February 1 – There is a Crack in Everything

by Carol Ingells

 I have been stunned,violated, abused, bereft, inspired, hopeful, amazed, grateful. All these feelings and more have lived in me this week of painful revelations in my city– Lansing, Michigan. This city, dominated by Michigan State University, was my home for 50 years. This is where I taught school, was married, bore and raised a child, where I was involved in innumerable ways. This is the community I shared with my passionately dedicated writer/photographer husband for 40 years, sometimes feeling I came in second to his love for the community, the newspaper, his camera. This is where my husband, my sister, and my parents died and where my partner, Robert entered my life.
This week 150 young women screwed up their courage, came together and testified in court to the ongoing molestations of a supposedly renowned doctor. 150 girls! Not only were they molested, but no one listened to their stories. Their agonies were ignored as though they didn’t exist, weren’t valuable human beings. The “renowned doctor” was believed, protected, enabled.
Trust has been broken. Hearts have been broken. Not only because of the truth, but because the “highly respected” leaders of a great university would not face the truth; cared more about protecting the school and their own reputations than about the destruction of young lives. And what has it led to? Rage. Shock. Disillusionment. Grief.
The athletic department of MSU is implicated. The School of Osteopathic Medicine is implicated. The school’s President of 13 years, who was highly respected (and highly paid), has resigned. The Board of Trustees’ role is questionable. An over-all investigation has been launched, a special prosecutor appointed.
So why did I add inspired, hopeful, amazed and grateful? Because these young women have connected, bonded, supported one another in a beautiful way. Because the judge, a woman, allowed, encouraged, and listened as each one told her story. Because the university students rallied around them, thanking them and cheering them on.
Because maybe at last women are claiming their birth right, one that has eluded them for thousands of years. Because whatever humiliation, anger and grief Lansing has to suffer, maybe this city will come out the other side more honest, more compassionate, more whole.
There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. ~Leonard Cohen
Find Carol Ingells online at her blog, Prayer, Play, and Politics. This post was originally published there. (http://www.prayerplaypolitics.blogspot.com)



February 7 – Shaken to My Foundations During A Set of Wall Push-Ups

by Judy Gruen

The other day at the gym, the teacher sent us to the wall for a set of standing push-ups.

“Place your hands on the wall at breast level,” she instructed.

I placed my hands on the wall at breast level. I saw that my hands were headed for the Gulf of Mexico.

“How did this happen?” I asked, sorrow catching in my throat.

“You know what they say,” said my neighbor. “After 40, it’ all maintenance.”

I gritted my teeth and performed three grueling sets of push-ups, determined to show that my strength and agility were not sliding nearly as fast as some of the rest of me. I did not cheat, exactly. I leveled the playing field, so to speak, by sliding my hands north on the wall closer to California, where the rest of my body lives. This made the push-ups much easier to complete. Besides, the true pain of the exercise was realizing that I was desperately overdue for some deferred maintenance.

Back home, I fished out a catalog of women’s sports clothing that sold bras for every possible shape and fitness need. Sure enough, I found a model designed by a researcher in New Zealand who had a doctorate in Newtonian physics. The bra was called “Stand and Deliver”. I paid extra to have it shipped to me overnight.

When I looked at myself in the mirror wearing my new suspension rigging, I was amazed at what a little retrofitting could do for me. Had I only known how much I would benefit from a close study of Newtonian physics and its application to my ability to perform wall push-ups, I would have paid more attention in high school science.

My new bra was not the sexiest-looking underwire garment to have ever left the shores of Macau. It had an uncanny resemblance to building scaffolding, but at least I was not a “problem fit”who would require the services of one of the nation’s leading bra-sizing consultants. (This was not the case for my friend Gerry, who once admitted to me after a few glasses of wine that she had been measured for a new bra with a carpenter’s level.)

Stage 1 of my deferred maintenance program had striking results.

“Something’s different about you, I can tell,” my neighbor said while I was in my new cups. “Wait, don’t tell me: did you have Botox?”

