It was six months yesterday. Six months since Dad died.

I can't begin to tell you how I miss him. I'm sure there's someone in your life whom you miss every bit as much as I miss Dad, so I'm sure you know what it is to face that kind of hole in your life.


Dad wouldn't want me to sit around feeling sorry for myself. He would want me to reach deep inside my heart and pull out my "reality" of him. He would want me to find comfort in his memory, strength from the adventures and lessons we shared and joy in the length and depth of time we shared- 51 years of my life spent in the sheltering love of the greatest man I ever knew. Pretty neat, huh?

There isn't a day that passes that I don't think of him, or go to the well and draw strength from something he taught me.

Today I am hoping I do his memory justice by remembering to choose my battles wisely.

This is quite helpful when face with teenagers, especially the Eldest Unnamed One. He's growing up. Soon he'll be gone, making the transition to adulthood and his own life. It is a wonder to watch this almost-man take his own life into his hands and run with it. But it is also painful.

I knew this day would come. I knew it would feel like it was all happening too soon, too suddenly. I knew I would grieve. And I am.

But just as I let Dad go, I must also let the Eldest Unnamed One go forth into the world. And I must not cling onto him because if I do this, would I not be saying "I don't think you can handle the world on your own"? Wouldn't that send the message that I expect him to fail?

He's not going to fail. He's going to soar. In fact, sometimes I worry he'll leave home and forget all about me!

It's like that first day of kindergarten, when he got on the bus and didn't look back and it broke my heart. I stood there at the bus stop, tears leaking down my cheeks, feeling quite sorry for myself. That's when the brash redhead from the Bronx who lived across from the bus stop and also had a kindergartner, took matters into her own hands. "Hey, what're you cryin' for? If he didn't look back, it's because you did your job. You raised him to go out there and not be afraid. He knows you'll be there when he comes back because you always are there for him- but he doesn't need you to hold his hand because you also taught him he can do it."

Well, hell. If you put it that way...

"You did your job," she said.

I have never forgotten that and I'm glad because I think I'm going to need to remember those words come August when he leaves for UNC.

I will stand in the driveway, tears rolling down my cheeks and I will feel Dad's hand on my shoulder.

I know the ones we love are never truly lost to us.

In my heart I know this but aren't transitions a bitch?


Happy Hour at the Eden Library...

Okay, if you'd asked me this afternoon what I was going to say in my blog tonight, I'd have told you this:

You know that song, "Venus" by Bananarama?

I thought until quite recently the words were: "Yeah, I'm your penis," not "Yeah, I'm your Venus."

And that would've been it.

But then I went to Meet the Author Night at the Eden Public Library and the Venus, Penis issue is no longer the deal it was at 4:30.

I've got a whole new crowd to tell you about- Thanks to Marti. I took her with me because in the dictionary next to the word "Extrovert" there's a picture of Marti laughing.

Anyway, almost nobody outside of the librarians and us authors came and that's probably a good thing cause we were all having much more fun than we were supposed to.

I met Dan Starrett first. He's written 3 books and is hard at work on a 4th- all about his life and ancestors. I bought the one about his Aunt Asberina, in part because I'd never heard of anyone named Asberina. "The Straw Servant- The True Story of Asberina Starrett Puffenberger," chronicles the life of his poor aunt whose mother couldn't care for her after Asberina's father died and so was forced to give her up to foster care.

Asberina was, as Dan states on the opening page, "Forced into Slave Labor; Forced into marriage at gunpoint; Forced into Endurance and Loved into Forgiveness..." Although what the poor creature would need forgiveness for is beyond me. Frankly, Dan had me at "The only reason she got married was 'cause he held a gun to her head and said if I can't have you, can't nobody have you."

That's why they call marriage an institution, isn't it?

As I talked with Dan, I couldn't help overhearing Lisa Shively at the table behind us. She writes cookbooks, has her own radio show, and lives in a haunted house. Needless to say, Lisa was selling the fool out of her books. "Gritslickers," is her latest.

Lisa's picture is found in the dictionary next to effervescent. She was like a little teapot, boiling away, whistle singing- all the while selling her cookbooks like hotcakes. I bought "Lisa Shively's Fat Little Crockin' Cookbook." I mean, after I'd heard her speak for all of about 2 sentences, I couldn't not buy it!

Lisa's a big fan of the crockpot. I overheard her telling one lady "I can stay as long as I want after church cause my lunch is all ready! I don't have to rush on past the minister so I can beat the crowd to Shoney's!"

Then she told me about the ghosts living in her turn of the century home. "I tell 'em 'The rules are I don't want to see you or hear you and you have to be nice! And if you take something and we need it back, you've got to bring it back right away!'"

She says so far "The Lady," the main ghost, faithfully abides by the rules...except when it comes to Lisa's husband. "I know he sees her. He doesn't mind that stuff like I do. You know how I know?" she says leaning in toward me and Marti. "He'll be in the shower and I'll hear him just talkin' away. Then he'll come out and say "Lisa, I said I was in the shower. Why'd you keep calling me?"

