“I see you!”

What are you seeing?








What do you think you see in this wintry window?

The other night I watched David Feherty interview former President Bill Clinton on the Golf Channel. They obviously talked a bit about golf, but Feherty’s interviews are so interesting because he covers a broader spectrum of topics with his guests.

One topic they covered was the work funded by the Clinton Foundation, which is working to bring humanitarian aid and economical education/training to areas such as Haiti and parts of Africa.

Mr. Clinton noted that while in Africa his hosts took him up into the mountains, and the roads along the way were dangerously narrow and treacherous at times.

When another traveler approached them his hosts would call out to them, sawabona, which means, I see you.

Instead of the customary greetings we here in America use, such as hello or hi–it was simply I see you.

The response came back, ngikhona, which means, “I am here.” It is more involved than that, however. It tells the other person that you feel you have been seen and understood and that your personal dignity has been recognized.

That’s a rather neat trick, don’t you think?

I had to read more about this, of course. The members of these African tribes go about their day with this personal validation from all they encounter. Everybody is being seen by everyone they meet.

That must feel good.

Back to the interview. Mr. Clinton said he wondered how often during the course of our day, our lives, do we fail to see others because we either don’t want to, i.e., the panhandlers on the sidewalks, the homeless sleeping on park benches, or someone we don’t want in our social group because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc, or because we are so wrapped up in our immediate lives, we can’t be bothered to look another human in the eye and acknowledge them in one tiny moment.

It is a point well taken, and not a comfortable one to pose to ourselves.

I’ve come to realize that journaling is like that. It is seeing yourself on the page. And it doesn’t necessarily go to rampant neediness, although we all have a level of that, but I believe it points us to greater aspirations and deeper self-realization.

Before I finally decided to vacate the standard business world and turn to writing, I felt like I’d become invisible; not only out there among that every day, supposedly normal business world, but definitely to myself. It was not a good feeling. The fact is, I learned that women who approach that 50-something mark, one day find themselves not quite as highly valued in the American workforce. I can’t speak for other countries; no experience. Sorry.

I’m glad to say I finally figured my way out–the hard way. If you aren’t living your days doing the thing that matters most to you, you are going to get soooo lost to yourself.

Sooooo . . . . my online journaling class/exercise I signed on for these 6 weeks turned a wee bit a’challengin’ this week. I confess I am behind on some of the prompts due to other required writing I had to finish for a deadline, but I kept up with what the group was called to attempt.

I realized that journaling is greeting yourself on the page. And I’m not a newbie to this pen and paper act, but after listening to the Clinton interview it dawned on me that frequent journal writing provides a chance for me to say, I see me today.

What the hell–answer yourself back while you’re at it. It’s nobody’s business but yours.

And as one of my journal mates commented: “I feel calmer when I’ve finished.”

That is not a bad way to start—or finish—a day.

I’ll close with this:

If I handed you a sheet of paper and told you to make a list of 100 things you like about yourself, could you do it?

The impromptu glass of Sangria and breathing lessons.

Sangria and summer were meant for each other.


“We are always getting ready to live, but never living.” – 

 [Ralph Waldo Emerson] 

The pool area was quiet except for the gentle gurgle of the water filter doing its job from the shaded corner near the hosta bed. The summery ice blue color of the pool’s liner issued a friendly summons to wade, jump, dive or dangle toes. 

On the small patio table sat a large antique silver tray filled with rice crackers and cream cheese/chive spread, freshly baked sweet potato chips and a bowl of honeydew melon, its sweet pale green a stunning contrast to the carroty orange of the potato slices. Lime wedges floated on a thick layer of ice cubes that chilled purple-red sangria in a crystal pitcher as three large-bowled wine glasses waited for someone to pour. 

I would have missed all of this had I let my Type-A Shoulder Demon Angel have her way. 

Our usual Thursday night meeting had been canceled, so my friend Mari called me and suggested I stop by her house around 4 o’clock for a little impromptu pool time. Sue, our other friend who’d suddenly found her evening calendar cleared, was also coming over.  

I hemmed and hawed to myself, remembering I’d already reassigned tasks for myself since our meeting was canceled, and thought I really should pass and stay home and work. Fortunately, It Who Knows So Much Better What Is Good For Me, nudged me: “Don’t be an idiot. Tell her yes.” And somehow—I managed to listen. 

For two delicious, calming, water-cooled hours we three friends munched and drank those beautiful snacks while mingling with that refreshing water in that beautiful pool. We shared childhood swimming lesson horror stories, and before the afternoon was over I came to understand the ultimate importance that breathing plays in the process of learning to swim. (I’d had several years of American Red Cross swimming lessons while growing up; passed every class—and to this day—cannot swim. Slabs of granite can swim better than I do.) 

