My First Tattoo!

Traditional Tattoo
I’m going in!
My First Tattoo
Meet Brian, my tattoo artist
My first tattoo
Winnie likes it!
My tattoo!
It matches my black Lululemon’s!

Dear Reader:

My daughter insists that she remembers the day we passed a tattoo shop in Lahaina, HI and I said, “Someday, I’ll get one!” She was five years old, so I would have been 42 years old. I don’t remember the moment, but I’m sure it’s true.

I stop to admire people’s tattoos all the time, and sometimes I ask if I can take a picture. My phone is full of random shots of stranger’s body art. So, when Natalie told me she had a second ear-piercing done at a tattoo shop, I thought…it’s time! I visited her the following weekend and asked her to accompany me to Traditional Tattoo. I figure a college town is a great place to find a good shop; they work in volume.

Before an artist begins to work on you, there’s paperwork to be completed. I laughed out loud when I read the question on the consent form asking if I was drunk or in any other way unable to make a sound decision. Ha, ha…I thought…I’ve been planning this for 16 years!

Then I met my artist, Brian, and told him my story and showed him a picture. I wanted a shell on my ankle because two of the three most important people in my world have or continue to call me “Shell.” My dear, sweet brother, who was four years younger than me, could not say: “Michele.” So, he abbreviated from a tender age and continued to call me that until he died in July 2001.

Sometimes, when there’s a death, little things like nicknames will disappear. But, I’m fortunate. My husband of 32 years mourned the loss of Matt with me. And, he picked up where my brother left off and still occasionally calls me “Shell.” It always touches my heart when he does. (I haven’t told him that…oh, now I have!)

There’s one more very good reason for me to carry a shell around with me; I’m leaving my home by the ocean to move to a tree-lined street in the city! You can read more about that right here in the coming weeks.

Brian checked out my photo and asked if I’d like it exactly as shown or if I wanted him to artistically interpret it. You guessed it. I told him to put on his artist’s cap. He came back a short time later with a tracing of a shell and I agreed to it immediately. I was then ushered back to a room that resembled one in a dentist’s office…if the dentist was really wild.

I took a seat in the dental chair and felt the butterflies alight in my tummy as he cleaned my ankle and started to prep for work.

“Two things,” he said. “Do not move without first giving me a head’s up. AND NO WHINING!”

“I don’t whine,” I said as my daughter took my hand and nodded in agreement.

He began the work slowly pausing to allow me to gauge the level of pain I was going to feel. I knew I could handle it. It’s a small tattoo. From prep to clean-up, it was a mere twenty minutes and we passed the time easily talking about his three daughters and the ink he’d placed on his wife’s body. We laughed when he told us that he sometimes gets carried away checking out his work and noting needed touch ups when his wife would rather he stay focused on her other assets.

My art was covered with a special, medicinal tape used for burn patients, so my after-care has been easy. Nothing was needed until I gently peeled back the tape four days later. After another four days, the redness has dissipated and I love the look. I continue to simply clean it  and apply Thayers Witch Hazel Toner and Vanicream lotion to alleviate the itching.

As we left Traditional Tatoo, my daughter asked if I’d be back for more art. My initial response was “No!” But, within ten minutes, I noticed that I kept referring to my shell as my FIRST TATOO!

Well, dear reader, have you been inked?!

Michele

If Donuts Are Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right!

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Enjoying my favorite, a maple bar, at San Luis Obispo Donut Company (SLODOCO)!

Dear Reader:

I’ve lost twelve pounds since I began my journey to strong seven months ago and people are starting to take notice. When asked for my “secrets,” I am happy to share the diet of my own creation. I call it the “Donut Deny Myself Anything Diet.” I’m not into deprivation; I’m an “eat drink and be merry” Italian with a passion for pasta, wine and donuts. And, I’ve found that I really can have it all…in moderation. Here’s my plan:

    • I employ the 80/20 or 90/10 (I’m not good with math) rule. In other words, most of the time, I eat clean.
    • I refuse to give up alcohol, but I drink in moderation. I sip slowly.
  • When I want a treat, I have a treat and it’s usually the real thing, not a faux, low-calorie knockoff. The idea is to feel truly satisfied.
  • I am 100% committed to weight training and regular cardio.

