Thursday, December 23, 2010


What lore has Santa left you?

Are the holidays for you a cautionary tale, or do you subscribe to cheer and revelry all the way? Is your story filled with highs and lows? Do you yet seek that storybook ending?

My kids are on the cusp of leaving their first Santa beliefs behind, although I’m not sure I ever will. At worst my oldest tries to submarine the views of my youngest, but not overtly. At best, they ask pointed questions.

I steadfastly and repeatedly respond, “If you believe, then he will come.” Very field of dreams of me, I admit.

I may never face the facts as presented to me when I was six — angrily and with more than a hint of “Got ya!” by my sister. She was mad at me because she had chicken pox, and I didn’t — yet.

So that brings me to my next question, “Do your early holiday experiences set the stage for life, or at some point, do you become your own director?”

Surly the answer is the latter, but there are some childhood memories that cut such a deep gully in our gut, they never totally dry up — good or bad, and they almost always center around the holidays. I still call my childhood friend most years just after "present opening hour" to say, "What'd ya get?" just like I did when we were 10 and living two meters apart. I'm not totally certain she realizes why I do that. But it makes my day.

For me the holidays reflect differently depending on what pool of life I’ve been swimming in.

This year is a little strained, and I’ve been sort of surfing through the necessary Santa-like steps without much vigor. In recent years we’ve been surrounded by a flurry of activity, friends and family, and this year we’re on our own. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not what the holidays have come to mean to me.

I like a good crowd. And people don’t think I relax enough when the house is full, but that’s the way I like it. A full to over-flowing house, and me somewhere in the middle of the mix doin’ my thing. This makes me happy. Relaxing really isn’t how I roll much, anyway.

So I’m trying to wrap my misgivings around a new perspective. We’re doing things differently this year, and I’m curious about how I’ll feel — happy or sad — through it all.

My Aunt Wendy told me once she keeps her Christmas music in her car year-round, because it makes her happy. I love that idea. In fact, each year I seem to buy a new Christmas song book to play on the piano or guitar, but I don’t really get motivated much before Thanksgiving to begin playing.

But I could be anywhere, and when one of the songs comes on from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, I stop and listen. For a while I did public relations for a ballet company. As crazy as it was, I never tired of the music or watching the glitz and the glitter from all angles on stage during Nutcracker season. And then later the same came true for me at Great Lakes Theater Festival during A Christmas Carol. Time spent in the theatre was and is magical — anytime, but especially at Christmas time.

My dad passed away just before Christmas. This evokes such sad memories, but also it was his favorite time of year, even though he may’ve never admitted it. I like to remember him surrounded by family and his favorite holiday fare. Maybe this is where I get my inkling to by surrounded. Maybe that's my dad's legacy.

And now my oldest daughter Zoe shares my love for all things theatre and Nutcracker. She was lucky enough to perform with The Washington Ballet while we lived in DC. She told me today, "I was in Act 1, scene six, mom." Wow. She could probably pull out the exact stanza of her entrance, too. I'm pretty certain these memories are sure enough to shape her future holidays.

So maybe that’s a large part of the answer. Our memories comprise our internal almanac, which forecast weather based on historic outlook. In other words, we may never truly be free of Santa’s early legacy, but we are fully capable of creating memories of our own design for years to come.

Here's to you and yours. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


It’s a rush.

Finding out your change of station destination is that same breath-taking moment when you reach the pinnacle of a really rockin' rollercoaster. The wave of emotion swiftly rolls through — and then you open your mouth to smile, scream, cry, laugh, or just breathe.

And then the ride’s over. All that waiting in line, and the moment is just that — a moment. Now you know. Time to look at the picture and to process.

For us, we’re returning next year to England, where our third child was born in 2002.

A friend recently asked me, not exactly but essentially, if I had one period of time to do over — like an extended Groundhog Day, what would it be?

The very next day, we learned we are slated to return to Mildenhall, where we lived in and around from 2002-2006. I immediately remembered that question.

It’s not a do-over, though; nothing of the sort. Our initial stay was the first time we lived overseas. Our children were infants. Our experiences were from a different perspective. Our years were filled with extreme highs and lows, never to repeat.

Little vignettes from those years keep playing through my mind. Memories, along with thoughts of friends made and lost, and lessons learned — all give me pause.

So it’s sort of like going home again. But you never truly go home, or go back, although certain places do feel more like home than others. For us, England is one of those places, for reasons both complex and simple.

For now, I’ll savor the thrill of knowing, and b-r-e-a-t-h-e into the next forward motion.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I remember years ago when we lived in San Antonio I wrote a piece around this time of year about the Salvation Army bell ringers I passed each day on my way to work at the San Antonio Symphony. The offices were right in the heart of downtown next to the Majestic Theatre, and I passed many an opportunity to give in my to-ing and fro-ing each day.

I was perplexed by how often/how much, when and which bell ringer I might give my spare change. Because how often do you drop into the bucket? How much is enough? What if my pockets are empty? Will the ringer remember me tomorrow when I walk by his bucket and bell without dropping anything inside?

I still struggle each year with giving choices. Now that the children are in school and extracurricular activities, the opportunities to contribute have grown, as well as, perhaps the meaning. I hope my kids grow up with charity in their hearts and minds, so I make an effort to involve them, as well.

I enjoy giving, and I enjoy feeling a part of the community and actively involving the family in the larger picture during this time of largess. I guess I’ve never gotten comfortable with having to choose between all the worthy causes, and my budgetary limitations.

Nowadays, I'd like to find something in which we all participate each year, and make it a family tradition. I need to be creative, though, because we move enough to make this somewhat of a challenge.

I don't like disappointing anyone. And the holidays are a time when we all (at least many of us?) wish to brighten someone's day. My nearest and dearest might say in my effort not to disappoint even one, I end up falling short for all, or at least feeling that way.


My mother says guilt is a wasted emotion. If that’s true, then I waste a lot of time feeling guilty. In fact, If I could be more frugal with my wastefulness, both in time and money, then maybe I could also be more free to give...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


As conditioned as military families are to look steadfastly forward, it is at times when change is imminent when this military spouse tends to dig my emotional heels in and duck; in a metaphorical refusal to take the next step — a climber who can't stop looking at the ground, which impedes the purpose.

Sort of like when young children don’t want to go somewhere (no matter where that where might be) — they tend to hold on to their parent with dear life. Extracting them takes gentle and sometimes extreme measures of force.

That’s how I feel.

For surely, come the new year, the Greszlers will find out what the near future holds, and it involves a move — somewhere. Whenever that happens, no matter how frustrated I am with the oven that never quite works, or the windows, which seep all weather through the year, everything takes on new significance.

Change is hard, no matter how schooled we are in executing it.

It’s cyclical. It takes a year to gain one’s bearings, find doctors, make the latest location into one’s own; another year to get involved; and maybe one more to really feel part of the community. Three years is just long enough to grow roots. Not the shallow ones, which are easily removed with one tug, but the ones with supporting anchors, which take a bit more force to uproot.

I’m on that cusp between holding on and letting go.

Friends and community are so important. And while we maintain connections with friends the world over, it is those people who play roles in our daily lives, who hold immediate significance. It’s hard to look past that — over the cliff of change.

Once you let go and begin the slide down, everything sort of slips into this single lense, long-range focus. Forward looking sometimes gives me tunnel vision. It becomes more difficult for me to see what’s going on in the periphery of life.

I hope recognizing this somehow helps me balance on the precipice between now and then.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wayward Weather

It’s raining today. Whenever I wake up and hear the tell-tale sounds, I wonder about my day. Somehow — for me anyway, the rain changes the dynamic.

Maybe the agenda of the day doesn’t need to take the pre-plotted route my ICal has mapped out for me.

Maybe I should cancel any unnecessary commitments and re-read the last Harry Potter before the movie comes out in a few weeks; or paint a chair; or try and nail that guitar riff I’ve been working on forever.

