Wednesday, January 15, 2014


When I was three years old, I took my first ballet class. One of my mother's favorite stories about me dates back to a recital later that year...

There I was, up on stage with 10 other girls performing our baby plies and pirouettes. As legend has it, my headpiece flew off and ... this is the part where my mom always pauses for dramatic effect ... "You kept right on dancing without missing a beat. AT THREE!" my mom will say. "All the other girls would've stopped to pick theirs up. They would've cried. But you, YOU!, were a total professional." A baby Baryshnikov. I was headed for stardom!

Flash forward 35 years and I, along with millions of others around the globe, have committed this new year to try, like Stella, to get my groove (read: old , smaller, pants size) back. So what do I do? I take that sentiment literally, and throw myself blindly into my first ever Zumba class.

At the strike of 6, the empty Y gymnasium buzzing with fluorescent tube lights exploded into an all-out salsa-cum-twerking rave-fiesta. Suddenly, I was one of a sea of 50 women (and two men) thinking, "How hard could this be??" Except I quickly learned that all 51 of them had done this before and it was hard as hell.

'But I was a classically trained ballerina!' I thought, already lost after two beats. I understood then that I'd probably peaked before I hit puberty and that all those years of lessons afterward would not save me now.

'BUT WAIT,' I thought to myself, struggling to keep up and reaching into the depths of my being for salvation. 'My name is MARIA. I'm a latina* woman, for crying out loud! These moves should flow through me like the blood currently rushing to my head and making me want to pass out.'

There was no doubt about it. I wasn't a dancer anymore. I wasn't even coordinated. I was Baby. Except, dammit, I totally deserved to be in the corner. My only saving grace was the young girl that was one row up, two spots over from me. Every time I looked over at her, she was doing the absolute polar opposite thing everyone else was doing (and I was attempting to do.) 'At least, I'm not HER', I kept thinking. She had absolutely no rhythm. But in her own spastic, nerdy (would totally have been played by Joan Cusack complete with head gear in the 1980s version of this moment) way, she was bursting with soul. I was just busting a gut.

Fifty-nine minutes in, I thought maybe, just maybe, I was finally starting to get it. The kick-ball-changes from my years of Tap came flooding back, as did the few bits of Irish step I'd picked up from Erin, Susie, and Abby in grade school. 'I'M DOING IT!' I thought, 'I'M DOING IT!' But it was too late. The last song abruptly ended, the lights went back up, and everyone scattered like roaches. Son of a bitch.

Still reeling from those last precious 60 seconds of glory, I stumbled out into the -5 degree night in hopes of making it home for my bedtime-story duties. As I approached my car, I slipped on a 2-inch sheet of ice like no one has ever slipped before. Suddenly, I was three again, and it was not onto my ass that I found myself falling, but into the arms of Patrick Swayze, where I nailed the most epic Swan Lift you've ever seen. My mom, like Kelly Bishop circa 1987, would have been so proud. I was a star.

*If you didn't read this with a spanish accent like those crazy news anchors do on TV, please go back and read it again with the accent. The line is WAY better that way.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


My dad always said that bad things happened in odd numbered years. He seemed pretty insightful in 2001, when my gram died and four planes devastated buildings, fields, and families throughout New York and the world, all within three weeks of each other. I honestly never thought I would feel joy again.

Flash forward to the first few days of this new, beloved, even-numbered year, and I can't help but feel hopeful and finally exhale.

2013 was the worst fucking year.

On the other hand, 2012 was pretty epic. Decision after decision, watching the home of our dreams come together beautifully with each passing day. Finding freedom in expressing the absurdity and hilarity of our everyday lives. Good friends and some strangers reached out to let me know how certain tales I told resonated with them. In particular, people told me I was funny. FUNNY! How awesome to be able to make someone smile, let alone laugh?? Even if it is at your own expense.

