Enlighten Me, Hard to Label, The Write Life, Write Your Life, Writing Business, Writing life

My Niche is Life


Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Someone asked me recently how I would categorize my blog.

This is important:

Niches MAKE a freelance writer’s career! 

I know this from the multiple webinars and classes I’ve attended given by successful freelance writers; writers who make enough to support themselves with their writing; writers who are well-known by editors and get major assignments for feature articles; writers who are paid to ghostwrite books for uber-busy CEO’s, who sell every essay they write for a nice amount; writers who…do I need to go on to convince you? Probably not.

So when asked that question, I began to mini-panic because even though the questioner is not a freelance writer and therefore doesn’t know all this, it’s still important for me AS a freelance writer AND a blogger to have a well-prepared sound byte.

Which I don’t have because I don’t have a niche for my blog.

As a writer, I like to write creative nonfiction pieces about spirituality, self-improvement, travel, and education. These are my passions. I love to write personal essays about those singular seconds in life that snap us awake like alarm clocks blaring in the predawn. Do you know these seconds?

The second you heard your newly born child or grandchild cry, or coo, or say your name.

The second you spotted your soulmate.

The second you got your first big career break.

The second you had your first loss.

The second you heard bad news from your doctor.

The second you shared your darkest secret with a friend and realized she would never judge you for it.

These are the seconds that change our lives and they fascinate me because in that tiny space of time, a pinpoint is poked in the fabric of the universe and light pours in like a laser tattooing a new synapse in the network of your brain. Nothing is ever the same…and it was just a second.

You could have ignored it, missed it. But you didn’t.

That’s what I love to write about. How do I collapse that into a sound byte?

So, when my questioner asked me to describe my blog, I said I like to blog about life, and insights, and enlightenment.

I wasn’t satisfied with the answer and I’ve been trying to edit, rewrite, and re-phrase for a week.

My blog is about those seconds that poke holes in our lives so our universe can expand.

How’s that?

Let me know what you think, so the next time someone asks, I’ll be able to answer with something that sounds at least an iota more writerly.


aging, broken hearts, parenting your parents, Enlighten Me, Hard to Label, parenting

Smile though your heart is breaking…

My sister and I have spent the last week thinking that my mother was going to transition to the next life. Right now, it looks like she’s going to stick around for a little bit though we don’t really know how long.

I’ve had some issues with my mom in the past because we both thought we were in charge of MY life. Then we worked those out; I learned to listen and quietly do what I wanted to take care of my own needs and wants. And now we have occasional issues again and I realized that it’s because we both think we are in charge of HER life.

Funny…not in a haha sort of way because neither of us is in charge right now. Byron Katie says there are three types of business: your business, God’s business, my business. Clearly, my mom’s health is God’s business.

My mom worked as a banquet waitress until she was 82 years old.  Her mind was sharp and clear, but now she thinks it’s still clear and everyone else is confused…that the hospital stole her home, moved it, and reproduced all her furniture, pictures, and possessions in an attempt to fool her into believing that she was living at home.

She sometimes thinks she’s in her childhood home in West Virginia with a big Blue Ridge foothill in the backyard that housed wild cats and black bears and copperhead snakes. These things were true once upon a time, but not now.

She sometimes thinks my father sold their home to pay off some kind of debt to some nefarious individual and she sometimes thinks that my sister and I are plotting against her.

She spent days in the hospital promising to go home and bake raisin-filled cookies.

She told one of the nursing home residents that at the last hotel she was at they had put a bomb under her bed.

I think at one time in my life, when I was four or five and still believed in magic, in Santa, in ghosts and goblins, she dealt with my delusions and now we’re dealing with hers.

It’s fair, I suppose.

What isn’t fair is that my parents tried to maintain solid finances and a nice home so they could pass something on to us and they probably won’t be able to keep those things because getting old is very, very expensive.