Somehow the rain gives me license to map out a different day. I don’t know why. But I like it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Very important — use your favorite “p” word to fill in the blank. Get creative. Don’t stop at the obvious. See what you come up with...

...but while you're answering the question, "Who/what is a VIP — a very important person; able to take the exclusive top spot," do you ever answer it with, "Me."?

I was watching a documentary on yoga the other night called “Enlighten Up.” The documentarian, Kate Churchill, poked around at the myriad of yoga practices both in the United States and at the worldwide root, asking many of the questions that’ve been rattling around in my head.

Such as, “when did the practice of yoga begin?”

It was amusing the random answers given by different yoga instructors. I’m still not sure there’s a definite or at least widely-accepted one.

But I got a few things out of my time spent viewing.

One of them was this: I’m a very important person, not that's easy for me to say — or write. Whether I’m liked or not liked, I’m still the same very important person.

I like that thought, and want to pass it on.

It came in handy this week as I was coaching my 10 & under swimmers. One of them is having a particularly difficult time transitioning from being “one in the crowd” of summer swim, able to goof off at will, and suddenly being on the opposite end of my focus for an hour, twice a week, swimming for one of the top clubs in the country. It's "GO" time. He doesn’t like it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about him. I hope I have the opportunity to convey to him how important he is to me. So important, in fact, that for that one hour twice a week, he and his lane co-horts have my undivided attentions and total focus. They are my VIPs.

So all this led me to my children's book shelf, where there’s a work written and illustrated by Jon Muth called The Three Questions. It’s based on the teachings of Tolstoy and focuses on a little boy who wants to know:

“When is the best time to do things?”

“Who is the most important one?” and,

“What is the right thing to do?”

I thought of both the yoga movie and this book when I was coaching last night, and this boy completely broke down in anger and frustration when I made him come back to the wall to correct a stroke drill and to start over. He refused to finish practice. I'm trying to work through the feelings that I failed him.

I don’t know if there’s any best way to convey how important he is to me during the hour we have together; so much so that I expect the best out of him, and me.

I also don’t know if we ever really get good at answering those three questions and living compassionately in the moment; understanding how important we our to ourselves.We deserve nothing less than the best we have to give. Every hour.

Friday, September 24, 2010



"little boxes on the hillside
little boxes made of ticky tacky
little boxes on the hillside
little boxes all the same" 

...“Are you happy with the box you’ve placed YOURSELF in?” my friend asked me today over coffee.

I was rambling on about boxes and how I didn’t like the pre-folded ones that come with most stereotypes. So she challenged me with this question. I love that.

I get all twisted up over classification boxes often used to describe a larger group of individuals, because it’s difficult to fit anyone REAL in those pre-fabs. They’re usually too narrow — or just the opposite: overly roomy; made for way too many over-generalizations.

No one person would fit comfortably in any of those without banging around; knocking into all the pre (ill?)-conceived notions, let alone entire nations. We see this played out today with devastating clarity, as we watch current events unfold. 

It is difficult to process, when you find yourself/your country placed into a crate of misunderstanding and hatred so big, the issue becomes about the box itself — you, lost somewhere inside trying to get out.

Yet I find all day long we either are steered or walk on our own volition into these wide-sweeping categorizations. It makes me uncomfortable when I find myself being encapsulated or me being the "encapsulater." Don’t do that — in either case.

As the election looms, I'll jet out and declare my position — I don’t like the wide sweeping inclusions with the words “Republican,” or “Democrat.” I find values in either to which I relate, and many things in both to which I don’t. (Yet the term “Independent” seems too vague.). I believe in the structure our founding fathers created, and in the notion of balance. I try to navigate through all the noise to find that for myself. 

When I watch two major parties  desecrate each other in an attempt to place their weighty box on top in a power struggle, I wonder which one will get there, and think one or both is bound to topple, and take my individuality with it. I do believe strongly the answer rests in the great variety of we, the people. Not in any one person, or leader.

With all my misgivings about boxes,  I didn't respond directly to the question my friend posed — at first. I drifted off into an entire MAZE  of box-related analogies. Eventually (after changing the subject as a tactic to allow myself time to think) I rejoined her with something like this:

“I guess I like the box I made for myself right now, but ask me again in a few years. My box just may look different then.”

(P.S. My husband’s response to this post was typically rational; providing a perspective balancer to my often tippy canoe. He pointed out that stereotypes, while often broad-reaching and damaging, aren't ALL necessarily bad, or dangerous. They are a way to process and filter; while still being able to function and move forward. Food for thought.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


If we don’t actively pursue our dreams, where do they go?

Do they dissipate, or do they simply morph. Or are they shelved somewhere in our psyche, so that if we were to really go looking, we would find them again. Dust them off. Put them back onto the shelf to once again consider.

Is the answer, “ALL OF THE ABOVE?”

Dreams, like clouds, float along across our life’s sky. At times we can see the shape of them. Other times, they turn against us, and we get wet or knocked in between the eyes with big, hard, “Snap out of it, you idiot” ball of hail.

Perhaps we wake up one day and feel the heavy fog of them lingering from visiting us in our sleep. They still feel real, if only for a moment.

Or maybe they’re shadows. Depending on the time of our lives, they are either ahead of us leading the way or trailing behind, as we struggle to pull them along, long or short in stature.

I challenge you to visit one dream, wherever it is. You kept it close for a while, but put away for safe keeping. Is it still there? Can you see it? Does it need to come out and play?

Maybe today’s the day.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Signals. Sometimes I miss them, or it takes two our three iterations before I take notice. It happens. We’re all busy; distracted by our daily dozen lists — a dozen loads of laundry; bills to pay; places to be at once.

So when someone pops into my thoughts with whom I haven’t communicated in a while, it takes me a minute, or even a second (third?) prompt to act on my impulse — to pick up the phone and say, “Hi;” or to write a quick e-mail.

In fact, I’m really good at thinking of the top ten reasons to NOT pick up the phone or send the e-mail. I can be really awkward, or again, distracted. And then I feel badly because the conversation might not go the way I imagined.

I guess the same goes for interfacing in person.

Not all conversations end well. That was a particularly poignant statement a former employer of mine

made to me. Not all conversations end well. That’s tough for me to swallow, but I think I’ve finally come to terms with it.

Which makes it easier, I guess, to reach out and begin a conversation, even if I’m uncertain of the outcome.

I’ve had a lot of discussions this week. I guess more than usual, otherwise maybe I wouldn’t have noticed or thought so much about them. It’s been one of those weeks.

Every conversation is an opportunity to make connections — new ones, old ones, broken ones. Whatever the case, conversations are a worthwhile pastime, though not always easy. And not always fun.

So don’t shy away. Go ahead. Make eye contact. Connect. Be heard. Ask the question. What you have to say may just make a difference in someone’s life, their day, or maybe even your own.

I hope you're well. Write back. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Fall’s here, and I LIKE it. I wake up with new purpose and more viv. Somehow marking the end of summer doesn’t make me sad. It makes me feel more ENERGIZED.

I know I’m not alone here. There was a poll on CBS SUNDAY last week, and many, especially parents, celebrate this season. It centers around a return to school for the kids, cooler weather and all things colorful and good tasting; not necessarily in that order. This year I’ve added the new TV season into my cause for anticipation. I actually look forward to a couple of shows (which is not the usually the case), and they’re all racked and stacked in my DVR list.

WEEDS returned. So I finally sucked it up and subscribed to Showtime to see the series first run, instead of waiting for the freebies on Netflix. I burned through all six seasons that way late last winter. The show’s writers seem particularly skilled at taking stereotypes on a rollercoaster ride through twists and turns. And the actors take it all the way to a ridiculously funny, black tunnel kind of a full tilt boogie.

I wonder, though, if this is the season it “jumps the shark.” My husband uses this phrase to describe a program one season past its prime. It’s a reference to an episode of HAPPY DAYS when you just knew it was over. Fonzie literally jumped a shark. It’s a perfect way to swiftly sum that affliction up.

