"Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity." ~ Gilda Radner

Monday, October 29, 2012


What do a conveyor belt, a frozen cash register, a plastic anti-theft box containing a package of condoms, and a fake $2 bill have in common?

All in a day's work for me at my new grocery store job.


As anyone who has ever hired me knows, I am a Nervous Nelly when I first start a new job, and I put gaboons of pressure on myself to get it right the first time every time.

A mere week into it and, lo and behold, I am not perfectly on my game. Dang learning curve.

Like running the grocery conveyor belt.

A conveyor belt?


Back at The Fro (Frohlich's SuperValu), in Coon Rapids, IA, shoppers just pushed their carts right up to the cash register and I reached into the cart to grab their stuff and scan it.

"You don't have to reach," one of the head cashiers kindly reminded me during training. "Use the conveyor belt."

Oh. Yeah. 

But finding my conveyor belt mojo is not as easy as it might sound.

Not when I am racking my brain trying to remember the Produce Look Up number (PLU, for those not in the grocery biz) for cucumbers, while wondering what the hell that celery-like-but-with-feathery-looking-tops-and-a-giant-onion-bulb-like-base bunch of produce is coming down the conveyor belt in a green plastic blag.

"And what might this be?" I cordially inquire.

"Fennel," replies the customer, a bit incredulously.
Fennel, aka anise. Who knew?


We never sold fennel in Coon Rapids.

Naturally, I press the produce button on the register, then "F" for fennel.

Item not found.


Well, of course it's under "A", darling.  For "anise".


Meanwhile, I've somehow accidentally pushed the button that starts the conveyor belt that takes the groceries from the scanner to the end of the counter to the bagger -- who isn't there -- and the cute little coloring books I scanned just prior to the cucumbers and the fennel/anise debacle disappear under the metal plate at the end of the &$&%&@ conveyor belt and are seemingly eaten alive.

Crumpled coloring books. Lovely.

Note to self: DO NOT send coloring books -- or greeting cards, or anything thin -- down the &$&%conveyor belt.

Other things that make my neck hairs stand on end while trying to learn my new job:

*Cigarette and alcohol sales...back in Small Town Iowa, I knew everyone and their ages. A lot more carding required at my new job. It was while carding a customer yesterday, and trying to correct a wrong  number (thought a 6 was a 5), the $&^%#%  register froze. Pfft.

*Anti-theft plastic boxes containing things like expensive razors and condoms.  Unlocking the $&#&$&  plastic box with a special magnetic gizmo requires some manual dexterity, of which I have none. Still trying to get the hang of it. Grrrr.

*It's a matter of trust. Two dollar bills may be fun, signature mementos we love to give back as change at The Fro. But here in Big Town South Carolina, they're red flags. Need to take a closer look, apparently, when one shows up. Might be a fake. Innocence lost. :(

And it's just so weird not knowing any of the customers, having known most of my Fro customers for two decades.

One constant positive between my two grocery store jobs? The folks I once worked with and the folks I work with now. All very friendly and helpful. And patient.

This early in my new gig, of course, none of my South Carolina co-workers or customers are quite sure what to make of the nervous, albeit affable, Iowa gal who doesn't know fennel from celery.

Just an old grocery store dog trying to learn new, confusing cash register tricks, I explain, with a wink and a sincere Tall Corn State smile.

I think I might be growing on them.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Lest anyone think that a self discovery journey is all intense introspection and snapping soul-wrenching sunrise pics, please know this:

I don't think I have eaten or laughed as much -- nor have I smelled as good --  in the last decade as I have this past month since moving in with my awesome friend and soul sister, Mary, here in Myrtle Beach.

Laughter, I truly believe,  is the best medicine for whatever ails you, emotionally or physically.

And a Sonic Double Cheeseburger beats a McDonald's Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit for Saturday breakfast, hands down.

Furthermore, what woman doesn't find a new perfume scent from Bath and Body Works inspiring?

