Wednesday, May 24, 2023

I Don't KNOW How to Socialize!

Yep, that's me in my happy place!

I JUST NOW realized something about myself that I never knew! All these years, (64 now)! And that is, I didn't know HOW to socialize for MOST of my life! Working on it now and the learning is FUN....

As you know, if you've read my blog, I was an "Exxon brat" and we moved all the time, lots of times out of the country. So I had a childhood that was full of some truly wonderful experiences, which included being part of cultures totally different from American culture (the Netherlands where I was born, Japan, Italy, Malaysia, England, and other points in-between), and that brought demands to us children (my sister, brother and myself) that kids who were "born and raised in one place" didn't experience. 

Such as learning to amuse ourselves so that we were "seen and not heard," and learning to behave AT ALL TIMES OR ELSE, which meant, basically folding our hands and being silent if we were in a public place, which was often. Lots of time spent in really excellent hotels between all the moves, which required reeeeally good behavior. 

Mom tells us that strangers used to stop her in the hotel restaurants and comment on how well-behaved we were, lol. Mom had several techniques to make that happen, one of which was the raised eyebrow, another was the stare that could practically kill, among others, like bribery with the promise of new comic books for 25 cents a piece, which worked very well on my sister and me. We amassed a collection of about 300 comic books, which, unfortunately we had to leave behind in one of our moves. Damn, they'd probably be worth a fortune today! You can tell which technique mom preferred, lol.

The huge bonuses of this kind of life, to me, were that I got to visit some of the most amazing museums all over the world, I got to attend foreign schools, so learned different subjects (according to the country and its history and priorities), languages (started learning French when I was 9 years old in a British school), went on amazing school field trips to neighboring countries near the U.K., and learned to LOVE so many different kinds of people and their cultures, saw lands that are very different from anything we have here in America, such as jungles with all the animals and native peoples therein and about, waterways in Italy, maids and housekeepers and helpers who took care of us kids, etc., while mom did the Exxon wife thing which lots of people of that era understand. That included business-based schmoozing wine and cheese parties, bridge parties, outings with other Exxon couples, and basically rubbing elbows and hob-nobbing with others of my parents ilk. We were always put to bed before the parties started, and yes, we did sneak halfway down the staircase to peek at the people all dressed up but were careful not to get caught.

That kind of life didn't include relatives or cousins or much visiting with friends our age (my parents were both only children anyway, so no aunties or uncles or cousins), so we learned to amuse ourselves according to mom's command to go "read or write or draw something!" So we kids got good at all that. 

But what I wasn't so good at later on was knowing what to do when you DO visit someone, like a girlfriend. I had no idea that people didn't just sit around and talk and eat and drink and do grown-up things from which we were pretty much banned, until we came back to the U.S. and moved into a neighborhood where there were some other kids. Because we were sort of banned from the grown-up entertaining, which was fairly formal, we didn't get to see that "everyone in the kitchen" thing that you see on TV (God I just LOVE that, but when I tried to corral my family into doing potlucks at our frequent barbecues rather than the host doing all the stuff, I created complete havoc until they got used to it and I'm not sure I've ever been completely forgiven for that). Though we helped with the chores part of kitchen stuff when we were kids, we weren't invited to help cook or prepare the food. Mom wasn't that kind of mother.... Oh when I grew into an adult, I could host a GREAT party, with wonderful foods, music, and lots of service to the guests, all based on whatever my husband was interested in.

So for a couple of years as kids after we returned to the U.S., we learned to do cartwheels and run around the yard, visit the other kids' homes within walking distance, and be home before dark to set the table and help mom with dinner preparations like that, and clean up. Sometimes chores covered mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, picking up the rotten apples in the autumn, etc. Good work indeed.

NOW that I'm working basically mostly freelance from my home studio, I get to visit with girlfriends, and wonder of wonders, every time I go see someone we DO STUFF! We GO PLACES! It's so much FUN! 

All these years I've visited my mother's home we basically sit and stay put. She talks, we listen. She has some truly great stories to tell, such as when she danced with a king at one of the events.... When we went to visit my grandparents once we were closer to adult age, it was similar, Gammy did all the cooking (she was an excellent cook) and we sat and listened to the other grown-ups talking on the porch. Occasionally Gammy would let us do the dishes in her big old farm sink, though they lived by a river, not on a farm, and I LOVED being able to do that! She had a stool I could stand on to reach it and I liked washing her dishes in the soapy water, while my sister dried, but most of the time she wanted to do the water thing while I dried. Nonetheless, we could hear the grown-ups talking and laughing on the back porch, which was just off the kitchen and it was happy times.

So now, I don't have a lot of time to visit with friends, as I'm always busy doing stuff in my studio (reading, writing, and drawing, you guessed it!), but occasionally I do get to visit, and wow, it's such a SURPRISE! I've been to artist's homes where they invite me into their studio and we spend a few hours making something unique and lovely! WOOT! And some of my nature loving friends get together with me and we go hiking or to a farmer's market and come home with lots of edible LOOT! WOOT!

I also have one special friend who's born and raised close to here, and knows the WHOLE territory and MOST of the people who've lived around here for years and years and she takes me on adventures where I get to visit and meet people I'd never know about otherwise (a complete pleasure), and she takes me to places I'd never know existed around here that are really beautiful, and sometimes we play in her art studio and talk up a storm the whole time. FUN!

I have clients who come to my home to work with me on commissioned pieces of art for their Lovies and that's one of my favorite things to do. Yep, we have snacks, and tea or coffee or water or wine, and yep, we talk up a storm, while we work on the designs together, which is LOADS of fun. 

I think I finally understand what socializing can be like. You don't just go sit glued to a chair, you DO STUFF together! Who knew?!

I didn't know I didn't really know how to do this until it occurred to me the other day that I've been working so hard for so many years I didn't realize my focus was totally on accomplishment, and I'd left out the magic that can happen when you just go have some fun with somebody.

So now that hubby's retiring, I'm having fun building in a little fun that is NOT related to work. Who knew life could be this way?

I think I like it. A LOT.

