Getting It Back

My mother always used to say I was stubborn. She was probably right. But that can be a good thing; you have to be stubborn – let’s call it tenacious – for a lot of things in life. Climbing. Running. Out-arguing your kids who have a million reasons why a particular chore doesn’t need to be done.

But sometimes, all the best intentions get you nowhere. Like this morning. I went for a run in the neighborhood streets. my usual almost-3-mile training run. But it’s been a long time. Too much life happening.

Wow. So hard! So slow! So hard to breathe! My calves are cramping and really hurt. Is this the same body that ran four marathons? Seven half-marathons? Countless smaller races? Could that be me? The same me who can’t run three miles now without slowing to a walk here and there?

I guess it depends how determined you are. When I really, really wanted to run that marathon, I trained according to a schedule. Rain or shine. Whether I felt like it or not. No matter how tired I was that day, or how many hours I had worked.

Where did that go? Will I get it back?

I like to think I will. I like to think that tenacity is a character trait and not a temporary condition. So I’ll schedule another run for this week, despite my overly-full work schedule. And another.

What have I learned from this? Once you’ve found what you love doing, keep doing it! Don’t let life interrupt your progress!

But of course, it will, no matter what you want. Life is like that.

So – do you have a solution?

What do you do when life gets in the way? When you plateau out, or even lose ground and go backwards? So far, the only solution I’ve found is to jump back in, ignore the (recently) lowered standards, and keep inching them back up.

I suspect that I’ll get there – if I want to badly enough.

What do you want to accomplish this year? Let me know – keep me posted. We can help each other get there. As the French proverb says, “little by little, the bird makes its nest” – one tiny twig at a time:

Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.

Good words to live by.

Balance and Goals

How’s your balance? Can you stand on one foot for more than a few seconds?

Does it sometimes seem like your life is careening out of your control? Out of balance?

In my blog on Feb. 20, ‘17 (“Know Thyself”), I talked about the book “Maximum Climbing” ( The author, Eric Hörst, talks a lot about goal-setting. Do you set goals for yourself? Do you reach them? Why (not)?

Alex Honnold, the world-famous rock climber (and my son) sets it out clearly in his writing: ‘mindfulness’, or ‘purposefulness,’ are synonymous with goal-setting. According to him, these are what make you advance:

• be aware (remember meta-cognition, from that blog?)

• set your goal, and

• work toward that conscious goal every day.

Every day.

If you don’t set a goal, you’re not going to get there. Obvious. You might dream about it, wish for it, talk about it – but without a concrete, very specific goal, one that you can write down in one short sentence, chances are very slim that you’ll reach it.

When I was young, I dreamed of writing a book. Teaching at a college. Conducting an orchestra. I longed to someday live abroad, to work as a tour guide, or at an airport. Those dreams have all come true – because I didn’t just dream about them. All my life, a series of conscious, constant small steps made them happen.

When I was older, I dreamed of marriage and a family of my own (done). Much older still, I wondered whether I could run a marathon (done), or climb outdoors (done!).

Over the last decade, my life has moved into a new, physical realm that I’d never dreamed of earlier. Since about 1971, I’ve always found great joy in traveling this fascinating planet — but lately my trips always seem to include a physical goal, like rock climbing or hiking or running. Goals require balance; sometimes they can be combined, but always keeping balance in mind.

Because just as important as setting the goal for yourself is the ability to keep your goals and your life in balance. Do you work more hours than you live? Is your work your life? Do you spend more hours on line than interacting with real people?

To balance your life, you need to equalize some of those numbers.

What’s important to you? What have you always dreamed of doing? As improbable as it seemed that I’d ever have my own orchestra, once the geographical opportunity presented itself (when we moved to a place that had no local classical music), I made a plan — a goal — and moved ahead with it, tiny step by tiny step.

Listen here to the story of the West Sacramento Community Orchestra.

Goals, and balancing those goals with everyday life — that’s where true satisfaction lies.

I wish you lots and lots of satisfaction!


A Legacy of Smiles

While cleaning out my office this weekend, I came across a tiny card with the following printed on it, and I thought I’d share it and, I hope, share a smile with you.

