Sunday, December 16, 2007

Scraping Up an Attitude of Gratitude

Putting up my Christmas tree last night, composing a blog post in my head: There's nothing as sad as putting up a Christmas tree alone, I imagined writing.

And then I started to hear the melodramatic music playing at the pity party I was throwing for myself. Of course there are sadder things than putting up a Christmas tree alone. Like not having a tree at all, or not having a home to put one in.

So today I'm working on my attitude, reminding myself of the things for which I am grateful. It's a long, long list.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

It was snowing the other day when Dad was dancing in the living room. And like every single time it snows, he sang "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" all day long. Mom never, ever sings out loud when anyone's around. Still, let two snowflakes fall and before the second one hits the ground, she'll be humming, "in the meadow we can build a snowman."

Dad and Mom met when they were 14 and 16. Dad's family moved to the tiny Iowa town where Mom had lived all her life. "Winter Wonderland" came out that winter and they heard it on the radio a lot. The other day, Dad said, "We spent that whole winter walking around together in the snow, holding hands. Falling in love." As he talked, he blushed. Furiously. Even his ears turned bright red. 60 winters have come and gone since that one, but he still blushes at the memories.

Must have been hot out there in the cold.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Good News

Remember last month when I wrote and submitted a piece for a column in a food magazine? Well, I hadn't heard anything and figured that was that. Have to admit I moped about it a bit. Part of the black cloud of self doubt I've been struggling with lately.

Received an e-mail late yesterday afternoon. The selection process took a while because they received many, many entries. BUT my piece was one of the twelve chosen (one a month for a year). It will appear in the June issue. From the hooping and hollering that ensued, my neighbors probably think I won the Powerball. Truth is, the pay is almost ridiculous. But it was the first personal essay I'd ever written and the first time I'd submitted anything to any magazine.

I'm beyond thrilled. And incredibly grateful for your support and encouragement. Thank you to each one of you who have held faith for me through this dark and quiet time. When I sit in meditation, I can feel your love surround me and it means the world to me.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christmas Cheer

When Dad called this morning, I had to keep asking him to repeat himself. He was whispering so Mom wouldn't hear. (Fat chance! She was in the basement with her little portable heater AND her sewing machine running.)

Anyway, Dad asked me to go buy a Santa hat and send it to the man who will be delivering the quilting machine he's giving Mom for Christmas. He had already called the company to elicit a promise that the guy would wear the hat if we sent it.

Later, I stopped in to tell Dad I'd accomplished my mission. There he was, shuffling around the living room. 76 years old, two inches shorter than he once was, wearing support socks under his perfectly pressed blue jeans. He was dancing and singing "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" to himself. Counting down the days til Christmas like a kid waiting for a pony.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Longing for Balance

During this long absence, I've been pondering the state of the Universe, among other things. Today I've been thinking about balance, something I've never achieved. I'm not sure I could find balance if it were hanging from my hand like a Scale of Justice.

Enough becomes too much so easily.


I thought I'd outgrown the need for certainty, but guess not. Today I want some hard and fast rules. One damn thing I can know for sure. Just a place to start climbing out of this hole.

Ahhh. One thing IS for sure. This, too, shall pass. The sun will set on this day and rise on another, full of possibilities and wonder. Just hold on.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Not Dead Yet

Hello, All. Sorry it's been so long since I posted. I am, as the title says, Not Dead Yet, just in a strange, dark lull lately.

Thanks to those of you who've e-mailed and commented. I'll write something meaningful in the next day or so.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Finished the book not long after midnight last night. I'm thrilled to have my decks cleared for Thanksgiving week because MY GIRL IS COMING HOME! Three more days.

After that, I need a new project. It's been a long, long time since I finished a book without another waiting in the wings, but here I am. No new book contracts in sight, and it's making me nervous.

I'll deal with that on Monday. I've worked 40 of the last 48 hours. It's time to rest. And clean my house. And shave my legs. And tweeze the hairs on my chin. Trust me, that's gonna take some time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Five Good Things on a Friday

1. I was up in time to see the sun rise over the pond.

2. Pink reflects beautifully on its surface.

3. I ended yesterday laughing with Deb and Carrie over white hairs and toilet brushes.

4. I started today laughing with Michelle and Jenny.

5. By the end of today, I'll be FINISHED writing 1001 Bathrooms.

And a Bonus Good Thing: Katie arrives for Thanksgiving in FOUR MORE DAYS.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Have You Ever Noticed...

when it really bugs you, a little bit of something feels like a whole lot of that thing?

I've been writing like crazy the last few days and have neglected my hair removal responsibilities. In return, my neck and chin have sprouted 7 (yes, I counted) stiff hairs that MAKE ME CRAZY, make me feel like I have a full beard, make me want to buy stock in Gilette.

I find myself stroking my neck when I stop to think, a little like I imagine Rasputin may have done. And every single time, I am shocked and disgusted with myself for allowing something so ugly to grow on my face.

Why didn't I tweeze them instead of taking time to write about how awful they are? Can't. Find. The. Damn. Tweezers.

Stuck. In. Whisker. Hell.

Mom says dogs have stiff whiskers that they use to understand the world.

If only.

No Cute Stories Here

I love the stories you guys post about the adorable things your children do and say. I love your stories about funny things that happen as you go through life.

My kids are grown and unless a clown car pulls into my driveway and unloads a laugh or two, there's nothing funny to report here. Just me, typing until my fingers hurt, trying to finish 1001 Bathrooms before tomorrow night.

Back to work with me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Patience Is a Virtue

Have I mentioned the downside of submiting stuff?

You write like crazy, edit til your eyes are crossed, and proofread til you can't spell your own name. Finally, you put everything together and hit "send."

Then you wait.

And wait.

And wait.

The reading period for my first ever submission--the one I posted about a week or so ago--starts the tomorrow, the 15th. I am filled with excitement and dread and hope and resignation. I am not filled with patience.

Seasoned writers tell me the secret is to send it and forget it until you receive a rejection. . .or acceptance. Good idea. But isn't that another way to say, Be patient?

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

I don't feel good, and have been up most of the night. I've whiled away some of the time exchanging e-mails with the European manager of the book project I'm working on right now. (The middle of my night is the start of his workday.) He sent a couple of rather stern e-mails, one of which chided me for missing a deadline and demanded an update and an ETA on the materials.

He correctly identified the deadline as the 16th of November, which is this Friday. Somehow, though, he thought that was LAST Friday. When I gently pointed out that today is the 14th, he responded with: "Of course. I had my calendar wrong."

Half an hour later, his colleague, who had been copied on the e-mails, sent me an apology. She had not contributed to the snafu, yet she apologized.

Truth to tell, it wasn't a big deal once I knew for sure I had not missed the deadline. I'm no champion at calendar tracking mine own self, and I know how easy it is to get off track. Still, a simple "I'm sorry," would have been appropriate. And clearly, I'm not the only one who thought so. His colleague had no reason to apologize, and yet she did, on his behalf. Hmmmm.

Last week my sister got very short with me over a situation in which she did not have her facts straight. Eventually she acknowledged that she did not have a full grasp on the situation but did not apologize for her rudeness. Hmmmm.

Methinks perhaps the Universe is trying to tell me how important it is to watch my mouth, especially when I'm angry or stressed, how necessary it is to acknowledge my mistakes and offer a simple, heartfelt apology when I've let myself run amok.

I'm gonna work on that. Right after I get some sleep.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cleaning by Candlelight

Last night I lit a fire and some candles and invited Paul Potts to sing to me in the twilight (via iPod, of course). Then I cleaned house.

I turn on the lights in whatever room I'm working on, but each time I pass through the glowing living room to the trash or laundry room, beauty presses in on me. Paul's voice fills the house with joy.

Cleaning is not usually my favorite activity. Candles and music transform it into a celebration, a demonstration of gratitude.

Sounds crazy, I know. But try it some time. You might be surprised.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My Own Personal Helicopter

Something miraculous happened Thursday and Friday.

In the middle of my fretting about money and PIN numbers and my check hung up in the banking system, I heard a news report about unclaimed property and how easy it is to search for your name on data bases set up by individual states.

On a whim, I searched. Lo and behold, there was my name. I called the moment the Dept. of Commerce opened on Friday, and they verified it: they're holding a substantial amount of money in my name. I have all the necessary records to show ownership, I just can not understand how this happened.

The Winged One and I talked at length about the morality of claiming the money if I can't be 100 percent sure it's owed to me. It's the legacy of a complicated insurance claim when my house was damaged by hail at the time my insurance carrier was being bought out by another company. Yada. Yada. Yada.

