Everyday Hero: Little Free Pantries

Welcome back to the “Save One Life, Save the World?” countdown, celebrating everyday heroes. Today, I would like to introduce you to the Little Free Pantry movement.

I first learned about “Little Free Pantries” in this column by L.A. Times reporter Nita Lelyveld, about the folks who wanted to do something to help people in their community who were struggling. Lelyveld writes, “Many of us, I think, mean to help others in greater need but don’t. Our busy lives swallow us up. Or we decide that as individuals we can’t accomplish much — so we send a check somewhere, or mean to and keep saying to ourselves that we will.”

But that was not the case for three Burbank residents, including young mom Tara Duffy, whose world was turned upside by a car accident. As Lelyveld explains,

With the terrible pain and the budget strain when she had to leave work, no one would have blamed Duffy if she had just holed up and concentrated on getting her family through each day.

Instead, she reevaluated her life.

“And I felt like our world is in a pretty cruddy place and it felt very insurmountable — and I wanted to do something to give back.”

Read Lelyveld’s full column here about how, one step at a time, “everyday heroes” Tara Duffy, and Adam and Monica Karell established Little Free Pantries in their Burbank neighborhood, modeling impactful compassion in action. 

(And if you want to feel even more heartened, or are looking for help, check out this map of hundreds of Little Free Pantries around the country!)

Who inspires you? Please leave a comment and share the inspiration. Our world need every single act of big-heartedness it can get.

With love,


#kindnessmatters #everydayheroes #saveonelifesavetheworld

About “Save One Life, Save the World?”

These posts are part of a countdown to Palisades Reads, a community literary event whose mission is to foster connection, spark conversation, and celebrate books for their ability to build empathy. 

Here’s what I’ve shared so far:

1. This op-ed and interview with author/actress Annabelle Gurwitch about welcoming a homeless couple into her home through a pilot project with Safe Place for Youth.


Save One Life, Save the World?

The world needs — has always needed — everyday heroes, every kind act and impulse each of us can offer.

So I am excited to be moderating a panel discussion calledSave One Life, Save the World? on October 23, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. as part of Palisades Reads, a new annual community literary event whose mission is to foster connection, spark conversation, and celebrate books for their ability to build empathy. The panel relates to the themes in my novel, Shelter Us (Indiebound, Amazon, library), the story of a grieving mother who finds solace helping a young homeless mother regain her stability. In the words of one reviewer, the novel asks readers to consider, “How far would you go to help a stranger in need?” 

What compels ordinary people to step outside their comfort zone to help others? The panelists are not superheroes, but regular folks whose hearts led them to take steps, then more steps, leading to the founding of agencies that help homeless youth, that innovate how to connect homeless individuals to services, and that provide counsel and community to grieving families.

These everyday heroes are living proof of Alicia Keys‘ words: “What people often assume is that in order to make change a reality, you have to have some kind of superhuman quality and power inside of you. You don’t have to be a politician, or a scholar or a singer or a celebrity to recognize a problem and work towards fixing it by empowering others around you to take up the fight. You have to be you and that makes it all the more valiant.

To honor everyday heroes, in a countdown to the panel I will be sharing stories about people who are making the world better with small and large acts of kindness. I hope their stories will send ripples of inspiration, to tell anyone who wonders if they can make a difference: Yes, you can. And yes, you must, for no one else can bring forth your unique gifts. It’s all hands on deck.

To start, today I’m sharing this op-ed and this AirTalk interview with author/actress Annabelle Gurwitch, in which she describes her experience welcoming a homeless couple into her home through a pilot project with Safe Place for Youth (one of the participants in the Palisades Reads panel Oct 23, 6:30 p.m.) 

Let’s send ripples of kindness out into the world. Please share this post, and leave a comment about who inspires you, or how you help others. Our world need every single small act of big-heartedness it can get.

And please join me if you can for an inspiring, motivating, heart-lifting evening:

“Save One Life, Save the World” Panel, October 23, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Pacific Palisades Branch Library, 861 Alma Real Drive, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272

With love,


#saveonelifesavetheworld  #everydayheroes



How to foster connection, community, conversation…read, gather, party.

