Monday, September 28, 2015

11 Ways I Heard My Children Whisper I Am Just like a Sloth

Photoshopping genius credit: Vikki Reich

Son #1: "Once a week, sloths leave their canopy for a bathroom break."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "Sloths are from South America."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "Sloths will not eat anything without sniffing first to tell if it's rotten. "
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth mother keeps her babies close and concealed from preying eyes."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "Scientists often wonder what the sloth does all day long."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth's soft underbelly creates a cozy bed for offspring to cling to."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth is the world's slowest moving mammal."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth wakes up chilled and will spend the day searching for sun to warm her."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth's main activity is to hang and munch its favorite foods."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth will sleep 9 and a half hours at a time."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth moves only 80 feet--the length of two school buses--in one day."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

* * *

Saturday, September 26, 2015

I Went to Query Camp so You Don't Have To

Getting published one day is important to me, so when I had a chance to attend a Publishing Institute this weekend, I took it. Yes, I missed two soccer games (bummer. no, really) but I had to go. One of the break out sessions on Saturday was a Query Letter Camp. The presentation was made up of a panel of six agents, and since I was there for it, it's pretty much the same as if you were. 

A query is a one page letter sent to agents or a publisher with the intention to create interest in your book. It tells what your book is about, about who you as author are, why the book was written and who the book is for (target audience). The job of a query is to make you and your book compelling.

BUT before we start talking about a good query letter, it's more important to know that before you send anything out anywhere, that you KNOW who you're sending it to. Research them, learn about them: Do they accept your genre? Young adult? Memoir? Thriller? Fiction? Be familiar with the agency and the submissions they seek.

Now that I know you won't sent your Mickey Mouse Goes to Kindergarten picture book to an agency that only accepts romantic fiction set during the Gold Rush, I'll pass on the inside scoop I heard from six agents about what makes them say Yes, I think you're someone I want to know.

1.) For starters, never send a “Dear Agency” letter. You must have a name. If you met an agent at a conference, (Hi, Ann!) remind them of the conference where you met, and when.

2.) Suggested query format:   
1st paragraph: word count, title, genre, tell them how you are familiar with their agency.
2nd paragraph: synopsis of story, stakes, protagonist, antagonist, setting.

3rd paragraph: should be about the author. 3-4 sentences at most and include anything that relates to the book.

3.) In your second paragraph, where you talk about your book, be no more than 4-5 sentences in presenting your work. Include protagonist, conflict, obstacles, setting. Be thorough because the agent has to be grounded in genre/category before hearing about your story. A query letter is not a manuscript. Do not excerpt your manuscript in your query letter. If it's a memoir, be specific about type: addiction, humorous, transformational, spiritual.
4.) In your third paragraph, the one about you, disclose that part of your life that makes you the person to write this book. That can be education, awards, jobs, life experiences, your area of expertise and why you set out to write this story. If you've written a murder mystery and you've been married to a police detective for 30 years, that's something you want to include. Tell how you can help “move” your book—your website, your social media network, your speaking engagements, anything that shows you have a following.

5.) Write your query in the tone of a published author and present yourself with the professionalism of a published author. That means clean up any hokey twitter handles or funky email names, like HotMamaPockets264. Speak confidently as you wrap it up. There is no need to say, "It's been a dream of mine to be published," because that's a given, I mean, that's why you're trying to sell your book, right?
6.) In your final and closing paragraph, thank the agent for their time and offer the full manuscript, “If you're interested in reading more, the completed manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for considering *name of book*, I look forward to hearing from you.” Make it easy for the agent to contact you by providing your full contact information at the bottom of the letter: address, name, phone and email.

What you write in your query is what the agent will present to the publisher. You don't just want a plot synopsis of your book, you want to entice and make your query unforgettable. All agents ask themselves the same thing with each query, “Will it sell?” Your job is to convince them, that Yes, it will, and here's why. 

Good querying to us all!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

New Homes, Old Hearts

Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, a time set aside in the Jewish calendar for reflection of one's sins in the past year and thoughts to the year ahead. It is a time of fasting, reflection, and repentance.
* * *

“Are you Jewish?” It was the 7th grade and I was walking home with Lisa Seraphim. Our grade school was in the middle of a heavily populated Jewish area of Milwaukee. “Because you act Jewish," she said looking at me. "And you seem Jewish." We were on our way to Lisa's house to work on a social studies project. This wasn't the first time someone from class had asked me this question. I answered her the same way I did all the other times, “I feel Jewish. Maybe.”

It was true.

Lisa's house was one of my favorite places to spend my weekends. Everything in her home and about her family felt instantly familiar, especially her mother. We would help Mrs. Seraphim cook and then we'd clean up the kitchen together. She had a large family, seven children, and we would be in the kitchen for close to an hour after dinner.

As Mrs. Seraphim swept the kitchen floor--corners first, and then gathering the dust into the center of the room, I would get chills at how this was the exact way my grandmother swept the kitchen. But my grandmother wasn't Jewish, she was a Catholic from Spain.

