Friday, November 28, 2014

My Mother's excerpt from OPEN ROAD: A LIFE WORTH WAITING FOR

     This week while visiting with a friend, I took her two-year-old granddaughter on a walk around the local Barnes and Noble Bookstore.  She held my hand and eagerly traced my long, painted fingernails in much the same way I remember doing so with my mother when I was little.  Last night I finished the final edits on the second edition of my memoir which, along with all of my novels, will be available through print on demand in December.  Ironically enough, My Mother's Hands was the one and only chapter that didn't need any rewrites.
     So here's a little taste of what you'll find inside OPEN ROAD:  A LIFE WORTH WAITING FOR.  And if you'd like to download it, wait a few days...I'll be working hard this weekend and will upload the latest edition on Monday.

My Mother’s Hands

My mother and I sit on the loveseat, watching television on a rainy Saturday afternoon.   “Wild Kingdom” is on and I love this show.  I love animals.  More than that, I love that I have nothing to do but sit with Mom…just her and me.  My sisters are running errands with Dad.  They need new shoes.  I don’t.  So I get to rest with Mom and watch a lioness give her little cubs a bath while they laze by the Tanzania River.
I’m seven now.  Too old to be held on her lap, so I lean against her side and feel her breath move with mine.  We breathe in together.  We breathe out together.
A commercial break comes on and Mom takes a deeper breath, then sighs.  I’m surprised…then astonished.  In a split second, my mother separates her breath from mine as if she’s untying my shoes.  The laces of our breathing patterns are undone.  Suddenly I realize that what I’ve always believed to be true is false.
My mother and I don't breathe at the same time. 
I thought that since I once lived inside of her, we would always inhale together…exhale together.  But we don't.  And we never did.  Not really.
I try to catch the rhythm of Mom’s breath…to match mine with hers, but I can’t.  I am now separate from her – completely.  And that scares me.  I don’t want to be separate.  I don’t want to breathe on my own.  I want to stay connected to my mother for the rest of my life. 
But, of course, I know I can’t.

Years later I’m working in the gardens at Esalen.  My hands sift the chickweed and thistle, freeing the chard from those invaders that will choke the life out of them.  I’ve lived in Big Sur for nearly a year and I’ve come to love the garden as if it were my own.  Instead of jeans and t-shirts, I often wear jumpers and flowing dresses to work.  I paint my fingernails.  I wear a bit of make-up and some pretty earrings.
Ken walks by and tells me it’s almost time for group process.  “I’ll gather the work-scholars,” he says.
I finish the bed I’m working, then carry the weed bin to the compost pile behind the rose garden.  Jhoti frolics at my heels, batting at the hem of my dress.  I bend down and scoop her up, rubbing my face against hers.  An image tumbles through my memory and I see a photograph of my mother holding her tiger cat, Andy, in front of the house where she grew up.  I see her smiling face.  Her impeccable manicure.  Her quaint hairstyle.  Her stylish sweater set. 
I wonder what she’s doing right now.  Is she out watering her own garden?  Is she having a cup of coffee and doing the crossword puzzle?  Is she chatting on the phone with my sister? 
As I head toward the sprout house, I see Ken in the distance talking to Margie and Eva.  Margie laughs out loud and I think of my mother’s laughter.  I think of her witty sense of humor.  Washing my hands at the sink, I marvel at the crevices in my skin that never quite seem to come clean.  The way the soil has imbedded itself into my fingerprints and stays there, no matter how long I soak in the baths.  The memory of my mother’s laughter is the same…embedded forever in my heart.
During check-in I study my hands while the rest of the garden crew talks about their day.  How they’re feeling.  What they want to work on in group process.  I listen to Carl talk about his plans to move north and start a farm of his own.  Then Margie talks about her twin daughters and how excited she is that they will soon visit Esalen. 
Next it’s my turn and I softly say, “I’m noticing that my hands look just like my mother’s.  My fingernails, my knuckles, the way my little fingers are slightly crooked…even the veins on the back of my hands…they’re hers.  I’m noticing that the older I am, the more I see her in me.  And I miss her.”

