Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Guest Blog: Cindy Brookshire, On Reading Terminal

Yes, Mary, I read your book Terminal: Handling the Reality of Love and Loss. A popular “thin read,” I was able to fit it in my purse and carry it about for two weeks. I shared it with a new widow at an art reception at the Hylton Center, in fact.

I was touched by your book, in a way that only one who has experienced loss has. Fifteen years ago, I had to say goodbye to my husband of 16 years. He was 44 years old. I had to enter the emergency room and in one hour I had to tell my two children, ages 12 and 7, that their father was dead, and make a call to my in-laws, to tell them that their only child was gone forever – all three weeks before Christmas. The day before, it seemed like he had the flu. But he had an overwhelming infection that was too much for his impaired immune system (he was in remission from cancer).

So your account of trying to transport a body during the holidays, being faced with a houseful of possessions to deal with, handling emotions and growing up quickly were all too familiar. I had a counselor tell me to put my emotions in a box on the shelf so that I could work the tasks at hand. Trouble is, sometimes the box stays on the shelf, and the feelings get buried for years. When you have multiple losses – in your case, two parents and a miscarriage – you can leave some loved ones unmourned for decades until something triggers or unlocks the box and then the floodgates open.

Reading your book brought back not-so-positive coping strategies: Screaming in my car (no one can hear you), laying down in the elementary school soccer field in my work clothes (not good for panty hose, though the stars were pretty) and drinking shot glasses of frozen vodka (why were friends bringing me alcohol anyway? I dumped full bottles in the trash finally). Becoming a Sunday School teacher helped me crawl back to life and snap out of it. The kids made me laugh. I asked one boy what he thought God was like. He answered, “I think he smells like bacon.”

I think your parents would be proud of your book and how it will help people. It certainly fills a void – there aren’t many books addressed to loss for young adults.

For widows, a good website remains www.widownet.org.
Good luck with your new job, Mary, and balancing work with your family. Keep writing!

Cindy Brookshire is a freelance writer and a member of Write by the Rails, the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. Her blog is

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Balancing Act

Holy cow, the last two weeks have been crazy! After many years of being a SAHM and just freelancing as a writer, I went back to work full time as editor and writer for a local newspaper. I am thrilled at the chance to expand my career, but the challenge of working/parenting is kicking my butt. I now have a much larger amount of respect for moms who juggle parenting and working full time for years on end.

I have found myself looking in the mirror and wondering what am I trying to prove and who am I trying to prove it to this week? It is no small responsibility to raise children into decent little human beings. The SAHM is responsible for moral values, eating right and a host of other important jobs including the running of the household.

No I have chosen to add the running of a newspaper onto my already pretty full plate. I thought it wouldn't be too big a deal. But the reality is if you love what you do you really invest yourself in it. My husband yelled at me for checking my work mail in bed on Wednesday night. We have a rule that work doesn't come into the bedroom. And I almost violated that rule without even thinking for the first time ever!

My kids are feeling the transition too. The girls are used to having mommy for tuck in every night. On Thursday, I went from one job to another. I started out taking a training, came home to prep dinner, then went to the scene of a manhunt and finished my evening teaching a high level Zumba class. While I worked, my wonderful husband stepped up to the plate working 10 hours, running 3 miles, then doing homework and playing with the kids.

This week, my goal is to starting finding balance between work and family. I know women have been trying for a hundred years to achieve this goal, but I guess I'll join the struggle. I love being a mom, more than I ever thought I would, but as the kids get older I now find myself wanting to live a little more for myself.

We shall see what the next six months bring. Today, I am doing laundry and helping with a big school project. Tomorrow, it's back to work for me!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Guest Blog: Traveling in ND by Jan Rayl

Snow makes my mind think of summer vacation and warm places. At present North and South Dakota are in the snow belt in the summer they are awesome! If you are looking for a great family vacation I highly recommend the Dakotas. They are steeped in the western tradition of wide open spaces. I especially recommend; both North and South Dakota Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and general driving around the states. I have a personal goal to see all fifty states.
 While you are wandering in the Dakotas Wall Drug is a must stop for the weary traveler. There is so much to see and do at Wall Drug! That is me on the Jackalope, we have to enjoy our inner child! There are places that just beckon the traveler to stop, some for days and some for moments. Wall and Scenic are two towns that beckoned me to stop on my travels through the Dakotas.

First Scenic, SD I had never heard of this town but stumbled upon it on my way out of the Badlands of SD. The town of Scenic is in the middle of nowhere at a major crossroads coming out of the Badlands. Twila Merill is the Mayor and Owner of the Town of Scenic. You can own the town as it is for sale for $799,999 (when I first went there it was for sale for $3 million). Having been on the market now for two years the price has been reduced. It is a quaint town with lots of character. It is a pit stop when traveling in SD. The town was built in the early 900’s and has numerous western buildings that offer photo opportunities. The name Scenic fits this town; it is more about what you can see than about what you can do. There are restrooms, a country store, and dry goods where you can get some refreshments for the ride to Wall.

Wall Drug was actually a destination on my trip as I had been told about Wall Drug from many people over many years. Wall, SD is a bit more of a “tourist trap” with a really cool drug store, Wall Drug. I live in the East and I call Wall Drug the “South of the Boarder of the Mid-West.” There are kids play areas, OK so this kid did get on the jackalope for a photo op. Wall Drug claims “the world’s largest drug store.” It does go on forever and there are many things to see and shop for. There is also Navajo Indian Fry Bread, a personal favorite. There are numerous cubby holes that have a wide variety of quaint shops. Some shops are a pharmacy, ice cream shop, souvenirs shops, jewelry store, and some just plain junk. There are also old west photos, displays and historical wax displays.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


I had a moment today and it took my breath away. What is a moment? It’s a glance, an inhale, a second where a memory is triggered. I was driving to the gym after dropping my kids off at school and I looked into the car in the next lane. A woman sat in the driver’s seat. In that instant, the woman looked so much like my mother that it stopped me cold. She turned her head and the illusion ended, but for one moment I was transported back in time and looking at my mother’s profile.

During the first couple years after my mother’s death, I often had such moments. Now, they are few and far between. It’s always out of the blue. I cry when someone near me wears Chanel #5. I can’t think when I hear a woman laughing in a sexy, throaty voice. My mom had the most beautiful laugh. Or like today, I freeze when I see a particular profile.

If you’ve never lost someone close to you, you have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s not something that happens until you lose that every day contact. When I was younger it was painful to experience such moments. I think I almost enjoyed today’s. Why? Well, it makes me think that my parents are looking down on me. I rarely think of them in my daily life. And such brief glimpses remind me no matter where they are they still think of me sometimes.

Next week, I’m starting a new position. I’ll be moving up in the ranks. I am nervous and excited. I like to think that my mother sent me a little pat on the back today, a reminder that she’s watching and she that she approves.

So for those of you who know about these moments in time, embrace that stinging pain that comes with a sharp memory and focus on the joy that special someone brought into your life.

Friday, January 24, 2014

On Writing

As long as I can remember I have always said I wanted to be a writer. When I was little, I had no idea what being a writer meant. Then I hit middle school and high school, I took literature classes and my first Journalism course. I was hooked. I never wanted to be Lois Lane. I thought that being a reporter meant that I could help people, right the wrongs I saw going on in society around me.

In 1995, I went off to Northeastern University in Boston where I attended the rather prestigious Journalism school. College taught me how to think critically and how to write like a reporter, but I also learned very quickly that it was a male dominated career path. And I began to see the nastier side of the media.

After college I wrote for newspapers dailies, weeklies and even a quarterly journal. I felt more pressured to please advertisers and town managers than to tell the trust or help the little guy. Life issues became more important than the almighty job. I lost my parents, I wanted to focus on marriage and family.

After my children arrived, I stayed home. Days were a whirl of dirty diapers, chasing toddlers and exhaustion. Still, I wrote. Instead of the latest trends in technology, I wrote nutrition and potty training articles for a newsletter.

Fast forward to the present, I am finally working for an independent newspaper with a boss I respect. I feel like we look out for the every day people, not just the elected officials. Last summer, we saw "Newsies" on Broadway. My younger daughter looked at me with respect in her eyes and said, "That's what you do Mom, right?"

My book published in December. Slowly but surely, it's gaining recognition and maybe even a hint of appreciation. Tonight, my older child said, "You're not famous yet Mom, maybe if you wrote something a little happier, less depressing."

I will never be Hemingway, but you know what, I'm ok with that. In my corner of the world, I try to make a difference and writing is my medium.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


It is a balmy 11 here right now. Winter is in full swing and so is my temper. In the background, I can hear the sound of my children fighting yet again. I find myself wondering what my parents felt or thought when I threw a whopper tantrum. It's one of my most hated moments, a point in time when I have a question, but cannot pick up the phone and get an answer.

My daughters are headed into the teenage years at 9 and 11 they are clearly past the innocence of little girls. I know that we are headed into uncharted waters as parents. I am a little jealous of my girlfriends who can call Mom and ask questions: how do I deal with...., what was I like when...., and what would you do if....

As I look out my window at the frozen landscape, I can remember my Mother telling me so long ago, "Don't just be a brood mare for some man, get a job, do something with your life." I wonder if she too felt her selfness disappear into the monotony of raising children. If she looked at her job as an escape and a way to feel like she was adding something good to the world around her.

I took some of my Mother's advice and I cast some to the wind. I work two or three jobs. My life is often a crazy overlap of teaching, writing, parenting and attending events. But I do understand what she meant. I find myself forgetting who I am. I hear Mommy more than I hear my name. Sure, there are resentful moments, but I find myself feeling maudlin thinking about the day in the not too distant future when my daughters leave home and head into the great big world.

My next goal is promoting my book. Learning to market myself and promote me. You give so much time to your spouse and kids at a certain point you need to take a little for yourself. As for the rest of life, who knows what will be. Right at the moment, I can't look any further than breaking up the next battle between my daughters and longingly gazing out the window wishing for Spring!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


I will be the first person to tell you that you don't get to pick your family. I stay in touch via FB and phone with most of my family, but I don't do weekly phone calls nor do I check up on them too often. I figure if my extended family needs me, they'll let me know.

I have never been close to my Dad's side of the family. I don't know why. They are not bad people. I have loving, cousins, aunts & uncles. Like every other family on the planet we have marriages, births and inevitably deaths.

Recently, I received a note from my aunt. She is 82. The note was a little odd. So, I followed up with some cousins. I asked around about my aunt's health and the state of her world. The most common answer I got was, "It's none of my business but...." or "I don't want to cause any trouble, but...."

I realized that over the years I have felt distanced from the family because of the way we were raised. Other families emote, they share, they have deep conversations. We exchange pleasantries. It is rare for any of us to speak about more than the kids, the weather and the state of world affairs.

All these years, I thought it was just me, but it turns out that everyone in the family feels like the odd man out. Many of my cousins said that they are the last to hear information. While it's nice to know I'm not the only one who feels the distance, it makes me wonder what the future will bring.

I have been on the fence about my New Year's resolution. But I think my resolution will be to work harder on interacting with my relatives. I want my children to understand the value of family and to hear about past mistakes so that we can move forward and not repeat them.