The Grimke’ Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

The Grimke' Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

Note the images of wings in some of the squares.


The Grimke' Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

This quilt reveals the dangers of flight.

Sue Monk Kidd, author of the well-received novel, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (2002) was in New York City in 2007 to view Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party.” Kidd says that while there, she was thinking about a new novel about two sisters. Reading the names of women Judy Chicago wished to celebrate, Kidd saw the names Sarah and Angelina Grimke’, sisters from Charleston South Carolina. Being from Charleston, Kidd was amazed that she had not heard of them. Back home, she began researching the women’s lives, only to discover that she’d been driving by the Grimke’ sisters unmarked home for over ten years. Subsequent research revealed that both were feminist thinkers and the first female abolitionists whose pamphlets were published by William Lloyd Garrison.

Women’s History Erased 

Kidd writes: “My ignorance of them felt like both a personal failing and a confirmation of Judy Chicago’s view that women’s achievements had been repeatedly erased through history.” Kidd stated that Sarah and Angelina’s pamphlet, AMERICAN SLAVERY AS IT ISwas written 15 years before Harriet Beecher Stowe’s UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, and that the Grimke’ sisters were out crusading for the immediate emancipation of slaves and for racial equality, an idea that was radical even among abolitionists. Their desire for freedom also extended to women’s rights, ten years before the Seneca Falls Convention.  

Those Scapular Bones 

What followed from her research was Kidd’s fictionalized story of the history of the Grimke’ sisters in her current novel, THE INVENTION OF WINGS, a New York Times bestseller. I smiled at the title, remembering that one of my short stories, “Back Problems” had a scene in which the protagonist, Kate, has overcome back pain which was both physical and related to her life choices. The final scene read: As Kate runs, she thinks about her physical therapist, remembers that he told her that she had large scapular bones, larger than most people’s. “You know about evolution,” he had said, “well the scapular bones are you wings and you’d just be able to fly farther than the others.”

At the very beginning of Kidd’s book, we meet Hetty, whose Mauma calls her Handful. Mauma explains to Handful that in Africa her grandmother flew over trees and clouds, flew like a blackbird. But she says: “When we came here, we left that magic behind.” When Handful is skeptical Mauma says: “You don’t believe me? Where you think these shoulder blades of your come from, girl?…This is all what left of your wings. They nothing but these flat bones now, but one day you gon get ‘em back.”

Hetty Is Sarah’s Birthday Gift

And so begins the story of Hetty who is an amazing Handful, because she learns to fight, knowing that she deserves her freedom, that she deserves to get her wings back. If there is a shred of good fortune in Hetty’s life, it’s that though she is a slave, she lives in Sarah Grimke’s house. Sarah begins to abhor slavery and everything connected to it, starting with her 11th birthday when Hetty is given to her as a gift.

Sarah Grimke’s writings relate that she was eager to teach her personal slave to read when the girl showed an interest. She was also eager to set up a Sunday school program for other slave children to teach them the Bible. But she met resistance, her parents disallowing literacy for their slaves, probably fearing a natural movement toward dissatisfaction and rebellion. Their approach: Mental exertion would make the slaves unable to perform their physical labors. A law initiated in South Carolina in 1740 supported such a decision as it forbid the teaching of slaves. Sarah’s father threatened to whip her  slave when he heard Sarah was teaching the girl to read.

Sarah herself had to struggle to be educated. Though her brothers were sent to Yale, being female, she was not. It is recorded that her father remarked that if Sarah had been a boy, “she would have made the greatest jurist in the country.” These words stayed with Sarah and she taught herself elements of the law from the books she could find and by questioning her brothers when they were home from university. But the inequality she lived with in the slave-oriented culture of the South, fed her desire for change—change for women, change for slaves.

The Power of Sue Monk Kidd’s Insight

Though Kidd’s book is fiction, she stays loyal to the history of the Grimke’ sisters and their efforts in both the abolitionist and feminist movements. But it is Kidd’s writing power that shines when her fiction gets into the mind of a woman she has only read about and imagines what thoughts might have affected her heart and mind so that she dedicated her life to change. Kidd writes these thoughts of Sarah: “I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me (Hetty) I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.”

This is not only the essence of Kidd’s book, it is the essence of the eternal dance of racism, the tricks of thought that we use now and again to excuse ourselves, that allows us to allow things that should not be allowed.

Gone with the Wind–Sugar Anyone?

My mother loved the book and the film GONE WITH THE WIND, but that story does exactly what Kidd is talking about–it allows the reader and the viewer to grow comfortable with the particulars of evil. Not even Prissy’s admission:”I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!” isn’t really humorous. She’s a slave–and slaves were uneducated and treated like a potted plant if they were house slaves, treated like much worse if they worked on the plantation under the whip of the overseer. GONE WITH THE WIND is fiction and so is Kidd’s book, but she’s done her homework–there is no sugar-coating here.

Slave Quilts “Hidden in Plain View”

The novel includes the fascinating art of quilting which served slaves in more ways than one. Hetty’s mama, Charlotte, is the house seamstress–her job is to make clothing for the Grimke’ family and for all the slaves. Even in that position, things don’t go well for Charlotte because she fights daily for her freedom and part of that fight is the quilt squares that she makes late into the night. They depict her life–her mother’s slave ship, Hetty’s birth and separation from her father, the grandmother’s death. Slaves quilted not only to cover their children and themselves in their unheated cabins, but also to tell stories and to provide secret codes that helped slaves know when and how to safely escape. Blackbirds were a frequent symbol of flight. Quilt squares “hidden in plain view” revealed pathways for fugitives to follow on the underground railroad.

Thus Kidd’s book teaches history that is fascinating and important and allows the reader to ponder the hard choices of that life and time. If you’ve read THE INVENTION OF WINGS, please share your thoughts. Freedom and wings for everyone.

Thanks to Google Images


The Grimke' Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

Want to Wake Up Happy? Rewire Your Brain

Want to Wake Up Happy? Rewire Your Brain

That’s what neuropsychologist Rick Hanson is suggesting and he has some amazing theories to back up the process and explain why it works. Founder of Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, Hanson has written a bunch of books: Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, and Mother Nurture. And he’s tested and explored the concept that happiness in our lives can be the result of certain habits which when performed regularly can become part of the very tissue of our brains.