For me the surprise hit of the season is THE BIG C with Laura Linney. I guess I worked in theater just long enough to feel compelled to search out the good roles and appreciate them when they come around. She’s amazing in this one. I imagine if acting was my craft, I’d die for this role. But that’s just it.

It’s about dying — and knowing it. So this perplexes me.

I watched it last night and found myself completely supporting and celebrating Kathy’s (Linney’s character) erratic behavior; sort of yearning myself to act it out, figuratively or maybe literally. She does and says all the things you think about doing and saying but decide otherwise for a variety of reasons. And I keep wondering, why do we wait until our life is fading fast to let it all out?

I’m not sure. And I’m not sure how my friends who have been through “The big C” or something similar feel about this show. Some of them aren’t here to respond. So I’m left wondering if any of this is valid to their experience. I lost a dear friend a while ago to a very quick and ultimately lethal bout of cancer. I’m not sure she had any time to revel.

We lived overseas at the time. I learned and experienced her illness through e-mail. My husband was deployed, and I’d just had my third child. My baby didn’t yet have a passport. I didn’t make it back, and I really didn’t get to say goodbye. It happened so quickly. I visited her husband and family later that year.

I wonder if my friend Jen had any time to reflect and work it all out, like this character does; ordering just dessert and drinks for dinner. I know she worked on sort of a reference book for her children to remember her by. She also had a hat party when she lost her hair. Jen left life with the same grace by which she lived it. And she planned everything.

My dad’s passing wasn’t so swift, and I’ve come to believe he got lost in this illness. Or we stopped seeing him through it. This I will regret forever. And there are others. Some had no time to reflect, let alone acknowledge the end of their life.

Maybe that’s way I’m so intrigued by the show. It’s a way to remember loved ones lost. I’d like to think they had moments of total, uninhibited release. It also makes me wonder how I might behave, given the same fate.

Of course, if we all tossed our inhibitions to the wind, we’d lose our sense of order. Or would we? And maybe if we just explored this a little now while we're here indefinitely, we’d all feel just a little bit more alive this season, as well as the next...

Friday, September 3, 2010


I’ve been absolutely absent as of late. A couple of you have written to let me know you miss my posts. That makes me feel good, and I’m grateful for your encouraging words. I guess I've been on a syllable sabbatical: flitting and floating; packing and going; drinking and dining. But mostly — just sort of on an ongoing vacuous vacation (apparently one of the side effects is shameless alliteration).

If not gone physically, then I've definitely been away mentally. You see, I’ve taken up a whole new past time. I read trashy vampire serial novels by J.R. Ward. (Admission/confession is the first step to recovery, right?) They don’t even rank in the “summer read” category. Or at least they didn’t in my mind, but my standards recently changed.

In June my sister schlepped the mother load to me on a visit from Chicago, and while I at first pushed the books to the side of my nightstand with a whiff of high disregard, I eventually acquiesced, and they’ve been my constant companions of late. I think I’m on my fifth or sixth one, now. They’re soft porn for the sexually less deviant. The main characters have names like Wrath, Revhenge and Phury.

I know, right? I confessed to my sister mid-way through the first read that I was utterly unimpressed and a little more than judgmental until I got to the sex parts. My “core” (to which a woman’s sexual center for business is often referred) responded. I got hooked on all that manhood.

So yeah. I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch. I’ve been busy in between the sheets ... there’s a lot of paper to flip through in these chapters. When people ask me what I've been up to this summer, I mostly respond with the standard stuff; recounting our family car trip extravaganza, or maybe I'll throw in some good recounts of our sensational swim team season. But in the back of my mind, I'm just giddy about my latest reading frenzy. I wish it was of a more impressive bent, I do.

My husband is more than slightly bemused. I'm on the receiving side of endless gibing from him; especially from cover art and titles like, "LOVER ENSHRINED." He's right! I mean, really, how does one defend the principle of great prose behind these particular paperbacks?

I thought I was over the whole vampire thing. I didn't even go to the second Twilight cinema installment, even though I read all the books; one after the other. I turned away from my trip to teenland without much introspection. Hmmm .... that was two or three summers ago ... slippery slope ... glass houses. Yep. I've shattered any and all self-image constructs of purposeful pursuit of higher culture.

Happy Labor Day. I guess this is the book end to my last post.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


The first few days of summer are tough. I find, at least for us, it’s sort of like going to the prom. There’s so much hoopla and excitement leading up to it, the actual onset of the season sort of lands with a thug. My children take about 7-10 days to decompress from their scheduled out school days and to figure out a new, less hourly rhythm. During the interim, they fight with each other, feel antsy and out of sorts. And it’s not something you can put your finger on, but it hangs heavy in the humid air and makes everyone behave a little nuts.

This year is different for us, too, because we’re not travelling our usual path. Each summer for the past several we’ve packed up and headed for “the lake” for a week or two and in time to enjoy the same 4th of July festivities I took part in when I was a kid. I guess I didn’t realize or at least didn’t factor how much those trips defined summer for us, and how we’d feel if we didn’t travel.

This year we’re free to chalk up new expectations and experiences, but I’m not sure anyone is truly up to the task, primarily me, the family fun task master. This notion of mapping our summer out gives me pause and makes me wonder: is it really necessary to PLAN summer?

And then there’s the fact that everyone is getting older and pushing boundaries for more freedom. My son is eleven, and I’m conscious of needing to let go a little bit more. It’s difficult — to trust and to not have total (real or perceived) control over his safety. I remember when I was his age riding my bike all the way across town to swim practice. In fact, I was pretty much unchecked the entire day during the summer.

So today he rode to swim practice and tennis on his own. That was big for me. Riding your bike around Alexandria, VA is a little bit different than Huron, Ohio, but the need for that freedom and then experiencing it are much the same. It’s a pinnacle time for him. So I step back, however difficult and scary for me.

Maybe it’ll be easier with the girls when their turn comes, but I doubt it, and I don’t know where we’ll be or what my geographical/demographical worries will entail. It might be easier to send everyone to camp for “simulated” freedom, away from the parental unit, but still under some sort of supervision. It’s something to consider, but I still feel like exploring your own, everyday world under a new less “parent driven” perspective MEANS something. It weighs in on the memory scale.

So we’re in day five or six of our summer daze … things are feeling a bit more calm. Everyone seems a little less worried about “what’s next,” including me. Fingers crossed, by day 10 we will have found our summer groove — freedom from our worries along with the ability to just RELAX and enjoy whatever the day brings.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


My mom called me the other day and let me know she mailed me something and to keep a look out. I love my mom’s packages. I get the same feeling of anticipation I used to get in camp or in college when she sent me something totally delightful and unexpected.

In this particular parcel, she said she placed a pair of shorts. She walked away from them in the store, went back, bought and then tried them on every day for a week (we girls all have been there), before deciding they weren’t for her. But maybe I’d like them. I love it when I'm the beneficiary of my Mom's impulse purchases.

I was expecting to open the Priority Mail box and find a nice pair of bermudas. (I mean, if I’m 42, and my mom had me in her late 20s, then … I guess I just assumed a conservative cut …) No. I should’ve known better with Mary Jo. No. I opened the package to find a rockin’ pair of the shortest short shorts made from the cotteniest cotton I’ve ever seen — in drab green, of course; classic mom.

Now — I really don’t know why I expected anything different. She once came home and told me she’d found my wedding dress while on a trip (I was set on vintage, but she had visions of my aged couture unraveling around me down the aisle), and presented a box no larger than a standard Christmas gift box they hand out at Macy’s. I thought she was joking and bought me lingerie, or something to that effect. But, no — and yep. My wedding dress was the shortest short short nothing of a lace dress I’d ever seen. I loved it at first sight.

There’s a really funny picture from our wedding of me and my dad ‘rounding the corner into the parlor (at least our wedding site was vintage), and one of my mom’s friends faces in a big “OH!” expression in the background. I thought the tulle on my floor-length veil compensated and complimented my mini wedding gown nicely.

