Tag Archives: family

Little Deer

So, we went and had another baby. About eleven weeks ago, a second son.

Rosario Oisin was born on a snowy December morning, with a left hand such an alarming shade of purple I could not look away until it faded into a more reasonable representation of human flesh. He is named for his singular Auntie Rose of course, who will never hold him, but who is, as his big brother says while waving his hands around his small body, everywhere. He is also named for that legendary warrior and poet of Ireland, son of Fionn mac Cumhaill, and that name (Oh-Sheen) means Little Deer. So yeah, kind of big name for a little guy, which may be why his brother Atticus Beren (no stranger to grand names himself) calls him Ozzie, or, when upset, simply “him” or “it” (as in, dada take it).

The Little Deer currently has eyes the color of polished juniper berries, a velvety head that begs for a cheek to rub against, and the snore of an old man. He smiles a lot, revealing the hint of a dimple on the right, has limited control over the spastic motions enjoyed by his arms and legs, and speaks only whale.

We’re so lucky to have him.


My grandmother, Helen Mae, passed away last week. Laying in bed the night she died, stroking the soft fur on my dog’s ears, I pictured her own skillful hands, doing what they did over the years. I can picture them so clearly — shuffling through photographs of her latest trip, deftly completing crossword puzzles in pen, measuring baking ingredients, writing letters, smoothing her cropped hair.

Displaying IMG_8766.JPGgrandma in glacierMy grandmother was an incredibly smart and capable woman. She set high standards for herself and others and had a very logical mind, but she was an artist, too — though I doubt she’d ever be bold enough to claim that title — and an animal lover. She volunteered in the hospital where my grandfather worked for years, and although she was modest, even self-effacing at times, I think her family would agree she basically completed every attempted project perfectly, even if it took a few attempts. She never shied from a challenge.

Though her at-home cuisine remained remarkably unchanged over the years, she was willing to try nearly any new experience on her many travels with my grandfather, and we have photographs of her rafting the Grand Canyon in her seventies, riding camels and holding enormous boa constrictors, hiking up Ayers Rock, riding in a hot air balloon, and dancing to Michael Jackson at my wedding. This is a woman who picked up Zumba and line-dancing in her late eighties, right around the time she started winning costume party competitions.

Together my grandparents traveled all over the world, collecting art and artifacts and learning about other cultures and histories with a great appreciation for fine artistry. But she loved being at home, too, and I most often imagine her tucked in the nook of her great, red leather couch. She kept an immaculate house, and I’ve never met someone more organized, thrifty, and precise — not surprising considering her degree was in chemistry (Summa Cum Laude), and she was married to a surgeon for sixty years. She also had a deep enthusiasm for chocolate.

Although she and my grandfather moved to Arizona later in life, and she spent her last years in Florida, it is their house in Madison that holds the bulk of my memories of her. Marigolds and Johnny-jump-ups in the front garden, ghostly white hydrangeas in the back, swaying in a breeze heavy with the smell of the lake across the lawn my cousins and siblings and I spent so many seasons running across. In my mind, I know every inch of that house, every artifact, window, and light fixture, and she fills every space in an apron, silver belt, or checkered shirt.

My grandma had a great sense of humor, and although I don’t remember her being particularly cuddly in my youth, she became more so in her later years — always reaching for your hand on a walk, or sitting thigh to thigh on the couch, laughing at a joke or anecdote.

These are just some of the many things we will miss about her.

And although her passing has left her children and grandchildren bereft, her death was not a tragic one — unlike so many others recently. She lived a long, full life, mentally and physically spry and largely independent until the very end, and at nearly 91, she embraced her final adventure with characteristic humor, grace, and practicality. She loved and was well-loved, and was at peace and without pain in her final days. Her’s is a life to celebrate.

grs yale

Give My Love To Rose

It’s been a week since my sister-in-law Rosaleen passed away following a second, shockingly fast bout of the Hodgkin’s lymphoma we all thought she beat earlier in the year. I honestly still can’t make sense of this, can’t find the words, it still feels so unbelievable, the bad dream anyone who has lost someone they love is so sadly familiar.

I did not know Rose for as long, or undoubtedly as deeply, as some, but I did love her fiercely, and immediately. She was just that kind of chick.

We scoped each other out from a distance long before we actually met in person, with a kind of curiosity, excitement, and natural insurance that me getting with her big brother was going to be a really good thing for all of us.

Our first direct communication involved our deep and mutual love for Last of the Mohicans — a movie she watched literally every single morning of one summer vacation, while across the country my teenage self beaded bone chokers, wore moccasins, and listened to the soundtrack on repeat while sitting under an entire wall plastered with related posters.

That was the first of an infinite number of things we had in common, and I think we were both genuinely grateful and really excited to be sisters, forever.


In that way, with Rose, I lived more in the future than the past . . . imaging decades of holidays together along with Rob, our brother, the worthy love of her life. Of vacations, perhaps even of living in the same town, raising children together. I was saving all of our son’s best fox and dinosaur outfits for her. All the books she sent to him. 

The world seems a little dimmer without her, without that vision of a shared future. Already there are so many things I want to talk to her about.

Because Rose was that perfect mix of both totally unsentimental and completely sentimental when a thing or moment was worthy. She possessed my favorite combination of having exceptional taste in all things literary, musical, culinary, and fashion-oriented, but was also able to appreciate, even revel in, the best of low-brow, dirty cheese, and quirk. She could talk pop culture, bad TV, and celebrities. She unabashedly loved that canine abomination Boo for Pete’s sake.

