Words are life, so I choose BRAVE

When I turned 60 on May 31, my family surprised me with a cake.

A cake made of words.

The best kind of cake you can give a writer is one made of words. As the author of The Book Thief wrote, "Words are life."

My daughter asked my family to describe me then had their words inscribed in icing on a cake from Wild Flour Bakery.

What a joy to see how they saw me: Brave. Warrior. Passionate. Loving. Spiritual. Helpful. Intense. Author. Inspiring. Generous. Fun. 

Then everyone around the table chose one word on the cake and shared how they saw that quality in me. It was a love fest.

Then her husband, James, asked me to choose one of the words and share how I saw that in myself.

I chose the word BRAVE, mostly because I've been afraid my whole life. Afraid of life.

I used to think that meant I wasn't brave. Not after I found this quote: "Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid."

To be brave isn't to have no fear, it's to not let fear stop you from having a joyful, vibrant life, which is what I have.



Will prayer shaming spark action?

Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

We say those words when we don’t know what to say or do.

What do the words really mean? Do they really mean anything?

Not to some people.

On Wednesday, at least 14 people were killed in San Bernadino, CA when two people went on a shooting rampage.

Presidential candidates tweeted their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and first responders, which angered some.

The New York Daily News posted their tweets next to this front page headline:


Some are calling it prayer shaming.

The shame isn’t that the politicians offer prayers.

The shame is that the politicians have the power to do more than pray and they haven’t.

We’re all tired of the shootings.

Some were instantly outraged at the newest shooting. Before we knew who fired the bullets or why or where they got the guns, some called for stronger gun control legislation to stop the chaos.

Others were simply numb.

Here’s how I found out about the shooting. I turned on the radio to listen to Christmas carols and heard the announcer say, “The shooting of the day is in San Bernadino…”

The shooting of the day.

That’s what it has come down to. The shooting of the day, as if we’re announcing the weather forecast.

I don’t know the solution to ending the gun violence, but I do believe it involves two parts: the guns and the people holding them.

Any solution must address both the guns and the people who want to kill people.

It’s been said that hurt people hurt people. There is something deeply wrong inside anyone who wants to kill another person.

How do we fix that? I don’t know, but I do believe prayer is part of the solution.

Here’s the thing about prayer, the part we often miss.

Prayer isn’t just our chance to tell God what we need.

It’s our chance to listen to what God needs from us.

It’s our chance to place ourselves humbly before God and ask, “What would You have me do or be here?”

Then listen.

Listen past the noise. Listen past the anger. Listen past the grief. Listen and keep listening for the quiet, still voice of peace in your own soul that will give you your perfect clarity.

There isn’t one answer that we will all hear.

Some will be called to take action against guns and the NRA.

Some will be called to pray.

Some will be called to work harder to love and repair the hurt people who hurt people.

Until we hear that clarity, there is nothing wrong with saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Some of us say it because we still believe in the power of prayer to change hearts and transform this world.




Me Days

The holidays are fast approaching. Don't get lost in the shuffle.

It's easy to get overwhelmed just thinking about the shopping, baking, buying, decorating, wrapping and 1,001 other details that come with Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah. 

A woman I consider to be my spiritual guide once told me to save some space on the calendar for me. You have to take care of you before you can take care of everyone else, she reminded me.

"If you don't get some alone time, your personality degrades," she warned me.

How did she know?

My personality really does degrade.

When I don't take care of me, when I try to run on empty, I get irritable, restless and grouchy.  I start to question everything in my life, my job, my friends, my future, my spouse, when all I need to do is take a nap, eat a hot meal, listen to Bach, watch a chic flik or read a little Mary Oliver.

 I can only give people my best self when I take good care of myself.

So this is my gift to you. A simple reminder:

Before November and December are completely filled with tasks and to-do's, put yourself on your own calendar. Choose a day each week and mark in big letters: ME.

I bought pink sticky notes shaped like hearts to claim time for me. 

Sometimes I'm guilty of moving the heart into the next week, but now instead of one sticky heart a week, I put two on the calendar every week so I'm more likely to actually get my day for me.

What do I do with a Me Day?

Refill. Reboot. Recharge. Relax. Recover. Restore.

I read. Light candles. Breathe. Take a bubble bath. Go for a slow walk nowhere. Call my BFF. Play sudoku. Flip through magazines. Nap in a sunbeam like a cat.

Then I'm ready to be my best self.

Give it a try and let me know what works best to fill your well.




100 Days of Love

I just realized there are 100 days left in 2015. Yikes!

Where did the year go? Did someone short sheet the calendar?

It's time to start all those things I planned to complete this year.

Or maybe it's time to give up on them all and just love me a little better.

I think that's truly the secret: If you loved yourself, really loved yourself, you'd be a better everything.  A better parent, spouse, sibling, neighbor, employee, friend, citizen of the world, resident of planet Earth.

So I'm doing it.

I'm loving me harder. Starting with my heart. I plan to do 100 days of cardio.

The heart is a muscle. The most important one. The one I neglect. I lift weights for my upper body so my arms look buff. I work out on my core so my back and abs are strong so I can toss my grandbabies in the air and not drop them. I work out on my lower body so my legs are strong.

My heart? I have neglected it. I keep promising to do cardio workouts, but I don't.

So starting on Wednesday, I ran 1.5 miles. I didn't like it. But my heart did.

I could hear it humming louder and pumping stronger, reminding me how vital it is.

Then today, my heart rewarded me. It opened wide. Wide enough to love someone I had shut out of my life.

I made amends to someone I had closed my heart on. It's embarrassing to admit, but I chose sides and didn't choose hers.

I didn't even need to choose. It wasn't even my rodeo or my monkeys, but WOOMP! my heart closed on her.

We talked on the phone. I said I was sorry. Made sure I actually said those two important words, not just, "I want to apologize." I needed to really apologize. I had been unkind.

My chest expanded to let my heart love her. What a cardio workout.

The heart is a wonderful muscle. Love it, and it will love you back.








I'm loving my heart, the muscle I can't see.

What Independence Day looked like to my gramma

Immigrants bound for America on the SS Ile de France

Immigrants bound for America on the SS Ile de France

This is what Independence Day looked like to my gramma.

A crowded boat full of people like her, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.

She's there in the crowd. In the second row on the left, the first woman seated, the one wearing the white hat.

My mom is somewhere on that boat. A tiny baby. So are her three brothers and her sister. 

Ever since I found that photo, Independence Day means something different to me. 

Something more than fireworks, cookouts and s’mores. 

It’s a day to give thanks that my ancestors chose America to call home.  

All four grandparents made that choice. They left all they knew to venture across the sea for the great experiment that was America. 

They passed through New York where Lady Liberty still stands, and still offers this promise:

 “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

 Those words Emma Lazarus wrote are the welcome mat to America.

 I hope they still mean something.

 I hope our country still stands as a beacon of hope to the tired, the poor, those yearning to breathe free, whether they be from Mexico or Mali, from Ecuador or El Salvador, from Sudan or Somalia.

 My dad’s parents left Ireland as teenagers. Michael was 15 and an orphan; Mary was 19 and had already lost her mother.

 America was their hope. Their golden door.

 My mother was born in Czechoslovakia. She didn’t know it until she tried to get a driver’s license and couldn’t. Her parents had told her she was born in Akron. It was a lie, probably one based on fear.   

My mother had no papers.  

My mother was an illegal alien. 

We joke about it now, but it scared her back then. Would she be deported? My dad had to contact someone in Washington to get the mess straightened out. Mom became a U.S. citizen in 1961, when I was 5.  

I wish we could have celebrated her naturalization with red, white and blue fanfare, with sparklers and songs. But my mom’s past was never celebrated. Back then, being an immigrant was something to forget, not something to celebrate. 

Two years ago, after my mom moved into assisted living we were preparing to sell the family home. In the basement, I found a blue folder. Inside was my grandmother’s green card. I never knew my mom had saved it.

 My gramma’s nationality is listed as Undetermined.

America took her anyway. 

There were also two photos from the long journey from Czechoslovakia to America.  

If you hold gramma’s green card up to one photo of the crowd on the S.S. Ile De France, you can pick out my gramma in that white hat. What a long, awful ride that must have been with a new baby and three other small children. 

Last week I framed all those photos, the ones on the boat, the green card and my mom’s naturalization document. I created a wall of fame for them all, and my grandparents from Ireland.

 I want my grandchildren to know where they came from and how far their great, great grandparents traveled to choose America. 

It is a choice worth celebrating.








The Catholic nun who had 26 children died on Sunday.

Sister Mary Frances never set out to have children.

The Catholic nun ended up with 26 of them.

"They just came along into my life," she once told me. "God had something in mind."

Sister Mary Frances had 26 sons. The Lost Boys of Sudan towered over her. They called her Mom. And "Malaik," the Dinka word for angel.

She died on Sunday. She was 83.

The one paragraph obituary noted that she was a member of the congregation of St. Joseph for 65 years.

That she was a daughter and a sister.

