Sunday, December 19, 2010

It Isn't Much to Look at But the Gift is Priceless

I just couldn’t wait for my oldest daughter, Erin to open her Christmas present this year. She was at my house with her husband and baby, Rain, her first child, born this past April. The present under wraps was hardly a prize; it was thirty years old and looked it, but it was priceless in sentiment. When she first unwrapped it she said, “Why are you giving me my music box?” When I said, “Open it,” I believe she understood.

This music box was a gift for my first child’s first Christmas. That was December. I could not afford a fancy gift back then but I splurged on this one. I added a note to my baby, one that told her how precious she was to me although I’d known her for just one month.

When I found the music box in our attic I had only planned on giving it to her so she could take it home. I opened the little drawer attached and took out the note I wrote so many years ago.

 I carefully unfolded it and began to read and then an odd thing happened: the clown behind the glass began to dance. This is a music box that you wind up and when you open the drawer the little clown marionette dances to the song, “Send in the Clowns.” However, I had not wound up the box and the drawer had been open for a good five minutes before the dancing began, when I was halfway through reading the letter with tears brimming on my lids.

Now, there’s probably a perfectly good, scientific explanation for the clown dancing in this case, but frankly I prefer to see it as a sign.

Once I’d read my long-ago letter to my first daughter, the thought came to me that I should now write a letter to her daughter, my first granddaughter for her first Christmas. Rain is the love of my daughter’s heart, just as Erin is to me. I felt it only fitting to write a note for Rain so that thirty years from now she could be reminded just how precious and loved she is, even before we know the woman that she will become.

When I wrote to the infant Erin, our life together as mother and daughter had yet to unfold. Erin has never disappointed me; rather she has made me the proudest mom and I have loved being a part of her journey through life. Married now, working in the animal field, and raising her child with love and affection, I am so grateful that I can be here to witness it all. My own mother, dead just after my first birthday, was not so fortunate. That is why the moments I have had with Erin, her sister, and my three grandchildren are so precious to me. It is this continuity that I strive so hard to maintain. My own history was stripped from me so to create and preserve it for my own progeny is a gift as precious as life for me.

The look on Erin’s face as she read first the letter addressed to her and then the one to her daughter said I am on the right track. It was a moment etched in my mind that I will carry with me forever. And someday hopefully, Rain’s own children will know who I am by these gestures of love and carry on the tradition created by me on that Christmas just thirty short years ago.

The only thing you take with you when you're gone is what you leave behind. -- John Allston

Monday, December 6, 2010

Scary Television and Movies - Not For This Scardy-Cat

Grey's Anatomy is one of my favorite shows, but when I watch it I miss I would guess a third of each episode.  That's because I spend much of my viewing time not watching it.  I am either looking off to the side and seeing the action in my peripheral vision, or I'm watching the top half of the screen, shielding the rest of it with my outstretched hand.
I can't handle the gory stuff. I know it's fake but they make it so realistic and I am completely inept at overcoming the sight of the blood and surgical procedures. Why do they have to show such explicit stuff? Do people really get into seeing it? Isn't their imagination of a scalpel slicing through flesh, or a limb fractured in multiple places, or a blood spurting from an artery enough? Do they really need to see it visually?
I have always been queasy when it comes to human injuries. I say human because I can help an animal that's been critically injured without a moment's hesitation. When my beloved poodle-mix dog, Peanut, was unfortunately smooshed in front of my grandmother's house by a semi, I stoically used a shovel to lift his lifeless body and bring him home to bury. I will always stop on the side of the road if I see fresh road kill in case the animal is suffering and I can be of some help.

In the case of a human-involved road accident, however, I am pretty sure I will be arrested for that rule that you are supposed to help an accident victim; I just couldn't bring myself to see whatever mutilation has occurred. I know I don't have that kind of courage in me. I think it started when I was a little girl and one of my neighbor friends, Linda Senchoway, broke her arm when we were playing on the swings in my back yard. She fell off the swing and began to cry. As she held up her crooked arm she began to walk toward me and I backed away in complete horror and fear. I still regret that action but realize its impact as I can recall that moment all these years later.

Another memory is of living with my grandmother during the years when she was becoming slower and more fragile with age. I was in our kitchen, she in the bathroom. I heard a loud thud and then she groaned. I was struck paralyzed; I did not want to go in there to see my grandma hurt. Luckily, it was a minor fall, she'd stepped on the floor heater vent and her leg fell through. She was not hurt and I survived that scare, as did she.

I just don't get the draw to movies that show images of maiming and bloodshed. I don't go see horror movies, especially the ones that depict scenes of carnage that can happen in real life.

Take Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Saw, for example. I've seen neither but the first one is pretty self-explanatory and the second probably is too. I remember my daughter, Erin, seeing one of my car license plates with the letters SAW in the mix. She didn't like looking at it because it reminded her of that movie. That's my point; why watch images of things that will haunt you forever? What I really don't like about those movies is the idea that someone out there might be vulnerable and mentally unstable enough to watch a movie like that and carry out the actions they saw on the big screen.

That's my rant for this post. I'll keep watching Grey's Anatomy and continue to miss most of the show because I'm saving my brain space for positive images and good thoughts. I plan on having sweet, not scary, dreams tonight.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What Not To Wear No Matter What the Ads Say!

"You look so hot."

As I stood before my husband of twenty-plus years, I waited with anticipation for him to say those words.  I was standing before him in my new "Not Your Daughter's Jeans," the jeans I had contemplated buying for so long and finally splurged on, paying a whopping $100.00 for.  The sales lady did a great job, as did the manufacturer of the jeans; I fit comfortably into a whole size smaller than what I usually wear.  I've been wearing these jeans proudly for two weeks, wearing them in place of all others because I knew how they flattered me, held in my curves and gave me the confidence to accept my 53-year-old, middle-aged spreading body. "I look hot!" and I strutted like I knew it!

