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It’s a rather gloomy fall day here in Maryland. I went for an early morning walk with my neighbor, bathed the puppy (she hates it!), shopped a little, and did a few chores. It’s Saturday. I’ve just started a new teaching job (private school and in person), only temporary, but good so far. Actually, I’m enjoying seeing the faces of students after a year away from the classroom, even if it’s only their sparkling eyes peeking out from behind masks. Yes, even in the midst of a pandemic, their eyes do sparkle. 

This is a younger bunch than what I’m used to. Most of my teaching career has been spent in the high school setting, but now I find myself in middle school, sixth grade to be specific.

Back in my own 1976 sixth grade classroom, I had the great privilege of being Ms. Brown’s student.

And in my research for my current teaching post, I found myself scouring old yearbooks. So many faces, my own and those of my young friends, gazing back at me as if no time had passed. I won’t name names, but I remembered these people vividly. One boy smelled constantly of sour milk. Another girl wore a world-weary expression and clothes to match. Decades later I would learn the ugly reason. Imagine the worst sort of childhood, and there you have a glimpse into her brief existence.

There was the popular crew, and the shiny penny of a girl who shook off my friendship like a cobweb, moved on to greener friendship pastures. There was the girl who lived in the country, and I recall her backyard smelling of sulfur. Her grandmother’s barn was massive and loaded with cats, including a yellow one they called Watergate. Forty-four years later, I still remember the name of this girl’s grandmother’s cat. This country girl was the friend who got away, someone I should’ve latched onto, but didn’t. She was earnest and smart and witty. 

In Ms. Brown’s sixth grade class, I discovered myself in important ways. Her classroom was where I learned to really appreciate reading for the first time. It was the place where I worked on my first piece of “serious” writing, an essay that took third prize in some sort of competition, the name of which I’ve long forgotten, though somewhere I still have the wrinkled newspaper clipping.

This was where it started, sixth grade, and I can still picture Ms. Brown sitting at the front of our classroom, a stout, short woman who wore pantsuits and cat-eye glasses, reading aloud to us. Every day after lunch, she squeezed herself into a desk, legs crossed at the ankles, and read. There were many books, but the one that stood out to me was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I was not one of those children who was read to each night before bed. My mother wasn’t one for books, but I can remember wanting to be a dedicated reader, knowing somehow this was the ticket to an important destination.

Ms. Brown gave me this gift. 

In my late twenties, I had the good sense to look up Ms. Brown and send a heartfelt letter to say thank you. I was living far away from my little hometown by then, and it had been many years since I’d last seen her, but by some miracle she wrote back. I was thrilled to find the envelope in my mailbox. Instantly, I recognized her perfect penmanship, though it didn’t take long to realize my former teacher was slipping away. It would be my one and only correspondence with the woman who had given me so much of myself.

The other night while watching the news, there was a story about locals protesting the closure of public schools due to Covid. “Those teachers don’t care about our kids,” some woman said. It was the way she spat “those teachers” that made me stop and stare. I am not unsympathetic to parents trying to work full-time and teach full-time, mind you. This is impossible on nearly every level. But this woman was surely looking in the wrong direction for someone to blame. 

If there is anything I’ll take away and recall some years hence about teaching (and living) in the time of Covid, it’ll be this: the young eyes behind the masks, the eagerness in them, the excitement, the joie de vivre, the sparkle. The months ahead are likely to be trying. We’re all weary and wondering when/if this Covid nightmare will end. Often I find myself longing for 2019 and the fun times last fall. Seems like a distant dream to sit at a lunch table across from a friend and breathe freely.

Oh sad, angry lady on the news, how little you know of teachers! How little you know of their hearts and their constant fretting over students, your very own children—how to reach them, how to break through the many layers and distractions, how to make a difference, and reveal to them the gifts they possess and should offer the world.

Maybe we should all try a bit harder to sparkle behind the mask.





A Pair of Us

Gratitude is a word I have neglected these past few weeks. Not entirely. That’s not my nature, but I haven’t felt much like being mindfully grateful. Police brutality, racial injustice, and a nasty virus that won’t go away have given all of us good reasons to feel sour. That’s putting it mildly.

