Category Archives: Personal experience

Solitude in Nature


I’ve written before about hiking in South Mountain Park. It’s been more than a year and a half since I’ve been there, and I miss it very much. Truth be told, I just started taking walks again the beginning of October—it’s just been much too hot around here. Also, between being wary about Covid and needing to help my husband, I just haven’t gotten out much. But I’ve started venturing out a little as of the middle of September.

Moving your body is a good thing at any age; staying active as you get older is especially important. Besides being wonderful exercise for the body and the brain, hiking also has benefits for emotional and mental health. Walking and hiking have a meditative element to them. As you stride, you notice what is around you. You are present in the moment. But you can also let your mind work on your problems—or forget your problems entirely.

Ideally, you should have a companion with you when you hike. But I’ve also hiked by myself. I wouldn’t recommend hiking an unfamiliar trail on your own, but I’ve done exactly that. There is something to be said for being alone in the wilderness.

When I first took up hiking, everything was new to me. I did a little online reading about the trails in the park. I bought some hiking boots and was delighted to find out I was more sure-footed in them than I had been in sneakers. I bought a trekking pole and found it to be very helpful for maintaining balance when forced to make large steps or walking on rocky surfaces (be sure to keep the pole in front of you).

When you’re on your own, you’re forced to be self-sufficient and make your own judgment calls. In most parks, you’re required to stay on the trails. But sometimes you can’t quite tell where the trail is. If the trail gets steep, you may have no clue where to put your feet. Hiking alone tests your mettle.

My very first hike in South Mountain Park, I went by myself. I was having a great time walking at my own pace. I hardly saw another person, and I was all right with that. After half an hour, I reached the top of a hill, and then I couldn’t tell where the trail went from there. So I turned around, feeling maybe it was time to head back. But from the top of the hill, I literally could not figure out how to get down. It looked way steeper going down than it had looked going up, and I could not identify what path I had taken to get where I was.

While I was standing there wondering what to do, an older couple crested the hill from the other direction and began making their way down without any of the hesitancy I was feeling. I watched where they stepped and followed them. They stopped as if they were waiting for me, but I said, “No, go on ahead—I don’t want to slow you down.” I actually caught up to them a while later where the ground was more level.

Maybe a year later I took a trail that was new to me, that a hiking website has designated as “easy” (warning—an “easy” label does not mean that a fairly new hiker will find it easy). It was the most challenging trail I’d ever been on. Lots of up and down, lots of very rocky sections. I approached a section that I knew intersected with a much easier trail that I was familiar with, but the easy trail was a good thirty feet below, and the three possible ways down the ridge were all very steep. I had seen other hikers pass me and drop of out sight, but I had no idea which way they had gone. When I looked down one path, I saw a woman hanging by her hands. I walked away because I didn’t want to make her nervous.

I walked from one path to another, and couldn’t figure out how to traverse them. While I was trying to decide, other hikers came up those paths, but I was too far from them to see how they did it. I considered turning back, but it had taken me one and a half hours to get to where I was; I know the easy path was only half an hour from the trailhead. I had to go forward. After a good twenty minutes of considering my options, I picked the least harrowing path of the three. I sat on the edge, dangled my legs, and carefully skootched myself off, about a six-foot drop. I didn’t kill myself! That was my scariest hiking experience, but it energized me to get past it all by myself.

What am I trying to say? That being by myself in the wilderness helps center me. I’m awed by my surroundings. I’m gratified that I can be resourceful when I have to be. I feel closer to God, closer to the earth, unhurried, undistracted.

The Pivot

Computer and mouse

2014 was a momentous year for me, though not in a happy way. In May, 2014, I resigned from my second teaching career, which had given me joy and purpose for the first five years, and frustration and stress for the final three years. I kept hoping that things would improve, but instead, they just got bleaker.

As relieved as I was to no longer be teaching, I felt like I’d lost my identity; I’d failed—I’d given up on teaching. If I wasn’t a teacher, who was I? Although I’d heard that who you are isn’t the same as what you do, I just didn’t know how to define myself anymore.

