Bones and nests and webs, oh my


Close up prayer flags in TibegBeen a while, and my mind is so stuffed that it’s bursting at the seams like my youngest son’s t-shirt drawer. I hadn’t looked in his dresser in years. You see, my husband insisted our kids do their own laundry in high school “so they would know how” (wink-wink.) I always figured Seán left his clean shirts piled in the basket because he was too lazy to put them away. Now I know.

I opened his drawer yesterday, a month after he left, and stumbled into a cram-packed memory lane. I found thread-bare soccer jerseys… a faded Bob Marley… a silly Spongebob… and a rainbow of festivals and fundraisers. Like scarves in a magician’s hat, they seemed endless. One at a time, I lifted, folded and smile-cried my way through his cotton-poly fingerprints.


I had wanted to weed out Seán’s room with him before he headed to Loyola. Yep. I also planned on college shopping, eating out too much and making him ride waves with me one more time before he ventured to his new life as a freshman in New Orleans.

The universe, though, had other plans.

I’ll skip the details (and some choice words), but let’s just say it involved a white van cutting a corner into my bicycle. In the blink of an eye, I traded my pep-rally role as chief transition orchestrator and dorm decorator for a totally unfamiliar one: spectator.

I watched from a living room recliner as my youngest prepared for his big change. I had to sit by while my daughter, Aislínn, got ready for a long-dreamed semester abroad in Beijing. And I remained propped up with pillows when my drumming firstborn, Ciarán, did a post-college backpack through Vietnam for six weeks then headed away to start his “real” life.

None of them could hug me goodbye; broken bones don’t do well under the pressure of love. Neither do empty nests.

Today is eight weeks since the accident. Patience has never been my strongpoint and inactivity is a foreign land. Yet maybe there’s a reason I needed to sit still. My helplessness helped my offspring fly the coop with stronger, more graceful wings

As my body parts continue to heal, I’m trying hard to adjust to my new life – where tWeb of Pray Flags on Tibet mountaintophe only one I pick up after is my old dog, Scout. And when I hear from my boys in NOLA or Skype with Aislínn in China, I know – like the beautiful webs of prayer flags in her photos from Tibet – that I am truly connected with my children, no matter where we all are.

.. now, to clean out some of those t-shirts!

Very hungry caterpillars


Monarch CaterpillarI’ve been raising monarchs for years. Or, rather, I’ve had the wondrous gift of watching a biological miracle.

All I do is look for teeny white eggs on the underside of my garden milkweed each summer, then put stems in a tank on my porch.

When they hatch, the caterpillars are scant threads, too small for me to see. I only know they’ve emerged by the pinprick holes in the milkweed, signs of their first meals.

But you know the rest of the story:  they eat and eat and eat, hundreds of times their weight each day, causing a swarth of destruction to their ecosystem, until they’re too bloated to continue – sort of like the restaurant patron in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. Only, instead of taking one more bite and exploding, they hang themselves up, shed their skins and harden into a chrysalis.

But here’s the thing. Inside the green gem with its gold rim is an astounding action flick where enzymes digest the caterpillar’s tissue, leaving a rich formless goo. And little cells, called “imaginal disks,” start growing like crazy. Similar to embryonic cells, there are four imaginal disks that will become wings, others that will become legs, antennae, organs, everything a butterfly needs, all feeding on the nurturing soup around them. Then in less than two weeks, often as little as seven days, a beautiful monarch is ready to fly.

It’s a miracle of metamorphosis, and only happens in insects. You’ll never see anything like this in mammals, or any vertebrates for that matter.

Yet there’s something about the meaning of life and imaginal disks, maybe because of the name of the cells. But stay with me.

What if we’re truly like hungry caterpillars, eating, eating, eating, obliviously causing a swarth of weather extremes, terroristic conflicts, class disparities, species destruction or even just our own unhappiness?

For the first days inside the chrysalis, there’s a battle between the caterpillar’s immune system (fighting to save it) and the imaginal disks, which finally triumph. What if we have our own kind of imaginal disks trying to transform our world? (I know Peace Pilgrim was one of these magical morphers.) Maybe the frenzy in our world means we’re reaching the limits of our gorging and we’re poised for metamorphosis. Maybe it means that peace and beauty will prevail.

I didn’t make up this monarch metaphor but I certainly like it. As I watch my caterpillars get bigger every day, I can’t help but imagine. Or should I say imaginal…

Monarch Caterpillar Large

Hanging Caterpillar

Monarch Chrysalis





Caterpillar shedding skin

Monarch Chrysalis Clear

Butterfly Leaving Chrysalis

They are our sonshines!


2013SeanBdayCollage My youngest turns 17 today.
Well before he fell in love with his first shin guards (I adored the purple socks), his smiles lit continents, his giggles shook treetops, his hugs melted my moods. (And yes, his beanie babies filled my bed.) From Lincoln Logs to driver’s license, he’s been a star in my universe and I’m filled with gratitude at the young man he’s becoming. LIke inner peace to our souls are sons to our hearts. Happy Birthday ShawnieBee!

YOU — in six words


SNOWSHADOW…little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own…              from The Journey by Mary Oliver

So how do you hear your own voice? Allow your own voice? Write your own voice? Try a six-word memoir! It’s an amazingly simple-hard-fun way to capture YOU. And it’s worth every ounce of thought you throw into it.

