because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

What My Fingernails Know

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photo by rocket ship @ flickr.com

When every fingernail on both of my hands has broken, I know it for sure: summer is over. It happens to me every year over a two or three-day period. It’s a physical thing; parts of me grow brittle and fall off. Long before the leaves ever change to yellow or orange, my body knows: autumn is in the house.

There may be a rogue “warm day” where the temperatures skyrocket into the 70s. Children put on their shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts. Folks celebrate, go for bike rides and walks in the park. And while I, of course, appreciate the warmth, the glow, the sun in my eyes, I know it is all an elaborate ruse.

The corn has been harvested. My clematis has withered and turned brown. And because I am perpetually cold, I am the first to pull out the winter bin, which holds all the hats and scarves and gloves. And once this curly-haired girl puts her hat on, it stays on.

Until April.

My closest friends know this about me – that I wear hats for about half of the year – but I have to explain myself to each new batch of fall students.

I tell them that I am a summer girl, and while I love the change of seasons – apple picking, pumpkin carving, Halloween and snow-skiing – deep in my bones, I will forever long for those years in New Orleans, Louisiana, where summer was eternal and stretched well into November, sometimes beyond.

I tell them that every boy I ever really loved I met in the summer, and it is hard for me to let go of the sun and heat of my youth; that each year, like some weird woman disguised as a tree, I actually feel myself growing a little older, that instead of rings around my trunk to reflect my age, I collect wrinkles around my eyes. Each September, I lose a little of my fashizzle, my sparkle, my shine. It comes back. (It always comes back. It just goes underground and hibernates with the raccoons and the bears for a few months.)

Some of them claim to understand.

(Some of them tell me there is medication I can take.)

Some of them tell me summer isn’t over yet, and that there are sure to be plenty of pretty, warm days ahead.

I don’t care what the calendar says.

My fingernails don’t lie.

It’s fall.

How do you know when summer is really over? Are you ready to let it go?

Tweet this twit @rasjacobson

It’s Mardi Gras & MyNewFavoriteDay!

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There are TWO awesome things about today.

First of all it’s Mardi Gras, y’all.

When I was in New Orleans with Lisha Fink (The Lucky Mom) a few weeks ago, I made it to a bunch of small parades, and — yes — I lugged home thirty-five pounds of beads. Why are you looking at me like that? Those things are like gold. Do you see that one I’m wearing with the purple heart? Yeah. That’s a really good one. And the baseball beads my husband snagged? Also, outstanding.

There is definitely a hierarchy when it comes to Mardi Gras beads. I don’t wear just any old plastic beads. They have to be long and chunky. They have to shine. Does this sound crazy to you? I know. It kind of is. The thing is this: everything is topsy-turvy during Mardi Gras. Especially when it is a little dark outside and you find yourself jumping up and down in front of slightly scary looking masked people, begging them to throw you a little something.

As far as I’m concerned, I came home victorious.

{My fancy crap currently resides in a yellow bag in the basement.}

Hubby & I looking fancy!

And you know what else is awesome about today?

I’m at Shannon Pruitt’s blog “It’sMyNewFavoriteDay!”

I met Shannon at a Super Secret Underground Facebook Blogging Society.

She has a huge Facebook presence — which is incredible, and I can’t believe she even noticed me!

Shannon’s goal at her place is to have people recognize the most precious moments in their lives so that moments don’t pass us by so we can appreciate all we have in each day. You should totally follow her at @newfavoriteday.

But for now click HERE and check out the fun interview she did with me.

Do I sound like a dorkus or what? Tell me at Shannon’s place.

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

Getting Lucky in N’awlins

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The grinding groan of the landing gear signaled our descent into the New Orleans Airport. It also woke my sleeping husband long enough for him interrogate me.

“Are you still planning to meet that Internet stranger while we’re here?”

“She’s not a stranger,” I said. “She’s The Lucky Mom.” I paused. “The person who won the bracelet giveaway on my blog?”

My husband stared at me without the tiniest spark of recognition. “When they find you dead in an attic, I will come and identify your parts.”

