Feeling Grateful

My son Ed with his new daughter My son Joel and grandson Cameron My students have been studying Clint Eastwood’s remarkable 2008 film, Gran Torino. We’ve been talking a lot about its themes. One is, of course, that “real” family is wherever you find it. The protagonist Walt is profoundly disappointed with his sons and families, and they don’t care much for him either. But, despite his long-standing prejudices, Walt becomes close to his young immigrant neighbors, Sue and Thao. They are worth dying for: they are his family of choice. The theme of creating our own intentional family has permeated my own work. We all need loving and caring connections in our lives, and when they’re missing on the home front, life is hard and painful. The reality is, too, that sometimes, there is plenty of love, but love isn’t enough when emotional, mental, or substance abuse problems interfere. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about broken relationships in families. In the last few weeks, I’ve encountered several folks who’ve shared that their children barely speak to them. Some have been on the losing end of a child taking the other parent’s side in a bitter divorce. Others have children who blame them for a multitude of sins while they were growing up, and have held on to their list of grievances for decades. The pain of these parents is palpable. It has reminded me of just how lucky I am that this has not [...]

By |2019-01-18T11:45:23-04:00January 18th, 2019|Family, Gratitude|0 Comments

One Month Later

It was a little over a month ago that our younger son Joel married Priscilla Hernandez, the love of his life, at Cliffview, a rustic retreat near Red River Gorge. It took him a mere fourteen years to convince his bride to marry him, and I’ve never seen anyone more thrilled than our son! We are incredibly happy for him, and to officially be a part of Priscilla’s family. Our extended families spent the weekend at Cliffview, and it was wonderful to spend time together. Priscilla’s mom Betty and other relatives prepared the most amazing authentic Mexican food. My waist line will never be the same, but it was definitely worth it! Meantime, I have some fun book events coming up. This coming Saturday, November 10, from 2-4 PM, I’ll be signing books at the Hurstbourne Barnes and Noble in Louisville along with other mystery writers in Derby Rotten Scoundrels, our local Sisters in Crime chapter. Then next Thursday, November 15, I’ll be attending Indiana University Southeast’s opening reception for an Authors and Artists exhibit that includes my YA novel, It Should Have Been You. And on Saturday, November 17, I’m thrilled to be a part of the annual Kentucky Book Fair from 9 am to 4 pm at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.  At 10 AM in the Spalding Room, I’ll be a panelist along with YA writers Mindee Arnett, Geanna Culbertson, and Kristina McBride on “Fierce Females in YA Literature,” a topic near and dear to my [...]

By |2018-11-08T13:51:28-04:00November 8th, 2018|Family, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Aspiration Versus Reality in America

            At the end of Seton Hill’s annual writers’ conference for alums in June, I attended the MFA graduation ceremony, during which we all stood, hands on our hearts, and sang our national anthem. After singing the closing words, “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave,” I turned to a fellow writer friend and mumbled, “If only that were true.”             It’s not that we don’t have plenty of brave, honorable citizens around. And despite savage attacks on the free press and those who dare to speak up about injustice, we are fortunate to still have a free press and the right to speak up and protest. Yet, when we have the highest incarceration rate in the world that disproportionately affects low income minorities, recurring instances of police brutality, and the forced separation and detention of brown parents and children seeking asylum at our borders—can we really claim to be the “land of the free”? Whatever happened to those beautiful words by Emma Lazarus that grace our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?             Millions of Americans aspire to have our country genuinely live up to its ideals of freedom of speech, democracy, inclusiveness, and equality of opportunity. But isn’t it time to admit that in many ways, those ideals remain aspirational?                        Colin Kaepernick Kneeling             Just ask Colin Kaepernick. For daring to take a [...]

