Lost and Found

If I visit the small lost and found department of my life, I wonder what I would find there. The things that I don’t even recall losing. That high-collared Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown, I wish I had it now for this spring dressed as winter in the North Country.
During this pause, this enforced sanctuary, I’m aware of the recent big and small trips I’ve missed. To commemorate my dad’s life in Sarasota; to volunteer at McCurdy School in Espanola. I grieve.
Take time to grieve so many losses. And the loss of certainty.
Of course, we’ve found things too. Vast swaths of uninterrupted time with darlings. Sometimes bickering. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes walking the dog. Sometimes (okay, a lot of time) watching Netflix.
I’ve found that frisson of joy when I hear a friend’s voice on the phone. Definitely, I feel loved.
There is – yes – a sense of finding and losing. And we’ve experienced loss.
One recent twist, I’ve found a forgiving heart for any and all who live with fear, the shadow self.

And a desire to turn to visual art — as ‘not the thing I do, but the place I visit.’ Imperfectly, yes. For we are only human.

My dad would say, ‘what someone thinks of you is none of your business.’

This prompt was inspired by my creative muse Julie Jordan Scott.

The Sharing Economy

I’m a believer in the sharing economy. I think the world is changing. We are no longer worshipping at the altar of capitalism. We are divesting. I love minimalism.

The point of life is not to accrue, but to share. The more you share, the richer you are. Here are my examples: On my blog, I’m oversharing. I’m into carsharing and bikesharing.

And I’ve jumped into housesharing. My first experience was a few weeks ago with AirBnB – it was  wonderful.


Chris, Hayden and I were in Vermont. We were visiting the girls at camp. Charlotte was in the show, Twelve Angry Women, an all-female production of the classic Twelve Angry Men. The show got out late so rather than driving back across Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks, I drove us fifteen minutes to a neighboring town of Essex Junction. We stayed with Mike and Iris whom I’d booked with on AirBnB.

Mark and Iris, 50 ish, greeted us at the door at about 11 pm. They showed us in to a screened-in porch and laid out a cheese and fruit platter. They were friendly and very good listeners. I’m a huge fan of deep listening. But they were good talkers too. We chatted about politics, parenting, and the arts. We could’ve talked well into the night. But finally, we went to bed.

Hayden had his own room and so did we. We had a private bath. I think the two bedrooms were formerly their grown sons’ rooms. Breakfast was lavish, delicious, and healthy. Mark and Iris have opened their house to 70 some travelers over the past four or five years. They said everyone’s been interesting and nice. Their experience with housesharing has been great.

A week or two ago, Hayden and I trekked across several states, staying with family, friends, at hotels, at a guest house in Chautauqua. Outside of Cleveland, we were going to stay at another AirBnB – a former Brooklynite, actress and writer – Hello, new friend! But that didn’t work our –some glitch in the listing and they didn’t have two rooms. No worries, I received a full rebate. And we had an even better time with old friends.

I asked Hayden, “Among all the places, the half dozen, where we’ve stayed in the past few weeks, where was your favorite?”

“With Mark and Iris,” he said.

Chris and I are going back to stay with Mark and Iris on Sunday. The girls are in another show — this time, my darling has the lead in Drowsy Chaperone! (brag!)

Because of our housesharing experience, I’d love to open our big, gorgeous, family-friendly apartment to weary travelers, but I think it’s still a sticky wicket in the city. (And I do not want to jeopardize our lease.)

In any case, I’ll find new ways to share.  That’s the trend and the currency that counts.


Charlotte (in black and white) argues a point. Twelve Angry Women. Jury room dispute.

Fenton Memorial Deaconess Home in Chautauqua Institution, one of our stops on the road trip.

Our beach on Lake Champlain. Sharing room on the raft.

I blog about happiness and honesty

When I started blogging, I had four blogs:

  • My Beautiful New York, my NYC people and places
  • Running Aground, my goal to run a 5K
  • the Connected Life, getting my kids off technology
  • A Church A Day, on trying to find meaning by visiting a church a day.

Now they’re all rolled into one (thanks to web developer extraordinaire Felicity Fields). This one, To Pursue Happiness, is about those four goals and the primary goal: to stay happy.

I pursue happiness though I may have absolutely no reason or right.

I feel a loss that my kids are growing up at lightning speed. I feel a sadness that my husband is increasingly challenged by his Parkinson’s Disease.

While these are challenges, they don’t define me. I don’t have to enter or stay in a place of permanent sadness or loss. Life is about what you do with the hand of cards you’re dealt. And I’m dealing.

