Category Archives: Memories

Remembering 9-11

911I wrote this column a week after the 9-11 attacks in 2001, when I worked for The Clarion News. Reading it again today, on the 18th anniversary, I vividly recall the fear, confusion, sadness, and anger almost everyone in this country felt that day. Some things you can never not feel or see no matter how much time passes. I wish you all peace as you remember where you were when you heard the news and how it changed your life.

Life Can Never Be Normal Again

September 20, 2001

The word “normal” isn’t written or talked about as much now as it was last week. For a few days after planes flew into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in southern Pennsylvania, all anyone wanted was for things to be the way they were before. But during the last week, the initial shock of the attacks has turned into sadness and anger, and we’ve added “as near to normal” to our speech, which is more in line with what we can do.

We can get close to what we knew as normal, but we’ll never live there again. We now live in a new kind of normal and in a new kind of world. Last week’s attacks stripped this country of its naivete, and dragged us into a world community already familiar with the hatred and destruction of terrorism. Our confidence and sense of security in a rich and powerful nation may not be destroyed, but we are certainly disorientated. After all, you don’t get kicked in the gut several times and then catch your breath right away. It takes slow deep breaths, a straightening of posture, and the awareness of the dull aching bruise to begin walking again.

And while I catch my breath, as I try to find some semblance of normalcy, I wonder about so many things, worry about so many people, and think about the anger I feel toward people I don’t know.

At last count, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on September 11. On average, if you take into account parents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, coworkers, and friends, there are more than one million people who knew them personally. One million people. I can’t wrap my head around such a number. One million people’s lives are left with a gaping hole that their loved one and friend once filled. One million people will never again feel their mother’s or wife’s or daughter’s arms around them, hear their child’s laughter or cries, tease their brother or sister at family gatherings, attend their grandson’s wedding or witness the birth of their best friend’s first child. One million people will grieve all their lives and wonder what could have been.

Then there’s the rest of us. A couple hundred million of us who could only watch in horror and try to comprehend the number of lives lost as buildings collapsed and planes burned. We know it could have been us and in a way it was us. When those 3,000 people died, a piece of our souls went with them because this was an attack on our country. We can go back to work, shop, play, and laugh again, but nothing will be the same. Something will always be missing.

Also, as I try to breathe again, to put this all into perspective I can understand, I wonder about the rest of the world and how it, too, has changed. What will happen to the little boy who was among the small group of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip “celebrating” the attacks? He was eating ice cream and wearing a Chicago Bulls T-shirt. If you looked closely, one of the camera operators seemed to be directing the crowd. Using children, feeding them with someone else’s hate – is that the tactic of our enemies?

I am afraid for the people in Afghanistan who have so little because the Taliban and the war with Russia took it all away. I’ve wanted justice for the women so inhumanly oppressed by the Taliban, but not like this. More innocents should not die, but they probably will, and that reality is what makes “normal” impossible.

I am concerned for Muslims living in this country and abroad who believe in a loving God and not the tenants of a fanatic section of their faith. They had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on our country, yet they are being singled out, and acts of hate have been carried out against them. Where will that get us?

We must remember that Christians, too, have their own fanatics. Jerry Falwell blames “…the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians…the ACLU, People For the American Way,” he said “I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’” Pat Robertson said, “We have sinned against Almighty God, at the highest level of our government. We’ve stuck our finger in your eye. The Supreme Court has insulted you over and over again, Lord. They’ve taken your Bible away from the schools. They’ve forbidden little children to pray.” They conclude that perhaps we, as a nation, deserved to be attacked.

How have we turned away from God when it is God so many of us across this country, including children and members of the Supreme Court, are praying to? Personally, I pray to a loving and caring God, one who doesn’t manipulate us or purposely put us in harm’s way. The god Falwell and Robertson worship is a puppeteer, a jealous and self-serving god. No loving god encourages terrorists to destroy the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. No loving god destroys the lives of 3,000 people. This kind of religious fanaticism will not help our country heal. It can only make us angry and divided, and divert our attention away from the root cause of the attacks: terrorists. I feel so sorry for people who follow fanatics like Falwell and Robertson. It’s that kind of hate and intolerance in any religion that inspires terrorism.

We’re all trying to adapt to a new kind of normal. And it will take more than a few prayers, a few days, and a few tears. It will take more than a few minutes of silence, a few memorial services, and the reconstruction of buildings. Not that these things aren’t important. But it will take constant patience and determination. President Bush uses the word “resolve.” Do we have what it takes? I hope so. It’s all I can wish for right now.

We’re sad, we’re angry, we’re worried, and we’re tired. And while none of us wants to be paranoid, it’s hard not to wonder what’s next in this new world of ours.



FYI: TMI (Remember the fifth grade "film," ladies?)

Rip Van Uterus woke up today from an 11-month sleep.

I blame Crabby McSlacker because she posted this:

And as I watched it, I thought – in that cocky sort of older-lady kind of way – ‘Yeah…I’m so over periods. Still get hairs on my chin, but hey. Savin’ money on the tampons. Woohoo for menopause!’

Then I got home this afternoon after taking 2/4 grandchildren home. Last night, when I asked Mae and Luca what they wanted for dinner, neither of them screamed, “PASTA!” which is sad, because that’s what was screaming inside my head. They totally ignored the neon sign above my head that flashed, “With a side of toast!”

They wanted peanut butter instead.

So back to when I got home this afternoon. I got out of the car, after driving for an hour, and I had that “you-know-what-I’m-talking-about-ladies” feeling down below, and sure enough…


Thank god I hadn’t given away my entire stockpile of Always.