As the year came to a close, we moved in to our still unfinished home with no heat, in the middle of a blizzard, both of us with strep. Just over 15 hours from start to finish, to get our stuff out of the old house, drive less than 2 miles away, and put our stuff into the new house. And that was with movers. Well into the night, snow still coming down outside, we collapsed at the home of some beloved friends that agreed to take us in, feed us dinner, and give us a warm place to sleep.

It was all downhill from there.

Every once in a while, people made comments about how they missed reading my meanderings. But for all the draft posts that floated through my head, I could never quite get my fingers to the keyboard to put them down on this virtual paper. I wanted to share the insanity that was constantly happening all around us (at home, at work, in life). I just couldn't. I wanted to be able to make it all funny, but the last 12 months were anything but. They were frustrating, sad, challenging, draining, fattening, aging, you name it. All I wanted to do was run away. And, if no one wanted to come with me, so be it.

And yet, 365 restless sleeps later... I'm still here!

We had the luxury of ringing in the new year with some great new friends. After more than 5 years, we even made it to midnight. Nay, PAST midnight. Out in the snowglobey Vermont night, in front of a huge bonfire, sharing our hopes and dreams for the next 12 months. Logan made reference to my odd-numbered-year-blues dream of making 2014 our "Away We Go" year. If you haven't seen the movie of the same name, it's essentially a couple on a journey to find the place they're meant to live and raise their family. (Please see: aforementioned escape plan.)

Earlier that day, we'd watched a truly stunning animated short called "Lost & Found" (based on Oliver Jeffers' equally stunning children's book by the same name), leased our skis for the season and bought hockey skates for the family. Three weeks earlier we'd finally hosted a small housewarming party, with heat (!), totally unpacked boxes (!!), and the most decadent 5-layer cake this side of the Mason Dixon. And now, there we were. Surrounded by people we've grown to love, and some we'd met only hours before. The only chaos, the roaring flames. It felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

And maybe 2014 is exactly that. The year to just be.

It was 2am before we all turned in, the kids all nestled snug in their beds until, just a few hours later, each of them ended up in our beds thrashing, kicking, scratching, twitching, and demanding that we wake up to play and have breakfast.

Little bastards. Don't they know it's an EVEN year?

(c) Oliver Jeffers

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Today is one of those days that feel full of amazement.

Maybe it's because I was up until 2:30 in the morning last night, so I'm a bit delirious.
Or maybe it's because I woke up to find a beautiful note from a friend in my inbox.
Perhaps it's because of the magnetic force field that caused my computer and my cell phone
to crash simultaneously at work today (my PC has yet to recover;
the iPhone, of course, seems just fine.)

Definitely, it's because of the 6 ridiculously talented people
we just watched play their souls out on stage.

How does such a booming voice
come from such a small lady?
What must it feel like to be so engrossed in your passion that
you can share intimate and inspiring moments with a few
you know well and hundreds that you don't know at all?

I got a glimpse of that feeling sitting next to my husband at the
show tonight, and a crazy to desire to feel it more and more and more.

PS: If you have not yet experienced the voice and music of Brandi Carlile,
please do so immediately.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Reading has always been hard for me. I love books, but it takes me forever to get through them, and soon after the story ends I can't seem to remember any of the details. The names, places, and situations escape me, leaving only the essence of the tale behind. The same, often times, has been true of my day-to-day life.

About 10 years ago, I started keeping a day planner. Rather than fill it up with appointments in advance, I used it to jot down what I did during the day, for fear that I would never remember. I kept the entries brief: the name of the person I'd had dinner with, the name of the book I was reading or the the movie I went to see, the general mood of the day—"cloudy; cranky."

The tradition came to a screeching halt about the time I had my son. After four days of labor, an exhausting surgery, weeks of recovery, and endless feedings, I couldn't bear the thought of keeping track of those days: Couch. Boob. Couch. Boob. Couch. The repetition was maddening, the routine exhausting.

