Sunday, August 30, 2009

Turning back time

If I could turn back time, I’d:
Pray more
Smile more
Hug more
Love more
Enjoy more
Relax more
Travel more
Laugh more
Write more
Read more
Learn more
Exercise more
Sing more
See more
Feel more
Hear more
If I could turn back time, I’d:
Reject less
Worry less
Hurry less
Work less
Cry less
Hurt less
How about you?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What are sisters?

Sisters are:
Secret keepers
Hand holders
Memory keepers
Confidence builders
But most of all, sisters are friends, the kind who love you no matter what.
I’ve been blessed to have four sisters, and I love each one with all my heart. Each one is different and yet amazing in their own way. This post is in memory of my oldest sister, Wendy Lee Aughenbaugh, who mothered and loved her four younger sisters and taught them that there is no greater gift than the gift of love. I miss you terribly, Wendy, but I hear you in my head each day encouraging me to love with everything I have and live life to its fullest.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 10: Curtains and basket liners

I love Longaberger baskets. I’ve even coordinated basket liners with curtains in particular rooms. For example, I have Longaberger Lilac Rose curtains in my dining room and the baskets in this room have coordinating liners. Ditto for the Fruit Medley curtains and basket liners in the kitchen, the Orchard Park Plaid curtains and basket liners in the family room and the Traditional Red curtains and basket liners in the living room. Just another example of my crazy self. I could be a poster child for the company!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Remember summer when we were young

• covered in red juice from eating cherry snowballs
• crying at church camp because we were so homesick
• staying awake all night because we were excited to go on vacation and then too tired to enjoy the beginning of it
• sitting in the cherry tree stuffing our mouths full of fruit
• capturing fireflies on a muggy August night
• waterlogged from spending the day at the pool
• decorating our bikes for the parade at the park
• holding penny carnivals in the backyard
• selling lemonade from our homemade stand in front of the house
• battling with water balloons
• traipsing through the creek in our bare feet and slipping on slimy rocks
• picking up fallen apples and getting stung by bees
• playing hide-and-seek and foxes and hounds and kick the can
• sleeping out in the tent in the backyard
• telling ghost stories and doing dares

Oh, to be young again. The summer of our youth was a wondrous time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 9: Dish detergents and handsoaps

How weird is this? My kitchen curtains are red and green and purple and blue. Sounds garish, but they are really pretty.

Anyway, I like to buy dish detergent and hand soap that complement the curtains. For example, from Palmolive’s Spring Sensations Collection (which I like best) I buy Fresh Green Apple (a green), Lavender and Ylang Ylang (a purple) or Crisp Cucumber Melon (a red).

I pair these Palmolive dish detergents with Dial Complete Pump Foaming Soaps, either Fresh Pear (a green) or Cool Plum (a purple) or Cranberry (a red). Now I don’t pair two reds and two greens and two purples, I mix and match. So I might pair the green dish detergent with the cranberry hand soap or the purple dish detergent with a green hand soap.

I’m sure no one even notices this quirky thing, but it’s makes my obsessive self happy. How many of you coordinate this sort of thing?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Excerpt from High Street Gang/Locket

Elizabeth was still on the computer when I walked up to her with a white jewelry box.

“Get lost," she said.

"But I thought you might like to see what I found."

She looked up. "You found a necklace? Let me see it. Let me see it.”

I took off the lid and wiggled my finger.

Elizabeth screamed so loud I thought the neighbors would call 911.

"Mmm. Road kill," I said, licking the blood off my finger.

"You pig! You pig! You're so gross!" She ran to the bathroom and I could hear her throwing up.

My plan worked perfectly. Elizabeth really thought that it was someone's finger I had found along the road. But it was just my finger smothered in ketchup. I had cut holes in the bottom of the jewelry box and cotton liner, poked my finger through the holes and rested it on the cotton liner.

"What's wrong, Elizabeth?" Mom yelled, running up the basement steps.

Uh-oh. Time to bolt.

"It's Mags. She found a finger on the road and has it in a jewelry box. There's blood all over it."

"Margaret Mary," Mom called.

I came downstairs all cleaned up.

"What's this about a finger in a box?"

"Don’t know what she’s talking about. I think Lizzy's reading too many horror novels.”

Elizabeth glared at me. "I saw it. It was in a necklace box."

I looked at Mom, shrugged my shoulders and shook my head.

"Maybe Mags is right," Mom said. "Maybe you are reading too many horror novels. I’m not sure what’s up with you two, but it’s over. Dinner’s ready.”

I followed Elizabeth to the table.

"I'll get you back," she whispered. "You never know what can happen in a cemetery at night."

