Blue Suede Hotpants


When I was studying Acting a few decades ago, I met a woman whom I will call Alice. She was an average looking woman; we might have used the term “plain” back then to describe her. She was probably 5’7″ tall, with dark blonde hair and a thin build. Here’s the thing: Alice thought she was gorgeous! Seriously, she would tell you that she could get any Man she wanted. She would also tell stories about her Dad, and how he had put her on a pedestal when she was a child. She was his darling, and she had been told she was remarkably beautiful. Thus, her belief system was built.

Now, my Dad loved me; but he was never big on compliments, and I have never had any illusions about my looks. (Not looking for sympathy here, but I have always been pretty realistic about my strengths and weaknesses in the beauty department.)I have thought most times my appearance ranged from acceptable to cute, and that’s the hand Mother Nature dealt me. That being said, I did have one Ace up my sleeve: I got great gams! My legs, from the time I was a teenager, have been well-shaped and strong. One former beau called them “dancer’s legs”; I had studied dance for years, and always loved to dance, so it seemed to fit. While crossing the USC campus on my first trip to California, I encountered a young man, presumably a student. He stopped in his tracks, looked and me(I was then wearing a miniskirt, blouse and high heels) and said “Damn…you got great legs!”. Thus my belief system was built.

In 1970 I met David, my first husband. In the Spring of 1971 I bought a pair of Blue Suede Hotpants, which fit me like a glove. These hotpants were so empowering that I cannot begin to explain the magic of wearing them! I am certain that the following facts played into the mystique: I was 20 years old, in love, and quite slim. Nevertheless, when I put on my hotpants, I stopped the endless criticizing that women adopt as their mantras. I knew I looked good!

In the photograph above, I am wearing the hotpants on a street in Chinatown in San Francisco, accompanied by David’s friend, Neil. The three of us had lunch there that afternoon. It was my first trip to the city I would soon call home, and it was a good day.

During the next several decades, I bought quite a few short skirts, skirts with side slits, and other clothes that accentuated my legs. I guess we all learn to play to our strengths. We learn, too, that looks are temporary manifestations of our physicality, and that they change as we age. If we are fortunate, we learn that what we develop in our hearts and minds far outweighs the vanity in which we invest our youth. We learn these truths and become humbled by them.

If we are fortunate enough to be healthy and have our memories, we can look back on our youthful days and remember what it felt like to be vain and silly. We can chuckle at our young selves, and the drama of growing up. We can be grateful that we have the wisdom we have attained, and we can feel happy knowing we are loved for whom we truly are.

I know that the pair of Blue Suede Hotpants tucked away upstairs is not something I will likely ever wear again. I have traded most of my youthful foolishness for maturity and sagacity. But I am keeping the Hotpants!

Changing(my attitude toward)Seasons


The leaves have all fallen, and the days are short. It’s mid-December now, and we are awaiting snow. We’ve been fortunate to have an extended Autumn with warm temperatures, but we know things will change soon.

I don’t care for cold weather. How’s that for an understatement? I was born and raised in Maine, but I have always imagined that I was left on my parents’ doorstep by some Tahitians who were passing through. I have never been able to tolerate the cold, and so I stay indoors most of the Winter. This fact has been a sore spot for years. One of my friends once told me not to take the weather so personally,for, after all, it happens to everyone. Yet, I have groused and grimaced and struggled my way through many New England Winters.

This year it is time for a Change. I think I might have finally matured enough to look at this seasonal glass as half-full. No, I still won’t be out skiing or skating; but, I know that the only thing I can do about the weather is change my attitude. I am beginning to see each day as an opportunity for growth and another chance to do something to enhance my experience of Life and the lives of those around me. I want to be really present and conscious of my days; I don’t want to wish them away anymore.

Maybe this wisdom only comes with age. Perhaps as we see the number of days dwindling we finally get the meaning of carpe diem. Maybe after we lose friends and relatives we see that this gift of Life is too precious to squander.