This brings me back to donuts…

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  • Donuts are a destination! I do not keep them in my home; I travel South* every couple of months and I always enjoy wine and a donut or two along the way!

As Michelle Pfeiffer put it:

“Eat well, exercise and get lots of sleep but make sure you indulge occasionally. At my age I think, what the hell, and eat a Krispy Kreme doughnut.”

My new approach to eating allows me to maintain a healthy weight without giving up two of the great joys in life: celebrating and eating. I’ll never be the woman who goes to a birthday party, but skips the cake. I’ll always ring in the new year with bubbly.  Pasta will always be on the menu in my home once a week. And, I’ll just ignore sexy Sue at the gym when she yells, “No Donuts!” before my trips to San Luis Obispo. That’s just how I roll.

Michele

P.S. Even Winnie loves a good donut!

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*A trip from Northern California to Southern California would be a real waste if it didn’t include wine tasting and other treats!

Happy Birthday, Brother

Birthdays, siblings, brother, death, death of brother

Dear Reader:

He would be 54 years old  today, but instead he rests under a marker that reads: “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not here—I do not sleep.”

Today,  I remember my brother. Perhaps, you, too, have a special birthday you remember but no longer celebrate in the conventional fashion. Or, maybe your mind turns to a loved one on the anniversary of his death. Loss will touch us all and I have found that it can be such a comfort to share the experience with others. I hope you will not mind if I share my story with you on this day that can not help but move me.

During his 36 years of life,  my brother, Matt Lehman, occupied a large place in my heart and in the imaginations of family and friends. He was handsome, stylish and charming. (Think Matt Dillon, seriously!) He was a salesman and a collector. He’d been born with long eyelashes and affecting eyes. And bat his eyelashes, he did! The gesture was even more disarming when it was combined with his ready smile. He radiated enthusiasm, as if for him the entire world and everything in it was exciting. He was a joy to be around, and so everyone wanted to be his friend.

Matt was the youngest of three siblings. He was like the exclamation point after his two sisters. And, he certainly was not meant to be the first to die. But, as he told me one day after a visit to the cancer treatment center “how can I ask ‘why me’ when there’s a 12 year old child sitting next to me waiting for his chemo treatment?”

There was never any hope given other than the  possibility that treatment could extend his life a bit. It was in July 2000 that I received his phone call telling me it was cancer, “not a good kind,” and the doctors had estimated he had four months left. In the end, he lived a full year after his diagnosis. He made the most of that year, generously sharing the time he had left with those who loved him.

I vividly remember an exchange with Matt during one of our last visits. His faith was unshakable; he was going “home.” I did not share his strong beliefs, but I found myself explaining that I couldn’t go with him just then. I needed to stay and raise my 4-year-old daughter. My baby brother was going somewhere and some part of me felt that I should go with him or instead of him. Or maybe, some part of me wondered how I could bear my grief.

For a long time after Matt’s death, I felt sure that every ring of the phone would bring news of illness or death. And, of course, just below the surface was the fear that came with being brutally reminded of my own mortality. But, I have celebrated the milestones of 40 and 50 remembering that my brother never did. I am grateful for the years I’ve been given to test my commitment to my husband (shaken but never destroyed!) and to watch my daughter grow into an adult I admire, respect and love.

And, so  with tears in my eyes and a big smile on my face, I remember my dear brother today but not beside the headstone that bears his name.  For he is not there. He lives with me in my heart and I know in the hearts of many others.

I welcome you to share your remembrances of those you have loved and lost.

Love,

*Shell

* When he was young, Matt could not manage to say Michele and so I was Shell to him for as long as he lived.

This post was originally written on February 19, 2017 and posted after my blog went live on March 24.

It’s Time for my #MeToo Moment

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Dear Reader:

I’ve written about personal and painful subjects in these posts:  In Praise of Prozac and Mean Mothers and Happy Birthday, Brother. Yet, I have been hesitant to share my #Me Too moments with you. Even now, I’m not writing because I need to write, but instead, because I feel a responsibility to write. I must be part of this historical conversation.

I’m lucky to have never encountered a Weinstein in my life, but to this day, I’m affected by three experiences I had with doctors when I was much younger.

