Hello September!

Hello September!


September at last, and even after my promises to write and update more, especially after our fantastic getaway, I’ve continued to fail at that! Mea culpa.

The last six weeks have contained stresses and changes I couldn’t possibly have imagined. It’s strange, but around mid-July several areas of my life experienced a seismic shift, and I’ve been riding out the earthquake (or rather, the emotional roller coaster), ever since.  I wish I could go into great detail…just spill all of it in its sticky, messiness for everyone to clutch their pearls at, but I can’t because the vast majority of it was related to work. The month has been full of drama, anxiety, fear, righteous indignation, anger…and fear of the unknown. Big changes came, big changes are still to come. Most of that has wound down, thank goodness, but the surprises somehow keep coming (at least three major ones this week alone), and I’ve felt sucker-punched, left to nurse wounds I didn’t see coming.

And there have been changes in thinking and attitude in other areas of my life as well, still too new and early to discuss, but affecting my daily life in the extreme. Husband started his last semester of grad school two weeks ago, and that reality—that it will all be over soon, that the “real life” we have been waiting for the last thirty-two years is fast approaching—is daunting to us both. We’re anticipating and coping in our own unique ways, but it’s odd because neither of us expected to feel anything except grateful elation. Now, we feel a swirling mix of emotions, and it’s by turns alarming and confusing. I cried at work every day this week, for one reason or another. I’m not depressed or even terribly distraught, but I feel like Bilbo when he told Gandalf that he feels like butter scraped over too much bread. “I feel thin.” It’s ok, though. It’s a weird season of life, and we are muddling through as best we can.


I am so grateful it is September, that the chill of autumn will eventually steal over us, so I can take comfort once again in things like easy chairs, books I’ve read a thousand times, warming spices, and the mystery of the season. There is nothing mysterious or comforting about a sticky August afternoon. But until that autumnal chill does steal over us (not bound happen until late October at least), we still have weekends at the Yuba, summer evenings enjoying good meals on my parent’s deck, heirloom tomato salad and peach pie. And that’s enough to be getting on with, and to be grateful for.

The scandals that have been brought to light within the Catholic Church these last few weeks have rocked the Catholic world. They’ve contributed greatly to the confusion Husband and I (and other family members) are now experiencing. I’ve never seen the Catholic community so enraged, so bereaved, so divided, and in other respects so united. Some are defiant, resolutely fighting this evil and corruption from within their parishes and dioceses, and some are prostrate with grief, seeming to have lost all hope. To a person, we are shaken. The political backlash of the recent allegations against Pope Francis by Archbishop Vigano has become, it appears, a flash point for self-described “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics to further distance themselves from one another, to in-fight and erode unity. While the horrendous grand jury report in Pennsylvania resulted in a rare unity between these factions, the arrows aimed at Francis have destabilized any tentative peace between the two. I’ve never seen anything like it. No one has. It is alarming, frustrating and so, so painful. I can add my name to letters addressed to the Holy Father on behalf of women in the church, I can write letters to my Archbishop. I can duck my head and hide, engage in a little of Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option,” choosing to remove myself as a visible Catholic from the greater society. I can hunker down, and ride out this storm. I’m not leaving. The Church isn’t the ecclesiastical bodies. No amount of human sin or human evil can touch the Communion of Saints, or the Eucharist, or Our Lady, or anything that bears spiritual truth. Where would I go? There is no where else to go. We are stranded, and betrayed. We solider on.

Now for the good news—last week I peaked at seventeen pounds lost! My goal for the year was twenty, and I’m thrilled. I’ve since gained back three or four, so it’s still “two steps forward, one step back.” But I’m very pleased and proud, and I’m beginning to have confidence that I haven’t had in many, many years. I’ve cultivated discipline I’ve never had before. Related to this is a fun new thing in my life—I’ve started taking Brazilian jiu jitsu three times a week, which has been such a lifeline for me, I honestly can’t say enough about it. It’s so strange because I’ve never done martial arts of any kind in my life, and never had the desire to. But one morning several weeks ago, I woke up and just knew I HAD to start taking jiu jitsu. It drew me to it like a magnet, having known nothing about it. It is soothing my soul and my monkey mind in ways I didn’t know I needed, and now feel I couldn’t live without. It hurts, and it’s exhausting, and it realigns all the disjointed things within me. I have been welcomed into the family-like fold of it, encouraged, challenged, supported like never before. It was pure grace, and I am drinking it in, thirsty for what it offers.

