Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On Not Writing

I found a beautiful New York Times article on writing by Bill Hayes. I've excerpted only a small paragraph but if curious, I've included the link.

On Not Writing by Bill Hayes

To be a writer is to make a commitment to the long haul, as one does (especially as one gets older) to keeping fit and healthy for as long a run as possible. For me, this means staying active physically and creatively, switching it up, remaining curious and interested in learning new skills (upon finishing this piece, for instance, I’m going on my final open-water dive to become a certified scuba diver), and of course giving myself ample periods of rest, days or even weeks off. I know that the writer in me, like the lifelong fitness devotee, will be better off.


Monday, September 29, 2014


While visiting my mom, we found a cache of white hankies she'd inherited from her grandmother and her mother. The workmanship was dainty and breathtaking beautiful. I wondered out loud if Mom could use them to make a quilt. Mom can do anything with the proper challenge. 

I then remembered that I too had inherited some handiwork from my husband's step-grandmother. I found them this morning in her old cedar chest and enjoyed the surprise of their beauty. I've never known what to do with them, but now they will be in my mom's hands, and she will make them into family heirlooms.

I took photos, texted them to Mom and had to call her with my insight: "I think my generation of women couldn't really appreciate the work these women did. We were influenced by the changes women wanted and deserved, and the handiwork these women performed was looked upon as frivolous. But now, I appreciate the talent and patience it took for fine needlework."

What I didn't realize at the moment, was that it also takes time, on my part, to value old hankies from these noble women.

 "You  know, they didn't have kleenex, they had to make and use those hankies," Mom says.

It was more than frivolous embellishment. It was a desire to bring beauty to the ordinary.

I'm on my second day of a nasty head cold and I try to imagine what I would have done without the box of kleenex at my bedside and at my desk. How I appreciate Kimberly Clarke for making my life so much easier with kleenex. And how I appreciate the work of women who didn't have kleenex but took something so ordinary, so utilitarian and made it beautiful--the work of women for centuries.

One of Betha's beautiful hankie

 This must have been something to put on a table--too nice for a tablecloth.

 This is one of Grandma Betha's tablecloths.

It takes time to appreciate these handiworks--to illustrate this, I asked with sentimental words if my 25 year old daughter would like one of her great grandma's hankies.

Her response, "What would I use it for?"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

For Mom

When I was a child, my parents went on a grand tour of Europe and upon their return I heard how much they disliked Paris.

Their litany of complaints included: It's so dirty! The men pee right in the street! Right in front of you! The people are so rude!

As their child, I always felt a little naughty for loving Paris.

Imagine my surprise when I found this treasured photo of my father (fourth from the left) next to his parents on his left--in a tourist photo at Versailles. Why did he never tell me? Why did my grandmother never mention this to me? How did my father feel about Versailles? Did he loathe the conspicuous consumption? Was he enamored of the vision?

And so this post brings me to a place I never suspected it of going: journal keeping.

My grandparents were Swiss and with that, came stubborn-ness and a toughness having lived through two world wars, endless winters and difficult fathers. When it was time to attend school, Grandma's father strapped on her skis and sent her down the mountain-- no lessons, no exceptions. She often told my mother that she spoiled her children.

Grandfather wanted to go to college but his father refused to pay. Instead of storming out of the house and returning for dinner, my father stormed out of the country never saying goodbye. When I was just a little girl, Grandpa asked me a question and I answered with a shrug. The berating that followed brought immediate shame.

When I went away to college, I would sometimes spend weekends with my grandmother. One night, while looking through a cupboard, I found an old journal they'd kept while serving a service mission for the church. The first entry started with the excitement they felt  for their imminent adventure. The closing line of the first paragraph read, "And how we will miss our dear grandchildren." This meant and still means the world to me. I could have never known their feelings without this journal.

I write prolifically for my daughters. Someday if they have an interest, they will know what I thought, how I saw the world, the dreams I tried to foster. But the most important things, the tender private feelings, are not public. There is a place for those words--my journal--the one I actually write in, not type in. While I live, those thoughts are mine alone, but when I am gone, those words are for my children and grandchildren.

And here is the unexpected plea. To Mom.  You've done a beautiful job of putting together your photos and your history. But I don't know what you think, what's in your mind, how you are affected by certain things. Someday I will wish I had asked you certain questions, found out information only you know and all of it will be gone. When I miss you most, I will want to open a book and read how much you loved me, your life, the ocean, your grandbabies...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Be Careful What You Say--Your Words May Be As Hot As A Branding Iron

I was just a little kindergartener wearing the green dress my mother had sewn for me on this very special occasion-the first day of school. We'd gone to the fabric store where I'd picked out the mint green fabric with multi colored dots placed in square patterns, where I'd chose the pattern and the pearly buttons. Mom added ric rac to the bottom of the dress and along the edge where the dress came together. I probably wore my patent leather Sunday shoes but the shoes don't stand out quite like the dress.

