Chasing Eagles

 eaglesWhen I was in high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Jones, was hated by many of her students. Not me. I loved her. I thought she was wise, and smart, and had enough persnickities to start her own Persnickety Store.

One of the reasons I loved her so much is  she made me believe in my writing. The way she did this was with “eagles.” (She was a staunch conservative and I see this now as subliminal training into the Republican  Party.) If a paper was returned with a gold eagle on it, it meant I was “published,” and she sent the papers out to everyone as an example of good writing. Extrinsic motivation at work right there in Anderson Union High School GATE English.

Flash forward MANY years…

Last week when my agent Rachael sent back my edits with a “GOOD FOR YOU” and “I’m so proud and pleased,” I got all eagly all over again. Gold star. A +. I started planning my first book signing. Boy, was I pleased with myself.

Then I had this conversation.

Ego: Ha! I nailed it.

Higher Self: When will you learn?

Ego: Learn what? Did you not see how she just said I brought the whole book up a level? Where’s the Cristal? Pop the cork!

Higher Self: We have so much more work to do with you.

Ego: Buzz kill.

My best work happens not when I’m trying to impress or seek validation or hunt down Eagle stickers. My best work happens when I’m opening myself up and allowing the story to flow through me from some place far greater than me. I am but a willing servant, a conduit. It’s SO not about me.

When I get all stuck in my ego and think I’m so clever (which is hard not to do when somebody says in one way or another, “You’re such a good writer”), my writing pretty much inevitably sucks eggs. It’s distracting, it doesn’t flow, it doesn’t honor the story. That’s not the kind of writer I want to be.

It’s important for me (crucial, even) to keep myself open and present to each moment as it passes by. To be an observer of the eagle and feel its energy as it soars through the sky serves me better than to covet the gold symbol that says I nailed it. If I can do that, while keeping my world in balance and joy–to serve people with what comes out of my fingertips in a way that makes their life better somehow–then that, my friends, is why I’m here.

The Rhythm Method

DSCN0042My friend Janet sent this to me with a “you go girl” card last week. (She’s such a thoughtful friend. Thanks, Janet.) Can you read it? The guy at the computer is typing “January 11: Still struggling with the novel. Chopped more firewood.” There are piles and piles of wood–and likely no fireplace.

I cracked up. Totally relate to this. In fact at this very moment, I’m “supposed” to be doing my five pages for today and instead “preparing to do my five pages” (read chopping firewood) by writing this blog. You see–I reason–if my schedule is clear, I can write straight on through with a wide open day. It actually says that on my Google Calendar: Wide Open Day.

But it’s really a game I play with myself because more wood will inevitably “need” to be chopped. It’s why they have Na-No-rimo (or the lesser known Jan-no-rimo which I did with my friend Lois who was writing a thousand words a day and I thought I’d copy her) or computer programs that force writers into a daily word count or writers groups with arbitrary deadlines and so forth. We’re all looking for a system, a rhythm method, to help us get our stories told.

And every once in awhile I find it: that writer’s sweet spot. Suddenly, words are just pouring out. I’m knocking out above quota each day, loving the pacing on my story if it’s a first draft, killing my darlings on a rewrite, loving the creative dance. I’m a writer. I’m writing. I’d like to bottle it. I could sell it at writer’s conferences and make a mint.

And then BAM. Time to chop firewood. You can just never have enough. (Doesn’t it feel cold in here? Don’t worry. I got this.)

One Writer’s Place: Day 3

So I hit the send button yesterday inadvertently. My mission was to get photos, add them, take out the line about my camera (though I did want to give a shout out to the nice camera man), but “send” was what went out. Best laid plans.

Here’s the beach of which I wrote. It’s one of those places that’s hard to capture on film it turns out. It lies west facing in a bay which I think is where the grass thing comes from. There are lots of paths like this one.

It’s a very quiet, meditative place and I really wanted to sit right where this seagull was sitting, but he looked so content I couldn’t chase him off.

