It seems like when you leave youth behind, you should at least know it. There ought to be a requiem of some kind. A demarcation.

Mama_0001 copy.jpgThis year, at 74, for the first time I feel old. I’m not unaware that I’ve BEEN old for quite some time, but other than a twinge here and there, my ring finger increasingly getting stuck in the bent position, an aching knee when I walk too far, and forgetting a few more names than usual (I’ve had dysnomia since childhood – my own particular learning disability – and have consistently called my kids by their siblings names and my current husband by my first husband’s name), but still, I have FELT young. I’ve continued to live my life full steam ahead as if I was 30 – or 50 – and do far more every day than any reasonable person ought, exactly like I always have.

With the help of L’Oreal, I appear a little younger than I am, so people are surprised when I tell them my true age, pleasing me no end. Inside I still feel 17. My essential nature is girlish, the rebellious teenager. I continue to push myself to see as much of the world as I can before I bite it, and find a way to lug around my growing grandchildren whom I love beyond reason, though one-year old Harrison is a giant!

But this is the year – 74 – the year I feel the difference. I ache in more places, long for a nap every afternoon, and like nothing more than coming home and climbing in bed early, piddling, reading a book or watching a series, or if my energy’s up, writing. When I overextend, I feel it, sometimes for days. 

I find I have less and less interest in intellectual arguments, arguments of any kind, though I am as opinionated as ever. “Leave well-enough alone,” my father, an inveterate conflict avoider, always said, and at 74, I am beginning to agree with him. I like to see myself as a woman of strong feeling but peaceable instincts. I am happy most of the time, and there’s a pile of good stuff about getting old, but that is an essay for another day.

It seems like when you leave youth behind, you should at least know it. There ought to be a requiem of some kind. A demarcation.

74 is my demarcation.

Mama had said it one day: “I couldn’t conceive of ever being like Papa and Mama. I felt sorry for them. They worked and worried and never seemed to be having any fun. Mama even fretted over meals, what she was going to have, and then when it was on the table, she talked about whether it was cooked right or not. Not long after supper, they said they were tired and went to bed. Poor things. They were old, but I’d never be that way.”

 “It kinda sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?” I agreed.

“Even when you and Carol used to ask me how I felt, and I’d say, ‘Not too well’ or ‘Oh, I guess I’m all right . . . just tired,’ and you’d get this look on your faces—the same blank expression I’m sure Papa and Mama witnessed on mine. I could have told you that I don’t really feel old inside, in my spirit—that I feel exactly the way I’ve always felt inside. It’s just my body that’s tired and getting old. But that look of incomprehension would still be there, because there’s no way to bridge the gap. Not then. You thought your skin would never get soft and wrinkled, and that your slim little waists would never thicken. You’d never feel sad because life was flying by and you hadn’t had time to do everything you wanted to.” 

“Well, that stage is long past,” I said, patting my belly. 

She continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “Youth blinds you, and it’s a good thing. We need blinders at times. I wish I had some now. You let feeling take over and possess you. Even sadness, being miserable, is good when you’re young. Sorrow has a kind of beauty; it’s all of a piece, and you are in it, instead of it being in you.”

“Yeah . . .” 

“But later on, you try to temper all that emotion because it’s uncomfortable if it’s too strong. Better to be lukewarm than to burn with too bright a flame. You’d rather be comfortable. It’s a little like being in a harness. You feel the traces on either side, and they keep you in the middle of the road where it’s safe, away from the ditches and the deep embankments—the wide, open, scary stretches that could lead anywhere.”

I was only partially following.

“Sometimes, I wonder how I got on this safe, straight road to death. When did I cross the invisible line between young and old? At what moment, exactly, did I discover that strong feeling was bad on my heart and my blood pressure, that peace of mind was the be-all and end-all of living? When did I decide that cooking the meat just right was all-important? It seems like when you leave youth behind, you should at least know it. There ought to be a requiem of some kind. A demarcation. When you care more about cooking the meat just right than you care about how many people are starving all over the world or how a black man feels when somebody calls him Nigger, you at least ought to know when you changed.”

