Four Secrets to Lifelong Friendships

As a little girl in the mid-seventies, I began collecting friendships that have lasted for four decades. Back then, Laura, Sarah, Susan, and I loved nothing more than to grab our sleeping bags and huddle in Susan’s living room for weekend slumber parties at her parent’s house in Chugiak, Alaska.
Volleyball team, 1978. Can you find all four of us?

This past weekend, the four of us caravanned to Sarah’s cabin and enjoyed a slumber party at Big Lake.

It turns out, the conversations haven’t evolved that much, really.  During our slumber parties in the 70’s, the four of us spoke predominantly of boys and bras. This weekend, we spent much of our time talking about boys and bras, with brief detours into children, pets, and the newest evidence of aging as we approach 50.

I’ve been asked how my little group of grade school friends managed to keep our friendships alive and well. Below are my top four secrets to lifelong friendships.

The four of us at Susan’s wedding, 2002.


1)Listen to understand, not to respond.
It’s tempting to give advice when there’s talk of health quirks, family concerns, or career blunders. But I’ve noticed conversation is healing when we don’t, instead taking the time to carefully hear one another and suspending judgment.
2)Make time for each other.
Between jobs, kids, and other obligations, time is at a premium, but we’ve always managed to squeeze time for a cup of coffee or dinner once or twice a year. We’ve increased our group times to four times annually now, and even added an occasional retreat like this weekend’s.
3)Discover new ways to have fun
In junior high, it was volleyball.  Post college, it was line-dancing. Now, we four have swap meets through fall and summer, collecting our unwanted clothes, books, pots and pans, and meeting at my place to trade them.
4)Remember to Thank You
Always. For everything. Because there’s no gift quite like a lifelong friendship.
Thank you, my friends. My life is forever enriched because of you.

Lunching for Lao Literacy

What happens when you take four juvenile justice professionals, combine their energies with several enthusiastic juvenile delinquents to create and serve up wonderful meals to a caring community in Anchorage, Alaska?

You get a much-enhanced library at the Dong Bang Secondary School in Laos.
Last January, I was in Laos for a week. I brought a few school supplies after coordinating with Pack for a Purpose (PfAP), and set off with Rivertime Ecolodge owner Barnaby Evans to distribute them.
What I saw in the school was amazing. Two textbooks were shared among fifty students in a classroom. Nearby, there was a designated room for a library.
Google the word library and you’ll find one definition is a building or room containing collection of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music. Noticeably missing in this one? Books, periodicals, films, and recorded music.
The solution seemed within reach when I returned to my work as a probation officer in Anchorage and got permission to involve our delinquent youth in stocking the Lao library. One coworker thought a barbeque was the perfect way to raise funds, and had detainees prepare posters to display around our facility advertising Lunching for Lao Literacy. A second coworker skilled in culinary arts volunteered to make the food with the kids to sell to workers and community partners.  A third coworker, a Lao probation officer, helped organized youthful probationers to work at the actual event, and his wife also prepared food for the barbeque.
Our goal was modest. If we could raise $300 to $500 during the Lunching for Lao Literacy by selling meals prepared in detention to the community, it would be enough to consider the event a success. Our juvenile volunteers would learn cooking and other work skills, and Rivertime Lodge’s Barnaby Evans agreed to take pictures of the village children to give back to our Anchorage youth.
Artwork by the boys detention unit at McLaughlin.
On a cold and rainy Friday the 13th (of July), it was time for the barbeque.   Crickets.  A few stopped by to ask me if the event was cancelled.
Event coordinators.
And then ten orders from a substance abuse program that serves our teens rolled in. Twenty five orders from a local utility company rolled in.  And so on.

All told, the Luncheon for Lao Literacy raised $800 that Pack for a Purpose will delegate to the Dong Bang Secondary School’s library. And the delinquent teen volunteers in Anchorage? They got a lot more than cooking skills and community service credit. They learned that one doesn’t have to be wealthy or have their life in perfect order to make a positive difference in their world.

Barnaby Evans distributes supplies to school staff.

Thanks to Pack for a Purpose for the inspiration. Just as their tagline suggests, just a little effort has a big impact.

Making Domestic Violence Disappear: A New Twist on an Old Problem

Today, I watched You Tube make-up artist and sensation Lauren Luke’s public service announcement about domestic violence, titled How to Look Your Best the Morning After.(
At face value, her video appears to tutor battered women on how to conceal their injuries.
As of this writing, her public service announcement has had 638,824 on You Tube. Now, that’s impact.
But not everyone likes Ms. Luke’s efforts. It seems some complain that teens could be exposed to the message about violence in relationships when all they really wanted was another of Luke’s tutorials on how best to use makeup.
Oh, please.
If a teenage girl has a television or a few friends, she knows more than she should about how a dating relationship can quickly turn into a health hazard.
According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 10 percent of high school students report being intentionally struck by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the year prior to the 2009 survey. 
Adults victims surveyed report that 1 in five women and 1 in 7 men who experienced a form of intimate partner violence first experienced a form of domestic abuse between the ages of 11 and 17.  
Domestic violence is best bred in secrecy. When victims believe their experience is unique, they are more likely to blame themselves. And if they blame themselves, they won’t be looking for outside help that could change everything.
Congratulations to Lauren Luke for putting the message on blast in an inventive way. Personally, I’d have loved it if someone reached out to my daughters when they were teens and reinforced the message.
Something like
Dear Teens,
Please know that you deserve to be treated well in your relationships. And you must treat the others with respect and dignity. There’s something very wrong if you aren’t safe with your sweetie, and you don’t have to endure the pain alone. Tell your friends. Text them. Facebook them. Tweet them. And watch Lauren Luke’s video on  You Tube. The whole thing, especially the closing comment.

65% of domestic violence victims keep it hidden.
Don’t cover it up.

For more information about domestic violence or the public service announcement, see

10 Books, Blogs, and Movies that Improved My Writing and Helped Survive Winter

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”—Samuel Johnson

Do you ever feel guilty for needing time alone?

I love nothing more than to read a good book or blog entry, or watch a movie, now that my kids are grown. And the more I read or  listen to how others tell their stories, the better mine become. Here are my top ten from past twelve months.



WHAT REMAINS by Carol Radziwill
(I feel bad about losing Nora Ephron recently)
ABOUT WRITING by Stephen King
TOWNIE by Andre DeBus
HALF A LIFE by Darin Strauss

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett



The Traveling Writer by Alexis Grant
The Simple Dollar byTrent Hamm
Zenhabits by Leo Babauta              
49 Writers    
Milk and Midnight by Terezia Toth
The Badass Project  by Jon
Make a Living Writing by Carol Tice

Dr. Oz Web Blog
Gluten Free Girl
Alaska Writer by Susan Sommer  (see my interview with Susan at

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Project Nim
Rum Diaries
The Double Hour
The Descendants
Crazy, Stupid Love

Being Flynn

What’s on your list of recent favorites?

Stay tuned for my interview with author Lisa McKay in a few weeks.