The Dept. of Commerce explained that the money had been turned over to them by the insurance company. The only things that can happen to it now are: I can claim it, my heirs can claim it after I die, or it can stay in the state's coffers, drawing interest.

Insurance companies are not known for their generosity nor for their willingness to turn loose of money when not absolutely necessary. I have much greater faith in their accounting abilities than in my own. If they turned this money over to the State, they did it because they had to. I may not understand how all this worked, but you can bet your sweet patootie they do.

As we talked, Mystic Wing asked why I feared the bad karma of claiming something I don't recognize as mine without even wondering if this turn of events might simply be good karma. We laughed about the old joke where a guy is on a roof top in a flood, praying to be delivered. He turns down help from a bunch of sources, including a rowboat and a helicopter, always saying he's a believer and that God will save him. When he meets God, he asks why God didn't save him. God replies, "What did you want from me? I sent you a rowboat and a XXX and a XXX and a helicopter."

Is this unclaimed property a rowboat? Am I too stubborn to get into the damn helicopter?

I filled out the claim forms. Later, I was driving through the countryside. The sky was a brilliant, clear blue. The only marks, horizon to horizon, were two vapor trails that crossed in such a way they created a perfect heart.

I'd never seen anything like it. Vapor trails, being the paths of planes and all, are almost always fairly straight. Not these. They curved into a beautiful, expressive heart, the sight of which stopped mine for a second.

Is it pure arrogance to imagine the Universe was sending me a sign?

I believe in signs, in omens and portent. I believe we can steer by the signals the Universe sends us if we pay attention. Or, I think I believe that. It's easy in the abstract. But face-to-face with what could be a sighting of the Great Unknown, it's hard to be certain.

I mailed the claim an hour later. What's that? You can't hear me? Pay no attention to that noise. It's just my helicopter, getting ready to land.

Friday, November 09, 2007

And Then. . .

My bank cancelled my debit card the other day. There I was, in a quilt store, paying for a few additions to my fabric stash. The clerk frowned and looked at me over the top of her reading glasses.

"It didn't go through. Your card has been reported lost or stolen."

"That can't be. Run it again," I suggested naively.

10 minutes and two phone calls to my bank later, I was told my card had been suspended for "misuse" and my account marked for fraud. The person I was referred to in the Fraud Department told me I had deposited an empty envelope in an ATM, which I knew I had not. God knows I can be absent minded, but I specifically remembered putting the check from my British publisher in that ATM because it didn't fit the deposit envelope. I folded the flap up and over it, sealed it carefully, and wondered if that check size is standard in England.

Panic ensued. Where could the check have gone? It was the middle of the night in England, so I couldn't call and have the publisher stop payment on it. My mind reeled as I made my way to the branch where I'd made the deposit.

It took a few tellings of my story, but I ended up in the Branch Manager's office. She explained that they had the check. It was never lost. She sent it to their Collections Department because it was written by an British company, in British pounds she claimed, and she had to "protect you and the bank."

I'm pretty sure it was marked USD, and it was the third check I've deposited from that company. All at the same branch. All through the same ATM. AND I have had that bank account for 29 years. TWENTY-NINE YEARS and they couldn't give me the benefit of the doubt? Or a phone call? But truly, I was so relieved it wasn't lost that I simply thanked her for her help and left after she had called to remove the fraud marker and order a new debit card. She "graciously" waived the fee for the new card and paid for it to be overnighted.

The check will have to make its way through the collections system, which may take as long as six weeks. They can hold my money up to SIX WEEKS before they have to credit it to my account.


The new card arrived yesterday, as scheduled. When I tried to activate it, the system told me my PIN number was invalid. I called the Customer Service number printed on the back of the card, only to hit dead ends over and over because my PIN number did not match the new card number. I was ready to sharpen my teeth on someone's neck bones by the time I got through to a human who explained that my PIN had been reset for the new card and the preset number would be mailed to me separately. By snail mail. Within 10 days.


I need cash to get through the PINless days, so I drove to the bank and went in to the teller's window. The teller gamely tried to help me sort out the mess. In looking through my account records, he noticed that my "account type" was obsolete and I was being charged service charges and fees that could be avoided if I changed to an updated type. He clicked his mouse a couple of times to fix it and mentioned this would save $15 every month and as much as $25 in certain situations.

This is how they reward long-time customers? By charging them up the wazoo for things that are now offered free? Seriously--no one thought to tell me about the high price of being obsolete?

And, typing this just now, I realized they replaced my card that racked up frequent flier miles with a standard one that doesn't do anything besides give me access to my money. Damn! I'm going to have to go back there today.


I am not feeling kindly toward ATMs, computerized phone systems, or banks at the moment.

Even my little dog is sick of this whole mess. I woke in the night to the sound of her retching. In. My. Bed.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Dad stretched the truth a little the other day when he told me he was fine. To review: He was talking about the arrangements he'd made for Mom after his death. I asked if he had any reason to be concerned. He said no. He said he was in better health now than 10 years ago. He said he was merely facing statistical realities.

He left out a few things.

Yesterday I walked into Mom and Dad's house and found Dad in bed, his head wrapped in huge bandages. He looked like he'd wandered out of one of the hospital scenes in Gone with the Wind. Scary. Hilarious. Confusing.

It turns out Dad has skin cancer. A few weeks ago, a doctor removed a couple small growths from his forehead. The pathology reports indicated cancer so he returned yesterday for a fairly extensive excision. They think they got it all. According to the doctor, the type of cancer Dad has is common and treatable.

Dad drove himself to and from the surgery. He didn't want anyone to worry.

It was about lunch time when I stopped in over there. Mom asked me to stay for lunch and of course I did. She made one of Dad's favorite lunches. In the early afternoon she called and asked me to come over for dinner. She was making salmon, another of Dad's favorite foods. I couldn't resist, and I'm so glad I went. I'll remember this exchange the rest of my life.

Dad: Thank you, Honey. That was a wonderful dinner. You should have planned to come for dinner all along, Jerri. I have an owie. You knew Mom would make something special.

Me: She does baby you when you're sick or hurt.

Dad: Not too much. You see I didn't get any dessert. I'm going to make me a chocolate sundae. Anyone else want one?

Mom: Oh, Honey. I'm sorry. Would you like me to make you some of the World's Best Hot Fudge Sauce?

Dad: No, that's okay. You can do it later. I'll still have cancer tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Hard Habit to Break

My dad broke my heart yesterday. He stopped in at the salon to talk to me about presents for Mom. Her birthday and their anniversary are in November and Christmas is right around the corner.

"I've got Christmas covered because I'm buying her a quilting machine." He heard my gasp and stopped. "You don't think she'll like it?"

"She'd love it, Dad. But it's SO expensive."

"Well, yes. But I'm realistic. She could have many many years to fill after I'm gone. I want her to have something interesting and fun to do, something she looks forward to every day. It could be a long time until we see each other again. I want her to be happy."

Dad then talked for 10 minutes about all the things he had set up to take care of Mom after he's gone. He's not sick or worried about dying particularly, he just wants to make sure their finances are in order and everything is organized to smooth the transition as much as possible.

They've been taking care of each other for 58 years now. It's a hard habit to break.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Standard Time

I love this time of year—crisp, clean air. Beautiful mornings. Repeating an hour when we "fall back" to Standard Time.

This year I spent that golden hour pinning together the layers of the project you see here. I pieced the top several years ago, and now I'm going to quilt it. I am trying so hard to become a woman who finishes things.

Old people tell you how fast time flies. I used to brush that off, thinking I had plenty left. I don't. No one does. Not even on Standard Time.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Don't Worry Spiders. . .

I keep house casually.

Found this little fantasy at the top of one of the pendant lights that hang over my breakfast bar. Hated to do it, but Halloween's over. I crawled up on the bar and wiped it away.

I couldn't help noticing its beauty and and its strength. And something else: I'll bet the spider doesn't waste a single moment, not a nano second, complaining or plotting revenge. It will just get on with the business of building a new web.

Spiders are smart that way.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I admit it. I'm an addict. Michelle O'Neil gave me a taste of Dancing with the Stars on her blog, and I fell for it. Hoof, line, and sinker. I've been planning Monday nights around my show of choice: a simple dinner, a glass of wine, and a heaping helping of sequins and spangles.

I try to be careful, though. Mondays only. No results show on Tuesdays. That would be too much. Once in a while, I tune in for the last few minutes of Tuesay's show or catch it later on line. But only a few minutes, and not every week.

Late this afternoon I needed a break. (Cereal killing is hard work, you know.) I pulled up DwtS on line and watched Sabrina Bryan's exit. Watching Sabrina and her partner get the news brought tears to my eyes that had nothing to do with them leaving the show. Truth to tell, I haven't been very interested in them--she's too close to a professional dancer for my taste. I prefer the clutzes who find rhythm through hard work and dedication.

