Summer Rain

Winter finally retreated and summer has charged right in.  But with the exception of about two weeks of sunshine, we’ve merely traded blanketed muted gray days for cotton-ball sharp-toned gray days.

Then yesterday, I looked up during my morning tai chi practice and noticed my grandfather Maple tree had flipped it’s leaves over.

Gentle Penguin, do you know what it means when a tree turns it’s leaves over?

It means rain.

Not just rain, but tempestuous, unpredictable rain.  Soft one moment with sunshine breaking through the steel-tipped clouds, then drenching, blinding rain the next moment.  Best of all, this rain has brought with it the sweetest smell.  Someone, somewhere has a rose blooming.  And someone has cut their grass.  And perhaps someone else has uncorked a bottle of wine from last autumn’s harvest.

I can’t stop breathing deeply because I smell sunshine, and suntan lotion, and sparklers, and watermelon, and fireflies.  And maybe even mid-life first kisses…



Saving Grace of Art

It’s been a rough week for me as post-Easter Ohio turned dismal, cold and gray.  Even as I write, snow is falling once again.  Truthfully, I don’t mind the cold or the snow, but I can’t stand the gray.

Yesterday, while the sun was out for a couple hours, I couldn’t help noticing that the trees aren’t in fact gray, but various shades of rosy browns with green moss.  The grass also wasn’t gray, but a very pale green.  Even the puddles in the park seemed less gray and a little more blue.  Then today, it was all gray once again.

So I was delighted when, while stuck in traffic on a gray highway surrounded by gray cars under a gray sky, I happened to glance to my right and see the land was striped a soft caramel tan and deep chocolate brown.  Looking ahead, the same field looked gray, but as we moved slowly, the stripes of caramel and chocolate unfolded from the gray before disappearing into it once again.

It was shortly thereafter I noticed the thin trees dancing in the now-blowing rainsnow were almost a butterscotch color.  Their gentle movement soothed a rough spot in my mind and my shoulder, and I sighed with relief as I released my vice-like grip on the steering wheel.

A short time later, I arrived where I aught and headed to the room I was assigned.  Since the elevator, the carpet and the lightly textured wallpaper were all gray, I was caught off guard to find the inside of the room decorated in shades of coffee…espressos, lattes, dark roasts, light roasts, mochas and macchiatos.

My face felt kind of odd, lighter, if not a bit tighter around my cheeks so I looked in the mirror and discovered a smile had found its way onto my face.

But it was nothing to what I saw behind me.

There on the wall opposite the mirror was a poster of Klimt’s Forest of Birches.

I’d seen the painting before in books and postcards, but nothing this large.  I stared at it for quite some time.  And what I realized was that while the gold and yellows and oranges and purples and blues and flecks of green warmed me, it was the long stripes of gray representing the birch trees that made the painting hopeful.

And just like that I was reminded of a person from my childhood who represented both my worst fears and proof that fear would not win.  His name was Art.

Art lived behind my aunt and uncle’s house and was old when I was young.  He never said much to us kids as we played basketball and kickball and baseball and tag and cops and robbers, but he always seemed to be keeping a watchful eye on us.

Once, while we were playing tag in the alley that separated his property from my aunt and uncle’s, a dog ran up and began growling menacingly.  We didn’t know any better so naturally we started to scream and run, which made the dog charge.  Just as he was about to bite one of my younger cousins, Art stepped in with a newspaper and swatted the dog on the nose.

The dog shook his head, looked at the old man, turned and trotted down the alley.

In my child’s mind, this old man might as well have been a miracle worker.  He showed absolutely no fear of something that was very frightening to me!

Still later in my childhood, a bully moved in at the other end of the alley.  He bothered us off and on while we walked to school, but it wasn’t until he decided to join our basketball game one weekend that we realized we were in trouble.  He shoved my older brother, punched one of my cousins and threw the ball so hard at me I was thrown to the gravel underfoot.

While he was laughing and I was trying not to cry, Art came out of his yard.  All he did was stare at the bully with his hands on his hips and our problem was solved.

Art was my hero.

It was a little later in my childhood that I learned Art had been a prisoner of war during WWII.  The newspaper published a long article about it.  I remember reading it and feeling afraid.  War and torture and death had so far been only words in books or lessons in school.  To know that I now knew someone who’d experienced all that—and maybe worse—frightened me.

It’s not rational, I see that clearly now, but back then, it was the moment I knew my carefree childhood was over.  As if to prove a point, a short time later our school had an air-raid drill—my first.  While huddled under my (flimsy) desk in a room with huge windows open to an outside that suddenly seemed filled with endless sky that could hold hundreds of bombs while sirens blared in my ears, all I could think of was Art.

