Posted in A Day In the Life

A Kayak, A Birthday and Women Friends

I try to stay on a schedule and post a new blog every Thursday or Friday. But this week, I feel like a little kid about to be let out of school. I’m having trouble finding my focus and doing my work. Part of it is that yesterday was my birthday, and I had a really fun day, replete with tons of good wishes from friends and family. And today, I have a little birthday celebration with four women that I’ve come to know since moving to Texas. It’s not a Zoom event, either. We’re going kayaking. Masks on until we get into our boats and then masks off. Glorious connection under the sun and on the water, seeing a group of faces that mean a lot to me – I haven’t been in a group for over a year. I’m going to have some fun today and the greatest part of that is that it’s shared fun.

But these are just my personal reasons for a giddiness that tugs at me to leave my desk and go play. The whole country is experiencing a kind of excitement and awakening about the new possibilities before us: eating in restaurants again, going to a library, shopping live and in person in someplace other than just a grocery store. I guess that there are those who never gave up those kinds of things during the pandemic, but I was cautious. Like grandparents and grandkids separated for the sake of safety, I acknowledged that the virus wasn’t kind to older people, and adhered to the recommended health and safety practices. Being apart from the people that I love has often felt like a dark deprivation.

So today is an exciting day. I get to be with friends. And, yes, I know we have to still be careful. Yes, wear that mask when you go out. Continue to social distance. Don’t celebrate in the end zone just yet. Still, even six months ago, I wouldn’t have thought I could celebrate my birthday with a group of friends without much risk or worry. My small group have all had the vaccine and that fact is liberating.

Spring marks the slow opening of blossoms, and I think that we are all feeling an opening, an unfolding to reconnect with people, and with the world. What that tells me is that innate in us is a desire to be with others, to share our lives, our thoughts, dreams and hearts. It tells me that what is essential and truly important has to do with the celebration of life and love.

The past year has been fraught with loss. I lost a friend to COVID early on. Another has become a long hauler, still struggling with the virus’s cruel effects. I feel the deep rumble of mourning in a nation that has endured hundreds of thousands of deaths. It’s an odd and welcome juxtaposition that with such loss comes new beginnings. A metaphorical spring begins to emerge, revealing hope. Will we use the reflections caused by the pandemic to more cherish those around us? Will we realize that life can turn on a dime in the most unexpected ways? Will we let love lead us?

I’m grateful and giddy to be meeting up with friends today. I’ve missed being in a circle of women. So, off to the kayaks I go with a thankful heart and the inspiration that I always get from women, that at the end of the day, it’s all about the collective sharing of love and goodwill.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Way Past Normal

Have you noticed that there’s a lot of talk about things returning to normal? What do we think normal is now? A major world event has touched all of us, and we will move forward with that event informing our lives, for the rest of our lives. But normal? I’m not convinced that normal is what we’re after.

There were lots scenarios in that “normal” past that don’t make a lot of sense right now. For instance, I’m not sure how wise it ever was to hang out with thousands of strangers at a concert. Or if being in a dark and crowded bar where people have to scream in order to be heard – was that ever really a good idea? Life is full of pathogens, germs, viruses, so crowding together isn’t all that appealing anymore.

Or how about traffic? Not everyone needs to go to an office. When everyone does, there’s a lot of traffic to contend with and commuting for a couple of hours each day takes a toll. Our past “normal” often dictated that we spent less time with our family and the dog. The dog didn’t like this very much, and neither did the family. I don’t think being stuck in traffic is a “normal”that we want to return to. If a percentage of people worked from home, the traffic could get better for everyone.

This past year has produced some gifts amid the strangeness that we all endured. Some of those gifts are far from the old “normal,” and some are worth taking into the future.

For instance. I think everybody should be able to live in comfortable yoga clothes. When the pandemic started, the only place that I had to go was the grocery store, but I still had to get up everyday, shower and get dressed. I got into this thing of wearing jewelry with my leggings. Pearls and Pilates, anyone? Further, on a daily basis, I learned to adhere to “Hey it’s after 5:00pm and you don’t have anywhere to go anyway, so you might as well put on your pajamas.” Moral of the story – let’s move forward in more comfortable clothes.

Walking the dog. All of the dogs in my neighborhood have done well during the pandemic. They’ve encourage us to get outside and move. I now know all the dogs names in my neighborhood. I’m still working on learning the human names. As we move forward, I hope that we’ll all walk more.

Zoom family calls. I voting that this little gift will stay around. There’s something sweet and reassuring about seeing my scattered-to-the-winds family in one tidy place, each of us in our own little square, chatting. And it really isn’t about what we say to each other, it’s just the feeling tone of our tribe coming together. It makes my heart feel good.

Like a lot of people, in the first months of the pandemic, I organized my closets and my drawers. That action showed me that I don’t need half the stuff that I thought I did and hopefully I’ll keep that attitude close by.

And masks . . . how the hell that ever became a political hot potato, I will ever know. I learned two things about masks. One, is that there are a lot of really fun masks out there. My favorites are the dog and cat masks. I’m not ditching my mask. First off, I’ll wear it two weeks after my vaccine and I will probably continue to wear it to the grocery store for a long while. I will probably want to wear my fun masks during flu season. There really was no flu season this past year and it’s because everyone was masked up. In fact, I like my cat mask so much, I’m thinking of getting a pair of ears and a tail to go with.

And finally, the pandemic made me dig out all my arts and craft supplies. Because after you clean out your closets, what’s next? I’ve enjoyed coloring, drawing and collage. Hubby and I both read Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way and became loyal fans of the morning pages.

Not everything about the pandemic was horrible, even though it certainly had its horror. I lost a friend and I mourn him. Another friend deals with long-term symptoms from COVID. I’m not afraid or ashamed to cry when I think of how many lost so much. But I hold onto the good, too: families hanging out on Zoom, quiet time with art supplies, writing (I finished a manuscript during COVID), delivered groceries and the unabashed wearing of a necklace and earrings with my yoga gear. Life is good. The gifts are many. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we are moving in the right direction to something new, beyond the old “normal.”

What gift did you get from this crazy past year that you’ll take with you into our brave, new future? Please share.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

For the longest time, I thought that my husband and I were the worst dinner guest in the world. When kind and unsuspecting people invite us into their home to have dinner, I feel an impending sense of dread. In my most trying-to-please tones, I attempt to explain myself to the potential hostess.

ME: Thanks, but we have a lot of dietary restrictions.

HOSTESS: Well that’s certainly not a problem.

ME: We don’t eat wheat, corn, oats, or soy. Oh, and no dairy. Neither of us eat any dairy.”

Now I’m off an running. My brain is screaming STOP – DON’T DO IT, but the editor between my brain and mouth is on a break, so I forge ahead.

ME: Garlic. We don’t eat garlic. And what kind of oil do you use? We try to eat only good fats, so that means avocado or olive oil only. No soy or canola. And also salt. My husband can’t have too much of it. It raises his blood pressure.

I tell her about my digestion, the kind of pain that I get in my body if I eat the aforementioned foods. As the hostesses’ eyes glaze over, I can see that she is searching for the nearest emergency exit. I try to lighten the moment.

ME: I found these wonderful tortillas that are made of almond flour, but not the ones that contain cassava, because I don’t do well with cassava.

The worst dinner guests. She looks at her watch.

HOSTESS: Sorry, I didn’t realize it was so late, I have to pick up my daughter at band practice.

Skid marks.

One day I meet Susan. Susan is a natural foodie like me. We spend time together sipping tea and agreeing on the health benefits of lemon grass. Her list of forbidden foods is as long as mine. Conversations about rice bread and stevia follow as a strong bond is born amid the talk of green drinks and the enzymes.

ME: Would you like to come to dinner on Saturday night?

SUSAN: Ed and I would love to come. And let us bring something.

ME: You don’t have to bring anything.

SUSAN: I have this place where I get really good organic salmon. Let me bring the salmon.

ME: Okay, we can grill. It will be fun.

With a spring in my step and confidence in my heart, I prepare for Saturday night. A beautiful table is set. Flowers are arranged. Two vegetable sides and a salad are prepped. I make iced herbal tea.

6:30 – That ‘s the agreed upon time. I imagine us sitting on the deck, talking about the efficacy of various omega oils and the over-consumption of sugar in America.

7:00 – No Susan and Ed. Maybe they got caught up in traffic.

7:15 – Still no Susan and Ed. I try calling. No answer.

7:25 – A call from Susan. “We’re on our way,” she says cheerfully.

7:45 – Susan and Ed arrive. I’m irritable but trying not to show it. Husband is irritable. We take a deep breath and put on our best game faces.

Thrusting a cold white paper package into my hands, I stare at Susan blankly.

SUSAN: It’s the fish. It’s the most beautiful color. We spent a long time picking out just the right piece for all of us.

ME: It’s frozen.

SUSAN: It shouldn’t take long to thaw.

My husband takes the frozen salmon out of my hands and walks it to the grill. The sun is starting to set. We don’t have good night lighting on the deck. Husband whisper into my ear.

HUSBAND: I don’t know how to cook this.

ME: What do you mean, you grill fish all of the time?

HUSBAND: The fish is frozen. I don’t know how to cook it.

ME: Just put in the fish basket and throw it on the grill. My blood sugar has dropped I never eat this late. I’m cranky beyond belief. My new friend hasn’t even mentioned that she showed up an hour and fifteen minutes after the time we set.