That’s as much physical TMI as I’ll divulge. (Guys, you can open your eyes now.) But man…the emotional landscape I’ve been playing on for two weeks looks like this:

If I could be more uncertain/forgetful/bitter/happy, I’d get locked up, I’m sure of it.

I know many of you reading aren’t in this place yet, this abyss of pads/no pads/pads/is it done yet?/cry at every cat video your friends posts on Facebook.

But for those of you who are, and for the people who love us, we deserve some slack. This was NOT in our 6th-grade Modess-sponsored film. That day came at us like a mushroom cloud. Girls were ushered into one room. Boys were hustled to another. The boys watched “a film,” which I’m convinced was a recap of the 1973 Super Bowl, and we watched a film about a day in the life of a pretty brunette, age 15, who took showers during her period, went swimming during her period, ate healthy meals, and brushed her spectacular white teeth.

And she smiled the whole damn time!

One of the girls in my class asked the school nurse after the film, “Where do babies come from?”

“Ask your mother,” she said.

So the girls went to recess having NO idea there was a connection between our monthly “friend” and having babies. The boys congregated around us, wanting to know what we knew that they didn’t know. We were still processing. Between playing four-square and jumping rope, we didn’t know a whole lot more than they did.

I’m a smart woman. I know my body pretty well after 50 years. It’s bossy and demanding. But today…? I’ve rolled my eyes so many times I’m pretty sure they will permanently face backwards.

The same educational mandate that forced us to watch “The Film” in fifth grade should require we watch Ellen Dolgen’s video when we turn 40. You know, to prepare us for what is to come.

Don’t get me wrong. We all know menopause is coming. But when we get to “That Age,” it’s like we learn about that time of the month (or 11 months) in reverse. Ending our periods is as much of a mystery as it was when we started: Moodiness? Check. Boob issues? Check. Weird hair? Check. Issues down below? Check.

How about this: After the initial film in grade school, girls could sign up to watch a perimenopause film at age 40. Maybe the Office of Perimenopause could send them a reminder postcard every five years or so? Then, at age 40 (or whenever), they could report to their nearest Office of Perimenopause and watch the video.

I’ve had 36 interesting years with my uterus. But I’m no longer in need of her services. I want her to shut down like a retired nuclear energy facility.

Obviously, though, being a body part, she gets the last (hopefully?) laugh. This is her last (hopefully?) hurrah. I assure you, however, that today, I am not smiling like the 15-year-old in the Modess film. I am determined to overcome the desire for pasta, bread, sugar, and all things unwholesome. Except for, maybe, a piece of dark chocolate. And maybe a bagel. And perhaps a piece of pizza…

Oh good GOD! Shut up, uterus! Go back to sleep!

Ugh. Those of you who know what I’m talking about…leave a comment. Please. Especially if you have a memory of that “film.” It’s OK. Here, there is safety in numbers.

The Pause

March 10, 31 years ago, was my daughter Carlene’s due date, but she wasn’t interested in coming out. According to his measuring tape and his best guess, my doctor said Carlene was in excess of 8 pounds and she wouldn’t be born for another few weeks if she had her way.

“Your blood pressure’s high, the baby is big enough,” he said, taking off his gloves. “We need to get the baby out.”

“Ok,” was all I said, like I knew what he meant. Only I didn’t.

He left, I got dressed, and a nurse came in with some papers. Told me to check into the hospital.

“Ok,” I said again, and again, I asked no questions because I was 19 years old and I was stuck between the fear of the unknown and the mandate by which I was raised: never question authority. I walked numbly to the waiting area. My husband, Bruce, met me near the coat rack.

“So, what did he say?” he asked cheerfully, helping me into my coat. Bruce was terribly excited to meet the baby. Every night, he rubbed my belly like it was Aladdin’s lamp. “Come out and play!” he’d say.

“I have to go to the hospital,” I said quietly, trying not to cry. “He said the baby has to be born soon.”

He took my hand and I clutched the papers with the other. We walked outside. Bruce helped me into the car. Nothing was easy anymore.

Bruce slid into the driver’s seat. I looked over the papers the nurse had given me and could feel my heart beating in my temples.

“I don’t know what any of this means!” I slapped the papers. “I don’t know what they’re going to do. Am I having a C-section? Is the baby OK?”

Bruce took a deep breath. “Let’s just sit here for a minute,” he said.

“But they’re expecting us at the hospital! We have to go!” I protested. God knows we had to do exactly what we were told.

“They’ll be there when we get there,” he said. He reached over and stroked my hair. “We need some time to think.”

So we paused. I took a deep breath and loosened my death-grip on the papers. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember not feeling alone. I was afraid and so was he, but we were afraid together. When we felt ready to go, as was always Bruce’s positive approach to life, he said, “We’re having a baby!” Which we did, the next day, at 7:27 in the evening after more than 13 hours of labor. No C-section.

Carlene Rae came out looking just like her father, and as she grew, she took on his nature, even though they only knew each other for 11 days. Like her father, Carlene prefers to take her time, and she chafes against the hectic world and deadlines. She’s the person you want holding your hand when you shake, and she will remind you – with a joyful heart – about the good stuff yet to come.

Carlene was the joy of his life, if only for 11 days
Our wedding day; Carlene today

A Writing Manifesto (…I think I can, I think I can…)

Let’s say you get asked to write a book about the moon. You’ve never written about the moon before, so you create an outline and do a little research before you sit down to write about the moon.

