Author: Katie Huey

Vitamin C

Did a new year turn over?

While a fresh start is tempting, it feels more like 2020 is still bleeding onto our blank slates. I’m not willing to throw in the towel just eight days in.

One of my goals for this year is to check the news less. I’ve already failed.

My twitching fingers keep clicking refresh. As texts buzz in and news alerts ping loudly, I can’t help myself.

There’s a thick, bold line between being informed and being consumed. My consumption has reached unhealthy levels. The images of rioters and men barging through spaces seem burned into my consciousness. Anger seeps through screens as we create memes and scroll through poignant personal truths on Twitter, and confusion on CNN.

January typically is full of commitments to better. To healthy lifestyles, to new and improved selves, to less butter, or caffeine. Sugar is damned.

With the hemorrhaging of 2020 continuing, I ask, “What does it mean to be healthy, now?”

We thought cases were soaring in summer. Now spikes seem like mountains. These steep slopes lead to lack of oxygen. No blue skies or crispness in the air.

Searching for beauty from the home office is limited. My surroundings remain the same.

This week, I ordered groceries online and unpacked packages crinkling in cellophane. Butter and sugar are staples for survival. Improvement takes a back seat.

As plastic bags emptied, I turned to the pile on the counter. Five round Cara cara oranges winked hello from their caged netting.

Using a blunt scissor blade, I tore through the mesh to place a globe in my palm. As I dug my thumb nail into the flesh, I was squirted with small gems of juice. Licking my wrist, I kept at the process of ripping peel from fruit. I sank my teeth into the wedges and slurped on repeat.

I can watch, with eyes wide and stomach churning, the constant flow of bad news creep into my brain. Or I can put down my phone, walk away from the screens, and sink into sustenance instead.

Beauty in flesh, in juice, in slurping. In staying away from the news.

Be safe. Be well. Eat an orange. We need the vitamin C.

Many Mirco-Accomplishments

“Never underestimate the power of a girl with a book.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I pulled out my journal this morning to try and recount what exactly we did this year where many days felt the same. I surprised myself, sitting in the sun, as I scrawled twenty pages of reflection on what we did accomplish.

Nothing grand. No big adventures.

Instead, many micro-accomplishments. Harvests of cucumbers. Tiny reaches out of our comfort zones. A new job. Adjusting again to forces outside of ourselves. A basil plant taking in sun from cold winter windows. Witnessing pain. A new vitamin regimen. Striving for beauty. Ten gallons of paint.

2020 wasn’t a grand year. We were alone. Connected through screens, we grew closer to one another in ways I likely won’t understand for awhile. Isn’t it amazing how every human on earth now has this pandemic in common? How many other life experiences will stitch us together like this? The individual living of this year is different in kaleidoscope ways, yes. The tube, the crystals, the spinning disorientation – all the same.

I wonder how long it will take for the scapegoat disaster of 2020 to be reclaimed with something different. The ticking of time tonight can not erase what still lurks. 2021 may hold better. It may hold different. I know it will require processing, patience, and tending to pain.

Back in January I wrote I wasn’t going to be so bold to predict what would unfold on this year’s pages. I couldn’t have fathomed what actually was written in ink. I feel much the same about tomorrow. A new January. A new calendar. Pages to be ripped and discarded from organizational systems and goals to be scratched onto chalkboards in white. How many will be smeared in waiting in June?

This year, I read. A lot. On the floor, in the corner, tucked into my bed with cold bowls of vanilla ice cream. I got new glasses and my squinching face relaxed just a tiny bit as I escaped into story. Words comforted me. Challenged me. Seemed to be a constant companion.

As they lay Ruth Bader Ginsburg to rest, I welcomed with appreciation, all the work she accomplished to make the world a better place for my mother, for me, for women around the world longing for something different.

Never underestimate the power of words. How we absorb them, shape them, use them to search for beautiful things.

On this, the last day of a year we will never forget, I leave the list of books I read with you.