It was the way Mark wrapped his arms around Sabrina before the announcement that got me. It looked as if he were trying to insulate her from hurt, to shield her from the news to come. I've got no idea whether they're a couple. I don't care--I'm not that far gone. Yet.

But that simple gesture killed me. Those few seconds left me feeling a kind of loneliness I haven't felt for years. Maybe ever.

(Heavy Sigh). Long, long ago, Walt Disney convinced me that some day my prince would come. Now the network of his legacy is reminding me just how far I am from a fairy tale ending.

Clearly, delerium has set in. I'm going to have to quit the stuff. Cold turkey. Wanna go out next Monday? My schedule's wide open.

Happy Halloween

Me in my Halloween costume at this salon this morning. Do you know what I am? Look closely.

A cereal killer, naturally.

Enjoy, everyone. Be safe.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I did it, people. I finished the food essay and submitted it. (Deep cleansing breath)

Even after I had everything together, the files proofread for the thousandth time, my bio updated and all, I sat staring at the screen for five minutes before I hit send.

Here's the thing: the fate of the world does not depend on whether they like this piece or publish it. If they don't, it will become one of the Nos I have to go through to get to Yes. It will be the first of the rejections my friend Tom suggests I use to paper my walls.

When I wrote about finding the middle of the piece the other day, I didn't mean to imply it was fabulous. What I was trying to say—and what I'm celebrating now—is that I pushed through the middle, the part where I usually get stalled. I relaxed and let myself write some bad crap until what I wanted to say found me.

I finished. I submitted. My piece is now out there on the elementary school playground in its pajamas. With no panties underneath. And a crucial button missing. It's scary, but it's the only way to get my "real" writing out into the world.

Stay tuned. I may get the hang of this finishing thing yet.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Too Long Gone

Finished the food essay yesterday. Plan to submit it to a St. Louis foodie magazine on Monday, my first such submission anywhere. Wish me luck.

Writing the piece has been a blessing, no matter what happens. I read the call for submissions on a Missouri Writer's web site and spent a couple days writing bits and pieces that eventually led me to a unifying theme. From there, ideas presented themselves, night and day, until the best ones bobbed to the surface.

I wrote two thirds of the piece like reeling in sunfish. Then, right on cue, the story cut my line and swam away. I kept casting but nothing bit. For a day or so, it looked like the piece would die from a lack of oxygen, be thrown onto the compost heap of unfinished projects in my hard drive.

But, no. On Thursday, my laptop and I went into the weeds. I wrote and rejected bits and pieces for a middle, the same way I do for beginnings. The ending had come in the original burst. The way to get there eluded me.

Know what? I found it, the path, the way, the connection. Writing along, talking about lettuce greens, something picked up my story and delivered it, full circle, to the end without me even noticing. I actually gasped when I recognized what happened: Like any of the big ones, it snuck up on me.

That feeling, the one where dots are being connected without conscious thought, that's the reason I keep writing. When it's gone too long, I miss it.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I'm writing an essay about old foods that are popular with new names. It's such a kick to crawl inside my memories and play around a bit.

My grandpa—my mother's father—was a mushroom hunter. Morels, mostly. He brought home sacks of Morels like a pirate might bring home bags of gold. He cleaned them and cooked them and froze them in Wonder Bread wrappers. When I get inside that memory, I can smell the hot butter on the stove, the cigarette smoke in the air, and the musk of my grandfather mixed with the smell of gasoline and loose leaf tobacco.

It's strange that I remember the Wonder Bread wrappers so clearly, with their yellow and red and blue spots. Most of the wrapper was white, but there were clear spaces where you could see the Morels peeking through. Spongy promises of good things to come.

Yep. I loves me a good memory.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

We've Come a Long Way, Baby

First, the big stuff: My son got moved into his apartment last weekend. Yesterday he called to apologize. Just two short sentences, but at least it was a start. We had lunch together yesterday, and it was peaceful. Stay tuned.

Next, the funniest thing happened yesterday. Funny strange, not funny haha. My publicist e-mailed to ask if I'd do an interview for Men's Health magazine. Of course, I said yes, but also asked if the interviewer knew I am a woman. Between my name and the subject matter of my books (home improvement), people are surprised sometimes.

Her reply expressed confidence it would make no difference.

Later in the day, she wrote again. This time to say that the writer did indeed want to speak to a male "expert."

I was disappointed, of course. Men's Health is a big name, after all. But I wasn't surprised. They know the readers they serve. The article, as it was explained to me, was about showing men how to learn or take on new things. Neither the writer nor the magazine are responsible for the fact that the average man is less comfortable taking advice or instruction from a woman than from another man.

I am incredibly blessed. I've worked in male-dominated fields most of my life and have experienced direct, irrefutable discrimination only a small handful of times. Mostly, this little exchange is a reminder that we may have come a long way, but we've still got a long way to go.

For another interesting illustration of how far, check out this article about crying in public.

Oh, and Bill Maher, if you're reading this: you embarrassed yourself with those comments. Should all men be embarrassed, too?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

On Another Front

It's not all pink hair and giggles here on the pond. No, indeed.

My son took his stuff and stormed out yesterday, leaving behind a vapor trail of anger. He's planning to stay with my folks until his apartment is available on Friday.

He left after saying some of the most hurtful, shocking things he's come up with since he was 17. He clearly believes the problem is of my making. I don't know what to believe.

I have done my best. Trouble is, my best is not good enough to help him. Living with that is not easy, but it is necessary.

Soon I'll right myself and come up with another plan. I always do. Maybe this time the plan should be to accept that love does not conquer all.

More about Pink Hair

They're hard to see because they're about the same color as her scalp, but here's Mom with her three pink streaks. She loves them.

When we were little, we saw a woman with pink hair. Every time we encountered her in the aisles, we'd try to get Mom to look. Mom would sush us and we'd just get louder. "But Mom, you don't understand. She has PINK hair."

Now Mom does, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thinking Pink

Me: What do you think of my hair, Mom?

Mom: Pink? You put pink in your hair?

Me: They're extentions. We're doing them at the salon to raise money for Breast Cancer research. Clients donate $10 and we give them three pink extensions.

Mom: I'd do that. Yes, I would. Okay, I want some.

Me: Cool. I'll make you an appointment.

Mom: I'm getting my new driver's license tomorrow. Can we do it before I get my picture taken?

I am taking my 73-year-old mother to the salon this morning to have pink streaks added to her beautiful white hair. From there, we're headed to the DMV.

Kind of gives you hope, doesn't it?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Menopause? Hell, no. Men-o-stop!

Like Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck. If a wishing fairy appeared before me, it would be a tough choice between asking her to help me learn to write and asking her to melt the turkey wattle appearing below my chin(s).

Who am I kidding? I wouldn't even bat an eyelash. I'd drop on my knees and tip my head back to make sure her wand had total access to the disaster area. I can work on the writing, but unless a miracle happens, my neck is going to introduce itself to my boobs one day very soon.

And if the droopage weren't enough, the damn thing's sprouting small dark spots that grow into skin tags, tiny wart-like affairs, if I don't exfoliate often enough. And I don't. At least, not when things are so crazy.

Pink Boots Guy used to say he could tell how my world was going by feeling my butt. Smooth skin meant I was taking care of myself; dry, scaly patches meant trouble in not-quite-paradise. No one's checking out that area these days and I'd be happy with just managing to maintain the parts that show!

The other day I accidentally caught sight of myself in a mirror and discovered my neck was covered with so many skin tags it looked like I'd been fertilizing the damn things. Even worse, it had developed a couple bigger scaly spots the dermatologist tells me are just part of old age. Since then I've used salt scrub every morning in the shower and it's better. But if you see that wish fairy, send her my way, will you?

BTW--the dermatologist survived that comment. Recovering nicely, I hear.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Those Are Some Big Grains You Got There, Girly

Did a quick spin through the memoir section of the bookstore yesterday. (Just cannot go into a bookstore without checking out the memoirs.)

Of course, a book jumped off the shelves and insisted on going home with me, a book that turned out to be my biggest reading disappointment since My Friend Leonard. (You remember James Frey's second book, right? The "memoir" that opened with scenes of him coping with 80 days in jail, a sentence he never received for crimes he didn't commit? MFL feels to me like a bigger travesty than MLP. By the time he passed a second book off to his publisher, James had enough time and toured enough to know, to absolutely know in his bones, what he was doing was wrong and hurtful.)

But I digress.

The hitchhiker was How Starbucks Saved My LIfe. When I turned the last page last night, I googled around a bit and found that many others readers felt as I did: manipulated and used.

