Toast to Jill Clark on her 60th Birthday

Jill Patricia Beckwith Clark is my mother. She's also a wife, a sister, a friend, a coworker, a chef, a carpenter, a gardener, a landscaper, a baker, a crafter, a creator, a therapist, a dog sitter, a confidante, an advocate, a career counselor, a party planner, a list-maker and maybe a few hundred other things.

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I grew up thinking my mom was the best. She was able to guide me into building the most creative, cool projects like board games about dolphins and an inverted family tree shaped like a conifer. She took me to craft fairs where she'd sell her own amazing creations - woven baskets and multicolored broaches - but she'd encourage me to make my own little crafts to sell - like earrings made out of cereal. She upheld traditions in our family that hold strong to this day. Decorating the Christmas tree together, building gingerbread houses from scratch, celebrating the summer together with a big picnic, big family pancake breakfasts - with 2 kinds of pancakes! 

But it wasn't until I was an adult that I truly understood how amazing she really was. She made our lives so happy and full of joy, growing up. Even when things were hard, she looked on the bright side and helped us do the same. She supported us through everything we tried, everything we succeeded at - she was cheering on the sidelines. Everything we failed at - she was there with a hug and a smile. She helped us build our own lives as adults - find our wings and soar. And she celebrated us every step of the way. She made us feel as loved as when we were kids, even when I moved 300 miles away.

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We are all so lucky to have her in our lives. She makes our occasions brighter, our days sweeter, our lives happier. She cooks for us, buys us creative gifts, tells us stories, laughs with us, asks us questions about our lives, shares our joy with us. She makes time for us all, and makes us feel loved, whether we're her child, husband, friend, brother, sister, niece, nephew, cousin.

She will always be my mom. But she is also one of my very best friends, my favorite person to confide in, to bounce ideas off of, to get excited about the future with. And she is my inspiration to be the kind of woman, wife and mother she has always been and I hope to be.

Mom, you are so many things to so many of us. You are strong and beautiful and kind and generous and creative and positive and brilliant. Today, we're gathering to celebrate you. But in our everyday, in our smiles and our little kindnesses to each other, we celebrate you everyday. Thank you for being you. 

To Jill!

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Letters from Me, Day 40: Nate Monroe, Fort Edward, NY

Dear Nate,

You are a wild and crazy, untamed and unapologetic, majestic beast of a man.

I have known you almost half my life, as long as you've been the main squeeze of my main squeeze, my dear friend, Tate. When you blew into our lives, you were the way cool, way mature "older man" in Tate's life. You swept her off her feet instantaneously and I knew that day you invited me to be the surprise at her surprise birthday party that you were the one for her. 

You have always cared so deeply for her, and no matter what the world has thrown at you, your love remains steadfast. 

I felt so honored to be a part of your big day, almost 10 years ago - can you believe it? The sun shone down on Crandall Park as we marched down the aisle - the bridge to the island in the duck pond - and you two said your vows, as serious as two crazy kids could be. I couldn't believe how grown up you guys were - tying the knot when I was still parading around Boston like a maniac, figuring out (or not caring) what the heck to do with the rest of my life or even the rest of the year. I loved dancing the night away with you and your big families and all of your friends at the Queensbury Hotel. How fitting and perfect that I was escorted in the ceremony and into the reception by your dear friend, Cherith. That night was one of many to come that we would party and act crazy together – for we were all just young ones looking to have fun. Another particular night that sticks out in my mind is the night we spent together when you guys stopped in Boston on your honeymoon. The four of us - with Bob - were a recipe for insanity. How many bars did we visit that night? I lost count.

As time passed, as it does, you guys continued to grow as a couple...and eventually Tate really began to grow! She was carrying your child, and then it turned out - TWO of your children. I remember how wild it was to find out you guys were expecting twins. Getting married was big, but this was REALLY big! You supported her through a tough pregnancy and a scary birth, but you both came out of it stronger, and with two little nuggets to call your own. I remember meeting them in your apartment right off Glen Street, with the tapestries and drapes and posters and rocking chair with cozy blankets. They were both so small, so similar, yet so different and both so perfect. It was a miracle before my eyes that you two created such amazing little beings.

