Collateral Beauty

I feel privileged to share a beautiful essay by someone near and dear to me, my sister Nicole Palmer. I’ve been deep into writing about our childhood as I finish my memoir and I loved her honest perspective. I hope you find it as moving as I did.

Love, Molly



I wanted to finally be one of the smart kids.

You know the ones… who always finishes homework on time (check), sits in the front of the class to absorb all the information possible (check), studies until their eyeballs are ready to pop out of their head (check), and passes major exams with ease…… (crickets)!

What the hell? I did all the things the smart kids do, but I didn’t pass a major exam?? This wasn’t just any ol’ exam. This was the exam that showed I knew all the absorbed information, the exam that says I deserve to receive my master’s degree, the exam that I missed by two-points in order to pass.

Devastation came like a tsunami. I got the email with the grade of 82. Passing score was 84. SERIOUSLY??

I took my time during the exam. I carefully read all the questions and actually thought I had achieved the goal of being one of the smart kids. I thought I was going to finally make everyone proud that I was finally going to be “one of them”.

You see everyone in my family is one of the smart kids. I grew up with a family of people who were all very smart. From my grandmother on down to my great nephew!

The intelligence of my family could probably cure cancer, solve world hunger, but not this family member. I was not an elite member. I was the “chosen” one.

I was one of those babies you see in the newspaper looking for a family and I had the unique pleasure of being adopted by a smart family, but I never felt I belonged.

Yes, of course my family loves me. It’s not about love. It’s about feeling like you belong.

Believing you belong with people who think like you, look like you.

All these memories (and more) came flooding back into my being and filled me with intense and overpowering grief and pain.

Why didn’t I go back and review all the questions before hitting the submit button? Why didn’t I study the areas I knew I struggled with more? Why did I even decide to go to graduate school? Why? Why? Why? Well, I will tell you why…

I’m tired.

Not just a little tired. I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

After 33 months of classes, crazy classmates, quizzes, papers, group work, clients, supervision, video taping, constructive criticism, an unstable boss, switching jobs, new responsibilities, running from meeting to meeting, and balancing a 50 hour a week schedule, and trying to spend time with my husband, son, and dog and taking a 3-hour exam it was time to admit it… I was exhausted!

When I opened the email with the passing score and a giant “82”appeared on my screen. I cried, I wanted to scream, I wanted to throw whatever was near me against the wall, I want to punch something… anything!

I had worked SO hard to pass. I wanted to pass so badly because I was so tired and had visions of high fiving with the smart kids and finally proving to the world, but more importantly to myself, I had finally made it to smart kids’ club!

The dream was crushed in a matter of seconds. I cried, and cried some more, and then cried some more. I slept for two hours that night and then woke up at 3 a.m. and sat out on my balcony.

I cried and grieved those 2-points like I did when my sweet babies died. And then it hit me.

My legion of angels was still around me. Eric was still behind me pushing me forward, Brad was on the other side yelling at me to keep going and don’t feel sorry for myself, my Dad was on the other side with his head up strutting with the resolve of a warrior, little Maya and Kristopher were still holding my hands tight, and my Grandmother was leading the way!

They were all still there, but I had become too busy to feel and sense their presence around me.

I’d become too focused on what I should be doing and not on what I needed to do. I needed to remember the collateral beauty that surrounded me. All of my angels that never left me.

I had missed caring for myself.

I wished all of them were still with me, but they weren’t in physical form anymore. They were gone. They had all moved on to another existence and I was still here two-points short.

I sat and stared at the sky. I remembered all those years ago when I learned that life goes on no matter what you are going through. The memory of little Maya dead inside of me and people and nature continuing to move and grow.

Time never stops. It changes, it evolves, it moves.

Time appeared to me as somewhat of an illusion, and then the sun began to come up, despite my desire to grieve my lost two points and revel in self-despair.

It was a the dawn of a new day and after the tsunami passed, there was calm. It was time to start swimming though my sorrow.

As I began to swim through my sorrow I realized I was a strong. I was a lot stronger than most people. Who the heck swims through a flood of emotions? Why not just drown in sorrow?