Marti cackles. "Well, I think the Lady's lusting after that husband of yours. Maybe they've got something going on!"

Lisa all but puts her hands up over her ears. "Like I said, as long as I don't see you or hear you, I don't care what you do!"

Then she tells us about her buddy, Ruby Ann Boxcar- of The Down Home Trailer Park Cookbook fame. Apparently she really is the woman on the cover of her book and Ruby's a big fan and supporter of Lisa.

Just as we're getting ready to call it a night, we meet Reid Baer, the poet.

He reads his poetry and commentary on You Tube and is quite popular...

He's also an editor and contributor to a couple of e-zines, one of which is the magazine for the Mankind Project.

Reid stops and introduces himself. He says his poems are mythopoetic. Then he tells us about the Mankind Project and while I'm all into the Robert Bly connection to his work and as my mental Rolodex of images and facts about the Men's Movement is jumping into my consciousness, Marti hears one thing out of Reid's mouth and is on him like the proverbial fly on stink. The Mankind Project, Reid tells us, is about getting men in touch with their feelings, making them accountable and establishing integrity within their relationships. But Marti hears the part about getting them in touch with their feelings so they can better understand women what women want.

"Yeah, but do they listen?" she asks.

Oh, shit, I mutter to myself. "It's on now!" I slink down a little lower in my chair and think the Men's Movement is about to meet the Immovable Force that is Marti.

I hold my breath through the initial dog-sniffing and am totally surprised when the two of them hit it off like old pals.

Meanwhile, Lisa's eyes widen and to my total surprise I see her nodding her understanding and agreement with Marti and Reid's conversation. The four of us are having a big time when we realize the event has ended and we are still there...bonding.

Marti left with everybody's card, phone number and multiple promises to be in touch or call or in other ways continue her new friendships. We get in the car and I just look at her for a long moment. "Marti, next thing I know there's gonna be a reunion party for the Eden Library Author's Night gathering!"

She giggles. "Yeah, if I'd just had a case of your books, I'd have sold every single one of them!"

This is when I hear my Sister Flea's voice in my ear. "I'm tellin' you, honey, that Marti could sell ice cubes to Eskimos!"

Now, I'm gonna go check out Lisa's website and then Google Ruby Ann Boxcar. Lisa says she's got the cutey-wootiest trailer park site and I do so love a good trailer park. Hey...Maybe Ruth Ann'd like to read my Strip series- my heroine, Sierra Lavotini, amateur sleuth and exotic dancer lives in a trailer park...


Reincarnation- From Soccer Mom to Judo Mom

Ah, we have had a time today, yes indeed we have...

The gentlemen informed me that they would be fighting in their first Judo tournament this weekend and, as I feared for their lives at the hands of experienced, killer ruffians, I knew there was no way I would stay away from this event.

I was woefully unprepared.

As a soccer mom with years of practice under my belt, I felt equal to the task- even though I never quite fit in the soccer mom scene. I was a bit too unconventional.

Imagine my surprise when we showed up in Durham and found there are Judo Moms. How do I know, you ask? THEY had T-shirts that said "Judo Mom." On the back, like on the back of rock band concert shirts, there were listings of tournaments attended. A lot of the shirts had some far eastern quotation from the Art of War, I believe.

There were Harley Helmets and military buzz cuts, hard asses and toddlers, hair in colors of the rainbow, chains, tattoos, and a serious lack of Clorox and deodorant in some quarters.

(This I believe was either the warm up exercise or the Hokey Pokey)

However...Judo people seemed on the whole, a lot friendlier. They got trounced and got up smiling and shaking hands. They introduced themselves to the boys...(Heck, the hottie men in the Unnamed Ones' Club even walked up, introduced themselves and spoke! Men, speaking, with social skills, at a sporting event! Go fig!)

There was only one coach who acted like the stereotypical "Bad Parent," yelling so hard at one kid, it made him cry.

I was certain that despite their niceness, they were going to kick Unnamed boy ass.
Nope. They came home with a First Place and Second Place trophy in their respective divisions.

And just like soccer...I couldn't tell you what happened, or what it meant, or what they did to earn those trophies other than beat their opponent.

What touched me most, however, was watching the Unnamed One bonding experience.

I forget sometimes that while they may kill each other at home, on outside turf they are a supportive team. The Eldest crouched at the edge of the mat throughout his brother's matches, never yelling out- but communicating with non-verbal signals.

He actually had to tell the Youngest he'd won his first match because the Youngest said, "It happened so fast I literally have only three memories of it- walking out into the lights, going in for the throw and then walking away! Until he told me what happened with that weird wave thing he was doing, I didn't know!"