Now I sit here, watching my hands on the keyboard as they write these words.  Watching as the images form in my imagination, then drift to my fingertips and onto the screen in front of me.  I see my mother’s hands writing these sentences…writing these stories.           
But are they truly hers?  Or are they mine?
My mother and I are very much alike.  She’s taught me lessons I will never forget…lessons about love and mercy, betrayal and forgiveness.  Lessons that have taken me far from where I came.  Lessons that will move me well beyond where I am now.
And yet, we are also different.
As I make my way into the second half of my life, it’s my turn to undo the laces of my past.  Now I often walk barefoot into the joy my life has become these past few years.  My hands are unshackled from my fear and trepidation, ready to touch the world with whatever grace can be channeled though me. 

When I was in first grade, my mother taught me how to type letters on her old grey Olympia.  When I was seven, she taught me how to knit mittens with a simple gusset.  At eight, she taught me how to meticulously weed her garden.  When I was thirteen, Mom taught me how to apply mascara and lipstick.
All my life I have watched her hands cook meals, sign permission slips, do the crossword, and make the beds.  They held books and dolls and packages at Christmastime.  Throughout the seasons, they shoveled snow and planted flowers and raked leaves.  Mom’s hands rolled out cookie dough, then rolled my hair up in curlers.  They ironed our clothes and mended the holes in the knees of my jeans.  They angrily spanked me when I misbehaved, but also gently rubbed my back when I was anxious or sleepy.
My memory is steeped in my mother’s hands.  More than her face.  More than her voice.  More than the things she’s told me.  More than the things she’s left unsaid.  I’m certain it’s one of the reasons I notice a person’s eyes first…and their hands second.  I've learned that hands can be a source of hurting or healing.
For through my mother’s hands, I’ve experienced both.

When I was little, I loved to trace Mom’s brightly lacquered fingernails with the pad of my thumb.  As I constantly chewed my nails and cuticles until they were bloody, I figured my fingers would never look like Mom’s with their delicate curves, their shiny tips.  I marveled at the ease with which she painted them a different color every week.  Her collection of nail polish was amazing.  Fuchsia pinks and rose reds.  Purpley plums and soft tans. 
Clear polish (that I thought looked like spit when applied) was the only choice Mom gave me until I was in junior high.  But there was an episode when I was in third grade when I swiped a soft pink bottle from her stash and took it to school.  It was a rainy day, so I sat at my desk during indoor recess and sloppily polished my half-bitten nails.   The results were messy, but foreshadowed what my hands might look like if I took better care of them.
When I got home, I dashed to the bathroom and quickly removed the polish, leaving a residue of color around my cuticles.  Slipping the bottle back into my mother’s drawer, I thought I was so slick.  Then she saw my nails at the dinner table and chided me for blatantly disobeying her.  I learned the hard way how nail polish remover stings when it comes into contact with chewed-open skin.  Much like my mother’s spankings would sting whenever I defied her.
 Years later, I was able to grow my own set of lovely nails and polished them regularly.  French Tip was my favorite, although it took forever to accomplish.  Still, every Saturday afternoon, I would give myself a manicure and look in wonder at the beauty of my hands.  At that time, it was rare that I would think of any part of my body as beautiful.  But this was before yoga or Esalen.  Before all the real work I was about to embark upon in my quest for healing.
 In the early nineties when I taught first grade, my instinctive sense of workaholism was full blown.  Arriving at school around seven-thirty, I worked most days until nearly 5:00.  I took papers home every evening and spent most of my Sunday nights planning lessons or preparing materials for the week ahead.  Since I was constantly shuffling paper and school supplies, my hands took a real beating.  My skin soon became chapped and bloody, as I was also constantly washing them to avoid getting sick.
On a cold winter day, one of my students' mothers visited the classroom with a small bag.  “This is for you, Miss Ingersoll,” Mrs. Ellis said to me.  “I noticed how sad your hands look…and I thought you might want to use this.”
Inside the bag was a jar of super-emollient hand cream.
Mrs. Ellis nodded to her son.  “Can you remind Miss Ingersoll if she forgets to put it on?”
Jonathon nodded. 
I smiled at both of them.  “Thank you so much,” I said, giving Mrs. Ellis a hug.  “I know I need to take better care of my hands.”
And so it was that every morning and every afternoon when recess was over, Jonathon or one of the other students would remind me, “Miss I…use your hand lotion!”
I did and soon my hands were healed.  It was a memorable seed, a first step in being mindful of my own self-care that would one day bloom into a life-changing path of yoga, Rolfing, and massage. 