But this morning, I woke up. I walked my new puppy, Birdie. I unrolled my yoga mat and did some stretches. In a bit my oldest daughter will drop by and we’ll go for a hike. I had breakfast. I’ll have lunch and dinner, too. I will not insult you with platitudes here. I’m so sick of hearing We’re all in this together I could scream. We are not together! I want to shout at the television. We are apart, and that’s the problem. This is coming from an introvert, no less. A true INFJ if you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality test.

The truth is I miss people. I miss sitting around a table with friends and eating chicken salad sandwiches. I miss the good feeling of coming home to my quiet, relatively calm (pre-puppy at least) house after being someplace noisy. There is no transition, you see, no clear distinction between one day and the next. It’s an issue of balance, I suppose.

Lately, I’ve been reciting Emily Dickinson poems in my head, specifically, the poem I’m Nobody! (260).

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d advertise — you know!
How dreary — to be Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!

There is something about the line “Then there’s a pair of us!” that feels like a meeting of minds, a kindred spirit, a partner in crime. “A pair of us” means we’re not alone. Why is Emily coming to me now? Why is she the resident poet in my head these days?

My seemingly incongruous thoughts usually correlate in some way if I bother to sit down and write about them. We’re all in this together is a paradox for Covid and quarantine and social distancing perhaps, but it’s quite literal when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement: We are all in this together.

Some will march and protest and stand at the head of the line, holding the lantern and leading our way. Others will go along, albeit begrudgingly, and a few will be dragged, kicking and screaming (and probably not wearing masks), but maybe they will get there, too. Maybe. Change is coming, however. Change is inevitable.

What difference can a White woman in her fifties make in the Black Lives Matter movement? And who cares what I have to say about these struggles anyway? As I type, I question this myself. All I can tell you is silence on the issue of Black Lives Matter feels cowardly and dastardly. Not to speak is to condone violence. Yes, that means you, nice White lady. It means me. It means all of us White ladies and girls and women have to speak up. Why? Because our silence and “politeness” and “good girlness” are part of the problem. We have to examine our own biases. We have to look at systemic racism and consider our complicity in its ugliness. We must educate ourselves, and then instead of feeling smug and holier than thou, we have to go out and have difficult conversations with difficult White people. And when Black people post their stories or write about their experiences or call us out on things that make us uncomfortable, we must listen with a growth mindset. 


To brush aside the anguish of our fellow Americans, Americans who truly made this country what it is today, is its own brand of violence, and it is particularly cruel. Have I been guilty of just wanting everyone to get along? Yes. Have I felt too tired to listen to protests or watch horrific images on the news? Yep. Have I naively thought none of it had anything much to do with me? Lord help me, but yes.

Posting a black square on Instagram was too small an effort on my part. Reposting the thoughtful messages of others borders on plagiarism. I must use my own voice, too. If you’re unfriending/unfollowing/snoozing, then maybe you especially need to hear this message. I am writing this post because I need to hear this message.

Black Lives Matter.

Beyond this, I’m giving myself some reading assignments. After listening to Professor Brittney Cooper’s (pictured below) recent talk on Instagram, I ordered a few books, and I’m going to read said books. 

In the coming weeks, I’m committing myself to difficult conversations and personal reflection. I’m going to do better. I’m going to show up. I’m going to listen. I’m going to learn. I’ve attached Dr. Cooper’s Instagram link if you’d like to check out her account.

Maybe Emily managed to get her message through to me loud and clear, after all. There’s a pair of us, you know. If you’ve read this far, it means we’re in this together (I swear that’s the last time I’ll ever use that catchphrase). Even if we’re White women in our fifties or sixties or seventies or eighties, we must do our part to understand and support the Black Lives Matter movement. Finally, I strongly encourage you to listen to Dr. Cooper’s talk on Instagram (the link is below). I’ve also posted her book recommendations and highlighted the ones I’ve already ordered.


  1. Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
  2. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  3. Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister
  4. Sula by Toni Morrison
  5. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
  6. Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom
  7. So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  8. Dressed in Dreams by Tanisha C. Ford
  9. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  10. The End of White Politics by Zerlina Maxwell

And if you’re feeling weary as a White person, know this. You are not as weary as the Black people in this country. It’s time for us to help carry this burden. It’s time for White people to do better. No excuses, nice White ladies.