Before I do, though, a bit of background: Ray Perlick was my mother’s cousin. He grew up in Plymouth, PA at the beginning of the 20th century. When he was about 4 or 5, his brother found their father’s gun and was playing with it. It went off, and the bullet lodged in Ray’s spine. He was horribly crippled for the rest of his life, with no muscle control from his waist down and misshapen legs.

As a little girl of 4 or 5 or so myself, I was always horrified to watch him struggle so hard to get from his rolling chair (a precursor of today’s high-tech wheelchairs) to the wooden bench in their backyard. Or trying to perch his uncooperative, non-responsive limbs on the leather stool where he worked as a jeweler in his tiny shop. I felt guilty that I could bounce around their yard, while he could only watch. I only became aware of the horrible pain he suffered all his life much later, when I was old enough to understand.

The card I found in my desk was, I suppose, his business card. He had given it to me many years ago, and I guess I slipped it into my wallet. Then another wallet. Then tucked it into a desk or two, as I traveled through life.

One side simply listed his business:

Ray Perlick


6 – – W. Main St.

Plymouth PA

(No zip codes back then; even the 2-digit, pre-zip postal codes weren’t needed, in this little town on the Susquehanna River)

The other side of the card said this:



A smile costs nothing but gives much. –

It takes but a moment, but the memory of it usually lasts forever.

None are so rich that can get along without it.

And none are so poor but that can be made rich by it.

It enriches those who receive

Without making poor those who give –

It creates sunshine in the home.

Fosters good will in business

And is the best antidote for trouble –

And yet it cannot be begged, borrowed or stolen, for it is of no value

Unless it is freely given away.

Some people are too busy to give you a smile –

Give them one of yours.

For the good Lord knows that no one needs a smile so badly

As he or she who has no more smiles left to give.

Such a happy philosophy, wrapped in a body like his! How blessed we are, then, we of sound limb and body! Let’s all try to share Ray’s happiness with everyone, one smile at a time.

The perfect legacy, Uncle Ray!

Calm and Unplugged

What a treat — I’m at the airport, and it’s just like the old days: I’m alone, and unreachable. Things are calm. I think I may not be able to charge my devices well in the country where I’m headed, so I’ve turned everything off. Powered it down. Nothing can beep me, buzz me, or otherwise interrupt my thoughts.

Things are calm.

How peaceful!

We’ve become slaves, willingly. Like the earth to the Ashén (accent on the second syllable, from “Stargate”), who slowly sterilized them into oblivion and took their planet, we’re cheerfully allowing the gleam and glow and chords and chirps to lull us into forgetting how to be human.

I remember a time when we tried hard not to be at anyone’s beck and call all the time. If you were, that was considered servitude. People aspired to jobs that would elevate them above the beck-&-call masses.

Now we are all at the beck and call — of machines.

Even parents often seem to prefer the cold chirp of technology to the babbling, happy conversation of the children they created. How many times have you seen a mother or father pushing a stroller or just walking together with their child – with a cell phone held to their ear?

What does a child learn from such non-interaction? That they’re on their own? They don’t matter as much as that little gizmo that has their parent’s rapt attention? That’s a lesson that can ruin our planet.

Focusing on many things at once – checking e-mail while surfing a FB page while sitting in class, for example – impairs our ability to focus clearly on only one thing. I see this in my classes all the time. Students seem to require constant stimulation, constant entertainment; it’s rare when they can all focus on one task for any length of time. Our attention spans are suffering from the constant battering of our daily electronic lives.

As I sit at the airport waiting for my flight, the effects of this phenomenon are obvious. No one talks anymore. In a waiting-room filled with people, the only ones I see talking are talking to a machine.

I tried chatting with my neighbor in several different places as I wandered the airport. Each time I smiled at someone and said something innocuous, a conversation-starter, an ice-breaker, it fell on deaf ears. Or rather, ears that were attuned only to the earbuds that connected them to an electronic device of some sort. Of the several times I tried, I got no reply. Not one.

In a vast room filled with people, I had no one to talk to.

How sad is that?

