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Christmas Poem 2017


On the 1st day of Christmas, I was sure as I could be

That the most important part of my life is my incredible family.


On the 2nd day of Christmas, I quickly glanced around

And smiled at my good fortune to live in Bethesda, downtown.


On the 3rd day of Christmas it was easy for me to see

How many incredible people live here in The Darcy.


On the 4th day of Christmas what quickly came to me

Is how much we have grown: 17 members on our Social Committee!


On the 5th day of Christmas, we all need to realize

That it’s in the giving, not the getting, that is the real prize.


A 6th day of Christmas brought to my mind

my long-standing dream that everyone in the world would be kind.


A 7th day of Christmas warns us to take care of our health

Far more important than focusing on our financial wealth.


An 8th day of Christmas reminds us that we are not alone,

There are those who are hungry, there are those without a home.


Being inclusive and tolerant, living without much hullabaloo

Is what the 9th day of Christmas tells us to do.


The 10th day is for being present and living a purposeful life

Being a model parent, a faithful husband or a loving wife.



The 11th day says to be joyful, spread cheer all around

Be happy and grateful, our feet solidly on the ground.

And the 12th day offers a wish from me to you

May you be blessed in 2018 in all that you do.




Merry Christmas to you all!

Mary Ann O’Neil

Christmas Poem 2017







The Junk Drawer

My friend just stopped by to drop off a NY Times article she thought I would enjoy. She said she didn’t have time to chat because today was the day she was going to clean out her junk drawer. The door no sooner closed behind her and I found myself standing in front of my junk drawer, aghast! It appeared that everything I ever owned had found its way to the perfect hiding place.  Surely  if I had found any one of these items on my coffee table or my precious new, navy-laminated desk, I would have tossed it out.

A junk drawer? In my very neat and well-organized apartment?  Heavens! Years ago I always had a junk drawer but back then there were way too many kids, a husband, a business to run, and a tennis competition to get to. Back then there was no time to clean out a junk drawer, as a matter of fact, I think I had several!

But today, I am retired, by myself, and I have all the time in the world to make sure a junk drawer never occurds. My OCD about keeping order just doesn’t allow for a junk drawer! Right now, it you were to open my refrigerator you would see all my water bottles, neatly in rows like soldiers, one behind another, labels to the front. The same is true of my yogurt containers, all in neat rows, like flavors with like flavors, allowing one to easily select the flavor of the moment.  Further, my socks are all paired and neatly arranged in my sock drawer, my shoes are organized by type (heels, clogs, sneakers, Jack Rogers, and the like. So how is it that a pizza cutter, an old sales receipt, post it pads, two screws,  pens, an outdated coupon, a UND laminated name card, scissors, a paper clip, and broken rosary beads  all gravitated together in one drawer.

And so the project of organizing the junk drawer began.  The first few items were easy throw away decisions: an outdated coupon,  a used theater ticket, an old sales receipt from Pottery Barn for furniture I purchased when I moved here to Bethesda. But then I came upon the broken Rosary beads from my visit to Philadelphia with Helen and Leah to see the Pope. With tears in my eyes I recalled a very meaningful and faith-driven weekend. I miss Helen and Leah and thought about planning some sort of weekend reunion with those women who were once part of my daily life.  My Notre Dame lanyard reminded me of a workshop I delivered there for Catholic school coaches, as well as the football games we enjoyed while Michael Jr, was a UND student. Again, more tears. A theater ticket from Thurgood, an incredible look into the mind of Thurgood Marshall, a ribbon left behind by my granddaughter, and a photo of Michael, my former spouse had also made their way to the drawer.  How did these very special things end up here in a so-called junk drawer?

I couldn’t throw out the photo, the Rosary beads, the lanyard, or the theater ticket…they weren’t junk, they were…um, uh,…they were part of my story. So what am I to do with them? I looked around my small apartment and could not find a suitable place for any one of them. And then the only logical thing came to my mind: rename my junk drawer.  I went to the trash and retrieved the furniture sales receipt, the theater ticket that led me to better understand a very conservative mind.  I left the  old screws right there in the trash because I could not remember their significance.  My new “Special Things” drawer looks the same as its predecessor, but now the things that are in there belong there and nowhere else. As I closed the drawer, I realized how much pleasure opening the Special Things drawer brought me, I will have to do so more often.

Women with High SUCCESSTROGEN are organized because they need to be in order to do all that they do.  But they, too, allow themselves the luxury of a Special Things Drawer where stuff just lands, not junk , but really good stuff that is part of their story. The stuff in this draw  cannot be organized or labeled, nor can it be discarded. But it can bring them back in time occasionally, to recall parts of their story that reminds them of how they got to today.

