Tuesday, December 27, 2016

"Sometimes Life Actually Gives to You By Taking Away" --Carrie Fisher


I haven't been so affected by the death of a celebrity since John Lennon's.

Many people will remember Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, but for me it was her writing, wit, and honesty that always fascinated and inspired me. I've read everything she's written and was fortunate to see her one-woman show, "Wishful Drinking," on stage in 2012. I had hoped to see her on tour for her latest book.

"If my life wasn't funny," she once wrote, "it would just be true, and that is unacceptable."

Thank you, Carrie, for being wise and brilliantly funny, but always true to yourself.

Any favorite Carrie quotes to share? What celebrity losses have hit you hardest? How ready are you to put 2016 behind us?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tiny Friends Four-Ever

Riddle me this: What has eight legs and four overactive brains, talks constantly yet doesn't really say much, exists primarily on chicken nuggets and cheddar goldfish, and makes you simultaneously crave both a nap and a grandchild?

A set of quadruplets.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of hanging out again with the Baldwin Quad Squad. I first babysat the quads when they were six months old and then again at eighteen months. Now, they are age three: and they have grown into four bright, delightful, and very busy little people.

Their adorable older sister helped direct me, with her big sister expertise and first-grade know-how. Sure there were a few moments when they made it clear they didn't care to follow my directions. Or when I looked up--searching for a wayward quad--and realized I definitely did NOT have all my ducks in a row,
But after almost three hours of constant conversing, doing artwork, playing games, and trying to convince them I do not have a pet elephant (??), we once again bonded. Before they headed upstairs for their afternoon naps, we hugged, loved on each other, and said goodbye--until the next time.

My two sons are now grown men, and the memories of them as toddlers have grown hazy. Who knows when I will experience the joy of grandchildren. But thanks to a random experience in my 52/52 Project, I hope I'll always have the Quad Squad.

Sometimes serendipity steps into your life in the form of several tiny, smiling faces.

Small children: Adorable? Or carpet-crawling, curtain-climbing rugrats? What's the biggest challenge in your life that still brings you happiness?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Just When I Never Expected They'd Find Brotherly Love

Son #2 was in town for the Thanksgiving holiday and spent an entire evening watching football at his brother's apartment.

Damn right, I believe in miracles.

Sharing one of my favorite stories, a warm one for the holidays:


Were your childhood sibling relationships--or your own children's relationships--filled with brotherly/sisterly love or of sibling rivalry? What's the best family miracle you've ever experienced? Were these two the most adorable little boys ever, or am I a bit partial?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Walking the Walk

For the first time since high school, I am formally campaigning for a political candidate.

My first campaigning experience, nearly forty years ago, was suggested by a teacher as a way to get extra credit for his class. I knew little about the gubernatorial candidate I was assigned to support, and I didn't much care about the race.

This time around, I am campaigning because I've never felt so passionately about the outcome of an election.

Going door-to-door to talk with strangers about this presidential election is one of the most personally uncomfortable and difficult things I've ever done. As I prepare to head out to knock on doors again this weekend, I'm still dreading it.

I tackled the experiences on my original 52/52 Project list in order to confront my fears and broaden my world. Campaigning is certainly accomplishing that. Yet I am doing this mostly because I feel so strongly about this election. If it doesn't end as I hope, I would like to know that--in some very small way--I made an effort.

Less than a week remains before election day. Whichever candidate you support, I hope you'll consider contacting your local campaign office and offering to volunteer: whether that means going door-to-door, making phone calls, or stepping in wherever you are needed.

Pushing our personal boundaries is never more important as when our personal beliefs are at stake. In cases like this, if we're going to talk the talk, maybe we do need to walk the walk.

Even if that walk leads us to the front door of a total stranger.

Are you politically inclined or not? What societal and world issues do you feel most strongly about? When's the last time you walked the walk? 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Birthday Wishes--For You and for Me

Someone we know will turn 55 tomorrow. Yeah, that's me.

I may not exactly embrace this newest number, but I sure as hell won’t run from it either. I plan to face it through a steely eyed stare-down and then show it--and whatever follows it--who’s the freaking boss.

I hope you'll all join me in making this next year of our life all it can be. After all, we're each in charge of our own story. We can fear the next chapter--or we can view every experience and every year as a bookmark, before turning the page to see what's next.

What is a birthday but a day to celebrate life? Especially a life reimagined.

Imagine your life story the way you wish it. And celebrate every chapter you write, every step you take, to make it so.

Bring it on, 55. You have great stuff written all over you.

Birthdays: Something you celebrate or not? What was the favorite birthday gift you've ever received? How will you make this year the best chapter in your life?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Picture This

Thirty years can pass, and a single image takes you back like it was yesterday.

In my first job out of college, I worked as a reporter and photographer for a twice-weekly county newspaper in rural Northwest Ohio, about thirty miles from my hometown. At the age of twenty-one, I didn’t much appreciate the small-town atmosphere: one bar (that closed shortly after I moved there), no movie theater, and a seemingly different mindset than my own.

I worked long hours and was often on call. I covered barn fires in the middle of the night, tedious county commissioner and school board meetings, and news that often didn’t seem like news at all.

My first apartment was on the second floor of an old downtown building, above a realty shop operated by my landlord. Located next to a busy railroad track, the building shook every time a train passed. The train horns and subsequent rumbling along the tracks were so loud that I had to pause all phone conversations and wait for the train to pass.

My rent was $125 a month, including utilities. It was a fortunate bargain, considering I made $9,000 a year.

For the first time in years, I revisited Wauseon, Ohio, last weekend. I had volunteered to register voters, and the offices in Wauseon and west Toledo were equal distances from my current suburban home. I decided the tiny office in Fulton County could probably use my help.

I drove in early, figuring I’d scope out the area. While stunned by the new restaurants and stores lining the main highway into the town, I found my memory easily led me toward downtown.

I had heard the building that housed my very first apartment had been lost in a fire. So as I turned onto Fulton Street, I hit my brakes when I spied a familiar building across from me. Apparently the connecting structure, as apparent by a now vacant lot, had burned down. But the remaining narrow brick building, with the windows of my apartment looming above, still stood.

I parked and stood outside to gaze at it. In mere seconds, I was once again a twenty-one-year-old new college graduate.

It’s strange how the years render the past so hazy, but a single image sharpens your memories in other ways.

In that very first apartment, I learned to live on my own.

Over my next year and a half at that job, I sharpened my writing and interviewing skills. I learned to master the feature story and was told I had natural photography ability. I was taken far outside my comfort zone when I was sent out to cover a story about the dog warden and another one about Fulton County’s first murder in twenty years. That murder was never solved, and it was recently cited as possibly being linked to a very recent murder in the same county—by a potential serial killer.

I learned quite a bit about time management and meeting a deadline, skills that have aided me not just in my career but also in my personal life.

When I look back over all my life’s experiences, I realize that first apartment and job helped forge the path for a creative and independent life.

I didn’t truly appreciate their value back then.

But sometimes it takes three decades—and a virtual glimpse of your past—to understand and appreciate how much one place and one short time period in your life, has played a part in your life.

When I envision how I am who I am, I will now picture this.

What images have taken you back? What was your first real job? Why are you who you are?

Saturday, October 8, 2016



Throughout this election, I have tried desperately to avoid posting political views on my Facebook page or my blog.

I am on Facebook and the Internet for enjoyment and enlightenment, not argument. By nature, I’m a peacekeeper. I also am a writer, with my first book being published next summer. This clearly is not the time for me to alienate friends or potential readers.

But I can no longer stay silent.

I don’t think this man represents the ideals or beliefs the Republican party has always stood for. If John Kasich or Paul Ryan were in the running, I would not be writing this. And we would not be witnessing such a division in the Republican Party, with countless and prominent members who have chosen to no longer support him.

I don't believe this man represents family values. I can’t fathom that being married three times, and by all accounts cheating on his first two wives with his next two, makes him a better Christian than a woman who stood by her unfaithful husband through a 40-year marriage.

I don’t think this man, who represents a platform that is “pro-life,” values the lives of the many people he demeans and disrespects. If he is elected, I fear how many lives around us might be lost in other ways.
I don’t believe this man is simply saying what people are thinking. I think he has simply tapped into the anger of people who are unhappy with the status quo. I understand the concept of discontent. I agree that change can be good. But different is not always better.

I tend to be a positive and happy person. This campaign and its polarizing effects have saddened me. But mostly, I am alarmed and frightened by the possibility of the outcome.

If this post prompts readers to unfollow me, and if I sell 100 or 1,000 less books because of it, I can live with that. I am not so certain I will survive four years under the reign of someone I feel is so unfit to lead our country.

I don’t expect to change any minds with my words, and I don’t care to entertain any debate in these comments. I am stating my beliefs and I will leave it at that. Because I can’t stay silent any longer.
I am better than that.

And I believe we are better than this.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hot Damn!

I just sent my final manuscript for my book about The 52/52 Project (title pending), which will come out in August 2017, off to my publisher.

Please join me in shouting "Hallelujah" or else screaming "What the hell have I done?"

Stay tuned.

When's the last time you were simultaneously relieved and freaked as hell?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Read All About It

For those who may have missed the news: My book about The 52/52 Project will be published by She Writes Press in August 2017!

I'm pretty pumped.

It's been a long and incredible journey. While it's hard to envision waiting another twelve months to see this to completion, I'm sure the next year will pass far more quickly than many of the items on that unbucket list: say, nearly drowning in a sensory deprivation tank or enduring a Brazilian wax.

The coming months will be busy with edits and proofreading, cover design, and planning a number of reading and signing events. I hope you will continue to stay tuned for book news here and on The 52/52 Project Facebook page.

 As new life experiences go, this one may prove to be my very favorite.

P.S. Book events? Where should I head?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Turning the Page

Check it out here
Check it out here
Check it out here
When I'm having a rough day, I often head to my favorite place: a bookstore.

I order many books online these days, particularly if my local stores don't carry them. But there's something special about brick and mortar bookstores: seeing the colorful shiny spines all lined up in neat rows. Smelling the ink of a newly pressed book. Experiencing the magic of discovering an author for the first time.

Lately, my favorite thing is to search the shelves for books written by friends. In some cases, it's their first. For others, it's the latest in several successful novels or memoirs.

Regardless, it always turns my mood around. It leaves me with a sense of joy for their accomplishments, a sense of hope that not all dreams are castles in the air, and a sense of confidence that my day will get better even if it's taken a bit of a plot twist.

And, before I leave the store, I make sure to pull out copies of these books and turn them with the covers facing out on the shelf--so everyone can see them. After all, what are friends for?

How do you brighten up a bad day?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Drowning Out the Voices: A Memorial Day Tribute

Grandma Stanfa, Uncle Bob, and my dad, Denny Stanfa
My Uncle Bob lived with my grandmother all her life—all except the years he served in the Korean War. And then, the times he was in and out of veterans’ hospitals.

As young children, my sisters and I alternated between observing him in hushed laughter, being afraid of him, and attempting to treat him the way the mentally ill should be treated.

After my grandmother died when I was thirteen, we worked together as a family to try to allow my uncle to live alone in her house. We brought him occasional meals and took him to doctor appointments. My cousins mowed his lawn, and my mother and I took his half-feral cat to the vet. We joked that the cat was crazy, too—probably insane from the half-dozen weather radios that Uncle Bob kept blaring at all times throughout the tiny house.

He told me on one of those visits that the radios helped drown out the voices.

I didn’t know how to react when he asked me if I heard the voices too, or when he mentioned receiving messages from the “All Powerful” who was spying on him.

As a child, I had never heard of post-traumatic stress disorder. Not until I asked my dad to tell me more about my uncle did I gain a better understanding.

“I remember him being a loner, perhaps kind of unusual in some ways,” said my father, who was ten years younger than his brother. “But when he came back from Korea, he wasn’t the same person. He had changed. He just wasn’t… right.”

I’m still not certain if my uncle had early signs of schizophrenia before the war, or if PTSD from his service in Korea—including the day he witnessed most of his friends around him die—was the cause of his mental illness. But I have no doubt that his time in Korea altered the rest of his life. No amount of medication, therapy, or electric shocks—the popular treatment at the time—ever seemed to help.

As an adult, I’ve grown to understand he was not alone.

All gave some. Some gave all. Some, like my Uncle Bob, ended up lost somewhere in the middle.

If he were here today, I would hug him and finally say thank you.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Picture This

While continuing the never-ending ordeal of organizing boxes in my basement, I came across this sketch. From the reference to "Algebra I," I can date the drawing to my freshman year of high school.

I've changed in many ways since I was 14. But by the daydreaming depictions of a few of my favorite teenage things--music, beaches, animals, and creative writing--it's clear some things haven't changed at all.

A picture of my life at 14.
I ended up flunking freshman algebra. Probably I should have paid attention, shown up more often to class, and managed to receive fewer demerits. Regardless, I made it through the next 40 years without ever needing to use an algebraic equation. Don't most of us?

I'd like to think I've fared better since then, in my pursuit of the knowledge of life. I show up every damn day. I try to be attentive to what matters to me, and I attempt to give it my all. 

Yet I still daydream--a lot. Daydreams often prove to be rewarding, especially when you chase them.

When it comes to the subject matter of Living, I'd give myself a solid B. Over the last few years, I might get a B+ for effort. And as far as demerits? Yeah, some of my life decisions and behavior have definitely warranted a handful of those. But I regret few of them, either. 

As artists of our own lives, we can't erase all our mistakes. But we can always draw a brand new picture.

Whether we're 14 or 84, life remains an open canvas. I suggest keeping a sharp pencil at hand. Who knows what will result?

You can draw your own equations.

How have you changed--or remained the same--since high school? Regrets--do you have a few or too few to mention? How would you sketch the future pictures of your life?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Of Retirement, Ramen, and Really Bad Pets

Looking contrite? Don't feel sorry for him a bit.
So, over the weekend I toyed with some retirement planning. This consisted mostly of pondering how I might still go on fabulous trips and to amazing concerts--while finding 500 fun ways to cook ramen noodles in my makeshift shelter under a viaduct.

My prospects of retiring in 10 years or less weren't looking real promising--until I realized I probably wouldn't be spending half my monthly retirement income on my dog and four cats. With a 10-year-old dog and three geriatric cats, it's unlikely any but the fourth and youngest cat will be here longer than five more years.

It was an abominable and depressing thought. I fed them all massive piles of treats, hugged them, and told them in whispered baby talk that they can never, ever leave me.

When I got home tonight, I discovered one or more of the cats had created two new Great Lakes on my basement floor landing. Along with a small Feces Mountain. Not knowing who was responsible, I cleaned it up while cursing all four.

Then, I wandered outside to get the mail, accompanied by Ringo the Wonder Retriever--who'd obviously become my favorite pet child.

Within minutes, Ringo had scooped up two baby birds. I managed, too late, to get him to drop the first--which I still have not gathered the gumption to remove from the sidewalk. He finished off the second one in a single gulp.

It's inconceivable that my neighbors failed to call the police, with all the screaming entailed.

Now, my entire menagerie is begging me for affection and treats.


I'm tempted to make them live off ramen for the rest of their sorry lives.

How's your retirement looking? Any bad pet stories you'd like to share?

Friday, March 25, 2016

From Strangers to Friends

Two years ago, I invited seven strangers to my house for a dinner party. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know each other, and—as a requirement of my invitation—they each came alone. We ranged in age from twenty-two to seventy-three, and we had little in common.

The night had all the ingredients for Awkward Scenario of the Century.

Yet within hours, we found ourselves sharing our life dreams, highlights, challenges, and most embarrassing moments. We conversed, laughed, and hugged as if we’d known each other forever. I’d never been at a party like this, never met people quite like these.

We’ve stayed in touch ever since. Last night—as we’ve done so many times over the past two years—The 52 Stranger Danger Club, as we call ourselves, gathered once again.

Is it possible for a group of strangers, brought together for a single night as part of one woman’s odd personal journey, to become lasting friends?

Stranger things have happened.

When's the last time you did something for the first time? And did you enjoy it enough to do it all over again?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Back in the Saddle

I've been busy writing, planning some new life adventures over at The52at52Project and--apparently--putting on a few pounds.

Pictured here is my new dieting plan: Before I feed my pie-hole, I've gotta pay the toll.
Genius, yes? Right. We'll see how this scheme works out. I'm crossing my fingers but not holding my breath--because I'm too busy breathing out heavy sighs in the direction of my refrigerator.

Stay tuned for an update on that, as well as news about my new book. I hope to share that soon.

So, what's happening with all of you, out in Cyberland?