My mom is riding the bus into Detroit for her first job selling ladies shoes in a department store

My mom is riding the bus into Detroit for her first job selling ladies shoes in a department store

My mom has been on my mind a lot lately.  I lost her in 2007 from a stroke.  She worked most of her life, and loved working despite the struggle of raising three kids at the same time. She kept house and cooked after coming home from work, often finishing the dishes after all of us had gone to bed.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I didn’t help her very much.  I gave up offering because she said it was easier for her to do it herself.  I think, now, as I reflect back, that she was trying to make my life easier than she had growing up.

In my memoir, DANCE WHILE THE FIRE BURNS, I tell about when Mom reveals to me that she learned to drive when she was pregnant with me.  She managed with my two brothers, then four and five, without a car. Back in those days, she often rode the bus like in the picture above.  She was eighteen and on her way to her first job in downtown Detroit to sell ladies shoes in a department store, a job she was proud to have because of the independence it gave her.  I learned another secret about my birth that day, but I’ll let you read that in the book when it’s released. (No date yet.)

There is still much I  don’t know about my mom. She was good at keeping secrets.  I plan on pumping every last memory from my Aunt Dee as soon as we can get together.  I do know that Mom was a strong woman, from a line of strong women, and that I continue in the spirit of that lineage.  At the same time, she was fragile–a fact she worked hard to disguise.

Perhaps Mom was vulnerable to any criticism because she never knew her biological father. She was born from love, but out of wedlock in the Milwaukee Home for Unwed Mothers, a place that I think was connected to the Salvation Army.  I didn’t learn that piece of family history until I was twenty-four when a drunk driver hit the car Mom was driving head-on, hospitalizing her and killing her mother. Even after I learned the truth, she wouldn’t talk about her her origins unless I greased the wheels of her memory with a few glasses of wine.

In addition to her unresolved youth, Mom married two complex men–first my father for twenty-four years and then another brilliant but troubled German for thirty-seven years. Both men drank what they called socially, but was much more than would now be acceptable.  Despite the difficulties it brought her, she resigned herself to her life because she felt it was something over which she had no control.

She was a beautiful, red-haired woman who worked hard every day of her life and was at her best in her role as caretaker, balancing everyone’s needs. She sometimes struggled with too many balls in the air in her attempt to please everyone, but she managed to charm and smile her way through the troubled times.  When asked how she coped, she would say, “It doesn’t help anyone if I just mope around.  So I make lemonade out of lemons. That’s just life.”

In her later years, she could say almost anything and make me laugh.  Always kind and compassionate, she took the time to listen to any troubled soul that passed through her life, lending encouragement and words of wisdom. I still hear her voice whispered out of the ether, guiding me everyday, about all things big and small. I honor all the gifts she gave me, but mostly the way she raised me to be fiercely independent.

Many times, we’d be visiting my grandparents for a holiday or summer visit and I would hear Grandma question Mom’s leniency with me.  Mom would say, “I’m giving her her head,” as if I was a horse that was allowed to run free. As a latchkey kid, I did roam free, often coming home at night only to eat and sleep, preparing to take off for a new adventure the following day.  No wonder I’ve loved being with horses all my life.  Their spirit matches my own.

When Mom was busy working or entertaining with Dad, I spent my time with my imaginary horses. They kept me company, running with me in open fields and along edges of Michigan lakes or in the Arizona desert.

My horses are not imaginary any more.  Although I’ve lost all of my family, I have my three four-legged beauties that live in the field just beyond my front porch.  Just looking out at them brings me joy like my mother did when she smiled and laughed.  It is the small things in life that make it truly rich.

What brings you joy on an ordinary day?

Do you have a love of horses? Or a childhood memory triggered by a picture?

Please leave a comment and I will answer.  I love a good conversation. I learned that from my mother, too.


My sweet Anglo-Arab gelding, born the year we lived in Salt Lake City, named after my brother, my dad and my grandfather.

My sweet Anglo-Arab gelding, born the year we lived in Salt Lake City, named after my brother, my dad and my grandfather.




No more glasses?

Over the holidays, as I prepared for the first of two cataract surgeries, eye drops, dark glasses, a ride to the surgery center and subsequent appointments, I missed the part about the reading restriction: only ten minutes an hour for three weeks following surgery.  No email, no facebook, no twitter (restricted because I get sucked in and go over the time limit).  No books.  No blogging.  No reading menus at restaurants, not even the big ones behind the counter.  I couldn’t even pick up a magazine when I was waiting for my appointment with the eye doctor.  Carrying my iPad was unnecessary, actually a dangerous temptation.  Until I developed cataracts (fast growing starting in the center, not from edges like most people) and needed eye surgery, I never quite realized how much I read.  I never thought about it.  Not until I couldn’t read.  It almost drove me crazy.

