Em Dash-ians Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Commas …

  I wrote my first, furtive em dash as a freshman in high school. A boy I liked in English class was sneaking them into his paragraphs willy-nilly, despite our teacher’s objections. I was preparing a speech to the assembly, and it sounded stiff and boring — which was crazy, because I’m hilarious, and I knew the speech was, too. The periods made me stop. The commas let me slow down, but didn’t give me the dramatic effect I was after. And using exclamation points drove me crazy! No, I wanted long, sweeping paragraphs — interrupted by bursts of humor or pique — that packed an emotional punch. I wanted the punctuation to guide my voice as I spoke, to give my words rhythm and power and depth. The em dash made it happen. I spent the next several years writing research papers and playing by The Man’s…

Behind the Green Door

Kiefer was still holding my hand, squeezing a little too hard, but it was dark and he seemed to know where he was going, so I didn’t complain. “Almost there,” he whispered. “Portuguese wine and cheese biscuits, coming right up.” He turned left abruptly, and I stumbled into one of the crumbling stone walls lining the alley. Something wet and furry brushed against my ankle and I squealed. “It’s just a rat,” he shrugged. “No worries, here’s the door.” I pulled up short in front of a dark, wooden archway. The door itself was hidden in shadow, and dark shutters covered the windows. I’d only been on the Camino for a few days, so I was hardly an expert, but this didn’t look like any hostel I’d seen so far. “Are they open?” I didn’t see any light inside, and I was starting…

There’s No Such Thing as Perfect Timing

Stop waiting for perfection. Step out there. In Vila do Conde, Portugal, on my second morning of walking the Camino de Santiago, I am struck again by the pragmatic faith in this little village. There are no guard rails on the footbridges, no warning signs, no walk/don’t walk signals. I stand stupidly on the sidewalk, longing to cross the busy street to the café I see on the other side. I watch, horrified, as other pedestrians simply step out into the traffic — just throw themselves into mortal danger with no apparent fear. I’m equally amazed when the zooming cars brake for them. Just stop, in the middle of the road, to let them pass. And wave merrily as they speed off again. Not me. I stand on the curb, hyperventilating. I want bedrock assurances that the cars will stop before I put myself in peril. The drivers…

Runaway Mom

My Teenager’s Not a Flight Risk. But I am. At age 55, I set out alone to hike the Camino de Santiago from Portugal to Spain. Like so many pilgrims, I came home both reflective and giddy, eager to share my experience about walking the sacred Way, and what it meant to me. Here’s what I never talk about: I left my 16-year-old son home alone while I did it. That’s right. I left the country, strapped on my backpack, and allowed my teenager to fend for himself for several weeks. In my defense, it was all his idea. Cameron adamantly refused stay with relatives; he had school, he said, and his part-time job at the burger joint, his speech competitions on Saturdays, and his theater rehearsals. He wasn’t budging. So I ran away to Europe, and left him. Alone. The youngest…

Stop Eating Meat! (Just Kidding)

Well, I’m kidding a little. We Americans love meat – roasted, grilled, fried, baked or simmered all day in our greens. We don’t consider a meal complete without a big hunk of beef, pork or chicken taking up half the plate, and when we hit the fast food joints, we head straight for the double-thick, extra-large, bacon-covered animal flesh. We feed our kids the same way, teaching them to savor all that fatty goodness, and to turn up their noses at broccoli. And let’s face it: meat is yummy. Is there any aroma more intoxicating than thick steaks on your outdoor BBQ? Who can live without fried chicken? Or a succulent, perfectly roasted turkey? The problem is the amount of meat we consume far exceeds what is healthy for our bodies, our community or our planet. Americans eat an average of .75 pounds of meat…

Unleash Your Inner Beagle

I stumbled off the plane at O’Hare, dragging my smelly backpack and my bad attitude with me. I’d spent 6 hours in turbulence, 4 hours sleeping like a pretzel at Heathrow, 2 hours on a bus, and 90 minutes on a sardine flight from Inverness, Scotland, where my luggage was still being held hostage. My weeks of hiking in the Highlands had been a dream come true, but getting home was a nightmare. Passport control at O’Hare – if you’ve never had the pleasure – is like swimming through muddy water. With electric eels. Today, in addition to the usual delays, there were dogs everywhere. Beagles and hounds and one stunning German Shepherd. Don’t get me wrong. I like dogs. I have a dog. But with no sleep, no coffee and no shower, I was in no mood for a drug sniffing slow-down in the already…

Your Kids Should See the World … and Protect it, Too

School’s out and so is the sun – finally! After surviving another Illinois winter, we’re looking forward to lazy backyard cook-outs, bike rides on the lakefront, and splash-downs at the water park. If you’ve been planning a family getaway this summer, you may already know that the United Nations has declared 2017 The Year of Sustainable Travel. The goal is to encourage people to consider global issues when they travel – protecting the planet, economic equality and social justice. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Just to take the kids on a road trip? But it’s actually pretty easy. No matter where you’re headed, you can help protect and heal the planet – and teach your kids to do the same: Support local businesses while you travel. Instead of that cookie-cutter hotel or fast food franchise right off the highway, opt for…

We’ll Always Have Paris

Well. Maybe we won’t have Paris. Not the Paris Climate Accord anyway. But no matter what the White House says, climate change is the fundamental challenge of this century. And how we respond will be our defining moment as Americans. Last week, the Trump administration announced that the United States would not honor our commitment to the Paris Climate Accord. As the world’s most industrialized and prosperous nation, we are also the world’s biggest polluter – and we should be the global leader in what will be the fundamental challenge of this century: climate change. Despite science denial in the White House, our planet is getting warmer every year, mainly due to burning fossil fuels. We burn fossil fuels in our cars and airplanes, in power plants and factories. Oil is used in cosmetics, medicines, fabrics – and even the toothpaste you used this morning. The pollutants we…

Once a Hippie … Always a Hippie

A funny thing happened on the way to the Climate March. I was busted. Four lanky teenagers, 2 boys and 2 girls, watched me approach the check-in table at one of the many Youth Convening events. I mean, I knew I couldn’t meet the “youth” criteria, but hey – I can identify Kendrick Lamar in a lineup, can’t I? I was rockin’ my #RiseUp t-shirt; I’d left my Birkenstocks at the hotel; and my backpack was suitably ripped and dirty. Maybe my youth is long gone, but surely I could fake it enough to hang with the cool kids. Right? Right??? The girl with curly hair sent me a big smile and started toward me, with the other teens straggling after her. “Hi, are you looking for the Elder gathering?” she asked brightly. No. I’m absolutely not going to anything entitled “Elder”. Big Blonde…

The Oceans Are Rising … and So Are We!

Among the estimated 200,000 people who participated in the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29 in Washington, D.C. were thousands of teens and young adults. They came by train, by car and by the busload from every state; their voices were loud and their message was clear in their chant: The Oceans are Rising … and So are We! Young people convened the day before the march to talk about the role of youth in the climate movement, to build art installations and banners, to hear from inspiring speakers and to build relationships with other youth from around the world. Mark Hoyt, a college student from New Mexico, participated in a drumming ceremony called One Earth, One Heartbeat, One People. “It was nothing like I’ve ever seen before,” he said. “So many of us coming together for the same purpose.” He vowed to go back home…