So, after a trip to the mall where my husband pecked me on the lips - in public! - something he hasn't done in ages, I just knew it was because of my jeans and the body they gave me. 

So, when he asked, "Where did you get those jeans?" I couldn't wait to gush after he told me just how good I looked. 

Then, he said, "They don't flatter you at all." 

He apologized for having to tell me, told me my figure is so much better than what the jeans do for it and added, "YOUR HIPS STICK OUT AND WHEN I WALKED BEHIND YOU YOUR BUTT LOOKED HUGE!"

I was mortified, truly mortified and all the pep talks I've been giving myself to accept myself just the way I am went right out the window.

I laughed it off, told him they were supposed to be the best fit, marketed to women like me, and of course I never mentioned the price I'd paid for them because he wouldn't believe it.  I am the ultimate thrift store shopper, I never, ever, ever pay regular price for clothes, except this time I paid a hundred dollars for a pair of jeans that prompted my usually always complimentary husband to tell me I looked fat! 

I don't care if I've washed the jeans a couple of times, cripe I've worn them so often I've had to, but that store is getting their jeans back and I'm taking my $100.00 and going to Target and buying five pairs of the men's Wranglers for twenty-bucks I've been wearing for years. 

Buyer Beware!  Take a girlfriend or a husband with you when you shop so you can get the truth when you try on clothes and they will be sure to tell you "WHAT NOT TO WEAR!"

Friday, November 19, 2010

Domestic Goodness

When it’s cold, which Las Vegas has thankfully become, I become very domestic. I bake bread, make hearty meals and lots of soup. Our friend, Tom, who visits often from his beachfront house in Key West, Florida said, “Boy, when the weather changes, you cook a lot” and he’s right. Although I am always complaining I haven’t enough time in the day to do things, I always manage to whip up a three-course meal. The trouble is, there’s only the two of us so I share as much as I can; otherwise I would be as big as my (bless her departed soul) Italian Aunt Jean who was a wide as she was short. Nothing makes me happier than making food and feeding people, but I will admit I wouldn’t want to do it every single day.

Recently my daughters came for a visit, as did a couple of out-of-town friends. Their arrival happened on the same day John and I had returned from our recent road trip. Needless to say, it was the beginning of a very hectic, physically and mentally taxing weekend. In addition to all the things I had to catch up on after a vacation, I had people to feed. By Sunday evening’s dinner I was completely exhausted. But the meal was, if I do say so myself (which I am as I’m the one writing this), amazing: Roasted penne pasta in my homemade red sauce, baked squash, fresh brussel sprouts, toasted garlic bread, bread pudding (I had to use up stale bread), and homemade pumpkin pie.

Table set and ready to dig in
As I sat back with a full belly and an even fuller glass of wine, I watched my guests eating and talking with complete exhausted contentment. I did this. I brought these people together in my home and made them feel welcome. I admit it; I had tears in my eyes and a smile on my face (I’m sure the wine was having an effect). This is what life and family and the human experience should be all about. One of our guests said that I should live in a compound where all my family could live in close proximity of one another and I said that’s exactly what I have wished for. Unfortunately, these gatherings take place only on occasion.

When my husband owned and operated Signature Café in Attica, New York from around 1999 to 2001, I had a similar experience. I made five soups a week, which our customers raved about. Along with John, I fed the masses that frequented our establishment with homemade, hearty meals and shared in gossip, everyday talk, and friendship. We loved it. Unfortunately, too many things prevented us from staying in business: high taxes, high cost of operation, and not enough income to sustain us. The memory of our little café in the little village will always remain one of our fondest.

Lisa and John standing proud in their cafe

Signing the wall in Signature Cafe
Again, I admit I wouldn’t be able to, nor want to sustain the amount of work it takes to feed so many on a regular basis, but oh, how I loved doing it.

Things are quiet around our house now but the holidays are upon us and I know that I will have good smells wafting from my kitchen and jumbled conversation from the full house of guests soon enough. I’m looking forward to it but am enjoying the peace and quiet while again.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Truth Be Told

Recently our eight-year-old grandson Aiden hit a milestone; he learned about telling the truth.

We, meaning Papa John, Nana (Me), and Aiden were on a road trip this past weekend. The three of us always have a good time; Aiden just happens to like his grandma and grandpa enough to spend a lot of time with us.

We had stopped to eat lunch and when back on the road we noticed a produce stand, which I always have to stop at like some people have to go to yard sales. Aiden and I got out of the truck while Papa stayed in. While I shopped Aiden, being the little boy he is, tromped out to a nearby plowed field. When I finished the two of us piled back in the truck and we headed out of town.

About five miles out I said, “Where’s my cell phone?” It wasn’t in the little slot where I keep in on the dash when we are driving. I looked on the floor, on the seat, in the bags, and in my purse to no avail. I didn’t recall taking it with me when I went to buy the veggies, but I could have.

After searching in vain, John pulled over on the highway and I did a more thorough search.  I got a sinking feeling that I’d lost my $200.00 phone and preparing myself for the hassle ahead, not to mention the embarrassment of doing something so careless. Aiden kept saying, “Calm down, Nana.” He also said, “You know you are forgetful because you're getting old.”

A day earlier he had made me laugh with a similar comment. When I did something, I can’t remember what. he’d patted my arm and said, “Its age, Nana, its age.” I laughed at that then but this time I feared he was getting a little to close to the truth. Apologizing to my husband as he made a u-turn so we could go back to the stand to look, I felt like I was too old to be making such a mistake.