War was so much scarier than a barking dog or a bully.  Art had faced all my fears, up close and personal.  Would he be afraid?  I decided he wouldn’t, and I wondered if perhaps his courage might be something I could learn.

I began studying Art.  I watched him hoe his garden, sweep his sidewalk, chat with my parents, bring in his newspaper, put out his trash.  I didn’t see anything that helped me learn about courage.

Sometime later, I had to talk to a veteran and write a report for school.  I decided to talk to Art.  He didn’t share any gory details or frightening images.  Perhaps he knew I’d already imagined plenty of those.  And I don’t remember many of the pearls of wisdom he no doubt shared, but I do remember he walked me to his gate after we spoke, turned, shut it, paused, then turned around and said “the worst things in life are often blessings in disguise. It’s all in how you look at it.”

Looking at Art through this lens of my memory, I realize he gave me the answer to courage long ago.  In hoeing his garden, Art had faith tomatoes and peas and onions and flowers would emerge each year.  In sweeping his sidewalk, Art focused on doing whatever task lay ahead of him one step at a time.  In talking with my parents, Art nurtured relationships with the people around him.  In reading his newspaper, Art strove to understand the world, even frightening things.  In putting out his trash, he let go of that which didn’t serve him well.

Perhaps it seems trite or a stretch, but tonight it looks beautiful to me.


Gentle Penguin,

This is no Eat, Pray, Love journey. I’m simply taking time out of my overwhelmed Western life to attend The School of Life. No, seriously, it’s a real thing, though technically I’m attending The School of Life conference. And yet, I’m realizing that there are some parallels to that story I love to hate and hate to love.

Firstly, I’m toying with the idea of not eating for much of this trip. Not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but rather because I think I forgot how to eat. Most of my meals are shared with a glowing screen—laptop, tv, smartphone. I’m not aware of how I feel while I eat, but I’m always acutely aware of how awful I feel after I eat. And I noticed this morning that I don’t even like the taste of what I think I want (sausage), but I love the taste of food I think I need (an orange).

Perhaps if I don’t eat for even one entire day, I’ll have clarity. Or perhaps I should stop eating with technology.

Secondly, I’ve decided it’s time to reboot my spirituality. I’ve always had a healthy dose of faith, but, quite frankly, religion has put me off God for a long time. So to get more spiritual, I’m letting go—letting go of labels and expectations and “teachings” in order to connect directly to the source…whatever that may be.

Sounds crazy, I know. But I’ve never aspired to normality.

Thirdly, love—well, I only know that I’ve recently awakened to the knowledge that love comes in many different forms and features and functions. For the moment, I am taking a page out of my dad’s book of idioms and “focusing on what I have before I ask for more.”

But this isn’t what I wanted to tell you. It’s merely the backdrop.

I am sitting in my hotel room looking out my window at tree tops!

So what?! (I hear you…)

The tree tops look like grass blowing in the breeze. Except I haven’t seen grass tall enough to blow in the breeze in a long time, and, suddenly, I know it must go on my list of “musts” along with finding the Milky Way galaxy in the night sky. I can’t deny that the most magical items I know of are natural and simple and free. How curious and lovely!

The birds are flying out of the treetops right by my window as if they were a group of rowdy school children at recess. How do they know which way to move so quickly to stay united, yet separate? I think this is important knowledge I must understand. Staying separate I’ve got down pat, but how to do so while part of a group is something I don’t yet know. And since I no longer plan to be a hermit, I think it’s crucial.

Similarly, but differently, I don’t seem that high up, until I look down. I don’t seem that removed from the traffic on the street, until I look at the traffic on the street. It seems like I am part of, while being removed from. Isn’t this the goal of meditation? Isn’t this what most ancient texts advise humanity? Isn’t this what the Jedi’s longed for in their practice? (That’s right, there’s a lot of real knowledge to be had from Star Wars! And Kung Fu Panda!)

Could it be that I’m already enlightened, I just don’t know it yet?

Yes, I think the answer is yes.

And the best part is that means you are too.


There is a story I love that revolves around love. And recently (well, not really recently—more like when I was in college) it was made into a movie.

In the middle of the movie, the protagonist asks her love interest to please stay for the next opera aria. “It is very beautiful,” she begs as he walks away convinced she is in love with another. And yet, having read the book a thousand times, nothing—not the misunderstood undying love, nor the circumstantial romantic circumstances, nor the enduring history of futile romance touches me more than the music.

