When You Lose Your Father

My friend’s father died on Tuesday morning, just past midnight. His siblings had been sitting vigil for a week, trading places to not leave him alone. And then, he was gone.

It’s the oddest feeling when someone you love dies. When life carries on. It seems like the world should stop, if only for a moment. Everything is upside down and yet somehow the earth keeps spinning. People carry on while you feel temporarily frozen, suspended in time.

And then people call. The messages start coming. Work needs you. Nothing stops.

Losing our father is a particularly unsettling event.

When our mother dies, a sense of home is lost forever. When our father dies, a sense of world order shifts.

Our fathers are our connection to the world. They are the chieftains, the bridge to something greater. They lead the way, inspiring us to leave home. Sometimes even pushing us out of the nest, demanding that we fly, calling for our independence, believing we can be more than a child. Our fathers require us to become adults.

It’s a tough role to play. And even harder for us to accept. Especially when we are young. As children, we want to assert our independence while still relying fully on our parents to meet our every need. Mothers are more prone to play along with this while Fathers eventually say, enough.

A good Father teaches us the skills necessary to survive. He speaks the language of the world and reveals the secrets of how to navigate in it. Mother, on the other hand, speaks the language of home.

When our Mothers age and become frail, our hearts soften. It seems somehow right that we would take care of her, just as she took care of us. When our Fathers age, we are often bewildered. To see these larger-than-life beings shrink, stumble, and shake is unsettling. Our Fathers were gods. And then, suddenly, they aren’t. They no longer leave the house, they wander from room to room, mumbling under their breath, and watch too much TV. Their world has shrunk and with it, so has ours. We discover our fathers as people we never knew. There is perhaps a newfound passion for something that once escaped them, a passion that was once reserved for work. If we’re lucky, there is humor and a new lightness, a falling away of formality and seriousness. If we’re not lucky, they become rigid, mean, and more distant.

A Mother’s death can leave us inconsolable, while Father’s death is sobering. Now, who is in charge? Who will lead the way? We are, we will, and we must. It’s all up to us now. We are the new chieftains. We carry on.

My father’s motorcycle jacket, even though he never rode a motorcycle.

Maybe this sounds nothing like your experience. Maybe your relationship with Father was painful and there are wounds that never healed.

One week after my father died, I attended a New Year’s Eve party and a woman I did not know told me she had heard the news. “Were you close to your dad?” she asked. Yes. Very. “You’re lucky,” she said. “My dad was an asshole who abused me.” I flinched. And then I walked away.

I never considered my father a god or infallible. From a very young age, I was indelibly aware of how human he was. And still, I saw him through the eyes of a child, a child who loved him dearly. I stood by him, elevated him, and judged him as only a child can do. It was many, many, years before I could look at him honestly, through mature eyes, as one who has lived, loved, struggled, and hurt. The more I accepted his flaws, the more I recognized his goodness and his yearning. The man he was. Not perfect, but still my dad. My father who loved me. I am, undeniably, who I am today, in large part, because of him. Losing him, when I was just shy of twenty-five, was unbelievably hard. The grief consumed me for years and it was decades before it stopped visiting me regularly on holidays like an unwelcomed friend.

I wonder what it would have been like to see him grow old. His world shrunk so much in his last months, when he was only fifty-six. Would it have been better or worse if he had lived until age eighty? And who would I be if he had? His dying was the catalyst for so much of what I’ve done. In his death, as in his life, he was my teacher. He was my bridge to a world beyond home. Having walked that bridge, I discovered more than I could have possibly imagined. My only sadness now is wishing he could have been around to see it.

With my father at Schloss Linderhof (German), 1988, two years before he died

What has your relationship with your father been like? If he’s gone, has your understanding of him changed?

Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

1-Euro Homes: The House I Love But Can’t Buy

In my last post about 1-euro homes, I mentioned how Lorraine Bracco purchased a home for 1-euro and, after starting with a renovation budget of $145,000, the project ended up costing her more like $250,000. That’s a huge difference from budget to reality. Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t want to risk that kind of increase in expense. And, let’s face it, I don’t have that money.

But, in Bracco’s three-part series, My Big Italian Adventure, she casually mentions (almost in passing) that she wanted more space than the 1-euro home and was able to purchase the home next door for only 40,000 euros. Homes in Italy are built with adjoining walls, so this allowed her to expand quite easily by simply knocking through the wall. What intrigued me most about this, however, is that you can (theoretically) buy a habitable home at a very affordable price and update it while you live there. Now that is more in line with my budget and stamina!

THIS was an idea I could work with! One of the problems with 1-euro homes is that they are completely uninhabitable. This means you have to find another lodging – and pay for that other lodging – while you are renovating. That’s an additional cost that you need to factor into your budget. It also means that all the renovation basically needs to be done at the same time.

Whereas, if you purchase a home that is habitable, you can do renovations bit by bit. Maybe even do some of the work yourself. At least the house is already connected to city services (plumbing, sewer, electricity) and there is a working kitchen and a full bathroom.

With this idea lodged in my brain, I abandoned the dream of a 1-euro home and began searching for habitable Sicilian houses on the market for 20,000 to 50,000. Obviously, the cheaper the property, the more work that needs to be done. Meanwhile, I reached out to a dear friend and asked if he might be interested in investing in a property with me.

A year later, when he agreed to visit Italy with me, one goal of the trip was to see some potential properties for purchase. Because I had already visited Sambuca di Sicilia a few times in 2020, made some friends, and connected with the deputy mayor who started the 1-euro auction in that town, it was a given that Sambuca would be the first place to look.

The town of Sambuca di Sicilia wasn’t familiar to me in 2020. I hadn’t paid any attention to any of the 1-euro towns in Sicily. I was only looking at 1-euro homes on the mainland. Sicily was so remote, so far away. I wanted to visit, I wanted to spend time there, but I had no intention would live there. But that was before I spent three months in Sicily! Now things have changed. Sicily is where I want to live.

So, on February 19, 2022, we arrived in Sambuca and immediately stopped to visit with some friends, the owners of Bar Caruso.

After a round of pastries and coffee, we went for a walk. It was interesting to see how much had changed since 2020, how many buildings had been rehabbed., including the 1-euro home next to the belvedere steps which was purchased and renovated by Airbnb.

We stopped by my favorite home in Sambuca, owned by Giuseppe. The inside still needs to be renovated but I love the outside just as it is!

Another stop was at the home where I stayed for six nights in 2020. While admiring it from the outside, we noticed that the property next door had a “For Sale” sign.

Two men standing outside asked if we wanted to see it. Sure enough, they had the keys and we readily agreed! The immediate appeal, before even stepping inside, is that I know the neighbor to the left because I had stayed in her home in 2020. As I’ve mentioned before, houses in Italy typically share one or two walls with other homes. So it helps to know who your neighbors are. Especially if, like me, you have an aversion to noise!  The other bonus is the location in town – just off upper main street, close to the belvedere and downtown, in the old Arab Quarter.

The house has only four rooms, two on the ground floor and two on the first floor. Historically, the kitchen is always on the ground floor, along with a sleeping area for Nonna (grandmother), who rules the kitchen. 

So here’s what we saw when we entered: you walk down a few steps and this is the ground floor consisting of two rooms and a bathroom. Honestly, I didn’t even look in the bathroom – not sure why. The first room is what I would make into a living room.

The second room is the kitchen. Or, what would be the kitchen, once you installed it.