I must have been excited for this first day as I'd watched my big sister leave for the first day of school for two long years. I was a big sister fan and I wanted to follow her everywhere.

I remember details about that first day: the girl who would become my lifelong friend and the teacher who gave her a table-top activity better than my own. I remember the smells, the nap, the piano tune I can still sting, "Come over here and sit down."

I especially remember the green dress and the reason I would never wear it again.

At the end of the school day our teacher stood by the door and said good-by. I was in a happy, reflective kind of state after the big day and meandered down the long walkway that led to my ride home.

"Get out of my line." The command was harsh, even cruel for a daydreaming five year old. I looked up to see Mrs. Stark, the other kindergarten teacher marching her pupils in two distinct rows towards the school gate. I looked up and yes, her glare was right at me.

I never wore the dress again because I was afraid she would recognize me. My childlike innocence was gone, stolen by the careless command of a militant kindergarten sergeant.

I've encountered other people whose lives changed because of careless or harsh words from another person. It is often a sibling. A student told me she wasn't a very good writer. I vehemently disagreed. The root of her belief came from an older, award winning, writing brother, who confirmed more than once that she wasn't a writer.

It can be worse when the comment comes from a teacher--the person who holds fragile personalities in the tone and words she speaks. "You're not an artist." Or "You're not a very good writer." I've even heard other people say they never play sports because a teacher said they weren't very good.

But there are those teachers, those people, those parents, those brothers and sisters, the stranger, who say the right words at the right moment and the world changes.

My dear friend Stan was a horribly shy young man who was going through an emotional upheaval from his parents' divorce. One day, an old lady at church came up to him and whispered to him, "You sure are a good looking boy Stan." To this adult day, Stan attributes this simple, glorious comment as life changing.

These lessons are why I mimic the words from the movie, "The Help," to my eight year old granddaughter over and over again: "You is kind, you is beautiful, you is smart."

These lessons are why I'm working on telling my husband how handsome he is instead of telling him he's losing his hair.

These lessons are why I'm speaking more kindly to my aging self.

This is why my friend's son will keep his head high and confident amidst the junior high halls--because his fellow students told him he has "majestic hair."

Kind Words. Speak them. Receive them. Release the negative words so their power is no more.

It was only when I was an adult and brave enough, to tell my mom why I never wore the green dress again.

Friday, September 26, 2014

"No problem can ever be solved at the level of awareness at which it was created."
Albert Einstein

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Harboring Criminal Activity

For my birthday one year, my daughters gave me a beautiful lemon tree that I promptly potted and set in the sunny window sill. It was the perfect spot and I nurtured it through summer, a winter, dreaming of the lemons I hoped to get the next spring.  We had already experienced one lemon that we cut off too soon but enjoyed nonetheless.

In June, after enjoying the lemon tree for over a year, I came home after a lengthy absence to an empty lemon pot. Yes, the lemon tree was missing-- the big hole in the pot attesting to its one time presence! You can't imagine the explanations my confused brain tried to conjure. Where does a lemon tree disappear to? Did it die? I couldn't imagine my daughters at home, digging it out of the pot and throwing it away. They would have left it. Was it stolen? Who would have stolen it?

After a few days the story emerged.

A federal marshall came knocking at our door and asked my daughter if we were the owners of a lemon tree. She told him yes and took him to the tree where he promptly dug it up and took it away. We had an illegal lemon tree. Yes! Did I heretofore know it was possible to have an illegal lemon tree? My daughter had ordered it from a nursery from the east and supposedly it was shipped illegally.

While writing up this memory, I started to wonder if anyone else had this experience and why in the world would it take a federal marshall.

I googled illegal lemon tree confiscation and surprise! I was not the only one. It is illegal to ship citrus trees from certain states because of citrus fruit tree disease. It was possible my tree had the disease that doesn't manifest itself for up to three years.  I read about people wanting to fight their citrus tree confiscation, but really, would they go to so much trouble if it wasn't a serious threat? I'm happy they found me, the tree, and that I am no longer harboring an illegal lemon tree.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Coats For Dad

On an incredibly cold, wind-biting day, Tony and I drove past the bus stop and saw a young man waiting without a coat. We drove past, but I had to go back. We pulled up next to him and asked him if he needed a coat.

"I live really close and could be back in minutes, probably before your bus gets here," I said trying to make it all seem very normal.

I was a little disappointed that the boy told us "No" with his chattering teeth and pale face.

What was the boy supposed to do? How many kids would say yes and expect a stranger to return with a coat?  I was sincere, but in hindsight, I was strange stranger.

So, when my mom took me into her garage and showed me a closet full of winter coats, some very stylish and never worn, and asked me what she should do, I had an idea.

"I'll take them."

I remembered the young man at the bus stop and if I'd had a coat to give him on the spot, he would have taken it.

I really do imagine driving around at the start of winter looking for people who might need a coat.