I love my mom. There is no one else on earth to whom I’m closer and could ever know me better. I love our friendship, but I also love that she is my mom. She is the coolest, most beautiful and courageous person. I think more than anything, she taught me to be myself, no matter what. I have to remember that as an individual and a mom to my three, now. She was never June Cleaver, nor did she ever claim/want to be, but she was always true to herself, and by extension my sister and I. I can only hope the same for my children.

She constantly surprises me, and I think it’s the coolest thing ever my mom still wears short shorts. She inspires me. I have mine on as I write this … thanks, Mom.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Today my seven-year-old (youngest) Gabby and I decided to take a day off from life's regular demands. I kept her home from school because, lately, she’s just exhausted; all the time. All of the end-of-year revelry, while fun, just gets a little overwhelming for her. We’ve been going from one year-end occasion to the next, with barely enough time to regroup and get the next sidedish prepared. She needs her down time. I can totally relate. Too much of a good thing …

… So she bopped around with me today “doing what Mommys do.” I bought her a new composition book to write a story while she waited for me at the Doctor’s office during my annual “spot check.” All clear for another year, so maybe I was in the mood to celebrate, as I sweat my sunburned youth in a big way every time I enter the dermatologist’s office… or maybe it was just the right thing on the right day.

Gabby was looking at a foodie magazine and came across summer pie recipes. Now there’s something that will cure whatever ails you: baking pies. When life is all rush rush, and you can’t seem to get a grip, there’s nothing better than throwing it all into the face of a pie. You cannot be in a hurry when you’re baking. It takes time, and patience. Now patience isn’t something I ever claimed to have much of, but lately I’ve been “actively” practicing mine through baking.

So after the doc’s office, we decided we’d chuck everything else we were supposed to accomplish, and just make a pie. Gabby chose blackberry, but blueberries are more available at the moment (therefore cheaper for six cups), so we’re going by way of the blueberry.

When I asked for lard at the local Wholefoods (I thought if anyone would have it, they would), they very nicely raised their eyebrows and said they didn’t carry it. I think at first I confused the girl, because she sent to the frozen pie crusts. No, I wanted to say, “Lard. Like tub of lard. Lard ass. Lard.” But I didn’t, because that wouldn’t have been nice and, besides, Gabby was with me. So we settled on a very expensive tub of organic “Crisco” type of product. Not the same, though.

Making pies is great therapy. It brings us together in a moment of focused, calm, togetherness, and we all enjoy creating — and then eating — our version of a masterpiece. I made my first fresh fruit pie with my dear friend Jen. She’s no longer with us on earth, and I think of her every time I make a pie. It was 4th of July about 10 years ago in Ohio, and we even did a lattice crust. It was fun, and delicious, and I can still see her smile and hear her laughter when I close my eyes and think of that moment.

Making pie isn't everyone's idea of a fun-filled day, but for me — it’s memory making magic.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


When we grow older, is it more difficult to make friends, or have we simply run out of the curiosity and openness it takes to make new, lasting connections outside of family? I wondered that last week, as I felt like going to lunch and suddenly realized I really had no one to ask (or more pointedly, felt comfortable enough to ask). I used to. That’s one of the pitfalls of moving so much and having friends who also move a lot.

Last year, for example, I had at least two great pals in proximity I could call at the drop of a hat and who I loved to visit. But now they’re gone. I haven’t “filled” their position, and I really don’t know if I have enough energy to put forth the effort. Because by next year, chances are I’ll be gone, too. (I mean, God willing, I will have moved again myself. Not gone from this earth.)

And besides, their shoes aren’t so easily filled. It’s not often you meet someone in life with whom you connect like a forgone conclusion.

It’s a cycle. But it’s also me. My husband says he worries about me; that I go a little more “into the woods” with each passing year and with every move we make. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I do. I’m a bit reclusive, anyway. It took me a few months into the year to get the urge to call someone for lunch, only to realize all my “someones” had been gone a while. Does that make me a poor friend, or simply distracted? I hope it’s the latter.

But I have dear ones. I don’t see them every day or even every year, but they’re out there. I heard from a few of them recently when Sex in the City II came out right around my birthday. We all celebrated my 40th together a couple of years ago. (I felt it premiered just for me, just like I felt some 24 years earlier that the movie Sixteen Candles debuted in my honor on my birthday). Both are good friend memories.

That makes me wonder this: As your friend memory bank grows, do you gain more fulfillment resourcing good times gone by, vs seeking out new fraternal experiences?

That’s not to say I don’t have many acquaintances throughout the day. I do see people. Mostly related to the kids’ activities and their school, but still, there are plenty of nice people to whom I can say hello and talk about the weather.

But that’s different. I think as adults it’s difficult to make visceral, instant connections with people like we did when we were young. We have too many barriers that just weren’t there before. I met one of my nearest and dearest over catching frogs. Now that’s grassroots. But it happens, still, occasionally. The stars align (or thunder). Another recent great friendship began when upon moving in to the house we live in now, our neighbor came to warn us our power goes out a lot during storms. Just then a big thunder/lightening combo hit, and there went the power. I knew right then I had to get to know her. But, alas, she's moved on ...

Those are the friendships I miss and still try to nurture across the miles. Because, who knows, maybe one day our distances won’t be so extreme. We will have lunch, and pick up our conversation right where we left it last we met.

I guess I can wait. And so today I’ll take myself out to lunch and a movie. And then, maybe I will make a few calls, just to let you know you’re in my thoughts …

Saturday, June 5, 2010


“Another chance to excel” — that’s what Rick’s old commander used to say when he threw a new challenge or “mandatory volunteer opportunity” his way in addition to his already hectic schedule. These are extracurricular activities (burdens?) without the benefit of additional pay. Think about it. We all do this to one extent or another. We give ourselves new responsibilities to fulfill in order to be fulfilled. This week I’ve given myself one of those.

We adopted a (mostly) coonhound from the local animal welfare center. His name is Horace. He is adorable … and slobbery … and hairy … and really curious. As I practice patience and force down an overwhelming desire to follow him around the house with a wet wipe in one hand and vacuum in the other, I began wondering about self-imposed challenges, vs everyday living life ones. Because surely there are enough of those ...

It seems like when life settles into certain patterns, many of us (definitely at least I) seek out new ways to climb mountains. Like this blog; I keep wondering why I’m not satisfied with simply keeping a journal. But I’m not. So I jet this out with a self-imposed deadline to keep myself accountable … mostly to keep writing, I guess. I often wonder why I create these extra challenges.

Are we genetically constructed of “survival” fiber to the extent that when we’re not fighting to simply live (or to live simply) on a daily basis, we create simulated "aliveness" situations? In the case of Horace, maybe it’s just that I love dogs. But I also love order (and the peonies I splurged on at the farmers' market this morning, which Horace promptly ate), so this seems a self-defeating prophecy, or at least a little counter-intuitive.

Maybe it’s both. After all, I am the queen of my own castle (or cabin).

And I think next week I’ll begin training for a marathon — or at least half of one. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Last weekend I learned how far I haven’t come in life. Or maybe I confirmed circles are the path we follow, after all. I’m not sure, which. But I like the notion of the circular thing much more than the idea that I’ve travelled exactly nowhere in my lifes’ journey. So I’ll go with that. Where did I get to?

I am right where I was when I was 18. I am a lifeguard. Or at least I’m now certified, as such. Again.

I’ve lived a lot of life and gotten a fairly decent education to be where I am. I’ve been responsible. I even achieved a certain level of success in my career. These are all things that tickered through my mental tape when I first entered the room in back of the building next to the garbage dumpster…

It’s difficult to describe, really, the overall experience, so let me just say it was humbling. Humbling to be among a roomful of high school seniors smattered with some college freshman and realize I was the same age as their mother. Humbling to sit on an old van seat smeared with grease stains in a room of old van seats watching Red Cross videos. Humbling to be earnestly taking notes, listening to the presenter while the paperwork processing lady kept pointing to different people in the room blurting, “Have you paid me yet? Have YOU paid me yet?” Humbling to follow behind an econo van resembling a modern version of the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and drive another 20 miles (I elected to drive myself) to swim in a freezing pool on a freezing day as an unwitting character in a public relations stunt, while the pool manager runs a play by play through her megaphone letting the pool patrons know exactly what we whacky lifeguard candidates were up to in the diving well. I felt exactly like an unexpected character in a Coen brothers’ film.

