2018: A Year of Love

As I reflect on the year that began with so much pain, I realize that love has been our constant companion both inside and outside of that pain. Love came to us in friends, and in the form of hugs and texts. It took the form of cards and covered casseroles, potted daisies and even a few corked bottles. It saw us through a year that was simultaneously sad, hard, maddening, bittersweet and joyful.

To paraphrase a few lines from a book I just finished reading, we are never entirely healed. We will be “a patchwork of love and grief, of gains and losses”.**  Even though it was an emotionally draining year, we saw through each other our ability to laugh and be happy. Lennon was right. Love really is all you need.

With a full heart I present the sixth annual pictorial recap of a year that was ultimately filled with love beyond measure.

After Pop died, we all needed a place to direct our grief. Tearing down his oldest and most decrepit shed provided our catharsis. This is the only pic I have of the day, taken after the shed had been razed to the ground. I wish I had a picture of the tug-of-war team that pulled it down. It truly felt like Family Olympics.


Goofing around at my parents’ house one weekend, my dad and Vic played Heart and Soul together on the organ. (Go on, sing a measure. For the entire rest of the day. You’re welcome.)


Baby Girl turned 16 and got her license. We haven’t seen her since. (Kidding…sort of).

A pic of my favorite men just before Aaron headed out to the Senior Prom.


This. Just… this.


Three days after we watched A Dog’s Purpose, a stray German Shepherd showed up at our house and wouldn’t leave. He looked neglected so we fed him, bathed him and named him Bailey. He’s a genuine sweetheart who lives with Charolette now, and Kasie and I believe he was sent by Pop. I just love big dogs with big paws.


My kiddos altar served at our church for nearly six years. As Aaron prepared to leave for college, Vic announced she didn’t want to serve without him. This was the last time they served at Mass.


Here’s the one WTH? picture. There’s always one. Breakfast time and one of our eggs had two yolks. Was this really the most exciting picture I took in August, you ask? Why, yes. Yes it was.


Labor Day weekend found us driving to Ruston to leave a huge part of our hearts at college. I cried the whole way home. Max didn’t take it too well, either, and spent the next ten days sulking in Aaron’s room.

Part of our first-ever trip to New York to see Harry Potter on Broadway (which deserves its own full-length post) was the fun I had making t-shirts for our Hogwarts-loving travel companions, customized with each person’s favorite quote. And of course, experiencing the magic of Broadway and the Big Apple with my favorite wizard.


Nothing like a wedding to remind us all that life is good, family is precious and true love is eternal. My oldest nephew, Jacob, and my newest niece, Cassidy:


Remember that family I told you about in my most recent post? The ones who make Christmas entirely magical? This is them.  I love these people to the moon and back!


Well, there it goes, folks. The credits are rolling on 2018. May your 2019 be blessed and may you find peace, love and joy in every single moment it holds for you.

Bonus pic from the NYC trip: I couldn’t resist. So long, 2018. See ya in the funny papers.



** Clare, Cassandra. Queen of Air and Darkness. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. 2018. Print.

Christmas Past

What follows was originally intended to be one chapter in a larger collection of essays that chronicles our family’s journey through cancer over the past three years. I began writing the collection just as the dust started to settle from Charolette’s cancer, and before the storm of Pop’s.  It has been through several edits since Pop’s illness and death, but the original version below is one of the happier essays and captures the joy and peace with which I have always viewed Christmas Eve.  In the spirit of the season I’d like to raise a glass to Christmases past, and to my family who made them magical.

I frequently tease Dominic that I’m going to start dragging him back to Midnight Mass during one of these Christmas seasons in our future. He staunchly refuses, stating in no uncertain terms that he is over any desire to stay up late enough to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. (Even in college, it was well known that Dom would be the first one to call it a night and go to bed.) Once we had children, Midnight Mass was no longer a viable option for our schedules. But, oh, how I miss it.  Of all my memories, our family’s attendance at Midnight Mass and the wee-hours celebrations that followed are some of my most treasured.

They say you can’t go back, and I accept that; really I do. And I accept that those memories may have to remain only memories, being that so much has changed within our family since the days when we were young, just beginning our adult lives, full of hope, possibility and promise.  When I reflect on that time of my life it is as if I am seeing it transpire inside a snow globe.  I shake it and a memory forms, its edges slightly blurred. We are walking up the driveway of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church. The air is bitterly crisp and I clutch my winter-white wool dress-coat tightly around me. Dominic offers me his arm, and I loop my own through his and snuggle close against his suit jacket, resting my cheek against his shoulder as we walk. Bob and Charolette walk beside us, elegant in their Christmas attire, as we are joined by Victor and Melissa and then by John and Kasie. We enter the church and head up the center aisle to our familiar pew on the right-hand side six rows from the front. We genuflect and file in, filling the pew almost to capacity.  We greet and are greeted by familiar faces throughout the sanctuary, which is adorned in boughs of greenery. Deep red poinsettias and several Christmas trees decorated only in lights flank the altar while a large, solitary manger stands nearby. As Mass begins the smell of incense tickles my nose and makes my eyes water, but I love the tradition of it all. This is Christmas to me – holy and unrushed, simultaneously simple and resplendent.

