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Happy 2012!
12/31/2011 12:07:09 PM

Another year behind us, a new year begins tomorrow.   What if we could wake up tomorrow morning and our life was brand new? 

Would you want to start from scratch, a blank slate?  Or would you choose to keep all of your current memories, a “wish I knew then what I know now” approach. Would you “unselect” your family and let the wheel of fortune spin and see what new family members the universe would toss in our direction.  Would you like the opportunity to accept the life you’ve lived, but perhaps go back and stand at one or two of the crossroads you have come to in your life and take a different path?  Would you oppose having to accept a brand new life? 

One of my favorite features of life is the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  I think learning from our mistakes may be the closest we will ever come to a brand new life.  I cannot tell you how many times I have reacted in the same way to similar situations and every time the results were the same and every time I promised myself I would not do that again.  We all carry stuff with us from our life experience that is so embedded that it takes diligent insight to recognize it and monumental courage to say no, I’m not doing that this way, this time.  Yet, when we do find the courage to feel uncomfortable, to step outside of our comfortable little box, we learn a bit more about who we really are and if we’re lucky, we change our lives.

So go out there and grab on to 2012 and be your wonderful unique self.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!



Bells
12/30/2011 7:44:46 PM

I took a very long walk today.  What a great day for a long walk, cold, but no wind.  There was a fair dusting of snow on the road outside my house when I left, but all the snow was gone by the time I returned.  This snowless winter is beginning to get me nervous, I’m afraid we’ll all get up one morning and we won’t be able to see out our windows for the snow piled up out there.  Guess I’m waiting for the other snowshoe to drop … sorry, just could not resist.

I was half way through my walk when the clock struck noon and all hell broke loose.  The sirens from two fire stations sounded, the bells of the local Methodist Church started to chime, then struck 12 times, and as I walked by one of the grammar schools on the local campus, the emergency alarm went off and continued to blare.  I could still hear it when I had walked a half mile further down the road.

All of that got me thinking about bells and sirens; when and how we use them.  For centuries bells have called congregants to worship, and have peeled in times of celebration and times of danger.  There are few sounds more mournful than the ringing of bells at a funeral.  Why, I wondered, why bells at funerals?

Turns out over the centuries they have been called “passing bells” and originally rang to ward off evil spirits that might be trying to possess the soul.  Long ago the bells even designated the gender and age of the deceased; ringing three times for male, two for female, then after a short break striking for each year matching the age of the deceased.  Over the centuries the tradition has continued and we still ring bells in minute intervals marking the arrival of the deceased at their funeral.

So why do those same bells peel out at a celebration?  Why do they ring at a wedding?  (OK all you cynics who are thinking because it’s the same as a funeral … knock it off.)    A peel of bells as the bridal couple leaves the church is a tradition that began before the days of widespread literacy and newspapers, the bells let the local people know a wedding had taken place.  While lack of communication is the least of our problems today when a ceremony can be broadcast from beginning to end via IPhone, the ringing of bells on a wedding day is still quite necessary because, in my opinion, the tradition is simply charming and romantic.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention, centuries ago bells were rung on wedding days because …wait for it … the sound of bells was also said to drive out evil spirits.

There is an old Irish tradition that says every couple should receive a bell as a wedding gift.  The bell is placed in the newlywed's home.   When a disagreement takes place, one of the couple rings the bell to end the argument and declare a truce without an admission of fault.  That makes perfect sense to me.

In today’s world, I sometimes wonder what would happen if there was a national emergency while I am sleeping.  What if I had to evacuate my home in the middle of the night, how would I be warned?  The community where I live has an emergency phone tree in place where every household would get a call with directions on how to proceed during an emergency.   Well, I sometimes disconnect my phone when I want to sleep longer in the morning, what then?

Even with all of today’s technology, if I heard bells ringing at 3AM I would know there is a dire emergency.  Hearing sirens at 3AM is not that unusual and I would roll over and go back to sleep, but bells, after all these centuries, bells ringing out in the middle of the night would definitely make me sit up and take notice.



Once Upon A Time
12/28/2011 8:07:10 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belden's Pond
12/27/2011 8:25:35 PM

The wood stairway was steep.  Fifty or more wood steps zigged and zagged down the side of the hill from Pawling Avenue to the dilapidated shack near the edge of the pond.  If snow accumulated on the wood steps they became more treacherous than usual and, aside from the embarrassment of taking a header in front of your friends and injuring yourself, there was also a strong possibility that you would take down anyone who had the misfortune of walking ahead of you.

