The 59th year

I am old. This statement does not disturb me. I enjoy the concept. There might be wisdom to share. Greater confidence and skills to offer. And gratitude.



Thank you Deane Bowers for sharing what my daughter witnessed from afar during her time at Virginia Tech, where tragedy hit before she arrived. You’d think this generation would be traumatized. Instead they detach and move on. I hope they read their history, keep souvenirs from the toughest times, heal wounds, do good, and never forget:

As I hug our youngest daughter good bye and send her off to begin her 4th year at The University of Virginia, I reflect on some of the life changing and often horrifying experiences she and her fellow 4th year classmates have experienced while students at UVA. Just to name a few, it was not even a month into their first year, when these brand new, bright eyed, eager students were faced with the brutal abduction, rape and murder of Hannah Graham. A month after that, the Rolling Stone Magazine debacle exploded. Six months later, there was the violent arrest of Martese Johnson by several overzealous ABC agents. And in the winter of 2016, these same college students learned about the violent and unlawful imprisonment of one of their own in North Korea. And just as these students begin to recover from the devastating news of Otto’s cruel death by the worlds most evil dictator, they think they have experienced the worst. Then August 11th and 12th 2017 happens. Their beautiful and sacred Grounds and Rotunda , and their equally attractive college town become center stage to extreme ugliness, hate and racism by hundreds of tiki torch carrying narrow minded white supremacists.

So as I embrace my daughter one last time and wish her a successful school year, I realize how courageous, wise, mature and perceptive she and her fellow 4th year classmates have become. Yes, they have had their share of normal college fun, but no, they aren’t frivolous, self centered and self absorbed college kids. They have grown into leaders and they have shown true grit in the face of one horrific tragedy after another, yet they won’t let any of these life altering events terminally dampen their spirits, define them or define their University. I am certain the University of Virginia, the City of Charlottesville as well as many others can depend on them for their strength, grace, compassion, leadership, and resilience in the months to come. #UVA#Charlottesville #LoveRules #4thYearClass #Leaders

A week of joy and gratitude

Qatar Airways #707 arrived at Washington Dulles Intl (KIAD) at 03:38PM EDT from Hamad Int’l (OTHH/DOH)

A huge sigh of relief to see this message in my email again this morning: that Sarah Austen arrived home from another adventure. I did not fear the country of Armenia nor Doha where, due to a delayed flight/missed flight, she spent the night in a glorious 5-star hotel, king size bed, gourmet breakfast, took a walk around the market with two guys she had just met, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I suppose I feared the stereotype of the Middle East; the possibility of harrassment of Americans; the incessant random terrorism in the world. I knew all would be well…yet admit that I feared for her life ,too.

She joined her cousin Stu (married to Christy) in Armenia for a Fuller Center week of building a house for a poor family, a bit of touring, and bonding with 6 others, who share her passion for international experiences and doing a bit of good for the world. She particularly adores Stu who brings joy and energy to every moment and Lois, the 80-year old woman from San Franciso. She said she reminds her of Gramma.  They plastered the walls of a home being built for a young couple and their two children about an hour from Yerevan, Armenia. They stayed in a nice hotel in the capitol city with wifi, a gym, and near to restaurants and a beautiful fountain that lights up at night, surrounded by people.

This week also included a visit from a student from Medellin, Colombia. Lucas Ledezma plays the clarinet, just like Adrian, and is staying with us for ten days. He is fun, appreciative, cleans up after himself and is really a joy to have around. We took him to Emilios for jazz on open-mic night. He played and the crowd loved him.

On the day that Lucas arrived, we also picked up a puppy in Staunton (from Windy Hill Pups in Lebanon, Virginia). A Maltipoo like Wiggy-May: hypo-allergenic, happy, and just so darn cute. We named her Lucin, which means “moon” in Armenian. We call her Lucy (when she’s in trouble) and Lulu for fun. Lucas says that the most common names for dogs in Colombia are his names: Lucas and Mateo. So she’s named in Lucas’s honor, too.