I watch the memory for a while before shaking the globe again, and the memory fades out like a dream sequence as another forms in its place amid the falling snow. We have left the church and returned to Bob and Charolette’s home. We are loud and lively. We redress in blue jeans and sweatshirts, getting comfortable for the festivity ahead. A thousand tiny white lights shine on the Christmas tree, which is filled with so many jeweled and ribboned ornaments we can barely distinguish one branch from another. The ornaments were handmade by Charolette’s cousin, Boots, many years prior, and they are the only tree ornaments I will ever know inside this house. We have a full meal planned and ready. Wine glasses are filled and Pop reaches far back into a kitchen cabinet to retrieve a bottle he will use to top off the eggnog. We laugh and eat and laugh some more before settling in to exchange gifts in the living room, a process in which we take turns opening one gift at a time. Sometimes Father Dave is there, standing at the kitchen counter, popping the top on a beer and joking with us. He is as much a part of this family as we are, and his relaxed smile says that he feels it.

The memory morphs easily into one of my most favorite Christmases, when during our gift exchange John hands Kasie a wrapped box of running shoes. On the laces is tied an engagement ring. She opens the box and proclaims her excitement that he has bought her exactly the shoes she wanted. And then, removing one shoe from the box, she sees the ring just as John kneels on the floor in front of her. Her hand flies to her mouth and a second later she is in his arms, crying and saying yes. John had almost given her that gift in private; I had to beg him to please let us watch, though I’m sure it was Charolette’s asking that actually convinced him to propose publicly. I believe that is the widest I have ever seen him smile.

Sleepy and satiated, we depart for our homes around three in the morning, only to regroup in the same place the next afternoon for lunch with the extended family. It is at these lunches that I would enjoy spending time with Dominic’s cousins and getting to know Charolette’s aunt and uncles.  Oh, the stories these people can tell on each other!

The tradition changes slightly after those early years of our marriage when we begin filling the church pew with children. Now the snow globe reminds me that we have committed to an earlier Christmas Eve Mass, Victor wears the well-deserved title of Gumbo Chef for the night, and the unwrapping of gifts is no longer facilitated one person at a time.  Tiny fingers rip bows from presents and hold books and dolls high in the air for all to see. “Look, Mommy, look!!” is shouted so much that Kasie, Melissa and I can’t tell who’s opening what or who’s calling to whom. We begin to nod and smile at every child in turn, saying, “Oooh, that’s great, sweetie! Did you remember to say ‘thank you?’” Pop examines the instructions that came with his gifts, collects wrapping paper into a trash bag and plugs batteries into new toys. Mom sits beside the tree, handing out packages still to be opened while her sons gather at the kitchen table to admire a new toolset someone has received.

It is at the end of these evenings of frivolity that Dom announces, “Saddle up!” and we wrestle cookie-filled children into car seats and drive home.  Once they are tucked safely into bed and our Santa duties are fulfilled, Dom and I continue our tradition of exchanging one gift each before turning out all the lights except for those on the tree and in the garland. This is where I find my silent night. We plug It’s a Wonderful Life into the DVD player and snuggle on the sofa. We know it’s okay if we fall asleep before Clarence gets his wings; we will watch it again the next night.  And maybe the night after that.


The Process

We all grieve.  We grieve things, circumstances, pets, people. It’s a process.  It’s long and it’s messy. I hate messy.

Sometimes during the process I realize all over again the finality of the situation. The bus just pulled away from the station without me. The person I love is on the bus. Gone.  Just like that.  Can’t call him.  Can’t go visit. No more last minute Hey-would-you-mind or How’s-your-day-been.  The imaginary line just buzzes, or worse, I get that upward ringing tri-tone and the voice that annoys me even though it’s pleasant. “We’re sorry.  The person you are trying to reach…”

I know, I know. He’s gone. I get it.

For the last two nights I’ve dreamed about Pop. They’re perfectly normal days and circumstances in the dreams, except that I’m aware Pop is supposed to be dead.  I’m glad he’s not, but I’m confused.  He awakes from his chair, round faced and wide-eyed. “Hey!” he says as he gets up and walks outside.  The family follows. He chats ‘em up.  I hear him laughing. That laugh.

I’m staring dumbfounded after him. I turn to my sister-in-law. “They embalmed him,” I say. “How is he walking and talking?” She shrugs.  And then she smiles.

“Where are the groceries?” Pop asks as he throws his arms around a grandson. Groceries are dinner. Pop’s ready to eat. What in the world is that doing in my dream? I don’t know, but there it is. I hear him laugh again.

I think of cooking, and suddenly remember that my food-prep knives are dull.  Really dull.  Pop always sharpened them for me.  I’d send them next door and he would bring them back, five deadly weapons wrapped neatly in newspaper. “Wash those before you use them,” he would advise. Hey, maybe Pop can sharpen my knives while he’s here.  I’ll ask him after dinner.