Thank you to the Friends of the Palisades Library for this awesome honor. Please join us in kicking off what should be a community tradition for decades to come! (To help launch this event, I am offering author visits and copies of Shelter Us to schools, libraries, and local non-profit groups.) Announcing…


Palisades Reads is a community-wide book club in which the public is invited to read one book to foster connections and community, spark conversations, and celebrate reading.
For its inaugural year, the Friends of the Library have selected Shelter Us: A Novel. Set in Pacific Palisades, Shelter Us explores many layers of the human experience – marriage and parenthood, joy and grief, and what moves us to help someone in need.  

Save the Dates:

October 23, 2019, 6:30 – 8 p.m.

Kick-off Party & Panel Discussion: Save one life, save the world?

What moves us to action? What compels us to help another person? What does it take to step outside our comfort zone? Join leaders from Safe Place for Youth, Palisades Task Force on Homelessness, and others to explores these questions raised by the novel.

November 13, 2019, 6:30 – 8 p.m.

Community Book Club Night
Bring your friends, neighbors and book club for conversation and refreshments.

How to survive the first day of school blues.

Today is the first day of high school for my baby, the one who proclaimed after dropping out of pre-school that he was never going back to school. The end of summer always drops on his head like an avalanche.

I find myself wishing that he had the same positive anticipation of the first day of school that I used to have, instead of the pinching anxiety. Then I wonder — am I remembering it wrong through the haze of decades?

In my recollection, at least in elementary school, first days meant all good things — bringing new school supplies and wearing a new outfit; finding my name written in the teacher’s neat printing on a crisply folded cardstock; seeing which friends would be in my class.

But if I roll the tape to middle and high school, the picture changes – I remember that sudden squeezing stress of a Sunday afternoon, and I understand him better.

I do recall one coping strategy I tried in my Senior year in high school, the same institution that now holds my child. The first day of school, I decided to try to hold onto the summer feeling as long as I could, to trick myself into believing that it was still summer, the only difference was that during the day I was hanging out with my friends at school and not the beach. The trick didn’t last the week.

Now our kids go back to school when it actually is still summer! No wonder it hurts.

Not just that, but as he zipped his backpack, there was this question, the question: Do you think my school is safe? As if his meaning weren’t clear enough he added, There have been shootings in California, you know. We have drills once a month.

I made a split second decision to make up a statistic about lightning striking, because what the hell else could I say in that moment. Then I hugged him and handed him his lunch bag. Time to go.

As I drove him to school, he took a few slow deep breaths, settling and soothing himself in preparation for the onslaught of six new teachers and their expectations. As I wait for him to come home this afternoon, I realize that I’d better do the same.

All of this makes me wonder, what does “normal stress” for a teenager look and feel and sound like? What are your memories of back-to-school — the blues or blue skies? How do your kids anticipate the first day of school? What eases the transition?  All funny comments get extra points!


SHELTER US, the Audiobook.

By now, my friends and readers, you know that my Grandma Lilli figures big in my life. I say figures, present tense, because although she passed away nearly two years ago (the nerve of her!), she still has a lot to say to me, and I to share with her. Like this news:

Audiobook Announcement, Liza Fleissing FBLilli was one of my biggest boosters. She joined the book club at her “old folks home” just to insist that they read my novel when it came out. And they did — all four of them.

Is there an audiobook? they would ask me on every visit. Her fellow residents were a highly educated, well-read bunch, but their diminishing eyesight made reading books a thing of the past.

I am happy to finally answer, Why yes there is! It’s being recorded even as I type.

So for all fans of audio books — not only those with fading eyesight, but those who love to be told a good story, who want to be carried to another place while driving, walking, errand-running, living…the audiobook is on its way.

And if I could, I would call Lilli with the news, and she would say, “I can’t believe the whole thing!”

Link to the audiobook will be shared as soon as it is available! Paperback and e-book are available from independent bookstores near you, and that other place some folks buy books and e-books.

Writer’s Life: Jane Green is Back!

