New Years Resolutions Inside-Out

Happy New Year to you.

How will you spend it?

Some years ago, I created a new tradition for each New Year.  I take a moment to look back at the accomplishments or changes I’ve made the year before and celebrate them, rather than simply focusing on what’s next. As a neurotic, guilt-driven individual, I’m flooded with mental lists of what I should and shouldn’t be doing every day, and it’s not a quality I need to punctuate.

So in a nutshell,  here are the things I’m celebrating from 2012:

Cheap travel to scary places. Alone. 

If someone would have told me when I was young that I would one day travel to Southeast Asia by myself and have the time of my life, I would never have believed it. But last January, I did just that, and made some of my life’s best memories, all by myself.

My friends discouraged me from going on my own.  I have no sense of direction at home, so how would I find my way around in a country whose language I didn’t speak? What if I caught a parasite, or was pick-pocketed? All good points, but I’m too old to wait for the Man of My Dreams, and too cranky to be a part of a tour group.
Turns out, a single traveler gets offered good discounts, more conversations, and sympathy invites from the locals to really neat events.
Have you ever thought about an alternate career you might want to try? Volunteering provides great opportunities to hone new skills.Giving away my time has been more selfish than selfless. I’ve had so much fun as a 49 Writer’s volunteer, helping with grant writing, promoting writing classes, and conducting author interviews.
But it’s been my work as a hospice volunteer that has transformed my day to day life.Spending time with people who are keenly aware that each day, each hour, each memory could be their last has  given me better perspective.

Thanks to the internet, social media, and blogging, I’ve felt more in touch this year with loved ones all over the world, and I”ve even met some terrific strangers. I know how busy we all are, so it means the world to me that you continue to stop by.

Today, take the time to reflect on what you’re proud of from this past year, whether it was surviving a flood,  the death of a loved one, or just limped along for another year. And please feel free to share them. I love hearing from you.

A Holiday Short Story – Excerpt from the Santa Next Door

Merry Christmas!


What’s your favorite holiday memory?  Is it the food, the parties, or the music that you look forward to most each year?

I’m only just beginning to enjoy the traditions. For years, the sound of Christmas music was as welcoming as splashing acid into my eyeballs. It punctuated what I believed I didn’t have.

If you’re alone this holiday season, look around you. There are soup kitchens looking for volunteers, gatherings at faith communities that welcome strangers, and a host of other people around you who may be sheepishly hiding their own discomfort about the holidays.

I’ll be serving up food at the homeless shelter this year, paying it forward for the time that strangers sponsored my daughters and me for gifts when we had nothing.  I wrote the story below which will be available for free on Kindle for five days. If you’d like to read it in it’s entirety but don’t have a Kindle, email me and I’ll send it to you after Kindle’s exclusive promo period.

Thanks always for stopping by. Connecting with you, even online, is a perfect reminder that we’re never really alone.

This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.”
—Taylor Caldwell

Christmas can be a mean holiday for so many people.

People who are single. People becoming single again. People who’ve lost a loved one. People who are broke. People whose families are in all states of disrepair.
 In the family I grew up in, holidays were punctuated by flying plates and the arrival of law enforcement. The single wrapped present under the Christmas tree was no surprise; I would always recognize the giant Hershey Bar with almonds immediately.

The only holiday tradition I’ve stuck to as an adult is falling into an annual fog of depression around the end of October, which begins to lift the second day of January. So when an unexpected knock at the door came a few weeks before Christmas of 1991, I opened it with a sense of dread.

In addition to it being the holiday season, I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, where the combined effect of the darkness and cold in December can flatten the bubbliest of personalities. I wasn’t feeling bubbly; I was in the middle of a divorce and custody battle. In my youth, I traded in my controlling mother for an even more controlling husband: Grigorios- Gregory for short-an older Greek immigrant who made my mom look like Mother Teresa. Had I known a year earlier that nothing good would come of leaving him, I would have stayed put. But the final strangulation in front of our two year-old daughter forced me to roll the dice. I left.

