During summer solstice, a sacred time here in Alaska when it’s light almost all night long, I sat on the balcony most of the day and night, reading and writing.
I’d squished all of my socializing in the day before. Coffee
with one friend, a long walk with another, thrift-store shopping with my oldest
daughter, and an evening hike up some good-sized hills with the youngest. A
leisurely hair color and cut with my friend and stylist.
So on solstice, I did the thing I’ve always meant to do,
which was nothing much. With the phone muted and no radio or television on in
the house, I listened to the birds sing and Rottweiler on the next-door balcony
snarl. I heard the wind rustle in the trees, and watched planes ascend. I read
an entire book, and worked on two of my own. I watched in awe my new Polynesian
neighbors arrived home from church, opening the door to their minivan so that a
long procession of ornately dressed children could emerge. I counted six.
I thought about all of the scenes I’ve watched from this
balcony over the past twenty-four years. Like my daughter at fifteen, learning
to change the oil in a car with the help of my next-door neighbor (with the
snarly Rottweiler). A mother moose with two babies, enjoying a nibble of our
newly planted tree. Like my oldest, driving away, her belongings stuffed into
her sedan, driving away one final time to move in to an apartment with a
roommate. Two blocks away. Only to return home
a few months later.
And I thought about how this year is already half over, and
reviewed my good intentions in the way of New Years Resolutions.
Spanish lessons? That didn’t go so well. But clearing my
home of clutter and readying for the next great thing? Pretty on target. I’ve
trimmed expenses and have continued with my weight training, albeit somewhat
half-heartedly, so there’s that. And I stopped watching television.
But now, just taking a day to appreciate the stillness and
the chaos from my balcony was a feat in itself. Typically, I need to be
recovering from illness to do so little. I savored every bit of it.
How is your summer shaping up? And are there things you’re working toward
worth checking in on?
I hope you too can have one day to simply recharge your
I’ve been listening to audiobook WHAT COMES NEXT AND HOW TO LIKE IT by Abigail Thomas, a terrific memoir that nudges me to savor the large and small happenings of life in the moment.
So here’s what’s happening right now; my cats are chasing one another around the house, my youngest daughter is texting me videos of a mother black bear and her two cubs, and my oldest is just home from a job she adores, working with animals.
I love May in Alaska. The daylight, the wildlife, my increasing levels of energy remind me that there are many good things ahead. When June comes, the days fly by so quickly, but right now, summer is something wonderful to look forward to, just around the corner.
If you’re in Alaska this summer, please check out the Downtown Saturday market or Muldoon Farmers Market. Say hello if you see me there! I may be selling signed copies of my book.
I emailed a friend in
recently to bid her Happy Mother’s Day. Normally sunny, her response caught me
off guard when she mentioned how sad this holiday made her. I’d grown
accustomed to being the maudlin one about moms and Mother’s Day.
But when I checked my
Facebook feed, there were numerous tributes to moms lost due to death or
alienation. A few brave moms of deceased children posted their grief. Others were
caring for their elderly mothers who now no longer remembered them.
The day evokes a lot of
emotion for so many of us.
I’d been thinking
about my own mother that week, and about some of the good things she instilled.
My mother fostered a love of reading, which sparked my interest in stories and
in writing. If I asked for a book, I nearly always got it. (I was lucky to have
older siblings who read to me and taught me to be an early reader, too.)
My mom promoted a love
of animals to us kids which is a huge part of my life to this day. She didn’t
easily sustain relationships with pets, or with people, for that matter, but it
was a nice start. And she was a believer in volunteer work, which I have subsequently
True, I’ve written
about my mom’s tendency to dislike the mother role enough to seemingly dispense
of her kids, leaving us later in life to scout one another out as if on at
Easter egg hunt.
Clearly, not every
woman is cut out to be a mom.
It doesn’t help that
we expect so much from them. I can think of no other role so important, or so
scrutinized. The impact of the mothering we receive during our early years
lingers throughout our entire lives, and far into the future if we have kids,
and if they do, too.
Mothers are idealized as protectors: a person who is caring and giving and who builds a person up rather than knocking them down. But very few of us can say our mothers check all of these boxes. In many ways, a mother is set up to fail.-Lynn Steger Strong in What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About.
I’ve been fortunate to have so many different
women in my life who’ve given me guidance and motherly love. I’ve appreciated
that there were limitations to it, and conscious not to overstay my emotional
welcome since these women had their own children and their own lives. From
grade schoolteachers and a college professor to a former roommate and friends’
moms, and later in life, my newfound aunts, I have benefitted from random gifts
of maternal love.