Soon, it will be time for pie. I fondly remember baking pie after pie in wonderful Mama-in-Law’s kitchen last November, wanting to keep creating things that would nourish the souls of my loved ones…and she, in her ever-patient indulgence, encouraged me and praised me, and I couldn’t have felt more loved. Soon it will be time for pie, time for smokey lapsang souchong tea, time for October evenings. For now, we have September evenings. I have no idea what they’ll bring us. If they are anything like the last six weeks, they’ll bring surprise after surprise, and no measure of rest for the emotionally weary. That’s ok. Change is progress, and we’re holding on with love, support, discipline and hope.

Wishing you all a wonderful September.


Back From Abroad!

Back From Abroad!


We’re home!! And it was wonderful, magical, challenging, expensive, enchanting, familiar, exotic, and as always, life-changing and perspective-changing. It was a terrific adventure.

But first things first, my apologies for being extremely quiet over the last two months. The updates dwindled because of extremely challenging, very precarious events taking place at work which came to a head, spilling fourth drama the likes of which I have never seen in my professional life before. It caused anxiety and stress that I also have never experienced in my professional life, and a lot of uncertainty regarding the future. HOWEVER. It seems the storm is passing and things are really looking up, so now that the flurry of crazy has died down, I’m looking forward to directing my mental energy back to the things that make me really happy, this blog being one of them!

OK. With that out of the way…


It was marvelous, guys. I could write about the wicked financial hangover we’re nursing (…we knew it was coming, and feel it was worth it, but it still hurts!), or the inevitable let-down of returning to every day life (not as bad as last time!), or the very real challenges that the three of us encountered that make up the experience of travel…but I won’t bother, because all of those things pale in comparison to the graces upon grace that we were given daily, and the seeds that have been planted in our souls from these experiences, preparing to bloom and ripen over the coming months and years. I sincerely hope you don’t get terribly bored of seeing travel pictures and hearing travel stories, because that’s going to be a major theme of my blog for a long time to come!

We started our trip in London, staying in a beautiful apartment in an award-winning, eco-friendly building in Elephant and Castle, a vibrant and diverse neighborhood that won our hearts immediately. This was the view from our bedroom:


We stayed in London for four days, and it was fantastic! We did a lot of sightseeing, catching up on sleep, walking, riding the busses and the underground…but the downside was that London was in the middle of the the worst heatwave they’ve ever had and we were hot as HELL. Poor London just doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with heat like that, and our apartment, the busses, the tube, basically everywhere, didn’t have adequate air conditioning. We were sweating buckets and remained sticky the entire time. Still, we did the best we could and saw some glorious sights:



Possibly our favorite London experience was getting to eat at St. John, a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by renowned chef Fergus Henderson. Who I met. Who I got to thank. Who I kind of fangirl-fawned over as I gushed to him, and who graciously thanked me and told me he hoped we enjoyed our lunch. Guys…it was basically the highlight of the entire trip. I almost cried several times after returning to my table, but forced myself to hold back the tears remembering I was wearing mascara. Oh, the food was outstanding, by the way! I’m planning to do a second food retrospective post for this trip, so you’ll get to see what we ate!


We visited Stonehenge and Bath:



Both were lovely. This was the most touristy thing we did, and it was fun but I wouldn’t do them again (at least not by chartered tour bus). This was a challenging day because we were all very tired and Sister was worn thin, but we still got many fun memories out of it and I will definitely remember it fondly.


Husband and I got to do a day exploring London on our own while Sister rested, and we had the best time! We visited ancient tea shops and ancient perfume shops (surprise, surprise, Husband bought his very first grown-up cologne and it’s MAGICAL). We visited the London Transport Museum, to Husband’s delight, and we visited my beloved Twining’s tea shop, to my delight.


Then in the evening we ate at this lovely place, a beautiful pub. There is so much beauty in the U.K., it’s almost unbelievable. Everywhere you look there is something ancient, eternal and charming looking back at you. The details make all the difference, and we were constantly looking at each other and saying things like “This is REAL! It isn’t Disneyland…it’s REAL!” It sounds so silly, but the beauty, the details…they fed us. They fed us right up, filling starving parts of our souls that we didn’t even know needed nourishment.


After London we took the train to Holyhead (home of the Holyhead Harpies, for you Harry Potter fans!) and stayed in a lovely B&B. I took an evening stroll by myself and was rewarded with these vistas.


