Tag Archives: Love

Monday, August 21st, 2017

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I recently had the chance to catch up with some of my former colleagues from the University I previously taught at.  The school had a peace vigil this past Friday and since I’m in town house/pet-sitting, I decided to attend.  I’m pretty disgusted with the events as of late in this country of ours, and supporting peace through lovely words and prayers seemed like a wonderful idea.

Peace

While there, several people made the same comment to me: you look so happy.  I consider this compliment to be one of the greatest I can receive, because, truthfully, I do feel happy, and this wasn’t always the case.  This past year of living a writer’s life, spending as much time as I can with my husband, and playing with and caring for dogs in exchange for amazing houses to live in, has been such a blessing.  I am so grateful at the friends I have made this past year and the opportunities that have presented themselves.

These feelings of joy and gratitude were especially salient yesterday as I walked around a forest preserve.  I thought I had been driving to another community gathering of love and peace, but it turned out I had the wrong location.  Although that was bad news, the good news was I ended up at Fullersburg Woods, a forest preserve of DuPage County.

Waterfall

For about an hour, I wandered around enjoying the beauty of Salt Creek, before settling myself on some rocks by the Rainbow Bridge to simply be at one with nature.  Although I missed the community fellowship I had been anticipating, I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful way to spend my afternoon.  And I wasn’t really alone.  Spirit surrounded me, as did the rocks, trees, birds, leaves, and waves from the river.

Rainbow bridge

Walking along the trail on my way back from the bridge, I began marveling at the world around me.  Then, it hit me! One of the reasons I think I’m so happy is I’m able to find wonder and awe in the little things.  I began thinking of what brings me the most joy in life.  Here’s an incomplete list:

  • Laughing with my husband
  • Playing with dogs
  • Talking about dogs with my Mom
  • Reading a good book
  • Finishing a draft of a story
  • Helping someone edit a draft of their writing
  • Fantasizing about future travels, especially if they can include family and/or friends
  • Watching funny online videos of animals, particularly bears

It’s good to know these things because right now, there’s a lot of unhappiness and turmoil in the world.  Sometimes it can be overwhelming, especially when it’s hard to know what to do in response.  What I liked most about the vigil I attended on Friday is that the event was not against anyone or anything.  I have often heard spiritual teachers caution against what you give your energy to, such as an anti-war protest versus a rally for peace.

With these thoughts in mind, I am recommitting myself to focus on the things in my life that bring me joy.  Selfish and elitist?  Perhaps.  But I’m going to subscribe to the words of Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world.  I wish to see peace and happiness.  So that’s what I’m going to be.  Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me…one youtube bear video at a time.

Memoir Monday, February 13th, 2016

TItle

I’ve shared this picture through social media before, but given how ridiculously cute it is you can expect me to share it every February 14th(ish) until I die.  I also like to believe that little squirrel created his tree art just for me, but it could have been for somebody else.

Regardless, I can still remember the wonder I felt as I turned around a corner on the Naperville River Walk

around the corner

and came across the little fella scampering around.

squirrel

Then I saw the heart and I could have melted on the spot.  Thankfully it was too cold in Naperville for that to happen, but at least my hands weren’t frostbitten enough that I couldn’t take out my phone to snap a few pictures.

Seeing my little squirrely love note came at just the right time, too, because I was feeling pretty lonely at that point in my life.  I had recently given up my dog, Jack, to my parents in Harrisburg, PA.

Jack

His dementia was getting progressively worse and me being at work for 8+ hours a day wasn’t helping.  I feared I would come home one day and find him in agony because he had eaten something he shouldn’t have.

My parents, in one of the greatest acts of kindness I have ever received, offered to take care of Jack.  They no longer work outside the home, and my older brother also lives with them, so there’d be plenty of people to keep Jack company throughout the day.

In addition, one of my best friends at work had moved on to a new job.  Even though I felt thrilled she was finally out of a position in which she was clearly underutilized and, frankly, not fairly compensated or appreciated for her talents and work, I still missed our daily interactions.  I didn’t have many other close friends where my office was located and many days I felt isolated.

So when I came across this message of love in one of my favorite places, by a cute and furry critter no less, I couldn’t help but smile.  I even sent the photo off to Shutterfly to have it made into a notebook with the song lyrics, Put a little love in your heart and the world will be a better place on the front cover (lyrics by Jackie DeShannon, Randy Myers, & Jimmy Holiday).

That song had been in my mind a lot at the time.  A local musician performed it at an interfaith New Year’s Day celebration in downtown Naperville and I became hooked.  I honestly can’t say if I’d never heard it before or

if I just hadn’t heard it with my new evolving life perspective that there was a lot more to the world than the little life I was living. 

I ended up playing it on repeat on my iPad many times that winter and each and every time I felt a renewed sense of love and spirit in the world.

I’m very glad I have these reminders about love because as of late, I haven’t been treating myself with very much love.  I don’t know why my narcolepsy seems so much worse these past few months, but I feel frustrated and demoralized that some days my greatest accomplishment is making it downstairs in the morning to feed the dogs.