So, this Winter I am going to continue to write, sing, cook, craft, and sew my way through the Season. I will turn up the heat and layer on the thermals. I will take photographs of the natural changes outside and remember that all of this is beautiful, despite the temperatures.

The only thing I can change is my attitude. So, bundle up….cause Baby It’s Cold Outside!





I have a dear friend named Edna Perry. I  remember the first time we met, back in 1977, when she came to my store in Watertown, Massachusetts. Her son was a close friend of mine from college days, and he had told her about my shop, Amorak, which was full of quilts and toys and fabric creations I made. Edna and her darling husband, Jack, stopped by one day to meet me and  to order some custom made cotton placemats. She was a petite, spirited woman, with a quick smile and an infectious laugh. I loved her immediately!

Over the ensuing years, we became good friends and shared many visits, phone calls, and lots of laughter. She was another of my “surrogate Moms”, as I would call my close friends’ mothers, and she would tell me that I was like another daughter to her. I could share my  plans and projects with her, and she was remarkably supportive of my efforts. Whenever I called her, there was a sweet pause of about two seconds, and then she would say my name in a delighted breathy voice…
“Barbara”. I loved that greeting! It had a smile  and a hug in it each time.

Edna raised five wonderful kids, has lots of terrific grandchildren, and had a long loving marriage with Jack. She practiced Yoga long before I really understood its importance.She would always tell me that I should try it, and we would joke about her standing on her head(which she did, regularly). She believed in taking good care of your body and soul, and lived her convictions. She once told me she had chided a lady friend of hers for smoking, and the woman retorted” Oh, Edna…I’ll probably outlive you!”. Edna’s response was, “Maybe so, but I am going to feel good every day of my life”. I remembered that, and it made sense to me.

About a year ago I started practicing Yoga. Edna was my first phone call. She was so happy that I had finally taken her advice! We talked about it each time we spoke this year, and she continues to encourage me.

Edna will be 94 in another week or so. She is currently in the hospital, and facing some tough medical issues. I spoke with her this morning, heard that glorious laugh, and she told me to say some prayers; that if I did, perhaps she” could feel that energy coming to her”. I did, and she will.

I know that I have been fortunate to know Edna Perry. She has been a shining light of love and support on my journey. Namaste, Edna.



Wrapping Paper


Hello. My name is Barbara, and I am a wrapping paper addict.

My addiction started decades ago when I discovered the rush of going into a Hallmark store  where I could feast my eyes on square packages of gaily printed Christmas papers, matching bows, tags, and stickers. As years passed, packages became long rolls, and the assortment of accessories like pre-made bows and adhesive tags  became overwhelming.

Why? Why does any  addiction overtake us? Is it because there is something fundamentally missing in our hearts and souls? Do we feel somehow that the world is too much to bear, and we need something to help us cope with all of it? Is there a causal factor in my DNA…a Hallmark gene that has mutated? I don’t know these answers. I do know that wrapping paper, and the selection, purchase, and, yes, hoarding, of it,makes me feel better. Happier. So, I “collect” it, and use it during the Holidays…but not all of it. Each roll or package must have a scrap saved. Just in case I ….er….want to look at it in the future. Just in case………

Many of my friends have commented on how crazy this addiction is;some have tried to intervene, and stop me. Yet, my desire is strong, my longing unfulfilled. Each year when the calendar turns to November, my search for gift wrap continues.I have tried limiting the number of rolls I purchase. I have tried hard to not get up early December 26th and head out for the 50% off wrapping paper sales. But nothing really works.

I do know that my favorite childhood memories include staring at that magnificent decorated Christmas tree, and dreaming of what those shining packages might hold.The magic of those moments when my family was around, and times were good. All that silvery paper gleaming out from under Nana’s tree.

My name is Barbara, and I am a wrapping paper addict.

Bobby and Albert and Martin


Trying to make sense of the senseless is exhausting. I am so tired of watching stories about mass killings and incomprehensible violence in America. I am ashamed that the rest of the world views us as the unsafe place we have become. Tired.