Bridge of ClayMarkus Zusak

Little WomenLouisa May Alcott

Red at the BoneJacqueline Woodson

Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty

There, There Tommy Orange

Dumplin’Julie Murphy

Counting by 7’sHolly Goldberg Sloan

Still MeJoJo Moyes

Little House on the PrairieLaura Ingalls Wilder

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and FoodAnn Hood

Turtles All the way DownJohn Greene

In PiecesSally Field

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country Helen Russell

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s StoneJ.K. Rowling

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away my Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a StoreCait Flanders

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity & LoveDani Shapiro

Such a Fun AgeKiley Reid

A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith

The CactusSarah Haywood

Little WierdsJenny Slate

Wine Girl: The Trials and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier Victoria James
The GownJennifer Robson

Magic HourKristen Hannah

The Hypnotist’s Love StoryLiane Moriarty

The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion

The Scent KeeperErica Bauermeister

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to SurviveStephanie Land

The Secrets We KeptLara Prescott

The Night Tiger Yangsze Choo

RedwallBrian Jacques

Mountains Beyond MountainsTracy Kidder

The Library Book Susan Orlean

The Alice NetworkKate Quinn

The Light We LostJill Santopolo

NeverwhereNeil Gaiman

The Henna ArtistAlka Joshi

The Velveteen RabbitMargery Williams

More Than Words Jill Santopolo

When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War IIMolly Guptill Manning

Fortune’s Rocks – Anita Shreve

The Vanishing HalfBrit Bennett

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Ordinary LifeTish Harrison Warren

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueV.E. Schwab

The Practice: Shipping Creative Work Seth Godin

The AfterGrief: Finding Your Way Along the Long Arc of LossHope Edelman

Finding Freedom: Harry & Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal FamilyOmid Scobie & Carolyn Durand

Goodbye to All That – Writers on Loving & Leaving New YorkEdited by Sari Botton

Angel FallsKristen Hannah

The Family Fang Kevin Wilson

Bel CantoAnn Patchett

Tomorrow Will Be Better Betty Smith

Come to the Garden

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

“Colin Firth is in it” buzzed my phone. “And the woman who plays Mrs. Weasley is Mrs. Meadlock.”

On a friend’s recommendation, I watched the new The Secret Garden expecting to be transported back to one of the VHS I once played on repeat.

As the scene opened with vibrant colors and enchanting jewel toned walls, I paused.

“I always confuse this story line with A Little Princess” I texted my friend.

Any time one returns to a Classic, we see the story with new eyes. Perhaps this year’s felt absence during the holidays influenced this viewing. I sank into the couch and watched Mary and Colin (not Firth, that’s the boy character’s name) struggle to connect with one another.

This time, rather than obnoxious playmates, I saw lonely children wander in echoing chambers, banging feet, and wailing to be seen.

Spoiler alert – both characters have lost their mothers. The boy is kept locked in a room as his grieving father does the best he can to keep his son safe. The girl craves attention, and with snobbery and fits, demands others to meet her needs. In their coping, one is told to stay indoors due to poor health. The other longs for connection, fresh air, to be seen.

As I’ve grieved, I’ve longed to been allowed both responses. I had one fit, the day of the funeral, and was promptly told to keep it together.

I’ve spent months in the echoing rooms, wailing, and wondering if anyone will come see.

And this year, I’ve desperately wanted to lock all those I love into dark rooms with heavy blankets and cups of tea.

“Sometimes I’m restrained,” says the boy. “Father says it’s best for me.”

If only I could restrain all of us. To keep us safe from harm.

Upon discovering Colin, Mary says, “You’re pale.”

I am too. From being indoors and trying to prevent pain.

As they attempt to understand each other, stories of love and letters lost help the young children literally support one another to standing. Their healing comes in fields of grass, surrounded by flowers, fresh air and more jewel tones. This space allows the light to come in. Mary’s passion and persistence for connection and what could be helps her use the key.

I wasn’t prepared for my grief gremlin to poke it’s head out when watching that movie. A trigger warning may have been nice.

