Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Sweet the Sound

Yesterday was a day of amazing grace. I took some time in the afternoon to finish my Christmas shopping and returned to find my inbox filled with good news and an opportunity that takes my breath.

My main freelance client is a large and rapidly growing company. Their PR firm contacted me to ask if I'd consider taking part in a "media opportunity." Details to follow this morning, but here's the thing: this is a chance to come to the attention of people in high places. I've never seen a company pay more attention or go to greater lengths to reward loyalty and hard work. Who knows what might happen if I can pull this off.

I am excited. And scared. And curious. And grateful for this piece of Grace.

Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Turning Toward the Light

Midnight on the winter solstice always finds me on my little deck, blowing ashes into the darkness. I write my fears on scraps of paper, burn them, and scatter them to the winds. This ritual doesn't magically erase my fears, but it does remind me that they're no more substantial than ashes in the wind.

My list of resolutions is growing by the day. Here's a sample:

I resolve to:

Be braver.
Say every loving thing I think.
Ask for help when I need it.
Stop drinking Coke.
Eat more local food.
Volunteer at least three times a month.
Grow a salsa garden and can salsa this summer.
Work harder than I think I can on my bike and at the gym.

More to come.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Mom and Dad aren't putting up a Christmas tree this year. I offered to put it up, take it down, and clean up any mess. They don't want it.

Neither Mom nor Dad ever had a tree growing up. Their folks were too poor or too practical or maybe just not sentimental enough. For my sister's first Christmas, Mom was living with her parents while Dad was in the Marines. She bought a box of ornaments and a tree, her own first Christmas tree as well as her daughter's.

Our childhood Christmases were magical. Mom baked and fixed and fussed. We cut down a tree together each year and put it up while we sang carols. We painted sugar cookies and made fudge. Dad popped popcorn and roasted almonds in the fireplace.  Even as a little kid, I understood how blessed we were even though we didn't have much money.

I swear to you: I am not making this up. One year we spray-painted the carcass of the Thanksgiving turkey and turned it into a golden sleigh for a Santa we made out of Styrofoam balls. We made a lake out of aluminum foil and little people out of marshmallows. We gave them hats made of crimson peau de soie (French for "silk of skin") left over from the Christmas dress Mom made for Debbie. We arranged lights around the edges of our snowy little town and left it up until the marshmallow people shriveled into senior citizens.

Daddy wrapped all his presents for Mom in matching paper. He arranged them under the tree and twined lights around them in their own special display. The packages never contained anything more exotic than a small blue bottle of Evening in Paris cologne or a dish from the dime store, but the care Dad took with Mom's gifts made them glow.

Santa did not just leave gifts: He created tableaus. The year Santa brought my brother a Boy Scout mess kit, he hung the pot on a tripod over logs laid out for a campfire. The year Santa brought a horse (yes, a horse), he left a saddle and bridle on hay bales in the living room floor. Handsome, the horse, had to wait outside. 

One year Santa brought ice skates for everyone. Mom packed a picnic and a cast iron skillet into a basket. We all skated on the creek until we were too cold to move and then huddled around the grill while Mom fried Spam for Spam-and-cheese sandwiches. She wore a white synthetic fur hat dotted with iridescent paillettes that sparkled in the sunshine. Laughing and twirling, she was the most beautiful sight in the world.  

I've been a lot of places since that day, from the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center to Kimo's in Lahaina and hundreds of places in between. Nothing I've eaten anywhere has tasted better than a grilled Spam sandwich and steaming hot Campbell's tomato soup from a chipped brown coffee mug at a roadside park in the Ozark Mountains.

I understand why Mom and Dad didn't want a tree this year, but it breaks my heart. It's just another inevitable step on a path I don't want to travel. We've been to the mountains. Guess now it's time for the valleys.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Time Flies

Boy, the week has gotten away from me. Katie and I had a good day on Monday and then I flew home on Tuesday. Craig drove me to the airport, once again carrying my bags and handling things like the gentleman his folks raised him to be. Very nice.

Paula came home yesterday, looking better than ever. Her bodywork is pristine, her bumpers sound, and her innerds back inside where they belong. It's good to driver her again, but she has a paint smell that gives me a headache. Hope that doesn't last too long.

Today I'm finally going to put up my Christmas tree. I usually get that done Thanksgiving weekend, but I was sick and just couldn't gather up the energy.  It will be good to sit with the lights on tonight.

Our family had dinner with Liz's folks last night. They're such nice people and so welcoming. It was a lovely evening. Their house is decorated so beautifully, it made me feel like such a slacker. Liz's mom, Kathy, loaned me a book called "Growing Wings." Reading part of it last night reminded me that I've lost the thread of wonder lately. I've been working so many hours and running so hard in other ways, that I've lost track of the magic happening all around me. 

The magic happens with or without my attention, but I'm happier when I take time to see it. I'm going to make a Barbara-style list of resolutions this year (long and very, very hopeful). Tuning into small miracles will be near the top of that list.

And the funny. I've got to find the funny again. And risk. I need to take more emotional and mental risks. 

Gee...2010's already shaping up to be an interesting year. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Fathers

Dinner with Katie's birth father was fascinating. From the minute we hugged hello, it felt like catching up with an old friend. Well...not an old friend. D got carded when he ordered a beer. I felt like Methusala.

D brought pictures of the day Katie was born, and every piece of paper associated with her birth. He saves things from their reconnection, too. For example, he has the receipt for the Diet Coke and Hot and Spicy Cheez-Its he brought to their first meeting. (N told him she loves them.)

Before we left for the restaurant, Katie asked me not to cry. She said tears would make D uncomfortable, that he's not like N (who cries rivers along with me every time we meet). I didn't expect it to be a problem--for some reason, I don't feel quite as emotional about D as about N.

To our great amazement, D was the one whose eyes filled with tears as we looked through the photos and talked about Katie's birth. It's clear that reconnecting with her means a lot to him. 

By the time we left, D felt like a member of our extended family, someone I'll look forward to seeing at family gatherings and whose life I will be connected to forever, if somewhat distantly. 

Sunday was the graduation ceremony and dinner. Bill and Kathy made it through traffic faster than we did, and they saved seats for the rest of us. Stephanie (Katie's oldest friend, who is part of our family) and Craig sat between them and me, but we leaned across to speak a few times.

The ceremony itself was two very long hours interrupted by the thrilling 15 seconds when Katie walked across the stage to receive a faux diploma.

Afterward, we gathered at a restaurant. Bill and Kathy and Craig's mom (his dad wasn't feeling well and couldn't be there) were at the table when we arrived. The order in which we approached the table made it logical for me to sit next to Kathy. Katie and Stephie caught my eyes in a little panic, but I shook my head, smiled, and took my seat. Anything else would have been awkward, and I'm all about the peace these days.

As I took off my coat and settled my belongings, I thought, "How would you act if you didn't know her history?"  I literally felt years of antipathy take a seat in the far back corner of my consciousness, leaving room for other, more generous thoughts. It's not like I no longer remember how unkind and unfair she's been to my children for 16 years, but I've stopped carrying those memories like a weapon. I simply don't need to be right about her anymore. 

Her actions have created the relationship she has with the kids. That really is their business, not mine. My business is helping make these situations more comfortable for everyone. I smiled at her and said, "Katie tells me you've been having trouble with your back. How are you doing now?" We were off and running in a two-hour conversation that included genuine laughter and shared memories.

When we parted, Bill and I shook hands. I thanked him for splitting the tab with me, and we agreed to talk after the holidays. Kathy hugged me and wished me Merry Christmas.

Let me say that again: Kathy hugged me and wished me Merry Christmas. It's true that I'm making a huge effort here, but it's equally true that they are rising to the occasion. We've come a long way from the time when Kathy stormed out of Parent's Night because I sat down at the table beside Evan, a long way from the time

See? I'm still struggling. I almost wrote out a list of some of her more egregious transgressions over the years.  Like any other practice, peace is an on-going mission.

I'm working on it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pure Joy

Katie and Craig met me at the airport yesterday. When I stepped out the doors, Craig leaped from the car to take my bag and open the car door. It was a moment I'll never forget--my daughter's fiance treating me with care and love. I'm so happy she chose a man who treats women like this.

We grabbed a bite of lunch and then Craig left for work. Katie and I sat on their sofa and worked on our computers for a couple of hours, then she left to run errands while I conducted an interview for a magazine article I'm writing. When that business was finished, we hit the mall.