When we got there the people said they had not found my phone. It was then that Aiden tugged on my sleeve and said, “Nana, when we got out of the truck before I took your phone and put it in my pocket.” He said he did it because he thought “someone might call,” which of course was his cover story; he took it just because. He showed that the phone was no longer in his coat pocket and it was then I remembered he had been running through a plowed field. I motioned for John to come and told him the story; if anyone can find a needle in a haystack or a black cell phone in a field of dirt, it’s my husband. Luckily, with the help of the others we located it quickly – and I mean luck because I really believed we were out of it.

Back in the truck a silent Aiden received a tongue-lashing from a Papa who very rarely disciplines him. As we continued on our way Aiden felt the weight of our disappointment and kept quiet for many a mile. Sometime later I spoke up. I told him I was very upset not only because he had taken my phone without permission, but hurt because he had made me feel as though I was responsible. He had also made it seem as though I was old and forgetful (a mortal sin in itself!). However, I continued, he had been brave enough to tell us the truth; he’d made a mistake and admitted it and for that I was very proud of him. I told him that we all make mistakes and the mark of a person with character is when they can admit it and face the consequences.

Eventually, our boy came around and he once again participated in our road trip adventure.

What his actions reminded me of is when I was around his age I did something that caused me to tell a big ‘ole lie that I eventually had to admit to. It was awful and a memory that is seared in my mind.

My childhood caregiver was my grandmother.  While she worked during the week I came home to an empty house every day after school. One day I was at the top of our stairs playing with a basketball when I lost my grip on it. It bounced down the stairs and right through the window of the front door, smashing the glass. I was horrified and didn’t know how to explain it when my grandmother came home. So, I made up a story that someone had tried to break into the house.  My grandmother called the police. That little lie kept getting bigger and bigger until I could no longer contain it. 

I was terrified because I didn’t know how to get myself out of it. I eventually told one of my brothers the truth and he acted as my buffer, telling the police and our grandmother that it was me who had broken the glass.

I don’t recall getting punished or even a lecture, but I do know I learned a big lesson that day: Telling the truth is scary but a lie takes on a life of its own. 

I hope Aiden retains this memory so when his own child has to decide on telling the truth or not, he or she will have enough faith and trust in their father to make the right choice and Aiden will remember his own childhood moment of truth.

Monday, October 25, 2010

No More Hiding?

I teach American History and just in the microcosm of my class I see the divisions in political and religious ideology that divides our country. The national divisions come to light as I teach about America in its early days and use contemporary issues to make the meanings relevant. This, in turn, creates interesting discussions that my students engage in and that I try hard to only moderate, keeping my personal opinions undetected.

I am in awe of and often confused by the great divide in perspectives and opinions; how one person’s beliefs can be so different from someone else’s and how convinced each one is in the truth of their convictions. Although I enjoy the debates my students engage in, I am personally very uncomfortable watching debates that involve screaming, shouting, and finger pointing that in the end have accomplished little in the way of swaying the opposition.
I hold my beliefs close and the only way the outside world knows of my stand is in how I live my life. I don’t try to change minds through discourse, and if asked what I think about an issue I try to defer if I feel it will lead to a conflict of interests. On the other hand I have been known to speak up and show my hand, which has given me a “reputation” and has lost me a few fans. Here are some of the issues I’ve dared express an opinion on:

Early on in my relationship with my future second husband I had a conversation with his mother and grandmother, stout Christians who believe the Baptist faith is the one and only true faith. I went no further at the time in challenging them other than to say, “You mean my grandmother, one of the most spiritual women I know is going to Hell because she is a Catholic?” Their response was truly the beginning of my break from association with any organized religion. “Honey,” they both said, “that’s why God brought you to us so we could tell you the truth and you could share it with her.” I could go on sharing many other conversations and encounters with my in-laws that show just how much of a Black Sheep I am in this “you must be born again” family, but for now my respect for my husband’s family trumps my need to relieve myself of deep-seated opinions.

In another case, I have been branded an atheist by a former sister-in-law who had a problem with shielding my children from her aggressive pro-life indoctrination. My young daughter came to me once and asked, “Mom, what’s an atheist? That’s what Aunty is calling you.” This is one time I did place myself in a confrontation; protecting my children has prompted such reaction in me many times.

I am far from the anti-God others have painted me to be. I am a very spiritual being that doesn’t happen to prescribe to someone else’s definition of what it means. I am very comfortable with my religious belief system but have found that others are not.

From EmoticonsOnly 
It’s difficult for me to admit that I would rather not think about politics, being an American History instructor and all, but the topic makes me cringe. I wish I did not have to involve myself at all, nor make a decision come election time, but teaching how significant the right to vote has been for those disenfranchised in our history, I cannot, in good conscience, ignore this right and privilege.

I lean to the left in my politics. I have come to my choice based on my personal life experience, education, and a strong pull towards tolerance and inclusion. I despise the rhetoric of politicians and avoid listening to their agendas as much as I can. Instead, I vote and hope. I put my faith in those that claim to have a common ideology with me, promise to put their ideas into practice, and have the means to do so. I have been sorely disappointed by whom I have put my faith in, but continue to back that faction because the other side is so far from my beliefs.

I stopped being a Catholic because if I could not believe wholeheartedly in everything it represented, I could not stand behind it. In my political backings, I wish I could walk away if I don’t believe 100% in the person I’ve chosen, but it’s a bit trickier than that. So, I hope for the best. As I illustrate to my class, it’s a two steps forward, one step back tug of war in American politics and history. That’s what makes this country and the people who hold their beliefs so wonderful and so frustrating.