Finally we settle down at the table. The fish has a strange spongy texture.

SUSAN: The salad is wonderful.

ME: Thank you.

The minutes tick by, fifteen, thirty an hour, oh my God an hour and a half, and Ed and Susan are still eating.

ME: Wow, you guys are really slow eaters.

Ed has barely said a word all evening now at 10:00 he swallows hard and shares.

ED: I believe that to get the most nutrition out of your food, you must chew thoroughly. My teacher told me to chew thirty-two times on each side, slowly. This has become a mindfulness practice for me.

Husband looks like he wants to fall face first into his plate. I want to leap the table and strangle Susan and then Ed who has just taken another bite of food and is chewing again.

A little after midnight they leave.

The next afternoon I drive to the grocery store where I buy a large chocolate cake and a block of cheese. We are no longer the worst dinner guests in the world.

Posted in A Day In the Life

A New Way Forward

The atoms of darkness break apart as light breathes itself into the day. I’m on the edge of myself, picking politics from my teeth, trying to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

The landscape of my neighborhood looks like it survived a fire, but it was really a freeze, a gripping, suffocating cold that left everything dry, brittle and brown. Metaphorical comparisons come to mind – the ravages of pandemics and governments devoid of statesmanship or providing for the common good, has left everything broken and parched.

I spend a couple of hours online each morning, navigating three websites that won’t let me in. I keep trying anyway, thinking I can beat the odds, and get an appointment for the vaccine. I go to the state’s .gov site and read headlines that say Limited Supply. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Maybe in April. I’ve waited this long, what’s a few more hours, days, weeks? I’m encouraged to drive to the next county or city for a vaccine. “Think outside the box,” people say, but I fear I’ve become a nameless, faceless ghost in the masses, trying to get help, crying out to an empty room.

I’m starting to feel that I’m doing something wrong; that I should be willing to drive an hour or two to get the shot in another city or county. Why is this so much like The Hunger Games? Good friends send me more links to places where I can register for the vaccine. Two hours each morning. I can’t give it more than that. The new links yield nothing yet, just more frustration.

Life unfolds on the couch with my laptop and my tea. I watch the sky change. Trees silhouetted against the vastness, bare branches reaching up in prayer, Dear God, please save us from ourselves. Another day. Hopefulness? My resilience and positive thinking are exhausted. The governor of Texas has eliminated the mask mandate and opened up the state. “One hundred percent opening,” he said, while still the virus continues. Too many people mistake freedom as meaning you can do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it, without a thought for anyone else. I wonder how we got so ignorant and uncaring about others? Life does not feel open Governor Abbott, it feels frightening, underscored by a longing for common sense and goodwill. Freedom, my ass!

Grubbing in the dirt for the gratitude that I misplaced, wishing that the sun would come out and dissipate the gray, I decide on more tea. It’s all I can do this morning. On my gravestone they will probably write: She drank tea while Texas burned, or maybe froze.

I left the dishes last night. There are plants on the back porch that need to be potted. I look forward to small tasks to help pull me from my splintered worry. Take a shower. Get dressed. Do what needs to be done. I remind myself that I don’t believe there is a “normal” to go back to. All of us will need to break trail and find a new way forward.

As many Texans celebrate Abbott’s lifting of the mask mandate and the opening of all businesses, social media sites are flooded with praise and “you do you/ I’ll do me” kind of rhetoric. It’s interesting to note that once again, choice and freedom don’t extend to women’s personal reproductive health care choices. . . a digression in my rant I realize, but it helps to make my point that that a good portion of politics is rife with hypocrisy.

It used to be that power meant the ability to influence action, change and behavior. It was a component of leadership, often leadership by way of example. In recent years, power has come to mean bullying and blustering. It’s in this knee deep sludge of misconception surrounding power, strength and the cry for freedom, that I continue to worry, and worry is not freedom at all. I worry about the spread of infection. I worry about whether or not I’ll get a vaccine in time. I worry about what will happen to our economy if we don’t get a handle on the virus. Most of all, I worry that we have lost a sense of nobility in governance that is supposed to be a service job with the goal of caring for the wellbeing of people.

Tomorrow morning I’ll get online again at 5:00, hoping to find a vaccine. I’m pretty sure that Governor Abbot and Senator Cruz have already had theirs.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Politics, Pandemics and Freedom

I’m on a rant this morning. I just spent several hours on line, playing the lottery. Praying to hit the right button at the right time in order to get a vaccine for COVID 19, I gave up after three hours of refreshing the page. I’m hopeful that as production ramps up, it will become easier for me to get an inoculation against COVID.

Getting a vaccine is even more important to me today than it was yesterday. Yesterday Governor Abbot of Texas told the state that he was dropping the mask mandate and that businesses were free to open 100%. What he didn’t say is that there is a slight uptick in cases of COVID in Texas, and that only about 6% of the population have received the vaccine. Many of us continue to play The Hunger Games, spending hours on line, hoping to be one of the lucky ones that can get an appointment for the shot. Governor Abbot’s move was not in the interest of the people of this great state, though he did dress it up, put lipstick on it and try to pass it off as protecting my freedom. Freedom for what? For going to the grocery store and shopping next to a couple who spent the past two nights at a bar, mask-less, elbow to elbow in a potentially contaminating soup ripe for the contraction of COVID?

What Abbot did, was not leadership. The move was a self-serving calculation that he thought would bring him some much needed popularity. It’s like telling the kid who is failing one of her classes in school, not to worry about studying, just go out and have a good time. Abbott essentially told us to go out and have a good time. Then he wrapped up his statements in the flag, punctuating the whole thing with words like freedom and choice.

What I’m missing in our government is statesmanship. Statesmanship has all but disappeared from the political landscape in Texas. Last week my mouth dropped open when I saw Senator Ted Cruz stomping the stage at CPAC like an blubbering baby whale screaming “freedom” at the top of his lungs. He’s was a shining example of a leader devoid of statesmanship, let alone any shred of dignity.

Does freedom mean being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it? While I’d argue that freedom does mean choosing how you want to live your life, there are instances that require us to come together to fight a common enemy, or strive for a singular good – like freedom from a pandemic — we are, after all the UNITED States of America. When the objective of our elected officials is to retain power and popularity at any cost, then leadership is impossible, let alone mindful of what is best for the common good. When I was growing up, this was called selfishness and it was not thought of as a desirable or admirable quality.

As many Texans celebrate Abbott’s lifting of the mask mandate and the opening of all businesses, social media sites are flooded with praise and “you do you/ I’ll do me” kind of rhetoric. It’s interesting to note that once again, choice and freedom don’t extend to women’s personal reproductive health care choices. . . a digression in my rant I realize, but it helps to make my point that that a good portion of politics is rife with hypocrisy.

It used to be that power meant the ability to influence action, change and behavior. It was a component of leadership, often leadership by way of example. In recent years, power has come to mean bullying and blustering. It’s in this knee deep sludge of misconception surrounding power, strength and the cry for freedom, that I continue to worry, and worry is not freedom at all. I worry about the spread of infection. I worry about whether or not I’ll get a vaccine in time. I worry about what will happen to our economy if we don’t get a handle on the virus. Most of all, I worry that we have lost a sense of nobility in governance that is supposed to be a service job with the goal of caring for the wellbeing of people.

Tomorrow morning I’ll get online again at 5:00, hoping to find a vaccine. I’m pretty sure that Governor Abbot and Senator Cruz have already had theirs.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Contemplating The Lessons of the Great Texas Freeze

Explaining that we are experiencing climate change seems like stating the obvious. Yet, there are people who still don’t believe in climate change, even though the earth is reacting to rising temperatures and melting polar caps in the ways in which science said that it would. The polar caps melt into the ocean. The ice changes the temperature of the water, which in turn changes things like the jet stream and pressure systems. The result is extreme weather events, like the one we just had in Texas. As far south as Texas is, six inches of winter snow and ice is not what anyone here would call normal.

Extreme weather events effects the ecosystems and infrastructure where we live. In Texas, the power grid, which is privately owned, chose not to winterize, even though there had been a severe winter event just a decade ago and insistence that the power plants should winterize. But, why do anything preventative when it could cut into your profits? So, when the temperatures plunged into single digits recently and stayed there for over a week, the power plants were not equipped to keep the heat on for its customers. Now there are a lot of board resigning’s, finger pointing, outrageous bills (I’m talking $16,000.00 for customers who lost and then regained power) and it’s a giant cluster- you-know-what. What hasn’t happened yet, is a solution that contains prevention and safety for the people of this state. The big question is whether or not we have the courage to sacrifice to make the changes that will keep us safe. And whether or not we have the will to insist that our government, which is supposed to be by, for and of the people, will do the right thing.

The roads here in Austin were impassable during the freeze, because there are no snow plows in Texas, at least not that I could see. Trucks couldn’t get to grocery stores to replenish stock. People couldn’t get to the stores for food. Water pipes broke. Districts turned off water to conserve, since water was leaking all over the place anyway. Then came the boil order for water which was rendered contaminated. The irony being, what water were you supposed to boil if your water had been turned off? You saw people scraping snow into pots and trying to boil that – but you could only boil it if you had power or propane to do so, another technicality that was over looked with the boil order. Worst of all, some people literally froze to death in their homes because they had no heat.