That the funeral Mass would be Tuesday, June 23 in the St. Joseph Worship Space, 3430 Rocky River Dr. at 7 p.m. That friends could call at The Worship Space Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 4:30 P.M. with a wake service at 4:30 p.m.

It didn’t mention her children, those 26 men, their families here and abroad, and the countless people they touched.

When she joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph, she never set out to have children. Never imagined she would spend her retirement years helping to build wells in Africa. Never imagined she'd be carried away by the Lost Boys of Sudan who ended up lost in Cleveland and found by her.

She inspired the community to save them. To donate money to pay for school, citizenship and basic needs. To write resumes and cover letters, to drive them to job interviews, teach them to use a computer and speak English. To hire them, to mentor them, to love them.

She gave them the greatest gift of all: hope.

I wrote about the Lost Boys after one was murdered at a bus stop in Cleveland back in 2006. As a boy, Majok Madut had escaped Sudan's civil war, fled the bullets of rebel soldiers, crossed raging rivers of crocodiles and walked across blazing deserts to finally find safety in America.

When he died, it was Sister Mary Frances who saw the gift in it. The night before his wake, she felt a powerful sense that something good was going to happen to the Lost Boys because of Majok. She had helped them ever since they arrived in Cleveland. She told them Majok was going to give them a wonderful gift.

Somehow she could see the holy in the horrific. His death turned a spotlight on the plight of the Lost Boys.

With her help, they became U.S. citizens. They found wives. They had children. They have pursued college degrees and careers. They build lives bigger than their dreams.

One studied to become a pilot so he could help with relief efforts and rescue other refugees. One started a project called Isaac's Wells so the people of Sudan won't have to walk miles to get drinking water.

Through it all, Sister Mary Frances never forgot the son she buried. His tombstone reads:

Beloved Son and Brother

Majok Thiik Madut

Lost Boy of Sudan

Found by God

It always comforted her to know his death ended up shining a light on them that never dimmed. She would never say it, but I hope she can now feel it:

Hers was the brightest light of all.

Cleveland is still ALL IN for the Cavs

LeBron James scored 215 points. What an effort.

LeBron James scored 215 points. What an effort.

To people outside of Cleveland, we’re the No. 1 most cursed sports fans in the country.

The Cavs loss to the Warriors in the NBA Finals proves it. Right?

That’s what sports writers would have you believe.

We know better. That's why we’re still ALL IN here in Cleveland.

As Cavs Coach David Blatt said after the Cavs lost Game Six in the NBA Finals to the Warriors: “Not every story has a happy ending. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad story. This was not. This was a good story."

No, it was a great story.

Too often we only count the end of the story, the final score, to decide who won and who lost.

Too often we forget the joy in the journey and count only the defeat at the destination.

I’ll leave the game highlights to the basketball experts. Here’s what I learned from watching the Cleveland Cavaliers take us on the ride of our lives this year:

  • Apologies matter. That’s how we got LeBron James back. After an angry rant after LBJ took his talents to Miami, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert privately and publicly apologized. An apology sparked the return of LeBron James. It deserves mentioning. Forever.
  • You can be ALL IN even when others are all out. LBJ scored 215 points. He was still ALL IN after two All Stars were out for good. (Kevin Love to a shoulder injury; Kyrie Irving to a fractured kneecap.) The fans? We stayed ALL IN, all over Cleveland and beyond.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver. LeBron didn’t promise a title. He promised this: “I will guarantee that we will play our asses off.” And they did. The Cavs won their first two Finals games ever, in the history of the franchise.
  • Respect matters. What a moment when the best basketball player in the world caught sight of the greatest football player of all time, Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, who brought Cleveland its last championship when the Browns won in 1964. What did LeBron do? He quietly bowed.
  • Never, ever, give up. We will never forget LeBron flying into a camera and jumping back into the game with the bloody imprint of the lens engraved on his head. Or Matthew Dellavedova recovering the basketball like it was a fumble in football. The Cavs became The Grit Squad.
  • You play with grit, but you lose with grace. Coach Blatt made no excuses after the game. He simply praised both teams for doing their best.
  • You can lose and still win. “The Warriors won the trophy. But the Cavs stole the show,” Rachel Larimore wrote for Slate. Amen, sister. We lost the Finals, but we got a season to celebrate.
  • The best is yet to come. No matter what the team, Indians, Browns, Cavs, our sports motto here is, “There’s always next year.” Well guess what? Next year has never looked better for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Are we heartbroken here in Cleveland?

You bet.

But that’s okay, because here in Cleveland, we have the biggest hearts of any sports fans.