After a few chapters about the moon, you realize that you also have a lot to say about Skylab and Apollo 11. You try to focus on the moon again, but the lunar module comes into your mind and you start singing “Dark Side of the Moon” as you write about Neil Armstrong and what it might have felt like to be the first person to bounce down to the moon’s surface.

You share your work with the person who asked you to write about the moon and she tells you that no one wants to read about Skylab or Apollo 11 or the lunar module. The want to read about the moon. So you try again to write just about the moon.

But you can’t. You think the moon is limited and dull and would be so much more interesting  buoyed by stories about the getting to the moon and walking on the moon. The person who wants you to write just about the moon thinks the moon is fine the way it is and so you part ways and you put away your stories and get a job at WalMart.

That’s what writing was like from 2009-2011. I tried hard to write the book someone else envisioned, but it was like acting in a play in which I didn’t know my lines. I lacked faith to write the book I wanted to write, and so I gave up entirely and went back to school to study dietetics.

I loved school, and the experience challenged me in ways I needed to be challenged. Studying nutrition and math and science got me out of the rutted thinking I was running myself over with. Volunteering at the soup kitchen introduced me to a world I’d only read about.

But school ended four months ago, and I’ve moved away from the city and the proximity of the soup kitchen. I’ve been wandering aimlessly in the guise of getting used to this new town. I almost had myself convinced that I just need more time to figure out what I want to do with my life until yesterday, when I read an article in a Minneapolis business journal about  a company I worked for a long time ago – the one that gave me my first writing job.  The company, general contractor M.A. Mortenson, won the contract for a $200 million expansion project at the Mall of America.

I remembered when the Mall was built and how Mortenson wasn’t the general contractor, although they did their best to bid the project. Instead, they were contracted to build the parking lots. While not the same as building the largest mall in America, they knew the parking lots were important and the company put its best and brightest managers on the job. Years of experience later, they are one of the top-grossing companies in Minnesota, building skyscrapers, hospitals, and ball parks all over the country.

I have this habit of thinking and then acting on the notion that if I can’t build an entire mall, I won’t be happy building a parking lot. For the last five years I’ve thought, ‘If I can’t write this damn book (the way someone else wants me to), then I can’t write at all.’ This, I now know, is bullshit.

I’ve been writing all my life, even before I learned to print. From my sandbox, I’d regale the pine trees with stories of riding my trike and drinking Kool-Aid. I am a teller of stories – mine and other people’s – and I tell these stories in the space of 3,000 words or less. So rather than write one book about one subject, I will write one book with many stories; the book I’m supposed to write.

I started organizing my thoughts today and it was like walking into a room filled with overflowing file cabinets. There are coffee stains on the desk, a half-eaten sandwich leaning against the keyboard, cobwebs in the corner, and books piled on every chair. In my mind, the place is just the way I left it years ago.

It’s good to be “home.”

It all began with a glass of wine…

I’m afraid to fly. Doesn’t mean I won’t, it just means I’m afraid. So to help me to be more comfortable, I take a little something my doctor prescribes and chase it with a glass of wine.

When I flew back to Pittsburgh from Minneapolis last month, I had a glass of wine on the plane. The United Airlines flight attendant swiped my debit card and the $7.99 charge showed up in my checking account two days later. That should have been that.

Three weeks later, another United Airlines charge of $7.99 showed up in my checking account. Now let me just say that the wine was hardly worth the $7.99 in the first place, let alone nearly $16! I used my bank’s online customer service link to file a “complaint” about the charge. The bank’s response was to give me back the $7.99, cancel my debit card so it wouldn’t happen again, and issue me a new one.

Because of that glass of wine, I had to log on to Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and other places that had my old debit card information and change my information to my credit card. A minor pain in the butt, nothing more.

When my new card arrived on Monday, I called the 800 number and activated my account. I went to the gas station and put $30 of gas in my car. On Tuesday, I logged into my bank account and saw that the $30 charge went to the checking account I use only to pay bills. Whoever issued my new card associated it with the wrong checking account. Because of that glass of wine, I had to call my bank and talk to an associate  who assured me she could take care of it. A few clicks of her keyboard and all was back to normal. Another minor pain in the butt, nothing more.

On Wednesday, I went to Walmart to pick up a prescription and buy a few groceries and a Christmas card, which was an adventure all its own. People were sneezing on the cards, everyone smelled of Vicks. I needed a radiation bath when I got home. Anyway, I used my new card to debit $141 from what should have been my regular checking account. Yesterday, I logged into my bank account and saw that the $141 charge was debited from my bill-pay-only checking account AGAIN, this time causing an overdraft and two overdraft fees of $29 each.

This was becoming a major pain in the butt.

Because of that glass of wine, I went to an actual branch and talked to someone in person. Cathy was very friendly and very helpful and just as confused about the whole fiasco as I was. She said the associate I’d talked to on Tuesday not only associated my card with the correct account, but she left my bill-pay-only checking account on it, too, therefore causing the Walmart charges to post to that account. She canceled my new debit card and issued me a new one (which will arrive in 3-5 business days), and she assured me that the two overdraft fees would be taken off.

Because I had no debit card for my regular account and my bill-pay-only account was overdrawn (nothing in the banking world is taken care of immediately), I had no access to money except to go to a teller and withdraw money the old-fashioned way.

This morning, I logged into my bank account. The two overdrafts were indeed removed, AND the Walmart charges were now posted in my regular account AS WELL AS my bill-pay-only account! I burst into tears. Not only did I have limited access to my money, I had way less money to access!