Since then, I've been pondering the age old question: What am I going to be when I grow up? Despite struggling with the topic for 35 years, I thought that by writing about it I would somehow find the answer faster. Not so. In fact, putting it out there has only magnified the pressure I put on myself to find that one true thing.* This year, this summer, I've felt lost.

The September Issue, among the other september issues.
And then September came. "September," I said to a friend, "is my January. I adore it." September marks new beginnings: a new school year, a new season (my favorite!), and the pinnacle of the magazine year. The mother load in the mailbox was more than a girl could ask for to keep busy for the month. But, this September brought with it even more.

On my nightstand, I had amassed a pile of books that I'd back-burnered, borrowed, or bought for myself, and September was my month to power through them. It was a lofty goal for me, but I was determined. And then, just before the first of the month, the postman delivered a special package—a copy of my friend Christina Rosalie's new book, A Field Guide to NOW, and I found myself lost once again. This time by choice.

(en)Light bedtime reading.
Her prose is thick like honey. Every sentence, a treat to savor and enjoy for what it is: a collection of words so sweetly strung together, so honest and true, that to swallow them too soon would be a shame. 

I wanted to be that good friend that devoured the book in one day and reported back about how amazing I thought it was—and how I wasn't sure I would be able to look her husband in the eye at the coffee machine at work anymore, now that I knew so much about him... But I didn't. Truth be told, I couldn't. I would find myself reading a couple of pages and before I knew it, my mind would wander to my own life and the things I dearly value. I pondered the days I felt I'd lost—either from lack of memory or lack of drive—and made a decision to make a change. To focus on living in the moment. 

Mad River, Waitsfield, VT
I ordered a set of the most perfect, pocket-sized notebooks and picked up where my planners had left off two and a half years ago. From there, I committed to engaging in life in a way that would warrant the honor of being written down. I discovered new places to visit just down the road from home. I reveled in Monday night library jaunts and Saturday afternoon dates with my son. I popped over, unannounced, to friends houses and whisked them away on unexpected adventures. I took a step back from the chaos and consternation that comes from building a new house, and watched from afar as my amazing future emerged from a pile of dirt.

Harvest Festival, Shelburne Farms
Thirty days later, I feel just a little bit closer to the world around me. I know that the notes I've kept will help me remember this month for years to come and will help me to create the next great gift (like the one I made for Logan for our second anniversary: capturing the milestones of our life together on custom library card catalog cards housed in an antique wooden recipe box.)

I've yet to finish Christina's book. There's no rush, especially since I'll likely forget the details from it that have so enriched my September days. I've yet to figure out where I and in turn, this blog, are headed. What I do know, is where I am now. I'm on my couch—yes, that very same couch—sitting next to my husband, writing what I know and what I care about. My guess is that everyone involved is just fine with that.

*Spoiler alert: There is no one true thing. At least not for me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Three years doesn't seem like a long time. Until, of course, you consider everything that's actually happened in that time. 
  • Got married
  • Had a baby
  • Moved to DC
  • Bought land
  • Moved back to VT
  • Got new jobs (granted, at the same company)
  • Started building a new house
  • Dropped son off for the first day of his third year of school (as a Dragonfly)
More than enough to celebrate, wouldn't you say? We thought so. 

One of Hudson's favorite teachers graciously agreed to come to Richmond to hang out with him while we went to dinner at what is undoubtedly one of our favorite restaurants, ever. It did not disappoint—not the food, nor the company.

Love & Deliciousness.
This morning, at 7:15, I had to wake Hudson up to get ready for school. I walked into his room, floor boards creaking, and opened his curtains, letting in the morning sun. He sat up in his crib and rubbed his eyes. The first words out of his mouth were, "Where Trixie go?" That's when I knew that all three Browns had had a pretty awesome night.

Happy anniversary to us.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


My parents raised me to be humble. Selective. And, discreet. If things were going well, we didn't need to brag. And if they weren't, it was nobody's business but ours.

