Parenting Can Break Your Heart



The infant, so beautiful and innocent and an undeniable

Part of my heart

Sleeps softly in his crib.


Skin flawless, no scars yet. Breathing softly, expanding lungs

And beating heart, lips wrapped around his binky, sucking sounds loudest of all.

Even without the binky, lips move and smack

Voraciously grasping life.

The movement continues in his sleep

Self-soothing even without the substitute thumb well into



Weeks later,

He’s a six foot tall child with the

Body of a man. It’s time to let him go,

Let him make mistakes, while I’m there to

Catch him when he falls.

And fall he does, into his weary mother’s arms.


He’s so beautiful and innocent and an undeniable

Part of my heart. This baby

This man-child, this bundle of potential and

Enthusiasm and love and hurt.

Not just scraped knees anymore.

My heart sometimes breaks.

And is jubilant.

And swells with pride and hope for his future.




Keep him safe.


This poem would not leave me in peace until I stopped what I was doing and wrote it down.  It is from my point of view – a parent with a teenager on the cusp of adulthood.


Image from


Indianapolis with Kids – Cheap or Free Activities for Families

Many of the activities promoted online as being kid friendly in this City are pricey – at least from the perspective of a middle-class Mom with not-unlimited resources.

So, inspired by such an article shared on Facebook by a friend, I searched and couldn’t find a list of family friendly activities that are free or at least affordable for most.

My husband and I brainstormed a bit, and this list is the result  Many thanks to Ron for documenting a lot of the activities.  We did not try to make this an exhaustive resource, and there are plenty more fun and enriching activities that cost greater than $10 per person. We decided to include activities that we personally enjoyed with one child or another over a 20+ year period, and we kept the activities in the City proper (pretty much).  Here goes…

Monon Trail – A former rail road track that bisected the City,  now a paved trail that runs from 191th Street in Hamilton County, south to 10th  Street.  You can run, walk, bike, trike, roller blade on the trail.  It will take you past the cultural districts downtown.  Total length is 19.7 miles


Cultural Trail – connects the six designated cultural districts in the City.  Bring your own bike, or rent one from a bike-share station along the trail.  Stop to visit some of the cultural destinations, dine and enjoy the day.

92-County Walk around Indiana State Museum / Canal Walk – you can visit all 92 counties in the state of Indiana and see a visual representation of what is new and unique to each, simply by walking around the perimeter of the Indiana State Museum downtown.  Just some amazing sculpture.  While you’re there, visit with the Mastodons (or are they Woolly Mammoths?)


Walk or run the Canal downtown – Indy’s own river walk, and one of the City’s beautiful downtown destinations – which also happens to be an Indianapolis historic site.  Make sure you stop and see the permanent art exhibits and monuments, such as the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial, and the USS Indianapolis monument.

There are plenty of places to sit and rest, or grab something to drink.  You can also treat yourself to a paddle boat or a “surrey with the fringe on top” rental, or pretend you’re in Venice and take a gondola ride!



White River State Park –concerts on the grounds during the summer.  Not free, but fun!

Feed the ducks in Broad Ripple – Bring your own seed or duck food.

Holcomb Gardens – On the grounds of Butler University, located in the Butler Tarkington neighborhood.  Feed the koi, count turtles, listen to the carillon,  and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.


Explore Crown Hill Cemetery– Crown Hill is a 555 acre park in the heart of the city.  It remains an active cemetery.  It was founded in 1863 and solders from every war are buried in the National Cemetery, established in 1866.  The cemetery is a venue for special events, such as the storytelling festival each October.  The Gothic Cathedral has also been a venue for concerts.  The exquisite sculpture and grave markers throughout the cemetery mark the history of Indianapolis.  Otherwise, it is (again) a great place to walk or bike.  St. Richard’s cross country athletes train by running up and down the hills at Crown Hill.  President Benjamin Harrison’s grave is the highest point in Marion County. Check the website for a list of tours and special events, and the occasional Friday and Saturday night ghost tours.




Miniature golf at Rustic Gardens on South Arlington ($3) –

Not your typical miniature golf course.  There are rocks, leaves and other obstacles, real grass, and no silly windmills, on a much larger scale that most miniature golf courses.  Bring your mosquito repellent!  Great for kids, and for kid-free dates.

Marrott Park Nature Preserve (75th and College) – hike trails, skip rocks and go bird watching  in a lovely park close to home


Spray park The city park at 61st and Broadway, now named the Dan Wakefield Park, has a free “spray park”.  No tickets or reservations required. The hyperlink will take you to a list of all free splash pads in the Metro Indianapolis area


Indianapolis Children’s Museum – On the first Thursday of the month the Children’s Museum stays open late for Target Family Night, which offers free admission to kids and their families from 4-8 pm.


