Last excerpt from ryder’s rules

Last excerpt from ryder’s rules

When completed and submitted the application. The next step was her first phone interview. She’d brushed up on her knowledge of history as well as the current political situation in the middle east, only to be asked questions about South and Central America! She was embarrassed by her lack of knowledge and felt she’d failed miserably. Much to Jenn’s surprise, she received a second phone interview. This time she felt more prepared, She’d spent more time studying Central and South America and of course, the Middle East and it paid off. There were still questions for which she had no answer, but an agile mind, ability to think on her feet, language and chemistry skills earned her an in person interview.
Jenn was pleased the CIA was footing the bill for her trip to DC. She was more excited than nervous. At precisely 3:15, the exact time of her appointment, the door opened and a petite blond woman called, “Jennifer Carnegie?”
Jenn stood, and the woman motioned for her to step into the room. Her interviewer was a hawkish woman with dark hair, and intense green eyes. She studied Jenn’s eVERY move and involuntary response, then peppered her with questions like, why do you want to work for the CIA? Tell me about the expectations of the job. Give an example of a leadership role where you failed, what did you learn? How do successfully navigate ambiguous situations and how do you serve others? It lasted for more than two hours. Then there were online tests. Just when she had almost given up, she received the call that took her to the next step, her visit with the psychologist. More probing questions about her behavior, choices and how she felt about ambiguous circumstances. She passed the security clearance and the polygraph. She was off to Fort Peary for training.
Fort Peary, referred to as “the farm,” was where the CIA trained their operatives. The exhaustive two-year training included everything from weaponry and explosives to driving skills, compass navigation, how to trail suspects and determine if you were being trailed, breaking and entering, low flight parachuting, just to name a few. In the final test the recruits attend a mock party whose sole purpose is to find someone for them to “turn,” or an “asset” to gather information from without being spotted by the FBI agents in attendance. Jenn excelled in eVERYthing. While she didn’t enjoy handling a gun she a crack shot and even better at hand to hand combat. The judo lessons they gave were particularly good for smaller agents who could use their opponent’s weight against them. She had a knack for what they called lateral thinking. She excelled in finding other ways to do things, unique ways to solve problems. And thinking out of the box Her flexibility and ability to keep calm under pressure made her a favorite. She felt like she’d come home. It was a better fit than she could have ever imagined.

Exclusive excerpt from my new book

Exclusive excerpt from my new book

The next few days I’m sharing excerpts from my new book. It’s not out yet, but you’ll get exclusive peek here!

Prologue 2011

Jennifer Carnegie was a “clever girl,” at least that’s what her father always told her. He doted on her and her older sister, Laura. She was three and Laura seven, when a drunk driver slammed into her mother’s car as she was driving home from work. The three of them went on without her as best they could. The only framed picture of the four of them in the house sat on a cluttered bookshelf in her father’s study. She was too young to remember her mother. For her father and Laura, the memories were too painful. They never spoke of her.
David Carnegie, a professor of Irish literature and film studies at The Ohio State University, gave his daughters an idyllic life. Under his protection and guidance they flourished. He valued education, and when Jennifer showed flashes of brilliance, he urged her to reach higher. Jennifer wasn’t a social butterfly like her tall, elegant, and popular older sister. She preferred the company of her books over people. Jenn spent countless hours reading and studying. The world was a fascinating place, and she had a voracious appetite for knowledge. Her father encouraged to take honors and advanced placement courses in high school. She made the honor roll, was selected class valedictorian, and graduated a year early as a result. There was never a question about where she would attend college. What was the point of having a family member on the faculty if that didn’t mean you could get a break on tuition?
Jennifer’s fascination with chemistry, and languages lead to a double major; chemistry and Arabic. She’d managed to teach herself Farsi as well. Her father’s high hopes for her soaring academic career were about to come crashing down. For as long as she could remember her only desire was to make her father happy. Jenn’s academic life, from AP courses, to honor roll, to math camp were all mapped out by her father,and it bored her to tears. She ached to burst free from the safe, bookish bubble he’d placed her in. She was an adult now, free to choose her own path. Her father always assumed she’d enter grad school for an advanced degree, but she’d changed her mind. At the ripe old age of twenty-one she was asserting her independence. She was applying to the CIA.
The kind of jobs that would put her language and chemistry skills to good use required and advanced degree either a Master’s or PhD, and the idea of spending more time in a classroom or research lab made her cringe. She’d already missed out on so much, dating, prom, sleepovers, and boys, the list went on and on. Dad took excellent care of her and Laura, but he knew nothing about raising girls. Whatever decision and choices he’d made they were expected to fall in line and in agreement. It was time to take her life back and defy his expectations. He would understand and perhaps even be proud of her.
***
“The CIA?” David Carnegie was aghast.
“Yeah Dad, the CIA,” she repeated, bursting with pride.
“Where on earth did you get such an idea?” He plopped down onto the leather couch in a state of shock.
“From you. You always told me I was a clever girl.” She slid down onto the couch next to him.”What do you think?” she asked turning to face him.
“Why? CIA? How?” he asked, concern etched into his rugged features.
“Dad, I’ve already missed so much with all of my studies and research. I don’t want life to pass me by.” The air in his dark wood paneled study was heavy. As a child she loved this place, but at this moment, the air was stifling and she felt claustrophobic.
“At least you were safe. The CIA is not the kind of job you apply for if you want to be safe,” he said wagging a finger at her.
“I don’t want to be safe, Dad, I want to make something of myself. I hoped you’d be happy about that. I finally know what I want to do with my life,” she told him as she tugged on the sleeve of his chambray shirt.