To this day, I still take good care of my hands, for they are the vehicles through which I create my novels.  They knit toys for my friends' children.  They tend my magical gardens.  My hands demonstrate yoga poses for my students and gently assist them when needed.  They provide steadiness as I ride my bike all over the city.  They turn pages in books and gently stroke whichever cat is purring on my lap while I read.  My hands cradle the faces of the children I love and applaud for them when I’m present at a recital or a ball game.  
Now my hands are ready to gently harvest the seeds of all that has bloomed in the wake of the trials and misfortunes I have endured.  Ready to glean that which can be planted in the future to yield even more awakening and abundance.
They are a catalyst for all that is yet to be seen...
A channel for the mysteries of my life unfolding. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Channeling St. Francis

          It's the day before Thanksgiving and I'm happy to say the preparations are complete.  All of the food's been purchased and put away.  The cranberries I cooked this morning are cooling in the fridge.  The autumn linens are clean and at the ready.  It'll only be me this year...well, me and a bunch of my little friends, but nevertheless, it's nice to know we can all tuck in and enjoy a peaceful holiday tomorrow.
          As you may know, I have a small passel of cats.  (I recently asked my vet what's the highest number you can have without totally messing up the domestic dynamic.  Without hesitation, Dr. Barden replied, "One.")  I don't consider four to be too many and can't imagine life without my naughty kitten who has grown into an affectionate and entertaining little adult.  Each one has a buddy and they often trade playmates, so all in all, it's a peaceable kingdom around my house.
          Still mealtime makes for an interesting event as Jhoti is on a diet and needs to have her food rationed -- and she has to be locked in my bedroom so her brother and sister don't steal her tasty little morsels.  My other three kids eat their own dry kibble, but Sophia needs a few treats on the top to entice her to eat.  Of course Aditi won't be left out, so she always gets one or two in her bowl as well.  And then there's Forest who needs some soft food twice a day to keep him well hydrated.  He's more than willing to share, so I need to make sure he gets first dibs.
          After nearly a year, we've got it down to a science.  I don't know how you parents of multiple kids do it!  All I have to do is scoop a bit of food into a bowl, or pop the top of a can and add warm water. 
          Mind you...I'm not complaining.

          When I was a teenager I thought about becoming either a teacher or a veterinarian.  Although the idea of caring for kittens and puppies was enticing, the image of helping sick or injured pets made my heart ache.  I grew up with dogs and when I was thirteen, my parents brought home a black miniature Schnauzer we named Cinder.  Dr. Barden was our vet back then, too, and our little fella soon earned the nickname "Mr. Perfect," for that's exactly what he was.  Loving and loyal, Cinder was the sweetest dog I've ever known.  He was incredibly smart and patient beyond his dog years. 
          Once when he was flea ridden from a trip to South Carolina, Cinder rested good-naturedly in my arms while I used the attachment to our vacuum cleaner to suck those little devils from his tummy and legs.  Gazing at me with his chocolate brown eyes, he seemed to say, "Thank you, Katie, I feel much better.  Now move that thing a little to the left.  There are a few you missed on my haunches."
          My first pet as an adult arrived when I taught fourth grade in Troy, Ohio.  Chuck the Hermit Crab was a gift from the Girl Scouts.   And even though I couldn't cuddle him or take him for a walk, it was nice to have something to nurture after a long day at school.  Alas, Chuck didn't survive the move back to Toledo, but he was the inspiration for a host of gerbils, hamsters, and a guinea pig I kept in my classroom at Greenwood.
          When I got past my fear of cats, I adopted a fierce kitten I named Scout who Dr. Barden and I still talk about to this day.  She was sweet to me, but to most everyone else, she was a hellion in the first degree.  Mollie came along as a playmate, then ten years later, I serendipitously came across Carly, a red tabby who loved to chatter at the birds and curl up with me while I read a book.  All three of them have gone to kitty heaven, but the lessons they taught me about care giving when I was tired or cranky, sacrifice when Scout developed diabetes and I had to give her shots every twelve hours for three years, and letting go when it came time to make the difficult end of life choices have made me much more compassionate and empathetic.
          Now more than ever, I can't imagine my life without pets.