Domestic Abuse

I have been banned from associating with a young woman with whom I used to work with and who I admired for her intelligence and work ethic. It was her husband, a man whom I had repeatedly spoken out against that forced her to relinquish ties with me. He is an abuser; she an enabler. How difficult it was for me to lose that friendship but, as a friend, I could not stand by and keep my fears and feelings quiet. When such an issue hit even closer to home I walked a very tenuous line while I tried to, and ultimately succeeded in, helping someone get away from an abuser.

My writing of this blog was meant to help me put together my life in a way that I would eventually publish the story. Some of the posts have been so truthful and revealing that I have felt a twinge of regret at the exposure of my inner-most self, as well as the loss I have endured from some who found my revelations not to their liking. There is so much more I want to say, so much more I wish to share. Finding the courage to do so is taxing, yet I find I cannot resist the pull.

Perhaps it’s time for me to stop hiding behind the veil of non-committal endorsement and allow my true self to emerge. The question is, am I up for the challenge?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Memory Lane of My Mind

What’s your earliest memory? A recent trip back to the town where I grew up set off a storm of childhood memories in my head as any trip down memory lane will do.

While I have my own memories I find fascinating the recollections of people who knew me while I was a baby and child and are willing to share them with me. It’s like this whole other part of myself that I never knew existed is introduced to me for the first time.

I love my memories and I especially love when I have dreams that take me back in time, giving me the opportunity to revisit moments in my past I long for. What are my first memories? A few stand out most prevalently.

I recall being told by my Uncle Paul, one of my mother’s brothers, that I could not go outside with the rest of the family until I learned to tie my shoes.
 I seem to remember that I tried and tried, but don’t think I mastered the task at that time. I know I cried in frustration and perhaps I was given a reprieve because I associate that memory with peanut butter and fluffernutter sandwiches, which I hate the thought of.

Another memory is of me in kindergarten, spurred by a drive past my old school while on my trip home.

East Pembroke Central School where I went to kindergarten
It was naptime. I can still hear my child’s voice saying to my nap neighbor, “There an ant in your hair.” If memory serves me right the little girl screamed, went into hysterics and I got into loads of trouble.

My oldest brother Michael shared one of his memories of me, one I have absolutely no recollection of. Apparently I was sitting on the grass in our grandmother’s huge front lawn. My brother was, in his words “messing around” with darts and through one high and far into the air. He realized too late the flying dart was headed in my direction and took off running toward me in the hopes of avoiding disaster. The dart landed right in my leg just as he reached me and before I knew what had happened, he scooped it out of my leg. Blood and pain followed and in a matter of seconds I reacted the same as my little kindergarten friend; with screams and howls. I have no scar and no memory that I can find but it’s a great little story and I’m glad he shared it with me.

My two daughters have recently given birth and it was wonderful for me to be able to share with them my own pregnancy and birth experiences, comparing mine to their own.

That is one thing I missed out on, talking with my own mother about the things moms and daughters share. I can be grateful that I had the chance to experience the bonding with my girls. Another really great thing I get to do with my children, now that they are all grown up is to share with them books I read and loved when they were little. My girls both share my love of reading and now I get to provide titles of great books I read and was inspired by in the hopes they will like them, too.

It’s the creation of a shared history that really moves me. It’s also the one thing that my brothers and I hold so dear, for while we each have little to no memory of our mother and father, we have one another and in that one connection a true link to who we are and where we came from.

Lisa and her brothers, 1962

Around 1990

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

I am back in western New York for a quick visit. Arriving late last night I didn’t get to see the glorious fall colors from my airplane, but had my first cup of coffee on a damp porch with autumn leaves gently falling all around me. There are people to see and places to visit, but frankly, the only thing I want to do is walk in the woods. I mentioned that to my friend, Kathy, and told her if she doesn’t hear from me later today to send out a search party; not kidding, I have a tendency to get lost easily.

But getting lost in the woods of western New York wouldn’t be so bad because it beautiful and peaceful. Being here and walking among the overgrown landscape, the old growth trees, and seeing wildlife brings back so many memories. I used to spend hours alone in the woods; every season brought a different look and experience. Spring is when everything new comes back to life: buds on the trees, greenery poking through the last pockets of snow and creatures relishing the warmer days. Summer you fight off the mosquitoes but can harvest medicinal herbs and gather material for wild crafts. In the fall, all you have to do is be present; your senses take over and in the winter the snow mutes all sound and you feel as though you are in a fairy land.

I’ve already visited one cemetery; the one where my grandmother is buried.

As I walked among the headstones I saw familiar names, names I recall from high school or people I remember knowing as a child. In an upcoming blog I will elaborate on my hobby of cemetery trolling. After that I went to my favorite out-of-the-way restaurant; Salvania’s in Batavia. Their pasta sauce is as good as mine so my tummy is nice and full.

Next, the Holland Land Office Museum to renew my membership. It’s a great little museum that deserves so much support so it can be showcased the way such a historic landmark should be. Now, I’m at the library checking in with my college students; my vacations are working vacations.

Grubb is the cutie-pie on the left
The rest of the trip is going to be great. An auction today, pizza and wine with family tonight. Tomorrow a estate sale (You don’t know great finds and deals until you’ve been to an auction or estate sale in these small towns!), dinner at an historic home turned Bed and Breakfast, then Friday – Amish Country! Last time I went through Amish Country I came home with my little dog, Grubb. Wonder what I’ll find this time around.

In between all of this place-hopping I need to see some people. I won’t get to see them all and I’ll pay the price for that, but I’ll do the best I can. In the meantime, stay tuned because being here inspires a lot of topics to write about and so I think my blog will have plenty of postings in the next few days.