I’ve lived a lot of winters in weeks and weeks of hard freeze, but the infrastructure in which I lived those winters was built for that kind of weather. Here in Texas, it’s not that we were caught off guard, it’s that the privately owned power grid decided to hedge its bets that nothing like this could ever happen. As the temperatures have warmed in the past few days and power has been restored, there are few people here who are not dealing with repairs due to the freeze, whether it’s pipes, plants, or water damage. Some schools had to shut down because of damage from broken pipes.

These are just some of the far reaching tentacles of climate change that the country has been dealing with. And it’s not just Texas. The fires that burned up and down the west coast last year, were for the most part, not wild fires, but climate fires. The ecosystems on the west coast do not naturally thrive in triple digit temperatures for weeks at a time. So when hot summer temperatures hovered in the hundreds, the area became a tinder box. In Colorado, the I-70 corridor that I used to drive from Denver to Aspen, is no longer miles and miles of green pine. Instead, those trees have been eaten by Pine Beetle, an insect that can only live and do damage if the area doesn’t drop below freezing for at least ten days at a time throughout the winter. Now, along that stretch of highway are miles and miles of decimated trees, that have turned mountain greenery into acres of brittle kindling.

We are in climate change. It’s not something that might happen up the road. Anyone who cannot see that the climate is changing, that weather in no longer predictable or following historic patterns; anyone who thinks it is all a hoax is either a political or corporate opportunist or ignorant.

And what will it take to clean up this mess? It mostly comes down to how we clean up pollution. What gases we put in the air, what chemicals we put in the water. We have the technology that we need to clean up our mess. A cleaner world would be better for everyone. It can only help humans and the planet stay healthier. Both the planet and its people are sick right now. And the politics of profit at any cost are the sickest of all. That’s what will kill us if we don’t change our attitudes about taking care of our earth home and each other.

Posted in A Day In the Life

The Great Texas Freeze of 2021

Snowed in. Now there’s a phrase I never expected to use again. Not when hubby said to me, just prior to our move here, “we’re going to love those warm and mild Texas winters.” It’s true that we’ve had more than several days these past few months where I could walk in shorts, or in leggings and a light jacket. Sometimes it was kind of a fashion thrill to wear a knit cap on a chilly day. But I never expected THIS!

What THIS is, is a deep, prolonged freeze, the kind you might expect in a northern state or somewhere on the east coast. And I’ve lived in this kind of weather before, but I was also equipped for it – as was the infrastructure around me. In my Sunshine Canyon days in Boulder, Colorado, if we got a foot of snow, the roads were plowed and sanded by 5:30 the next morning. I don’t think we have many snowplows in central Texas.

There was a time when my husband and I were thrilled for a snow day, the kind of day when the 9th street park became a cross-country ski track; when driving down the mountain at 8:00 AM to the park was filled with exhilarating anticipation. Since arriving in Austin a couple of years ago, my blood has thinned. In the “I used to” category is a sense of hardiness brought about by early morning winter hikes, where the only other being on the trail was the otherworldly silver crane meditating in the creek bed. But then, I had the luxury of playing in snow. In the area where I live now, snow and ice for a long period of time is uncommon, and without good infrastructure creates misery, not joy.

We’ve kept our outside faucets trickling for the past few days in an attempt to stave off broken pipes. Now we’re hearing that this is contributing to a water shortage. Hubby and

I have bundled up and cuddled up feeling like hibernation would be the best recourse. Someone just wake us up when this is over.

And we’ve been incredibly lucky. All around us are millions of people who lost power and therefore heat, people who lost water and had to deal with broken pipes. Ice has forced road closures, and worse, grocery store closures because they lack power.

Everyone is a little on edge. People worry about their families, worry about a lack of heat or broken pipes. And we all hope and cling to the promise of the coming thaw. Dark and harsh events tend to shine a light. This light is an interrogating one, illuminating what cannot be escaped when circumstances are not of your own doing. I’ve gotten a real education the past few days, reading about how the unique, private, electrical power grid was created to enrich its owners, but not to function for its citizens. The grid has never been winterized—even when Texas had a bad winter event similar to this one in 2011 and winterization was recommended. That winterization of power plants would have kept the heat on for millions of people.

Sunday is the turn around day. We’ll finally get out of freezing temps. It will be 45 degrees here. The ice and snow will melt and the roads will be drivable. Then we’ll settle back into dealing with things like when and where to get a COVID vaccine. We’ll dream about meeting up with family someplace other than on Zoom. And maybe we’ll get inspired to replace the greedy politicians in our state with those who understand the notion that governing is made up of the wise logistical choices of keeping its citizens safe.

The world continues to change at a rate that leaves me breathless. In viewing the damage, I try to hold onto to possibility that will push its way up like a young, green shoot. So much hope, hung upon a small green shoot, reaching upward from the cold ground.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Swimming with the Dolphins

The road is straight, marsh water on either side. A lot of the Keys are like this; a solid piece of highway, that banks down to the shallow waters leading out to the sea. Dean and I have been quiet for the last half hour of our drive. We’re lost in our own thoughts, taking in the foreign land of Florida, a place that when we see it on a map, always makes us giggle. “It looks like the penis of the America,” I tell him.

“It looks like it needs Viagra,” he replies. It’s a silly joke that never gets old.

We’ve come to Florida to visit Dean’s mother, but we’ve filled the time with so many other things, because my husband feels like he needs more time and a larger buffer between himself and the complicated woman who we’re never sure will be mean or welcoming. She’s tiring. I’m relieved that our visit to her house has been shortened by the creative itinerary that Dean has made up for us.

We’re headed to someplace called The Dolphin Research Center. We’re going to swim with the dolphins, but I am told that the dolphins get to choose whether or not they want to swim with us. I like the fairness of how that arrangement sounds, and I’m hoping that they will want to swim with me.

Tall reeds and skeletons of old trees flash by the window as we drive. My memory is caught by the lines from a T.S. Eliot poem: “I have heard the mermaids singing each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.” The strip of asphalt grows wider, the ocean receding further out from the reaches of the soft banks that flank it. Two lanes become four and soon we’re in the town that houses The Dolphin Research Center.

We’ve packed swimsuits, towels and a bag of snacks. There’s a hotel nearby where we’ll spend the night. Standing in the warm and humid air, I get a rush of excitement about swimming with the dolphins. I’ve never swum with anything other than a person. The family story is that I learned to swim before I could walk. My older brother would tell me to crawl to my sister, and then put me in the water. I always found my way to her and back again to him. Learning to swim at such an early age made me fearless in the water. How the sun and water feel on my body is always a sensuous experience for me. I am a perpetual child of summer who loves the water.

I spent youthful years on the California coast, body surfing and swimming every day. Beginning at ten o’clock and exhausting myself by noon, these were dreamy days. I had few responsibilities or obligations and my rookie life as a legal adult was simple. Body surfing with my friend Bernie on Topanga Beach, drinking Welches grape juice in the hot sun and working nights slinging drinks to businessmen in the Marina who tipped well. No ambition was dogging my heels, just the joy of sun and water.

Dean and I have gone to Maui for vacations, where we spend hours a day in the ocean, getting salty and tan, relaxed beyond what normal life can imagine. Returning to the water is always a rebirth experience for me. Now I’m going swim in a different part of the world and maybe the dolphins will sing to me. The water affirms a life in me that is free from sorrow. Swimming with the dolphins, I think, will be a pure kind of pleasure, with no agenda attached.

We check in at our appointed time, sign the waivers and change into our bathing suits. We’re introduced to the people who will be swimming with us today, a nice couple from somewhere, USA. Maybe they’re on vacation. Maybe they have their own family avoidance going on, but my interest in them is passing. I wish it were just Dean and I swimming with the dolphins. I’m selfish in moments like these. There’s magic afoot and I don’t want to share.

We’re given a tour of the facility and told that our fees will go toward research. Here, they study the psychology of dolphins, their ability to communicate and commune with humans and each other. We hear the stories of how dolphins have rescued swimmers and led lost boats back to port. Maybe by studying how dolphins communicate, it will help us humans to communicate better.

I feel a rush of anticipation when we are finally given instructions about the swim: “Don’t grab at the dolphins. Your arms are where their dorsal fins would be, and your arms are so much longer than their fins that it must look intrusive, even threatening. Let them come to you,” the facilitator tells us. “Dolphins are playful and they are sometimes amorous with humans. They have a great deal in common with 16-year-old boys.” We all laugh.

I really hope that a dolphin doesn’t try to hump my leg like some horny little dog. Surely the facilitator intervenes if that happens. I push the thought away. Instead I think about what I’ve heard: don’t grab at the dolphins and they like to play. I’ve been close enough to animals that I know interactive play with them is like being in another realm. It’s a way of communicating joy and delight. I want to play with the dolphins.

Our group is led to a large swimming area with a deep pool that backs up to a series of other pools and swimming areas. A floating platform juts out into the water. An underwater gate is opened for the dolphins and we stand on the platform and watch three of them come in. They break the surface of the water with their snouts, curiously checking us out. And they wear what looks like a permanent smile. They don’t have to be with you if they don’t want to, I remind myself.

