A Wheelchair for John

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One month later, John has a new set of wheels. The motorized wheelchair, a gift from a local woman who knows exactly how essential such a chair is, has given John back his freedom.

I met John four weeks ago on a snowy Sunday, at the intersection of Route 119 and the Exit 1 off-ramp for Interstate 68. Mine was the second car to stop at the traffic light, which had turned red. That position placed me right beside a man in a wheelchair, asking for donations. When I saw he had a disability—one which could cow even the strongest of individuals—my heart went out to him.

John, you see, has no legs, and only one arm. But he has a smile that will melt your heart, and not one ounce of self-pity.

I couldn’t drive away without giving him something. Without any cash, I offered him the only thing in my car worth having: a leftover cinnamon roll from a nearby Cinnabon. We introduced ourselves and John gratefully accepted my meager gift. But as I reached out the window to hand him the boxed dessert, John dropped it. I watched as he tried using his club hand to pick it up, insisting he could do it.

He couldn’t. Torn between heartbreak and not wanting him to feel helpless, I finally opened my car door. Before I could get out, though, the driver in front of me ran toward us. He picked up the box, and then handed John some cash.

During that brief minute or two, I asked John if he received help from our local social services. That’s how I learned he needed a new wheelchair. His electric chair broke, and he was using a manual one that he could barely maneuver on his own.

When the light turned green I drove away, in my warm, dry car. Wearing nice clothes, my belly full. All I could think of was how cold and snowy it was, how light John’s clothing was, and how much he struggled to accomplish such a simple task. A task that, for most of us, would be as mindless as taking our next breath.

I wanted to reach out to other people, to tell them about John’s plight. Before I even changed out of my dress clothes, I posted John’s story on Facebook. “So, since this is supposed to be the season for giving, if you can, please do. After all, it’s Sunday. And it’s really cold outside,” I posted.

Within minutes, several people commented. They wanted to know if he was homeless. Another woman from Clarksburg, about 45 minutes away, was ready to drive here with a wheelchair for John. The only problem was, it was a manual chair, too. By the time we figured that out, I had driven back to the intersection, where I learned that John wasn’t homeless. In fact, he just obtained housing. I took his phone number and promised to help him find a working electric wheelchair.

That happened today, when Tammy Belldina from Rainbow Tire, over in Preston County, finally met John, when she gave him his “new” electric chair. This chair, however, isn’t just another mode of transportation. It’s John’s legs.

Tammy and I, fellow Prestonians, have been working together for weeks now, trying to make this happen. Tammy has a heart as big as Texas. Which is why she insisted on buying a new $200 battery for the chair—so John wouldn’t have to. (Most of us wouldn’t know how expensive such equipment is; Tammy told me these chairs can cost $5,000 or more.)

Along the way, we’ve both gotten to John better. I learned that he knows how to, and can even drive, a vehicle. In the past, he’s held down various jobs. One year ago, though, his other arm was amputated due to blood clots—the same thing that happened to both his legs. I can’t go into details, but John has what seems like a good medical malpractice case, and I hope we can find a good attorney for him.

Meanwhile, Tammy suggested we begin a fundraiser of sorts. That fundraiser begins right now. John supports his family of three (including his daughter) on less money per month than I live on myself. We’re asking you to send him checks or even gift cards that will help him purchase some essentials for his family.

Tammy has a special request. “Let’s make sure that little girl gets some Christmas presents, and John has some warm clothes to wear,” she said.

I’m personally asking you to help John because, for the last month, he’s helped me. He’s given me a reason to focus on someone other than myself and my own problems. Problems that include the death of a spouse and a lost daughter. After a year away from my typewriter, I’m 5,000 words into the trilogy that began with Sister of Silence.

Jesus Christ was right: there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving. Helping John has helped me. Plus, as Steve Maraboli says, “a kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” Who knew, that in giving a stranger some leftover food, I would be the one who was healed?

If you can spare a few dollars to help, I will be indebted to you. Please send any donations to: “Daleen Berry, in care of Friends of John,” Citizens Bank, 265 High Street, Morgantown, WV 26508. I will personally see that John gets every penny, and acknowledges your gift.

After all, ‘tis the season.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

TV Shoots: All in a Day’s Work

Television shoots aren’t what you think. I enjoy doing them, because they’re about books—and anything to do with reading is sexy, right? But they are far from glamorous.

I can’t recall how many I’ve done now—for Dateline, 48 Hours, 20/20, Dr. Phil, CrimeWatch, ID Discovery—but they are all remarkably similar. Behind the scenes I sit, cell phone off, waiting for the cameraman (so far, they have all been men) to adjust the lighting, the background, and me. My mic, clipped to my shirt collar or jacket lapel, my hair, and my glasses, which usually come off, due to the glare on my lenses.

In short, TV shoots consist of long moments of conversation punctuated by short bursts of touch-up sessions, to powder my shiny nose. Or fix my flyaway, baby-fine hair. When this happens, the producer sitting across from me (so far, all women save one) will ask for clarification about a question I’ve answered, or I will provide a detail about the story that she hasn’t yet asked me. Just in case she doesn’t.