The wood shack at the bottom of the hill was old.  There was no insulation, a small potbelly wood burning stove worked diligently, but ineffectually, at warming the small space. The constant opening and closing of the only door to the shack undermined the struggling stove’s best efforts.  On really cold days snow covered the wood floor, on warmer days, snow was replaced by puddles of water.  The hot chocolate sold at the small concession stand that was carved into one of the walls of the shack was mediocre at best, but the sweet smell of chocolate floating through the air always enticed us to give the hot drink one more try.

Even with the rickety stairway, the dilapidated shack and the pungent aroma of sulfur that would sometimes permeated the air; I had some of the best times of my youth ice skating at that place:  Belden’s Pond, in Troy, NY.   Although I skated at the pond in the winter of the late 1950s and early 1960s, construction on the 10 acre pond, which is located on the Poesten Kill River, was completed in 1912.  Judging from its condition, I suspect that was the year the shack was built also. 

The first time my parents allowed me to go anywhere outside of the Griswold Heights project where I grew up (without a member of my family) was a cold but sunny Saturday when I was 11 years old and my friend’s dad drove us to Belden’s Pond to ice skate for the afternoon. It was wonderful to skate as fast as I could around the rink, my knee length jacket unbuttoned and blowing in the wind behind me, rock and roll music from a local radio station blasting over the outside speakers, my first real taste of personal freedom.

It wasn’t until the next winter that I was allowed to walk the 2 or 3 miles from The Heights to Belden’s Pond with my friends.  What fun we had, wondering if the cute boys from who-knows-where would be there and, if they were, would they ask us to skate with them?  Laughing as we slid over patches of ice on the sidewalk then retracing our steps and doing it again.

Once we arrived at the pond, we sat inside the shack and tied on our skates, slid our guards over the blades, then walked to the edge of the pond where we took off the guards and pushed out onto the ice.  What fun it was to hold hands and skate to the music, laughing as only 12 year old girls can.  We would watch the girls who actually took figure skating lessons then we would skate to the center of the rink and try to recreate their moves.  Defying the boys who had been designated as “skating guards,” we would hold hands and form a long line then skate as fast as we could and “whip” the person at the end of the line until she flew into the nearest snow bank.  We all wanted to be the girl at the end of the line. Boys would skate by and grab our hats.  We would pretend to be mad and skate after them.

There was a small waterfall where the Poesten Kill River fed the pond.  To get to the waterfall we had to skate off the rink and around the back of the cemetery that runs next to the pond.  Although it wasn’t allowed, we would skate as near to the falls as we dared.  Icy water flowed out from underneath a foot of solid ice, tumbled six feet over the falls, and then disappeared under thick ice again as it continued its journey.  Four foot high ice bubbles created by the waters continual splashing then freezing surrounded the waterfalls.  It was all quite beautiful although I must admit the beauty escaped me at the time, I was more captivated by the thrill of doing something forbidden.

Occasionally, my parents would allow me to go to Belden’s at night with my friends.  The pond looked different under the night sky.  Bare light bulbs nailed to telephone poles strategically placed around the rink lit up the ice.  The trees and shrubs surrounding the rink disappeared into the darkness until the skating rink was the only area visible in the 10 acre pond.

With the little kids at home, the rink took on a different vibe at night.  Almost like a high school dance.  The music over the loudspeaker slowed down, new groupings of people evolved as teenagers from one section of Troy, met teenagers from other areas.  Couples broke away from larger groups and skated around the rink holding hands.  At the end of the evening, when the lights dimmed, everyone took off their skates and headed home to their neighborhoods, looking forward to their next visit to Belden’s Pond.

Emily's Pile (children's story)
12/26/2011 3:09:21 PM

Now that Christmas is over and the little ones are out of their normal routines, it can be hard to entertain them, even with brand new Christmas toys.  Perhaps they would enjoy meeting Emily.

Emily is 6 years old.  Emily has BIG hair.  Way too BIG for her small face.  Emily’s hair isn’t quite curly and it isn’t quite straight.  Emily’s hair is BIG and THICK and WAVY and makes her look like she’s walking around with Celeste, her family’s big orange furry cat, sitting on her head.  Emily likes her BIG orange hair; no one else has hair exactly like it.  Celeste likes Emily’s hair too.

Emily lives in a big yellow house with her mom and dad and her 3 year old brother, Billy.  She doesn’t like her brother too much; Billy is always crying and playing with her stuff.  Emily’s mom and dad work every day until dinner time, so after first grade class when school is over for the day, Emily gets on the big yellow school bus and rides to her babysitter’s house.  Her babysitter’s name is Penelope Patterson.

Penelope Patterson can be kind of grumpy and the other kids at Penelope’s place play poorly, so most days Emily plays by herself.  

