Be You

Be yourself. Everyone else is taken. ~ Oscar Wilde


by Alice Winston Carney

Alice for bio 3Writing is like being in the pilot’s seat of my single engine airplane, trying to recover from a stall, the ground rushing faster and faster towards me.

The flying lesson starts well. I am in the pilot’s seat; Eric, my instructor, beside me.  I taxi onto the runway, call the tower, “8330X-ray, ready for take off”, loving the sound of my confident, female voice.

I give the engine full power, pull back on the controls when the speed reaches 70 knots. The little plane rises off the runway into the clear California sky. I level the plane, execute a smooth turn, reporting to the tower, “8330X-ray at 1500 feet, turning right, heading towards Tahoe.”

Below us the green and yellow agricultural fields checker their way across the great San Joaquin Valley, bisected by the American and Sacramento Rivers. All the world is blue, gold, and deep green as we head towards the foothills, Folsom Lake a sparkling dot below us.

Then Eric says, “Reduce power to engine, pull back on the controls,” two acts that go against logic when you are 2000 feet above the ground in a small tin can.

“Time to practice stalls.”

My pounding heart overpowers all sound, color drains from around me. “No!” I want out of this airplane.

But I am training as a pilot. I must learn to fly in all situations. I cut power to the engine. We float through the sky in an eerie quiet. My hands sweating, I pull back on the controls, raising the nose of the airplane until all I can see is sky. The nose goes up, up, then gives a dip down. A warning buzzer goes off. I have put us into a stall.

“Push the controls in, fast,” commands Eric. This is the third, most illogical step. Pushing the controls in, away from me, aims us towards the ground, causes the airplane to gather speed, dive, straight at the tree tops and rocks.

“Push, push,” Eric, yells. “Keep the wings level.”

As I write this, many years later, my fingers quiver on the keyboard, my breathing is shallow, and my stomach lurches. I remember the fear as I pushed the controls fully forward, forcing the plane faster and faster towards the earth. All I wanted to do was let go, to have Eric take over, to be out of there.

To quit.

But I stayed with the airplane. As our speed increased, Eric said, “Pull back, nose up. Watch the wings. Give it full power.” I did. And there we were, flying level, the engine purring, the wings lifted by a cushion of air and motion, Folsom Lake blinking its blue eye up at us. Only then did I feel the dampness on the back of my shirt, the sweat flowing down my sides. Only then did I breathe.

This is how I feel about writing some days: that I can’t write; that I don’t know how to write; that if I do write, the words will fly out of control and I will be hurtling towards the earth; that I want out of the desire to write.

I have learned that if I hold on, keep writing through that fear, I will level out again, I will go to a place that teaches me lessons about myself and fear. Writing is the lift under my wings, navigates me through the huge blue sky to where I want to go. Writing can make me as proud as I was when I became a pilot.

Cowgirl cover72Alice Winston Carney is director of Hermit’s Peak Press, which publishes original voices of Northern New Mexico. In 2010, she published A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse, a memoir of growing up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Along with the authors Gerald and Loretta Hausman, Alice runs the annual Green River Writers Workshop in Las Vegas. You can visit Alice at and on her Facebook page: greenriverwritersworkshop.

This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

The Right Kind of “I’m Sorry”

Seth Godin is the author of 18 bestselling books that have been translated into more than 35 languages. He’s also the founder of and The Domino Project. I’ve been following his blog for several years, and I appreciate his insight into business, marketing, and leadership and his passion for trying to change things, especially how our thoughts and actions affect others. The following article was posted on his website in March 2015. As usual, his insight hits the mark.

Sorry confusion by Seth Godin

ID-100294190There are two kinds of, “I’m sorry.”

The first kind is the apology of responsibility, of blame and of litigation. It is the four-year old saying to his brother, “I’m sorry I hit you in the face.” And it is the apology of the surgeon who forgot to insert sterile dressings and almost killed you.

The other kind of sorry is an expression of humanity. It says, “I see you and I see your pain.” This is the sorry we utter at a funeral, or when we hear that someone has stumbled.

You don’t have to be in charge to say you’re sorry. You don’t even have to be responsible. All you need to do is care.

In this case, “I’m sorry,” is precisely the opposite of, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” which of course pushes the other person away, often forever.

As we’ve been busy commercializing, industrializing and lawyering the world, countless bureaucrats have forgotten what it means to be human, and have forgotten how much it means to us to hear someone say it, and mean it. “I’m sorry you missed your flight, and I can only imagine how screwed up the rest of your trip is going to be because of it.”

