The Swarm

My mom spent her growing-up years on a farm north of Orrville, Ohio. It doesn’t seem very far out of town now, with reliable cars that zip up to 60 miles an hour in no time at all, but it probably seemed more remote in the 40s. When she married Dad, she moved to Rittman. While not a metropolis by any stretch, there were always neighbors close enough to holler to, and later on, there were even sidewalks in front of the house.

When she built onto our house and moved out here to stay with us, she talked a lot about living in the country again. She mostly liked it, and she loved the sunsets. She hadn’t lived in a west-facing house for decades, and now she could sit on her front porch for the show. More than occasionally, I’d see the beginnings of a magnificent sunset, run out toward her apartment to tell her, and find her on the sidewalk, scurrying to the house to tell us.

She did not, however, like the birds. We get great flocks of them out here, more often at the change of the seasons, and they swarm and swirl around the house in dark flurries. She didn’t ever explain, but I think it felt sinister to her somehow.

The birds were back this morning, picking over a fresh-mown hayfield as I walked back the lane from meeting the school bus. They always remind me of Mom now, but … I like them.


I like their instant flight from stillness, and the harried thrumming as they gather speed. I like seeing them picking away at the leavings insignificant to the farmer, and knowing it will sustain them. I like the way they are individuals, and the way that they are not; the way the swarm lifts and turns in graceful arcs, one entity, controlled by things I don’t understand.

I even like knowing that Mom didn’t like them, because those are the things that make up a life. The tiny, the mundane, the petty – they’re how we know each other. They’re the separate bits that make up the gorgeous, intimidating swarm. And I do love the swarm.


Levi …


is eight today.

is crazy.

got a sleeping bag from his Auntie and couldn’t have been happier if she’d given him the Chicago Cubs.

can’t wait for school tomorrow.

traded his red jumbo Angry Bird for the bomb bird because it made his little brother happy.

is maybe a teensy bit obsessed with Minecraft.

likes math best, after lunch. And recess.

likes to go with Papa. Anywhere.

kisses his mama on the forehead every night. Not because he likes it so much, but because she does.

It’s a Big Day

I was just getting in the car and my phone rang.

Me: Hello?
E: Mom? When are you coming home?
Me: Ten minutes.
E: Ten minutes? Do you promise?
Me: Yes. Ten minutes.
E: Ten minutes.
Me: Ten. Minutes.
E: <siiiiiiiiiiigh> Okay.

Isn’t he a darling? Doesn’t he love his mother? And yearn for her at every moment? Isn’t it dear?


Did I forget to mention that he gets his birthday present as soon as I get home from the gym this morning?

Happy Six, you mercenary little punk!

Congratulations Are In Order

And two of Grandma’s boys are going to have to learn to share. Grandma Zollinger is getting married!

It was announced at her church today, and we are so happy that we got to be there to enjoy this morning with her and share in the fun as her church family congratulated her.

We know her intended, Lyman, from visits to Florida. Lyman and his late wife Vivian lived in Michigan but wintered in Florida for many years and were good friends with Paul’s parents.

We’re pretty happy for Grandma (and Lyman too!). I keep thinking of a song that my brother Alan sang at the wedding of some folks he knew that also got married a little bit later than usual.

Enjoy yourself; it’s later than you think. Enjoy yourself while you’re still in the pink! The years roll by as quickly as you wink; enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!

All very best wishes to Grandma and Lyman! We love you.


I went to Goodwill yesterday to see if I could find gym shoes for the boys. I know why the school asks for them and I understand it and I’m a good citizen etc. etc. but they will wear these shoes twice a week for an hour for the school year – if they don’t outgrow them in the first two months – and paying money for them causes me actual physical pain. We have a shoe tote with hand-me-downs (if you have contributed, may God richly bless you, seriously), but they are all too big. So I was trying to see how little money I could get away with.

Goodwill did not have appropriate shoes. However, as I was walking past the toy section, I saw two basketball-size Angry Birds plushy toys. I picked them up. They didn’t smell of anything objectionable. They looked clean. I could walk out of the store having spent a grand total of $3, and the boys have birthdays coming up.


I was on my way in to work, so I put the bag in the backseat, thinking to myself how I needed to remember to sneak it into the house that night after they were in bed.

This morning I sent the boys out into the garage to get in the car and buckle up. They bounced back through the door two seconds later, bellowing, “MOM!! WHO ARE THE ANGRY BIRDS FOR?”


