The end is now the beginning

This column first ran in The Kansas City Star on November 22, 2019. Here’s proof! (As long as the link works, anyway.) It ran almost to the day that my very first column was published in 2010, but this particular column was an end, not a beginning. 

I was very sad when I wrote it and tried to put on a happy face with my words. I may have done too good of a job. When I posted the link on Twitter and Facebook, people congratulated me. People seemed excited for my writing future. I wasn’t excited, leaving wasn’t voluntary and I have no firm plans for any new published writing. Like a lot of journalists and freelance writers associated with newspapers, I got laid off. Why me? I was given a reason that has to do with geography: where I live and where my columns ran didn’t match. I understand, it’s business and I’m grateful for the many years that I had with the Star. My editor sincerely seemed sad, too. Among many nice things that she said was that my “prose was often poetic.” I may get that as a tattoo, what a lovely thing to hear.

The column below ran right before I hosted Thanksgiving which was rapidly followed by Christmas hustle so I was relieved to have no deadlines…until today.

Thanksgiving is over.

Christmas is over.

New Years is over.

2019 is over.

My run as a weekly Star columnist is over.

All this hit me this morning. 

My last editor wasn’t the only one who has said nice things about my work and work ethic, so they must be true. They have told me that my columns were their favorite to edit, that my pieces weren’t self-indulgent but honest and not always happy. I took on tough issues; I taught them a few things. I made them laugh and cry; my topics were relatable. My copy was clean…and I am adding this because, now, I’m in self-promotional mode. I’m not comfortable doing it, in all these years it’s never become easy…but I need a new gig. A new paid gig. First-person, slice of life columnist for hire.

One woman’s exhausting and clumsy journey through American life.

This ending column is the beginning of something new…now what?


Please step into my time machine, won’t you? We’re headed back to 2009 and visiting a stay-at-home mom who just sent her last child off to kindergarten. After her celebratory brunch wore off, she said, “Now what?” She had been putting off this conversation for a while, but it was time for a heart-to-heart…with herself.

Simply put: The life change staring her in the face in 2009 was daunting. The career she left 13 years earlier to stay home with the kids had been outdated into oblivion and her marketable skills list was really short.

Some people think best through exercise or talking things out, she thought best at a keyboard so she began her own blog. It was the heyday of the Mommy Blogger and, damn, she had fun! Was it possible to turn this into a paying job?

She came up with a plan: Write regularly scheduled, amateur essays on a large website, become a featured blogger on that site, make the leap to Professional Writer and, then, world domination.

No one was more surprised than she when the plan (mostly) worked. Within months she stood in front of a blank wall in her house and snapped a selfie to use as a featured blogger; within a year she stood at her mailbox and cried when she got her first paycheck for something she wrote. She had always considered herself a writer, but making this leap proved that others considered her one, too. She scratched “world domination” off the list and replaced it with an equally ambitious plan to have a book published.

Because life tends to bundle changes, the very same month she began to call herself a professional writer, a friend asked her to co-host a women’s history podcast. “We’ll call it The History Chicks,” her friend said. “Just us drinking coffee or wine and telling the stories of historical women.” So what if she had gotten a D in AP History in high school? AP History was about wars and treaties and memorizing dates, but this history was about people. She loved people.

For the next nine years, she kept pinching herself that this was her life; she thrived…I thrived, you’ve figured that out, right? During those years, my two older kids went from grade school to college, one’s graduating this spring. The kid who entered kindergarten in 2009? He’s a high school freshman. For nine years of family life, of social life…a slice of my life went into this space. I got to talk about my failures, successes, and lessons learned; I got to whine about being a non-sporty mom with very sporty kids. When I sat down to write each column during those nine years, I did it with pride and care like it was the last one I would ever write.

And now it is.

I’m not hanging up my keyboard, I’m just saying good-bye to this special space.

Thank you to Jennifer Brown who had this column before me and gave me a heads-up that she was leaving, to the now-darkened but then fabulous Mom2Mom KC website that gave me my first blogging gig. A grateful hug to all my gentle editors at The Star who corrected my “creative punctuation.” The biggest thank you to you, the reader, who has had this one-sided conversation with me. One of my friends once told me, “You put emotions into words.” If you gave me a nod of someone who relates, cringed because something happened to me and not to you, smiled, laughed, or cried—thank you.

