In April

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I woke up this morning and there was the wind.  Sometime during the night it had swept through everything, making things right again.  The house was quiet - Orest in the garage fixing a bike, Eloise and Julian in their pajamas making water balloons on the front lawn.  And I noticed there were things I have looked at but never actually seen.  The bushes outside our front door, the house across the street, the palm of my hand.

Last week I felt discouraged that I would never again be able to make a good photograph.  It seemed unlikely that there was an original idea left in the world - every story already written and no new songs left to be sung.

And then it was after dinner and I was sorting laundry, Ray LaMontagne playing from a boombox on the dresser and my favorite song came on.  Gabriel was crawling through the piles of clean clothes on the bed and I picked him up and we slow danced together around the room.  He turned his cheek against my collarbone, I caught a glimpse in the mirror of his little body tucked against mine.  And as we swayed back and forth between the closet and the bed I felt the singularity of that moment so acutely.  It filled me up, it rushed through me like the wind and touched a thousand different places inside.

And I knew: inspiration was not lost.  There will always be a moment that belongs entirely to you.  There will always be a new idea.  There will always be another picture.

It Is Late and the Dunes

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It is summer.  And it is raining.  The days are pressing down with that heavy romantic feeling that makes it impossible to do such mundane things as keep the house clean or put away laundry.  And I move through the hours like a Victorian woman standing at her bedroom window, wishing someone would feed and bathe her children so she might write poetry in the rain.

I am like that friend who laid down in the grass and the grass was so exquisite it made her cry.  A bluebird in a roof gutter, a robin in an overgrown yard.  Even the weeds sprawling from the cracks in the driveway are laden with inspiration.  And so I take long detours to drive past the river, I wear mascara to do last night’s dishes.  I dream of laying on blankets with strangers in the park, telling everyone how beautiful they are.

At night, my heart is too full to sleep.  I try to close my eyes but always on the other side of midnight there are things waiting to be seen.  My children sleeping, a perfect crescent moon.  A rectangle of light from the neighbor’s bedroom window cast against the wall.  A gust of wind, passing through the trees outside, branches like long dark arms that brush against the windowsill and enter the room.  And I am outside smoking cigarettes in the dark like I’m sixteen years old, or wandering around the backyard in my underwear until I’m caught by the motion detector light next door.  Up and down the street, every house light extinguished.  The world so quiet that breathing comes easier than it did before.

Do you remember laying awake at night and watching the headlights move across your bedroom wall?  A cup of water on the windowsill, the sound of adults moving through the rooms downstairs?  Even in this town there are hot muggy nights, sleeping without sheets, a window fan and the sound of a train in the distance.  All the elements for a perfect memory, and I think of my own children and know their childhood will be all right.

It is late and the dunes are a deserted country.  Stripping off our clothes, we run hell-bent into the ocean.  There is laughter, stillness.  A wave that picks you up and pushes you towards shore.  Though you fear the sharks will eat you, the water calls you home.

On How to Feel Alive

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It is 13 degrees outside and the sun is burning through the morning mist that hovers over route 36 where it leads out of town.  It is January.  In another lifetime I am unzipping a tent door to a swath of white on a mountain pass and melting a pot of snow.  Pumping a camp stove that belonged to a youthful version of myself who understood that there were many ways to live.

In this lifetime I am driving into Denver early on a Saturday with the heater on full blast and all the windows down.  This may be as close as I come today to nature’s inexplicable beauty.  The frost brushed on trees, everything an opal radiance.  And even this is enough to remind my soul of all the neglected ways a person might feel alive:

Wake up early, hair wet from the shower.  Throw on a heavy jacket and step into the freezing world to roll the trashcan to the curb.

Drive when no-one else is on the road.

Give people gifts.

Go without sleep until your entire body is tingling with exhaustion and when night comes, share your pillow with that tired, drunken mind.  Wandering in and out of brightly lit rooms, unfolding memories as if they are taking place all around you.

The moon in the dark and a summer lake underneath the moon.  Your face, breaking up from the smooth surface into the moonlight.  Suspended in the warm layer of water closest to the sky, an abyss of shadows beneath you.  That stillness that these days is so impossible to find.