I know this sounds a little bold and possibly silly, and will probably illicit the same response as my ninth graders had after finding out I'd done the same thing to a young man with duct taped shoes---they practically went hysterical and accused me of being a stalker.

There is nothing worse to me than being cold and my father at one time in his life may have been the child who went to school without a coat. He grew up during the depression and I know it was hard for his dad to put food on the table. How much harder would it have been to provide a coat? As an adult, Dad bought lots of coats. Nice coats. So nice, they were too nice to give a way and that is how I ended up with a trunk full of coats, driving the streets, looking for those in need. For my Dad.

Coat update: Most of the coats have been dispersed. As I asked around, there were needs, and friends made some great suggestions: the men's homeless shelter, goodwill, a few went to friends and even my own husband; but I'm keeping two coats in the trunk of my car-a woman's coat and a man's coat--just in case I pass a person in need.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

As of lately, I've been thinking a little bit too much about death. To be expected.

I am much too young to die, but this has never kept anyone from dying. What I have worried about most was the burden a death can bring to a family, especially if the death is unexpected--and isn't it always? Thankfully, Mom and Dad had planned well for Dad's passing. Mom had held the deed for their burial plots for 30 years. Knowing Dad's final resting place put us all at ease.

I had started wondering where I would end up. I knew it would be smart and beneficial for our children if we had a plan, but it's difficult to think in that direction and it's difficult to lay out a large chunk of money for something soooo......trivial .....to me..... at this time.

My father had inherited three plots from his parents and given they were in a different city than my father, he wasn't going to need them. I asked my mom if perhaps, I could have them. Of course, that's a good idea.

When I called the cemetery, I had a lot of questions and the cemetery representative had a lot of answers.

 My grandfather was the original purchaser of 8 plots on August 21st, 1923. When the woman told me the original cost of all 8 plots, she started to laugh.  Eight plots for $250. Today's cost would be at least $24,000. But what struck me, was that someone's actions 91 years earlier, could bring me such peace. My grandfather couldn't have foreseen that his granddaughter and her husband would be the recipients of his sacrifices and purchases, because as my mom reminded me, $250 in 1923 was a lot of money.

Contemplating this has made me realize that most every benefit of which I partake, is due to the planning and care of someone who came before me. As an American I benefit from the grace and goodness that came in establishing this nation.  The curious minds that built airplanes, cars and bicycles have made my life incredible. So the logical question is, what am I doing to build a better life for those who come after me?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pool Closing

Each fall when we close the pool, I'm always melancholy--for about two minutes. But this year it hit me even harder and I felt a moment of intense sadness. You see, it seems like we just opened the pool in the spring and already, it is fall. It's not the end of summer days and nights of swimming that make me sad, it's that they passed too quickly.

This year I shared the feeling with the pool man who has become my summer friend.

"Closing the pool has become a metaphor for the passing of life," I told him. "And it's passing much too fast."

"It's especially difficult for me" he answers in his still thick British, South African accent. "Now when I close a pool, some of my customers I've had for years, I don't know if they'll be there in the spring. Some of them have been dying."

Without ever talking about it, the pool man and I have watched each other age. He's had two hip replacement surgeries, he sports a rim of grey hair, and like me, he has to find his glasses to fill out the bill. Even though in my mind's eye, I still look thirty, I'm sure the pool man could describe how I too have aged.

For some people, it's the children growing up, the birth of grandchildren, that mark the passage of time, but for me, it's closing the pool. I see my father swimming with the girls, Tony playing the shark game, the now grown up girls in their once tiny bathing suits.

At this rate, the pool man and I will have to start holding a closing ceremony, for the pool and for the summer celebration of life.
The closed pool on a rainy fall day.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Greater Blessings

I'm at a small gathering of family and friends and one of the guests is a musician and song writer who has flown in from Nashville. We all saw him enter with his guitar in hand and like every other guest, I can't wait to hear him sing.

While tuning up his guitar, we learn a little more about Ross's music career: he's a song writer and has played with the famous Nashville celebrities. After two beautiful songs, he leans over and whispers to me, "I always wished for a hit recored, and now I only wish for a grandchild."

Like many of us, with the  passing of years, we come to understand the greater blessings, the lasting joy.

To listen to Ross's music: http://rossfalzone.com/

In last week's news is the story of a woman who is giving birth to her second child at age 51. The modern marvel of medicine made this possible, for a woman, like many of us who understand what's most important when it's almost too late. http://www.myfoxny.com/story/26491928/pregnancy-in-middle-age

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Put Your Best Foot Forward

We had, if we were lucky, 45 minutes to clear customs in Dallas Texas and make our connecting flight to a different alphabetized section of the American Airlines concourse. Half the people surveyed, believed it could be done, the other half did not. With an on time departure and favorable wind support, we landed with an abundance of 50 minutes. We were some of the first people off the plane and jogged to retrieve our luggage. As the big tongue of the luggage carousel burped up her bags, we were thrilled to see bags one and two. Expecting luggage number three any second, I called to my husband, “I’ll get in line for the customs inspector.” I pushed my cart slowly to the front of the line where I eventually had to pull off to the side, like a troubled car on the freeway. Watching the clock, I knew we were now down to 39 minutes. I returned to the carousels to nervously wait at my husband’s side.

