Category Archives: Life

My year of being religious

Growing up we rarely went to church, and when we did it was painful for me. I was extremely shy and the Sunday school kids seemed to be mean.

My parents tried to make up the lack of religious education by giving me Bibles over the years. First a tiny book full of Bible verses, at least one that I memorized. Then a huge illustrated Bible whose drawings alternately fascinated or horrified me. They also gave me a regular King James bible and a Living Word Bible.

I am not sure how old I was when I decided to pray for the soldiers in Vietnam, but when I told Mrs. Wewell, our next door neighbor, she said that I should pray for her instead. I did and the next day her beloved dog was killed by a car. When I tried again a few months later, her hand was caught in the ringer of her old ringer-washer, making that hand useless for the rest of her life. So I quit praying, certain that God misunderstood my requests.

I discovered C. S. Lewis’ Narnia in my teens. I considered them my favorite books for a very long time but knew no one else who’d read them, although eventually my British boyfriend, Jeremy, read them too and loved them as much as I did. I guess I knew they were based on the Bible at some level, but it didn’t bother me, nor did it make me religious.

Fast forward to 1996 or so. We’d bought a new computer and one of the first things I did was look up C. S. Lewis. I joined an email list called Mere Christianity where people talked about Lewis and all of his books. Among the other members was C. S. Lewis’ stepson, Doug Gresham, who invited me (and my family) to his Irish retreat when I mentioned I was trying to believe. Other members also tried to give me advice on how to find faith. A few sent me books they’d written.

Something clicked in my head and I felt that maybe, just maybe, it had all worked. That I was now among the faithful. I recall looking at my students in a different way, even feeling I could see their souls on one occasion. My one-time teaching assistant at work belonged to the LDS church and we’d have long conversations about faith.

Also about this time Dean was taking the kids to church because he felt they needed a religious upbringing. And also to be able to tell his mother that they were getting a Christian education. I didn’t accompany them very often, but sometimes I did. It turns out the congregation thought I was Catholic and that’s why I rarely went to their church.

This lasted about a year and the feeling of having faith, of believing faded and eventually went away.

I think that part of my search for religion and faith was assuming that when I died I would need a minister or some religious official to officiate at my funeral. I’ve since realized that is not the case and it’s definitely made me breathe easier that I don’t have a church. Or faith in a supreme being.

I’ve had some blips now and then and even started a blog about it just after my father died because at that time I guess I still hoped to eventually find my religion. But not now.

Ten things I like about me

…in no particular order…

  1. My sense of humor — it is quirky and sometimes dark.
  2. I can still see the world through a child’s eyes and can be childlike (more often than adultlike, I fear)
  3. My cooking. I really like the food I make, at least most of the time
  4. My writing. While not as good as some, I feel that I write well and it is something I love to do.
  5. I like how I set out to ensure my kids became readers and they did. I have no doubt it had a lot to do with seeing me read, having me read to them and talking about books with them from a young age.
  6. The Illinois-shaped birthmark on my inner right calf.
  7. I treasure my values and the fact that I continue to strive to be a better person, morally and ethically, all the time.
  8. I like that I have an open mind about many things, except maybe certain foods — like I don’t want to ever (knowingly) eat a bug.
  9. I like that I can identify more birds than the average human.
  10. I like that I raised (okay, helped raise) two outstanding humans. When I dismiss it as genetics, they both assure me that it was much more than that.

Old Lovers

I spent a few weeks last summer on a river boat cruise. It was the romantic Danube tour but I was with my husband’s sister and six of her closest friends. There was nothing in their way to prevent turning the cruise into an episode of The Loveboat, but being the only non-single one of the bunch, that was not an option.

The night we were docked in Vienna the seven friends chose to go to a classical concert in town, but I was tired after having gone on a morning tour of Vienna in the pouring rain, then a raft trip after lunch. I was also coming down with a cold, although I was convinced it was allergies at the time so I opted out of the music and sat in the lingboat’s lounge drinking a cocktail and reading on my Kindle.

When I looked up from my book I noticed a tiny woman with snow-white hair sitting across from me, drinking her own cocktail. I smiled and she smiled and before long I knew everything there was to know about Katherine Ashe aka Katherine Ann Wynne. She worked for a company that closed down or something so decided to write. She published books on an obscure Englishman called Simon de Montfort who apparently founded Parliament.

She must have sensed that I was not going to read the books about the founder of Parliament so she said she self-published a book about Fairies. This might or might not have been after I mentioned my daughter was a big believer in the wee folk.

After an hour or so her husband, Peter, joined us. When he learned that my husband worked for NIH he said that my husband probably knew someone he went to school with. Sure enough, Dean knew Peter’s classmate, Tony Fauchi.

I had such a delightful time speaking with this fascinating couple that I asked them if they would mind posing with Rupert. They said they’d be delighted to and anyone who would not want to pose with Rupert was not worth knowing.