I do my homework so I’ll be prepared, having reviewed dates and timelines for that particular story, because when you’ve written several books, you can’t risk confusing a salient detail from one book with another. This is crucial, because sometimes the producer or show’s writer isn’t prepared.

That happened in Colorado in September 2015, forcing me to repeatedly correct the TV crew. These weren’t small errors, either; they had the potential to create a liability for the network. Thank goodness that was the only time I had such a dreadful experience, and worried that my book might be misrepresented on national television. Trust me, no author wants that.

The most recent TV shoot took place in Annapolis, Maryland, near the harbor, which was filled with sailboats and larger craft. I had sat on the deck at Pusser’s Caribbean Grille the night before, eating dinner and watching the sunset. The next morning, I walked around town, sightseeing, then dressed and did my makeup. More made up than usual, since the bright lights from TV cameras would wash me out if I didn’t.

Alex Haley and family in bronze

They sent a limousine service to collect me, which was one of the highlights of my day. Not because I didn’t have to drive myself, although that was certainly nice, but because it was interesting. As I chatted with the driver, I learned that he was in Boca Raton, Florida, last year while I was working a few miles away in Pompano Beach. I also learned about his business, and why his 18-year-old son will soon triple his father’s income.

By and large, it’s the people I meet who make these TV shoots most enjoyable. A cameraman named Brian, who knew my book as well as I did. Now that’s impressive! A freelance producer who changed her career track from attorney to TV, because practicing law can be downright depressing these days. Oh, and then there’s the nonprofit she runs for disadvantaged youth, which is her first love.

U.S. Naval Academy

One of the most colorful producers I met, bruised and battered from her long days behind the scenes, worked in Los Angeles, California. There, she prepped guests and helped them ward off potential meltdowns, panic attacks or, worse yet, physical fights with each another. I later heard she gave it all up for the love of her horses, and the love of a man. Now that’s romance worthy of a TV show.

I forgot to take along a jacket for this last shoot, so while the temperatures outside hovered in the high 80s, we felt like we were inside a meat locker. The room was so frigid we stopped periodically, just to go outside and warm up. That and hot coffee kept my teeth from chattering, something that would have given the sound guy grey hair, I’m sure.

Speaking of sound, when the Dateline producers, two elegant, intelligent New York City women, came to town, they turned a vacant storefront in the Mountaineer Mall into a TV studio. But during the on-camera interview, loud pounding next door forced us to stop repeatedly, causing the producer to repeat entire questions. Every time we began speaking, so did the pounding, like a metronome in perfect time to our interview. After several minutes, the producer had to ask management to quiet things down. Otherwise, we would never have wrapped up.

The same thing happened in Annapolis. Except this time, the noise was from a hotel cart rolling by, right outside our door. And then there was the family with several boisterous children. They exited the pool to wait for the rest of their group, before leaving. Finally, we had a quiet space to continue the interview.


Being on set is fun, and can be exciting, but those times are far and few between. Most of the time, like today, I’m cleaning house, replying to emails, running errands, and tending my flower garden.

Tomorrow I renew my search for my missing daughter, and continue working to settle my late husband’s estate—the little things that highlight most of my days.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market Hopes to Spread the Word: “We Accept EBT and WIC!”

I love farmer’s markets. They remind me of the rich, dark earth I played in as a child. There, every spring, I would help my mother dig long, somewhat straight rows in the garden, drop in tiny seeds, cover them with soil, and then watch them shoot up through the ground, turning from a tiny tendril to a fully formed, sun-ripened tomato, ear of corn, green bean or other delicious vegetable.

Ashey Reece, local SNAP coordinator, talks about using EBT cards at the farmer’s market.

We didn’t have much money for food, so growing our own was vital. In today’s housing economy, fewer people have enough land for a garden, making farmer’s markets around the country a necessity. Especially for low-income folks, who, sadly, may not frequent them—because they don’t know the produce is actually quite affordable. It’s also far better for you than anything in a supermarket, since produce can travel thousand of miles to reach you, making it almost outdated by the time it arrives.

Not only that, but the Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market—like others of its kind—accepts the same form of payment my mother and I both as single parents: WIC benefits and food stamps (currently known as EBT cards). Provided by SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, these benefits are available here in West Virginia and around the county.

What you may not know, however, is that before long, every EBT dollar you spend at the Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market has the potential to become two. In other words, shopping at your local farmer’s market could double your dollars. All we need to do is spread the word, since few people who pay for their groceries with an EBT card (or who use WIC) know that the farmer’s market gladly accepts these forms of payment.

Ashley Reece, the local SNAP coordinator, wants folks to receive $2 of fresh produce in return for $1 EBT dollar. All that’s needed is to get more EBT consumers to shop at the Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon (located in Westover) markets. Then, in turn, a grant can help turn Ashley’s goal of providing quality food to local families into a reality.

