Seas of Grace

On March 24, 2017, the first anniversary of my mother’s death, I was in Scottsdale, Arizona, visiting a dear friend who I jokingly refer to as my “other mother.” Last year, on the second anniversary of her death, Jim and I were in Nashville at the Brentwood Arena along with thousands of other people at an Eagles concert.

Today, on the third anniversary of losing my mother, I am at home with my husband and my puppy. We do all the familiar morning things - drink coffee in bed, read, rub the puppy belly and get puppy kisses in return. We will walk Lacey along her now familiar pathways here in the neighborhood. I’ll make lunch, maybe go into town to the library or wander through Barnes and Noble and spend some of the gift card I received for my birthday a couple of weeks ago.

Then I’ll pick up some flowers and drive over to the cemetery. The flowers will not last - it’s still too cold, and technically according to the cemetery rules I’m not even supposed to put flowers out right now. This is the time of year they’re beginning spring clean ups and they don’t want people making more work for them I guess. But too bad. I’ll take them anyway.

I won’t linger long. As I said, it’s still cold here - colder than it has any right to be at the end of March. But the weather aside, it doesn’t help me to be at the cemetery anymore. I remember my mother every single day, I don’t need to stand on her grave to do it.

This is Me At 63

I published my first blog post 13 years ago yesterday. At age 50, I felt myself poised on “the second half of my century on earth,” and was itching for a way to explore that particular position in with writing. Little did I know what would come of that blog - Becca’s Byline, it was called. It led to thousands of words written in the work of making sense of Life In General (and my own in particular.) It led to a deeper exploration of my creative thinking. It led to new confidence in my abilities, and to the eventual publication of two books of collected essays.

But most importantly, it led to a network of connections, many of which are still viable today, even though I’ve never met some of these people in real life (IRL). As an introvert, an only child, a solitary somewhat melancholy soul, connection with others - both like minded and contrary - is vital to my mental health. In a recent interview on NPR, Mary Pipher, author of a new book about aging entitled Women Rowing North, said that as women enter old age their friends are their mental health insurance policy. I believe that statement with my whole heart, and I’m blessed to have a robust and multifaceted “policy” in my circle of amazing friends.

Which is why, at age 63 (as of yesterday) I’m recommitting to writing here at, even though many people say blogging as a platform is dead. I still think its a marvelous way of connecting with people - less public than social media and therefore less noisy and hectic. Blogs seem like a quieter, safer neighborhood in which to gather, more like inviting a select group into your living room than standing on a street corner shouting at one another. My plan is to open this door for you every other Sunday and I hope you’ll stop by, have some coffee or a glass of wine, and connect with me on the page about life in all its glory.

Sunday Salon: Who Do You Think You Are?

When the topic of ancestry arises, I usually joke that I’m a “real American,” meaning my gene pool reflects a melting pot of Middle Eastern and Western European ingredients, with a splash of Jewish and a pinch of Native American thrown in for added variety. I took a DNA test a few years ago, not because I was terribly curious, but mostly because I wanted to have a written copy of my own personal DNA recipe.

I expected a pretty clear 50/50 split between Armenian (my dad was second generation American, born of two native Armenian parents) and a predominant mixture of Scotch-Irish from my mother’s side.

The results weren’t exactly like that, though, and I was puzzled.

Sunday Salon: Saving Grace

“February is the beginning of my New Year,” one of my friends wrote the other day. “January was just a free trial month.”

Had January been a free trial month for me, I would have cancelled my subscription for the remainder of 2019. Thankfully we spent half of it in Florida, escaping the vicious Polar Vortex that slapped the midwest with a sharp, stinging hand. But this year has flattened me already, friends. I won’t go into details, but there are trials aplenty to contend with.

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“What’s saving you right now?” another friend asked. A good question. I’ve been paying close attention, taking my emotional temperature often, taking note of times when my spirit seems to rise. You won’t be surprised to hear my most reliable saving grace is READING.

In fact, I can say with all sincerity that in the past month books have saved my life.

The notion had already crossed my mind, probably during one of the many sleepless nights I’ve had lately, where I wander from room to room, book in hand, trying to get comfortable somewhere. Losing myself in one good story after another kept the whirling dervish of nighttime anxiety at bay. It sounds melodramatic, but getting involved in the lives of other people, even fictitious people, helped me put my own problems in perspective.

Then, in one of those serendipitous moments, this essay appeared in the New York Times. Maura Kelly writes from the blackness of her own depression, writes of describing her abject despair to a counselor at a crisis hotline who asked her “Do you have something good to read?”

To anyone but a reader, that would sound like a completely ridiculous question in those circumstances. But Kelly, a writer, immediately got it.

“A good book,” she thinks. “Usually, that does help. A good novel is great company, less an escape from life than a different way to engage. A good novel is reassurance that other people have endured tragedies, long ordeals, bad odds. It’s evidence I’m not alone — not in the history of humanity, at least. A good novel often ends on an ambiguous note — yet every novel also implies a survivor still alive to tell the tale. A good novel is a form of hope.”

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So I’m thankful for the titles I read in January - the novels and especially the memoirs. Books that helped me step aside from my own worries and concerns, helped me think about the way carefully crafted words can tame feelings gone dangerously wild.

In the novel I’m reading right now, (Gone So Long, by Andre DuBus), Susan Dunn writes of spending her life feeling “trapped” by her surroundings, her family history, and her “Enemy,” the name she has given to the anomie of depression, a “black hook that lifted her then hung her just out of reach of whatever it was she thought she loved.”

“What helps?” her husband wants to know.

“Books,” she answers. “Books always help.”

As I continue Reading Through the Year, it’s comforting to know books can be my saving grace.

How about you? What’s saving you these days?



Reading List, January 2019

Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan

Virgil Wander, Leif Enger

A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult

Good-bye and Amen, Beth Gutcheon

Inheritance, Dani Shapiro

Souvenir, Therese Ann Fowler

Without A Map, Meredith Hall



Sunday Salon: Reading Through the Year

109 Books.

That was my cumulative reading total for 2018.

In recent years, I’ve set a goal of reading 100 books per year. Goodreads kindly keeps track of my progress, and I periodically check in to see how i’m doing. I’m not obsessive about it. I reached the goal in 2016, but fell short in 2017.

When I hit 100 books on December 5 this past year, I decided to try for 110, and almost made it.

Looking back on the standouts from 2018, there was a lot of literary fiction, even more historical fiction, a little memoir, and a few mysteries. I rarely write written reviews on Goodreads (doing more of that is another goal I have for this year) but I always rate them using the built in Goodreads star system, and I’m stingy with five star ratings. The book has to engage me completely - you know, one of those you eagerly anticipate picking up again. It has to have complex, well defined characters and thoughtful, pertinent themes. The author’s use of language and description must be sophisticated without being obscure, and detailed without being pedantic.