Movie Musings: Moxie (Netflix)

Moxie: force of character, determination, nerve.

If you’re up for a feel-good teen movie that packs humor, heartache, and insight, go watch Amy Poehler’s new Netflix movie, Moxie.

An early scene takes place in the high school principal’s office. Lucy, a transfer student new to the school in her junior year, has a complaint: the captain of the football team, Mitchell, has been harassing her.

Students who have known Mitchell since second grade recognize that he’s a jerk. His female peers have learned to keep their heads down until he tires of picking on them and moves on to someone else. Lucy, however, possesses an internal strength others have squashed. Abdicated. Not one to keep her head down, Lucy speaks up in class when the book list for junior English prioritizes the classics over diversity. Lucy speaks back when Mitchell talks over her, physically shoves her, and spits in her soda. Lucy speaks out when she’s already taken too much.

Principal Shelly, played by Marcia Gay Harden, dismisses Lucy’s complaint without actually hearing her. She retorts, “He’s not harassing you. It sounds to me like he’s bothering you.” If Mitchell actually had been harassing Lucy, then she would be required to do “all sorts of stuff,” circling her hands over her paperwork-covered desk. Unlike Lucy, Principal Shelly can’t be bothered. Instead she nonsensically recommends that Lucy join the marching band, an effort to distract Lucy and perhaps get her out of Mitchell’s way.

Obviously that’s not how the story ends, but no spoilers.

Let’s take a closer look at the words. In this scene, bother has two meanings. Principal Shelly asserts that Mitchell has been bothering Lucy – worrying, disturbing, upsetting her. Also, Shelly cannot be bothered to take steps to address and prevent such behavior – she won’t take the trouble to do something. Given these two nuanced definitions of the word bother, her own admission that Mitchell has been acting in such a way that Lucy, another student under her supervision, has been upset should motivate her to do something about it. Instead, she pushes Lucy away and turns a blind eye to her own bias.

The audience, however, has watched this bothersome behavior take place. We know Lucy isn’t exaggerating the facts when she uses the more technically correct word harass: aggressive pressure or intimidation. As is tragically common in such situations, the injured party has been silenced, causing further injury.

Of course, there wouldn’t have been much of a movie if Principal Shelly had immediately jumped into action on Lucy’s behalf. In real life, that’s what a good principal should do. But the movie needed to establish a hurdle over which the characters would trip, skin their knees, train, and try, try again in order to eventually sail over it.

Sadly, this movie works because it tells the story so many women have lived – and are currently living. Society rewards good girls who do what we’re told, no questions asked. We’ve learned to put our heads down or to walk far out of our own way in order to avoid the bullies. We’ve been silenced, and we’ve silenced ourselves. We don’t need to be told that the captain of the football team will win in every situation, every competition, time and again, even if he is a total scum ball.

It’s no accident that a woman was cast in the principal’s role. If Lucy had complained to a male principal and he hadn’t listened, well, that’s no surprise, that’s just another Tuesday at the office. Yet to watch a woman dismiss another woman… That’s insight. Patriarchy has been so well established for so long that even women have internalized a bias toward men’s privilege to their own detriment. We’re too often blind to our own place as another cog in the wheel running over women who dare to stand up for themselves.

Take-aways:
Women, find your voice. Speak up, speak back, speak out. Tap deep into your inner well of strength. Don’t put your head down and wait for the bullies to move on. Ask hard questions. Ask them again. Use the proper words for the situation and repeat them ad nauseam until others hear what you mean. Don’t take no for an answer when it’s clearly the wrong answer, even if it comes from another woman. Surround yourself with like-minded women.

Men, many of you have already become allies and advocates – thank you. We have more work yet ahead of us, so keep listening. We’re not making this stuff up, rather, we’re speaking our truth. It’s important to us, and it should be to you as well. The questions women ask may make you uncomfortable; learn to sit silently in your discomfort. Be willing to be led instead of insisting on your own leadership, and let women lead you to new approaches to old situations. Find ways to encourage, support, and promote women. Women are working hard to shine our moxie; you may need to step aside and cheer us on.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Super Bowl Service Project

I am not a sports enthusiast. In general, the only sports I enjoy enough to sit through fall in this order: any sport my kids play (especially rugby), the Olympics (mostly for the personal interest stories), World Cup soccer (when we spent a summer in Costa Rica), and figure skating (because grace). Football died for me when my son suffered a severe concussion in high school, and again when the varsity coach shamed him – and asked his players to carry on the shaming – when his doctor advised that he could no longer play. No youth sport is worth damage to a young person’s brain, and no coach ought to shame a player for prioritizing his health.

Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl and I won’t be watching, though it will be on in my house. Instead I will cook fun snacks, like buffalo cauliflower wings and deviled potatoes. I will pop in for commercials and the halftime show.

I have an idea for you, though. As you’re shopping for your own Super Bowl munchies, how about throwing some extra items in the cart? You could add some cans of soup (soup-er bowl?) or other nonperishable foods. And then donate those items to organizations that meet the needs of our more vulnerable neighbors.

Or you could add some toiletries. During the pandemic, our local Rescue Mission has doubled the number of clients it serves. In response, our church invited the entire community to create hygiene kits for the rescue mission’s clients.

We got the whole family involved. My husband shopped, and the kids and I created Valentine’s cards, made an assembly line, and filled gallon-sized Ziploc bags with items such as: soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, Band-Aids, face mask, hand sanitizer, shampoo and conditioner, comb, socks, a note of encouragement, and love.

Most of our items came from Dollar Tree with the addition of socks and a box of face masks (five wrapped packages of ten masks) purchased at Costco. Not including the shopping, we were all done in less than 20 minutes. We estimate the total cost to create four hygiene kits at about $50. Less than half the cost to order a take-out dinner for our family, that’s $50 and 20 minutes well spent to provide new and necessary supplies for people who likely have been doing without.

Whether you’re watching the game or the commercials, by yourself, with your family, or with your pod, you could use the time to assemble hygiene kits for your local charity. The pandemic has increased needs around the world, so wherever you are, some organization would be glad to receive your efforts.

You’re Doing Your Best

Except for the poor night’s sleep (sick kid), I would have walked the dogs in the morning.

Except for the stomach that cramped as we headed up the hill (did I catch kid’s sickness?), we would have walked the longer route.

We passed the house a few streets away where we alternately have seen a gray-haired lady with a small, fluffy, black-and-white yappy dog or a tall white-haired man who comments on our dog pack. The man stepped from between the cars parked in the driveway and asked if he could greet the dogs. He let each of them smell his fist as he asked questions about their breeds and ages. Which led to a delightfully meandering conversation chock-full of interesting tidbits that lasted close to an hour. When his wife came in search of him we got to hear about her career as well.

As we walked away I commented to Guy, “That’s why we had to be right here, right now. That conversation with those sweet neighbors is why I didn’t walk the dogs this morning. That’s why we changed our route.” (I did not go so far as to say that’s why my son got sick).

On a sidewalk close to home, I spotted a weathered sticky note partially covered by leaves. I thought I could make out a few words, so I bent to pick it up. It read: Have a great day you’re doing your best today

I tucked it in a pocket, another affirmation that we were exactly where we were meant to be. Whoever wrote that encouragement and for whoever else she intended as recipient, it appeared in my path to remind me that, despite sleeplessness, despite pandemic, despite everything, I was doing my best on this great day.

So are you. Whatever you’re doing or not doing, wherever you are that is or isn’t where you planned to be, you are where you are because that’s where you’re meant to be. Keep going. You’re doing just fine. Better than fine, even.

Have a great day. You’re doing your best today.

Pass it on.

Grief Balms: Snow Globes & Beauty Emergencies

Grief seems to be at every corner this year. Many of us have shared occasions for grief, such as illness and death, the loss of normalcy, shuttered shops and closed schools, dwindling dollars in our bank accounts, isolation and loneliness. Most of us also have personal reasons for grief. For two weeks I haven’t left my phone out of sight as I wait for the call that my mom has gone to glory.