Looks great, right? It looks like mostly only cosmetic changes would need to be made. Like painting and removing the tile from the kitchen walls. I’m also not a fan of the floor tile but I’m told it is historical, though maybe dating back only sixty to seventy years.

Then you climb back up those few stairs, turn the corner and climb to the 1st floor.

This is where I was gobsmacked. Upstairs stole my heart! Look at the gorgeous historical tile in each room! Look at the pocket envelope ceilings!

There is a sweet door between the two rooms.  Obviously, the second room would be a bedroom. The first room perhaps my study / library / writing room.  Did I mention how much I love the ceilings? You can’t really see them in these photos but they’re lovely. Okay, the lights would have to go, but that’s not a big deal.

Our guides were a realtor and an architect from Palermo.  Neither spoke any English so we communicated through Google translate. The realtor emphasized that while the house was small, we could put a terrace on the roof. This is always a wonderful feature of Italian homes. Except when we opened the door to the stairway, there was the toilet and a small sink! Very funny! After the realtor saw that, he didn’t take us up.

Obviously, the toilet and sink would have to be moved. Not a problem. It would be easy to install a bathroom in the bedroom, just above the kitchen.

I love this little house! It’s a perfect size for just me. Of course, this means I would have to give up my dream of living with others, at least temporarily. With a place this adorable, I could get myself to Sicily first and then figure out how to get friends to move there as well.

Did I mention how much I loved the ceilings and the floor tiles? And the asking price? 30,000 euros. I couldn’t believe it! Fantastic! We had found my home!

But there was a catch.

Moisture. The most fantastic display of moss on the walls. Artistically, I admired them. Yet admittedly, they also freaked me out. I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of them straight on – but you can see some of it in the photos I did take.

The realtor said, yes, the moisture was coming from the abandoned house on the other side. Yes, it could be fixed but it would have to be fixed from the other side. Okay. I mean, for 30,000 euros there was bound to be a problem, right?

Except that the mold problem is worse than the realtor admitted. When I mentioned the home to Giuseppe, he shook his head. “Stay away from that house,” he said. Why? “The moisture. Too much moisture.” But surely it can be fixed, yes? He shook his head.

The abandoned house, which the realtor claimed was the source of the moisture problem, is owned by eight people. Inheritance laws in Italy are partially to blame for the inventory of abandoned homes. Family automatically inherits property when the owner dies. Which can mean a home that hasn’t been occupied in fifty or more years can be owned by siblings and cousins of the second and third generation, with possibly none of them living in the area or even in Sicily.

On top of that, Giuseppe said 30,000 euros was too much. That home should sell for maybe 15,000. Even better! (I thought.) No, he said. “You do not want that house.”

Except that I do. I don’t want the mold but I do love this house. I can’t get it out of my mind.

We looked at two other homes in Sambuca after this one, both much larger, one for the same price and one for quite a bit more.  I’ll show you those in my next installment of 1-Euro Homes or (probably better named) Purchasing Property in Italy.

What do you think? Would you accept the wisdom and advice of Giuseppe who is an architect and the founder of the 1-Euro home auction in Sambuca or would you forge ahead and buy it anyway?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below!

Rethinking Mother’s Day

For all the mothers who will be celebrating on Sunday, I see you. I appreciate you. I applaud you. You deserve recognition.     

And, I know that you’re more than a mom. You’re an amazing, incredible person. For that, you deserve for recognition. For surviving and thriving in a world where you are continually seen as less than men, paid less than men, promoted less than men, protected less than men, quantified as less than men, harassed, abused, belittled, and projected upon with the needs, desires, and insecurities of men, well, you deserve recognition for that too.

Mother’s Day is a celebration of ALL women, regardless of whether or not someone calls you mom.

You’re not sure of that? You think today is just for women who birthed babies and raised kids? Let’s take a look.

The first celebrations of mothers go way back. Way, way, back.

Ancient Egyptians celebrated Isis, the ideal mother and wife. When her husband Osiris was murdered and hacked into pieces (gruesome, yes), she gathered all the pieces that had been scattered and put them back together. Except one crucial piece was missing, so she fashioned it out of wax. And then, for one brief moment, her husband came back to life, they coupled, and she became pregnant. (I don’t really need to explain the symbolism here, do I? How the vitalizing force—the missing part—of Osiris only comes alive with the manual attention of Isis? You caught that, yes?)

It’s hard to deny that Isis was a dedicated wife, an extremely clever female, and possessive of magical powers. This unusual coupling produced a son whom she cunningly managed to get on the throne, making him the king of the gods. Isis went the extra mile for both her husband and her child. In a greater sense, she did this all for humanity. For without her efforts, humankind would not exist. It’s no wonder that she is worshiped as Queen of Heaven, the Great Mother of all. She is one of the greatest deities in the ancient Egyptian religion. While there may have been a festival at the end of each year that celebrated Isis, far more important is how she was worshiped daily.

Isis

Similarly, the ancient Greeks celebrated Rhea as the goddess of motherhood and fertility. It’s interesting that they didn’t worship Gaia the same way since Gaia was the first mother, Mother Earth, and therefore Rhea’s mother. But Gaia does have an important role to play as Grandmother, and we’ll get to that in a second.

It is said that Rhea loved her children unconditionally, as her mother Gaia did. Which, let’s be honest, is what we expect of mothers. But Rhea didn’t really have any time to spend with her children because her husband, Cronus, would swallow each child as soon as they were born. Cronos was afraid one of his kids might become more powerful than he and would usurp his position (as he had with his father), so he determined it was best to be rid of them straight away.  

But Rhea, with the help of her mother Gaia, tricked Cronos and when her last child, Zeus, was born, she gave him a large stone in swaddling to swallow instead. I think you’d have to be pretty dim-witted to mistake a stone for a baby, but that’s how these myths go. Anyway, Grandmother Gaia smuggled Zeus away and, with the help of some nymphs and giants, she kept him safe. When Zeus was fully grown, he disguised himself as a cupbearer and brought Cronos a drink that made him vomit up the other children, who each came flapping out like fish on a deck, fully grown.

So this is how Rhea came to be celebrated as the goddess of fertility and motherhood. Her children were the first Olympians, with Zeus as the king. Naturally, they wouldn’t elevate the mother of the Titans who had been defeated. Instead, they revered the gods and goddesses of Mt. Olympus, and Rhea was honored as the mother of these gods.

Rhea

In Roman times, Cybele was celebrated as the Magna Mater– the Great Goddess. Cybele was a healer and protector and was responsible for every aspect of life from birth to death. She was the “resurrector” and a festival was held in her honor each spring. (The myth around her “resurrection” power, like Isis, has to do with a man and that’s all I’ll say about that.)

It’s worth noting, that Isis, Rhea, and Cybele were more than mothers. They were clever. They were industrious. They were creative. Their efforts benefitted not themselves alone or their husbands but all of creation.


Mother’s Day, as celebrated in the United States, was concocted by Anna Jarvis in 1908. Ms. Jarvis grew up in a blatantly patriarchal culture that refused to recognize the value of women. But she experienced first-hand how powerful women could be.

Ms. Jarvis’ mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, gave birth to thirteen children, of which only four survived to adulthood. She was the wife of a minister, a community organizer, and an activist. Anna Reeves Jarvis first conceived of Mother’s Day as clubs that educated women on how to properly care for their children. She then fashioned these clubs to become the force behind Mothers’ Friendship Day, a peace movement that sought to heal the divisions in our country after the Civil War.

