Monday, January 31, 2005

A Gift

Robert Louis Stevenson once said, "A friend is a gift you give yourself." Indeed! Yesterday my husband and I gave ourselves six gifts. We invited three couples we've known and loved for twenty years to our home for Sunday brunch. We laughed, talked, reminisced, ate, talked and laughed some more. It was a most wonderful afternoon.

Friendship--there is nothing like it.

As Charles and I cleaned up the dishes and put serving bowls and silverware away, we enjoyed going over every detail and decided that we will give ourselves many more such gifts during 2005.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I woke up last night a couple of times, anxious about a meeting Charles and I were to have with an investment advisor. I knew we'd be faced with the possibility of making changes in our portfolio. I wanted to be open to advice, but also trust my gut (where God often speaks to me) about what to do and say. We got through it with less anxiety than I anticipated. The gentleman is a very nice young man and did not try to swamp us, as some salesmen do.

We didn't make any decisions. We will do our homework, which I started today on the Internet. It's a good feeling to be at a place and time in my life when I can listen, learn, and then choose to go forward or stay put!

It has taken years to get here, but I'm grateful to have arrived. :-)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Retire? Never!

Columnist William Safire bid farewell to readers today. He will cease writing his newspaper column, but lest we think he's retiring, he set us straight. "No one pushed me," he said, and then acknowledged that he's in good shape and still drawing encouraging commentary from readers. The truth is he is simply moving into a "new life phase" starting next week when he begins work in an operating and grant-making foundation.

Nobel laureate James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, told Safire two years ago, "Never retire. Your brain needs exercise or it will atrophy."

At age 75, Safire is taking his advice! And at age 66 I am, as well. Some of my friends are cruising the high seas or the highways at this stage of life, but I am still at the keyboard punching out books, driving or flying here and there to speak, and mentoring several hundred aspiring writers through online and correspondence courses in writing. When I lay it all out here on the screen, it sounds daunting. How do I do all this? I ask myself.

Not sure, I respond within. I just do it! Because I love it and because I can and because it's important to my well-being to exercise the gifts I've been given.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her first Little House on the Prairie book at age 65. Grandma Moses starting painting at 80. My father started his own consulting firm in his mid-sixties, my friend Florence, one of the foremost origami experts in the country, is till writing craft books and winning awards at age 81, and my husband is a lively and agile tour guide in San Diego at age 76! (More in demand now than ever before!)

As Safire wisely counseled, "When you're through changing, learning, working to stay involved–only then are you through."

Retire? Never!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Good For The Soul

Walking is as good for my soul as praying or singing or dancing or reading. Today I really indulged myself. I walked in the morning with Susan and in the afternoon with Glenda.

On Tuesday I walked with Rose Marie. Tomorrow I'm walking with Amye and next week with Liz. Walk and talk, talk and walk. I love it. I'm not the 'let's meet for lunch' kind of gal. If someone wants to get together with me I suggest a walk–no food allowed (except food for the soul). And we have plenty of that here in San Diego. There are miles and miles of walkways along the beach, around the Bay, in and out of public parks, and along the streets of tree-lined neighborhoods.

When I'm stuck in my work or in a funk over a relationship, there's nothing like a walk to clear my mind, heal my heart, and settle my soul.

I'm sitting here tonight grateful for two legs that love to walk–that rarely complain–that have kept me moving for several decades.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Ah! Wilderness

I hit the trail today with friends from the Sierra Club. It was wonderful to be outdoors, to feel the sun on my face (truly!). It was 85. Apologies to New Yorkers who are having -2 this week and my home city, Chicago, 18 above. I shiver just thinking about it.

We saw wildlife, a deer behind a tree, many birds, and a baby snake who slithered into the shrubbery when we came upon him. There was also plenty of Poison Oak. We kept our distance. That stuff is nasty. A bad case of it sent my step-son to the hospital last year. He still has scars to prove how deadly it can be.

I loved stopping under a mighty Live Oak for lunch and skipping across streams and pools of water that had swollen after the recent rain storms. Trails were full of ruts and small canyons but we were able to negotiate them all!

I returned to my car sweaty but serene. There's nothing like a good hike in the mountains to set me straight in body, mind, and spirit. I'll be doing a lot more of it this year.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Mixed Bag

As a professional writer I think about words–a lot–as well as what they mean. Although I try to be original in my expression and provide my readers with fresh images and ways of looking at life, I too often catch myself using cliches. I guess you JUST CAN'T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS. Oops! There I go again. It's AS EASY AS PIE!

My son Jim and I talked about this on his recent visit–since he, too, is a writer. Once we got started on the topic we couldn't stop. Our conversation was suddenly a MIXED BAG of time-worn phrases and often we didn't even know what they meant or where they came from. As much as we tried to AVOID THEM LIKE THE PLAGUE, the more they sprang from our lips.

I tried to be as QUIET AS A MOUSE so I wouldn't add to the pile of phrases that was growing BY LEAPS AND BOUNDS, but it didn't work. Soon I was UP THE CREEK WITHOUT A PADDLE. WE LAUGHED UNTIL WE CRIED, but even tears couldn't stop us. We were having MORE FUN THAN A BARREL OF MONKEYS! I have to admit I wonder just how much fun that would be. But then I also pondered what it means to be AS HAPPY AS A CLAM. That one TAKES THE CAKE!

By now I feel like THROWING IN THE TOWEL, or more appropriate, THROWING THE BOOK at myself, the book of cliches, that is. On the other hand, if I do that, I'll be a SITTING DUCK, STUCK IN A RUT or UP A TREE and MADDER THAN A WET HEN, worried that I've gotten myself IN A PICKLE with MORE THAN I BARGAINED FOR!

I think I've said all I have to say on this topic–at least for today–so I'm going to BEAT IT LIKE A RUG before I hit THE POINT OF NO RETURN.

If this little essay RINGS YOUR CHIMES, do let me know! I'll be WAITING WITH BAITED BREATH. Or maybe to you, this is simply MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Either way, let me hear from you. A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS?

Monday, January 17, 2005


Today I am stirring...noticing changes, reactions, emotions, thoughts. I've let go of one thing and I'm about to let go of another. It feels right and good and peaceful to make these small shifts. I also took on something–a re-commitment to one of my 'loves'–hiking in the mountains and hills around San Diego.

Wednesday I'll strike out with a group of hikers from the Sierra Club and we'll explore Daley Ranch in Escondido. I'm already excited about this day away in nature with people who share my love for such.

I cannot let work keep me from the trail. I won't! Now that that's settled I'll be ready to move–walking sticks in hand, lunch and water in my backpack, hat on head, sunscreen and lip balm in my pocket, and most important, eyes and ears eager to take in the sights and sounds that are unique to the wilderness.

I can hardly wait!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Blessed Assurance

I chose the word PEACE as my word-of-the-year for 2005. I've had many opportunities since January 1 to observe myself in reference to it. Sometimes I live it and sometime I just think about it. For example, last Thursday I had a speaking engagement about 45 minutes from my home. It should have been a breeze to drive to the site. But it wasn't--due to an overturned crane on the freeway. It took 90 minutes to reach my destination. As I sat in my car, crawling along at 1 mile per hour I thought a lot about my word. I decided to stop holding it as a thought and start actively living it. I couldn't control my situation, frustrating as it was–but I could control my attitude. So I flipped on the radio to a station that plays classical music and allowed myself to relax into it, to enjoy the beautiful scenery outside my window–snow-capped mountains in the distance and deep green hills after the rain storms from the week before.

When it became clear that I would not make it to the event on time, I phoned the meeting planner and told her my dilemma. She was wonderful! "Don't worry," she consoled. "I'll just flip the program around. What we were planning to do during the last half, we'll do first. That will open the last half of the morning for you to speak." Thank heaven for cell phones and for patient meeting planners!

I arrived with a moment to spare, just enough time to hit the ladies' room and freshen my lipstick. My topic for the day was 'finding joy in everyday life–regardless of the circumstances.' How interesting!

I had been challenged to live my message before I gave it. I took a deep breath, plunged into the subject, and within seconds any residue of frustration fell away and I was at peace–and in joy!

The book of Isaiah in the Old Testament records the following: "The work of righteousness shall be Peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever."

PEACE–what a great word–a living word for today and every day of my new year!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

"Absoluely Delightful!"

That's what my dear husband said of the writing I'm doing for my latest book on finding the joy in life regardless of the circumstances. He's my best critic, friend, and helper. I can count on him to give it to me straight.

I'm stepping out a bit more with this book for women. I felt the writing was good, but it was great to hear his spontaneous comments and laughter as he read what I handed him. It set my feet a-dancing! :-)

I was nervous about this one because it is a 'commissioned' book. The publisher asked me to write it instead of me proposing the idea. I noticed myself excited (flattered!) about the request, but also wary. Would I meet her expectations? The proposal is due on January 24. So of course between Christmas, 2004 and today, January 11, 2005 there have been a gazillion obstacles–like returning our home to order after the holidays, food shopping since the fridge and pantry were nearly bare, preparing tax forms with my husband, planning our calendar and budget for the new year, etc., etc.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, however, I realized that what I perceive as obstacles are actually catalysts (even blessings) to propel me into action. As long as I remain observant, eager, and grateful, the channel stays open and the words and ideas pour forth. So whether I am balancing my checkbook, watering an African violet, walking along the shore with my husband or cleaning a toilet, I am still 'writing.' What a relief it is to see and know this. Not a moment is wasted as long as I enter into life fully.

What is the basis for this new dimension, this gutsier kind of writing, this feeling of 'stepping out?' I believe these BLOG pages are, in part, responsible for it. As I clear my mind of what's there–whatever that might be on any given day–the creative muse comes forward and delivers what I really want to say to my readers.

I'm discovering that writing a book is only partly discipline (fanny to chair in front of computer), and actually a much smaller part than I once believed. Routine is important, but even more essential–as I see and experience it–is the willingness to trust the uncertainty and unpredictability of the creative process, and then to express myself and see where it takes me. I may soar. I may crash. But either way, the words have been set free. When they're on the page (screen) I have something to work with and I love that. I can push them around, toss, save, mull over, or keep, as I wish.

And the more patient and expectant I am with myself and my muse, the more good stuff comes out! The kind I want to keep. When I have a day like that (which I had yesterday and last week) then I'm ready for a day away from the keyboard–to collect and reflect on what I've done and to savor it! I do that best when I treat myself to something special and do so alone. Today was that kind of day. I started with a walk, then a facial, then lunch, then a hair cut and styling, and finally a manicure and pedicure! Just what I needed to feel good all over. Now back to the computer and the next story that seems to be right there at the edge of my mind. I can hardly wait to see what it is.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


I had a great weekend with my husband. We attended a seminar that focused on diversions--those seductions that take us off true north in our work and personal relationships. Charles and I looked at what takes us off-course as individuals and as a couple. It was enlightening and very worthwhile.

Monday night we attended our Married For Life alumni group and discovered what it means to actively pursue and maintain intimacy in marriage–emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical.

We're exhausted today from all that introspection, examination, and discussion--but we're also flying high. We have not experienced such a great week together in a long time. We feel rejuvenated and reconnected in a new and deeper way.

Now for some sleep–I need it.

Friday, January 07, 2005

First Things First

I'm about to call it a day--even though it's night! I'm tired, but in a good way. I took a fast-walk with a friend this morning just before a predicted downpour, then came home and mopped the tile floor, swished the bathrooms, and dusted. All that was on my agenda for yesterday...but I was on a roll with my writing then and I didn't want to distract myself. I'm glad now that I followed my intuition. I felt wonderful when I woke up today and remembered that I had given my writing priority. That decision propelled me into today's work and resulted in enough energy to finish the cleaning. There was a time when I would have placed housework ahead of everything else. I was too quick to put off what I love to do in favor of what I believe I should do. Now I know that when I do what's most important first, there is time and energy for the less important, as well.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Clean Scene

I spent the day working on a proposal for a new book. I'm excited about it and noticed that the exercise of 'blogging' has helped my creativity. When I free my mind of the 'stuff' that's in the way through this journaling process, I can then soar with the ideas I want to set down and work with.

After six hours, it's time for a break. I'm going to do something physical. I had my walk today so I'll now turn to cleaning our condo. I'm going to dust, mop the tile floors, tidy the bathrooms, and maybe vacuum. If I don't finish everything today, there's always tomorrow. I won't exhaust myself like I used to. I've learned to pace the tasks. It's not as though the dust is going away if I don't take care of it!

The art and act of house-cleaning has made me more aware of my home, my possessions, my treasures, and the necessities that keep my life running smoothly. As I touch things and move them and freshen them up I feel grateful all over again--for the people in the photos, for the artists whose talent is displayed in the paintings on the wall, for the craftsmen (and women) who wove our carpet, put together our computers, built our furniture, laid the tile, etc.

I'm also thankful for the physical strength to do what needs doing. I have strong legs and hands and a good mind and a body that is flexible and willing to work. All things for which to thank God--and so I do.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Prophetic Words

I pulled out an old dictionary this afternoon--a gift from my grandfather for my 11th birthday in 1949. Gosh, that's a long time ago. I opened the crumbling volume and saw again his lovely handwriting and the note he wrote me.

Dear Karen:

Many happy returns on this your 11th birthday. With the good start you have already attained in the expression of meaningful words, I am confident that with the help of this book, you will soon become a walking dictionary.

Love, Grandpa

I smile just thinking about this. Even then Grandpa recognized my 'thing' for words. Here I am some 50 years later writing, speaking, and mentoring aspiring writers. What a blessing to have realized a dream that Grandpa had for me even before I had dreamed it for myself. Thank you, God, for this talent, and for my grandfather.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Singing in the Rain

I'm sitting at my computer enjoying a quiet day at home while it rains hard! We need the moisture so I'm not complaining. In fact, I'm singing. I completed a lot of work today. Caught up with student submissions, sent essential e-mails, made a delicious Italian meal for Charles and me in our newly updated kitchen, and took down the Christmas decorations. Little things, simple things...but necessary things. Life is good and I'm grateful to be alive.

Monday, January 03, 2005

A Word for the New Year

Each year I choose a 'word for the year.' Joy, gratitude, praise have been a few of them. The year I chose 'praise' I kept a 'praise journal' for twelve months. I looked forward each day to going to my journal and recording my praise thoughts to God. It was one of the best years of my life!

The year I chose joy I found myself living in a more joyful state. Amazing–the power of one's word!

This year my word is PEACE. It came to me a few days before the dawn of 2005. I realized that more than anything else this year, I want my life to be filled with peace--regardless of the circumstances. I plan to move at a slower, more deliberate pace, take time to truly experience each action, to really 'be' with the people in my life--from family and friends to students and strangers. It's paying off already. I'm even chewing my food more slowly and peacefully!! (My digestive system is quite happy about this.)

I used to think of peace as something unattainable, yet worth hoping for, praying for, and working toward in my own small way... Now I know that peace does start with me (and that's not just a cliche or lyrics to a song). It's true--if I make it so. And so I start this year dedicating myself to peace. It will be interesting to see what comes of it. I'm eager to find out. But I'm peaceful--even while I'm eager!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Live and Learn

Here I am on January 2, 2005 at 5:39 Pacific Time happy that I made it past another hurdle in cyberspace. Thanks to my grandson, Noah, I was able to post my photo on my profile page. I'm not sure why it was so difficult to do this by myself. I thought I was following the directions but I kept getting error messages. Now I'm glad it happened, because it motivated me to reach out for help--and Noah was there to give me a hand.

When I hit hard places in life, I sometimes feel like giving up, especially when I follow directions (at least I think I'm doing so) but don't get the result I want right away. This will be something to look at in the new willingness to ask for and receive help and keep pressing on even when it's a challenge. It does feel good when I get to the other side. Right now I feel very good!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Inside Geography

As a kid I loved geography. I remember an assignment in fifth grade to do a 'product' map of North Carolina, a place I had never visited. That experience, some five decades ago, led me to maps and globes and encyclopedias and an interest in places near and far from where I lived. Eventually I became a teacher and then a writer and speaker. I have written curriculum materials for history and geography classes about places around the world and I've been fascinated with the people groups who live in these far-away lands. But none of this was personal--until I was asked to write a book for kids on immigrants from Vietnam and later a book for middle-grade readers on a refugee family from Kurdistan who came to the United States during the Gulf War.

Suddenly, countries that were once across the globe were here in San Diego--through these people who have become my friends and extended family. For a time I was the 'American grandmother' to the children in the Kurdish family. And for nearly twenty years I've been receiving manicures and pedicures at the shop owned by my Vietnamese friend, Sally.

This week, another place I've never seen except on a map, also has become very personal to me. Indonesia--all because of a woman named Anita who contacted me after she read one of my published articles on She is Indonesian by heritage but was living in Germany at the time she wrote and asked me to be her spiritual mother. That was about three years ago. We have been in touch via e-mail ever since. A month or so before the recent disaster in Indonesia, Anita returned to her native home to join her family.

The morning I heard the news of the Tsunami, I went to my computer and e-mailed Anita before I did another thing, my heart racing as I struck each key. I just wanted to know she was all right. In one moment her friendship escalated to a high I had not known previously. She was not simply a person in a far-away place with whom I shared a few e-mails a month. She was my 'daughter' and friend and I wanted her to be safe and well. She wrote back that day to thank me and to report that she and her family were on a smaller island and had not been affected. She typed in a prayer from both of us on behalf of the victims, and I returned her e-mail with my prayer for both of us. We have continued that practice over the past several days.

I thank God for Anita and for all the steps in my life that led me to her and her to me.

On this first day of the new year, 2005, I have a deeper understanding and appreciation of life, of my life, of the lives of everyone I know and meet and hear about. It really is a small world, after all!