hugging jean

A friend of mine is in her last days on this earth. The news that cancer has ravaged through my friend’s body like a fast-burning house fire has left each of us who know her dumbfounded and devastated.

It’s obvious from the Facebook comments on Jean’s page that to know Jean is to love her.

I met Jean Vernon in 2005 when I started working at UMB Financial, leading Corporate Communication. As our office manager, she’d been the first person to greet me – and her warm smile and welcoming nature put me immediately at ease. That’s probably why I got the job. I then had the pleasure of being her boss—even though we both knew who was really in charge —for those ten years we shared.  Jeannie’d had more than 30 years already at UMB and knew literally everything about the place. I counted on her personally and professionally. She was hard working. Trustworthy. Smart. Kind. Helpful. Generous. And,


Jean’s first love was always her family and she’d eagerly show you the latest photos of her two grandsons, or her daughter, Lara. There were always funny stories about John, her husband. She’d go to weekend scrapbooking camps and come back, beaming, showing off her beautifully designed scrapbooks.

Jeannie had a motherly nature which she embraced. She cared about everyone she met and wiped away more than a few tears shed around her. But Jean also never put up with any crap – so we all knew not to mess with her. I think she’d like hearing that because it would make her laugh —and when Jean laughed, she released spurts of cackles with storm-like force. And she had a terrific sense of humor.

Once when I’d called an ambulance for her at work (blood sugar related), she’d lifted her head from the stretcher she’d just been strapped to and said, looking directly at me, “See, this is how you get really cute firefighters to take care of you.” Recalling this right now, I want to cry and smile at the same time.

It’s important to me that I share two things I learned from Jean.

–Jeannie is the best hugger I’ve ever known. She’d pull you in with her strong arms and hold you tightly to her beating heart. You wouldn’t be able to get away. She was a big woman, so you’d practically disappear into the darkness and soothing warmth. Jean’s hugs were passionately and freely given.

Jean – I will always hug people with sincerity and love, the way you did.

–She loved her birthday, and as it happens, we shared the same date of March 12. When I told her early on in our friendship that I didn’t ever want attention on my birthday, that I disliked having them, she’d stared at me with those big blue eyes framed by elegant eyeglasses. She’d frowned and looked baffled. But then she’d leaned in to tell me something I’ll always remember.

“Not me,” she’d replied. “I want all the attention I can get on my birthday. I love it. Balloons, cake, presents – all of it. Every birthday I get is a gift and I want to celebrate it.”

I’d learned then that Jean was a two-time breast cancer survivor. Her perspective, her appreciation of life, renewed my own. She absolutely did do birthdays well; you could see the joy on her face and a spring in her step. So, for her:

Jean – I will always celebrate our birthday. I promise.

Jean won’t know I wrote any of this because she’s heavily sedated. Her family is already grieving a loss we all know is coming too soon. I, too, keep crying when I think about her, because I’m angry. It just isn’t fair. Jean has been enjoying her life in Atlanta, happily retired and spending time with her family. Getting her nails done and posting shots of those gorgeous hands on Facebook. It’s not fair that a new kind of cancer is taking her down.

jean vernon

Yes, I know life isn’t fair. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. And if Jean were here, I’m certain she’d give me one of her bear hugs and tell me it’s okay, that she’ll get to see the daddy she’d told me about so many times, and her mother whom she still missed so much.

Love never dies.

Jeannie, my sweet friend, I wish I was there to give you one of your hugs.

What I can say now is that I will see you, one day, on the other side. May God bless you, and also give peace to your family and friends.

only bugs bug me

We were hiking in the woods when I felt a painful pinch on the delicate flesh of one inner thigh.  I slapped myself there, certain that a creepy creature was careening across my flesh, then jumping and yelling, I whisked down my hiking shorts as if my bladder was about to explode. I kicked them into a mess of tall twigs.

But, I’d forgotten that this particular style of hiking shorts doesn’t require the wearing of the underwear.