Ten years ago, I stood in front of a blank wall in my house and took a selfie to run with my blogs on Mom2Mom, that photo still runs in the physical versions of this paper. Today I stood in front of that same wall and took another selfie to say, “I’ll miss you, but we’ll meet again.”




Who Said That?

Life is hard; citing sources is sometimes harder. -Susan Vollenweider, 2018

I believe in research, I’m also practitioner of due diligence so when I asked my Facebook friends for their favorite, life motivating quotes for a column I was writing (See: Kansas City Star) I also asked them to cite the source. Due diligence sent me to confirm those sources and that’s when I ran into a few walls.

Those walls worked like a maze and redirected the original premise of the column. I had thought it would be a nice, easy way to share hard-learned wisdom from some of the wisest people that I know (ie: I could fill the space with someone else’s words for a change), but research sent me down so many rabbit holes that the project took four times as long as it usually does and the end result wasn’t close to my original premise. (Pro tip: It often isn’t.)

BUT I did learn a lot and can’t consider that time wasted. These are all quotes given to me by my friends that filled more hours of my day than I care to admit trying to track down the sources.

The Google box is only as good as the search words you use, and even then, you have to dig deep to get the answers. Fortunately, there are people who love doing this so much that they have created websites of quotes and try to trace them back to whomever said them in the first place. My favorite, methodically researched website for learning the origins of quotes is the Quote Investigator.

The people who formed the words into a profound sentiment SHOULD be credited for the work they do, and no one knows this better than creatives like writers, photographers and other artists.

BUT for a lot of us, the message is what is important. I got so busy searching for the source that I began to be numb to the message of the quote in the first place. There has to be a happy medium here: equal parts joy of learning and reflection on the message.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here next to me.”

This is credited to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, but the exact quote seems to be: If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.” According the website, Quote Investigator, Alice didn’t say it as much as she had the witty taste to have it embroidered on a pillow. If she made the pillow or had it made for her based on something someone else said—we’ll probably never know.

Speaking of Roosevelts, one of my friends loved this quote and attributed it to Eleanor Roosevelt. Don’t let anyone determine your self-worth.” The actual quote (which means exactly the same thing) is No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” According to the Quote Investigator, Eleanor probably said it. Not definitely, but more than likely. (Read more about that here.)

“Be the change the you wish to see in the world.” 

Ghandi is usually given credit for this one, and he may have said it in essence but not in the order of the words. His actual quote, per Quote Investigator: If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards himRead more about that here at the Quote Investigator.

But not all quotes have already been investigated and we have to do a little work on our own to find the source. Some are easy and Google will lead you right to the original document:

Lewis Carroll didn’t write in Alice in Wonderland, “I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then.” What he did write was “…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

But Anne Frank definitely said, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Be strong and courageous……for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Is, indeed, found in the bible- Joshua 1:9 But that gets a little tricky. There is a whole subset of deep, academic study that I am not qualified in the least to explore about who actually said what in the Bible. Was it a direct quote from the writer, from someone else, or had it been twisted around in oral histories like a game of Telephone into a version that was pretty close to either?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou

Maya was very, very wise and this does sound like something she would say, but the quote was originally published in a book of quotations and attributed to, Carl W. Buehner, an official in the Church of the Latter Day Saints. They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Some of my friends pulled quotes from their real lives, but even then my friend Jamie wasn’t sure if he, or his wife had said, “It isn’t enough to be nice or think good thoughts. You have to fight for what you believe in, and when you’re faced with systemic oppression and suffering you have to directly confront it. We can’t hug our way out of this.”

They are both very, very smart—it could have gone either way.

It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and minute to destroy one.” She also warned, “Don’t strain your arm patting yourself on the back.” -Marc’s mom

Don’t worry, Marc’s mom, I’m not. For ones that I had to dig and dig to find, I still feel like a failure;still fuzzy about the source even after a lot of searching.