After convincing Tony that we could replace our snorkels, masks, fins, beach shoes, for less than the cost and hassle of missing our flight, we dashed through customs, jumped over low barricades, pleaded with unhurried people in front of us at a security checkpoint, to arrive at an escalator. Bypassing the crowded escalator, I headed up the stairs with my nose planted downward, unaware there were six(?) flights of stairs ahead. Tony reached the monorail first and unaware that I wasn’t right behind him, he jumped on just as the doors closed. The monorail whizzed off with me on the other side. My husband’s last deciphered words “Gate B-25!!!”
We eventually reunited, at a different gate and moments after they had given away our seats.

We waited 2 hours for the hotel shuttle in the dark, rainy Dallas night. A series of urgent phone calls were made to take care of children and Tony’s PHD candidate who had flown in for his final meeting the following morning. During this wait, Tony decided to inquire again as to the whereabouts of the lost luggage. This time, the American Airlines representative found a notation attached to our computer information. The missing piece of luggage was left behind in Belize because there was not enough room on the flight!!!

Now the beauty of this story could not be realized without seeing the discarded luggage that caused such heartache. But first, it must be stated that I have pleaded with Tony for years to throw it away. A discussion ensued as to why OUR luggage was discarded instead of someone else’s. I think the photo answers the question.

We leave for Florida tomorrow with our daughters. Tony announced this morning that he was packed and could I please make sure the girls packed tonight. I walked into our bedroom and found his usual quality suitcase packed with his own belongings. The second suitcase that he always packs for the family, filled with wetsuits, snorkel gear and fins, was sitting alongside the first. I didn’t recognize it at first. I went to the basement to check for the hideous suitcase. It was sitting out as if Tony actually contemplated bringing it along. I photographed it for proof and carried it out to the trash.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Big Sister Quote of the Day #3

"Thank goodness we can look back and laugh."

For four years, my sister and I dealt with a difficult acquaintance. His/her behavior was obtuse, brutish, exasperating and eventually boring.

During this time, a friend gave me a valuable piece of advise: If you wrestle with a pig, you only make the pig angry and you both get dirty.

My sister and I started to refer to the problem person as wrestling with a pig. And we quit wrestling with that pig. And because we quit, and only because we quit pig wrestling, do we have the pleasure of saying, "Thank goodness we can look back and laugh."

Yet, I've come to realize the pig may not be the person you think it is...

When wrestling with a pig, there may actually be two pigs and the most stubborn pig may be the one in your head.

It only bothers you because you think about it.

You can't keep the birds of sorrow from flying overhead, but you can keep them from building a nest in your head.

As much as we blame the him, her or them for the misery they bring to us,  it really all comes down to the more important pig you must wrestle--the one in your head. If you stop wrestling this one, the problem pig will have no power----and then you too can say: "Thank goodness I can look back and laugh."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

For The Writers

"The Best Advice My Editor Gave Me"

 by the Branford Boase award winning shortlisted authors 


A book isn't made by the author alone. Here the seven shortlisted authors for the Branford Boase award share top tips from their editors, from clarity is key to curb the cussing.

Fletcher Moss, author of The Poison Boy, edited by Imogen Cooper and Barry Cunningham (Chicken House):
My editor is hyper-intelligent, exacting, demanding, but really lovely with it. Her devastating assessments of my school-boy errors usually come in the form of a politely phrased question. (Recent case in point - Her: Just wondering. Why have you got two separate antagonists? Me: Oh damn! I have, haven't I?) Her advice has been clear, concise and utterly invaluable. Looking back over my notes from those late night phone calls, there are gems aplenty. There's "Raise the stakes! The cause needs to be bigger, more immediate." Or there's "There are foreground characters and background characters, and a few in the middle. Put your cast into one of these three lists. Justify their inclusion." Or "Always think about motivation. Why do they do the things they do, in the order they do them?" Or with plotting denouments "Think big picture. What lessons are learnt? How is the world changed, not just the people in it?" All were close to impossible to answer. "Think it over," she'd say breezily. "I'll call you in a week."

Holly Smale, author of Geek Girl, edited by Lizzie Clifford (HarperCollins):

1. Decide what story it is you want to tell, and then have as much fun telling it as possible.
2. More kissing, please.

Seven authors have been shortlisted for the 2014 Branford Boase award, which is given annually to the author of the best debut novel for children. Uniquely, the Branford Boase award also honours the editor of the winning title and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent.