I then surf the internet ad nauseam because it feels like I’m doing something, but I know I’m not, and so I beat myself up for it – I should be writing; I should be reading; I should be working on my website; I should be doing anything other than mindlessly thumbing through social media to the point where my eyes glaze over and I doze off.

Is this because of narcolepsy or inertia, I can’t say for certain.  But in addition to feeling tired from a disease, I am tired of “shoulding” on myself (perhaps another disease in and of itself).  My husband has very kindly and lovingly pointed out that it’s okay for me to take breaks and maybe I should cut myself some slack.  Why is it that these “shoulds” I am more inclined to reject than embrace?  These are the same things I would tell (have told) my loved ones when they beat themselves up.  I would never let anyone talk to my family or friends that way, yet somehow, I accept it for myself.

It’s a funny situation because when I realize my hypocrisy, I get further down on myself for not remembering to be more enlightened.  It seems like an endless patter, until I finally reach a point where I remember that violence in any form, which to me includes emotional bullying, sarcasm, and insults, is unacceptable.  And the way I mentally beat myself up is violent.

This recognition is a good thing because above all I want to be a peaceful a person.

And if I can’t be at peace with myself, how can I expect to contribute peacefully to our world? 

I put a little love in my heart and I try to remember how much I have to be grateful for, as well as remembering that you never know when you might turn a corner and find something so wonderful you didn’t even know to hope for it.

Memoir Monday, December 12th, 2016

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Most of my formative adult years took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Thus, it should surprise no one that some of my favorite holiday specials are the Thanksgiving- and Christmas-themed episodes from Friends.  At the top of the list is The One Where Ross Gets High, featuring Rachel’s traditional English trifle and Monica and Ross outing each other to their parents for all their past misdeeds.

A close second would be The One with the Holiday Armadillo, which if you don’t know who the holiday armadillo is, he’s Santa’s part-Jewish holiday friend.  Ross dressed as an armadillo is the focus of the episode, but at the very beginning of it Phoebe brings out her Christmas skull to remind us that, “at Christmas people still die.”

I still laugh a lot when I see this clip from Friends, but now I’m older I can’t help but spend some time reflecting this Christmas on what the Christmas skull means to me.  I don’t mean to be morbid, but Phoebe is right.  At Christmas, people still die.

These thoughts might be forefront in my mind because one of the dogs we’re caring for was recently found to have a mass on his spleen.  He’s ten-years old and aside from a major surgery which may or may not prolong his life at all, there’s nothing else to be done for him.  After agonizing over the decision, his doggy parents decided they would let him spend his days in the comfort of his home, surrounded by the rest of his pack, and meandering around the 20 acres on their property.  It’s a nice way to go if you ask me, much better than being cut open and having an internal organ removed on the small chance of surviving an extra few months.

moon-cropped

Or I could be thinking this way because of my cousin, Becky.  In December, 2013, she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 43.  She passed away just four short months later.

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Then there’s my friend who confided in me that it may be the last Christmas for one of their friends who has a degenerative illness.  My friend wondered what to possibly get for this person and their spouse, knowing this will likely be some of the last time they have to spend together.

It’s a sobering thought to consider Christmas gifts as last ones ever.  Does it make the iPad or gift card seem less relevant?  Does it invoke a need to simply be with someone and let them know how much they mean to you?  All thoughts to consider as we wait in line at checkout counters hoping to get the best sale of the season.

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Then there’s the narcissistic, egotistical, and human side of me.  What if it was my last Christmas?  How would I want to spend it?  What would I wish for?  I spent some time reflecting on these last two questions and quite surprisingly I found a lot of comfort in the answers I came up with.

The first thing I would do is have a huge holiday party with all my friends and family.  There would be a lot of dancing, peppermint-flavored sweet treats, and a baby polar bear for people to cuddle with similar to the sloth Dax Shepard got for Kristen Bell for her birthday one year.

More than anything, though, I would want to spend as much time as possible with my husband.  We would hit as many National Parks as we could, preferably bringing along some key family members and petting as many dogs as we could along the way.

I would also finish my first novel, which I’m delighted to report is thisclose to being done.  After that, there would be only two other things on my wish list – for the children’s stories I’ve written to be published and to see a bear in the wild.  The first would be easy enough, with my talented roster of friends, and the possibility of self-publishing.  Plus, my husband is well aware of this wish of mine and I have no doubt he would spend whatever time  necessary to get them published in my absence (just one of the MANY reasons I am so devoted to him).  The second, well, if I got to cuddle with a baby polar bear at my death party, I’d be happy to let go of my desire to see one in the wild.