“I see you,” is what we crave.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Memories and Dreams

Never Let Your Memories10

Never let your memories be greater than your dreams.
~ Doug Ivester

Keep Your Eyes on the Goal


Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal. ~ Hannah More

Dance in the Rain


“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” ~ Mikhail Baryshnikov

The Best Advice for Coping with the Holidays

There are no advent police. There are no family traditions enforcers. There are no report cards given on the kind of memories you’re making. Sometimes doing less is the best gift a tired mom can give her family. Simple. Simple. Simple. Keep it as simple as works for you. And if all you do is give everyone a cup of hot chocolate now and again – including yourself – you are winning. ~ Lisa-Jo Baker

ChristmasTree With SnowflakesLisa-Jo Baker gives wonderful advice for moms on her Surprised by Motherhood blog, but these jewels should be snatched up by everyone, not just by mothers.

“Keep it Simple” is a maxim we often hear but usually ignore. It’s one piece of advice we should repeat to ourselves as often as necessary during hectic holidays no matter the time of year.

Lisa-Jo also offers The Tired Mothers Holiday Creed “for the days we are running on empty… For the days we’re sure anyone else would do this job better. Host this family more calmly. Have a house more presentable.” Here are seven of my favorite points from the list of twenty. You’ll also find a printable version at the end of her post.

  • I shall accept that a messy house at peace is better than an immaculate house tied up in knots.
  • I shall remember that guests will only feel as comfortable in my home as I feel in my own skin.
  • I shall embrace the fact that in becoming a mom I traded perfect for a house full of real.
  • I shall pause between preparations to savor the celebrations.
  • I shall remember that hospitality is about opening the door, not about how fancy the furniture, decor or dishes.
  • I shall treat myself with the same grace I offer everyone else.
  • I shall not be intimidated by how the holidays, the turkey, the tree or the memories “should” be celebrated but love the people I’m celebrating with instead.

What advice do you follow (or wish you did) for making holidays more enjoyable?

Image (Christmas Tree With Snowflakes) courtesy of jannoon028 at

Summer Break 2014

LittleGirl_ID-100246232I checked my to-do list last week and tried to decide how to get everything done that needs doing this summer. I came to the quick conclusion that I need to take my annual break from blogging a bit early this year.

Besides twice-a-week conditioning hikes (building up to six hours a day) for a Scotland hiking vacation in late summer, here are a few things I hope plan to accomplish during the break:

  • redesign the book cover for This New Mountain
  • start on the second draft of my fantasy novel The Last Bonekeeper
  • finish a short story collection for publication
  • enter a handful of contests
  • dive into webmaster duties for SouthWest Writers
  • spend two or more days a week with my granddaughter (fun times!)
  • take several weekend holidays around the state of New Mexico (go to my Pinterest board to see some of the neat places I hope to visit/revisit with my husband)
  • prep two bedrooms for upcoming family visits (I’m sure you’ve heard of junk drawers – these are junk rooms)

I’ll be posting off-and-on in the next few months, especially if I have a finished book cover to share. Have a great summer!

So how about you? Are you planning a crazy summer this year or hoping for a real break?

Image “Little Girl” courtesy of Naypong /

My Mother Wore Combat Boots

PVT Audrey Salerno, Camp Lee, VA, 1949

At some point in the early 1960s, a classmate on the playground yelled at me, “Your mother wears combat boots!” I don’t remember why this child said such a silly thing. If it was meant as an insult, I didn’t take it as one.* My mother served in the Army before I was born, so I reasoned she could have worn combat boots. I put it out of my mind at the time and returned to more important matters, like passing around “The Outer Limits” trading cards or admiring someone else’s Rat Fink ring. I ignored that remark for the same reasons I ignored those who called me an Army brat: It made no sense, and I had been taught to pick my battles.

With Mother’s Day coming up, I’ve naturally been thinking more about my mom. Audrey Agnes Salerno was born in 1927 in Peoria, Illinois to an Italian-immigrant father and an Irish-American mother. She was taught to love babies and food and how to hunt four-leaf clover. She’s been gone nearly thirty years now, and since I can’t thank her in person, I thought I would share with the cyberworld a little of what she passed on to me from what she learned in her early life.

