Living on hope

In a few weeks, my next book, a true story and a work of creative nonfiction, will be released. As I wrote ALL THE ABOVE, I drew on memories of the hardest period of my life to describe my feelings when the unthinkable happened to my son, Jack. 

On his 19th birthday and the day after his freshman year at the University of Georgia, Jack was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Sitting right behind his optic nerves, the tumor rapidly threatened to take his vision, and he was rushed into surgery.

For the next six months, he fought the battle of his life.













ALL THE ABOVE chronicles my emotional struggle as my family and I did everything possible to help Jack survive brain cancer. His incredible strength, courage, and optimism inspired me to do the best I could as his caregiver.

Each day, I lived on hope.




ALL THE ABOVE will soon be available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.  

A complicated life, hopefully

When I was in my twenties, a co-worker in her thirties once told me that life doesn’t get any easier. “It only gets more complicated as you go along,” she said.

Barbara was raising a son on her own, and she didn’t have the level of education that I had. But she did have more work experience and more life experience. Her pessimistic words of warning didn’t go over well with with my youthful optimism. But for some reason, I never forgot them.

A few years later, due to a variety of reasons and circumstances, my husband and I suffered a devastating financial crisis. Some people offered sympathy, many judged us, and no one helped. Life had gotten a whole lot more complicated. With two young children at home, somehow we dug our way out over a period of years, on our own.

Then, we thought we were done with (major) complications. But we were wrong. Twice more, we faced unexpected and unpredictable upheavals – “issues” isn’t a strong enough word to describe them. Life was more complicated than we ever imagined it could be. We stayed together and leaned on each other both times, sometimes joking nostalgically about our first crisis and wishing we could swap the current one for it. After all, that time it was “only money.”

Our last crisis was a health one, and was by far the most serious and most frightening. Our entire world changed in one day, and we did the best we could to help our 19-year-old son survive brain cancer. For a period of six months, we lived on hope itself. After that – once he was cancer-free – we relaxed slowly and steadily over time. That son, the third of our four children, is healthy and thriving today.

Life is still, and more, complicated today. Other issues have surfaced and we are trying to deal with them as a couple and as a family. But when things seem insurmountable and scary, I think back to five years ago, and I know that somehow, we will get through whatever we have to face.

Last year, I wrote the story of my emotional struggle as our son battled cancer. It’s a work of creative nonfiction, a true story based on my memories (and tons of records I kept). Titled ALL THE ABOVE, the tentative release date is March 31, 2015, and the pre-release cover reveal will be in an upcoming post.*  I wrote it because I couldn’t not write it – and because I hope that reading about my experience as a mom and caregiver will help others who are facing a crisis that is way beyond complicated.

Because when you think about it, a complicated life is still life. And life is a very hopeful and wonderful thing.

* A portion of that cover is below




A (baker’s) dozen little-known facts – about me

Look for my BOOK TRAILER to be released soon for MAKE THAT DEUX!

While I wait for the finishing touches on it, here’s some trivia about me. My family (and relatives) know most of these faits peu connus (some of which are a bit embarrassante), but the rest of the world may not:

1. When I lived in France for a year as an exchange student, I didn’t (yet) have a driver’s license. But it wasn’t necessary to have one to drive a moped (mobylette). Phew!

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Not my mobylette, but the same color mine was. (Why didn’t I take a picture? Because cameras – and film – were expensive!)

2. Since my birthday is October 20, I was always one of the oldest in my class growing up (when I started 1st grade, you had to be 6 years old by Oct. 1). In 9th grade, I set out to finish high school in 3 years, which I did, tying with another girl for 1st in my class. When I started at UNC, I was 17.

3. I was 2nd-runner-up in my high school beauty pageant (“Miss Tiger”).

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4. I worked at the Carolina Coffee Shop on Franklin Street (and other restaurants) when I was a student in Chapel Hill, and I once waited on Alan Alda. I don’t remember getting a big tip…

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5. I didn’t get my ears pierced until I was 26 years old and pregnant with twins, & I’ve never had another ear piercing (or any other kind).

6. One of my sons is a brain cancer survivor and was operated on by a renowned Duke neurosurgeon.* My son is doing terrific now & is involved in Relay for Life at UGA, which helps raise funds for cancer research.


7. I don’t wear bracelets or turtlenecks (though I used to wear both, but only once in a blue moon).

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As a college freshman, wearing one of the two turtlenecks I remember ever owning.

8. I’m a slow reader, and always struggled to make A’s in English (which I did in high school, but not in college…Oops!)

9. Maybe because I’m very nearsighted (and my parents didn’t realize that until I was 12), I didn’t learn to ride a bicycle until I was 10 years old. I couldn’t see the ground in front of me!

10. I don’t get seasick, but I do get migraines occasionally.

11. My hair is naturally curly, and while my kids were growing up, I experimented with many different hairstyles and lengths.


Me when my third child was a toddler and my twins were in 1st grade

12. I left the promising field of computers and technology in the mid 1980s to stay home and raise my 4 children for 20 years, during which my family moved across the country 4 times.

13. I don’t know how to cook (much)…actually, that’s a well-known fact about me!

 * Dr. Allan H. Friedman, Neurosurgeon-in-Chief, Duke University Hospital; the same doctor who operated on Senator Ted Kennedy several years ago.

Joyeux Noël, Elno

The cartes de Noël have been sent (and many received), the tree has been trimmed, the decorations — and lights — carefully placed, and the stockings hung…

but I’m not quite ready for Christmas.

It’s my favorite holiday, with Thanksgiving a close second. I love l’automne (the fall) best of all the seasons, and here in Atlanta, l’hiver (winter) feels like autumn (and sometimes almost like summer). Earlier this month, when my daughter and I visited New York City for a special birthday weekend trip, le temps was very, very cold and windy…

But we still walked down 5th and 6th Avenues, Madison Avenue, Broadway, Canal Street, through Central Park and the World Trade Center Memorial (but not in that order). Other than a few taxi rides, we saw Manhattan à pied (on foot), during the day and at night, with its spectacular illuminations de Noël:


On 5th Avenue


There were plenty of other touristes in New York, and we did a lot there in less than 72 hours — more than I dare to write about in this space. Because what happened in Manhattan…well, you know.

But both of us were ready to come back home that Sunday, where more most people are very polite and friendly, and speak a little more slowly. And we were happy to toss our heavy warm  not-warm-enough-for-the-north coats back in the closet.

But it was worth every freezing moment.


Back home, we’ve done a lot in the last three weeks, though I made a serious effort (again) not to go overboard with decorations. I think I succeeded without being too Grinchy: I forced myself to leave left a couple of boxes of holiday “stuff” that had seen better years in the storage room; I (almost always) resisted the urge to buy new “stuff”; and, because I hurt my back somehow (it’s just finally feeling better now, phew), I took things a little slower. And if they didn’t get done, oh well.

Because those things aren’t what Christmas is about, anyway.

When we were first married, my husband and I couldn’t afford to buy Christmas decorations, but we had a few that that my parents had given us because they didn’t want them anymore. One such item was two matching tacky adorable elves holding signs that said “NO” and “EL.”

My husband, always the joker, used to reverse their order on the shelf, so that “EL” was before “NO.” All it was missing was an apostrophe before the “E” and maybe one more “L,” and it would have been, well, a little bit French.*

After five moves, four kids and three decades, we don’t know what happened to “EL” and “NO” — they got lost, sadly. So this year, while shopping one day I spotted a replacement (sort of), and decided we had to have it (plus, it wasn’t expensive):

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Finally, here’s a photo of one the ornaments hanging on our Christmas tree. It’s very old (also inexpensive), kid-hand-made, and was recently repaired by a dear friend who doesn’t judge me for my phobia of super-glue:


Are you ready for Christmas? I’ve still got a few gifts to buy and a party to host, but other than that, I’m close, and I’ll keep the following lines from Dr. Suess (and from my favorite card received so far this year) in mind, as the 25th approaches:

It came without ribbons. It came without tags. 

It came without packages, boxes or bags. 

And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?

Merry Christmas!

*Or Spanish. In my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX, there’s a character called “El.” Read and find out who!

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Call me, maybe, but don’t break my heart: Sortir avec quelqu’un

From what I’ve seen, dating has changed since mon époque.* But I wonder why les jeunes filles gens of today sometimes make going out with someone more difficult than it used to be.

It’s been years decades since I’ve sorti avec mon copain — gone out with, or dated, my boyfriend (or any other guy – but not au même temps, of course). And though my husband and I have gone out on many a “date night” during our marriage, well, once you’re married, you’re not dating anymore.

But way back when, we were dating. Normalement, he would call me, ask me out, I would say “Yes,” and we would set up a rendez-vous (date). He would call me from a “land line” or even a pay-phone similar to the one in the photo, and I would answer the phone. If he called and I didn’t answer, it meant I wasn’t there, and he would call again. When the time for our date came, I would be almost ready, and we would go to a movie or out to dinner.

I’m not one to changer d’avis (change my mind) very often, so it worked.

But back then, when a guy called and asked you out, if you said “Yes,” you didn’t cancel on him at the last minute (or even before that), unless you got sick, someone died, or you had an accident. Yes meant yes, and it didn’t mean maybe. There was no easy way to cancel, anyway, like there is today. So you just went out — and had fun.

Like lots of people, I’ve enjoyed listening to a popular song recently that demonstrates (I think) how different dating is now:


Hey, I just met you,

And this is crazy,

But here’s my number,

So call me, maybe?


Hmm. Is she going to answer the call, I wonder? When I first heard those lines, it reminded me of a song that mon copain at UNC and I liked, featuring these lines:


Why do you build me up (build me up) Buttercup, baby 

Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around 

And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby 

When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still 

I need you (I need you) more than anyone, darlin’ 

You know that I have from the start 

So build me up (build me up) Buttercup, don’t break my heart 


In my novel — about to be released — characters go on dates, and (because they live in a time before cell phones, or even answering machines) they don’t stand up their dates. They live up to their commitments, even if they’ve only committed to Saturday night. “Oui” means “Yes.”  

And like today, no one wants a broken heart.

* Autrefois, or back in MY day

Les Ados vs. Young (independent) Adults

The French word for teenagers is les adolescents. For short, les ados. No matter what country you live in, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The years between childhood and adulthood can be difficult, not only for les ados, but also for les parents. (Make that, ARE difficult. Sans doute.)

But they can also be rewarding, and even fun. And then one day they’re over. No more moodiness, drama, or driving lessons. C’est fini.

While my four kids were teenagers (and one still is), I read books about raising teens, novels about teens, and even the books my own teens were reading. Just recently I read Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future by Tim Elmore and Dan Cathy. I found it enlightening if troubling. And then I worried — some more.

But back to my topic: teens vs. Young (independent) Adults, or YiAs, I’ll call them. (A small “i” seems appropriate, and trendy.) YiAs ARE adults, even if young and inexperienced independent. They’re not teens wishing to be adults, with all the independence that adults enjoy. So why do teens read “Young Adult” novels? More important, given that real young adults (and old ones) read them as well, why must the protagonists of YA novels be teens (in high school)?

I wrote my first novel (to be released later this year) not specifically for the “Young Adult” audience, but for readers of any age — it was a story that was “in me” to write. Like Jessica Park, author of Flat-Out Love, I was told by publishing industry professionals that the (college) age of my protagonist (19) was too old for YA, and therefore my book wouldn’t sell. [See her recent terrific blog post, How Amazon Changed My Life]. Well, the professionals were wrong about Jessica’s book. I hope the same will be true for mine.

Ironically, my best beta-reader was a true young, independent adult. In her early twenties, she had spent a year of college in Europe; she related to my characters and gave me a ton of wonderful feedback. She has a “real” job, and though she is close to them, she lives far away from her parents. I’m old enough to be her mom (!), but it’s amazing how much she and I have in common.

If you’re a young adult, you can be independent, but if you’re an ado, alas, you can’t be, yet. (However, at age eighteen you can — almost. But that’s another topic.) Over two years ago, on my son’s nineteenth birthday, I stood by his side at the hospital as a doctor explained that he had a brain tumor. Treated as a legal adult by the medical staff, my son signed the paperwork for emergency surgery that was necessary to save his sight. Later that summer, he had to sign papers authorizing brain surgery at Duke. He survived cancer, something a great many adults never have to face.

That son of mine has changed a lot. I’m grateful he can read whatever he wants to read.

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