In anticipation of the June 4 publication of Jane Green’s new novel, The Friends We Keep, I am happy to share the Writer’s Life Interview on the occasion of her previous novel’s publication (Falling). She shares her motto (something aspire to live by it, though it’s not always easy), and tells about where she likes to write, and why. But first, a bit about The Friends We Keep:

Evvie, Maggie, and Topher have known each other since university. Their friendship was something they swore would last forever. Now years have passed, the friends have drifted apart, and none of them ever found the lives they wanted – the lives they dreamed of when they were young and everything seemed possible.
Evvie starved herself to become a supermodel but derailed her career by sleeping with a married man.
Maggie married Ben, the boy she fell in love with at university, never imagining the heartbreak his drinking would cause.
Topher became a successful actor but the shame of a childhood secret shut him off from real intimacy.
By their thirtieth reunion, these old friends have lost touch with each other and with the people they dreamed of becoming. Together again, they have a second chance at happiness… until a dark secret is revealed that changes everything.
The Friends We Keep is about how despite disappointments we’ve had or mistakes we’ve made, it’s never too late to find a place to call home.
The Friends We keep by Jane Green is out June 4th, but available for pre-order now at the following links:

Jane Green photo credit Ian Warburg (004)
Jane Green (credit: Ian Warburg)

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I was very much an invisible child, and always say I became a writer because I was a reader; I found my solace and joy within the pages of books. Invisibility as a child can manifest as an adult who needs to be seen. I don’t know that I write for attention, but it is the way I can best express myself, and the way I am seen.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

I have a little office in the bowels of the Westport Country Playhouse. I get too distracted at home, and suspect that renting an office would be too isolated. I need to be surrounded by people and feel in and of the world, whilst still having enough privacy to write.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Do As You Would Be Done By.

Who inspires you?

Strong women who understand who they are and make no apology for it.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

The MRA, Melanoma Research Alliance, for funding research and drug development that has completely changed the prognosis of stage IV melanoma.


Jane Green is the author of 16 New York Times bestselling novels, and a regular contributor on radio and TV, including Good Morning America, The Martha Stewart show, and The Today Show. When Jane is not writing, cooking, gardening, filling her house with friends and herding chickens, she is usually thanking the Lord for caffeine-filled energy drinks. A cancer survivor – she has overcome Malignant Melanoma, she also lives with Chronic Lyme Disease, and believes gratitude and focusing on the good in life is the secret to happiness. Jane lives with her husband and blended family in Westport, Connecticut. (From

Learn more about Jane on her websiteFacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest

Birthday love.

Today is my birthday. I spent a beautiful spa day with my mom, who really did all the work, so it seemed appropriate.

This is a big year, the big Five-Oh. My grandmother would have thought 50 sounded so young. And yet she never told her birthday to anyone. (When she had to tell a doctor, she also threatened that she would then have to kill him.)

Last year, when we visited her graveside to mark the passage of one year without her, my cousin Greg shared how, at the end of the day on his last birthday, he felt like something was off. Something was missing. He realized he had not gotten “the call,” the phone call from our grandmother that could fill airwaves and miles with a force of grandmotherly love that could never be contained nor measured nor replicated.

A few years ago, I saved one of her birthday messages on my phone. I played it to myself last year, and again today:

“I wanna wish you a really, really, really, really happy, happy, happy, happy birthday.”

Oh, grandma, did I ever have a happy birthday. Let me tell you about it. It was filled with blessings —  handwritten sweet notes and flowers from those delicious boys, a love-filled card from Maria, notes from friends near and far, and a special photo montage made by Christopher, whose kindness and love are as bountiful as anyone could want.

I must have been really, really, really, really good in my last life.

With gratitude abounding.


Laura Lilli champagne



How to Dance in the Rain: Another Lesson from My Grandmother

I wake Friday morning. Think: Another day. Another gift.

Full from Thanksgiving, I dress for a jog, or maybe the YMCA. Whim will decide.

A jog would mean fresh air and sunshine and — the big payoff — an expansive ocean view. The gym would mean maybe I pick up some weights, challenge my muscles. That’s important for a woman my age, I hear. I jog toward the gym.

I choose an elliptical at the end of the row, to put some space between me and the other post-indulgence machine-runners. It asks my weight and my age so it can choose how hard I should work. I lie about my age. By a lot. It’s not vanity; this machine doesn’t know how strong 49 can be.