Soldiers and Sailors Monument – Great view of the city, across from the Cathedral

100 Acre Woods – one of the largest museum art parks in the country. Come climb on the same skeleton sculpture featured in the movie “Fault in Our Stars” (John Green is an Indianapolis resident, and neighbor to one of our families)

Summer Nights Film Series at the IMA – not free, but fun for a date night for Mom and Dad!  Bring your own chairs or blankets, picnics and non-alcoholic beverages and settle in for a class (or campy) movie.  Sun King is the official brewer.   Films begin at dusk.


Winter Nights Film Series – again, at the IMA except inside the Toby Theater.  A fun activity when winter blues set in.

Movies on the Lawn at Garfield Park – free, once a month through the summer

Garfield Park Arts Center – accessible art activities for all ages, as well as exhibitions

Heck, just go to Garfield Park!  Shakespeare in the Park, Concerts, Country Dancing, year round vintage movies with live commentary…

Garfield Shakespeare

All images were borrowed from the associated websites. I claim no right of ownership to any of them

Full Speed Ahead

We stand with Orlando

I’m a coward.

What is happening in our country right now terrifies me.  We’ve lost our way.

I think I shut down Sunday night when I saw that the nut-job at LA Pride was from Indianapolis.  I just couldn’t face any more awful news.  Not after the joy and love and grace I felt at Indy Pride on Saturday. I closed my laptop, exiting social media for a while.

Earlier today I was thinking about the sermon at my confirmation service in 2014.  Mother Suzanne Wille was in the pulpit, and she was FIERCE.   She told us that confirmation is dangerous.   Because belonging to Christ means that God might call us to do scary, dangerous, uncomfortable things.  Part of my responsibility is calling out injustice when I see it – damn the torpedoes.

I’m a scaredy cat. It doesn’t take much for me to get out of my comfort zone.  Being vocal with people who have a different opinion and may get abusive, refusing to collude with idiots by remaining silent – is a frightening prospect. I need to do more of it.  As my friend said, “Stay up on your soapbox Barbara!”

Members of the LGBTQ community faced their fear and grief and shock Sunday.  They got out of bed, took care of their children, cooked meals, and went to church.  Many attended a memorial service for the victims of Orlando Sunday night.  They continued with life in the face of this horror.  One more awful episode in a lifetime of tragedy and injustice.

The victims in that nightclub were friends, grandsons, cousins, nephews, sons and daughters.   They could have been my friend Steven, or Jim, or Mike, or Abby, or Erin, or Cindy or Janelle, or Kimberly, or any of a number of friends in the LGBTQ community.   My husband and I, along with any number of allies, could have been among the victims of the slaughter at Pulse. What happened  was just a matter of time and place, because let’s face it; the hate that propelled that shooter into violent action was not unique.  The next massacre could take place in a grocery store, the Central library, a restaurant, or the Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis.

I’m going to do what I can to reduce the risk of another gun related mass shooting by supporting Moms Demand Action.  I’m going to emulate my son who tried to get his classmates to back off the teasing of kids in the Gay/Straight Alliance at his school.  When he was asked, “Why do you care, are you gay?” he responded “No, I’m just not an asshole.”

I’m going to get back up on that soapbox in spite of my fear.  Damn the torpedoes.




Parenting and Tragedy at the Cincinnati Zoo

Compline starry night

In the wake of the tragic episode at the Cincinnati Zoo this past weekend, I’m remembering an incident years ago with my then toddler at the SeaTac airport.  He had just turned two; I brought him into the Ladies Room to change his diaper.  While I was in there, I took him into a stall with me so I could relieve myself, admonishing him over and over to “stay with Mommy”.  As soon as I was pants down, on the commode, the boy rolled under the stall door, bolted out of the Ladies, and took off down the terminal, entering the first doorway he came to, which happened to lead to a flight of stairs.  By that point my husband, who was standing outside the restroom, had caught up with the laughing boy and carried him back to safety. I was with them seconds later.  All that took place in less than a minute – he was gone in the blink of an eye, waiting until I was incapacitated to make a run for it.

Was I a negligent parent?  Possibly.  Knowing that he had less impulse control than other toddlers, I should have taken him back to his father before relieving myself.  I should have had him on his harness and leash (which he hated with a passion). We were lucky that nothing happened to him.

As a rule, I was (and still am) an attentive parent, capable of running multiple “what if” scenarios in my head before deciding on a course of action.  This one never occurred to me.  I messed up.  I’m grateful that my husband was standing where he was, and was paying attention. Otherwise there could have been an “Amber Alert” in SeaTac that day.

It could have been my own boy, Gman (aka Lightening McQueen) in that moat in Cincinnati.  I know how easily a moment of inattentiveness can put a child in harm’s way.  Thank God the boy in Cincinnati is alive and will heal. I’m not so sure about his mother’s heart.

Yes, Harambe’s death was a monumental loss to the gene pool of an extremely endangered animal.  The loss of such a wonderful creature must be devastating to all the zoo personnel who have cared for him the last 17 years.  But the keepers did what they had to do.  They didn’t make the decision easily.  This incident has shaken the zoo community to the core.  I’m sure that zoos throughout the world will now rigorously test, then address the security of their exhibits.

