Friday, December 25, 2015


Once upon a time, high on a golden hill, lived the smallest fir tree. His older brothers and sisters often sent him special gifts: a spider trailing on a silken thread, milkweed spores drifting on a summer breeze, soft pollen that painted him yellow. These presents made the littlest fir tree tremble with joy. But when the spider lifted away, the downy milkweed fluttered to the field, and the wind dusted off the pollen, the littlest fir tree was lonelier than ever.

One Spring day, a wren chose to nest in the smallest fir tree. Mornings, the baby birds chortled as their mother searched for grubs and worms. One afternoon, as the littlest fir tree and the baby wrens drowsed in the wan sun, the wren squawked loudly, rousting her family from the tree. A man and a boy, both clad in overalls, walked through the orchard, throwing fertilizer around the firs.

"There, there.” The boy tossed pellets under the littlest fir tree’s boughs. “Grow strong and healthy and green.”

He squinted up at the nest perched in the littlest tree, his Red Sox cap on backwards. His fingers stroked the needles and the tree shivered.

"So soft, papa,” the boy said. “Like a kitten’s tail.”

"Yup,” said the man. “He’s the youngun here – just like you.”

That summer, the wind smelled of sweet hay. Buzzing bees filled the air with song. The farmer and his son came to the hill almost every day, watering the trees when the sun withered their needles. The boy panted and groaned as he hauled the full pails up the hill, but he always watered the littlest fir tree. Afterwards, he collapsed in the cool shade cast by the littlest fir tree and told stories about the puffy cloud creatures scudding across the sky.

One morning, the farmer came with a machine that whirred and twirled. The smallest fir tree watched the farmer trim his brothers and sisters into triangle shapes. The other trees danced in the breeze, happy with their new look, but the buzzing tool scared the smallest fir tree.

“This won’t hurt,” the boy said.

And it didn’t, the tool tickled. The fir tree shivered with delight.

The leaves of the forest Maples flamed red. Shadows stretched long across the meadow. The man came to the orchard, but always alone; the littlest fir tree missed the boy’s visits. On the first hard frost, the hill sparkled with diamonds. The man walked the orchard, still alone, pulling long red and white and yellow ribbons from a leather bag slung over his shoulder. He tied a ribbon on each tree and soon, the ribbons fluttered like flags in the brisk autumnal air. The littlest fir tree wondered what color ribbon the farmer would tie on him. But when the man reached the hilltop, he paused before the littlest tree and sighed a deep sigh, then walked back down the hill.

The sun dropped behind the forest ridge. The fir tree shivered, sending needles to the ground.

The ground rumbled. Cars and trucks filled the bottom field. Shouts of children filled the air.

“There! This tree!”

“No, this one!”

The children swarmed around the small fir tree, sometimes even saying “This one!”

But the fathers said, “This tree is too puny. Besides, it has no ribbon,” and strode past, saws and axes thrown over their shoulders. The littlest fir tree trembled as his brothers and sisters groaned and fell to the ground.

Snow dusted the stump-stubbled hill. Without the protection of his brothers and sisters, the northeast gusted hard and cold, coating the trembling fir tree in ice. The mockingbird trilled as the wagon, pulled by the man, bumped and creaked up the hill. When the man reached the top, he pulled off his wool hat and wiped his sweat-shined forehead. In the wagon, the bundle of blankets moved; the small boy, pale and drawn, poked out his head. He smiled at the littlest tree, but the smile seemed as big an effort as lugging pails of water.

"This one?” the man asked the boy. “You’re sure?”

The little boy nodded and closed his eyes. The man gazed at the boy for a long moment, then turned away, a tear frozen on his cheek.

The fir tree looked down the hill at the stumps of his family one last time. Then he pulled his limbs tight and waited for the axe’s blow. But the man plunged a shovel into the frozen earth. He chipped a circle, deeper and deeper, around the tree, loosening the dirt around the fir tree’s roots.

