Posted by: amymoellering | May 19, 2014

One of those “on the brink” Hugs

Remember your child’s first day of Kindergarten and you bent over to hug him or her goodbye? For me, I knew, to the bottom of my core that it was a profound moment, a moment on the brink—our little girl was crossing into a new world outside our home and our protection and moving into the big, expanded world of schooldays.

Then there was the first time our son took the car keys after he got his license. I knew he was entering a new level of freedom, and it wouldn’t be long before he too felt those possibilities. I hugged him and said, “Drive safe.” I must have said those words countless times. “Take care.” “Drive safe.” “Call me when you get there.” The litany of phrases we moms use.

These hugs are “on the brink of a transition” hugs. Sometimes you know that’s what they are and sometimes you don’t. They aren’t necessarily sad…they are bittersweet. Filled with pride and joy intermingled with the sting of loss that comes with change.

That was the hug I had with my oldest daughter last week. I knew what was happening. She did not. She just thought she was going for a hike with her sister. In her crumpled sweatshirt, her long brown hair tied up in a ponytail, she gave me a huge smile and morning hug. I held on a little long, in full knowledge that when she came home things would be different. Not only was our relationship moving into a new sphere, but also the circle of our family would be expanded. Just like that— exciting, full of promise— the way life is at twenty-three.

“See you soon,” I simply said, feeling like I was hugging the moment of her childhood moving on. “Have fun hiking.”

Yet, this was not a normal Saturday morning hike. A wonderful red-headed boy was waiting for her on a bench, with a ring in his pocket and promises in his heart. I knew during our hug that the next time I saw her she would have entered a new world, one that was redefining her definition of home. Although she’s been independent for a number of years and has lived on her own—this was different. Very different. Yep, it was one of those on the brink hugs!


Posted by: amymoellering | November 6, 2013

Conversation Confusion

As we prepare to visit our daughter for Parents Weekend  (packing our winter coats) I came across this entry I wrote in the summer….

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone that veered so off course you were left scratching your head?  A week before we took our youngest to college in the Great Midwest, we were eating lunch at some outside tables in Monterey with our new puppy sitting at our feet. Because new puppies are skilled conversation starters we caught the attention of a young mom and her two boys. She stopped us as we were leaving and asked all sorts of questions about the dog. I told her how she was bred for the runway, a show dog reject, whose dreams of modeling were curtailed by the fact that she’s too short. We laughed..I mean, aren’t we all too short to be models?  This is where the conversation got funny:

“What’s your dog’s name?” asked the woman.

“Well, her show name was ‘Who’s your Honey?’ but we renamed her Gracie.”

The woman’s eyes lit up and she nearly leapt out of her chair. “I’m from Indiana!”

At which point, my daughter’s eyes lit up too and she burst out, “I’m going to Butler! I leave next week.”

“OMG. I lived in Broad Ripple! You are going to love it. Butler’s a great school. Midwest boys are sooo nice…..” and on and on she went, in directions I couldn’t fathom. No longer was I the proud momma of a show dog reject, but the confused mother of a college bound daughter who was now the center of attention.

Although confused, I was also thrilled at how excited Maggie looked because frankly, she had seemed rather nervous lately about college.

We walked away after Maggie had gotten the low-down on all the places to go and the merits of Midwestern men. “What the heck was that all about?” I asked.

“Mom, she thought you said Hoosier Honey…not “Who’s your Honey.”

”But I’m glad she did,” Maggie continued. “I needed to hear that. People have been asking me why I would go so far away and it was nice to talk to someone who thinks it’s great.”

Whose your—Hoosier, I muttered. Well, there you have it!

HOOSIER, def. Hoosier /ˈhʒər/ is the official demonym for a resident of the U.S. state of Indiana.

Posted by: amymoellering | October 29, 2013

Just Married—50 Years Ago

After months of planning on Skype with my husband’s siblings who live in Ohio and London, the 50th anniversary celebration of my dear in-laws finally happened.

Outside Chapel Hill North Carolina, in the lovely Fearrington Inn, we had an intimate gathering of their closest friends and family. We re-enacted the saber arch they had at their military wedding during the Vietnam Era—four of their prior service friends standing as close to ramrod straight as possible, with sabers held high and crossed to form an arch. We duplicated the gardenia bouquet she carried and strung a paper streamer with the numbers 1-50, each filled with a detail of foolish fun (e.g. #24: Cost of a gallon of gas the year they were married).