Grief is ever present. A forever dance of wanting to protect the ones we love from further hurt, a nod to intense isolation, and a loud wail in an echoing room where no one comes to see. It’s also a nap in a garden. A swoosh on a swing. Learning to walk when told instead pain cripples beyond repair.

Come to the garden. Choose the beautiful thing.

Of Dark December Days

I took the time to dig through the blue bucket where the winter clothes live. Up on the top shelf of the poorly insulated coat closet live the garments designed to keep me warm.

I found the regulars. Hand-knit, white, patterned gloves crocheted with care. A blue hat made with yarn I requested myself. Being a part of a family of knitters has its winter perks.

As the sun started to dip behind the mountains to the west, we bundled up for a brisk walk around the neighborhood.

The cold nipped at my cheeks and as the dog pulled at my arms, I started to notice. I watched the sun sparkle on snow, and dance with the thistles showing up for their dates at the golden hour. I said a small prayer of thanks as I lifted my dark hood up onto my head to protect my ears. The only noises accompanying us were the panting puppy and puffing of neighbor’s trucks passing as we dodged still frozen patches of ice on asphalt.

There’s quiet in this dark season. Words are few between me and my husband. Not because of conflict or passive aggressive fights. We’ve instead been running out of things to say. With all of our time at home, the highlights are brief. The anecdotes missing. We turn to our screens and try to find activities to fill these dark nights in Groundhog Day, pandemic season.

Pouring a glass of white wine, a small tilt of the wrist swirls the liquid in its home. Light from the candle wick at the table wobbles, mingling with the shadows drawing long across my kitchen. Christmas tree lights reflect on orb’s edges as I sip slowly.

These days feel long and lonely.

I must call on my reserves to bring warmth. Extra blankets. Size-able pours. Matches sparked against steady surfaces. Electricity pulsing on boughs of pine.

These are the beautiful things of dark December days.

Wine. Warmth. Light.

Hey, They Still Taste Good

Our tree is up and the twinkle from the white lights beckon me out from my home office each night. I’ve learned if I plug in the tree before 4:30 pm, I can walk upstairs to some light at the end of the day.

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Although, every time the fireplace is turned on, I remind Dylan to remove the giant, red knit socks from their hooks. The polyester will melt from the heat.

Gifts ordered online sit on the kitchen table, waiting for wrapping, ribbons and string. When discussing our small family’s Christmas plans Dylan winked at me and said, “Let’s honor the environment this year and not wrap our gifts for each other.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I think the environment will benefit from our holiday laziness.” At least in the case of the two gifts we plan to exchange with each other.

I’ll try to make the others beautiful, wrestling tubes of paper left sitting in the corner closet, waiting for their turn since last year.

Christmases after Dad died have been a gradual undoing of all the things this month is supposed to be. The first year I clung to tradition, trying hard to recreate what we used to do in my own tiny living room. Despite the cheese plate breakfast, and matching pajamas, most of the day was spent in a painful fog trying to tend to the tears that just kept coming. Our sink broke. We washed dishes in the bathtub.

I have to search deeper into my memory to recall details as year one became year three. There was a viewing of Die Hard and attempts at new traditions – a family night out at the local theatre to watch It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas. The pressure to feel the good spirits of the season blurred like the white lights on the fence of the highway as we drove home from church on Christmas Eve. I wrote of splitting in two.

There are so many splits in grief.

Before and after.

Pre and post death.

Sorrow and joy.

Gratitude and gut-wrenching pain.

Dad picking up paper as presents get unwrapped and the piles of holiday detritus crinkling on the floor.

Last year, at this time, I wrote of the ‘enoughness’ of attempts at ‘doing’ Christmas. I said no to baking, yes to shopping, and hosted large gatherings with aunts perched on piano benches and grandmas squeezed into chairs at our kitchen table.

And here I sit, at the end of a pandemic year, where I’ve spent most days at home. Our plans, thus far, include Zoom Christmas morning and porch drop offs. I rest in the split between freedom from haunting traditions and the desire to be together, smushed on the couch, in matching pajamas once again.

