Tag Archives: Encyclopedia

(362) Toastmasters

This is the “T” entry for Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  It is my final entry.


What It Is

Toastmasters International is a member-run organization that focuses on self-improvement through public speaking and its related activities. Local groups are formed and run by ordinary, every day people. Leaders are chosen by the clubs and everything related to club matters is done by the members. I belonged to a group called the Nordonia Gaveliers.

I joined Toastmasters because I had enjoyed debate and oratory when I learned it in middle school, and I knew I had an interest in that area. But the big reason I joined was because I was a business owner and felt that if I had to do any presentations, I needed to know what I was doing. In fact, I had given such a presentation to a Women’s Networking group and had an epic fail that really burned. Even after that, it still took me two years to get up the nerve to join. Besides being a big time commitment with weekly meetings, I was really going to take a big risk to get up in front of a group again.

I am forever glad I did.

My Experience.

Nearly every Monday night for ten years, I attended a Toastmasters meeting. These meetings consisted of three “official” parts — Table Topics, Speeches, and Evaluations. Table Topics enables members to practice speaking “off-the-cuff” about a topic they are given. The speeches are scheduled, planned, and practiced before being given. They follow a series of manuals that explain the elements needed in the speech, and a series of questions the evaluator uses to analyze how the speaker did on their speech.

I participated fully in the program. After my first 10 speeches in the “Communication and Leadership” manual, I was off and running into other specialized areas, including Storytelling, Special Occasion speeches, and Humor. It gave me a way to set goals, and continue to grow as a speaker.

TM manuals
Just some of the manuals that taught me a variety of ways to present.

Toastmasters is highly responsible for my ability to write in a way that is clear and concise. When giving a speech, everything needs to be clear so the audience can easily follow along.  I learned how to write my speeches vocally — rarely writing anything but a few key words down — which served me well for the speeches. However, it didn’t help me with the discipline of actually writing.  When I started college, I knew it was time to start putting things on paper. I guess the one thing I am sorry about is that I didn’t keep any notes.  The dozens and dozens of speeches I gave to Toastmasters are lost in time. There is no record.

Toastmasters taught me the importance of Roberts Rules of Order. It taught me how to deal with people when they are the most vulnerable. It taught me how to listen, as well as the importance of listening, and how nothing happens unless we listen well.

I found the most instructive part of the Toastmasters experience for me was learning how to evaluate others. Add to that, learn how to take evaluation. The idea of “constructive criticism” doesn’t set well with me, as the word criticism indicates negativity. In Toastmasters we learn how to evaluate fairly, always with an eye on those couple of things that could be improved. I also learned how to not be defensive about anything I said or did in a speech. I made my choices, and I took feedback for what it was — feedback. This has served me well in many situations in my life since then.

During my years with the club, I spent nearly five years as Vice President of Education, and a year as President. The club members waxed and waned, and yet a core group of us stood firm and kept things going. I never regretted any of the time I spent at Toastmasters because it gave more energy back than it required. I know that our club had some special elements to it that helped, and I’m grateful for that.


Of course that big part about being with a group like this is that we are all in it to win it. We all want to do well, and help each other do well. It isn’t a competition.

I met my friend Iris because of Toastmasters. She was trying to get a club started in her community, so began to come to our club for inspiration. I also become lifelong friend with Stacy, who now lives in Safety Harbor, Florida.

Stacy and I  Toastmasters Christmas party 1997

Our club had a cool “wings and beer” event after every meeting, which helped us form our bonds much closer. One of the places we frequented for a few years was called Angie’s.  It had a bar with a bowling machine and a jukebox.  I cannot hear “Love Shack” or “Atomic Dog” without thinking of my Toastmasters buddies, as we drank beer, played the bowling machine, and danced around the bar. It was a perfect way to unwind on a Monday night.

My club rallied around me when I had my cancer scare. Many of us liked to golf, so they pulled together a golf outing in my honor a week before I had surgery. There is so much more I can say about the relationships I built through Toastmasters, and how these people influenced me in a million ways. This blog just isn’t big enough for all of it.