While it is still a painful experience to walk past Victoria’s Secret, that bastion of female objectification and purveyor of false expectations, at least now I do so holding my head (and my mammaries) a little higher. Victoria’s starving models may look better in a push-up bra than I do, but those scrawny arms of theirs will be their undoing in a contest with me for wall push-ups.

(This post is adapted from a piece originally published in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.)

Judy Gruen’s newest book is “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith,” (September 2017, She Writes Press). She is the author of four previous books and has written for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Aish.com and many other media outlets. Find her online at http://www.judygruen.com/.


January 8 – Traffic Stop

by Linda Hoye

I’m sitting in traffic, stopped, as the city workers tend to yet another thing on the only street leading into our neighbourhood. The work has been going on since early summer. They’re painting crosswalks now; I think that means it’s almost finished.

A man in a vehicle two cars in front of me steps out of his car and tries to get a look at what is causing the delay up ahead. I glance in my rear view mirror; the line grows longer. I shift into park.

I see a young woman strolling along the sidewalk toward me with two young children, maybe two and three-years-old, in tow. She pauses every few steps to look behind her at the little one who is lagging behind and is, in fact, seeing something of great interest in the low cedar bushes that line the sidewalk.

She doesn’t attempt to hurry the little one along and I’m struck by her patience. I wish I wasn’t. I wish it was the norm for people to take meandering walks with children and allow them to explore the world they are growing up in. It often isn’t though.

The young woman glances unseeing at me for a moment then turns her attention back to the straggler who is now reaching into the cedars and plucking berries from the branches. The second child toddles back to join the berry-picker and, together, they pluck treasures and begin filling their pockets with them.

What fun. For the briefest of moments I’m transported back to my own childhood when we ran unsupervised through the neighbourhood using our imaginations to conjure all kinds of scenarios in which to fill endless days. Time shifts and I’m thinking of my own children and the games they made up that occupied them hour after hour with nothing more than a yard and sticks and branches and a faithful dog named Bobby.

Such richness there was, and is, in a world without electronics and constant stimulation. I applaud this young woman for her willingness to take the long and slow way and to allow these children the priceless gift of gathering cedar berries on an autumn afternoon.

Ahead, the flag person turns his sign from stop to slow and cars begin inching forward. I shift into drive and move past the berry-gathering activity toward my destination for the afternoon, taking with me a measure of simple peace and a belief that moments like this can change the world.

Linda Hoye is on the other side of a twenty-five-year corporate career; now a writer, photographer, gardener, and somewhat-fanatical grandma. She lives in Kamloops, British Columbia with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier. Find her online, where she posts daily, at http://www.lindahoye.com.

This post was first published on her at http://lindahoye.com/saturday-october-28-2017/.


January 5 – Travelling As Is

by V. J. Knutson


“My husband wants to put wheels on the bedroom and drive me cross-country.”

Three years ago, the doctor warned us against travelling six hours by car, stating that my health was too fragile. Now, she pauses in her note taking and ruminates for a moment before declaring the idea: “creative”.

“Well, it’s certainly taking charge of your life, instead of giving into the disease,” my psychologist adds when I disclose the plan to her. “I admire your attitude.”

Originally, we planned to take two years: I’d focus on recovery; he’d concentrate on winding down the business, and we’d sell everything off in stages. A boom in real estate helped push our dream forward, and here we are, on the road in half the time.

Mornings are the worst. Sleep, when it does come, encases my body in lead, reluctantly giving up her grasp when consciousness calls. Since the mind stirs long before the limbs, I have learned to use this time to write. Writing is one of the luxuries illness has afforded me.

Inspiration is never far away when the view from my window is ever-changing. Today, I am greeted by a cloudless blue Texan sky, anchored by the beauty of palms waving gently in the breeze.

Later, we’ll drive to one of the World Birding Centers nearby, where I’ll search for the green jay, native to this area, hoping to snap a picture. Or, if strength fails me, I’ll prop myself up in bed and try to sketch the pintail duck I photographed on my last visit. He’s such an elegant creature, his head a black hood atop a snowy neck and breast, balanced serenely on one leg. I admire his ease and grace; maybe even envy him a little more–my gait is so lumbered and slow.  Self-pity is a flitting sentiment these days though, now that I have time to admire the delights of nature.