My view from this machine is split: on the right, through the open double doors, I see the elementary school across the street. I am looking directly at the windows of Aaron’s first-grade classroom. I play a trick on myself; I time travel. “Imagine it is 11 years ago,” I tell my brain, “and Aaron is 6 and learning double-digit addition and subtraction, using the newspaper’s box scores to add each quarter of the basketball games.”

The trick makes me nauseous. I can’t sustain it for a second. That little boy is almost 18, graduates high school in months, then will leave for college. Fuck!

It goes so fast.

On the left side, my view is of televisions mounted to the wall. They are there to distract us, keep us pedaling, jogging, climbing, longer. Trying to stay healthy, longer. Trying to make our time here longer. On one TV is a college basketball game, all eyes on the coach. I time travel again, forward this time, and imagine that coach is Aaron, and I am on this same elliptical machine watching him live his dream. I believe in his dream. I smile. Thinking about the future doesn’t make me nauseous like returning to the past did.

The hardest challenge is being right here, now. I once wrote on a rock, “Be here now,” trying to create a reminder to help me stay present. Emmett found my rock and poked fun at my solemnity, writing on the back, “Where? HA! HA!” I found it on my desk. It was so Emmett, I had to laugh. I can take myself too seriously.

At the Y, a man I’ve known all my life walks in. We went to kindergarten together at that school across the street. Then his daughter and Aaron went to kindergarten together there. She’s also on the edge of what’s next. “How’s the college stuff going?” he asks. This can’t be happening, I want to say. They are only five, I want to say. Hell, WE are only five! “Great,” I say.

It goes so fast.

I walk home, it’s time to get ready to leave for the unveiling of my grandmother’s gravestone,. It has been a little more than a year since she died, and her name has been added to join my grandfather’s. We chose Thanksgiving weekend so all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren could be present.

We gather under a white canopy on a picture perfect fall day in Los Angeles. We have no clergy, we only need ourselves. Our memories. Where to beginThere are so many, my sister says. This is not the end of telling stories, my mom reminds us. My aunt shares, “Some people wait for the storm to end, and some people dance in the rain.” Lilli danced in the rain. My cousins tell of the evil eye she gave to anyone who asked her age, including her kids. We laugh. And on we go.

I have brought my “Be here now”/”Where? HA! HA!” rock to leave on her gravestone. I love how it marries her occasional word of wisdom with her abiding need to crack herself up. I have spent hours telling her stories about things my boys had done, hoping to give her a laugh, perhaps a funny anecdote she could retell herself when she needed something to cheer her. I tell my family the story of the rock, from my intention to Emmett’s rewriting. We crack up. It is perfect.

I try to be present now, to cover my ears to the siren call of future and past. I give thanks for a family that holds these memories with and for me, a family connected by shared love and history, by reminders to dance in the rain, and laugh as hard and as often as we can.

We all put rocks on the gravestone. They are decorated and glittered and painted, some with words evoking Lilli, like LOVE and FAMILY and BROOKLYN. We cover every space, we make that gravestone look like a party, the best party you ever went to. We ask each other what will happen to the rocks, noticing that all of the others around here are bare. There is talk of returning with Gorilla Glue, perhaps adding a new story to the canon.

Writer’s Life: Kathryn Taylor

Sometimes a story can save us. Kathryn Taylor’s world turned upside down when her second husband abandoned her. So she did what a born storyteller must do: she wrote about it. Describing her prose as “truthful, dignified, and pragmatic” and “elegantly descriptive and effortlessly precise,” Kirkus Reviews says Taylor’s memoir “speaks tenderly and directly to her readers: ‘You, too, have the ability to regain your confidence, abandon your hopelessness, and realize that you are not a woman to be tossed aside and forgotten.”” Two Minus One: A Memoir is available November 6, 2018.

Midwest Review

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

When my first marriage ended, I had two young daughters to raise on my own. After selecting Virginia from an atlas provided to them, the girls and I boarded a plane in California to begin a new life on the East Coast where we knew no one. I was terrified, but of course did not want my daughters to know that. What I did want them to know, and what I worked hard to instill in them, were two basic things: they were loved unconditionally, and they could be fearless. Life held endless opportunities to be explored and fear would only keep them from tasting all that it had to offer. I had to be fearless in writing my story – in an honest and open way – and was confident in the knowledge that whatever the outcome, I had the unconditional love of my family and friends.