Because of that glass of wine, at 9 a.m. I called Cathy and told her what happened. She looked at my account and said in a rather snotty tone, “You’ll need to talk to Walmart about this. There’s nothing I can do.” What the…WHAT? Was she kidding me? The only thing I did was buy a lousy glass of wine 30,000 feet in the air more than a month ago and she was going to make me go to Walmart and have THEM fix my banks’ mistakes?

“I won’t do that,” I told her. So she said she would try to put in a request to have the Walmart charges removed from my bill-pay-only account, but that it would take two business days for her request to be considered.

Because of that glass of wine, I’m going into the weekend $141 poorer and will have no access to my money. I will use this time to decide if I should A) withdraw my money from my bank and find a new bank; or B) withdraw my money and put it in a shoe box.

I’ll think about it over a glass of wine.

Vulnerable Much?

I’ve been listening to the audio version of Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead,” for the last few weeks. Halfway through the 7-disc book, I knew I had to have a hard copy. “Daring Greatly” is a book that screams, “Write in my margins, people! Highlight! Underline! Reread!”

Embracing vulnerability is a new concept for me. While I credit my training in mindfulness for helping me to not fall completely over my feet as I stumble my way through this new way of thinking and living, embracing what I usually ignore/avoid/run away from (fill in your own coping mechanism) is like stopping a freight train and then putting it in reverse.

When I look back at the times I’ve felt most vulnerable, many of them were appearance focused. When I was obese, I felt most vulnerable in a crowd of people who could – and sometimes probably did – judge me.

I can recall only a few times I didn’t let the vulnerability of obesity win. One was on a May day in 2001 when I gave out the Tony Fabri Memorial Scholarships at the Clarion High School auditorium in front of hundreds of teenagers – in my imagination, the worst audience of all when you’re feeling vulnerable. But Tony was a best friend to both of my daughters, and I loved him like a son. When he died, an entire community went into mourning, and my daughters’ lives changed forever.

When Tony’s parents asked me to present the scholarship awards, I was both honored and scared to death. But I kept in perspective what they were asking me to do: honor their son. They also asked if it would be OK if someone videotaped my presentation because they couldn’t bring themselves to attend. I didn’t hesitate to consent. I have a Ph.D. in grief. I know how caring for yourself while grieving means sometimes not touching the hot spots. Wait til they cool a bit, then lay your hands on them.

Fortunately for me, my weight was pretty much the only reason I felt vulnerable that day. I really don’t mind public speaking, at least when I’m prepared. Throw me out in front of a crowd with little or no warning and ask me to say something intelligent? I’m pretty sure I’d rather pass kidney stones. But that day, I was more than prepared. I was eager to talk about Tony and the legacy of his short-lived life. Only a few times did I worry about what people thought of my size, hidden as best as it could beneath a flowing top and long skirt.

What I’m seeing as I read “Daring Greatly” is that vulnerability is there, up front or in the background, from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep. Sometimes it visits my dreams. Last night I dreamed Eddie Vedder was sitting on my kitchen counter. I asked him if he liked sautéed mushrooms and he said he loved them. I remember feeling tense. I used all my best lines trying to be cool and then I hyperventilated when I realized I only had vegetable oil and no butter in which to sauté the mushrooms. That’s when I woke up.

What the hell did I eat before going to bed?

Anyway, after waking from the Eddie Vedder dream, my vulnerability went straight to the morning activity on my mind: going to my first-ever aqua aerobics class. Not only would I be trying something new, I would be wearing a bathing suit in front of a dozen or more people. Yikes!

As I should have predicted, but didn’t trust, was that the outcome of my first excursion into aqua aerobics was the same as when I plow through most of my other vulnerable moments. It was worth it. I had fun, and I met people who wear bathing suits in public and don’t seem to mind. I also changed my attitude about aqua aerobics being easy (my arms are talking to me this morning about this) and I walked from the pool to the locker room with a little more belief in myself and with a little more love in my heart for who I am – vulnerable and imperfect, but usually hopeful.

I’m learning that being my own best friend is about opening up and being receptive to vulnerability, rather than caving in to my nemesis self who, in the face of a challenge, yells in my ear, “Oh please, please, PLEASE can we not think about this? Can we just pop popcorn and eat Hershey Kisses and watch the first season of ‘Mad Men’ for the third time? Please!?”

Every day we’re “out there,” whether we leave our homes or not. (The Internet is a breeding ground for vulnerability!) Vulnerability is present when we start a new job, go out on a first date, break up with someone, get fired, go to the doctor…. Heck, vulnerability’s present in a restaurant! I always feel bothersome when I ask a server, “Can you please hold the capers and bacon and add a few more tomatoes instead? Oh, and can I get the dressing on the side?”

Online or in person, our faces, our bodies, our personalities, our cars, our houses, our coffee order at Starbucks, our sandwich order at Sheetz, and even the books our children and grandchildren want to check out from the library (“Ummm…OK… ‘Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People’ is fine! Yes! Just fine…ugh!”) make a statement about who we are, and in those moments, we’re open to judgment by the outside and the inside. That’s right. We judge our own vulnerabilities!

I know this isn’t rocket science and that many of you have already figured this out, but wow…. Clarity is creeping up on me like the spider that walked up my calf on Saturday while I scrubbed floors. Not wanting to kill it, I let it creep while I walked outside and set it free, all the while fighting the urge to sweep him away like he wasn’t real and move on with what I was doing. Sort of like the times when I feel most vulnerable and I want to crawl in a hole and shut my eyes and hope no one wants anything from me.

