When I was in Los Angeles recently to visit my elderly parents, one of the first things I did was work on a grocery list. I planned to go shopping later in the day.
Thick in the middle of peanut butter and canned pumpkin on my list, my dad sat down to give me directions to the supermarket. I couldn’t process what he was saying. At that moment, toilet paper and paper towels were my priority, not traffic lights and left turns.
“Dad, hold on, let me finish the list before you give me directions.”
“Well, it’s simple, Karen, you just…”
“Dad, give me a minute so I can pay attention.”
“I’ll draw you a map, Karen. If you turn right on Esplanade…”
My brain is OK with incoming information from multiple sources if the info is easily understood, like writing a reminder note, or hearing a funny story, or being asked if I want my coffee warmed up.
But for complex information, (and even directions around the block are complex for me), my brain can only handle one topic at a time.
My brain can’t multitask.
I can multitask physically, like when I make coffee at home. With my right hand, I pull the kitchen faucet hose extension over to the coffee maker to fill it. At the same time, I can open the drawer to pull out a coffee filter with my left hand, and plop it in the basket, without accidentally redirecting the faucet hose to the floor or my pants. (Usually. )
My brain can’t do that. It has folders for important information, and if the folder is closed, new data doesn’t get in.
“DAD,” I finally said, “the folder in my head for directions is closed. Anything you tell me now has nowhere to go.”
Then he understood.
If your brain is unable to multitask, a closed folder is a great visual.
My brain’s inability to multitask is the reason I haven’t posted here in awhile. I’ve had my Memoir Manuscript folder open, and not much else.
Last week, after 20 years, I finished my manuscript.
My editor will have a red pen lollapalooza with it, I’m sure, but the bulk of the writing is done.
And now, I have to open some folders that have been lying dormant for too long.
The first folder, which I opened this morning, was Website Blogs. And here we are! I’ve been neglectful of this folder lately, so my very belated New Year’s Resolution is to open this folder and post monthly.
As soon as I hit “publish” here, another folder will open: Create and launch my quarterly Newsy Letter.
My Newsy Letter is how I’ll keep in touch with my email subscribers. Here’s what it will include:
- One totally useless and possibly embarrassing fact about me.
- A snippet from my memoir, and an update on my publishing journey. I want you to be the first to know when I get a book deal! (Notice I said “when,” not “if.” I’m working the positive thinking magic!)
- Links to essays I’ve had published. Hopefully I’ll have some new ones out soon.
- Books I’ve read, and upcoming authors to watch.
- An inspirational quote.
My Newsy Letter will be a short page, four times per year. I promise it won’t overload your inbox. But if you don’t subscribe via email, you’ll miss out!
It’s so simple–just find the “Enter email” box, then, well, enter your email address. You don’t even need to have a brain folder open–it’s that simple. My 87-year-old dad has done it, and if he can, you can, too.
Speaking of my dad, once I opened the directions folder in my brain, he told me just how to get where I needed to go, and I didn’t get lost. One task completed at a time. That’s how I roll.
How do you roll? Can you multitask? If not, what folder do you have open today?
[I posted this two years ago, but tis the season, so here’s an update. BTW – I still still had to ask my husband who was playing this year!]
OK, right off the bat, er, pigskin, let me admit that I’m not a huge sports fan.
This is how out-of-touch I am with the Super Bowl scene: as I sat down to write this blog, I had to Google which teams were playing on Sunday. I know, I know, some of you are incredulous. I can’t explain how this has happened. And, yes, I am alive and breathing.
As a native of Pittsburgh, I would know if the Steelers were playing, but if not, I usually don’t pay attention. Anyway, in case you don’t already know, it’s the New England Patriots (again) and the Philadelphia Eagles. And it’s being played in Minneapolis. Don’t ask me why, but they couldn’t have found a warmer place to toss around a ball?