I hope the press moves on quickly and leaves those poor parents alone.  Who among us hasn’t been distracted and glanced away ever so briefly when caring for their children?  I certainly can’t throw any stones.  There but for the grace of God go I…





Visualize Whirled Peas

Visualize  Whirled Peas

I’m easily amused. Give me a short, pithy saying suitable for a bumper sticker and I’m a grinning fool.

I tend to like memes or jokes (or bumper stickers) that poke fun at activist groups that take themselves too seriously. Take for example, the New Age movement from the 1990s. The first time I saw the Visualize Whirled Peas bumper sticker I laughed out loud.  Not that positive imagery isn’t valid, but sometimes New Agers were so serious and self-important; I couldn’t help but laugh.

About 20 years ago, I was traveling for business somewhere with a colleague. I don’t recall exactly where – either St. Louis, or Boston, or Chicago.  We’d traveled all day, and stopped at a grocery on the way in from the airport to pick up supplies like bottled water and snacks.  It was dark and snowy, and the streets were icy.  As I turned the car into the parking lot of the grocery, I saw a bumper sticker that said “Nuke Gay Whales for Jesus” and burst out laughing.

Nuke Gay Whales for Jesus

My colleague was not amused.  In fact, she was livid because this bumper sticker clearly said to her that gays and lesbians should be obliterated from the face of the earth.

I thought it was funny because, in one simple 5 word sentence, the bumper sticker managed to insult the anti-nuclear movement, LGBT activists, Greenpeace, and fundamentalist Christians. I should also admit that 20 years ago I was less sensitive to the injustices that those in the LGBT community experience.

From my colleague’s perspective, as a lesbian who had just recently come out at work it was offensive.

Years later, there are still people who believe that members of the LGBT community are second class citizens and should remain that way. There are others who don’t believe in climate change, or conservation, and don’t support research for safe and clean alternate sources of energy. There are plenty of folks who believe that the U.S. is a Christian nation, in spite of clear evidence that our Constitution and Bill of Rights affords our citizens freedom of religion for all beliefs, to include Hinduism and Islam, the First Church of Cannabis, and atheism.

Honestly, how did our citizens lose their perspective? How did we become so intolerant and hateful toward each other?  When did we lose the ability to live and let live, and laugh at ourselves?

I guess it’s time to visualize world peace. And today, I’m not laughing.

Lord have mercy.


Images borrowed from Cafepress

Love Letter to the Teachers *


And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)


So… be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way!

 Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

It’s graduation season, and our family is no exception.  Our baby is in his last two weeks leading up to our Big Goodbye to the school that has been his home since he was 4 years old.  The next step is high school, then the week after that, University.

This separation from our familiar, loving school community is one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced, right behind my divorce and the death of my father.   My chest is constantly tight, my eyes gritty and aching.  Every activity this year – every concert, Grandparent’s Day, musical, sports tournament, and awards banquet is “the last.”  The grief is bubbling right below the surface.  I’m one kind word and a hug away from sobbing uncontrollably.  I’m mighty unattractive when I blubber.

Our son’s school is physically and fiscally connected to our church.  We began sending our son to the independent school 11 years ago.  Since 2004, almost 80% of his life, the city block at 33rd and Meridian has been the center of our social and spiritual universe.  Next year, we will still be attending the church, but we won’t be able to go to his locker after service on Sunday because he forgot to bring home a text book.  That school will no longer be “our school.”  Here comes a sob…

I’ve been thinking a lot about our son – what defines him, and what kind of person he will become.  I firmly believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and there have been many times when another member of the St. Richard’s village has come to the rescue. With two working parents, we’ve sometimes needed help with transportation, and there have always been other parents who could help pick up from school, or drive to a sports practice.  That’s not unique to our school though – any healthy school community should foster those relationships.

What is unique, however, it the culture of the school, which has its roots in the Episcopal Church.  We have a lot of Anglican traditions that are a fun part of the life of the school, and help form the rich foundations of  the children’s character.  But deeper still is an “in the bones” respect and appreciation for diversity and the value of the individual.  People complement us on our polite son, but we can’t take all the credit.  Yes, he is surrounded with love at home.  We set limits both on behavior and acquisition of “stuff”.  Believe me; he feels the consequences of poor judgment.  But there is more in his world that helps shape the person he is becoming.

Our boy is kind, compassionate and intuitive.  He’s the type of person who attracts babies and small animals.  When he volunteered as a junior counselor at the school’s summer day camp program, the little children hung all over him.  He’s fearless, and by that I don’t mean reckless.  He asks questions, speaks out against injustice when he sees it and corrects his friends (and sometimes his mother) when he hears unkind comments.    On his recent trip to Washington DC, he walked through the crowds outside the Supreme Court of the United States during testimony about same sex marriage discrimination, and later told me some of the things he witnessed.  He reported that some of the demonstrators were angry and hateful, and he didn’t understand why.  He walked with our parish in the Pride parade last year, and will do so again this June because he believes in justice and wants to make a difference.