On the day Lisha and I agreed to meet, New Orleans experienced a cold front. It was like my husband and I had packed Arctic air in our suitcases. As I pulled one turtleneck sweater over another turtle neck sweater, I wished I’d brought mittens. I pulled on the coat my husband had teased me for packing and took the elevator down to the lobby to wait.

Lisha told me she’d be driving her husband’s green Prius, and I think I jumped into her car before she actually came to a full stop. Once inside, we squeeeeeeed and hugged like old friends.

{Or like people who have never actually spoken but only communicated via comments’ boxes on blogs and Facebook pages.}

“Hi Lisha!” I said, all confident.

And that is when I learned I had been pronouncing Lisha’s name wrong in my head for months.

It isn’t Lisha. {Like I just caught a FISH-a. Or I just broke a DISH-a.}

It’s Leeee-sha. {Like I have to PEE-sha.}

I made the necessary mental adjustment.

“I’ve gotta get a hat,” I told Leeeeeeeeesha. “It’s freezing outside!”

“Let’s go down to the Market,” Lisha said in her awesome raspy, super sexy Southern drawl.

I hadn’t been to the French Market in a decade, but some things never change. If a person wants two Saints tee shirts for $15, that’s still the place to go. You can find hand-painted scarves and voodoo dolls and magnets, feather boas and feather masks, and anything with a fleur-de-lis.

I just needed a hat.

As we walked and talked, I realized I was creating a blog post in my head.

So here are 5 Things To Make Sure of Before You Meet a Blogger In Real Life based solely on my day with Lisha.

1) Make Sure To Dress Alike. On the day we met, both Lisha and I wore orange coats. It’s not like Lisha called to say: “I’m going to wear orange. Do you have anything orange?” It just happened. If you took a poll, I’m guessing one in fifty people might have an orange coat, but he would probably be in jail. That said, it was cool and we look excellent in our photos since we are color coordinated.

2) Make sure one of you knows where you are going. When I lived in New Orleans, I always got lost. This is because I was born without any internal GPS system. Meanwhile, Lisha was born with a Garmin implant or something. We went all over the place and she never got lost.

Lisha brought me to the Lower 9th ward where things are still in pretty bad shape, but she didn’t complain when I got a little trespasser-ishy.

3) Make sure the blogger is Southern. I forced Lisha to go with me to look for a hat. And a voodoo doll. And a bunch of other stuff. Lisha was brimming with Southern hospitality, so she probably would have let me shop all day, but our hands were freezing. And because Lisha is from the South, she was beyond generous. She paid for our parking, our lunch, and all the gas we used driving around the city. I’m not sure I said thank you enough. {Thank you, Lee}.

4) Make sure the blogger is sassy. Some dude followed us to the River where we planned to sit and chat for a while. He tried to get us to fall for one of the oldest gags in the New Orleans book of tricks. He asked: “You wanna bet $5 I kin tell where you got yo shoes at?” Lisha looked the man right in the eye and politely said, “I’m from here.” She wasn’t rude or anything. She allowed the man his dignity. But she set her boundary. And seriously, that is the oldest trick in the book. See the * if you don’t know the answer.

5) Make sure the blogger will give 100% of herself to you. If our interaction was representative of the kind of person Lisha is in real life, I can tell you she is a patient, devoted friend. We bloggers tend to be plugged-in sorts. But for five hours, we ignored the cell phone bings and pings and push notifications to enjoy the other person’s company: To listen. To laugh. To look into each other’s eyes.

The more I listened to Lisha, I realized she’s got it backwards. Sure, her blog may be called The Lucky Mom, but really, the people who have her in their lives are the lucky ones. This is the woman who lights up when she talks about her husband and her three sons; the woman who served as a full-time caregiver to her mother for years until she passed away; the woman who is planning to have her eightysomething-year-old mother-in-law move in right after Mardi Gras. How many people open their arms that wide? And that often?

Lisha was apologetic about having to leave me on a corner four blocks from my hotel. I’m sure she felt she was being rude, but she had to leave me there because it is Mardi Gras season: a parade was a-comin’, and there was no way to cross the route. After having lived in New Orleans for many years, I promised her I knew the drill. We pressed our faces close to each other and hugged goodbye.

We took this picture ourselves. Can you tell?