It’s My Dash

Gratitude is pecking at my window in the form a female cardinal. She is so dignified with her red crest and tail and beak, even if I do sense her judgment. It’s nearly noon. I’ve been writing since early this morning, and I’m still in my bathrobe. Our dog, Iris, sleeps in a puddle of sunshine, a respite after having surgery just a few days ago. She is also doped up on pain meds, her last vial of the stuff emptied as of this morning. Upstairs, middle daughter is home from college to rest off a bad cold. It’s winter, but already I can feel the season losing its grip. Not that it had much of one. We’ve had no snow to speak of.

The last few months have been the strangest and the best. I’ve left teaching for the first time in years, and now I have time to write. Not time to merely squeeze it in. Not time to neglect so many other things, like my husband and children, and try not to feel guilty about writing. But actual writing time.

Like the fussy steward of some historic structure, I am quite protective of this new stage. I will not squander it. Every single day, you’ll find me here on my sofa or at the dining room table, plunging into unknown territory. With this new novel, I’ve researched and interviewed. I’m planning trips to do more research and interviews. There’s a pile of books I’ve read and annotated and more I still need to read and annotate. I’ve devoured page after page of archives. This is how I spend my time now.

I can honestly say that out of all the books I’ve written (far more than are published) this new topic has consumed me to an extreme. It has me in its grip. It has angered me. It has brought me to tears. If you’re a writer, you understand this is a very good thing. Otherwise, how can you possibly tether yourself to a computer for hours on end?

Sometimes I marvel at this calling, this obsession, this addiction, this strangeness that comes with being a writer. Here I sit, having set aside a long-time career I loved, one that came with a title and a steady paycheck, to hang out in my bathrobe and, forgive the strong language, please clutch your pearls, make shit up.

A few days ago, I chatted with an old friend who is trying to decide what’s next in terms of her professional life. Often she is asked this question: What do you do? Her response is usually to hem and haw and say things like, “Oh, this and that.” To tell the truth of it, however, my friend has given up a job she enjoyed to look after her dying father, made a major move from one country to another, and rehabbed a house long-neglected. More recently, she moved her aging mother (and elderly dog) to a condo nearby so she can take care of them both. This and that? Really?

While talking on the phone, as we usually do once a week, my friend and I mulled over her situation and discussed the dreaded question: What do you do? She decided her response should now be this: “I clean up dog shit and take care of my mother.” If that’s the case for my friend, then my answer would have to be, “I sit in my bathrobe until noon and make shit up.”

There is a lot of shit in this post, but I’m striving for honesty here.

A few weeks ago, I went to a memorial service for someone I don’t know. He was a childhood friend of my husband’s. It was at a nice club and on a Friday night. Normally, I would’ve told my husband to go without me, but we figured we’d head out to dinner afterward. And, also, I find that memorial services for folks I don’t know can be interesting. Obviously, I don’t go browsing the obits in search of such events, but when, on occasion, I’ve done this sort of thing, it has proved oddly inspiring.

At the service, another childhood friend of the deceased got up to read a poem called The Dash. I’ve since Googled it. The writer is Linda Ellis, and you can see the poem here if you’re so inclined (or slated to speak at a funeral). To sum it up, the poem maintains it’s the dash that really matters. That tiny mark of punctuation in between the dates of our birth and death. You know, what we do with our time while on this planet.

Last week I had a not so good mammogram and was called back for another one, plus an ultrasound. The second mammogram didn’t go any better. A biopsy was scheduled. Let me stop right here and say, I’m a total wimp. I hate needles. I hate going to the doctor. I have two recurring nightmares: my teeth fall out OR I’m being jabbed with needles. You can imagine why I’m so scrupulous when it comes to brushing and flossing.

Like the neurotic writer I am, I spent the night before the procedure looking at gruesome YouTube videos. As much as I hate needles, I hate surprises about such things even more. Alas, I arrived at the facility sleep-deprived and on the verge of what Oprah calls ugly crying. I’m just barely holding it together as the radiologist initials my right boob with a Sharpie, and I take my arm from the sleeve of the gown. The tech, a soft-spoken, young woman with a nose ring, begins gnashing my breast with the ultrasound probe.