I have to credit his school experience for helping teach him so much about kindness, leadership, justice, and courage.  He’s had wonderful teachers and loving staff the last 11 years – talented people who know how to interest and engage children.  I can count on three fingers the duds in the bunch, and they are no longer with the school.  His teachers have loved, nurtured, disciplined as well as taught our boy.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to these people for playing a critical role in his formation.

My deepest respect to those administrators and teachers who gave more to my child than a monetary transaction could explain.  Especially the teachers – you affect your students far more than you realize.  I’m so glad that you are passionate about teaching, and happy to work in this little urban school.

So I will buck up and keep on course until next Friday.  I will finish the 8th grade video, and submit it.  I will work, and be billable.  I will clean the house and prepare for the arrival of his older sisters the day before the Big Event.  I might even buy something new to wear to graduation, even though I hate shopping for clothes.  I will attend most of the end of school activities between now and graduation, and suppress the sobs for 9 more days.

But on May 29th beware – the floodgates will open.

Much love,

Grant’s Mom

*There are so many people at St. Richard’s, and I know I’m forgetting someone:  Karen, Kathryn and Kathleen, Colette, Tammie, Kim, Sandi, Deb, Pam, Jeff, Rod, Andrea, Loic, Mary Louise, Jay, Mary Helen, Ann, Sherry, Zach, Ann, Cheryl, Marian, Grace, Maren, Zachary, LeaAnn, Annie and James.  I cannot forget David, Barb, Abby, Brad and Carolyn.  And Chef Chris, who always gave the boy extra portions when asked.

Holiday musings and news


December 28, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I’m writing a Christmas letter this year – can you believe it? In case this doesn’t get printed and mailed, I’m also posting on the blog. The writing and editing part always comes fairly easily to me – it’s the printing, stuffing, addressing and mailing that sometimes takes forever.

We’ve had a busy, whirlwind 2014. Some good, some excellent, some less so. But I recognize that our lows were better than the highs many folks experienced this year. I won’t say we are “blessed” because we are no more worthy or loved by G*d than anyone else. Rather, we’ve been lucky.

I continue to work at the same place, with the same challenges. I really *do* feel lucky that they haven’t discovered yet that I’m a fraud. Somehow they continue to give me responsibility and our clients are reasonably satisfied. I hope to continue to be employed until I’m ready to retire. Just six more years. Please…six more years. I won’t be able to survive this pace until I’m 65.

Kitties are ok. We brought Isabelle into our lives in November 2013, the same month that we had to put our beloved Roxanne down. Roxie (the original Stinkerbell) was only 2, and had always been frail. She had a health crisis at which point we learned that she had some kind of heart defect and had developed diabetes. They increased her fluids to try to manage her blood sugar, and she went into congestive heart failure. We made the decision to put her down when it was clear that she had no reasonable chance for recovery. Miss that kitten tremendously, and her passing left a huge hole in our lives and hearts. So we went to the Humane Society and found a 3 year old female, just spayed, who had spent the last 5 months caged. We don’t know where she was before she was picked up by Animal Control, but she had to have been well loved. She is a cat without fears who loves everyone! My friend Collette said that this kitty’s survival technique is irresistible cuteness.

Butter boy, our 12 year old male, is not happy about having yet another cat in the house. We’ve gradually introduced them, increasing their exposure to each other, and Miss Isabelle (aka Belly, Izzy, Isabelly, Belly Girl, Stinkerbelle) had her own bedroom and “toilette” for 13 months. She just lost her private space four days ago because frankly, we needed that bedroom for human guests. She’s a bit bereft, and Butter cannot believe what’s happened to him. The territory marking has started.

Hubby J.R. continued his period of unemployment until the summer. He’d remained in contact with folks as he networked, including someone who works at a software development house. They hired him! He’s now working part time (which enables him to continue writing his book) doing software application customer support. He really likes the work, and being able to set it aside and walk away when his shift is over. I think he struggles with internalizing that he’s just a worker bee, and isn’t responsible for the world. But each day is a better day.