The Eldest Unnamed One's Beloved filmed every second of their matches. It came to approximately six minutes worth of film. Beloved and I estimated we sat on hard wooden bleachers for one hour per minute of boy action.

For all but about 10 minutes of that time, we were bored witless.

But we also decided it was worth it. We give it a 78- good beat(ings), easy to dance to (if you count bleacher wiggling as dancing) and we'd do it again.


I Am Bigger Than My Hair...

I have hair issues.

I've tried therapy, all kinds.

I've cheated on my hairdresser- not just once but whenever I get bored. It's always a disaster. Sometimes I try to hide this from her by undoing the damage myself.

The last time I did this she said, "Nance, you've got pink stripes in your hair!"

I said "I know! Isn't that just the damndest thing?!"

See the biggest problem in our relationship is, we just don't get enough alone time. She sees other people, which doesn't bother me, until I want her to make time for me and she says, "Well, I can fit you in 3 weeks from now..."

Do I mean nothing to her? I thought what we had was special! When my hair's causing an emotional crisis in my life, I want my significant hairdresser to be there for me...that very minute!

I can't wait. Doesn't she understand I'm looking bad NOW?!

I can tell it's building up again. I'm restless. I'm starting to cruise websites and even the occasional Celebrity Hairstyles magazine in the supermarket. When Marti tells me about this hot hairstylist named Hillary who has the EXACT hair I need, I listen. I have even found myself thinking, what my stylist doesn't know won't hurt her! I mean, going for a consultation isn't exactly cheating, is it? I mean, we're just talking. I just need someone who understands me, who listens and doesn't always shoot me down with "You can't do that to your hair!"

Sigh. I know so much better than this. I know another stylist can't meet all my needs, can't make me feel good about myself. I know this has to come from inside me. A boring hairstyle is only a symptom of a deeper problem.

Still, I can't help but think if I had one of those new shaggy, inverted bobs or maybe Faith Hill's new do (I'm sure she has one) my life would be complete...

Yeah, and nirvana would be just around the corner, along with my mega-million dollar lottery winnings!


The Flea Sisters- In Tune...

I miss Darlene.

We had such a good time in D.C.

There's just something special about hangin' with your sister. Oh, sure, we're very different in lots of ways, but Darlene gets parts of me no one else understands.

We laughed, we cried. We talked about Dad and where he is or isn't. We talked about how our lives made us into such different people and some of the distorted beliefs we held onto as children.

Darlene told me she thought she wasn't creative. I said, "That's nuts! Remember when you made up Mr. Lightbulb stories to tell me every night?" I didn't think to tell her that when Dad was dying, in that last day or two, she'd been unbelievably creative...How else would we have fallen so easily into Dad's make-believe world, pretending to be parts of the sailboat for him?

She said she didn't think she was very thoughtful. "It's all about me!" she said.

"No way," I told her. "Who brought her office mate soup when she was sick? And who, just that very day, thought to buy a lunch for me when she bought her own so I wouldn't have to stop writing and go stand in line?"

Who, I thought, dropped everything to be by Dad's side? And who still made time to console her buddies through their own hard times?

She thinks I'm the brave one...but who was there, sitting with Dad, holding on to him and saying, "It's okay, Dad. We'll be fine. You can go now, honey."

If that's not frank heroism, letting go of your very best friend with such grace, even in the face of your own terror, I don't know what bravery is.

Darlene heals places in me that I don't even know ache. I hope I do some of that for her too.

We're like the two tines of a tuning fork- knock us up hard against life and we still somehow manage to resonate in perfect tune.

I do miss Darlene, I surely do...But I do the same thing with her that Dad did with us...I soak these special times up like a sponge and keep them in my heart. That way, whenever I'm lonely for her, I can bring her out and "live" my Darlene.

Selfishly, I enjoyed her morning, grumpy mania this week. I got to go home feeling better about myself.

I didn't think anyone woke up crankier than me!

We decided we really needed to continue our quest for therapeutic excellence, right back at the OMNI, same time every year...for as long as the OMNI remembers to call Darlene and say "But...we love you!"


Late Night Love Affairs at the Omni

Darlene and I continue to learn the most amazing things at the psychotherapy conference...

At 3 a.m, long after the aging hippy therapists have fallen into deep, mindful sleep, the grey-headed guys with combovers forget all about covering their naked pates to emerge from their hotel rooms with tufted, rooster crests as they flee for their lives, heeding the screeching alarms and robotic voices that yell "There is a fire in the hotel! Please exit the building! Do not use the elevators!"

Mertis would relish a moment like this as she was certain it was inevitable. After all, what else do terrorists have to do in the middle of the night but set an historic building on fire?

We proceed to the crowded stairwell, which is when I see the poor, grumpy boomer trying to explain to his late-in-life progeny that no, we are not all going to die and no, this is not cool.

The other therapists forgetting their neutral objectivity, snicker.