Looking someone in the eyes, seeing how they stand, how they smell, how tall they are, how they fluff back their hair while they talk – these are ways that we connect with other people. Ways we make friends (real, flesh-and-blood friends). They convey so much more than just a FB name or a thumbs-up or an e-mail message!

I choose to opt out of servitude. I like my interactions real, not virtual. Connecting with people, face to face, is one of my greatest pleasures while traveling. I love hearing and seeing how my kids process the world! I refuse to be a slave to technology.

How about you?

“Know thyself”…and thy Goals

No, this isn’t about climbing.

In the book “Maximum Climbing”, the author, Eric Hörst, talks about meta-cognition as the basis of every correct, informed decision. Without it, you can’t make good choices. Some may turn out okay, but that’s entirely due to chance.

Cognition (from Latin) is another word for learning (from German). Meta-cognition means learning about learning. Examining how we learn about ourselves and the world. If you understand how you do something, you’ll do it better, because you’ll know what to do, what to avoid, how to proceed.

It’s about process. Learning about learning. Knowing how to know. Plato (of ancient Greece) said it; Socrates quoted it often. It was carved on a tomb in ancient Egypt. Basically, it’s the oldest human advice, and still worth heeding. The more you know about yourself and how you process learning, the better things will turn out for you.

In NYC, after WWII, the city was filled with Displaced Persons (people who had fled the war). Languages abounded, everywhere! When I was two years old, I started using meta-cognition as I figured out the languages around me (at that age, of course, I didn’t know the term, I just did it instinctively). I honed my understanding of the process I was using to grasp one language, and then tested that process as I learned another. And another. Over the years, language learning became easy for me – because I understood what I was doing and how I was doing it.

You can apply this to any aspect of your life. Whatever you want to accomplish, you need to know how best to go about it. You need to know how you process things. You need to understand which process has been successful in the past for you, and which has not. Without that knowledge, you might wander around, trying this or that, never quite understanding why things aren’t going the way you’d like.

If you learn best, for example, by moving and doing, then anything you try to master by just sitting and reading directions is never going to be a satisfying experience.

If you’ve never been able to remember names, that won’t change unless you understand why, and find a process that gets around that.

When it comes to getting things done, I can multi-task with the best! I can juggle lots of jobs at a time, go from one to the other as I move from room to room, get multiple jobs done in the house all day long. But to write, one must be focused. So when I sit down to work on writing, I turn everything off but the soft, inspiring classical music. Everything – internet. E-mail. Phone. Even unnecessary lights. And the job gets done. Meta-cognition means not only knowing what to do, but also seeing that it gets done.

Whatever your goals, in life, sports, work, any endeavor, meta-cognition can help you achieve them more effectively. Meta-cognition, the ability to think about your thoughts – which improves your learning – puts you in charge of your brain.

Go tell it what to do!


Food for Thought

What do hearts and beets (yes, beets, the vegetable) have in common? Or love and potatoes? Give up? Well, here’s a Valentine’s Day gift from me to you that will clear up the mystery!

My original short story, “Food for Thought,” won 1st prize in the National Writer’s Association’s Short Story Competition. I can’t publish it here, because it’s for sale elsewhere.

But if you’d like to read a short story that will leave you smiling and feeling good, go down to the Comments section and leave me this comment (just copy & paste it):

Please email me my free copy of the award-winning short story, “Food for Thought.


If you don’t think I have your e-mail address, send it to me at my last name, at gmail. I guarantee it will not go anywhere else.

And don’t forget to sign up below to receive a notification when there’s a new blog at my site. Wouldn’t want to miss some more good food for thought!…

for a

Happy Valentine’s day!

Thoughts for a New Year

Did you make a resolution for the new year? Are you sticking to it?

Here’s a question that’s always puzzled me: Why wait for January? Every day is the start of a new year!

None of us is guaranteed another year on this planet. Or even another day. I make resolutions all year long. I call them goals. If you want to accomplish something, plan it into your life. Now! Make it a concrete goal, today, with tiny baby-steps that will get you closer and closer.

Take writing, for example. Writing a book – doesn’t that sound atrocious?! A whole book?! Never! But…do you think you could write one paragraph? Okay, then, do you think you could write one page? No? Then just write one paragraph a day. That’ll get you there, too. Eventually, those paragraphs will become a book.