Our son, Gman, is 14 and in 8th grade. The entire fall semester we were consumed with making decisions about the next school. We live in the city, and with the exception of a charter school in the downtown area, sending this child to public school is not an option as far as this mother’s heart is concerned. He’s been accepted to the charter school. We’ve applied to a local Jesuit high school and the extremely expensive, private secular school. So our preferences are the secular high school, and the charter school. We are waiting to hear about acceptance, and we have to figure out the money. Either school will give him a fabulous education. So you may ask, why pay all that money??? We will have 2 or 3 years remaining in the work force when he graduates from high school, and we need to give him that extra “oomph” that graduating from a nationally ranked private school will give him. He’s going to need to fund college himself, and a private school with an entire department dedicated to getting their graduates into their preferred college, with scholarship, will help him move to the next level. Also, he will make connections with other kids (and their families) with relationships in Industry and government. While the charter school is ranked by U.S. News in the top 400 public schools nationally, it won’t give him those connections. Plus the school is relatively new, and the name doesn’t have the same cachet. What he *will* have with the charter school experience, is exposure to socioeconomic and racial diversity. We wouldn’t be the poor cousins there, unable to give him things all his classmates have, and he would see how the average American lives, instead of the upper 2%. So there are pluses and minuses to both, and we will be making our final decision in February.

Meanwhile, the kiddo played football in the fall (at the secular private school), and is playing basketball at his Episcopal Day School where he’s attended since he was 4 years old. He’s (mostly) an A/B student, although Algebra is kicking his proverbial hind end. There is much more work to do with Algebra and History this term to bring the Cs into the B range.

He will be playing the comedic lead in the 8th grade musical scheduled for performances the first week of February. He continues to sing with the city wide audition choir organization, although since his voice has changed, he’s now in the (inaugural) Young Men’s Ensemble where he can sing in his adult baritone range.

This child is insightful, passionate, tender, smart as a whip, and a joy to my heart.  I cannot believe how lucky I was to be able to birth him when I was 42.

We all remain as active as we can be at our  beloved Trinity Episcopal Church.  J.R. is entering his third and final year on the Vestry.  He remains an active member of the Sunday Dinner team at our parish’s feeding ministry.  He also ushers and greets, and is active on the Stewardship Committee.  He’s introducing radical ideas to the lay leadership, and he’s not yet been burned at the stake.  I began serving as a chalice bearer (serving the cup at the alter rail for communion) in 2014.  I helped coordinate preparations for the Madrigal Dinner for the 3rd year in a row, and served as a sort of stage manager the night of the event.  Together with another parent, I started a group for parents of teens, which is just beginning to gain momentum.  I organized our parish’s inaugural participation in the Indy Pride Parade and do all sorts of ad hoc volunteering.  Gman attends youth group every week for the social connections.  He acolytes and is on track to get his next service award.  He’s questioning everything in matters spiritual, which is good.  Better he go through this phase now in a supportive environment, than later in life.

The girls are now women, and both have birthdays within the first 50 days of the year and turn 27 and 29. We see the younger daughter fairly frequently since she lives in Bloomington and will stop by to visit for a few hours after running errands in Indy. She’s doing some exciting stuff, expanding outside her restaurant work which could mean an opportunity for dramatic career change. The older daughter remains in Denver, and is doing and selling art. Her commissions are for painting, which isn’t her passion. But she’s focusing on change in the next two years, and hopefully she will be able to more closely align her passion with her source of income.

We pray for peace in our city, nation and world this coming year. So much has happened this year that has wounded our world and its inhabitants. I can’t even begin to articulate my grief and fear for all of us as a species.

To my family and friends: I hold you all in my heart and think of you often – which probably explains why you feel a occasional cyber “noogie.” Pray for peace.

Love, Sista

Mary Did You Know?

Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You’ve kissed the face of God


I listened to a lovely soundtrack of this song yesterday, and suddenly my heart was full.

I wasn’t raised an Anglican, much less a Catholic.  The concept of (upper case) Saints was fascinating but uncomfortably papist to my Protestant world view. Instead I believe in (lower case) saints – the communion of believers who came before us, and follow after us.  All saints are equal, and none have special powers to intercede on our behalf with the great I Am.  In fact, in the Protestant church, we don’t need a third-party to pray for us at all.  A minister has his/her place as a spiritual advisor and teacher, but I don’t need him/her to call God’s attention to my prayers.  I can pray plenty loudly on my own.

Veneration of the Virgin was something completely foreign to me.  It belongs to the Anglo-Catholic tradition, and not to this Presby-anglican.

Mary was blessed by God to gestate and give birth to His earthly form.  But Mary was a child herself – a human woman who made parenting mistakes, and chastised her boy when he was not respectful enough in the Temple.  I’m sure Jesus broke things as a toddler, and tasked her patience when he was distracted instead of watching out for his younger siblings.  But she loved her son with all her heart.  She was a Mom.

This morning it struck me.  Did Mary know that her baby boy would die in the most painful and humiliating way the Romans could devise at that time?  Did Mary know that she would stand hopeless and helpless at the feet of her son, witnessing his slow death?  Did Mary really understand in her heart, why Jesus insisted on going to Jerusalem, knowing full well what was waiting for him there?  Did she know what to expect?

I don’t think that Paula Kassig understood when her son left for Lebanon in 2012 what he would face.  While her public face has been quiet and serene, I cannot imagine the anguish she’s felt waiting to see if their strategy of respectful appeals to ISIS would work.  And then to hear the news that her baby boy died in such an awful way last weekend…

I think I have a glimpse now into the appeal of the veneration of Mary.  As a mother, she understands a mother’s fears for her children.  And she understands, deeply and profoundly, how it feels to lose a child.