I will probably never have this opportunity again, so I’m going to go for it. Before any of the other swimmers move, I ease myself from the platform into the water. The dolphins are circling the bottom of the pool now. They’re a lot bigger than I’d imagined. I already know what I what to do. Once in the water, I dive to the bottom where the dolphins are circling. I turn somersaults. First forward, and then back ward, before I swim back to the top for air. I dive again. More somersaults, but this time when I swim to the top for air, I have company. As I take a big breath, I feel the dolphin’s sharp little teeth on my thighs. She’s holding me by my thighs and pushing me around the pool and I feel another dolphin push her snout into my breastbone, and that holds me straight, like I’m floating on my belly, but able to hold my head out of the water as they push me around. They are playing with me. I’m making involuntary squeaking sounds, joyful sounds of play. I grin at my husband who is applauding from the platform.

The facilitator shouts out to me: “They like you. Just relax and go with it.” My reaction is part excitement and part terror. This huge sea-beast has my thighs in her jaws, while another dolphin pushes on my sternum. A third dolphin is now swimming next to me. I have usurped the dolphins in the pool.

After a few minutes, I feel excited and exhausted, a little overwhelmed to be playing with such large animals, so I take a stroke toward the platform. The dolphin releases me from her mouth and I get out of the water. But the dolphins don’t go away. They wait for me at the surface, bobbing their dolphin heads and watching me intently. My husband is on the platform with me. He hasn’t even been into the water yet. Go back and play with them,” he says.

Back into the water, I go. Back into the mouth of the dolphin. Back to being pushed around the pool by two dolphins just as before. Their bodies are smooth and sleek. I let my hand reach back and touch the one that has me in her mouth. She feels warm. I take a deep breath and try to relax into the experience, though there’s no relaxing to be had. It’s too exciting to be interacting with them in this way. I’m not just swimming with the dolphins; I’m playing with them.

We’ve done a few circles in the pool, when the facilitator asks me if I will get out of the water and allow for some of the other “guests” to swim. I know that I got the best of what we came to experience, so I say goodbye to each of dolphins. “We had a good time, didn’t we?” I say to them. Then I get out of the water. My husband and the other couple are swimming now. And the dolphins swim close beside them. They don’t try to take anyone else into their mouth like they did with me, but they are swimming and circling in a way that’s welcoming. I see my husbands face and it’s filled with a sense of wonder.

When the session ends, the dolphins swim back through the gate to a larger area. I’m standing on the platform shaking from the cool breeze. I wrap myself into a towel and sit down staring at the pool, trying to remember each detail about this time. My heart is beating fast. Dean pulls up a chair next to me and places his arm around my shoulders, pulling me toward him. “That was really a magic moment,” he said.

I nod my head. Some part of my heart quivers at the recognition of being connected to all beings and it fills me with appreciation. Dean’s strong arm pulls me closer and he kisses the top of my head. There are pink marks on my thighs from the dolphin’s teeth. I touch them, savoring the images and feelings of the day.

For a brief moment I can see the truth that we all hide from ourselves: the universe is only love.

Posted in A Day In the Life

A Brief History of a Screen Filled Life

I remember my first business website. So new was the idea, that the local newspaper called and asked if they could do a story on my husband and I, posing the questions of whether or not this online advertising and promotion of our business was really going to work. The website was small and clunky and at the moment I had no idea what it could do. We declined the interview. Within a year or two every small business, every large business had their own website. And shortly after that, lots of people who weren’t in business, but who had an axe to grind or a message to impart built websites too.

An episode of the television show Californication addressed blogging, the new venue for published works, albeit smaller, easier to read works than what you would find in print. And thanks to Word Press, blogging began to nibble away at magazines and newspapers who now turned their efforts online, as advertisers fled to what was becoming a larger audience. The greatest loss for me during that time was that my Sundays, which had once been all about lying around with The New York Times and Then Denver Post for hours while I drank tea, began to dwindle. Without realizing that it was happening, I began to read less and less. Eventually I cancelled the newspapers.

Then social media, the double edged sword that swung wildly unabated by any sort of regulation, making me giddy that I could keep up with so many people online. At the same time, Facebook was giving a platform to dark and anonymous voices that had once been relegated to the shadows. What now came to light was foreboding, but I told myself it was just a fringe element. No one is really that mean, ugly-hearted or misinformed.

Like everyone else, my brain chemicals lit up with likes and comments,.so I barely noticed that social media, just like websites and blogging became one more place to advertise, one more place to promote. It wasn’t just businesses advertising, it was individuals advertising themselves. In the business of writing, every agent, publisher and editor wanted to make sure that you had a website and that you were promoting yourself on social media. In the beginning, it wasn’t that hard, but after a short time, I realized that I was competing with virtual assistants or companies that were posting for individuals. No longer a matter of likes and comments, social media was now a matter of whether or not you were an influencer, whether or not you were a brand.

I think about my Catholic upbringing in which the nuns instructed me not to call attention to myself; told me that it was better to give to others selflessly. Is selflessly a word we even use anymore? The whole self-promotion thing has gotten out of hand. I keep track of my social media accounts, a website, a blog, a newsletter, email lists and up until recently, a podcast. I am a full-blown self-promoting business and with that, I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet.

The digital world has overtaken us. Recent reporting tells me that my social media accounts are valuable for the data they collect, plugging me into an algorithm that will assure I see posts and advertising in my feeds that will validate my perception of the world. What could go wrong?

An yet . . . I still enjoy my Facebook interactions with friends and family. Truth is, I like people and I enjoy meeting new friends online. I smile when people I don’t even know proudly post pictures of their grandchildren. It makes me feel like I am part of one big family. Worlds within worlds spin round the day-to-day lives of human beings and that picture of a grand baby connects us to a sweet place that loves babies and the promise of new beginnings. The other side of that double edged sword, however, is the incessant noise about branding and messaging, about influencing and trending.

If I left all of social media behind, I would wonder about those other writers I’ve come to know. I’d wonder if they’d finished writing the novel that they were so passionate about. I’d wonder about friend’s kids and dogs and cats and whether or not Esther’s garden would be bigger this year. I’d miss writing something for my blog or newsletter, and miss seeing pictures of Donna’s dog, Bella, or my great, great niece playing with a doll that I’d sent her. I’d miss sharing my own successes and wins, the sorrow of large and little losses. Still, and I know that it’s somewhat a function of this pandemic, I long for face to face meetings. To look into someone’s eyes and feel the energy of their being is different than seeing a picture on a screen. I miss talking walks with my husband and my friends where one’s attention isn’t pulled away by an email that you can now read on your wristwatch.

So, I do the self-promotion dance, like every other writer I know. I try to put out a message that I hope will inspire, uplift or help in some way. I try to keep it emotionally honest. I write blogs like these and marvel that in certain ways we connect more with the written word than ever before. This is probably the greatest time of literacy that the world has ever experienced and a lot of it is due to technology. That is an amazing thing and one that has the potential for great goodness. But there are those days when I wish there weren’t any screens. In what is now known as “the old days,” friends would stop by unexpectedly just to say hello and visit, to hang out, to figure out what it meant to be human, and the only interruption was the possibility of a solitary, ringing phone somewhere down the hall.

The pictures of life beginning to rise up from the burnt out shell of survival were not the only things that the young soldier brought back from the war. Among his belongings, he had wrapped in blankets and carefully tucked away a cocoon of memory, sliding it under the bed to collect dust until his death. Within that walled off slice of his life, were a series of drawings done in pencil and charcoal — beautiful, serene scenes of deer grazing in the shelter of the forest. I had seen the drawings when I was a little girl and I knew that they were my father’s treasures. He told me how they represented a brief relationship with an artist that led to the purchase of the drawings, which he paid for with packs of cigarettes and chocolate bars.

He loved them so much, he told me, that he carried them back over an ocean and into his life. But they were never framed or displayed. He hid them under the bed, along with other things from the war that I would never see, or understand. When he died in 1980 I pulled the wrapped drawings from their unclean tomb and brought them home with me, framing them and finally giving them the display that they deserved. I know that in spite of the art being hidden, he looked at the drawings from time to time, remembering a friend whose fate was unknown.

Each time I walk by the framed drawings now, I wonder how it is that an artist living in the face of such horror could create such beauty? In these unrelenting days of pandemic and blood sport politics, the drawings reach out to me from another terrible time, whispering that I should not forget that there is always something left in the ashes of loss.

That’s what art does. It keeps good alive in the worst of times. That’s what Amanda Gorman did when she stood on the steps of the Capitol building and recited her poem – she was a light, enlivening inspiration in the human heart, broken by so much ugliness, pain and death. What she gave to us was one long, deep breath that exhaled the healing imagining of new possibility.

The works of an unknown German artist who preserved the beauty of his heart, and the well-praised poet who will surely experience fame for her work, did the exact same thing. They did what artists are called to do in atrocious times. They affirmed life with their creations. They provided nourishment for the dried up well of deep goodness for which we are now longing.

Divisiveness and lies, death and destruction can threaten to strangle our efforts to keep creating. How can creativity be meaningful or significant in these challenging times? How could that German artist even think of drawing when he took in the magnitude of horror around him? How could Amanda Gorman create such a profound moment from the steps of the capital where darkness had been unleashed only days before? These artists created boldly out of grief and the mud of chaos, the cramping labor of what it means to birth love.

The emerging archetype of midlife women is the Creatrix, a word that means a woman who makes things. There has never been a greater calling in our lifetime, to make things as a life affirming action, because that’s what lets in the light. The great poet Jonas Mekas said, “In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” I take his words as a warning to not be daunted by the power hungry, to find a way to share what is both painful and beautiful in the human condition.

