To learn more about why I'm writing this new blog series, and my inspiration for writing it, READ THIS.
Who is your hero? Who is the person you’d most like to emulate in this world? What are the elements of being that you wish you had so deeply ingrained as a part of yourself that you don’t have to work at living those things – even slightly? What are those things about humanity that you wish were simply second nature in yourself and in everyone around you?
One of my strongest Heroes has always been Jim Henson. I was never fortunate enough to meet the man, but I think I came to understand a bit about who he was by virtue of my infatuation with his beloved character, Kermit The Frog. In fact, so many people agreed that it was and is nearly impossible to separate the man from the Muppet, that when Henson passed away, and the entire cast of Muppets and their performers attended his memorial service, Kermit was the only one missing from the day. It stands to reason. How could Kermit exist without Jim Henson? The answer, of course, is that he can’t… not really.
Whenever I feel that I’m missing inspiration in my life, I look inside books. Turning those pages never fails to remind me that ordinary people can create extraordinary things… and so can I. Libraries are the sacred storehouses of this inspiration, forever reminding us what is possible.
Jim Henson knew this. In his film, The Dark Crystal, one scene represents this primary theme of his life's work. Gelflings, Kira and Jen, find themselves in an ancient space… the ruins… the houses of the old ones. Strange markings cover the walls. Kira has never seen them before and asks Jen what they are. “Writing,” replies Jen. “What’s Writing?” asks Kira. “Words that stay,” responds Jen. “My master taught me.”
Henson understood the power of story, and that once created, it will never go away; instead, leading generations to come. The Dark Crystal shared this important lesson of intellect in a very sincere and poignant way. However, Henson also knew that our heart shared a similar lesson, and that one of the best ways to remind ourselves is through gentle humor.
Kermit is the best keeper of that memory. He reinforces our individual uniqueness and the qualities that help to connect our stories with the whole of humanity. Through his gentle ambition, his unfailing belief in his friends, his acceptance that faults are not failures, and a knowledge that enthusiasm for the moment is success enough, Kermit became my hero.
Maybe Kermit can’t fly or fling webbing from his wrists, or out-shoot those who work against him. But he is strong in the ways of the forces of positive thinking, tenacity, and love. Corrupting him is futile, he will never be assimilated into the negative space of the domineering. He believed that something better would always come along, and he never took his friends and their trust in him for granted. Kermit The Frog is who I always wanted to be… with a side of Jim Henson to keep it all real, attainable, and worthy of imitation.
Kermit The Frog and his creator, Jim Henson aren’t just entertaining punchlines and mystical voices that tell amazing stories. The Man and The Muppet are two of my most compelling heroes, and their legacy's impact inside me Makes Life Worth Living.
To learn more about why I'm writing this new blog series, and my inspiration for writing it, READ THIS.
It’s warm. It’s soothing. It’s magic.
Swimming around inside every cup is the liquid memory of mornings with my grandfather, Girl Scout camping trips, the unfortunate incident when I dumped it on my cold feet at a football game in high school (not a thing I’d recommend), nifty story ideas, and the oh, too-many-to-count incredible conversations I’ve had with interesting people at every time of day and night imaginable.
Hot cocoa is how I start my day, every day, year-round. I like to think of it as coffee without the abrasive attitude. It’s gentle first thing in the morning, allowing me the reliability of at least one moment of enjoyment every day. Even better than that, if I drink it close to bedtime, it won’t keep me awake, and instead soothes me into a happy place where relaxation is easier.
Hot cocoa is the best creative fuel for Drake, my writing Muse. He loves the way the steam warms his feathers and smothers the itchy-scratchy feeling created from a lack of ideas. If there is ever a time when I can’t hear him quack, I pour a cup of hot cocoa, and within moments, his voice returns to me.
Some people look strangely at me when I suggest we meet to share a cup of cocoa and catch up or plan our next exciting event. They sometimes have an incredulous response, “You drink that in summertime?” Yes, and you drink coffee or hot tea in summertime, but I don’t judge.
Sharing time with friends or loved ones, while also sharing a cup (or several) of cocoa is the equivalent for me of all those old-timey westerns, when the cowboys used to pass a bottle of really old alcoholic something, as they emptied their thoughts, concerns, humor, and admiration into the air, guarded by a fire circle. There’s a shared intimacy and trust that happens in those moments that is important, precious, and fleeting. I consider it an honor to be in that space with people, regardless of whether you actually drink hot cocoa, or not. And if you don’t, I’ll still cherish our time together… but recognize, it does mean that there will be one more cup of the chocolate wonderment for me, and I will drink it.