Yes, the past 30-plus days have been my own personal version of auther Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir of self discovery, Eat Pray Love. Only a tish zanier. And, apparently, more fattening. But with a fresh Sea Island Cotton scent.

Ever see the  movie, starring Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert?

Eat Pray Love depicts the story of  woman who had looked forward to a contented life of domestic bliss, but ends up seeking her true destiny by first traveling to Italy where she learns to appreciate nourishment, then to India where she discovers the power of prayer, and finally to Bali where she unexpectedly finds the meaning of true love.

Mary and I watched it Saturday night.

Granted, I've never seriously entertained the idea of being blissfully domestic. And I'm in South Carolina, working and writing, not in India gleaning inner peace and wisdom from an ancient medicine man.

(Not to mention that the day Julia Roberts actually eats so much pizza she develops a "muffin top" and has to  lay down to squeeze into a pair of jeans will be the day I  refuse to eat pizza and have the figure of Julia Roberts. But I digress.)

But I do see some vague similarities.

Though too long and a tish compolicated for a book or movie title, one might call the lighter side of my inner journey thus far, "Eat, Laugh, Eat Some More, Laugh, Throw On  Mary's Leopard Vest Over My Coffee Cup PJ Pants With The "Life Is Good" Shirt And Flip Flops To Go Check The Mail...And Don't Forget to Stop And Smell The Lotion."

Take today and yesterday for example.

It was sunny but a bit chilly here in Myrtle Beach this a.m., hence, the leopard vest over the jammies. It just happened to be the first thing I grabbed out of Mary's coat closet. I was, admittedly, a sight to behold.

Not that I am a stranger to being less than a fashionista while running errands when it's cold.

I will never forget the frosty Iowa winter morning several years back when I drove Daniel to school wearing my PJs, robe and snow boots, with electric curlers in my hair. I am sure it is one of Daniel's fondest childhood memories as well.

The beauty of doing something like that here, of course, is that no one in this neighborhood besides Mary knows me. Not that it really matters.

For, those who do know me, no matter where I have lived, are never surprised but are actually intrigued by my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants (PJ or otherwise) nature.

It's just who I am. It's how I roll. And I'm good with it.

Love me, love my fashion sense. Or, somedays, lack thereof.

I've also been known to spend hours in a Bath and Body Works sniffing lotions till I am nauseous in search of the perfect scent.

Nausea aside, aromatherapy is, for me, exactly that...therapy.

I indulged in a little bit of that Sunday afternoon.

"Ma'am, you've got a dab of lotion on the end of your nose."

Yes, darling, you are the third B&BW clerk to advise me of that.

This is, if I am not mistaken, a lotion store. Unless you spy a bumble bee or a pickled artichoke heart dangling from my sniffer, please do not bother to point out the obvious.

I'll rub the lotion in when I'm ready.

There is no rushing aromatherapy.

Thank you.

Ah! Yes! Eat Laugh Smell the Lotion!

(Oh, and the leopard vest! Musn't forget to don the leopard vest! In lieu of an ancient Indian medicine man, of course.)

Who knew personal growth could be so tasty and fun and smell so good, all at the same time?

Happy Monday!

Better Days by Eddie Vedder on Grooveshark

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Dear Mom,
Thinking of you.
Forty-three years ago today.
Remembering with perfect clarity the moment the school secretary showed up at my junior high study hall door, beckoning me to follow her to the office where Dad and Sissy tearfully broke the news to me, just three days before I was to turn 13, that you had died.
An accidental overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills, the coroner report later stated.
Accidental? Perhaps. Though looking back it was probably no secret to anyone who knew you that you had been on a path of self-destruction for quite some time.
At the ripe, young age of 47 you were not happy in your marriage and overwhelmed by your nursing home management job. You turned to alcohol to cope, and -- like many unhappy 60s housewives -- had been prescribed barbiturates by your doctor to ease the depression and anxiety that regularly crippled your daily functioning.
You had lost all hope of your life every being better. You had, it seems, lost your sense of self. You had lost your smile.
Beer and barbiturates as antidote for the impossible sadness and worry that poisoned your otherwise affable, laughing, loving Jeanne B. spirit?
A deadly combination. But apparently you were, for various reasons, at your wit's end and could see nothing but self-medication as your only way through, if not out.

