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Happy 30th anniversary, David

My wedding gown is lying in a crumpled heap on the couch and the cat is sitting on it.

I haven't laid eyes on it for 30 years. I thought it was in some kind of hermetically sealed wrapper, but turns out it was just laying there in a large box at my father's house. One of his upstairs bedrooms is being refurbished, and I am asked to take my wedding gown home, please. I can hardly refuse, even though it feels very strange to be doing so.

At home, I open the box gingerly, and there it is--very Princess Di, ivory-colored, long-sleeved, off-the shoulder, scoop neck; beaded at the bodice but quite plain otherwise, very full in the skirt and train, lots of little buttons running up the back and down the sleeves. There's so much of it-it's massive. The headpiece is an odd little cap with a long filmy veil.

The good news is, it still fits. The bad news is, what do I actually do with it? My husband David, daughter Cam and I stare at the heaping pile of fabric.

"Somebody might want it," I venture.

"Someone from the Eighties, maybe" Cam says definitively. "You need to call the Eighties and see if they want their dress back."

Both daughters nix the idea of ever wearing the dress, for which I don't blame them. It's so unlike today's sleek, strapless styles, and why shouldn't they have their own dresses, when the time comes? I remember picking it out at the famous Pricilla bridal shop. It was one of the first ones I tried on, and both my mother and I gave a little gasp when I put it on. It was the perfect dress for a 25 year-old me in 1985. I remember my mother sitting in that dressing room, never exhibiting the slightest doubt that I was doing the right thing.

Because she could have. Most sane parents would have, on account of the fact that David and I had a relatively short courtship before we got engaged. Short-like four weeks. David says that it's three weeks, but I maintain that it was certainly four. Not all that much time, when you come right down to it.

We met at a singles mixer at the now defunct Michael's on the Waterfront in Boston. I endured a painful hour and was calling it quits, when (this is really true), across the crowded room, I saw him, and he saw me. I couldn't believe I was finally meeting the kind of cute, smart, funny guy that I thought didn't really exist. We talked for at least five hours that night. When you meet the person you've been waiting for your whole life, there is a lot to catch up on.

So it seemed like absolutely the right thing to do three-or four-weeks later, when both of us, mutually, asked each other to get married. When we showed up at my parent's house, an engagement ring on my finger, my father uttered a phrase that can't be printed in this paper, starting with "You've got to be..." (he came around pretty quickly, though). My mother, however, was beside herself with joy from the start, although later she admitted that when we told her we had something to show her, she thought we were going to bring in an exotic animal-a goat, maybe.

So, 30 years, June 8. That's a long time to be with someone and still be interested in what they have to say, but we are. We work together much of the time too, and haven't throttled each other yet. David says that something I said early in our marriage really struck a chord with him, which is that it doesn't matter how well you treat everyone else in the world if you don't treat always your spouse with kindness and consideration. I don't remember saying this, but am happy to take credit for it. And that is how he has treated me, all these years. He also makes me laugh until I feel sick, which is a good thing.

A few years ago the minister who married us came to our church as a guest preacher. After the sermon we greeted him, introduced ourselves, and thanked him for his services at our wedding. He looked at us, with three lovely kids, and declared "It looks like it worked out!"

And it has. It has worked out so incredibly well. Which is why it doesn't really matter what I do with my wedding dress. It had its moment many years ago, and all the moments since then are what really count.

Happy anniversary, dear David. Thank you for everything you do for me. I don't know if we've got another 30 years in us, but I think we should give it our very best shot.

This column was published in the Daily News of Newburyport on June 8, 2015

Raising my bonsai kids no easy task

I thought I knew what I was getting into. I was in love, but I took my time and didn't rush into anything. I felt certain we were companionable, that we might have a future together. There had been problems in the past, sure, but I was sure that I could get it right this time. I let some time elapse so I could make a reasoned decision and not act in the heat of the moment. Finally, I gathered up my courage, and did it.

I bought a bonsai.

Two bonsai, to be exact. Two Brush Cherries, planted in a single container. They are sitting on the window sill over my kitchen sink, where I can admire their miniature beauty, and tend to their never-ending needs. For according to the "Bonsai Survival Guide," it appears that I have entered into a difficult and demanding relationship. The salesgirl at the greenhouse gave me this little manual, produced by New England Bonsai Gardens, as I paid for my plants. I wondered why she looked at me sympathetically as she handed it over.