The next day we took a ferry to Dublin and, after a near-disaster regarding return-ferry scheduling that Husband heroically solved, we spent seven hours in this remarkably and stunningly beautiful city.






We decided immediately that next time, Dublin is where we’ll be coming, sorry London! We’ve had enough of you! Dublin was just…comfortable. Next to the hustle and bustle of London, Dublin was like your grandpa’s easy chair…we felt we could sink into it with a hot drink (a real Irish coffee, perhaps) and just stay indefinitely. Alas, we had to return to Holyhead…but thankfully we got a stateroom on the return journey, and one with a fantastic view:


Mostly we slept, though. Then, of course, we got to Conwy. OH, CONWY.




If you read my (long) post about Wales you’ll know my love for Conwy. I can’t possibly reiterate it here, but suffice it to say, Conwy is my most favorite place on earth. If any place feeds the starving parts of my soul, it is north Wales, and Conwy might as well be the capital.




Of course, there are other stunning towns in north Wales, like the almost absurdly picturesque Llanwrst:




We spent a few days in the north just taking in the splendor, and then said goodbye to Conwy at it’s lovely little train station:


Now we are home, jet lagged, still needing to do laundry, unpack, prepare for the work week (I return tomorrow!). But I’m going to ease back into the grind, and I have a handful of changes that I’m going to be making to improve my quality of life. Last August I wrote a post called “First Fruits,” discussing the “fruit” that travel bears in the weeks after returning home. I’m already seeing these first fruits, but I’m looking forward to the harvest, which will come in time. Of course, it feels so good to be home. Traveling is exhausting and it’s wonderful to be in my own bed again, with my own sweet kitty curled up next to me. We are so lucky and so grateful, and we’ll definitely bask in this glow for weeks to come.



Hello August!

Hello August!


“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.” ~Sylvia Plath

August is a weird mish-mosh month of in-betweens and patchworked priorities. It’s the height of travel season, the temperature soars, the humidity in many places shoots to unthinkable percentages and school semesters begin again almost mid-month, cutting summer holidays short. August is to summer what February is to winter—the month that often showcases the discomfort of the season. Sylvia Plath is right—the “hurray for summer!” feeling of June and July have passed, and we are met with looming responsibilities once again…and yet the graces and joys of autumn haven’t arrived yet.


Sorry August. I’m sure you mean well! As you read this, I’m likely in an airplane, nervously trying to nap at 30,000 feet, kicking off my second adventure-of-a-lifetime pilgrimage to my adopted holy land, the United Kingdom. Rest assured, you will see plenty of pictures, food retrospectives and musings on my experiences when I return, God-willing. In the meantime…

August is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and there are many feasts and solemnities in August that are extremely important to Catholics around the globe.


In the secular realm, there are a host of funny “holidays” I can get behind:

Here’s what’s on for August:

2– National Ice Cream Sandwich Day

3—National Watermelon Day

5—National Sister’s Day

6—Feast of the Transfiguration

8—Feast of St. Dominic

11—Feast of St. Clare

15—Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary

18– National Fajita Day

19– National Potato Day

22—Queenship of Mary

28—Feast of St. Augustine

It has been a long time since I posted something light and casual about my daily goings-on, mostly because I’ve been in the middle of some highly stressful events in my personal life. All is well, but I haven’t had the time or energy to divert my attention long enough to update as I’d like to. Hopefully, though, I will post-vacay and I get back on track as usual. ❤

Happy August, all!



Your Guide to Summer Reading

Your Guide to Summer Reading

Hi friends! Even though we’re well into summer, I wanted to do another book post! I’m changing up my seasonal book recommendations and instead sharing a guide to summer reading, rather than a list of titles. Summer reading is a totally different animal to rest-of-the-year reading. Instead, here’s my approach to what I reach for during the summer:

1. Mass-market paperbacks of New York Times Bestsellers (new…or decades old). Summer isn’t a dark, rainy, ponderous time of year for sitting sedentary in your armchair and contemplating philosophy (I mean, power to you if that’s your thing, but I save that for the winter months). Summer is the best season for tucking a paperback of something light and easily digestible into your purse while you head to the beach or the park; nothing that requires a ton of emotional energy, but good page-turners, nonetheless. Use summer to check out the bestsellers you’ve avoided while you were re-reading classic literature the whole year…(ahem…). My current NYT bestselling paperback is At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, a delightfully easy, summer read.


