Wednesday, June 8, 2011


On Friday, Michael and I leave for the trip of a lifetime- two weeks touring Bavaria, Austria, and Switzerland. Michael has wanted to see Switzerland for as long as I've known him, so this is a check off his bucket list. Me, I've been drawn to that part of the world since childhood, and now as I prep for the trip, I've tried to identify why.
I've had the good fortune to travel in Europe several times. The first was in '69 when my grandmother took us to meet her family in Kempten, a charming little Bavarian city. While we were there, we took side trips to Vienna, Salzburg, and Venice, passing through much of Bavaria, Austria, Switzerland, and the Italian Alps. But I was thirteen, and my memory was formed from that viewpoint. In '03, Michael and I toured England and Scotland by rail, a totally amazing adventure together. Such beautiful countries and hospitable people. We'd love to explore both again, especially Scotland. Then in '08, Katie and I went to Munich to research the setting for my novel. It was a quick trip, just 5 days from start to finish, but it was enough to study some local maps and photos in the city's archives, and identify a neighborhood for Sophie's story.
All four of my grandparents emigrated from Germany/Prussia during the 1920s, each with a young daughter in tow. My parents were both born here. You'd think I'd have heard a lot of stories about my grandparents' childhoods in the homeland, but I didn't. Neither of my grandmothers spoke much about their early lives; they seemed content to focus on the new life they made in the US. Maybe that's because of the cloud of negativity and shame surrounding Germany when I was a child in the late 50's and 60's, I don't know. But despite the paucity of first-hand stories, I felt the stamp of the old country in our home's food, language, wooden toys, and dolls in dirndls. And the music- Mozart, Beethoven, German marches. Is that why I'm so attracted to that region?
Or is it the books I digested as a child? Heidi, Grimm's Fairy Tales. Or my continuing love of The Sound of Music? Or is it simply the photos I've seen of mountaintop castles surrounded by mist, of green valleys like carpet between snowy peaks splotched with small neat homes and grazing sheep? Or is it the way Europeans blend respect for history and natural beauty with contemporary conveniences?
Michael and I will be in that part of the world soon, exploring the Alps together. And like the other times I've traveled there, it will feel a bit like home.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I sat at a college interview, intimidated by my solo drive through NYC and Long Island traffic to get to the large unfamiliar campus, fully aware of the potential impact of my performance that day. The program director, a smallish energetic man, settled back in his chair, crossed his ankles on his desk, and inexplicably, ate a grapefruit. "Who is your hero?" he asked.
Where did that come from? I was prepared for questions about my education thus far, my chosen career path, my future goals, even my personal life. But a hero? I hadn't had one since Superman when I was six.
Or did I? I answered my interviewer in moments, but the question has been with me for decades.
My hero was and still is easy to identify. It is a person who becomes more than their genetic make-up or social class, who uses obstacles as times of personal growth, who finds joy in the daily rhythm of sunrise, meals with loved ones, and restful sleep. My hero is not defined by the media, the world of sports, or my country's government. He or she is defined by a personal moral compass that somehow points North when all around them head south.
I've found these heroes in the children and families I work with, in my neighbors, friends, and family, in my church, and in my writer's group. And I've found them in stories. I savor the experiences of my literary heroes and try to absorb the lessons so I won't have to learn them the hard way. And isn't that the point?