Writer’s Life: Ellen Notbohm

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I am delighted to introduce you to  Ellen Notbohm, author of The River by Starlight.

An internationally renowned author, Ellen Notbohm’s work has informed, inspired, and delighted millions in more than twenty languages. In addition to her perennially popular books on autism and her award-winning novel The River by Starlight, her articles and columns on such diverse subjects as history, genealogy, baseball, writing and community affairs have appeared in major publications and captured audiences on every continent.

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

To heed the parable that likens words to breaking open a feather pillow on a windy hill—once they’re out there, you can never gather them back in. To understand that we all do and should change as we move through the phases of life, but to carefully consider the permanence of how our words affect others and how that reflects on ourselves.

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

My best writing is done pre-dawn, curled up on the bed in our guest room, preferably in nasty weather. It’s cozy, distraction-free and nurtures the muse. Later in the day, I move to my office, which has a lovely view of our towering rhododendrons and outdoor art, but is Distraction Central, where the necessary-tedium business end of being a writer too often dominates.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

A combo of my mother’s 20th century mantra, “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” and my 21st century maxim, “Technology is great until it isn’t.” Something like: “Always have Plan B.”

Who inspires you?

People who continue to embody love, humility, generosity, and respect even in the face of adversity and unfairness.

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

In an ideal world I’d have the money to support every humanitarian and artistic endeavor I feel passionate about but since that’s not the case, I focus on the root of all of it—access to food. Without that, nothing more can happen. I support our local food bank, Meals on Wheels, summer lunch programs, and a grassroots organization here called Potluck in the Park that serves an all-donated array of food to our homeless citizens every Sunday, rain or shine, no questions asked. I’ve been involved for 25 years. One year they told me it wouldn’t be Christmas without my ginger cookies. That ensured that I’ll go on another 25 years.

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

My reading sutra is something older, something newer, something foreign, something classic. This rotation helps me read broadly, not just deeply. It makes me a better writer and a more expansive person. Most of the books on my nightstand are by authors I haven’t read before. Right now I’m reading Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg. It’s a three-fer: older book, translated from Danish, author new to me. And it’s a wow—I knew ten pages in that I would give it seven stars on a scale of one-to-five.

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

I never fail to be deeply humbled by readers who reach out to me from cultures and living conditions all over the world to tell me how my books have touched them. I can’t imagine many rewards greater than knowing you’ve changed lives for the better. You can’t put a price on that, but we all have to pay the bills, so it grinds me no end the extent to which writers and other artists are expected to be grateful for opportunities to work for free because “it’s good publicity” or “exposure.” I’ve learned to cheerfully explain that, gosh darn it, I offered “book plugs” as currency to my mortgage holder, grocery store, and gas station but they insisted on real money. Imagine!

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

I would still be a person who looks at how to bring together the opportunities available to me at any given time, the responsibilities I must fulfill, and the abilities I have, and the dreams and challenges that matter to me. It’s worked splendidly so far!

 

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For more, visit  www.ellennotbohm.com and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn

Upcoming appearances:

July 29:  The Book Stall, Winnetka IL
July 31:  RoscoeBooks, Chicago IL
September 27-30:  Montana Festival of Books, Missoula
October 11:  Bloomsbury Books, Ashland OR
November 10: Cannon Beach Library, Cannon Beach OR

Writer’s Life: Laurie Buchanan, PhD

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I typically interview novelists here, but the times call for expansion. What better time to interview Laurie Buchanan, PhD, Board-Certified holistic health practitioner, life coach, and award-winning author, whose two books focus on purposeful living.

Laurie’s first book, Note to Self: A Seven-Step Path to Gratitude and Growth won six literary honors including the coveted Foreword INDIES Book of the Year.

Laurie recently published her second book, The Business of Being, which blends business and spirituality. In it, Buchanan “demonstrates how to stand in alignment with your core values how to thrive, soul-side out, in and out of the workplace.” In the words of KIRKUS REVIEWS, “This book is a lucid, step-by-step guide to personal and professional success — with vichyssoise mixed in.” And who doesn’t need that?

