Travel back with me in time to 2007. This scene takes place in a Jupiter, Florida tattoo parlor.

Being a protective mom in an atmosphere that clearly made me uncomfortable, I was practically glued to my daughter’s side, acrylic nails at the ready to do battle should the need arise. As much as my mind rebelled at the thought of permanently scarring the body with works of art, I understood why we were here.

“Don’t ever get a tattoo,” I had preached to my children since the days of coloring books and crayons. “People will judge you unfavorably if you do, and even if you put them in inconspicuous places, a pretty little butterfly becomes a big, squished ugly moth when you get old.”

Mothers have been known to have to eat their words, and mine were a mouthful of bitter, angry bile. There I stood, in support of my daughter’s decision to disregard my advice, not because she didn’t respect me, but because she had been raped and needed to bury the memory under something meaningful. Did I say “bitter?” “Angry?” Those words don’t even begin to cover how I felt. Every time I looked at my little girl, because no matter how old she is, she will always be my little girl, I cried inside for the suffering she had to endure.

Murray, a heavily inked, muscle-bound biker type approached us and asked, “Got a preference, doll?” Jessica was anxiously scanning the tattoo selections displayed on the walls and finding nothing she liked, she answered, “I’ve got my own design. Would that be okay?”

She pulled a sheet of paper from her purse and showed him the sketch of the awareness ribbon she had drawn – teal blue, the color for sexual assault.

Recognizing that her drawing skills were limited, she asked Murray for help.

“No problem, doll. Step over to my table and we’ll whip something up together.”

Designs were drawn, tossed, redrawn and tossed again but, in less than twenty minutes, Jess was nodding her approval as Murray explained the tattooing process to her. He had drawn a perfect open ribbon design that was small enough to be unobtrusive but large enough to cover the deep, wide scar on the inside of her wrist; the scar caused by the zip ties that had bound her to the probability of death for three and a half long tortuous hours.

I have to admit I was impressed and somewhat curious. I always considered myself open-minded. Maybe, I thought, I should get the same tattoo in support of my daughter’s strength and determination. The idea played around in my mind as Murray pulled open a drawer and removed jars of ink and – needles!

People talk all the time about bonding moments. Women often do lunch, go shopping together and sit side-by-side for manicures and pedicures. I don’t think many moms and daughters consider tattoo parlors a viable substitute for any of those activities. Yet, there we were.

Jess sat at Murray’s table and placed her hand, palm side up, on a padded board covered with sanitized paper. Murray swabbed her skin with alcohol and drew his design with marker on her wrist.

“The wrist is one of the most painful areas to get a tattoo,” he warned her. “The outline will hurt the worst. Try not to move.”

Murray sounded so professional – like a doctor explaining surgery to his patient – and what was I thinking? Nitrous oxide! Where is the nitrous oxide when you need it?

I was standing at Jess’ shoulder, and she reached her other arm behind her back and grabbed for me. Sign language has never expressed love with such depth of emotion, as did our fingers wrapped around each other at that moment.

Jess held my hand tightly as Murray bent over her arm. With expert precision, he lowered the tattoo gun to her skin.  Contact! Reflexively, Jess gripped my hand even harder.

I heard her gasp and saw tears roll down her cheeks. I wanted to pull her to me; I wanted to cradle her head in my arms, but I couldn’t touch her for fear that I would ruin the masterpiece Murray was meticulously painting on her wrist. A half hour later, the ordeal was over and Jess was smiling.

“Your turn, Mom,” she brightly announced.

I hesitated, and Jess filled in the awkward silence.

“You don’t have to do it, Mom. It hurts a lot and I already know how much you love me. You’re here. That’s enough.”

Two years later, at the criminal trial of her attacker, Jess stood before the jury and held her wrist out for them to see. The State’s Attorney asked her why she had gotten the tattoo.

Jessica’s answer was little more than a whisper. “Since I have to remember what happened for the rest of my life, I want to remember that I survived.”