My audio copy of “Daring Greatly” is due back at my library on Friday. While I now own a hard copy, I was hoping to finish the book on CD. When I tried to renew it, I was told I couldn’t because someone else has reserved it. That’s OK. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one trying to stop the freight train and throw it in reverse.

My new anthem: Sara Bareilles “Brave”


When I was packing to move to my apartment three years ago, my ex-husband and I divvied up the kitchen property and discovered that we had enough pots, pans, crock pots, utensils, glasses, coffee mugs, cookie sheets, and baking dishes for two kitchens. Of course, some things you don’t need two, three, or ten of, so he got the toaster and the bread maker and I got the immersion blender and food processor, but all in all, there was little either of us had to buy for each of us to have a more-than working kitchen.

Three weeks ago, Ron and Red (his dog) moved into the apartment next to mine. I’d mentioned that my daughter, Carlene, was having a garage sale and Ron asked if she was selling any pots and pans. No, I told him, but I’d ask around.

Friend Debbie said she didn’t have any to spare since the one and only set she owned was given to her by her mother for a wedding gift 29 years ago and they were still in perfect working order. My daughter, Cassie, didn’t have pots and pans to spare either, as her old set went to Carlene.

When I went to Carlene’s to help set up for the garage sale, she told me she’d rearranged her kitchen and showed me where she’d moved everything. While she received a lot of new kitchen items when she got married last year, she kept many of the items I’d given her over the years: loaf pans, Tupperware, a pizza stone, and dishes that I used when I was a kid living with my parents.

In my little pots-and-pans hunt, I was struck by the connections we have to our kitchen stuff, particularly how we acquired certain items. For instance, I inherited my Grandma Katinka’s lefse stick and roller when she passed. Her name is still imprinted in permanent marker on the stick. I use it every year when I make lefse, along with the ricer I bought specifically to rice boiled potatoes. I still have a smoke-colored Pyrex bowl that was once part of a set of four I received at my bridal shower when I got married 31 years ago. I don’t know what happened to the other three, but I still have the Black and Decker hand mixer I got at that shower, along with the Fannie Farmer cookbook my sister gave me. Cassie recently bought a new stand mixer and gave me back my stand mixer that had become a permanent fixture on her counter since Thanksgiving 2009 (Although she “graciously” allowed me to take it home for one day last year so I could make Christmas cookies. One day. No more.)

I won’t part with these and other things until: 1) I no longer have a kitchen or; 2) I am no longer breathing. Whichever comes first. At least…I won’t part with them intentionally.

I’m sure the folks in Colorado (and New Orleans and Mobile and New Jersey…et al) who lost their homes to flooding had lefse sticks and Fannie Farmer cookbooks and pots and pans they acquired in special, meaningful ways, too. I heard one woman from Boulder say in an interview that she’d lost “things,” and that (as she said quite graciously) she was just grateful to be alive.

Put into perspective, as this woman did, “things” are just that. Things. But losing things we love, rely on, or give us historical perspective can be painful. It’s OK to grieve the loss of the cookie molds you inherited from your great aunt because she cherished the Sundays when you’d go over to her house and make cookies with her; the cast iron pan your grandfather used to fry trout in during family camping trips; the Number Thirty Hamilton Beach malt mixer you bid on and won at your first country auction; the monogrammed apron your husband bought you when you “graduated” from a six-week Asian cooking class.

Can we live without these things? Of course. But “things” enhance our lives in many ways, and when we see people suffer their loss, it offers those of us who haven’t a chance to reflect on and appreciate our own impermanent, often ethereal things. We still have the good fortune of being able to touch, look at, and use them.

Is Grandma’s green depression-era measuring cup tucked away somewhere in a buffet collecting cobwebs…as mine was? Get it out! Use it the next time you’re measuring broth for soup. Do you save the “good dishes” for special occasions? Use them the next time you serve sloppy Joes! Dirty the fancy linens. They’ll wash up. Using them or passing them on to people who need them allows “things” to do what they were meant to do: enhance lives, and when they’re gone, to offer comfort in the memory of how they were used.

Ron found a set of pots and pans through a friend of a friend, and I know they are being used because sauteed garlic has a way of penetrating walls, and last week he gave me a jar of honey he recently pasteurized. “Things” have a way of keep giving…
And speaking of “things,” Cassie’s Christmas give-back project is to host another “spinathon” and to seek donations and items for three Pittsburgh-area families in need of assistance due to declining health or financial issues. Last year, she and her daughter, Claire, raised over $3100 in money and donations for the Animal Rescue League. If you’re looking for a holiday “cause,” please consider reading Cassie’s blog, “Wishes,” for more information on how you can help. Thank you!


How Cool Is 50?

Today, I am 50. I was born in Minneapolis on a hot summer day, just before dinner time, and exactly 10 years after my brother, Marty.
The other day I read an article called “50 Cool ThingsAbout Johnny Depp at Age 50.” 
He’s 50? I thought. Hunh…he makes it look really goooood!
In a quick search for “famous people born in 1963,” I found several other famous types who share my birth year, many of whom I thought were way younger than me, like Tori Amos, John Stamos, Mike Meyers, Brad Pitt, Coolio, Quentin Tarantino, and Seal. There were a few I thought were older, too, like Larry the Cable Guy and Charles Barkley.
I may not be as cool as Johnny Depp, or even as cool as my friend, Shelley, who bought herself a drum set for her 50thbirthday (see “And So This Is Fifty”), but I’m pretty happy with the cool I’ve got going on at 50: great kids, great friends, good cholesterol numbers….
I went through one of my baby books this week and found a few photos that tell some of the story of how I got to be who I am today…kind of. Clearly I didn’t grow up to be Ginger the Movie Star (see #7). But my grandkids think I’m pretty neat and that’s what matters.
1.       I’m a middle child, but there were 2½ years when I was the youngest. Don’t let Marty’s face fool you. He might look all, “Ohhhh…isn’t she cute? Another sister! Just what I always wanted!”, but he wasn’t enamored with my presence. My sister Debbie wasn’t real thrilled, either, since she’d held the title of “youngest and only daughter” for seven years. At least she had the courtesy to fake how she felt and smile for the photo.