I cry. I cry every time at the brief bar of the aria sung most angelically (second song sung). It is heart-wrenchingly beautiful, but mostly I cry because having watched the movie, studied the credits and searched high and low, I know that’s all there is that exists of that beautiful piece of music.

When you love music, can there be anything more devastating than a few unconnected bars of beautiful, haunting music that leads no where?

My soul pulls at it, urging it to complete. My heart lifts it willing it to float to a longer, more fulfilling end. And yet, movie composer Jeremey Sams only offers these few bars…

I spend hours wishing for the song to end, imagining it’s climax and resolve, daring it to keep on in my daydreams.

And yet, my soul knows the truth. It is a fragment whose missing pieces will only be found when the treasure is reached. Nothing I can say or hum or do will bring it to what I want it to be.

Normally, I’d be frustrated by such a thwarting, but actually, I’m rather encouraged. Is it my age? Is it my willingness to secede my quest? Or a sign that I give up my romanticism to rationality? No. I believe it’s merely my first glimpse of something to look forward to on the other side. Something meaningful. Something precious. Something heavenly.

Music is the language of the soul. At least mine. As well as my first true love. And my salvation.

And yet, if only I had another chance at love, romance and depth of feeling that such music insinuates. Perhaps I could complete the aria. The song, after all, is stuck in my heart, connected to my soul, and deep in my being…even though it is unfinished.

But then again, so is my story…

End of the Year of Lightening

And what a year it was! Among other things, I experienced the midnight sun in the Arctic Circle on Summer Solstice, a full eclipse of the sun on my brother’s deck in Missouri, a Christmas Eve snowfall, several major declutterings at d’Anconia Square, a shift in the mental tide of worrying, and a deepening commitment to my overall health. In these regards, the year of lightening was a success!

Of course, there were dark spots too — injuries and illnesses, crises and catastrophes, worry and wallowing. But that’s to be expected.

What didn’t happen this year was enlightenment. But perhaps that’s just as well…something to strive for in the next year, which is almost upon us.

So what will 2018 bring? Gentle Penguin, it is the year I’ve been waiting for for half my life. Both my daughters will graduate — one from college and go out into the world to embrace her independence, and one from high school to go to college.

What that means for me, though, is that for the first time in my entire life, I will be free to be just me!

Yet, as that time draws near, I find I’m rather anxious about it, instead of excited. What will I do with all my free time? With no one else’s schedule or needs to determine what I do and when I do it, or if I do it at all, who will I be? I will no longer need to define myself and my activities first-and-foremost as “single mother” with the expectation that people understand I’m not my own person, but rather engaged in important responsibilities that come first.

Now I will just be “Monica.”

Who is that? I admit, I’m already sure I don’t like her very much. She seems overly weighed down with odd worries about “the meaning of life.” She’s rather reclusive, preferring to spend her time with her piano or her dogs than with people. Not to mention she doesn’t write much, laugh often or sing. She talks a good game about adventure, but I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just hot air… I guess time will tell very soon.

In the meantime, I’ve been searching the New Lexicon Webster Dictionary of the English Language looking for a word to describe this upcoming transition/metamorphosis/change.

There are lots of words to describe change. But none that really gets to what I mean.

Metamorphosis comes close, I guess: A marked change of form undergone by an animal from adolescent to adult stage; a striking change in appearance, character, form, etc. But it seems only the right word for a caterpillar who becomes something different. I’m planning on becoming just more…me.

Perhaps a caterpillar has the answer…at least I know where to find Advice from a Caterpillar.

And so a thought creeps up on me until it has quite caught hold—If I’m going to be someone else by being more myself because the roles that governed my rules have shifted, then perhaps the precedents of yesteryear should stay back there so the present can be more gifted.

2018, therefore, shall be quite unique as the year In Which I Shrink and Grow, Fast and Slow and Probably have Many Conversations with Absolem and the Fawn in the Wood.


It rained here today on my little spot of Earth, the first time in more than a month.  I could feel it coming in my right hand where an old softball injury has become my barometer.  I could smell it on the horizon while I watched my dogs frolick in the early morning dew as the sun came up. I could see it as my curls hugged in the humidity and bounced about on it.  I could taste it on the air as I sang along to the song playing in my head while I headed to the library where I would work for the day.  

And it was at the library where I watched it fall while staring out at the park behind, my laptop open and waiting patiently as I drifted into a deep longing to hear the rain and feel it on my skin.

But there were many workplace “crises” to be dealt with and emails to be answered and complexities that needed simplifying.  So I turned away from the rain and returned to my laptop.