Around the same time, Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette, wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” which called on all mothers to promote world peace. Meanwhile, Juliet Calhoun Blakely organized a Mother’s Day in Michigan, seemingly to encourage mothers to support the temperance movement.

This was an era of tremendous social change and Anna Jarvis saw women all around her making significant contributions that reached beyond their families.

So on the first anniversary of her mother’s death, Ms. Jarvis, who never married and never had children of her own, organized the first Mother’s Day. The intention was to recognize the sacrifices her mother had made, as well as the sacrifices made by so many other women who worked to create a better world.

Her idea was simple: Honor women with their own national holiday (since all holidays were then, and still are,* in celebration of men). People were to spend the day with their mothers, attend church services, and wear a white carnation (or red carnation if their mother was deceased).

Anna Reeves Jarvis and her daughter, Anna Jarvis

But when the holiday quickly became commercialized, Anna Jarvis was incensed. She spoke out against candy companies and florists who hawked sales. She even funded several lawsuits against organizations that used the name “Mother’s Day.” Remember, all companies were owned by men. So the folks commercializing the holiday were men. Men who were trying to make a profit, once more, on the backs of women. No wonder Ms. Jarvis was outraged. These same men were refusing women the right to vote. By commercializing Mother’s Day, they were missing the point and attempting to keep women in very narrow roles. The day wasn’t a saccharine nod to women who nursed children, cooked meals, and kept house.  Mother’s Day was intended as a recognition of how much women do and how much they sacrifice – all for the benefit of others.

Until recently, most women could not escape having children. Women have always been viewed as property, defined according to their relationship to men. Women had to marry, except in very unusual circumstances when they had their own wealth or when they were expected to take care of their aging parents. Marriage naturally resulted in children, regardless of whether this was the woman’s wish. Only in the 20th Century did this begin to change. Yet still today we are struggling against a culturally indentured view of women: women as baby-makers and house keepers.

We’ve forgotten what ancient civilizations knew and what Anne Jarvis intended as the purpose of this day. Women are powerful. Women are magical. Women are smart and industrious, persistent and determined. Women sacrifice, women fight, women bleed, women create, and the world could not exist without them.

The real women who worked for NASA: Mary Jackson, Katherine G. Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughn

What if Katherine Johnson had never pursued math and successfully calculated the trajectory for the first moon landing?  If Eleanor Roosevelt hadn’t championed human rights? If Golda Meir hadn’t been the Prime Minister of Israel or Angela Merkel the chancellor of Germany?

What if Yvonne Brill had not invented the propulsion system that keeps communication satellites from falling out of orbit? If Ada Lovelace had not written the first computer program?

If Harriet Williams Russell Strong had never invented the modern dam and designed water irrigation systems? Or if Patricia Bath had not invented the tool and procedure for removing cataracts?

What if the Bronte sisters, Mary Shelly, Virginia Woolf, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and so, so, SO MANY other women hadn’t written their stories and poems?

Aw heck, what if Ruth Graves Wakefield hadn’t invented the original Toll House chocolate chip cookie and Caresse Crosby hadn’t invented the bra? The point is, the list goes on and on. Women have made huge contributions to society, and continue to each day.

All of these women sacrificed things in order to make the world a better place. Women today still sacrifice for the sake of others. We sacrifice our dignity, our safety, our self-care, our time. We sacrifice financial security, we sacrifice our dreams. Women are the number one caregivers of the elderly and sick. Women constitute 75% of all teachers. Women are the dominant force of child care both in and outside the home.

Mother’s Day is a recognition of women. All women. Clever women. Hard-working women. Creative women. Loving women. Women, who just by virtue of their sex, are powerful and magical creatures. Mother’s Day is a celebration of all the ways in which women sacrifice themselves for creation.

So, to every woman out there, Happy Mother’s Day! I see you, I appreciate you, I applaud you. You are a magical, wonderful, loving, creative creature and today we celebrate YOU.

An amazing group of women at Parliament of World Religions in Toronto, 2018, after a water ceremony

Post Script: This was a long read, so I understand if you’re done. But I want to share a few personal examples for this day.

  • My mom had her first child in 1959, when she was twenty-five years old, and her second child three years later. I’m not sure my mother really wanted to have kids, which is, in part, why she waited. Then her husband left her when the second child was born. After she married her second husband, I was born, either by accident or by divine intervention. My mother sacrificed a lot for us three kids and was proud of each of us. And – I think what my mom wanted most was to be known for was her intelligence, her talent, and her accomplishments. She had a Mensa IQ and was an accomplished organist and poet. She was an author, not only of two books that sold well but also of a Sunday School series that became standard in the Missouri Lutheran Church. She could be extraordinarily compassionate and I know of many who found her love, wisdom, and words to have a profound impact on their lives. In this way, just as much as her relationship with me and my siblings, she was a wonderful mother. On Mother’s Day and every day, I hold her in my heart.
  • My friend Karen-Lee has been a volunteer reading tutor for two years with Reading Partners. This year, just like last, her third-grade student became very attached to her. Since all tutoring has been online, she went out of her way to meet him in person twice. Both times, he wanted a hug. He wanted to stay in touch and wanted her as his tutor again next year. She made an impact. A real impact beyond helping him read. Does it matter that she, herself, has three children or none? No. What matters is that she gave of her time and her energy and her talent to help a child. Every child is our future. When we help children, we help the world. This Sunday, I’m celebrating Karen-Lee.
  • My stepmom, Judy, worked for HUD (Housing and Urban Development) for most of her career, along with serving as a liturgist and choir member at church. After retiring, she worked for Lutheran Child and Family Services. Was she on the front lines? No. But her work was incredibly important. Did she help raise me? No, not really. But her presence made a difference in my life in so many wonderful ways. She has loved, embraced, and encouraged me for four decades. She is a source of delight and I am grateful for her and to her. On Sunday and every day, I celebrate Judy.

There are many ways to be a mom and many ways to mother.

My stepmom, Judy, and I over the years


Yes, we now also have International Women’s Day on March 8. But this is not a nationally recognized holiday in the United States. President’s Day is a public holiday (which honors specifically two dead men) as is Columbus Day (which thankfully is slowly becoming Indigenous Peoples Day). Memorial Day and Veterans Day are also public holidays that were originally designed in celebration of men. Hey, I’m not knocking any of these holidays, I’m just saying that even if International Women’s Day did become a national holiday, having two celebrations of the female sex is not exactly going overboard.


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For the Love of Trees

My backyard has one large tree in the center of it. I look at it every day, first from my bedroom windows and then when I let Mazie out in the yard. Every day I sit in a chair while she romps on the grass and I stare with admiration and gratefulness at this big beautiful tree.

She is regal and strong. In all the years that I’ve been lucky enough to share space with her, she has repeatedly tried to shed what she doesn’t need. She routinely solicits the wind in this effort and when the wind obliges, weak and dead limbs fall to the ground and clutter the grass. Only last fall did my landlord finally have her pruned. The tree is grateful. She stands taller now, her healthy limbs reaching for the sky. And her leaves seem a brighter shade of green.

Am I anthropomorphizing this tree? Of course.

Trees have much to teach us.

When I think of the wisdom of trees, I think of the Bodhi tree under which Siddhartha Gautama sat and achieve enlightenment, becoming Buddha.

I think of Treebeard, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the leader of the ancient guardians of the forest, shepherds of trees. He and his kind are tree-like beings with conscious thought. They are Ents and keep to themselves. Treebeard says,

I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even Elves nowadays.

