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Where's the Snow?
12/11/2015 2:40:19 PM

It's less than two weeks until Christmas Day here near Albany, NY, and although I'm certainly not complaining, there's not a flake of snow on the ground. The grass in my front lawn and backyard is still green, and the ground hasn't frozen yet. Last year at this time we had already been pounded with one major snowstorm after another and we were already measuring our snowstorms in feet rather than inches.

A part of me loves this unusually mild weather. Arriving at work in the morning without my heart beating out of my chest because of the stress from driving in a Nor'easter snowstorm, is a relief. Not worrying about getting stuck in my own driveway at the end of the workday because the city snow plows dumped a foot of snow at the entrance is a relief. Falling asleep at night without trying to decide if I should make the attempt to get to work the next morning, if it's worth risking life and limb, is a relief. It's even appealing to hop in the car and go Christmas shopping without listening to the day's weather report first, do I need boots, gloves and scarves? What time will the snow start? Better be home by then.

BUT, on the flip side, there is something special about Christmas shopping with snow on the ground, something magical about watching fresh white snow flakes sparkle as they drift down under the streetlights, and anyone who has ever seen a fresh layer of soft white snow shimmering on the ground would be hard pressed to choose snow-less Decembers instead.

Perhaps the issue here is choice. If I could choose to be a kid again, home from school, my snowsuit warming on the hot radiator, mom searching the house for my one lost mitten, then pulling on my navy blue rubber boots over warm wool socks, stuffing the pants leg of my snow suit into the top of my boot, struggling to force the ankle strap to close, then a snow-less December would be unthinkable, unacceptable, inconceivable!

So, I sit here conflicted. The adult me would be happy to get through the entire winter without a drop of snow, but the kid in me, oh, the kid in me, wants to find my round metal snow saucer, drag it across the street and fly down the mounds of snow in reckless abandon laughing alongside my childhood friends while our cheeks grow red and our socks collect tiny ice balls of snow.

 
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What Winter Brings
2/22/2015 12:50:30 PM

Growing up in the northeast I’ve seen all types of winters.  From mild winters where southern breezes blew unfrozen dirt on the side of the road into small spinning cyclones to winters of relentless snow storms and brutally cold temperatures that assaulted my exposed skin and left red blotches that took hours to fade away.

Whether or not any particular winter was problematic for me over the years depended on where I was in my life. When I was a child the more snow the better.  As a young woman riding buses to work the height of the snowbanks and snowy sidewalks were my main concerns.  There were winters spent in a warm house playing with a growing child all day when I hardly paid attention to the weather outside the window.  As a single working mom supporting a household, a frozen car that wouldn’t start and miles of slippery, slushy roads between me and my place of employment caused weeks of winter stress.  Throw in a few unexpected school closings and the stress level soared to new heights.

Of all the winter memories I have accumulated over the years, there is one that replays during winters like this one, winters when the snow piles high.  It’s of a sunny, yet bitterly cold winter morning some time back in the 1950s when my family lived in what was then a new large apartment complex built on a flat hilltop near my hometown.

I have a very vivid memory of watching my dad walking through snow up to his knees in front of our building that winter morning.  The wind lifted the ends of the scarf wrapped around his face and he walked with his head down as he trudged through the deep snow toward the plowed road that circled the development.  He followed that road down to Campbells Avenue where he met a ride to work. He usually drove our car and I don't remember if it wouldn't start or if it was simply buried in snow.  I don't even remember if I was old enough to go to school or if it was a snow day but I clearly remember standing in front of the warm radiator below the frosted window in my second floor bedroom and watching dad until he disappeared from view. 

Why do I remember that morning so clearly?  Maybe it was the first time I truly understood his responsibility as a parent and it became a lesson I never forgot.
Israel and the Gaza Strip
7/18/2014 2:09:33 PM
This morning I’m thinking about the destruction in Israel and the Gaza Strip as a result of the ongoing bombings between their borders  Certainly I’m thinking about the situation from a humane point of view, all of the people injured and killed, homes and communities lost, lives disrupted, but also from a personal perspective.

Half a dozen years ago I visited Israel for three weeks on business and discovered a beautiful country. It’s difficult for me to think of today’s bombings and the damage being done as I remember my time there.  Yet, the possibility of real danger existed and we were reminded of that possibility by the armed military personnel we passed walking the streets of Jerusalem and the glimpse at the charred skeleton of a bus parked behind a garage.

It was daylight when our plane flew over the Mediterranean Sea approaching Ben Gurion Airport, the waters of the clear Mediterranean sparkling close below us. As soon as we disembarked from the plane I realized that my preconceived notions of what Israel would look like were light years away from reality. There was not one man dressed in flowing robes in sight.  Not even one camel. Instead, a young Arab man dressed in jeans and sneakers and wearing a baseball cap welcomed us to our air conditioned tour bus as we walked out of the modern airport. Driving away on a newly built highway, passing stylish business and apartment buildings, I was struck by how clean and new everything was.

Watching the reports of the fighting there today I remember how small Israel is. In approximately five hours we traveled the length of the country, from Eilat, a luxurious resort town at the southern tip of Israel on the Red Sea wedged between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to the Golan Heights at Israel’s northern border with Syria and Lebanon.  In that short period of time we traveled from the barren beauty of the Negev desert (where we did indeed see men in flowing robes racing across the sand on camels) to the lush green hillsides of the Sea of Galilee.

Before visiting Tel Aviv, I imagined a mysterious and exotic city based on stories and books from my childhood. Tall potted palm trees and streets filled with camels (there are those camels again) where merchants behind booths sold their wares were a part of that fantasy. In reality, Tel Aviv is a bustling modern city with blocks and blocks of businesses and luxurious hotels on the Mediterranean Sea. There are outdoor booths where merchants sell their wares today, but those booths line modern city streets and the merchants are dressed in summer dresses or bermuda shorts.

