It’s not a secret that I have generalized anxiety disorder. Actually, it’s the opposite of secret. I disclose my diagnosis all the time. New doctors, new friends, new coworkers, anyone with an internet connection. Anybody who is going to be around me for longer than one meeting. It’s because there are certain things I do, the ways that I manage my triggers, understanding where my mental fault lines are, that I want the people around me to know.

It’s not about making excuses; it’s about explaining what they will see me do. I’ll get my stuff done, I’ll be present in conversations, I’ll do my best, but I’ll also need some grace and accommodations sometimes. It’s not something I can outwork (tried that), out plan (tried that too), diet, medicate, or exercise away. Those things help (not the outworking, that’s a disaster), but sometimes they are not enough to overcome the chemical imbalance in my brain that causes my symptoms.

Because I have a medical condition.

It’s clearly off-putting to some people when I am frank about my mental health. I decided a long time ago that anyone who has a real issue with that is not someone I need to spend much time around.

Today, I am okay. Not “I will be ok if (a) or (b) things occur.” Just okay.

I’m okay! That is earthshakingly wonderful to me. Even keel is a remarkable place to be.


“I’m proud of you for doing your best,” Noah said as grabbed my hand to hold as we walked past the bocce courts on the way to our car. We had stayed late, waiting until the end of the team bocce tournament before taking our tired children home.

After two years without the festival, I had forgotten the sublime pleasure of standing in a crowd around a reconfigured baseball diamond, waiting to see how close the rollers can get the balls to the pallino. A band played on the main stage, and Louise and Anna danced while Noah diligently watched the judges’ decisions. I stood next to my friends while our team rolled their way into second place, our best finish in years. The only injury was Mimi, when a ball jumped the board and hit her ankle.

The kids were tired, but it was worth every minute of their slow steps to be with our people under a cloudless sky. As we made the slow journey to the car, Noah asked how we had done in the cocktail and Anything Italian contests. I told him we wouldn’t know until Saturday night.

That’s when he told me he was proud of me, which is what I often say to him. I’m glad it appears to be sinking in.

Urban Nature

My home is in the middle of a mid-sized American city. The house itself was built in 1941 on a .226-acre lot. That makes it one of the young ones in the neighborhood. I’ve been steadily and happily working to improve our small part of the ecosystem since we arrived in 2013.

While it might have been under our care for only a nine of its 81 years, I’m proud of the work we’ve done in that time. I’ve torn out privet and greenbrier. I removed nandina and English ivy. We have a vegetable garden where the invasives once roamed free. I planted a buttonbush and a beautyberry.

Louise asked for butterflies, so we’ve steadily improved her perennial butterfly garden. The passionflower vine is putting on a show for the Gulf fritillary butterflies as I type. Noah wished we had birds, so we have bird feeders and places for nests. I wanted fewer mosquitos, so we added a bat house. Greg wanted flowers, so I’ve planted a riot.

We lost an oak tree this spring, and in the loss of canopy, we are taking solace in the sunlight that now lets the roses grow. And we take comfort from the second oak that is growing strong and straight.

I recently read Mary Laura Philpott’s memoir Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives, and I was struck by her relationship with the turtle that visits her Nashville yard. Not a pet, but a regular visitor, a nudge that nature is around us constantly. It reminded me of the pair of mated cardinals that make regular visits to our feeders. They are welcome co-habitants in our ecosystem.

It is easy to appreciate nature while standing atop a mountain in a state park or careening around rapids on a pristine river. But perhaps the key to connecting with the natural world of which we are a part is to really see the small beauty of a honeybee on clover, a blue jay bossing the other birds, cucumber vines running, dahlias unfurling.

Nature — urban or otherwise — is right out the window.


Four years ago I started a handful of miniscule alpine strawberry seeds under a grow light on a dreary February day. I dreamed of my own strawberry patch with everbearing plants that I could walk out and pick for months of the year.

Of course, it didn’t go quite like that. One of the plantings got accidentally weeded. Only a couple of others survived. There would be sporadic berries, but not the haul I imagined while staring at the seed catalog.

This year has been different. A magnificent oak’s lifespan ended in a crash and the resulting hole in the canopy made room for sunlight. And the alpine strawberries ran and spread. And the Gasana everbearing strawberries that I added to the beds last spring came back in force. And the right amount of rain fell. And now, each day, my daughter asks if she can check to see if there are any strawberries.

My kids make checking the strawberry patch part of their daily ritual. They bring one for me, eat as many as they want, and check on the big ones they’ve been patiently monitoring to ripen fully. Today, we found one that snails had been enjoying. So we left it for them.

The strawberries bring me as much joy as I had imagined that day when spring felt so far away. Even if it took longer than I expected. Isn’t that the way gardening goes?


Greg wakes up before dawn to get to work by 6AM. I wake up at 6:10 when the speaker robot turns on my bedroom lamp and starts blaring the Mad About You theme song. It’s impossible to go back to sleep. By design. There is no time to linger when school and work start in the same place at 8AM.