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I moved to Philadelphia not long after the girls were born, but made sure to get in visits with you guys almost every time I journeyed back north. I have great memories of you and Tate and the girls at brunch, at dinner, at your house playing games and watching movies or at my parents, doing activities and crafts in the backyard, starting (and crushing) games of badminton and horseshoes and eating BBQ around the long tables. Or in the winter, when you guys would come and get the girls sugared up on frosting and candy, and you'd spend half the afternoon playing chess with my dad in the living room. My parents (and Josh and Kristi) have come to love you just as I have - you have always been so kind to them, spent time with them when we're all together and made time to ask them how they are. And most recently, you have befriended Dylan too - the love of my life who reminds me of you in more than a few ways. 

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You are such an important part of our lives, and someone that I admire as a man, a husband and a parent. Watching you with Chloë and Leigha, you are patient, kind, invoking their curiosity and wonder, and asking all the right questions. I love being with you and your family - it is such an inspiration to me.

I wish you four all of the best things in life in the years to come. We hope to be there in some way, shape or form, checking in and sending our love in all of the big moments. You've got some great days ahead of you, with the wonderful home you've built (and keep building), the loving family surrounding you and the joy that you bring to everyone you're with. I realize how sappy this whole letter has been - I know you'd expect nothing less - but let me end it on this note:

Never stop being that badass mudda that you are.

Love,

Amanda

Letters from Me, Day 27: Tom Beckwith, Essex Junction, VT

Dear Tom,

My dear uncle, we've had a lot of great times over the past 31 years. I'm sure you remember way more than I do, considering for many of those years, I was just a kid and not taking photographs of everything I do and everyone I see, as I have been for the past 10 years or so.

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I was peeking at the photos I've taken of you since you joined Facebook, and it brought back a lot of great memories.

Picnics with the family where we tossed water balloons or eggs to win glory and victory. Where you and the guys threw horseshoes to prove who the manliest man was. Or frisbees or beanbags to pass the time between bites of burgers and cupcakes.

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Christmas parties and catching up on each other's lives - new jobs and houses, Tyler's hockey career, puppies and cats. Swapping books and finding the perfect present in the card game. Snacking and snapping photos, even though the kids don't really like to smile.

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Trips to Burlington, where we go bowling, scoring strikes and celebrating gutter balls, or go to brunch to load up on the buffet and talk about the Red Sox.

Weddings, like the one we went to a few weeks ago, where we show off our killer dance moves, sip coffee, eat Krispee Kremes and chat all the way through dinner.

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And even a visit to Philly, when we were so excited to meet you guys for dinner at El Vez, one of our favorite local restaurants, and stop off at Capogiro for a sweet treat. It was so great to see your family on our turf. I hope you know you are welcome to visit anytime. We will always have new things to show you and great food to eat!

Thank you for all of the time we've spent together over the years, for being a great uncle to Josh and I and all of the cousins, for being an awesome brother to my mom and the rest of the Beckwith clan, for being such a cool dad to Carisa and Tyler (some of my favorite cousins), for bringing Mary Ellen into our lives (because she is the sweetest), for all of the fabulous Christmas presents (I adore our ceramic TV dinner trays) and for just being you. A smart and savvy, witty and wry, kind and caring guy, the best kind of uncle out there. 

A still from our sumo match video at the summer picnic, 2009.

A still from our sumo match video at the summer picnic, 2009.

Looking forward to the next get together (perhaps a Luau picnic?) and all the fun to come.

Love,

Amanda

Letters from Me, Day 24: Lynn Beckwith Dionne, Winooski, VT

Dear Lynn, 

As my mom's older sister, you've known my whole family the longest out of anyone on this earth. You've been a wonderful sibling, a truly remarkable mother, a fantastic aunt and a great daughter and friend. You've made such an impact on the people who know you, and even greater on those you love and have taken care of. We are so lucky to have you in our family.

