Reverb 10 for December 23 – NEW NAME

December 23 –  New name. Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

Eulalia Howlett

My first choice would be Eulalia. However, the name of my great aunt usually causes people to wrinkle their noses and ask “Eu-what?” And forget asking other people to spell it! I love the name, though. It has always had a particular musical quality that I love. I have been forbidden by my mother to name any children after her lest they be tormented throughout their grade school years. Aunt Eulalia was my father’s favorite aunt because, being a teacher, she was always a big supporter of his education. He used to recall her helping him with long division and the encouragement she gave him to pursue his aspiration of becoming a physician. She was also a very beautiful woman whose body language and elegant stature commanded respect. Sometimes, I imagine having a little shop that sells homemade jams and breads and even yarn and I would call it “Sweet Eulalia’s” after her.

Marie Frances Johnson (nee Howlett) 1943

My second choice would be Marie. Marie is my middle name. I am named after both of my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother was also Susanne Marie and my paternal grandmother was Marie Frances. My father had a habit of calling me “Marie” when I was in a bossy mood and reminded him of his mother. According to family lore, Marie was one helluva lady and even kind of crazy in her later years. Just this weekend, an auntie of mine told us of how, when she went to the cemetery to visit family, she would look and the ground and mutter “You SOB’s! All you left for me was arthritis!”. She was quite overprotective of my father and tried her darndest to keep him out of harm’s way, not allowing him to go ice skating or swimming or walk on the same side of the street as a funeral parlor or cemetery. She had all sorts of quirky beliefs, one of the most notable being that soaking in the same tub of water you used to cook corn would make your skin soft and silky. She was fond of scrubbing my father raw in an old washtub full of corn water with a generous bar of Octagon soap. She was an intelligent woman who had aspired to be a seamstress and attend the Pratt Institute, but segregation kept her from realizing that dream. I like to think that my acerbic wit probably comes from her as she was pretty much known for speaking her mind quite plainly. Family members describe her as a pistol and she was most certainly a woman before her time. I probably get a good deal of my “domestic” interests like sewing, knitting, baking, canning, and cooking from my maternal grandmother who raised 5 kids in Chicago and surrounding suburbs in the 50’s. She made most if not all of my mother’s clothes, though my mother drew the line at a homemade bathing suit one year. She also produced fantastic meals on a shoestring budget and kept the family entertained with her piano-playing.

Interestingly enough, I never knew any of these women as they died either before I was born or shortly thereafter. Their names are special to me, though, because they are names I hear frequently in family get-togethers where we hoot and holler over funny stories about Grandma ‘Ree and Auntie ‘Lalia. My father’s mother always wanted a baby girl in the worst way and I’ve grown up hearing how thrilled she would have been to see me come up in the world. I like to think there is a little bit of each of these women in me.


Reverb 10 for December 22 – TRAVEL

December 22 – Travel. How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

2010 wasn’t the most exciting year that I’ve had in terms of travel. I visited family in South Pasadena, California for Christmas, visited Arlington National Cemetery and Washington, D.C. for a few days, spent two weeks in Ellsworth, Maine, spent several days in New York City in January and June, and just returned from visiting more family in Richmond, Virginia.

Next year, I would like to see more of the family that I have scattered throughout the United States. I’d like to visit friends who have moved to new homes. I’ve never been to Boston which seems rather embarrassing to admit given the 25 years I’ve lived on the East Coast. I think I’d like to take lots of “little” trips in 2011, to nearby places that I don’t really know. Pennsylvania and the tri-state area is filled with wonderful historical treasures that I have yet to discover.