So I pray that Paula and Ed may find solace in knowing that their son died in the service of others – a people ethnically closer to Mary than to those of us in North America.  We all hope that his sacrifice will bring other humanitarian workers to Abdul-Rahman Kassig’s cause, and as a result ease suffering among the Syrian people. And I pray that Mother Mary will lay a gentle hand on Paula’s shoulder and whisper “Peace.”

The “Why” Behind Sista’s List


My dear friend and spiritual advisor Cousin Pastor Julie (an ELCA pastor in the PAC-NW), issued me the challenge to “share a list of ten books that have stayed with me in some way. Rules: Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They don’t have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Then tag 10 friends including me so I can see your lists.”

I know that Facebook is not the place to write a blog post, although my friends may believe I don’t follow that rule. 😀  But along with creating a list, I also wanted to write a bit about why these books were important to me.  So here we go.

  • Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott. Before joining the Episcopal Church, I was “unchurched” for over 20 years.  I knew that I was Christian by heritage and upbringing, but my personal belief set was inconsistent with what I saw as mainstream American Christian dogma.  I felt disconnected from God.  But I sure didn’t like the direction religion was headed – spurning evolution as invalid, denouncing global warming, demonizing the LGBT community, barely tolerant of women in the clergy, intolerant of anything that makes you different from me.  I could not be part of a church that, at best, preached love while ignoring human rights violations in our own country and abroad, and stood aside while people starved for lack of food, adequate health care, and jobs.

Enter my son’s enrollment in an Episcopal Day School.  We live in the near downtown of a large metropolitan city.  While I support public schools in theory, if in practice I could afford private education for my son, I wasn’t going to punish him for being born into a liberal family that sacrifices their children on the altar of public policy. (Boy, am I going to catch hell for that comment…) So when we needed to move him to full time preschool, the closest private school happened to be an Episcopal Day school.  We toured when he was 3; he started at age 4.  Once he began grade school, I began to fret about what sort of indoctrination he was receiving at this “Christian” school.  So we started attending the church affiliated with the school – an Episcopal church.  At first it felt alien and at times even bizarre. We kept at it, and I fell in love.  First with the music, then the liturgy, then the social policy.  Over time I learned about the beliefs of the Episcopal Church, and I was totally hooked.

How is this relevant to Anne Lamott’s writing?  I knew I was having a crisis of faith.  After over 20 years of distance, I didn’t feel “worthy” to do much more than observe from the sidelines.  I sure didn’t feel ready to receive communion.  After much discussion with both my local priest, and Cousin Pastor Julie, I moved forward.  Julie recommended that I read some of Anne Lamott’s essays to inspire more thought about redemption and forgiveness.  Anne was a seriously troubled soul, who found a new physical and spiritual life through her faith.  I took the plunge and committed myself to opening my heart again to God.  I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church this year in my home parish, by our female Bishop.

  •  Interview With a Vampire – Ann Rice. I picked up a copy of Interview with a Vampire at an airport shop somewhere, and loved the characters.  This started my binge reading of all of Ann Rice’s works.  I’ve been a fan of vampire related fiction, clear back to the original broadcasts of Dark Shadows.  I’ve also read quite a bit of other, vampire related fiction, and became a fan of “Forever Knight” in the 1980s.  But Ann Rice’s writing really grabs me.  Her mix of spirituality and the supernatural captures my imagination.
  • My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees – Jane Goodall. This was a book in my parents’ library when I was a kid.  We were living in Mississippi, which means I was probably in 4th grade – about 10 years old.  It was published by the National Geographic Society in 1969, and encompassed Jane Goodall’s first decade surveying chimpanzees in the Tanzania’s Gombe Reserve. The story was largely told through photos.  My father and I had private jokes about “David Greybeard” (the male who was first observed using tools to fish termites out of a mound to eat).  I was enthralled with the animals, and her personal relationship with the individuals in the troop she lived with and studied all those years. My fascination with the book and her research began my life long love of animal field research and zoos.  I ran into Jane Goodall in the Memphis airport several years ago.  She was sitting alone at an empty gate, writing in a notebook. Next to her in the adjacent seat was a beat up chimpanzee stuffed animal.  I’m sure she was en route to a speaking gig for her foundation.  I was struck dumb.  I wanted to tell her how her work had influenced this 50+ year old business woman, and thank her for the joy and knowledge she brought to the world, but I figured this woman deserved privacy.  I walked on to my own gate and wept.

David Greybeard and a youngster in the troop.