First, we shared a salad and a pasta dish at California Pizza Kitchen. We both enjoyed each dish and commented how nice it is that our tastes match so well. During dinner, we talked and laughed with two of Katie's friends who work at the restaurant. I advised one friend on her resume and how to approach finding a job. At one point, Sarah said, "Your mom is so supportive, Katie. No wonder you call her five times a day!"

I glowed.

I've been trying to interest Katie in Glee, my new guilty TV pleasure. She hasn't watched yet, but I mentioned it again at dinner. Her friend Abby was seating a party next to us and overheard. "Oh, Katie--you have to watch Glee. It's fabulous. I don't even have a TV and I can't stand to miss it."

Confirmation of my taste from someone she considers cool. Very nice.

After dinner, we found not one but two new coats she likes--one for everyday and one for interviews or a new job. We used coupons and plotted with the customer service person to get the biggest discounts possible on our purchases. We laughed. And laughed. 

When we hit the wall and started home, Katie wiggled in her seat and sighed. "A perfect evening, Mom. Just perfect."

Just typing that now, my eyes fill with tears again. I am so grateful for this time with her, so proud to see the young woman she's become. 

We're having dinner with her birth father tonight, the first time I've met him. It's sure to be interesting and I'm looking forward to it. The actual graduation ceremony will be Sunday, and I don't go home until Tuesday. 

Days more of this pure joy. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

12-hour Slice of Life

12:01 pm:  Take phone call from other driver's insurance company, which FINALLY accepts liability for accident. Agent tells me I need to fax a copy of Paula's title so they can process claim.

12:15 pm: Call my insurance agent and put claim on hold, hoping this guy's insurance really is going to come through.

12:35:  Discover Paula's title is not in its place in the safe.

12:45: Take call from niece about tonight's celebration of her mother's (my sister's) birthday. Agree to make soup to serve everyone before we go to play. Realize we have one extra ticket. Offer ticket to my friend D, who's been longing for an adventure.

1:20 pm:  Give up on finding title. Go to DMV to request duplicate.

1:50 pm:  Fax notorized copy of duplicate title request to insurance company.

2:00 pm: Dash through grocery store for soup supplies.

2:30 pm:  Pick up Mom and Dad's dog, Tuffie, and take her to vet. (It's  too cold outside for Mom & Dad to be out.) Put chicken in their oven to bake.

3:45 pm:  Return Tuffie to Mom and Dad. Pick up baked chicken.

4:00 pm: Arrive home. Whip up double batch of chicken chili and a batch of cornbread muffins. Shower and dress while food cooks. Screech off to Deb's house, leaving cell phone at home.

5:15 pm: Arrive at Deb's house. Wish her happy birthday. Snarf down half a bowl of chili and dash off to pick up D. Notice I don't have enough gas in car to make trip downtown and back.

5:35 pm: Realize I forgot to serve cornbread muffins. They're still in their bag on counter. (sigh)

5:45 pm: Stop at home to retrieve cell phone. Stick phone in pocket and rush off to get gasoline.

6:15 pm:  Arrive at D's house. She greets me at door with "Oh, no. You didn't get my message." She has been attacked by stomach trouble and can't go after all.  Disappointment all around.

6:55 pm:  Arrive at theater. Slide into seat 5.8 seconds before curtain goes up. Struggle to remain awake during a musical version of The Christmas Story movie. Very cute.

9:45 pm:  Arrive home. Wash face and begin preparing for work awaiting me.  Think about how cold it is. Flash on a memory of hooking up hose a week or so ago to wash out trash can. Fail to find memory of unhooking hose.

9:46 pm: Trudge outside with flashlight. Discover hose frozen to outside faucet, icicles hanging all around. 

9:47 pm: Trudge inside for hair dryer, extension cord, and slip-lock pliers. 

9:50 pm: Blow dry the heck out of hose bib. Pray. Hard.

10:10 pm: Manage to twist hose off faucet, using slip-lock pliers. Faucet handle will not budge. Continue heating faucet with hair dryer.

10:25 pm:  Give up on heating faucet. Call brother in panic, hoping he knows magic answer. Hear brother confirm there is no magic answer. 

10:30 pm: Trace water lines through unfinished part of basement, looking for supply line to faucet. Find supply line, which runs into area with finished ceiling (very bad situation).

10:45 pm: Go back to heating faucet with hair dryer. 

10:55 pm: Give up on heating faucet with hair dryer.

11:00 pm: Begin search for drywall saw to cut into finished ceiling to warm pipe from inside. 

11:05 pm: Hear sudden sound of water running through plumbing above my head. Rush outside to discover faucet running full blast (the ice dam inside the pipe must have thawed somewhat through use of hair dryer. Force of water eventually broke through). 

11:08 pm: Turn off faucet. Disconnect hair dryer. Wind up extension cords. Return emergency flashlight to designated emergency location.

11:15 pm:  Remove pearls, tights, skirt, and cardigan. (Yes, indeed. I'd been outside trying to thaw the faucet wearing a skirt and pearls.)  Slip into comfy pjs. Settle into bed with laptop and 36 work emails to answer before sleep.

12:01 am: Give up at 16th email. Put laptop on floor beside bed and crash.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Back Into the Fire

Katie will graduate from the University of MN on Sunday. I'm flying up Friday. (Paula's still not fixed and the weather is threatening. Flying seems like the smartest route this time.)

Katie and I talked a little about what to do after the ceremony and the same old problem raised its ugly head: she's got too many separate families to accommodate. Since we have so little time together, she wanted to hang with me but it wouldn't be fair to leave her dad out. I fretted for a couple hours, then picked up the phone and suggested Bill and his wife and I take Katie and Craig and Craig's folks out to dinner.

He agreed.

After 16 years of enmity, we're working it out. It was the engagement party that did it.  I took the first step to creating peace for the celebrations surrounding Katie's wedding. Not easy, but doable.  

When her wedding day comes, Katie will walk down the aisle with Bill on one side and me on the other. My goal is for that to be entirely joyous for her. The only way that can happen is for me to be comfortable, and I'm working on it. 

This, then, is genuine forgiveness. It's not forgetting. It's not accepting unacceptable behavior. It's simply no longer needing the story to be different.  And it's loving my daughter more than I dislike them.  

That, I can do. Every day, and twice on Sunday. Twice this Sunday, as a matter of fact--once at the ceremony and again at dinner. 

Wish me luck.

Coming 'Round Again

Frank Bruni's Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater carried me out of my snot-filled head this weekend. It made me laugh and made me think. Bruni, the restaurant critic for the NY Times from 2004 to the time the book came out in August 2009, describes himself as a baby bulimic.

Frank--and I think I know him well enough now to use his first name--tells a story I know well. One in which every date, every job, every encounter with new or old friends is judged on the scale of whether you're thin enough to be seen. One in which hurts and boredom and loneliness are medicated with food. One in which "being good" starts tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow.

Bruni fought his way to thinness not long before he was offered the job as the Times' restaurant critic, and he and friends worried about how he would handle being a professional diner. He has managed, he says, by realizing that he's going to eat fabulous food every day. Recognizing that more is coming means he never needs to over-indulge in what's in front of him.

Friends, it may sound odd, but I think that may be the key to getting a handle on my weight. My over-eating is, among other things, born of scarcity thinking. Out to dinner with friends? I should treat myself now--who nows when I'll get this chance again. Mom makes a great dinner? Of course I can have seconds--I won't cook for myself for days. Tired and bored but still have hours more to work? Pizza would get me through this. Just this once. I won't ever do it again, but tonight, I really need it. 

A friend at my old publishing house used to say, "Food begets food." And so it does, when you're always eating too much for the "last time."

Over the last few days, I've eaten almost everything that truly appealed to me at the moment. Surprisingly, it hasn't been that much. Giving myself ongoing permission frees me to eat only a little. There will, after all, be more soon. 

Making room for more has helped me lose 3 pounds since last Friday. It has also let me get off the teeter/totter of never again/more, now, lots.

Thanks, Frank. By the way--I liked your book.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sleepless in Independence

The goose-haters drove off all but one goose on the pond, a beige/brownish goose with a bright orange beak and feet. It has the loudest, most plaintive call I've ever heard. This thing squawks at all hours of the day and night, over and over and over. I don't think I've slept through the night since it arrived last spring. I'd be cheering the goose-haters on if they could get rid of this thing. 

Maybe it knows it's Christmas again. Maybe it is crying over another year spent without a mate. Maybe the Christmas lights and the parties and the forced gaiety make it sad, too. 

