Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Son Takes Wing (continued)

I do solemnly swear
That I will support and defend
The Constitution of the United States
against all enemies foreign and domestic,
That I will bear true faith
and allegiance to the same
That I take this obligation freely,
without any mental reservation
or purpose of evasion,
and that I will well and faithfully
discharge the duties of the Office
on which I am about to enter.
So help me God.

So went my son Sammy’s swearing-in as a US Foreign Service Officer.  The occasion was a mix of solemn and exciting both for the new FSOs and their families in the State Department auditorium that day, and phones busily took pictures of beloved children. 

For me it was a lot better than I had expected, because Sammy’s first tour of duty will be to—drum roll please—Brussels, Belgium!  I was weak with relief when I heard, and then quickly filled with pride that he should have garnered such a coveted assignment.  He’ll be a political counselor.

I’ve been kind of blue since the swearing-in, since it makes this imminent departure of my only child very real.  He’ll be leaving the week after Thanksgiving, and I will miss him terribly.  I won’t be privy to the nature of the hard work he’ll be doing (he’s been told that posting involves a lot of late nights and weekends) but I will get to hear what he’s doing in his limited free time.  Brussels is a short two-hour train ride to London and Paris, for example, besides the city itself being beautiful and culture-filled.  (I’ve already hit Wikipedia and the Belgium tourist websites to soak up information about my son’s new home.)

Now he’s busy with additional training and with the logistics of his move, selling his car, deciding what to take with him, and saying goodbye to friends.  We’ll have a wonderful Thanksgiving together to send him off, though I don’t know whether we’ll get to have his birthday party with my mom and I and Sammy’s dad and his family which we usually have Thanksgiving weekend, too. 

I have much more to be thankful for this year than I had ever hoped for, knowing that my son will be as safe as anyone can be in this world of ours.  It will truly be a Thanksgiving, but then I still have to say the hardest goodbye I ever have.  I love you, son.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Son Takes Wing

I’ll know in just a few weeks.   This is big, really big.  My 26-year-old son, Sammy, is joining the Foreign Service and in October will get his first tour-of-duty assignment.  He’s shown me the “bid list” of 73 cities where there are openings in the embassy or consulate: he had to rank them in order of preference and just turned that in yesterday. No guarantees he’ll be placed in one of his top or even medium preferences. First-tours are, thank God, not sent to war zones but there are definitely some places less than desirable on the list according to this anxious mom. (And some cities I’ve never even heard of, but that’s another story.)  

This is an ultimate case of giving your children roots and wings.  You have to live with where their wings take them and hope that the roots are strong enough that they will thrive and yes, miss you and stay in touch.

I am so very proud that my son wants to serve his country and that he has a spirit of adventure, and that he has successfully been accepted into a very competitive job. I am thrilled that his dreams are coming true. I am also sad, anxious and fearful. I will miss him terribly; he went to college in Maryland and has been living close to home, in Washington DC, since he graduated from college, a boon for me.  Even if we didn’t see each other every week or anything like that, I knew he was nearby and safe and of course we talked almost every week on the phone.  Now I’ve gotten a web cam and set it up so I can Skype with him wherever he is, but that’s not the same as an in-person conversation and hug.  I fear for his safety in a world full of conflicts and negative sentiment of varying intensities in some quarters towards Americans.  I worry that he might be homesick and isolated, though in reality he is a very social creature and makes and keeps friends easily. 

I want for him all good things—safety, interesting work, new friends from both the expatriate and local communities, a sense of self-worth, recognition for his achievements, a comfortable home sanctuary, a chance to see the world and realize the universality of human experience across borders, and much, much more. 

I wish for myself good Skyping, maybe a good place to visit him (and that my frequent flyer miles will be enough), and most of all the ability to sleep at night.

More to come… 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thinking of My Father

I put my dad back on the train to Cleveland after a wonderful one week visit.  It was a laidback visit, befitting my dad’s nature, mostly just hanging out, talking, reading, and spending time reconnecting. Highlights were a refreshing afternoon at the pool, a walk around Brookside Gardens, and his getting in nine holes of golf and dinner with his grandson. For me it was welcome companionship, a much needed break from being alone all the time.

