Friday, February 22, 2008


I’ve been missing in action and hitting the pages. Yes those empty pages of my novel that had been patiently waiting since last spring. I understand why writers write every day. One skipped day becomes two, then three, then months. Next thing you know, you’re not a novel writer anymore.

My Christmas gift to myself was to buy a ticket back on the wagon. I joined a novel writing group through Writer’s Digest and 10,000 words are due every three weeks. I needed the self-imposed deadline. Also, we are required to critique each other’s work. The quality and diversity of the other work is humbling and inspiring. It’s just what I needed. I’m enjoying myself more than I have in a long, long time.

Why do writers sometimes avoid what we love to do? Is it fear or laziness? I’m not sure. It’s hard work but nothing, other than parenting, is more rewarding to me. Actually, it’s like parenting - the pregnancy and giving birth bit. I’ll let you know when the novel is born.


When I came home last night, I found a little red leather book with gold embossing on my kitchen counter. Feelings I had associated with it years ago hit me before I could remember what it contained. It was one of my childhood favorites - “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” by Robert Louis Stevenson. My mom had sent it home with my daughter, who is studying poetry in school now.

My daughter was struggling with her poetry homework the other night. She had a serious case of writer’s block. It’s tough to pull out words and string them together in meaningful patterns on demand. After her initial brainstorming, she was stuck. I told her to go do something else and it would eventually come to her (hopefully before the project was due). And sure enough it did — beautifully. The look of amazement on her face as inspiration struck was priceless. It’s a magical feeling of connection.

I haven’t written much poetry since high school and I won’t torture anyone with samples of my teen angst now. Back then, I said they were song lyrics. I had to maintain my cool girl rep. But that’s when I first felt the power of communicating through writing. I had written a very personal poem that I was sure no one else could understand. A classmate read it over my shoulder. She started to cry and asked if she could have a copy. It touched her on some level and I was honored.

Of course that poem was horrible and we were moody, overly emotional things. But when other classmates began asking to read my stuff, I was not only flattered but a writer was born. I also learned something valuable. One should write for themselves and about their own truths. We are all connected on some universal plain and others will relate to the honesty. If you try to write what you think others want to read, it will likely fall flat.

So smash your soul out on a page and wait for divine inspiration. Something incredible can take shape. If that’s not in your bag of tricks, then try to read other’s poetry or even the lyrics to your favorite song. I keep a journal by my bed that is filled with my favorites. When I’m feeling isolated or lost, I turn a few pages and quickly find that someone else had the same questions, if not the answers.

My favorites now are Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Dream Within Dream” and anything by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Emily Dickinson. Yep, a dark romantic.

“There is a pain - so utter - it swallows substance up then covers the abyss with trance - So memory can step around - across - upon it - as one within a swoon - goes safely - where an open eye - would drop Him Bone by Bone.” - Emily Dickinson

Thanksgiving in NYC

New York City never disappoints me. Through Uncle Chris and NBC, we scored amazing front row grandstand seats for the parade. It was a mob scene along the parade route (no cabs could get through). My kids got an express tour of Central Park as we took a short cut. A special thanks to all the NYPD (a shout out to Officer Castro) who helped us get through barricades. The crowd was in a great mood and included Joey Fatone of the Backstreet Boys. I recognized him in time to say hello. As for the parade, my daughter got to see her beloved Jonas Brothers up close and my husband cheered for Bob from Sesame Street, who seemed thrilled to steal some attention from Elmo. He’s been on that show for over 35 years! Seeing all the floats and the bands in person was incredible.

Then it was back to the Le Parker Meridian for some swimming in the enclosed penthouse pool. I actually got to read the entire New York Times while the kids played. Bliss. The open air roof offered a spectacular vista view of Central Park’s changing leaves. It was a warm 70-something so my daughter was able to join me in her bathing suit! Not your normal New York November.

Dinner at Becco (owned by Lydia of “Cooking with Lydia” fame on PBS) was a scrumptious Italian-American feast. Pumpkin ravioli sprinkled with cocoa for the pasta course, roasted brussel sprouts as a side and the apple-pecan pie were my favorites. Yum.