The Helen Sadler Open, July 21, 1997  Twin Eagles Golf Course

Where It Led

Without a doubt, my connections in Toastmasters increased the likelihood that I would find my calling as a teacher. And once I did, it was a Toastmaster that helped open doors for me. Dave was a middle school principal, and he hired me to run a weekly leadership group of 8th graders to teach them public speaking. This was a wonderful opportunity for me, and helped me grow in additional aspects of the program. Working with young people was quite different than adults! The group even came to our club to share the speeches they wrote for their 8th grade graduation. It was a super special night.

Youth Leadership group from Southeast Middle School comes to Nordonia Gaveliers Meeting, May 1998

In addition, Dave put me in touch with a 7th grade Language Arts teacher, Judy Wilfong.  Judy and I wrote grants so I could bring storytelling units to her classes. We were successful in securing grants twice to make this happen. What was cool was that Southeast Middle was connected to the elementary school, which made it easy for the kids to perform their stories for the younger grades.

All of these experiences led me to my teaching career and helped me firmly plant my feet into it. In the time I was a Toastmaster I went from business owner to a college student. Without a doubt, the love and support from those in my club helped me immensely in this direction. I simply cannot measure what those years have given me.

When I gave my final speech during my farewell meeting on June 5, 2000, I used this poem as my guide. I felt like it said everything I couldn’t about my experience with the people and the process of Toastmasters.

I Was Afraid of Dying

By James Wright


I was afraid of dying

In a field of dry weeds.

But now,

All day long I have been walking among damp fields,

Trying to keep still, listening

To insects that move patiently.

Perhaps they are sampling the fresh dew that gathers slowly

In empty snail shells

And in the secret shelters of sparrow feathers fallen on the



(361) Unity

Today is my “U” entry for Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I picked Unity for the subject today because it typically was a Sunday experience.


What It Is

Unity School of Christianity was founded on the principles that Jesus’s ministry was one of healing. It takes a metaphysical, rather than literal meaning, to the bible and teachings of Jesus, opening up new ways of seeing and applying to our own lives.

I am not exactly sure how I started to attend Unity of Greater Cleveland. I think it was because I was already studying A Course in Miracles, and Unity had a study group. The minister, Joan Gattuso, had been raised Catholic like I was, so her experiences mirrored mine in many ways.

Although Unity Worldwide is based on Christian teachings in general, the Unity ministers have a lot of flexibility. This allowed Joan to teach from Buddhism, Taoism, A Course in Miracles, even Judaism as it fit the overall message.

My sister also attended Unity with me, as well as A Course in Miracles study group. It was a comfortable place to be on Sunday morning. What I learned to love best is that it was multi-cultural and inter-religious. People from all backgrounds could feel welcome at Unity, and there was something there for everyone.

The Five Unity Principles:

  • 1. God is the source and creator of all. There is no other enduring power. God is good and present everywhere.
  • 2. We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image. The spirit of God lives within each person; therefore, all people are inherently good.
  • 3. We create our life experiences through our way of thinking.
  • 4. There is power in affirmative prayer, which we believe increases our awareness of God.
  • 5. Knowledge of these spiritual principles is not enough. We must live them.

My Experience

I began attending the services in fall  of 1991. In the spring of 1995, I received the church’s newsletter in the mail. I saw that they were looking for a new youth sponsor for the teen group Youth of Unity. I heard a “calling” at that moment. I tried hard to ignore it.  I tried to talk myself out of it privately, then talked to Jim and my friend Iris about it.  Instead of talking me out of it, they both urged me to pursue it.

The next day, I told my minister and within a month I was on a plane to Unity Village in Missouri with a couple of teens from our Y.O.U. group ready for the annual conference. I was scared out of my mind. This was the big event of the year, and I barely knew these kids, let alone anyone else. It was crazy.

But, oh, so wonderful.  A week in a beautiful setting, with the right focus, the right people, and the right lessons.  I was assigned to an all adult “family” where we learned the curriculum for the Sunday classes and also got to do some writing with a published poet.  It was pretty awesome. The music, the energy, and the things I learned — simply out of this world.


