Dec 14

Where I’m At

Blue hills

I liked how writing on my blog every day made me confront my feelings with words. How doing this every single day made for easier days. How hard it is to face the storm inside. How easy it is to say I shouldn’t feel like this or that, just tell myself to get on with my day.

But if I honor what’s going on inside my mind and body by spilling out some word energy to figure it out, ahhh, I’m better. As my co-author for my holistic health care books explained to me, once you feel a feeling, you either have to deal with it or you stuff it. And I know stuffing it just means I’m simultaneously stuffing it down and stirring it up. So my angst comes out in my short fuse while doing homework with my Liz Ann, or in a retort to my husband at dinner. An unneeded retort, of course, that just mirrors all the ugly crap happening in my body and mind.

It’s hard to have ugly feelings that are both true and not true. The ones that say you’re unworthy to call yourself a writer. Or that if you’ve spent 20 years writing professionally, you should be better at it by now. Or that you’ve wasted your time as a writer because you are not making bank.

I mean these thoughts aren’t true, but they are true feelings. I feel them all the way down to my bone marrow sometimes. And they need space to just be, to be heard and grieved and cried over. Ugh, the writing life is hard. Ugh, I love writing. Even on the days when an editor asks me to do it differently than I think it should be done. I mean, I don’t love it then, but writing is one of my one true things. It’s like oxygen: without writing I stumble and fall more.

That’s why I liked writing on the blog every day in November. Even if I question the worthiness of bearing my true self to however many readers read my words, it’s helpful to have a daily practice of writing through the yuck so I can come out the other side. Or even if I don’t come out into a bright, shiny sunny day, at least I’ve honored what’s going on with my mind and body, given it space on the page to breathe and be OK with itself. With myself.

Here’s where I am at. Where are you at?




Dec 13

Simple Song


Simple Song


I am what I ask for

Even as I search the phone, the book, the friend

for one right answer—

my life piles behind me

I blow it away and take it in.


I am what I ask for—

Green leaf & blue sky

Orange walls & red sweater

Warm smile, loud laugh

What you seek is seeking you*

I am what I ask for.


The words I repeat again and again

For my girls float from their lips:

You’re the one that I want, the one that I need

Grace swims in the ordinary

So light — dark hides this well.


Break, shatter, re-shift & see

the mystery on repeat & true

I am what I ask for, aren’t you too?

-Nancy Schatz Alton, 12.13.2017


*Rumi quote



Dec 06

Morning Song


Gratitude slams into me. It arrives when I’m driving KK to school and we’re stopped at the stoplight. The light is perfect, morning blue as the sun rises with the electrical wires crisscrossing across the scene. KK snaps a picture of the moment and shows me the birds on the wire: “Birds.”

She’s joyful and I’m joyful and I think about how now I dive deep into the joy as it arrives. I notice.

It took so long to notice.

I want to explain and I don’t want to explain.

Because who can explain how they arrived at gratitude when we really know everyone arrives there in a different way? That quote about how we all have separate paths. How I can tell a million people that I started writing gratitude lists when my life felt darkly suffocating, but my telling won’t matter. They’ll need their own dark night of the soul, a bottom.  That bottom that other people may find ridiculous, the why-can’t-you-be-happy people. The ones that aren’t in the hole with you. Because maybe you are there alone.

And gratitude doesn’t slam into you then. But you need to find the ladder out of the hole. Gratitude seems like a good place to start.

That’s when I wrote one list in the morning and one list in the evening. Was it seven years ago? Six? Who knows? All I know is life is still dark. This year in our country has been downright dismal and it doesn’t seem like this is going to change anytime soon. Hate seems to be trying to grab a stronghold here. Still, gratitude slams into me.

It slams into me as my teen and I sing in the car, as we watch the morning light gather strength. We pass a stretch of trees by the lake that have dropped all of their golden leaves. This morning the sun hits the trees and reaches for our car. “Beautiful!” I say.