Then a nice guy offered to take our family photo with Times Square as our back drop. And he didn’t run off with the camera!

The next day my son’s pick was up first - the mythical creatures exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. It was crowded but he loved it. He didn’t need to read the placards. He could tell you all you ever needed to know and more about Medusa or a Norwhale. I hope there is a career in that.

Afterward, we took in FAO Schwarz. Amazingly, my kids were not overly impressed. My husband and I sure as hell were. But then again, we were no where near as spoiled as our kids. Note to self: Work on their gratitude and sense of what other’s don’t have.

We window shopped past Tiffany and Co. on our way to lunch at the Rock Center Cafe. Our table overlooked the ice skaters outside and they offered the critical combination of chicken fingers for the kids and beer for mom and dad! Then it was orchestra seats for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. Love those Rockettes. Declan fell asleep halfway through and Kylie was calm. We finally wore them both out.

Sounds like a pretty wonderful trip right. Well….

My goal was two-fold — family bonding time and to have my husband cross off a “one of the things to do before I die.” His death is not imminent. Although, at several points during the trip he threatened to have a stroke. Traveling with children is challenging and that’s the understatement of the year.

Granted it’s easier now that we aren’t lugging portable cribs and hauling baby supplies like pack mules. But each age presents it’s own set of problems. My pre-teen daughter seems to have a uncontrollable urge to talk back. So our three-day Thanksgiving getaway to New York was peppered with sarcasm and complaints. There isn’t enough wine to drown out the whine. Or maybe I wasn’t willing to endure the next day’s tirades with a hangover.

I was the same little pain in the ass with my parents. It’s a rite of passage. I know when she looks back on this trip, she’ll remember all the highlights and not that I didn’t let her wear jeans to Thanksgiving dinner or that we weren’t spending the day with her grandparents and extended family. An occasional break (for me “occasional” means for the first time ever) from holiday tradition is healthy and makes it that much more meaningful when they roll around again.

Family bonding just can’t be planned though. It just happens in the day to day. So grab those moments when you can. Crossing things off your “to do before I die” list absolutely has to be arranged. This holiday season, gift one of those things to yourself. Life is short. Despite really loooong days with kids.

Civic Doody

Yesterday was Election Day. To drive home the importance of voting, I take my children with me to the polls. As I was checking in, I explained to Kylie and Declan that I was performing a civic duty. Well my son thought that was just hilarious. “Civic Doody! You’re going into that booth to do Doody!” Ahh yes, second grade humor. Everyone was very amused as he loudly explained the joke in detail to my literal daughter who didn’t get the double meaning.

Declan isn’t far off from most people’s thoughts on voting. Many think it’s a bunch of crap. They believe politicians serve only their own egos and agendas. In many cases, I absolutely agree. But there are a few gems to be sieved out and that’s what voting allows us to do. Choose the lesser of the evils if you must, but make a choice. Or someone else will do it for you.

There was only 30% turnout yesterday. Smaller numbers are expected during local elections, but it still surprises me. The decisions made by these politicians have a direct impact on the communities in which we live. For me, that includes great schools, lower taxes and county preserved open space near my home. So, heck yeah, I’m going to vote.

You can’t assume your neighbors’ votes are going to take care of things. Did you catch the uber talented Sabrina Bryan’s sad exit from Dancing with Stars? The judges theorize her fans thought everyone else was voting for her, so they didn’t have to cast their own vote.

My Uncle Jim (Matthews), was running for Montgomery County Commissioner. Although the incumbent, he anticipated a rough race. Republicans have run the county since the Civil War. However, disapproval of Bush and growing democratic numbers threatened the hold. He was right to worry. The margins were slim. This highlights the importance of each person’s vote.

My daughter saw all the negative TV ads slamming her great Uncle Jim, so she had her fifth grade class pray for him. Who am I to say it didn’t help? What I do know is that when my polling place closed, he was in the lead by one vote. I’d like to think it was mine!

