artist. It’s amazing! I love seeing how she’s done her own nails–different everytime I’ve been in. We’re talking pearls, and stripes and flowers and yesterday she had a butterfly on one of her opalescent nails! My manis and pedis have lasted much longer than any other salon I’ve been to. They have a whole slew of other offerings, like massage and facials, but none are available now, until Covid is more under control, but I can’t wait until they are, because this place is pretty amazing. 

Ok, I may not be a nail art person, but if you are, this is your place. Also, it’s super safe and gives the best mani and pedi I’ve ever had.

Drive-By Pies. If you like pie and I LOVE PIE, then leave this post and run, don’t walk to this tiny sweet spot in Brookline. The owner, Fran, who is awesomeness, makes the most sublime pies you will ever sink your teeth into. They’re all delish, but I’m partial to the Pear with Caramel. We had four for four people this Thanksgiving and well, guess how many were left by Saturday…..Order now. Seriously, this minute! There’s also lots of other great food, too. Like, try the chicken salad, for instance, or really ANYTHING! It’s all mouth watering and made from scratch!