          St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment.  I'm not Catholic, but I've studied some of his teachings and he and I agree on one thing.  We both believe that nature is the mirror of the sacred.  To touch the earth is to touch the face of all creation.  To nurture an animal is the closest I can come to holding a part of the divine in my arms.
          For many years I've looked for a statue of St. Francis to place in my backyard garden.  I'm fairly picky about the details and didn't want a figure who had creepy eyes (i.e. no irises carved into the stone).  To no avail I looked high and low for a two or three foot fellow who would symbolically bless my home with love.  Last June I was surprised and delighted when my neighbor, Karole, presented me with a St. Francis she found in a home she had been preparing for sale.
          "I know you hate creepy eyes," she grinned.  "And he doesn't have them!"
          Sure enough, St. Francis was a little rough around the edges, but his eyes shone through the peeling paint.  A little wire brushing later and he was ready for a new coat of sandstone finish.  All summer long he sat in Carley's garden that's filled with red, yellow, and orange flowers.  This fall I knew I'd better bring him back inside.  Now every time I drive into the garage, St. Francis greets me with a smile while he watches over all of my garden goodies, tucked away for the winter.

          I've taken care of animals for as long as I can remember.  When Scout was a baby, I volunteered at the Humane Society and prepped cats who were taken to nursing homes as therapy animals.  In 2009 I fostered a couple of litters of kittens and oh, what a labor of love that was!  At one time I had ten felines in the house, but not in the same room.  The porch was dubbed the kitten spa and there I watched over the first litter as they flourished under the watchful eye of their mama, Hazel.  I was blessed when no one wanted the black male kitten and Forest became a very welcome addition to my happy trio.  Dr. Barden and I call him Mr. Perfect, too,...and he certainly is. 
          Once Forest's litter was grown, Hazel took care of another group of mangy little kittens who had been abandoned.  Sure enough, in a few weeks they were healthy and socialized, quickly finding forever homes in the Toledo area.  Then Miss Hazel found her way into one of my friend's hearts and she lived the rest of her days pampered and well-loved.
          In addition to my own fur kids, I often pet sit for friends.  In the wintertime, I feed the myriad of birds that flutter around the neighborhood.  All year long I keep an eye out for hungry squirrels, too.  The other day when I came home from pet food shopping, I found my squirrelly pal, Sam, waiting for me in the tree near my front door.  (He and I developed a friendship this summer when he visited me whenever I ate a meal on my front porch swing.  Fearless and bold, Sam often scampered right up to me and sat on his hind legs, begging for a bit of whatever was on my plate.)
          "Do you want an apple?" I asked him.
          Sam immediately jumped down and ran to the driveway where I'll often toss a core or the tops of strawberries.
          "Hold on, pal," I smiled.  "I'll get it for you."
          As I walked toward the entryway, Sam eagerly scampered after me.  When I had sliced a great big, juicy red delicious and headed outside, Sam was waiting with his paws pressed to the door.  He wouldn't take the apple out of my hand, but was excited to grab the core for now and see that I tossed the other pieces by the tree for later.  Chattering a "thank you," Sam ran up my neighbor's maple and nibbled on his afternoon treat.  Seeing Sam's elation, I know I'll enjoy keeping that kid fat and sassy all winter long. 
          Just this morning when I put a fresh cake of suet in the cage that hangs in a tree just outside the dining room window, the blue jays and sparrows and woodpeckers all dive-bombed it mere seconds after I came inside.  Forest and Aditi were an attentive audience as the birds twittered and darted here and there, catching seeds and sticky suet in their beaks.  It was fascinating for me to witness as well...and to watch my cats watching the birds, their eyes wide, their jaws chattering and clicking in excitement.
          What a joy to know that my Thanksgiving celebration will include feeding the birds and the squirrels and even the deer in the wood when I take a walk tomorrow afternoon.  They're good company and always enjoy whatever treat I offer.  And I always love being with them as they reveal to me the often unseen mysteries of nature.   I suppose channeling St. Francis has allowed me to tap into my inner Snow White once again so that I can experience the quiet wonders of the forest.  This year, I find that's one of the things for which I'm most grateful.
          May you and yours have a wonder-filled Thanksgiving!

With Lily, one of Forest's sisters, on her adoption day.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Confessions of a book snob

Unless someone is willing to entertain notions of superiority,
the English language disintegrates, just as a home disintegrates
unless someone in the family sets standards of
good taste, good conduct, and simple justice.

