Sunday, September 30, 2007

Holiday Heaven

We really enjoy our second home in Florida, but one of the downsides of having a vacation home is that whenever you have vacation time, you feel obligated to use your "vacation home," rather than go somewhere else and spending money on a hotel.

Sometimes, though, I like to go somewhere completely different, stay in a nice hotel and have room service, explore a new city, or even country. We've even talked about going abroad for a couple of weeks and renting a villa in France or a cottage in England.

There are so many options for lodging when you travel, and with Hotel ReservationsI can comparison shop for hotels or even cottage or condo rentals, all within a mouse click of one another.

The site is well organized, offers some great travel tips for every city worldwide, and, best of all, offers some great discounts - as much as 70% savings off regular rack rates in some cases. This site navigates well, too, so that it's easy to get back and forth between pages when I'm working on multilpe trips at a time - well, you never know, I might get to fo to Belize for New Years Eve!

I'm thinking with the holidays coming up, this might be a good time to getaway for a weekend trip - maybe Toronto or Chicago. Or perhaps I should look into that dream trip to Cornwall - a little cottage on the seaside would set me up nicely.

I can do lots of travel planning (and dreaming) using this one handy website.

Check it out...if you're not going somewhere now, you should be planning to!


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Power

"By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is what we have not sufficiently desired." Nikos Kazantzakis

It's not a secret any longer~the buzz is everywhere. The power of intention, the power of positive affirmation, the "if you can dream it you can do it" philosophy. Believe long and hard enough, visualize yourself where you want to be, and the universe will move in ways to fulfill those dreams.

Undoubtedly, that is one powerful idea.

And yet...

"I know what the great cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world." Henry Miller

While channel surfing on my XM radio the other day, I stumbled across an interview with Denise Jackson, wife of country music singer Alan Jackson, who has written a book about the recent breakdown of their marriage. The couple is back together now, and Ms. Jackson spoke about her desperate attempts to restore their relationship. "It was only when I finally surrendered it all to God that things started to happen, that Alan's heart began to soften toward me, that I learned to give up trying to control him and our marriage."

Two diametrically opposed ideas about power over your life. One suggests we have an almost magical ability to believe things into being, to focus a piercing beam of positive energy toward our goals, igniting sparks of creation deep within ourselves and the universe. And the other advises we give over our desires, our need for control and order, offer it in our cupped and outstretched hands to the Higher Power who can only then initiate Her work in our lives

So what is the answer?

In my yoga class, the leader tells us our practice is a balance of effort and surrender. Effort to achieve a pose, to bend and stretch stiff, awkward limbs and muscles into positions that may feel unnatural, even painful, and surrender when you've pushed your body far enough and you simply breath deeply and let go, accepting the shape you're in.

I imagine that everyone reading this is struggling with something -desires, fears, confusions, heartbreaks. We're all yearning, wondering, hoping to fulfill those dreams we harbor so deep within our hearts we're almost afraid to speak them aloud. We all want the power to make those dreams come true, to find answers to questions that trouble our sleep, to soothe grief and pain.

But I also imagine that true "power" lies somewhere between these two dichotomies, somewhere in that amorphous realm midway between effort and surrender, when you've done every practical thing you can do, when you've focused every bit of positive energy you can on that one tight place in your life that simply refuses to bend another inch, and you finally exhale and float, in the clear and certain knowledge that you've done your best and now grace must slip in.

The balance of power - saying Yes! and learning when to let go.

for more powerful thoughts, go here


Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Feast

Appetizer : How are you today?
With radiant sunshine, a fresh cool breeze blowing, and endless blue sky, I'm excited about getting outside, hoping the fresh autumn air will blow some of the cobwebs out of my head.

Soup : Name 3 television shows you watch on a regular basis.
For a long while, there weren't even three shows I could say I regularly watched. Lately, I've become addicted to Mad Men, a series set in 1960's New York City, and centered around the advertising business. I grew up in the 60's and there haven't been many shows or movies set in that era. This one pays great attention to detail, from costume to language, to social mores and customs. It's fascinating. I also watch Gray's Anatomy and ER ~ I've always liked the "doctor shows."

Salad : What’s the scariest weather situation you’ve experienced?
A couple of years ago, a hurricane hit Naples, Florida, where our son lives and where we have a second home. We were all in Michigan at the time, but it was frightening (and rather surreal) to be watching the coverage on television, seeing familiar landmarks being blown and buffeted about. Luckily, neither of our homes were damaged.

Main Course : If you could wake up tomorrow morning in another country, where would you want to be?
No question - the UK. When we visited there in 2005, waking up in the morning was my favorite part of the day. The sun on those luscious green hills, the fields dotted with sheep, the peace and quiet of the small villages we passed through - sumblime!

Dessert : What do you usually wear to sleep?
I really like nice sleepwear - not super expensive stuff, but things that match and look good. I'm not an old T shirt and boxers kind of girl. I like feminine nighties and pajamas.

for more feasts, go here


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Booking Through Thursday

This week Booking Through Thursday asks:
Buy A Friend a Book Week is October 1-7 (as well as the first weeks of January, April, and July). During this week, you’re encouraged to buy a friend a book for no good reason. Not for their birthday, not because it’s a holiday, not to cheer them up–just because it’s a book.
What book would you choose to give to a friend and why?
And, if you’re feeling generous enough–head on over to Amazon and actually send one on its way!
I trade books with my friends all the time~sometimes it's hard to keep track of who has what, they get passed around to so many people. But I rather like the idea of buying a friend a book for no particular reason, especially since I know it will return to me eventually!
The Whole World Over, by Julia Glass, was one of my favorite reads last year. Glass has a real flair for description and character development. This is a sumptuous book about relationships, and, yes, friendships~ it makes wonderful "curl up with some chocolate and wine" reading, just the kind of thing I like to encourage my friends to do.
For my writer friends, The Right to Write, by Julia Cameron, provides the perfect combination of inspiration and exercise in short, concise chapters. This book distills all Cameron's highly touted theories about writing into one small volume. It's my favorite of all her books.