Reverb 10 for December 21 – FUTURE SELF

December 21 – Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

Dear Susanne,

Yes, you will get to stop taking prednisone and your face will no longer look like you’re related to a chipmunk. You’re kidneys will probably be fine as well, so stop worrying about that dialysis fistula. Oh, and it’s highly unlikely, given your anal retentiveness and keen organizational skills, that you will make a mistake and “accidentally” kill one of your patients. Try to be a little less self-critical, would you? Your nursing career, despite the early mornings, night shifts, and potentially aggravating patients, is going to be phenomenal. You may even publish papers or even a whole book from your experiences. We’ll see. This year, you’ll sew your first quilt which will keep you cozy for years to come. You still need to work on keep your mouth closed and your eyes and ears open, but I’m thinking you’ll mellow out a bit with time and maturity. This year, you’ll learn to become more financially savvy and maybe give doing your own taxes a shot. You should remember to always take time for yourself to do self-renewing activities: try yoga, it’s not as hard as you think. Cook more foods at home than you eat out, your GI tract will thank you. Always get a flu shot. Remember the swine flu you got in 2009? Within the next ten years, you’ll probably do some stint abroad again since I know you get antsy when you stay in one place for too long. I imagine you’ll do a lot of traveling, too. Personally, I’d like it if you visited Croatia but I won’t push the subject. At some point, you’ll learn that not all men are soul-sucking lunatics and you’ll find someone your speed who won’t mind sharing household chores or owning free-range chickens. Don’t buy a huge house and fill it with useless things, fill it with people – I imagine that your potluck dinners will continue to be a hit.

Reverb 10 for December 20 – BEYOND AVOIDANCE

December 20 – Beyond avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

It may seem silly, but I have a very complicated relationship with physical fitness.

I SHOULD HAVE just made a routine of going to the gym this year just like I make a routine of taking my inhaler every morning or brushing my teeth. Instead, I allowed the fear of failure to dissuade me from making physical fitness a healthy part of each and every day.

What if I didn’t get the results I wanted? It’s too hard. People will stare at me. Only skinny people go to the gym. I don’t have time today. I’ll go first thing tomorrow morning. 45 minutes might kill me. Oh, the ridiculous things I have told myself!

Well, it’s almost 2011 and it doesn’t appear that I am getting any younger (or healthier for that matter) so it looks as if I’ve got to dispense with the BS, doesn’t it? At this moment, it sure is easy to say “of course I will do this”, but you might need to check in with me in 3 or so months to see if I’m still feeling as chipper about not avoiding the gym as I do now.

Reverb 10 for December 19 – HEALING

December 19 – Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

People, in general. This person, in particular.

Dessert crepes at Beu Monde in Philadelphia with "Flat Jesse"

*I know you’re intrigued by the little cardboard man in the photo, but you’ll have to ignore him as he is not the subject of this post. As it is, I am probably risking life and limb posting this picture here, but it’s a risk I shall take nonetheless.

2010 has been that fragile year just after the death of my father where people walk on eggshells and constantly ask you how you are doing. It’s like the rest of the world is on a surveillance mission to see if you’re going to go completely off the deep end during the grieving process. It also seemed that, in 2010, we were continually remembering my father but never really putting him to rest because of a series of events to honor him had been scheduled throughout the year, not to mention a grand portrait unveiling in November. Because I was perpetually busy during this time with classes and clinical rotations and a two-week vacation to Maine, I didn’t really consider myself in need of any healing. Afterall, I had plenty of support from mental health professionals as well to keep a tight reign on anything that might resemble a downward spiral towards depression. It’s only in retrospect that I realize that my friendship with J provided healing because she continually reminded me why life is worth living, why it can be exciting and beautiful, how the smallest acts can renew your spirit, how faith can remind you that you aren’t alone on the planet, and that taking time to be with other people is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and others.

J is a phenomenal person. In fact, she greatly reminds me of my father in that she is a carrier of that ever annoying trait that makes her seemingly immune to passing judgment on other human beings. I, on the other hand, seem incapable of forming snide opinions of people within seconds of meeting them. These opinions, no doubt, tend to drastically change over time as I get to know others.  I am usually able to keep them in the confines of my own head, but sometimes they slip out and it’s like I hear my father’s voice come out of J’s mouth and I just want to ask “how can you like everybody!?”.