What do we do when there seems no answer to this unrelenting evil? Some people suggest prayer and unified thought. Some people suggest more violence. I don’t think the same way as these folks.

My only real Hero was Bobby Kennedy. He was intelligent, articulate, ruthless, funny, and compassionate. Many of the things he said have become my mantras, and have inspired me to action. Bobby read the works of Albert Camus extensively, and was fond of quoting him. I think the most poignant of Camus’ thoughts, paraphrased, is this one: “perhaps this is a world in which Children suffer, but we can lessen the number of suffering Children-and if you do not do this, who will do this?”. I have used that in speeches, and it never fails to move me with its simple power.

So, here it is. We all have to do whatever it is we can do, each day, to promote goodness, caring, and justice. Your part may seem small, but each tiny act contributes to the positive overall effect on the World. Be Kind. Treat others with love and compassion. Do good work. We really have no other way to combat the anxiety of powerlessness we may sometimes feel.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only Light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only Love can do that”.





Rosa Louise


December 1, 1955 was a pivotal day for Rosa Louise. She did not set out to become an icon, a heroine, a household name. She simply could no longer stand to be treated like less than she was. When Mr. Blake demanded that Rosa give up her seat to a White man, she refused to do it. She was not the first Black person to refuse, but she became, with that non-violent act, the image of activism.

I wonder how the early activists in the struggle for Civil Rights were so capable of what seems to me to be remarkable bravery. I have never considered myself very brave, and it is a trait I admire immensely. I know that Courage has been defined as “grace under pressure”. It seems that the accumulated pressure of years of slavery, abuse, humiliation, and degradation resulted in the kind of courage Rosa displayed on that day 60 years ago. She very gracefully told the bus driver to do what he had to do. The ensuing arrest, trial, and problems it created were just part of what she felt she had to endure; she was tired of being treated unjustly.

Rosa Louise MacCauley Parks stood up for what she believed needed to change by not standing up and giving up her seat on a bus. She was a committed and hard-working activist for Civil Rights all her life. Despite death threats and financial woes, she shone her light brightly wherever she was. The kind of integrity that brought her to the forefront of the desegregation movement is a model for all of us. I hope whenever I need to speak up for what I deem an injustice, I will hear her whisper in my ear.



Comfort and Joy


The Holidays are fast approaching, and the words of an old Christmas carol are stuck in my head:”Tidings of Comfort and Joy”. I experienced both Comfort and Joy today, and I realized that those unique sensations don’t come as often as we would wish.

One of my friends, whom I have been lucky enough to call  a true friend for over 50 years now, stopped in for a visit. He brought his wonderful wife, and they spent the afternoon with me and my partner. The ease with which we can share time and space is significant to me. I am totally ME. I have no pretense or artifice with them. I laugh out loud, and joke, and tease, and am as obnoxious as I want to be. I do not fear that they will not love me as I am. This is Comfort.

When these friends are with me, I feel the happiness of connection. We are connected by memories, shared experiences, common attitudes, and love. We can talk about everything and nothing. We can rail at the ways of the world, and smugly assert that we have been lucky to have lived during the good old days. We can support each other’s creative ideas, and sympathize with each other’s troubles. There is a timeless quality to our visits; we are on this fragile planet hurtling through Space, yet all we care about is what each is about to say. The words are precious and lift the spirit. This is Joy.

I met my friend in High School. We became friends because we both loved to write. We shared Journalism classes and By-Liners club meetings and Advanced Composition class. We knew we would write great things someday. Later, as adults, we wrote for a small paper and fought the good fight against the large corporate newspapers. We have always been free thinkers and revolutionaries, and we have always tried to change our little corners of the world for the better. Hippies. Non-conformists.Students. Workers. Parents. Creative Artists. We have been all these things, and more. My fervent hope is that we will continue to learn and strive and discuss and share for a long, long time. Thinking that we will is comforting to me. Knowing my dear friend is a real joy.