Like the proverbial itsy, bitsy spider crawling up the waterspout, you were, in that final late October moment, washed out by life's rain.

And that is how you looked, the morning of Oct. 20, 1969, sprawled on the living room floor, eyes closed, a spilled glass of beer by your outstretched hand.

"Should we call an ambulancce" I asked my father, who was calmly shaving in the bathroom, as if it were just another fall morning.

"She'll be fine," he said. "Go on to school."

So, though frightened, I did as Dad instructed. I left you there, on the living room floor, and caught the bus.

You died the next day.

As your adolescent daughter, teetering on the delicate cusp between childhood and young womanhood, I didn't get it. Could not fathom the extent of your pain, the depth of your loneliness.
Could only feel my pain, my loss, as you were laid to rest on my 13th birthday. I was devastated. And years later, in my 30s, when I could finally admit it with the help of a counselor, I was extremely angry at you for abandoning me. You just disappeared from my life, without explanation, without a goodbye.

And I was angry at myself for not staying by your side, for not insisting that Dad call an ambulance.
Today, three days before my 56th birthday, I want you to know, Mom, that I so get where you were coming from. So understand how it can happen that an otherwise affable, laughing, loving woman, wife and mother, for various reasons, can one day find herself slipping down her life's raindrop-beaten water spout into the never-to-return depths of loneliness, depression and anxiety.
And, while yesteryear's beer and barbiturates may have been replaced by martinis and Xanax as a woman's self-medication of choice, I, in my 11th hour, was fortunate enough to have been presented with a healthier choice. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It was a tough, life-changing decision. And it was with the love and support of family and friends, I made it.
I chose light.
Each dawn that I watch yet another beautiful Myrtle Beach sunrise, I give even greater thanks for this new lease on my life.
Mom, I feel your love and happiness for me in every ray as I continue to grow in the warmth of the South Carolina sun and re-discover my smile, the inner grin that you never had the chance to find.
Itsy Bitsy Spider by Carly Simon on GroovesharkI love you. I forgive you.
I am learning to love and forgive myself, as well.


Out come the sun, and dried up all the rain, and the itsy, bitsy spider crawled up the spout again.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Another gorgeous sunrise this morning.

It comes a bit later now, and Mary and I arrived at the beach, McDonald's coffee in hand, with more than enough time to plop down onto the sand and breathe in the fresh air of the  new day before the morning light spectacular began.

I can never sit there for long, though, pulled by unseen, magical forces to the waves' edge, keeping a child-like wondrous eye on the rolling water as it seeps between my toes while at the same time admiring the breathtaking oceanic panorama surrounding me on all sides.

The ongoing search for the perfect sea shell is also a part of my sunrise-watching routine, but there is not one thing routine about any of it. Every sunrise, every cloud formation, every sky-and-water color, is different moment to moment.

Caution: Bend over to pick up a shell, or hunt for the elusive-yet-highly-coveted shark's tooth, and you miss something. Something indescribably, soul-filling awesome.

In fact, you can get so caught up in looking down that you can miss the very part of the sun's rising that is, perhaps, the most inspiring.

Or, as Mary so aptly put it, "Don't concentrate so hard on finding the shark's tooth, that you miss the shark."

Perhaps a good question for each of us to ask ourselves, no matter where we live, be it near a beach, a shopping mall or a cornfield is this:

Are we striving so ardently, eyes narrowed and so hyper-focused on perfection --  in our personal relationships, our jobs, etc. -- that we are overlooking the imperfectly perfect beauty of what is smack dab in front of us, above us, or at either side?