 We watched, amid laughs and tears, a video my husband put together. That’s when it became apparent:  50 years is a lifetime, and that’s what we were celebrating: a married partnership across half a century filled with love for each other, for family, for friends; filled with kindness, laughter and commitment.

There were photos of parades and uniforms, of the babies, of the vacations, of the silliness of family reunions, of trips with friends, of those no longer with us, of fashion mistakes like shoulder pads and horrible ’80’s perms. Their love and devotion to each other was evident in every frame.

As we were setting this whole affair up, an outdoor wedding was taking place nearby on the lawn, and we stopped to watch. A young bride, on her father’s arm, walked through a drizzle of rain down the grassy aisle. She was just beginning her journey and I hoped she had a role model like my in-laws to emulate.  I was hoping the rain wasn’t bothering her one bit. That she welcomed its serendipity, it’s defiance against the weather forecast; that she laughed, because if she didn’t have the day she imagined, she had the day she created.

Because it’s one thing to stay married 50 years—and it’s another to hang a banner that sincerely reads: “Just Married- 50 years ago.“

Thanks for the example of love, Karla and John.

Posted by: amymoellering | October 15, 2013

Empty Nest?

My poor blog…it’s where I try to make sense of things and sometimes when you’re in the midst of an upheaval you just live through it and try to make sense of it all later. Later soon becomes a month, then two. Journals—that’s where the rawness of experience is recorded. Scrawled ink, rambling sentences, a litany of the mundane…that’s my journal. Time to pull those out, do a little healthy reflection, and hash them into Sunny Spells again.

 It has been a time of upheaval…the youngest off to college; the oldest struggling with health problems; a new puppy, a new job. But it’s been full of Sunny Spells too and it’s time…

So yes, we took the youngest to college, almost two months ago, and it’s been an adjustment. Not that I’m in denial or anything…I do buy way too many groceries for teenagers who aren’t coming, and although those empty closets are tempting, I haven’t filled them yet with the overflow of mine or the coats from the downstairs closet (I’m thinking that space would make a great wine cellar)…but so far, the rooms are intact.

However, the lack of chaos has been something I’ve had a bit of trouble with, as my neighbor brought to my attention this past weekend. She came over with her kids, and did a double take in my foyer. She took one look at the Golden Retriever and another at the small Terrier pup who came running to greet her and said,

 “Amy, I need to give you a reality check. Here you guys are supposed to be Empty Nesters and you have not one but two puppies, and one is in diapers!”

It’s true… John went shopping for diapers when our seven-month old puppy went into heat and the terrier was a friend’s dog we were watching while she went to her daughter’s parent weekend. But I smiled. Maybe I do need a reality check, but watching those puppies play and wrestle, and the madness of them running in circles brought joy and noise to a house that has felt a little too…quiet lately.



Posted by: amymoellering | July 8, 2013

Adventure on Highway 5

The interminable stretch of interstate between Southern and Northern California is the definition of monotony. The poorly equipped rest stops are few and far between, leaving mile after mile of golden farm fields, almond orchards, dried up almond orchards, smelly cows, disturbing scenes of smelly cows, trucks, and many more trucks.

Congress Created Dust Bowl

I’ve driven this stretch countless times, sometimes there and back in one day, to help my daughter who attended school in L.A. and stayed there to live. I’ve wrestled with sleepiness and boredom with packs of gum, Twizzler packs, book tapes, country music stations, and carafes of coffee.

Yes, to have any excitement on this road is unusual. Guess I should consider myself lucky.

On one of my latest trips, I traveled with Sarah’s boyfriend Joel with the mission of  getting to her place  by 2 pm in order to drive her to the hospital for a minor procedure. We left at 6 am with plenty of time to make the six-hour trip.

It wasn’t long before we were far from any signs of civilization and the tire blew. Not a large pop or blow out, just that uneven, jagged, bumpty-bump-bump on asphalt at high speeds.


My first thought was “great, we are in the middle of nowhere,” only to realize (gratefully) that the middle of nowhere no longer exists if you have cell phone reception.

In the old days, this really would have been an adventure as we would have had to walk to a call box, or try to flag down a sympathetic ( not pscyopathic) trucker.  But, in the days of smart phones, there wasn’t much danger. Within seconds I was on my phone calling AAA while Joel was on his, determining our exact location on his navigation app. Simultaneously, my husband John was at home photographing the AAA card that I had left behind and texting it to me.