Hot Cocoa isn’t just for snowy winter days, after sledding with children. It’s an opportunity to share in the warmth of friendship, conversation, love, and creativity. Hot Cocoa is a Thing That Makes Life Worth Living.
To learn more about why I'm writing this new blog series, and my inspiration for writing it, READ THIS.
So, you know that question everyone asks, “If you were stranded on a desert island with only one collection of music, what would it be?” I think that’s the wrong way to ask that question. It’s a lot like asking, “What one author’s work would you choose?” How can you honestly answer such a thing? There are so many tremendously talented people in the world. I think the more accurate way to ask that question is, “If you had to live forever, whose music would you never want to live without?”
Well, I would insist on two… because, truly, as much as you might love one artist’s talent, you really need to have something to feed your cerebral side as well as your emotional side, if you want to remain sane for all of eternity.
So, I would take along Mozart’s music to feed my brain, and Kenny Loggins’ music to feed my heart.
If everything I knew was required to end… my friends, family, pets, forests, wildlife… while forcing me to endure until the universe exploded into nothingness, Kenny Loggins’ catalogue of melodies and lyrics would be my enduring soundtrack of existence. So much of my life is connected to these songs. It’s impossible to recall the most valuable memories of my life without also thinking about this man’s music and how his voice walked me through all of it. Although the lyrics may be gender specific, the emotions never are… the messages conveyed in each song, for me, are universal and often apply to more than one moment in time.
Here’s a playlist… because truly, I don’t know a better way to explain this man’s impact on my life. There’s no way I could go through his entire collection of amazingness and describe how each one has affected me, but here are some of the songs that mean the most to me, in no particular order.
Sweet Reunion connects me to the birth of my son and the feeling that I’d known him long before I met him for the first time.
Whispered your name in introduction,
Darling, my heart filled the room,
And I knew it was you, come back in my life.
Danger Zone reminds me of time spent with my high school theatre friends, having more fun than perhaps most thought we should.
You'll never say hello to you
Until you get it on the red line overload
You'll never know what you can do
Until you get it up as high as you can go
I’m Free reminds me of the year I went from being painfully shy to less so, and the freedom I found in that courage.
I wanna hold you now, I won't hold you down
You're what I want, listen to me
Nothing I want's out of my reach (I'm free)
House at Pooh Corner (and Return To Pooh Corner) solidifies my deep connection to A.A. Milne’s writing and the notion that the writing work I do will never not need to be done.
So help me if you can, I've got to get
Back to the house at Pooh Corner by one
You'd be surprised, there's so much to be done
Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky
Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh
The Art of Letting Go is my mantra, of sorts, to remember that I’m not a victim in life, even when where I am is painful and difficult. Sometimes there is peace in letting go and moving on, even when my brain is in pain and my heart wants to hold on tighter.
You can't go through it
Without going through it
'Til it goes through you
'Til you know the truth
The Unimaginable Life reminds me that whatever I do in life, wherever I go, whoever I spend time with, every experience will touch my heart in unimaginable ways, so I need to remain open to that possibility.
Something in the way that you say hello
Even to the sound of your heart beat
All seems so familiar to me
My soul-memory of love
Leading me homeward
Yet, if I had to choose a single favorite song to listen to on permanent repeat for the rest of my life, forsaking all others, forever, this would be the one:
Love Will Follow gives me permission to fall so hard, so strong, and so forever in love with the people I cherish that it will never be wrong. It’s my personal anthem that love, whether reciprocated or unrequited, is more valuable than anything else I will ever know; and giving it with everything I have will always be a gift I give myself and never a regret.
Use your wings and fly away
And come with me today
Your heart will lead the way
And love will follow
When I was about ten, I asked my father if I could build a tiny house in our backyard. This was long before the idea became a socially coveted thing. I had an older sister, with whom I shared a bedroom, and two brothers who complicated things even more. All I wanted was a sanctuary away from everyone else. Someplace where I could hang out with the dog, read books, write stories, practice my flute, and just not be bothered. Much to my tremendous disappointment, my father said no. I asked him for several years, even promising to build the thing myself… no matter how long it took… using my babysitting and newspaper route money to buy the materials. He continued to say no. In high school, I found the theatre, and discovered my sanctuary there.
Forward through adulthood, a move for three years to Boston, a couple summers on a ranch in Missouri, and then back to Detroit… a child, then marriage… and then, at last, I got my tiny house in the forest.