  • 1984 – George Orwell. I was living in Alabama when I read this book.  Alabama the second time, which meant I was in sixth grade.  That would have been when I was 12, in 1970.   I don’t remember what made me read this – it is possible I picked it up at the library just because it was a futuristic novel, written a long time ago and set in the not too distant future.  It scared me spitless, and impressed on me the importance of individual freedoms, guaranteed to us by the Constitution.  Big Brother – we have to be on guard.  That’s why I support the ACLU.


  • Codependent No More – Melodie Beattie. You may or may not know this, but my first husband was an actively drinking alcoholic.  We separated in 1985; divorced in 1986.  I read everything I could get my hands on about addiction theory and the dynamics in a family of an addict or user.  I know that now the concept of codependency is old hat.  At the time I read this book, however it was all new to me.  My alcoholic husband tried to tell me that I was responsible for his drinking and thus his behavior.  Codependency theory helped me understand why I believed him for so long when intellectually I knew otherwise.


  • Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan. My first read about the American Industrial Food Complex.  I was not unaware of some of the horrors of the meat packing business (see The Jungle below), but I didn’t understand that the way we grow food in the West violates inter-dependencies in Nature, as well as ethical treatment of animals.  I still am a carnivore, but we buy more and more meat and eggs when we can from markets that can certify the humane treatment of the beast during the farming and slaughtering process.  Now my concern has extended to ethical farming of fish.  I’m a vegan in the making.


  • The Making of Star Trek – Stephen Whitfield.  If you know me at all, you know that I’m a Star Trek fan.  I’m old enough that I watched Star Trek, Original Series (STOS) when it was first run, but not so old that I could watch the first season in 1966.  That year it was broadcast after my bedtime.  I was allowed to stay up a little later for the second season, once I started fourth grade.  Star Trek represented the optimism and perhaps naiveté of my generation and that post Camelot time.  The future was bright, because we would make it so, abolishing racial prejudice and sexism in the process.  Star Trek even helped shape my personal theology, strange as it seems.


The Making of Star Trek was published in 1968, and was a description of the process of getting Star Trek on the air.  There were chapters on costume and set design, challenges with funding, as well as juicy little stories about the casting process. Thanks to that book I learned that censors in the 1960s permitted a woman’s breast to be bared from the top, all the way down to the areolas, but they would not permit baring the underside of the breast.  As though moss grew there!

I loved that book.  When my son began reading everything he could get his hands on related to Pokemon, then Harry Potter, I recognized his fannish tendencies for what they were.  He inherited them legitimately.


  • Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier. I went through a period in high school when I would escape to the school library, just for the quiet, every chance I could.  If I didn’t have homework, I would grab fiction off the shelves and start reading.  I gobbled up Victoria Holt period romance novels. Then, for some reason, I picked up Rebecca.  The prose was wonderfully descriptive and evocative.  I can only call it lush.  But best of all, the story wasn’t a typical bodice ripper romance (which to this day I no longer read).  Rebecca was a story of mental instability, sabotage and murder, and the deep insecurities of a young woman.

“There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the gray stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.”


  • The Jungle – Upton Sinclair  I read The Jungle in high school as a school assignment.  I was horrified by the descriptions of the slaughterhouses, as well as the working conditions of the laborers.  My father was suspicious about labor unions, but this book helped me understand how important unions were historically, and still are to the common worker in America.  I believe this may have been the first time I disagreed with my father, and began my shift to the left politically.  Guess I became a bit of a “wobbly” (IWW) then, and continue to be so. “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!”


This book also began my awareness of the horrors of the American Industrial food complex.  See Omnivore’s Dilemma above.

  • The short stories of Guy de Maupassant (my father’s book. I can’t remember the title of the compilation), translated into English. My dad had quite a diverse personal library. He had volumes on history, religion and literature.  I read my first Shakespeare play out loud in my bedroom when I was 8, from my father’s volume of the annotated complete works of Shakespeare.  Reading Shakespeare silently is a bore.  Reading out loud, well, that’s another matter.  The odd words and phrases begin to make sense when read as they were intended.

My father was a linguist, and with the study of the language came an appreciation of literature and culture. His volume of short stories by Guy de Maupassant fascinated me.  The stories were concise, not at all flowery, and compelling.  I don’t know where the book is now – much of his library was given away when my mother downsized after he passed.


I found an interesting bit of trivia on Wiki while researching de Maupassant for this essay.  According to Wiki, Maupassant’s theory that “the human female will open her mind to a man to whom she has opened OTHER channels of communications” influenced Gene Roddenberry when writing an early draft of the Questor Tapes.  Questor was an android who, in that particular draft, romanced then bedded a human woman in order to get some information he wanted.  While that storyline was never filmed, Roddenberry used it again in the Season 1 episode “The Naked Now” of Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TOS).  Just goes to show that everything was influenced by, or influenced Star Trek.


While I enjoy reading the lists of influential books that others have written, I really want to know the story behind those titles. The why is much more revealing than the what.  You now know more than you could possibly want to know about me.  And that’s OK.