Growing strong

Growing strong

Growing strong

Spring is a time for sowing the seeds that will give us the vegetables and herbs we can use all year long. I have a little garden. Once we’ve prepared the soil and planted the seeds, we water the garden and wait for things to grow. It would be nice if things always went smoothly and when the prescribed number of days is up all we had to do was harvest. But things are rarely that simple, in life or in gardening. There are always challenges and there are always things that are beyond our control.
I am excited when the first tiny leaves break the surface. This means the roots have taken hold, the possibility of plants growing and yielding something that I can cook and eat is almost thrilling. The radishes are usually up first and there really isn’t much challenge in growing them. They are the first to sprout, the first to develop leaves and the first to produce anything edible. And while it’s exciting it’s almost expected. It’s pretty hard to kill a radish. So my attention is elsewhere. There are other questions to be answered. I want to know when the peas and beans will bloom, and if the birds will pull up the sunflower sprouts like they did last year. Why does my zucchini plant have fungus and what happened to the Brussels sprouts? Notice anything about all these questions? They are pretty much out of my control.
And to not be in control is anxiety producing. Most of the time personal growth comes from situations that we can’t control. Those are the hardest lessons. In gardening we can’t control when the growth happens we just know that it should. We shoo away the birds and try to make sure the garden pests don’t devour the first tender young leaves. We’re afraid if that happens all growth and progress will be halted and our fragile young seedlings will die. There will be no crop, no fruit, no yield. So too in life we are on guard, anxious to protect our tender hearts, souls, psyches from those things that might damage us and do us harm. We steel ourselves from the hurt and challenges believing that we are keeping ourselves safe and preventing set backs. The most growth often comes from the most adversity.
If we are open we reap experience, knowledge, grace, and fortitude from life’s challenges. The pests, the storms, the droughts and infestations test our will to grow and fuel our strength and stamina. When we look again, the garden is blooming, thriving, lush and green. The plants are strong, and resilient. Somehow when we accepted our role as gardener and realized only so much was in our control, we produced a more bountiful harvest!
Standing over the plants demanding they grow only makes you look foolish. As a gardener you learn that the plants will do what they are supposed to in their own time and you can’t hurry them along. So you provide a nurturing environment in the hopes that the plants will be come healthy and the crop will be plentiful. You learn to plant more seeds in the hopes that the birds and bugs will get their fill and you will still have some too. You give attention to the plants that need it and leave the ones that are thriving alone.
When it’s time to harvest you gather all the fruit, wash it, prepare it and feast on your accomplishments. It all seems pretty easy and basic. Every gardener I know will tell you it’s not. It takes years to figure out what will grow in your soil (soul). Each gardener has special methods for pruning new growth to produce more fruit and for keeping pests and infestations away (read toxic people, stress and toxic situations here). Some use organic means, some prefer chemicals. Whether it’s yoga, herbal tea, alcohol, or drugs, we all have our way of dealing with stress. If we use too much in the way toxins to deal with stress nothing will grow, the garden will be barren.
In order to thrive and grow we must ensure our environment is nurturing, challenging and positive. There must also be adversity. We often learn more from a struggle than we do when things come easy. There will be times when we experience things beyond our control. We will weather rainstorms, snow and blazing hot sun. And if are lucky we will bear fruit in the form of wisdom, self-knowledge and a life beyond our imagining. That’s what you call a bountiful yield. Next Week Latkes and Gigli