There are piles of rubble everywhere in our collective heartbreak. To write, to sing, to dance, to be playful and silly, to make things, to gather things and arrange them, to praise, to pay homage to grief upon an alter in the corner of our garden, to plant the seeds of gratitude — this is the beginning of how we contribute to the clean up and the rebuilding of our nation’s soul. This is our time to make things.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Making Art While the World Appears to Fall Apart

As World War II came to an end, a young soldier stationed in Germany, took photos of what was left of the city streets he patrolled in Berlin. Small black and white images, framed in white borders with scalloped edges show piles of rubble and people wandering. In one picture, a man carries a chair, a single stick of furniture with which to begin anew. Another shows a woman digging in the debris for something that used to be, but no longer is. An entire country, the one time great destroyer, now destroyed, was the subject of the young man’s photographs. The aftermath of that war and all its horrific suffering must have been grief and bewilderment as to how the world would ever again know good. The soldier documenting the story with his camera was my father and the year was 1945.

The pictures of life beginning to rise up from the burnt out shell of survival were not the only things that the young soldier brought back from the war. Among his belongings, he had wrapped in blankets and carefully tucked away a cocoon of memory, sliding it under the bed to collect dust until his death. Within that walled off slice of his life, were a series of drawings done in pencil and charcoal — beautiful, serene scenes of deer grazing in the shelter of the forest. I had seen the drawings when I was a little girl and I knew that they were my father’s treasures. He told me how they represented a brief relationship with an artist that led to the purchase of the drawings, which he paid for with packs of cigarettes and chocolate bars.

He loved them so much, he told me, that he carried them back over an ocean and into his life. But they were never framed or displayed. He hid them under the bed, along with other things from the war that I would never see, or understand. When he died in 1980 I pulled the wrapped drawings from their unclean tomb and brought them home with me, framing them and finally giving them the display that they deserved. I know that in spite of the art being hidden, he looked at the drawings from time to time, remembering a friend whose fate was unknown.

Each time I walk by the framed drawings now, I wonder how it is that an artist living in the face of such horror could create such beauty? In these unrelenting days of pandemic and blood sport politics, the drawings reach out to me from another terrible time, whispering that I should not forget that there is always something left in the ashes of loss.

That’s what art does. It keeps good alive in the worst of times. That’s what Amanda Gorman did when she stood on the steps of the Capitol building and recited her poem – she was a light, enlivening inspiration in the human heart, broken by so much ugliness, pain and death. What she gave to us was one long, deep breath that exhaled the healing imagining of new possibility.

The works of an unknown German artist who preserved the beauty of his heart, and the well-praised poet who will surely experience fame for her work, did the exact same thing. They did what artists are called to do in atrocious times. They affirmed life with their creations. They provided nourishment for the dried up well of deep goodness for which we are now longing.

Divisiveness and lies, death and destruction can threaten to strangle our efforts to keep creating. How can creativity be meaningful or significant in these challenging times? How could that German artist even think of drawing when he took in the magnitude of horror around him? How could Amanda Gorman create such a profound moment from the steps of the capital where darkness had been unleashed only days before? These artists created boldly out of grief and the mud of chaos, the cramping labor of what it means to birth love.

The emerging archetype of midlife women is the Creatrix, a word that means a woman who makes things. There has never been a greater calling in our lifetime, to make things as a life affirming action, because that’s what lets in the light. The great poet Jonas Mekas said, “In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” I take his words as a warning to not be daunted by the power hungry, to find a way to share what is both painful and beautiful in the human condition.

There are piles of rubble everywhere in our collective heartbreak. To write, to sing, to dance, to be playful and silly, to make things, to gather things and arrange them, to praise, to pay homage to grief upon an alter in the corner of our garden, to plant the seeds of gratitude — this is the beginning of how we contribute to the clean up and the rebuilding of our nation’s soul. This is our time to make things.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Wrapping Up The Year

I’d promised myself that I’d relax the last couple weeks of the year, that I’d reflect upon, and immerse myself in, the quiet and the beauty around me.  I did not disappoint.  For the past few mornings, I’ve managed to sleep in to 7:00 or 7:30, a time that seems early to some, but for this 5:00AM riser, is a delicious reprieve from the norm.  From Christmas day onward, I’ve managed to ease into the day with no demands or obligations, save for the weekly grocery store outing. I’ve gotten to books in my stack that have waited patiently for me, binge watched Netflix shows with my husband in the evening and pretty much mastered the art of doing nothing and doing it well.

This morning I took my cup of tea to the back porch and sat, watching the rain recede into a changing sky. Grey clouds, white clouds, moments of teasing blue, then back to dark grey again.  This year the Texas winter is warm enough to be outside on many mornings, and I find a great soothing of my soul in watching the sky and tuning into the life that resides in the back drop of woods that edges up to the parameters of my yard.  Small yellow birds flit from tree to tree chirping, while the sound of other winged creatures respond in different calls.  This is the stage of life’s play, entertaining a heart open to learn from what the cycles, symbols and seasons have to show me. While self-knowledge is revealing, the knowledge of nature is even more so.

Tomorrow I’ll close out the 2020 ledgers for the bookkeeper and make new files for 2021. Then I’ll take a look around my office and feel appreciation for the shelves of books, the baskets of spiral notebooks, the cups of pens and my computer – all of the tools that serve me daily.  I’ll say a prayer of thanks for all that was given this year, and a prayer of grief and blessing for all that was taken away. My spirt is lifted by the symbol of this new year more than ever before, and in that I know that I am not alone.

Happy New Year everyone.  Onward.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Love and Nourishment

I’ve been hungry for a lot of things in my life that had nothing to do with food and everything to do with the way I fed myself. It’s been a lifelong journey to figure out what nourishes and what simply sustains me. Nourishment, at its heart, is really about love.

My dad and I were the only two people in the kitchen. I remember it being a time and place where people had left or were leaving and life seemed frighteningly different. Was I visiting him? Was it after the divorce? I must have been four or five years old. He put a plate of raviolis down in front of me. I’d watched him open the can, dump them into a pot, and heat them up. He smiled at me. Maybe he winked.

            The way the memory has embedded itself in my brain is that we were side by side, and I was acutely aware of the motion of raising the fork from the plate to my mouth, almost as if I were doing it slow motion in tandem with him. Oh my God, those raviolis. They were absolute ambrosia, the best thing I’d ever tasted.

            Fast forward twenty years, and I’m living on my own. I’m thinking about my dad, as we’ve recently reconnected, and we’re going to see each other at Christmas. It’s been twelve years. In the emotional soup of being angry at him for being absent in my life, feeling excited to see him again, and feeling a love in my heart that seems a little out of place, the memory of that meal nibbled at the edges of my hunger. I became inspired to hunt down those raviolis.

            I’m not sure I knew what I was after on my quest. I think it may have been a deep longing to connect with my dad in that primal way where we were so close that we moved our forks in tandem. I wanted to repeat that taste, that time, when I was four or five years old, alone in the kitchen with my dad, safe and loved.

            Taste is a complicated thing. The textbooks will tell you how important smell is to taste, but they rarely mention how important emotion is to taste. I believe it was the tone that was set between us, a small slice of remembered intimacy, that put me on a quest to capture the childhood delight of canned raviolis.

            They weren’t hard to find. The can looked like the same one I remembered from twenty years earlier; maybe the illustrated chef on the front was a little more modern. The grocery store had the cans placed at eye level, three aisles over from the crackers and chips on the right.

            I rushed back to my apartment, my mouth watering. I opened the can, heated the raviolis, and put them in a bowl. They smelled just the way I remembered them. I sat down, picked up my fork, expecting the same kind of ambrosia rush—and … Oh no! They were horrible. The texture was pasty, and the sauce had a sickeningly sweet aftertaste to it. The stuffing didn’t resemble cheese at all, and I questioned whether or not it had even come from a cow. The whole bowl was kind of mushy. How could I ever have loved these so much?

Was it my undeveloped childhood palate, which responded indiscriminately  to salt and sugar and mush? I tried to make it funny, but the truth was I was disappointed and sad. I couldn’t explain the sorrow at the time. Now I see that it was my longing to reconnect with the dad I hadn’t seen in twelve years, the dad I remembered from our canned raviolis meal so long ago.

            I threw the rest of the raviolis unceremoniously into the trash‚ the lingering odor of them no longer pleasant. My kitchen smelled of disappointment and the fake flavor of fast food, of junk food. I realized that I could never go back and that the past would never let go of certain places in me.

            Years later, I was telling someone the story about how great the raviolis had seemed when I was a kid and how horrible they were when I got older. In the retelling, I spoke about being in the kitchen with my dad and the combustion of love, security, and canned raviolis. That experience resulted in a sense of being nourished in mind and body—and I realized in a rush that it was never the raviolis that were so wonderful; it was rather sitting with my dad, doing the small, simple thing of sharing a meal. It was the spirit of that moment that stays with me to this day. So often, comfort food isn’t about the food at all, and so often, it’s the smallest things in life that truly nourish us.