We're ALL IN for the Cleveland Cavs

This is Cleveland’s new motto.

The Cavs have created electricity you can feel everywhere in Greater Cleveland and beyond. Even our art museum and the Cleveland Clinic are dressed up in Cavs banners.

Cleveland is a city that once searched for a better motto and ended up with: "Cleveland's a plum." And "Believe in Cleveland." 

Unfortunately, the unofficial motto remained: "There's Always Next Year."

Well, THIS is the year.

We've endured it all. Even our children, who may not have been alive for some or all of them, can list the litany of our sports disasters: Red Right 88. The Catch. The Trade. The Drive. The Shot. The Fumble. The Move. The Decision.

Then something strange happened.

We decided to embrace what we had, wins and losses, and own who we are, quirks and all, to create something even better.

The Cavs won their first ever NBA finals game on Sunday in overtime without three of our stars. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are out with injuries.

We're no longer the Mistake on the Lake. Far from it.

America's North Coast has never been more on fire. Yes, we can joke about our river burning and our mayor's hair catching fire. It's part of our quirky past. We can simply blame the lake effect like we do for everything else.

We're hot in Cleveland and have been for a while. Buzzfeed listed us in 16 Spectacular Places to Travel in 2015.


That's a word we rarely use to describe our city.

What’s here? The Gay Games. The Republican National Convention. The casino. The convention center.

How about a T-shirt that with the litany of our city's successes? The Art Museum. The Orchestra. The Metroparks. The Theaters. The Universities. The Diversity.

We take our greatness for granted.

The Cleveland Play House accepted the 2015 Regional Theatre Tony Award on Sunday.

As Forbes wrote, "Very few folks realize that (Cleveland) is home to the nation's second most vibrant theater district after New York's Broadway, with fourteen major live stages in one concise spot, Playhouse Square. That's the biggest draw for the regional drive market, with an ever-changing slew of top plays and musicals."

We've got new hotels, an aquarium and a massive outdoor chandelier at Euclid Avenue and East 14th Street.

But too often the only thing people think we’re No. 1 at is being the most cursed sports city in the country.

Why? No major Cleveland professional sports team has won a championship since 1964.

It's like a disclaimer. We can't really be great because we haven't won THE BIG ONE.

Well this is the year. We are ALL IN.  

The sports curse on this town is over. Erased. Gone.

We're ALL IN for what's next:

The Title.

Advice for the Class of 2015

Congratulations, Class of 2015.

Graduates, welcome to the rest of your life.

This is where the official blueprint ends and you get to draw your own.

          You can build a life as beautiful, meaningful and fulfilling as you want. It will be both scary and exciting. Everything worthwhile is.

          You will stumble. You will fall. You will get messy. And right there, tucked in the biggest mess, you’ll find the magic and miracles that make living worthwhile.

          Here are ten tips for the journey:

Take the “just” out of your job title. No matter where you end up working, it’s important work. Maybe not to you, but it is to the customers, clients, co-workers and the person who hired you. There’s no such thing as “just” a job. Too often people say, “I’m ‘just’ a teacher...I’m ‘just’ a nurse. I’m ‘just’ a social worker.” Every job is as magical as you make it.

If you’re going to doubt anything, doubt your doubts. Instead of saying, “I can’t find a job” start telling yourself and everyone else, “I am ready to find the job of my dreams. Bring. It. On.” Instead of saying, “I don’t know what I want to do with my life” start saying, “I am excited to know what to do with my life.” Instead of telling yourself, “I don’t know what to do,” start with what you do know. 

Just take the next right step: Take the action you know to take. You don’t need a leap of faith, just one step. Taking simple, focused action will propel you forward. Make the call. Send the e-mail. Fix your resume.

Get rid of your big but. Actually get rid of your biggest but. We all have a big but that stops us. Yeah, but… I don’t have a degree in that. Yeah, but…I don’t have any experience. Yeah, but… I can’t use LinkedIn, Excel, PowerPoint. Yeah, but…I’m not good with statistics, technology, machinery. Get out of your own way.

Become teachable: Have the humility to ask for help. Become a student of life. Ask questions. There is an endless supply of people to teach you anything you need to know. If you don't ask, you don't get. If you don’t ask, the answer is “no.” You already gave it to yourself. If the answer is “no,” turn it into a maybe. Or thank it and move on.

Fail forward: When things fall apart, they could be falling into place. Failure doesn’t have to hold you back, it can propel you forward. Not getting into graduate school could be a gift. Not getting that job you wanted in Chicago could lead you to something better.

Stop struggling: I love the quote, “Nothing you want is upstream.” Pay attention to what comes easy to you, because it doesn’t come easy to everyone else. Your divine assignment has your name on it, no one else’s. When you live the life you alone were created to live, there is no competition. There’s enough for everyone and no reason to struggle.

 Align yourself first, then take action: Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re moving forward. Action without focus wastes precious time. Most people don’t find their dream job randomly online. They find it because they aligned themselves on the inside first with what they truly wanted, then connected with the right people already in their life.

Own your life: It’s up to you to launch your life. Not your parents, your next boss or anyone else. Take 100 percent responsibility for your own success. Stop believing that you’re being held back and you will move forward.

Enjoy the ride. When you don’t get what you want, you get something better. It’s called experience. Tucked in every messy job are miracle moments that will shape the rest of your life. There’s no such thing as a dead-end job. Every job is brimming with life lessons to lead you closer to what you want to be.

          The bottom line is this: regardless of your age or experience, the state of the economy or the job market, you have the power to expand, enrich and deepen your own life and the lives of others.

          Congratulations. Your life is now yours.

          Own it.



The Best Mother's Day Gift: The List.

My mother came from The Greatest Generation of Mothers.

Women whose job it was to give themselves away, to disappear into their children.

This photo of her both touches my heart and breaks it. She looks so exhausted and so young. She ended up having 11 children.

I am No. 5.

That tender arm draped around me melts my heart. She has a baby on her lap, but still tucked me in close to her with that arm.

I used to need proof that she loved me. Not all 11 of us. Me. Just me.

I wanted her to love me and bond in some magical way that never happened. 

When you come from a big family, you're loved as a group, as the litter that you are.

Sometimes you want one-on-one mom love all to yourself.

Instead, she gave me a treasure load of siblings: 5 brothers and 5 sisters.

One year on my mom's 75th birthday, instead of feeling sad that I didn't feel that deep connection every daughter longs for with her mother, I decided to just give her love.

A friend suggested I write down everything my mom DID do for me.

Instead of focusing on what was missing, cherish what was.

It was hard at first scanning my childhood. Moments with mom were so rare, it just hurt my heart more.

My mom at 84.

My mom at 84.

Then the pen took over, or the angels around me started moving it.

I thanked her for...

Giving me 10 siblings.

Filling our Easter baskets and buckets.

Playing the tooth fairy.

Making every Christmas so magical we could hear the reindeer on the roof.

Healing our boo-boos with Bactine and a kiss.

Waking us up for school every day – sometimes five times in one day,

Making sure none of us got hit by lightning, got blinded by having bangs in our eyes or wore dirty underwear to the emergency room.

Unlocking the door at 2 a.m. and not asking any questions until morning.

Helping each of us to become our best selves.

Forgiving us when we were at our worst.

Praying for us when we didn’t even know we needed prayers.

Loving each of us equally…and never letting on that she loved me best. (I can dream, right?)

I came up with 75 things I loved about her and gave her the list as a gift.

She loved it.

That list was a gift to me, too. It changed our relationship for good.

It opened up my heart to receive what she was, and is, able to give. 

On Administrative Professionals' Day, give yourself a gift

At book signings, I almost always meet a woman who tells me, “I’m just a secretary.”

Before I sign her book, I ask her to do one thing: Take the “just” out of her job title.

I’ve been a legal secretary, office manager and administrative professional. That was BC – before computers. Anyone else remember carbon paper, IBM Selectric typewriters and passing out from Wite-Out fumes?

Back then, I often said, “I’m just a secretary.” Unfortunately, I believed it.

It can be a tough job. Too many bosses think doing something special on Administrative Professionals' Day will make up for being underpaid and underappreciated all year long.

You can’t change them, but you can change you and how you see yourself.

On April 22, Administrative Professionals Day, give yourself a gift:

Take the just out of your job title. It doesn’t matter what they call you, it matters what you answer to. You aren’t just a secretary, office manager or administrative assistant. Remove the just. Don’t diminish your own worth.

If you want your job to be more creative and interesting, if you have passions and talents that you have kept buried, bring them to life. Do what’s in the job title you have but squeeze in room to do what matches the job title you want.

Own the power you do have. Power is an inside job. It isn’t in the title you have. It’s in the passion you put into your work and into your relationships there.

Even when you feel invisible, your work isn’t. Believe me, when you miss a day of work, everyone knows.

Every job is as magical as you make it. The magic might not be in the paycheck or perks. It’s in the imprint you leave behind on every customer, client and co-worker.

You’re not “just” a secretary.

You are way more magical than that.