Maybe I should squawk with it. 

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air

Ahhhh. My nose has cleared enough I can get at least half a breath of air. The additional oxygen gives me strength to type, so here I am again. 

Last week, a friend called, frantic. She's been having a major and on-going struggle with her SIL, and that SIL had just called to say she was on her way over. D was sure the SIL was coming over for the showdown at the I'm OK/You're OK corral that D had been rehearsing in her head for weeks. For the last month or more, D has spent most of the time practicing what she'd say when she stepped into that corral. She spends hours reminding herself of the best approach, building counter-arguments to the responses she imagines from her SIL.

Breathless on the phone, D asked me to pray that she'd be open to Spirit and to what her SIL had to say, that she'd be gentle but would remember all she needed to say. Then she hurried off to get ready, completely sure her SIL had realized D was pulling away from their relationship and would demand to know why. 

45 minutes later, D called back to say the SIL didn't want to fight. She came to drop off a gift in memorial of D's cat, who died recently. As D marveled, I wondered why she spent so much time and energy fighting with someone who didn't even know they were fighting. 

Of course, it wasn't long until the Universe mirrored that fun little judgement to me.

Our family Christmas has reached critical mass this year--too many people/work schedules/opinions to make everything work out smoothly. The problems involve the distance between my brother's house and the rest of us, kids who will only be home a few days, the need to accommodate the schedules of various boy and girl friends.

Tuesday night we had a discussion about all this. It became painfully clear that no one else is going to budge, that they all expect me to go along and get along.  Later, I drove away from Mom's, spluttering to myself.

Just once, I thought. Just once I want to be the one throwing the fit to get my way. This time, I'm going to speak up. They won't like it. Jeff will say....  And then I will say....

I hurtled through the darkness, fully engaged in a fight no one else knew we were having. As I rounded a corner, two deer leaped into my headlights. I grabbed for Cassie and stomped on the brakes. We skidded to a halt less than a foot in front of a doe--the proverbial "deer in the headlights" come to life.

If deer communicate, that one's still dining out on the story of the maniac woman who almost ran her down and then laughed so hard she blew snot all over the windshield.

In the split second I thought we were going to collide, I saw my silly self in that deer's terrified eyes. And I recognized I was doing the exact same thing that D had been doing. 

The kids and I may go to Jeff's. We may not. But whatever we do or don't do, I'm not going to waste any more of my life fighting about it. Especially when I'm fighting with my self.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Still alive. Still well. Still crazy busy. I miss writing. I miss reading about what you're up to. I'll be back soon with silly stories to tell.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Alive and well with stories to tell, but no time to tell them.

Not looking good on the other driver's insurance but no final word yet. The good news is that the most it could cost me is $500, which is not exactly good but not terrible, either. I continue to worry about the other driver. (sigh)

More soon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Let's start with the important stuff: I'm okay and so is the other guy. 

Paula came a cropper yesterday. (Isn't that a great phrase? I remember it from Black Fury, one of my favorite childhood books.) 

I was making a left-hand turn in a construction zone and suddenly realized I'd gotten too close to a traffic cone. I slowed down and the guy behind me didn't. The front end of his van ended up halfway through Paula's back end. She had to be towed away. I'm not at all sure I'll get her back--she may go to the Great Sunrise in the Sky (where all convertibles go if they've been good). 

That doesn't matter nearly as much as where the other driver will go, and I'm afraid that's not going to be a pretty story.

His first words to me were, "Please don't call the police. Please, I beg you. Don't call the police." He spoke rapid Spanish into his phone, waited, then said, "I will pay for your car. I will pay everything for your car. I will pay you more than it costs. Please don't call the police."

Actually, I couldn't call anyone because I'd left my phone at home. A woman passing by stopped and let me use her phone to call my sister and the friend I was supposed to be having lunch with. Deb and Kathy and Liz rode in like the cavalry. Honestly, I was a bit shell shocked and my head hurt--I got whipped around a little bit from the impact. It was good to have a posse.

A woman arrived to translate for the other driver.  Liz called the police and my insurance company and a tow truck. I explained to the woman that I had to call the police--it's the law.  My insurance might not cover the damage if I didn't. 

Turns out the car does not belong to the driver. It's not clear whether he has insurance. He produced several different copies of several different policies, none of which appeared to apply to the car he was driving. I'll be very surprised if I don't end up needing my uninsured motorist coverage.

Even so, I'm more worried about this man than about Paula or how the insurance works out. This could be an expensive problem for me, but it could be life-changing for him. I hope I'm wrong, but there's some reason he was so scared of calling the police, and it can't be good.

In my world, car insurance is a given, keeping my license and tags current is nothing more than a minor inconvenience, and the police exist to help us.  

Not everyone is that lucky.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Mom and Dad and Deb and I went to see The Blind Side last night. I'm glad my folks enjoyed it so much--it could well be the last time they go to a movie theater.

Deb dropped us off at the door. We waded through the crowd waiting to see the new Twilight--I literally had to break a path through the Twilight line to get my folks into the right theatre. By the time we got into the room, Dad was a little dazed. And we still had the stairs.

We'd planned to get there plenty early so it wouldn't matter so much, but we still held up traffic as Dad rested after every three or four stairs. Dad likes to sit on the aisle in case he needs to go out and cough (or pee--he's got prostate troubles along with everything else). That means everyone who came after us has to squeeze past his long legs.

Dad ended up outraged that the theatre has no aisle on the opposite side, that the seats no longer flip up so you can step in and let people pass, that they play the commercials so loud it rattles your molars. By the time the previews started, he was ready to go home. So was I.

(Dad's always been such a patient person. It's painful to see him slowly become crotchety and demanding, an old man who doesn't quite follow what's going on much of the time.)

But the movie redeemed the situation. Like Leigh Anne and Sean Touhy, my sister and her husband became legal guardians for a black young man in high school. (His mother died and he had no other family. Brendan was his closest friend, and one thing led to another.) The situations were similar--the struggles in school, disapproving neighbors and friends, very different frames of reference. (No pot of NFL gold and the end of the rainbow for Deb's family, though.)

Anyway, we were predisposed to like the movie, and we did. When it was over, Dad popped up, relieved to get to go to the restroom. Mom and Deb and I remained seated, watching the photos of the actual Tuohy family at the end. Dad was exasperated that we didn't immediately surge out of the theater with him. I didn't understand why he didn't go by himself, until I realized he wasn't sure he could find the restroom alone. 

You don't see it coming. Your parents aging, I mean. One day Dad was a slightly grayer, more stooped version of himself, and the next, I'm leading him to the restroom. No wonder he's testy.

Friday, November 20, 2009


The Righteous Brothers got it wrong: time does not go slowly. 

Out in the yard yesterday, I ran into the little girl who lives next door with her grandparents. You truly never saw a more beautiful child. While she was petting Cassie and telling me about riding the school bus, I realized that when I first moved here, I watched her Dad carry her around in an infant seat. Now she goes to school. Where did the time go?

I drove my friend D to the eye clinic for cataract surgery yesterday. Later in the day, she had to have her cat companion euthanized, and I stayed with her during that. I clearly remember when this now-20-year-old cat was a tiny kitten, terrorizing D's household. This made me stop and realize that D and I have been friends for 28 or 29 years. How is that possible?

Mom turned 76 yesterday. If I were estimating, I'd probably say her 50th birthday, for which we had a great adventure, happened five or six years ago.  Now I'm beyond my 50th birthday.

I wore the motorcycle boots with a sweater dress yesterday. Today, I'm thinking red-and-black cowboy boots and a black-and-white houndstooth bucket hat. People may think I'm a crazy old lady, but not for long. It all passes in a flash. Might as well make my flash colorful.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

News of the Weird

Want to hear something ridiculous?

If you Google the word "Jerri," the first result is my little blog. 691,000 results, and this is the first?


I swear, I learn the strangest things when I check out my site meter. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More Gifts

29 Gifts delivered a delightful gift yesterday. 

Yesterday, Panera Bread collected food for the Salvation Army Food Bank, which is having a very hard time right now. My gift for the day was a bag of food for their collection. As I was delivering it, Katie called. 

"Mom, I just have to tell you about my gift for the day," she trilled. ("Gift for the day"? She's doing gifts?)

In late summer, Katie had a registration crisis. A class she needed in order to graduate was full. She had done everything she could to get into the class, and done it all on time, but still had a problem. As is her way, she planned ahead and weeks before the deadline, started checking in periodically, trying to work it out. A woman in the Administration building took up her cause and, after many, many emails and phone calls, worked out a way for Katie to get into the class. At the time, Katie thanked her on the phone and by email.