Pie Fixes Everything


I have a small wooden sign in my kitchen that states” Pie Fixes Everything”. I believe this. Now, we all have to believe in something, right? Well, I believe in Pie.

My favorite memories usually include Pie. Nana Beardsley’s home filled with relatives and laughter on Thanksgiving, for example; on that day you were allowed more than one piece of Pumpkin, Apple, Coconut Cream, Blueberry, or Mince. How about My Mother showing up at my Boston University dorm with a homemade Raspberry pie? Or those times in Los Angeles in the early 1970’s when you could go to “4 and 20” pie shop and buy amazing Texas Pecan or stupendous Dutch Apple. Just call me Greta Carbo!

My Nana Frederick was a great pie maker, as was my Mom. They could both create these stupendous crusts that I have never been able to achieve. Although, I must say that I have become a better pie maker through the years; I think it has to do with getting into a zone of patience and focus. I am better at that now. Practice, confidence, letting go. All part of the pie process.

Today is Thanksgiving Day. My own tradition dictates that I must have Pumpkin Pie with mounds of real whipped cream. It is a spiritual moment when the vanilla-tinged cream is placed in huge dollops on top of the pie, and served to my family. There is silence as the first bites are taken. With the exception of the impatient whimpers of the begging canines at our feet, most of the pie experience is quiet. Communing with something greater than ourselves, we eat the pie with reverence.

I was taught pie making by observing my Grandmothers and my Mother, all experts. Thank you. I live in a place where I can always buy what I need to make any kind of pie I like. Thank you. I have friends  who love my pies. Thank you. I have a beautiful kitchen full of cookbooks and baking equipment. Thank you. I will have my Family with me today, eating Pumpkin pie. Thank you.



Arlene Ruth


My Mother’s Birthday is November 30th. She will be 92 years old that day. I have been thinking a lot about her life lately. She is in the last stages of Parkinson’ Disease, and that terrible illness has taken away most of what I knew to be my Mom.

I have chosen today to write about what has been, rather than what is. Perhaps as  a way to cope with the loss of so much of this vibrant woman, I want to remember the strengths and the foibles, the charm and the outrageousness of Arlene Ruth.

My Mother was born in 1923 to Italian immigrants who had come to America around 1910 and had settled in the small farming community of Pittsfield, Maine. My grandmother, who already had three children when my Mother was born, reportedly said” I’m glad that’s over with”, only to be told by the Doctor “It’s not over yet”. That was the moment when my Nana found out she was having twins! My Uncle Bill was then born, and the two of them were forever held fast by that special bond that twins have. My Mother absolutely idolized her brother. He was, according to her, the protector and watchdog until she was a young adult.

Life on a small farm during the Depression years was admittedly not easy, but my Mother always maintained that they did not feel deprived. There was enough food and plenty of love to go around.

World War II loomed on the horizon while Arlene attended High School. She joined the Navy in 1944, and spent her time as a Wave on Naval bases in the States. My favorite story of hers is one that might be material for the Guinness Book of Records. She told me one place where she was stationed had about 5,000 Sailors and only 125 Waves. This pretty girl with the dazzling smile was there for 61 days, and had 59 different dates! (Can you say smorgasbord?) I have always been impressed with those stats. Never broke that record. Well done, Mom.

There was apparently one major form of entertainment back then. Everyone went dancing. Energetic, athletic, exhausting Jitterbug dancing.My Mom joked for years that she would “rather dance than Eat, but you can see what I have been doing more of”. She LOVED to dance. She had a wonderful sense of rhythm, and could “cut a rug” with the best of them. She taught me a few steps early  in my childhood, and we would always jitterbug when the music was right wherever we were, from that day forward.

She met my Dad, they married in 1949, and I was born a year later.When I was less than two years old, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. There was no chemo or radiation back then, so they did a hysterectomy. Remarkably, she was saved. No more children, but she survived.