Just a little sea food for thought this glorious Thursday morning.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Ah-ha moment for today:

So much of my writing, my blogging, has been about the past, for that is where I have spent so much of my time. Defining who I am by where I have already been.

All the while penning about the past, I have, on the inside, been nervously anticipating the future.

Hourglass in hand. Always.

Worried there would even be a future. Scared I would run out of time. Die before I had a chance to truly live.

Forever conscious of those evil twins, loss and abandonment, lurking in shadows, certain they would pounce before or immediately upon finally finding and feeling contentment, joy, inner peace and security.

Worrying negatively about the future based on my past has always been my way of trying to control what may or may not be coming my way. If I expect the worst, I keep it at bay.

Talk about stinkin' thinkin', as the self-help jargon goes.

So busy wading in yesterday, worrying about tomorrow, I have experienced most of my life from the backwaters of hoping, wishing, wanting...never truly trusting.

Afraid to have faith that who leaves but for a moment comes back. That who or what arrives in my life needs time and space and air to thrive and grow and change, evolve. Refusal to believe that change doesn't always mean "the end".

Hence, I have spent the past 43 years -- since my mother died unexpectedly when I was just three days shy of 13 -- clutching, clinging, and waiting for the other shoe to fall. And in doing so, I have squeezed the life out of  most of my todays. Bludgeoned them to death with "what ifs" or, perhaps worse yet, crippled them by conjuring up my worst demons,  fear of death and fear of failure.

Have I ever lived in the here and now?

Beginning to.

Baby steps.

My own personal gifts from the sea since moving to Myrtle Beach a month ago:

The constant assurance of the ocean waves, crashing onto the shore one moment, retracting the next, only to come back more fervently, or more calmly, moments later.  But always returning.

And every day, even when it is cloudy, realizing that the sun rises. A fresh start.

Yes, each dawn different, but beautiful. Full of promise. Knowing, without a doubt, that everything is possible if I just open myself up to all that is right here in front of me, all that is real, tangible, sturdy yet fluid.

I am learning to face my fears. I am growing. Remembering that what I allow will continue. My choice.

Having faith that, indeed, for all its terrors and tragedies, life is good.

I breathe in each new day, revel in whatever it brings, exhale and smile.

Welcoming, and writing while in, transition. Present perfect, despite its imperfections.

For the first time in my life, embracing, not merely enduring, the ebb and flow.

All so new to me.

Trust comes slowly. But it comes.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


So I missed Day 4 of the 40 Days of Writing challenge.

Day 4 was yesterday. Saturday. My one-month anniversary of arriving in Myrtle Beach and starting a new chapter in my life. My Second Act.

I've titled this second act  "Living" and that is what I spent Day 4 doing.

Instead of writing about my life, I lived it.

Celebrated it, really.

Started with a dash to the beach with Mary just at sunrise, with a quick, cold splash-around in the waves, savoring the feel of my toes in the sand, saying good morning to the Atlantic Ocean at the 38th Ave. access, my favorite place on the beach.

What makes it my favorite place has nothing to do with the beach itself, actually. Rather it's the way the trees arch across the road as one approaches the 38th Ave. access that fills me with both wonder and instant contentment.. It has become a sacred portal to my new found salty sanctuary.

I was just about to write that the ocean was my first new friend I made when I arrived in Myrtle Beach, but actually it was the second.

My first new friend was Mary's good friend, Mike, who had to pick me up at the airport because poor Mary was on her way to the emergency room with kidney stones just as my plane was landing.

Worried about Mary, I had no time to worry about the fact that I had no idea what Mike looked like, Mary had the energy to say only, "Tall, dark hair" before she hung up.

Seriously?  Just "tall, dark hair"? That's all I have to go on as I land at an airport full of strangers in an unfamiliar location?

Well, I did say I was in the mood for an adventure...

Fortunately, there was only one tall guy with dark hair standing near the terminal exit.

"Mike?" I inquired, cautiously.

