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,



Time Keeps Ticking…

Somewhere in 2016 I quit trying.  Seriously, I let go of plans and planning and let the river of time and life take me where it would.  You know what I lost in doing so?  A lot of worry.  Some stress.  Perhaps a friend or two.  And my connection to the internet.

No more facebook, or twitter.  No more waking up to read the news online.  No more pretenses.  Perhaps you noticed I was missing here on this blog?  Perhaps you didn’t.

Regardless, my life improved dramatically because I let go.

And in that spirit I am sparing you my list of accomplishments and embarrassments this year.  I don’t want you comparing yourself to me.  Possibly, I don’t want you to know what my accomplishments and embarrassments are…unless you’d like to hear about them over a cup of tea, that is.

So why am I here now then?  Mostly because I still find value in naming my years, and to have a record of it is important to me when I’ve lost my way part way through the year.

2016, the Year of Adaptability, has already turned into 2017, the Year of Lightening.

Lighten: to brighten or make clear; to relieve of a burden or weariness.

What do I plan to do this year?

  1. Complete my embrace of simplicity by further reducing the clutter in my home, my car, my schedule, my life.
  2. Complete the transition to a Blue Zones/Taoist lifestyle.
  3. Experience the midnight sun.
  4. Begin to pivot my career toward the empty-nest phase that is fast approaching.
  5. Immerse myself in the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching.

My Gentle Penguin, I wish you health, wealth and joy in 2017.  And I wish you safe journey on your path to your enlightenment.

One Enchanted Evening

I never really had a desire to go to Vienna.  But there I was, as midnight neared sitting in the middle of a thunderstorm at an alfresco candle-lit cafe near the Stephansplatz sipping champagne and sampling apfelstrudel.

Somehow, it seemed destined to be.

To my right, a couple huddled under their own umbrella despite the cover provided by the cafe’s white square umbrellas overhead.  The couple’s umbrella, with alternating gold and red panels, glowed over the candlelight and filled the cafe with romance.

To my left, two young men drank golden beers while laughing easily about the various characters they had encountered that day.  They drove trolleys in town, one of the men told me, and next week they would vacation in Sarajevo where I had just been.  In Sarajevo, I told them, they have the most worn down, mismatched trolleys, but they move in a nostalgic jauntiness that makes their trek seem so joyful and, more than once, lured me aboard to see what secrets they might share there.

I loved Sarajevo.

Sarajevo had captured my heart in a way no city ever has in my travels.  But that seemed miles away here in Vienna where I found myself lulled into a sense of luxury surrounded by replicas of Klimt and Mozart, white marble and high-heeled fashion staring out from every other window.

Not to mention the bling!  Between the flickering lights of the candles, the lightning and refractions off puddles, sparkles lived everywhere.  And even in the midst of the storm, the gold leaf monuments around us glistened and glowed.



Everyone in the cafe sat back and settled in to let the storm pass.  I sipped more champagne.

The waiters bustled about like white birds picking and pecking here and there, then flitting elsewhere to pick and peck again.  But they called me “darling” and told me I was beautiful with their thick accents.  There was nothing to do then but laugh and relish in being looked after by handsome service professionals.

I practiced my German, and learned a little Hungarian, toasted in Croatian, and listened to an opera playing in Italian.



My champagne glass was refilled. The trolley men ordered another round.  The couple peeked over their umbrella to order an ice cream sundae.  And the candles continued to glow with a warmth that seemed to reach right to the center of my soul.