Here’s the best part about my wishes, though, and the reason I find so much comfort in my answers:  this last year, I’ve spent most of my time working towards them on my own, without the threat of imminent death.  Heath and I were blessed with a wonderful wedding reception from my NC friends.

wedding-reception

We spent time with both my parents in Harrisburg, PA, and his parents in Smyrna, TN, and we have plans to do again soon.

blondie

My niece and I went on a spring-break-roadtrip extravaganza in the American Southwest stopping off at the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon

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and my husband and I now travel all around for the sole purpose of petting and loving other people’s dogs (and cats and homes, too).

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frank

I write almost every day and agents are currently reviewing my picture storybooks.  There still hasn’t been a bear sighting, but I am constantly on the lookout.

So, as we countdown to Christmas, I’d encourage you to spend some time quietly reflecting on what you would do differently if you knew this would be your last Christmas.  Then go out and do it!  If not for you, then do it for Moon, my cousin Becky, and my friend’s friend, and everyone else out there who will only get one more Christmas.

Garden Victory – A 6-Part Flash Fiction Series

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“Hallelujah.”  Sophia repeated the last word of her father’s favorite song seven times as the music faded.  She closed her eyes on the last few, then allowed the final note to wash over her.  It did not bring her renewal or a sense of hope as it usually did and as Sophia made her way back to her seat she could not bear to look at anyone.

Tears lingered on Sophia’s face so she brushed them away with an errant hand.  She reached out for support, imagining she had someone next to her whose hand she could hold.   It was times like this Sophia second (and third and fourth) guessed her decision to end things with Colin.

Sophia had dialed Colin’s number several times that morning; yet every time she went to press call her father’s words of “never settle” ghosted through her mind.  So now she sat at her father’s funeral alone.

Oh, this is stupid, she thought to herself as she continued wiping away tears.  Sophia was not really alone, as she was surrounded by her mother, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.  Her heart beat full of love.   It just occasionally skipped a beat as there was one small piece of it missing.

Sophia had hoped Colin would fill that hole.  And he did in some ways.  Colin had many of the values important to Sophia, including honesty, determination, and intelligence.  What he did not have was a passion for the arts, particularly music, and that made Sophia feel like there was still room for someone else.  Thus, she ended their relationship.  Sophia did so with kindness and appreciation for what Colin had brought to her life because that was her father’s second life lesson – Never settle, but don’t be a jerk about it. 

Maybe it isn’t settling, Sophia thought as she watched her mother dab away her own tears with a handkerchief.  Maybe that’s just what love is – to find someone who helps fill the void.  It could be my fault.  Maybe I’m the one who made the hole too big to begin with.  Maybe it’s up to me to fill some of it on my own?

Sophia’s mother reached out and grabbed Sophia’s hand, jolting Sophia from her ruminations.  Here she was at her father’s funeral thinking about Colin.  Yes, she would call him tonight.  As she came to this decision, she felt the emptiness in her heart consume her and it felt like the moment she watched her father’s life pass from his body.

Oh, Dad! she cried from her heart and then she heard his words echo again, “Never settle.”  Sophia knew he was right and even though she craved even the smallest amount of intimate comfort, she would not call Colin.  That would do both a disservice, not to mention it would make her a jerk to reach out when she had no true intentions of rekindling their relationship.  She would honor her father that way, too.

For the rest of the day, Sophia stuck with her decision as she watched her father lowered into the ground and then celebrated his life with her loved ones over casseroles, sandwiches, and cakes.  She began to waiver as she gave her mother one more hug goodbye in the parking lot, and so she decided to pick up some work on her way home to hopefully keep her mind occupied.

Sophia’s heels echoed down the silent and dark hallway of her school as she made her way to the music room.  She felt small and lonely.  Dad, I need your help, she thought as she again considered calling Colin.

As Sophia opened the door and flipped on the light, she blinked a few times and then her eyes settled on the four beautiful sunflowers perched in a blue vase on her desk.  A card sat propped up on it and she reached out to open it.

Her eyes shined with unfallen tears as she read the contents:

Dear Miss Maxwell,

I’m so glad we found such a talented music teacher – hallelujah – I didn’t think this position would ever get filled!  Let me know if you have any questions about the school.  I was a newbie last year, so I know what it’s like and I’d be happy to show you around. 

Sincerely,

Peter Cohen (English Department)

Sophia read the card two more times.  She did not know who Peter Cohen was, but she could not help but notice the one word that tied him to her father.  In the quiet of the room, she started singing again.  It soothed that empty place in her heart and Sophia knew whatever happened, she would not settle.  She would find what she was looking for and in the meantime, she would sing.

Garden Victory Part 5

Before Peter knew it, he and Sadie had walked two blocks.  He turned around as she sniffed at a fire hydrant, trying to recount the steps they had taken that got them to their current location.  In the distance, he could hear the bells ringing from St. Michael’s steeple.  Peter sighed as the sound reminded him about the new music teacher at his school.

“Come on, Sadie, let’s keep walking.”  Peter tugged on her leash as they moved down the street, but the distance did not separate him from his thoughts of Miss Maxell.