E. B. White

          I'll freely admit it:  I'm a book snob of the highest order.
          Whenever I get into a discussion that involves the question, "What are you reading now?" I always warn the other person that I'm fairly opinionated on the subject.  You won't catch me reading a title just because it's a best seller or is on whatever booklist is catchy these days.  I don't read formula or fan fiction.  And if the story doesn't interest me within the first twenty pages, I move on.  Actually, my general rule is ten pages, but as an author I know it can take a little time to build some steam.
          Still, I've been pretty steamed at some authors who've written books which initially captured my attention so much so that I slogged through a poorly written second half just to see if the story would improve.  In every case it didn't and I felt cheated out of the hours I spent invested in a book that yielded a very unsatisfying ending.  By no means do I need all the characters to be likable or to have the storylines tied up in a neat little package.  But if there is no authentic narrative arc, no character development or evolution, then I'm left feeling as though I was promised a good meal and all I ended up with was cheap fast food.  Perhaps I have a chip on my shoulder, but it's truly difficult for me to embrace popular fiction that has a hook or a catch or a gimmick, yet always leaves me wanting more substance. 
         I can't remember a time when I didn't love to read.  My mother took to me to our local library when I was little and I can clearly remember how proud I was to receive my own peach-colored card.  Some of my favorite childhood memories are of wandering among the shelves of cloth covered books and choosing two or three to take home and enjoy in the peaceful sanctuary of my bedroom.  I saved my allowance to buy every one of the Little House Books, then moved on to the Great Brain series.  I devoured the Betsy Books more than once and during last year's long winter, borrowed every single one from Sanger Library.  How delightful to discover that Carolyn Haywood's colorful prose was just as charming to read in my mid-forties as it was during my elementary school years. 
          In college I was busy slogging through textbooks, but a few of my classes offered other choices.  A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich comes to mind, a book that has haunted me for decades only to resurface this summer while I was doing some research.  Solzhenitsyn's style was difficult to read back in school, and to be honest, I had a hard time with this year as well.  But like any well-written novel, it was worth the effort, then and now.  
         Some who've perused my collection say I'm a fairly eclectic reader.  My bookshelves are lined with the complete works of Khalil Gibran, Barbara Kingsover, and Shakespeare.  I have a handful of Christopher Moore's novels at the ready when nothing but a satire will do.  There are a few of Henry Miller's works in my office whenever I need to commiserate about the trials and tribulations of writing.  
          Perhaps the writer who utterly and forever spoiled me is E. B. White.  My first grade teacher read our class Charlotte's Web and from the first sentence, I was mesmerized.  When I read it to my own first graders decades later, I appreciated the finer nuances of the prose.  The witty dialogue.  White's famous lists and descriptions.  The story of friendship that is told in his quiet and unassuming quality.  For generations, I imagine millions of us love the book not only for the heartwarming story, but also because it is eloquently told by one of the great masters of the English language.
          Recently I purchased a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk and updated by E. B. White.  It's chock full of writing rules, some that I rigidly abide by, and others I've learned to break for effect (thanks to my high school English teacher). This little book is a gem and one I wish every writer (whether of emails or letters or blogs) would have at the ready.  I imagine all you grammar Nazis out there might have a dog-eared copy at the ready whenever you're trying to prove the difference between your and you're
         While I'm a big fan of the internet and my new NOOK, I don't text.  I don't tweet.  I don't communicate in ways that are easily misunderstood or swept under the rug to make room for the next post, the next comment, the next sound bite.   In many ways, this form of writing is ruining our ability to appreciate the more tangible and accessible forms of connection.
          Maybe it's the devoted teacher in me, or maybe I'm just old school, but I find that with access to a plethora of ways we can exchange a few words, not a whole of people are really communicating.  For there's a big difference between listening (or comprehending) and waiting for your turn to speak (or reply).  
          I wonder what Mr. White would have to say on the subject.  Perhaps he might just shake his head and go back to his faithful typewriter.
          As for me, whether I'm posting to my professional page on Facebook, writing an email, or composing a blog, I keep in mind the most vital rule found in The Elements of Styleomit needless words.
          Would that we all could abide by these very wise words...while writing or speaking

          If I invited you over for supper, you'd soon learn that while the food is alright, I'm not a chef in any sense of word.  If I walked into a charity event, I'd have no clue as to how well it was organized.  I can't service my own car or furnace or cut my own hair.  There's no way on earth that I could juggle the work of a city planner.
          But I've been reading books since I was old enough to hold one.  I've been avidly writing since I was thirteen.  In the past twenty years I've studied and edited and rewritten thousands of pages of manuscripts.  I've learned to cut and gut and polish a novel until it shines.  I know my strengths and I play toward those.  I know my weaknesses as well and always strive to improve my work.  Writing has become a full time job and one that I love with every image that passes through my imagination and onto the journal, the letter, or the computer screen.  It's become my life's work and a vocation that I value now more than ever.  
         Writing is one of the most transformative modes of creativity and artistic expression in any culture.  When it's done well, there's no end to its influence.  Language, like anything, grows and flourishes when we nurture and prune it. Which is why, when I choose to read for pleasure or for inspiration, quality trumps quantity.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Say it ain't snow