For more ideas on book shopping for your friends, check out Booking Through Thursday.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Write On Wednesday-Coming Alive

Don't ask yourself what the world needs.
Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
~Harold Thurman Whitman
Each time I run across these words, I feel an electric shock run down my spine.
They remind me that the world, myself included sometimes, is filled with people going through the motions of their days, finding no joy, no deep indwelling sense of satisfaction or accomplishment, nothing that creates the feeling of life abundantly lived. So these words prod and poke me, nudge me to search for what creates the spark of life in my soul.
They confronted me this morning when I opened my brand new copy of Foolsgold, by Susan G. Woolridge (author of Poemcrazy). Outside my window, a cloudy, drizzly September day waits for me. Another day in my office beckons, a day of paper shuffling and organizing, a day of sifting through piles of medical records and information. Nothing about the prospect of this day makes me come alive.

But if I am honest, I recognize that I am luckier than most~I've achieved half the battle to follow that credo. I, at least, have found the things that make me come alive.

Certainly, writing is one of them.

Foolsgold promises to help me "find the artist within by cultivating a creative lifestyle that will not only expand and inspire you, but may also ground and heal you." A "creative lifestyle" is what interests me here. In the past months, as I've come to realize how much writing means to me, I've allowed it to play a bigger role in my inner life. Yet I keep it tucked in the cupboard of my lifestyle, afraid to let it to play in the daylight hours, only taking it out when I've completed all the other, less livening activities.

I think in order to start living that "fully alive" life the world needs, I must allow creativity to permeate my entire lifestyle, not just those few "off hours" when the regular work is done.

What does that mean in practical terms? I'm not sure. Perhaps Foolsgold will provide some answers, as I read it with that thought in mind.

It will be a journey, this "coming alive" process.

I'll keep you posted.

How about you? Have you found the things that make you come alive? Are you doing them?


Monday, September 24, 2007

Writer's Island-The Key

"What key are we in?" the musician will ask, inquiring about the tonality of the piece of music she's preparing to play. For singers, the key is vital, because it will determine whether the notes are too high or too low for the voice to produce. As a pianist, I'm also interested in key - music in certain keys has more "accidentals" than others, notes that have to be changed from the normal progression.

Most musicians have their "favorite keys." Personally, I like the major flat keys, especially D flat. My fingers seem to naturally fit into that five flat pattern, and the tonality is especially pleasing to me, rich and full, with just a hint of melancholy.

Of course, it's not difficult to see the corollary between life in general and a musician's relationship with key. We all have certain patterns that best fit our moods, our inclinations, our desires. For some, life in C major, the simplest, most efficient of all keys, is perfect. While others thrive on life in g-sharp minor, with every key an accidental at least once (and don't even ask me to explain double-sharping!)

Not surprisingly, I prefer my life to be similar to my favorite key. D flat major falls just slightly above "easy", and is slipping toward challenging on the scale. Tonally, it's pleasant, yet interesting, evocative yet accessible. And, as Goldilocks would say, it fits me "just right."

Perhaps the key to happiness then, is identifying that "just right" tonality for your life. Naturally it's fun to experiment with other keys once in a while. I've gotten great satisfaction from mastering a piece in the key of C flat major, even though my brain felt like it was solving one long algebraic equation the entire time I was playing it!

But I'm always happiest when I return to the "tonic" - home base, in musical terms. After spending the day meandering through life, like a jazz pianist will wander from key to key, following some wild, unexpected path so far from where he originally began, I'm comforted to find my way home, and let those odd chord progressions resolve into my own natural tonic "do". The place that feels just right to my fingers and to my heart.

more keys are available on writer's island


Encyclopedia of Me Monday: G is for...

In all honesty, I'm not very goal oriented. I do alright with the minor goals - like getting the laundry done, learning my music for a concert, and finishing my work on time. But I'm not very good at setting those major life goals. In the "olden days" when I was growing up, there wasn't so much emphasis on goal setting and life planning. You just did what you were supposed to do...finish school, go to work, raise your family, live your life. Not even any of that "live your best life" stuff. Just get it done.

Sometimes I'd like to be more of a goal setter, but it seems that every time I stick a toe in the goal setting water, life (and/or world events) get in the way, putting a monkey wrench in my carefully (and I mean, carefully!) laid plans. A few years ago, we set a goal for Jim to "semi-retire" at age 55, and we would move to Florida. With that in mind, we purchased a home, and then another home in Florida, hoping to use the equity from a booming real estate market to stake our retirement dreams. Well, I'm sure most of you know what's happened to the real estate market during that time~it's gone down the tubes, taking our retirement dreams with it.

"Set another goal!" life planners would advise. "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!"

Admittedly, I'm a bit gun shy about goal setting. Personally, some of the best things that have happened in my life were unplanned - getting married was actually never on my list of things to do-until I met Jim, that is. Having children - we had no plans for that either, but God thought otherwise, and thank goodness He did!

So perhaps I'll just continue on relatively goal-less. With the exception, of course, of making the most of every day, enjoying my friends and family as much as possible, and doing what I can to make the world a little bit better place.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sunday Scribblings - My Name Is...

My grandmother called me Sugar, my dad sometimes called me the Queen of Sheba, my husband called me Sunshine. My friends call me Becky, my colleagues, Rebecca, and here in cyber space, I'm Becca (of the Byline).

All these appelations bear some truth about my essential nature. Yes, I am sweet, as my grandmother recognized. Sometimes I do feel entitled to royal treatment, though I'm generally content to spread warmth and joy into the lives of those I love. I am a bit Old World, as the ancient history of my Hebrew name would suggest, but I'm willing to sample modernity when the situation requires.

I'm also a baby boomer, I was once a stay at home mom, and I'm now an empty nester. I float somewhere in the nether world between mid-life and senior citizen.

None of these nametags tell you very much about the essential Becca - the one who's all about family and home, fairness and honesty, simple pleasures and lasting love, enjoying life and honoring your gifts. Or the Becca who was once afraid of stairs and is still afraid of spiders.

From my simple introduction, you would never know that I love the water, but can't swim, or that I've always harbored secret dreams about ballroom dancing and race car driving. That I've been drinking coffee since I was three years old, and it's my drink of choice for most any situation. Or that I'm an only child, a child of divorced parents, and wandering through the world with a very tiny, precious number of people who share my blood.

Unless you know me well, you wouldn't know how conflicted I sometimes get about my music and my writing (never good enough!). How much I worry about what will happen in the future~where will we live, will we have enough money, what will we do for health care. You wouldn't know that many mornings my eyes pop open at 4:00 am and all these worrisome thoughts invade my mind, poking and prodding, agitating me until I surrender and get up to make myself hot cocoa to soothe my pounding head.