One day when Emily got off the school bus at Penelope’s place, Penelope asked Emily if she would mind getting the rake out of the garage and raking some of the leaves out of her back yard.  Emily’s parents had never asked her to help with the yard work, so Emily was happy to help.   There was a big red rake in the garage and a smaller silver one.  Emily decided she would try the smaller silver one.

Emily took off her blue backpack and laid it on the back porch.  It was windy outside so Emily zipped up her carrot colored coat and began catching the crunchy leaves with the corner of the rake and carrying them over toward the car where she started to make a small pile of leaves.

Emily walked away from her pile of leaves to the other side of the yard where she collected more leaves and brushed the bunch of them back toward her pile.  “What!!” Emily yelled when she got back to her pile, or where her pile should be.  The pile of leaves was gone!  Emily looked around the yard but there was not a pile in sight.

Feeling angry, Emily began a new pile of leaves in the same spot and when the wind blew her BIG hair into her face she brushed it back.  Then she walked back to the other side of the yard to collect even more leaves.  While walking Emily wondered if she could make a pile of leaves up to the top of her BIG hair then she would jump into the pile when no one was looking.  Thinking about the jumping part made Emily happy again.

This time Emily raked and raked until she had as many leaves as the small silver rake could hold.  Using the small silver rake, Emily carefully pushed the leaves toward her pile, while thinking about how big the pile would be when these new leaves were added.  When she got to where her pile should be, Emily screamed, “Who took my pile!!” The pile was gone again!!  She looked around the yard, but no one was there.

“This will NOT happen again, “Emily yelled into the wind as she raked her new leaves into a new pile.  Pretending to walk back to the other side of the yard, Emily got half way there then turned around as quickly as she could, hoping to catch the person who was stealing her leaves.

Emily stood still and watched what was happening.  Then she laughed and she laughed as she watched the WIND blow her new pile apart, all the leaves twirling back across the yard until the pile was completely gone.

“Well,” Emily said, “I guess it’s not a good idea to try to rake leaves on a windy day.”  Emily carried the small silver rake back to the garage, picked up her backpack off the back porch and couldn’t wait for dinner when she would tell her parents the story of her lost pile of leaves and see if they can guess what happened.

 



Merry Christmas!
12/23/2011 11:45:12 AM
I was trying to think of something “Christmas-ie” to write about when it occurred to me that I had an experience that relates to the very first Christmas. Four years ago next month I stood on a hill outside of Jerusalem and saw the Town of Bethlehem a half mile away. The “little town” is tucked into a rolling landscape and is surrounded by sandy, barren land for as far as I could see. Overhead the sky stretched to the horizon in every direction, no mountains to obstruct the view. Small sandstone buildings stood shoulder-to-shoulder behind a gated entrance.
I remember feeling overwhelmed as pictures of the softly lit, hay strewn, stable with a chubby pink baby lying in the manger flashed through my mind.  My next thought was that the Town of Bethlehem looked exactly as I thought it would. Although it was mid-afternoon and the sun was shining that day, I could imagine a full moon (or an especially bright star) illuminating the landscape while the night sky sparkled with millions of stars, and candles glowed in the windows of those tiny houses. I could imagine that stable, the breath from the animals fogging the air in the cold night.
The Christmas Story tells us that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem from Nazareth in Judea. Judea is now northern Israel. A few days earlier I had walked the streets of Nazareth. Like most of Israel, Nazareth is a clean and modern city with cobblestone streets and an inordinate number of churches and synagogues. Nazareth is 16 miles west of the Sea of Galilee and 70 miles north of Bethlehem. Today it would take us an hour or less to make the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem by car, shooting down a modern highway. It took Mary and Joseph several days to walk to Bethlehem, a very pregnant Mary riding on a donkey.
The area near Nazareth is quite green and lush. The Sea of Galilee is a large lake, but smaller than Lake George in upstate New York. In northern Israel, the Jordan River is no more than a stream of water moving through a narrow valley toward the Sea of Galilee, Syria on one side and the Golan Heights, currently a part of Israel, on the other. It bore no resemblance to the “mighty” Jordan River I read about in grammar school. Nevertheless, the landscape surrounding Nazareth is strikingly different than the landscape surrounding Bethlehem.
It is hard to imagine what a nine-month pregnant Mary must have felt as she climbed on that donkey leaving her family and home behind to accompany Joseph to the arid, sandy land of his childhood. No highway for them, 70 miles of dirt paths, leading to stony walkways, leading to an open desert.
You may wonder why we stood on a hilltop and saw Bethlehem from a distance, why didn’t we just drive into the town? This is where reality raises its sometimes ugly head. I know people who have been inside Bethlehem, they were on Christian tours. I was in Israel on business, on a three week orientation tour with six colleagues from the travel company where I worked at the time, a travel company with strong Jewish ties. Our “tour guide” on that trip was a partner of the travel company. He was Jewish and grew up in Jerusalem. He has adult children who still live in Jerusalem. He knew it would be an unnecessary risk for us to enter Bethlehem, even if the Palestinians, who currently control Bethlehem, gave us permission, which was highly unlikely.
Of course you see the irony. Bethlehem, the birthplace of a way of life that encourages peace and love, smack dap in the middle of one of the most violent and volatile locations on the face of this earth.   That sentence just brought to mind the day I was walking on scaffolding around the archeological dig immediately outside the wall that surrounds old Jerusalem, directly under the Dome of the Rock. I casually looked up at the Dome and saw two men armed with automatic rifles looking back at me … they were not smiling.   The Dome of the Rock is THE most religious site in the Muslim religion and was turned over by Israel to a Muslim Trust in 1967 and is currently guarded by Muslims. 
No matter what your spiritual and religious beliefs are this holiday season, I am wondering if the juxtaposition of peace and violence, in what happens to be the birthplace of all of our major religions, may be the universe’s way of smacking us on the head and telling us to look closer, we’re missing something here.
Merry Christmas to you and your family … peace on earth, good will toward all.
 
 
Snowstorms and Snowdays
12/21/2011 2:28:12 PM
After all of the unseasonably warm and relatively dry weather we have been having here in the Northeast, the meteorologists are now suggesting that we may have a White Christmas after all. Not just a wimpy dusting-of-snow White Christmas, but a big in-your-face Nor’easter of a storm. Of course, in true weather forecasting tradition, the last I looked there were three scenarios. 
Scenario number one predicts a storm will begin as rain down south and as it travels further north, will turn to snow from New York to Boston. Scenario number two suggests the storm will dump mounds of snow on major coastal cities but will avoid inland locations. Scenario number three simply predicts the opposite of scenario number two.
When I was a kid the more snow the better. Christmas vacations spent on the slopes were heaven.  In this case the term “slopes” refers to the small six foot mounds created and left behind by construction vehicles clearing the fields across the street from the housing project where I grew up. I don’t think I even knew anyone who was a downhill skier until I was a young adult.
My friends and I would pull our round, metal flying saucers over to the field, drag them to the top of the nearest “slope,” climb on and push off. Since flying saucers have no steering mechanism we never had a preconceived destination, just a general direction in which we would hurl ourselves with high hopes that eventually we would land and come to a stop shortly thereafter.
If you can imagine a half dozen kids pushing off all at the same time, then it won’t be too hard for you to imagine the collisions that often occurred, changing our trajectory if we were lucky, bloodying a nose or bruising a limb if we were not, small, red bloodstained spots on the white snow often indicating which type of day we had.
The most challenging “slope” ended in a gully filled with water. The goal was to stay airborne long enough to clear the gully and land on the opposite side. It’s similar to trying to hit a golf ball over a water hazard, except in this case you would be sitting on the golf ball. Occasionally I would succeed, more often than not I would crash into the gully and end up sitting in water to my waist having been unceremoniously dumped from my flying saucer which, by the way, would continue on its journey.
In my family the rule was that we would come home for the day when the street lights went on. In the winter months that would be 4 or 4:30. Most of my friends had to do the same. We would see the lights go on and make a group decision to ignore them for a bit, eventually deciding it would be pushing the limit but we could get away with a few more “slides.”   Reluctantly we would finally gather our saucers and walk home in our soggy, cold snow pants and jackets, our hats and gloves, which had frozen solid hours before, shoved into our pockets.
So what will I do THIS year when snow is piled high outside my windows? Probably take long walks on plowed roadways on sunny afternoons, maybe clip on my cross country skis and slip and slide down the groomed trails that run parallel to the Erie Canal a few miles from home.   If I’m feeling particularly brave, I may even tie on my white figure skates and take a spin or two around the local rink. OR, I may just throw a few logs on the fire, find my favorite book, and put my feet up on the hearth and dream about those reckless childhood days of black and blues and flying saucers.
Meditation
12/19/2011 8:06:09 PM

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.

 

Persons of the Year and Sexiest Woman of All Time
12/15/2011 6:19:53 PM

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!

 



Excerpt 2 from Red Geraniums
12/13/2011 3:30:20 PM
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.
Three months on the job
12/10/2011 12:25:55 AM

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!


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Fallen Soldiers
12/9/2011 12:44:06 AM

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.



Outside Christmas Decorations
12/7/2011 3:56:18 PM

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.

First Month
12/6/2011 3:49:56 PM

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.

It's still Troy, but it's not TROY
12/2/2011 2:33:07 PM

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.

 

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Excerpts
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