2. Memoirs. Summer is a great time of year to read about something entirely new and different, and what could be more different than the first-person perspective of another person’s life? One caveat for me is that they not be too depressing– I love feeling uplifted this time of year (I can read depressing things in fall or during Lent). Memoirs or other first-person experience stories like Mennonite in A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen or Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes can be hilarious or evocative page-turners. I recently re-read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, which recounts his experience walking the Appalachian Trail, a perfect summer theme!


3. Outside-Your-Comfort-Zone genres and subjects. This really gets at the heart of what I reserve summer reading time for– all the things I just don’t feel like reading the rest of the year. I spend SO much time doing re-reads of books and genres that bring me comfort and familiarity during fall, winter and spring that if I’m ever going to try something new it’s usually going to be during summer. Never tried fantasy? Maybe sci-fi isn’t your thing? For some reason there’s less guilt if you don’t end up finishing a book you start when your days are so full of other outdoorsy things, so testing a new genre feels like less of a commitment. This summer I’ve picked up books about other religions I don’t know much about, and I’m dabbling in contemporary fiction which is unusual for me.


4. Non-fiction: history. I spend a TON of time reading historical fiction but again, it’s a good time of year to learn things (I guess that’s true of every season!). History is kind of like time-travel, and as summer is the season for travel and adventure, it’s appropriate to be swept away to other times and places. Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton has been flying off shelves for the last few years, and is a good candidate for a summer read. Some of my favorites are Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraiser, and One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.


5. Non-fiction: other stuff. In the spirit of adventure, I’ve picked up a bunch of educational books on all kinds of topics, and though they aren’t the kind of books you read cover-to-cover, they’re the kind you can learn a ton from just by flipping through. Books on raising toddlers, nutrition, home decorating, dieting…not precisely self-help, but books that definitely help when you want to learn more about a specific topic.


So, there you have it! Happy summer reading, everyone!

Hello July and Happy Birthday “A Room Full of Roses!”

Hello July and Happy Birthday “A Room Full of Roses!”


“Answer July—
Where is the Bee—
Where is the Blush—
Where is the Hay?

Ah, said July—
Where is the Seed—
Where is the Bud—
Where is the May—
Answer Thee—Me—”

~Emily Dickinson


Swedish Summer Plants Summer Nature Flowers Sweden

I can’t believe July has finally rolled around. Summer in full swing, Fourth of July celebrations, hot dogs, fireworks, watermelons, and warm poolside days mark this festive month, at least for me!


Also, it’s officially the ONE YEAR anniversary of this blog! Holy cow, I can’t believe it! You all have stuck with me through so many seasons—not just the full four seasons of a year, but my seasons of grief, which have waxed and waned, and moved through me in the mysterious, often unfathomable way of grief. I really appreciate it. It feels so good to know that even one person reads my ramblings, let alone a good bunch! It has been quite a journey. Last year when I started blogging, I was in the midst of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, and due to family dynamics and challenges that other family members were facing at the time, I was utterly alone and isolated in my grief. I had wanted a memorial for Gram because I needed the support of people who loved her, but it was not meant to be. Instead, I just started writing. I needed to process my feelings, and I’ve felt such support from my dear loved ones who take the time to read what I have to say. I am so grateful to you!


Independence Day Fireworks 4th Of July Independence

As you might have noticed, there have been a few changes around here in preparation for this milestone, namely that the name of this blog has changed ever so slightly, going from “Room Full of Roses” to “A Room Full of Roses” due to me caving, upgrading this blog and buying the domain. However, the morally corrupt people who devote their lives to buying domains and then accepting outrageous bribes for their release had, naturally, already purchased roomfullofroses.com, so adding an “A” was necessary. I don’t mind though, it works well! I’m hoping to spruce the place up a bit more in the coming weeks and months as well.



Mom likes to joke about sharing her birthday with Harry Potter, and as her birthday falls on the 31st, we will likely do something fun with her the weekend before. Things are really winding down for our U.K. trip and I imagine we will be running around like chickens with our heads cut off, putting all the final details in place and packing that weekend as well!



Here’s what’s on the calendar for July:


 3rd—Feast of St. Thomas

4th—Fourth of July

10th—National Kitten Day (!!!)

11th—Feast of St. Benedict

13th—National French Fry Day (sounds like a good excuse to eat fries for the first time in months)

14th—Feast of Kateri Tekakwitha

16th—National Ice Cream Day (so many good food days in July!)

