FISTBUMP’s Biggest U.S. Fans

Several months ago Camille began a deep dive into the world of K-pop, short for Korean Pop. K-pop and J-pop (Japanese pop) are essentially Asian versions of boy bands and girl bands that are highly curated, managed, promoted, and adored. When I first learned about them I likened them to New Kids on the Block or Backstreet Boys, but I’ve since realized there’s a whole lot more to the fan culture. I’ve had fun going down the rabbit hole with Camille, and our K-pop experience in Japan revealed that we still have much to learn.

Camille’s favorite K-pop group, and consequently my favorite group, is Stray Kids. They’re 8 adorable guys who can sing, rap, and seriously dance in front of thousands of screaming fans, and then also release social media videos of themselves being ridiculously silly and cute and so so fun. You simultaneously want to see them in concert in a giant arena and then invite them out for milkshakes and a night of bowling because they seem so down-to-earth and relatable.

One of our first K-pop moments in Japan was when Camille encountered a life-size cardboard cut out of the members of Stray Kids in a shopping mall – she may or may not have squealed when she saw it (she totally did).

So naturally, while in Japan we made time for a side trek to Shin-Okubo, Tokyo’s version of Korea town. Y’all. The K-pop boy band scene there was INTENSE.

It’s not enough to have K-pop billboards on the sides of buildings – there are also giant LED billboards on trucks rolling along the streets advertising K-pop and J-pop idols. Store after store stocked nothing but K-pop merch, plastering their walls with posters of beautiful boys and girls, photo cards you can collect of your favorite members and trade at concerts, handheld fans with life-size pictures of the idol’s heads (some in silly costumes) … it goes on.

Stray Kids just celebrated their 6th anniversary as a group, and one store erected this massive shrine to the boys, complete with photos of each member from infancy to stardom. This is the level of fanaticism we encountered.

As the three of us sat in a cafe in Shin-Okubo sipping boba tea and taro lattes, on a whim I googled for local venues offering K-pop shows we could attend. Turns out we were around the corner from Showbox, a K-pop venue offering multiple shows each evening for underground bands trying to break through. This wouldn’t be like seeing a huge K-pop group in an arena, but appealing in its own way for the intimacy of the experience. And who knows – you may see a band that makes it big and you can say you knew them when…

A band called FISTBUMP was scheduled to perform in 2 hours, but it wasn’t clear if tickets were available or how we could buy them. So, we decided to amble over to Showbox and assess the situation. What unfolded was a fun, hysterical, magical night which Camille says was the highlight of her entire trip.

This was also the point of the trip when we felt most like the foreigners and outsiders we were. It was clear from the first moment that rules and protocols were being observed and we were clueless. Unlike other touristy experiences, there was no one offering guidance in English so we were at the mercy of google translate and the kindness of strangers to navigate the adventure.

The venue was a small, two-story building on a side street with double doors to the concert area and, unfortunately, no box office we could locate. Instead we used google translate to ask the people gathered there if we could buy tickets, which seemed to confuse everyone. Finally a staff member pulled out her own phone and typed that we should return at 7:40 before the 8 p.m. show.

We still had no clue if tickets were available, but decided to go with the flow and hope for the best. Lee, sensing this was not an experience tailored to males but happy for us to have the adventure, caught a train back to our rental and left us to our shenanigans. Unsure what else to do, Camille and I bounced around Shin-Okubo for an hour or so waiting for showtime.

Around 7:30, we arrived back at the venue and found four young ladies standing at the door. Relying again on google translate, we asked if they were there to see FISTBUMP. They were!! It was our first sign we were on the right track. As we waited for whatever would happen next, at first I felt conspicuously old next to my teenage daughter and these four other young women. But as we got closer to show time more people arrived, and quite a few were my age or older which both comforted and surprised me.

When the doors opened at 7:40 and we approached, an employee took one glance at us and asked, “First time?”

Obviously,” I wanted to say, knowing we stood out for our Americanness and our awkwardness. We nodded yes, and she handed us a ticket with instructions in Japanese. With the help of google translate we understood that we needed to sign in and then we could attend our first show without a ticket for free.

Now inside, we found a small stage in front of about 50 chairs, and snagged two seats on the second row at the aisle. What completely baffled me though was the behavior of all the women who’d already found their seats, including the older ones. Out came makeup bags, mirrors, and cordless flat irons. They primped. They preened. They giggled. There were about 25 people total in the audience, and all of them (except us) were busily touching up makeup and hair.

There were signs all over the walls forbidding photography, but these women were setting up tripods for their phones and some even had big SLR cameras with telephoto zoom lenses. We could reach out and touch the stage from where we were sitting so these lenses, worthy of an African safari, seemed a bit much – but what did we know?

At 8:00, the curtains parted to reveal one young male singer clutching a microphone stand. To my surprise and unlike most club shows in the U.S., the audience was quiet, but by no means disengaged. As we came to learn, it would be considered rude to yell or scream or do anything to detract from the song about to be sung. He crooned a ballad in Korean while we grinned sheepishly from the second row.

As soon as his song ended, three other band members came to the stage and all the women in the audience stood up, so we did, too. The ladies pulled out their cameras and adjusted their tripods as a helpful woman in the first row turned around and gestured that we could do the same. We raised our phones for photos and video, too. I felt a bit like a person attending a house of worship of a different religion for the first time – everyone else seemed to know when to sit and when to stand and the right motions to make, and we were just trying not to attract attention with any egregious mistakes.