Why I Didn't Text You Back

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Why I didn’t text you back:

I have snuck into the bedroom to sit on the edge of the unmade bed and take a deep breath alone.  There’s the baby, who is crying in my arms, but this still counts as alone.  In the other room my three older children are engaged in a miraculous moment of self-contented play, and I am trying to decide if I should wash the sheets on which the baby has puked massive amounts of breastmilk in the middle of the night.  

The baby has had a bath this morning, which is rare, and I must take this into consideration.  I notice that the cat has also puked on the end of the bed in a neat pile beside where I am sitting and I make a mental note, I will wash the sheets, and the blanket.  I spend a minute contemplating whether all the bedding will fit into the washer at once or if I will have to do two loads.  Then I pretend I have not seen the cat puke, I take out my phone, and remember that I have not texted you back.  

I will pretend the cat puke does not exist and write you back.  I have typed an entire three words into my phone when the bedroom door bursts open.  Eloise is crying because Julian is trying to hit her with a stick.  She runs towards me to dive onto the bed and in a brilliant moment of agility I deflect her body away from the pile of cat puke so that only her sleeve has landed in it.  But Eloise doesn’t understand why I have grabbed her, and I have accidentally scratched her face.  

Eloise is crying because I have scratched her and there is puke all over her arm and she does not care about my explanations about piles of regurgitated cat food on the bed.  This is when I notice that the puke is the same color as whatever was on the bottom of Julian’s foot this morning when I found him in the living room crying, “Poop on my foot Mama.”  I have already searched the entire house for pieces of stray poop, and for a brief moment I allow myself to believe it has only been cat puke all along.  This is wishful thinking, because I’ve spent a good part of the morning crawling on my hands and knees sniffing the oriental carpet and scrubbing the hell out of the areas that smell like human feces.  

Julian has now entered the bedroom with a large stick.  The baby is crying again.  Julian abandons the stick for a bottle of gummy vitamins that he wants me to open.  I explain to him that he can only have one, and he already had one this morning.  Julian is two and doesn’t understand.  He is relentless with the vitamins, shouting “Have one, Mama!!  Have one, Mama!!”  Eloise has stopped crying and has found a ball of yarn on the desk leftover from the donut-eating contest at her 5th birthday party.  She is starting to unwind the string all around the room.  I tell her to stop and she tries to wind the yarn back into a ball but can’t figure out how.  She wants me to show her how to wind the yarn but I am trying to help Julian, who is flailing on the ground with the vitamins.  Eloise is mad at me and the baby is still crying.  I set him on the floor next to a pile of unopened mail and let him chew on receipts.  This will keep him busy for awhile.  Then I hear Moses’s voice from the other room, MAMAAAA……..  

And that is why I didn’t text you back.

This Is The Time

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Laying in bed late at night long after everyone else is sleeping. I am exhausted and wide awake.  Restless with wanting to be doing.  So filled with ideas it feels as if my life is just starting to begin.

I think about slipping out of bed in the dark, but you're nursing in your sleep and I don’t want to leave your side.  And so I bury my face in your hair - even after five months there is still no breath that is deep enough to take in all of you.

This is the time of collecting ideas.  Stringing them end to end as if they are small beads that I have found - behind the dresser, under the bed, in an old tin on top of the piano.  They are precious, hand-carved, engraved with someday soon.

The baby wakes and cries, it is four minutes until midnight and tomorrow I may have ten minutes alone to begin the thing that calls me.

But I can think great thoughts while I clear the dinner dishes.  I can lay in the dark between two sleeping children and write a book without paper, plan a revolution as my thoughts drift into dreams.  I can organize ideas into long list form as they flicker in and out of focus.

In the morning it will be too early.  There will be the cold wood floor, a cup of hot tea.  Birds at war in the yard, the cat stalking an imaginary prey.  The gibberish of squirrels, a human baby quivering with excitement just to be alive.  Watching Moses as he bikes to school, a small boy with tall white socks turning the corner towards the mountains.  And last nights ideas that almost burst me will be hard to find.