My father blames the Republicans for that but I heard a report on NPR about a month ago that causes me to believe it’s a worldwide issue. In Japan, the report said, the prisons are becoming overcrowded with the elderly who can no longer afford to live at home or in a nursing home. One man in his late 70’s tried to get arrested for stealing bicycles but couldn’t get more than a lecture so he took a kitchen knife to a nearby park and threatened young women. He said he had to threaten quite a few with the knife, and beg a few more before one of the women finally called the police.

It’s a sad business, but if you’re smiling right now imagining a small-framed Japanese septuagenarian with a butter knife begging women in the park to be frightened and call the police, know that I am also.

If we don’t continue to smile, our smile muscles will atrophy.

If we don’t continue to find the humanity, our empathy muscles will disintegrate.

If we don’t continue to see the humor, we will totally lose our way.


Enlighten Me, Hard to Label

Post-Thanksgiving Ramblings

There are a few events that have triggered some deep Thanksgiving reflections this year:

  • The 57th birthday party of a sweet woman who suffered a stroke 7 months ago and is now struggling to re-learn to talk, move, walk.
  • The memorial celebration for the 53-year-old music genius who gave in to her cancer on the last full moon.
  • The Parliament of World Religions discussion about the mistreatment of farm animals in the United States forcing me to really, really consider vegetarianism. (But I did eat turkey on Thanksgiving.)
  • A visit to see my Aunt and the uncle whose overachieving bladder cannot stop making tumors.
  • A visit with one of my cousins and her family.
  • 86-year-old Ruth who is an environmental warrior and an independent lady.
  • A text message that my brother-in-law had a massive stroke.

Maybe you’re waiting for me to tell you what they all have in common; what my ramblings and reflections have taught me about life. I’m sorry to disappoint, but I cannot. Not because you as the reader need to make sense of it all for yourself, though that might be true; not because I’m being coy, because I’m not even sure what that means having never been coy in my life!

No, I can’t tell you how they’re related because I don’t know. I have no clue.

That’s probably why I’ve been holding them in my heart. I like things to make sense and so much of life does not. I like organized thoughts and events to follow patterns, but my mind usually jumps from one topic to the next so that I have to make notes to stay on track and the steps I take to finish my to-do list are anything but sequential.

I keep reading and re-reading this list. What do they have in common? What does it mean? What lesson am I to be learning from these several events? I feel like there’s one piece of the 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle missing…THE PIECE that makes the picture come together.

I can tell you that I love my family. All of them…I have the best family in the world…from my grandkids to my parents; from my sisters to aunts; from my daughters to nieces and nephews. My cousins are truly, truly special people. I’m just so lucky to have all these great people in my life.

I can tell you that I love my life…except for winters in Ohio.

I can tell you that God is a real person in my life and I don’t talk to her nearly often enough.

I can tell you that I’m so flawed, and in spite of …maybe because of…the flaws, I sincerely like who I am.

I can tell you that the gratitude I talked about on Thanksgiving doesn’t end with that day. I’m grateful every day of my life…for everything I have in my life: health, family, friends, the ability to pay my bills.

And I can tell you that I still don’t know what triggered so much reflection this year. I still don’t know why these events impacted me so profoundly.

I can only tell you that they did.

That they helped me feel vulnerable, powerless, blessed.

That they triggered a loving response, prayer, and prayerful thoughts.

That they illuminated for me the careful layering of our emotions: the bedrock sadness, gratitude that constitutes more layers than any other single emotion, the grief, the too-generous portion of fear, inspiration to do better, motivation to do more, love, more sadness, and even more gratitude.

These are emotional reactions. They don’t give me a neat little quotation that will trigger the same emotional responses for you. Nothing I’ve written or thought of writing has helped me make sense of why my mind is stuck on these events specifically.

They are just a diorama of life, right? Miniature figurines in action before a construction paper background, sun, trees, grass, stick figures playing ball drawn in black crayon.

It’s just life. Nothing to make sense of; nothing to reason out; nothing to acquire.

Life in its complexity, simplicity, irony.

Maybe I don’t need to make sense of it. Maybe feeling this deeply was enough.






Conferences, Hard to Label, The Write Life

Oprah’s Got Nothin’ On Me!