Lisa's mother would start dinner, the first step was to rinse the meat, being sure to remove all the nerves before soaking it in salt water. Just like home, I would shake my head at how alike she was to my grandmother. If I spent the night at Lisa's, we would have eggs for breakfast. Her mother would tell us to throw out any eggs that had blood spots in them. “My grandmother tells me the same thing, Mrs. Seraphim,” I’d answer in astonishment. In a world where I felt so different and alone, Lisa's house was one place where I felt I belonged. 

Mrs. Seraphim would cook with garlic, cumin, olive oil, and tomatoes. Always tomatoes, like my Spanish grandmother’s dishes. The meals at Lisa’s house were identical to the meals at my house; I never had to worry about whether or not I would like what they'd serve.

Lisa had younger brothers, the same as I did, with long, curly hair. They had to wait until the boys were at least three years old before they could cut their hair. My family lived by the same rule with my brother's hair.
I wasn't Jewish, but everything about Lisa's house felt like I once lived there. It always baffled me how much Lisa's family and mine had in common. It was years later, while in a World Religions Class in college, that I found bone-chilling possibilities for why I felt that way.

My professor had begun a unit on The Spanish Inquisition, he illustrated on a map how Jews who had escaped from Spain to avoid persecution found a new home and safety in The Canary Islands. I felt hot as I remembered that my mother told me that my grandmother's family first came from The Canary Islands.

I thought of Mrs. Seraphim and my grandmother, how they both rinsed any meat from the butcher. "To free it of any blood," my grandmother would tell me. My grandmother lit candles in a closed off room on Friday nights, my grandmother would not buy fish without scales. All things I had seen Lisa's mother do so many years ago.

As soon as the class let out, I headed straight to the library and spent the night poring over anything written on Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. There was a group of Jews that had gone to live in secret to the Canary Islands--they were known as Crypto-Jews. In one of the books, there was a list of questions, “Fifteenth Century Spain and Crypto-Jewish Customs.”

One by one I raced through the items, ticking off my yes answers to more than half.

Does your family fast during la semana santa? Yes.

Does your family celebrate El Dia Puro? Yes.

Does your family clean the house on Fridays during the day? Yes.

Are biblical names common in your family? Yes. Every other uncle in my family was named Moises. (Moses)

Then, I read something that made my scalp tingle. There was a list of eight family surnames that had left Spain for freedom in The Canary Islands. ONLY eight Crypto-Judaic family surnames from The Canary Islands. I read through it holding my breath. Would my grandmother's family name be there?

My heart pounded when I looked over the names. Fifth from the bottom, was my grandmother's maiden name. Her surname of Franco was one of the eight surnames of Jewish families that had made a new home in The Canary Islands.

Though I can never know for sure, my grandmother had already passed by then (we clipped locks of her curls, and wrapped them in tissue paper). But I made my own silent decision that day. I knew the reason why I was drawn to the Seraphim family. They were my heart. From so many generations ago.

Wishing all of my friends forgiveness, peace, and blessings this Yom Kippur.
* * *

Monday, September 21, 2015

Engagement Story

Not all engagement stories are of bended knee at dawn on a beach. Mine had destiny nervous for a few moments. Today is my birthday, it's also the anniversary of the day my husband asked me to marry him. Here is the true to life story: 

I was unaware that the man I had been seeing for close to a year was going to be the man I married. We hadn't yet spoken of marriage, which suited us both fine. He had made no promises nor given any hints regarding a possible future together, so I couldn't claim to be misled or disappointed.

He was content with casual dating, and he was an affable enough fellow that I saw no problem with continuing our friendship. He was employed, respected the practice of personal hygiene, and had no addictions. Given all that, and the fact that I wasn't 40 yet, continued dating with no end in sight fit into my schedule.

It was my birthday and he had called to ask me out to dinner. At the time, he was traveling internationally, and our times, when together, were spent doing nice things at nice places with nice food.

I knew he would have a special dinner planned since he was only going to be home for a few days. I was anticipating romance, attention, and perhaps a gift from abroad. He told me he'd be at my apartment at 6:30 p.m. While I waited for him, I thought of how I was ready to relax, talk, be wined and dined, celebrated, toasted to, with some borderline adoration.

He arrives, 6:50 p.m., 20 minutes late, and his face has a look of grief and concern, as if he's lost something. He is also unusually quiet. I ask if everything is all right, he answers yes, that it is, but adds nothing more. He has always been on time, and tonight's man is not the punctual man I have known since January. But I don't want to start the night off on the wrong foot, so I say nothing. But, things feel odd and tense and he doesn't smile when he sees me. We go in his car, and I promise myself I will not bring up a late arrival, without a phone call, until it happens a second time. If there is a second time.

While he drives, he looks straight ahead and makes no mention of his trip to Germany. He has been gone ten days, surely, he saw something of interest while across the ocean. I know nothing of Germany, but to my credit, I attempt conversation, but I might as well be in the car with a coyote because all I hear is "yup yup yup" to any question I ask.