My brother tolerated me for the seven years we lived under the same roof. He let me sit in his room sometimes when he played records (when my mom asked me once to tell Marty it was dinner time, I told her we were listening to his “Yeah yeah” music), and he let me feed his hamsters and salamanders. He went to college in ’71 and we moved 200 miles away, so I didn’t see Marty very often. But as we’ve aged, we’ve gotten closer, particularly in the last 25 years. He made me power-of-attorney three years before his seizure, which I had no idea he’d done until I flew out to Minnesota in 2011 when he got home from the hospital and I went through his legal documents to determine how in the world I was going to help him. While I hate that he suffers as he does, that he trusted me to make decisions for him is very humbling and speaks volumes to our relationship.

My sister and I get along famously…always have. Unless, of course, you count the time I stole her crutches after she banged up her leg in a bike-riding accident and I taunted her, “You can’t get me, you can’t get me!” and my mother gave her permission to hit me with them when she got them back. She didn’t, thank goodness, but that was the beginning of my short-lived brat phase, so maybe she should have!

2.     I have a very handsome dad, don’t I? He’s my favorite man in the whole world. BTW, I still have that lamp behind us, sans the shade 🙂
3.    I was born with a pigeon-toed right foot and the treatment back in the day was to put a baby in a cast for several months. It straightened my foot about 45 degrees, but because it was still pigeon-toed, I walked slightly abnormally. Nothing you’d notice, but it threw off my skeletal structure and my surgeon is convinced it contributed to my toe, ankle, and knee injuries over the years.This photo is of the first time my right foot felt grass. Either I was skeptical about the grass or it was the moment I decided golf would never be my game.

4.      I started stylin’ young. I put a couple of my mom’s curlers in my hair and secured them with a pair of my brother’s plastic pants. I’ve since learned how to use a hair dryer and flat iron.
5.     How many people can say they’ve met Miss Bloomington 1965?
6.     My love for wheels began early, but what I love most about this photo – along with the rockin’ streamers – is the scarf I’m wearing. My mother always put a scarf on my head when it was windy because I developed ear infections easily. I can still remember the feel of her tying the knot tightly under my chin and how I had to open my mouth wide a few times to get it to loosen a bit. I remember the echoes of the wind bouncing off my scarf and I wonder if the doo rag my friend, Debbie, bought me for my birthday will offer that same sound. I really hope it does.
7.     My mom and dad were never treated to much affection when they were children, and my mother never heard her father say he loved her. But you’d never know it by the way they raised us. The grooviest part of this photo, though, is my dress. I called it my Movie Star Dress and I wore it as often as my mother would let me. I especially liked to wear it when I watched “Gilligan’s Island.” You could have Mary Ann and her pies and Mrs. Howell and her furs. I wanted to be Ginger and her slinky tight dress when I grew up.
8.    I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. My dad read to me long before I could comprehend anything other than pictures. When I was 2, I had memorized a few books and my dad showed off my “reading” skills to the neighbors. I had no idea how to read, of course, but the neighbors were impressed and Dad was amused.I credit my mother for teaching me proper grammar. We were never allowed to say “ain’t,” and she corrected me if I said something like, “Her and me…” She also wrote the most eloquent excuses from school. “Please excuse Lynn from school yesterday, as she was ill. Thank you. Most sincerely yours….” When she says she has no idea where I got my gift of writing, I remind her of the school notes and the way she talked so proper. She just laughs and tells me I’m full of it, but I know it’s true, and I can’t image my life without stories, either those I read or those I write.

Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Mike Meyers, Lynn Haraldson…we were born in the age of Mad Men, JFK, civil rights, Duck and Cover, and the space race. But who I am today is a result of the safety, love, and guidance of my parents, siblings, and teachers, and the many dear friends I’ve made over the years. I welcome this new decade with a renewed commitment to health and personal growth, and sharing the things I’ve learned these last 50 years with my grandchildren, hopefully contributing to their safety, love, and guidance as well.But mostly, I’m going to have a LOT of fun! Bring it ON!

Happy 32nd Anniversary to Me! (A Graduation Tale)