So instead I went and picked up potentially the best Chinese take out food I’ve ever eaten in my life at this little hole in the wall place that somebody told me about when I was waiting in the amusement-park length line at CVS for my antibiotics (to cure the ear infection I hope to not take on the plane.) There, I found my new mantra for my book.

And I came back to the cottage to do just that.

One Writer’s Place

Having survived the Bourne Bridge Rotary on the way here (what the…?), I am happy to write to you from the Edna St. Vincent Room at One Writer’s Place. As most of you (my three loyal subscribers–Mom, is that you?)know I was selected to come here after going through the application process last year. (Do I get to put that under the “Awards” section of my resume?)

This is only Day 2, but already I must say this is the best idea ever, and I am so thankful to have this space to slog through First Break and let Paige tell her story. Thank you, Jackie Mitchard, for picking me and for providing this type of support for writers. You have inspired me to work towards getting a cabin in the woods where I can do the same for others one day. (Get that, honey, “working towards.”)

An interesting venture, this debut novel thing, and sometimes there just needs to be cricket-chirping silence to do it. That’s what there is here. I’m on the third floor, surrounded by evergreens and sky, with breeze that flows through the windows just enough to make it nice, but not so much it blows my papers all over.

On Day 1, I never left (butt glue). But today, lest I turn into a hermit, I drove down to Paines Creek Beach. My camera was broken when I arrived in Cape Cod, but some nice fellow down at the South Patriot Square Camera shop fixed it for me today and didn’t charge me a dime so now I will go back tomorrow so I can show you this amazing beach. You can walk out a mile it seems and it is only three inches deep. When you look out, it looks like people walking on water. It’s not a straight sandy beach, but is filled with wild grasses and a stream running into it. People sit in little coves or out on their own little sand islands. Not a wave to be seen. Truly unique.

Anybody know what’s up with all the “we make our own ice cream” places on Cape Cod?

Transitional Youth (Young Adult) Resources

The Child Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF)is a stellar resource for parents of children with bipolar disorder. During our early years following Amanda’s diagnosis, I relied heavily on the list serve parents in this organization across the country: they were the ones that told me about NAMI and Family-to-Family, about various docs, about things to watch out for that I hadn’t thought of and gave tons of support.

I continue to look to them as a resource both for my writing and for random questions that inevitably pop up. Our family is proud to be a lifetime member. On a regular basis, they hold chats. Today’s chat focused on transitional youth (18-25) and the special challenges faced by both young adult and parents. The professional at the helm: Cinda Johnson, Ed.D.

As you probably know, I am passionate about this topic and it is the subject of my soon-to-be completed (as in revised 80 billion times over and completed at One Writer’s Place) young adult novel and Amanda’s accompanying screenplay. Listening to this chat today inspired me to pass on resources that Cinda most excellently offered.

Two points really stuck out as “take aways.”

First, the evidence-based characteristic that helps young people cope with mental illness that could happen later in life is self-determination. Cinda gave this definition of self-determination: “Define and reach goals based on foundation of knowing and valuing oneself” (Field & Hoffman, 1998, 2006).

Cinda points out that starting this skill-building early is essential. It seems to me this is a tool necessary for many purposes, mental illness or no. But how to teach this?

“Model it. Help the child know their strengths and barriers.”

One example Cinda gave was gaining the confidence to interview therapists (or any authority figure), a process that takes time and skill-building. The earlier you start teaching these skills, the less you have to jam in that senior year of high school!

The second point. Why not proactively get an Advanced Directive? When children turn 18, parents are not able to help them because of various state and federal laws which strive to effect privacy, but often just result in disaster for the compromised individual. If a child turns 18, gets into a car accident and sustains a brain injury, his parents would be limited in the help they could give that child. But if an Advanced Directive were in place, that could be avoided. (The Advanced Directive is a legal document in which an individual designates another person to make health care decisions if he or she is rendered incapable of making their wishes known.
Just do this proactively for your child and make sure to initiate when they are thinking clearly so they understand the importance of this collaborative process.