Michael Gates Gill stayed in one high-profile ad agency for 25 years. Takes some big smarts to do that. Here and there in the book, he describes some strategies that could only have come from a pretty savvy character. Then he asks us to believe that making change and cleaning toilets was a major challenge for him.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it's easy to keep a register straight when you're working under the pressure of lines of people impatient for caffeine. I'm not even saying it's easy to maintain a public restroom. I run the register and clean the bathrooms at the salon enough to know better than that.

But Gill describes his struggles with these tasks in a way that made me wonder if the slow-growing tumor he claims is threatening his brain may have impaired his faculties. Googled video shows a very different sort of man than the book: confident, smart, articulate. Not a guy who would struggle with setting out sandwiches in the right order.

Google also turned up the news that Gill sold the book (and the movie rights) on the basis of a proposal. He didn't turn his life around and then write a book to tell the tale. Before he'd worked at Starbucks long enough to get the lingo down, he sold Penguin and Tom Hanks on the idea of a high-flying, ego-driven overachiever getting his come-uppance and then discovering the value of hard work and regular people. Then he lived the life he needed to tell about.

Miss Snark taught me the importance of a good hook. She even ran a crapometer on hooks (December 06, I think) to drive home the point (or stomp it home with a stiletto heel, as she might say). Gill created a shiny, pointed, I've-got-to-read-this-book hook.

His book did not live up to his hook. Worse yet, it feels like he backed into the hook (when a Starbucks manager offered him a job almost as a joke) and then contrived a story to hang on it.

I'm a sucker for people who find hidden meaning in difficult circumstances. I'm not above being a tiny bit satisfied to see a guy who cheated on his wife and fathered a child with another woman hit the proverbial wall. (Sorry. I'm working on it.) Gill admits his mistakes, I have to give him that. But in the end, that feels more like part of the set up than genuine growth or remorse.

Tom Hanks will probably make a feel good, heartwarming movie out of Gill's story. I may even go see it, but if I do, I'll view it with plenty of salt on my popcorn.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Writing Meme

Michelle from Full Soul Ahead tagged me to write a meme about my writing. Here goes.

1) I've written (and published) 25 or 26 books and still don't feel like a real writer. My books, on home improvement and home decor, help people. I like that and appreciate my readers but find myself discounting the value of my work, over and over.

2) All these books written and hundreds of thousands of copies sold, and I still get the willies every single time I sit down to work. Last week I spent two and a half days stuck, working and reworking a 315 word introduction to bathroom fixtures. I couldn't--or didn't--get past the snag until the deadline loomed and I had to write the damn thing or miss the deadline.

3) When I hit my stride in my personal writing, the phrases dancing off my fingers surprise the hell out of me. Strange things show up--facts I didn't realize I knew, feelings I've never acknowledged, and lyrical language I couldn't possibly think up on my own.

4)The music of language comes much more easily than the arc of a story. In writing as in life, structure confounds me.

5) A dear friend compared my writing to that of a well-known, successful author this afternoon, and my eyes leaked for 10 minutes. Other than children during my struggles with infertility, I have never wanted anything more than I want to learn to write. To really write.

I'm tagging you, Suzy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Can You Hear the Angels Singing?

Don't worry about those screams you heard a few minutes ago. There were just my shouts of joy.

After many complications, Evan's application was approved. He'll be moving into his very own apartment in about two weeks. It's a beautiful place, with his own washer and dryer and a lovely patio.

Best of all, best of all, it's not here he'll have his own space again.

So will I.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Here's to Teachers

Have I mentioned what fun I'm having with the writing?

My cup of gratitude runneth over this evening. Some incredible teachers have shared their wisdom with me. Their generosity is the source of this fun.

The Mystic One took an enormous leap of faith with this semi-crazed woman and paid me to write books. Taught me how, too. More than that, he believes in my stories and encourages me to tell them.

Jennifer Lauck conducted a workshop in Carrie Link's home, the second and third official writing classes I ever had. Jennifer and Carrie opened my eyes and my heart to my own stories and taught me to write the things I least want to face.

Anthony Doerr taught the workshop I attended at the Taos Summer Writer's Conference. Anthony gave me five full days of head-spinning information. He emphasized how much every word counts. Reading (and then studying) his book, Four Seasons in Rome is several semesters' worth of instruction.

Through their books and stories, Rick Bragg, Barbara Robinette Moss, Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Abigail Thomas, Monica Holloway, Elizabeth Berg, and others showed me the way. Miss Snark reinforced their lessons.

Monday, with my fears playing under my desk, I pounded out this sentence: The seasons were quick to change in the Ozark Mountains, but the summer of 1964 came on so hard it surprised us.

Tuesday and Wednesday, with my teachers and friends swirling through my brain pan, that sentence slowly became: The seasons are always quick to change in the Ozark Mountains, but the summer of 1964 dropped onto the Missouri hills like a wet wool blanket.

The difference between the two is what keeps me up nights and wakes me early. I simply cannot wait to learn more and bring it to the pages.

Given everything else going on here right now, writing—learning to write from my gut—is saving my sanity. . .my life. . .my soul.

Thank you, Teachers.

Thank you, Friends.

Such a Little Thing

In Escaping into the Open, Elizabeth Berg says:

If you take yourself and writing too seriously, you will sit at your computer and feel afraid to start. When you finally do start, you will be hypercritical of every line you write.

Yes, Ma'am. That's right where I've been. Smack in the middle of a too-serious stew. Ms. Berg goes on to say:

Try to keep some essential perspective: You are not performing an emergency tracheotomy. You are not deciding whether or not to drop the Bomb. You are putting lines of print on a page. And I believe if you're enjoying yourself when you put those lines down, you have a better chance of your readers enjoying you.

Remembering this makes a world of difference. My writing routine has changed since reading Ms. Berg's book. Now, I start by tightening the previous day's work. It loosens my voice, kind of like practicing scales.

This morning I came across this: Thousands of bugs circled the puny little bulb of the porch light. . .

D'oh! Puny and little mean the same thing. Delete, delete, delete. Now it's just a puny bulb and I am filled with the strangest satisfaction.

This is fun, this playing with words. They're like the Connex Evan had when he was little: you can build whole worlds if you put them together right. And if you make a mistake, it's easy to pop them apart and put them back together differently.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Just DO It

I spend a lot of time thinking about writing. Reading about writing. Talking about writing.

The only thing missing is the actual writing. Of course, I write almost every day for my work. But that doesn't exactly count.

I carve out time for my personal writing and then decide to throw in a load of laundry. Or download that music I just know is going to inspire me. Or remember something I have to read before I start--a chapter from Bird by Bird or that great passage from On Writing.

All too often, fear stops me in my tracks.

Yesterday, I wrote. The fear didn't disappear, I just wrote while it played at my feet.

Here's what I learned, all over again: When I step forward in faith, I am met. The words appear. The story finds its way. Life moves forward.

Some parts are better than others. Some won't survive rewrites. But they are there, they give me a place to start. I myself am the Keeper of My Words and my first responsibility is to show up.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dreams Again

9:57 am when I woke from this dream. (I sleep late so rarely that I found another clock to check, just to be sure.)

In a house that belonged to me, one I loved. The walls were pale gray and the rooms large but they felt terribly dark. Walking through the rooms, thinking about how I didn't like the house as much as I had thought, I was surprised at how dark it was. Eventually I realized the windows, which were large, had been covered with blinds and drapes of different sorts.

While I was wondering how this had happened, Evan came in. He told me his Dad had put up the window coverings. AND he told me that was wrong, his dad had no right to cover my windows. While he was talking, I was trying and trying to pull up the wooden matchstick blinds covering the main pair of windows, but couldn't keep them in place. I'd pull them up and try to secure the cords, but the blinds rolled down as I messed with the cords.

Evan told me repeatedly that I needed to tell Bill that this was MY house and he couldn't change things without asking. I thought, "That's right. This IS my house. No one has the right to elminate the light in here."

Doesn't take a Mac Genius to analyze this one.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Value Small Things

Your comments and notes and calls mean the world to me in these difficult days. They remind me how much loving gestures can mean.

On Valentine's Day, I buy bundles of roses and give them to customers as they leave the salon. Last year I gave the leftovers to my parent's neighbors. When I told Mom and Dad of my plan, they contributed heart-shaped sugar cookies to the project. "Don't forget MO," Dad said. "Her husband died this winter." "And JK," Mom said. "No one ever comes to see her."

List in hand, I rang the doorbell at the first address. An elderly woman cracked open the door and peered out . "Hello, I'm Jerri, Chuck and Nora's girl." She opened the door a little wider. "They asked me to bring these to you and tell you happy Valentine's Day." The woman stepped from behind the door and cradled the roses in her arms like a newborn. "For me? Really?"