        

*********

The biblical adage that man does not live by bread alone is not a treatise on carbohydrates but a directive on nourishment. Intent. Connection. Love. Nourishment is about the moments in our too busy lives that give us pause to stop and appreciate the things that fill us. Sometimes it’s a meal. Sometimes it’s the company, and sometimes it’s the way the light hits the front porch in the morning. How we nourish ourselves and with what is a richly complex process that evolves as we age. I ask myself this question:  Does it nourish me. I ask this question about food, about people, about things I want to purchase, and also about situations.

            Asking the nourishment question is another way of asking how I love myself. But somehow the question of how to nourish—and with what—seems more specific than the question of how to love—or whom. I trust that love is something that arises as a result of who, what, and how we nourish others and ourselves.

            I think that most of the world’s problems can be solved by people sitting around a kitchen table. The nourishment of family and friends can assuage sorrow. The nourishment of food can help us celebrate life and heal. How we nourish ourselves—with what and with whom—is a huge, complicated process that informs our life every single day.

            May your life be nourished by calm, love, goodwill and joy.  And, may you enjoy the sweet, the savory and salty of life in nourishing gratitude. 

Posted in A Day In the Life, Thoughts on Writing

The Summer of Belonging: Strippers, Poets and Omar’s Restaurant

My writing journey has been both long and short. By long, I mean I wrote here and there while marriage and a mortgage interrupted my dreams. I wrote stories from time to time that no one read, and on three different occasions, I surprised myself by getting published—once in a magazine about quilting and twice in newspapers. I started a blog and experimented with style and voice, eventually accumulating a hundred or so followers. But rarely during that time, did I consider myself a writer—even though I wanted to.

Coming into my sixties awakened me with an urgent fear. The years had caught up. If I didn’t dedicate myself to writing now, I never would, and it would become the great, sorrowful regret of my life. So I proclaimed to a small and select group of friends that I was going to write novels. I was sixty-three.

 In a year and a half, I wrote and finished three novels, and they were all rambling narratives with pretty prose and some exquisite descriptions that never got near a real story. In that same year and a half, I studied my ass off, apologizing for myself all the way. I didn’t know where to place a comma or how I was supposed to use a semicolon. I’d been a horrible student in school, a dropout in fact, who managed to pick up the pieces in midlife and finally earn a high school diploma as well as a college degree in my late thirties. Real writers, I thought, were good students, nerds who’d attended good colleges and loved the English language.

In the summer of my sixty-fifth year, all the pieces came together. I finished my fourth novel, and it was good, a real story that hung together. My blog accumulated three thousand followers that year, and I achieved the rookie writer’s holy grail: a contract with a New York City literary agent. In that same heady summer, I got my first paid job as a writer.

The Rogue Valley Messenger is a small newspaper, a freebie found on street corners and in grocery stores in and around Ashland, Oregon. Like so many times in my scrappy life, I faked knowing what I was doing. And it was the best fake-out ever. Interviewing folks for the lifestyle section of the paper, I quickly learned from my beyond-patient editor what was expected of me. And each month, I banged out a thousand or so words, receiving a check for twenty to thirty-five dollars for each article.

In the middle of the experience, I learned about the writing craft, yes, but more importantly, I began to see my own condition mirrored back to me in the people I interviewed and whose stories I then told. They would touch upon the my long-held beliefs of fears and self-doubt, and hearing their stories helped me reclaim a wild, completely imperfect part of myself. Writing for The Messenger was an act of realizing all the possibility and potential that I’d pushed aside in the name of unworthiness.

There were lots of articles, some of them better than others, but three stand out. The first was an interview with a burlesque performer who’d named herself Kat Wondergloom. She said she wanted a name that was part whimsy and part darkness.

I loved her story. I loved learning that burlesque is more than just a tassel-twirling bump and grind where women shed their clothing. During the interview, Kat told me the thing that helped her the most on her quest to become a burlesque artist was being adopted by a group of drag queens who schooled her in everything from makeup to just where to place those rhinestones.

And when I asked her how burlesque dancing was different from being a stripper, she laughed. “A lot more glitter and a lot less money,” she said. I understood that. So much of what I experienced in the world was just glitter.

Kat Wondergloom and I weren’t that very different from each other. She was a proud, independent woman, making her way in a world that wasn’t always kind, but she was doing it without apology. Kat would never get a formal invite to the #metoo movement, but in many ways, her proud sense of sexuality and her determination, I found, was every bit as liberating.

When I finished writing the article, I decided that maybe it was time for me to stop apologizing for my past and begin to fiercely embrace my present. Workshops and writing books brought me a long way toward becoming a writer, but Kat Wondergloom gave me the missing piece—you gotta believe in yourself and own what you do.

The second article that stands out was an interview with a poet who would soon be visiting the small university in my town. Richard Blanco had been Barak Obama’s second inaugural poet—the first Latino and the first gay man to hold such a prestigious honor. I was intimidated by his writing credentials and thrilled that I got to interview him.

I worked very hard on the questions I was going to ask him. I read two of his books before the phone interview and prepared for days. We had a good, lively conversation about the ordinary within the extraordinary, and I wrote it up. After my article was published, and Richard was in Ashland teaching, he surprised me by inviting me to coffee. We spent an hour talking about writers and writing in a local coffee shop. I learned that his work had always been influenced by the themes of belonging and asking the question of what and where home is.

I’ve lived most of my adult life with the sense that I must have gotten off the bus at the wrong stop. What I learned from Richard is that it’s human nature to want to explore the question of home and belonging. It’s not a flaw or a failure.

I only wrote for The Messenger for a year, and then my husband and I left our home in Ashland, moving to Austin, Texas. One of the last pieces I wrote for the publication wasn’t about a person, but about a place: Omar’s.

Omar’s was an old steakhouse built in the 1940s that hadn’t changed much since. It was the only piece I’ve ever written where I hated how the editors chopped it up. Honestly, I didn’t really write a solid newspaper piece about a restaurant—about the steak and the fish that they served, about the wait and bar staff, some of whom had been there a couple of decades or more. I couldn’t get out of my own way and be a professional, objective journalist.

Instead I let Omar’s inspire me as a storyteller. Across the street from Southern Oregon University, the place was frequented by writers, professors, and diehard locals who could recite the history of the restaurant which hadn’t changed its menu since the 1940s. When I sat down in the bar, I halfway expected Raymond Chandler to sit down next to me and buy me a drink. I got lost in the red, cracked, leather booths and the dark haze of the cocktail lounge with its bar carved with initials from patrons who didn’t want to be forgotten.

The steakhouse invaded my imagination, pinning me up against the wall by my throat. Because of that, I knew that a dolled-up dame had written the name “Omar’s” on the sky with one red fingernail. That became the neon sign illuminating the darkness under a blue moon, just above a post that says “To Klamath Falls.” I loved the dark, seedy feeling of it all, and instead of writing the newspaper article on steak, I wrote about how the grittiness of the place reminded me of a Raymond Chandler novel with hard-boiled detectives and blonde bombshells. And I have to wonder how many writers had sat in those booths and construed stories that fit perfectly against the backdrop of its lit noir images.

To say that the article about Omar’s received a major editing and a requested set of revisions by my managing editor is not the half of it. I had written, or rather pieced together, something that was part noir wannabe and part restaurant review. Still, it’s worth noting that I could see how everybody needs an Omar’s, a place that knows you and welcomes you when you need to eat or rest, a place where the filters are off. Omar’s underscored a truth about me: I love a good story.

As my husband and I got on the road for our move to Texas, I looked for the ghostly outline of the dolled-up dame who had drawn the sign with her fingernail against the sky. I hoped she’d be standing by the doorway of Omar’s as we drove by for the last time. I didn’t see her, but I heard her whisper this to me, Own it!

That steakhouse was the place that put the exclamation point on the best summer ever—strippers, poets, and Omar’s. And damn, if I hadn’t become a real writer, traipsing around in search of my material. Real stories. Imagined stories.  And the comfortable familiarity of being lost and looking for where I belonged.

Posted in A Day In the Life, Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?, Storytelling

The Tale of How the Governor Came to Be

In the mid-1960’s in South Denver, a short distance from the apartment where my mother and I lived, was a hotel on Colorado Boulevard. I think it was called Writer’s Manor. Or maybe it was Riter’s Manor. “A fancy place,” my mom called it. They had a large dining room in which all the tables were covered in white tablecloths, each graced by a small vase of fresh flowers. At one end of the room, a wall of windows overlooked an inviting swimming pool. The first time that I went there, I couldn’t stop looking at the pool. I longed to be in that water in the hot afternoon sun. The pool was, disappointingly, only for hotel guests.

Two glasses with iced tea with lemon and ice on the wooden table

On this day, my mom created an outing for us: we got dressed up and went to the hotel dining room where we were going to order banana splits. My mom was creative in the ways in which she entertained me. She worked during the week, and weekends were the times I got to see her the most. We didn’t have a car to go places, just the bus. There were no trips to the mountains or lakes like my other friends, but she tried hard to come up with things that were not just fun, but affordable. This is one of the reasons I still love summer so much: it feels like time for fun.

            Mom had insisted that I wear gloves. She was a woman who had watched one too many Joan Crawford movies. I didn’t think that gloves were cool, but I put them on anyway, and we walked to the hotel on that hot summer day. I can’t remember the dress I wore, but during those times, almost everything I owned was an A-line cut, and I was partial to little flowers, so I imagine myself in a sleeveless flowered dress, wearing uncomfortable patent leather flats, inappropriate for walking, but perfect for a formal dining room, and those stupid little white gloves.