My heart rate slowed, and that felt good. It had been acting a tad bit hyperactive for the past couple of months, what with my new column and regular deadlines and then the novel coming back with major cleanup required. Do not misunderstand: I love where I am on the path, what I’m doing and all of these opportunities. 

Somehow, though, I forgot about the zit words I was supposed to be gleaning from the novel manuscript, the interview tapes that needed transcribing, the hostas waiting transplanting, the tree line clean-up work, the ironing, the laundry folding and blah, blah, blah. It never ends you know. It never will. 

I watched a leaf make its way from one end of the pool to the other, carried by the filtering current. Steady, calm and gradual. 

When I returned home I told my husband I could not remember how long it had been since I’d done anything that spur-of-the-moment, and it felt shocking to realize that I let task lists and notes/plans on the calendar ride herd over me to the extent that they do. I assure you I do enjoy life and a good many fun, entertaining activities, but I had to give myself a failing grade that evening as I realized how often, and even worse, how easy it is for me to deny myself some ad hoc downtime and fun for the sake of what I think I must/should/have/need to be doing in place of it. I really thought I was smarter than that. 

The extemporaneous pool/sangria moments didn’t interfere at all. I missed no editorial deadline; I did get a few more zit words killed off in the manuscript. The laundry didn’t get up and leave, and neither did the hostas.  

That sacred time we allow ourselves every now and then to throw off the daily numbered task list sitting on the kitchen island is the best gift we can give ourselves. That Emerson guy was so dang smart, wasn’t he. 

Thanks, Mari, for reminding me how easy it really can be. Maybe next time I can practice my new breathing lessons. 

Mari P’s Delicious Sangria

(as it appears in the Cedar Rapids Garden Club’s Recipe Book) 

1 bottle of Iowa wine (such as White Oak Vineyard Country Road Red)

1 can of Mendota Springs Lime Sparkling Water

Slices of one lemon – or – 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime

Secret ingredient: one box of Berry ‘Juicy Juice’

Put all ingredients in a glass pitcher.

Stir to blend ingredients. Add ice to fill. 

(Additional note from Mari: I used 1 cup of regular grape juice and a fruity wine from The Wide River Valley Winery from Clinton, IA this time.)

Special Vision–not Special Effects


      Tomorrow is Halloween. Some sort of black cat story seemed appropriate. This post is about 3 times longer than blog posts need to be, but I believe you’ll find it justified in the end. It is a true story. Hope you enjoy it. 


          My neighbor’s cats had three full-time jobs: eating, napping and hating each other, but when the time came, Puddy, Sambo and Hal knew what mattered.

        Our neighbor Bonnie suffered from Crohn’s Disease, an affliction that zapped her physical and mental energies. After their son left for college, she and her husband decided to get a cat to keep her company while he was away at work.

        Into their life came Puddy, a solid white, long-haired female cat with celadon eyes and full Prima Dona attitude. Nothing was too good for “the Puds” as Bonnie called her. A fancy collar, painted ceramic feeding dishes, real fur mice toys, pricey tinned food, and plenty of catnip. Puds’ eyes flashed psychedelic green after a “rolling taste” in the weed. Bonnie would spread a small pile of it on the carpet and Puds licked her paws before coating them with the kitty drug and ‘getting crazy,’ as they say. The weed transformed her into Wonder Cat as she pursued her dancing wire dangle toys and furry mice with evil passion. Those wild and crazy moments dulled the edge of daily solitude and delivered welcome fits of laughter for Bonnie.

        Puds frequently stretched out close to Bonnie in the TV room, resting companionably in the warm panes of sunshine through the double deck doors. Even more often, though, the cat burrowed in alongside Bonnie on the sofa, the two of them napping long afternoon hours away in front of movies playing on the television. Soap operas, talk shows and news programs cannot compete with a warm, snuggling animal.

        Bonnie’s deck was outfitted with numerous bird feeders dangling from bordering bushes and small fruit trees, along with bowls of food conveniently placed out there for visiting strays. This is how Sambo entered the picture. He started showing up on her deck every morning for breakfast. Puds watched him through the deck doors, tail twitching, hissing when he stuck his nose up to the screen. Sambo watched back unfazed by her attempts at intimidation.

        One day Bonnie noticed a tear in his ear. Sliding the double doors open she coaxed him inside. The wound was treated, healing soon after, and Sammie–as she called him–and Bonnie sealed a friendship. Puds didn’t approve of this, of course, but they learned to compromise. Puddy moved her cat-nap act into the formal front room of the house whenever Sambo was inside. Bonnie nicknamed it the “Throne Room.” Complete with mahogany furniture and brocade sofa and chairs, it seemed the perfect place for the White Princess. (No boys allowed!) And Sambo never tried. Being with Bonnie was enough for him.

        His beautiful moss-green eyes kept watch on the outside world while perched atop an oversized quilt next to Bonnie on the arm of the sofa. Come nightfall, however, he demanded—and received—egress out the patio doors for his favorite nighttime activities, but he always returned at daybreak to spend the day with her.