Audrey Salerno, goat and wagon courtesy of  traveling photographer, 1931

Audrey Salerno, goat and wagon courtesy of a traveling photographer, 1932

Find a Reason to Laugh
She laughed a lot and taught us to do the same. She often said, “I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you,” and so we learned to laugh at ourselves, as well. When a traveling photographer brought his goat and wagon to my grandma’s door one summer day, he snapped a photo of my 4-year-old mother wearing a somewhat sly expression. Perhaps she was already planning her next practical joke – something she was very good at in her adult years. 

Audrey Salerno, 3rd grade at Garfield Elementary, Peoria, IL, circa 1936

Audrey Salerno, 3rd grade at Garfield Elementary, Peoria, IL, circa 1936

Read & Imagine
As a child, my mother often jumped off her porch roof to strengthen her arms for flying. This is the kind of active imagination she encouraged in her own children (but the pursuit of flight was, oddly, discouraged). With her guidance, I could read by the time I was four years old. She filled our home, our birthday presents, and our Christmas stockings with books. And a gift of a secondhand manual typewriter bridged the gap between my imagination and the stories waiting to flow from my fingertips.

Audrey Salerno, 12 years old

Audrey Salerno, 12 years old

Be Grateful
The Great Depression was a great equalizer. Every country in the world was affected by it. The Salerno’s had it better than some in the 1930s, living in a house that was paid for (built by my great-grandfather) with a yard big enough to grow fist-sized tomatoes and multi-colored bell peppers. Times were still tough — even though she was hungry, my mom couldn’t eat dinner the night my grandma made stew from her pet rabbit. When she had her own children, she made sure we had warm coats in the winter and shoes that fit, and always, always, had food on the table. Because of her I learned to be resourceful, grateful for what I had, and to never waste a crumb of anything.

Audrey Salerno, circa 1943

Hold Your Tongue and Your Temper
My mom taught us the importance of our words and how they affect others. She didn’t gossip, didn’t allow it spoken in the house, and she lived by the rule, “if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” You would think with all that crazy Irish-Italian blood running through her veins she would have been hot-headed, but she was just the opposite. She held her temper like no one else could. She was also an expert at holding on to a secret. I was a teenager before she let slip she never received a high school diploma.

Audrey Salerno w/the girls at Peoria Journal/Star

Audrey Salerno, Peoria Journal/Star, circa 1947

Believe in Yourself
She was 16 years old in 1944 when the world was at war. She grew tired of spending her days in classrooms with “children” much less mature than she and tired of watching life pass her by. Quitting school just seemed the right thing to do. Shy and introverted, she still believed she could do anything she put her mind to. Though she had no skills, she landed a job as a clerk with the Peoria Journal/Star.

Audrey Salerno by Mort Greene, 1947

Audrey Salerno by Mort Greene, 1947

It wasn’t long before the newspaper’s cartoonist Mort Greene became enamored of her, evidenced by gifts of hand-drawn cards, poetry, candy and flowers. Other young women might have jumped at the chance at romance, but my mom had set her mind on something else.

Learn From Your Mistakes
She enrolled in school again, and by the end of 1948 she had received a General Education Development (GED) certificate from Manual Training High School. The war was over by then, but patriotism was still high. Women’s Army Corps (WAC) posters asked, “Are you a girl with a Star-Spangled heart?” She enlisted in 1949, at the age of 21, and went to stenographer’s school.


PVT Audrey Salerno, Ft Leavenworth, KS, 1950

Follow Your Heart
My mom had many suitors in the Army, but it was my dad’s sense of humor that won her over. Within a year of enlisting she had fallen in love with that young Sergeant in the Signal Corps. At the time, women couldn’t stay in the Army after getting married, so PFC Audrey A. Salerno was honorably discharged three days after the ceremony. Today some would bristle at that, but my mom knew her heart and it was the right choice for her. 

Audrey Salerno, 1950

Audrey Salerno, 1950



The Highest Calling
A few days before my mother’s death at the age of 58, I thanked her for being a wonderful mom and asked if she ever regretted giving up her future to raise us. She told me she considered it an honor to be a mother, there was nothing else she would rather have spent her life doing. Of all the things she taught me by example, learning the importance of responsibility and sacrifice has served me the most over the years.

What did you learn from your mom? If any of you had a mother in the military, I’d love to hear her story. And if you recognize someone in these photographs, please leave a comment.

*As it turns out, that child really was trying to insult me, but I like to think he was just passing on what he heard someone else say and had no idea what it meant. says this about that playground taunt: During WWII, prostitutes who followed the troops around, sometimes wore army boots or combat boots.

Wisdom from Winnie-the-Pooh