Then the band started to play. The song was poppy, yes, but with more of a rock edge than I expected. The band’s energy was great. The lead guitarist sported blue hair and played a yellow electric guitar covered in graphics of red hearts. The audience knew every word of every song (at least, everyone except us), and even had choreographed fan chants, hand claps and other gestures. Most of them had light sticks that looked like mini light sabers, flashing bright colors from the darkened seats. The song ended followed by an eerie moment of quiet before the polite applause. Then everyone obediently stowed their phones and cameras and lowered their tripods. Recording time was clearly over so we tucked away our phones, too.

Throughout the rest of the hour-long set, we smiled, we clapped, and generally tried to follow along. We loved it. Between songs we smiled attentively as foreign language banter floated past us. Then the guitarist looked right at Camille and said in English, “How are you?”

Surprised, Camille pointed to herself and said, “Me?”

“Yes,” he confirmed.

“I’m great!” she said.

Then the bassist chimed in to tell us we were very welcome. I was glad to hear it – the last thing I wanted was for them to think were were just there as tourists, as voyeurs who didn’t care anything about the music. Yes, we were clueless, but we really wanted to experience the show with them and were fast becoming actual fans.

Throughout the rest of the set, the band members got a bit bolder, often coming up to the edge of the stage by Camille and singing directly to her. I hoped we weren’t angering any of the diehard fans by stealing some of the attention, but thankfully if anyone was annoyed by us they didn’t make it obvious.

The show ended and we filed out with the rest of the audience thinking our adventure was done, but we’d merely reached the halfway point. The women exited the doors and then streamed directly up a set of stairs to the second floor. We had no idea what this was about, but let ourselves be swept along with the giggling tide.

Upstairs we found a room with a long, rectangular table at one end and rows of folding chairs at the other. Out came the makeup and flat irons again. Ladies were chewing mints and applying perfume. People were also lining up to buy something – but what? Only one way to find out so we joined the queue.

Through a series of gestures and some basic English words with the staff, we learned we could purchase a ticket for a meet-and-greet with the members. You could buy individual tickets to meet individual members, or for a bargain, one ticket for all four, so that’s what we did.

Next, a room divider was erected and the band members filed into the room and clustered behind the barricade. The people who’d purchased a ticket to meet all four were summoned into a line.

When it was Camille’s turn, she approached the band behind the barricade and told them how much she enjoyed the show. The conversation options were limited by the language barrier, but the guitarist proclaimed, “You are so beautiful! You are TOO beautiful!” and proceeded to cover his eyes and turn to face the wall.

A staff member was ready with a polaroid camera to snap a photo and the band asked how she wanted to pose. “Um, hearts I guess?” she offered. Click.

Then before she walked away, all the band members held out their hands toward her, palms up. It was a gesture that seemed to demand a response, but what response exactly? Having no clue what else to do, she placed her two hands on top of theirs, one by one. If this was an insane response, God bless them for not laughing.

Over the next 30-45 minutes, everyone else who bought tickets for an encounter had their turn behind the barricade. Those who’d bought tickets for individual members got to request and record short serenades. Everything was highly orchestrated and meticulously timed, and every woman beamed as they came back to sit down after their moment behind the room divider.

“Which is your favorite?” said one middle aged woman who’d just combed her hair again and slathered herself in perfume.

“Ummm … I don’t know,” said Camille.

“My favorite is the singer,” she purred. And then it was her turn behind the room divider with said singer.

Once all the barricade business was done and the room divider was packed away, the guys lined up behind the rectangular table. Cameras came out again, and the singer motioned to Camille to get her camera ready, too. Then for the next 30-60 seconds we experienced the most awkward photo shoot as the members struck various silly poses and the cameras clicked and clicked. When time was called, the singer motioned to Camille to lower her camera, so we did.

Next, we lined up again, this time to have the polaroid signed in what felt like a speed dating session. Each person would sit down across from a band member for about 60 seconds, and when time was called you’d move to the next stool and the next band member until you’d chatted with all four.

While we’d been waiting, Camille had found and followed the band on Instagram, and apparently one of them had noticed and looked up her account. As she sat down with the bass player, whose English was probably the best of the group, he asked, “Are you an actor?”

“An actor?” Camille asked, sure she’d not understood him correctly.

“Yes. I saw on your Instagram that you were in a movie.” That’s when she realized he’d seen postings on her account from a school movie. Although it was no Hollywood connection, he still seemed impressed and wanted to know more about her, how she ended up in Japan and how long we’d be there.

The staff member had called time repeatedly, but the the bassist wasn’t done talking with her. Soon all the other stools were empty as Camille created a bottleneck at the first seat. I began apologizing to the people around me, but no one seemed to mind.

Eventually she made her way along the line until she got to the final band member, the guitarist. He reached out and took her hand in both of his and proclaimed his love. I’m not even kidding. When her time was up, he wouldn’t let go at first. “I love you,” he said, “and I will always be by your side.”

It’s a hallmark of the K-pop scene that idols provide this type of “fan service,” and is surely one reason these groups have legions of adoring and rabid fans. Despite that, I can’t help but think these guys were genuinely excited to have her there, their newest and biggest fan from the U.S.

Once the signing was done, the guys each took a turn giving a parting word to the assembled fans. When it was the singer’s turn, I was touched that he had typed his comments into google translate so he could read them to us in English. He thanked us for being there and said he would “never forget the day that we met.”

Finally, around 11 we all filed outside and the small crowd dispersed. Camille and I raced to the train station to begin our long ride back to our rental, knowing we’d barely make it before the transit system closed at midnight. As we rocked along the tracks, we scrolled through all the photos and videos in our phones, reliving our favorite moments, and marveling at the new connections. I’ll forever be glad we stepped outside our comfort zone and opened ourselves to the experience, and grateful for the kind people who guided us along the way.