19th—National Hot Dog Day (ok, I’m going to gain all my weight back…)

25th—Feast of St. James

31st—Mom’s birthday, Harry Potter’s birthday, Fest of St. Ignatius of Loyola


What do you have going on this month? Love to you all!



The World Keeps Turning

The World Keeps Turning


When I was twelve I developed an obsession with dragons—the monsters of European legend—full-winged, long-snouted, fire-breathing mythical beasts. When I say obsession, I am not speaking in hyperbole. I had books about dragons, and posters of them. I had dragon necklaces, earrings, candles, statues. I had an incense holder shaped liked a dragon, mouth open to let the steady stream of smoke issue forth. Grandma cheerfully and enthusiastically bolstered my dragon collection, surprising me with tiny figurines, beautiful decorative candles, and many other dragon-y things. One weekend in eighth grade I visited a bookstore in Sacramento with a friend and her dad. Browsing a table of shiny new paperbacks, my eye came to rest on a book that would change my life: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman. Intrigued by the title I bought the book, brought it home and started reading it in slow spurts, flipping through to find parts that attracted me, skipping much of it. It was a dense tome of historical fiction—no dragons to speak of—about the reign of medieval King John and his relationship with the princes of Wales.


The writing was beautiful, and the book remained a treasured item, but at the time I wasn’t quite ready for it. Over the next few years I often thumbed through it, seeking out the passages I’d come to enjoy reading, revisiting parts that sparked my imagination. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I finally finished reading Here Be Dragons cover to cover. By then my obsession with dragons as literal creatures had faded, but Sharon Kay Penman had fueled a new passion—dragons as people: the Welsh people, who proudly fly a red dragon on their country’s flag. The sweeping, epic tale told with Penman’s signature meticulous historical accuracy was the single most entrancing piece of fiction I had read (except perhaps, for Harry Potter). A few months after moving to San Francisco and settling into my new room at Grandma’s house, I bought a language book (we had no internet) and taught myself Welsh. Actually, I taught myself Welsh pronunciation to the best of my ability. My intent was to decode the mystifying Welsh words and names scattered liberally through Penman’s book—“cariad,” “Adda” “Llewelyn,” “LLanfiar,” “Gwenwynwyn,” “Powys,” “Tangwystl,”—or to make sense of long proverbs the characters sometimes utter (“Y mae dafad ddu ym mhob paridd”). How on earth does an English speaker make sense of these bizarre strings of consonants?

So, I taught myself. I taped words for the days of the week, colors, and numbers on my wall like in a child’s bedroom. On the computers at City College (where I had enrolled in a Culinary Arts program) I began planning a solo trip to Wales, mapping out all the places of historical significance I wanted—no, needed!—to visit, the places “my friends” had touched and built.

Because you see, I had read this book so many times now that these people (who called out to me that day in the bookstore when I was twelve), were my friends. They made me care about them. They taught me things. They weren’t just names in a textbook. They were people with faults, hopes, dreams, loves…such is the magic of well-written historical fiction. Not only did I consider these historical figures my friends, I had begun to devour more books about their lives, and about medieval Welsh history. In a local bookstore I found the next two books in Penman’s Welsh Prince trilogy—Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, both equally engrossing. I celebrated Welsh victories, I cried over Welsh tragedies. I held the land of Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) close to my heart, valuing their unique culture and language, lamenting their centuries-past conquering by English king Edward the First.


In early 2012, after I had moved out of Grandma’s house and into an apartment with my husband, Grandma had a series of significant health crises that would culminate in her never returning home. Otherwise alone in San Francisco, I was run ragged for weeks visiting her in the hospital, helping move her to rehab facilities, staying with her…only to see her slide back into acute illness (she developed life-threatening C. Diff in the hospital) and enter the ICU. This was the first time in my life that I had been confronted with Grandma’s mortality, and the experience traumatized me. I remember the three-month span as agonizing. Unfathomable. Exhausting. I almost never stopped crying. There was a period when we believed her death was imminent, so I kept my cell phone next to my head in bed as I waited for the call I was certain would come any moment, to give me the worst news I could imagine. Up until this point, I had understood Grandma’s mortality as an intellectual concept only. I knew she would one day die because all living things die. But I hadn’t understood it emotionally, and I couldn’t bear it.