Yesterday, Katie found the woman's office and thanked her in person. It's registration time again, so there was a long line. As Katie waited, she worried that the whole thing was dumb and that the woman wouldn't remember her or care, but she stuck it out.

When it was finally her turn, Katie stepped up and explained. "I'm Kathryn B. You helped me get into XXX this semester. Before I graduate in December,  I wanted to meet you and thank you and tell you what a difference you made for me."

The woman burst into tears. She talked about how hard it is to work with students and how rarely they appreciate her efforts. She told Katie how much it meant to have someone say thank you. She said, "This says something about your character. Kathryn B., I predict you have great things in your future. Can I hug you?"

As Katie told me all this, she positively glowed. "Mom, it really made her feel good. Seeing that was So. Much Fun!"

Tears rolled down my face. You want to talk about fun? Hearing my daughter tell that story was fun-on-a-stick, a true gift from the Universe.

Your local food bank might be having a hard time, too. Please check it out and share if you can.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Than Just the Motions

I wore motorcycle boots to Barb's party on Sunday. With black tights, a knee-length black pencil skirt, a long, gray swing-jacket, and the peacock blue scarf. My hairstylist niece punked out my hair for me and I wore big silver hoop earrings. I may have looked a bit eccentric, but I felt like my true self. I am still 55 and still more than a few pounds overweight, but I have started dressing like I feel. 

If not now, when? 

When we get to the last few reps of a difficult exercise, the sprite/woman who teaches my Saturday Lift class yells, "Say you can."

That little phrase has turned me loose. Whether it's one more rep, wearing boots with a short skirt to honor a woman who LOVED boots, or finishing a magazine story about an impossibly arrogant CEO, when I hear myself think, "I can't..." I consciously stop and listen for Linda's voice: "Say you can." 

A few weeks ago Deb commented, "We have earned the right at our age to stop using torture to change ourselves."  I listened to her wisdom and stopped going to the aerobics classes that feel like torture. Instead, I go to classes that challenge me without  leaving me flat on my face on the floor.

I've learned that I can move my legs up and down, or I can push off  the pool floor with intention and power. I can walk around a lake as usual, or I can throw my legs a little beyond my normal range of motion and feel each stride in a new way. I can move the barbell up and down, or I can squeeze my shoulder blades at the top of each dead lift and discover muscles I'd forgotten.

It's got to be about more than going through the motions. Weight lifting, dressing, eating, living, loving.... In everything, the juice—the improvement—the joy—lies in the difference between simply doing it and embracing it.

Some people (my mother, my sister, and maybe even my daughter) would say I'm too old to wear tights and boots. They could be right, but I'll never be younger than I am right now. I have been granted the privilege of growing older, and I'm going to make the most of it.

Because I can.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Such Sweet Sorrow

The party in celebration of Barbara's life was held last night. The restaurant did a beautiful job--the room was just the right size for the crowd, the food was good, the drinks plentiful.

After an hour or so of general mingling, Barb's husband Duane welcomed everyone and invited people to come to the microphone and talk about what she meant to them. For nearly three hours, one person after another talked about the difference Barb made in her life, how Barb helped him get his book published, how Barb kept her from going crazy over a man. 

Barb's brother John read a poem he wrote for her. Her sister Janet told stories that made everyone roar with laughter. I'd heard Barb tell all the stories Janet recounted, and hearing them in a different voice brought me the closest to tears that I was all night.

Generally, though, it was not a night for crying. It was a night for laughing, for remembering our outrageous, glorious, talented, opinionated, beautiful and beloved friend, sister, teacher, wife. It was a night to be inspired by her courage and her grace. 

We gathered to say fare well, but not good bye. None of us will ever forget Barbara Robinette Moss.

Photo: Barb beside a burro in Sante Fe, NM...showing off MY brand-new boots. 

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Mom and Dad celebrated their 58th anniversary on Friday. 

Several months ago, Dad went with Mom to the Bernina store, the place where she bought her sewing machines and now buys many accessories. While there, she saw a sewing table and fell in love. It was so expensive, she didn't even consider buying it.

The next day, Dad sneaked back to the store and bought the table. Since that time, he's been surreptitiously  cleaning out his shop area to make room for his desk, which is now in our sewing/craft area. Moving it will make space for Mom's new table.  My nephew, Brendan, and I have carted off a lot of stuff for him. 

As part of this effort, Dad finally repaired some of Evan's old riding toys he's had in his shop for four or five years, and we hauled those to my house. He can only go up and down the stairs once a day and can only work a few minutes at a time, so it's been a major project for him, a true labor of love.

On Friday, Brendan and I were slated to pick up the table and deliver it to the house while Mom and Dad were out to dinner. This involved half a dozen phone calls back and forth, mostly to reassure Dad that we remembered, would be careful, knew what time they would be gone, and would leave the table somewhere she could not fail to find it.

When they got home from dinner, it took Mom several minutes to notice the table. Dad hovered near it and talked to her until she looked straight at him, and thus, at it. I don't know how she could not have known something was up. He was all but quivering with excitement all day. 

Fifty-eight years. For 58 years, they have loved and irritated, delighted and disappointed, surprised and been surprised by one another. They drive each other crazy and they can't live without one another.

Saturday morning, Dad got ready to leave for the deer woods, an annual weekend with his brother and some long-time friends. He puttered and pottered, making no real progress toward departure. Finally, Mom walked up and put her hands on each side of Dad's face. 

"What's wrong, Honey?" she asked and leaned back to look into his eyes.

"I don't want to go. I don't want to be so far away from you," he answered as he bent down to embrace her. She wrapped both arms around his waist.

"Don't worry," she said. "I'll be right here when you get back. I haven't left you yet. It's probably too late now."

After one last hug, Mom turned away, refusing to watch him leave. Dad shuffled out the door, gasping for air.  Each wiped away tears they thought the other did not see.

For just a moment, the magic and the tragedy of such deep love grappled in the sunny room, Jacob and the angel wrestling among the dust motes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gift Update

So...the 29 Gifts. It's fun and interesting and very revealing, but not in a way I could have predicted.

In the first week, every day I gave away several things. Not as part of the plan, simply because giving opportunities arose. Each time I realized how many things I'd given away in one day, I thought, "Gee. I wish XXX happened on a different day. It could have been my gift for a day."

After a week of this, I realized how frequently I give things away. I say this not to pat myself on the back but out of a new realization that I've never stopped trying to be good enough, never outgrown trying to earn love with gifts.

By the end of the first week, I changed my tactics with 29 Gifts. Now, every day I give a gift to someone else. I also give one to myself.

Giving to myself is harder. 

For one thing, the gifts aren't tangible. Instead, I give myself the gift of working out even when time is pressed by the needs of others. I give myself the gift of choosing iced tea when Coca Cola is singing its sweet siren song. I give myself the gift of cooking healthy food instead of grabbing something quick.

I love the idea of giving a gift every day. After nearly two weeks of the plan, I especially love the idea of giving with intention. Intention lets me distinguish between giving from my heart and giving in an effort to earn love or acceptance or friendship. 

Recognizing that difference is one of the biggest gifts I've ever gotten.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Katie did well on Monday. We won't know whether the procedure resolved the issue until they repeat the biopsy, three months from now, but we're hopeful.

As we walked into the clinic, Katie asked, "You're coming in with me, right?" 

"Only if you want me to," I answered.

"I want you to come in, but you can't be there when they take me in for the actual thing."

Katie had not asked about the procedure or the prognosis. On Sunday, her answer to every one of her prospective mother-in-law's questions about it was, "I don't really know." She was scared and trying to put off facing the problem as long as possible.

When the doctor came into the room, Katie said, "My mom has some questions."

And that, my friends, was why I drove 1000 miles to be there. My darling daughter needed a spokesperson, an advocate. Despite her enormous courage and maturity, she needed to hand off the research and responsibility to me. Without asking, she trusted that I had read what needed to be read and knew what needed to be asked. She trusted me.

As Katie said to the nurse who helped prep her for the procedure, "Sometimes, you just need your mom."

Do I even need to mention how deeply, truly happy those words made me?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Into the Fire

Katie's future in-laws hosted an engagement party for Katie and Craig on Sunday afternoon. Katie's father and his family were there, of course. The last guests to arrive, they entered as a group, avoiding the area where I was standing. Within five minutes or so, Bill had no choice but to acknowledge my presence. 