Not impressed by this adventure? I know, the phones kind of killed it.  But this adventure isn’t about being stranded on Highway 5, it’s about what we found off Highway 5.

Within 30 minutes AAA found us, put on the dinky spare, and directed us towards Big O Tires in Los Banos, 40 miles away with a 15-mile detour off the highway.  At this point, we had only lost forty-five minutes and felt confident we could still make it. Our hopes sank when we got to Big O and a For Sale sign was in the front window. While I went in a gas station to ask for advice, Joel searched on his phone. The line was long, and by the time I came back Joel had already found Bruce’s Tires, a few blocks away with a five star Yelp rating.

As soon as we walked into Bruce’s, I asked, “What happened to Big O?”  Bruce just smiled and said, “Well, we are the best tire place in town.” I explained our time crunch and he said, “Go get some grubbage at the best breakfast place in California and I’ll have you ready to go in 25 minutes.”

That’s when I realized it was only 8 am, I had been up 3 hours and was starving. Could it be that I was about to experience two bests of California in Los Banos?

We walked a block or two, and the sign said it all:


It was as though we had stepped back in time. Brown vinyl booths with  value-sized bottles of ketchup and mustard on laminate tabletops. The walls told the story of Eddie’s family in large 8×10 frames: family of four with 80’s clothes and hairstyles in a Sears photo by a fake tree; wedding photo of that daughter now grown-up smiling with her dad; Eddie, now a grandfather with glasses, gray hair and a baby girl.

The two waitresses were in their mid-50’s, and–no kidding–they wore short denim shorts, their hair in buns, and sported a mouthful of “honeys” and “don’t you worry, love,” and “Yes dear, the Southwest Scramble with Homefries is one of the best items on the menu.” They kept the coffee pouring non-stop and hot in my cup, with a nice oil-slick film on top. Heavenly.


Thirty minutes later we were out the door, our bellies full, and Bruce was true to his word…the tire was on the car and came with a 12-month guarantee.

So, if you ever find yourself in Los Banos with an empty belly, by all means get off that tiresome highway 5 with its chain restaurants and go find Eddie’s. Hopefully you won’t need Bruce.

We made it to Claremont on time, but then had a 3-hour wait in the hospital because the doctors were behind schedule.

Posted by: amymoellering | July 2, 2013

Our Furry Teacher/Partner in Parenting

We’ve had two significant events happen in the last several weeks. Our youngest child graduated from high school; we lost our Golden Retriever. These two events may seem unrelated and not merit a semi-colon, but they are intertwined.

Our dog Josie arrived in our lives when Maggie was a seven-year old who wanted nothing more than a dog to love. She soon learned that loving and playing with a puppy also meant picking up dog poop– along with the other chores of feeding and walking.

Love and responsibility go hand in hand

During the middle school years, Maggie was less interested in chores and playing fetch with Josie, but she would lie on the carpet after a hard day of girl drama and just pet and pet the dog. I wouldn’t always know the words to say in those days, but Josie seemed to pick up the slack for me with her mere presence.

Love is being there

Then came the high school teenager who no longer grumbled about picking up dog poop or feeding the dog…she just did it. She would still lie on the carpet and pet Josie, but it wasn’t with the same intensity. I liked knowing that if I wasn’t home, Maggie could still count on Josie’s happy face and wagging tail when she walked through the door. Let’s face it…sometimes that was a warmer greeting than I could muster!  Something about that effusive dog greeting filled a gap that we could not.

Love is joy!

As parents we love our children unconditionally, but they don’t always experience it as we go about the hard work of disciplining, setting boundaries, fighting exhaustion, and trying to meet the demands of the day.  The dog, with her unbridled excitement upon seeing us, her funny phobia about vacuum cleaners, and her readiness to play at any moment, kept the mood light around the house and reminded us not to take life too seriously.

Love is playful

Maggie graduated and is traveling to the mid-west for college. Childhood is over. And our canine partner in parenting has left the world as well. Thanks dear friend. We appreciate your example of unconditional love. Somehow, you made it easier for us.


Afterword: When I was setting up for the Graduation Party, I pulled out Maggie’s school photos and schoolwork. This was among them and explains how that dear dog came into our lives.