The verse, “God does not give us more than we can bear” came rushing back. For a moment I wanted to scream at God… I was tired of being strong. I was tired of always carrying so much. I’m tired, and damn it. sorrow swimming sucks!

Then it occurred to me I was given the task of carrying so much because I was given the blessing of God’s strength. I was created in His image.


As a dear friend always reminds me, “there is a divine right order to the things that happen to us.” I went into my bedroom and I looked at the quote on my wall that has been hanging on bright orange paper next to my bed for 33 months, which says,

“The only way to fail at something is to fail to learn from the experience.”

So, what the heck was the lesson this time? I cried some more. Then the lesson came.

I didn’t fail my exam. I passed with a score higher than I could’ve ever imagined. I overcame a 34-year old fear of exams, I studied and worked harder than I ever had before. For the first time in 46 years, I believed in myself.

I learned I AM one of the smart kids!

I’m not smart because I passed an exam with ease. I’m smart because I’m the one who didn’t pass.

I’m smart because I’m the one who knows the deepest pain of loss.

I’m smart because I’ve been given beauty for my ashes and I use those ashes to connect with clients.

I’m smart because I know the pain of disappointment, the agony of defeat, with an undisputable understanding of the desire to give up.

But… with the willpower to move forward. To get up and use all of it as strength.

To get up and stand in the ring beaten and bloodied, absolutely vulnerable, with the resolve and resilience to NEVER stop fighting, to never give in, to never believe I’m not smart!

My pain and defeat is a plus, not a minus 2!

It provides me a lucent vision of humanity and the ability to change lives, and the knowledge to go to the edge and fall.

Not fall into despair and defeat, but to fall into the erudition of grace.

To fall into the love and support of God, my angels, friends, family, classmates and professors.

Most importantly — that it is not falling, but learning I have the ability to fly with brave new wings to soar to heights unimagined.

To be in seventh grade

When I’m reading something – whether it’s a novel, memoir or Facebook post – and I can relate, even if it’s an experience I’ve never had but my gut whispers ‘me too’, then I know I’m in a good place. That’s why I read and why I write, to commune with another over words.

Sometimes even just a sentence can deliver. Working with the seventh grade students at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School on their six word memoirs has reminded me of these truths. Because I want to see if you to can connect with them over their words too, here is a sampling of their work…















Aren’t they great?  Love, Molly



Justice, Mercy, Humility

One thing I love about teaching writing is how much I learn. One of my adult students brought to class a writing prompt and an opportunity to share our work through her church, Plymouth Congregational Church (their Facebook page reads No matter who you are, you are welcome here).

The assignment was to write a Micah Moment, a short narrative inspired by the themes of justice, mercy and humility from Micah 6:8. I immediately thought of a student at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School where I am serving as writer in residence with the seventh graders. Here is link to the short essay.

Meanwhile, I have completed a draft of my memoir Taking Our Losses. I’ll keep you posted with information about publication.

And Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! My grandma Peggy gave me this pin when I was a little girl and now that sheRead More »

Being Schooled

My motto of saying yes to opportunity has led to me to show up feeling unqualified before. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when standing in front of a room of seventh graders that the little voice in my head asked me – what did you think you were going to accomplish here? 

I immediately said yes when asked to be the Zinn Writer in Resident at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School. My daughters attended Central and the task seemed to fit in nicely with a word that has been guiding me this year – contribute.



All seventh graders at Central will work with me this semester on telling their own story. We are currently working on six word memoirs, a surprisingly challenging exercise for anyone that is also fun when you get into the swing of it. We will produce a book of these memoirs and may have opportunities to share them as public art.

But friends, this kind of work is not for the faint of heart – or as I shared in a new six word memoir with the kids this week – TEACHING SEVENTH GRADE IS REALLY HARD. I come from a long line of educators, going back to grandparents on both sides, I should know this. Now I do.

Some of the kids simply don’t participate, those are the hardest for me. I can only hope that some part of the discussion is slipping into their consciousness, that they heard something that caused them to flutter internally because they could relate somehow. Or that they had an idea pop in their heads for something to put into words but for whatever reason, just didn’t try to yet.