"Yes. We hope you enjoy them."

"Oh, thank you. Thank you. I haven't had a Valentine since my husband died. Seventeen years. It's so nice to be remembered." She was still standing in the doorway as I rounded the curve.

Some version of this scene played out at each stop.

When I got back to Mom and Dad's house, Dad was on the phone. "You're just as welcome as you can be. We kinda thought we'd share. Our days of that kind of thing are pretty much over."

Through the phone I recognized the voice of JK, a never-married woman somewhere in her early 60s. "Those days may be over for you," she said. "For some of us, they never were. This is my first Valentine. I'll never forget your kindness."

Two pink roses and a sugar cookie equal unforgettable kindness if you've never had a Valentine.

Kind words are balm for a soul caught in verbal battles.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Thimble Therapy

Took the afternoon off from writing about bathrooms to engage in some badly needed thimble therapy.

I'm hand quilting parts of a quilt. It's a slightly crazy endeavor, I will admit, but nothing forces you into the present moment like guiding a needle in and out of three layers of fabric in an attempt to produce tiny, even stitches, each the same size as the next.

The first (and last) time I hand quilted a quilt tells a story so absolutely typical of me that it still makes me laugh. And wince.

The quilt was for Evan, and I wanted it to be perfect. I read somewhere that the Amish won't let you work on their quilts unless you can create 12 stitches per inch. The first time I counted, I was at 6. I got books. I got better needles, better thimbles. I practiced until my fingers bled. Seriously. Eventually, my stitches were so tiny you needed a magnifying glass to tell they were there.

Looking at a display of quilts months later, I noticed that they looked much different from mine. The quilting had much more character. The store clerk summoned a teacher from the back to help me understand what I was doing wrong. My stitches, she said, were too small. They might as well have come from a machine, she said. But the Amish. . . I said.

Turns out I was counting the stitches wrong, driving myself toward a completely false image of perfection. Counted correctly, I was achieving something like 22 stitches per inch. Which achieved nothing at all.

Now I coast along without counting. If I like the way it looks, it stays. If not, I try to do better on the next section.

Like I said. Thimble therapy.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Don't want to get all dramatic on your #$$, but I've been eating like an Incan child being fattened for sacrifice.

If I could find room for even one more mouthful of corn (cornbread, Fritos, tortillas, corn on the cob. . .), I'm sure I'd fall on it with gusto. I know what I'm doing and I'm trying to stop. But over and over I'm startled into awareness AFTER numbing myself with carbs, usually some form of corn.

I was thinking of going hiking this weekend, but then again, maybe not.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


It's official. Evan will be getting his own apartment again. The administrator of his trust called yesterday to approve signing a lease.

I am relieved. Thrilled. Sad.

He's 25. He lived on his own for a long time. He doesn't want to live with his mother. I've got all that. But why can't I manage to get along with my son? Why does proximity to me make him profoundly uncomfortable and unhappy?

It's an old story, an old wound. When he was 13 or 14, he opened the car door at a traffic light and stood, half in and half out of the car so I couldn't drive, through 3 cycles of lights. When he finally got back in the car, he said, "Good. Now the people behind us hate you as much as I do."

Last night he said, "I can't wait to get the *&(% ouf of here. No one should be forced to live with you." Then he stormed out. Again.

25 years and counting. I'm still questioning, searching, trying. He's still throwing my love under the bus.

But soon my home will again be my refuge rather than center stage for our drama. There's the relief.

My beloved son can't abide my presence. There's the sad.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Totally Potty, Day Three

If you're tired of hearing me rave about Paul Potts, skip this post.

Or, maybe you shouldn't.

Not because I might convert you, but because you might be inspired to find music or art or something that affects you the same way.

I've been listening to Paul's CD, One Chance non stop. Each time I press play, each time his voice swells with the orchestra, demon stress loosens its chokehold on one more muscle fiber. I lose myself in the flow of the music, let it carry me away from my worries. Toward peace. Toward connection with That Which Is. Toward the best version of myself.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hello, Beauty

Riding through a leafy tunnel. The Little Blue River sparkles in the distance. Earbuds deliver Paul Potts' Con Te Partiro to my brain.

Round a corner, a deer stands in the path, unperturbed by my approach until I get within two or three feet. It bounds into the woods, white tail flashing through green.

I surrender.

Crazy Over Potts

YouTube introduced me to Paul Potts, the cell phone salesman who won Britain's Got Talent this summer. I was charmed by Paul's round little body, his snaggle tooth, and his apparent terror. But his voice took me away from this world. It made me cry.

In the time between my first YouTube viewing and this morning, I'd forgotten his last name, only had his first and the fact that he sold cell phones. Google supplied the rest in 0.13 seconds.

Just downloaded Paul's CD, One Chance, from iTunes. Never been much of an opera fan, but this man's voice is a conduit to the Great Beyond, a connection to angels. Listening to him feels like finding something I didn't know I'd lost but have been looking for, for ages. It loosens a knot in my soul and eases my shoulders down from my ears.

I'd rave on, but Paul and I are going for a bike ride now. We may not be back for a long, long time.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Black (pants) Magic

I believe in the transformative powers of black pants. I must. Why else would my wardrobe consist of two pairs of jeans (two pairs that still fit, anyway), one pair of khakis, and eight (8) pairs of black pants.

What do you suppose I just brought home? Yep. Another pair of black pants. I tried. Really I did. But nothing else did a thing to diguise the sad truth that butt-in-chair results in butt-the-size-of-chair.

They’re going back tomorrow. I’m going for a walk. Right now.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Just Another Day in Kansas City

Pouring rain. My dog's in the closet. Apparently she finds more comfort in lying among my dirty laundry than next to me. Thunder and lighting make me thankful for batteries and wifi. Remember when a big storm meant you couldn't use the computer?

I've been wandering the internet, reseraching a book idea I might pursue with the woman from the coffee shop. Tracey is a young woman, 36 I think. Has 5 kids, the oldest 18. She's gorgeous is a Marsha Brady kind of way, smart, and funny. When she found out her husband had hooked up with a 22-year-old, she did not take it lying down. Turns out lots of women don't.

We're looking for ways to solicit those stories. When Tracey originally hatched the idea, I thought it was hilarious and totally commericial. I guess I imagined all the stories to be like hers or like this or this. You know--bizarre and funny but basically normal.

Then I found Revenge Lady,. Sad, in every sense of the word.

I revisited Post Secret and found it as touching as ever.

Could the difference be the addition of art? Maybe it's the space limitations of the postcards. Or maybe the intention behind the project.

Lots to think about while the lightning flashes and the dog hides.

Ideas about how to solicit stories are more than welcome.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Strange Sensation

Had the strangest dream last night. There were many images and parts to the "story," but one thread ran throughout it all. The left side of my face periodically contorted in an exaggerated grimace that was totally out of my control. Kind of like a charley horse, but in my face.

In the dream I was aware of this and concerned by it. I even commented that it had happened once before. Oddly, I had a similar dream last week.

The contortion felt as though a wire were strung through the muscles of my face and some cosmic force jerked it together from time to time. The points of connection were just below my mouth, at the top of the apple of my cheek, and at my temple, all on the left side of my face.

This morning my face feels odd, slightly numb I'd call it, and the areas around those "points of connection" don't exactly hurt, but they don't feel normal. I also have a slight headache.

Ideas? Anybody? Anybody?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ready for a Change

Working to meet a deadline, so not much time/energy for blogging.

Hope you're all enjoying a beautiful autumn day. It's going to be 90 here again today.

In so many ways, I'm ready for a change. Seasons, projects, redecorating--bring it on!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Sun Also Rises

Strange stuff happens.

Yesterday I was sitting in a cafe, writing. My brand-spanking new copy of A Three Dog Life was sitting on the table in front of me.

Lo and behold, a fellow reader happened up and prepared to sit down. Before she got her iced tea placed just so on the table beside me, A Three Dog Life caught her eye. We made small talk about the book for a minute or so, and then her friend joined her. The three of us began a conversation that lasted more than two hours.

Pretty sure neither of these women imagined spending their lunch talking to a stranger. I sure didn't plan on such a thing. But from the moment we started really talking, I felt we'd stepped into the center of the big wheel of Karma. They both have fascinating stories and one has what I think is a fabulous idea for a non-fiction book. She and I exchanged e-mails this evening and agreed in principal to work together. I'm incredibly excited about the project and look forward to telling you all more about it as soon as we've ironed out our next action items.

