Peace is my word. What’s yours?

I am not peaceful by nature. If I’m being honest, I’m probably a little bit of a disrupter. I don’t know the official word for it. I’m just making this up as I go.

I recently attended a women’s wellness group at a local yoga studio because I am a woman who could use a little more wellness in her life. I didn’t know what to expect. Because it was December and that’s a time to start looking forward and inward, we sat in a circle and thought about our intentions for the year. 

I had a little journal and a cup of tea. I crossed my legs and closed my eyes and let the words flow. 

balance // creativity // calm // presence // joy

The word that kept rising to the surface was peace – peace for me, peace for my kids, peace within and within my home, peace between being a mother and being a writer, peace about what it even means to be a real writer, peace I can carry with me into the world and give to people like a present. 

There is not much peace in parenting, unless you’re intentional about it. In relationships, and especially within families, it’s far easier to match moods than to pause.

When my daughter has a tantrum, I have one right back. I go where she is instead of showing her what peace looks like – and presenting her with the option of meeting me there. When my husband comes home from a long trip, it can be tempting to go jump on an airplane myself. When he’s away and the days and nights seem endless, peace is the last thing I feel inside my heart. I am the opposite of peace.

But in these entirely unpeaceful moments, I want to make a conscious choice to be a source of peace for my people. 

So I bought myself a bracelet with my word on it, and one for my daughter that says, “Let Your Light Shine.” (Her word is actually “self-control,” but I think shining your light sounds a lot more manageable and appealing to a five-year-old.) We’re going to work on these things together in the coming year. I haven’t asked the boys if they want to choose a word. My youngest would probably say “marshmallow.”

Long before I learned about setting intentions, I always loved New Year’s Eve. It’s my favorite holiday. When I was younger, it felt romantic. Something about the promise of a midnight’s kiss and finding true love. Now that I know what true love really looks like, I don’t need fireworks. I’ll spend my evening on the couch with my kids, eating good food and waiting for Daddy to come home from his latest trip. We’ll be lucky if we make it up past 9:00 p.m. 

But there’s more to it than a TV countdown or a party downtown. The New Year feels so fresh with opportunity. And this one isn’t just a new year … it’s a new decade. When the sun shines its light on 2020, I hope I will remember my word. I hope I can embody it, from the inside out, and model it for my children and in my relationships. 

Whatever it is you’re seeking more of in your life, I hope you find it this year. Maybe put a word to it. Say it out loud. Wear it on your wrist. Emblazon it on your wall. I hope you find it, or it finds you.

I’ll just be here drinking green tea and standing on my head. Not at the same time, of course. 

What the holidays mean to me, as a daughter of Judaism and Christianity.

This story first appeared in Tallahassee Magazine in 2007. Since then, I grew up (I think), got married and had three babies. It is important to me that my children know the beliefs, traditions and values of our collective family. Reading this now, at 35, it is interesting to see what has changed and what remains the same. I still believe very much in “being a light” and in teaching my children to shine theirs. Only now I know nothing will bring you closer to God than becoming a mother. Here’s what I wrote when I was 23:

Never do I feel closer to God than when I am outside staring up at the night sky — a cool wind tickling my eyelashes, crickets playing a symphony to my ears, a warm mug of mint tea in my hands.

Perhaps this ethereal connection to the stars explains my affinity for twinkling lights and flickering flames, the closest counterparts we have here on the ground. In that light, it suits me well to celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas, this year and always.

My mother’s family is Christian, and my father was raised Jewish. I suppose that makes me bi-religious, or half-and-half, like coffee creamer.

When asked about my religion, I have always felt compelled to clarify — I know a little of both testaments, Old and New, like a child who grows up speaking English in America struggles to retain some of his mother’s native Portuguese.

I bought my first Christmas tree when I was 23. Four feet tall and crafted by Martha Stewart herself, the tree went up before Halloween and was still glowing clear through Valentine’s Day. I guess I was making up for lost time. (Don’t worry, Nana. I lit my menorah, too.)

This is a card I made when I was in elementary school, trying to figure out where I fit:

I went to temple for Hebrew school on Sunday mornings and attended midnight Masses with friends from school. I danced the Electric Slide at Bar Mitzvahs. I stood up, sat down and stood up again at my young cousin’s first communion. And the services were, in many ways, the same. There were candles to light, songs to sing, blessings to know by heart.

As I grew up, the need to “pick a side” became more resonant.

In high school, I witnessed a Baptist classmate tell her Jewish best friend repeatedly, and with little emotion, that she was going to hell. In college, a Catholic pal began dating an orthodox Jew, and I listened sympathetically as she bemoaned his disapproving mother. All around me, I saw unresolved conflict and hurt feelings over beliefs that were meant to bring us together.