The Y.O.U. gathering in Missouri brought me one of my dearest friends — Kate. Her son was in a Y.O.U. group from the other side of town, and she was the sponsor. She became my guide throughout the week. Kate helped me immensely with all things Y.O.U., and at the same time became a friend and confidante in many parts of my life. I simply cannot imagine life without her.

At the Y.O.U. Conference, Unity Village, July 1995

The best part, however, was the relationships I built with the young people who were in the Y.O.U. during the years I was a sponsor. I am on Facebook now with many of them, all who have grown into wonderfully principled people, pursuing their dreams, having families…it is wondrous to me when I think of who they were then, and who they are now.

Where It Led

I made the decision to stop being a sponsor about as quickly as I made the decision to become one. It was sometime in the spring of 1998 I decided to call it quits, allowing a few months time for them to find a new sponsor. (I knew at the time that my life would be going in a different direction, as I was going to pursue going to college.) What was weird was that my last day of being a sponsor we had the Wings Ceremony for three of the girls who were graduating and moving on to college. When I left Unity that day, I never returned. I never made a firm decision to leave Unity — I somehow just never went back. My friend Kate, always the wise one, said that Unity is a school and sometimes we graduate. I guess that is what happened.

I am convinced I would have never had the nerve to pursue teaching if it had not been for my time working with youth in this way. My commitment to Unity obviously was about that part of my journey. I grew in countless ways, found excellent principles to live my life, and can see the continuity with what transpired there in my every day life. I would venture to say that every day I have some memory related to my time with Unity. It was a wonderful foundation in which to build the second half of my life.

My first and last camping trip ever was with Y.O.U. at Punderson State Park, July 1995
There were two rallies a year, besides the conference. The spring rally was held in Holland, Michigan at Hope College. Every chapter had to give their report. Zander is shown here giving ours. According to the back of the picture, he told the audience, “We wanted to go to Mexico, but went to Chi-Chi’s instead.”  June 1996
Rally at Hope College, June 1997.  Our group had grown!

(360) The Artist’s Way


Twenty-one years ago to this day, I began a journey that would be something that would have a profound impact on me. It was the WAY — The Artist’s Way — a book by Julia Cameron that started me on a path of understanding the true nature of creativity.  This is my “W” in the Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

What It Is

The Artist’s Way is a twelve week program that helped me discover my creative self. It consists of some basic tools and then twelve weeks of exercises that help us, what Cameron calls, recover a “sense” of something lost — Safety, Identity, Power, Integrity, Possibility, Abundance, Connection, Strength, Compassion, Self-Protection, Autonomy, and Faith. It is based on her belief that there is a Great Creator who works through us, and our job is just to put the footwork in and the rest will follow.

I have found this to be true.

My Experience

Throughout the winter of 94-95, I found myself deeply involved in doing the exercises as precisely as I could to get the maximum benefit. I remember going out of my way to find different kinds of workshops to take — like maskmaking — and buying things I ordinarily wouldn’t buy and using, such as watercolor pencils. As I worked through the process, I discovered so much about myself that had been hidden.  This included acknowledging harm to my inner artist as well as uncovering the blocks that I put up to her.

I have a notebook just dedicated to what I wrote during that first time through. I subsequently put myself through the program again, I think two different times. But nothing has ever had the impact as that first year. There were many things going on in my life at the time, and this work grounded me and brought me a sense of myself I did not have before. That sense has never left me.


A couple of years after I completed TAW (as it is called by veterans of the program), the internet came into vogue. I was on America Online, and found an online community for TAW. From that message board I became friends with two people locally — Carol in Akron and LuAnn in Bainbridge. I am still friends with these ladies today. There were others as well, and I recall in September 1997 we all got together for lunch.

Carol next to me, LuAnn across. Love my Artist’s Way friends!

The TAW group from all around the country supported me throughout my surgery, sending me messages which I printed out and had in a book in the hospital, as well as painting their toenails purple as a show of solidarity for me through the cancer scare.  I felt their love and support and prayers from afar. It was miraculous.