            I was sweating by the time we got to the hotel. Still, I remember being excited about getting to see the swimming pool again, and I was excited about ordering a banana split in the hotel dining room. Years later, I realized my mother probably couldn’t afford to buy us lunch there, but at twelve, I was very enthusiastic about banana splits — not having lunch made no difference to me. We were led to one of the tables, and I told her I was thirsty.

            A waiter came by and poured water into what I observed to be grown-up glasses. The glasses had stems, not like the glasses at home that were short and squat.

            “May I bring you ladies an Arnold Palmer?” the waiter asked.

My mother nodded. “Would you like one?” she asked me.

Yes, please,” I answered. And then as soon as the waiter was gone, I asked, “What’s an Arnold Palmer?”

            “Half iced tea and half lemonade,” she said, and smiled.

            I felt grown-up and proud to be with my mom. I felt special sitting in the beautiful dining room all dressed up with her. And I loved her for her making me feel that way.

            Disappointingly, the Arnold Palmers didn’t come in the kind of grown-up glasses I’d hoped for. There was no stem. Still, I felt very grown up drinking one. As with all things I remember, it’s not so much the thing itself, as it is the feeling tone that lingers in the heart and mind. Sitting in that fancy dining room with my mom, wearing those stupid white gloves—it was all just kind of perfect.

            After the Arnold Palmer came the banana splits, and I ate mine slowly and carefully, as a grown-up would, careful not to let any ice cream or topping spill on my A-line dress or the white linen tablecloth.

            Years go by, and I’m middle-aged, married, and sitting in a lounge chair on my deck next to a girlfriend. We’re recalling summer stories from childhood, and I tell her about the hotel, the Arnold Palmers, and the banana splits.

            “Arnold Palmers,” she says. “Those sound so good right now. We could make some.”

            “I have lemonade, but I only have green tea.”

            We look at each other.

            “What the hell . . .” I say. I get up and mix them—half green tea and half Knudsen’s lemonade. I pour the mixture over ice and stick in a couple of paper straws.

            “Ta-da, Arnold Palmers,” I say, holding out the glasses to my friend.

            She takes a sip. “They’re good,” she says. “What’d you make these with, again?”

            “Lemonade and green tea.”

            “I guess they’re not really Arnold Palmers,” she says.

            “No, but close enough.”

            “Who else do we know named Arnold,” she asks.

            “Schwartzenager?”

            “The governor of California?”

“That’s it. I dub this drink ‘The Governor,’” I say.

And that’s how The Governor, made with green tea, came to be. Gone are my banana spilt days, but I often enjoy like a grown-up glass into which I can pour The Governor on a hot afternoon.

The Governor:

Steep 3 Tzao Zen Green Tea bags in a 2-quart pitcher. This is best if you steep this in the sun all day, instead of boiling water and pouring it over the tea bags. The tea will turn a light greenish-gold color after about 6 hours. Refrigerate it overnight. The next day pour ½ glass of green tea over ice. Fill the rest of the glass with Knudsen’s lemonade, which is sweetened with fruit juice rather than white sugar. You won’t need any additional sweetener. This is the perfect tea for any summer afternoon.

Posted in A Day In the Life

We Put Our Dog Down Today

Jeter 2008 – 2020

We put our dog Jeter down today.  A cancer had snuck into his life and Dean and I vowed that we wouldn’t let him suffer.  So, we kept track of meds, missed meals, and limps that developed, reaching a point where we knew it was time.  I hate that point.  Like everyone who loves their dog, I wanted ours to live forever.

A compassionate young vet who does nothing but at-home euthanasia, came to our house. As a result, we got to hold Jeter and stroke him while he fell asleep.  She administered the first of two shots, and in a few minutes he had fallen into a twilight kind of sleep. As we talked to him, he wagged his tail, still able to hear our voices. Then came the second dose, the one that would mark the end. My husband continued telling him how much we loved him and what a good boy he was. At the very end, when I could feel the life force leaving him, I thanked him for being our dog. And then Jeter sighed. . . a long deep sigh with a bass tone sound to it, like the one he’d make at night when he was letting go of the day and surrendering to sleep. Except this time, he wasn’t surrendering to sleep, he was letting go of life.

I watched Dean and the vet put him on a stretcher and carry him to the van that she’d parked in the driveway. We had a couple more minutes with him. The body that wasn’t him anymore lay tucked in by blankets on the stretcher and I reached out and petted his head one last time before turning away and walking back inside.

Now the house is too damn quiet and it feels like a betrayal to vacuum up the dog hair on the carpet and the floors. I think I’ll wait a few days.  An absence fills the space where our dog once lived and we miss him beyond what either of us ever thought missing could be.

Dean and I have cried and wailed.  Wept and hung on to each other tight.  We’ve gone through the pictures on our phones and talked about him, remembered days on the trail or at a lake. Each photograph reminds me of what good attitude, joy, playfulness, and loyalty looks like. 

The bottom line is that our dog, the world’s best dog, loved us unconditionally, without judgement There’s not a dog lover out there who hasn’t entertained the idea for just a moment that in the overall scheme of things, dogs know more about how to be good people than we do.

My heart is broken, but time and the sweetness of memories will mend it. I will always carry Jeter in the perfect little place into which he burrowed when we met. You’re still with me, buddy. And the goofy yellow lab that Dean and I adopted so many years ago turned out to be such a smart choice, one of the best that we ever made. Rest in peace dear Jeter, most faithful of companions, most loyal of friends.  You will forever be in our hearts.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Spring Hopes Eternal

My neighbors’ friendliness is a soothing welcome. It staves off the loneliness of living in a world that is too fast and too overwhelming.

Shedding the winter wool and sweaters reveals that I grew a little softer in the darker, colder months. Afternoons when rain prevented me from walking, created a couple extra pounds. Well, that and getting lost in a new book and a batch of fresh-baked muffins.

Now the onset of spring changes everything. I can wear my baseball hats and tees, definitely not dressing my age. And the lengthening of my stride, the quickening of my step, adds miles to the walks in the warm spring temperatures.

It’s an adventure to walk my neighborhood. When hubby and I set out for this afternoon’s walk, we see the eight-year-old who lives near us. He has a Labrador retriever that looks a lot like my dog, Jeter. It’s not fair to say that the kid walks his dog. He runs the dog. It’s an image we’ve come to anticipate: the dog running next to the boy, who is pumping his arms and legs as hard and fast as he can, as they fly down the sidewalk, both of them with big smiles on their faces in pure joy.

Further up the street, Penny, the neighborhood queen, has pulled her chair out onto the lawn to hold court. Lucky, her old black dog, sits by her side, holding court too. Everyone stops by, a respectable six feet apart, of course. When Penny is sitting outside in her lawn chair, and she waves, it’s like there’s a magnetic pull. We cross the street, and she gets up to greet us. “Lucky is so glad that you came to visit,” she says in her sweet Texas way. A conversation about the dogs or the weather ensues, often with Penny telling us what Lucky thinks or feels about a certain situation.

When we first met her, she was a little scary. Knowing that we’d just moved here, she wanted to tell us all about the rattlesnakes and how to “kill ’em with a garden hoe.” She told us about the fire ants that can make your horribly sick with their painful sting. Hubby and I walked away from those visit with our hearts beating rapidly and a question on our lips: “Where the hell have we moved to?”

After we got the snakes and the deadly fire ants out of the way though, most of our talks with Penny have been about the dogs or some bit of news about the work being done on Highway 620. “Lucky is just so happy that you’re here,” she tells us with a smile. “You take care now, you hear,” she adds as she waves good-bye. Out of the corner of my eye, I see someone else crossing the street to pay homage.

We pass a house where a large brown-and-black something of a dog lives. Mastiff? Labrador on steroids? It’s hard to tell. He just looks like a dog that shouldn’t be messed with. We don’t stop at that house, even though the owner is in the front yard, planting impatiens around the oaks. The dog’s name is Rock Star. Devil Dog would have been more appropriate. He raises his head and watches us go by. Each time I pass him, I swear I hear a low, rumbling growl. “That’s a serious effin’ dog,” hubby says as we pick up our step.

Jeter, hubby, and I make it past the park and up to River Bend Elementary, and I say that I want to go a little bit further. I’m going for perky bootie, which means another mile, at least. In my younger days, my bootie used to sit higher up; now it takes a lot more work. Why should I care at my age? I’m embarrassed to say that I’m shallow enough to cling to a little bit of physical vanity to motivate myself. At a certain point, it will all get pulled down to my knees by gravity. One day everything will sag. It will all be loose. Bones in loose skin, face turned toward the sun, eyes closed and smiling in the light while it lasts. But I’m not ready for sunsets yet, so on to one more mile.

Later, as we’re coming back, we’re happy to note that Rock Star has been taken inside. Penny is still on the lawn, but she is talking with another neighbor. And the little boy with the yellow Lab like ours has now started up a ball game in the cul-de-sac. I love seeing the characters in my neighborhood, but most especially Penny.

She is the best part of the adventure. I depend upon her for the news of our community. In the last neighborhood where I lived, there was someone who knew everything that was going on too, but she sounded gossipy. Penny, on the other hand is regal, the grande dame of our neighborhood. She never shares people’s private business, but more of what amounts to public service announcements, like the bit about killing snakes or how the water on Quinlan Park Road, near the Randall’s supermarket, still isn’t draining well.