My niece graduated from high school last Friday. So did my nephew’s son and a lot of my friends’ children. What will they remember of that day? The valedictorian’s speech? I doubt it. The number of bobby pins they used to secure their cardboard hats? Possibly. Or will it be what they did afterwards, in the hours following the ceremony, that they’ll keep with them in their hearts?
Most people think of the day they graduated from high school as the anniversary of the day they graduated from high school. I always remember my graduation day – June 4, 1981 – as the anniversary of the day I slept with Clayton Johnson.
Allow me to explain.
I moved to the suburbs of Minneapolis halfway through 9thgrade. I was a small-town girl with small-town clothes and a small-town haircut. I was the Queen of Geek, a princess in the land of Everyone Who’s No One. Every day, my stomach ached. I dreaded every class because I’d been dropped halfway into a subject I knew nothing about. I my small town, I took Earth Science. In the suburbs, I was in chemistry. In my small town, I took Civics. In the suburbs, I was in Economics. In my small town I was one of two flute players in the band. In the suburbs, I was last chair, and several of the girls ahead of me were in a Twin Cities youth symphony. In my small town, I was in home ec. In the suburbs, I was the only girl in shop class because home ec was full. When the counseling center had us take a career exploration test, I had only one result: barge loader.
Talk about a blow to the psyche.
I loved gym class in my small town. I’d left in the middle of volleyball. In the suburbs, we were learning ballroom dancing. It was bad enough that I didn’t know any of the boys in my class, worse that one of the two boys left who could be my partner had bad breath and stared at my chest. The other boy – a tall, handsome blond – was being begged by a tall, beautiful blond girl to be her partner. Divine intervention is the only way I can explain how he looked over at me, assessed my predicament, and left the tall, beautiful girl and asked if I’d be his partner.
“Sure,” was all I managed to say. His name was Clayton (not Clay) and together we learned the waltz, the polka, and the Texas two-step over the course of the two-week dancing unit.
We didn’t become friends, exactly. For the next four years, we said hello and exchanged sterile pleasantries every time we passed each other in the hallway, and we had a math class together in which he borrowed a pencil. We signed each other’s year books every year, always mentioning how much we each enjoyed each other’s “sweet smile.”
For four years I pined, quietly and from afar, until graduation night. Everyone who was anyone (and didn’t have a date with their parents) was going to Greg M’s house for a party. And I mean EVERYONE. There were at least 300 people in and around Greg’s parents’ suburban house, and the beer was flowing. It wasn’t long before the paddy wagons showed up and kids scattered in all directions. I’d not had anything to drink (the line was too long and I’d shown up late), but I didn’t want to get swept up in the bust, so I, too, ran towards my red Mustang parked on a side street near Northwood Park. Of all the people at the party, Clayton was there, too, running next to me down the sidewalk
“Need a ride?” I asked.
“Yes!” he laughed.
We got in my car and drove up Boone Avenue, past the cops and the mayhem. Clayton said he was spending the night with a few of his friends in the woods in what is now a very large shopping development. At the time, a mile from my house, it was the edge of the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. There was still a lot of natural real estate between Plymouth and Maple Grove back in the early ‘80s.
“Wanna join us?” he asked.
It’s the first time I remember being truly spontaneous all by myself, without the company and encouragement of a cluster of friends. When I left graduation, I was a pack of one, with no other plans than to drink beer at a party with people I’d probably never see again. Or at least, most of them. (Of course, along came Facebook, and many of those people are back in my life, at least virtually.) But fate changed that. Tall, blond, kind Clayton Johnson was asking me to stay overnight in a make-shift camp in the woods. No thought AT ALL went into my response.
We drove to the woods, parked the car, and walked about a quarter mile in the dark (Clayton held my hand) to a clearing in which three other guys I recognized, and might have talked to once or twice during my high school career, had built a fire and laid out four sleeping bags. They had some beer, a boom box, a few cigars, and a deck of cards. They greeted me like I was expected and I proceeded to spend the night drinking, gambling, and laughing with four boys I didn’t know well, but whom my gut knew I could trust. I shared a sleeping bag with Clayton, fully clothed, and he kissed me a few times before we fell asleep. When the sun came up, I slipped out of the sleeping bag without waking Clayton, walked back through the woods, and drove home. My mother took a photo of me standing next to my Mustang, disheveled, but so very happy. I never saw Clayton again, but I can’t imagine a better way or a better person with whom to jump-start my adult life.
Not sure too many parents want to share this story with their recent graduates, but my hope is that the recent graduates I know and love will trust themselves and forge ahead with their dreams without too much consultation from the naysayers. You don’t have to spend the night in the woods with a boy you danced with in 9th grade gym class, but I do hope you begin your emancipation with fun and high hopes.

A Little Story About Mental Illness

<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>It was 3 a.m. and my sister, mother and I were watching cartoons in a hospital waiting room, anxious for news about Dad, who’d had a heart attack. What began in my stomach as a churning crept upward to my heart, which began beating wildly. The feeling crept to my lungs, which couldn’t complete a full breath. It then crept into my mind, which began thinking, I’m dying, too. Within a few minutes I was on my own gurney and a doctor was handing me a pill.