Quickly, this little log cabin with only two rooms, just 324 square feet, and an outhouse, became my most favorite place on the planet. Okay, granted, I haven’t been to everyplace on the planet yet, but I feel like I really don’t need to, now. The interior has beautiful knotty pine tongue-and-groove paneling, it’s got a tiny little loft, and is surrounded by twenty acres of the most exquisite forest I’ve ever seen. It’s a super-basic place… no electricity, no indoor plumbing, only a small solar system to run a dorm refrigerator, and a propane camp stove, with a covered porch, a campfire circle, and space between two huge trees for a hammock in the nice weather. I adore this place.
I’ve written some amazing stories, accomplished some fantastic editorial work, read some wonderful books, and simply enjoyed life in this space. During the day, in between writing times, I enjoy walking through the woods with Charlie, listening to the rush of the wind through the leaves and bird songs, napping in the hammock, watching the deer pass by, or going to the lake or river for a kayak trip. There is some incredible State land nearby where we enjoy hiking, too. The serenity of these places is soothing to my soul. Charlie loves frog, chipmunk, and squirrel hunting. Sometimes he catches frogs, but he always lets them go; a natural response to frog pee a dog’s mouth, I suppose.
When it rains, that’s when I’m at my most peacefully creative. As some of you already know, Drake, my muse, is a duck, and he is most at home when the skies open and bring him showers and puddles to enjoy. The sound of rain plummeting from sky on tree leaves, and the roof is like a symphony. Thunderstorms are sacred to me, and when they visit the forest, I am more comforted than at any other time. The words come easily when thunder, lightning, and rain accompany my creative process… and there is nothing so soothing as falling asleep listening to nature’s orchestra.
In the evening, after dinner, just before dark, I can hear the coyotes talking, getting ready for the night’s hunt. It sounds a little like a cocktail party underwater. Early the next morning, before dawn, I can hear their traditional howling, calling the family back to the den. Because we have bears who sometimes roam the property (I’ve actually seen one up close – relatively speaking - crossing into our property during the day, while out walking Charlie), and because it’s not a great idea to surprise a coyote pack at night, I stay close to the cabin once the sun goes down.
Evenings are for writing and reading. Some nights, when the weather is warm, I sit inside with the door open, enjoying the evening breeze through the screen door, and marvel at the raccoon family who occasionally comes to visit. Campfires in the stone circle remind me of Girl Scout camping trips. The light of a fire is hypnotic to me. There is no sound, except the crackle of the coals and the rush of the flames expanding into the night air. In the black of night, the stars are beyond fantastic. Without the light pollution of a large city, the night sky is dark and vibrant with the history of life. When I go to sleep at night, after I douse the lantern and candles, I can hold my hand in front of my face and not see it… that’s how dark the night is. It’s other-worldly. It’s amazing. When the moon is full, it’s like the nightlight of creation, lending a sense of ease to all the animals who hunt or travel in the late hours.
I love going to my little cabin in the woods for a month-long Writing Hermitage in the summer. It’s perfect. Nothing but writing, the sounds and sights of the forest, my little dog, and storytelling. Truly, I can’t imagine a more perfect way to spend my time.
Someday, in the future, I’d like to make this space my permanent home. There are a few things like indoor plumbing, a wood burner, and a more robust solar system that I’ll have to install before I can safely live there in the wintertime… but until then, I’ll continue to spend my warm weather writing time in this majestic forest.
This cabin in the woods isn’t just the realization of a childhood dream in adulthood. My Tiny House In The Forest Makes Life Worth Living.
Some of my greatest memories of life were, and still are, made while huddled around a plate of French fries.
In high school, late-night work sessions backstage led to a bunch of us converging on the local Denny’s restaurant, which was open late. We grabbed a large booth in the back… or sometimes, we pushed three or four tables together, depending on the size of the crew. Spring musicals usually had more theatre nuts than the fall one-acts. We were teenagers, basically poor, and in those days, tremendously under-supervised. French fries were the perfect late-night meal… super inexpensive, and easy to share. We sat around drinking Coke, Sprite, Hot Cocoa, and munching on fries while singing show tunes, reciting lines, making up stories about the 'weirdos' who were in the restaurant with us much later than they should be, and cracking some of the most un-funny jokes known to humankind. We usually closed the place. I’m not sure if the waitstaff were happy or annoyed we were there… but we were regular, always paid our check, always left a nice tip, and we were always polite, if perhaps a little loud.
As I grew into adulthood, French fries continued to accompany happy memories. Back in my tentative dating years, they were the perfect thing to order on a first encounter… not too messy, not too expensive, easy to eat politely while chatting, there were never any leftovers, and they simply made me happy. Seriously, even now, as a nearly geriatric woman, a plate of French fries with friends in almost any setting will induce laughter every time. It’s the small things in life that bring me the most joy.