I’m a firm believer that tragedy defines our character much more than happiness. Thinking back to the days when I considered tattoos something to avoid, I realize how much the attack on my daughter has changed me. My eyes still register questions marks whenever I see someone covered in ink. These days, I can’t help but wonder what memory of heartache or joy each design holds for the wearer. I always hope for joy.





The following is a long post, but I encourage you all to read it. It's proof that there are still a few good writers in the entertainment industry.

The last time I wasted an hour of my time watching a soap opera, I was 16-years-old. I won’t specify how long ago that was but you can figure it out. Not so my husband. He is addicted to General Hospital. Every afternoon from 2:00 – 3:00, he is on the sofa watching a never-ending display of musical mattress dancing.

I don’t understand why he finds the make-believe lives of make-believe people interesting, but I do hear him laughing a lot so maybe he finds the scenarios a humorous balance to the real problems of this world. While I’ve teased him mercilessly over the years, yesterday I had to give him a big hug and say a sincere “Thank you.”

For the last decade, my daughter Jessica and I have spoken publicly about the need for women to take responsibility for their own safety. We’ve talked until our faces turned blue about the need for women to respect themselves and how first impressions can jettison any chance of success in this competitive world of ours. I never doubted for a minute that Mike was onboard with our message, but never did I think our message would find support on a farcical serial drama.

Below is a transcript of one short scene from yesterday’s episode of General Hospital. Mike immediately recognized the value in showing it to me. He could have smugly said, “See. They do talk about serious topics,” but instead he merely said, "Watch.”

SCENE: A mother and her 15-year-old daughter are discussing the inappropriateness of the dress the teen wants to wear to a school dance. The teen models the dress for the mother, who struggles to find the right words to teach a life lesson.

Isn’t it great!

The mother walks her daughter to a mirror and stands behind her as they both look at the daughter’s reflection.

I want you to tell me what you see.

Me… in a beautiful dress.

I see that, too. Do you think the boys at the dance are only going to see the dress?

Oscar doesn’t think I’m a slut.

I’m not talking about Oscar. I’m talking about everybody else. One wrong idea and the whole school is going to snap chat about it. You know that.

Why should I let anyone shame me for wearing something that I want to wear? I like it.

You know what, sweetheart… in a perfect world, you should be able to wear whatever you want to wear, and no one would make you feel bad about it. But our world isn’t perfect. In these days, women have to be smarter, stronger and tougher to make it through. Especially, when people are chomping at the bit to tear you down. Right or wrong, how we dress sends a message, and when you are a young girl, that message can be taken wrong.

That’s not fair! I just want to feel pretty.

Well, you can feel pretty showing less skin. I know it’s not fair, but I think this dress could cause reactions that you’re not ready to handle. Slut shaming wasn’t even a phrase when I was suffering through it, and I was a lot older than you. You have to have quite a few life experiences to handle the mud that is going to be thrown at you. If you tell me that you are ready for that and you can handle it, then I’ll back you 100%. It’s your decision, but if you’re not 100% ready to wear this dress and face the challenges that are going to come with it…


Of course, the result of this exchange could only happen in a soap opera. Mother opens a fashion magazine and offers to buy her daughter an expensive designer original. The girl is ecstatic and the less appropriate dress is relegated to the back of a closet for another day and time.

Despite the unrealistic bribery aspect of this scene, the dialogue is well worth heeding. We live in an ever increasingly dangerous world. Not just physical danger, but mental and emotional danger inflected by nameless/faceless bullies who enjoy tearing others down to build themselves up. Kids… teens in particular… are the most susceptible.

If you have a teenage daughter, find yesterday’s episode of General Hospital and watch it together. Then, have a nice, long conversation about the facts of life, and maybe, spend an hour going through her closet and discussing what's good and what's not.




