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Author: toni

~ 05/01/19

There are moments in life that define you.  You don’t always know those moments as they occur. Sometimes it takes years, introspection, and retrospection.

I remember the moment I decided to leave the Catholic Church. It is one of the clearest memories of my childhood. Yes, I said childhood, because I was in 4th grade when I made that decision. You might say that a 10 year-old does not have enough understanding of the world to make such a huge decision. But I say that depends on the 10 year-old and the situation.

My mother was Italian. She grew up in a Roman Catholic household in Lucca, a little town outside Pisa, and had a deep faith in the church. So deep that, despite marrying an American Southern Baptist who brutally commanded obedience in virtually all matters (that is another story of male toxicity), she somehow managed to convince him to raise us kids in the Catholic Church. And so from the time of our births we were exposed/subjected to all the rituals of Catholicism. Baptism, weekly church, catechism classes, first Communions, etc.

There were four of us all in a row. Me, then three brothers. One after another. You can guess why, given the church’s stance on birth control. Every eighteen months or so, with regularity, my mother gave birth. The last two births were difficult ones, resulting in C-sections and had profound and lasting effects on my mother’s health.

You see, she was a child of WWII. In Italy, she grew up among the bombings and poverty. She knew the fear of hiding in the dark recesses of the wall that surrounded her medieval hometown to escape the bombings. She knew what it was to go hungry and traveled the countryside with her mother, older brother and uncle, artists all, eking out a living by performing marionette shows and songs (she had a beautiful soprano voice) and collecting coins thrown their way. She told stories of sleeping in abandoned, bombed-out villas, playing dress-up in the elegant gowns that were left behind in the panic to run from the invading forces. She watched an uncle, a Partisan who fought against Mussolini and the Nazis, slowly die from a gunshot wound to the eye. And she recalled joyously the liberation by American troops, signaling the end of the war as they passed out Hershey bars to the jubilant children.

And in the midst of the horrors of war, living in less than sanitary conditions, unable to get medical care, she contracted rheumatic fever which damaged her heart and gave her mitral valve prolapse from which she suffered for the remainder of her days (through three open heart surgeries) and which would eventually lead to the congestive heart failure that killed her at the age of 74, one day before her 75th birthday.

So by the time I was 10, a fourth grader, I had seen my beautiful young mother struggle with her health and heart issues. I had more than a few times been the one with her when she passed out in the course of the day,  while doing housework or caring for her brood. And I was the one to call the ambulance,  my brothers running around in diapers in the background.

By the time she had my third brother, the pregnancies had taken such a toll on her already damaged heart, that her cardiologist sat her down and advised her against ever getting pregnant again, as it could kill her. He advised her to go on the birth control pill to avoid the life-threatening pregnancy. I think you know where this is going.

I came home from school one day to find my mother weeping. I went to her to ask her what was wrong. And she told me.

Now some would argue that an adult woman had no business telling a 10 year-old girl what she told me. But you must understand that I had long been in a role of a responsibility in our home. My mother, who learned English late in life, had trouble navigating the English-speaking world. And I was often thrust in the role of translator. No other family around, and an often absent and disinterested father, I helped my brothers with homework. I filled out the paperwork for school. I walked them into their first day of class. So in reality, in our reality, it was natural that she would confide in me.

She explained that she had just come from our church where she had gone to see our priest. She explained to him her dire, life-threatening situation and asked if she might have permission to use birth control.

And the priest told her no.

But, she explained, she had four young children at home, and a husband who was gone for work a lot, and did not want die and leave them without a mother.

And the priest said, “If that happens, that is God’s will.”

God’s will.

God’s will that my mother should die rather than be allowed to use birth control. That four children would be left motherless rather than use birth control.

And my mom sobbed and said she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to die and leave us, but she did not want to go against the church.

 I don’t remember what I said to my mother in response. After my initial horror and disbelief that the church, that God, would demand such a thing, I think I comforted her the best I could.  And then, I do remember getting very angry. And thinking that if these men and this church really believed they had the right to sentence my mother to death, then I wanted no part of it. And from then on, I refused to be a part of it. I refused to go to church or catechism or choir practice. And, to my surprise, they did not make me. I’m not sure why. I didn’t wonder then. I look back on it now and think maybe they were afraid of what I would say at church, to the priest even, if made to go. But from that day forward, the rest of my family attended and I stayed home.