It’s freezing in this room, and I’m scared and now quivering. Quivering is probably not a good idea when needles are about to go into one’s breast, I decide, so I close my eyes. I take deep breaths. I try not to envision all the gray hair I’ve just gone through the trouble of growing out falling out. There is the soft murmur of voices, shop talk between the tech and radiologist. I will myself not to hear a word of it. It’ll be over in a few minutes. Celebrities who are long-term survivors of breast cancer go through my mind—Melissa Etheridge, Robin Roberts, Sheryl Crow, Christina Applegate, Wanda Sykes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The radiologist, a pretty fifty-something woman with thick-rimmed glasses and bright green eyes, grips my hand, leans in close, and says, “We’re not doing the biopsy. It shrunk since last week. There’s not enough for me to grab with the needle.” Hearing this, I’m slightly disbelieving. But it’s true, so I get dressed and meet the pretty green-eyed doctor in her office where my breast is quite large on the dark screen. “Cancer doesn’t shrink. It gets bigger,” she tells me, though she insists we keep a close eye on things. I am reassured, but also curiously in limbo.

My husband and I collapse onto a bench out in the lobby. As we sit wedged between two plants, quietly talking, a woman in a wheel chair is pushed past us. She’s in a surgical gown and cap. Clearly, she is having some procedure far more complicated than the one I just evaded. For now, I still have my dash. I still can DO things. But what about hers? Is her dash shrinking or growing larger? I say a silent prayer for this stranger.

Rewind to the early morning of my biopsy. I’m about to head down the stairs, but I pause on the landing. A question is nagging me: Is writing full-time what you want to be doing? If this is it, is this it? Hard questions for a hard day, but I nod and go make toast.

For now, I’m stepping away from my computer. I’m going to go do something else— get dressed and eat lunch. Later this afternoon, maybe I’ll go for a walk in the winter sunshine and forest bathe down by a stream near our house. Believe it or not, this is also part of being a writer. Getting outside and breathing. Holding the ailing dog close and whispering, “You’re such a good girl.”

After all, it’s my dash, and I can do whatever I want with it.




One Maryland One Book 2020

It’s chilly and dreary and the dead of winter. Here in Maryland, kids and teachers have probably been sleeping with pajamas inside-out and spoons tucked beneath pillows, to no avail. January is long gone and February is half over, yet no snow.

Still crossing my fingers for snow.

On a happier note, I was asked to serve on the One Maryland One Book selection committee (how’s that for a non sequitur?). This year’s theme? Friendship.

Since I came a bit late to the committee, I didn’t submit suggestions; however, I was privileged to participate in the Top Ten selection process and the January meeting. January is when the Top Ten list gets whittled down to the Top Three. And what a fun way to spend a day! Librarians and writers and teachers and professors and other humanities folks—my favorite sort of people—talking about books. Like, seriously talking about them, but in a respectful and thoughtful manner. 

Top Ten 2020

The committee meets in a lovely building downtown, a sunlit space that is filled with astoundingly beautiful plants in the large windows and a massive table in the center of the room. Gathered around are smart people who love good books. Yep, it’s my idea of heaven. The fearless leader of this literary endeavor is Ms. Andrea Lewis. Man, is she ever organized! Start to finish, it’s a finely tuned machine, thanks to Andrea. She kept us on track and made the day fun.

Andrea Lewis, program officer, Maryland Center for the Book

If you’re looking for a way to conquer the winter blues, head to your library or bookstore or one of those other places I’ll refrain from mentioning here, and check out the books on this list. You don’t have to be from Maryland to read them, obviously.

OMOB Top Three!

The Top Choice for One Maryland One Book will be announced the second week of March, and Andrea has promised she’ll answer a few questions for that blog post. I’m attaching the link here in case you’d like to know more about One Maryland One Book. You can learn more about the selection process and browse the list of past winners.


New Year, New Books!

So many books, but not nearly enough time! Every year I set big goals for reading, and every year I fall short of said goal. In 2019, I read 38 books, and it’s very tempting to fudge here and say I read 40. There are two nearly finished books in my queue (City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson). There’s also a collection of poetry I’ve been savoring one poem at a time (A Memory of the Future by Elizabeth Spires). Over the summer I read a large stack of books on frogs, but I’m too lazy to find that list.  

