Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Other Side of the Brick Wall

Faithful Vortexians:

Last summer, after spending a lot of money and time in pursuing publication, I ran into a brick wall with traditional publishing and decided to go the route of self-publishing.

I'm glad I did.

In December, my debut novel "Bianca's Vineyard" was launched and life has not been the same since. It was truly a herculean effort, but reviews have been great and I've already ordered a second shipment of books.

Many are asking me if there will be a sequel. Yes, and I am starting to work on it.

I'm not sure what that means for The Vortexiverse yet. Obviously, this is the first time I've had the opportunity to post since the chaos of self-publishing began. I was caught up in a cyclone of my own making!

So, my apologies for the silence of the last few months. As for the future of The Vortexiverse; I see it as continuing to be an outlet for personal tales and anecdotes. There are some good ones!

As always, I love to hear from you and what you think.

To check out my new author's website, and details about "Bianca's Vineyard," go to

The print book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Powell's Books as well as other retailers around the world. It is also available on Kindle and Nook. If you read it, and like it, do shoot a review Amazon's way, would you?

In the meantime, blessings and peace to you!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Never Compromise Who You Are by Conforming to What Others Want You to Be


A Journal of Vicarious Living

Travels with Teresa

Never Compromise Who You Are by Conforming to What Others Want You to Be

(True to Yourself, Vortexia) -- Summertime is the season of weddings; a roller-coaster ride of bridal showers, rehearsal dinners and wedding ceremonies. For those deeply invested in these glorious occasions, it also elicits a wealth of emotions. Brides-to-be and their mothers find out what panic attacks really are. Fathers-of-the-Bride grapple with the reality that they will no longer be their daughter’s “first-stop” counselor on issues they prided themselves being experts on.

The loneliness that seeps into a home on the heels of a child’s marriage, whether that child was living at home before marrying or not, is awful. Children will come back and visit, but it will be with spouses who have pre-emptive needs and desires. Of course, this barely tolerable situation for parents is mitigated by the future promise of grandchildren.

Of these things I am sure, because my daughter is getting married this month.

At her bridal shower recently, I found myself brain-dead when asked to jot down a “word of wisdom” for the bride in a little notebook being passed around. I kicked myself later. It’s not that we hadn’t had many “mother-daughter” talks about marriage, discussions that included the importance of a strong Christian faith. Still, I thought, “How could I not have come up with something to write in that book for her?”

A few hours later, alone in my car, the pre-wedding fog in my mind parted – ever so briefly – to reveal a visual banner that read: Never Compromise Who You Are by Conforming to What Others Want You to Be. Convinced it was divinely inspired, I shared it with my daughter who initially read into it all the things it was not intended to mean.

So, dear reader, I will clarify the phrase with you as well.

She thought it was some feminist manifesto, “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” type of thing. Hardly the case, I told her. The adage works both ways; it applies to men and women. Then, she thought it I meant it as a blanket excuse for any kind of addiction, perversion or other besetting sin in a spouse. No, again; nor does the statement include the person of Jesus Christ, with whom we want to be conformed to.

Simply put, “who you are” is who – at your core – God wants you, and me, to be. Our “identity” includes all the unique qualities that make up our personalities; the positive, and even neutral, characteristics we were born with.

Obviously, some personality traits can be irritating or annoying to others. It’s sad how trivial some of them really are, such as the way someone talks or laughs, or the music they like to listen to, or the fact that they absolutely love animals or sports or old movies, etc. Again, I’m not talking about extremes (i.e. the husband who ignores his wife every football season or the wife who favors pets over her husband). I’m referring to harmless personal attributes, innocent likes and dislikes, mannerisms that have nothing to do with one’s core character.

It’s one thing to expect a spouse to change a truly bad habit that is adversely affecting a relationship. It’s entirely another to try to change someone else’s identity. I’ve seen far too many marriages implode because of it.

For example, berating a spouse who plods along in life more slowly than you would prefer is like trying to make an Arabian racehorse out of a Clydesdale. Clydesdales are beautiful as they are and function exactly as they were meant to. Conversely, constantly chiding an effusive, outgoing partner in the hope of changing them into an emotionless slug will only serve to suffocate them. Far better to be appreciative, respectful and, yes, even long-suffering with loved ones whose minor quirks and idiosyncrasies drive us half-mad sometimes. After all, treating others as they would treat us benefits all involved, does it not?

