A Bundle of Sticks Can’t Be Broken

It’s my birthday week, and the simple act of adding another candle to my cake always stirs a reflective and celebratory cocktail of emotions for me.  While many people loathe adding another candle to the top of their cake, I say, “Bring it on!” After all, celebrating another year aways beats the alternative, as far as I’m concerned.

Last year I shared my favorite music with you on my birthday and reflected on the impact it has on one’s life (click here if you missed it and care to take a peek).

This year I thought I’d share one of my favorite gifts, which I think you might appreciate as much as I do. It’s one I received a couple years ago from my dear friend, Kimberly Reeder-Riechel.

Photo of a Bundle of Sticks Can't Be Broken

This seemingly delicate, yet nearly indestructible bird’s nest, sits in my office in a place of honor near my computer, and it knocks my socks off every time I look at it–especially when accompanied by Kimberly’s hand-written note: “A bundle of sticks can’t be broken.”

This gift reminds me not only of how much I appreciate Kimberly’s friendship and all the strong qualities that make up my fabulous friend, but it also reminds me that no matter how challenging life gets, I will always feel loved and supported by the many caring, talented and diverse “sticks” in my bundle of life.

This proverb, while simple, is a great reminder that as humans we are infinitely more powerful when we band together to support one another than when we try to navigate through life as individual “twigs.” After all, it’s a snap to break a single twig in half, but nearly impossible to break a sturdy bundle. Just try it and see what I mean.

Somehow this notion seems especially poignant this year as I delve into a particularly fiery social issue (click here to read more) and also push once again to finish my book in the midst of all life’s daily pulls. Knowing that my “sticks” are there to support me gives me a sense of calm and strength, and even patience.

This proverb also makes me think of others around me like my friends who are still trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy and those who are dealing with debilitating illnesses. It also makes me think of those who have lost parents recently or who are struggling to handle parenting issues of their own, all the while trying keep their humor and sanity. And of course, it makes me think of my writing and artist friends who continually try to keep the creative fires burning, who put themselves out there, who yearn to start or complete projects which have simultaneously inspired and tortured their creative souls.

I share my bundle of sticks with all of you to remind you that you are not alone, that we are all in this great big crazy world together; and to remind you that anything is possible with hard work and the support of those who care.

I also share my bundle of sticks to encourage you to be kind to yourself if you feel the need to ask for support. Asking for advice or help once in a while does not make you weak, but rather wise and strong. It shows that you are passionate about what you are doing and have the guts to reach out to make it happen.

The beauty of each of our bundles is that it continually grows and changes, getting stronger with each year and each new person who enters into our lives. I didn’t know my friend Kimberly when I was in third grade nor even college. In fact, I only met Kimberly a handful of years ago, when our daughters went to preschool together. I never could have imagined that such an important friendship could have develop in such a short time.

The same holds true with many of my writing and blogging friends. I may have only gotten to know some of you over the past year or so, but your words and personalities have added nothing but dazzling, colorful sticks to my ever-growing bundle.

On this day that I celebrate another candle, more importantly, I celebrate you, dear peeps, all the beautiful “sticks” in my life (you know who you are). Thank you for making my bundle impossibly strong and abundantly memorable and meaningful.


I love, love, LOVE the start of a new year and all the possibilities it brings.

The fresh vibe swirling about always kicks my mental cogs in motion, inspiring me to create long lists of goals for the year–everything from big picture ideas to minutia: places to go, races to run, books to read, acts of kindness to perform, things to learn, projects to launch.

This year is decidedly different, though. This year I have only written one word on my list.

That word is courage.

Graphic of Courage

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Paying It Forward One Flit at a Time

Flitter Queen CrownOkay, I admit it: I’m a Flitter.

I’m not just your average Flitter either; my golden crown proclaims me “Queen of the Flitters.” Technically, that makes me a Flitter Queen.

“What’s a Flitter Queen?” you ask.

A Flitter Queen is simply somebody who delights in all of life’s possibilities and flits from one thing to the next. A Flitter Queen gets deeply and passionately involved in an idea or project, then zippity doo, when she feels that magical spell of inspiration and opportunity swirl around her, she gleefully dons her glittery, flittery crown and zooms into action.

The core problem of a Flitter Queen, if you choose to think of it as a problem, is that she finds life so damn interesting that it’s impossible for her to stay anchored to only one project for any length of time.

For years this Flitter Queen fought her instincts and forced herself to stick to the plan, stay focused, not veer from the path, but then one day she had an epiphany: life is way too short to waste precious moments of inspiration.