Mostly what I liked about the chat was uncovering the mother/daughter team of Cinda and Linea Johnson behind the scenes. It’s like we have new stigmabusting friends! Healing happens when we are able to share and through sharing, help someone else along their journey.

Resources for transitional youth (18-25 years)from Dr. Cinda Johnson:


Summary of transition services for students with IEPs


PACER is the Minnesota Parent Training and Information Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs.


This Web site was built to help you plan for the future.

Adolescent Health Project:

University of Washington project, transition and students with health care needs

Full Life Foundation:

Connecting students with life after high school

Wrights Law: (latest publication on preparing kids with disabilities for life after high school)

P.A.V.E :


Ahh, Sedona. Where New Age meets Naturalist. Where geologist meets Reiki Master. Where Native American tradition weaves with modern culture. Where metaphysical conversation is the norm. What is it about the place?

Maybe it was my high school fascination with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged that draws me here. Maybe it’s the azure sky against the red rock moutains and the way the light plays on both. Or maybe it’s that I just feel a unique blend of creativity, peace and balance in Sedona. It just feels really good.

In fact when you chat with people in Sedona that’s what you find. They came there on vacation and they felt so good they never left. That’s a fairly common response.

That’s the case with our mountain guide, Kurt.

Kurt visited Sedona from Wisconsin 13 years ago and stayed. He knows the land and he knows people. We learned about the indigenous tribes from Kurt as he hiked us to the top of a mesa behind Big Thunder Mountain (yeah, just like Disneyland but better) and lead us in a meditation, followed by a Hopi ceremony. Here we are basking in the glow of our mesa-top sage bath. He explained this is where you take in the “big picture” of life, like the eagle flying high above who sees below. Kurt is a great storyteller and told us about the various tribes that believe this canyon is the beginning of all creation.

We spent my birthday with Kurt and his partner, Mariposa, a Reiki Master and all-around energy guru. Kurt took us to several gorgeous spots and taught us about the medicine wheel while Mariposa made sure all chakras were in good working order.

Each time we visit Sedona it is different. We usually stay at Enchantment in Boynton Canyon and never want to leave. This time we stayed on the creek at the Creekside Inn B&B and were mad explorers. We hit the wineries (Javelina, Oak Creek and Page Springs.) Wineries in Arizona? A little weird and no competition for California, but we did enjoy Page Springs, the subject of a new limited release film called “From Blood to Wine.” Sadly, it didn’t make the top 10 at the Sedona Film Festival so not sure how far that will go.

We visited the art galleries in Tlaquepaque, drove along Oak Creek where snow was still on the ground, visited the Holy Cross Church built into the cliffs, found some new shops we liked and hiked the cliff dwellings of Montezuma Well. There an underground lake was once covered with rock. The Synagua people built their homes in the cliffs and laddered down to get in? Here is one of their homes.

Our favorite restaurants? We were right across the street from Shugrues in the Hillside Galleries and highly recommend the clam chowder, but Yavapai at Enchantment is our favorite! Their food is art.

One of my favorite things was just sitting down by the creek with our new locally made Navajo blanket wrapped around us and watching the creek flow. I could do that for hours. It seems to me that’s how we should live–in the flow. When we start to feel like we are salmon swimming upstream, we need to re-evaluate our choices. In contrast, when we are moving in conjunction with our life purpose, the journey is clear, directed, sometimes shallow and sometimes deep, but directed and synchronistic.

Here’s to happy flowing! Namaste.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

When we made the move north, being close to my Mom was a big consideration. An only child of a single parent, the responsibility of caring for my mom in older years falls on me. While she’s still younger, I want to soak up every opportunity to celebrate life. Our Mt. Shasta birthday get-away was one of those soaks.