Now I know. I'm pretty certain I don't take care of my children as well as I am supposed to take care of these trees. There is no honeymoon period for the new bonsai owner. Counseling and therapy begins immediately. "Is your lifestyle able to accommodate a plant that needs daily attention?" asks the manual. Umm, I'm not sure. I generally manage to get some kind of dinner on the table, and the animals haven't yet died of neglect, but I didn't know I had to consider my lifestyle (or lack thereof) before purchasing a plant. The manual also tells me I need special fertilizer, extra bonsai soil, pruning shears, tweezers, a brush, training wire, and a good reference book. I feel like I have more than enough reference already, thank you.

Fear enters the picture almost immediately. "When things go wrong, they go wrong quite quickly," the book warns ominously. And, in bold: "Bonsai novices usually lose their first trees to improper watering...it is best to forget how you water other plants and learn how to water bonsai." Whoa, that's hardcore. Two lengthy sections discuss the different methods of watering--overhead vs. immersion, testing for soil dryness and the benefits of misting ("cleans and refreshes...but not a substitute for watering"). Could somebody mist me, please? It sounds great.

I also need to forget about vacations from now on. Apparently, I can't leave the house for more than a day without dire consequences: "Your bonsai dealer may be equipped to do vacation boarding...or if you are having someone visit your home, make sure you give them very specific instructions." Oh dear. I'm not sure if my pet sitter will be willing to take on this awesome responsibility. Do I really have to call Nunan's Greenhouse and ask if my plants can sleep over? I can foresee my children resenting me deeply as I show up on their doorstep yet again, trees in hand ("Mom wants me to take that #$&*@$% plant! It's your turn!" "No, I did it last time!")

The worries continue. In "Pests and diseases" I am warned about aphids, scale-type insects, mites, worms, caterpillars, snails ("they hide during the day and do their dirty work at night"), and fungus. In "Diagnosis and first aid for the declining tree," there are a series of probing questions about overwatering, underwatering, and pets using the plant for a litter box. And finally, inevitably, "Is it really dead?" Apparently a tree can lose all of its leaves as a result of any of the aforementioned "traumas," but it might not be fully dead. On life support maybe, but not completely gone. Despairing bonsai owners are urged to hang in there, keep the tree damp, fertilize lightly, and "wait for spring."

I can do that! Waiting for spring is something we New Englanders do a lot of, and we're good at it. I have the feeling that these trees are going to teach me a lot of lessons about responsibility, commitment, and the harsh realities of life. The manual says that "even seasoned hobbyists sometimes lose trees to neglect." Good heavens, a seasoned hobbyist losing a tree to neglect? How can a dunce like me possibly manage? But then the "Bonsai Survival Guide" leaves me with this: "If you give it the best care you can, even when you encounter obstacles, you will be successful." It sounds like a fortune cookie, but it's pretty good advice for both plant care and life in general, so I'm going with it.

And if the worst happens? Well, the bonsai have taught me one thing already. I'm trying to live in the moment as much as possible, so I can enjoy the undoubtedly brief time the trees and I will be together.

This column was published in the Daily News of Newburyport on March 19, 2015

Sappy and sentimental for the holidays

I love Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Hallmark Channel's "Countdown to Christmas" runs from the first weekend in November until Jan. 1, and is a no-hankies-barred throwback to the movies of yesterday, and by yesterday I mean a really long time ago. A time when "The Lawrence Welk Show" ran on network television and people other than my grandmother watched it.

I only recently discovered this treasure trove of sentimentality, and I would never have imagined I would love it. I don't read romance novels and the sarcastic wit of "The Onion" is my go-to humor. But really, who can resist movies with titles like "A Christmas Wedding Tail" (about dogs) and "A Cookie Cutter Christmas" (about cookies)?

My crew watched "A Cookie Cutter Christmas" over Thanksgiving, and the men in my family may never speak to me again for outing them on this. The plot involves two (beautiful) teachers who have been feuding with each other since they were kids (over a Christmas recital solo in elementary school!) and they are now vying to catch the eye of James, a new dad who is serious eye candy, runs a charitable shelter and is an incredible cook. Which comes in super handy as there is a Christmas cookie-baking contest going on (don't these teachers do anything but bake cookies?) judged by, among others, Alan Thicke ("That's Robin Thicke's dad!" crowed the children). The semi-evil gal secretly steals James' peppermint cookie recipe and frames our heroine. There are a few dicey moments, but all is revealed and confessed in the end, and our two gorgeous leads share their first kiss.