It's very strange growing up "an Exxon brat," always the "new kid on the block," and hauling around these behaviors that other kids haven't had to develop, (similar to military families who are constantly moving), and I'm so delighted to be discovering this, even if it is a bit late. Hey, better late than never, eh?

The catalyst for this realization was, among a few other things, reading John Denver's autobiography, called Take Me Home, which turned on some lightbulbs when I saw so many similarities in his father's military career, his mother's devotion to his father's career, and his own reclusive behaviors (music, tree climbing, dreaming, and reflection) plus the very familiar urge to keep on moving because that's familiar. It's what we know intimately from a very young age.

I'm a bit envious of people who "belong." For me, home is everywhere I make it. For others it's always been something known. I find this fascinating and love to hear stories from people who are born and raised somewhere. So many of those stories are so very sweet and heartwarming.

What's your experience of socialization when you were growing up? Do share your stories! I just LOVE a good story!

Love and hugs,


LITTLE UPDATE - I need to express my heartfelt thanks to all in my current community who've surrounded us with good wishes and many truly amazing and much appreciated recommendations as Rob and I go through our "year of collecting quotes on home renovation." WOW. So many people have referred their friends, family in the businesses, and experiences to us, and I feel that after some  26 years in this community we're enfolded, accepted, and loved. Thank you so much from the old new kid on the block XO!


Friday, May 12, 2023

Yes, WOW, the SHOW!!


Kind of phallic eh? Yep, that's where life "comes" from.
No pun intended, but sweet and amusing nonetheless.
Photo by Sweet Jess

The SHOW at State College Framing Company and Gallery was WONDERFUL for so many reasons!!

I'll put up some photos of my part here, and will post some more of the partee itself, which was so much fun, and wow I met so many wonderful people plus saw some I hadn't seen for quite a while, especially during the Covid times.

Jessica's Introduction Wall 

We had several artists exhibiting at the same time, plus two book authors doing signings, so the audience was mixed and there was so MUCH for them to experience. It was a really nice exhibit because the audience really did mix and they really did look at all the magnificent creations and the talk, as I experienced it, was largely related to the various sections of the exhibit, which is refreshing, as I've been to gallery shows in California where all they talked about was themselves or gossip around town and no one looked at the ART!
2nd wall walking through Jess's photo exhibit.


Jessica's photos are interesting. What was fascinating was talking with people viewing them and hearing their interpretations. The one on the left is a very powerful image of a woman in chains, red and black. When I was working at the Gallery with Jeff, who helped me choose the frames, he said, "I think most of us know what it feels like to be chained in some way," and I said, "Yep, Tears for Fears has a song about that and it has always been very special to me." We agreed that we both just love Tears for Fears. If you're not familiar with their music, definitely check it out.

Then later I was talking with a woman who decided to buy a print of that photo. She described to me that to her it means "freedom in motion." And it was fascinating to me that she could feel freedom despite the chains, but she said, you see the movement...she's not trapped, she's moving, and expressing who she is in that moment, not necessarily trapped or forced at all. Wow, I loved hearing that interpretation, especially as the quote that was chosen from Jess's books to go with this photo is, "We're just spirits be-in human." Jess taught me so many things in our book, Letters from Celestial Jess, Afterlife Messages from My Daughter.

Each of the photos in the exhibit has a quote to go with it from one of the books, Coming Alive after Death, Recovery from Grief, and Letters from Celestial Jess, rather than a simple "image title." So going through the exhibit is rather inspiring as you read the quotes and view the world through her eyes, as well as your own. Who knows what stories the images will tell?

It'll be up through about the first week of June or so. Go explore the Gallery, best ever place in town for framing and special photo needs. Thank you to John McQueary, and Jeff, and Kevin for your guidance and talents. I'll be back for more project work on the book illustrations. 

THANK YOU to all who attended and all who took the time to chat with me and buy our books, and all the other wonderful artists, I felt in such good company!







Friday, March 24, 2023

Come and See The SHOW!!


Godbeams by Jessica Novak
Sometimes we have the good fortune to witness something reeeeeeally beautiful, and if we have our camera in our hands we can capture it and share it, this moment in time. My daughter did just that, ALL THE TIME! She was a professional photographer, and when she passed in 2015, I inherited her legacy. It was several months before I knew it. I'd inherited her computer and several external hard drives and I was so in shock over her passing that I couldn't look at them until many months after she'd gone back to True Home. When I did look, I found myself absolutely mesmerized by the beauty of her photos, thousands of them. 

The beautiful Andes mountains from above.
Jess traveled all over the world, first on long, long hiking and camping trips here in beautiful Pennsylvania, then all across the U.S. on a road trip, with a couple of trips to Brazil and Mendoza, in Argentina, South America, and wherever she went, her camera was like an extension of her body. She was never without it.

Sullivan Run, PA.
Nothing was too big or too small to capture her attention. She was an observer. And a teacher. A lover, and a seeker. A free spirit, not to be confined, always moving, always dancing, always celebrating the beauties of life, and sometimes a witness to the tragedies, but never capturing them without hope.


This photo that she took is a great example of her observance of humanity's violence surrounded by the peace and promise of sweet Nature. She got very deep sometimes, with just one single, simple image. This one speaks volumes to me. I can hear the gunshots, and feel the crazed drunkenness of the shooter(s) protesting the limitations of their lives. I can also feel the steady, innocent, sweet growth of the soft ferns, one of Earth's oldest plants, surrounding it. Embracing it. Eventually they'll cover it. Eventually the sign and its violence will deteriorate and Earth will win with her beauty and her growth.

The Promise of Life Unfolding

So I sat, looking through her photos and thought to myself, Wow, these should not be left hidden, never to be seen. They're way too beautiful. And I wasn't sure what I would do, but that is when the desire to do an exhibit of her photos was born. Welp, we're there! It's happening! WOOT!!!! Some of my favorite people where I live are the ones who are connected to art. And recently I received an invitation from John McQueary, the owner of The State College Framing Company and Gallery, to host an exhibit of my late daughter's photos.

His timing couldn't have been more PERFECT. So I jumped at the chance to share some of the beauty my daughter captured so that you can enjoy it too.