This weekend, I got out the metal mixing bowl to bake. Mixing molasses and flour and spice, I spent hours shaping stubborn dough into snowflakes. Turns out the piping bags and decorating tips were left at Mom’s house. Instead, I filled a Ziploc bag with frosting and snipped off the tip. The result were less than perfect. Thick lines of frosting oozed from the edges onto the counter below.

When I finished decorating the cookies Dylan said, “Hey, they still taste good.”

That’s where I sit this Christmas season. In the metaphorical, ‘still tastes good’ space.

This season is far from perfect. And yet …

The decorations are bringing me joy. The lights, comfort. Attempts at tradition remain good enough. Opportunities to give back are endless.

And I hold space in the split – for what won’t be, can’t be, shouldn’t be present this season.

Watching the news this morning, I saw a brave 91-year old woman receive the first COVID vaccine in the world. I wept thinking of all the work that interaction took. How exhausted must be the scientists, the health care workers, the teachers and grocers, the delivery drivers who make my life work. Of all the hope the single dose brought, and all the sacrifice it took to get to this point.

I’m not sure what will happen next, but today, sitting near the twinkling white lights, I encourage you to honor the sacrifice. We’ve lost a lot this year.

What still tastes good?

Your answers may be beautiful things.

Choose an Action

I was on a marketing webinar today expecting more of the same.

Ideas for engagement or new ways to sell. I stopped my multi-tasking when the presenter said, “You can start a movement. All you need is to give people actions to take.”

This year has been a mess for so many. I want you to remember mess is part of the process.

Healing comes when we say yes, this is a mess, and still, I want to help.

If you’re in the thick of loss, or the confusion of what small next step to take, simply surviving is enough. Food, shower, maybe a brush through your hair – that is enough.

If you’re on the road and your load is lighter, I’m giving you some actions to take.

This year, I’m morphing previous year’s concept of the Give Light Giveaway.

Choose an action to create good and spark light at the end of the dark year.

Send me proof of your donation, or pictures of your random acts of kindness. I’ll share the results here throughout the month. Contributors will be entered to win a prize pack and I’ll send a few of my favorite things to one random winner.

Choose an action. Let’s start a movement.

Create a seat at the table for a grieving 20-30 something

Give the gift of books to Native communities

Rebuild in Central America

Write a Letter of Encouragement

Give hope to foster families

Commit a Random Act of Kindness

Share your own light

Send me a note about what’s bringing light and love to your circle of influence and I’ll share here and on social media.

It’s easy to feel like we are alone right now and separated from those we love and even our neighbors. As I learned while my husband rewatched Star Wars Episode 9 this week, “They win by making you think you’re alone.”

There have been so many Dark Sides this year. Don’t let them win. We aren’t alone. I’m here. I see you. What action will you take?

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

In posts and on threads, on work chats and check-ins people continue to share their disappointment at not being able to gather this year for Thanksgiving. When listening, my stomach would twinge and my empathy drained. I couldn’t figure out why I was triggered.

Sacrifice of time together for the hope of remaining alive doesn’t feel like sacrifice to me. At least it didn’t. Not six months ago, when were were just getting started. Not two weeks ago when we were told, again, to stay safer at home. I know, this is exhausting. We are tired and lonely and sad. Food and connection are supposed to comfort, not kill.

Today when another colleague shared their deep sadness about missing family dinners, I felt my muscles tense.

“What gives?” I asked under my breath. “Why is this bothering me so much?”

I clicked over to the New York Times website and read Nora McInerny’s brilliant articles titled You Don’t Have to Fake It Through Thanksgiving. She reminded me it took her six years for the holiday season to feel festive again after her husband died. Six years.

I’m approaching year five.