I can now readily walk up to people, offer my hand, and say "Hi, I'm Becca. Have we met?" But I was once painfully shy, and rarely spoke unless spoken to first. I now realize the really interesting part comes after that simple introduction, where I get to know the person behind the name, and share a bit of my own essential self with another human being. That's what keeps us human, isn't it? The sharing of our stories, the offering of little bits of ourselves.

But it all starts with a name.

My name is Becca...have we met?

for more introductions, go here


Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Feast #161 (But #1 for Me!)

What is your favorite type of art?

I love the Impressionists - Monet, Renoir, Cassat. But I also love artistic photography, like Ansel Adams

When was the last time you got a free lunch (or breakfast or dinner)? Who paid for it?

Today, as a matter of fact. My mom treated me to lunch in the dining room at Macy's Department Store - a real old fashioned "ladies who lunch" place, where we had our favorite~ Maurice salads


On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being highest, how emotional are you?

Ten years ago I would have anwered 8. Now, I'd say 5 or 6. I don't know whether I'm hardening with age, but I rarely cry about anything anymore. I sometimes cry after visiting my mother in law at the Alzheimer's facility where she lives. So many people with once vital, busy lives, now existing as shells of their former selves. Breaks my heart every time.

Main Course
Approximately how long do you spend each day responding to email?

Very little time. I don't receive a lot of email. I spend a great deal more time commenting on blogs -probably an hour a day.

To what temperature do you usually set your home’s thermostat?

Winter is coming, and the thermostat war will soon begin! I like it at 68, my husband likes it 70, so we're always sneaking around adjusting the thermostat on each other. Terrible for energy conservation, I know.

to sample other feasts, go here


Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's Been a Hard Days Night

Thursday nights are choir nights at our church, and we've started off the year with a very ambitious project~we're mounting a production of South Pacific, not the full show, but a slightly revised version. It includes all the songs, and a good bit of the dialogue. Tonight was our first full rehearsal.

The show goes up in two weeks.

That's right. Two weeks.

If you've ever been involved with any kind of musical production, you'll know that's slightly ludicrous. But our church has a long history of doing full out musicals, so most of the people in the choir are used to this kind of thing.


Our choir director "invited me" to play the second piano part of the accompaniment, which is scored for two pianos and...well, two pianos. That's it.

Okay, I've played lots of musicals before, and this isn't terribly hard music. Our regular organist will be playing the other part, and she's a phenomenal musician.

However (and you knew there would be a however)...

We don't have the music yet.

The show is in two weeks.

There are 42 songs.

"The music's been shipped! They promised me it would be here tomorrow!" our choir director assured me tonight. Hmmm...I think she told me that last Thursday night.

My friend Sandy, the other accompanist involved, gave me "the look" that says, "Don't you just love being taken completely for granted?"

A few years ago, I would have been completely freaked out about this situation.

However, perhaps it's because I'm older and wiser, or perhaps it's just hormones (remember, I blame everything on hormones these days), I'm really not terribly worried. I figure, que sera sera - I'll do the best I can. After all, since it's for church, I'm hoping God will guide my fingertips.

Even if it is South Pacific.


A Whole New Grind

You all know how much I love my coffee, and I've developed quite a discerning set of taste buds for my favorite brew. For many years I've been ordering coffee from the Gevalia Company, whose traditional blend has just the right full bodied, smooth taste for me. But whether it's my age or my hormones (which I tend to blame for everything these days), I've noticed lately that my cup of Gevalia occasionally has a bitter aftertaste.

Yesterday I tried organic coffee for the first time, and I was hooked immediately. Cafe Britt Organic is a dark roast, smooth tasting, slightly sweet flavored coffee, that is full bodied without even a hint of bitterness. And even better, it's harvested from plantations that use 100% organic materials - no pesticides, no chemicals - and are completely dedicated to fair trade practices. So I have lots of reasons to feel good about drinking it.

As an added bonus, my new addiction is available at First Cup, a brand new coffee shop located just a mile from my house. I'm so thrilled that my neighborhood finally has its own coffee house, complete with art gallery showcasing local artists, poetry readings and - wireless internet. I've already made friends with the owner, a lovely woman from Lebanon, who is completely dedicated to serving all certified organic foods. I think I may have found a new hangout.

I know I've found a new coffee.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Love My Rut

There's something very comforting about my routine. I suppose I might as well admit it - it's really just a rut. And perhaps I'm a dullard for loving it, but I do. Following a simple, pleasurable pattern, slipping into regular habits like a well worn pair of slippers, eases my mind and relieves the stress that has become such a part of everyday life.

I love my morning routine most of all. Waking early, the coffee freshly ground and dripped just minutes before our classical radio station clicks on, I pour coffee for both of us and bring it back to bed, where we bolster ourselves with pillows and pick up the books we've nodded off over the night before. This reading together every morning is a new habit, and one we've both come to love~snuggling in bed (with Magic and Molly still lost in doggy dreamland), companionably sharing our books together, is a gentle way to ease into the day, and well worth rising early to enjoy.

When Jim reluctantly tears himself away to shower and dress for work, I move to the living room and my big green chair, where I take up my notebook and write those all important morning pages. I feel the sunrise over my shoulder, casting its warm glow on the paper in front of me as I let my thoughts spill across the page. When the pages are done, it's time for breakfast, which we usually eat together while watching one of the morning shows. If it's not a work day for me, I will often do some yoga, then end the morning with the all-important dog walk to the park.

It's a simple, relaxed way to start the day, this quiet hour every morning. It allows space and time to prepare for entry into the busy world, time to connect with one another before we separate for the day.

Probably everyone has their own daily routines that become almost sacred times and spaces in their lives. I've been re-reading some of my favorite Madeleine L'Engle books, and came across this passage from Two Part Invention, which prompted me to so lovingly consider my own daily rut. She writes of her afternoons with her husband Hugh Franklin...

"When we are together we enjoy each other's company fully. Our routine is simple and pleasurable. In the late afternoon I read the mail, then play the piano for an hour. At seven Hugh comes in to me, clinking a glass, while our dog barks with joy, and we repair to the kitchen to cook dinner and talk over the days events, in our lives, in the world. At dinner we light the candles and sit in the dining room, often quietly, kything, rather than talking. Then we take the dog for a walk in Riverside Park, come home, and prepare for bed.

"Several times Hugh has said, 'I love our rut.'"

"So do I."

How about you? Do you have a simple routine that means the world to you? A rut you love?