I grab the moment as we drive right through it. It’s mine for the taking.



Nov 30

We’ve Come to the End


Ah, we’ve come to the end of November: the last day of my daily blogging. Of course it makes me ask, what’s next? I don’t know, but I do know I want to offer up thanks that I played this game. Because it was a kind of play, and it was good for me. What can I offer? How do I feel? And how can I be playful about it and not stressed about it?

I want to offer thanks in other ways, too, by turning and pointing to a few places where I read and see things that inspire me. So here we go. (Note: Only 2! And I read an insane amount of stuff. But it’s what I’m thinking about today.)

Maybe six weeks or so ago, the astute Claire Dederer pointed out the awesome The Weekly Zephyr and told her Facebook friends to sign-up. Well, I love it more and more each week. Thank you, Tina Rowley, your words and images matter to me.

I feel like I know Vikki Reich because she lives in Minnesota and her blog speaks to me. She’s the reason I decided to blog everyday this month. I was just following her lead. Check out Up Popped a Fox and note that I’m linking to her dentist day blog because I really hate it when they measure my gums, too!

So, that’s all for now. Thanks for joining me this November. I’ll let you know what is next when I know what is next!




Nov 29

I’m Making Tea


Ah, winter.

Ah, dark, rainy days.

Ah, me trying to limit outside news to balance my interior health.

Um, cut to me making small talk with a neighbor about how my daughter eggs me on to look at the positive instead of focusing on world news. Then the neighbor saying, “That’s privilege.”

And me stepping back, rushing inside and knowing she’s both right and wrong. Because yes, I need to do what I can to make positive change. But no, I can’t do it if I’m curled up in a ball unable to function.

This is why right now is hard. There’s a guy in the White House bullying people with tweets. He’s effective. The news makes me want to curl up into a ball and stretch my limbs only when spring arrives. There’s a state of stress that covers every one of us when the one who has the most power in our country lashes out at us via tweets and executive orders. Some of us rise up fast and act. Some of us curl up into a ball before knowing we need to make ourselves tea, stretch, meditate, take care of ourselves and our family and pick a few to-do items that may make a small difference in the world outside of our home sphere.

Jesus, I can’t attack myself and function. I’m not sure why some of us are more sensitive than others, only that many of my artistic friends are like me. We are taking breaks from some forms of media, making tea, encircling tress with lights and focusing on our breathing. I’m privileged; yes, it’s true. I’m also doing my best. One of the quotes I found this fall reminds me that my best is enough:

“There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair and disrespect.” –Nikki Giovanni




Nov 28

Julio + Tangent

Every day brings something new. Today my older dog is not feeling so hot. He’s at the tip of my thoughts even as I’m trying to let my thoughts be. There is no getting around growing old. There is no protecting myself or my family from loss. There is only now: Julio tucked in a blanket that my mother sewed for us. The heat is sending us warm air. A crow just cawed. The heat vents creak.

Sometimes old hurts makes me not want to welcome in the new. I remember the arrival of our two dogs, how I knew we needed these two dogs. How I needed their love. (Maybe they needed mine, too? One hopes.) How Liz was scared of dogs before Julio and Indu came to us, and now she is a dog whisperer. She loves our dogs so much. We all love these dogs so much. I know Chris and KK and Liz are all hoping Julio is feeling better as they walk through their days away from home.

Wait, what about that topic sentence? Oh, yeah, ever since we got the dogs, I’ve been worried about their dying. Ridiculous. I mean it’s not continuous, this worry, but it’s there. I was gone for a few hours this morning and I prayed that Julio would be alive and better when I returned. Sometimes I’ll say I wish we didn’t have the dogs because I can’t bear that we someday won’t have them. Sometimes I want to have a third dog so I’m better prepared for losing one of these two dogs. Like there’s some insurance policy against hurt and it comes in the form of a third dog. If you have a cute puppy — a third dog — that’s insurance that you won’t grieve if the first dog dies. Right! HA. I wish.