Old Jerusalem, on the other hand, is exotic. It’s exotic and mystical and mysterious. It’s the birthplace of the world’s major religions, how could it not be. The golden Dome of the Rock that shines over Old Jerusalem represents so many different things to millions and millions of people. Today The Dome is a Muslim shrine, its turret occupied by armed Muslim guards overlooking the Western Wall where Jews come to pray every day. Muslims believe the stone inside The Dome is the place from which Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. The Jews believe the stone under The Dome is the same stone where Abraham prepared to kill Isaac, some believe it stands over the sites of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples.

For the Christians of the world, Jerusalem represents the city where Jesus taught, was crucified, died and was buried. Just outside Jerusalem’s ancient walls and across a valley is the Garden of Gethsemane and The Mount of Olives. We looked at the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in the distance while standing on the grounds of a Jewish kibbutz on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

While in Jerusalem I spent much of my very limited spare time sitting in a chair and looking out my hotel room window at the walls of Old Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock and the Mount of Olives in the distance behind them. One can feel the blessedness of the city and its surroundings.

To the north of Jerusalem is the Jordan River, Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Tiberius, Haifa, Akko, all ancient touchstones for many of the world’s religions and all archeologically significant. Watching the week's news I feel a sense of sadness for the human loss, but I'm also fearful that these ancient places could be destroyed.  Losing just one would be a tragedy.

The Important Stuff
7/10/2014 4:39:39 PM

When I decided to leave my camper Tuesday night because of a tornado warning, I left quickly.  The weather station was indicating a 10 minute window before the storm.  Happily an actual tornado did not touch down but the next morning at home sitting in my comfortable den with the sun shining outside I began to consider the items I took with me when I dashed.  I was reminded of a theoretical exercise I participated in years ago.  Here’s the exercise:

If you had just minutes to evacuate your home due to fire, storm, etc. what would you bring with you?

Tuesday night I didn’t think too much about what I was grabbing but in retrospect what I took represented what was most important to me.  Riley, the littlebrowndog, was first in the car.  Then my reading glasses, the thumb drive carrying my novel (I would face a tornado head-on before I lost those chapters again!), my laptop with a few chapters from my novel, my thyroid medication, my purse and wallet and that was it.  If I had been home instead of at my camper I’m sure I would have grabbed my will and any insurance papers too.

My plan was to spend the whole week at camp so I had all  of my casual wardrobe with me and while I’ve never been a clothes horse, I didn’t throw any clothes into a bag, I left all my toiletries, and didn’t grab a picture or a book.  I do remember driving away and thinking if the camper goes, well, it’s all insured.

The things I did walk away with are not a surprise to me. It makes perfect sense.  It’s interesting what a few hectic minutes can tell us about ourselves.

Daylight Standard Time
11/3/2013 7:58:08 PM

Outside the windows of my den the sky is grey; most of the trees are bare.  The big beautiful maple tree in the front yard is standing there naked for the entire world to see.  Not that long ago she wore blazing red but that dress is now discarded, a wrinkled heap on the lawn.  I hear the furnace kicking on, forcing warm air into the rooms of my house, protection against the cold air that has begun to move into my neighborhood, pushing fall aside, and making way for the bitter cold of winter.

The littlebrowndog is curled into a warm ball on the chair nearby.  His eyes opening every now and then to be sure I’m still here.  I’ve noticed he doesn’t want to stay outside as long as he did in the warmer weather and that he runs to the back door as soon as he is convinced the grounds are secure.  I’ve found his winter hoodie but do not look forward to the struggle of getting it on and off every time he goes outside.

Sitting here on the first day of daylight standard time it suddenly occurred to me that my cable TV company has reached into my house and turned a few clocks back.  Part of me is thankful.  Most times over the years when I forgot to turn the clock back there were no major problems. There was the time, however, when I was a real estate agent and woke to a ringing phone and another agent wanting to know why I wasn’t at a planned contract signing.  That question was followed by the awkwardness of me explaining I had forgotten to adjust my clock.

On the other hand, the cable company reaching into my house is kind of creepy and I’m reminded of how incredulous I would have been if someone told me years ago such technology was coming down the pike.

As the clocks in my house change, I feel a shifting in my inner clock; a slowing down, a nestling in.  My focus changes from living outside to moving inside.  That part of me that resisted the end of summer and the onset of snow and cold weather has finally been seduced by the prospect of cozy weekend afternoons in my den writing all those stories that have been floating around in my head, while winter roars outside the windows.  I look forward to the sensations of a blazing fire in the fireplace; hot feet, wood snapping as it’s eaten up by bright orange and red flames, the smell of burning wood that makes its way up my neighbors’ chimneys and floats by me on a crisp, cold winter night as the littlebrowndog and I stand in the backyard at the end of the day.

Now that I have given in to the notion that the arrival of winter is inevitable I have adjusted and I know that somewhere in the roots of my beautiful maple tree there is an understanding that the humiliation she now endures will be forgotten in the redressing that comes with spring.

September
9/2/2013 12:15:02 PM

September. How did it get here so quickly? Everyone I speak with says the same thing, the summer went by surprisingly fast this year. Often Labor Day weekend means flannel shirts and wool socks in the Adirondacks, yet this Labor Day weekend has been warm with occasional showers and the sun is hot, the breeze is cool.

September. The 11th, never to be forgotten.

September born. Memories of mom-made birthday cakes and my family sitting around the kitchen table singing happy birthday after dinner. A wrapped birthday present from mom and dad.

September. Back to school. Memories of new plaid dresses, new shoes, new school uniforms, new friends, new teachers, homework again and no more sleeping in.

Reluctantly I surrender to September and turn my attention to where I left my warmer clothes when I so willingly shed them last April.

Trees
7/18/2013 9:33:31 AM

Living in the Northeast I’m aware of how the change of seasons affects trees. Even the most inattentive person living in the northeast cannot ignore the brilliance of fall. The fall foliage in the northeast can be rather pugnacious; it comes right up, lifts up our eyelids and challenges us to look away. 

During the past few years, however, I’ve come to understand that even though trees scream at us in the fall, they talk to us more quietly all year long. I learned this by driving up and down the Northway into the Adirondack Mountains and home again. 

