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 38: Erin Coon, Queensbury, NY

Dear Erin,

I have always known you as a bright, brilliant woman since our paths crossed so many years ago.

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We met in 1999. We spent the next few years deep in a world of music and performances, between Madrigals, QHS theater, Youtheatre and community theater. I admired your dedication, your resilience and your raw talent. Your range as an actress was impressive and took the backseat only to your ability to belt a verse - and on pitch, every time. 

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We made so many memories those few years. Late nights at the diner or your apartment, early mornings driving to Lake George, making costumes, throwing parties, playing charades, doing interpretive dances, learning how to carry ourselves into adulthood, making choices, figuring it all out. You taught me so much about living in that world - the world of loud, boisterous, loving, erratic, soulful theater people. I fell in love those years, with a culture that was new to me, one that I've carried with me for half my life now.

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A few years later, I left for Boston. Coming home from exhausting whirlwinds of classes and activities, I'd always fall easily back into our routines and conversations. We'd get together for holidays, summer parties at the lake house, picnics, drinks here, there and everywhere.

When I moved home from Boston, you and I got to hang out more. We frequented Wallabee's for jazz and wine. You introduced me to the bustling Glens Falls theater scene that had grown since I'd left. We drove and drank and dined around town. I got to know your tight knit group of creative and clever friends. And then you met Sean, your other half, your partner in life. Life was always an adventure with you, no matter where we were or what was happening.

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Since I moved to Philly, I have loved our visits - more holidays and long weekends, picnics and parties. You have come to be known for some pretty excellent Christmas gifts - piles of homemade and local goodies, and some of my favorite jewelry of all time. No matter how long passes between our get togethers, I always know we will fall back into conversation and laughter. Being with you feels like being home.

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Through the years we've known each other, your lightness of spirit and love for the people around you has touched me. You are so talented in so many ways, and have been able to do wonderful and powerful things for a town that was ready for a creative revolution. I am so proud to know you, to be a small part of the world you've built, the life you've created for yourself and those around you. You are a true treasure and know no matter where you go and what you do, you will succeed.

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I wish you all the best things in the years to come: love in your heart and your home, fulfillment in your career and your friendships, health in your body and your spirit. Looking forward to the next time we convene and catch up, old friend.

Take care and be well.

Love,

Amanda

Letters from Me, Day 35: Justin Gray, Queensbury, NY

Dear Justin,

It's been a thousand years, hasn't it?

I mean, we met in junior high and have traversed the halls of QMS and QHS together, before going our separate ways for college and then meeting back up over the years to catch up in both right in our hometown and fairly far from it.

Through the years, I've gotten to know you as a classmate, a partner in harmony, a fellow thespian (and fellow winner of Most Dramatic senior year!), a travel companion, a beer lover, a New Yorker, a fiancè and then groom to your beautiful wife Laura and always, always, a friend. I've treasured our time together, for many reasons.

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You are funny. You have had the uncanny knack for picking apart a situation - no matter how dire...or banal...or seemingly innocuous - and finding the hilarious, the ridiculous, the ironic. I've always admired this trait, and found it has allowed you to easily weave outsiders into conversations seamlessly, as humor can often be the best way to relate to just about anyone. You can talk to everyone, and usually within moments, get a chuckle out of them. 

You are talented. You're multidimensional in your talents, as I have continued to learn over the years I've known you. You can dance, act, sing, speak publicly, write (and write damn well), and even brew beer! You seem to have a knack for picking up anything you try - and that speaks to your capacity for hard work and dedication, as even the most innate talents must be honed and perfected.

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You are smart. Right on the heels of talent, hard work and dedication is your fantastically complex and quick-witted brain. Evident whenever you speak or write, your intelligence draws people to you, makes them value your opinions, helps people trust your judgment of situations and people alike. 

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You are caring and kind. Plenty of people on this planet are funny. Fewer are funny and talented, and fewer still can count themselves as brilliant minds. But to have all of that, and also be a kind and generous soul, is a truly rare find in a friend. Your love for your family has always inspired me to be a better sister and daughter to my own family. The joy you take from caring for and supporting those around you gives me new faith in this crazy world. Those close to you love you most for this quality (I took an informal poll.)

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I'm lucky to call you a friend, Justin Gray. Thank you for sticking by me through thick and thin all of these years, for inviting us to be a part of your big day last summer and for always making the effort to hang out when we pop into town. I look forward to knowing you and celebrating life with you (and the fabulous Gray family) for years to come.

Love,

Amanda

Letters from Me, Day 31: Jessica L. Bien, Philadelphia, PA

Dear Jess,

On the quest to write 365 letters, I've started a letter to you several times.

