Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A New Year, A New Beginning

For the past few years on New Year's Eve, I couldn't wait for the year to be over. They were years of struggle and challenge, lawsuits and deaths and restraining orders and floods and exploding plumbing disasters. But in these years, there have also been miracles. Every tragedy gave me the opportunity to grow my compassion. Every challenge allowed me to work my courage muscles. And for all the times I was stuck, I had to work hard to strengthen my wings- and that's a good thing. Maya Angelou used to say, when you are in trouble, say thank you, because there is already a rainbow behind the clouds. Just because you can't see it yet, doesn't mean it isn't there.

I don't mean to sound Pollyanna-ish. I don't love getting older, but I'm grateful that I'm wiser, and especially grateful that I'm healthy. I didn't love being betrayed and getting fired from my job this June, but I am so grateful now to have a much better job. I hate that my sister-cousin Tammey died, but I am grateful that I got to share so much of my life with her, and that I still get to love her and remember her and share my memories of her with everyone.

In writing FIRE SEASON, I could see clearly on the pages that when I looked at my life with gratitude rather than regret, everything changed.

I am grateful for everything this year. Grateful for learning, growing, new experiences, my husband and children, my amazing friends, this beautiful world that I got to explore. 

 What were you most grateful for this year?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dreams are a Powerful Thing


Last night at the King Family Christmas party, our friend Wendy got up and told the story of her childhood Christmases in Australia. Her father ran a general store that was open 365 days a year, even half a day on Christmas. On Christmas, she and her brothers would watch Christmas shows on TV, and wait for their father to get home from the store. Their father believed in each person getting only one gift, so they'd wait all day to open their one gift, and that was Christmas. She asked her father, "Why can't we have a Christmas like they have on TV and the movies?" and her father said, "That stuff is only on TV. It isn’t real." But Wendy never stopped dreaming about those sparkly Christmases she saw every year on TV.

When she grew up, Wendy came to California on vacation, where she met and fell in love with a lovely man - and because of him, she would never leave California. They were married twenty years ago, and had a family. Little did she know when she met him that this man was part of the King Family- the family known for their annual Christmas specials. Troy and I have been part of the King Family’s annual holiday party and Christmas Show for 15 years, and let me tell you- nobody does Christmas like the King Family. Wendy’s Christmases now are far beyond the ones she saw in the movies. Every year, Christmas is sparkling and full of song and family and joy. I love Wendy’s story because it is such a strong testament to the power of dreams. 
Sing-a-long at the King Family Christmas party.

Christmas has always been a special time of year for me. After all, I’m born in December and named after a Christmas plant. But beyond that, it is a time of hope. It’s a time when my family always pulled it together to be our best selves, no matter what else was happening in our lives.

My childhood was not so bright and merry. Domestic violence, a dad in prison, and being shuffled around to relatives made me long for a normal, stable life. I would count the days every week until the Partridge Family show came on TV. I was riveted to the screen. Like Wendy watching her Christmas shows, I watched the Partridge Family and not only wanted to be like them, I wanted to BE them. And my favorite Christmas album? ---------->

Many years later, I married a musician, raised some musical kids, and now we record Christmas songs together every year. This is my Christmas/Partridge family dream-come-true. Our Christmas Family album is our gift to you, (download for free and share with friends, if you like) in the hopes that it inspires you to never think a dream is too big, or that you can’t have it, or that it doesn’t exist. Remember Wendy’s story, and be inspired.

Our wish for you this holiday season in that you hold on to your dreams.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from our family to yours…
(Listen to our Family Affair Holiday Album while you peruse the internet by clicking below, or feel free to download the whole album for free.) 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Muslims are terrorists, black guys are scary, cops are racists" and other crazy assumptions we make.

Yesterday, while watching the news unfold about the horrific hostage crisis and shooting by a madman in Sydney, Australia, I became concerned when CNN stated over and over that the shooter was a Muslim cleric. And today, with news of the massacre in Peshawar, I fear the worst. I know how we humans absorb information fed to us by media and make subconscious connections and assumptions; Muslim clerics are terrorists. Black guys are scary gang-bangers. Backwoods Southern boys are Klu Klux Klan members. Catholic priests are pedophiles. Cops are racists.

Above is a photo of Shakeel Syed, a muslim cleric, standing united with Reverend Sandie Richards, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, and Reverend Louis Chase, at our one-year memorial event for Sandy Hook last year. This year, in conjunction with our coalition’s #LightLA campaign, Syed’s Muslim community held a vigil to remember all those lost to gun violence. Shakeel Syed is a Muslim cleric. Shakeel Syed is a voice for peace in our community, as are the majority of Muslims. Let that be a new association in your mind.