He didn’t even know her first name.  She had started at the school last week.  Peter overheard her singing in the music room one day on his way to the teacher’s lounge.  He stopped outside the door and listened as she sang a Beatles’ medley to herself.  At first he stopped because the Beatles were his favorite band.  A few moments later he was hooked as her voice seemed to reach the very depth of his core and when she started in with Here Comes the Sun, a desire ignited in him to find a guitar and start playing along.

“But we don’t play the guitar anymore, do we, Sadie?”  Sadie ignored Peter as she was now sniffing a bench.  He let her sniff away to her heart’s content as he remembered the last time he played his guitar.  It was before his divorce three years ago.  Peter had just gotten back from an open mic night at the local pub when he found a note on the table.  Dear Peter, it began and then in a way so generic Peter wondered if she had copied the letter from the Internet, he found out his wife left him.

Since then, Peter turned into a shell of a man.  His day to day motions were simply to get him through to the next day, then week, then month, then year.  As he and Sadie ambled on, he felt a jolt inside him as he realized just how long it had been since he had even talked to another woman in that sort of way.  I don’t even know what I’d say to her, Peter argued with himself as he made the case for doing nothing.  I’d make a fool of myself. 

Or doing nothing would make you the fool came his own retort.  Peter tried to ignore this sentiment, otherwise that would mean putting himself out there and possibly getting hurt again.

“We don’t want that, do we, Sadie?” he asked to reassure himself.  Peter, expecting no response, was unprepared as Sadie pounced on something laying on the sidewalk and he felt himself tumble over.

As Peter straightened himself up, he saw Sadie struggling to get four long-stemmed sunflowers into her mouth.  Their bright yellows and reds burst through the gloom of his heart like a beacon of hope.

Peter gently pried them from Sadie’s mouth.  He dried them off with the side of his shirt and examined them.  They seemed no worse for wear and Peter looked around to see if anyone appeared to be missing them.  He stood up and held the flowers in his hand, staring down at them as an idea formed in his head.

“Good girl,” he told Sadie with a smile as they turned around to make their way home.  Peter knew exactly what he was going to do with these flowers and now he just had to find a card to write on so he could welcome Miss Maxwell to the school.

Garden Victory Part 4

Arthur watched from the back of the church as the congregation processed up the aisle.  Some of the people went back to their pews, where they belong, thought Arthur, and some of them headed for the exit.  As they walked past him, Arthur grunted, disgusted by the lack of respect these individuals had for the Body of Christ.  Damn you, he thought.  You’ll burn in hell for your sins.  Even though a large part of Arthur took comfort in this judgment, a smaller part pitied the fools.  Such a stupid price to pay, eternity in hell, just to avoid traffic.

Arthur checked his watch.  Mass had gone over long.  It was now six o’clock and they still had fifteen minutes to go.  It was the windbag priest. “Anything extra goes back to St. Michael’s,” he repeated a dozen times discussing the bishop’s annual appeal.   Finally, the priest got to “The Mass has ended.  Go in peace,” and Arthur headed for the nearest exit.

On the way out the door, Arthur made sure not to make eye contact with the woman collecting change for the parish’s refugee resettlement program.  Stupid immigrants.  He hated that St. Michael’s contributed so much money to these foreigners.  Why should a complete stranger get his money?

The woman tapped him on the arm.   “We could really use your help,” she said.

He ignored her and started walking faster.  As he headed across the street to his car, Arthur prayed the woman would leave him the hell alone.  He looked up just in time to see the look of horror on the young girl’s face as she slammed on her brakes.

“Watch where you’re going!” Arthur yelled.

“I’m sorry!”  The girl looked shaken. “Are you okay?” she asked, getting out of the car.

“No thanks to you,” he huffed.

“I was just trying to help.” Arthur didn’t say anything and started towards his car again.  The girl seemed to dither on the spot, then reached into her car and pulled out four sunflowers.  They had long stems.  “Here, take these,” she said as she shoved them into Arthur’s hands.  “To make up for almost hitting you.”  The girl seemed to think she was doing Arthur a great favor what with how she smiled getting back into her car.

Arthur threw the flowers on his front seat.  What the hell am I going to do with these, he thought as he drove away.  He hadn’t driven too far, when he noticed a flyer on his windshield.  It was asking for donations for refugees.  At a stop sign, he grabbed one of the flowers and tried to use its stem to remove the flyer.  It didn’t work, so he tossed it out the window.  He chucked the other three out after it.  There, he thought.  Maybe a refugee will find them.  He drove away leaving the flowers behind.  Arthur chuckled to himself.  Now, that’s the kind of charity I can get behind.

Garden Victory Part 3

Kayla sat in the parking lot.  Twice she opened her car door, but each time slammed it shut.  She kept looking through the restaurant window, seeing the girls clustered around a table.  They laughed and smiled, scooping up ketchup with French fries and slurping on sodas.  It was no different than the cafeteria at school.  Not one of them seemed to have a care in the world.