Pop moves to stand beside me and I examine his profile.  His hair is not the white I expected.  It’s black, peppered with a little grey, I notice. He’s younger than when I last saw him. How is that possible? I reach to touch him and he moves away.  If he’s aware of my confusion, he doesn’t let on. I let it go. Food. Pop was hungry.  I need to get food made.  I turn toward a kitchen I do not recognize and wonder why my legs are bound. I can’t move as freely as I should. I look down into nothing.

My eyes open and I’m staring at my bedroom ceiling. My legs are bound by the sheets, comforter, and a Siberian Retriever. Move over, Max.  I gotta go help fix dinner.

Except that I don’t. There’s no dinner to fix. No Pop to eat it. The realization brings back the heaviness. Ding, dinng, dinnng… “The person you are trying to reach…”

This sucks.

The Vaulted Files: A Letter to Youth

I was cleaning up my laptop files today and found this letter I had completely forgotten that I wrote back in 2015.  I do not recall if I ever sent it, nor do I think I could even retrace my steps to find the person for whom it was originally written.  But when I read it today, it struck a chord, as I’m sure the writings of the young girl for whom it was intended originally struck me. I still feel the sentiments expressed here quite powerfully, so they belong in this forum.  I hope it helps somebody.

Hi there.  Let me introduce myself by saying that I am a mom.  I sing horribly, embarrass my kids with unbridled car-dancing, and say cliché things like, ‘I am old enough to be your mother,’ mostly because I am.  I have two teenagers, and one has turned me on to the Gorillaz.  So there I was, surfing around for the backstory on the characters so I could know more about why this real band had these interesting cartoon images, when I stumbled upon your blog.  And for the life of me, I cannot get your personal comments out of my head.  So, that is essentially why I’m writing to you…because I’ve read your blog, comments others have made and comments you have made back in reply.  And they touched me.

Let me also say that I do not make a habit of getting in the business of other people’s families.  I have never suffered from anxiety or depression or gender fluidity, so I am puzzled by my own need to reach out to you, for I know I have little to offer you in the way of support.  Except that I am a Christian.  I hope that confession does not instantly conjure negative images or emotions for you, because I believe that as a Christian it is my mission to love.  And with that in mind, I want to give you hope.

I want to tell you that your life has value, that you ARE important and dignified and worthy of love beyond measure.  I want to tell you to never, ever, ever give up on who you are, because you are an inspiration to people and can be even more of one if you just allow yourself the time and space to grow.  What you have done with your blog, in my opinion, is given people a chance to let their thoughts be heard without judgment or repercussion.  You have allowed people to be free to express themselves in a way that we stuffy adults don’t seem to understand.

Honestly, we do understand it.  I think sometimes we’re so jealous of youth that we would rather hold it in oppression than let it blossom into something new and beautiful. I, for instance, still feel 25, newly initiated into adulthood, swinging the world on a string.  I look in the mirror and that is not a vibrant 25-year old staring back at me.  It’s a little unsettling sometimes. 😉

YOU are strong and brave and amazing for your honesty and strength of spirit.  And I know that not every day is sunshine and roses, but I want you to recognize the days or even the moments that are, and believe that in your future those days and moments will become more numerous than they are now.

I am not the sort that goes around spewing scripture at people, and I am certainly not going to preach to you.  In fact, the only people I want to hit over the head with a Bible are the ones who are using it to spread hate.  But I heard a verse today and it made me think of you, so I want to share it, in the hope that it will give you some peace:

“Everyone will sit under their own vine, and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid…” (Now, why that is not grammatically correct is beyond me and it drives me crazy, but I digress.)

That made me think of you because I think that sitting under our own vine means we are each different, living our own ways of life, enjoying the customs and lifestyles that fit each of us.  The part that I hope you find comfort in is the second part: ‘and no one will make them afraid.’

Some day, some day we will get it. Some day we will stop trying to change people because we disagree with them.  Some day we will stop trying to control others because we want them to be just like us. Some day there will be no reason to worry or fear.  That day, I know, has not yet come. But as long as you breathe you have hope within you.  I will pray that sustains you in the hard times.  Please, please remember that even when you think this party we call life is not worth the cover charge, there is a middle-aged lady in Louisiana who thinks you’re pretty cool.

Peace for your beautiful soul,



When the Sun Shines Again

It’s been ten days since Pop left us.  So many people have offered consolation and wisdom for what we face.  They tell me it will get easier, that time and memories will see us through.  I believe them.  I have certainly found reasons to smile and laugh in these past days, but I also find that I cry over the smallest things now.

I think it’s the moments in between the moments that get me the most.  The quiet moments when my mind is still.  That’s when I think of the little things, just out of the blue.  Like lunch, and how every day when Dom and I would meet at home for a lunch of leftovers from last night’s dinner, we would be stirring or re-heating or pulling plates out of a cabinet and he would casually ask, “Want me to see if Pop wants any?”

“Of course,” I’d say. “There’s enough.”