It may be easier said than done, but weddings can be a timely reminder that viewing spouses through God’s lens can go a long way in making marriages happy and durable.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Honoring Dads: Warts and All

(Imperfection, Vortexia) – Most men are deserving of the honor due them as fathers, but doing so is sometimes easier said than done. Problems can arise when mothers of children are in conflict with the father, or parents blow trivial problems in their relationship out of proportion. I know, because it’s almost Father’s Day and I am just now reconciling my emotions with my love for my husband.

It began with the weather.

I have very few pet peeves, just a couple actually, and I can honestly say I have developed patience for them over the years. But, when it comes to negativity, all bets are off. Whining, belly-aching, call it what you will, being in the company of naysayers is torture for me.

I’m not talking about the occasional venting session with close friends; if it’s of extremely short duration and has a clear beginning and end with some sort of resolution. That, I can handle. Nor am I referring to a one-time open and honest discussion with someone borne of professional or relational necessity. I’m speaking of being immersed in a culture of chronic complaining. It ignites my fight-or-flight hormones. My blood pressure rises. I feel chained, forced to drink poison while listening to a chorus of nails on a chalkboard, all at the same time.

I blame part of this aversion on my stoic Midwest childhood. My parents, farmers’ stock who soldiered their way through the Depression, never griped and I wasn’t allowed to either. If I complained about being bored, I found myself scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets. If I was caught saying something nasty about someone, I was subjected to a lecture on not saying anything if I couldn’t say something good about someone. If I dared to grumble about food served to me I was summarily banished to bed with an empty stomach. After all, beggars can’t be choosy; grin and bear it.

My husband, however, had an entirely different childhood. Cloaked in humor and exacerbated by perfectionism, complaining was elevated to an art-form in his home. Because his highly cynical father never forgot the victimization he suffered during the Depression, my husband’s world-view was colored by would-have’s, should-have’s and if-only’s. The result often manifested in the grass looking greener on the other side of the fence.

I and my husband – definitely my “soulmate” if there is such a thing -- share many things in common; faith, family, friends, and a long, fulfilling, exciting history together. All things considered, we are a perfect fit except for one – make that two or three – things. He is a pessimist (he would use the word “realist”) and I am an optimist (he would use the word fantasist). He loves to swim and relax in the sun. The sun is not my friend and I don’t swim. He is an engineer who isn’t passionate about reading or writing. I am a bookworm; writing is my profession.

Are we the only couple who wrestle with these issues?

Our differences got out of control a few months ago when Oregon experienced one of its worst springs in history. Northwest winters are cloudy, rainy and cool (as opposed to cloudy, snowy and freezing in the other areas of the country, I remind my husband), but springtime is typically a mix of lessening showers, increasing warmth, and fabulous rainbows. Summers in Oregon are paradisiacal; generally dry and hot with blessedly cool evenings. This spring, however, consisted of nearly three straight months of unseasonably cool temperatures, record-breaking rains, and leaden skies. Newbie Oregonians, particularly California transplants who are spoiled by some of the most perfect weather in the entire world, made like the Israelites in the desert, crying that they wanted to go back to “Egypt” -- wherever that might be.

My husband complained incessantly. I grew to dread the start of each new day, not because of the weather, but because I knew – and this is no exaggeration – that I would be subjected to an endless litany of meteorological facts and statistics comparing Oregon’s weather to Hawaii, and countless threats of selling our house and moving thousands of miles away from our children just to have sunshine in the wintertime. All of this whining was accompanied with theatrical sighs and unhealthy doses of feigned morosity. I turned into a shrew.

It became a great source of contention between us.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate a sunny day as much as the next guy. Who hasn’t dreamed of vacationing in Hawaii or the Caribbean in the dead of winter? But the fact is, weather doesn’t dictate my state of mind or control my emotions. When I “see” Oregon, I don’t see rain. I see beautiful swirling fogs, myriad hues of green, dense primeval forests, magnificent mountains and a spectacular coastline. Apparently, that makes me a freak. Most Americans evidently live their lives tethered to the sun. Since there are few countries on earth where citizens have the luxury of arm-chair quarterbacking situations they have absolutely no control over, I fear it might be true that I am the “odd man” out.

Still, I doubt Dalits in Calcutta obsess over how many cloudy days they have in a year, just as I’m sure the majority of Africans don’t entertain relocating to a place where they will be able to enjoy more sunshine. Any day they’re alive is a beautiful day to them.