There will be no big parties for us this year, so Michael won’t have a room full of guys to high-five at every touchdown, or discuss kneeling during the National Anthem, or analyze what happened to the Steelers this year (again.)
Michael will be watching the game with me. He’ll make a big fire in the fireplace, we’ll gather some snacks, leave any dishes left in the sink, and forget about returning phone calls. It will be a nice evening together, but I know I’m not the most thrilling Super Bowl companion.
So here are five promises I making to my husband to help maximize his viewing experience:
1. I promise to figure out which team is wearing what colors, right at the beginning of the game, so when the first big play happens, I don’t blurt out, “Now, which team is that?”
2. I promise that when Michael goes to the kitchen for another beer, I’ll pay attention to the game so when he comes back and asks what happened, I won’t have to answer, “I don’t know – I was looking at the screen but not watching the game.”
3. I promise that when I fall asleep in the middle of the second half, I won’t be leaning against him on the couch, so he can get up easily when he needs another beer.
4. I promise that when a player doesn’t get right up from a tackle, I won’t gasp loudly and bring my hands up to my face and say things like, “I can’t look” and “I could never be a football wife.”
5. I promise to get in touch with my inner-sports fan for the evening. Even though I don’t get caught up in the Super Bowl hype, there really is a certain beauty when the receiver tears down the field, looks over his shoulder, reaches up and plucks the football from the air. I hate to make the comparison, but it’s as elegant as ballet.
And when the quarterback throws a perfect spiral right down the center of the field and nails the receiver in the gut – BAM – I get a little thrill even if I don’t know what the score is or who the team is.
The coolest to watch, though, is the way the players drag their toes across the turf when they complete a pass near the sidelines. I’m mesmerized–through every single instant replay.
I’ll do my best to make it a fun evening. I might just enjoy the action.
Hmmm. Maybe I am a fan after all?
Today is the twelfth day of Christmas. Unless yesterday was. I guess it depends on how you count.
After a party at our house last night, when the guests had left and the clean-up was done, Michael and I poured ourselves a drink and crashed on the living room couch.
As the fire in the fireplace ebbed, I admired the lit Christmas tree, the garland on the mantle, the manger on the end table, the little stuffed Santa’s helper with his bag of toys nestled in the chair.
“This year,” I told Michael, “I’m really going to miss these Christmas decorations.”
In previous years, by the time New Year’s Day rolled around, I was tired of all the holiday clutter, and couldn’t wait to pack it all up and drag the bins up to the attic. I couldn’t wait to restore order to my home.
In previous years, we’ve had a real tree, and by January 1, it practically begged us to put it out of its dry-needled misery. Once the tree was gone, all the other decorations made their exit, too.
This year we bought an artificial Christmas tree. As we discussed and planned the upcoming party—my husband’s annual post-holiday celebration for his staff—we decided to leave the tree in place, knowing the fake needles wouldn’t protest. We left all the other Christmas bling in place, too.
Last night, as I looked around, I was sad to think of the house without its festive dressing, but I didn’t know why.
Then it clicked.
I have a small box of ornaments labeled “Karen’s favorites,” and each year, I make sure they find a spot on the tree. This year, I decided to purge all seven Christmas bins of any item that I didn’t like or had no sentimental value. Then I bought some inexpensive gold bows and white ceramic snowflakes to hang in the dining room, since its peach wallpaper (a holdover from the previous owners) goes with red and green about as well as Santa goes with an Easter basket.
Everything was a favorite.
Today, when I got out the empty “Karen’s favorites” box, and looked at what needed to fit in there, I realized everything was a favorite:
The red velvet drum with gold brocade trim. Tiny drumsticks sit crossed on the top, the handles wrapped in gold thread. I made it when I was about eight, from a toilet paper tube and q-tips. It reminds me how much I enjoyed my artistic creativity, and how much my mother nurtured that in me.
The little girl and little boy on separate swings that my sister gave us on our first Christmas. Michael and I have a tradition of “hanging” each other.