Another word for this is rewiring. And it’s possible because our brains have the ability to change in structure as we respond to thoughts, feelings and life experiences. This is called neuroplasticity. Hanson writes: “All mental activity is based on the underlying actions of billions of nerve cells that continually signal each other through vast networks of connections. This complex activity is constantly changing your brain…intense, prolonged or repeated mental activity leaves a lasting imprint, while less active connections wither away.”


And I am so guilty! How many times have I indulged in a bad mood, worked the same negative thoughts over and over (stinking thinking) and failed to focus on something positive and uplifting??  And why do we do that?? Hanson says that the human brain has a negativity bias and he uses the example of ten encounters with a person in the workplace. Five are positive, four are neutral and one is negative. Which one will we think about on the way home from work or when falling asleep? You guessed it, the negative one. And he stresses that research shows that a good long-term relationship needs a 5-1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? One negative interaction is as powerful as five good ones. Wow.


The negative bias is part of evolution. Our ancestors knew about the bad things—predators, falling off a cliff, freezing, not finding that animal which meant dinner—but their needs were more immediate than ours. Bad things meant death, and they knew it best to remember that. Thus the bias or awareness of the negative meant that good feelings and experiences bounced off the brain and the scary bad stuff was firmly implanted.


Hanson writes about the rewiring process in his book. Here are some basics to follow. Start the process on awakening and continue it throughout the day–possibly six times for a total of 3 minutes a day. And the change won’t happen overnight, but gradually you will find yourself gravitating toward a happy thought on awakening and keeping to this pattern throughout the day.

  • Process: relax, exhale, and focus on something beautiful or think of someone in your life who loves you and makes you feel good. You’ve activated a positive mental state.
  • Now realize that this makes you happy or that it is a positive thought and install this active state into the neural structure of your brain.
  • How? Stay aware of the positive experience or thought for 10-12 seconds. You can also enrich the thought by attaching more of your senses to that thought.

Hanson: “If you’re remembering …how your boss responded to your big presentation six months ago, recall the pleasant details—how your boss praised you afterward. By prolonging and enriching the experience or the memory, you’re aiming to get as many neurons as possible firing together so they start wiring together.” Morning is best because the brain is like a sponge ready to take in the first thought. So make it a good one–peace, happiness, good fortune, love and compassion. Hanson also suggests that as you continue to do this you will be more aware of the positive and cared-for feelings that you have. You will be able to make these positive thoughts stronger so that they won’t be overcome by the negative thoughts that come along. He writes: “Over time, the positive will gradually soothe and ease the negative and eventually even replace it.”


As you awaken, maybe you’ll hear a bird sing, or you’ll focus on the sunlight at your window, or the gentle pattern of rain, or quiet music on the radio–anything that is positive and makes you happy. Then try to repeat the process throughout the day. Hanson stresses six times, 10-12 seconds a time, and all you have had to devote to this process is 3 minutes a day. Now that’s a habit that beats joining a gym or buying expensive equipment or cooking up a storm. Wishing you positive thoughts and happiness. 

Want to Wake Up Happy? Rewire Your Brain

Thanks to Google Images

Why We Get More Creative as We Age


Why We Get More Creative as We Age

Marilee Shapiro, 101, poses for a portrait next to one of her sculptures that is titled “The Way” at her home in Washington.

Why We Get More Creative as We Age

Grandma Moses is a symbol for creativity sparking in one’s elder years.

As we age, we just might become more creative. Really? Yes. Would you believe that when we were five, we used 80% of our creative ability and that by the age of twelve, our creativity had fallen to about 2% of our potential. Because schools work to make us good members of society and that means conformity, we began to just accept ideas instead of using our brains to create them.


Let’s examine the anatomy and physiology of the brain. Myelination, the growth of fatty insulation on our neurons, keeps brain circuits running smoothly. That process isn’t completed until young adulthood when the prefrontal cortex is fully matured. But magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has revealed that in some parts of the brain, including the temporal lobe (visual memory, language, meaning and emotions), myelination is still going on into a person’s 50s and 60s. That’s good news for the prospect of being creative during the third stage of life. 


Now think back to your middle or working years. Remember how important it was to be an expert in your field of endeavor? It was essential to have a brain that knew the context of one’s work sphere, a brain that focused on one area and often didn’t have the time or the inclination to consider new ideas. In fact during those years we argued for our formed ideas and pushed aside new ones. Maybe we only read a certain kind of book or watched a certain sport or shared solidly formed beliefs that we were not willing to challenge. Our brains were or may still be ossifying. 


But we can all stop the ossifying process, age actually helping us, because the brain changes. First, certain brain skills are affected by aging—mathematicians, physicists and chess players will tell you this, acknowledging that brain speed slows down. But the brain compensates by enhancing creativity! Neuroscientist Roberto Cabeza of Duke University says that there is a reorganization in brain function and that the two hemispheres of the brain begin to cross talk to one another as part of this compensation. The left brain reaches to the right for help and voila! insightful, creative ideas are the result. Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at Harvard, relates that in fields like law, psychoanalysis and perhaps history and philosophy, “you need a much longer lead time, and so your best work is likely to occur in the latter years.” Good news for thinkers and writers in those fields.


Neurosurgeon Rex Jung states: “That’s where artistic expression perhaps benefits from demyelinization.” He notes that less efficient connectivity (that slowing down of brain speed) can mean a loosening of associations that allows ideas to flow more freely. “You have lots of data at your hands, and you have . . . fewer brakes on your frontal inhibitors, and you’re able to put things together in more novel and useful ways. When you see an increase in people’s creative undertakings in retirement, it may not be just because they’re retired and have more time on their hands; it may be because the brain organization is different.”