Click below to see a compilation of our videos and photos from that night:

Letter to Camille: The Good, The Bad, and The Puppy

Hello sweet girl – it’s been a while, huh? I’ve started and stopped several letters to you over the last few months, but each time I try to find the right words to describe what it’s like to be here and now in 2020, I freeze.

This is the most bizarre, unsettling, and frustrating time.

We are healthy. Our immediate family members are healthy. We have food in the pantry and a roof over our heads. We can buy the things we need and some of the things we want. We like each other. These are good things. These are wonderful things.

But these things are set in a personal and national context of persistent suffering and fear and uncertainty. When I first wrote to you about the pandemic back in May, I hadn’t really let myself think this far ahead. We were focused on the end of your 8th grade year, the survival of two small businesses, grieving the loss of our summer plans, and – above all – trying to stay healthy. But I didn’t let myself think too much about the fall and beyond. I held on to some hope that we’d be through the worst of it by then.

Initially, the government asked us all to quarantine for 15 days to slow to spread of the epidemic. Those 15 days loomed large at first, but it soon became apparent that this crisis would not be over in 15 days. Now, almost 10 months later, hundreds of thousands of people are dying and we are still stuck in survival mode.

We are alive. We are well. But we miss people. We miss dinner parties and sleepovers and vacations and church services and school. We miss family get-togethers. We miss going to the movies and restaurants. I especially miss hugging people.

As spring dragged into summer and then fall, we began making choices – not just us, but everyone around us. If this pandemic would be with us for a long while, what risks were we willing to take? How would we respond to this new reality?

That, too, led to stress and misery. And anger and judgement. To wear a mask or no? To see family and friends or no? In-person school or no? People took sides and pointed fingers in every direction – us included.

And always at the heart of these decisions – how can we keep our people safe while also keeping ourselves sane? What little joys can we give ourselves without risking the lives of the people we love?

And we have found some joy, and these joys should be chronicled, too.

As cases surged in the summer, we had to cancel your plan to be a counselor at the local theater camp. As a compromise and to give you a change of scenery and time with cousins, your sweet Aunt and Uncle took you in for a little while, meeting us halfway between Savannah and Boston twice to make the exchange.


Uncle Dave earned extra bonus points on his portion of the long road trip, making a detour through NYC just for you. You’re absolutely obsessed with that city and were starving to see it, and he parked just long enough for you to jump out of the car for a couple of pics on Broadway with Jones.

For your 14th birthday, there were no trips or parties, but we booked a horseback ride with a local farm and your BFF Lola got to ride, too. Horses make for good social distancers and it was a fun day.

In mid-summer, with all travel curbed for the foreseeable future, we focused our wanderlust closer to home and took on a bit of a project. We bought an old river cabin out in the country to renovate as a weekend getaway. You have some mixed feelings about this place – you feel like there’s nothing to do here, which for us is exactly the point. “I don’t get why you like to just stare at the trees…” you say. You’ll get it when you’re old like your ma and pa.

But in the heat of the summer, the river is also a great playground with lots more to do than tree-gazing, and we had a great time playing together.

There was a gap in our trips to the river house during the height of renovations, so when we brought you to the river last weekend it was your first visit in a while. It was too chilly to swim, and you came along begrudgingly.

We pulled up the gravel and dirt driveway and parked in front of the house to unload. As we hauled things out of the car, a little black and white dog came from nowhere, belly-crawling its way to you. At first we thought it was injured as it slithered along the ground toward you – why wasn’t it standing up? Maybe its back legs didn’t work? But once you laid a friendly hand on the dog’s head and spoke kindly to it, the dog stood up and pressed herself to your body, trying to close any distance between the two of you.

And that’s how things stayed throughout the weekend. We didn’t allow her (or her many fleas) inside the house, but if you were outside she was in your lap or pressed against your legs.

This area has a ton of loose dogs – I’m not sure if they’re owned or stray or some feral mix of the two. I figured this pup would eventually wander away just as she had wandered here. But both nights, despite chilly temperatures, she slept on the front porch of the cabin and greeted you ecstatically each morning. You named her Lucy that very first day, and began a two-day-long plea to bring her home.

Initially, we had no intention of acquiescing. We have a dog. You have a bearded dragon. This is an argument we’ve been having for months, ever since several of your friends took in “pandemic pets” of their own. The timing has appeal, with so many of us homebound and isolated, and you’d been applying a lot of pressure for a new pet. And we’d done a lot of resisting.

But it’s one thing to resist the idea of a new pet. And it’s another thing to see a pet fall completely in love with your daughter, and vice versa. We had many discussions about responsibilities and expectations, and finally came to an agreement. If Lucy was still at the house Sunday morning, you’d have to go around to the neighbors and inquire about her owners. But if no one claimed her, you could take her home.

And so it was Sunday afternoon, she piled nervously into the car with us to leave the river cabin and come home. My guess is that she has never been an inside dog – she has to be coaxed through doorways and into vehicles, as though she’s sure she can’t possibly belong inside. But once she crosses the threshold, she loves nothing better than to be in a warm lap – preferably yours.

We’ve had Lucy for a week now and so far she is fitting in beautifully. She sleeps in your bed at night, she seems to understand the rules of housebreaking, and she and Chance tolerate each other (which is good enough for now). She’s as quiet as a church mouse and sweet as sugar, and you’re doing an excellent job caring for her.

Sure, there is plenty to complain about right now, and the weight of it all feels heavy at times. But I’m grateful for these light moments too, and very, very grateful for you. I love you so much, sweet girl.