Walking across the country for decades, Peace Pilgrim wore this “memoir” on her back of her navy blue tunic, “25,000 MILES ON FOOT FOR PEACE.” No one had to guess her story, and I imagine these words served as her North Star in times of fatigue, frustration, boredom.

A few years back, on the hair-pulling edge of adolescent schedules, stupidity and hormones (theirs and mine), I taped my mini-memoir to my desk:  HAVING FUN IS MY NEW BLACK! Last spring, when I realized I really wanted to finish my Peace Pilgrim book, I changed it to:  FINALLY TIME FOR MY DREAMS TO LIVE! (I know, it’s seven words, but I’m ok with that.) Anyway, it works. For a reminder. For a smile. For a quick grounding.

I’ve seen funny (Still fit my high school earrings), moving (Car totaled. Everyone safe. Forever grateful.), angst (Fat thighs, school sucks, what now?)

No matter. Pick whatever seems right for the you who you are now!

What are your six?

WOW — I got reviews!

My Peace Pilgrim ebook got several 5 star reviews — a couple from people I never even met :-) How cool is that?!?

I know, I know. Now-a-days you need thousands of likes, not 16. But I don’t care. Whenever I click my Kindle page I’m smiling like an 8-year-old who had ice cream for dinner.

Here’s a sample:

Merry Brennan brings to life the inspiring story of Peace Pilgrim, who walked across the US many times for peace. ” |  4 reviewers made a similar statement

Inspirational to know that one person truly can make a difference. ” |  4 reviewers made a similar statement

This is a wonderful book for parents to share with their children. ”   |  2 reviewers made a similar statement
If you ever-everever wanted to publish a book — just do it! It has never been easier (well, there is a learning curve, but I’d be happy to walk you through it), and it really is fun!

7 on 56


  1. Yea, I’m in a new triathlon age bracket — much better odds.
  2. Tom gave me a “fart” card for my birthday — hysterical.
  3. I still love the Lorax (the real Lorax, not the ridiculous movie.)
  4. Scout is way older than me, and never says no to a walk.
  5. I can be anything I want to be.
  6. I miss my mom; I cherish my children; I treasure my friends.
  7. I am finally opening…

Amazing Connections


OK. It’s not as epic as “if you build it, they will come!” But let me tell you, I’m really feeling my own little parallel: if you write it, things will happen!

Now that I’ve finished my ‘tween/teen book on Peace Pilgrim, many unexpected offers and connections are flowing my way. And today I actually had the amazing opportunity to meet Peace Pilgrim’s sister, Helene Young!

At 97, Helene is charming, joyful and has so many fascinating stories, she really deserves her own book. Plus, she’s in better shape than people half her age. As I sat in her delightful sunroom pouring over a fabulous scrapbook her late husband compiled about Peace’s life, Helene went out for her daily bike ride — but she only did five miles instead of her usual 10! (Yes, it was 30 degrees today.)

Helene shared memories about growing up on a poultry farm with her sister, brother, parents and three aunts. Then she talked about Peace Pilgrim’s journey. For 28 years, Helene was the mystery person who received all of Peace’s mail, sent by admirers to a post office box in Cologne, NJ. Then she forwarded it to wherever her sister was headed. Thousands and thousands of letters reached Peace thanks to her sister. (Helene still bikes to the post office every day.)

I’m deeply thankful to Friends of Peace Pilgrim Board Member Barbara Reynolds for forging this connection, and am really glad to have gotten to know her a bit, too. Before I knew it, six hours had passed, and I left promising to visit again.

My circle is truly enriched!

Friends of Peace Pilgrim Board Member Barbara Reynolds and Peace's sister Helene Young, age 97, at the Peace Pilgrim Park in Egg Harbor City, NJ

Friends of Peace Pilgrim Board Member Barbara Reynolds and Peace’s sister Helene Young, age 97, at the Peace Pilgrim Park in Egg Harbor City, NJ.


Happy Anniversary Peace Pilgrim!

PeacePilgrimWalking photoIt was 60 years ago today. Crowds lined the streets of Pasadena waiting for the marching bands and beautiful floats in the Tournament of Roses parade. But what they saw first was a lone woman walking slowly down the center of the road.

Welcome to the story of Mildred Lisette Norman (1908-1981), who gave up everything she owned and changed her name to Peace Pilgrim when she began her first pilgrimage that New Year’s Day in 1953, vowing to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace.” Over the next 27 years she zigzagged across the U.S. seven times, touching the lives of tens of thousands of people.  Wearing blue sneakers, navy pants and a tunic emblazoned with the words PEACE PILGRM on the front and 25,000 Miles on Foot for World Peace on the back, she spread her message in jails, schools, churches and wherever the road took her. With no money or extra clothes, she lived off the land and the kindness of those she met. Whenever she ran into trouble – whether physical attacks or verbal confrontations – her sole response was compassion.

With every step Peace Pilgrim took, every meeting she had with groups or individuals, her message was about how even a small person, with a small life, can make a difference. Her story shows how each one of us can support peace in our life, our community, our world.

Peace has been a role model of mine for decades, and in the next couple of weeks I finally am going to do something I’ve dreamed of for a long time – publish a ‘tween/teen book about her life. I can think of no better way to start my New Year and my new blog than with some words from this amazing, joyful, energetic prophet of peace:

“When love fills your life, all the limitations are gone.
It is the best medicine for our troubled world.” 

Here’s wishing that love, happiness and peace guide all of us through 2013.