Welp, WOW, I had no idea WHAT I was getting into. I've done shows of my own work, beadwork, artwork, etc. but I'd never done anything FOR someone else, especially when they're not here in person to say yea or nay to decisions made. Soon after I accepted his invitation, I began to look through her photos to choose which to frame and display, which to enlarge, and made the first appointment to see John to start planning. In between the time of the appointment and the planning stages of this show, I sat up until dawn several times looking through thousands of her photos, trying to choose which ones to share. Oh my gosh! It was hard to whittle it down to just a few! She had pop-art, she had graffiti, she had waterfalls, landscapes, plants, sky, animals, birds, just EVERYTHING! WOW! 
We can go anywhere!
So the first hardest thing about getting ready for this show was c h o o s i n g. I hope I've done a good job and it'll be fun for you to see. I've chosen close to 30 of her photos that will be framed or enlarged as canvas wraps (you can pop a frame on those if you choose or hang them as they are), and will have a portfolio of additional images you can choose to have prints made from, any size you like, PLUS we'll have a digital photo frame showing about 200 of her gorgeous images for your entertainment. If you're not familiar with digital photo frames check them out, they're a true delight in your home. Also make a great Christmas present if you load them up with family photos and such.

The second hardest thing was choosing the titles for the photos. I listened, as I always do, to the guidance that comes when I'm feeling quiet and peaceful, and I felt nudged to go open the books I've written about our experience - life with Jess, her sickness and passing, which was totally DEVASTATING to me for a number of years and my RECOVERY, which DID happen and continues to happen each and every day and night, along with her guidance and love and abiding presence, though it's different now. Softer. But the love that comes with her presence is intense, and so, so beautiful. Wonder if she'll show up on show night and mess with the lights, I'd laugh right out loud if she did!! She just might, she's still quite spunky and has quite the sense of humor. But she'd never do anything to frighten anyone. They play with our technologies you know, the spirits, because electricity runs on a very high vibration, like they do, so they can easily connect. There are hundreds of stories from bereaved people about how their lights flicker, and by my troth, I SWEAR, JUST NOW, my light started flickering in my studio (where I'm writing this) like mad crazy. Welp, I got up and got a new light bulb and changed it, but, isn't it just a bit curious that it would flicker now, while I'm writing about her show? Giggles on that.

So with the titles I felt compelled to go to the books I've written - Coming Alive After Death, Recovery from Grief and Letters from Celestial Jess, Afterlife Messages from My Daughter, and choose some quotes, either directly from Jess or from what I've learned from her during this journey of life, and I matched the quotes with her images. I think we pretty much did this together. I truly feel we still work together, though it's not quite as I might have imagined had she not passed when she did.

We go up and we go down, up and down, like life.
Jess has been nothing but purely inspirational in all she's taught me both during her life here on Earth and afterwards. I hope the show will reflect that for you too. Inspiration and celebration of all good things and appreciation and insight and trust that the bad things are but stepping stones to the good ones.

My girl doing some of her favorite things, phone, wine, cigs, writing.

I do nothing by myself, and am so appreciative of the guidance of John McQueary, Jeffrey Muthersbaugh, and Kevin Reilly at The State College Framing Company and Gallery, as well as Peggy and Mark at M&M Copy Services in Bellefonte, who helped me design the bookmarks and takeaway cards that will be available for free!

Setting up a show is a process, as Kevin explained to me, and I'm so excited to see it come to fruition and for you to experience it. Several other beloved artists will also be in the spotlight, including:
Jennifer Tucker and Gerry Lang - photography
Lena Thynell - Watercolor
Susan Nicholas Gephart - Pastels and Oils
Elli Groninger - sculpture
Laveta Piemme - author and jeweler - 
Jennifer Berghage - author and jeweler
Jess Novak - photography

Come and see us April 22nd (Earth Day!), from 4-7 to enjoy wine and snacks and hugs or air-hugs, and soak up a wonderful experience. Exhibits run through June 10th if you have other plans or are feeling a bit Covid-ish.

Note: Laveta's book is one that EVERYONE can benefit from HUGELY! It's called The Peaceful Eye of the Hurricane, and I for one, am loving it and CAN'T WAIT TO MEET HER! 

All the loves to you! Thank you for your patience with my absence from social media as I set all this up! Stay in touch XO!



Monday, January 9, 2023

Honor and Celebration of Sweet Jess on Cupcake Day 2023


Fern at Eagle Creek by Jessica Melinda Novak

So today is Cupcake Day again. It's been a gorgeous, peaceful day, and we've been blessed with some much welcome sunshine, which is rare in what has become what I call "State College Seattle," with all the clouds and rain and wet and mold and lack of sunshine. For someone who spent many years in my beloved California, the sunshine state, it never gets easy going without that golden light, so when it comes wow, I just love it. Especially today.

On this Cupcake Day I'm celebrating the life of my daughter, who was a professional photographer while she was here, and so the first photo I'm sharing is her observation and capture of the lovely fern above, which is like a smile and embrace all in one from our mother, Earth. Nothing was too small for Jess's notice, nothing too big. This one I will have printed and framed and I will hang it in my studio, in celebration of all that is beautiful, and in celebration of seeing the world for a moment through the eyes of my child, who is now a Celestial being, as we all shall be someday, when the time is right.

My ever so favorite photo that Jess took.

So while I was pulling together the photos for this post, this one (above) came up on my computer, which shows her approval and happiness for today, for my celebration of her life, and for the beauty in our world, which is all around us. It is my very favorite photo that she took, so absolutely perfect. I did have this one blown up and framed it at State College Framing Company. They did a great job and it makes me smile and fills me with love every time I look at it in our home.

Another photo Jess captured at Eagle Creek in Portland, Oregon.

I have a folder called "Jess's Green Photos," and it's composed of some of the Nature shots she took on her road trips and hikes. Soooooo beautiful. This is one (above) that is so satisfying to look at because of the composure of ferns, the delicacy of them, the softness, and I especially like it because behind the fern is the darkness. We all work to balance the light with the dark, and she knew that, and liked to capture images that depicted it. It's within and around us all. It's our challenge in life, to find the balance and acceptance of both the light and the dark.