"Yeah," I said. "There are lots of dead fingers there, Lizzy. Maybe a few of them will grab you."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 8: Lists

I’m a list person. I love making to-do lists then crossing off items as I accomplish them. For example, a typical to-do list might look something like this:

Drop Kakita at groomers

Target (Vanilla latte?)

Grocery store

Pick up Kakita





Of course, this list contains items that would have individual lists, like a list of items I’m buying at Target or the grocery store. And, here’s a confession: Sometimes when something isn’t on the list and I accomplish it, I put it on just so I can cross it off.

I won’t even try to explain the list on my desk at work, which changes constantly as reporters file stories, I edit and return for revisions, they make changes and file again, I edit again – just describing this process makes me dizzy. But, trust me, it works. The notations on my list tell me what stage a particular story is in.

Are you a list maker or do you keep it all in your head?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I wish summer could stay forever

I wish summer could stay forever, wrapping me in its warmth and kissing me with rays of sunshine.

I wish summer could stay forever, fireflies flickering in the night and the moon standing guard in the starry sky.

I wish summer could stay forever, tomatoes dangling from twisty vines and sweet corn hiding in coats of green.

I wish summer could stay forever, children’s laughter spilling through open windows and the ice-cream truck bell singing as it snakes through the neighborhood.

I wish summer could stay forever, sun-drenched clothes bobbing on clotheslines and steaks sizzling over white coals.

I wish summer could stay forever, green grass tickling bare toes and butterfly bushes dressed in vibrant hues.

I wish summer could stay forever, but it can’t.

Fall will prepare a colorful feast for our eyes then Old Man Winter will yawn and stretch his snowy arms. Spring will escort nature’s reawakening, but it’s summer, ah summer, that I love most.

I wish it could stay forever.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 7: File folders

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I love organizing things. I’m in love with manila folders. Oh how they bring me joy. I fill them with all sorts of things – like store receipts and school newsletters and birthday cards and toy instructions and report cards and millions and millions of other items flat enough to fit. If it can go into a manila folder, it does.

When it comes to organizing my work e-mail, I have tons of folders under the save tab. I have a folder for every person I work with (and some that I don’t but frequently e-mail). One for each project I’m working on or for each group I’m involved with. Some folders have sub folders. For example, I have a letters folder under which can be found a good letter folder and a bad letter folder. When I get a letter from a reader praising me for something (which rarely happens), I put it in the good letter folder. When I get a letter blasting me for something that only a complete idiot would do (like eliminate a particular Sunday comic) I put that in my bad letter folder. And, some folders that have sub folders that have sub folders. Try to figure that one out. Just my normal crazy self.

Excerpt from "The Brain Invaders'

But that’s me, Alex. Always trying to save the world, or at least those people I care about. And, lately, it seems like more and more of the people I care about are changing. They’re different. Not completely human. I know it sounds weird but I swear it’s the truth.

First Mrs. McGee. Then my sister’s old piano teacher and my minister.

They look like humans.

They walk and talk like humans.

But they aren’t completely human – and now I know why.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Some of my writing tweets

  • Writing is like peeling an orange. You pick away at the shell until you get to the delicious fruit inside. And then enjoy it.
  • Writing that inspires us is like getting candy as a kid - a delightful treat:)
  • I'm in love with writing, but sometimes I swear it hates me. Doesn't want to cooperate. Can be stubborn and downright nasty. Listen up, U!
  • Writing is the key that unlocks the stories battling in our brains to get out.
  • Writing is our medicine. It makes us feel better.
  • Writing is like eating dessert -- you can never get enough of it.
  • Writing sweetens our day and makes life so much richer.
  • Writing is a mental massage that soothes our soul in ways nothing else ever could.
  • Writing is as natural and essential as breathing.

Now your turn. Writing is...

Excerpt from High Street Gang/Haunted Barn

My friends took off for the food stand and I started doodling on the score pad. That's when my sister, Elizabeth, showed up.

"What's up, punk," she said, pulling the tablet out of my hand.

"Get lost.”

"When did you learn shorthand?"

"I didn't."

"Well, this is shorthand. I should know. I taught myself from one of Mom’s old text books just for fun.”

"Well, if it's shorthand, what does it say, smarty?"

"You'll find Anna in West Side Nursing Home. Hurry. Time is running out.”

"That scribble says all that?"

I grabbed the tablet to look at it. Still looked like scribble to me.

"Who's Anna?" she asked.

"I don't know."

“Then why’d you write it?”

“I didn’t. Well, at least I didn’t know that I did.”

"You’re really weird. And I suppose you’re going to tell me that you also didn’t know you wrote West Side Nursing Home. Where’s that, anyway? Never heard of it."

"Me, neither."

"Then why'd you write it?"

"I told you I didn't write it. I mean I didn't know that I did. I was just doodling."