She was tough and sassy and stubborn and always spoke her mind. She called bullshit when she saw it, and had no tolerance for it. She did not suffer fools.

But she was kind, so kind, and generous with her love and loyalty. She was whip smart, passionate, and witty. She knew something about everything. She could do the best Jersey mom accent, make a bangin’ 80’s mix, and wear the hell out of bright red and hot pink lipstick. She was both cool and goofy.

She loved children and was amazing at teaching them about the science and heart of the world. She was a voracious reader, a frenzied dancer, the best kind of friend, wife, sister, daughter, and role model. She was, and always will be brave, vibrant, and beautiful. I’m going to miss the hell out of her. I already do.

She leaves holes in hundreds of hearts, but also the memories to refill them again and again, like so many thirsty cups. We are all of us so much better for knowing her.

I am heartbroken that Atticus will never feel her embrace again, or get called out for bad behavior, or hold her hand on a walk through the woods.That he’ll never be able to crawl into her lap for a bedtime story.

But we will talk about her. We will remember. He will know her.

Rosie will be the heroine of our most adventurous tales. She will make mischief and mend hearts. Hold lightening in her veins. Climb mountains, crawl in bear dens, and pull monkeys’ tails. She’ll fight ogres, outsmart wizards, and stand up to bullies. She’ll lead sharp V-shaped flocks of geese to warmer climates in the fall, and leave strings of tiny foot prints like long necklaces in the new snow.

And when the wind blows through the trees and ruffles their leaves in gentle applause, he will know that’s just Auntie Rose saying hello.

Every day.

auntie rose

Human Experimentation: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Ice-Obsessed

I come from a family of self-experimenters. Well, okay, I come from a self-diagnosing mama, anyway, and by genetics or preference have embraced that tradition. My mom and I are always “testing” new things out on our bodies and minds. Experimenting with meditation, eating various wonder seeds and oils, vinegar, weird enzymes, cherry juice, crushed and encapsulized herbs, movement techniques, posture, accupressure… we’re pretty much willing to try anything for a potential (life! changing!) health benefit.

The nature of experimentation is that it is a gamble. And our family now has a classic cautionary tale as a result of such a gamble. For years I was told that the women in our family had “too much iron” in our blood, and that we shouldn’t add to it with supplements. This is mostly because my aunt had an issue with Hemochromatosis, and my mom either assumed that was a kind of sister condition, or was told it was an issue she probably had too.

Cut to twenty years later.

I’m home from college for the holidays, listening to my mom say how unbelievable tired she is all the time. Not only that, I notice she is really, really into chewing on ice. And not just any ice. It had to be perfectly half-frozen mineral water. When asked my little sister, still living at home, confirmed that our mother was becoming obsessed with freezing said water in bottles, then repeatedly shaking said bottles, and crunching said ice, day and night.

It took a bit for any of us to realize that her behavior was more than a little odd.  (I mean, we all like our special little snacks, right?) Eventually she saw a doctor for her fatigue, was told she basically had NO iron left in her blood, and was asked how was she even walking. She was also told that all that compulsive ice-chewing was a form of pica disorder, in which severely anemic patients eat non-food items. We were all grateful that at least her weak blood hadn’t compelled her to eat dirt, chalk, clay, or paint chips, and we all had a good long laugh. Though indeed a cautionary tale, the ice-crunching era did not deter us from continuing our tradition of self-diagnosis and experimentation.

I once asked my mom if, hypothetically, she would prepare my (hypothetical) placenta for my consumption if any medical proof arose that the consumption of afterbirth really did help with postpartum related woes, and being the awesome and health-adventurous mama she is, she (hypothetically) agreed.

[Note: 1. While some hippies tote the benefits, to my knowledge there is no clinical evidence eating placenta is good for you, though plenty of wild mammals seem to think it plenty tasty. 2. Theoretical preparation of said placenta involves a dehydration, pulverization, and encapsulation process, and does in no way involve eating a placental steak. 3. I am NOT pregnant.]

But I digress. Point being, it is easy to pop some vitamins, or take a bath in salty milk, or drink vinegar, or stare at a candle for an hour and see what happens. Even choking down a placenta seems withing the realm of semi-reasonable self-experimentation, when compared to say, infecting yourself with hook worms, or strapping radium salts to your arm and observing the resulting chemical burn.

I may dabble in self-diagnosis and experimental treatments, but some scientists make a career out of it. Okay, and some die from it, too.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the history of human experimentation. If you’re at all curious (as you should be) what that entailed, watch my latest SciShow video here:


You’ll see that self-experimentation is sort of the odd high-point to an otherwise often dubious series of events and discoveries. Sure, lots and lots of important, life-saving, revolutionary medical and scientific discoveries inevitably had to have some level of human subject testing in their making. Unfortunately, that shit wasn’t always voluntary, and got pretty messed up a lot of the time. And I’m not even talking about the obvious stuff (Nazis, Unit 731, etc.)

Ahh… but self-experimentation… that takes cojones. And conviction. Yeah, and maybe ego, which I suppose is some version of cojones + conviction anyway. Or a death wish. Either way, when you swallow that petri dish of bacteria, or zap yourself with gamma rays, you never know if it is going to lead to a Nobel Prize, or death, or a distinct green coloration a steroidal rage issue. It’s a mixed bag.