Guy Claxton, in his book Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind, writes of the benefits of slower and more exploratory thinking. A psychologist, Claxton argues that our brains work best when we allow what he calls the “undermind” or unconscious to chart the way. He champions being less analytical and more creative. He acknowledges that most humans learn from society to solve problems under pressure and to use thinking as a means to achieve results. But he believes that patience and even confusion–rather than rigor and certainty–are the essential precursors of wisdom.


Here are some well known creative people, their occupations and their ages. Novelist Doris Lessing, productive till 89; Marilee Shapiro, 101, still sculpting in D.C.; Paul Bocuse 87, chef and Michelin winner still oversees his restaurants; Igor Stravinsky, first worked with 12-tone music creation in his 70s; Grandma Moses, started the paintings that made her famous at 76; Frank Lloyd Wright died at 91, just before the opening of his 532nd work, the Guggenheim Museum; Valerie Trueblood 69, Seattle writer who published her novel, “Seven Loves,” and two short story collections in her 60s. And there are many more in many other fields still working and creating. So—don’t sell yourself short; yes you are no longer in your 20s and looking ahead, but the brevity of the years left can energize and make you work harder. You will use your time well. And there is so much out there to discover and learn and enjoy. Let’s all get creative and get going.


“Enhanced creativity is associated with greater satisfaction.” NEA research director Sunil Iyengar “One-trick artists become automatized, they become very habit-borne. They’re not continually challenging themselves to look at life from a new angle.” Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus of neuroscience at the University of California at San Francisco. “Those people who have from the beginning developed complex lives with multiple interests and multiple talents, and continued to develop psychological complexity and tolerance for ambiguity, those people continue to do very well in later adulthood,” said Gary Gute, professor and director of the Creative Life Research Center at the University of Northern Iowa.

  • Engage in learning
  • Expose yourself to knew things
  • Think outside the box
  • Break through older beliefs.

And if you have any ideas as to how you sparked your creativity, please share. It’s never too late to enjoy the rush of good feelings when the painting, photograph, poem, gardening project, sculpture, collage, textile project, article or novel is a reality. Let’s hear it for aging and creativity!!

Thanks to Google Images

Why We Get More Creative as We Age More information here:

Invest in the Future? Read to a Child

Invest in the Future? Read to a Child

Don’t be surprised if during you next appointment with your child or grandchild’s pediatrician, the doc gives your child a book and asks her to read. The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that their providers counsel parents of young children about the benefits of reading stories aloud and talking about the accompanying illustrations. Evidence-based research shows that this practice: strengthens language skills, literacy development and the relationship between child and parent. It’s a win-win and an investment in the futures of all children.

HAVE A CHILD CLIMB ONTO YOUR LAP AND READ TO THEM Perri Klass MD, professor of Pediatrics, mother of three and author of fiction and nonfiction states:”…the bigger picture now is to help parents build interactions with their children into their everyday lives because this can create nurturing relationships, which promote early brain development, early literacy, language development and school readiness.” Sandy Banks writes in the LA TIMES:  I hope (this campaign) jumpstarts a public conversation about the value of parenting basics often overlooked in a world of high-teach tools where schools hand out tablets …before children learn to turn the pages of a book. Though Banks mentions the negative reactions from some: will parents feel like failures in front of their kids’ doctors? Will it shame parents who are themselves poor readers? She praises the basics of the process: The snuggling and bonding, the shared delight in a toddler’s discovery of textures, ideas, sights and sounds can be the building blocks of a strong foundation between parent and child. 

START THE CONVERSATION RIGHT AWAY  Making your child your conversational partner will boost that child’s literacy. Here’s an excerpt from my older post, New Moms: Talk to Your Child: This advice could be mom advice or grandmother advice. Or it could just be another plank in the platform of communication. But I have found that children who are talked to from the moment they breathe on this planet are smarter and better communicators than those treated like a piece of furniture that happens to be in the room. As they slip from the birth canal, children are alert to what’s happening around them. They sense calm and peaceful loving voices, disinterested voices and of course will be affected by shouting and angry voices. Because they cannot immediately see, we create their beginning world with our voices. Anne Fernald, a Stanford psychologist, agrees with me and her research underlines that the NUMBER OF WORDS a child is exposed to has a profound effect on how they process language. Why is that important? Because it helps them become part of their environment which is their ability to follow directions, label items, make choices and eventually read. But all stats aside, parents can’t just shower children with words–it’s the quality of the interaction Fernald says. “It’s about changing how you interact with a child–whether you perceive a question as a threat to your authority or the leading edge of curiosity that will serve this child well in school.” We should always encourage more than we scold.

WHY IS THIS RESEARCH NECESSARY? What do you think, Boomer parents and grandparents? The research confirms intuitive knowledge that many of us had raising our children and caring for our grandchildren. But sometimes that knowledge gets pushed aside by changes in our culture. Though I am all for women having careers and breaking through ceilings, glass or whatever, that cultural shift might have meant that a child didn’t have the cuddling, reading time, didn’t hear the mother’s voice on a constant basis, was often in a situation where speech was not directed just to him or her. Interactive toys powered by batteries or computer games on tablets can help build vocabulary and stimulate the desire for knowledge. But the point of the pediatrician campaign may just help the parents more than the child. Children grow fast. They leave us, fly away. Interaction, physical attention, loving advice, shared laughter, warm kisses and hugs, game playing — every bit of it helps to build a human being and a human connection. It’s for life. Parents shouldn’t fear this responsibility, but they should jump into it with eagerness and not decide that the television or a computer tablet is any kind of substitute.