I remember as a kid asking why, since my parents are pretty religious, we didn't go to church on Sundays. My mother always replied, "Church is for the neighbors to know you believe in God. We pray, so God knows we do." It made perfect sense at the time. (Though I always suspected that sending me to catholic school for 13 years was a bit of insurance on their part.)

Our way of life has always been just my style. Modest. Simple to understand. Easy to follow. Until, of course, I started Meandering.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've struggled with deciding the events in my life that would make appropriate posts, and those that, as a Varela, undoubtedly would not. Frustrations with friends and family. Disagreements at home. Struggles at work and at school.

I'll let you guess from the number of recent posts where I landed in most—nay, ALL—cases.

Since we broke ground on May 1, the big hole has been a physical manifestation of the struggle between my public and private self. Every eye in the village trained squarely on the doings at 300 Cochran Road. Every wheel barrow of cement, every 2x4, a glimpse behind the curtain that is our life.

"You know those people walking their dogs or out for a run?" asked a woman that is also in the process of building a house in town. "You know they all sneak in at night to check the place out, right?" I had suspected, but I'd hoped it wasn't true.

So for three months, I've felt out of control and totally exposed.

But then today, things felt different. The siding is nearly done and painting is well under way.  All of the windows are installed, and—best of all—the doors in.

As I walked into what will soon be our mudroom, the house, behind closed doors, was warm and quiet. For the first time since this whole adventure started, the place really felt like home. And while I know, the super curious will still find themselves trying to peer in, I'll keep telling myself that from here on out, whatever happens inside is nobody's business but ours.

The big house
takes shape
with the help of friends.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


As someone who's been obsessed with magazines from a young age, I've read countless articles defining the variety of female body shapes and the clothing and accessories that best match them. Through the years, the labels have evolved slightly but one thing has remained the same: they're always worded in a short, sweet, simple way meant to make every shape sound attractive.

Pear, straight, athletic, curvy... Missing from the list is the one that fits me. You know, the one that's specific, illustrative, and dead-on accurate. Relatively proportional most of the way down, with oddly placed speed bumps on either side of the upper thighs. I'm thinking something like: Python that swallowed a whole cheese wheel and is storing it about three quarters of the way down its throat.

Needless to say, bathing suit season can be a little stressful. But as I packed for our trip last week, I took an unusual tact. I shoved every bathing suit I owned into my duffel bag without trying them on (most of which I hadn't worn since our honeymoon back in 2009) and hoped for the best.

On our first day at the beach, I had an important decision to make that would set the tone for all of Beach Week: sport the trusted Speedo—the Spanx of swimwear—and live with the Sudoku board tan lines later, or blindly throw on a bikini and run out the door. I chose B and never looked back (or down.)

I spent the rest of the week obsessing over the shapes that really matter.

The perfect half moon of Hudson's smile as he learned to ride a tricycle. The giant almonds that were his eyes when he first saw the ocean's waves. The triangles of the swimmies he wore into the pool that so reminded me of the ones I, too, wore as a kid. The star shape of his arms, legs, and head as he launched himself into the pool time and again.
Hudson loses his inhibitions.
At night, he and I would climb up onto a white stool in the room we shared and peek out the round window—reminiscent of a porthole on a ship—to say goodnight to the water, the sun, the clouds, the birds, the crabs. One night, on his own, he said, "Goodnight, boat. Goodnight, man on the boat." And my arms mimicked the shape of the window, hugging him tightly to acknowledge his awesomeness.

The view from our window.
I am so grateful for the time we shared. Watching the sun rise from the beach each morning, and luring crabs with chicken necks off the pier in the evenings. Listening to Grammy Pammy's infamous tales. Hearing about Nic's upcoming book, and the new chapter he, Abby, and Frances will begin this summer in Oxford, Mississippi. Logan, Hudson, and I, getting to spend time together as a family, away from the hustle and bustle of every day life.

Years from now, I won't remember what I wore or how I looked, but the memories of our week together will stay with me forever.*
Polaroid portrait of our little family on the porch.

* I know just the place where there's plenty of room to store them. I hope they like cheese!