MORE THAN WORDS CAN SAY: The Grace of Gratitude

Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.

-- Simone Weil (1909-1943) French mystic and philosopher

Photo by Jude Beck

Photo by Jude Beck

Suddenly and inexplicably, more often than anyone ever suspects, life stuns us with loss. A phone call in the middle of the night, a TV bulletin across the screen,  a pounding at the door… and  what was, only a moment ago—and what we took for granted—serenity, sanity, security, safety, sameness—is ruthlessly snatched away, blown to smithereens, engulfed by a wave or burned to the ground.  And we are left helplessly behind—bewildered, bereft, and incredulous at the unimaginable now facing us--as we take a number in the waiting room of heartbreak.  

This has been a shattering two weeks for many of us in California. Wildfires have raged, ravished and destroyed lives, homes and businesses. Paradise, an entire town of 26,000 souls, has been razed to the ground in dust and disbelief.  Some have lost loved ones, most have lost their homes. All must start over now. The litany of loss seems enormous, the chasm between the past and the future fathomless.

There are simply no words to express, or to console or encourage and yet, I can’t not write to you.  There’s no explanation, no reasoning, no self-help mantra, no belief big enough to surmount the anguish so many people feel at this moment. There’s no secret on earth to help you come to grips with the vast unknown. And yet, for hope, for inspiration look at the bravery of the first responders, those on the ground and in the air: the fire-fighters, police, paramedics, rescue pilots, ambulance drivers and the school bus driver who delivered 20 children safely home, all the people rushing to help.  God bless you and your families.  You are our heroes and heroines.  Thank you for your courage and compassion. You are collectively our Comforters in Chief.

I’ve written for twenty years about the power of Gratitude to change our lives for the better.  It’s easy to be grateful and to write about gratitude when life hums—when there’s money in the bank, you’re healthy and have a roof over your head.  But what I’ve not shared or written about enough is how Gratitude’s mystical power is greatest when She holds us together even as we’re falling apart. 

Because ironically, Gratitude’s most profound mysteries are revealed when we are struggling during personal turmoil and overcome with doubt. Gratitude fills in the gaps. When we stumble in the darkness, rage in anger at the unfairness and throw faith across the room.  When we abandon all hope and cry ourselves to sleep, Gratitude waits patiently to console and reassure us that we will get through whatever it is that we think we can’t or won’t get over, and if we can’t get over it,  we will, eventually get through it.

The Bible instructs us “to give thanks in all circumstances,” but it doesn’t tell us we have to be smiling while we say it. In Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths, tears have always been considered one of the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Talmud teaches that “Even when the gates of Heaven are closed to prayers, they are open to tears” and in the Hebrew Old Testament, an entire book of the Bible is devoted to crying—the Book of Lamentations.  And the Psalmist (56:8) recalls that “You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”  What book might that be?

Could it be a Divine Gratitude Journal? 

Once during a season of devastating loss, I forced out a sarcastic litany of “thanks” because I knew it was the only way that I could mourn and move on (the downside of spiritual law no one ever talks about is once you understand a lesson, you can’t play dumb).  “There I’ve thanked you for my misery and pain.  Are you happy now?  But don’t you dare come near me,” I cried, holding up my hand to Heaven in defiance, pushing away the very Love I needed most.  “So, thanks a million.  Now you go your way and I’ll go mine.”

Naked, complete, bitter surrender.  But only because I’d been beaten senseless by sorrow.  Sometime in order to bridge the chasm between our hearts and our souls, Spirit takes no prisoners.  Almost immediately I was enwrapped in a surreal sense of peace which certainly passed my feeble capacity for understanding and it still does.  I became genuinely grateful to have been carried off the battlefield of dumbfounded disbelief by a Source of power, wisdom, strength and love far greater than my own.  Within a short time, the trajectory of my life was forever altered in miraculous ways.  First the gesture, then the grace.

 My most profound lessons about life, love, goodness and courage were revealed by Gratitude when Heaven and I were barely on speaking terms.  If you read this now and think you aren’t ready for any thanksgiving this year, then I wrap you in my arms and reassure you that is okay. Heaven doesn’t keep score and Gratitude doesn’t keep count, other than to lift us up off the mat before Life’s referee calls us out.

Sending dearest love and blessings on your courage. And wishing you and yours safe passage to peace and plenty.


The Undercover Ladies’ Man: George Bernard Shaw

You can be as romantic as you please about love. But you mustn’t be romantic about money. 

- George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw, by Sir Emery Walker, 1888

George Bernard Shaw, by Sir Emery Walker, 1888

On May 15, 1940 the English novelist Virginia Woolf picked up her pen to write what started out as a thank you note but ended up being a passionate declaration. She wanted it to be perfect because she was writing to one of the great loves of her life. The letter read:                

Dear Mr. Shaw,

"Your letter reduced me to two days silence from sheer pleasure. You won’t be surprised to learn that I promptly lifted some paragraphs and inserted them into my proofs. You may take what action you like… As for the falling in love, it was not, let me confess, one-sided. When I first met you at the Webbs [Beatrice and Sidney Webb, the Victorian British Socialists who, with Shaw, founded the London School of Economics] I was set against all great men, having liberally been fed on them at my father’s house. I had only wanted to meet business men and say, racing experts. But in a jiffy you made me re-consider all that and had me at your feet. Indeed you have acted a lover’s part in my life for the past thirty years, and tho I daresay, it’s not much to boast of, I should have been a worse woman without Bernard Shaw….”

Virginia Woolf's letter to Shaw

Virginia Woolf's letter to Shaw

When imagining the quintessential ladies’ man—one doesn’t immediately think of the Irish dramatist, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)—or at least, I don't. Indeed the public persona he so carefully constructed over eight decades as scathing curmudgeon, showman, intellectual, critic, pundit, Socialist, playwright and Nobel Laureate seems to have been so carefully constructed as to leave the impression that he hated women. He was also a strange looking man; not a bundle of cuddles.  The English novelist Edith Nesbit described him as “very plain, like a long corpse with a dead, white face—sandy sleek hair, and a loathsome straggly beard, and yet is one of the most fascinating men I ever met!”

For all his aloofness, which was really acute shyness, Bernard Shaw adored ladies, believing them to be the world’s saving grace, and, in turn, it was impossible for women to resist his charm. And why would they? Here was the original thinking woman’s crumpet, especially if you were a woman who believes that the sexiest part of a man is his brains. (Don’t you wish men knew that?) From famous actresses such as Stella Tennant (Mrs. Patrick Campbell) to, as noted above, feminist authors such as Virginia Woolf, women fell under his spell and delighted in every minute of it.   

Of course, women love those who love us, believe in us, urge us to strive for our personal best and help us to do so. G.B.S. was a staunch supporter of woman’s rights, including equality of income as well as the vote and the right to serve in public office. He marched for the Suffragettes in 1908,  supported them financially and seems to have endowed all of his women characters—from Eliza Doolittle to St. Joan— with the extraordinary qualities he found in the women he encountered. If he were alive today I have no doubt he’d be at the front of our present marches,  wearing a pink knitted hat and carrying a sign that proclaims: "Men of Quality Do Not Fear Equality" ; organizing a theatrical benefit to raise money for women’s causes, writing editorials and telling us to “buck up girl, you can’t let the side down” in public. In private, he would share his white linen handkerchief without being asked and coax us to please eat one of those delicious scones that we love, to build up our strength.    

George Bernard Shaw, 1937 - Photo by Madame Yevonde

George Bernard Shaw, 1937 - Photo by Madame Yevonde

During his life, George Bernard Shaw wrote 50 plays and was the only writer to win both the Oscar (in 1938 for the film script of Pygmalion), as well as the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925 (for his play Saint Joan).  In true cantankerous streak, he accepted the honor but refused the money. Ironically, it’s George Bernard Shaw’s attitudes on money and women that have me inspired today and I think they’ll bring a smile to your face as well. In a little book I cherish, George Bernard Shaw on Women, G.B.S. takes on the economics of marriage in a correspondence with his cousin Georgina who writes to her aged relation to ask him for money for a trousseau. She’s pretty but rather clueless, and he takes her to task for not being precise about her request. How much money does she want? What will she be using it for exactly? (He recommends spending it on undergarments which last longer than fashion). What does her fiancé do for a living?  Is he a millionaire or a pauper? “You are not taking this seriously enough,” G.B.S. writes.  “Nobody is going to throw a £100 note to a young woman whom who has never had to handle such sums…”   

Finally after getting his cousin to create a budget, (£65 for clothes, £5 for a trunk, £10 for odds and end and pocket money, £10 for the wedding breakfast) he offers to give her £100 as a wedding present with the proviso that she is to open up a bank account “to keep it open for the rest of your life—a separate account in your own name.”  Can you imagine how every woman’s life would be different and how the trajectory of our journey would have altered if we had been given this loving advice instead of having to learn it the hard way?

Perhaps because Shaw grew up in poor circumstances (his father was such a “drunkard”, which prompted G.B.S. to be a lifelong  teetotaler) from an early age he was distressed for his mother’s and sisters’ welfare. The theme of women, money and self-respect and self-reliance runs as a deep vein of gold throughout his work.  From the play Pygmalion’s heroine, Eliza Doolittle (which went on to become My Fair Lady) accepting the challenge of Professor Higgins to transform her from an urchin into a Lady (“The only difference between a Duchess and a flower girl is how she’s treated.”) to Mrs. Warren’s Profession, written in 1894, the importance of a woman handling her own money is dominant and a woman's financial independence is paramount.  There can be no equality until there is freedom from want.

George Bernard Shaw, seated, speaks to actors on a visit to Elstree studios, where he watched the filming of his play How He Lied To Her Husband in October 1930.

George Bernard Shaw, seated, speaks to actors on a visit to Elstree studios, where he watched the filming of his play How He Lied To Her Husband in October 1930.

In Mrs. Warren’s Profession, we meet a Cambridge University educated young woman, Vivie Warren, who has just graduated with an honours in mathematics and is eager to begin her career in finance. Full of storm, thunder and of strong opinions, Vivie has been raised in English boarding schools and has an awkward relationship with her mother who is virtually a stranger; she really doesn’t know the source of her mother’s wealth or even the name of her own father.  What is the profession of “Mrs. Warren” (a protective alias) which has permitted her daughter to become part of “good society” thus enabling her to marry into the British upper and ruling class?                                                                                                                                        
Well, you don’t have to take a very big leap to guess that Vivie doesn’t know what her mother does for a living, because her mother doesn’t want her to find out that she was once a “lady of light virtue”, who is now a Madam.  “I was a good mother,” declares Mrs. Kitty Warren, “and because I made my daughter a good woman she turns me out as if I were a leper.” When Mrs. Warren defends her choice to become a high class escort and then a Madam, in order to give her daughter a good life and proper education instead of enduring a life of poverty and drudgery, Vivie accepts her mother’s history and even begrudgingly begins to appreciate the sacrifices her mother made for her. But after the shock of this revelation, mother and daughter are tested to extremes when Vivie discovers that Kitty, now a successful wealthy woman of substance, owns a string of high class brothels from Brussels to Vienna.  Her mother is rich and Vivie recoils in horror at the thought that she runs brothels instead of bakeries and wants nothing more to do with her.                                                   
If ever there was an iconic play that was of its time and ours, it’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, but a century ago just the whiff of this play caused a scandal on both sides of the Atlantic. It took Shaw eight years to get it produced and when it was finally performed in New York in 1902, the actors were arrested for indecency. Shaw knew how controversial his play would be—he wanted to take the righteous hypocrites on and demonstrate that the “oldest profession” for women was out of economic necessity, just as prizefighting was for men who had no choice but to have their heads beaten in by crooked boxing matches to feed their families.

I’ve always found dramatic literary heroines to be my first line of instruction and defense and the women of George Bernard Shaw, “all-together are a superior species.”  If you don’t know the women of George Bernard Shaw, there are videos of all his plays (which have also been made into movies).  What a treat it will be to keep company with Eliza, Kitty, Joan, Major Barbara,  Candida, or Epifania from The Millionairess, (the richest woman in the world) who gives each potential suitor six months to transform £150 into £50,000 before she’ll consider having a glass of champagne with them.  So let this unorthodox economics tutoring begin. Some of the best financial advice I’ve ever received is from literary mentors.  "You can be a romantic as your please about love," G.B.S. cautions us, "But you mustn't be romantic about money."

Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend, later Mrs George Bernard Shaw. Painting by Giulio Aristide Sartorio, 1895

Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend, later Mrs George Bernard Shaw. Painting by Giulio Aristide Sartorio, 1895

One last thought (or the beginning of many more!) George Bernard Shaw took great delight in the fact that he had no access to the personal fortune of his real-life “green eyed millionairess,” his wife, Charlotte Payne-Townsend. He once commented to a British Inland Revenue tax official that he could only guess at his wife’s wealth.  “Her property is a separate property.  She keeps it at separate banking account at a separate bank.  Her solicitor is not my solicitor…I have no more knowledge of her income than I do of yours.”  They were happily married for nearly forty-five years and at his own death in 1950, G.B.S. requested that their ashes be mingled and scattered together.

Imagine for a moment that you received a letter that declared, "You are my inspiration and my folly. You are my light across the sea, my million nameless joys, and my day's wage. You are my divinity, my madness, my selfishness, my transfiguration and purification. You are my rapscallionly fellow vagabond, my tempter and star. I want you." Perhaps now you can understand why there are simply some men that I shall never give up, and neither should you, Babe. 

Sending dearest love and blessings on your courage as you journey towards peace and plenty,


PS - For those of you charmed by Shaw and his thoroughly modern views on women and money--there are more tales where that came from!  Some of which will be covered in my new webinar, Women & Money: A Peace and Plenty Webinar of Comfort and Well-Being, which kicks off February 22nd. If you want to join me for frank and spiritual conversations on money, you can learn more and sign up on our classes page, or by clicking here



Upon Reading Her Books

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be whether we find them attractive company or not.  Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 A.M. on a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.  We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.
                                                                       --Joan Didion (on keeping a notebook)
                                                                         "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" (1968)

Joan Didion with typewriter--  Brentwood, 1988. Photo by Nancy Elison

Joan Didion with typewriter--  Brentwood, 1988. Photo by Nancy Elison

Recently my daughter surprised me with a box of my old notebooks which had been stored for decades in the attic of her childhood home.  I was gobsmacked to discover an enormous number of diaries, yellow pads, journals, calendars, artist’s sketchbooks and single pages dating back to years before I married her father or she was born. But here was the body of proof: prima facie (“on first look”) evidence of the girl I left behind.  In those days I was working as a legal secretary by day and aspiring writer by night, burning the candle at both ends because I was in my twenties and could, which explains why there are so many Latin legal terms jotted in the margins of my memories.

However, for all the experiences I was convinced I wouldn’t survive (survival is a theme writ large during one’s twenties) here I still am and gratefully so.  As for all those heartbreaking leaps in the dark, romantic obsessions and daring misalliances, the majority of them have faded in their passionate intensity, leaving only such literary reference notes as a git lower than whale-shite on the bottom of the ocean and His knuckles scraped upon the sidewalk as he tried to walk upright… wisdom gleaned, no doubt, after a few evenings of Margaritas and nachos with sympathetic girlfriends.  Other life experiences left behind reluctant ragged edged lessons or losses so deep they’ve scarred over and I’m not going back there again.

