Sunday, August 9, 2015

My Name is Omar and I Need a Home!

Omar with his foster brother Blue in the background.
Rob and I are fostering Omar - a 5-6 year old sweet boy - through a wonderful organization called Virginia Paws for Pits. He originally came from Shenandoah Valley Animal Services. When they saw how sweet Omar was when he came in, and how bad his eyes were, they contacted Paws for Pits for help. Page was happy to help if she could find a foster and reached out to us. We have a soft spot for the special needs cases. Omar (known as Thor at the shelter, but we couldn't call him that - our first dog was Thor and we still miss him. Sniff.) needed us, and we said we could help. The Jessica Beath Clinic was enlisted for his surgery - he was suffering from bilateral entropian that had rendered him unable to see and in lots of pain and he needed to be neutered. I picked him up after his surgery and even though he was still groggy, he was happy to see me.
He quickly fit right into our home. We went slow with introductions to our cats and two dogs - we started with parallel leash walks for the dogs and picked up all the toys so there would be no skirmishes. Omar was interested in the cats since he could see now, but our cats are dog savvy and didn't run. Omar was easy to distract and now, three weeks later, they live in harmony. 
Omar is not a big player - he would rather sit on your lap. He enjoys walks and toys - he LOVES toys. And so does Blue, on of our other dogs, so when we give toys, we give them in separate rooms so each can chew to their heart's content and not get jealous.
Omar is completely house trained and it only took him a few days (and a few pieces of cheese) to get used to being in his crate (that is stuffed with comfy blankets)  at night and when we go out. 
Omar is easy to walk and just has a happy-go-lucky attitude. He knows "Sit" and "Touch" and how to wait for his food. We boarded him for a couple of days when we went out of town and The Dogg House staff said he did great. 
He tolerates baths and getting his toenails trimmed. He is friendly to all people he meets. He has seen deer on walks and isn't overly interested.
All in all, Omar is a ROCK STAR! And have you seen a sweeter face??

Exploring the outdoors and getting pets.

"Take a break from work and cuddle me!"

"I like hanging out and watching TV. Sometimes I snore a bit."

Thursday, June 13, 2013


I was honored to win the WriterHouse 5th Anniversary Party short story contest last month. The assigned theme for entries was "Emerald." There were lots of great stories submitted and read aloud for an audience vote. Again, I am honored and thrilled to win! Hope you like it.....
Clare slid onto the last open barstool. Its foam stuffing was poking out through a crack in the red leather, but she didn’t care.  One, her stockings were already trashed, and two, it was the last week her favorite place would be open. Some developer had bought the building and planned to make it into condos or a yoga studio or something non-alcoholic and oh-so-modern. It was the final nail in the coffin of her old life.

“I’ll have a Midori sour, please,” she said to the bartender as he walked by.

The man to her left nearly choked on his drink. “Oh Jesus Christ! Seriously? Who orders that anymore? That is disgusting. Syrupy and gross. Blech.”

Clare gave the stranger a look that everyone around them could feel. It even stopped conversation for a moment.

“Sorry,” he apologized, picking up the ice cube he had sloshed out of his glass. “That just came out. I – I have Tourette’s syndrome.”

“You do not,” Clare said.

The bartender placed her dripping drink on a fresh coaster.

“8.50, Miss.”

Miss. Another reason she loved this place. The bartenders were older than her and still flirted a little. She was so far beyond a Miss.

 “Let me get it,” said the man as he pulled out his wallet, handed the guy a 10 dollar bill and nodded in a way that said keep the change. “And you’re right,” Rick admitted. “That’s just my go- to excuse. Sometimes it works.” He shrugged.

“It’s offensive to hide behind a fake mental illness.”

“Tourette’s is a physical condition. My brother has it.”

“Oh. I am sorry,” Clare felt bad, and then suspicious. “Unless you are lying again.”

“Not lying this time.”

“Well, then, thank you for the drink.”

“You’re welcome.”

A large group came through the door and made for the bar like a flock of seagulls descending on a spilled bucket of popcorn.