This reminds me: never, ever, ever give up. Things may feel rotten. You may think you've failed as a wife or a mother or a writer. Possibly even as a husband or the gate-keeping swain in a kingdom of swine. Wallow in those feelings as much as necessary, but remember that this, too, shall pass.

In the words of the inemitable Dee Ready, "The sun rises, and the sun sets."

The sun was pretty low on the horizon last weekend, but it's rebounding in many ways right about now. Updates soon.

Fantastic Memoir

If you're interested in reading or writing memoirIf you're interested in life, go get A Three Dog Life. Read it as soon as you can. Heck, stop what you're doing and go read it today.

I may be am a little prejudiced because I've been dealing with the aftermath of my son's traumatic brain injury lately, but people this is not merely good writing, it's great writing. In a featured blurb, Stephen King says "This book is a punch to the heart." He's right.

I'd write more in praise of A Three Dog Life, but I need to read the rest of it. And you need to go get yourself a copy.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thank You

Thank you all for your comments and e-mails and love.

Things are much better. I'll write more soon, but for now wanted all to know I'm fine and moving toward some resolutions.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tough Cookie

When things get rough, I often tell myself and others that I'll be all right, that I'm a tough cookie. Never mention my cream-filled center, though.

The situation between Evan and me is deteriorating by the moment. He's angry all the time and uses that anger like a hammer. Today he hit me with two of his best: my weight and the fact that I didn't give birth to him.

As in, "It's a good thing you didn't have real kids, isn't it?"

I know he's hurting. I know he's lonely. I know he lashes out with what he knows will hurt worst, whether he believes it or not.

I also know I promised myself I would never again live mostly in my bedroom or hide from his anger in my closet as I did when he was in high school. He's not expressing his anger with violence. Yet.

I'm writing this from my closet, but only because I don't want him to hear me cry.

I need help. Please pray (if that's your way) for us both.

Future Shock

Thoughts of this post woke me this morning, but I didn't want to write it. Didn't want to admit to wasting my time on such trash.

Last night I found myself being sucked into the Ben Afleck movie, "Paycheck," even though it's the kind of thing I normally avoid at all costs. (I plead insanity due to exhaustion.) The premise involves the downside of being able to see the future. Can't shake thoughts of that, even this morning.

My closest friends can tell you how often I obsess about wanting to know something--anything--for sure. Ad naseum.Thing is, looking back I know I wouldn't have believed much of my life story if someone HAD told me ahead of time. And, in my ignorance, I would have tried to avoid some painful events that turned out to be my greatest blessings. Yet, I'd still give a lot to know what's heading toward me.

I am trying to love the questions themselves, a la Rilke, but that's hard. Damn hard.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Been reading Miss Snark over the last few days. The blog's dark now, but the snarkives remain, and they're a goldmine for anyone interested in finding an agent or in publishing in general, for that matter.

Her Royal Snarkiness pegged the James Frey thing down to the nitwit. First, she posted doubts about the book and the man long before The Smoking Gun got hold of him. Then she predicted the snarkstorm that followed. It's her final prediction on the subject that breaks me into a MLP at the moment. She said that the furor would die down and Frey would return, pretty much unscathed.

Now comes the announcement that Frey's coming out with (another) novel. HarperCollins.

Guess it was just a matter of time before someone couldn't find their integrity lost behind a bunch of shiny dollar signs.

(Heavy Sigh)

"I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right." Mae West

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Spurs that Jingle Jangle Jingle

My little doggie is having terrible trouble with allergies right now. She scratches like crazy all the time. Guess it's not unusual--our vet told Mom yesterday that 90% of the people they saw yesterday were in because their dogs were scratching. Mom's got her dog on steroids, but I'm reluctant to do that, so I'm washing Cassie's feet every time we come in and trying to help her be comfortable the best I can.

Meanwhile, her scratching has been driving us crazy at night, even Evan, whose room is at the opposite end of the house. All night long, we hear jingle, jingle, jingle. She's right next to me in bed, and it gets a little crazy-making.

Last night I got the bright idea of taking her collar off for the night.

What took me so long?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Here We Go Round In Circles

Pedaling along the Little Blue River on Sunday morning, I learned something from the actual pushing of the pedals. Yes, Mystic One, I hear you laughing. But I did.

You see, I was pedaling up a huge and horrible hill when I remembered a guide on one of my adventure trips explaining to me that you're supposed to push the pedals for the entire revolution. All you guys may know that, but I'd spent my whole life just pushing the pedals down and letting the up take care of itself.

I concentrated on making full circles, and it really is a whole different feeling. Plus, when you consciously bring the pedal back up, you increase power of the revolution.

Me, I'm all about the down, all about putting out. (No, not like THAT. Get your minds out of the gutter now.) Putting out effort. It's the up, the taking in that I haven't been so good about lately. That's why I put down the computer and picked up the bike in the first place: to breathe in the clean, cool air and the beauty of early fall.

That's also why I went to the movies to see Hairspray last night. I came home happy and energized. (And singing Good Morning, Baltimore.) I loved that movie. Can't wait to see it again, as a matter of fact.

There's power in completing the circle, breathing out and breathing in. A morning on the bike or an evening laughing with friends puts fuel in the tank for writing and for living.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


A little more of the story.

Anyone in my family would tell you I could never leave well enough alone, could never be satisfied until I’d gone too far. Must have been true. This time I pushed myself so far into the tube I was out of control from the moment I let go of the sides.

I struggled to keep my arms over my head and my legs together, but the force of the water was too strong. I flopped and wallered around, knowing I needed to either get straight with the current or right with the Lord.

My right foot flew out and smashed the edge as the tube spit me out. I felt the jagged metal slice through my heel, felt the meat gap open. Tumbling downstream, head over hind end, I was helpless to do anything other than hold my breath and hope.

Some would have prayed, but I figured God had bigger fish to fry. After all, black men were being beaten to death in Mississippi, Mr. Johnson was fighting a War on Poverty, and "that damn Barry Goldwater" was running for President. God didn't have time to waste on one foolish little girl cutting her foot off on a bridge culvert in the backwoods of southern Missouri.


Rode my bike from my house to mom and dad's this morning. Four and a half pretty miles of narrow, crooked road through corn and soybean fields. Along the Little Blue River. Past a Pop Warner League football field where parents scream at second graders to "get that f'n ball."

Four and a half miles of blue morning sky and deep green leaves. 58 minutes of hard exercise and deep thought. As I pedaled, I thought about something Holly said in an e-mail the other day, something about the color of dirt roads. That got me thinking about the iron in the soil making the dirt red in the Deep South and how the dirt down home doesn't have enough iron to be red.

And suddenly, I knew I need to change a line in the passage about dirt roads. That instead of describing them as worn-out, I need to use the word anemic, because that's what they are--anemic: lacking in iron.

To me, finding that one better word felt like finding a gold nugget in a shaker pan of pebbles.

This is the richness of a writer's life, the space where the dots of a comment from a friend and a morning bike ride connect up with something from 5th grade science class to create a moment of clarity.

I LOVE this life.

Friday, September 07, 2007


I've had it in the last few days. My true voice, I mean. The one that speaks in the rhythms of my head and heart, the one that isn't concerned with impressing people or making them think I'm smarter than I am. The story I've been writing may or may not be good yet--it's a first draft after all--but the voice, that voice is the one I've been trying to uncover for a long time.

It went dormant in the night.

Writing this morning, I find myself typing convinced when sure would be the natural choice, describing what happened rather than living it out on the page. My sentences would totally please Grammatica, but they don't please me. They have such good posture, sit up so straight in their chairs.

What now, damn it?

The other day I read that real writers are the ones who keep writing even when they don't feel like it. The ones who plod on and trust in revision. They don't wait for inspiration. They don't believe in magic. They do believe in hard work.

I believe in hard work. I really do. So, this morning I've plodded on. But I'm writing dreck. Stilted, formal, city-girl dreck, a faded gray photocopy of the story inside my heart.

Maybe what I need is to get away from it for a few hours. Think I'll go ride my bike on a tan dirt road this afternoon. There's one not far from my house that runs parallel to a spring-fed creek. Maybe eating a little dust and watching the water run is what exactly I need. Cause more of this certainly sure isn't the answer.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Life-long Learner

Mystic Wing helped me find the end of my story yesterday. We were talking on the phone and, in his usual way, he asked the questions I needed to hear answered, knowing those answers would lead me where I needed to go.

I'm older than Bryan by a couple of years, but he's become the big brother I've always needed. When I count my blessings, he's near the top of the list, every time.

So, last night I spent a lot of time helping Evan study for his first test (it's tonight) and then an hour or so googling to find out why bugs fly towards lights, why moths are attracted to flames. Turns out it's tied up with their navigational system, that when they encounter a bright light very close to them, they mistake it for the moon, which throws them completely out of whack. They instinctively know they shouldn't be so close to the moon. Fascinating and perfect for the story, too.