1.  What have you learned from parenting that you bring to your work as a writer?

One of the most important things I learned as a parent is to admit my mistakes. In the world of writing, that same quality comes into play when my editor or writing mentor tell me that I need to change something.

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

As a minimalist, I live in a small space—the 500 square foot carriage house of the Russell Mansion in the historic district of Boise, Idaho. There’s nothing that I dislike about it. What I particularly love are the almost floor to ceiling windows in my writing studio that overlook the beautifully landscaped lawn of the mansion’s backyard.

3. If you had a motto, what would it be?

I do have a motto. It came to me about ten years ago on a writing hermitage in Taos, New Mexico. It’s this: “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”

4. Who inspires you?

Jane Goodall is one of my s/heroes. Not only is she the world’s leading authority on chimpanzees, but her book, Harvest for Hope, A Guide to Mindful Eating has made a global impact on people and corporations by showing us how we can positively impact the world by changing our eating and producing habits.

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

I ran away from home when I was fifteen years old. With that in mind, one of the charities I’m passionate about is Covenant House. Their bottom line? (From their website): “Knowing the challenges homeless teens face, supporting them every step of the way and uniting in a movement to help them off the streets. Join us in this fight to save our kids.”

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

If you haven’t read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, I highly recommend it. I just finished reading Widowmaker by Paul Doiron. I’m about to start reading The Girls on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

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

In addition to keeping my mind active, another satisfying part about being a writer is that it justifies the amount of reading that I do. After all, it’s part of the job description! Then there’s working in my pajamas. Ya gotta love it!

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

I wear two other professional hats. I’m a holistic health practitioner board certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, and I’m a transformational life coach. As a nonfiction writer, I get to weave aspects of these roles into my writing. But since childhood I’ve wanted to be a magician, international spy, or a mad scientist. There’s still time.
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To learn more about Laurie Buchanan, go to https://tuesdayswithlaurie.com.

Writer’s Life: Bonnie C. Monte

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There’s nothing like a good mystery to take your mind off a heatwave. So find some shade under a palm, or close the shutters and turn up the A/C, and allow me to introduce you to author Bonnie C. Monte and her new mystery novel, The Sleeping Lady.

You can hear Bonnie read at The Mysterious Bookshop (pre-order signed copies) in Manhattan July 24 and meet her at Copperfield’s Books in Santa Rosa, CA, August 26.

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

I attribute my love of mystery novels to my father. He was an avid reader of all genres of books, but he especially loved the challenge of puzzling out a good mystery. What I most absorbed from my mother, and which my sleuth embodies, is a sense of fair play, a love of animals, and an abiding kindness.

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

I must confess that I write in a rather messy space. My desk is in my bedroom, which is small — as are all the rooms in my house. I do have a pleasant view of my front garden, but I dream of having a spacious, uncluttered writing studio in my backyard. Perhaps that would make me more productive. Or maybe that’s just a convenient excuse for why it takes me so long to write.

  1. If you had a motto, what would it be?

Don’t believe everything you think.

  1. Who inspires you?

Anyone who devotes their life to safeguarding the earth and its residents. Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Rachel Carson. And my new hero is John Urschel, ever since I heard him interviewed on NPR. He played professional football in the NFL at the same time he was getting a Ph.D. in Math at MIT. Now that’s multi-tasking!

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

World Wildlife Fund and In Defense of Animals.

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

I’m just finishing Flunk. Start., a memoir by Sands Hall about her years (and recovery) as a Scientologist. It’s especially fascinating because she came from a marvelously creative family of free-thinkers. Next on my reading list is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

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

It’s so gratifying to hear from readers who enjoyed my book. I consider it a huge privilege to be able to entertain people and provide them with a bit of pleasure. The part I enjoy least is promoting my own work. I’m basically a shy person.

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

A veterinarian or a landscaper.

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For more about Bonnie, including upcoming events, go to http://bonniemonte.com

Follow Bonnie on Facebook @BonnieMonte

While our government breaks apart families, we built a bigger one.

In light of our current national heartbreak of our government breaking apart families in our names, I want to share a simple message: the antidote to heartbreak is to give more love.