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I look up to you in a big way, as the mother I've always known you to be. You raised four amazing kids, each with their own strengths and personalities, each with their own wants and needs. The Dionne brood were always welcome at events when we were young, because I always had such fun with you guys. I always felt honored to be accepted into playtime with my older cousins. You did such a wonderful job at keeping your kids happy and feeling safe and loved. I admire your strength and dedication to your kids, ever since we were all little.

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Now, all of us kids have gotten older, you've become a great grandma to little Autumn, and I get to see your love and kindness continue to grow. I had such a wonderful time celebrating with your family at John and Grace's wedding. It was clear in their love, and the love your kids share with one another, that yours is a family that sticks together and supports each other through thick and thin. It was so fantastic to meet Grace's family, and be introduced more fully to the woman who chose John to spend the rest of her life with. She's such an incredible person, and it speaks so highly of who John has grown into. Both him and Ted are wonderful men, who love and respect women, and I know they learned that from their mom.

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Thank you for all of the times you've driven to see us in New York, for parties and picnics. It is wonderful to have you and any combination of your kids, grandkids and greats with us as we grill and play and craft and chat and eat and drink. It always means a lot that you guys make the drive. 

Thank you for introducing us to Rex, a wonderful man who makes you so happy, and who we've all come to love as an uncle.

Thank you for including me in celebrations when you and the Vermont crew would come down to visit Gerry, Laura and Alexis. I loved last summer when you came to Philly for the afternoon and we peeked at the Liberty Bell and took a carriage ride, topped off with some very tasty Philly ice cream at Franklin Fountain. I loved that day, and getting to see my family just steps away from the office I come to everyday.

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Thank you for all of the wonderful gifts over the years. We will remember the wine from Costco fondly, and always wonder why we could never find it anywhere else! You've always been so thoughtful in your Christmas presents - and I know you look forward to the holiday all year long, just like us, so I wouldn't think you'd be capable of anything less. We appreciate your generosity and kindness, and hope that in the years to come, we can get as good as Christmas gifts as you are!

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I wish that we have many, many good times ahead of us - weddings, yes, and Easters and Christmases and birthdays and get togethers for any reason at all. I wish you joy and health in the years to come, as you get to watch the next generation grow up - and new little ones join the family! I wish you peace of mind and relaxation, in your home and in your heart. And lastly, I wish you love - from all directions - that will last your whole life long.

Love,

Amanda

Letters from Me, Day 21: Gail Beckwith, South Burlington, VT

Dear Gail, 

If you've been keeping up with my Facebook postings for the past few weeks, you may have seen that I'm writing 365 letters to the people that mean a lot to me in my life. When I was making my list of those people, I immediately thought of you. You have always been one of my closest family members, as we've spent some great times with you over the years. You've been a part of celebrations in our lives – big and small.

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I always loved visiting your place when I was little. You took the time to play games with me, read books, watch movies (Mary Poppins over and over again, anyone?) You showed me some of my favorite computer games early on - I remember a digital coloring game you introduced me to where you'd pick different hues and fill sections of a line drawing.

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It wasn't just digital art we did together. You are one of the craftiest, artsiest people I know, and, as a fellow crafter, I've been consistently inspired by your projects over the years. I hope I told you how sweet it was when you packaged up your candleholder project from last year, so that I could make some on my own. I ended up bringing the whole box to my friend Tate's house, and we decorated candleholders all afternoon with her daughters. I so appreciated you passing your creativity onto me, so I could pass it onto them. 

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Not only are you crafty, but you're artistic. Your paintings and works of art over the years have grown more beautiful. And then there's your photography. I've been following you on Picasa for several years - ever since you joined, I think. I used to get updates when you posted to an album, and I could go exploring, seeing the world through your eyes. You have such a penchant for getting great shots - of people, animals, nature, man made structures, and everything in between. I especially love your photos at home, the ones you took of Carl and more recently, of Bana.

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You've been generous with sharing your photos each year as well. At Christmas time, I always look forward to getting your yearly calendar, each with a different theme and a different set of images. This year's close-up animal faces are so gorgeous and unique. We've got a special place in our kitchen where we hang our calendar. This year, we'll be moving and will have to find a new place to hang it up!

I have so many wonderful memories of spending time with you over the years.