But I returned the next day and completed the process. I’m ready to coach. The kids are all signed up for summer swim team.

So it seems I’ll go to great lengths (and depths) to get my children involved or included in the short time we live in any one community. Where we live now is fairly high speed in the competition arena. So when I thought it would be a good thing for the kids to experience summer swim team, I soon realized we couldn’t get in anywhere any time soon. There are waiting lists for most of the pools in our area. That’s when I decided to present myself as a package deal. I’ve been coaching winter league for several years now, and am a certified USA Swimming coach. I knew several pools needed assistant coaches. I didn’t know I’d need to regain lifeguard certification. That came later.

I spend a lot of time worrying about my kids’ involvement in activities, which are transportable. Swimming will move with us and is available in most communities. Lacrosse is not. Fencing is tough, but piano is doable. Soccer is probably 50/50, and ballet may or may not be an option. So I think through this every time one of the kids asks to be involved in something. I want and hope for them each to find a “thing,” which they can take and have with them wherever we may go. An interest that will carry them not only through our moves and be a consistent element, but also through the difficult middle and high school years, which are broaching so quickly now.

I know life happens with even the best laid plans, so I approach this effort with a certain level of “fatedness,” but still, all I can do is try. I mean, I‘ll do damn near anything … once I got past my ego, it wasn’t so bad last weekend. And circles are kind of nice. You get a chance to look at things from a different perspective with every go 'round.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Sometimes the monotony of life reflects the monotony of long distance running and training; or vice versa. You have to keep looking ahead even on the dullest of Groundhog days. Stay the course.

I like to try and keep my pendulum swinging in the middle, but when I begin to feel like this, I always anticipate a sharp leap to the other side of whatever it is I’m going through at the moment. The very carefully created structure I’ve built around our lives seems to suffocate, suddenly. There's a Tom Petty song I've always liked called "Time to Move On." I've been feelin' it...

Mostly the routines I build for myself and my family have a comforting feeling — I hope for all involved, and I rely on them to provide a sense of stability even more when we move. But part of the routine to which I’ve grown accustomed in recent years is the act of MOVING in and of itself. So when I begin to anticipate another call to duty, and it doesn’t happen, I’m left feeling out of sorts. It’s like a two-year itch. I know other military spouses know this feeling. It’s something both dreaded and not. You come; you set up house, routines, schedules, life, and then you move on to the next. It has a certain flow to it, no matter how much we complain. The first year is a bit of a struggle, but by the second the wheels are in fluid, if not easy, motion. And then it’s time to head out again.

Or not.

Presently I find myself NOT wanting to take my annual sojourn to the flower store for all the annuals I usually plant right about now. And I would love a garden, but why bother? I could look for more consulting work in my field, but that would require more networking and energy, which I think I used up last year. I’m in a quagmire of self-defeatest behaviour.

It needs to stop.

So I try to renew my energies for exploring new things right where we are — sites, museums, etc., and create a different sense of adventure; one that accommodates our current schedule. Not the future one that seems to still be in the future, however far, in a yet-to-be-determined locale.

My behavior though, isn’t completely out of the norm. Military spouses are conditioned to behave this way; to operate with a purposeful intent of constantly looking forward. Move in. Make house. Make a life. Move on. Perennial gardens aren’t really an option, or if they are, we leave them behind for others to enjoy — a symbolic “I WAS HERE” gesture.

I caught a segment on CBS Sunday last week, which made me cry. It’s not totally out of the ordinary for this thought provoking weekly to bring forward emotionally wrought stories, but this one, I’m guessing, probably didn’t effect most viewers the same way it did me. It was a feature on Sandra Boynton (of "hippo birdie" greeting card fame) featuring her amazing home and life. Maybe it was the red clapboard farmhouse with matching barn and outbuildings where she lives in works, much like I the one I grew up in, only bigger. Or maybe it was the perfectly replicated 1950s diner below her workspace, much like the one I envisioned years ago for my one-day kitchen space. But most likely it was that she seemed to never question herself or her purposeful intent. I’ve always admired those people who have a clear vision and actually follow their originally chosen path. I’m more of the "wandered off and got lost" sort — the “questioning and constantly searching” variety. Maybe that’s why, more than not, our military mobile lifestyle fits for me.

In any case, that segment stayed with me, resonating like a good book or movie. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a film about erasing all the baggage a relationship eventually collects, and remembering the starting point to the journey. I think of it often when I begin to collect too much luggage in our life all around. Our moves sort of reflect that film; we wipe our slate clean once every two to four years; maybe sooner. But maybe the real message behind the movie is that while you can wipe your physical space and mental outlook clean, there are certain indelible prints when it comes to your core being — like hieroglyphs on your heart— that remain with you not matter what. They’re not easily wiped away. Maybe that’s why Boynton’s red barn and farmhouse pulled so heavily on my innermost being.

I often wonder when this time in life comes to pass, and we move on down the road for good, whether I will revel in making a home for keeps; what it will look like, and where it might be located. I imagine nurturing a garden; being there long enough to enjoy the stableness; nurturing friends and anticipating the fruitful outcome of good composting. Or, instead, will I feel antsy — at least every couple of years — for a new landscape in a different space. I wonder if wanderlust is now a permanent part of the pictures painted on my heart…

Monday, May 10, 2010


Monday morning blues

Wake up you

Day is bright

Morning light

Filters in through the wisps of your hair

Splayed across the pillow

You smell of sleep

And yesterday

Warm and inviting

I want to fold myself into your heat

and push away sounds of wakefulness

Clock is ticking

Day is waiting

Calm and then not

Sweet piano crescendos into

Tempers and torment

Rushed apologies

Tied together with shoelaces, and

Wrapped in lunchboxes

Tossed into backpacks

Reassurances sealed with kisses

A wave of I love you words

Cut off by slamming doors

Sudden and unsettling (at first)

Comes the silence

pa pum pa pum pa pum pa pum ...

Friday, April 30, 2010


There was once a time when the life of a Lieutenant Colonel’s wife was far away from my own. Today I look on as my husband walks through his ceremony and pins on the very rank considered so distant. Wow. We’ve been together a looooonnngggg while.

I kept wondering (out loud) what to get him in recognition for this achievement, and in response from him and my trusted “others” I got a big, “Nothing!” He (I) should be thanking you!”


On these occasions my husband is quick to pay credit to me and by extension the kids for helping him achieve is accomplishment(s). I think that’s a nice tradition he, and most of the people who walk this path, follow, but I’ve never really fully bought into the idea. I believe it was my husband’s desire, determination and due diligence that got him to this point. He’s good at what he does. He’s one of the best. I believe that. Believing that works for me in many ways, especially when he walks out the door to fly again and again into “denied” and/or “unfriendly” territories around the globe.

But as far as thanking me for helping him to get to this place, I’m not sure I deserve the credits. They’re nice. I appreciate the gesture, but I guess I’m just not comfortable with the premise. I don’t believe I helped him get here. I’m pretty sure he would’ve gotten here with or without me.

If you were to say, “Thanks for helping me to both have a family, while pursuing this unusual path, then I would say, “You’re welcome.” And maybe that’s what he means. Although my husband’s career dominates our lives, it is not my career. I am his true believer, his support and his love, but I do not walk his path. I have not seen what he has seen, nor have I put forth the same efforts. And I’m not that altruistic.

My task is simpler (though often not easier). I am here, while he is there — wherever there may be. I take care of the homestead. I make even the most challenging domiciles feel like ours, and try to thread together consistent elements, which follow us wherever we go. So we each play our part. Mine is a little less exciting than his, right now, but I have my moments.