From Getting Old, a chapter in my new memoir: Shopping with Mama: Write ’Til the End. Buy my book and read more at

The Good Luck Club

Female friendships that work are relatioships in which women help each other belong to themselves.  — Louise Benikow

53.jpgOnce or twice a year, Mama; my sister, Carol; my daughter, Kirsten; and I would have a sleepover, climb into our pajamas and talk. Each woman got her chance to spill the beans—if there were beans to spill—or just laugh, drink, eat and commiserate. We were girls telling jokes, acting crazy, depressed, happy, cynical, silly, or whatever we really were in the company of our peers. Afterwards we found we could deal better with the pile on our plates, and sometimes gather the courage to smash the plate altogether. 

My grandmother’s generation had called this conclave The Little Helper’s Club: their tribe of womenfolk who helped each other with whatever life threw their way—some predicament, their husbands, or children. They may not have had much power in the outside world, but they had one hell of a responsibility inside the family frame. They got things done, moved themselves and their families forward. The name morphed into the Good Luck Club for Mama, Carol, Kirsten, and me.

True, we had a few fiascos when one of us got too honest or pushy. There were meltdowns, or one would leave with her feelings hurt. The group was for support, for God’s sakes! So, we would self-correct and behave. 

But as everybody knows: Girls rule! Certain things seem to transpire only when women are alone together. Here are a few snippets.

In Mama’s living room: “It’s fascinating to me to watch the dynamic, the various things that go on between husband and wife,” Mama said, settling back into her club chair and putting her feet up on the needlepoint footstool. “All for different reasons, of course. It’s like a dance to me.

“A dance implies something a little more beautiful,” I said.

“Yeah, some of it isn’t so beautiful, just a jumpin’ and a jivin’,” Kirsten added, pushing back a long strand of her russet hair. This time she’d brought her new baby daughter, Mena Claire, to our gathering—her gift to her grandmother, a baby, a namesake.
“Mena Claire throws me into a total trance. Look at me: I’ve got the smile of a complete simpleton on my face.”

Mena Claire gooed at her. She looked like a Scandinavian baby with her red cheeks and ribbed t-shirt.

Mama changed tack. “I need your help, girls. I don’t know if I’m going through retribution, hell on earth, or revelation, but I’m beginning to realize what a plain ole stinking person I can be! There’s a little blue car over at the McCuskers’, and I don’t know whose it is. My first inclination was to call Mary Jo and say, ‘Come on, Mary Jo, since you never come by and see me anymore, I would certainly like for you to just tell me who is living at the McCuskers’ now.’ I feel like someone should tell me that.”

“Mama,” I chastised. “Mary Jo’s not leaving you out. She’s busy. She works. She does so much for you.” I identified with Mary Jo.

“No. Nothing is the same any more, Marion. It’s not right for Mary Jo to all of a sudden ignore me, not after all these years together. It’s not right. I helped her get that house, introduced her to people around here. Now, I may as well not exist. And then I think: Let it go, Mena. Don’t get your knickers in a knot. But can I really change at this stage of my life and be a nice person instead of a mean old bitch?”

“Well, how do you think you’re going to handle it, Grandma?” Kirsten, the expert questioner, proffered.

“I just made the first move,” Mama said. “I aired my beef to my two kinsmen. Tell me the truth, not something just to spare my feelings. Here I am. I have lived this long and I’m not any better than I ever was. In fact, I’m worse.”

“Hmmmm. I can see how that would be troubling,” Kirsten mused out loud.

“I do not want that sweet little namesake of mine to ever know what a real bitch I can be,” Mama warned. 

“But that’s her birthright, Granny. It’s important for her to know the foibles of even the greatest. Maybe it doesn’t sound good, but it’s human. Everyone harbors grudges and complaints. We all have our low and small-minded moments. That’s okay. It’s human. I don’t like being around saints.”

“Do you know any saints?”

Kirsten thought. “Yeah, one. Joan.”

“They’re flat as batter cakes,” Mama said.
“Poke Salad.”

“If I were sober, I would know what that is. What do I do with it?” Mama asked.

“Put it in your nose,” Kirsten said.


We descend into silliness.


More can be be read about women propagating good luck in Shopping with Mama: Write ‘Til the End.