If you can write one paragraph, you can write two. As my son said before my jogging with our dog became real running, “If you can run a mile, Mom, you can run a mile and a half.”

Four marathons later, I can state without any doubt that he’s absolutely right. Baby steps will get you wherever you want to go. As the French say,

Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.

Little by little, one twig at a time, the bird makes its nest. Don’t set out to conquer the whole world – just your little corner of it.

I hope your new year – whenever you started it (or plan to) – gets you where you want to go!

Did you recognize my Christmas cactus at the top?

And here’s a little winter beauty to inspire your winter goals. This is Multnomah Falls, in Oregon.

(Photo credit: Stasia Honnold.)

Changing Gears

In my blog of January 2016, “The Monster on my Desk,” I talked about the magic of writing. Whether you do it on paper with a pen, on a typewriter, on a computer, or by dictation, the act of creating a written opus is rich with mystery and satisfaction. I hope you have the time to go back and read that blog, especially the comments people left about being driven. What drives you?

Writing drives me. This year, I moved on from full-time college teaching to full-time writing. I’m always puzzled when people ask me if I’m enjoying retirement. I guess, for most people, the verb ‘to retire’ means to no longer work.

But if you’re a writer, you’re always working! Ideas won’t leave my head alone! I’ll go to my grave revising.

But before I ‘change gears’ here — morphing from a p-t ‘everything’ blog to a f-t writer’s blog — I’d like to share with you my most recent adventure.

This past June, my son’s first book (Alone on the Wall, a NYT Bestseller!) launched in several countries in Europe. In Paris, he spoke to a sell-out audience at Paris’ biggest, oldest theater, Le Grand Rex. And he spoke in French this time! (He speaks all over the world, in English with an interpreter.) So of course, Mom had to be there.

So here are some memories from my trip. Enjoy!

First, at le Grand Rex, the biggest movie theater in all of Europe, and the biggest screen in Paris (my son in red, on stage and signing books before the show):









All of Europe experienced major flooding this summer, Paris included. The staircase in this photo, which ends under water, normally leads down to the walkway along the Seine, famed for its lovers, strollers, picnickers, skaters and generally anyone who enjoys life:

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One of my favorite Arcs de Triomphe (there are many in Paris). This one dominates the Tuileries Gardens. The building to the left is the west end of the Louvre Museum. This is the kind of weather that led to the flooding this June.


The oldest living tree in Paris, planted in 1601 and still going strong — with a little support. You can see one of the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in the background (across the river).




I didn’t stay in Paris the whole time. During my 44-year teaching career, I taught more French than any of my 4 other languages, so I have lots of friends to visit in France. Here, la Montagne de Reims (Mountain of Reims).



Reims is an ancient city in the heart of Champagne country. These are Champagne vineyards around the Mountain, with its famed windmill visible from miles around the relatively flat region.

Some of the many Champagne houses in the region. In the U.S., we know only the biggest exporters. There are hundreds that we don’t know here.



The village of Milly-la-Forêt, near Fontainebleau (south of Paris), where more of my friends live. If you’re a climber (especially a boulderer), you know the name Fontainebleau, which is a world-wide center of bouldering.) In centuries past, it was the exclusive domain of royalty, the forests of the King.


IMG_4239Milly la Forêt:


After a few weeks seeing friends in France, I flew to Poland to see some Polish friends. I stayed in Gdynia, a small city on the Baltic Sea (the northern boundary of Poland). The tri-city region of Gdynia-Sopot-Gdansk, with its beautiful, extensive white sand beaches, has long been a playground for the rich and the powerful. Amber shops dot the walkways — and fill the cellars (dungeons) of medieval castles:

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this tiny tour of France and Poland.


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“We are our Geography”

Do we bond with the place where we spend our formative years? I’ve always believed that our heart holds a soft spot for the climate we experience as babies and small children. We remember the daily or seasonal gray skies, or the brilliant sun, or the downpours, or the snow, as the background of our life. Later, when we move on from that place, we take those memories with us, and they become our ‘normal’.

