Memoir and Belfast


Today’s my fifth day in Ireland.

I have been to Ireland, at least, three times before – ’74, ’83, and ’96. When I was 12, in ’74, I was with my mother, we were on a tour, paid for, I believe, by a small inheritance from my grandmother Catherine. And we were with my aunt Terry and a couple of hilarious great aunts. I remember riding on a tour bus, having a lot of laughs.

Then in ’83, I’d been studying in an NYU London summer program, gobbling up delicious chunks of Cadbury, Shakespeare, theatre, French Silk, and art history. In London, I’d dyed my hair with streaks of blue. My roommate was punk and she inspired me. My hair was basically platinum blonde, so the color of my blue streaks was green. Pretty. So I thought. Sure, I couldn’t get a comb through it. The day after I got home to Park Ridge, Illinois, my mother made me visit Arlene to get my hair cut and colored. From that day forward, my hair has been, semi-normal. Well, at my first wedding, I wore it asymmetrical, you know, one side long and the other short. But that was just cool.

During that NYU London summer, I’d stayed with Colin, my grammar school penpal in Belfast. We were frisked just going into the movie theatre. And to get into the city center, soldiers eyed you, patrolled our bus.

When I asked Colin, ‘Where are all those soldiers, riding in the back of the open trucks, going?’ He said, ‘Nowhere. They just ride around.’ With machine guns, they rode around then. I haven’t seen soldiers like that on this visit.

We had a lot of laughs in pubs and talked politics then. How we hated Ronald Reagan. I went to a party, this guy who hosted the party, this swank Iranian, made a recurring joke, more and more frequently as the drinking went on, about kidnapping me –because that was the thing then, the kidnapping of Americans by Iranians. And I didn’t think it was funny, but I went along, laughing. Because I felt it was impolite. I didn’t want to be a buzzkill in another country and say to the host of the party, “That’s not funny.”

That summer, when my classes ended, my boyfriend at the time, Jim, who would become my first husband, met me in London. We came back over to Ireland, rented a car and toured around. Mostly, we had a great time, going to pubs and driving the countryside. Snapping pictures. (As always, having a lot of laughs. My kids sometimes tell me now, ‘You have a laughing problem.’)

I remember thinking, Ya, it’s easy to take great pictures here. I took my pics with film, of course. And Jim, moody bastard, encouraged me, believing me to be a brilliant writer and photographer. So whatever other failings he/we had, I loved and was grateful for the way he encouraged me to write and take pics.

Then, 19 years ago, my godfather Uncle Kevin was taking his six siblings and their spouses and his two children on a round-the-country Ireland trip to celebrate his 50th birthday. And Chris, my new husband at the time, and I horned in on the journey (and I was self-conscious about that during the trip, believing I had imposed ourselves in their journey. I was/am sensitive.)

I was pregnant with Hayden. My aunt Judy told me, ‘This is probably the happiest time of your life – the pregnancy of your first child.’

And I remember being happy, so happy when I was pregnant, as if my purpose in life had been revealed, I was going to be a mother. And a damn good one. I had been a great babysitter. How different could it be?

I made a little video of Ireland at the time of that trip. I was still doing my cable show when I was pregnant.


I have had a lot of dreams in Laura’s sweet second bedroom in Dublin, near the docks.

My writing teacher Wendy Rohm said that her students report a lot of vivid dreams during the Dublin workshop. And, apparently, they also see ghosts at the Arts Club where her workshops were held. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I don’t not believe in them. I’m like Scooby Doo, a scaredy-cat until they’re revealed to be the local real estate agent, trying to drive away tourists or something. Then, I’m all bravado.

When I visited the Yeats exhibit at the National Library of Ireland, I saw how Yeats believed in automatic writing as a way to enter into your unconscious — to use writing to find a deeper level of existence.

The Irish are mystics.

The Dublin writing retreat with Wendy helped me organize my thoughts on plot points, blurbs, the structure of my narrative. Those are not my strengths. (Probably not Yeats’s either.)

I like to meander in my writing, in my life. Travel is good for meanderers.

I’m writing this from the train from Dublin to Belfast for my work with United Methodist Women. I love the blessing (and occasional curse) of working for this group — and Global Ministries too. I love that these agencies love and support peace and peacemakers..

In the Shadow a Gunman by Sean O’Casey which I saw Friday night at the Abbey, the poet is not the brave soul. He is grand, dramatic, beautiful, full of bluster. It is the girl Minnie Powell who is brave. She is a perfect mix of idealist and pragmatist. I love her. I love that it was Yeats’s muse, Maud Gonne, who inspired him.

Women are mystics.

Women are more revered in Irish culture than American culture. Maybe it’s the inheritance of the Catholic cult of Mary. What’s not to love about Mary?

A mother of three young children is nearby on the train. She is reading a paperback with a pretty cover, How To Cope, a welcoming approach to life’s challenges. Something like that. The Welcoming Approach. I must try that.