The hand blown glass ball I bought years ago at a Dansk going-out-of business sale with my mom when she was visiting.
A plastic victorian house, a copper watering can, a cut glass snowflake. And these favorites, too.
Everything I kept and everything I added filled me with joy. That’s why I was sad to see it go.
By mid afternoon, when Mike and I finished packing the bins, parts of the house looked bare, but we moved our familiar furniture back into place, rehung pictures, and filled the voids. I was at peace.
Filling my life with joy, filling the voids with peace–not a bad way to end one year and start another.
I wish the same for you this year!
My wish for you in this season of celebrations is simple and universal. It’s a message you can embrace guilt-free, year-round, regardless of your faith or lack thereof.
Isn’t it refreshing to find a universal message that everyone can embrace?
Stuff yourself with joy,
Gorge on goodwill,
And drink in all the love you can find.
I wish this for you today, and with every celebration in the years to come!
(Thanks to my friend Sam Ciraulo at sciraulophotography.com for his beautiful image!)
I’m at a lull in my memoir manuscript. I’d been tackling the After section—the two decades or so since my son’s 1997 diagnosis with a brain tumor. It’s this time period–after the climax of the story–when most of my personal growth occurred.
Most of my personal growth occurred in the After.
Before and During are in semi-final draft form; writing their dramatic scenes was easy compared to wrangling the life lessons of After onto the page. That’s why After is still partially in the “shitty first draft” stage (per Anne Lamott). And The End has not yet been penned.
One of my followers on social media wondered recently if she had missed any posts here on my website, since she hadn’t seen anything lately. Another follower who subscribes via email made a similar comment.
Nope. They, and you, haven’t seen new posts here because I’ve been working on the “business” side of my authorship trajectory. I’ve been trying to make a name for myself in the writing world, trying to get “found.” In the process, I’ve spread myself thinner than gingerbread cookie dough.
For me, maintaining the business side of a writing career requires personal growth daily.
I wish I could clone myself or at least grow another pair of hands, but until that technology is invented, I’m stuck with fitting all my to-dos into the same 24 hours that you have.
But I do worry that some of you are missing out, so I’ll share some “business side” insider info.
Here’s the inside scoop:
If you follow or like my Facebook writer page, you’ll get to know me better, not just as a writer, but as a person. My page is strictly non-political (how often does that happen nowadays)? In fact, I strive to post only messages that bring people together, rather than tear them apart. Recently, I’ve told some stories of Christmas tree ornaments I made when I was first married. The message is not about Christmas per se, it’s about the lessons we glean from the mementos we save.
You can follow me on Facebook by clicking here.
And if you subscribe via email, you’ll get in on some action coming up in 2019! For example, I’d love your help in tweaking my new header design for this website. And I hope to create a guided meditation audio with your input. It will be FREE to email subscribers only! If you’re not sure whether you’re on my email list, don’t worry–you won’t get duplicate emails if you sign up twice.
Just scroll over or down to the “Enter email” box, and sign up to get in on the action in 2019!
There. Business commercial over. Back to my manuscript…
As hard as it is to write the After section of my memoir, the final chapter makes it all worthwhile. I’m blessed to have that reality. So many sad stories don’t have happy endings; mine does. My journey of personal growth was long and arduous, but I survived. As did my son. In fact, we are both thriving.
In fact, The End is so surprising and uplifting, I’m thinking of naming the final chapter
“And then a miracle happened.”
Tis the season for miracles, is it not? I’ll be looking for moments amidst the holiday hoopla to create a miracle of words on the pages of my memoir.
And as soon as After becomes Finished, I’ll be sure to let you know.
When I did my Thanksgiving shopping earlier this week, I brought my grocery list as usual, but this time I also had paper coupons, and electronic coupons saved on my Hannaford app. I bought almost twice as many groceries as usual, and it took me twice as long, but hey, I saved $20.