Where do you write? What do you love (or hate) about it?

My writing came directly from journals and scribbled notes which were often written at the beach or scattered throughout the house. For the most part, I am fortunate to have an office where I can pull those random thoughts together into an orderly and sequential – and publishable – product. The most difficult part of writing for me is sitting! As a retired elementary school teacher, I rarely had a moment to sit!

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Never give up!

Who inspires you?

My daughters are my biggest inspiration! They are strong, intelligent, and resilient women unafraid to face life’s challenges and willing to embrace its opportunities. I try always to think of them when I am faced with doubt or adversity. Just the thought of them provides the courage and strength for me to move forward.

Is there a charity or community service are you passionate about?

As a retired elementary teacher, I am passionate about early literacy. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and its local affiliates – in my area, it is Begin with Books – is important to me. I try to donate my time – and my finances – whenever possible.

What are you reading now (or recently) and/or what book do you recommend?

I have read several great books recently including: Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than We Think, Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdad’s Sing, and T. Greenwood’s Rust and Stardust.

What is the most satisfying part of being an author? What do you least enjoy about being an author?

The most satisfying part about being an author for me is connecting with other people through my story. I have met so many wonderful and collaborative authors, readers, and supporters because of putting my experience on paper. I have been exposed to a world I had only imagined and have a far deeper appreciation for the efforts an author puts into polishing, perfecting, and marketing their work.

The least enjoyable – or at least the most challenging for me – is the technology – especially the social media! It was all completely foreign to me, and I still often feel overwhelmed by the demands. Ironically, those challenges have provided some of the most inspiring connections and deepest rewards.

If you weren’t an author, what would you be?

I retired from my “calling” and teaching career to relocate in support of my second husband. I had adjusted to that retirement when without explanation, he announced he was done with the marriage. I wrote Two Minus One: A Memoir to heal from the unexpected loss and abandonment. If I was not writing, I would return to unstructured retirement days filled with reading lots of wonderful books, friends, travel, and sunshine and sand at the beach.

Follow Kathryn on Facebook and Twitter, and on her website

Kathryn Taylor headshot-grey background_previewKathryn Taylor was born at the Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago, Illinois and spent much of her life in the Chicagoland area.  She is a retired teacher and had taught in the schools of Illinois, California, and Virginia before her retirement and relocation to South Carolina. It was there where she wrote her book, Two Minus One: A Memoir, following the unexpected abandonment by her second husband. An avid reader, enthusiastic traveler, and incurable beach lover, she resides outside of Charleston, SC, which affords her the opportunity to enjoy all three of her favorite past times. Two Minus One: A Memoir is her first book. She can be found at


Where to find a muse? Look right in front of you.

Muse. (v) To wonder; (n) A mythical source of creative inspiration.

For years motherhood was all I could feel, think, or write about. It drenched me (though sometimes it felt more like drowning) and consumed me. From the first days of feeding, changing, and tally-marking pees and poops (must make sure the pipes work), to driving tests and college applications, motherhood has been a 100% all-in operation.

But the intensity and shock do give way. We do settle into our skin. We do find a new normal. This is not a bad thing for humans, but not optimal for writers. Faded along with the initial shock and the keeping my head above water, went my muse.

I have been in the market for a new muse. While I wait, I write what’s in my heart. My grandmother’s story has a lot to say. She keeps me company — part guardian angel, part gossip partner. I’ve written about her here, here, and here; I’m sure I will write more.

And then there is Maria, who joined our family almost four years ago, just after her 18th birthday. Her story, and our joined stories, lately command my mind. She is a refugee and a role model. A college student and a pre-school teacher. She is like a sister and daughter, a cousin, niece and granddaughter; yet she belongs fully to another family. She is a confidante and a sage, a knowledge-sponge and a striver. She is vulnerable and strong, disciplined and determined, and an empathy-conduit between the worlds she straddles. She is a laughing, living, longing reminder that politics is always about real people.

Feels like the motherhood muse may have a new chapter…