His disdainful nod and curt, "Jerri," set me off. I simply would not allow the behavior of her parents to make Katie or other guests uncomfortable. I took a deep breath, watched for my opportunity, and walked straight into the fire.

Bill's oldest stepson was standing on the edge of the deck with his new wife. I sailed up with a big smile on my face and offered my congratulations. Then I introduced myself to the wife and asked how they liked being newlyweds. We chatted for five or six minutes, and then I found a polite transition to another conversation.

Later I saw an opening and admired the youngest stepdaughter's new baby. I even asked if I could hold her. After a fraction of a second of awkwardness, I was holding the baby, cooing and cuddling. 

I talked to the youngest stepson and asked about his college baseball career. 

By the end of the evening, only the parents remained and everyone was sitting around the same patio table chatting. We managed quite well. In telling a story, Bill's wife mentioned something about our old lake house, something she knows only because she was there, having an affair with my husband, and I managed not to choke or laugh. At times, I felt like I was sitting in the rafters, watching a shadow version of myself smile and chat with people who have been positively vile to me for more than a decade. 

It was not easy, but it could be worse. I could be one of them.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A Love Letter to Minneapolis

I love you, Minneapolis. You are beautiful, from your shining lakes to your clean, safe streets and your river walks. You have WildeRoast Cafe and the Bibelot and Muffaleta. And can we talk about your grocery stores? Byerly's and Lunds and Kawolski's, with their produce displayed like art and all the organic choices I could possibly want. 

You open yourself to me. I understand the naming conventions of your streets and know where your highways run. Sure, some of your highways are under construction, but no place is perfect. And you mark your detours well.

I try not to pine for you. To everything there is a season, and our seasons together included both joy and pain. My new home also has beauty, it also has wonderful people and places. And are special. You are home to my daughter and some of my dearest friends, and I will always love you.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Home Again

Accompanied by Jennifer Weiner's Certain Girls on my iPod, I drove to Minneapolis yesterday. The 7-hour drive was a breeze and the book ended as I drove onto Katie's street. Excellent beginning to the trip.

Today Katie and I are going to do Day O'Beauty, a favorite from her teenage years. We'll have manicures and pedicures and lunch at a favorite restaurant. I'll probably get my eyebrows waxed. Katie, who has almost no misplaced hair anywhere, will not. (If I didn't love her so much, I'd hate her for that.) We'll go to Sephora. We will shop. And talk. And laugh.

Saturday, we're visiting a possible venue for the wedding reception. Sunday, Craig's family is throwing them an engagement party. Monday, Katie's having what we hope will be a minor gynecological procedure. I will stay as long as she needs me after.

However you pray, I'd appreciate it if you'd bring Katie to God's attention over the next few days. Please hold her in the Light of radiant love and claim for her God's presence and protection.

I've been using these words, sent to me by the fabulous Michelle O'Neil:

The light of God surrounds Katie
The love of God enfolds Katie
The power of God protects Katie
and the presence of God watches over Katie.
Wherever she is, God is, and all is well.

And also with you.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

29 Gifts

Cami Walker got me into this. She came on the Today show with her glowing smile and her great big eyes. She talked about her book 29 Gifts and how giving changed her life.

My 29 days started last Sunday, but I haven't wanted to mention it here--it seems self serving to talk about your giving. But sharing the idea helps it grow, and so here you have it.

Cami Walker has MS and she was struggling. A healer suggested she give a gift a day for 29 days. She ignored the advice for a while but eventually decided to give it a whirl. It changed her life. Among many other things, she has written a best selling book and inspired a movement. She inspired me.

The gift can be practically anything--Cami's gift one day was a Kleenex. The trick is, the gift must be from the heart and it must be given with intention.

Years ago, Sarah Ban Breathnach and Simple Abundance saved my sanity. Sarah introduced me to the Gratitude Journal during a time when I desperately needed to be looking for the light rather than wallowing in the darkness.

Then, I spent each day watching for things I could write in my journal that night. Some days I had to look pretty hard, but it kept my focus on what was good in my life. Every day. Five things. Gratitude.

29 Gifts leads me through each day looking for opportunities to give something real. Not always monetarily valuable, but real. From my heart. I save up ideas from one day to the next. I look around for the need. My focus turns to what I have to give.

Turns out that the greatest gift is attention. Oh, the vehicle may be soup and rolls, but the real gift was recognizing my friends' grief at the death of their dog. Forgiving a small debt surely relieved the recipient, but the real gift was saying, "I see how hard you're trying." Five pounds of meatballs is more than several dinners--it's a message that I know your favorites and I'm willing to invest the time to make something you love.

Try it. Check out Cami's book and her story. Give what you've got and you will have more. I promise.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Underwear and After All

One of the local schools recently recognized how many children are hungry at school and sent out a note telling families about our free Monday night meals. We expected an onslaught this week, so we really kicked it into high gear. Our goal was to make 900 plates worth of food.

Every guest at our dinner is offered clean clothes. Volunteers collect requests, gather the needed clothing, and put it in a bag for the guest to take home. This week some generous soul had donated hundreds of pairs of women's cotton underwear, so before we got started with the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, we rolled panties into neat bundles, taped the bundles and wrote the sizes on the tape. We were a panty-rolling machine, I tell you.

Fingers flying, I thought about a life where you have to send your children to school hungry, a life where clean panties are a luxury. I've been needing a little perspective. Those panties provided it.

When I got home, my inbox was overflowing. Among the dozens of problems and requests was a note from an editor on my team, thanking me for my help. My job often feels like trying to dig through the center of the earth using a teaspoon. One note of appreciation, and I feel recharged and ready to go.

A couple from our bike riding group has to put down one of their dogs today. I'm off now to make some soup and rolls to leave at their front door when they get home. It's not much, but it's what I can do.

Small things make a big difference: a good meal and clean panties; a note of thanks; a bit of comfort in a sad time.

I've been trying to transform my body and my self over night. Maybe that's not necessary after all. Maybe the effort is the answer.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Falling on My Face

Fell on my face a lot this weekend.

Friday night it was metaphorical; Saturday morning it was literal.

The dance was capital-S Strange, a mix of incredibly fit people my age and much younger people. The only other woman there without a date is a size-2 Spin instructor who looked great in her midriff-baring genie costume and long blonde wig despite being over 50. Every single guy in the room spent the evening trying to get next to her. Honestly, watching the spectacle helped me recognize the challenges a woman like that faces.

On Saturday morning, I set up for what I thought was Lift class, including two risers beneath my step and my usual set of weights. The class turned out to be something called Strength and Endurance Training that could be used as a form of torture. About half way through the hour, the sweat dripping in my eyes blinded me for a moment. I misjudged the step, twisted my ankle, and fell. Total face plant in front of God and 43 aerobics bunnies. The instructor came running to make sure I hadn't broken anything. I got up and finished the class.

Meh. I never wanted to go back to that class anyway.

Falling on My

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Whistling in the Dark

I went to the dance--not hoping to meet someone but hoping to get myself past the endless comparisons, past seeing myself as "less than."

I love to dance. I love parties. I love costumes. The only reason I didn't want to go is that constant feeling of not being enough. It doesn't really matter much whether I go to one dance, but it matters a lot whether I give in to that feeling and give up on myself.

I believe in Magic, but I know Magic is not going to come knock on my door. It will find me when I am ready. The only way I know to get ready is to face my fears and insecurities.

Last night, I did that dressed as a Sand Witch, complete with sand-colored glitter covering my face, patches of sand and seashells glued to my witch's cape, and black-and-white striped socks disappearing into my pointy-toed shoes. This morning I'm going to do it at a Lift class at the gym. Who knows what I'll try tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Scary Stuff

I've got my costume.

I've got my ticket.

I've got a map.

The dance is tonight and I don't want to go. Do. Not. Want. To. Go.

Everyone else in the group has a date or a mate. Everyone else is younger, thinner, cuter. Their hair still has a color. (This is the stuff I obsess about that does not matter.

And yet, if I stay home, there is zero chance I will meet anyone. It's too early for Santa, and even he isn't going to drop a man down my chimney. If I want to meet someone, I've got to leave the house. I go and feel ridiculous? Or stay home and feel lonely?

Not exactly Sophie's Choice here. Go or go not. There is no whine.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I am here and I am fine. Struggling with sadness. Working too much. But hanging on.