“You had a panic attack,” he said. “Here, put this under your tongue.”
It was Halcion. Valium with a kick. Within seconds, I was calm. So calm I forgot why I was at the hospital. My sister reminded me and I remember saying, ‘Oh, that’s right,’ and I drifted off to sleep as my sister poured me into the front seat of my car and took me home.
I slept the rest of the morning. When I woke up, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. I was groggy and deeply frightened. Did my heart just skip? What did that sigh mean? That I can’t breathe? But no fortress could stop it. Panic returned and my only defense was to slip a Halcion under my tongue. It came back the next day and the next. By the end of the week my defenses were spent and the pill bottle was empty.
For two weeks, panic poured over me like tsunami. I went to every emergency room in the Minneapolis area begging for Halcion, usually in the middle of the night, waking my then-husband, Jason, and dragging the kids out from their beds because I couldn’t drive myself. The last ER physician I saw said I needed to see a psychiatrist and refused to write a script. He sent me home shaking and throwing up.
So I called a psychiatrist. He wanted to explore my past. I just wanted drugs. He assured me I could control my panic through deep breathing. I told him I hadn’t caught my breath in weeks. We were in a shoot-off and I was running out of bullets.
Then came the day at work when my Selectric II typewriter ribbon broke and I began to cry. I cried while I changed it, cried as I typed a memo, and cried when my boss sent me home because I couldn’t stop crying. I cried driving home, cried while eating a grilled cheese and Old Dutch potato chips dipped in cottage cheese (best comfort food ever). I cried when I dialed the phone to tell my psychiatrist I was crying, and cried even harder when he told me he was checking me in to the hospital. A special hospital.
A few hours later, Jason dropped me off at Golden Valley Health Center and I checked in to the psychiatric ward. I’d stopped crying, but I was exhausted. My head felt like a bowling ball and I answered questions with monosyllabic words.
After filling out insurance forms, a nurse led me to a scale in the hallway across from the nurses’ station. I was wearing knee-length knit shorts and a size XXL t-shirt stained at the hem. Tears had washed away my makeup, and my hair was matted to my head. I took off my slip-on canvas shoes with the hole in the toe and laid them beside the scale, like their half-pound weight would make a difference.
The nurse optimistically started the large metal weight at the 150-pound position and nudged the smaller weight higher and higher. The balance arrow didn’t budge. She moved the large weight to 200 and again moved the small weight higher. The arrow bounced a little around 240. For accuracy, she should have moved the large weight to 250, but she said cheerfully, “We’ll call you 249.”
The next day, I spent two hours in group therapy drawing pictures and writing in a journal and feeling completely out of place and ridiculously selfish among people facing electric shock therapy. One woman was the only survivor of a car crash that killed her niece and sister. She’d been the driver. A chain-smoking young man had locked himself in a closed garage and started his car’s engine a few weeks before. He’d been repeatedly molested as a child.
Could I be a bigger baby? I thought as I wrote my name with a blue crayon on a piece of yellow construction paper. We were to draw a “family tree of feelings.” The only thing I felt was guilty for taking up space in a facility meant for people with real problems, and stupid for having called my doctor in the first place. So I’d cried for a few hours? Big deal. People cry.
I took a two-hour, fill-in-the-hole-with-a-#2-pencil psychological test that asked me to answer yes or no to statements such as, “I would like to do the work of a choir director” and “If I could sneak into the county fair or an amusement park without paying, I would.” Were they kidding me?
The next day, a psychiatrist went over my results. She showed me a line chart indicating how I “scored” in regard to various emotions and behaviors. The line was flowing along nicely, indicating I was “normal” here and “normal” there, just as I expected. Then a steep, jagged line rose across the paper like a fjord on the Norwegian coastline. It went all the way to the top of the chart before plummeting back to the middle.
“That’s your anger line,” the doctor said.
“What?” I laughed. “Just because I don’t want to be a choir director, I’m angry? I have nothing to be angry about!”
I explained that my psychiatrist said I had a panic disorder and that a few days ago I couldn’t stop crying and that was why I was there. I just need to calm down, maybe lose some weight, and I’d be fine.
She nodded, wrote a few notes, and gave me Xanax. I promised to visit my psychiatrist weekly for a month and was released from the facility at the end of the week.
The Xanax worked almost instantly and it kept the physical symptoms of anxiety at bay. But the relentless weeks-long waves of panic prior to the Xanax made me afraid of fear and I was scared I’d have another attack at any moment. I needed something to change, something to help me feel normal again. God knows my psychiatrist was no help. He read the hospital psychiatrist’s report and ran with her whole “anger” diagnosis. He wanted me to journal about my anger, even though I insisted I wasn’t angry. But in order to get the Xanax, I wrote in the journal.
He also brought up Bruce’s death and asked me about Jason (domestic violence issues….another blog for another day), but I wouldn’t go there with him. I said there was nothing I could do to change the past, so why dwell on it? He said something about unresolved grief and lack of self-esteem and blah blah blah. Buddy, I thought, all I want is some control of my life.
I discovered the golden loophole a few weeks later when I went to my gynecologist for a routine exam. I told her how anxious I’d been feeling, leaving out the part about the hospital and the psychiatrist, and she diagnosed me with severe PMS. She wrote me a script for Xanax and that was the end of journaling about non-existent anger. I focused my energy on the one thing I knew I could control: my weight.
I joined Weight Watchers, but not before saying goodbye to a few of my “friends” – the ones I knew I wouldn’t be able to “contact” once I was on a diet.
The week before the first meeting, I made Kraft macaroni and cheese with real butter, and I grilled a T-bone steak. I ate garlic mashed potatoes and cheesy hash browns, baked a chocolate cake, and went twice to Dairy Queen for a Hot Fudge Brownie Delight. I poured 2-percent milk over Captain Crunch for breakfast, and made a parade of pasta dishes for dinner. Then on Saturday morning, after throwing out the leftover brie and French baguette, deviled eggs and Hershey Kisses, I walked into a Weight Watchers facility, paid the $8 fee, weighed in and left without attending the meeting. After four weeks, I’d acquired all the basic program materials and stopped going.
“You’ll leave me once you’ve lost weight,” Jason said.
“No, I won’t!” I insisted.
I subsisted on raw and boiled vegetables, fruit, skim milk and plain baked white fish. In my food journal, I checked off every allotted carb, protein and dairy allowed. I ate nothing more. I quit drinking and started riding a stationary bike I bought at a garage sale for $10. In return, I averaged a 3.5-pound loss every week.
I wasn’t angry. Heck no. Just highly motivated.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. NAMI is my go-to place for info and support. Mental illness is often a family thing and should not be an embarrassment. Ask for help, whether it’s for you or someone you love.