The next morning, I poured a little almond milk in my morning coffee, as usual. The almond milk was “Silk,” a new brand that I hadn’t tried before, but I had a coupon for a free carton, and who can turn down free? I saved myself a whole $3.29.
I took a few sips from my mug. It was delicious. Silk was much sweeter and thicker than my usual Hannaford brand. I took another sip. Mmmm. I’d definitely buy it again, coupon or not.
Just before lunch, I started getting pain and discomfort in my gut. Over the past few years, I’ve developed a very delicate digestive system. In fact, about 90% of the foods on this earth bother it, and that’s on a good day. My gut is always a mess, even when I eat the things I think are “safe,” so I didn’t suspect anything unusual. And since almond milk is a “safe” food, I continued to drink it throughout the day, around two cups worth.
Suffice it to say that it was a L-O-O-O-N-G day.
It wasn’t the kind of day you want a few days before Thanksgiving.
The next morning, again I poured my almond milk into my coffee. It was just as good as the previous day.
I picked up the carton to confirm that it had no added sugar. Nope, it was unsweetened. It said so right on the label. See it there in the picture? Don’t think I don’t like sugar, as I LOVE it, but sugar doesn’t like me back.
I’m a big label reader as a result of my food sensitivities, so I turned the carton around to take another look at the ingredient list. I was curious what type of thickener was used. No guar gum listed; that was good.
As I continued to read, this caught my eye: “Allergen statement: Contains soy.” Huh? Soy? In almond milk? That’s a problem, as soy is a known trigger for my symptoms.
I turned the carton around to look at the front. Out loud, to no one in particular, I announced, “This isn’t almond milk. It’s soy milk!”
It wasn’t laughable then, but it is now.
My husband and I came to the easy-to-draw conclusion that the soy milk was the culprit for my ten-times-worse-than-usual symptoms. Then I came to the hard-to-defend conclusion that I may as well finish my coffee, as there was such a tiny amount of soy in it.
Are you as incredulous as me that I would even consider taking another microscopic sip? That I would risk my enjoyment of Thanksgiving? My priorities were clearly messed up more than a gravy stain on a lace tablecloth.
Dumping out my coffee felt like a waste—of coffee, time, money, food, resources. I hate waste. I was brought up never to waste food. Poor people are starving, after all.
But my wise husband stopped me before I made a regrettable mistake.
“Karen—throw it out,” Michael insisted. “We have more coffee.”
He was so right. I dumped the coffee and emptied the almost full carton into the sink.
The soy didn’t kill me. I’m alive and well enough to type and laugh about it. I had an unopened carton of almond milk in the fridge (don’t worry—I triple checked the label) to salvage my fresh cup of morning joe
It was more delicious than I remembered.
And here are the lessons of Thanksgiving I learned:
1. Listen to the wise people in your life. If it’s a spouse or partner, thank them effusively.
2. However you celebrate this day of thanks, and even if you don’t celebrate, focus on what really matters and don’t sweat the small stuff. I was willing to let $3.29 ruin another 24 or 36 or 48 hours for me. It wasn’t worth it.
3. Dump any toxicity from your life, (especially romaine lettuce!) and replace it with things or people that make you feel good.
4. When you don’t follow steps 2) or 3), laugh about the mistake and be thankful that you’re human.
5. What doesn’t kill you teaches you a lesson. If it’s not obvious, dig deep—it’s there.
6. If you’re reading this, you’re alive. Be thankful. If you laugh today, be doubly thankful.
7. If your hands have ever picked up something other than what your eyes saw, read labels very carefully today. Be mindful. You’ll thank me later.
8. Enjoy this day. Milk it for all its worth.
Have your hands ever picked up something other than what your eyes saw? Will you share your story here?
Today, I am 59 and 364/365ths. Tomorrow, I turn 60. Happy Birthday to me.
Other than semantics—“I am 59” vs. “I am 60”—the difference between today and tomorrow for me isn’t insignificant.