Kayla sighed, looking at her body.  She never knew what to feel about it, what with half the posts on her Facebook feed celebrating a big and curvy female body and the other half telling her she could get rid of her muffin top in as little as 21 days.  But Kayla liked her muffin top.  It gave her something to hold on to when she was feeling shy – she could cross her arms and hold herself tight – and then maybe she could get through whatever it was she needed to.

For right now, though, Kayla felt sure that getting past the girls inside was not something she needed to get through.  So she stayed in her car, turning it back on.  As she headed to the drive through she put down her window.  Just then, two of the girls came out, drink cups held in their hands like trophies.  They snickered as Kayla drove by and stopped a few feet ahead of them, waiting for the cars in front of her.

Kayla pretended not to notice as the girls strode past.  But she couldn’t ignore their calls of greeting.  “Hey Kayla,” one said.  “Watcha gonna get?”

Kayla shrugged, but the girl didn’t give up.  She pulled a dollar out of her pocket.  “Here,” she said, throwing it through the window and laughing.  “Keep it to their dollar menu.  Maybe then you won’t get so fat.”

The girl didn’t wait for Kayla’s response, which was good because Kayla didn’t have one other than to turn bright red.  Once the girls had gotten into their own cars and driven away, Kayla pulled her car out of the line and drove off in the other direction.

After a few miles, Kayla realized that she was lost.  She hit the GPS button on her phone and waited for its instruction.  “Turn left onto Hummingbird Lane,” it commanded, so Kayla did.

A quarter of a mile down the road, Kayla stopped.  There in front of someone’s yard was a beautiful display of cut flowers.  They were all propped up in paint buckets with the words 25 cents each written in black marker.  The buckets spanned the entire length of two picnic benches.  At one end was a metal box with an opening. Honor System it said.

Kayla grabbed the dollar bill on her seat.  She picked four sunflowers in various shades of reds and yellows and gave the dollar in payment.  She smiled as she got into her car, thinking that flowers were better than French fries anyway.

Garden Victory Part 2

Margie dragged the last of the empty paint buckets to her garage.  She would take them out to the curb later.  Back inside, she flopped on her couch and stared up at the ceiling.  She nodded in satisfaction.  Painting all her ceilings had been the right choice.  It took three long weeks, but what else would she have done with that time?

A little voice told Margie exactly what she could have done with that time.  For a second Margie considered knocking on Stella’s door.  They had been neighbors on Hummingbird Lane for over 10 years and best friends ever since.  Well, except for the last month.

Margie still wasn’t sure what happened.  Half-hoping, half -joking she asked if Stella would consider chopping down her weeping willow tree.  Margie’s new pool turned out to be one big hassle, especially the daily cleaning of debris.  Most of it came from Stella’s weeping willow.

“How dare you,” Stella yelled.  “Matthew planted that tree 30 years ago when we moved in!”

“I’m sorry,” Margie told her.  “I didn’t think….”

“That’s right you didn’t.  Just like you didn’t think when you decided to get that piece of shit pool in the first place.”

Their fight escalated after that with a lot of sweeping generalizations, over-exaggerations, and dredging up of the past as is wont to happen when two people who have a long history and love each other get into a fight.  Margie and Stella had not spoken since then, so Margie had plenty of free time on her hands.  Enough, to paint her chipped and cracked ceilings which Stella had pointed out made her house look run down.  As Margie continued to stare at her ceiling, her phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Margie?  It’s Sophia.  Listen, I know you and my mom haven’t talked much lately, but could you check on her?”

“Is Stella okay?

“No.  It’s my dad – he was diagnosed with cancer a month ago.”

“Jesus,” Margie breathed.  “I had no idea.  I’ll call her.”

“Margie, it was fast spreading.  The doctors said there was nothing they could do.  Dad died this morning.”

In a split second it was as if their fight last month had never happened.  “I’m going over there now,” Margie said and she hung up.

Margie found Stella laying in her garden, only it wasn’t a garden anymore.  Every single plant was hacked to shreds with the colorful blooms scattered everywhere.  She saw the weeping willow high above Stella’s house swaying in the breeze.  Margie’s own tears now echoed its sadness.   

“Come on,” Margie said as she picked up Stella from the ground.  “Let’s get you inside.”  As they walked to the house, Margie lamented the flowers they trampled on.  Then she remembered the empty paint buckets in her garage.  They could hold dozens of flowers.  Perhaps their beauty wouldn’t have to be wasted after all.  Margie gave Stella’s shoulder a squeeze.  “And don’t you worry, I’ll take care of this mess.”

Garden Victory Part 1

Stella stood among the sunflowers, daisies, peonies, hydrangeas, and roses.  The tears that rolled down her face hit the ground.  She looked around to see if her sorrow had been absorbed into their roots.  But the flowers didn’t wither and die.  Instead, they stood tall and luscious; the sun showering them with vibrancy and life.

“Traitors,” Stella muttered. “It’s like you don’t even care that he’s gone.”  Stella reached down and pulled her gardening apron to her, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes.  As she did a pair of shears fell out of the pocket.  She knelt down to pick them up, but stayed on the ground paralyzed by the flowers towering over her.  Were they really as callous as they seemed?