Besides, I really wanted meaningful work and a regular paycheck. Over the next year I sent out 100 applications for employment; I made the short list for three positions, but I never landed one.

I was really disappointed, but I returned to my critique group and slowly started writing again. I had always said I’d go back to writing when I retired; I just hadn’t realized I was already retired.

In 2015 Jeff Goins released his book The Art of Work. I was already familiar with his writing; in fact, his 500-word Challenge jumpstarted my return to writing. The Art of Work made me feel comfortable with this next act of my life. The turning point for me was Chapter 5, titled “Pivot Points: Why failure is your friend.” Goins posits that each failure, whether it’s a dream that just doesn’t come to fruition or the loss of a job, is an opportunity to change direction, pivot, try something new. Many times we stick with what we’re doing, even if it’s no longer rewarding, because we’re hoping things will change, or because we’ve already invested so much time in it. We end up not trying something different until we’re forced into it—by failure. Without failure, we might never find that thing we were born to do.

Another chapter I found interesting was Chapter 2, “Accidental Apprenticeships.” When I was teaching, I was required to do other things that weren’t directly involved in working in the classroom. Each teacher was expected to maintain a personal page on the school website, which was to be the place parents could refer to when they wanted to know what their children were learning in your classroom. All of us went through training to learn how to design our webpages.

Also, teachers “volunteer” to do all sorts of things unrelated to teaching but important to the running of the school, things for which there is no funding. Teachers have “morning duty” and “dismissal duty” and “lunch duty” and “playground duty.” They sit on committees; they raise funds. For the last three years of my teaching career, I ran the Yearbook Club. With a bunch of fifth and sixth grade helpers, I put together the school yearbook. It took a lot of (unpaid) time, but it was also an artistic and creative outlet for me, laying out yearbook pages on the photography company’s software.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the tech skills I was learning were an excellent preparation for something I never expected to do—blogging. While teaching, I was unintentionally doing an apprenticeship for something else. Those myriad hours were not wasted.

Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you planned. But that’s okay. It might initially feel like a failure, but don’t forget: it’s an opportunity to pivot to something that could be a better fit for you. Go for it!

Adventures in Decluttering


During my recent six-week blogging break, I managed to free up a little more than nine feet of wall space in my study, just barely enough room to squeeze in a long arm quilting machine on an eight-foot frame and a few inches to spare on each side.

At the beginning of my sabbatical, one wall of my study looked like this:

Part of my messy study

There were about eleven cartons of stuff that I needed to find another location for. I made two trips to Goodwill with trunk-loads of stuff to donate; I also gave a stack of books to the neighborhood Little Free Library (and more books also went to Goodwill). I sent two needlepoints that my mother-in-law made to my brother-in-law. I gave a chest of drawers to my middle daughter Erin for baby clothes (oh, I haven’t told you: she is expecting twins, our very first grandchildren!), but first I had to find places for all the things in the dresser. (A lot went to Goodwill.) Then, with my son Matt’s help, I moved the bookcase that you can see at the right edge of the Before picture above to the spot where the chest used to be.

I replaced two two-drawer file cabinets with two four-drawer file cabinets so I would have more space to store all the paper documents I feel compelled to save and that were living in banker’s boxes.

When I’d done all that, I still had eight boxes of books and other things that I couldn’t bear to part with. But guess what—I discovered that one of our hall closets, where we keep light bulbs, was actually stuffed with boxes of things that our two older daughters had stored there when they graduated from college—sixteen and twenty-one years ago. So I asked them if they wanted that stuff, or if I could dispose of them. They both said to chuck them. Some stuff I couldn’t part with. I kept Carly’s Harvard sweatshirt that she wore in high school—it’s oversized, so it fits me. And Erin was happy to take some of Carly’s mint-condition plush toys for her babies-to-be. I still have a box and a bag of their stuff to bring to Goodwill, maybe tomorrow.