The judgments we make about others come from the most base part of our brains, actually termed "The Reptilian Complex" (the lizard brain). This is where fear resides. This is where the instantaneous fight or flight reaction comes from. This is the part of our brain that fears anything that is not familiar, anyone who does not look like us, speak like us, live like us. This reptilian complex is where tribalism is centered. Tribalism is what makes us wage wars, or even attack others at sporting events should they root for the opposite team.

But we are not "tribes" any more. We are no longer neanderthals. We are capable of rational thought. Through commerce, culture, and the internet, we have become a blended, interconnected world. But our human brains have not yet evolved to match the level of technology we've achieved.

Only by constantly challenging our own assumptions will we grow. We rise above the lizard brain only by forcing ourselves to entertain the possibility of other humans, very different from us, being just as worthy and deserving as we are.

Let’s stop assuming that all cops are racist, all priests are pedophiles and all blacks are looting, rioting hoodlums. Let’s please stop assuming that all Muslims are Taliban or ISIS terrorists. Let’s stop assuming. Period. Let’s recognize that no one comes into this world aiming to be a heartless villain. It is only a small, sick, tortured minority that becomes that. What if, instead, we awaken to the reality that we are, the majority of us, not enemies, but good people with good intention, even if we go about our lives differently?


For more on the workings of the lizard brain:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Lesson in Courage

The past several weeks, as my heart broke watching the news accounts of the Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner tragedies and protests, I've been reading "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd. The book takes place in the early 1800s and is a historical novel that intertwines the lives of "Handful," a strong and courageous slave girl, and her reluctant "owner" Sarah. The girls become friends and form a bond that will altar the course of their lives. Though a novel, it is historically accurate. I cringed inside while reading the accounts of cruelty and severe punishment that blacks endured in those times, and then I looked up from my book and wondered how the hell this is still happening.

The book is based on the lives of the real Grimke sisters, two wealthy Southern women who, as children, grew up in a house full of slaves. Sarah and Angelina Grimke saw the horrors and the brutality of the slave life and somehow had the moral compass to do something about it. Against their family's  outcries, they moved to Philadelphia and became the first women abolitionists and feminists, traveling from coast to coast, speaking publicly and writing books about the wrongs of slavery, imploring morality from the public. Their books were burned in the South. Religious leaders spoke out against them, saying it was immoral for women to speak in public. They were made pariahs in their home state of South Carolina, and were threatened with imprisonment if they ever returned. They gave up a life of wealth and riches and let go of their family ties forever in order to continue their work.

History had all but forgotten these women, but thank God Kidd has breathed new life into their story. The Grimke sisters eventually ended up freeing many of the Grimke slaves, and some of those freed slaves' children grew up to continue the work as abolitionists. Just before they died, as old women, the Grimke sisters were amongst a handful of women who showed up to vote, illegally, as a protest. These women, and the generations of black families who survived and endured the unimaginable, have put courage in my heart.

We need more women, and men, like this today. More people to stand up against the racial inequality that still is rampant in our culture. It shocked me, while reading this book, while watching the news, how far we've come, yet how much we haven't changed in our hearts. I am still an eternal optimist. I believe we can, we will, change things...

Friday, November 21, 2014

How To Survive Being Fired

Author Wayne Dyer recently told a story about doing an interview at a radio station where a huge layoff had just taken place. As he walked down the halls, he saw employees packing up their offices. “Congratulations!” he called out. One of the employees responded, “You don’t understand. We just lost our jobs.” But Wayne said that he did understand, and from his view, the Universe was pushing each of them into a new direction that they might not have had the courage to pursue. Face it, he said, you’ve all known for a long time you wanted to leave this job. The Universe just gave you a shove.

I was mortified when I was fired this summer. I am the proverbial overachiever. Employee of the year, yada yada yada. Never in a million years did I imagine myself being fired. But I was - and from an organization I had completely devoted my life to. I was knocked flat for weeks. But here I am months later saying hallelujah, because it was truly the best thing that ever happened to me. I am now in a job where I am appreciated, trusted, and given the space to flourish and do what I do best.

If you have been fired, as counterintuitive as it may seem, try saying THANK YOU. More than likely, you’ve been stuck in the equivalent of an abusive relationship. You stayed because of financial security. You stayed because you thought you could somehow make it better. You stayed because you were determined to win them over. (Ever see the movie The Devil Wears Prada?) You stayed for a myriad of reasons, but not one of those reasons was that this was your dream job.

Yes, you may be in a really tough predicament right now. It might even look hopeless. Yes, it’s going to be messy and uncomfortable for a while, but you’re going to make it. You know why? Because you always have. You find a way to survive and thrive. You have before and you will again.
And I promise you, if you keep yourself in a positive frame of mind, you will eventually end up in a better position.

