The small red building off Central Avenue in Albany, NY, was no larger than a big three-stall garage. There was just enough space for a small office, a tiny reception area with coat rack and a large open room with red carpeting covering the floor. At the far end of the carpeted room was a long make-shift table balancing a few small lit candles, two framed photos and a small vase holding two or three fresh flowers. The overhead lights were turned off and there was a mellow glow from the candles and the three table lamps scattered about. A spicy, exotic fragrance floated in the air.
The first time I walked into that building, which housed the Albany Kripalu Yoga Center, I was uneasy. I thought I was an atheist at the time and was determined to avoid any “spiritual influences” these people might attempt to sneak into the yoga classes. I was there simply for the stretching and exercise and was hoping the meditation class I had signed up for would teach me how to relieve some of the stress in my life. That was 25 years ago.
Turned out “these people” were no different than the rest of us. It also turned out that those meditation classes changed my life. In addition to the class once a week, I began sitting quietly at home at least once a day, either before or after work. I would set the kitchen timer for 5 minutes and sit on the floor on a small rolled up blanket and try to still my mind. The first minute seemed like a half hour, the next 4 minutes seemed like torture. During class we sat for 20 minutes and I thought I would crawl out of my skin but I kept coming back.
There was a larger Kripalu Center in Lenox, MA and I traveled there with a few friends a number of times. Yogi Desai, the founder of Kripalu Yoga, lived there and during one of his lectures he talked about ways to still an active mind while trying to meditate. He suggested that when a thought came into our heads that we imagine we were looking out a picture window, that we watch the thought as we would watch a person passing by, let it come into our attention, watch it cross in front of the window of our minds and let it disappear out of our vision. From that day on I was able to comfortably sit for longer periods of time.
Here’s the thing about meditation. If you stick with it eventually you become an observer of your thought processes. Meditation teaches us to observe our thoughts, not latch on to them or judge them. (Heaven knows, we judge ourselves often enough every day.) For all of us, every thought comes with an emotion that causes a feeling. It’s such an automatic process that we’re not conscious of it, we just know that all of a sudden we’re feeling a certain way and often we don’t know why. The beauty of meditation is as we become an observer of our thoughts rather than a critic; we stop the chatter and can begin to see how a particular feeling was caused by a random thought that popped into our heads. Most of us will then begin to wonder why that particular thought caused that feeling. That kind of non-judgmental inquiry can lead to identifying and sweeping away a whole bunch of outdated ideas that have been causing us discomfort, ideas we didn’t even know we were still carrying around.
Then there’s the light. Eastern religions are not alone in teaching that we all have a sacred light inside of us; whether it’s called a soul, a conscience, intuition, divine inspiration or something else. At the end of every meditation class I was taught to bow and honor the light inside my classmates, my teacher, and inside of myself. That focused my attention on our similarities, that no one is greater or lesser, we all have the same light. Granted it seems the light is almost extinguished in some, blinding in others, while most of us live somewhere in between.
It’s all so easy in theory, but difficult to keep in our line of vision as we go through our lives, our days filled with continuous ups and downs. That’s where meditation comes in, I suppose. Taking 10 or 20 minutes each day to sit quietly and let the chatter ease a bit allows us to reconnect with that wise voice inside each of us.
If you want to try sitting quietly, begin this way: set your kitchen timer for 5 minutes. Sit on the edge of a chair with you feet on the floor, let your hands rest on your knees and touch you thumbs to your index fingers. Sit as tall as you can comfortably. Close you eyes and take five deep breaths, inhaling through your nose with your mouth closed. Thank of filling up a glass ... start inhaling into your stomach, than to your abs and finally fill up you lungs. Hold your breath for a beat then exhale through your nose while feeling your muscles relax. (Exhale through your mouth if that feels better.) Repeat four more times (stop if you feel dizzy) then just sit, relax and breath normally. Allow any thoughts to come and go.
I’ve been thinking about Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Barbara Walter’s choice for Most Fascinating Person of the Year and Men’s Health Magazine’s choice for Sexiest Woman of All Time.
Time Magazine chose “The Protestor” as their Person of the Year. I understand the significance of the “Arab Spring,” and that hundreds of thousands of people put their lives on the line to stand up to oppressive governments and to demand a better world to live in. Every one of those people is brave in my book.
While certainly not as dangerous as the Arab Spring demonstrations, I marched in anti-war protests in the late 60s and early 70s. I know what it feels like when my government’s actions are so contrary to what I believe is right that I’m compelled to do “something.” A few years ago I marched in a very moving anti-Iraq war demonstration in Albany. We were each given a large poster to carry with the picture of a soldier who had died in Iraq. “My” soldier was a 21 year old young man from the Syracuse area whose parents immigrated to the US from China. “My” soldier was born in the states and enlisted in the army as soon as he graduated from college because he felt it was the right thing to do. He was an only child.
When the OWS demonstrations began (Occupy Wall Street) I was a bit uncertain about what they were doing. Honestly, I still am. While I can certainly get behind their right to demonstrate and agree the wealthiest people and corporations in the US have more influence on the direction this country moves in than I do, sitting in a park until that changes seems like a waste of time to me. I think orchestrated marches on Washington would be more effective in keeping the issue in the public eye.
I was at a luncheon yesterday and a woman at my table mentioned her daughter was actively involved in the OWS group currently occupying a park in downtown Albany. That intrigued me and I asked her how her daughter was holding up living at the park all these weeks. She told me very few of the protestors actually have stayed there since the beginning, they come and go. I was a little disappointed. The romantic in me liked the notion that these people were committed enough to put their lives on hold, which, evidently, is not the case.