The man pulled the tree tight to his chest; more than anything, the littlest tree wanted to stay in his embrace. But the man tugged hard, yanking the tree from the cold ground. The boy clapped his hands, his laugh sounded like birdsong.

“Your little tree will grow strong in the front yard,” the man said. “There, we can see him from the kitchen.”

"And I can visit him in the spring?” the boy whispered.

"Yes.” The man wiped at his shiny cheek. “Yes, you can.”

The man wrapped the trembling tree in burlap and nestled him in the wagon beside the boy. The boy snuggled into the littlest fir tree all the way down the hill and across the bumpy field. When the wagon stopped, the farmer unfurled the littlest fir tree from the cloth and propped him in a large hole. Shovels of dirt and snow covered his roots. The boy clambered from the wagon, falling twice in the deep snow. When he hugged the littlest fir tree, icicles tinkled to the ground.


I originally wrote this story three years ago but wanted to share it again. I think often of the lonely tree, and the lonely children in the world. May your winter nights be full of talk, of laughter, warmth and love. May you never be lonely.

Merry Christmas.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Where I've Been...

Amidst the zany-ness of the holidays and the busy-ness of semester's end, I get glimmerings of what the next year might bring. Small flashes--I think of them as portents--come to me in my night and day dreams, and likely reflect my hopes and desires. Of course, these glimmerings come from where I've traveled this past year. So to make sense of my future I need to take stock of its foundation.

Physically, I've traveled many places this past year. In visiting my son, I've gotten to know Utah more than I'd ever thought possible, and come to appreciate her grand mountains and gentle people and mercurial weather. With my graduate students, I attended a conference outside of Los Angeles, and we've walked Venice Beach, dipped our toes in the warm Pacific. I've visited family in Massachusetts and North Carolina, always a blessing. I traveled briefly to New Orleans and marveled at that City's resilience and grace and eccentricity. I spent a week in Taos, a magical place, with a gracious and strong writer friend who I consider a soul mate. I could spend every night watching the skies in New Mexico shift under God's paintbrush.

Literally, I've struggled, for the first time, with my writing. My novels overwhelm me; just as I think they're finished, something surprises me--an omission, a plot hole, a character flaw--and I fix these, and revise again. And again. And again. I ache to write new words, fiction and non-fiction ideas that wake me up at night. And I will, once I have wrangled these other two beasts to the ground and sent them out to others. I have begun that quixotic search for agents and received personal rejections already. Which feels good because it means I'm almost hitting the sweet spot, and I am letting these stories go.

Physically, I have pushed envelopes. I zip-lined down a mountain in Park City, surfed on synthetic waves, climbed a rock face. Big deals for someone afraid of heights. I'm learning karate with my daughter, which also pushes me.
Spiritually and emotionally, I've moved from a reactive place to a proactive one. I am learning to let go of the emotions surrounding expectations and outcomes. As a Type-A, this is difficult for me. But as I relinquish control to outcomes--mine and others'--I find myself feeling lighter, freer somehow. Also, I realize that there is very little 'real' control; rather, it's my perception of control that has paralyzed me in the past. I've also come to value relationship above all else--spending time in the creek with my daughter, climbing rock faces with my son, coffee and yoga with friends, Saturday nights with my husband. People ground me.

In a nutshell, this is where I've been this past year. What about you? Where have you traveled, physically or literally? Peace...


Monday, December 14, 2015

'tis the season?

This time of year gets nutsy. My friends in academe understand the rush to the end of the semester. These friends, and most everyone else, also understand the psychological pressure to wrap up all those unfinished projects and lose ends before 2015 shudders to a halt.

And then there's the holidays.

I'm feeling a tad grinchy this year. Not ungenerous so much as irritable. Or maybe it's the bah-humbugs that bubble around my heart. It seems the end of the year came at a rush, and all of a sudden it's time to bake and shop and write cards. And thinking (and kind of doing) it all simply exhausts.