Nevertheless, those scribbled passages I did managed to lasso and rope to the page bring me curious wonder.  One declaration, in particular, from Saturday, March 29, 1976, could be just fluky coincidence, ornery stubbornness or mysterious clairvoyance, an art I had not yet realized was in my personal bag of tricks:

“I have decided to take radical complete control of my life and go after what it is I want. This year I want to write.

 And that, as they say, was all she did, from that day forward.  Write.


But I didn’t become a writer on that day, because declaring to the Universe your intention and wishing to be a writer is not the same as completing a project and becoming one. A writer is someone who completes the act of writing: a poem, play, short story, novella, novel, non-fiction narrative, biography, essay, script, feature article, a blog post.  One really bad page.  A terrible paragraph.  Even a sentence.  Heaven knows, I’ve spent more time than I can even remember working an entire day on one sentence: putting a comma in during the morning, then taking it out in the afternoon. (Thank you, Oscar Wilde).  It doesn’t matter whether you get paid or not—paid, of course, is preferable—but that’s not going to happen for a long time, so you need to accept it, hence the legal secretary’s gig. In the beginning you’ll have to do a lot of work “on spec”, (which means the editor is a bit interested in the idea, so write it on your own dime and then we’ll see what comes of it).  What matters is that you do it. Write.  Show up on the page and keep a disciplined schedule so the Muse knows where to find you.  Then, finish the damn thing, whatever it is. Turn it in and begin another. 

The dreamer keeping this notebook tells me: “I have the following goals. To finish my play on Bernhardt, to write “Mock Memoirs,” to write at least the first draft of the Irish novel and to earn at least a living wage from writing.”  I love this Swell Dame’s moxie, although she hasn’t a clue yet about the discrepancy between Chronos and Kairos, earth’s time and Divine dispatch.  God knows I wish I’d understood this spiritual truth earlier because it would have made things easier. Or I think it would, at any rate.  However, she will learn her way, the hard way, the long way, the only way she knows how, on her knees beseeching, Writers Tears on her lips and down her cheeks and falling asleep over the pink typewriter, which explains the black carbon crease on her forehead in the morning.

Still, when she does finally take a backward glance,  all the hard scrapple years of naïveté, disappointments, detours, wrong choices, bad timing, bungled efforts; all the threadbare years of struggle, loneliness, failure, second guessing and despair it took to get her to the right moment at the right time  (a publisher’s “Yes” after 30 rejections, 5 years work, and a whopping advance of $22,000), it will only seem like a blink of an eye because she has truly discovered, as you will too, that success only comes after striving and struggling, even in the dictionary.

However, forty years later, I can report the results:  She did finish and have produced her one woman show on Sarah Bernhardt entitled Quand Même, the famous 19th Century French actress’s favorite retort because it suited any situation such as “Even thoughReally? Despite.” The play ran for a month but was so viciously panned the playwright couldn’t get out of bed for a fortnight.

The first draft of the Irish novel on yellowing, curled foolscap from the Dark Ages, with its one carbon paper copy is in a file cabinet on the way to me from England. Let’s hope that like the original Queen of Denial, Cleopatra, age has not withered, nor custom staled her infinite “perhapsability.”  I vaguely recall abandoning that one when I ran out of rent money and had to pawn that gorgeous pink typewriter. 


Regretfully, I haven’t a clue what “Mock Memoirs” is or was, but it sounds like a delicious romp, so let’s dwell in grateful possibility. But finally, the most difficult and harrowing lesson of them all: it would take her 20 years to achieve the last goal of 1976, to be able to earn a living as a writer.

I’m so grateful that Heaven operates on a “Need to Know” basis. It’s one of life’s most overlooked blessings.

Still, the question that fascinates me today is how did she do it? How did she become a writer? And why did she become a writer? She certainly had no inclination to do so. The woman I’m on nodding acquaintance with wanted to be an actress.  She didn’t go to college. Her Mother forced her to attend secretarial school to become employable while she took acting lessons.  She couldn’t find steady work as an actress in New York.  So she went to London to act.  But the only job she could get was as a secretary for an American producer trying to rebuild Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. When that job ended she needed another quickly so she answered an ad for a fashion copywriter, created a portfolio over a weekend and walked out of the interview with the job on Monday, feeling like she’d pulled a fast one.  That Swell Dame had charm, she had cheek, she had pluck but she was incredibly shy and the bravado was all show, as her natural inclination was solitary, even reclusive.  I guess I could act after all and so I lived in London, Paris and Ireland for another three years writing about fashion and beginning my play on Sarah Bernhardt.  

Eventually she came back home and she taught herself to write by reading and studying the most incredible woman writer of her generation, the incomparable and incandescent Joan Didion.   

Joan Didion burst on the scene in 1968 when her first book of essays written for magazines were collected into an anthology called Slouching Towards Bethlehem.  This was during the heady days of “New Journalism”—the American literary movement that pushed the boundaries between what journalism had been and what non-fiction could be.  It combined the research of journalism with literary technique and narrative storytelling.

Tom Wolfe coined the phrase (author of The Right Stuff and Bonfires of the Vanities), Truman Capote copied it (In Cold Blood) and Gay Talese’s elegant prose cemented the genre in his blockbuster The Kingdom and the Power about the New York Times where he had worked for 12 years as a journalist.

But Joan Didion.  Joan Didion was revelatory. Joan Didion was unlike anyone I had ever read before or since; she was more a composer creating arias or an illusionist performing sleight of hand magic than a mere journalist using words instead of mystical incantations. The emotional tension inherent in her sentences suspends the reader on a tightrope of tenacity, intrigue and innuendo. If any writer has ever lived between the lines of her work, it’s Didion who creates a cozy, confidential, even conspiratorial sojourn with her reader, hinting at self-revelation without the slightest intention of disclosing anything whatsoever.  Yet what she does reveal is breath gasping in its piercing honesty that stops you in your tracks.  As you shake your head and read that paragraph again to make sure she just said what she wrote, suddenly, like a phantom she’s vanished, leaving behind an intoxicating aura in her wake; disappearing in a fragrant fog of unforgettable poetry that's prose. 


And therein lies the magic. The alchemy. You read Joan Didion and somehow you believe you are reading about yourself. 

Just the memory of reading her for the first time while sitting at the bar in a Capitol Hill hangout, the Jenkins Hill Saloon and the flush of excitement she triggered all floods back.  Usually, my Sunday ritual was reading the Sunday New York Times at the bar with two Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict and then home to a nap.  (I really knew how to treat my girl good back then).  But that Sunday, at the bookstore where I picked up my papers, I caught a glimpse of a book called Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The cover was rather psychedelic and I was most definitely not a flower child, but any book that borrows lines from W.B. Yeats for its title is by a writer I want to know.  And then I read:

“Once, in a dry season I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself…The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others—who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without…That kind of self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.

Joan Didion taught me the meaning of the Latin verb Vocare – to answer a call, which usually describes life in a religious order but also means to hear or recognize “a Voice.”  This Voice is distinct and like no other. It invites you to follow it. To peek around the corner of your life or open an old notebook with a stain on its cover or to starting taking notes.  Reading her was effortless, which means, of course, that she worked harder than any other writer in the world.  Writing is not supposed to show.  You’re not supposed to see the brushstrokes on the canvas.  Like Sherlock Holmes’ admiration for the beautiful, mysterious adventuress Iréne Adler, always and simply known as the Woman as revealed in A Scandal in Bohemia, Joan Didion became the Writer to me. I wanted to learn how to write, not like Joan Didion, but like Sarah Ban Breathnach. 

Joan in 1977. Photo by Jill Krementz

Joan in 1977. Photo by Jill Krementz

After winning Vogue’s famed and prestigious Prix de Paris essay contest in 1956 (which promised college seniors a shot at winning a week in Paris and an entry level job at Vogue), Joan Didion began her writing career on the bottom rung, at 21 writing fashion promotional copy.   

In the marvelous Netflix documentary "Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne, we get to see the woman behind the half century of her work.  The entire film is such a wondrous experience, but I’ll just recount Joan’s anecdote about working with her Vogue editor Allene Talmey, who would go through her copy with violent slashes, a huge aquamarine knuckle ring sparking like flint against a rock as her pencil raced across the page, crossing out and calling for “Action verbs! Action verbs!” and then Talmey’s trick of asking Didion for a 350 word paragraph on something, only to tell the young writer when she turned it in, to now cut it down to 50 words.  I couldn’t stop laughing because I’ve had some harsh editorial episodes like that in my career and it all comes back to you—but you really do learn how to write.  A few years later, the understudy will get her big break, when a cover story article commissioned by Vogue from another writer isn’t turned in but the cover is already set. Joan is asked to write in 48 hours an essay called “Self-Respect: It’s Source, Its Power” and down to the character count allotted she pulls off this enormous feat like the stunning star she truly is with panache, verve, style and piercing insight.

Even though in the documentary the Self-Respect essay (August 1961) is cited as Didion’s first Vogue break, it’s really her second.  My favorite part of writing is research, and I heard a whisper on the internet that Didion had written a cover story on Jealousy: Is It a Curable Illness (June 1961) so I searched and finally found a copy on eBay.  Life often makes one feel like the poor oyster with a piece of irritating grit instead of grace, but discovering a Joan Didion’s lost pearl is worth the price.

Vogue, June 1961

Vogue, June 1961

Cover of "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," the book that started it all

Cover of "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," the book that started it all

As to my original thought for this reflection: on notebooks,  learning how to write and upon reading her books.  Here’s what I did.  I recognized a distinct voice in Joan Didion, which was music to my ears. I realized that music is the mathematics of the spheres.   So I would write down a paragraph and then copy it as if I was learning to write for the first time. Joan Didion confesses that Ernest Hemingway taught her how to write a true sentence.  We all learn from someone else.  We’re all taught.  We are never alone as long as we can find beauty and truth in the amazing, astonishing combinations of only 26 letters. Think of that for a moment:  only 26 letters and what we can do with them.  The wonder of it all.  The magic and the majesty. We are our own Code-breakers.  We are our own ciphers seeking our authentic selves.

Copy book after copy book, I wrote out her words in my hand, hearing the cadence, the melody, the harmonies. Feeling the rhythm. The intake of breath, the exhalation.  I read her out loud. I heard her music. And then I began writing/composing my own words/musical notes.  Gradually, I discovered my own beat.  I fell in love with the words; I read dictionaries for pleasure. And by the time I began writing Simple Abundance a decade later, I had found my own voice.  No longer a copy or an imitation but now an adagio of solace, one singular sensation, a solo for soul and pen.  Why do I write?   To find out what I think and feel and know.  To lay it all on the line, all of the time. Because the Great Creator loves a page-turner.  And when I do that, read it aloud, I notice that a chord might be missing, so then the rewrites begin, over and over again until it makes me cry tears of joy, surrender, acknowledgement, gratitude. Sheer delight.  For at long last, finally, I have found her.  I found the woman I’ve been searching for my entire life. She tells me stories of where we've been and where we're now going--the Territory Up Ahead.  I am not alone.   She promises she'll always be with me on the page and to keep us company, Joan Didion will be in my pocket.

Joan in Vogue, September 2005. Photo by   Annie Leibovitz

Joan in Vogue, September 2005. Photo by Annie Leibovitz

Thank you dearest Joan Didion for the gift of your unfathomable grace.

More notebooks to go through Babe, and more of my favorite women writers to recommend on our journey to Wholeness.  Because if you read her once, you will love reading her again.

Sending dearest love and always blessings on your courage,














Beginner’s Luck

A new beginning!  We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new… Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises.  Imagine that we could walk through the year always listening to a voice saying to us:  ‘I have a gift for you and can’t wait for you to see it!’  Imagine!”                                                                                             --Henri Nouwen


While I was writing Simple Abundance I always thought of myself as a beginner because to be perfectly frank, I didn’t know what in the world I was doing despite the fact that I had been a journalist for twenty-five years, a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of two previous books on Victorian family life. 

But Simple Abundance was something entirely different because when I started writing in the morning, I’d never knew where I would end up by the time I needed to drive the afternoon car pool.  Written between 1991 and 1995, in a spirit of daring introspection (at least for me) I sensed that this book and I were each other’s destiny—the book I was born to write—although I didn’t have a clue as to what this meant, or how to do it, other than my new ritual of keeping track of five things I had to be grateful for each day.  I originally kept my list on index cards because it was always the most fleeting of moments that ended up being the cheeriest: I found 2 batteries in the junk drawer and didn’t have to go out, Alleluia!  I could eek out supper from the pantry! Yippee! I discovered $20 in last year’s winter coat pocket!  Hooray!  Steady rain, I took a Sunday nap. Blessed be!

Eventually  my “beginner’s mind” found a way to string those index cards into a Gratitude Journal which very quickly turned into a new, fresh and passionate way to look at my daily round.  By searching for the sacred in my ordinary and giving thanks, my optimism returned.  In 366 essays, one for every day (including leap year!) I shared my revelations that came from trying to reconcile my deepest spiritual and creative longings with overwhelming commitments to my family and work, as a free-lance writer.  And if you’ve ever “free-lanced” anything, you know that’s really three jobs—sending out queries looking for work, writing the article (or illustrating or photography) on “spec” (which means you work for free and if the editor likes what you wrote you get paid) and then the personal achievement of assigned features.   There are few thrills in life as starting a job and knowing you’ll be paid for it. 

My gratitude journal from 1993

My gratitude journal from 1993

Like millions of women in the 1990s and ever since then, I was frantically multitasking from one obligation to another, moving so fast that my spirit felt as if it was constantly sprinting to catch up with me before I collapsed into bed.  Mornings were a major source of dread; my first conscious breath was a sigh; my awakening thought was how to make it through the day.  However, when I started keeping those index cards, I noticed I was waking up a little more hopeful. Hmmm…  Was gratitude the cause or effect? I became my own science project.  Just an experiment, mind you.   

I kept notes.  I found quotes.  Collecting quotes had always been a passionate hobby because in my early days as an apprentice feature writer, while I had my opinion on every story, I was considered an amateur whose point-of-view was neither sought, nor appreciated.  So I would find somebody famous, interesting, or historical to express what I was trying to say and quote them and it soon became my style.

As they say, beginner’s luck.  Because when you don’t actually realize what you don’t know, you always have a chance, especially if it’s a clever idea.  Now, of course, the entire world starts off their blogs and articles with quotes because it’s a terrific technique for opening up a conversation on the page or with yourself.   Writing is such a solitary occupation that it’s marvelous to share the space of the page with someone who understands how you’re feeling, writing and reading.

Believe it or not, the original manuscript of Simple Abundance ended up being 957 pages.  I never intended for it to be that long; it’s just having discovered that the world was round not flat, the source of the Nile and the Lost City of Z down the Amazon, I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it back to my suburban home alive and in time to make dinner, so I needed this book to be my explorers log, one woman’s daily record of just how wonderful a New Year can be.

With hindsight, when I recall those five years, it seemed that the harder I worked, the luckier I became.  But the voices in my head didn’t agree, so every day I was greeted by the doomsday chorus: Why is it taking so long? It’s not coming at all, what are you doing with our life? You’re 45, get a grip, girl, and my favorite, “When are you going to get a real job?”  So I had to put blinders on and turn off the negativity.  My task as I saw it was to keep calm and type on. Later when I could look back on the perils of the page, it was fascinating to make the connection that the more I prayed and the longer I worked, the further I mysteriously moved towards being in the right place at the right time through the mystical chain of chance that eventually led me to having the first of many marvelous conversations with Oprah Winfrey on the miraculous power of keeping a Gratitude Journal.  She had also invited twenty million of her viewers to listen in.

Dame Good Fortune found me looking for Her, thank Goodness. A couple of weeks later I had the astonishing joy of waking up on my 49th birthday and walking down the driveway to pick up the newspapers, opening up the New York Times and discovering I was No #1 on the best-seller list. The “pink book” kept her perch for over two years. It was the best Sunday morning of my life but if I didn’t have the proof framed on my wall over where I write, I probably wouldn’t believe it either.

Which is why beginning, especially a New Year is always wonderful. Beginners (especially if you’ve been at it for a while) possess an undeniable streak of luck.    It takes a lot of do-overs and fresh starts to find a future with your name on it, so let’s aim for your name in lights.

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Still, you might be wondering how many beginnings must we embark upon before we grab the brass ring of another chance on life’s carousel? Well, I guess as many fresh starts as it takes to stick, as many times as a champion comes from behind, rolls with the punches, sinks the putt, hits it out of the park or wins by a nose.  As many times as it takes until you discover that you’ve got to be both a sprinter and a long distance runner in life’s marathon because guess what—there’s no gridlock on the extra mile. As many times as it takes until you realize that endurance now means more to you as the endeavor which got you going in the first place. Until you’ve lost track of how many times you’ve been on the ropes or down for the count. Because when you get up again, this time the gloves are coming off, Babe.  We’re getting real with ourselves and with Providence. 

Now I better understand the ripples of even small choices in the circle of life, the restorative, mystical power of cycles and giving Mother Time the respect and reverence She deserves. Did you know that it took scientists 100 years to prove Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?  The thought boggles the mind. I always loved Einstein’s explanation of his cosmos stirring discovery:  “Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it feels like a minute.  Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it feels like an hour.  That’s relativity.”   

Beginning again is the New Year’s gift to each of us.  However, beginning again is the ultimate DIY project for those of us who never thought we would have to begin again at this stage of our lives.  Here then, is a conundrum worthy of the Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Albert Einstein’s genius.  “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them … Imagination is everything.  It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

Hold that thought as we imagine a New Year that’s your personal idea of wonderful. How about we raise a glass of good cheer to living Simple Abundance, not just reading it.

Sending dearest love, blessings of peace and plenty and always, blessings on your courage.  












Blessed Be, Mother Christmas

I do hope your Christmas has a little touch
of eternity in among the rush and pitter-patter and all.
                          It always seems such a mixing of this world and the next –                                                                              but that after all is the idea!     
                                                                                                                     --Evelyn Underhill (1936)

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The night of Madonna and Child is upon us, but it’s certainly not silent.  By now the rushing around has almost ceased, (one more dash to the drugstore should do it) and you’ve gotten over discovering the presents are not arriving in time, as promised and for which you paid a whopping express shipping fee.  Instead, you’ve offered thanks that you don’t work anywhere in Customer Relations and sent off a prayer to all those who do.  Blessed be, Mother Christmas. 

Soon the gathering together shall begin in a cyclone of convivial chaos.  Mother Christmas arrives, as She always does in the darkness of Christmas Eve whether we are ready or not.  After a brief visit of only one day, She will depart.   This is why her Gift of Christmas Present is so precious, meant to be cherished and celebrated with custom and ceremony.  

As I write, I’m listening to my favorite holiday song “Mary, Did You Know?” from my favorite Christmas album, Kathy Mattea’s Good News. This contemporary carol occupies a special place in my heart because it’s wrapped in my favorite Christmas memory.   What did sweet Mary know that wondrous night?  Hopefully and gratefully, the new Madonna knew only the joy of becoming of a mother—which is different for each of us but eternally universal.  She didn’t know the future, none of us do but all she had was all she needed.  Her child, safe in her arms.

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My first Christmas as a new Mother is my favorite Christmas memory.  My darling girl was just a few weeks old and I was nursing her by the lights of the Christmas tree.  Suddenly, she paused and looked up straight into the windows of my soul.  After the longest stare, she broke into a huge grin.  Newborn babies smile instinctively from contentment, but this was her first smile of recognition.  I know you!  You’re my mother!  Perhaps she was having her first reunion from our past lives.  I know I was experiencing my future perfect promise.  My real Christmas miracle: we birthed each other.

What would Christmas be without matching holiday outfits? Kate and I circa 1986

What would Christmas be without matching holiday outfits? Kate and I circa 1986

Over the years as she grew in grace and wisdom before Heaven and her astonished mother, the baby I’d held that night would grow up to help a blind woman see again; restore hearing to my ears with the lilt of her laughter, calm with the touch of her hand the storms of discouragement and discontent raging in my heart.  This Babe taught me that what we call a miracle, Heaven calls Love.  Blessed be, Mother Christmas.  

Perhaps because the world constantly requires women to rise to every occasion, walk on water and then turn the water into wine, we become experts at doing what the world says can’t be done and we don’t even notice the miracles we midwife for others. The oil for one night burns in the temple for eight, the widow’s mite stretches until the end of the month; the leftovers of loaves and fishes becomes a feast to be shared. Hurts are healed with a kiss; the shoe that cannot be found anywhere is now on its owner’s foot walking out the door; and the mid-term science project that must be finished in less than twelve hours (and this is the first you’ve heard of it) goes to school in the morning.  Our mysterious, magical and mystical invocation of “Everything will be all right” comes true even if it’s different than we had hoped for.

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So I ask you to ponder this tale, as I do each Advent.  The Nativity unfolded the way it did because one ancient night long ago, an exhausted and harried Innkeeper’s wife stopped long enough to be moved by the power of Divine Compassion. A homeless family.  A frightened teenage girl about to give birth to her first child. No room in the inn.  But an older woman who would midwife the miracle that would change the history of the world.    Do you really believe that the inn that Joseph and Mary arrived at was accidental?
Forgive me if you must, but I always feel the need to gently point out that on the first Christmas Eve, God the Father was in Heaven.  God, the Great Mother, was on earth. Angels, shepherds, and Magi always get star billing. What about the Innkeeper’s wife?  In my heart’s version of the tale, I see the older woman leaving the crowded, rowdy dining room and rushing to her bedroom, opening up a trunk, and bringing forth her best, making sure that all she had would be all that the mother and baby would need.  She gathers in her arms linen and silk, the blankets from her own bed, her favorite shawl.

In my imagination, I can also see the young girl’s grateful smile, hear her sigh of relief, taste the salt in her tears.   As I hug my own daughter, I can feel the reassurance as both women found comfort in each other’s presence.  I know that the older woman’s sacred gift of generosity and the younger woman’s gratitude are not insignificant footnotes to the Greatest Story Ever Told.  It’s how the Wonder unfolded.  It’s the tale our ravished hearts are always longing to hear:  Generosity, Gratitude, Grace.  Blessed be, Mother Christmas.

“On Christmas Eve love is clothed with visible vestments, with gifts and written words, with holly-wreaths and flowers and candles.  The love that through the year is silence by busy-ness is expressed in terms of tangible beauty,” Abbie Graham wrote in 1928. “As I watch the Christmas candles burn, I see in them a symbol of the Great Love which dipped a lustrous spirit into human form so that the world in its darkness might be illumined and made beautiful.”  Blessed be, Mother Christmas.

It’s not heresy to believe that on that Holy Night, the lustrous illumination that helped light the world’s darkness wasn’t coming only from the Child.

There were also two women in that stable.  

Sending dearest love and blessings to you and yours and praying that you will discover your own Christmas miracle.







The Gift of Christmas Present

While we are all so wrapped up in the presents we are giving to gladden hearts at Christmastime, we might pause to think of that other side of giving that means much more in every home—the giving of ourselves.  The Christmas Present, after all, is only a token of our feelings, and more important are the daily contributions we can make to the happiness of those near us.

                                                      --House and Garden (December 1938)


Recently I went back to read the Simple Abundance meditations I wrote for the Christmas season. I was surprised by how little had changed in my emotional response on the annual miracles women of all faiths perform during the holiday season.  But December is the month of miracles.  The oil that burnt for eight days.  The royal son born in a stable.  The inexplicable return of Light on the longest, darkest night of the year.  As Willa Cather reassures us, “Where there is great love, there are always miracles.”  Let’s believe her. If there’s ever been a year we all need to believe in a benevolent Giver of all Good, it’s this holiday season. 

Glancing back in a Dickensian kind of way, hovering over the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Past, I can see a mother of a young daughter. She’s writing in tiny room, the size of a closet and working at an old word processor, so ancient that quills and parchment would have been an upgrade; the monthly check-ups at the local computer shop came out of her grocery money, To make things worse, I’d been working on “The Book” for so long it had virtually became the fourth member of our family.  I’m surprised I didn’t keep a place setting for her at the dining room table.

I had been struggling over two years. I was supposed to be a paid working mother and it had been a long time between paychecks. Constant discouragement and I got to know each other very well during that time.  There’s a certain turn of the screw that only 30 rejections from every major publisher in the US can trigger. People in your life begin to ask, not unreasonably mind you,  if it’s not time to get a “real job."  I had published two previous books and had been a nationally syndicated writer; I had been paid to write before.  So the reasons?  Simplicity wasn’t commercial, and a lifestyle book based on Gratitude?  Forget it.”

Some of the letters were so harsh, they still makes me wince.

There were some days when I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I had to make breakfast, lunch and do carpool.  There were also many long, dark nights of the soul when I cried in the shower or into my pillow, trying to keep the self doubt and despair to myself.  Then one day Katie asked me if would mail a letter for her, written not to Santa Claus but to Heaven. Of course, I read it and then promptly posted it in my heart. Babes-- you’re only kidding yourself if you think children don’t hear or know when Mom’s unhappy  The letter read:

 Dear Guardian Angel,

 This prayer is not for me, it is for my Mom.  Please Angel, let my Mom get a book contract.  Please talk to the Guardian Angels of the People who decide about publishing ….

There’s nothing much you can do after reading something like this except start crying again, pull yourself together and get back to work. Start writing another meditation (like December 10th’ Gifts of the Magi).  Eventually the thoughts, words, sentences, paragraphs and pages begin to accumulate and accelerate; propelled by your time, creative energy and emotion until the “Work” achieves the momentum it needs and breaks through your personal velocity to become strong enough to exist on her own. 

By now, I had empirical proof of the power of Gratitude to change one’s disposition from pessimist to optimist, because back then I wasn’t just writing about Simple Abundance, I was living it. I was my own Research and Development Laboratory.  I knew they were wrong.  Still, two years into any project that the world’s not buying, and you either become a cynic and give up or get really stubborn.  Guess which one was my choice?  I made up a mockup of a New York Times Best Seller list and dated it for June 1996, three years in the future.  I taped it to the word processor screen and spoke the words “Just watch me” before I started each day’s assignment. Later I discovered to my delight that Sir Isaac Newton also experimented on himself, as did Madame Marie Curie, the only person to win the Nobel Prize twice and Dr. Jonas Salk with his polio vaccine.  I was in good company.

And so I wrote Simple Abundance (and beat my own best seller deadline by two months) but the creative truth I want to share with you is that Simple Abundance really wrote me. As I learned how to use the wondrous power of Gratitude, Simplicity and Order to ground me in my daily round, I discovered that I could be open to the spontaneous occasions that revealed Harmony, Beauty and Joy surrounding me.  The results seemed miraculous.

They still do.  When I use the saving graces of Simple Abundance actively, especially when I’m worn to a raveling trying to balance work deadlines with the advancing holiday merrymaking, limited budget and finding a new home, I’m amazed at how I can cope with rising to an occasion I hadn’t expected.  I’m thrilled that I can take another look around at my circumstances and figure it out.  Or wait it out.  Accept things for now. All I have is all I need today, except the realization of how much I have.  Thank You.

Now when I think of all the blessings that have arrived in my life wrapped in brown paper and string—as necessities instead of indulgences—it really makes me feel both humbled and incredulous.  Believe me, I never wanted any of those blessings disguised as disappointment and despair. I would have refused to accept them and returned them to Sender, if I’d only known how to do it.  But what I’ve finally learned is that if there is a gift in disguise, then there must be a Giver.  What makes this all the more poignant is that when we stop to consider this, the truth is, it’s always been so.  Christmas and great need are inseparable, as intertwined as hope and faith or the holly and the ivy.  Remember we’re told “Now faith is the substance of things sought for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)

Some of you, my dearest ones, have been Simple Abundance kindred spirits for many years now.  Other readers are new, finding me by happy coincidence or on the recommendation of a family member or friend.  What we’re all seeking (me included!)  is a respite from all the crises, and a succession of contented moments.   

So shall we try a little holiday ritual together?  Invite the Simple Abundance Graces to intervene in our daily round and show us just how “real” Divine assistance is, here and now. Asking for help is a woman’s toughest personal challenge, at least it still is for me.  But here is a spiritual law (and gift) for the ages, especially this Christmas Present.  We have to ask before we receive.  Ask, Ask, Ask. (June 3).  Trust me, if there’s a meditation in Simple Abundance, I lived it and took really good notes.

House and Garden Dec 1938.jpg

Good cheer is not limited to Christmas carols but can be made one of our gifts to the family all year round.  I don’t mean that we should all be Pollyannas, but “a merry heart doth good like a medicine.”  We give of ourselves by example and by our presence as well as by our presents.  If we are jittery and irritable it is communicated through the whole household whether we will it or not,” the editors of House and Garden reminded their readers in 1938.  “But we can give courage and encouragement, sympathy and advice.  We can contribute so much to the sense of well-being and of security by our own attitude and actions if we give a little thought to them, a little more thought perhaps than we give to the choice of our Christmas gifts, that we can create that atmosphere in our home. The things we do and say mean so much more than all the dolls and hobby horses and streamlined electric trains.”

So today, let us be grateful that through grace, we can live Christmas Present and gift it to others.

Sending you tidings of comfort and joy, dearest love and always blessings on your courage.



Getting to Know You

"I am not at all the sort of person you and I took me for."

- Jane Welsh Carlyle (1822).

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I don’t suppose anyone has called you self-centered recently?

Why would they?  Can you even remember the last time you considered your preferences before anyone else’s?  Didn’t think so.  Hey, Babe, you’re not alone. 

Most women recoil from the thought of personal descriptions that begin with the word “Self”, which is too bad because this self-defeating modesty eliminates a lot of flattering ones: self-poise, self-assured, self-confident.  So why do we self-consciously shrink from self-admiration?  Enquiring minds want to know.  Well, probably ever since your hand was slapped reaching for the last cookie on the plate all those years ago, you’ve viewed satisfying your healthy wants and lusty needs as selfish and shameful. 

But now that you’re all grown up, how about rediscovering how glorious you really are?  It’s time to realize that the cheeks that once burned with embarrassment can now radiate with the vibrant glow of a self-possessed woman.

I believe that there are three secret wounds to the feminine soul which I explored in my book Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self:  self-avoidance, betrayal, and marital indifference.  At first you might think that this is not a book for you.  Guess what?  So did I, and I was the one writing it.  

We have none of these problems. We have a beautiful home, a family we adore and work that we enjoy and fulfills us.  So why then,  do we secretly sense that there's got to be Something More to why we're here, something other than discovering what money, love and sex have to do with the Meaning of Life.  We grow our own organic vegetables, take our Omega 3, meditate, start book clubs. We work out five days a week, treat ourselves to low-fat soy sorbet the other two, and then wonder why we're perpetually cranky.  So what is the rest of it? we want to know (and preferably by the end of the afternoon).  This perpetual question distracts and disturbs us and keeps us worn to a raveling.

I thought we’d gently explore the first, self-dislike, or self-avoidance which might be why we never try to catch our reflection in the mirror or ever take photographs that we actually like. However, I love how the English novelist Virginia Woolf called this “her looking-glass shame,” the malady that breaks every woman’s heart because it is the bedrock that allows the other two to occur.  I once made the observation that there is really no wound from which the soul rarely recovers except regret and you know what? I was right.  It's taken me a heck of a long time to forgive myself and make self-nurturing amends, so if I can help at all, let me know.  That's why I'm here. 

So just between you and me how about a little chat? To begin with, there seems to be no vein of misery than runs deeper in all our lives than self-avoidance or personal dislike. But this is a fault line that guarantees our failure ever to be truly happy, no matter how much we accomplish or accumulate, or in whose arms we lie.

So why do we disapprove of ourselves?  Let me count the ways.  Some of the world’s most famous beauties can’t stand the physical sight of themselves.  Self-dislike is an equal opportunity oppressor.  In short, we may recoil from our human frailties, flaws and foibles in a world that approves only perfection;  our personal oddities, eccentricities and bad habits give us ammunition every day, especially since we discount every positive virtue through insidious comparisons to other women.

We self-sabotage ourselves by constantly capitulating to the needs of others by disavowing our own; for ignoring the careless cruelties of loved ones in order to keep the peace; for struggling to live up to the expectations of those we don’t even care about; for denying the validity of our own unrequited desires.

We mercilessly rage against ourselves because we don’t look quite like the multi-orgasmic sex goddesses we once thought we’d become; or because we’re not quite the natural, full bonded mothers we assumed we’d be when we held that baby in our arms for the first time; or because we haven’t quite fulfilled the promise of our astonishing authentic gifts with a star on Hollywood Blvd or an Editor-in-Chief nameplate on our door by 40 and Heaven have mercy, we won't let ourselves ever forget what a disappointment we are.  I didn't even start to write Simple Abundance until I was 44.  It took me half a lifetime to even discover how much I didn't know.  

When was the last time you started off a conversation with “I’m sorry” and you weren’t?  I did yesterday.  “Elvira always lied first to herself before she lied to anybody else, since this gave her a conviction of moral honesty,“ Phyllis Bottome wrote in 1934 about a woman we all know too well. 

One way we learn how to hide our self-dislike is by putting on our public masks and making sure that everyone else on the planet is happy.  That’s why you’ve learned how to please, cajole, comfort and delight your parents, partners, lovers, friends, boss or children but haven’t a clue how to give Guess Who a moment of pleasure, as in an hour or two to call your own and rediscover what it is that brings a smile to your face or that amazing sense of contentment.   

Which is how we die from self-pity, and that isn’t pretty. 

It’s time to declare a détente with our imperfections, to lay down the artillery of self-abuse we aim at ourselves, the potions, prayers and punitive diets, cosmetic artifice and extreme customized corrections.  I’m not suggesting that there’s isn’t a place for hair color, makeup and cosmetic nipping and tucking if it’s going to help you awaken to our own inner beauty.  But I am telling you that nothing will help you get over looking-glass shame if the transformation doesn’t begin from within.  First you have to be willing to seek ways of renewal that honor your body and restore it to its rightful place, as the sacred garment of your soul.

More often than not, we discover who we are and what makes us genuinely happy through the revelations found in the small the simple, and the common.  In your tiny choices, in what seem like infinitesimal changes.  In the unconsidered.  The overlooked.  The discarded.  The reclaimed. In moments I call “everyday epiphanies.”  When those “ah, ha” transmissions allow the static of the world to clear suddenly and the soul’s Morse code—the dots and dashes of our daily round, so often dismissed as meaningless—not only connect, but resonate on the deepest level.

So how do you learn to develop a finely honed sense of self-worth?  Give thanks for the Swell Dame within, even if the world calls it self-worship.  Pay attention from now on to what excites you, or moves you to tears.  What makes the blood rush to your head,  your heart skip a beat, your knees shaky and your soul sigh? And just remember, when someone else calls what you’re doing self-indulgent, you’ll know it’s self-preservation.  

Sending dearest love and always, blessings on your courage. XO


A Sunday Kind Of Love

Holy rest is an art form.  It’s not simply the absence of work.  It is the presence of all the sacred pleasures you can partake in: a festive meal, family and friends, a good book, a little romance, a walk in nature, a prayer to God.

                                                                           --Rabbi Naomi Levy

Photo by Melissa Gidney Daly /

Photo by Melissa Gidney Daly /

What did your last Sunday look like? Was it a day devoted to the art form of Holy Rest? Like many women, Sunday has become a day not to slow down but to catch up: on chores, cleaning, errands, the work I didn’t finish last week or a futile attempt to get a head start on next week’s “To-Do” list. 

However, recently I enjoyed a Sunday to remember with my daughter:  attending a Gospel Brunch in a beautiful California garden on a gorgeous day, basking in an abundance of inspirational music, delicious food, charm, laughter and conviviality. We were guests at Oprah Winfrey’s “Promised Land” ranch to celebrate her new book The Wisdom of Sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations.

“The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is read something inspiring. I like jump-starting my day with a reminder that I am a spiritual being having a human experience. My favorite teachings are always within reach, right on my nightstand. Many of them are by thought leaders and visionaries who’ve joined me on my show Super Soul Sunday.  If there is anything that represents the heartbeat of who I am and the work I strive to put out in the world, it’s the conversations I’ve been blessed to experience on this show. For me, they represent a new way of thinking about life’s big questions, lighting a path forward and reminding us that we are all connected, explains Oprah in the November issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. “I’ve always believed the knowledge and ideas shared each week on the show would make a powerfully transcendent book. I believed it even more strongly after going through more than 200 hours of Super Soul tapes in search of the most impactful sparks of brilliance from the men and women who’ve sat in my backyard in Santa Barbara and shared their wisdom.” 

I’ve been blessed to be a part of the Super Soul experience, discussing with Oprah both the transformative power of gratitude and the always challenging conversation about women and money in Peace and Plenty.  The wondrous aspect of having a conversation with Oprah is that she creates a “safe” place in which you can express your deepest feelings and insights knowing you are heard and protected.  Now Oprah’s captured the essence of these soulful conversations in between the elegant covers of this beautiful book.  As for the selections, Oprah used her personal sense of wonder as a compass for those heart-to-heart revelations – the “Ah, ha” moments that triggered a pause, inspiring and inviting the response: “I never thought of it that way.”

Photo by Melissa Gidney Daly /

Photo by Melissa Gidney Daly /

The result of her gleanings is a devotional perfectly suited for the nightstand.  A lot of books audition for pride of place on my nightstand. But as well as comfort and inspiration, these few books are also chosen for their beauty.  Like a woman with repose of the soul, The Wisdom of Sundays gladdens both my artist’s desire for beauty and seeker’s poetic pilgrimage on the pages, which are illustrated with beautiful photographs taken at the home she calls the “Promised Land,” which could be a setting for the garden of Eden.


However, as enchanting and as enriching as the entire afternoon was, the enormous personal lesson I took away, my own “Ah, ha” moment was a glimpse and glimmer of what, I believe, continues to allow Oprah to remain such a vibrant, bright light in a world that grows increasingly dark. It’s her spiritual electricity. Even with decades of fame, money, success, power and influence, she’s never lost track of her spiritual roots or the abiding source of her strength and wisdom.  There was a whole lot of praising the Lord going on at this Gospel Brunch and it thrilled me with tears of joy and goosebumps. The songs and the singers were mighty, powerful, and true, especially, the stirring gospel hymn “Stand” (which was said to be among Oprah’s mother/mentor Dr. Maya Angelou’s favorites) Well, I was standing and it moved through me like bolt of Holy Spirit lightening.   

After you’ve gone through the hurt
After you’ve done all you can
After you’ve gone through the pain
After you’ve done all you can
After you’ve gone through the storm
After you’ve done all you can
After you’ve gone through the rain
After you’ve done all you can, prayed and cried
After you’ve done all you can, you just stand…
God has a purpose, yes, God has a plan.

(Donnie McClurkin)

But here’s the crucial thing:  before we can stand still long enough to receive the blessing, we have to be willing to stop and pause.  Pause one day a week for sacred rest, renewal and reconnection. Pause first thing in the morning for loving advice from kindred spirits in The Wisdom of Sundays.  Pause long enough to write down why we’re grateful for just being able to stand.

Ah, yes, this is honoring the Sabbath. Remember? The seventh day when the Great Creator paused after bringing forth the cosmos and then, instructed us to do the same.  We have to be willing to open ourselves to the space between the pauses of rejoicing and reconciliation.  The Pause that ends the estrangement between your body and soul.  The Pause that gets results when we can’t.  The Pause that delights in delivering dreams to our doorstep or redirecting them towards our own passions instead of other people’s priorities.  

Most of the women I know are so overworked, overwrought and trapped in this frantic and exhausting 24/7 Breaking News culture, we don’t know how to help ourselves any longer and we’re worn to a raveling.  How about realizing that we can’t help ourselves or anyone else unless we stop, not dead in our tracks, but while we’re still alive.  Can you plan to give yourself time off for good behavior?  How about this coming Sunday?  And have I got a great recommendation for a bit of Sunday reading. 

“My prayer is that this book becomes a companion for you,” Oprah shares with us. “That at any point in your own lifelong adventure, you’ll be able to open The Wisdom of Sundays and find—as I do in the cherished books on my bedside table—just the right words of comfort and clarity. 

“What I know for sure: Your soul is as unique as your fingerprint. Finding its truest expression is a forever exploration. And sometimes it helps to have a wise and trusted friend along for the ride.”

Sending dearest love and blessings on our courage, XO SBB

Getting Through the Getting Over It

Part of getting over it is knowing that you will never get over it.  

 -    Anne Finger ("Past Due," 1990)

woman and man in difficult conversation.jpg

“What were they thinking?” is a favorite magazine and tabloid newspaper heading often used as a commentary over funny or bizarre photographs.  But frequently when I think of the Swell Dames that I admire, I find myself wondering the same thing. What were they thinking? And what were they feeling as they faced the challenges, crossroads and choices that ultimately changed and shaped the trajectory of their lives?  

Were they preparing dinner when their lover walked into the kitchen and said, “We need to talk”?  Did their knees buckle when they realized that everything they’d worked for their entire lives was wiped out in a day because they trusted a con man, their own husband?  What were they feeling as they watched their dream house float down the street in a once in a thousand year flood?  After Noah’s Ark, God promised never to destroy the world again with water.  Just don’t try “comforting” a woman from Texas or Florida right now with that biblical reference. Better yet, say nothing other than a prayer for what they are enduring, offer gratitude that you’re not and make a donation to the Red Cross.

Because there are no words when sorrow slaps you senseless with a sucker punch.  There’s no self-help mantra, nor belief big enough to surmount the anguish at this moment.  When the day after tomorrow arrives at each of our doors, and it will, there’s no metaphysical “Secret” on earth to help you come to grips with the unfathomable.  All we know is that we are shocked, stunned, hurt, grieving, and groping with too many unknowns to consider and too many contingencies to handle.

“There was a time when my life seems so painful to me that reading about the lives of other women writers was one of the few things that could help.  I was unhappy, and ashamed of it; I was baffled by my life,” Kennedy Fraser admits in her luminous collection of essays on women’s lives, Ornament and Silence.  “Even now, I feel I should pretend that I was reading only these women’s fiction or their poetry—their lives as they chose to present them, alchemized as art.  But that would be a lie. It was the private messages I really liked—the journals and letters, and autobiographies and biographies whenever they seemed to be telling the truth.  I felt very lonely then, self-absorbed, shut off.  I needed all this murmured chorus, this continuum of true life stories, to pull me through.  They were like mothers or sisters to me, these literary women, many of them already dead; more than my own family, they seemed to stretch out a hand.”

This summer, in a season when I was supposed to be preparing to move by winnowing out my belongings and books to pack, I seem to have done the exact reverse:  accumulate new ones.  Or I’ll pull out books from packed boxes that I forgot I even had. “Oh, that never should have been packed,” I’ll admonish the cats dozing on the boxes. I don’t know when I was planning to have time to read them all because I will be moving.  Perhaps the real reason for this new cache is because I’m trying to reassure myself that there are plenty of women I admire who experienced the getting through the getting over stage of grief and change.   “See,” I brace myself as I add another memoir to my stack of resilience, “You will, too.”


Unacknowledged grief demands that attention must be paid to its sorrow. However long it takes and at the most inconvenient times. But we will pay attention. It seems that writing my remembrance on Princess Diana’s death last week opened up an old wound, which I erroneously believed had been covered with scar tissue for the last decade.  You see, I’d not made the connection between being in England to cover Diana’s funeral and the finding and buying of Sir Isaac Newton’s private chapel only a few days later, or at least I hadn't thought of those threads in a very long time.   And this is how the dominoes fall:  if I’d never gone to London to cover the funeral, I never would have taken a few extra days to visit Sir Isaac Newton’s private Chapel, which was for sale.  If I’d never bought the Chapel, I never would have … there’s no happy ending at the end of this paragraph, so I won't go on.  But the cause and effect chain reaction doesn’t need to be great to wreak serious damage.  Did you know that just 29 dominoes could knock down the Empire State Building? (Thank you

And that is where my own Swell Dame found me to have a little chat. Setting the dominoes up.  It went something like this.  You will never get over losing Newton’s Chapel. Eve never got over losing Eden.  But the only way you can move to the future is by being grateful that you once lived in Paradise and you created a beautiful Home there. The dream of Newton’s Chapel is your dream of home.  You can create a new home for us.  I’ll help you. There are some things we are not meant to get over. Sometimes we hold on to the grief of the Past because it’s the only way we know how to hold on to the ashes of Love.  

That’s why I writing to you this week because I’m sure I’m not the only woman who’s shut herself down in order to shut her inconvenient emotions off from whatever we can’t face or accept just yet. I’d not even let myself cry really because I was afraid that once I started I wouldn’t be able to stop.  But the Compassionate One has already intervened on our behalf. The Talmud tells us “Even when the gates of Heaven are closed to prayers, they are open to tears.”  Far from being self-indulgent, crying is an ancient form of articulated prayer.  In Catholic and Eastern Orthodox religions, tears have always been a special gift of the Holy Spirit; in the Hebrew Old Testament, an entire book of the Bible is devoted to crying—the Book of Lamentations.