This was at the start of our first long”ish” road trip in the Sprinter camper van. We have been touring southwestern Colorado – Durango, specifically – and multiple small towns nestled near national parks. The van is equipped with everything you’d need to avoid nature – microwave, TV, air conditioning/heat, bathroom and shower, refrigerator and stove top. All in less than an easy-to-drive 20 feet.

pam and our rig, July 2019.jpg

But hiking has become one of favorite retirement things, so our “rig” allows us the best of both worlds. Hikes on wilderness trails – with their uneven, rocky paths, fallen trees to scramble over and steep climbs – make you feel both breathless and alive. You’re nearly always rewarded with stellar views of waterfalls or canyon overlooks. Outside of Durango, in Mesa Verde National Park, we did the challenging  Petroglyph Point Trail.


Combining history with hiking is nirvana for us – so seeing Pueblo cliff dwellings and learning about this ancient people was like slurping a double dip chocolate ice cream cone on a hot day.

So far, no big mishaps on this trip if you don’t count Mark fighting a nagging cold and my war on bugs. (Yes, yes I know the outdoors is their domain, but I don’t have to like them.) Or, that we broke the remote to the fan that pulls in cool air through our windows at night. And of course, last night a very dirt-covered me enjoyed the lovely shower accommodations at our RV Park in Bayfield, Colo. only to realize, in dismay, that I’d forgotten to bring a towel. Women – we all know what it means to drip dry – but this was a whole body experience I don’t care to repeat.

None of this really bugs me, though.

I’ve learned in our travels that you’re never too old to learn and try new things, or to live an experiential type of existence. (For example, I’ve learned from photos that I don’t look ANYWHERE NEAR as cute as I think I am when I’m hiking.) And, it’s easier now to go with the flow when shit happens.

When we’d leave home for several weeks on trips overseas, or to camp, I used to feel guilty.  Privileged maybe – and it bothered me a lot. Then somehow, after talking with my kids and doing considerable thinking, I came up with two guidelines for retirement.

One: Travel as much as you can – because God gave us a world full of beauty that we should both behold and enjoy. Don’t feel guilty about spending this season of life in awe of it.

Two: Give back – because we are part of helping make this beautiful world a better place. It’s a responsibility given we have time to do more than we could when working full time.



you can go home again

There’s nothing quite like working for an airline.

My job in Corporate Communications was exciting, nerve-wracking, fast-paced, energizing and because of the people – fun. The unique jargon made you feel like part of some special, cool club. My family flew standby for $10 one-way, anywhere. All of us worked hard to protect and grow TWA’s proud legacy and long history of firsts. After all, it had been the airline of the stars – the Hollywood kind. We had 25,000 employees around the globe. And, I was proud to be among them.

Those days of course are long gone. TWA hit really hard times, with seemingly endless headlines screaming monikers such as “struggling carrier,” “financially-strapped airline,” or even the taunt “Teeny Weenie Airline.”

In the thick of it, we raced to meetings in our corporate St. Louis offices with brave faces. We had many constant reminders of our employer’s struggles – not the least of which was Director of Media Relations John McDonald’s “CEO row,” the many black and white exec photos tacked to his bulletin board (pointing out, in John’s subtle way, the revolving door of leader’s we’d had in just a few years).  Each one had played a role in the business’ demise, but Carl Icahn – who many thought would save the airline when he bought it – had done just the opposite, and had then discarded both it and us like useless pennies in his pocket.

Despite all that, in 1996 we were just about to post a big achievement: POSITIVE quarterly earnings. I served as Director of Internal Communications, working alongside Elise Eberwein, Director of Community Relations, and of course, John doing media. Under our then VP Mark Abels, we’d each planned ways to promote the good news. Stormy skies were lifting and blue ones definitely seemed to be ahead.

We were dead wrong.

Flight 800 happened then, and it was an awful, awful time. Hundreds of innocent people died. On TV, we watched the logo on the B-747 airplane’s tail bobbing up and down in the ocean surrounded by the debris of lost lives. Our hearts and stomachs ached, and everyone’s eyes burned from crying or trying not to. Our fingers trembled while we worked through nights with little sleep and too much coffee. Deep down, I think we all knew it was the beginning of the end for TWA.