After my son was born, French fries were a fun ending to a day at the park, shopping, or anything else where I thought he should be rewarded for being an amazing child (it happened a lot). Stopping off at McDonalds or Burger King on the way home was a highlight of our day. In all honesty, the boy was happier with the fact that he also got to spend time running and climbing through the indoor playscape… and his fries came with a toy. But for me, the fries, no matter how stale, cold, or bland, were the perfect excuse for me to create happy memories of precious time spent with my son. Even now, grabbing fries to go with conversation and hang-out time with him is something I look forward to with tremendous glee.
Much later in adulthood, I discovered Outback restaurants. The things they do with French fries there… it’s so good, it might be sinful. But as I was told as a child, if you’re going to sin, sin big. This is exactly why fudge sauce is added to ice cream and cake… but I digress. Back to the Ausie Fries.
First, they keep the skins on them. The added flavor is a bonus. Then, they drown them in melty cheddar cheese. If you’ve been keeping up, you already know how much I love cheese. Then… if that wasn’t enough… the nice chef smothers the whole pile of happiness in bacon bits. Usually, I’m not a fan of reheated French fries. I need them hot and freshly created. But Ausie Fries… I can have a pile of them in the fridge, reheat them the next day, and be perfectly happy. Okay, that rarely happens because, well, fries, and cheese, and bacon… but you get the point.
The big take away here? I’ve never encountered a pile, plate, or bag of fries I didn’t like. And, if anyone ever wants to spend next to nothing and brighten my day in a way that’s guaranteed to create a lasting memory for me… Friench fries are absolutely the best choice. After all, they’re replenishable… which means they bring me joy over and over again. So, if ever we spend time together, and you wonder why I’m only ordering French fries at a restaurant, you can be sure it’s because I value our time together and I want to be sure I always remember.
French fries aren’t just some frivolous add-on to a meal… they are a small wonder that solidifies a moment shared with others strongly in my heart and mind. French fries… especially Ausie Cheese & Bacon French fries from Outback are Things That Make Life Worth Living.
From the time we’re very young… too young to actually understand the social expectations, we’re given presents. Every occasion has meaning attached to the gift… the day we’re born, religious rites of passage, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, retirement… all these special days and more are so significant to our lives that we mark their passing and commemorate the moments with special keepsakes. Each of these is important and valuable, far beyond any monetary assignment, because of the tradition that follows from one generation to another. The marking of time, the ritual of the acknowledgment that we share life, is reflected in the gifts we give as reminders of our human connection.
While we all love receiving presents, for me, the greater joy is in giving gifts. It is important for me to recognize the traditional milestones in life. I’m particularly obsessive about birthdays. Rather than the counting of another year passed, for me, birthdays give me the opportunity to say, “I’m so glad we have another year ahead of us to share life.” I mark that gratitude with gifts, cards, and off-key singing. With the understanding that birthdays are the exception, the more distance I can put between a required response to a ritual, and ‘just because,’ the more meaningful giving is to me.
Every day is to be celebrated, regardless of whether the date is circled on the calendar or not. Surprising someone I care about with a small gift, a letter, dinner, or the dedication in one of my books in the middle of average life is a thrilling thing for me. Why? Because I get to gently jump out of an unassuming day and tenderly scream, “You’re amazing, I adore you, and I’m so happy we are connected in this life.”
Giving gifts is my excuse to share with people how much they have touched my life, the impact they have made on how I think and feel every day in a way that means as much as saying, ‘Thank You’… with the added requirement of dusting a thing, and packing it every time you move, so you won’t forget how grateful I am that you have chosen to share a bit of your life with me.
Swimming deep in the pond of gratitude to Give Gifts Just Because is a Thing That Makes Life Worth Living.
American popular culture has always been, and will probably always be, super-eclectic. Our way of life is a by-product of congealing many different origins together with a zeal for trying new things. Somewhere along the way, things merge, stand out, and then sometimes fade into the ether. Yes, we can be a fickle people, but experimentation is one of the things Americans do best.
In my brief time on this planet, I’ve seen some interesting trends wheedling their way into our lives. Some held on strongly and are still with us, others went quietly into obscurity, only to be resurrected in our conversations at late night parties filled with ‘remember when’ laughter. Some made sense to me, others didn’t.