Reprinted from the Jupiter Courier

How violence influences our lives

Recently, I had an opportunity to participate in a Writers Forum hosted by the Palm Beach County Library System. Along with other local authors, I spoke to the audience about my books… The Cat Leigh and Marci Welles crime novel series and a standalone crime novel, Private Hell. As I explained to those in attendance, I know what it’s like to be the victim of violence. I know what it’s like to have someone you love survive a violent crime.

Having experienced violence on a personal level, I feel compelled to share what I have learned in order to keep people safe in an ever increasingly dangerous world. I’m hoping my books will teach the need for personal responsibility. I’m hoping to educate through entertainment the ways to avoid becoming a victim.

Allow me to explain why helping others is a passion for me. The first 25 years of my life were spent in hell on earth. At the time hell was located in Hudson County, New Jersey. It might still be there.

After an intensely dysfunctional childhood, I married my high school sweetheart; a man I thought as my knight in shining armor. Like so many women, I thought wrong. What I perceived as an escape to a better life was, in reality, incarceration in a prison far worse than the one I already knew.  Very quickly, his armor tarnished. He was, eventually, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and a latent homosexual. Needless to say, I am lucky to be alive and even luckier to have met my present husband of 41 years, who understood then and continues to understand now that healing is a lifelong journey.

Having gone through the horrors of physical and emotional abuse for so long, I thought nothing worse could happen in my life. Then, in 2007 my daughter joined a long list of women who, because of their gender, became a victim. As every parent will tell you, no knife cuts as deep as the pain of watching their child suffer. My advocacy work began the moment I saw my daughter beaten beyond recognition.

For 10 years - ever since the day my daughter was raped by a maintenance man with a master key and a machete - I have been advocating in both the spoken and written word on behalf of victims of violent crime.

As a result of her experience, I’ve become more adamant about the need for change in the way we view anatomy specific assault (a.k.a. sexual assault) and domestic abuse. Not just legislative change. Societal change as well.

I want to stress that neither my daughter nor I regret the traumas we have undergone in our lives. We choose instead to use those incidents as lesson plans. If talking about what happened to us can prevent one other woman from suffering the same fate, we are willing to shout it from the rooftops.

Our experiences have made us much more aware of what we could have done – should always do – to protect ourselves from violent crime. The number one way to stay safe is to think before we act!

Everyone remembers where they were when a life-changing event happened. Consider 9/11. For me, the wee hours of the morning of July 1, 2007, are equally as chilling. I can still hear my daughter’s voice on the phone crying “Mommy, help me! I’ve been raped.” At first, I was confused. Then fear set in. Eventually, anger replaced every other emotion.

I’m angry that rape is placed in a box labeled sex crime and treated differently than muggings and murders. I’m angry that some members of the judicial system punish rapists less severely than they do other criminals. I’m angry so few people are willing to speak the truth about rape.

Rape is a violent crime and deserves to be recognized as such in a court of law. By not doing so, we force survivors to hide in the shadows – ashamed to report the crime, and often, not getting the help they desperately need.

Rape survivors are like soldiers who have gone off to war. A woman who has been sexually assaulted has been in a battle – a battle for her life. Survivors should be lauded as heroes – especially those who come forward and prosecute their attackers.

My goal in writing is to bring awareness to the complexity of rape. This is a crime that affects the victim on many, many levels and those effects are long… No, they are life lasting.

Many women have gotten angry with me because I’ve said that they need to take responsibility for their own security. That reaction always baffles me. Responsibility is a part of life. Eating healthy, dressing properly in different climates, wearing a seat belt, buying insurance… these are but a few of the ways we protect ourselves from potential danger.

Why, then, is asking women to do the same in social situations such a terrible request. If you are going out for the evening, go in a group. Don’t walk alone on a dark street. Recently, a rash of rapes has been committed as a result of “meet-ups” planned through social media sites. It is imperative that women of every age understand that not all friend requests come from friends or friends of friends.

