I have a lot of questions about Archangel Gabriel. Now here I have pictured Gabriel as a woman, because really, would you want some buff, blindingly white robed, Fabio-haired male angel giving you the news you are about to become a seriously unwed mother in a village where that is probably going to get you stoned to death? I picture him blurting out the news, flipping his hair and taking off. I would want a nice lady who started out by saying, “Mary, dear. Sit down.” So that is how I interpret her. And she brought flowers!

I don’t think Gabriel showed up with a trumpet or an oboe. But remember, scripture was interpreted by MEN. But I do think if Gabriel did bring an oboe, this is what the archangel would have played. This version of Gabriel’s Oboe is sung by Nathan Pacheco, who does it clearly and beautifully. And the translation is worth pondering.

Whispers in a dream
The world is quiet and waiting
And all around the air is still
And sings the angels

When all is come to pass
The storm has breathed it’s last
And the rain has washed our fears away
Love will find

Whispers in the wind
The clouds part to let the light in And all around the people sigh
As birds take to the sky

When all is come to pass
The storm has breathed it’s last
And the rain has washed our fears away
Love will fall on us all
The world will smile again

Whispers in a dream
The world is quiet and waiting
And all around the air is still
Then sings the angels

When all is come to pass
The storm has breathed it’s last
And the rain has washed our fears away
Love will fall on us all
And we can smile again


In order to say something clever about my digital collage above, “COMMITTEE MEETING” I did a Google search on committee meeting humor, and while I found plenty of examples, none of them were…funny. That is because unless it is a business meeting of chimps, there IS NO HUMOR in a committee meeting. They can be boring, excruciating, painful, stressful, endless, useless, terrifying…but never ever funny. As a teacher I sat through many committee meetings. The only useful ones dealt with an actual child or maybe curriculum ideas. I have been required to address all the following at various committee meetings: which way to hang the toilet paper in the stalls, over or under; what items are not allowed in the microwave (fish, popcorn, science experiments); whether or not boys could wear hats on campus in cold weather and if so, how cold?; the issue of banning glitter schoolwide; whether to wash the plastic party utensils or discard them; whether to use Mrs. or Ms. on letters home and other similar issues. The absolute worst committee meetings would happen every ten years when the school would be up for certification. We would have meetings to get ready for meetings. At one school we used an entire planning day to write a two-sentence mission statement (not to be confused with philosophy). This particular session resulted in lifelong enmities, torn apart by comma placement.

The piece above is a very flat, two-dimensional work based on a vintage photo I had in my memento box. I have no idea who these very bored women were. You know it was an important ladies’ event because all are wearing hats and gloves. I never got a chance to attend a hat-and-glove meeting; they were before my time. Hats and gloves were part of Sunday School, but had faded into the 1960’s by the time I was old enough to sit in a committee meeting. When I look at this, first I can almost smell the perfumes mixing in the close room. Next, I wonder what was behind each woman’s placid expression. Which one despised the leader? Whose bra was too tight? Who had eaten beans for dinner and was now pressing cheeks under that girdle? That is the mystery of art. You can provide your own answers. What I do know is they all wished they were somewhere else.

A camel looks like a horse that was planned by a committee.  ~Author Unknown


Cheerleaders, twirlers, band members and half the student body at Paco Rodriquez Middle School stampede in panic and horror as three aircraft drop out of the sky blocks from the school during an outdoor pep rally. The world as they knew it comes to a grinding, screaming halt. Tender Branches follows students and staff members as they attempt to come to terms with what has happened, and most importantly, survive in a world where everything they have come to rely upon just disappears. Middle school is a difficult time on a good day. Add the apocalypse and things really get interesting. Starvation, disease and death just aren’t supposed to be part of the experience. Follow Jumbo, Seth, Briley and the rest of the Paco Rodriquez Middle School community as they confront and explore what it means to survive together in their dark new world. Sorrow for what was lost is put off until another day, because today is about survival. The shadow of the reaper is ever present. Death used to be something you didn’t think about until you were 80. Now tomorrow is uncertain. The past is too painful to contemplate. But in the present, the community at Paco Rod has each other, and they use every minute, every resource, and every bit of human energy and resilience to survive.