And here's another one. This one always pulls my heartstrings, very powerful image.

Oh so poignant.

This image that Jess took pulls my heartstrings because she captured innocence and trust facing adversity. That is us, isn't it? And when the sun comes out tomorrow, many of these blossoms will still be thriving, yet others will be gone....

One thing I decided to do today for this post was open our book, Letters to Celestial Jess, Afterlife Messages from My Daughter, and see where I land. I knew she would put me at just the right place for us all. And I landed on page 181, where she tells me "Trust the process Momma," and she's talking about the process of LIFE itself. I've learned to do this, and it's so wonderful, though sometimes we don't understand it or "trust" it when crazy things are happening. As we progress through our lives and Earth adventures we realize that we are exactly where we're supposed to be for what we need to experience, age helps to bring about that wisdom. Her advice, as usual, is right on target. 

It's okay.

I've come to realize that with this "gone-ness" of beloveds gone to True Home, it's okay. It truly IS okay. There's something right and good about it. We come from True Home, we go back to True Home, however we define that, and there, we go on to have life and adventures that boggle our limited human capacity to envision or understand. So we celebrate her life and adventures both here and where she is now with a little cupcake, a song, and some celebratory Cupcake wine. I'm sure she's with us when we do this, pouring her love into us all. XO!

My Love doing what she loved best.

Cheers to all on their new journeys. Cheers, comfort, and peace to all still here in our Earth adventures. 

May your hearts be filled with the love of your beloveds both here and there and everywhere, and trust in your own adventures and experiences.

Celebrate lives well lived. And continue to celebrate and immerse yourself in your Earth journey with all your heart, because all IS well. 


Monday, December 26, 2022

How I Discovered Santa IS Real!

Nature Santa

Once upon a time, long ago, (1994), I experienced some things in first marriage that led to a rather large and beneficial fork in the pathway of my life though I didn't know it at the time. I had believed in my little family and all its members, loving them with all my heart, all my tasks, work, play, joys, and sorrows. I was all in.

But the marriage went belly up.


So I set about the motions of divorce just before the holiday season. Goodness, what a list of things to do! Find a house that would be okay for me and for my children, find a job that would support us, figure out what to take with me (typewriter and computer and medical records and some music CDs and a couple of 13" TVs, my books and pictures on the walls, a couch, my car, but not much else). I lost so very much. But I gained so very much, and that was not expected, but I guess Fate had a hand in it, and Destiny too. And that's where the magic begins.

I started out with $5,000 dollars, no job, and very little else except for my very nice pair of brass balls and a lot of gumption and found a lovely little blue house to rent that was built on the side of a mountain. Evergreen is all mountains and very beautiful, all pine trees, oh so lovely! My kids shared a room. I inhabited a room that was about 8 x 10 feet with a window that of course, had a gorgeous view of the mountains and pines. I put my twin bed in there, bought bunk beds for the kids, and we shared the one closet and one bathroom. It was our safe place. PEACE.

No chaos, just spaghetti and puzzles and finger paints and hikes all over God's territory in those mountainous parks and it was magic when my kids were with me. The little blue house had a small sun room with floor to ceiling windows on three sides and we LOVED that room! Because in Colorado you get a LOT of sun, though it's not warm most of the time, it's bright and beautiful. So we mostly lived there together with the kids going to their father's weekends and some afternoons or evenings when I was working.

It started getting close to Christmas, and when I went to pick them up from after school daycare one day, their caretaker asked me if I was "ready for Christmas." Hm. I told her the truth. We had had to "clear" who could pick up the kids at daycare after school so the caretakers knew the situation, and I just mentioned that it would be an interesting Christmas because I couldn't afford a tree or presents this year. 

Santa IS real!  Read on....

Well, here comes the magic. Around Christmas Eve it was cold and we did have some ice and stormy weather. I had my children for the weekend. We were together for two whole days without work and that was all I cared about mostly, being able to spend time with them. That evening, our doorbell rang. I went to open it and found, to my surprise, my wonderful daycare worker with her strong burly boyfriend standing outside my door with a Christmas tree! WOOT! WOW! They had driven something like an hour through stormy weather to bring this tree to us in the back of his lovely truck!! They brought it in and explained to me that some people they knew were traveling so had done their Christmas early and put their tree on the curb and it was still quite fine, so they brought it to us! WOW! 

They left to get home before the storm got any worse, and I hunkered down with my kids. The fragrance of the tree was fine indeed. I didn't have any decorations, but we did have popcorn and we did have cranberries, so I sat with my kids on the couch and we made popcorn strings and cranberry strings, a silver foil star for the top, and some paper circle chains. It was lovely!

After they went to bed, I was near to panic about not having any presents for them that first year, but I remembered the stories my grandparents had told me about celebrating during the Great Depression and the war times. During those times they received, if they were verrrry lucky, which they were, oranges and nuts in their stockings and THAT was Christmas. So I went into my kitchen and collected the two oranges I had, and some peanuts and put them into my children's stockings, which I had brought with me from the other home. 

I didn't have enough to put into my stocking. 

So Christmas morning, when we woke up, I had my kids next to me, one on each side of me on the couch. I gave them their stockings and told them the story of my grandparents. My son, so young, said to me, "But Mom, you don't have anything in your stocking!" And he started giving me some of his nuts and orange. Oh my heart melted. Wow. (He's still that way, very insightful and giving.)

Santa appears in many forms!

So here's the discovery: I learned a BIG lesson during that time. The SPIRIT of CHRISTMAS and SANTA CLAUS works THROUGH PEOPLE. Just like God. YES, it's VERY REAL INDEED!!!! For us, that year, the spirit of Santa came through the kindness of the daycare worker and her wonderful boyfriend, as well as my son's kindness and generosity. I realized that WE are the channels for this gorgeous expression of giving

You can be any kind of Santa you want. 

The older I get, the more joy I feel from contributing to those in need and those who truly appreciate what I can share and provide for and with them. 

Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus, and though we might not see him, we can feel his spirit oh so strong and WE can give it wings.

Santa based on an old chocolate mold. Mmmmmm!