A few minutes later Pop would come striding through the side door into our kitchen, tea glass in hand. “Hello, hello,” he’d say, quickly followed by, “Get back!” as he admonished our dogs to stop greeting him with such enthusiasm.  He would stroll around the island and take a seat at one of the middle barstools before launching into a lively conversation about something on the news that day, or a chat he’d had with a friend that morning. Many conversation topics began with Pop waving his hand in the air as a means of pointing our attention in a certain direction as he stated, “Dominic, we need to…” followed by a task or chore that he wanted Dom’s help with somewhere on the property.

Pop would eat with us, compliment the meal, then lean back in his chair with a satisfied sigh before saying, “Alright. Let me get back to your mom. Thanks for lunch. It was delicious.”

“Alright, Pop,” Dom would say. “See you tonight.”

I’d chime in with, “You’re welcome, Dad. See you later.”

And then Pop would walk out the door with one last, “Thank you.”

Pop thanked us every time he saw us, even when I didn’t feel like we had done anything to be thanked for. Each time I told him goodbye, he would answer with, “Good night, now. Thank you.”

The last time we spoke he thanked me. I truly feel like it should have been the other way around. Of course, I didn’t know that was to be our last conversation. That night, it should have been me thanking him – for unbridled laughter, for raising his boys to be perfect gentlemen and showing them how to be great husbands and fathers, for being an amazing father-in-law, for letting me see his own strength as well as weakness, and possibly for leaving that strength behind so that each of us who miss him can use it to get through the hard times without him.

I imagine it will always sting when I think of the things we won’t get to do again with him. But I will be forever grateful for the time we had and for the gifts of his love and laughter, which he shared with all who knew him, holding nothing back. I will remember to say “Thank you” every time I think of him, and I will smile at the memories. One of my favorite Rose Kennedy quotes reminds me that it’s okay to find joy even after loss: “Birds sing after a storm.  Why shouldn’t people feel as free to rejoice in whatever sunlight remains to them?”

You know me.  I’ll be looking for the sunshine.


Robert Joseph Mainiero
October 27, 1942 – January 3, 2018




The Vaulted Files: Pop’s Eulogy

This is the eulogy I wrote and read at Pop’s funeral vigil, January 7, 2018. Some of my most treasured essays are on this blog, so it belongs here, late though it is. I am backdating it to fall in line with other essays from the same period.  – LSM 12/28/19

On behalf of our family I want to thank each of you for being with us tonight.  Whether you personally know just one or all of us, we have felt and have been lifted by your kindness, your concern, your love and support, and most importantly your prayers.  You have fed us, held us, laughed and cried with us.  You have allowed us to lean on you and have given us strength. When we cursed our darkness, you lit a candle –  with a phone call or a text, or a simple Facebook message. Some of you quite literally lit candles, and I love you for it. You let us know we weren’t alone, and you shared our pain as much as you could.  We are forever grateful.

For those among you who don’t know me, I’m Lori, the middle daughter-in-law. I belong to Dominic.  I call Charolette and Bob “Mom and Dad” and they call me their daughter. Melissa, Kasie and I are fortunate to have been embraced by Mom and Dad so openly – so completely – that they do not distinguish between the children they birthed and the children they acquired.

I don’t remember the day I actually met Dad, but I do remember the first time I ever saw him.  Mom and Dad came to our college campus to watch an intramural soccer game. Charolette sat in a lawn chair on the west edge of the field while Bob stood a few feet away on the sideline with Dominic. I was positioned a good distance behind the men, where I could bear witness to the physical similarities between them. Dominic and Bob stood side by side, each with one hand hanging on a hip or a pants pocket, one leg bearing most of the weight while the other leg bent just slightly at the knee.  That day on the soccer field I felt as if I was looking at two versions of the same person, brought together by a thin fold of time, as if past and future were somehow overlaid and allowed to coexist in the same space for a single moment.  I thought to myself, “I must really like this boy. I mean, I can see what he’s going to look like in thirty years and I’m still interested.”

As the pages of our days turned over and new chapters were written, I learned that nothing put a smile on Dad’s face like his grandbabies.  With the patience of Job and what I can only imagine were built-in noise-cancelling eardrums, he paced the floor with gassy, screaming infants; tolerated the most obnoxious clanging toys; and remained unphased by temper tantrums.  When my daughter announced at age three that she liked Papa best and I inquired why, her answer confirmed what I had suspected all along: “Because Papa never tells me ‘no!’”

If you knew Dad personally, then you know how he loved to help people.  If you were ever on the asking end, you could be certain he would not turn you down.  Need twelve cords of wood split?  Here he comes.  Need something welded? Bring it on over.  Need extra hands digging trenches, cleaning gutters or serving meals? Make room for Bob.

In addition to saving stockpiles of random lumber, PVC and metal pipes, Dad was known to salvage every nut, bolt and moving part from every machine he or his boys ever owned.  In fact, they are all in his garage right now.  I affectionately call Dad’s garage the Rusty Home Depot because if you needed anything that Home Depot sells, and you don’t mind a little rust on it, you can get it from Dad’s garage for free.

Dad lived happy and could laugh about almost anything (and frequently did, much to Mom’s annoyance.) In all the years I knew him, I saw Dad get angry maybe three times.  I saw him cry.  None of us likes to cry in front of people, but Dad was never ashamed of it. I saw him break, fully and wildly, only once and that was because one of his sons was in danger.  I learned in that moment that nothing – not recent triple bypass or a seventy pound table in his way – would keep him from holding his boy.