Farmer’s markets like the one in Morgantown are crucial to people from all walks of life. I know this personally because in 2009 my daughter and I began a weekly excursion to the Oakland-Grand Lake Farmer’s Market, easily the best one of its kind in the Bay Area of California, and chock full of farm fresh goodies from around the region. This market, not far from Lake Merritt, also featured fresh flowers, pretty plants, food vendors, and—my personal favorite—live music. Those early Saturday morning forays were better than any festival I’ve ever attended.

They were also far healthier, featuring natural, organic, and pesticide-free food. Which is why I was thrilled when the Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market decided to expand a few years ago. Now you can shop in the shade, where, on Saturday morning from 8:30-noon, a parking lot beside the Spruce Street United Methodist Church transforms into a fragrant food stand, even featuring produce that was plucked from the garden only a few hours earlier.

I guarantee you will not find food this delicious at your local grocery store. You won’t find the farmers who grew it there, either, ready to answer your questions and personally serve you from the bounty of their hard work.

What you will find is a crowd of milling people, parents with baby slings wrapped around their chests, dogs on short leashes, all sauntering up and down the market picking out organic food such as fresh eggs, garlic scapes, bok choy and leafy greens of every variety, raw honey, cherry tomatoes and cherries, along with a wide variety of homemade baked goods and farm-raised fresh meat—including lamb. Don’t forget to exchange your EBT, paper or plastic dollars for tokens, which can be found at the top of the market closest to the church. You can even say hello to Ashley when you do so.

And remember, farmer’s markets are not just for yuppies, Millenials or the middle class. Widows, single parents, college students, the unemployed, and families down on their luck, so to speak, can all afford to buy the best food available—at area farmers’ markets—thanks to the EBT card.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Finding Sustenance, and Moving Forward, in a Time of Grief

You sustain me.

Whether it’s macadamia nuts and honey from Hawaii; cranberry skin care from Maine; gift cards from Texas, Maryland, and beyond; or a homemade meal and a handwritten card, your love lifts me up and gives me strength.

The loss of a loved one, in my case a spouse, is one of life’s most challenging curve balls. But when you factor in a missing daughter, too, the grief can become unbearable. I’ve known since the day she was born that Jocelyn was different, just as a mother recognizes every facet of each child’s individuality. It was that uniqueness that led her to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, to enroll in theatre, and later, to forge her own path as a healer, going into inner city neighborhoods to help everyone she met. My grief for my daughter has been unfolding for years now. It’s like that familiar, albeit somewhat scratchy, sweater you grab to stave off an early morning chill.

But the grief for a spouse is different than that of a child, especially when you don’t get to say goodbye. When time and distance and life separate you in ways you simply cannot overcome. People say the happy memories will sustain you. But what if the unhappy ones more readily come to the fore, threatening to suffocate you with anger and sadness?

Quite simply, it’s a choice. You can choose—I can choose—what I think about, what I ponder and pray about, what memories will hold a place in my heart. Whether for my husband or my daughter. And it took a greeting card with a quote from Oliver Wendall Holmes to remind me of that.

“I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving,” Holmes said.

I’m standing in this moment of grief, wearing widow’s weeds, but moving only forward. Never back. I know I was a good wife, who saved her husband’s life at least four times: when I paid for his quadruple bypass surgery; when I ordered his orthopedic team off his case, for refusing to acknowledge that a beet-red foot with an open wound was the cause of his raging bone infection and demanded they treat him immediately; and when I insisted he let me drive him to hospital, because I suspected he’d had a stroke. (He had.)

But the most recent incident was in 2015, while I was still recuperating from bilateral knee surgery, and my surgeon had not even released me to drive yet. When Butch didn’t come home from taking our beloved Labradoodle for a drive, I called him—and heard the strain in his voice. I had tried to convince him to go to the doctor throughout the weekend, but he refused. So on that Monday I was worried, and while working on another book deadline, I waited 15 minutes, then 20. When he failed to answer my repeated calls or return my texts, at the 30-minute mark I grabbed my car keys and drove around town looking for him.

I found him in the Dunkin Donuts’ parking lot, hands gripping the wheel so tightly he couldn’t let go. One side of his face drooped, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. I yelled for someone to call 911, and then finger fed him sugar, placing it on his tongue. By the time the ambulance arrived, his blood sugar was 28. People have died with higher levels than that—and he nearly did. Would have, had I not gone looking for him.

The bone infection happened in February 2014, after he fell and broke his leg. I was in the middle of filming an episode for the Dr. Phil Show and facing a major deadline for Pretty Little Killers. Butch was hospitalized for the better part of a month, so I set up camp just outside his room, where I could keep an eye on him through the connecting window. Armed with my laptop and several notebooks full of materials, I interviewed people from there, and took care of him, too, all while meeting my deadline. There’s a reason they say you never leave someone you love alone in a hospital. And I didn’t, wouldn’t.