J is also one of those dependable people that are increasingly difficult to find in the world and that seemed to make all the difference in 2010. I wrote an earlier post about how much I appreciate my mother because of her dependability but, she is my mother afterall and part of that comes with the territory of bringing a wee one into the world. J, is beholden to me in no way whatsoever, yet I have been able to count on her for an inordinate amount of emotional support this year. And she has been supportive in exactly the way that I need: the strong, silent way. No loaded questions of “well, just how are you these days?” or “everything alright at home?” I didn’t have to lie about my emotional state and I didn’t get any of the overly-saccharine sympathy that I had come to detest. Every comment and question and suggest was always honest and genuine.

J and I took a lot of walks in 2010 as I, yet again, tried to recommit myself to some sort of fitness routine. It’s pretty difficult to get myself to commit to walking in the freezing cold at 9am let alone to convince someone else to do it with me. At one point, we were up to 5 miles round-trip which seemed to amaze others with whom I would share this information. Our walks provided a kind of self-renewal that I hadn’t even realized that I craved or needed. Even if I balked on some mornings, J would inevitably persuade me to lace up my sneakers and off we’d go. I always felt better at the end of the trail. It was great to accomplish something. 5 miles every week was a veritable Mount Everest for me in terms of conquering my inability to commit to any fitness routine. Beyond, the steps we logged, we engaged in lengthy chats about anything and everything of a personal, ridiculous, serious, or sad nature. It was free psychotherapy. I learned to become a better listener on these walks. I tried to learn to not get so worked up about stupid, small stuff. J tends to make me want to be a better person, so mostly, I did a lot of trying on these walks: try to not interrupt, try to not judge, try to listen for what isn’t being said.

Unfortunately, our walking schedule took a major nosedive with the fall as we geared up to finish nursing school and I struggled with two unhappy kidneys. Now, J is headed off to the wilds (or at least suburbs) of North Dakota to begin her nursing career while I remain in Philadelphia to start mine. In 2011, I will still take walks, though. If I’ve learned anything at all from my father’s death, it’s that you can still talk to someone even when they’re not next to you to hear you. I’ll just be sure to keep it in my head.

Reverb for December 18 – TRY

December 18 – Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

I’d like to say I want to try something very ambitious and impressive like scaling the 7 summits or learning a new language, but in keeping with the theme of my previous post, I’m keeping it simple.

Every since they opened their doors, I have wanted to take the Beginning Quilting class at Spool. Spool is a fantastic, locally owned fabric shop in Philadelphia. Something about being in the clean, bright, white space makes me want to create oodles of hand-sewn goodies. As someone who is new to sewing, I felt that I would be a legitimate seamstress of sorts if I could cut, construct, and sew my own quilt. It seemed like a necessary milestone I needed to achieve before I could consider myself halfway proficient. Alas, every 5-week class Spool offered conflicted with my academic schedule.

Until now!

Now I have 5 free Tuesdays that I can fill with the Beginning Quilting class and I am pretty ecstatic. Probably more ecstatic than any person has a right to be over quilting. There is just something magical about learning and new set of skills and then implementing them to find that you created something completely valuable, usable, and unique. That’s what I love about knitting and baking and canning and sewing: the sense of self-satisfaction, of pride in a job well-done, the joy others express over lovingly-created gifts. Marx writes all about this feeling in Das Capital when he speaks of the how with industrialism and capitalism we are so very removed from the creation of the products we directly consume. It is such a wonderful feeling to wear something or to eat something or to use something that was born from your own labor and creativity. It gives everyday objects greater meaning in my life, meaning that is hard to find when I pick something from a shelf and realize that it has traveled halfway around the world from a factory. So learning to quilt will not necessarily be merely about making a quilt, but about engaging myself in a new creative process.