Stella turned the shears over and over in her hands.  The ground felt hard underneath her, but somehow that did not encourage Stella to get up.  What would Matthew say about her sitting in the garden, she wondered.  Would he behave in typical Matthew fashion and call her silly, laughing as he pulled her up? Give her a hug and a kiss on her forehead?

Well I’ll never know, Stella thought.  Matthew is dead and I’ll never know what he would think about this.  I’ll never know what he would think about anything again. 

Stella continued turning the gardening shears in her hands.  As she did, the words, Matthew is dead, turned over in her mind.  The words and movement both seemed involuntary and she didn’t know how to stop either.  She started squeezing the shears together, just for something different to do.  Then, as another torrent of tears was unleashed, Stella began hacking the flowers closest to her.  Down came the roses.

“Bravo,” they seemed to shout, taunting her with every snip of her shears.  “Now you’re getting somewhere.”  So, she kept going.  Down came the hydrangeas, then the peonies, and the daisies.  Last, came the sunflowers.  She did not stop until every flower laid on the ground, their remaining foliage and stems at half-mast of where they had once been.

Stella looked at her work.  “There,” she cried, sobbing into her hands.  “Now you’re dead, too.”  Stella wasn’t sure if she meant the garden or herself.  She sank to her knees again, but this time the ground wasn’t so hard.  The flowers cushioned her like a bed, soft and welcoming.  Stella laid down.    Maybe if she lay there long enough, the summer sun would somehow bring her back to life.  So she closed her eyes and waited.

Memoir Monday, October 24th, 2016

polar-bears

I didn’t plan to write about bears two weeks in a row, but then this past Saturday happened.  It was completely unexpected, but I had the most extraordinary encounter with two bears, Gus and Ida.  These aren’t just any bears, they happen to be polar bears which is my favorite animal of all time.  Gus and Ida also happen to be figments of Caron Levis’ and Charles Santoso’s imagination, but that does not make them any less real to me.

This past weekend I was home in Harrisburg for a day before I headed to Fall Philly, a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators event sponsored by the Eastern PA chapter.  While there, I went to the East Shore Branch of the Dauphin County Public Library to check out some of the latest children’s picture books (FYI – if you want to be a better writer, read as much as you can in the genre you’re interested in) and there they were, displayed on a wall.

ida-always

Ida, Always, was the first book I came across that day and so naturally I immediately picked it up and started reading – how could I resist a picture book about polar bears?! At about the halfway point, my eyes started tearing up.  By the end of the book, tears flowed down my cheeks and I looked around to see if anyone had noticed my emotional unraveling at a simple children’s book about friendship, love, and loss.

As usual, no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to anyone other than themselves or their children,

so I wiped my eyes and tried to get my act together.

I can’t remember ever being so moved by a picture book.  When I was finished with it, all I wanted to do was call my husband and tell him I loved him.  Being still in the library, I didn’t think it an appropriate venue for an emotionally-charged phone call declaring gratitude and affection for our relationship, so I waited until I got home.  But even after I affirmed my love for him, I was still thinking about Ida, Always.

Reading this book was a gift; not only did it inspire me to connect with someone I love and feel appreciation for our life together, but it also inspired me as a writer.  These feelings are especially apt as I start pitching my own picture book stories to agents.

One of the things I struggle most with my own work is how to know when it’s my very best.  Last May I attended the SCBWI’s Wild, Wild, Midwest conference in Naperville, IL, where one of the recurring lessons presented throughout the conference was only submit your best writing.  Apparently, a lot of people don’t and it makes for very large slush piles and tired and frustrated agents and publishers.

At that conference, authors, agents, and publishers all made recommendations on how to revise your own work (which I do) and stressed the importance of critique groups (which I attend on a regular basis). 

But it’s hard to have an unbiased and blind eye towards your own writing in determining the quality of it.

That’s why I’m so excited and grateful for my most recent bear encounter.  I now have a new benchmark for my manuscripts.  In addition to following the typical rules of story arc, character development, and pacing, I will ask myself the following: what sort of emotional response does the story evoke?  If I cannot identify what I want my readers to feel because of my story and if I do not see evidence of that response in their feedback either through direct comments or personal observation, then I will know that my story still needs some more work.  I feel grateful to have this guidance and I am optimistic my writing will continue to improve.

In the meantime, I will continue to reflect upon Ida, Always, a story that is perfect in many ways.  Thank you for coming into my life.  If you end up being my only bear sighting for the time being, I’m okay with that.

Memoir Monday, October 17th, 2016

bear

The other day I saw something move outside from the upstairs bedroom window.  I called to my husband, “It’s the bear!” and we scrambled to the window to get a better look, but then we didn’t see anything.  We headed downstairs and turned on the outside lights.  I put on my glasses because it was dusk and my vision isn’t too keen in the dark.  And there it was!  No, sadly for me, it was not the bear that’s been spotted around town, but a big, beautiful white-tailed deer.  Exciting to see in the front yard, yes, but not what I wanted.