                                 Current book on my bedside table❤️

I’m not ranking or rating or ranting about any of these works. I’m simply listing them. Some I liked. A few I didn’t. At least two books on this list changed me in significant and hopefully lasting ways. One book made me laugh out loud. A lot. That same book also made me cry. It was the best work of fiction I’ve read in a very long time, in fact. There are weird books on this list and smart books and sweet books, too.

       The to-be-read pile. Every year I’m determined to read them all. 🤩

Books keep me afloat when I’m sinking. They make me feel less strange or maybe more so for liking them. Books nearly always help me feel less alone on this life path. So, instead of ranking or rating or ranting, I’ll just say thank you to all the writers for showing up and getting the words on the page and to all the unsung heroes in publishing who helped these books find the light.

                                               Books in my office
Books on the shelf. The mallet is for folks who borrow my books and don’t return them. 😜
                                            Books in the basement
                                     Books in kids’ rooms
                                                  Old books with yellowed pages ❤️
                                   Books in the living room, too!

Here’s to another year of reading, folks. My 2019 list is in the order read.

  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  2. Greener Pastures by Charlotte Locklear
  3. What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey
  4. In Pieces by Sally Field
  5. Calypso by David Sedaris
  6. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
  7. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
  8. Because of Winn Dixie (again) by Kate DiCamillo
  9. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  10. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
  11. The World’s Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key
  12. Maid by Stephanie Land
  13. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
  14. Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
  15. South and West by Joan Didion
  16. Congratulations, Who Are You Again? by Harrison Scott Key
  17. Blubber (again) by Judy Blume
  18. Eleanor Oliphant Gail Honeyman
  19. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris
  20. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  21. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
  22. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  23. Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
  24. Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy
  25. Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
  26. Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland
  27. Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
  28. Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
  29. The Snail Darter and the Dam by Zygmunt Plater
  30. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  31. Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo
  32. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  33. Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo
  34. Enough About You, Let’s Talk About Me by Les Carter
  35. Don’t You Know Who I Am? by Ramani Durvasula
  36. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
  37. Boots on the Ground by Elizabeth Partridge
  38. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout


Celebrating Charlotte Locklear!

Time to celebrate a very special person in my life, writer, teacher, mentor, friend extraordinaire Charlotte Renner Locklear. Rewind to many years ago, 26 to be exact. I was fresh from a two-year stint working in college admissions and eager to begin a teaching career in public education. In my new school, I had the privilege of meeting Charlotte.

         Charlotte Renner Locklear, author of Greener Pastures

To me, she was everything a teacher should be—smart, tough, kind, compassionate, funny, humble, warm, and supportive. Instantly, we hit it off, and when it came time for me to complete my student teaching, she served as my mentor.

Each day I’d teach my classes (technically Charlotte’s classes) and after dismissal, we would retreat to an office across the hall. We’d eat lunch together and go over my lesson plans. Again and again, day after day, Charlotte would ask the same question: “What’s your point?”

Young and feeling a bit defensive, I would reply (likely with some inane response), and Charlotte would persist. “Yes, Suzanne, but what’s your point?” Every lesson required an objective, a motto I came to live by in the classroom. It was a good way to establish my own roadmap. Why was I teaching this particular lesson? What was my point and purpose? What would the kids know and be able to do at the end? As a writing teacher for many years, it was abundantly clear that concepts couldn’t be mastered in a day, maybe not even in a lifetime, but it was worthwhile to try. Having a point made sense. It still does, both in teaching and in writing.

What’s my point here? you might ask. I’m getting to it, I promise.

Over the years Charlotte and I became close friends. When I left my previous school to write and be home with my daughters for a while, Charlotte would stop by after work. We would talk books and school and lessons and child-rearing. Mostly, we talked about life, however, and you could see our friendship wasn’t merely work related. It was lasting.

To say Charlotte encouraged me as a teacher and writer would be a true understatement. She was a champion. She cheered me on when I needed it most. She read my works-in-progress. She called me out on my stuff, too. She tough-loved me through the pain of losing my mom. She was there. She still is, I am so grateful to say.

               My first local book signing with Charlotte at my side!