I’m thriving. I’m staying honest. I’m finding joy. Two great joys in the last couple of weeks were:

Curtain call at the Listen To Your Mother show
Curtain call at the Listen To Your Mother show

  • As a cast member of Listen To Your Mother at Symphony Space
  • As the leader of Artists’ and Writers’ weekend in the Adirondacks.

I was anxious about how these would turn out. Would I deliver the goods? Could I? I did!

In these forums, I could be honest, funny, and surprising.

I could write about and share a lot of feelings, including but not limited to sadness or happiness. A range of emotions, even ambivalence and anger, is acceptable and encouraged in my writing.

So while I still do feel, at times, lost, I can find myself through writing and in the company of other women writers. That’s how I pursue happiness.


from LTYM
Before the Listen To Your Mother show, the cast warmed up. And that’s Shari Simpson-Cabelin, assistant director, doubled-over, laughing. (I’m in the white pants.) (Photos by Jennifer Lee)

At last week’s Listen To Your Mother show, I was reminded that I am not alone. There are a lot of women telling their truths, deep stories about hardship and love.

Here are some of the Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) New York City posts from my fellow cast members.

Thanks to Shari’s blog for compiling these so I could repurpose! And thanks to producer Holly Rosen Fink, a steady presence, who made this show such a hit.

I got to work with the fab director Amy Wilson, who blogged on motherhood conspiring against her, even as she put on a show.

Here are more stories from the Mother’s Day show.

  • Co-producer Varda Steinhardt‘s piece was about tracking the orbit of her sons’ stars. 
  • Marinka received the dreaded call from the nurse’s office, It’s Always Bad News.
  • Kim Forde, 8 and 1/2 month pregnant, read Welcome To The Circus, a guide to the family circus.
  • Elizabeth (Kizz) Robinson wrote About Me, on how to be child-free and loving.

I haven’t posted my story yet. I want it to be a surprise.

Over the summer, you can see the show at the Listen To Your Mother YouTube channel. There will be videos from all 24 shows across the country, some still going on. Also, upcoming are professional photos of our NYC show by the awesome Jennifer Lee.


At my Adirondack retreat and at my LTYM show, I heard a lot of stories that make me go, “aww” – and I feel in the company of AWW — Awesome Women Writers.

Through relentless honesty, these women writers (and one guy) make it okay to be honest and to tell my story too.


Adirondack Writing Weekend Recap

Kathryn Cramer, one of the workshop leaders called our writing weekend, “an unqualified success.” And George Davis, another leader, made this awesome video:

As you can see, we wrote, we ate, we talked, we wrote, we did yoga, we walked, we ate, and we wrote a little more.

Writers working at the Adirondack weekend retreat.

On the last day of the weekend we started writing with a prompt that began, “I weathered the storm when I…”

I weathered the storm of hosting my first writing weekend. Turns out the hardest part was not the weekend, but getting home again.

It took me a couple of days to get back to New York City from the Adirondacks due to the storm known as Sandy. My Amtrak was cancelled and I relied on friends to give me lifts along the way. (I began writing this post yesterday from a comfy Holiday Inn, half-way home in Albany. I admit I enjoyed my enforced solitude, a menage a moi!)

During the storm, my fam and I stayed in constant digital contact. On the Upper West Side, we never lost electricity. But there is no replacement for real life hugging. And real life writing. And real life family.

Joanna Parson, Kathryn Cramer, Mary Beth Coudal, workshop leaders for the writing weekend

I’m totally grateful to the family and friends (and small businesses) who helped make the writing weekend happen. While holed up in the Albany hotel yesterday, I wrote a letter to the editor thanking everyone (I hope!) who had a part.

To the editor:

In this political season, there has been a lot of talk about which political party helps small businesses the most.

After my first foray as a small business owner hosting a writing weekend in Westport, New York, I believe that no party helps a small business as much as the party of other small businesses.

Thanks to the Westport, Wadhams and Essex small business communities who fed the bodies, minds and spirits of a dozen

George Davis led a workshop on storytelling in the digital age.

writers last weekend.

Special thanks for catering to Carolyn Ware at Ernie’s for lunches of sandwiches and chili; to David and Cynthia Johnston at DaCy Meadow Farm for a quiche brunch; to Janice Hainer at Everybody’s for the groceries; to Jim and Jayne Vance at Westport Hotel and Tavern for our cozy first night’s dinner together; and to Dogwood Bakery for the artisan pizza. We’re lucky to have such tasty options. The writers loved the local foods!