Well, perhaps he has jet lag, I console myself. We drive along, but I don't know about this night, which is starting to feel like a duty he's fulfilling since it's my birthday. I'm hungry, I have to work the next day, and I've got on a new dress that I've bought for tonight. But he doesn't notice that fire engine red is my color, nor the way that my gold button earrings play up my dark hair. I decide I will enjoy this meal, be equally affable back, and celebrate having someone to be with on my birthday.

We arrive at the restaurant, he parks the car and then asks me to wait--in the car. He always hops over to my side of the car and opens the door. But tonight, it's a grunt to stay put. Now I know, he is working up to the wrong place, wrong time speech with my name in the opening sentence.

I oblige and remain seated, counting to sixty seconds, then I open my own door thank you, and step out of the car. I see him in the vestibule of the restaurant, fingers jostling deep in his front pockets and well, you don't want to know what this looks like to me.

He then steps toward me and I see him, with his lips pressed tight. He walks as stiff as a robot, and together with the furrowed brow leftover from when he first picked me up, I can't read a thing about him. Is it agitation? Is it avoidance? I let him catch up to me and we walk alongside. I slide my arm into his, and he jumps twenty feet in the air.

I withdraw and drop his arm like an electric wire. I take a deep breath. I do not want to bicker in a parking lot on my birthday with a new dress and a growling stomach. I can make it through this dinner, I'll order something light, like whitefish since anything else will sink like a rock. We enter the restaurant, and the hostess seems to know him. She places her mouth inches from his ear and I imagine her whispering, "Tonight. Dump her. Got it?"

His tone back to her is a nodding rushed yes. They are in deep communion. He turns to me and asks me AGAIN to wait a bit, this time in the front hallway. He and the hostess whisper back and forth once more and we're shown to a secluded table away from the main entrance. We sit down but he keeps his hand in his pocket. Trying to warm up to him, I attempt to reach for the hand he has resting on the table, but he pulls back as if I've extended a lobster claw.

Without warning, he stands from his chair and says he needs to check something in the car. And then he goes. I have now entered "whatever" land. I can no longer enjoy my meal, and think, OK. nice guy and all, but I just can't see what is going on between us... I know I should try and read between the lines but there's a lot of lines to read here.

A few minutes pass and he returns, his hand still in the front pocket. We eat a silent dinner. He does more of a stare into his plate what's life all about look. I finally decide to ask to go home early. Let's get on with this broken heart. I have to be at work at 7:30, and I saintly offer him the out of how he must have jet lag.

He looks up for the first time. His eyes wide with panic. I think, This can't be good. I can't believe he is HAVING A GOOD TIME??? You're kidding, right? This is SOOOOOO not a good sign. All I can see is red flags. Red flags all over the place.

He tells me he wants to take a drive to the lakefront. I agree, thinking maybe we'll talk and he can come clean about the hostess taking my place. And it's the least I can do, because I already know this is the last time I'll see him too.

We drive there, and I see a white horse and carriage sitting in the marina's parking lot. I am jealous of the couple that will be celebrating their love to the romantic background of horse's hooves, because I know it won't be us. Then, turning his body in an awkward broken movement, he takes my hand and leads us toward the carriage. I feel like a coerced Cinderella. His other hand still won't leave the front pants pocket. Now I'm the one with the furrowed brow, but mine is out of confusion. We climb into the waiting white cab, I move to sit closer to him. I make the mistake of having hope and I reach for the dang hand again. But he's not having any of it and digs it back in, deeper.

In one last clutch at a dream, I convince myself his madness is jet lag or traveler's fever. I make up that last one because how can I explain all this going on like a poorly written screenplay? No continuity of thought! I want to shout.

But if he was protective of the hidden hand before, he's grown thrice that level now. I mentally steel myself for the coming weekend of me and two quarts of Ben & Jerry's Death by Chocolate. It's not like I haven't had practice with those kinds of weekends before. I know I'll be sad, but as always, like a phoenix my heart will rise to beat again.

We're sitting in a beautiful red velvet interior of a fairy tale carriage, and I can't immerse myself in any of it because he continues with his pocket patting fetish. I am ready to jump out of the cab by now, but it's moving too fast. It's also getting cold outside, dark... and I've got new black  patent T-straps that match this new red dress. And so I sit.

I will finish this evening, and I will cherish this buggy ride. I close my eyes, and I relish the sound of the horse's hooves on a quiet fall night.

And this is where it gets strange.

There is a five star hotel up ahead and the driver begins to pull the horse to enter the circle drive. My date jerks his hand out of his pocket, I check it to see if he's been hiding a bandaged injury all night but instead of gauze and stay clips, I see a small, white box.

My date's face is set like stone, locked and looking straight ahead with a determination for what, I don't know. He licks his lips and I wonder why he feels he needs to give me a goodbye present as he leaves me for the hostess. I take the little white box he offers in his open palm and snap it open. I'm in a hurry to see what I'm Sorry jewelry looks like. But there is no consolation prize inside.