I just refused to discuss it as I carried the bag indoors, which is probably not a good strategy, but I panicked, okay? Levi was after me like a bloodhound on the scent, and as the door into the house was swinging shut, I heard Elias say, “Levi! Don’t make her mad. They might be BIRTHDAY PRESENTS!”

I came back out to two angelic figures in the backseat, buckled in without protest and sitting quietly, hands to themselves.

So the Angry Birds projectiles (you know that’s what they’ll be, right?) are no longer a surprise. At least they don’t know about the new Minecraft stuff. Yet.

Cycle for Life

Well, it’s that time again.

(To donate to CF research without listening to my rambling, click here to support Carol or support Paul!)

By “that time” I mean that Paul and I have registered for our annual Cycle for Life ride to raise money for cystic fibrosis research, but we’ve done absolutely nothing else. We’ve raised zero dollars between us, and we’ve made the ride organizers sufficiently nervous that they’ve sent us a lovely, gentle reminder e-mail. Also an annual occurrence. (I’m sorry, guys. We love this cause, but we are both terrible procrastinators.)

We did actually get on our bikes, which is something.


Nobody is going for hero status this year, and we’re both riding the 10-mile course, so I don’t expect to end up whining to you while balancing frozen vegetables on my thighs.

Paul would be delighted to out-fundraise me this year, which he has *coughcough* never done. If you think that would be fun, donate to his ride.

If you’re more into the status quo and the correct balance of the universe, feel free to donate to my ride.

In all seriousness, if you are in a position to donate toward cystic fibrosis research, we’d be ever so grateful for your contribution. Changes in quality of life and life expectancy for kids with CF have changed exponentially over the past few decades, but it’s still a terminal, progressive disease. And it still requires a lot of management. We think a cure is in sight, and you can help.

If you’re feeling especially fiesty, join our team (Riding for Levi) and ride with us on Saturday, September 10. There are chicken wings at the finish line!

And if all you’re in a position to send is your everlasting good wishes, we’ll take those, too, with grateful hearts.

All our love and thanks in advance.

Seven Chapters In

I’ve been trying to read a book, and I’m having a lot of trouble getting through it. I’m seven chapters in after an entire month.

The problem is not time. Maybe a little, but I’m finding time to read again these days. The problem isn’t the writing. It’s well done, and I am in fact attempting to learn from that as I go along. I actually got to have dinner with the author and hear her speak, and she is a delight. I really want to like this book. I do like this book. I just don’t know if I can finish it.

It’s a memoir of the author’s first marriage, to a young man with cystic fibrosis. You can guess the ending, right?


I brought this home with me the night I met Liz and I kept intending to start it. That was months ago. Many, many months.

I’m in it now, you guys, and it is hammering me.

We have been living for a little while in a pleasant little vale, where cystic fibrosis does not matter much in our day-to-day lives. Sure, we fit in 75 minutes of treatments every day and Levi takes enough pills at breakfast to choke a baby elephant, but that’s just what we do. We’re used to it and it feels normal and on we go, whistling as we work.

This book just terrifies me.

I am terrified of the time that is going to come when Levi leaves my house and I can no longer know for sure that he is doing every possible thing to take care of himself.

I am terrified that he is going to fall in love with someone who can’t handle a diagnosis like this and his heart will be broken. I am terrified that he will fall in love with someone who can handle a diagnosis like this and he won’t need me anymore, and then what will I do? If there’s a future me that doesn’t constantly worry about Levi’s lung function and the future and whether he’s had his enzymes, I’m not sure I’ll recognize myself when I meet me. Someday he’s going to check in to the hospital and it not only won’t be my responsibility to stay with him, it won’t be my right.


Levi in 2012, during a visit to the CF center.

Most of all, I am terrified that the cure is not coming fast enough or cheaply enough or in just the right way for his gene mutation. That all the walking and cycling and fundraising will not have been enough. And this vibrant little voice will be silenced way too soon.


I just can’t stand it.

So I do not know if I can finish this book. I already know the ending, but I don’t know if I can handle the journey. I can’t decide whether this means that I know my limits or I am a sniveling coward, and I don’t want to think about the answer very hard, which is probably answer enough.

Orson Welles said a happy ending depends on where you stop the story. I think, for now, it will have to be enough that our story hasn’t ended. There is still happy in front of us.

And I can decide about chapter eight tomorrow.



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