When I began to write this I had two goals in mind: to honor Dad and to comfort my family, so I will address this last part to the first few rows.  This is not the end.  Papa’s life is not over. He has gone where we cannot follow, but only for now.  There will be moments when our minds will naturally expect to see Papa, and our hearts will break again when we remember that he is not here.  For me, it will be every time I look out my kitchen window and expect to see him tinkering in the well house or watering his plants, with Lady wagging her tail beside him, faithfully following wherever he goes.

This will be hard, but we have each other.  We will cry together; we will hurt together.  And we will still gather for Sunday lunch, even when we don’t feel like eating.  Our hearts are broken but they are not empty, and none of us has to bear this pain alone.  Papa loved each of us deeply, and it is our job now to nurture that love among us and pass it to the next generations.  His joy for life will live in our memories.  His laughter will echo in our hearts.  We will see him in each other, and one day, after we have lived a life as full as he did, when we arrive on the other side, we will hear that booming laughter again, and we will know we are home.

This Is the Day the Lord Has Made

It’s funny, the things you remember once your brain gets past bad news.  I’ve been in a funk lately.  Duh, right? No, it was more than a sick-family-member funk.  It was a why-is-the-world-like-this funk. A what-did-I-do-to-deserve-this and how-will-I-ever-get past-this funk. I was run down from emotion and circumstance and the general 2017-ness of it all.  I’d had enough.

To be honest, I recall many details of the past year, but it flew by.  Seriously.  Wasn’t it just last month that Pop was diagnosed? It was April.  Has it really been eight months? No.  Where did the year go? I’ll tell ya where it went.  It spiraled down a swirling vortex of suck, flinging out tiny moments for my memory to hold on to. Little snapshot photographs.  A conversation here.  A milestone there.

Until yesterday.  Yesterday I decided to get my spirit back on track.  I threw myself a little pep rally right there in front of my computer at work. The day was decent.  Baby steps. I held another pep rally this morning in the car on the way to work.  It’s not my car, actually.  It’s Pop’s truck.  After my van was totaled a month ago we decided not to replace it right away.  Pop’s truck had been sitting dormant in his driveway for the better part of the year. Suddenly the truck needed a driver, and I needed wheels.  We seemed a perfect match.

Can I state for the record that I am sooooo not a pickup truck driver?  There it is. But back to the pep rally.

I turned the wheel of Pop’s truck and literally said to myself, “You’ll never get past this if you can’t be grateful. It’s time to move on.” It’s a whole new year, I reasoned.  And, as much as I miss the comfort and convenience of my van, at least Pop’s truck has heated seats.

Although I’m usually having these conversations with God, today I was talking to myself.  He answered anyway. As I straightened out onto another street, a verse lodged in my head. “This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Be glad in the day.  Not hard, right? Be glad that we have this day. I’ve said repeatedly over the last few months that God only gives us one day at a time and that’s all we should concern ourselves with.  So what’s up with all my moodiness lately? It serves no one, least of all God. I’m his child.  I’m the daughter of a King, I reminded myself. THE King. Whatever today brings, He and I can handle it together.

The call came in just after 2:30 this afternoon. Pop was gone.

Twelve hours later I rolled over in bed, aware that Dom was up, aware once more of the events of our day. I closed my eyes and instantly saw Pop’s steering wheel and the ridiculous half-patched bump in the road I take to work, the sun blazing down on me as I drove in freezing temperatures. I recalled my conversation with myself and God’s interjection. I can see now how He was preparing me. Be grateful… Take one day at a time.  I thought I was preparing myself for a good day.  He was preparing me for a hard one. “This is the day the Lord has made.”

I will rejoice and be glad in it.  Even as my heart breaks.

So Long, ’17!

2017 started off pretty smoothly with no notable bumps or bruises.  Remember New Year’s Eve when I almost cried into my keyboard over how grateful I was to have everyone safe and sound? That feeling got to hang around through the Spring time change.  We got the wind knocked out of us again in April when Pop was diagnosed with lung and esophageal cancers. Mark my words: if I ever get my superhero powers activated, I’m kicking that disease’s stubborn ass.

Only a few of the photos below recount the truly memorable moments of 2017 which include not only Pop’s condition, but also saying goodbye to Lady-Bird, my career change, Victoria playing soccer for the first (real) time, becoming a three-car family because the kids are driving, becoming a two-car family again because I had a collision, and literally everything about Aaron’s senior year – right up to getting his college acceptance email. (So much for the frameable letter for my archives.) If I were to post only photos of the moments which years from now I will most likely recall from 2017, I would appear both incredibly proud and undeniably whiny. But as I have stated before – repeatedly, I think, because it’s not easily pounded through my own thick skull – this post is not where I recall the in-your-face moments of the year.  Rather, it is where I acknowledge the sacredness of the ordinary minutes of our lives.  The minutes that peer out through the emotional cobwebs to say, “Hey, remember how good this moment was? Be grateful.”