Why not roll with it and see what happens? she thought to herself. You can always go back to what you were doing, but you may never know what is possible if I don’t follow your heart and your gut.

Photo of No White Glove TestA Flitter Queen, as you might imagine, is often an all-or-nothing person. If this FQ is working on a project that stirs her imagination, there’s no stopping her. No detail is left unturned while other mundane responsibilities get left in the dust–often literally (dear Lord, don’t come by her house to do the “white glove” test when she’s on a roll).

“Sorry other projects,” the Flitter Queen says breathlessly, “You’ll just have to wait until this new project comes to fruition. I’m too inspired right now NOT to make it happen. The rest of you will get done eventually…maybe just not in the order you had planned or at the speed you had expected, but you will get done. Be patient.”

This flittery little tale brings me to the reason my blog has been quiet for so long.

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Repost: Memories of 9/11 and a Wish for Dreams

As I sit here grappling with how to explain the horrors of 9/11 to my 8-year old today, I can’t help but recall that gut-wrenching day like it was yesterday. I doubt there’s one among us who doesn’t feel the same.

Last year, on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, I wrote an insanely long blog post recalling the events of that day. I had only just begun blogging and didn’t know that most people don’t have the time or inclination to read such lengthy pieces. I was also trying out a THEN and NOW format, in which I recalled memories from THEN and addressed current issues NOW. Much has changed in my blogging since then, but I thought I’d share this piece again in case you have the time or inclination to read it. Click here to take a peek.


Indelible Denim

In honor of back-to-school time, I thought I’d post this story I wrote a few years ago about my dear friend, Janet. I was trying to find a home for it in a magazine, but perhaps this is where it is meant to be. You tell me.

•   •   •

When Janet breezed into our dorm room that first day our freshman year of college, I immediately knew what she was all about. She didn’t even have to open her mouth; her jacket said it all.

The denim, faded to a perfectly distressed milky blue, the collar frayed into strings of fringe, the buttons worn to a coppery patina—all swirled together into the epitome of everything a college girl wanted to be: hip, smart and carefree.

Her jean jacket was the real deal, and so was she.

During that first year of school, Janet and I became best friends: inseparable and incorrigible. We studied together, laughed together, drank beer together, played lacrosse together, drank more beer together, gained 15 pounds together, and pulled all-nighters together. All along the way, Janet’s Levi jacket was there.

In fact, her jacket seemed to gain a personality all of its own as it absorbed every ounce of college fun laid in its path. It also soaked up everything from our bad hairdos and purple eyeshadow to eccentric professors and weird boyfriends, weaving them deeply into its soft fabric.

At the end of our freshman year, life shipped Janet and me off into different directions for the summer. My dad had died of cancer earlier that year so I immediately began working several jobs to pay my way through our very expensive private college, while Janet sailed to Tahiti with her family on their boat. I couldn’t afford envy, so I celebrated her adventure, and made her promise to send postcards so I could live vicariously.

With hugs and tears, promises of letters, and plans to regroup in the fall, we parted ways. But not before she unceremoniously tossed a bag at me. “Here, I think it’s time for you to have this,” she laughed.

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Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela!

Nelson Mandela turns 94 today. And what an extraordinary 94 years this man has lived! Few people in the world inspire me more.

Photo of Nelson Mandela


“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
–Nelson Mandela 




Clearly, millions of others feel the same as I do, as people from all across the globe are celebrating Mandela’s remarkable life by taking part in Mandela Day.

“The overarching objective of Mandela Day is to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good.”

Citizens worldwide are devoting 67 minutes of community service to pay tribute to Mandela’s 67 years of service, and the profound impact South Africa’s first black president, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and anti-apartheid activist has made on the world

I encourage you to take part in Mandela Day too.

Click here to read 67 Ways to Change the World. I think you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to make a difference.

Mandela Day Imprint

How do I plan to make a difference today? By doing three simple things: 1) Sharing this idea and hopefully inspiring others to do the same, 2) Delivering meals to homeless people here in Santa Barbara, and 3) Donating art supplies and clothing for a project my friend, Lori Robinson, is supporting in Africa. You might remember my post about Lori entitled, Africa’s Beautiful Bag Lady. Not only is she still working on trying to eliminate plastic bags in Tanzania, but she’s helping with a project called Dancing Hope. This project’s goal is to help children in one of the largest slums in Africa by giving them the gift of art and music. Click here to learn more.