I remember being 5 years old, working on a greeting card that blended Christmas and Chanukah by way of a Star of David tree topper. I’ve never lost that childlike sense of bewilderment, the kindergartner incredulous that everyone can’t celebrate and live peacefully.

I don’t consider myself bound to either — or any — religion, but rather to my own spirituality. I’m not simply a Christian or solely a Jew, and there’s nothing complicated about it. I’m just Ashley. I love laughter and guacamole. I sing at the top of my lungs in the car. I am a good, honest person.

In truth, I practice religion about as much as I practice piano. Which is to say, not much at all.

What I do live by is the aim to listen, to learn and to love. To help people when they need me. To be grateful for everything I have. For sky and sea. For a family that loves me endlessly. For bright pink toenail polish. For shooting stars.

My favorite aspect of Christianity is the Golden Rule, the so-called ethic of reciprocity — “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” From Judaism, I treasure the mitzvah — the Yiddish word for a selfless good deed. I want to be that light … that purest symbol of faith and goodness.

I’m sure it’s no accident that the word spirituality contains within it another word — ritual. There are rituals in every religion, even in mixed faiths like mine.

On Ash Wednesday, Catholics smudge soot on their foreheads as a sign of repentance. Jews eat apples with honey at Rosh Hashanah to symbolize the sweetness of the New Year. Muslims fast during Ramadan to cleanse themselves through restraint and humility. Buddhists meditate to become one with themselves and with God.

A Christmas tree and a menorah both shine with tiny white lights. One honors a man, a light who sought to bring peace to the world. The other celebrates the light itself — a light that glowed strong against all odds, in a time of darkness. When I light a candle or plug in a sparkling strand, I am reminded of all the good in this world.

As the holiday season fades, we must remember that every day is a holy day. A new light. Another chance to rejoice in all the things we love.

The love of life — this is the light I choose to pray to, the light I live by, the light I revere.

I used to think love just was, but now I know love *does*.

If you haven’t gathered from my recent posts, I think I’ve been sick since October. 

But the kids have, too, so – as moms do – I’ve been taking care of them instead of myself. They’ve had countless doctor visits since school started, while I’ve been getting by on NyQuil, dry shampoo and what little uninterrupted sleep I can get on a toddler and a pilot’s schedule. 

But when things got real this week, and I came home from my appointment with an armful of pharmaceuticals, the ones I love stepped up in little ways that made a big difference. 

That means elderberry syrup made with love and sweet local honey from sweetest friends who are busy with their own kids and jobs and lives. Stopping by on a whim to play dollhouse with my girl so I can take a breath. Text messages offering dinner or babysitting. It’s friends who say, “I got you,” when you don’t got yourself. 

It means putting the big kids to bed early and taking the littlest one to bed with me, turning around from downing cough meds and filling water cups and locking doors to find the Christmas tree turned off. Watching as the baby emerges from behind it, throwing my arms around him in thanks, and heart almost bursting as he says, “you are most welcome.”  

It means my husband, who only has two days off this week, canceling everything he needs or wants to do to look up (on his own, without request) complicated recipes for Matzo Ball Soup, then going out to fetch all the ingredients and lovingly chopping everything by hand as he narrates from the kitchen step-by-step. 

I’ve learned what loves does is leap to action. 

When you’re young and foolish, love is a frenzy, a feeling, a fleeting thing. Then you grow up, and you live in it for a while. Soon your love gives you new little people to love – the kind who bring home the flu instead of flowers. And you realize … love isn’t piles of presents under the tree or words in a card or a diamond on your hand. None of that stuff is bad, but it’s still just stuff. 

Love is hands and feet. When things go south, it’s always your North Star. When people are sick or sad or hurting, you go and you do whatever you can to make them better. There’s a thousand little ways we can be there for each other every day. We just have to do them. 

When it really matters, love does.  

What my Dad taught me about living out loud and caring less what people think.

If you want to know why I am the way I am, picture me and an older, manlier version of me printing the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and belting them out at the top of our lungs for an entire afternoon.

Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?

Ever since I was a little girl, my Dad was always the one making everyone laugh. And while his brand of humor might not go over well in all crowds, one thing is certain – he is unapologetically himself.

Dad didn’t want me to go away to theater school and become a starving artist. I think he’s only slightly more comfortable with me having gone away to writing school to become a mom who writes about motherhood, but I know he is proud of who I am – and he’ll be my biggest fan if I ever manage to publish a book.

He’s already my biggest fan. He just encourages me to dream bigger.

My Dad gives great advice and dotes on my family with his time and treasures. When my husband is away, he and my mom spend the majority of their time entertaining or feeding us. He has tinkered with our sound system to the point it seems like Peppa Pig lives in our living room, and he takes pride in decorating our yard with the finest specimens from his nursery. This is how he shows his love.