Here’s how my family was given a chance to do that.

Maria was seventeen when she fled the violent gangs of Guatemala. She had already suffered their brand of torture, and if she stayed it was only a matter of time before it happened again.

Still, the only alternative to staying was also unimaginable: leave everything she knew – her mother, father, siblings, grandparents, friends, school, chores – her whole world. Leave not only her childhood but her future – she had planned to attend medical school. Funds for tuition went instead to a coyote. She traveled through harrowing dangers – both nature-made and human – and arrived in Texas as an “unaccompanied minor.” She asked America for asylum. 

During a year of waiting, she was temporarily housed in a detention center for youth in Texas, then transferred to the care of an aunt in Los Angeles. She lived with her aunt, went to high school, did homework, made friends, and met with her pro bono lawyer to pursue her asylum case.

When her aunt’s illness prevented her from caring for Maria, her lawyer took steps to find her another home. That e-mail came to my inbox. “Is there someone out there who might foster this teenage girl?”

To be sure, I was not sure that I was up to the task. I knew it would be challenging, would up-end our family dynamic, impact my two sons, and involve responsibilities I couldn’t yet fathom. (It actually helped that I couldn’t fathom them, they were too abstract to dissuade me.) But louder than all of these challenges was a singular truth: If I were in her mother’s shoes, if I had been forced to send one of my children across the world to keep him alive, I would do it. And then I would pray with every cell in my body that some mother across the world would receive him into her care, would say, “I’ll take care of him.” We said yes.

The day Maria moved in, she did not speak a word of English. I was the only person in our family who spoke Spanish. But the moment she stepped over our threshold, our then-10-year-old son melted the language barrier by asking her to build Legos with him. We all played card games and Rummy Cube (numbers being universal) and I translated to bridge the gaps. Our younger son has referred to her as his sister from the get-go. Our then-14-year-old son had a longer arc to accepting the new normal of our family. Admittedly, so did I.

A few weeks after she joined us, she received the letter saying that asylum had been granted; America had said Yes. She doubled over with tears of relief, and perhaps tears for what was lost. She would be able to apply for citizenship after five years. But it also would be at least that long before she could see the family she left behind. I had only known her a little while, but I cried with her.

She went to high school and took ESL, along with Algebra, World History, and more. My husband confirmed his sainthood by tutoring her every night. When summer came, a job as a camp counselor at the local YMCA pushed her to try out the sounds of her adopted language, and she flourished. She became the local YMCA’s most-loved and most-sought after caregiver. Walking around our neighborhood with her is like walking with the Pied Piper, as children and their parents call out, “Hi, Maria!”

She worked hard in school, got good grades, enrolled in community college, and recently completed a Pre-school Teacher Certificate on her path to getting her B.A. All of this in her second language. She applied for and was hired to be a pre-school teacher at our synagogue, and starts in August. She’ll continue her schooling to graduate from college. This is a young woman who indisputably makes our community an even greater place. Under Jeff Sessions’ new rules, she likely would not have been granted asylum; that might have been her death sentence.

Being Maria’s American family has given our extended family a personal connection to the stories of immigrants coming to our border. When our government talks about building a wall to keep “them” out, we need only look across the dinner table and know they are talking about Maria, and countless other kids like her who have gifts to offer our country, if only we would let them.

If the antidote to heartbreak is to give more love, we need to open our hearts wider. Opportunities for kindness abound. It can be as big as opening your home to foster an unaccompanied minor, or as small as bringing a toy to a shelter. It can be a donation of money or a donation of time. It is doing a just little more than you’ve done before. It’s taking action so that when you look back on these times, you can say you helped cure the world of a measure of heartbreak. Starting with your own.

 

Oh happy happy happy happy birthday.

I squinted my eyes open and, before I fully woke, I saw the sunlight filling my bedroom, brightening my pink quilt, gleaming against the stack of books piled on the floor next to me. My family still slept in the quiet of their rooms. As I registered the meaning, the magnitude of the date, from my twin bed I shouted:

“MOM!!!! Today I’m FIVE!!!!!”