Another woman, across from, looks exactly like my mother’s cousin with Maureen. But with a different color hair, blonde instead of black (not green or blue). It’s funny to be in a place where people look familiar, like family, yet are unrelated. I am half-Irish.

And I’m from an island, too.


I remember when we were in Nantucket. Just me and the kids on spring break. A Jamaican guy in a sandwich shop – or was it a teacher at the Whaling museum? – one of the two said, “People who come from islands do well on islands, like people from the Caribbean or Ireland do well on Nantucket.” And I said, “Ah, like me from the island of Manhattan?” I joked.

There was a beautiful assignment my children wrote at PS 87- write a poem, beginning with, “I am from…” I am from here.



The displays at the Titanic Museum were so interactive and creative. Here’s me in front of one video.

The Titanic Museum was ah-mazing. Highly recommend.


Under your feet is a replica of the remains of the Titanic.


And, of course, the beauty of the Irish countryside, just spotted outside of my train window.



I was reminded that women are powerful communicators. We love to tell stories about ourselves. We love to chat. 

Two years ago when I went


to Blogher in Chicago, I attended every free yoga class in Millinneum Park and every booth in the exhibit hall. I met Pioneer Woman and Sheryl Sandberg. This time,  I was happy seeing Gwyneth Paltrow from a distance. I left early this afternoon to hang out with my husband and son.

I don’t have to make high-powered friends. I have enough.

The last sesssion I went to addressed the social media phenomenon, FOMO, fear of missing out. Led by a couple of psychologists and a world traveler, they reminded us to put down our phones, realize we have choices, talk openly when we feel left out, and yes, have gratitude for all our gifts and friends. Thanks @drbenmichaelis and @drjenonline and @elisadoucette and thanks #blogher

I am writing this on my phone at the airport – heading off to be with a book club buddy in Dublin. I will also attending a writing workshop and visit some peacemakers in Belfast.

I am excited, nervous, curious. Here.


With Varda and Holly at blogher, friends made from Listen to Your Mother.

Memoir in Progress – Family Dinner

That's me at the top, saying cheese. I am the second oldest and the oldest girl.

That’s me, up top, saying cheese. I am the second oldest and the oldest girl.

My family is loud – my brothers, my sister, my cousins, aunts, uncles. I love the chatter, the pushing and pulling of words, the running of mouths at mealtimes. Joking, jockeying for attention. I could never get enough attention.

No matter how much I wanted to talk about my student council victory, it only received a passing nod and a “pass the potatoes.”

My mother was a good cook in the corned beef and cabbage, meatloaf and carrots category. Pork tenderloin roll-ups were my favorite: Wrap a piece of pork tenderloin and pepper in bacon. Bake.

We shared one phone, the seven of us. We’d take the phone off the hook at dinner time by dialing our one phone number, 825-3428, listen for the busy signal, then throw the phone in the silverware drawer.

Dinner was sacred, a functional time in a dysfunctional family. Studies show that a family that eats dinner together is less likely to harbor burgeoning criminals or drop outs. Family dinner was just what my family did and maybe it is what saved us. I still try to do family dinner.


*I took the title Memoir in Progress from Kelly Wallace. (Thanks, Kelly).

This essay is the beginning of a series of essays I wrote at Dan Wakefield’s Writing the Spiritual Autobiography class at Pendle Hill over the last few days.

Pendle Hill is a Quaker retreat center outside Philadelphia — super nice! I love the Quakers — their fierce pacifism, their gentle spirits and their minimalism.

The retreat was sorely needed. I don’t want to go into all the reasons. But one reason is the anticipatory grief of my son going off to college. I am going to miss that little (6’4″) dude at family dinner.

5th of July




Give yourself away. I’ve been thinking about the freedom of having less and doing more. When Cate came back from kayaking in Alaska, she said she had very little — like two changes of lightweight clothes, but that she was given so much — whales breaching, bears lumbering, sea otters playing. If you have a lot, give it away, and you will have more. But it will be given to you in experiences, not things.

Any way, this is my hope for my summer decluttering journey. I want to give it all away. You can’t take  your stuff and your bank account to the grave. You can’t take anything. So make memories.

Yesterday, I intentionally dialed down my social media use. And I’ve planned a few days in the next month when I can be off the grid.

New York City is a perfect place to immerse yourself in experiences. My nephew’s visiting from Chicago-land. We started at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and ended up across the Brooklyn Bridge. We passed through Chelsea, the Village, SoHo, Chinatown, the Courts.

We hopped on bikes and rode. We used Citibikes. I have a yearly pass, but I purchased a daily pass for the boys. You get the bikes for increments of 30 minutes in the one-day pass (45 minutes in the yearly pass.) When you stop, you can slam them into the stand and walk away.

Citibike is coming north to the Upper West Side, I hope, this summer.