I did manage to drape lights on the Nandina bush outside my front door, and get my wreath, decorate it, and hang it up. THAT felt good, felt Christmasy. While the mood lasted I tied our stockings on the stairs railing.

My family is in 'eh' mode too this year. Probably because the last year's been tough, and it seems whenever we kind of breathe slow and dare to relax, BOHICA* happens.

I realized late last night that I was working too hard to get myself and everyone else in that holiday spirit. So I think I'm going to lean back, take each day on my terms. Hanging the wreath, lighting the bush reminded me why I appreciate this nexus of the year. So for the next week I will try to remember to bring the outside into my home, bring the light into the dark, then settle in for the rest of the winter.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NO PLACE LIKE HOME (Giving Thanks)

It's the time of year when we gather with friends and family around turkey and pies. I’ll be doing that, too, and today will be a mad dash to get everything done before The Big Day. Sometimes, in the rush, I forget what I’m celebrating, and why. Yes, Thanksgiving is the quintessential family holiday, and despite the joy and frustration family members provide, we’re thankful for the opportunity to gather.

Thanksgiving is more than family, though; Thanksgiving is about the courage to go to new places, to dare to try something new. The people who settled America found enough bravery to sail across the unknown ocean to a land they’d never seen. And ever since then, people have flocked from every corner of the world to settle on this quirky piece of real estate.

I’m thankful to live in this great country where I am free to gather, for in some places this is illegal. I’m thankful that I have opportunities to choose my path, and that my children have the same opportunities because in some places your job is chosen for you from birth. I’m thankful for the men and women who care for my nation, who protect it from those who wish to take away my freedoms (enough said).

I’m thankful for my health care providers, and thankful to be able to pay for those services. I’m grateful for my education, my home, my poor accident-magnet Honda. I’m thankful I can shop at small local stores or chains or Wal-Mart or Amazon.

I am thankful for my children; until recently, in some countries I might not be able to raise more than one child and certainly not a girl.

I’m grateful I can write and read anything I wish, without fear.

In this era of terrorism and corruption and inflation and Mother Nature run amok, I’m thankful to be alive and experiencing the world, for it reminds me that even though I’m small and only human, I’m still capable of doing good.

What are you thankful for?


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Control Mind

Last week, on yet another murky day after a sunny teaser, I found myself absorbing everything I witnessed on my short walk to work: the woman obviously high and helpless propped up by a man who was not; the squalling of a toddler after his mother shook him hard; the empty booze nips rolling under brittle oak leaves; the pigeon picking at dried vomit.

I felt the gray. I felt the bleakness. And the air filled me with a hopelessness I found difficult to shake.

By afternoon, I was in quite the funk, further compounded by news that not one, but two, people I knew had died. One after battling chronic illness, the other by his own hand. I guess you could say he also battled a chronic illness.

I suppose intensity of feeling is a hallmark of being a writer, a painter, a creator. After more than a year of intense personal turmoil, I'd practiced a way to moderate those feelings: meditation. I practiced meditation so I could find peace and strength to stay in the moment, no matter how hellish the moment. I also practiced to be able to ride through those moments of intense anxiety and depression that my life was peppered with for so long. I like to save meditation saved me, because it helped me to stay mindful of instants I needed to be mindful rather than lose my shit.

But this day last week revealed to me how after six months of relative peace, I'd become complacent again. I went to meditation practice the next night, and the leader, a wonderful wise woman, asked: why do we meditate? After discussion, she summed it up neatly:

We practice meditation so the mind doesn't control us, we control our mind.

As a writer--as a person--I am learning the challenge of allowing feelings to wash over and through me, to let them permeate me, and then: to let them go.

Do you have a meditation practice? Do you wish you did? Let's talk.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Just for Fun: 7-7-7 Challenge

It's Friday, I'm feeling whimsical, so I'll play. James Stryker, a fellow writer warrior from #PitchWars, invited me to the 7-7-7 Challenge. The 7-7-7 (sure beats the 6-6-6 Challenge, heh?) provides the world a glimpse of one's novel, namely 7 lines from the 7th line on the 7th page. Here's mine from PURE, undergoing FINAL edits before it wings out into the world of agents and editors. Here, my MC Post-doc Benjamin Carandini shuffles through the detritus left in his mother's studio after she's died.