Reverb 10 for December 17 – LESSON LEARNED

December 17 – Lesson learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

I have the tendency to be a very anxious person. Every academic year, without fail, I have a mid-semester breakdown over some assignment(s) that renders me paralyzed. Think writer’s block, but worse. At that point, I begin to procrastinate like it’s my job: I’ll clean my room, reorganize my closets, spy on everyone on my Facebook friends list, return the 20 emails I’ve been putting off for a week or two – anything to avoid the looming mountain of work. The thing is that the mountain is usually more like an anthill that I’ve drastically misinterpreted. This has been a yearly pattern since middle school and I never seem to be able to avoid it altogether.

This year, though, I learned that even when things downright suck, they really aren’t as terrible as they appear to be. The research paper will get done and I’ll probably have a bit of extra time to study for that test on the train to school. I’m much more resilient than I realized and can adapt fairly quickly to the changing tides of daily life. Earlier this fall, I was certain that the kidney trouble I was experiencing would derail my last semester of nursing school and I played out a most gruesome scenario in my head that ended with something like hemodialysis and my having to repeat the semester. In reality, here I am in December, having completed every assignment, graduated on time, and fairly healthy.

So what’s the moral of this story?


Keep It Simple Stupid

It’s difficult to avoid fear and anxiety since we humans are pre-programmed with that nifty ‘fight or flight’ response, but life is certainly more manageable when I don’t give in to my overactive imagination. Cliches like ‘rolling with the punches’ and other hackneyed sayings really do have a kernel of truth to them. That which does not kill you probably will make you a bit stronger for having had to overcome adversity in some way, whether molehill or mountain. In the new year, I’d like to remain cognizant of this fact when the going gets rough. I will remind myself that the anxiety isn’t a permanent state and that I am fully capable of achieving the tasks I before me. Change and challenges are good things, things that help move my life forward and encourage me to continue to develop myself into the person I really want to be.

Reverb 10 for December 16 – FRIENDSHIP

December 16 – Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?

I think I’m going to take some liberties with this prompt. My circle of friends has undergone some radical reconstruction in the past couple of years and my perspective on the world hasn’t been changed by just one person but by several persons.

If you ask my mom, she may or may not tell you about the year I was in 6th grade where she literally went all “mad black woman” on my female classmates at some middle school event. In retrospect, the whole scene was pretty hilarious and I can’t even really remember what sparked the outburst. My gut tells me that it had something to do with where the other girls were or were not sitting in relation to myself. I’m sure everyone can remember those lunchroom quibbles that ultimately devolved into tears as someone was told “oh, that seat is saved”. The whole event ended with a meeting with the principal and our teachers in the school chapel where we probably discussed tolerance, the “golden rule”, and other related Christian values. I was pretty mortified at the time, but it felt good to have my mom stand up for me. She’s good at taking one for the team.

Then there was the drama of high school where my entire group of friends was split down the middle as if we were reliving the great schism of the Catholic church when one girl accused me of lusting after her crush. It was at the time, and still is, debateable as to whether or not this boy was even heterosexual. I was friends with this boy by way of another mutual friend but had no romantic designs on him whatsoever. And despite a strongly-worded email to her, from him, on my behalf, she never spoke to me after sophomore year. The teenage female heart is hardly rational. And again, the drama led me to yet another meeting; this time with said classmate and the guidance counselor where the issue was never resolved. To further add insult to injury, this classmate’s mother was my English teacher and adviser to the only extracurricular activity that I really loved. Good grief!

I didn’t fair much better in college. My freshman year roommate and I seemed to never get along and, again, the sentiments between the two of us divided our entire floor. I never felt that warm-fuzzy feeling portrayed by the cast of 90210 or Saved by the Bell that one gets when surrounded by their best, true-blue buddies. There were always one or two confidantes, but they never seemed to truly stick if the going got rough or life changed in any significant way. The one friend I managed to make it out of Barnard with, stopped speaking to me shortly after my dad died without warning and for no discernible reason. It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?

