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As the last of four children (next oldest sibling 7 years older), and after my parents divorced after 27 years of marriage when I was 13, I lived with my mother - just the two of us - as she re-discovered her independence and life goals. Our relationship was a bit cool because she was ready for an empty nest and I felt ready to get away from both my parents. Not because they were mean or abusive, to be clear. I had a positive and mostly trouble-free childhood.
Except the trouble I sought and found all on my own, which was measurable.
Until I was in my 30s, I didn't think my mother and I had much in common. As I blossomed at the same time mom was late-blooming, I saw how wrong I was.
And how incredibly talented and creative she was.
Be both loved setting up spaces so they felt more comforting and inspiring. Our tastes were totally different: her = grays, black, and white, me= orange, red, purple, and yellow.
Be both loved - and had a knack for - writing. During that last years of mom's life, we went on yearly mother/daughter trips to writer's conferences. She was 9/10ths of the way done with her memoir called, Place Settings in Time, when she died. I finished it for her based on her notes and our conversations. Below is a picture of the front and back of her book.
We both hated cooking and weren't very good at it (but had notable specialities).
She was a loner and had one best friend. A loner mom can come across a bit icy, but this behavior may not tell us how she feels or how much she loves. I didn't understand this distinction as a child but do now. I'm the same way and might even surpass her natural inclination to withdraw or disconnect from others. And yet I love deeply like she did.
And my mom loved to learn. I'm happy I inherited/picked up that preference from her. My dad was also a life-long learner, but in a different way. He = MacGiver explorations, she = earned her bachelors and masters degrees in her fifties. I enjoy both types of experimentation and growth, which is cool.
Our relationship was the strongest just before she died. I suppose that's better than the reverse situation. We were registered to attend the Santa Barbara Writer's Conference, but that never happened after she suffered a stroke and then died from it. I on a plane heading to see her when she died. I never got to say goodbye.
Being the expert-emotion-compartmentalizer that I am, I usually slide right by Mother's Day without saying much. This year, I want to share and remember many of the things that I miss about her.
Scientists and the media are warning us cicadas will soon emerge from the earth. Some weird sh$t might happen! I have some first-hand knowledge of said sh$t, so I'm sharing my funny and almost entirely true piece, Why I Wear Cordura Chaps. I hope you enjoy the read and then prepare for the cicada invasion.
Why I Wear Cordura Chaps
I’ve been hit by crumpled burger wrappers, glowing cigarette butts, and a pink rubber flip-flop while driving my motorcycle. The laws of physics tell us, and our bruised bodies back up, that objects hurt more when they strike us while we’re driving fast in the opposite direction. The formula is: one-half the weight of the object times the square of its speed = kinetic energy. I dress for 70-mile-per-hour levels of pain.
I’ve seen bikers travel at top speeds with no windshields and wearing short helmets that didn’t cover their faces. Plain stupid, is what I called them, even if their casual protein consumption was higher than mine. Were you aware that caterpillars contain as much protein as, and more iron than, beefsteak? I didn’t know if the same held true for butterflies, which bikers were more likely to consume. I preferred the nutrients I got from foods I ingested on purpose.
I had nothing against insects and understood that much of the food we eat contains ground up bug bodies. For example, the Food and Drug Administration determined that chocolate met their safety standards as long as there were fewer than 60 bug fragments and one rat hair per 100 grams (3.5 ounces or two regular-sized candy bars). And pasta was A-OK as long as it contained less than 225 bug fragments and 4.5 rodent hairs per 225 grams (about 8 ounces). We’re all bug eaters, even those of us who think we’re vegans. A serving of canned spinach shouldn’t contain more than an average of 50 or more aphids, thrips, or mites; or two larvae or spinach worms. And while bugs were in many of our foods, I didn’t want to inhale or swallow them while riding my motorcycle. Most tasted bland or bitter served splattered raw and without the benefit of spices or hot sauce.