If you follow along here with my crazy thought process, this leads me to how sometimes friendships evolve into um, no friendship. Very few people talk about this. I wrote about this idea at a young age, how I always expected people to stay the same. But they evolve and grow and change into people that no longer inhabit the same spaces as you. Sometimes it’s a rough ending, sometimes it’s graceful and easy but still a little sad, how you all are in different places that don’t place you together anymore.

But let’s just say I’m good at grieving and then I think, ugh, no new friends because these friendships might end. Anyone who knows me knows that’s silly because I love people. I love meeting new people! Ah, friendship: so great!

This is clearly a blog and I’m all over the place. But I think about my old dog, not feeling so well today. How he’s totally worth loving even if it’ll end in way too much sadness. Friendship is like that, too. Whether an end of a friendship is a gentle ebbing or a slammed door. I saw a quote (via Cup of Jo, of course) on relationships that sums this tangled thought process up well:

“Most people seem to believe that if a relationship doesn’t last until death, it’s a failure. But the only relationship that’s truly a failure is one that lasts longer than it should. The success of a relationship should be measured by its depth, not by its length.”
Neil Strauss, “The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships”

Yup. There. I spoke out loud (well, on a page) about my awesome dog and ended friendships. And I have no last line for you, no bow to tie it up all pretty. Wait: my dog. Here’s a picture:



Nov 27

Um, Monday. Yuck.

Nancy Alton_72dpi_square

Oy vey. Turning back to work and school after 5 days off is difficult. It wasn’t the easiest of mornings and all I really know is that the only way out is through (Robert Frost quote, says Google). Even though time traveling back to the walks taken and the movies watched and the laughter shared sounds better than schoolwork and writing deadlines and fixing computers.

So, in the spirit of getting through by figuring out how to be in a better mood, here’s some things that help me.

  1. Yes, I write gratitude lists and send them off to friends a few times a day. Sometimes at 4pm, I write one on the white board in the kitchen. Even if I’m in the grumpiness of moods, this exercise turns some knob in my brain and alleviates the yuck. Yes, there are studies that prove gratitude works. No, I’m not going to link to them because that feels too much like what I do for work. And yes, everyone is sick of hearing about being thankful but yet it’s really what got me through some really hard years recently. Which is why I write a list upon waking and before going to bed every day.
  2. An email box that contains helpful emails. I get poetry from sites like Rattle and Poem-a-Day. I love Carl Richards’ emails and Seth Godin really helps me think in new ways. Rick Hanson.
  3. Clicking on articles that look helpful and skimming them until I see something helpful. Like the idea of going easy on yourself from the NYTimes today.
  4. Coloring in my daughter’s drawing that are scattered around our home. Biking in the am right after I wake up. Doing a guided meditation with Insight Timer (free app!). And looking at art. Just clicking on this website Women Who Draw and taking in a few images makes my brain settle into a lovely sigh.

Good luck out there!



Nov 26

Leap, Land, Leap, Land


There’s no one like a friend you’ve known for 30 years to cut through your maze of words and hand you back an idea. Last night my friend Jen came over with her family and we chilled and talked and chilled and talked. Late in the evening, we talked about our fears: tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes. Finally we arrived at my fear of the future, the unknown, will my next job be fulfilling?

My work now is so fulfilling, yet I’m reaching for something different work-wise in the near future. I know I’m ready for what’s next, but part of why it’s hard to move on is because right now is known. Part of this is also about how my kids are growing up, how moving into that phase where they aren’t at home, living at home, all the time, it’s unknown. Right now the kids being home is home. My work, which I totally am comfortable doing, that’s a kind of home, too. I don’t know what these homes will feel like in the future.

Jen asked me if I’ve ever left a home before that I wasn’t ready to leave.

Ah, yes, college. It wasn’t perfect, but it was so home. I hated leaving it behind for the unknown.