I had carefully measured the dimensions of the room and made a scale drawing on graph paper, noting the locations of the windows, the closet, and the doors. Then I cut out carefully-measured scale representations of the furniture and arranged it so that everything fit. There was just enough room along one wall for my desk and the two file cabinets. Unfortunately, when I measured, I failed to account for the molding at the bottom of the wall, and when Matt came over to help me move the desk, we discovered we were ¼ inch short of space.

Now that wall of the study looks like this:

My desk

And I have to confess that the only reason it looks this tidy is because I still have four cartons of stuff stacked in the hallway that need to go back in or on the desk.

The remaining file cabinet is in an undesirable spot; it ruins the symmetry of the window wall. Ideally, there should be just one bookshelf on each side of the window. Instead, the file cabinet is also on one side, and a CD tower is also on the other. Oh well. And I still have some art canvases, a drum, a guitar, a ukulele, a music stand, a vacuum cleaner, and some other stuff scattered around the room that I’m hoping to find a better arrangement for by the time my new machine is delivered next Thursday. If all goes well, I’ll post another photo next Saturday.

Quilting Frustration

Sheep quilt

I finally finished a baptism quilt (we Lutherans baptize infants) that I think I may have started at the beginning of the pandemic. There are several reasons why it took me so long. In between, I made two lap quilts for my sister-in-law and I pieced a bed quilt for my son. Also, I disappointed myself with my fabric choices for the sheep block (but not enough to remake it). The pastel pink gingham I picked for the sheep’s body doesn’t show up well against the white background. (That block, by the way, is from Lori Holt’s Farm Girl Vintage book. It’s a favorite of our quilt ministry.)

Sheep quilt

I thought this might be the time to learn free motion quilting–I could quilt fleecy-looking swirls over the pink gingham with brighter pink thread. Problem solved.

Sigh. Some people have a long learning curve. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I’d read that it was a good idea to try out your design with paper and pencil before trying to stitch it. So I spent several practice sessions drawing swirls. I was dissatisfied with my results.


Maybe I could try stippling.


My stippling drawing was okay, so I started practicing stitching with scraps of fabric and batting. I don’t have a long-arm, but I know lots of people do beautiful quilting on ordinary sewing machines. I have a 30-year-old Pfaff Tiptronic 6270, which has been excellent for piecing and for in-the-ditch quilting. I am very good at straight stitching. I can sew garments that involve curves.

Stippling practice

Stippling is another matter. You need to be able to think ahead, to visualize how you want your stitches to meander. I don’t have that skill set. I spent a couple months’ worth of Saturday mornings working on my stippling. I can’t tell you how many bobbins I wound–they get used up really fast when you do free-motion practice. I never got the hang of it. I think part of the problem was I’d slow down, and then my stitches would get too large. I eventually used up all the fabric I didn’t mind wasting and all my scraps of batting. Did I really want to cut into my good yardage? No. But I read that felt squares are good for FMQ practice. Folded in half, they have bulk similar to cotton plus batting.

I decided to try random loop-de-loops. Maybe they wouldn’t be so hard to control. Alternate looping to the right and to the left. I practiced for a while, determined to make it work.

FMQ practice

And then my sewing machine threw a hissy fit. It made my top thread form a massive tangle on the underside of my fabric.

Now I know how to handle this. Usually, underside tangles are caused by one of four things: a bent needle; dust, lint, or thread fragments in the bobbin carriage; inferior thread; or lack of lubrication. So, I removed the throat plate and cleaned and oiled the machine and changed out the needle and the thread. Multiple times. But as soon as I started practicing my quilting again, tangleation! Maybe my machine needed repair. But I just had it serviced in January! It should be good for a couple of years.

Maybe it’s time to retire my Pfaff. 30 years is a good life. For the heck of it, I did some straight sewing. No problem.

I tried FMQ again, problem again!

I gave up on the idea of quilting that sheep and just left the outline quilted. Then I bound it, buried my thread ends, and pronounced the quilt done.