AND BOOMERS, IT’S NEVER TOO LATE I had two aunts who never married and what they gave me and my brothers in terms of helping us become good citizens of the world was amazing. They read to us, played with us, encouraged our love of literature and music. It’s never too late to reach out and help a child. My friend Susan volunteers in the NICU at her local hospital. She holds infants, talks to them, sometimes feeds them. They are so lucky to have that soft voice and encouragement in addition to what they receive from nurses, doctors and their own parents when the parents can be there. My husband’s volunteer work is helping teens set future objectives. He guides them in discovering their skill set, writing a resume and finding employment or the right college path. Some Boomers start athletic programs for children or volunteer in daycare centers or teach art in elementary schools. And many Boomers are helping to raise their grandchildren by babysitting the entire work week or maybe a few days a week or on weekends. No matter what the time frame, every interaction is important.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE ACTIVITIES WITH YOUR GRANDCHILDREN? HERE ARE MINE: Puzzles, drawing, Connect Four, Matching Card Games, Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land, imaginative play–especially cooking/kitchen–gardening and reading. Some favorite books: GOODNIGHT MOON, STUART LITTLE, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, FROG AND TOAD, JUST LIKE HEAVEN, and THE GIFT OF NOTHING. Here is a list of Scholastics Top 100 Books for Children, a pdf you can print out and refer to.

Please share the books or activities you use when reading to a child or grandchild. After all, you are investing in that child’s future.

Invest in the Future? Read to a Child

The world lies before them, in a book.

Invest in the Future? Read to a Child

Invest in the Future? Read to a Child

Discover the world through a child’s eyes.

“The Divided Life” and How to Fix It

"The Divided Life" and How to Fix It

I love hearing stories about people who leave a job, a city or a career to grow lavender and make candles, build a tiny cabin and craft boats, get rid of the trappings of competition to write poetry; or who are fired because they told the truth at the board meeting, said what the corporation needed to do to change. It takes courage and guts. But one thing these actions shout out—I know who I am—this is me. I am not living a divided life, but my dream. Finally.

And of course if there are struggles while achieving this new life, there will always be someone who will say I told you so. But at some point in our lives, we all have to tear off the masks that we created to become accepted in society. We all need to reveal who we really want to be, who we really are. Parker J. Palmer is a writer and activist passionate about helping people escape from what he calls “the divided life.” He stresses that as children we are an integral whole, our emotions governed by our deep and real feelings. We hide nothing. We are authentic beings. But as we enter society and school, we learn to hide those feelings, alter our behaviors. We do this because we discover the world is not safe. We might be mocked, ignored, picked on. A minor example: I was mocked when I used vocabulary words that I heard in my home. A few of my peers didn’t like “sophisticated” language and so I avoided it, learned to dumb things down, skip the highfalutin words. As a kid in junior high it’s called preservation. But it’s damaging because we are pulling away from who we really are. We are beginning to live “the divided life.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons I became an English teacher—I could use those words in my classroom to my advantage and with no hesitation. Parker J. Palmer provides these very real and true examples as to how “the divided life” begins:

  1. At work we don’t truly invest ourselves, diminishing the quality of our work and distancing ourselves from those whose work is truly service
  2. We take jobs that violate our basic values, even when our survival doesn’t absolutely demand this of us
  3. We make or remain in relationships or locations that little by little kill our true spirit
  4. We hold secrets that help us achieve personal goals at the expense of others
  5. We hide our beliefs from those who don’t agree with us so as to avoid any conflict, challenge or change
  6. We basically conceal who we truly are for fear of being criticized, shunned or attacked.

One of the arguments that might be raised is how can I tear off my mask, or reclaim my true goals when I have a family to support? Tough question. But Palmer relates story after story of people he has worked with who woke up to realize that the need to drink, or gamble or take drugs for depression—were overt symbols that they weren’t living the life they wanted to live—the life that was meant to be theirs. Palmer writes: No one wants to suffer the penalties that come from choosing to live divided no more. But there can be no greater suffering than living a lifelong lie. As we move closer to the truth that lives within us—aware that in the end what will matter most is knowing that we stayed true to ourselves—institutions start losing their sway over our lives…This does not mean we must abandon institutions. In fact, when we live by the soul’s imperatives, we gain the courage to serve institutions more faithfully, to help them resist their tendency to default on their own missions. He acknowledges that this road won’t always be easy. Sacrifice might be necessary and certainly change and adjustment. “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” Parker J. Palmer

I think Parker’s ideas are truly important and that as we age, more and more we are face to face with all the decisions we have made. We have either firmly covered our souls with a mask or we have enhanced our true selves. Sacrifice might be necessary–but as we give some things up and take others into our lives–as we fix our own basic self, we are at the center of the goal. And isn’t it  wiser to become a whole person, than a face in the mirror that feels more like a stranger? Have you made significant changes in your life to be your true self?

For more from this writer and thinker go here. Listen to what he says about THE DIVIDED LIFE. "The Divided Life" and How to Fix It   I think it would be lovely to raise lavender, but I know that’s not my true calling. Thanks to Google Images

My Father: The Day of Magical Thinking

My Father: The Day of Magical Thinking

I notice his gold ring, gold watchband and a maroon tie peaking out from the shirt under his white coat.

It happened when my dentist went on vacation. A much needed one, but a little excessive for the amount of time he would be gone, 22 days. Because during that time I needed to see him for a checkup and cleaning. The office had called asking if I’d see someone else while he was gone. I was overdue for a cleaning, and said yes.

So this morning I was awakened from a very vivid dream about my father by the phone ringing and Helen, my dentist’s receptionist, telling me that they could see me in one hour. They had a replacement dentist. I move fast and I’m in great shape at sixty, but they were a little abrupt with the allotted time and I was not happy about having to hurry. One hour to shower and dress and drive there. (I didn’t get my hair blow-dried to my satisfaction.) But I made it, and they set me up in the dental chair.

As usual, first I saw Christy. She’s my hygienist, has the same name as my second daughter, though she spells it differently. Her husband has been in Iraq, it seems forever, and I’m always nervous about asking her how he’s doing. My mother is a widow, Christy has a son, and I’m just sensitive to that stuff. I guess I would immediately know if something horrible had happened.

She’s always cheerful and does an excellent job on my teeth. Obviously you can’t talk when someone is probing inside your mouth, but I get a question out now and again just after she finishes suctioning, and then she’ll talk about her husband and what he’s doing while my mouth is full again.

This morning, something strange happened. She had cleaned some of my top teeth and told me it was time to rinse. When she removed the buzzing brush, I automatically turned my head to the left to spit. An old reflex. There was no bowl there with the tiny metal spigot of water running in a half-circle. They don’t have those anymore. We laughed about it and she handed me a small paper cup filled with a cinnamon tasting liquid—the rinse.