In the soft dark of the cab, with the streetlight hitting us right from behind, there is a miniature explosion of firework sitting inside black velvet. A breathtaking diamond solitaire shoots light from the middle of a gold band. It is an engagement ring, where a pair of modestly priced gold earrings should be.

My mouth crowns open as everything begins to make sense. I begin to laugh, then cry, then I apologize for the way I was never going to see him again but he asks me to not talk, to wait. I can't stop and have to get the words out, "pocket petting, scared, worried." I think of all the perverted front pocket padding this poor man did to ensure the ring hadn't fallen out, all the up and down and walking ahead and back, so he could check to be sure the ring was still in his pocket. The poor sweet man.

The rest of the evening splits into a surreal memory. I remember staring at the ring in the moonlight (really... it was a full moonlit night) and being so very surprised. I marvel at the planning he did from abroad and the secrecy of the night and the chance that he took. We had never discussed marriage, I could have said no.

Later that night, as we sat in the expensive hotel's bar, I finally held the long sought after hand. I asked him to tell me the reason he had decided to propose in that way, with me not suspecting a thing. He answered, "If you knew it was coming, where's the romance in that? I wanted you to remember tonight, always, whether you said yes or no, I wanted you to be remember me asking you to marry me."

Which I do, in more than just receiving the ring, but in him, and who he was, and how he made this plan of marriage more than a proposal, but a gesture of showing what I meant to him.

 My response, through grateful tears of relief, "Oh thank God I thought you were crazy." Which translates into, Yes.

* * *

Friday, September 18, 2015

Asking the Wrong Questions about Suicide

Why didn't they reach out?
Why didn't they say they felt that way?
Didn't they have anyone to talk to?
Why did they do it?

Worse, “How did they do it?” “Did they leave a note?” and the biggest punch to the gut question that people ask after a suicide, “Were they depressed?" (meaning: How did you miss the clues?)

Depression is an intensely private struggle, and suicide takes it public. When someone ends their life, every question in the world is brought roaringly out into the open and what we need to do instead, is reverse the things we ask and with that same energy, work the things we must do.
Tragically, I have had more than one suicide in my family. People have asked me at the funeral, "How did they do it?" A question like that is only selfish curiosity, asked of people already shattered. It helps nothing. The only thing that needs to be known is that depression drains. When someone is caught in its dark howl of a grip, they can't explain the pain of even taking in one more breath. Depression leaves a person worn, exhausted, fragile, and unable to will themselves back into the world.

If we could promise to change our reaction to a life lost to suicide into a focus of learning more about prevention, causes, and resources available, we could stop saying things that help no one and instead, begin to conquer with education, awareness, and prevention.

-We need to talk about suicide and its causes.
-We need to listen to people when they tell us they are feeling like they can't take the weight of life anymore.
-We need to be there and help them find the resources they need.

Teach them, teach others, learn for ourselves. Explain how we care and how we know help exists. There is hope and possibility for finding a way out of the pitch that surrounds them. Depression isolates at a time when you already feel alone and different from the happy faces around you. Talking to someone, a phone call, a text, provides the bridge of human connection that reminds us that we are alive.
It's dangerous to stay within yourself too much, but that is exactly what depression tells you to do. It fills your head with directions to begin to remove yourself from life. To slowly start to make yourself disappear. That's why we need other people. Other people are not just people you know, but those in the form of a crisis line, a suicide line, a hospital.

Do not leave yourself alone if you feel depression seeping in. Depression is an opportunistic disease and takes hold in any empty space. Make a call, go outside, don't allow the thoughts to take root. Contact a mental health center and take the serious action that a serious illness requires. When you are alone, you are vulnerable. Being alone when you're depressed is dropping a match on a pile of gasoline soaked rags just waiting to be lit.

No one wants to die. They only want a way out of the pain that keeps them from living life the way they see others do. It's hard to hold on, but we need to remind people to do just that -- hold on. Relief from the pain and learning how to survive depression are possible.

I don't believe that people who take their lives see it as an answer. I believe they see it as relief from anguish, engulfing sadness, loneliness, fear, from everything being all too much to fit in a head. The desperation to feel better is screaming so loud, there is no chance for anything else to be heard. But we can be there to remind someone there is a beautiful, meaningful life to live, in a world that needs them, and that as much as this inescapable blackness feels, it won't last forever.
They won't see it if they don't stay alive. Professional counselors and physicians, medication, therapy, support, can help them find the light to the path back. I know some people say that it doesn't matter what we do, that when the decision for suicide takes hold there's no shaking it loose--but who are we if we don't even try?

Life will never be easy, perfect, without disappointment, pain, loss and struggle. But we can help someone keep afloat when the slap of the tidal wave is above them. 

Depression lies, tricks, and fools us.
It tells us we're alone, when we're not.
It says that things will never change, that our thoughts are too dark to disclose, that no one else feels this way. 
It fills our head, saying we'll never be happy, without giving us a chance to see.
It roars so loud we are deaf to the other 75 beautiful notes in this world by playing us only one.
It twists into our psyche telling us this one dark moment will last forever.

