Speak in Ink

Take care to speak in ink.
Spoken words cannot be erased—only forgiven.
Rough drafts laden with anger said out loud
Are instantly published.
Apologies are hard to give
Requiring humility, sincerity, remorse.
No real apology includes “but.”
Apologies are even harder to accept
For they require grace.
You may choose forgiveness
With or without an apology.
Forgiveness is harder to give than to receive.
The gift is in the giving.

I’m delighted to announce that my poem was published in Medium: https://medium.com/indian-thoughts/speak-in-ink-29152214a785#.e1e6i9q4j

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The Pullet Surprise

Final full size

At the December 2015 meeting of the Redwood Writers, I was awarded the Pullet Surprise (say it aloud) “for exceptional service to the writers of Sonoma County.” Treasurer Briahn Kelly-Brennan began her presentation by saying that Redwood Writers depends on volunteers. The Board of Directors, along with the people who organize and judge the contests, select the work and publish the anthologies, the teams that put on the conferences every two years and the many workshops, and the people who run the monthly meetings are all volunteers.

Briahn introduced this first-ever award for a year-long project that is fundamental to our organization. We are no longer manually keeping a checkbook for this branch of California Writers Club of almost 300 members. Our finances are now on QuickBooks. Records will be more accurate; we can generate reports to analyze our spending; and, make projections to operate this club more effectively.

The treasurer said I accomplished this. I thought the hours that we spent together were going to be about me teaching her how to use a software program. She was so quick to learn and eager to use the program to its fullest, that there was no work involved. We got to know each other, laughed, told each other some personal stories, and became good friends. And, we also accomplished a great deal for the Redwood Writers.

Volunteer organizations are only as good as the sum of the volunteers’ shared talents and skills. I am nurtured and excited to be a member of this wonderful club and happy to be a volunteer.

In addition to being a retired bookkeeper, I am a writer. I have now been presented with the award every writer would covet—the Redwood Writers version of a Pulitzer Prize.

I am honored to be the recipient of the 2015 Pullet Surprise.



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Holiday Peace

One of the definitions of peace is the normal, non-warring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world. Just taking in those words makes my gut clench because my mind goes to the lack of peace in our world today.

You won’t hear me talk politics or religion. But none of us lives in a vacuum, and we have to acknowledge the effect the news has on us. It’s hard to feel peaceful.

To nurture myself at this time of year, I have to bring the concept of peace down to its simplest level. When I feel peaceful, there is an absence of disturbance, lack of stress—no stomach ache, no headache, no tears. I have to consciously set worry aside—this doesn’t come naturally. There is something about this time of year that brings my emotions to the surface. I cry more easily. I feel sad for the violent acts of some people in our country and the effects of war and discord in so many parts of the world. My heart aches for the street people who are homeless and mentally ill.

Along with gratitude for the peace and comfort in which I am fortunate enough to live, I feel a bit guilty. Within the physical peace, I have to give myself permission to feel inner peace, even if stolen for a few moments or a few hours. Am I entitled to feel peaceful when there is so much suffering? Shouldn’t I volunteer to be a Secret Santa before I can enjoy Christmas? At least I should help serve dinner at a shelter on Christmas Eve. I question my own entitlement.

Then I resolve to be more charitable all year long. Just as I believe mental illness is contagious, I also believe peace and tranquility are. I am serving my neighbor by being courteous on the road, by being polite in the grocery store, generous with my tip at a restaurant. We know one good deed begets another.

When I finish having this conversation with myself, organizing my thoughts a little better, I decide I have earned the right to be at peace without guilt.

I sincerely wish you peace; however you carve it out. Happy Holidays.



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Gratitude, even when shit happens

On my morning walk, my left heel slipped 18” to 20” ahead of my body, causing my arms to fly up over my head, and in one quick bow, plant themselves on the sidewalk in front of me, along with my right knee. I couldn’t believe I was actually on the ground on all fours. Somehow my hands were not torn, but my knee didn’t fare so well. On the inside of my rolled-up pant leg I could see skin and blood that had been transplanted.