Some of the kids write six words about themselves that are so clever, funny and insightful that I smile just thinking about them. Others are heartbreaking and I need to talk to their real teacher after class. I can see the gears clicking in others as they try their hand at choosing words to capture their thoughts. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

I don’t want to forget that –

  • Teachers may have the most important jobs that exist. My respect for their work knows no bounds.
  • Being a kid in school is no small task. I had forgotten how it feels to walk through a crowded hall full of teenagers.
  • Trying to identify with someone else’s experience helps me grow as a human being. I want to continue to put myself in new situations in order to learn more about other people.
  • Words are powerful. If I can help people use them well, I will have something to feel good about.

So even though I feel like I am stretching my abilities in this current project, I will use a six word memoir to say – ALWAYS GRATEFUL TO TRY SOMETHING NEW.

Love, Molly




A New Essay

I wrote this piece last year so I decided to be brave and share it with you all. Maybe it will resonate with you…

Lying to My Daughter and Other Victories

“A vitamin,” I answered, before I had time to think. It was early, still dark, and I hadn’t even had my first cup of coffee yet, much less time to formulate an answer to her question. My thirteen-year old youngest daughter always came downstairs on school mornings before her fifteen year-old sister. “Oh,” she replied in a typical one-word response as she opened the refrigerator and grabbed the milk for her cereal. I replaced the childproof cap to the brown pharmacy bottle and placed it next to my actual vitamins. I winced inside and changed the subject to after school activities and dropped a bagel in the toaster. I didn’t think about it again until she brought it up several days later in her darkened bedroom as I was saying goodnight.

When did she go back to the cabinet and look at the name of the drug printed on the bottle? Did she take a picture of it so she could look it up later, all with her iPhone? Was she surprised when she realized I had lied to her? Disappointed? Mad? Had I ever lied to her like that before?

“It wasn’t a vitamin, it was an antidepressant,” she said simply after I climbed the ladder to her loft bed and slid under her small throw blanket. She slept on top of her floral print comforter so that she didn’t have to make her bed in the morning. I paused – it was a statement, not a question.

A bud of relief bloomed in my gut. “Yes. I’m sorry I lied to you,” I whispered, resisting the urge to cry.

“It’s ok.” I waited but she didn’t seem to have anything else to say.

“I haven’t been taking them long,” I told her. “I’ve just been feeling so down and I haven’t been able to snap out of it. Since my friend Sandy died I’ve been in a sad slump.”


“You know depression runs in my family, almost everyone is on anti-depressants. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Who was I trying to convince?

“I know.”

“And I’m glad you said something about it. It’s always better to talk. I shouldn’t have lied about it, I just didn’t want you to worry about me. I always worried about my mom.”


“And being depressed doesn’t always lead to bad things, it’s not getting help that can. I got help so that wouldn’t happen.” Did she know I was talking about the suicide attempts that have passed through my family history like a tornado warning, leaving no causalities but damage nevertheless?

“I know.”

“I love you honey. Thank you for bringing it up, you did the right thing.”

“Goodnight mommy, I love you too.” I noticed she didn’t call me by my first name, a habit she started when she was three.


Years ago, my daughters were surprised when my mom told them she’s been on anti-depressants for a long time. They couldn’t believe it – why is she depressed? I thought I had covered this ground when I explained that you don’t need a reason to feel sad, sometimes you just do. Some of our brains are wired differently and this sadness can be overwhelming and we need help. Now that they were teenagers, they had friends who went to therapy and took medication. And even though my family growing up had plenty of family therapy and medication, the family my husband and I created did not. We didn’t need it – or so I wanted to believe.

As teenagers my daughters can process complex ideas and communicate at an adult level. They understand chemistry and foreign languages and juggle the demands of friends, schoolwork and parents. Hell, they can even drive a car! My lie to my youngest was covered in a blanket of my sense of protection towards them. Keeping pain from them is well practiced. Comforting them is second nature. Protecting my offspring has been my job, my default reaction, for sixteen years. Of course, the lines of safekeeping change as our kids grow up. The boundaries must be extended for them to become fully functioning adults and the more I looked at my lie, the more I saw the that my reason of protecting them was more of an excuse than real. As I peeked under my maternal blanket, deeper lies were revealed – the ones I have been telling myself.