Coupled with this trauma was the immediate necessity of cleaning out her home of fifty years and preparing it for the rental market. Gutting a place that had been my home, that contained some of my most cherished childhood memories, was agony. That’s the only way to describe it. I turned to my literary friends for comfort.

I re-read The Reckoning, which tells the life story of Llewellyn the Last, the final Welsh prince who was conquered (and murdered) by Edward the First’s forces in 1282. His death was of extreme significance. It signaled the end of Welsh independence for all time. He was profoundly mourned. His death wasn’t merely the fall of a beloved leader, it signified the fall of Wales. Penman deftly retells the aftermath, including a true anecdote of a bard named Gruffudd ap yr Ynad Coch who wrote and performed an elegy for Llewelyn in the days that followed. The elegy is long—this was an era that revered spoken poetry as entertainment—and conveys a grief so raw, so painful, and so haunting that it instantly resonated. I felt the bard calling out to me from the page, speaking to my unexpected grief at the devastation of life as I knew it, especially in one particular stanza:

“See you not the ocean scourging the shore?

See you not the truth is portending?

Have you no belief in God, foolish men?

See you not that world is ending?”

See you not that world is ending? Grandma was dying, something I couldn’t understand, and her house (my house!) was being packed up and disposed of…and my world was ending. I thought at the time that if I could have tattooed the entire elegy on my body somewhere I might have (an impossible feat). They were the only words that spoke to my pain, my confusion, my seemingly inconsolable grief and despair.


But you know what’s funny? For a poem considered to be one the greatest examples of Welsh poetry and European literature of all time, the entire elegy is almost impossible to find. In those dark days, I scoured the internet, finding most of it in an ancient e-book someone had scanned and nowhere else. Even today when you Google it you might only find pieces of it, or articles dedicated to its historical significance…but not a translation, end-to-end. In the years following, I tried to revisit it several times, but it was difficult to track down. This piece of poetry had been my one comfort in my darkest days, but it was elusive, and I felt like the only living person on the planet who cared about it.

God works in mysterious ways. Grandma didn’t die in 2012. She stabilized, and then moved to assisted living in Roseville, improved and lived another five years. We occasionally talked about that terrible time, how upset I was, how horrible it had been…and how transformative it had been for me. After some time had passed, I realized I could now conceive of a world that didn’t contain Grandma. I had been abruptly forced to consider that reality, and never having considered it before, I had believed the world was ending. But I now knew what it was to feel the worst grief and pass through it, and I told her more than once while discussing her eventual passing that I knew I would be ok when the time came. I wasn’t saying it merely for her sake, but because I knew it to be true. I would be ok. I knew that day would come now, and I understood that life would move on.

So it has. Painfully. Sometimes with despair and lamenting and disbelief. But it has.


In 2016, my husband and I traveled to Wales. My dream trip to the land of Y Ddraig Goch became a reality. I wanted to hear with my own ears the language I had stumbled through alone, never having heard it spoken by a real person. I was elated and humbled at the prospect of visiting the graves of “my friends,” the places they touched, the views they gazed at, the craggy mountains they loved. That spring Grandma was healthy, and we kept up a steady correspondence of written letters and phone calls, sometimes several of each per week. Leaving the U.S. on my first international trip was exciting and daunting in equal measure…what if something happened to her while I was so far away?

We started in South Wales, in Cardiff, the capital. While the signage of the country was in both Welsh and English (which delighted me), I heard almost no spoken Welsh. No matter. I’d heard that Welsh was more widely spoken in the North…and that made sense. The North, Gwynedd, was home to my friends—Llewelyn the Great and his wife Joanna, his grandson Llewelyn the Last, and countless ladies and men who lived and changed the course of empire. We took the train to Conwy in North Wales and after checking into our motel, walked to the center of the beautiful, ancient walled village.

Turning into the little square, he appeared just like that. Right in front of me, like he had been waiting for me the whole time—Llewellyn the Great, perched atop a column, painted in vibrant color, beardless but with a mustache in the medieval Welsh fashion. My friend. Crown atop his head, sword and shield at his side, he looked every inch a prince. My prince. I carried the words that spoke of his grandson’s death in my heart—a heart now bursting with happiness, longing, the joy of reuniting with someone you love. I had cherished the story of his life and was comforted by the elegy for his grandson’s death. I might have been one of few people that cared about the elegy, but his homeland loved him as I did—certainly more so!—and I was thrilled to be there.