I left the airline in 1998 and then in 2001, American Airlines agreed to buy TWA. It was over.

But now TWA is back – albeit in a small fashion – for new generations.

This past weekend, Mark and I joined John and Elise and their spouses to stay at the new TWA Hotel at JFK International Airport, a resurrection of the previous TWA International Terminal. The hotel is peppered with TWA memorabilia, signage, old uniforms, marketing posters, and even music and newspapers from the 1960s. The whole experience of being entrenched in TWA stuff was a bit surreal. I’m thrilled the  architecturally-significant landmark terminal, which had been abandoned and falling apart for years, is gloriously pretty and useful again. Someone took a chance on her, and brought her back to life.



We were joined for drinks and dinner by one of our former Corp Comm leaders, the hilarious and formidable Don Fleming, who lives in Connecticut. I haven’t seen Don in a very long time and he’d been a strong influence in my life. When I first spotted him and his wife Linda in the expansive, open lobby area, I can only say I forgot where I was and how I was supposed to act. I shouted his name until he turned, and then dashed over to hug him like the long-lost friend he is.

As old friends and colleagues, we walked around, each of us remembering when our footsteps raced around this place. (For me, it was conducting photo shoots.) We’re older, grayer, living in different cities and leading new lives, but we’ll always and forever be linked.


We traipsed on the familiar dot-patterned floors, and strolled through red-carpeted, low-ceiling tunnels now leading to newly built hotel rooms instead of gates. Through the massive glass window where people used to watch planes taxiing, we joined others to gape at a Constellation painted in TWA’s familiar red and white livery (Connies were an early aircraft in the TWA fleet), beckoning us to visit her lounge.

I’m so glad I got to share the experience with people who are so dear to me. They were, and still are, my airline family, and my good friends.

Others who weren’t there, from our team during various years, were missed (and of course, absolutely talked about … ). Sam Nakamura, Rachel Newsome, Donn Walker, Maddy Smith, and many others – all unique, gifted, compassionate, talented individuals.

My time at TWA was special. You know, there was nothing quite like working for an airline.

dubbly do right has a home

Half a year back, our 10-year old Golden Retriever, Nuke, was depressed. He moped around, didn’t want to eat unless I hand-fed him, and wandered aimlessly around the house. This was unusual … but I knew what was wrong.

Nuke’d just returned from a  long-ass stay at his dog-sitter’s house (about 3 weeks – a first) , and now he apparently REALLY missed his doggy pals. Which got me to thinking.

He needed a friend. And, I knew that tons of sweet dogs are always waiting to be rescued, to join a home where they can love on their humans, and live happily ever after.

After I saw Dublin (cool name, right? The rescue group named him) in a photo online, I quickly contacted the group. He was a cutie, already house trained, and knew some commands. Got along with other dogs.  HOW PERFECT! I checked into some other dogs while waiting to hear about meeting Dublin … then the bad news came. He’d broken his leg in a freak accident at his foster home, and it was pretty bad.

Relaxin' on Mom's lap

To my surprise, Mark wanted us to meet him anyway, cast and all, and the foster mommy agreed.

We adopted each other immediately, and he and Nuke became fast pals. But, Dublin needed surgery to fix his broken bone with a plate, and we had to endure months of recovery time, vet appointments, and taking him outside on a leash to do his business.


Dublin and Nuke

This during the snowy, brutal winter months, no less, but hey – we signed up for the deal.

Dublin is now healed, although I’m pretty sure he carries some scars from his life on the run. Apparently, he was picked up as a stray in Springfield, Mo., (where I have family) and put into a kill shelter. Yea, you know what that dublin3means.

I often wonder, for a dog that knows commands and easily identified a couch as something to sleep on, how he ended up on the streets. Did someone dump him in a deserted area far from his home because they no longer could afford him? Did someone abuse him and he just ran away?