Baptism quilt

Now it’s your turn–help! I’ve decided that if I want to take my quilting to the next level, I need a long arm. I’m going to research what’s out there–and I have no idea how to begin. I know I don’t have room for one of those huge frames with the computerized machine. So, quilters, what machines do you use? What do you like about them? What would your dream machine be, and why?

An Interview with Sarah Wilkie, World Traveller, Photographer, and Blogger

Fisherman in Fort Kochi, Kerala, 2017
Fisherman in Fort Kochi, Karala 2017, by Sarah Wilkie

I discovered Sarah Wilkie’s wonderful blog, Travel with Me, about two years ago, probably through some of the photography challenges that we both participate in. She generously agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License and to share some of her gorgeous photographs.

ARHtistic License: You only just started your blog in August of 2020 (though you had previously contributed to the Virtual Tourist community and TravelersPoint) and you already have well over 1100 subscribers. I’m in awe. That’s a testimony to the quality of your work.

What was your profession before you became a blogger?

Sarah Wilkie: I trained as a librarian and worked in that field for most of my career, specialising in work with children and young people. I managed learning services in the City of Westminster’s libraries, then left to work in a government agency overseeing national public library strategies. For the last twelve years before retirement I worked as freelance consultant advising local authorities on their library and other cultural services, and a range of other projects.

Glacier Grey in the Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, 2016
Glacier Grey in the Torres del Paine National Park, Chile 2016, by Sarah Wilkie

AL: You’ve travelled extensively around the world (though not since the pandemic). You’ve been to very modern and sophisticated locations, and also to places remote and exotic as compared to Europe or the US. How do you choose your destinations? What are some of your favorite places?

SW: The choice of destinations can be inspired in a number of ways. Often a friend has been there and shares on Facebook or blogs (or in the past wrote Virtual Tourist reviews). Our trip to North Korea was inspired by a VT friend who blogged about his visits there. I also read Wanderlust magazine and watch TV travel documentaries. I have a long wish-list and it tends to grow rather than shrink even though we regularly tick places off! The final decision on a trip can involve a negotiation with my husband, e.g. I make three suggestions and one appeals to him much more than the others. We also like variety, so if we’ve been somewhere in Africa recently we’re more likely to consider Asia or the Americas next time around.

As to favourite places, that’s almost impossible to answer. North Korea has to be the most fascinating place I’ve been, but other places stand out for different reasons. India, especially Rajasthan, for the colour and friendliness of the people. Botswana for the wildlife and the landscape of the Okavango Delta. The Antarctic for the icebergs and penguins! Japan for the culture. Galapagos for getting close to nature. Chile for variety and stunning landscapes, with desert in the north and the high Andes in the south. Laos for a sense of timelessness. I could go on! And we also love road tripping in the US for the freedom and the beauty of the landscapes in the west in particular. My favourite cities are Paris and New York, I would say.

Serrekunda Market, Gambia, 2014
Serrekunda Market, Gambia 2014 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What modes of transportation have you used?

SW: Most to be honest. We probably fly long-haul more than we should but we try to offset our flights. Once in a country we enjoy road travel, either driving ourselves somewhere like the US or being driven in India, where there’s so much to see along the road. I also love a train journey – if going to Paris we always use Eurostar, and I’ve loved our train journeys in India and would like to do more. The one thing we don’t do normally is cruise, but we did a small (16 berth) boat cruise around the Galapagos and a larger one for the Antarctic trip. I loved the small boat and would like to do more similar trips, but I don’t fancy the idea of those massive floating hotels, although I know they appeal to some of my friends and I never say never! We’ve only done a few group tours – we did some in the past when we were on tighter budgets, and more recently for North Korea where it’s really the only option, but generally we prefer to travel alone.

St Paul's Cathedral, London, 2018
St. Paul’s Cathedral, London 2018 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: In the past few years, travel has been extremely challenging, between Covid protocols, violent behavior from passengers, and rampant flight cancellations. Can you recall a time when you had a better-than-average travel experience?