As for me, I’ve made lots of mistakes with my kids. They relied on their own supplemental moms at times to fill in my gaps. And after watching me struggle as a single mom, neither of my kids were moved to become parents themselves, though they’ve provided me with numerous grand-pets.
A few days ago, a crisis
call from one of my daughter’s friends, whose mother passed away, brought it
full circle. She needed someone to just listen, and I got to be the stand-in
mom figure, even for just a little while.
How wonderful it is to know that we can help fill in parenting or mentoring gaps for others. And equally fabulous to think about spending time with little kids one day who may not have a grandparent in close proximity. I like the idea of being a supplemental mom and grandmom.
Expanding the definition of family can be a beautiful thing. It can reduce pressure and feelings of isolation. I felt insecure when my own kids relied on other moms, but I came to understand the great benefits to all involved down the line.
Moms (and dads) are the original influencers, but we can all choose to have or to be supplements to help along the way. It can ease the pressure we put on our parents or ourselves.
A humble thank you to dear Fay for the incredibly generous and unexpected gift to my oldest daughter after reading my last post. My daughter is now the proud owner of a reliable and safe vehicle again.
“I ALWAYS WONDER WHEN I GET my friends’ and family’s annual holiday newsletters what really happened in the writers’ families. What titillating tidbits are they leaving out?” –Elizabeth Silva in Another Cheesy Family Newsletter.
I met Elizabeth Silva at on online writers forum we belong to, and was drawn to her story immediately. I enjoyed the searing honesty of her memoir, which follows the twists and turns of her adult children making unexpected choices that leaves Silva and her husband raising their three grandchildren.
I’m happy to have her as this week’s guest.
When did you decide to write your book? Was there one pivotal moment, or did you always know you’d write your memoir?
I really had no intention of publishing a book, though I’d written for a magazine and The Dallas Morning News for the last few years, and I’ve always written about experiences that were important to me, a sort of hit-and-miss journal. It wasn’t until I found all my Christmas newsletters at my parents’ house after they died that the idea of writing a memoir took hold.
The structuring of your book is brilliant. Tell us how you arrived at it?
I remember several years ago, as I was writing my annual holiday newsletter, I thought to myself that the people we never see any more haven’t a clue what’s really going on in our lives. Yet the idea of including all the family drama in each letter was absurd. These were Christmas letters, after all. But I never kept the letters, and I never backed them up. It wasn’t until I found all of them together in an envelope that I decided how to structure my story. With the letters as an outline, once I got on a roll, I churned out the story pretty quickly. I would write while my husband was watching the Texas Rangers play baseball, after the boys got settled in to whatever they were doing for the evening.
What was the most difficult part about writing Another Cheesy Family Newsletter and why?
The hardest part was that the more I wrote, the more I realized to what extent I had enabled my daughter and my son to become helpless – over and over again- and how I had allowed my daughter’s outrageous behavior to affect her children.
Even now, it’s hard for me to admit how toxic our home was at times. When I remarked recently to my other daughter how surprised I was by a reviewer’s insight into our family, she said, “Mom, you’re just now realizing this?” And this was AFTER the book was out.
What kind of feedback have you had from other people in your position who are raising their own grandchildren?
Relief that they are not alone – that their feelings of anger, disappointment, and resentment are normal and ok, especially when others tell them that they’re saints for taking on such a responsibility. We’re not saints. We’re doing what almost anyone would do for these kids we love so much.
How did you arrive at your pen name? Why did you use one?
My grandmother’s name was Elizabeth. I just chose Silva because it starts with an S and has 5 letters, like Sisco. I ridiculously thought if I changed all the names and places, no one would connect my family with the story – still thinking of my daughter’s feelings. If I had to do it over, I would have used my real name, and I still may put out a new edition under my real name someday.
What message would you give to parents of adult children who are struggling to launch? Where can they find support as they find the middle ground – somewhere between assisting their adult child and enabling them?
That’s a hard one. You love your kids so much, and you take on their failures as your own. But I think you have to examine your own behavior and ask yourself whether what you’re doing for your child is supporting them in their quest for independence or simply making it easy for them to rely on YOU, delaying the “growing pains” we parents had to face and conquer to become independent ourselves. Especially today, we live in a different society. I was expected to move out when I graduated and never come back. Somehow, though, in the way we raised our kids, we conveyed the message that we would fix everything for them along the way, and they would always have a soft place to land.
What are you working on next? And where can readers find you and your work?
My granddaughter is a phenomenal artist. We are working on a children’s picture book specifically for children raised by people other than their biological parents.
You can find Elizbeth Silva on Facebook: @lizsilva47 Twitter: @pattysisco2 Website and blog: elizabethsilvawriter.com, or order Another Cheesy Family Newsletter by clicking here.