By the time I left the library, the rain had stopped.  My hand still hurt.  My curls still bounced.  And the smell and taste were like a smack in the face.  I missed it.  

It felt very much like a crisis.  Mostly because I’m a pluviophile.

Now, for as romantic and idealistic as I may appear here, my Gentle Penguin, I must reveal that in “real life” I’m quite pragmatic.  Would you be shocked to know that one of the two questions I’m most famous (or infamous) for asking is “what perspective are you using to determine that?”  And the reason I ask this very question is mostly because crises seem to be everywhere these days.

“Is this wrinkle in the project at the final hour a crisis?  Well, if you look at it from the perspective of this project plan and the expectations of the benefactor of this project—yes, this is definitely a crisis.  However, if you look at it from the perspective that we are not under fire from nuclear weapons (or any weapons, for that matter); nor are we facing any imminent natural disasters, home displacements, or major health issues, and this will not cause any of those things to happen, nor harm anyone or any living thing—then no, this is definitely not a crisis.”

So I take a few deep breaths and quiet my mind.  This is not a crisis.  

In fact, I’m fortunate to live in a time and place that experiences very, very few crises.  True crises are real enough; one only has to glance at the news to learn about a few of them.  Which is why tonight I find myself toying with etymology to see if I can find a different word to label the everyday annoyances, problems, broken expectations, frustrations and irritations that get called “crises.”

Crisis:  [from a collection of sources, including Merriam-Webster and the etymology dictionary] (noun) — a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger; a point at which your life changes rapidly and radically.  And from a thread in the German language—being stuck on the wrong side of the door.

I like this idea of being on the wrong side of the door.  What would be the analogy that describes the type of “crises” of the everyday non-life-changing-nor-threatening kind?  Well, personally, I think of a mosquito bite welt.  And back to the dictionary I go, which is how I stumbled upon another German word “weltanschauung.” 

Weltanschauung literally means “world view” (from the German welt=world + schauung=perspective).  But this only describes my question that led me to this quest.  I wish to change the weltanschauung regarding crises.

Back to the language guides…I follow one definition to a thesaurus and from there back to etymology and onward.  After nearly 20 minutes of searching, I find the word that works for me.

Bother: (verb) to bewilder, confuse; to give trouble to 

Yes.  I should have known that Winnie the Pooh had the answer all along.

Christopher Robin came down from the Forest to the bridge, feeling all sunny and careless, and just as if twice nineteen didn’t matter a bit, as it didn’t on such a happy afternoon, and he thought that if he stood on the bottom rail of the bridge, and leant over, and watched the river slipping slowly away beneath him, then he would suddenly know everything that there was to be know, and he would be able to tell Pooh, who wasn’t quite sure about some of it.” —A. A. Milne


Post Script: My heart goes out to all the people of the world who are dealing with true crises. I pray the river slipping slowly through our collective humanity reveals what you need to know to be sure that a lot of someones care, even if it doesn’t seem evident.

May I Return…

My Gentle Penguin,

It has been a long hiatus.  Perhaps too long.  Well, for me anyway.  I’ve been writing for work, for magazines, for my future…but something has been missing.  You.

Perhaps that sounds contrived, but really what I mean is I’ve missed you—an audience with thoughts and feelings, fears and desires, cares and concerns, frustrations and questions.  I too have those things, and so in that we are alike.

During my hiatus I’ve realized I’m more alike most people than not.  My neighbors all speak different languages, but we also all understand the daily communication of a smile and a wave, a handshake and a song, a meal and a drink.  My clients may care more about somethings than I do, but we all want our children to thrive, to provide for our families, to feel like we’re making a difference.  My children may have better fashion and dance sense than I do, but we each appreciate a snuggle during a thunderstorm and a good game of Apples to Apples.

My adventurous side is itchy, yet I find more and more adventures closer and closer to home.  My loneliness has not subsided, yet I feel less alone.  My fear is almost gone, yet I still seek the comfort and protection of my Doberman by my side.  And my voice…well, I seem to have lost my voice.

No, it’s not a tragedy, just a curiosity.

Life is changing.  And I find I am changing with it.  I just am not sure how I fit in the changes or, perhaps, who I’ve changed to.

And yet, I’m not upset or fearful or anxious or worried.  For the first time in perhaps my entire life, I have complete faith that I will find my way and find myself.

So when the muses whispered in my ear tonight to write, I didn’t hesitate.  Instinctively, I know my fingers will lead me back to myself.  And to you.  Where I belong.

Warm regards,