No one panics. If they did, however, what better place to lose your shit? You could pick from any one of a number of therapeutic paradigms to soothe your savage beast. Hundreds would surround you, all having never successfully dealt with their need to be needed...which of course, would only spawn new panic or at least, claustrophobia.

There we sit, Darlene and me, our backs against the registration counter, unsuccessful in dealing with our own insecurities at this late hour because we have once again given in to our guilty vice...indulging in the sarcastic putdown of innocent people no better or worse than ourselves.

In the cold light of morning, I promise to feel bad about this...but in the moment, it keeps me from falling into a coma and drooling on Darlene's comfortable shoulder. I long for our wonderful room, the one that, if it had 2 beds, would be a double of the brochure picture:

Four bored DCFD guys clump through the crowd of us, stare around the lobby with resentful, disinterested gazes (because they too, were probably sleeping when the alarm went off) and stomp back out. The all clear sounds and 3000 people mob the 4 elevators.

I am sitting at a wrought iron cafe table with Darlene when I see them...

Two women, one dressed only in the hotel's white terry cloth robe and the other, completely dressed in jeans and a gray tee shirt. The dressed one has a bright, clearly awake smile and a short, spiky haircut that frames her features beautifully.
The bathrobe girl, her shoulder-length brown hair screaming sexy, bedhead, leans toward her obvious partner, relishing the feel of her lover's propriatary hand on her shoulder, and allows her spiky girlfriend to lead her back to bed.

They are the only two people in the entire hotel who remain cocooned and unaffected by this late night debacle and not one of us suffers the illusion that they are returning to their rooms to fall back into a dull, dream-filled slumber.

Damn. I decide right then and there, the late night alarm was totally worth the price of admission.


So...I'm learning a lot here at the psychotherapy conference...

Darlene is a bear if she doesn't have coffee immediately upon awakening. I mean, RIGHT AWAY, without question or hesitation.

Yesterday room service didn't deliver our morning coffee on time and I thought Darlene was going to chew through the wall!

"Humph!" she snorts. "Is this how they love me? Is it starting already? The OMNI thinks words are enough?"

She presses the OMNI Prompt Response button while I'm in the shower. I don't know what she said. Darlene is not normally given to saying mean things but the coffee arrived within moments after I emerged from my hidey hole in the bathroom.

"Humph!" she snorts. "It took them long enough!"

I look at my watch. It hasn't even been 10 minutes and there are thousands of guests here. Thousands of touchy-feely new age-ers (I can say this, I am one!)

Across from me, Darlene sputters. "Where's my bagel?! They forgot the bagels!! There isn't time! I'll be late to hear the Gottmans!"

She hops on the phone again. The upbraiding she is intent on delivering sounds like a polite, but strident, request. 10 minutes later we have hot, fresh bagels- no charge.

Darlene is mollified. I am totally pleased but Darlene has very tough standards. I can only think this has something to do with Tanisha telling her the OMNI loves her after they deny her an extra blanket. Once they swore their love, Darlene's minimum standards shot up through the roof.

But then, isn't that they way it always is when we fall in love?

The Gottmans think so. They said 69% of our marital issues are unresolvable. They said all marriages come with a set of perpetual problems- issues we will struggle with for the life of our relationship. They tell us this is inescapable and that our goal is to find people who have perpetual problems we can live with and then work on compromise. Our job as therapists is to help people learn to work on strategies for doing this.

I look over at Darlene and find her nodding understandingly. "You need to get their book," she says.

"What about you?" I demand.

Darlene smiles. Smug. "I already have it."

"Is it good?"

Darlene shrugs. "I don't know. I don't read books. I'm waiting for the CD."

At lunchtime Darlene takes me to a video lunch and learn lecture with Martin Seligman. He thinks we should focus more on helping people learn to be happier. He says we can do this by learning what our "signature strengths" are and then searching out jobs and situations that utilize those strengths.

Darlene has his book too.

When lunch is over, she turns to me, beaming. "I'm so happy!" she exclaims. "I think it was the coffee!"

I am reading this over to Darlene, searching out her approval when the phone rings...It's the freakin' OMNI calling Darlene to see how her breakfast was this morning! This call arrives on the heels of her discovery that last night the housekeepers redid her bed, including a freaking down comforter to make up for not giving her a blanket the night before.

"Do you have a down comforter?" she asks, giggling gleefully. "Ha-ha! You do not!" She is wearing a black slip, bouncing up and down on her bed, slinging her pantihose around like a feather boa as she leaps to her feet and begins to dance the hoochie coochie around our room. "That's right!" she crows. "They love me! Ha-Ha!"


Unrequited Love at the OMNI Hotel

Darlene is cold.

Okay, she is not exactly cold. In fact, she really isn't cold at all, but she could be.

It's 39 degrees here in Washington and raining- an abrupt switch from the 78 degree balmy spring weather we encountered yesterday. It is probably 30 degrees colder than it was at lunchtime today.