It’s good to be “home!”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's That Time of Year Again

What I miss most is autumn. Living in a desert there is little chance to witness the change of seasons. I have habitually gone through depression as the fall season takes hold and I have wondered what it is about this time of year that causes me to go into a funk; is it the memory of the autumns of my childhood, the crisp, cold air, the array of colors as the leaves change or is it the significance of the month of October, the month my parents died and was marked my entire childhood by trips to a cemetery to pay homage to a mom I never knew? It might be a combination of both these things; all I know is that my favorite time of year is one I have not been able to enjoy for many seasons now.

As a child I remember how September was a month I waited for with great anticipation. Rather than January, September was, for me, the start of a new year. My birthday happens in that month and what child doesn’t gleefully await her day? My birthday happens to be on the first day of fall, so it is no wonder I associate such a special day with my favorite season. The new school year starts and although many aspects of school life were difficult for me; I wasn’t the brightest kid and I got into trouble all the time for talking too much - I associate the first day of school with a sense of excitement and promise. And my childhood activities were filled with hours and hours outdoors, where I could breathe in that wonderful air surrounded by a deep blue, cloud scattered sky cut with autumn leaves changing from green to orange, red, and yellow.

Despite some pretty awful experiences (which I have yet the courage to write about), I had a pretty awesome childhood that brings me great joy to remember. That, I believe, is why fall in a dry, arid, white world is so hard for me to go through.

You would think if I just went and visited a place where the seasons change that it would satisfy me, but it just makes the depression deeper. Last October I was in Oregon and the rural countryside looked much like my childhood home with fields of pumpkins ready to be picked and apples and cider sold at roadside stands.

The trip didn’t ease my longing, it just made it worse. I came home wanting so much to be there and not here. My poor husband, who is not ready to make the plunge just yet as our life is pretty secure here, watched helplessly as I cried about wanting to move. He is so sweet; he said to me, “I’ll get us there, don’t worry. I can’t have you crying.” Knowing he cares that much about my happiness makes the wait a little easier.

So how much of my depression is associated with the month of October and the loss of my parents? Perhaps on a subconscious level there is a lot I can attribute to it; but it wasn’t until I was well into adulthood, after having researched my family story, did I begin the process of grieving. Prior to that it was just a story to me; I felt no emotional attachment, much less sadness because I never felt the loss, not until much later. I guess it stands to reason now that I do know the significance of the month that its appearance once a year has to have some bearing on my association of the time of year and my overall sadness.

Whatever it is I am bracing for a month of trying to keep my head afloat and my spirits high.

I am taking a quick trip to New York in a couple of weeks; I haven’t been there in three years and I miss it. Visiting my hometown, the people and the memories especially at this time of year puts a strain on that optimism I have to keep strong, but acknowledgement goes a long way in understanding the cause so I have a jump on keeping the depression at bay. At least I will be able to close my eyes, take a deep breath of the magnificent air and pretend, just for a moment that I am once again that child with no other care in the world than to anticipate what comes next in my “new year.”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Are You Psychic?

Do you have psychic abilities?

It’s hard to believe that such a thing exists but I know from personal experience there are moments in life that are unexplainable. I believe we all have what is called a sixth sense but it varies with each person, by degree and experience. My “psychic” ability generally has to do with encounters.

For example, there have been many incidents in my life when I am in a public place and I look at a stranger’s face and for some odd reason a person comes to mind. The stranger looks nothing like the person that pops into my head but more often than not as I round a corner the very person I was thinking of is there.

For the most part that’s the extent of my experience, which to some could be chalked up to coincidence. Perhaps, but one experience changed my mind and led me to believe that it was much more than mere coincidence.

During the 1990s I worked as a waitress in a now-defunct restaurant located in Dillard’s Department Store at the Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas. I went to a table to greet new customers and get their order. It was a man and woman at the table and something about the woman struck me as familiar. How I came to the realization of who she was is a mystery to me. “Did you go to Clarence High School?” I asked.

She answered, “Yes.”

“Do you live here in Las Vegas?” I asked.

Once again they answered, “Yes.” Her husband was a local music teacher and she, well, I can’t remember what she said. But they had been living in Vegas for a few years.

Clarence is located in New York where I grew up but left when I was nineteen. I went to Clarence High only for my freshman year, transferring to another school where I graduated from before leaving western New York for good. In addition, I knew very few people from Clarence, save for the friends from my immediate neighborhood.

How I knew this woman was from that school was crazy, especially because she was not in my grade but two years ahead of me. Some might say I have a good memory but I have a short attention span and am by no means in possession of a photographic memory. Yet, I didn’t place too much stock in the recognition other than to be amazed at the coincidence of it all. After enjoying the wonder of it we said our farewells.

A month or so later my husband, children and I went back to New York for a visit. Our base was Corfu where I called home. Of course visiting took us to other towns and one of them was Clarence where we found ourselves one afternoon when we decided to find a place to eat.

We got out of our car and at first headed to one restaurant but halfway across the road we changed our minds and chose a different spot. Because our group was so large we headed to the back of the restaurant and parked ourselves. At one point I got up and went to the front counter. Guess who was there? The same man and woman I’d met at Dillard’s. It was such a shock to see them; what are the chances of such an encounter? 3,000 miles away, in the same little town, in the same little restaurant, at the same time; my belief in coincidence was really shaken now.

But, that wasn’t the last time I would question it.

For some reason my husband and I decided we needed to change our plane reservations adding an extra day to our vacation. On the day of departure we were in the lounge awaiting our flight when we encountered, you guessed it, our “new” friends.