Solar Eclipse

The eclipse made me cry and I couldn't figure out the reason - it wasn't happiness, sadness - just an overwhelming wave of emotion that began the minute the moon started to cover the sun.  I wasn't expecting it and had to sit down behind the house where nobody could see me and just breath through the tears.  There was no way to articulate.  Just something happening.  And everyone everywhere watching it happen together.

I Am Not I

Inspirational Poetry Blog - The Pen & Camera - Molly Rees Photo - Black and White Documentary Childhood Photography - Portrait of girl with mud and princess tierra by M. Menschel - I am not I poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez

I am not I.
I am this one walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
who remains calm and silent while I talk,
who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
who takes a walk when I am indoors,
and will remain standing when I die. 

-Juan Ramón Jiménez

On the arrival of Gabriel Ilya Mosijczuk

Writing Blog - The Pen & Camera - Inspirational, Motherhood, Birth, Fresh 48 - Molly Rees Photo - Black and White Documentary ChildhoodPhotography - Portrait of newborn baby asleep in hospital bed by M. Menschel

March 30th, 2017

Gabriel arrived one week and four days ago.  Though it feels inaccurate to call him “eleven days old" as he was doing just fine on his own - eating and sleeping and hiccuping - before he made his appearance in the outside world.  And after meeting him I am easily convinced that he was just as complete a being before any of us conceived of his existence. 

But he is here at last, sweet Gabriel, the tiniest of humans.  In my arms, squirming in your sleep as I write this.  Your little mouth searching animal-like for my breast.  So small I can’t convey your size in pictures, which is causing me panic because I swear you are getting bigger every day.  And already I am feeling that form of nostalgia described so perfectly in the poem by Basho:  Even in Kyoto— hearing the cuckoo's cry— I long for Kyoto.

I didn't sleep much the night before you were born.  And I didn’t sleep more than an hour the night after your birth, or the next day, or the night after that.  It was like I didn’t want to be apart from you, not even in sleep.  I only wanted to lay beside you, your baby skin soft against mine, and look at you.  Memorizing every detail of your face.  Breathing you in.

And sometime in the middle of night number two, things finally clicked into place.  I saw, as if it hadn’t dawned on me before, that what was happening was entirely about you.  This was your fearless beginning - not your beginning into Life itself - but your courageous start into this life-experience, beginning in the small sanctuary of room 450 in the midst of downtown Denver, bundled in white hospital blankets and placed in my arms.

In that 3 a.m. moment it finally became clear that this birth was not about my own experience - not about the night nurses or the hospital bed and the orange sherbet melting on the cafeteria tray.  It was not about those fabulous mesh panties or the disappointing luke-warm drip of the shower or the view from my window of the building next door.  It was not about how many minutes you had nursed and on which side, how long you had slept or who was coming to visit in the morning.  All those things didn’t really matter.  The birth wasn’t even about the experience of birth itself, the accomplishment of labor, that extraordinary feeling of being held and supported in the midst of excruciating pain as you broke free into the world.

This birth was not about any of that.  It was always about you, all along.  Only you.  Your small, upturned face.  Flickering in and out of a smile as you slept beside me.

I knew that in a few hours the sun would come up and the morning would be filled with daytime nurses, phone calls to family, taking pictures and telling the story of your birth.  And soon you would return home to a family whose voices you already knew, the familiar path from room to room, an entire house of small, unwashed hands fighting to hold you, to touch your soft head and put their faces next to yours.  This modest world you have been born into, already prepared, awaiting your arrival.  And life would once again become not only about you but about the world you had entered.  All the mundane things that fill our days competing for attention.

And so I sat in the dark and tried to hold onto that clarity as long as I could.  I thought of my own life next to yours, and time no longer seemed to make sense.  Only 36 years in and how much love and heartbreak these days have held.  Have the years gone quickly, or am I just setting out?  And will your years pass quickly?  What will they hold?  I felt your life ahead like a wave building up around you and I wanted to hold it back, to shelter you, so innocent towards all to come.  And yet here you were, choosing this life.  How very brave of you, I thought.  Such childlike trust, to begin this journey.  To step so completely into the unknown.