We visited many lovely places on our trip, and our last day in Conwy we took a final walk around town, window shopping and enjoying the sunshine. On a whim, we stepped into visitor’s center that we’d missed our first day. It only contained a few rooms but was beautifully maintained. Husband veered left immediately to gaze lovingly at some maps, and I wandered into the far rooms, gasping with delight at detailed timelines depicting the lives of so many of my “friends.” The last room was dimmed, and I stepped into its silence alone, sitting myself down on the bench in the center. My jaw hit the floor. My eyes filled with tears.

On a series on silk banners in white lettering atop a deep purple background, spangled with the nighttime sky, was the elegy. Huge, the banners took up an entire wall, and were lovingly lit like a precious treasure in a museum. In the dim silence, the room felt like a chapel. Indeed, it was a holy place for me. In both Welsh and English, the elegy was displayed in its entirety—the lament of a nation, a people, a way of life…a lament because their world was ending. I read each word as silent tears streamed down my cheeks.

“Have you no belief in God, foolish men?

See you not that the world is ending?”

But it didn’t end. Almost a thousand years later I was here, visiting these words. Hearing Welsh. Seeing Wales. A year later Grandma would pass, and I would remember this lament and reflect that it did indeed feel like the world was ending. But it wasn’t. And it didn’t. And it won’t.

There is a Welsh word with no English translation that I’ve treasured for a long time—“hiraeth.” The literal meaning is something like “nostalgia,” or “homesickness,” but the common understanding is deeper. It’s used to indicate missing a time of life, an era, or a person, while being grateful for their existence. It’s a bittersweet concept, the merging of gratitude and loss. It’s hiraeth I feel now, remembering Grandma. The days of inconsolable tears and frantic, panicked grief have dimmed, the hole she left remains. What fills it is the missing. The gratitude. The loss. The remembering. Hiraeth contains sadness, but it hints at containing joy, for what would we be wistful for if not for joyful places and times? Why else do we miss things? How else could I be homesick for her…homesick for a person?

In a few weeks I’ll be in Conwy again, looking up at my friend, the Welsh prince. I might visit the elegy, if it’s still there. My inner twelve-year-old will revel in the abundance of dragons, my inner thirty-year-old will remember the letters I wrote Grandma on the last trip, heart brimming with hiraeth, knowing I can’t write to her this time. And so passes the world, though it does not end, even if it feels like it might. I’m looking forward to this new adventure with people I love in a place full of friendly ghosts who remind me–

“Have you no belief in God, foolish girl?

See you not that world keeps turning?”




Hello Summer!

Hello Summer!


It’s finally here!! Sweet, hot, delightful, joyful summertime! I’m so excited for summer this year. It’s normally not my favorite season, but I don’t know what it is…for some reason, this year is different. Living south of San Francisco, we get to enjoy summer heat, summer sun, outdoor swimming pools, and all the fun the beautiful South Bay has to offer.

We have adventures planned, and not just international ones. Husband recently went camping in the high Sierras, we have plans for weekend outings to Half Moon Bay and other stops along the breathtaking California coast…and even though I’m not a spontaneous or stereotypically adventurous person, I know we’ll be running off hither and thither to bask in the sun in various ways over the next few months.

My most favorite aspect of summer, far and away, is the heat. The Bay Area is notoriously mild– and when I say notorious I’m looking at you, Outer Sunset. This part of the city is blanketed in fog from June through September, and it was so depressing to survive winter and spring, just to have to spend all summer making stews because you’re still freezing! Now that we’ve moved south, we get to experience heat, and it is such a novelty to be sweater-free, and to feel comfortable in skirts without worrying you’ll get chilly. Another thing related to heat is food– it is profoundly easier to eat clean, light, raw and otherwise healthy foods when you’re hot. Cold weather invites calorie binging. Hot weather invites simple, clean eating. Many years ago when I lived in the Sierras and the weather was scorching, I would occasionally just eat fruit– maybe a few peaches in a day– and that was it! And I felt good! It was too hot to eat and too hot to cook, anyway.

A summer tradition in my family is our many summer “porch parties”– dinners on my parent’s deck, where Dad barbecues and friends gather around the table, the evenings illuminated first by a lazy setting sun, and then by white fairy lights and myriad candles. We have a few nice ones planned this year, and I’m going to revive some Moroccan recipes I used to make that have fallen by the wayside.


What do you have planned this summer?

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” — Henry James