Favorite Gift (Written by Maggie in 3rd grade, 2003)

I’m going to describe to you my dog Josie. Josie is a Golden Retriever and is a scardy cat! I got Josie because we had a dog named Louie who was cute but mean. He wanted to be the leader of the pack (family). So we had to give Louie away. I felt terrible when we gave him away. Even though he bit me by my eye! After we gave Louie away we decided we wanted a puppy! But a Golden Retreiver, Louie is a Beagle. So we were on the list. The lady who was breeding the puppys called our family and one of our friends’ family. She said she had two dogs who are Aunt and Niece. “They love to swim in pools” she said. “And if you don’t like them I’ll put you back on the puppy list.” Their names are well, the Aunt’s name is Mackee and the the niece’s name is Josie. So we said, “We’ll try them. We loved them so much we bought them.

Now I still have Josie! My dad said, “I’m happy we didn’t give up on dogs.” When I was a kid I did the same thing but didn’t get another dog.” I love Josie. I always will. She loves playing fetch with her Aunt Mackee. Whenever I see her run I want to yell! ”That’s my Josie!” because she always will be forever, My Josie!



Love is forever

PSS. We will be getting another dog. Guess it will be the “Empty Nest Pup.”


Posted by: amymoellering | May 14, 2013

On the Bright Side

This past Mother’s Day I received the following text from my sister Meg:

Well, I guess I must be a GREAT mom because I got EVERY meal served to me in bed today. People jumped when I buzzed all day and all night! They got me whatever I needed including several cups of coffee IN bed and they even made my bed for me! I got tons of flowers and I was left to rest all day except short visits where I got gifts, chocolates, songs, books and flowers. I did absolutely nothing but read fashion mags all day in my nightgown! You know, come to think about it…I didn’t get out of bed all day except to use my private Master bathroom.

This might be hard to beat next year…

If this doesn’t capture the spirit of Sunny Spells, I don’t know what does. You see, my sister had spent the past three days in the hospital which meant she missed her daughter’s eighth birthday and Mother’s day. She had blood poisoning from a bacterial infection caused by the port she has in her chest that allows her to receive saline infusions for her autoimmune disorder. Today she underwent surgery to remove the port, install a new one, and was looking at another couple days in the hospital.  Throughout all of this she’s been texting me like the one above and trash talking me about our Words with Friends game.

My sister is a hero. She has an incredible sense of humor, a persevering spirit and a knack for finding the silver lining. One of her favorite quotes is “Don’t wait for the thunderstorm to pass. Dance in the rain.” I guess with that attitude she is way beyond looking for the sunny spell or the rainbow. She is a ray of sunshine. Love ya, sis!



Posted by: amymoellering | May 9, 2013

Dark Horse Decisions (The College Search, Part Two)

“A dark horse, which had never been thought of…rushed past the grand stand in sweeping triumph.” – Benjamin Disraeli, The Young Duke


Orb’s victory at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday was not a dark horse race because he was expected to win, but still it was exciting to watch him come from behind and win those roses. This blog, however, is about the dark horses, and I ask for forgiveness as I stretch the metaphor.

Your dark horse might be the mediocre team that wins the championship, or the childhood friend you took for granted and one day becomes your spouse, or that wacky course you weren’t going to take that introduces you to your lifelong passion. There are situations in life where the dark horse wins. They are those people/choices/places that were in the shadows but then emerge to daylight and prominence in your life. It’s the choice that sat in the background, that you gave little or no attention to and then it becomes your course.

Indiana was not in our daily vocabulary until last week.

I don’t think we gave it a second’s thought that our daughter applied to Butler University. She was looking for another school to add to her list; a friend had visited it and recommended it highly, and it was so easy to apply to…just another push on The Common Application (if you aren’t familiar with this dangerous way to apply to colleges, be forewarned that it makes the process way too easy, and way too expensive.) When she got in, she wasn’t going to visit, as it seemed such a hassle.

So Butler sat there, a dark horse in the back recesses of our minds, and it wasn’t until she was about to commit to another that she expressed an interest in visiting. The May deadline upon us, and she had an inkling, an urge, a sweet request, “Is there anyway we might see it? I have a feeling I should.”

Perhaps it was the Bulldogs roaming campus, the Midwestern charm, the canoes in the pool, the friendly history teacher who was training for the Big Sur Marathon. Whatever it was, our lives have changed. Southwet Airlines loves us and we love Southwest.