Beyond the nourishment of feeding our bodies, the weekend fed our spirits. We paused to breathe, thanks to Michelle Bartz Maron at Lake Champlain Yoga Arts @ Live Well. A morning stretch allowed us to stretch as writers throughout the day.

Kathryn Cramer explains it.

The writing workshop teachers, storytellers George Davis of Essex, Kathryn Cramer of Dragon Press Bookstore in Westport, Ted Cornell at Crooked Brook Studio in Westport and Joanna Parson of Letter Perfect in New York led the writers to hone the art and craft of writing stories from real life.

Thanks to artistic director Shami McCormick of the Depot Theatre and to teacher Shoshi Satloff for their support and to the entire Jones family for the setting of Skenewood, a magical place for a writing weekend.

To reach an audience of writers for the weekend, I must thank Nathalie Thill of the Adirondack Center for Writing in Saranac Lake and Valley News columnist Colin Wells for spreading the word.

This memoir writing weekend was my maiden voyage as a small business owner. I felt lucky to set sail and discover land in Westport, New York. Because of the work of small businesses, artists and teachers in Westport’s midst, the writers at Skenewood had a meaningful and fun time at our first Adirondack Memoir Retreat.


Mary Beth Coudal

Writers talking about writing at the Adirondack Memoir Retreat. (l. to r., Joanna Parson, Alex Speredelozzi, George Davis, Beckie O’Neill)

My biggest thanks go to the noble writers who attended the weekend, willing to depart on a voyage in uncharted territories.

The art of memoir requires risk, as does the art of making a writing weekend happen.

My business coach, the awesome Mandy Gresh, was the first to call this writing weekend “my maiden voyage.” I like that.

We hiked on an Adirondack road.

Turns out the journey through the woods and into the writing weekend was not as fearful a journey as it could’ve been. (Though the weather in New York City was more treacherous.)

We’re tentatively planning another Adirondack weekend retreat for Artists and Writers: Talking about Setting from May 16 to 19, 2013.

Stay tuned to our website at Boot Camp For Writers for updates on writing workshops and weekends in Portland, OR and New York, NY.  Which reminds me of two last thank you’s.

The dock at Skenewood.

Thanks to our Boot Camp web developer Felicity Fields. And special thanks to my Boot Camp biz partner, Kelly Wallace.

When I came up with the idea for the weekend, Kelly said, “Oh, yes! Good idea!” It was!

Mountain Meadows

imageEvery day I wake before the kids. I put on coffee.

In New York City I write at the kitchen table with a view of a wide airshaft. Usually there are construction materials piled in a corner back there. On Tuesday and Saturday mornings, garbage pick-up days, I hear the porters wheeling bins of garbage. Sometimes I notice a light in the windows in the backside of another apartment building. I wonder if someone’s just had a baby, is going to the gym, has an early breakfast meeting, or is getting dressed. I wonder what they’re doing up so early.

But then I go back to my writing, submerge myself in my own world.

This was my view from the Mountain Meadows Bed and Breakfast in Keene Valley, the Adirondacks.

When I am up in the Adirondacks, I still wake before the family. I make some coffee. Or like the other morning, I woke up at Mountain Meadows, a sweet little Bed and Breakfast in Keene Valley. I had a lovely writing spot.

My mind wandered. I wondered about nature, not about people. I thought Wow, is that a hawk?  Maybe it’s just a crow. Sunlight moves across the mountain in a parallelogram.

I don’t write. I just wonder. Sometimes beauty inhibits my creative flow, but feeds my soul.

Death by Perfection

It is not inadequacy that is my enemy, it is my belief that I should be above inadequacy.

Perfectionism is the enemy of art.

On a few summer afternoons, my father and I painted on the porch of the Big House. We’d just come back from painting classes in Burlington, Vermont and we could experiment with new techniques.

The feeling of a paintbrush in my fingers thrills me, but my paintings? Not so much.

I fail to make art or share it, because I know it’s not perfect. Not yet. I do not want to expose myself to other’s criticism or hear their good and helpful ideas.

I think I must throw it all out there, acknowledge my work is a work in progress. As is my life.

I remember this slogan from a 12-step meeting, “high perfectionism, low productivity; low perfectionism, high productivity.” If my work is good enough and done, that is far better than perfect and never done.

Watch the Eagle Soar

The Hudson River narrows up north.

Out the window of the Amtrak train, I just saw an eagle soar above the Hudson.

But I do not see the soaring eagle as a symbol of our country. We are too divided, rancorous, and the eagle is too beautiful, wild.

The bird soars. It is so elegant and at-peace. Yes, I hate when people anthropomorphize animals (especially dogs!) but I can’t help this metaphor. It just came to me and I have to go with it.