Have you thought about taking a trip down memory lane lately and reviewed the contents of your junk drawer?

“Street Kids”, the 2nd in a Series on My Trip to Zambia

“Love Works.” You read this truth the other day in my Successtrogen blog. But you already knew that Love works because you have experienced that truth over and over again in your lifetime.  The love of family, the love of a friend or even that of a service provider helping you get through a difficult challenge has validated that love works.  When one person is kind to another, the world at least for that moment is gentle and calm and we feel renewed hope that all will be well again some time soon.

In Zambia the young children I told you about also know that Love Works,  as they are thriving living at the school surrounded by a loving staff and frequent volunteer visitors.  They receive love easily and give love just as easily. Grateful for being rescued from their previous orphan or homeless status, no one has to convince them that love works.

However, another population in Zambia, the “street kids”  are less inclined to believe that “Love Works”, because no one has rescued them, no one has offered them adoption. No one seems to treat the “street kids” as though their lives matter. The thought of these children leaves me literally haunted.

The “Street kids” of Zambia are 13 – 18 years old and seem to have been abandoned by their world. They do not have jobs, a family, a roof over their head, or even the remote possibility that any of these things will happen for them, ever. These kids are easily recognizable as they are usually seen carrying a flattened cardboard box, one they used for shelter the previous night and one they plan on using for shelter every night.  As they struggle every single day to find food  to stay alive, I am wondering what on earth motivates them to stay alive.  The street kids are like Peter Pan’s “Lost Boys” without Peter; most are afflicted with HIV/aids, many are addicted to drugs. There is no light or happiness whatsoever in their eyes. They are hungry, their clothes are dirty, their shoes are worn. They smell badly. Their teeth are rotted and many of them have open lesions on their skin. They have little energy.

The only apparent hope for the “street kids” is at the Chisome Center, a 7am – 3pm center where they can get a shower, a meal and hang out in a safe place.   The director, an incredible young man, Jason Stansbury, from Philadelphia  has dedicated his life to helping these kids. Jason is the missing  link, perhaps the equivalent of Peter Pan to the Lost Boys.  He does provide the love and kindness the street kids need; he “gets” them, he speaks their language, he cares for them. Jason welcomes them every day as long as they are drug free. He educates them about drugs and life, but I am told  that for whatever unfathomable reason, Jason is not permitted to provide  overnight care, and so at 3pm the “street kids” grab their cardboard boxes and head for the streets to repeat the same awful experience they had the night before.


You do not need to visit Zambia to imagine what these kids do on the streets all night long until 7am when they can return to Chisome. I met a 13-year-old girl who said very little but  wrote her story on a white board. Her story tells of losing both parents and her home, and her current life on the streets. I choked up as I read  what she does several times a night for what equates to no more than pennies, a story that continues to haunt me.

On the way back from the Chisome Center, I silently asked God “Why?”, and since I am not sure I have a right to question God, I quickly thank Him for sending Jason to the “Street kids.”  At least for 8 hours a day, they are safe and have some sense of home and belonging. I have added Jason Stansbury to my grateful list.

I am learning quickly that I cannot necessarily fix all that I wish to fix before my last breath.  Knowing I have little to no influence on the Zambian government to argue for the rights of the “street kids”, I can perhaps help Jason with the kids while they are at his center. I have emailed Jason and asked what we might send that will make the days of the street kids a little brighter. My 3  grandchildren will organize a drive in their school, Westtown near Philadelphia.  I found out quite by accident that Jason Stansbury happens to be a graduate of Westtown School so I am sure the students, teachers, and parents will be supportive of any attempts to help him.

Be grateful that your children and  grandchildren will likely always have a roof over their heads, food on the table, clean clothes, dental and medical care as needed because “Love Works” for them.  I am happy that Love Works for your children/grandchildren and mine, and for the young kids at the Children’s Resource Center in Zambia.  I only wish I could say that  Love works for the “street kids” in Zambia.


Love Works, the First in a Series on My Trip to Zambia



“Love Works” is the underlying theme of Mothers Without Borders, an organization that has saved hundreds upon hundreds of vulnerable and orphaned children in Zambia. Kathy Headlee, Founder/CEO shares what she believes to be a truth:

“Love works,at all times and in all things and in all places; and it’s the only thing that does.”

This truth is what convinced Kathy to leave the comforts of her US home and go to Zambia, lease property, and start a school for children in need of love. She has worked through all sorts of hurdles to create a safe place where Zambian children  can live safely, eat regularly, become educated, and hopefully change what could have been to a healthy, productive life for each child.

This truth is what encouraged other educated Zambians to join Kathy and commit their love as teachers, staff, and volunteers at the school.  This truth is what encouraged other Zambian social service agencies to partner with Kathy so that the needs of Zambian children could be met at each stage of their development.  This truth catches the attention of groups of US women volunteers every year to go to Zambia for Mothers Without Borders, and share their love.