Katherine and Peter holding Rupert in the lounge of a cruise ship.
Katherine, Peter and Rupert

Their love for each other was apparent in the way they spoke to each other, the way they looked at each other, the way they spoke of their past life in New York City and their current life in rural Pennsylvania. Throughout the rest of the tour I saw them quite often and while we didn’t have any more long talks, I could still see their love for each other, even at a distance.

They seemed like such a happy, intelligent couple that I think about them often. I still need to read The Fairy Garden though.

True Love

My mom and dad had a couple of friends, Patti and Bill, with whom they spent a lot of time. I remember going to their house many times and they would come to ours. They had children around my age — Mark a little older than me and Kim a little younger. I was probably closest with Kim, but I also remember handing out with Mark some.

At some point — I don’t think I was in my teens yet — Bill suffered a massive heart attack at age 35 and died in the night. Since the adults talked around kids a fair amount, I heard more about it than I probably should have. Apparently Patty called to Mark to call an ambulance (I don’t know if 9-1-1 was even a thing back then) but Bill was dead by the time the ambulance arrived.

My mom also told me that Patti told her that she and Bill had such a wonderful marriage and while she would miss him, she had no regrets because the marriage was perfect. She wrote the letter of thanks after the funeral that pretty much says that.

Not long ago she and I exchanged a few emails and I meant to send this to her. I asked her why she and my folks stopped hanging out and she said she thought it was because because she had to work extra hard after he died and didn’t have much free time.

Saturday. Pat and Al, Just, thank you for shoulders to lean on and for being friends. Al, for being pall-bearer even though I know it cost you. Those years we had are worth this now, you see. So don't worry about me. Pat.
Patty’s thank you note to my parents.

The blood of a stranger

Vince's bloodI sit here at my desk, sort of listening to a webinar on mobile app accessibility, but I am thinking about the blood stain on my jeans. I should have changed into clean jeans and thrown these into the wash, but I just have not done that yet. It is the blood of a stranger I met today.

His name is Vince and he’s probably somewhere in his eighties. While I am not an expert on dementia, I’m pretty sure he’s in at least the early stages. The shuffling walk, the confusion, the falling. I do not envy the talk his family is going to probably need to have with him regarding his driving ability.

Okay, here’s what happened. I took my car to the Toyota dealer this morning for its 15000 mile checkup. It was a bother and I was annoyed I had to take time out of my work day to do that. I chose to go to the nearby mall while I waited for my car to be checked out. I didn’t buy anything (I was in the market for a lightweight jacket and some plum colored nail polish). When I got the call from the dealership I headed back.

In order to get back the dealership I had to cross a couple of smaller streets and a larger street — nothing much, but there was some traffic. As I got to the bigger street I noticed a man lying down on the corner on the other side of the street. I thought he was about to get up — I figured he had fallen and could get up on his own. As I watched, I realized he was not getting up or turning over. I ignored the traffic light and ran across the street just as a woman with a toddler in a stroller got to the man. We told him we were going to help him up and he seemed grateful. We each grabbed an arm and pulled. She was the stronger of the three of us, but eventually we got him on his feet. Just then a man in a truck pulled up and jumped out to help us. The man who fell said he was okay and needed to get to the Toyota dealership so I offered to walk him there. The man in the truck didn’t think the man who fell could walk that far ans insisted he drive the man who fell to the dealership.

At this point we realized the man was bleeding and luckily the woman who helped get him on his feet had some baby wipes that we applied to the wounds on his elbows. She then said goodbye and left us to deal with the man who fell. He didn’t want to get in the truck, but the man with the truck insisted and we walked the man who fell to the to the truck. At this time I told the man who fell that my name was Dona and asked him his name. He told me it was Vince. I asked him if he lived in Bethesda and he said he lived in Gaithersburg, a town about 20 minutes to our north.

After a couple of tries we got Vince, who was worried about getting blood on us or the truck, into the truck and the man drove him to the door of the Toyota dealership. I said I’d meet them there. We were greeted by concerned Toyota salesmen who called 911 after we explained what happened.  I told them that the man’s name was Vince and helped him into the shop. I also said I didn’t think he should be driving. All this time I was holding his iPad, so handed that to Vince who said I was a real peach, a real peach. I offered to stay with him until the ambulance came but he said no and the Toyota guys said they could handle it from there. He said he wanted to give me something for my troubles and began reaching into his back pocket, but said that all I wanted was a hug. As I said goodbye after a one-armed hug I could hear the ambulance siren turning into the parking lot.

I’ve been on the receiving end of the kindness of strangers a few times so I am glad I could pay it forward with Vince today.

And yes, I will wash my jeans now…

Walking with Sandy

Since the beginning of 2015 six people I knew died (well, one died in late December, but I heard about it in January.

Harold, my sister-in-law’s father died first. He was in his nineties and had declined a lot over the past year, but he was going strong a few years ago. I’ll save more about him for another, longer tribute.

Audrey was next. She was the mother of another sister-in-law (married to the twin of the sister-in-law who lost her father a few days before). Audrey was also in her nineties (or late eighties) and was ready to go. She was always kind and we talked at my husband’s family gatherings.

Around the same time I learned that Georgainne, a woman with whom I taught when I first moved to Alexandria, had died around Christmas. She was also in her eighties — which shocked me because she always seemed so young. We used to have long talks after school about everything under the sun — and once we went to see Cats together.

Nearer the end of the month Jack died. He was Marcia’s father and larger-than-life to me when I was a kid. I was a little afraid of him until I was at least in my thirties. Here’s what I said about him in a post about vacationing in Wisconsin:

Jack, Marcia’s dad, was a man-of-all-trades if there ever was one. He could build you a house, lay your carpet and build your furniture without consulting a book or expert. He also knew how to organize a group of people to help build that house. Some would say he was bossy. He’d say he was efficient. Either way, he got the job done with the help of his friends.

In February George died after a battle with cancer. I met George online in 1998. I met him in person the following year and several times thereafter. He belonged to an online group that I also belonged to. While I have a lot to say about George, the most prominent thing that I think about when I think about him (who will also get a separate blog post tribute) is the fact that in all the years that I knew him I never heard (or read) him say any a nasty thing about anyone. Not once. He was the kindest, most gentle man I’ve known.

About 40 minutes after George died, Sandy died. I knew Sandy from my kids elementary school. My son and her son were friends for a few years and Sandy and I served on the PTA together, but I’d not seen her at least since Andrew was in high school. She was always active and sweet and good to everyone. She made everyone feel better about being alive, I think. It occurred to me, when I discovered that she was in hospice (she’d actually died the afternoon of the evening I found out she was ill), that I’d undoubtedly thought about her many times a day since she was PTA president and I was on the PTA board or managing the school email list.

You see, Sandy’s husband is a journalist and she once confided in me that after her husband read something I’d sent in my capacity as email list manager he remarked on my proper use of a hyphen. So anytime I hyphenate a word I think of what Sandy’s husband said and I’d smile. I even remember exactly where she told me this — in the parking lot of the school.

Monday night, when I heard that Sandy had died, I found the journal of her illness on the CaringBridge site. When I awoke at 3:00 am, unable to sleep I opened the journal in my tablet, having bookmarked it before I went to bed. I read about her diagnoses with an aggressive form of liver cancer and how she fought it, first with surgery then chemo-therapy then radioembolization. I read how, despite the pain she walked, at least around the block, most days. I read her post to her readers when she made the decision to stop treatment and enter hospice. I read about her death a few weeks later.

The rest of that night (I never went back to sleep) and the next day and the next sleepless night I kept going over one thing that I’d read in the journal. That she would try to walk at least around the block each day. I know her block and it is a very big block. I was hugely ashamed of myself because I am fine and willingly stay in the house, sometimes for days. I never walk around the block, although one of my promises to myself was to take walks during the day.

Last night, I made a decision. I was going to work on everything that makes me angry at myself — my diet — my lifestyle — my procrastination — my lack of exercise — the list goes on. I’ve become nearly a recluse since — well for a while. Maybe learning about my mom was part of it — but that fact about Sandy walking around the very large block was like a “thanks I needed that” slap in the face.

I finally fell asleep last night — somewhere around 3 am. I dreamed I was in a crowded room of friends of Sandy. Then Sandy entered the room wearing a beautiful blue flowered dress and walked up to me and gave me a hug and I told her about her husband’s hyphen comment and what it meant to me and what her kindness meant to me.

This morning I woke up more awake and happier than I’d waken up in months. I kept saying, “I’m happy! I’m really happy.”

I did take that walk today — just around the block today, and you know what — I felt like Sandy was there with me.


Until last February I never really thought about time so much. Not about my time — my time left on Earth, what my time was worth, my remaining good time. But in February I discovered something that left me feeling like I was on a speeding train heading into a dark tunnel and nothing could slow it down.

In February I learned my mother has Alzheimer’s disease. Thinking back I am pretty sure she has had it for some time. At least two years — that’s when she forgot the dates of my brother and I were born. Not just the years — but the actual dates. Then last year my cousin alerted me that she’d seen my mom in a restaurant and mom didn’t know who she was — and she is actually my mom’s first cousin. When I visited her for her birthday in February I accompanied her to the doctor who told me the news and that she’d been on meds for it for at least 18 months.

While this is not my personal tragedy — I am not the one with the disease — yet. It has made me think about the next twenty years. I am twenty years younger than my mother and I cannot help envisioning what I will be like at 78. I joke with my family about the things I might do (grab a tasty looking girly drink off someone’s table at a restaurant maybe?)

When I mention it to friends they assure me there will be better medication or even possibly a cure for it before too long. I hope so, but I am doubtful.

So I’ve begun a new blog — hosted here on called Memories, in which I hope to capture some memories for the future. Things I want my kids to know — things they don’t know they want to know yet, to keep safe for when the time comes that I cannot remember or when I’m gone. Of course that means they will be paying for this web space when I am demented or dead…