"Ann?" he replied, equally as cautiously.

And off to the hospital we went to visit Mary in the ER at South Strand Medical Center. They later sent her home with lots of meds.

Sweet Mary, of course, refusing to let a few nasty kidney stones hamper my arrival in Myrtle Beach, insisted we go the beach the next morning, and out to brunch.

And thus, my Myrtle Beach adventure officially began.

I eventually met the rest of Mary's tight-knit circle of friends, and was made to feel welcomed by each.

A few days later I started my new job as Mary's fill-in office assistant, and inherited a fun-loving, hard-working bunch of political call center folks, who reminded me so much of  my wonderful friends at the job I left in Coon Rapids.

I got my hair cut, and my stylist happened to be from Fort Dodge, IA!  I got my nails done, and the salon owner turned out to be from Lincoln, NE! Both friendly folks!

With trembling fear, I learned how to drive to the beach, to the grocery store, and then -- the longest stretch -- started driving myself to the office!

WooHoo! So long comfort zone!  Hello personal growth!

And in between, I've soaked up some sun, increased my Vitamin D levels, relaxed, and continue to find my smile.

Yes, after a month here, I would wholeheartedly recommend that if you must find your smile, begin your search at the beach.

Myrtle Beach.

Happy Anniversary to Myrtle and me!

Friday, October 12, 2012


Fire ants?

Waddya mean there are fire ants in South Carolina?

Mary, darling, you never mentioned fire ants.

You said there are lots of tree frogs in Myrtle Beach, and occasionally green lizardy-looking things appear on the outside of your porch screen. I'm totally down with that.

But you never said boo about fire ants.

Really? Pouring Dawn dish soap over a fire ant hill will kill the little biting, stinging creatures?

Whew. Good to know.

Note to self:  Do NOT leave this house without a bottle of Dawn dish soap.

What's that, darling?


An occasional gator has been known to wander onto the golf course just beyond your backyard?


Surely you mean the sporty four-wheeled utility vehicle, not the terrifying possibly-up-to-13 ft. long, rounded-snout reptile?

Oh, you do mean the terrifying possibly-up-to-13 ft. long, rounded-snout reptile.

Alrighty then.

Pardon me?

Oh, so gators have poor eyesight, and should I accidentally happen upon one in the backyard, all I have to do is throw a towel or perhaps a spare T-shirt across the gator's eyes to render them stunned, long enough for me to sprint to safety.

Got it.

Note to self: Do NOT leave this house without a towel or spare T-shirt AND a bottle of Dawn dish soap.

Well, guess I better get ready for work.

I'm sorry, darling, I could swear you just said I would have to drive myself to work today. Surely you jest! I mean, I have no clue how to get to the office...and there's all that...that..traffic!

Yes, I know traffic is comparatively nothing now that the tourists are gone for the season. And yes, I used to drive in Cincinnati 5 o'clock rush hour bumper-to-bumper traffic. That was two decades ago. Lest we forget, I've spent those past two decades living in a town of 1,200 where four people at a four-way stop is considered a major traffic jam.

Excuse me?

Yeah, well, my big girl pants are in the wash, thank you very much.

Just joking, darling. Give me the damn car keys.

Note to self: Breathe, Annie. Breathe.

Fire ants, gators and driving! Oh, my!

Toto, we're not in Coon Rapids, Iowa, anymore.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


It's just how we roll here every morning.

I wake up to the inviting aroma of  brewed Donut Shop Coffee, toss back my covers, run downstairs and head for the kitchen, calling out my cheery, signature "Good Morning, Darling!" to Mary, my dear friend and all-of-a-sudden roommate.

Mary, of course, is already working at her computer back in her bedroom, but she inevitably shouts back, "Good Morning, Darling!" and we laugh and drink our coffee and talk about whatever it is we feel compelled to gab about non-stop at 6 a.m.