They are calling for the proverbial "wintry mix" tomorrow, with "accumulations of ice and snow less than one inch."

So, Darlene is fairly certain she could be cold.

I am already cold. I sit on the bed across from Darlene's, wrapped in the soft, extra blanket I found in our closet, and shiver at the thought of an unexpected winter storm.

"Well," Darlene says. "Of course you're cold! Look at you! You have little bird bones." She pinches her upper arm, shakes her head and says, "Look at this. I got more meat on me than you do. I probably don't need an extra blanket. You keep it."

We have been out in the rain, traipsing around to the drugstore for Zicam and Airborn because I have a cold and Darlene hates germs. She's not taking any chances when it comes to catching my cold but she wants me to have the blanket.

And because I love her too, I want her to have the blanket.

But Darlene won't let me give it to her. And in addition to this act of selflessness, my sister also wants me to know she has faith in me- more faith apparently than I have in myself.

We have reached an impass of niceness and mutual respect, damn it!

Finally I tell her all we have to do is touch the "Omni Prompt Response Button" and they will send us up an extra blanket. Omni Prompt Response has been like rubbing Aladdin's lamp ever since I arrived. I think this is because we signed up to be "Select" guests. Select guest status is the Omni equivalent of a grocery store VIP card, or an airline frequent flyer program.

The OMNI has given us free wireless, 2 free beverages of our choice delivered to our room every morning, a free paper, nightly turn down service and free terrycloth robes.

In fact, every time I press the Omni Prompt Response button, magic happens.

I tell Darlene this earlier, before we approach Herman, the concierge, to ask about Thai restaurants and hairdressers and to ask for the use of one of their "free" umbrellas.

But it is Darlene who actually does the asking.

"Oh, I'm sorry but they are all gone as of about an hour ago." Herman says this in a delightful, perhaps Jamacian accent and holds out both hands, palm up, and symbolically empties his pockets for us.

He gives us the map to the drugstore and the Thai restaurant. When I say, "Bet you don't have a hairdresser map," Herman beams, circles the name of a salon around the corner from the hotel and then, for added measure circles another name.

"What does that say?" he asks, playfully taunting me.

"Nail Salon?"

He shrugs. "Yes. I think just in case."

I shove both hands deep inside the pockets of my peacoat and we leave, bare-headed, to walk through the rain to buy purple umbrellas and cold preventatives.

But now that we have returned, I can find only the one blanket and as Darlene absolutely will not take it from me, I am forced to rely on the only miracle at my disposal-Omni Prompt Response.

I show Darlene the button (because you all know how I am about phones.) "Go on," I say. "Just punch that button, tell them you'd like another blanket and it will be here before you know it!"

Darlene picks up the phone, rubs the lamp for the genie, and says exactly what I've told her.

I can hear a female voice going on at length. The voice sounds pert and friendly but Darlene is looking definitely disappointed.

"Yes I know there is," she says. "But there are two of us and my sister has it on her bed."

More cheerful talking from the woman on the other end of the phone.

I begin to plot my battle strategy. Does the happy girl not know who we are? We are not just one of the bazillion, new age-ers here for the psychotherapists' conference- we are special Select guests!

Is the OMNI genie really trying to deny my dear sister a measly, extra blanket?!

Darlene says "Really? Well...okay," and hangs up the phone.

"They wouldn't let you have a blanket?" I demand.

Darlene shakes her head and grins.

"No, they ran out!" she tells me.

"Ran out? Ran out of blankets? Now, umbrellas I can understand but they ran out of blankets?"

Darlene nods, her smile broadening. "Yeah. The woman said, 'I'm sorry we ran out of blankets but we love you!"

I have to make her repeat this two times before the reality of it sinks in. The hotel can't honor her request for a blanket, but hey, they love her.

Hey, FTD.com, put that in your pipe and smoke it! You stiffed me on Valentine's Day and never attempted to make it right. At least 1-800-Flowers refunded my money. You guys need to be taking notes here. The Omni's all over you when it comes to customer service!

The Omni ran out of blankets, but you know what, who cares? At least they feel bad about it. At least they're sorry. At least the OMNI loves us!

And because of that, we forgive them.

In fact, we love them right back!

I read this aloud to Darlene, because while I've made her repeat the story three times now, I still can't quite believe it and because I want to be sure I have my facts straight. But as I reach the end of my report, I look up to find her frowning.

"Did you say they love us?" She demands.

I nod. "Yeah."

Darlene shakes her head. "No, it's me," she stresses. "They said they love me and you know, I took it kind of personal!"

Okay. I stand corrected. The OMNI hotel loves my sister, Darlene.

But a flicker of hope still burns deep within my breast. One day, perhaps the OMNI will love me half as much as they love my sister, Darlene.


The Flea Sisters Take D.C...

Sometimes I forget my big city roots. I get settled into my small town, southern, country girl persona and completely forget my first 22 years as a hard-ass, Philly girl. Until something happens to jolt me back...

