Monday, October 25, 2010


So this week I was able to print out the first draft of my first-ever book. I brought it home from Kinko’s in a box, opened it, and set the stack of pages on my kitchen table so I could look at it all day. And I did. On the way to get the laundry out of the dryer, it sat there haughtily, triumphantly. It called “Ooh, look at me!” as I passed by with the vacuum. I had to stop in the middle of making dinner when it enticed me to flip through its pages to read a random passage.

Is it any good? I don’t know. My gut says it is, and in the long run I think that’s the most important thing. Whether or not it’s ever published, I have a piece of work that can be handed down as a part of me. And I can cross one of the major items off my To-Do list. It’s one of the biggest things I’ve ever done. It feels great.

It makes me think about people I know who have accomplished their dreams. I asked my friend about this after she achieved her lifelong dream of performing in a Broadway show. “So, now that you’ve achieved your ultimate goal,” I wondered as we gabbed over coffee after her show. “What happens next, after you’ve gotten your wish?”

Isn’t dreaming about it half the fun? Dreaming, wishing, hoping. I wonder how many times people achieve their deepest desires only to be disappointed afterward? I plan to relish in my accomplishment as long as possible.

I have many long-term goals on my To-Do List, and it’s nice to cross one off. And while I love planning and wishing and looking forward to other accomplishments, sometimes my list is overwhelming. There just isn’t enough time to do everything I want to do! That’s why I made a list of everything I’ve accomplished so far. I stepped back and looked at my life and wrote down all I’ve done so far – a list that shows what I’d be proud of if my life ended today. Full of events and experiences, small and large, that list allows me to take a breath and feel like I’ve done plenty already.

So what’s my next big project? Another book!(I have ideas for several!)But for now, no pressure. I’m going to tell my freshly printed book to relax, relish my list of accomplishments, and just breathe.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

They Only Cost $7.50

This morning at the dog park there was a woman in pajamas and slippers on the big-dog side. “He just walked right into my house!” she remarked from her spot on the park bench. Three other dog owners stood nearby listening to her story as she petted a friendly black lab. “I don’t know what to do!”

Apparently the dog was a stray, and she had driven it over to the dog park for advice about what to do with it. A phone call was made to a local woman who rescues dogs, and she suggested the pajama woman take the dog to the vet to see if it is microchipped, and then bring it to her if it wasn’t. The woman ran home to change into real clothes first, and I watched the black dog run around the dog park happily.

And it made me so angry, as it would any animal lover. My thoughts strayed to those people who move and leave their pets behind, to those people who dump unwanted animals in the desert, to those people who have no regard for the lives of animals. But what I mostly thought about was my desperate plea for anyone who owns a pet to put a collar and a tag on it!

This black dog was healthy and loved, and it probably had a family somewhere who might not even know yet that it was missing. And why didn’t it have a tag? If it had, the original woman could have called right away and it would have been home in minutes.

A while back, I saw a small dog near my house on my way to work, and I pulled over to try to help it. The little dachshund mutt came to me immediately, and I looked at its collar only to find it bare. If there had been a tag, I would have called right away and taken it to its home, safe, away from traffic. Instead, I had to go on to work and be comforted by the fact that it looked like the dog was heading home. Who knows.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found dogs wandering around while their owners are oblivious. And it makes me so angry! It costs almost nothing to get one of those engraved tags. But it could save your dog’s life. And don’t give me the excuse that your dog never gets out - it only takes one time, one mistake. Please, please, please tag your dogs? Do it today? Please.

I fought the urge to wait in the dog park until the pajama woman returned, fought the urge to protect him until his fate was determined. I imagined taking him home to our house as a new slobbery friend for George. They would have been a cute pair, George little, white, and fluffy; the other big, black and sleek. But instead I headed for home, mostly convinced that the pajama woman would return. I can’t save them all. And it breaks my heart.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


In rural southern Indiana, there are eleven acres of land that are mine. A section of the land runs along the road, where you can pull your car off into the grass and climb the steep hill to the highest part, past overgrown weeds and an old spring house, past cow paths, a grove of small cedar trees, and a huge rock where water rushes from the ground when it rains.

As a kid, Mom and I made a game of climbing the hill and not allowing ourselves to turn around and look at the view until we reached the very highest part, where the two sides of fence met in a corner by a huge sycamore tree. There, out of breath and sweaty, we said “Okay, now!” and simultaneously we turned to see the sweeping view of the valley, past the roof of our house far below, over the grey line of country road that led into far trees, past the green striped corn fields, to the other side of the valley where sat a house and a red barn that were small rectangles from our lofty view. The black and white cows in the distant pasture were tiny specks.

That land became mine after my mom died, and we sold her house but kept the acreage on the hill. And for years, I sentimentally envisioned building a house up there with huge front windows that could watch the view year-round, as the hills turned from green to autumn to snowy white, and the far away cornfields emerged, grew tall, turned brown, and were plowed into the ground again.