Back soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009


"Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." Albert Einstein

So much of my attention goes to things that simply do not matter. Moving beyond that would be a quantum change.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Last week Liz's aunt invited me to go wig shopping with her. A brunette, S. wanted a long blonde wig for her Halloween costume. After we found the perfect synthetic hair to complete the illusion, we went to dinner.

S has been a puzzle to me since I met her at the Wednesday bike rides this summer. She's very attractive: size 4, beautiful, great smile. Smart. Funny. Charming. And yet, she's single.

At dinner, I figured out why: More than a decade after an ugly divorce, her defenses are three miles wide and twice as thick. As she told me the details, I heard more than her story. I heard my own.

S has a hair trigger on the reject button. She drops men who raise even one red flag.

I bypass the messy parts and reject myself before a guy gets that chance. It's been three years since I've even gone on a date. I tell myself I'll try again when I lose some weight. This internal conversation usually occurs over margaritas and nachos. This summer, I rode at least 10 miles a day, 6 days a week. I must have seriously stepped up my eating, because I lost 10 lousy pounds.

The morning after S and I had dinner, I downloaded a free 7-day pass to 24-hour Fitness. Friday I did a water aerobics class; Saturday it was lifting weights to music; today I'm trying something called Zumba. We'll see if I make myself join. I hate exercise classes. I feel like an elephant in a herd of gazelle. When an instructor tries to help me, the glare of attention feels like a spotlight of shame.

But something has to change. I need to get healthy, inside and out. When I drop my defenses, my weight will drop, too. Meantime, I'm trying to tough out those classes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Cat in the Hat

The sun did not shine.

It was too wet to play.

So we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.

Or something like that. My youngest child is 22—it's been a long time since I read Cat in the Hat.

I heard the rain before opening my eyes. Again. Raining again.

I need some sun. Inside. Outside. Whatever. I just need some sunshine.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cool, Daddy-O

Deb, Liz, her mother Kathy, and I went to historic/shopping district of St. Charles, MO for the weekend. We shopped all day Saturday. In each store, I looked for a peacock blue pashmina. (I did not mention my mission or the reason for it.)

Eventually, we went back to our hotel to change for dinner. When everyone was ready, Liz and Kathy came to the room Deb and I were sharing and mysteriously spread six scarves on the bed.

"Everyone needs to pick a scarf," Kathy said. "At dinner, you can demonstrate a new way to wear the scarf or make up a story about where the scarf has been. The scarf is yours to keep."

You already know, don't you?

The sixth scarf was the PRECISE peacock blue pashmina I'd been looking for all day.

Ordinarily, I would wait until others made their choices. Ordinarily, I would say I liked all scarves. Ordinarily, I would choose what others didn't seem to want.

These circumstances were not ordinary. I snatched the peacock blue pashmina before anyone had a chance to say a word.

"This one has to be mine," I said. "I'll share the scarf, but I have to tell its story."

The others seemed a little taken back but graciously picked from the other scarves, and we went off to dinner.

After the server had taken our wine orders, Kathy asked why I had to tell the story of that particular scarf. I started by explaining that I'd been looking for a peacock blue pashmina all day.

Three years ago, Barbara's doctors discovered a recurrence of illness that eventually took her life, and they were blunt about the grim prognosis. Not surprisingly, Barb swung from peaceful to frightened and back for weeks. One fall day, she called me, sobbing. We hadn't seen the sun for days, she missed her friends and her life in Iowa, she was struggling with the book she was writing. I told her to hang on, I'd be right there.

On the way over, I stopped and bought a peacock blue pashmina and peacock blue velvet gloves and the same scarf and gloves in green. Then I called and told Barb to put on a black turtleneck, black pants, and short black boots. When she came to the door, I handed her the scarves and gloves and told her to bring her biggest, darkest sunglasses. Without a word, she followed me to my car.

Barb recognized where we were going long before we arrived. She loved the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and we often went there to lift her spirits. We draped our scarves around our necks, pulled on our gloves, donned our sunglasses, and did our best beatnik imitations throughout the museum.

"That Thomas Hart Benton was a real cool cat," Barb said. I raised both hands and snapped my fingers as much as possible wearing velvet gloves. We laughed so hard we had to sit down on nearby benches.

By the time we left an hour or so later, the color had returned to Barb's world. Over the years, we often wore our scarves and gloves on outings.

When it turned cold a couple weeks ago, I looked for my green scarf and gloves. The gloves were right where they belonged but the scarf has not turned up. I wanted to replace it with a peacock blue scarf in Barb's honor and have looked several times with no luck until Kathy laid the exact duplicate on my bed in the Boone's Lick Inn.

When I finished telling the story, Liz looked puzzled—she did not know the term "beatnik." Deb started trying to explain, and Kathy took up the tale.

"Beatniks write poetry," Kathy said. She composed her face and threw her hands into the air. "Fire," she whispered in a tone heavy with portent.

"Burn." Her hands went to her shoulders.

"Death." She put her hands to her forehead and dropped her head to the table.

Debbie and I clicked our fingers madly.

We laughed so hard and so long we offered to buy wine or dessert for the tables around us to make up for disturbing their dinners. We laughed so hard we cried off all our mascara and eye liner. We laughed so hard Debbie had an asthma attack.

We laughed so hard I felt Barb's spirit beside me.

Cool, Daddy-O.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Full Circles

I met Barbara Robinette Moss at a reading by Jeannette Walls, the author of The Glass Castle. During the Q&A after the reading, Jeannette introduced Barb, who was sitting three rows ahead of me, also on the aisle. I loved Change Me into Zeus' Daughter and had gone to see Barb read in Minneapolis. After Jeannette's reading, I stepped up and spoke to Barb. We chatted for a moment, and I turned to go. "Wait," she called. "I'm moving to Kansas City in a couple months. Do you want to be my friend?"

That surprised me, but it surprised me even more two months later when she called and invited me to lunch. Fifteen minutes into our lunch, she was no longer a famous author, she was simply Barb, a funny, charming, brilliant woman who brought sunshine into every room she entered.

About three months before we met, Barb learned an illness for which she'd already had two major surgeries had returned. She faced the grim prognosis with quintessential Barb-ness. She simply didn't believe it. Instead, she pursued healing through Eastern medicine, nutritional healing, and spiritualism. She lived far beyond the doctor's expectations, a life filled with grace and courage and love and laughter.

Barbara danced. Lord, how that woman loved to scoot her boots. Very little made her happier than a dance floor and a cowboy who really knew how to two-step.

Poetry filled Barb. She had books of poetry in every room and thought no day was complete without reading from at least one.

Music followed her wherever she went. She played guitar and banjo and the iPod. (Technologically challenged, she needed help with the iPod at first. We picked one out together and I taught her to load music. She called the next day, crying, "I'll never be able to work this thing!" But she did.)

Jeannette Walls' new book, Half Broke Horses, was released two days before Barb's death. I stopped at B&N on the way home from the hospital and stayed up into the night to read the book before returning.

"PULL UP A CHAIR AND TELL ME EVERYTHING!" she scrawled in all caps. (She couldn't speak because she was on a ventilator then.)

I told her what I thought of the book. We talked about the story and about the cover, which refers to the book as a "true life novel." We talked about how to write true stories and how to make words sing and dance. Her last note to me was, "BRING IT TOMORROW. READ TO ME!"

We never talked again. By the time I got back the next day, Barb was unconscious, her life slipping away. Our friendship started and ended with Jeannette Walls. It was, in all ways, a very full circle.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Saturday night Craig proposed to Katie, complete with candles and flowers and exactly the ring she wanted. They haven't set a date yet, but the wedding won't be for at least a year, possibly longer.

When Craig called Friday to ask permission to propose, we talked about the challenges they face. He seems prepared to face those challenges, and he loves Katie. They're young, but they're both smart and incredibly practical. I said yes with love and hope in my heart.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Today was filled with phone calls and google searches, making arrangements for a party to celebrate Barb's life. I called venues like historic theaters and art galleries and the Kansas City Library. I talked to caterers and musicians and linen suppliers.

Evaluating the options, I'd think, "Barb loves that gallery!" or "She'd love to see her name on that theatre marquee!" And then I'd remember.

In one way, I want to make this the best possible party. In another, the details simply don't matter.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wishing on a Star

My dear friend Barbara Robinette Moss died about 10:15 last night, surrounded by her loving and faithful husband, her son, a brother and several friends. Each of us held an arm or a foot and prayed as she slipped away.

I've never known anyone with a stronger life force or more curiosity about the world. When she was still in a regular room, Barb could see a little house hugging the top of the hill outside her window. Going to see that little house up close was near the top of the list of things she wanted to when she got out of the hospital.