Let's stop asking why, how, where, who, when it comes to suicide and instead work to stop the private shame of depression. Begin by asking how to help, where to learn, where to go, and how to begin recovery.

Remove the shame of being depressed.

Encourage dialogue.

Donate to mental health research.

Learn about suicide prevention and treatment.

Volunteer at a suicide crisis line.

Become a mental health advocate.

Know these numbers, and share them every chance you get:

If you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) National Suicide Prevention LifeLine

Find local suicide prevention chapters here .

Learn more about how you can help at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Check in with your people and don't be afraid to ask them how they are. And when they tell you, really listen. If you hear or feel something, anything about their answer, ask them again, and this time, ask them to tell you the truth.

Then, let's remind them that there is light up ahead, and a reason to stay.

* * *

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How To Tell a Great Story: by The Moth

With words, we open each others' worlds.

I would always ask my grandmother to tell me a story. She never hesitated, and every time I would marvel at the bottomless well of stories she had. Tales of her life would tumble from her mouth, there were so many.

I know now that the stories came at the ready because I was there to hear them. I was my grandmother's audience and with ears eager to hear, how much there is that we want to tell.

That's what a Moth show brings: the community and audience of one, all there with open hearts, both from the listener and the presenter. We have stories to tell, and we gift each other with words and with the giving of our time to  listen.

"Tell me another story, Abuelita,” I would sit before my grandmother and look at her, hopeful. Within a heartbeat, the shutters to her world opened, and I stepped inside the life of another. What a mesmerizing time-stopping way to step out of our lives and into the time and place of someone else.

The more stories I hear from others, the more I want to know. Our true to life stories, filled with spirit, humor, love, determination and the beauty of life.

If you are fortunate enough to have the chance to see a Moth show, don't miss it. You'll leave loving who we are and grateful for the chance to see the good we have inside each other. 
Milwaukee has a Moth show TONIGHT, September 16, 7:30 p.m., at Turner Hall. I wouldn't miss it for anything. Tickets are available at the door.
**And here's something special: Click to hear from the storytelling experts at The Moth, “How To Tell A Great Story. “
If you're in the Milwaukee area, I hope to see you at The Moth show tonight. You will leave transformed, and a Moth fan forever. 
* *

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hair: O

I can only live with my hair out of my face. It doesn't even have to be held up and away with a verified hair rubber band--twistie ties will do. I am the happiest with nary a strand skittering across my cheekbones like a spider web.

I'm also a competitive SOB with this hair of mine, and our history of days when my hair thinks it will win, when it struggles to come unwound from the buns, headbands, barrettes and clips, are the reason I developed my eye hand coordination. As soon as my arms were able to reach up and behind my head, there has been no hair device that I can't manipulate. I am the captain and I will braid, French braid, serum gloss and VO5 to not lose my hold on the tress steering wheel.

My hair knows who's boss. I've got two hands and I am freakin' fantastic when it comes to hair taming. Aside from that, though, I am pretty ordinary.

But back to how badass I am when it comes to controlling the beast on my head that I have a love/hate relationship with. I love my hair long so much I can't cut it. It drives me crazy so much, I can't not wrap it.

If you're torn between the wild and the obedient like me, here's what I do so I can keep living with one foot in both follicular worlds:
Headband it. Be sure to have balloons in the background to cheer up the boarding school look.
Wrapit Trapit. *patent pending* I suggest predosing with Tylenol for the ponytail headache you know is coming.
The hat. Never be without a hat in your closet or on your head. Boom.

The civil war drummer boy. I make it look so much like a concussion wrap that no one dares ask me a thing about it.

The Thinker. Walk around all day, with your hand holding your hair up just like this, and I swear to God above, you will look like you just opened an invite from Mensa.
The Multi-Multi. The true beauty of this one is you can tell everyone you're pincurling for a big night out. Those that don't know you well will believe you since they have no idea you never go anywhere. Ever.
The Just Hide. Or lean in. Or press against. Disappear into people and your hair will follow along. 
I know what you're thinking by this point. The sheer genius of my determination to not be outwitted by my hair. I can't take any of the credit. I come from a long line of those who speak scarf.
As you see here, my father's hair doesn't even dare to quiver or boink or a spring from underneath his polka dot taming splendor.
What a legacy. I tell you, I make myself proud. 
* * *

Friday, September 11, 2015

What to Do on September 11

I woke up, wondering what to do for September 11, National Day of Remembrance. I knew I didn't want to post pictures of 9/11--those of us who were there won't need pictures to remind us of the shock and despair we felt when we first saw the televised images. Every September since, I get the same lump in my throat. I can't forget my husband almost falling down the stairs to get to me. He had the radio on in the bathroom and staring at me wild-eyed he said, "OMG. OMG. OMG. Turn on the television!" I had no idea what I was about to see, but in an instant all the images were there. So surreal, but finally, I had to believe they were true. I fell to my knees, hands over my face.

