Change, Personal

Voices in my head

I have a voice in my head. It talks to me all the time.

It tells me what to do and what not to do.

Sometimes it dictates what I think.

I order it to pipe down sometimes but it refuses.

It pops up like those little Whack-a-moles at Chuck e Cheese.

I pound its little head down and it just keeps popping up again.

Maybe I need a bigger hammer.

Or maybe I need to listen.

The voice haunting me is my friend Millie’s.

Millie is a personal trainer and weight management coach. (

We met at the gym many years ago.

She tried to teach me how to be fit and beautiful like her.

The problem is that while I want to be more Millie-esque, I don’t want to sip on green goo and live off roasted veggies and six almonds a day.

But that’s what it takes to be like Millie or at least a better version of me.

So as New Year’s approaches and I face yet another weight loss goal, Millie’s mantras are shouting at me.

You can do this!

It’s a lifestyle, not a diet.

There’s a reason the word “die” is in diet.

There is no arrival.

You never get to do something different.

You have to do the same thing to lose the weight as you do to maintain the loss.

So instead of getting a bigger hammer (and bigger pants), I’m listening.

I hear you Millie!

The truth is I’m afraid of Millie.

She knows me too well.

She knows how I fall back into bad habits.

She knows I deceive myself into believing that I can “go back” to old unhealthy patterns and not gain weight.

She knows that when I do go back to those unhealthy habits, I will then blame my kids, my friends, and my busy social calendar for derailing me.

It really isn’t my fault, it’s theirs for making me cook, go to lunch, and attend and host holiday parties.

She knows that during the holidays I cop-out and forget about what is best for my health, and start trying to please everybody else.

Her voice in my head tells me I’m not really doing my family any favors either by making them unhealthy food.

So I’m mentally confessing to Millie that I’ve gained weight, which is the opposite of what I want to do.

I know she’s disappointed but she won’t say that.

She’ll say, “At least you’re back in the game.”

Then my admissions of guilt rush out..

I baked cookies, and ate them.

I even went to a cookie exchange, which I haven’t done for years because I don’t need dozens of cookies sitting around my house.

I tried to perfect my candy making skills, and kept eating all the candy.

I made cheesy pasta dishes and homemade rolls for my family.

I’ve fallen back to eating chips and salsa.

As these admissions spew out, Millie’s voice gets louder.

You’ve got to clean out your house immediately.

Get rid of all the garbage.

You’ve fallen back into old unhealthy habits and it’s time to rein it in.

Don’t beat yourself up about it.

Just pick up and move on.

Clean up the mess.

Remember the five critical control factors to weight loss: Get support, keep food records, exercise, clean up and control your environment, and focus again on counting calories.

Okay, okay.

I’ve got it.

I’m back at it.

Your voice in my head won’t leave me alone.

I know what I have to do.

Sometimes when she pushed me, I called her Malificient, the Disney mistress of all evil.

Really she is my Jiminy Cricket, my conscience, my own inner voice, and inspiration.

And we all need one of those, right?

Happy New Year Millie. I’m back in the game.

Who’s with me?

Personal, Uncategorized

Soaking it in…

Friday night we went to the airport to pick up Annie who came home for Christmas.

We got the added bonus of picking up Marcie, a family friend who will be staying with us until Christmas Eve.

(Her parents are mission presidents in Columbia. We’re excited to Skype with them on Christmas Eve!)

Saturday, we went back to pick up Sara.

Both times, turned into a Hometown Herndon party at the airport as we stood with all the other excited parents waiting to welcome our college students home.

Even after we retrieved the luggage we lingered, catching up on everyone’s lives.

Those parents and kids make up part of our village, our community of friends and neighbors that nurtured, guided, and loved each other’s kids to adulthood.

To their embarrassment and dismay, we were often a team of parents that collectively watched over them.

We discussed curfews, rules, and sometimes our kid’s individual struggles.

They complained about it then, and still complain about it, because they felt like we ganged up on them.

Too bad.

Parenting is serious business and having a strong, supportive village is central to success.

Besides, I bet every one of them will end up doing the same thing when they become parents.

Like I always told my girls when they became frustrated with my close supervision, “It’s my job and I wouldn’t be doing it very well if I didn’t care what you did.”

I don’t think I was a suffocating or overly strict parent.

Although, they both tell me their midnight curfew was unreasonable.

I still disagree.

I only had a few rules and philosophies that guided my parenting:

1. If you keep my rules, your life will be dreamy and I will stay out of your way.

If you break my rules, your life will be hell because I will be everywhere.

2. The rules were simple. Be in by your curfew. Treat me and everybody else with respect. Do your best, always. And pick up after Nikki when he poops on the neighbor’s yard so that they don’t call me to tell me you left it on their lawn.

3. “Trust but verify.” (I worked in the Reagan Administration. His rule on arms control became my parenting rule.) I always trusted them, but sometimes I felt the need to verify, just to be sure…

4. Friends are always welcome. We rarely said no to a party or hangout at our house. We enjoyed having their friends here as much as they did, as long as they left by midnight, the dreaded curfew.

There are two important reasons for a curfew.

One is that the parents need sleep.

Really, we do.

And even though I may have gone to bed before they got home or before everybody left the house, I never slept restfully until everyone was in bed and the house was quiet. (That still holds true.)

The other important reason for a curfew is that teenagers need sleep.

Really, they do.

They are grumpy, unpleasant and gnarly little people when they don’t get enough sleep.

I’ve eased up on the curfews now that they are in college. I can’t regulate their schedules while they are away, so I don’t even try when they get home. I only ask that they be respectful and let me know where they go and when they’ll be home.

But my mother heart secretly still wants them home at midnight. It just soothes my worrying soul to have them home.

Now for a few short weeks, our family is complete.

Last night our home was full of friends.

Annie and her friends were in the basement, thrilled with how we rearranged the basement furniture and added a new TV, but curious about why we upgraded their hangout after they left for college.

Sara and her friends were upstairs, talking until about two. Many of them haven’t seen each other for two years because a few of the boys have been on church missions.

Doug and I hung out in the background and smiled contentedly because our home is alive again.

Youthful energy, passion, and excitement have returned.

Everything is restored to its rightful place.

Our kids are home, naturally charging the air with their comings and goings.

Friends are streaming in and out of the house.

This is the family life we love.

Annie left a note under my bedroom door before she finally fell asleep at 3 a.m. Friday night.

She asked me to wake her up the next morning because she said “It’s been too long since you’ve come into my room to wake me up!”

So when I woke her up the next morning, we lounged together on her bed and visited for a few minutes. Then she said, “I love being home. I feel like I’m just trying to soak it all in.”

“Me too,” I said.

“Me too.”

Health, Uncategorized


My friend Christy posted this story on Facebook.It’s written by her sister, Katie, who is fighting brain cancer.

Katie published this beautiful piece on

I love her perspective and her brilliant way of facing her challenge.

She has found a positive way not only to cope but to notice the beauty around her and be inspired by it.

It reminds me of my daughter Annie’s favorite quote by Anne Frank,

“Think of all the beauty around you and be happy!”

Go Katie!

You are my happy story of the season.

You represent courage and the power of choosing to be happy in the midst of a troubling storm.

Stay strong and keep fighting!


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Katie’s Story PDF Print E-mail
Last fall, on a beautiful day with a touch of summer in the air, I was bike riding with a friend. She slipped into a pothole and crashed into me. We both had scrapes and bruises but I hit my head so I went to the ER just to make sure. I expected to be out quickly. Instead I found out,accidentally, that I had a walnut-sized malignant brain tumor.As rare as brain cancer is, mine was among the rarest. If I hadn’t gone to the ER, my prognosis would not be so favorable. There are almost no statistics about persons who discover this cancer so early. I could live a few years or until I am 90. And one thing I can’t stand is uncertainty. As a trauma therapist, I teach people to live in the moment, to ground themselves using mind/body techniques, and to learn to accept the unacceptable. Talk about humility. I couldn’t do it for myself and the harder I tried, the more I failed.

One day I woke up with what felt like a storm raging inside my head. I had to do something different. I took a walk in Rock Creek Park.

I sat under a tree and sobbed. I wanted to feel alive again and the park was the only place where I could see that births and deaths and resurrections really do occur. The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Life is only available in the present moment, and when we live in the present moment it is possible to live in true happiness.”

Sitting in Rock Creek, I understood this teaching somewhere deep in my soul, and suddenly everything made sense.


I decided to do the “365 Day Project.” Every day for one year, I would take a picture in Rock Creek. It seems simple enough. But through this project I have gradually found my way into seeing things differently, noticing details I would have never seen before. There is something about the park that changes every day even if you take the same route. Rock Creek is full of natural beauty, and for me, tranquility and healing.

I have had two brain surgeries, lost my hair, been through radiation, and take poison that will make me better if things go according to plan. In a strange way I have never been happier.

For years I had a plan for everything in my life. Today my plan is to breathe deeply, meditate, and take another photo in Rock Creek.

View Katie’s favorite photos of Rock Creek in all four seasons.

Note: As of December 10, 2011, Katie has taken 310 photos of Rock Creek!


Friends, Health

My friend Amy


Should I choose pink polish or clear? I wondered as I sat at the nail technician’s station last spring for a manicure.

As I pondered my shallow conundrum, the salon door swung open and a frail looking petite woman entered the room and threw her tiny arms around another nail technician’s neck.  “Oh, it’s so good to see you,” she said in a vibrant voice that defied her waif-like frame.

She sat next to me and introduced herself as Amy.

We talked about everything from our nail polish choices to politics, education (she was getting her second PhD at American University) and then to my children, and then religion.  She is a Christian and we talked about how much she loves the apostle Paul and wants to meet him someday.

I didn’t know what was wrong with Amy but I suspected cancer.

When she left, I asked Annie, her manicurist, more about her.


I knew it.

The doctors gave her two months to live.

That was last spring.

After I went home, I couldn’t get Amy off my mind.  I wanted to reach out to her, support her somehow. In our 90-minutes together in the nail salon, we connected with each other.  I loved her fighting spirit, her thirst for learning, and passion for life. I loved her sense of humor, her faith, and the simple fact that even though chemotherapy was battering her poor cancer-riddled body, she had gorgeous nails. Somehow, through all of her treatments, she dragged herself to the nail salon to keep up those beautiful hands of hers.

I called Annie at the salon and asked if she had Amy’s contact information.

Unfortunately Annie didn’t have Amy’s information, and probably couldn’t have shared it with me even if she did. I’m sure there’s some rule against giving out a client’s personal information.

I couldn’t stop thinking about her and the awful news of her cancer death sentence. I knew she had to be afraid and overwhelmed.

A couple of weeks later, I again stopped into the salon without an appointment. Again, it was unusually slow. The phone rang, Annie answered it and it was Amy wondering if she could drop in for a manicure right then.


When she walked in, she again sat next to me and we talked for probably two hours.  She told me about her cancer diagnosis and said, “I’m not ready to die. I’m the kind of person that wakes up with a to-do list every morning and crosses everything off as I do it every day.  I still have a long to-do list.  I just don’t feel like it’s my time to go.”

I looked at her with her blonde hair, dressed in what could have been kid’s sized jeans and wondered whether we ever really know if we’re ready to die.

She said, “Don’t you think you would feel ready if it was going to happen?” she asked me.

I didn’t know the answer to that. I’ve also wondered about that.

“What do you think it’s like to die? I mean I’m afraid of being alone.  Will I just be alone or what will happen?”

I told her I don’t believe we are alone when we die.  In fact, I said, when my husband’s mother died, we studied a few Hospice books on the process of dying and learned that many people actually see someone coming to pick them up to take them to the other side.

“I think someone you know will come and escort you.  I think it will be a happy, peaceful time and that your chemical-ridden body will finally rest.  You won’t have the physical and emotional struggle that you have now.”

“That makes me feel so much better,” she said.  “I have a grandmother I was really close to and I’ve always wondered if I would see her when I die.  Do you think I will?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s the one who comes to get you,” I said.

When people die, they often smile, relax and get a look of recognition on their faces like they are seeing someone they love or someone who is familiar to them, I told her.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that we’ve been at the salon together twice now.  I need someone to talk to about these kinds of questions,” she said. “If I talk to my parents, I can see the sadness all over their faces.  I try to put up a front for them so they don’t know how much pain I’m in and how many questions I have about death. So it’s good to talk to someone who isn’t that close to me, someone that understands the toll chemotherapy takes and how you have to ask yourself some pretty hard questions.”

I did little talking as she fired questions at me like, “Why does God make me suffer?  Why did He make cancer treatments so debilitating?  Why does He want me to die? What will happen to me when I die?  Will I just leave this earth and then be alone somewhere in the clouds?”

My mind spun as I tried to know where to begin.  “I know the answers to these questions,” I thought but our nail appointments were winding down and how could I thoughtfully respond to all her questions in the brief minutes we had waiting for our nails to dry?

When we both left, we traded e-mail addresses, promised to stay in touch, and hugged like old friends.

“If you know more about dying and what happens to us, will you teach me?” she asked.

I told her I would send her some information from the books on Hospice and share some of my beliefs with her.

Later that week I sent her an email about my belief in life after death.  I sent some encouraging quotes to help her keep fighting.

She told me she couldn’t take what her doctors said to heart so she went to Pennsylvania to the Cancer Treatment Center of America to see if they could do something new for her.  She came home discouraged because they gave her some options but in the end, they were treatments that might extend her life briefly but not lead to full recovery.  She continued to get chemotherapy treatments. But she refused to give up hope.

All summer I worried about her when I didn’t hear from her, I wondered how I would ever know if she died.  I wanted to be able to go to her funeral at least.

In about August, she sent me an e-mail to tell me our manicurist and her assistant moved to another salon.  She said she was very weak but wanted to meet for a manicure soon.  “When I’m stronger and have more energy, we’ll go get manicured and talk.”

It’s a morbid admission but I scanned the obituaries during the months I didn’t hear from her.  I had to know if she died.  After all, the doctors told her she wouldn’t live more than two months. We were easily into five months by then.

Later, after reading Steve Job’s eulogy delivered by his sister, I thought of Amy again.  I wondered why Jobs said, “Wow!” three times before he died.

Did someone come to pick him up?  He looked happy and amazed as he was in his last moments.

I sent the eulogy to Amy and said, “What do you think made him so happy at the end of his life?”

She wrote back immediately and thanked me for thinking of her.

She said, “You won’t believe what happened to me! I got in a car accident and broke my leg.  I haven’t been able to drive or do anything for weeks.  I am not the kind of person who can just sit around though so I cleaned all the wood floors in my huge house.  I wish I had a video to show you.  Can you picture me on the floor with one leg out straight, scooting from one piece of floor to the next? It’s hilarious! Oh, and I wanted you to know Annie had a new baby boy and she’s doing great.”

No mention of cancer.

I wrote back and said, “You didn’t say a word about cancer.  You are such a strong fighter.  I am not sending you any more information on death and dying. You are beating the odds!”

Again, she wrote back immediately.  She said she tries not to think about cancer because she has so much to do, like finish her dissertation.

“Besides, it makes me too sad,” she said.

What started as a frivolous, last-minute nail appointment turned into a wonderful, enriching experience that led to a new friendship and some deep conversations about some of the most important questions in life.

I thought of Amy again today as I made my Christmas “to-do” list.  I wondered how she was going to get everything done for Christmas.  I sent her an e-mail asking if I could help her do some Christmas shopping, wrapping or run errands for her, or even just meet her to get our nails manicured.

Now, I will hold my breath and pray she writes back.

It’s been eight months since we met.  Eight months since she was given only two more to live.

I want her to keep writing those lengthy “to-do” lists and checking off all the things she accomplishes.  I want her to get that second PhD.  I want her to have another Christmas.

I pray she writes back.

Pets, Uncategorized

More Adventures with Nikki

When we go out-of-town, our good friends, Mike and Ginger, and their family take care of Nikki for us.

Several years ago, when we first took him there, Doug said,

“If you have to put him down, here’s the vet’s number.”

“What? Why would we have to put him down?” Ginger asked, aghast.

“Well, you never know what could happen,” Doug said, trying to make a joke out of it.

Not a very funny joke, but it shows the seriousness of good doggie day care.

You never know what the dog sitters will have to do.

We have the very best dog sitters ever.

We cannot afford to mess up this great arrangement.

So we give Nikki a good talking to before we drop him off.

“Now be good because you don’t want to go back to that kennel where that dog-loving nun made you sleep alone in a crate.  You know how much you like sleeping on Haley’s bed! So don’t misbehave!”

He hasn’t always listened like the last Thanksgiving when he jumped up on the kitchen table, snatched a cube of butter, and gobbled down the entire fatty glob before they could stop him.

That must be why the vet told him he was getting a little chubby around the middle.

It can’t be from the rotisserie chicken I give him after my Costco runs.

He knows when it’s Costco chicken day.

From the minute I walk in the door carrying that juicy bird,

he sits patiently by the counter wagging his tail until I put his precious morsels in his bowl.

Then, he promptly licks it clean.

He does cute things like that sometimes.

Nikki playing "words" with my soul sista

But sometimes his cuteness and cleverness is a little more frustrating.

After our trip to Utah for Thanksgiving, I went to pick him up before Ginger and Mike went to work.

As soon as I got there, Mike opened the front door to bring out Nikki’s crate and other vacation gear, and Nikki bounded out, jumping all over me like it had been over a century since we’d seen each other, just like he does if I walk out to the mailbox or down to the basement and back.

The animal has no sense of time.

Any short break from me is like an eternity for him.

I opened the car door.

He jumped in the car, tail wagging excitedly, because of course it had been eons since we’d seen each other.

Mike followed Nikki, carrying the crate, food bowl, treats, and leash.

He carefully placed them all in the backseat of the car so that he and Ginger could rush off to work.

Then our cute, hyperactive, happy-go-lucky dog jumped up and down from one door to the next, looking out the window at us, and panting with joy to be going home.

Then his little paw hit the door lock.


He locked all the car doors.

The keys were in the ignition.

The car was running.

My cell phone was locked in the car with the dog.


If he could lock the doors, maybe he could unlock them?

It was worth a try.

Ginger and I did our best to convince him.

“Here Nikki, open the door.”

“Come on, you can do it.”

“You locked them so you could unlock them.”

“Good boy, you’re so close!”

“Come on, pop it up!”

He put his paw on the lock, panted happily, and then removed his paw.

Mike ran in the house to get the camera.

“This might not be funny now, but it will be funny later,” he said.

Ginger and I kept coaxing Nikki to open the doors.

“Look, if you can open the drawer where we keep the trash, and unwrap every piece of chocolate that’s ever come into our house, you can open this door!” I thought.

He just looked at me wondering when I would take him home.

“Nikki, I know you can open this door.  You roll the windows down in the car when you want to stick your head out and let your ears fly back in the wind.  So open the door already!”


Finally, Mike drove me home to get the extra key.

Nikki is so not getting that “Wiley tough guy toy” for Christmas that my neighbor told me about.

I searched every possible drawer for that spare key, and found nothing.

Mike waited patiently in the driveway, probably hating both Nikki and me, and resenting us for that butter Nikki ate.

I called Doug.

“Nikki locked himself in the car.  Can you call the police and have them meet me at Mike and Ginger’s house?” I asked.

“What?  How did Nikki lock himself in the car?”

“Just call the police please.  Mike and Ginger are late for work and they’re probably not going to let Nikki vacation there anymore, and then we’re in big trouble.”

Mike drove me back to the car and I tried to convince them to leave me there, standing in the rain, waiting for the police to arrive.

They refused.

So we all stood in the rain waiting for the Herndon police to arrive on the crime scene.

Surely sensing the urgency of our situation, a policeman quickly pulled up.

Armed and ready for action.

He couldn’t stop laughing.

“How did the dog lock himself in the car?  Did you try to get him to unlock the doors?”

Then, another policeman showed up.

Is this really a  two-police-car emergency?

The second policeman also was laughing.

They each took a window and wiggled their special door-opening tools down between the doors and the windows,

trying to lift the door lock.

Nikki looked calmly and innocently on with his tail still wagging.

“It’s your fault we’re in this mess,” I thought, “so don’t look all cute and happy.”

Finally, the door lock popped open.

Thank goodness.

Mike and Ginger left for work, about thirty minutes late.

The police drove off to pull over people going 26 in the 25 mph zone, which is what they excel at doing, as well as opening car doors locked by dogs.

And, I got in the car and waited for Nikki to stop jumping all over me, and licking me like it had been 92 years since we’d seen each other.

But this time, it actually seemed like 92 years to me.

And Doug?  He went to the Honda dealership to get a new key.