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The Young Knight of Camelot
2/23/2012 11:02:58 AM
He had a sad heart. The early morning forest seemed to empathize with him, overhead the damp tree branches slumped toward the ground, blocking even the most determined ray of morning light. He was a Knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, one of Camelot’s fiercest warriors, yet he could not save her. 
The rock he sat on was cold and damp, soggy green moss creeping up the grey stone from the forest floor. He did not notice the physical discomfort as he pulled his field armor over his head and slammed it to the ground. The tall black horse tied to the hedge a short distance away shuffled his hoofs and shook his massive head, smoke pulsating from his nostrils as he reacted to the crashing armor.
He had her in his arms, they were finally safe, and he thought he had overcome all the hurdles the Queen had put in his path. Merlin had warned him of the freezing, pelting rain in the foothills of the great treeless mountains in the north and he was prepared for, and conquered, the great white fury beast that set upon him in the snowy high peaks.
Even though he thought it ridiculous, he followed Merlin’s directions when the glare of the afternoon sun lit up the snow covered mountainside.  Merlin had warned him of blindness unless the young Knight used the dark glass circles set in strong metal to cover his eyes.
Struggling through the deep muck of the marshlands, the young Knight anticipated the small mud people who surrounded him, forced him off his mount and tried to pull him underground. He was shocked by the strength of the small, ugly men as he struggled to reach the green velvet pouch tied at his waist. After much difficulty, he was able to push his hand deep inside the pouch, then fling the golden dust that Merlin had mixed in the dark room in the cellar of the castle, coating the confused mudmen with golden flakes. 
Although the young Knight had witnessed horrifying injuries during battle, he was still shocked as he watched the mud people dissolve before his eyes, their skin falling off their bodies revealing small bones that quickly crumpled to the ground leaving small mounds of white dust. Scanning the horizon, he realized his mount had disappeared and he feared the worst had happened.
For two days and nights the young Knight marched forward, his eyes always focused on the mountain range ahead where Catherine was being held captive by dark forces controlled by the Queen. In the early morning of the third day, he finally began the difficult climb up the steep, rocky path that led to the red eyed Wolf-men that stood between him and his love.
TO BE CONTINUED …
 
 
 
 
Different but the Same
2/19/2012 1:44:49 PM

Whenever I go to the cemetery to visit my mom and dad I always leave a few small stones on the base of the stone heart which marks where they lie.  Usually I leave three small stones and balance them so there is a tiny space in the center.  I have been doing that since dad died in 1996.  Every time I return, the stones are gone.  For a long time I just assumed the weather was washing them away until one day, while standing in the cemetery with my sister, she made a comment that someone kept leaving small stones on our parent’s marker and she had to keep knocking them off and throwing them away.

At first I was shocked that she was the one who was knocking down my little shrines and then, of course, it struck me funny.  She had no idea that it was me or what I was doing.

Years before dad died I read about an American Indian tradition where stones are left at the grave sites of relatives.  The stones are balanced so that there are spaces in the shrine.  The belief was that the souls of the deceased could fly through the spaces and find freedom.  That was my wish for mom and dad.

A few years after the conversation with my sister in the cemetery, I took a job working at a Jewish congregation.  I suspect you can imagine my surprise the first time I visited their cemetery and saw all of the stones balanced on the grave markers.  It is a Jewish tradition to leave a stone every time a visit is made to a relative’s gravesite, the accumulated stones leaving a visual message that the deceased was loved and not forgotten.  Centuries ago, before formal cemeteries and tombstones, Jewish families brought a stone to the burial site to literally add to the construction of a marker where their loved one was laid to rest.

What struck me at the time was how amazing it was that two nationalities, American Indian and Jewish, that evolved in geographic locations that were separated by huge distances and whose forefathers never appeared to cross paths, shared such a unique yet similar tradition, albeit for different reasons.

During the course of my life I have worked at Jewish and Methodist congregations and learned their traditions.  I have had long conversations about religion with friends who are Atheists, Baptist, Episcopal and born again Christians.  I have studied eastern philosophies and was raised Roman Catholic.  While I certainly do not profess to have any special mystical insights or aspire to the ranks of the great minds that have puzzled over religion for centuries, all religions do share amazing similarities.

We each pick a religious tradition that makes sense to us, that fits into our interpretation of the good and evil in life.  Some of us do not participate in a formal religion at all. No matter what our particular religious affiliation is, or isn't, I believe we’re all talking about the same benevolent spirit and when we stop arguing and warring over who best understands that spirit the world will be a better place.

The flag and Whitney Houston
2/18/2012 2:18:05 PM

The death of Whitney Houston this week was sad news for many reasons, first and foremost, because she had been born with so many gifts.  Her voice was like a musical instrument, it could be soft and dreamy and then low and gritty.  She was able to play her instrument like Ella Fitzgerald could play hers.

Whitney Houston was one of those rare human beings who not only were blessed with an extraordinary talent, but she was a true beauty.  There are many attractive singers, but very few that are truly beautiful.  Pictures of Whitney as a little girl singing in her church choir flash across the news media now and it’s very sad thinking about what happened to that little girl with all that talent and beauty.

If Whitney did not die of a drug overdose, it sounds like she died from years of drug abuse and the effect that abuse had on her body.  I could probably fill up this page with just the names of talented entertainers who died because of drug use.  Even sadder, I could probably fill up thousands of 8 ½ by 11 sheets of paper with just the names of ordinary people like you and me who died because of drug abuse.

I saw a post on Facebook today vehemently opposing even the notion that flags should be at half-mast in memory of Whitney Houston and many comments agreeing with the post.  I also saw another similar post where it was suggesting it would be an insult to men and women who were killed in war if flags were at half-mast in memory of Whitney Houston.  After thinking about both of those posts for a bit, I disagree.  I think flags should have been at half-mast.

Not specifically for the talented singer whose life was cut short because of drug abuse, but because she was also a victim of war, a victim of the war against drugs that this country is unable to win.  Her fame could have been used to draw attention to the waste created by abuse.  Every person driving by a flag at half-mast could have been reminded of every youth and every talent whose life was cut short by drugs. 

I wonder if we are all just so accustomed to hearing horror stories about celebrities dying or coming in and out of rehab that we forget that our neighbor, or the teenager that lives down the street, could also be caught in the web of drug abuse.  Not flying our flags at half-mast at Whitney’s passing may have been a lost opportunity to refocus our attention on what is happening in our own neighborhoods.


A Tale of Murder Most Foul
2/15/2012 10:06:00 PM

The blood rushed through Rita’s veins as she stood watching Maggie relaxing on the couch, all stretched out like she owned the place, Maggie with her petite little body and fresh face.  Rita knew her relationship with John had changed, that things would never be the same between them now that Maggie had moved into the house.  After 12 years together, she couldn’t believe how quickly his head was turned, she wanted to scratch his eyes out but she loved him and knew that things would get back to normal once Maggie was out of the picture.

By the time one week had passed, Rita couldn’t even eat with Maggie; she couldn’t stand the site or smell of her.  Maggie was still in “the world is a beautiful place and everybody loves me” phase of her development and Rita knew that meant she would be a guileless victim if only the opportunity would present itself.  She didn’t have long to wait.

After John went to work Thursday morning Rita slowly strutted into the parlor and sat next to Maggie on the couch.  It didn’t take much coaxing to get Maggie out into the backyard where they each chose a lawn chair and stretched out under the hot morning sun.  After five minutes in the sunshine, Rita casually looked in Maggie’s direction and saw that she was sleeping, the tip of her pink tongue lightly resting on the side of her mouth.  It would have been so easy for Rita to destroy Maggie then and there, but that would mean she would have to find a way to get rid of the body, no, she would stick to her plan and the bitch would be dead before lunchtime.

When she saw Maggie begin to stir, Rita walked toward the hole in the back fence and signaled to Maggie to join her.  By the time Maggie reached the fence, Rita had gone through the hole and was standing at the curb of the busy roadway on the adjoining street.  Maggie hesitated, the traffic noises scared her.  Rita walked back and nudged Maggie forward until they were standing side by side on the curb.  Rita saw the bus turn the corner one block away.  She waited until the bus was almost upon them before nudging Maggie into the road. 

Rita turned and walked back to the fence, the sound of screeching brakes echoing in her ears.    She slipped through the hole and walked across the green lawn up to the side of the house.  Smiling to herself she leaped up to the open window, her paws thudding softly on the windowsill.  When John came home that night there was no sign of Maggie anywhere.  His heart dropped when he saw the open window, suddenly realizing his new cat must have escaped.  He blamed himself for being so careless, and dropped down onto the coach.  Out of habit he began petting Rita who sat quietly next to him … purring.



Kisses
2/12/2012 10:58:05 PM

Valentine’s Day is in the air and the idea of kissing and being kissed is on my mind. 

Initially I thought of first kisses.  Me at my first boy-girl party and the warm, soft sensation I felt when the music stopped and the boy I was dancing with kissed me on the lips.  It was not an emotional moment, but it was a rite of passage.

On second thought though, I had to go back much farther to find my first kiss.  Most likely it was from my mom or dad, probably on my brand new pink skin shortly after I was born.  Now that must have been an emotional kiss but I don’t remember it of course, at least not consciously.

From then on my world was filled with kisses from grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, family friends and occasionally, on special occasions, from my sister and brothers.  

When I lived in their home I never went to bed without kissing my mom and dad goodnight.  After I moved out on my own I kissed them hello and goodbye every time I saw them.  And would happily give everything I own to kiss them one more time.

I remember the first boy that I shared sustained kisses with. It was called necking then, I think it’s called making out now.  We were sophomores in high school and those were sweet, innocent kisses. We were very much “in like” with each other and 50 years later, I still consider him one of the great kissers of my life. 

Eventually the inevitable happened and crazy, can’t-stop-myself kisses entered my life along with love, passion, broken hearts, anger and jealousy.

Then there are all of the kisses I shared with my friends over the years when we all got married, started families, got that great job we wanted, lost loved ones, got divorced, fell in love again.

Oh, and how life-changing it was to kiss my own child moments after he was born and collect all of the sweet baby kisses he gave me as he grew.  

So how many kisses have I given and received in this lifetime of mine … thousands, hundreds of thousands, more?  I do know that every one of those kisses changed me somehow.  They warmed me, they encouraged me, they supported me, they helped me mature and expand my horizons, a few even disappointed me, but mostly they made me feel loved.

So, on this Valentine’s Day, although I do not have a Prince Charming in my life right now, I will recall all of those kisses and look forward to all of the kisses yet to come.

Happy Valentine’s Day!



Valentine's Day 2012
2/11/2012 2:07:56 PM

Ah, Valentine’s Day.  For as far back as I can remember there were Valentine’s Day celebrations in my life.  Dad always gave mom a Valentine’s card.  Dad was a big card giver and in my memory they were always pink with lace and roses and had the most sentimental verses.  Dad always signed all of his cards to mom with “Love you, Jimmy.”  As a child it always struck me as such a personal signature, a special code between mom and dad because no one called my dad Jimmy, it was always Jim.

With apologies to Hallmark, when we were kids, my siblings and I made our own cards.  I have vivid memories of sitting at the kitchen table trying to cut out a lace pattern on the edges of a sheet of plain white paper.  When that was done a slightly non symmetrical red heart that I cut from a sheet of red construction paper was glued to the center of the laced paper.  In the center of that newly constructed card I would copy my newly composed Valentine message to mom and dad.

The Catholic grammar school I went to also celebrated Valentine’s Day and all of us kids would exchange those tiny little Valentine’s cards that squeezed into those tiny little envelopes.   As I remember, we each had to be sure to have a card for everyone in the class so that no one felt left out.

Valentine’s Day carried no special romantic connotation for me until I was given my first Valentine chocolates in a red velvet box shaped like a heart when I was a sophomore in high school.

Originally St. Valentine’s Day was a Catholic holyday celebrated on February 14 in memory of St. Valentine.  Actually there were at least three St. Valentines who were martyred between 150AD and 300AD; St. Valentine of Rome, St. Valentine of Terni and a much more obscure St. Valentine who was martyred in Africa and is also associated with February 14th.  Over the next few centuries those martyred Valentines blended together and became one St. Valentine.  Nevertheless, there was nothing romantic about the original February 14 holyday.

It wasn’t until Chaucer wrote a poem for the engagement of King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in 1382 that included a romantic reference to St. Valentine’s Day that romance entered the picture.  Here’s the line:

“For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."

Not too long after that poem made the connection between Valentine’s Day and romance, a story began to develop around one of the original St. Valentines, St. Valentine of Terni.  Here’s the story:

In an effort to build up his army, Roman Emperor Claudius II issued an order that young men remain single.  He believed that married men did not make good soldiers.  Well, that did not sit well with Bishop Valentine of Terni who ignored the order and began conducting clandestine marriage ceremonies.  When the Emperor heard of this, he had Bishop Valentine arrested and thrown in jail.

On the eve of his execution, St. Valentine wrote a love note to a woman who was described as his beloved and the daughter of his jailer.  The note read, “From your Valentine.”

The reality is that Emperor Claudius tried to get St. Valentine of Terni to convert to paganism, but Valentine resisted and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity so Valentine was sentenced to death.  The night before his execution, he reportedly performed a miracle and cured his jailer’s daughter of blindness.

In 1797 The Young Man's Valentine Writer was published in England and offered romantic versus for men who were romantically challenged.  Following that publication, mass printing of Valentine cards began.  When Valentine cards finally began to be sent through the postal service, offering the sender anonymity,  the romantic element of a possible Secret Admirer was added to the mix and it gave birth to the racier, naughtier Valentine card in straight-laced, Victorian England.

Back in the States, the first mass produced Valentine cards appeared in 1847 but it didn’t take long for them to catch on.  In 1849 Leigh Eric Schmidt wrote in the publication, Graham’s American Monthly that, “Saint Valentine's Day... is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday."

Interestingly, in 1969, Pope Paul VI removed St. Valentine’s Day from the General Roman Calendar of Saints which means the original purpose of St. Valentine’s Day no longer exists, yet the new romantic version of St. Valentine’s Day still thrives.

Those who know me well know I am a hopeless romantic and those of you who are getting to know me, will soon realize this is true.  It is my nature and I have long sense stopped fighting against it.  So, in honor of Valentine’s Day I will end this blog with a verse from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese.”  Not the familiar verse that begins with “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways,” but another verse that goes like this:

“If thou must love me, let it be for naught

Except for love’s sake only.  Do not say,

“I love her for her smile – her look – her way

Of speaking  gently – for a trick of thought

That falls in well with mine, and bought

A sense of pleasant ease on such a day” –

For these things in themselves, Beloved, may

Be changed, or change for thee – and love, so wrought,

May be unwrought so.  Neither love me for

Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry –

A creature might forget to weep, who bore

Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!

But love me for love’s sake, that evermore

Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.


Thoughts on Mimi and JFK
2/7/2012 3:21:14 PM
Yesterday, when I read that Mimi Alford had written a book about her affair with JFK I casually mentioned it to a colleague at work. Her response was, “She should just keep quiet about it.” That response surprised me. After everything we have heard about JFK, Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, Dwight Eisenhower, even as far back as George Washington, I thought we were all pretty jaded by now regarding politicians and their affairs, that we’re no longer shocked by the news. I was surprised that someone would still want that type of information buried.
The comment got me thinking about what my reaction to Mimi Alford’s story might have been 50 years ago when I was a teenager and JFK was President.   Back then reporters, police, families and, (this thought really shocked me) OTHER POLITICIANS kept all those dirty little secrets. Back then it was important that our elected officials maintain an image of wholesomeness and integrity even if it was a false image.  Such a far cry from today’s voracious, news-as-it-happens; absolutely-nothing-is-sacred media orgies. 
Today political staff go to all kinds of extremes to maintain that wholesome image of their candidate but they do it to maintain their candidate’s “electability.” In JFK’s day maintaining that image appears to have been for other reasons.  First, sex was not a common topic in the media back then. Most of the adults of that generation, my parent’s generation, did not discuss sex. Makes me wonder how a President’s affair could even be reported publicly, what words would be used? How would it be presented? 
Second, it seems to me many of that generation were “pro-actively naïve.” Having just turned their heads away from the loses and horrors of WWII, they wanted the house with the white picket fence, they wanted a new car in the driveway and happy babies in their homes, they wanted their presidents and politicians to be morally perfect and if they were not, they did not want to know about it.
Another factor, at least in my teenage-Irish Catholic-attended-only-Catholic-schools world, was that JFK was the first Irish Catholic President and everyone in my world knew that men were faithful to their wives, people burned in hell if they had affairs. Any rumors of JFK affairs would no doubt be considered propaganda started by some anti-Irish Catholic faction.
Another aspect of the Mimi Alford story is the fact that Mimi was 19 when the affair began and JFK was a 45 year old married man. She says she was a naïve virgin seduced by a handsome man of the world and, not just any man, but the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States. I buy her story. There were 19 year old virgins back in 1962. Then, of course, there’s always the possibility some 70 year old guy will show up in the news one of these days and claim that he and Mimi made out behind the bleachers in 1960. 
In the summer of 1964, the summer after graduating from high school, I started my first full time job working for New York State Government. I truly was a babe in the woods and I don’t mean a “she’s a BABE,” kind of babe, although I wasn’t exactly chopped liver (just saying). Anyways, as I was promoted up through the ranks during the following few years and different positions were offered to me, I was always cautioned (by men and women alike) NOT to take a position with the NYS Legislature. That young women like me were considered fair game there and since it was still the age of dirty little secrets there were stories of women who spoke up and resisted and lost their jobs. I have no firsthand knowledge of that experience, but trusted, and am still grateful to, the men and women who mentored me back then.
As for JFK, if Jackie knew of his affairs and they had an “open marriage” then that’s none of my business. However, if a 45 year old JFK was preying on 19 year old naïve young women than he was not much of a man in my book, just a sorry excuse of a man.  
Horses
2/4/2012 4:56:11 PM

From a distance, on screen and in photos horses are beautiful to me.  It’s truly poetry in motion to watch a thoroughbred at full speed racing toward the finish line; every muscle flexed and stretched all four hooves off the ground.  Whenever I see an image of a band of wild mustangs thundering across a landscape something stirs inside of me that makes me root for them, makes me hope that they will always stay free.

As much as I admire and enjoy looking at horses, I am afraid of them.  They are so big and powerful.  Usually I like a fence, a pretty good size one, between me and a horse. 

When my son was young he had a friend whose mom and dad owned a thoroughbred ranch in Cambridge, NY.  His friend’s dad ran the business side of the ranch, and his friend’s mom was the horseperson.  They bred thoroughbreds and had some fairly well known clients, the only name I remember now is Reba McEntire. 

His friend’s mom and I also became friends and she invited us to visit their ranch one Sunday afternoon.  The farm house was quite old, but the outbuildings for the horses were state of the art.  There were 25 or 30 thoroughbreds and a half dozen colts grazing in the field across from their house when we pulled off the dirt road into their driveway. 

Pulling into the ranch I noticed that the old farm house on the right had a lovely glass enclosed room off the back.  An obviously old barn stood directly in front of us, and behind that barn were paddocks and a beautiful new post and beam barn. 

She and I sat and chatted a while at a table on the lawn while the kids took off to play on a nearby trampoline.  After a while she excused herself, telling me she had to bring some of the horses from across the road to the new barn.  After she left I sat back and sipped my wine, watched the kids play, enjoyed the view of the surrounding green rolling hills and allowed myself to relax into the warmth of the summer sun.

I was snapped right out of my relaxed mood when a few minutes later she came around the corner of the house, about five feet away from me, walking two gigantic thoroughbreds.  She was a wisp of a woman, probably not much taller than five feet or so and those horses loomed over her, their heads were half her body size.  My immediate reaction was I was doomed … those horses were going to get one look at the fear in my eyes and trample me to death.  She was oblivious to my reaction as she walked the horses even closer to me so she could say something.  I had no idea what she said, I was frozen, deaf, and dumb but definitely not blind.

Eventually she walked away with her charges and I gulped the last of my wine relieved that I survived the experience.  To my horror she did the same thing two more times for a total of six gigantic horses passing within two feet of me.  Other than getting up and hiding behind the two hundred year old tree that stood next to the table, I had no recourse but to sit as still as I possibly could each time she passed by and hope the horses wouldn’t notice me.  As if that wasn’t harrowing enough, the day got worse.

Once she had all six horses settled in the barn, she called for me to join her there. As calm as I could I yelled back and asked if all the horses were in their stalls.  She assured me they were.  The barn was striking.  Red brick floors, shiny dark wood stalls, wrought iron trim, a fully complemented tack room, an inside arena and each stall had video equipment so they could watch the horses that were in labor from their living room.  When I walked into the arena she was talking with her teenage daughter who evidently owned a horse of her own and wanted to ride it.  She was telling her daughter that since she had not been taking care of her horse and she had not been on the horse for a few months, the horse was going to be mad at her and riding it right now was not a good idea.  When the daughter insisted the mom threw up her hands and said go ahead. 

Five minutes later the daughter came trotting into the arena riding a very large horse, but not a thoroughbred.  After a few laps around the arena, just enough time to build up some speed, the horse stopped on a dime and the daughter went flying over the horse’s head landing on her rear end in front of the horse with her arms up in the air still holding on to the reigns.  When she dropped the reigns, the horse took off, heading right at me.  I barely had time to jump into the tack room before it flew by me and out the door into the paddocks. 

As I peeked out the tack room door I saw my friend racing by chasing the runaway horse.  What followed next really blew me away.  The horse was racing through the paddocks at full gallop, nostrils flaring, eyes bulging out of its head.  I managed to force myself out of the tack room to the door of the barn and to my horror, there stood my tiny little friend her feet square in the middle of the paddock run, that horse charging at her and she was not about to move.  I felt like I was watching a train wreck about to happen and could do nothing to stop it.

When the horse saw her it slowed just enough for her to grab the reigns and make it stop.  She grabbed the piece under the horses chin, pulled that huge head down so they were nose to nose and she yelled into that big face, “you want to run, OK, then, you can run …” and she walked that big sweaty horse within inches of me back into the arena where she tied a rope to the horse and to something in the middle of the arena that would allow the horse to only walk in circles.   Then she turned to her very contrite but uninjured daughter and said, “Now you walk him until he is tired.”

Then she turned to me and said, “Let’s go see what the kids are up to.”  “Kids?” I thought.  “Oh, yes, of course, the kids,” I finally said.

While driving home that night I was still somewhat traumatized by the events of the day.  I asked my son if he had a good time and he said, “Yeah, it was great.”   Then I asked him what he thought about his friend’s mom walking all those big horses so close to the trampoline where he was playing.  Much to my surprise he said. “What horses, I didn’t see her walking any horses.”  Interesting how two people can be in the same place at the same time and have two totally different experiences.

 

 



Riley
2/2/2012 7:52:15 PM

A week before Christmas 2011 I went to the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society (HMHS)  in Menands, NY, and came home with  an 18 month old dog I call Riley.  The people at HMHS called him Yukon.  Yukon seemed more like a name for a Huskie rather than little Riley so his name was changed while driving home in the car. 

If Riley could talk, this is what it would sound like (read as fast as you can):  Oh-great-you’re-home-come-on-in-and-see-me-and-take-down-the-gate-please-then-can-we-go-out-in-the-yard-and-will-you-take-my-leash-off-so-I-can-run-I-promise-I’ll-try-to-resist-jumping-over-the-fence-and-if-I-do-jump-over-the-fence-I-promise-I’ll-come-right-back-and-then-do-you-think-we-could-go-for-a-walk-or-better-yet-could-we-go-to-the-dog-park-so-I-can-play-with-that-big-black-dog-that-was-there-the-other-day-and-can-I-sit-in-the-front-seat-and-do-you-think-you-could-open-the-window-and-on-the-way-home-can-we-stop-at-the-store-and-could-you-get-me-some-tennis-balls-to-rip-apart-I’ll-try-not-to-make-a-mess-and-could-you-buy-a-carton-of-those-malted-milk-balls-that-you-sometimes-give-me-if-I-sit-quiet-and-stare-at-you-I-promise-I won’t-bark-in-the-car-while-you’re-in-the-store-and-if-the-big-dog-next-door-is-out-in-the-yard-can-I-play-with-him-I-think-he-likes-me-even-though-he-barks-at-me-all-the-time-and-by-the-way-I’m-sorry-I-broke-the-slat-in-the-fence-I-was-just-so-excited-you-understand-right-did-you-notice-my-water-dish-is-empty-and-is-that-big-red-box-on-the-kitchen-table-filled-with-dog-bones-I-hope-you-got-the-big-bones-this-time-I-eat-the-small-bones-too-fast-wait-a-minute-is-that-the-neighbor-and-her-dog-walking-by-the-window-I’ll-try-not-to-knock-your-plants-off-the-windowseat-while-I-take-a-look-oh-yah-that’s-them-so-can-we-go-out-in-the-yard-now?  Then he would take a breath …

Riley has so much life in him it’s remarkable, yet he is also remarkably obedient.  I have never owned a dog that looked me in the eye.  Riley has big brown eyes, set in eye sockets that look almost too big for his eyes.  When I talk to him he looks me right in the eye, not in a confrontational way, he’s just interested in what I have to say.

Riley strikes me as a dog that has never had to defend himself.  He acts like a dog that has always been treated kindly.  As a result he is friendly, affectionate and curious.  OK, so how did he end up in the dog pound?  Riley’s one fault is that he likes to run AND he can leap over the four foot fence in my backyard like a deer.  I suspect that’s exactly how he got away from his last owners and ended up being captured by the dog warden in Menands.

If someone asked me to describe Riley I would say this:  Riley is just one big heart walking around covered with loose skin and fur.  

Andrew Wyeth
1/31/2012 11:05:19 PM


The first time I saw Andrew Wyeth’s art was in the 1970s.  Immediately I was drawn to the sepia tones in his paintings, the tones created by a mixture which included raw eggs.  His work looks more like photography than the stroke of a brush.  At the time Monet was my favorite artist and other than Picasso’s and Pollock’s abstract art, no artist’s work could be more distant from Monet’s than Andrew Wyeth.  No pastel colors, no blurred imaging for Wyeth, bare, broken and battered was what he depicted in his paintings and for me his art captured something about America.  His paintings say something about the stoic nature of Americans who work close to the land.

I came to know many of his paintings and his “Distant Thunder” became my favorite.  It depicts a woman lying on her back in tall grass, the trees just beyond her titling ever so slightly, as trees do just before a summer afternoon rain storm on a humid day.  A few feet away from her, her dog sits quietly in the tall grass gazing in her direction. Of course, thunder cannot be painted, but the title is enough encouragement to imagine that she is hearing a rumbling of thunder in the distance but it’s not close enough yet to make her stir.

Critics were split on Wyeth’s work.  While they were praising the realism of Andy Warhol’s work, they were suggesting Wyeth’s paintings gave realism a bad name.   Regardless, Wyeth’s work became extremely popular with middle class Americans.  Perhaps it was seen as an alternative to the abstract art that was getting critical attention at the time.  The abstract work of Sidney Pollock sat on one side of the continuum while realists like Wyeth and Norman Rockwell sat at the other.

Andrew Wyeth was not a bohemian and he was a patriot.  While many other popular artists at the time were active in liberal politics, Wyeth was voting for Nixon and Reagan.  In an interesting twist, as a result of his more conservative political views, which were contrary to the views of the liberal art establishment, Wyeth was perceived by many in America’s middle class as a free-thinker, adding to his popularity.

Andrew Wyeth’s father was famed illustrator,  Nowell Convers Wyeth who, in the early part of the 20th Century, earned his fame and fortune by creating the  illustrations for such books as The Last of the Mohicans, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and perhaps most famously, Peter Pan.  Although it has been speculated that Andrew Wyeth’s realist leanings are a direct result of being raised in the household of a successful illustrator, one of the most interesting cubist paintings I have ever seen is a huge painting hanging in the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, painted by Andrew Wyeth’s father, the illustrator.  It appears all styles of painting were explored by the Wyeths.  Nowell Wyeth died in 1945 with a four year old grandson when their car stalled on a railroad track and was hit by a train.  Andrew’s son, Jamie, is also a successful painter.

During the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Andrew Wyeth’s work was displayed in every major museum in the United States.  The prices for his paintings grew to $100,000 in 1962.  In the 1980’s Japanese collectors paid more than $1 million for a Wyeth painting.  Which makes perfect sense to me since Japanese art is clean, pure and simple.

In 1986 sex and scandal rocked Andrew Wyeth’s world.  That year a publisher paid $6 million for 240 Wyeth paintings that no one knew about.  They were all paintings of a woman, nude and clothed named Helga Testorf.  She was a mother of 4, a German immigrant and a housemaid to Wyeth’s sister.  The married Wyeth had been painting Helga in a room in a neighbor’s house for more than a decade.  His wife, who was also his business manager, knew nothing of the “Helga Paintings.”  Helga ended up on the covers of Time and Newsweek Magazines and the National Gallery of Art in Washington rushed to put together a show of the “Helga Paintings” in 1987, although it was extremely rare for the National Gallery to sponsor a display of the works of a living artist.   Eventually Mr. Andrews, the publisher who originally purchased the “Helga Paintings” sold them to a Japanese collector for $45 million.

Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep at his home in Chadds Ford, PA on January 19, 2009 at the ripe old age of 91.  Till the end his work was criticized but Wyeth was not deterred.  “I’m not going to let them disrupt my old age,” he said.

 


I have posted some of my favorite Andrew Wyeth paintings in the “Photos” section of the Red Geraniums website for those of you who might be interested.  The photos of the paintings begin on page 5.

Growing up with TV
1/29/2012 1:46:09 PM

My dad loved Kate Smith.  No, Kate Smith, was not my mom’s maiden name or the name of the girl that got away.  For those of you too young to remember, she was a large round singer with a big voice who was popular during the 1940s and 1950s.  She sang a rousing version of “God Bless America” which I adopted as my own and whenever we sang that song in grammar school I suspect my teachers never really understood why the normally quiet little girl sang “God Bless America” at the top of her lungs.

In the early 1950s our first TV arrived in my family’s living room.  The TV frame was a large square box that stood about four feet tall.  Inside the TV frame were large oblong bulbs and multi-colored wires.  The TV screen was small and square with round corners and was probably no more than 15 inches by 15 inches.  It was a red letter day for me when our TV was delivered and I remember running home from school in anticipation of watching the Kate Smith Show and not wanting to miss her singing the show’s opening number, “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain.”

That was the beginning of a lifelong love affair between me and the TV.  As I grew up, the programs I ran home from school to see grew up with me.  The most popular was The Mickey Mouse Club … M I C … KEY … MOUSE … kids in the neighborhood began to wear “Mickey ears” and sport Tee and sweatshirts with the club’s logo. All my little girlfriends and I wanted to be Annette and we argued over who was cuter, Spin or Marty, the two teenage boy characters in a serial story on “The Club. “

The sun and I woke up about the same time on Saturday mornings.  I would creep down the stairs, not wanting to wake anyone so that I could have the TV all to myself.   Still creeping, I’d quietly open the back door and collect the coconut covered donuts left by the bakery deliveryman, creep back to the living room, turn on the TV knob trying to avoid the loud click it would make, sit down in front of the screen while quietly opening the box of donuts, and watch the TV pattern until programming began.

What followed were hours and hours of classic TV:  The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Sky King, and Hopalong Cassidy, all in black and white.

On Sunday nights my siblings and I washed our hair, took a bath and jumped into fresh pjs just in time to watch the Ed Sullivan Show.  My whole family would sit together in the living room and watch Ed Sullivan introduce such diverse entertainers as Eddie Fisher, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Elvis Presley, Mario Lanza and our favorite reoccurring entertainer, ventriloquist Senor Wences … It’s alright?  It’s alright.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching Senor Wences perform, look him up on YouTube, you’ll find many of his classic skits there.

I have very vivid memories of mom and dad snuggled up on the couch and the four of us kids sprawled across the living floor as we watched Ozzie and Harriet, Lassie, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Perry Mason and Gunsmoke. 

When Dick Clark’s American Bandstand first appeared on TV my friends and I were pre-teens and rushed home from school together to sit in a circle around the TV.  We sang all the hit songs, whether we knew the words or not, and hopped up to do the stroll and copy dance steps when the spirit moved us.  We had long, heated discussions about whether the blonde guy with the DA haircut was a better dancer than the dark haired guy wearing the loafers and which couples were really dating or just faking it for TV.

A few years later Dick Clark had a Saturday night TV show.  Fabian, Bobby Darin, Pat Boone, Frankie Avalon and many more of my teenage crushes performed.  Many Saturday nights I stood at the kitchen sink drying dinner dishes (my family chore) with my neck stretched toward the doorway so I could catch a glimpse of my favorite heartthrob singing on that show.

At some point my family moved up to a color TV and as I grew through my teenage years the focus of my life changed from being at home with my family to being away from home with my friends and the time I spent watching TV dwindled down.  

In rereading this story it sounds like I spent a lot of time in front of the TV when I was a kid, but not really.  My friends and I loved to play outside and my Mom was always scooting us out the door if she felt we were spending too much time in front of the TV.  I suppose the TV was to my generation what the radio was to the generation before us and the computer and video games are to today’s generation. Wonder what wonderful invention is waiting right there in the future to entertain generations to come.


Chapter 6 - Excerpt
1/26/2012 1:53:55 AM

Chapter 6

The cabin was quiet when Mary Beth woke up the next day.  It was well after lunch time but she wasn’t particularly hungry.  She was glad Ann wasn’t there.  She closed her eyes and concentrated on the gentle movement of the ship and wondered how her life had suddenly turned into a soap opera. 
"I have to talk with her, set some boundaries, otherwise this trip will turn into a nightmare for me," she thought. “I don’t care if she wants to sleep with the whole damned crew, as long as she doesn’t do it in front of me.”


Mary Beth didn't want to get up.  She pulled the warm quilt up to her chin and was tempted to just roll over onto the soft pillows and go back to sleep.  Instead she forced herself out of bed and into the shower.  She formulated some thoughts for the conversation with Ann and felt better knowing she was prepared.

Everything looked gray outside the porthole but it didn't appear to be raining.  Too tired to run, she decided a walk in fresh air would clear her head.  She dressed slowly, first pulling on a pair of black slacks and then fastening the pearl buttons on her white angora cardigan.  Slipping into a pair of black flats she left the cabin feeling confident she could find the door to the Boat Deck without a problem.

The door was relatively easy to find, but not easy to open.  Even pushing against the metal door with her shoulder didn’t budge it. Deciding it was locked she went looking for help and found a crew member just around the next corner.  Very graciously, with a hint of a smile on his face, he explained the door was not locked, that the wind blowing across the ocean was keeping it closed.  “Really?” she said to the guy. Walking away she didn’t know whether to be impressed by Mother Nature or terrified by her.  “Definitely not going for a walk on the deck today,” she said to herself. 

It was 2:30 in the afternoon and now she was starving.  Lunch was no longer being served and dinner was 5 ½ hours away.  She grabbed a candy bar at the store near the Midships Lobby, stopped by the library, borrowed a Jane Austin novel (what else would she read as she sailed toward England) and settled into her quiet little nook in the Queen’s Room.  The room was empty except for a few couples playing Bridge on a folding table.

Although she couldn’t feel a discernible difference in the ship’s movement, looking out the large picture windows she saw the ocean waves appear in the window, then disappear, appear in the window, then disappear.  Deciding to stop looking before her stomach flipped, she unwrapped the candy bar, then opened Mansfield Park and began to read.

She read only a few pages when she heard,  “Are you OK?”  Looking up she saw David standing over her, still dressed in his uniform with a towel flung over one shoulder.  He looked tired.   “I didn’t expect to see you at breakfast,” he said, “but when you didn’t come to lunch I got a little worried."

Smiling up at him she said, “You are such a sweet guy," and she wondered how she would have gotten through the last 24 hours without him.  "I was exhausted David and just couldn't wake up."  "I can probably get you a sandwich from the kitchen if you're hungry,' he offered.  Looking down at his uniform he said “I just got off work.”  “I could tell by that towel on your shoulder,” she teased.  Smiling he flipped the towel onto the nearest chair.  "Thank you, but I have this wonderful candy bar that I am eating for lunch." she joked.  "That's not a proper meal," he replied.

“Here,” she said pointing to the chair next to her, “sit down for a few minutes.”  Sheepishly he looked around, “the crew is supposed to leave the passenger decks when they’re done working” he said.  Surprised, Mary Beth said “Oh?  But I’ve seen crew members talking with passengers in the lounge after dinner.”  “That’s the officers,” he said with a look of disdain, “me and the mates are crew.”   Understanding the distinction, she told him she didn’t want to get him in trouble and thanked him for checking in on her.  He glanced at his watch and to Mary Beth’s surprise, sat down anyway.  She was beginning to notice that this young man had a very independent streak. 

From the beginning they were very comfortable with each other, they had a connection of sorts, a mutual understanding, and their minds were in sync.  Mary Beth would never describe it as chemistry because that had a romantic connotation and he was a 21 year old kid which left romance totally out of the question. 

Unlike some of her other male friends who were guarded and distant, David was confident and forthcoming.  He answered all of her questions without hesitation.   As soon as he completed his mandatory education requirements, he left home at 16 and started working on ships.  He had worked at sea ever since.  He mentioned offhandedly that his second ship actually sank.   At Mary Beth's insistence he gave her more details about the ordeal including that he and 17 other crew members were the last people taken off the ship and were standing in the lobby with water to their knees when they were rescued. 

When he talked about his baby son he seemed awestruck.  Still a bit surprised.  She suspected because he traveled so much David had not spent a lot of time with his son.  He described how he had been on a world cruise when his son was born and the cruise company flew him home from Hawaii.  He talked about growing up with his son’s “mum,” and said he sends most of his paychecks home to her, keeping just a small amount in his own pocket. 

David wanted to know everything about Mary Beth.  He leaned forward when she spoke, as though he wanted to be sure to catch every word.  He looked puzzled when she told him she lived alone, and he asked her the same question a few different times in a few different ways. He was curious about her friends, what she did for a living, if she liked her job.

He asked her to tell him again how she ended up traveling with Ann and he didn’t even try to hide how amused he was by the story.  He told her he understood why she didn't want to stay in her cabin last night but also told her she shouldn't walk around the ship by herself at night.   "I know," she agreed, "I'm going to deal with this," and then told him what she planned to say to Ann. "I'd be more forceful," he said, but she reminded him she was going to have to spend the next 2 1/2 weeks with that woman so they had to come to an understanding.

He asked why her marriage ended.  Kicking her shoes off and curling her feet under her, she told him it wasn’t so much that she and her husband changed after they got married,  the problem was they were so young when they married that it took a few years living together before they realized they didn’t have very much in common.  He asked how old they were when they married and she felt awkward telling him they were both 21.

He seemed shocked when, in response to his question, she said she didn’t think she wanted to have children.  “You don’t like children?” he said incredulously.  “Love them,” she replied, “I have nieces and nephews I would give up my life for, I just don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to have one of my own.”   

Casually he looked at his watch and stood up.  “I’ve got to go, we've been talking for over an hour," he said.  "I was hoping to take a nap and I have a few things to take care of before I go back to work.  The mates are going to think I jumped overboard.”  “I’m sorry,” Mary Beth said, “you must be exhausted, seems like I’m always imposing on you.”  With a very sober expression on his face he looked in her eyes and said, “You’re not imposing on me, this is where I wanted to be."  Sitting there looking up at that handsome, thoughtful, man, Mary Beth thought she heard the very wise woman who lives inside of her whisper, "be careful here."

Before he left he quickly explained that there were three crew pubs below.  Mates in his pub were from the Liverpool/Manchester area.  The other pubs were for crew members from other districts in England.  Usually the pubs don't mix and sometimes when they do there are fights, and some of those fights could be dangerous.   There was one place where everyone went and they were all on their best behavior.  It was called the "disco."  Female crew members went there too so there was dancing as well as singing. "Me and my mates are going to the disco tonight.  Would you come with us?  It will be fun.  “And,” he added with a big grin, “your mate is going with William so you won’t be the only girl there.”

Feeling confident that David would watch out for her and confident that he could take care of himself and her if there was a problem, Mary Beth said, “Sure, sounds like fun.”  “Me and my mates will come by and get you around 11.”  “OK, see you then," she replied watching him walk away.

She lingered over the book and read a few chapters.  She wasn't much for confrontation and recognized that she was stalling, not wanting to go back to the cabin and have that inevitable conversation with Ann.  When high tea was served at 4 o'clock she looked for the Colorado couple but they weren't there and she ended up having a somewhat boring chat with an Englishman who made furniture.

Ann was waiting when she returned to the cabin.  Before Mary Beth could speak, Ann apologized for her behavior.  "I'm sorry to have put you in that position last night," she said.  "David was very angry at me this morning at breakfast."  Ignoring the last comment, Mary Beth told Ann if she was going to spend the night with a man she could not bring him back to their suite.  "I don't know what it is," Ann said, "maybe it's being so far away from home, maybe it's being on this ship, or a combination of both. I never do this back home."  Putting her hand up, Mary Beth said "Please Ann, you do not owe me an explanation, we're both adults.  I just have to watch out for my safety and I cannot be walking around this ship all night."  "You're absolutely right," Ann agreed.  "I have plans to spend the night with William, but we won't be here."  Mary Beth rolled her eyes and went to take another shower.

She wore her short, empire waisted,  beige charmeuse dress with spaghetti straps and beige 2 inch pumps to dinner.  She always felt great when she wore that dress and got lots of compliments. Roast Duck was their dinner of choice.  The wine, the roast vegetables en croute and the milk chocolate moose were amazing, the duck not so much.  Mary Beth had never had roast duck before and found she didn't care for it.  It was too greasy for her taste. 

At 10 o'clock Ann excused herself and went off to meet William.  Peter, one of the dinner companions, suggested they all go to the casino for a nightcap.  Mary Beth agreed since she had an hour before her friends came by to collect her but Alan and John begged off, saying they both had a long day and were tired.

Mary Beth and Peter decided to have that nightcap together.  The casino was a long, narrow and rather dark room, smaller than she expected, with lots of recessed lighting, mirrors and loud throbbing music. It was crowded, but Peter found a small table near the bar where they sat and ordered cocktails. 

Peter was a distinguished looking and attractive man in his 60s.  He was always cordial and friendly and she knew from their dinner conversations that he was married and had grown children.  Alan told her that Peter literally lived in a castle that had been handed down through generations.  A half hour into their conversation Peter startled Mary Beth by invited her to join him in his suite.  "I am so not cut out for this," Mary Beth thought.  "Thank you for the invitation” was her polite response, "but I am meeting friends shortly."  He smiled and said he understood.  Five minutes later she thanked him for the drink and left him standing by their table. 

Walking back to change into more casual clothes she wondered if she and Ann were the only single women on this ship.  It was like the freakin Love Boat.

Read the Names
1/23/2012 6:47:05 PM

Yesterday I spent a considerable amount of time typing a blog.  I was just about ready to publish it when I hit the cancel button instead and lost the whole thing.  It was probably just as well because I’ve been suffering with a miserable head cold for the past 6 days and my head has felt like it has been stuffed with cotton balls.

The blog was about Gabrielle Giffords.  I felt bad after reading in the news that she was resigning her congressional seat, at least for now.  I suspect her resignation was inevitable considering what I’ve read about her medical issues.  I don’t know much about her politics or if I would vote for her if she made it to the national political scene, but her personal strength is impressive as she struggles to keep her head above water. 

Her husband, Mark Kelly, has impressed me also.  Aside from being an astronaut, his dedication to, and support of, his wife has been noteworthy.  It appears he has been at her side constantly, except for the time he spent circling the earth.  His affection for her is so obvious and genuine it makes me think that even with everything that has happened to her, she is blessed. 

When I read she was resigning, I went searching for a blog I wrote for another site the day after she was shot.  When I found it, I was surprised at my focus in the blog.  Here’s the blog entitled Arizona:

“We all have different degrees of emotional sensitivity.  My mom used to tell me that I wore my heart on my sleeve, like that was a bad thing. I was the kid who cried when the family parakeet died.  I was the kid that got her feelings hurt easily.  It was always hard for me to rebound from the loss of someone I loved, whether it was family or a romance.  I’m the still waters run deep gal.

For many years I imagined immaturity caused this “problem” of being “too sensitive” and actually tried to downplay that part of my personality believing someday I would “grow up” and stop being so damned sensitive.  Well, guess what, that never happened.  What did happen was I came to realize my sensitive nature is just a part of who I am. 

Where am I going with this?  The recent shootings in Arizona.  Maybe it was seeing the beautiful, young face of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and hearing that a child was murdered, but I cried when I listened to the news.  

I also felt really bad when I realized there have been a number of recent public shootings and this sensitive nature of mine was able to ignore them.  That’s not how I want to be.  I want to cry whenever there is senseless violence and innocent lives are taken.  I never again want to not react to that type of violence.  From now on I will read the names of the victims, give them a face.   I never want to get used to the idea that violence is an expected part of this world.”

Well, at some point during the past year I stopped reading the names of the victims of senseless violence, I don’t know why, but I intend to start again because names make them real, real people like you and me. The next time Gabrielle Giffords is in the news, and I hope it’s because she is running for office again, I am going to read these blogs again and see how I’m doing.

As a small memoriam to those people who were murdered at the same time Gabrielle was shot, here are their names:

·         Christina-Taylor Green, 9 years old.  Christina was born on 9/11/01 and was one of the children who appear in the book “Faces of Hope:  Babies Born on 9/11.”

·         Dorothy “Dot” Morris, 76 years old.  Dot was a retired secretary and her husband, George, was wounded in the shooting

·         John Roll, 63 years old.  John was chief judge of the US District Court for Arizona, named to the bench by President George H. W. Bush in 1991.

·         Phyllis Schneck, 79 years old.  Phyllis was a homemaker.

·         Dorwan Stoddard, 76 years old.   Dorwan was a retired construction worker and died from a gunshot wound to the head.  Dorwan’s wife, Mary, was wounded.

·         Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman, 30 years old.  Gabe was the community outreach director for Rep. Giffords and has the dubious distinction of being the first Congressional staffer killed in the line of duty.

Thirteen other people were wounded by gunfire that day.  Another person was injured also, but not by gunfire.  Gabrielle and two other members of her staff were among the surviving gunshot victims.

 

 



Missing the moment
1/18/2012 9:39:33 PM

How often during your lifetime have you heard the expression live in the moment, don’t look back or forward, live in this moment.  I have heard it hundreds, if not thousands of times.  Yet it wasn’t until this morning that I began to truly understand.

While driving to work I was thinking about a situation that happened a while back.  It did not have a good ending and like a scab over a wound, I have been going back and picking at it for months, not allowing it to heal properly.  This morning while driving down a pretty tree lined country road, the morning sun beaming down from the cloudless blue sky,  I realized my thoughts were focused back on that issue again and that I was riding through a picture-perfect morning and missing the whole thing.  

THAT’S when I finally understood.   What happened a year ago or a minute ago is over, or as my son would say, it’s done.  Which isn’t to say, pleasant memories shouldn’t be revisited, but there’s no reason to dwell on unpleasant, or embarrassing, or unsolvable situations from the past.  Learn as much as possible from what happens to us, our experiences will be with us forever, but it’s better to just release them and let them be there, than to keep reliving them because while we’re doing that we are opting out of our life, missing the now by dwelling on the past.

As for the future, of course we all have to take care of the details of our lives, we all have dreams and plans but there comes a time when we have done all the planning and all the preparation and now we wait.  It’s the while we are waiting part that is important.  What we do while we are waiting.  We have to be sure we live our lives while we are waiting.   Not spend every waking moment anticipating. 

John Lennon was right when he sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  It’s not the getting from A to B; it’s all the steps along the way that are important.

So I will take my newly realized understanding and resist the urge to dwell on unpleasant events from the past.  When I find myself slipping back, I will take a look around me and see what’s going on at that moment in my life. 

Whatever time of the day or night you are reading this, I hope it's a good moment for you.

They were fighting who?
1/15/2012 11:18:23 AM

When I was writing the blog about Friday the 13th the other day, the Knights Templar showed up in my research.  They played a big part in the Crusades which reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago about the Crusaders.

At the time I was working for a Jewish congregation in Albany.  My boss was the Rabbi.  A group of congregants were standing near my desk and talking about the Crusaders in a somewhat negative way.  Well, I was always taught they were the good guys, even the sports teams at my high school were called the Crusaders, and so I spoke up and asked why they felt that way. My wonderful Rabbi happened to be walking by.  He stopped and turned to me and in his most understanding way asked me who I thought the Crusaders were fighting in Jerusalem.  I looked at him and repeated verbatim what I had been taught as a child … the Crusaders were fighting the Moors.  He just lifted his eyebrows and smiled.

That night I went home and did some research to find out who the hell the Moors were.  Turns out that term has been used to describe black Africans, Arabs and Muslims and some scholars believe that the term “Moors” has no real ethnic value.

Most of us were raised in a bubble.  I was raised in a Catholic bubble:  a Catholic household, a Catholic grammar school and a Catholic high school.  It was almost culture shock for me when I started my first job and began working with people who were not white Catholics.  I’m not suggesting that everything I learned in the first 18 years of my life was irrelevant, just that life has forced me to review much of what I was taught as a child and I have changed my thinking accordingly.   

Yet while there are certainly major issues that I have reevaluated, I wonder how many smaller beliefs I carry with me from my childhood that I have never had a reason to rethink … like who the Crusaders were fighting. 

 

.

Friday the 13th
1/13/2012 11:10:50 AM
Today is Friday the 13th. Many people have been raised to keep their heads down on this day, believing that the possibility of bad things happening in their lives increases on Friday the 13th. I was born on Friday the 13th so I’ve never bought into that notion, yet, I was curious about the idea and did some research.

There is a word that describes the fear of Friday the 13th, it’s friggatriskaidekaphobia. Broken down it goes like this: Frigga, the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named and triskaidekaphobia which means fear of the number 13. The first time this word appeared in print was in 1953. There is no written evidence of a Friday the 13th superstition before the 19th century and it was rarely mentioned before the 20th century, but there are theories about how Friday the 13th got such a bad reputation. 

The number 12 is considered the number of completeness in numerology, for example, 12 months of the year, 12 hours of the clock, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles. This makes the number 13 irregular, defying that completeness.  
 
Some believe the superstition comes from the Last Supper or a Norse myth that having 13 people at a table will result in the death of one of the diners.
 
As far back as the 14th century, Friday has been considered an unlucky day to start a journey or new project. 
 
The Christian religions believe Jesus was crucified on a Friday.   

The Knights Templar, the most famous western Christian military order for two centuries during the Middle Ages, an order that was so powerful that it was exempt from obedience to local laws and all authority except that of the Pope,  were slaughtered by the church after they fell out of grace; slaughtered on Friday the 13th.
 
Perhaps the real origin of the superstition was a popular book entitled, “Friday the Thirteenth” that was published in 1907 about an investment broker that creates the superstition in order to cause a panic on Wall Street. 
 
Who knows how the folklore started? I was surprised to learn there is no one deep-dark reason for the superstition. There seem to be a number of theories, many of them related to religion.  There has always been a strong link between religion and superstition ... but that’s a blog for another day.
Sharing information on Facebook
1/10/2012 9:32:01 PM

Yesterday I was going through the news feed on my Facebook page and came upon a comment made by a Facebook friend.  I clicked on the story.  When it opened there was a photo of a woman I did not know lying in a hospital bed.  After reading a few of the posts beneath the photo, it became clear the woman was in labor.  About a dozen posts down the list, the mom-to-be exclaimed that her water just broke.  She had posted that just 41 minutes before I read it.  A few thoughts struck me at the same time. 

First, here I was looking at this woman who was a perfect stranger lying in a hospital bed in labor and she had just told me that her water broke.  It seemed unreal, like I was watching a TV program, yet it was reality. 

Which leads me to my second thought, which is how the social networks have not only changed our way of communicating with each other, but have affected the type of information we share with the world.  People can choose to give a blow-by-blow description of experiences that would have been private not that long ago, simply by using a cell phone and uploading to Facebook where the information becomes available to the world, literally. 

Shortly after I joined Facebook I began having long conversations on line with a Facebook friend.  A lot of banter back and forth that went on for hours.  One night during one of our “conversations” another person jumped in and made a comment on what we were talking about.  It shocked me that someone would actually be sitting in their home reading our conversation.  It’s so easy to forget when you’re chatting on Facebook that anyone could be reading what you’re typing.

It reminds me of the “party” phone lines we had when I was a kid.  Families in a neighborhood shared a common phone line.  If one was adept at picking up the receiver quietly, one could listen to another family’s phone conversations.  Families guarded their privacy then and were vigilant about being sure no one was listening in.

Now, myself included, people are having all kinds of conversations and sharing all kinds of information on the social networks.  I cannot imagine where this might lead, what’s next?



Excess?
1/7/2012 10:42:05 AM

Angelina Jolie bought Brad Pitt a California waterfall for his recent 48th birthday.  Not one of those people-made serenity garden waterfalls, but a bona-fide waterfall made by Mother Nature.  I am not a fan of either Jolie or Pitt.   When I heard about it, my first thought was what a waste of money.  My second thought was she’s not much of a philanthropist wasting that kind of money on a foolish gift, all the people she could have fed with that money.  Then I read the whole story. 

Brad Pitt loves architecture.  A few years ago he and Angelina visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, a famous Wright home built over a waterfall in Pennsylvania in 1939, where he fell in love with the landscape and the architecture.  That was her inspiration for the gift, thinking some day they will build a green home over “their” waterfall.

My perspective changed when I realized we all want to find the perfect present for the ones we love, something unique that they might not buy for themselves.  I don’t know what she paid for the waterfall, but given the Grand Canyon-sized gap between her bank account and mine, perhaps it’s not excessive after all. 

When I saw that Elin Nordegren, Tiger Wood’s ex, is having her $12 million, 17,000 square foot home in an exclusive section of Palm Beach, FL, demolished, a home she bought just one year ago, again I thought, EXCESS, tearing down a $12 million home on a whim.  Then I read the whole story.

During the course of renovating the home, huge infestations of carpenter ants and termites were found.  It was so bad that one could stick their hand through the walls in certain areas.  Even the expensive window frames were so undermined by the infestations they had to be thrown out.  I know she was under world-class stress when she purchased that home, but the ex-real estate agent in me has to wonder if she bothered having the house inspected by a good exterminator.

So, there’s a perfectly sound reason for demolition of the house rather than renovation.  Yet, there’s something else that she did that has not been widely reported.  Every fixture from that house that could be saved was donated to Habitat for Humanity.  Habitat for Humanity is ecstatic about the donations.  If the windows were salvageable just the windows alone would have brought in close to $30,000.

Again, my perspective changed.  Regardless of how much money she had or has, Elin Nordegren was broadsided by her ex-husband’s behavior and found herself not only dealing with emotional disappointment and sadness, but having to work out the details of her children’s lives with the world watching.  Like many people in similar situations, she made a quick choice that turned out badly.  In her case, she has the financial resources to move forward.

As a world class jumper-to-conclusions, I learned a lesson here.  What appears like excess to me may be a reasonable and necessary expense to someone else.

.

Locking Season
1/3/2012 8:48:23 PM

Have you ever heard the term, “locking season?”  The first time I heard the term I was reading a book entitled, “October Light," by John Gardner.  He was an excellent writer who died in a motorcycle accident in the early 1980s when he was just 49 years old.  

"October Light" was a good book about an older brother and sister.  He had stayed and worked the family farm his whole life, she married and left.  When her husband died she was forced to move back to the farm and share the house with her brother.  Most of the book is about how they struggled to find a comfortable living arrangement while dealing with unresolved issues from their childhood.

But it's not the book that I want to write about, but the term, "locking season."
  Locking season is that time of year when the ground freezes.  As soon as I read the term I had an “ah-ha” moment because it described so well a phenomena I have been aware of my whole life.  Who knew there was a name for it?  It felt like I had been let in on a secret kept by those wonderful third generation farmers one often sees in rural areas, the quiet, gentle, farmers who always smile kindly as though they know all the secrets of life.  They live so close to the earth and to life and death that I suspect they do know many more of life’s secrets than us city folk.

Perhaps I’m just easily amused, but late last night I went out into my backyard to let my dog outside one more time before we both went to sleep, and the ground was hard.  Instantly I remembered being a kid and noticing the hard ground beneath my feet for the first time.   As a child, I did not like it when the ground hardened; it meant spending more time indoors. 

But last night when I stepped on the hard dirt I smiled to myself knowingly and whispered “locking season.”  Knowing that simple little “secret”  term made me feel somehow connected to all those wizened farmers and everyone else who notices and appreciates the change of seasons.


Faces
1/2/2012 2:38:53 AM

I have always liked Dolly Parton, even in my screaming feminist days back in the 1970s.  And I use the term screaming feminist with great affection.  That’s when I learned about the options that should have been easily available to women but simply were not.  I learned to speak up, to point out the inequity, to insist that the powers-that-be make it right and in many ways, but not all, they did. 

During that period of my life I also took a second look at what I had learned from the media and my Catholic upbringing about how and why a woman should look, act and dress a certain way.  I was a young female in the 1950s and 1960s when most women saw a college education and a career as a “holding pattern” of sorts.   We were taught surreptitiously, if not blatantly, that our real goal in life was to get married and raise a family.  In order for that to happen, we had to stay slim, wear the right clothes and make-up, be seductive, but not overtly sexual, and be coy and not too “pushy.”

Then the women’s movement came along and suggested we had lots of options, including, but not limited to, getting married and raising children.  That it wouldn’t be apocalyptic if we were 35 year old career women quite capable of supporting the lifestyle we had chosen for ourselves. That notion started to nudge the paradigm from conforming to what the media and society told us women should look like to a more personal reevaluation of our choices.  Did we want to forgo the tight, short outfits and 3 inch heels that crushed our toes and made it awkward to move through our workday; did we want to take a half hour run in the morning before work rather than spend that time applying make-up, would we opt to eat more than 1000 calories a day because we enjoyed food and didn’t mind wearing clothes larger than the outfits worn by the pencil thin models on the fashion runways.

So, how does Dolly Parton fit into all this?  Even though she was and still is, a walking canvas, if not a caricature of the Barbie doll version of the old notion of how a woman should look to attract a man, behind the bleach blonde hair, tight clothes, super high heels, long painted finger nails and makeup is a  strong and savvy businesswoman.    I learned from her that how a woman chooses to look doesn’t and shouldn’t define who she is; that all of us, women and men, have the freedom to choose the face we show to the world. 

I have a friend I have known for 40 years.  When he got out of college in the early 70s his dad wanted him to go to law school but he hit the road instead.  For the next ten years he traveled the world jumping on fishing boats or whatever transportation he could find, carrying all his worldly belongings in a backpack.  Whenever he was in town we would see each other and most of the time he looked like a derelict; shoulder length hair and a long scraggly beard. 

He did go to law school eventually.  I heard through the grapevine that he had gotten a job in a law firm in New York City.  A few months later he called and we made plans to meet for dinner.  As I sat at the bar in the upscale restaurant waiting for him, I couldn’t help but notice when one of the most handsome men I have ever seen walked through the door.  He was wearing a beautifully tailored suit, shirt and tie $300 shoes and sporting a $100 haircut.   He started looking around the room and waved and smiled in my direction.  I assumed he was waving at someone behind me but he walked right over to me, gave me a kiss and a big hug.   That handsome man that could have walked out of the pages of GQ Magazine was my scraggly friend.

When I told him I couldn’t believe how good he looked, he laughed and said, “Don’t let all of this fool you, it’s my costume that I wear to work.”  It was very clear he was not invested in how he looked at all; he was still the same hippy, dippy traveler that I knew and loved.  Whenever I think of the faces we choose to wear in public, I think of my friend and his “costume.”

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