So when I saw an article titled, “How to deal with grief,” of course I clicked. While grief has taught me lived-and-learned lessons, I’m still up for additional advice within easy reach. For the same reason, I am a sucker for happiness research. Recently I clicked on an article with a title along the lines of, “This one trick will make you as happy as eating 20 chocolate bars.” Twenty chocolate bars would make me sick, not happy, but I appreciate the effort. The answer was: Smile. Smile more, even when you don’t feel it, and you’ll be happier. Apparently, people rate their smiling-more happiness as high as having received a gift of $25,000. Now I simply must disagree: a no-obligation gift of $25,000 would definitely make me happier than insincere smiling. Also, I’d be happy to have you try to prove me wrong.

I clicked on the grief article and found an interview with poet Maggie Smith. Smith published a volume of poetry in 2016 (Keep Moving) which included a poem called “Good Bones” that seems to go viral when the world teeters dangerously on the edge of a deep well – for example, immediately after the 2016 election. Also, 2020. Smith calls “Good Bones” a disaster barometer.

Smith offered two pieces of advice that have affected how I’m moving through these hard days. The first is to find “snow globe moments,” something you do every day that stills the world and allows you to feel like your genuine self. For her, that’s writing. I share writing as a core activity and I’ll add walking our dogs, preferably with my husband so we can spend that time connecting. He’s my best sounding board and also an encourager who gets me out of my own head. I believe author Cheryl Strayed referred to her Wild adventure as “walking back to her best self” which makes sense to me. Writing and walking have been life-giving and sanity saving this year.

Smith also discussed “beauty emergencies.” We tend to think of the word “emergency” negatively, as a problem, but it comes from the root “emergent” which means “happening now.” So a beauty emergency occurs when you pay attention and notice that something beautiful is happening this instant and you’ll miss it if you don’t drop everything and watch. Like a hummingbird flitting at the feeder or a sunset that shifts colors every second and will be over within minutes.

Poets necessarily cultivate the ability to witness to the present. To focus their micro-lens on this moment. I am not a poet, and my monkey brain leaps from past to future, future to past, bounding over this uncomfortable time. One more reason I am going to add books of poetry to my reading queue in this upcoming year, because I need the benefit of their wise and often witty reflections.

Meanwhile, I mentioned beauty emergencies to my sixteen-year-old son and, though I didn’t know it as the words spilled from my mouth, that may have been one of the best things I’ve said to him this whole year. Several times over the last two weeks, as my attention has been absorbed in writing or reading, he has yanked me outside to witness a sunset. I have done the same for him, pulling him from his bedroom desk where he counter-attacks against the never-ending onslaught of distance learning assignments.

We both carry our own foggy griefs which we have soothed side-by-side with regular applications of beauty, watching as the sky indiscernibly shifts from orangey-yellows to red-purples to dusky twilight. We’ve both tried – unsuccessfully – to capture the splendor in photos. And that, it seems, is also poetic: the call is to witness, not capture, rather to be captivated ourselves. To stay present and open to this stunning moment before our eyes. To become newly aware of life’s magnificence and brevity.

Good Bones
by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Cover image by Meli1670 from Pixabay
Please note: as an Amazon Affiliate, I may earn a small amount from the purchase of books linked here.

Living Under Hope’s Roof

The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. ― Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

As Guy handed me the bouquet of tightly curled, fist-sized pink peonies he just couldn’t resist buying he remarked, “I hope they’ll open.” We have, in the past, purchased cut peonies only to be disappointed that they never unfurled their petals.

Hope. We place such varying weights on this little word, from wishes (I hope she likes it) to aspirations (I hope to become a surgeon), dreams and desires (I hope to travel to Thailand someday) to pound-the-pavement plans (because I hope she’ll win the election, I’ll join the campaign efforts). Longings for loving relationships. Expectations for how the world should be.

I’ll say it again: we are living in a messy moment in history, a confluence of what might have been and what was. It will be fascinating to someday read about 2020 in my grandchildren’s textbooks, to recall the TP shortages, endless hand washing, and frozen Zoom calls, almost comical sidebars boxed alongside the heaviness of illness and death and the racial and political strife dividing loved ones as it threatens to irreparably crack the democracy we claim to hold dear.