We headed out early Thursday morning after school drop with four pillows and 3 bags, and several other ancillary items between us. As we drove north, the gray sky dropped rain making my mom—a bit of a back-seat driver—a little anxious on the roads. When we get in the car, we’re immediately back to 16 and 42. She likes to warn me about “the big trucks, the slippery roads, the merging lanes and whatever else she can think of” somehow not factoring in my 30 years of LA driving which I think should take me out of the “lesson” stage. Since we’ve lived apart for so long it is like losing 30 years of driving credit. Between jumps and gasps, somehow we make it up the highway to Mt. Shasta, still excited about our adventure.

As we headed to the Bed & Breakfast, called the Shasta MountINN, the mountain before us radiated, proud to be wearing her first winter snow. In Mt. Shasta, land of clean air and the best water in the world, skies were blue, temperatures crisp. Innkeeper and friend, David, greeted us and got our bags inside. His garden, breathtaking in every season, showed off her fall colors. With a bit of seasonal remorse, David had “winterized” his garden the day before, bringing in summer’s lawn furniture and getting ready for what seemed like might be a deep snow winter.

“Time for tea?” David asked.
“But of course. Time is all ours,” we said.

We sat, relaxed and talked in the lovely historical home that once belonged to Mt. Shasta’s mayor. Oh, the conversations likely to have occurred from where we sat.

Our next stop was Stewart’s Mineral Springs, a Bohemian mineral bath hangout far from the land of cell phones and flat screens. To get there, you drive past Mt. Shasta, then head out through field and farm, following a white water stream until you hit an area with a one way bridge that you are fairly sure may be facing its last car before the collapse. As you come off the bridge, you see bare butts diving into the creek which that day was 30 degrees. Brrrr. You pass a tee pee used for sweats by a local tribe. (If you’re there on sweat day, you can count on drums galore.) Finding a place to park, and getting out later involves dirt and a thirty point turn.

How to describe Stewarts? Detoxifying. People with names like “Twinkle” helping you. Wrought iron tubs with the sound of the creek coming in the window. The only wood-burning sauna west of the Mississippi that holds about 50 people, some of whom like to stand on their head naked (who does that?) Clothing-optional. Bath, sauna, shower (or creek)—repeat. Relaxing. Renewing. Unique.

After our baths, we headed over to the Spring restaurant where a lady dressed in Indian (eastern) clothes with paint on her forehead like she was celebrating Ramadan and her full abdomen exposed escorted us to a table amongst the trees and next to the creek. A beautiful day for joining nature, a dog was soon up on the deck with us. We watched as he walked in the restaurant, through the kitchen, took a jump in the creek and did the same all over again. Ahh, what different rules here in the land of the spiritual retreat.

After a delicious lunch we headed back to David’s for surprise massages, a nice follow up for two hours of bathing.

Meanwhile, Amanda had started her work day early, ended early and was attempting to time her arrival from San Francisco for dinner with us at The Trinity Café. She was Mom’s ultimate surprise. As a child, Amanda spent time with Grandma alone, but as a teen and now young adult, that time was missing in her life.

Amanda, the organized time machine that she is, arrived exactly at 5:45 when she said she would. I saw her pull in from my window upstairs, waved her up and David helped smuggle her in past Grandma’s room. It was so great to hug my first born and we were like two little kids Christmas morning, pleased with ourselves our plan had worked so well.

We snuck down to Grandma’s room. Knock, knock. “Come in,” Mom said. Amanda steps in and there is silence, followed by laughter and giggles and hugs. “This is my best surprise ever!” Grandma said.

The rest of the time was priceless. Talking, eating, cracking up at Wanda Sykes until our sides ached, eating David’s delicious eggs, veggies and potatoes with toast, walking down Mt. Shasta Boulevard and shopping, filling our jugs up with Headwater water, and just being in each other’s presence.

These are the moments that make life an e-ride and not the merry-go-round.

Celebrating Love in Mt. Shasta

Mt. Shasta was our Big Island this year. One mountain rivals the other with the added bonus that we didn’t have to fly five hours each way. And we got to stay at our new favorite Shasta MountINN B&B again.

