Monthly Archives: April 2020

Transcending Distance

Eileen is five today! Katie, Bobby, and Eileen and Charlie are planning a Milwaukee party, and we are all-in! Even though there will only be the four of them in their house, I’m getting dressed up in mine. I’ve had my clothes laid out – sparkly silver top that I have never worn because Eileen is the sparkly gal – not this Grandma so much. I’m putting on pants that zip and lipstick. 

Tim and I live in Michiana Shores, Indiana, and at 5:30, we log into the delight of a pre-kindergartener whose contagious enthusiasm knows no boundaries. Bethy and her husband Danny live in Bridgeport in Chicago, Brendan is in LA, and Kevin is in Brooklyn. Bobby’s mom and sister are in Illinois. The family is ready to Zoom with Eileen! 

During FaceTime last weekend, Eileen said to Brendan, “Uncle Brendan, you get to come to my birthday party!”

I have to admit. I felt a sense of loss, an ache to be together. Does an electronic, computer-generated connection really constitute a party? Will it be a true memory of a special gathering?  I have great relationships with friends who I meet with virtually, and I know those friendships are deep and authentic. Will this celebration also be real?

Overthinking this (shocker), I said to Tim last night, “I’m worried that Eileen will be disappointed and think that her virtual party is not really a party.”  

“It is a party. She gets it. She’s smart.”

Hmm. Then like Winnie the Pooh, I opted to think, think, think, before I went into what I was really feeling. 

The thinking me rationalized that Eileen knows she cannot see classmates, have playdates, pick out books at the library, shop at the store, or swing on public park playground equipment. Last week, Katie said Eileen met a friend on the sidewalk, kept her distance, jumped up and down, giggled, doubled over, and said to Grace, “We can play together when the germs go away!” 

Five-year-olds understand that this too shall pass. 

Then I went deeper into what I was feeling – a deep longing to dance with Eileen, snuggle with Charlie, feel squirmy bodies climb over me on the couch. I want to marvel at their beauty, presence, and personalities in a place filled with warmth and love. I want to clean up, and do the dishes – things I like to do while soaking up the the funny banter in the room. I want to watch Tim twirl the kids and see their faces as they reach up to him for more.  

Then, this fifty-seven-year-old recognized that this too shall pass.

Tonight at 5:30pm, we party! Eileen has a scavenger hunt planned for us. The first to bring an item to the computer screen gets a point. Tim better stay the hell out of my way.

We are going to dance, sing, eat cake, and bear witness to love, joy, and gratitude for our children and a little girl and her brother who light up our world. That is real! 


You are Zoom.

Dear Dr. Zoom,

I do not like to sit and Zoom.

I do not like to share my room. 


I do not like to show my mess.

I do not like to have to dress.


I am tired of the screen.

I do not desire to be seen.


I look to Alexander Graham Bell.

Talk on the phone and clean as well.


I cannot do it when I Zoom.

I cannot use a mop and broom.


I cannot sort a load of clothes.

I cannot sit and paint my toes. 


I cannot go out and pull a weed.

I cannot do my bathroom deed.


I cannot water my house plants.

I sit and sit like in a trance.


I cannot tell what’s work, what’s home,

The screen is like a confined dome.


I prefer meetings face-to-face

to be with others in one place.


So dear Dr. Zoom and doom,

tell me why I should sit and Zoom. 


Dear Grandma,

Try it! Try it!

You will see 

a face, a smile,

collective glee!


Try it! Try it!

You will view

your kids’ laugh, 

a dance or two!


Dear Dr. Zoom,

Sometimes sitting hurts my butt.

I feel the distance in my gut.


Friends and family far away,

I wish that I could go and play. 


Dear Grandma,

You will! You will!

You will play!

Stick with Zoom

until that day! 


Trust in the WHO,

obey the plea

of doctors, nurses,

the CDC.


Dear Dr. Zoom,

I get it! I get it!

Zoom does show. 

I get to watch

my grandkids grow.


I get it! I get it! I will sit still.

Seeing faces is a thrill.


I’ll ignore my wrinkles, gray roots and nose,

all the quirks that screentime shows.


Noone cares what I wear.

What matters is that I am there.


I may be tired – put to the test

of distance but I know what’s best.


Thank you, thank you, Mr. Zoom.

You lighten up our quarantine gloom. 


The Light in the Lens

I sit transfixed 

engaged before the screen.

Ancestors sent script,

oft lost at sea, unseen.    

Grandchildren spacious,

healthy, safe, at ease,

grounded, relaxed  –

not trying to please.   

Virtual tour of their lives far away,  

encased in the monitor dwelling pristine, 

Nature in springtime    

knows no quarantine.  

No breeze. No scent. 

No warmth of day.

No waft from fresh baths.

Words I cannot say. 

Are you in love? 

Is your joyful heart beguiled? 

Do you feel my urge to touch your cheek,  

to share your world, my child?

Your face – a fair miracle –

Tales told in limited scope.

My son’s beard a symbol  

of wisdom, depth, growth. 

Diverted eyes, 

a subtle sigh, 

We say I love you, 

Talk soon, goodbye.

You live your dream  

undaunted by time.

Your LIght in the lens

calls me to find and live mine.     

I Stay Put

As we enter week six of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, the sun rises on a new day of sameness – Richard Rhor’s words of wisdom, the sound of my fingers on my keyboard, the plan for a morning run, the writing of tomorrow’s lesson plan, the prep for a virtual talk at the end of the week, the blessing of a walk with a friend (six feet apart), virtual meetings with colleagues.

Outside of Zoom meetings and the planned walk in the Indiana Dunes National Park, all other events are on my own time – open options for how to spend the hours as long as the papers are graded, the lesson objectives are met, and a few minor tasks are accomplished (or put off until tomorrow). 

Gone are the days of having every minute count, of cognitive awareness of the value of the next fifteen minutes – what can I do right now to best use this time?  I look back at when the kids were young. On Sunday mornings, as Tim helped the kids get in the van to go to church, I switched the load from the washing machine to the dryer. Each week, we entered St. Paul’s at the end of the entrance hymn . . .  because of me. If the kids were engrossed in building a Lego city, I could feed the baby, clean the kitchen and maybe wash some windows – anything not to attack the stacks of papers to grade on the dining room table. Little piles of five essays – forever waiting for my Zen flow when I would plow through them while taking periodic breaks to empty the dishwasher or sort some laundry. 

Now our kids are grown and live across the country – Milwaukee, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, Brooklyn. We don’t schedule FaceTime or House Party – all virtual gatherings are spontaneous when it comes to the family. Last week had an exception. My granddaughter Eileen and I booked a Zoom date for a Silly Hair Snacktime Story Hour. Eileen’s pigtails bobbed in unison with mine, and for a few minutes, I felt like I was five instead of fifty-seven. The pure one-on-one focus lit up my world as I tried to explain the word “invisible” in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Children’s stories have such an incredibly relevant level of complexity, and Eileen got it. Later, she told her mom all about the king who strutted the streets in his underwear out of fear of being called “simpleminded,” another tough word to define. Who writes these stories? 

Another big highlight of last week was a Zoom happy hour with my childhood friends from Chicago. It was great to see their faces in the seven squares on the screen, a new version of Romper Room. The turn taking and question and answer lacked the chaos of our normal gatherings, yet their strong personalities, quirkiness, and wit prevails. All but two of us still live in “the neighborhood,’ meaning St. Cajetan and the adjoining southside parishes. I was transported back to the days on Maplewood as they told stories of celebrating a 92-year-old’s birthday with a walking parade complete with posters and balloons on the sidewalk in front of his house. 

These days, when I do get a time sensitive request, adrenaline soars through my system. Yes! Someone needs me! Tim might send an e-mail to me – from the other room – and ask that I review his firm’s correspondence for clarity. Woosh! I get a flush of affirmation. Someone thinks I have something to offer. And that feels good.

But I don’t need that woosh. Or I shouldn’t need it. Where is the balance between wanting to contribute to the world and being content with simply being? Friends have said to me, “You have to do something.” And I always agree. Yes. I think of Gandhi – “Be the difference you want to see in the world.” I want to see compassion, caring, Arbinger’s Outward Mindset. What can I do that exemplifies love? 

Once a week, I call my mom who cannot have visitors in her nursing home. On Saturday, she asked me, “What’s new?” Hmm, daffodils got a covering in snow yesterday. My hair is getting really, really long. The schools are closed for the rest of the academic year. Senior citizens at a neighboring nursing home facility to yours are dying of COVID-19. (I did not tell her that, but I did tell her that some had been diagnosed with the virus.) I’ve learned that the weather is always new – and safe.

I FaceTime with my grandchildren and send them Melissa and Doug artsy crafts and puzzles to fuel their creativity during this time of no school. I think I am enhancing their small motor skills by sending a package labeled Fun with Scissors. Who names a children’s product Fun with a Sharp Object? I click “purchase” online and get a sense of there, I’ve done something good.

I lend a David Sadaris book to our friend next door who lives alone. I send birthday cards to my dear friends Kathy and Teresa. I send sympathy cards every week. What is happening to my friends’ parents? When did we get to be this age? We should be playing Trivia Pursuit at each other’s kitchen tables.  I attend a funeral of a beloved art professor and stand six-feet apart outside, bells tolling as the family and hearse enter St. Patrick’s Church.

I do little things. And I need nothing. I buy toothpaste on Amazon and look at the Deal of the Day. I scroll and nothing looks good. I identify this mindlessness as a waste of time. Ironically, there feels like there’s a lot of time to waste. There is no rush. And I hate it when I see that I have accomplished very little. What is that? The results of some underlying Puritanical culture? You can’t tell me that there wasn’t a lot of hanging around in Ireland. I see it in photos. But maybe the photos were the one time the people stopped working the fields to look up.I imagine they had to work all day to put a meal on the table and keep their shelter warm. They didn’t just turn up the thermostat and open the frig to gather leftovers from last night.  

I have not been to the store in over four weeks. I thought I needed a mask, and my sister Eileen gave me a beauty that she made from a muted flowered maternity dress. Her youngest is eighteen, so she’s hung on to that fabric for years just for this special occasion. I keep the mask in my car just in case I get the guts to go to the store. I have not been inside a building other than my house since March 14 and today is April 20. 

On Friday, I planned to go to the post office to send Katie a book, but I chickened out. Instead, I put twelve stamps on a big brown envelope, rolled the dice, and stuck it in our mailbox with the flag up.

I stay home except for walks and runs outside. When COVID-19 first hit, I thought it would be okay to get it – no big deal – get it over with. That was the me who sometimes thinks she’s eighteen talking. The one whose prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. She surfaces once in a while – usually after too much wine. I stay put because I have a funky little auto-immune disorder that might stick me on a respirator if I get this virus. I’m no gambler, and I’m not shooting craps.  And I’m not going to use a hospital bed that someone else needs more than me just because I want to pick out my own bananas. 

Be the difference you want to see in the world. Ghandhi had it right. I want to see the researchers and doctors figure out how to control this terrible virus, and I don’t want to do anything to get in the way of that. I stay put. 



Easy, Delicious Brownies

My kids never raved about my cooking. When they went to college, they’d tell me how their friends longed for their mother’s meatloaf, roasted lamb, homemade spaghetti sauce, lasagna, beef brisket. . . . The list seemed endless. I thought, What? No Market Day chicken patties? 

Katie contributed one thing to her friends’ long list of delicous food – my brownies. Not a meal, but I take what I can get when it comes to cooking accolades. My heart soared when she told me this story. See? I thought. They like something I make. 

I started making these when I was twelve, so believe me anyone can be successful. And the ingredients are simple. Enjoy!

Preheat Oven 350 degrees. Grease 8×12 pan with butter (lots in the corners).

Stir together two cups sugar and 6 tablespoons cocoa. (I prefer dark because it is richer.)

Stir in 4 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
Stir in 1.5 cups flour.
Slowly stir in 2 sticks good quality butter.
Stir carefully until all ingredients are mixed together. Do not use blender or mix master as it adds bubbles.
Add walnuts, if desired (as much as you like).
Bake 30 minutes, but check after 25 minutes because some ovens are faster.
Everyone loves these brownies. They are awesome with ice cream. For a warm dinner dessert, mix the first two ingredients, and set up the other ingredients. After dinner, mix and bake.

What will you keep?

NPR posed the question: What’s on your post-pandemic bucket list? Many responded that they would go to restaurants and bars. Some said they would travel.

I’m going to relish the presence of my mom. I’m going to look into her pale, crystal blue eyes and admire her deep wrinkles, her laughter footprints. I’m going to drive to see my daughters in Chicago and Milwaukee, dance with my grandchilren, and book flights to see my sons in LA and Brooklyn. I’m going to rugby scrum with my southside friends. After that, we’re going to line dance. We cut a deal on that via text yesterday. I’m going to host book club. I’m going to hug, hug, hug my friends and family. I’m going to go out with Tim – anywhere.

I’m going to church. I’m going to sit in that sacred place filled with the joy and heartache of people who have gone before me. I’m going to pray for those who passed from COVID-19 and those who weren’t able to be with loved ones as they lost them during quarantine. I’m going to thank God for healthcare workers and the people who got us through this.

But what will I keep from this? I’m going to cling to my loving appreciation of wit, faith, friendship, and story. I’m going to keep reading, writing, taking classes, teaching and sharing. I’m going to marvel at inspiring poets, authors, philosophers, essayists, and brilliant friends who make me laugh, cry, and rejoice.

I’m going to continue to savor silence as safety, contentment and comfort.  I’ll hang on to the deep respect I have for my husband’s commitment to his clients and his genuine passion for his work. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s one of the reasons the house is so quiet.

I’m going to keep walking and running – the rhythm grounds me and keeps me sane.

I’m going to listen and listen some more. And I’m going to put others first  as I now see that my needs are met in the awareness that I am loved, with all my faults – no matter what. When I am with others, I’m going to really be there. I’m going to pay attention. I’m going to witness the miracle of uniqueness, creativity, suffering and joy.

And I might just try my hand at stand-up. Look out, Brendan.




I See You

The older I get, the more I ache when I sit too long. On Monday, I was on Zoom with professors and deans who comprise the Committee on Academic and Professional Standards (CAPS) at Valparaiso University. CAPS approves or denies students’ petitions for exceptions to degree requirements, and given the COVID-19 pandemic, there are lots of these requests. CAPS’ meetings are always long, and my college – the College of Arts and Sciences – always presents last.  

Restless from sitting on my virtual viewing butt, I eyed my yoga mat. While the College of  Business Dean described her students’ situations with the rest of us muted, I thought I’d shut off my video, view the meeting from the floor, listen, and do some stretches.  

As I twisted on my mat, I spotted my weights, so I did a few pec flies. Then I flipped over and did my dreaded push-ups. I hate those, but a friend and I committed to regular workouts. Grunting from muscle exhaustion, I felt my phone vibrate next to me. 

“Nice push-up form.”

We are not lost.

Yesterday, as I ran along Lake Shore Drive in the dense fog, Thomas Merton’s prayer echoed through me as my shoes hit the pavement: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.”

                                                                     Duneland Beach, 4.9.20

Fog clung to my eyelashes as I disappeared in the rhythm of my own mantra. We trust in the road ahead just as we trust in God, humanity, and brilliant researchers and doctors. It may feel like the end of COVID-19 is not in sight. But it is.

Today, there is clarity – not only in the sunshine – but in the wisdom of Thomas Merton. We are indeed enough. We are not lost. And we are not alone.

“But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Duneland Beach, 4.10.20


Abundance over Scarcity

Everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

We are used to doing what we feel like doing. If Tim and I feel like going out to dinner, we go. If we feel like seeing a movie, we head to the theater. If I feel like shopping for shoes, I go to the store.  (Tim never feels like shopping.) If we feel like seeing friends, we invite them over.

Now if we feel like going out to dinner, we set up a table and chairs outside. If we feel like seeing a movie, we scroll through Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime. If I feel like shopping, I stay home and save money. If we feel like visiting, we log onto FaceTime or House Party. Or we invite our one neighbor over to stand at the bottom of the porch to chat.

We can choose abundance over scarcity. We can choose solutions instead of problems. We can choose creativity over rigidity. We can choose hope over despair. We can choose to share our talents rather than bury them while we wait out this pandemic.

If you are a good listener, call a friend. If you are a good cook or baker, hit the kitchen. If you are a gardener, prep that soil. If you a sewer, make masks. (Thank you to all mask makers everywhere and to my sister Eileen who made us three beautiful masks.)

If you have the means to be charitable, give. If you can help a neighbor, help – from a distance. If you are a reader, have at it! If you are an artist, storyteller, musician, computer geek, or writer, hone your craft. If you are an event planner, get planning. If you are a faith-filled soul, join a prayer group or prayer chain or pray on your own. It is your choice.

We always get to choose – not necessarily what we do – but how we are.  Yesterday I had a dark,  foreboding feeling – this social isolation is getting too long. Then I realized, it will end. In the meantime, we get to reach out, connect, spark innovation, practice patience, challenge ourselves, learn, appreciate wit, and pray, especially for the sick, the lonely, the elderly, and their miraculous caregivers.

Gratitude – for great family, friends, mentors, colleagues, neighbors, artists, and strangers – fills my heart with amazing faith in the human spirit. We get to choose courage, resilience, and generosity during this time. And that feels good – way better than dinner out or a new pair of shoes.

Mandatory Opportunity

How many of us have longed for a Holy Week retreat?. 

This week, with all of the COVID-19 updates, offers us an opportunity to contemplate faith, trust, peace, sacrifice, and praise. We get to hunker down, consider what really matters, and embrace simplicity. Yes, technology is keeping us engaged in the secular world, but we also have more time to dig deeply into meaning and  purpose.  

At a Holy Week retreat last year, I was given a hearthstone with an inscribed word. The facilitator instructed us to hold our stones, deeply consider the meaning of our inscription, and silently journal about it. The group was told to pray about the implications of the word in our own lives. There was no discussion, just intimate time with ourselves and God, a resource always available to us. 

Acceptance was my word, and I was not happy about it. I would have preferred energy or activity or change. Acceptance has never been my mantra. Now a year later, I embrace acceptance not as a passive act, but as an act of courage, faith, letting go, and trusting in God.  Acceptance is the act of being present for what is.  I confess; it was a long year. 

Many are disappointed over not celebrating Easter 2020 with their families, but faith and love prevail over distance. This week marks a faith-filled remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection, and it is also the most intense week of Americans doing their part to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19. In isolation, we have the opportunity to dig deeply into our own sense of Light, to recognize God at work in our lives, to prayerfully accept what is, and to rejoice in the hope of the Resurrection. 

This week provides us with quiet time for personal transformation that may indeed result in a better world filled with LIght. I accept that.