Write on Wednesday-Dream Works

Last night in my dreams, a writing angel haunted me. Really. In a strange, exciting, miraculous sort of way, I was awakened at 4:30 am with a virtual cacophony of sentences erupting in my head. Paragraphs in fact, spinning themselves out as if my mind were a blank computer screen and someone else was doing the typing.

"Wait," I shouted at myself. "Slow down - I'll never remember all this!"

And it was cold last night, I was cold, I hadn't remembered to get my blanket out of the storage box in the basement. I was huddled in bed, curled into in fetal position, surrounded by small dogs who were also cold. I was cursing myself because, of all the dozens of notebooks and pens in this house, there wasn't one of them in my bedroom this morning at 4:30 a.m. And the words, the sentences, some very good sentences, just kept pouring into my semi-conscious head.

Here's the back story...I've been thinking about NaNoWriMo, you know the November madness where some of us who are crazy enough to submit ourselves to 30 days of insane writing torture, sign on to complete a 50,000 word novel during the four weeks of November. So, I've been thinking about two ideas - actually, I've had these ideas in my mind since last November. One of them is, I think, a really good idea for a novel. But I'm not kidding myself - it's not an easy idea. It would really require lots of research even to do a half-assed sort of job. And it's such a good idea (did I say that already?) that I don't want to waste it by not being ready for it.

You know what I mean?

But that writing dream, well, it was all about this novel. It was just ideas on top of ideas, flooding into my brain at 4:30 in the morning. It was sentences, and names, and dialogue even.

I think the genesis for this visitation arose from the post I read yesterday in Not For Robots, Laini Taylors blog about writing. Here's what she wrote in her first post:

"You want to write a novel. You have a seed. Perhaps you have a character name, an idea of the setting, and a vague sense of what it’s “about.” A good place to start “brainstorming” is just by freewriting everything you know about your idea so far. Don’t worry at all about the “writing” at this phase, about your prose or sentence structure or having the perfect name for your character. Doesn’t matter. This is just about getting ideas out. Every possible idea, even ones that flitter through your head and you’re pretty sure you won’t use. Go ahead and write them down and give them an opportunity to explain themselves. If it came to mind, there’s a chance there’s something in it you can use. At this stage, do not discriminate. Think of it like the auditions for American Idol. You have to listen to the terrible singers -- you have to listen to all the singers -- to ferret out the tiny handful of good ones."

Well, I wrestled with this dream weaver until it was time to get up - finally I managed to drag my cold and rusty bones out of bed, find the notebook I've already started for this book, and try to capture some of those crazy words and ideas.

I went to the library, and started poking around with some background research. But there is just so much I need to know for this book. Laini knew I'd make that discovery too. "As you’re writing down everything you know about the story, you’ll start to see how much you don’t know," she wrote. I sure did, and there's plenty.

Frankly, I'm scared.

I think it's too big for me.

Even in my wildest dreams.

How about you? Have you ever been visited by a writing angel? Have you had a writing (or other creative) project you really wanted to do, but were afraid of?


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Writer's Island - The Gift

"Everyone is gifted - but some people never open their package." Unknown
Gifts - what else can I write about, except the abundance of them in my life? Anything less seems churlish and ungrateful, as if I'm embarrassed by the surfeit of riches piled in this package I've been opening for the past 51 years. A family that cherishes me, a husband who supports me in every possible way, a son who has grown up well and strong with a family of his own to love ~ a wealth of gifts indeed.
In truth, I wonder sometimes whether I deserve them when the world around me is rife with suffering and want. How-and why-have I been so "gifted"? And I try to remain properly grateful, in the hopes that my acknowledgement of good fortune will keep me safely encsonced in its favor a just a while longer.
Of all my good gifts, perhaps the one that is most key, most valuable and cherished, is the gift of my mind, my memory, my ability to read and write and reflect. It is this particular package that I open so gratefully each time I turn the pages of a book, sit at the piano to play, pick up a pen to write, open my mouth to speak. Because I have seen first hand what it means to lose this gift, in this terrible stealthy disease that's sweeping the nation and robbing thousands of people each day of their memories and thoughts.
"A mind is a terrible thing to waste." This slogan for the National Negro College Fund bears truth for the entire human race. "Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most," is another humorous version, seen on greeting cards and refrigerator magnets. It brings a smile, but, in reality it is far from funny.
The gift of thought- it's priceless. I hope I'm putting mine to good use.
For more on gifts, go here


One Deep Breath-Recipe

southern style big boys~
pluck from the vine, slice thinly
sprinkle with sugar and salt

Every summer, my wonderful neighbor shares the bounty from his tomato patch. A couple of times a week, he crosses the street, large paper sack in hand, filled with tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers for me. He always has a pocket full of Magic and Molly's favorite biscuits as well. We have a nice chat, and then I slice up a plate of warm tomatoes, and sprinkle them with sugar and salt, just the way my grandma did. Yum :)


Monday, September 17, 2007

Encyclopedia of Me Monday: F is for Friends

As an only child, I take my friendships pretty seriously. My closest friends become the siblings I will never have, and so I'm grateful for their willingness to share life's vicissitudes with me.

Unlike siblings, however, friendships tend to come and go, don't they? Right now, I have a core group of three or four "fristers," women I have been through the fire with in one way or another, and women I know I can hail when the flames start licking at my feet. But, twenty years ago, my inner circle was comprised of completely different women. For various reasons, these women have disappeared from my life.

With one exception, my best friends right now are all significantly older than I. With no exceptions, my relationship with each one developed through music, and each one I considered a mentor before I considered them a friend. Sometimes I wonder what that says about me. Often, I feel that I get more than I give from our relationships. These women are strong, independent, and talented. And, for some reason, they have swooped me under their wing, nurtured my talents, and encouraged me to cultivate my abilities. How lucky am I?

My friend Leigh, at 41 years of age, the youngest of my BFF's, recently gave birth to her second child. When she told me she was pregnant, she said, "I kept thinking about what you once told me -that one of your biggest regrets in life was having only one child. And I thought I'd better do something about that before it was too late for me."

Wow. That was pretty huge for me, to think that my experience could have made such an impact on another woman's life. Reflecting on that, and on all that I've gained from my relationships with each of these women, I feel humbled by the power of friendship, of what we can give to each other, often without even realizing it. And I also feel a little frightened, knowing that sometimes friendships are vulnerable to loss for all kinds of reasons. Time, distance, illness - all of these can stretch the bonds of friendships, until they eventually break and fade away.

