Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mom and the Masai

The second time I went to Kenya, I had the unforgettable experience of escorting my septuagenarian parents there. The trip was a gift for their fiftieth wedding anniversary, which they celebrated in 1993. Mike and I first accompanied them to Paris and then we all went on a series of safaris in East Africa.

My sister, Gayle, lived just outside of Nairobi at the time and one of the highlights was our excursion into a Masai village that she had arranged. She’d done business there, buying tribal artifacts for the new African exhibit at Brookfield Zoo, her on-again, off-again employer. Gayle’s relationship with the warriors and the women and her ability to speak fluent Swahili (the tribe's second language) enabled us a full-service welcome into the circular village of mud and dung huts behind thorny, protective walls.

As the handsome, tall, red-clad warriors stood guard outside, the women grabbed their babies, lined up and broke into song. Recognizing our mother as the “elder” of our female clan, they pulled her into their line and encouraged her to clap with their rhythm. At one point, she was even handed handed a baby.

The Masai are a tall, semi-nomadic tribe and their signature color is red. The women wear a lot of beaded jewelry around their necks and wrists and in their pierced, elongated ears. Their identities within the tribe are often articulated by their jewelry.

Women do the beadwork and make beads from raw materials such as shells, ivory, bones, twigs and seeds. Of course, glass beads from Europe are now used just as often. I purchased the piece (photo at right) in this village and it’s made from shells, twigs, glass beads and cow or goat hide.

The red, four-strand Dream Life Designs piece, (photo below/left), was inspired by the Masai and my trips to their villages. It consists of bright red Venetian White Heart trade beads, along with copper and a colorful array of 4mm Swarovski crystals.

Venetian White Hearts originated in Venice, Italy during the late 1800s to early 1900s, and were found in Africa. During this period, the Venetians dominated the African trade bead market and produced the majority of the beads sold or traded.

These beads are exceptional in that they’ve lasted over 100 years and have traveled through at least three continents. Venetian trade beads are said to appreciate 10% in value each year.

This necklace, “Masai Maiden” is available for $95, which includes tax and shipping. Visit the Dream Life Designs website today. Or, you can call our toll free phone number, 888-588-3233, for more information. Thank you and . . .


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Broken For You: A Book Review

Broken for You Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Broken Lives Pieced Back Together

This was a book club selection that received a luke warm review from our group of ten. I, however, was one of the few who truly enjoyed reading Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos.

While many felt elements of the plot were too contrived—and they were—for me it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story, and particularly from the entertaining and well-developed characters.

This is a unique story. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me angry. Anything that can evoke this much emotion is, to me, WORTH the read.

Broken For You is about Margaret, a woman near the end of her life in Seattle, Washington, who comes to terms with the circumstances that enabled her to inherit a fortune and preside over a precarious collection of artifacts. When she is diagnosed with a brain tumor, she finds a way to solve her personal puzzles and her lifelong dilemma of housing glass/ceramic/porcelain objects that were confiscated from European Jews during the Nazi regime.

The first thing Margaret does is take-in a boarder, a young woman named Wanda. They are both in a sense, “broken,” and together they find a way to resolve their personal issues. Through art and the creation of a surrogate family, they bond and their stories unfold.

That’s just a brief summation . . . but it’s worth reading every page to understand how they get to resolution—the unusual and even aggravating way they do it—and to meet the unique characters that play a role along the way.

Well written, original and I highly recommend.

View all my reviews >>

Sunday, April 18, 2010

“Mom! Can I Talk to You for a Minute?”

She sought me out at the end of the soccer game—a first round State Cup duel our girls won 2-1. I knew she was pissed about something—it showed all over her face, particularly during the second half of the game. Did I think she was pissed at me? Well, yes. She’s been pissed at me for about a year. I can’t tell you why other than to relate that she’s a teenager. And what teenage girl isn’t just a little bit pissed off at her mother?

But something else was clearly bothering her and my guess is that it was just a stressful situation. Regardless, she did voice what was bothering her about me:

“Please don’t talk to me from the sidelines,” she said while standing one inch from the sideline chalk. “It doesn’t help. It’s just a distraction.”

“Okay,” I said. “Gotcha.”

My 15-year-old was right. Usually I’m not a sideline screamer. For the most part, I’m either taking photos or saying things like “Ooh! Good pass!” or “Get a goal!” But during this game I did bark once: “Willow! Wake up!” She definitely heard me.

Even though they ultimately won, after the game I didn’t sense a feeling of pride or victory coming from the team—from the parents or the players. The other team had stepped it up a notch and came to play, while our girls played nervously. They were actually a little lucky to have pulled off the win. I think to make it a real victory, however, next week in round two, the girls should remember to bring their positive attitudes to the field . . . and so should the parents. And by parents, I mean me.

I vow to never bark again. Sorry, Willow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


A dove is born!

Yesterday I was in mourning over the loss of one of two dove eggs, which I’d been carefully watching for weeks. Today, however, a baby has emerged. I believed it was hiding under its parent all day yesterday as the sitting bird was propped a bit higher in the nest.