Ah, said Jen, look how well it’s turned out.

We looked around my cozy home, at the Christmas tree lights and the couches filled with people who I love. And I became a writer. I succeeded in becoming a writer, which I always have to remind myself is no small feat. It’s huge.

Jen quietly reminded me that we don’t lose our kids, that even when they aren’t there, they carry the home of us inside of them. They come back. Even now, I go back home to my parents’ home, which is still my home.

I don’t know what’s ahead. I can’t picture what a new work home will look like, or what new tasks I’ll learn how to do that will build on 20 years of writing, editing, marketing and teaching experience. But I’ll land somewhere, and eventually that new workplace will feel like a kind of home.

It’s hard to believe in the future. But Jen reminded me of my past, those times I didn’t believe leaping would turn into me landing in the now. But it did.

Leap, land, leap, land, leap. After these five vacation days of soaking up the love from family and friends, enjoying home, that’s where my mind is: leap, land, leap, land. The homes we leap from and the homes we make after we leap again. Frightening, yes, but also leading to new possibilities that will someday feel like home.




Nov 25


Blue hills

Ah, the writing of the blog every day continues to be an interesting process. Today I’m busy with the ordinary (groceries, cleaning, laundry) and sad. Sad that one more Thanksgiving has passed, this time with my eldest almost 16.

I mean, we are still in the middle of the holiday weekend, but I can’t help but feel that pull of all that is passing. And it feels silly to write about it. I mean, everyone writes about it. How hard it is to be up at my youngest daughter’s K-8 school; the parents ever younger, my kids way past so  much of the experiences they are right in the middle of experiencing.

I mean it’s not hard hard, but still and yet, it’s so very human to look behind me. Back there was sometimes full of waiting for right now to arrive. Like last night: both girls at a sleepover. I never imagined that happening often, but now it’s happened twice in the last few months. Since my youngest has never liked straying far from home, it’s weird to see that slowly changing.

Yes, yes, it was nice to be with Chris. No, no, I can’t have two teens under my roof (but I do). Same old story, but my story, so I guess I can ache and admit that I ache.

So I’ll leave you with a Mark Nepo poem today. He writes so beautifully of the human experience. This one is from his book “Reduced to Joy,” and here’s Parabola, where there are a few more of his poems.

Saturated By Mark Nepo

Heavy drops, carrying more
than they can bear, fall from no-
where, bending leaves already
sagging, and one by one,
the leaves let go.

They drift to the earth,
each quiet as a master
juggler missing everything so
completely that he realizes
he is being juggled.

Surrender is like this.
Not giving up, but
missing and letting go.










Nov 24

Mall Rats

Hello! I hear it’s Black Friday. A quote about shopping from Seth Godin inspired my poem today. It’s a rough draft for sure, squeezed in before I start a day off. Hooray!


Mall Rats

The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race, though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that’s just beginning.” –Seth Godin

The malls are less full, the porches are full of boxes.

My screen anticipates what I want next—links to my latest story assignment.

I want “The Gift of Failure,” a book to walk me out of the storm

But we walk ourselves out of the storm, with whomever walks beside us.


My screen anticipates what’s next—links to my latest story assignment.

I want my daughter to be a counselor in training, a leader who lives in a cabin.

She walks herself to her own future, not turning back, always looking ahead.

She leaves behind clothes that I sort, wash & fold.


My daughter wants to be a CIT; she lives in a cabin with her friends.

She returns with stories of hikes gone awry, rolling down hills, muddied & alive.

She brings home nature-stained clothes that I teach her to wash, she never folds them.

She lives like I used to: amid the rubble, a floor collage that’s only a mess to others.


She regales us with stories of hikes gone awry, delights in off-trail adventures without us.

Oh, I’m happy as I lean into her side hugs, breathe hello while slowly letting go.

She lives like I used to: making rubble into floor collages that she’ll walk away from.

Yet she walks the mall with me still, no porch boxes replace being together.







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