Like arriving this afternoon in Washington.

I drove slowly north, meandering my way into D.C through the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley, totally into my search for the ultimate country farm, and almost forgetting that I was driving into the big city, where it's always rush hour.

But suddenly, there I was...at 3 in the afternoon, watching lanes of traffic trying to escape town, tapping my brakes, watching cars zip and zag through muliple lanes of jam packed trucks, buses and cars and suddenly, I was back...right there, as if I'd never ever been away.

Mertis was right concerned when I left Greensboro. "I don't like the idea of you driving up there with all them crazy Yankee drivers," she groused. "It's dangerous!"

I just looked at her.

"You do remember where I used to live, right?" I asked.

"Well, it's true," she said. "They all drive like maniacs!"



This afternoon's spin past the Washington Monument, the school buses jammed along street corners discharging bored children onto already gorged sidewalks, the business people in suits, carrying over-full briefcases...it was all a familiar tonic. It was easy. It was just like yesterday.

And most of all, it was exilarating.

Big cities force you to live in the present. They grip you by the shoulders, shake you, spin you around and then toss you out into a world that won't let you "wait a minute." Big cities demand to be reckoned with.

Tonight, while I googled "best rated hair salons," and dreamed about getting a total makeover, 5 fire engines pulled up a half a block away, closing off the street and running hoses up and down the sidewalk. I never did see flames, but apparently they felt they had plenty to do at the sushi bar wedged between a print shop and an Indian restaurant. Meanwhile, just over the line in Rockville, the metro station got shut down because of a "suspicious package." The news was full of...well, news...And I could look outside and see night drama playing out six stories below my hotel window.

Yeah, life's good and I'm right here amongst it.

My sister Flea, is circling Dulles, and then she'll be in on the shuttle. It's time to garner a bunch of continuing ed. credits before the deadline in June. We kinda slacked off while Dad was sick...not that we've ever been anything but last minute girls. We're catching up on all the latest psychotherapy techniques.

But we'll be out in the thick of the world too...Flea says she hasn't had good Vietnamese food in 10 years...and if I can just find a salon that can work miracles, on my time table...well, we'll declare this little jaunt a success.

More tomorrow!


Rage Against the Stupid Pomegranate Parent Machine


So, last Saturday night when the Lah-dee-dahs were dancing, the Youngest Unnamed One took unfair advantage.

Okay, straight up, pomegranate cosmos were involved. Pair those with the absolutely killer dimples and big brown eyes of the Y.U.O and you have a recipe for disaster.

Somehow Marti and I agreed to take the Youngest Unnamed One on a road trip to New York in late July.

It'll be fun, we thought. We love road trips! Maybe we'll see Spamalot while we're there.

I'm a Philly girl....or used to be. So, what does it matter I haven't been to NYC since I was 5? A city's a city. No problem. How much could it have changed?

A nice summer adventure with the Youngest.

Sounds harmless right?


When he said concert and Randall's Island, I thought, maybe I was wrong. Maybe there's an island in New York I haven't heard of! (D'Nator, are you laughing your ass off yet?)

Then I think, hey, I bet it's not in NYC after all! It's probably near Fire Island, or maybe even somewhere in those Hamptons everybody's always mentioning on Entertainment Tonight- I can delude myself this way because, see, I don't know where either of those places is exactly either! Let alone the freakin' Catskills. All's I know is they're not IN dangerous, huge NYC...I figure this means, it'll be safe. No armed muggers...Yeah, I know...I've been living the small town life a little too long...My big city gene has recessed into nothingness.

The Youngest even tells us "It's like a festival. A lot of bands will be there."

I think, whoa! Way cool! It'll be like Woodstock! I'm so sorry I missed Woodstock! Now maybe I can...

"Whoa, wait a minute," Marti says. "We can't go IN the concert with him!"

"Why not?" I'm thinkin' over my dead body I'll let this 16 yr. old go into a Rage Against the Machine Concert without me. Besides...I may be old, but I'm still cool.

Marti shakes her head. "No. We are not cool. We are parents."

She says her 30-something year old rocker son loves Rage Against the Machine.

I'm sorry. I actually find myself thinking how can this be true since what I've heard coming out of Youngest's room doesn't even sound like good music...You know, like Zeppelin or anything. But I know, you don't have to remind me...I'm old. So I just figure- if it's good enough for Marti's son, it should be ok- especially if I rope him or The Eldest Unnamed One into coming along...like bodyguards.

So, in the spirit of Good Motherliness, just now I look up Randall's Island. I think maybe I'll find out how much the tickets are and, if they're on sale, I'll surprise him and buy them.

That's when I discover Randall's Island is not exactly an idyllic vacation spot in the Hamptons. I read the Wikipedia article on it and all I see are words like- "Landfill" "Bronx Kill" and "Hell Gate."