“So what are you drinking?” Clare asked when the bodies stopped pressing against her. “Wait, let me guess. You clearly don’t like flavor – so I’ll say that clear, insipid liquid is a vodka martini on the rocks. Hold the vermouth. And no olive.”

“You’re wrong,” Rick said. “I already ate the olive.” He smiled, and Clare couldn’t help but laugh.

“Your drink is a lovely color, I have to admit. It matches your eyes.”

Clare groaned. “Seriously?”  She held her drink up to the light. “It actually reminds me a little of antifreeze.”

“No, that’s too yellow. And how can you drink something that reminds you of antifreeze, anyway?  I think the color is more like an old piece of jade, or an emerald.”

“A cheap one, maybe.” Clare was still examining her drink.

“Cheap isn’t the worst thing something could be.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Clare said and raised her glass at Rick who responded in kind.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gabrielle Reece Is My Kind of Feminist

Gabrielle Reece is my kind of feminist. Not because of the business about being submissive to your husband (about which I think she has been misunderstood), but because of this bit from her April 12th Today Show interview:

 “There is no having it all, …We don’t worry about (men) having it all, so I don’t know where we got this idea to have it all. I think it’s very challenging to think, ‘Oh, I can have it all.’ My children know they can’t have it all…. You have to make choices.’’

It’s not about figuring out how to have it all, but figuring out what the “all” is for you. I am sick and tired of people I have nothing in common with framing the debate on feminism. Anne Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg make me feel like a failure. Who doesn’t make me feel like a failure? Gabrielle Reece. Not that she and I appear to have much in common. I am a short-ish, childless, slightly unkempt freelance writer and occasional lawyer for the ignored. But I could swim a couple of miles in the ocean with her, and it is that physical strength, coupled with her willingness to buck the system, that makes me think more women should listen to her and other female athletes.

I used to aspire to the halls of power. In 1969, when I was four-ish, my parents were called to the principal’s office. My teacher was trying to get us kids to finish sentences comparing things. When she got to the line: “A man can be King and a woman can be_______,” it was my turn. I answered “President” instead of the expected “Queen.” When I was told that was incorrect and to try again, I allegedly balled up my little proto-feminist fists and hollered: “President, president, president.”

While as a teen I certainly envisioned myself as a briefcase carrying, suit-wearing something, the reality of what it took to live that life was not something I could handle. It wasn’t just the control-top pantyhose and heels, but those were certainly factors, I must not lie. I just didn’t like the other people I would have to hang out with in that world. That is something they don’t tell you in school. You have to look around and figure it out for yourself. I just found there were other interesting women at the pool and on the field and in art class and at the dog park.

My 80 year old mother would probably call herself a feminist, if pressed. She never wanted to be financially dependent on a man. Now, she is frail and sick, her body withered by a lifetime of being chauffeured and no exercise. Physical strength wasn’t important to her; financial strength was. It never occurred to her that being physically strong was a component of power and freedom. Yet, the benefit from being physically strong translates into every aspect of life. It’s funny, though; a certain class of intelligent people has always looked down on “jocks,” thinking that they must be dumb if they use their bodies. That same style of categorical thinking leads the Sandberg/Slaughter feminist to believe that any relationship not defined by splitting the household chores equally is demeaning to women. It is not.

As a writer for U.S. Masters Swimming, I have interviewed dozens of female swimmers in their 50s and 60s who are dominating pool and open water races. To a person, they wonder what they might have accomplished had Title IX been around to help them, and they are both proud of and happy for the younger generation of female athletes. I know Title IX did a lot of damage to men’s teams, especially sports other than football and basketball. But we made a choice as a society that women needed a level playing field. That’s what we need in the boardroom; access driven by legislation. 

We need laws for the workplace that do what Title IX did for sports. Women need equal rights and opportunities, not more advice about how to conduct themselves in order to make friends, fit in and get ahead. We need quotas for corporate boards and yes, daycare for all working families. (Although I do hate the way that feminism has been hijacked by mothers. Women need not have given birth to feel the pull of home and hearth.)