We are incredibly blessed and not just a little bit spoiled.

For me (and my husband actually came up with this motto when we moved here) Oregon is our “Promised Land.” Undeniably, God Himself led us here like Abraham and Sarah, even though we weren’t aware of it at the time. This is where I rededicated my life to Christ, became a mother, raised my children and built a home. And that is the key, at least for me. This is my home. It’s not just four walls and a roof that can be bought and sold on a whim. God pointed to this place on the map, and “Pow!” in went my stake. To date, He has not directed us anywhere else.

The outcome of all this is…you ask? Well, we didn’t kill each other and we’re still happily married. Our sparring is part of the Tango that is our dance. It’s mid-June and after announcing that Oregon experienced the wettest June in it’s history already, the weatherman is promising warmer, sunnier days. We’ve had a few intermittent ones already; enough to placate my husband…for now.

The mountain between us shrunk back down into a mole hill, and with Father’s Day looming, I am reminded of just how good and wonderful my husband is, how much he is loved by his children, and how faithful, hardworking and steady he is. It's a good thing, Father's Day. If we lay all the small stuff aside and focus on the man who is the father, we can regain our perspective.

At least I learned something: Mountains are not insurmountable.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Surviving Motherhoods' Many Incarnations

(Mamatopia, Vortexia) -- I am entering a new phase of motherhood; one I’m not entirely familiar with yet, but which evidently comes with the territory when one reaches a certain stage of life. For me, that stage is the upcoming marriage of my youngest child.

Motherhood, I have learned, goes something like this. When children are:

Newborn to Age Five: “Mother” means Food and Love. The simplicity of our role as mothers of infants, in retrospect, is staggering. But as children reach the age of two or three, we are gob-smacked with our first reality check: They aren’t always the angels we assumed they were.

Yes, our children still adore us, but they can turn monstrous at the drop of a hat, screaming horrid epithets when they don’t get their way. As we bask in the false notion that their adulation of us will last forever, the title Disciplinarian is added to our job-description.

Five to Ten Years-of Age: Our moniker is now synonymous with “Slave.” It’s difficult to determine when, and why, our children’s perception of us changes, but school most definitely has something to do with it. Their peers have become the center of their egocentric little universe. We, still trusting in our indispensability, cling blindly to the remnants of their need for us, ignoring the alien creature inside of them raring to hatch. If only we knew what lay ahead, we might just decide to sell everything and move to Antarctica. There, at least, there would be fewer casualties from their soon-to-be uncontrollable hormones.

Pre-Teens and Teens: Seemingly overnight, we are "The Enemy.” Unprepared for this demonization, we hit the panic button, yet no matter how hard we kick against the goads, we are sucked into the black hole of teenage hormonal hell. Our children are embarrassed by our very existence. They are mortified to be seen with us in public to the point of pretending they don’t know us. Everything is our fault. In their eyes, we are domineering harridans; stupid, old-fashioned, irrelevant road blocks to their future. On our worst days, we imagine our reflection in the mirror verifies their opinion of us. It’s flat out gruesome. Where has the time gone? What’s happened to our babies? Who ARE we?

Young Adults: If we survived our children’s teen years, the name “mother” may now mean “Friend…sort of, kind of… but not really. This is a nebulous time of life for mother and child, at best. Neither one is quite sure how they arrived at this ceasefire -- this unverbalized truce -- but all parties breathe a sigh of relief that the worst is, hopefully, behind them. We see our children in a new, more mature light. And they see us as maybe having some brains after all. Time to leave Antarctica and come back home.

Married Adults: The rewards of motherhood take on new meaning here. We hear our name spoken with a semblance of admiration, if not reverence, as if “mom” means “Dear Trusted, Wise One Who Never Gave Up On Me.” The phone calls become more frequent (depending on if the child is a son or a daughter) asking for recipes or advice or just to talk. The restoration of our identity as mothers coming full-circle bringing immeasurable satisfaction. It’s actually possible to smile at our gray hair and wrinkles in the mirror because it no longer represents loss; it reflects triumph.

This is the stage of motherhood I am in now; a parent to married adults. I know nothing of future incarnations -- that of grandmother, or great-grandmother – but I am convinced it will be wonderful despite the predictable speed bumps along the way. And, though I could hear you chuckling with me during this satirical journey through the incarnations of motherhood – and I know you realize the joys and privilege of motherhood are worth every sacrifice -- we mothers share a common bond: We love our children with a love that passes all understanding.

So, to all you mothers (and mother’s-to-be someday) I leave you this for Mother's Day: be strong, be persistent, and be blessed. You are beloved whether or not you know it or feel it. Because when it's all said and done, really, your name is: You Can Do It; All Things Are Possible With God!”

Friday, April 30, 2010

Dave's First Massage; A Gaffe Riddled Milestone

(Gaffes Galore, Vortexia) -- By his own admission, my husband Dave has no tact. He’s a wonderful man – talented, warm, and gregarious – but his off-the-cuff comments have made for many, shall we say, “memorable” moments. Usually his slips-of-the tongue are laughable and innocent enough. Sometimes, however, they are mortifying.

While everyone else might be gob smacked by his gaffes, Dave is completely unfazed. In his eyes, he is simply being plain-spoken, straight-forward. I suppose there is an element of virtue to being forth-right. After all, our daughter Rachel says she knows which parent to go to when she wants an honest personal assessment.

It isn’t me.

Rachel, who is very much like her father, recently took the bold step of getting us a gift certificate for a double massage at the Oregon Gardens Resort. It was her way of nudging him into planning something special for our wedding anniversary. Having had several massages in the past, I was greatly appreciative. But Dave, having never had a massage before, was apprehensive.

“Oh, trust me, you’ll love it dad,” Rachel gushed, after he muttered something about how weird it would be to get a massage. “You and mom should do something different for your anniversary this year.”

Feeling the pressure from me -- and now Rachel --for the first time in our marriage, Dave planned a weekend getaway for us. I knew it wasn’t easy for him to put it together, what with the stress of his job and other commitments. I was elated and so proud of him.

We spent the first night of our Anniversary weekend at the Oregon Gardens. Dave had made reservations to have our massage at 5:00 with dinner following at 7:00.

“I’m going to wear my golf shorts,” he informed me, as we prepared to head down to the spa. “I refuse to be naked when I get a massage.”

“What? You don’t have to strip down,” I assured him, humored by his naïveté. “There’s nothing to be nervous about.”

Grudgingly, he complied.

When we arrived at the spa, two uniform-clad women met us, ushering us to a dressing room where they gave us luxurious robes and told us to strip down to whatever we were comfortable with.

“Whatever we’re comfortable with!” scoffed Dave, his face full of foreboding. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

We were then issued slippers and escorted to a waiting room where a woman who had just received a massage was being seated.

“Drink this water,” her masseuse instructed, handing her a bottle. “Go ahead and relax here as long as you want, and when you’re ready you can get dressed.”

The woman, who was in her 60’s, snuggled into her seat, pulled her bathrobe collar up around her neck, tilted her head back and sighed, “That was wonderful. Then, she rolled her head to one side, opened her eyes, and looked at us. Laughing, she declared, “I look a mess, but I really don’t care.”

Well, her tousled hair did look like she’d just had electric shock therapy. It stood nearly straight on end. Dave anxiously touched the back of his head, no doubt wondering what his hair would like before the hour was over. I returned the woman’s smile and said, “Actually, you look like you’re completely relaxed.”

“Oh, I am,” she replied, running her fingers through her hair. “You know, my favorite part of the massage was when she worked on my scalp.”

She lowered her gaze to the floor near Dave’s slippers and her smile widened. “You can stop tapping your feet,” she said to him. “I take it you’ve never had a massage before?”

Body language. She had read right through him.

Dave stiffened and grunted something in response just as another woman entered the room and sat down. Her face was flushed, her hair wild. She, too, nestled down into her seat and sighed.

“We’re sisters,” they explained to us, noting they met once or twice a year in a location halfway between Seattle and Eugene to do something special together. They both looked at Dave and giggled knowingly.

“Mr. & Mrs. Neumann, you can come with us now.” Our crisp, very professional masseuses guided us to the spa room where two side-by-side massage tables awaited us. They went through their procedures with us, informing us that after they asked us some questions, they would leave. We were to disrobe and lie face-down on the tables with a blanket covering us before they came back in to begin the massage.

‘Is there any part of your body you don’t want touched during the massage?” my masseuse asked me before excusing herself.

“I’d like you to work on my neck, shoulders and upper back,” I said. “That’s where all my tension settles in.” I assumed Dave would take the cue and tell his masseuse what area he needed work on.

Dave’s masseuse asked him the same question. “Is there any part of your body you don’t want touched during your massage?”

In all seriousness, he replied, “My groin area.”

Her eyes widened. I’m sure she was repressing her shock. After all, who in the world would be so unnecessarily blunt? “Why, of course!” she blustered.

Left alone to climb beneath our respective blankets, I hissed, “I can’t believe you really said that, Dave! These are professional masseuses; what are you thinking!?”

“It’s a reasonable request. She asked!”

I knew the only reason Dave was having a massage with me was because our daughter had paid for it. I also knew he was nervous because he had never been in a spa before. But I was determined to enjoy my message, so after the masseuses returned, I put his gaucherie out of my mind and tuned him out.

Less than two minutes into our massage, Dave said, “Teresa! Is she working on your back?”

No reply.

A moment later: “Teresa! This really feels good, doesn’t it?”

No reply.

An hour later, peeling ourselves off the massage table, I looked at Dave. His hair was a mess. His eyes had a far-away look in them. We didn’t say anything as we were escorted into the waiting room to drink some water and regroup. One other man sat in the room, waiting for his massage. I think it might have been his first time, because he looked a little….nervous.

I looked at Dave and he looked at me, smiling.

Friday, March 19, 2010

It’s the Gifting, Not the Gadgets, That Produce Miracles in Life

(Mom's Kitchen, Vortexia) -- A luthier once told me that the ability of Russian violinists to perform with excellence on woefully inferior instruments was a testament to their legendary greatness. I know it to be true, because I recall a former violin teacher from the Ukraine showing me photographs of her family playing their violins at funerals held outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures; an environment guaranteed to render a violin nearly useless. They knew it was the spirit behind the fingers, not the instrument itself, that could made their music what it was. That teacher, and her daughter, played so exquisitely on their non-descript violins, I could only marvel at it.

In coming back to Iowa to be with my ailing father (who still lives in the same house I grew up in many decades ago), I discovered a domestic application to that phenomenon. I found it in the kitchen.

My mother was, by any definition, a great cook. Before Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooling hit America, my mother was putting butter and half-and-half on our oatmeal and making us home-made hot chocolate using melted dark chocolate, vanilla, sugar and cream. (Note: Did I say we were a family of ten? Six girls and two boys in a three-bedroom, one-bath house? And, yes, we were Catholic.) Perhaps her moxie was the result of being raised in a Depression-Era orphanage or maybe it was from marrying into a family of farmers and dairy producers. Regardless, mom made everything from scratch; breads, caramel rolls, pies, cakes, and cookies. Her culinary mastery wasn’t limited to sweets either. The best, most succulent meats, casseroles, soups and salads I’ve ever tasted have come from my mother’s kitchen.

You could say she personified Babette in Babette’s Feast. Like Babette, she could take a pot of water and a pound of meat and make it taste like heaven. Since her passing on April 8, 2006, those who knew her still rave about her cooking. Preparing food was her love medium, and to this day I can taste her love for me.

Here, back home in her Iowa kitchen, unchanged since she died, I am reminded that my mother set a bar that is personally unattainable. This revelation came when I opened the cupboard to retrieve a pan to cook dinner for my father. I panicked. There were no copper-bottomed, stainless steel skillets or state-of-the-art, non-stick cookware to choose from. No sturdy, shiny cooking utensils; no superfluous gizmos or gadgets. No Kitchen Aid mixer or food processors, definitely staples in my own scullery. Mom cooked with the cheapest accoutrements, with no one -- not a mother, or even the ubiquitous Food Network -- to guide her. Her accomplishments were sheer gifting.

As I prepared my father’s dinner that night using a battered old Teflon frying pan and a chewed-up plastic spatula, I wondered how I could possibly produce an edible meal with such poor quality cookware. Even following all of my mother’s recipes to a “T,” and relying heavily on modern gadgetries, my cooking never turns out as good as hers. Never. But, to my utter amazement, dinner turned out delicious. It was a miracle – it was as though it wouldn’t have mattered what I made. Somehow, I thought, whatever I prepare in my mom’s kitchen will be good.

I will return home having learned the metaphorical lesson; a lesson that brings me hope. Gifting needs no gadgetry to bloom. It is what it is. Use it, be confident in it, and it will blossom. Whether the gift is cooking, painting, writing, dancing, building, finances, nursing, teaching, praying, etc., if it is put into use, even without the trappings we think we need to excel, it will manifest.

After all, it’s not the instrument that produces excellence, it’s the Spirit within.