As I age, my hope is to one day influence the life of a younger woman in the way my friends have influenced me - to be a source of inspiration as well as companionship, an educator as well as a buddy, someone to respect and admire as well as someone to gossip and giggle with.

Friends. A good entry to have in the Encyclopedia of Me.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Collector

A few years ago, my handbell group did a concert in northern Michigan. Our host for the event invited us to a reception at his home, a lovely old farmhouse overlooking one of the lakes. Inside, he proudly took us on a tour of his massive collection of fruit jars. Over 800 of them, each one individually displayed in custom built shelving that surrounded the walls in nearly every room, each one lovingly labeled with its name, date of origin, and place of purchase, some of them dating back as far as pre-Civil War times. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of fruit jars, or that people collected them with such fervor - there are apparently nation wide collectors conferences, swap meets, and contests. Who knew?

Personally, I'm a haphazard collector, at best. Early in my married life, I desultorily collected teapots, and then toyed with the idea of collecting antique sugar bowls and cream pitchers. I received a few pieces of Waterford crystal as wedding gifts, but the cost prohibited me from collecting many more. I guess I get bored with things after a while - they lose their luster rather quickly, especially the kinds of things I have to dust! I could never in a million years muster the enthusiasm to collect nearly 1000 fruit jars.

Truthfully, the older I get, the less interested I am in "things" of any kind. With the exception of books (which I suppose I've been collecting since I could toddle into the bookstore), I have little interest in material possessions anymore.

However, I am passionate about collecting experiences. Like the feeling of euphoria after a good performance, or the magical feeling I get when the perfect words seem to flow from my fingertips. Sharing a special meal with family and friends, or Jim and I laughing until we cry at some cute trick the dogs are doing. Walking through the park on a cool, fall evening, or driving down a country road with the wind blowing in my hair. Sleeping late on a rainy morning, curling up with a good book on a chilly night.

And, like most collectors, I'm searching for some particularly rare and precious moments to add to my collection. A month spent in the French countryside, a novel completed and published, a newborn grand-baby to hold in my arms.

Perhaps I'm not such a haphazard collector after all. Even though my collection can't be displayed on a shelf or catalogued in a computer file, it can't be bought by the highest bidder, or win any blue ribboned prize, it will live in my memory and heart for all time.

What could be more valuable than that?


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Flavors of Fall

I could get used to this. Fall, I mean. Every year, I forget how much I adore it, until it sweeps down upon me, bruising the sky with purplish clouds, sweeping the air clean with stiff, chilled breezes, painting the landscape with brilliant reds and golds.

Yesterday morning, a fall preview arrived somewhat unexpectedly, sending me rummaging through the storage closet in my basement searching for favorite jeans and fuzzy sweaters, inspiring me to pull out the remnants of my faded summer flowers and drive to the market for big baskets of mums, their russet and purple blossoms the jewel tones of the season. Apple cider was on my mind, hot and spicy, a cinnamon stick set jauntily within the cup for an added burst of flavor.
My friend Pat loves fall more than anyone I know. Every October, she gets in her car and heads out on a "leaf chasing mission," which usually takes her into Western Michigan, Southern Ohio, and the Amish country of Indiana. These trips "feed her soul," she says, as she travels winding back roads admiring the splendor of God's palette covering the trees and hills.
Fall refreshes me, this beauteous bridge between the green easiness of summer and the grey freezes of winter. But as much as I love it, as much as it energizes me and lifts my spirits, I'm mindful of the loss inherent in this season. Winter's coming, and I know this last burst of beauty has to sustain me through the endless grey days ahead.
But today, with the sunshine still warm on my head and the breeze refreshingly cool on my face, a pot of chili simmering on the stove and brownies baking in the oven, I'm just loving the feel of fall, wishing this season could last a long time.
Yes, I could definitely get used to this.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Comfort Reading

Booking Through Thursday asks:

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better. What do you read?

(Any bets on how quickly somebody says the Bible or some other religious text? A good choice, to be sure, but to be honest, I was thinking more along the lines of fiction…. Unless I laid it on a little strong in the string of catastrophes? Maybe I should have just stuck to catching a cold on a rainy day...)

Reading comforts me. Holding a book in my hands comforts me. Losing myself in the imaginary lives of others removes me from the daily aches and pains of my own life. When I was very small, I often awoke in the night with asthma attacks, and my grandmother would nestle on the couch and read to me, the vaporizer puffing clouds of steam around our heads. So for a very long time now, reading has served as comforter in times of stress.

But what would it take to get through the griefs piled upon that poor hapless person in the example above? I don't know if even books could help me in that scenario. But if they could, they would have to be giant books full of interesting characters...books like Julia Glass' The Whole World Over, or Penny Vincenzi's
Into Tempation.

Or maybe tightly written, atmospheric mysteries~anything by Elizabeth George comes to mind. And certainly the dilemma's faced by any of Jodi Picoult's characters could distract me from my own.

These are the kinds of books I love whatever is going on in my life, books with richly drawn characters facing real life situations, characters toting lots of emotional baggage and working their way through the inticacies of personal relationships and life in general.

Comfort books.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007


It would be wrong, I think, to let this day go by without stopping for a moment to remember and reflect on what happened in New York six years ago. A nation, a people should never forget, should never try to gloss over or let slide, as tempting as it may be, the memories of events pepetrated on other human beings that are just seemingly too outrageous and horrific for any but the most evil imagination to conjure.

And while what happened that day was certainly not about me, or my family, in some ways it was about me and my family, because it forced me to think differently about the life and the world that I had taken for granted since birth.

I was on an airplane that morning - of course, not one of the airplanes, another airplane, going to Florida, a trip I've taken countless times before (and since). We were in the air somewhere over Pennsylvania I think, when we got the news that the plane would be making "an unexpected landing for a matter of national security." People immediately started powering up cell phones, and snippets of news reports came flying throughout the plane. "Someone's bombed the Pentagon!" we heard. "A plane has crashed into the Capitol!" came another voice. "No, it's the World Trade Center! It's collapsed."

I noticed the woman across the aisle from me, a woman about my age, whom I had noticed earlier in the flight because she was reading the same paperback book I was (Follow the Stars Home, by Luanne Rice) and because her sandals were really cute. But when she heard these scattered remarks, she turned whiter than any cloud flying by outside the window.

"My sons," she whispered, when I reached across to touch her hand. "One works at the Pentagon, and one works in New York." I gripped her hand across the aisleway between us, and held onto it as tightly as I could.