My father, praise Spirit, is healthy, in his early 80s.  H lives a good seven hour drive away, but I make sure to see him at least once a year—I wish it could be more.  When we’re apart, what reminds me of him, full in the face and all in a rush?

M*A*S*H or any Alan Alda movie, because I think he looks like him—or vice versa!

Anything to do with Johnny Carson.  We watched together; I guess it must have been when I was an older child or young woman.

Likewise, old musicals, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, old westerns—Sunday afternoons, watching with him.

Laughter is a fine inheritance, and a sense of playfulness, too. 

Having a glass of cold milk with a piece of chocolate cake, that juxtaposition of colors, the melding of the two flavors, like heaven; this is Dad, too.

The smell of British Sterling cologne, which he’s worn all my life.

Big brown bedroom slippers.

Peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Coffee.  Endless cups of coffee.

The slight scratchy feel of his face even after he shaves.

Anything to do with American colonial history, because when I was a teen he was involved in re-enactments as a Minuteman.

Always looking for someone as sturdy and absolutely dependable and loving, I search for my father’s bear hugs.  Phone calls just don't do the trick compared to those hugs goodnight. 

Miss you, Dad!

Saturday, July 18, 2015


I am drawn to metaphors and one of the metaphors I like for life is a tapestry. 

The tapestry of my life is going to be very rich and very vibrant, that I know.  There will be a lot of purple and turquoise and fuchsia joy in it, but lots of black, too, and the depth and magnitude that proclaims.  Dashes of silver and gold light the sky, moons and stars of pure grace and amazement.  If you look more closely, the colorful shapes are all women, hundreds and hundreds of women, all colors, all shapes, all sizes, with one hand clasping one another and the other hand reaching for the stars.  The moon and the sun will co-exist in the sky, as they do in our sight at dawn or dusk sometimes.  They are goddesses, each of them, smiling, cradling us.

The tapestry will speak of peaceful satisfaction and also of angry questions without answers.  It will speak of loves that have endured and loves that have not.  It will include all the friends I have ever treasured and all those I have yet to meet.  Children will dance and laugh at our feet in some scenes, in others we are alone with each other or ourselves. There will be women at the edge of a great trampoline bouncing other women into the sky, as in the Eskimo game. 

Glittering magic wands will fleck the tapestry here and there – they are the pens with which I have written and the magic of my writing circles.

At first the tapestry will appear unblemished, a perfect weaving.  As you look closer, though, you see the places where the thread snapped, or where the thread stayed beneath the surface of the cloth for too long, frayed edges here and there. There will be spots where there are loose ends. But for each broken thread or row of stitches that seem to lead to nowhere, there is a place where the thread is mended, the pattern picked up again, each a place of healing.

Perhaps the cloth will be the pages of my books.

What will the tapestry of your life look like?   

Saturday, June 20, 2015


June is a transition month, like Sunday night is a transition night.  The bridge between spring and summer, between merely warm and truly hot, between merely green and lush green.  June nights, as they progress, become summer nights, crickets clatter and tree frogs burp. Nights that no longer cool as the sun sinks, but stay hot and muggy and wrap themselves around you like a sticky blanket.

For school children, each day in June brings them closer and closer to vacation, to freedom that they appreciate mightily, not knowing how free they really already are just to be in school and not at work.  Attention slides, then sinks, ‘til teachers give up hope, and school days are filled with recognition assemblies and year-end performances.  Goodbye to familiar faces at the desks around you, an element of surprise always around the corner as kids wonder who will sit near them in the autumn.  Fond farewells to teachers, mentors. Moms scurrying around buying teacher appreciation gifts.  For older students, a high pressure time that threatens to explode them, with exams, final papers, hearing from colleges or about summer jobs.

Parents half look forward, half dread the prospect of less structure to their children’s days.  If they are working outside the home, it’s a rush to be sure the days are filled with camps.  Almost everyone has some kind of vacation to look forward to in the summer ahead, anticipation, even if it’s just a weekend trip to the beach.