And so he and the other Ents stay out of the battle for Middle Earth, until he learns that the wizard Saruman is decimating the forest to support his domination. Then he calls together all the other Ents and they march on Saruman’s land, providing the crucial help needed to defeat this evil foe.

When I think of the nature of trees, I think of the great Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh who wrote:

I know that in our previous life we were trees, and even in this life we continue to be trees. Without trees, we cannot have people, therefore trees and people inter-are. We are trees, and air, bushes and clouds. If trees cannot survive, humankind is not going to survive either. We get sick because we have damaged our own environment, and we are in mental anguish because we are so far away from our true mother, Mother Nature.

“The Last Tree,” Dharma Gaia, p 218, 1990

When I think of the love of trees, I think of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This tree loves a little boy so much that she gives him everything she has: apples, play, and shade. Eventually, she gives her branches and even her trunk, until she is nothing but a stump. Even then, she continues to serve. This story makes me sad. The boy is all of us: a culture consumed with taking, cutting, using. Perhaps only considering the effect of our actions until it is too late, until there is nothing more the tree can give or no more trees to give.

When I think  of the holiness of trees, I think of Black Elk from the Oglala Sioux and his sacred vision as a child of nine:

Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there, I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.

Black Elk Speaks, p 33, 2008

When I think of the life of trees, I remember how the Amazon breathes. Backpacking in Venezuela, looking out over the Brazilian forest, the wind coming from behind me as the earth inhaled and macaws flew overhead beneath a full moon on Beltane. And in the morning, looking down on her again, the trees exhaled and their breath blew up into my face.


At my home in Idaho, I planted every tree in my backyard, creating a garden where there had only been dirt and weeds. First in the ground were Aspens, meant to be a wind block. I didn’t even think of naming them. They stood there, always present and in the background, much like the chorus in a Greek play.

Then came Scarlet, the first to be named, just a tiny bareroot sapling. We nearly lost her that first winter to the cold, poor thing. In subsequent years, I would encircle her with chicken wire stuffed with fallen Aspen leaves to protect her. Nine summers later, she had grown into a beautiful Scarlet Red Maple bound to outlast the Aspens behind her.

Then came Lucious Lucy and Summercrisp Sam. Purchased as a pair of pears to pollinate, Lucy grew wide and Sam grew tall. When only Lucy bore fruit, you had to admit they lived up to their gendered names.

Next was Royal, the miniature plum tree who provided a tiny bit of shade and lots of small oval dark purple plums, depending on the year. Rachel and Rebecca were pink-flowering non-fruit-bearing crab apple trees. Like paternal twins, I had a hard time telling them apart and was never sure which was named Rachel and which was Rebecca.

A Cherry tree, appropriately named Cherry, and a Hawthorne named Nathanial didn’t make it. Did I plant them incorrectly or were they too fragile for the zone? I never did know.

But the crowning joy of the yard was Grama. Set in the center, she was the matriarch around which all activities happened. She was the guardian. She was inspiration and comfort. I loved her best of all.

When she got sick, I nursed her vigilantly for two years. Antibiotic shots, vitamin drinks, and deep pruning. When the tree doctor diagnosed that nothing more could be done, I knew it was time to leave. This was one death I couldn’t bear to watch.

It’s appropriate that Arbor Day is celebrated so close to May Day. May Day is often marked with gifts of flowers and a maypole. The maypole is a symbol of fertility, with ribbons braided in a dance around a vertical wooden pole.

Behind this activity, however, is the ancient understanding that every tree is an axis mundi: the place where heaven and earth meet. Trees are a ladder by which we ascend from one realm into another.

The origins of May Day go back to Beltane, the first of only two festivals celebrated by the Celtic  Druids. Beltane is a fire festival, honoring the return of the sun after a long and gloomy winter. Beltane is also a fertility festival, where, in ancient times, the people jumped over a bonfire, then coupled in the forest. This spreading of seed was meant to reach the earth and the fruits of the ritual would be harvested in August.

The Wanika of Eastern Africa, who believe that every tree has a spirit, say that to destroy a coconut tree is the equivalent of matricide, because the coconut tree gives life and nourishment, just as a mother does for her child.

Legends say the Banyan tree has roots that never stop growing, reaching all the way down to the center of the earth. If the tree is harmed or cut, it will always heal and grow again, like a phoenix. The Banyan, it is said, is an eternal tree that cannot die.

Since the beginning of time, people have revered and worshipped trees. Every culture and every faith has its own mythology around these sacred sentient beings. Until perhaps today. Today we are destroying trees at an alarmingly rapid pace. Is it too late?

Trees by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

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Love Your Mother

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I often comment on how Mom is our first home. We are created inside our mothers and she houses us for many months while we grow.

I don’t want to be cliché today. You’re going to see a LOT of stuff, I’m sure, about today in the news. But since my topic is home, I need to at least say something in honor of Earth Day.

Many religions believe humans were formed from the earth. We are born of the earth. Earth is our first Mother.

Like a good Mother, she nourishes us, soothes us, and protects us. From Her, we are fed. In Her fields and waters, trees and forests, mountains and sands, we are  comforted, we find peace. In those same places, we can be protected from harm—if we access them wisely. She gives us herbs and medicine to heal ourselves. She provides materials to build shelter. Without Earth, we have no home.

And, like children everywhere, we are rebellious. We think we know better than She does. We try to manipulate Her according to our whims and desires. Sometimes, She allows us to get away with it. Other times, Her reaction is swift.

Today, I hope you will do what She wants more than anything: pay attention to Her. Spend the day with Her, if you can. And if you can’t, at least give Her a gift. Donate to an organization that is dedicated to protecting Her. Plant some flowers, plant a tree, start a compost pile. Walk instead of drive.  Consider today a holy day.

I’m sure you know the ubiquitous Reduce*Reuse*Recycle directive. And hopefully, you are already doing this.

Turns out, however, that recycling is in jeopardy. For decades, we were shipping our recyclables to China and India. (That alone seems ridiculous, don’t you think? We really haven’t figured out the technology to turn old plastic into something new here in the good old U.S.A.??)

Well, China and India won’t take our plastics anymore. And U.S. recycling plants are closing due to minimal profits and huge hassles. Meanwhile, landfills are raking in the money. In America, sadly, money always wins.  Learn more here: the recycling crisis

Recycle Across America is a nonprofit committed to solving this crisis and you can help. Their website has LOTS of great information. I’ve been recycling since the late 1980s and it turns out there are still some things I’ve been doing wrong. Here are two things I learned from Recycle Across America:

I’ve been carrying my own bags into stores for years now. But when I was in Italy, I routinely put my plastic recyclables into plastic bags to move them to the plastic recyclable bin. Whoops!
Compostable plastics are TRASH! It’s so tempting to think they’re recyclable that I know I’ve made this mistake myself, especially at parties where compostable products are used.

Yes, I realize that I can be annoying. I move plastic out of public trash and into recycle bins, like in the airport or at festivals or even people’s homes. At restaurants, I always ask what their containers for leftovers are made of. If it’s styrofoam or plastic, forget it. I won’t take home the rest of my meal. And this is a sacrifice my friends because I’m frugal as heck and I always love leftovers.

Do my actions help? I want to believe they do. If we all do something, that’s a whole lot better than nothing.

This year and moving forward, what are you doing to show your Mother that you love her?