You'll see some of the details when I get the story done. My point here is what a gift it is to write and to live a writer's life. Many of our conversations with each other are about words, about ideas, about the themes of life. We discover some factoid, study it, and use it to illustrate a point. We grow and learn and share.

More than anything else, being a writer means being a life-long learner.

Sign me up!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Why Yes, I WOULD Like Cheese with this Whine

Reading yet another Fannie Flagg novel. It's Welcome to the World, Baby Girl this time.

For some reason, all day I've had this fantasy of someone calling me Baby Girl and meaning it, of having someone available to shoulder some of the weight of the world, of having someone who loves me best of all.

There's nothing particularly new or different about my world this week, but I'm not handling the same old stuff very well. My shoulders are up around my ears, and no matter how many times I realize it and try to breathe them down, they bounce back the moment my attention turns to something else. Tigger shoulders, they are. Bouncy, flouncy, trouncy things. Hey--maybe I should trounce a few things and see if that helps.

The area between my shoulder blades feels as though it's badly sunburned--that tight, bright, raw feeling glows through my skin like neon on a dark, rainy night. I am not sunburned. I know this because, although I haven't been in the sun for weeks, I actually got a hand mirror and checked in the bathroom mirror. Nothing's burning back there except dull anger. Or maybe that's rage. Can't tell from the outside, and God knows my insides aren't in any shape to conduct a meaningful conversation.

Strangest of all, every once in a while, I audibly gasp like someone just sucked the oxygen from the room and I'm competing for the last breath. What's that about? Is the Big Fly Fisher in the Sky trying to reel me in?

This, too, shall pass. Or, at least that's what I've been telling myself all day.

Anyone know when this Venus Retrograde this is over?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Jess and I went to Barnes and Noble the other day, and I walked out with three or four books I couldn't live without. Or thought I couldn't, anyway.

Turns out I was right about the first one, Drinking, by Caroline Knapp.

The funny thing is, neither I nor any of my close family has troubles with alcohol. (I've been worried a bit lately about Evan's drinking, but I guess I mean the family I grew up with.) I've never watched a friend spiral, never feared my own relationship to alcohol.

It doesn't matter. Knapp's story is universal, even if her theme isn't. From the first page, she had me right where she wanted me: totally drawn into her world and fascinated with her tale.

In the early going, Knapp describes drinking wine with her father when just the two of them had dinner together in a restaurant, a first for them.

I don't remember what we talked about that night, but I do know that the discomfort was diminished, replaced by something that felt like a kind of love.

Like drinking stars. That's how Mary Karr describes it in her memoir, The Liar's Club, a line she picked up from her mother. She drank red wine and 7-Up one night from a bone-china cup when she was a kid and she felt that slow warmth, almost like a light. "Something like a big sunflower was opening at the very center of my being," she writes, and when I read that, I knew exactly what she meant. The wine just eased through me in that Greek restaurant, all the way to my bones, illuminating some calm and gentler piece of my soul.

I think that's brilliant. The way she takes lines from a book she's read, gift wraps them, and sets them into her story like a present to be opened. If I hadn't already read The Liar's Club, you can bet your sweet bippie I'd have been online ordering it when I finished that chapter. As it is, I pulled my copy down from the bookcase and put it in the pile on my nightstand.

I'm coming to understand the richness, the texture that's brought to a story through the inclusion of a sense of history, through a sense that the action isn't happening in a vacuum. Our characters' daily lives and loves are filtered through the era in which they live, the movies they watch, the music they listen to, and the books they read.

Books. Aaaahhhh, books. From the moment I learned to follow black squiggles marching across white pages, I have loved books and the places they could lead me, the trails they blazed. I rely on their presence and give thanks for the lights they shine into the dark, slippery corners of my mind and heart.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Busy, Busy

Can't believe it's been a week since I've posted. So much going on, most of it inside my own head.

Telling True Stories continues to spark my imagination, along with Fannie Flagg's books, most recently Standing in the Rainbow, and Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome.

The big thing all of these books are pointing out to me is that our personal dramas are played out against the background of the larger dramas of history, and using those larger dramas as an ingredient makes for a richer stew.

I've been obsessively researching the 60s and 70s, and some of what I've found has shocked me, even though I lived through it all. Sort of, given that I was tucked away in the hills at the time.

Anyway, Jess got here Friday and we've been hanging out, writing and talking. I read some letters she gathered in her travels this summer. Fantastic stuff. Truly cannot wait to see what she makes of it all.

More soon. Another busy day awaits.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Red Lightning

So, Deb and I were scheduled to leave between 1:00 and 2:00 yesterday afternoon. Surprisingly, we hit I70 about 5:15. This wasn't surprising because we were 3 to 4 hours behind schedule, but because we were ONLY 3 to 4 hours behind schedule. Deb is always, always late. Always. And, to add the good news, she called shortly before 1:00 to let me know how late she'd be. Ordinarily, I just hang around waiting til she shows. (She rarely answers her cell and almost never when she's late.)

So, we got off to a good start.

It takes about 5 hours to drive from KC to St. Louis. By dusk, we were watching the most fabulous lightning how I've ever seen. Hundreds and hundreds of strikes, most of it what we used to call heat lightning--waves of diffuse light rather than individual bolts. No rain and no thunder. The strikes were too far away for us to hear the thunder. As evening waned, lightning backlit the colors of the sunset so the flashes looked pink and purple and gold.

By the time darkness fell, the show got more dramatic. As we got closer, we began to see individual bolts. The biggest, brightest bolts I've ever seen, and each was of longer duration. We saw one bolt we felt sure hit something because it shimmered in the air for several seconds, trilling up and down from earth to sky. (This morning the STL news is full of the pictures of a historic church destroyed by lighting last night. ??)

We also saw red lighting. Stoplight red. Neon loosed in the sky. After the first bolt, we looked at each other in confusion and asked, "Did you see that? That red lighting?"

Later we saw a virtual starburst of red light in the distance. About 10 minutes after that burst, we began to hear thunder and 5 or 10 minutes after that drove into rain. Driving, streaming, pounding rain but hardly any lightning at that point. When we drove out of the rain about 20 minutes later, we started seeing lightning again, but the real show was over.

My bags had hardly hit the floor of the hotel room before I googled red lightning. Lots of theories, no real answers. If anyone knows anything definitive, be sure and leave a comment, would you? We did see discussions of "red sprites," those bursts of red light, so we know we didn't imagine it.

Silly me, initially I wanted to get here before dark. Thought it would be easier to find our way in an unknown area when we could see. And it would have been (especially because we were navigating construction-narrowed roads in driving rain), but we would have missed one of the most spectacular shows of our lives.

The Universe provdes, you know. It really does.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Meet Me in St. Louis

My sister and I are off to St. Louis for a couple of days. Kind of a fool's errand, if you ask me, but she would not take no for an answer, and so I'm packing.

Just finished reading Standing in the Rainbow, another Fannie Flagg novel. Fannie has reminded me of the value of simplicity. Her stories and her language are comfortable and familiar and. . .universal. Reading them is like slipping into an old hoodie sweatshirt, flannel pants, and soft socks.

All this reading lately. All these voices. Feels like I'm on the verge of something really important, something vital. Something's brewing. I'll post a piece when it's ready.

Meantime, I'm off to STL. Ya'll take care while I'm gone.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Problem Solved

Solved the porn-on-my-computer problem. Bought my college-bound boy his very own laptop. Never been happier to sign a credit card receipt.

Happy, Happy

Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy.

Evan just walked in the door. You will never, ever guess what he handed me.

Go on, try. What do you think it was?

Give up?

His completed college registration.

Evan decided to go the nearby community college and got himself registered for a Biology class. He starts next Tuesday.

I believe in MIRACLES!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Where I'll Find Him

In a wise a loving comment on my post Dreams, Grammer said:

I'm skeptical of the thing. I met every man I've loved while doing what I loved to do most: music. That's where I'm soul-bare, available, listening, and ready for anything. What do you love to do most? What puts you in that kind of space? I think that's where you're gonna find him.

I've spent a bit of time now, thinking about what I love most these days: reading, writing, watching the pond, talking books with people who love them as I do.

Not much man-meeting potential there. Not that many years ago--maybe 5--I hiked across Canada, biked across Alaska, kayaked in Puget Sound, watched the sun rise above Acadia National Park (the first place the sun touches in the US each morning) and on and on. Once I was a person who flew in hot air balloons and drove a dog sled through the forest on the night of winter solstice. Now I'm a person who surfs the internet.