Settling in to week #2 with Lucas, Lulu and Sauce home and ready for work. She works at Stella’s Lafayette Market and had a promising interview with the Virginia Film Office.





Sarah Austen, only child of Greg and Sally, graduates on May 12, 2017 from her dad’s alma mater, Virginia Tech. She relunctantly but good-sportedly returns home until she can find a job that will fund her ability to live with friends. In the Fan, of course.

On May 26 her grandfather, William Frank Holzgrefe, at the age of 101 and 56 days, fades at home and is taken to Retreat Hospital, where all his children were born and his and my mother’s go-to hospital for care late in their lives. It sits two blocks from our home which makes it easy for us to say hello a couple times a day, bring Ann (his constant care-taker and second-eldest daughter) dinner or a treat.

Life continues to speed by with steel creations, bike rides, weddings of friends’ children, fabulous novels, flourishing gardens, porch parties, and a pending surprise birthday party.

The latest challenge, something I tend to give strangers and less-so to friends and family: every action targets my life goal of bringing peace and joy. Nothing else matters. I do not need to win. Exude love love love. Dear God, remind me every minute 🙂

Barak Hussein Obama

After two joyous years working on my first political campaign to support Barak Hussein Obama for president, I was beyond giddy to see hundreds of Obama signs grace the grassy median on Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Avenue in November 2008.  It was a sublime juxtaposition.
This classy young man brought incessant smiles to the faces of the volunteers at the campaign office. Never before had I witnessed blacks and whites of all ages work so joyously and selflessly together: that alone was a beautiful gift.
On the day of the election I served as inside attorney at one of the predominantly African American voting precincts. My counterpart for the Republican Party, a young man in a suit, expressed awe and praise for the efficiency and organization of our campaign. That night I hung a gorgeous new American flag, draped on the full length window of my front door, and left the hall light on all night.
Two months later I greeted my friend and her young son on a cold inauguration day at that front door. My sweet puppy joined me. I opened the door ever-so-slightly, to send out a cheer of welcome and celebration of the day. That little rascal of a happy puppy, squeezed out the door. Before I could stop her, she ran into the street and we lost her. I worried for months before the election that a deranged person might take Obama away from us. That little prancing lamb of a Malti-poo became for me the sacrificial lamb. Later that morning we sat in shock and tears watching the inauguration.
In the eight years that followed, President Obama maintained a grace and baffling internal strength to do what he thought was right. I am ever-so-grateful to him and his family for their sacrifice and courage. And I’m hopeful that they will continue to transform the world for the better.

An amazing year

2016 exceeded all expectations.

For the third year in a row, I bike to work every day. My office moved to 4th and Grace Street adding two miles to my daily ride. We biked the capital trail and Riverside Drive on weekends. We kayaked behind the eye institute to the Huguenot Bridge, on the gorgeously silent canal.

With deep sadness the family grieved the loss of Greg’s cousin Tony Smith in January.  A kind and generous man, Tony owned Smith Iron and Metal where Greg found the pieces of steel for his art.  We think of him often, miss his humor and presence, and tell stories of Greg’s time on the farm with him.

We traveled to Sarasota in February to see Paul and David (stayed in the tropical-view guest room) and Fort Myers to see Kathy and Norbert. In March Sarah Austen went to Fort Lauderdale with friends and caught the biggest fish (a King Mackerel) on horrific seas.  In April Pop turned 100 and Mom turned 83.  We hosted a little fete for Mom with her friends at our house.

Greg joined the canal committee at Venture Richmond suggesting that they add a bike path from Brown’s Island to Maymont, in addition to their boat ride plan.  An $11 million idea, it may happen.