By now I came to the conclusion that there was a divine reason why this couple kept turning up and believed time would reveal the reason. That never happened.

It turned out that the couple had no ride home from the airport. We offered them one. After we dropped them off, remarking the whole time about the strange set of circumstances that led to our paths repeatedly crossing, we said goodbye. I have not run into them again, not in over ten years.  Were we just supposed to give them a ride home?  That's it?

I’ll share one other unexplained moment and leave the question about the existence of psychic abilities to you.

When my husband and I were dating, this was around 1986, we were in bed sleeping. Around 3:00 am we were both woken up by a knocking on the wall outside of my bedroom. It didn’t happen once but three times. Knock, Knock, Knock. After an investigation we found no one about. We didn’t know what to make of it but we soon forgot the incident. The next evening we were in the car with his parents on our way to dinner.

His mother said, “The strangest thing happened last night. I was woken up around 3:00 in the morning with a knocking on the wall outside our bedroom.”

We looked at one another, our mouths wide open. We shared our own experience but to this day have no explanation for how or why this knocking occurred to us, much less to his mother at the exact same time.

All I can come up with is that things beyond our control or reason occur in this world. Sure it would be nice to know why, but it’s really okay with me. I like knowing that mystery exists in this human experience of ours. Frankly, I love these unexplained experiences; I am in awe of how the Universe graces me with little nuggets of wonder.
I can’t wait to see what awaits me around the next corner………………….  
What are your psychic experiences?  Do tell.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Year To Call My Own

Of my fifty years on this earth, I have lived only one of them on my own. That was 1979 to 1980. Even though I was the only person paying the rent on my humble abode, I was never truly alone and in reflection all of these years later, I wish I would have taken advantage of the short time to really get to know myself. Instead, I was on the cusp of making choices that would form the path the rest of my life would journey down. But for that one year, I was all mine.

When I want to end a love relationship I find it difficult to just say, “We’re over.” I’m too gullible and I find myself back and forth, unable to break the ties for good. My solution, then, is to physically remove myself; basically I flee the state hoping that geographic distance can do what my heart cannot. That’s what happened in 1979. It was time to break it off with Michael but he wasn’t making it easy.

I’ll show him I said. Using what little money I had I purchased a 1970 Willy Jeep truck, a camper that fit over the bed, packed up all my belongings, which included my dog Babe, my cat Natasha, Zeppo my cockatiel, and headed north.

Once again I was optimistic that everything would turn out alright. I had nothing but a location to go to; no job or friendly face awaited me; as usual I leapt first and hoped for the best. In Jacksonville, Oregon I had heard about Dogs for the Deaf. Wally Ross, one of my mentors during my EATM years told me that a fellow animal trainer by the name of Roy Kabat had started a program in Oregon and that I might be able to get a job there. That’s all the motivation I needed so off I went.

Getting settled took a bit of doing, but once again things just fell into place and soon I had a job and a place to live. Of course I don’t do things the normal way; my “home” was in my camper (I soon traded up and rented a travel trailer) and parked myself on the Applegate River. The property I stayed on belonged to one Harlan Paige Bosworth, an old man whose land was used for the annual summer jazz festival and who graciously allowed my presence. I literally had the river, a campfire, and the sounds, sights, and smells of nature right outside my front door. It was heaven.

Can't you just hear the sound of the river?

Babe, my constant companion
The first job I acquired and kept throughout my time there was at a steak house. I also talked my way into the Dogs for the Deaf job so everything was working out just as I’d hoped. If only Michael, the jilted love I’d left behind in California would have left me alone. Instead, he was a constant presence in my sanctuary and eventually he would once again wear me down.

Within a year I would find myself packed up and heading south. I would be a wife by summer and a mother by next fall. My year alone on the river would become a sweet memory lost to the years of making a life that was ahead of me.

It’s when I look at the pictures of that time in Oregon that I yearn for the simple life I led; aside from all the emotional turmoil I was in, it really was a year of wonder. And it was all mine.

I'll find my way back there again someday, soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Animal Heaven - Part I

This post is presented in two parts because it is much too long to read at one sitting. I do hope you will read it all the way through; the message is worth it. Thank you for stopping by. Please, please feel free to comment - I love to hear what my readers have to say!

If there is a Heaven I know just what I want to do for eternity. When I arrive at the gate and the gatekeeper hands out assignments, I hope he/she sends me to be the assistant of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is legendary for his love and dedication to animals. This morning as I sat in my own little heaven, surrounded by my menagerie of pets, I knew that to be among animals and to be responsible for their care would be a job I could do forever. In Heaven the animals would never suffer, there would be plenty of love and food galore, and none would ever want for anything. I wish it were the same here on earth.

I shield myself from exposure to sad things when it comes to animals; that means I don’t go to animal shelters and I turn the channel when ads or programs show abused animals. I step up, however, when I’m confronted with an animal in need. I have come to the rescue of more animals in my lifetime than I can count. It started as a young child when I came across a nest of baby birds or rabbits. In my naiveté I assumed because the mommy was gone the babies had been abandoned. I would take them home and try to care for them only to have them die. That was my first lesson in letting nature do her job without interference – sometimes. Nature is both giving and cruel, as are people, and without help, sometimes the weakest become the most vulnerable and suffer at the hands of both. This was never more apparent to me then a recent trip through the magnificently beautiful, yet harsh land of the Four Corners region of the United States.