Then I decide to just see if there's a video clip showing Rage Against the Machine in concert.

Oh, boy. Can't hardly wait.

Only bright spot I see thus far is that the NYC fire department trains somewhere on the "island." So, I suppose there's a silver lining to every cloud...or something like that.

But then, what match is a fire hose against the flames in Dumb Parent Hell- the road to which I paved myself with Pomegranate Cosmos and Good Intentions...

Okay, now somebody...tell me it's not going to be that bad!


Popsicle Stick Theology

There was absolutely no doubt about it. I was going to Hell. I was only eleven, but I had done the unpardonable.

During the pre-communion hymn, when the children were dismissed with instructions to follow our teachers out of the sanctuary and down the steps into the church basement for Sunday School, I ducked out the side door of the narthex. The choir was still belting out "The Church Is One Foundation." Bobbie Thomas, the pint-sized organist, thumped away so hard on the old organ I swore I could feel the thick stone walls of the tiny white church vibrate like a runner panting to catch his breath.

I slipped along the narrow, asphalt drive, half-running as I passed between the church and the big, white brick mansion next door. I cut across the wide back yards that fronted the main street of my home town, breaking into a flat-out, escaped-convict run. I sprinted straight to the forbidden Promised Land for heathen eleven year-olds, Guinta's Drugstore.

Guinta's had a soda fountain counter that ran the entire length of the building. A mirrored wall behind the smooth, Formica top showed every inch of what seemed at the time to be a colossal pharmacy. Monday through Saturday afternoons, the stools that lined the counter were filled with the big kids, high schoolers like my baby sitter, Judy Olson, the head cheerleader and her boyfriend, Curt the Quarterback.

Judy was the one who taught me that if I pushed off hard with one hand, I could spin completely around on my stool- as long as I didn't do it over and over again. That was what little kids did. Big kids only took a turn or two around before turning back to their Vanilla Sodas or Root Beer Floats.

No doubt about it, in my mind I was a big kid. None of that baby, Sunday School, popsicle-sticks-glued-together religion for me. I wasn't even sure I believed there was a God. Furthermore, I was supposed to memorize the Prayer of Confession before the Bishop came for our first Communion but I had decided not to.

Why would I memorize a prayer that was supposed to earn me forgiveness for sins I didn't even think I'd committed? If I was really sorry for something, why would I just give God a cookie-cutter "dog ate my homework" excuse? Wouldn't I tell Him straight up what I'd done and then why I was sorry and then mean it when I asked Him to forgive me?

I figured a Vanilla Soda was just what a big kid would go for if she wanted to set the tone for the rest of her sacrilegious but honest life.

Too bad I was the minister's daughter.

The minister's daughter sitting all alone at the counter in Guinta's, showcased by the plate-glass front window, was like a neon billboard advertising sin.

Still, for three consecutive Sundays I sat drinking my Vanilla Soda at Guinta's, careful to return to St. James in time to merge back in with the other goodie-goodies as class let out and they rejoined the adults in the Fellowship Hall.

It wasn't until the afternoon of the third Sunday, when the other parishioners had gone home to their hard-won Sunday dinners that my father finally found the appropriate time to speak to me.

Dad was not a fire and brimstone pastor. He was more Buddhist- a paragon of unconditional love and total acceptance. However, as I look back over that talk with adult eyes, I have to wonder was it really a coincidence that he chose to confront me on the steps leading up to the altar while still wearing his white robe?

"Kid," he said in his casual, off-handed manner. "You're old enough to make up your own mind about church and what you believe. So, if you don't want to go to Sunday School, you should just say so instead of sneaking down to Guinta's. That way, Mr. Greenleaf wouldn't have to worry about whether you're all right down there by yourself."

Great. I just know I've been busted by "Big Ears" Greenleaf, the Sunday School Superintendent. Could I do nothing in this town without some nosy busy-body calling my parents and diming me out? Apparently not…a lesson I learned over and over again throughout my childhood.

"I'm sorry, Dad," I remember managing to say. "I just feel like this whole church thing is so phony. When we say the confession, I look around and I think- Hey, I didn't even do anything! And if I did, what does it mean that I can just say one little prayer and I've got a free pass to be bad until next week? Is that what all the other people do? Say they're sorry and then yell at their kids all week?"

We sat on the steps beneath a towering stained glass window portraying Jesus carrying a lamb in his arms, and talked for a long while.

"I understand what you're saying about the liturgy," Dad said. "Sometimes I don't really believe in all that stuff either."

This totally shocked me. "You don't?"

Dad smiled. "They are comforting words and sometimes people need things to be organized. They need to be able to look in a book and say familiar words because it makes them feel better." Dad shrugged. "That's not really so bad, I guess. I think we all create the God we need." Dad said, "Life is a scary place and God is a concept we can use as an anchor, to help us to be less afraid about living and about dying."