Just to lift your spirits, here is an article about very successful people who got fired. You’ll be surprised…and inspired.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fire Season - My Journey from Ruin to Redemption

As many of you know, in November of 1994, our house burned down. After my husband Troy and I jumped out second story windows with nothing but our pajamas and our kid, our lives began a downward spiral of loss that would continue for four years, leading us into a deep depression and the brink of divorce. We lost three homes in 2 years, lost our cars, lost our friends, I lost my national business, we were bankrupted and we almost lost each other. But we survived. In 1999 we bought our house, things got better and were actually pretty great until 2010.

And then, in 2010, it seemed the cycle was beginning again. We were sued over a little dog named Stitch that we adopted. A three-year court battle followed. We had to get a restraining order against a violent neighbor with a criminal record for assault with a gun, who threatened my husband’s life. My husband’s boss, and great friend, Greg, dropped dead of a heart attack. Our dog Brandy died. Our septic system failed and flooded the yard, leading to a 10,000 repair job and an invasion of flies, not unlike the Amityville Horror (except they had better plumbing). We were busted flat broke from home repairs and court costs. And then, our daughter-in-law took our one-year-old grandson to Japan for a visit... and didn’t return. We thought we’d never see them again. We were overcome with grief.

During this time, I took an eight-week writing course with my friend Amy Friedman, where I wrote and shared, for the first time, the story of our fire. I was shaking so bad I couldn’t read the essay in the group, so Amy read it for me. After class, Amy and I went out for coffee and I confessed to her something I had been secretly fearing in my head. I told her, “My life is spinning wildly out of control, and I am terrified that I am in the beginning of a life pattern where I’m going to repeat another four years of hell.” And this is basically what she said. “You are still afraid of what happened to you, because you didn’t get the lesson in it. If you don’t write your way through this, you’re going to repeat the pattern. This fire story is not an essay. This is a book you need to write.” And only out of sheer terror and because I am slightly superstitious did I begin to write this book.

Four years later, Fire Season is about to be published with She Writes Press this spring (and you can pre-order it now for a discount on Amazon).

What I learned in writing my book was that I am stronger than I knew. That every time I let fear control my life, everything fell to shit. I saw, through my writing process, as I mapped out and wrote those years down, that it wasn’t until I chose love over fear that my life began to turn around. Through these past four years of intense challenges that began again in 2010, I learned to choose love over fear, and instead of losing everything, like we did in 1994, this time the outcome was very different.

After a year of praying and sending nothing but love to our daughter-in-law in Japan, many miracles lined up to bring our grandson home, and he now lives with his mother in L.A. After our three-year court battle, we still have our dog Stitch. The violent, criminal neighbors were evicted (the day after Christmas – best Christmas gift ever). We still have our home 15 years later and the new septic system works perfectly. This time, we didn’t lose everything. This time, yes, life knocked us on our asses – but we got back up faster. This time, when it seemed everything was falling apart, Troy and I turned toward each other in our grief and sadness (love), and not against each other (fear).

So, like Amy Friedman advised, I wrote my way through these four years, and now, after a summer from hell, I hope to God I’m coming out the other side. It’s not that I don’t have my challenges still. We’ve got a building inspector trying to wreak havoc with our house, and some trouble with termites…but I know better now than to let fear get the best of me.

Back in 1995, when I was spiraling down, I felt so alone, like there wasn’t a single person who got what I was going through. Books were what saved me. Books about hope, about endurance, about surviving. I wrote Fire Season because I don’t want anyone to feel alone like I did. I want to share my experience of finding hope on the other side of darkness.

I know that you, like me, have endured some difficult losses and challenges. I hope you’ll share your stories in the comments below…

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Shero's Journey: Women Risen from the Ashes

If you are familiar with author Joseph Campbell’s work around the “Hero’s Journey,” perhaps you’ve recognized the patterns in your own life. Campbell said that numerous myths from the ages share this fundamental pattern:

    “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” – Joseph Campbell, from The Hero with a Thousand Faces

In our everyday lives, it looks more like this: You’re plodding along, following the societal norms. You set up a nice average life, make sure you have all the proper insurance policies and WHAM - life smacks you upside the head with either tragedy or slow quiet suffocation, and you are faced with a darkness that threatens to take you down. Campbell said the lives of Buddha, Moses, and Christ followed this basic pattern, as do many other stories from around the world. You can even find the mythic Hero’s Journey in Star Wars. (Remember when Luke faces his nemesis in the cave?) The Hero’s journey crosses countries, cultures and religions, but what’s missing from this narrative are women’s stories. Recently on Super Soul Sunday, Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) talked with Oprah about this very issue, saying how important it is that women rise up and tell their own stories.

Playwright, educator and speaker Lyena Strelkoff, always thinking ahead of the curve, had already been long at work on this issue. This year, Lyena had been gathering women’s stories she dubbed The Shero Summit, and has put them together in a free telesummit that anyone can join. Seven women tell their stories of transformation, finding medicine in the poison life has dealt them. I am proud and honored to be one of those seven women, and will be sharing the story from my new memoir Fire Season: My Journey from Ruin to Redemption.