A friend once shared with me the idea that somewhere out beyond what we can humanly comprehend, our children are the ones who have chosen us.  Though the truth in that we can never know, when I think about the possibility of it I feel a great honor and a great responsibility.  And I'm filled with a small bit of hope, that if this child chose me they did so knowing all of who I was.  And maybe it's okay that I'm not yet perfect.  In spite of my struggles, my fall-outs, my weaknesses, they chose me to be their mom.

Looking into your tiny face that night - just barely over twenty-four hours old - and thinking of all this, something inside of me shifted.  I felt such gratitude that I might be given again this chance to be a mother.  To love a child unconditionally.  And all the small injustices, the grudges I’ve held, all my fears and regrets seemed so paper-thin, so insubstantial that I saw they had been unnecessary all along.  I wanted to promise you, from now on, only Love.  In this household, in this family, only love.  I put my face next to yours and laid very still.  “Only love,” I whispered, though it felt foolish to be making promises so early.  But I wanted the chance to keep this one as best I could.

I stayed like that for a long time, in awe of you.  In complete wonder that in the midst of such a messy, worn-out world, another life was just beginning.  A new child was starting out with everything still before him.  It seemed such a contradiction, such a miracle.  And I remember thinking to the Divine, Ah, how very wise of you. To keep me up for two nights straight so that I might finally glimpse what this moment is actually all about.

Small Things

Blog - The Pen & Camera - Inspirational, Writing, New England - Molly Rees Photo - Documentary Childhood Photography - girl with sailboat by basin on Plum Island in Newburyport Massachusetts by M. Menschel

Sitting in a dirt parking lot in the front seat of my mother's car by the wharf - the windows rolled down, Julian asleep in the back.  There is a waft of fried seafood, the cry of a gull as it lands on the roof of the restaurant down the pier.  I am watching two Japanese tourists taking photos of a marble sculpture after examining every angle with great care, and I am eating an almost-ripe banana, tasting every bite.

And I realize that this is all I need.  To watch someone else walk along the water, or sit with their companion on a park bench taking cellphone photos of the boats.  To be able to see other people in the distance, conversing over fried clam rolls and lobster in the outdoor seating area of the restaurant that hangs over the bay.

A quiet moment alone in this part of the country that feels most like home.  The narrow colonial streets.  The smell of autumn.  How I always took the small idiosyncrasies of New England for granted until I moved away, had three small children and couldn’t afford the trips home.  So then by necessity home had to become something different, something new.

I remember that urgent, panicked feeling I used to have of needing to do something all the time.  Everything all at once, like every moment was fleeting.  I remember, twenty-one years old, when it felt like some kind of fire ran through my blood that could not be quenched.  Flying into San Francisco after my first trip to Kauai and waking up that first morning on the mainland, how I walked several hours from the apartment where I was staying to the shoreline and ran straight into the ocean in all my clothes.  Revisiting the giant body of the Pacific Ocean as if just that one day of travel had already been too long that I had been away.  A week later on my drive home across the country, reaching the Grand Canyon just before sunset and descending to the bottom of the canyon to spend the night alone amidst that vast expanse of solitude.  Running, galloping, the entire ten miles in my flip flops with nothing but a water bottle and a sleeping bag.  Like a palpable need, my feet almost aching for the dusty red dirt of the trail.   

If it were still then, I might drive my mother's car in the middle of the night back to the town I grew up in and slip a canoe into the moon-lit Squannacook river to lay on the bottom of the boat and listen to the water lap against the side.  I might dive into the Newburyport ocean - even though it is fall in New England and the water is frigid - just to taste the salt water and stand afterwards on the shore with the prickly ocean air drying my skin.