We asked the authors for the best piece of advice their editor had given them, and here are their responses...

Natasha Carthew, author of Winter Damage, edited by Rebecca McNally (Bloomsbury):

The first word of advice from my editor was to remember to use plot, momentum and pace to carry the story forward; as a poet I'm happy to get lost in the detail of description and she reminded me to not forget the bigger picture in order to keep the sense of motion, tension and engagement. Three books later I still adhere to this good advice.

Top tip? Curb the cussing!

CJ Flood, author of Infinite Sky, edited by Venetia Gosling (Simon and Schuster):

The best writing tip I ever got was during my time at UEA, and it was that the specific becomes poetic. It taught me not to reach for poetry, but to find it more authentically in the details of the setting and characters.
My editor for Infinite Sky, Venetia, pushed me to know my characters, and how they feel. Iris's feelings about her absent mother are central to the novel, and complex, and for a long time I didn't understand these myself. Venetia wouldn't stand for this vagueness.

Rob Lloyd Jones, author of Wild Boy, edited by Mara Bergman (Walker):

Editors see the little and the large. One huge thing Mara taught me was to keep it simple. Often I over-complicate things with detail, clutter, lose focus on the purpose of the scene. Action, description, detail – that's all just stuff. What matters are the characters in the middle of it, what they are trying to do.
As for the little… Too many sentences begin with a character's name, or the ridiculous number of descriptions of light. Notes like that embarrass me, which is great. With a good editor, you're always embarrassed. You blush. You start typing again. You get better.

Julie Mayhew author of Red Ink, edited by Emily Thomas (Hot Key):

The best two pieces of advice my editor Emily Thomas gave me are…

1) To not censor myself. The emotional and social landscape of Red Ink might have made other editors nervous – should Melon say that? Should Melon do that? But Emily never once said "we must tone this down" or "better get rid of that". She has an incredible respect for teen readers. If they have questions about the darker aspects of life, they should be allowed to ask them and explore them through the safety of fiction. Similarly as a writer, fiction is a safe place for me to express the things it's hard to express in real life. So who wants an editor who says, "oh no, you mustn't write that"?

2) To read The Country Girls. How did it take me this long to discover that book?! It's what the teenage me was desperate for.

Ross Montgomery, author of Alex the Dog and the Unopenable Door, edited by Rebecca Lee and Susila Baybars (Faber):

When I first handed Alex in, it was a bit of a sprawling mess. Both Susila and Rebecca helped me understand that if you want detail in your writing, you have to know when to use it – at all other times, clarity is key.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Head Wind, Tail Wind

The river canyon trail had such a head wind, I almost felt like I was pedaling a stationary bike. I could have turned back several times, but I kept pushing because I was dreaming of the tail wind.

I'd done this head wind/ tail wind many times before and though I hoped I would exchange one for the other, I still wasn't 100% for sure it would happen. Mother nature has tricked me before. The most memorable was at the end of a kayak day trip on the Napali coast. We were on the tenth hour of paddling and could see the shore of our arrival. A beautiful tail wind kicked in and the boat almost moved without us. I took a 4ft by 4ft scarf, tied it to my paddle and the sides of the kayak, held it up and we sailed at an unprecedented speed toward destination's end.

But then....as suddenly as a drop in the stock market, the wind reversed. What should have been a short 20 minute slide into the sand, became a two hour fight to reach the coastline.  There was no break--any resting and the wind pushed us back. When we finally climbed out of the kayak, we were exhausted and grateful. I'd never paddled so hard and for so long in my life.

When I finally reached the top of the bike trail, I turned around, anxious for the tail wind--the reward for my hard work. The glorious tail wind was behind me now and I had time to think of all the metaphorical head winds I'd encountered in my life. While  working on my agent request and re-write, I felt like I was heading straight into a sixteen knot wind: rethinking language, plot changes and additions, and the hardest headwind of all--depending on precious friends and family for their critical edits.

If the agent accepts the manuscript, I'll enjoy a moment of tailwind; if the books sells I'll enjoy another moment of tail wind before I have another round of edits or another colossal head wind.

For the most part, life will consist of head winds and tail winds. Though I may despise the head wind, it's actually the critical part in all aspects of development and getting to the reward or the fun--it's the climbing the mountain in order to sled down the mountain.

If life was just a tail wind, we'd be headed in only one direction--it might be fun at first but pretty soon I'd find myself far away from where I wanted to be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Life and Trust on the Back of a Bike


Tony and I are on the tandem bike waiting for Annika's soccer practice to finish so we can ride home with her. 

A lady pulls up in a SUV and asks, "Do you like your bike?"

The tandem bike is such a staple in our lives that I no longer, or if ever, think about whether I like it or not. 

"Yes, we like it." She seems doubtful so I add, "There are some trust issues. I've gotten after him a few times."

Tony adds the standard joke, "She does all the pedaling."

The lady, still looking dubious adds, "I've always wanted to try one."