"How can you write in shorthand and not even know it? Give me a break, dweeb."

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 6: A place for everything

My brother-in-law Frank drives me crazy (As if I’m not crazy enough!). So he comes to my house and has fun moving things and swapping things and hiding things and messing up things because he knows that after he leaves I will spend hours putting everything back where it belongs. For example, he’ll swap the basket on the fireplace mantel with the one on the end table or he’ll move the rag doll perched on my quilt rack to the back of the sofa. He drives me insane – ON PURPOSE. He knows that I like everything in its place, and he gets his laughs at my expense. I’m like so glad when he leaves. I love him dearly, just don’t like the way he screws with my head. But he does wash and wax and clean the inside of my car for free, so I guess we’re even.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Excerpt from "Grandma's Last Dance"

Grandma insisted on a funeral service for King David. She turned a small, white jewelry box into a tiny casket complete with a purple velvet lining. Then she made a grave marker out of a piece of wood. “Here lies King David. May he rest in peace,” it said.

Maddie came to the funeral service, too. Grandma had asked her to read from the Bible and Grandma sang “Jesus Love Me.” Then Grandma talked about how much she loved watching King David swim around his bowl and what a beautiful fish he was and how he made Ella so happy. Then Maddie talked about how King David was the best fish she had ever met and how happy she was to have had the opportunity to know him.

Then Ella took King David’s casket and placed it in the hole Grandma had dug in the backyard underneath the cherry tree. It was a beautiful ceremony, and Grandma told Ella she could get a new goldfish if she wanted. But Ella didn’t want another fish. She wanted King David.

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 5: Grocery cart

When I go to the supermarket I strategically park near the cart return. Why? you ask. (Or maybe you’re secretly hoping that I will just go away.) It’s about being efficient. I park near the rack so I don’t have too far to walk after loading the groceries into my car. I’ve thought a great deal about this (like 2 seconds) and it makes complete sense to me.

My husband, on the other hand, parks about 200 miles away. “You say you need to get more exercise,” he says. “Well, here you go.” I tell him that trekking hundreds of miles to the store door from the wilderness of the parking lot (making sure that I don’t step on sticky gum or yellow lines or pebbles big enough to twist my ankle) doesn’t count. Running seven miles uphill (winks) counts. He just looks at me and shakes his head and I’m like, well, you married me you fool. Now you have to put up with my crazy self. LOL

Friday, August 14, 2009

Learn to have the generosity of children

There was once a little boy who collected plastic tree frogs.

He loved to play with the colorful creatures.

He had blue ones

and red ones

and yellow ones.

Spotted ones

and striped ones.

Each week, he saved his 50-cent allowance to buy a new one for his growing menagerie.

One week, he earned a dollar helping a neighbor rake leaves — enough for two tree frogs.

Imagine that.

The little boy was so happy he could hardly wait until it was Friday and time to do the weekly grocery shopping. You see, the tree frogs lived in a bubble-gum machine at the supermarket.

Each day, he’d ask his mother if that was the day they were going to the store.

And each day, for five days straight, his mother said no. But on the sixth day she said yes.

Tree frog day had finally arrived, and the little boy jumped and smiled and laughed.

Life was good.

On their way to the store, however, he and his mother stopped at the pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions. The little boy saw a can on the counter. There was a picture of a little girl on the sign that was attached. He asked his mother about the little girl, and she explained that the money collected in the can was used to help children with disabilities.

The little boy stuffed his chubby hand into his jeans pocket and pulled out his crumpled dollar. He looked at the picture of George Washington on the dollar bill and then at the picture of the little girl on the sign. He turned the dollar over and studied the back of it.

“Time to go,” his mother said, tugging his arm.

They walked a few steps, and the little boy stopped.

They walked a few more steps, and he stopped again.

“Wait,” he said.

He sprinted to the counter and stuffed the dollar in the can. Even though he wanted the tree frogs and had waited all week to get them, he wanted to help the little girl and her friends more.

I wonder, sometimes, what would happen if we were more like this child. If we opened our hearts to others without expecting something in return. What good we could do if every person who read this column threw a dollar in a pot.

Imagine that.


This is a true story about my son Zach. It’s one of the proudest moments of my life, and it’s one I will never forget.

The little boy is now a man. As he goes out into the world, I hope and pray that he never forgets the tree frogs and how good it feels to give.

First published in the York Daily Record/Sunday News Feb. 25, 2007

Inspired picture book: One Frog, Two Frogs, Three Frogs, Four

From "High Street Gang and Locket of Doom"

Excerpt from middle-grade novel

"But I’m scared,” A.J. said. “I don't mind walking through the cemetery when it’s light outside, but at midnight? Walking on top of all those dead people when it's dark gives me the creeps."