One of my first mornings here in Myrtle Beach, I was just taking a sip of my coffee when Mary announced, "Get dressed! We're going to the beach to watch the sunrise!"


Watching the sun rise over the ocean was at the top of my bucket list!

I flew upstairs, threw on a pair of capris and a t-shirt and quickly wiggled my feet into a pair of flip flops.

"Hurry!" Mary shouted up the steps. "No time to lose!"

(So thankful for Mary's refreshing, healing, unstoppable "let's go!" spirit.)

We hopped in her white 2008 Sebring, and headed to the beach.

What incredible, spur-of-the-moment fun! Two old friends chasing the sunrise!

Ten minutes later, there we were, flips flops kicked off, running with our chairs past the dunes at the 38th Avenue public beach  access just as the sun was beginning to peek through the clouds on the horizon.

My heart was pounding like a bongo drum! The delicious spontaneity of the moment, coupled with the wild anticipation of finally watching an ocean sunrise was absolutely exhilarating!

We both plopped down into our chairs and watched in silent awe as the stunningly bright yellow orb rose rather quickly over the ocean.

"Oh, my God, Mary! Oh, my God!"

That's all I could utter, softly, as to not disturb the soul-stirring quiet splendor  of the breathtaking early morning light show rippling across the gently rolling waves.

Sheer. Heaven. Inner peace. Contentment.

My salty sanctuary! At last!

Amen! And Amen!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


So here I sit in my new writing room, beginning my third 40 Days of Writing challenge, with so much to write about I barely know where to begin!

Perhaps the best place to start is to describe the stunning view outside my new writing room windows, er, screens!

Yes, I am, as I type, cozied up under a pile of blankets on my screened-in porch on this cool South Carolina evening, staring out at a nearby row of  fragrant giant pines, listening to the soothing rhythm of a fall rain.

OK, technically it is not "my" screened-in porch. The porch -- my new cyber penning haven -- is but one of the lovely rooms in this spacious townhouse belonging to my good friend, Mary. She has graciously given me a roof over my head, a temporary office job, and oodles of inspiration and encouragement as I embark upon what can only be described as, well, a journey. A quest.

What else to call this crazy leap of faith I have taken since the last 40 Days of Writing challenge?

With my family's blessings, I left my home, a 40-hour-a-week job with benefits, and the familiarity of small-town Iowa for a shot at a new life...a different state (with entirely different flora and fauna), a different job and complete anonymity.


Why not?

Time to take a chance, enjoy an adventure. Re-discover, perhaps re-invent, myself. Again.

Find my smile.

Hard not to smile while watching the sun rise over Myrtle Beach, or feeling the salty spray of the Atlantic Ocean while splashing through the warm, rolling waves, lost in the search for the perfect seashell.

The cure for anything, they say, is salt water -- tears, sweat and the sea.

Indeed, I've had a couple of good, soul-wrenching cries since I got here, and have done my fair share of sweating as I've happily traipsed along the beach on cloudless 81-degree afternoons.

As for the sea, well...where else can you feel so small and alone yet so connected to the rest of the humanity? The ocean's vastness just naturally puts problems and the past in perspective.

Look at the faces of the people streaming slowly, quietly, single file, along the tide's edge early on a Sunday morning in early October.

Serenity. Pure and simple.

The perfect mindset for beginning my third 40 Days of Writing challenge, wrapped in blankets, ensconced in my new writing room amid the South Carolina pines, listening to the rhythm of a fall rain.

 Truly, a 24/7 writer's retreat.


Stay tuned.

Monday, October 08, 2012


Yes, The Home Stretch has been on a bit of a vacay the past three weeks...

Put my YOLO ( You Only Live Once) mantra to the test, and have started a new chapter in my life. Scads of new stuff to write about!

Just in time!

For beginning Wednesday, Oct. 10, I will be back writing daily as I start my third 40 Days of Writing Challenge.

Thanks to all who have encouraged me along the way...good to be back!

Carolina in my Mind by James Taylor on Grooveshark