SW: I’m not sure how to answer this. Maybe we’ve been lucky but I can’t recall a bad travel experience, beyond the usual little niggles (delays, hotel rooms not living up to glowing descriptions, annoying fellow travellers on a group tour). I firmly believe ALL travel is better than no travel, so maybe I could say that all my experiences have been better than average?

AL: How many languages do you speak?

SW: In addition to English I speak passable French and a smattering of German

In Old Delhi, India, 2015
In Old Delhi, India 2015 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What advice would you give to people who want to travel around the world?

SW: Not having ever done a round the world trip I wouldn’t dream of advising on any specifics. My general advice to anyone wanting to travel is simply to say, do it! I also always say there’s not a right or wrong way to travel. I get impatient when people are dismissive of tours, for instance, or say backpacking is the only way to go. The only right way to travel is the one that feels right for you.

In Tallinn, Estonia, 2015
In Tallinn, Estonia 2015 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What packing advice would you give to novices?

SW: Again, I probably shouldn’t advise on this as I’m not particularly good at travelling light. There’s plenty of good advice out there which I doubt I can add to. One thing I would say is, research where you’re going. How easy will it be to get laundry done if necessary? Will you be close to shops where you could buy essentials? Do you need to leave space in your bag for shopping?! When I travel with my husband I’m spoiled as he helps with my bag, but if I’m travelling on my own I always make sure I don’t take more than I can manage to carry up and down stairs, on to a train, etc.

Musician at Nizwa Fort, Oman, 2019
Musician at Nizwa Fort, Oman 2019 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: Do you have any favorite travel anecdotes?

SW: Oh gosh, far too many – my blog is full of them! It’s often the smaller things that stick in the mind, and the people we meet. Like the guy we got chatting to in a bar in New York who asked us to look after his beer while he popped outside – we thought he was going for a cigarette but when he came back he’d been for a haircut. He’d told his girlfriend he was going to the barbers but had spent the afternoon drinking instead and didn’t feel he could go home with hair the same length as when he’d left! Or the lovely Leo in New Mexico who was the subject of my very first blog post. We’ve had a few (minor) dramas too, like being almost charged by a bull elephant in Tanzania!

Statues of the Great Leaders on Mansudae Hill, Pyongyang, North Korea, 2019
Statues of the Great Leaders on Mansudaei Hill, Pyongyang, North Korea 2019 by Sarah Wilkie. Oh, the scale! Those are some big statues.

AL: When did you start taking pictures?

SW: When I was about ten years old my parents gave me a Brownie box camera and I’ve been taking photos ever since!

Little Bee Eaters, SIne Saloum Delta, Senegal, 2016
Little bee eaters, Sine Saloum, Senegal 2018, by Sarah Wilkie

AL: You use a bridge camera. What is the make and model? What are the advantages of a bridge camera over a DSLR?

SW: I use a Panasonic Lumix. In fact I have two – a small point and shoot compact which is useful for carrying in a handbag and the larger bridge camera. My current (very new) one is the FZ330. The biggest advantage is size and weight; I’m prone to back trouble so don’t like to carry a lot of heavy equipment. Also, not having separate lenses means I’m always ready for a shot. When I had a SLR in pre-digital days I found I kept my 35mm-200mm zoom on the camera nearly all the time, which meant the ability to swap lenses was really rather redundant! So I’ve never gone down that route since moving to digital.

Bald Eagle near Deception Pass, Washington State, USA, 2017
Bald eagle near Deception Pass, Washington State, USA 2017 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: The photos on your blog are so engaging. When taking travel photos, what do you keep in mind?

SW: I think the main thing is that I try to suit my photography style to the place. In a city I’ll shoot architecture and street photos. In other places it will be the landscapes and wildlife that I prioritise. One thing that’s important to me is looking for details, e.g. in architecture. And I always want to photograph the people – I enjoy capturing candid shots more than posed ones.