What I Learned While Avoiding Prison

il_570xn.1063601253_300jSeveral years ago, my husband and I decided to take an extended trip around the country. About the same time, I found the minimalist movement and never looked back. 

In subsequent months, we either sold or put into storage everything we had except enough furniture to turn our thirty-year-old home into a “furnished house in the woods” for rent.

I was finally able to let go of the jumbled room upstairs I’d once called Shipping and Receiving, only recently turning it into “The Staging Area” after a mentor’s advice – a place to stage the next chapter of your life, he said. Ours was to put our trip-on-the-road life into full swing.

Living without a house for seven months was one of the best periods of my life. We both knew by the end of it, that we did not want to go back to the status quo. So much to clean. So much to maintain. So much to heat and cool. 

We would build a clubhouse for our growing grands, and periodically use it ourselves.

I took a minimizing course, twice, bought the book and joined the Facebook group. I had files and files on my desktop of disappearing beds, folding tables, composting toilets, and eensy-weensy showers. A lifetime packrat, I was now persuading myself to give it all away. We even emptied the storage locker and distributed the heirlooms. I kept only a bag of old silverware for future Christmas presents.

This was totally liberating!

Months of research later, my husband and I were drawing on napkins at dinner time: tiny stairs containing drawers, and and other equally ingenious architectural features that did double duty. I designed a beautiful spice rack that folded down into extra counter space. We thought about what cookware we really needed (I rarely bake), how many coffee cups, which thirty three items of clothing we each wanted to take into our shrinking closet, one we were now going to share.

We were shedding skins like a snake. And having fun doing it. My inner eight-year old, with its love for hobbit houses in tree trunks, was in the driver’s seat.

The first months of living in our tiny space were full of lessons and surprises. 

Here’s what I learned after a longer stint in my new abode: 

Our two-story “clubhouse” in the woods is about 250 square feet, though ingenious, for sure. Our grands love it!

We also have a detached full bathroom, and a small RV that Art uses as an office – or a snore hut – or an escape hatch, whatever it needs it to be. We are three times better off, one might say, than if we had only one tiny container between us. And, of course, we have our lovely woods all around and a giant lily-pad porch-surround that we use liberally three seasons of the year.

Nevertheless, given the huge differences between us in everything from wake up and sleepy time to loud radio vs. an overriding need for silence, there is now no more reason – or excuse – not to just say it:

The answer, my friends, to unruly sprawl and outlandish consumption, to lessening our footprint on the earth isn’t tiny unless you are a single person, a hermit (one) or a gremlin.

It’s small. Not tiny.

Any communal room that would fit the needs of two such disparate personalities as we are needs to be long and large with ample alcoves to hide away and a few separate rooms as well: a second bedroom, one that might also function as a guest room or office, multiple-use still being the key phrase. 

And you gotta’ have earphones.

For two or more, if you want to stay sane, it’s gotta’ be:

Small. Not tiny

Otherwise, we must seriously discuss the effects of crowding on rats (not good) and the inevitable madness, mayhem and possible murder that might truly occur if the tiny prescription is swallowed like Kool Ade. 

Like I did.

It looks mighty fine in pictures, which is where it should remain: other peoples’ experiences in hell.

Remember, Small. Not tiny.

We need to get away from each other, ya’ll. We need to be able to sleep without someone else snoring and belching and farting through the night every night. 

We need to feel great in our own skin and not be sighed at or criticized because some aspect of our personality is grating to the other, and we’re just too close.

Going on writing retreats reminded me of that,  which I knew even as a young girl.

And remember when we first started going out or getting to know our new friend? We went home after having fun. We got in our own space. We turned out the light or stayed up as late as we damn well pleased, and nobody said nothing about nothing.


It’s easy to forget all that in a marriage – a close coupling in a tight space. Yummy at times. But not All Times. Not for most of us.

Long story short: Think about small.

Save tiny for prison.

Little Old Lady in the Thrift Shop


I figured out who I am likely to be as an old lady today. 

I feel at home here in this Episcopal thrift shop, wandering around and, in my current tiny house headset, denying myself, but still finding some possible pants I could let the waist out of.

