Brand building through storytelling

Letters From Rona (blog)

The mystery of the burnt-toast smell

Have you ever smelled burnt toast when nobody’s been anywhere near the toaster? Neither had I until it woke me up in the pre-dawn hours. I told myself that buildings contain many mysteries. Turns out the brain does, too.

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Godless but grateful with the Reverend Al Green

On a road trip this past winter, I did something I’d never done before. I went to a Sunday church service. Not just any service, but the two-and-a-half-hour praise fest at the Church of the Full Gospel Tabernacle, where music lovers flock from all over to see

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The day Sherri Finkbine changed history

On August 5, 1962, not long before my thirteenth birthday, two women made headlines around the world. Marilyn Monroe was found dead of an overdose. And a working mother from Arizona, Sherri Finkbine, arrived in Sweden for the abortion denied her at home. She had taken thalidomide, the drug responsible for thousands of devastating birth defects.

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By phone or Facebook, an unforgettable friendship

I’d been meaning to call her for weeks, if not months. Perhaps she’d been meaning to call me, too. It had been more than 35 years since we talked on the phone every day with that craving for connection known only to teenage best friends. In those days I could tie up the family phone for hours–or until my parents finally lost patience–because nothing mattered more than consoling Anne through her latest crisis of the heart. As adult women, we mostly connected through Facebook. Then Facebook informed me that her marriage was over.

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The prime of Diana Nyad

I’d been counting on Diana Nyad to prove that you’re never too old to score the success of a lifetime. Instead she proved that there’s more to success than achieving the vision in her head. She will never swim from Cuba to Key West, but she did her absolute best and I’ll remember her grit next time I shy away from a daunting goal.

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In memory of Frank Milliken, 1924-2011

I have just spent a week exploring Rome, where every ancient ruin got me wondering, “What would Mr. Milliken say about this?” Frank Milliken, who taught me Latin in Durham, N.H., loved all things Roman the way Julia Child loved sweet butter and Keith Richards loves the blues–with the passion of a convert whose delight becomes a calling. What stories he’d have told about the obelisks plundered from Egypt, the ruined theatre where Caesar met his bloody death on the Ides of March. I suspect our local tour guide had a better handle on the facts, which archeologists are still unearthing. But Mr. Milliken would have told more jokes. He favoured groan-worthy puns, delivered deadpan to work the contrast between his grave demeanour–dark suits, horn-rimmed glasses–and his inner scamp.

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Photoplay, Liz Taylor and me

Back when Elizabeth Taylor was the world’s most scandalous woman, I followed her adventures on the pretext of shopping with my mother. Every supermarket sold Photoplay, and every issue exuded the forbidden scent of lust as only home-wrecking, violet-eyed Liz could inspire it. While my mother filled her cart with egg noodles and cream of mushroom soup, I hung out at the newsstand, drinking in the gossip.

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Farewell to my halter-top years

Somewhere on the downward slope of my 50s, I wandered into a boutique much beloved by the fashion crowd, and was talked into buying my first halter top. I found it on the bargain rack, where clothes end up that you have to be mad or a

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How Betty Ford changed the world

When I was growing up in the days of crinolines and penny loafers, every girl learned three things about breasts. They were not a fitting subject for polite conversation. They drove men wild with desire (hence their prominent display in the kind of magazine not found on anyone’s coffee table). They made you a woman, which meant that if you lost a breast to a certain unmentionable disease, you were not a woman anymore. We all heard stories about women who would not show a breast lump to their doctor until cancer had them in a death grip. One woman changed that–former First Lady Betty Ford, who died yesterday at 93.

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The first boy who loved me

He was black, I was white. It was 1965 and more than half the states in the union still had laws on the books against inter-racial marriage. Not quite 16, I thought I could rise above the temper of those times.

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