Category Archives: Friends

until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow

There was an unsettled feeling to this Christmas, a kind of betwixt and between sense of things. Or, perhaps more accurately, the feeling of being on the precipice of a new, still unsettling normal in our lives. I mean, sometimes one’s new normal descends quickly; it’s here, deal with it, like it or not. Then there are times when the change is more gradual yet still palpable — you see it and you feel it and you know in your heart that everything from here on out will be different.

None of this probably makes much sense, does it? I’m not sure it makes sense to me, despite rewriting that paragraph dozens of times, over several days. I should probably state that the kids are fine. The Husband and I are fine. We’re muddling through some issues (obviously), some of which I’ve discussed here (my father-in-law’s dementia) and some which I haven’t. It was just a reminder of how much has changed, the absence of certain people, and the uncertainty that the future brings.

We spent a few days in Philly for Christmas. It was mostly fine, but there were a lot of reminders and memories of what once was and what is missing. My father-in-law racing around collecting all the wrapping paper as soon as the gifts were opened. My mother-in-law baking cookies. Getting together with several of our longtime friends. For various reasons, none of those things happened this year and I missed all of it. I tried really hard to “get out of my head” and focus on the here and now, to enjoy the holidays. I was semi-successful.

Here are some photo highlights:

Winter solstice sunrise. I happened to catch this in the parking lot of the hospital where I had to get some routine bloodwork done and I was glad I did.

On Christmas Eve, my mom was looking for some things in a closet when some papers fell out. Among them was this Christmas list of gifts for me and The Husband, written in my Mom-Mom’s handwriting. We never saw this list before. Christmas was a big deal for my Mom-Mom.  Her house was always beautifully decorated and she always went overboard with the presents (she shopped for Christmas year round). She has been gone almost 14 years now, and I chose to look at this as her way of wishing us a Merry Christmas.

(Also? The fact that this is written on an investment advisor’s notepad is laughable because my grandmother spent every dime she had (and the dimes she didn’t) on her grandchildren. We were the bonds she chose to invest in. At 48, I can tell you it paid off bigtime.)

I like going back to our former Unitarian Universalist church for Christmas Eve services. The service is generally the same and many of the congregants are familiar faces from when we first attended 17 years ago. It’s a time for me to slow down and reflect on the season. During trips like these that have so much change, it’s a place and a routine that remains constant for me and I love that.

Philly didn’t get a white Christmas this year (completely fine by me) but rather a sunny and extremely windy one. This was a quiet moment at my mom and stepfather’s house on Christmas morning.

We kept the gifts for The Boy and The Girl to a minimum this year — only three per kid, including a bag of small stocking stuffer items.   Some popular gifts, from left to right: For The Boy, Wii Survivor (he’s an expert on all things Survivor — he absolutely loves anything and everything having to do with the show and can talk strategy and eliminations for days); for The Girl, an issue of Teen Vogue guest-edited by Hillary Rodham Clinton; also for The Girl, a Litograph of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, her absolute favorite author.

My mother-in-law’s traditional Christmas morning breakfast of French toast casserole (on left) and an egg casserole. We all look forward to this every year. As we did for Thanksgiving, we arranged to bring the meal to my father-in-law at the long-term care facility where he is living (The Place) and we were able to eat together. We also had fruit, coffee (which we picked up at Dunkin Donuts beforehand), and juice. For Christmas dinner we did Chinese.

The Girl and I attempted a Scrabble game. It didn’t go well. As soon as I started winning, she wanted nothing to do with the game. (I don’t believe in letting kids win, especially when they’re 16.) So much for trying to start a new tradition.

 

I’ve been off from work since last Wednesday, thanks to having a bunch of vacation days to burn. This week between Christmas and New Year’s is my favorite time of the year. As usual, I had grand plans to accomplish ALL THE THINGS — decluttering the house, collecting certain receipts for tax purposes, organizing my overflowing bookshelves, cleaning out my closet, reading my January review books (and writing the reviews), prepping some blog posts, revamping the blog, going to yoga ….

I wound up doing some of those things. A corner of the kitchen is in the process of being decluttered. I have the majority of the receipts in one place. I prepped some blog posts. I also watched a movie (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”) and did a “Glee” marathon with The Girl. I cooked some homemade freezer dinners (minestrone soup, chicken breasts with mashed sweet potatoes and vegetables) to take to my mother-in-law and, once in Philly, we took her grocery shopping. I got my required bloodwork done (thyroid level monitoring). I finished one book (H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald) and am almost finished with a second (Autism Adulthood by Susan Senator), putting me within one book of my 2017 Goodreads goal of 50 books. I’ll have some bookish wrap up posts throughout the next few days.

“And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday–the longer, the better–from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree!”  ~ Charles Dickens

“After so long an absence
At last we meet agin:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the prophets two or three berries
In the top of the uppermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year;
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.”
“The Meeting” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

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For Our Friend Meredith, On Her 37th Birthday

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.” 

~ Muriel Rukeyser (“Käthe Kollwitz”) 

We have seen, through two hashtagged words and on a most unprecedented national level, the power that can emerge when secrets are shattered and the most personal of stories are shared. There is something inherently fortifying about connecting with someone else who has experienced your same hurt, understands the depths of your pain, and has excavated the same emotional mines. What was once kept hidden for years — perhaps decades — becomes unveiled; in the light, one’s shame has the potential to become transformed into one’s greatest strength because of the love and presence of others.

My friend Meredith Brookes grasped this knowledge in a way that resonated with other women like herself — and like me — who have Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser (MRKH) syndrome.  MRKH is a congenital condition (which means it is present at birth) that results from the “incomplete development of the female reproductive tract. Women with MRKH have fully functional ovaries [and] are genetically female [with] two X chromosomes and a normal chromosome analysis (i.e. 46, XX). Typically, women with MRKH lack a fully functional uterus, cervix and upper vaginal canal.” (source: https://www.beautifulyoumrkh.org/medical-information.html) MRKH occurs in approximately 1 out of 4,000 or 5,000 women, most of whom are diagnosed in their teenage years when they don’t start their period. Such was the case with me.

It’s only been very recently that I’ve become comfortable discussing my MRKH experiences publicly. (And when I finally did, it was onstage in front of 500 strangers — the exceptions being The Husband, The Kids and a few coworkers, including my boss — while being YouTubed for good measure.) Before then, though, there were decades of feeling ashamed, embarrassed, stigmatized and feeling like a freak.

I’m pretty certain I would not have ever spoken about this had it not been for several other women with MRKH who inspired me by their own courage and boldness.

One of those women was Meredith Brookes.

Meredith’s MRKH story was a little different; diagnosed at age 3, she once commented that she never knew a time when she didn’t have MRKH. It was always part of who she was. And the person she was … well, Meredith was someone who was an inspiring, tireless champion and strong advocate of every person with MRKH. She co-founded an organization to promote the emotional and physical well-being of women with MRKH in the Mid-Atlantic region by strengthening ties between affected women and their families, and helping women learn to embrace the identity of being an MRKH woman.

That’s how I got to know Meredith. In addition to our shared MRKH experience, we were also from the same general area. I grew up in suburban Philadelphia and Meredith was a Jersey girl across the river, in Haddonfield … yet we wouldn’t meet in person until a Mid-Atlantic MRKH gathering here in Pittsburgh.

When we first connected, I thought she was closer to my age and was surprised to learn she  was only in her early 30s. Meredith had a maturity and self-assuredness that was well beyond her years. She was the kind of person who listened intently and compassionately, making you feel like your story and your experience was the only thing that mattered to her. You felt seen. Heard. Held. You instantly thought of her as a close friend.

Meredith became that friend to so many of us in the MRKH community. Because of her leadership with the Mid-Atlantic group, often she was the first person with MRKH that another woman with the same condition had met. Think about that for a moment: you spend your whole life feeling ashamed of and defined by a little-known condition that happened to you in utero, one that befuddles doctors and makes the majority of them treat you like a lab specimen, and never meeting anyone else who understands on every level what this is like … until you do.

Meredith would have turned 37 yesterday. Instead of flooding her Facebook page with birthday messages, we are mourning her loss. On a Sunday morning in October, I was reading the Philadelphia Inquirer online when I turned to the obituaries. To my utter shock, there was Meredith’s name and photo, along with the news that  she had passed away unexpectedly after a brief illness. We had no idea.

In the weeks since, I’ve thought a lot about my friend. Meredith was someone who dedicated her life to raising awareness of MRKH and who was driven to do everything she could to raise the esteem and self-worth of every woman with this condition. Despite her short time here, she accomplished that while making it her passion. She traveled extensively, connecting with specialists and researchers and professionals in this field. Less than two weeks before she died she was at a Rare Disease Conference. She brought and bringing these experts to us. In June 2016, I spent an extraordinary day at an MRKH conference in Philadelphia organized by Meredith and others. I was struck that several of Meredith’s family members — her mother, sister and aunt — all participated as volunteers, giving their time and expertise to an effort that meant everything to their loved one. They were (as they should continue to be) immensely proud of her — and she, too, had pride in the community she helped create, the friendships she nurtured and the young women she supported with her compassion and knowledge.

Meredith’s legacy is now ours, for it is an extraordinary person who can give the gift of true acceptance and understanding to another. She showed us how to give that gift to ourselves, first and foremost, so that we can continue to do her much loved work with her spirit and love always in our hearts.

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Light Up the Holidays with Rachel Cole

We are all about holiday music in our house. Beginning on Thanksgiving Day, we start listening exclusively to Christmas tunes; this lasts until New Years Day when we switch back to our regular playlists. There are two exceptions during this time: November 29 when we honor the life of the late great George Harrison by playing his entire catalogue and December 8, when we pay homage to the brilliance of John Lennon with his oeuvre.

Otherwise, we’re fa-la-la-la-la’ing and oh-by-gosh-by-golly’ing 24/7.

This is all festive and merry for a good, say, two or three weeks.

It’s usually around this time that I get a little weary of marshmallow worlds, reindeers running over grandmas and Christmas shoes. In other words, the same old, same old.

Not this year.

On heavy rotation is “Light Up the Holidays” by Rachel Cole, her fifth studio album that celebrates several of the light-filled holidays that so many of us enjoy during the cold, dark Winter months.

“We’re living in a very divisive time right now,” Rachel says, adding that her intent with this album was to bring people together through music. “The focus is on the celebrations that we all share during the Winter months, honoring and recognizing our similarities rather than our differences.”

(Full disclosure time: Rachel has been a personal friend of mine since our high school days. She and her husband Jason are exceptional people. They’re incredibly generous, kind, and are the kind of folks who just radiate love and goodness. They — along with their kids and Rachel’s parents — are some of my favorite people in the world. I love them. So, yeah, she’s a friend but one who just so happened to be nominated for “Best New Artist” at the New Music Weekly Awards in Hollywood, among her many other accomplishments.)

“Light Up the Holidays” is an upbeat, pop and jazz inspired collection of music that includes covers of standards such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and  “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” alongside three of Rachel’s original compositions. “Savor the Joy”, “‘Tis the Season” and “Hanukkah is Here” are excellent additions to any holiday playlist.

Along with Rachel’s talented lead vocals (she also plays piano and strings on this album), “Light Up the Holidays” features several other accomplished musicians and singers. Among them are Peter Vantine (piano, keyboard, strings, arrangements), Peter Tentindo (guitar, vocals, arrangements), Lou Spagnola (bass), Tom Major (drums and percussion), Peter Levesque (saxophone), Jacyn Tremblay (backup vocals), Lily Horst (making her studio recording debut on this album with backup vocals), Rory Martinelli and Kenny Lewis (producer, sound engineer, mixing engineer, mastering). Rachel and her husband Jason Cole duet on “Let It Snow.”

Here’s how to get your own copy of “Light Up the Holidays”:

Entire album “Light Up the Holidays” is available now at:
http://cdbaby.com/cd/rachelcole
www.rachelcolemusic.com
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/2dxBrAPb0BQbhOEYigLbMG
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/…/album/light-up-the-ho…/1311089172

And here’s a YouTube clip of Rachel’s “Jingle Bells/Dreidle Song” mashup which is included on “Light Up the Holidays.”

“The holiday season is a time of gathering together with family and friends and bringing light into the darkness of December,” Rachel said. “It is my hope that this album and its music will be a light to you, the people you love, and to the world around us all days.” 

 

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wednesday musings

image of a late winter sky with heavy and light cloud streaks over pittsburgh, february 2017

Still with me? I know, I know … it has been a few weeks since I wrote an actual blog post here–besides posting links to several published book reviews, that is. Actually, those are a big part of the reason for my absenteeism in this space. Most of you know I do some freelance workwriting, editing and the like. This in addition to my full-time, pays-most-of-the-bills-and-provides-health-insurance (for now) job, which also involves quite a bit of wordsmithing.

Anyway, to my delight, the freelancing assignments have picked up speed in recent weeks. Definitely a nice problem to have. One consequence (if you can call it that) is I’ve needed to spend more time reading–and since most of those books are for reviews post-publication, I feel I can’t say much about them beforehand.

Which, you know, doesn’t lend itself to having much material for one’s book blog.

Good thing there’s nothing else going on in the world to discuss.

(We won’t talk politics tonight because the whole state of the world has me feeling overwhelmed, angry, sad, hopeless and downright frightened. Often all at the same time.)

Tonight offers a slight reprieve from reading and writing (plus The Girl, who has been using my laptop for homework is finished early) so I thought I’d give you a few updates.


Two weeks ago I made an impromptu, whirlwind trip back to my hometown of Northeast Philadelphia for what was a sad visit. My best friend’s mother died and as I said in my eulogy at the funeral, she was like a second mom to me. I expected it to be an emotional trip–and it was. I’m working on a post or an essay about this because it was a jarring experience to return to my hometown after many years away. I’m really, really glad I went even if it took me a good week to feel back to what passes for my regular self.


On my trip, I listened to the audio of Wishful Drinking by the late Carrie Fisher. Albeit bittersweet, it was the perfect choice for what is a boring five hour plus drive across the red state of T**mpsylvania. (The audiobook is shorter than the drive.) It’s incredibly conversational, as if Carrie herself was riding in the passenger seat. An excellent audiobook. I loved it.


Mrs. Douglas, our cat, had a bout of pancreatitis last week. She’s on the mend now, thank God.


Kids are fine. I’m in summer activity mode. I think The Girl is going to be doing some volunteer work along with at least one or two week-long camps (writing and music).  The Boy is going to camp for four weeks. Thanks to the freelancing, there will likely be a family vacation after not being able to take one last year.


Speaking of The Girl, she has been working really hard to improve in math. At Christmastime, she mentioned she really wanted to see Bon Jovi in concert when they came to Pittsburgh so we struck a deal: if her math grades improved and she sought extra help after school through the tutoring service if necessary (something she has vehemently resisted), I would think about getting tickets. She hasn’t stopped talking about this. She’s been consistently hovering above or close to a B for a few months now so we’ll be seeing Jon in a few weeks.


Can I say how much I love that my girl is a huge fan of Bon Jovi and how grateful I am that she inherited my taste in music? (Because, yeah, twist my arm to take her to see Bon Jovi and pretend I’m back in 1986.)


I haven’t been running. Like, at all. Even though this has been a mild winter by Pittsburgh standards, I’m not a cold weather girl.  I haven’t managed to get myself to a yoga class or anything else I’d intended on doing. Hell, I’ve stopped taking the stairs at work. When the weather gets warmer–maybe as soon as this weekend!–I’m going to start over with Couch to 5K. That means I won’t be ready to do the Pittsburgh Marathon 5K this year, but maybe I’ll aim for the Great Race this fall instead or another 5K.


If you need a good book to read, here are two of my recent Shelf Awareness reviews.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff  (she’s a Philly writer, whooo!)

The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Thankfully Reading, Christmas Music, and #turnonthelight

Sunday Salon banner

We’re back from a quick (less than 48 hours!) trip to Philadelphia, where we spent Thanksgiving with both sides of our family. If you read yesterday’s post recapping that visit, you know this holiday had special meaning this year.

It’s also been an extended break from work for me; I’m off from work through Tuesday, thanks to an abundance of vacation days needing to be used before year’s end with still more time off at the end of the year. Nothing is planned for today except church and grocery shopping. Tomorrow’s fun includes a follow up visit to the vet — our cat had dental surgery two weeks ago and all of her teeth needed to be removed, except for two.  She’s made a remarkable recovery and is doing well so hopefully this will be an uneventful check up.

Thankfully Reading
ThankfullyReading2014Because of the Philly trip, I didn’t have a chance to participate as much in Jenn’s Bookshelves annual Thankfully Reading Weekend event as I would have liked. This is one of my favorite bookish happenings because it’s a no-rules, whatever works for you kind of thing. Since I’m jumping in late (officially signing up with this post as Thankfully Reading concludes) I’m extending my participation into Monday.

Here’s what I read this week:

born-to-runspringtime-a-ghost-storyhouse-of-silence

As a Springsteen fan, I was pretty sure I would like Born to Run — and oh my, did I ever. At its conclusion, Bruce (I feel I can call him Bruce) writes that he hasn’t revealed everything about himself in this memoir, but you definitely come away from this feeling like you know him and his music in a whole new way. A must-read for Bruce fans and one that will be on my Best of 2016 list (in just a few short weeks!).

Springtime: A Ghost Story is a bit of an odd novella by Michelle de Kretser, an Australian novelist who was born in Sri Lanka. Frances is a 28 year old woman living in Sydney with her partner Charlie. She sees a ghost while walking her dog and … that’s about it. I liked the concept of a ghost story in springtime, but this felt more like an unfinished short story.

Last night I finished House of Silence, a debut historical fiction/mystery/romance novel by Sarah Barthels. This is a review book, so I can’t say much more until after its December 27 publication date.

I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I have several books in progress and another review book on the docket so probably one of those.

One thing I’ve been reading more of is The New York Times. I decided that something I can do in this post-election world is to support quality journalism by subscribing to the NYT. (We also subscribe to our local paper.)  They had a deal last week where a subscription was $10 per month. For that price, I can forego a few breakfast bowls or afternoon coffees at work.

Need a Little Christmas Now … 
Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, The Husband puts on Christmas music and listens to nothing else until January 2. (The two exceptions are November 29 and December 8 when he plays George Harrison and John Lennon nonstop, respectively, in honor of those two greats.) The Christmas music, though, usually drives me crazy. I can handle it in small doses.  Not this year. I’ve downloaded a bunch of new tunes from Spotify and am cranking up the holly right along with him.

#turnonthelight …
Our friends Jason and Rachel have launched The Holiday Lights Project  #turnonthelight to bring more kindness and joy into the lives of those around us.  They’re doing this in a big but quiet way, as is their style. They’re the folks who, while having breakfast at IHOP, pick up the tab for everyone in THE WHOLE RESTAURANT, not just the table next to them.  They load up gift cards with hundreds of dollars and hand it to a cashier, instructing them to pay for everyone’s coffee until it runs out. And they do this year-round.  (I know, because we’ve been the recipients of Jason and Rachel’s generosity many times.)

Obviously, we all don’t have the financial means to do this.  We certainly don’t. But we can all do what we can, even in a small way. (For example: since we weren’t going to be home for Thanksgiving, I donated some pumpkin pie filling and canned vegetables I’d purchased to the food pantry at church.) Jason’s post gives some inspiration for how we can all fight darkness with a little light, regardless of our status and station in life.

I hope your Sunday and the week ahead is filled with more light and less darkness. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am for all my blog readers. Whether you’re a newcomer to the blog or someone who has been reading for the past eight years, I’m very appreciative for you and your friendship. Thanks for being here! 

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Why I’m Unfollowing You on Facebook During This Election

Like many of us, I’ve been consumed by all things politics, as evidenced by my posts here and on Facebook. I make no apologies for this. It’s part of who I am and I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon.

Here’s another thing I’m not apologizing for: Unfollowing people on Facebook during this election season. 

My politics are no secret. Most people know where I stand on the issues and if you don’t, I’m happy to engage in a productive, informed conversation with you. I’ll listen to your story and I’ll respect and acknowledge your experience. I’d hope you’d do the same. And maybe we’ll understand where the other is coming from and find some common ground. Maybe we’ll simply agree to disagree.

Unfortunately, there are people who are incapable of doing any of this. Their posts are incendiary, based on misinformation and spewing hatred. There’s no opinion, no fact.  They are quick to hit share from quack “news” sites they’ve never read before or even heard of until “doing their own research.” Sharing  a GIF or PhotoShopped meme is a hell of a lot easier than brushing up on real history or reading informed (and well-written!) pieces by actual journalists, thought-leaders, advocates and others who bring a balanced approach to the hatriolic speech that defines much of today’s discourse.

As a longtime friend of mine said, why would I want people in my life who disrespect me or my family? Who want to take away the basic human rights of people I love?  Who, by virtue of their decision to vote for an oligarch whose actions demonstrate clear misogyny, racism, bigotry, instability and xenophobia — not to mention a complete disregard of people with special needs and people identifying as LGBTQ, two communities that I care about immensely.

Which is why I don’t understand how you can tell me you love, care, and support me and my family when you are placing my family’s future in the hands of a President who will have the power to make that future even worse or disappear altogether. 

If you can explain that to me, I’m listening.

Let me be clear: this isn’t just about Trump supporters. If you’re voting for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or Mickey Mouse or your dog, this is about you. If you’re using your vote to send some sort of moral protest message to — where, pray tell, exactly? — this is about you. If you’re championing a candidate who you know nothing about and never heard of until two weeks ago and who has (really, let’s be realistic here) zero chance of having anything to do with your future, this is about you.

I mean, how did Ralph Nader work out for you? (h/t The Husband).  Because those of us who have been around awhile remember all too well a similar scenario 16 years ago during Bush/Gore.  Like that contest and most of them, this election is a two horse race. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up.

History repeats itself, my friends. History repeats itself.

It may come as a surprise to some of you, especially those who have known me for a long time, but I dislike conflict. I prefer to avoid it. Conflict has, on occasion, cost me a lot and I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to disengage, to stay silent.

This election is not one of those times.

For me, this election is very, very personal. I believe that this election is about all of us but I especially believe, as Michelle Obama said, this election is about my kids and your kids and their future. It’s about my son’s right to get an education and to live up to his God given potential and to not be bullied by anyone, most especially the President of the United States, for having a disability that would have had him locked away not all that long ago. It’s about my daughter’s right to control her own body. It’s about each of their choices to love and to marry whomever the hell they want.

When presented with an entity who doesn’t respect any of that and so much more, I believe that I have a moral obligation to do everything in my power to speak out in the face of injustice and hatred when I see it.  And I’m glad that the majority of people I know see it this way. Yet, there is a very vocal segment who refuses to listen to perspectives besides their own narrow views. The response then becomes to attack, to degrade, to vilify.

That’s not why I’m on Facebook.  The very reason I can’t quit it altogether is because I come to Facebook to connect with you. You, who are my family scattered across the country and you, my friend who I went to nursery school with and you, my former co-worker from 20 years ago. I love Facebook for how it allows me to celebrate and mourn and laugh with you, and I need it because it is here, in this space, that I feel less alone in my greatest challenges and when the world pummels me down, time and time and time again.

So, no.  I don’t enjoy the idea of unfollowing and blocking people from my life as their true colors are revealed.  It’s hard and it’s sad, and it’s awkward and messy. I’ve been on the receiving end of being outright unfriended (not simply unfollowed, unfriended) by people I’ve known for 26 years, more than half my goddamned life, and it is hurtful as hell.

But in many cases, whether I agree with their politics or their reasons, it’s necessary. And as I continue to reflect on what my relationship with certain people will look like after November 8, right now it seems like the only choice.

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for alison, for her beautiful life

I’ve always been fascinated with the interconnectivity of our lives. You know, if _____ didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have ever met.  Or the way we’re all just six degrees of separation (or less) from everyone else.

Alison Piepmeier is that kind of person for me.  She’s a “blog-friend,” as she once said to me. (And I probably should say right now that I’m not the person to talk to if you believe people you know “on the Internet” and have never met aren’t the equivalent of real-life friends. Because after blogging for almost eight years now, I know firsthand how someone you’ve never met can make a difference on your life. I’ve seen it. Up close and personal, time and time again.)

Girl Zines - Making Media, Doing FeminismBack in 2010, I read a post on Girl w/ Pen about an intriguing book by Alison Piepmeier called Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. I knew about zines, but I didn’t know their history and significance to feminism. Awhile later, I spotted Girl Zines on the shelves of the Newark Free Library in Delaware, read it, and wrote this review.  Sometime afterwards Alison discovered it, and we became connected through our blogs.

We almost met once. Back in April 2011, Alison visited Pittsburgh for a celebration of feminism and zines, at an event that was hosted at my current place of employment.  We weren’t living in Pittsburgh yet, but had just been there a week earlier to get acquainted with the area.

Connections and missed connections.


I continued to follow Alison’s blog and her writing, still remaining her “blog friend.”

Then, in 2013, a yearly checkup at the pediatrician for my boy prompted a simple question from the doctor.

“Do you ride your bike in the neighborhood, maybe with a friend?”

As I wrote in that post, published here almost exactly three years ago on July 23, 2013, my boy’s eyes went to the floor.

There was no mistaking the look, the loaded weight of that inquiry.

His silence was just a moment, fleeting – accompanied by a quick look to me in the corner where I’d fortunately looked up from my phone to catch his glance.

His blue eyes said it all.

I don’t know how to ride a bike. 

My bike is kinda small. I got it when I was 7. It has training wheels. That’s embarrassing. 

What do you mean, a friend?

“I don’t really do that,” he said to the pediatrician. 

I remembered this post from my friend Alison Piepmeier about her experience with what is now iCan Shine, Inc. (formerly Lose the Training Wheels). I remember thinking how much my boy would benefit from a program like that.

I remembered reading Alison’s post when we were on the cusp of moving to Pittsburgh, and checking to see if our new city had the same program. I remember the feeling of this is going to be okay when I realized that they did. I remembered being at The Children’s Institute (the program host of the iCan Shine Amazing Kids Bike Camp here in Pittsburgh) and mentioning the camp during a job interview I didn’t get.

I remembered my boy’s face in the pediatrician’s office.

I looked to see when the Pittsburgh camp would be taking place, knowing full well we may have missed it. Again.

And there it was. Registration ended six weeks [prior]. 

I emailed the camp director anyway.  Long shot … just thought I’d ask … know it’s last minute …

There was one spot left.


Who knows if I would have learned about the bike camp for people with disabilities, a national program of iCanShine, if it wasn’t for Alison’s involvement with them as a volunteer and her deciding to write a blog post about the experience?  Maybe I would have, but maybe not. Regardless, it’s an example — albeit simple and small — of how one person directly influences the life of another.

Because even though my boy doesn’t ride his bike much these days, I will never forget watching him and experiencing the sheer pride in his accomplishing something that so many parents take for granted. This was a gift, a glorious momentous milestone of celebration on what has not always been an easy road.

And it was because of Alison. My blog-friend.


I’m remembering and reflecting on all this tonight because Alison’s time here on Earth is, unfortunately, very short. She is nearing the end of a long battle with cancer, a fight she fought with the utmost grace, dignity and honesty imaginable and one that she shared in heartbreaking blog and Facebook posts with those of us who care about her. Her words, here in what may be her last column for the Charleston City Paper, are as moving and poignant as ever.

Through her books, her scholarly contributions to the field of feminism and disability studies, and her work as a professor of English and Director of the Women & Gender Studies program at the College of Charleston, Alison Piepmeier has touched many, many lives — especially those of her husband and her young daughter Maybelle.

We may have never met, but I will forever be grateful to Alison for that blog post that led to my boy being able to ride a bike and thankful that her life connected with mine, albeit for a short time.

Much love, peace, and comfort to you on this journey, my blog-friend.  You will be forever missed, until we connect again.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #52 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

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