With gratitude in mind, and in accord with my end-of-year holiday custom, here is our pictorial year in review.


One thing I can’t get enough of: sunsets. Here’s a cold January day closing its eyes over our back yard.  Not sure why I’m so attracted to bare trees backlit by the glow of the sun, but really…who can resist those colors?


As a family, I think we all realize how very fortunate we are, despite the trials of the past two years. On February 4th Bob and Charolette celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  That evening was the calm between the storms, and it was nothing short of blessed.


This is Max.  To say we have spoiled him would be a gross understatement.


We all took a few minutes in the midst of celebrating Aaron’s Confirmation to snap some family photos.  Here are all the Mainiero kids.


Okay, spoiled though he is, Max was unable to escape the inevitable neutering on his first birthday.  As a retaliation technique, he spent the next four months eating items of great import to me and Dom.  Here are destroyed DVDs of LOTR and (gasp!) The Ten Commandments.  Hey, Max, can you wrap your head around “Thou Shalt Not…?”


We spent our summer vacation in Memphis where we sought Elvis, found Elvis and promptly overdosed on Elvis.


20170716_211131381_iOSI tried not to put anything sad in this year’s post, but some moments demand to be acknowledged. More paw prints forever on our hearts.


There’s always one text conversation in these posts, right?  Here Victoria and I are discussing my determination to DIY repair the door handle on the kids’ car.



Apparently I married a funny, funny man.


Homecoming 2017.  The kiddos were gracious enough to let me snap close to 200 pics of them before the dance.  Here they are showing me their “Freeze with your hands up” pose.  So if the cops pull them over, my daughter will be the one vogue-ing.


My sister-in-law, Melissa, drove downtown with us and took Aaron’s senior pictures.  It’s really hard to choose my favorite, but I promised I’d only post one.


20171202_233247378_iOSChristmas decorating our front yard at dusk by the light of the rising Super Moon.  One of the last truly peaceful moments of 2017.

Well, there it is – 2017 in all its not-so-radiant glory.  There are blessings in these ordinary days.  I pray I remember that when I later reflect on this roller-coaster year.  Just out of curiosity…is it permissible to pre-order an easier 2018?  Perhaps I should just hold on to gratitude and hope for the best.

May each of you have a wonderful, prosperous new year, and may you be blessed beyond measure.

For the Love of Country


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For the love of country music, for the wounded, the grieving, and the taken…

I awoke from an unsettling dream in the middle of the night and rolled over in my bed, shoving my feet underneath Mabel for warmth and, admittedly, security. My mind replayed scenes from the dream in an effort to dissect the more disturbing parts of it.  And then I heard voices from outside myself, suddenly aware that we had fallen asleep with the television on.

A reporter’s words vied for my attention: “shooting,” “concert,” “dead,” “wounded.” When I blinked my eyes and focused on the context, I heard a gentleman explaining what it was like to have his buddy shot in the chest right in front of him at a country music concert.

Dear God.

In the wee hours of the morning we had confirmed 20 souls taken and 100 injured. I watched throughout the day as the numbers climbed to unfathomable levels. This afternoon, I paused in the kitchen of my office building to absorb the information that we now knew of 58 people who had died, with a staggering 515 injured.

I hurt for the people injured and for the families of those whose loved ones won’t come home from that concert. I hurt for the country music family. People had gathered to have a good time, and their memory of that event, perhaps even their love for the music itself, will be forever scarred.  That breaks my heart in ways I cannot even begin to express.

Last call, last chance
Last song, last dance
Sometimes you just don’t know when that’s gonna be
Hold me baby, give me a kiss
Like tonight is all there is
‘Cause there’s a last time for everything

I do not know what makes a person want to hurt, much less kill, someone they have never met.  Seriously, if you want to hurt someone who has never wronged you in any way, then a large part of you is quirked up far beyond my meager understanding.  But I will say this: hiding behind a gun for fame or acknowledgement is the pinnacle of cowardice. Those who shamelessly kill innocent people are the biggest cowards, perhaps even the very weakest among us, whether due to a blackness in their souls or a sickness in their minds. I cannot say what medical, security or domestic policies – if any – can address this deficiency in our society.  Smarter people than I will have to figure that one out, and I pray they can.  What I do know is the people suffering the most from last night’s tragedy were just trying to chill, to sing and dance and to have a good time.  But we are Americans, and only if we have the courage to band together beyond all of our differences will we rise.

I’m a riser
I’m a get up off the ground, don’t run and hider
When pushin’ comes to shovin’, I’m a fighter
When darkness comes to town, I’m a lighter

I am so over the recent discussions that have divided our nation because quite frankly I think these subjects have been protested to death and gnawing on them has yet to bring us to better action. Do you want your neighbor to succeed, to truly be “equal?” Then lift him up. Want inequality to be a thing of the past? Then teach your children that all are equal, regardless of race, income or religion. Want both our leaders and our children to be respectful of all people? Then we ourselves must model that respect in our homes, in our workplaces, in our congregations, and even on the road in our minivans and SUVs. Reach out your hand and shake the one of the person next to you, no matter where you are.  It is so much harder to hate someone when you look in their eyes and admit they are just like you.

Raise ’em up
Fist black and blue, fight for the truth
It’s what you do
Hand on your heart for the stripes and stars…
Raise ‘em up tall and strong
Raise ‘em up right from wrong
Raise ’em up so damn high they can hear God singing along

As a Christian I know that this life is not meant to be the easy one.  Lately, I am reminded of that daily because the good Lord gave me a thick head and only He has the patience necessary to put the same message in front of me day after day after day. Sadly, I will have the privilege of singing along to a Jason Aldean song on the radio a year from now without being jolted back to the horrific events of last night.  Not everyone can say that, and my prayers are infinitely with them.

May we all do a little bit better than the first time
Learn a little something from the worst times
Get a little stronger from the hurt times…

To the artists who make the music, and the people who are held together by it, my heart is with you all.

(Apologies to Brad, Dierks, Keith and FGL for the lifting of your lyrics, but they have always lifted me.)


The Best Worst Day of My Life

After two deliberate and self-imposed years of permit driving, my first-born, my only son, Aaron, took his driving test on Saturday, and passed, just as we all hoped and assured him he would.  And for as much encouragement as I gave him, I had two solid nights of tumultuous driving nightmares.  Oh, how I have prayed since then to Jesus, Mary, St. Michael and St. Christopher, that he be guarded by angels on these streets of Shreveport, that Jesus truly take the wheel and steer our son safely each day from and to our little home on the south side of town.

Aaron and I had plans to go to the DMV this morning – first rattle out of the box, as they say.  We ran a tad late because, well, I had to dig for the documents I should have retrieved yesterday.  We only ran ten minutes late picking up my nephew and driving Aaron’s (and Victoria’s – see, I didn’t forget you, baby girl!) week-old new-to-us car to school, where Aaron parked a hundred empty spaces away from civilization so that we could walk together into the school office for the last form we needed for the sacred DMV: the school enrollment verification.  Twenty minutes later, we checked that off the list and headed to the “faster” DMV in Bossier.

Bear in mind, I could barely recall where this branch of the DMV was located.  I grew up in Bossier, but I have been remiss in visiting (as my husband frequently reminds me) for the past two decades.  After side-seat driving Aaron down the interstate (sorry for the claw marks in your dashboard, love!) we arrived at the hallowed DMV, where I am now certain they made a grand and most important announcement mere moments before our entry:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for this inconvenience, but the State of Louisiana is updating the camera systems of the Department of Motor Vehicles state-wide.  Our expected wait for those of you renewing or receiving your driver’s licenses is an hour and a half.”

It was over an hour and a half before they made a new/repeat announcement of the same caliber, only this time adding that the original time frame had now passed, and they had no idea how long it would take.  By this point, we had been sitting for an hour, and the four-month old baby that was flirting from the seat next to me was almost cute enough to make up for it.  Had we known of this delay going in… oh, who am I kidding?  Aaron had been dreaming of this day for weeks, if not months (I’m sure I’ll never get him to admit to either). Was there any way in all of heaven that I would have looked him in the eye and said, “Sorry, sweetie. We’ll come back another time.”  Yeahhhhh. Not this momma.

And so we sat.

I worried about the work time I was missing, two months into whatever probationary period I am still on at my new job. I kept looking at my son, who was fiddling with his phone, but who would look up and smile at me with that “I’m about to get the coolest adult item ever” look on his face.  So we continued to wait.

Eventually, our stomachs were in a competition to see whose could growl the loudest, so we opted to leave for lunch and return in a few minutes.  I double checked with the lady who had taken our application for the license, just to be sure our leaving would not jeopardize our place in line for the camera.  She assured me it would not.

So we headed out to the parking lot, where I had directed Aaron to park a tad closer to the door than he did at the school, and we climbed in and drove off in search of food.  It was at the first stop sign out of the parking lot that Aaron noticed the note on his windshield.  “Mom,” he said, “there’s something on my windshield.”

“Throw the car in park, baby; I’ll grab it.” I jumped out, certain my SuperMom cape would catch the wind and signal to everyone that I had this completely under control.  My fist thought was a ticket, but then I knew we had been in a legitimate parking spot, so my second and prevailing thought was “church flyer.” Sadly, it was neither.

It was, instead, a note and an insurance card.  The note said that it was from the owner of the truck which was originally parked beside us.  He had hit our car as he was backing out, and was incredibly sorry.  Here was his phone number and his insurance card. Please call him.

Holy.  Crap.  This. Isn’t. Happening.

Aaron and I both got out to examine the damage.  It’s truly not awful – despite a long and ragged dent, the back door still opens, as does the gas tank.  But, OMG, he’s had this car a week!  A WEEK!! He gets to drive it to school for the first time TOMORROW.  And it’s already damaged.  It’s kind of like opening your most asked-for toy at Christmas and finding out that it’s missing a wheel or the remote control.  The fun sort of…fizzles.