We don't have to wear the suit; we don't have to spend a fortune, it's the little things that count the most and sometimes that's being with the people we love and sharing the simple things, as well as telling the stories, the stories of our lives and loves and learnings.

Namaste. Many blessings and happy holidays to one and all XO



Saturday, November 12, 2022

Laughing My Ass Off, Hope You Will Too!

There's a hilarious story behind this cake, read on....

I've not laughed so loud and so long in many years, but tonight I did. It is so funny I just have to share it with you.

This is a LOVELY cake. It's what I call my "Dr. Seuss" cake. And here's why:

My dear brother was born in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Yes, we've lived in many exotic and wondrous places, and this one was very special. A tropical land, where the jungle stole my heart along with what I called "chocolate people" because I was only four years old and I loved the dark skins of the locals, (still do).

My Dad was a civil engineer, designing all manner of wondrous things, and he worked not far from Kuala Lumpur, and Petaling Jaya.

While we lived there, my mother had "house helpers," who did all kinds of things, more than cleaning, they did cooking and childcare and put out sulphur around the house to kill the anaconda snakes that could eat small children, oh and the cobras too!

Our housekeeper was called Ah Ho, and she had hair that reached the ground it was so long, which she washed in a red bucket and my sister and I used to love to watch her wash her hair. She was not young, not old, fairly spry, and very helpful to my mom.

So came the time that Mom asked Ah Ho to make a cake. Welp, she did, but Mom wasn't all that specific with instruction, so Aho put the frosting on with a fork. Oh my! That was not done! It was unacceptable indeed! "We ice cakes with a knife and swirl the frosting just so!"

This is how a cake should look once the frosting is swirled just so.

And if you do a good job, it has all kinds of smooooooth swirls with little tips, all just right, according to my mom's teachings.

Well, tomorrow is my brother's birthday, so I volunteered to make his very favorite chicken, rice, and green bean dinner, along with his ever so very favorite strawberry cake. Now you must understand, he fell in love with strawberry cake when he was just a wee one, and now he's going to be 59! And Mom's 88! And much as I'd love to have a parteee at our house, Mom doesn't go out much anymore, so Dave will celebrate his birthday with her at her home.

So I wanted this year to be all about him and all about Mom. His favorite dinner is cooking and I'll deliver it tomorrow, but the cake is another story. 

My husband usually does the shopping these days, and I put on the list the ingredients for the cake, and he did his level best to bring home all the necessaries. But if you know anything at all about Pillsbury strawberry cake, you know it's got not a lot of real, natural ingredients in it, and it has a verrrry distinct fragrance. We all tease about how many chemicals we're ingesting once a year when we eat it, but it's special because David loves it!

So I made the cake mix that my wonderful hubby brought home. I knew the box didn't look right, "all natural ingredients," hmmmmm.

Wonderful, but "all natural ingredients" isn't what my brother fell in love with.

Nope, when I make my brother's cake every year, you can first smell it when you cut the mix open. Then the whole house smells "pink." THEN the whole neighborhood smells PINK, even with all the doors and windows closed! So I said to my husband, "This isn't right. I can't smell it!"

Well he is so wonderful. He said to me, "That's all they had, they didn't have Pillsbury, but I'll go to the stores and see if I can find something more fragrant," and off he went. (Who has a husband so willing, so wonderful? I am blessed indeed. He's totally in on the whole thing.) So off he went after telling me we could just toss out this all natural non-fragrant version and try again. I padded outside in the rain with my slipper socks on and tapped on the car window just before he left on his quest for truly chemically laden smelly strawberry cake mix. "Honey," I said, "how about you pick up a couple of butter cream frostings and we can finish off the cake I'm making and you can have half and we'll give the other half away?" 

"Okay!" he said, because he loves cake.

So he returned a while longer than I thought it might take him, because he had to go to three stores to find the suitably chemical batter mixture, and though it wasn't Pillsbury, it did promise some artificial ingredients. 

See, the artificial ingredients are what makes this cake sing all over the whole neighborhood!

So I washed all the accoutrements and started again, setting aside the all-natural cake and diving into the real thing. Though it wasn't Pillsbury, it comes a close second, and pretty soon the pink fragrance started wafting through the house the way it should. I wondered whether I should put the fan on so the pups wouldn't be besieged, but they didn't mind it.

Just a short while later, TA DA! It was a very pink cake, which rose to divine heights just as it should, and I put just the right icing on it, but I was stricken with an IDEA.

This celebration is all about my brother, his birth, which was in Malaysia, AND the memory of sweet Ah Ho icing my mother's cakes with a FORK. So I will ice this cake with a FORK! I wonder what will happen! How will it come out?!

Welp, I took a fork and started not swirling, but doing the thing, and YES! It was MARVELOUS! It was FANTABULOUS! It was INSPIRED! Oh my gosh I laughed so hard as I was doing it. 

And here you have it, my Dr. Seuss/Ah Ho inspired cake, celebrating my brother, the place of his birth, and my sweet mother's challenges living in a different country with different customs and the blending of both.

What a fork can do to a cake!

I will explain it in his card, and I would hazard a guess they'll both get a hoot out of it and lots of laughter. And I just might always ice my cakes with a fork in honor of my brother, my mother, and the challenges we all encounter, which can bring about much joy indeed.

So that's our story for tonight. Sweet blessings to you all and may you always have your cake and eat it too.



Thursday, September 15, 2022

Comfort Food, Why?

Yep, homemade chicken pot pie
is comfort food indeed xo

I learned a big thing today, or maybe I was just reminded. I will tell you our little story and how it turns out, in case it might be a bit of an eye-opener for you, and helpful in some way. 

My beloved son, who's recently moved to Maryland with his brilliant wife, who's finished her on-site education at Penn State so she can practice law in the U.S., spent a lovely year or so in town while she was in school. She already has her law degree and has been practicing for years in Argentina, but when lawyers trained outside the U.S. move here, they have to supplement their international education of course, and also pass the bar if they choose to practice full-out. So his wife is not only working full-time in a law firm in Maryland now, after securing her credentials yet again, but aiming to pass the New York bar in the next year, go Baby! She's aces, and will do well, I'm sure, though it's one heck of a LOT of work. 