In doing so, I apparently bruised his larger- than- life- ego beyond repair. I embraced the homelessness, the food stamps, the restraining orders as necessary losses that would secure a safer future for my girls and me. I was the twenty-seven year-old mother of two pre-school aged toddlers; with any luck there would be time for love and happiness later on. But there was so much I couldn’t have predicted. And so much of the unpredictability seemed to appear at my front door.

Who could it be this time? There had been so many visits in the past.
Once I opened the door to a female police officer. Gregory was peering around from behind her, grinning like a Chesire cat. She served me with paperwork, saying she needed to remove my two sleeping daughters because their father complained he had been denied visiting them-allowed by court order-for several weeks. Had he bothered to tell the officer that he hadn’t shown up at the appointed visitation times, or called to announce his unavailability?
Then there was the day I opened the door to a public assistance worker. “We’ve got word that you’re working and not reporting your income. And you’re living with a man, and haven’t reported that on your monthly report…Can I have a look around?”
Before I could answer him, he was in my crappy apartment, looking around at my crappy life. Opening drawers. Rifling through closets. “Do you have Swiss bank accounts? Are you working and not reporting the income? …Well whose ski boots are those?” After he compared my large boots to my large feet, he was gone.
Another knock. What did he forget? I wondered.
But it was a different man altogether, and a social worker, no less. “I’m John Lovering,” he offered, kindly handing me his business card. “I work at the Division of Family and Youth Services. There have been reports that you’re abusing your children. I can’t tell you who’s been making the calls, but it’s the same person. I’ll need to take a look at them…can you remove their shirts, please?”
I was pretty sure I knew who that same person was who kept calling the reports in. No matter. Time-limited stress, I told myself. Soon, I would put this mess behind me. Finish college. Get off food stamps before my oldest started grade school. Rent a nice home with a yard for the girls and me.
So whose knock was this, anyhow? Stop with the panic response. I inhaled deeply and opened the door.
Before me stood a tall older man with long white hair and a long white beard. His cheeks were rosy, and his large round belly threatened to pop the buttons of his tight red and black flannel checkered shirt. He was holding a saucer of sugar cookies, which he pushed in my direction.
“I’m your new neighbor,” he said, smiling. “My name’s Chuck. I’ve got the two bedrooms right next door.”
Taking the plate of cookies, I looked down and saw his bare feet. Temperatures hovered around 10 degrees above zero that week. His toes were red and swollen, and he had long yellowed toenails. He put his cigarette out when I invited him inside for a cup of coffee.
“Who have we here?” he said, smiling at the girls.
My oldest daughter Marianthi smiled sweetly back at him. Her light brown hair and blue-grey eyes were complimented by her turquoise dress. Slight in stature and build, she still looked like a porcelain doll at the age of four.
“Hello, nice to meet you,” she said in her munchkin voice.
Meredith was another story entirely. At two and a half, she was in the thick of her Terrible Two’s. Her dark brown hair formed angry ringlets around her plump cheeks, and her near-black eyes stared at our visitor accusingly.
If he noticed little Meredith’s reaction to him, our visitor didn’t let on.
His name was Chuck Emplit. He had worked as a cook, but medically retired a decade earlier. Cooking and baking were still his passion. He said he had never married, had no children, and had no living relatives. “I’m not lonely, though,” he said, probably noticing my concern. “I’m playing cards with Victor and the guys on Saturday nights. Great group around here.”

Victor, my Mexican landlord, was the single father of a teenaged girl. He doubled as the cruise director for a number of the lonely old men who lived in our low income apartments.

Chuck said he would be moving from his two-bedroom apartment next door to a studio apartment in the same complex as soon as one became available in order to save money. But until then, he assured me, he was available if we ever needed anything. “Don’t forget, Girls,” he said before leaving, “I’d like for you to call me Santa.”
Both girls lit up. I never believed in Santa as a child myself, but I wasn’t ready to burst their bubble.
Every day afterwards, when I returned home from classes, I had to pass by Santa’s living room window to get to my own apartment. And every day, approximately five minutes later, he was at my door- holding some special dish he cooked up for the girls and me- waiting expectantly for me to invite him in for coffee. I always obliged, silently stewing at times, coaching myself to be thankful for the company and food. The girls were always delighted to see him, and by our second cup of coffee, I was too. We certainly ate better meals with him than we had since I had become my family’s primary cook, and the diversion from my meal-in-can was a welcome break. And it was obvious by his smiles and laughter that the visits meant a lot to him.
When Christmas came a few weeks after we met, Santa brought a wrapped present.
“Me and the guys were talking at cards the other night,” he explained. “We wondered why you haven’t remarried yet. “She’s not ugly,’ one of them said.’ She doesn’t seem too unpleasant. Anybody would love those girls of hers.’”
Santa thrust the package in my hands, which I unwrapped. A Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.
“I think this’ll help,” he said, clearly proud of himself.

