One family secret


My mother-in-law kept loneliness close to her.

Born in New York City in 1924, it was only after her death three decades ago, at that age between what we consider middle and old – the one which has no name – this fact came to light for our family:

She was not an only child.

As we were told. As we believed.

A road trip to a New Jersey family grave site, and our pouring through its hand written archives revealed this: her mother gave birth to Celine in 1922. The girl died two years later.

I drifted away from those musty volumes with my thoughts spinning, with an ache in my heart. This one fact – one turn of fate – illuminated the life of this woman, Berthe. It offered a dimension to this woman who had a far-reaching impact upon, not only my marriage, but my self during our time together.

She loved to see me with my sisters. She loved tradition, our family, and was devoted to her husband. Yet, she carried this lost sisterhood despite these loves and devotions. She carried this loss alone.

My dear mother-in-law,

I wish I had known of your deprivation. We could have shared words and stories, I could have held your hand in mine and you could have sighed, perhaps even cried a bit.

Now, all I can do is this for you: create small art, and carry the quiet ache, from time to time.


Yes. My mother-in-law kept loneliness close to her.

Berthe is sorely missed by her remaining family, every year since her death. This year she would have been 95.

I Hate To Leave This Beautiful Place

A Memoir by Howard Norman

This book was given to me two years ago from a student. It has sat unobtrusively on my shelf because of the cover. A cover which conveys melancholy. Melancholy by nature, I was hesitant, even fearful, in taking on a new author’s experiences similar in nature. Time was needed for a slow acquaintanceship with Mr. Norman.

However, steeped in sadness about the state of the world in this month and this year it seemed appropriate. I wonder if this only makes sense to me, dear reader?

Set in the mid-1960s with a beginning that is both familiar and almost endearing – a bookmobile, the apothecary (see, drug store) with soda fountain, I was lulled immediately into a sense of kinship with the author. His subsequent memories through the years in the narrative dispelled this feeling. All too soon I became the outsider looking in. The outsider wondering how on earth this young man, this married man, this father and husband, managed to get through his life with so much of himself intact.

His is a life that meanders; conscious direction seems to be an afterthought. From Grand Rapids to the Arctic to Halifax to Washington, D.C. he careens, geographically; so too do the events that affect his trajectory from the humorous to the mundane to the tragic. The overlapping of these parallel paths is the story. His story.

A whole world of detours, unbridled perplexities, degrading sorrows, and exacting joys can befall a person in a single season, not to mention a lifetime.


It was only at the end where I almost – almost – closed the book. Some tragedies are too heart wrenching. Living life is not for the timid. And while no pretensions, no hubris comes through with Norman, he is not timid. I am grateful for his courage.

A sincere thank you to my student at St. Alban’s School for expanding my universe with this author’s writing. You know who you are!

Norman, Howard. I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2013. Print.

Small trips & Hope

Visiting the Eastern Shore of Maryland & more

One cold and blustery morning in early November, the hub and I packed our warm jackets, some snacks, then headed out on the road for Easton, Maryland to the Waterfowl Festival. Please. Understand. I did not grow up in a rural area, so any trip like this is a peek into my husband’s childhood. Yes, even after all these decades together I am still amazed by his roots and his knowledge of a bucolic life.

Gotta love those dogs!

A scenic drive led us through the quaint areas of this historic town. After paying our somewhat substantive entry fee, we walked among the streets, and in and out of tents, getting a feel for the area. Taking a bus to several other venues smacked of a senior citizen outing, but we were game! Exhibits of guns, rods, hunting and fishing gear unsettled me a bit, but the addition of the retriever demonstrations softened my apprehensiveness. It was also good to know that many of the proceeds for events were slated for the Chesapeake conservation funding. In fact I met a quiet, but smart young man who, representing the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point Laboratory, gave me a detailed explanation on chemistry, toxicology and the effects on local aquatic life. It was astounding, to say the least. Yes, I will go on a summer tour of their facility!

Needless to say, it was prospect of seeing art that truly nudged me, emotionally, for this unusual destination. There was a plethora for artists from all over the U.S. and North America working in a variety of media and formats. George Raab’s art, an award winning printmaker (Ontario, Canada) left me breathless. His landscape, Catalpa, made my heart ache. The longing persists, as some images imprint themselves upon one’s soul.

Sculptor, Tom Ahern

The spouse’s particular interest in decoys, both contemporary and antique, not only evoked interest but presented a most serendipitous event. Squirreled away among dozens of vendors was a gentlemen, Tom Ahern (Bethlehem, PA) who works and lives where I was born and raised. Following a brief “hello” and chat, we discovered that we had more in common – “Was I related to “Snookie?” Lo and behold! I was. My uncle Snookie was his high-school athletic coach many, many decades past. I promised to visit his studio during one of my hometown visits. And, I will.

I love these small trips with my husband. Sharing lives, works, and landscapes that are so integral to others opens my narrow view of the world. Sharing words and smiles.

Whether with a spouse or stranger, sharing itself, is the solid foundation for hope.

black and white newspaper clipping of a man

Dedicated to my Uncle John “Snookie” Hudak, the eldest and most elusive uncle.

What drives the art?

Patience and creativity

Returning to life as an artist is a challenge after twenty years immersed in a left-brain career as a librarian – organizing, cataloging and instructional designing.  Nothing demonstrates this more than the past two months working on a seemingly simple artist’s book.

Prior to my life as a librarian, I was a working artist for twenty years with roots in calligraphy. This form is the foundation for everything I learned about art subsequently. Knowing the quality of work of which I am capable by looking back through the boxes and folders of my art projects, and then, looking at my current work, left me sorely demoralized. This is true, even with calligraphy, my first love.

So, I turn to writing prose and bookmaking, additional loves in the artistic life. My intention (please note this noun!) to create an artist’s book with my prose at the central point is a turning point. Designing the format and attempting to carry out the all the skills needed, demonstrates how far I have meandered my previous life. Nothing was meeting my standards. This went on for more than a month. Over and over, re-thinking, re-designing, re-hashing imagery…until, one morning, I collected all the debris and threw it into an envelope to shelve.

What was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t this working? I was on my third attempt with this “simple book.”

May I suggest that you read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott


Cover art

Finally, after re-reading one chapter of the above title, it hit me. I was working with the left-brain. Intention. In my process to create, it was all linear – get from Point A to my Point B .

So, I cleared everything off my desk. Created a big open space. And played. Ran my hands over the handmade papers until I found those that felt right. Moved around the pieces of photographs like a jigsaw puzzle until they fell into place visually.

Continuing along this path for the next two weeks, the book I had never imagined began to form. Yes, there were times I was afraid to “be intentional” not wanting to subvert a new beginning. Each decision, intuitive or deliberate, was met with patience. I put the work aside and came back to it another day; played with it for an hour and then, went for a walk.

To continue to encourage my ability to create step-by-step, piece-by-piece with respect and composure is my task for this season – this month as we enter into the time of hunkering down for winter. If I can allow myself this time, spring will be a joy.

AS I AGE: free verse

As I age, I would like to sit across from my mother at the kitchen table, the one with the red and white enamel top the table where she rolled out her dough for Christmas baking, year after year; where she set our hot meals before us every day – except Sunday.

I would like to talk with her, mother to daughter, about our families, our marriages, and her grandsons. I would like to know my enigmatic father, her spouse, through her eyes and with her heart. To hear tales of my sisters as toddler, her girls. These sisters I love and who were born years before me.

There is so much I ache to know, but mostly it is this: to have my mother close by me again with her smile and scowl in equal measures, the sound of her voice surrounding me. Simply to be in her presence; to share our lives as women do.



Reading during All Hallow’s Eve

One book leads to another

crow illustrationOf course, it just occurred to me that I am reading a timely mystery title (series) for the upcoming Halloween weekend. This behooves me to share. Now.

Karen Lee Street’s series (see, reviews ) offers us the iconic American author of dark and ominous short stories, Edgar Allan Poe as half of a duo who solve mysteries. More than this, she grounds this poet/writer within the daily confines of life as a husband, son-in-law and father while struggling with his craft.

Moreover, living within driving distance of Poe’s Baltimore home (as I home some of you are, too, dear readers), this is a double treat. For those who do reside nearby, the virtual tour is offered through the The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum.

Virtual Tour: Edgar Allan Poe House National Historic Landmark, Baltimore, MD from Poe Baltimore, Inc. on Vimeo.

For readers with young children, I offer a short Edgar Allan Poe reading list, so the family is able to immerse themselves in all-things Poe this week. Enjoy!

Suggested reading list
Avi, The Man Who Was Poe. HarperCollins Publishers, 1997. Print  (ages 8-12)
Bagert, Brod (Editor), Carolynn Cobleigh (Illustrator).  Poetry For Young People: Edgar Allan Poe.  Sterling, 2008. Print.
Hinds, Gareth. Poe: stories and poems : a graphic novel adaptation. Candlewick Press, 2017. Print. (Young adult & adult)
McKissack, Patricia C., and Brian Pinkney (Illustrator). The Dark Thirty: Tales of the Supernatural. Random House Children’s Books, 2001. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan, and Gris Grimly (Illustrator). Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Death and Dementia. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009. Print
Poe, Edgar Allan, and Gris Grimly (Illustrator). Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004. Print


This post is re-published from 2018.

Read away your stress for only $24.04

More mysteries

So much is happening in the simple life of this retired librarian – weddings, travel, and dinner with friends – that I am utterly useless in the studio. At home, horizontally prone across a quilted bed, it is all I can do to raise my hand, the one holding my e-reader, knowing that it will give great pleasure. And, it does.

Within the past month I have managed to read away my stress with the following titles. All e-books. All mysteries. Be forewarned, these are only for the pleasure of knowing I can follow the story, and that all will end well. Not complicated. Not violent. Solid writing. Lovely imagery. Straightforward story lines. In my retirement, I do not ask for a lot.

Yet, for $24.04 I got a lot!

  • book
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  • Murder in the Smithsonian  (Capital Crimes Series #4) by Margaret Truman – For one living in Washington, D.C. metro area, this is a must. ($1.99)
  • Lady Helena Investigates (Book One of The Scott-de Quincy Mystery series) by Jane Steen – You go girl!! ($2.99)
  • 3 Sleuths, 2 Dogs, 1 Murder (Book 2 of The Sleuth Sisters) by Maggie Pill – A scene that actually made me laugh out loud! ($2.99)

Waiting to read:

  • A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks ($7.09)
  • River of Darkness (John Madden Series) by Rennie Airth ($5.99)
  • The Anatomist’s Wife (Lady Darby Mystery) by Anna Lee Huber ($2.99)

My hope is that you find some enjoyment with one or more of these titles regardless of medium or vendor. If you do, let me know. I promise to be vertical and respond accordingly!

These prices are those reflected from Barnes & NOble for Their Nook

Nothing in particular


This morning nothing in particular holds Jane’s attention as she walks along the tree-lined street to Joy’s house. The past nor the present. Unusual weather. Sun. Cool breezes, now and again. One could not help but be in a good mood. A gift, really. She is grateful. She smiles realizing that her whole life is summed up in this word, despite heartaches and setbacks. 

Windows open wide with breezes passing over friends seated around the table. As always, the women cook too much food, drink too much wine, and talk incessantly. Today, Jane listens as she picks at the vegan lasagna. Absolutes resound.

One needs passion in one’s work

Yes, it is what our youth need to know! 

Quietly, Jane’s thoughts turn to her work. She ponders her new life without it, without commitment. Every workday morning she came in early; always pleasant to everyone. It was mandatory. She remembers being good at all of it. Tracking down facts for the scientists with their research, creating spreadsheets with tabbed information to have at the tips of their fingers, and even answering desperate weekend emails with pleas for more information. This need to serve; her “passion.” When did it all start to turn, she wonders? 

Then, she hears her voice questioning,

Joy, how do you keep passion when it’s not rewarded, month after month, year after year?

-You do it for yourself, of course, not for others!

Well, I certainly couldn’t.

Jane states her new insight stoically.

photography of a dark sky

Then, begins the unraveling of her resentment with every word. Resentment at being passed over for this promotion or bonus. Her voice pitches higher, the words spilling out faster. All eyes are on Jane; all ears, listening. “Oh yes”, she tells them,

I got a certificate once, noting my dedication printed in the office on stock paper.  Standard size, of course. I bought a cheap, plastic frame and hung it in my office to show them my gratitude.

More chatter and nods. More food. More wine.  Jane says little else that afternoon. She is ruminating on her Pandora’s Box of hidden grudges.  Finally, with a subdued anger, she asks herself,

-Why am I always so damn grateful?

Dedicated to the “moms” of Takoma Park who are steadfast.
Hudak, Tina. Nothing In Particular, © 2019