My Honda cruiser named Hazel had a windshield that kept most flying objects from hitting my torso and head. Most, but not all. Wind swirls sometimes rerouted horizontal rain and low-flying birds toward my bike that then smacked me in the chest, neck, and head. I once had a pigeon cream me at about 50mph and, while I know that many fine restaurants serve pigeon, I wasn’t in the mood for warm dove tartare with no capers or crusty French bread. These wind-eddy encounters were rare, and my windshield and full-faced helmet did a suitable job of sheltering my upper body.
Protecting my lower body was another matter and a greater challenge. I didn’t know what was about to hit my legs until it happened because safe driving protocols demands that I kept my eyes forward and in front of the bike. Imagine being blindfolded in a cage with a ball-pitching machine aimed at your legs. The balls come at you fast and some are spikey. That’s the difference that speed makes on the hurt that bikers experience.
To reduce pain and injury to my lower body, I wore Cordura chaps—cut long, so they’d cover my ankles and boots while riding. You might notice bikers walking funny to keep their chaps from dragging on the ground. We’re all modern-day cowboys and girls.
If I crashed, they’d keep me from scraping the skin off my legs. The durable, abrasion resistance, and waterproof qualities of Cordura prevented rain from soaking my legs and boots, and the chaps protected my knees and calves from flying debris. After an afternoon ride, I could stretch out my leg and see remains from thousands of little bugs and a few larger ones.
And then there were the enormous bugs: cicadas. I rolled into Chicago June 16th while on a solo cross-country trip. I’d heard on the news that cicadas would be invading the area as they emerged from the incubation period they spent underground. Once every 17 years, cicadas came out by the millions to live, breed, and then die. They lived only a few months above ground but made a lot of noise and a sizeable mess while they were here.
I saw a handful of cicadas on my first day in the area and hoped this would be all I encountered. No such luck. My heart sank as I rounded a curve on I-94, heading toward Milwaukee. I heard their sinister high-pitched buzz through my full-faced helmet, over the roar of my 1100cc engine, and despite the droning traffic noise. Their friction-induced screams for attention from the opposite sex warned me they were ahead, and then I saw them. Like a cloud of bulked-up flies, some the size of White Castle sliders, they floated in erratic circles. I was going seventy miles per hour in heavy traffic and couldn’t stop or avoid getting hit by their freakishly gargantuan bodies.
My motorcycle’s windshield took the blow for my upper body. They hit with a smash and then splattered part. It was disgusting. A few bounced off the top of my helmet; they’re juicy suckers. I didn’t have a fairing to shield the lower half of my body. When cicadas started hitting my knees and legs, they felt like rocks except that they broke apart on impact. Even with my Cordura chaps, my knees and calves jerked with pain each time a bug hit them. Percussive thuds punctuated their shrill buzz as the Cicadas became rush-hour victims. I didn’t slow down or want to stop; I ached—literally—to get through the ordeal. My voice boomed as I shouted into my full-face helmet. You can do this! Just focus! Don’t look at the splats. It will end soon. You’ll be OK.
I believed the cicada storm would stop if I could make it through the next mile or two. How many could there be? Although I kept my eyes focused forward, I saw people pointing at me from their cars. Counting their blessings that they weren’t me. The bombardment ended after about five minutes, and I pulled off the road and into a truck stop to wash my windshield, headlamp, front grill, helmet, and chaps. It took me over a year and many washes to get the all cicada DNA off Hazel.
Cicadas—which are high in protein and nutritious—were a staple food for many peoples, including Australian Aborigines, New Guineas, and American Indians. The ancient Greeks found the cicadas a delicacy because of their nutty flavor. Cicadas are the most desirable just after hatching (when they’re called tenerals), because their shells are still soft. Hatchlings emerge from the ground early in the morning and are easy to catch because they can’t fly for several hours. For best results, marinate live cicadas in Worcestershire sauce (this kills them, I know you were wondering), dip them in egg and flour and fry them until golden brown. Count on having fifteen cicadas per person for an entrée-sized portion.