Letter to Camille: Sheltered Together

On the first day of March, more than 2 months ago, I started writing you a letter. I didn’t get very far – mostly I typed a rough outline of some thoughts I wanted to share about your transition from middle to high school.

Then, life began to take some wild turns. Society began to shut down all around us because of COVID-19, and we retreated into our home. Worry and uncertainty settled in for a long visit. My job became all-consuming, and when I wasn’t working it was difficult to find the energy to write or the words to share.

Your school classes were cancelled, but it did not feel like a vacation. There were no sleepovers or trips to Disney. Instead, we drifted through each day in a daze, wondering where our normalcy had gone and when we might find it again.

Those first couple of weeks of quarantine were tough. I saw days and weeks and months of isolation spooling out ahead of us with no end in sight. On top of the loneliness, you had the disappointing realizations that your aerial silks classes were cancelled and your recital would not happen. Your summer camp plans were in limbo. Our trip to Japan was deleted from the calendar.

I kept reminding myself – and you – that we were okay. We were the lucky ones – not hungry or sick or unable to pay our bills. This was a comfort for sure, but didn’t mean our feelings of anxiety and grief weren’t real.

But this letter isn’t just about worry and isolation, because adaptation and resiliency are part of the story, too. Later, when this crisis is in our rearview mirror, I want us to remember how we found ways to cope. I want us to remember how we turned to nature, to music, to art and each other for peace and comfort. I want us to remember that these things are here for us when we need them, even when we’re cut off from the rest of the world.

When we hit the pause button on the usual rhythm of our daily lives, I found it comforting to watch nature move on, unaffected. March and April are Savannah’s most beautiful months, and no matter how grim the news reports, the azaleas still exploded with color and the birds built nests and the sun rose and set on the marsh every day, reminding me that none of this is permanent. This world has seen much worse, and yet it thrives.

When your schoolwork transitioned to online learning, I was happy your teachers found ways to push you kids outside. There was an art assignment to draw a tree. An Earth Day assignment with driveway chalk. A math assignment to build an outdoor obstacle course.

Pre-quarantine, you rarely volunteered to come along on dog walks, preferring to stay inside. But now, you almost always join me, and sometimes the walks become lovely meanderings. When we take the marshfront trail, you want to pause at the oyster beds and try to skip shells across the surface of the water.

On a wooded path, we discovered a new catharsis. One day, feeling particularly frustrated, I grabbed a stick that had fallen in the leaf litter and whacked it hard against a tree trunk. The end of the stick broke off with a satisfying thwunk, cartwheeling into the woods. So we both began grabbing sticks and swinging them like baseball bats at the trees around us, and the trees didn’t seem to mind. We congratulated ourselves each time the sticks cracked – the more dramatically the sticks went flying, the better. Now each time we walk near the woods, we’re scanning the ground for good sticks to break.

We’re riding bikes, and sometimes at your request. We paused once at the marsh tower, and you chased fiddler crabs and square back crabs around the damp sand until you caught one to bring to me. You named him Morris. We climbed a tree – both of us. How long had it been since I climbed a tree? I felt wild up in the branches, just for a moment.

In the last year or so, playing your viola seemed like a chore – something your Daddy and I would nag you about all week. But now, multiple times a day you lift the instrument from its stand in our living room and play. Classical songs and broadway show tunes – our house has been filled with music. You even played your saxophone the other day – the first time in 2 years.

You’ve been baking a lot, too. Our old mixer finally – mercifully – died in early March and we upgraded to the one you and I have been coveting for years. Now you use the mixer regularly to make macarons for us.

You’ve rediscovered the joys of paint-by-number, and have spent hours on our screened porch listening to broadway musicals and podcasts while you bring the paintings to life.

Of course, it hasn’t been nonstop music and art and nature. I’ve been buried in work. Your Daddy has been trying to keep two small businesses afloat. There have been more video games played and movies watched than I care to count. We’ve eaten crappy junk food, and we’ve moaned and complained about all the things we want to do that we can’t do. All the people we want to see who we can’t see. We’ve gone days without washing our hair and the house is a mess. We’re not superstars of quarantine by any stretch.

But I’m trying to be gentle with us and give us some extra grace, and to make sure we don’t forget all the ways we survived – and thrived – despite everything happening around us.

This has been hard, and it’s not over yet. Uncertainty and worry are still with us. But if I have to shelter in place, I’m so glad my shelter is here and that you and your Daddy are in it with me. I love you so much.

Cooking With Camille – Macarons

Forced quarantine seemed like the perfect time for a revival of Cooking with Camille! Our favorite petite chef has grown a lot in the 6 years since our last episode, and her culinary skills have grown, too. Here, she shows us how to make one of her favorite treats of all time – a french macaron.

Camille’s recipe is adapted from the following:

Side note:

Is it a macaron? Or a macaroon?

Well, if it’s a cookie clumped with coconut, it’s a macaroon. If it’s a delicate, airy cookie sandwich, it’s a macaron. Don’t worry – if you get it wrong, she’ll let you know…

Delight: A Palmful of Kittens

The world around me was a blur, quite literally. I sat in the salon chair with a cape velcroed at my neck, chemicals coating my hair to hide the grey. My glasses were folded and resting in my lap.

The stylist was distracted at that moment, and rightfully so. Someone had walked into her booth cradling a towel full of something I could not see, and which had her full attention.

“You won’t believe how small they are,” said the holder of the bundle.

Squinting didn’t help. “What’s in there?” I asked.

“Kittens,” she said. “I think they’re about 3 days old.”