For centuries in the west of Gaelic-speaking Ireland, particularly in Connemara, certain women, wise in the ways of the supernatural or “other” realms were taught the proper way to grieve with sound, or keen, which is a long, high-pitched wail of abandonment and grief strong enough to shatter glass.  The language of keening is the passionate calling forth of exactly what it is that you dread and fear, to rise up and meet you face-to-face on the scorched battlefield of your devastated heart.  The sob is the soul’s sacred battle cry for the Beloved to intervene, to help, to have mercy, to deliver you. To carry you off the battlefield. To bring you Home.

Keening women in "The Aran Fisherman's Drowned Child" by Frederick William Burton

Keening women in "The Aran Fisherman's Drowned Child" by Frederick William Burton

To keen is to embrace those emotions too deep and too dark for words, struggling now for some, any form of expression.  To let the sound of sorrow and waves of grief pass through you, picking up tempo and timbre as you go, is like breath on the reed of a woodwind or strings of a violin.  To truly cry takes tremendous courage.  A fiery anger wrestles in the pit of your gut; the despair catches in your throat; the fierce loneliness of the iron band of sorrow tightens across your chest.

Many of us resist the sacred relief of crying because the truth is, the act of crying physically hurts. Heartache is real.  But we must trust that it hurts for a reason.  We feel so alone.  Bereft. We can’t go on we tell ourselves.  But we must go on, we must take the next step, any step. Fill an empty box with your cherished books. For the love of all that is holy, do you really believe that God would leave us alone at such a moment? I don’t.  I won’t and you can’t either. Because how else could we go on?  And go on, we must.  But I’ll never hush you, Sweetheart. I’d rather you howl at the moon.  Heaven knows that I have.

Women had a lot to cry about during the Depression and the Home Front years.  Keeping bodies and souls together with a continuous feed of courageous optimism and cheerful vivacity was considered vital to morale.  Women’s magazines of this era acknowledged and provided regular remedies to soothe red faces and swollen eyes after having “a good cry.”

Here’s my favorite homemade après-crisis restorative.  It calls for items you probably have in your refrigerator and cupboard—a cucumber-and-chamomile-tea rinse for the face that I call:

Sweet Mercy Medicinal

½ cucumber, peeled and seeded

¼ cup hot, prepared green tea

¼ cup hot, prepared chamomile tea

Puree the cucumber in a blender and strain the juice.  Mix the teas together and add the cucumber juice.  Stir well and refrigerate for at least half an hour.  This mixture will keep a day or two in the fridge.  If you’ve been crying on and off, dab your face with some, rinse with cool water, and then pat your face dry with your softest towel.

Also have on hand a pitcher of water with cucumber slices and drink from it frequently.  Often when we’re emotionally distressed and wrung-out, we forget to do things as simple as sipping water while we slosh back the wine and whiskey.  Reach for the water first, because dehydration can make you swoon.

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears,” Charles Dickens wrote in Great Expectations (1860), “for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.”

Sending my dearest love and blessings on your courage, more than words can ever say,


Total Eclipse of the Heart: Remembering Princess Diana

‘When [she] shall die, take her and cut her into tiny stars and she shall make the face of Heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”

                               Romeo and Juliet (Act 3, Scene 2) William Shakespeare

Photo by Mario Testino

Photo by Mario Testino

This week is the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s sudden, unexpected and tragic death. There have been seemingly endless documentaries attempting to finally “tell the truth” about her life and whether they have achieved that I'm not certain, but what is true, is that Diana’s story was and still is, the story of our lives.  

Every woman’s life.

While 20 years ago there may have been mystery about the sources of Diana’s deep depression and personal misery until she had the courage to stand up for herself and reveal the cracks behind the perfect Royal façade, the real enigma is how she was able to transform that pain with her grace, grit and gumption. Princess Diana showed us with her inimitable compassion, courage, charm, sense of duty, style, beauty and kindness how to go on and begin again when real life does not turn out the way we dreamed it would be, especially if you marry Prince Charming.  

However, after two decades, one’s past life shifts from the personal to the historical, if it is remembered at all; and the private struggles and challenges faced and overcome become footnotes in biographies, tell-all memoirs, documentaries, films and ancestral research instead of personal recollection.  With the generational gap, we forget that before someone becomes an icon, she was flesh and bone, tears and fears. The Google generation can gather facts and juicy bits about Princess Diana’s brief, glittering, flawed and dramatic life.  However, regrettably they will never know or understand why Diana was such a powerful, glimmering Star in the Divine feminine firmament, a woman who became a legend in her own time by revealing her personal vulnerability until it became her greatest strength.

“Twenty years after her death we miss her more than ever.  In a world torn by conflict and blame, there’s still a yawning gap, a public wound that continues to speak to her absence.  So deep was the bond of compassion she forged with her admirers that her death in August 1997 at the age of 36 was a universal bereavement—one that no one who experienced those days will ever forget.” Tina Brown observes in Remembering Diana. “With the benefit of 20 years of hindsight, the wrong perpetrated on the young Diana by the crown seems unconscionable. They gaslighted her, and they isolated her…Worse, they were jealous…[But] pain made her luminous. She sublimated her lovelessness into acts of humanitarian leadership boosting the efforts of the Red Cross, advocating for others with eating disorders, and ministering to the homeless, to orphans, to AIDS patients, and to the disabled.  Charles’s circle mocked her ‘saintly’ acts as self-promotion—but none who experience Diana’s natural wells of kindness ever forgot how it felt.  Her compassion was real, and the realization of how much her outreach could matter to those she touched gave her a purpose that now propelled her life.”

Until suddenly, without warning, it was over.  Just as she was reaching for another chance at happiness, she was snatched away.      


Like other shocking events, such as the assignation of John F. Kennedy and 9/11 or news of personal tragedy, our minds instantly rewind back to the ordinary moment before our hearts froze with fear and we were sent reeling with the news. “Have you ever thought when something dreadful happens, a moment ago things were not like this; let it be then not now anything but now? The English novelist Mary Stewart asks.  “And you try and try to remake then, but you know you can’t.  So you try to hold the moment quiet still and not let it move on and show itself.’

My daughter and I were in Aspen, just finishing a group vacation over Labor Day, 1997. That Saturday night, the grown-ups went out to dinner and left the teenagers to babysit.  When we returned shortly after midnight, all the children and teens were crying. Back then, there were no smartphones, Facebook and Twitter so the children had been anxiously waiting for us to come home to share the terrible news together.  

“Oh, Mom, Princess Diana has died!”  

We were stunned. When? How? Where? On the television ashen faced BBC broadcasters were trying their best to deliver the heartbreaking announcement as calmly as possible.  But no matter how it was articulated, it was impossible to process how the most famous woman in the world could die so needlessly and so tragically in a violent car crash in a Paris tunnel relentlessly pursued by the paparazzi.  There were simply no words to express or console.  No explanation, no reasoning, no belief big enough to surmount the unfathomable. Where was her protection detail? Oh, that’s right, it was taken away from her after the Royal Divorce.  Then where, for the love of all that’s holy, was Heaven? How could a universal Light so bright be snuffed out, “like a candle in the wind,” as Elton John would sing at her funeral a week later.   We now know her last words were: “My God, what’s happened…?” Yes, My God, what did happened? The shock was so staggering and unexpected and so wrong that the world was suddenly catapulted into the anguished realm of the unspeakable.

Photo by Mario Testino

Photo by Mario Testino

Like many women around the world, I loved and admired Diana. How could you not?  I remember dragging myself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning with a cup of tea and a comforter to the couch in July 1981 mesmerized by her romantic fairy tale nuptials.  Lady Diana Spencer was only 19 years and truly the blushing bride when she emerged from the gold and glass carriage, all incandescent innocence. Her beaming radiance beneath her sparking veil bespoke happily ever after. Her beautiful voluminous silk taffeta and lace dress complete with a 25 foot train took the world’s collective breath away,  as she walked down the red carpet of St. Paul’s Cathedral on her proud father’s arm to her Prince Charming.  As the Archbishop of Canterbury said as they made their vows, “Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made.”

Certainly, especially if the fairy tale was written by the Brothers Grimm.  Did you know that fairy tales were originally meant to scare and frightened little children?  They were cautionary tales on how to stay safe in this cruel and dangerous world.  And Princess Diana’s fairy tale was a perfect fit for a handmaiden’s tale. She was young, a virgin, and selected for her breeding, “a brood mare” to produce a royal heir and a spare. While she was desperately in love with Prince Charles, he was pressured to do his duty and get married. Later, in her own words and voice she would say, “I was the sacrificial lamb.”  But on that day, her heart was filled with love, hope and trust.  And so were ours for her.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana on their wedding day.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana on their wedding day.

I experienced Diana’s death in a very unexpected and surreal unfolding which ended up profoundly changing the trajectory of my life. I’ve never recounted the story before as it occurred but I’ve been mulling it over for years. 

On Thursday afternoon, September 4th at 3:45 pm, my agent telephoned me and asked if I had plans for the weekend.  Since I was on deadline for Something More, I had only planned to be writing. 

People Magazine just called and asked if you’d be a Special Correspondent covering the funeral.”  

I was flabbergasted. “Why?”

“They want you to finds ‘lessons from the princess’s vibrant life and wrenching death.”  Huh?

The next thing I remember, Kate was helping me pack. We threw everything black into a suitcase.  A car was waiting to take me to Dulles airport and four hours later I got the last seat on the last flight from the U.S. to London before the funeral.

When I arrived in the U.K. on Friday morning, after I checked into what I was told was the last hotel room in London, I immediately went to People’s London office and was given the assignment to mingle with the people on the street, not as a member of the media but as another mourner.  I was to walk between the three royal palaces—St. James, Kensington and Buckingham which were now linked by an ocean of flowers.

An aerial view of the flowers left before Diana's funeral.

An aerial view of the flowers left before Diana's funeral.

What I didn’t realize until later was there had been much public anger, first with the press who the public blamed for the Princess’s death, and now the Royal Family who had remained silent and out-of-sight at Balmoral in Scotland.

I remember vividly that London was very hot and the first thing you noticed was the scent of the flowers. An aroma that enveloped you like a hug from an rich aunt who was drenched in too much expensive scent. The fragrance was heavy, humid and mixed with the warmth from the bodies of thousands of people lining every available space. An ocean of saltwater tears were shed on those streets. I’d never seen so many people in my life milling about. There were thousands of people walking or huddled in small groups, families holding hands, pushing baby strollers or walking slowly, helping elderly members with walkers or canes. Later police would say there were over a million people there. Everyone was crying, hugging, saying prayers; there was no pushing or shoving as you might expect in such a large crowd. Everyone waited their turn to lay down their remembrance and everyone was carrying flowers.  

Floral tributes and balloons laid in the gardens of Kensington Palace.

Floral tributes and balloons laid in the gardens of Kensington Palace.

In England and the continent when you buy a bouquet, it’s always wrapped in cellophane, and so, the people’s memorial was a sea of cellophane, along with stuffed teddy bears, balloons, pictures and personal notes.  All the shop windows had been dressed in black crepe, or displayed portraits of Princess Diana and lovely bouquets of flowers.  Most shops were closed, except the chemists, food stores, newsstands and of course, florists. But the shop assistants, like their customers, cried openly and didn’t try to conceal their grief which was raw, powerful and came in waves.   The veneer of the stiff upper lip, stoic Brits was completely washed away by a tsunami of anguish that moved from one person to the next.  Complete strangers were consoling each other and waiting. Waiting for something, even if they didn’t know what exactly they were waiting for.  Perhaps it was, as one tabloid headline screamed next to a picture of the Queen:  SHOW US YOU CARE!

On Friday afternoon, finally the Queen and Prince Philip arrived back at Buckingham Palace. There had been so much anger at the Royal Family in both Diana’s life and now death, no one knew how the people would react.  But the Queen’s car stopped before the Palace gates and she tentatively walked up to the crowds accepting bouquets to place at the flower memorials.  Later that afternoon the Queen would give a live televised speech which was only the second time in fifty years she had done so. In it she would express her sorrow as a grandmother and explain the family's retreat— that she and her family were trying to take care of the children who had just lost their mother.  

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip survey the tributes to Diana.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip survey the tributes to Diana.

After her broadcast, I went back to my hotel and fell asleep.  I needed to be up at 4 am and go to Hyde Park and cover the funeral procession and ceremony in Westminster Abbey.  There were over 100,000 people camped inside the Park in tents and sleeping bags.  Giant screens, the kind used for rock concerts and sporting events had been erected, along with speakers along the funeral route, so that the ceremonies could be televised.

Saturday morning when I arrived at Hyde Park before dawn, there were thousands of little candles flickering in the morning mist.  A profound sense of quiet grief hovered in the air.  You know how you feel after you’ve had a long, hard cry, and it literally hurts to breathe?  That is what it felt like.  An exhausted public waiting to say goodbye to a woman they adored. At 9:08 AM, the first tolling of the bell rang and continued on, every minute during the entire, slow, two-hour procession from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey .  That bell, the horses hooves, the carriage wheels, and stillness. No birds, no planes, no traffic.  

And then when her coffin finally came into view the wailing began:  “Diana, we love you Darling.”

There were many heart-breaking, hushed moments, the memory of which twenty years later are still unbearable—  Diana’s young sons, William and Harry, their heads bowed, walking behind their mother’s coffin. The grim faces of their father, grandfather and uncle. The card on the coffin which read “Mummy.” The heavy load on the shoulders of the young Welsh Guards as they took the weight of the lead lined, oak coffin, and carried the Princess into the Abbey.

People Magazine Diana edition with SBB article Sept 22 1997.jpg

And then, the surprising eulogy from Princess Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer which began “I stand before you today, the representative of a family in grief, in a country in mourning before a world in shock.”  He would go on to say, what all the people had been saying to each other, what everyone knew and why everyone grieved, not just for her loss, but because she did not know how much we loved her.  And when he finished the people stood up in Hyde Park as I did and began to clap in thunderous applause for at least ten minutes.  I had never heard clapping at a funeral before, but it was the most fitting gesture of love and it spread throughout London into Westminster Abbey on waves of sound. And after all this was done, I went back to my hotel room to write the most important assignment I’d ever been given. Twelve hours later I filed it.  It appeared in People on September 22, 1997.  Twenty years later, I still feel the same way.  I guess I did learn a heartfelt lesson afterall.

Swept along by the crowds—feeling less a member of the media than a mourner among her masses—there’s not a doubt in my mind that this glorious woman, so adored and admired for her beauty, style, devotion, sense of honor, conviction and compassion, was deeply, passionately and, in the end, unconditionally loved.  But the tears I shed for her come from a harrowing sense that Diana never realized the depth of love the world held for her.  We were too stingy with our praise and thanksgiving, too generous with our disdain and criticism.