You haven’t left me alone since Butch died, during the last 50 days. You have given me cinnamon cake and carried homemade cavatini to my door, pruned my flower garden, taken my calls and taken me to lunch, or just bought me a cup of coffee. Many cups of coffee. You chauffeured me when I couldn’t drive, opened your homes to me, and in one case you drove four hours round-trip, just to loan me some money—showing the kind of self-sacrifice that is crucial to surviving grief.

Your personal gifts, your written expressions of love, sympathy, and encouragement, continue to buoy me, and will in the days to come. Yet I know I can never repay you. Not entirely. So I will do what I can, and thank you—from the bottom of my heart.

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

People Cite Trump as Reports of Hate Crimes Against Muslims and Gays Increase After Election

First came the stealthy knock, carried out under cover of darkness.

Then the sound of footsteps, running away from the house.

And then, the horrible message: “TRUMP is our president now. Get out of our neighborhood now FAGGOTS!!”

I hate that word. I refuse to utter it and hate to even type it. Or share it on social media, which I felt forced to do today.

Corey Hurley found the note, printed in black ink on a piece of plain notebook paper. It was lying at his feet when he opened the door after being awakened at 3 a.m. Thursday morning.
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“I was terrified,” Hurley said during a telephone interview. “I knew things were going to start getting a little crazy . . . but I didn’t know it was going to (happen here).”

When I first read the note, posted on a stranger’s Facebook page, I was carried back to 1992. To the day when I took time off work to visit the principal at Kingwood Elementary School, an hour away from Clarksburg – and begged administrators to stop the harassment and name calling. The same name as appeared on the paper found at Hurley’s feet, paper that any child in America might use to complete a homework assignment. The same word directed at my son, Zach, then age eight.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the last 24 hours have seen a significant increase in reports of hate speech and hate crimes around the country. Most have been directed at Muslims, but some in the gay community are being targeted, too.

Like happened to Hurley – and his partner, Kyle Chester.

And my son, who in didn’t know even what sex was at age eight. Much less sexual orientation. All he knew was that the boys in his class didn’t like him. And my visits to his school, and even later, a letter from my children’s therapist, did little to change that.

“This one that you sent me (that Hurley and Chester received) looks like one of the more aggressive that I’ve seen on the anti-gay front,” Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said.

That unit monitors hate crime traffic. Beirich said the Harrison County case is one of “many, many instances we’re hearing about across the country, where people are seemingly victims of what appear to be hate crimes and reference Trump.”
kyle-and-corey
This is the first time since 2008, when another President took office. “We haven’t seen an outbreak of what looks like hate incidents since Obama was elected,” Beirich said, “when something similar happened.”

But then, the SPLC saw a “rash of hate incidents (against) black people,” because some people were angry about having a black President.

It’s a different dynamic now, though. “In this case,” Beirich said, “people who look like they support Trump or have sympathies with Trump are attacking minorities.”

Numerous reports have been fielded, she said, of “Muslims having their headscarves pulled off and a ton of incidents in schools . . . there seems to be a rash of these incidents across the nation.”

By the time Zach was in high school, the situation was no better. “I always got threatened in high school. I didn’t tell you because you would have just made it worse.”

One day during a break from theatre practice, Zach was walking outside near the football field. The players were tossing a ball around when “one of them threw the ball at my head, and very narrowly missed me.” Zach threw the football “all the way across the football field so they had to go into the woods to get it.”

Some of the players approached Zach as he walked back into the school. One boy wanted to fight. “So I just stood up to them and let him get into my face and I wouldn’t back down.” The football player turned and walked away.

Hurley, a lifelong Harrison County, West Virginia, resident, has never experienced this kind of violence. “It’s always been more accepting,” he said. “I’ve never had any problems with my sexuality from people before, so I was kind of shocked to see that it happened here in Clarksburg.”

Frightened and shocked, Hurley woke up Chester, who took action. The Lexington, Kentucky, native made sure their home was secure – and then told Hurley they had to call the police.

They did. Chester spoke to Deputy Chief James Chamberlain, with the Clarksburg City Police Department. And patrol cars drove by “a couple of times” afterward, but that’s all. When Chester called later this morning, an administrative worker told him the police couldn’t do anything else. Not until, Chester said, they had “concrete evidence as to where it came from or who did it.”

It’s difficult to understand how police could gather concrete evidence when, 12 hours later, no officer had shown up to even begin the investigation. I tried to reach Chamberlain, but he did not return my call. However, not long after, Hurley and Chester did get a phone call. They were told to go to the Clarksburg police station and file an official report. A “very nice” officer collected the hateful note left at their door.

So now, the investigation into a potential hate crime has begun.

Beirich said it’s hard not to link this kind of hatred with the President-elect. “Trump is referenced in some way. If you’re going to use the word ‘Trump,’ you obviously think this is somehow connected to your support of the President-elect . . . Given Trump’s xenophobic, racist, and so on comments during the campaign,” she said, “it’s not surprising that some people would feel emboldened to do these things.”

