Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Date with Anne Kaier

In a few weeks (July 5, to be exact) I am going to post an interview with Anne Kaier, author Home with Henry: a memoir. Pet lovers will adore this book!  As with most pet owners, Anne learned a great deal about herself by opening her heart and home to a feisty stray tomcat that she rescued right before he became road kill. The book is one you will want to keep on your bookcase, or by the bedside in your guest room. John Grogan, author of the international best-seller memoir Marley and Me, writes, “Pet lovers will lap up every word.” I heartily agree.

I am interviewing Anne as part of a blog book tour she is on. I encourage you to mosey over to the blogs listed below to read reviews of this darling book as well as guest blog posts from Anne (who, by the way, holds a Ph.D. from Harvard and in addition to being a book author, is a poet, essayist, and creative writing teacher). Beginning tomorrow (June 29) and almost every day until July 9, I invite you to click on the following links:

July 4 Caturday at
July 5 (That’s the address for my blog Sunday TOAST)

When it's my turn to play host her, I'm going to ask Anne questions about her inspiration to write a memoir about her cat, and hopefully, you cat and dog and horse lovers will be inspired to write about your own beloved pets. We don't all have to publish our stories, of course, but I think it's important to capture those stories so we can revel in our memoires. Anne is going to share her process and give you insight and confidence to capture your animal tales (pun intended).

I'm calling out  my pet owner friends...Wynell Wall, Jill Hinkle, Grimilda Stanley, Melanie Hilburn, Michael and Christine Holland, Cisco Cardenas, Leslie LaPres, Jack and Wendy Hartsoe, Mary Montgomery, Janice Newman, Candy Duncan, Pat Gray, Jennifer Welsh, Steve King, Mary Ellen Arbuckle, Sue Cabat, Laurie Passmore, Jack Dixon, Tara Edwards, Melissa Bermudaz, Jimmie Ann Rankin, Apolinar Chuca, to name only a few. You've got great pet stories to share, so get ready, but don't stress... help is on its way. 

Anne has the best little pamphlet on her website, "Tall Tails: How to Write about Your Cat." You can find it at  

In the meanwhile, order her book Home with Henry (available on You'll be delighted that you did.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Games children play

Sunlight, dappling through the copse of aspen, warms my skin as I lie in a nest of pungent pine needles, aspen leaves, and Douglas fir. I've dragged the 1920s Victrola record player from the three-room log cabin where we vacation every summer, wound the handle, and placed my father's favorite 78 rpm vinyl record on the turntable. Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" reverberates among the mountains surrounding me, giving the chimpmonks their marching orders. I tap the cadence on my tummy, and watch, through slitted eyelids, the pillowy clouds shapeshift into ponies, bears, hoot owls, and unicorns.

The slam of a wood frame screen door and the maniacal whoops of two boys cut through the music.

"Find her!"

These two words, ordered by my older brother, bring me to my feet. I know they have their birthday BB guns and I know I'm the target. I take off, running like the summer wind through the trees and up the mountain behind our cabin. But I cannot outrun the copper-plated iron pellets. I hear the pump and pop of the guns first, and then the stinging between my shoulder blades on the tender skin covering my spine. Primal fear sticks in my throat, strangling my scream. Like the shape of the shapeshifting clouds, I become a hunted animal.

I lose myself in the trees and circle around to the cabin. Ripping open the screen door, I fly, as if on the wings of a unicorn, inside to my daddy's protectived arms.

"What's wrong, honey?" he asks, giving me a comforting hug.

I hear my brothers trying to catch their breath outside on the porch. I imagine I can smell their sweat, but it's my own stink of fear that I'm inhaling.

I know I'm not supposed to tattle on my brothers, but the words spill out: "The boys..."

Like the two words my brother Stone uttered that sent me running, I can hear Stone and Mark scamper off the porch. I'm sure they've sprinted across the meadow in front of the cabin and are headed for the river banks of the Red River.

They don't come back until late afternoon, but when they do, my daddy confiscates the rifles. "Your sister is not a target. You were supposed to shoot at the paper targets we got you, not each other."

My daddy was my protector. And even though I've learned to protect myself, I miss him so much.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

An amazing writing tip

Disclaimer: I found this advice in one of my computer files. I have no idea where it came from, but I am fairly certain it is not my work. Having said that, I think it is outstanding advice to those of us who are trying to make TOAST by Telling Our Amazing Stories Together. My apologies to the author who shared this strategy for writing memoir. If I knew who you were, I'd certainly give you credit. 

“Remember to remember,” writes novelist Henry Miller. The primary resource for your life stories is YOU, that is, your own recollections of events that took place in your earlier life. However, memory is imperfect. Did you ever notice how different relatives will give distinct versions of what happened at a family event? That’s because our memory is selective.

One way to sharpen your memory is through meditation. If you aren’t in a formal meditation class or don’t know how, here is a guideline:
  1. Find a quiet place, a time, and a setting in which you can clear your mind and think back on your life. What was it like? What really transpired? 
  2.  Focus on one part of your life at a time. Tell yourself, “Today I’m going to think about my school days,” or “my first job” or “my mother’s relationship with me” or “my job at…”
  3. Visualize, visualize, visualize! The psychiatric profession advises this also in the practice of relaxation therapy. Form a picture in your mind of the way things were. Take a visual trip in your mind through the hallways of your old elementary school. Visualize that trip down the Guadalupe River on that last summer vacation with your dad. Run a movie in your mind, the movie of your life, one scene at a time. 
  4.  Form the mental pictures in your mind and watch the movie, rewind if necessary but try not to fast forward through the sad parts.
  5. Transfer that visual movie into prose. Re-create your life through memory and visualization.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Soul Journey

I’ve been thinking lately about grief and grace, about experiencing and surviving unspeakable loss, about the soul’s journey, from transition to transcendence.

How does anyone survive those defining transition points? The suicide of a spouse, the death sentence of a terminal disease, the violent experience of rape,  a freak accident that leaves your athletic child a quadriplegic, the death of a marriage made in heaven, being displaced from your dream job at age fifty something, or fill-in-the-blank your worst nightmare?

I won’t go into the details of my loss, but I can tell you that I remember vividly Day 6. That is the day the shock of it all began to fade and reality set in. No matter what, my life would never be the same again because the sameness had taken a sharp turn into the abyss. My life no longer had the predictability it had before that fateful Day 1 when everything changed. Nothing had prepared me for these circumstances, for these feelings, or for this reality. The numbness gave way to a keening pain that seemed to suck the very life from me. I remember saying aloud, alone in my bedroom, “I can’t do this.” And I meant it.

But I did “do it,” because the only way to get past the howling pain of grief is to go through it. You never get over the loss, of course. There is a blank space in your life--that transitional place that defines your life before x happened and your life after x happened. That place can last a year, ten years, a lifetime. It is the place where I, and people in my tribe, write in a journal to define and document what has happened. We journal the details and our raw, primal reaction to our loss.

Eventually, inevitably we turn from reacting because we realize, although not initially, that we have a choice. We begin to respond to life based on our core values. Will the loss define me, or will I find a new way of being in this life of mine? Am I a victim—yes! Have I been robbed—yes! But do I have to live my life as a victim? No, I can transcend the experience and make peace with myself, by myself, and for myself.

After that, I can tend to others in my tribe. I know what it is like to be broken. I can listen to them—really listen with my heart’s ear—and be present and bear witness to their soul’s journey.