So long as feminism in the 21st century is about having and getting rather than doing and being, I worry. In the meantime, I bet I’d enjoy having lunch more with Gabby Reece more than Sheryl Sandberg. And I bet you would too.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Don't Look at the Rock

On March 21, 2013, the wonderful Melissa Block ended a segment on All Things Considered with a quote from George Hartogensis, one of several people interviewed on the subject of guns. “We are a country of chasms,” he said. Both host and interviewee seemed deeply saddened by this commonly accepted fact.

I love NPR and I love Melissa Block – her voice is so perfect for radio. But I have officially reached my limit of stories about the red state/blue state nature of our country. The handwringing is becoming as painful as nails on a chalkboard.  Every media outlet – shoot, even our president – is dedicated to exposing the  differences in our country and how terrible they are. Sure, we are a nation that is deeply divided not only on the issue of guns, but probably on any other issue you can think of: politics, abortion, religion, gay marriage, welfare and more. Cars hate bicyclists. Yankees fans hate the Red Sox. People with front gardens hate dogs. Bird lovers hate cats. People who exercise hate people who don’t. We are a tribal species, and hate is everywhere.

My point is that it always has been. Why must we focus on it so much?
Years ago my husband Rob and I took a whitewater kayaking class. There were about twelve of us in the group and one instructor. The class took place on an easy section of the Chattooga river in north Georgia. We practiced handling our boats in relatively still water as our instructor watched and gave advice about the rapids ahead. He told us where to aim our boats and how to hold our paddles and, most importantly, where not to look.

“Don’t look at the rock,” he said. There was a big flat rock to the right of the rapids that looked unfriendly. We all looked at it nervously. “Your kayak will go where you look. So look straight down the middle of the rapids and you’ll be fine. We’ll re-group at the bottom.”
One by one we each ran the five foot section of rapids. All of us made it except one guy, who was stuck on the rock. Before paddling back upstream to help him, our instructor asked us what he did wrong.

“He looked at the rock,” we all said.

I felt for the guy, and I was glad it wasn't me. It was hard not to look at the rock. I’m pretty sure I closed my eyes and the boat just found its own way down, like an old horse heading back to the barn.
These “chasms” in our country are like the rock. Shining a spotlight only on these differences masks the diversity of opinions people hold and the ways we connect within our chasms. If we keep focusing on what divides us, we’ll get stuck there and not see all the wonderful beauty around us that is moving and changing.

Whether you have noticed it or not, within every group are bridges between individuals. No one has just one opinion. People are complex; even within our chasms we are not clones.  For example, I love dogs, especially pit bulls. Within my group of like-minded pit bull lovers are people with wildly divergent views on things like gun control, gay marriage, politics and whether bourbon or scotch is the better drink. Some are overweight and smoke; some are Buddhist vegans. Some have kids; some don’t. When I interact with these people about pit bulls, I am exposed to their other opinions about other issues. And this is not only good, it is natural and has been happening for all time and will probably contune to happen.
So try not to look at the rock and instead learn something from the water. It flows around some rocks, over others and between even more all while usually staying within its banks.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happiness is.....

...swimming from Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard with the help of wonderful strangers and family.

Who knew?

(Left to right: Mike, Karen, Kate, Mark, Dave, me, Rob, Linda and Brian. Mack is taking the picture.)