While they were here, we were able to have barbecues and visits and bring them chicken soup when they came down with covid. It was like water to a person coming out of the desert to be able to LOVE them with food and visits after their absence for so long in South America. I need my kids. I need their hugs. I need their love. And I need to actively LOVE them, which I do with these little things like food and visits and beeeautiful, tight hugs, not to mention the pure pleasure of looking into their eyes and seeing their smiles and hearing their stories.

So they've been out of state for a few weeks as they both settle into new jobs with bright futures. Yes, they're storing some stuff in our basement for a little while, so it's not truly an empty nest yet, lol. Though they're only a few hours away, we have two dogs and traveling overnight or for a few days to visit them is super expensive boarding our two pups, plus my hubby is still teaching at the University, retirement about a year away, so I'm saving up for a visit in the spring, which sometimes seems a very long time away, and very much looking forward to more visits as Maryland is a terrifically fun place with lots to do, plus from there you can visit D.C., where we have more family, and other fine cities with lots to do. 

They had a friend's wedding in town scheduled for a few weeks away, and before they moved out of state, we said to each other, "We'll see you again next month," though I still cried a few tears at having them leave town. "Ciao, ciao!" I said, blowing kisses as they drove away, which we always did, but this was the last time they'd be so close, as they weren't headed to their home in town but their new one three hours away. All good. I am happy they're in the U.S. rather than 5,000 miles away, as they were for eleven years.

This afternoon I got this news from my Lovie, and I'm so neurotic, it sent me spinning (doesn't take much to do that these days!). I'm an emotional person, perhaps somewhat because I'm female, perhaps because I'm a mother, and perhaps because I'm a mother with a dead daughter. My lens on my worldview is forever altered because of that death. And sometimes I'm not aware of how narrow that lens can become. Thank goodness for small blessings and big hearts.

Welp, we (me going into happy mother mode) had planned lots of stuff even though it was a quick visit and they said, "Don't do anything special, we're easy guests." They planned to be here on Friday night, quick dinner, quick breakfast Saturday morning, wedding all day/evening Saturday, and back to their home in Maryland on Sunday. I was thrilled to get to see them. I generally just work in my studio a lot, but I went into total MOTHER mode, planning to wash floors with pine sol (just love that stuff) clean bathrooms, put flowers in the spare room where they'd stay, clear out all the "storage dump stuff" we'd allowed to pile up in that spare room, and make BBQ ribs for Torey Friday night (it's his favorite) and chicken for his wife and me (in case we might prefer those to the ribs), and I looked at 26 recipes for breakfast stuff they might like Saturday morning. The anticipation of a visit is half the fun, isn't it?!

Well the text message I got on my phone today, when we expected them to be here tomorrow, was that Torey's darling wife was suffering allergies and coughing a lot, and she was voice messaging to let us know that and ask if we were afraid of being exposed to something, though she tested negative for covid, and she suggested that perhaps they could stay somewhere else.

I looked at these events through my "worldview lens" and said to my husband, "They can't stay here. Of course they don't want to! They don't want to stay in the spare room because the last time they stayed there they slept with all the lights on because it was when they came home from Argentina to go with us to Portland to clean out Jessie's apartment (my dead daughter). I have some photos of Sweet Jess in there, and a couple of her very special things, and she stayed in that room when she was home "healing" for four months before she died (though she didn't die in that room) - so it seems to be a sort of "Jessie space," though it isn't a shrine. I have pics of the other kids too, and workout machines and stuff. Though even after I set it up I haven't been able to spend time in there because the first time I did try to spend time on my lovely treadmill I burst into tears remembering all the hugs with Sweet Jess when I tucked her in at night. Total meltdown. It was just too much pain to go in there knowing I could never hug her again or tuck her in or cook for her and stuff. That's my "lens." Still working on it....

So after I got the text message on my phone I started spinning out and my rather myopic, sensitive heart went places that generally, only I go, because of my history and experience. I felt dizzy, I was fighting off a major panic attack, and was terrified I would lose my son because of the weight, the memories, the all of it here in this house that I perceived they just didn't want to experience. I've had seven years to find/create balance between the weight, the memories, the panic, the helplessness, and the comfort and love of memories both sweet and painful, but my son walked right into it after eleven years away and those awful nights they stayed here in shock before we all went to do what needed to be done in Portland, where her home was and where she died. They were a huge help. I could not have done it without them. But yep, that was the last time they stayed here in that spare room. "Out of sight, out of mind," and all THAT comes tumbling back when he comes "home" to stay in that room again, I thought. So I thought the message about his wife's allergies was a kind way of them saying, we can't stay at your home. And I thought I would lose both my children, not just Sweet Jess. ACK! I didn't know WHAT to do or say or HOW to handle it at all! (This nearly never happens to me, I tend to be very concise, and I prefer things that way.)

So I thought and thought and took a 1/2 ativan to fight the head spinning anxiety, and figured I would not approach this directly, since it didn't seem they wanted to: it was about Torey's wife's health, not "the spare room." I decided I would have to hide my feelings and just give them an open door to figure out their emotions on their own in their own time, and hope that my son would have some room for me in his heart somewhere so I wouldn't lose him. Even if that means visiting on "outside territory" that doesn't carry the weight of Jessie's life and her struggles and our sadness in this home. They can stay wherever it feels comfortable and I have to be comfortable with that. I can do that. Right?

I charged up my phone and knew we would have a call with the kids after they got finished with work, and I'd worked with myself to get this to a place that gives them "a back door," flexibility, when I really wanted to say, "I need you, please come and be with me."

Welp. Guess what? It was NOT about ME. Hello dear, neurotic Jen!

When we talked on the phone (deep breaths before I called him from the porch outside) he said they'd cancelled their trip altogether and they chose to do that because they didn't want OTHERS to feel uncomfortable with his wife's allergy coughing. 

Oh wow. How generous! How sweet! How thoughtful! How them! I know that's who they are, because they always were, when we visited them, but I had gone into "me" zone. (Heck, I hate when I do that.)

SUCH relief. It isn't US. It isn't Jess. It isn't the horrible thing I was envisioning about death and weight and memories, it's JUST thoughtfulness and coughing and allergies and WOW. 