The Shero Summit is a collection of real life stories, lived by women challenged by circumstance to lay down or rise. Funny, heartbreaking, inspiring, uplifting…. These shero stories shine powerful light into the journey of human transformation and, in so doing, light the way for you no matter what stage of the journey you’re on.

Because Lyena wanted this journey to be available to every woman (and man), it is a free telesummit.
I so hope you will join me, Lyena and the other brave women who have so courageously shared the good the bad and the ugly of their journeys. I know you will find pieces of yourself in each woman, and am sure you will walk away lifted and inspired.

7 women, risen from the ashes! Click here to register for your week of free video interviews:


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What I Learned From My Two-Month Internet Break

This summer, after years of both working in social media and having active personal accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, a spate of ugly events caused me to shut down my computer and walk away. I didn’t plan this, nor did I have any idea if I would ever open it again. My computer remained shut for two months.

At first, I walked around in a daze, unsure of where I fit or what I was supposed to be doing. I scrubbed my counters. I completely re-landscaped my front yard. I tried writing with pen and paper but it felt weird and I was too upset by aforementioned events to write anyway. I decided that if I didn’t know where I should be, then I would just ‘be.” I walked my neighborhood in the quiet of the early mornings. I meditated. If I arrived early to an appointment, I did nothing but observe my surroundings, while the people around me sat with hunched shoulders, heads slumped forward like human question marks, their eyes focused on their phones and the postage stamp-sized world inside. I watched them plummet down the rabbit hole, completely tuning out to the here and now. I doubt any of them even knew I was in the room. I felt like a sober girl at the cocktail party of life.

After a few weeks, I could feel I was changing. I noticed that gradually my posture improved because my head was above my shoulders where it belonged. I was aware and engaged with my kids, not distracted. They, in turn, behaved better, and I had a level of patience I had forgotten I was capable of. I was experiencing a strange, unfamiliar feeling. Some might call it calm. While driving, I no longer checked my email at every stoplight. Instead I watched the characters that walked past; Two homeless men sharing a meal in a fort they had built under a shopping cart. A hispanic woman with a significant limp who crossed the street every morning at 7:42 am. The veteran in a wheelchair with the American flag mounted on the back, pledging his allegiance to the country for which he sacrificed his legs. I had been missing all of this for so long. For anyone to miss this is a shame, but for a writer, it is practically a crime.

I stole away with my family for a weekend in Idyllwild where I sat in a hammock and read books, or sometimes just watched the leaves shimmer in the breeze. I noticed things, like the way color and light changes within a flickering moment. I noticed the life buzzing right in my own front yard – for instance, I now know that Monarch butterflies do not welcome Painted Zebras into their habitat, and squirrels rub the sides of their faces against the rough pine bark to get sap off their whiskers. Suddenly I understood that I was living in an ordered Universe, and this made me feel safe and at peace. This also felt more important to me than anything I had read on Facebook.

I’m not knocking social media. I have met wonderful people and had incredible opportunities come my way through it, not to mention that working as a social media manager is what has paid my bills for the majority of this year. I’m grateful for it, while also having a new awareness of the dire need for balance.

I came back slowly to social media, and saw that nothing had changed while I was gone. The same problems and arguments raged on, just like they did before. I noticed right away how my brain waves changed when I engaged online. I became more irritable, easily distracted, my thoughts scattered. At the same time I was happy to be re-connected to the beautiful community I’ve found online.

My new challenge is to remain mindful of the time I allot for checking in with friends and colleagues, to focus on and share positive posts, and then to shut the computer and check back in with the world around me: to feel my feet on the floor, take in the sights around me, notice my breath. Like waking from a dream, re-entry into the real world takes a minute, but I’ve rediscovered that the world outside is a glorious place. I’m also reacquainting myself with my world inside – and that is where the real fun begins.

Here is an interesting article author Dani Shapiro just wrote in the New York Times about our reliance on social media:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Downloading Happiness


Wouldn't it be amazing if we could simply download happiness into our brains? According to Harvard researchers, that actually might not be so far-fetched. 

Though our experiences in life shape us, we are all born with a certain type of temperament. Some of us tend to be generally happy-go-lucky, and some of us aren't. For me, tragic experiences led me into some years of depression and PTSD, but because I have a generally resilient and optimistic temperament, I was able to eventually bounce back. But what if you are a glass-half-empty kind of person - is it possible to actually re-wire your brain for optimism? Positive psychology researcher Shaun Achor, who taught Harvard’s most popular “Happiness” class, says it is.

Achor lists three simple things you can start doing right now to rewire your brain for optimism, and they only take two minutes. If you do these things for 21 days, research has shown it will actually change the patterns in your brain.