A few moments later Helen comes in and they are talking quietly. I learn that Christy’s mother has arrived—an emergency situation. She is having lots of pain in one of her teeth and naturally would come right over and see her daughter who is in the business. Christy apologizes. She’s got to go check on her mother and then she’ll come back to finish my cleaning.

I’m fine about it. I’m a nurse. If my mother or one of my children needed me, I’d be right there.

I lie back in the chair and close my eyes for a while. I didn’t get my coffee—it’s decafe every morning—but still the aroma and the routine gets me moving. This dental chair is recumbent so my feet are up; I’m comfy. I have a book in my lap. I always have something to read with me, but I close my eyes. I doze off and on.

Once I open my eyes and look into the hallway. There are no doors on the examining rooms which all open onto this hallway. People flow in and out with x-rays and lab reports, bringing appointment cards and those tiny tubes of tooth paste that you always get to take home with you.

The replacement dentist is standing there. He has his back to me. He’s wearing a very starched white jacket, well not exactly a jacket, it falls to his knees and has a slit up the back. It’s more like a lab coat. The sleeves are three quarter length so that the fabric won’t get in his way. If he were closer I might even make the crack about didn’t he get the dress code email today? This dental practice does a color coded thing. All the hygienists and receptionists, even the dentists, wear the same color scrubs—but it alternates—maroon on Tuesdays, beige on Fridays. There’s a pale blue.

The replacement dentist turns a bit in the hallway—I can’t hear him talking, but he’s standing there like he’s conversing with someone, his hands held together at his waist. His hair is a soft brown, longer than I’m used to seeing. He has it combed back along the side and neatly trimmed around his ear. I notice his gold ring, gold watchband and a maroon tie peaking out from the shirt under his white coat. Is that his nod to the dress code? Are the rest of them wearing maroon today? I didn’t notice, but I know it’s not Tuesday. Maybe when he comes in later to look at my teeth I’ll ask him about his glasses. They look to be those new flexor type—all plastic lenses with no frame, very lightweight. I’ve been thinking about getting a pair. I doze.

After a while Christy is back. She finishes my cleaning, gives me my new appointment card and new toothbrush and tubes of paste and leaves. I know in any given amount of time, depending on how busy he is, the dentist will be in to see me. He’ll look at my teeth using that probe with the mirror on it. He’ll ask me if I have any discomfort, comment about when the next set of mouth x-rays will be done and then I can go.

I close my eyes for a while. And then I hear him walk in. He’s already behind my chair when I open my eyes. I can hear him open the chart which Christy has left on the table at the back of the room.

“Havey,” he says. “I know the Haveys.” His voice is deep, but has tenor qualities to it. It’s a lovely voice and I’m a little annoyed with myself that I am drawn to it suddenly. His coat makes a crispy, starchy sound as he moves and when he does my skin tingles. Now I’m arguing with myself. It’s the same sound my husband’s stiff white shirts make when I hug him.

“These Haveys were back in Chicago.” He flips a page in the chart.

I sit up straighter in the chair, which is hard to do because the very nature of these apparatuses is to have you lie back. “I’m from Chicago,” I say. “My husband is the son of Ed Havey.”

“That’s right. I knew that.” The voice pulls at something in me.

“You did?”

He doesn’t answer me. He continues to read the chart. I want to turn around and look at him, but that wouldn’t be proper. He’ll get to me and check my teeth soon enough.

And then he says, “So do they still call you Beth.”

Now something moves in me. My heart jumps, quivers. The way he asks it—it’s not really a question. And the word Beth in his mouth—it feels different, to hear it, a resonance or some other context that I’ve never heard before with the sound of my name.

I hurry to answer. “Yes. I love my given name, Elizabeth, like in the chart, but yes, everyone calls me Beth.” My other dentist must have it written down somewhere. Nickname, Beth.

“And I see you’re a nurse. I’m so happy to see that. I would have thought you would be influenced by your mother’s sisters—be a teacher or at least write.”

His voice is leading me. It demands that I answer even though these are not the questions that a replacement dentist would ask. Maybe I briefly decide he knew my people back in Chicago. Maybe I don’t. “I’m not practicing nursing right now. I actually am writing. And I was a teacher. That was my first job. But I taught English. Like they did. Like my oldest brother, John. He teaches at Georgetown. He’s a PhD. A published author.”

“That’s a wonderful thing. You both have done so well. And Bill?”

“You knew Bill, back in Chicago?” I’m thinking that maybe if he finally comes around and I can see his face I will know that he’s closer in age to Bill. Maybe he even went to school with Bill, my younger brother.

“I didn’t know Bill. Not as well. So he’s–”

“Oh, in the music business. Out in LA. He’s been there forever. Except for a job in New York for a number of years. We are very close.”

“And then there’s your amazing mother.” My mother is 92. Now how would he know her. Now I have to turn around. I struggle in this recumbent chair to twist my body and look at him. He has his back to me, sitting on a stool in front of the desk, still bent over the chart, one elbow resting, the right hand turning the pages. I turn back. The chart. He’s so into the chart.

“I know I’ve had way too many cavities,” I say abruptly, apologizing. “I had to have four of my molars capped. I’m sure it’s all there. I’m better about my teeth now. I am. But my father would not be very happy with me.” I always say this.

“Why not?”

“My father was a dentist. That’s why. I should have perfect teeth and I don’t.”

“Your father is very happy with you.” And then he gets up and comes around, wheeling the stool with his foot. He stops it at the side of the chair, near my feet. He sits and looks at me. The first thing my eyes focus on is his tie, bold in color against his white clothing, but soft real silk. And the glasses are real glass, highly polished with gold wire side pieces. His trousers are wool with a very fine grey stripe in them and his shoes are leather and highly polished. My other dentist wears tennis shoes. This replacement dentist is about 45 years old. He has my chart in his hands.

“I was making a sandbox for you. Or did I finish it,” he says.

“You finished it.”