We chose this fork in the road together. Honestly — the decision was due in no small part to a sunset sailboat ride and some visceral introspection sparked by John Cusack. His “top five” lists in a movie we saw really struck a chord. Rick already was flying for the Air Force National Guard, and he’d tried to go active duty before, but this time was different. We, by now, had children, who we rarely saw, because we both worked. I wanted to jump off what I viewed at the time as a “runaway train” of life and slow things down on the domestic front, but I also wanted my life’s partner to pursue his life’s ambition.

So when people ask me how I stay calm sending him off repeatedly into the wild blue yonder, not knowing where or when he’ll return, I always have the same answer: I believe in his abilities, and I would never forgive myself for holding someone down on the ground, when all they really want to do is to fly. Even in these uncertain times when it is certainly certain he may be in danger at some point. It wouldn’t be a partnership. It wouldn’t be a marriage, and it wouldn’t be a life worth living together.

For that, I guess, I understand why I get thanked at ceremonies — for sharing someone who wants to make a difference, the unique blend of intellect, humor and compassion to do it, and the will to continue. But partnerships are partnerships. I’ll take my turn to fly later…

Monday, April 26, 2010


I began practicing Bikram Yoga last October. I’d just finished a half marathon, and wanted to unwind. I’d practiced different forms of yoga for years of and on, but never Bikram. I learned about this particular practice a while ago, and thought I’d never take to it; too hot; too claustrophobic. But my neighbor had recently begun going, so I thought I'd give it a go. Despite my initial misgivings, I’ve really come to love it. It takes about 90 minutes to perform 26 postures twice followed by two breathing exercises — this all while in a room of 105 degrees and about 40 percent humidity. It's tough. I've gotten so into attending class, my running now has taken a backseat. Some poses are easier than others. I think that’s why you use the term “practice.” Depending on the day, any number of things could go wrong while in the midst of a posture — like today, for example.

One of the series is called “the wind removing” pose. I never gave this one much thought, in terms of the name or the exercise, because it’s one of the easier positions to negotiate. Then Mr. Jim, my trusted yoga instructor, explained the origination behind it. I think one day he said, “what do you think a bunch of elderly monks in one room doing this pose might call it? Be careful — it works!” Of course I thought, “NEVER.”

You know the thing about “NEVER.” Never say it. Nor think it. Because today during the “wind removing pose,” well, I removed wind — loudly. I viscerally said, “excuse me.” I think — in fact I know — if I were younger I might’ve been mortified. But when it happened today I was slightly humored and I guess a little embarrassed, as well. But ultimately I thought, “It DOES work!”

I thought this was pretty funny, and later told my husband what happened. He often reminds me his humor never matured beyond the age of 13, so I thought he’d get a kick out of it. Fart jokes really never go out of style, and this wasn’t my first, um, experience with being the brunt of this particular gaff. Once when I was in eighth grade; new to a school and feeling very shy, my penny loafer (you know the ones, with the penny?) slipped across the linoleum floor in history class. I distinctly remember it. I was sitting in the back of the room. It sounded EXACTLY like a giant loud WIND REMOVAL. That time I was mortified. I think the entire class of eighth graders knew it was my shoe, except the well-meaning teacher — Mr Buford, history. He went to great lengths to explain in a very serious manner (to these 12-year-olds who were losing it in their seats) about human bodily functions and their natural origin. Now the class was REALLY in hysterics, and all due to my stupid penny loafer. But that was just a sound effect. Today was the real deal.

I guess that’s what age does to us. I laughed to myself moving on to the next posture thinking about the term "human bodily functions," where I first heard it, and how it's followed me all these years … at least something from eighth grade history stuck.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


About this time of year, every single year (along with an appreciation of the fauna and the flora), I begin to anticipate all things food. I get this anxious feeling in my gut. I’ve come to recognize this as a gastric anticipation for all the good things coming … TO EAT. When I grew up in Ohio, maybe a bit earlier in the season than it is now, my Dad took me asparagus hunting in the woods next to our farmhouse. He knew exactly what to look for, hidden in all of the freshly burst green lushness of the forest. I don’t remember all the details, but I recall being a bit damp and chilly, watching my dad knick something off the trunk of a tree with his hunting knife. I think that was asparagus. Or it could’ve been mushrooms.

We also looked for morels on these hikes. Wild asparagus and morels go together like “peas and carrots,” as Forrest Gump would say. Hunting and fishing for whatever was in season was how my Dad lived, and my uncle Al was a butcher, so I got pretty in tune with the whole process. And although I didn't think about it much at the time, I'm pretty sure I recognized the origins of the food on my plate.

Our dinners back then travelled a fairly swift journey from standing to consuming. For a while we raised cattle for slaughter. It was my older sister’s and my job to feed them. (Being licked by a cow is a sensation you don’t really forget.) That was one thing about farm life. Making friends with the animals had its consequences. We had a pig for while. It kept escaping its pen and tearing the yard up into big chunks. Then the pig disappeared. I think this is a conjured memory, or maybe enhanced, but I swear I recall one night at the dinner table asking where the pig went. (He had a name, but I can’t remember it now.) I believe my mom answered me by asking how I liked my pork chop.

Lamb also found its way onto the menu around this time every year. I always thought I STRONGLY disliked lamb until we lived in England. There I garnered a whole new category of appreciation for spring — lambing season. I discovered lamb, cooked right, melts in your mouth; a perfect companion on the plate with a side of asparagus and mushrooms.

I wish I retained ANY of what my Dad knew to look for now that I’ve come full circle into parenthood myself. I love to introduce the kids to the taste of many things that recently walked, swam and grew. As it is, at least in terms of mushrooms, I don’t trust myself to know the difference between the good picks and the poisonous ones, so I can’t pass this practice on to my kids.

One thing I can convey, though, is my constant craving for all things seasonal. I figure this must’ve come from my early years, as we learned to love whatever was placed before us; and what got plated up tended to be whatever was available. Cooking by the calendar is such a pleasure. There’s always something to look forward to, and the kids are beginning to recognize the cycles. It ranks right up there with my daughter Zoe’s habit of asking about Valentines Day right after she finishes unwrapping her last Christmas present. Or her asking me to bust out the Halloween decorations right after the last fireworks burst on the 4th of July. Looking forward to "the next adventure" is BIG in our family.

Some of our journeys are simply continuations of our heritage. This is also the time of year my mouth begins to water at the mere thought of rhubarb; also in season (right before strawberries, which go GREAT with rhubarb!). I look for the bright red stalks in the produce section with anticipation. My Grandma and Grandpa Tommas had a huge rhubarb patch next to their house. And every year I would wait for those big stalks to turn red. You name it, we made it — rhubarb sauce over ice cream or bananas, or ice-cream with bananas; rhubarb pie; rhubarb crumble; rhubarb rhubarb. These days, though, I most often find my seasonal goodies in the super market. The farmers' markets here aren't year-round.

I seek out places where I can go and at least pick my own, wherever we happen to be, each season. We had an apple orchard growing up. Between my pony and me, we downed a few. The picking seasons, also strike a pretty deep chord. The kids and I have a lot of fun picking and eating; eating and picking. In England we plucked apples from the royal trees in the royal gardens of the royal princess, in Sandringham, where Princess Diana grew up. In Ohio, we try each year to make the strawberry season, where I've picked strawberries since I was little. (Actually, we've discovered if we're lucky, the end of strawberry season, runs into blackberry season, which then takes us into the beginning of tomato and corn seasons!) This ties my past together with my present and, hopefully, the children’s future, nicely. A thread weaved through our constantly changing fabric.

Thanks at least in part to the likes of Alice Waters and now Barbara Kingsolver (and the economy?), seed to table trends are enjoying renewed energy and effort here in the states. I read in the paper last week America’s farmers’ markets increased by 13 percent last year, and market organizers hope to see another increase this year. Regardless of the root cause, that’s good news, in my book. I’ve always wondered, as our farm fields are replaced with overgrown homes, how our children will know to protect the origins of their food, if they don’t recognize the source? (Ironically, the increase of markets in America contrasts sharply with the decline of village markets in England, which are being overtaken by the ever growing number of “American-like” super markets, like Tesco.) There are in-school seed-to-table efforts taking place across the nation, and at least a recognizable inclusion in the school curriculum here to learn more about the origins of our food. Both my daughters have watched Chicks hatch from eggs in their second-grade year. I'm not entirely sure this is supposed to be a food-related lesson, but it works for me.