But I have been here three days, and I am just now heading down to see the ocean.  I can’t even see it, really, except for a small patch to the left of the ticket-office and to the right of a grassy hill.  The road to the public beach is closed off, and Julian fell asleep in his carseat before we could find a different route to the water.  But I can smell it and I know that it is there.  That it exists now and will continue to exist.  And I have no urge to run to the rivers I grew up on, to revisit every memory, to see every person that I have spent years only thinking about.  Maybe a small urge, but mostly I am just content.  Happy to sit at the edge of the pier and listen to the seagulls and the cars passing over the bridge by the wharf.  To eat a banana slowly and feel the wind blow off the water and into the passenger seat of this car.

mom with julian

mom with julian

And I know that later I will drive to Plum Island and unstrap Julian from his carseat.  I will leave my shoes at the edge of the parking lot and Julian will laugh with delight at the roar of the tide coming in.  He will dig his hands in the sand and rub his eyes with his sandy fists and cry - and we will lay together on a thin towel beside the water while he nurses, his small body turned towards mine, his bare feet pressed against my stomach, bits of sand stuck to his nose and in his eye-lashes, the wind passing above us as the air turns cold at the end of day.  And that will be my equivalent of a night spent alone beside the rush of the Colorado River at the bottom of an empty canyon.  It will fill me up in the same way.  Just as when I am back in Denver again standing in the yard late at night I am filled with almost the same feeling of standing under the moon beside a tent in the White Mountains after everyone else has fallen asleep.  They are small things now - a cup of tea on a cold morning before Julian awakes - which remind me of the depth and majesty of this world.

We Wake

Writing Blog - The Pen & Camera - Molly Rees Photo - Black and White Documentary Childhood Photography - night time portrait of baby boy asleep on fathers shoulder in Grand Lake Colorado by M. Menschel

We wake in the morning when the world is still quiet and wear our pajamas down to the river.  In the evening we are carried across fields of sagebrush in our father's arms.  While everyone else is sleeping, we take out our suffering and unroll it like a rug.  We try to understand - what it is.  And find our way out of it.  Without ignoring the things it is trying to tell us.

Who Can Say

Blog - The Pen & Camera - Inspirational, Spirituality, Denver, Colorado, Writing - Molly Rees Photo - Black and White Documentary Childhood Photography - flooded front porch with boots in rain puddle by M. Menschel

Sitting outside the open kitchen door at the onset of evening.  The light from the kitchen window catches on a ribbon, a remnant from the last baby shower, as it dances in the wind.  The wind, arriving first before the thunder and the rain - whipping through the yard.  The young poplars almost bending to the ground then springing back as if in joyful defiance to the coming storm.  They know, perhaps, the depth of their own roots and the sinew of their own form, how much their branches can give and if they were rigid, how they would break.

I am nursing Julian in the old velvet rocker on the front porch until it starts to flood.  Which it always does.  I am picking up all the doormats as the rivulets of water rush in towards each other across the dusty cement.  Julian has crawled outside to the line where the rain begins, is covering an old paperback book with dirt.

How are we the same as the trees?  How am I deepening my roots, practicing my flexibility?  Sometimes it takes a force larger than yourself to feel whole again.  Who can say that a spiritual life is not important if they have sat at the edge of a storm and watched the trees in the wind.

April 10th, 2016

Blog - The Pen & Camera - Gratitude Journal, Inspirational, Writing - Molly Rees Photo - Black and White Documentary Childhood Photography - portrait of young boy outside in rain by M. Menschel

Thank you for Jules sitting by the open kitchen door with his face turned skyward, watching the rain.  For the cold drops soaking the new grass, tapping against the kitchen skylight, falling outside our open bedroom window as Eloise and Moses burrow under their covers and go to sleep.

Thank you for time alone with Julian at the end of the day when the house is quiet.  How he crawls into my arms, his face filled with trust and adoration.  I have not yet done anything to compromise this devotion - I haven’t yelled in frustration, hurried him into a carseat, caused him to scowl at me or ordered a time-out while he kicks and screams at the bathroom door.  Tonight, as Julian grinned and tumbled over me he reminded me of Moses, who only six years ago was just as new.  When we were each others whole world, and he could do no wrong.  I wanted at that moment to go into Moses's bedroom and crawl into his bunk bed just to be close to him.  To promise myself that I would treat him still like I treated him then.  And I asked myself, are there parents who can do this?  Who are truly able to always hold their children in that same forgiving space that they held them in when they first arrived?  Can I be more patient, more allowing, more celebratory of his wild childhood joy?  Instead of being quick to tell him what to do or not to do, can I appreciate more his ecstatic and spirited expression of life?