I was born just five years after World War II ended. I watched a lot of movies about the war, all black and white, on my huge 1954 console TV with a 12-inch screen. If we couldn’t get the picture just right my father had to go out on the roof and adjust the antenna and my mother would stand in the yard and scream, “Bubby! Be careful! It looks fine now! Come down!” My father, who didn’t own tennis shoes, would be up there on that slate roof in his steel-toed, slippery leather-soled safety brogues, muttering “God Damn it all to hell” and then he’d come down. We would all breathe again.

But I digress. (It’s just that these visions and memories pop up and I can’t go on until I have shared them.) All those movies taught me about: AIR RAIDS! And that danger was reinforced in school where we had BOMB DRILLS. For bomb drills we went into the basement and stood with our right arm folded over our face. Later, for A-BOMB DRILLS we climbed under our desks. I figured that was because we had no chance anyway, so why bother getting in line and going down the steps to the basement.

Air raids, I knew from watching those movies, would be announced by a dreaded siren that started with a low drone and wound up to a scream. Then the planes would come. Actually, I don’t think our town had one of those sirens. But I feared that sound. Every plane that went over while I was out playing, I checked carefully, looking for bombs to come out of its belly.

Our town used to hold “Civil Defense” drills where the town fire horn (a huge honker with five or six locations around town) would give a coded number of honks (to keep the Russians guessing) and the town would come to a halt. Cars on the road were expected to pull over and the inhabitants to assume the protective position, pretty much just covering the face. They did a half dozen or so of these drills. They were uber creepy. Eventually, though, folks just kept driving and the town gave up.

We entered that strange period in history between the 1960’s and the 1990’s when the Soviet Union collapsed, where we just ignored the inconvenient fact that in a flash we could all become X-ray silhouettes on the wall. There were a few Ban the Bomb thingies in the ’50’s. And of course the Anti-war protests of the ’60’s, but they focused mostly on Vietnam. But I never quite was able to forget effectively. And then the movie One Day After came out. OMG. I was a young teacher and that movie burrowed itself into my mind for months. Reagan was President, and I became convinced (in a rather pragmatic way) that I would eventually die in a nuclear war.

That vision faded with time. Until. Yes, until. I read a book called One Second After about a North Carolina town after an EMP attack. My brain went on overdrive. The Internet was up and I began reading about new concepts like prepping and shelter. By this time I was teaching in a middle school and as I stood outside my classroom door supervising the chaos called changing classes, I began to wonder what would happen if we, at the school, suddenly lost it all: power, transportation, communication, food deliveries, parents picking up kids, toilets that didn’t work…. and Tender Branches was born. It is a story of survival. I made it as realistic as I dared, but so many of the other Doomsday books out there were really just gun porn and macho on steroids. I wanted to do better. I wanted real characters and at times I do have to deal with some violence if I hope to be realistic. The real Apocalypse won’t be a tea party. But this story is tame, in my opinion.

One of my colleagues, who was teaching a class on sustainability, decided to read it to his class. Fine with me. Turns out the scene where I describe a deceased teacher as having flies on her eyeballs triggered a child. Or so we heard from her father (who was/is a self-important twit with delusions of adequacy) OH DEAR, DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD? WELL, FIRE ME. OH, WAIT. I’M RETIRED! OWN IT!

Oh, sorry, don’t know what came over me. Anyway, this father threatened to get us fired. Toxic parents are such a drain on a teacher’s energy.

The book was an Amazon best seller for a few weeks (in its genre) and I made enough money to pay a few months on the mortgage, but the money was nothing to me. I had people, hundreds of them, reading my book. That is soul satisfying and I was hooked. This book has been a favorite and the reviews (not all that many, but I don’t solicit or purchase reviews) are heart-warming to me. Phrases like “You have got to read this book!” and “This is what I have been waiting for in this genre!” were the high points of 2013 for me. And I was SO hooked. I wrote a sequel and then four more books in the same genre.

So am I a prepper? A survivalist? Not quite. I think back to my mother during the Cuban Missile Crisis, putting big cans of stewed tomatoes and a roll of toilet paper down in our cellar just in case New York City took a big one. Yes, I have a pantry full of stuff that constantly goes out of date. If it happens we’ll eat a lot of capers, sardines and cat food. I do raise chickens and geese and yes, they would come in handy. If pressed I have to admit that our chain of civilization has so many weak links it could send one to a shrink for meds if dwelt upon too intently. And that is where you just turn the whole mess over to God. So many nasty problems are so easily solved in that way!


This small oil painting is based on a photo taken of my parents as they strolled a brick path at a church retreat. From the distance of 16 years now I interpret it as their walking on to Glory, when in reality they were probably headed for lunch. (The same concept, to my father!)