I kept stopping and starting again, because I wanted to be sure of what I was going to say. We have such a history together and have had so many amazing times, that it's hard to know where to start. 

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I will start with this: I've always looked up to you for your strength of character, honesty and intelligence. You have a distinct and not often found wit and candor that make you a fantastic dinner or road trip companion, and have carried us through many a 2 hour phone call. Through all of the years we've known each other, I've treasured the time we’ve spent, and I am lucky to be called your friend.

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Our story started about 15 years ago, when I befriended a boy named Bob Thomsen. You and he had done theater and music together, and had been hanging out for years, and I was just a 16 year old kid who wanted to hang out with the cool older group. I had met you the year prior when we were both in Bye Bye Birdie, but you were a senior then and I couldn't bring myself to go that high up on the food chain. 

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But when we started hanging out, I quickly learned I could come to you with life's questions - big and small. You knew everything there was to know about things like makeup and hair, decorating and shopping, friendships and communication - your life experience, though you were just a few years older, seemed light years ahead of me. I learned so much from you those couple of years we spent together in Queensbury while I finished school. I loved the group we formed, all of the friends we had and the late nights at the diner and adventures we went on.

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When I went on the biggest adventure of my life - moving to Boston for school (where you had already lived!) - you went onto your next journey as well. You moved to start a new life in Philadelphia, a place I had never been and didn't know much about, but couldn't wait to visit. I think the first time I set foot in the city was on a rowing trip. We came to practice for spring break in 2003 at Villanova and I felt so worldly when my cool Philly friend swung by to pick me up at the hotel for a night on the town. 

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Over the years we lived hours apart, we'd come back together in Queensbury for holidays and parties. We talked on the phone to catch up on each other's lives and I loved that you were just making it happen in a city you'd never lived before, all on your own. A few years later, I was back in upstate New York, having taken a job in Glens Falls as an editor, which didn't pay well and didn't challenge me. I remember sitting with you - I think it was at a bar - and you said, "You don't seem happy here. What would you think about moving to Philadelphia?" That was Thanksgiving. I saved and scrimped for a few weeks and then broke the news to the world on New Year’s Eve 2008. I was moving to Philly.

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I sent you a blank check and you worked on finding us our new place - a 3 bedroom house in Bryn Mawr, just a few blocks from the train station, with parking and laundry and a deck and a tiny backyard which came in so handy when you adopted a new dog right before we moved in. I arrived in the end of March, and embarked on one of the most fun years of my life, filled with life and laughter and hard work, making this new house a new home, starting a new job, cooking, decorating, shopping, hanging out with new friends, exploring the city and the suburbs and just living my days to the fullest. You helped me break out of my funk, and embrace life in Philadelphia. I was so grateful to you for the push outside of my comfort zone and for the days spent together in sunny Bryn Mawr.

It was bittersweet when you moved on to your next place, but I got to experience living alone for the first time - ever! - and we worked on staying connected, even though we lived much further apart. We kept making memories - nights out on the town, still exploring, still laughing together, swapping stories about our friends and pets and coworkers. I was so proud to watch you graduate from Temple - the degree you'd given up your job for and started life anew once again. I remember buying your graduation card 2.5 years early, because I was so excited for you.

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It really is astounding to think back on how much living we've done together. Our trips - both near (Produce Junction! Ocean City!) and far (Las Vegas! Ireland!) - our toasts, our celebrations with friends, our great times and our heartbreaks, our life lessons and little wins. I look ahead to the next 15 years of our lives, when things will continue to evolve for us both. I wish you wonderful things to come - in your career, your home and your heart. Thank you for being one of my best friends of all time. You're awesome.

Love,

Amanda

Letters from Me, Day 19: Meaghan L. Fallon, Chelmsford, MA

Dear Meaghan, 

You are an amazing person. 

You always have been. Sweet sometimes, sassy other times, funny all of the time, you made yourself a fast friend to our little group at Queensbury High School when you moved to town.

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I really have known you for so long. We have spent countless hours in the car together, to and from school, or sometimes driving right on past, road trips east or west, to Boston or Buffalo, trips to Saratoga or Crossgates Mall. We've sung at the top of our lungs and danced our butts off - sometimes both at the very same time - and sometimes both in one of our cars! We have celebrated together over the years - our birthdays, the 4th of July, the new year, Christmas and Thanksgiving, our graduations from high school, then college, and eventually...weddings! 