Northern California exudes beauty. We caught some of it and added some firsts to our lives keeping in theme with our 2009. (You know, like moving from a city of two million to a town of two thousand—stuff like that.)

Mossbrae Falls was a destination mismatched by its journey. The Falls are water veils that spray out of the side of the mountain covering lush, green ferns and moss with sheer, delicate waterfalls that pour into the blue-green pool below. A peaceful and serene, meditative space, the Falls line about 300 feet of the cliff. In a gracious moment, the sun reflects off the water to create a rainbow that stretches to the creek below. This is a vision straight off the Island and much like the ginger-lined pool we ride horse-back to reach for four hours. Breathtaking.

The hike to get there is also breathtaking—but in a different way. We moved methodically down railroad ties like toy soldiers on a mission. This is necessary because the path is so rocky and narrow and the best way to travel is on the 1.5 foot spaced ties. Not such a big deal? But wait, there’s more.

Trains are constantly using these tracks and we had to get out of the way of three during our mile hike in and out, running once to get to a large enough clearing not to get hit.

From a more relaxed perspective, we saw train tracks again on our sunset dinner train dinner, a smooth ride through the forest while enjoying a four course meal on china and silver. From the prosciutto-wrapped, date-covered almond start to the turtle cheesecake end we savored our meals. The most interesting part was trying to walk down the train after drinking a nice Syrah and not fall into fellow passenger’s meals.

Another first was the Mt. Shasta Lavender Farm. Picture rows of full Lavender thriving on the lap of majestic Mt. Shasta. In the middle of the fields is a Lavender labyrinth which you can walk while drinking lavender lemonade, which mainly tastes like lemonade but looks purple and has a nice fresh piece of lavender in it. We brought gluten-free crackers and almond butter and sat in the middle of the field surrounded by Lavender. Purple, purple everywhere. We picked fresh bundles of Lavender to take home and learned you do not put it in water if you plan to dry it. Just hang it upside down.

We soaked up the hippie culture of the mineral springs and arrived during the sweat lodge ritual so took our baths to the beat of Native American drumming. I’m pretty sure every toxin that dared to reside inside us took off.

We also met a gracious woman who taught us what Feng Shui can do for a home.

Filled with gratitude for our twelve years together blessed by the mountain, we returned home restored and ready for the pre-moving extravaganza.

Life is a Balancing Act


It’s one of my loftiest goals. It is also one I have to work at constantly to achieve.

I’m all about the yin-yang thing. But I’m also talking about “equal parts balance.” Equal parts play and work. Equal parts outside and inside. Equal parts quiet and noise.

A few weeks ago I noticed my son’s Google tracks on the search line of my computer. He had typed in “colleges that teach only health.” Balance apparently is not huge in the mind of a ten year old. They like what they like and want more of that, whatever that is. Take food, for example. We feed him from 3:00 until bedtime, but have to force feed him breakfast. And right now, he’s stuck on Kent’s patties. Last year it was seaweed.

My daughter is twice his age though, and had spent at least a few months at liberal arts college when she took the above photo. In that time, she seemed to have recognize the value of balance in her own life. I used this rock while meditating, gripping it relentlessly in hopes that balance would drip out of it and into my being.

This is not my default setting. My default setting is to move hog-wild toward whatever interests me and not let anything stand in my way. Take gardening. I went through this gardening phase where I would spend countless hours in the garden, planting, weeding, picking and pruning–everything else paused. I’d dream about bulbs and read gardening manuals in bed. I knew every sale at every garden store in town, the Latin and English name of all the plants and became very selective about composting.

Now I’m not saying gardening is a problem. It’s great. The point is in life’s garden, there are a variety of things to enjoy and variety is the key. That’s what makes it a garden. That’s what gives it its beauty.

So from time to time I need to look around and ask myself if things are in balance. And if they are not, I need to get them there.