I shoved the cards to the side and surveyed the room. So many boxes, so many canvases. I’d spent most of last night going through boxes filled with half-used tubes of oils and brushes, the sable bristles hardened from lack of cleaning. So much crap. I should have started going through her studio years ago, when she first went into the nursing home, even when she told me not to. I considered junking it allthe reams of scrap books, the pages upon pages of paisley-patterned diaries, the loose pencilings of trees and hands and more trees. But like any decent scientist I hoarded data. I’d have to plow through all of Mother’s belongings to discover who she’d managed to fuck at least once to produce me.

I'll tap 7 others via twitter--watch out! And please play!
Thanks, as always, for reading.

Monday, August 31, 2015


In  between the time of my last blog post and this one, I could've birthed a baby. A preemie, mind you, but a healthy one. So wassup with me? Where have I been?

Lot's is up, and I've been lots of places. Mostly, my attention's focused on family: my kids, my husband, the animals (one deaf cat, bunny, three mice, and two betta fish). My son is in private school in Utah, which is mighty far from Baltimore. He's doing well; it seems a good dose of maturity kicked in on his 16th birthday. Ditto with my daughter, three years younger. Dear husband will get his extra dose of maturity later this week, when he turns a year older.

This year, I've pushed envelopes: I've zip lined down mountains, surfed in a man-made wave machine, sewn two handbags, and even ridden a horse. I have hugged the huge pine that Georgia O'Keefe once rested under, her face to the sky. I've hiked into wind caves and swum in icy mountain lakes. On the emotional and spiritual sides, even more envelopes pushed. All have served to make me more whole and more grounded.

And I have learned to say no.

Travel? Mostly due to family and work--and my writing. For work, I've traveled locally, to Washington DC and the Chesapeake Bay. For family, I've visited Mom in North Carolina and Mom-in-Law in Massachusetts. As a family, we've traveled to Utah twice, and I'm heading out again for a third trip. I spent a long weekend in a hobbit cabin with my daughter and her friend in deep Creek, Maryland, where we wrote, swam, and ate. And I spent a week writing in Taos, one of my spiritual homes, with a dear friend.

But the best journeying I've done in my head and with my hand, helping my characters continue to fumble through their lives. I am writing again, and revising; I've suffered not from writer's block but more a paralysis of the soul. For I have written, but in my personal journal, stuff I'll never share (though it make permute into my stories and poems eventually) because it is too raw.

I'm back on facebook. Back on twitter. Find me. there or here. Tell me what's new with you. I have missed you.


Thursday, January 01, 2015

Sometimes Resolutions Mean Just Breathing

I can't say I am sad to see 2014 become part of my archives. It was, in a word, fraught. A year of tensions and uncertainties and a lot of tests.

But the past is just that--the past. The future looms ahead, a bright, shiny penny. In my dreams that penny symbolizes my hope, a hope that will likely dissolve into a mirage.

My tests have taught me a lot: I can't change the past; I can't predict the future; I can't fix anyone but myself. Incredibly freeing lessons.

I don't make resolutions. But for this new year, one that I can't imagine being any worse that the last one, I will endeavor to remember the lessons I learned. I will apply them in ways that keep me happy and healthy, and that keep my children safe and healthy.

I will breathe.

I will not wallow in regret.

I will not worry about what has yet to come.

I will remember I am strong, and kind.

I will remember that intuition is more honest than anything I read or think.

I will move forward.

I will do my best, knowing I can always do better.

I will forgive myself.

Thank you, dear friends, for being my pillars. Your cards and notes, prayers and emails, all make a difference. Think of me as a mirror, beaming all your love and joy and peace back at you.

Happy New Year, and peace...