We know we won't ever forget, but we can remember to honor. My friend Melisa Wells wrote of starting a tradition for 9/11 that my family and I will be taking part in from now on. What Melisa does is to research and post a few of the names of the loved ones lost in 9/11--we learn who they are, who they were to someone.

Each September 11, we can say their name and honor their life.

From Melisa:
"If you would like to do some learning and remembering today, here’s how. All you have to do is go to the September 11 Memorial website’s Memorial Guide and scroll down a little bit. On the bottom left of the screen you can click on North Pool or South Pool for a name listing. After that, pick a couple out and Google them. That’s it. It’s such a small task but so important, and the families appreciate any interest in their lost loved ones. THIS is something anyone can do ."

 You can read more of Melisa's Day of Remembrance post  here.


Today, my children and I learned of, and spoke the name Sophia B. Addo

Sophia B. Addo

Luck, Then Hard Work

 Luck, in the form of an immigration lottery, brought Sophia B. Addo to the United States from Ghana in 1996: a teacher of schoolchildren in Africa, she decided to take a chance and come to New York to further her own education. But getting into school here was not as uncomplicated as winning a lottery. She had her working papers, and landed a succession of housekeeping jobs while she improved her English. Already having passed an oral exam, she was due to take a written test on Sept. 12 to see if she was entitled to a G.E.D. certificate and college eligibility.

"She wanted to learn how to pronounce the language so she could express herself better in interviews," said her husband of 15 months, Joseph Ameyaw. Ms. Addo's aim was a career in teaching or nursing. In the interim, the 36-year-old tidied Windows on the World, commuting from their Bronx apartment. "She liked to read her Bible; she was a person who would comfort you, and when you were unhappy with life, she would use the word of God to make you happy," said Joseph. "To me, she was justice."

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on October 4, 2001.

Sophia B. Addo

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Talk Saves Lives: National Suicide Prevention Week

September 6-12 is National Suicide Prevention Week.

No one likes to talk about suicide.

You can see it in the way they shift their eyes away from you when the subject comes up. You can feel the heaviness in the air between you after you say, "suicide." But we have to talk about suicide, because it happens. Every year, 41,000 Americas die because they take their own life.

41,000, because someone felt lost, alone, hopeless, scared. They are living in the dark with a burden that is too much for one person. Imagine impossible, imagine overwhelmed, imagine seeing no way out. Now imagine the difficulty of finding the strength to talk about feeling this way. Add the weight of our society's stigma with depression and inability to cope, and you can see the challenge of reaching out and asking for help. No one wants to die, but when things feel impossible and the only out is death, we can try and understand. Depression hurts like that, a crush so physical that we will consider anything for the pain to stop.

This is why we have to talk about suicide. When we talk about suicide, we open a door to let hope in. We can offer connection out of that pain and isolation and be what we should be to one another: a human being.

This is why I share my story. I shared it for only one reason, to save a life. If you ever think you don't matter, listen. If someone you know says to you in a voice that aches to be heard, that they don't feel like they belong in this world anymore, listen with them.

We are all here because we, each of us, is valuable.

When someone is ripped out of a life too soon, it's impossible for the threads they were attached to, to not feel the yank.

To hear my story, click here:

Thank you to The Moth, for bringing the stories that need to be heard, into the world. I am forever grateful.

For more information on learning how to talk about suicide, please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

If you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

You matter so much.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Hands Free Life is Here

"A life with more love, peace, and presence is possible..."

Three years ago, I stood in the middle of my closet, the Tshirts and shorts and everything else I had been hanging on to were ankle deep. As I waded through the mess, the clothes clung to me like Jacob Marley's chains.

I looked around, on the edge of tears, chastising myself for letting things get so out of control. The temptation to shove everything back behind the door and continue ignoring the piles for another ten years called to me like a sweet love song. But I had to make changes. I was tired of the mountains of things around me, fatigued from always running from one duty to the next, exhausted from doing everything but what I felt in my heart was the most important: to enjoy my life and the people in it.

My days were frenetic activity, the hours growing shorter and the years left with my children flying past me so fast that I couldn't keep up with tearing the months' pages off the calendar. I wanted off this highway, and to take the slower side road instead—the one with the surprise of a fruit stand or a long forgotten picnic table spotted under the shade of a Weeping Willow. But things felt too deep for me to even think there was the possibility of a new way to live. Where would I start?

In 2012, I discovered Rachel Macy Stafford online. Her blog, Hands Free Mama, has held my hand and reminded me that no matter how overwhelmed I feel today, I can bring myself peace with rest, direction, and a new chance tomorrow. I can make mistakes and start over--hyper speed isn't the way life has to be lived, there is an alternative.

Today, I am celebrating the release of Rachel Macy Stafford's book, Hands Free Life.

-It's for anyone who has gone to bed at night, feeling the weight of failure.
-It's for all of us who begin our day already feeling defeated.
-If you are the way I am, then you know what I mean when I say that disappointment in ourselves hurts far more than from anyone else.
-If you set expectations for yourself that you'd never set for others.
-If you're harder on yourself than you would be to a friend.