I wasn't crazy about the idea either. I mean, standing in the middle of a cemetery at midnight isn't my idea of fun. But I, Margaret Mary O'Malley, never back down from a dare. A.J.'s older brother, Tom, had dared our group, the High Street Gang, to walk through the cemetery at midnight.

"What’s there to be afraid of? Everyone’s dead. It’s not like they’re going to claw their way out of their coffins and grab you and pull you into their grave and we’ll never see you again. Besides, we can't chicken out. We'll never hear the end of it. And I really want to see if the statue cries."

"What statue?"

"The one in the middle of the cemetery. You know the one. The lady. It's the only statue in the entire cemetery. It cries."

Celebrating the strands that bind us together

I was sitting in a crowded theater watching “Spider-Man 3” with my sons when Spidey creator Stan Lee appeared in a scene with Peter Parker.

“You know, I guess one person can make a difference,” he tells Peter.

I love when movies provide moments I can discuss later with my kids. And I knew Lee’s line was just the sticky stuff I needed to capture their attention. It was a good opportunity to chat about the difference each one of us can make. And the visual of a web showing how we are all interconnected wasn’t bad either. I had it all figured out by the time we got to the car.

The kids saw it coming. They’re used to me weaving cinematic moments into our drive-home discussions. But I just couldn’t help sharing some moments in my life when one person had made a difference.

Sometimes the moments have been simple - like a smile and a few kind words from the clerk who rings up my morning coffee on a day I’m feeling blue. And sometimes the moments have been more life changing, like the moment my first son was born, and I realized that the incredible gift I had been given would change my life forever.

One of the real beauties in this world, I think, is the intricate web created when one person does something nice for someone else, like Charlotte does for her beloved Wilbur in “Charlotte’s Web.” Usually, the person has no idea how far-reaching the web they started has become, nor do they realize the number of people caught in its magic.

I have two such webs I’d like to share.

I remember arriving at Emig Funeral Home in Dover in March 1997 for my brother-in-law’s viewing and director Dan Cupp telling us that an anonymous donor had paid the entire funeral bill. What a difference that person made in all of our lives that day.

There were tears. And more tears. Not just because of the financial burden that was lifted from my sister, Wendy, who was very ill (she died less than a month later), but because of what it taught us about human compassion.

Each one of us was touched by this incredible act of kindness. It showed us there is good in the world and to give and not expect anything in return is an awesome thing.

One person.

One moment.

One web.

But many touched by its magic.

Iremember the time I came home on a cold winter’s night to find a pile of presents at my door for a needy child I had been buying Christmas gifts for. The generous soul didn’t want me to know he had left them (he’ll tell you not every Santa wears red), but it wasn’t hard to figure out.
My brother-in-law Frank has one of the biggest, warmest, most loving hearts around, and if you tell him a child needs something, he’s the first one to the store buying it. In this case, the child wanted some hockey equipment. And Frank, an avid hockey fan, knew just what to get.

One person.

One moment.

One web.

But many touched by its magic.

Parents. Spouses. Siblings. Friends. Teachers. Neighbors. You get the idea. All of us can and do make differences every day. We may not see the entire web our single action spins, but the masterpiece is there and its beauty felt in each connecting strand.

Be Charlotte-esque. Help weave the webs of the world. They make it stronger and better for all of us to live in.

One person can make a difference.

First published in the York Daily Record/Sunday News May 27, 2007

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 4: Odd numbers

I hate odd numbers. Stupid, I know. I mean, it’s not like they’re slimy and slithery like snakes, which I hate, or those creepy crawlers with millions of matching legs that scurry across the floor like they’re headed to some great party behind the baseboard.

But there’s just something about an odd number that I don’t like.

So if I’m on the treadmill and I’m about dead, struggling to take another breath, needing water like a bubble eye goldfish who’s been out of his tank too long and I look down and see that I’m on lap 13 – TOO BAD!

I can’t stop.

Gotta go to 14.

Or when I buy bananas at the grocery store I buy a bunch with a even number. Now I know what you’re thinking (besides this chick is crazy), when I eat a banana the number will then be odd. But for some reason that doesn’t bother me (Thank, God). We all have quirky things like this. What is your’s?

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 3: Smelly stuff

I like things to smell good – my clothes, my hair, my house, everything. I mean, who likes smelly things, right? So anyway, I started buying deodorizers for my house. But I liked the idea of coordinating the scent to the room. So, for instance, I have the clean linen scent in the laundry room and the apple-cinnamon scent in the kitchen and the ocean blue scent in the boys’ rooms and the sweet pea & lilac scent in the powder room and the lavender vanilla scent in the master bedroom and the jasmine and white rose in the library. I like being able to customize my smelling experience. Just another one of the many quirky things I do.