Zebra in Chobe National Park, Botswana, 2018
Zebra in Chobe National Park, Botswana 2018 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What organization tips do you have for photographers in regard to storing their photos?

SW: As an ex-librarian I should be better at this than I am! I don’t have a detailed indexing system, for instance. My travel photos are in folders grouped according to place. I always edit the hundreds I shoot down to a manageable number of ‘best’ shots, but I keep all but the most disastrous rejects on another hard disk in case I feel the need to find more, e.g. for a particular blog post. A typical trip folder will have a sub-folder for each day and an extra one with the very best shots to use if some asks to see some. For instance, my VT friends and I have regular Zoom meetings at which one of us will usually share some photos from a recent trip.

These days I try to label the shots with the date and place soon after my return, before I forget where I was! I’ve learned from past experience how important that is. There’s a bit of free software called FastStone Image Viewer which is very useful for reordering files in a folder and renaming in bulk – I highly recommend it.

And my other main tip is to back-up your files and/or keep multiple copies in different places, but I’m sure most of us do that!

Sarah Wilkie, traveler and photographer
Sarah Wilkie

Thank you to Sarah for sharing her expertise and her beautiful photographs. For more, and to learn about her travels, be sure to follow Travel with me.

The House O’ Nuts

(Note: this is not my family’s home movie, although my brother is in possession of the footage my father took, possibly on our second trip to Florida; I don’t remember. Anyhow, this does capture something of the feel of the vacation in question.)

Last week I posted a memory from my childhood, one I’d totally forgotten for decades. Old scenes are making their way back into my mind.

This week I remembered another one, also long-forgotten.

The first family vacation I can remember happened around 1959. We drove from our home in New Jersey to Miami Beach, Florida. I’m guessing it was during Easter vacation (what is now Spring Break). I would have been 6 or 7. My dad did all the driving. My mom rode shotgun. The back seat was my realm. I had my blanket and my dolls, and my mother was afraid I might get bored, so she actually bought me a few new things to keep me occupied. The only gift I really remember was a Captain Kangaroo cut-out book which with I constructed a replica Treasure House with artifacts like Grandfather Clock. (Old timers, do you remember Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans and Grandfather Clock?) There was also a cardboard box on the floor of the back seat with canned juice, cereal, bread, snacks, and a picnic lunch for the road.

We stopped for gas at a place called the House o’ Nuts. In addition to the gas pump, there was a gift shop that sold nuts. After the attendant filled our gas tank, he explained that they also offered a chance to win some money. My mother’s ears perked up. She wanted to play.

I don’t remember the exact mechanics of this little gambling operation–I can’t recall if there was a wheel, or cards, or mathematics puzzles to solve–but at the end of it, my parents were down $25. Now, this was the late 50s. I don’t think my dad earned $100 a week at his full-time job.

As we drove away, my father bemoaned the loss, feeling cheated. This would prevent us from doing some of the things he’d planned to do on the vacation.

A little while later, he saw a traffic cop and flagged him down. Dad related the story of how he had lost $25 at the House o’ Nuts. Mind you, my dad had a strong German accent, which might have motivated the gas attendant to lure them into gambling in the first place. Not everyone was very nice to Germans, especially this soon after WWII. Gambling was illegal in (Georgia? I can’t remember), as the policeman told my father. But for some reason he decided to help.

He followed us back to the House o’ Nuts, and went inside while we waited outside in the car. A few minutes later, the gas attendant came out with my dad’s $25 and a box of chocolate-covered nuts, and explained he wasn’t trying to cheat him, he’d just given him a chance to win some money. My dad said thank you, waved to the police officer, and skedaddled out of there, greatly relieved.

We stayed at a beachside motel in Miami Beach. I remember walking along palm tree-lined streets with the wind fluttering the palm branches and coconuts clonking to the ground. When I heard the wind in the palm trees in Arizona 30 years later, it launched me back in time to that trip (although I didn’t remember the House o’ Nuts until this week).