Apparently black bears wander in and around the town of Norfolk, CT, on a regular basis, and everyone keeps seeing them except for me.  

I find this wholly unfair because I LOVE BEARS! 

When I was three-years old, I fell in love with the polar bear at the Philadelphia Zoo and I have never looked back.

When I started working for a research group back in the early 2000s, I was asked by one of my coworkers to name my favorite wild animal.  I said, “POLAR BEAR!” and then she asked me to explain why.  I told her it’s because they are white, adorable, fun, and they like to play in the snow. Turns out that was a “psychological personality test” and I just explained to everyone at work how others see me.

For reference, if you want to play this game at home, you can also ask, “What is your favorite domestic animal and why?”  That answer determines how you see yourself.   My answer to that question was dog, of course, and then I said it’s because dogs are loyal and always happy to see you.

But, I see plenty of dogs every day all day and while this is great fun for me and I would never want to not have a dog to play with, I long to see a bear ambling down the street.  One of my favorite children’s stories I’ve written thus far has to do with a bear breaking into to someone’s house to take a look around and unlike many of my children’s stories, this story was not inspired by observations from my daily life (oh, how I wish!), but it came solely from my love of bears.

It feels like every day someone comes into the café where I work and mentions a bear sighting.  Someone saw them on Route 44!  Another saw one on Maple Ave!  Not just one, but a mama and three babies! I know this is a lot of exclamation points, but I’m pretty sure a bear is my spirit animal and it doesn’t seem fair that everyone is seeing them except for me.

To add to my dismay, a regular came into the café just yesterday and complained that someone had let their dog poop in the middle of the walkway.  As a big believer in karma, I felt once I knew about such a crappy situation (HAHA, pun totally intended) it was my job to clean it up.  You can’t just leave a mess for someone else…only, I’m pretty sure it was bear poop once I got out there.  Universe, why must you torment me? 

My husband says I have to stop looking for one.  Only then, will it happen.  I suppose he does have a point, considering that’s kind of how we met.  It was early January and I was thinking about the imminent end of my job as an associate professor.  I had handed in my resignation October 1st, 2015, effective for May 31st, 2016, which may seem like a ridiculously long time but I wanted my university to have plenty of time to find a replacement for me and if you didn’t know, things move at a snail’s pace in academia.

I realized that given the life I was about to start (i.e., writing, wandering, dreaming), I didn’t want to find anyone who was settled with a house and lots of stuff as a potential mate.  I had just spent months getting rid of almost all of my belongings.  I remember thinking very clearly to myself, what I really want is someone who will travel around with me and go from one housesitting job to another, NOT a person with a house and job in IL.  So I immediately stopped looking because I was on my way out of there.

I kid you not, less than one week later I attended a writers group at a local college where the group always goes for a little socialization afterwards at an in-town restaurant.  I walked into the restaurant, sat down at the bar, and on my right-hand side sat my future husband.  He was in town for work and he had asked his colleagues for a recommendation about where to get some good old-fashioned Chicago Deep Dish pizza.

A few weeks later we eloped in Nashville.  So, I think it’s clear I need to do something similar with my bear quest.

I am now putting this out there to all the bears: 

Bears, I love you!  I long to see you from a distance while you romp and play in the wild.  If you could be doing funny antics, that would be awesome, too, and if you give me enough time to get out my phone to take a picture so I can post it in my blog and on social media, I would be ever grateful.  Thanks!  Love, Kelly

Memoir Monday – September 26th, 2016

angelina-and-brad

Let’s just get this out of the way – No, I do not personally know Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, their children, their lawyers, or anyone who knows the ins and outs of their family.  In fact, since Jennifer Aniston wrote an essay about the shaming that goes on under the guise of journalism for the choices that she has made in her life (oh, the irony for her to be included in this essay), I vowed not to read celebrity gossip news story anymore and I’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to my commitment.

But, headlines are everywhere and I am on social media so here’s what I know about the situation: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are getting divorced.  Here are how the responses play out, as I’ve observed:

1)      People are mad that we spend any time discussing celebrity news stories in a world where poverty, war, hunger, and climate change are just a few of the issues we really should be concerned about.

2)      People are indifferent; they could not care less at this couple getting divorced.

3)      People are gleeful.  It could be because they were team Jennifer (which for the record I was; I doubt I will ever love a show as much as I loved Friends) or it could be a case of schadenfreude, which is when we find pleasure in others’ peoples misfortunes

4)      Other

You’ll notice that my fourth option is rather generic and it has to be because I taught statistics and research methods for many years and the recovering academic in me cannot have a list of options that is not exhaustive (meaning every possible alternative is given).  So in this option, we have a whole spectrum of possible responses including excited that Brad or Angelina may now show up on Tinder or, in my case, broken heart.