Life is simple now. We gave up most of our worldly goods–passed what we could to the children, sold the rest. We are nomads, escapees from the stress of debt, cold weather, and the mundane.

Our home, complete with a washer/dryer, dishwasher, and walk-in closet, offers all that we need. He has his desk; I have my king-sized bed.  Shoeboxes, we’ve discovered, can be efficient and comfortable. Our yard, however, is incomparable, priceless.

In a week or so, we’ll pack up and head further west.

Illness, we’ve discovered, does not take a vacation, but this alternative sure beats the years of isolation and immobility that preceded it.

Life is a grand as it can be.

V.J.Knutson is a former educator, avid blogger, and grandmother. She and her husband are currently travelling cross-country in a 40 foot motor home. Originally from Ontario, Canada, V.J. hopes this journey will provide healing for her ME/CFS, or at the very least, inspire further creativity. Find her online at https://onewomansquest.org/.

December 20 – Thank God for L’Oreal, Light Ash Blonde, 9A

by Teri Liptak

The beauty of thinking of ourselves as evolving instead of aging is the acknowledgement that we still have unrealized potential. Getting older doesn’t have to mean loss or letting go of what “used to be.” It can be evolving into a more fulfilled version of our younger selves. Although I do miss the eyesight of my younger self. Plus, it’s just not fun that certain areas of my body have taken an alarming shift to the south.

In the past few years after my son’s graduation from school, there’s been an increase in solitude. There has been more time for myself and my own pursuits. On the surface, that sounds like a dream. (One that I remember having many times when dealing with the “terrible twos” as a new mom.) Yet, as someone who had been a full-time mother for the past two decades, that initial quiet and stillness felt uncomfortable. At first, I no longer felt needed or that I had a defined purpose. A racehorse retired to pasture with no more races to run. I had no idea what my own pursuits might be. Did I want to pursue anything? Did I have the energy? What if I was too old for something new? The what-ifs were showing up as fast as the wrinkles.

It’s so easy to look in the mirror and feel old and tired with each new wrinkle. One day, I just got sick of giving the mirror so much power over my mood and who I thought I was. Surely there could be more to me than how smooth my skin was (or wasn’t) or how many gray hairs were lurking on my head (Thanks, L’Oreal, Light Ash Blonde 9A hair dye.)

I suppose this was my mid-life crisis. I went to bed perfectly happy the night before and woke up a sobbing, depressed mess. Never saw it coming. Who flipped the switch? I assumed it was just a bad day, and things would get better. I devoured a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and went back to bed. That bad day has lasted, off and on, for four years. (That’s a lot of Ben & Jerry’s.)

During that time, I met several women online that became friends and were going through similar emotions. With their support and friendship, I found my way to a dream that I did want to pursue. Writing.

Writing has led me out of feeling useless and into a new way of seeing my world. It has given me the desire and courage to push out of my comfort zone and put myself out into the world. Life is too precious not to participate because of an imaginary expiration date in my head. I don’t need anyone’s permission to keep growing and learning every day. I’m not getting old, I’m evolving into the person I was meant to be. Day by day, wrinkle by wrinkle.

However, I’m still grateful for L’Oreal, Light Ash Blonde 9A hair dye. I’m not that evolved.

Teri Liptak lives in Texas with her husband, son, two neurotic cats, and one loudmouthed dachshund. She loves: animals, laughing until she snorts, and the sea. Teri’s a member of the East Texas Writers Guild. Her poetry is featured in Art of Peace, Building Bridges 2017 Anthology and at www.kindovermatter.com. She blogs at http://rttlingcage.blogspot.com/.

This post was first published on Teri’s blog, Rattling the Cage (http://rttlingcage.blogspot.ca/2016/06/thank-god-for-loreal-light-ash-blonde-9a.html)

December 18 – Emergency Room Encounters

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

“Hi! My name is Pat and I am a volunteer here in the Emergency Room.”