Dad stood up and removed the notes from his sermon from the pulpit. I watched as he crossed himself before turning away from the gold cross on the altar and walking with me back down the red-carpeted aisle.

"If the ceremony and the words are troubling you, take a break from this. Wait until you want to be here to show up."

At the time, I didn't think about what difficulties my "tuning out" might create for my father with his parishioners. Dad wasn't the type to live up to anyone else's expectations anyway. He was the sort to honor his own beliefs, even when it led to conflict or controversy.

Dad taught me by example over and over again- by campaigning actively for civil rights, by protesting against the Vietnam War, by taking in any and all who were in need or pain, by loving others selflessly and with unflinching devotion.

I never went back to Sunday School with any depth of heart or conviction but I did and still do my best to follow in my father's footsteps. And to this day I do not regret my decision.


The La-Dee-Dahs Dance Off...

Like I said in my last post...Saturday night was one for the books. Even the Eldest Unnamed One got in on the action...

Poor old Mertis said the whole thing set her head to whirlin'...

I'd say we all needed to blow off a little steam, especially in light of the sadness that colored so much of the week. Of course, the Eldest Unnamed One has never been much for staying gloomy. Even wearing their teal colored shirts in tribute to the lost Trae, The Eldest managed to throw in his opinion of me lining them up at 8 a.m and insisting on taking their pictures...

Of course, The Youngest Unnamed One is never one to let his opinion about things go unnoted. He didn't even need to say a word- his body language says it all.


Dancing on the Rim of Immortality

Okay, were I not technologically challenged I would show you my cell phone movie of John Brown's birthday celebration out at the barn. I have, on video, preserved for posterity, Little Elvis in his new black polyester yarn wig, playing "Love Me Tender" while Thomas Edison's modern day twin plays bass behind him.

I have the movie of this couple who appear to be so strikingly angular that all we could wonder about was how they had sex without piercing each other in life-threatening places.

I have a video of sweet Caroline smiling more than she has since her dear Raymond died, swirling across the tiny dance floor as she waltzes with an old friend.

Now, I could download AND show you multiple videos of Marti and Mertis disco dancing over here Satruday night but Mertis swears she'll kill me and you know, I do believe she might. It was a night to remember!

And what I don't have on video, but do have etched in my heart forever is the funeral Sunday afternoon for dear Trae. The church was filled with brave, tearful high school children wearing Trae's favorite color, teal.

My heart broke over and over again as I watched those children turn a corner and become adults. One by one they walked past their friend in his casket, then turned to hug Trae's poor parents. They spoke or read or assisted as pall bearers or flower carriers with an aching composure that was all too apparent when you looked into their eyes.

They closed ranks around each other and we, their parents, were outside that circle, unable to take any of the pain away. It was a goodbye to Trae, to childhood, to invincibility, to the idealized world where children outlive their parents and goodbyes are never necessary.


John Brown's Birthday Bash

Tonight, me and Marti, Mertis, Carolyn, Miss Patsy and maybe more assorted and sundry clogger “girls” will be back out to Brown’s Ole Opry, commemorating a very important birthday with a very special fella. John Brown, the owner of The Barn and host of our weekend dances, is turning 85.

I wish you knew him.

Every Friday and Saturday night you'll find him out in the barn, waiting expectantly in his crisp denim overalls and his peaked bill John Deere cap. A fine edge of white stubble frosts cheeks that have been worn with wind and weather and his clear blue eyes sparkle with the pure pleasure he finds in making our toe-tapping happiness blossom.

He’s worked hard all his life, this man has, and weekend nights are his reward as well as his gift to his Mcleansville family.

He sits close to the door on the same, hard, wooden school auditorium seat he's occupied every Friday and Saturday night for who knows how many Friday and Saturday nights, greeting his neighbors one by one as they come to join him in a celebration of all that’s good and right with the world- and in particular, country and bluegrass music.

He doesn’t ask much…Just that we, his special "clogger girls" come and dance for him up there on the small, wooden square fronting the stage.

If he catches me sitting one too many dances out alongside the wall, he slowly leans forward, his eyes sparkling mischeviously, and points one arthritic finger toward the floor- my signal to quit dilly-dallying and get to steppin’.

A little dancing from us is all he’s asked for in the way of a birthday present and the very least we can do to honor someone who has brought so much simple pleasure to so many.

The last time I went out to dance, as I was leaving, he clasped my hand in both of his thick, work-roughened ones, looked up into my eyes with almost childlike wishfulness and said, “You won’t forget my birthday dance, March 2nd, will you?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for all the world, John,” I said.

And I wouldn’t.

Marti and I will step out onto the floor with Little Elvis and the house band, all the while thinking life can’t get no better than this…And let me tell you something...In light of the past week’s, well, hell, the past year’s events, it’s true. Life can’t get no better than whatever current morsel of time we have…So grab a hunk of it and hold on for all you’re worth!

It sure doesn’t seem to have done John Brown any harm.