"You should. You'd probably like it."

And then she says what she's been thinking the whole time. "My friends call it the divorce mobile. They had to get rid of theirs."

We actually got the tandem to help our marriage. Tony had taken up biking and I wanted to spend some time with him in a pursuit that he enjoyed. I couldn't keep up with him on a regular bike so for us, it was a marriage builder. 
It's evident from the short video clip that it takes trust to ride on the back of a tandem, but then again, it takes trust to go on a marriage ride

It's the same video--I can't cut it.

Monday, September 15, 2014


In a morning meditation I learn that power comes from compassion, commitment, trust, vision, strength and love.

A remarkable New York Times video illustrates this better than anything I've ever seen:

Wright's Law: A Teacher's Unique Lesson:


Sunday, September 14, 2014

My daughter and I leave Whole Foods Market in an upscale suburb of Chicago. Waiting for us just outside the door are three self-acknowledged gang members collecting money for their friend's funeral who was gunned down a few days earlier in Chicago. Chicago has become the murder capital of the United States. One of the young men hands me a flyer and tells me that the manager gave him permission to solicit people for money. The funeral cost is $900. I tell the young man I will help with his friend's funeral but first we have to solve a greater problem. So I ask from my privileged white lady point of view, "What is the problem?"

"He was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he responds.

I press him for the greater problem.

"I guess the problem is no parenting," he says in a resigned, unemotional voice. I'm not sure if he's telling me what he thinks I want to hear, or if he really knows the problem.  I want this boy to have a better life, I want him to help change what has become a bleak situation.

My daughter is a psychologist and when we get in our car, she tells me the young man was void of emotion. "His face didn't express happiness or sadness when we gave him money or when he talked of his friend. To show emotion makes one vulnerable. If you open yourself up and let others see your emotion, you show a vulnerability and open yourself up to hurt.  If you're not validated, you shut yourself down to emotion. A defense mechanism. If your friends are dying on the street and you shut yourself down to the pain, you will survive."

And yet, we were in the exact situation--me coming out of the store, gently accosted by a boy who wants my money. My wall goes up with a contempt, a protection preservation because it is what I have trained myself to do. If I show emotion, I'll get taken advantage of.

As I sit here, later, I think of him and want to embrace him, want to give him more than a few dollars and a lecture that comes from my blessed life of peace and comfort. I want to be open and full of emotion, I want to be alive.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Most Powerful Human in the World

The most powerful human is the baby who won't sleep.

Friday, September 12, 2014


There is a genuine void in my life if I do not have the next book waiting to read. It's akin to not knowing the next time I will see the sea.

For the most part, I choose books carefully: friend recommendations, ratings, reviews and goodreads. I prefer to buy the books I read, so I'm selective and careful about purchases. Every once in a while, if there's a book I don't want to buy, I remember the library.

When my dad used to take us girls on shopping trips, he would give us a budget. There was an unspoken but well understood budget of time too, because we knew his patience could be less than the money in his pocket.

He enjoyed doing this for his girls, but he always described us in less than flattering terms: They're like dogs in a meat factory.

This is what I felt like yesterday at the library. I hadn't been in awhile and my last library visit had been in Avignon. The library was housed in a beautiful 18th century building, with tons of patronage and relatively few books--compared to our libraries.

When I walked in to our library, I was amazed by the amount of books. I first chose the two books I had come to check out, but I was tempted by all the titles and authors I recognized and wanted to read. Hold off, I told myself. There will be time to read these later. Then I went to the recommendations for teens. SO Many GOOD BOOKS. Still discerning. I picked up less than ten.

The library now has display tables set up with new books, staff picks and old time favorites. As I was headed for check out, I went past several of these tables and delighted at my finds. I even found a beekeeping book. I was starting to feel like that dog in the meat factory.

All day long, when there was a shift in my thinking or when I had completed a task, I remembered the stack of books. I climbed up the stairs, pulled a book out and started reading. The books brought as much excitement as new clothes to a teenager or as a sausage to a dog.

Did I read all the above books? No. A few of them I only gave a few pages to gage interest, but a few of them I loved. That's what's so great about the library--one can take risks.

With the stack of library books, the void is always at bay. It's akin to having a travel itinerary waiting in my email.

Three weeks later, I return to the library and have the same experience!  Books I couldn't have known about, books I couldn't have bought, but available to me with a library card. 

As with anything, when there are so many choices, one must choose wisely. I'm stuck on a two hour flight with the wrong hardback books. The first is a political memoir that weighs 2.5 pounds. I know it weighs 2.5 pounds because I was 2 pounds over the 50 pound maximum for checked luggage and had to weigh items and repack.  Ironic that the political book is so heavy.

The second book is a young adult book written in at least 10 different voices and all the voices, though written differently, sound the same. I want to towel whip the author.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sister Quote of the Day #2

My sister calls and shares her epiphany born from a trial and the working through of that trial.  The epiphany is a question, "Why do I need to forgive anyone?"