This milestone marked a transition, a blooming of my true self, my coming of age — in a word: Kindergarten. I was maturing from the babyhood of pre-school. Soon I would belong to that big schoolyard I had only watched from the sidewalk below, a place where girls spun upside down on a horizontal bar and tied their own shoelaces. I was overjoyed.

Last week, I turned 49. Exactly 44 years after that memorable birthday, I opened my eyes to a dark room, books still piled next to me, a different assortment of family members sleeping down different halls. Before I registered the date, however, I registered the red numbers on the clock. I had overslept. I needed to make lunches, stat. I sat up, rubbed my face and uttered my first word of that day: “Shit.”

When I realized it was my birthday, however, I made myself start over. I flopped back on my soft pillow and warm mattress, and pulled my (inexplicably not-pink) blanket over me. I took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. In that re-do moment, the memory of my joyful fifth birthday bubbled up.

Instead of seeing myself as an extension of who I was the day before – a woman late to rise, needing to do laundry and walk the dogs and call the vet about said dogs’ (ahem) digestive difficulties and make an optometrist appointment because print had gotten indefensibly small — instead, I saw myself through five-year-old Laura’s eyes. That little girl didn’t ask: What have I accomplished? Shouldn’t my career be more advanced? Shouldn’t I have written more books or won some landmark cases? Shouldn’t my house be less messy, with fewer spiders lurking in corners? Shouldn’t I have forced my kids to play instruments they hated because they’d thank me one day? Is it too late for me to be a Tiger mom?

Five-year-old me didn’t care about any of that. She sang out with joy: Look at this life! You have beautiful children! You have the most wonderful husband! Your big sister? She’s still practically down the hall, a few blocks away! You have nieces who bring you joy! Your friends are true! Your parents? Still here, still close, still loving! Wow. Wow. Wow. What a lucky girl you are.

What a relief, and how forgiving, to allow yourself to be astonished and delighted by your life. To see yourself through loving eyes, as though your five-year-old self had time-traveled decades forward, and was pleased. She could never be as hard on you as your adult self is.

Beckon the lovely,” instructed author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, before her life closed (you may have read about her here). Our eyes are drawn to what we’re looking for, she explained, so we may as well look for the lovely. It’s not a natural human tendency; it takes practice and reminding. So after my abrupt birthday wake-up, I made myself give thanks. For the mundane to-do lists that tell me I am still needed, for the dull throbbing ache in my shoulder that reminds me I still go to a dance class. For music. For kisses. For wind. For books. For stretching and yawning. For laughter. For the daily brilliant miracle of waking up.

Later that day, I listened to a voicemail message from my grandmother, saved from an earlier birthday. “Laura, I want to wish you a happy happy happy happy happy happy birthday,” she enthused. This was my first birthday without her, and I let myself cry for missing her. In her final year, she had her share of bumps and pains, but she always let her blessings win out. Let music and dancing and laughter and family win out. Asked by a crotchety nurse what her secret was, she told her pointedly, “I’m not a pill.”

She saw miracles in mundanity. She beckoned the lovely, and it arrived full throttle. That’s the legacy I’m trying to honor, and what I wish for you. Or as my friend Chloe expressed, I wish for you “a very happy day that makes you feel special and grateful to be alive and just the age you are.”

When was the last time you felt happy to be a year older? “Mom, today I’m 49!!!!!!”

Oh happy happy happy happy happy happy birthday.

Enough is Enough. Take to the Streets. And the Voting Booths.

Register to Vote

I don’t care if you love guns. I don’t care if you love the Second Amendment. You love children more.

If I am correct about that, then we –all of us–have to demand an end to the recurring nightmare of children and their teachers being slaughtered in school. That cannot be a partisan sentiment.

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I’m not dictating what the solution is. I’m saying, we must demand that our government get to the table and FIGURE IT THE HELL OUT.

Register to Vote

Liberal, conservative, whatever. It’s not rocket science. Have a goddamn hearing. Bring the best practices to the table. Consider everything. And, in the words of a 17-year-old student from Parkland, Florida, “Go to hell” if you can’t get it done. You have blood on your hands.