Where It Led Me

What I learned was that once you remove the blocks to your creativity, anything is possible. In the Introduction to the book, Cameron says the main things to learn are: Get out of the way. Let it work through you. Accumulate pages, not judgments. This put into practice consistently in the many years since has made me a believer. Cameron believes creativity is a spiritual experience. Given what I have witnessed in my own life, I would say it is mighty fine religion. I am grateful that this book exists. It always makes a list of the top books that changed me and changed my life.

In her Basic Principles on page 3, Cameron says “As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle and powerful changes are to be expected.” Rereading that just now helped me see that putting myself through this program twenty-one years ago was opening up a channel. I cannot describe any direct, earth-shattering event that happened as a result. What I can say is that once the channel opened, it has never closed. And that has been the best gift of all.

(356) Zanies

As I wind down this blog, it is on my mind that I never finished my Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. According to what I have documented, I was up to the letter “S” on September 2nd. I’ve been wanting to get back to it, but most of what I want to write about demands a lot of time — something I just haven’t had.

For the letters T,U,V, and W I have some things planned that will be fit in well with ending this blog year. That leaves X-Y-Z, that are always considered as one.  I’ve decided that since I can basically make the rules on my own blog, I am going to do these out of order, and attack X-Y-Z today.  The rest will be coming within the next week.


Why is it that some days just stand out in our minds? I have a handful of days in my life that actually don’t have anything outstanding that happened —  they are ordinary days — yet somehow become memorable days. Such was July 28, 1979.

At the time my parents, along with two of my brothers and my sister, were living in the Chicago area.  I found out that my brother’s girlfriend, Donna, was going to be in Chicago in late July. Flights were pretty cheap to Chicago from Cleveland, so I decided to fly in for the weekend. My brother Matt was going to be driving Donna back to Cleveland on Sunday, so I decided that I’d ride back with them.

I flew in Friday night, and I remember nothing about that except that my parents were heading to Cleveland for some reason, so we were alone at the house. There was something about us all being young adults and having the whole house and city to ourselves — it was a first for us.

On Saturday we decided to go hang around downtown Chicago. Matt and Donna were college students, and Martin was still in high school, so this plan was not to do anything fancy. It was just to be there. Donna had her camera and took pictures. Here is a little photo journey.

Yes, there we are rolling down the hill in a park, downtown Chicago
Buckingham Fountain, later to become popular in the opening of the show “Married With Children”
The Air Show was taking place in Chicago that weekend. Everywhere we went, loud planes were flying overhead and entertaining us.
Taking a break to watch the show, our 70’s perms blowing in the wind. And look at those snazzy flip-flops!

After hanging around downtown all afternoon, we drove back home to change and grab a bite to eat. Then Matt, Donna, and I went back to Old Town, the entertainment strict,  to Zanies Comedy Club.  These types of clubs were just getting popular, and I don’t think I had ever been to one before we went to Zanies. We laughed our asses off! The main attraction was a female comic with an accordian by the name of Judy Tenuta.  She would later become fairly popular on cable television comedy specials (see video below to see if you remember her.)  We bought Zanies t-shirts that were a take-off on Superman shirts (also popular at this time with the Christopher Reeve film.) All in all, this day sticks in my mind for the perfect weather, relaxing company, and the excitement of big city Chicago on a small budget. No need to go to fancy restaurants or do any shopping. Just walking around, rolling down hills, and watching the free air show made for a perfect day with family.

Matt and Donna are still together after all these years.

(245) Storytelling

imageIn the 1990’s, I fell in love with sunflowers and storytelling.

I came upon sunflowers when I purchased a shirt with a large flower on it and the Emerson quote “Why on earth if not to grow?”

Then I grew through storytelling.

It began while I was a member of Toastmasters, which I am going to write about tomorrow. Where it took me was to places I didn’t expect to go.