I heard recently, British Chef Jamie Oliver is making an effort here to overhaul the school lunch program, much like he did in England while we were there around 2003-2004. In the end, he was able to garner the endorsement of and financial support from the government there, which resulted in more funds for fresh ingredients. It was great to witness. (Keeping in mind the population of England is around 50 million, give or take, and about the physical size of Oregon.) I hope he finds success here, as well. Just in the last week, one of my children came home with a story of a bug crawling out of her friend's cafeteria lasagna, and my son, who is in a different school, told me about a distinctly green hot dog. So for now, I pack my kids’ lunches. I hope they don’t get too much flak for bringing in rhubarb crumble …

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I have a funny relationship with words. And I use the term “relationship” pointedly. I love words. I love to chew on each one almost individually when I write; handling the letters to see if they are the right fit to make the overall picture just so. When they come together — sometimes just the way you imagine they might, they paint such a beautiful picture. I often hesitate, though. I worry that I’ll choose the wrong words to express myself, either in writing or in speaking, and that I’ll give the wrong impression. Or maybe the intentions of my words will go astray, and I’ll be misunderstood; or they will cause hurt or pain. This often gives me pause, and I lose the will to write or speak them.

I take words seriously — words I read, words people use to express themselves. They mirror peoples’ innermost thoughts when spoken sincerely. Sometimes they mask. Others they shield. And they reflect a person’s past; how they were raised; where they come from. I love to place a person’s origins by their inflection. I also enjoy listening to “expressions of the day” work themselves into daily speech. I distinctly remember the “paradigm shift” phase of the 90s. I took personally the term “Generation X,” and I recently came across the word “re-purpose,” which I’m finding all kinds of ways to work into my daily dialogue.

And committing words to paper is such a heady exercise for me. I have a checkered past with them. Shortly after graduating with my journalism degree I worked at a network affiliate in Columbus, Ohio. One day I was responsible for the “Chyrons,” the text you read below a broadcast telling you who, what, where, when and why. I misspelled Los Angeles. I believe I wrote "Los Angelas." Oops. No one caught the error on time; not me, not the chyron tech. So up it flew. That incident, along with a string of other word-related issues, caused me to re-think my desire to work in broadcast journalism. Later I worked in a small public relations firm where it was made clear your paycheck would be docked if you cut, spliced or diced your press releases. I remember writing a poem about commas around this time, struggling daily with the stylebook. Commas can cut words like a knife, or make them flow past your conscious like a lazy river gently strolling by. (My kids love that book about commas, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” It's a good read, regardless of the reader's age.) The comma poem came about the time I fell in love with the “m” dash. It looks like this — and gives me physical time and space to pause and collect my thoughts without committing to the grammar. Maybe it’s my band-aid, but it heals what ails me — so I keep using it.

I find it funny how I often struggle to express myself vocally, but give me a keyboard or a pen, and thoughts flow right out of me. I’m simply more comfortable navigating my emotions through the written medium. I think I feel EXPOSED sometimes when trying to vocalize my thoughts. It feels better to me to put them in black and white, rather than floating them through the air only to be swallowed by the universe. And the feel and smell of words on paper, in books, is something I relish. I’m slow to commit to ever converting to e-books.

Books are such a passageway; dream vehicles for the imagination, or simply whim fulfillers. My husband and I have a bad habit of collecting them. So much so, we tend to tip the scale on the weight of our household goods right up to the limit. Every time we move, the library gets a big donation from us. The kids have gotten into the same habit. We always love going to the library. It's one of the first things we find when we move to a new place. It feels like you’re getting treasures for FREE. I don’t see how that experience measures up, electronically. Libraries hold such a weighty feeling of possibility. I visited the Library of Congress last year, and was in awe of the system by which your desired book is delivered from the vaults above down to you on ground level. It feels like you are the only one with the golden ticket when it finally arrives just for you, if only for two weeks.

I heard a report on NPR today that libraries are in jeopardy of becoming redundant. It seems libraries and post offices are flying the same path of fate. Are the housing and shipping of words no longer necessary? Will words transcend and travel, as well as be stored safely in the electronic universe? I suppose they already are. I read somewhere there are approximately 50,000 blogs posted every day. So this tells me there is significance in this transition. But what does it mean? Do we all feel better sending words out into space, than delivering them in person? Are we reaching each other? Will they be available for future and repeated use?

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I’ve been practicing the guitar for about 15 years. I use the term “practicing” because I’m pretty certain what I pour into it and painstakingly churn out doesn’t amount to actually playing the guitar. Though I once thought it important to be at least slightly proficient, I’m not sure that matters anymore. It’s something I always wanted to do. Ages ago a friend introduced me to the basics, and I’ve been putting them to work ever since. Off and on as time turned into all these years, I’ve caught the “pick it up and play it bug” and slowly added to my repertoire of almost plucking out a few different tunes. But I’m far from fluid. Mostly I tend to play the same thing over and over until I get frustrated and/or distracted and plunk the guitar down to follow my fancy.

I still have the vision, though. You know the one. Casually reaching for the guitar, which is like a lady in waiting — conveniently in arms reach, at the perfect moment when I’m surrounded by friends and family. In my mind, I pick up a tune and take it into the night, while everyone sways and sings; or maybe quietly listens around a fire. I’ve had a few of those moments in my life. I remember every one — always with others carrying the chords. I reveled being in the audience, but always channeled the performer, thinking maybe some of their abilities might be contagious. I’m not sure why, really. I always froze at piano recitals when I was little. And then in college there was a brief stint in the modern dance department, but being on stage had pretty much the same effect on me — I forgot my moves. Those were the closest I came to performing anything in front of anyone — that and the time when I first started playing the six-string. I was at a party comprised of professional musicians; symphony members and staff. Someone caught wind I’d taken up the guitar and asked me to play something. I remember sitting on a stool someone conveniently provided and completely seizing while everyone looked on in anticipation and probably more than a little amusement. I think the host of the party, also an accomplished musician, and her husband picked the ill-fated tune — along with the party — up off the floor and played with flourish as I sat perched on my pedestal of shame.

I’ve taken a few lessons. Maybe finding the right guitar instructor is something like finding the right doctor, or psychologist. It’s difficult to feel comfortable and groove with just anyone. Personalities matter, especially when it comes to what I’ve come to learn as the deeply varying outlooks and approaches to searching out a tune and producing meaningful music from it. So I’m still looking for the right fit; packing the instrument up every time we move. I love taking my guitar places. It’s so portable. The idea of having it near when inspiration strikes is something I savor, so I indulge my musical fantasies by bringing it along in our “hold” baggage versus the household goods whenever I can.

This particular, and I imagine every beloved, guitar has been on quite a journey, actually. I think my mother-in-law bought it for my husband second-hand when he was in high school. He graciously acquiesced and gave it to me when he saw how I lovingly fondled it. It took years before I began to hold it close; a few more before I worked up the courage to caress it. Now, like a toy taken for granted, I schlep it behind me whenever we move or travel. The case is completely kaputt — rode hard and put away wet as my Dad would say — although it doesn’t have any of those cool destination stickers plastered about as evidence of its adventurous life.