She has favorite things…


Want some gift ideas for the people in your life? Here’s a list of my favorite things for:


  1. Subscription to The Writer Magazine, Writer’s Digest, Creative NonFiction, The Sun
  2. Scrivener Software
  3. //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=vickinoll-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B01N8VLZ2Q&asins=B01N8VLZ2Q&linkId=6538cf12d47ece49f2dab5a57df25428&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>A beautiful journal or two or three…that also empower women in Third World Countries
  4. //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=vickinoll-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=1416535039&asins=1416535039&linkId=52308f59b3ad5fb06e91e3e7a95f3006&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>Old Friend From Far Away; //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=vickinoll-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=161180308X&asins=161180308X&linkId=3f9364aed66e385207952b9aa4b5ad78&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>Writing Down the Bones; //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=vickinoll-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=1451641257&asins=1451641257&linkId=2fb7bc286237f6035be051b305cc9394&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>The True Secret of Writing  ;
  5. //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=vickinoll-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0553347756&asins=0553347756&linkId=156de76e22b5995ae8c889248169ddca&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>Wild Mind   Natalie Goldberg
  6. The War of Art; Turning Pro                                                  Steven Pressfield
  7. The Writer’s Market                          from Writer’s Digest
  8. Week at a Writing Retreat Center: Here’s 8 ideas , High Desert Retreat CenterRockvale Writing Retreat, a listing by state
  9. Tuition to a Writing Conference:

Mothers, Sisters, Friends:


  • What does your wife ask of you all the time? To give her half an hour of your undivided attention?  Clean the basement? Do the grocery shopping?  Remodel the bathroom? Make a coupon book with a few coupons for each of the things (except remodels…she’ll only need one of those) she wants most from you…it won’t cost a thing but the rewards will be well worth it…as long as this isn’t her ONLY GIFT!
  • A romantic trip
  • One of the best gifts my husband ever got me was a wardrobe-replacement-budget. I had met my weight-loss goal and he gave me the money to refresh my wardrobe. The fun lasted well into February!


And guess what I just realized? Oprah DOES have something on me…about 80 more gift ideas on her Favorite Things List.






Hard to Label, Just Funny

3 Ways I Sabotage…

7ad1e1f6d081e65e2c87313a39743f8bLast night, or should I say, very, very early this morning, I thought of all the ways I sabotage my sleep…there are…you guessed it…THREE because I’m on a roll with threes this week. Here they are:

  1. Happy Hour at Starbucks. Are you kidding me? Who thought it was a fabulous idea to offer caffeinated deals from 4-6? Well, apparently, me, until about 3 AM.
  2. Destination Solitaire. One more game on my iPhone. Spider Solitaire relaxes me a bit because let’s face it, it’s pretty boring. But Destination Solitaire is anything BUT boring. You’re racing the clock while trying to rack up enough points to earn the little star that moves you farther up the Champs Elysses. By the time I earn my star, I’m wide awake and jazzed to earn more, get farther, conquer Paris so I can travel to Rio, and London, and Greece, OH MY!
  3. I Can’t Remember. That’s number 3…there was something I needed to do tomorrow, but I can’t remember what it is. I would have written it down, but at the time I thought of it, I was: a) driving, b) having Happy Hour at Starbucks, or c) playing Destination Solitaire. It’s 2 AM, my phone is in my hand ready to type that elusive thought into Notes or Reminders, but since I’m up anyway…and I already have my phone…maybe just one more game?


Hard to Label

Autumn Walk

It is a beautiful day, about 77 degrees with sunshine and a light breeze that blows yellow, orange and red leaves across the sidewalk in front of us. I had almost forgotten how much I love the fall. Some years it seems we skip fall and go straight from hot, humid summer to cold winter. This year, fall is gorgeous. When we step on the dried leaves, they crackle and curl up around the sole of my Nikes. It’s as if they like me as much as I like them. It’s comforting in some way I really don’t understand.

Our yard is dotted with yellow and brown leaves in various stages of dehydration. I say dehydration because thinking about the leaves and trees dying brings with it a little sadness and I don’t want to spoil a fall day like this with sad references that aren’t really true. They aren’t. The leaves fall, dry up and become part of the soil; they live just in a different form. The trees are left naked against the blue sky, their spirits go inward and they work hard on expansion.