I can think of no better way to kick off this day than to post a rousing version of “Free Nelson Mandela.” This 1984 protest song, railing against apartheid and Mandela’s imprisonment, will forever be etched in my memory, and take me back to the days of dancing on the lawn at Lewis & Clark College, where a small, but boisterous group of student protesters built a shantytown, symbolic of the conditions for black people in South Africa, demanding our school divest. It’s an indelible reminder of what is possible when the world comes together in all its different ways to create change.

This version was sung by the late Amy Winehouse during the 2008 “46664 Concert” in London. 46664 concerts are a series of AIDS charity events played in honor of Nelson Mandela by South African musicians. Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island in 1964, and was the 466th prisoner to arrive that year.

Nelson Mandela Day Poster

How has Nelson Mandela inspired you? Will you be participating in Nelson Mandela Day? If so, how do you plan to make a difference (big or small)? One way you can take part is by sharing this post so others can be made aware of this special day and the numerous ways to get involved.

PS: Check back tomorrow and read about what it was like for Jeffrey to be at the frontline of history, photographing Nelson Mandela when he became South Africa’s first black president in 350 years.

@Becky Green Aaronson 2012

Let Freedom Ring

When I was a kid my family spent every 4th of July at my Auntie Margie and Uncle J’s house. Uncle J would unfurl the American flag from the top window of their classic Craftsman house, then he’d fire up the BBQ while Auntie Margie and her two sisters prepared food in the kitchen, telling stories and chortling about life’s absurdities—especially the challenges of raising a gaggle of kids.

Auntie Margie had six kids—three boys and three girls, all whom I adored. Mom had us four kids and my other sweet auntie, Katie, had a small brood herself, with three girls and a boy.

We were a tight clan, especially on the 4th of July, when a blaze of cousins, and later, second cousins, would find all sorts of ways to get into mischief. If we weren’t sneaking food or running around my aunt and uncle’s one-acre property, we were throwing walnuts or crabapples at each other, lighting fireworks, starting water fights or playing Marco Polo in the swimming pool. Grandma, our no-nonsense pillar of dignity, would sit in a woven lawn chair taking it all in, trying not to chuckle at our antics, but always being betrayed by her twinkling eyes.

Photo of our family 4th of July

Photo of 4th of July silliness. Auntie Margie, Grandma, Auntie Katie and Mom

I loved everything about our rich family 4th of July tradition, from Credence Clearwater Revival playing in the background to the photograph we took every year in which everybody lined up and said, “Cheeez” for posterity.

Photo of Family 4th of July

One of our later 4th of July gatherings when my cousins and I were grown

The other thing I loved was knowing exactly where I’d be every Independence Day. It felt comfortable and predictable.

The fact of the matter is that it was the only place we could be. That is if we wanted Auntie Margie to be part of the celebration.

You see Auntie Margie suffered from agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia is a mental disorder that affects 3.2 million people. According to Medicine.net, it’s defined as:

“A fear of being outside or otherwise being in a situation from which one either cannot escape or from which escaping would be difficult or humiliating. It is a subset of panic disorder involving the fear of having a panic attack in such environments.”

Panic attacks often involve intense fear, disorientation, rapid heartbeat, dizziness or diarrhea, and sufferers may go to great lengths to avoid situations which may trigger them. In severe cases they may become unable to leave their home or safe haven.

There are a number of theories about what might cause agoraphobia, and like other mental disorders, it’s usually triggered by several factors–everything from genetics (it tends to run in families) to repeated exposure to anxiety-provoking situations to things like alcohol or cigarettes. It’s twice as common in women than men, and usually occurs between 20 and 40 years of age.

Auntie Margie’s case was severe. She literally did not leave the confines of her one-acre property for more than thirty years. No, that’s not a typo. Thirty years.

Before you start envisioning creepy images of Howard Hughes or some socially deranged person, you should know that Auntie Margie was the farthest thing from that.

In fact you’d never know she had a mental illness. She was up on all the news, pop culture, and music. She was a voracious reader. She wore make-up, painted her fingernails, hosted fancy Valentine’s Day gatherings, had a fantastic sense of humor and was wildly creative—a painter, gardener, seamstress, craftsperson, woodworker, house designer. Most of all, she was a superb actress.  She never talked about her struggles and in fact, acted as if her life was just like yours or mine.

Photo of three sisters

Auntie Margie (left), Mom, and Auntie Katie in one of Margie's beautiful gardens

I loved Auntie Margie deeply. She was like a second mom—somebody I felt a connection to from an early age—especially after living next door to her for the first six years of my life. We laughed and talked in her kitchen, and we played games like Boggle and Uno. She French braided my hair, sewed me dresses, and let me help in her garden. I always felt special when I was with her, even if we were just shooting the breeze and eating cucumber sandwiches under the apple tree in her backyard.