It was a long evening at GOP headquarters while we waited for word. I met so many people who take their commitment beyond voting - they are the party’s volunteers. They get none of the glory but they do get the deep satisfaction of being part of a process that makes the United States the greatest country – down to every county.

There is a happy ending, too.

Congratulations to Jim Matthews, Montgomery County Commissioner!

Pedophile Priests

The following blog was adapted from an essay I wrote called “My Lost Saints.” It won an award in the inspirational writing category from the Writer’s Digest 2007 annual competition. There were 19,000 entries.

About a year ago, my then six-year-old son told me how much he enjoyed Mass. I knew my little guy liked dinosaurs, Power Rangers and loud music, but Mass? I was proud and sad all at once. It was then, I realized how much I’d lost in the wake of the Catholic Church pedophile scandals. I had, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote, “lost my saints.”

When I was his age, the Catholic saints were my action heroes. Their brave lives and gory deaths fascinated and inspired me. They stood up for their beliefs against all odds. I’d played Mass, too. Lining up all my stuffed animals next to my little brother, I’d read from the Old and New Testaments. Then, I’d deliver one hell of a homily. I didn’t understand that women couldn’t be priests. I’d come to that realization during my years as a parochial school student and many much more surprising facts later as an editor for an Archdiocesan newspaper.

After having been taught through 12th grade that Noah had an ark, my boss, a priest with his doctorate in theology from the Vatican, laughed and told me the stories in the Old Testament were metaphorical. They were teaching tools to help us understand complexities of our faith. I guess I’d always suspected that, but what about those who took the lessons literally and didn’t go on to pursue a degree in theology. When would they get the straight up truth? More illuminating chats involved the distinction between doctrine and tradition. Tradition with a capital T, he said. Also, celibacy for archdiocesan priests was a promise rather than a vow.

Over the years, I wondered about confession, birth control, the role of women in the Church and the indictment of gays. But who was I to question? My rude spiritual awakening continued. So much of our religion had nothing to do with actual doctrine. Throughout history evil, greed, sexism and bigotry shaped much of what now constitutes Catholic “T”radition. And if I doubted history, then I had my days at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as proof.

My favorite childhood parish priest ran off with the third grade teacher. The priest who renewed my parents’ wedding vows has since married a former nun. They are now both Lutheran ministers. Then came the sickening discovery that a priest, who had taken my husband, his brothers and other boys on childhood camping trips, had been a pedophile, known as such to the archdiocesan administration for decades. While my husband and his brothers were unharmed, others were not so lucky. I’m infuriated with the hierarchy who condoned a legacy of depression, suicide and depravity. I find them to be as evil, if not more so, than the priest pedophiles. To add insult to injury, the absurd apologies that accompanied recent settlements enrage me.

I now realize it is my God-given right and responsibility to question. As in politics, if I’m to complain then must I participate? But this isn’t about government. This is my soul. With whom do I register my complaint? What do I do here and now if I want to actively take part in my religion?

I send my children to parochial school and will send them through Catholic education until they reach college. Catholics do an incredible amount of good. I have no doubt God is present in what Catholic Charities and Catholic schools accomplish. There are dedicated priests tainted by the scandal of others. There are faithful followers trying to live good lives. I do separate my faith from my religion, as my mother suggests. My father would argue that Catholicism has endured centuries just fine. Who am I to argue the finer points?

But I find that lack of spiritual evolution sad. I’m by no means suggesting that other religions have it over Catholics. Having written for The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Living Religion section, I covered many faiths. Some people believe that any organized religion is going to lead to corruption. Where does that leave society? There’s a desperate need for faith and organized religion. Yet, church pews are emptier and fewer people are entering religious orders. Apathy, rather than reform, has taken hold. So much competes for our attention and, yes, sometimes we are lazy. But instead of walking away from organized religion, we need to fix it. It’s not the sins of the past and present Church that concern me — it’s the Church of the future, or the lack there of.

I want my children to experience the peace that comes with belief. I don’t want to rob them of their faith. The Church may do that soon enough.

My son deserves more. He deserves his saints — the ones I’ve lost.