CB (citizen’s band) radios gave us all secret agent nicknames and an excuse to use them. Blacklights and weird posters adorned our walls and made our parents question our sanity, even though most of us were stone sober and just enjoyed the stark contrast from the fluorescent lights of the classroom. Heavy metal music is still around. I know people who still have waterbeds (although now they claim it’s purely for back support). Though few may admit it, tons of people kept their pet rocks simply because of the emotional attachment… you never destroy or throw away something you name, right? We only wish that mood rings were scientific tools that helped us understand each other (wouldn’t that make international trade summits and intimate relationships easier). I don’t think blue jeans will ever evaporate from our stores, and if I’m being completely honest, there’s still a part of me that would love to be able to wear corduroy again without the evil stares – it’s remarkable as armor against the wind in winter.
Cheese fondue is one of those things that was exploited as pure frivolity at parties, slunk back into the shadows for a time, and now has returned as an entertaining ‘novelty’ once again. I was one of the loyal few who never forgot, and never gave up on the pot of melty goodness. Turning away from a warm, bubbly pot of perfection because it’s no longer what the ‘cool kids’ do is a little blasphemous, if you ask me. Cheese, after all, is one of the major food groups and a spiritual totem. Not only that, cheese fondue is tremendously faithful, it will never let you down, no matter what your mood ring predicts or expects of you.
You can be a purist, doing the classic recipe, and only dip bread. That’s the conservative approach – nothing wrong with that. Or you can mix several different cheese varieties of cheese, add a little bit of white wine and garlic, and you’ve got instant pizzaz on a skewer. If you want to make yourself feel better about your indulgence, dip carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and pre-cooked meat like shrimp, chicken, steak, or ham… and wowzah! You’ve just made the best version of an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich with vegetables… and you have only one pot to wash (and perhaps a wine glass and a couple skewers).
My pot is electric and non-stick, which means I don’t have to fight to keep those tiny Bunsen burners lit, and clean-up is super simple and quick. This one item has brought me such tremendous joy, I don't regret one penny spent to make it a permanent part of my kitchen. To make everything REALLY easy, my local grocery store stocks pre-combined cheeses in both shredded (just add wine and stir) or refrigerated fondue envelopes (nothing to do but melt). Oh, and they freeze well, so I always have an emergency fondue in the freezer... just in case.
Cheese fondue is a nice way to start a party… keep the party going… share in quiet conversation with a good friend… or enjoy a pot alone while watching a favorite TV program, film, or game. It’s a low maintenance, effortless addition to any day of the week… no excuses needed.
Still, if you need an excuse, The Melting Pot restaurant is a spectacular place to find fondue and treat yourself to the extravagance of a full meal of cheese, oil, and of course, chocolate fondue. Salad is also included in the meal, and that’s great, but personally, I want to save more room for cheese. The Melting Pot has many locations around the country (no, I’m not a paid affiliate – I just really love this place).
Whether as the starter to a fun party, a wonderful way to share conversation and catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a while, or just by myself to make me smile, Cheese Fondue is one of the Things That Makes Life Worth Living.
There are several pieces of music that are particularly special to me. Some for their melodies, some for their lyrics, some for the way the composer highlights specific instruments throughout the piece, some for the memories they return to me of a time, place, or person. Like people and animals, each piece of music is unique in my memory, and I can distinctively describe how and why. Still, sometimes I can’t identify why the music resonates with me… it just does.
Music was a big part of my childhood. My father is an accomplished classical pianist, sang with a notable choir in college, played guitar, and occasionally banjo. My mother played organ for a time, then mandolin, and violin (although she called it a fiddle - weird). My siblings and I were all ‘strongly encouraged’ to make music a part of our daily lives, too. All of us, at one time or another, played piano, as you might imagine. My brothers and sister played guitar for a time, but eventually let it go. I began with piano, moved on to saxophone (until I discovered how difficult reed instruments are – well, that, and it was heavy to carry as I walked to school) and I finally landed on flute and piccolo. I chose flute because it was hauntingly beautiful, lightweight, and extremely portable. I loved to climb trees, and playing flute seemed to work well with that hobby. It’s tough to take a piano up a tree. I haven’t played in quite some time, choosing instead, to spend my time writing, but music is still a big part of who I am, and how I live.
Classical music flowed throughout my childhood home as easily as air. The first libretto my father taught me to read was Handle’s Messiah (both the Christmas and Easter editions). I was six or seven years old. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, and a host of others followed. In my teens, when my friends were listening to the rock and pop of the day, I gravitated to Orchestras, Chamber Music, Opera, and Folk. Okay, yes, I did also listen to the “normal” music with my friends like Springsteen, The Beatles, etc.; but I was the only one among my peers who found great solace in the classics.