While the SPLC doesn’t yet have a tally for how much hate speech, or how many hate crimes have occurred since Trump became President-elect, Beirich said it’s “several dozen.”

They don’t yet know how serious it is, but sadly, incidents like these are happening in America’s schools. At all grade levels. “We’re particularly concerned about stuff happening in schools, involving children,” Beirich said. Muslim students, especially, are being targeted. Being told to “get out of the country.”

The SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program has specific information available for teachers, to help them deal with the backlash.

“It’s tragic to see this happening,” Beirich said, while urging all victims to report such hatred to police, as well as the SPLC. And urging police to officially investigate.

“Any of those kids could have kicked my (butt),” Zach said. “I stood up to them – no, I didn’t back down from them. There’s a big difference.”

I asked him to clarify.

Zach did. “Standing up to someone is when you realize that something bad is happening and you actually confront them about it. Not backing down is just standing your ground if someone confronts you.”

I asked him if it worked.

“It definitely helped,” Zach said. “If I had acted in a different manner, maybe more submissive, they would have tried to do more. But if you let them know you’re not going to back down, they have a little more respect for you.”

Respect. That’s what this boils down to. It’s all Hurley and Chester really want, too. So they’re getting their friends involved, to help spread this message:

“We’re human beings, too, just like everybody else,” Chester said, “and we deserve the same rights and respect that anybody else does, in any neighborhood across the country.”

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

I Found My Heart – In San Francisco

The last time I visited Lombard Street was in 1997. Until Friday morning, when I drove down the famous, curvy street, again – almost 20 years later. Have you ever noticed how, when you live in an area, life is so hectic you don’t often visit the local landmarks? And how, when you return as a tourist, you do?
san-fran-lombard-sunrise
You have to make time then, because time is all you have.

I’m not exactly a tourist, though. I was born here, in this land of the “flakes, fruits, and nuts,” as some people say. And I’ve lived, and worked, here before. As I am again.
streetcar
I left West Virginia in August, intent on a cross-country road trip but then uncertain where it would lead me. I still don’t know my final destination, but it will be here, somewhere in this state. I’ve decided to stay here. For years, I’ve been torn between two coasts – and four children. My two daughters who live in West Virginia, and my son and his sister, both of whom live here. It’s been difficult, to say the least, and every time I returned from California, I felt like I left my heart behind, somewhere in San Francisco.

So it was time. Time to pull up stakes and return to the place of my birth, like my father did before me, when he traveled from California to West Virginia in 1969. But my situation is different. I have two adult children here. Who, although adults, need me. And whom I need, just as much. I miss West Virginia and the people I left behind. But nowadays, social media and Skype make it easier than ever to live a continent apart.
lombard-curves
When I drove across the Bay Bridge Thursday afternoon, I never dreamed I would enjoy a culinary feast of the finest kind. San Francisco, you see, is one of a few cities where dining is an experience. Nor did I know that a handsome young fellow intended to take me to the Embarcadero for oysters at Water Bar. A place which he says, “offers the best seafood in the city.”

Or that, after appetizers, he and Glenn, a new friend, planned to cook lobster for me. Talk about a day of new and exciting experiences, unlike any other. We dined in the living room, on salad, sourdough bread, and the sweet meat of the crustaceans, dipping it in drawn butter. All while watching Finding Nemo, an irony not lost on any of us.
oysters
I didn’t expect to spent the night, but it turns out there was an empty bed. So Friday morning I woke up in a strange place, memories of a delicious dinner in the most romantic city in the world swirling around in my mind. And love filling my heart for the two men who made it, one of them my son.
zach-me-water-bar
As I left San Francisco, heading north to my temporary home, I wanted two things: a good, steaming cup of java, from one of the corner coffee shops that can be found throughout the city, and a sunrise photo. When I checked my GPS, I was delighted to learn that Lombard Street was only ten minutes away. How could I possibly pass it up? I couldn’t.
live-lobsters
I arrived at the perfect time, just as the sun’s early morning rays touched the steel beams of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance and bounced off the windows of the Lombard Street homes below me.

But it was perfect for another reason: I met Terry, a woman who lives on this famous street, and who greeted me and the only other person around with a smile. “Isn’t it a glorious day to be alive?” she asked us. He was German and his photography equipment was that of a professional. And although he didn’t speak English, the amazing sunrise we shared transcended the language barrier, as he snapped a photo of Terry and me.
san-fran-lombard-terry
Life is good. Very, very good – and it’s just beginning.

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

Mission Accomplished . . . 5,800 Miles Later

I crossed the California state line in San Bernardino County at 3:18 p.m. October 2, not far from where the Mojave Desert meets the San Andreas Fault. “Not far” being a relative term for a woman who had already logged more than 5,000 miles on her Toyota Prius – much of it on Route 66.

