Remembering 9-11-2001









Young boy leaving flowers outside the US embassy in Moscow, 9/11/2001. Courtesy

It’s September 11th.

Here at the Jersey shore it is a hot, muggy, end-of-summer sort of day. Nothing exciting, nothing unusual happened here today.


Fifteen years ago, another September 11th started off in a routine, normal way. It ended very differently.

I wasn’t at the shore in those days. I was living in Moscow, Russia, and like many other people around the world, I will never forget the events of that day.

It was late afternoon there. My oldest boy was on a school trip to Finland. My youngest son and I just come home from the Anglo-American School, where I taught first grade. My phone rang as I walked in the door. It was my husband.

“Turn on the TV.”


“Turn on the TV. I can’t get on the Internet here. Something has happened. Put on CNN.”

I dropped my bags and raced downstairs to the television. As I waited for the set to come on, I could hear the chaos at my husband’s office in the city. He kept asking, over and over, “Do you have it? What do you see? What are they saying? What. Do. You. See?”

The image on the screen cleared. I saw the first of the twin towers, huge plumes of gray smoke billowing into the blue skies. I stared in disbelief, trying to make sense of the trailer running along the bottom of the screen.

“One of the twin towers is on fire.”

“What else?”


I took a minute to focus on the broadcast and the horrible truth of what was happening sunk in. I watched, in disbelief as the second tower was struck. I don’t remember the rest of our conversation or hanging up the phone.

Over the next few days, the images and stories coming out of New York were etched into my brain – terrified men and women plummeting from the towers to their deaths, the fires, the towers collapsing to the ground, clouds of dust filling the streets of Manhattan. Later, it was the heart-wrenching stories of last phone calls, the story of the brave passengers of flight 93, heroic sacrifices, miraculous reunions.

Amid so much grief, so much fear, there were also beautiful moments. When I worked in Manhattan in the early 80s, I would never have imagined its citizens, all of them, banding together and working selflessly to provide aid and comfort to all in need. In the days that followed the terror, my heart nearly burst with pride for that wonderful city.

I would like to add that America did not stand alone, either. Leaders and citizens around the world stood by us in prayers and deeds in the aftermath of 9-11. I was forever touched by the outpouring of everyday Russian citizens when a sea of fresh flowers appeared overnight along the red brick walls of the US Embassy in Moscow. They spanned a full city block and then some. Friends from all over the world took the time to check on us and send their condolences for the USA’s loss.

I did not know any of those who perished that day. My family, thankfully, was safe from harm. I will not pretend that I have any understanding of the depth of hurt and pain caused to those who lost loved ones, but like all Americans, I grieved for the victims and their families. I grieved for our nation. We had been naive. It couldn’t happen to us, but it had, and we would never really feel safe again.

There are many remembrances of 9-11 being written and published today, by far better writers than I am, but I wanted to reflect on my own memories of that day because as painful as it is to remember, it is important that we never forget.




Image result for us flag 9-11



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y3mfnThree weeks ago I was absolutely over the moon because, drum roll please, I had finished the first draft of my first book. A four year project (well, really one year with three years of life getting in the way) that had finally, finally come to its first major milestone – a completed first draft.

I promptly did what any sane person would do. I threw it in a virtual drawer and ignored it for a couple of weeks. I figured letting it ferment would allow me to gain some objectivity in the revision process..

I also had a host of pressing art obligations and a second book idea clamoring to be outlined before NaNoWriMo in November.So, I let it sit. The longer it sat, the less I wanted to delve back into my original manuscript. When I finally reopened the file, my worst fears were realized.

My book sucked. Big time. I wasn’t looking at revisions so much as rewrites. I didn’t really have a working first draft after all.

On the plus side, my experience with my fabulous critique group has sharpened my writing skills. I am more focused, more concise, my word choices are better, my dialogue is sharper –I am a far better writer than I was a year ago.

But now, as I reopen those early chapters, I see just how little I understood about constructing a novel, creating tension, bringing a voice to life and I am finding the revision process daunting, to say the least.

The first day, I sat in front of the computer for thirty minutes before just plain giving up. On day two, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and decided I was going to make this happen come hell or high water.

I started work on the first two chapters. Things were working better but I still didn’t have a master plan. I hated the idea of “wasting” a couple of weeks just planning it all out on little index cards. Still, as I sat down to write each day, a tiny voice kept whispering to me that I was wasting far more time by wandering around  in the forest looking up at the sky, when what I really needed to do was look down and try to find a proper path.

So, here I am, working out a master plan for fixing the issues with my novel. It’s not as bad as I had feared, and the more planning I do, the less intimidating the revisions, which is not to say I won’t have months of work ahead of me, but at least I won’t be walking around in circles. See you on the other side.



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PitchWars Wishes

This week the PitchWars mentees are going to be announced. Several of my writing friends have submitted to PW. I am living vicariously through their PW journeys this year. I hope to be in their shoes next year.

They are talented writers all, and deserve to find a mentor (and subsequently agents) for their books, but the chances are slim given the number of entries. I wish, with all my heart, that they get chosen, because putting yourself out there is the scariest thing in the world, and I know how much work has gone into their submissions.

I am already planning for next year’s contest, and have no illusions about my chances– they are slim as slim can be–but I wouldn’t trade this opportunity and learning experience for anything.

As I watch and wait and hope with each of you, know that you are talented writers, all. Know that this is only the beginning no matter what happens, and you will gain so much from the experience no matter what the outcome.



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Favorite Book Quote #1

Today I ran across one of my favorite book quotes of all time. It has stuck with me through the years and I can almost quote it verbatim. It is a beautiful paragraph. It contains the innocence of a child, a celebration of differences, and at the same time, a hopeful promise of unity.


From Jerry Spinelli’s MANIAC MAGEE…

“Maniac loved the colors of the East End, the people colors. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black. He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which to him, was real black.”

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There have been so many times when this very thought was bouncing around my brain.

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Censorship in the “In” Box

August 10, 2016

An artist/writer friend was recently courted for an exhibition at her local library, UNTIL the subject of her series Crime Against Nature became known to the organizers. I get that the subject of homosexuality/gender bending roles is uncomfortable for some folks, but isn’t that all the more reason we need to foster the conversation?

Her artwork is not offensive. It does not portray nudity, sexual acts, or any form of perversity. It showcases beautiful  paintings of animals with surprising scientific facts about  mating and parenting behaviors  within the animal kingdom. Please read.

Censorship in the In Box

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The Creative Rollercoaster

DISCLAIMER: this is a totally self-serving piece written off the top of my head to remind myself why I do this, so if you’re expecting a witty, searing, honest piece, forget it. Well, the honest part is right, but that’s about it. You’ve been warned.


I paint. I write.

If it is a good day, and you ask me what I do, I will tell you, “I am an artist,” or “I am a writer.”

If it is a day like today, the answer is very different. “I like to paint.” “I am trying to write a book.”

To most people, these two sets of statements may sound very similar. They aren’t. Really. Most of you know exactly what I am talking about.

On those rare days when I feel happy with where my work is going, I have a soaring confidence; a strong sense of what my work is about and how I am going to take it to the next level. Most of the time, however, I feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark. I wonder why I am attempting something that is so far beyond my capabilities. I feel like a poser, a fake, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before everyone around me realizes it too.

I wonder how many of us have these moments/days/weeks.What strange magic is it that keeps us going in spite of our obvious (to us) deficiencies? I lick my wounds, vow not to torture myself further. I put my canvas/computer away for a couple of days but something always lures me back to my workroom. In the end, it is the act of creation I find so addictive.

I put my canvas/computer away for a couple of days but something always lures me back to my workroom. In the end, it is the act of creation I find so addictive. When I set aside the thoughts of “what happens next?” and concentrate on the paint on my brush or the words on the page, I am my best self – worry free, content, fulfilled.

That’s real success.





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A Tale of Two Childhoods

This poem was an exercise based on a fabulous piece I read a few years back. The poem is meant to be read from top to bottom. Then re-read from bottom to top. The meaning is changed completely. I found this more difficult to do than expected. BTW I was fortunate to have had the bottom to top childhood.  Hope you enjoy this…


you will always be my mother

I love you

time opens our eyes and hearts and heals

I didn’t understand

many things

I needed

so much love and support

I received

scolding, belittling


encouraging, cherishing

you were there

all my life

but not for me

you are gone, out of reach


I love you

you will always be my mother


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The Purple Crayon (part 3/3)

Ruth with baby JillIt was during her first few months back in the USA that Ruth met my dad, Keith. He was a local guy. He’d also served overseas and returned home to restart his life. Keith had just landed a job with Bendix as a computer programmer. Within a year, they were married and trying to start a family.

They lost two babies before my brother and I came along. When we arrived she quit nursing and became a stay-at-home mom. She didn’t feel she could do right by her children or her work by trying to continue with both, and she had no doubt which job was the more important for her.

Ruth was the kind of mom who baked cupcakes, had weekly craft gatherings around the kitchen table, and left the back door open and fridge stocked for the neighborhood kids. She was a school room mother every year. She was a girl scout leader and 4H mentor. We brought home birds, lizards, and snakes. She never complained. We raised dogs, mice, hamsters, a talking crow, blue jays and a cardinal over the years. She welcomed them all. Ruth demanded a lot but was also intensely proud of us. She attended every event because she could; and because no one was there to attend her events growing up and she didn’t want us to feel the sting of looking out over the audience and not seeing her face.

Ruth with baby.JPGIn our small town of Nicholson, she became the “go to” person for all health matters. There were two doctors in town but when in doubt people called Ruth. She’d go where she was needed, any time of night or day. She never accepted a penny for her services. Over the years, she gave shots, changed dressings, inserted trach tubes, changed colostomy bags, and held the hands of the dying. When the doctors in town had a patient who needed continuing care, their final advice was to “call Ruth” if you needed anything. And they did. For nearly fifty years they called and she always went.

In her later years when my own family was living and working in overseas, Ruth decided she was going to come visit. My dad was afraid to fly so she came on her own. She visited us in Moscow, China and Warsaw. She hiked, ate local food, took photos and kept a journal of her adventures. Most of all she spent time with her grandchildren pouring a year’s worth of love into each short visit.

In 2003, she was diagnosed with an aggressive Stage 3 breast cancer. It was a devastating blow but she wasn’t out for the count yet. She knew most of the doctors in the city from years of shuttling neighbors to treatments when they were unable to drive. Ruth handpicked her oncologist, a man who had degrees not only in Oncology but also in Pharmacology. She knew what she was doing. For ten years he managed to keep her going. She became the last surviving Stage 3 patient from the year in which she was diagnosed and outlived the Stage 3 patients from the following year as well.

The cancer was a roller coaster ride. Just as one crisis would end, another would begin but Ruth refused to give up. She refused to give in. Eventually, the chemo affected her brain function. It was as if the files were all in there but she just couldn’t access them anymore. When my dad passed away after a long agonizing stay in the ICU, things became even more confused for her and it was obvious Ruth could no longer live on her own.

The first few months in assisted living she was full of fight. She hated being dependent. She hated losing her independence. Ruth felt she could still take care of herself and she did continue to do much of her own self-care and housekeeping. She also continued to be a nurse. When another woman on her floor fell, the staff nurses arrived on the scene to find my mother doing triage, assessing the woman’s injuries. They let her finish the job. She did it by the book and didn;t miss a thing.

Soon, though, Ruth went downhill. The cruelest loss of all was her brain’s inability to connect to her speech. Ruth was a communicator and listener her entire life and had been robbed of the ability to speak. She knew what she wanted to say but could no longer get the words to come out. Her life became one big frustration because she was aware of what was happening. Her inability to speak also limited her ability to make friends in her new home. This outgoing, nurturing woman spent her last months in silence and isolation.

Towards the very end, even her best friend, Louise, and I had difficulty making out what she was trying to say. She’d get frustrated and angry sometimes. Worse was when she would withdraw and become quiet; giving up on connecting with the people that loved her.

This is where she had come to when I first saw the purple crayon. All of the stories, the accomplishments, the spirit of this wonderful woman and this is what cancer had done to her. I hated that crayon and coloring book. It symbolized all that had been taken away from my mother.


Later, when I had a chance to think about it, I changed my mind. I realized the purple crayon gave Ruth a valuable gift. For those few minutes in the Activity Room each day when Ruth was focused on coloring between the lines, she didn’t have to be frustrated or lonely or scared. For that tiny window of her day, she could put it all aside and just think about making a pretty picture. It was her escape from what her life had become. Instead of grieving the loss of the mother I knew, I learned to be grateful for the comfort, the peace she derived from a simple coloring book and a purple crayon.

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The Purple Crayon (part 2)

Ruth lived up to her promise to become a nurse. In her late teens, she traded cleaning services in a dentist’s office in exchange for getting her teeth fixed, a pre-requisite for acceptance into nursing school. She joined the Army because she couldn’t afford nursing school. When nurses in Arkansas refused to work in the polio wards (there was no vaccine at the time) she volunteered. The hotels made the nurses change into civilian clothes before entering and they had to come in the back door for fear their presence would frighten away customers. It didn’t bother her. Whatever it took to help those poor kids.

Ruth Nursing Class

Many of her patients were confined to the old bulky iron respirators, essentially prisoners trapped in a metal bubble. They couldn’t truly live within, and they couldn’t survive without. The smallest of these patients were just infants. Most were frightened, lonely children. Some families who lived in fear of contracting the dread disease had abandoned their children altogether. Ruth’s heart broke for these kids.  They depended on the nurses for comfort and companionship, and often their very lives. On more than one occasion the power went out, leaving Ruth and the other nurses to pump air into their patients’ lungs by hand, sometimes for hours. She recalled being so sore she could hardly move after one such night, but she never stopped working the pump on the iron lung

Ruth on bivouacAfter the polio crisis abated, Ruth traveled to Arizona and New Mexico. There she worked among the Navajo people. She never spoke much about this time other than to say she’d worked as a midwife among them. She thought them a gentle noble people and felt strongly that they had not been treated properly by the government. There was a sadness about her when she spoke of these times so I had never asked too many questions.

Her next job was at an EVAC hospital in Washington state. They handled boys returning from the MASH hospitals in South Korea. She worked the floors and in the operating room. Many of the boys didn’t survive; those that did were maimed for life by their injuries. Ruth wasn’t a quitter and she didn’t allow the boys to quit either. She never stopped trying to show them that life was worth living and there was a bigger plan in store for them


Ruth with her little carShe was stationed there for quite some time, long enough for her to drive cross country four different times. She had a little Austin-Nash. It was a sporty little car and she loved it in spite of its flaws, its main fault being a tendency to leak brake fluid. One of her favorite stories was about her trip to San Francisco. She had to stop at the top of every hill and top off the brake fluid before descending or risk not being able to stop at the bottom.hen she had the opportunity to put in for a new assignment she headed to Europe with no hesitation. Her time there was without a doubt one of the treasured periods of her life. Ruth loved talking about the places she saw and the things she did while stationed there. She visited Paris and London, learned to ski in the Alps, saw the Black Forest and Bavaria from the back of a motorcycle piloted by a fellow named Wolfgang. She visited Egypt, Spain, Italy, Austria and Hungary. There were other places too.

When my brother and I were kids, she would take out her metal box of slides from her travels and show us photo after photo of these amazing places on the white screen of our Frigidaire. It instilled a wanderlust in me, one that took our family, including with her grandchildren, overseas. I often wondered if she regretted opening up the world for me as she did. She missed so much of our lives in the years we were away.

While in Verdun she applied for the chance to go to Munich, Germany and become trained in anesthesia. The Army asked her on the application if she intended to stay in the service for the long haul. She was honest and told them she was out as soon as her hitch was up. They accepted her anyway. She was one of only four nurses chosen and passed the year of anesthesia training with flying colors.

When she moved home to the USA, her eldest sister took her in until she got settled. Ruth immediately got a job as an anesthetist in a local hospital. The doctors there were still mired in old techniques. Ruth’s procedures were cutting edge and not everyone was comfortable with the new ways. When a surgeon came into the operating theater and saw the endotracheal tube in the throat of a boy scheduled for a tonsillectomy he demanded that she use gas instead. He refused to operate with that tube in his work area. She explained that based on his pre-surgery tests he was likely a bleeder and the tube would preserve his airway should an excessive amount of bleeding occur during the operation.

The surgeon was furious and walked out of the operating room. She had no choice but to bring the patient back to consciousness and explain what had happened. Ruth later found out she had been correct about the patient. The surgical team almost lost the boy when he began to bleed out on the table.  The surgeon never apologized but several months later, when his own son needed an appendectomy, Ruth found herself on the roster for his surgery, and she did her job with the E-T tube in place with no further complaints from the surgeon.


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