She went on to raise me, operate her own Floral Shop, work at numerous other Floral jobs, and developed an Estate Sale business. After my parents divorced, she moved to Florida where she had a consignment shop, ran a small counter-service restaurant, and wrote a cookbook and a children’s book. Her boundless energy was almost overwhelming. She never seemed to slow down. If you walked anywhere with her, she was always yards ahead of you. She was, in all ways, a true force to be reckoned with!

My Mom would come to visit for a week, and clean the entire house, rearrange the cupboards, and wash and iron the curtains. I cannot remember her ever sitting still for very long; she seemed in constant motion.

Arlene never measured her words. For better or worse, she was outspoken and opinionated. She was often outrageous, always straightforward, and very assertive by nature. She was also soft-hearted and generous to her friends and family. Her sense of humor was irrepressible, and her love of laughter apparent.She was once waiting for an overdue flight in Antigua. Standing in line at the airport for some time, she noticed just behind her was the famous stylist, Vidal Sassoon. My Mother turned to Mr. Sassoon, and quipped” If I had known we were going to have to wait this long, I ‘d have asked you to do my hair!”. That’s my Mom.

She loved clothes. I mean, she really loved clothes. She was an inveterate shopper, and would always have new outfits to show me whenever we saw each other. Shoes, hats, handbags to match. The original Fashionista.

She cannot hear much now. Those talented artistic hands that created so many floral arrangements, cooked like a chef, and decorated so many homes don’t work well enough to even feed her now. She is safety strapped into a wheel chair, so there is no dancing now. Her pale blue-green eyes are often looking off into places I cannot go. Her voice is garbled by the Parkinson’s Disease, so that it is difficult to even understand what she is trying to say. No more quick punch lines or saucy retorts now.

But I think that somewhere, perhaps on another plane of a parallel universe, some part of each day Arlene Ruth is dancing. Dancing with a handsome Sailor to a Glenn Miller song. In fact,  I am sure that is where she is.










Birthday Presence


Today is my 65th Birthday. The morning is sunny and cold, and I am here at my keyboard looking out at the world with renewed gratitude. I am grateful that while the frost sits on the ground in my yard and the steam rises from rooftops, I am cozy and safe in my lovely home. I am grateful that upstairs sleeps a Man who made me a card with funny limericks to go with the stack of gifts I found on the kitchen counter. I am grateful for my Daughter, who arranged to have the day off from work to be with me.I am so thankful that my life is full of friends and family who love me.

I have had all kinds of Birthday celebrations over these past decades. My Mom always threw wonderful parties for me. I can see little girls with patent leather shoes sitting around tables decorated with flowers and gorgeous cakes. I remember when I was 8, I had my first boy/girl party in the basement of our house with records and dancing and little boys in suit jackets. My  Mom created Beatle themed parties when I was a teenager, sent packages in the mail when I moved far away, and always called me on my birth moment wherever I was.

My friends have given me some great parties, too. When I turned 20, my dear college roommate, Cynthia, threw me a real surprise party. She conspired with David, my then boyfriend and later husband, and all my pals, and pulled off a huge party in our apartment on Marlborough Street in Boston. Amazing brownies as I recall. Thanks, Cynth.

Two decades later, a bunch of women friends surprised me at my store in Yarmouth,Maine, with a celebration that included gifts, flowers, and a male stripper who appeared as a Policeman at the door! Now if you have never had a strip tease performed at nine-thirty in the morning by a complete stranger, let me say you are, perhaps… fortunate!

Later parties became more subdued, but were always special and always holding the same thread of caring and love. I have been very lucky. I was given the best Birthday present of all when I was born: both my parents really loved me. I have seen how the certainty of that Love shaped my choices, my reactions, and my path. We are fortunate if we have that great Gift to reopen in our hearts, as often as we need to, along the way. It is the one gift that we can give away again and again without it losing any of its luster. In the final analysis, Love is the first gift and the last gift, and always the best gift. One size fits all.