On my way to Mesa Verde National Park I stopped at a McDonalds for a break. There was a black lab dog running through the parking lot. Suddenly I heard both a motorbike and barking and when I looked up I saw the dog chasing the bike as it headed out of the lot. Coming in was an SUV, which the dog ran headfirst into; the sound of impact was loud. The dog ran off and I hoped it was okay; needless to say watching it was hard on me. When I headed into the restaurant I saw the dog; it was sitting next to its apparent owner. “Sir,” I said, “your dog just got hit by a car!” His response shocked and disgusted me, “That’s okay, its happened before. It’s a good lesson for him.” The dog looked okay but I know he had to be injured. As there was nothing more I could do I walked away but have thought about that poor creature many times since. My next encounter was just as difficult for me to forget.

Stopping at a gas station I encountered around seven adult dogs sitting in the bay areas. They were skinny and panting; some I could see were nursing mothers. They were obviously looking for handouts so of course I complied giving each of them a bit of beef jerky. I wasn’t as worried about them as I knew they were old enough to fend for themselves, especially when fools for animals like me happened by. It was the next stop on my way back home that has caused me the most distress both emotionally and financially.

It was by chance that I stopped at one of the many remote outposts where the Native People set up plywood booths to sell their wares. When I let my own dogs out for a stretch I soon lost sight of them. “Where are my dogs?” I asked aloud. A young girl behind a counter said, “They are trying to play with this abandoned puppy.” Uh oh. Those are words that I can’t hear. “May I see?” I asked. Under the stand was a small, frightened pup. I immediately picked it up and held it close. I soon learned that wasn’t such a good idea as upon close inspection I discovered what a poor state the pooch was in: he was loaded, I mean loaded with ticks. From the inside of his ears to every crevice of his body those loathsome parasites were attached. His eyes were crusty as was his shoddily-docked tail.

Picture taken just after rescue on 8-8-10
Upon hearing the words abandoned puppy I already knew I would be taking the animal with me to find a home for it, but when I realized what condition it was in I panicked a bit. How would I transport it in my packed car? The ticks alone, not to mention worry about disease, caused me to rethink my decision. But I knew I could not leave him; there was no way that was an option. It took a bit of thinking but I acted on instinct and did the best I could under the circumstances.

I carry with me Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap, a natural castile soap infused with pure peppermint oil. I asked one of the vendors if anyone had both a bucket and a box. Luckily someone had both. I could see both disdain and compassion on the faces of the people as they watched me go to work. I bathed the puppy hoping the soap would dislodge most of the ticks. Unfortunately, I found I had to remove them by hand, a job I hated doing. But I was determined and just did it. Satisfied I had many of the larger ones off and hoping the soap would work on the others I dried the puppy and placed him in a box lined with paper and towel. I worried about the ride home which would take about four hours. I placed box and all in the very back of my car and set off; stopping once at a store to get food that when presented to the puppy was wolfed down. As difficult and nerve-wracking as the trip was, we made it home. My daughter, another animal caregiver, was waiting with flea and tick shampoo, as well as tweezers and when I handed her the puppy, she picked up where I left off. We weren’t out of the woods yet.

Still worried about the ticks and illness, I kept the puppy outside in a secure area away from our house and pets. The next morning he went to the veterinarian. I explained to the vet that rescue was something I did on a regular basis, meaning I spend a lot of money I can’t afford to spend and that I would need to be very conservative in the treatment. I found a sympathetic ear (a rarity) and considered myself lucky to be charged only $140.00. The treatment included a bath, hand-picking ticks ranging in size from minute to engorged, fluids for severe dehydration, and deworming. When I brought the little guy home, and for the next week, he seemed to thrive on several small meals a day and the company of our pack, both human and canine. One week to the day of his rescue, however, he stopped eating and drinking and became lethargic. The next four days were touch-and-go as to whether his valiant effort to survive would work.

Fearing he was carrying the dreaded dog disease of Parvo or distemper I kept him isolated. I left him alone for the first day, not forcing any food or liquid on him, taking him out to urinate and see if diarrhea followed. Thankfully it didn’t.

Feeling very unwell 8-17-10
By the third day he was on Pedialyte® for rehydration but felt he needed more fluids than I could provide. Another trip to the vet and a decision came next. The vet that first saw the puppy was off and the one that examined him showed little compassion for the situation. All I wanted was for the puppy to be placed on fluids to give it a boost. The estimate to do so was $233.00. I declined and took him home to carry on my own treatment and hope for the best. My instincts and experience paid off.

I was pretty sure the puppy was not stricken with a disease; he showed none of the aggressive symptoms. Rather, I believed that the procedures he was subjected to were too much for his malnourished and weak body to process. I was right. By the fourth day I incorporated food along with the liquids. He had no interest in eating so using a syringe and liquefied dog food, along with the high-calorie food supplement Nutri-Cal, I force fed him. By the evening of the fourth day he was perking up. Although his body has suffered (you can see his rib and hip bones), I knew if I progressed slowly he just might make it. By morning he was spry, playfully chasing a ball and our dogs and cats. He ate brown rice and cooked chicken all on his own.

Feeling much better and ready to play 8-26-10
With a lot of small meals and lots of love and exercise, I think we’ll have a healthy, happy puppy on our hands. This, of course, is the last thing I need! With the number of dogs and cats (many of them “fixed” ferals), and a pig, I don’t need another mouth to feed or dog to care for, but I am not sure I can part with one whose story I am so wrapped up in. So, I’ve done what I do best and came up with a way to use this opportunity for good.


Animal Heaven - Part II

This is part two of Animal Heaven.  To read part one, click here

About five years ago I incorporated a non-profit in Nevada: Acres of Animals, Inc. My intent was to provide a sanctuary for animals that were abused and neglected or to care for them until a suitable home could be found. I never followed through, however, in getting the non-profit tax status filed. I am rectifying that and have started the process of doing so now. That way I can solicit donations and do fundraising to help the animals I just know are in my future that need rescuing. Once in place I plan on using this happy, healthy puppy to help me educate and inform.