Sometimes one day does make a huge difference. Yesterday’s mid-term elections, for example. And, of course, the presidential election of 2016. That year, my birthday—November 8—fell on election day. All I asked for was that our country heal from its deep divisions.
That wish didn’t come true, but I haven’t given up.
I threw myself a birthday party a few days ago on Sunday, November 4. My husband Michael would have planned something special to mark my turn of a decade, but I had a vision of how I wanted to celebrate, so I planned it myself.
Half the excitement was planning my own birthday party.
I rented a room, selected hors d’oeuvres, and ordered a white cake with vanilla frosting and lots of chocolate roses. I downloaded music, and invited some of my closest friends.
Friends—a room full of them. Something that eluded me for good chunks of my life. And this year, I have more friends than I could invite.
The party was symbolic of the personal growth I’ve experienced in my 50s, especially in the last two years as I’ve launched my writing career. The celebration filled me with such gratitude, I was moved to tears. Repeatedly.
The day gave birth to a whirlwind of emotions.
I’ll need time unravel the tangle, and after I’ve done that, I’ll fill you in. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my down time tomorrow. When Michael gets home from work, we’ll order some takeout, have a drink, and savor the last two pieces of birthday cake left over from the party. (I claim the one with more frosting.) It will be the perfect counterweight to Sunday’s frenzy.
Finally, as my 59th year ends and my 60th begins, I am starting to truly understand who I am. I like the woman I’ve discovered more than I thought I would.
Maybe it’s time to rethink birthdays. Maybe when we’re well into adulthood, it’s not as important that a birthday commemorates the day of our birth. Instead of looking back, maybe we should look forward.
Maybe the real importance of a birthday is to see what it births–within us.
I have this thing about the universe. I try to listen to what the universe is telling me to do – to hear its sometimes hidden message. Lots of people would say my “universe” is their “God.” Others might say it’s their inner self talking, or their soul.
I don’t think it matters where the important messages come from. What matters is listening.
Right now, I don’t know what the universe is telling me. I have all these great ideas for essays to write and pitch to publications. One of these ideas may be “the one” to catch the eye of an agent, who will contact me about my memoir, and usher me to a book deal.
Of course, my memoir is not yet finished. Is the universe telling me to forget essays, just get the damn book done already? Or is it saying,
I can only open a door of opportunity for you, I can’t make you walk through it.
Then there’s my upcoming birthday party, in three days. Yup- it’s the big 6-0 for me. I rented a room and invited friends and family, and have special fun things planned to pay forward all the blessings I’ve had in my 59 and 258/365 years. Does the universe want me to focus on getting ready, so I can enjoy this time without turning into a weepy ball of stress?
And my health. (Cue rolling eyes emoji.) It’s hard to do much of anything lately, even writing, with the time-suck of my chronic health conditions. Should I just drop everything and focus on healing? What if healing is not possible? I wish the universe would give up that card it’s holding close to its vast chest.
Then there’s the shooting in Pittsburgh, my hometown. Another mass tragedy. Another tsunami of grief and outrage for our country. As a writer, is there anything I can possibly say that hasn’t already been said by those more intimately affected? I will console, I will support, I will advocate. I will vote. But is there something else I’m missing?
I’m listening, universe. I’m ready when you are.
Maybe this—these words, unpolished, without resolution—are its answer.
Two years ago, I started a blog called The Well Nested Life; this month, I’ll close that site down. I’ve moved all my blogs over to this current site, so I’ve retained my words, but I have to say goodbye to the dream.
Closing my blog feels like I’m losing an old friend.
With some brainstorming help from family members, I had arrived at the term well nested. It describes my life. Homebody. Introvert. Feeling most at home, at home. My plan was to blog about humorous and poignant and touching stories of my simple life. My hope was to gather followers—my flock—who would then someday buy my memoir, in progress.