And a lamp.

I sit down at a table to wait for my daughter, who is still fingering the merchandise and has a stack of clothes on her arm, and begin to write on my phone:

Little Old Lady in the Thrift Shop

What are you so busy with? Someone asks.

Well I’m a writer 

Oh yeah …?

Do you know where the vacuum cleaners are? she asks.

This will be my shopping routine, unlike the tony stores I took my own mother to every week for the last decade of her life.

I acknowledge the thrill of browsing, maybe purchasing; the real power of retail therapy, even with only pennies in my pocket, and a need for nothing much.

Mama taught it to me.

Find out more by reading my book: Shopping with Mama: Write ’Til the End, out mid- December 2018. Pre-orders soon. And, if you would, please help me get Mama’s story out to the world, by going to the FB page of the same name, liking and sharing to help me spread the word. It helps! Thanks!

Dirty Jokes and Cuss Words

Mama’s sense of humor was her saving grace.

“Get that guy over here,” Mama would command every time she was in a slump. “I need some jokes. Now, Marion!” (She was referring to my teacher friend who could tell dirty jokes at the drop of a hat, and once or twice I did bring him over just to cheer her up.)

“Man plans and God laughs” was written on a scrap of paper she had magneted to her refrigerator for as long as I could remember.

When I was 5 years old, the punchline of a joke she told that I can’t remember now, was “shit, shower and shave,” so you know she didn’t hold her tongue around children. We grew up laughing. (Crying, too…. In short, we grew up emotionally open.)

Though she warned us about context, and when to and not to, especially if God’s name was invoked, she could let out a cuss word with class.

My father also occasionally said ‘Damn’ and ‘Hell,” but he eschewed “shit” as a sissy word. Women said it; not men, he explained. He tried all his life to get us to to substitute “odsbodikins” for the S word. (For the unschooled, “odsbodikins”  refers to God’s little dagger with which He pricked the unwary: a mild, profane oath from merry old England.) It didn’t take.

Maybe he was right about ‘shit’ though. I remember the day when Mama was in her nineties, and my son called me, laughing, to say he had just called her, and when he asked how Mama was, she said “Oh, Law, Tom, I’ve said ‘shit’ nine times today, and it’s only 1 o’clock!”

Mama was irreverent. Her number one path to “enlightenment” was in laughing her head off even if she had to alter her consciousness to do it. Can we say highballs? Not to mention pot.

If finding life funny was among God’s true gifts, Mama had that one in spades. She loved to laugh at the foibles and eccentricities of human nature, the ironies, the jokes on us all.

She taught me well.

Find out more by reading Chapter 24 in my book: Shopping with Mama: Write ’Til the End, out in early December 2018. And, if you would, please help me get Mama’s story out to the world, by going to the FB page of the same name, liking and sharing to help me spread the word. That’s the way the hard work of book marketing is helped these days. Thanks!

Mind Twister: Writing and Publishing a Book

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt


I woke this morning with renewed respect for my Mama, who gave me so many notepads and diaries with lock and key, and told me to “go write about it” from the time I could hold a #2 lead pencil in my fat little hand, and who wrote and published four books in her lifetime, plus endless stories and articles and short pieces that never saw the light of day. Renewed respect for all my writer friends, as well. 

I turned to writing for so many reasons: to live in my imagination and engage myself in an all-consuming activity when I was bored; to get accolades from my teachers when I turned in an assignment; to unravel my jumbled thoughts and figure out what was really going on in my head; to describe something beautiful or horrible or see the magical in the mundane; to record the events of the day or to make up stories about little girls who were like me, or who I felt I really was inside in spite of my skinny legs and awkward ways. Plus, I saw my parents writing every day of my childhood, so it was almost a foregone conclusion that I, too, would write.

“Writing mattered in our house. It was a noble thing, an adventure: to live by your wits, by the powers of your observation, then put it in print to tell a story. Both my parents wrote for a living; my father was a newspaperman, my mother a novelist, biographer, and historian. Revealing the way you saw life had value. Writing was considered a brave act.” 