This morning, however, I saw what looked like feathers. And when I called Camille to come have a look, her keen eyes spotted a beak. Then nearly an hour after my little chick started her school day, this little chick emerged.

I don’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl, but I’m going to name it “Anna.” Does anyone what to know what I named the other one before my husband disposed of it?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dove Update

Three weeks ago I wrote about the Doves on our Doorstep, a pair of mourning doves taking turns sitting atop two eggs. They’ve been good, calm neighbors and have appeared oblivious to all our comings and goings. We check on the nest several times a day and have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of their chicks.

This morning, however, when I opened the front door at six a.m. and stepped outside to retrieve the newspaper, instead of simply finding doves on our doorstep, I found death on our doorstep. There at my feet was a fallen egg. The precious white shell was splattered and sitting amid a small puddle of yellow. Partial remains of the unborn baby were clearly evident.

My heart nearly broke.

I can’t say what happened overnight. Had the egg simply fallen from the nest during the mother and father shift change? Had the parent doves deemed the egg unviable and tossed it out? Had there been some kind of scuffle? A predator invasion? Whatever the cause, this is a permanent loss.

I’m not sure what to do with the egg. It was difficult enough photographing it in front of the parent. How would he/she feel or react if I were to scoop it up and dispose of it . . . where? In the trash? Bury it?

I’m not sure what to do. As I mourn the loss of this unborn mourning dove, I'm hoping someone out there has a suggestion.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I Miss My Mother

When my mother died I was lucky to receive a lot of support from those who knew her and those who knew how important this relationship was to me. I’m not saying our mother-daughter bond was anything special or extraordinary. On the contrary, it was quite normal. And my definition of “normal” in this case is that it was the most important relationship in my life. I truly loved her and for all of my life, never doubted that she was my biggest fan.

The condolence cards and calls were all pretty normal, too. But I noticed there was a common thread and consistent message from those who were already living their lives in the motherless-child category.

In addition to writing, “I’m sorry for your loss,” they also wrote: “My mother’s been dead for (5 or 10 or 15 or 20 or . . .) years and I still miss her terribly.”

At the time, this statement expressed and justified the power of the loss. And to learn that for many, it went on for years, allowed me to accept my grief for the big punch-in-the-gut that it was. I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew my pain was understood. But did I truly understand the concept of the pain being as acute years and years later?


Well, I do now. It’s been nearly 11 years that my mother’s been gone. And it turns out, all those condolence statements were absolutely correct.

Since the day she died, I have not stopped missing my mother.

It’s been particularly difficult for me in the past few weeks because of the novel I just finished writing. I wrote a story called “Irish Twins,” and opted to tell it from my dead mother’s perspective.

It was a fictionalized version of her—which allowed me the liberties I needed to take due to what I didn’t know about her life or her thoughts. In my heart, however, I felt as though she were sitting with me as I wrote each word. Sometimes she came to me in my dreams and I believe she guided me through the work. Throughout the process, she continued being my biggest fan.

After two years of work, typing “THE END” on the last page initially gave me a feeling of relief and accomplishment. But now that a few weeks have gone by and my mom is no longer inside my head guiding my words . . . DAMN! It’s like losing her all over again. And my grief is palpable. If you didn’t know me and I told you my mother died, you might think it had happened yesterday.

Motherhood is, by far, the most challenging experience of my life. I’m grateful for my sisters and my friends who are mothers, who listen and offer support and advice. They constantly remind me that I’m not alone.

But what I wouldn’t give to have the ability to actually talk with or share with my own mother all the things I’m going through on this demanding and perplexing path!

My mom wasn’t perfect—who is?—but she was very good. She was good for me. We didn’t fight and I never doubted her love and support. I want so much to be a good mother and I’m giving it my all. I also want to teach my daughters what it means to be a “good” mother by example, and I want them to believe that I am indeed, their biggest fan and NOT their enemy.

Most of all, I want us to appreciate one another RIGHT NOW . . . Now while it’s all happening and not when it’s too late to feel the warmth of an actual hug and kiss.

I found a couple photos of my mom and me and I can’t stop looking at her. There are no words to express how much I miss her. I believe with all my heart that she knows this.

But even that still leaves me with the sense of loss.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


The other day during a casual conversation, a friend admired my ability to multi-task. I’m not sure she used the word “multi-task” but I’m pretty sure it’s what she meant.

I immediately thought of a typical Michele workday, and my head started spinning. Yes, I multi-task. Who doesn’t? But do I do it well? Hmmm.

It may appear that way to the outside world; however, if you were to step into my office and stumble upon the multiple PILES of tasks that await attention, I’m afraid you’d only see a mess.

I have been self-employed since the day I quit my job as a newspaper editor back in 1989. The first task I tackled was to plan my wedding. And because it was my single focus, boy was it a success! After that is when the multi-tasking began.

With a ring on my finger and a smile on my face, I pursued a business in publishing. I offered skills in writing, editing and graphic design, and my husband came up with a clever DBA for my sole-proprietorship: “Michelaneous.”

Since I could successfully accomplish every miscellaneous task involved in getting a publication from start to finish, I thought it was the perfect name. My biggest client was a large newspaper group, and I handled all the special sections—bridal guides, real estate features, sports and fitness, etc. I wrote the copy, designed the layouts and the ads, and sometimes even modeled for the photographers. Eventually they also gave me the job of writing a weekly column, and I tackled everything with joy and ease.

I’m sure this degree of success and ensuing confidence are partially responsible for our next big step in the business world, which was to create the world’s first disc golf resort. We’ve now owned and operated Sandy Point Resort in northern Wisconsin for 18 years.

Being the sole proprietors of this business has me multi-tasking all over the place. One minute I’m the bookkeeper, the next the housekeeper, the next the reservations manager, the next the webmaster, the next the customer service director, and on and on.

Add to the mix my career as an author (four books published and a fifth in the works) and a jewelry designer (Dream Life Designs), some mornings I get and up and don’t know which hat to put on. Usually it’s the one I trip over when I walk into my office.

So, I do indeed wear many hats. And sometimes I feel like I do a good job—usually it’s when I sell a necklace or make a booking—and yesterday I did both. So, if success is measured in income then yesterday I was successful. Most days, however, I feel constantly interrupted and have to make a concerted, taxing effort to focus on just one task at a time.

Oh, and one more thing? I’m a mother. And most people know that this job provides the mother load of multi-tasking opportunities.

What I’m trying to say here is that without question, I am a multi-tasker. I appreciated my friend’s comment because I know she meant to compliment me. And I realize my abilities might look like something to admire; however, what it feels like is a great big, Michelaneous mess.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Up in Arms

I spoke with a former California coworker over the weekend. When I was in my late 20s and she was in her early 30s, we worked together at a trade publication in San Francisco. I was managing editor and she was the director of advertising sales. We were quite a team. We were young, hot, ambitious and successful.

Today I’m in my late 40s and she’s in her early 50s. We talked only briefly about our past and spent most of the lengthy conversation catching up about our current lives—i.e. talking about our kids.

But when we did talk about our past, we couldn’t help but think of our boss. This was a woman who had a profound affect on both of us. And the last time my friend and I spoke, it was when we discovered our former employer had been killed at the age of 60 while touring the country on her bicycle.

We both agreed that while this woman would have preferred to live to a healthy old age; she ultimately would have approved of her obituary. It was because she died while doing something to stay in shape and defy her age. I believe she ran the Boston marathon on the event of her 40th birthday and then the NY marathon when she hit 50.

She hated growing old.

My coworker and I knew this woman at 50. At the time she both loved and hated us. She loved us because we were successful (and she had A LOT of fun with us); and she hated us because we were young, hot and ambitious. I think her first husband left her for a 27-year old hottie—not an unusual story for Marin County marriages in the 1980s—and therefore, she felt resentful toward all ambitious 27 year-olds. I didn’t take it personally until she left town in the middle of a publication redesign and I had to face a tight deadline without her input. When she returned, she accused me of “taking over” and petulantly stomped out of my office.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my former employer a lot lately. She was my current age when I worked with her and I remember how often she expounded on what was happening to her body, and how one day it would all happen to me too. It’s not that I didn’t believe her—I did—however, I hated hearing about it in such a resentful tone.

“You don’t know how lucky you are,” she often said. She complained about not being able to wear sleeveless tops without exposing flabby arms. She complained about not being able to sneeze without having to change her underwear. She complained about not being able to go anywhere without lipstick and she used to love having her photo taken—but no longer did. And whenever she spoke about her neck, I had to leave the room.

I’m turning 50 this year, as are many of my friends, and am definitely feeling the prophetic nature of my former publisher’s predictions. And while I’m tired of working out so hard to stay in shape and genuinely bummed at the condition of my upper arms (how the hell did that happen?), I don’t hold the slightest feelings of jealousy and resentment toward younger women.

I do, however, resent my dead publisher and all the people who’ve often found it necessary to utter the words “just wait . . .”

I’ve heard them all my life:

“You think high school is challenging . . . just wait until you get to college.”

“You think college is expensive . . . just wait until you try to buy a house.”

“You’re think you're busy now . . . just wait until you have kids.”

“You think diapers are bad . . . just wait until they’re teenagers.”

“You don’t like car seats . . . just wait until they’re driving.”

Blah-blah-fricking-blah. My life has been speeding by so quickly that I’ve never had time to “just wait” for anything.

It feels as though it were only yesterday when I was 27 years old. No, I don’t feel 27—nor do I look it. (Hopefully, I don’t act it.) And I know I’m not alone. All my friends are saying the same thing. “How did we get here so quickly?”

Meanwhile, what I’m sitting here contemplating is whether or not any of these ample “just wait” warnings I received have served any real purpose. Have they made me feel any better about my arms or not wanting to look in the mirror? Not really.

I do wonder, however, what I’m going to be hearing from my pals who are on the threshold of 60. Will any of these “just wait” warnings carry with them something POSITIVE in which to look forward?

I certainly hope so. I just can’t wait anymore for things to get easier.