As I made my way back to the hotel, stopping to catch flying beads, plastic cups and doubloons, I felt like I’d gotten lucky.

Not only had I not been chopped up into tiny pieces like my husband had predicted, but I think that — quite possibly — I had the best blind date. Ever.

I met a wonderful blogger {and person} — in real life in my favorite city in the world.

Oh, and I found that hat.

Click HERE to read Lisha’s account of our meeting.

Color-coordinated. With hat.

If you could pick a blogger to spend 5 hours with, who would you want to meet?

* “Yo shoes are on yo feet. That’ll be $5.”

Tweet This Twit @rasjacobson

Who’s a cutey?

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There were 171 entries to this bracelet contest via comments, Facebook and Twitter.

The winner of the cutey bracelet giveaway was determined by a Random Number Generator used in conjunction with my Excel Spreadsheet

The winning number was:

And the person attached to that number is Lisha from The Lucky Mom.

I’ll be in touch with you soon.

*For reals.*

Because – and this is where life gets weird – I am going to New Orleans in about a week, and Lisha lives in a nearby suburb. We have been talking about getting together while I’m down there, and I think (I hope) I am actually going to meet her in real life! How crazy is that?

I wish I had the bracelet so that I could deliver it personally to her door.

Like they do with Publishers Clearinghouse Giveaway Sweepstakes.

She would have been all “Who the hell are you?” excited, and it would have made for a great “How We Met” post.

Hopefully, we’ll get our schedules to sync up so we can collaborate on something.

So congratulations again to Lisha!

Check out Lisha’s blog and follow her very popular Facebook Page.

The Terrible, Beautiful Tattoo

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Sacred  Heart
Image by slurv via Flickr -- NOTE: This is not a picture of my tattoo. This is gorgeous!

It was out of character for me, but I showed up without a plan.

Just a little scribble on a scrap of paper.

I asked a few million questions about the needles.

“Lady,” said the man at the counter, “we ain’t interested in spreadin’ diseases.”

Jed, the newest apprentice, was available.

I agreed. Jed would be fine.

What did I know?

I wanted a tattoo.

So I dropped my pants and allowed a stranger to drag needles across my skin.

As I laid on the table, I listened to the rain that pummeled the tin roof over our heads.

And through the open door, I watched the rain sweep cigarette butts into the sewer.

Any other day, I would have been sitting cross-legged on the futon in my apartment grading student papers. Lying there, I was grateful I didn’t have a dog that needed to be let out at any particular time. I remembered how – before I was a teacher, a role model — I liked a little spontaneity.

Eventually, Jed finished.

I couldn’t wait to see it.

I had shown Jed that initial sketch, but he had taken some liberties.

And he left me with a permanent lopsided heart.

I paid seventy-five dollars in cash for my little act of rebellion.

Initially, I was annoyed by its wrongness.

But I quickly grew to love it.

And twenty years later, each time I look at my tattoo (that has become even more crooked over time), I remember a lazy day in New Orleans. An in-between time, when I was neither wife nor mother but dangerously free.

My tattoo reminds me of a place I love fiercely. It reminds me how love without patience and care can become unbalanced. Most of all, my tattoo reminds this Type A control-freak that when a person acts impulsively, sometimes the results can be pleasantly imperfect.

What do you think about tattoos? Art or self-mutilation?

• • •

I so rarely have time to do the fabulous prompts from Red Writing Hood, but this week, it spoke to me. The assignment: Write a piece in which a tattoo figures prominently in 300 words.

Tweet this Twit @RASJacobson

The Hybrid Accent

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Map depicting United States East Coast
Image via Wikipedia

So I was checking out Jessica Buttram‘s blog, per usual, and I realized she was participating in a funky experiment about accents, a prompt which she got from Jamie’s Rabbits who got it from someone else.

And so on… And so on… And so on…

Those of you over 40 are probably having flashback to the commercial for “Faberge Organic Shampoo”

Yeah, me too.

Anyhoo, I’ve spent most of my life above the Mason-Dixon line, but you would be amazed how five short years in N’awlins got all up in this East Coast girl’s upbringing and influenced my dialect!

