Archives for: May 2014


I love you memo

My dad has always told a lot of jokes…”a million of ‘em” to be exact.  As children, he would often ask us, “When is the best time to say ‘I love you?’”  We would wait for the punch line.  And he would follow with a simple, “Right now.”  He was right.  There is no better time than Right Now to say those three important words.

Those words are meaningful, but our society has also put a lot of pressure on them.  Who said it first?  Did he say it back?  Do you think she meant it?  Does he say it too often?  Who else is she saying it to?  Quit contributing to over-analysis of this beautiful gift of communicating love.  If you feel it, say it…without regret.  Saying it doesn’t mean you have to propose marriage, or that you are obligated to change their bed pans in 40 years or that you are being disloyal to someone else you love.  There is always enough love to go around.  Love is not a lifelong commitment.  It CAN evolve into that if you both choose to nurture the relationship.  But for now, if you feel love for someone, say it.  Love without regret because if for a moment you love someone with all of your heart, you may regret it if you never get another chance to tell them.

Saying “I Love You” doesn’t always have to be romantic.  I often end calls with my family and close friends with “I Love You.”  I think it gets easier to do so as we get older, when we realize that time isn’t eternal, for ourselves and for those we love.  I love how my friends listen, offer to help, make me laugh and share their lives with me.  Why wouldn’t I say it?  And when would I ever grow tired of hearing it?

When I was a child, we had a poster hanging in our laundry room of a cute bunny that said “If you love some bunny, let them go.”  I always thought it was a typo.  Shouldn’t it be, “If you love some bunny, let them KNOW?”  Maybe if you let them know, you would never have to let them go.

Love is beautiful.  Love is free.  We can all give it.  Tell someone special today, RIGHT NOW.

My dad has always told a lot of jokes..."a million of 'em" to be exact.  As children, he would often ask us, "When is th...

Read More »

School + May = Field Trips


Wouldn’t it be fun to be a kid again for a day?  Think of how many options you would have when deciding how to spend your afternoon.  Your choice would likely be tied to either an amazing personal experience you would like to have again or something you saw other kids do that you always wanted to do yourself.  Answers to this question vary significantly among adults because children are not born into the same opportunities.

One thing I admire about our public school system (and many others throughout the nation) is that they are making strides to ensure that children have equal opportunities when they are at school by providing free breakfast for all students, free or subsidized lunch for those in need, a standard uniform program and communal school supplies.  There are still areas that can improve, especially in regards to extracurricular programs and individualized transportation, but we have come so far!

A couple of years ago, I chaperoned my son’s 3rd grade field trip to LEGOLAND, which was enthusiastically discussed throughout the whole year leading up to it.  He almost didn’t make it since he made a very noteworthy attempt to rip a tooth out of his mouth that was deeply rooted into position, resulting in an infection.  I told him that we wouldn’t be able to go to the field trip because he was in a lot of pain.  As the concerned parent, I wanted to get it extracted as soon as the office opened.  The negotiations began.  “Can’t you just give me a bunch of medicine and I won’t even complain once,” he begged.  This field trip meant the world to him.  Lucky for him, the field trip gods were on his side because the dentist could not see him until the afternoon.  Off to LEGOLAND we went and he made good on his promises.  The fun of the day erased the pain until we made our way to the extraction chair.

I was pleased to meet the kids in his class about whom he had spoken all year.   Two of the boys I was looking forward to meeting were not on the field trip.  When I inquired, the kids told me that their parents couldn’t afford to send them to LEGOLAND for the day.  I was crushed.  I wish I had known because the other parents in the class could have pulled together the funds to send them.  Wouldn’t it be great if EVERY child could go with their classmates on their annual field trip?  Every child should.

This year, I reached out to my son’s teacher to make sure that all of his classmates could attend Universal Studios and discovered that one student did not have the financial means to go.  The teacher had already reached out to the school’s bookkeeper to see if any funding would be available to pay for this child’s ticket and the school found the funds to send him.  I commend the teacher for jenerously taking the extra time out of her incredibly busy day to look out for the needs of that one student.  That is what makes exceptional teachers exceptional.  My hope is that this boy will look back on his childhood and remember that AWESOME day at the theme park when he got to ride rollercoasters and explore, just like all of the other kids.  I am sending a check to the school to cover his cost and the teacher let the bookkeeper know that the funds she identified can be used to send another child on a class trip.

Experiences are what make memories and those memories help define how we ultimately reflect upon our childhood.  As adults, we have the opportunity to positively impact the experiences for our children, with our children being our community of children.  Let’s communicate with our schools to look out not only for our own, but for other children as well.