My stylist, Christie, has a long history of reviving and fostering orphaned kittens, but the prognosis for these itty bitty kitties wasn’t great. Three days old – they needed their mama. But the mama had moved on, leaving them during a torrential downpour on an unusually cold day.

Christie ordered fresh towels be warmed in the dryer so she could wrap the kittens in the heat, and she phoned her husband and asked him to bring kitten formula to the salon.

Then there was still the matter of my hair, marinating in dye. I reached for the bundle, now encased in a warm towel, so Christie’s hands would be free to return to my hair. I wanted a closer look at these kittens.

I lifted them to my face so I could finally see. There were two – one white with grey patches, and the other a tiger-looking orange tabby. They were impossibly small – their eyes sealed shut and their ears more like the idea of ears rather than the final product.

The kittens were nearly motionless until I started stroking their tiny, fuzzy heads. Then they strained toward the warmth of my hands, the white and grey one in particular. The kitten would press its head into the curve of my palm so solidly I was afraid it couldn’t breathe. Could it breathe? I’d move my hand back to ensure the kitten wasn’t suffocating, but it would seek my palm again.

Soon, Harry arrived with the kitten formula. Christie wasn’t sure the babies were big enough to manage the bottle, but to our delight they eagerly drank.

Sated for now, we bundled them back into the towel. As Christie dried my hair, she’d occasionally aim the warm air from the hair dryer toward the towel. The kittens wiggled. The kittens pressed against my palm.

Soon it was time for me to leave, so I returned the bundle to Christie. I’m happy to report the kittens survived their first night under her care. Their futures are still uncertain, being so small and without the benefit of their mother’s care and nourishment. But for a little while, those tiny faces and nubby ears and almost imperceptible mews brought us delight. And maybe they felt a moment of delight as well, rescued from the rain, wrapped in a warm towel, pressed against the palm of my hand.

Sharing Delight

The door banged closed behind us, rattling the wind chimes that hung from the patina-green metal frog at the door frame. Our backs were nearly pressed to the door glass in the narrow entryway of the sushi restaurant as a small crowd waited for seats.

“How many?”


Thankfully, there was immediate seating for two – a good thing since we were cutting it close to arrive at the movie theater in time for previews. And we must see the previews. We are preview people.

The hostess led us to a small table nestled behind a wooden partition that separated the door from the rest of the dining room. The screen reminded us of a backyard privacy fence, with decorative strings hanging from thumbtacks at regular intervals. The metal wind chimes were behind us now, announcing each arrival and departure accompanied by a blast of cold air from outside, stirring the strings.

We ordered tempura and sushi rolls to share and two glasses of wine, then settled in to wait for our food. Menus aside, I looked more closely at the decorative strings to discover that each held a dozen small origami birds of every color and pattern.

The paper birds were so delicate and whimsical, floating against the wood and then stirring in the breeze. They were delightful. And that’s when I knew I would share them.

A couple of weeks ago I listened to a podcast episode of the NPR show, “This American Life.” The episode was called “The Show of Delights,” and I loved every minute of it. The show was a balm.

The episode description: “In these dark, combative times, we attempt the most radical counterprogramming we could imagine: a show made up entirely of stories about delight.”

If you need some delight in your life, give it a listen: The Show of Delights

The show was inspired by a book written by poet Ross Gay, The Book of Delights, in which he pens a daily essay about something delightful. The essays are about moments large and small, past and present, but written with a singular goal – to cultivate an appreciation for the simple delight that is already around us. Every day.

These words in the preface connected with me:

“It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.

“…I felt my life to be more full of delight. Not without sorrow or fear or pain or loss. But more full of delight. I also learned this year that my delight grows – much like love and joy – when I share it.”

So, for this season of Lent, I want to hone my delight radar – develop a delight muscle – by finding something delightful to write about each week. I want to lift my eyes from my phone, turn down the radio, and scan the space around me for delight. I have a feeling it’s almost always there if I will just take the time to seek it out.

And so – those paper birds on a string. They were delightful, and now I share them with you.

Letter to Camille, My Teenager

Happy birthday to you, my 13-year-old. My teenager.

Right now you are living it up in Dollywood with your cousins and Nana & Granddaddy, on day 3 of Cousin Camp 2019. You just rode the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster, screaming in unison with Stella. And I know this because you texted me from your phone, now that you FINALLY have a phone.

We’ve waded cautiously into these social/technology waters with you, and at the same time, you’re asking us for caution, too. Like with these letters, for example. When I began writing them, I promised myself I wouldn’t publish anything that would embarrass your future self. But now that you’re older, we don’t always agree about what qualifies as embarrassing. Even when I post a totally normal, benign snapshot of you on social media, you’ll lament, “But what if my future employer sees that photo one day? I’ll never get a job!”

So, future employer, if you’re reading this, let me tell you a few things about my girl. She is smart – so smart. She is creative, with a wonderful ear for music and a fantastic talent for drawing. She is a perfectionist, so you can count on her work being done right and on time. She’s a leader. She’s kind. You’d be crazy not to hire her, you should pay her as much as you possibly can, and she’ll still be worth a million times more to her mother.

There, all good, right?

Your reticence has certainly curbed my letter writing, but some milestones beg to be documented. And if you don’t want me to publish this letter on my blog, we’ll keep it private. I owe you that.

Right now, at age 13, your life revolves around your three passions: drawing, singing, and Broadway musicals. You wake up and draw in your sketchbook. You love to draw anime-style characters, first sketching in pencil, then adding ink, and finally color. Then you’ll shift to your iPad where you have more drawing tools for digital creations.