We drove haphazardly through the old Swan Lake neighborhood to Cane’s on Airline Drive, mostly because I could not remember my freaking way around this end of town, and also because we were just a tad thrown off our game.  I did recognize street signs, and knew that they were streets on which many of my high school friends had grown up.  I thought of those people again, but it wasn’t like the last time I drove through this neighborhood.  Today, it was shrouded in suck.  I thought about how I wanted so badly to drive in high school, and of the people who rode in my car once I got my wheels – how happy I was and how much fun we had.  I missed them momentarily, but my mind shot back to my son, who needed direction and encouragement to not let this get him down.  I wasn’t very good at either for a while.  He ate – I felt like hurling, so I abstained from lunch – and then we headed back to the DMV, this time with me behind the wheel so that I could get us back quickly without having to think two steps ahead out loud about where we were and what lane we needed to be in.

Twenty minutes after arriving back at the DMV, it appeared the camera was back online.  But our customer service person was at lunch, and our application was stuck in a pile on her desk.  “God, grant me patience,” I started to pray, and then quickly stopped.  Have you ever noticed that when you pray for patience, things seem to move much slower?  “I’m on to you, Lord!” I thought. “Okay, please just give me peace.  Patience is a little far out of my reach now.  Peace will do just fine.”

And He did.  Just like that.  DMV Lady showed up, called our name second from her stack, and Aaron was smiling for the camera in no time.  I so desperately wanted to do what the mom in front of me did, and take an iPhone pic of my son getting his driver’s license photo taken, but I refrained.  Someday he may thank me for that.  Maybe not.  Maybe this is why I’m not a photographer.  I write to keep the memories. I just need someone to read them to me when I’m old and drooling in my jello, please.

Aaron drove me home under the authority of his brand new license.  We spent a couple of minutes sun-gazing at the eclipse from our driveway, and then I went to work, having given Aaron permission to miss the last hour of the school day. True, I typically don’t allow my children to miss even the last day of school because it is a literal school day according to the calendar (yes, I’m that mom) but I figured he had pretty much been through the ringer, as I had, and so I relented just this once.  Truthfully, this was also likely because I was glad to know he was home safe and I didn’t have to worry about him flying solo until tomorrow.  I drove myself to work and realized that I had changed purses and left my desk keys in the other purse.  At home.  Phone call to Aaron: “Sweetie, can you bring my keys to me?”… “Hey, Carey, what’s our office address?”… “Aaron, can you get here safely? The address is…”  He did get there safely.  I gave him directions out of our parking lot, and then stood on the front porch of the bank and watched him leave.  I felt like a stalker.  He saw me.  I waved, shrugged that mom’s-gotta-do-what-a-mom’s-gotta-do shrug, said a prayer, watched him make the left-hand turn across two lanes of traffic to get onto the main street, and I walked back inside.  And then I GPS-tracked him all the way home.

I also called the guy who hit Aaron’s car at the DMV. He was kind enough to have already set up a claim under his own liability – those wheels are rolling more smoothly than I ever expected.  I was very grateful to this man for the note he left.  Just two weeks ago, I was instructing Aaron that if he ever hit a car whose driver was not available, he was to leave his name and contact information on the other car.  “You don’t ever walk away from damage you cause,” I told him.  I am ever so thankful to this man for showing my son the example he is to follow.  These are the lessons we learn.  This is what you do.  This is how you act.  And, as I confessed to a coworker as I almost cried in her doorway this afternoon, this is such a first world problem; I feel guilty for letting it get me down so.

Victoria called me after school to see if I wanted anything from Starbucks.  “Are y’all going by yourselves?” I asked.

“Of course!” came her reply.  “Aaron’s got his license; I told him to take me somewhere!”

Starbucks had been on our practice track enough that I didn’t worry so much on that one.  I know my son needs those moments of independence, even though I want to hold his hand through each of them.  It really wouldn’t be fair to him if I did.  My mind flashed back to my high school days, tearing down Benton Road in my ’79 Buick Regal, wheels burning and spirt free.

I arrived home still in a funk tonight.  Dom suggested I pour a glass of wine and take a bubble bath.  “I don’t feel like a bath,” I said.  I wasn’t sure what I felt like. Headbanging until my neck hurt? At this age, that would take about two beats.

“Okay,” he said, “I’m going to weed-eat.”

“Want me to mow?” I asked.  Next thing I knew, I was on the mower, sailing through the backyard with 80’s pop and metal tunes blowing out my earbuds.  I found Metallica’s One and added it to the playlist, seeing in my mind the boys from the band as they sat in front of the jukebox and headbanged every Friday night at Johnny’s Pizza on Benton Road.  I thought of each of them, and of how they all came to my defense on the night I backed my car into another student’s car in the parking lot at Johnny’s.  He (yes, he) wanted to physically fight me right there on restaurant property, but the guys got between me and him and basically said he’d have to go through them if he wanted to hurt me. My car and I both survived that night.

Thirty years later, that memory is still solid in my mind.  Me… 17 years old with a license and a car, the future stretched out endlessly before me.  And then I thought, for a moment, one of the final lines from one of my favorite books, “Ahhh…the wheel comes full circle…”