Two days later, while I was driving north of Minneapolis, I encountered hail. It was loud and fell hard, even though the ice pellets were about pea sized. I made it through the hailstorm after two or three miles. I couldn’t seek shelter because this unpopulated stretch of highway had no overpasses or exits. In case you think I was a fool; I would’ve pulled over if the hail had been larger.
Before I took this forty-day solo trip, I used to moan about riding in gray drizzling rains common in the Pacific Northwest. Even soft rain felt like little nails when they hit my knees and calves. Our occasional fat-rain storms hurt enough to cause some bruising. I also whined to my husband when I had to drive in the rain the long way home around the Puget Sound when the ferries were out of service. My perspective about these minor inconveniences have changed because I know it could be worse.
You might wonder why I bothered with these painful pursuits. Why anyone would put themselves through a gauntlet of unwelcomed road obstacles. If you added accident stats and the high costs of bike gear and accessories to this theoretical discussion, you might suggest I should’ve re-assessed my priorities. Perhaps you think this avocation adds up to an illogical mess best avoided.
But consider this question. When we’re eighty and looking back on our lives, what will we remember? Which recollections will make us smile? I hypothesize that we won’t talk about the times we drove a silver Honda Accord to work and back or the places we didn’t go because the conditions were uncomfortable. While motorcycles provide a means a way to get from point A to point B, they also tap into our spirit of western-ho independence. Each outing offers riders obstacles and opportunities to feel victorious. We sashay off our bikes wearing our ride and full of pride because we owned the road. We have splendid stories to tell during coffee shop gatherings and on our Facebook pages.
I got stuck behind a semi that blew a tire. Chunks of hot rubber and rocks hit me for what seemed like forever. Cracked the plastic red cover on my left turn signal. I could see the driver cackling in his rear-view mirror and did the highway cha-cha to get away from the SOB. I’d show you my scars, but I wore my Cordura chaps and sustained only a few bruises. Those chaps are worth more than a lifetime supply of MoonPies. And you know how I feel about MoonPies.
My biker friends know I speak the truth. Wear Cordura chaps to ensure your misadventures don’t land you in the emergency room. And relax. A few bugs up your nose won’t kill you.
For writers, there's no sweeter surprise than to find an unfinished piece of promising writing. I came across this incomplete essay yesterday. From 13 years ago! This is just the first snippet. What do you think, should I finish it? The first line cracked me up. I might've been drinking that day. Hahaha.
Some dogs shouldn’t screw. Like a liver and lime milkshake, not every combination works. Imagine what a cross between the squatty Dachshund and rotund Saint Bernard would look like – a blob with no legs? And how about the product of a Chihuahua and a Great Dane? Let’s just hope the mother was the Great Dane. If we bred a Chinese Crested Hairless and the Afghan Hound would the puppies sport clumps of shiny hair separated by bare spotted skin? There are over 400 dog breeds ranging in weight from three to three hundred pounds. And while the American Kennel Club (AKC) only recognizes about 160 breeds, puppy designers are busy mixing and matching canine genes to come up with the next hot dog. Popular combinations offer desirable traits such as small size, low shedding, friendly temperament, and smaller turds (although they rarely list turd size in their sales copy) and sell for as much or more than their purebred cousins.
Like garlic in an Italian kitchen, Poodles seem to be a favorite ingredient in designer puppy mixes. There’s the Bosipoo (Boston Terrier/Poodle), Chi-Poo - (Chihuahua/Poodle), Cockapoo - (Cocker Spaniel/Poodle mix), Doxiepoo – (Dachshund/Poodle), and hundreds of other Poodle combinations. Are Poodles really that desirable, or do dog marketers find they can charge more for puppies with poo in their names?