While you create, a white headphone cord snakes from your ears to your phone, where you’re streaming songs from your favorite Broadway musicals. Currently, you’re binging all the music from Dear Evan Hansen, Wicked and Hamilton.

And you are humming along. Or sometimes you’re singing. In the car or with friends, it’s definitely all about singing. You had two friends sleep over on your 13th birthday, and in advance you assigned everyone a different part in a Dear Evan Hansen song. They were both instructed to practice the song AND the dance.

Fortunately, these two friends were up for the challenge. These are the same two friends you plan to room with when you all move to New York City, as you explained to me yesterday.

“I think that would be fun,” I said. “I’ll come visit you.”

“Ok,” you answered, “but I’m not buying your plane ticket. You’ll have to buy that yourself.”


Your New York obsession began when we took a trip there last fall. We stayed in an apartment in Hamilton Heights, across from City College. Every morning we stopped at the coffee shop on the corner for a hot beverage, a bagel, and a macaron, before walking to the subway to start our adventures for the day.

You loved all of it, and I think the experience of staying in an apartment rather than a hotel fueled your imagination. You could envision living there. That the corner coffee shop was your corner coffee shop. Maybe that college across the street was your college.

As for what you might study in college, that’s certainly up for debate. For a long time you were set on the idea of marine biology, but now you’d like to study music. I’m sure your plan may change many times between now and college, but I’m so glad that when you look into your future, you see lots of possibilities.

As for the past … I always find it interesting to know what stands out in your mind and not just my own recollection. So I was delighted that your end-of-year paperwork from school included a worksheet that asked you to reflect on the past year.

When asked to list your top 4 accomplishments from the year, they were:

  1. Acceptance into the audition-only Take Note chorus ensemble
  2. Acceptance into District Honor Choir
  3. Progressing in your drawing skills
  4. Advancing to the next level in aerial silks

Here’s what you listed as some of your favorite things from the past year:

  • Movie: Life Aquatic by Wes Anderson
  • TV Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Book: War of Magic
  • Place: NYC
  • Animal: Cat
  • Gift You Received: Phone
  • Holiday: Christmas
  • Fun Memory: Halloween Party

In a timeline of significant events, you included:

  • Comic book shop opened (where you sometimes now work)
  • Joined Chorus
  • Visited NYC
  • Savannah Comic Con

Do you want to know one of my favorite memories of this year with you? I’ll tell you.

So as you know, I am a nature lover, and as such I want to raise you to notice and admire the natural world too. I’m always pointing out a sunset, a deer at the tree line, a spiderweb, or the sunlight on the river’s surface. All of these things feel like miracles to me, but I don’t always know if you feel the power of them, too.

Then one day, I waved goodbye as you climbed on the school bus at the end of our driveway in the grey light of early morning. About 10 minutes later, my cell phone chirped. I had a text message from you.

“It looks like a rainbow outside but it’s not.”

And you sent a picture, hastily snapped from the school bus window as you crossed the bridge over the river.

It’s not the kind of photo that will make the end-of-year calendar, but I treasured it. You saw the sunrise. You noticed how pretty it was. And you wanted to share it with me.

I hope no matter how old you get, or whether you live under my roof or in New York City, that you’ll find little miracles happening every day. And when you do, I hope you’ll sometimes think of me and how I love them too.

But not as much as I love you. Not even close.

Love, Mama.

Changing Winds

Sometimes change is exhilarating. Or terrifying. Welcomed, or feared.

Sometimes it’s all of these at once. The winds have been shifting in my family’s world lately, and I have felt all the feels about it (don’t worry, everybody is ok and no one is getting divorced!).

After 11 years working alongside Lee with Heideldesign, we recently found ourselves having conversations about the pros and cons of a regular job. A “jobby job” as I call it. A child with a broken arm and two surgeries makes you crave better health benefits.You know what else is pretty cool? A pension and a 401K (and we’re not getting any younger).

So we agreed to peek at some job boards, and maybe make some calls to friends and see if any doors opened. If the perfect door swung wide, I might just walk through it.

I dusted off my resume, and tried to think about what that perfect job might look like. Before I joined Heideldesign, I had a great job in state government with nice coworkers and excellent benefits. The work was challenging but not overwhelming, and I felt we were doing some good in the world.

I’m friends with the person who replaced me there, and called to see if she would be a job reference for me. So imagine my surprise when she said, “Sure, I’d be glad to. But just so you know, we may be adding another position here.”

And there it was. I’d cracked open the door, and over the next several weeks that door swung wide to show me a path back to the job I’d had before. My old job but improved, because I’d have a partner in the office to share the duties.

So I applied,  interviewed, and was offered the job as Risk Communicator for the Coastal Health District.

And I panicked.

Not because of the job – I knew it was a great job to which I was well-suited. But HEIDELDESIGN! I’d be giving up lunch and work meetings every day with my sweet husband! My flexible schedule! Working in my pajamas if I wanted! All those afternoon walks and bike rides around the neighborhood! And travel at a moment’s notice! And … and… and…

I was talking with a dear friend, describing all my anxieties about making a change that would have such a big impact on me and my entire family. And then she said something that broke through that noise like a clear bell.

“This has God’s fingerprints all over it.”

Whether you’re religious like I am, believe in divine intervention, karma, coincidence or just good luck, things had certainly unfolded with an uncanny ease.

  • I started looking for a job like my old job, and ended up getting my old job in an improved form.
  • I worried Camille might feel abandoned, not having me so available – but she was ecstatic about the idea of more time to herself, as a girl expanding her independence.
  • I worried about how Lee might manage all my Heideldesign work on top of his own, all while opening a new retail comic book shop. I reached out to a trusted freelancer, and found that she was looking to take on new work and could fill some of the holes I’d be leaving behind.