If only it were that simple. 



Finding Family, Steve Jobs Style

What if you found out you were living a lie?  That a family secret had kept you away from a sibling or parent that you did not even know existed?
Mary Lou Lockhart, printed in Anchorage Daily News 12/9/12
Today’s Anchorage Daily News article What is Never Spoken introduced an Alaskan family whose world was turned upside-down recently after a random Google search. Bill Popp learned that his 76 year-old mother was listed on an adoption website, looking for a baby she’d given up more than fifty years before.
 (See tomorrow’s follow-up article to see how their search turned out–
Last week, while I was out of town at a business meeting, I chatted with two coworkers about this very topic. One coworker located his father and siblings in a different part of the country a couple of years ago. The second coworker found a sibling, but chose not to meet his missing father. “Where were you when I needed you?” would be the only thing I’d want to say to him,” he told me, “and it doesn’t matter now. I’m grown.”
It doesn’t matter when we’re grown? Really?
It’s matters to me. Meeting my missing family, a process that began at age 20 and continues throughout my forties, matters a whole lot.
It mattered to Steve Jobs, too.
 In a 1997 New York Times article about Steve Jobs, the Apple/ Pixar/iPhone guru spoke of finding his family missing parents and sibling in while in his twenties. Adopted by a wonderful couple as a baby, his search for his biological parents ended abruptly at 27 when he learned that they had a daughter after giving Jobs up for adoption and raised her.
While Steve Jobs was no longer hoping to forge a relationship with his parents, he did meet his sister, who turned out to be best-selling author Mona Simpson of Anywhere But Here fame. In his  interview with the New York Times, both siblings spoke of their instantly close bond:
 ”My brother and I are very close,” Simpson says. ”I admire him enormously.”
Jobs says only: ”We’re family. She’s one of my best friends in the world. I call her and talk to her every couple of days.”
The Locator’s Troy Dunn had a phrase I appreciated, “You can’t find peace until you find the pieces.” 
I’m a big believer in finding the pieces. Still, I think it’s important to be at peace with yourself before find those pieces. 
In short, my advice when conducting a search for family is–
Be at peace with yourself before inviting strangers, even long-lost family, into your life.
Keep in mind that although your missing parents or sibling may not be what you expected, as in the case of Jobs, they may be more than you ever hoped for.
If your missing loved one doesn’t want an ongoing relationship with you, you’re no worse off than you were before you found them. Yes, it can be devastating, but often there’s an aunt or uncle or cousin waiting in the wings who wants badly to know you.
Don’t give up the search.
P.S. Thanks to the anonymous person that nominated my 49 Writers Best of Blog. I live a small life, but after I read that, I shoveled the snow with more vigor, bleached the towels with more joy.
You can vote at Look for the names in the right hand columns.

My World View From Google

This week,  I got sick during a work trip and spent more time lying about than I have in ages. My isolation was prolonged when I arrived home after several days, having left my only phone at the hotel. It turned out to be a much-needed break.

After being reunited with my Iphone,  I looked at the world through my Google lens and found my top three stories that mattered.

1) On December 2nd, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Kansas City Chiefs held a  moment of silence for all victims of domestic violence after their beloved teammate killed his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself just yesterday. What a painful mess for them all, and for the little baby that’s left orphaned now.

2) This week, Morocco confirmed that it will join the Hague Convention’s Civil Aspect on International Child Abduction.

In theory, it means if an American child is taken by a Moroccan citizen to Morocco, their government will intervene and have the child promptly returned to America to sort out custody matters there.

3) A generous offer for the ultimate Christmas gift-for free! If you or someone you know would like to find a missing family member for Christmas, contact

Have a great week.