I often call Dublin “Dubbly do right.” I don’t know why.  Isn’t there some cartoon from long ago that sounds similar? Whatever. For MONTHS I couldn’t remember that name. I called him Dogbert, Douglas, Dumbass … you name it. My son thought it was hilarious.

While Dublin is leery of new people, keeping his distance like you’ve seen stray dogs do when they’re afraid, I don’t blame him. And, if you yell, he might cower, so we are careful never to yell at him. As six months have gone by now, he’s adjusted to the sounds, smells and sights of his new home.  He follows me whenever I move around the house, up the stairs, back down, into the kitchen, back into the office, then upstairs. I think he needs reassurance I’m not going anywhere, or maybe he just wants to be with me.

Then there’s Mark. He’s not a dog lover like I am – but he enjoys having them around. Dublin has done a number on him, though. Dublin has to decide if he wants his head in Mark’s lap or mine on any given evening if we’re both on the sofa, and Mark takes great delight when he’s chosen. He sits there scratching Dublin, and laughs with delight when Dublin looks up at him adoringly with those black-lined, brown eyes.  And then Nuke will wander over to be petted, and Mark is in the middle of two adoring dogs.

And get this: Mark ordered a doggie DNA kit which arrived today. HAHAHAHA! He is convinced Dublin is a black mouth cur (an actual breed – look it up) but I think he’s part yellow lab, part whatever Missouri offers. Stay tuned for the results on THAT!Dublin2

As I sit here writing, Dublin and Nuke are rough housing, and their pretend growls and nips are entertaining. It’s a fact: Nuke acts years younger as a result of this nonsense. I admit seeing them jetting across the back yard together, well, just makes me as happy as when I hear them sighing with content.

Dublin’s smart, sweet, playful and loving – a fun boy who likes to lay on his back with all four legs askew, baring his wares without worry.  A sign of trust.

dublintodayI count him as at least one dog out of hundreds of thousands who no longer needs a home. We’re his family now.

Note: We adopted Dublin from Autumn Acres Animal Rescue.



are you a cream puff?

“If you want to be a good reporter, you have to make the hard calls.”

I heard my professor’s voice behind me, low and even. I continued to stare at the black phone on my desk while I worked up a response. I knew then he’d watched my repeated attempts to place a phone call – pick up the receiver, start to dial, replace it in the cradle, stare at phone. 

Around me multiple voices hummed as fellow journalism students worked on stories for class assignments. I had a hard one – a student who’d died (I can’t remember how now, after all these years) and I needed to call his parents for reactions. This seemed cruel.

I turned to look up, clutching my pen like a security blanket, at Professor Jim Patten, My Farrah Fawcett hairdo wasn’t going to get me out of this pickle.

What I recall, from the ensuing conversation, were inspiring words that helped change my life. They forced me to consider if I was capable of being a reporter – not just a good writer.

With arms crossed, he said: “Are you a cream puff? Because you’re acting like a cream puff.  You can be a good reporter, or a great reporter. A great reporter has to do the hard calls to get the meat of the story. Either you can, or you can’t.  You need to find out.”

After he walked away, I made the call without hesitation. He’d challenged me, and I wasn’t about to let him (or anyone) think I was soft. Somehow, he’d uncovered a competitive nature I hadn’t known existed. And to this day, I’ll rise up if you say I can’t do something, and go do it. It’s funny how such an insignificant moment became so significant.

Prof. Patten was a great teacher. He loved journalism. He’d talk about integrity, ethics,  newsrooms, and the important role journalists played as watchdogs for the public. Why we had to learn the law and why AP Style was the nectar for us busy bees. Most of all, his students learned why ANY, and I mean ANY, punctuation, spelling or grammar errors meant failure and we’d go straight to hell. (I may have just made a few right there.)

He helped prepare me for job interviews. To this day, I’m cautious about every comma, capitalization or colon placement when I’m editing someone’s resume. And, when I got my first reporter job in Riverton, Wyo., I remember he said, “This is perfect for you. Be a big fish in a small pond first. Make your mistakes on this first job and learn. On your second job, you’ll hone your craft and get better. On your third job, you’ll finally be worth your paycheck.”