SO - I feel relieved of course, but wanted to share my story so that we are ALL reminded it isn't all about US. And it is definitely worthwhile to take a few steps back and b r e a t h e before we react from our own sometimes myopic worldview lens. 

Yes, I am still considering moving, to have that "clean page" without all the struggles and weight. Yes, I am very aware of how any appearance of photos and stuff belonging to my daughter might affect others spending time with us, but there's no way I'm going to deny her existence by putting it all away. It's wonderful to acknowledge that she was here, and to tell stories about her love and life. She was, is, and always will be a beloved part of our lives.

But most important of all, is WOW, I was reminded today to open up and step out of my own viewpoint; my kids were being very generous and compassionate about others and their fears of covid, coughs, and general germ phobia, which is understandably rampant these days.

Aren't they just amazing? Thanks kids. From the bottom of my heart. For the consideration of others and for the reminder that I needed to open up my viewpoint. 

I do think there's some truth to my concerns, as the parents in the grief groups have had several discussions about losing relatives because of the pain, and about whether to move or continue to live in the house with weighty struggles - there's no right answer for that one. Some people thrive in a new environment, others have regrets about moving, but one thing we know for sure is that no matter what, this is something you can't outrun. It's something you learn to carry, and it's always going to be a bit of a roller coaster, though I've found the ride gets a little bit smoother and somewhat more predictable and I get better at knowing when to hang on and when to scream and when to giggle and when to just turn my face into the wind and let my hair blow behind me.

The big thing I learned? It's not about me. It's not about me. It's not about me. B r e a t h e. And embrace the beauty of others being themselves. (And yes, maybe move, or enjoy redoing the house as we are able.)

So tonight, after porch talking and much listening and support, my thoughtful husband is making COMFORT FOOD for us, pot pie - chicken, peas, carrots, potatoes, cream of asparagus soup (Campbells) and crust from scratch. (Not a Taste of Home recipe, but good nonetheless.)


 Bon appetit. All better now for a minute, food is love and works like a charm, along with hugs and the anticipation of a visit later, when everyone feels better. Wish I could bring them some good old chicken soup!

And in case you might be interested in those breakfast recipes, check 'em out!

Namaste my Loves

Friday, April 29, 2022

Happy Earth Birthday Sweet Jess!

Me and my girl XO!
Happy Earth Birthday to my beloved Celestial daughter! This is a day that I celebrate for all the times we had together and all the times we continue to have. Namaste my sweet girl! 

I'm not going to put a number on what her age "would be," because I talked about that in the post called Forever 26? NOT. Here's Why.

In the seven years she's been gone to True Home before me, I've learned so much, and the best way I can think of to give others hope and share some of the healing is to refer back to a page I included in my book about our journey, Coming Alive After Death, Recovery from Grief. It is one of three pages that appear in the book and I created them to show the progression of healing from shock and trauma to peace, love, and light. This is the page called COUNTING ALL BLESSINGS - GRATITUDE AND PEACE. May you all find this magical feeling that it really is okay, and we are all truly held in the dearest arms of LOVE at all times, as you go through these journeys with your beloveds both here on Earth, and in the Otherworlds.

You're my treasure, Sweet Jess. I am a buoy that will not sink. I take care of you with honor and dignity. I am strong. The angels are holding me. The angels are holding you. I do this with you. Thank you for your presence and your peace and your love. I feel it. You lived, here, with all of yourself, and for that I'm so glad. You are not cold. You are not sick. You feel no pain. You need no doctors. You're healthy and whole. You're Home, and where else would I want you to be after a job well done, a life well lived? 

You are surrounded by love. I am so honored to have been able to love you. I loved you from even before you were conceived. I loved you as a spirit dreaming of adventures on Earth. I loved you as a babe. I loved you as a growing teenager. I loved you as a young adult. I love you in your beautiful whole spirit form. I loved laughing with you. I laugh with you now. I can do this. I can do this with grace. I can do this with dignity. I do this with love. I carry you in my heart. You are everywhere. You are love. You are surrounded by love. I can hold happiness and sadness inside myself at the same time without conflict. 

I recognize you as an infinitely regenerating spirit. You've had a thousand children, and you will have a thousand more if you choose. You've been married, unmarried, male, female, child, adult, elder, and everything in-between. You've been royalty and slave, free, and encumbered. You have the right to experience here on Earth any thing you wish to experience. We all do.

I recognize and embrace worlds upon worlds of mystery and magic. I do not need to control. I do not need to save. No one needs saving. Death is but a doorway into life of another kind. Death is a blessed friend. Without death, we would have no children. We would have endless perpetuation of ownership and tyranny. Death is our freedom. I celebrate death. Death is birth, the birth of each and every one of us spirits being human.

We are not alone. You have your angels and allies both on Earth and in all of the other worlds. I have my angels and allies both on Earth and in all of the other worlds. Time is ever only now. I have learned to speak another language, the language of the heart. I have learned to listen. I am now able to hear. I have learned to look. I am now able to see. I have learned that questions are safe. And answers flow freely for all of us, directly from our Creative Source, the Source of Love.

I step forward with confidence, knowing that we are safe. We are always safe. We are loved. We are always loved. We love. It is our choice. No one and no entity can chain or bind our love. It belongs to us as individuals. Love is unending. Love is infinite. We are made of it.

I grow and develop compassion. I give. I forgive. I trust in the process. I trust in the beautiful cycles of life. I can laugh and I can cry all in the same day and yet retain my equilibrium. I love my heart. I love that I love. I choose love. Always and all ways. I love my Earth. I love the people around me. I love the creatures around me. I see the spirit in them too. I'm surrounded by love.

We are individual parts of the Whole. We are not separate, but ever, each, of one another. We are One. Like the facets of a diamond, we shine rainbow light from within when we step out of the darkness, into the light.

We are beauty. We are creativity. We are and always will be. We are color and sound and vibration. We are energy itself in all its forms. We are forever.

Let us sing. And in our singing, bring forth magic.


I remember!

Your heart is my new doorbell Momma!

All the loves and all the happies on this day and always!