Greg and I entered my office pool for the NCAA basketball tournament.  We selected a team that should have been #1 but couldn’t seem to get it together.  To our delight, they got it together. We won the pool.  Villanova over UNC, 77-74.  Those who chose Villanova were in the top 99.8%; whatever that means.  I think it’s very good.  $183 pot.

In May, Greg received his 50th birthday wish: a dance party (7 years late). We invited every friend we knew. Fantastic food and beverage. It was a back-porch party that spilled to the patio. We released Stone Brewing’s Citrusy Wit and unexpectedly, the owner of Stone showed up. I failed (ugh) to get a photo of him chatting with Sarah Austen and our friend who brought him, Juliellen Sarver. I especially wanted the photo of him looking at Greg’s steel art with mauve large glasses on the end of his nose.  Greg spent the evening in the pantry spinning vinyl until he realized that Sarah Austen’s Spotify was a heck of a lot easier.

Sarah Austen received two unpaid internships this summer: Venture Richmond (“best-ever intern” according to the executive director Lisa Simms) and Jack Berry for Mayor (“we lost because you went back to school” said Jack Berry on Thanksgiving Day during our walk around the block with Greg’s family). It was a wonderful experience.  She studied her heart out in the fall semester of her senior year and loved every minute of the political science education she received, in and outside the classroom. She remains on the Dean’s list.  We are so happy for her and proud of her tenacity and optimism.

Although it was an odd (scary, disgusting, ever-present) campaign season, we live not in fear.

We drove to Wilbraham in June where i reunioned with Barbara Tuozzolo, Ceecee Murden, Diane Brown, Steven Riel, Erin McDonald, Beverly Frisby and my glorious home on a perfectly cool and clear weekend. Greg and Sarah Austen finally saw my “home” as i remember it.  Fantastical. Oddly enough, Uncle Bob’s 80th surprise birthday party at Amherst Golf Club, was the same weekend, hosted by Amy Mullins (Pam Gyott’s daughter, Jamie’s sister).  Always heaven to return to my parents’ childhood home.

We spent a (free) ten days in Southern Shores in August with Mom, Kathy, Dottie, Barbara and Olivia. Greg designed the addition to the Harris cottage and is compensated with a few free weeks.

Greg’s dad is now home-bound with 24-hour care and Ann lives with and cares for him.  His spirits are good and his mind is mostly crazy-sharp.  His legs simply won’t work anymore.  He laughs with us on Saturday mornings, enjoys Greg’s stories, and gives me a hard time for making him such steaming hot coffee.  Even when I add ice cubes to the cup. In September Pop inquired where his letter to the editor was concerning the changes to Monroe Park.  We dug it up, edited it to his liking, and submitted it. He was awarded Correspondent of the Day and received many wonderful comments online.

On September 22, VCU kicked off its largest campaign in history. According to colleagues, I led the charge for the Launch weekend and loved my role and the results. Simultaneously my generous director tipped me off to a special event gig on November 16. To make it worth my while, I told them i could not work for less than $$ per hour. The event honored a kind and generous long-time resident of Richmond and it was a joy to “run the show” and be so gratefully compensated, financially as well as at board meetings where they mentioned my name and significant contribution. The event was designed to entice donations to the endowment to honor Buford Scott and benefit the Virginia Council on Economic Education.

The October 14 SteelWool Exhibit in our home with Dawn Waters, resulted in the sale of seven of Greg’s pieces of art. His work has become part of the Markel Corporation collection.  Markel purchased two of Greg’s pieces of steel art.  The 80-year old former CEO of Markel, who makes decisions on the artwork they purchase for their corporate office, came to our house on Dec 17, walked through and within 13 minutes said “I’ll take these two”.  We delivered the pieces two days later and took a tour of the artwork already installed in the office.  It’s like a museum.  Each piece is identified with artist, medium, date, and “Collection of the Markel Corporation”.  The collection includes Sally Mann, a whole room dedicated to Theresa Pollak, Heidi Trepannier, Richard Roth, Sally Bowring, on and on. It was astounding. Later that month, we traveled to Blacksburg for the annual birthday/football weekend to celebrate Sarah Austen’s 22nd birthday with 18 of her college friends at a lodge on the shores of Claytor Lake (State Park) following the Thursday night win over Miami. There was a hilarious log-cutting contest and one of her friends gave a freezing, sunset sailboat ride on the lake of scary high winds. Dottie and Ken, Barbara and Donnie, Mom and Steve Slaughter joined us for (part of) the weekend and a New River Trail bike ride.  In addition to the sailboat ride, the roaring fires made me very happy.  Dear God, thank you for my hard-working and creative husband. My life would be so different without him.