        I don’t remember exactly where Hal came from, or why Bonnie gave the young tiger-striped gray male that name. He just started showing up at the deck door each day, inspecting the feeding dish, and Bonnie couldn’t resist, of course. One morning the deck doors were opened and in he came–to stay.

        Sambo had conspicuous eagle talons for claws, and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he could’ve whipped Puds or Hal with one paw tied behind his back, but he never did. I’d like to think they created a silent pact between them, possibly out of respect for the one who showered them with appropriate doses of love and vittles.

        Hal seemed relegated to “adopted cousin” status. He’d curl and respond under the love of Bonnie’s hand, but there was no pillow throne for him, and he didn’t seem sure where he stood in the household. Resembling a young, fun-loving teenager, he often tried to entice Sambo off his perch. Sambo eyed him with a “don’t you do it” green stare, but Hal kept pushing the envelope and finally the older, bigger cat would spring from his cushion, chasing the young punk out through the galley kitchen, around the sun porch, back through the kitchen, finally returning to Bonnie, who enjoyed bouts of hysterical laughter at such scenes.

        Point made, Hal would take up his only real seat in the room–Bonnie’s husband’s leather recliner. Sambo resumed his nap next to Bonnie, the brief entertainment over. But the circus could easily start up again if Hal decided to venture into the Throne Room, only to come flying back out with Prima Dona Puds close behind, hissing and spitting, poised to slap. Hal never really did get it: Throne Room: Puddy’s. Daytime pillow next to Bonnie: Sambo’s. Always.

        Bonnie’s body grew tired of its fight with the disease, and eventually a hospital bed was set up for her in the TV room. The cats took turns sniffing and inspecting this new dynamic in the room, but they never jumped up onto it with her. And then the day came when she no longer needed it.

        Several weeks later after her death I stopped to visit her husband, and he shared a fascinating story with me.

        As Bonnie’s breathing grew shallow the morning she died, all three cats walked into the room, lined up on the floor by the head of her bed and sat quietly looking up at her, and waited. Bonnie’s husband reminded me how those three had hated each other from the time they met and that he’d never seen them sit that close together before. After Bonnie released her last breath they got up and walked out of the room–each going their separate direction.

        The Creator gives animals special vision and talents to comfort, even teach, in mysterious ways that we humans lack for all of our ability to verbalize and rationalize what should be obvious. Puddy, Sambo and Hal put their differences on hold while they gave Bonnie one final gift: peaceful air in which to leave.

True Grit


I came downstairs one morning this past summer to discover this spider web in progress across our patio doors. I watched that little spider work methodically to spread the web over the expanses from one side across to the other. Spider had to spin some far-reaching strands to secure the thing and it seemed such a monumental task, and I wondered why the little critter didn’t pick a smaller, more convenient area for its necessary creation. It struck me as a fitting metaphor for trying to finish a novel and find a market for it.

Two years ago today my writing friend Linda died from cervical cancer. She and I used to meet once a week for what we called writer’s luncheon. We’d discuss (and whine) about our novels, revisions in progress and all that jazz that goes with writing for publication/sale. We’d also exchange calls for submissions and other publishing/marketing stuff. These weekly luncheons were tremendously helpful for keeping the writing energy bolstered.

Every January we chose a word to keep us writing-goal-focused. The last year of her life she’d chosen “persevere” and I’d chosen “believe.”

Linda mailed my birthday gift to me early that year. It was a Christmas table runner with a large picture of St. Nicholas in the center with the word “Believe” bordering the four sides. She died two weeks later.

When a person works from home as a freelance writer, novelist, poet, whatever—it’s hard at times to keep hunkered down into the work. You wonder if anyone is reading what you’ve published—or if what you do with your life matters. Deep down you know it matters to you, but once in a while you need some outside validation—just because you’re as pathetically human as the next guy.

Linda had finished a couple of children’s picture books, one YA novel and one adult fiction novel, but she never found a literary agent who was willing to take her on. It wasn’t for lack of trying either.

Trust me when I say that Lin’s and my writing friendship was pretty candid at times, and it was she who got in my face several years back challenging me to “stop taking on more church committee work, planning more redecorating projects and house parties just so you don’t have to finish your book.” (She told me later she thought I might hit her.) I bought her a dozen roses the following week because she’d nailed it on the head. That’s what real friends do.

I told her I thought she held back too much in her fiction writing; that she needed to inject more of herself into it to make it more tangible. She agreed with me, but she wouldn’t go there. Said she couldn’t. We had to leave it at that.

The “Believe” gel gems that you see in the picture went up in December 2007, the last time Lin visited in my home. They’ve been up ever since.

In memory of Linda Lee Hanson (November 5, 1953 – October 9, 2008)