Those days from childhood of leaving school and flinging oneself into summer stay with us somehow.   Even in our workaday world, the air seems a little more full of oxygen, the time binds are a little looser.  Summer beckons. 

Summer nights, ah, those are a treat unto themselves.  I thirstily drink of evening in the summer, no longer bound to my living room by cold fingers of winter and spring evenings, by darkness laying its black blanket on me. Suddenly, summer—light graces us with her presence so much longer (and hurrah for the earlier onset of daylight savings time, too!).  Evenings do not look inward, as we huddle together with our closest family indoors, but outward, as extended family and friends join us for barbecues on the deck, as our community shares a concert and fireworks, as all the world comes outdoors to stare into the night sky as darkness finally falls.  Neighbors stroll our sidewalks, children’s bicycles careen across the corner, lanky teenagers glide by on skateboards.  Our eyes follow the path of fireflies flung like stars across the night.

We see each other outside, a spark of recognition, a warm hello, an exchange of news about our day, our kids, the weather.  We admire each other’s gardens and lawns, perhaps bemoaning the state of our own. 

We block off a cul-de-sac to gather together, slapping mosquitoes in the warm night, for a summer block party. We pile the kids into our cars to head for the pool, maybe even, if we’re lucky, one who has been away at college, and loiter long after in the parking lots chatting under the bright moon, no cold sending us rushing into our cars but rather the summer night drying our skin, our suits, our hair into kinky mops.

At the beach, the moon draws us back outside long after we are ready to turn in.  We gaze at the dark blue-black ocean, and dig our toes into the sand where the cool air coming off the water makes them tingle. 

All those extra hours of “up”, of wakefulness, of energy, of light—oh, thank Mother Nature for each long summer night. 

June is also a tipping point into a period of time awaited perhaps more than any of the year, made all the more precious because of its fragile finiteness.  It’s the time to drink in long, long sunlit days, the warmth of the air on skin not burdened by sleeves or jackets, the cool pleasure of gliding through water in a pool or lake warmed by the sun.  June days are as long as days ever will be, and heading back in the other direction: it is, in a sense, the beginning of the end.

We want to hang onto pleasures like this, a season like this, but as it always does, the summer will slip away from us.  Here we should heed the Buddhists and practice nonattachment, for becoming too attached to a season is folly, sure to end in heartache.  And yet even as I soak in the nurturing sun’s rays, I am struck sometimes by a fleeting fragrance of bittersweetness, of an inevitable impending loss.

So stride outdoors I will, and splash and bake at the pool, and I will do the back-float while gazing at a perfect blue sky and white clouds passing by, so that I can more gracefully, when the time comes, let go of summer and face the grayer half of the year with something approaching acceptance.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Preparing to Publish

My book Grace in the Gray Areas is almost ready to print.  Yeah!

There are so many things to do in the course of self-publishing it.  First, pick a subtitle:  Thriving in Life’s Paradoxes.  Next, engage a designer to put the pages into pdfs and design a front and back cover.  I was lucky one of my Writer Mom network buddies referred me to a great designer, Brenda Hawkes.  Thanks for everything, Brenda!

I needed a publishing company name and came up with Lake Tree Press.  A design had to be done for that, too. Whoops! By having checks come to Lake Tree Press for books sold through the distributor, IngramSpark, I realized I needed to open a checking account in that name. A hassle and expense I hadn’t thought of.

 I had to obtain an ISBN number and an LOC (Library of Congress) number.  I had postcards made to hand out to people when I wasn’t carrying around copies of my book, telling them the book will be available on and Barnes and Noble (  Also had new business cards designed and printed.  I’ll be updating my website, 

Thanks to my small focus group of friends and relatives who helped with choosing a subtitle and a publishing company name, and helped select the best from among four covers Brenda designed, any of which would have been terrific. 