You're such a bright light in our family, and I'm always excited to see you when I take a trip to Vermont, or we meet in Queensbury for a weekend trip or summer picnic. I loved that we traveled to Seattle for the same weekend last summer, where we got to explore the city, the farm and the Washington coast. It was such a joy to get to spend a few days with you guys - not only getting to see where Jeff and Sue and Jess and Jake live - but getting to know you and Aunt Eileen just a little bit better. I feel that way every time we spend time together. Since I've been an adult, I haven't gotten to see my Vermont family as much as I'd like (especially since moving to Philly), but I always treasure the time I get with you.

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I fondly remember when you took the trip to come visit me in Philadelphia with my parents. I lived in Bryn Mawr at the time, and you were coming on a mission of great importance - to adopt the cat I'd spent so much of my life with, who was having a hard time with his new home. You were so sweet to him - I knew right away you'd be a perfect adopted mom to him. And you were. You treated him with such love and kindness. He flourished at your house, and spent his final years in comfort and happiness.

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There are so many reasons I adore you, Gail. You are compassionate, smart, creative, funny, kind and loving. You are a great sister, aunt, cousin, friend and pet owner. You make others happy by being yourself, and you live honestly and with great joy. 

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I wish you good things to come - peace of mind, comfort, happiness and adventure. Stay true to yourself, be well and see you very soon!

Love,

Amanda

Letters from Me, Day 18: Eileen Beckwith, South Burlington, VT

Dear Eileen,

You've been my aunt for as long as I can remember...in fact, as long as I've been alive.

And as long as I've been your niece, you've been simply the coolest. Your kindness, generosity and quiet sense of humor have been a constant in my life, no matter how far away we lived from one another.

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When I was younger, just a kid living in Bristol or even once we moved to Queensbury, your house was the fun place to be. You had cool toys to play with, a comfy bed to sleep on, you let me stay up later than my mom and you were fast and loose with the chocolate syrup. I know Josh remembers that last one too. I remember having sleepovers at your house and cooking breakfast in the morning, which always tasted better than at my house, just because I was on "vacation."

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I also looked forward to your trips to Queensbury. You'd often come with Gail and Grandma and we'd picnic in the park or sit around playing games at the kitchen table. You've always felt like an extension of my immediate family, since you were around so much when I was growing up. I always appreciated you helping celebrate my birthday and of course, Christmas.

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The Christmas party, hosted at your place for as long as I can remember, has been a favorite part of our family holiday tradition. It was the one time of year that all (or most) of the family could commit to getting together, to being in one place, to sharing their joy, to seeing how kids were growing, to eating and drinking for hours. And of course, we all love the Card Game. I don't know if it has a name, an official, Christmas-y name. Because I've always known it simply as the Card Game. Every year, you make sure to have dozens of presents, all wrapped up in boxes, large and small. And every year, we somehow end up vying for the same one and John and Ted steal it from everyone and my dad laughs really loudly when people get huffy, and then one of the little ones takes it and carries it around the room for 5 minutes and we all smile. Every year, the presents help make Christmas special. The amazing spread you guys put together makes Christmas special. Being together makes Christmas special. And you have always worked hard to make that happen.

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You've also worked hard for another holiday - well, it's not really a holiday, so much as a party. The summer picnic at my parents’ house has been going on for what - 16 years? 17? And you've been to all but one, I believe. (There was a very important Red Sox game one year, and I will fully attest to the priority that is a very important Red Sox game.) Every year you've come to the picnic, you've arrived early, usually with some food you've made in hand, ready to help set up, play games, snack on appetizers and when it comes to be lunch time - become...the Grill Master. I don't know how you got the job so many years ago, but that's another tradition in our lives. You always make the best cheeseburgers and chicken and hotdogs and you keep the fire going until everyone is happy and fed.

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I love our time together, Aunt Eileen.

I love that you guys came to Seattle when we visited the Washington Beckwiths last summer and we got to explore the city, the country, the coast and everything in between. I love that you still come to Queensbury to do Christmas shopping with my mom every year. I love that you have taken the time to get to know and celebrate each one of your sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, in-laws and once-removed-twice-removed-thrice-removed cousins. You are truly a beautiful spirit, and someone I'm lucky to have in my family. 