Tapestry: A shift of view

A friend of mine shared a thought one day that blew me away. It touched me so deeply that I’ve passed it on to others who were hurting or grieving. It’s one of those moments you can’t help but share. Before I tell you what he said, I need to explain what led up to it.

I had just called the hospital to ask for my girlfriend’s room number. Dee had been admitted the day before, and I figured I would pop over during my lunch break and surprise her. But after I told the woman at the hospital why I was calling, her cheerful voice changed. It’s then that I learned Dee had died just a few hours before.

I was in shock. I couldn’t believe she was gone, and I went to share the news with my editor, Jim McClure, a man of deep faith. Jim and I have talked a lot over the years about my many losses. Mom. Dad. Sister. Brother-in-law. Pastor. Other family members and friends. The list, sadly, is too long to count.

He listened quietly like he always does and offered his condolences. A few minutes later, he came over to my desk. The conversation went something like this.

“ Buffy,” he said. “Right now you are looking at the back side of the tapestry. You see all the knots and loose threads and it’s not very pretty.”

“You got that right,” I said. “It’s ugly. Real ugly.”

“Yes,” he said. “I know you think it is. But one day you’re going to see the other side of that tapestry, and you will see how beautiful it is.”

Wow! What an image he had painted for me. I remembered the cross-stitch wall hanging my mother made for me before she died. He was right. The back of it wasn’t pretty. There were knots and loose threads. It didn’t look like a picture at all. But when I flipped it over, all the ugliness was gone and a beautiful picture was in its place.

So many times in life we’re looking at the back side of the tapestry. It’s hard not to. Life’s not always fair. It’s not always happy. And it’s not always how we want it to be.

But I’ve learned that it’s the knots and the loose threads on the back of the tapestry that make the front of it the masterpiece it is.

We won’t always understand the twists and turns our road of life takes, but, if we trust in the Lord, we know where that road will ultimately lead.

Thank you, Jim, for your gift that day. You probably didn’t know how much that moment meant to me or that it was a moment that I would pass on to so many other people.

I will always remember the tapestry story and that beauty can be found in even the ugliest of times.

First published in York Daily Record/Sunday News March 11, 2007

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 2: Linen closet

I drive my husband nuts. Like the other day, I opened the linen closet and what do I find? Towels. Nothing unusual about that, I know. But the pink towels were mixed up with the yellow towels, which were mixed up with the blue towels, which were mixed up with the striped towels, which were mixed up with the green towels. No. No. No. That’s not how I do it. The pinks go together and the yellows go together and the blues go together and the stripes go together and the greens go together. So I reorganize them. All the while my husband’s telling me that he’ll never put the towels away ever again. And I’m like, “OK. Sounds good to me, because I’d rather do it myself anyway.” Just another example of my obsessiveness about things that have no relevance. Poor husband. He really is a saint for loving my crazy self.

Our choices determine the impact

Choices. We make dozens of them every day. What to wear. What to eat. What to watch on TV.

Most of our daily decisions are no big deal, but there are some that really matter.

We choose to stay angry or we choose to forgive.

We choose to speak out against an injustice or we choose to remain silent.

We choose to stand alone or we choose to give in to peer pressure.

Life is full of moments when we make important decisions. And the decisions that we make not only determine the outcome or consequence but how others react to us.

I’d like to say that I’ve made all of the right choices in life, but I would be lying. The truth is, I’ve made my share of bad ones. And sometimes the consequences have been painful — a bad grade, lost privileges and, perhaps worst of all, the disappointment on the faces of my parents, husband or children.

I’d like to think that the moments when I make bad choices are just as important as the moments when I make good ones because of what I learn. I’d like to think that somehow the good and the bad balance each other out and that, in the end, both have formed who I am today. That’s what I’d like to think, but I guess you can never be sure.

I started thinking about choices recently while taking an inventory of my life. I had lunch with a dear friend, and he asked me some pretty tough questions. The kind that make you uncomfortable because they force you to become introspective. To be honest, it was a moment I didn’t particularly like. I was at a crossroads of sorts, and he was encouraging me to examine my life. To make a list of my goals, evaluate them and determine how I was going to achieve them. He wanted to meet again in a couple of weeks to share my thoughts and see what choices I had made.

I thought about what I had accomplished and what I have yet to achieve. I thought about the choices I’ve made in life. The good and the bad. Those that brought me closer to my goals and those that didn’t.

I thought about my family and friends — and whether I had been the mother and wife or sister and friend that I’ve wanted to be.

The truth is, I’ve fallen short in all of these areas. That’s the bad news. The good is that I have a choice — I can keep trying to do better or I can settle for less. I’m not about settling for less, so the choice is clear.

Each of us is the driver of our lives. We choose which road to take, whether to turn right or left or go straight at an intersection and ultimately where we will end up. And each time we make a choice on our road of life, we need to deal with what lies ahead. Sometimes it’s a pothole or bump. And these hurt. Sometimes there’s a fallen tree blocking the path, and we need to figure out how to get around it. These make us stronger and wiser. And sometimes — and these are the sweetest of times — the road is straight and smooth.

But here’s the thing. Good. Bad. At least we have choices. And, in the end, the choices matter because they help shape who we are and what we hope to become.

First published in the York Daily Record/Sunday News April 22, 2007

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 1: Closet

OK. I admit it. I obsess just a teeny-tiny bit about things. But I wouldn’t be my crazy self if I didn’t. And I sort of like who I am. Anyway, the other day I was looking at my closet, feeling pretty good about it. It’s organized and neat. Then I opened my husband’s closet to put some shirts away and let me tell you folks, his closet is nothing like mine. Made me itch just looking at it.

In my closet, everything is arranged first by item (sweaters, pants, shirts, etc.) and then by color (or prints) followed by sleeve length. For example, suppose it’s really hot and I want to wear a short-sleeve white shirt. I know just where to find it. Ditto for a long-sleeve black shirt or a stripped sweater or a pair of black pants or a brown mock turtleneck or a red regular turtleneck (Yes, even turtlenecks are arranged by mock and regular) or a summer dress or a winter dress – well, you get the picture. Pure bliss.

To me, it makes perfect sense and is efficient. To my husband, it’s just another example of my quirkiness that he has come to accept (and I think love).

How do you arrange your closet?

We learn from our failures

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don’t work out exactly as we had planned. We fall, and sometimes we fall hard.

In the movie “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne has a flashback: He falls into a well as a young boy. His father, a doctor, sets his fractured arm, and he asks Bruce “Why do we fall?” The answer: So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

Later, Bruce Wayne’s butler and confidant, Alfred, asks Bruce the same question after rescuing him from his burning home. The answer doesn’t change.

Falling hurts. It makes us cry, and it makes us angry. But if we never learn to pick ourselves up, we will never learn to deal with life’s strikeouts. I’m dealing with one right now. More on that in a bit.

I always tell my sons that failures are the building blocks of success. I never really understood this as a teen, but it’s something my father would remind me about whenever I fell short of a goal.

On my first real knock-the-wind-out-of-me fall, I remember crying and my mom feeling helpless, unable to console me. “I just don’t understand why you are so upset,” she said.
Looking back, it was a really silly thing to be upset about — even if I was only 16. I wasn’t chosen to participate in a pageant.

“Dot,” my dad said, “she’s upset because she’s never failed at anything. This is a hard lesson for her. But a good one.”

He was right. It was. I learned more from failing than I ever would have from succeeding. Let me say that again — I learned more from failing than I ever would have from succeeding.
Of course, you couldn’t tell a know-it-all teen that then. That realization would take a few more years and some maturity. But as I grew older, I learned to appreciate my dad’s guidance and honesty. He was always there to help me up from my falls, but he expected me to get my legs moving afterward.

On this painful first-fall day, he looked at me with a loving smile and said, “When you’re done crying, get up and go.”

I think I cried a bit more, wallowing in my self-pity, but I eventually did get up and press on, never forgetting his wise words.

My failures have made me stronger and more determined to succeed. They’ve forced me to admit my shortcomings and figure out how to overcome them. And they’ve taught me that we have only truly failed when we allow the Monster of Defeat to overpower us and hold us down.
We don’t always understand the defining moments of our lives as they are happening. But when we look back, we can clearly see that along with the hits and home runs there are some strikes and strikeouts and that together they make the game. In the end, the winner is one who learns to deal with both.

I was reminded of this moment recently when a big, fat rejection slip came in the mail for a book manuscript I have been trying to place. Another failure. Another strike.

As I opened the letter, I could feel my dad’s presence, looking down on me from heaven. I saw his loving smile and heard him say, “When you’re done crying, get up and go.”

I know I’ll get up and go — but I need to cry a bit first.

First published in York Daily Record/Sunday News Nov. 4, 2007

Monday, August 10, 2009

Excerpt from Freaky Frank

I have a secret. I know things. Lots of things. About people. Like I know that my math teacher, Mr. Bugg, is going to pick his nose and wipe a boogie on the back of his yellow smiley face tie when he turns around to write on the board. And I know that Lacey, who sits next to me, is hoping that Jon, who sits behind me, asks her to our eighth-grade school dance. And that she really, really, really hopes that the pimple she popped and powdered before class doesn’t look like a giant apple on the tip of her nose. And that Jon doesn’t see said giant apple pimple when she accidentally-on-purpose bumps into him while leaving class.