I make sure Noah’s alarm went off, get Louise up and supervise her getting dressed. Greg leaves instructions and ingredients for breakfast on the counter so that I do not have to think. He also programs the coffee maker to start at 6:40. He loves me.

Noah and I walk Louise to school. And it’s wonderful. We laugh and talk about the weather. The kids ask questions and make up games and try to leap over sidewalk cracks. We say goodbye. Then we wave at the window. And throw hugs and kisses. Noah and I walk back to the house to start the next part of the day.

Log on by 8AM, sign on to Teams, answer emails, help with passwords, write, get my kid a snack, make phone calls, find the right folder, write some more, make lunches.

We go on our recess walk. We find mushrooms and butterflies. Talk about trees and books. Try to outdo each other making up alliterative sentences. It’s wonderful.

Greg gets home by 12:30 to work remotely and help with school. Then I head to the museum. I have meetings, write, brainstorm with my friends, write some more, drink coffee, and come home. Greg makes dinner, which is wonderful. We eat, clean the kids, supervise piano practice, play games, read books, get the kids to bed, and then sit, exhausted.

It is tiring and difficult. It has moments of joy and many more of gratitude. It’s not ideal, but we are lucky and the parameters of our life remain kind.

At least, that was our routine. For an entire week and half. Then I caught a cold, took a sick day, and decided to be a responsible adult and work completely remotely for the rest of the week so as to not spread it around the museum. And the whole fragile artifice leaned. The precarious balance that we won for a week and half folded in and creased at the corners.

So we start again. Maybe this time we’ll make it 2 weeks before we pivot, yet again.


I have always hoped that, given the opportunity, I would be a brave person. Greg and I tell our kids that being brave doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means being afraid and doing it anyway. I’ve done plenty of things that required personal fortitude, but nothing that I would consider essentially brave. No actions taken when lives are at stake and risks are measured in percentages instead of remote possibilities.

Then this happened:

Last April, I learned that my friend George has hereditary polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and was close to beginning the transplant process. And it’s a doozy of a process. In characteristic form, he noted that if anyone wanted “to become one with the George,” this was their opportunity. His post stuck with me in a way I was not expecting. We have known each other for a long time. We work together, he made me confront my fear of heights on multiple occasions, we share recipes, we know each other’s families, we enjoy burning things, we make fun of each other, I give him the jalapeños from my garden that are, frankly, too hot for reasonable people to consume. We’re friends.

So I researched and prayed and thought and decided I wanted to be tested. It seemed so simple. I have two kidneys, and I only need one. I waited for it to get more complicated, for my anxiety to kick in and tell me all the reasons why it was a bad idea, but it never happened. So I talked to Greg, because we are partners in all things. And we read more, and talked a lot, and slept on it, and repeated, and decided, together, that I should get tested. It was the right thing to do. What were the odds it would work out?

A year later, it was the time to call the donor coordinator. From there it was phone calls with a social worker, financial counselor, donor eductor, living donor advocate, and health screener before I was cleared to get tested. I decided I was only going to get tested if I was willing to go through with the surgery. In late June, I went in to meet with members of the transplant committee, learn more about the surgery, get my blood typed, and get lots of blood drawn to do the cross-match.

Here’s what I thought would happen. I would be one of several potential donors who called in and got tested. I wouldn’t be a match, but I would be a candidate for surgery so I’d go into the donor chain pool. (In a donor chain, you donate a kidney to someone other than your intended recipient, and your intended recipient gets a kidney from another recepient’s donor pool.) If none of the other potential donors were matches, I could get the call that I matched someone in a donor chain, and I’d still donate, but it would take a while to get  to that point.

Instead, on July 3, the donor coordinator called to tell me that I was a direct match. And I felt really good about it. Scared, but really good. To be honest, calling George to tell him we were a match was one of the greatest phone calls I have ever made. Next came intensive testing–blood work, 24-hr urine collection, CT scan, chest x-ray, and EKG to clear me for surgery. The week between testing and getting results was brutal. When I went for my appointment with the surgeon, they told me about the surgery again, redid a couple of tests, hooked me up with a 24-hour blood pressure monitor, and told me the transplant committee would make a decision the next morning.

So I went to work, looking like a cyborg, and told George we’d know in the morning. Thus began one of the longest 18 hour waits of my life (tied with laboring my first born into the world). I got a full day of arm hugs every 15 minutes, dropped off the monitor at 7:30 AM and waited. Two hours later, our donor coordinator called to tell me we were approved for surgery and could do it on August 5 (2 weeks away). I said yes, and then got to have a truly excellent conversation.

We got re-matched, did more pre-op, got COVID-19 tests, and made it to 5AM Wednesday, August 5–two months after I called to say I wanted to be tested. The process was, in turns, incredibly fast and excruciatingly slow. But it always felt like the right thing to do. Greg was with me in pre-op while I had blood drawn, got gowned up, and met with nurses, surgeons, and anesthesiologists. He was there when I woke up, high as a kite and a kidney lighter. Then he had to go because of the COVID-19 restrictions.

I was in the hospital for two days, and have been recovering at home in the days since. It hurts, but it hurts different and less each day. My kidney is working out well for George. He already mentioned that it is an overachiever. We had to agree to stop making each other laugh for a little while. It hurts our incisions.