I pretty much collapsed on the sofa when I got home and woke this morning, still in my clothes. 6:26 am, dark. One enormous star shined, perfectly centered in the big windows at the end of the living room. I've never seen a star so big or so bright. It rose in the sky, moving higher and higher in the windows.

The darkness seemed to flash and I could see into its depths—millions of pinpricks of light stretching into infinity. Barb's voice filled the room, her Alabama drawl like poured silk. "Don't worry. I've gone on ahead. You can't imagine how beautiful it is here."

I blinked hard. The pinpricks disappeared, but the single star remained, dimming as the sky brightened.

When the star faded completely, I drove to the hill beyond the hospital. Turns out that tiny house is really a mansion: What we could see was the smallest part.

Vaya Con Dios

Go with God, dear friend.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Prayer Request

My dearest KC friend is in Intensive Care, on a ventilator. Her condition has been deteriorating rapidly over the few months. Last week her potassium and sodium levels were so out of control that she nearly had a heart attack. She's been on oxygen and major IV meds for more than a week now.

Yesterday, the docs placed in stint in one of her airways, strengthening it to resist the pressure of the tumors pressing on it. During the procedure, they put her on a ventilator to help get through it. They say she'll get off. They say she may recover enough to go home on portable oxygen. She wants to go home. She wants to see her cat and sit at her meditation altar. She wants to have a cup of tea on her beautiful deck.

I ask God to be gentle with her, to bring her peace. Please join me in that prayer.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Carrying On

Yesterday Mom and Dad and I went to the funeral of a woman we'd never met. Her son is one of the Meatloaf Monday crew, a truly wonderful man with an equally wonderful wife.

Mrs. Wallace had outlived her husband, all her brothers and sisters, and all but one of her friends. Alzheimer's robbed her of the ability to make new friends. And yet, the church was nearly full.

Some people in the congregation came to honor her history in the church. Some of us came out of respect for her son; some to support her daughter.

Although almost no one there beyond the family actually knew Mrs. Wallace, the gathering was a testament to her life. It's quite an accomplishment to raise children who earn such love and loyalty, a fine legacy.

Later, the meatloaf crew changed into our standard t-shirts and jeans and hurried to the church where we serve. We missed Jim, but we got the job done. I guess that's the way of it. Some people die. Some are born. The human family carries on.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Thing With Feathers

War broke out inside me as we rode out of the parking lot in St. Charles. "You can't give Molly up," whispered the gray side.

"You can't look a gift bike in the mouth," hissed the blue side. "They gave you a bike."

I hardly felt the bumps.

The pedals felt wrong.

The gears glided from one to the next.

The seat pinched every portion of my lower anatomy.

They gave me a bike.

The trail wound past a gravel pit, a concrete plant, a riverside park, a small lake. Liz rode up, panting. "Can you believe this hill?" she asked. I hadn't noticed we were going uphill. I was busy arguing with myself about being disloyal to an inanimate object and hating that damn seat.

HATING that seat. It hit me ten kinds of wrong: too hard, too wide, too close to the pedals.


At the beginning of the summer, Deb and I rarely spoke and had very little in common. Despite being family for more than 35 years, Jim and I had never had any real relationship. Rolled eyeballs were Brendan's default setting when I talked. On the trail, we laughed. We helped each other. We shared.

I had to keep the bike.

"The bike." Without a name, it was just a bike. It needed a name.

Daisy for the Gerbera daisy on the handlebars?

Rusty because the daisy was red?

Charlie because they gave it to me in St. Charles?

Nothing fit. It didn't feel like a bike with a name. It felt like a bike with a damn hard seat. It also felt like love. I spun back and forth as the pedals spun round and round.

After we got home Sunday night, I put Molly's seat on the new bike and rode through my neighborhood. Suddenly, the bike fit. It wasn't just good, it was fabulous. Forcing myself into the house to unpack and start the laundry wasn't easy. I cruised the neighborhood several more times before dark, loving every minute of it.

Monday morning, I rode the new bike to Mom and Dad's for coffee. It was a wonderful morning—chilly and blustery but beautiful. I shared the trail with eight wild turkeys, one doe and a handful of cyclists. Steam rose from the river in ribbons twisting toward the sky like prayers rising to God.

Riding nine miles into the wind, I had plenty of time to contemplate a name for the bike. Something connected to how I got her, to what she means to me. Something with a literary hook. Like the original seat, nothing fit. They gave her to me to ride the Katy Trail, but I could hardly give my bike my daughter's name.

The trail is named for the MKT Railroad. Maybe Emma.

Heading down the hill toward the dreaded barricade, something caught my eye. As it got closer, I recognized a feather swirling in the breeze like the opening of Forest Gump come to life. It fluttered and flitted, closer and closer. Just as I entered the trees, the feather skidded sideways, right at me, and tangled itself in the bike's brake cables.

Amazed, I screeched to a dead stop and plucked the feather from the bike. I ruffled and picked at it, then tucked it into one of the holes of my helmet. As I settled back onto the seat, the name struck me.

Emily. My new bike is Emily, named for the MKT and for Miss Emily Dickinson, who wrote:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—"

I rolled down the hill, for once picking up speed rather than braking as I approached the barrier. I patted the feather to make sure it was secure and stood to cruise between the ugly hunks of concrete, my weight balanced equally on the pedals and hope perched firmly in my soul.

Absorbing Shock

Back in July when we started riding, my sister's only bike was about 35 years old. It was pretty much unworkable, so she rode the mountain bike Meghan (her daughter) took to college seven years ago. It's a fine bike, but the tires are small and wide and the frame didn't fit Deb well. She struggled. She was always a pretty good distance behind the group, which she absolutely hated.

Liz and Brendan bought new bikes pretty early on, and Deb and I fell for Liz's new bike, with its shock absorbers and smooooth operation. The night we test-rode it, we each went home calculating how and when we could buy one. Deb rarely buys anything for herself and things are a bit tight for her right now. It wasn't going to happen.

Although I love Molly, she's about 20 years old. She squeaks and creaks. She has no shocks. She's heavy. I lusted after a new bike for several days, imagining it would make riding much easier. But I sailed across the trail while Deb struggled behind me. In the early days, I had to bribe her with fruit smoothies, and Deb literally stumbled into the juice bar, red faced and gasping for air.

For me, a new bike would be nice. For Deb, it could make the difference between riding or giving up. My folks agreed to help, and together we bought Deb a shiny new bike. She caught me putting it into her car and protested. I told her the bike fairies had left it. She sobbed. In fact, she cried every time she told someone about her new bike. On the bike's maiden voyage, Deb was first to the juice bar. She never looked back.

Deb's husband Jim started joining us, riding a bike Dad used to take when he and Mom traveled in the motor home. It's a good bike, but it's about 15 years old and has thumb shifters. None of us ever figured out how the gears worked, but Jim pedaled on, my most faithful riding companion. As his birthday approached in August, I started a movement and, together, the group played bike fairy for him. He was beyond thrilled.

Molly worked her magic on me, and I came to appreciate her vintage nature. Like me, she was old but still going strong, and her slight vagaries seemed eccentric and charming. I no longer lusted after a new bike, but I have to admit that once or twice I imagined the feeling of everyone ganging up to do something special for me. I put the thought away quite firmly and continued to appreciate Molly. In fact, I came to love her fiercely.

Last Friday morning, we arrived at the first trail head. As Brendan unloaded the bikes, I stopped into the restroom. When I walked back to the truck, Meghan called to me, "Aunt Jerri. Can I ride Molly today?"

"Sure, Sweetie. What do you want me to ride?" I genuinely had no idea.

"Well. How about this new bike the bike fairies left here for you?" Meghan stepped out from behind the truck, rolling a shiny new bike with a red Gerbera daisy attached to the handle bars.

I looked from the bike to Meg and then to each of the faces suddenly surrounding me. Deb. Jim. Liz. Brendan. The love in their shining eyes, their joy at surprising me so completely, overwhelmed me. I cried. They laughed in delight. I sobbed.

Shock absorbers are fine, fine things.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Some pretty remarkable things happened on our trip and right after. The most amazing thing of all is that I found a container for the story I've been imagining, the book I want to write.

I really, really want to tell that story here but haven't had time to do it justice, so it continues to perk in the background. What happened feels like a gift from the Universe, a small tip of the hat, a nudge to write.