Wouldn't it be fun to be a kid again for a day?  Think of how many options you would have when deciding how to spend you...

Read More »

GIVING, Old-School Style

Plaid skirts

My parents are both hard workers; the importance of a strong work ethic was instilled in us as small children.  I couldn’t wait to get my first real paycheck…so much so, that I got my first job working after school at my church rectory when I was in the sixth grade.  I attended a K-8 Catholic School in San Francisco’s East Bay.  Adjacent to our bright little fortress of religious solitude lingered a largely intimidating public high school, full of scary older kids who loved to torment us younger ones, easily identified by our plaid.  The campuses were separated by a simple chain link fence.  While our faculty did their best to protect us from interactions, it wasn’t uncommon to see teenagers approach our students during recess to offer them “candy” or say something mean to try to make them cry.

My new job required me to get a work permit, which was available at the High School.  I soon learned that the things you want most in life often require courage.  I mustered mine up, tuned out my surroundings and diligently marched next door.  No high school students were going to get in the way of my newfound adulthood, my entry into the great community of taxpayers and my contribution to the family enterprise.

The job consisted of answering phones, assisting with dinner service to the priests and directing the homeless to shelters as the evenings grew colder.  If the high schoolers were scary, then the homeless were terrifying.  Only responsible girls with thick skin were offered the opportunity to work there.  One would wonder why a church would hire such young girls to work in that part of town into the evenings.  Three reasons: 1. Our parish was rather poor and couldn’t afford more skilled workers.  2. The rectory manager had a child with down syndrome, whom she had to care for after school hours. And, 3. Rumors of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Oakland were beginning to spread, so boys were not offered positions that could allow them to be alone with priests.  Capable female child labor just made the most sense.  And I was grateful.

Since I “held political office” and had sports practice after school, I worked the late shift.  It worked out well because my dad’s office was rather close and he could pick me up on his way home.  Our little administrative team got to know each other very well over the years, transitioning projects and hanging out until the early shift’s ride would arrive.  It had been almost 30 years since I last spoke with any of those girls, but I never forgot them.  We were the tough ones.

Facebook has allowed us all to easily connect with people from our past.   Last year, I was contacted by one of my fellow “secretaries.”  She was moving to Florida because she got a great new opportunity with her employer of the last eight years.  Being from California originally, I was the only human being she would know in the Sunshine State.  She got settled in, set up the new office and, suddenly, their industry took a turn for the worse.  Regardless of the hours she was putting in, her paychecks never came.  She continued to work, keeping the faith that they would make good on their commitments, but it was becoming more and more difficult to keep food on the table for her kids.  She reached out to me for advice and insights into the support network within our state.   Our economy over the last decade has provided us with many examples of how bad things happen to good people.  It can even get the strong girls.

The night I got the call, my heart was heavy.  I got into bed and opened up the April issue of The Oprah Magazine, and began reading “20 Questions Every Woman Should Ask Herself Now!”  Question 5 – What do I really want to do all day? – “Hmmm…maybe I’ll skip that one since I already know the answer is ‘Take a miracle pill that allows me to eat every flavor of Ben & Jerry’s without gaining weight.’”   Needless to say, I continued to read.  In the article, Maureen Taylor, career coach and CEO of SNP Communications (Smart Nice People),  states that to choose the right career, one should “think back to when you were in second grade.  Some psychologists believe it’s around that age – the first period of time many of us can remember – when we become individuals, when we fully grasp the meaning of right and wrong.  It’s also when we tended to gravitate toward what makes us happy.”  She goes on to remind us that we are still the same people.

I began to reflect on some of my amazing elementary school peers, people who expressed a spirit to serve and valued jenerosity at a very young age.  These are kids I admired…kids who pushed me to be better.   I realized that the same things I liked about them then, I still liked about them now.  The article was a reminder that, like me, they are still the same people.  I reached out to two of the boys who also knew my old friend from the rectory and asked for their help.  They both jenerously jumped at the chance to provide assistance and together we sent her $500 for groceries and gas.  I got a call last week.  She got a new job and things are looking up!  No doubt…she is still one of the strong ones.  That hasn’t changed.

Time goes by and even though we don’t always keep in touch, close childhood friends stick together.  Dolly Parton, who released her 42nd album today entitled Blue Smoke, reminds us of the same through her duet with Kenny Rogers entitled “You Can’t Make Old Friends.”  True.  Very true.

My parents are both hard workers; the importance of a strong work ethic was instilled in us as small children.  I couldn...

Read More »

ALWAYS! – Derrick Atkinson’s Tribute to Zach Sobiech


This week, I have been blessed with the opportunity to participate in Laura Sobiech’s Fly A Little Higher Blog Tour. Zach’s battle with osteosarcoma was not one he fought alone; rather, it brought his family together as a united front. ‘Family’ does not just consist of mother and fathers, brothers and sisters. Family is comprised of those to whom we connect within our community – our church groups, organizations, social networks and schools (to name a few). From a small town in Minnesota, Zach Sobiech created a global family together through his music. He took the encouragement he received from his parents and close friends to change the world. His faith in God, positive outlook on life and incredible smile brought joy to many of us…and continues to inspire us all to Fly A Little Higher.

When I first learned about this Blog Tour a couple of weeks ago, I reflected on Zach’s story and asked him for guidance through meditation. How could I fly higher? While reflecting on the themes in Laura’s book, I was reminded of a conversation I had last year with my friend, Debbi McCarthy, about a family in Bishopville, South Carolina that overcame tragedy through music. “Up for a road trip?” were the next words out of my mouth and off we went to document this amazing family.

It is Roy and Sally Atkinson’s love and encouragement that has created an instrument, The Washtar, for the purpose of expression that is bettering the lives of those with special needs. It is the amazing warmth and genuine smile of Derrick Atkinson that tugs at the heartstrings when you meet him. Meeting Derrick has changed my life and I hope that in watching this video you can see that, like Zach, he doesn’t let his struggles impact his attitude or his desire to positively influence those around him. He lives his life to the fullest of his abilities, making him someone I admire…another true hero.

Please watch to the very end. I think you will enjoy the after-credit footage that gives you some insights into Derrick’s character and spirit. He just “plain makes me smile.” Looks like the Low Country is rubbin’ off on me!

This week, I have been blessed with the opportunity to participate in Laura Sobiech’s Fly A Little Higher Blog Tour. Zac...

Read More »

Carrying A Tune


Yesterday I shared how Zach Sobiech’s song Clouds landed on my ultimate playlist upon first hearing it last year. Writing my own playlist and documenting the significance behind each song was a very emotional journey for me. Being able to give my friends and family small snapshots of more personal events in my life and insight into the words that inspire me is a gift. There are few things in life that we all have in common, but each day we look at the same sun and moon, and each day we get one day closer to our eternity. Each day is an opportunity to share with those we love and learn about others.

My good friend and soul sister, Debbi McCarthy, just accompanied me on a whirlwind road trip last week, the result of which we will share with you tomorrow. We had a lot of time to talk about the gift that Zach Sobiech gave to us in Clouds. With 24 hours of drive time, we got to discuss (and listen to) music at length. Debbi jenerously offered to share the musical life of her daughter, Melanie Rose, who passed away from complications of Juvenile Diabetes at the young age of 38. It is so beautiful that Debbi continues to uncover new stories about Melanie’s life as her friends share their memories. The Fly A Little Higher Blog Tour has created this opportunity for Debbi to rediscover the inner beauty of her daughter all over again. Please enjoy this mother’s tribute to Melanie’s life of music and friendship.

She enjoyed music on her noise-cancelling headphones, a gift from her brother.

She enjoyed music on her noise-cancelling headphones, a gift from her brother.

Musical Memories of Melanie Rose Weaver [1971 – 2010]

At the beginning of the soundtrack of our children’s lives – that miraculous indignant cry that lets us know they have arrived – no mother expects to have to choose the music for her child’s memorial service. But, the ensuing cacophony that accompanies us each step along the way underscores our ups and downs and provides an evocative context for our tapestry of memories.

Like mothers of many species, our child’s voice is like a beacon. We can pick out our kid’s call for help in a crowded park or their enthusiastic rendition of a holiday classic hitting a wrong note in a school concert. We can decipher their words even wrapped in breathless sobs or gales of giggles. From my daughter Melanie’s first solo rendition of the ABCs to the final strains of a church full of people singing Abba’s “I Believe In Angels,” the closest thing to sacred music we dared to play at her memorial service, the music of my daughter’s life echoes like a lilting aria that drifts among those of us who loved her best, holding us close.

While my daughter herself was not a musician, she was introduced to music early and shared her love of it with family and friends, introducing us to obscure artists and blaring her favorite songs over and over again until she could sing along with every word.

My mother, Mary McCarthy, whose lovely voice was a gift in our home, delighted in teaching old songs to her children and grandchildren. Along with my grandmother and our parish priest, my sisters and I spent several years as The McCarthy Sisters, travelling around Connecticut to church fairs and nursing homes with our act that combined Irish, Broadway, Shirley Temple and nostalgic hits. Melanie especially loved one of Mom’s favorites “Side by Side,” a popular 1920’s standard most often sung by our family loudly in the car.

My oldest dearest friend, Melanie’s godmother, Tina West Pateracki, introduced us all to the exploits of “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” which would leave Melanie collapsing from laughter every time one of us would sing it for her (preferably, a hundred times). Mel later helped teach that and other children’s songs to her brother and sister, Steven, and Tisa – and, later, to her son Ryan.

One of her close girlhood friends, Tania Trepanier – who was tragically killed in a 2003 accident – spent hours at our home in Zomba, Malawi, perched precariously on a chair opposite my daughter, go-go dancing to Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” and “Mamma Mia.”

From me, she learned to love The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and other sixties and seventies artists – although she did confess later that she never really warmed up to Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, and, I will admit that there were years when I was not a huge fan of the music coming from her room or car.

As a teen and young adult, she made wonderful memories with her friends, who have shared many with me in the years since we lost her. I am so grateful to these people who loved Melanie so dearly and cherish their times together – so often, punctuated by vivid memories of the music they shared:

During Junior High, Trisha McMillan Ferguson lived within walking distance of Melanie’s dad’s house. When the girls would walk the back way to meet each other, they crossed a big open field. Mimicking the opening of “The Sound of Music,” they would run toward each other, arms outstretched singing the song all dramatic and silly.

Melanie’s closest friend school friend, Shannon Conway Johansen, remembers singing Bon Jovi’s “I’d Die For You” at the top of their lungs when it first came out. And, the two of them loved dancing to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” convinced in their profound youthful angst, that all love was tainted in the end.

At the old Storman’s Palace in Clearwater, FL Melanie and her buddies danced many a night away – her friend Kristy Knight, a popular radio personality who did a weekly appearance at Storman’s, particularly remembers one of their faves was “Lean On Me” from Club Nouveau – it never failed to move them onto the dance floor.

Cindy Quo was an angel neighbor/friend who brightened many of Melanie’s toughest homebound days when her health was so fragile that some of the local EMTs, who came to resuscitate her all too often, actually learned the names of her fish. Cindy remembers that “Hanging By A Moment” by Lifehouse was a kind of lifeline for Melanie during that time.

As Melanie’s illness progressed, she took as her own an Alanis Morisette song, “That I Would Be Good,” that contained the lyrics, “… that I would be good, if I got and stayed sick.” I know that those unflinchingly brave lyrics helped my daughter come to grips with the inevitability of her illness. She also drew an amazing strength from Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter,” with a less obvious, but equally powerful theme of the pain of no-win situations.

My best friend’s daughter, Caroline Schuler, was an especially close friend, spending long summer and holiday vacations with us. Singing along to James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend” is one of Caroline’s favorite memories of the many road trips between Tampa and Charleston, SC – screeching out the high notes singing “…and I’ll beeeee there yeah, yeah, yeah – you’ve got a friend.”

Melanie’s sister, Tisa, remembers the two of them loving The Pretenders “I’ll Stand By You.” By the time Tisa got married, Melanie was struggling to keep healthy with her transplanted kidney and pancreas and the immune deficiency that challenges transplant patients. Tisa had the song played at the wedding.

In later years Tisa, Caroline, Steven, Ryan and I all remember listening to Jeff Buckley’s timeless version of “Hallelujah” with Melanie. It became her anthem.

In the days following her death in April of 2010, Tisa, Steven, Caroline and their spouses went into seclusion at Tisa’s house and produced an amazing slide show synched to Melanie’s favorite music. That labor of love carried them through those first days of unthinkable loss and gave us all a gift at her memorial service.

After losing my dad, I spent weeks listening to Tom Petty’s “Room at the Top.” When my mother died, Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will,” was what I played over and over. When I lost Melanie, my song became “The Circle of Life” from the Lion King Broadway soundtrack. The CD is still in my car CD player.

Every April 13th, on what we call MelMorial Day, a group of family and friends makes the trek to Bok Tower Gardens, a beautiful, historic bell tower in rural central Florida surrounded by lush gardens in a beautiful natural setting. It was her favorite place on earth. We walk, reminisce and take a break from everything else in our lives, stopping each time the carillon plays to let the beauty of the bell concerts wash over us and soothe our aching hearts, something that only music can do.

Yesterday I shared how Zach Sobiech's song Clouds landed on my ultimate playlist upon first hearing it last year. Writin...

Read More »