I think someday one of the kids will be inspired by my feeble attempts and relieve me from my torment; although I guess I don’t feel very conflicted about not playing very well, anymore. Maybe the bug I caught from others will get passed on to my children, and one or all of them will begin strumming themselves. I leave the guitar on a stand out in the open in case any one wants to noodle around with it. Occasionally they do. If one of the kids picks it up, literally and figuratively, not only will the guitar continue its colorful journey, but it (I feel badly referring to it as IT) and I will come full circle. The guitar in someone elses' capable hands performing — me somewhere in the audience, large or small. Because I think maybe I’m a much more talented and prolific listener. Meanwhile, I’ll keep practicing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Last week I was doing my thing in the kitchen, cooking dinner, when I noticed my daughter Zoe diligently working on a letter. This wasn’t unusual for Zoe. She’s often camped out in various places with a pad of paper in front of her either writing or drawing. When she finished her work, she put the paper in an envelope and came to me and asked where should she send a letter to God? This gave me brief pause, and while I thought how to answer her question, we talked for a while about speaking to God no matter where you are in all kinds of ways, through our actions, etc. I really thought she was grasping the concept when she asked, “Even on the toilet?”

“Well yeah, even on the toilet,” I responded evenly.

“I just wondered,” she said, “because I was thinking about God while I was on the toilet.” We who know and love her most all recognize Zoe’s innate abilities to take the most serious of subjects and bring them down to base level. But she had a point. I do some of my best thinking while I’m on the toilet. It’s the only time I get a moment alone — occasionally.

After talking about the difficult business of actually posting a letter to God, Zoe decided to send the letter in care of our pastor, Father Chuck, because she figured he had direct dial. I didn’t read the letter. I have no idea what thoughts that envelope contained, but I think it was important to her to share her thoughts to God in a literal sense. And Father Chuck is one of those people who has a way of understanding these things. I imagine he’ll receive the letter and know what to do.

I wonder if in Zoe’s world it’s sort of like sending a letter to Santa Claus; holding that belief the letter will get to the North Pole and to Santa, although you have no hard evidence. I guess that’s what having faith is all about. Keeping a conviction without out any real proof.

I’m glad Zoe’s thinking about God, and maybe in some way recognizing the spiritual side of herself. We’ve talked about “that little voice” inside your head being your conscience — your “right-or-wrong-o-meter,” and how that might in some way be God’s way of speaking to you in a way you might listen. Whether, or not, you follow those or any faith lines, there is a certain comfort in feeling you’re not alone, even when you are most alone.

If I had a “do-over” ticket, I would study religion in college. I am fascinated by the role it plays in our lives, in our history, in our politics. I believe any belief structure is held together by equal parts faith; fiction; fact; and, folklore. I’ve never been able to completely let go of my errant thoughts regarding the dogma of my church, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the community around the institution; found comfort in the rituals, and, recognize the sense of morality it hopefully instills in my children and myself. So while I still harbor some misgivings, I guess I take my beliefs for better or worse. My kids are pretty independent little thinkers. I’m confident they’ll question their faith at least once in their lives, as I have. And this is a good thing. The Dalai Lama said something to the effect that it is possible (and possibly good) to study many religions, and to take away those tenants that speak to you, without ever officially converting to any one of them. I read that when I had just graduated from college and was influenced in equal parts by Ayn Rand, who was an atheist, and Eastern religious beliefs, primarily Buddhism. I guess it stuck, because I never converted from my confirmed church, but I am continually intrigued by other belief structures.

We have Mormon friends who no matter where in the world they live, are instantly swept into the welcoming arms of their church. I’ve always looked on with regard to their global sense of community. And due maybe in part to his travels as a missionary, our friend Jeremy has never met a stranger. But maybe he was just born that way. In fact, in many ways, I think my husband Rick and Jeremy were brothers separated at birth. One is Mormon. One is Catholic. When we lived near each other our friends would often come over for brunch after services on Sunday morning. Our hour-long service gave us plenty of time to prepare, vs their morning-long obligations. They’re like family to us. I know my kids are curious about their faith. And Jeremy is Godfather to our youngest. Maybe one day she will explore other religions. I hope there are people like Jeremy and his wife Lorien in our lives who are there to help answer their questions about what religion means to them.

Meanwhile, I hope my kids keep talking to God — no matter where they may be at the time they feel the need to converse. And posting letters is okay, too.

End Note: After writing this, I realized there is a movie due out tomorrow titled “Letters to God,” inspired by a young boy who, through his battle with cancer, wrote a series of letters to God. The timing is purely coincidental. I don’t think Zoe knew of the movie when she wrote her letter. When I Googled the movie, I also discovered a I’m not sure how I feel about God reading his letters along with the rest of the universe over the net but, then again, here I send mine…

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


March 31, 2005. I remember I was laughing at something my husband said as I picked up the phone around 9:30 that night, so the laughter rang through in my greeting. My revelry quickly faded when I heard the voice of our commander. Always gruff (The guys often imitated him —respectfully —in the voice of Billy Bob Thornton from the movie Sling Blade— “mmm hmmm”), it wasn’t unusual for him to sound the way he did, but it was unusual for him to call directly, and there was something else I heard in the brief request to speak to my husband. Rick spent under a minute with mostly, “Yes sir,” responses before he hung up the phone and said he had to go. It was around 9:30pm, but this again wasn’t unusual.

We were well accustomed to the “leave at the drop of a hat,” reality in which we lived, as part of the 7th SOS. So Rick grabbed his “go bag” — a bag he always kept near and at the ready with three days worth of underwear and toiletries, and with a brief kiss, he left. I didn’t know whether he’d be back tomorrow, next month, or next year. This was the 3rd year as part of the 7th SOS family, and we were mentally ready for anything (or so we thought), because we had been through so much. We once received one of these calls during my son’s 4th birthday breakfast. On that day Dad left quickly, and he didn’t return for weeks, and then months. The mission of the 7th, briefly and in my unofficial terming, is to fly for the USAF into unfriendly or denied territories; at times to extract people, at times to deposit aide or materials; at times to drop people who had to go there for whatever reason, wherever “there” might be for the mission. They open airfields, fly into places where other planes cannot, and land where others cannot land. They fly off the radar, out of the public spotlight and silently, without notice or explanation to their spouses of where they’re headed. More often than not, I heard through the spouses’ unofficial network or from other people who spent more time trying to figure out where their husbands were than I did. I played the game by the rules. I’d know, when they were ready to tell me, or when they were able to phone. This, again, could be weeks.

So I took a deep breath, made some coffee, and sat. The kids had long been put to bed. I didn’t call anyone, there was nothing to say. And then Rick came home again hours later, around 3am. “There’s been an incident,” he said, “that’s all I can tell you.” His face was drawn, and he was fighting to maintain control. So then I guessed. The people in this small flying squadron had made it through countless missions, including one or two in Iraq which made the history books, and had come home safely. Most of the flying crews in the squadron were deployed on a mission in Albania. The only reason my husband was home was because he’d just returned from a different assignment stateside. So I guessed. I’m not sure what happened next. I only remember Col D coming to the door with a chaplain. He, too, looked drawn. I offered coffee, because I didn’t know what else to do. I remember Rick told me to wait, because they might need my help later. Then they promptly left and walked down the street to my friends’ house to knock on her door. The knock all of us knew was a possibility, but pushed far out of our accessible realm of chance and replaced with faith and hope. But tonight, our resources failed us.

The days that followed are etched in all of our memories. The squadron came together both in grief and strength to aide those who needed it most. Everyone has a story to tell of loss. Several wives’, fathers’, mothers’, brothers’ and sisters’ stories continue to evolve in perpetuity.

Our squadron lost many brothers on March 31, 2005. They are:

Captain Todd R. Bracy, 34, of Murphysboro, Illinois;

Captain James S. Cronin, 32, of Oak Grove Village, Illinois; Captain Gil C. Williamson, 31, of Dike, Texas;

Captain Surender D. Kothakota, 30, of Fayetteville, North Carolina;

First Lieutenant Ray C. Owens Jr., 32, of Birmingham, Alabama;

Chief Master Sergeant Lawrence B. Gray, 40, of Chester, South Carolina;

Technical Sergeant James R. Henry, 30, of Valparaiso, Florida;

Technical Sergeant Glenn P. Lastes, 39, of Southington, Connecticut (of the 25th Intelligence Operations Squadron);

Staff Sgt. Patrick R. Pentico, 22, of Hanksville, Utah;