Even in spite of earthquake warnings, it felt good to be home. For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m a California girl by birth, born in a city made famous by the song my parents sang to me as a toddler. Those same parents laughed at the idea that yes, the Golden State might really be hit by an earthquake that would knock it into the ocean one day. Turns out, as I arrived in California, the fear of another earthquake loomed large. That’s okay. I survived one earthquake here in 1999. I was driving on I-580 near Pleasanton, and never knew it happened until I heard my coworkers discussing it.

Driving through the desert, my car’s thermometer told the tale: it was a balmy 99-degrees outside. I was surprised, though, at how cool it felt. No doubt the dry climate was responsible, for 99-degrees in Florida (or West Virginia) would have drenched me in sweat.

Speaking of sweating it out, during my trip west I listened to the audio version of The Girl on the Train. Can you say red herring three times really fast? It was one of the most twisted tales I’ve ever heard (or read). Nothing was as it seemed.

I haven’t visited California in a while, but since two of my four children are here, I’ve been trying to return for the last three years. So I’m long overdue. But I’ve been a little busy, writing several books during that time, so no wonder it’s taken me this long. I drove through miles and miles of desert, thinking about the direction my life has taken, and looking forward to seeing my son and daughter again, when several hours later, my car’s odometer hit 130,000 miles. Not long after I holed up for the night in a little motel in Ventura, California, one block from the beach.

The next morning, I woke up in time to see the sunrise, roll up the cuffs of my pants, and enjoy a barefoot walk on the beach, where I collected beach stones and watched seagulls at play. When I returned, a woman named Cheryl caught me snapping photos and offered to take one of me standing in front of the motel’s colorful mural. In return, I gave her a copy of one of my books and we parted friends.

After I got on the road, I drove by vineyards and fields full of crops, passing migrant farm workers along the way, before hitting Highway 1 and winding my way up California’s rocky coast. I stopped at Pismo Bay, where I watched pelicans swoop and dive, as a pod of whales swam in the open waters. Further north, I dropped by Morro Bay, where sunbathing sea lions entertained me. As my little car climbed higher and higher along the coastline, distant memories of Monterey and Carmel and Big Sur returned, and in my mind’s eye I saw my four children, running into the surf, hiking through the redwoods and sequoias, and posing for the graduation photos I snapped along the water’s edge.

This coastal drive is, hands down, the most spectacular in the country. Wild and wonderful and unspoiled, with only a few commercial businesses along the way. (And nary a restroom along one particular two-hour stretch, which left me rushing to the ladies room when I finally happened upon one.)

By 4:30 p.m. I was crossing the Bixby Bridge, a suspension structure not unlike the equally impressive New River Gorge Bridge I left behind in West Virginia. I stopped along the road at several places, my shutter snapping away, and even climbed down a narrow, rocky path that offered a closer view of the magnificent architectural feat. The fog hadn’t yet moved in, so the views were breathtaking.

After spending an hour there, I tried to make it to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which I last visited in 1998. Alas, I arrived too late. Plus, I had many miles to go before reaching my destination.

That didn’t happen until 10:30 p.m. – after the first near-miss of my entire trip. I was traveling about 70 miles per hour on I-680 north when a car parked on the berm pulled directly into my path. The driver had not gotten up to speed, so he was probably cruising at 30 m.p.h. Regardless, he was going far too slow to avoid a collision, so I instinctively jerked the wheel and cut across one lane, grateful when the driver on my left did the same.

Other than that, I wasn’t pulled over once, nor did I run out of gas (despite a close call). In fact, the only downer during my time on the road occurred when I realized it was probably the first and last time I would experience such a journey. For the most part, I found friendly folks throughout the country, and came away with so many new stories I’ll be hard pressed to find time to tell them all.

All in all, from North-Central West Virginia to the southern most tip of Florida and back up, and clear across the wild, wild West, I drove 5,799 miles, going from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in 34 days. The journey of a lifetime, it’s one everyone should be so fortunate to experience.

And I loved every single minute!

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Winding My Way through the Past, and the Petrified Forest

Last time I blogged, I promised I’d write about the drive from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Monterey, California. Well, I completely forgot about the miles between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Flagstaff. So Monterey will have to wait.

Let’s begin this leg of the journey with a story: when I was younger, I was famous for running my car out of fuel. I wound up stranded along the side of the road more times than I can count. Usually, that meant calling a friend for help. Or a husband. Not this time, though.

I had so much fun at the balloon festival that I left 90 minutes later than I planned, at 10:30 a.m. After dropping by Cracker Barrel to rent an audiobook, I stopped at Garcia’s Kitchen for brunch. There, I ordered sopapillas, which I hadn’t eaten in two decades. Not since the last time I was in Texas with family. I split open the delicious pockets of deep-fried dough and filled them full of butter and honey. And was I on Cloud Nine!

My book on tape kept me occupied, and awake at the wheel, since I’d gotten up at 3 a.m. to see the balloons. Before I even knew it, I had driven through Gallup, New Mexico, and then finally, crossed into Arizona. Where I found myself smack dab in the middle of the Painted Desert and the Petrified National Park – which carried me back to my childhood days, when my parents, my sister, Lisa, and I visited on a family vacation.