One of my first memories of the power of storytelling was when my friend Iris and I decided to do a joint storytelling presentation at the Toastmasters club.  She “became” Rosa Parks and I “became” Harriet Beecher Stowe (through words, no costumes), and we told the stories of these two legendary women. Speaking as the voice of Stowe was extraordinary and compelling. It hooked me.

I told folktales and my own personal stories. I attended storytelling conferences. Kent State University had one every fall. I would see and hear storytellers who taught me a lot about what it means to get the audience involved. Daniel Keding. Joseph Bruchac. How the story hangs on three perfectly delivered lines — the rest can be improvised. How we bring ourselves to the story.

Cleveland had a storytelling group which put on a conference in the fall as well. That is where I heard Barbara MacBride Smith who was known for taking myths and updating them with hilarious results. I learned over and over again that stories were everywhere — we just have to recognize them.

Iris and I went to a storytelling workshop in southern Ohio one weekend where we met more fabulous storytellers: Lorna Czarnota, known for using storytelling to help homeless teens. Bobby Norfolk who could make a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem come alive and grow beyond words.

Best of all, I went twice to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. That is where I heard my favorite storyteller of all time — Carmen Deedy.

In 1997 my high school alma mater had an arts festival.  I participated as a storyteller, creating a program of stories about brave women, from Joan of Arc to a cancer survivor I met one morning at the park. As someone who didn’t participate in much in high school, this was a huge move.

Storytelling took me into the classroom on more than one occasion. I wrote grants with a middle school teacher to do a program with her 7th graders, writing and performing their own stories. When I moved to Florida, I did a storytelling unit with the 6th graders at Sanibel School.

I thought storytelling would be a mainstay in my Language Arts classroom. But I have learned that a teacher has so many things on her plate, it is hard to find time to write and practice a story. I have hope, though, that I will do it. This could be the year.

What I have learned since the early days of my storytelling life is that everything is about story. History, science, even math, has a story. I do encourage my students to seek the story, the narrative, in everything they do. It is a hard concept to get across for sure. But I am a storyteller at heart. It is what I do. It is what I will keep doing.

(244) Robert Francis Kennedy



My hero now and forever.

Was it a middle school crush? Maybe. But then, it was so much more than that.

I was in 7th grade when the hopes and dreams we had for our nation, one that was ripping apart in front of our eyes, with an unwinnable war at our doorstep, came crashing down in an instant.

A gun-related instant.

We were a family that talked politics over the table. As early as I remember, I was hearing about Kennedy and Nixon. And our Catholic president won and all was right with the world. And he had little kids. Camelot.

In 3rd grade, that dream came crashing down. I was a bit young to understand fully, although the sadness that permeated our home for days was very real.

Then Bobby came along. Long after he was an attorney general known for his aggressive belligerence. Long after he was just the brother in place because of nepotism.

Having suffered his own dark night of the soul after losing his brother John, he was a new person. A changed man. He had compassion. He had courage. He reached out to the disenfranchised. He spoke about the things that mattered.

He stood up against Vietnam, forcing Johnson’s hand. LBJ could do nothing but say, No, not me, never again. Find someone else to be president.

That was March 30, 1968.

April 4th. Bobby on a plane for a campaign stop to Indianapolis. A crowd waits at the airport. He delivers the news about King’s assassination. A speech he had to prepare on the fly, but one that is said to have quelled Indianapolis and prevented the riots that took place in every other city that night.

Yeah. That kind of leader. That kind of man.

Standing with the farm workers. No talk about building a huge wall to keep them out.

Standing with those who still were denied civil rights. Seeking real answers.

Standing against violence in what I still consider the premier speech ever given in this country. (Video with his voice giving the speech “Mindless Menace of Violence” below.)  A speech that still matters — every word of it — today. Still applies. Knowing that speech was given in the very city I lived in at the time makes it even more poignant to me.


The Sunday before that fateful Tuesday night, we had discussed the likelihood of Bobby getting the Democratic nomination. There were plenty of others in the field, so it wasn’t a sure thing. I still remember our excitement over the prospects of something real happening in a time of turmoil. We wanted Bobby to go all the way. It was looking possible.

I was not yet awake that Wednesday morning when my brother came in the early morning hours to tell me what had happened in California. The light from the hallway shone into my room. His somber tone still rings in my ears.

I immediately came downstairs, even though it was still dark out. We stared at the news. It was all so unbelievable.  I was in a fog for days. The funeral came. His brother cried as he gave the eulogy. The last brother.

Bobby’s children. One on the way. Heartbreak beyond measure.

Then the train. His casket brought from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to Arlington in D.C.  Thousands lined up to honor a man that gave us something that was forever lost.


The summer saw more riots and chaos. We watched in the evening, nibbling powder sugar donuts, gathered around the television together. Watching the Democratic Convention was what we did. The fact that a lot of the news was on the streets of Chicago, with fighting and arrests, well, it was just another day in America. What would happen in the convention hall wasn’t going to save us anyway.

Nothing was ever the same. Not for me. I want to hope again like that. I hear it in Bernie Sanders. I see it in the enthusiasm around him. But I’m afraid. I’m afraid to hope again.

Bobby was the whole package. I won’t even let myself think about how different everything would have been if he had been able to live and complete his mission.

In my young life, he was a hero. He remains so because I never had to watch him fall from grace, like so many others.

In his assassination, he was raised. And there he will stay. Always.

(243) Quincy — Back on the Block


I found it in a used CD bin at a record store at the mall. I thought I would take a chance since the price was right.

It was the summer of 1990. This was the first album I ever bought that had rap music on it. Not a lot…but it does start out with rap.

Quincy Jones states early on: “I believe rap is here to stay.”

Hard to believe there was a time that was a bold statement.

This CD boasts the best of the best in what might be called “black” music. Check out this line-up: Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Tevin Campbell, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Ice T, Big Daddy Kane, Kool Moe Dee, Siedah Garrett, Chaka Kahn, James Ingram, Syreeta Wright, Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin, Take 6, James Moody, Miles Davis, George Benson, Barry White, and Sheila E…just to name SOME of them.

Quincy, in his liner notes, describes it best.  He begins by saying this is the album he has wanted to make for 40 years:

I’ve assembled a group of friends, both old and new, whose musical talents I consider to be God-given, and we’ve worked together to bridge generations and traverse musical boundaries. Let me express it another way: these colleagues and I have taken a journey through every influence and everyone that I love in music. We range in age and talents, from Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles (whom I’ve known since I was 14) down to 12 year old singer Tevin Campbell (whom I’ve just met this year)…Together with our friendship, we share the traditions of the African griot storyteller which are continued today by the rappers; the sensuous harmonies with Brazilian music; the Bebop with a dash of Hip Hop; the power of the Gospel choir; the lush vocals of Zulu chant; a taste of jazz, an acapella celebration — each and all evoking tears and laughter.

I fell in love immediately with many parts of this album. Over the years, I’ve grown to love every inch of it. When I share it with students — none of which have ever heard it — they fall in love with aspects of it as well.  They may not like it all — it truly has a wide range — but usually they can key in to certain parts.

This is part of my ordinary life in this way: I have always been a lover of music. I have been present every time the music changed. But in 1991 the music would change in such a way that it no longer reached me. Quincy’s album spoke to the part of me that loved the traditions found in music. And no doubt, many of those traditions were present in the music of the 1990’s. But it has become increasingly clear to me how much I missed when I shut out many forms of music in the 90’s. I listened to lots of light jazz like Diana Krall, lots of old favorites, and even Broadway musicals. My younger friends talk about music from the era I have no connection with whatsoever. And I play Song Pop and believe me, the playlists from the 1990’s give me fits.

Quincy’s album has staying power. We are blessed that he did pull this together when he did. I think close to ten of the people listed above are no longer with us.

Back on the Block is a musical tribute to many things. For me, it marks the time when the music changed for a while, leaving me behind. I can see now, it truly was a bit of a dry spell.

But when I listen to Back on the Block, I know that in my heart I never really left. I was just, like everyone else, trying to find my way in a world full of music.

(242) Pyramid Climbing

In 1987, Jim was given a special bonus for raising sales at his company. The bonus was a trip to Cancun, Mexico for the two of us.

This was a wild adventure for me. First, I had never been much of a beach goer, so I wasn’t sure how to cope with that. And second, it was a foreign country! But, Cancun was the new, up and coming vacation spot, and we were very fortunate to have a week there, all expenses paid.

I will never forget when we got off the airplane onto the tarmac at the Cancun Airport that October day. The heat and humidity hit me like a brick — I had never felt anything like it before. It was then I knew I was someplace very different.

On the van cab ride to our hotel, we were talking to other people. One couple had been to Cancun a few times and talked about renting a car and driving around. I thought they were CRAZY. I had no intentions of ever doing such a thing.

Checking out the water and sand, first day in Cancun October 1987

Our week in Cancun was great, of course. We took a few interesting tours, spent time at the beach and pool, attended a couple of fiestas — it was all a blast. We also bought into a vacation club while there, assuring our return.

One of our trips was to the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza. It was on that bus ride we learned about the Mayan people who live in the Yucatan. In fact, most of the people we were meeting in Cancun were not of Mexican descent — most were Mayan. On the two lane road our tour bus took, we passed many Mayan villages. Some had electricity, some did not. It was made clear to us that the Mayans love their life. It is only when the young people go to work in cities like Cancun they become unhappy without refrigeration or television. This was a new thought to me, but one I embraced. Not everyone has to live like Americans.

One of the most stunning buildings at Chichen Itza is the El Castillo, the Temple of Kukulkan (a Maya feathered serpent deity similar to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl).  This four-sided pyramid has 91 stairs on each side. When the platform at the top is added in, that comes to 365 — same as the number of days in the year. The serpent god is represented by the stairs, and during the spring and vernal equinox, the sunset lights the pyramid in such a way it appears the serpent is moving down the steps. We were not there for that, but it is a huge event twice a year at Chichen Itza.

Anyway, what I noticed was that people were climbing the pyramid stairs, which were extremely deep and steep. It  terrified the part of me with the lifelong fear of ladders, and I wasn’t having any of it.  What I also noticed was that a lot of people were sitting on the steps, or coming down backwards. The whole thing struck me as unnecessarily risky. Besides, our tour didn’t allow for much time to take the steps, unless we gave up seeing other things. We visited the other temples, the observatory, the ball court, the sacred well.

This Mayan city was active 600-1200 AD, and was very cosmopolitan for the time; I don’t recall everything, but I do recall they knew about seven of the planets. The city was eventually abandoned for reasons unknown. So much knowledge that got dispersed mysteriously.


By the time we made our fifth trip to Cancun in May, 1992, we were pretty used to getting around. We had pretty much abandoned taxis, and instead used the local transport for most of our adventures. This particular year we rented a car with the express purpose to do one thing — I wanted to climb El Castillo.

In the years in between, I had become a business owner and was active in a lot of local clubs and organizations. My life had opened up quite a bit from the days of sitting in a room operating a computer and doing data entry. I was ready for a challenge.

Jim and I made the two hour drive to Chichen Itza, driving through the various Mayan villages, where children would be standing by the road trying to sell newspapers or orange slices. When we stopped at a rest stop/market, we were approached by a hoard of kids looking for money. There was a large sign in the parking lot begging tourists not to give the children money; the Mayan people wanted their children to go to school.

Pyramid Jim
Jim pointing the way to El Castillo, my big challenge that day.

We arrived close to lunch time, so the sun was hot and bright. Of course, I was no longer a wimp about the weather, having been there many times. Jim and I climbed those stairs! He took pictures of me along the way to document this minor feat of mine. I had overcome a very intense fear to make it happen.

Pyramid up
That’s me on the steps. I think you can tell how steep they are. The serpent god’s head is in foreground.

On top of the pyramid was quite a view.