Many of us have mixed breeds that happened the good old fashioned way – through casual unprotected sex. Midnight rendezvous at the playground, accidental trash can encounters, and unsupervised play dates bring all sorts together. And apparently canines are not picky about with whom they hump. Having attended the mandatory diversity training session at puppy orientation, they value all kinds, shapes and sizes (some over-achieving male dogs try to connect outside the canine species, in fact). While individual chemistry might still come into play, the fat dogs are likely getting as much tail as their slimmer pals, and tall dogs seem willing to squat low to tag those cut little designer poo dogs. The result of this hippy-like dog love is a four-legged furry rainbow. Sometimes called mutts (short for muttonheads) or mongrels, crossbreed dogs make the world a more interesting place. But do the combinations always work?
My mother died from complications of a stroke when I was forty-three-years-old. Her passing hit me like a ton of bricks and catalyzed a need within me to manifest a carpe diem life. We never know how many days we’ll have. On the plane ride home from my mother’s funeral, I decided to get a motorcycle. I selected a Honda 1500cc cruiser motorcycle I named Hazel, short for Purple Haze, on account of her purple flame gas tank.
My first motorcycle didn’t have a name, but it would’ve been The Vibrator on account of its wobbling wheels and rusty, old body. I was a cash-strapped college student at the time, living in Tampa and working as a server at TGI Fridays. My tips paid for tuition, rent, and my addiction to disco bars, so there wasn’t much left for transportation.
What? Those are the correct order of priorities, right?
It was the 80s, and tube tops, wide pants, and big hair were the fashion. All three were problematic when on a motorcycle. I groaned when I bought my first hair-crushing helmet. The Vibrator, a 250cc Honda that had seen better days, was parked in a neighbor’s yard with a sign that read $125. I paid one hundred bucks and then taught myself how to drive it. This was before Google and You Tube, so I relied on my mechanical instincts to figure it out.
This is probably the right time to tell you I have no mechanical instincts.
I only crashed a few times.
Decades passed before I got Hazel, motorcycle #2. Although she wasn’t a fancy bike, Hazel fit my sassy mojo and was comfortable enough, especially after I added a custom Corbin seat and upgraded the suspension. After getting my riding legs and eyes back (where you look when driving a motorcycle is very important), I wanted more. Having and riding a motorcycle wasn’t enough carpe diem for me, so I asked my husband Bill an unexpected request.
I want to do a solo ride with Hazel around the country to promote one of my books.
Never mind that Hazel, a cruiser, was not designed for touring. Never mind that the farthest I’d been on a motorcycle was fifty miles around the Puget Sound when the ferries weren’t operating. I asked my Bill to support the crazy idea that I’d take forty days and go 9,400 miles through thirty-eight states.
Bill came back with a request of his own and went on a research trek in the Himalayan Mountains with other geologists at the same time as my motorcycle trip. There were ten days where we were unreachable to each other, but our separate adventures transformed us both. Carpe diem on steroids.
I'm sharing this wee ditty to help me remember that sometimes the worst of times - like my mother's passing - catalyze the best and most interesting of times. I'm feel like this past year was a tipping point that I'd like to use as a springboard for my next big adventure.
To be a great friend or partner, we should seek to understand the type of reinforcement that means the most to those we care about. It's not safe to assume it's similar to our preferences, and the golden rule (treat others as you want to be treated) may not hit the spot.
I have one friend who lights up when they're asked good questions in an area where they're proficient. Another who wants to feel they're a nice person. One who needs lots of little acknowledgment, another who craves only occasional praise. And the target of the reinforcement is important, too.
People tell me all the time how organized I am. How on top of things I am. That's nice to hear but does not fuel me one bit. I had a reader tell me I was "wickedly inventive" and another said I had a terrific imagination. Hearing that felt awesome and energizing.
Sure, it has a lot to do with upbringing and we could judge that being needy in X way is wrong or a sign of low self-esteem. But who cares about whether what they need seems appropriate or excessive? They need it and we care about them.
My goal is to provide honest reinforcement BEFORE they ask for, or hint for, it (when concern/disappointment has started to bubble).