Everyone is beautiful in these movies, and even the poor people seem to live in Wellesley. Their hair is amazing, especially the men's. In "Christmas with Holly," Mark wins the heart of his costar with his adorably floppy, parted-in-the-middle 'do as well as because he is raising his orphaned 6-year-old niece who doesn't speak since her mother died ... Maggie, the gorgeous blond love interest, meanwhile, has moved to the tiny, beautiful Washington state town (scenery alert) to open a toy store (of course) after her fiancé leaves her at the altar ...

Will Holly speak? Will Maggie learn to love again? Will Mark ever stop flipping his hair out of his eyes? If you have to ask these questions, you have never watched a Hallmark Christmas movie. Holly speaks, Maggie opens her heart, and Mark buys several cans of styling mousse.

Right now I am halfway through "A Very Merry Mix-up," in which a (beautiful) shop owner traveling to meet her fiance's family for the first time meets who she thinks is her brother-in-law at the airport when her luggage is lost. This is confusing now, so stay with me. The families are estranged, and when Alice meets the "other" Mitchums and sees their general awesomeness, she realizes that she may have picked the wrong brother. This is confirmed when she gets to the "right" Mitchums' house and everybody is all cold and weird, and the mother feeds her a kale smoothie. Will Alice stick with her fiance, who is bad because he spends all his time on the phone doing business deals just like his father, and by the way, has just brokered an offer on Alice's store for $3.5 million?

This is where I left off, and I'm pretty sure I know where it's all going. I'm guessing that the $3.5 million will never hit Alice's bank account. I'm betting that she will realize that her heart lies with the good brother, who is a craftsman and makes benches and clocks and knows Shakespeare. I'm also betting on a reunion of the two estranged families, even though one brother has just stolen the other's girl, because that's just the way things go in Hallmark movies.

Which is why I love them. They are sappy and sentimental and very old-fashioned. They are completely unrealistic because everybody gets married at the end. But honestly, with all the bad news and Kardashians that we have to deal with on a daily basis, who doesn't need "A Boyfriend for Christmas" once in a while?

This column was published in the Daily News of Newburyport in December, 2014

California dreamin' in North Reading

The house is a low-slung expanded California ranch, and it sits on a beautiful corner lot . . . in North Reading.

It is white, faced with Alaskan marble, with a long center chimney and a courtyard enclosed by see-through masonry bricks and a graceful wrought-iron gate that I probably swung on 5,000 times when I was a kid. The house should be sitting on a Los Angeles hilltop. It should look ridiculous in New England, but it is a credit to my father and his vision that it does not.

My father had seen a similar house on a trip to California in 1961, and he decided to replicate it exactly. I'm guessing that he never even considered that it might not look right here. It was beautiful, he wanted it, and that was that. He found a lot in the Hillview Country Club area of North Reading and hired the contractors. A year or so later, we moved in - my mother, the 3-year-old me, and my infant sister. When I was growing up, I thought it was the most beautiful house in the world. I felt a little sorry for kids in more conventional houses.

The house borrowed liberally from the ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright, with an open layout and rooms that flowed naturally into one another. Entry was through the aforementioned gates into a large tiled courtyard, the walls painted a bright turquoise. The story is that my father asked me (yes, the toddler) what color to paint the courtyard, and that is what I chose. The house's main doors opened to another tiled entryway inside, with a garden along the back edge (fake plants; this was the '60s, after all) that made a perfect jungle for my stuffed animals. There was another planter, too, this one long and narrow and filled with (fake) orange and blue bird of paradise that divided the living and playrooms.

The playroom was the center of the house in all ways and one of the few rooms without wall-to-wall carpeting. My parents were early adopters of radiant heating, and we would lie on our stomachs for hours like happy lizards, soaking up the warmth from the floor while we played with our blocks and glass animals. We needed the structural stability of the linoleum for building houses, barns, and zoos.