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I've watched you grow up from the kid I met in the halls of QHS to the beautiful bride who married my dear friend Rich, to who you are today. You were always kind, compassionate, saucy and confident, with a biting wit. You were always on point with an inside joke or a snappy retort, no matter what the situation. The years have been kind, and these days you are even more yourself, even more sure footed, more graceful, more beautiful than when we were 15. You're your own woman and you're creating your life with the man you love and the kids who love you more than anything.

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I see you with your kids and know I want to be like you someday. I want to have what you guys have, and to do it with the joy that you do. I must say, I knew I'd miss you when you guys moved to Boston, since my move to Philly made even the distance to Queensbury tough, but from the sounds of it, you wouldn't have it any other way. I am so happy you are happy.

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I do want to see you more. I want to watch your family grow. I want to have fewer months between cups of coffee and catching up. I want to know what Maura's learned next and what words Elliot's been saying. I can't wait to see you guys next, be it spring, summer or fall.

I wish you all wonderful things, Meag. Joy, success, serenity. I want you to know that no matter how long it's been or how far we are, you hold a place in my heart - a comfy one, because you've been there for a while and aren't going anywhere soon! You are my soul sister, my mama role model, my lady love, my Meagharamos. All the best to you, my dear.

Love,

Amanda

Letters from Me, Day 17: Kelly K. Gallagher, Scotia, NY

Dear Kelly,

You bring a fanfare of trumpets and confetti into my life every time I see you.

Your special brand of energy and spark are a rare thing in the human race. You are constantly brimming with ideas and stories, constantly on the hunt for adventure and the hidden treasures the world has to offer you. I have discovered so many wonderful things along our road together as friends, and I am so blessed to have met you all those years ago.

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I was working at Tribune Media when we met. I had just gotten tight with our mutual friend, Meredith, when she told me I just had to meet her friend who worked in a different department. I remember chatting in the cafeteria downstairs, chewing on something sweet from the vending machine and being just slightly too loud for an indoor space.

We were fast friends, and it's no wonder.

We quickly found common ground, and I just fell head over heels for your enthusiasm, which matched my own (again, a rare thing in other humans.) We spent many nights hanging out around town - in Queensbury, South Glens Falls, Saratoga. We explored our towns together, and then began branching out. The mountains, the rivers, the hills, north, south and west in New York, and east into Massachusetts. We visited animals and plants, bird sanctuaries, gardens, museums, remote rural temples, shops and cafès, friends and family and strangers who became our friends. We struck a balance between frenetic activity, driving and walking and climbing, and then alternately laying around, sipping wine and playing games and watching movies. 

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I felt welcomed into your world, and it was such a beautiful one.

I was honored to attend your and Alan's wedding, a union I believed so deeply in from the moment I spent time with the two of you. You were so perfect for each other, so attuned to each other's needs, so supportive, so loving. Even when you disagreed, your cacophony was harmonic. Your sparks are color coordinated. You make music together. You are a work of art in two pieces. 

We made sweet memories that day at your wedding and at every gathering I was a part of from then, on. I met your friends. My circle in upstate New York went from few to many. I felt accepted and loved and like I had found my tribe. We could be loud together and laugh together and hug far too many times for one night. You guys were my new home.

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Not long into our friendship, I made the move to Philadelphia, and you and Alan to Binghamton and then Middletown. The good news was, we both still loved adventure, so trips to see each other became a regular thing. Not often enough of course, but a much anticipated treat every few months or so. I never felt too far from you, thanks to the magic of Facebook, and eventually, I learned something exciting. You and Alan were expecting! I was immediately thrilled for you. I knew you had been waiting for this, and now it was happening.

I was so happy to be able to join you this year at your baby shower for little Hudson. How wonderful it was to see you in all of your mommy-to-be glory, catching up with you and our friends, in and amongst the baby sock trees, sipping mimosas and playing games. You and Kim were so sweet that day, with your matching bellies. It was true - we are all growing up. 

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Now, you've got your tiny human - the handsomest, sweetest little guy - and you're a mom. Alan's a dad. You guys are doing it, and Hudson is thriving. And boy, I can't wait to meet him. Seeing you two with him brought me joy, brought tears to my eyes, made me see visions of the future when he's 2 years old, getting into everything and seeing the world with giant eyes; 6 years old, learning and growing and soaking up everything mom and dad know about the world; 12 years old, becoming a teenager and gaining independence and getting to take his own adventures.

I am so proud to know you, Kelly, from the wild hearted girl I met so many years ago to the loving mama you are this very day. You will forever be in my heart, my dear friend. I wish you the most wonderful things this year with your new little man, and for all of the years to come. Forever and always.

Love,

Amanda