How do we cope in a life filled with distraction, too many possessions, diminished days, and ever increasing needs pulling at us? As Rachel asks, "How do we let go and grasp what really matters?" Much like that day in my closet, how do I choose that which brings me closer to what I will use in my daily life to keep myself and those around me, in more peace and less stress.

Rachel holds the inescapable light of introspection before us. Yes, it does hurt to hear our honest answers to searing questions of how we use our time, but this is how we tackle the distraction of too many Tshirts and find the path out of the bursting closet. With one cleared step at a time, with just enough clarity to stay the course, she shares what she has learned in life and how we can use her 9 habits for living better and loving more. The all important question you'll ask yourself: Is how we spend our time reflective of what we value?

I say that Rachel walks with us rather than leads us, because hers is the shoulder we feel alongside our own, her arm in ours is the friend carrying us through. Her insights are our strength as she confides her own missteps and errors. Rachel leans in and encourages us to forgive ourselves and to see who we are with compassion. We often forget we are fallible humans--the challenge is to reclaim our lives, and not strive to get the most done at the cost of our time on earth.

Hands Free Life has the capacity to do that. I want that for you. I believe in this book so much that I am giving away a copy today. PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT TO BE ENTERED FOR A CHANCE TO WIN HANDS FREE LIFE by Rachel Macy Stafford.

And when you learn to love more, there is no person that will thrive and blossom more fully under this condition when loved upon by you, than you.

“Perhaps your home has become a dismal place where no one wants to be. Perhaps you’re tired of waking up dreading the work that’s ahead—and it has nothing to do with your job. Perhaps you are searching for a way to bring the smile back to your face, the joy back to your heart. Perhaps managing your people isn’t working so well and you’d like to try nurturing them."

Rachel Macy Stafford is a New York Times bestselling author and a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education. A few years ago, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating what became the tremendously popular blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loves ones. Rachel lives in South with her husband and two children who inspire her daily.
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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sunday Morning Comics Review

Old people. Old style. Always a joke about finding the TV remote.

Mister Boffo
I can't tell you. I really can't tell you.

Pearls Before Swine
Elaborate joke and the guy spends the entire panel setting it up. The whole time I'm reading it I'm thinking It better be worth it, bub.

Prince Valiant
Ignore it for 20 years and you can still catch up.

Basically just baby life. But babies with big heads are cute.

Once in a blue moon, they'll have words. Or he says, “I'm Ziggy.” and people say, "Yes, you are." And he's always getting visited by aliens.

Hi and Lois
Family life from not modern time. I think it's from like the 1960s, but I don't know why it's a cartoon. Makes me think we need new cartoons. Still, we always fight over who is Hi and who is Lois.

Arlo and Janis
A married couple with a cat that says he will rule the world.

Dog eat Doug.
Like Marvin but with better art. Obscure pop culture references, like the only way you'll get it is if you like Assassin's Creed. It's like a secret joke for five people.

Always over exaggerated teenage problems. But it cracks my mom up and she shouts out loud, “Did you read Zits today? God I love that mom!”

Baldo My mom loves this one. She says it makes her feel comfortable.
Always sight gags, which are fun sometimes. Especially when Garfield is mean to the dog.

Curtis is hard work. A lot of words. Has like a billion words, maybe two billion.

Between Friends
50 something year old ladies and another one that my mom loves and screams "HOW TRUE IT IS!"

Get Fuzzy
Too many words. Super complicated jokes about political process. And dogs. And Cats. I think they're metaphors for complicated issues. I think.

Sally Forth
This is the one with all the words. This is the worst. All the words. So many words. Reminds me I was wrong when I used to think that comics were for kids.

Mother Goose & Grimm
So weird. I can't even understand it. How do cartoons get picked? I want to know. Because I think I could do cartoons if my brother drew the pictures.

Always about environment or PETA. Super elaborate drawings. Only fun if you like animals. A lot.

This is the only one I don't mind reading. The other ones are painful.

Grand Avenue
A reverse of Pickles.

Family Circus
From the times when ice cream truck treats were like a quarter and not 5 dollars. We need modern cartoons.

So easy brain tricks and riddles that my mom gets them. They need to have optical illusions, alas—they do not!

You Can
Science facts This is cool. Experiment stuff and actual things you learn.

Beetle Bailey
He's been in the military at the same rank for the past 50 years because he refuses to do the exercises he's supposed to. He loafs around which is why he stays skinny and at the same rank.
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Friday, September 4, 2015

Parenting by Default

Are you a modern parent?
Are your kids in charge?
Have they taken over the house?
Do they decide the rules and what they'll do.

I am looking at a quiz in my dentist's waiting room, "Are you a modern parent?," they want to know. Certainly my business, but since they brought it up, then I would tell them that I don't even have to answer a single question they pose to know.