My heart is pounding in my ears. I’m not sure I am hearing him correctly, hearing myself.

“You kids wanted a dog.”

I rush on. “I was way too young to remember. But this woman called me when I published an article about becoming a nurse and feeling closer to—to you. Because of the medicine connection. She was one of your patients and she said you were going to get me a puppy.”

There are tears in my eyes, they are running down my cheeks now. I brush them away hurriedly because I don’t want my vision blurred. I want to be able to look into his eyes and hold them there, watch how he moves his head, what he does with his hands, hear again the crispness of his starched coat and every word intoned with his amazing voice. I want to ask him questions, but I’m afraid to move, to say a word; I’m terrified that Christy or Helen or someone will walk in and he will just disappear.

“I would have gotten you anything you wanted.”

“In a scrapbook, I have the pumpkin you drew me,” I say. A stupid comment. There are so many more important things to talk about.

“Your mother is doing okay.”

“She talks about you more and more. She says she knows she’s getting ready to see you. Oh, but she’s so old.” My voice cracks and the tears are worse now. He is so young, 45, his skin clear and unwrinkled, his body straight. He left us when Bill was just 3 months. John was six. I was three. My mother has osteoporosis. She is shorter than he would remember her, wrinkled and grey. And then I say, “But her hair stayed red for longer than anyone there ever was.”

He smiles. It’s the same smile from the photograph—the one that sat on the drum table in our living room when we three children were growing up without him. He’s got this very soft smile and he’s wearing a maroon tie and his wire-rimmed glasses. The photo was taken not long before he crashed over in a chair in that same room, dead from a massive MI—heat attack. Now I’m shaking, my hands, my legs still outstretched in the recumbent chair. He’s just the photo on the damn table. He’s going to disappear.

“Your teeth are fine today. You are fine today. And you have three wonderful children.”

“Your grandchildren. They didn’t get to–”

“It’s okay, Beth. Really. You have to see that. I’m just here to reassure you.”

“May I touch you?” I finally ask him. I’ve been afraid to ask him.

He smiles and shakes his head as if to say don’t ask too much. Then he says, “I see you like to read.”

And then it happens. “Dr. Pfordresher, can you check on Christy’s mother again. Her pain is worse.” Helen, damn her, is standing in the doorway.

“He can’t leave. He hasn’t looked at my teeth yet,” I say boldly.

“Your teeth are fine today. You are fine.” He’s repeating himself. People in dreams sometimes repeat themselves.

“Don’t go.” I say it loudly, boldly. I’ll cry out if I have to.

Helen has walked away down the hall.

“Tell your mother, I’ll be there.”

I am sobbing now. I cannot help it. I fight to make it stop so that I can watch him, how he rises from the stool, gently pushes it back against the wall, how he walks behind my chair again, setting the chart on the desk. I am up on my knees now, turning my body to watch him. He’s moving toward the doorway.

“Dad!” It’s not a cry for help, not an angry cry. It’s more a pleasant, joyful escape of sound, something that I cannot ever remember doing as I was so young when he died. Three-year-olds don’t remember. Now I have said his name.

He turns back to look at me, a sixty-year-old woman holding him in my heart.

“Beth,” he says again and lifts his hand as I have seen him do thousands of times in my dreams. And he walks away, down that hallway.

I gather my purse, my book and stumble out of the chair. I forget my appointment card, my toothbrush, those little tubes of paste. I wander down the hall looking for him, questions for him pouring through my mind like water. Why did you die on us? Do you know everything about our lives? What do you think of this country now? Did you know that now medicine could have saved you? You could have lived to be my age or older.

Everyone is wearing pink today. They smile at me strangely and I know they are wondering why I am wandering around looking in all the exam rooms. He’s not in any of the rooms. I even check the break room, but he’s not there. Of course he wouldn’t be.

I had to go to the dentist today. And it was just my day of magical thinking.

Dr. Albert George Pfordresher DDS of Chicago, Illinois died of a massive coronary in his living room on June 4, 1950. He left a widow, my mother Virginia Pfordresher, and three children—John C. Pfordresher, a professor at Georgetown University, William F. Pfordresher, a song writer and music producer, and Beth—who wrote this piece. She thanks Joan Didion for the phrase “magical thinking.

This is a repost in honor of my father and Father’s Day. You might also like: FINDING MY FATHER Even though we never had the opportunity to talk about careers, my father influenced my career choices.

“Big Boys Don’t Cry” and Other Verbal Blunders

"Big Boys Don't Cry" and Other Verbal Blunders

Scenario: you’ve been to a business gathering, party, or dinner with people you’ve never met or don’t know well. Now it’s midnight and you’re staring at the ceiling, going over some verbal blunder. You regret the words you said or the response you received. Maybe you come to some conclusions—what to say next time you meet this person. Maybe you even compose an email or a phone message in your mind. Finally, you just pound your pillow and give up. The words were said. Get some sleep.


Why do we attach importance to this? The person is probably oblivious to our concerns. Does the fact that this was said to an adult color our reaction? And yet there are exchanges we should be monitoring, considering and being very concerned about.

Those are the words, the statements, the things we say when we are angry, tired or stressed—TO OUR CHILDREN and our GRANDCHILDREN.


Lauren Murphy Payne, M.S.W., is a psychotherapist in family practice. In her book, Just Because I Am, A Child’s Book of Affirmation, she offers examples of poor responses that many of us will have to own. The good news: she also cites alternatives which again many of us can say we use. Because we all want to be good parents and grandparents and to never exacerbate a situation. We all want to be healers, not hurters. Check out the following examples.

The child makes a mistake. Adult responses: What’s wrong with you?   Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?   Don’t you know anything?   Why can’t you do it right? 

Alternative responses: What can you learn from that? How can you do that differently the next time? What else can you try? How can I help you? And probably the best response: Don’t worry, I make mistakes too. 

The grandchild is angry. Adult responses: You shouldn’t feel that way.   You have nothing to be angry about.   You don’t know what real problems are.   What are you getting so upset about? 

