6 Lessons from Pa on My Boxcar Birthday

We are inextricably linked to our parents on our birthdays: they brought us into the world and are our first teachers.

On this 66th birthday, I’m thinking about my Pa…the dice game 6-5-4, the double-six boxcars he loved to roll, and the life lessons he taught me.

How to be a good parent. He raised me to be independent, yet I knew I could always count on him to be a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, or a soft place to land.

Be less judgmental and more accepting. Rather than passing judgment on something, he would keep an open mind and say, “Well, that’s different.”

Focus on the positive. Pa had had been through a lot in his life plus he had medical problems, which you never knew because his focus was on you and making the best of the situation.

Cherish friends and family, giving them your full attention. There was nothing more that Pa loved to do than sit and visit with family and friends.

Stay curious about people. Pa loved to meet new people and hear their stories. Being an introvert myself, I challenged myself to be more Pa-like during my 2020 pre-Pandemic Portland trip. The rich, memory-filled trip was one I’ll never forget.

It’s never a bad day for a drive. Pa loved to drive and said, “There’s always something new to see.” After he retired, he worked for car dealers and Enterprise, driving and shuttling clients while chatting them up. He racked up some serious miles, and I definitely get my sense of adventure and love of the open road from from him.

So my 6-5-4 take-away on this day is: 1) life is like a dice roll, you never what’s coming; 2) don’t be greedy and squander a decent score because the next roll might be worse; and 3) sometimes, when you least expect it, you roll boxcars and win the pot.

Mothers and Their Daughters

Mother’s Day has always been bittersweet for me. I became a mother to the daughter I always wanted at 30…and my mother passed three months later. She never got to see and hold her granddaughter, and I was motherless on my first Mother’s Day.

Mother/daughter relationships are complicated.


Five and a half weeks ago I had bicep and rotator cuff surgery. I had heard the recovery was difficult and I can definitely affirm that, but I was unprepared for how helpless I was to do routine tasks…and how much we take for granted having two functional hands.

Knowing I had surgery scheduled in a week, I started using my non-dominant hand to get used to doing daily tasks. I’m very right-handed so the awkwardness of brushing my teeth with my left hand continues to this day.

I reported to surgery at 5:30 AM where I had a pain block with anesthesia for my arthroscopic surgery. My daughter Daisy took me home just after Noon. She had arranged to work from home that first week and I was to recuperate in her big, beefy recliner. I was feeling no pain in my pain block fog so I went upstairs to do a couple of laps around the kitchen and dining room. Then I had a brilliant idea! I need a few things while I’m in the recliner so I’ll just put them in a bag and carry them downstairs with my left hand. Oh, and I need to eat something. Daisy heard the microwave door open and came rushing up the stairs.

“What are you doing Mom? I’m supposed to be getting things for you.”

In my pain block induced stupor, I looked at her indignantly and blurted, “I. Am. Independent. As. Fuck!”

“I’ll make you whatever you want. Please go sit down. You had surgery today.”

I took up my position on her recliner, she put a pillow under my legs, and tucked the blanket around me snug as a bug in a rug as my mom used to say. Not long afterward, she left the room to answer a phone call.

I started getting too warm so I tried kicking the pillow out from under the blanket. When that didn’t work, I scooted down a little and reached with my left hand to grab the pillow and push…and suddenly the reclined chair tipped forward and touched the floor, with the back end in the air. I couldn’t scoot up into it and I definitely couldn’t get out of it.

I was just getting ready to text Daisy to say, “I think I have an issue…” when she came back into the room to find me at the bottom of the topsy turvy recliner. She didn’t skip a beat.

“So how’s that independence working for you now, Mom?”

“Well, I may have been a little hasty after all.”

I spent the rest of that week in a pain coma, trying to get comfortable enough to sleep in my recliner. With my useless right arm hanging like a limp noodle, Daisy and I confronted personal care-taking that I hadn’t imagined. The helplessness I felt was mortifying. The second week was pain coma round two getting off the narcotics and alternating acetaminophen and and ibuprofen. With my elbow and right wrist immobilized, there was little I could do for myself. I needed help dressing, showering, removing bottle caps, and the smallest of tasks that I wouldn’t have thought twice about before the surgery.

Near the end of the second recovery week, the funeral of a beloved aunt, my Mother’s sister, was to take place. My Aunt June was the closest thing I had to a career mentor in the family who was a registered nurse. My Mother looked up to her older sister and one year for my birthday Mom gave me an engraved bent-handle nurse’s scissors hoping I would follow in her sister’s footsteps. When I was raising my daughter out of state, Aunt June kept me in contact with the family and always tried to visit us when she was nearby. When she took the train to see me in Michigan, I surprised her with a bus trip to Niagara Falls. When the bus arrived earlier than planned, we had just enough time to make the last Maid of the Mist tour if we ran. So we did, with fashionable Aunt June running in her platform heels.