 “Enough is as good as a feast is attributed to Sir Thomas Malory but I can’t yet find the exact source and may have been “Enough ’s a feast, content is crowned” by Josua Sylvester who lived a full 100 years after Malory but it’s in one of his poems.

Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.”

My friend Kathleen told me that she often quotes this and had first read it in a book by former Vice-President, Joe Biden. She, and Biden, attributed it to Immanuel Kant. But in trying to verify its origins, I also discovered sources that attributed it to that Essayist Joseph Addison (who died five years before Kant was born) and Clergyman George Washington Burnap who was the baby of them all.

Tricky stuff this citing business, but it can’t (or Kant) distract from the message which is solid life advice. All of these quotes are wonderful ways to look at life. We can all learn from them, and while discovering the source is a rewarding learning experience of its own, taking that message into our lives may be the most important part.






Well, heeeey

I can’t help but notice that there is a bit of traction over here lately. I suppose if I was the SEO markety sort this would send me into a tizzy of posts trying to capitalize on the activity and boost my visability using all kinds of buzzwords.

But I’m not that type. I don’t even know most of the buzzwords the kids are using these days, heck, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself for getting “traction” and “boost” into that first paragraph.

This site has always been a journal, and will continue to be. I don’t give a flip about how far my voice goes, it’s going to you and that’s all that matters.

2017 garden dahlia.jpg

Dear Diary,

It’s been, literally, a year since my last confess…post. Here is where I am in life:

I have two kids in college. One started this semester and is studying History Education because he wants to be a history teacher and coach. True story: History teachers have to coach, it’s part of the job (according to the head of his department during our tour of the campus.) He’s a freshman going through all the elation and challenges thereof. Also, his is not my story to tell, so I won’t.

The other college age kid is taking a gap semester between her sophomore and junior years. She wanted to travel a bit, work more and save money for college. She has a part-time job in her (as of right now) field and wasn’t ready to leave it yet. I was on board and very supportive of this (for selfish reasons.) She had been commuting to school for two years but is transferring to sleep-away college in January. I’m freaky crazy proud of her for getting into her first choice school that’s three full hours away and…damn, don’t tell her but I’m going to miss her so hard. I’m misting-up writing this, that hard…but the Mama in me knows that this is the best best BEST thing for her and I can’t be selfish anymore. Well, not as far as she goes and hers is also not my story to tell anyway.

That’s okay, I still have another kid to baby.

That kid is in 7th grade, smart and charming and he broke my heart this fall when he tried football and loved it.

He. Loves. Football.

And it looks like he’s good at it? Something something starting quarterback?

I realize that this is a thinking position but, in my head, a thinking position in a game that can knock the thinking out of a guy is sort of futile. I don’t want what I saw football did to his brother to happen to him…but I got overruled. Three Vollenboys for football; Mom against (daughter abstained.)

And me?

Heavy sigh.

I’m at one of those places in life where if I look back I can see I’ve come far and like what I’ve done, but when I look forward I only see multiple roads full of things that I haven’t done and that makes me feel like a failure with an urgency to succeed except….

…I don’t know which road I’m supposed to take so I tread water and mix metaphors.

It’s not a very comfortable place to be.

And don’t even get me started on politics. Please. Don’t.

Okay–here it is: I am a liberal who was terrified of what would happen when exactly what happened happened. My husband is a supporter of what happened. I try to shut up about it around home unless I know the conversation isn’t going to spiral into a fight that sounds a lot like a publicly posted social media thread about the news of the day.

This is also not a very comfortable place to be.

Wow, writing things out did not make me feel better, Diary. Thanks. Thanks a lot.


PS: I’ll be back. I believe in the journaling process.

A Love Story in Three Parts

These three columns ran in The Kansas City Star over the course of three years and tell a story of life, loss and love. They are special to me and non-fiction. If you read only one thing that I have ever written, I would like it to be this.

Dahlia logo

Part One: March, 2012

“When do I get to meet you?” was the message that greeted me on my Facebook page.

“Oh, I don’t know.” I typed back, “That might ruin the mystique. I’m not very interesting in person.”

That was the answer I gave Chris. It’s the answer that I give a lot of people.  Sometimes a flip answer like that keeps one more thing off of my To-do list.

Chris lived an hour away. I’ve spent a good deal of time with his wife- she’s one of my best friends. We are in contact, usually written, every day; once a year we go on a Chick Weekend with other friends. But if I got Nicole, Chris got the kids.

Last year, Chris and Nicole threw a New Year’s Eve party and invited my family. But the long round-trip drive on that particular night held little appeal to me. It held less to my husband who wasn’t thrilled about spending a late night with people he didn’t know.

Right. Didn’t know. He didn’t know one of my best friends or her husband. But we all do that, right?  Brian has his circle of people and I have mine. Sometimes, in a real life Venn diagram, those circles intersect-most of the time they don’t.  It’s a fact of modern life.

But Chris and I were connected through another fact of modern life: social media. I got to know him through the things he shared.  Always funny, always smart- I was often in awe of the depth of his faith and the quickness of his wit; I admired how Nicole and Chris parented as a team. I got that all through his posts, I didn’t have to be in the same room with him to know him.

Finally, six months ago, I did get to be in the same room as Chris. He was dressed in a nice suit, sharing with anyone who would look a picture that his six-year-old daughter drew.  Chris’ whole family was there, all five kids and Nicole, of course. When I walked into the room I went to her and hugged her hard- the physical contact so much more rewarding and personal than any phone conversation, text or Facebook message.

I walked over to Chris, “Never thought I would meet you like this,” I whispered.

He lay still. Hands holding a picture of Daddy in heaven.

Days before, Chris had set off to work like any day. He had kissed Nicole good-bye like he did every day, got in his car and drove the same route that he drove every day.

But that day, Chris met a man in another car who was traveling at highway speeds in the wrong direction.  The death was quick, which is a little comfort to Nicole and the kids.  The other driver survived. He is still surviving, still available to his own family.

I can’t attempt to understand the legalities of the accident- why justice seems so slow.

I can’t attempt to feel Nicole’s grief.  I can hear the raw emotions in her voice; I can see the pain in her eyes, in her words as I listen and learn more about Chris. Not just the stories that are sharable to anyone who reads his Facebook page, but the private Chris. Nicole’s Chris.

The Chris I would have met if I had made the effort.

I have yet to give my flip, “we don’t need to meet” answer to anyone. I doubt I ever will. Chris taught me that. I don’t care if I’m not interesting – I have to assume that they are interesting enough for both of us.

Just like Chris was.

Part Two: September, 2013

Everyone would change that day. They would insist on a longer breakfast, block the road, tell the drivers not to get behind the wheel.

If anyone had any power to stop it, they would have.

But it happened.

I shared this story awhile back, but, in a nutshell:

I learned the hard way never to make excuses and put off meeting people thinking that there is always time.

There isn’t always time.

My friend Nicole’s husband, on an ordinary drive on an ordinary day had the non-ordinary happen when he met a wrong-way driver.

Chris’ life ended and the path that no one would want for anyone began for Nicole, their five children and everyone who knew and cared for the family.

Grief. How do you handle grief like that? Sure, there are well published stages and steps, there are counselors who can guide a family through them but the family has to make the journey.

Nicole embarked on the journey. She had no choice; her kids had no choice.

Watching Nicole for the last year and a half has been heartbreaking. People surrounded them, blanketed them with love and casseroles- but there was nothing that anyone could do other than be there, as an ear, a hug, a meal, a drink, a laugh.

Nicole did what a lot of people do when faced with a loss of this magnitude: they wrote it out.

She began a blog.

She started it to work-out her feelings, have tangible evidence of her journey and, maybe, to offer hope to others who will go through something similar.

Most of the entries were obviously painful to write, they were painful to read. She was lost, hurt…alone. She admitted her failures; confronted and explored her feelings and turned to her faith as a guide. She found mentors in other women who had been on this journey before. She sought help for her family.

I have always admired her personality but her words revealed not only raw and vulnerable emotions, but true character- true strength.

She didn’t rush through each phase of grief, although I’m sure she wanted to, but she worked at it. She faced the pain and rode it through to the day when she could admit that the pain was just a little, tiny bit less.

One day she said that maybe, someday, she might like to date.

But she wasn’t ready and she knew it.

Death is a natural part of life. The journey of Nicole and her family isn’t unusual- but that doesn’t mean it’s any less life affecting. Being a common human experience doesn’t mean that it feels common when it happens to you, or to someone you love.

Nicole did what anyone would do when someone we love dies: use the tools that we have available to get our changed and confusing days to become ordinary ones. Ordinary days filled with familiar challenges- familiar ups and downs.

Old lives morph into new ones. People are the same, certain elements are the same, but it’s like they got broken up into a kaleidoscope and turned. Changed.

Then one day becomes a day that no one would ever change.

“I met someone and he’s special.”

Then she used the word “love”.

Nicole’s journey has taught me that happily ever after really is a myth. Every day is full of happy, sad, angry, delighted- a spinning color wheel of emotion that can’t be stopped.

But when it wheels past the special color, the cherished emotions- it’s happily right now.

And that is a moment we should never change and never, ever forget.

Part Three:July, 2015

Eight weddings. The year that I was 26 I attended eight weddings. It was a personal record that still stands.  By that age– three years, two jobs and four apartment moves since college– I got very good at the wedding guest routine: mail RSVP card, get gifts, buy dress and matching shoes, attend stuffy-fluffy bridal shower, fret over finding a Plus One, act like a grown-up at wedding, repeat.

Next wedding, same routine different dress.

When I was 26 I had a fairly steady beau. While he was not the steady beau that was my date to my own wedding, he was an excellent Plus One. He cleaned up nicely and was faking being an adult about as well as I was.

When I was 26 I took weddings for granted. They sort of ran together: another special day for a party; another beautiful friend who I was delighted for but quite happy that it wasn’t me.

After I did my own turn down the aisle, I understood the whole story. While armed with that newfound perspective, most of my friends were already married and wedding invitations dwindled. There have been a lot of non-wedding years since I was 26.

There have also been a lot of changes in weddings since then. For one wedding this past month I RSVP’d on Facebook and the bridal shower was less Stuffy-Fluffy and more Girls’ Night on the Deck.

I wore a dress that I already had in my closet.

I didn’t fret that my entire family was busy that day and I had no Plus One.

I didn’t have to pretend to be grown-up, although I had to remind myself of it several times when I was carried away with the joy of the day and the comfortable happiness of sharing it with a group of close friends.

The best change since I was 26 is that I possess empathetic involvement not only in the wedding, but in marriage. This particular couple’s journey to the alter was twisted like an emotional kaleidoscope. It wasn’t a special day for a party, it was a special day with a party. Accent on special.

And this one was very special.

It wasn’t simply that the bride was beautiful, the groom was beaming and the day shone bright and perfect; it wasn’t that they were surrounded by people who loved and cared for and about them.

It was more.

As the preacher began I looked around the chapel. I had never seen half of the people before, but the other half I had.

The last time that I had seen them I was sitting with the same group of friends.

The last time I had seen that collection of familiar and vaguely familiar faces it was at a church not too far by distance, but a million miles of experiences away.

“I, Nicole, take you Paul,” my friend repeated her vows…sickness, health, richer, poorer…I had heard the same vows eight times the year I was 26; I had heard them a hundred times since and I had said them once myself. But they never meant what they did that day.

“…until death separates us.”

The last time the vaguely familiar faces and this particular group of friends and I met in a church, we were there because death had separated Nicole from her first groom.

The most important change in weddings since I was 26 is that I now know that every couple has a story, every celebration unique. Every wedding is special. The ceremony and party may seem like the same old routine, but it’s not.

It’s the celebration of something new.

Something to cherish.

Nicole and I at her wedding.  Yes, I selfied in the receiving line.

Nicole and I at her wedding. (Yes, I selfied in the receiving line.)

Nicole’s (excellent, painful, raw, honest, well written)blog can be found here, My Ways Not Your Ways. I’ve linked you to the very beginning.

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.

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 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.