Grateful to be able to get myself up off the sidewalk, I looked behind me to see what could have caused my fall. Dog poop! Evidently, I stepped right in the middle of the biggest pile which was now a foot-and-a-half-long smear; the smaller pile was slightly off to the right—more gratitude that my hand hadn’t landed that bull’s eye.

I considered calling home for a ride, but decided since no blood was running down my shin, I might be better off walking twenty minutes home to work-out the unceremonious chiropractic adjustment. With my pant leg rolled up above my knee, I continued my walk. Nearly a block later, I couldn’t comprehend how I had not seen all that poop. I had to go back to look.

Scattered between the light spots and shady areas of the sun shining through the tree, were dark brown leaves, the perfect color for camouflage. That restored my sense of self that I hadn’t missed a clearly visible plop in the middle of the sidewalk.

On my walk home, my knee was pulsing with my heart beat, and stinging from the air blowing on the exposed under-layer of skin. But a multitude of far-worse scenarios distracted me from my pain. I was so grateful I had not fallen backward or sideways. I didn’t have a broken hip or broken arm. Neither my tailbone nor my head had hit the sidewalk. I hadn’t lost consciousness and was able to walk home. A couple of Band-Aids, an ice pack for my knee cap, and Aleve for my tweaked neck and back got me through the next few days. Amazingly, the pain I’d been having in my right hip disappeared. Somehow the fall had relieved an irritated nerve.

The moral of the story to dog owners is please pickup after your dogs. It’s not only unsightly and unsanitary, but it can be dangerous.

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Highway Home by Belinda Riehl (revised)

Parked on I-110, snaking the interchange to I-105.

Endlessly flexing and contracting; each car, truck, bus, a vertebrae.

2mph at 4pm headed to LAX, hoping for acceleration on a straight-away.


If that language means nothing, you’re lucky.

You haven’t traveled in Los Angeles on the way to the airport.

It’s all about timing—lines mean stress.


It’s Friday…end of the week, end of the day.

At the end of the line, you might be late,

Or out of luck.


But my glass is half full:

New bus, good A/C, foot rests,

Seatbelts, sun shades and tinted windows.


Nearly three hours ’til boarding.

Home in beautiful Sonoma County tonight.

Life is good.

Submitted to Redwood Writers August newsletter – 7/10/15

Thanks to Briahn Kelly-Brennan for editing.

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Words Wound

Words can hurt like a punch

Stomach gets sick, head hurts, eyes water

Misunderstandings mend quickly

But direct strikes stab.

Words are only sounds in our ears

How do they reach our eyes to make tears?

Churning a pathway through our guts

Ending with a direct hit to the heart.

Gossip scratches and scrapes

Opinions have blunt-force

But truth is the most lethal

With serrated edges that can make us bleed.

Apologies are surgical repair

Required for healing

But scars remain.

Words wound.

Printed in the Poetry Place of the July 2014 monthly newsletter

of the Redwood Writers branch of California Writers Club. 

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Steering repaired? No, hearing impaired.

Some days communication is difficult, other days it’s entertaining.  On this day we had one example after another of how funny misunderstandings can be.

Last Friday morning I took a wooden blind into a window shop to see if the broken plastic mechanism which tilts the slats could be replaced.  I was told that the independent repair man, Greg, would stop by the store in the afternoon.  Either he would call to say he could repair the blind, or the shop would call to say come pick it up.  However, when I called at 4:30, I only reached voicemail and didn’t expect a call until Monday morning, since they were closed on weekends.

At 6:30 that evening I answered Greg’s call.  I heard him say, “I’m feeling terrible.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.  “Are you sick?”  I was expecting an apology because he hadn’t contacted me before close of business.

“No.  I’m fine, thank you.”

“Oh, then why are you feeling terrible?”  Maybe he needed a nudge to apologize.

“I said your blind is repairable.”

We both had a good laugh.

I went back to making dinner—mac & cheese with sausage for my husband.  We had shopped at the meat market earlier in the day, but were told they hadn’t started grinding the Italian sausage yet.  It would be ready around 3:00.  When I returned in the late afternoon, they still had no Italian sausage so I decided to try something new.  The day-old chorizo sausage was highly recommended by the owner.