I can grit my teeth through anything. My daughters won’t notice my sadness; I won’t let them. I didn’t get the family depression gene. If I try harder, I’ll feel good enough. They don’t need to know that I’m not perfect. These thoughts gave birth to the dishonesty that so easily, without thought or intention, came running out of my mouth to my daughter. These are not tidy emotional issues; I’m still working on them and probably always will.

My youngest has yet to throw my lie back at me, even when I have been upset with her about her behavior. I see this as an act of kindness from her, a show of empathy. I’ve wondered what the moment was that led her to question my honesty to her with my vitamin answer. I realize that there may be unforeseen consequences to our relationship because I know that deception is a destroyer. I’ve participated in and felt its painful impact. My heart has been broken by lies. I have broken other hearts. But the last hearts I want to chip away at are my daughters; I know that others will. And yet in the end, I’m glad that my daughter busted me in this lie. It reminds me that I am a flawed human being, capable of falling short. It helps me to soften towards my daughters as I recognize their flaws, as they manage the huge task of figuring out daily how to grow up. It points me toward forgiveness – the kind extended to me for my lie, the kind extended to them for their failings and the kind I can show to myself for being human.




Cookies & Souffle


I spent many years as a pastry chef trying to figure out how to make desserts delicious. I didn’t go to culinary school, but learned so much on the job working alongside Robert. I no longer work in the kitchen, but when I heard about an idea that women bakers in Portland came up with for a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, I thought – I could do that. 

So a couple of days ago a friend and I decided to put it all together here in Lawrence: Cookie Grab 2017 – The Ultimate Bake Sale! This fundraiser for Planned Parenthood is scheduled for inauguration day. Some of Lawrence’s eateries are donating their special treats for the cause – Ladybird Diner, Bon Bon, The Burger Stand, Hank Charcuterie, The Roost, Eileen’s Cookies, Southern Accent Catering, The Levee Cafe and Wheatfields. A box full of delectables for a $50 suggested donation (payable by cash or check only), picked up at Ten Thousand Villages at 835 Massachusetts from 5-9pm on Friday. Of all the things in the world one may grab, may we unite to grab the cookie for a good cause! You are invited and I hope to see you!

I want 2017 to be a year that I say yes more, that I follow through with those stirrings in my gut of I could do that. I want it to be a year of being outside more and I’m off to a good start by paddle boarding today, January 18th. I saw eagles soaring above and heard the magical tinkling of ice breaking around me as I floated by. And now I get to bake some cookies; boy do I feel grateful.

So I’m going to share a favorite recipe that I have probably made a hundred times. It’s not a cookie but really isn’t much more difficult to make. I hope you enjoy…

Love, Molly

  • Chocolate Souffle with Chocolate Sauce and Whipped Cream

This chocolate soufflé recipe is the ultimate chocolate dessert. First of all, it is something that you can do completely ahead of time, with the exception of baking it. It also is utterly indestructible. This recipe may become your new favorite for entertaining.

Serves 4

For the ramekins:

About ½ stick butter, softened

About ½ cup granulated sugar


For the soufflés:

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/3 cup whole or 2% milk

2 eggs, separated

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 additional egg white, added to the above 3 to total 4

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup powdered sugar for dusting of cooked soufflés


For the chocolate sauce:

10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

¾ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons Kahlua (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt


For whipped cream:

2 cups heavy cream

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract



Four 6-ounce soufflé ramekins

Chop sticks


Preheat oven to 375 F.