He shows us how to live, too. Watching him, I have learned to be bold in the pursuit of happiness and quick with a punch line. He taught me to tell it like it is, to stand up for what’s right, to tip generously and to love the same way.

My Dad doesn’t worry about what other people think of him – he’s too busy doing his own thing. And he does it well. He also really, really likes himself, as evidenced by his 7:34 a.m. text message to announce today as “a day to remember.”

Perhaps what he does best is love my kids, who call him “Pob” – an unconventional grandpa name for an unconventional man. We don’t spend enough one-on-one time together, but I always love it when we do. (Next time the Chicken Bhuna is on me.)

Happy Birthday, Dad. I can’t top Alan’s surprise visit from last year, but I hope the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix looks great from my couch.

At least it’ll sound like we’re there.

Don’t let Thanksgiving get lost in the middle.

Halloween was fun. Don’t you love watching your kids getting all dressed up and taking it to the streets? What about the quality control of their candy baskets, just to make sure everything is “safe”?

Nowadays, as soon as Halloween is over, it seems like the whole world launches into holiday mode. It’s all red and green and silver and gold, and the ads on TV are less cleaning supplies for your actual house and more hot-pink accessories for your Barbie Dream House.

Let’s not forget – Thanksgiving is a holiday, too, and an important one.

I’m not even going to get into the Mayflower and who lived here first. This isn’t the place for that. I’m talking about a feast and a moment of peaceful celebration and people coming together to give thanks for their blessings.

These were basic blessings, before Barbie Dream Houses. People lived in simple shelters, with just enough clothing to keep them warm and food to fill their bellies. The children played games outside, or with dolls made of sticks and sacks. But it was ­enough.

In a world filled with plastic toys and abundance so far beyond our essential needs, it is a welcome and necessary act to sit around a table with the people we love and give thanks for all we have. Our children need to see it. They need to feel it.

As parents, it’s also a welcome shift in perspective. I have a wise friend who says, “I get to” instead of “I have to.” Parenting is both a challenge and a privilege. This week, I’m choosing to focus on the joy. It’s the kind of feeling that can last all year, if we let it.

So Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Let’s take the time to pause and reflect on all the good this year has brought before rushing onto the next big thing. This is my wish for you:

May your blessings be enough to keep you warm, safe and loved.

My family will be having a simple meal this year. We’ve come up with a list of our favorite foods, and we’re sharing in the work. I probably won’t have to do the dishes – because my mother and husband are both convinced I can’t load a dishwasher. (Boy, have I got them fooled.)

And while it’s true I’m as eager as anyone to string twinkle lights and cut down a tree and light the candles on our menorah, we’re going to wait.

At least until Friday.

What Frozen 2 can teach us all about life.

I remember when Frozen the original came out. (Are we calling it Frozen One now?)

I wasn’t yet blessed with a little girl, and her older brother wasn’t old enough to go to the movies, so we didn’t have Frozen fever. But we did have the DVD, because my Nana called from Target to ask if we’d like it.  

The evening we first popped it in, I must have been cooking. So instead of watching with bated breath, I caught snippets of the storyline. Flash forward three years, and the film became a staple in our home. A few years after that, we welcomed a new little Frozen fan, who asked for Elsa every morning after the big kids went to school.

My daughter is now five, and we’ve been counting down the days until the sequel premiered so we could see it with mother-daughter friends. (Unlike Elsa and Anna, neither Addy nor I have a sister, but these two make us feel like we do.)

Here’s my takeaway.

1. Nobody likes change, but it is as inevitable as the new-fallen snow.

Elsa sings:

These days are precious, can’t let them slip away
I can’t freeze this moment, but I can seize this day

Life is full of beautiful moments, then hard ones, more beautiful ones, and hard ones again. Somewhere in the middle, we grow weary. We forget to soak it in. Especially in the mothering of young children, we can get so caught up in life’s perceived hardships that we miss all of its sweetness. This lyric, in particular, stood out to me, even upon first listen. It’s a poignant reminder that, while we can’t stop time, we can stop to revel in it. 

2. When all seems lost, just do the next *right* thing.

Anna finds her voice when she thinks her sister and her snowbuddy have gone to the great unknown. When it feels like hope is gone (spoiler: it never is), the only thing left is to take the next step. Put one foot in front of the other, and do the next right thing. Note it doesn’t say do any old thing, but the right thing. We have choices when it comes to our reactions to losses and disappointments in our lives. This sentiment gives our children something to hang onto as they navigate life’s twists and turns – and us parents something to say to them when they seem stuck. 