Writers write. Editors with bills to pay, edit. For now, it's back to work with this editor, but I look forward to sharing this magicc with you soon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Adventure Continues

Friday night turned into a real adventure. The B&B where we had reservations had double booked somehow, and someone else was lounging in the rooms we expected to enjoy. Quick thinking on Liz's part turned up another option, which was pretty much a miracle on a Saturday night in a town of 280. We ended up in a 150-year-old log cabin down near the river.

Our game for the night, Magical Mystery Tour, was based on CandyLand. Meghan and I had glued pictures of the Beatles' faces onto the game pieces and decoupaged theme-based pictures onto the game board. We served Strawberry Fields shortcake and awarded a prize to the winner: a Valentine, a birthday greeting and a bottle of wine. Our drinks were called Yellow Submarines, basically yellow margaritas with blue salt on the rims of the glasses and periscopes (bendy straws).

On Saturday, we hit the challenges that make a trip like this an adventure. First, the skies opened up and we found ourselves riding in a rainstorm. We'd been assured the winery we wanted to visit was "right on the trail," but that turned out to be a loose interpretation. We had to push our bikes 1000 feet up an incredibly muddy hill to get there. Both Deb and Jim fell pretty hard with their bikes. Meghan sobbed the whole way. Brendan and Liz and I took our bikes up and went back down to get the other bikes. No one got seriously hurt, and we could get into our next B&B early, so it was all good. We dried off and changed clothes and the adventure continued.

After a lovely dinner in an art gallery/cottage restaurant, we returned to our B&B. Brendan and Liz made the rest of us go into our rooms and wait. After a few minutes, Brendan began shouting, "Help! She's killing me! Help!" We burst into the kitchen to find Brendan, shirtless on the floor. He had chocolate smeared around his mouth and running down his naked chest. Liz stood over him, pantomiming stabbing him with a large knife dripping with chocolate syrup. After two or three seconds, Brendan jumped up and yelled, "Death by Chocolate!"

Our game for the evening was Chocolate-opoly. They served chocolate martinis and plates filled with hand-made chocolates. It was hilariously wonderful.

All in all, our adventure was a complete success. Several of us acquired bumps and bruises but no serious injuries. We drank good wine and ate great food. We laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Operation: Fun

Last night was the first night of our bicycle adventure. We stayed at a lovely Victorian B&B near the quaint river district in St. Charles, Mo. My sister and brother-in-law made the arrangements for the night, and they were the hosts for game night.

Deb greeted us at their door wearing a doctor's white coat, rubber gloves, and a surgeon's mask. Jim served "Pain Killers" made with Pusser's rum. The game was Operation.

It was hilarious and tons of fun. Operation is not easy after a Pain Killer, believe me.

Meghan (my niece) and I are hosting tonight. We have tons of fun in store. Pictures will follow if possible.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Called Katie this afternoon because something reminded me of one of my favorite memories of her childhood. I told the old stories, and she chimed in on the parts she remembered. A 500-mile umbilicus stretched between us, a connection so real I could have stepped into the phone and run down its taut silk and velvet length into her living room, balanced like a tightrope walker.

Over the next hour or so, she called three or four more times. Which onions should she use in her veggie stir fry? Have I seen the new show on TLC? Did she tell me about her quiz today?

I am grateful for every comment on my last post, each reassurance. My pain is nothing more or less than resistance to what is. The fear rises. I keep breathing. Friends support me. The simple truth finds me.

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


The story I'm telling myself this morning is that nothing can ever change the fact that I am my children's mother. Other people can and will and should join our family, but we are the center, the actual family.

This story may be fiction.

Two brothers found each other recently. Adopted by different families, they did not know one another until they ended up working together. They way they have their hair cut, the glasses they choose, the clothes they wear—all of it is virtually identical. The blood ties are as plain as the broad noses on their squarish faces.

The CBS news story makes my heart bleed. One co-worker is quoted as saying, "There's nothing like family, especially when you don't have one. Now they've got it." Both these men were raised with siblings. At least one of their adoptive parents is still living. That counts, damn it. Those people count. They are family.

Of course, it is not their family for whom I am outraged, but myself. My fears shriek and wail inside my chest, writhing and fighting for light and air. I can turn off the news, refuse to read the story, breathe deeply until the fear subsides.

No story I tell myself changes the simple truth: Blood is thicker than water. Not more important than love, mind you; not more important than a lifetime of care and devotion. But undeniable.

What is the capitol of the state of denial? I want to move there.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Big Picture

Saturday night I went to a wine festival and street dance in a small town. At the dance, a woman in her fifties jumped and jived like a teenager. She was wearing hip-looking shoes and knee socks, a very short ruffled skirt and a skin-tight tank top, all in black. Her dyed red hair was long and curly.

A blonde wearing high-heeled sandals, a filmy black skirt with a rhinestone border, and a form-fitting blouse danced alone, directly under a streetlight. Her dance style was all about the butt. She kept her back to the crowd at all times, bending forward and swinging her extremely long hair and her butt in time to the music. When the band took a break, she turned toward us. Her face reflected an age (60ish, I'd guess) totally at odds with her clothes and attitude.

Pink Boots guy called this afternoon to tell me about a death in his family. An hour later, he pocket called me, and I'm embarrassed to admit I listened to a minute or two of his conversation before I hung up. He was flirting with a woman.

The details he told her were true. The impression they created was not.

It got me thinking about how often we focus on small details rather than big truths. If you look only at your shoes or tank top or cute skirt, dressing like a teenager makes you look like one. It takes a wider angle to see the stark contrast between your perky knee socks and your saggy knees.

The stories we tell ourselves matter far more than the ones we tell others, and true stories illustrate the big picture.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Clean and Green

I took a tree to the car wash today.

Three years worth of dust weighed down the leaves of silk ficus beside my bed, and the dirty leaves weighed me down. I didn't have time to wash each leaf by hand, so I took off Paula's top and packed the tree into her back seat.

Ten minutes and four quarters later, the tree was clean, I felt lighter, and the people who drove by had a good story to tell at dinner.

Sometimes I wonder why making a fool of myself never bothers me. Maybe I'm just used to it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

News Flash

I flirted with a man last night.

Yep. I stood in the parking lot at the park, wearing oh-so-unflattering bicycle shorts and a baseball cap covering my helmet hair, and flirted shamelessly.

In fact, I invited him to spend Saturday night at a hotel with me.

Well, me and eight other people.

There's zero chance he'll join us, but the simple fact remains: I met an unmarried man my age, talked and laughed with him, touched his arm while making a point, and smiled unrelentlingly. (Didn't realize the smile thing til my face hurt later.)

If I were an entirely different sort of person, I'd put Molly on a pedestal and make burnt offerings.

Wait. We're cooking breakfast on the trail Saturday morning. I could burn a piece of turkey bacon for her. Or maybe not. Maybe I'll just close my eyes, again and again, and thank God for leading me back to my bike this summer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Covert Operation

Shhhh. Don't tell anyone. I did a bad, bad thing.

Monday morning, before my folks got back from a weekend trip, I borrowed their van, filled it with junk my sister left in my garage, and took it to the metal recyclers.

If Deb asks about it, I won't lie—I'll just play dumb. "You mean that stuff you left here FIVE YEARS AGO? Why, I don't have any idea what happened to that."

And I don't. Heaven only knows what it became after it was smashed into a cube of scrap metal, smelted and recycled. Only thing I know for sure is that I can open my car doors without bumping into it.


Sunday, September 13, 2009


Slept in the center of the bed last night, leaving space for all possibilities.

Yesterday, I watched this video posted on Michelle O'Neil's blog. I'd never heard of Bruddah Iz but immediately loved his voice and his music. Also immediately, I felt tremendous compassion for a man who seemed trapped inside his 700-lb. body. In the video, he smiles while floating in the ocean, a smile that reflects the utter peace of weightlessness. At least, that's what I saw.

This spring, before Molly and I hit the trail, my weight had gotten completely out of control. One of the things that pushed me onto the saddle was recognizing how hard it was to stand from a seated position. On a sofa or low chair, I found myself sort of rocking back and forth to gain enough momentum to stand up. It horrified me.

After the Iz video, a thought crystalized. I scurried to the red leather chair by the windows to the pond, sat down, and bounced back up.

Yes! Just like its arrival, the departure of the rocking was so gradual I hadn't noticed. I sat down and stood up several times, just to make sure.

No rocking. None. Just a strong, capable body moving from one position to the next.

It took more than wishing on a star, but today I woke to find that particular trouble far behind me, another of Molly's great gifts this summer. I am so grateful.