1)    Start every day by writing down three things you are grateful for. Each day should be three different things. Starting the day with gratitude, rather than stress or worry, is an instant mood lifter.

2)    One of the most significant factors for achieving happiness actually has nothing to do with money, success or love, but about knowing that your work has meaning, and that your life matters. At the end of each day, single out a moment from that day that had meaning for you, and then write about it in detail. Write every single thing you can remember about it. Our brains are excellent at replaying hurts, injuries and insults, but quickly drop the good stuff. By replaying the good, you are programming yourself to look for and remember the good in each moment, and actually changing your brainwaves.

3)    Every day, thank someone. Call, send an email, or write a card and let them know you are grateful for who they are, what they’ve done or what they mean in your life.

Achor’s research has proven that if these three things are done every day for 21 days, a significant shift will take place in the brain, and you will be happier.

I started this practice a few months ago, but in the aftermath of a few hard losses this summer, I became so depressed I forgot to do my happiness exercises. Like anything else, achieving happiness is a practice. Just like eating healthy, working out to stay fit, you have to do it every day for results.

A 21-day trial is great, but I know the best action to take would be to make this my lifestyle. So I am back on the horse, and feeling better already.

If you’re interested in trying it yourself, check out this video of Shaun Achor talking with Oprah:

Saturday, August 9, 2014


When I got fired from my job in June, it pretty much knocked me flat. Not only had this been a job, it had been a calling. Add to that the betrayal by people I'd thought were my friends.

My true friends rushed in to lift me, like emotional EMTs.

Amy said, “You haven’t lost anything. I know you will find the medicine in this poison.”

Dani said, "You’ll get through this, and I will help you.”

Erin said, “Fuck them. I’ll be right over with wine and take-out,” which at the time were my favorite words.

My facebook inbox lit up like a Christmas tree as my friends across the country got wind of the news. They said, “We love you. We’ve got your back. Nothing can erase all the good work you did.”

A few days later I talked with my friend Julie, and she said, “They haven’t knocked you down. They have elevated you.”

“Elevated me? How?”

“Because I know you. You will find the good in it. You’ll write about it, and you’ll share your story with others. In the end you will be stronger because of it. You will rise above this, and that’s how they have elevated you.”

Of course, I hadn’t thought of it like that.

Author and spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson says that when someone deflects a miracle from you, when they block goodness that is meant for you, the Universe will hold the miracle in trust, and will find another way to make sure you receive it. It may come from another person or a different job, or another door will open that you never knew existed.

In other words, when someone tries to knock you down, you should really thank them for teaching you courage and strength, and also for teaching you who you don’t want to be, because in the meantime, all the good things that are your due are still on their way.

No one can really ever take anything from you. It’s up to each of us to lay down in defeat, or to elevate.

I choose to elevate.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Tammey and I, talking about life.

My cousin Tammey and I were born just months apart and grew up together like Irish twins. Our mothers are sisters. Sometimes, she and my cousin Tracey lived at my house. When my mom’s life was falling apart, we lived at their house.

In our families, there was chaos swirling around us, but we clung to one another for stability. Tammey was only nine months older than me but she always treated me like her baby. She was protective of me. When we were four-years-old and there was violence in my home, we held hands and hid in the closet together. When we were eleven years old, she saved me from drowning in the ocean. In our teens, she taught me how to stand up for myself in a fight. She taught me how to hold my liquor, and what to do when I got my period. 

In our early twenties, Tammey and I both had daughters. Just like us, our girls were nine months apart. Tammey's daughter, of course, was older. Tammey was sweet-natured and generous, but being the tender heart that she was, she wasn't able to heal those wounds from our childhoods. Not that she didn't try. She really, really tried.

Our sweet Tammey was found dead in a hotel room on Saturday night. We don’t have the autopsy results back yet.

I honestly don’t know how life goes on without her. She was such a huge part of my growing up, and is such a huge part of who I am. I told Troy I feel like I've lost a limb. I can hardly put one foot in front of the other.

My first memoir is filled with stories about her. They are all I have left. 

When my friend Phyllis was dying, I asked if she believed in an afterlife. She said she believed people lived on after death in the stories you told about them.

If that is true, I will tell my stories about Tammey.