Thank you for sharing a table today with seven women and their cameras at Kelley’s husbands pizza shop.  For the feeling of a life rich with good people.  How it reminded me tonight of living in the jungle in Hawaii - so astounded at how many good people came in and out of each day that I started making lists in my journal every night of all the new people I had met.  And I love that if I were to go back and dig out that journal now, I would find Orest’s name at the end of one of those lists.  April 1st, if I remember correctly.  And it is April again now, another year gone by.


Blog - The Pen & Camera - Inspirational, Poetry, Writing, Denver, Colorado - Molly Rees Photo - Black and White Documentary Childhood Photography - portrait of girl in summer shadow by M. Menschel Messenger poem by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird-
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old?  Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

                                                  - Mary Oliver


April 6th, 2016

Blog - The Pen & Camera - Gratitude Journal, Inspirational, Writing, Denver, Colorado - Black and White Documentary Childhood Photography - kids playing soccer

Thank you for Julian, who watches with excitement as I fold the laundry.  His hands opening and closing in anticipation; a shriek of delight at the billow of a clean sheet as it hangs for a moment in the air.

Thank you for Orest in the distance as I walked towards the soccer field this evening - Eloise on his shoulders with her hands clamped to his forehead, parents already camped out on the sidelines, squinting into the 6pm light as the wind comes off Sloans Lake in wild gusts.  It is the first practice and our team is a band of raggedy six-year-olds swarming after the soccer ball.  Knocking each other over, pausing to do a cartwheel, or just standing in the middle of the fray as the ball rolls by, as if trying to remember why they are there.  It feels like the beginning of a classic little league movie - an unlikely crew of misfits destined for greatness.  Where every kid is either picking his nose or balling his eyes eyes out, but you know they are going to grow up together and end up winning the World Series.

Thank you for Ibrahim who met us on the curb outside his parents house and handed us the keys to his ’99 Land Cruiser.  A big, ugly beast of a car that smelled like old leather and spicy after-shave and had somehow replaced our more practical notion of buying a mini-van.  It was the kind of car you buy for sentimental reasons - because you grew up riding around in the back of the same car, like Ibrahim did, when he was a kid in Iraq.  Or because should you need to (As Orest pointed out) you could use it to drive up the side of a rocky mountain to escape the zombie apocalypse.  “It’s okay if you crash it,” he whispered as I left for a test drive, "because then we'll have to buy it.”

I drove it carefully around the block and then pulled over on the side of the road to sit in the wide backseat by myself.  I tried to imagine that I was a kid, and this was the car I grew up in.   And I hated to say it, but it was not a bad thing to imagine.  When we were back at home sitting in our living room and trying to be reasonable, I said to Orest, “I think we better call him and let him know that we want to buy it.”  His eyes lit up like a little kid, unable to contain his excitement.  And he actually jumped into the air, which I have not seen him do since the day in the ultrasound room six years ago when we found out Moses was a boy.

March 30th, 2016

Blog - The Pen & Camera - Gratitude Journal, Denver, Colorado, Colfax - Black and White Documentary Childhood Photography - boy in snowy trees

Thank you for the snowfall this afternoon, fat flakes falling on a green lawn that made it seem like it was not snow but something different altogether.  A strange and unexplainable summertime phenomenon.  Like magic.

Thank you for Colfax, where a person might strap a boom-box to their wheelchair and spend the entire day camped out at the bus station outside EZ Pawn.  And three times a day you can hear the bells on the pushcart of an older Mexican man selling popsicles in the street outside our house.

March 24th, 2016

Blog - The Pen & Camera - Gratitude Journal, Inspirational, Writing, Denver, Colorado, Farm Festival - Molly Rees Photo -  Documentary Photography - portrait of woman with chicken by M. Menschel

Thank you for Eloise, hiding her glass of orange juice in the cupboard where the fancy goblets are stored.  And thank you for a phone call late last night with Alya, how she filled me in on two weeks worth of gossip, made me laugh so hard I woke up Jules, and left me feeling like everything was okay.