Lots of people have made this donation possible, and I appreciate you each in ways that make me teary, so I’ll save those thanks for another time. There’s more recovery to come, and lots of time in the recliner in my future. But my friend is alive, and I discovered that I’m brave after all. It’s not what I expected would happen; it’s so much better.

Here for a moment, at least

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here.

I write a lot, just not here. I contextualize history and science; I excavate past content and rework it in new formats; I edit others’ words. Right now, that’s my job. Check out the museum’s website if you’d like to see my handiwork. I’ve become adept at churning out content, at building the backlog I’ve been assigned. What I miss are my friends/coworkers, creating multidimensional exhibits, brainstorming and riffing in a room together, writing in between walking to people’s offices, wandering through the collection and finding inspiration. And still I write. In the moments between teaching my kids, adjudicating their fights, making snacks, and taking conference calls

I’ve been keeping a journal of this time of social distancing. It’s a scrapbook in the truest sense. I printed memes that moved me, sketched my CORVID-19 crows, pressed a 4-leaf clover from a walk with Louise. I write my anxieties and joys and things that I don’t want to share, just get out of my head.

What I haven’t done is write on this blog. Frankly, I forgot it existed. Maybe I’ll remember. At least, I’ll try.


My grandfather died this morning. There were things that we diverged on–the churches we attended, the politicians we voted for, the sports teams we cheered. There were so many more things that we shared–faith, a love of knowledge and reasoning, joy in time spent together, family dinners, corn hole games, basketball, gardening, cooking. When a man at his church gave him cases of sorghum, he passed them to me because he knew I’d actually cook with it. When his neighbor had a bumper crop of plums, he brought me a bag full at my brother’s wedding. I brought him back some plum cinnamon jam.

I have early memories of driving to Oklahoma to visit him and Memaw on Thanksgiving. That’s always been our holiday. The one that he and Memaw would wake up in the middle of the night to change out the ham for the turkey in the oven. They moved to Tennessee when I was still in grade school and went from a day away to an hour up the road. I have the path to their house memorized. I know where to stand on their steps for the annual family portrait. I know that dessert will always get eaten while the kids are outside playing.

Gramps was a Pentecostal pastor, and I’ve always been Catholic. I remember him asking me one time what I was doing in a picture. It was May Crowning, and I was the one crowning Mary. Looking back, I’m sure it looked like his granddaughter was not only worshiping Mary, but worshiping a statue. What I remember from that conversation is that he asked me questions and respectfully listened to my 14-year-old explanations about Catholicism. There was no judgment, only a desire to know me better.

We got to have one last conversation this Thanksgiving, which we celebrated together even if the food was made by others and we skipped the picture on the stairs. He used the opportunity to tell me that all grandparents are proud of their grandkids, but that he’d be proud of me and brag on me even if I wasn’t his. He told me that he was so happy that I took my mind and have applied it to my career. He told me that he bragged about my academic achievements to his friends. Gramps didn’t have many degrees, but he had a brilliant mind. He loved me, and I miss him.

Reflecting on reading

Over the past day, I’ve found myself thinking about my relationship with books. There’s a give and take implicit in choosing the word relationship. Books give me windows into other ways of thinking from cyborg Cinderella to a natural history of earthworms through a social history of the Memphis civil rights movement. Those are the books I’ve read parts of today (Cinder, The Earth Moved, and An Unseen Light if you’re interested). My interests are wide ranging; my pace is a frequent cause for comment. In return, I give books an audience. When I choose them, I give their authors’ words life. Without readers, books are bound paper. With readers, they contain multitudes.

Lately, I’ve been on a reading jag. Part of it is because I’m anxious about things that are coming up and reading is a way to occupy the parts of my brain that would otherwise go spinning off in less pleasant directions. Part of it is because I started listening to audiobooks on dog walks. We walk 5 times a week; that’s a lot of time to listen. I also find pleasure in books in a way that I don’t find in my phone. I’d rather read for an hour before bed than spend it on the internet. I sleep better that way.

I read once the kids have gone to bed. I read at work. I read in snatched moments when the kids want to be left alone to devise their own worlds without mommy’s adult brain interfering. I close the book when they ask me to play too. I strive for balance. I never want my drive to read to overwhelm my urge to actively live. I also don’t see those desires as being in conflict.

50 books have come through my life this year. They cross genres and lengths and styles. They’ve brought with them multitudes.

Inch by inch

There’s a song I love by the Okee Dokee Brothers called Walking with Spring. This duo is my favorite kind of kids’ music in that they are talented singer songwriters who write songs without cussing that I can, in good conscience, play around my kids. There’s a lot of things going on right now. Some of them are external and some of them exist only in my mind. But the thing about stuff that happens in your head is that it can be as real as the things happening outside of it. Sometimes in the quiet spaces I’ll hear their lyrics:

We’ll take it mile by mile by

Hour by hour by

Day by day as we climb

And then it’s week by week by

Month by month by

Year by year

For a lifetime.

And it makes me smile. It’s funny what can make you remember to take a breath.