3. Real love is not fragile.

As you may recall, Anna had to learn the truth about true love the hard way in Frozen One. (It’s a thing now.) So hard, in fact, she turned to ice. This time around, Kristoff is wondering if Anna’s love is wavering because he doesn’t know who he is without her, and she doesn’t know who she is without her sister. All three of them have to learn to love themselves before they can become the fully-formed people they’re meant to be. When Anna apologizes for leaving him behind, Kristoff says, “My love is not fragile.” Real love – between sisters or lovers or parents and their kids – does not break, but rather bends. It is unlike ice, and more like the wind named Gale that moves through this movie like the spirit of all things good. 

And, man, was it good. I laughed the kind of laugh that makes all the other people in the theater wish you’d picked a different showing. I cried the kind of cry that makes your friend ask if you need a beer. 

After we waited for the surprise scene at the end of the credits, we made our way to the restroom. In the stall next to mine, my daughter suddenly cried out, “I need you!” I rushed to her side to find the plastic ring I had given her at lunch glistening at the bottom of the toilet. As I rolled up my sleeve to fish it out, so inspired by the love I had seen on the screen, my hip hit the flusher – “Watch out for my butt!” – and that ring went … into the unknown.

But an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart, and her best friend ran over to our car just before we pulled away, placing her matching plastic ring in my hand as she said sweetly, “I wanted Addy to have this.”

On this week of Thanksgiving, so long as we’re talking about counting our blessings under an autumn sky, let us count this movie – and friends who are like sisters – among them. 

Why your mom-friends might be the most important you’ll ever have.

You’ll never forget the friends you make in Kindergarten. 

Middle school? You need those girls, and you need them HARD.

In high school, you discover it’s fun to hang out with people who share your interests and hopes and dreams.

By college, you start to become who you’re meant to be, and you realize what real friends really look like.

As a young professional, your best mates are often your office mates. 

But GIRL, when you become a mother. 

My mother was diagnosed with cancer shortly after my first child was born. So I spent my days with my brand new best friend and my original best friend, nursing her back to health while coming up with silly ways to make both of them laugh. I was a single mom – I felt cast aside, I didn’t fit anywhere. But it didn’t matter much because I knew where I needed to be.

After I got married and that baby turned four and his grandmother turned a corner and a little sister was born, we moved to a new neighborhood where he would start Kindergarten and make his own first friends.

It never occurred to me, in crossing that bridge, that the parents of his friends would become my friends. Suddenly, as we enrolled in summer camps and after-school activities, our friend group grew.

I started something called Happy Hour Play Dates. (You’re welcome.) This was basically because I don’t like to be out past 9 p.m. and I really like being home. It’s also a lot easier to stay in with 17 kids. 

For a season, we hosted five families on a rotating basis – to share laughs and food and mommy drinks while the kids, ranging in age from fresh-out-the-womb to five, ran around us in a sugar-induced, sticky-fingered blur. 

As time went by, we made more friends in rom-com, meet-cute ways – like the morning on the street corner at the Santa parade – and the Happy Hour Play Dates got bigger. 

I love the way new people come into our lives in the weirdest ways, like when a lovely human whose husband I didn’t kiss in high school showed up in my inbox like an early Christmas present, then told me she was going away for year. (Not to prison, but to travel the world. We’re gonna be pen pals.)

We’ve all had more babies, and lost some. We’ve gotten new jobs. We’ve gone back to school. We’ve moved into new houses. We’re doing life together. 

These are the friends who bring lasagna when you’re pregnant and your husband has to hold you upside down in a headstand at four in the morning because you can’t pee and you come home from the E.R. with a catheter just in time for your older son’s birthday weekend. They’re the friends who secretly drop things in your mailbox or at your front door, whether it’s wine or diapers or a personalized ornament with everybody’s name on it every Christmas. The ones who host New Year’s at the last minute because you just had a miscarriage and they know it’s your favorite holiday.

These are the friends who come over if you tell them something’s wrong, and know that you need them even when you don’t. The ones who take your kid to jiujitsu because your husband’s away and you can’t do it all by yourself. The ones who cry with you on the carpet when you feel like the world is falling apart, and pull you up off the floor with pizza and good advice. The friends who sit with you on the roof like schoolgirls – one foot out the window, but all the way in your life – and tell you their secrets as the sun goes down.

These friends are stars, twinkling in the night sky and shining like the golden sun even when they’re as exhausted as you are. You can tell them anything, because they’re walking this journey right beside you, and they’ve been there, too. 

So hold on to your mom-friends, because, as far as I can tell, we’re gonna be moms long after our kids stop climbing into our beds all hours of the night and can finally use the toilet on their own.

And it’s nice to feel needed … but it’s even nicer to be there for a friend who needs you.