During the spring months, April, May, early June, the trees are stretching, standing taller, sprouting leaves, but I can still see through the branches because their leaves are small and sparse.  I feel a wonderful sense of what’s to come, the freedom of throwing off the sweaters and heavy coats, the gloves and wool hats. I sense the freedom of longer, warmer days just ahead. I feel the excitement and anticipation of opening my little place in the Adirondacks; spending late afternoons floating in the pond and watching the clouds drift by.

Driving north in August I begin to feel some trepidation. The trees begin to look a bit limp, there’s a crispness about them. Most are still green, although a few have begun to turn red. The trees are telling me it’s still summer but I should start thinking about where I threw my heavy coat and wool hat.

Today, on this hot and humid July morning as I drove into work, I noticed the trees were talking again. Today the trees are full of themselves. They are bursting with seeds and fruit. They are standing tall and allowing the gentle morning breeze to dance between their branches. That’s when it dawned on me.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “enjoy the moment.” But, I can tell you every time I’ve heard it I’ve agreed wholeheartedly and vowed to live my life that way even though it’s a true challenge for this pragmatic Virgo.

That’s what the trees told me this morning, "enjoy the moment." Don’t look back at how we were in the spring and don’t look forward to how we will be in August. Enjoy us today; celebrate this wonderful mid-summer with us. 

(Of course, the pragmatic Virgo in me realized the temperature will rise into the 90s again today and wondered if it would be okay to enjoy this wonderful mid-summer day from inside an airconditioned room.)

A Father’s Day Story
6/16/2013 9:57:07 AM


The most important part of dad’s life was his family, his wife and his children. From my perspective he loved mom without reservation from the day they met until the day he died and he had no choice but to leave her behind. In the weeks before dad died he and I spent every Friday night together and literally talked all night long. He once told me he wasn’t afraid to die, he just hated that us kids wouldn’t have a father anymore, even though “us kids” were in our late 40s and early 50s.

I have a sister I’ve never met. Her name is Mary Theresa and she was the first born in our family. Mary Theresa died before she was 10 days old of a hole in her heart. If she was born today instead of 72 years ago, she no doubt would have survived after surgery. This photo is of dad and the second baby born to our family, my sister, Carol Ann. It’s so obvious how happy dad was to finally be a father.

It took mom awhile after dad died to start looking through his things. When she finally went through his wallet she found a tiny, yellow, well-folded piece of news print, Mary Theresa’s obit from the newspaper. Mom had no idea that dad had carried that little piece of news print with him for 56 years but when we thought about it we realized, knowing dad as we did, of course he would.

I know this may seem like a sad story, but I love it because it's a peek at the wonderful man dad was and how lucky I was that he was my father.

Happy Father’s Day, Pops … Love you.


Esther Williams and the Prospect Park Pool
6/7/2013 10:39:09 AM

When I was a kid growing up in Troy, NY, my older sister, two brothers, assorted friends and I would hike from our apartment in the Griswold Heights housing project to Prospect Park. Troy had almost two dozen neighborhood parks, but Prospect Park was unique because it was home to a public swimming pool. It was a huge pool with concrete steps leading to 3 feet of water at one end. At the opposite end was a long springy diving board that in our childhood fantasies became Captain Hook’s infamous plank and we took turns walking the plank as dramatically as possible before stepping off into 8 feet of water and our demise. In my memory the Prospect Park pool was large enough to accommodate every kid in Troy and on a few of those sweltering summer afternoons it sure felt like every Troy kid was in that pool. 

Of course, we didn’t walk the three or four miles from our home to Prospect Park following the city streets, we walked the “as the crow flies” route; from home, down a sloping hill covered with tall grass and underbrush to Spring Avenue. From there we’d hike up a steeper hill following what remained of an old grass covered dirt road until we reached the top of Prospect Park hill. Often when we reached the top of that hill we’d drop down on the grass to catch our breath and look out at the 20 mile panoramic views until the stiff, dry, just-mowed summer grass began to prick at our bare legs and prod us on. At the end of the day, after spending the whole afternoon in the pool, we’d drag our sunburned and weary little bodies’ up and down those hills all over again, this time anxious to get home.

The reason I’m writing about Prospect Park Pool today is because Esther Williams died yesterday. She was 91 years old which means many of you reading this may not know who she was. Esther Williams was a competitive swimmer, winning three gold medals at the national swimming championships in 1939 and a place on the 1940 US Olympic swim team. Unfortunately, because of the onset of WW2, the 1940 Olympic Games were canceled. As a consolation prize (her words) she became a movie star. Because she was a beautiful woman and a talented athlete a whole new movie genre grew around her … the water extravaganza, filled with scenes of synchronized swimming and death defying high dives.   Her neck was broken during one of those dives but she recovered and continued on with her career, becoming known as The Million Dollar Mermaid.

Now, back to Prospect Park Pool. As a child I loved to watch the old Esther Williams’ movies. My friends and I would sit in the parlor and watch them on our black and white TV. We’d roll around on the floor mimicking the synchronized swimming routines, confident we could easily recreate them once we got to … you guessed it … Prospect Park Pool. It wasn’t as if we didn’t try. I can’t even guess at how many gallons of chlorine laced water we swallowed as we slowly sank to the bottom of the pool still holding our perfect synchronized form. Or how many times our graceful and perfect dives off the Prospect Park pool diving board ended in perfect belly flops. 

Esther made it look so easy.

45th Anniversary of RFK assassination
6/5/2013 10:28:34 AM

President John F. Kennedy assassinated on November 22, 1963.

Reverand Martin Luther King assassinated on April 4, 1967. 

Senator Robert F. Kennedy assassinated on June 6, 1968. 

The assassination of President Kennedy was the end of my innocence. As a child growing up in the ‘50s my life was very sheltered. Politics was something men argued about the same way they argued over the Friday night fights or the last Yankees game. Back then the President of the United States was perfect and in our Irish-Catholic household John Kennedy, the first Irish-Catholic president, neared sainthood. Watching President Kennedy’s assassination replayed over and over again on the news, then watching Lee Harvey Oswald shot in front of me on live TV made me feel vulnerable out there in the world for the first time in my life and I as 17 years old.  

In my memory JFK, MLK and RFK were shot one right after another.   In my memory MLK and RFK were shot the spring after JFK was murdered. In reality there were years between the shootings. Maybe I remember the murders the way I do because each shooting was so traumatic to me, each shooting made me, as a citizen, feel more vulnerable.  

Each of these shootings changed our political and cultural landscape, changed our world. Maybe because these assassinations shook me to the core and destroyed my innocence it feels to me as though these murders were the beginning of the long destructive road that has led to the almost casual violence we see in our world today.

All of these thoughts come to mind on this 45th Anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s death; rest in peace, Bobby.

Palm Sunday - A Journey
3/24/2013 1:28:19 PM

Palm Sunday wasn’t just another ordinary religious calendar event when I was a kid. When Palm Sunday arrived it brought with it a satchel filled with mixed emotions to sort through.  The end of lent was near which meant desserts would soon reappear on the dinner table and I no longer had to decide whether breaking my pledge and eating that small piece of chocolate during lent was worth living with the guilt.

Palm Sunday meant learning new songs in choir and that it was time to shop for a new spring coat or receive a new-to-me spring coat from a cousin.  I loved shopping for the new pair of black patent leather shoes with the strap across the top, the small straw white hat with pink rosebuds, the white gloves with a dainty lace trim at the top that matched my new white dress socks.  Thoughts of Easter baskets with colorful jelly beans and marshmallow yellow chicks filled my head and I prayed the Easter Bunny would leave my favorite dark chocolate Easter egg filled with white coconut cream.

Yet, all of those pleasant thoughts were distractions from the emotional trauma I experienced during the week that began with Palm Sunday.  Never having had a tolerance for violence, the graphic descriptions and photos of the torture and crucifixion of Christ that were discussed and displayed at school and during church services during that week literally made me sick to my stomach and year after year I cringed when Palm Sunday arrived and found I had no option but to witness the violence all over again.

Ironically, many years later, after I had long since grown away from the religion of my youth, a serendipitous event in my life brought me to the Garden of Gethsemane in the foothills of the Mount of Olives in Israel.  On the grounds of the garden is a beautiful church built in the 1920s by the Franciscan Friars.  Inside the church is a large rock surrounded by a small black cast iron fence and there is a small sign which indicates that this rock may be the actual rock Christ was sitting on when the Roman guards came for him after he had been betrayed by Judas.  The name of the small church is the Basilica of Agony.

After visiting the church I walked back into the garden and sat on the ground on that cloudy weekday afternoon and looked across the Kidron Valley at the ancient walls of Jerusalem still standing under the Dome of the Rock after all these centuries.  I could see the large areas of archeological excavations and the ancient stairs that had recently been unearthed.  Stone steps that had been dated back to the time of Christ; steps that Christ most likely climbed.

Funny that I would find myself in that garden, on the Mount of Olives after all the emotional upheaval caused by my childhood reactions to the story of Palm Sunday and the week that followed.  It was thrilling to be there and it felt like a spiritual experience but then so many of the world’s religions began in Jerusalem that I suspect there are few people who could spend time in that city and not feel the spiritual connections.

Was Christ the Son of God?  I do not know.  I do know Christ lived and I walked where Christ walked and saw where Christ suffered.  I know Christ suffered an agonizing death and believed the suffering was for us.  How could we not love and respect those convictions?

When I started writing this I wasn’t thinking about that trip to Israel, this story just evolved as I continued to write.  Now as I reread this story and see where my life has taken me regarding Palm Sunday and the week that followed I have to admit I find it all quite amazing.

Ireland
3/7/2013 2:41:07 PM
My maternal and paternal great grandparents came to the US from Ireland. I have never been, but lately I’ve been taking a virtual tour of the country looking for photos of the countryside and I’m reminded of my mom’s take on Ireland. 
I grew up in a house that celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with Irish music and a grand corn beef and cabbage dinner. Mom made soda bread and sent us girls off to school with a green bow in our hair and my brothers went off with a green ribbon pinned to their school uniform shirt. I know for a fact my green bow stayed on my head for the whole day, although I suspect it had a jauntier look as the day went on. My brothers, well, I’m not so sure how long those green ribbons lasted on their shirts. As my brothers grew older, there’s a strong possibility those green ribbons didn’t make it around the corner from the building where we lived.
Mom’s grandmother, who emigrated from Ireland during the potato famine, lived in the household where my mom grew up. I’ve only seen pictures of the thin austere woman but understand she could be a challenge. I suspect being a child in the same house with someone who witnessed the mass deaths and suffering caused by the Irish potato famine had an effect on mom because as proud as she was of her Irish heritage, she never felt the need to “see” Ireland. She would, in fact, temper her children’s tendency to romanticize Ireland by saying she didn’t understand people’s fantasies about Ireland, after all, millions of the Irish left that country and came to the US to live a better life.
Dad’s childhood was different. His mom died in the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 when he was 3 and he spent the next 5 years living in a children’s home. When his dad remarried and took dad and his sisters out of the home dad was already 8 years old. At 13 he left school and went to work to help support his four half-brothers, a new one arriving each year. Although dad’s ancestry was just as Irish as mom’s, I don’t think he celebrated it until he met mom.
So I am a third generation Irishwoman wandering around the land of my ancestors via the internet. As beautiful as the Irish landscape is, I can also see how difficult it would be to make a living from that harsh rocky soil.
Every now and then I get the urge to make a drastic move to another part of the world or another part of the country. As a young woman I made a few semi-drastic moves with mixed results which have left me a bit leery of following my impulses. Ten years ago I considered packing up and moving to Ireland. After all, it is the home of my ancestors, Irish blood runs through my veins and when I traveled in England and Scotland most people thought I was Irish until they heard my “American accent.” I could picture myself writing in front of a warm fire blazing in a stone fireplace in the living room of a thatched roofed cottage across the dirt road from sprawling green fields (you can see how I get myself in trouble).  
Ten years ago the computer industry in Ireland was booming. Young people were no longer leaving Ireland to build a life somewhere else; prosperity no longer depended on the soil and the seasons. They were attending college elsewhere and returning to live in Ireland. My son was just out of high school and warmed to the idea of moving to Ireland but somehow life continued on and we never built up the momentum to make the move.
I suspect most of us have a wish to see the homeland of our ancestors (my mom excluded, of course) and visit the towns where they were born. I came close a few decades ago when I was in northern England and could have taken the ferry to Northern Ireland, but it was the days of the Irish Republican Army, when bombings and gunfire occurred randomly in Northern Ireland and since I was traveling alone I decided traveling solo through Northern Ireland probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.
One day I hope to visit Ireland. In the meantime, I will continue our family traditions of celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day and being a proud Irish-American.
Go n-éirí an t-ádh leat! (Good luck to ya!)
 
The vacant office in Rome
3/2/2013 1:03:50 PM

I’ve been thinking about the Pope.  Not the ex-Pope who just “retired.” That’s just a man.  I’ve been thinking about the notion of a Pope.  The Office of the Pope that has thrived over the centuries; not the office that sits empty today.

I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools for 11 years.  I never knew much about other religions beyond the fact that they existed.  As a young adult I became disappointed with the dogma and hierarchy of the church and opted out of the whole idea of God, lacking the sophistication to separate the Baby from the bathwater.  I could not support an organization that believed I was inferior based on my gender or an organization that seemed to be losing touch with how difficult it is to be human.

Yet, somewhere deep down in the rubble of my religious foundation, a few threads of emotional wiring are still connected and I find myself feeling uncomfortable about that vacant office in Rome. It’s the answer to why it is vacant that makes me uncomfortable.

As I look around at all of the beautiful Catholic churches and their associated schools that are also empty, the pedophile scandal, the chastisement by the church of the good women who work so hard to bring hope and spirituality into the lives of the desperate that live among us and now this physical retreat by Benedict, it is the end of the Catholic church as I knew it.  Will it be redeemed? Will it rise from the ashes like a Phoenix?

It seems to me the only road to its survival as a viable religion is to go back to its roots; to do what it has always demanded of its followers, to go into that little brown booth and confess and ask for forgiveness.  To stop trying to hide its “sins” and stop pretending there’s nothing wrong.  Stop worrying about its wealth and power and go back to the beginning, to forgiveness, peace and love.

Since I believe all religions speak to the same God, and I have no idea what that God actually is, I believe in the end it really doesn’t matter what bucket we carry our faith around in, whether it’s Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Jewish, etc., yet, if we do chose to tie our faith to a particular star, we want to be damn sure they practice what they preach.

In the end, what sees us through is faith, regardless of what, if any, formal religion we choose; faith in the basic goodness of being human and faith that we are never truly alone.

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I don't understand why anyone would want the job of President of the United States
2/17/2013 2:52:23 PM

I don’t understand why anyone would want the job of President of the United States.

It’s a 24 hour a day job, 7 days a week.  The fate of the world and the lives of every living thing on the planet rest on the shoulders of post A-bomb presidents.  Their lives and the lives of their families are spent in a glass house that is constantly being pelted with stones tossed by the news media, the opposing political party and anyone with the ability to type and who has a social networking account.

Having grown up during the presidencies of Eisenhower and Kennedy, I was raised in a world where presidential personal indiscretions were off-limits to news reporters.  I didn’t know Eisenhower had a war-time mistress or Kennedy was a womanizer until Eisenhower and Kennedy were both long gone.  I was too young to care about politics and grew up trusting the Office of the President would protect me and my family and trusting that it would represent America as a decent and fair member of the world community. America was the hero that always came to the rescue.

Now, of course, I’ve seen too much to put my head in the sand and ignore the consequences of abuse of power, misjudgments and the vindictive nature of politics.  I believe the news media should let us know if there is unequivocal evidence that our elected officials have cracks in their character but there should be no tolerance for conjecture in order to sell newspapers or online advertisements.

During the last presidential election many of the comments and posts I saw on our social networks that were directed at our President by American citizens were obscene and many without relevant content.  While I respect the right of a person to speak their mind, there is such a thing as responsibility and certainly all Americans should, at the very least, respect the Office of the President if they cannot respect the person occupying that office.

As for the President’s family, I know since Jackie O we’ve all become more interested in how a president’s wife looks and dresses and I like to think interested in the good works accomplished by our first ladies, but many of today’s “news stories” about the President’s family have entered into the realms of are you kidding me and who cares?  During the last presidential election I saw comments and photos about Michelle Obama, with absolutely no campaign related information, that would have been tolerated only in the back alleys when I was a kid.  Recently, I heard some idiot suggest that if the President wants to take guns away from citizens then why not take the guns away from the people who are protecting his children; two girls who potentially would be prime targets of any number of terrorist kidnapping and assassination scenarios.

I don’t understand why anyone would want the job of President of the United States.

The President earns a $400,000 annual salary, along with a $50,000 annual expense account, and a $100,000 nontaxable travel account. We’ve all heard of athletes and entertainers who spend that kind of money on a long weekend.  The Presidential office has not had a raise in 12 years, since 2001.

I don’t understand why anyone would want the job of President of the United States.

Yet, there have been great men who fought for the job and who rose to face history head-on while making hard decisions that formed the country we are today:  George, who stepped out of the ranks of our founding fathers, Abe who saw us through the Civil War and started us on the long road to equality before he was shot to death because of the job he held.  Woodrow guided us through WW1.   Franklin’s “new Deal” that got us through the Great Depression and his signature on the Declaration of War after the attack on Pearl Harbor that committed us to WW2, a war that ended when Harry made that fateful decision to drop the A-Bomb.  John’s cold war stand-off with Khrushchev when we learned that hiding under our school desks would protect us from the fallout from the atom bomb and John’s assassination that broke our hearts.  And, Jimmy’s attempt to hold countries accountable for their civil rights decisions in order to qualify for US support.

I use their first names not out of disrespect, but to emphasize they were human beings like the rest of us who made the choice to accept the world’s most difficult job.  Whether history has proven that the decisions made by these men, and the men that preceded and followed them into the Oval Office, were right or wrong, they had to carry the responsibility for the consequences of their decisions, a responsibility that is unimaginable to most of us.

That’s why I respect our presidential office even if I did not always respect the man who worked there. 

Why do men seek and accept the job?  Some think it's all about ego, some men may have been swept into office by circumstance.  I like to think many of our Presidents accepted the job out of patriotism, love for our country. 

