Posts filed under ‘Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop’

Adjusting Your Sails: What Elizabeth Edwards Taught Me

“I do know that when [my children are] older and telling their own children about their grandmother, they will be able to say that she stood in the storm…and when the wind did not blow her way – and it surely has not – she adjusted her sails.”

– Elizabeth Edwards

Simple. Bold.

Two words, two prompts from Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop this week, and I can’t settle on just one because I think they both apply to this quote from Elizabeth Edwards.

Like so many others, I felt great sadness at the news of her death this week, even though I didn’t know her personally. Although we all knew she had incurable breast cancer, there was something about her – her strength, her resolve and, yes, her resilience in the face of unthinkable circumstances – that made her seem almost invincible. If anyone could outrun invasive cancer, surely she could.

When I saw that quote, I realized it was a great representation of how she lived her life, and also a reason why she has been such an inspiration and role model for me and countless others.

It may seem an odd choice of a quote for me in some ways. I’ll most likely never be a mother. Those were the cards I was dealt. It really wasn’t even something that was a big concern to me until the choice was taken away.

It’s certainly not on the level of losing your 16-year-old son or being diagnosed with incurable cancer or being betrayed by your husband and then dragged through the ensuing media circus his actions created.

But those of us in my situation know that it, too, represents a break, an ending, a separation from what you thought would be and suddenly isn’t. It forces you to change direction whether you want to or not. Your life is no longer going to head in the way you’d always assumed it would, and that’s that.

There’s no turning back. There’s no changing it.

You can drown in it – and some days I do – or you can adjust your sails. It’s a simple idea but bold at the same time.

Simple, but not obvious. It’s one of those “easier said than done” concepts, and that’s why it’s bold, too. It takes guts to refuse to let it consume you. And that’s what Elizabeth Edwards embodied.

She could have wallowed in her tragedies. Certainly if anyone had a right to feel sorry for themselves, she did.

But that wasn’t her. She decided that, even though she wasn’t dealt the hand she expected or wanted, she would adjust her strategy and play to the fullest.

It’s a lesson I try to take in. Remember.

We all face storms. Some are literally life changing, some are momentary blips. But a simple, bold decision to adjust the sails and even ride the waves to a new destination can mean a life well lived, whether it unfolds the way you planned or not.

I’m working on it.


December 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm 2 comments

Easy? Yes. Nice? Not so much.

A number of years ago Julia Louis-Dreyfus did some kicky little commercials for Clairol’s Nice ‘N Easy hair color. You may remember her performing an impromptu dye-job on an unsuspecting bus passenger in this commercial.

In one of those ads, she revealed the color she used on her own hair – something like a “Rich Chocolate Brown” – and somehow, for some unknown reason, I decided that would be a great look on me, too.

Now, I’d had my hair colored plenty of times before at the salon, but other than that year I was obsessed with Sun In (“So natural looking!” Well…at least until I saw photos and discovered what I actually looked like), I’d never colored my hair myself.


I wasn’t worried, though. On the contrary, I was quite confident as I marched down the hair care aisle at Eckerds, picking out my box of Nice ‘N Easy dark brown permanent hair color.

Once I got home, I tore open the box and set all the liquids, potions, protective gloves, plastic caps and instructions out on the bathroom counter. I gave the directions a quick once over – who wants to read all that? – and got to work.

Twenty minutes, three stained towels and one dye-splattered wall later, I staggered out of the bathroom in a haze of chemical fumes. I set the timer. I waited for the magic of the reveal.

This whole process had all the makings of a hair disaster, but honestly, I never saw it coming. So when I removed the plastic cap, rinsed out my hair, toweled it dry (there goes another towel) and glanced in the mirror, I just wasn’t expecting to see what I saw.


November 3, 2010 at 5:34 pm 3 comments

And then I panicked

Lou the cat was 6 years old when she was diagnosed with kidney failure.

She’d always been a healthy cat, “full-figured” with a good appetite and lots of energy, so the news that kidney stones had put her into chronic renal failure was a shock. And, as if it wasn’t enough to find out she had a chronic, incurable condition and that I’d have to start giving her subcutaneous fluids and special prescription food, I capped off the day with a car accident on the way home from the vet.

Good times.

Lou the Cat

If only things could have stayed that simple.

About six months later, one of the stones lodged in her ureter, blocking her right kidney. After a terrifying evening of pitied looks from technicians and quiet but urgent advice from her vet, I managed to get her admitted at midnight to the specialty vet about 30 minutes from my house.

She spent 3 days there. Every day after work, I’d make the trek through Atlanta rush hour traffic (this was back when traffic was really only bad at rush hour in Atlanta, as opposed to now, when it’s bad 24 hours a day) to see her during “visting hours.”

She would always gaze first to me with a bit of a crazed look in her eyes and then to the doorknob, as if to say, “I know that’s the way out! Get me out of here!”

By some miracle she stabilized, and her one remaining good kidney took over for the now-shriveled-up and useless right kidney. I got used to giving her fluids and she got used to getting lots of treats afterwards.

But, as anyone who’s ever had a headache and typed the letters into their browser knows, the Internet has made it way too easy to research health conditions – and scare yourself half to death.


September 30, 2010 at 12:19 am 7 comments

Nutty Mr. Lady

I’m not sure what it says about me that one of my earliest childhood memories centers around Mr. Peanut.

I’d like to think that it reflects an innate interest in and affinity for effective advertising and marketing. But after telling you this story, I probably won’t be able to get away with that explanation.

I remember it so vividly. My mother and I walked into the drug store, and there he was: Mr. Peanut, hawking his salty snacks, twirling his cane and, in the grand tradition of costumed mascot characters everywhere, making a special point to talk to all the kids.

I was pretty excited to meet Mr. Peanut. After all, I was a big fan of his TV work, and he looked even more stylish and sophisticated in person.

“Hello, little girl! How are you today?”

Wait, what? Mr. Peanut sounds like a…



August 18, 2010 at 11:51 pm 8 comments

The Road to the Middle of Nowhere

I was a child of the 1970s. It was a time of bell bottoms, shag carpeting, Skylab, Schoolhouse Rock, the least appealing shades of orange and green, and…long family car trips.

Now, that’s not to say the children in my family weren’t experienced flyers. My father had his pilot’s license, and for a while in the 70s, he had a little two-seater plane, so we had all flown at young ages. (And when I say “flown,” I mean it. Let’s just say that, very early on, we had an inkling of how bad of a driver my sister would turn out to be.)

me in front of my dad's plane

Marla as a young (and stylish) flyer

But the big family car trips are what I remember most, probably because they seemed to last forever.


August 4, 2010 at 10:46 pm 4 comments

Ship of Fools

“We don’t camp,” my mother intoned. “Since when did I raise you to go camping?”

Good question, I thought. No matter, though, because I was headed off on a camping trip that weekend, whether I was someone who camped or not.

compassI’d done my research. According to the guys I worked with, when a group of twentysomething young professionals goes camping – a group whose regular outdoor activities primarily consisted of hungover co-ed touch football games followed by bloody marys – there isn’t typically a whole lot of roughing it and hunting for our supper and building shelter from twigs and leaves. No, they assured me, more likely, this camping trip would entail drinking games and pairing up.

That sounded like something I could handle.


July 28, 2010 at 11:40 pm 4 comments

Heaven and the Flipside

“How far to heaven? Just open your eyes and look. You are in heaven.” – Shankar

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

The quote above, which came from a prompt in this week’s Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop, brought many images to my mind, including family, a lazy day reading, a musical performance, an incredible meal.

Eventually, though, I landed on this photo. If you’ve been to Iceland, I’m sure you recognize the location – the Blue Lagoon, a spa and bathing facility developed from the “geothermal seawater that originates in Iceland’s extreme environment.”

The Blue Lagoon (and much of Iceland for that matter) has an ethereal, other-worldly quality to it as it is. And on the day I took this photo, the cloud-smeared sky, the peaceful quiet, and the salty, minerally, perfectly heated waters of the lagoon truly added up to heaven.

But there’s another reason I chose this photo. Not only does the Blue Lagoon evoke a feeling of heaven on earth, in my experience, it also gives you a good taste of the flipside.


July 21, 2010 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

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