I look forward to more fun times this year and for the years to come - in Vermont, in New York or wherever life happens to take us. (Philly? Boston? PARIS?!) You will always be in my heart, no matter how long it's been since we've seen each other. Wishing you all the best things and lots of joy.

Love,

Amanda

Letters from Me, Day 16: Jeff Beckwith, Enumclaw, WA

Dear Jeff,

Or should I say Uncle Jeff?

Is there a point in your adult life when you stop calling uncles Uncle (proper noun)? I'm not sure about that. But I do know that as long as I've been calling you Uncle Jeff, you've been filling those uncle shoes (be they sneakers, farm boots or hiking shoes) and making me feel like a beloved niece, all the way across the country.

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I hesitate to say my first memory of you is your wedding, because it's less a memory and more snapshots in my mind (more recently, also video from Aunt Eileen's archives) and stories I've been told about tearing around in a tiny dress and pitching fits about not being able to jump in the pool. It's so great to look back on those pictures, when you and Aunt Sue were younger than I am now, and imagining all of the Beckwiths gathering in the sunshine for the big occasion. 

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My more recent (and fully cohered) memories with you include your trips to Vermont and Queensbury when I was young. We explored Saratoga State Park, the Great Escape and the backyard at Grandma and Gail's. We dipped our feet in the creek and ate hotdogs from the grill. I remember looking forward to a visit from the Washington Beckwiths with great anticipation. We always made sure to make the most of these visits, no matter what the agenda.

As I grew older, I came to appreciate another tradition from Uncle Jeff and Aunt Sue - the very punctual, very hilarious, very personalized (and eventually potentially lucrative) birthday card with Washington State lottery ticket. I strive to be as on the ball as you guys with your birthday wishes. I see my dad is trying to up his game these days, and this letter writing campaign has me on my toes, but I've got a ways to go. 

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Not only have you made our birthdays a special one every year, you guys have always done a fun, over the top, interactive and highly entertaining Christmas extravaganza at the family Christmas party - from 3000 miles away. One of my favorites was the social media quotes from family members trivia game. We learned so much about each other that day, and won some amazing (and perhaps also over the top) prizes in the process.

You and Aunt Sue are definitely masters of the celebration game, the creativity game and as we learned this past summer - the cooking and camping games. Dylan and I jumped in our rented Ford Focus and embarked on a week-long journey to Enumclaw for our very first visit to the Beckwith Farm, downtown Seattle and the Washington coast. 

It was a magical few days, when I realized that my family members are some of the coolest people I know (including some very favorite aunts who were along for the ride.) I loved getting to know Jess and Jake better on their turf - around their city - and getting to just sit, eat, drink and relax with you guys. 

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You have a beautiful house, and we were so lucky to get to spend a few nights soaking in the gorgeous landscape and hospitality that ran the gamut from a house guide (including the names of the pigs and steers) to a plethora of home cooked meals with farm fresh ingredients. The thought kept going through my head (and probably out of my mouth more than once) -

THEY MADE THIS FOOD WITH THE EARTH AND THE ANIMALS.

I am still in awe. 

We loved touring Seattle with you guys - a city I'd visit again in a heartbeat. And we got another day of adventure on the coast, staying in our very first yurt. Talk about doing it right. When we were packing the cars for our trip further west, I was so impressed at your Boy Scout level of preparation and sheer lifetime acquisition of gear. 

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And when we sat around the fire that night, swapping stories, playing games and sipping stout, I was overcome with the joy that my family on the West Coast was just how I’d remembered them - fun, hip, generous and pretty much ready for any adventure life has in store.

I've tried not to get too sappy here. But I will just sum up all of these observations and memories and declarations with this. Despite the distance, I've always felt close to you. You make everyone laugh. You make us feel special. I know we all appreciate the interest you take in our lives and what we're up to. I am so beyond happy that you got to meet Dylan, and I will always look forward to our next adventure. Forever in admiration, and awaiting your next visit,

Love,

Amanda