The Alaskan marble on the front of the house was carried inside, with one wall taken up with a floor-to-ceiling fireplace in the living room. It had a long, wide hearth, also made of the white and gray marble, that was another excellent place to lounge and enjoy the heat when a fire was lit. But perhaps my favorite room of all was the library at the very front of the house. It had a long, multipaned window with a very wide sill. I felt like I was in the bow of a ship when I sat there.

The house still stands, and it looks exactly like it did when it was built, right down to the turquoise courtyard. I drive by and smile, because the house still feels to me like a physical extension of my mother and father, embracing me closely until it let me go, when I was ready to move on.

Published by the Boston Globe, November 8, 2015

Hiding in plain sight

The girl lifted her shirt to expose her back. There were dark bruises. In some places the skin was cut.

"This is what my mother did to me."

My friend and I looked at each other, eyes wide. The three of us were upstairs in her small bedroom. We had been talking about cats and horses and boys, and suddenly the conversation veered. The girl began telling us about her mother, her drinking, her temper. Then she pulled up her shirt.

I'd like to say that we told my friend's mother what we had heard, and that we went to the police. I'd like to say that the girl's mother was interrogated, arrested, sent to AA and anger management counseling. I'd like to say there was a happy ending after she showed us her injuries, and told us about her pain.

I'd like to say all that, but none of it would be true.

We did nothing. We said nothing. We went on with our lives as if it had never happened.

We kept the secret, because it didn't occur to us to do anything else.

Did other people know what was going on? It's possible. There's always that one house in every town--ramshackle, the yard littered with debris, several horses, and too many dogs and cats. The mother was mannish and heavyset, always with a cigarette hanging from her mouth. If there was a father present I never saw him.

Occasionally when the school bus went by their house in the morning I saw the girl riding one of their horses in the makeshift ring, the mother shouting instructions at her. Sometimes I thought she was lucky-staying home from school and riding her horse! Why couldn't I do that? But then, looking at the junked-up yard, the sullen house, the terrifying mother, I knew that she wasn't lucky at all.

The girl was two years older than me. We weren't close and she lived next to my friend, not me. I didn't see her frequently and she never played any significant part in my life. But I've never forgotten how painful her back looked, how she turned her head around to stare into our eyes when she showed us. She was hiding in plain sight.

* * *

In freshman year of college I lived in a two-room quad with three other girls. One of them, B, was a local, whose father taught at the school. She was small and fine boned, with wispy blond hair and sharp, pretty features.

B was a slob, her closet piled waist-high with a mishmash of clean and dirty clothing, her bed a jumbled mess of sheets and pillows. She smoked cigarettes. She drank until she blacked out. And she slept with nearly every guy who gave her a passing glance. I couldn't stand her and the feeling was mutual. Shy, nerdy, me, slutty, party-girl B--the roommates from hell.

But somehow, one night, we talked. Alcohol was probably involved. We discussed our other roommates and poetry and what we liked and hated about college. And then she told me about Nick (not his real name), the R.A. on our floor.

Nick was a senior, good-looking and aloof. I had a hopeless freshman crush on him, along with probably half the girls in the dorm. He didn't seem to have a girlfriend and appeared stern and unapproachable. B told me that Nick would sneak her into his room at odd hours for sex, always when she was very drunk.

He didn't speak to her or acknowledge her at any other time, she said, but when he called her she always came. She told me she loved him. I was stunned. Nick, who was supposed to help clueless freshman, was preying on D, just like the other boys who would use her when she was drunk.

I don't remember what I said to B as I listened to her. I know I didn't report Nick. I never felt the same about him after that, but it didn't occur to me to go someone in the administration and say that a student in a position of power was abusing a vulnerable freshman girl.

B was hiding in plain sight too.

* * *

These things happened many years ago. I try not to blame my younger self. A lot has changed since then--in society, in me. Discussion of child abuse and sexual harassment is no longer taboo. Sometimes it feels like the news is dominated every day by the likes of Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinsten-just to name the two most notorious offenders. Victims are coming out of the shadows and predators are being held to account.

But humans are still what they are. There will always be people who hurt others. There will always be those who hide in plain sight. I can only hope that now, when I recognize them, I will do whatever it takes to help them speak out loud-and that the world will listen.

This column was published in the Daily News of Newburyport in August, 2019