It felt like déjà vu, and when I snapped a quick photo of some pieces of petrified wood inside the shop for tourists, I was certain I had been there before. The clerk said I was actually standing in the original building, which had been much smaller. But yes, it had been there since the 1950s. How’s that for a good memory? Even as I grew more bleary eyed by the moment.

I didn’t plan to drive through the entire park, just wanted to grab a few photos and then hop back on I-40. But a nice park ranger said if I wanted to keep going, the road would lead me back to the interstate 20 miles or so later. And I’m so glad I did. It was one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring portions of my entire journey.

Having logged quite a few miles already, I really wanted to break early for the night, but every motel I passed was full. Then, as I left Winslow, I realized I had forgotten to fill my gas tank. My digital dashboard said I the tank would be dry in less than 15 miles. I hoped I would find a gas station somewhere soon, since I was already on the entrance ramp and in the midst of traffic.

I was wrong.

I even exited again, not long after, when a sign with the word “Shell” held out the promise of fuel. That sign lied – plus, I was the only soul there. So I headed west on I-40 again. By the time I drove 16 miles past the zero on my dashboard indicated the tank was “empty,” I feared each successive minute would find me stalled along the road. It wasn’t late, not quite 8 p.m., but the traffic on that stretch of lonely highway was sparse. And pitch black!

So when a road sign with the words “Twin Arrows Resort” appeared, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Surely, where there was a resort, there would be a filling station, right? Nope. Not a single one. Instead, bone weary, I drove into the parking lot of the resort, which turned out to be a Navajo Casino. And there, the nicest young man, a valet attendant, used his walkie-talkie to contact hotel security. He wasn’t sure they would have unleaded fuel, though, or how long before security would arrive, so he suggested I grab a coffee from the café inside. Considering I’d been awake since the middle of the previous night, I did just that.

Now for a confession: I’ve been inside a couple of casinos throughout my life. But I have never even operated a slot machine, much less played blackjack or any other game. Not once. (I have, however, learned that I am a gambler. I’ve gambled twice now, on husbands. Let’s just say I didn’t hit the jackpot either time.) Instead of playing the slots, I wandered around looking at the luxury all around me, and felt compelled to take a photo of the lobby chandelier, which looked like it was created from beads of oil.

Thirty minutes later, the casino manager gave his approval and a sweet security guard poured unleaded fuel into my tank. I wasn’t even a paying casino customer, but they refused to take a nickel of my money to cover the cost. Someone has since told me that’s true western hospitality. Call me a believer.

I made it to Flagstaff after another 30 miles, and by then it was close to 10 p.m. I checked into a motel and fell into bed. All in all, I’d driven 430 miles. Leaving another 800 or 900 to go.

I hope y’all will join me next time, when we finally cross the California state line and wander up the most beautiful coastline in the country.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Driving Through the Wild, Wild West

Leaving Mississippi last Monday, I turned my little car west and drove across miles and miles of flat Texas land, thinking of my father and our trips south to see him each summer, before his death in April 1999. While Dale Berry’s final resting place is in our family plot somewhere up a holler at the top of a Jackson County, West Virginia, mountain, those Texas tumbleweeds I passed will be forever synonymous with the man he was.

It seemed appropriate to stop in Mesquite, Texas, for the night. After all, we used to light up the limbs of a tree by the same name, grilling many a burger and steak for family cookouts. My grown children may not remember, but nothing much beats the flavor of mesquite, when it comes to wood smoke and meat.

I got on the road quite early Tuesday morning, planning to reach Cochiti Reservation by nightfall. Twelve hours later I did, and found myself in the home of a local artist who graciously let me have the run of it for my visit. I felt like I was in a Native American art gallery, and it was exquisite.

Wednesday morning began with a big breakfast of huevos rancheros, which took me back to those authentic Mexican meals we used to eat in Texas. (And which my mother, herself the daughter of a chef and having been raised in the Southwest, often cooked for us.) Then was I in for a real treat: Lee Maynard chauffeured me to the top of mesas and all over the Jemez Mountains, turning into a tour guide as he pointed out such local sights as Cochiti Dam, the artisan town of Santa Fe, Bandelier National Park, Valles Caldera, formed by an ancient, mega volcanic eruption, and Los Alamos, not far from where the Manhattan Project was developed. And where we ate the best sushi ever.

Before I met Lee several years ago at the Annual West Virginia Writer’s Conference, he was more of a myth than a man. Once we became acquainted, it was easy to see that he was down to earth and really no different than most Appalachians. So I was happy to have him as my tour guide, and we enjoyed bouncing story ideas off each other. If there is anything a writer loves, it’s having another writer to talk literary shop with. He regaled me with accounts about the area’s colorful history and even deadpanned for the camera, striking a similar pose to one I took while holding my first book.