And so I rewrite Disraeli’s quote:

A big Bulldog, which had never been thought of…barreled into our lives, became our mascot, and swept our daughter off to college.”




Posted by: amymoellering | April 23, 2013

An Earth Day Story

There are the front page stories in our lives, you know, the ones you talk about with your friends…the trip you’re just returning from or the one that’s in the planning stages; a child’s milestones; health struggles or work successes. The obvious “news.”

But then there are the background stories, the blips in your day that you keep to yourself. These are not always shared because they seem uninteresting or trivial in the grand scheme of things, but they can fill your day with a sunny spell.  In honor of Earth Day yesterday, I want to share one of those.

I’ve been fighting aphids on my roses for a long time. It’s always a struggle, as they return by the thousands every spring. Napolean-like, they never surrender–I’ve pelted them with the hose, shaken them, cursed at them, destroyed them, administered root treatments to strengthen the plants, and yes, I’ve bought ladybugs…only to have them fly away. I’ve done everything, except spray them with pesticides, and honestly, I was on the verge of doing that too.

This morning I noticed all the aphids were gone! Just like that. And on each rose plant was a very fat ladybug. They had come on their own free will. It was my very own Garden of Dreams: “Build it and they will come”. Thank you Earth and how you have your own remedy for these things.

Thank you ladybugs. Please stay as long as you like. Make it front page news and invite your families.


Posted by: amymoellering | April 9, 2013

Sizing up College


March and April 2013 will remain in my memory as a mad version of College Speed Dating. We took a new approach with the third child: apply wherever, and we’ll take you to see them when you get in. We figured she had spent enough time on college campuses with her two older siblings that she at least knew a few things about what she wanted in a college—size, prettiness of the library, good food, school spirit, cute boys…Oh, that’s her list.

And then there’s ours…value for the money, tuition, reputation, academic strength, value for the money, high graduation rate, job and internship opportunities, value for the money.

Acceptances in hand, the visits started with a 24-hour visit to Salem, Oregon where Maggie interviewed Willamette. A solid school, she really liked it, but she couldn’t help but wonder if Willamette wasn’t holding back on her, not showing his true self.  The weather was a perfect 70 degrees and sunny the entire time. Kids were throwing frisbees on the green, the professors were walking their dogs on campus. Hmmm..…this was Oregon, right?

From there it was off to San Diego where Point Loma Nazarene University cast a spell over us, not unlike the Sirens over Odysseus. Probably one of the prettiest campuses in the nation, the ocean breezes waft through dorm windows and the view is incredible from any spot on campus. Study? How in the world would one study in a place like that? The housing even had names like “the Surfer’s Dorm.” Would she ever leave?

We are now in Colorado and Maggie is attending a class while I write this from a walkway bridge that spans the University of Denver.  A genius piece of engineering, there is a coffee shop in the bridge’s heart that allows me to people watch to my heart’s content. However, it’s Friday at 9 am and most of the people walking around campus at this hour are parents with braces-laden junior high students proudly wearing yellow ribbons marked, “Geography Bee Winner.” Turns out the state finals are hosted here today.

We tell our kids, “you’ll just know when you’ve found the right one.” But what if they don’t? “It will be a feel, a gut reaction.” Really?  How nice if it were really that simple. Like a speed date, one doesn’t really know much about a person or a college from a short interview or visit. Most of the these schools offer similar opportunities; it’s helping her find the right potential mix…somewhere she can fit in and thrive.

I’ve been thinking lately that we’ve blown the whole thing up too much. From the time they are in elementary school, college gets portrayed as the treasure at the end of the rainbow. Then comes the reality that growing up isn’t easy….roommates can be strange, mom’s cooking is so much better than dorm food, and college is WORK, preparing you for WORK.

Yet, even as I write that, I know there’s more to it. The sun is emerging from the clouds in this lovely spot of Denver, on the brick buildings and bell tower  built in 1864, and I know that there’s also magic in these college years. How I loved finding my niche in the library to study, staying up late talking in the dorms with new friends, learning new ideas and challenging my faith and values.

Four years to inhale so much, to expand and grow.

We have one more school to visit, Butler University in Indiana and then the college speed dating search will be done. Thankfully, it’s not a commitment for life, just four years. It’s a long-term relationship, not a marriage or a one-night stand.

PS. She just came back from class with a dreamy look in her eyes. Could it be that other possibility I deliberately left out? Love at first sight…yikes!

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