Bottom line, I wish Time Magazine had chosen the same man for Person of the Year that Barbara Walters chose as the Most Fascinating Person of the Year, Steve Jobs. Here’s why: if any one person was representative of the elements that have impacted on the past few generations, it would be Steve Jobs. He was a geek, an entrepreneur, a pioneer of the personal computer, a desperado, an underdog, a druggie, a college drop-out, an inventor, a perfectionist, a romantic, a family man, and a millionaire-capitalist with a bent toward Buddhism. Steve Jobs is my Person of the Year.
As for Men’s Health Magazines choice for Sexiest Woman of All Time, deep down inside of me I was thrilled when I read it was Jennifer Aniston. She’s a beautiful woman who appears to strive to live a healthy and relatively normal life within the framework of her occupation and the constant world-wide attention that she receives. But what I felt when I heard the news, what I REALLY felt, was: IN YOUR FACE ANGELINA (who ended up in 10th place), YOU TOO BRAD … YOU GO, JEN!
Seven days later, on a sunny afternoon when the earth was starting to unlock from the cold winter, she saw the white car with the red cross painted on the side pull up to the curb across the street from her apartment house. Standing near the window, she continued to take the warm clothes out of the dryer in the kitchen as she watched the man and woman get out of the car and walk across Pawling Avenue. A few minutes later the doorbell rang.
Amanda was singing Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” when she opened the door expecting to see her mom. Instead two somber strangers stood there looking at her. That was the first inkling she had that something was horribly wrong. After checking to be sure they were speaking to Amanda Douglas, wife of Army Specialist Peter Joseph Douglas, the two Red Cross representatives simply told her Peter had been killed in Vietnam on March 15th and they were there to discuss arrangements for bringing him home.
A few minutes later Amanda woke up. She was lying on the couch in her living room and someone was waving smelling salts under her nose. As soon as her mind caught up with reality, she wanted to go back to sleep, go back to the blank world of nothingness where colors and feelings didn’t exist. But, those damned strangers wouldn’t let her, they kept calling her name and waving that fucking smelling salts under her nose. Amanda shot out her hand and knocked the bottle of smelling salts across the room and screamed at them to leave her the hell alone. But they would not.
These strangers did not know her, they did not know Peter, and they had no right to be in their apartment. Who the hell were they to insist that she pull herself together? They kept repeating that Peter’s parents had to be told of his death. Peter’s death??? Amanda simply could not comprehend those words. She jumped up from the couch and began pushing the strangers toward the door, screaming at them to get the fuck out of her house or she would call the police.
That’s when Amanda saw her mother standing in the doorway, watching. Her mom’s face was wet with tears and pale as a white glove. Stopping and standing still in the middle of the parlor Amanda began to pray, she wanted to die too, right then, right there.
Typically Amanda ripped her mind away from those days. Whenever her thoughts drifted back, she would simply open the next bottle of vodka, or gin, or wine, didn’t matter as long as there was plenty of it. But on this day the stress of worrying about Grace left her defenseless. She sat in the parking lot of Albany Medical Center for almost an hour watching those days of 15 years ago play out in her mind, the trumpet, the military uniforms, the flags, the grieving friends and family, the jarring almost unbearable roar of the rifles. She remembered wanting to run away, to just stand up in the cemetery during the service, take off her shoes and run away across the manicured lawns.
Many of you know that last fall I started working in the Undergraduate Admissions Office at a local college. Tomorrow night the first round of Early Decision notifications will be posted and potential students will find out if they have been accepted or not. The second round of Early Decision notifications will be posted mid-January and Regular Decision notifications will be posted mid-February. It’s such an interesting place to work. Part of my job is to field questions from parents and potential students about the application process, academic requirements, majors, campus visits, etc. Many of the applicants are brilliant and have already acquired credentials that would impress most adults, they certainly impress me.
I’m beginning to see that my job offers a very unique perspective. In addition to talking with potential students on a daily basis, I interact with current students every day and, as the liaison with alumni volunteers, I often deal with a wide range of women and men who are graduates of the college.
The potential students are bright and enthusiastic and pensive; taking their first steps away from their families and nudging out into the world. The current students are very much a family of sorts. The students that I see help each other out, they support each other, they study together, they eat together, they room together, they party together, but mostly they work extremely hard.
The alumni have taken their diplomas and found their spot in the world. They are at every stage of life: recent graduates getting their first jobs and first apartments, single alumni dedicated to their careers and building a life of their own, newlyweds starting families while balancing their careers, some have teenage children and some have grandchildren who are applying to become students at their alma mater.
In addition to being actively involved in this academic “circle of life,” many of the lectures and concerts on campus are open to faculty and staff. Where else would I have the opportunity to sit in on lectures on astrobiology, quantum physics, architecture, computer-generated music, or hear comments from top staff at Google? Sure, sometimes the more esoteric stuff goes right over my head, but most speakers realize not everyone in the audience is trained in their fields so they “dummy down” for the rest of us.
This job is turning into a “perfect storm” where my professional experiences allow me to contribute to the success of the department while, at the same time, there is an endless stream of world class learning opportunities available to me … and … they pay me too!
When I was about 8 or 9 years old my family’s pet parakeet got out of its cage and flew into the dishwater in the kitchen sink and died a few days later. My friends and I laid the bird in an empty shoebox we found and with our parent’s permission we dug a small hole under a tree in the front lawn and each of us gave a little eulogy before we buried the parakeet.
From a very young age I learned, and have always believed, that one of the traits we humans possess that separates us from animals is our respect for the dead. When someone dies we recognize their death marks the end of a life and life is our most precious gift. All of us left behind know at our most basic level that someday our lives will end and we hope that someone will remember us kindly and that our passing will be acknowledged and the lives we have led will be respected.
When I read in the news today that the cremains of 274 of our soldiers were dumped at the King George County, Virginia, landfill over a period of five years I simply could not believe it. My lifelong impression has been that the military took great pride in treating America’s fallen soldiers with the upmost dignity. Yet, if what I was reading was to be believed, the military had somehow lost track of the remains of 274 soldiers and as a result those remains were dumped in a landfill. 274 human beings who were blown apart in the line of duty and as a thank you for giving their lives for our country, they were dumped in a landfill. It makes my eyes tear just writing this.
A few years ago I watched a movie on HBO called, Taking Chance. The story followed the return home of a fallen soldier from Iraq. The casket was escorted by an officer from the moment it landed in the states until it was returned safely to the soldier’s family. At the time I was struck by the respect that was shown for that soldier. The families of the soldiers that ended up in the landfill trusted the military to treat the remains of their soldiers respectfully. I suspect some of the soldiers whose body parts ended up at the landfill had no families.
It scares me to think that those military personnel had such disrespect, not just for soldiers, but for human beings. They were aware that body parts were being dumped in a landfill and they were OK with that. Everyone who knew and did nothing lacked such basic human values … have we actually devolved to that level?
Last month, Pentagon and Air Force officials said that figuring out how many remains were sent to the landfill would take combing through the records of more than 6,300 troops. In a November 22, 2011 letter to Rep. Rush Holt of NJ, Jo Ann Rooney, the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary for personnel, indicated “It would require a massive effort and time to recall records and research individually." Rep. Holt, who made the initial inquiry into the situation on behalf of constituents responded, "What the hell?" ”We spent millions, tens of millions, to find any trace of soldiers killed, and they're concerned about a 'massive' effort to go back and pull out the files and find out how many soldiers were disrespected this way?"
I agree with Rep. Holt. As citizens of this country, we cannot, by our inaction, approve of what was done. I would encourage each of you to call or send an email to your representatives and express your anger at the situation and insist that the soldiers be identified and that they be given proper military burials. That’s what I’m doing first thing tomorrow morning.
There is a house I drive by everyday on my way to work that has a huge display of holiday decorations on the front lawn, in addition to hundreds of multi-colored holiday lights stapled to the outside of the building. This morning when I drove by it was rather depressing to see every one of their 20 plus inflatable lawn ornaments lying in 20 plus heaps of plastic on the ground. The same thing happened last week, I drove by one morning and the lawn ornaments were standing proud, the next morning they were in heaps.
Five minutes later I passed a house that had a trio of inflatable human-sized animal musicians out front dressed in costumes of red and green. The sax player, who was a squirrel, was slouched on top of the trumpet playing rabbit that in turn had his semi-deflated head resting on the almost completely deflated bass drum in front of the not-quite-fully-inflated chipmunk. Alongside the trio was a life-size Santa who was slowly deflating atop an inflatable motorcycle that was listing badly to the right.
Although the homeowners had the best of intentions, I’m sure; attempting to share the Christmas spirit with their neighbors and those of us driving by, in reality, those decorating disasters had the opposite effect. It was all kind of sad.
I am partial to those lawndeers made of white plastic and white light bulbs that remind me of skeletons during the day but look terrific lit up in the dark unless, of course, it’s windy and they blow over and just lay there on their side. I also like those spiraling, modernistic, Christmas trees that look like stick figures during the daylight, but have such a festive, clean line at night when they’re all lit up. The houses that have the spotlight shining on them highlighting a large wreath on the front door look very dramatic and the simplicity is striking.
There is a family that lives in a house a half mile from mine that, in addition to setting up a very large, bright and colorful lawn display, also lays a wire across the road in front of their house. When a car drives over the wire, Christmas Carols begin to play. It’s all quite impressive.
My favorite decorations do not appear until after dark on Christmas Eve. Most families in one particular nearby development outline their front lawns with luminaries (candles in paper bags) and it’s beautiful to see. Block after block of subtle lighting, with an occasional incinerated paper bag that got too close to the lit candle inside. I think one of my son’s favorite childhood memories was the windy Christmas Eve we made our pilgrimage to see the luminaries and 95% of them were in flames as a result of the high wind. He was around eight years old at the time so naturally flaming Christmas decorations would impress him.
As for me, I’m lucky if I get time to drag the ladder out of the garage, string some Christmas lights around the front door and get the Christmas tree up and trimmed.
It has already been one month since this website was “launched.” What a month. Of course, losing Taylor was the worst event of the month; an event that is still trickling into this website, not by my activity, but by my lack of activity.
While I’m not wearing a black armband, and most times I can reassure myself that there were only days of suffering ahead for Taylor had I not taken action, his absence has caused a soft, transparent cloth to float down and rest on that internal sparking station that makes me want to write. I say soft cloth because it’s not anything that’s lying heavy on my mind, it’s something that has settled in the cracks and is blocking the creative connection. I have no doubt it is Taylor-related and it will pass.
What I enjoy most about this site is putting down my thoughts about things that interest me and sending them out into the cosmos, not knowing where they will land or who will read them. This site is a modern-day message in a bottle for me; except I can send out a whole fleet of bottles rather than just one.
And you, you then become the unsuspecting person strolling along the beach that comes upon my message, picks it up, and opens the bottle to see what I have to say. Thank you. Please do not hesitate to send a message my way; I enjoy hearing what you have to say.
So, off you go, have a wonderful day, or evening, I’ll be in touch soon.
Every day at lunchtime I go for a walk. Last summer I worked in downtown Troy, NY, and looked forward to wandering around my hometown for a short time each day, discovering the architecture and history that I was so oblivious to when I was a kid. Most days I carried my camera because even though downtown Troy is relatively small, and I walked the same streets most every day, there was always something new and interesting that caught my eye.
Last fall I accepted a job in a different section of town; more neighborhood”ish,” less architecturally interesting. I work in an old house that had been a private home and is now an office building. On the first floor there’s a lovely meeting room that must have been a parlor originally. The room has high ceilings, lovely woodwork and a central mantel and fireplace. I suppose this old house is similar to a middle-aged person who has had “work done.” The same framework exists, but things have been lifted and tucked, even the fireplace responds to a flick of the switch … not unlike Viagra … a contemporary means to get the fire started. I digress …
Here’s the thing: while I still enjoy walking each day and the fresh air still feels as good, the streets I walk are not as interesting as the streets in downtown Troy. I suppose I have the option of walking around the college campus, but it’s funny, while the campus can be stunningly beautiful, even as a kid the college always seemed like an island to itself to me, not really a part of Troy. The campus was like the mysterious Scottish village of Brigadoon from the Broadway play and movie of the same name, appearing out of the mist and just as quickly disappearing into the mist not really grounded in its surroundings.
What I’m getting at is, even though I still work in Troy, it doesn’t feel the same, I miss TROY. I miss walking along the Hudson River, walking down Third Street, roaming the Library and stopping in at the Frear Stairwell just to stand under the glass dome and experience it one more time.
If the kind, charitable spirit of the holiday season were Dr. Jekyll, then the mean-spirited, money-grabbing nature of Black Friday would be Mr. Hyde. Black Friday is a mutation of the original notion of exchanging a small gift with friends and family to say I love you, or thank you, or it’s nice to know you. Somehow the quiet dignity of the holiday season has morphed into an orgy of shopping, Black Friday epitomizing the trend.
Mobs of people pushing and shoving each other, people racing against each other to be the first to get to the sale items because there are only 10 left, or people racing against each other to get the best available parking space in the gigantic mall’s overcrowded parking lot, it is all so contrary to the neighborly message of the holidays.
Even in today’s economic downturn, the gifts keep getting bigger and more expensive to satisfy expectations. Kids want the technology: the latest and greatest, which changes every two minutes. Just one item costs hundreds of dollars. I can’t imagine having a houseful of children this time of year with those expectations. If parents can’t afford those types of gifts, then the parents feel bad. If the kids don’t find those high-end gifts under the tree, then the kids feel bad. The whole spirit of the holiday season can get lost at the checkout counter; parents maxing out charge cards and extending themselves financially beyond what’s prudent, one more thing to worry about when the bills arrive.
To me Black Friday has always seemed like one of those “Hallmark Holidays.” The holidays invented by Hallmark Card Co., like Grandparents Day, to sell greeting cards. I’m sure the Black Friday concept was thought up by large corporations. The thinking being: let’s put a select number of items on sale at a shockingly low price, which will cause mobs of shoppers to line up hoping to be the lucky ones. Once those items are exhausted, shoppers-will-be-shoppers and will continue to buy even after the sale items are depleted.
I don’t see the Christmas Spirit in any of that. Peace on earth, I don’t think so. Good will toward men (and women), I don’t think so. Help your neighbor, I don’t think so. We’re all in this together, I don’t think so.
As you may have guessed, you won’t find me out shopping on Black Friday. However, if you’re out shopping on a crisp winter night and there’s holiday music in the air and warm golden light with shades of green and red spilling out of storefront windows onto the soft white snow, look for me, I’ll be there.
I once read a biography about President Harry Truman. Truman was a man who knew how to make a decision. Once he committed to a plan of action he was able to let it go and move on. Case in point: the night he decided to use the atomic bomb against Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan in 1945, he gave the order then went to bed and slept through the night. He ordered the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date. Then he went to sleep. I was amazed when I read that and never forgot it.
I’m sure I was amazed because decision making does not come easy to me. Sure, I can decide what I’ll eat for breakfast and what I’ll wear to work, but the big stuff, I struggle with for days, weeks, months. Should I switch jobs? Should I sell my house?
But all of that is mundane compared to making the decision about whether something lives or dies. I’m talking about my dog, Taylor. I know it’s humane to put an animal down instead of letting it suffer. Yet, how does one know when it’s time? Taylor is not eating today. This is a first. I can’t tell if he’s so sick he can’t eat or if he overindulged yesterday with the turkey, I did catch him with his head in the trash. He’s sleeping a lot and not too steady on his feet when he does get up.
My son says he will take Taylor to the vets, he says I will be “a wreck.” I think I will be okay once I’ve reached a decision. When Andy was a small child I had to decide to put down my Old English sheepdog, Maggie. But she was so obviously sick that although it broke my heart, it was an act of love to let her go. Even though he was only 3 years old at the time, Andy tells me he remembers me crying in the parking lot of the vet’s office that day.
What I’m “a wreck” about is the uncertainty of whether or not it’s Taylor’s time. Does he still have another month, or six, in him? It is such a monumental decision. I would prefer that a decision about life or death never be in my hands. Honestly, it’s a decision I never want to make. Yet, I suppose when one decides to become a pet owner, it’s inevitable.
Her short wool skirt could not prevent the cold winter wind from attacking her legs as soon as she stepped off the bus. The navy blue wool jacket she wore stopped at her hips. She hunched her shoulders and tightened her muscles, not really knowing why, but thinking it would conserve body heat. Standing under the street light she looked to her left and then to her right hoping to see a friendly face, but she was alone.
It was 11:25PM according to the lit white-faced clock in the window of the closed corner store. She pulled up her coat collar and half walked and half ran down the side street toward the dark dirt path that wound up the hill about a quarter of a mile away. She kept her head down and watched the squares of concrete under her feet, occasionally jumping over a gap in the sidewalk that had buckled. Always aware, always looking sideways for an unexpected shadow, always listening for unwelcomed footfalls behind her.
The sidewalk stopped before the street ended and she had to step onto the broken pavement that led down the hill, woods on either side. The next street light was at the bottom of the hill. Holding her breath she ran to the next light, willing that no one and nothing was waiting in the woods. When she reached the light, again she looked to the left and the right but this time looking for traffic. She had to cross the roadway before starting up the dark, dirt path on the other side. The path led up through woodland, low shrubs and some tall trees. There were no lights there.
This was a path she had known since she was a child. She had walked this path hundreds of times in the daylight. Yet, walking it alone on this dark cold night it felt like no place she had ever been before. Relieved that there were no cars to worry about, she ran across the roadway and started up the hill.
A quarter of the way up the path she stumbled on a large tree root and stopped for a moment to regain her balance. She looked over her shoulder at the hill she had just run down, dark shadows hid from the moonlight, but she did not see anyone there. Overhead the cold wind was getting stronger, not satisfied with her legs, it began to creep up the sleeves of her jacket. Tree shadows swayed all around her.
She knew as soon as she reached the top of the hill she would see houses with light streaming out of their windows and the blue flicker of TV screens. Looking from left to right she could only see a few feet into the woods. She pulled the collar of her jacket up to her chin before continuing up the dark path.
That's when she thought she heard footsteps behind her. Making a quick calculation, she decided not to stop and look, but to run. The houses were only 20 feet away. Not knowing if there was anything sinister behind her, she ran as if her life depended on it.
You’ll be relieved to know that other than being truly freightened, she was fine and I know that because “she” was me.
Once, when I was in high school, I missed a bus connection after a dance or a game and by the time I got to my bus stop on Pawling Avenue I was alone. My friends thought I was going home with someone else. I had to walk from Pawling down Linden then up the path to Griswold Heights. That was in the days before cell phones so there was no one to call to rescue me. I eventually told my mom, but not until years later. Otherwise, she never would have let me out of the house again.
When I close my eyes and think of Thanksgiving dinner, the first thing I see is my mom and dad. Mom in the kitchen … busy … intent … happy. She’s dressed in a black skirt and a sheer white long sleeve blouse with lace at her neck. She’s also wearing a beige, floral bib apron that ties in the back. There’s dad, humming, not doing anything really, just walking back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room to the parlor, humming, asking everyone how they’re doing, tussling the hair of any of his kids that pass him by while asking, “how you do’n buddy,” or “how you do’n kiddo.” He’s wearing dark pinstripe dress pants, a thin black belt, shiny black leather dress shoes, a crisp white long sleeve dress shirt and a black tie with large circles and squares in red and dark blue.
Then I see a white linen tablecloth lying on the oval, wood dining room table. My grandmother’s pink cut-glass candleholders sit in the center dutifully balancing the long, white tapered candles. There’s my mom’s blue and white Currier and Ives plates in long rows on either side of the table, just enough room for silverware and a white linen napkin between them.
There I am in the kitchen listening to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on the TV while I cut and wash celery sticks and spread them with peanut butter before pushing three raisins into each damp stalk. I loved making those ants-on-a-log; it was my Thanksgiving Day ritual.
Mom is moving into high gear now, the potatoes are ready to mash, the gravy is waiting to be thickened, and the turkey sits on the counter cooling, while sausage dressing steams in a nearby yellow Pyrex bowl covered by a white linen kitchen towel with red plaid stripes. I open the cans and carefully cut the long cylinders of cranberry jelly into exact slices and bring them to the table in Currier and Ives blue and white bowls. Mom’s yelling orders now, while she scoops turnips from the hot pan into a smaller yellow Pyrex bowl and asks dad how he’s doing over in the corner slicing the turkey with the electric knife with the black handle.
The doorbell rings and our small apartment becomes even more so, as my aunt and uncle and grandfather and five cousins pour in just in time to sit down for dinner. My aunt hurries into the kitchen to help mom with last minute details and I am thrilled to see that she has brought a mincemeat pie for dessert, my favorite.
In one grand gesture, we all sit down. The adults pull up their chairs to the dining room table while the smallest of us nine kids find a spot at the rickety card table set up in the parlor. The food appears hot and steaming on the tables, sliced turkey arrives balanced in a Currier and Ives blue and white platter. We wait for mom to take off her apron and join us before dad says grace and plates of food are passed from one person to the next. Conversation … laughter … family. I take one last “look” before I open my eyes.
Mom and dad are gone now, so are my aunt and uncle and grandfather. My sister and brothers are grandparents now and want to be with their own children and grandchildren on holidays. I spend Thanksgiving morning cooking, still listening to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on the TV, chatting with my son. Although he hasn’t lived in my household for years, my son’s dad often spends the holiday with us, sometimes bringing a woman friend, sometimes not. Some years I’ll invite a man friend, some years not. Thanksgivings now are warm and quiet and pleasant. Yet, somehow the Thanksgivings I see when I close my eyes are still the best.
I guess I wasn’t paying much attention when Natalie Wood died. I remember being shocked by the news because she was so famous. She never seemed like a very good actor to me, but she was so beautiful on the screen that her lack of acting skills probably didn’t matter that much to producers and directors. I did like her as Maria in West Side Story but, then again, she was faking the singing.
On the other hand, I’ve always liked Robert Wagner. His acting is so natural. He always seems to have a slightly amused air about him no matter the role. I read his biography a few years ago and was surprised to find he had a four year romance with Barbara Stanwyck that began when she was 45 and he was 22. Barbara Stanwyck ended the relationship, which surprised me too. When he was 27, he married a teenage Natalie Wood. That marriage lasted five years. They both went on to marry and divorce other people before they remarried each other ten years after their divorce. They stayed married until her death on November 29, 1981.
Then there’s Christopher Walken. I’m a fan. He always plays the just off-center characters and I’ve always suspected that’s because, like Johnny Depp, Christopher Walken is a bit off-center himself. The most surprising roll I have ever seen him play was John Travolta’s “husband” in Hairspray … take a look:
The night the world conspired to place Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken on the same boat off the coast of Catalina Island, Christopher Walken had just won the Academy Award for best actor for his performance in The Deer Hunter. That was the night Natalie Wood died.
The captain of that boat is now saying that Robert Wagner was responsible for her death. He claims Robert Wagner was jealous of what was going on that night between his wife and Christopher Walken; they seemed to enjoy each other’s company a bit too much. Robert Wagner when he speaks of that night implies that Natalie Wood had too much to drink and tried to climb into the boat’s dingy and fell into the water while everyone else was sleeping.
I can imagine a few things. I can imagine Natalie Wood being charmed by Christopher Walken. I can imagine Robert Wagner being jealous of this younger man who not only seemed to have captured his wife’s attention, but was a much better actor than he was. I can imagine Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken having too much to drink that night. I can imagine a married couple fighting over such a situation. I can imagine Natalie Wood trying to leave the boat in anger even though she was deathly afraid of the water. I can imagine her falling into the ocean.
I cannot imagine Robert Wagner killing Natalie Wood.
I think one of the most difficult things about getting older is looking older. Basically, I feel the same as I did when I was 35, I enjoy doing the same things, and I eat and drink the same things. In other words, I feel the same from the inside looking out, but look different from the outside looking in.
Some days I’m not quite sure what to do about that. Some days I’ll look in the mirror and make a mental note to buy the latest and greatest facial cream that promises to make me look 35 again. Some days I’ll look in the mirror and make a mental note to buy that thingy advertised on TV that, if used consistently, will make my “chicken neck” disappear. Some days I look in the mirror and think, “well, I don’t look too bad for “my age.”
The reason why I’ve been thinking about my physical appearance lately is that during the past few weeks I’ve noticed more hair strands in the drain after I wash my hair. I know why, I’ve lost some weight and the dosage of my thyroid medication is probably too high for my current body weight and a side effect of thyroid medication is that it can cause hair loss. If my doctor reduces the dosage of my medication, the hair loss will stop. However, if the doctor reduces the dosage of my medication, I will have to work harder to maintain a healthy body weight.
As I was considering this dilemma this morning, I had to laugh out loud. Had I reached the age where my options were: be overweight with good hair or be a slim bald woman?
Another recent event that brought my older face to my attention was selecting a new photo for my Facebook page. Couldn’t use this photo because there were dark circles under my eyes, that photo showed too many lines on my face … good grief. I spent so much time and thought over that damn picture until it finally dawned on me … who the hell cares!
Bottom line is, if I’m lucky, I will look into the mirror someday and a very old face will be looking back at me. In the meantime, as I grow into that old face, I’m going to appreciate the one I have today, accept it as it is, although I’m not ruling out the possibility of buying one of those little “chicken neck” thingies from TV one of these days.
When I think of Jane Austen, I think of a quiet, sedate, unassuming woman who loved to write. Yet her novels are filled with insightful commentary on romance and society that reflect a sophistication that seems to exceed her personal life experiences. At age 11 Jane and her sister were pulled from boarding school because her family could no longer afford the expense. From that day on Jane lived with her family until she died at age 41.
When I read in the morning news that author Lindsay Ashford believes Jane’s death was caused by arsenic poisoning, it piqued my interest and off I went to find out if Jane had a “dark side.”
Jane began writing for her own and her family’s amusement around age 12. From 12 till 18 she wrote poems, stories and plays that were read and performed at home and were eventually bound and are referred to as the Juvenilia. What amazed me is that scholar Richard Jenkyns described Juvenilia as “boisterous and anarchic” and he compares them to …. wait for it … the comedy group Monty Python.
Jane's brother, Henry (one of six brothers), became a banker and was Jane's literary agent. Henry introduced Jane to his large circle of London friends which included merchants, publishers, painters and actors which gave Jane a more wordly perspective than offered from her rural Hampshire home.
At age 18 our Jane began writing a short novel entitled, Lady Susan. This novel was unlike any of her future novels. Austen biographer Claire Tomalin describes the heroine of Lady Susan as a “sexual predator who uses her intelligence and charm to manipulate, betray and abuse her victims whether lovers, friends or family.” Perhaps Lady Susan was Jane’s alter ego since the heroine has been described as an “… adult woman whose intelligence and force of character are greater than those of anyone she encounters.”
There’s a wonderful movie entitled, Becoming Jane, starring Ann Hathaway and James McAvoy. It’s a dramatization of an actual event in Jane’s life that occurred around the time she was writing and editing Lady Susan. When she was 20 years old she met a young Irishman named Tom Lefroy. Jane fell in love for the first time, and perhaps for the last time. During the month to six weeks Jane and Tom knew each other, Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra, “I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.” Neither Jane nor Tom had any money and he was dependent on a great-uncle in Ireland to finance his education and establish his legal career. His family intervened and sent him away. Jane never saw him again.
Tom became Lord Chief Justice of Ireland and in old age admitted that he had been in love with Jane Austin: “It was boyish love.”
When Jane was 29 she accepted a marriage proposal from a man she had known most of her life. He was a great oaf of a man but he was the heir to a large estate near where she had grown up and his resources would help her family live more comfortably. There are no letters or writings that describe how Jane felt about this proposal, but the next morning, having realized she made a mistake, Jane withdrew her acceptance and later gave this advice to a niece, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection.” So here was this woman who's writing spoke of the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security but whose heroines, like Jane, balked at and resisted that notion.
Sadly, most of the records that would tell us more about Jane’s personal life were burned by her sister after Jane’s death.
It appears that Jane could have died from arsenic poisoning, but without sinister intent. During Jane’s lifetime arsenic was used as a kind of medicine and she may have been given a medicine containing arsenic to treat the illness that slowly weakened her and caused her death, although I suspect the arsenic did nothing but speed up the process.
As a final note, Pride and Prejudice, is one of my all time favorite novels, Mansfield Park is a close second.
I am so drawn to the night sky. Tonight the moon is a smidge less than full, but it’s big and white and beautiful. It’s lighting up the dark blue sky, diminishing the starlight. I’ve been outside sitting on the porch. My big beautiful tree out front is naked now in the moonlight, all her leaves waiting to be raked away. The moon is shining through her empty spaces, creating a long, black shadow on the lawn.
Something pulls me outside on nights like this. I can’t seem to stay inside when I know what’s going on out there. Sometimes I wonder if it’s my Celtic blood, the same blood that ran through my ancestors’ veins. Did they participate in ancient pagan festivals under the moon; or did they just go out and dance in the moonlight for the sheer joy and freedom of it?
Sitting out on the porch in the moonlight when all is quiet and the wind is still feels like sitting in a church, I feel tuned into everything I don’t understand. I still don’t understand, but somehow being outside under the night sky makes the unknown feel knowable, but just not yet.
I can sit looking up at that night sky and imagine how minuscule I am in the universe. I understand that all of the sky that I can see and everything that exists light years beyond what I can see, has been there for millions of years before I was born and will still be there millions of years after I am gone. Those thoughts can be pretty sobering, yet somehow sitting out there under a beautiful night sky it seems like the natural order of things and minuscule little me is a part of that order somehow.
"That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God." Albert Einstein
While I was sitting on my porch looking up, was someone looking down watching me? This video was taken from the space station ... pretty cool:
Nessie and Ogopogo
I read on a newsfeed this morning that a man visiting British Colombia’s Lake Okanagan claims he filmed video of Ogopogo, the elusive lake monster. The 30-second video shows two long ripples in the water in a deserted area of the lake. Ogopogo is the Canadian version of Scotland’s Loch Ness monster. The report indicated that there have been thousands of sightings of the monster over the years, including a marathon swimmer in 2000 who claimed he saw two large Ogopogo-like creatures swimming with him at times. The lake has been searched and no evidence of the monster has turned up. Still, the legend of the lake monster continues.
Years ago I was in Manchester England the same week a friend from the Capital District was in Paris. My friend had a great aunt and a family of cousins who lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. We decided to meet in Scotland, visit with her family and then take a tour of the country. I drove a rental car from northern England and met her at the Glasgow Airport. Honestly, we were both surprised our plan got that far.
We visited with her family for a few days then traveled up into northern Scotland. We traveled with a copy of the book, “England and Scotland on $10 a Day” in the glove compartment. One night we stopped in the city of Inverness for a late dinner. The River Ness flows through Inverness and many believe the Loch Ness monster travels via that river back and forth from the North Sea to Loch Ness. It was 9PM by the time we finished dinner and we dragged out the $10 a Day book to look for someplace to stay for the night.
The wine we had at dinner gave us just enough false courage to decide to look for a B&B on Loch Ness. We found one and I made the call to the owner from the phone booth in the restaurant. “Sure,” said the owner, “it’s not too late, come on up.” The sky was dark when we left the restaurant and walked over the nearby bridge that spanned the River Ness. That was the first inkling I had that maybe this wasn’t a great idea. As we crossed over the bridge I could feel my stomach muscles tightening because somewhere inside of me was a vision of the Loch Ness monster slithering through the water below us.
With all the bravado I could muster, I got in the car and began following the directions to the B&B. It was about a half hour drive. At some point the paved road gave way to a dirt road. The dirt road had no street lights. The only light was from our car headlights, behind us and beside us was nothing but black. We knew we were getting closer to the B&B, but didn’t know how close we were to Loch Ness.
At some point on that dark dirt road all of our courage evaporated. Both of us expected to see a big green scaly tail flop on the dirt road in front of us at any moment. By the time we got to the B&B we were scared little eight year olds. We pulled into the unpaved parking area in front of the stone, two-story house, ran to the front door which opened as we approached and rushed inside past the remarkably handsome red-haired man who opened the door.
As we stood there catching our breath a slow smile appeared on the face of the red-haired man and he said, “Is your luggage out in the car?” That’s when we realized we had left all our belongings in the car AND Carol Ann had left her car door open. Sheepishly we said, “Yes.” “Don’t worry I’ll go out and get everything” the red-haired man said with a wide grin on this face. As he headed out the door he said, “Don’t feel bad, this type of thing happens all the time here.”
The next morning I looked out the window of my guest room and saw Loch Ness about a half mile away. The Loch looked friendly and inviting in the bright morning sun. I put on my running clothes and followed the winding dirt road through the wide green fields down to the water’s edge. Loch Ness looked like any other country lake back home. Green pastures and fields sloped down to the clear blue water for as far as I could see.
While standing there admiring the scenery, I noticed the water was rippling in an unusual way. Rather than the small, peaked waves one sees on a lake, there were a series of round waves rolling down the center of the lake. It looked like a long hair braid. At the time I remember thinking I could understand why people thought they saw a monster with multiple humps in the water.
This morning when I read the Ogopogo sighting in British Columbia was described as “two long ripples” in the water, I thought of that sunny fall morning on the shores of Loch Ness and wondered, just for a second, if what I saw all those years ago was something other than an unusual rippling in the water.
“It is with great respect that I speak of him, and I’m proud to say that I’ve worked for him.” Tom Bradley, new Penn State coach, speaking of Joe Paterno newly fired Penn State coach. I think they should fire Tom Bradley too. How can he respect Paterno?
In 2002 a grad student found Paterno’s assistant, Jerry Sandusky, in a locker room shower, on campus, sexually abusing a 9 year old boy. Did that grad student step up and stop what was happening? No, the grad student went home and told his father. Then the father called Paterno and told him. Paterno calls Penn State administration and tells them.
Paterno watches as Penn State administration does nothing. Paterno knows that child protective services was not notified about the pedophile on his coaching staff. Paterno knows the police are not notified about the pedophile on his coaching staff. The pedophile retires. Years go by. Paterno knows the pedophile has adopted six boys and lives in a household with those boys. Paterno knows the pedophile is involved with an organization that allows him access to young boys. Paterno still doesn’t speak out.
Who the hell does he think is protecting those children? Evidently the guy just didn’t care.
So this is the guy who is the “sports legend.” He sounds like a waste of skin to me.
As for all those Penn State students who are acting out, protesting the firing of Paterno. Someone needs to sit those kids down and get their heads straight. Maybe one of the 40 children that the pedophile is accused of molesting could come and speak to them.
Addendum - it's good to read they've finally got the right focus.
From news story 11/13/11 re Penn State's first football game after scandal (written by Patricia Reaney and Ros Krasny; Editing by Sandra Maler):
"Many fans wore blue -- the color long associated with a "stop child abuse" campaign -- rather than traditional game-day white as they watched their Nittany Lions team go up against the University of Nebraska.
A group of male fans went bare-chested with letters spelling out "FOR THE KIDS" displayed across their chests in blue paint.
The Penn State team walked somberly onto the field, arm in arm, through an honor guard formed by the Blue Band, the university's roughly 300-strong marching band. Both teams then met at midfield to pray for those who have suffered from child abuse."
Addendum 11/16/11 ... the plot thickens ...
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — A day after the former Penn State assistant football coach who is charged with sexual abuse of boys declared his innocence in a television interview, an email surfaced from a key witness against him, saying he stopped an alleged attack in the team's showers.
Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who a grand jury report said saw Jerry Sandusky allegedly sodomizing a boy in the locker room, said he stopped the act and went to police. That added confusion to the already emotionally raw situation that has enveloped Penn State University and resulted in the firing of coach Joe Paterno, the ousting of president Graham Spanier and charges of perjury against the athletic director and a former senior vice president.
The Nov. 8 email from McQueary to a friend, made available to The Associated Press, said: "I did stop it, not physically ... but made sure it was stopped when I left that locker room ... I did have discussions with police and with the official at the university in charge of police .... no one can imagine my thoughts or wants to be in my shoes for those 30-45 seconds ... trust me."
Cindy beeped at the white Lexis as it sped past her, but the woman behind the wheel, her friend Alice, was too deep in thought to respond to the horn’s salute. Smiling at how endearing Alice’s intensity could be, Cindy continued down Campbell Avenue toward her small storefront shop in downtown Troy.
She thought about her husband, Jack, and how hard this time of year was for him. Next week was the 15th anniversary of the death of their oldest son. Her husband’s transition leading up to the anniversary reminded her of werewolf folklore. As the full moon of their son’s death approached, Jack became withdrawn, edgy. Everyone in the family kept their distance on the anniversary date when Jack’s anger and frustration reached its peak.
Her reaction to the approaching anniversary was the exact opposite. Vivid memories of her son’s childhood floated in and out of her consciousness for weeks. With those memories came bittersweet feelings, wrenching her heart one moment and warming it the next. As the anniversary date approached she found herself more aware of how much she cherished her two other sons, David and Sam, both of whom had commented that they noticed her check-in calls to them increased this time of year.
Waiting at the stop light she looked to the right as she did most mornings, admiring Burden Pond, a lush, swampy nature preserve smack in the middle of an urban neighborhood. On this chilly morning, a thin sheet of silver ice had formed on top of the water, reflecting the blue sky overhead.
Basking in the peaceful moment that always followed this brief encounter with nature; she was startled when the Hawaii Five-0 theme song blasted from her cell phone. Looking at the LCD screen and seeing “ALICE,” she laughed to herself, thinking Alice had heard her car horn after all and was calling with a quick explanation of why she hadn’t responded.
The smile was quickly wiped off Cindy’s face when Alice said, “Something has happened to Grace …”