This probably happened because I so wanted to be a Southerner!

Lord, I loved everything about the South. I loved etoufée and crawfish. I loved how the giant roots from the oak trees pushed up rebelliously through the cement walkways. I loved the scent of magnolia that wafted around. I love that men wore seersucker suits, and nobody laughed at them. And I loved that the women wore enormous hats. I loved eleventeen-bajillion other things, too.

And as a lover of language, I especially loved the way people in N’awlins pronounced certain words.

So it is with great excitement that I share my piece of this experiment.

Yup, I’m bustin’ in with some hybrid pronunciation. For real. This is what happens when you take a Northern gal to the deep south for a few years.

First a few quick things:

  • I’m Jewish. I talk with my hands.
  • Sorry I became a little distracted and ridiculously repetitious at a few points. My husband and son were making pasta and I could hear them whispering in the background. They were trying to find the marinara sauce. Just so you know, in case you are ever visiting my house, the marinara sauce is in the pantry — which is where all cans and jars live until they are opened. Once they found the jar of Prego, it was much easier to focus.
  • You will hear the microwave beeping.
  • Yes, I like throw pillows.

The Words: Aunt, Route, Wash, Oil, Theater, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting Image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pajamas, Caught, Insurance (added for Jamie).
• • •
The Questions:
  1. What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?
  2. What is the bug that when you touch it, it curls into a ball?
  3. What is the bubbly carbonated drink called?
  4. What do you call gym shoes?
  5. What do you say to address a group of people?
  6. What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body & extremely long legs?
  7. What do you call your grandparents?
  8. What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
  9. What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
  10. What is the thing you change the TV channel with?

What words do you think I pronounced “weird”?

Gazpacho for Muchacho

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Gazpacho (Spanish liquid tomato salad).
Gazpacho (Spanish liquid tomato salad). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, it was a warm, breezy summer night and our family was having  supper outside at our heavy black wrought-iron table, under our umbrella in the backyard. It was a light meal: a little bread, some cheese and fresh fruit. And gazpacho.

When we finished, Monkey pushed his chair back from the table and patted his tummy.

“Mom,” he said, “I’ll bet no matter how old I am, whenever I think of summer, I’ll always think of your gazpacho.”

And before I could smile and say how good that made me feel, to think that I could feed him something healthy that he would forever associate with a specific time of year and –perhaps, maybe — a place and a feeling of family, he added: “And now that I’m thinking about it, can you give me a recipe? Because one day you’ll be dead, and I want to be sure I know how to make it!”

Ahhh boys.

So sensitive.

I know Monkey meant his words as a compliment. And I know he loves my gazpacho — which is really a recipe from my old friend Allison. When we lived in New Orleans, she made her recipe one summer and I remember reacting just like Monkey. It is divine. For me, Allison’s gazpacho is all about hanging out with teacher friends during the off-season.

Here’s the Allison’s Gazpacho Recipe for those of you who love easy meals:

  • 2 cucumbers, reserve about 4 tablespoons
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 small can black pitted olives (drain the juice)
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • dash of Lea & Perrins
  • 1 bottle of V-8 (I use regular; some people like it hot)
  • dash of Tabasco sauce

Put all ingredients into a food processor in order listed, pulsing gently — until you get to V-8. Pour V-8 and Tabasco into a gorgeous tureen, then add all the ingredients from the food processor. Garnish each bowl with a few cucumber chunks. Let sit 1 hour in fridge to chill. Serve cold. Easily serves 8-10 people.

What food(s) do you associate with summer? What do you see? Feel?

Lessons From The Sludge

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Note: This piece was inspired by yesterday’s outrageous downpour and my husband’s subsequent muddy bike ride. Upon his return, he found me eating potato chips that I had dropped on the floor. It was our anniversary this weekend. Sixteen years. I guess this is a tribute. Kind of.

When I lived in New Orleans, there was one particularly soggy Jazz Fest where just as Robert Cray finished belting out the last stanza to “Forecast,” — I can feel the thunder
/ I can see the lightning
 / I can feel the pain
 / Oh, it’s gonna rain,” — the already ominous looking grey skies opened up, and torrents of water-soaked this curly-girly’s hair in less than 30 seconds.