A little candor goes a long way

A little candor goes a long way

I promised myself this wasn’t going to be a blog about my boring life. just a about a few things I care about, and maybe, my journey as a writer. I still plan to dive into the books I’ve been left with and see what comes up for me. I want to know how it makes me feel, what I’ve learned, and why these things still resonate with me after so many years. In order for that to matter to anyone reading this I need to put it into context. When I was talking to my dearest friend I made the comment that I have lost eight members of my family. Seven of them in the last five years. I always said to myself that I shouldn’t feel sorry. I am a two time cancer survivor. I am still here and those dear to me wouldn’t want me to spend my time grieving. There are those who are far worse off than I. My sister lost her daughter, my other sister lost her husband of 35 years. My grief is nothing compared to that. To me they were brother(really, I’ve known him since I was kid) and niece. The list has grown so much I don’t what to do with all of these feelings. I keep telling myself it’s part of life, people die, things happen, no one’s life is perfect. Then the sadness descends. I’m forced to look at my own mortality, and they way I deal with life and death. I have to say I’m not doing the life thing very well. I hoped that by this time in my life, I would be a more successful writer, that our lives would be more secure. I hoped I’d be able to pay for my son’s college and my husband could spend his time making money as photographer. None of those things has happened. Life, death, illness, unemployment, stress have all played a part in  the scenario. I’m disappointed with myself. I don’t feel like a success at anything But here, now, I’m trying to forge the path to a more positive way of thinking. I think of myself as every woman, nothing special. So, if you’re interested in looking into every woman’s heart, soul and life here we go. I’ve let the grief scare and swallow me. Working my way through the books and the music will help me heal and grow. There will be other experiences thrown in there too. Stick around for the journey.

Food is love

Food is love

Food is love

When we were cleaning out my parents apartment, I knew I wanted Mom’s Fannie Farmer and Joy of Cooking cook books. They were battered, and the spines were broken. There were several slips of paper with my mother’s illegible scrawling on them tucked in  the pages, adjustments she’d made to recipes or ones she’d clipped from the newspaper to try. Mom wasn’t a great or a fancy cook but she did one thing that I will always remember. Her food made me feel loved. For her, cooking may have a been a chore, she was feeding a family of eight after all, but I always remember feeling satisfied and loved when I was done with a meal she had prepared. So, for me, food became an expression of care and love. That was something I tried to bring to my cooking when I had a family of my own. I’m not a fancy cook. I can make soups and roasts and chicken in the basic sense. I don’t make sauces, demi-glazes or foams or use complicated equipment. It’s good, simple, hearty, and satisfying. If you asked my son and husband they’d probably tell you they like my soups and roast chicken recipes the best. My son says eating my soups is like getting a hug from the inside out. That comment reminds me of how I felt when I ate my mother’s food. It warms my heart to know I’ve passed that along to the people I care about the most. Food is love. It’s an expression of how we care for, nourish, and feed each other, not just physically, but heart and soul as well. In the coming weeks I’ll pick a few recipes from Mom’s favorite cookbooks make them and post them here. It’ll be my way of passing along the love.

Books my parents left me

Books my parents left me

Books my parents left me

Reading was big thing in my house. I looked forward to weekly trips to the library and the opportunity to lose myself in another world. Books were my escape, my distraction, my inspiration. Out of the six children in my family, I was the one with the love of words.I ate up books devouring them voraciously. In second grade I remember my teacher’s astonishment  that I had so quickly finished the book she’d handed out earlier. Thinking she caught me skimming it, she tested me on the vocabulary, spelling, meaning of the words and the plot. Of course, I passed. The photo is part of a collection of books I inherited from my parents after they died. I remember flipping open the dictionary, and point to a random  word. I’d read it, pronounce it and learn the meaning. The book itself weighs a ton, the other side has little indents with two letters on each one it so you can flip open the page to the appropriate section. I remember thinking how amazing it was that this book contained all the words in the English language, and how I could never possibly learn them all (I was right). The next few entries here will be about the books, my memories and what they meant to me growing up. I’m hoping reading them, exploring them, will help me put the loss of my parents and what they’ve given me into perspective. Mom save the dictionary for me. She knew no one else would want it. It’s old school, a little battered but certainly still capable of doing its job. Kind of like me.