So how could I NOT walk through the door?

I accepted the job with gratitude, but in the days leading up to my first work day, I was a little surprised by the main feeling that kept floating to the surface: grief. Not so much about the work I’d be leaving behind, or even the flexible schedule, or pajama days, but about no longer working side-by-side with Lee. When I first joined him at Heideldesign, we both admitted concerns about what might happen if we weren’t good business partners. Lucky for us, we turned out to be great business partners. I knew I’d miss sharing my work day with him. We had become such a solid unit both personally and professionally, and I grieved about the change.

But the shifting winds are filling our sails and pushing us in opposite professional directions. I do find a lot of comfort knowing we are such a strong team that if our paths turn out to be the wrong ones, we’ll course-correct. We still have each others’ backs.

On my first day at my new job, I found this card in my purse, from Lee.

Not only is he a thoughtful sweetheart, he’s right.

So, 2 weeks into the new gig, I’m enjoying my job. Lee and I do miss each other, and value our time together outside of work, while also squeezing in a few lunch dates here and there. We’re adjusting.

We may not be full-time business partners anymore, but we are still full-time partners, all day long. Always.

From One American to Another

At midnight tonight, several things will occur simultaneously:

  • The ball will drop in Times Square.
  • Someone somewhere will shout “Happy New Year!”
  • Friends will clink champagne flutes.
  • Couples will kiss.
  • I will have health insurance again.

Want to guess which of these has me most excited?

Our recent health insurance policy expired Dec. 26. I was no fan of that policy, but I am nervous about our current status as “uninsured.” Our new (much more expensive) policy kicks in January 1, so these past few days we’ve been laying low, desperate to avoid a hospital emergency room.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about insurance, and about how our country is failing us. It’s not easy to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with the threat of medical bankruptcy hanging around your neck. We’re a country that claims to love the small business entrepreneur, but ignores the reality that cutting the ribbon on a new enterprise also likely means cutting off access to affordable health care.

Ten years ago, I resigned from a good government job to join Lee in our growing family business. I was excited about the personal and professional rewards of business ownership, but terrified to walk away from the health insurance.

This was pre-Obamacare, and there were no individual plans willing to cover our pre-existing conditions. We also had to pay an additional $750 per month just for maternity benefits, on top of our costly monthly premium. We absorbed the sticker shock, we even discussed foregoing insurance altogether, but eventually signed up for a plan.

In the next several years, the sub-par, high-deductible coverage caused us some heartache. There were prescriptions we needed but didn’t fill, like costly antibiotics, or epi-pens for emergency allergic reactions. Camille had a cough we ignored, knowing it would cost us $150 to have her seen (it’s just a cough, right?). So we waited until the cough became walking pneumonia (and a source of terrible parental guilt).

So I was thrilled when the Affordable Care Act was passed. We purchased insurance through the exchange, delighted to once again have coverage for pre-existing conditions and maternity care. But as we all know, implementation has been rocky at best, with most insurance companies opting out of the exchange and premiums soaring each year.

Fast forward to December 2017. Our previous insurer was no longer offering self-pay plans, and we had one single, solitary option on the healthcare exchange. That option included zero of our doctors, and would mean we’d get all our medical treatment at the local indigent care clinic.

So we gambled. Instead of traditional insurance, we bought 4 back-to-back short term medical policies, each for the max term of 90 days. This gave us almost a full year of coverage at a third of the usual price for health insurance.

There were plenty of “catches.” These policies don’t cover well checkups or preventive care, vaccines, prescriptions, etc. The deductibles are quite high, and reset every 90 days. Mostly, we’d be on our own for healthcare costs, but with this coverage in our back pocket for anything catastrophic.

That “catastrophe” came in mid-June, when Camille broke her arm at a trampoline park. She fractured both bones in her forearm, and the separation was so severe she would need surgery and titanium rods to realign the bones.

Our first insurance-related frustration came with scheduling her surgery. Our local hospital didn’t recognize our short term medical provider, and refused to book the surgery without verification of benefits.

The hospital and insurance company pointed fingers at each other for a few days, all while my child suffered with a broken arm that was trying to heal but could not. In desperation, I called the hospital and asked what it would cost for us to circumvent insurance and pay for the surgery out of pocket.

“The cost for the surgery, not including radiology, pharmacy, or the room fee, is $68,000,” said the voice on the telephone.

My pen was poised above a piece of paper, but I couldn’t write that down.

“Can you please say that again?” I asked.

“Sixty-eight thousand dollars.”

There were additional discounts for self-pay patients, etc., but the numbers were still crushing. So we hung up, my daughter still waiting for the hospital and insurance company to come to an agreement.

The good news – Camille finally had that surgery, and 6 months later she’s doing very well. At last check the bones were still busily stitching themselves back together, and she’s expected to fully recover.

Meanwhile, I’m still fighting with two hospitals and numerous providers about medical bills. I’ve received letters and phone calls threatening to turn us over to a collections agency for not paying charges that our insurance company says we don’t owe. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, and countless hours on the telephone, and created spreadsheets and lists and folders to organize it all, and it’s not settled yet.

So it’s no wonder that I felt terribly anxious this September as I sat in the lobby of the breast imaging clinic for my annual mammogram. My anxiety wasn’t so much about having cancer, but about how we’d manage to pay for treatment if I had cancer. And that is a messed up set of priorities, but an honest reflection of our current state of health coverage.