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As for my liberal representatives in Congress, it’s not enough to tell me about the legislation you’ve co-sponsored that has failed. You are obliged to devise a plan to make it happen. I know it’s hard. I’m here to help you. I will take to the streets. Lead.

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As for conservatives, well this sign expresses a widely held sentiment, one you are invited to disprove:

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And every morning, I kiss my children goodbye and cross my goddamn fingers that their school won’t be the one on the national news that night.

Register to Vote

For more events near you, go to Moms Demand Action events

 

We Always Root for Overtime

The car clock says 7am as I turn right on PCH, Aaron in the passenger seat next to me, on our way to school. We are tired from sleeplessness related to this unconscionable heat wave, and to Grandma Lilli dying. … Continue reading

Breathe in the New Year

Never have we needed a new year like we do now.

Summer’s blessing of an unhurried pace is already forgotten. We have reverted to our scheduled-beings ways: Wake up. Get dressed. Make lunches. Kiss goodbyes. Go.

Go go go.

In the car, I check the news radio for breathless reports of hurricanes and earthquakes. Over breakfast, I read the L.A. Times’  latest science on earthquake forecasting. I carry the anxiety of the bystander as I prepare for doomsday. I buy gallons of water and canned food. I buy candy, because if you’re eating Chef Boyardee and diced peaches, you deserve as much chocolate and red vines as you can get your hands on. I buy flashlights, and work gloves, and put sneakers in arm’s reach of everyone’s bed.

I need to breathe. I downloaded a meditation app a month ago. Every morning my phone gently reminds me “It’s time to meditate,” and every morning I promptly and consistently…ignore it. Ten minutes? Maybe later.

My kids need to breathe. They’re stressed, beyond the norm. Okay, I put on the app during breakfast as background sounds of trickling water and birdsong plays. We take a deep breath.

Ahh. That felt good.

The Jewish new year is like the app, trying to break through my day and schedule, and “I’ll get to it later’s” — a gentle reminder I have to choose to accept: Take a deep breath, it says.

I do. I will. Ahh, feels good.

Happy new year. Love, Laura

(You can read my new year’s posts from last year , 2013 and 2009, and reprinted below)

 


2016: “The Only Three Words You Need”

Every year I go to Rosh Hashanah services with expansive hope, born out by experience, that some wisdom and truth from our tradition will land softly on my heart and I will take it with me through the next year as comfort and north star.

For me, the wisdom and truth I longed for this year came in a brief comment by our rabbi. She mentioned that the author Anne Lamott has written there are only three prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow. This became my simple and complete prayer. I stood with my eyes closed and silently repeated these words instead of the pages of prayers in my hands. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

There it was, instantly. A physical transformation, a steady flow of peace. Thank you thank you thank you thank you — for this loving, brilliant man standing by my side; for the blossoming young man next to him; for the kind, curious boy at home nursing a cold while watching (inappropriate) cartoons. Thank you thank you thank you thank you. And for the challenges I have to face, Help me help me help me help me.

I do love December 31st, how we light up the darkest night sky with twinkly lights and candles and fireworks. And I love our Jewish New Year’s Eve in Autumn, when there’s still enough light to see the world by, to embrace it and thank it for its beauty, its blue sky above brown California mountain ridges, its temperate Pacific waves tumbling toward me as I gather up my burdens and transfer them to a handful of bread crumbs or shells and let them fly into the ocean.

For all of this, the gratitude and the challenges, the beauty of these people and this earth, the final prayer…Wow.

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2013: “Ancient History and Two Hours Ago”

Dear Rabbi Reuben,

This time of year always gets me. I don’t think of myself as religious, but there I am in services. Liking services. Needing services.

I sing along (mostly) with the Hebrew prayers, even though I don’t understand all of them, even though what I do understand I don’t always agree with. There is something in the familiarity of the rhythms and rhymes, the melodies and memories. Memories call me from when I was twelve, sitting in a row of other 12-year-old girls required to attend Shabbat services as part of our Bat Mitzvah year. I think about my son studying for his Bar Mitzvah now, and I feel peace and wonder knowing that he is learning these prayers not only for one Shabbat morning in February, but for the decades of Shabbats that will hopefully follow. He need not realize that these melodies and prayers will stay with him, guide him, fill him with love and hope whenever he may need it, years from now or next week.