It’s been four weeks.  I’ve had the second eye surgery.  The first special lens the surgeon implanted is supposed to give me good mid-range to long distance vision.  It’s not very clear yet, I’m told it’s because my eye is too dry and still dilated.  Be patient, they say.  It’ll get better.  The second implant is supposed to give me good vision from mid-range to up-close reading, that is as long as the light is bright.  Don’t use the reading glasses, they say.  Make the eye work, so it can learn to see.  Be patient, they say.  It’ll get better.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m a writer and an artist.  My eyes are everything to me.  It’s hard to be patient when I have two books to complete, one in it’s umpteenth edit, the other written during Na No Wri Mo last November.  To make things worse, I’m a slow reader.  Always have been.  Something to do with how the muscles in my eyes focus on the page.

Before the surgeries, everyone I talked to, and I mean EVERYONE, said cataract surgery is a snap.  Almost no discomfort the first day they said, and by the second, I’ll be seeing like never before.  I’ll love it, they said.  As usual, I’m the exception.  The first eye, my right, felt like I had glass in it for the first day and leveled off to the “uncomfortable” stage the day after surgery.  The second eye felt like shards of glass were sticking in my eye the first day, and reduced to gravel (maybe sandpaper) by the second day.

When I called at 8:00 p.m. the day of surgery because I couldn’t stand the pain any more, the nurses at the surgical facility were great.  They were very sympathetic, but informed me that pain medication taken orally wouldn’t help (I’d already found that out, because I had some leftovers from my knee surgery) and numbing eye drops would be toxic to the lens.  I didn’t want that, right?  The only choice to mitigate the pain was to keep my eyes closed as much as possible and use eye drops to moisten my eyes.  I had to keep both eyes closed, they explained, because if you have one covered and use the other for watching television, they will track together and irritate the closed eye.  So no television to distract me from the fact that I couldn’t read, for almost a month. I mean really read, like for three hours at a time, like what I did before surgery,   Have you ever tried to eat a salad with your eyes closed?  It doesn’t work very well.

I don’t mean to be going on about this.  I don’t like to complain.  It’s just that it would have helped if even one person would have told me that there could be problems with my eyes after cataract surgery, I would have been a bit prepared.  I’m sure you’re thinking (at least I am) that I’ve been struggling for only a few weeks, and I really have no right to complain, not with all those soldiers on the news coming home with head trauma and blown off limbs, not with all the gun shot victims from movie theaters and schools.

So why am I blogging about my eyes?  Well, the reason is because the experience taught me something.  Something I think is valuable.

When I had my knee replacement surgery three years ago, the healing process gave me compassion for people who must use walkers and wheelchairs to get around.  Now, after having surgeries on my eyes, I’ve been given a glimpse into the world of the blind and vision impaired.  I don’t know how they manage.  Really, I don’t.  I’ve only had to cope for a few weeks.  And, it’s been a real challenge.  Why?  Because when I feel out of control, I get grouchy, very grouchy.  I’m not good at asking for help.  I’m independent and a perfectionist, both good qualities for being a writer and an artist.  Not so good for getting older.

I just had another birthday, my 63rd.  I’m proud that I am active and vibrant at that age, though my damaged knees from years of abuse have slowed me down a bit.  But now, this eye thing has given me pause.  I’ve known for some time that there are adjustments I must make as I age.  Mind you, I intend to be active well into my late nineties.  Over the last couple of years,  I’ve been learning to be careful (with riding horses and climbing ladders to do house renovations, I never really was before), to move with intention, to use my time wisely, and to kick my feet up a little more just to relax.  I know my eyes will get better.  And if they aren’t just perfect, I will adjust.  That is the wisdom that age brings.  The knowledge that I will get through it, because I have so many times before.





I’m at loose ends today.

Do you ever have a day like that?

Everything seems to distract me.

I’m focused on wandering.

Moving from thing to thing.


I’m thirsty–can’t find my drink cup.

It’s red, with a straw,

Packing tape holds it together.

With a blue cozy on,

Even though it’s insulated.


I’ve dropped it it few times.

Why do I expect it to work like new?

Now, the top is hard to screw on.

Sometimes I get it right.

Then it doesn’t spill down my front.


It took me twenty minutes to get some tea

Out of the refrigerator because

On the way to the kitchen I remembered

That I needed to move the sprinklers.


Every three hours, getting wet in the act.

One in front, one in back

Just to save the shrubs and trees.

They look so sad from the drought.


When I pass the bird feeder

I see that it’s empty.

Around the house I go and into the garage

To find the bag of seed half-full.

Don’t forget to put it on the list.


As I walk back round, empty bag in hand,

I yank out a few tall weeds

Maybe tomorrow will be better.

That keep the hostas from getting a drink.

The leaves more brown and yellow than green.

Covered in sweat, better get out of this heat.

Don’t forget to grab some tea.

In the broken, red drink cup.

Where did I put it down?

I’m at loose ends today.