          I've heard the "s" word being tossed around a lot this week. Well, actually two "s" words as the innocuous one usually is the precursor to the other.  After what seemed like an all-too-short spring and summer, fall is rapidly turning to winter here in the Midwest...and with it, snowfall is expected.  We're pretty lucky in least for now.  Some places have over a foot of the white stuff to content with this morning.
          On the outside I'm ready for the onslaught of another season of slush and mush and icy roads.  My woolies are washed and waiting by the back door.  There's a big bucket of rock salt at the ready for the sidewalks and entryways.  I've cleared out all of my downspouts, even though I know one more visit up the ladder will be necessary to clean the last of the autumn leaves from the gutters.  My cupboards are filled with the makings for chili and kitchari and warming soups.  Pumpkin and caramel scented candles blaze on the fireplace, and I've even fired up the treadmill a few times to warm up my core temperature.
          Yes, I'm prepared for Old Man Winter...but in mid-November, there's still a part of me that wonders, "Where did August and September go?" 

          Yet, for me, November has always been a transformational month.  Twenty years ago, on November 9th, I realized that I had the courage to stand on my own two feet in a world that doesn't often respect women who know the power of refashioning themselves as a doorway rather than remaining a doormat.   In 1996, on a rainy November night, I attended my first yoga class and in the process, allowed myself to enter that doorway into a new life that I continue to explore both on and off of my mat.  In 2008, again on November 9th, I left Big Sur for a week-long adventure that brought be back to the Heartland so that I might finish what I had started here decades ago. 
          In the years since then, I've made some tough decisions, thought I was dying of a heart attack, embraced the idea of being in a relationship, then ultimately made the choice to walk away from old patterns of behavior.  Each and every landmark took place in the thirty days in-between October and December.  As you might imagine, I've learned to experience November not only as a month of thanksgiving, but also as a time of personal revolution. 
          This year it's my inner world that's shifting and changing.  I've been working on a new book that demands a lot of focus and emotional energy.  Intertwining stories of slavery and surviving a concentration camp has been overwhelming, so when I'm too weepy to write, I go to the park and hike the trails for an hour or so.  Sometimes I hop on my bike and pedal until my heart races, exhausting the pent-up energy trapped in my chest.  But now that colder weather is settling in for a long visit, I'm anxious that I'll soon become frozen as well...unable to escape all the emotions that rise up in the wake of the writing.  I realize there's a little bit of both characters that has been soundly sleeping in my spirit.  Now that I'm giving Sapphire and Keren an opportunity to speak, I can hear their voices echoing in my perspective of the past. 
          While ultimately writing this novel will be a freeing experience, right now it feels obscure and complicated.  Still, my stalwart tenacity compels me to keep working, to keep moving forward.  The other night, encouraged by an afternoon spent at the park, I wrote the epilogue so that I might know how the characters' lives evolve after the original story ends.  It's bittersweet of course, but in knowing where these lovely ladies will be in 1950 gives me the courage to write them where they are in the novel -- one on April 8, 1865, the day before the battle of Appomattox that ended the Civil War and the other on April 10, 1945, the day before the liberation of Buchenwald. 
          It is a unique perspective to enter into the lives of two girls on the cusp of freedom.  Both have lost a great deal, but they also have much to gain.  Neither of them knows what will happen as the doors to emancipation open to a new life, but any of us who choose to travel along the path of the unknown?
          So as another snowfall is imminent, I wonder, "What will this winter be like?  Will it be a repeat of last year's brutal season?  Or will it be something altogether different?"
          I hope there will be time to visit with friends, sipping hot cocoa and playing board games.  To build a snowman or two with my pals, Satish and Danta.  To spend long hours beneath a warm blanket slowly making my way through the pile of novels that has been waiting for gardening season to end. 
          Perhaps the quiet months will also be a path to solitude and silence.  And perhaps I can embody another "s" word as the inevitable storms arrive.  Each snowflake can become a meditation, a focal point of staying present with whatever is happening in the moment...allowing what is sacred to come forth and celebrate the unseen transformation that takes place deep below the surface as wintertime returns once more.