My soon-to-be fiancé and I huddled under an enormous piece of plastic that some smart person had thought to bring, and when the downpour turned into a light sprinkle, we slogged over to the food vendors.

Hubby immediately headed for the shortest line and opted for something cheap — a piece of pizza. I, on the other hand, went full throttle N’awlins and went to stand in a line advertising étouffée and crocodile and turtle soup and crawfish pies.

The line was ridiculously long; it wrapped and weaved around which, to me, indicated I’d found the Disneyland of food vendors. For 30 minutes, I sloshed around in a combination of mud and muck and hay and urine, my feet and ankles covered in a chocolaty-goo.

Eventually, I made it to the front of the line where I asked as politely as a ravenous, sleep-deprived, ridiculously sweaty, mud-covered dancing fool could muster: “One soft-shell crab Po’ Boy, please.”

Finally, a woman with honey colored skin and a long, kinky ponytail placed the sandwich of my dreams in my hands. My Po ‘Boy was thick and ungainly. Holding it, made it near impossible to retrieve my wet wad of dollar bills out of my pocket to pay. The woman behind the counter offered, “Sugar, let me hold dat for you.”

I reached in my pocket for $15.00.

Expensive? Absolutely. But I was beyond ravenous, and I just felt certain my “sammy” would be worth the wait.

Ms. Honeysweet Food Vendor traded cash-for-sandwich and, napkins in hand, I stepped away from the smell of fried food and the stink of people whose deodorant had washed off hours earlier. Or had never been applied at all.

I scanned the crowd for my fiancé, knowing he wouldn’t be far and, spotting him, I triumphantly raised my sandwich in the air.

Photo by rpongsaj @ flickr.com

And then it happened.

The innards of my sandwich — all that crabmeat, the special sauce and lettuce and tomato and onion — slipped, slow-motion style from the wax paper into which it had been carefully swaddled and splashed into the filthy sludge pile beneath my feet.

“Noooooo!” I howled, scrambling to my knees to retrieve what I could salvage.

Future Hubby was mortified.

“You. Are. So. Not. Eating. That.”

Future Hubby probably meant this as a gentle suggestion, but I have always heard sentences like that as a kind of dare.

And I always take the dare.

I picked up my broken sandwich parts and picked out the largest, most offensive pieces of hay and grit.

Did I mention the dirt? And the sludge?

I looked at Future Hubby, just so he understood the girl he had chosen and what he was getting.

And I took a bite.

My sandwich was not delicious. It definitely had bits-o-mulch in it, but I made a point of chewing and swallowing.

Future Hubby made gagging noises. He told me I would, undoubtedly, become sick. He told me all about germ theory and all the kinds of parasites that live in urine and dirt. He told me I was going to get tapeworm. And toxoplasmosis. Don’t ask. (I know I didn’t.)

I was unimpressed. If it was going to be my time, I figured it was as good as any to go. I would have lived fully. I would have been warmed by the sun and then survived an amazing lightning storm. I would have heard Herbie Hancock and Pearl Jam and Wynton Marsalis and Superfly and Chilliwack Dixieland.

As it turns out, that Po’ Boy was not worth a 30-minute wait. Neither was it worth that $15 price-tag. Even if my ridiculously expensive sandwich hadn’t fallen in the flarg, it is unlikely that I would have finished it. It just wasn’t very good.

Later, the sun came out again in full force. Exhausted, Future Hubby and I went to the Gospel Tent, where a person can usually find a chair away from the heat. I felt transported back in time, to some kind of revival meeting straight out of Huckleberry Finn. With so many people raising their hands in the air and saying “amen,” I knew I would not get sick. That afternoon, I put my faith in Rance Allen and Albert S. Hadley and Soul Children — in their voices, and in my immune system.

And guess what? I’m still here.

What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever tried to eat?

Lessons From Summer Shoes

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photo by rouzeh @ flickr.com

Once upon a time, a November baby met July. The baby’s feet were small and bare and, as she crawled across spiky grass to the place where the lawn met road, she crouched low to pop tar bubbles with the tip of one tiny index finger.