From Shopping with Mama: Write ’til the End out fall, 2018

Publishing a book, however, is an altogether different task. It involves critique and endless revisions, writing queries and synopses, chapter outlines, long and short bios, tag lines and log lines, making the pages pretty, creating a cover and a website, advertising. (Tip: That’s what an experienced writing coach can help you with.) 

A writer who gets her work out into the world is not the person who wrote it. An often introspective introvert must turn into a high level administrator and self-promoter, an extrovert. She needs to get out into the public eye, ask people for help, talk about her work, and know how to ask for a sale. She must handle the slings and arrows of many rejections, and when she finally publishes, know some will not like it, might refute the events in her accounting, think she has a “big head” or worse, not mention it at all. (A book or a poem is like a baby, you know. Imagine never even mentioning someone’s child.)

Seeing her baby grow into adulthood, to send it, independently on its way, involves taking the next step, and the next, breathing through her inexperience, her anxiety and timidity, doing it regardless of the outcome. It’s like going a little crazy, while still believing in yourself. 

Meanwhile, the writer is often already creating another “baby” – a blessed act where she can let her heart sing and dig into her interior thoughts and feelings, returning to her natural self. Moving back and forth between these two personas can feel schizophrenic. But as long as the writer has the interior space in which to create, the rest feels at least, possible, if not comfortable.

I saw a meme on Facebook this morning that said the following:  “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life work super fucking hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and also take everything extremely personally.”

Pretty much. 

But there are Big Benefits to finishing, too—to publishing.

For one, there is an incredible amount of learning and clarity that comes from taking a project across the finish line. (The alternative is not better! Imagine how it might play havoc with your self image, needle and nudge you relentlessly, reinforcing old stories that you can’t, you aren’t good enough or talented enough….) The fact that you do it can transform these stories, and you become another person.

Finishing gives you head-space: to rest, enjoy life, and then, create what’s next. Learning what you can only learn in the very final stages of a project, especially one that is going to be read or watched or any way interact with other people, requires you to add to and improve your skills, fine-tune ideas, accelerate effort. It requires you to grow. 

And then there’s the deep satisfaction of doing what you said you would do and keeping your promises to yourself (or in this case, Mama.) And the joy of beholding something now in existence that was previously only an idea in your head. 

You do know how to wash your face and meet the public; how to read aloud, answer questions politely, maybe even with some depth or insight. Your Mama taught you that

As for publishing, it reminds me of the old Pete Seeger song … “Step by step, the longest march can be wonmany stones do make an arch, singly none.” It’s micro-accomplishments, bit by bit..

Here I am, spanning the writer/publisher divide. 

I am looking for the keystone.

Iceland’s Got Legs

“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.” ―Pooh

Iceland's got legs

Each day, there’s a chance of rain and thunderstorms in North Carolina, yet I am still drawn to things at the top of the world.

The Icelandic word for journey is ferð (with a little boat over the o that changes the pronunciation completely – to something like ferth.) And I, a ferðamaður in Iceland last month, witnessed and was told things from the contacts we made, that are still with me, largely our Airbnb hosts (farmers, artists, a fisherman, a policeman, a hairdresser, an activist, and a retired tourist guide) – as well as other worldwide travelers with their feet in the wild hotspots we dipped in. (In summer, the tourist population is seven times that of Icelanders. Think of it!)

♥ Iceland is an island at the edge of the Arctic with its own beach and harbor culture. Whether for commercial purposes or preservation, Icelanders are intimate with the sea. They came here on boats, and they know seafaring ways. There are also so many amazing waterfalls – thin, broad, towering, roaring, that after a while, you just expect them around every twist and turn of the road, not to mention rivers, glaciers, black, white, and pink beaches, and the secret lagoons. Iceland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

“Geothermal, Baby.” All through Iceland, water is central to your experience. Naturally hot water is piped into each home for a small, flat fee (regardless of income or usage.) Each town and hamlet also has a sundlaug, which translates as a water facility, with swimming pools, and hot and cold pools of different temperatures, saunas, steam baths, sometimes slides for kids. Everyone goes to the sundlaug after work or school, sometimes before. The health of the entire population is greatly enhanced by these pools.