And  this same truth is what encouraged me to go to Zambia this past June.

There were 28 of us in Zambia last month, ranging in age from 13 to 72.  We shared 3 bedrooms and 4 tents, 3 bathrooms with no hot water, and had virtually no privacy.  We started each day by 8 am after a  hard-boiled egg for breakfast, headed out to one site or another, and ate our lunch, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, in the back of an old army truck.  But this trip clearly wasn’t about the comforts of our living space, or the food  we ate.  This trip was about experiencing the truth, that Love Works.

Each day we brought love to infants, children, teens, and women of Zambia, to make their lives a little easier that day.  We spent time with the children, read books and playing games.  We taught the women how to embroider and purchased some handcrafts they made to help them provide for their families. The joy-filled women sang and danced for us.  I learned later that day that most have or have been impacted by HIV/Aides, and most do not know if they will be able to feed their children the next day.  Young children entertained us with their lively songs and  dance, and then blew me away by the poignant poetry they wrote about the poverty, HIV/Aides, and the hunger they live with. “How did this happen?” I silently asked God on the truck ride back that day. I am still waiting for the answer.

While I remain saddened by what I saw and learned in Zambia, I want you to know, the children and the women we met are not sad.  Somehow they exude joy regardless of being plagued by sickness and poverty.   I was quickly reminded how miserable I was a few months back when I stubbed my toe.

The Zambian women and children are not complaining, much less about a stubbed toe!  You could literally see the joy in their eyes as our old army truck pulled through the school gate and the children ran towards the truck.   They sang their praises to God  and they danced.  They welcomed us,  “Mzungus”, the white-faced visitors,  and hugged us freely.  They laughed and teased just like my grandchildren do.  They are grateful for the things we bring and the time we spend with them. Love Works.

In school they learn with passion.  The teaching model is one of  repetition. The teacher recites the times table and the children repeat what they heard, over and over again.  The children do not  get distracted even when we walk in to the classroom during one of their lessons. They are intent on learning, on improving their lives.

Please pray for the children in Zambia, and when you get a moment read about Mothers Without Borders, Kathy is an incredibly strong woman, a leader that inspires  and makes things happen, saving and improving lives.  If you can, consider a donation, as I have personally seen for myself that donations go directly to serve the children and improve their lives.

Love Works.


Rocks in your Back Pack

I often find myself running a concern through one of my sons,  Michael Jr. While he is not a practicing attorney, his law school education truly taught him invaluable critical thinking skills.  As a result, when faced with a problem, he   “nets things out” basing his opinion on facts not emotions,  quickly gets to the bottom line of what needs to be done, and takes action. He is a tremendous resource for me especially since I do not have even a glimmer of that skill set.

My lack of critical thinking skills also describes  one of my clients,  a young woman struggling to get her life on an even keel.  We spend considerable time on the phone going over what she wishes to change to improve her life, yet something happens from the point of our agreed upon plan on the phone to actual execution of the plan. More specifically, there is no execution. I shared with Michael my  frustration with her lack of progress and my lack of success with her, and he said quickly and simply,

“Some people add rocks to your back pack.”

Interesting, I thought. Yes, some people make our lives more difficult, more cumbersome, actually heavier. We can attempt to work with them carefully so that they create a plan they are comfortable with, but we cannot make them follow the plan.  Maybe for them just having someone to listen to their plight gets them though the immediate struggle and that is enough. I will continue to be there to listen and will have to recognize my limitations to do much more.

We can all think of one or more people in our lives who “add rocks to our back pack”, but all of a sudden I am questioning if I  add rocks to someone else’s back pack. I will give that more thought. I do not want to add weight to anyone’s life with my own concerns about the chaos in the world, with my anxiety about traveling, or my increasing concern about the aging process. Women with high successtrogen use critical thinking skills to resolve their own worries and concerns, and rather than just complain, they seek the resource they need to resolve their own  issue.

How about you, are you weighed down by the rocks someone else has handed you? Oh and by the way, are  you in any way adding weight to someone else’s back pack?


Slow Your Roll


Over Easter break, my daughter-in-law, Lisa, and I took her youngest daughter, Eliza, to American Girl in NYC. To any of you who have never experienced it, the store is a little girl’s dream.  Thousands of dolls dressed in haute couture are carefully arranged as though they were real children in the park, at a birthday party, or on a camping trip.  One wouldn’t dare bring a little girl here just to “window shop”.   Once a visit to this store is on your calendar, you have committed to purchasing an over-priced, yet impeccably dressed  doll.  While Eliza already had many American Girl dolls at home, she was excited to be getting a new one. Together, we spent an unusual amount of time reviewing all the new dolls and their personal stories, and selecting just the right one.