I loved opera for the combination of story and music that evoked such strong emotions, it didn’t matter what language… German, Italian, French, whatever. It didn’t matter. The passion of the story and music didn’t require translation. My favorite opera is Mozart’s Magic Flute (no surprise there), and I’ve always loved the music of Carmen, Foust, and Don Giovanni, too. As a theatre rat, I was also drawn to Broadway shows like The Music Man, Oklahoma, West Side Story, Les Misérables, and Porgy and Bess… all ‘modern-day’ operas, really.
In my early thirties, while renovating a house together, my then boyfriend introduced me to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Even with all my exposure to music growing up, this is one opera that I hadn’t yet discovered. The music was so powerful, enigmatic, and emotional… I was immediately drawn to it. You may be familiar with the opening piece, “O, Fortuna” from various TV programs, commercials, and sporting events. It’s used a lot. Of course, I’d heard it in snippets… but never in its full glory. It’s amazing. When I found a translation from the Latin, German, and French to English, I was surprised to find that this music is actually a collection of poems representing youth, drunken parties, courtship, love, and angst at the randomness of fate. The music was stirring, and when I learned the English stories to go with all that emotion, it dug even deeper into me.
As we worked on the house, moving load-bearing walls, running the new wiring, installing tile in the bathroom shower, stuffing insulation into the attic, and sanding and refinishing wood walls, we listened to this beautiful music on repeat. Okay, yes, we listened to other stuff, too, but this… this dominated our playlist. It seemed to fit well with the challenges, frustrations, and successes we experienced during the two years it took to finish the house. This music was motivating and comforting, simultaneously.
One night, we were listening to Carmina Burana… O Fortuna, specifically, for the ten-thousandth time… while putting the last finishing coat of sealer on the knotty pine walls in the main bedroom. A tremendous storm appeared, focusing the music as it dumped oceans of water that fell like mortar fire against the windows and roof, illuminating the sky with flashes of lightning, and exploding in rapturous thunder all around us. Thunderstorms are on my list of Ten Sacred Words (read more about that HERE). I connect deeply with the people, places, and activities that take place during a storm more than at any other time. Thunderstorms etch the memory of those moments more deeply into my soul. In those moments, the music of Carmina Burana fused itself with every fiber of my being and became a forever part of me.
I find it interesting, too, that The Magic Flute has a storm in it, as well… Music, particularly opera, and storms have a very strong, visceral connection to something inside me that I cannot always describe, and it will not relinquish its hold. I’m okay with that.
I have seen Carmina Burana performed several times. I work hard to buy tickets whenever the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is performing it. There is nothing quite like enjoying it with a full orchestra and choir. I keep a disk close at hand, and if it’s raining, it’s a safe bet that Carmina Burana is playing, whether at home or in the car. It’s especially tremendous to write with this soundtrack during a thunderstorm at my forest cabin. It’s a tremendous trifecta of emotion and creativity.
It may not be a genre of music that everyone enjoys… but for me, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is a Thing That Makes Life Worth Living.
Everyone has at least one… a food that you didn’t know existed, but you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing and who you were with when you first tasted it. For me, that food is bacon stuffed waffles.
I was twenty-eight years old. I was on a weekend ‘girl time’ trip with a friend. She and I were in high school together, and we had boys the same age. When the opportunity came for us to indulge in a weekend escape to Chicago, we left the children with their fathers and seized the day. Two days, actually, but you get the point.
We boarded the slow train to Chicago, which I’m told is similar to a slow boat to China, and declared our adventure underway. During our journey, we made friends with strangers, sang Broadway show tunes, ate wretched ‘train café food,’ played tag while ‘jumping’ from car to car, and read books.
We didn’t have a plan. No itinerary aside from the train schedule, and a finite budget that only allowed for the most modest of sightseeing excursions. We saw that tower in the central plaza where a plaque claimed it to be the spot where Mrs. O’Leary’s cow had a temper tantrum, and we visited the aquarium where I got to pet a baby beluga whale. We shared a hotel room that overlooked a dark, very not-great alley with dumpsters and plague-infested rats… although from our fifth-floor window, we couldn’t be sure about the rats... but it was probably a sure bet they were down there. It was a perfect portrayal of a stereotypical, downtown, seedy underbelly vista that somehow made the whole trip more authentic. Our room abutted a wall that held the elevator shaft. Shrieking vibrations, odd rumbles, and creepy echoes fell on our ears as the car climbed up and down the building.