And if we feel this way, how many others do, too? We are an economically sound, middle class family, and I am terrified of the financial implications of illness or injury.

We can do better. We MUST do better.

For all the things we Americans cannot agree upon politically, can’t we agree that we all deserve access to healthcare at reasonable costs? How can we be so smart and so creative, and yet find this issue to be utterly unsolvable?

I don’t have the answer (though I have some ideas I’m happy to share), but I’m telling you all this because I want you to know this isn’t just an isolated problem. This is a problem that is strangling the bank accounts of people all over our country. Without access to affordable health care, that promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is nothing more than a hollow platitude.

I sincerely hope you never experience the anxiety of inadequate medical coverage. But from one American to another, please know this problem is real, and it’s a problem we absolutely must fix.

Letter to Camille: Chorus Days, Anteaters and Roller Coasters

Hello my sweet girl! It’s a Tuesday night, which means you are resting in your bed, dreaming sweet dreams about sheet music. That’s because tomorrow is Wednesday – a chorus day.

This school year you opted out of playing saxophone in the band, and wanted to try chorus instead. You were hooked from the very first day. One Saturday night not too long ago, as I was tucking you in, you sighed and said, “I wish today was Sunday so that tomorrow would be Monday.”

And I thought to myself … huh? Who wishes for Monday?

“Monday is a chorus day,” you explained. Ah, now I see.

Music dominates your extracurricular activities, because in addition to chorus, you are still playing viola in the community youth orchestra. Here you are on orchestra audition day, wearing one of your favorite t-shirts featuring an alto clef and the words “No, it’s not a violin.” I’m sure it earned you a few bonus points with the strings-playing judges.

When you’re not singing or playing viola, you can often be found drawing. You love drawing in the anime style, and I think you’ve gotten pretty darn good at it, too.

Let’s see how your drawing has evolved. Here is a self-portrait you drew in September of 2010, at age 4.

By the end of that pre-k school year, in May of 2011, your drawing had already improved quite a bit.

And here is a self portrait you drew a couple of weeks ago, at age 12.

The taco was a nice touch.

And when you’re not playing music, singing or drawing, you’re likely … texting or calling friends. Oh boy.

For quite some time you’ve been telling me you’re the only kid in your grade without a phone. And for quite some time it wasn’t true, because I knew for a fact some of your friends didn’t yet have phones. But one by one they’ve gotten connected recently, and now you really may be the only phone-less kid in your class (with the worst, most archaic parents. Poor you.).

It’s not as though you’re completely walled off from technology. You have an iPod and can message and Facetime with friends – you just can’t do this outside the boundaries of home without wifi. But at home, man oh man can you spend some time talking to your buddies. You and Michaela regularly Facetime, and you’ll carry your iPod around from room to room, talking about nothing and everything, doing homework together, doing nothing together.

It’s not that I’m totally opposed to you having a phone – I’m sure we’ll get you one sometime soon. I just haven’t been convinced yet that you really need one. And yes, there is a part of me that wants to delay as long as is reasonable. Do I really want you accessible to your friends at all hours of every day? And not just your friends, but also the dreaded “frenemies?”

It seems a cruel trick of nature that at the precise moment kids become extra sensitive and self aware, kids can also become mean and exploit each other’s sensitivities. So yes, I hesitate to throw a device in the mix that provides unlimited access to peers.

Of course, I know you will need the independence and the social connection that a phone provides, but I also want to help you learn to use that new freedom responsibly. So how much should your Dad and I monitor what happens on your phone? How much should we peek over your shoulder? We all must learn from mistakes as we navigate these early relationships – so how do we let you make the little mistakes but prevent the ones with long-lasting consequences?

If you asked 50 different parents these questions, I believe you’d get 50 different answers. So for now, your Daddy and I will do what seems right for you in this moment, and tomorrow we’ll decide about tomorrow.

At least for one weekend last month, you and Michaela didn’t have to Facetime your way through Saturday and Sunday because you had actual face-to-face time. You brought Michaela along on your belated birthday trip to Charleston, where we had tickets to a live show of your favorite podcast, “Welcome to Nightvale.”

You girls had a ton of fun at the show, and touring Charleston the next day. One of the highlights of the weekend was the stop we made at the home of some local exotic animal enthusiasts.

They had typical pets, like dogs and turtles and bunnies. But they also had a hissing, grumpy, lollipop-obsessed kinkajou.

And then there were the anteaters. They were neither grumpy nor lollipop-obsessed – all they wanted to do was sniff the yard for ants. The owner slipped a harness on Artie and let us all take turns walking him around the yard. Or perhaps more accurately, we took turns being dragged around the yard by a very stubborn anteater who didn’t care if he wasn’t supposed to go this way or that.

It was a lovely trip, although I confess that your Dad and I missed you at times. The older you get, the more you can be with us without being “with us.” It’s only natural that you’re less interested in hanging with ole ma and pa, and would rather hole up in a room with your friend as you simultaneously text and facetime even more friends. So we’re trying to be good about letting go.

But we were pretty pumped that we also had a second family outing that month – a long-awaited trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, just the three of us. And because you don’t have a phone yet so facetime wasn’t an option, we spent the whole day in the park together – really together. Well, except for that time you pledged your undying allegiance to the dark side…

You even rode your first looping coaster, the Rock-N-Roller Coaster. I sat in the car next to you, hearing your screams turn to laughs, and you loved it.

A roller coaster – these pre-teen and the coming teen years are often described this way. The highs are so high, and the lows can be so low, with plenty of stomach-dropping loops along the way.

But strap us in to the car – we’re ready to ride with you. I love you sweet girl.