So many times I’ve witnessed this very same scene and been saddened by it—but not because of what’s happening right now, which is beautiful—-because of what’s going to happen in a month or so. It’s so much better when I forget about that and focus on what’s right before my eyes now. Besides, the impending snow now seems to have a new purpose. Seeing things from a different perspective can do that.

Nature is just exfoliating so new growth can take place. She does this every year. Every winter Nature treats herself to a cold masque. And that’s followed every year by a spring display that shows off all the internal work completed over the winter. I may feel differently in a few months when the color has changed from brilliant to dull, but for today I am filled with gratitude and hope and wonder from an autumn walk.

Hard to Label

Jack and Tess

Originally Posted January 6th, 2008 by Vicki Noll

We’ve been dog-sitting my eldest daughter’s German Shepherd puppy, Tess, since July. At first, I was concerned that my husband, Jack, who doesn’t easily connect with living things that disrupt his quiet schedule would not take well to having a high-maintenance pup. It soon became evident that my concerns were unnecessary. Jack and Tess became the best of friends. The dog attached to him like Garfield to lasagna. She was the one who was beside herself with excitement when he came home from work; she was the one who sought his company and always wanted to be by his side. She could be sound asleep, but if he stood up, she did too. She could be full of energy, but if he fell asleep watching T.V., her head was more than likely across his foot or his knee.

So, when my daughter’s apartment situation finally resolved itself, my husband was not as excited to ship the dog home as I had anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t thrilled either about giving her up. After all, I had become attached to Tess myself. Who wouldn’t? Tess has a spectacular personality; she’s intelligent enough to know the word ‘squirrel’ and react energetically whenever she hears it. She has an endearing way of leaning into you to get close whenever she’s frightened by the vacuum cleaner or the sound of rustling paper. She has the cutest way of flattening her ears when she knows she’s made a mistake.

She makes strange noises which my husband swears are words that she just can’t articulate in human fashion. She howls at ambulance and fire sirens. She sits, lays down, stays and rolls over on command and when you aim your finger at her and say ‘bang’, she plays dead.

She listens when you talk to her and she pays attention to your moods, giving you affection when you need it and space when you need that. She’s an extraordinary dog who is on her way back to Los Angeles where her real owners are anxiously awaiting.

She’s a lucky dog–a miracle dog. She shouldn’t even be alive. Born with a heart defect that is usually fatal, my veterinarian daughter arranged for a cardiologist to perform a rare surgery to correct the condition. Though Tess has severe dietary and digestive issues, she’s thriving.

When so many dogs are abandoned every year, or every day, Tess is lucky to have two homes, two couples who love her.

Today, Jack packed plush towels around the edges of an airline kennel and cut a rubber-lined velour rug to fit the floor. He filled a Kong toy with all-natural, no-preservative beef treats and organic peanut butter. He took the shirt off his back and laid it neatly along the wall of the crate. He filled a travel tray with ice cubes and a travel bottle with cold, filtered water. That’s how Tess will make the trip back to L.A., padded, warmed and pampered, with her best friend’s scent all around her.

We don’t know how much she understands, but I believe that she knows she is very loved. I believe that this dog who became so attuned to my husband’s moods and emotions is aware of how much she will be missed. I believe she knows she is not being abandoned or sent away because she is no longer wanted. I think this dog who has been surrounded by love since her traumatic puppy-hood knows she is wanted, cared-for and very blessed.

Jack is worried that she’ll forget him; he knows that he will never forget her.

But I believe that she will carry memories of her Ohio vacation and her Buckeye friend to her grave. I think she will look for him on L.A. streets and will perk her ears up when she hears his voice over the cell phone. I think she will remember him whenever she plays with the yellow Wubba he bought her or sees someone eating Cheerios.

I know Tess will rejoice every time he visits L.A. and for those days when they’re together again, it will be as if they had never parted.

That’s how it is with best friends. That’s how it will be for Jack and Tess.