When I returned to Philadelphia post-Barnard, I was so distraught that my mom suggested I adopt a kitten to keep me company. My father then adopted a second kitten for me thinking that not only did I need another buddy, but so did kitty #1. By 23, I was a fully-fledged cat lady.

The story becomes remarkably brighter, though. By participating in various activities, taking classes, and enrolling in nursing school, I started adding non-furry friends to my life. And these people, these people are keepers. They’ve changed my perspective on the world because I’ve come to know what genuine, unconditional friendship feels like. They remember my birthday, they don’t stop talking to me if we quarrel, they appreciate handknit gifts, they’ve introduced me to new foods, places, and experiences. I’ve also been forced to look at the world through different lenses to consider different perspectives on politics, love, religion, social justice, etc. I know that I am supported and accepted and challenged. The changes have been gradual and I’m still learning what it means to be a good, supportive friend, but I’m pleased that I can stop looking for friendship at the PetSmart adoption center.

Reverb 10 for December 15 – 5 MINUTES

December 15 – 5 minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

I’m using a 5 minute Celine Dion Christmas ballad as my timer. Does anyone else feel like her songs tend to be abnormally long?

In no particular order of importance, things I want to remember of the year 2010 before my memory gets erased by one of those Men In Black amnesia gun thingies…


Fiona likes to pose for her photoshoots.


The re-dedication of the Dr. Bernett L. Johnson Jr Sayre Health Center. The last day of my Penn BSN program. Getting offered a nursing job on the exact unit where I want to be. Walks in Fairmount park with J. Every Advent Soup Night. Dancing like a fool with my fellow nursing students. Viewing dad’s portrait at HUP. All the sentiments I’ve heard from those at HUP and Penn who remind me that he’s not forgotten. Naps with my cats. The beauty of Maine in August. Finding a new friend in A. Talking with patients at United Community Clinics. The privilege of getting to hold so many precious children at CHOP. Movies on Black Friday with mom. Baking bread. Picking fresh fruit. Making jam. Visiting the new PurlSoho space. Introducing J to NYC. Hugs from Phyllis and HUP’s COO, Mr. Black. The funny way it looks like our dog Hudson is smiling or laughing. Birds at the bird feeder. Nursing potlucks in all their epic glory. Hugs from B that make it hard to breathe.

Of course, there would be so much more, but my holiday iTunes playlist is on to Sarah McLachlan.


December at Valley Green Inn, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Wreath and Candles for Advent Soup Night.

Bali, Queen of the Covers

The Bubbles in Arcadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine

Dad immortalized in oil paint at HUP

Reverb 10 for December 14 – APPRECIATE

December 14 – Appreciate. What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?

I think I appreciate one particular person the most rather than any one thing. This lady right here:

I appreciate the heck out of my mom despite the fact my behavior sometimes connotes otherwise. It can be hard to express gratitude for a mom because you’re at a complete disadvantage from the get-go. I mean, a woman endures nine months of pregnancy, 31 hours of labor, and a C-section and there is just no way I can ever make amends for that! Sure, there’s Mother’s Day, but that really never seems to come even remotely close to helping children everywhere be more appreciative of their moms. My first act of mom appreciation in 2011 will probably be a cease-fire of my endless barrage of requests for various things including, but not limited to money. I foresee a good chunk of my future paychecks heading back to the Bank-of-Mom. She politely declined the cozy retirement cottage I had planned to build her behind my future home.

Everyone needs a good, solid mother in their life. If you don’t currently have one, or you have one, but not one that you like, I recommend you commit to a thorough search for someone who will listen to your endless rants, ravings, and whining at 11pm, make you chocolate chip pancakes, write you “just because” cards, tell you when you’re being a jerk, tell you when your boyfriend is a an idiot, clean out your cats’ litter boxes, and remind you that you really are an awesome person who probably won’t kill anyone during your career as a nurse.