And though many people surely tried to express their gratitude to her in kind and thoughtful ways, how could Diana have understood the impact that her cuddling a child dying of AIDS or her shaking a leper’s hand had on millions of people around the world? The hidden sorrow of Diana’s death is the mystery of how a woman who sought nothing more than the rest of us do—caring, communication, companionship, connection, commitment—spent nearly her entire adult life lonely, isolated, harassed, blinded by the harsh glare of flashbulbs, public opinion and our insatiable need to live vicariously. A note with a small bouquet of flowers picked from a garden read, “We didn’t deserve you.”  I agree.


Many misguided individuals spend their lives seeking celebrity only to discover, when they achieve it, that the more public their persona, the more isolated they feel.  Inevitably their circle of intimates must shrink for their own sanity and protection.  Isolation is one of fame’s more uncomfortable footnotes.  Often in the rush to live Technicolor lives, we forget to read the fine print.  Stop wishing this instant to be living anybody else’s life.  As Diana taught us so tragically, life is too short not to start living it.

Now, I don’t believe Diana sought celebrity; she just made a bad choice before she was 20 and got trapped in the most unfortunate of webs.  By the time your celebrity lands you on the cover of PEOPLE—and Diana graced it more than any other person—you’re lucky if you have one or two confidantes in the world you can call at 2 a.m. when you can’t get out of your hotel without being chased by the paparazzi.  Is that how you’d like to live?  Me neither.  And while accolades, acclaim and awards are often agreeable fellows to have a drink with, they make lousy dinner partners. Their conversation rarely moves past small talk.  

Outside Westminster Abbey, a hairstylist in her 20s confessed to me that she and her friends felt a bit guilty about Princess Diana’s death, because “we all did want to read about her, didn’t we?”  And we did, myself included, which in the end is why she died at 36-years-old. Let’s face it:  Reading about someone larger than life is much easier than investing the time, creative energy and emotion it takes to make our own lives fulfilling.  

Passion is color; most of us live in black and white.  For me, Diana’s great gift was that she was willing to embrace her passion, to attempt to live authentically.  The lesson she taught us is how to live.  She lived at full throttle while most of us go about our lives as if we’re on life support.  Every choice Diana made, right or wrong, she made with a beating pulse; the rest of us play it so safe that we don’t even realize we risk everything by failing to take risks.  Sure, that’s a paradox; living is a paradox.


Somewhere during her difficult journey, a princess in pain realized she could no longer deny her passion.  If Diana’s death imparts only one lesson, it is that passion is holy, to be embraced, even as we tremble in fear that love will hurt us.  As, of course, it will.  Her extraordinary, courageous and authentic life is a powerful reminder that we are conceived in passion, born in passion and often die in passion, whether it is in a hospital bed or in the backseat of a speeding car, trying to outrun destiny.

As beautiful as Diana’s send-off was, it was still a parting, and there is nothing good about saying goodbye to someone you love and nothing fair about saying farewell to one taken away too soon.  At the end of the day—or the end of a life—all that we have is ourselves and each other.  All that has ever mattered and all that will ever matter is one question:  Did we love ourselves and each other deeply, passionately, unconditionally?  Diana did.  I don’t know about you, but I think it would be miraculous if, when I die, someone writes, “The only pain she ever caused was when she left us.”  Now there’s a celebrity worth pursuing.

There is a story that says the gates of Heaven are guarded by a fierce angel brandishing a sword.  When we arrive at the gates, we are told that only those who life was pierced by the sword of love are allowed entry into paradise.  Was yours?  The gates were wide open for Diana, Princess of Wales.

Blessings on your courage, Diana.  

With dearest love and deepest gratitude,


How a Good Girl Goes Bad

August is a wicked month.
                                 --Edna O’Brien

Bad girl Berlin 1933.jpg

Reckless, wanton, sultry, too hot to handle. August is breathing down our necks and it’s not even noon.  Hold it right there.  When it’s 100 degrees in the shade and the heat shimmers off the blacktop, Babes turn bad, if they know what’s good for them.

“Bad girls make it happen.  A bad girl knows what she wants and how to get it.  She makes her own rules, makes her own way and makes no apologies.  She knows when to work a room, when to work the angles and when to work her curves or do all of the above,” Cameron Tuttle tells us in her cheeky Bad Girl Guide series.  “She’s attitude in overdrive, coast-to-coast confidence and fast-forward fun.  She’s your boldest dreams and your inner wild.  A bad girl is you at your best—whoever you are, whatever your style.”

And whatever your age.  That’s because “once you light your badness fuse, you’ll start to hear the muse—that sassy little voice inside your head reminding you to go for it [and] trust your instincts…”  Those of you who’ve read Simple Abundance know of my deep admiration for the bad girl in all of us (November 22).  “There are no good girls gone wrong,” Mae West confides.  “Just bad girls found out. “  Unfortunately, for too many of us, our Bad Girls stay in the closet in all their dazzling spandex splendor.  That’s because we often confuse bad girls with the archetypal feminine shadow—the brazen hussy.  The bitch.  The witch.  Strumpet, wench, trollop, tart, floozy, nympho, hooker, libertine.

Yes, historically that is what men have called women who rule, women they couldn’t control, and the women of rock and roll.  I call her our Swell Dame.  “Great women throughout history were bad girls.  They were passionate about what they wanted.  They were dreamers, risk-takers, and visionaries who defied the norm of their times,” Tuttle points out.  “They didn’t conform and they didn’t take no for an answer.  They weren’t afraid to break the rules or scare the hell out men to get what they wanted.  You don’t have to change the world to find your badness.  But you’ll definitely change yours.”

Maire Curie was long considered a "bad girl".

Maire Curie was long considered a "bad girl".

When I think of my inner bad girl I think of “The First of Her Name” and “The Princess That Was Promised,” my personal icon Khaleeshi, the Mother of Dragons:  Daenerys Stormborn, as she was called for she “had come howling into the world in the greatest storm in the memory of Westeros; a storm so fierce that it ripped gargoyles from the castle walls and smashed her father’s fleet to kindling.”  Not a bad beginning for any woman destined to change not just world, but worlds.

Emilia Clarke in  Game of Thrones

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones

As a “good girl” who grew up to be a well-behaved woman, I’ve tried to bury my passion for most of my life.  But when a “good” woman snuffs out the spark of wildness she was born with, the very nature she’s been endowed with as a blessing to keep her not just alive, not just surviving, but thriving, she turns her passion inwards and ends up “dead” in some sense, whether it’s through chronic depression, cringe worthy choices, debilitating illness, addiction, or by desperate measures, such as driving off a cliff.  A woman shouldn’t need to be diagnosed with breast cancer to take up mountain climbing or landscape design.  Nor should she find it necessary to pretend she’s having a root canal in order to get a haircut.  However, speaking personally, I’ve known one too many women who have done just that.

Perhaps we need to reconsider our “concept” of exactly what makes a Bad Girl.  Cameron Tuttle suggests we consider “Cleopatra cruising the Nile…Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin…Rosa Parks in the front of the buss… Miss Piggy hitting the high notes… Aretha Franklin getting some respect… Tina Turner strutting her stuff…”

How about Katniss Everdeen?  Or Lucy from Peanuts?  The turn of the century rebel rouser from Nova Scotia, Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables who confesses hopefully for all of us: “It’s so easy to be wicked without knowing it, isn’t it.”  Gee, I wish I could at least try.
Personally my favorite Bad Girl is Tinker Bell.  This Babe was so bad, she’d just fall down, hold her breath and pretend to be dead until she got her way.  Jane Austen?  One of the most subversive women ever to lift a pen: “I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.”

Tinkerbell in  Peter Pan

Tinkerbell in Peter Pan

What about Marilyn Monroe?  Granted she remains the greatest sex symbol there ever was, but regrettably she wasn’t a Bad Girl.  She just wanted to be.  Really Bad Girls might wear only Chanel No. 5 to bed, but their survival instincts are powerful and admirable.
Still, for women of any age, whose deepest, unarticulated fear is that someday we will end up alone, friendless, homeless and on the street, the dark shadow of the fallen woman is menacing.   “The word shadow itself suggests a dark, secretive, possibly malevolent countenance that looms in in the background of our nature, ready to do harm to others as well as to ourselves,” the brilliant writer and pioneer in spiritual energy medicine, Carolyn Myss, explains in her book Sacred Contracts:  Awaking Your Divine Potential.   However, “a much more appropriate understanding of the shadow aspects” of our personalities is “that represent the part of our being that is the least familiar part of ourselves.”

And for too many women the least familiar part of ourselves is the girl who just wants to have fun.  It’s quite illuminating when you make the discovery that often that women call the search for true love really turns out to be the suppressed hankering to do something that she loves.  It’s not another person.  It’s something that makes her feel alive and joyful.  I’ve rarely had as much joy in my life as the weekend I spent learning on the job how to midwife 200 rare breed pregnant ewes by doing it, rubber gloves up to my shoulders.  Four days and 80 newborn lambs later, I could barely move and spent two days sleeping.  But it was the best sleep I’d had since the night after I gave birth to my own beautiful lamb, my daughter.  There’s a soulful connection there and as Heaven is my witness I’m going to find and make it again.

“Do you have the idea that it’s unladylike to want.  Snap out of it!" Cameron Tuttle urges us. “Don’t be afraid to want things, to yearn, crave or lust for anything.  And don’t be afraid to go after what you want.  If you can’t satisfy yourself, then how can you expect anyone else to satisfy you?”

In a note from my dearly beloved and sorely missed friend, the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, he urged me to let loose the “natural wildness, wisdom and devilment of your soul” so that “the Great Spirit can grant you the deepest desires of your heart.”  That’s where my personal journey needs to begin and it’s about time I start over. What about you?  Sounds like just the nudge I need to go see the new movie “Wonder Woman.”

Sending you dearest love and encouragement to the girl who truly loves you, Babe.  Just look over your shoulder. She’s great fun to be around.  I do hope we can all become acquainted with her this wicked month.  Let’s give August something to talk about!
Blessings on your courage,


Secret Anniversaries of the Heart

The holiest of all holidays are those
kept by ourselves in silence and apart,
the secret anniversaries of the heart…

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“There are days of oldness, and then one gets young again,” the writer Katharine Butler Hathaway observed in 1930.  “It goes backward and forward, not in one direction.”  She was musing I think, not about the circuitous passage of time, but of memory.

June is the month of secret anniversaries of the heart for me. (I wrote about them on June 15th in Simple Abundance.)  Many June memories involved summer pastimes I enjoyed as a little girl— summer theater performed on the patio while the grown-ups sipped their cocktails, the tinkling of the ice cubes along with the applause; pony rides, the splash of water at a pool or the gleeful dash through the sprinkler on the lawn.  Followed in rapid succession by the indelible memories of June with my own little girl. Midsummer’s Night Eve and preparing a tea party for the fairies; then the excitement of running into the backyard the next morning and finding presents suspended in colorful netting and ribbons.   

This week I was doing errands and passed a large middle school where all the families were having their own picnics in small clusters of happiness.  Suddenly, a big sigh of recognition emerged from my heart: “O look, it’s the end of year picnic. I always loved the end of school picnics.”  In a moment I was back in Takoma Park, picking up the best tuna sandwiches in the whole world, brownies and mini fruit tarts at “Everyday Gourmet” to take to the Washington Waldorf School for the last day of school and our collective summer picnic on the playing field.  
Secret anniversaries often reveal in mystical ways, our place in the world and our sacred connections. They can be joyful or sad or, surprisingly, both at the same time; major turning points or minor epiphanies.  You might remember the day you got your first position after years of study, received a special love letter or sent your child off for his first overnight camp, as suddenly a sentimental potpourri of fresh air, pine needles, calamine lotion, roasted marshmallows and ghost stories around a blazing campfire overtakes you as you fold his beloved but ratty T-shirts from the dryer. He’s 30 now and just came for a visit, so where did that swoosh of memory come from?

Or you might recall a painful loss you can’t share with others; the due date of a baby who was never born, a long-standing breech with a friend; or a precious pet’s passing.  The way the garden withered on the vine when your husband of thirty years told you casually one night, as you prepared his drink, that there was someone else taking over your position.  Sometimes it takes long years to recognize the importance of such secret anniversaries—or to even know that you have one to acknowledge or commemorate with a silent pause and prayer, so that the past can move on with dignity. The Past asks only to be remembered.  The Past wants us to move on more than the Present can ever imagine, because until it does, we can’t have the Future that’s waiting to unfold. The sacred contract and prime directive of the Past is to get you to your Future.

Our senses are the conduits of these soul memories.  The song does remember when, as do the lilacs that bloomed every spring on your mother’s dressing table among the crystal bottles of fragrance and the soft light behind billowing organza curtains; the old baseball glove; the sheer ecstasy of the outside shower at your best friend’s beach house in Rehoboth Beach; Nana’s potato salad and the sour cherry pie from the farmer’s market.  The cat collar, his favorite blanket, the fossilized Binky in the kitchen junk drawer along with the corn cob pigs, the random Christmas ornament found behind the couch.  These things matter—they are the soul’s touchstones of truth; memento mori (translated from the Latin “Remember that you will Die” but more importantly, “Remember to Live.”) Babe, it’s taken me my entire life to understand that we can’t receive the blessing or the bounty if we’re not willing to acknowledge the benediction hidden behind every letting go.  If I can cut you a little slack from the cosmic curriculum to speed your journey, please tag along.

Our senses are spiritual code breakers ready to reveal what’s been pushed down or hidden from view as we stumble through our days; exhausted by the frenetic pace and sheer expense of time,  exertion, creative energy and emotion required to just make it through our daily round. Technology has run roughshod over our lives.  Which do we pay attention to first; the text, the call we’re on or the one on call waiting?  Maybe it’s the email or the beep from our new smart watch.  Each encounter brings with it a sense of false urgency.  Yes, I realize that instant communication is a critical component in our world and change is life’s only constant. But secret anniversaries of the heart are ancient, primal pathways sent to lead us to make connections more powerful than we can even imagine.  There’s a TED talk waiting to happen.  

Sometimes we dismiss the tugs of recollection as sentimental, unpractical or unimportant.  Unruly.  You might be blindsided by the green bud that astonishingly sprouts on a dead rosebush you began watering “just to see” what might happen. We often confuse the dormant with the dead; we’d like to be rid of painful memories and “move on” before the memories are ready to bid us adieu and depart on their own.   But honoring the personal passages that altered the trajectory of our lives (especially if we are the only one who does remember) is how we grow, change and eventually heal.  We find the strength to continue on our journey to Wholeness with morsels of our soul’s manna: remembrance.

As Amy Tan suggests in her novel The Joy Luck Club, “I can never remember things I didn’t understand in the first place.”  Perhaps this is true for all of us and our secret anniversaries of the heart are meant to be our spiritual go-between, messengers of understanding sent to nudge us two steps back so that we’re at the right time and the right place for the next giant leap forward. 

Sending dearest love and always, blessings on your courage. XO SBB

PS - The photographs for this musing are from my collection of an English woman’s life from the turn of the century through 1950. Her name was Iseult and she always referred to herself as “Self”, which poignantly moves me because women never put themselves into the complete picture of their own lives, so it would seem. But her beautiful smile and joie de vivre express the “authentic self” perfectly for me and remains a source of continuing inspiration.  I hope you enjoy her happiness as a reminder to gently get yourself back into your own life!

Cultivating a Secret Garden

I am sure there is Magic in everything, 
only we have not sense enough to get hold of it
and make it do things for us.

 -- Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden, 1911)

Photo by Chloe LKB

Photo by Chloe LKB

When I lived outside of Washington, D.C. during the eighties, I had a secret garden, which I shared with the Episcopal Bishop at the Washington Cathedral.  Known as “The Bishop’s Garden,” it was a walled combination of an herb and rose garden, which you entered by pushing a heavy wooden door through a stone arch.  Although it was a “public” garden, I rarely encountered another soul there.  Throughout the spring and autumn I would frequently enjoy a writing picnic lunch before the afternoon car pool.

Twenty years later I would live in Newton’s Chapel, surrounded by a wall and a gate and a beautiful garden.  I don’t have to wonder if my visualizing The Bishop’s Garden, which was such a part of my daily meditation during the long writing of Simple Abundance, eventually led to my own secret garden.  I don’t have to wonder because I know.  

My Newton's Chapel garden

My Newton's Chapel garden

However, when we have endured unexpected but very real seasons of sorrow, worry and unanswered prayer, our state of belief becomes very fragile and our imagination is choked off. That’s why I wanted to revisit the Simple Abundance meditation for June 20th “Secret Gardens.”

I’ve always found the backstories of writers so fascinating, that’s why I call this blog “Between the Lines.” Every writer lives in between the lines of their lives, especially if their work has met with some success.  

The backstory of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s creation of The Secret Garden long after she had to abandon the English sanctuary she had so loved and rescued at Great Maytham Hall on the Kent seaside in the twilight of the Victorian era, is a powerful and poignant personal story for me. 

It was 1898 and finally, after years of magazine serial writing and children’s stories and a difficult, struggling decade which included poverty, the death of a child, a nervous breakdown, a long-standing marriage ending in divorce and a tumultuous second marriage to a scoundrel young enough to be her son, Frances had an unexpected hit on her hands with Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886).  Suddenly the money started rolling in and the Little Lord Fauntleroy “brand” became one of the first examples of a successful product extension based on a book.  There were toys, games, a clothing line, plays, sequels, and eventually when Hollywood could catch up, movies.  Imagine Harry Potter and the celebrity of J.K. Rowling without the internet.

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Frances Hodgson Burnett

But even back then, with an international best-seller came public fervor, professional demands, lack of privacy and increased scrutiny. Discouraged and shocked because of the public outcry over her divorce and remarriage to an actor, (which she knew was a mistake as soon as she said “I do,”) she needed a quiet place to beat a retreat, collect herself and rebuild her life.  She was a bundle of nerves, deeply depressed and unknowingly ill with the early stages of tuberculosis.  She had no strength and breathed with difficulty.  She wanted to sleep around the clock, just as her publisher was demanding more of her.  Since Frances was the sole support of an entire retinue of people, it seemed she had no choice but to go on.  And so she retreated to the mild Southern English seaside of Kent.

Although eight miles from the coast, you can practically hear the waves beating against the shore at Great Maytham Hall, a giant wreck of an imposing Georgian house, which was just about caving in on its knees when Frances rented it.  There were a series of walled gardens she was told, but the outdoor space had become so overgrown it resembled Sleeping Beauty’s castle which had been asleep for a hundred years.  Frances’s future and the world’s “Secret Garden” was so overgrown and covered in thick and thorny vines, it couldn’t even be seen.

Have you ever known the feeling of really being burned out?  When you’re so exhausted that just the thought of going downstairs to make yourself a cup of tea requires the effort and strength of mountain climber? That’s how spent Frances felt. But every morning outside her bedroom window a robin sang on a branch.  Frances soon found her curiosity aroused, and then slowly her physical energy increased until she found the strength to take walks outside, and then the strength to pull back and cut away the dead growth of what had once been a garden. Next, she discovered a heavy wooden door and pushed her way through it to what would become her private outdoor sacred sanctuary.  Step by step, day by day. Eventually she transformed the rose garden by planting over three hundred coral pink rose bushes and ramblers.

Here Frances spent contented days, alternating between gardening and writing, shadowed by a large floral Japanese parasol.  On chilly days she would wrap herself in a large lap rug and only retreat to the Hall when she was forced to.  Over the next nine happy years she would write three more books and a play.  But in 1907 her lease at Great Maytham Hall was not renewed and heartbroken, she returned to America.  Immediately she started planning and planting a replica rose garden on Long Island, but more importantly, she began work on what would become her most renowned accomplishment, The Secret Garden published in 1911.

Great Maytham Hall

Great Maytham Hall

The Secret Garden is the story of the redemption of two miserable, lonely children, a sick boy and an orphaned girl, who are encouraged and nurtured by Mother Nature to bring back to life an abandoned overgrown garden hidden behind stone walls.  Its miraculous revival becomes an inspiring metaphor for their own rescue and restoration, as well as the author’s.

Towards the end of her life, Frances recalled how working in the garden at Great Maytham Hall had restored her own will to live and sense of self.  The fond memories of “a softly rainy spring in Kent when I spent nearly three weeks kneeling on a small rubber mat on the grass edge of a heavenly old herbaceous border bed” remained vivid in her imagination as well as “the plants which were to bloom in loveliness for me in the summer.”

I believe we all have a “Secret Garden” in the depths of our soul and the state of the garden depends upon the health and vitality of our inner life, not our outer one.  When we are abruptly pulled away from the life we expected to be living, planned for and dreamed about through death, debt, divorce or illness and suddenly find ourselves wakening in an alien landscape, it is staggering to all our senses; the five physical senses and the two spiritual senses—intuition and wonder.  What is so shocking is that this “new” reality has no timetable.  There is a staggering and lengthy state of amnesia accompanying grief and dismay.  We may appear to others to be back to normal, but the reality is we might as well be living in a hologram—suspended neither in the past, present or future. 

So how do we move from shadow to sunlight?  Through asking for one day’s grace and expressing gratitude.  Through choosing one morning, not to keep our head turned to the wall, but to get out of bed.  Step by step, we enter into a daily round and then our faded dreams move from pastel hues to vibrancy, the same way that we work with an overgrown and abandoned garden.  By cutting away one hurtful vine at a time and refusing to replay one more miserable memory for an entire day.  This week revisit the secret garden in your soul; push open the heavy wooden door.  Put on your spiritual gardening gloves and get your sharpest clippers.  Clear one vine, cutaway one thought of the past that holding you back.  Have you ever had a woman to weed wrestling match?  That’s what it’s like and that’s what it takes.

Every day we determine our destiny by what we think about.  Nobody knows how inconvenient I find this truth to be today, but I can’t do anything about it, nor can you, except change our thoughts.  Weed out our disappointments, frustrations, diminished ambitions, unfulfilled expectations, sorrow and frustration about what has gone before or what has not yet come.  This emotional underbrush and weeds only choke our days, and our days become our destiny.  Bless your imagination, pray that a new idea will be planted by the Sower of dreams.  Then let passion tend the garden with patience and perseverance.  For, as Frances Hodgson Burnett discovered, and we can, too:  “When you have a Garden, you have a Future and when you have a Future, you are Alive.”

Sending dearest love, Babe, and always blessings on your courage.


Seeking the House of Spirit

There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house of four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time, but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.

— Rumer Godden (“A House With Four Rooms,” 1989)

House Beautiful, September, 1924

House Beautiful, September, 1924

There’s a fair chance that by the time a woman is 40 she will have moved at least seven times during her life.   Some moves will be considered “happy” ones, such as your first home, setting up house with your “intended,” or getting married.  Some moves may be forced upon you by catastrophic change, such as a divorce, debilitating illness or financial reversals.  Some moves will be circumstantial— a new job, the rent goes up, or you’re downsizing. A lot of moves are considered “temporary,” or so you think, until 7 years later, you’re bursting from the seams and really have to make a plausible decision about how you’re going to live your daily round at least for the next year. That’s the situation I find myself in right now.

Still, there’s a reason that moving ranks as the number one stressful rite of passage ahead of death, divorce, or debt.  Maybe it’s because no matter what the reason, moving is all of these things simultaneously. 

And then there’s the Dream House, which is never about moving and all about romantic obsession.  The finding thereof, the obtaining, the bliss of fixing it up to perfection, the months of paint chips and fabric swatches and then, the happily ever after however short-lived that might be and the inevitable wrenching therefrom.  I remember when I was looking at houses in England, I was shown an absolutely gorgeous Georgian manse that had been completely restored to perfection. You didn’t have to do anything, except turn the key and unpack your suitcases.

However, this beautiful house was so unsettling from the moment I crossed the threshold, it made me shiver during the visit because the vibrations were so intense. It felt as if the walls were crying. Had someone died?  Did a tragedy occur?  As I was led from one exquisite room into another, I started to get heart palpitations. The physical distress I felt in my chest became so severe I had to stop.  This wasn’t a haunting, I’ve been in haunted houses before and these vibrations weren’t old or menacing. This was fresh sorrow.  Raw.  Inconsolable.  I felt as if I wanted to scoop something up intangible but very real and whisper, “There, there…”

Finally, I had to ask the estate agent what was the real story.  “This is some woman’s cherished home and she and the house have been torn away from each other.  What’s the truth here?”  And the estate agent explained rather embarrassedly that indeed, a middle aged couple had restored the house from 17th century ruins over several years but then, suddenly a few weeks previously the family had to leave abruptly in the middle of the night to escape the Tax Men. Left in the dark, hurriedly abandoning their Dream House.  All I could do was bless the house and the woman who loved it so.

I digress.  I usually do when I’m telling stories about houses and women because I find them romantic, riveting and enthralling. A love affair with house is the most spellbinding and hypnotic tale that can be told. Some soulmates are flesh and bone, but the enduring love stories as far as I’m concerned are all made of wood and stone. That’s because whether a woman is single, divorced, or married, eighteen or eighty, there’s no passion as perfect as the dream house she will someday inhabit; no enchanting obsession as enjoyable as her home’s beautiful décor; and no illusion as seductive as the fanciful notion that once she crosses the threshold, she’ll stay there forever.  “I am as susceptible to houses as some people are to susceptible to other human beings.  Twice in my life, I have fallen in love with one,” the early 20th century English writer Katharine Butler Hathaway confessed. “Each time it was as violent and fatal as falling in love with a human being.”

From the scented linen-closet to the built-in kitchen pantry, from the window seat, plump with needlepoint pillows, to the rose-covered arbor leading to the backyard, each nook and cranny of this fantasy has been lovingly imagined since we were little girls “playing house”.  No doubt the magic spell was cast when Mother draped a blanket over the dining room chairs and we crawled underneath to put our dollies to bed.

Some dream houses are only in the movies-- Mrs. Miniver's House from 1942, (built on the MGM lot)

Some dream houses are only in the movies-- Mrs. Miniver's House from 1942, (built on the MGM lot)

“Even though your dream house is at the end of a long, long road, your head may be buzzing with plans for that home you will have someday.  Already you probably have a stack of clippings, sketches and what not—ideas you want remember for your own house,” Elinor Hillyer reassures the young woman who purchased the Mademoiselle’s Home Planning Scrapbook in 1946.  “You can’t keep all those house plans in your head—keep them in here.”

The scrapbook is 12 x 15 inches, silver-gray cardboard, spiral bound with big envelopes—one for every room—to stash paper dreams.  I’m amazed by the synchronicity between it and my own Simple Abundance Illustrated Discovery Journal published 50 years later, which is also a spiral bound journal with envelopes. 

However, I’m stumped by Elinor Hillyer’s first rule for successful dream house planning.  “Have a fair picture in mind of the kind of house you want and the kind of life you and your young man want to build for yourself.  To be perfectly honest, I created the first Illustrated Discovery Journal as my own insight tool because I couldn’t visualize the life or house I wanted to live in.  During the phases of my life, my dream house has run the gamut from a Victorian gingerbread to a Frank Lloyd Wright prairie manse to a French chateau surrounded by a moat.  My eventual dream house purchase was an English stone cottage and yet I had to leave it.  We think forever is endless, Babe, but it is only allocated to us in moments.  Forever can vanish but the moments are yours to savor now. 

So I’ve come to the conclusion that really what makes any home you can make for yourself worthy of a dream, are the dreams you’re able to create and commit to while you’re living, temporarily, in this dwelling.  As I scour the rental listings, I’m trying to remember that what my soul truly needs to nurture it at this moment is the Anglo-Indian author Rumer Godden’s suggestion of a four room dwelling for the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves who dwell within us. Although I may dream of a ranch in Big Sky country, I have been “gifted” with a new dream to bring into the world and all my precious natural resources of time, creative energy and emotion must be allocated to this assignment, which means a small rented home.

Sometimes when we begin our lives over again, we still need to do it in baby steps.

I think I’ll leave us both with a psalm for a safe haven to begin this week.

Dearest Master Builder,

We thank and praise you for the gifts of Simple Abundance, the blessings of domestic bliss and my kindred friend who reads these words.  Mother of the Hearth and Father of Homecoming, hear our prayer. 

Generous Provider of Sacred Space, bless this woman, my dearly beloved Reader, and the home in which she lives and loves or is seeking.  Thank you for the haven of hospitality she has discovered in her home this day; we bless you for the shelter that protects her soul this night.  Thank you that the solace of a home which embraces, nurtures, sustains and comforts is part of your Divine Blueprint for our happiness.  Bless the foundation upon which she walks, the walls that surround, the roof that covers, the windows that allow light and the threshold that welcome her and hers.  With the gift of each day may her love and gratefulness increase.  May the peace and plenty she so richly shares with others always be her daily portion.  Lead her, Divine Architect, with thanksgiving to the sanctuary you have set apart for her heart—her blessed, beloved House of Belonging.  Bring her safely home, we pray. 

Be it done, with all praise and honor according to Thee and accepted with thanksgiving by we. 


 Sending dearest love Babe, and always blessings on your courage.




The Threads That Bind

Clothes and courage have so much to do with each other.

--Sara Jeannette Duncan (1900)


Personally, I would add closets to that observation.   Clothes, closets and courage have so much to do with each other and each of us.  In fact, clothes, closets and courage are the holy trinity of a woman; expressing precisely her current state of being—body, mind and spirit—while dramatically demonstrating all her unmet wants and unfulfilled desires. 

As the fabulous Hollywood costume designer Edith Head so succinctly put it in 1963:  “Marlene Dietrich and Roy Rogers are the only two living humans who should be allowed to wear black leather pants.” Sadly, those two legends are no longer with us, but there seems to be whole lot of leather (faux though it may be) walking around in search of a closet.

Marlene Dietrich in her leather pants.

Marlene Dietrich in her leather pants.