That part of the dream—let’s call it Phase I— is intact. I’ve established my online presence as a writer, attracted loyal followers, and I’m closing in on the final chapter of my memoir.
In Phase II, my follower base would grow to scores of thousands. An editor at a “Big Five” publishing house would discover my writing and be impressed with my platform. She would pay me big bucks for the honor of publishing my book.
I’d be a best selling author!
(Please don’t think I’m delusional. Most writers share this dream.)
However, it’s Phase III where I got carried away (as I have been known to do). In this phase, I’d use my big bucks from my memoir to help others become well nested.
First, my husband and I would remodel our basement into an apartment to house immigrant families short term until they secured more permanent housing.
Then, we’d buy and renovate houses in our community, and sell them at cost to families in need. Or maybe we’d partner with Habitat for Humanity, one of my favorite charities.
Finally, I’d create a cooperative of gardeners to provide gardening and simple landscaping help to homeowners moving into and out of our community. This would help homeowners to become well nested, as well as maximize the curb appeal of their homes, increase their home values, and increase the tax base for the community.
Sigh. It was a lovely and honorable dream.
But here’s the reality: as a writer, if I really want to build my flock, if I really want to be found by an agent or editor, I need a website under my name. “The Well Nested Life” was a mouthful of a blog, and hard to remember. So now I write, and you read, at www.karendebonis.com.
I don’t have the time, energy, or money to maintain two websites, and not nearly enough of those resources to accomplish Phase III. Something had to give; The Well Nested Life blog had to go. I have no regrets; it connected me to new friends, taught me that I’m not a complete computer simpleton, and gave me joy that (mostly) outweighed the headaches. My heart is heavy, but full.
I’m glad you’re here to help me say goodbye, and to celebrate as I write the next chapter of this journey. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m letting go of the website, but keeping the domain. Www.thewellnestedlife.com is mine for as long as I want it. You never know when I’ll get big bucks for my memoir.
You never know when another dream will hatch.
I’m open to the possibility. You in?
[Trigger warning: reflections on sexual assault.]
I wasn’t sure what to do with my feelings last week. They sat in a jumbled heap in my gut, and I couldn’t seem to sort them out.
I didn’t want to write about them; I had other priorities, like my memoir manuscript. But I couldn’t escape the heap in my gut nor the whirlwind in my head. I needed to write in order to figure this out, and move on.
Now that I’m a writer, that’s what I do. I write.
So here goes:
This is about the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, most of which I watched.
To be clear: I write from a position of privilege in that I have never been sexually assaulted. Harassed, yes. Assaulted, no.
But I have been in positions where it could easily have happened, so when women tell of their assaults and attacks, I feel their fear and pain deeply. It could have been me. By the grace of God or the luck of the draw, it wasn’t me.
I feel their fear and pain, and when their stories are dismissed, I feel their betrayal and humiliation and anger.
I want my voice of support for these women to be heard, but mine is a quiet voice, and there are more relevant voices—many of them—roaring on the internet and over the airwaves. My voice would be lost. In fact, acquaintances have asked me to allow the roars to own the stage in this chaotic time. Now is not the time for quiet voices, they said.
I claim to listen more than I talk, so I did that–I listened.
Yet my writer instincts would not allow my voice to be silenced. So I’ve turned that voice into a poem. It’s not my genre, but the words have quieted the jumble and stilled the whirlwind, for now, at least.
The roar of the lioness, the squeak of the mouse.
A bird sings.
This is my voice, a melody of peace and harmony.
An owl hoots.
This is my voice, waiting for dusk to be heard, quiet wisdom.
A mouse squeaks.
This is my voice, gentle, unobtrusive, sometimes unheard.
A lioness roars.
This is not my voice.
Her roar drowns out the hoots and songs and squeaks.
The roar commands attention; the jungle listens, it stirs in response.
A roar moves mountains.
A squeak moves nothing.
But it greases the wheels of motion.