Alternative responses as the child has a right to feel what they feel: I’m so glad you can tell me how you feel. Everyone gets angry some time. Wow, you are feeling really frustrated. 

The child is sad or crying. Adult responses: Stop or I’ll give you something to cry about. You’ve got nothing to cry about.   Now be a good girl and stop crying.   Big boys don’t cry. 

Alternative responses: You’re feeling really sad right now.   It’s okay to cry.   I know how sadness feels.   It’s important to listen to your sadness.   I get sad too sometimes.

Payne’s book also offers ideas for making your grandchildren feel safe and secure and for finding ways to say “yes” to children when they need a positive response after being told “no.” Because sometimes we should and need to say “no.”


But there is a scenario where what we say to an adult can be even more confusing and complicated. It happens when a friend or acquaintance is sick, hospitalized, dealing with a serious illness. What to say? How to avoid those verbal blunders???

In a recent article in Blue prepared by Wellmark Blue Cross, six statements to avoid are examined. Though these words might easily fall from our lips, it’s how the sick person receives them and interprets them that really matters.

1. You suggest to this person that you know about a supplement that might help. Though this is thoughtful, he might hear that you don’t think he’s making the right decisions regarding treatment. He also might hear you are challenging his medical team–and that’s challenging his trust.

2. “You look great.” She probably feels awful. Are you saying that she’s really not that sick?

3. “Bad things happen to everyone…You’ll be okay…” He might think you are saying his illness isn’t that serious or that he’s complaining as we all have challenges.

4. “Don’t give up. You have to stay positive.” Does she think you feel she isn’t trying hard enough? Maybe it’s his time and you are challenging that.

5. “My friend (co-worker etc) had this illness and he tried this treatment…” She might think you feel this illness is no big deal and that she’s not doing everything she can to beat it.

6. “Look on the bright side–at least you don’t have to go to work every day.” You are actually saying that his or her worries about pain and medication and medical bills and life or death are not valid or important. When people are really sick, they crave going back to a normal, boring life.

Here are some words to keep in mind when you are in this situation:

I’m not sure what to say, but I care about you and I’m here to support you.

I’m sorry this is happening to you. I care about you.

Do you want to talk about this? I’m here to listen.

If you need to cry, count on me to be there for you. I’ll bring the tissues.

I love you and I’ll help you through all of this the best I can. 

Words are powerful things. Sometimes we just need to be very careful when we choose them. I know I’ve had my share of verbal blunders. Have you?

Thanks to Google Images


Your Life Could Use “Addition by Subtraction”

Your Life Could Use "Addition by Subtraction"

Addition by subtraction. What does that mean? For Shola, founder of the Positivity Solution it could mean walking away from a toxic relationship. You subtract that person and your life immediately has added benefits. For Dr. Roxanne B. Sukol, who blogs at Your Health is on Your Plate, addition by subtraction means removing certain foods from your diet to improve your overall health. It’s a great concept that can be applied to many elements in our lives. Let’s explore a few examples.

1. Paints. Everyone has cracked open a can of paint to redo a wall or brighten up furniture. The walls of homes built before 1978 were often covered in lead-based paints. Public health departments are still offering lead testing for people living in these older buildings and in many states if lead paint is found in the home of a child under the age of six, the health department covers the rehab of the building.

Addition by subtraction when purchasing paints means selecting those with no VOCs or volatile organic compounds. These solvents frequently added to paint are released during the drying process often causing acute symptoms like headaches and dizziness. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that some VOCs are suspected carcinogens.

Currently the federal government caps the VOC content in paint at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat paint and 380 g/l for low luster and semigloss. But you can find paints made by manufacturers using even more stringent limits—50 g/l for all finishes—set by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District. These paints include: Benjamin Moore Aura, True Value Easy Care, and Glidden Evermore.

Harley Farms recently began offering milk paint which has no VOCs and is all natural as you can see from the ingredients: calcium carbonate, flax seed oil, water, milk protein (casein), goat milk soap, pigment and salt. The producers state it is gentle on the environment and creates a suede-like finish. If you drip some on your hands, it’s so non-caustic you could lick it right off and there’s no need for gloves or a mask. Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan is another good choice, very low in VOC’s, and considered a “kind” paint with virtually no odor.

2. Speaking of paint, one of the main things we consider when purchasing a car is its color—we buy a color we like. But using the addition by subtraction concept, we might need to consider safety before good looks. Peter Bohr in his piece Hue and Me researched the safety of autos in regards to color.

Though there have been few scientific studies regarding the issue, one done in 2002 in Spain found that light-colored cars had the edge on not being hit by another car and black cars were the most likely to be involved in an accident. A 2007 study from a university in Australia revealed that white cars had the lowest crash risk, while cars with colors that were low on the visibility index: black, blue, gray, green, red and silver were linked to a higher risk of accidents. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that white may be most visible at night, but not against a snow covered backdrop. And though red cars do stand out during the day, at night they appear black to other drivers.

3. Finally addition by subtraction can definitely apply to our use of medications and subsequently how we dispose of them. In her piece, “Stop! Don’t Flush” Rita Colorito reminds consumers NOT to dispose of unused or outdated medications by flushing them down a toilet or sink. This past practice has allowed drugs to make their way into our drinking water as well as polluting lakes and streams where fish live and wildlife drink. Though what we flush passes through a water treatment plant, most plants are not equipped to clean the water of all pharmaceuticals and even personal care products. Mae Wu, who works at the National Resources Defense Council states that even though the levels in our water are low scientists don’t know what impact they are having on our health. Researchers found oxazepam, an anti-anxiety drug, threatening fish populations as it disturbs their breeding habits. Antibiotics and anti-diabetic drugs have been found in Lake Michigan, a source of water for more than 10 million people. If you can, practice addition by subtraction by decreasing the number of drugs that you take. Remember, antibiotics do not help the common cold as that’s a virus. Plan to contact your local pharmacy concerning how to dispose of unused drugs. You will add to the health of our planet by being smart about the disposal of any medication.

