Converts

The unshakable faith and fervor of a convert is insufferable. I know, because I am one.

The reason I think the faith of convert is unshakable is that they have often been through something for which God had to intervene, personally. Faith, for a convert, is less about blind belief and more about personal experience.

I am Catholic.

I became a Catholic, surrounded by Mormons. While the LDS people I grew up around carried some of the strongest testimonies of faith, it was the hand of Christ himself who put me on the path I am on.

At 12 years old, I had already been seeking a home church. I begged every person I knew that went to church to take me to theirs. I got dressed up on Sundays and Wednesday nights and went tagalong to any services I could go to. In the meantime, I read the Bible and holy books from many other churches: the Book of Mormon, the Talmud, the Quran, and all the literature from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. By the time I was 14 I began to flounder. None of the messages I heard, none of the scriptures I read, none of the lessons I followed spoke to my heart the way prayer did. I wanted church to feel like prayer, like a connection between me and God.

I already had faith that God existed, loved me, and saw each person as valuable; no matter whether their clothes fit or not. I knew that God loved me (and everyone) and cared about what we did with our lives. No one could take that away. I had faith that there were Godly people in every church, but I could not always find them. I wanted a church where the people treated each other like God would, with love and acceptance, and I wasn’t finding it.

On the verge of giving up, I told my best friend about my search and how it was failing. We were at a bus stop on 2100 so and 500 East at 5:30 AM, like we had been every day of high school.

She pondered for a minute and said “Have you been here?” She nodded at the church building right behind us.

“No,” I replied, looking up at the unique building. It said “St. Anne’s Catholic Parish.” I blanched at the idea of anyone named “Anne” being saintly, but mused about the name and how it might be a sign.

St. Anne’s, SLC UT

I knew that my grandfather had been Catholic, but I had never known any personally.

“I don’t know anyone there.”

“We’ll go with you,” my friend said, volunteering her family to go with us.

We got all dressed up and met at the front doors of the church on Sunday. Crowds of people were filing into the building, and we tried to act confident as we followed them in. I was stunned to see cigarette ashtrays outside the doors. I was also stunned to see that many other people were there in shorts and T-shirts, which would’ve been far more comfortable than my long dress in the June heat.

We found a place to sit along the middle of the room and sat back to listen and watch. We knew nothing of the service. It was startling that the congregation participated in the prayers and responded to the priest, though I didn’t know that’s what he was called. Because I didn’t know enough about the service at the time, I couldn’t say just when during the mass it happened. What I can say is that I was sitting. I looked up at the suspended statue of the ascension of Christ over the altar and was overwhelmed with a vision. Instead of sitting in the church I was suddenly standing in a field, a meadow. As I spun around in the field, feeling the warm sun on my face and a breeze against my skin, looking around at paradise; I saw Jesus. He saw me and threw back his head laughing, then opened his arms to hug me. As he wrapped his arms around me, still smiling, he said “Welcome home.”

I came back from that vision, determined to join the church. It was not easy for a 14 year old girl to jump through all the hoops required. Just finding godparents was complicated. But after two years, I was finally baptized and confirmed.

Which Church (if any) a person belongs to is a very personal choice. I would never proselytize and tell others that being Catholic is right for them. For many years, being a convert was very difficult. Like being a Muggle born witch, I felt so far behind all the people who had been born and raised Catholic. Eventually, I found my footing and my place and I’ve never looked back. For me, I know I was home. It’s the only home I’ve ever really found.

“Let’s Turn Trash, into Cash!”

One woman, Nzambi Matee, is on a mission to save her country and help the planet.

A materials engineer in Kenya, Matee is turning post-consumer plastics into bricks that are ‘stronger than concrete.’ Her start-up is called Gjenge Makers. The company is making a big impact on her area, her country, and the world by removing plastic waste products and solving the problem of building material shortages.

So far, it looks as though her bricks are being used to pave beautiful pathways and get people off the dirt floors they have traditionally lived with. This serves her community by making the area more beautiful and easier to traverse, especially in the rainy season. She has big goals to get her facility scaled up and producing bricks for housing and other construction materials.

Her work led to a nomination for a place among the “Young Champions of the Earth.” She was one of seven winners for the year 2020.

In this promotional video, you can see for yourself how Matee and her crew take the waste out of the world and turns it into useful (and lovely) products. I hope she finds the funding she needs to take this business to the sky. I would love to open a facility like it in my town!

Angel on the Train

The bracelet broke years ago, but the beads still remind me that I am loved.

((This was written as an entry for a contest. The idea is to tell of a :30 second friendship. The details of the contest are here.))

I catch the last train home.

I delay the trip as long as possible, avoiding returning to a house full of resentful strangers, but it is time to go or risk the police coming to find me later. The bright lights inside and dark night without combine to turn the windows into mirrors.