Pyramid top
I made it! On the top platform.
Pyramid view
View of Temple of the Warriors and across the Yucatan Peninsula

Coming down — well, I could see how people found it easier to go backwards.  At first it isn’t too bad, but the height of the steps increases as you get closer to the ground. The steps were each so deep and a bit uneven, so that to step down directly could be painful if your foot landed wrong. We took plenty of breaks going up and down. There was no rush.  Instead, it was something to savor.

We visited Cancun about four more times, and then finances no longer allowed for these trips. It was good for the time we had it, and we went on to other adventures in the mountains of North Carolina and moving to Florida. But we will always have great memories of our days in the Mexican sunshine.

Always looking forward!

(239) Ohio Girl (Photo Journal)

I was not born in Ohio, but lived there from the time I was a couple of weeks old until I was 44. (For the record, I was born in Kittaning, Pennsylvania.)

I have decades of pictures from Ohio, but thought I’d just do a little photo journal today to show off some friends, family, and places, in pictures taken over the last 8 years or so.

So here is a bit of a tribute to Ohio and Ohioans!

My good friend Becky and me at Huntington Beach, Bay Village 2008. This was one of our favorite hangouts when we were young.
Becky on her front porch, North Olmsted
My nephew Evan and sister-in-law Donna in my mom’s backyard, Fairview Park, 2008
My niece Cheryl at Ohio University. I had written a novel draft that had a setting in Athens, Ohio. My niece and I spent a day checking it out together so I could finalize some details in a novel I never finished. But we had a great time. She is proud OU grad 2006 and makes her living as a writer.
On the green at Ohio University. Many memories there from the 1970’s when my boyfriend went to school there.
With my nieces Cheryl, Kim, and Emily. They are graduates of Ohio schools: Cheryl has degrees from OU and Kent; Kim has nursing degree from Kent State University; Emily has two degrees from The Ohio State University, where she has worked and her husband still works.
My brother-in-law Paul on the awesome deck he built on their home in Munroe Falls, 2008
Beautiful downtown Cleveland, Fourth of July 2010
The Shoreway at night
Emily with daughter Kaylee, me, and my mom September 2011
Becky’s son’s wedding, downtown Cleveland: Shannon, Jesse, Lindsay, Christopher, Becky, Bob 9-10-11
With the great-granddaughters Alexis and Addyson, Berea 2012
My best friends from high school: Mary Kay and Laura  June 2012
Most beautiful labyrinth I know. Bainbridge, Ohio

(238) North Carolina

I have written a lot about the family cabin we used to visit in the mountains of North Carolina. This is the story of my first trip to North Carolina and how it turned into a better trip than I ever imagined.

My cousin Doreen was getting married in Greensboro, and I desperately wanted to make the trip. At the time Jim and I were living together and he fully supported our making a trip down for Memorial Day weekend, 1983. We drove down on Friday, with the wedding being on Sunday.

I had told Jim that I had never seen the ocean, but he said we would be too far away to make a trip to the beach. I put it out of my head.

On Saturday morning we decided to drive over to the Raleigh/Durham area where there was a huge outlet mall. This was back when “outlet” meant a true outlet — you could get real deals.

We spent some time at the mall — I remember I bought a few pairs of earrings — and then Jim said, “Let’s drive to the beach.”

I was so excited! It was about a three hour drive from where we were, but would be longer to get back. We hit the road, driving a highway and then a back road to Carolina Beach. I got to see the Atlantic Ocean for the very first time, collected some shells, saw a live crab hiding in its hole, and enjoyed the sand and the waves. I had never been in anything called a beach town before, so was delighted with the surf shops and beachwear and hot dog stands. It was a long day of driving, but so worth it!

Jim at the tender age of 40, Carolina Beach
I wasn’t dressed for the beach!

We didn’t get back until well after dark, and the wedding was the next day.


We remain close to Doreen and David, even with the miles and the years between us. Seeing them during the summer is now a tradition, as they now live in Asheville, after years in Tennessee and Virginia. Next year they say they will come to Florida. I hope they do. I would love to show them the Gulf and all the beautiful nature we have here.

Doreen, me, Jim, David Asheville, 2013