This is one…

Summer, 1975

It’s a perfect summer day at Malibu beach with just enough breeze to keep you from sweating.  Tammey, Tracey and I unpack the cooler and set out chips and sandwiches while mom puts a t-shirt on Christopher, who’s running around like the Tasmanian devil. We smooth out our towels and lay on our bellies to eat our sandwiches. Tracey has to make an indent in the sand with her elbows because she’s getting boobs now. Me and Tammey don’t have those yet so we can lay flat and comfortable. I’m so glad to be back with my cousins again.
Mom finally brought me home from Aunt Laura’s. I lived there for the whole fifth grade. We got our house back from those renters, but they trashed it. The carpet is all ripped up, the pool is a green swampy mess again.
Mom lays in a beach chair reading a magazine. Tracey sets up her portable AM radio and spins the dial until she finds a song we all like. Band on the run blasts from the little speaker. Tracey sings along, and I do the harmony part.
Christopher runs around kicking sand in everyone’s faces.
“Stop it, hyper!” I yell at him.
“Oh, he’s just having fun. Leave him alone,”  Mom says.
“But he’s getting sand in my sandwich!” I protest.
“Why do you think they call it a SAND- wich...ha ha ha,” Mom says.
I roll my eyes, “Oh brother. Don’t be such a dildo, Mom.”
Tracey’s eyes go wide, she spits out her soda and starts cracking up. Tammey is laughing too.
What did you say?” Mom hisses, squinting her eyes at me.
I look at her, then at Tracey and Tammey who are hysterical.
“What? What did I say?”
Her look softens a little. She leans in closer to me.
“Do you know what that word means?”
“What word…. dildo?” and there go my cousins, cracking up again, even harder this time.
Stop saying that!” she says in a hushed whisper, and looks around at the people next to us to see if they heard. “What do you think that word means?” she asks.
“I don’t know….. does it mean…silly?” I say, starting to feel kind of stupid as my cousins howl and roll back and forth on their beach towels.
Mom puts her hand over her eyes, then looks up at me.
“C’mere” she wiggles her finger toward her. I crawl over. She leans toward me and cups her hand against my ear. “It means….. It means….. artificial penis.” she whispers.
I back away from her. “Ewwww! Gross!”
My cousins are laughing so hard they have tears running down their cheeks. Even though I feel completely stupid, I have to admit it is pretty funny, and we all have a good laugh except for Christopher who keeps asking, over and over, “What tho funny, what tho funny?”
We finish our sandwiches and get up to throw our trash away. The sand is hot under our feet and the breeze has died down.
“Did your mom tell you what dildo means?” Tracey asks me as we walk back from the trash cans.
“Yeah, it’s an artificial penis, whatever that is.”
“No, it’s not.” Tracey says, “It’s a fake dick.”
Tammey cracks up, “You said dick!”
She grabs my hand, “I’m hot. Let’s go in the water!”
Tracey, Tammey and I race toward the water and dive straight in so you don’t feel that first shock of the cold. This is a perfect day. Me and my cousins, body surfing in the ocean. We ride in wave after wave to the shore, then turn around and jump right back in. Tracey gets out after about twenty minutes to work on her tan, but Tammey and I stay in until our hands are pruny and our faces are beet-red sunburned.
“Let’s swim out past the waves so we can rest for a minute,” Tammey says.
We swim out further where we can tread water, up and down over the swells, the sun glinting off our faces. We’ve been in the water so long our teeth are starting to chatter, and we’re getting all giggly.
“I can’t believe you called your mom a dildo!” Tammey laughs.
“I know!” I start to laugh too. The more I think about it, the funnier it gets. Even though I didn’t know what it meant, I’m kinda glad I called her that. She didn’t care when I wanted to kill myself, she sent me away and kept Christopher, she ruined everything with Dad. I laugh harder.
“And I got away with it!” I can’t stop laughing. And it’s just me and Tammey, laughing and floating out in the middle of the ocean, like two little corks bobbing on the water. The sun on our faces, laughing together. It feels perfect and happy and safe.
Tammey imitates me in a dumb voice, “Mom don’t be such a dildo”, and the waves of laughter start up again.
I’m laughing so hard now I can hardly breathe, but I can’t stop. The laugh is coming from somewhere deep inside me like it has power of its own.  I start to feel weak. That giggly, dizzy carnival ride feeling…the buzzing in my head. I try to tread water, but my head goes under. A huge gulp of salt water floods my mouth and goes up my nose. It burns. I sputter and laugh and choke all at once.
Tammey sees me go under and stops laughing. But I can’t.
“Are you okay?” she shouts with a worried frown.
I keep laughing and choking. Another swell pulls me under, and then another. I hardly have the strength to pull my head above water now. Salt water burns my nose, throat and eyes. Tammey screams my name as I go under again. I can hear her through the water, all swimmy and gurgly. My arms and legs feel like they’re made of rubber. Tammey grabs my arm and pulls me up.
“Hold on to me!” she shouts, and puts my arm around her shoulder. I lean against her back, choking and coughing. I look toward the lifeguard tower but they’re talking to some girls and not looking our way.
Tammey swims strong over the waves, pulling me with her. I’m not laughing anymore. My head goes under but she yanks me up.
She swims to where the waves break, and shouts, “DIVE!” I see a huge ten-foot wave towering over us. Oh god, Oh god.
“Hold your breath!” She grips my hand tight. The last thing I see is a huge wall of water, then Tammey is gone.
I’m tossed around like a rag doll in a blender, sand in my ears and eyes, rocks and shells hitting my skin.  The rip tide is a magnet pulling my body out to sea. Another wave sucks me up and spits me out. The current pushes me, my belly scraping along the rocky shore until I don’t know where I am. When I open my eyes I’m laying face down in the wet sand. Tammey lands about twenty feet away from me. She jumps up and runs toward me. I hear her shouting my name but I can’t answer. She kneels beside me. I’m breathing so hard the air burns my lungs like a fire. I look up at her, too weak too move. She is all sparkly-wet, sun-bleached white hair, tan lean arms and sunburned face. Everyone always said how fragile Tammey was because she was only two pounds when she was born. She was so little and skinny, and the grown-ups said we had to be careful with her, but the truth is she’s always been stronger than me.
“Take my hand” she says.
Two lifeguards run toward us with their orange float things.
“Hold on! We’re coming!” they shout.
Tammey looks their way and puts her hand up as if to let them know she’s got it all under control. They slow down their pace as they see Tammey pull me to my feet.
“Hey, is she okay? Do you guys need help?” One of them shouts as he gets closer.
Tammey wraps my arm around her shoulder.
“Not anymore” she says, “I’ve got her.” She holds me tighter.
“You sure you’re okay, little girl?” one of them asks me. I bend over with my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath. I nod my head, huffing and puffing.
“Good job, kid,” The lifeguard says to Tammey. The lifeguards wave to us as they turn and head back to their girl-watching at the tower.
Tammey rolls her eyes at him. “What a dork.”
She walks me back to our towels, where Mom and Tracey are sleeping and Christopher’s making a sandcastle. I feel a lump in my throat but I won’t cry. Not in front of Tammey.
Tammey looks back over her shoulder at the waves that are coming in huge and really crazy this late in the day. She squeezes me tighter with her lean strong arms.
“We made it”, she says.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Live and Unplugged