The only other person on the train is a man who is wearing too many coats. He sits at the other end of the car. The doors slide closed and I take a seat as far from him as possible.

I want to be alone.

I sit as close to the wall as I can, hugging the glass. I stare at the reflection of my hopeless tears falling onto my coat as we start to move. I am 17 and alone in the world. I have just decided to accept that my life has no meaning. I contemplate suicide, but know that I can not actually harm myself. It is not a happy thought.

Suddenly, she is there.

Behind me in the glass, her reflection looks like a middle-aged woman carrying too many shopping bags. She and her bags crowd onto the seat right next to me. I shift my back toward her resentfully, wondering why she doesn’t sit anywhere else.

I wipe my tears with my sleeves. I can only cry alone.

We ride in tense silence until she begins searching her bags.

“Look at this,” the angel says, holding out a small tissue paper envelope with the top folded over. I turn in the seat, somehow knowing she will not let up unless I do. I take the envelope, confused.

Inside the envelope is a beaded bracelet. They are very popular. I have seen the cool kids at school wearing them in a variety of colors. It is not the sort of thing I can afford.

This one is pale pink.

“It’s rose quartz,” she says. Seeing that I won’t respond, she adds, “they are real stones, not just plastic beads. Rose quartz are for love.”

“It’s pretty,” I say meekly, trying to pass it back to her.

She shakes her short dark hair and gives me a small smile. “You keep it.”

She gathers up her bags with a sense of finality, refusing to take back the gift. “Even if it doesn’t seem likely, there are people that love you.”

Her words shatter my tenuous calm and I sob openly into my hands, crinkling the paper envelope but unable to stop. I am broken by the kindness of this stranger when my own family cannot see my worth. When I collect myself and look up again, she is gone.

I stand up and turn around, searching the car. I see that she is no longer on the train. There are only rows of empty seats and that one man, who still doesn’t turn around.

The train has not stopped, we are still between stations. I look around, confused. I know there is no way to move between cars while the train is moving, she is either here, or she never was.

My angel disappeared as quickly and quietly as she appeared. She left behind her words of kindness and that bracelet made of love. I wore those stone beads for years, a constant reminder that I was loved, even if I couldn’t see by whom

Time Magazine Has Awarded a New Category

TIME's 2020 Kid of the Year: Meet Gitanjali Rao | Time
Photo credit to Time.com

Kid of the year!

With 5000 nominees from all over the US, the choice was a difficult one. Read about the finalists and the winner here.
I thought the creation of the new award category was a sensational idea. Adults seem to be making a mess of our world, maybe it is time to incorporate the ideas of innovative children in creating solutions for the problems they will inherit.

Family Meals; A guide for the previously disconnected

Like me, some of my readers may have grown up without meals at a table. For those of us who grew up watching family meals on shows like “Leave it to Beaver,” and “The Brady Bunch,” longing to build the experience into their own future family culture, I have decided to share my tips and experience.

How does one make the cultural leap from eating all meals (if there were meals) from your lap at the TV to weaving a routine of eating together at a table, without distractions?  

First, I realized you need to have a dinner meal every day. I find it hard, though, to stick with routines. Having had none when I was young, I find it exceedingly difficult to maintain a routine for anything. Even for family meals, which are a high priority for me, I can slag and waiver if the executive functioning needed feels overwhelming. I may adopt a new routine and *love* it, then fall off the wagon and abandon it completely after a few days or weeks. I might leave everyone to find leftovers while I spend time trying to complete an article and hope they don’t notice my absence. This is especially true if there is any barrier to success, like having a difficult or tedious reset-system on a ‘to-do’ list app. I have found that setting an alarm that goes off daily has made a big difference. My “make dinner” alarm is set for 5 pm every day. With the daily alarm, we are guaranteed to have enough time to thaw supplies and cook before our hopeful dinnertime of 6:30. Or we have time to order food, if budget and schedule dictate.

Another issue many people have is what to eat. We couldn’t really have the same food every time and maintain interest for everyone. If you’re trying to build a new culture in an existing family system, the switch from purchased meals or packaged foods can be eased if you can make better meals at home, but that difficulty is exacerbated for people with childhood trauma and neglect because those things are often accompanied by a lack of skills and experience. The best meals from my childhood involved white bread and Spaghetti-O’s, so I longed to try making meals my childhood peers complained about: meatloaf and steamed Brussels sprouts sounded like magic, tuna casserole sounded like heaven, and homemade soups and stews sounded like myths.

I began trying to cook for my family when I was 14. I completed a course on Home Economics, which gave me a boost of confidence in the kitchen, and taught me about basic nutrition. Unfortunately that did not translate to all my meals turning out well. After many disasters that did *not* lead to any property damage, I managed to achieve a short-list of about a dozen meals I can consistently make which my children will eat. If you are one of millions who “don’t know how to cook,” I hope you will find it in yourself to be brave and look for lists of 20-30 minute meals you can make with everyday-ingredients. YouTube is full of easy-to-follow videos (with ingredient lists in the description) where you can follow along making simple meals. Family meals do not have to be extravagant but they should include a source of protein, at least two colors of vegetables, and some grains or starches.

Even with some skill and experience, and a schedule that worked, I struggled to solve the primary complaint I hear from all home-cooks. This is that *deciding* what to cook for meals each day is harder for them than *cooking* the meals each day. I tried menu-planning but that meant having to do all the brain-work for a period of time only to have to adjust when needed ingredients were not in-stock or when life left me with less time than I needed for a particular meal prep. This meant it did not save me time in the end.

What worked for me is that I developed a set of index-card meal ideas which can be shuffled to create a plan for the week in seconds. I created a list of items I keep on hand (because we are blessed with an income that supports such a plan). The ingredients can be used to make various meals. This is a similar strategy to having versatile clothing items that work well in different ways when paired with accessories, jeans, or slacks. Ground beef can be turned into chili, burgers, meatloaf, tacos, goulash, Sloppy Joes, Bolognese, Stroganoff, or meatballs. Chicken can be baked, fried, boiled, shredded, or made into cold chicken salad. A whole chicken can be used for several meals before the bones become broth (best with added vegetable scraps from a storage bag in your freezer). Rice, pasta, potatoes, onions, eggs, spices, and frozen vegetables can turn into a meal all by themselves without much prep. I can make simple, nutritious meals for most days in around half an hour. If I know I won’t have much time for meal prep due to appointments or other issues, I can set up a meal in a Crockpot in the morning and have it warm and ready by dinner.

Once I have the food decided upon, manage my schedule enough to make sure it’s ready at about the same time each day, and actually do the work to prepare it, how do I get my family to join in?

Well, I ask them. I make sure we have a table and chairs to sit at. I (at first) set the table and make it easy for them to sit down and enjoy the meals. I tell them it is important to me, and ask them to sit and eat with me without distractions. Once everyone gets in the habit of leaving books, toys, and devices to share a meal every evening, they can be given tasks like setting the table, moving food to the table, calling others to join us, and cleaning up. We have each child wash one dish for each year they are old.

To keep conversation going and engage everyone we try to have prompts ready. Sometimes we ask everyone to share a positive thing they think of. Recently, a friend of mine gave us a “chat Pack” to use. It consists of a stack of cards with conversation starters on them. We sometimes pull out a card and take turns responding to the prompts or listening to everyone else. Family meals are finally starting to feel like a positive and ‘normal’ part of our culture. They give us the opportunity (pre-Covid at least) to invite others over to share these times with us without it being a special event.

Connecting is a part of our family culture that feels good to us all, and heals those parts of me that wished for connection when I was young. I would love to hear from you about how you make ways to connect with your people. Please leave a comment below with your favorite strategies and tips?

Cooking rules I created for myself:

1) Read the whole recipe before you decide if you are ready to try it.

2) Verify that you have all the needed ingredients and tools before starting.

3) Set Timers.

Rules for the table:

1) No books, toys, or devices.

2) Take what you want, and eat what you take.

3) Aim for at least 4 (natural) colors of food on your plate at every meal.

4) Take small portions to begin with and then take more if you are still hungry.

5) Drink fluids (Water, milk, juice or tea).

Some great videos of simple meals to prepare:

Seattle utilizes a multi-faceted response to homelessness.

(As in previous articles, hyperlinks will take you to information, articles, or videos with more information.)

Homelessness is an issue that is dear to my heart. It’s not important to me because it was horrible being homeless as a child, or because I worry about my brother living on the streets. It’s because, like hunger in America, there is no need for it!

We have enough food to feed everyone.

We have enough homes to shelter everyone.

GREED is the only reason we have homelessness or hunger in our developed nation. In other countries issues that prevent society from feeding or providing shelter include lack of resources, lack of infrastructure, or lack of economic opportunity. We do not have those excuses.

You may have heard it before, but in case you have not: There are nearly 30 empty homes in our country for EVERY homeless person. “The most recent data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness puts the number of homeless people at 552,830. There are more than 17 million vacant homes across the U.S., according to the Census Bureau.” – (Check Your Fact article, 12/24/2019)

It made my day to learn that Jenny Durkan, Mayor of Seattle, has made a point to support the creation of a tiny home village and opened a new 24/7 shelter that houses 40 people. This has created an additional 100 sheltered spaces for people in need since the pandemic began. It’s likely a drop in the ocean of Seattle’s unsheltered population, though I am so happy to see the effort made.

If you’ve read any of the other articles I’ve written about tiny homes, you’ll know that I’m a HUGE fan of the movement, especially when groups or organizations create communities. Homeless people form communities naturally. They are organic and mutually supportive communities that look out for one another. We should utilize that strength when looking for solutions. Tiny home communities seem like a no-brainer: give people living in tents or tarps something slightly more secure. Then offer case management. The housing has to come first, though.

Shelter is not just the ability to get out of the elements to sleep, as many shelters allow. Some of the many barriers for homeless populations are being unable to securely leave their personal property so that they can function during the day, lacking an address to put on resumes and accounts, getting quality sleep, and having a place to cook food. For children, there is the added anxiety of not knowing where they will be sleeping because they know they have to move frequently.

Some places, like LA, are fighting the creation and placement of tiny homes throughout the city: impounding some without allowing the owners time to collect thier belongings. I’m really excited to hear that Seattle’s tiny home communities were built at the mayor’s request!

Way to go Mayor Durkan! Keep it up.

Delphine

((Content warning: This is a fictional portrayal of kidnap, assault, and criminal exploitation of children.))

“Mrs. Harris?”  the young woman asked, drawing out my last name with an ‘eeee’ sound in place of the ‘i.’ She sounded as though Spanish was her first language.

Confused, I held the phone tighter to my ear, hoping to hear the soft voice better. All I heard was breathing. “Yes, this is her. Who is this?”

“My name is Delphine,” the breathless girl responded. “I… uh… “

Something muffled the phone on her end and I could not make out the whispering. I looked at the number on my screen again, but all it said was “private.” I couldn’t imagine what this might be about.

“Delphine, are you there?” I drummed my fingers on my granite countertop and looked around at the white and steel that made up my kitchen. I had to go collect my son from school in a few minutes, and there was no way I was going to be late. I knew all too well what could happen.

“Mrs. Harris,” Delphine’s voice came back on the phone and I started, listening hard to the voice that was barely above a whisper. “Mrs. Harris, your daughter wants me to tell you that she’s ok. She gave me your number and said you would know it was your ‘Sweet Pea’ because of the password: Pumpkin.”

My world spun.

I turned my back toward my island and slid quietly toward the floor, hugging my knees but not letting go of the phone. Tears spilled down my cheeks and my throat tightened. I fought to keep control and speak calmly. She’s alive!

“Oh!” I caught my breath and tried again. I had to try to get information. “Delphine,” I croaked, “thank you so much for calling to let me know. It means so much to me. Just to know she’s alive… Is she ok?” I bit my knuckle and held my breath, trying to keep my sobs from becoming audible. Whoever this girl is, she’s probably been taken from her family, as well. And if she has called me once, she could call again.

“You’re welcome, She’s fine here, we treat her good. I have to go now.”

“Ok,” I stalled. “Um, are you ok?”

“What?”

“Are you, ok, Delphine? Do you need anything? Can I do anything for you?” I desperately wanted to hear more about my daughter but knew keeping her talking would allow me to learn more. I tried to engage, instead of pushing her.

There was a pause. The phone was muffled again and I heard whispering. I wondered, for a moment, if this was all some prank by a teenager trying to get into the news. But she knew the nickname and password… those things haven’t been released.

“I don’t need anything right now. I have to go now,” Delphine answered, cutting into my thoughts. The line went dead.

Less than a week later I was sitting at my desk, searching through more missing-persons records for anyone named Delphine. I had barely slept in the week that passed. The phone rang again; another private number. My heart jumped. I turned on the recording app before I answered.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Harris?” The whispering voice of Delphine greats me again. I hear a train in the background and take a note.

“Hello Delphine, It’s so nice to hear from you again. How are you doing?”

“I’m ok,” She says, but I can tell she sounds less worried and sadder than the last time she called.

“You sound sad.”

There is a pause. I hear her sniffle slightly. “I don’t know why I called. I don’t know you.”

“It sounds like you might have wanted to talk to someone that wasn’t there with you?” When she didn’t answer, I tried again, “or maybe wanted to talk with someone you’re missing?”

She took a breath.

“Yeah, I guess so.” I waited, hoping she would say more.

“Were you thinking of anyone in particular? Maybe someone from home?”

No tears were falling this time, I had a plan. I was going to learn all I could about this girl. Her call had been the wake-up I needed. She had pointed out that my daughter was just one of 50,000 girls and women who are taken every year. This girl had a family that missed her every bit as much as I missed mine. There was no telling how long she had been missing.

“I don’t have a home,” she responded. The line went dead.

I played the phone call to the detective in charge of my daughter’s case. Because there was nothing in this call about my daughter he looked very skeptical.

“Ma’am, even if she is magically with your daughter, and your daughter is alive…” he shook his head in disbelief, “it does not sound like she will call you back again after that.” I glared at him. He put his hands up, “if she does, and you can get your daughter on the phone, or get some evidence that this isn’t a prank, we will try to get a warrant for the number and a location the calls are coming from. To me, this sounds like a lonely teenager reaching out for comfort and taking advantage of a grieving mother.”

I left the department and vowed to not go back until I knew where my daughter was.

The next time Delphine called, I had narrowed down my search to just three missing young women. They were all around the same age and from Spanish-speaking countries. I hoped to get enough information from her to figure out which one was her… if she was any of them. I had to guess at her age. I pulled a notebook across my desk and uncapped my pen, ready in case I needed to write anything down.

I tapped the record icon and answered, calmly saying “Hello, Delphine. How are you? I’ve been worried.”

“I wanted to say I was sorry. I had to go last time… someone was coming back.”

“I see, well, I’m very glad you were able to call back. How are things there?” I was hoping the hint would get her to mention my daughter again.

“We are all ok. We are treated well, no need for you to worry.”

“Ok, I’ll try not to worry. I’m glad you’re treated well.” I paused, considering my next move. “Are there a lot of you there?” I worried she would shut down, but she seemed willing to talk. It was well before noon, she might have some time. I imagined that whatever they did, it was likely busier for them at night. I tried not to think about that.

“Not so many,” she said. “There are only five of us right now. There used to be more, but they were moved.”

“They were moved?” My heart constricted, if they were moved, I might never find them. I only assumed they were still in the country. It occurred to me that it was them I wanted to find now, instead of just her.

“Yes. Sometimes girls are moved away, or they leave when they are very sick and we don’t see them again.”

“That must be hard? To lose your friends?”

“mmmm-hhhmmmm.” Delphine sounded distracted and I heard the phone be muffled again.

“Listen, I can let you talk to her, but only for a second, and if she tells you where we are she will be dead before you can come.”

I couldn’t speak. ‘I can let her talk to you…’ She’s right there! Right with this Delphine girl.

“I… I understand, that… You don’t have to worry. I won’t ask her where you are. I’d love to talk with her, just to know she is ok, that would be very nice. Thank you, Delphine.

There was a shuffling sound and something that sounded like chains. I brushed the thought aside.

“Mama?”

Tears rolled down my face. I didn’t try to control the shaking in my voice. I reached for a pad of paper and a pen. I planned to write down every word she said. “I’m here Sweet Pea.”

I swallowed a lump and tried to steady my shaking hands. If I had been standing, my knees would have collapsed. I sank back into my office chair, feeling grounded by the wooden rods against my back. I forgot the notepad and pan; I couldn’t have held a pen steady anyway. I could not keep the grief from my voice as I called “oh honey!”

“It’s so great to hear your voice. The only things we hear here are the trains going by.” Her voice was strained, as though she had it in careful control. Her words were rushed, practiced, as though she had memorized them. “They go by all the time but always at 6 o’clock! At least they stop mostly at night. That’s when we can sometimes hear the crowds from the stadium down the road. You remember that stadium we went to watch a football game once? That was so much fun, with the popcorn and hotdogs, until Benny got sick. How is Benny doing?” I picked up my pen and jotted down as much as I could. Tears made it difficult, but I did my best to get my voice steady.

“Benny is getting so big! He misses you a lot.” My pen hovered, waiting to hear more.

She took a breath, then continued. “Do you still like Ice Cream, Mama?” she started to rush her words more. “Because I still love Ice Cream. Sometimes when we are doing good here, the four girls here and me, they take us to the Tasty Top to get ice cream cones and I still love getting the soft serve with sprinkles just like I always did there. It’s really fun when we do that, so y’know, you don’t have to worry about me, K?” her voice cracked and the thin façade she had been trying to maintain was lost. “I gotta go mama, I love you.”

There was another shuffling sound and Delphine was back. “That’s all I can do, she’s not allowed to use phones and I made her promise not to tell you where we are.

“Oh!” I regained my composure as best I could, wiping my face with a handkerchief and taking a gulping breath. “It’s wonderful that you gave her time to tell me that she’s ok and having fun with you all.”

“Yeah, she is,” Delphine sounded relieved. “She’s happy here.” Was she trying to convince herself?

“I’m so glad to hear that, but how are you today Delphine?”

The call went on for nearly ten more minutes. Delphine shared that she was from Colombia, sent up through Mexico with a promise of work. She had the impression that her family was being paid well for her work, and I didn’t try to correct her. I knew that many girls were promised good-paying work, and worked for very little or nothing while their families never saw the money that the girls believed they were getting.

This meant that she was not one of the reported missing girls I had found. Those families would have to go on waiting for their missing girls.

I played the call back many times afterward, writing down the words and pouring over maps. I realized that my daughter had been sending clues to where she was. Before Benny was let out of school for the day I drove to the Tasty Top and sat in the car, watching the crowds until I was almost going to be late. That was how they’d taken her. I was late picking her up from school.

I drove back towards the school, watching the top of the football stadium move past over the houses and noting where the trains ran.

My daughter is behind one of these doors and I will find her. All my hopes rested on Delphine.

Weeks later my phone rang again. I started, waking from my sleep and gripping my neck. Pain shot down my back and arms as I tried to sit up: I had fallen asleep in a chair again. Age, lack of sleep, and endless worry have taken their toll.

Private

I sleepily jabbed at the recording app and slid the green circle to the right.

“Delphine, are you ok?” I glanced at the clock. It was four in the morning.

“Yes, Mrs Harris, but your girl is very sick.” Her voice was loud and strong, not the quiet and mousy words I am used to.

“Oh dear! What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know what is wrong. I try to get them to take her to a hospital, but they will not. They tell me to take her to a charity to leave her. You meet me there, now!”

“I’m on my way, just tell me where?” She gave me the address. I pulled my coat on, grabbed my purse and keys. I couldn’t stop to think about what was happening, I just had to go. I texted a quick message to my husband, asleep upstairs, as I locked the door. I was hoping that I wasn’t about to walk into some deadly trap. The cool air of the night felt soothing against my hot face, and I fumbled as I tried to unlock my car door.

The streets were empty and I drove carefully toward the isolated charity building. I trust Delphine. My daughter is ok, if she is alive I can take her right to the hospital.

I briefly wondered if I should call the police, but brushed it aside. They would risk the lives of the other girls by showing up, especially Delphine, and I couldn’t risk that.

My mouth was sticky and dry. I tried to swallow, but it just stuck, so I focused on breathing. The parking lot looked empty. The building looked abandoned. I cut the lights off and parked, watching the building for any lights or movement. If a dying girl were left here, she probably wouldn’t be noticed for days. The knock on my rear window made me jump.

I turned to see a young woman with long straight black hair tied back in a ponytail. She was wearing jeans and a hoodie sweater. She looked around nervously. She looked tired and worried. I opened the door and got out. Looking around, I didn’t see any cars on the deserted street.

“Over here,” she said, nodding her head toward an overgrown driveway a few feet from my car. “She’s not good.” She shook her head, “I know she was not happy here, but I did not know she was so sick. She cannot move. We have to carry to your car and you take her to hospital? Don’t tell the news. Tell the police a stranger found her.” I nodded.

“I will tell people she stopped breathing and I left her in a field.”

“Ok, of course,” I said, nodding.

My heart was in my throat as she opened the back door of her car. I could see hair streaming down from the seat. She stood back and I did my best to carry my teenage daughter, who was limp and thin, wrapped in a fleece blanket from head to toe. When I struggled with her weight, Delphine put her hands under to help. We moved awkwardly through the streetlight toward my car. I struggled to open the back door and place my girl on the seat. She was breathing but was not moving.

“Just a minute!” Delphine called. She rushed back toward her car and returned with a small brown teddy bear, which she placed next to my daughter on the seat.  “She loves this bear,” she said sadly. I shut the door and turned to Delphine.

“Come with us!” I looked deep into her eyes. “You don’t have to go back there. We can get you out. Let’s get you back to your mother, I’ll bet she misses you so much!”  Tears filled her eyes, but she shook her head.

“I have to get back. The other girls…” I nodded, and glanced back at my own girl, unsure of how long I had to get her help. She saw me look. “You go, now, get help.”

I nodded, but chewed my lip.

“Call me and let me know you’re ok?” I asked. I tried to convey, with only a look, that I cared about her well being.

She nodded, looking back at her car.

“Thank you, Delphine! Thank you so much for giving me a chance to get her help.”

She walked away without looking back and called, “Go!”

My hands were shaking so hard, I was glad the keys were still in the ignition. The engine flared to life and I drove, glancing from mirror to mirror, hoping I wasn’t being followed.  I drove carefully toward the hospital in the next town. I didn’t want to risk the media in our town being alerted and hoped being in a larger hospital in another town would allow us some privacy. I hoped I would get there in time, and that my husband would answer when I called.

I was lost in thought and nearly crashed the car when I heard “Mama?” whispered from the back seat. I righted the car, and checked the rear-view. I couldn’t see her.

I thought maybe I had imagined it, but then she whispered “don’t turn around! Are they following us?”

“No, honey, I don’t think we are being followed.” Tears again streamed down my face as I saw her sit up in the back. I looked her over in the mirror. Her hair was longer, she was thinner, but the nine months she had been gone had not changed her much. There was a fire in her eyes. “You’re ok?”

She shook off my comment, “I’m fine.” She held up the teddy bear, and tore a part of the seam open, nodding and obviously pleased. “Good. They’re still here. Call the lady detective from the TV?” she asked. “I have something for her.”

“Which lady detective? What’s happening? I thought you were dying!” Shock was setting in. I tried to get a grip on my spinning thoughts. “What do you have?”

Her face lit up and darkened again as we pulled through streetlights.   She looked triumphant.

“The one that was investigating, we have to get her because the guys were in on it. I only made them think I was nearly dead.” She grinned, “and, I made them think I really loved this teddy bear I was given by one of my first clients,” She smirked. “But really, I’ve been using it to collect tissues with DNA samples from every one of them. Let’s get those assholes, I’ve got proof!”

I blanched at the implication that she had collected body fluids from a large number of men and tried to stop myself from throwing up. I stared at her through the mirror in awe. I don’t know what I expected, but a raging warrior bent of retribution was a surprise.

“You planned this? This was on purpose to escape?” What an amazing young woman.

“Yes, get me to a hospital and we can make them all pay for this, and get that detective so they can go save Delphine and the others. It has to be tomorrow morning, if they wait, they could move everyone.”

She looked out the window and I realized that for all my worry and research, she had found her own way home. She had planned escape for herself, the others, and for Delphine.

Edits, Agents, and Queries.

Planner

I now have a completed manuscript. My memoir project is moving from the ‘writing’ stage to the ‘editing’ stage and tiptoeing into the ‘querying’ stage, too.

Nearly two years ago, I set a goal of completing the memoir that I promised myself I would write 30 years ago. Over those two years, I have had to take large breaks during the writing process. The work has been difficult. I needed time to think, heal, and learn. Despite being a capable writer, I needed to hone the tone and voice I was using. I’ve also done a great deal of learning about website creation and management, the publishing industry, and even looked into self-publishing. I have learned how to research agents, how to craft a query package, and tried to ignore the daunting statistics about first-time authors.

I know that I am meant to publish this work. I will. It’s only a matter of when.

Last month I attended an online event called the Boston Writer’s Conference. During that day I met with an agent via zoom. She liked my idea and asked me to send her the full manuscript. It was a big day and might eventually turn into something, though I haven’t heard back yet. Since sending it I have pressed on, sending the manuscript to an editor as I had planned. I now have it back, with some great feedback. I plan to revise it again as soon as I manage household logistics that have been hovering. After revising again I will look into sending my query package to new agents. (For those of you who wonder: an agent helps sell rights to publishers/media and is an invaluable partner in the traditional publishing process.)

I have chosen, at least for now, to publish traditionally because I want the reach that can only be granted when you have teams marketing with you. I know that publishing this work will lead to many opportunities to spread awareness and create positive change. I don’t know the path yet, but I have faith: I am focused on success. I’m waiting for signs from Creator about where to turn next as I work to complete yet another round of revisions.

You are what keeps me going. Though I have no set deadlines or timetables, I want you to know that I am moving forward. I want to say “thank you” to everyone following along and giving me a reason to keep working.

Throughout the process of writing and revising I have relied on many amazing people to read sections and offer advice. I want to mention both Katrina Ray-Saulis and Borbala Branch, who are amazing editors that offer useful insights and reasonable rates. Please reach out to either if you need an editor? (I can’t promise they will be available.)

Until I know more, that is all for now. Stay healthy, keep moving toward your dreams.

“The answer is ‘no’ if you don’t try” – Translated Dutch proverb.

Going Hungry in America

**Underlined words contain clickable links that will take you to articles, sources, or information about how to find help. Click them for more information. **

In the US, more than 16 Million children face hunger every year.

I can tell you that being hungry as an American child is a strange experience. Food. Is. Everywhere. You walk through a world as though separated by a glass wall. You alone know that you are hungry. You know that asking for food is not allowed. You can dream, you can obsess, you can watch, but you can’t have it. “In the U.S., hunger is caused by the prevalence of poverty, not food scarcity. Stable food access is often blocked for low-income families that struggle to balance the need for food with other basic necessities.”

A. Sage, age 12.

Hungry children can look ‘normal.’ If they are getting some food they may not even look thin. They may look ‘ok’ to your eyes while suffering daily. They may eat poor quality, high-calorie foods that are over-processed. Nutritious foods in stable supply make all the difference. Children who experience mild-moderate hunger are known to suffer long-term chronic illness, dental problems, and psychological effects after prolonged hunger.

There is a video that emotionally illustrates what life is like for hungry children in cities. A little girl is dressed poorly and stands on a city street. People pass her by, even tell her to leave. When she is clean and nicely dressed, everyone tries to help her.

The best I could do when I was young was to stay home. If I was out, I pretended to be fine while I longed to eat a slice of pizza at the end of a ball game or to join in at a neighbors party where I could see tables loaded with snacks. Being offered food was magic.