Doctor #1:  I visited your office because my father knew you through his work as a pharmaceutical salesman and thought you were a great guy. I was seventeen years old and I had a horrible sore throat. While my father was in the next room, your hands travelled from my throat down my body and it seemed you thought I’d feel complimented with your assessment of my shape.

Doctor #2:  My general practitioner recommended you highly. I was already uncomfortable as I waited for you on the exam table cloaked in paper; no woman looks forward to a gynecological exam. I can not say why you decided to recite adjectives to describe my body when you began the exam at my breasts, but I can remember the fear and disgust I felt as you finished my pelvic exam. No, dear reader, I did not have the presence of mind, at that time, to bolt from the table before enduring the final indignity.

Doctor #3:  You came as a surprise to me. It had been five years since I encountered Doctor #2. I’d come to work that day sicker than I knew I was and my boss insisted I see a doctor. A co-worker recommended the clinic just up the street where she’d seen a couple good doctors. Unfortunately, none of the doctors that were recommended were available,  so I saw you. You started with my throat and worked your way down just as Doctor #1 had done so many years before.

I’d had this experience already twice in my life and yet I still couldn’t quite believe what had happened. I returned to work in shock. Despite my inability to clearly articulate what had happened to me, my boss understood.

“Yes, it really happened,” she said to me.

I can still see her face and remember her kindness. She told me I could stay and work if I felt up to it. I spent the day at my desk with a never-ending cup of tea forcing myself to forget the doctor.

But, the next morning when I woke up, the first face I saw was Doctor #3 and I was ANGRY. A decade had passed since I’d encountered Doctor #1. I felt stronger. So, I filed a written complaint with the Medical Board of California. A couple of weeks later, a board representative visited me to discuss my claim. It was quite obvious that the gentleman did not believe me. I found myself declaring, with great certainty, that there must have been other complaints about this doctor.

“There are no other complaints,” he said. “And, this man has been in practice for many years. He’s close to retirement and this is unfortunate.”

By this, he clearly meant my complaint and not the doctor’s behavior.

“Well,” I said ,”don’t send your wife or daughter or mother to see him!”

None of my experiences rise to the level of what so many other unfortunate women have encountered, but it’s surprising to me how much anger I still feel as I write this post. To this day, my blood pressure literally rises whenever I encounter a new doctor. I feel great sympathy and admiration for the young women who have courageously told their stories and brought Dr. Larry Nassar down.

My husband’s reaction to the #Me Too movement must be common. He often looks at me as we watch the news of the day and expresses surprise at how prevalent sexual harassment and abuse are in our society. I’m not surprised, but then I’m a woman.

Michele 

Hopelessness and Heroines

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I do not usually take photos at my polling place, but this was to be a historical election.

Dear Reader:

My day started pleasantly which is not surprising. I’m retired and healthy, happily married with a successful college-aged daughter. My friends and neighbors are wonderful. I have a lovely home filled with shelves and shelves of books and bursting with dachshunds. And, yet half-way into my first cup of coffee, my husband looked at me and asked “What’s wrong, Michele?”

“I don’t know; life is good,” I answered. “I just feel so anxious and I don’t know why.”

That wasn’t the truth though. I knew why; I know why. I’ve felt anxious on a regular basis since November 8, 2016. On that morning, I rose early full of energy and ready to cast my vote for the first female president. The refrigerator held an expensive bottle of champagne and I couldn’t wait to pop the cork and toast her victory (our feminine victory)! Instead, I went to bed early after dosing myself with a couple Tylenol PM tablets.

I woke up still in shock as I know so many others did. We’ve elected an egomaniacal real estate mogul* to the highest office in the land. I was never prepared to forgive the man his former sins, but I was prepared to hope for the best. Surely, now that he’s the leader of the free world, his approach to leadership will change, I thought. And, yet, it continues. The insults, the lies, the ignorance, the incompetency and the narcissism laid bare for the world to see.

Since January, I’ve coped with the craziness of the new administration in an alternating fashion…get the news, eat too much or drink too much with friends…get the news, eat too much or drink too much without friends…laugh out loud with husband while watching SNL and Colbert…swear off the news to preserve sanity and waistline…begin watching news again…repeat. I’ve also tried to make a difference in the lives of others in small ways…donating, volunteering, listening and writing.

I watched our president today in Puerto Rico tossing out rolls of paper towels to the crowd. Tomorrow he’ll be visiting Las Vegas to offer solace to a city rocked by gun violence. I do not feel encouraged or consoled. There are people and problems that need attention. I’m worried. I’m afraid.

My husband understood. Yet, his concerns were slightly different.

“He was elected. He still has the support of most Republicans,” he said. “That’s my worry.”

We concluded our conversation in the same way it began. We are living through a difficult time in the history of this country. Divisions are deep and nothing is being accomplished. Suddenly I remembered what Michelle Obama said to Oprah shortly after the election, “This is what it feels like to have no hope.”

I can not allow myself to sustain the feeling of hopelessness, though. It comes and it goes, because I’ve always been an optimist and I’ve always felt proud to be an American. I continue to look for heroes and heroines and I find them each and every day.

Tonight I raise my glass to four courageous women:

Carmen Yulin Cruz, the San Juan mayor, who will not be cowed by our president and continues to fight for the survival of the people of Puerto Rico.

Gabby Giffords, who called upon Congress (again) to “find the courage” to address gun control in the wake of the latest tragedy in Las Vegas.

Katy Tur, the MSNBC anchor and author of Unbelievable, who devoted a segment to fact-checking POTUS’s claims about his Puerto Rico response

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said she was “heartsick” for the victims of gun violence and called for action NOW.

The sky is vibrant with the colors of another beautiful sunset as I finish this post. I could not wish for a better life here on the California Coast, and yet I know that I will continue to struggle with the fact that while my small world is so wonderful, my country is without a moral, admirable, competent leader. I’m holding on to my belief that America is the greatest country in the world. I will not give in to hopelessness. Will you?

Michele

*I will never use our president’s name on my site

In Memoriam

Dear Reader:

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I took a call from my husband as I was driving to my weekly counseling appointment.

“Something horrible has happened,” he said with uncharacteristic alarm.

You mean another horrible thing…I thought. It had been six weeks since my well-loved 36-year-old brother had died and only two weeks since we’d buried him. I was heartbroken; life was off-kilter, out of focus. Every time the phone rang, I anticipated more horrible news. I was living with the burden of a heightened sense of vulnerability.

That day the collective sorrow of the nation merged with my personal grief. I pondered what we term “senseless death” as I did when Matt passed. People taken too early, before hopes and dreams can be realized. Families left wondering why. Faith and equilibrium threatened.

The lives lost on 9/11 became part of our country’s history. Matt’s life was part of my history. The parallel drew me closer to all those who suffered that day. Loss and sadness are part of what it means to be human. It is there for all of us to experience together, but ultimately to resolve on our own.

Today, I remember my brother, Matt, who was taken too soon. I miss spending time with him; it was so easy. I remember the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives on that awful day when as a nation we felt our collective vulnerability. I remember, most of all, that loss is part of life, and as such, kindness should be our imperative.

With heartfelt condolences to all who have loved and lost,

Michele

Mean Mothers

Dear Reader:

As we drove home from Southern California yesterday, my husband asked me, “Does Mother’s Day upset you or make you sad in a way?”

I knew exactly what he meant, but the question still took me by surprise as I was quite happily surveying grape orchards and remembering the events of the weekend. If you know me from my blog, you know how proud I am of my daughter and the close relationship we share. If you are one of my dear friends, you begin every visit with the question, “How’s your daughter?” I love talking about my daughter. I simply adore her. She is my single greatest source of pride.

So, why should Mother’s Day in any way upset me? Well, the answer has to do with my mother. She died three years ago on the morning after my daughter had major surgery at Stanford Hospital. In life, my mom had loved being the center of attention and so the timing of her death seemed appropriate.

One of the nurses heard me take the call from my sister and she became immediately quite concerned about my state of mind. My daughter was scheduled to spend four days in the hospital, but she would need continuous home care for several weeks. The doctors and nurses, my husband and I soon realized, were training us to take care of her at home. Her release would be determined not only by her condition, but also by our ability to care for her. The hospital chaplain was alerted to our situation and within the hour began appearing at our door. My husband shooed her away several times while I snoozed, but she was determined to talk to me.

“Ah, good, you’re eating!” she exclaimed as she approached me late that night in the cafeteria. “I’m Dusty, the hospital’s multi-faith chaplain and I’m here to see if you’d like to talk.” Really I just wanted to eat, but I was polite. I thanked her for her concern and let her know that I was tired, but fine, and that I knew exactly what I needed to do:  take care of my daughter. “But,” she continued, “it’s hard to take care of someone else when you are suffering yourself.”

How could she know that was exactly what I’d told myself for years when I thought about my mother? She was simply unable to be kind or nurturing as she was in pain. The explanation served to protect me from completely absorbing the constant emotional assault she inflicted on everyone close to her. My mother died without having a relationship with me or knowing her only grandchild. “She’s no longer in pain,” I told Dusty and I left her to interpret the comment in any way she chose. I returned to my coffee and eggs as she left finally satisfied that she had done her job.

A week later I found myself speeding down the freeway to attend my mother’s funeral. I paid my last respects to the woman who had created me and who had, I think, helped determine the happy course of my life.

“You know we may not have Natalie if it weren’t for my mother,” I answered my husband.

I missed out on having a strong bond with my own mother; maybe that’s why I finally decided at 35 to throw away my birth control pills!   We all make choices and those choices are often based on needs we may not even consciously be aware of. Maybe I needed a strong mother/daughter bond. I did not have that with my own mom, so I set about to create it with my daughter.

It has been many many years since I felt anything for my mother, but it took time and counseling to resolve issues from my childhood. It seems to me that it is still taboo to speak about one’s mother in anything but appreciative terms, but for those readers who can relate to my story, I’m sorry… and I’d like to offer the following book recommendations: Mean Mothers by Peg Streep and Mothering Without a Map by Kathryn Black.

I’ll borrow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words to perfectly describe my feelings about my life: “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else…”

I am so fortunate to be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my daughter. Happy ending!

Sincerely,

Michele 

S’mores Please!

 Dear Reader: 

My lovely daughter and two of her lovely college roommates paid me a visit! Ours is a small home, you may remember, so Dad packed up and spent the weekend with his mom.

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Girl’s weekend! I’m sure, you won’t be surprised to hear that we spent the evenings consuming large amounts of rich desserts and sappy romantic comedies.

I simply must share my favorite recipe with you:

Super Simple S’mores

Ingredients:

8 La Petit `Ecolier cookies

4 regular sized marshmallows

Place four cookies, chocolate side up, on a plate. Top two of the cookies with a marshmallow. Microwave on high for 10 seconds. Combine the cookies to make a sandwich. Mmmmm…enjoy!

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At a mere 150 calories or so, you can afford to enjoy one…or two. Recommended accompaniment: coffee or milk and any movie featuring Chris Pine. We watched Princess Diaries 2.

Michele

No Regrets

Natalie LaFollette Creative Portrait_00

Dear Reader:

The woman at the Clinique counter turned out to be right. The day I visited her, I was 7 months pregnant…feeling a bit fat and looking for a “feel good” purchase. Lipstick is always fun! She rather ceremoniously uncapped a long, thin silver tube and twisted the base so that I might see the color. “Perfect,” she effused. I was not initially impressed, but, at her urging, I applied it and checked myself out in the mirror. Fabulous! Almost Lipstick in Black Honey has been a staple in my cosmetic bag ever since.

“So, are you going back to work after the baby?” she asked. I replied affirmatively to which she responded, “Ah, too bad.”

When I left her counter, I’m sure my lovely, shimmery lips were parted in an “um, what?!” expression.  That was some opinionated salesperson. I was working in high-tech marketing and had received a promotion and stock options the year before. Not to mention the fact that I was, and remain,  a staunch feminist. Of course,  I was going back.

I did return from maternity leave, but lasted only six months… and that was a stretch! Everything had changed. The 30-50 minute drive to and from work was never enjoyable, but now it was a lost hour that could have been shared with my daughter.  The early morning calls with the European sales force that I had once so enthusiastically anticipated created a logistical nightmare. The high level meetings that I had felt proud to attend seemed unimportant; I was no longer impressed with myself or anyone else in attendance. I  did not feel the zeal for advancement or the thrill of competition that was fostered in the company.  I found myself wondering who would be there to see my daughter’s first steps: me or the day care workers.

Home life was difficult, too. It was a mad dash every evening to retrieve my daughter within the approved pick-up time.  My husband’s work in high-tech finance was demanding and he usually arrived a couple of hours later than us between 7 and 8 p.m. When he got home, he needed the same things that our baby and I needed: rest, relaxation, dinner, understanding, attention. We were all simultaneously extremely needy! And, very tired. We had only each other. There was no household help or familial assistance. It was just the three of us.

My husband supported my decision to quit working.  We took a leap of faith together knowing that the budget was going to be extremely tight. And, it worked out just fine! Our daughter is a 20-year-old college student today and the three of us are very close.

In the two decades since I made my decision, technology has changed things so much. I see so many women who successfully combine work and family life. Neither my husband nor I had any flexibility in our jobs. It seems ironic that we were both working in the high-tech industry that has revolutionized life for so many, and yet our employers offered no allowances to accommodate family life.

Today, I have an empty nest and time to pursue my interests,  but I don’t think I could fully enjoy myself if I didn’t feel that I’d completely embraced my role as a mother. I feel grateful that I had a choice; I know many women don’t. I have never regretted my decision to be a stay at home mom.

Sincerely,

Michele

P.S. I wouldn’t recommend seeking life advice at the Clinique counter, but that saleswoman was wise!  I recently read that the lipstick she sold me more than 20 years ago has become a cult-classic.  Clinique now ships one Black Honey lipstick every two  minutes.

http://www.glamour.com/story/most-popular-lipstick-colors-review

 

Maui Time

Movie Star, Maui, big sunglasses, travelDear Reader:

While there is no bad time to go to Maui, my husband and I have discovered a truly good time to visit the island. Last year, a couple of days after Thanksgiving , we loaded the suitcases with books and magazines, threw in our suits and shorts and escaped the holiday rush.

We walked every day along the beach paths and in the sand. We slept in late and began each day with a mimosa. We didn’t rent a car. We didn’t watch the news.We enjoyed sudden bursts of tropical rain. We sang along to “Frosty the Snowman” in the hotel lobby as we enjoyed Kalua pork sandwiches and mai tais. There is something particularly satisfying about having nothing to do for a whole week, especially in the month of December. (Our daughter was appalled: we had not only gone without her, but we were there while she was taking finals. We sent pineapples and chocolate covered macadamia nuts to her and her five roommates!)

My reading list for the week was diverse, and heavy! I have simply not made friends with readers, and so I hauled my heavy load from lobby to pool and back again throughout the week. I began with the book my sister-in-law had recommended: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. I am not a person who has to be convinced of the power of non-fiction. But, even I was struck by how moved I felt at the stories of those who lost their lives in such dramatic fashion in 1915. I followed that book up with something lighter:  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I knew I had to read the book when I heard  that it was a novel by a blogger and that the central character was a 59-year-old curmudgeon. My husband is not yet 59, but in three years he will be a 59 year old curmudgeon. The book was charming, as is my husband. For my third book, I read Delia Ephron’s: Sister Mother Husband Dog : (etc) . I’ve always admired the work of the Ephron sisters and I enjoyed the mix of autobiographical essays that had me alternatively chuckling and near tears…a true representation of life. The last book I read  Blog, Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Deangdeelert Cho was an inspiration. I read it once; then I read it again while taking notes; then I read it again because it was fun. I felt energized, afraid, motivated, excited! After tossing around the idea of a blog for several months, I suddenly knew that I was going to become a blogger. Joy had convinced me!

On our last morning, as I packed up my large tote with my books, my husband called for the bellman. He arrived shortly after and looked at me and said, “You look like a movie star…or, maybe a writer.”

His comment seemed to me to be a good omen. Clearly, I do not look like a movie star! But, yes, I’m a writer. I must be. I look like one!

Aloha,

Michele

* Note to those who want to look like a writer or movie star: Throw on a pair of jeans and a black tee, top with a long cardigan, drape a colorful scarf around your neck, carry a large tote filled with a computer and books, and WEAR A MARVELOUS PAIR OF SUNGLASSES!