In June, I was fired from a job that meant the world to me, and I’m in a lot of pain and confusion from it.  I decided to unplug from social media to take time to heal myself, and to re-engage with my life and my children in real time.

I knew I needed a major life shift when my eight-year-old son said to me, "Mommy, I don't mean to hurt your feelings but I'm glad you got fired. Now you can be my mom, again."

After I deactivated my facebook page, a few of my friends texted or called thinking I had defriended them -- I am truly sorry for this misunderstanding!

I'm spending my time doing yoga, hiking, meditating and doing a lot of praying to find clarity.

Facebook has too many painful reminders for me right now, but I really miss my friends. Please do keep in touch with me here or through email:

I truly miss seeing your pictures of your cute kids and fur-babies, and hearing about your good days and bad. 
This is where I have been:

Hiking in the Idyllwild Forest with my boys.

Laying in a chaise lounge, staring at trees and listening to the wind rustle their leaves.
Helping Troy build a treehouse for the boys

Finishing my book.

Sending you all so much love.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Everything You Done To Me

This morning I woke up remembering a powerful scene in the Color Purple where Whoopi Goldberg’s character Celie is finally escaping her abusive husband. As she is driving away, he comes chasing after her, raising his fist, but she simply puts her hand up to him, stopping him cold as she says, "Everything you done to me, you already done to yourself.”

And so it is.

If you are cruel to another person, you degrade your own spirit. If you are deceitful, you break trust with yourself. The fact is, everything you’ve ever done to someone else lives in you forever. I hope it’s kindness, love and compassion that you are doling out. If it isn’t, I feel very sorry for you.

Just the other day a friend reached out to me, saying someone had made her feel terrible, like a “third-class citizen.” And I told her that with every unkind word they said to her, every mean-spirited snub, they only diminished themselves, not her. People who are cruel are just broken people making others pay for their wounds. But you and I were made of the same stuff that makes the entire Universe. Literally. Whether you believe in God, a Higher Power, or science, this proves out. We were made by God, and no small, spiteful person can diminish what God has made. 

I was grateful to her for bringing that life-lesson to my attention. Little did I know I’d need the reminder just a few days later.

The injustice of life is that sometimes you can give your whole heart to something --give it the very best you have- and receive a kick in the teeth in return. This has just happened to me. Run-of-the-mill meanness is one thing, but betrayal leaves deep, devastating wounds, because it is a hurt that comes from people you loved and trusted.

I can't control what others have done, but I always have a choice in how I react. I can either become stronger in love, or crumble in despair. I choose love. When people are cruel, I have learned to put myself in my protective pink love-bubble and remember the words of Glinda the good witch, “You have no power here!” 

For every cruel thing that was just done to me, I put my hand up and I deflect with love. It is on the doer, not me.