One hot July, the little girl screamed as her mother buckled a new pair of white strappy-somethings firmly onto her feet. And no matter how many people told her how lucky she was to have such fine shoes, she knew she must have been very bad. To her the word sandals always sounded like a lie: a fancy name for prison.

Another July, the girl slipped into a shimmery yellow leotard and jazz shoes. While she was on-stage, she was confident in her dancer’s limbs. And when the audience clapped its approval, she knew her body was moon beautiful.

One July, the teenage girl watched her mother slip into a pair of rainbow-colored high heels. She saw how a 45° angle could transform a woman’s legs, instantly make them longer and leaner, and she decided that, one day, she would have a pair of magical shoes in her closet.

One July, the young woman dressed up in silky lingerie — thigh high stockings, a corset and ridiculously high red platform pumps: a last-ditch effort to make a man she wanted notice her. When he wouldn’t leave his piano, she threw one shiny stiletto at his head and realized it was time for her to live alone.

Later that same July, the young woman saved up all her money to buy a pair of distressed leather boots. As she straddled the back of a horse, her heels pressed into silver stirrups. And despite the fact that the world was shifting beneath her, she felt completely in control, holding the reins of that bridle, cantering into the darkness beneath a canopy of green and gold.

One July, the woman found herself in New Orleans, wearing a sundress with sneakers, and holding hands with the man she knew would one day be her husband.

One July, pregnant and hopeful, the woman learned sacrifice. As her ankles swelled into fat sausages, she could only wear flip-flops. Soon she would be someone’s mother; she understood her body was for rent. And she was grateful the feisty tenant who had taken control of the premises only had a few weeks left on his lease.

Over forty July later, that November baby found herself barefoot on the neighbors’ lawn. The soles of her feet were filthy, but as she turned cartwheels, she realized she owned the magical shoes she’d always wanted. She understood now that the shoes weren’t magic. It was the everything else around her that was positively succulent, that she carried an entire orchard of ripe peaches inside her, that she lived from joy to joy, as if death were nowhere in the background.

What do you remember about July?

Tweet this Twit @RASJacobson

Lessons From Eight Junes

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Photo from dalesmith @ flickr.com

June is definitely a time for endings and beginnings. Proms. Graduations. Weddings. New jobs. June has got me thinking about all the Junes in my life. My parents started their married life together on June 23, 1963. My son will become a bar-mitzvah next June. One of my grandmothers died in June. And one of my friends, too. I tried to think about some significant Junes in my life, and this is what was born:

• • •

Once upon a time, a November baby learned that she loved June. She played with bubbles and chased butterflies, rode her bicycle, played kick the can, and stayed out until the fireflies guided her home.

One June, the girl snapped her well-packed trunk and clipped her khaki duffel bag ready to spend seven weeks at overnight camp.

One June, the girl went to a prom in a ridiculous dress with ridiculous hair.

Four Junes later, the girl was no longer a girl. She graduated from the college she’d loved and, as she drove west in her beat-up Plymouth Volaré to live with a man she loved – prepared to insert herself into his house and into his life – she was terrified that everything was going to be different. And it was.

One terrible June, the girl sat in a room staring at a casket, and no matter how many people told her that the air conditioning wasn’t on too high, it felt like winter in that place.

One June, the girl found herself in New Orleans. She had finished her first year of teaching in a city that smelled like magnolias and crawfish. It was the hottest summer of her life and it lasted until November.

In a blink, it was June again. This time, she looked in the mirror and saw she was no longer a girl. She was seven months pregnant; her hands and ankles had swelled in the heat. As she fanned herself, she daydreamed about the future. Also, she ate a lot of watermelon.

One June, the November girl moved – along with her husband and her son – into a home nestled in a neighborhood with flowers and trees and children. And as she hung up her summer sundresses, she remembered bubbles and bicycles and butterflies, and she knew she was home.

This June, the woman knows there are wrinkles around her eyes – but she is less focused on herself. She sits at the computer and listens to her son, now almost 12, as he practices for his last piano lesson. The music is familiar. The clothes in the dryer bump around noisily in the background, everyone’s stuff mingled together. Hopefully, for many, many more Junes.

Can you share one particular memory from one particular June?