Since, Thanksgiving has felt hard, sad, and a complex mix of hoping for bliss while clinging to gratitude. Nora’s words took me back to my own first Thanksgiving without Dad. I had gone with my in-laws to New York while my mom and my brother went to Texas. The guilt of being away and feeling normal split me in two. The distance between feeling good for minuscule moments while knowing people I love were hurting across the country ripped a canyon within me.

I remember sneaking away after to dinner to call my mom. I slouched on a velvet green couch in the bedroom above the garage and I dialed to connect us from across the country. Our families gathered around tables beneath us, smearing Karo syrup on warm plates. We wiped snot off of cell phone covers.

I spend the holiday season still split in two. Between longing and acceptance. Between people pleasing and taking care of myself. Between disappointing others and berating my attempts of trying too hard.

My empathy has dried up, perhaps, because I’ve been adapting to a different kind of Thanksgiving for a very long time. I haven’t given that longing the attention it deserves.

I’ve run out of patience for the ones who are acting like they are the only ones here for the first time, managing a less than ideal holiday because of forces outside of their control.

You may have to be on Zoom this year, but what about the festive name plates that could never grace your table again? For me, the risk isn’t worth it.

I know this is hard. I know being away from your people is sad. And I ask you to think about the millions of people who have been carrying this weight for a very long time.

I’ve learned to carry my grief like a backpack. Sometimes it’s heavy and full of old baggage. Sometimes light and open and airy. Other times full of boombox tunes that make me smile of Him.

This year the backpack is full of relief, of sadness, and tiny, fluttering threads of hope. We’re a little tattered. It’s ok. The backpack will continue to fill and empty as we go.

Nora’s words reminded me about the freedom we have to face these days however feels good. We don’t have to do the dinner, the fixings, or the mounds of pie. This year isn’t normal. These celebrations don’t have to be normal either. Grief and crisis won’t allow it. And neither will I.

As if you need my permission to allow anything at all.

Order sushi. Call Pizza Hut. Get on Zoom. Break the rules. Skip the parade. Pick up the phone and call a friend. Cling to gratitude but you don’t have to hope for bliss. For me, that’s too high a bar. Instead, blow a kiss from a screen, donate money, mail a card. Write a list of the good and the ordinary magic getting you by.

Pick up your backpack and fill it full of beautiful things.

Poked in the Heart

My muscles were sore from sitting on the floor balancing a plate of Chinese food in my lap. As I ate soggy noodles, three women, tenured family friends, sat perched above me on our worn, blue couch. As we watched an unremarkable movie, I felt safe in the company of people who knew me. People who knew him. People who carried pieces of my dead dad in their life stories too.

We had lost him a few months prior, and when the evening ended, I closed the front door and told Dylan, “I don’t want to go to bed because I feel so good now. I’ve forgotten how to feel good.”

I hadn’t thought of that night in years.

Seven days ago, Dylan called me upstairs with a somber voice. His delivery of a simple ask, “Katie, can you come here?” made my stomach sink.

After a week of addiction addled toggling between CNN and The New York Times websites, my eyes stuck in the red center of the US map as election results slowly ticked in. As the edges of our country turned blue, my heart beat escalated. Again, I sat on the floor, balancing plates on my knees as I watched The Queens Gambit to distract.

“Who died?” I thought. Unfortunately, still my default question.

“Joe Biden won” he said quietly.

Running up the stairs, I demanded he click over to nytimes. com – the news source I’ve been trusting in a sea of false news and fabricated reports.

I wasn’t convinced. Dylan scrawled out the math on an envelope waiting on the nightstand. Electoral votes and percentages and likelihoods of a secured win. Numbers and stats to help with the hope of certainty.

My heart cracked open with a gasp. I watched thousands of strangers dance in the streets with signs and masks and music from my tiny cell phone screen. We toasted gin and tonics as I don’t keep bubbly in my cupboard.

I didn’t want to go to bed last Saturday. I’d forgotten what happy felt like. I’ve been living with dread instead. Grief taught me feelings of elation can pop. Hope dissipates into the sheets as we sleep. It’s likely I’ll wake with big feelings in the morning.