By |2018-09-09T13:04:23-04:00September 9th, 2018|Politics|0 Comments

Re-Creating That Small Town Feel

The long-running joke in our family is that if my dear husband didn’t have an errand to run, he’d invent one.  And since his retirement, the number of weekly errands has at least quadrupled. I’m convinced he’d lose his mind if he were ever sentenced to house arrest. I used to think that his constant run-outs were a way to refuel his batteries. After all, we’re both introverts who need our alone time. But now I’ve started to think that these errands are my husband’s way of socializing and re-creating the kind of neighborly interactions I associate with small town living.  Clearly, he’s talking to folks on his run-outs, and the conversations include me. This explains why Julie, the avid reader who works at the nursery, one of my gardening husband’s favorite hangouts, came to my book signing. And why the man at the liquor store, while advising me on what beer my husband might like for Father’s Day, announced he really enjoyed my vocals in the last CD of our music. And why yesterday, the friendly teller at the bank wanted to know how my book signing event the night before had gone. My husband playing at a friend's party I admit it. Thanks to my loquacious spouse, it’s been kind of nice to feel that folks know who I am and seem happy to see me. My college students who’ve grown up in small towns tell me that it can be stifling because “everyone knows your [...]

By |2018-09-02T12:19:30-04:00September 2nd, 2018|Family|0 Comments

Adjunct Teaching: The Revolving Door

My first hint that my adjunct office buddy had departed came the week before fall semester when he wasn’t at the back-to-school faculty conference. We were among the handful of adjuncts who were regulars at these things—eager to gain some teaching tips and inspiration while enjoying some camaraderie with other folks on campus.             By the end of the first week of classes, it was clear he wasn’t around. I missed him. We’d exchanged ideas about our teaching, laughed a lot, and talked about our lives. He was generous and thoughtful, even designing the flyer for my book signing and assisting me with my Power Point for my adjunct conference keynote presentation this past spring. Jeff with novelist Elaine Munsch and me at my book signing at Barnes and Noble in February. As an older adjunct who was also a novelist, I wasn’t looking for a fulltime gig, but I knew Jeff was eager to join the ranks of the university’s fulltimers. And he’d more than shown his investment in the campus, offering workshops to fellow faculty, joining a faculty learning community, and dedicating great chunks of time to his class preparation.             But after a few years, it became clear that no fulltime job was forthcoming. And when I called Jeff, he told me financial realities had finally caught up with him. In October, he’ll begin a fulltime job at a call center for a mega health care company in our area.             I know he’ll do [...]

By |2018-08-26T10:56:23-04:00August 26th, 2018|The Teaching Life|0 Comments

End-of-Summer Musings

I admit it. I’m having grandchild withdrawal! I spent a wonderful two weeks hosting our Colorado family and three grandkids and then was off for two and a half weeks visiting our NYC grandkids, including our latest precious addition. Edie Lou arrived on Sunday, July 22, weighing nearly nine pounds! She joins big brother Milo. I loved every second of holding Edie and inhaling her baby scent and playing with Milo who’s at that wonderful imaginative stage. Of course, I did have to have several visits with his alter ego, “Dr. Wasserman,” who insisted on giving me shots and kept having to take phone calls during appointments. Milo holding Edie Lou Milo baking a birthday cake with his grandfather             Now it’s full swing into the semester, and I’m hitting the ground running as fast as I can. The beginnings of semesters always leave me feeling a bit crazed—so much to do and so little time.             But I do have to say that teaching is my favorite way to “pay it forward.” This past week, I got an e-mail from a student I had a few semesters ago in a college English Composition class. She had confided to me that she was writing a novel and asked me if I’d be willing to look at it. I did and offered her feedback on what I thought she could work on to make it stronger, as well as lots of encouragement. Now working on her fourth [...]

By |2018-08-18T13:35:08-04:00August 18th, 2018|The Teaching Life|0 Comments

Joy and Sadness

 Sunday, we had a guest speaker at church, Karina Barillas. Barillas is the Executive Director of La Casita Center, a Louisville-based non-profit dedicated to supporting and empowering the city’s Latino community, including those who are undocumented immigrants. Barillas emigrated from Guatemala after being a victim of incest and domestic violence. She spoke eloquently of the constant fear, anxiety, and discrimination faced by asylum-seeking families: “We imagine that this is something that is just happening on television or at the borders, but it’s not. It’s happening everyday across communities in America.” She told of mothers and fathers on their way to work or home who were snatched off the streets by ICE officers, leaving confused and devastated children behind.  She talked about kids being bullied at school and told, “Go back to where you came from. You don’t belong here,” and children as old as twelve who were afraid to go to the center’s day camp because they were too scared to be separated from their mothers. Who knew if their parents would still be at home when they returned?             I cried as she spoke, as did many others in the congregation. When we asked her what above all we could do, she said, “You can vote.”  And we will, and many of us will try to do more than that. Yet the horror of what is happening to innocent and vulnerable children and families weighs heavily on our hearts.             When I walked in the door at home from [...]