AND, you want me to tell you how I know Sweet Jess was with me while I put up this blog post? First, I went to my original Word document to copy the section I wanted to post, but every time I tried to input it, the program treated it as an image, which, of course was too tiny to read. I went into the code to remove the image tags, but it didn't leave any text; there wasn't any text to leave in-between the image tags. Fine. We all know that copy and paste from a Word doc into another program gets ugly with dirty code. The thing is, there's no way there's any code related to images in the original Word doc because it's just straight text. Hm....

SO I got my paperback copy of my book and flipped it open, and guess which page it landed on right off the bat. YEP! The Counting All Blessings: Gratitude and Peace page. I chuckled and said "Hi Sweet Jess! Thank you!" Then I held it open with a clamp and paperweight and yes, I had to type in every single word of that section. In doing that I was deeply reminded of how much healing has taken place since the day of her death. And I was also deeply reminded that she is with me every single step of the way, as are your Celestial beloveds. Never doubt it. Where there's love, there's a connection that is timeless.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Why Create A Character List?


Sometimes I can be a real character; can't we all?!

This is my "mouse face," which cracked my kids up to no end over the years, especially when I pull my ears out with my fingers behind them. We used to sit at the dinner table and do this, good times. Sometimes my mouse face accidentally appears when I am editing and or writing and I see something egregious that we really need to fix in a manuscript. There's some entertaining breathing that goes with it too.... Mouse represents scrutiny, according to my favorite teacher, David Carson, with his animal Medicine Cards, and editors have to be reeeeally good with scrutiny. 

But seriously, I want to share a great tip for writers and editors that can make the job of completing a long manuscript (book) SO MUCH EASIER.

As a professional editor and published author, I've worked with various wonderfully creative clients and projects that are vastly different, but the one thing we ALL benefitted from during the creation of these works was a CHARACTER LIST.

WHAT IS IT? Always much longer than you might assume at the beginning. And really a lifesaver at the end of the project when things are complicated and getting all those ducks in a row can be challenging.

WHY DO IT? Oh, because so so so so many thousands of tiny details can go wrong and you might spend hours trying to make them right, such as the MATH in a book (dates, ages, what happened to whom and when, who are the key players, closure on characters as they roll in and out of the story) and much more!

I'll share a couple of examples of what happens if you DON'T have a Character List.

  • The author wrote a manuscript about 140 pages long, a page-turner for sure, and it includes 69 characters. The plot contains flashbacks, so some of the passages describe events from various childhoods, and it includes deaths, pregnancies, and loads of other juicy adventures. I realized that one of the characters as currently written (BEFORE I created the character list) was pregnant for TWO YEARS (cause the man who impregnated her had been dead for over a year by the time she had the baby later in the manuscript), yep, we fixed that! She was so relieved, that woman carrying that babe in her womb for so long.... And another character was somehow able to see with eyes in the back of her head as she fed her baby (strapped to her back because he was just an infant until we fixed that) strawberries and the juice went down his chin. We made him older and took him out of the papoose so the mother could walk next to him so as not to need those eyes in the back of her head to see the juice run down his chin while he was strapped to her back - though all mothers know, and some smart kids too, that we DO have those eyes in the back of our heads, oh YEAH!  
  • If you're working on a trilogy (very helpful to have a list on this one!) you have to make sure the characters are described the same way and how can you hold all that in your head when you're dealing with fairies with silver skin and purple eyes or green skin and yellow eyes and certain powers that other fairies don't have? AND who lives where? They have territories too! 
The Character List is truly one of the most useful things I've ever devised and I can say I've referred to it a million times working through manuscripts and been able to answer questions and solve problems with the flick of a page where that info sits, readable at a glance, as opposed to rereading or skimming through a hundred pages to find out the facts.


Not too helpful to have a straight list of 69 names with brief descriptions. That takes wading, and I don't have time for wading unless I am out with my feet in a stream in the forest. I wanna flip those pages and go "AHA! I've got it! It's right here!"

So a little organization is a Very Good Thing.

To do that you can ask yourself - 

  • Who are your KEY players? 
    • they may often be closely related to other characters whom you should jot down in the description such as spouses, siblings, etc.
  • Next category - Who are your SUPPORTING players?
    • these are the ones that are well-developed in the story but not appearing in every scene, not the protagonists, but important nonetheless.
  • Next category - Who are the ones mentioned almost off-handedly, maybe important to the events as they play out but they only appear in one scene and aren't critical?
    • You can separate these from the main characters but still jot down a bit about them to preserve consistency throughout the manuscript.
  • Last category - Who are the ones introduced lightly in the beginning or middle so they need some closure but they're pretty much peripheral?
    • These might be characters who come in, create a kerfuffle, and may appear later, needing to be dealt with, but if we don't have them on the character list, it's too easy to forget them so the reader's left thinking, "Hm, whatever happened to the kerfuffle guy?"
  • And I have to mention that I have not yet worked with any author who doesn't choose the SAME NAME for more than one character in their manuscript. Yep, sometimes this is important, but it's like caviar, a little goes a long way and there better be supporting players, like son named after father, etc. One of my authors had five, count 'em, FIVE characters (females) with the same first name, and THREE (male) unrelated characters with the same first name. We fixed it. Easy peasy!
Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees. That's why a Character List is so helpful.

The Character List can also save you from introducing someone IMPORTANT waaaay too late in the game (with a character list you can see where to add scenes that are pivotal for an important later appearance to support it). The art in creating a story that holds together, provides emotion to move the reader, satisfaction on all fronts but pulled together at the end, benefits hugely from something as simple as the Character List.

I actually don't need major software to do this and I don't belabor it though you can if you want to. You can do a spreadsheet with several columns of information, but I find that just choosing the categories listed above (and/or other categories as needed depending on the manuscript) on a Word doc saves oceans of time.

Tuck this into your toolbox. It'll be different for each manuscript, and likely it'll be a dynamic document that grows with the development of the story, so you'll need to update it and share it with your author, but its value is priceless!

You're welcome.

Namaste from the Jen who writes and encourages all who have an interest to do the same : ) And do get your material edited. Quality is so cool and satisfying on all fronts, and it makes YOU look so GOOD!!