Yes, I am heartbroken over this divorce and here’s why: I have never been divorced, but I know what it’s like to have a relationship end.

Some have been amicable and some have been awful.  But no matter what type of breakup there is, I always feel a sense of loss.

For the amicable splits, it could be like saying goodbye to pumpkin spice when spring returns (even though we now know pumpkin isn’t really pumpkin).  It’s not too hard to say goodbye because we have fond memories and the promise of new scents out there, like lilac and fresh mown grass.  Besides, pumpkin spice always comes back, right?  If we just wait long enough…. And who knows?  You might have moved on to peppermint by then anyway.

For the awful splits, well, most of us know how that feels.  The worst was always that first morning after a breakup.  You wake up feeling exhausted and drained, with a hollowed-out sensation behind your eyes which also feel prickly, but you’re not sure why.  There’s a sense of something not being quite right and then it comes back and hits you like an elephant sitting on your chest – you are now alone and no longer in a relationship.

So can you imagine suffering that sense of loss and then being reminded about it in the newspaper, on the television, or the internet?  Not because there was a reference to a song the two of you shared or a book or movie the both of you enjoyed, but because there is an actual story written about your breakup for others to read and comment on as they see fit.  People who don’t even know you get to call you names and make assumptions about who said/did what and how the other person felt about it.

I want you to seriously imagine what that would be like.  Go on, close your eyes at the end of this paragraph and picture it happening to you – you feel vulnerable, pessimistic, and unloved, and millions of people know it. 

MILLIONS. OF. PEOPLE.

So that’s why my heart is broken.  Because I can imagine what that feels like and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, let alone two people who made a commitment to love each other and raise a family together only to see that commitment come undone years later.

I am now going to offer a fifth option for a response to Angelina and Brad’s divorce.  For those of you who believe in the power of prayer, pray for them and their family.  For those of you who do not, simply hold them in your mind and wish them well.

Imagine if everyone reading Angelina and Brad stories did this!  Let’s guessitmate that’s 10% of the US population.  We would get a new equation that looks like this:

(Angelina – Brad) + 32,000,000*<3 = <3  to ∞

Angelina and Brad would cancel each other out and we would be left with an abundance of love.  Simple, I know, and idealistic, yes.  But I’m okay with that because I also taught the rule of parsimony in research methods which tells us that we need to keep things simple.

So what do y’all think?  Should we try this?  Think it will work?  I would love to hear your comments.

If you enjoyed this post, I’ve got plenty more where this came from and it can all be delivered right to your inbox.  All you have to do is subscribe to my blog.  Parsimony strikes again!

Twelve Minutes – A Flash Fiction Story in 486 Words

Twelve Minutes

Lennie checked her watch.  The bus wasn’t due for another twelve minutes.  She sank onto the bench, shoulders hunched.  The burden of the phone call Lennie received on her way to work that morning still weighed heavily on her.

Robert was in jail.  She had warned her son not to get involved with his ex-girlfriend again.  The two of them together were nothing but trouble and now trouble had turned into a 2:00am screaming match outside his girlfriend’s apartment, complete with slapped faces and shattered beer bottles.  The stories always changed about who exactly did what.  Lennie knew they both had their own versions of the story, not that either were ever fully right or wrong.

Lennie sighed.  Why did they always have to resort to violence?  Matthew 5:39 – “But I tell you do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”  The latter part of this verse sat on Lennie’s couch at home, stitched on one of her pillows.  She must have said it over a thousand times to Robert in his twenty-two years of life.

Lord, give me strength, Lennie thought.  She closed her eyes at the invocation, repeated her prayer several times, and then opened her eyes.  Lennie blinked into the sunlight.

To her surprise, she no longer sat alone on the bench.  Lennie recognized the woman next to her as Sister Francis Marie.  Lennie had volunteered at the St. Catherine’s soup kitchen on occasion and Sister Fran often provided songs during dinner time.  Lennie could listen to Sister Fran sing for hours.  She never knew which touched her heart more –providing a decent meal to others or listening to Sister Fran’s angelic voice.

Lennie could faintly hear that voice now amidst the bustle of the street.  Sister Fran sang along to her headphones, tapping her feet.  Lennie watched from the corner of her eye as Sister Fran stopped singing and searched for a new song.  Her lips pursed as if concentrating on the holiest of tasks.  Finally, Sister Fran began singing again.

Lennie knew the song.  It had been on the radio several years ago.  As Sister Fran bopped her head along and lamented about where the love had gone in the world, Lennie wondered the same thing.  Well, I still have love to give, she thought, so that’s what I’m going to do.  She imagined a beautiful angel wrapping up Robert and his girlfriend in her glorious white wings.  She held the vision for a few moments in her heart and then let it go up into the heavens.

At that moment, her bus came and Lennie stood up.  She didn’t feel so heavy anymore.  Lennie took one more look at Sister Fran.  Her prayer had been answered.  Thank you, God, she thought and with a smile she got on the bus, ready to see her son.