Our first night we spent decadently ordering room service and talking until morning. After dinner on our second night, we walked the streets in search of entertainment. It was different back then. Two women, alone, walking the streets of Chicago, oblivious about where we were going wasn’t such a tremendous risk as it is today. That was the year Donny Osmond was headlining in Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat… but we couldn’t afford tickets. That was also the year that I discovered that some bars and pubs in America didn’t close until four in the morning; an absurd notion to us Detroiters, where last call was at two, everything went dark, and if you lingered, the police escorted you home fifteen minutes later. But we didn’t go drinking, we didn’t have the budget for it… and we weren’t sure if either of us could find the hotel again with inebriated brains. So we wandered, making mirth and memories along the way.
We dropped a couple bucks in the case of a few street musicians who played so well, we were convinced they were professionals playing anonymously just for the fun of it… especially that sax guy. Rounding the corner on our trip back to the hotel, we saw a tour bus loaded with drag queens disembark in front of a ritzy restaurant. They were laughing and singing with voices so clear, I was sure they echoed all the way back to Times Square. Did we know for sure that they were from New York City? No, but it seemed plausible. As each stepped onto the pavement with their bright sparkly dresses, faux fur stoles, and stiletto heels, a large-busted nun queen lightly whacked each on the rump with a riding crop. Bellows of laughter erupted with each thwack, keeping time with the song they sang. I can’t remember the song now, but I remember the spectacle. Even for a pair of seasoned theatre geeks, the scene was outrageous and fun. We couldn’t stop laughing all the way back to the hotel. It was an infinitely better show than the price of admission might assume.
The next morning, we stumbled around from lack of sleep, packed, and climbed into the only cab ride we allowed ourselves. We were on a mission to find breakfast before the train returned to Detroit (by way of Ann Arbor and Dearborn… and many other little stops along the way). When the cabbie asked what we were looking for, we told him, “Something unusual.” He dropped us at the Chicago News Room.
This was the coolest place I’d ever seen. It wasn’t a big place, or a flashy place… but it was a place I would always remember. The walls were covered in framed newspaper clippings and other writings, signed by their authors… hard news, society pages, entertainment reviews, political interviews going back decades… this place was covered in words. Most of it was obscure, but there were a few famous writers like Hemingway, among the group.
When the wait person… to this day I have no recollection if it was a man or woman – it could have been ET for all I knew – remember, I was surrounded by words… came to take our order, I absentmindedly requested waffles. I was so distracted I didn’t hear the waiter ask, “What kind?” My friend handled the details for me, and I vaguely remember her giggling as my eyes could not leave the walls.
By the time my waffles arrived, I’d calmed enough to at least pretend I was an adult. My friend and I were now talking like normal people, although I frequently interjected with, “Can you believe this place? This is incredible!” as my eyes darted around the room without regard for whether there was an appropriate break in the conversation. She just giggled at me and told me to eat my breakfast so we wouldn’t miss the train.
Cutting into my waffle and taking that first bite was almost as overwhelming as the room we were sitting in. There was bacon inside my waffle! “How did they do this?” I nearly screamed. I was rewarded with some stares from the nearby tables for my exuberant outburst, but I could not be contained; damn the onlookers… “They. Put. Bacon. In. The. Waffle!” At that point, I didn’t care who heard me, or if they’d called the men in white coats – this was a bona-fied religious experience, and I wasn’t going to ignore it. I gobbled up the waffle with all the table manners of Helen Keller before she met Annie Sullivan.
When we were finished, I gave the waiter a huge tip (I wouldn’t need to eat on the train ride back home after that incredible meal) and asked that they give my compliments to the chef. During our walk to the train station, I lectured my friend about her abject cruelty in keeping such a wonderous thing a secret from me all those years. She was unapologetic, and tremendously amused.
The following weekend, I attempted to make the delicacy for my son but failed miserably. Evidently, there is a secret to mixing the pre-cooked bacon with the waffle batter, and then cooking it for just the right amount of time to achieve the desired crispy result I enjoyed in Chicago. Sadly, I’ve never mastered the technique. I’ve had them a few times since that Chicago trip in restaurants though, and have always been delighted.
Even though I can’t make them for myself… and in a way, I’m a little glad I can’t, because if I could, they wouldn’t be so special… bacon stuffed waffles Make Life Worth Living.
To learn more about why I'm writing this new blog series, and my inspiration for writing it, READ THIS.
A teacher once asked me, when I was a freshman in high school, “When do you know you’re most yourself – your real self?”
“When I’m playing with words,” I said.