The day after Thanksgiving, Greg gave his annual walking tour: this year through Oregon Hill and Hollywood Cemetery.  Over 50 people showed up and our dear friend Marsha, who missed it, gave him a megaphone for Christmas.  Smashing success and next year it will be in Jackson Ward.

Everyone decided to host parties in December: Bill Payne, Mark and Eric, Ted Elmore, Katherine and Jack Berry, the Johns, Mosmans, Contes, Tessa, Mrs. Carter’s 95th birthday, Christmas Eve at our house, David Ross and Lynne and Chuck for Christmas day, Dottie and Ken, the Ruffins after Christmas.  We attended all but one. New Year’s Eve consisted of de-decorating the house, attempting to hook up a new DVR, watching Sarah Austen and Olivia hurry up and wait for New Year’s Eve, and the Clemson-Ohio State game.  Thank you dear God for my daughter, my husband, family, friends, life.  Make me an instrument of your peace.


img_1566I have to tell you that your hair is so beautiful.

I know that i know you.

You look just like…Glen Close, Carol King, Andy McDowell, Sarah Jessica Parker.

Thank you for your encouraging words. Everything about you seems to be life giving; I receive your gift and hope that one day I too will exude life and joy as you do.

Expressions of appreciation since I’ve turned 50 that come once a week.


During morning meditation, focusing on the breath, listening to the sounds around me, ever so grateful dear God seeking the divinity that resides in me, I wonder about the source of the noise in my life.  Greg’s fever of unknown origin returns after 12 years.  I am called back for a mammogram that reveals 5 small calcifications and a biopsy on Friday.  What insights do these treasures offer?

I decide to do tonglen for my sister because there has been a chill between us lately.  As I breathe her life into mine, I am overwhelmed with suffering.  Her life becomes my own and the stress and sadness become one with my stress and sadness.  Tears stream down my cheeks and, with elbows on knees, I sob.  Whether I need a good cry or she suffers to the max, I trust healing occurred.  Powerful, overwhelming and beautiful I must continue this gift called tonglen.

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Child in College

Earlier this fall, a young adult female in Charlottesville, Virginia was abducted.  Over the last ten years several young women have gone missing or died at the hands of a local resident in this sleepy college town full of accomplished and talented people. Whether by domestic violence or random abductions, parents can’t help but fear for their daughter’s lives as they experiment with new-found freedom, alcohol, drugs, sexuality, and adventure.  During a weekend celebration of hiking and dinners at college with friends for Sarah Austen’s 20th birthday, someone captured this photo.  It has become a treasure for me as I witness my baby in the arms of her friends, clinging to each other in celebration, joy and love.  There is no greater image for a mother and no better cushion for a daughter than this.


A Strange Calm

As suffering swirls, there is a calmness inside.  I do not worry.  I have hope that love makes a difference.  I am detached from drama.  I find joy in mundane interactions.  I do not fear mistakes.  I no longer need to be the best.  It is a very strange calm. And I wonder if the calm is because life is generally good.  Or is life good because of the calm? How would I respond to a family tragedy?  What if I became seriously ill, or more difficult, if husband or daughter or sister or brother became ill.  I feel like I’m in a zone, able to endure what comes my way.