Prepare Souffles:

Butter the bottom and sides of the ramekins. When buttering the sides, use your index and middle fingers to pull the butter straight up the sides. Be sure to butter the top edge of the ramekin as well. To coat with the granulated sugar, fill ramekin with sugar and tilt and rotate over a second ramekin, allowing the sugar to drop into it as it coats all sides of the ramekin. Pour any remaining sugar from the first ramekin and repeat process with the remaining ramekins. After sugaring final ramekin, pour remaining sugar in a shallow bowl. Dip top edge of each ramekin into the sugar to coat it with sugar.

Melt the chocolate in a large bowl set on top of a medium saucepan of simmering water.   Do not allow the bowl to touch the water. When the chocolate is melted and smooth, remove it from the heat and place it in a warm area, on top of your warm oven if possible.

In the saucepan used to melt the chocolate, discard the hot water and wipe out the pan with a dry towel. Use this saucepan to melt the butter on medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, for 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, using a whisk until smooth. Keep whisking while occasionally using the rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the sauce pan. When the mixture has thickened, remove from heat and whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla. Scrape this mixture over the melted chocolate and fold until blended.

Using a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until foamy.   Slowly and gradually add granulated sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form when you lift the beaters. Fold the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Fill your sugared ramekins to within ¼ inch of the top with the soufflé batter. Either cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate immediately for future use (up to 2 days ahead of serving), or put them on the cookie sheet for baking.

Prepare Chocolate Sauce:

Melt the chocolate with cream in a large bowl set on top of a medium saucepan of simmering water.   Do not allow the bowl to touch the water. When it is melted and smooth, remove from heat and add Kahlua (if using), vanilla, and salt. If using immediately, put in to small pitcher to pour into soufflés. Sauce may be made up to two days ahead of serving and refrigerated. Warm sauce in microwave before using.

Prepare Whipped Cream:

Combine cream, sugar, and vanilla. Whip to medium firm peaks with a hand or standing mixer. Whipped cream may be kept for up to an hour covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator.

To Serve:

Bake soufflés for about 15 minutes. Souffles are done when they have risen high and have a crisp top. Dust with powdered sugar and use tongs to place hot ramekins in a small bowl or napkin-lined plate. Use two chopsticks to poke holes in top of soufflé and fill with warm chocolate sauce. Scoop whipped cream on top of chocolate sauce and eat immediately.

Serving a soufflé is very dramatic and also has the impression of being very temperamental. This recipe reliably rises and is very sturdy. There is no need to fear the soufflé! Adding berries to the top of the soufflé would be one way to introduce another flavor element and incorporate seasonal ingredients.



Remembering My Dad on World AIDS Day

My dad, Joh Krider, died from AIDS complications almost exactly twenty years ago in December 1996. This picture of us was taken over a year before he died. There is so much I love about it, not the least of which is that it captures me rocking my favorite outfit of that era. I only wish the red platform shoes that I surely wore had made the shot.


It was taken outside the Key West airport by the cab driver who dropped us off. I teased him about his attire for the plane trip to Kansas – Do you really think a jacket and tie are necessary? He could be fussy that way; he believed that wearing white pants after Labor Day was breaking a real rule. We are smiling in the photo, a reflex of mine in all sorts of stressful situations, but it wasn’t a particularly happy time. His relationship was falling apart and he was abruptly moving back to Kansas. With me. To die.

I didn’t talk about AIDS much as he was dying or even much after he died. But as World AIDS Day approaches I want to not only remember him but also to remind us all that the AIDS crisis is not over. Over a million people die every year from AIDS. 5,600 people contract the HIV virus every day. These are our family members and our friends, not merely abstractions in foreign lands. Many of these people are too afraid or ashamed to talk about it because of the stigma associated with the disease. Combating AIDS continues to be a fight for social justice and human rights.

Like many of you, I am fearful about what may be ahead for our country. May we learn from history in general as well as the history of the AIDS crisis during its early stages during the Reagan administration. Act-Up and other groups were confrontational in their protest of lack of funding and new drug protocol for AIDS, but ultimately they were effective. They insisted on being heard and were even the first group in history to shut down the New York Stock exchange. In the coming weeks, months and years, we too may need to speak out, beyond what may feel comfortable. May we put our arms around whatever form of protest moves us – just as I had my arm around my dad that morning in Key West.