After seven years of "temporarily" living in the small apartment next to my sister, it's time for me to create a real home in California. So it's moving time at Chez Moi and the bulging closets have become feral.  I’m currently in the thick of it, so it’s been necessary to begin each day’s task with a chair, a whip and “Back, Simba, Back.”  I thought I’d take a break and just riff on the fabric of our lives and the sifting, sorting, selecting, giving away or selling on eBay thereof.  Or not. How about keeping? How about “Are you crazy, you’ll never see another one like it for the rest of your life” or “Absolutely not, Babe, we’re going to the mat for this one.” Of course, I know it’s close to heresy to even mention “holding on to” when the square footage facing you is the size of a hamster’s cage.  Still, I’ll try.

Is there a woman alive with as much storage space as she really needs, or as many closets as she truly wants? “There is nothing like fixing up closets to give you a feeling of complete satisfaction,” Mrs. Henrietta Ripperger wrote in A Home of Your Own and How to Run It, published in 1940. Likewise, few things are as frustrating as searching for something you know is in there but can’t find because it shares a hanger with something else.  “The real waste in clothing comes not in the buying, but not in the using,” Mrs. Ripperger reminds us, and we know she speaks the truth.

We think that it’s dresses, skirts, and pants hanging in our closets,  but really it’s our past, for most items of clothing are associated, for good or ill, with people, places, and periods in our lives.  I can’t open a Laura Ashley email without “seeing” the wife and daughter of a small-town mayor identically dressed in white sailor dresses, red-ribbon straw boaters and parasols for the Independence Day parade. It doesn’t matter how removed the Laura Ashley brand or I have become from cottage-sprig— it’s our emotional memories which turn out to be the threads that truly bind.  But I love those memories and want to hold them close. It surprises my daughter that I keep asking her if she’s found “our outfits” when she’s visiting her father’s house, considering we’ve been divorced for twenty years.  

The throwback days of matching Laura Ashely ensembles. 

The throwback days of matching Laura Ashely ensembles. 

And while it’s true that the past asks only to be remembered (no doubt so that we’ll not continue making mistakes), this doesn’t mean you have to entomb your regrets or savage remembrances.  I once fell in love with a black lace cocktail dress that cost me more than I’d ever thought I’d earn, but I envisioned wearing it for a special, hopefully romantic occasion of great importance.  It was my “once in a lifetime” dress and I was willing to pay the price for both fantasies.  I looked gorgeous in it. I felt exquisite and beautiful. I felt like the woman I had always aspired to become. Long after I parted from the man, the dress remained on its hanger.  For a few years every time I cleaned the closet I convinced myself that it had cost too much to give away.  But what was really so hard to abandon was all the pent up and unexpressed emotion, frustration, disappointment, and anger that hadn’t been voiced all those many years ago. Finally, I reluctantly gave the dress away but you know what?  I still miss that dress because I still mourn that dream.  

It’s easy for us to get rid of clothes we’ve physically outgrown, but severing the emotional threads that bind us, whether the fibers are silk, linen, wool, gossamer, haute couture or prêt-à-porter requires an unconditional commitment to our future happiness and sometimes that desire and determination takes longer than we can imagine to make its way down to our souls and up again through the soil of our lives.  In other words, I wish I’d kept that black lace dress.  I outgrew the painful memories and grew wise enough to know that romances will come and romances will go, but dreams and vintage Elsa Schiaparelli lasts forever.  I’m probably the only one on earth who’s going to tell you to hold on to what you really love, especially if you feel emotional about it, but there you have it. But no, if you’ve divorced her father, your daughter is probably not going to want your wedding dress. 

So this week seems as good time to start making the connection between what we stow away and what we stew over.  They’re probably in the same box or stuffed in the back of one of those closets.  Although I can’t prove this beyond the shadow of a doubt, I believe that there is a direct correlation between the amount of discontent and discomfort we may be experiencing right now and the unacknowledged emotional attachments with clothing or possessions we’re holding onto and storing.

“She knew someday she would find the exact right outfit that would make her life work. Maybe not her whole life, she thought, as she got back in bed but at least the parts she had to dress for,” the sorely missed Swell Dame Carrie Fisher wrote in Postcards from the Edge.  And one of those outfits and days will come again, Babe.  I’ve lived to tell the tale.  How thrilling it will be for you to reach into your closet and pull out something just perfect for your splendid tomorrow.

So much love to you as you sift, sort and save.  And always, always blessings on your courage.


Inspired by True Events

We don’t get offered crises, they arrive.

-- Elizabeth Janeway

“The great crises of life are not, I think, necessarily those which are in themselves the hardest to bear, but those for which we are least prepared,” Mary Adams wrote in her 1902 self-help manual Confessions of a Wife.  It seems astonishing to think that over a century later her very true observation about being unprepared for crises probably resonates in many women’s hearts.  At least it does in mine. 


Well, as the coffee brews we anxiously eavesdrop on the news, weather and traffic reports, recalibrating our way to work while checking email and the “squawk on the street” for what happened overnight.  Like a mother prairie dog instinctively poking her head out of the burrow to measure the vibrations of miles to minutes before the buffalo stampede, we simultaneously attempt to both ignore and answer this vague but increasing urge to be “prepared.”  But our dogged determination to shrug it off wins again and combined with the world’s deafening static we can’t decipher the spiritual dots and dashes of our soul’s desperate Morse code:  Get Ready.  So we begin to “feel” this confusing unease as the “fight or flight” response even while we’re standing alone in our own kitchens.

Because the reality is we are not prepared.  We know this. Babe, we're not prepared for anything. To put it in the nicest possible way, we're about as ready for the unexpected as we were in the third grade, crouching under our desks during the air raid drills.

Truth or Dare:  If there was an urgent pounding on your door at 10 pm and someone in a yellow emergency vest told you to evacuate your entire household in five minutes because there was a gas leak at the power station six blocks away, how do you think you’d do? I didn’t do very well; or rather, as I remember there was a woman in her nightgown standing in the middle of the street rolling a screeching cat in a carrier while crying because she couldn't get the other two out in time. She didn't do very well. It was hard to tell who was more relieved when the all clear was signaled a few minutes later, the gas man or my family who didn’t have to admit that I belonged with them.

It was a very humbling experience.  I'd always thought of myself as a woman of calm composure.  Clearly when these particular chips were down, I did not pass the Emergency Broadcast test.  God knows I wish this wasn't true.  Which is why I've been pondering this in my heart for months.

I’m speaking for myself, of course, but I wondered afterwards if a lack in my emergency preparedness skills could explain why I became unglued so easily.  Perhaps the fact that we know we're not ready to handle the unexpected is the reason so many women instinctively anticipate the worst outcome from any situation. 

Yes, the world is frightening and seems to become more so each day.  But how much more do we frighten ourselves with our imagination rather than the outside circumstances personally affecting us at any given moment?  Perhaps this is because our inner equilibrium is in freefall.

Here’s what I’ve learned and share with the seeker in you: Being scared is a “sacred” warning signal sent to keep you and yours out of harm’s way.  Being scared is a primordial instinct meant to keep you alive in dangerous situations until you can get out of them. Being "scared" is Heaven's "heads up." Think of it as a spiritual shortwave radio frequently processed through a woman’s sixth sense—your intuition or sense of “Knowing.”  I’ve come to realize that the more scared I am about any situation, challenge or circumstance, the more imperative it is for me to acknowledge and face it and learn to overcome it, one way or another.

I believe deep in my soul that being “prepared”—Emergency Preparedness 101—has become a sacred imperative for the most important rite of passage every woman might have to ultimately face, and face alone.  Babe, we have to learn the skills and training to become our own first responder. We may find ourselves in situations where no one's able to come immediately. And others may depend upon us.

 My prime directive now (and you are more than welcome to join me) is to become the calmest, most capable woman in the midst of any challenge or crisis in which we could find ourselves.  The more mayhem that surrounds us, the calmer we’ll become, anyplace, anytime, anywhere and then, we’ll be able to spring into action.  Because when we are prepared, when we trust in Spirit and our ability to rise to any occasion and when we know what needs to be done “just in case,” we will be exactly the women that Heaven will call upon in an emergency.

I’m going to take a first aid course this summer.  The American Red Cross, which responds to a human disaster every 8 minutes, offers online and community classes.  ( Will you do the same?  If you are a skilled EMT, registered or practical nurse or physician, can you invite friends and neighbors over to your house for a first aid demonstration, followed by a pot-luck barbeque?  What a way to put the “home” back into the Homefront.

This Memorial Day we remember with deep gratitude the valor, bravery, and heroism of the men and women of our military who put their lives on the line every day to defend us. We remember those who gave their lives to protect us and our families. And we remember and give thanks for the families of our military who share their loved ones so generously with our nation to safeguard us and preserve our freedoms.

When I pray for courage and protection, my band of angels are the Navy Seals and U.S. Military special forces.  God bless you and God bless America.  I gave up praying to cherubs a long time ago.

Now I guess it’s time to make the potato salad.

Sending dearest love and blessings on our courage.


Pearls of Wisdom

All art is autobiographical, the pearl
is the oyster’s autobiography.

—Federico Fellini


Sophia Loren at Cartier in Paris

Sophia Loren at Cartier in Paris

It takes longer than we can imagine for a woman to grow and bloom into herself.  And pearls of wisdom, well, they can take an entire lifetime to accumulate.  As the great and aptly named Pearl Bailey wryly observed in her memoir, The Raw Pearl: “There’s a period of life when we swallow knowledge of ourselves, and it becomes either good or sour inside.”

There’s also a period in each woman’s life, when we can wear the jewelry of that inner wisdom. Diamonds may very well be a girl’s best friend, but pearls are a woman’s sacred and secret confidant.  In many families a girl receives her first pearl on a simple chain or as a ring for her 16th birthday, symbolizing that she’s become a young lady, with the first string of pearls the gift of coming of age at 21.  But I believe it is only decades later before a woman can actually wear pearls properly and only women of a certain age can carry off pearls with panache.

How marvelous that there’s something enchanted that all women can look forward to as we grow gracefully into ourselves.   Imagine that you’re having a conversation with a young girl and you’ve just asked her what she wants to be or do when she grows up and she responds, “I want to be a woman who wears pearls!!  I agree.

 I don’t know about you, but I’m only beginning to appreciate parts of my body that I’ve been oblivious to until now, and considering how many times I ‘ve stuck my neck out, one way or another, I’d like to adorn it with something befitting.

All the world’s great legends, as well as those who aspired to have greatness thrust upon them have worn pearls.  Coco Chanel believed that a woman needed ropes and ropes of pearls in her jewelry wardrobe and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said that no matter what the occasion, pearls were always appropriate.  Grace Kelly insisted on wearing pearls in all her movie roles, as did Audrey Hepburn and the Queens of England down through history were and are rarely seen out of pearls.

Jewelry Queen, Elizabeth Taylor

Jewelry Queen, Elizabeth Taylor

Whether with casual clothes or when we need to feel “dressed up” pearls, worn lovingly, are my definition of perfect jewelry.  Pearls announce that we have taste, sophistication and a sense of style.  There are pearls to fit your mood, the occasion, the season or to showcase your physical attributes to their best advantage.

The best part of pearls as adornments is that they don’t have to be “real” especially if the woman wearing them is, and Babe, you are. While pearls were once affordable only by the wealthy, technology and popularity conspired in the last century to make them a gem for all reasons.  This may surprise you, as it did me, but the most famous pearl wearers, Coco Chanel and Jackie Kennedy, always wore Czechoslovakian glass pearls because Coco would control the size of the pearls as well as their sheen.  And it is said that Queen Elizabeth II routinely swaps her glorious strands for exquisite “paste” pearls.  No one would ever dream that royalty would wear anything other than the real thing, what with maharajas, princes and potentates proffering jewels during the long Victorian British Empire years.

I love the thrill of fashionable thrift when it comes to a collecting a pearl wardrobe.  Here’s a fun way to think about creating a pearl wardrobe of your own, using the flea market route. Different pearls, different lengths, different moods.  This is how I categorize them:

The Little Black Dress:  This is the 14 to 16 inch simple strand.  The starting place for most women’s pearl wardrobes, it hangs to mid-clavicle or collarbone.  I think a woman’s collarbone is one of the most beautiful parts of the feminine form.  Show it off!

Jean Simmons

Jean Simmons

Collar.  Or a choker a la your pet poodle.  This sits higher on your neck. Just make sure that yours lies close to the skin.  A neck might droop, but no woman’s pearl collar should. Every night Napoleon’s wife, Empress Josephine wore hers to bed, especially when alone.  As I said, there’s a pearl necklace for every occasion.

Grace Kelly in the "Collar"

Grace Kelly in the "Collar"

The Princess.  This single strand of pearls is 16 to 19 inches long.  It hangs to about the top of your lovely décolleté and does wonders with a plunging neckline.

Bette Davis wears a "Princess" length pearl necklace

Bette Davis wears a "Princess" length pearl necklace

The Bib.  Jackie Kennedy, Barbara Bush and the choice of many fashionable women who actually can meet friends for lunch is the three-strand-graduated mainstay.  The top strand is collar length; the bottom, the length of a princess strand.  This fills in your neckline beautifully.  The three strand necklace says you can and you will—whatever the occasion.  A great confidence booster.

Jackie Kennedy and her famous three strands of pearls

Jackie Kennedy and her famous three strands of pearls

The Matinee.  This strand is cleavage gracing with its 20 inch length. Best over a higher neckline so the only thing you’re revealing is mystery.

Aretha Franklin and a beautiful strand of pearls

Aretha Franklin and a beautiful strand of pearls

The Opera.  At 30 inches, this long strand can be doubled or tripled and worn in overlapping rows around the neck.  Dowager queens went for these, but so did flappers.  These are definitely for those times when more is better and you want pearls coming and going.  Follow the example of Mademoiselle Coco.

Coco Chanel and her legendary pearls

Coco Chanel and her legendary pearls

My favorite pearl find is a faux five-strand from the 1950s that I found in England.  It cost me more to get them restrung than to purchase them in the first place, but they are a knockout and look glorious with everything from an old tweed jacket to my best black cocktail dress.  These really are the family jewels as far as I’m concerned.

The fascinating paradox about pearls is that their beautiful destiny is conceived through irritation and grows slowly in layers, just as our lives do.  Something foreign gets beneath the shell of an oyster, embeds itself and years later emerges in an exquisite new form, as effortless it would seem, as a butterfly from its chrysalis.  But to be born—a butterfly, a pearl or a woman-- is a strenuous journey.  Still it seems, at least for the butterfly and pearl, that the journey knows exactly where it’s headed.  If only we could learn that lesson. If only we could learn to trust that faith, even as small as a piece of grit, could lead us to an iridescent future.

 As I finger my favorite pearls— shimmering balls strung together—I marvel at their creation—wholly wondrous after decades of being in the dark and lost.  The sacred surrounds all of us hidden in plain sight among the familiar.  So this week, if you have any pearl jewelry, don’t leave it unworn in a jewelry box.  I’m guessing that there are many strings of pearls waiting for a special occasion to be appreciated.

How about today?  Like life and love, pearls thrive on skin contact and will lose their luster if not worn.  Although pearls grow in darkness and distress, the luminosity of their beauty, born of imperfection, irritation, and, even sometimes, neglect—like the woman who wears them, can only be revealed in the Light.

Sending you dearest love and always, blessings on our courage.