We saw the mermaids at Weeki Wachee, visited a shell museum, swam in the ocean and in the motel pool, and I’m sure we did all the typical touristy things that northerners do on vacation in Florida. But when we got home and friends asked how our vacation was, Dad regaled them with the story of the incident at the House o’ Nuts.

Miss Goody-Two-Shoes No More

Photo by Candace McDaniel
Photo by Candace McDaniel

For most of my life, whenever I remembered my childhood, especially my elementary school years, I remembered myself as behaving according to the rules.

But now that I’m well into the last decades of my life, long-forgotten incidents are emerging from my memory that contradict my early self-image.

A few years ago I remembered this incident from when I was a Brownie.

Yesterday I remembered an episode of non-compliance in first grade.

I’ve shared that I am a child of German immigrants, and that I went to parochial school from kindergarten through eighth grade. My parents were careful to speak to my brother and me in English, so that we would grow up with English as our first language. But my mother also taught us a little bit of German, including a prayer.

There were 67 students in my first grade class. Amazing, right? Impossible. But this was during the baby boom. There had been two kindergarten classes, and when we were promoted to first grade, the school had a teacher shortage, and only one teacher for first grade, so they combined us. Our teacher, Sister Gracita, struggled to keep this vast community of six-year-olds under control, and apparently, I was one of her major challenges. She was constantly telling my mother I was “too talkative.” Moi?

I recall one time she took me outside the door of our classroom and told me there were “66 other students in our classroom who are trying to learn” and I was preventing them from doing so. My mind immediately went to arithmetic: 66 students + me = 67, and I lived at 67 Park Avenue! What a coincidence! I wanted to tell Sister, but I sensed she wasn’t interested.

Later that year, we had a visitor to our classroom, another nun. She must have been a supervisor from the diocese, there to observe the teacher, because Sister Gracita had been prepping us on our lessons and our behavior. Toward the end of the visit, Sister said, “And Andrea knows a prayer in German! Andrea, can you please say your German prayer?”

What? All year Sister had been on my case for talking too much, and now she wanted me to perform like a one-trick pony? “No.”

Sister asked again, and I refused again. She asked why, and I said, “I don’t want to.” Sister changed the subject, but later she called my mother and told her I embarrassed her in front of the bigwig. Of course, my mother was mortified, but I didn’t see her point.

Now, 53 years later, I get it, but I’m amazed that I stood my ground when I was six. I really thought I grew up with a healthy respect for authority figures. Now I’m realizing I was a little rebel.

My Biggest Regret

Funeral bouquet

Sometime in 1978, my mother-in-law (whom I called Mom), a pack-a-day smoker for more than 40 years, discovered she had lung cancer. Whenever we asked her about her prognosis, she said, “I have to see the doctor again in two weeks.”

When Carly was born in April, 1979, my mother- and father-in-law came to the hospital to see her. We got together a few weeks later, and they both were able to hold her.

Then, in June, Greg’s dad had a heart attack.

Greg’s mom called to tell us. Greg immediately wanted to drive over to visit him in the hospital (a one-hour trip each way), but Mom said, “The doctor said don’t come; there’s nothing you can do for him.” Greg told her we’d come to see them on Sunday, Father’s Day.

A few days later, Mom called again to say, “You might want to come to see your dad.” Greg said, “We’ll be over Sunday.” He assumed that would be soon enough.

Greg’s dad died the next day.

Greg’s biggest regret is that he didn’t follow his first impulse and go to the hospital when he first learned about the heart attack, despite what the doctor said.

Over the next months, we visited Greg’s mom every weekend. Sometimes I’d hear her say to herself, “Wil (Greg’s father), how could you do this to me?” Greg mowed the lawn, we had dinner together, I washed the dishes, and we did whatever we could to help. Mom was still driving to the supermarket on her own, although she limited her purchases to one bagful, which was as much as she had the strength to carry.