Two a Day at the Palace

I was reminded recently about my own experience waiting to hear about choir placement before my first year in high school. It was my Sophomore year, but it was a 3 year high school. It was my class’s first year at that school. Music was my niche, and choir placement was very important. Even though I was new in the district, and had no idea where the individual choirs fell in the social strata, I was so excited to learn that I’d been placed in Girl’s Ensemble.

That choir no longer exists, but I spent 2 years in it, singing with other 16-18 year old females.  I’m surprised there wasn’t more drama than there was.

I recall going to downtown Indy to buy dance shoes.  There’s a store that, to this day, uses baskets and pulleys to lift both items and payment to a business office in a loft above the showroom floor.  Fascinating.  Anyway, that was where we had to go to get these special shoes – Capezios.  The shoes were then dyed a Pepto-Bismol pink to go with the floor length, pink, dotted swiss fabric of our dresses.  Not every shoe store in town sold these shoes, and could then arrange to dye them in the same lot so they were identically ugly. The shoe below is the same manufacturer, style and heel height.  I cannot describe how dreadful the color was.


My mother drove us to the store and was white knuckled the entire way, terrified of driving from the suburbs on the north-east side of the city, into the ‘hood.  The shoes were “outrageously” expensive for my middle class family, but we got them because they were part of the uniform.   

I stayed in that choir for two years, purchasing new (and still ugly) dresses and shoes for the second year. We sang a lot of performances at nursing homes, malls, ladies’ luncheons at country clubs, and even on the Circle in the week before Christmas break.  Plus there were school concerts at Christmas, and in the spring.  We had so many performances in the two weeks before Christmas that my father began referring to my schedule as “two a day at the Palace”. On the upside, I recall all the daytime transportation taking place by school bus.  My parents didn’t have to schlep me around.  

On the third and final year in high school,  I finally moved up to the top show choir – Counterpoints.  If you say that name to any folks in the know in Indianapolis high school music circle, they have to stifle the urge to genuflect.  In recent years the Counterpoints have taken top prize at Nationals.  In my years, however, we were just talented kids who sounded like high schoolers, not Broadway performers.  It was the first time I was in a mixed SATB school choir, and I had a male dance partner.  I had to learn to tap (badly), and if the choreography varied much from swaying side to side, I was sunk.  We did one dance number where the couples alternated Up on toes/Down in a partial squat (plie).  I was incapable of going the right direction, so my nice partner grabbed my waist and pulled me up/pushed me down, whichever it was 😀

That was the year, though, that competition became fierce.  The girls in particular got really nasty, and I recall a lower classman telling me “no wonder you got the part, you’re a Senior… <sniff>”.  That same year I sang the alto solo for the school’s production of Messiah. The solo was a particularly high moment – more significant than singing a single line in a regular concert.  I was there on stage, center front, on my own.  No one to bail me out or cover for me.  My father was so proud.  Somewhere I have a tape recording of that performance.  He brought his “portable” cassette recorder into the auditorium.  Those were the days when the recorders were slightly smaller than typewriters.

During high school and college I studied voice privately once a week, practiced at home (sometimes) and lived for the next performance.  I sang in a few private recitals, and learned how awful it felt to forget all the lyrics and sing “bum bum bum” during an operatic run.  

My son loves to sing.  He’s terrified of solos, since the one time he was totally flat in a solo in 5th grade and knew it.  The acoustics were lousy in that room, and he had a cold (again).  I’ve told him about my “bum bum bum” moment, hoping to help him realize that we all have those moments, and hopefully the high you get post performance, offsets the abject terror before walking on stage.  He’s pushing himself hard, because he wants a lead in next year’s Middle School musical.  

Several of his buddies from YVI have graduated from middle school, and will be off to their high school experience in the Fall. A handful are attending my alma mater, and were placed in the “Kings Court”, a mixed madrigal group just below Counterpoints.  Those boys will be singing leads in musicals as Freshman, because they are just *that* good.  

Next year, my son will be singing baritone/bass in a newly formed YVI Men’s Chorale.  The two of us now listen to four part male harmony, and I email him links to Utube videos I want him to hear.  I’m looking forward to taking him to a Purdue Glee Club performance this year, where the young man who was his 8th grade buddy during my son’s first grade year, will be singing. He’s so excited about being part of the inaugural class of that choir.

I no longer sing in a choir of any kind.  My work commitments are such that I can’t guarantee I’ll make it to a weekly rehearsal.  But music has played a joyous part of my life, including the times that my father and I sang together in the weeks leading up to his final days with Alzheimer’s.  Dad may not have known me at times, but we sang together in the car when we were driving on errands.  He remembered all the lyrics to the the Glenn Miller songs. 

Maybe I am reliving my own history through my son’s musical performances. I hope not – I’ve tried to tone down my enthusiasm and let him make his own choices, while honoring commitments to other activities.  But I am so grateful, and insufferably proud that he loves to sing. That’s my boy! His grandpa would have loved it.





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