We ended our 4th of July on the West side, too wiped out to head East and South for the fireworks. But we saw fireworks at the end of the path and across the Hudson in New Jersey. It was quiet.

And getting quiet, turning off the chatter, was pretty nice.


Fireworks south of us, as we took a walk along the Hudson River.


I love this store, Muji, and the boys loved their bean bag chairs after all of our bike riding and shopping.


We biked across the Brooklyn Bridge.


We shopped at uniqlo.


We got caught in the rain, in the Village, during a small street fair.


St. Patrick’s Church is going through some repairs. The boys imagined climbing on the scaffolding.


Rockefeller Center


St. Patrick’s Cathedral

This is what we did yesterday.

Home for Former Sex Workers



These women really moved me. It is not easy to tell your true story.

Originally posted on United Methodist Women:

image Harriett Olson, United Methodist Women, receives a thank you from Soon Duk Woo for the support of Sunlit Sisters’ Center in Korea, a place of advocacy and hope for marginalized women who worked on American military bases.

image Ms. Sook Ja Kim, center, shares a smile after a tear-filled meeting, recounting the struggles of former prostitutes in Korea.

When they were young, they were lauded as heroes, having sacrificed themselves and contributed to the economy after the war. The government told them that the money they brought in would rebuild a ravaged Korea. Fifty years later, these heroes are literally being pushed from their homes, unable to pay the heating bills. “Now that we’re old, we’re discarded,” said Ms. Sook Ja Kim.

Ms. Kim is a former sexual worker, exploited by her country and the US servicemen who lived on the military base. While there is a stigma in sharing her story…

View original 424 more words

Girl Cave


My girls and me at camp yesterday. Girl (and woman) power!

I propose modifying this popular concept of a Man Cave. Let’s create a Girl Cave.

I thought of this when I dropped my girls off at their all-girl camp yesterday. A Girl Cave is a place to regroup and recharge and be oneself, kind of like camp.

Batman had a cave; Batgirl needs one too. And Catwoman.

We all need an escape from the maddening crowd. Especially in New York City, our lives are hustle-bustle busy. We try to make time for a nightly family dinner, but lately, even that’s been a challenge.

For some people, their homes can be a cozy, warm place, a cave or a nest from which to fly or return. But honestly, my home is a worksite for me. There is always decluttering and tidying that must be done. (Chris is no longer good at picking up and if I don’t try to keep a semblance of order, the whole house of cards may tumble. Or so I think. (Likely, they do fine without me. But I like to think I am irreplaceable.))

I need a Woman Cave. Why do men get the Man Caves? Maybe my upcoming writing retreats will provide a cave-like fortress of nurture, relaxation, fun, rejuvenation for me.


This is a Girl Cave. (Girls’ camp!)

After all, it is through my writing that I recharge, that I escape into my own Woman Cave.

Purposeful Living


As a life coach and co-leader in the online course, Write the Love Letter to your Teenage Daughter, I was sharing my values. I really want to pass on resilience, creativity, and kindness to my children.

Yesterday, I mentioned to CoCo, “See how lonely it is when one of you kids is gone?” (Her twin sister Cate is kayakying in Alaska.)

CoCo agreed.

“You kids are my purpose,” I said.

“How can kids be your purpose? What about people who don’t have kids? They have purpose too.”

“Right. Each person has her own purpose. And purpose — not things or achievements — provides meaning and joy.” I said. “But every one of us has to find her own journey and purpose.”

Am I too obsessed with my own kids? Am I a helicopter parent? It’s no secret I swamp my media channels with pictures of my kids. (And they are not always too happy about it.) I facebrag. I post their pics on Twitter and Instagram.

I can’t help it. I love them. My husband is challenging; my children are challenging — but they give back. Maybe this crazy family is the reason for all of my struggles.

But as my chicks fly the nest — in the coming months, the girls head off to nearly two months of summer camp and my son to college — What is my purpose then?

After my three kids, my purpose has always been my work. I have always been a writer and now am pursuing teaching. Have been having so much fun and meaning teaching at prep schools. I love the kids and the teachers.

Am also loving this recent editing work — connecting with writers, implementing a social justice vision for response magazine.

My main thing is — as my purpose and my focus may shift — I choose to remain intellectually curious, to be kind, to love without condition, and to come at life with a slant of creativity. (Tell all the truth, but tell it slant. – Love Emily Dickinson)

To persist. To pursue.

I guess all of this is why I chose the title, To Pursue Happiness for this blog. It is in the pursuit and not the attainment that we find our purpose. We find our way. (For more on why we choose our titles – check out All about me.)

BTW, happy Father’s Day, to all the dads and men who have mentored, loved, and parented. My husband is an amazing father — full of love.

And for you fathers, I bring you flowers from the Lyndhurst rose garden in Tarrytown, New York. For more flowers, visit my Pinterest Flower Board.