And it is also the first week of Advent in my church tradition, the four weeks before Christmas in which we anticipate the birth of Jesus. The theme for this first week is hope.

Last week Americans celebrated Thanksgiving and, as with so much of this year, the festivities might have looked different with loved ones on Zoom rather than around the table. In this odd year it may be harder to locate our gratitude, more difficult to name our hopes. Once again I turned to Facebook and asked friends and neighbors: What are you hopeful for – for the last few weeks of this year or this holiday season or next year, for yourself or your loved ones or our community, country, world?

Interestingly, answers poured in when I invited people to share their uniquely 2020 points of gratitude. It took longer to receive less input on hope, perhaps evidence of our collective weariness. Yet hope is resilient, and personally I hope that in sharing we will nurture our individual hope-filled seedlings. Like the entwining of tree roots under the surface, we gain strength from one another.

And so, we hope…

We hope for good health and that a COVID vaccine will become widely available soon.

We have many hopes for our children but this year our hopes have nuances – that, with tweaks to at-home desk arrangements, they can become more successful in remote learning; that somehow we can mitigate stress and preserve their mental health; that their memories of childhood won’t be scarred by hand sanitizer and social distancing. We yearn to see children playing, hugging, and running freely with friends. We’re hopeful to soon hear the giggling of unrestrained joy.

We hope to get back to normal and yet we also hope that we will have allowed this time to change us for the better. We hope for a new-and-improved normal over the version of normal we left behind last March. We hope for light and love to outshine hate and darkness. We hope for the unity of the United States, to disagree and discuss our varied viewpoints (how boring life would be if everyone agreed on everything) while maintaining respect through civil discourse.

We hope for peace. For a peaceful transition of power come January and for global goal-setting and collaboration. We hope to experience a greater appreciation for our human family. We hope that the pandemic has given us space to grow into being the humans the world needs, more patient, more compassionate, more flexible, more grateful. Willing to do what it takes to address not only our own health but the health of our planet. We hope to emerge with a renewed understanding of what matters most and commitments to prioritizing what we say we value, like creativity and kindness. We hope to experience an unstoppable wave of love washing over our hurting planet.

And let’s have a laugh: we hope that January 1, 2021, doesn’t inexplicably flip the calendar back to the beginning of 2020 – it feels like Groundhog Day around here.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that hope seen isn’t hope – who hopes for what they already have? The whole point of hope is that we hope for what we don’t yet have. He advises us to wait patiently, especially when it’s hard, and this year has been beyond hard for many of us. I’m not very patient; it’s all I can do not to peak at the Christmas presents not cleverly hidden. Still, Christmas is coming. 2020 will end, as will the pandemic.

So we wait, with all the patience we can muster, joyful in hope.

By the way, the peonies bloomed fantastically like something out of Alice in Wonderland. For almost two weeks they have graced us with their beauty, worth every penny of that hope-filled purchase.

Art by Morgan Harper Nichols, https://www.instagram.com/morganharpernichols/

Giving Thanks in An Exceptional Year

I always prefer to focus on gratitude, yet I hadn’t been feeling it this Thanksgiving week. So I posed a question to our community via Facebook:

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wonder if you would share what uniquely 2020-related things you are thankful for?

In this exceptional year, I thought we might move beyond the typical answers: life, health, family, community. As it turns out, those answers carry exceptional significance this year. When U.S. COVID cases have reached 12.7 million and 260,000+ have died, the essential facts that we and our loved ones are alive and healthy becomes a precious truth for those who can claim it. This year has yielded a renewed awareness that we aren’t promised anything and everything can change without warning. We are learning anew to appreciate our own vitality, the breaths we inhale and exhale over minutes that become hours that become days, and the people with whom we share breathing space—especially those we trust within six feet.

Which leads us to: Family. We’re grateful not to frantically rush out the door for our commutes or carpooling children hither and thither and instead to move a little slower. To share family lunches, hearing about school in the middle of the day. To teach kids to ride a bike or overhear through the bedroom door as they sing along with the school choir. To have unexpected time with littles who grow too fast or with older children who will soon fly the nest, or those who tried and got COVID-grounded or those who’ve made a return trip with fledglings of their own. We’ve had time and space to connect and care for one another differently as we’ve all gone through the strange experiences of this year. Some increased the love under their roof by adding dogs or cats to their households.

Zoom has taught many of us that we can work remotely and it’s given us another tool to connect with family and friends in other places. Some have been holding weekly dinners or game nights via Zoom, an idea that likely wouldn’t have occurred to them before March. Who can tell how many families and friends will celebrate with a virtual Thanksgiving feast?

We are grateful for friends who make us laugh. Last spring the world witnessed Italians singing from the balconies of their homes and apartment-dwellers who held evening calisthenics each outside their own front door. As we walked our dogs, we saw socially-distanced neighbors in cul-de-sacs and on street corners enjoying a “six feet at six o’clock” cocktail hour. A local DJ held socially-distanced neighborhood dance parties. One person commented, and many chimed in, that she is grateful for the way those in our community “swarm” to help others with small or big needs; this swarm produces honey as it relieves life’s stings.

We’ve rediscovered ways to savor time, playing board games and card games with family, hiking our spectacular trail system under smoke-free skies, or dabbling in watercolor painting through a subscription art kit. Reading lots and lots of books. Developing our skills through online classes.

It seems to me that the unexpected and initially undesirable changes brought about by the pandemic initiated so much more than cleaner closets and bread baking skills. It gave us quiet in which to reflect on our priorities and lingering conversations with family and neighbors. It forced us to get creative about how we would maintain the essentials for living and it freed us to be creative in other previously neglected and also life-giving ways. It freed us to live into who we are and who we want to be.

One respondent admitted that she found my question difficult to answer since the pandemic has hit her family hard. Although I’ve never met her nor do I know the specifics of her situation, I extended sympathy. As we say, “we’re in this together,” and clearly this year has been hard…illness, death, unemployment, draining bank accounts, loneliness, mental health issues, grief on so many levels. That’s precisely why I asked the question. We know how hard it’s been, and most of us know that our mis/fortunes rest along a spectrum: we have it hard, and also easier than others. Everyone’s lives have changed…in the same and vastly different ways.

In my faith tradition we acknowledge that when you don’t have words to pray for yourself you can rest in the prayers of others. Similarly, when I couldn’t name my own gratitude, I relied on the gratitude of others. “Yes,” I repeated with each response. “Yes, me too,” I’m grateful for that, and that, and I’m grateful to hear about that small or spectacular development in your life.

And so…

A Prayer of Overflowing Gratitude During Thanksgiving Week of an Entirely Unexpected and Exceptional Year

To the One from whom all good gifts flow I whisper Thank You for life and breath and health and the reminder that we can’t take any of it for granted. For families and slow time to hike and ride bikes and learn to cook or bake or support local restaurants by eating delicious take-out food. For the particular humans I get to call “mine,” and for the shared memories and the coming moments that will be tomorrow’s memories. For board games and card games, even the video games I don’t like but over which my guys bond and burn through their frustration loudly in the garage while I quietly read a book in another room. For skin care products which matter so much more than make up and baseball caps to hide the pandemic-casualty formerly known as a hairstyle and for the comfort of lounge wear all day and night. For the enthusiastic love of our furry friends and the hours upon hours we’ve walked dogs through neighborhoods and along trails, watching the tiny and wondrous changes of the seasons. Thank you for California poppies and irises and hawkweed and thistles, roses and hydrangeas and mums, and mustard plants that grow taller than our 85-pound dog. For sunshine and clear skies and the end of fire season and for the twisting and turning of rainbow-colored autumn leaves on the trees and the ground. For the neighbors we’ve greeted from a distance and waved at through windows and conversed with on the phone or over social media or Facetime or Zoom. For books and our library system and my never-empty Kindle. For Netflix and The Queen’s Gambit and Schitt’s Creek and Disney+ and Hamilton; may Lin Manuel live to write many more plays. For creativity and its multiple expressions we might not have witnessed except for this year. For freedom and those striving for freedom for all. In this Thanksgiving week and on every day of this ridiculous year whether I feel it or not, I whisper Thank You. We say Thank You. The people shout Thank You. And so, Amen.

2020 Travel: Tahoe

A week ago I began a blog and Instagram series on 2020 Armchair Traveling: My Life in Coffee Mugs. I wrote about New York City, Norway, and the San Francisco Bay Area and on IG posted about each of these destinations as well as San Diego. This is the final post in this series…for now.

Irony: planning and posting a series about Armchair Travel in the same week that generous church folks gifted us a few days’ stay in their Lake Tahoe vacation home. Of course we went.

Before we moved from SoCal to NorCal, someone who had moved the opposite direction mentioned that soon enough we’d be vacationing in Tahoe. He might as well have said we’d be hitting up Ibiza on the regular, it sounded so unlikely. He wasn’t wrong.

I’m not a snow sports person and I mostly like to experience snow through a picture window. But I do love to hike, and camp, and we’ve done a lot of both in Tahoe. And we have several generous friends who have handed us the keys to their vacation homes for an off-season weekend away.

My favorite picture from my first Tahoe birthday in 2007

Typically my birthday, which in early November means “mud season” and low crowds – tucked in between the crowded months of summer sun seekers floating on the Truckee River and boating on the lake and winter snow seekers.

Time stretches differently on vacation. Even though we had remote work/school on Thursday and Friday, we also had time for long hikes and soaking in the hot tub. We talked more and about different topics. We created new memories.

The sounds of the trip: the “slush” of lake-front sand or sloshy snow and the “crunch” of gravel or icy snow under our feet; the occasional “wa-wa-wa-whoops!” as we slipped on ice and flailed our arms seeking upright-balance like birds flapping hard against uneven wind currents; and the haunting-hollow clarinet howl-squeak of the wind during the day it stormed.

And laughter. Lots of conversation punctuated by joyous peals of laughter.

2020 Armchair Traveling: San Francisco

This week I’m armchair traveling on my blog and Instagram to share My Life in Coffee Mugs.

I grew up in San Diego. I went away to college and eventually returned. And then we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where we’ve lived for almost 15 years.

The Bay Area is where our kids grew up. They were 7 and 2 years old when we landed, so this is their home like San Diego will always be mine.

My husband used to comment that SoCal didn’t have trees, and I didn’t understand—could he not see the palm trees and eucalyptus trees, the citrus and avocado trees? Now I get it, though, since we have giant redwood trees in our own backyard. We drive three minutes to a redwood forest.

I love the natural open spaces, walking from home to scenic hiking trails. I love our walkable neighborhood and the hours I spend each week pounding the pavement with my pups.

I love the weather, that we have distinct yet not severe seasons; you can take the girl out of SoCal but she will still prefer mild year-round weather. I love real rain storms and bundling up and lighting a fire on chilly days—we can get to snow when we want to but we don’t have to shovel driveways—and I’m grateful to wear sandals most of the year.

I love our small town, and that we can be in San Francisco in short order (traffic depending), to visit the beach (Crissy Field is our favorite), Pier 39, the Ferry Building, particularly on Saturday mornings for the Farmers’ Market, Union Square during the holidays or Ghirardelli Square for, what else?, chocolate. Or we can be wine tasting in Napa in 45 minutes, or at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in less than two hours. This is the farthest I’ve lived from the beach and yet we get to the beach regularly.

Because this is where our family grew up, no matter where life may take us, the Bay Area will always also be Home.

2020 Armchair Traveling: Norway

This week I am sharing on my blog and on Instagram about My Life in Coffee Mugs. On Monday, I wrote on the blog about New York City. On Tuesday on Instagram I posted about my hometown of San Diego. Today I am blogging about Norway…

We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with two weeks in Norway. We spent a week on the Hurtigruten, a mail delivery/cruise boat (though not the kind of cruise you typically think of), sailing along the coastline and through the fjords from Bergen to Kirkenes. The following week we flew to Oslo, took the train to Kristiansand, and then rode the train back to Bergen—arguably the most beautiful train ride in all of Europe (I can’t compare, but it was truly spectacular).

Along the way we visited my Norwegian family: my second cousins and my mom’s cousins, and we had the enormous privilege of holding a gathering in honor of my recently departed grandmother in her hometown of Lista with nine of her cousins, happy to tell stories and leaf through pictures in yellowing photo albums.

Lista Fyr, the lighthouse my grandmother considered “hers,” since this is the view from her childhood home

This wasn’t my first trip to Norway, but it was revelatory to see with adult eyes the country that grew my grandmother and my mother. Watching the cold and rugged coast drift by the Hurtigruten windows, houses improbably stuck to cliffsides, with narrow one lane roads–or no visible roads at all—I was newly impressed with the hardiness of my people.

I do not feel so hardy, rather cushy-spoiled by my SoCal upbringing, but I have renewed respect for my mom and grandma, for the stock boiled into and diluted in my blood. I differently understand their desire to be outside in all weather, their need for nature, growing things, water, green and blue–in potted plants and paintings and photographs, if that’s how they can get it.

To have a pot of coffee roasting hot from early-dark to late-night. To have tins stocked with fresh-baked cookies, and oven-fresh pastries, ready to serve to guests. To savor the aroma and relish the taste of fresh caught and cooked fish. Or to over-boil the fish and the potatoes, as well as the peas and green beans until they’re slightly gray, because high culinary status hadn’t hit Norway before they departed for the U.S.

I wouldn’t be me without my Norwegian heritage. I wonder if my siblings feel the same, or if my name, Siv, tightens my family ties. Every single time I meet someone, I have to explain my Norwegian name: “like Steve without the T,” Siv—wife of thunder god Thor—goddess of the harvest whose blonde hair waved in the wheat like the wind.

Simple and complicated. Like me.

P.S. My Norwegian cousins confirmed that, although coffee is a big deal in Norway, Starbucks is not. We bought this mug in the airport at the only Starbucks we saw.

2020 Armchair Traveling: My Life in Coffee Mugs

Along with so much else in 2020, travel has been cancelled. Good thing my coffee mugs remind me where I’ve been–exactly what Starbucks intended, right? This week, I’ll let my warm cuppa whisk me away to share a few highlights from my life.

Today is my birthday.

It’s also an ordinary Monday in an exceptionally strange year.

A year ago my family celebrated my milestone birthday in NYC. I’m not big on Big Cities, but NYC was where I wanted to wake up 50. No big party, rather a long weekend creating new memories with my loves. (Irony: we booked an AirBnB in New Jersey so I did not, in fact, wake up in NYC).

Setting aside the expected-and-unusual bumps that typically arise during travel, my last birthday was a nearly perfect day in an as-close-as-they-come perfect weekend.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kicking up crunchy fall leaves as we strolled through Central Park. The Guggenheim. A fabulous sit-down dinner (at an all-veg restaurant, so the teens would describe it differently). The Empire State Building. Gourmet ice cream to end the day.

the view from Belvedere Castle in Central Park

During our stay, we hit many of the big touristy sites–the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, the Stock Exchange and Federal Hall (and by happy accident, Hamilton’s grave), the American Museum of Natural History, Rockefeller Center, Broadway, Times Square, even Carlo’s Bakery–since we had never explored NYC as a family.

The Met was our unanimously favorite spot

But one of the highlights for me was tripping across memories of my family ties to this place:

The Fashion Institute of Technology, where my mom studied children’s clothing design at the same time Calvin Klein studied fashion.

We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, starting on the Brooklyn side where my grandma lived with my young mom and aunt during the years she worked as a cook at the General Motors Building across from Central Park. My parents met at a mutual friend’s apartment, I can’t be sure now but maybe in Brooklyn?

My grandma lived in Queens when I was very young, when my parents and I lived on Long Island. My dad flew out of LaGuardia as a pilot for Pan American Airlines; before they married, he got my mom a job as a stewardess, a job she loved–”when airlines still offered hospitality that meant something”–until she got pregnant with me.

When I chose NYC as my birthday weekend destination, I chose it to visit fun and culturally significant places as a family. I didn’t realize that it would also connect me to family members no longer able to share their own memories.

One of the many benefits of travel.

Follow me on Instagram for more coffee mug highlights!