By the way, if you love trees or are even nominally interested in trees and the old-growth crisis here in the U.S., read The Overstory by Richard Powers. I found the interlocking stories haunting and the depth of tree information as thick as humus in the forest and dizzyingly fascinating. The story is rich, timely, achingly painful, and glorious.

Thank you for reading. And thank you for all that you do to help our shared home. Leave a comment and share what inspires you to do whatever it is you do to protect and conserve our precious natural resources.

The Easter Message Today

Two years ago, I celebrated Easter in Sicily, in a country-wide Covid lockdown in an apartment looking out at the Tyrrhenian Sea, listening to Handel’s Messiah and hearing it differently than I had in all my years.

The trumpet shall sound… and we shall be changed.

Over and over again during those first months of the pandemic, it was said that things will never be the same. In every article and every posting was a claim of a new normal – a release from the insanity of over-working capitalism and the destruction of our Earth. In this imposed period of rest, it was said, we were being renewed and the earth was too. Wisdom would prevail. We would return to what was truly important: family, community, nature, peace. The fundamental necessities.

Two years later and mass genocide is happening live on TV. War is raining down destroying cities. The rich have gotten richer and corporations—those for-profit machines with more rights than people—are hijacking our economy.

Have we learned anything? Has anything truly changed?

Except that maybe perhaps we are hurting in new ways. More insidious is the ache, the numbing pain, the precipice of despair.

In all this, I offer you the wisdom of Wendell Berry. Mr. Berry is a literary savant. More than that, he would tell you, he is a farmer, having farmed his entire life in Port Royal, Kentucky. His connection to the land informs everything: his faith, his relationships, his activism, and his writing.

The following poem was first published in the 1970s and I only discovered it around 2006. Since then, it has been my annual Easter poem, to be read at every Easter gathering I have hosted and attended. The message is more salient now than ever.

Be joyful even though you have considered the facts.

Practice resurrection.

I was going to wait until Sunday morning to publish this post, but I can’t shake the feeling that now, in these last days of Holy Week, is when we need this reminder. Not to be glossed over in the joy of Easter but instead pondered in the weight of death – to foster the understanding of our interconnectedness. Spring is all the more sweet because we have endured Winter. And sweeter still when we participate in it and not simply observe it.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front  by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


Buona Pasqua. A blessed and contemplative Easter, dear friends.

And two more by Mr. Berry, because I love the symbolism of three:

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Spring Cleaning & A Happy Home

Spring is my favorite time of year. I love seeing the crocus pop their little heads up through the grass and snow, followed by daffodils and then tulips. Apple trees, magnolias, and redbuds are magnificent puffballs of pink and white and purple blooms. The weather is brisk and invigorating, with afternoons bordering on hot. Perfect.

The days are longer now. More daylight gives me more energy. I feel so much more productive once winter’s gloom has been swept away by the sun.

Its light lingers on my hardwood floors in the late afternoon from angles I swear I see at no other time of the year. And with those slivers of light, the cobwebs of life are visible. Spring is always the right season to clean. Windows and walls and shelves, floors and tiles and more. I even just washed all my pillowcases and summer cotton sheets that were crumpled in the linen closet. I’m ready to pack away my flannels.

Don’t you just feel better in a clean house? Studies show that messiness and clutter negatively impact our health.

So why not make a date with your home? Pretend it’s a spa day: scrubbing the floors is like a massage, cleaning the windows like a facial. And clearing away those piles of paper and everything else that clutters your counters and tables, well, that’s a bit like popping pimples: get rid of the gunk you don’t need.

At the end of the day, slip into the tub or into your fresh sheets. Relax in the cool and clean new vibe of your home. Pat yourself on the back and celebrate.


The Guardian just published an article titled, “Wake up to a happy home: how to design a feelgood house.” As someone who suffers from S.A.D. every winter, the summary sentence “Banish the gloom from every room with these 25 tips to give your house a mood-boosting makeover” made me curious.

The suggestions range from ridiculous to absurd. If you’ve been struggling the last two years with the discomfort of pandemic confinement or looking for ways to ward off seasonal affective disorder before it begins, this is not the article for you. But if you’re someone who loves Marie Kondo and home makeover shows, you might like it.  Here are just a few of my top picks with plenty of my own suggestions thrown in:

* A mirror brightens every room. Yes, possibly. But oh my heavens, can you imagine a mirror in every room? Some of us are still recovering from the square mirror tiles that covered walls in the 1970s.  I don’t care how gorgeous or antique the mirrors are, if you have more than one in a room or one in every room, yikes. I absolutely need a full-length mirror wherever I get dressed, which can be both in the bedroom and then again where I put on a coat and shoes. And it’s always good to have one near the front door for a last-minute check before you face the world. But in terms of decorating, more is definitely not better.

Someone close to me has a huge mirror in their living room. It’s easily eight or ten feet tall and almost four feet wide. It most certainly belongs in a bigger space but… WoW! That mirror feels magical to me – like you could step through it into another world. 

In other words, hang mirrors in practical places but don’t limit yourself to practical mirrors. Find a mirror you love. If it makes your room bigger or brighter, that’s a bonus.

This is my favorite example of using a mirror to bring you joy, and this photo is probably 35 years old. Our great aunt was a milliner and when she died, my sister got her hats. She displayed them on the walls of her foyer. Later, when she painted those walls cantaloupe, it was even better. Any guest that visited would try on a hat – you couldn’t help yourself; they were just too fun. Best use of a mirror ever.

* Display your drinks in style. This is actually the second tip in the article. Hey, I love a cocktail but if you’re prone to depression, having your own fashionable minibar is not a good idea. Full stop.

* Decorate with storage.  Ok, this one I love. I like things put in their place and I like the look of less clutter. More than that, if you’re like me, you have many small things you are not ready to let go. You know, all that stuff that does bring you joy but you wouldn’t ever display, like maybe things from your childhood. Put it in clever storage. An ottoman that opens. Wicker baskets in bookshelves. Personally, I love storing things in old trunks and suitcases.

* “Doormats needn’t be dowdy” is another lame suggestion. Sure, there are fun doormats out there. But 1) you spend more time inside your house than standing out front of your door, and 2) doormats require you to look down and a much better mood-booster is to look up. Therefore, I rename this section Joy is in the small things.

This little bear was an impulse buy over a decade ago and it still makes me smile every day.

The article mentions a tulipiere vase as a wonderful way to “display rare flora and fauna.” Don’t know what a tulipiere is? Either did I. Honestly, you don’t need another “thing” in your house. The point is that anything blooming can make you smile. Bouquets are great if you can afford them but snipping a stem from your yard can be just as nice. Or something from your neighbor’s yard (with permission). Or buy a blooming plant as it will last much longer. Hey, I’ve even picked weeds and put them in a tiny vase. Their colorful little petals made us smile when we were young, before we knew they were “just weeds.” Be a kid again. Pick up rocks and twigs. Display your stuffed animals. Really.

* Choose colors that make you happy. Maybe even step outside your box here. Go beyond what makes you comfortable to what actually makes your heart skip a bit. Choose something that seems too bold. Maybe bold is exactly what you need.  I once bought five pints of paint, all in different shades of yellow, and painted my bedroom wall. Was it a sun? Not sure. All I know is that I needed sunshine, I needed a heavy dose of bright yellow and one solid color seemed too limiting. I loved that wall. It got me through one of the toughest times of my life.