When addressing the subject of safety, I tell women to use the same precautions taking the trash to the curb as they would (should) entering a deserted subway station. I am always surprised by the frequency with which I am accused of trying to take away personal freedoms. Danger is everywhere.

Many years ago, I was employed in Manhattan. This was at the time when women first began wearing sneakers to work. I thought they looked foolish. Now, I think every woman should carry a comfortable pair of running shoes that she can slip into when the work day or a night on the town is over. No matter how outlandish Nikes look with a sequined dress, survival is never a fashion faux pas.

As a society we must accept that rapists cannot be cured – not with behavioral modification therapy, not with medication – not by religion. Only the strong bars of a prison cell can stop another attack. We must remember that rapists are the human chameleon. They have the ability to blend in perfectly with every segment of society. 

If ever there was a club no woman aspired to join, survivors of rape is it. Those who are forced onto its roster need to hold strong against anyone who would undermine their progress. That includes judges and politicians who consider anatomy specific assault no big deal.  

As a result of being sexually assaulted, my daughter has a very deep scar on her left wrist – put there by the zip ties used to bind her hands. Over that scar, she now has a teal blue ribbon tattoo – the symbol of a rape survivor.

When asked in court why she had gotten the tattoo, Jessica told the jury, “If I have to remember what happened for the rest of my life, I want to remember that I survived.”

Guaranteeing that no other woman shares that memory is why I write.



Reprinted from the Jupiter Courier

Read To Achieve

As an author, the topic of literacy is ever important in my life. I write for many reasons, but the primary one is to educate through entertainment. Reading… at least, reading well… is a dying art and, if a person is not a good reader, they will not be well informed no matter how many diplomas and degrees they may acquire.

During the last school year, I had the privilege of mentoring seven gifted students at J.D. Parker Elementary School in Stuart. Three girls and four boys aged nine to 11 spent 90 minutes with me every Tuesday. Cliché as it may sound, I learned so much more from them than they learned from me. There wasn’t a day I left school without a big smile spread across my face.

When children are raised in a home where reading is a focal point, their manner of speaking and writing… their vocabulary and sentence structure… is a dead giveaway that their parents know the importance of books. When children are exposed to literature, they grow emotionally and intellectually because they are better able to grasp the deeper meanings in all that they see and hear. When good readers speak, you can bet they have something important to say and will say it well.

The first assignment these boys and girls were given was to write about a topic for which they felt passion. It could be a sport, a hobby, a place they had visited... anything that got them excited. The only No! No! was that they could not write about video games.

Oh, the groans I heard when I delivered that instruction. Guess what. Once video games were no longer a choice, those seven students found that they actually had many other activities in their lives that brought them pleasure. The few short paragraphs they were asked to write became page upon page of excited expressions about sports, dance, singing, travel and, yes, even school. Each student was asked to read his/her piece out loud and doing so generated a barrage of questions from their peers. We all learned a lot about each other that day and deeper friendships were born.

Over the past year I have produced a number of Author Meet and Greets in our community. With the help of sponsors like Harbourside Place, I have been able to introduce many local writers to our residents. The talented men and women who join me at these events write in a variety of genres and each one of them stresses the importance of books in our lives. They are dedicated to promoting literacy. I am honored to call them friends and privileged to share a stage with them.

I am also a proud member of the Woman’s Club of Stuart. You might wonder why, living as far away as I do, I chose to join this organization. The reason is that the Club’s mission statement focuses heavily on education. With literacy all important in my life, I am willing to travel near and far to work with like minded people.

I’d like to share with you an experience I recently had while dining out. A  friend and I were enjoying a leisurely lunch in a busy restaurant. All around us professional men and women carrying the requisite iPhones were engaged in animated conversations that rivaled Japanese katakana. Well-groomed and, seemingly, well-educated, their manicured fingers poked the air as if it was the Pillsbury Doughboy’s belly.

Overhearing other people’s conversations is an unavoidable part of the dining experience. As my friend and I reviewed the specials of the day, words -- or rather one word -- began to vie for attention with our growling stomachs. Making eye contact over the tops of the menus, we uttered the same thought aloud, “Gene Weingarten.”

In September 2010, Weingarten, a journalist with the Washington Post, wrote an article entitled, Goodbye, cruel words: English. It's dead to me. To quote from his essay:

“Signs of its (the English language) failing health had been evident for some time on the pages of America's daily newspapers, the flexible yet linguistically authoritative forums through which the day-to-day state of the language has traditionally been measured. Beset by the need to cut costs, and influenced by decreased public attention to grammar, punctuation and syntax in an era of unedited blogs and abbreviated instant communication, newspaper publishers have been cutting back on the use of copy editing, sometimes eliminating it entirely.”

Prior to Weingarten’s post, I often wondered if anyone except me noticed the poor sentence structure, misspellings and improper grammar used by reporters, public speakers, teachers, students and every day people.  As I compose this editorial, I fear I am writing more of a eulogy than an opinion piece.  How can it be that, with all the words Webster has put at our disposal, the utterance we heard used most often that day to specify an object or action was a word that did not specifically identify an object or action at all?

No matter the topic under discussion, this one word was significant for its insignificance. The actual definition is “an object or entity not precisely designated or capable of being designated.” Is it even possible for a known object or action not to be “precisely designated?”

Spotlighting something we want and nothing we need, this single syllable word is all encompassing. Lovers know it as the touch that sets their souls aquiver. It is sometimes stupid, sometimes rash, and often funny. Without it, pipes would leak, chairs wobble and doors squeak.

I can only presume that the action or object requested is so sacrosanct that it must be referred to in code. At times, it is something that is missing, nothing that is wrong and anything that is a possibility. It can define an object that resembles something, remind us of something, sound like something but is never the thing itself. Landfills, basements, attics and garages are piled high with discards defined by these six letters. Every day we outgrow its usefulness. Not the word… the object defined.

Here are snippets from conversations overheard:

A female diner: “Ewwww! Look at the size of that thing! Kill it! Kill it!” (palmetto bug)

An attorney: “I am so frustrated writing that damned thing, um, the brief but I have to get it to the judge this afternoon.” (He gets points for self-correcting.) 

We are all guilty of maiming the language we speak. I’ve no doubt Webster is spinning in his, well, you know.

 At the time Weingarten published his article, he claimed that the English language “… succumbed at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself.”

I would have to agree, but I’m not willing to bid a final farewell just yet; at least, not until I’ve found the ever-elusive thing. How hard could it be to find? Everyone knows of its existence. People constantly talk about it. We carry it, but can never find it, in our purses, pockets and briefcases. We store things in the trunk of our car and in kitchen cabinets. There are random things in toolboxes, sewing kits and junk drawers.

Weingarten said it better than I ever could in his closing paragraph:

“English has become increasingly irrelevant, particularly among young adults. Once the most popular major at the nation's leading colleges and universities, it now often trails more pragmatic disciplines, such as economics, politics, government and, ironically, "communications," which increasingly involves learning to write mobile-device-friendly ads for products like Cheez Doodles.”

That explains the orange hue staining so many keyboards and smart phones.

Don’t allow yourself and your children to fall into the cracks left by empty book shelves. Reading, writing and speaking go hand and hand. Your children will never achieve their dreams if they are not enthusiastic readers. Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. It is by example that good (and bad) behaviors are learned.

Open a book tonight. Sit down with your child and share not just the words on the page but the message within the narrative. Encourage a love of reading in your children because books, whether they are comedies or dramas, not only entertain, they teach many of life’s important lessons. Reading improves language skills and helps with critical thinking.

Books are your passport to other places and times. Give your children every advantage in an ever increasingly competitive world. Read every day!