The morning was clear and calm, and we could even see the finish line when we got to our starting beach, but only just barely. Martha’s Vineyard looked like a single brushstroke of green on the horizon. The island was the definition of “yonder.” Our on-water team consisted of two motor boats and two kayaks and eight people, one of whom was Rob’s niece Kate Powell. Kate makes everything better wherever she goes. Our land team was one person: Fifi Burton, a mover and shaker extraordinaire who would turn 88 a few days after our swim. We were so set.
“Are you the ones swimming to Martha’s Vineyard?” asked the wide-eyed teenaged lifeguard at the Menauhant Yacht Club on Cape Cod.
“Yes. Me and my husband,” I said, pointing to Rob.
“Wow,” he said, a huge grin on his face. “Good luck!”
They say you can’t go home again. But this place where Rob spent his childhood summers and which felt as much like home to him as any place he had ever lived, welcomed him back with open arms. Those arms easily stretched wide enough for me, too, no questions asked. Even the sea clamed and warmed herself for our arrival. But this swim wasn’t just about looking back. We had to involve strangers and acquaintances of acquaintances, who all became as close as old friends by the time the day was over. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The idea of swimming from Menauhant on Cape Cod to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard – 6.5 miles of current and creature-filled filled sea – took hold of Rob’s imagination last year when his friend Liza Gregory posted an article about a couple of Menauhanters who swam from Nobska Point to West Chop, a much shorter distance between Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard with fewer current issues. That point was a natural choice for a crossing, but Rob remembered standing as a kid on the beach in Menauhant and looking toward Martha’s Vineyard and wanting to cross that body of water in that place somehow.
“I didn’t necessarily think about swimming it, but I wanted to get over there,” Rob said.