Still to do—the really hard work—marketing!  Four kind friends have offered to hold book parties for me.  I’m going to try and do a reading at at least one local public library.  Review copies will go out to local media.  I’ll push the book on my social media.  A mass email will go out to my network of contacts.  And on and on.  It’s a lot of work but I’ve been led to understand that these days even if you are being published by a big publisher rather than self-publishing, you are still expected to do your own marketing. 

I’m very excited, of course, and it’s a bit scary.  It’s really putting myself out there, I told my son.  Wise young man, he replied, “But you’ve already been putting yourself out there with the Washington Woman column and your blog.”  Still, there’s something about a book. 

The bottom line is that I’m proud of the book; it’s a selection of the best of my writing and it fulfills my life’s purpose: to share the universality of human experience and to connect people so we know that we are not alone. If it makes you laugh or cry or feel a warm fuzzy feeling, too, well, all the better.

Stay tuned…

Friday, April 10, 2015

Fear in a Flat-Screen

Intellectually I know I watch too much television.  But I’ve always rationalized that it’s okay because I’m a ravenous reader, as though they somehow cancel each other out. 

Now I’m realizing an evil of TV that goes beyond the over-sedentariness of the pursuit and the inaneness of much of the content.  Commercials.  Not just an annoyance and a symbol of the over-consumerism in our society.  No.  They are pits of fear and danger that people like me with free-floating anxiety at the best of times are reactive to.  You may not notice it, but these commercials will have your anxiety meter inching up and up and up.

Yes, I’ve had my flu shot, alright already!  But what is the age I’m supposed to start worrying about a pneumonia shot, and is a regular pneumonia shot enough or do I need that one I think has the number 13 in it that’s extra special?  And what about a shingles shot?  I know a few people who’ve had shingles and they sound horrible, I get prickly and pained just thinking about it.  What if I get shingles, am I the age to get the shot? How do they calculate the odds on what age to give you those things anyway; are there 50 year olds out there getting shingles but they tell you only to get the shot if you’re 60 or older?

And speaking of Big Pharma, what about all those side effects they have to publicize in their drug commercials?  I know you’re supposed to just watch the pretty pictures of people driving down the road together and ignore the fine print at the bottom of the screen and the voice that drones the side effects orally and almost cheerfully, but I can’t ignore them.  What if I got this disease?  How could I take what is clearly the best, most state-of-the-art drug for it when the side effects range from nausea to actual cancer?!

And what if I slip in the tub and I can’t get up! I should have had Bath Fitters come out and install a walk-in shower with bars and should wear a Lifeline necklace with a button to push, right? Scary stuff!

It’s not just health scares that get you on commercials.  What if a tech-savvy malicious hacker gets hold of my identity?  How can I risk identity theft in this day and age? They’re advertising a service to protect my identity, should I pick up the phone and get the service? Do I need the service, should I get the service?!

Car commercials dominate the airwaves, urging consumers to ever shinier, faster, smarter, and more eco-friendly vehicles.  For those of us of limited means with cars whose odometers have pushed north of 100,000 miles, though, even car commercials can be a fear trap.  Should I just drive my Subaru into the ground and expect it to last another 10 years or to 250,000 miles? But then it’ll have no trade-in value. More importantly, where will my income be in another 10 years, will I be able to afford another car then?  Can I afford another car now? Well, my financial adviser says no and I like to listen to her.  But isn’t my income now likely to be higher than in the future as I creep (and believe me, I’m creeping as slow as I can) toward my next milestone birthday?  Each shiny new car advertised (over and over and over again) taunts me; heck, a dull used car ad would taunt me at this point!

Finally, I can’t address the topic of commercials and fear-mongering without pointing a finger at local news.  Their “teasers” for upcoming newscasts all too often are in the vein of “predator stalks area neighborhood tonight—more at 11!”  If they really wanted to help the commercial would tell you what neighborhood then, not wait ‘til 11 o’clock! (Wait; is that a police helicopter circling my community with lights ablaze?)

I’ve got to spend less time watching the scary box, where between shows lurk illness, death, predators, and fear.  Because clearly the main thing for vulnerable saps like me to fear is fear itself.