My daughter was born in Japan, and lived there until she was two. Twenty-five or so years later, she chose to re-locate to a climate like the one where she started life. The one she bonded with. She’s crazy about it. As she waxes poetic about the beautiful rain, the mysterious fog, I can’t help but think about the months and months when we never saw the sun, in Japan. About the incessant rain. The umbrellas we wore out. Coincidence?

I grew up in New York, and moved to California when I was 26. I’ve now lived in California longer than I did in NY, but it will never, ever seem normal for summer to be brown and winter to be green. That is just so wrong! Trees and bushes sleep during the winter; the whole landscape sleeps. Even in the city that never sleeps! But not, apparently, in California.

And people all over the world know that poppies are red! After church on each Veteran’s Day, all the fathers (who had been in WWII, when I was a kid) received a red poppy for their lapel. (Yes, everyone had lapels back then.) The famous Russian ballet is called “The Red Poppy.” Of course. It wasn’t until I moved to California that I learned they come in other colors.

So some people, like my daughter and me, never shake the ‘normal’ from our childhood. We crave it. We look for it everywhere, and don’t feel right without it.

But some don’t. Some, like my brother, never bond with their original climate at all. Raised in NYC, my brother couldn’t wait to move to a place where he could wear T-shirts all year long! He found it. And he’s happy there.

I believe it was the poet laureate of California from a few years ago, Dennis Schmitz, who said it succinctly: “We are our geography.”

Which type are you? Did you bond with your climate, and go on to settle in a similar place? Or are you still looking for that perfect place that’s unlike where you grew up?


Encouraging Words

We’re running through downtown Portland, my daughter, me and thousands of other runners. June 2, the Starlight Run. Everyone knows it doesn’t get really hot in Portland. Today, though, it’s in the 90s. Sweat drips from my hair, my chin, into my eyes; everything I’m wearing is soaked.

I slow a little, thinking that if it doesn’t get noticeably cooler in the next five minutes, I’m calling it. I’ll walk back to the Start, find my friends. They’ll understand. I’m not a real runner anyway. Too old. Too unfit. Not dedicated enough. My shoes are too clunky. I hate the heat. I’m a fair-weather runner, and this is definitely not fair weather.

Then we turn the corner, the people in costumes and all the other runners and me, into a canyon of tall buildings. People are still at work, up there. And they’re cheering!

They’re hanging out of all the windows, waving and cheering as if they knew each and every one of us! They’re throwing confetti onto us, they’re yelling encouragement, shouting names, identifying some of us by costume or hair color or whatever they can see. They’re cheering us!

Me! They were cheering me!

Suddenly my feet moved faster. I looked up, smiled at them. My head came up, my back got a bit straighter, my stride got a bit longer. I was really running.

They were cheering me!

I ran on, through the canyon of buildings, back out into sweltering Portland, and on to the Finish line. I finished!

Would I have, otherwise? Surely I’m disciplined enough to carry through with a project, to finish what I start, without that.

And yet….

When you’re at the end of your rope, digging deep, other people matter. Deep in our psyches, we’re tied to each other. Strangers affect us more than we care to admit.

When I started rock climbing, I discovered this again. Some partners manage the rope for you as you climb without a word. You know they’ll catch you if you fall. But they don’t participate.

Some do. Some encourage, cheer, shout helpful things or silly things, or just words to make you smile. They help you climb.

I like to think I could do it just on my own. But when you know that someone else is pulling for you, hoping for you, things go better. Every parent knows this; kids need a great deal of encouragement. But don’t we all?

Will a day come when I no longer need that? Or is that a lifelong need? For where I am in life right now, it can be the difference between doing a climb, or backing off. Finishing a race, or walking back.

Or writing another blog. Or book. Or article. Writing is the loneliest job. One works alone, at a desk, at the kitchen table, in a car or in a café hunched over a keyboard, making thoughts visible. Alone.

If you’re lucky, you have an editor to read and enthuse. Or critique. If you’re lucky, you have an audience to read and react. Even luckier, people pay you for it.

People are the common factor in this equation. We need each other. I always knew that was true. But it took becoming an athlete for me to realize just how true it is.

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