Wondering if you’re an enabler? Elizabeth has a quiz on her web page.
Thank you for stopping by. Feel free to share this link if you like what you’ve read.
Yesterday, I had a conversation with the Seward Library Book Group about coming clean in my memoir, or, as one member put it, telling on myself. Referring to the times I mentioned my own flaws and frailties, being judgmental or quick tempered, that are sprinkled throughout the book.
Then conversation quickly morphed to social media sharing, how we can feel so alone as we scroll through picture after picture of seemingly perfect images posted, and the disconnect so many of us feel, now that we’re all “connected.”
It reminds me of the memoir I’ve been reading, Another Cheesy Family Newsletter.
The author, Elizabeth Silva, structures her story with chapters beginning with the sunshine-y newsletters she sent out over the years tucked inside Christmas cards, followed by the backstory of what was really going on. Her feelings of helplessness as her now-grown children did not launch as planned. A daughter’s heroin addiction led Silva and her husband to become parents all over again of three vulnerable and resilient grandchildren. A second daughter’s divorce, and a son’s prolonged lack of ambition only added to the stress.
The Christmas newsletters and the social media phenomenon bring up the same feelings. When we only share only our best side, where we look attractive, accomplished, our kids seemingly brilliant and irrepressibly happy, we perpetuate the notion to others that they’re alone in their loneliness or failures or even despair. Even though that’s not the intention.
I’ve struggled with sheepishly giving optimistic updates on my Facebook author page. While it doesn’t make sense to draw attention to negative reviews or my angst about the financial hits I’ve taken to keep my book positioned well, it feels dishonest. So I’ve written essays about writing and parenting to present a more honest view.h
If one compared my author Facebook page with my real life this week, they would see an information gap that defined my days.
While it is true that I loved my youngest daughter’s 30th birthday soiree and the various writerly events, they were sandwiched between an increasingly impossible day job and an even more impossible, never-ending job as the parent of an oldest child experiencing profound mental illness who continues to flounder as an undue amount of tragedy is thrown her way.
Last week, her only asset, an old Camry, was shot repeatedly
in the commission of a crime in downtown Anchorage while she slept nearby in
her apartment. The car was parked at a meter outside. It was totaled. But worse
than that, it triggered her PTSD, and has set her back further. The crime is
unsolved, so no one will be paying restitution to compensate her loss.
Of course I’m fortunate she was not physically harmed. She’ll get through it, but not without a lot of support.
On good days, I remember to be thankful that I can give said
On many others, I’m angry or just worn out for having to.
I so appreciate social media for the many positives it brings, the same way I do when I get a chatty Christmas newsletter. But there is no substitute for real human contact, and authentic interactions. Sometimes, it’s important to share the ugly.
We all struggle. We all fail. We all get overwhelmed. And none of us have to be alone as we slog through
our journey, or keep our struggles a secret.
Maybe one of the greatest gifts given me post-publication is
going place to place, finding pods of community where ever I’m invited to speak,
and feeling encircled with caring readers and writers who often share their own
I hope you have a supportive circle to both celebrate and grieve all life dishes your way. And thank you for being a part of my community.
At the risk of sounding superstitious, I’m fairly certain that my house is jealous of my efforts to leave it.
The web searches for homes in less expensive states to live in after I retire, the upgrading of the bathrooms, the kitchen, and the floorings. The conversations that must’ve been overhead about my need for sun and warmth and a place closer to my extended family have not gone unnoticed.
I know this, because just before or just after leaving the state, some catastrophe occurs. Flooding. An earthquake. Flooding again. Every time I leave, some punishing event that catches me completely off guard.
As I packed for my book event in San Jose, California a
couple of weeks ago, I found a huge puddle of water on the newly tiled kitchen
floor. I sopped it up, hoping I’d simply stacked the dishes in the wrong
direction and ran the dishwasher. It wasn’t. The puddle appeared two more
times, the final one just as I was getting my luggage packed. My neighbor
kindly guided me through the process of shutting the water supply off in the
crawl space, schooling me first by phone and then finally leaving his date
miles away to help me. Together, we slogged through the dirty area beneath the
garage for a short-term solution.
I got to the airport just in time for my flight, smelling of
scented kitty litter, with cob webs still in my eye lashes. Only to realize
that in my haste to shut the water off, I’d forgotten to pack shirts.
At least I remembered copies of my book.
To my happy surprise, the person I rented a room from picked
me up at the airport. James worked in Silicon Valley before retiring and
re-tooling, now renting affordable rooms and cars to people with short work
stints in the area. Chatty and firm in his convictions that we must offer hope
to the hopeless among us, he became my accidental life coach, filled with ideas
and concepts of books he was certain I needed to write. They were great ideas,
it turned out. “Stop aiming small,” he told me.