As if picking out a new doll weren’t enough of a treat,  we had reservations for brunch at the American Girl cafe.  While the decor is as you would expect, girly, very pink and sweet, the food is clearly an opportunity for improvement. What was spent on brunch could have fed many families in a struggling community.  I am not sure why this organization known for its exquisite life-like dolls cannot make a decent pancake1 But they cannot, they just can not.

While waiting on-line  for brunch outside the Cafe, I noticed a little girl clinging to her new American Girl doll, Gabrielle, one of my personal favorites.  The child begged her mom for a second doll.  Her mother explained that the child should be grateful for the one she was holding.  But as children often do, the child opted to push her luck and hopefully wear her mother down. “Pleeeeze, pleeeeze mommy.  Gabriella needs a friend to go home with!  Who is Gabrielle going to play with? Why can’t I have two dolls? Pleeeeze, mommy!”  While I was getting irritated by the whining, the mom was not at all rattled or influenced.  Instead she offered in a very quiet voice,

“Slow your roll. Slow your roll.”

I had not heard that phrase before but it stuck with me.  “Slow your roll.”  In just three little softly spoken words, the mom said:  “Stop your whining, it’s getting annoying”, “Stop carrying on and on”,  “Enjoy your new Gabrielle doll”, “I said no and I meant no”.  I liked what I heard…“Slow your roll.”

The phrase applies to me as well.  I need to slow my roll sometimes. as my behavior  can be out of control.  For example,  while shopping  online I might stumble upon a new style of Tom’s, and begin ordering the same shoe in navy, white, and black.  I need to slow my roll, order one pair, and  test them out before ordering them in every possible color.   When I am at the airport, once I locate my gate, I immediate go to Hudson News and get not one snack for the flight but two or sometimes three!

Still other times I worry about something, and I continue to go over and over it creating a much bigger scenario than actually exists…again, I need to slow my roll. Women with high SUCCESSTROGEN are not out of control with their shopping habits, behaviors, or their worries.  While the American Girl organization should improve the quality of their brunch, more important,  I need to slow my roll, be less reactive and less impulsive.

Just as I was about to tell the mom how much I liked the phrase, “slow your roll”, we were told that brunch was ready.  While Eliza was excited  I knew we were about to experience  the worst and most unappealing pancakes on the face of the earth because I had gone with her older sisters years ago.  But before I get carried away about just how awful and overpriced the brunch is, I think I will slow my roll and stop here.

Where are the opportunities for you to “slow your roll” in your life, so that you are less impulsive, make better and more informed, well thought out decisions ????


The Excitement of a Snow Day

Last Thursday someone mentioned we might have a snow storm headed our way.  I felt myself getting excited about the prediction. Over the weekend,  I found myself looking at several weather channels to fully understand what was about to happen. The weather reports are not always accurate, so I like to hear several weather reporters to see if they are all seeing the same thing. They were!  And now by Sunday evening reports were not about a few inches of snow, now we were talking of some real accumulations!  As a matter of fact they bantered around the term  “Nor E-easter”!!

I immediately googled  nor easter to get a good look at what I hoped was coming…something that every child wishes for when she hears this kind of weather warning, a SNOW DAY!!  My heart was pumping . Talk of the impending nor easterner took front stage on the news channels, even my Amazon Echo concurred! No one was talking about some dumb Trump tweet, or the latest Hollywood divorce–it was all about this huge snowstorm.

Yes! Finally it was here, a day where I could hang out in my pjs all day long and drink hot chocolate, and read and maybe watch a movie on Netflix. And then the absurdity of it all struck me:  I am retired. I can hang out in my pjs and drink hot chocolate, or read, or watch a movie any day at all, regardless of the weather.

The fact that I was so revved up about just hanging out sent a very clear message to me. I am always doing…fun things, good things, obligatory things, nice things, social things but I rarely, almost never  “just hang out”  with me. While I have made many changes in my life, I have yet to learn to enjoy being with just me, in pjs, with a good book.  I read all the time, sometimes all night long, but always with the purpose of learning something I didn’t already know.   But rarely do I just read a book to just delve into the imaginary world of the characters and the setting and just become part of the scene the author has created for me.

Women with high SUCCESSTROGEN are better than me at relaxing, at “not doing” and at reflecting by themselves. As a matter of fact, it is one way they refresh and re-energize themselves.  They know when they need to and they do not wait for a snow day to do so. It is time for me to work on still another needed change in my life, to enjoy spending some quiet time with just me.

Care to join me?  I do not mean together of course as that would not reflect any change for me! I meant, care to join me and enjoy your own alone time?