This is my opening line as I enter the room of the most recent patient to arrive at the Carroll County Hospital’s ER. Thursday mornings will find me there to bring some small comfort to the patient’s and family members while waiting for the necessary medical procedure to occur.

My offerings consist of a warm blanket which is stored in the largest oven I have ever given witness to. I liken the warmth of the blanket to that of being encased safely in the womb before birth. For the procedure that many of the patient’s await, will in many cases, result in being given a new lease on life.

Family members are offered orange juice, apple juice or ginger ale to quench thirst for many of them have arrived in great haste. Their thirst is quenched, but also their need to have an attentive presence as they tell me the reasons why it became necessary for their loved one to be brought to the ER. Many of those stories are heart-rending.

One that I recall with clarity was that of a man who needed what I call a “listen to.” As he awaited his diagnosis he shared with me the horrors of a childhood that was fraught with abuse and neglect.

“See this scar on my neck?” he asked as he shared it had occurred during a tragic accident in earlier years. “I have had two kidney transplants and two liver transplants.”

The medical procedures were daunting to say the least. However, instead of the expected anger about this childhood of abuse and drug addiction his having a religious transformation brought him relief and comfort. That in his later years he found some reasons to be grateful that he was alive. I doubted seriously that I could have been so grateful.

As he was wheeled away for yet another medical procedure he implored me to return when the procedure was completed. He so very much needed someone to listen to his story which is what I do best as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor.

Upon his return the M.D soon showed up and reluctantly shared with him that the diagnosis was that of cancer. I sat with him in silence until he dressed and returned home. No, I will never know the outcome of that encounter, but I have the assurance that my being present and listening to him brought much-needed comfort.

Patricia Roop Hollinger is a retired Pastoral Counselor/Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor after having served for twenty-three years in a mental health setting. She and her husband, who dated in their youth, married in 2010. They reside in a retirement community with their cat, Spunky. Pat enjoys reading and writing.

December 12 – The Last Hanukkah With My Mother

by Ariela Zucker

Some months, more than others, bring up old memories. Some of them appear as vibrant as on the day they happened. The other day I looked at the calendar and saw that Hanukkah is only twelve days away. Suddenly it hit me, the memory of my last Hanukkah with my mother emerged from a faraway memory land.

It was Hanukkah of 1999 when, for the last time, I spent time with my mother.

We always went to Jerusalem to celebrate this holiday; my husband our four girls and I together with my parents would light the candles. The girls, each had their own Hanukkiah. They got to choose the colors of the candles, listen patiently to my father’s instructions which candle to lit first. Then we placed the lit Hanukkiahs in front of the big window in the living room, and the dancing flames framed our images in the dark glass.

My mother insisted on going through the ritual of blessings and traditional songs, which we did rather hurriedly to make it to the best part of the night–food and games.

Her homemade jelly donuts covered with fine powdered sugar never looked like the store-bought ones but tasted so much better. The dreidel games made for hours of fun.

That last Hanukkah did not feel the same. For the past two years, my mother wasn’t herself–she was irritated, forgetful, and disoriented at times. Even without an official diagnosis we could tell. We went to Jerusalem like we did every year but spent the night in an old monastery in a small village on the outskirts of town. We thought that the sense of adventure would distract the girls from the fact that they couldn’t stay at my parent’s house. But the rooms with their soaring ceilings and the thick walls of Jerusalem stone were bone freezing.

The lightning of the candles was a somber event that evening. Did we know, in the way one sometimes sense things before they happen?

Less than two weeks later my mother passed away. The windows of her hospital ward looked over the small village and the monastery where we spent our last visit.

The day she was buried, the tenth day in the Jewish month of Tevet, is also a day of mourning and fasting commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in the 6th century BC, resulting in the destruction of the first temple and later it became Memorial Day for Holocaust victims whose date of death is unknown.

Completely irrelevant, perhaps.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband  left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at https://papredragon2017.blogspot.ca/

This piece was originally published on Ariela’s blog, Paper Dragon at  https://papredragon2017.blogspot.ca/2017/12/the-last-hanukkah-with-my-mother.html