As another week passed, COVID cases jump at alarming rates. People I know receive positive test results and I feel my fingers curling closed in fear. I’ve lectured my mom, and doubled up doses of vitamin D and zinc. Daily, I swallow down words I want to say to people who keep doing whatever the heck they want to do in the name of carpe diem.

As the artist PINK says, “It’s gonna be a long way to happy.”

Last night, with another plate balanced on my knees, we watched the movie 13 Going on 30. After the credits rolled, we turned to YouTube to watch Pat Benatar’s music video for Love is a Battlefield. For thirty minutes, my years of dance classes paid off. I wiggled and pointed my toes and matched the movements of the rock stars with big hair on tv. Dylan laughed and my dog barked. I felt happy. I didn’t want to go to bed.

This year has been scary for all of us. Whether you’re aware of your fears, or are stuffing them down into the fibers of your muscles where your subconscious lives, the reality of living in constant threat is not normal.

Like the first months of grief, I wonder if these intense circumstances will ever pass us by.

But there are moments, in balancing plates, and states turning blue, and dance parties in living rooms, where I am poked in the heart to remember again what it’s like to feel good. What a beautiful thing.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Great news! My friend Annie Herzig designed a sticker for the blog so we can remember to keep searching for beautiful things.

You can get one by choosing your own adventure below:

1) Donate to a nonprofit of your choices that serves children, grief groups, or the arts community. Share proof of your donation with me. You pick the amount that feels good to you.

2) Stick some money in the tip jar. All money raised goes towards paying an editor for the book in progress.

3) If money is tight, commit a random act of kindness and find a way to share your story with me.

Get a sticker. Keep up the search. Forward this to a friend. https://52beautifulthings.com/tip-jar/

Keep on Bouncing

I saw a meme on Instagram.

Using triggered fingertips I typed, “Unfortunately this is not true for everyone. I want it to be true but it’s not that simple.”

I clicked the send button and waited for the blue dots to pop up. I got scared, in the waiting, because Instagram DMs create a vacuum of silence.

Had I ruined the rapport we had built? If we were sorted by past voting records, I’m pretty sure we’d sit on opposite sides of the aisle.

My friend responded, “Is it not true that we can be happy and love others regardless of who wins tomorrow?”

She stopped me in my own defensiveness. My puffed up chest let out a little of the air I had been holding in my lungs.

I was spinning on who determines who gets to love whom, and the individuals lying alone in hospital beds, and systemic oppression and pepper spray flying. Continuing injustices matter to me.

Haven’t we been working on this since a bunch of white guys wrote down the possibility that we could pursue our own happiness? I’m pretty sure there were no women or people of color in that room. Who gets to determine happiness while others continue to suffer?

At the same time, her response hit a nerve, perhaps in a good way.

Of COURSE I should go on loving others and pursuing happiness regardless of who wins this week.

Remember that Power of Ten video we had to watch in middle school? It starts small and as the focus keeps widening, we get further and further out into the universe.

My friend just brought me back to a smaller power of ten. A place where I have more control. How am I treating the people I love? How much am I giving my energy, my fears, my anxiety, to systems that aren’t serving me and definitely leaving out others?

Friends, I have strong opinions about who should be in office next. I am fearful for this week, and what will unfold in the future. It’s hard to find common ground.

And, I do agree! How absurd it is to think we would allow some orange-tinged force, spewing hatred, to stop me in my search for goodness.

Too far? Perhaps I took it too far.

Or to place all of my power in the opposite outcome? How are our forces of ten coming in to play?

On our walk this weekend, we came across two kids who scribbled out a wobbly hopscotch board on the sidewalk. Standing far apart, we asked the small humans if we could hop through their game. They were wearing masks, so I couldn’t tell for sure, but tiny eyes lit up, making me think they were smiling.

I bounced on one foot, hopping back and forth, from one to ten.

Wobble on through. Don’t let them stop you from loving others. Find your sidewalk chalk. It’s not a clear path from one to ten. Keep on bouncing.