(Last minute course charting to "over there" with our kayakers Mark and Dave. Not only are currents a problem best avoided to the extent possible, but ferries and other boats would be a dnager.)
The child went on to become a nationally rank college swimmer specializing in the 200 butterfly. He took up open water swimming after a ten year break from the water and proceeded to excel at races in lakes, rivers, bays and oceans. But his family had sold the summer home in Menauhant, and we hadn’t been back to Cape Cod for anything other than funerals since he started the open water phase of his life.
I never swam growing up, but it looked like fun when Rob did it, so I joined him and gradually worked my way up to longer distances. So when Rob said he wanted to do this swim, I said “me too.” We started planning in 2011. We knew we needed to pick a good day with favorable tides and we needed escort boats and kayaks and a place to stay and a Coast Guard permit. Planning for the swim turned into a second hobby. (Training for the swim I don’t even want to think about. Thousands of laps in an over-heated 25 yard pool. Ick.)
Since Rob is faster, our swim would be like two solo swims and we needed two boats and two kayaks. And the captains and paddlers had to be experienced. This stretch of water is where the Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound meet in a big swirling mess. There could be cross currents up to four knots and there were shallow areas that could kick up big waves. And there were sharks. Okay, the sharks were further east and north, but still. They were the big ones.
I live to research, and luckily I easily found a Cape Cod kayaking forum and posted my request for information and possible assistance. I got some replies along the lines of “sounds like a great adventure” and “are you crazy!” But I got our first member of the team, Mark Stephens, who was extremely experienced in the waters all around Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. He suggested we get a copy of Eldridge’s Tide Book which we did and then spent weeks pouring over. We learned the difference between spring and neap and ebb and flood tides and were able to pick a good week, that of July 9th, when the window of slack tide wouldn’t be in the middle of the night or at 6am. No one was swimming in the dark.
We still needed boats, but felt confident to go ahead and apply for our Coast Guard permit. It was becoming real. Then I mentioned the swim to open water swimming pioneer Lynne Cox, and she had a friend on Martha’s Vineyard who might have a line on a boat. Sure enough, Michael Wooley found captain Brian Peltier for us and we were halfway there. (By that way, I owe the Coast Guard a big shout out. They were very professional and friendly and even a little excited about the swim.)
To get us the rest of the way, Rob starting poking around in his memories and came up with Fifi Burton’s name, the matriarch of Menauhant. She offered up her youngest son, Mike, and we had our second boat. Our first kayaker then recruited a second, Dave Briggs, a worldly waterman, and we were all set. Everyone seemed excited about the adventure. Our job now was just to keep our fingers firmly crossed for good weather. We started checking water temperature websites in June when the sound was 55 degrees. Gulp.
Now we just had to finish training, which included three open water races in two weeks, the longest of which was almost five miles in challenging conditions. We were as ready as we could be, but we were still apprehensive about the anticipated rough conditions which can make a 6.5 mile swim into an eight mile or longer swim. And the cold. I was worried about the cold. I was prepared to wear a wetsuit, but I really didn’t want to.
With Kate on board, it was already a family swim. The three of us had done crazy athletic endeavors before, and I would trust Kate with my life, and more importantly Rob’s, so I was glad to have her along. But the unexpected pleasure came when Linda Calmes Jones opened her house to us.
Emails flew, and we picked the actual date, July 11th, once we saw the weather looked good. We packed up the car, kissed the dogs and pointed ourselves north. The day before we left, a great white shark was spotted in Chatham, which was north of where we were planning to swim, but still a little unsettling. We joked about it a lot to keep the nerves at bay and because it made us feel tough. You can’t even start a swim like this if you don’t feel tough.
After meeting Kate in Boston and relieving the city of a goodly amount of sangria and ice cream, we all headed for the Cape. It was an easy drive to Fifi’s house with an easy stop for flowers and a card for her upcoming birthday. It was a joy to watch Rob reminisce with Fifi about all the people they knew. It was even more fun to watch Fifi use her power to order Kate – who she could easily see was the youngest – to fetch things for her. After an enjoyable hour of crazy stories, we strolled down to the beach of Rob’s childhood and got in for a shake-out swim. The water was gently rolling. It had to be the nicest water I have ever been in. Friendly. There is something about very clear salt water that is neither warm nor cold that is both soothing and energizing. We all were having a good time when I nearly ran into Rob talking to a guy we knew from Charlottesville, George Sampson. Rob knew he also vacationed at Menauhant, but what were the odds? George ended up coming to see us off on our swim. Things were going so well, it was as if the universe was rolling out the red carpet.
Now if this were a movie, it would be time to cue the ominous music. But nope, things just continued as if guided by an invisible loving hand.
We dried off and headed to Linda’s house where we would be staying. Linda is Rob’s now-dead father’s second wife. We never had much of a relationship with her, and on this trip we saw how much we had been missing. She became a new member of the family.
We killed Tuesday with errands and more ice cream and sitting around. We touched base by phone with our captains and kayakers. Wednesday morning we filled our bottle with our sports drinks and packed our bags and headed for the beach at 8:30am. Our starting point is called the baby beach in Menauhant parlance. Not too intimidating.
Kayaker Dave was the first one there, then Mark came soon after. Brian and Mike pulled up to the dock in their boats and we met Karen Kukolich who would be on Brian’s boat and who could have well captained her own boat as gifted as she was about all things aquatic. (Although she is far too young, she reminded me of my Aunt Shirley, one of the most competent and loving women I have ever known.) Mike brought his nephew Mack, a bright and friendly teenager, and we introduced everyone and divvied up our bottles and clothes and then it was time. Several folks come to see us off in addition to Fifi. Mrs. Carr, who along with her husband bought Rob’s family’s beach house, Jeff Gwynn, who had swim from Nobska Point and West Chop, Jeff’s wife, George, and a few happy and curious other people we didn’t know.
Rob and I kissed each other twice – once for ourselves and once because Fifi called for an encore - put on our goggles and walked into the glassy water and started swimming.  Two hours and forty minutes later, Rob walked out. 55 minutes after him, so did I. Time disappeared for me during most of my swim, and I just felt enveloped by love. Love of swimming, love of the ocean, love of all the people involved old and new, just love. I know it sounds sappy, but it’s what it was. Until the end of course when the island didn’t want to let me come ashore. (The currrents kicked up as we knew they would, but it was still a little bit of a shock.) But if it hadn’t gotten hard, I might have felt a little cheated. The best part for me was when Mike brought his boat over and I got to see Rob and Kate. Mike helped Brian and Karen fend off the boats and ferries that were aiming for me.