I'm quiet because forgiveness is critical if one is to survive the human experience. 

She continues, "But you don't need the forgiveness if you refuse to be offended or hurt in the first place."

Ok, yes, this makes sense and how I wish I was at that point in my life. We both know we aren't this resilient yet, but we can work on getting there.

The epiphany was prompted from an experience with a group of friends who sometimes act like "mean girls." This old group of old friends continually leaves someone out and when they do get together, it is often to criticize or gossip about her, him or them.  This time, my sister is left out of a lunch invitation. At first she is thinking the forgiveness route, but as she continues her thinking, she realizes they did her a favor--no need to forgive because she realizes they didn't hurt her at all: they helped her realize she needs to distance herself from anything MEAN!

As we continue the conversation, her compassion grows and we even change mean girls to weak girls. People are mean only because they are weak, insecure and suffering themselves.

And I remember how easy it is to be a weak girl.  A close, close friend and I invite a new friend to attend a social function with us. While there, I lapse into the comfort of our old friendship. My daughter has to remind me, "Be inclusive."

In my daughter's reprimand, I had to make a decision. I had to overcome being weak. It was easiest or weak, not explaining something  my old friend and I laughed at. It was easiest or weak to make allusions to people or places the new friend didn't know.  I was going to have to concentrate to skip a mutual topic and create an inclusive topic. I had to be a better person. I had to be strong in order to overcome the easy weakness. That night I sent a text to my daughter. "I was inclusive. Thanks for the reminder."

My sister's epiphany or quote # 2 will take strength to incorporate and I'm sure I will have reason to forgive and be forgiven on many future occasions, but how I look forward to the strength I will gain each time I don't have to forgive.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Discovering Myself After Forgetting Myself

An old reminiscence (Paloma is now 21):

Outwardly, I tried to appear happy when my 14 year old daughter told me she was going to take up tennis with the intent of making the high school junior varsity team.

She had been a good soccer player but was consistently injured while playing the game. The day came when we had to consider the long-term effect of these injuries. I loved watching her play and I enjoyed being with her and her peers while driving them to soccer games. I was as disappointed as her when she quit the team.

I was rooting for volleyball to be her new sport. The opponents were safely on the other side of the net. I could sit in the consistent climatic comfort of a gym. No more huddling in a down blanket in October.

I wasn't happy about tennis because I knew what it would mean for me: playing tennis again.

The day before she made her tennis announcement I had decided that I hated tennis and would never play again. I had spent my youth playing tennis; tournaments, invitationals, a ranking in my home state, tennis teams, teaching tennis, a tennis life.. So why was I hating tennis? I was used to a certain level of tennis playing. Over the years I played less and less and got worse and worse. Tennis was no longer fun, and my husband was starting to beat me.

But...my daughter means more to me than my own life. I kept my anti-tennis resolution to myself and agreed to work hard with her in her tennis pursuits.

We spent hours on the court, sometimes twice a day; but it wasn't playing tennis, it was helping my daughter.
I analyzed and critiqued; I picked up balls while she practiced her serve or hit on the ball machine. I modeled footwork and strokes. As I transferred my knowledge to her, as her game improved, without intention or realization I was improving my own game.

In the week before tryouts, she started to play with friends who were anxious to make the tennis team too. Four days passed after playing twice a day matches, when she didn't have anyone to play with. "Mom, can we go play tennis?"

My opponent stood across the net. She hit her first ball. It came at me fast; I sent it back. I got my racket back sooner, stood on my toes ready for the return. It came, it went back. With a four day hiatus I came back to the court with fresh eyes. My daughter had dramatically improved, but so had I. We had become worthy opponents and we were having fun. It crossed my mind that maybe I liked tennis again.

Paloma's story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWJ4dfadsJQ

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Gift From My Neighbors

I've never held a pear this large.

After six months of lost queens, moth and ant attacks, after having all the stored honey robbed from the hive, I heard the sweetest words ever from my neighbors and I remembered why I wanted to keep bees.

My neighbors have a beautiful garden with vegetables, berries, and fruits. They both tell me this year's bounty is over the top. The grape vines are full, the pears are huge and a once barren plum tree is filled with plums. "And," they tell me, "we think it's because of your bees."

When I hear this, it reminds me of the real reason to keep bees: pollination. The majority of our food depends on bee pollination.

Yet, there are other reasons for beekeeping. Foremost, honey. Since it looks like I won't see any honey this year, I'm focusing on the Saving the planet reason for beekeeping. (Nature's Dying Migrant Worker   http://www.startribune.com/local/264929101.html). My bees are helping  neighborhood food production. Flowers are still in full bloom. Fruit and vegetable production is up. My own raspberries were more abundant than any other year previous. In early summer I'd wake up mornings to find the raspberry patch literally looking alive.