Whenever I held a book in my hands and escaped into the stories other people wrote, I felt safe, comforted, excited, capable, validated, and smart. At that point in my life, I had not yet become courageous enough to put my own words out into the world. Those squiggles that began when I was seven and matured over time into poetry, short stories, and journal entries were still just private parts of me that I never imagined anyone else would ever care to discover. So I kept them tight to me, protecting the words and the feelings they invoked from the decay of others’ judgment. So close are words to me, that I dream in sentences growing across a blank page, not in images (like normal people)... but that's a story for another day.
In my mid-twenties, it occurred to me that what came out of my imagination was not any worse than what many others found the bravery to express. The only exceptional thing about them was the stick-with-it-ness attached to the hands that pushed the pen and tapped the keys. I assumed I was capable of at least that.
Thinking it was expected that writers do these things in prescribed stages, I began with poetry… because after all, doesn’t everyone? This was back in the early days of ‘vanity press’ publishing, long before independent publishing had any credibility, and when it was nearly too expensive to manage. Many who did it were simply crossing off a bucket list item, not really serious about what they were doing… what it meant… where it might lead. So I published, sold the inventory I purchased, broke even, and called it a success.
Having jumped that ‘required’ hurdle of expectation, several years later, having rallied my courage again, I sought out work at a local newspaper. I’d been quite good at crafting research papers, bibliographies, and third-person narration that speculated on what could have been facts, back in high school. I thought, how much more different is that from journalism? Isn’t it all just asking questions, getting answers, and putting it all together in some digestible format that didn’t make people wretch? I found a team of people who were willing to take a chance on me and mentor my skills, even without prior experience or a degree. I was incredibly fortunate. And, it turns out, the truth wasn’t that far off from my expectations. I learned a lot about working inside deadlines and delivering writing that occasionally impressed my editor. I enjoyed the work, and my confidence soared as I moved from ‘life-cycle’ stories and book reviews to features that shared the emotional depth of my interviews and an intrigue about the topics. It was fun to receive an assignment, do the interview, then plot out how the story would sound best when read aloud. That was always my focus – the voice of the story. That, for me, was the thing that made it relatable to the reader. As it was with novels, so it was in journalism.
A few years later, I was hired to write for radio. If ever you’d like to do a study in micro-flash-fiction, radio is the best way to learn that formula. I was tasked with writing short vignettes of perhaps thirty or sixty seconds… sometimes shorter, that evoked a clear emotion and left a lasting memory… and I got ‘bonus points’ if I was somehow able to work in a song title or phrase from the lyrics. It was a remarkable challenge. The work was rewarding, and intensely intimidating. Years after leaving that work behind, I found writing short form a bit scary. Living up to the expectation of brevity to that caliber… I’d lost my confidence in it. So, I moved on to longer works. I swam deep into novels when I read and thought that must be where my best works could be cultivated.
With a very clear understanding of exactly everything I didn’t know – but desperately wanted to know - I went to college to study creative composition and early childhood literature. I never imagined that in my adult life I’d voluntarily go back to school, but I had a hunger to learn more about this writing thing, and to seriously devote my life to it. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I learned so much more about wordsmithing and literature styles than my high school exposure allowed. I dove into it and loved it. I often asked to read more and write more than I was assigned, much to my instructors’ confusion. I knew that practice cultivates excellence, and it never felt like work… so why not?
When one of my professors asked what genre I wanted to focus on, I couldn’t decide. “Do I have to choose just one?” I asked. I wanted to try them all… dangle my toes in the potential of stories that might be within my capability. She assured me that I could splash around in as many writing ponds as I liked. When she said that, I knew the possibilities were endless, and the conventional rules would never apply to me – unless I wanted them to. That professor was only the third adult at that point in my life (my grandfather and my theatre coach being the other two) to acknowledge that my version of ‘method’ writing was legitimate.
That’s when I knew. The dream I’d hidden since early childhood of writing and living inside books could be my chosen lifestyle, without apology or regret. I made my goal to write one book in each of the (then) thirty-five major genres. More genres and subgenres have emerged, and I keep adding to my list.
So far, I’ve written and published eleven books, and I have eight more in various stages of ‘done’. I edit books, format books, market books, and work to support my writing goals and those of other writers who dream of becoming published authors… or expanding their catalogue. And when I’m not doing all that, I read.
I can’t imagine going back into a world of ‘corporate’ time clock punching, or retail sales, or food service. I’ve done all those things and found none of them meaningful or sanity sustaining. But this… this writing thing… this book thing… this is where my passion lives. It’s the foundation on which every morsal of everything I do rests. It’s the passion that fuels me and gives me courage to test boundaries and limitations while simultaneously growing my heart, mind, and spirit.
For me, writing isn’t just a hobby, some dalliance of distraction… The act of writing and the words found inside books are Things That Make Life Worth Living.
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