Within about 45 minutes we landed in Greensboro, North Carolina. Jim and I had made our plans - we would rent a car, and drive the rest of the way. Ha! The airport terminal was like a madhouse, and there were certainly no rental cars to be had anywhere in the state of North Carolina. Like sheep, we followed the other passengers to a hotel in town, where the lot of us stayed for the next three days, sitting cross legged on the floor in the lobby, on our beds, flipping channels on the television sets we were glued to, watching as what seemed to be the end of the world unfold before our eyes. (By the way, I stuck closely to my seatmate from across the aisle, who eventually heard from both of her sons that they were fine.)

Trapped 1000 miles in either direction from my son and the rest of my family, I was forced to confront my own complacency. "Bin Laden" and "Al Quaeda" were words I'd barely heard before, and now it appeared these people had the audacity, and yes, the power, to attack this country of mine.

What struck me about that time was the way we were united in our grief, our horror, our disbelief, how our differences were forgotten and everyone wanted to help someone, anyone, somehow, because in doing something-anything-for someone else, we were in some small way a little less powerless.

And what has struck me in the intervening years - just six short years, an eyeblink in historical terms - is the manner in which we have so quickly reverted to our self centeredness, our negativism, our crabbing and carping about the petty realities of daily life in these United States.

Can we regain that sense of unity, that feeling of determination to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and take back our lives, that willingness to unselfishly give whatever measure of devotion might be required to make the world (and our loved ones) safe from that kind of horror?

Politically, I have no idea. I'm not politically savvy, I never have been. I can't help but think, though, that individually, if we can try to remember those feelings from that day and use them in a positive way, each in our own small corners of the world, that life could be better and stronger for us in these United States.

It is a day worth remembering, in many, many ways.


Writer's Island - My Imaginary Life

The older I get, the less I imagine what life could be like. Writing those words, I feel a little uneasy. Because although my real life is just fine, perhaps I shouldn't be content to settle for "fine" ~perhaps I should be reaching toward some far more fulfilling and creative life, setting my sights on the stars, like I did when I was a teenager.

Just recently, events have occurred that should have drawn me up short, should have sent warning bells resounding in my ears about the finite nature of my time on this world. Events that, by rights, should spur me into a frenzy of action to accomplish all the things I want/need/hope to do. You know all the sayings - life is short, here today, gone tomorrow, make hay while the sun shines. I should be busy pulling out all the stops to make my imaginary life a reality, now, while I still have the time.

Then again, why should I be presumptuous enough to even imagine a better life than the one I have? After all, I have a loving and healthy family, a safe home, plenty of food and water, cars and clothes, and luxuries far beyond what most of the worlds population could ever imagine. What right have I to yearn for more than this?

Ahh, but its human nature to want more than we have, isn't it? Human of us to expect the world, to see the ever greener grass, to dream ever more fabulous dreams.

So, enough prevaricating. Here goes:

In my imaginary life, I always see myself living in an old, historic home out in the country, a home near enough to water that I can walk my dogs through the woods each day and listen to the sound of a babbling brook talking in my ear. I'm surrounded by books and music in this house, and I have plenty of time to indulge my love of words and notes each day. I will write - novels perhaps, or memoirs, even biographies. I will play - a chamber group, of friends and musicians, well known and very popular in the community and surrounding towns.
In this imaginary life, my family is all nearby, so I can see them whenever I want - in fact, they come in and out of the house at will, my grandchildren bringing me handfuls of flowers plucked right from my own garden. I see myself wandering the woods in well worn jeans and soft sweaters, coming in from walks to hot coffee in the winter and mint-sprigged iced tea in the summer. I picture Jim and I sitting on our porch at night, watching the fireflies twinkle over the meadow, sipping wine as the sun goes down.

It's not a fancy imaginary life, is it? And, in fact, after all these rambling thoughts, I have come round to describing a life that's not really all that diverse from the life I have right now. Does this signify a lack of imagination on my part? Does this mean I don't dare to dream?

Probably not. It may be that I've simply already forged a good life into existence. Rather than spending time imagining something different, I would do well to enjoy and enhance all the good things about the life I already have.

~to read about others imaginary lives, visit Writer's Island


Monday, September 10, 2007

Encyclopedia of Me Monday: E is for Energy

I have been sick this past week, really down and dirty sick, and while I'm beginning to recover some of my equilibrium, I have not yet begun to rebound from a very profound loss of EneRgY. The thought of getting out of my chair takes a supreme amount of effort~really, you would think I was being asked to run a marathon just to get from here to the kitchen to pour a glass of water.

I have never considered myself a highly energetic person, for I would choose lying on the sofa with books and bon bons over planting a garden or going dancing. But the past week has brought me to the realization that I had a good bit more energy than I gave myself credit for.

After all, most days I'm up at 6:30 to get in my morning pages and some yoga before work. After working all day, I often go to an evening rehearsal. Or I walk the dogs, do some shopping or cleaning, then finish out the day by writing and blog reading. This week, I was lucky to crawl out of bed by 8, after which I would perform my necessary morning ablutions and then crawl right back in.

No energy.

How I've take my energy for granted! just like most other aspects of my good health. I've expected it to carry me through work, concerts, chores, social events, all without even a tiny acknowledgement of gratitude.

That ends now. As soon as energy returns to me (and I'm surely hoping it will!) I promise to be a better, kinder steward. I'll take note when it flags, and give it some rest before it collapses in defeat. I'll nurture it with plenty of fruits and vegetables, my daily vitamin, and of course, lots and lots of water.

No more thumbing past the entry for the letter E in the encyclopedia of me.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle-1918-2007

To say that Madeleine L'Engle was my favorite author as a child (and young woman) is probably putting it mildly. My name is scrawled on the library card of all her books countless times...I would renew them several times in a row, and perhaps, the next year, you would find my name there again. The Wrinkle in Time trilogy was a great favorite of course, and Meet the Austins. But my favorite of her books for young adults was, oddly enough, Camilla, the story of a teenager whose life is changed when her father has an affair with another woman, an oddly prescient choice for me, as this would happen in my own life some 15 years after I first read the novel.

Ms. L'Engle died last Thursday, at the age of 88. I've been skimming through her Crosswicks Journal, a trilogy of memoirs written in the early 1970's (which is when I purchased and read them). It's been interesting to note what I underlined in these books~this passage stood out tonight:

"I am, for better or worse, writer, wife, mother, and all these bits of me are inseparably blended to make up the human being who is-or who is not-responsible. The story comes, and it is pure story. That's all I set out to write. But I don't believe that we can write any kind of story without including, whether we intend to or not, our response to the world around us."