This is all part of the spring ritual. Losing those winter pounds, hanging out with Penny for a few minutes and listening to the neighborhood news, spoken in that soft southern drawl of hers. I’m waking up from the gray, and feeling the joy and excitement of nature reinventing herself, and plotting the reinvention of my own self through more activity in these strange new times.

Posted in A THREE PART SERIES: PART 3

What It Means to Age Gracefully…

When I was a young woman, I was caught by the expression, “You are what you eat.” I still believe that, and not just in terms of the body. What we feed our body is important, but what we feed our mind and spirit are equally important. We need to be vigilant in remembering that lying on our backs in the grass and watching the clouds float by is more nourishing than sitting on a couch and cruising Facebook or Instagram on our cell phone. To nourish body, mind, and spirit is to give ourselves to the experience of life.

            We only get one body, and we’d do well to honor it by taking good care of it with foods that provide more than just calories. Meals that we prepare mindfully with fresh ingredients taste better, especially if we add our gratitude.

            Walking, dancing, yoga—anything that gets us to move and breathe deeply— nourishes the body. We can enter the rapture of life through movement and tuning into all of our senses.

To nourish body, mind, and spirit is to give ourselves to the experience of life. 

– Stephanie

            One of the things that people my age fear the most about aging is losing their mental faculties. And while there are no guarantees, nourishing the mind with reading, music, films, and conversations, as well as the pondering and musing of life’s miracle, helps to keep us sharp.

            And finally, we nourish our spirit by walking in gratitude and being a light of kindness to those around us. We feed our spirit with thankfulness. Being in the world and caring for ourselves and others is the nourishment of life.

            In these strange times, I can only dream that if we lived next door to each other, I’d invite you to dinner, or maybe to watch a film or share thoughts about a book. I can only imagine that I could ask you to walk through the neighborhood with me so I could introduce you to all the people and dogs that I know. Then, you and I would sit on the front porch in the evening and enjoy some special tea, watching the light change from bright to gentle. But since you don’t live next door, and for a while anyway, I can’t invite anyone to join me, I’ll just say thank you for allowing me into your life through these little stories and philosophies that touch upon our mutual love for the beauty of life. More than ever, we’re being asked to nourish ourselves with the things that we know to fill our hearts and souls —  kindness, compassion and caring. One day we’ll nourish each other again with our closeness, and what a celebration that will be!  Until then, I hold you in my heart. Stay safe and be well.

AVAILABLE APRIL 28, 2020 | CLICK BELOW TO PRE-ORDER

Posted in A THREE PART SERIES: PART 2

What It Means to Age Gracefully…

To age gracefully is to age with gratitude.  I embrace, believe and experience this truth every day.  Walking life in gratitude is not just a desired quality to aging well, it’s also an antidote for fear, anxiety and mistrust.  Our evolution, our awakening as loving human beings is a lifetime journey that constantly asks us to practice gratitude.

As a young woman, I read Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now.  It’s the title that inspires me today. Recently we’ve all experienced worry and stress around the COVID-19 virus. I can find plenty to be upset about, what with panic buying at the grocery store, and the turn-down in the economy.  But, I still can only live one day at a time – I can only be here, right now.  So, all of the what-if’s that are in my head are just thoughts. They’re not reality.  I try to remember that just because I think something, doesn’t mean it’s true.  

Gratitude is a perfect de-stressor and stress, as we know, is a precursor to disease.  One of the ways we can keep our immune systems strong is by simply practicing gratitude. 

– Stephanie

Today I’ll find three things to be grateful for and I’ll do my best to dwell upon those things instead of worries and concerns.  Once I get started, I may find fifty things.  My experience of  gratitude practice is that when I begin thinking about the things I’m grateful for, the list naturally expands.  Sometimes I like to write down what I’m grateful for and describe the “why” of it.  Other times I let the gratitude be a reference point that I return to throughout the day.  I find that breathing deeply when I discover something to be grateful for, enhances the calm feeling in my being.

When we get anxious, we might think that there isn’t anything to be grateful for. Or, we think that we’re just faking it and that everything really is terrible.  When this happens, rather than search for a thing, an event or a person to be grateful for, it’s best to  just sit comfortably, close the eyes and breathe in the word “thank you.” Then breath out the word “thank you.” Do this several times until the body starts to relax.

Like so many people practicing social distancing, I’m letting myself feel close to the people in my life as I hold them in my heart and memory with gratitude.

– Stephanie

Gratitude is a perfect de-stressor and stress, as we know, is a precursor to disease.  One of the ways we can keep our immune systems strong is by practicing gratitude.  When I’m feeling grateful, I tend to be inspired by a spirit of generosity.   I want to reach out to others – a quick call to a neighbor when I’m headed to get groceries, “do you need anything?”  Long-distance phone calls to let friends and family know that I’m thinking about them. These actions offer  hope.  Like so many people practicing social distancing, I’m letting myself feel close to the people in my life as I hold them in my heart and memory with gratitude.

While it may seem challenging to be grateful during times like these, it’s essential to our sanity.  We were never meant to live in just the dark places, but also in the light.  Let’s keep opening to the light of hope, grace and love as much as we can.  I’m grateful for all of you and thank you for letting me into your life for a little bit.  Sending you goodwill and good wishes . . .

AVAILABLE APRIL 2020 | CLICK BELOW TO PRE-ORDER

Posted in A THREE PART SERIES

What It Means to Age Gracefully…

One definition of the phrase aging gracefully means that we look younger than our years. But that’s a sorry and shallow definition, and one we’d do well to put aside.  Our worth has never been about how we look. The message that older women want younger women to receive is that value in life has nothing to do with our looks and everything to do with what’s in our heart.  And that message is one that we need for ourselves too as the years increase. 

The body changes. Wrinkles appear. Things sag. We look differently than we did in our youth.  We have little control over that.  What we can control is what’s in our hearts.  To age gracefully means to age with a grateful and loving heart.  And that’s something that we can work on every day.

In order to age gracefully we need to care for ourselves differently. I don’t mean the trendy self-care that’s all over the Internet.  I’m talking about a deeper care, a compassionate self-care. This care starts with loving ourselves. And loving ourselves begins with how we talk to ourselves.

The message that older women want younger women to receive is that value in life has nothing to do with our looks and everything to do with what’s in our heart.

– Stephanie

What if we were to wake up every day and say thank you for my life, before ever getting out of bed?  What if the first task of our day was to get up and dedicate a half hour to slow, gentle stretches and breathing?  Compassionate self-care means keeping our body flexible so that the heart and mind will follow.

Count the gifts of the years.  Joan Chittister wrote an inspiring book called The Gift of Years. Her writing inspires me to count what those gifts are. For instance, I love the idea of slowing down.  Not so much slowing because of a lack of energy, more a slowing that makes us more thoughtful about how we walk in the world.  To me, it is deeply self-compassionate to sit quietly without restlessness and breathe in the world around us. I appreciate the bird song, my hot tea, the budding trees, the clouds that drift across the sky.  Life gives us poetry when we slow down enough to just feel ourselves in the world. 

Compassionate self-care gives us permission to say “no” to things that don’t nourish our hearts and minds, and to say “yes” to the things that feed us, expand us and bring us delight.  To grow older with a gentle humor and a heart intent on loving is the non-apologetic way to age gracefully. It’s what makes us truly beautiful.  Let us be aware of the grace that has brought us this far.  Let us find ways to take care of ourselves with so much self-compassion that it naturally spills over to everyone in our life. Aging gives all of us the potential to age gracefully, to be beautiful human beings living life with the intent of love, joyfulness and gratitude through the practice of self-compassion. 

AVAILABLE APRIL 2020 | CLICK BELOW TO PRE-ORDER

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

In the Age of Me, Me, Me, Me . . .

Writing is one thing.  Marketing yourself to the world is another.  On the one hand I don’t think that the desire for readers is an unreasonable one for a writer to have.  On the other hand, I feel like that little kid on the diving board screaming across the pool to her parents:  “watch me, watch me, watch me,” just before she dives into the pool. 

Marketing myself, my message and my book is in part exciting because it will bring me readers.  But another part of me, the old-school, older-generation part feels awkward in the me, me, me, proposition. Plus calling attention to yourself to a point where you actually get people to turn their heads and watch you go off the diving board takes a lot of energy and time.

An assembled marketing team that’s walking me through the process of reaching out on social media tells me that when I post a picture of myself, I get three times more engagement than if I post a picture of something else.  They ask me to make video and get more pictures taken. I wince a little bit, hearing the sound of old Catholic nuns in my head who tell me that vanity is a sin.  Obviously those nuns never had to promote a book.

Everything has two sides.  I feel passionately about my message which is: Embrace your years. Growing older is a privilege not a sentence.  Take note that this is a creative, vibrant and noble passage. We are never too old to make a difference.

I love that my message and my book might inspire someone to be a little less afraid of growing older. That’s the gift I want to give. But the me, me, me, me, thing often times makes that lovely message feel less like a gift and a more like the kid on the diving board.  And we all know that kid after three of four shouts across the pool of “watch me, watch me, watch me,” becomes annoying.

But here I go, head first into the pool. And just in case you didn’t see the dive, I’ve posted a picture of myself to go with this post.

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