Dr. Sukol stresses the positives of using addition by subtraction: “It’s about discovering that limiting a child’s choices translates into greater contentment. It might seem paradoxical at first, but it’s not. Having too many choices makes things more, not less, stressful…like the time I heard my son’s friend explain how having to put on a uniform every day made getting ready in the morning easier. It’s about taking something away, and discovering that you end up with more. You might even say that you end up the better for it. It’s about eating an apple instead of a cookie and finding that it filled you up and statisfied you with the crunch and the sweetness and the peanut butter you put on it.”

Can you find new ways to practice addition by subtraction?  PLEASE SHARE.

Thanks to Google Image

Your Life Could Use "Addition by Subtraction"

Chalk paint wall and chest by Annie Sloan

Caroline I See You


Caroline I See You

Sunshine, blue water, singing birds, the music of Bach and two people in love equal the perfect wedding.

In honor of my oldest daughter’s marriage.

Sometimes you hear a song and it speaks to you–the music, the lyrics–you dream on that song. This week’s post honors all of us dreamers and Caroline in particular.

“Caroline I See You”  by James Taylor 

Caroline, I see you standing on the stairway, waiting for your bear there.

Handy on the landing, penny in my pocket, high enough to hold you.

When I come back home to you tomorrow, you may well be angry, I’ll for sure be hungry.

Meet me in the middle, make it melt like chocolate, be my little baby.

I take you down by the water some December (May) morning.

Take you from your family, leave them with their longing.

Take you by your hand, somewhere on the sand.

Caroline, I love you, though I’m late to say so, hesitate to tell you. What will be your answer some December (May) morning?

Standing on the stairway, Caroline, I see you.

Hearing the music of this lovely song is even better–just click on the link below and to all my readers, thank you and have a wonderful week.

Caroline I See You

Thanks to Victoria Dosch Photography


Is Tom Sawyer’s Lesson Still Meaningful?

Is Tom Sawyer's Lesson Still Meaningful?

Tom was bored looking at all that fence. Then along came Ben Rogers…

You remember Tom Sawyer, he made whitewashing a fence look like the best thing to do on a bright summer day. When Ben Rogers came along on his way to the swimming hole, Tom made his work look fascinating. “Tom surveyed his last touch with the eye of an artist, then he gave his brush another gentle sweep and surveyed the result, as before. Ben, intrigued, asked if he could whitewash for a while. Tom thought for a while and then answered: “No – no – I reckon it wouldn’t hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence… it’s got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done.”

Of course the rest is history. Ben is so eager to whitewash the fence that he gives Tom his red apple to be allowed to do so. Billy Fisher gives him a kite and Johnny Miller gives him a dead rat with a string attached.

But here’s the question: What would happen today? Would the boys coming upon, say Ray cleaning the garage, want to help? I think it’s possible. In fact if Ray were painting the garage, they might want to mess with the paint. If he’s cleaning, they might poke around and find some cool stuff. There are a lot of factors at play: the most important being how Ray presents the opportunity–like Tom Sawyer did. Really, it can be all about presentation. (Maybe Tom grew up to be a great salesman.) Or maybe, one doesn’t have to sell the situation, because the person that comes along finds the activity just different.

Recently, I decided to wash my grimy patio door. With Windex and paper towel in hand, I was working away when my granddaughter appeared. She immediately wanted to help; she was eager to spray Windex and wipe down the door. Two years ago when we planted a garden, she couldn’t wait to get her hands in the dirt and help. And give my grandson a leaf blower and he’ll clean your never-ending driveway.

Yes, we can make some chores attractive, like Tom Sawyer did. Squirt bottles and blowers are fun, but so is achieving an end, seeing a clean window or driveway, watching plants stand straight in the dirt. And if you are reading this and thinking “hogwash” – that’s a Tom Sawyer term–I truly disagree. Though reasons may vary, a person can be drawn into an activity because:

  • he craves order
  • she likes trying new things
  • she likes to please a person in authority
  • he likes to show he can do a better job than someone else
  • he likes a feeling of accomplishment no matter what the task.

I think it’s important that we give our children and grandchildren–no matter what their ages–the opportunity to show that they can cook a meal, clean their bedroom or other rooms in the house, shop for groceries, take care of the dog or some other pet, maintain toys, bikes, sports equipment–and paint a fence! Our daughters are still talking about the time they had to paint the shed. Not happy about it, they dressed in old jeans and my husband’s cast off white shirts and actually enjoyed some of the endeavor. They played music; they complained together. They talked about the task for months afterward. Bottom line: they did a responsible, awesome job.

In our world, which seems to become more complicated by the minute, responsibility just has to be one of the core features in our makeup. The sooner a person learns to be responsible, the easier life will be.

I confess, I sometimes wanted to “rescue” my children when they forgot something. But living through the day without the term paper, the book report or whatever–is a great way for the “forgetter” to remember next time.  And it has far-reaching effects. Learning to be responsible for something as simple as a book report means owning your faults. When you own that, you might also own your health, own the ability to financially take care of yourself, own how you treat other people etc etc. Responsibility builds character, helps prepare a person for the future when called upon to: tell the truth; refrain from cheating; protect a friend, reach out to help a stranger. I’m sure you can add some other excellent ideas.

Naw, you might be thinking–another Tom Sawyer word–having a kid wash a window or learn to remember a book report just cannot lead to all that good character stuff. Yes it can. It’s a start. It’s a process. It’s something to build on.

I found some people who agree with me. Jaipi Sixbear writes that Tom’s lesson helps  Make work pleasurable. If you want any people to help you, you have to give them a good reason. Some people may have viewed Tom as conniving when he talked his friends into painting that fence. I like to think of him as a genius entrepreneur. The way he made those kids want to paint that fence was sheer magic. Tom Sawyer taught me that with the right attitude, work becomes play. He also taught me that if you want to be a success in life, you better learn how to speak to people. 

Mark Twain himself commented on this memorable scene: Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.

Thanks, Samuel Clemens, Mr. Mark Twain. I think Tom Sawyer’s fence scene is still a teachable moment. Readers, what do you think?

Thanks to Google Images

Is Tom Sawyer's Lesson Still Meaningful?