The goodbye years were difficult and full of doubt, grief, helplessness and dozens of other unnameable emotions. But those are not the memories I hold dear. They were married close to 70 years, but the last seven they were separated by my father’s dementia, which was unique. He forgot our names eventually but never our faces. He was a jokester until the day he left us.


When I get where I’m going
On the far side of the sky
The first thing that I’m gonna do
Is spread my wings and fly
I’m gonna land beside a lion
And run my fingers through his mane
Or I might find out what it’s like
To ride a drop of rain
Yeah, when I get where I’m going
There’ll be only happy tears
I will shed the sins and struggles
I have carried all these years
And I’ll leave my heart wide open
I will love and have no fear
Yeah, when I get where I’m going
Don’t cry for me down here
I’m gonna walk with my grandaddy
And he’ll match me step for step
And I’ll tell him how I missed him
Every minute since he left
And then I’ll hug his neck
Yeah, when I get where I’m going
There’ll be only happy tears
I will shed the sins and struggles
I have carried all these years


1. When I survey the wond’rous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory dy’d,
My richest Gain I count but Loss,
And pour Contempt on all my Pride.

2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the Death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his Blood.

3. See from his Head, his Hands, his Feet,
Sorrow and Love flow mingled down!
Did ever such Love and Sorrow meet?
Or Thorns compose so rich a Crown?

4. His dying Crimson, like a Robe,
Spreads o’er his Body on the Tree;
Then am I dead to all the Globe,
And all the Globe is dead to me.

5. Were the whole Realm of Nature mine,
That were a Present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my Soul, my Life, my All.


Life During Wartime

Talking Heads

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town.

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now.

Transmit the message, to the receiver,
Hope for an answer some day
I got three passports, a couple of visas,
You don’t even know my real name.

High on a hillside, the trucks are loading,
Everything’s ready to roll
I sleep in the daytime, I work in the nighttime,
I might not ever get home.

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t…


If you were born anywhere within 50 miles of Jersey City, you had an Aunt NORMA. Yours might be called Mary, Estelle, Trudie, Henrietta or Eunice. But in her soul was Aunt NORMA. Norma’s dad, who worked on the docks, gave her a cigarette when she was 10, hoping to keep her quiet. Even as a child she had a voice like roller skates on concrete. Rough, annoying. Until she died at 90 when she fell off the fire escape, she smoked every waking hour. She smoked when she ironed, cooked, used the bathroom, took a bath or had her hair done. She was married to Uncle Joey, who “caught the cancer” at 65. Lung cancer. He never smoked a cigarette in his life. She quit once in her life and in three days became so delusional and aggressive she ended up in the hospital for observation. The nurses gave her smokes; it was the only humane thing to do. Aunt Norma was Jimmy’s great aunt, sister of his grandfather. Jimmy never knew him, and he really had no idea who she was, kin-wise. She always brought him a sailor suit one size too small and insisted he wear it for their annual visit to ASBURY Park, which was 2 hours by smoke-filled car, down the shore. Jimmy’s car sick bag record was 11 for these trips. Once they arrived they went on every stomach curdling ride in the place. Norma never screamed on these rides, just held on tightly to her new wash-and-set. Jimmy knew where every trash can was in that park. Jimmy ran off to the Navy when he was 16. Sadly, Jimmy died at 45 from “weak lungs.”


I would love to claim that I planned out this little pendant with loads of thumbnail sketches and careful combinations of colors and textures. But…nah. I played with these colors. I rolled. I twisted. (The clay, not me) I sliced and rolled some more. And at some point I looked at my result and said, “Ooh, that looks like a tree in a windy meadow.” And Windy Meadow was born. It really is a lovely little piece of art even if it was a very happy accident.


If you are Jersey born and bred, you know “down the shore” means anywhere along the Jersey Atlantic coastline. For my family it meant Ocean City, New Jersey, where my dad wore plaid Bermuda shorts, black socks and safety shoes for two glorious weeks. I believe one summer he bought sandals. I would collect shells and leave deceased sea creatures in buckets at the bottom of the wooden steps. They led up to a dingy beach rental that had a lot of chenille, plastic flowers and a Formica dining set. I always got a vicious sunburn and lost a day to sunpoisoning agony. Peeling it all off when we got home was always something to look forward to, though.This piece is a digital collage of my memories.