At the grocery store when I was 10, I had only a few dollars. I tried to buy some bread and peanut butter. When the total rang up to more than I had, my brother burst into tears because we were going to have to put something back. That’s when a stranger offered to pay for the lot, and we were stunned. We were able to take all the food and keep our money. We took the food home, then went back to the store to buy more things, amazed that someone would help us like that.

Right now, with the majority of children at home full-time, I worry about how many of them are missing meals. I live in a state, a county, and a city where programs exist that help people feed their children, without question. We access some of the programs because we qualify for them, and because they help us focus on other things (like making sure we can keep the heat on through the coming winter, and keeping the kids busy while we can’t do any of our normal activities). It also helps the programs get funding if they are utilized. I hope that other families are able to access the food they need, but I see barriers: Do they have time to go pick up meals, time to cook the food, a car to access it, can they even find a program near them?

I never want anyone to be hungry in our country when so much food goes to waste. Some schools are now packaging leftovers as ready-heat meals for students to take home, but many times when I was dumpster-diving I found piles of perfectly good food just tossed into the trash. There were fresh fruits and vegetables as well as packaged foods that are, thankfully, donated to food banks more nowadays. It is such a shame.

I decided to write this today in hopes that if you are hungry you might find what you need here. If anyone is hungry, write to me and I will try to find you help. The following is a list of programs that are currently running, nationwide:

USDA Farm to Family Offers a box of fresh farm food delivered to families weekly.

Free Lunch Program offers two meals a day for all children under the age of 18 and has been extended until June of 2021.

Food Banks are feeding families, despite the pandemic. Demand is higher than ever. If you need food, follow the hyperlink above to find a food bank that can help. If you don’t need food, send up gratitude, and consider donating your time or money to one of the ones near you.

P-EBT Is a federal program that issues food stamps to families that qualify for free or reduced lunches at school. This is a debit card you can use for food at any grocery store.

Self-Care for the Memoir Writer

sky

Why are you writing a memoir?

For most, it is either that they are a celebrity or near-celebrity and want to share an intimate look of life behind-the scenes, or they have a particular brand of traumatic experience and want to share that. Of the latter, there are also at least two categories. The ones I recognize are ‘writing for therapy’ and ‘writing from hope.” I’m trying very hard to write from hope; a sense of hope that comes from having made a life for myself despite my early circumstances.

It’s my childish hope that one day my story might shed a little light into the dark places of another’s hardest moments. Be they in the past or present, there is a chance that those times can be made a little easier for others by reading about my determination to thrive.

It keeps me writing.

But, the writing process is fraught with triggers. I am intentionally looking into my own darkest moments, dusting them off and making them look brand-new for my reader’s viewing.

How does a writer work to take care of themselves as they willingly put themselves through that process on a daily basis? We all know about prayer, meditation, and yoga. I’m a mom-of-four, if I try to do yoga I typically end up with kids climbing on me. Prayer and meditation are hard with the constant screaming and interruptions.

I’ve looked for years and collected some of the best bits of other advice on how to recover from triggers. I’ve paid attention to what has worked to get me back to writing. Some have worked well; others have not. There is little rhyme or reason to the success or failure of any method, because each trigger and person is unique. My advice is to try them out and see what works best for you.

  1. Take a break: This works, but doesn’t help you get back to it if it turns into days or weeks.
  2. Take a walk: Did not work for me. The more you walk, the farther you are from home.
  3. Take a drink: I mean alcohol. This works, in moderation. I don’t like to “write drunk, edit sober.”
  4. Breathe: This works to bring me down one notch, but it is not effective if I need to come down ten notches.
  5. Change your temperature: This gem of advice from my therapist has been a game-changer. Get a cold cloth on your face, or warm sweater and socks on your body. It really helps shut down the physiological trigger process and helps me get back to center.
  6. Eat/drink: Really, how many of us forget to eat and drink enough while writing. Hunger and thirst can be triggers all by themselves. Self-care means feeding yourself!
  7. Call someone: Do you already have friends or family that support you through the process? Find someone you can call and talk to about your process. It will make your writing better.
  8. Journal: Not for the memoir, but just to get out all the thoughts and feelings you have that need to get out of the way before you can get back to writing good, concise stories.
  9. Watch mindless TV: Shut down your brains and dissociate! You have permission. Sometimes it can be very good to let go and let your brain work on it for a while. I have found it is much easier to go back and edit/finish writing that triggering piece after I have stewed on it awhile.
  10. Read something unrelated: For the same reason as mindless TV, but possibly more productive as reading helps to develop your voice. I also find that reading helps my own stories bubble up. Twice this week I have put down a book to write a story that needs to be added.
  11. Take a bath/shower: I think this works, in part, because it changes your temperature. I think it also helps to clear the air, ground out negative energy, and reset the mind. It can also help you to feel better about your appearance, which can give you an added boost.

If you have more coping strategies or want to share how these worked for you, leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.