By |2018-07-25T09:08:04-04:00July 25th, 2018|Politics|0 Comments

Fourteen Years Later…

Priscilla and my grandson Sebastian There’s a reason the wedding invitation simply announces, “At last,” followed by the names of the bride and groom and the date, time, and place. It’s been a mere fourteen years since my younger son fell madly in love with his long-time partner Priscilla, a vivacious, feisty young woman. Three children later (one from my son’s previous relationship and two they share together), lots of bumps on their journey, and the world’s longest engagement, these two are finally making the leap to matrimony.             If it had been up to my son, they would have gotten married years ago. But Priscilla was hesitant. After all, the men in her life growing up hadn’t been… well, let’s just say, they weren’t the most reliable bunch. And she’s always been fiercely independent. In fact, when I asked her why she’d finally decided they could set a date, she said simply: “The idea of marriage has always made me nervous, but he’s the only person I would ever want to be with.”             These two have literally grown up together, and it’s wonderful to witness their commitment to one another for the long haul. Besides, there’s something exciting about all of these rituals and traditions. This past week, I got to go wedding dress shopping with Priscilla. She found a beautiful dress. It brought back such happy memories of wedding dress shopping with my older son’s bride Lauren and her mom. Talk about vicarious pleasure!             [...]

By |2018-07-16T09:55:23-04:00July 16th, 2018|Family|0 Comments

Politics by Bumper Sticker

Driving on the highway the other day, I passed a car with a “Coexist” bumper sticker, the cheerful one with symbols from the world’s great religions. Warm feelings flooded through me.  I love these stickers. To me, they symbolize  open-mindedness, inclusiveness, and respectful appreciation of our differences. I gave the driver a friendly smile as I passed him. Then I stiffened as I got behind a truck with a prominent “Pro-Life” bumper sticker. Because I believed that the decision to terminate a pregnancy was a deeply personal one that should be left up to the individual, I figured this driver would think my car should be adorned with a “Pro-Death” bumper sticker.  The lines of this debate have been drawn so starkly that there is little room for someone like me who would much prefer alternatives to abortion but knows this is not my decision to make for someone else. As I drew closer to the truck in front of me, I noticed another sticker. This one proudly proclaimed, “0% liberal.” Really? There is not even one eensy “liberal” idea the driver could tolerate? Wow. How did our politics devolve into this zero-sum game? Even I, a liberal Democrat, am a fan of free trade, which used to be Republican orthodoxy. I want to be someone who engages in civil discourse, who respects the opinions of others, and who “seeks first to understand.” But truthfully, I’m having a hard time with that. After class one day during this past presidential [...]

By |2018-07-09T09:39:43-04:00July 9th, 2018|Politics|0 Comments

When You Change Someone Else’s Life, You Transform Your Own

We had a guest speaker yesterday at church. His name is David Benson, and he’s the founder of a Southern Indiana-based non-profit called "Dogs Helping Heroes.” As the product of a military family, he’d witnessed firsthand the physical, emotional and mental toll war takes on returning veterans. Many suffer from PTSD and a host of other difficulties that make re-adjustment to civilian life extraordinarily difficult.             Benson, a long-time dog trainer, discovered that training a service dog to be a constant companion for a wounded warrior or first responder, could transform that person’s life and help restore his or her connections to family, friends, and willingness even to venture outside or shop for groceries. After three people suggested to Benson that he start a non-profit to expand his work, he decided the universe was sending him a message, and he founded Dogs Helping Heroes. The operation is a volunteer effort. Rescue dogs are carefully trained, often initially by inmates as part of their rehabilitation, before being paired with their new owners.  Benson showed a video and brought along two veterans and their service dogs to illustrate how life-changing the program has been.             Benson spoke passionately about the program. He teared up when he told the story of being at a celebratory picnic for participants in which a little girl had come up to his father and said, “Your son gave me my daddy back.”             It was so clear that it wasn’t just the recipients of the service dogs [...]

By |2018-07-02T11:27:06-04:00July 2nd, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments