Tell Me What You Read: Susan Vollenweider

A chat about reading (and some writing) where Kate gets me to confess what kind of books I have on my Kindle.

Kate Macdonald

In Tell Me What You Read I interview well-kenned folk in public life about how their reading has shaped their lives, in the past and now. 

SusanSusan Vollenweider, half of the women’s history podcasting dynamo The History Chicks, columnist for the Kansas City Star, mother, aspiring novelist, and school sports cheerleader

Tell me which authors, or what reading, you can see now were influential in your life and career?

I started reading fairly young so words and books have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I think everything I read influences me somehow, even the crap, but the ones who are on the base tier of influencers are: Dr Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, Erma Bombeck, Richard Bach and John Irving. I think all of them taught me that as far as writing goes, even if there are serious subjects I…

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Happy? Father’s Day

dad me vineyard

My calendar, the card aisles and the colorful sales flyers that come with my newspaper tell me that Father’s Day is coming. Quickly.

I’ve been writing family centered, slice of life columns for several years’ worth of Father’s Days—I have a sizable file of them.

Having that file is a necessity because I can make sure I don’t repeat myself (a symptom of experienced age). It’s also a curse because sometimes I was indeed ready to repeat myself which leads to a panicky Now What!? Or, like looking for that ONE picture for Throw Back Thursday leads to hours paging through photo albums, I fall into a rabbit hole of reading.

And sometimes I am paralyzed because what I prattled on about in years past ends up being far more emotional than I was prepared for.

That happened this week. Continue reading

My Dad’s Memoirs

This is a physical paper. It's tossed in the driveway- rain or shine...usually- and you read it over coffee. Welcome to The Old School

This is from a physical newspaper. It’s tossed in the driveway- rain or shine…usually- and you read it over coffee. Welcome to The Old School where traditions are charming and recycling materials are born.

The following  first appeared in my Kansas City Star column on April 8, 2015. I thought that it also belonged here


“I need to write my memoirs,” my father said with purpose.

“I can help you with that,” I matched his determination.

It was a slow activity day–a lot of sitting around and waiting for things to happen. This project was a good way to pass the time, like working on a puzzle we could easily put it away and pick it up again.

I grubbed around in my tote for a small notebook and pen. “Let’s start at the beginning, get a rough draft of your life then fill in the details later. You were born in Hartford, right?”


We both enthusiastically began. Continue reading

Hold on Tightly and Never, Ever Let Go

When I remember the important people in my life, the one’s who have a special spot in my head and in my heart, I get flashes of pictures. Some still, some moving, most captured by my memory, some by a camera but all images that I hold onto tightly and never, ever want to let go.

This is my dad. This is one of the still pictures in my head; in my heart.

dad smiling

After nearly 81 years of a very well lived life, David J. Fritsch, Jr. of Vernon and the world, left his earthly loves behind on March 10, 2015.

The foundation of his adventurous soul was set in West Hartford as the second child of David and Helen Fritsch. With his siblings Beverly, James Fritsch, and Mary Rose Crawford Dave spent his childhood summers at Highland Lake in Winsted where love number one (if only in chronological order) of boats was born.

After graduating Hall High School class of ‘52 Dave’s wandering spirit led him into the Army where he was stationed in Japan and Korea. Upon his return, Dave earned a degree from the Ward Institute of Technology.

Dave was a computer geek long before computer geeks were cool.  During his 20+ year tenure at the Travelers Insurance Company, Dave worked in various positions in the Data Processing Department. While there, love number two emerged when he met his wife of 52 years, Jamie, at a party. After a curiously long courtship which included a great deal of time as a member and officer of The Hartford Sports Car Club, they were married, set up house in Ashford, CT and filled their family with three children in rapid succession–Susan, David and Stephen.

Dave assisted Jamie in establishing The Costume Shop in Manchester where they successfully merged marriage and business by working together…separately. Each oversaw a different area of the business.

Dave was an accomplished carpenter, but the siren call of the sea filled most family time. A devout sailor (and licensed Sea Captain) with his family crew (who, after a seasonal shake-down cruise was a well oiled machine) spent quite a bit of time sailing the New England waters in a succession of ever-larger sailboats: Antithesis, Spirit, Grass Hill, and Kvack. The last vessel he captained as the Official Connecticut Representative in the America 500 cruising yacht voyage.

Once retirement was upon them, Dave and Jamie lived the dream of many, but the realization of few: live-aboards cruising the world on a final boat, Kwakatu. Dave’s adventures defined his third life love. With a big smile on his face he would share tales of the many stops on his journey and add, “I could live there.”

His love of sailing was so strong that his grandchildren, Sean, Emily, Rebekah, Luke and Noah called him Skipper Dave.

Boats, his family and adventure: the three life loves of David Fritsch. It is with a heavy heart and beautiful memories his family, cousins, nieces, nephews and friends say good-bye.

Funeral services Saturday at Tierney Funeral Home, Manchester Connecticut.

Mindless Chatter Was My Jam Part One

Silent night was about to take on a whole new meaning

Silent night was about to take on a whole new meaning

I can’t begin to tell you where I am unless I first tell you where I have been, so let’s flip that page-a-day calendar in our brains back about four weeks to early January. It’s a bright fresh new year; the Christmas tree is packed up and the kids are back in school after a fairly pleasant and ordinary winter break. I am headed into my third doctor’s appointment in as many weeks with a sheet of paper clutched in my slightly sweaty hand. This isn’t my GPs office where I had been twice already with other notes in hand, this is a new-to-me specialist, this is an Ear Nose and Throat doctor’s office.

This is what the paper in my hand said (essentially, I’ve edited it a little because…typos, clarity and privacy):

Three weeks ago (week before Christmas) I got a very bad sore throat, earache and headache. No fever, but throat felt like there was a piece of glass in it. Home remedied for a cold, throat felt better just before Christmas day, but that’s when voice started to go.

The day after Christmas I sounded like a 3-pack a day smoker.

Since then, three weeks ago, it has mostly been gone or really hard to hear. I’ve been resting it as much as humanly possible for a mom.  Yesterday I thought it was coming back in the morning, but was worse and totally gone by evening. Throat still hurts all-around, but the piece of glass feeling is gone.

Had a massive sinus headache a few days ago so I started Mucinex-D, Flonase and Motrin which helped (or the front coming through went away, could be, I have a sinus barometer). For the last three weeks I have: gargled with warm salt water, drank tea with honey, tea with lemon and honey, tea with cider vinegar and honey (I read it online, it had been surprisingly effective in the past), tea with lemon, honey and brandy, water by the gallon, steamy bathroom…everything this old wife can think of.

Two weeks ago, I went to Primary Doc with daughter who had similar symptoms (throat and ears but she had a voice), her strep test was negative. Our beloved doctor said what she had was viral, I probably had the same thing and to rest my voice. I’ve been resting it as much as I can but it’s not getting any better, actually it’s getting worse.

On my second visit to family doctor last week, I was put on an antibiotic; I put myself on a whisper only if absolutely necessary regimen.  I lowered caffeine intake, upped fluids, I stopped the Flonase and Mucinex D a few days ago because I read (yes, online…I know- bad) that decongestants might be bad for laryngitis. No change with any of this.

TL;DR: No fever, no current nasal congestion, had a bad cold for a week 3 weeks ago and was left with a sore throat and no voice for almost 3 weeks now.

Emotional state: Supreme Frustration

Also, did I mention, I’m a podcaster? Kind of need a voice for that.

The new-to-me and very kind doctor read my note and smiled, “Let’s take a look at your throat,” she said.

An hour later I had an answer.



This is part one of a multi-part series, posts will be made at totally arbitrary times. I know, I should be more disciplined.  


What Have I Done?

“I’m not doing Nanowrimo this year,” I told my writing group and every writing friend that I have. “I’m going to spend the energy and time on rewriting a story that I love and believe in. But I’ll cheer you on!”

So I opened my Nanowrimo profile and made this cover (because I like making covers even if they look cheesy and are destined for that crappy covers website): Silent Cheering cover

I figured that by re-firing up my profile I could keep up with my Nanobuddies, and when I added new words to the manuscript, I would log them. No way would I hit 50K this month, but I didn’t have anything to prove to myself there. I’ve done it for the last four years in increasingly quick time, with increasingly improved crap going down on the page. But that wordcount graph bar being empty makes me sad.

I wasn’t playing, I was just an active observer quietly cheering from the mist.

But then I saw a notecard sitting on the top of a pile of notecards that I have with story ideas on them. This card has the shortest idea of them all, and it’s not the most recent- but for some reason it’s the one on the top.

It wouldn’t hurt to just start a story, right? I mean, I had no intentions of finishing and reaching 50K- but you know, just to have a little fun. No pressure. The main focus is on the manuscript that I love and am rewriting.

Which I have done. I am kicking ass on rewriting it. I’m kicking ass and having a blast and remembering why I loved it in the first place. I love rewriting. The slicing and the dicing and the neatening and the adding and more word slayings…it’s so energizing!

But…heh heh…I also have got 3K words down on the new one.

Which I’m sort of loving even though I didn’t have more than this on the note card a week ago:


Original notecard, with new one behind it

And I made a cover because I like making cheesy covers.


Nanoname: EssephVee

30 days, 50K words and a rewrite.

And life away from the keyboard.

uh, yeah…I can do that.

I guess I’m playing.

(Also if I don’t post much on here, that’s where I’ll be.)

EDITED IN DECEMBER- Like a lot of things this past year, I failed to finish. For the very first time in 4 years.. What I  learned: to stick with my first instinct. Plus side: I have an outline, characters and a cute, chick-lit story partially written. Now to finish the sweet, women’s lit that I’m STILL rewriting then I can get back to that one.

I Freaking Love Voting!

election dayredothreepoint0ne

Today is Election Day and I woke up giddy about it. This is a far cry from my early adulthood when voting terrified me- the process, the pressure to get it right, the chances to mess up. I remember going into  a voting booth with my mom when I was a kid. She voted at our town library, my first library. It was the home to storyhours, rows of seemingly (to my little kid eye) endless books, fundraising spaghetti suppers and the town offices that I only knew as the place where we got dog tags. It was, and is, at the center of the small Connecticut town where I spent my childhood. It was also the only polling place.

minna image

The library of my youth. It’s still there, still smells exactly the same. I went last year and stayed long enough so that my perfume was Babcock Library.(photo credit Minna Reid who has a lovely description of the town here.)

I remember the darkness of the velvet curtain that Mom closed around us, the complex levers of the voting machine- how did she know what to do? Who to vote for? It scared me years later when I had earned the right to vote.

Now I know I shouldn’t have been scared- voting is fun. I’ve lived in many towns and each one had different voting methods and you know what? I easily figured them all out. I learned over the years that it’s okay and perfectly  normal to not know all the judges or elected county officials. It’s nice and makes you an educated voter, but if you simply vote for the party you feel most connected to it’s normal. Hell, even voting only by gender for the ones you don’t know is probably normal. I hope.

In the small Missouri town where I now live our polling place is also the library. It’s my kids’ home for storytimes, seemingly endless (to their eyes) rows of books, a bank of computers and some quiet rooms to study.

smithville library on voting day

The kids are now in school, my oldest old enough to vote for herself and make her own voting traditions, but when they were home with me I used to make a morning of it. We would talk about the process and what the different jobs were. I would have them help me fill out my ballot and we would go for hot chocolate afterwards. Now I have new traditions- I get a cup of coffee, say hi to the people braving the chill or rain to support their candidate, sniff deeply the scent of my present library (as is my lifelong habit which I couldn’t stop if I wanted to), wait my turn, sign the register and vote.

And then I get my sticker as a souvenir of the adventure.

There are many places (including The History Chicks) where you can learn about the battles, struggles and balls of suffragists who made this privilege possible for women. I won’t even begin to talk about that here, but those women alone shouldn’t be why you vote.I won’t even nag on you with, “it’s your responsibility as a citizen to cast your vote”, or, “it’s your civic duty”. You know all that.

You should vote because it’s freaking fun.

And don’t forget your souvenir.wpid-20141104_091142-1-1.jpg

Here is a link to Find Your Fucking Polling Place where you plug in your address and get not only the spot, but the ballot so you go in knowing what you are going to vote for.

Also, just saw this! Being afraid to vote at first is also a very normal thing! John Green’s post about it!

“How are you?”

In the last couple of months I have gotten this question a lot. Not once have I been upset by it, not once have I been embarrassed although every single time I struggle with what to say. I know what they want to know, and depending on my relationship with the person, I might play with them a little.

“Why? What have you heard?”

“Can’t complain, how are YOU?”

“My shoes are pinching a little but otherwise good.”

And the one that I default to, the one that shows them that I really do understand what they are asking:

“You mean as the area’s poster child for mental illness?”

And they laugh and nod. To a one.

Since I publicly admitted a couple of months ago about my struggles with depression I have had a surprising response. Actually, “surprising” doesn’t really describe it. More like “overwhelming”. In the first week I received more emails from readers than I had in the almost four years that I have been writing a column COMBINED. When I add in the number of people that I personally know who sent notes, called, stopped by or wrote social media personal messages- the number humbles me. All of them were encouraging, many thanked me for putting their own struggles into words, and several said that what they read sounded like what they, themselves had been experiencing but- like I did for a long time- kept telling themselves to suck it up and move on.

All of them boosted me and made me realize that -as uncomfortable as I was sharing what was going on- I did the right thing.

So, how am I?

I’m really good.

After a few weeks of adjusting meds I finally started feeling more like myself. That was when the article came out. I wasn’t strong enough to do it before that.

In the time since, I have to work hard to remember the pain I was feeling just a few short months ago. I have the memory, I can begin to feel it and can use words to paint of picture of those feelings- but I can’t recreate them. I can’t get myself to go back there. Which is probably a very good thing and maybe I’m a bit foolish for trying but it’s sort of like when you break your ankle. Once the cast is removed and enough time has past that you are back to your former activities you can still- sometimes- feel a shadow of pain. A memory of it. But it is nowhere near how it felt when you were begging the ER doc for drugs.

I can poke the scar and feel something but it’s not pain like before. I get sad and mad and panic…but nowhere near the levels I did before.

I’m sure that the road ahead is still rocky, but I am walking it very grateful and stronger for all that has happened in the past few months.

So very grateful. Quite a bit stronger.

How am I doing? I know that I am loved, I know what happy feels like again, I know what hopeful and productive and strong feels like again.

I’ve lost all the weight that I had gained self-medicating with food and alcohol, and the scale is still going down.

When I smile it’s deeply sincere, and when I acknowledge that I am having a moment of sadness I know that it is temporary and the appropriate response to whatever is happening.

I’m getting out of the house and seeing friends; I’m living in the moment and feeling hopeful for the future.

I’m doing really well.wpid-20141018_171855.jpg

I May Have a Problem

I knew I had a problem after I bought my first diaper bag in 1996. I suspected it before that when I was working and had an unusually high number of female sized brief cases, but the diaper bag situation really solidified my suspicions– I have a bag problem.

I purchased a diaper bag before my first baby’s birth.  In the store I was dreaming of sashaying about town with this stylish diaper bag over my shoulder and an adorable, clean and perfectly behaved baby in my arms.

When the baby arrived and I realized that the cute diaper bag was only good for short runs to- maybe- the mailbox, not for full hour long adventures to such exotic locales as Target and the post office. (also if I had any chance of a clean baby, I needed more stuff than that stylish bag could carry)

So one diaper bag lead to an entire wardrobe of Not The Perfect But Really Cute and Suitable For Certain Situations Only diaper bags.

This problem remained semi-dormant after the diaper bag years, probably because I rarely shopped for myself. My purse collection which was stashed on a closet shelf , was a jumble of discount store grabs, flea market finds, mother-in-law hand-me downs  and a very rare, sweet leathery splurge. I carried the same black bag to church for over 5 years, used a cross body most days until it looked like hell then replaced it with another; I had one clutch that I found at a resale shop when my daughter was buying jeans.

Then I spotted a Vera Bradley purse.

Actually, I spotted a torrent of Vera Bradley purses. Not being one to follow a fashion trend or purchase something for the label- I silently mocked those carrying them.

“Pfft, Please. Everyone and their 11 year-old daughter are carrying these things. Talk about a uniform,” I would say as I scrolled through the Vera Bradley website.

But then I fell victim to the colorful fabrics that added whimsy to  my friends outfits; sunshine to a dreary drop-off lane.

But I couldn’t carry a bag like that, too flashy.

So I bought a wallet.

I love this wallet.

I love this wallet.


I love that wallet. Perfect size for my stuff, it holds my phone and has a wrist strap if I ever need it. Which I do.

I loved that wallet so much that I got a messenger bag.wpid-20140922_080928.jpg

Perfect size to schlep books and all the file folders I use when we record podcasts or the materials I use when I talk to classrooms. Plus, that pattern! It says, “I can function as a mature adult, but really? I’m not all that serious.”

One day I was in a store and a cross-body  bag not only leapt into my hands, but it flopped itself down at the cashiers counter, grabbed my credit card and then, mysteriously, my purse contents were quickly organized in the many pockets and slots inside. (I think my friends, the birds and mice did it all while I sang.)

I have no idea how this ended up in my  possession.

I have no idea how this ended up in my possession.


“STOP!” I told myself. “You have enough. No  more Vera “I’m One Of Them Now” Bradley purses or wallets or eyeglass cases. NOTHING!”

Apparently I listen to myself about as well as my kids do.

It matches 80% of my wardrobe. Really, how could I not?

It matches 80% of my wardrobe. Really, how could I not?


Before I would allow myself to unwrap this one I went through the closet shelf that was overstuffed with bags. I collected the totes, the cross-bodies, the clutches and the wear-on-my-arm bags of many styles. I thinned the collection down to just a few favorites and gave the rest to a group collecting women’s clothes and accessories.

There are more bags here than this innocent photo suggests.

There are more bags here than this innocent photo suggests.

20140913_171232 - Copy

The pile of junk retrieved from the pile of purses. (What? You can’t be far from a tampon when you need one, you know?)


And now, I am done.


I think.




I Can’t Leave You, Summer!

This summer was, in a word, crappy. I dragged myself through it self-medicating with liquor and food- earning myself 10 extra pounds and a spot deeper in my hole of depression. My kids were miserable that I was miserable and we all climbed Mount St. Summer trying to reach the summit but arriving at plateaus to only seeing more effort ahead, no reward.

But then Mom got better. Ish. I could finally function at pretty close to my original, upbeat settings…but it was too late. Summer was over. The kids went back to school, life became one night of bleachers after another as the days became shorter, the temperature dropped to pants wearing weather and fall approached.

But summer is my season! I like hot weather and sunshine and all that comes with it (except for the slipping around with sweaty thighs on the leather minivan seats- that’s just gross).

Pretty soon I’m going to have to say good-bye to the annual flowers that brought me moments of happiness (or the closest that I could get) and bring the rest of the plants inside for the winter. Most years I am ready. I eagerly retire the aquas and pink accent colors in favor of rusts and oranges; I dot the front yard with mums and pumpkins.  At this time of year I am usually sipping warm beverages that taste of pumpkin spice and baking apple crisps.

But this year the mums and fall colors aren’t drawing me in, I’m burnt out from years of pumpkin spice benders and while I lost the 10 lbs that I gained this summer, I have a long way to go so I’m not making any desserts right now.

But I did buy a couple pumpkins. While it’s not much, this is my one, tiny concession that I will soon say good-bye to the summer I fucked up and never quite made amends with.

Sorry, Summer. I’ll do better next year.