See what I mean? I know tons of things. Freaky Frank. That’s me, all right.

Excerpt from Freaky Frank, latest middle-grade manuscript

Seeds of healing fall from sky

A dried rose sits on my computer, along with a popcorn seed, star- fish, seashell, toy turtle and floral-shaped eraser.

It’s an odd menagerie that grows as sentimental items are added. They are daily reminders of precious moments.

The rose from a friend’s funeral. The popcorn seed from my pastor, who gave it to me during a sermon before he died.

Our lives are filled with tiny treasures that transport us to another time and place — moments that have helped define who we are and what we hope to become.

I recently had dinner with a dear friend, and she told me a story that I’d like to share. I will never look at acorns in quite the same way — and I’m guessing neither will you.

Kim was visiting her father’s grave in western Pennsylvania. Kneeling by his tombstone, tears streaming down her face, heart heavy with inconsolable grief. She told him how much she missed him and how much she loved him and how hard life was without him.

If only she could hug him one more time.

Just one more time.

To feel his strong arms, see his loving smile and that magic sparkle in his green eyes.

She laid down the bouquet of roses she always brings him and wiped a spot from his name on the tombstone.

That’s when it happened.

It sounded like a knock. Kim looked around, but no one was there. So she continued talking to her dad, sharing her private thoughts and feelings.

Then came another knock.

And another.

She looked around the cemetery for someone walking toward her but, again, no one.

“Then I saw the acorn,” Kim said. “A squirrel, busy with his early autumn duties, was dropping acorns right beside me on the grass. It made me laugh out loud. A squirrel hunting acorns. A reminder that life goes on. I wiped away my tears and picked one up to put in my car. . . .”

The next day, Kim walked into a gift store and saw little silver acorns for sale. She picked one up. A tag on it said that acorns represent a long and happy life. That’s when she knew that her dad was still with her and that she would be just fine.

The day after Kim told me this story, I went for a run. Instead of going my usual route, I went a different way. I came upon a huge oak tree. I smiled, stopped and picked up an acorn. And I knew just what to do with it.

When the pail filled with life’s troubled waters gets too heavy to carry and I feel like I’m going to drop it, my eyes drift to my menagerie and I am steadied.

I’m reminded of Pastor Danny — who showed me the awesome power of the Holy Spirit by using a seed of corn.

And of Dee and so many other loved ones who are no longer here who taught me that, although a rose will die, its beauty lives on in those touched by its everlasting grace.

And of my co-worker Sue who, through seashells and starfish, reminds me every day that life is richer when it’s sweetened with laughter.

And, as the acorn joins my little computer club, it evokes memories of a special dinner with a special friend who shared a special story that will live on long after we’re gone. A story about hope and love and the beauty of this thing we call life.

First published in York Daily Record/Sunday News Sept. 23, 2007

Don't be afraid to show love

If you had 60 seconds, one moment, to say something to a loved one, what would it be?

“I love you.”

“I’m glad you’re a part of my life.”

“You make me happy.”

“I’m proud of the person you’ve become.”

“You make life fun.”

“Sometimes I say things I don’t mean.”

“It’s crazy, I know, but I just had to call and say hello.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thank you for helping me.”

“You can do it.”

“I believe in you.”

“Just yesterday I was telling my friends how much you mean to me, and I realized I should be telling you.”

“Being your mom is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“I know I sometimes fail you as a parent, but I’m doing the best I can.”

“Like you, I have a lot to learn. Isn’t it great we’re growing and learning together?”

“Life’s not always happy, but I’m here to help you when it’s not.”

“We can get through this — together.”

“Learn from your failures. They are the building blocks of success.”

“Be the best you can be.”

“When I learned I was going to be a dad, I was scared. But then you came and I was like, ‘I can do this.’ And I am doing it. And I’m glad.”

“Your smile makes me smile.”

“I won’t always be able to prevent you from falling, but I’ll be there to help you get up.”

“My life is better because you are in it.”

“I really do love you.”

To say all these things takes 60 seconds. How many seconds do you spend each day saying even one of them?

These, folks, are moments that matter, little things that mean a lot.

The moment we tell our children they are wanted and loved.

The moment we admit our shortcomings.

The moment we say I’m sorry or I messed up or forgive me.

Each night, I share several seconds with my teenage sons that make up one of the most important moments of my day. Before I head to bed, I go into their rooms and tell each of them how much I love them. They put up with my hugs and kisses mostly because they know it makes me feel good. They understand that if I die in my sleep, the last words I want to have spoken to them is “I love you.”