Reprinted from the Jupiter Courier

The Sweet Side of Addiction

For years, I have blamed my penchant for Yankee Doodles and Devil Dogs on biology. Genetics are responsible for my inability to pass by the tray of brownies which holds center stage at every family gathering without eating two or three before dinner. Even as I avert my face, those moist little fudge-frosted mouthfuls call my name, "Donna. You know you want us. Don't fight the temptation. Give in." My hand shakes as I reach for the platter. Oh, the guilt! I stuff the first one into my mouth and reach for another. Brownies, I've learned, make great appetizers.

Easter is especially hard on me. My salivary glands start dripping right after the last caramel-filled square disappears from the box of Valentine's candy.  Visions of solid dark chocolate bunnies and little foil wrapped eggs begin to haunt my waking hours. I would sell my soul to the devil for a few peanut butter or coconut-filled milk chocolate delights.

When my kids were small, they never believed that my lack of willpower was birth related. They just thought I was greedy and gluttonous. Every trip to the supermarket ended with me covered in cookie crumbs. While driving and pinned in place by the seatbelt, I would stretch my arm near out of its socket to dig through the grocery bags in search of the Mallomars.

Well, I've been vindicated. Based on a 2012 study from the Scripps Institute in Jupiter, my claim of genetic addiction now has some validation.

In a three year study of rats being fed nothing but a high-calorie, high-fat junk food diet, it was determined that cupcakes and cookies have the same effect on the brain as cocaine -- the release of dopamine D2 receptors. Dopamine is the chemical the brain releases in response to enjoyable experiences such as eating chocolate and having sex.

Since it's already been proven that some people are born with addictive personalities, and chocolate is an addictive substance, what further proof could be required. I'm a junk food junkie!

In reading the Scripps research, I discovered something else the rats and I have in common. When given the option of healthy food, the rats chose death by starvation rather than live life without their Ding Dongs. I understand exactly how they felt. Told that I would have to spend the rest of my life without enjoying an Almond Joy or a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, I, too, would choose to die.

It should be noted that the rats gained weight much as I have over the years. However, unlike me, they don't really care about their expanding waistlines. They will never know the embarrassment of having to lie on the floor to zip their jeans.

With the refrigerator empty of turkey leftovers that had been turned into variations of its former self and with Christmas less than a month away, I’m beginning to sense an old familiar stirring in the recesses of my mind. Dancing in my head are dreams of… no, not sugarplums… dark chocolate-coated bonbons wrapped in silver and gold paper. Packaged in a bright red box and tied with a green bow they are my personal and tasty reminder that the season of joy to the world is upon us.

I just checked the Hoffman’s website. They are open until 8:00 pm tonight. It’s a good bet that those beautifully decorated boxes of bonbons will be on display in the middle of the store. If they aren’t, I’m certain that whatever chocolate pumpkins and turkeys are left over from Halloween and Thanksgiving will be on sale. They will satisfy my cravings until the bonbons are ready.

Now all I have to do is find a solution to the article published in a recent issue of the Journal of American Medicine. Said article recommended that women exercise at least an hour a day to minimize weight gain as they age. I hate exercise! If I park my car on the PGA Boulevard side of the Garden Square mall and walk to Hoffman’s, isn’t that just as good… maybe, better… than going to the gym? Me thinks, yes.

Warning to Hoffman’s employees: I’ve been known to stand outside the store with my nose pressed to the window until the holiday chocolates are put out for display. Don’t be afraid. I’m a danger to no one but myself. My presence is a compliment to the chocolatier working diligently somewhere in the recesses of the store.

And, if for some obscure reason, management isn’t happy with my daily presence, they can get a restraining order. Over the years, I’ve learned that the paper restraining orders are printed on makes an excellent napkin with which to wipe my mouth when the almond bark I keep in my pocketbook starts to melt in the lingering heat of a lost summer.

Ahhh, Christmas! You can’t get here quick enough!