Whenever we asked about her health, she said, “I have to see the doctor again next week.”

Because she was seeing the doctor on a regular basis, I assumed she was getting treatment. I also assumed she’d get better.

Meanwhile, Carly grew. She took her first steps on Grandma’s screened-in front porch, where we often sat while we visited.

It turned out Mom refused treatment. The cancer was going to kill her. But I didn’t really understand or believe it. I knew she was weaker, but she didn’t seem like she was dying.

Then, one day, Greg came to me with a proposition. Mom had asked if we’d move in with her. She wanted me to be her caretaker.

I was a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to give my full attention to taking care of Carly. I didn’t want to spend her childhood pulled in two directions. Greg said it was totally my decision. I said no.

So my mother-in-law went to a care center next to the hospital. I went to visit her once a week. Mom said, “Don’t bring the baby. I don’t want her to see me with all these tubes stuck in me.”

I brought Carly anyway. Carly didn’t notice the tubes; all she saw was her Grandma. In fact, it was in the care center that Carly called her “Grandma” for the first time.

Greg spent time with his mom whenever he could. He was there with her four weeks later when she passed away.

Four weeks. That’s all.

I didn’t really process this experience until more than twenty years later, when my brother was caring for our ailing parents. He put his life on hold for them–for fourteen years.

I was 27 when I made my decision not to care for my mother-in-law. I really didn’t have a model for elder caretaking. I didn’t observe my parents doing it for their own parents. I was young and stupid.

I was also somewhat in denial about what Mom was going through. I wish someone had sat down with me and told me that the end was near. I still thought she could get better. I thought she had years before she would die. I was so blind. If someone had told me my services would be needed for a few weeks, I could easily have done that, even with a toddler.

It is my life’s biggest regret, and it haunts me every day.

Creative Juice #283

Creative Juice #283

A dozen articles chosen especially to spark your creativity this weekend.

The Ultimate Summer Day


I went for a walk the other day a little after noon. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, a light hoodie, and sandals. I live in the Phoenix area, and the temperature was in the mid-60s.

(But earlier in the morning, when I took the dog out, in my PJs and terry robe, the temperature was about 40 degrees. I know, I’m spoiled. I suffer when the temp dips down below 50.)

I came home from my walk, took a shower, and dressed in denim bermudas and a long-sleeve shirt.

I don’t like any weather that involves raking or shoveling. Winter is enjoyable here, but I really like summer better, even in the desert; though in the 100+ degree heat, I’d prefer to be in the pool if I have to be outside.

Sea and sky

My ideal summer day is based on the ones I experienced as a 15-year-old growing up in New Jersey. The sky would be blue, the sun warm, the temperature in the mid-to-upper 80s (though with the typical 85% humidity, it would be much less comfortable than Arizona dry heat), and I would be at the beach. I’d have a cooler with me, with cold soda and sandwiches and snacks. I’d have no responsibilities for the day—no job to go to, no meals to prepare, no appointments upcoming, no pressing deadlines to meet. And I’d have a friend with me, preferably one of the opposite sex.

When our kids were little and we still lived in New Jersey, but closer to the Pennsylvania border rather than near the Atlantic shore, we might drive half an hour to a lake to have a change of pace from the backyard pool. But my ideal day still included sun and water.

When we moved to Arizona, we bought another house with a pool, because we knew it would play a big part in our summers. A lot of people don’t like having pools, because they see the upkeep as tedious and expensive. But we had five kids. Going on a one-week vacation during the summer would cost us more than the price of a year’s worth of pool chemicals. And really, if you invest in a good pool vacuum, maintenance only takes maybe an hour or less a week. When the kids were young, we were in the pool every day. The kids’ birthday parties were always pool parties (except for Andy’s—he was born in December).

Now, with our kids all grown, we are not in the pool every day from April through October. Greg’s not been in the pool in years. I average about a dozen dips per summer, though every time I go in, I wonder why I don’t do it every day.

Only six more months till summer.

I can’t wait.