I still, to this day, don’t believe that a god would make such a horrible demand of a young mother. But I know men would. We have seen it. The level of male toxicity in the Catholic Church has been brought to light. In their treatment of women…of children… I don’t say all in the church are guilty. There are good people. Good priests. But there are some men, men in power, who are more concerned with the preservation of institutions than the suffering of human beings. And it is wrong. Even as a 10 year-old girl I knew it.  And that is why, to this day, I choose to celebrate my spirituality outside the confines of organized religion.

My mother never told me what she chose to do. I suspected it when 18 months later I did not have another sibling. Or even eighteen months after that. She did regularly attend confession. You know the saying, better to ask forgiveness than permission. The church is good that way.

Author: toni

~ 07/11/16

Glitter Girl by Toni Runkle and Stephen Webb

Glitter Girl by Toni Runkle and Stephen Webb

Greetings Mammakazes!

Is there one among you who does not know the angst and agony that is junior high?

The raging hormones, the insecurity, the struggle to find oneself, to deal with shifting friendships and the feelings of alienation?

I would dare to say, “Probably Not”. Not if you have a daughter or if you were in junior high yourself.

My writing partner Stephen Webb and I have written a middle grade novel that deals with that transitions from child to adolescent, from a girl’s point of view. Perfect for 5th to 8th grade readers. It’s available for sale at Amazon:


“GLITTER GIRL flows like a sparkling river through the shifting sands of 8th-grade Alpha Girls and their BFFs. Puberty rocks at Wendell Wilkie Jr. High, where the motto might as well be ‘Study? I’m here to see my friends!'”  — Richard Peck, Newbery Award Winner”A fun book for teens and tweens. GLITTER GIRL has a lot to say to teenage readers, given it’s the most influential time of their lives. Mostly it’s about friendship and loyalty, and doing the right thing; perfect for a high school library!” — Wondrous Reads

” Runkle and Webb deliver an empowering message about striving to be true to oneself for middle school readers.
” – Kirkus

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Author: toni

~ 11/27/13

Okay. I know I haven’t posted in a while. Weeks in fact. I plan on getting back to the keyboard soon. But in the meantime, I couldn’t let a Thanksgiving go by with offering up the greatest Thanksgiving gift of all. The thing for which I am most, well close to most, thankful.

My brother John’s Thanksgiving Song. It’s historical and hysterical. My favorite combo.

Watch. Enjoy. Share. And Happy Thanksgiving, my MAMMAKAZES!

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Author: toni

~ 06/23/13


As legend has it, every February a little groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil peeks his little furry head out of his hole and determines if spring is coming early or if we get another 6 weeks of winter.

Now I don’t exactly recall HOW he tells this. It’s to do with his shadow. But I can never keep straight if the appearance of his shadow means early spring or more winter.  In any case, it doesn’t matter. Because that little rodent is almost always WRONG!

Know what’s not wrong? My toes. More specifically, my shaved toes.

Uh-huh. You read that right. The first day after a long winter that my furry toes feel the need to emerge from the deep recesses of my close-toed shoes and I shave them to make them presentable to the world is the true harbinger that spring is just around the corner.  And I’ll tell you why…(after I explain how I am half-Italian and, yes, have a few dark sproutlings here and there which I cannot help and if you’re of the tow-headed ilk thus rendering your body hair practically invisible, well, la-dee-dah and goodie for you!) 

Anyway… I am a very sensitive creature, highly in tune to my surroundings. Randy the perfekt husband calls me a “delicate flower” (not necessarily in the loving way that the selection of words might imply – but that’s for another post about sarcasm in marriage and how to blow it off).

I have mentioned before on this very website how I am able to detect the slightest shift of the sun and the most subtle changes in sound quality that signal the onset of Fall. Even while other people are still in their bikinis and board shorts, I’m getting out the sweaters and Uggs. And I’m always right.

Well, these talents are evident even as winter turns to spring, but in a slightly different way. Because a day comes where something deep within me stirs. Actually the feeling comes from deep within my fleece-lined shoes. The ones that, along with thick wool socks, have covered my feet daily throughout the winter months. The stirring is a longing- a longing from my toes to be freed from enclosure, from a dormancy and darkness that are akin to hibernation. And so, I step into the shower. And after I shave my armpits and legs, I move, for the first time in months, to my toes.

Now, as I have no built-in bench in my shower nor the ability to lean against one wall while propping my leg up against the other wall because the shower is too big –  this is no small feat (no pun intended). But I do it. Because, good grooming is essential and my feet say it’s time. Time to break out the sandals, to slip on the flip flops, to let my toes hang out baby!

And so I run my Lady Bic across the tops of my toes and deftly remove the two or three barely noticable (except to me and that woman I can’t understand at the the nail place) hairs from the tops of my big toes. And my toes are ready to announce to the world that spring is here! Well, if they could talk they would. (Actually, if they could talk they’d probably bitch about how disgusting the ground is – but they can’t have it all, can they? Freedom AND hygiene both. No siree.)

My point is… My toes have NEVER BEEN WRONG. Once I begin the shaving, I don’t stop again until fall when nature’s cycle begins yet again.

It’s lovely actually, when you think of it. Nature’s little toe cycle. So pure. So real. Sheryl Crow should write a song about it. I mean, I’d fork over the 99 cents to download it off iTunes.

FYI. For you Southern Californians, spring is here as of three days ago. For those of you still buried beneath of blanket of snow, hang in there, according to my toes, spring is just around the corner. You’re welcome.

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Author: toni

~ 05/09/12


Like returning to this blog after an extended absence, I have recently returned to the gym. Not sure what prompted me. The realization that I am an older mom with a 10 year-old daughter who has triple my energy, the way my belly looked like two lumpy blueberry muffins protruding from the top of my “fat” jeans, or the fact that swimsuit season is rapidly approaching. For a woman, these are all powerful motivators and probably each played an integral part in my finally getting up off my butt and committing to losing some weight and getting in shape. Oh, and that really cool MyFitness app I have on my new Smart-phone  that helps me track my daily calories didn’t hurt. Yeah, there’s a little tech geek in me.  

Well, in addition to feeling healthier in general, my return to the gym has opened up a whole new world to me. One of MORNING TELEVISION. Did you know that ellipticals have personal TVs on them? Yeah, you probably did. Tells you how long it’s been since I’ve hit a gym. In my defense, until a recent hip injury, I was always a runner.

Anyway, now that I’m spending an hour a day on these joint-friendly machines, I have seen all manner of drivel compelling stories on the tube. For example, I know that Kelly has a new set. That Lamar and Khloe aren’t happy in Texas. And that most hair stylists are handling scissors and bleaching products while drunk. (BTW that Tabatha is one scary $#@&%).

But just yesterday, I saw something that really got my panties in a bunch. Something so moronic and utterly ridiculous I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry.

One of the news shows did a hard-driving, in-depth piece on an Olympic athlete who had started her own line of activewear. As she was presenting her various pieces, holding them up for the camera (and all her potential customers in TV Land) to see, she pointed out what she thought was their most important and sellable feature. No, it wasn’t the vibrant colors that are guaranteed to draw the attention of that rock-hard guy at Gold’s Gym who is busily turning his six-pack into an eight-pack. It wasn’t the revealing little cut-outs that add that titillating little glimpse of the small of your back that silently screams “come hither, rock-hard dude!”

It was their ability to WICK MOISTURE! That’s right. These overly-priced gym clothes are guaranteed to SOAK UP and HIDE YOUR SWEAT.

To this I vehemently, though kindly, say: No thanks, Gold Medalist chick!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to the gym and work my butt off so that I can hide all evidence that I have been working like a maniac. When I get off that machine, I don’t want to look like I just spent the morning doing light errands about town. I want to LOOK like I did intervals at levels 10 and 12 for an hour! As I gather my water bottle, cell phone, ear phones, towel and gym bag I want to glimpse my reflection in the mirror and see the sweaty fruit of my hard labor. I want to walk past those who are just entering the gym on the way to their workout and think to myself as I pass them… “Yeah, that’s right, ya’ll. I kicked butt on the Precor today”.

AAAAND…. If I so happen to run into someone I know at the Starbucks after my workout… well, I can’t help it if they admire the sweat stains on my pits and belly, can I?

Okay, maybe admire is too strong a word. Actually, I’m not really so delusional. I know no one is looking at me when I leave the gym. I know the barista is probably thinking “Ew. Why can’t this lady go home and shower before she comes in here?” And I don’t really run into people I know at Starbucks that often. And even if I did, most of the sweat is gone by the time I get there.

I guess I just need to see the sweat for me. So that I can get some outward validation of the terrific mental energy and resolve it takes me to drag myself to the gym everyday. See, it’s not easy for me. And it’s gotten harder the older I get. But I know I need it to feel healthy and better about myself. And honestly, so I can be around for as long as possible in my little girl’s life.

Unlike my mother who had me at 21, I was older when I had my daughter. So I think a lot about my life expectancy and how much of her life I’ll get to spend with her. Because I’m an older mom I’ve cheated myself out of a decade or more of her life. Of seeing where her life leads her, of being a grandmother to her children, of being there for her when she needs me.

So I guess it’s not really the muffin tops or swimsuit season. The main reason I’m sweating is for my kid. Because kids need their moms in their lives for as long a possible. (Whether or not they’ll admit it).  And I WANT to see the immediate results of my efforts – every stinky, sweaty drop of it – because then I know I’m making progress to this end.

So sorry, Miss Nine-time Gold Medalist. This is one mommy who won’t be purchasing your moisture-wicking active wear. I’ll stick to my worn-out Old Navy T’s from three seasons ago. Because, like the wrinkles at the corners of my eyes, they honestly display what I have experienced. Pit stains and all.

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Author: toni

~ 09/23/11


Okay. While there may have been some parental blundering, there is no blendering involved in this week’s guilt-assuaging libation.

Because this week I am here to tell you about FLIPFLOP WINES.

MAMMAKAZE was asked recently to sample a trio of their wines: a pinot grigio, a pinot noir and a riesling.

We’re experts after all. Well, maybe not experts. But we do enjoy us some vino from time-to-time. And we know what tastes good to us.

So we invited a group of MAMMAKAZES over to a taste-testing. JOHANNA, ANGELICA, JENNIE and her mom SUE took to my courtyard to enjoy some appetizers and the free bottles of wine. Now, while free is nice, it doesn’t matter if the wine isn’t any good. But it was!



“Cute label!”

“It only costs how much?!”

“I’d definitely buy this!”

“Pour me another, baby!”

Those were some of the comments that were heard during the wine-tasting.


I was a particular fan of the Pinot Grigio. As were Jennie and Angelica. It was zesty, light, fruity and refreshing. Perfect for kicking back and relaxing on a warm summer evening with friends.

Johanna, a red-lover, really grooved on the Pinot Noir. It was smooth and went well with the chocolate we nibbled on for dessert.

And we all enjoyed the sweet offerings of the Riesling. In fact, I had some leftover (because while we enjoy wine, we are not lushes) and I brought it to a friend’s house the next night to polish off with some turkey tacos! Was that wrong? What do I know about pairing wine with particular foods? We just knew it tasted good to us.  YUM!

And you know what else? Well, besides the fact that they are reasonably priced (only $7 SRP!) and have a really cute label which, I’ll admit, has influenced me in past wine purchases.

FLIP FLOP WINES is a company of do-gooders!


Underdog Wine Merchants has formed a partnership with Soles4Souls Inc. the international shoe charity dedicated to providing free footwear to those in need. The program will raise much needed funds to give one pair of flip-flop sandals for each bottle of flipflop wine purchased (up to 100,000 pairs for the first 100,000 bottles sold).


That’s right. For every bottle of flipflop wine you buy, they give a pair of flip-flops to those in need!

I mean. Good wine. Good humanitarian practices. What else does one need to say except:


 “A toast to this lovely company and their lovely wines!”


To find out more about this company or to purchase their wines click on the PINK LINK ABOVE or the following link:




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