Turns out, he was right.

A few years after I graduated, Prof. Patten left the University of Nebraska for Texas, then spent decades teaching journalism at the Univ. of Arizona. I’m sure thousands of us owe our crazy dedication to ethical and responsible journalism to him. I’m glad to say that I found him on FB about a year ago, and got to say “thank you,” after all these years.

Just recently, I learned he’d passed away in June, and instantly memories of him flooded my mind. I’m greatly relieved I got to say thanks. For me, he was “that” teacher, the one you never forget. (In fact, he wrote several books and workbooks about the profession and they are used today. )

I can only hope that there are many more “Jim Pattens” out there teaching journalism – so falsely under attack these days – so future generations can appreciate our freedom of the press and the beauty of the written word.

God speed, Professor.



creepy lingers here

You know what I discovered about myself as a fiction writer? I’m creepy.

In fact, I’ve shocked myself, as well as my son and my husband – the only people with whom I’ve shared chapter drafts of a book I’d been developing. Troy’s comments were usually non-verbal at first. While I’d read (for some reason they both want me to read out loud as opposed to them reading to themselves), his eyes would be unfocused while he listened intently. But when I’d steal glances at him, I’d see them growing wide, then ever wider until his head would jerk upward to stare at me. I really enjoyed that. I saw this reaction many times to various chapter content and to be honest, I’m a little proud that my writing had any impact on a 24-year old.

“Shit, mom. You wrote that?” That’s what he said the first time he heard an early scene introducing the bad guy doing a bad thing. In some ways, I think he was proud that he has a creative, if not sick, mother. Both Troy and Mark have provided feedback on scenes, pointed out flaws and generated ideas with me. Writing is hard work – but collaboration is fun.

So, after awhile, that first story began to shape up, even though I wildly diverted from my original outline. It’s as as if the characters were saying, “No … the focus should be on THIS. Not THAT.”  The theme grew darker and darker. The main character and the antagonist flipped. I’d sit for hours at my kitchen island or dining room table writing, surrounded by reams of paper filled with notes, growing more confused as the story became more complicated. And dark.

I believe now that this happened because I didn’t have a fully baked story that really worked. And too many time frames. My own dissatisfaction led to too many changes, too many twists, too many everything.  Listen – I won’t tell you what this story ended up being about when I stopped writing it, because one day, when I’m a more seasoned fiction writer, I might return to it. For now, it’s best to bag it. (Mark and Troy disagree with this decision, but it feels right to me.)

After all, it’s been a fantastic learning process and I’ve learned that yes, my wild fifth-grade dreams about writing a novel could come true. I’ve also learned that I’m more imaginative and creative than I’d ever thought (who knew?), and that I can freak myself out by what I put onto paper. Weird shit looms in the dark recesses of my mind.

In saying that, I have to share what else I learned happens when you focus so intently on writing a book.

The “bad” guy in this story – a perverted 30-something with a frightening, disgusting need – has taken up residence in my head. I know him so well. He pops into my mind more than I like – it’s as if I have zero control over his presence. When I least expect it, an image of him (sometimes perched on a stool in his tiny darkroom, or hiding high up in an oak tree) floats through my head. I see his face, feel his breath, smell him. And, what’s more, he’ll try to give me new ideas as if persuading me to get back to that damn book.  I think he wants to get caught- he really does – so his story can end.

I’m told that he’ll disappear once I get deep into a new story outline, one with rich, compelling characters. But he’ll never leave.

take a QuikTrip with me

QuikTrip (@QuikTrip) gives me hope.

No, not because they consistently rank as one of Fortune‘s best companies to work for, which now that I think of it, is pretty cool. Nor is my confidence based on their never-ending supply of all-American junk food , gleaming pots of coffee, wet floors, or even their employees’ friendly attitudes. That’s just what you expect (and no, this isn’t a commercial for them.)