That evening after I set my husband’s plate of mac & cheese and sausage on the table, I turned to the stove to finished making my dinner–not mac & cheese or sausage.  With my back to the table I heard my husband say, “I’m eating poop seeds.”  I thought he was referring to the roughage in the sausage.

“What part is that?” I asked.

“What part is Mac?” he said.

“No, you said you’re eating poop seeds.”

“I said when I eat, Poop eats.”  (Poop is his nickname for our dog.) “See, I sit down, she lays down next to her bowl and eats too.”  He was not commenting on the new sausage.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you why you didn’t get Italian sausage,” I said, still facing the stove.


“Because the sausage maker died,” I said, turning back to the table.

My husband’s eyes opened wide.  “The young guy we saw this morning?”

“Huh?  What do think I said?”

“You said the sausage maker died,” he repeated.

“Yes, the owner lady had to go to Reno to buy a new grinder.”

So just when you think you’ve clearly communicated, you never know what the other person will hear, especially with your back turned.

–Belinda Riehl, August 2014

Submitted for consideration to be included in September Redwood Writers Newsletter

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From my profundity file…

Raising kids is like trying to sweep up dust bunnies while the ceiling fan is on.

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Step Carefully

Some days it’s a struggle not to be a cynic.  I usually choose to see the glass half full and to believe that most people are kindhearted.  As a daily walker, however, I’ve observed some drivers behave aggressively when they are hidden behind the tinted windows of their cars.  Surely, they’d be more polite if we were face-to-face in a grocery store pushing shopping carts.

I’ve learned that if I cross the street in a crosswalk, I’m not much safer than if I run for my life mid-block.  It’s apparent when I hear an approaching engine roar, some drivers like to intimidate me into hurrying across the street.

In an effort not to disrupt the flow of traffic, I try to time my first step off the curb so I can make it across the street without interfering with the next passing car.  I’ll even dawdle with my back to traffic away from the corner to indicate that I’m not ready to cross.  As the last car on my side of the street goes by, I step off the curb.  Occasionally, the driver on the far side feels compelled to stop—the overly-polite driver—whom I waive on.  I’d rather pass behind him.

There are a variety of drivers:  the extremely cautious driver will spot a pedestrian at the curb a quarter mile away and begin slowing immediately; the hurried driver doesn’t slow until he’s sure the walker will not have cleared his path; the rude driver will show his true colors when the pedestrian has had just enough time to step up on the curb, when he roars by to show his frustration.  Most drivers have better manners.

Not to bash older drivers in general, but I’ve seen several white-haired drivers lately who have not stopped behind the limit line—the first line of the crosswalk—even though they have clearly seen the pedestrian coming.  The thought bubble over their heads could say, “I see you, youngin’, but I was here first!  You can walk around my back bumper.”  The pedestrian has the right to the crosswalk, regardless of seniority.

A curious moment occurred the day I saw a man hurrying across the street in the crosswalk, either misjudging the speed of the approaching car, or the driver having sped up.  In the walker’s haste, his baseball cap blew off landing inside the bicycle lane.  The driver slowed slightly for the walker; then aiming for a direct hit, she ran over the hat.  One could only wonder why she felt so compelled.

I still believe in the basic goodness of my neighbors, but some give me pause.

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Have you ever wondered…

How hard would it be for the installer of toilet paper dispensers to put them at shoulder level, a foot in front of the commode, instead of next to your hip?  How many times have you sat in a public restroom and had to bend over, until your chest is almost on your lap, to reach up inside the poorly designed plastic box, whose opening is only about eighteen inches from the floor?  All you can do is keep turning the roll around and around, hoping the end will magically appear.  Occasionally, the considerate person before you will have left the end dangling, perilously close to the dirty floor.  The quality of the paper is too thin and scratchy, a separate issue, but contributes to its inaccessibility.  If you have carpel tunnel, forget it—you’ll never be able to wrench your wrist enough to find the end of the roll that’s laughing at you each time you miss it, as you spin the cylinder. While visiting a handicapped stall, I was pleased to have the choice of two dispensers—one whose opening was below my knee so the paper hung almost to the floor, maybe to entertain a child, while the other easy-to-reach toilet paper holder was mounted so that the paper fell loosely at eye level—perfect.  Now, how ‘bout a step up to two-ply?

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