If you don’t want to paint, there are always pillows and sheets and throws. Since I have a pup, I buy queen sheets at the thrift store and throw them over my couch. Red, gold, and brown sheets in the winter, cream and peach in the spring and summer. It doesn’t matter how you add color to your life, just add it. Live in a rainbow. A neutral-colored room may look chic and even feel calm but it won’t make you grin.

Tell me, how do you shake off the heavy slumber of winter and resurrect yourself and your home in the spring?


The Writer’s Almanac featured this poem by Louis Jenkins the other day. I’ve long admired how Jenkins speaks on home. This one is new to me.

BASEMENT  by Louis Jenkins

There’s something about our basement that causes forgetting. I go down for something, say a roll of
paper towels, which we keep in a big box down there,
and as soon as I get to the bottom of the stairs I have forgotten what I came down there for. It happens to
my wife as well. So recently we have taken to working
in tandem like spelunkers. One of us stands at the
top of the stairs while the other descends. When the descendant has reached the bottom stair, the person
at the top calls out, “Light bulbs, 60 watt.” This
usually works unless the one in the basement lingers
too long. I blame this memory loss on all the stuff in
the basement. Too much baggage: 10 shades of blue
paint, because we could not get the right color, extra dishes, bicycles, the washer and dryer, a cider press, a piano, jars of screws, nails and bolts…. It boggles the mind. My wife blames it on radon.

Louis Jenkins, “Basement” from Tin Flag: New and Selected Poems. © 2013  Will o’ the Wisp Books.


Advertising tells us we’ll be happier if we just buy more stuff. Better stuff. New stuff. But I’m pretty sure that too much stuff makes us sad. It weighs us down. It reminds us of the things we didn’t do: the instrument we no longer play, the language we didn’t learn, the books and magazines we never read. This spring, maybe get rid of some stuff. Start over. Clean slate.

As the poet Wendell Berry says, “Practice resurrection.”

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1-Euro Homes, Building a Dream

I met someone the other day who owns farmland in Northern California. About 80 acres with a small home, guest house, and room to build other compact dwellings. He told me it was remote, down a long quiet road, an hour from the nearest gas station.

I always get excited when I hear this kind of thing. I’ve dreamed of living on land in community with friends for a very long time. In the 1980s, I imagined owning a bed and breakfast – a real bed and breakfast back when that was still a thing. By the early 1990s, the vision was bigger: at least 75 acres where we could build small cabins or tiny strawbale homes and a larger creative space that we would share for music, massage, dance, and more. In the middle of the property would be a huge garden where we would grow our own food.

This guy nodded his head and said, “Yup, my place has plenty of room for all of that.”

Of course, now I dream of such a community in Italy. But Northern California is beautiful.  I’m open to all possibilities.

Then he told me that while his property was an hour to the nearest gas station, it was actually about two and a half hours to the nearest town.  Oh. Full stop.  Even for me, that’s too remote.


Italian towns first started advertising 1-euro houses for sale in early 2019. Sambuca di Sicilia was one of the first and others quickly followed. The only catch was that a minimum of 17,000 euros needed to be spent in renovations and the renovations needed to be completed in three years.

Then, the region of Molise (southeast of Rome) announced it would pay $27,000 to relocate to one of its villages. There were, however, a few caveats:

  1. The village had to be one with less than 2,000 residents.
  2. It had to become your primary residence.
  3. You had to open a business that would benefit the local economy. More than a service to current residents, how would your business promote the town and attract visitors?

I have a friend who’s been an ex-pat for 22 years. We met in San Francisco in 1989 when I was living in a community house in Haight Ashbury, (which is a whole other story).  Anyway, she and I got excited about these possibilities. Really excited. We did our research and brainstormed about how we would renovate and what we could create that would bring a steady stream of visitors.

The most obvious idea is a retreat space. Individual rooms with a shared common space and an outdoor setting. Perhaps writers retreats or yoga retreats or artists in residence. I could even fall back on my 20+ years as a massage therapist and offer massage.

One week of my planned trip to Italy in 2020 was dedicated to us driving around and visiting villages where we might make this dream come true.

Then the pandemic happened. All plans came to a halt as the world stood still. I’m not sure if the Molise offer still exists. But the number of Italian towns offering 1-euro homes has grown to twenty-six. If that seems like a lot, remember that Italy is primarily a country of small towns and villages. Around 5,800 of them have less than 5,000 residents and half of those have been partially or completely abandoned.

There are several reasons for this. Earthquakes and other natural disasters severely damaged many towns. Residents who didn’t have the funds for repairs simply left. And of course, the 20th Century brought more opportunities in cities like Rome and Milan. But the first major exodus happened shortly after the unification of the country in 1861. By WWI (1914), sixteen million Italians emigrated, with most landing in North and South America. Low-income laborers accounted for at least half of these numbers. Which is to say, the homes they left were nothing great to start with.

1-euro homes are basically shells. Empty for decades and some even for over a century, these are not simple fixer-uppers. Everything needs to be done in these places: roofs and walls, plumbing, electricity… bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms all need to be built from scratch.

There are a lot of YouTube videos featuring the purchase of 1-euro homes. Enough to make me reconsider. The amount of work that needs to be done seems staggering, particularly for someone with extremely limited funds.

Lorraine Bracco’s  My Big Italian Adventure is worth watching. In just a few months, shown over three episodes, her 1-euro home in Sambuca di Sicilia is completely transformed. She’s an actress and it’s a TV show, so it’s filled with drama, but it’s also pretty honest. She started with a $145,000 budget. After it was all said and done, she admits the project cost more like $250,000.

That’s money I don’t have. But… she did something that gave me an idea. Something that seems more reasonable and even practical. Something that maybe I could do. Something I explored during my visit in February.

Stay tuned!

I took this photo in Sambuca in 2020
Airbnb (the corporation) purchased it, renovated it, and now it looks like this.

Check out this video that features 1-euro homes in Sicily:

In it, you’ll meet Giuseppe Cacioppo, deputy mayor of Sambuca di Sicilia, whom I met in 2020. Giuseppe has become a friend and was a guest at the dinner I detailed in my post, “Food, Family, Friends.”


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Rosa Parks. Almost Home

Naples is the last place I would expect to see something related to the struggle for Civil Rights in America. But there I was in the San Ferdinando district, admiring The Royal Palace from the 17th Century when inside the Courtyard of Honour was this:

The home of Rosa Parks. The home in which she lived after she fled death threats following her dramatic refusal to give up her seat on a bus. The Detroit, Michigan home where she lived with her brother and sister-in-law and their thirteen children after she left Montgomery, Alabama. The home where she hoped to find a better life than in the South. Instead, while riding the bus was no problem, she found housing segregation to be just as bad in Detroit as it was in Alabama and, as she said, more obvious.

She was with family which meant she was certainly home, yet she still found herself on the outskirts of home with her country.

It was in this house, in the Virginia Park neighborhood of Detroit, that she focused most of her activism on housing issues. By 1962, urban renewal policies had destroyed 10,000 structures in Detroit, displacing over 30,000 African-Americans (70% of all those who were affected).

As Ms. Park’s health began to decline, she moved from this house to several senior housing facilities, first to care for her ailing mother and then by herself. The rest of her family left this house in 1982 and the home stood empty for decades. Her niece, Rhea McCauley purchased the home but lacked the finances needed to restore it and could not secure funding for that purpose. Consequently, in 2016, the house was scheduled to be demolished.