"The writing of a book may be a solitary business; it is done alone. The writer sits down with paper and pen, or typewriter, and, withdrawn from the world, tries to set down the story that is crying to be written. We write alone, but we do not write in isolation. No matter how fantastic a story line may be, it still comes out of our response to what is happening to us and to the world in which we live."

I thank her for sharing her stories with me.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Writing

"Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first, - at least for some part of every day of your life. It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it. You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, light-hearted, and generous to everybody else. Even your health will improve. Colds will disappear and all the other ailments of discouragement and boredom." Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write

At last, a cure for the common cold, and all other pesky ailments of modern life. Pick up a pen and some paper, park yourself in front of computer screen or even dust the cobwebs off the old Olivetti (that's a typewriter, for those of you too young to remember). Write every day, and, like eating an apple, you'll be warding the doctor from your door.

Sounds ridiculous, but perhaps there really is something to Ms. Ueland's thesis. Writing may not literally protect you from germs or disease, but I believe writing does strengthen the spirit as well as the mind. Since I've taken up the habit of writing in earnest, pledging myself to putting words on the page every day, I realize my mind works differently, exercising muscles in my brain that had lain fallow for years. My vision of the world around me is more intense, my eyes and ears more observant to the details of appearance and conversation, my heart more open and empathetic to others. I have become a keen observer of life in general and my own in particular, more aware of the things that spark anger or move me to tears.

I am more alive when I write. I cherish life more when I write about it.

When I was very young, I harbored dreams about becoming a "real writer." What was that? Someone whose name was on the cover of books, or underneath the headline in the New York Times. Someone whose words were read and acclaimed by "the world." When that dream failed to materialize, I let writing disappear from my life, sure that if I couldn't be one of those "real writers," there was no value in pursuing it at all.

But I have come to believe as Brenda Ueland (and many other writers) believe -
that "no writing is a waste of time, no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good. It has stretched your understanding."

So I continue to put words on paper - in the dozens of notebooks I have scattered around my house, and on the computer screen in front of me now, sometimes on the backs of grocery receipts or paper napkins at the coffee shop. I allow words to unravel from my brain like thread from a dropped spool - quickly, sometimes crazily - onto the page, holding the essence of some thought, some image, some impression, some snippet of conversation that seems to carry meaning for a moment. I look at the world like a poem, and try to capture my seconds on earth in each stanza.

I write.

to read more about writing, go here


Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Subtle Rewards of Sickness

There is something oddly comforting about being sick, of wandering around in a medication induced fog, shuffling from room to room in baby soft yoga pants and yellow slipper socks, some book or other held open by it's spine and wrapped around my middle like a protective shield. I have allowed myself to succumb to the entreaties of my husband and my friends~go to bed, rest, drink lots of hot tea, watch mindless television. In fact, dare I admit that it's a tiny dream come true? The evil bacteria that have lodged so peremptorily in my throat and sinuses have perhaps given me a small gift. And I have quite willingly abdicated my responsibilities for the past two days. I have not worked, or shopped, or gone to the bank or the pharmacy. I have not walked the dogs, nor cooked or cleaned. I have allowed others to do those things for me, without protest, without even the slightest nudge of guilt poking me in the shoulder and urging me to my feet.

I could perhaps get used to this.

Alas, I feel this coming to an end as the marvelous wonder that is medicine begins at last to work its magic in my bloodstream, gobbling up the vile germy invaders, flushing them out like the vermin they are. My head is beginning to clear slightly, and the room doesn't spin each time I move. I can take a deep breath without the air stopping dead somewhere midway between my lungs and my esophagus, or suffering paroxysms of the seal-like bark that has been masquerading as my cough. By tomorrow, I may be nearly as good as new.
Already, I can feel my husband retreating to his usual safe place in the corner of daily life, the silent observer who patiently waits for all the necessities to be handled, smoothly and competently, and as they always are, by me.


It crosses my mind that perhaps one should not wait for illness to strike to allow themselves an occasional retreat from the dailiness of living. Perhaps a "me day" every so often is not out of order, a day to wander around the house in floppy yoga pants and yellow slipper socks, a day to eat only toast with honey or chocolate cake if those are the things the palate desires, a day to have an open book on every comfy chair in the house, ready to be picked up as you amble through the room, a day of not answering telephones, not paying bills, not reading the mail. A day to just be.

Hmm. I think I'm on to something.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sailing Through September

Usually, I love September with its crisp bite in the morning breeze, the first tracings of crimson and gold on leaf tips, and (of course!) school supplies, my ultimate favorite binge buy. But this year, September has betrayed me. It's not only the weather, still heavy and dull with August-like heat and humidity. My own body has turned on me, and quite viciously too.

Admittedly, this all started in August, when I had my annual physical. Within a couple of days, I got the first phone call.

"Rebecca, Doctor wants to call in a prescription for you."

"A prescription?" I ask innocently. "What for?"

"Your cholesterol is 236 and she'd like to put you on medication."

Okay, I guess. I mean, that's not horribly high, but I'll take the medication (rather than completely forsake toasted cheese and bacon and tomato sandwiches). And I've been taking my Lovastatin, luckily without suffering any of the several zillion grim side effects so neatly listed on the prescription insert.

Then Monday, while we're in Florida trying to have a tiny vacation, I start feeling the unmistakeable scratchy throat, itchy eyes, and watery nose that spell URI (upper respiratory infection). This does not come as a huge surprise~when I visited my mother in law the night before we left, she was sick and coughing, as were several of her "neighbors" in the Alzheimer's facility. Those places are a hotbed of germs, and it would have been a miracle to get out of there unscathed, no matter that I virtually scrubbed my hands raw with antibacterial wipes and gels when I left. What starts as a cold quickly moves into my bronchial tubes (the weak spot of all child astmatics) and by Tuesday morning not only can I not talk, I'm gasping for breath~and I'm facing a three hour plane trip at the end of the day.

This time, I call the doctor's office and say I need a prescription, which they kindly provide. Except that our local Walgreen's is out of the medication (and so apparently is every other Walgreen's in Naples, Florida, and believe me, there are just as many there as everywhere else in the US).

So I board the plane decongestant-less. Everything is fine going up, but as soon as we started to descend, so did I. Had it not been for the kind ministrations of my seat mate (who was not my husband because we couldn't get seats together!) and several flight attendants with ice packs, cold cloths, and ginger ale, I probably would have spent the last 20 minutes of the flight stretched out unconscious on the floor. As it was, I came pretty close.