I suppose these prayers were with me before I was twelve. They were there when Rabbi Winokur handed me my pre-school diploma, they were embedded in our three-year-old voices singing, “The animals, they came on, they came on in twosies twosies, elephants and kangaroosies roosies!”

The prayers have been there, if it’s not too time-travel-mystic of me, since my parents were dragged to “make an appearance” in their grandparents’ Orthodox shuls in Boyle Heights and Pico/Fairfax, where they heard unintelligible, unpenetrable Hebrew chanting. And so on.

There are prayers I don’t say. That don’t bring me peace. Like the one that proclaims “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” I don’t buy that literal God-writing business. But there I am in services anyway, because you add your spin, that these words remind us that all we have is today. That all the good we are going to do in the world should happen right now.

Next we arrive at a prayer listing the traits of God – compassion and forgiveness and kindness and mercy. This prayer sends my mind back two hours, to my younger son’s loss of composure this morning when asked (okay, ordered) to turn off the television because he had already watched a cartoon and it was time to play or get dressed. I think of the heat and anger that consumed him, the words that came out of his mouth directed at me, the stormy damage he caused to his room when sent there to cool down. For some reason today I stayed cool, too, let him settle into whatever books he uncovered in the process of forgetting what it was he was so angry about.

After a little while, I brought him his clothes for temple (he loves to dress up so this wasn’t a problem) and we spoke as though intemperate words had never been uttered. My forgiveness was my not asking for an apology, or bringing up the episode, which he knew was not his best moment. I dressed him and blessed him and his full of passion ways. Compassion and forgiveness and kindness and mercy.

I am grateful that my boys’ ears were in the presence of your words today – that attitude is everything. I hope they heard that everyone feels loss and disappointment, so they won’t feel so alone when it’s their turn. I am grateful for your emphasis on the value of showing up for people, and also what showing up means for participating in life. I am grateful that the sounds and words of our people’s prayers and melodies washed over them, as they sat bookended between my parents. I could turn and see them from a distance, they looked bigger, and my father’s hair grayer, than the images I hold of each of them in my mind. (My mother looked beautiful; that’s a constant.) I am grateful that these words and prayers and melodies were sinking into their depths in ways they may not consciously remember, but which they will no doubt access on some Rosh Hashanah many years from now, wherever their days may take them.

With love and appreciation for all these gifts,

Laura


2009: “Looking for Autumn at Low Tide”

We said goodbye to summer yesterday, again. The first one—the day before school started—didn’t take. My mind was still in pajamas. This goodbye was official. Equinox and all.

As a Sunday of lazing about moved toward evening, Christopher and I decided we’d go to the beach—where else to bid adieu to all things Summer? Our kids refused to come. Even Emmett was adamant: “I’d rather watch football than go to the beach!” he spat. Aaron concurred, disgusted by our proposal: “And I’d rather watch Elmo!”

Like angels conjured from our collective prayer, Grandparents materialized on our front porch, offering their time. I grabbed my flip flops and my man and we ran off.

The tide was low and we walked in wet sand, water gracing our toes. We saw the neighborhood Chabadniks praying the last of Rosh Hashanah, a towel-draped woman in a beach chair raising her martini glass, a toddler in soggy underwear rushing the ocean. All saying goodbye in their way. I stretched my arms wide toward the sunset. I resolved to shake the sand out of my brain and focus. Fall is here, time to hunker down.

It’s hard to tell it’s Autumn by looking out my window this morning. But if I pay attention: I see the sunshine casts its light on the blue tiled table from a longer angle. I feel the tickle in the back of my throat that warns the first cold is coming. I see dark purple leaves scattered on the grass.

I try to forget that this purple plum tree is dying. I know it is, but at least for the next few months its will have company.