And that’s when American artist Ryan Mendoza decided to save it. He took it to his home in Berlin and had it reassembled in his garden. And now, as he lives in Naples, Italy, he has brought the Rosa Parks home to Naples.

Each time the home is taken apart, moved, and rebuilt, or re-membered, Mendoza says we are given the opportunity to re-member how we think about American history.

Rosa Parks was not a meek and tired woman who participated in activism for just one day in 1955. Instead, she was a life-long activist for equal rights, civil rights, human rights.

As the United States continues to grapple with who is remembered as a hero and what memorials we will keep and those we will take down, it behooves us to consider the Rosa Park home as a place worth conserving.

This is not the grand home of a general, a president, or a philanthropist. This is not a large home. It is small and decaying. And yet, this home speaks volumes. This home has stories. This is the home of a woman and her family who lived their lives trying to keep their home and trying to make their home country a better place for all.

Almost Home. To be home but not quite fully at home. To be free but not completely free. To be a home not in the home of its origin.

Maybe one day.

What do you think? Can you imagine living in this tiny home with fifteen other people? Do you think this home is worth saving? What do you think of the juxtaposition of this small humble home in the courtyard of the Royal Palace in Naples?

The saving of the Parks family home and its display in Naples, Italy, says much about civil rights in America. What homes, exactly, are worth saving?

Ukrainians and Home

Almost 3.5 MILLION refugees have fled Ukraine since Putin began his war on this sovereign country three and a half weeks ago. The vast majority have entered Poland and the rest have sought shelter in Romania and neighboring countries.

Many Americans want to help. Kudos to Avi Schiffmann and Marco Burstein for creating Ukraine Take Shelter, an online platform that connects Ukrainian refugees with potential hosts and housing. It’s heartening to see so many folks across the United States, even here in Tulsa, who wish to welcome Ukrainians and are posting lodging on this site. Hopefully, these people will help persuade our elected officials and other Americans to reconsider our policies on migrants entering the United States.

The reality is that very few Ukrainian refugees will come to the States. Our government is working on fast-tracking Ukrainians who already have family here, but that’s it. An operation to transport refugees to the States is not likely to happen. Even those with family in the States don’t necessarily have the resources to travel.

Those that make it to the U.S./Mexico border have encountered strict policies under Title 42 (enacted during the last administration) that make crossing extraordinarily difficult. The story of a Ukrainian family (a mother with her three children) seeking asylum is frustrating. But then, the plight of asylum seekers in the U.S. has been heartbreaking for years now. Restrictions were loosened last week for Ukrainians but still remain in place for all others coming from Central America, Haiti, Brazil, and Mexico.


People don’t want to leave their homes. Our human nature is to stay put. We leave only when we feel there is no other choice. Migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers all come to America when they fear for their lives, when they believe life in their home place is unbearable or impossible. Sure, some still come for better jobs, like those who work in the tech industry or those with significant wealth who want to enjoy the American lifestyle. But they are the minority. The endless opportunities of a new world-better life dream which built our country with immigrants from Europe are now merely a hope for children of immigrants, while the immigrants themselves face discrimination and are forced into minimum wage jobs that Americans don’t want.

I met an Armenian man last week who is a medical doctor in his home country. Here, in the States, he is an Uber driver. I didn’t ask why he chose to come to the U.S. in 2015, especially when his medical license would not be recognized, but I can imagine that the genocide which happened in Armenia in 1915 may have something to do with it. Epigenetics now shows that trauma is transmitted across generations, inherited by children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. And the effects of this inter-generational trauma can be devastating.


Leaving one’s home of origin can feel like a plant ripped from the ground without its roots. On top of the discrimination that refugees face in the U.S., those who leave their home countries must also wrestle with the pain and heart-sickness of being separated from their loved ones. Sadness, fear, and doubts plague those who have left family behind. Sofia Sukach, in her recently published essay, says, “I felt ashamed to run away” while her home in Kyiv is being bombed, even when that meant joining her parents in Warsaw. She continues:

You can tell me that the world is already doing a lot, and I am grateful for humanitarian support and tough economic sanctions on Russia. But the only way to stop the war now is to protect the sky over Ukraine or provide us with the tools to do it ourselves. The longer that takes, the more innocent lives we either lose or leave to be shattered by a conflict we didn’t ask for.

I wait and pray that our allies will help our country, and I dream of returning home.

If you want to do more to support the people of Ukraine, consider these 28 Meaningful Ways You Can Help Ukraine, published by Global Citizen.

May we—individually and as a country—reconsider our prejudices and policies regarding refugees and asylum-seekers seeking shelter in the U.S.A. We are fortunate to call this land our home, a country built on diversity and immigrants. May we find room in our hearts to welcome others to our hearth and table, regardless of their skin color or faith.

The National Flag of Ukraine is so simple and yet infinitely beautiful and symbolic. The blue color of the flag represents the sky, streams, and mountains of Ukraine. The yellow color symbolizes Ukraine’s golden wheat fields and the richness of the earth. I can’t help thinking of the lyrics to America the Beautiful. We are all patriots of our countries, rejoicing in the beauty and bounty of our lands.

On top of the flag is the trident from the Ukrainian coat of arms. There are many theories on the symbolism of this trident but all agree it was adopted to emphasize the antiquity of the country.

Some say that this image is not a Falcon flying down, but a swan that flies up. In Ukrainian, the Swan is a symbol of regeneration, purity, chastity, proud loneliness, nobility, wisdom, and courage. Another thing that Americans relate to.

Mothers and Daughters

I miss my mom. Today she would be 88 years old. Honestly, I’ve missed her for eleven and a half years – more than I ever would have thought was possible.

I didn’t appreciate my mother in life as much as I have since she died. That’s a harsh thing to admit. I loved her, absolutely, I loved her. And I admired her too. Yet, I struggled with her. I struggled with what I perceived were her weaknesses and her needs for attention, and I struggled with what I now understand are reflections of my own self.

My mom was a Pisces, just like me. While I don’t subscribe to astrology as the sole determinate of human behavior, I do believe there are certain characteristics that we share according to the zodiac.

My mother and I both feel things deeply. Emotional, you might say, but I don’t like that term, and neither would she. In our culture, emotion is a negative. It’s attributed to women as a handicap. My mother’s emotions made her a poet. She understood things on a gut level, as do I.

As a Pisces, my mother’s birthday is on the heels of mine. I know this sounds petty and I’m not proud of this, but I always felt like her day encroached a bit on mine, even if it was two weeks away.

Maybe that’s why I spent a bunch of years as a young adult downplaying my birthday. When I finally embraced it at age 28, I did so with gusto. But that’s also when I started sending my mother flowers on my birthday. Always with a card that said, “Thanks for not having me circumcised.” (The story was often told how my father, probably a bit delirious from being awake about 36 hours, came into the maternity ward and shouted, “Alice, we forgot to talk about the circumcision!” The other mothers snickered as my mother gently reminded him the baby was a girl.)

I thought acknowledging my mother with flowers was a nice way to thank her for bringing me into the world. Now I wonder… maybe I was just trying to bring the focus back to me and also give her a gift in advance of when she expected something. Maybe the gesture was both altruistic and selfish, I’m not sure.

More than this, the overriding truth of our relationship is that I was much closer to my father. She would often say, “You’re so much like your dad,” and after they divorced, that wasn’t a good thing. I was well into adulthood before she would celebrate the ways she and I were similar, particularly as it came to writing and the positive aspect of our emotions.