Humans are enigmatic, unpredictable, and chaotic beings who have lived and been shaped by a circuitous life. Amazingly talented and terrifically flawed.
I'm thrilled - over the moon - that my third full-length novel in the Spy Shop Mystery series, STIFF LIZARD, is done, published, and ready for readers. I took me a bit longer than I had planned (hello Lisa, it was the year of covid), and I needed to bust through several mental logjams to get to the finish line. I'm really pleased with how it turned out.
Authors always say that. Who is going to say, "honestly, it's not that great." No one.
This is true, but I am honestly happy with the wild layers within the book:
- Iguanas... everywhere.
- Dale Carnegie (seriously)
- A weirdo cruise line that offers brunch buffets themed to the novel Brave New World.
- Lizard Liquidators
- Bad %$^ Snake Tree
- A gigolo named Rascal
- A course in writing erotic poetry for real men.
- Spy gadgets and parkour - goes without saying.
Don't worry, the book is still PG13 - it's a contemporary cozy, or what I call a cozy with an edge.
I'll be doing a Facebook Live session on March 31st. Please join me here. I write quirky mysteries because it's fun for me and, I hope, fun for the reader. And we all need more fun in life, right?
Imagine you’re at a gathering with friends. The mood is light and lively. Adult beverages and tasty snacks abound. Each person tells stories that elicit sighs, laughs, or both. Anecdotes about the time they drifted out to sea on a float, survived an avalanche, drove a riding lawnmower into a canal, or accidentally blew up their work shed. Perhaps it’s the story about completing a marathon is most enthralling.
Now it’s your turn. Which stories will you tell?
Now imagine that you’re in a hospital bed dealing with stage four cancer. You take stock of your life and spend time with friends and family. Once the talk moves past treatment plans and prognosis, you recall and share the experiences that made you feel alive. Which stories will you remember?
Although these two situations couldn’t be more different, I believe we’d share some of the same stories. We love tales with twists, near misses, triumphs, conflicts, and flawed but determined heroes—in fiction and real life. Whether we’re chatting it up at a family reunion, reconnecting with a friend, or navigating a mid-life crisis, the anecdotes we share are often those where things went seriously sideways. The times we nearly failed or did something we didn’t know was possible. We triumphed, or quasi-triumphed, through grit and a healthy dose of devil-may-care attitude. We played full out.
I’ve participated in lively gatherings and faced serious health troubles and noticed how stories affected my engagement and which tales pulled others in. In early 2020, these observations went KABOOM in my mind and I realized, for the first time in a palpable way, that our misadventures fuel fulfillment and contribution as much as, or more than, trouble-free experiences. Run of the mill successes are important but unremarkable. We don’t boast about the time we saved money for a year and bought a new Honda Accord. It’s the time we snuck into the monks’ hot springs that we brag about!
While this epiphany was fascinating and welcome, something else was brewing. Then I asked myself a simple but transformative question. How should this realization affect how I live?
These are the opening words of an essay collection I'm working on called, Far From Ordinary.
This epiphany is real, and something that is both haunting and shaping my actions. I fear that I've been living far too ordinarily for my spirit to thrive. And I am fueled by the notion that I know how to shake things up.
The Broken Windows Theory is, in summary, the notion that small visible "broken" things, like windows, may lead to other/additional broken things (say, peeling paint), and can create downward momentum (the neighborhood in decline). Also, that replacing or fixing small visible features can create positive momentum. Basically, it's the Butterfly Effect as applied to how our environment looks and makes us feel. Cluttered desk, cluttered mind, and all that jazz.
What if this applies to us - our individual physical selves?
- Broken windows could be - stopped wearing makeup, unkept hair, wearing unflattering clothing, not using a moisturizer/wrinkle cream, an untrimmed mustache/beard, cracked nails.