I felt welcomed and safe, and enjoyed some six- mile walks
without ever getting lost, a true miracle in my world.
San Jose had warm temperatures, generous walking trails, and friendly people. I was impressed. Book group organizer Lloyd Russell of Booksage and his wonderful wife Joni took me to dinner. My longtime friend Richard from Berkeley made his time and home available, and I finally got to meet his new (to me) wife.
Richard is a loyal friend who never stopped encouraging me to write my book. When my computer died a decade ago, he gifted me my first laptop. He was that committed to the story being published. And it was through Richard that his cousin Lloyd got a copy of my book. I owe this once-in-a-lifetime book event and trip to him.
During the event itself at Recycle Bookstore, I got a warm round of applause as I entered the bookstore. Wow! An evening to talk with thoughtful readers about writing and publishing and the inevitable setbacks life dishes all of us, and how we choose to handle them. I enjoyed every moment of it.
I took trains and busses to visit my cherished friend and
former roommate Barbara, hosted me for a night in Redding at her apartment in a
lively retirement community. We stayed up late, pouring through old pictures of
when we lived together in ’92-’93, reminiscing about my daughters before their
abduction, and the zany things the girls did in those years of near normalcy
before the event that severed their childhoods.
I returned to my welcoming
little home and two needy cats just after 2am, and found that the water shut
off had been successful. No new damage occurred in my absence. I crept around
in the crawl space and turned the water back on. By default, I learned that
this particular problem was the new dishwasher installation. No big deal. I’ll
fix it when I can.
I got a text from James the day after I returned with
another new book idea. His best yet. He’s asked that I send him a completed
synopsis by next Thursday. He’s not kidding.
“The idea is to give victims and their families, as well as
the good people in America, hope among the hopelessness… Your book is a step in
the direction to help victims or potential future victims.”
So much love and inspiration packed in to a few days reminded me that home isn’t simply a place. It’s a moveable part, a sense of connection, not just where I toss my belongings.
But I do love my little weird place, with its memories of
raising kids and cats. Of hosting friends for get-togethers. Memories of my
neighbors, delivering freshly caught fish or helping when I needed them with
frozen pipes or car or kid troubles.
Who knows? Maybe I can rent my house out and live here in
the summers. It will be a while yet before I figure out where I will ultimately
But as a cautionary measure, I’m writing all of this from a coffee house rather than from home, just in case my home is looking over my shoulder.
The threat is just too great.
Thank you for stopping by, and thank you Lloyd Russell, Richard Illgen, and Recycle Bookstore and Recycle Book Club for the book love.
And thank you to my daughter for taking care of Oliver and Lou.
I was the lone geriatric in my hip hostel in Buenos Aires a couple of months back when I stumbled on a treasure trove.
When I mentioned to the young woman from New Zealand, perched on the bunk across from mine, that I had not journeyed intentionally (can’t really count Greece and Turkey and England to find my kidnapped daughters) to faraway places until my kids were grown and flown, she told me about her mom’s adventures. Her mother, she said, raised four kids by herself before quitting her job and traveling the world for a year and a half.
“You ought to
talk to her,” she offered.
So as soon as I
returned to Alaska, I did just that.
An idea was born. I began formulating a plan for an anthology of single moms turned empty-nesters who became solo travelers.
I’ll begin the process with the remarkable Karen Sim. Some of this is paraphrased from our interview.
What prompted you to book your first trip?
I was having dinner with a friend and she was sharing her goals and plans for the year.
She asked me about mine and I realised with horror that I was goal-less.
That night I discovered David Bowie died and this really impacted on me. He’d led a life full of achievements. I questioned my own life.
Yes, I had raised four children, getting my teaching degree in my 40’s while raising them and becoming a head teacher at a kindergarten – but i wanted more… That night I made a decision to have an adventure. I was watching my Dad fading away with dementia and a third bout of cancer. He’d never retired and now at 75, he was dying! All the money in the bank and invested in his farm but no adventure. My 4 kids were living their own lives so it was time that I lived mine. I took a year off work, sold half of my belonging, put the rest in storage, saved like crazy and rented out my house. I finally had a plan.
How did you select destinations?
I had wanted to see the Cherry Blossom in Japan, so that was my obvious first destination. Plus, I had a friend in Nagoya.
I’d also discovered this wonderful volunteer site called Workaway.
I had only ever travelled to Australia from New Zealand, where my three girls live.