Everyone was so amazing, and I want to go back. I want to swim in that water as much as I can. I know it will not always be that friendly, but I want to get to know it. I want to get to know it like family. I want to learn more from the people who helped us. I want to do something, anything for them. It was home.
Rob said the swim was all he could have hoped for and that the week we spent on the Cape was more than he could have hoped for. And that week would never have happened if we hadn’t decided to do the swim which started out so scary in our minds when we were planning and ended up so sweet. Life moves in funny ways, just like water.
Now is the strange time. The lonely time after all the effort. It took eight people to get us across that water and I will always feel bound to them. I hope they don’t mind.
And I feel even more connected to my husband and his past and who and what made him. It was a big crazy goal to do what we did and we were rewarded. Now to pay it back somehow.
Thank you to everyone, from the bottom of my heart. I can see that we’re home.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Which 1980s Molly Ringwald Movie?

The exhausting and wonderful Virginia Festival of the Book is over. I enjoyed presenting my book of short stories, Breaking and Entering, but I think I enjoyed hearing other authors read from and discuss their recent works and their writing philosophies and share what interests them and what they think makes good writing.

Ernessa Carter was on a panel at Barnes and Noble and she read from her book, 32 Candles. She is a lyrical and thoughtful writer and a charming person. I was so pleased to be able to talk with her further at the author's reception Saturday night.

The book follows Davie Jones, an outsider in high school (and who really wants to read too much about anyone who wasn't?) who dreams of Hollywood endings, thanks in part to the movie Sixteen Candles. Carter follows her character into her thirties, hence the title.

I liked the passage Carter read, although I can't say Sixteen Candles was my favorite Molly Ringwald movie. My favorite was Breakfast Club, which Carter said most of her guy friends liked best. She also said that her designer friends liked Pretty in Pink for the dress-cutting-up scene.

So that got me thinking. I wonder what our favorite Molly Ringwald movie says about us? Beyond the fact that I apparently have to give up my girl card.....And do all our choices in art reflect our personalities, especially our choices in high school?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The $64,000 Question

How do you balance doing the right thing by the world with your own personal happiness? Hell, I don’t even have my answer much less anyone else’s.
I often wrestle with this question in various guises, but I can’t stop thinking about it after a friend’s FB post on overpopulation. To paraphrase, he thinks having children is bad because human overpopulation will destroy the plant. (I have oversimplified his argument for the sake of argument – this friend is usually quite a nuanced thinker and kind person.)

We all balance many things in every choice we make, whether consciously or unconsciously. What about saving your premature baby? Waste of resources. That $600,000 could be better spent on helping 1000 people learn to manage their diabetes better. I don’t care that you want your baby to live. That’s selfish.
Vacations? Huge carbon footprint. I don’t care that they will refresh you and make you a kinder and gentler person maybe more likely to appreciate the variety of the world.

Your designer goldendoodle puppy? Better to adopt a neglected hound or pit mix from the shelter, even if you don’t know how to handle a dog with issues.
You should do what I want, what my experts think is best.

Everything we do is wasteful if we look at the big picture, swimming and making art included. While I absolutely think we should all bear in mind the consequences of our choice and try to do good by our fellow human beings, one way to do that is to offer the world the best versions possible of yourself.
It is easy to do the “right” thing in the abstract. It is much harder when flesh and blood individuals are involved with their own wants and needs and desires. And they are right in front of you.

Love complicates everything. And makes it wonderful. Numbers can’t argue with love. I don’t have children – I don’t want them. One of the reasons I never wanted them is because I think there are too many people in the world. But the key part of this sentence is the verb “want.” I am not denying myself something I want or love. I am not being a martyr.
I would rob a bank to save my husband. Or my dog. I would kill to save any of them. That isn’t exactly a terrific attitude for saving the world. But it is what love does to a person.

I drove three dogs 3500 miles to save their lives. What a waste. What an environmental degradation. What a joy.
I am a lucky person. My life is easier and better than I deserve. But joy? That is rare, even in a great life. We all deserve the right to grab as much of it as we can. Pay it back (or forward or whatever) somehow, but go get it.

It is hard to keep the big picture in mind as we live our lives. The central question is always where does my freedom end and your begin?