- Fixed windows could be - the opposite of the above
I think it does, and I'm experimenting with reversing the downward momentum with the positive. To be clear, this is not intended to be a commentary about how to define beauty - like that everyone OUGHT to _______ (wear makeup, have neat appearance). It's more about bringing out your best - whatever that is.
- The quirky artist
- The elegant book lover
- The sporty sportsperson
- The anti-trend good neighbor
- The natural looking best friend
Whatever is uniquely and authentically YOU is the unbroken version.
Speaking personally, since the stay-at-home pandemic started, I've stopped: getting my hair cut and colored (rightly so!), wearing any makeup (I never wore much), using moisturizer (why????), wearing earrings, using the "good stuff" face cleaner (makes no sense), and I haven't updated my eyeglass prescription in 3 years (perhaps understandable during the pandemic). In total, this adds up to a lot of broken windows and a general malaise about myself.
For the last week I've been using my good face cleaner and wrinkle cream again. Didn't have to purchase anything because I already had it. And I've made an appointment to get a fresh haircut and color (in 5 weeks), and will be getting an eye exam next week. This momentum feels good and I think will lead to other small and positive changes that might also reverberate.
It's OK and understandable that a yearlong pandemic has had an impact. And I'm happy to be reclaiming a bit of myself in spite of it still being a challenging time. Fewer broken windows seems like a good thing!
“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” Susan Sontag
While I've felt challenged for several years, the last two have been particularly difficult and this quote gives me a bit of insight about why.
I have serious chronic health issues - medullary thyroid cancer (stage 4b), non-symptomatic multiple sclerosis, obesity, and osteoarthritis. Solidly in the kingdom of the sick.
And I have, in spite of this, interests, abilities, and what looks like a relatively normal day-to-day life that resides in the kingdom of the well.
It's hard to stay in a place of sickness. And it's hard to live like you're in both kingdoms at the same time.
- We rise to the occasion, determined to fight, but when the fight is slow and constant, it's easy to let our commitment slip. I think this is one reason the covid-19 crisis has been so difficult for many - it has endured longer than our emergency coping strategies were designed to perform. This rings true regarding several of my chronic challenges.
- I'm not built for this brand of steadiness. Chronic anything goes against my nature and strengths. I'm a starter. I'm an adventurer. I'm an innovator. I'm not an ultra-marathoner. I'm not a patient person.
- Although my day-today life looks fairly normal and well, I struggle to improve my situation or heal my chronic maladies. I want to believe that many things are possible if I think and act in alignment but have discovered that this is often not the case.
What can I learn from this observation? How might I help myself live solidly in both kingdoms and thrive?
My nature tells me I need to try something different. To attempt to generate a breakthrough. It is tiresome, however, to do this repeatedly with no meaningful results to show for my efforts. But this is my skillset and I don't know how else to be.
What can I learn from this observation?
We've been swirling in the covid pandemic neutral zone for a year. It's draining, right? And here comes another holiday dreamt up by marketers (my money is on jewelry stores or florists). Why not try something different? Here are a few fun and covid-compliant ways to celebrate with your bestie (aside from the obvious bedroom antics and I'm not going there).
Adopt a Three-toed Sloth. Nothing says I love you like a sloth photo and plushie.
Do a lip-synch performance of poetry read by celebrities. Like The Raven read by Vincent Price. Sure, you could just read the poem using your own voice, but let's face it, you're no Vincent Price.
Play opposites day. For one day, wear each other's close and attend each other's zoom meetings. Drink each other's drinks and sit in each other's favorite chairs in front of the telly. Use makeup and wigs if you've got them. This is an idea that will build empathy, and we all need more empathy.
Bake and eat cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A different type of cookie for each meal. Cookies are a synonym for happiness.
Speak like Shakespeare or don't speak at all. Just for one day, of course, it would be taxing to keep up. After a full day being the bard, lay your head down on your pillow and whisper alls well that ends well into your sweetie's ear. Hopefully they won't reply good riddance, wench.
I hope you give one of these ideas a try and report back to me. All the best to you and your bestie!