It's possible that not only am I not a modern parent, but I could be the precursor to Traditional Parenting. A style heavily influenced by the first parenting style seeds planted by Fred and Barney and Betty. I mean, I don't have a closet with enough leopard-spotted dresses to make Wilma Flintstone swoon for nothing

Ask me instead, parenting magazine, about Yabadabadoo Parenting. Modern Parenting may work for the young and energetic and anxiety-less. But for a personality type like mine—my one goal has always been to prevent injury to anyone in my care—I'm not signing any laissez-faire treaties with my kids nor leaving anything up to them.

I'm not saying that Modern Parenting is wrong. I'm saying that I don't know the trick to it, I didn't take the community college night class for it, I don't have the DVD set “Modern Parenting Now.”

With the things I stand for, like child labor at my house, you can see why MP won't work. My children endure Stone Age shoddy conditions, like days without shoes, occasionally missed showers,  and let's do one turkey leg for everyone for dinner. This house is in the time vortex of Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm.

If I sound strict to my kids, it's not my firmness they  hear, it's my diminished hearing from being old as the trees. If my kids appear to listen to me, it's because my staccato delivery comes from multi-tasking while talking on the phone, typing on the computer, and making dinner during helping with homework. Aged brains are foggy brains... we can't say too much when we're doing too much.

Do my kids hop to it when I tell them it's time to go somewhere? Yup, they do. But it's not fear as much as they know I'll leave thinking they're already in the car. It's happened. Do my kids say I'm more patient? I'm just too tired to put up a fight. When they say 'choose your battles' I hear 'choose your sleep.'

According to any parenting quiz, my answers will always land me deep in the traditional parent camp. But that's not by choice, but more default of fatigue from years. Modern Parenting can be summed up this way: work. And this mama is too tired for the deliberate choices and options weighed method--that takes energy, people. I know traditional parenting is falling away, but it's the easy way out for me. What works easily, is speaking the way I need to, to get the 24 things I have to get done when I know I'll only get to 3.

I don't try to outwit or talk it out in reason with my kids. Since I first brought them home, they were like my new 19 inch tall life-partners. When they got older, if they asked for a banana before a meal because they were hungry, I let them, because what better reason is there to eat than you're hungry? After all, I was never one to finish my dinner growing up and I hated being made to, so I don't make them, either.

What it comes down to is that I remember a lot of things about being a kid. One of the biggest things was how much it made me crazy to be treated like a kid. On that account, I talk to my children like co-workers. “Should we eat now? No? You just had a banana? Ok.”  And we have no negotiation because by the time we enter into voting our choice, I'm back to asking, "What was the question?"

You know, the more I think about this the more positive I am that maybe I'm not Traditional Parent at all.

I think I'm more Straight Out of Bed Rock.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Participatory Trophies: Parent Edition

Trophies for everybody! Or maybe just for me.

My kids have been getting trophies since they were three years old. A couple of times they even got a trophy and they didn't have to be there to get it. They got it because their name was Alec Xavier Auggie. BOOM! You win because you have the name you do.

Well, I didn't grow up with that. Nope. Any trophies that I coveted witnessed being given out as a kid were reserved for the ones whose names were SuperStar Winner or Not Alexandra.

I have always wanted a trophy. I have never gotten a trophy. But it occurred to me last month while I saw my son get a small gold painted plastic boy glued atop a white plastic pedestal for attending swim classes,  that I can get a trophy if I want one. I can go to Rudy's Trophy Store on 5th Street and order me up some small female statuettes.

Dang straight I can.

And I'll award them to myself non stop this parenting season. I'll inscribe them with my name and I'll bestow them upon myself for the awesome jobs I've done in 2015 like these:

Bringing in the Mail 2015 season

Remembering My Address at the Post Office 2015

Not Saying a Word When Someone Tried to Tell me What Something Meant in Spanish 2015

Keeping Quiet While Doctor's Receptionist Corrected Me on the Pronunciation of My Son's Name

Keeping My Promise to Not Let My Laundry Pile Up on the Bedroom Chair 2015

Forgiving Myself  for Always Forgetting to Tell my Hair Stylist I'm Trying to Grow My Bangs Out

Not Speaking First and Letting the Door Canvasser Win When Asking to House Paint Quote

Not Cancelling Any Dentist Appointments Even Though I want to Cancel All Dentist Appointments

Having an Apple and a Salad Every Single Day So Far in 2015

Never Giving Up My Dream That Someday I'll Be Tall 2015

Walking an Hour Pretty Many Times This Year 2015

Lifting Arm Weights Up Until June 2015

Waiting and Watching People's Faces Before I Say Are You Serious? When They Ask a question

Keeping up With the Laundry All My Domestic Life (This would get one of those BIG ones you need to carry with two hands)

Getting the Hang of Succulent Pork Chops 2015

Handling Junk Mail as Soon as it Comes in the House 2015

Being Ok with Body Shifting in Spots 2015

Giving up Manis and Pedis 2015

Giving up Speeding 2015

Finally Liking My BRF 2015

Listening to Child Detail Minecraft Plans 2015

Not Voicing True Opinion on Spouse's Choice of Weekend Wear Summer 2015

Another Year of Being Alive 2015

Having My Name Be Alexandra 2015

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