Last month, our family lost its matriarch. Munna wasn’t just the head of our family, the last-standing of her generation of siblings and spouses. She was our light and our spirit; she truly united us in love and laughter. She cracked jokes and drank screwdrivers and loved me and my family so very much.

What is it that makes some grandparents scary to kids, a relationship bound in familial love but with so little true emotional closeness? Whatever it is she found a way around it. Or maybe she was hyper aware of that awkward, forced dynamic and was determined to avoid it. I remember as a kid, our conversations on the phone—a few simple questions and then an “I love you” and a goodbye. I always hung up the phone feeling relieved I hadn’t had to grit my way through a longer conversation the way I had to with others, and I loved her for that. Maybe that was her game all along: always leave them wanting more.

When I was a child, visiting her in Puerto Rico, we were walking home from the Big Orange juice stand one day and happened upon some discarded tile from a condo renovation happening nearby. Rather than walking by the small, half-inch ceramic squares, she gasped, eyes twinkling, and she scooped them up. We spent the afternoon on her patio, overlooking the ocean, painting Christmas trees and wreaths on the tiny squares and gluing earing poles to the backs, transforming waste into jewelry, turning the ordinary into magic. This was her superpower.

She took me whitewater rafting when she was 74. She gamely paddled along when she could, smiling and laughing, but mostly she was just along for the ride. The guides made her get out and walk on the shore past the worst of the rapids, and she just smiled and laughed and said “sure.” It was all fine. She had no agenda, no measuring stick against which she was going to judge the experience or her performance in it. She just showed up, grandkids in tow, ready to experience something new. The experience itself was the whole. There’s no point in measuring something whole. A measurement is only made by discovering what is lacking, what is missing. Eight inches has meaning because we compare it to something longer or shorter, something that it’s not. A review of something is an assessment, a “this was good, but this wasn’t,” but even “good” doesn’t exist in a vacuum, even “good” can only be defined because we know what isn’t. For Munna, it didn’t seem to be about this. There was no good or bad, no “I was successful at this but not at this.” There was “I did this.” And that was enough.

My Munna didn’t spend much time alone. She was married to her first husband, G-Daddy, from college until his death, and a mere handful of months later she had eloped with another widower, a man who took her dancing and traveling and on long drives through the mountains of Northern Georgia. My mom and her siblings seemed to balk at this marriage, at its suddenness and its intensity, but even as a child I could see Munna’s stamp all over it. It was again, always, a simple, immeasurable whole. “I want love and companionship. I have it. I will smile and laugh through it.”

20 years later, Poppy, as he came to be known, also passed, leaving Munna once again on her own. She waited, not too patiently, and eventually an eligible bachelor showed up at the nursing home, and Munna quickly claimed him for herself. She ate with him and sat with him. She cracked inappropriate jokes about the crumbs that fell in his lap being her snack for later. She’d wear a ring and tell him, much to his daily, recurrent surprise, that he had proposed to her. When he fell ill, she went to visit him, and when she began to break down, he would totter down the hall to her bedside and lean down into her reaching arms to plant a kiss on her waiting lips.

My Munna lived beyond the lands of judgments and expectations and “shoulds.” She said “sure” to the thousands of adventures that lead us through life: the long drives across the country, four small kids in tow, the backyard picnics and parties, the trips, the retirement to tropical islands, the jumping into love without fear or second guessing, the whitewater rafting, the midnight milkshakes and the board games, the sewing and the jewelry making and the drink-in-hand socializing. The creation of a preschool because kids needed loving and she could do that. Wholly. The devil-may-care attitude that comes with eating dessert first.

This is the legacy of our matriarch. That a good life isn’t found in the assessments, in the review, in the measuring. That a good life is found in the verb. In the showing up, unapologetically, for whatever is coming next. In the smiles and the laughter and the “sure.” In the dancing and the caring and the going-doing-seeing. In the loving and the longing for love. In the ability to turn the ordinary into magic.

When it was her time, she smiled, and said “sure,” and moved wholly onto whatever comes next.

Even though my Munna is gone, she hasn’t left us.

She’s with us in our delight with the ordinary, in our ability to see the magic that can come from the mundane.

She’s with us in our sense of adventure, in our willingness to say “sure!” to whatever experience comes our way.

She’s with us in our happiness with the here and now, our ready smiles, our deep satisfaction with what we have, whatever it may be.

She’s with us in our bonds with each other, in the love and true joy we feel in our family’s presence.

This poem, by e. e. cummings, reassures us that Munna is still here, carried in each and every one of us.


i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you


here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart


i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

After Mindfulness

This blog is a place for exercise, a spot for me to crack my writing knuckles and stretch. In the spirit of such, here’s a piece I wrote after a mindfulness meditation exercise. Mindfulness meditation focuses on improving the connection between you and your surroundings; you become in tune with your world as opposed to separate from it. Eyes are left open to encourage connection. If you’re used to meditating with your eyes closed, try it this way and see how you like it!


Write write write write. Weave words and stories out of swirling nothingness, alchemy that turns the formless into form, the indefinable into definition. Magician with 26 props. Of all the things that have ever been invented, still those same 26 props. But somehow the magicians of today, the word weavers, the story tellers, are creating new tricks still. Don’t ever let anyone tell you every thought has already been thought.

Birds chirping, yellow leaves reflect yellow afternoon light through the leaves, the color a natural match for the golden green apple we picked in the orchard Sunday, the flesh crunch and sweet and tangy all at once, a single ingredient food with complex flavors. The simple can be complex. Paradoxes abound.

Fall day, mild. The air gentle on my skin. I leave windows open in my house, inviting as much of the outside in as I can before we have to close them again, shielding ourselves against the downturn nature takes as the days slide into winter. My hammock stretched between two aching trees, the parachute material curved perfectly against my body, one leg hanging, dangling over the side, the other tucked underneath.

Wind blows, trees creak, leaves fall, acorns drop, birds chirp, dogs bark, cars pass, dry leaves skitter as chipmunks race across them, their tiny bodies holding such big panic, such urgency, such life-or-deathness.

Mushrooms peek up from beneath the springy carpet of brown, fallen pine needles. Mysterious mushrooms. I know nothing about you. You are not plant, not animal, but growing, reaching, living just the same, ruled by the same life force as I am, as the tree is, as the chipmunk and the bird.

I sit in my hammock with my blanket and my laptop and I perform the ministrations, the magic gestures, fingers moving with ease in just the right combination to turn the feelings into words.

What’s in a Name: Part 2

(If you missed part 1, see it here.)

When I talk about breathing fire, I’m not referring to coffee breath or morning breath or unusual carnival side show talent. I’m talking about something else that people may duck and run from.

Your fire is your passion. Your fire is your truth. Your fire is the thing that lights you up and heats you up. Your fire is the thing that makes you come alive, the thing that every cell in your body responds to.

Breathing fire is about more than just knowing yourself and knowing what your thing is—and yes, we ALL have a thing. Breathing fire is about knowing what lights you up and (here’s the clencher) sharing it with the world.

Your fire does you no good when kept inside, out of sight. Without oxygen, without the light of day, without breathing action into it, fires smother and die. Without attention and action, that thing you’re passionate about just . . . dies. Your actual fire will go out. Everyone needs purpose in life. Something to look forward to, something to fight for. People who lose their fires lose their light, their spark, their motivation. A part of them literally dies inside long before their body does.

You want to write? Write. You want to photograph? Photograph. You want to teach, defend, explore, challenge, produce, protect, prepare, nurture, cleanse, learn? Do. Those. Things. The fastest, surest way to give life to a goal or idea is to just DO IT. There will always be room for growth and improvement. Don’t let some arbitrary idea of being “good enough” be the thing that stops you from breathing your fire, from putting your passion out into the world and seeing it light up.

Breathing fire is about more than just keeping your own personal spark alive, though. That purpose, that passion, that subject matter, that topic . . . without everyday people breathing fire for it . . . it dies. The actual world loses a spark, loses something beautiful and necessary. As Henry Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”

The world, much like Robert Frost’s beloved woods, is lovely and dark and deep, and we need fires from each and every one of us to light the way and to push back the darkness. If there are no people brave enough to teach, teaching will die. The same for writing and defending and exploring and producing and all those other things people are passionate about. We must breathe our fires into the world so that the darkness doesn’t gain a single damn inch. So that dark doesn’t become the new norm.

So breathing fire is about honoring the passion within you and honoring the world beyond you. It’s about knowing yourself and speaking your truth. It’s about not letting fear—fear of shortcomings, fear of other people’s reactions, fear of being wrong—shut your fire down. You have something true inside, and it deserves to become truth outside.

Show your lights, people. Breathe your fires. That’s what they’re for.

So there it is. My mantra, my goal, my encouragement to myself and to everyone, everywhere. The story of the name of this blog.

Drink coffee, breathe fire.

Practice self-care. Do whatever it is that gives you strength, even if that thing doesn’t have anything in common with what gives other people strength. Value yourself enough to take care of yourself.

And then? Share yourself with the world. Verbalize your passion. Actualize it. Whatever that fire is that burns inside of you, let it burn outside of you as well.

The lovely, deep, dark world depends on it.