A Hallelujah Cousin Group Hug

The trip was one of my fondest memories and Aunt June meant the world to me. As the weekend of her memorial got closer, the realization that I may not be able to make it was crushing. I took it day by day and tried to regain some strength. My cousin Shane said he would help me so I could go and he picked up me, my suitcase, my ice machine, a cooler filled with more frozen bottles of water and ice packs, and off we went with his mom, my Aunt Myrt.

The weekend spent in the company of my Mother’s extended family and 14 cousins did more to help my healing than any amount of rest could. Their stabilizing presence in my life during my formative years when my mother was hospitalized helped make me the person I am today.


Daughters are always hardest on their mothers and I’ve spent my life trying to understand my Mother and myself as her daughter. Many times when growing up, the last thing we want to to be like our mothers. I’ve spent countless hours in thought, writing, and therapy about mother/daughter relationships. I wrote this poem in the late 1990s.

                          Healing My Mother Wounds
          I will never be the mother my daughter needs me to be
          Just as my Mother was not the mom I thought I needed.
          I can only love, protect, and comfort her to the best of my ability
          knowing that I'll somehow fall short of her expectations...
          and that's okay, because as a daughter my greatest fear
          was to become like my mother with her worrisome ways.
          Until I became one.
          Then I understood with crystal clarity...
          She did the best she could.

Mother/daughter relationships are complicated.

The challenge is even greater when as a mother, you’ve always been in control even though your daughter is an adult. This recovery has been a humbling experience, but I’m thankful to have had Daisy’s loving help and guidance through it. I’m nearing the six week mark when I can start driving and become independent again. To say I’ve been a compliant patient is an overstatement, but I have learned to relinquish control in small doses.

On this Mother’s Day, I’m grateful to my Mother and all the Aunts and women in my life who have mothered me. And to my daughter, ten years ago when I came out, you tucked me under your wing like a mother hen. During this pandemic year we’ve survived break-ups, moves, and surgeries…and if we can get through this, we can get through anything. I am forever grateful that I am your mother, and I’m proud of the woman you’ve become.


2020…What A Decade It’s Been

With all the hope and optimism 2020 opened with, no one could have predicted the dumpster fire that it was. I didn’t write many posts because I was consumed with processing and reacting to changing life circumstances. First, reflections on the before times…

Where was the last place you traveled freely before the pandemic started shutting things down?

I flew to Portland, Oregon the first weekend of February for a writing workshop with Pam Houston and Stephanie Land at the Corporeal Writing Center. I had been tracking Covid-19’s impact in Europe through Twitter and wondered if I should be concerned about traveling.

In the end, the weekend was a magical mix of music, writing, synchronicities, and what Pam calls “glimmers”, things that you overhear, witness, or take note of that may end up in your writing. I am most successful at living in the moment when I’m traveling and having new adventures. I’ve missed that the most these last nine months.

What was the last thing you saw amongst a big crowd before the pandemic hit?

A friend and I went were among the throngs at Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to see the self-described “Sarcastic Lutheran” Nadia Bolz-Weber on her book tour.

We snagged seats near the front and were treated to an amazing performance by America’s Got Talent finalists, the Detroit Youth Choir. I thoroughly enjoyed their joyous singing, but I wistfully wonder when we’ll be able to have those kinds of experiences again.

Michigan reported their first two Covid-19 cases on March 10th and the Governor declared a State of Emergency. By the following week, the state had experienced the first death and things were shutting down.

It’s been interesting to go back and read what I wrote over the course of the pandemic. In the beginning, there’s a sense of naivete and morbid curiosity as I was checking the Covid-19 statistics daily.

April hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized the 6-month California assignment I had applied for at my day job was cancelled. I died my hair purple and took refuge in nature, hiking and savoring each sunrise. Homes became workplaces with no commutes for decompression time.

There has been collateral damage but unlikely blessings as well. I’m grateful to have had so few of my loved ones seriously impacted by virus. I’m also blessed with a day job that allowed me to move closer to my family in North Dakota enabling me to spend Christmas with them, the first in 15 years.

I’m glad to leave 2020 in my rear view mirror, but who knows what 2021 will bring. Hopefully, widespread vaccination leading to lower cases, few fatalities, loosening of travel restrictions…and a return to gatherings for writing retreats, book tours, and live music.

NaNo Month of Turbulence

This is the first time since I started writing that I didn’t “win” National Novel Writing Month, completing 50,000 words by the end of November. Being a recovering perfectionist, it was hard to let go of that goal but with pre and post-election chaos, the closing of my Michigan home, and Covid-19 numbers spiking, I figured it might be hard to focus.