You better believe I was glad to get home last night. My old house never looked so good, and I'm not planning on flying again anytime in the near future (if ever). Unfortunately, I made the mistake of listening to the messages on my answer machine before I went to bed.

"Rebecca, this is Doctor's office. Please call us as soon as possible~this is about your mammogram."

Well, God. Do you think I slept at all last night? You're right. I did not.

Sure enough, they want me to come in and have a "some more pictures done." Won't tell me why, but I'm smart enough to know it isn't because they need additional views to put on the cover of Mammography Monthly.

You'd think that would be enough, wouldn't you? Nope, September is out to get me. About an hour ago, the phone rings again.

"Rebecca, this is Doctor's office. Doctor wants to call in a prescription for you."

"Good grief!" I yelp. "What now?"

"This is about your bone scan. For Actonel."

"What are the T scores?" I ask. I know a little about bone scans.

"Well, I don't have those. She just wants you to take this medication."

Bother with that. I'm quickly reaching my limits with medications, and I've heard about this Actonel you take once a week, and then can't lay down or drink for 30 minutes later because of potential gastrointestinal side effects. Nope.

"Call me back when you have the T score," I tell her. "And I don't want to take Actonel."

"How about Evista?" she offers. "We have some samples here."

"I'm not taking Evista," I refuse adamantly. My mother in law (the one in the Alzheimer's center) has taken that for 15 years, and it's been linked to dementia. "How about Miacalcin?" that's the nasal spray my mother takes for her osteoporosis.

"Sure, that's fine," she says happily. Of course, she didn't call me back with the T-score. I called again and made them look it up.

If you've managed to read through all this, you're probably feeling a lot like me~either ready to laugh or cry. Sometimes I think the scariest thing about facing potential serious illness is not the disease itself but navigating the world of modern medicine. So wish me luck as I set off through these evidently stormy September seas.


Monday, September 3, 2007

Encyclopedia of Me Monday: D is for...

D O G S !

Magic and Molly, wading in Lake Huron

My dogs are part of my family, and always have been. Ginger, the cocker spaniel we had during my childhood, was the long suffering participant in my efforts at playing school, house, doctor, and every other game that I would have used a younger sibling for (if I had been fortunate enough to have one!) When Jim and I were first married, we practiced our parenting skills with Buffy, the cocker puppy we brought home on our first anniversary.

After we lost Buffy, we went almost 15 years without getting another dog. Why, I'll never know. Magic came to me from a friend, who bred her own Shih Tzu in 2002, and offered me "pick of the litter." We fell so in love with this breed, that it didn't take long to decide we wanted another, and so Molly came to live with us in August of 2004.

Naturally, I think my dogs are the cutest, smartest, most adorable dogs ever ~ sort of the same way I feel about my kid! But I love all dogs, and if there's one thing I cannot abide in any way, shape, or form, it's cruelty to animals.

So, it's love me, love my dogs...or hit the highway!


Saturday, September 1, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-The End

There's just no end to it, Denise thought, as she grabbed the last bag of groceries from the trunk of her car. Tossing the bag inside the back door, she hurried back to the car to retrieve her cup of iced coffee, a small reward for completing another day of errands. Gripping the sweaty cup in one hand, and snatching as many of the thin plastic handled grocery bags as she could with the other, she tromped through the kitchen. A quick glance at the clock elicited an involuntary groan.

"Shit," Denise muttered. "Ten minutes until it's time to pick up the twins."

Tears sprang to her eyes, as she began clawing through the bags, searching for milk, yogurt, meat, ice cream - all the perishable items she'd need to stow in the refrigerator before she hit the road once again. Today was Tuesday, so that meant soccer practice for Darren and gymnastics for Doug, with just enough time in between to hit the drive through at Walgreen's and pick up her husband David's prescription. God, she thought, it never ends.

When had her life gotten so completely out of control? Certainly caring for five year old twins, a large home, a part time job, and a husband demanded huge amounts of time. Yet there never seemed to be a moment she could call her own, a time to sit quietly with a book and cup of tea, or walk in the park, or listen to music. Never mind time to pursue her photography. Wistfully, Denise recalled the pleasure of taking a "photo safari," grabbing her camera and heading off in the car, stopping to photograph interesting old houses, or blooming gardens. Would there ever be time to do those things again? she wondered, jamming the packages of cheese and lunch meat into the deli drawer of her refrigerator.

Right now, there was barely time for a quick run to the bathroom before she had to be on the road to school. Dashing toward the bathroom door, Denise's heart sank as she heard the front doorbell ring, followed by a determined rapping. Mrs. Cartwright, her elderly next door neighbor, was standing on the porch, an envelope in her hand.

Denise sighed. The woman had obviously been watching for Denise to drive in, the timing was just too perfect. Denise knew from past experience that she would stand there, knocking incessantly until Denise answered her summons.

Raking her fingers through tousled blond curls, Denise threw open the door.

"Hi, Mrs. Cartwright," she said, smiling through gritted teeth. "I'm just on my way to pick up the twins..."

"Oh, I won't keep you, dear," the older woman said gently. "The mailman left this letter in my box, and it belongs to you." Denise noticed the quaver in her hand as she held out the envelope, and, taking it, she looked into the watery blue eyes. "Are you feeling alright, Mrs. Cartwright?" she asked, concerned replacing the annoyance she had felt moments before.

"Yes, I guess so," she answered. "I was just thinking about when I was a young mother like you, so busy with my boys, running here and there, cooking, cleaning, chasing them down. You know, I raised all five of them right here in this neighborhood."

"Five boys!" Denise exclaimed, her mind reeling at the thought of three more like Darren and Doug.

"Five!" Mrs. Cartwright affirmed. "I certainly never had a minute to myself in those years." She smiled sadly. "And look at me now, rattling around that big house all alone, with so much time on my hands. Who would have believed it would all come to an end?"

Shaking her head, she looked up at Denise and smiled. "Well, I'll be getting out of your way, dear. I know how busy you are."

Denise found herself fighting tears for the second time that afternoon. "Mrs. Cartwright," she said, "if you're not too busy, would you mind riding along to the twins school with me? I've got some more errands to do, and I'd love to hear more about how you managed five boys!"

With a huge smile, her neighbor readily agreed. "I'd love to come with you!" she said. "I can't think of a better way to end my day!"