Maybe that, above all, is what needs to change. Instead of thinking about life, I need to get back to living it.

Thanks, Tracy. Great comment.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ribbons of Words

Reading Telling True Stories has been like holding match to a gas jet for me. Whoooooosh! Suddenly, I'm hearing the words almost non-stop. In my dreams, floating in that gulf between waking and sleeping, when I close my eyes and drift, it's like the Big Guy in the Sky is sending down dictation.

Weird, but wonderful.

TTS is a collection of essays about writing non-fiction. Much of it is slanted to narrative newspaper writing, but the information and wisdom is valid and valuable, no matter what you write. I practically forced Barb to buy it, and she called yesterday praising it to the skies, in tears while she read a piece aloud to me.

So, get yourself to a bookstore or library or bookselling web site near you and get yourself a copy. Then dive in and swim around in it for a few hours. I think you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Picked up a novel off my dad's bookshelf yesterday--Wild Orchids by Jude Deveraux. Reading this book may prove, once and for all, that I truly will read anything with words on it. Started late last night and finished this morning. It was the polar opposite of the writing I encountered in Taos. No music weaves between the lines, no "stab of actuality" in the descriptions, and the rhythm of the language is clunky at best. There are at least three plots roiling around between the covers and one of them is pretty ridiculous.

Still, I couldn't put it down. Learned something, maybe even several things by reading it.

One of the plot lines brings us to an about face by one of the protagonists, a writer, about his childhood and the people in it. He had a tough time growing up and used it as fodder for his books. He wrote about people who were ignorant, unkind, and hurtful to him. Decades later, he gets to know one of these people as an adult, and learns how life looked from the other side of the page. He then plots out a book retelling many of the same stories from that point of view. Wouldn't that be an interesting exercise?

Everyone is the hero of his/her own story, and so it should be. But other points of view deserve to be explored, too. This character never met his father, who had been in jail since before the character was born. When he learns some of his father's story, it turns out not to be as cut and dried as that sounds. This character left home, got rich writing books (!!) and used some of his money to help younger generations of his family go to college. For family members who stayed in the community, it's a mixed blessing. Turns there's more to the situation than he imagined.

Isn't that always the way? Just when we think we can safely write someone off as all wrong or all bad, they turn out to be as multi-faceted and complex as we ourselves are. Damn. I hate it when that happens.

Can't say I recommend this book, but sure can say I recommend reading a book you wouldn't ordinarily pick up. Once in awhile, anyway.

Friday, August 10, 2007

This Just In

Trying to download images from an FTP site so I can write captions for photos for my upcoming book. Having trouble--error messages and the like. Finally think I've got it and open an unknown file on my desktop that might be what I'm looking for.

What pops up? Well, let's just say it wasn't images of luxury living.

Okay. . .for some people it might be. But those people would not be me.

I'm certain I'm over-reacting, but just can't believe I raised my son to watch that kind of stuff. Yeah, I know. He's 25. No girlfriend right now. Not many friends here. But Lord, God. I hate this.

Um. . .God? Are the hormonal urges of a young man one of those things I cannot change? Or should I have taught him better than that? Any little bit of wisdom or understanding or serenity would be greatly appreciated about now. RIGHT NOW, as a matter of fact.

Lord, Grant me the serenity. . .

Edited 03.05.08 to add: If you've come to this post looking for words about serenity, welcome. I hope you'll also go to this post, which I wrote just for you.

How's it going with Evan (my 25-year-old son), you ask?

"Mom, what time does Aunt Debbie get up?"

"She's usually at Grandma's house by 8:30 or 9:00"

"What? 9:00? I can't wait until 9:00. I have to get on the road. Why doesn't she get up until 9:00? That's terrible!" [at full volume]

"Mom, can you cash my paycheck for me?"

"How big a check, Evan?"

"I need $800."

"I don't have $800 on me, Evan. Why don't you go to the bank?"

"What? You can't cash the check? What do you mean? Why would I go to the bank? They'll just hose me over again. I don't have $800 in my account, they aren't going to cash a check for me." [at full volume]

"Evan, you don't need to have $800 in your account, the person who wrote the check needs to have the $800."

"You just don't know anything, Mom. My bank isn't going to cash that check for me. [at full volume while slamming and banging around]

Mom, will I be able to drive that car home today?"

"I don't know. Maybe. But you have to have patience when you're negotiating, Evan."

"What? You say I can buy a new car and now you're telling me I won't get it. I can't have the car, can I? Why did you ever tell me I was going to be able to buy a new car? I'm never going to get it, am I?

That's my life. Someone waves something good in front of me, and as soon as I try to reach out for it, they snatch it away."
[at varying degrees of volume, ranging from yelling to muttering.]

"Evan, I'm not saying you won't get the car. I'm telling you that the key to negotiation is being willing to walk away."

"Right. I'm just going to walk away. That's the only Jeep with a sunroof in this hick town. In Minneapolis there are hundreds. . .thousands of Jeeps with sunroofs. But here in Hicksville, there's one. And now you're telling me I can't get the only car I want in this whole town."

All this before the coffee's done this morning. No wonder my poor little doggie's taken to living in my closet, under a pile of dirty clothes. I'd join her, but there's no room. I haven't done laundry in two weeks. Evan's got both machines running almost constantly.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Stories Matter

I picked up a copy of Telling True Stories this afternoon. It's a nonfiction writers' guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard. So far, it's fabulous. Inspiring. Illuminating.

I skipped around in it a little before buying the book and just now finished the first essay. Talking about why stories matter, Jacqui Banaszynski concludes with these words:

Stories are our prayers. Write and edit them with due reverence, even when the stories themselves are irreverent.

Stories are parables. Write and edit and tell yours with meaning, so each tale stands in for a larger message, each story a guidepost on our collective journey.

Stories are history. Write and edit and tell yours with accuracy and understanding and context and with unwavering devotion to the truth.

Stories are music. Write and edit and tell yours with pace and rhythm and flow. Throw in the dips and twirls that make them exciting, but stay true to the core beat. Readers hear stories with their inner ear.

Stories are our soul. Write and edit and tell yours with your whole selves. Tell them as if they are all that matters. It matters that you do it as if that's all there is.

If we're honest with ourselves, every one of us occasionally wonders why we do this, why we keep moving our fingers across the keys, turning our selves inside out to tell stories about things that turned our lives upside down.

Banaszynski's answer is simple and true: our stories matter. They are history, they are music, they are the soul of the world.

Write on, my friends.


As many of you know by now, when I get stressed, I move through my days wrapped in a cloak of invisibility. Don't talk much, don't do a good job of answering either phone or e-mail messages. Just get through.

Until a month or so ago, it did not occur to me that my invisibility can impact others. I truly didn't realize anyone would miss me and never, ever imagined they might be hurt or wonder what went wrong.

So much for sensitivity, right?

Over the course of the last month, several situations have unfolded where I've been forced to recognize that my habit of disappearing hurts others from time to time, and I'm in the process of working through that. Making amends, trying to become more conscious.

Last Thursday I went to my favorite yoga studio for the first time in many, many months. The teacher greeted me like the prodigal daughter and the other students were incredibly warm and welcoming. Went to another class on Monday. Different teacher, different students. Same response. I couldn't have been more surprised.

The thing is, in almost every way I recognize that everything's connected, that the whole is dependent upon the parts. So it's a mystery that I have been too wrapped up in my own stuff to realize my absence would impact others, would take something away from the whole, whether it's a class, a friendship, or a circle of writers.

To the many loving friends who have held space for me during these times, thank you. And my deepest apologies to those I've hurt.

There still may be times when I need my cloak, but from now on, I'll let you know when I'm donning it. I'll make sure you know how important you are to me and that my distance is my own and has nothing to do with you. To be more accurate, I will make every effort to do these things. If you notice me messing up on this, please get my attention (a 2 x 4 works nicely) and remind me of the world outside myself.

Thank you all.

Monday, August 06, 2007


The whole match thing must be on my mind even more than I realize.

Dreamed I got married. It was a small but beautiful ceremony held in a grand ballroom. All my favorite people were there and I was happy, happy. The man I married was younger than I and extremely handsome--dark, curly hair, great smile, kind eyes. We circulated separately through the crowd, talking and laughing with people, then sat together to have dinner.

Later I walked by a table of gifts and saw that someone had made a quilt for us. I cried and cried as I looked at it and recognized all the love that had gone into it.

I danced and celebrated with friends. In a conversation it became clear that I had not yet known my new husband (in the biblical sense), and then someone mentioned that he'd left the party and gone upstairs. Everyone encouraged me to join him in the honeymoon suite.

Thank God I woke up before I had to show that gorgeous guy my cellulite.