In past years, I would have given up everything to avoid failure and pull out a win. Instead I spent a restorative last weekend of the month at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Western North Dakota. On the way, I visited New Town Sue (the World’s largest holstein cow) and The Enchanted Highway where the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture “Geese in Flight” stands 110’ tall, 150’ wide, weighs 78.8 tons. The meandering trip was a well needed break from the four walls and subdivision city living that I’ve come to know the last two months.

Instead of sitting in the house grinding away at a story that went to the dark side on Day 2, I chased sunrises and sunsets amid the stark beauty of the Badlands. Instead of inventing new characters, I delighted in the whimsy of a huge fiberglass cow and fantastical scrap metal sculptures that were larger than life. Instead of taking a walk on the city sidewalks, I hiked five different trails and scoped out the Maah Daah Hey trailhead for a future hike. And instead of domesticated city dogs, I relished seeing bison, big horn sheep, and wild horses in their natural habitat.

The weekend adventure served another deeper purpose for me as well. Growing up in North Dakota, I lived life small and afraid to venture outside my comfort zone. These past two months, I’ve felt myself reverting back to that person which made me sad, like I was losing a piece of myself. I needed this weekend to remind me that I’m an adventurous soul who is always learning, growing, and seeking out new experiences.

This November I redefined winning. I reconnected to my wandering spirit and got my butt in the chair writing again. Plus, there’s always NaNoWriMo 2021.

NaNoWriMo in Election Month During a Pandemic

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month the past two Novembers. Every October is a little nerve wracking thinking about what I’ll write.

The first year I planned a fictionalized version of my memoir, wrote an outline, and felt confident in my plan. November 1st came and I tossed the outline and wrote memoir. Having learned from that, the second year I intended to write a love story about Marines John and Lena Basilone. That morphed into three love stories spanning generations. I’ve learned to just let go because once November 1st hits, I’ll write whatever comes into my head with just a core story idea. In NaNo speak, I’m a “pantser”.

This year, however, is different on so many levels with lots of life changes and a global pandemic in an election year. If anyone had written the reality of what we’re living through and submitted it to a publisher, the dystopian novel would have been rejected as metafiction. But this is our reality…The Manchurian Candidate meets Contagion with a dashes of The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, Animal Farm, and The Day After Tomorrow thrown in for good measure. There’s A LOT going on.

Will I be able to focus on writing 50,000 words starting tomorrow? I can’t even focus long enough to read a book these days. I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix recently and it’s no surprise. Over the past 10 years as social media has permeated our lives, it has taken over the time we used to use for creating, reading, and other hobbies.

Once the pandemic hit, I found myself constantly seeking covid news updates. Then there were hurricanes hitting the Florida coast, out of control wildfires down the West Coast, and tornados in the Midwest…oh, and killer hornets (who had that on their 2020 bingo card!). As the insanity of this election cycle reaches a fevered pitch and Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and death are spiking yet again around the country, I find myself doomscrolling, obsessively searching Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for news and information. More to write about on that subject but drives the point home that I need to set social media limits so I have time to do things that feed my soul.

“Winning” (writing those 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo) this year will be a stretch, but I’m going to consider it an escape from reality. I haven’t been writing so however many words I write will be more than I have been…and that will be a win in my book.

Oh The Places We Used To Go

It’s Day 57 since I’ve been staying home and safe, but every day feels a bit like Groundhog Day. As the ongoing national trauma worsens, Coronavirus cases in Michigan have topped 45K with more than 4K deaths. Our Governor has extended the stay-at-home order until May 28th, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t get extended again.

If you’re like me, you can’t help watching a TV series or a movie and feeling a little envious for the freedom they have to congregate and do the things we used to enjoy. And I’m having a hard time getting motivated to write. It’s been more than six weeks since I wrote a post of substance. I’ve defaulted to taking care of myself by using my treadmill, going on hikes, and trying to read more books. As an older person in a higher risk category, I’ve limited my outings to only those necessary to pick up groceries and outdoor hikes at times when I can avoid people on the trail.

Some days are harder than others, but it has helped to do buddy checks on friends and family, and hold weekly Zoom calls with my extended family. Once we run out of things to talk about, we resort to playing a fun game of homemade Bingo together.

react-to-covid-lifeIn my search for Covid-19 news and it’s impact on our lives, one of the new people I follow is Scott Galloway. Galloway is a Professor at New York University Stern School of Business, author of two books, and a great email newletter called No Mercy, No Malice. In Post Corona: The Cosmic Opportunity, Galloway posted this graphic and discussed the concept of time, making a case for readers to consider their lives, family connections, and growth opportunities to prepare for the post-Corona age.

With opening of the Y2K Time Capsule at the beginning of 2020, the concept of time has been all too relevant for me. Twenty years of my life elapsed, seemingly in the blink of an eye. The question of what my life might look like for the next ~20 years has been on my mind a lot, and coming into sharper focus during these last two months. I try to limit my trips to the Fear Zone, focus on staying in the Learning Zone, with a goal to live in the Growth Zone.

In the spirit of making new dreams reality, sometime in the next five years I’d like to retire and hike the Camino de Santiago trail to celebrate. I’ve walked at least 3-6 miles every day for 36 days, and taken 12 hikes so I’m already training. I’d also like to have my memoir published, so it’s time for me to get back to work on that too…before the sands of time slip away.

The River’s Edge

Meet me at the river’s edge
Where we can reminisce and laugh
about the before times.

Meet me at the river’s edge
Where we can share our fears and anxiety
about the after times to come.

Meet me at the river’s edge
Where we’ll keep our social distance
until we can once again embrace.

Meet me at the river’s edge
So we can go with the flow
and rise with the tide together.
~ Deb Sinness

Week 1: How Are You Doing?

balance blur boulder close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s been a week since we started social distancing in our attempts to flatten the curve. Weirdly, I miss my commute to work where I listen to podcasts of shows I never have time to watch, Audible books, and music. I also miss the personal interaction with other humans. As an introvert, I’m surprised by that but I guess I shouldn’t be. When I was working from home in real estate a decade ago, I welcomed the chance to work with clients face to face. The difference now is that it’s not a choice. Michigan cases have gone from 60 to 560 over the past week and based on reports from other areas, it may continue to worsen for awhile.

I’m grateful to have a day job where I can work from home. I’m worried about the economic fallout, especially for those people whose lives depend on serving the public. As Stephanie Land, author of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive, writes in the New York Times, “Social distancing is forcing us to make decisions that go against our capitalistic nature: to cut back. Remember who this affects the most — the hourly wage workers who have no option to work remotely, no safety nets and, still, families to feed.”

black laptop computer turned on
Photo by John Dubanek on Pexels.com

After a work week struggling with a new normal, I needed an escape last night to avoid going down a rabbit hole. Thankfully my Facebook buddy Gordy offered just the medicine I needed…listening to musicians via Facebook Live.

First up was from Stay In Your House Shows with five different Michigan musicians: Dan Rickabus, Steve Leaf, Loren Johnson, Justin Stover (Stovepipe), and Emilee Petersmark. Unfortunately, I was too late for performances by Dan and Steve, but I thoroughly enjoyed Loren’s soulful voice, Stovepipe’s quirky “Haunted Americana” songs, and Emilee’s crazy wicked talent on covers and originals. The heartfelt messages from the artists made me feel like I’m not alone in my anxiety. Stay In Your House Shows hasn’t announced when their next concert will be, but I’ll definitely be tuning in.

Then I saw that Bobby Jo Valentine, a musician I’ve followed since hearing him perform locally, was on Facebook Live. Bobby Jo’s soulful lyrics “…when life gets complicated, when life gets hard to understand, the simple things are sacred, like the touch of another hand…” brought me to tears. It was yet another reminder of the power of connection.

img_4143Earlier in the week I had read about Keith Urban, John Legend, and other musicians doing live streaming for their fans. After listening to the Stay In Your House Show artists and Bobby Jo talking about being musicians who earn their living doing live shows, I’ll be supporting them and their music making this time of social distancing tolerable.

This morning I started my day with a 1.7 mile hike around the lake across the street. I’m intentionally avoiding news, taking care of myself, and reaching out to friends and family. That’s what is important to me right now. How are you doing?

Social Distancing & Telework

One week ago, the first two cases of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the State of Michigan. Today, the number increased to 65. Thankfully we haven’t had any deaths, but COVID-19 related deaths in the US now exceeds 100. There are nearly 200K cases worldwide and the number of new US cases today doubled yesterday’s number…that is not a good trend.

Last Thursday I braved the crowds at Kroger and bought what I thought we might need for a couple of weeks. I worked my normal telework day on Friday then ventured out for a thermometer (we take and record our temperatures every morning and evening), isopropyl alcohol (since all the bleach and hand sanitizers were sold out), and a couple of pizzas. Then we hunkered down for the weekend.

By Monday, my day job was encouraging telework which could very well last awhile. My anxiety was off the hook with all the changes and unknowns, so I took a walk around the lake near my house. It was just the shot of Vitamin N I needed.

Today on my lunch walk, I decided that if this is my new normal for awhile, I’m going to embrace it. I’ll get back to writing since I have a little more time now that I don’t have a commute. And I’ll enjoy at least once daily walks in nature.

Trying times for sure, but we’ll get through it.