 

 

Why This Mom Relaxes into Summer When the End is Near

Around our town the burgeoning sound of children’s protest and despair can be heard rising up toward the burnt July sky, as they realize that with the arrival of August, we are dangerously close to the first day of school, bearing down like a runaway freight train too close to stop before it smashes us. If the stewards of your school district also have decreed that summer ends mid-August, then you too have heard these sounds, the “why oh why’s” and the “woe is me’s” with which I fully concur; school should start in September.

But the calendar is also why I have finally relaxed into the pace of unscheduled lazy summer days. I did not have either the foresight, spine, or budgetary willingness to sign my kids up for endless camps. So with me working from home, they were left to their own devices — really, they were left alone to interact only with their devices, if only I would leave them alone. You must know that means the first half of summer featured ample nagging on my part. (Me: “Go play!” Them: “We are playing!” Me: “I meant outside!” Them: “Where’s the extension cord?”) I kid.

But with only two weeks left, I can let go! Now it’s not weeks of this conflict stretching before me, it’s mere days. So I surrender to days that have no goals or plans besides waking up and staying in pajamas until at long last someone must walk the dogs or go to the market because we are hungry. Days that are not filled with unique enriching activities, but if I’m lucky have been sprinkled with boogie boarding and soccer at the beach, water balloons or card games. And days that are filled with, yes, truly countless hours of xBox and YouTube videos. And I think, what was I so worried about? Will I remember to relax when next summer comes?

For now, August is upon us. There are only two weeks left. Have a great summer.

From Survivor to Wonder Woman in 8 Days.

Eight days ago, over Memorial Day weekend, we took our kids to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Most years we fritter away these school vacation days doing nothing special, but this year I was The Mom I Keep Meaning to Be, at least for a day. The visit matched the meaning of the holiday — Remembering.

We took the one hour tour, then listened to a survivor speak. His testimony — death marches, concentration camps, losing his mother and grandparents, but surviving, and even finding his brother and father — was harrowing, yet somehow also uplifting. Here he was telling us about the greatest evil and cruelty the world has known, but also telling us how he later met his wives (all 3 of them), and introducing his daughter and two grandsons in the audience. He held the rapt attention of a multi-ethnic, multi-generational audience for over an hour, and we would have stayed as long as he could speak.

A tough visit like that must be balanced with sweets and joy, so we also ate lunch at L.A.’s famous Dupar’s restaurant. That’s how we do. We remember the holy hell — because we have to — and then we take a big bite out of life. Because we’re still here.

Eight days later, we watched Wonder Woman. Did you know that the original comic strip Wonder Woman’s first villains were the Nazis? (I read that here.) As cool as it was to see powerful women warriors on the big screen (it brought the L.A. Times’ Lorraine Ali and others to tears), what moved me more was that the actress embodying the strongest, fiercest, most unstoppable (and, yeah, super gorgeous) woman in the universe…is a Jew. It was like the entire Jewish population was saying in unison, “How you like us now, Hitler? We are STILL FREAKIN‘ HERE!”

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Not only that (and perhaps I’m taking this Jewish woman thing too far, but indulge me), but Wonder Woman’s entire existence is for tikkun olam, healing the world, the most central Jewish value of all, a value generations of Jewish women and men have striven to achieve and pass down to the next generation. The can be no greater healing of the world than peace.

I am aware as I write this that fifty years ago today, the 19-year-old state of Israel, a refuge for Europe’s remaining Jews, faced “an ominous build-up of Arab forces along its borders” (History.com), and shut it down. I am aware as I write this that Israel continues to struggle to find a lasting peace (with multiple points of view even among Jews as to how to accomplish that). And I am aware as I write this that anti-Semitism, hidden and blatant, continues to flourish all over the world.

I don’t expect a movie to heal the world. It’s an amusement, an entertainment. But, for me, this movie was something more. In its small way, our Jewish Wonder Woman resounded with the message carried over from our museum outing one week before: We’re still here.


(Much has been written about the Jewish Wonder Woman, including this piece about the first Jewish woman illustrator of the Wonder Woman comic, this in Slate, and of course this Tweet from Scandal’s Josh Malina: “FU, bds.”

JoshMalina Tweet