LOVE WINS, and no broken person will ever convince me otherwise.

And thank God for the love of my husband, family and friends. They help me patch up that pink love bubble when I am weak.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why Women Will Lead the Way on Gun Reform

Huge thanks to my friend Brooke Elise Axtell for inviting me to write this piece for The Feminist Wire. This details my personal experience with gun violence, how it led me to work in gun violence prevention, standing up against the bullies who want to silence us. 

"What woke me that summer morning in 1978 was the screaming. I didn’t know it was my mother’s voice. I’d never heard a sound like that come out of her. I ran into the living room to find my seven-year-old brother Christopher covered in blood. He had just been shot in the head by a neighborhood kid playing with his dad’s gun..."

Read the article here:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Follow Your Bliss: Amy Friedman

 Follow Your Bliss is a new series of interview blogs I'll be posting about people who inspire me. These are friends of mine who have courageously said NO to a conventional life, and followed their dreams no matter the cost. Every person on this planet has a rich life story to tell. My aim is to share a few of them here.

Amy Friedman has been a journalist, author, teacher, workshop leader and activist--always fighting for the underdog. She is also the muse who inspired me to write my most recent book, Wind To Wildfire. I'm inspired by Amy because she has been relentless in pursuing the things that really matter to her, whether that be her art or her activism. I was especially moved by her diligence in getting her book "Desperado's Wife" out into the world. Though told by agents and publishers that no one would ever want to read about a woman who marries a prisoner, she proved them wrong by publishing her book, and then immediately being invited to appear on the Katie Couric show. Shortly after, she launched her nonprofit POPS, for family members of those who are in prison.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything but a writer—well, okay, maybe for a while I thought about becoming a wandering surfer or a professional tennis player –but being a writer was at the center of my dreams from age 12 onward, after I wrote my first short story, one inspired by my grandmother who suffered with mental illness. People talked about her, and I wanted her to have a voice, so the story I wrote was what I convinced myself she must have wanted the world to hear.

Is your lifepath today relevant to your childhood dreams?

Almost thoroughly, yes, but of course there have been long periods when I felt lost. It’s only with a retrospective glance that I see how that first short story I wrote encompasses almost everything I do to this day. In all the memoirs, stories, essays and novels I write, in the ghostwriting I do, in my teaching and in the creation of POPS (Pain of the Prison System) for kids whose lives are touched by prison—my path seems to be to help give voice to the voiceless, language to the silences. That’s why I love the Emile Zola line: “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”

How did you get the courage to pursue the writing career you’re in today?

Honestly, I think it’s less courage than it is rebellion and stubbornness. Since I don’t know how to do anything much else but write and teach writing (and boogie board and play tennis), I find myself here, doing this writing thing—though occasionally I still daydream about becoming a wandering surfer…

What was the highest moment of your career so far?

Most of my highs are those moments when I somehow find the words to say what has been swirling in heart and mind and soul, but perhaps the most recent high was finishing (after 10 years and 30 drafts) Desperado’s Wife and having an opportunity to talk about it on national television (a nerve wracking high). But if I have to pick one thing, probably the highest moment of my career so far was becoming a syndicated writer in 1992 for one of the two columns I started writing in Kingston, Ontario—but writing a regular column is, I think, what truly made me a writer.

What was the lowest moment, and what did you learn from it?

Probably the lowest moment (that I recall) was when I finally realized if I wanted Desperado’s Wife to be out in the world, I had to take it out myself. For a while I was just sad, jealous and broke. But for the thousandth time I learned that it’s never acceptance that gives me the deepest satisfaction, and that rejection, icky as it feels for a while, vanishes as soon as a new project/idea is underway. I love Emerson on this: “Do not waste yourself in rejection. Do not bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.” So I’ve learned to chant on…

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Oh man… I see myself sitting in a room like the room where I’m writing this. I’m on an island at an artists’ residency, and outside my window magnolias are blooming and a cold spring wind is howling in off the Atlantic. For the past two weeks I’ve been writing and wandering this island, meeting new artists, eating good food, and I feel so whole and happy and curious about what’s coming next (in my life and on the page), I can’t imagine anything better. I’ll be writing. I’ll still be enjoying my wonderful husband and children and friends, and I’ll be wandering— physically, mentally and spiritually. And there’ll be a POPS club in every school in the country, and I’ll be so proud of having made that happen.

What’s still at the top of your bucket list, and how will you make it happen?

Top of my bucket list is travel to places I haven’t been but have dreamed of going—India, Southeast Asia, South America. I’ll pack a bag and take off—but that’s just the beginning. I’ll also keep adding to the list. 

Favorite quote: Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.  - Thomas Edison

Find all info on Amy Friedman's books and nonprofit here:

Watch Amy on the Katie Couric show: