Monthly Archives: May 2015

Happy Birthday Pam 6/2/52 – 5/20/09


[This blog post is unusually long. But it’s about my cousin Pam (pictured above), who was unforgettably unusual. So in memory of her, please stick with it and I hope you find it worth your time.]

Relaxing on my pergola swing recently, I reveled in the greenery and inhaled the scent of fresh grass and spring air. The trees were sprouting first buds, and everything smelled of new growth. I was peaceful and serene and swayed on the swing, taking in nature and reminiscing. Then melancholy swept over me, and I couldn’t help but recall all the nights I sat on that swing, arms locked with my step-cousin Pam, watching the sunset.

The first time I met Pam, I was thirteen, and she was fourteen. She was strikingly beautiful, and I was skinny, lanky and—awkward. It had been a stressful week leading up to the memorable Sunday that I met Pam back in March of 1966.

My mother had recently gotten engaged. That was her good news. Her bad news was that she and my soon-to-be stepfather had never told his family about me.

I didn’t know if his family even knew that my mother had married once before, but they apparently knew nothing about me. So according to my mom, she was going to have a sit down with his family to break the news. I called it “The Telling” when I wrote about it in my diary that night. I wasn’t privy to The Telling outcome, although I did overhear bits and pieces when my mother spoke about it to my grandmother— and it didn’t sound like it went well at all.

A few days later I was informed that my mom was taking me to meet my soon-to-be step-family for Sunday dinner.  Oh, joy. My diary entry called it “The Meeting.”

[Going back and reading through my ancient journals has been incredibly cathartic, but they have also brought back those deeply recessed feelings of imperfection, inadequacies, and downright fear. Why I continue to torture myself reading through the volumes of my diaries is beyond my comprehension. But I simply can’t stop myself.]

Back to The Meeting.

I was scared to death to meet the step-folks, but I felt better when my grandmother said that she was coming as well. She was always my rock and protector, so I was very relieved, although still a bundle of stress and nerves. In preparation for The Meeting, my mother was running around with a new purpose, buying fancy clothes for the three of us. Since it was a struggle to put food on the table, I thought the clothing purchase was excessive. And then there were the do’s and the don’ts. Do be polite, do be quiet, do be respectful. Don’t embarrass, don’t blab, don’t overshare.

In the days gearing up for Sunday dinner, I prepared myself for being observed, analyzed, and inspected. And based on my nearly perfect eavesdropping skills, according to my mother and grandmother, this turkey was probably not going to win any prizes.

Some soon to be step-family members were not attending the dinner at all, mortified at The Telling, which made the event even more worrisome and dramatic. On the day of The Meeting, I overheard a conversation between my mother and grandmother and picked up the word “awkward” as my mom described me. I immediately ran to my dictionary to look up the definition, while my grandmother responded with “She’ll grow into herself.” Awk·ward  adjective.  In the wrong direction, lacking skill, turned the wrong way, causing or feeling embarrassment or inconvenience.

I ran from the dictionary to the mirror.  My dark, frizzy, out of control wavy hair was pretty awful; even I had to admit.  My nose was big and my skin a little too dark. It seemed doubtful that I was going to “grow into myself.” And most certainly not by Sunday dinner.

The Meeting started out uncomfortably unpleasant, and I was a self-conscious inner mess—until Pam walked up to me and gave me a genuine and honest feel-good hug.  “I have always wanted a girl cousin my age,” she said as she welcomed me into the living room, genuinely excited to meet me. And just like that, The Meeting was behind me. Pam had saved The Meeting day.

From that day on, the two of us were sisters from another mother. I was closer to Pam than anyone else in my new family, or for that matter, anyone else in my old family. And since my mom was an only child, I had no aunts, and no cousins, so I treasured my close relationship with Pam. And to my surprise, so did she.

We spoke on the phone often, had sleepovers at her house, sneaking out to smoke cigarettes, and rendezvous with her guy friends. I always told Pam that her beauty was a huge bonus for me. She was a magnet for all the cute guys, and as her plus one I got to reap the benefits of her good looks. And she also helped to transform my awkward self into a substantive, confident woman. It sounds corny, but she was hugely instrumental in my personal growth. Were it not for Pam, I might still be that gawky, klutzy, meek wallflower.

Thirteen years old, turned into high school graduation and I went away to college while Pam stayed local, so we didn’t see each other very often. But we made sure to keep in touch via letters, cards and phone calls.

She became a clothing buyer for a well-known Connecticut store called Brooks Hirsch—I became a Delta Flight Attendant. Pam got married; I got married. She had kids; I had kids. She lived in Connecticut; I lived in New York. Time, distance, and everyday life made it harder and harder to stay in touch, but we made sure to speak on the phone regularly.

Pam had the perfect life—a gorgeous, loving and successful husband, two beautiful children, a magnificent home, and genuine happiness. Me? I was in the throes of a divorce storm. I respected and looked up to Pam for her advice, her compassion, and her unconditional love for me. And just like when I was thirteen, all I wanted was to be like Pam.

And then came Pam’s storm—one of epic, and incomprehensible proportions. Her son was diagnosed with bone cancer when he was a toddler. She was beyond devastated. There was no consoling her, but I so tried. When I would speak to her on the phone, she was weary, distant, broken. But she would always thank God for her husband.

After her son’s diagnosis, she was never the same lighthearted and radiant Pam again. How could she be? But she had hope. She had faith in God. She had her beautiful daughter. She had her beautiful son. And most of all, she had her strong, determined husband to comfort her and keep her going.

Until she didn’t. While Pam was in Boston at the Children’s hospital trying to save her baby son, her husband had a massive heart attack and passed away at his office desk. He was in his thirties.

I tried to comfort her, but she was heart shattered and despondent. Who wouldn’t be? And the Pam I knew and loved was gone, replaced by someone else in Pam’s beautiful but broken body.

Her beloved son survived his toddler bout of cancer, but he passed away at age 20 from a recurrence. Pam and I spent countless hours before and after his death, trying to figure out what the hell happened to God.

I am a convert to Judaism, and one of those High Holy Day Jews who go to temple for an hour here and there on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the most reverent and solemn Jewish day of the year.  A day of fasting, praying and reflecting, and known as the Day of Atonement, all prior sins will be forgiven on this somber day. It’s also the day for remembering our lost ones—those who have left this world for another.

In the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God opens the book of life and begins with the first name in the book, reviewing each name—each life—one by one. Who shall live and who shall die?  That’s the question asked on Yom Kippur. The great book of life lying open and exposed, revealing names—some re-entered into the book of life—some left out. It is of the utmost importance for Jewish people to survive the ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah, which begins the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur.

Why am I telling you this? Because Pam’s son died the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Pam accompanied me to temple the year following his death. As a Catholic, she knew nothing about Yom Kippur, the prayers or the service, yet every prayer uttered that day had a haunting significance for her—and me.

“On this day life and death shall be written in the Book of Remembrance…Man was not created but to perish… Love and faith leave their imprints in the hearts of loved ones…All must crumble, in their time be shattered…When the memories of our dear departed spur us on to nobler aspiration, in our hearts they live enshrined forever…Deathless, timeless, living on in others.“

The mood of Yom Kippur is dark, so I suggested to Pam that we leave. But she firmly grabbed hold of my arm and wanted to stay. The prayers were commonplace to me—I had read them hundreds of times, but she was deeply moved, and more mentally and physically present than I had seen her since her son passed. She needed to hear more.

So we participated in the Yizkor service—something I had never done before.  Yizkor is the memorial service for the dead, and together we tearfully read the beautiful passages from the High Holiday Prayer Book.

“Though we are separated, dear mother, in this solemn hour, I call to mind the love and solicitude with which you tended and watched over my childhood, ever mindful of my welfare, and ever anxious for my happiness. Many were the sacrifices that you made to ennoble my heart and instruct my mind.  What I achieved is because of your influence, and what I am, I have become through you…the lessons that you imparted unto me shall ever remain with me. If at times, I have failed in showing you the love and appreciation, which you so worthily deserved, if I have been thoughtless and ungrateful, I ask to be forgiven.  I pray that your spirit inspire me to noble and intelligent living, so that when my days are ended, and I arrive at the Throne of Mercy, I shall be deemed worthy of you, and to be reunited with you in God.  Amen.”

Pam asked me if she could keep my High Holiday Prayer Book, and I gladly gave it to her. Over the next couple of years, she told me that she read those passages often and even shared them with her Grief Recovery Support Group.

Soon after, Pam started complaining of headaches. I told her it was stress. Her headaches turned out to be cancer, and I had no response for her when she sat me down to break the paralyzing news.  She had a year or so to live, and I was hearing her words but mostly concentrating on not screaming. WHY? Why did all this ruinous devastation happen to one beautiful inside-and-out person?

After her diagnosis, we seldom spoke about it. She brushed it off as if it was nothing, and she made it so easy for me to feel comfortable and free of guilt.  She never led on to anyone on the outside that she was terminal. Only her close family knew.

In between her radiation and chemotherapy, I would drive to Connecticut and take her out for dinner and drinks. It was always an out of body experience—me so full of life, and Pam barely hanging on, wearing that wig she despised, but as always, dressed to perfection. The two of us tried so desperately to make sure cancer couldn’t stop Pam from glamming it up and having an enjoyable night out with me. And we desperately tried to recreate the old days—before her son passed. But those days were over.

Pam held her head high the entire time she was sick, and she walked with dignity until the end.

We only talked about her imminent death one time. We both had a little too much to drink one night, and while watching the sunset on my swing, she told me not to worry. She was going to be okay. She was looking forward to seeing her son and husband. She was tired. I cried, and she consoled. Can you imagine? Pam consoled me.  But that was Pam.

Two days before she passed away, I sat at her bedside for a last unfathomable goodbye. I was trying to compose myself and be strong for her. And then my best friend and cousin Pam was gone.

For the next few months, I thought non-stop about Pam and contemplated the meaning of life, the finality of death—and why her. I asked my friends and family for guidance—for answers, but they had no answers for me.

How many times had I picked up the phone to call Pam, to gossip about one thing or another—only to painfully remember it, and clutch the handset close to my heart.

And then life and time took over, and Pam became a beautiful, sad memory.

But as I sat on the swing she loved, with no Pam to lock arms with, I was lonely and mournful, and no closer to the answers I so desperately sought.

Happy 63rd birthday Pam. I pray that in death you finally found the peace and happiness you so deserved in life.

Memorial Day: Something to Think About Between the Barbeque and the Beer

First Memorial Day honoring 257 Union soldier-martyrs 10000 freed men march led by 3000 children

On May 1, 1865, Memorial Day was started by former slaves in Charleston, S.C., to honor 257 dead Union soldiers who had been hastily buried in a mass grave in an upscale race track converted into a Confederate prison camp. After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston, black workmen went to the site, dug up the bodies, and worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom.

The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” Then, nearly ten thousand people, mostly freedmen in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders’ racecourse. At 9am, the procession began and was led by about 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.”

Several hundred black women then followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths, and crosses. Then came the black men, marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathered in the cemetery enclosure; the children sang “We’ll Rally around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and several other spiritual songs before several black ministers read from scripture. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the “First Decoration Day” in the North.

The old racetrack is gone, but an oval roadway survives on the site in Hampton Park, named for Wade Hampton, former Confederate general and the governor of South Carolina after the end of Reconstruction. The old gravesite of the Martyrs of the Race Course is gone too; they were reinterred in the 1880s at a national cemetery in Beaufort, S.C.

Another touching and unforgettable early Memorial Day celebration happened on April 25, 1866,  at Friendship Cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi, where four women met to decorate the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers. Forty Union soldiers were also buried in that same ground, and the women, in a spirit of generosity, decorated those graves as well.

The Columbus event made national headlines. A lawyer in Ithaca, New York, Francis Miles Finch, upon reading about the incident, wrote the following poem, which was published on September 1867 in The Atlantic Monthly.

The Blue and the Gray
By the flow of the inland river,
Where the fleet of iron has fled,
Where the blades of the grave grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Under the one the Blue,
Under the other the Gray.

Those in the robings of glory,
Those in the gloom of defeat;
All with the battle blood gory,
In the dusk of Eternity meet.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Under the laurel the Blue,
Under the willow the Gray.

From the silence of sorrowful hours,
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers,
Alike for the friends and the foe.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Under the roses the Blue,
Under the lilies, the Gray.

So, with an equal splendor,
The morning sunrays fall,
With a touch impartially tender,
On the blossoms blooming for all.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Broidered with gold, the Blue,
Mellowed with gold, the Gray.

So, when the summer calleth,
On forest and field of grain,
With an equal murmur falleth,
The cooling drip of the rain.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Wet with the rain, the Blue.
Wet with the rain, the Gray.

Sadly but not with upbraiding,
The generous deed was done,
In the storm of the years that are fading,
No braver battle was won.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Under the blossoms, the Blue,
Under the garlands, the Gray.

No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever,
When they laurel the graves of our dead.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Love and tears for the Blue.
Tears and love for the Gray.


When you throw back that beer today, don’t forget to make a toast to all the military men, women, and their families for their incredible sacrifice.  And never forget that we’re free because so many warriors fought and died to protect our country.  And so many are dying and protecting our country at this very moment. All of them are heroes, including their families. Now I’ll drink to that.

Memorial Day two children A mourner, believed to be Air Force Reserve Captain Teresa Dutcher lays at the grave of Corporal Michael Avery Pursel at Arlington National Cemetary in Arlington, Virginia. She visits the cematery at the conclusion of the "Flags In" on May 24, 2012. Each year for the past 40 years, the 3rd U.S. Infantry or "Old Guard" honors America's war dead by placing American flags at the gravestones of service members buried at Arlington National Cemetery prior to Memorial Day weekend. The tradition, known as "flags in," is conducted annually by the 3rd U.S. Infantry, the Army's official ceremonial unit. Every available soldier in the 3rd U.S. Infantry participates, placing a small American flag one foot in front and centered before each grave marker over a three-hour period. During this time, the soldiers place flags in front of more than 260,000 gravestones. Memorial Day Mother & Child Memorial Day Little Girl

ISIS Seizes Syrian City of Palmyra: One of the Most Important Cultural Centers of the Ancient World

Palmyra A

ISIS tore through the historic city of Palmyra on Wednesday, and by evening this pearl in the heart of the Syrian desert belonged to them.

When I read the headline this morning in The New York Times, I instantly recalled the article I wrote about Palmyra for—in 2004. You can read my full article from 2004 here: Palmyra: Ancient City in the Sand

The splendor and rich history of Palmyra, combined with my Syrian Christian heritage on my father’s side, was the driving force behind my writing the article in the first place.

What I didn’t know at the time I wrote about this ancient, long-abandoned Roman city, was that Palmyra sits among gas fields and a critical network of roads across Syria’s central desert. Gas fields and road networks are clearly much more valuable to ISIS than the crystal blue sulphurous spring water rising out of an underground channel that I wrote about.

What I do know is that ISIS has no respect for ancient sites, and they have been destroying them at a fairly fast clip. As they have swept across Syria and Iraq, ISIS has been adept at damaging and annihilating ancient sites and sculptures, condemning them as idolatry.

We already know that ISIS has no respect for human life, so destroying Palmyra would be the least of their crimes.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of Unesco, the United Nations agency that works to protect historic sites had this to say: “I reiterate my appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities at the site. I further call on the international community to do everything in its power to protect the affected civilian population and safeguard the unique cultural heritage of Palmyra. Finally, it is imperative that all parties respect international obligations to protect cultural heritage during conflict, by avoiding direct targeting, as well as use for military purposes.”


The Y Chromosome

X & Y Chromosomes
(Photo description: The human Y chromosome (the stumpy one on the left) holds the code for “maleness;” the mighty X on the right holds the code for “femaleness.”)

Basic biology has it that girls are girls because they have two X chromosomes— those thingies inside cells that carry our genes. Boys are boys because they have one X and one Y.

Y might look puny next to X, but as Mark Twain once said: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Speaking from experience, I can’t live with Y. And I can’t live without Y.

When my husband does something stupid I always ask myself, why ? And then I answer my own question with: Blame it on the Y chromosome— the essence of masculinity.

As I have mentioned in past blog posts, pretty much everyone in my family has the same thing to say about The Teri Tome: PLEASE DON’T WRITE ABOUT ME. I feel like Taylor Swift, sans the long legs, beautiful hair, perfect teeth, wrinkleless lips, and her gazillions of dollars.

So I’m going to attempt to write this Y Chromosome blog without implicating anyone in particular. Except that me is me.

Me [Getting ready for a wedding]: Does this dress make me look fat?

Him: I like a little meat on your bones.

Me: Are you kidding me? That’s really offensive.

Him: You asked.

Me: Just say no.

Him: No.

Me: Thanks for nothing.

Him: Can I throw something else out there?

Me: Really? You haven’t said enough?

Him: I don’t like you in red.

Me: Too late now. You’re stuck with red meat on the bone.

Him: Now you’re going to be mad at me?

Me: You think I look fat. Why wouldn’t I be mad at you?

Him: You don’t look fat. You look healthy.

Me: Stop talking.

Him [Driving to the wedding]: Now you’re going to give me the silent treatment?

Me: I have nothing to say.

Him: Next time you ask me the fat question, I’m going to reframe it and throw it right back at you.  

Me: Fine. (To all you Y’s out there: When a woman says fine you need to shut up because she’s not happy.)

Him [Stopping on the steps to the wedding and staring into my face]: Listen, you look beautiful. My bad. Let’s kiss and make up.

Me: Not to worry. (What I really wanted to say was: Not to worry butt face, you’ll pay for your stupid mistake later.)

Now we are meeting and greeting people, and air kissing and hugging, and all I’m thinking about is the meat on my bones. Plus, does red accentuate my stuff?

After the ceremony, I rushed to the ladies room to check out my fat red self.  As I thoroughly inspected myself in the mirror—I GASPED!!!!!

There it was—a near dead gnat stuck in a goop of gloss on my right upper lip.


Me [Trying to stay calm with the gnat still affixed to my lip, while pointing at it]: Did you not notice this ginormous gnat on my face while you were begging to make up?   

Him: It’s not that ginormous.

Me [Wiping said gnat off my lip with his suit pocket handkerchief while saying nothing]: (Saying nothing is something and means everything, and Y’s should worry when this happens.)

Him: So now you’re mad at me because a gnat drowned in your lipstick?

Me: Lip gloss. And I spoke to a thousand people like that.  

Him: You spoke to about twenty people.

Me: Whatever. (My way of saying screw you.)

Him: Let’s go eat.

Writing the Perfect Book Blurb in 25 Words

Marketing books

I was recently asked to provide a book blurb for my novel Our Romantic Getaway  in 25 words or less—including the title. As the queen of verbiage, this was no easy task.

I started out with 375 words, and then cut it back to 180. That was the easy breezy part. Then I copied and pasted, added and deleted for a while, and whittled it down to 100. How was I going to shave off another 75 words?

Try as I could, the 25 word blurb was not progressing well at all.

I applied my old grade school lesson of who what when why where. This was actually quite helpful.

With some major who what when why and whereing, I was finally able to get to 25 words exactly! It was a time consuming and laborious exercise, but the creation of a succinct 25 word pitch was eventually accomplished as follows:

Our Romantic Getaway:  A couple’s vacation goes awry when they are bumped to a risqué nude resort. Can their marriage survive the bizarre, eye-opening experience?

My 25 word accomplishment got me thinking of all kinds of things I could narrow down.


A bathroom reminder for my husband:  Roll toothpaste from bottom, toilet seat down, wipe sink, use your towel, toilet paper goes over, clean toothpaste off mirror, change light bulb if dark.

(I was so proud of this one that I wrote it on a post it and stuck it on the bathroom mirror.)

Important kitchen reminders: Garbage pickup Tuesday and Friday, no dirty dishes in sink, write grocery list legibly, do not overflow trash can, dining room table not for storage.

(I was getting pretty good at this 25 word blurb thing so I really went on a roll.)

Thirteen major no no’s: Don’t gossip, spit in public, be greedy, curse, lecture, slouch, be cheap, crack knuckles, blow nose in restaurants, bite nails, talk with mouth full, procrastinate.

Life lessons for my kids Yoda style: Text and drive do not. Seek advice you must. Your mother and father honor. Your best try. Fair life is not. To dope say nope.


How to Market Your Book

Marketing your book

I get hundreds of e-mails asking me how my books are selling and what kind of effort I have been putting into getting them out there.

Here is my partial answer:

As a recent novelist, I can tell you that the marketing and selling of Our Romantic Getaway and The Day It Snowed Popcorn has been grueling.

The payoff has been worth it, although it has been slow going and ridiculously time-consuming.  Bottom line: It’s all about the buzz.

Okay, so you wrote a book and it’s finally out there. Congratulations! The feeling of holding a copy of your published work is indescribable. But once the euphoria wears off it’s time to sell and market.

You thought writing the book was exhausting? Writing it was the opening act. Now it’s time for the featured presentation.

It takes a village to be a successful writer. And writers need readers—a village of them. Focus on readers and you’ll get sales.

You may not think of yourself as a salesperson, but you better start thinking like one if you want your book to be successful.

First and foremost, you need to create and build a large and loyal fan base. It’s all about branding. You need to brand yourself as an author, editor, publisher, blogger, marketer, and anything else worth branding.  It’s all about creating your authorial image and persona.

The most successful selling tool available to you is word of mouth. Don’t be afraid to cultivate readers—one reader at a time.

Make sure to give away books. If you hand out your book for free to one person, they may tell two, and those two may tell four. When people talk positively about your book, the word will spread fast, and your book will sell.  The more people read it (and presumably like it), the quicker the word will spread, and with enough people spreading the word, you’ve finally got buzz.

But if no one knows your book is out there, no one will buy it, which equals zero buzz.  And zero sales.

Start compiling a list of magazines, websites, blogs and organizations you think are in sync with your book genre. Then send out a review request in the hopes of getting reviewed.

Here is an example of a review request:

I’ve recently published a book and would appreciate your considering reading it for possible review.  My book is entitled [Book title here]; see the short synopsis below.

[Synopsis here.]

If you are interested in reading my book, I’ll gladly send a complimentary copy. If you would like additional information about me or my book, please go to [Website here].

Thank you in advance for your time, and I hope to hear from you.  

Create an author website. Create a Facebook page (book title or author). Create a blog. Create a Twitter account.  Blog, tweet, and Facebook often, and build a solid base of followers and friends.  Social media is the only way to build an audience, and eventually you’ll find your subset. Or more accurately, your subset will find you.

Offer to speak at workshops for free, and donate books to appropriate organizations.

Send any reader who contacts you a request for a short review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, etc. Here is an example of a reader review request:

Thanks so much for your kind words about my book! If you have a spare moment, it would be a great help if you could post a review of it on Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes and Noble. Letting other potential readers know why you liked the book would help increase interest in it. It’s not necessary to write a lengthy, formal review—a quick summary is perfect. Here are the links should you be so kind as to write a review: [Insert links here].

Create quality promotional business cards and postcards and have them available at all times. Remember that you are never off marketing duty.

And don’t be discouraged if months later your book is still unknown. Your marketing can take years. And try to publish a book every year. No, I’m not kidding. But only if you can crank out a quality book. Quality is critical.

Don’t expect best seller status overnight—if at all. But never stop marketing your name and your books.  And never stop building a loyal readership and fan base.

Good luck!



While its roots can be found in ancient Greek and Roman times, Mother’s Day started in the United States as a way for mourning women to honor fallen soldiers and work for peace.

In 1868, the special day was organized to allow mothers of Union and Confederate soldiers to come together in the hopes of eliminating the divide between them, as a result of the Civil War.

And the dates may differ, but no matter where you are in the world, there is a special day to celebrate moms.

The bond that we as mothers share with our children is like no other. We carried them, sustained them, and shared our sustenance with them for nine months. During my pregnancies I was in awe of every moment of the miracle growing inside of me.

And I’m sure most mothers would agree that the love we feel for our children is immeasurable and will last beyond forever.

What makes me truly happy on Mother’s Day has zero to do with the cards, gifts, calls and visits.

If my children are happy—then I’m happy. And the best gift my children could ever give me—was already given to me the day each of them was born.

Below are a few of my fave “Mother” quotes:

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. Rajneesh

 Mother is a verb, not a noun. Proverb

A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.  Dorothy Canfield Fisher

A worried mother does better research than the FBI. Unknown

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. Tenneva Jordan

Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother. Oprah Winfrey

Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed. Linda Wooten

It’s not easy being a mother. If it were easy, fathers would do it.  From the television show The Golden Girls

Women’s Liberation is just a lot of foolishness. It’s the men who are discriminated against. They can’t bear children. Golda Meir

Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life. Sophocles

A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dates all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path. Agatha Christie

A mother’s prayer is that her children will love each other long after she is gone. Unknown

My Memories of Poverty

Rat Cockroach-Infestation
Following the arrest and death of 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray of Baltimore, hordes of local residents took to the streets in protest.

During sometimes violent incidents, over 250 people were arrested, at least twenty police officers were injured, hundreds of businesses were damaged, and there were countless vehicle and structure fires.

Many Americans think that the news media has covered the incident ad nauseam. I say it hasn’t been covered enough.

It seems everyone has an opinion. It also seems like the consensus is that there is no easy answer for what ails Baltimore.

It seems fairly obvious to me.

Poverty. Educationless. Unemployment. Homelessness. Sickness. Hunger. Helplessness. Fear. Hopelessness.

I spent my first nine years in abject poverty. I then spent the next five or so years in semi-poverty. The semi-poverty years were the good old days. It was the abject poverty that I can never forget.

Those first nine years of my life left an indelible and forever mark. Not one day goes by, that is not touched somehow by those frightening, hopeless, and haunting years.

One of my first memories at about four or five was of intense stomach pain. My belly always hurt—real bad. I would go to bed with the pain and I would wake up with it in the morning. Turned out it was a combination of hunger—and worms. Yeah—my little body was full of worms.

Back to Baltimore.

Many individuals have been quoted saying that the people in Baltimore need to take responsibility for their lives—their choices.

Okay, maybe you can say that about an adult. But how does a five-year-old child do that?

How does a teenager do that?

For any parent, you know teenagers taking responsibility for anything is a challenge.

Now back to my memories of poverty.

The worms were scary for sure. But not as scary as the bugs. Big ones. Big bad cockroaches. They came out fast and furious.  And they were bold. They mostly came out in the dark—scurrying all over the walls and surfaces when the lights would be flicked on as we entered our apartment. Our tenement apartment was meticulous. But they came in droves anyway.

Welcome home.

I still associate the bugs with my difficulty breathing. My grandmother thought I was anxious. I was diagnosed with asthma. I have often wondered if my childhood asthma was really just a byproduct of the constant inhaling of bug spray.

I was a scrawny and sickly kid. Looking back, it’s no surprise to me—bug spray and worms can wreak havoc on a child.

And then there were the shoeboxes in the kitchen cupboard under the sink. I hated that cupboard. I hated the shoeboxes even more.

Every early morning, my grandmother would take the shoeboxes and roam around our apartment, throwing the successful rat traps into it. Once one box was full, she would get another one.

And another one.

And another one.

The shoeboxes would be full of rats with broken necks. Better dead than scurrying around hangry.

My grandmother would calmly throw the rats into the outside garbage can and put the shoeboxes back in its place under the sink.

I was an inquisitive child, so I asked a lot of questions.

I wouldn’t call myself a rat expert, but I knew quite a bit about them.

My math skills weren’t the best, but I knew that where there was one rat, there were many more. Rats have large families—up to forty or fifty.

And since rats rarely walk more than a few hundred feet from their birthplace, if I saw one, the other forty or so were probably close by.

The good news: Rats had a one-year life span so they didn’t live long.

The bad news: Rats multiply like rabbits.

As you can imagine (or not), I was obsessed with those rats. So was my grandmother. She would methodically and carefully inspect all of the lower parts of our walls—particularly in the bedrooms, at about one inch from the floor.

You see, rats like to hug walls, and they would leave behind dark marks—oil from their hair.

Rat residue.

BTW, I mostly slept with my grandmother in her bed.

Oh, and rats eat mice, so they rarely cohabitate. More good news.

Although I would have preferred mice to rats.

But I didn’t have a choice did I?

While other children in better zip codes were doing whatever kids in better neighborhoods do, I was preoccupied with rat traps, rats, and cockroaches—mulling the same questions over and over in my head: Do rats eat cockroaches?  Do rats ever stray from the walls?

And as if that wasn’t enough fear for one young child.

My biggest fear of all?

The dark.

Because everything came out in the dark.

I often go back to those dreadful memories and wonder who I would have been—had I never gotten out of there.

How many times I’ve asked myself that question.

What if I never got out?

What if I was black?

Hopelessness. Helplessness.

Five-year-olds turn into 25-year-olds.

Who knows?

I might have set fire to a few cars and buildings myself.

The Perfect Mother’s Day Gift

Pregnant mom

This year I am going to honor Mother’s Day by making a donation to fight hunger and loneliness in the home bound elderly community. Too old and frail to shop or cook, or just plain old forgetful, the hidden hungry are everywhere.

Fifty-one million people in the U.S. go to bed hungry every night, six million of which are adults.

I recently stood in line at my local grocery store, and awkwardly watched an elderly man fish around in his pocket for enough money to pay for a can of tuna, a head of lettuce and a container of cat food. I wanted to do something—to say something. But what could I possibly say? Hey mister, let me treat you to some tuna and lettuce with a side of cat food?

The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH) has recently released a study, entitled State of Senior Hunger in America 2013, and reveals that 15.5 percent, or 9.6 million seniors, age 60 or older in the United States face the threat of hunger. This represents an increase of 300,000 more seniors affected by senior hunger than in 2012.

The risk of hunger and food insecurity is increasing at an alarming rate among older adults. The number of food-insecure seniors is projected to increase by 50 percent when the youngest of the baby boom generation reaches age 60 in 2025.

The top 5 states, including the District of Columbia, with the largest percent of food insecurity among seniors, are Arizona (26.1), Louisiana (24.3), Mississippi (24.3), D.C. (20.2), and Texas (20.2).

After a lifetime of hard work, many elderly find themselves struggling with health issues on fixed incomes, and many are forced to choose between paying for groceries and buying medicine. Welcome to retirement.

Additionally, hunger among the more than 12 million U.S. veterans over 60 is reaching critical levels. Estimates are that over 300,000 elderly veterans are food insecure.  These numbers are unacceptable for any country, especially when the supposed richest country in the world can’t provide enough food for one-sixth of its citizens, much less the veterans who have so valiantly defended it.

So this Mother’s Day, honor someone special, and help to ensure that no senior is left behind. Below are but a few organizations to make a small donation to: