Some find inspiration in the wilderness. Others find themselves hopelessly lost.

Monthly Archives: January 2014

My book has been pirated repeatedly in the last few weeks. Apparently, it is quite popular when completely free. In honor of that, um, honor, I’m writing about pirates today.

Skull & CrossbonesIf you are not the parent (grandparent, babysitter, friend, teacher) of a young child, you may be surprised to learn that piracy is all the rage with the under-eight set. Think Captain Hook, not copyright violation. High fashion for kiddies is adorned with skulls and crossbones. Pirate toys are more popular than candy. Few people seem to believe this is cause for worry. In fact, most parents get really excited about pirate play. It seems cool and transgressive, a type of pretend play that inspires daring and bravery.

In fact, the pirate craze is completely mainstream and commercial and, though, yes, pirates have to be brave, they are also by definition, focused on wealth accumulation, even more than those Disney princesses in their finery.

I hear a lot of anti-princess talk but no complaints about the widespread celebration of piracy. Articles and books have been written on the topic of the kiddie princess industry. I’ve been in those conversations bemoaning our daughters’ obsessions with all things pink, sparkly, and princess-y.

The princess thing is annoying, and there is plenty to dislike about a “hobby” that promotes appearance & wealth based valuation of women/girls/ people. I have to say, though, I’d rather my children model their behavior on royalty than pirates, either those of the internet or the high seas.

Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White. They all had their strengths and weaknesses, and though the princess industry tends to focus on gowns, jewels, beauty, and husband snagging, girls imitating princesses aspire to be polite, kind, helpful, and optimistic. Those are good things.

Harpers PirateWhat exactly are we promoting when we buy into the pirate craze (and, yes, this one, too, is fueled by Disney)? Pirates are a very real threat to many people. They are violent criminals. They are also, I suspect, like most criminals, people who lack other options. Piracy (on the seas) is an ugly, desperate way to make a living. Basically, pirates are high stakes muggers. They kill a lot of innocent people.

Book piracy (and other theft of arts/music/movies) is not nearly as abhorrent, but, still, not a career path I’d like my children to seek.

I am not one to dictate my childrens’ or others’ pretend play. There is definitely some yo-ho-ho-ing in my living room, and the occasional “Ahoy, Matey.” Imaginative play is a good thing, even when it veers into the dark and criminal. I’d be worried if my kids never pretended to be “bad guys.”

I’m actually pretty uncomfortable judging any kind of child pretend play or even adult fantasy, and I can already hear your objections to this blog. I sound puritanical and joyless, right? Pirates are exciting. Maybe we should all embrace whatever fantasy Disney pitches our way. I mean, it’s not like American kids are growing up convinced that they and their country should take anything they desire, even if violent means are necessary.

Oh, wait.

I know I’ve got that train engineer cap I wore as a kid somewhere. Maybe, just maybe, I can convince my kids to aspire to union membership instead of violent robbery.

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My husband is writing a eulogy.  He showed me a first draft and I was blown away. In a few paragraphs, he managed to evoke a woman we both loved, and communicate the depth of his feelings for her.

The power of his eulogy came as a surprise.  He is an intelligent, well-spoken person who writes quite a lot, but the majority of what he writes is scientific and technical.  The remainder of his written communications are probably comprised of emails, grocery lists, and thoughts jotted on post-it notes.

We could discuss what made his eulogy work so well (specific details, including those that revealed the complexity of her character, rather than just praise, humor, sharing of himself…), but I suspect he wrote such a powerful piece because he felt so strongly about his subject.

Sometimes memories and thoughts can’t become vivid, even in our own minds, until they’re typed out.

I am not one of those people who believe writers should only write about things they have experienced or things they have strong feelings about.  Surely not!  Imagination and empathy are powerful tools. A writer can be a generally happy, fulfilled individual and compose heartbreaking stories. Similarly, one can write of great joy while in the doldrums.

Still, my husband’s eulogy writing experience has been instructive. We all experience triumphs and tragedies over the course of our lives, including death of loved ones. For our own mental health, it’s important to dwell on both our joys and our losses. For writers, especially those who hope to create emotionally engaging stories and characters, spending some time with sorrow might be essential.

If you’re given the opportunity to write a eulogy, take it, whether you consider yourself a writer or not.  You won’t regret the hours spent reflecting on a person you held dear, and the chance to crystalize your memories through words.

You might impress your wife. You’ll probably surprise yourself. Sometimes memories and thoughts can’t become vivid, even in our own minds, until they’re typed out.


According to their website, 4-H exists in rural communities, cities and suburbs across America.Image

Maybe that’s true now, but when I was a kid in suburbia, 4-H was nowhere to be found. We had the 4Ts: Tennis, Trumpet, Tetris and Test prep for college admissions.

How I longed to raise a pig! Milk a cow! I had to content myself with the hamsters on display in the mall pet store.

The 4 Hs are Head, Heart, Hand, and Health. As a kid, I would have guessed Horses, Hares, Hay Rides, and Happy Kids. I didn’t quite understand the full breadth of the organization, but I had the gist of it.

Every year at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, I get a little peak into the magic that is the 4-H club.  The farm show does, in fact, have plenty of horses, hares, hay and happy kids. Not only that. They’ve got fainting goats, adorable chicks and even ducklings that they send down slides into a giant bathtub.

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A girl and her cow. Photo from 2013, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Those 4-H kids are bee-keeping , mushroom gathering, and making dioramas about pesticide health impacts.  They knit. They bake pies like nobody’s business. Well, okay, maybe that’s their parents, but you just know they eat home-cooked pies on a regular basis. Basically, they are living the dream of the Brooklyn rooftop farmer and urban anti-chicken ordinance fighter. I wouldn’t be surprised if those kids  butcher esoteric meats and home brew in their free time.

Plus, now the 4-H kids are making robots. Really! They’ll probably build and operate a spaceship next.  Of course, they’ll get to bring a horse and rabbit with them on their mission to mars. Me, I still don’t even have a goldfish at home.

Alas, I am not in Pennsylvania at the moment and so I won’t be visiting the farm show this year.  No vicarious 4-H fun for me.  But, if you’re in a two hour vicinity of Harrisburg, it’s well worth the trip. Check out all those smiling 4-H kids.  Plus, you can experience the butter sculpture, the sheep to shawl contest and the maple cotton candy.

Feed a horse and stroke the softest rabbit you can imagine.  Live the 4-H experience.  I’ll be jealous.



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