This current US political and economic scene is way too vitriolic and fluctuating to be found in nature. While the stock markets jump, the politicians pounce, the eagle soars.

In soaring there are lessons or rules for living. Worried about your portfolio? Retirement? Millionaires getting a free pass? Get out! Get into nature!

  1. Watch a squirrel or a fluffy cloud.
  2. Sit on a park bench.
  3. Drink some cold water.
  4. Smile at a stranger.
  5. Pet a neighbor’s dog (but don’t anthropomorphize it.)
  6. Breathe fresh air.

Find yourself in nature and you will get a breather, a respite, a grounding. It’s why prophets trekked to the desert, corporate execs went on Outward Bound, (although money for corporate bonding has probably dried up.)

Looking for epiphanies? Looking for meaning? Try looking for real life eagles.

the view from my Amtrak seat

Or go somewhere on a train. I just finished writing this and looked out the Amtrak window again.

I saw a hawk up high and a heron down low.

God, nature is amazing! New York State still has a lot of wildlife, and I’m not talkin’ bout City Hall or Wall Street.

The Red Hats

I spotted these ladies at the Marina in Westport, New York the other day. When I’m a bit older, I want to wear a red hat and a purple shirt. I want to share a laugh and a cocktail with other silly ladies. I want to sit with a gaggle of women.

They looked like they were having a heckova lot more fun than the married couples who’ve eaten together so many times they’ve run out of things to say.

A couple of years ago, I arrived in Miami before the rest of my book club. I sat in a café and watched the South Beach vacationers. Near me sat a group of women. When they talked, they looked in each other’s eyes. They touched each other’s shoulders like comrades. They talked over each other. The married couple stared out at the ocean; they complained about the waiter’s service.

When the group of young women got up, they walked down the street and bumped into each other. They bent over in laughter. The married couple walked in single file, not talking. The man walked in front; and the woman, behind.

In South Beach I noticed all of the married couples looked miserable. The groups of women looked ecstatic.

And that’s why I’d rather wear a red hat on a hot day as I sit near the water.


Trains Are Better Than Planes

This board is from the Museum of Modern Art exhibit on typography.

Here’s why I prefer train travel to plane travel with kids.

No security line.

The conductors’ uniforms. The Amtrak conductors just look official and yet like normal people.

I like that you don’t have to wear a seat belt.

I like that you can see the terrain you’re traversing.

I like that there are smart older folks, volunteers from the National Parks Department, giving juicy lectures in the food car about the history of the Hudson River and the region. (Can you imagine anyone getting in the food galley of a plane for a lecture on the region’s history by plane?) Here are some facts from today’s lecture:

  • Did you know that National Geographic called this Northeast Corridor rail line from NYC to Montreal one of the Top 10 Most Scenic Train Rides in the country?
  • Did you know Bald Eagles are no longer endangered?
  • Did you know that this rail line was created in 1851?
  • Did you know Franklin Roosevelt had a secret ramp in Grand Central Station to board the train and presidents still use that secret passage today?

I like that you can move around the car (not the cabin).

I like that there’s never a time when you are forbidden from using electronic devices.

I like that you can plug your computer in.

Leg room.

I like that just before you reach your station, you’re encouraged to stand up and move towards the exit. (Unlike on a plane, where you’re told to stay seated until the plane has come to a complete halt.)

I am thinking about this because this week I flew to and from Chicago with the kids. I would not want to take a train with them to Chicago.

I’m writing this as we travel on Amtrak to the Adirondacks for summer camp. Six hours on the train is perfect.

What do you prefer? Train? Car? Plane?

Running Without a Soundtrack

The silence running in the country was deafening.

I could not find my head phones. I usually run with ear buds listening to Pandora and the Omar Shariff sound-alike who calculates the distance of my run on my Cardio Trainer app.

I like running to Britney Spears songs like Piece of Me or Pat Benatar’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot. I think, “Yay, world, hit me. Try getting a piece of this.”

I know, I know. I am delirious after just five minutes of running, wondering, Is it time to take that well-deserved water break or walk yet? The music keeps me going.

So running without Britney, Pat or Omar, I felt a twinge of loneliness. The steadiest sound was the scraping labor of my own breath. Then the silence came alive.

running on a country road

There was a cawing of a crow, an old Buick rounding a corner, the wind swishing the hay in the field, and in the mix, my breath.

My breath was just a speck on the country road. Running helps you figure out where you fit in, a small piece in a big picture.

For this epiphany I rewarded myself by slowing down and walking.