Bees have helped me become more observant and conscious of nature. I watch the flora and fauna as it changes, feel sadness when neighbors spray poison,  love when I pass a bee yard. Love when I pass a neighbor's flower bush and see it humming with life. I don't yank out a dandelion or clover, because it's bee food.

I can sit still and watch them, absolutely fascinated by their industry and energy. All the cliches about bees are true: they are busy! The female worker bee, which makes up 85% of the hive, has a life expectancy of only 30 days. These ladies truly do "work themselves to death."

It is a rare day when I don't walk to the lower yard, open the hive window and watch. A bench sits in front of the hive for watching bees exit and enter the hive. The packs of pollen on their legs come in all different colors from off-white to blue-grey to bright orange.

The bees are the reason I have let the basil run amok and go to flower. They love the purple flowers. Their presence brings the basil patch to life.

Enjoy bees! Know they are here and helping to grow our food right along with the farmers. Take a minute and observe the bees that may or may not be in your yard. Choose to use pesticide more discriminately or not at all. The threat to the world's bee population is a slap to human consciousness. Wake up and enjoy bees. And your food.

After encounter and thought: Nikki and I walk home from yoga and run into a neighbor who invites us to share in her bounty of plums.

"Did you have any plums last year?" I ask.

"No, In fact I thought one of the trees was dead."

"Nikki! Our bees!"

My husband keeps teasing me about having to buy honey to feed our bees all winter--he finds this rather ironic, as do I--why I have to focus on pollination!

Monday, September 8, 2014


The dress shop in the Del has a new name. Kate's. Curious about the change, I asked the friendly saleslady who answered in a heavy Russian accent which just added to the intrigue.

Kate it turns out, is the ghost that congenially haunts the Hotel Del Coronado.

In 1892, 24 year old Kate Morgan checked into the Hotel Del without any luggage. Five days later, she was found with a gun in her hand, shot in the head, lying on the beach. Not wanting a scandal, the death was deemed a suicide and put to rest. Later investigation pointed to murder.

Kate had a shady past for someone so young. She and her husband were known as a train robbing duo who befriended people only to rob them.

During Kate's short stay, she continually inquired at the front desk to see if anyone had come to see her; supposedly she was expecting her husband.

The Russian saleslady even had her own encounter with Kate. One day while conversing with fellow employees, she felt a hand brush her lower back. She quickly turned to see who it was, but no one was in sight. She told the other women and they nonchalantly said, "Kate has welcomed you."

I want to believe the saleswoman even though I know the hotel is capitalizing on the mysterious Kate. There is a book, some Kate paraphernalia, and even Kate's old room can be reserved. Stories of in-room encounters with Kate are bountiful.

I wonder why the spirit of a murdered woman would hang around the hotel and why would she have certain powers to upset the laws of life and death? Why, a hundred years later, would she still care?

I want to believe because I've had my own encounters with people who have passed, most of them too tender and too recent to broadcast. But there is one shareable moment that confirms my belief in a life after death. When the children were young, we took them to Disneyworld. The week of our departure, Tony's aunt was critically ill and was expected to die.  Tony has a soft spot for all his older relatives and we had visited this aunt often. We boarded the plane knowing we might come back to a world without Great Aunt Lil.

While standing in line for the ride It's a small World, I grabbed Tony and asked him, "What time is it?" He told me and then I insisted he remember that time. What I didn't want to tell him, was that while standing in line, I felt the fleeting presence of Lil who had come to manifest her love, appreciation and to say goodbye to my little family.

After we'd gotten off the plane, gathered luggage and children, we headed straight to Great Aunt Lil's house. As we neared, we noticed a car with an out of state license plate in the driveway. Sure enough, she had passed on. "What time did she die?" I asked her daughter.  She had died within the hour of when I had felt her presence.

I hold very dear certain scriptures:  "11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.

 12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow." Alma 40: 11-12, The Book of Mormon

These beautiful words bring great comfort to me.  But they also bring up a few questions:

Where is God's home? Where is paradise? Is the earth more than three dimensions? Is it like the light spectrum of which we can see only a miniscule part? Is paradise just a part of the light spectrum the human eye can't perceive?
This past weekend I returned home from the memorial service of a dear, dear lady. The memorial was small, intimate and each of the ten people attending shared their experiences with Mary. One woman had a vision of Mary smiling and skipping and learned of her death early the next morning. There were several of these experiences. A beloved nephew of Mary spoke, "I don't know about life after death but  whenever I was having a hard time in my life, I would dream of my uncle Frank (who'd passed on many years before), who left me uplifted and cared for."

It all seems pretty straight forward: people die, return to heaven,--yet there is a connection between heaven and earth--a connection I cannot yet grasp or completely understand.

As for the the ghost of Kate? 

I don't know. But to discount what people have seen and felt in the Hotel Del would discount my own experiences too.

Only one thing is for sure--eventually we will all know.