It’s this. When I pop into a QT, it’s usually chaotic with people rushing to work, or school, out of town, or to any one of a 1000 destinations. People are going to as many types of places as there are types of people in the store.

And that’s the point.

It’s the people, man, and how these slices of humanity, thrown together for minutes of shoulder bumping, treat each other.

Standing in line you’ll see a cross-section of America, our proverbial melting pot, forming lines in their heavy winter coats, uniforms, Spanx, heels, suits and ties, and coveralls. People are tall, short, fat, freckled or skinny; they are black, white, Latino, or Asian, gay, or straight … or whatever. Nobody cares.

This “pot” never boils because everyone has some place to be. Precisely because everyone is rushing, most of us appear absent-minded, clumsy, or distracted. We are a mass of both confusion and determined objectives, connected by our crazy. Kindness erupts.  You won’t hear people strike up conversations about politics, racism, or any other searingly hot topic that divides us. Instead, something special happens at QT (that I swear I’ve never experienced at any other gas station, quick-stop store) because we can all relate to each other’s current plight (whatever it may be).

I don’t think I’ve EVER entered a crazy-busy QT when someone didn’t hold open the door for me, even if I’m still ten steps away. And I hold the door for others. It’s like a thing at QT. And consider these every day gestures:

Are your hands full? A tall, black man in a suit holds the door open for you, and when you say thank you, he nods and smiles.

Did you spill your coffee? Three strangers in coveralls with company patches, speaking Spanish, grab napkins and help you clean up the mess. They smile at you, happy to help.

Have you just bumped hard into a stranger, who turns out to be a teen dressed in black garb with green hair? He asks if you’re okay, and smiles, touching your arm.

Are you short 25 cents at checkout? A harried mom on her way out having heard,  quickly backtracks to plop a quarter onto the counter before blowing by you again.

Can you get to the busy condiment counter blocked by tall wool coats filled with bulky flesh? Upon seeing you waiting, a 6′ burly guy steps aside, grins, and waves you to the coffee lids.

It’s possible you’ve experienced something different at a QT. Maybe other customers have been rude, pushy, arrogant, bitchy, argumentative or even dangerous. I’m just saying that I haven’t – and it’s consistent. Visiting QT always reminds me that, despite how we appear on the outside, we are Americans, with a damn lot in common, like working hard at our jobs and needing gas at QT. We are fully capable of being nice, patient, helpful, and respectful with and to people who aren’t like us.

And that gives me hope.



always a mama

This week I’m helping Stacia with two-week-old Zoe because Zach had to go (reluctantly, I might add) out of town for work. The idea of being alone for many overnights in his absence is one she dreaded, so I happily agreed to lodge in the guest room and help out during the night and mornings as needed.

Certainly, if you’ve had a baby in your care, you recall (without ANY prodding) what it’s like to have a newborn under your roof that first month. You’re in a daze like some zombie, dragging your ass around the house during the day, and jumping up as if on auto-pilot multiple times at night. It’s a blurred experience, but who’d change a thing?

I’ve observed that Stacia is clearly in the groove, and has a natural grace and growing confidence when feeding Zoe and trying to catch a few Zzzzs. She’s managing, surviving, and learning, just like we all did, about new parenthood. I’m so proud of her and Zach.

I feel pretty lucky that she’s invited me to share this experience of baby Zoe, who coos and peeks out at her world after a 2 a.m. feeding, her tiny face shining with warm, rosy cheeks, those blue eyes wide and alert, and her legs stretching out as if to expand her presence in this new world.

Zoe in the morn light

When your kids are grown, it’s easy to think they don’t really need you … heck, it’s just nice that they actually WANT to hang with you. If we’re lucky, they are self-sufficient, and we thank the sun, stars and the moon that they are. Not really needing us is, well, what we worked so hard to accomplish.


Somehow, Stacia has always had this sixth sense when it comes to how people feel. In particular, her mama. A few days before Zach had to leave, she texted me an article … and my eyes grew watery as I read it.

So, to the other moms out there, just read this. Please.

“I Still Need You, Mom”