So, on this Presidents’ Day 2013 I am thankful to all of the men who tried their best to protect us and lead our country forward and … wait for it … I am looking forward to the day when America is ready to give us women a crack at it.

Happy Valentine's Day 2013
2/11/2013 2:15:55 PM
Happy Valentine’s Day! I know many people think it’s a frivolous day created by Hallmark to make money and no doubt they do, but I like Valentine’s Day whether I’m with someone or not. Love is in the air. 
Charlie Brown, his face as red as a tomato, hands a Valentine card to the little red haired girl. The high school jock sheepishly pulls a red velvet heart-shaped box of chocolates out of his blue duffle bag and hands it to the sweet young girl who is waiting patiently to receive her first Valentine gift from a boy. 
The young man pats his pocket for the twentieth time in 20 minutes to be sure the small black velvet box holding the diamond ring that cost him three months’ salary is still safely tucked inside as he takes the steps to his girlfriend’s apartment two at a time, anxious to see the look on her face when she sees the ring he has selected and 99.9% sure she will say yes. She will say yes, won’t she?
The harried father who works long hours to support his family comes home at the end of the workday with a small bouquet of flowers he just bought at the corner supermarket and his wife smiles wondering where he found the time, but happy that he did, as she hands him the Valentine card she selected at the same supermarket two weeks earlier while the kids screamed at each other and dangled off the shopping cart. Their three children look at each other and smile, reassured that their parents are still in love.
The twenty-something who is the romantic one, rushes home from work and prepares a romantic dinner for his girlfriend who breezes in from work, enjoys the meal, then sits in front of the computer while he is left to clear away the remnants of his romantic gesture.
The thirty-something who wonders if it’s too soon in her new relationship to buy those heart-covered boxer shorts for her beau.
The empty nesters whose children are grown and out in the world who go to their favorite restaurant on Valentine’s Day and quietly spend the time watching the romantic couples surrounding them, safe in the knowledge that their hard work and determination has created a love and mutual respect that will indeed last their lifetimes.
The empty nesters who sit in the same restaurant with nothing to say to each other and watch the romantic couples surrounding them and long for that romance, having settled early on in their lives for the safe choice that isn’t enough anymore now that the hectic days of child rearing are behind them.
The old couple who have loved each other since they were children and who cannot imagine a life without the other who sit on their well worn sofa in their small apartment and hold hands, the single pink rose he bought her at the drug store on the corner tilting out of the small white bud vase he bought for her when she was fifteen years old.
All the single ladies and men who have chosen the single life or had the single life forced upon them by happenstance. Many don’t shy away from Valentine’s Day, but celebrate by enjoying the opportunity to let their family and friends know how much they are appreciated and loved. Some just ignore the day entirely and there are those of us who think Valentine’s Day is a lovely little day, but believe we should tell the people we care about that we love them EVERY day.
However you spend Valentine’ Day, I hope it's fun.
Love.
Oh Say Can You Sing ...
1/24/2013 12:22:12 PM

One way to recognize how different we are from each other is by noticing the things that bother us but do not bother anyone else. Does anyone really care if Beyonce lip synched the National Anthem at the presidential inauguration ceremonies on Monday? I have to admit, it bothers me. I watched the ceremony on TV and as I watched Beyonce sing, for a fleeting second it flashed through my mind that she was faking it but then I thought, no, she wouldn’t fake the Anthem on such a prominent national occasion.

Faking it at the Super Bowl might be forgiven, (apologies to all you football fans reading this) but not the National Anthem at the presidential inaugural ceremony.  As she continued to “perform” I believed she was singing it live and she was nailing it but, in retrospect, as I looked at the footage and photos of the expressions on the faces of the people near Beyonce as she “sang,” they are priceless. Mostly they look perplexed.

I noticed when she walked back to her husband, Jay-Z, he hugged her and congratulated her. I thought how nice, he’s congratulating her for performing so well under less than perfect conditions. When, in fact, he was congratulating her for getting away with it.

So, where was the superstar? In my opinion the superstar was little Kelly Clarkson who stepped up to the microphone and belted out My Country, Tis of Thee. Kelly Clarkson is a popular singer, she has a voice to be protected, but it’s obvious she possesses a few things Beyonce does not, authenticity and chutzpa.

The Washington weather had been cold for days and everyone knew ahead of time what the weather conditions would be like.  Maybe Beyonce didn’t want to give up the opportunity to say that she sang the National Anthem at a presidential inauguration. Ironically, the best she’ll be able to say is that she stood up to a microphone in front of the President of the United States and the rest of the country and faked it. Maybe, in the end, Beyonce was afraid if she sang live she wouldn’t do as well as Kelly Clarkson.

Shame on Beyonce for being such a bad example for all the little girls and young woman that admire her. If Beyonce wants the title superstar, the least she can do is act like one.

I understand on a scale of 1-10 the importance of this blog is -10, but I feel better now.

Music
1/19/2013 1:09:47 PM

The first music I remember hearing was the sound of my mother’s voice singing the Irish lullaby Tura Lura Lura to me when I was very young and sick in bed.  Mom sang that lullaby to all her babies.

Dad enjoyed singing and had a wonderful singing voice.  When I was no more than four years old I remember sitting near him while he played the Mills Brothers’ albums on our old record player.  I especially remember dad singing their song, “Daddy’s Little Girl.”  Before I was five years old I could sing all the words to the Mills Brother’s song, “Paper Doll” as well as “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and the Notre Dame Fight Song.  Our house was usually filled with the music of Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Glen Miller.

At school I was taught new songs from McNamara's Band to the national anthem and “God Bless America.” I joined the children’s choir, although “joined” may be misleading since all of us kids were required to be in the choir where we added even more songs to our repertoire, including many we sang in Latin.

In the meantime, my older sister and her friends began buying small 45 records, mostly Elvis Presley recordings, and playing them on small portable record players.  I can still see them sitting around the record player in the parlor in their long, full skirts (yes, some even with poodle appliques), black and white saddle shoes, white ankle socks and blouses with round Peter Pan collars, usually a scarf tied around their necks.  The whole emerging rock and roll music scene was of no interest to me at that time, it was simply a part of the background music of my childhood.

In second grade I began piano lessons.  One dollar paid for a half hour of instruction from Sr. Cecilia.  Since I had no interest in learning how to play the piano I am sure I was the bane of Sr. Cecilia’s existence. Week after week, month after month, year after year the poor woman sat there and told me the same things over and over again.  Speaking of over and over, we did not have a piano in our house, but my mom’s best friend, who lived a few doors away from us, did, and every day after school I’d go to her house and practice for a half hour.  For years I sat there and played the same song over and over and she either never realized it was the same song or she felt it wasn’t her job to make me play something different.

At some point mom and dad bought a piano for our house.  And it was magnificent.  It was an old player piano.  That means the piano had a mechanism that accepted long rolls of paper with raised markings similar to sheets of braille read by the blind with their fingerstips.  Somehow when the roll of “braille paper” turned inside the piano, the piano keys played songs by themselves.  No pianist needed … my kind of piano.  We had many different rolls of music and it was wonderful.

When I was a sophomore in high school Sr. Cecilia suggested I might enjoy singing lessons rather than piano lessons.  After eight years of being tortured by my disinterest, mom finally gave up and allowed me to quit.  Ironically, years later, when I furnished my first home, I bought a piano and began buying sheet music.  On quiet afternoons and evenings I’d sit at the piano and try to remember the instructions Sr. Cecilia gave me.  There’s still a piano in my home and I can play a mean version of “The Impossible Dream.”  Sr. Cecilia would be proud of me … shocked no doubt, but proud of me.

What teenager doesn’t like music?  I was no exception.  Mom always found it frustrating that I could sing every word of most songs on the top 40 list, but couldn’t remember how to spell half the words on my weekly spelling list.  Perhaps if the spelling words were put to music it would have been easier.

Rock and roll music was perfect for us teenagers, it beat to our restless hearts, we were always in motion, always looking for the next best thing, always falling in and out of love and experiencing the angst of first rejections and disappointments.

As a young adult I went to my first Broadway play and discovered show tunes. The elaborate productions were fascinating; the beautiful and powerful voices of the actors blended with the music from the orchestra and reached out and touched me as I sat in the dark theater.  From Westside Story to Jersey Boys, I’ve enjoyed them all. 

Then I saw my first ballet. How could I not fall in love with classical music once I fell in love with the graceful and elegant ballet?  Sometimes I sit in the audience at a ballet performance and close my eyes just to listen to the violins and French horns.

Isn't it interesting that no matter what the genre, music carries our memories. Hearing a certain melody brings us back to people, places and events in our lives whether we want to be reminded or not.  On the other hand, new music engages us, it asks our opinion; it asks, “Do you like me.”  If the answer is yes then it’s a happy meeting and like meeting a new friend we tend to go back again.  If the answer is no, then we walk away better for the experience.

Music is timeless and never-ending.  Timeless because a piece written 500 years ago is brand new the first time we hear it and never-ending because today or tomorrow someone can be inspired to put musical notes together in a brand new way and come up with an engaging brand new sound.

Music distracts me when I'm writing.  Mid-sentence I may hear a tune that reminds me of something from my past and off my mind goes following that thought.  Or, I may catch a few notes of a song I've never heard before and off my mind goes to hear more. Right now my house is completely quiet but usually there's music. 

Here she comes, Miss America
1/13/2013 11:47:22 AM

I remember watching Mary Ann Mobley crowned Miss America in 1959 when I was 12 years old.  Although I suspect I watched the Miss America Pageant more than once, that’s the pageant I remember.  Twelve years old must have been the year when I became aware of the importance of being pretty and “sweet.”  The importance of having a good figure and looking perfect in a bathing suit while remaining asexual.  I became aware that people judged me by how I looked.  And here she was, Miss America, walking down the runway at the end of the program while Bert Parks assured us she was “our ideal.”

Of course, at 12 years old I was anything but Miss America material.  I was in a state of transition though.  I was still playing sports with the boys in the housing project where I lived and saw no reason not to compete and win, but there were certain boys that I’d known most of my young life that were “different” now, there was a “feeling” about them.  That was probably around the time I became aware of how I looked and acted and began searching for clues about how I “should” be looking and acting. My friends and I began walking around with books balanced on our heads so we could walk like Miss America.

In addition to the Miss America Pageant, there were other clues.  Magazine and TV commercials told me what I “should” look like and how to overcome my 12 year old “flaws.”  So for the first time I became aware of the bathroom scale and what I weighed.  Hair and eyelash curlers, mascara, lip gloss and blush became a part of my vocabulary.  I took another look at how I interacted with the boys I knew and tried some of the techniques in Seventeen Magazine.  Of course, mom and dad could tell me I was perfect just the way I was until they were blue in the face but deep down inside I knew they didn’t understand.  And so it began.

I guess I see the Miss America Pageant as I see the Olympics.  Are the women and athletes the best this country has to offer, of course not.  The number one requirement for both competitions is a good financial base.  I suspect for most Olympic sports there’s a young athlete living in America with no financial support that could beat the pants off the guy or gal standing on the Olympic podium.

For the Miss America Pageant there are gowns, hairstylists, personal trainers, competition fees and heaven knows what other expenses to be covered before a young woman walks on the stage in Atlantic City. I suspect there just might be another young woman sitting on her front porch somewhere in the US with a more beautiful face, and a perfect figure that would outshine any primped and pampered “official” Miss America contestant.   

The criteria for selecting Miss America have changed over the years.  The educational scholarships awarded have increased.   While doing a little research for this blog, I came across a video of a Miss America contestant in the late 1950s who was asked this final question:  “How would you get a boy on a first date to begin a conversation?”  Her response:  “Well, most boys play sports so I would ask him what sports he played.  If he didn’t play a sport I would ask him what his hobbies were.  If he didn’t have any hobbies I guess I’d just be quiet for the rest of the night.” 

The new Miss America selected last night, 23 year old Mallory Hagan, was asked if armed guards should be in our schools.  Her response, “We should not fight violence with violence;” a good answer to a question that would have been inconceivable 50 years ago.  Who knew questions asked at Miss America competitions could reveal so much about the evolution of our society and the evolution of women’s role in dealing with the serious issues we are facing.

The new Miss America’s focus is preventing child sexual abuse; if one child is spared that trauma because of her celebrity then that’s a good thing.  Yet, the Miss America Pageant is still a beauty competition where contestants smile their perfect smiles as they walk their well-choreographed walk across the stage in their skimpy little bathing suits showing off their perfectly sculptured little bodies telling all little girls watching that this is how the ideal American woman should look.  That is not a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year 2013
12/31/2012 1:47:53 PM

Another New Year’s Eve is here already.  The older I get, it seems as though each year flies by more quickly than the last.  Some of those years presented events that were uplifting and life changing, a graduation, a promotion, the start of a romance, a marriage, the birth of a child; other years were life changing in a sadder way, the loss of a loved one, the end of a friendship, a change in financial fortunes. Most years were a mix of both.

How I celebrate New Year’s Eve has changed over the years.  As a child New Year’s Eve was always a family event.  My sister, two brothers and I dressed in our party clothes and the evening began with the six of us sitting around the kitchen table enjoying a feast that mom prepared.  After dinner and after the dishes were washed, dried and put away, we gathered in front of the Christmas tree and watched holiday programs on the black and white TV.  Although we were allowed to stay up until midnight, we all fell asleep way before the midnight hour and dad carried us upstairs to our bedrooms one-by-one as we each lost the struggle to stay awake.

As a teenager I begged to spend the night at sleepovers at friends’ homes where we would make prank telephone calls, eat too much junk food, drink too much soda and listen to the latest records on portable record players.

After high school and during the early years of my marriage New Year’s Eve was date night, a time to buy a party dress, expensive shoes and join five or six other couples for a night of dancing, good food and way too much to drink.  Eventually there came a time when getting dressed and going out into the cold, cold night was less inviting and staying home sitting in front of the fireplace and sharing a few glasses of good wine was more appealing. 

Then I discovered skiing and spent New Year’s Eve in snow covered lodges.  Although my body was weary from the day of exercise the warmth of the roaring fire, the comfort of the overstuffed chairs and quiet conversations with friends made for memories I will never forget. 

When my son came along we celebrated New Year’s Eve in Lake Placid, NY, for the first five years of his life. I can still see him lying in the snow making snow angels, bundled up in his light blue snowsuit, wearing big red “moonboots,” red mittens snapped to his cuffs and a scarf tied tight around his neck. After a late afternoon nap we would walk around the village on New Year’s Eve looking at the holiday lights and watching the huskies pull sleighs filled with tourists across the frozen lake.  As my son grew up, his dad and I divorced, and I went to work full time.  While my son spent New Year’s Eve with friends, either at their homes or ours, I found myself lapsing into my childhood days of falling asleep before midnight.

Since then New Year’s Eve has been spent at small house parties, maybe dinner and a movie with family or a friend, an occasional date, but mostly, I like New Year’s Eve at home.  One more quiet night in front of the Christmas tree before it’s taken down and the decorations are put away until next year.

However you spend New Year’s Eve I hope you have fun and stay safe.  I hope 2013 brings you happiness and joy, good health and prosperity.  With all its surprises, may 2013 be a good year for all of us.

 

Once Upon a Time
12/27/2012 7:07:35 PM

The soldier was just beginning to sleep through the night again, although he had been home from the war for almost a year.  The horrors he had seen no longer occupied his thoughts during his waking hours, but the images often returned with a vengeance while he slept, the sound of his own voice yelling into the darkness waking him before dawn. 

The soldier’s wife lay next to him each night, her stomach swollen with the weight of their third child.  Her husband’s night terrors no longer frightened her and she had learned how to calm him quickly so that their sleeping children would not wake up afraid.  The child she was carrying, however, sensed the sudden surge of adrenaline in its mother’s veins and heard the muffled sound of its father’s anguish.  How many millions of people began their existence like this unborn child, unlikely witnesses to the consequences of war?

Her husband did not have to go to war.  He was almost 28 years old when he and a group of his friends enlisted.  She was four months pregnant with their second child, their daughter was just two years old. She understood his desire to defend his country, and she could only imagine what he went through overseas, but she had also suffered, the two years he was away were the most difficult years of the young mother’s life.

On a crisp September morning shortly after midnight, their third child, a daughter, came into the world in the last delivery room on the right, on the second floor of a beautiful, Federal style building that housed the Leonard Hospital in the Lansingburgh section of Troy, New York.  Mom and daughter spent ten days in the hospital before coming home, which was the custom at that time.  During those ten days, they shared a large open room on the second floor, just down the hall from where the child was born, with eight other mothers and their newborns

The soldier’s daughter lived a happy life.  A few years after she was born, her family moved away from Lansingburgh to the eastside of Troy.  She returned to Lansingburgh most Saturdays during her childhood to visit her maternal grandmother.  When she was a teenager, she traveled by bus to the Catholic high school in Lansingburgh which was a few short blocks from the hospital where she was born.

After high school, the soldier’s daughter took a job away from her hometown, married and began a family of her own.  During the next 65 years she raised her two children, said goodbye to the soldier and his wife, sent her children off to college, watched them marry and have children of their own, said goodbye to her husband of 60 years and met her grandchildren’s children.  When she was 84 her son, who had moved to Lansingburgh after a number of job promotions and transfers, found her an apartment in a newly renovated building dedicated to senior housing. 

It was a small, but sunny apartment on the second floor of the lovely old building.  Her great grandchildren were in high school at her old alma mater which was only a few short blocks away from her apartment and they would often stop by to say hello on their way home from school.  She enjoyed spending time with her neighbors and felt particularly at home in the large community room a few doors down the hall from her apartment.  She lived three happy years in that apartment until the morning of her 87th birthday when she simply did not wake up.

It was not until a year after the solder’s daughter passed away, that her son discovered that the beautiful building that housed the senior apartments where his mother spent the last three years of her life was originally the Leonard Hospital.  He never found out that the bedroom where his mom passed away had been the last delivery room on the right, the room where she was born.

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