I knew I never really wanted to live in my hometown, but it was always nice to have that dream in the back of my mind. It was reassuring to know at any time I was welcome back there, that I was always connected, even legally, by insurance and taxes and the mowers who kept the hilltop clear every year to protect the view. I was always connected to my childhood because I owned a part of it.

I always said that if I ever sold the land, it would have to be to someone who knew my mom and would appreciate it. I couldn’t sell to strangers or to people who just wanted it for the lumber or hay or pasture. So when my cousin called to ask if we might consider selling, because she and her husband would like to build a house on it, suddenly I realized the land wouldn’t be mine much longer.

My cousin’s parents, and grandparents, owned the neighboring land, and as a kid I used to travel up our hill and through the woods to their houses. One snowy winter her mother, my mom, their dog, my cat, and I met on the hilltop at night where we built a small fire and roasted marshmallows for a nighttime snow party. “We know what a great view there is up there,” my cousin told me on the phone when she explained their reason to buy. Indeed, she would appreciate the land, just as I wanted.

The paperwork was emailed and signed and faxed, and now I know when I go back to Indiana for Thanksgiving, the hill will no longer be mine. Of course my cousin will welcome a visit anytime, and I can walk the little path where I used to explore and play Laura Ingalls, I can walk the fencerow where my cousin Jay tried to cross the fence while wearing a pair of red plastic skis, I can explore the old barn whose doorways are now blocked by twenty-year-old trees. But once their house is built up there, the land will no longer be wilderness, it will no longer be the land I used to gaze at through my back bedroom window, wide-eyed at the wild land and animals that I knew were up there. Instead it will be someone’s yard. And it won’t be mine.

Now that the land's paperwork is completed, we have new paperwork to focus on: a homestudy, autobiography, driving record, health check, Dear Birthmother letter – the paperwork for adoption. After over five years of fertility crap that depleted our bank accounts, the sale of this land is going to make us able to adopt – an adoption that was put on hold for years.

After years of waiting and hoping, years of bitterness and tears, the sale of my mom’s precious land is giving us our long-awaited family. My Mom has given us this gift. Of course she was the one who helped us in the end. Life always seems to come full circle.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Old Friends

Do you have a favorite artist? I inherited my love of the Impressionists from my mother, who filled her bookshelves with beautiful hardcover books about Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir; always wrote in a diary full of photos of Impressionist paintings; and even grew her own water lilies in an antique wooden tub on our front porch. Throughout my childhood, we owned a little piece of Monet’s garden, right there on our front porch in rural Indiana.

Ever since I was little, my Mom took me to art museums in local colleges or in the nearby larger cities, and as an adult I always go to the famous museums when I travel. I have stood in front of that Seurat painting in Chicago, where Ferris Buehler’s friend stood transfixed by his thousands of dots. In New York I sat for a full thirty minutes on a bench in front of Monet’s haystacks, trying to absorb the artist’s vantage point from which he viewed his simple subject during the passing of the seasons, the passage of time. I’ve seen Michaelangelo’s David and Rembrandt’s “Self Portrait at the Age of 63” (not Impressionists but still worthy!) In Paris I bypassed the tourist-packed Louvre and opted for the Musee de l’Orangerie, where I stumbled upon the room where Monet’s life-sized paintings of his water gardens were the only thing in the room – an oval room almost entirely covered by his garden scenes, so you could sit in the middle and actually be there, amid the muted blues of the water, the greens of the vegetation, the hazy dots of colorful flowers.

When I moved to Las Vegas years ago, the Bellagio was about to open, and amid the tacky neon signs of the Strip’s casinos, the Bellagio’s marquis read “Coming Soon: Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne.” They were about to open their new art museum, and I remember calling my Mom and telling her it was a sign that I was in the right place. And not long after that, I moved into a new apartment and learned that the construction across the street was for a library with an attached art museum. Another sign.

Last weekend I was in San Francisco for a wedding and was happy to discover that the Musee de Orsay’s traveling collection was in Golden Gate Park’s de Young . It was an exhibition of the Impressionists. I happily paid the $25 admission and stepped into the exhibit’s first room. And it was like coming home. A cheesy statement, but it’s true. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I walked from painting to painting. And after taking in the artwork, I also enjoyed looking at the people who stood next to me: the older couple who listened to their self-guided tour headsets and nodded at the interesting facts, the man in a suit who may have been there on his lunch break, the older woman who reminded me of my mom as she sat on the bench in the middle of the room and just absorbed the atmosphere. These people shared with me a camaraderie – bound by our appreciation of, and connection to, these artists.

My sentimental reaction surprised me at the time, but looking back, it’s no wonder that I got emotional. These paintings – these artists - have been with me throughout my life, in the pages of the books in our living room, all over the world during my travels, in that tub on the front porch, and in the Impressionistic brush strokes of my mother’s own paintings. Seeing the Impressionists is like visiting old friends. Like visiting family.

After my mom died, the school where she worked offered to put up a stone fountain in her honor, in the school’s courtyard outside the room where she had taught art for 24 years. But at my request, instead they installed a water garden, and water lilies, to carry on her love of the Impressionists to future generations. What could have been a better tribute?