We did not go to the Blue Lagoon for several reasons. First the cost: $91-118 each just to get in. (We would go on our way out of the country if time and money permitted, we told ourselves.) But the amazing wild hotspots and sundlaugs in every town warmed us up for free or the $3 Senior fee, kept our muscles and joints limber, and offered so much more intimate talk with others that we are quite sure wouldn’t have happened at the Blue Lagoon, a beautiful, but very large, commercialized geothermal park. Not that you shouldn’t go. It’s just the way we rolled.

Iceland has a very low crime rate. We stayed with Kristian in Borgarnes, a policeman for 18 years, and asked him what he did all day. He shrugged, “Roadside help, maybe a traffic accident here and there. We just drive around all day.”

Our friend, Alma, told us there are a lot of guns, but no one has shot anyone in Iceland since 1976. Can you fathom that? “We fight with words,” she said, smiling. “And swords.” The last execution in Iceland was in 1850, and it was very traumatic for the country. So. No capital crimes, no capital punishment. There are many, many hunters, though, and they work very hard to secure their gun licenses. “It’s not easy,” Alma reported.

Kristian, our policeman host, gets a great salary, six weeks paid vacation, and up to nine months paternity leave, along with his wife, as well as no-to-low cost health care and free education through graduate school. Everyone has a job, and most make a livable wage, in spite of high costs. There are virtually no homeless people.

Icelanders are serious environmentalists, and they LIVE what they believe. They sit on the point of the earth where they see a lot of the weather changes currently happening, and nine months of little-to-no sun, plus storms and rain, preoccupy them with the weather. “We like it when it snows,” one man in the southeast told us. “It makes the sky brighter.”

We went to wonderful National Parks. Everywhere you go, if you pack it in, you pack it out. Because there are no plants in the world more sensitive than moss, and large swaths of Iceland are covered with moss, everyone is quite protective of it, warning you about harming it in any way. Many are oriented to protecting sea creatures, too, though some few also hunt whales.

“There were many good things when we were heathen,” Alma told us, “because then we understood Nature.”

Icelanders are relaxed and practical. They are also not modest, and it is so apparent there that modesty is learned. All the women we met were flat out, honest, adventuresome, and friendly. They were politically aware and active. Proud of their Viking heritage and island culture, they know their history, and want you to know it too. From the earliest age, they strip naked and wash off together once or twice a day in the sundlaug showers before they get in their bathing suits and go out to swim or dip in the hot waters. They do the same getting out. Everyone is a part of the human body, and it’s no big deal. They often warn foreigners not to be surprised in the locker room.

Icelanders love to be outdoors. They carry chairs and blankets in their car’s boot to sit out at a favorite spot, a stream, or a hotpot between the mountains.

It is still possible to shame a politician out of office in Iceland. There are several parties in their coalition government, and a new Pirate’s Party, about 12% of the people, mostly geeks who use the internet to find out about corporate ties various politicians have, or their other wrongdoings, and then broadcast them on the internet to affect the outcome of the election. It works. Alma is a Pirate, too, at 60. Remember “words and swords.”

The downside of the small population in Iceland, one man told us, – 340,000, only about 175,000 adults – was that if you argued with the opposing party or point of view, you would likely be talking to a member of your own family or neighborhood, so that made political discussions tough. (The same is true here, in spite of our large population.)

Horses are just part of the family. Other than sheep, no other animals are as prolific as the many wild horses of every shape and color running freely along the roadsides, or loosely paddocked on peoples’ farms, long manes flying. Do not mistakenly call them ponies, I was warned.

And the sheep! Every sheep family has at least one black sheep, so I felt completely at home in Iceland. Plus there are usually many black sheep!

♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  

It was liberating to be with these strong, friendly, progressive Nordic people. Expensive, yes, though I found out you can get there cheaply on Iceland’s Wow Airline. But, it’s, oh, so worth it. Put Iceland on your Bucket List! Try two weeks in July. I intend to apply to various writers retreats and return in the winter to see the northern lights, and finish my tomes amidst the many other supportive artists and writers there, possibly in 2019. Want to come?

Please tell me about your Icelandic adventures below, if you, too, have been a ferðamaður there.