I doubt if this nightly moment means as much to them as it does to me. But I also know if a night passed and I didn’t do this, they would probably wonder what was wrong.

My hope is that as they grow older and have families of their own, they’ll feel comfortable sharing similar moments with their children. I want them to love and not to be afraid of showing their love. To feel and not to be afraid of expressing their feelings. To be the kind of husbands and fathers I know they can be.

And I hope that this nightly moment is leading the way, that it matters not just for the present but for a lifetime.

First published in York Daily Record/Sunday News April 8, 2007

One special moment can reveal a life

I’ve wanted to write this column for a long time now. The truth is I’ve been afraid. Afraid of not expressing what’s in my heart as eloquently as I would like. But I realized that perfectionism is the oppressor. And I can’t allow that Goliath to drown me in self-doubt and insecurity. My friends and family deserve better. You see, this column is really about them and what they’ve taught me.

There are many moments in our lives that change us, make us better people. Small moments. Big moments. Quiet moments that if we aren’t paying enough attention slip right by without our realizing their significance until much later.

These moments touch us and teach us something about ourselves and others and this big ball we live on. Someone says something or does something or nothing at all, and we realize that it’s a moment we will never forget.

Often these moments are ones we share at funerals, slivers of time that capture a loved one’s essence.

I’ve been blessed to have many of these can’t-forget moments in my life. Many of them have come while watching friends and family who are dying.

They see things differently. Little things mean more, and big things mean less.

They find beauty and the promise of new life in a branch dressed in ice. We see cold and frailty and death.

They listen to their heart- beat and hear a symphony. We home in on all the skipped beats and lost opportunities.

They face each day with hope and anticipation. We do so with some dread and trepidation.

Their perspectives are sweet gifts to us. Too often we unwrap these gifts after they’re gone, sad that we didn’t do it sooner. “If only,” we say. But “if onlys” lead to too many regrets.

To understand the value of a day, we first have to live the seconds.

It’s hard, I think, to live like you were dying, as Tim McGraw sings. It’s hard for us to see good in bad, hope in despair, success in failure. The best we can do is to keep trying.

And so, I’ve decided to share everyday moments with our readers on an occasional basis throughout the year. These may

be moments that have made me laugh or cry, think or be thankful. Whatever emotion they may have stirred in me, one thing is certain — they are moments that matter. They are moments that have taught me something and are helping me grow into the person I want to become.

Here are two to get started.


No one would have blamed Dee if she wasn’t at our church’s charity auction. No one at all. She was tired and weak and battling melanoma. But she wanted to be there with the rest of us, raising money for the local food bank.

It worried some of us that she was doing too much, pushing herself too hard, but it didn’t surprise us. It’s how Dee was, always giving. Always putting others first, whether it was collecting school supplies, hats or mittens for needy children, or helping with the annual Easter egg hunt and fall bazaar. Dee did what she knew best — give.

When the charity auction was over and everyone went home, we had to clean up. Dee could have gone home, but she stayed. She stood in the kitchen at the fire company washing the glass brandy snifters we had used for centerpieces. She and her husband, Dave, lent us the snifters each year for the event. These were the same glass brandy snifters they had used at their wedding reception. Dee washed one after the other, handling each one with care so we’d have them for years to come. When everything was cleaned up, Dee went home. She served and gave until she could serve and give no more.

Dee won’t be at our charity auction this month. She lost her battle last June, leaving behind her loving husband, 4-year-old twins Sarah and Erick and 9-year-old son Jordan. Dee Sowers was 34.

I know that as we place the glass brandy snifters on the tables this year, we will remember Dee and her commitment to making the world a better place — moment by moment.


Don had been in and out of the hospital for a year battling pneumonia and other breathing problems.

Short stays.

Long stays.

In-between stays.

But somehow he always ended up back at church collecting the early service offering. One Saturday last October, he sat behind a table at the annual bazaar selling raffle tickets for a quilt and other homemade treasures. He had just come home from the hospital the day before. A portable oxygen tank was by his side.

He could have stayed home and rested, but he didn’t. There were people to see and things to do. Even when he was feeling lousy, Don Fries never stopped serving and giving. Through pancreatic cancer, through open-heart surgery and through all of his breathing problems, Don helped when he could.

He died Jan. 12, leaving behind his wife, Evelyn, of 53 years, five wonderful children, four grandchildren, a step-grandchild and two great-grandchildren. I’ll miss Don at the bazaar this year. I wonder who will sell the raffle tickets.


When life gets a little tough or my day isn’t going exactly right or the kids are driving me crazy, I remember Dee and Don and so many others who have taught me that I shouldn’t wait until I’m dying to learn how to live.

Moments come and moments go. And some moments last forever.

First published in York Daily Record/Sunday News Feb. 4, 2007