So I chose destinations/ countries where I had family or friends. This was my safety net. Once I arrived in London, where I stayed with my niece, I had the confidence to be more adventurous and spontaneous. True freedom as an older, female, solo traveller!
I ended up in a
rural location about a twenty-minute walk from Okayama. I was in a very old and
traditional home. Very simple, rice paper doors and walls…My host used English
speaker workawayers to provide English experiences to Japanese families.
I ran a couple of
play groups with mums and babies. The mums loved practicing their English with
Do you have budget tips to share?
Through Workaway, I got free room and board when I worked for 20 hours a week at a host home I selected through the site. I had fifteen hosts throughout my time there, plus I stayed with fifteen family/friends or acquaintances.
I also discovered
how incredible hostels were. I got to meet fellow travellers and hear their inspirational
journeys. And even as an oldie, I too
had tales to share.
Walking tours are
a wonderful introduction to a new city. Walk everywhere, as you see more. Eating
out is a luxury. Travel the cheapest way-even if it takes longer. For example,
you can take an overnight bus and avoid a night’s hostel rates.
Enjoy the big things and the small things, and be present!h
Before I could ask Karen how her adult children felt about her traveling the world on her own, I saw that her daughter paid her a beautiful tribute on Facebook on International Women’s Day.
Thank you, Karen, for being my guest, and for inspiring the next generation of solo women travelers.
Do you know a single mom who began traveling after her kids were grown and gone, and who might want to share her experience? Please give her the link to my website. If you’re considering traveling alone, here are a few sites that can help get you started.
It’s February, and my mind is on matters of love and motivation.
I may be single, but I adore experiencing second-hand love.
Here are two of my favorite Valentine’s reads.
One is from my friend Ginni Simpson on being in the moment with her husband.
The second is my blog post about my dear brother Danny and his wife Joan.
I told myself that my New Year’s resolution to get rid of cable TV would be key to increasing my writing time.
It was not.
Instead, I’ve filled my time by enjoying more sleep, and have done a lot more reading. But recently, I’ve started putting myself on restriction, and not allowing book or movie time to happen until I’ve written a set amount of words. It’s motivated me to make baby steps during a time of year when I’d rather crawl under the electric blanket after work than open my laptop and keep plugging away.
Here are a few of my recent favorite rewards.
They Shall Not Grow Old- a must-see documentary that renovated 100 year-old film footage from WWI and carefully gave it sight and sound.
The Old Man and the Gun
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro (memoir).
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (fiction) by Gail Honeyman.
You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero (nonfiction, self-help). As much as I don’t love the title, it’s a fabulous read for reframing self-talk and changing attitudes about money, body image, and living life larger.
Entertainment-wise, my greatest find has been finding the series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maizel on Amazon Prime.
My book events are picking up again. Tonight I get to spend time with a set of dynamic, now retired social workers I was mentored by twenty-plus years ago when I was a child abuse investigator.
Who says writing doesn’t pay?
How about you? What’s keeping you motivated this time of year?
Thank you for sharing your time with me. And if you have friends in the San Jose, California area, please let them know I’ll be doing a book event there at Recycle Book Store on March 20th at 7PM.
Have you ever noticed that when you set out to take a positive action, you’re given a doubly positive reward?
A couple of weeks ago, when I saw my maternal cousin’s Facebook post about her fitness coaching business being offered online, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been meaning to do more strength training to get stronger. And though we’ve been Facebook friends for a long time, I’ve met my cousin Kerstin in person only twice. She lives in the south. I live in Alaska. Meeting online with her regularly sounded like a great way to muscle up and strengthen our connection.
Who knew that this one effort would lead me to a long-estranged
uncle I’d been hoping to meet?
Much of my family is splintered, especially on my mom’s side. Her other siblings died, and I’d looked for this brother of hers without success. And yet here my cousin recently gotten in touch with him. My uncle told my cousin that he and his wife were doing their own search for family and had actually found and read my book!
I was floored. Soon, I was emailing back and forth with my uncle’s wife, who gave me a swath of pictures from the early 1900’s, and page after page of wonderfully told stories that my grandmother left behind as a legacy. It gave a whole lot of context about all of the different issues my grandmother had been contending with as she raised her children, often by herself, which couldn’t have made life easy for her children.
There are few things as important to me as putting all the
pieces together of my jigsaw-puzzle family together, or at least, as many as
possible. Each connection makes me feel
more grounded, more alive.
I’d set out to build muscle, and was linked to more of my foundation.
What a hopeful beginning to this new year!
I hope yours is off to a good start as well.
Thank you for joining me.
If you’re interested in an online fitness coach, please meet my cousin here. She’s the cheerleader you need in the privacy of your own home.