That wasn’t as good as it got, either. The New Mexico sunsets I captured with my iPhone were absolutely, hands down, among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. A Facebook friend wrote, telling me that the locals say, “the sky is on fire.” And so it was – every single night. If you’ve never been there, you really don’t know what you’re missing. (You can still make this year’s event, which lasts through Oct. 9.)

I didn’t plan to stay in Cochiti as long as I did, but after learning that the largest balloon festival in the world was slated to begin in a few days, I hung around. I hit the road at 4 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, making it to the fairgrounds just in time for the 7 a.m. mass ascension. Where 550 balloons took to flight, providing a view of the sky unlike any other.

My trusty little iPhone captured some great photos, but I only wish I’d known about the Canon booth before my morning began. The company will loan you any number of its high-powered 35mm cameras, for free, and all you need is an SD card, which lets you take away as professional a photo as you’re capable of shooting.

Hot air balloons have a longstanding legacy in my life: I read Around the World in Eighty Days as a child, rode in one as a passenger in 1988 as a green news reporter, and again a year later, at the Mountaineer Balloon Festival, and then finally, in 2002, I got married in one. In Las Vegas. So for decades, I have dreamed of seeing the Albuquerque International Balloon Feista. It was all I ever thought it would be. And more. I snapped photos of colorful silks covering the ground, of balloons in various phases of inflation, and of people watching the giant spheres as they magically floated up, up, and away. (For many more photos, check out my Facebook page and group.)

And next time I go – after experiencing this year’s festivities, how could there not be a next time? – I will be shooting with a 35mm.

Although this journey has come to its end, my last day on the road was simply amazing. I hope you’ll join me next time, as I travel from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Monterey, California. And to all points in-between.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

Day 32: Stopping to Smell the Roses

I’m nearing the end of my long, literary journey, having driven more than 2,500 miles to date, from West Virginia to Arizona, and complete strangers have turned into new friends, as I stop and smell the roses – both literally and figuratively. The roses, you see, are the people I meet along the way. Each one unique, with his own fragrance or other gift of beauty.

Like Mandy (not her real name), a single mother of three who did what I did when her children were in danger: she took them and ran. But to do this, Mandy had to give up an excellent job. Although she’s since found another one in Pascagoula, Mississippi, her situation isn’t ideal. And her take-home pay isn’t enough to live on. So she and her brood currently live in a shelter. Not ideal circumstances. Not by a long shot. This woman is not only lovely inside and out, she is kind and smart and clearly a good parent. I met her when I stopped for the night in Mississippi. Even though she was at work, she didn’t have a babysitter so her children were with her. Undeterred and determined to provide for them, she went about her duties while they looked after themselves, until the middle child came up and politely interrupted us.

“I need a time out,” he said, after admitting what he’d done to one of his siblings.

I believe you can tell a large measure about a parent by her child, and that blew me away. How many children honestly admit their mistakes – and ask for discipline? I observed Mandy’s kids while they were there and found them to be quiet, well-behaved and very respectful. Clearly their mother has done a remarkable job. In fact, other guests were enjoying their company, too. Immensely.

But I was taken back in time to 1988, when I covered my first homeless story. Then, a woman and her daughter were living in the mother’s car, after also escaping an abusive relationship. It dawned on me then how dangerous it is for homeless children, whose parents may have to leave them inside a vehicle while they go on job interviews, or who are trapped inside a shelter and often targeted by homeless predators. Those dangers are above and beyond the daily psychological and emotional stressors, of not having your own home to go to. Of not having a routine, or a safe place where you can simply be yourself.

That first story taught me something, so since then I’ve given away my leftover (and utterly too large) restaurant portions to the homeless, and tried to help them in other ways. I know that the biggest percentage of homeless people are themselves either runaways, military vets, or mentally ill. Some of these folks also have addiction issues, often self-medicating to try and relieve their pain. This is yet another danger for the children exposed to these problems.

I’ve also been homeless myself, for a couple of brief moments in my life, but never to the point where I had to rely on a public agency for temporary housing. I was fortunate, because friends and family came to my aid. Mandy? Not so much. Like many women who protect their children when abuse comes into play, her family turned its back on her. Thought she was crazy to go to such lengths to keep her little ones safe.

There is a very long waiting list for Section 8 housing, which is all Mandy can afford, so I’d like to ask for anyone reading this who knows someone in the Pasmagoula area to reach out and help me find Mandy and her children a nice, safe home. So they don’t have to continue living in a shelter, which is not conducive to safety or good health – especially for little ones. You can contact me directly, using Facebook or Twitter or my contact info.

I believe people naturally want to help others. They just have to know when a need exists, and what they can do to help. I believe no one wants to let a hard-working mother like Mandy and her three little ones live in a shelter, so let’s help them.

We can do this!

Note: The photos accompanying this blog were taken on the road, at coffee shops or rest stops, or simply (and safely) while in traffic. Next time, I’ll share some of the stories – and more beautiful scenery, captured with my iPhone – during my visit to the Cochiti Reservation and Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you’d like to guess where I’m going next, and why, I’m hosting a contest at my Facebook group page.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!