The truth is, I didn’t want to be like my mother, though I wasn’t consciously aware of this until she was gone. I heard too many times growing up that I got my looks from her and my brains from my father. When my dad would say this, my mom would respond, “Jerry, my IQ is 140 – higher than yours!” And still, people other than my father would say it. It’s true – I did look like my mom, and thank goodness for that. But when it comes to respect, we prize intelligence over looks. And our culture assigns intelligence to men.

Growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, I was profoundly aware of my mother as a working mom and a single mom. I also knew and vaguely understood the sins of my father, the reasons for their divorce. But the prevailing mindset at that time still blamed the wife for a divorce. Especially in Christian circles.

It didn’t matter that my mom had written two books, Divorced and Christian and Single Again, This Time With Children. Or that she led workshops on these topics and was featured twice on The 700 Club with Pat Robertson. (Admittedly, the latter did impress me. But mind you, this was well before Robertson went completely off his rocker.)

In our culture, men are associated with success. We live in a patriarchal society. Even today, women are expected to find fulfillment in being wives, being pretty, being mothers, hosting gatherings, and keeping a nice house. If a girl aspires to more, she will often identify with her father and not her mother. She’ll consider her mother weak or less admirable than her dad. She will distance herself from her mom as much as possible. Maureen Murdock writes about this phenomenon in her book, The Heroine’s Journey – Woman’s Quest for Wholeness. I didn’t read this book until I was in graduate school, a few years after my mom’s death, and wow – it was both an eye-opener and a punch in the gut. This isn’t every woman’s experience, but Murdock certainly describes mine. And the truth is, it was my mother’s experience as well.

I wish I could talk to my mom about these things. About how I emotionally abandoned her in some ways, despite staying close to her. How I blamed her for things that weren’t her fault. How I didn’t fully respect her wisdom. She had so much she wanted to share and, while I largely went through the motions, I fell so short of really listening to her, hearing her, and engaging with her mind.

Age brings wisdom. I understand my behavior now and I can forgive myself for not being a better daughter, but that doesn’t make me miss her any less. In fact, I miss her more.

My mother was truly a role model of strength and grace and an incredible blend of beauty and brains. Every day I see more and more how she influenced the woman I have become. For all of this, I am deeply grateful.

Happy birthday, Mom. I wish you were here.

My last photo with my mom in August 2010
my high school years
In Germany together in 1991
I appreciate my mom more since she's been gone than when she was alive. And I miss her every day.
One of my favorite photos of my mom, as a marketing manager for Scott, Foresman & Co textbooks: a single mom and working woman in a man’s world

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Inshallah… Italy. Take 2.

Inshallah, this newsletter will post on February 12, 2022. Inshallah, when it does, I will be in Rome.

First, inshallah. Or more precisely, Insh’Allah. I forgot about this expression. Thanks to Abdullah Shihipar’s recent piece in The New York Times Magazine, it is back in my vocabulary.

Shihipar writes, “For Muslims, the term — which translates to “If God wills” — is auspicious: If you want something to happen, you should say inshallah before you say anything else about it. The Quran says as much in its 18th chapter, Surah Al-Kahf. “And never say of anything, ‘Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,’ except [when adding], ‘If Allah wills.’”

It is, I think, very helpful to keep such language in our daily speech. Using it may help minimize our disappointment, or, at the very least, our outrage and sense of entitlement when things do not go as hoped.

Like when I woke last Sunday to discover our reserved lodging in Syracuse—which was already paid for—would not be available due to renovations. Or the next day when I discovered I had a sinus infection. Or the day before departure when I was diagnosed with an ear infection.

All things, Insh’Allah. The antibiotics and ear drops seem to be working and, inshallah, our refund will come through soon.

So, while you are reading this, I am in Italy.

It’s been almost two years exactly since I was in the land of la dolce vita. In 2020, I arrived in Rome on March 4th for a once-in-a-lifetime six-week trip. Instead, five days later, the entire country was in Covid-19 lockdown. By then, and by the grace of God, I had made it to Sicily, where, as it turned out, I stayed in the same apartment for three months. Once-in-a-lifetime indeed. Altogether, I was in Italy for four months. And that, my friends, was a game changer. I’ve been waiting to return ever since.

(If you’re interested in reading about my time in Italy in 2020, you can subscribe here to read my unfinished memoir on Substack at Finding Home or check out An American in Italy During Coronavirus on this blog, JanPepplerHOME.)

Last spring, when it seemed somewhat safe to travel again (before the Delta variant, remember that?) I decided to return ‘home’ to Idaho, where I had lived for 14 years and where two of my dogs still remain. Only, the costs of commercial fights had risen so high that a ticket to Italy cost about the same as a ticket to Boise. And that’s when I convinced Tom we should go to Italy instead. Hah!

That was not Insh’Allah. Our plans were scrapped when Italy dragged its feet about travel restrictions and the airlines canceled part of our itinerary. But we still had credit, so it was only a matter of time before we attempted the trip again.

February is my birthday month, so I like to say that this is Tom’s birthday present to me. Yes, it’s a very generous present. Tom, who has never been to Italy, repeatedly thanks me for all the planning and organizing I’ve done and honestly, it has been a ton of work making arrangements. Plus, I know a littleItalian now, as well as a few friends there, so in a sense, I am partially playing the role of tour guide. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly an equal trade. The point is, I’m extremely grateful to Tom for helping me return to this beautiful country and he is grateful to me for taking him.

Tom and I met in 2005 on a five-night river rafting trip on the Salmon River in Idaho. By Thanksgiving of that year, we were a couple. We never lived together and we never married, but we did share custody of two great dogs even after we broke up. Without this arrangement and his emotional support, I could never have made it through graduate school. And Tom is the one who moved me to Oklahoma, driving the U-Haul the entire four days while I read Killers of the Flower Moon out loud like an audio book. The only thing he asked in return was to allow our two elderly dogs to remain with him, which, let’s face it, was in the best interest of our dogs. They have a good life in Idaho, though that was a hard separation for me. It’s not like they can send me a text. And you can’t scratch a pup behind the ears or rub a belly from a distance. But Tom is pretty good about regularly sending photos, so that’s something.

So, while my dogs and Tom are in Idaho, Idaho is still home. Because home is always where your family is. And, while they say dogs are your best friends, the truth is, they’re family. And Tom is family. Like my pups, Tom loves me unconditionally. He accepts me completely as I am. He is always happy to see me. His friendship provides me both comfort and joy. And, at sixteen years, his companionship has outlasted most four-legged friends.

Now we are in Italy. Inshallah, we will travel to Naples and then Sicily. We will stay in Syracuse, in Sambuca di Sicilia, and Balestrate (where I spent 11 weeks during 2020’s quarantine, staring out at the sea), before returning to Rome and then returning home. To Tulsa, that is.

Inshallah, we will reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. We will indulge with daily gelato and start each morning at a bar. (A coffee bar, silly.) We will explore, we will celebrate, we will learn, and we will laugh. (We always laugh.) We will eat and then eat more. We will make memories.

Of course, I wouldn’t mind if something happened that caused our trip to be extended. But Tom is a Gonzaga alum, and he has tickets for the Vegas preliminary March madness tournament, so…

Inshallah, we will be back in the States for him to watch the Zags win and I will soon be snuggling my dear little dog, Mazie.

Stay posted. Inshallah, I will write to you from Sicily.

I took this photo in Rome on February 7, 2020
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