Charlotte “retired” from teaching many years ago, and since a number of folks have tried to apply the R word to me, I’ll just say it’s a term I resist. First, I didn’t retire. I quit my job. I may teach again or I may not. And Charlotte hasn’t “retired” at all, either. She is still teaching. She gives her time teaching English at her parish to non-native speakers. I feel certain she is still teaching her grandsons and son and daughter-in-law, though I haven’t reached out to them personally to ask. More than likely, she’s still teaching her siblings and husband. I know for sure she is still teaching me.

            All these years later and celebrating Charlotte’s new book!

Not only is this post to give thanks for a decades-long friendship with a woman I truly admire and love, it is also to celebrate the next chapter in Charlotte’s working life. A book. A book ten years in the making. TEN. Charlotte has written and published her family’s complex and intriguing history. If this is where you’re thinking Another’s family history so doesn’t apply to me, keep going.

When I first settled in for a 302 page read, I was worried and nervous. I had to give back to a woman who had so generously given to me, but it was someone else’s family history. How interesting could that be? Very, as it turned out. A few pages in and I was hooked. I devoured. I cried. I nudged my husband and read him passages or remarked, “Charlotte is such a good writer! This is so good!” More than once while reading, I texted Charlotte to point out parts I found especially moving or interesting. To be honest, I was astounded that Charlotte had managed to put her family’s long and complex history on paper and make me love it so. It was, in fact, a feat.

Poignant, factual, and well written, Greener Pastures is a history of the Renner and Kopp families, but it’s more than that. It’s a good story. Charlotte captures so intelligently the experience of her ancestors, Germans from Russia who migrated to North America toward the end of the nineteenth century and eventually settled (and prospered) in the western United States and Canada. Settling in a new land requires tenacity and grit, and Charlotte so deftly conveys this point. Think Willa Cather or the Little House books.

As our nation continues to grapple with policies and practices and attitudes toward those crossing our borders, Greener Pastures serves as a kind reminder: we are all from someplace else.

Thank you, Charlotte, for continuing to share your many talents with us. And thank you for being a true friend.

You can order Charlotte’s book on Amazon. I’ve included the link here.

You can hear Charlotte speak on NPR’s Prairie Public Broadcasting here.

And, you can visit Charlotte’s beautiful new website here.


High School Senior Crunch Time

College deadlines are looming. Essays to write! Questions to answer! Portfolios to organize! Having taught high school seniors for years and being the mom of a senior currently (my third and final one), I have a few things to offer.



  1. Calm down. Wherever you end up won’t be perfect. It won’t correct all your deep-seated flaws or create world peace. It’s just college. Some of us (myself included) got to where we were and ended up someplace else. And that was definitely not the worst thing that ever happened to me.


  1. Don’t badger your teacher about the letter of rec unless this teacher has demonstrated a lack of responsibility in the past. For instance, she lost your assignments (like, for real), has been late to class numerous times, or winged (wung?) one too many lessons. You get what I’m saying here. And if this is the teacher you’ve chosen to write the letter, my first question is WHY? My second question is Do you have a back-up plan? If not, get one quick.


  1. Begin to have that hard discussion with your parents/guardians about the feasibility of certain colleges. The difficult discussions won’t be over once you’re admitted. In fact, they may just be beginning. In my years of teaching, I’ve seen kids encouraged to apply and “just see what happens” only to learn after they got in that their family couldn’t afford the tuition. Be realistic. Also, don’t lose hope. Some colleges will give you $$$. Some colleges will give you more $$$ if you bargain.


  1. If someone makes changes to your college essay or says outright it’s terrible, listen to them. Remember, the admissions person who reads your essay doesn’t know you. You are a number, a number on a long list of numbers maybe. How does your essay sound to a complete stranger? Get someone who doesn’t know you well to read it. What you want to know is this: Does my essay make me sound like a person who should be thumped on the head? If so, rewrite or revise. You can do this, I promise. And please avoid the thesaurus. Using a fancy word will not make you appear smarter. In fact, I’m guessing when admissions folks see this sort of thing, they do this.



  1. You can’t undo your high school track record, but you can stay the course and do well right now. Yes, I’m talking about your senior year. In spite of what you may have heard, your senior year matters. Studies have shown that students who are challenged as high school seniors, perform better as college freshmen. How you end things in high school is important. Don’t believe me? Read the next one to know why.


  1. You are creating a reputation for yourself right now this minute. And I so get that you want to blow the high school popsicle stand already. Don’t. First of all, as a teacher I can tell you I have really, genuinely, truly loved about 95% of my students. While teachers are sort of ready to get rid of seniors (because you’re a handful and you know it!), you have also become one of our children. Cheesy as that may sound, it’s true for most of the teachers I’ve encountered. And get this. You may actually need us again, sooner than you think. Several years ago, I had a student who wanted to transfer, TWICE. Both times he needed my letter of rec. He was not a perfect kid or a straight-A kid, but I liked him. He was really funny and really smart and really kind. And if he asked for my reference tomorrow, I’d still give him one.


  1. Speaking of teachers, thank them for those letters of recommendation. In most cases, teachers are not required to write these letters. They do so out of the goodness of their hearts. No need to break the bank getting a gift, but a nice handwritten note is a thoughtful gesture.



  1. In a few weeks or months, you’ll start getting those letters. Acceptance or rejection, it’s just a part of life. As a writer I have been rejected. So. Many. Times. Mourn for a day (two tops) and then get over yourself and your disappointment and move on. Life has a way of working out, even when you don’t get what you want.


  1. Eat. Exercise. Live your life. Be a high school kid a while longer because like the song says, “You will never pass this way again.”



Finally, if you are still reading, smile. To go to college may seem like a right, but think of all the people in the world, women and girls especially, who can only dream of being where you are right now. Be grateful. Education isn’t a panacea (now there’s a word for your college essay!), but it’s pretty darn close.  



Who Have We Become?

I’ve traveled quite a bit this summer, more than usual. As much as I love being home, it’s exhilarating to smell someplace new. Takes me out of my head, allows me to see the world in a different light.

While in an airport security line, I noticed a family—mother, father, big brother, little sister. This is what they looked like in any case. And being the teacher and children’s writer I am, I watched the kids, especially the little girl. Her cheeks were chubby. She had a mop of pretty dark hair. Understandably, she was apprehensive about the whole process—trays and belts and X-ray machines and folks in uniform. Yet even from my distant vantage point, I could see she was listening to the instructions, abiding by the rules, eager to please.

This same family was at my gate. The four of them going to Baltimore, too, I guessed, that is until pre-boarding began. The woman I assumed was the mother wept openly now and urged the little girl down the ramp. “Go!” she cried, literally, and off the child went.

As I watched the family walk away, my heart clenched. It clenches now as I write this post. Life is painful, I thought. There are too many goodbyes, I said to myself.

Inside the plane the little girl sat in a row by herself, tears streaming and nose running. Thinking I might console her or at least provide tissues, I sat next to her. “Thank you,” she whispered when I handed the package of Kleenex over.

There was a notepad in my computer bag and a pen, so I passed these things to her, too.

“You’re brave to travel by yourself,” I told her. “You must be at least ten.”

“I’m six,” she replied.

Six? My own children were once six, and I tried to recall them at that age. First grade. Stuffed animals. Lots of pink.

There was intermittent weeping, some drawing, some chatting.

“I like you. You’re nice,” she said.

“I like you. You’re nice, too,” I told her.

“What’s your favorite movie?” she asked.

Matilda. What’s yours?”  

Chucky,” she replied, and then proceeded to describe a few bloody details.

More time passed. The girl stared out the window. She drew another picture. I watched as she folded it in half then handed it to me.


“What if my mom isn’t there?” Layla asked.

“She’ll be there,” I replied.

“But what if she isn’t? I can’t be all alone,” she said.

“You won’t be alone,” I assured her.

For over an hour this continued. Crying and drawing and talking and staring and questioning. So much uncertainty in Layla’s world. So much uncertainty in so many children’s worlds. ICE raids and parents taken. Sick children deported. Unthinkable sadness and terror. Trauma that will last a lifetime. Trauma that will trickle down through generations and haunt us all.

Who have we become?

“I’m going to live with my mother and Thomas,” Layla said. “He has a basement with a washer and dryer. We can have clean clothes.”

“That’s good,” I said. “Don’t you just love clean clothes?”

“Yes,” she said. “I hope my mother is there. What if she isn’t there?”

“She’ll be there, I promise. You won’t be alone.”

Due to storms we waited on the tarmac. Rain slashed the windows and lightning flickered in the distance. Layla’s nervousness grew worse. Again and again, she said, “What if my mother isn’t there? What will I do?”

Layla had some distance yet to go. She wasn’t disembarking in Baltimore as I’d hoped, but instead traveling to another city. In the dark. Alone.  

This flight was weeks ago now, but still I think of Layla. I hope her mother was waiting that night. I hope the reunion was good and solid and true. I hope her clothes are scrupulously clean and her backpacked stocked for the start of school.

Layla was only one child, but I had a front row seat to her terror. All those faces behind chain-link fences. Not their children. Not somebody else’s children. 

My children. Our children.

Who have we become?

Never Give Up

Thinking of quitting? Think again. I’ve often wondered why I was cursed/blessed with the obsession of storytelling. Why can’t I just go to a cocktail party or a wedding or the pawn shop like a “normal” person? Why am I endlessly thinking about stories, those I’ve written and the ones I’ve read? What is the point of such longing anyway? The truth is I don’t know. What I do know is this obsession has only intensified with age.

When we first moved into our current home, I stuck this magnet to the washing machine. Probably because the laundry was daunting back then. Now my two daughters who are still at home (some of the time) do their own laundry, as does my husband. Still, I keep this magnet because when I’m looking for a sign, here it is. If you’re looking for a sign, here it is.

“Never, never, never give up.” Cliché? Yeah, I suppose. But somebody will get the higher grade or win the contest or publish the book or sign a record deal. Somebody will get the job or the promotion or reach a million followers on Twitter. The question is this: Why not you? 

Owning, announcing, broadcasting, embracing the fact that you are trying to achieve this thing is scary because your little secret is out. The world knows what you’re up to, and the powers that be may not give it to you. They may put up roadblocks. People might laugh or roll their eyes. Folks may say you aren’t a serious person. Even worse, maybe you aren’t young enough, old enough, smart enough, good enough.  

It is quite possible the universe might not give us what we want. In all my years of writing, I’ve learned this: I’m a writer. Yes, I’ve published three novels, but that is not what makes me a writer. I’ve written so many more unpublished novels. I have failed at publishing again and again, but I have not failed at being a writer. In fact, I would argue I’m a highly successful writer because in the midst of failing at publishing, I’ve still been writing. And it feels better, wiser, stronger, truer to keep going because that’s who I am and what I do. 

If today was the day you went looking for a sign, it’s here, stuck to my washing machine, next to some wet bathing suits.

Now go do whatever it is you’re dreaming of and tell at least one person what you’re up to. If they roll their eyes or scoff or list countless reasons why you’re likely to fail, think of it as fuel for your determined tank and just keep swimming. 


Never Give Up Magnet



What happened? Where did I go? Why has this website only recently been updated? It’s a long and a short story.

More than a decade ago, I published three books in two years. It was a dream to say the least, one I’d worked and slaved and sacrificed for most of my adult life because … well, that’s how dreams happen. After said books were published, I went back to teaching. And while teaching, I was busy being a mom and a wife and also still a writer. I blogged sometimes, too, but then I went radio silent on this here website. It wasn’t that I was too busy. I was too busy, but most people are busy, so that’s no excuse. What happened was this: my previous web designer died. He died suddenly and tragically, and it was all very, very sad. Rob was talented and artistic and kind.

I didn’t want to undo Rob’s work. I didn’t know how to do the techie stuff myself. So, I let the site sit and sit and sit. For. Seven. Years.

Many things have happened these past seven years. I’ve let my dark hair go gray. My children have vanished and been replaced by women who are really tall. Some things haven’t changed, though. I’m still writing every day, even on weekends and usually on holidays. I still love to write. It’s both difficult and easy. You sit down. You remain seated. You don’t check your phone or email or social media. You allow things to come to you and you write them down. Sometimes these things suck, so you try again.

What is this Tidbits page? This and that, really. Sometimes it’s about writing. Sometimes it’s about life. Mostly, it’s just me talking to myself because that’s how I make sense of things.