Auntie Margie’s agoraphobia haunted me though, especially as I got older. I wanted to get her help. I wanted to break her free of her chains.

I wanted her to see the beach again. I wanted her to eat buttered popcorn with me at the movies. I wanted her to be wrapped in the magic of an art supply store. I wanted her to be able to get her hair done at a salon and have lunch with her sisters somewhere besides her kitchen.  I wanted her to go for a drive in the country or breathe fresh mountain air.  I wanted her to be free.

So what stopped me from getting her help?

Fear, plain and simple.

My mom warned me over and over, “If you confront her about it, she’ll never speak to you again.” Mom and I argued about this more than a few times. “How could we NOT get Auntie Margie help?” Mom loved her sister more than anything, but she was paralyzed by fear too. So was the entire family. Margie’s agoraphobia was the elephant in the room nobody talked about, even though everybody wanted to do something to help.

Her husband, a World War II veteran, and a man of extreme honor, carried the burden of her illness for more than three decades. I will always consider him a King Among Men because most husbands never could, or would have endured what he did. It’s impossible to imagine the range of emotions he must have felt all those years, but he stuck by his wife and kids in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.


And then after thirty-two years, one day, by some miracle, Auntie Margie left the house.

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I’m Walking on Sunshine…

“And don’t it feel good?” Thank you Katrina and the Waves for planting that catchy little tune in my head, and thank you Tina Fariss Barbour for nominating me for the Sunshine Award. As Katrina would sing, “Yeah, if feels good!”

Sunshine blog award graphic

There’s nothing quite like sunshine to make me feel happy and light, and nothing like the blogging community to make me appreciative of its boundless support and generosity.

I’m told the Sunshine Award is given to: “Bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.” 

It gives me great pleasure to receive the Sunshine Award from Tina Fariss Barbour who writes her powerful and honest blog, Bringing Along OCD. I met Tina through a women’s writing group called She Writes, and have since appreciated reading her blog, marveling at her journey with overcoming OCD and depression. By sharing her experiences and all she has learned (and continues to learn), Tina helps hundreds of people every day. I applaud not only her stellar writing, but her courage in sharing her journey, and shining a light on mental health issues which affect millions of people. Check out her blog if you or anybody you know is grappling with OCD, anxiety or depression. You will immediately gain a deeper understanding of what it’s like for those who live with it, and be inspired by how Tina is channeling it. Here’s the link: Bringing Along OCD.

As part of this award, I’m asked to answer ten random questions about myself. So here it goes…

1) What are you reading right now?
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Because my name is mother by Deborah Batterman
The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs by Patricia McConnell (Yep, I’m trying to get inside the head of our new puppy)!

2) What is your favorite place to write?
In my backyard next to our roses and rosemary bush, near the orange tree–usually in my red chaise lounge.

3) Favorite season?
Summer time, summer time…sum sum, summer time!

4) Favorite sound?

5) Favorite gadget
iPod Shuffle (the size of a postage stamp–great for running). Guess I’d be a little lost without my iPhone too, but that might be a good thing.

6) Who inspires you?
People who don’t let their circumstances get in the way of greatness (Tina Fariss Barbour is a good example), and those who chase after their dreams and take risks without worrying about what others think.

7) Beer or wine?
Usually wine, but I also appreciate a nice cold Negra Modelo with a slice of lime once in a while.

8 ) What drives you?
Learning new things, sharing ideas, contributing in some small way.

9) Paisley or polka dots?
Both, but never together.

10) Favorite flower?
It’s a toss-up between tulips and hydrangeas, but then there are roses and camellias and lilies and wildflowers…and…

In the spirit of spreading sunshine to others, I’d like to pass The Sunshine Award along to the following bloggers:

Monica Medina at Monica’s Tangled Web
Debra Eve at Late Bloomer
Melissa at Writing for Daisies
Jayne Martin at  injaynesworld

Congratulations, ladies! Now go out and nominate other “Bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.” And don’t forget to answer ten random questions about yourselves. Happy blogging!

The Winner of the iTunes Gift Card is…


Congratulations, Deborah! Your iTunes gift card will be emailed today. Thanks to all of you for participating and sharing your fun comments! I have the best blog followers of anybody out there in the blogosphere.

I leave you on this Monday with a few thoughts about courage and creativity:

“In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure”  –Bill Cosby

“Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work” –Rita Mae Brown

“Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.”  –Dee Hock

And don’t forget…today your heart will beat 100,000 times. Make each one count!