Going to places like the Indian reservation and other poverty-stricken communities, Acres of Animals will provide services to help people treat their animals more humanely. To that end, education is a must and I know just where to start: the young people. Perhaps they are like I used to be, innately drawn to animals and their desire to help them is instinctual. Convince the young people and they will elicit the change that is needed.

So I will ask forgiveness of my faithful blog readers. I promised myself I would never use my blog as a way to generate income using ads to do so. But I think this experience warrants a change of mind. I will at some point in the near future provide a link to accept donations on behalf of the animals I take in. Anyone interested in providing a good home to one, please let me know.

My grandson, Aiden, with me at the time of the puppy’s rescue thought long and hard on what to name him. He came up with the name, “Lucky,” because he reasoned, “He was lucky we came by when we did.” I’m pretty sure that we are the lucky ones.
Initiation into thePack
Video taken in 8-27-10, 11 days after rescue
In the video is "Lucky" with Candy (pit bull I think reminds the puppy of his mother, Mya and Ivy.  Another dog, Grubb, is not interested in welcoming the new addition) 


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Time To Rethink Our Approach to Life

Things are pretty tough out there. When the economic crisis first hit and the subsequent months that followed, my family was not hit too hard. We have been lucky because we’ve pretty much lived a modest lifestyle for years, some of it due out of necessity but much because my husband and I just didn’t buy into the commercial aspect of consumerism.

We have not had credit cards for over ten years and much to the dismay of those we share this with have not needed them.

Our utility bills are small; we have a high electric bill in the summer months here in Las Vegas but other than that we don’t use heat in the winter, we have a well so don’t pay for water and have no natural gas on our property. I can’t tell you how NICE it is not to have a mailbox full of bills spilling out.

We have a few debts that take a chunk of our monthly income but before the downturn we were able to put a bit away and still live comfortably.

That said, we are now feeling the pinch and while there is no need yet to panic we are starting to examine our situation and consider where else we can adjust, be it cut out or bring in more. Trouble is, there isn’t much wiggle-room; we’ve pretty much cut everything to bare bones and frankly there aren’t any jobs that are taking on new hires. I teach college and before summer had enough classes to teach to bring in an adequate income. The summer was lean but I expected fall to pick up. Not so; enrollment is down so I’ll be lucky to come away with two classes, which isn’t enough to matter. I have a couple of contract prospects but nothing has been finalized.

Where’s the money going to come from? Our biggest expense is our house payment, as it is for most people. After contacting our mortgage company we discovered that according to them our financial situation is not dire enough to warrant a reduction, even a temporary one in our payments. I am not one to get cynical and point the blame but really, would they rather we become one of the many desperate people instead of giving us a leg up? Their unwillingness to help, other than to say, “Perhaps one of you can get a second job? How about asking the church to help?” is offensive.

My belief in living on land and becoming virtually self-sustaining is even rubbing off on my husband and he’s figuring out just how we can manage it and live as debt-free as possible in the coming years. All those books on my shelf that I’ve collected over the years: Putting Food By (Janet Greene, et al) and Producing Your Own Power (Carol Hupping Stoner, among others, are going to come in handy is my guess. 

It's been my secret wish to live like this all along.  I long for the days when we lived on farms, produced all our needs required: food, soap, labor that I find myself somewhat grateful for this opportunity to put my dream life into practice. 

I'll let you know how we are coming along.  In the meantime, best wishes to all of you in keeping your heads above water during this uncertain time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

ADHD and My Family Tree

Anyone who knows me knows I suffer from a pretty acute case of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I’ve been this way all of my life; of course when I was a child they didn’t have a name for it other than to refer to me as “hyper.”

 For the most part the disorder serves me well: I am a master multi-tasker and can do several things at once. Sometimes, however, I get so bogged down with my ambition that I don’t do any of things I attempt well. Right now I have so many ideas floating in my head and started that I don’t know which one to tackle first, complete, and move on.

The one project that is taking over my life right now that I enjoy so much I could do every day all day is my family history research.

My research began when I was seeking information about my mother and father. For those of you that have followed my story since I began this blog will remember that I was only a year old when they died so I know nothing about them. Going in search of documents and pictures, news articles and reports, interviewing people who knew them was a way for me to discover who my parents were. That initial foray into family history was opening a Pandora’s Box for me; once I started it I couldn’t stop. Since then I have researched the family tree and connected the dots from Batavia, New York to Sicily, Germany and Canada. My research becomes so involved I forget to eat, the house gets messy and the work that pays our bills gets placed on the back burner until a deadline looms. I’m hooked on genealogy research.

This week I am on a quest, following the trail of Charles Oberlander, world traveler, adventurer, humanitarian. I haven’t quite figured out Charles’ connection to me: he might be my great-grandfather but I’m still working on it. What I do know is he lived a very colorful life. He tried to advocate on behalf of Chinese being mistreated by the Mexican and American governments back in 1892. He traveled to Cuba.

Charles in Cuba

I don’t know yet what he was doing there but I am going to find out. His father Alexander Oberlander and his brother Fredolin were pastors in Syracuse, New York for the Evangelical Lutheran Church; his brother Oscar was a practicing physician. He was one of fourteen children. Sounds like a fascinating story, doesn’t it? And I’ve only scratched the surface with Charles Oberlander; what will I discover with his siblings, parents, and his own offspring?

That’s just the Oberlander branch of my tree. There are others to work on, some I have done extensive work on: Gioia, Gengo, Scibetta; and others I am just beginning to research: Wardynski, Wleklenski.

Wardynski/Wleklinski Family

Grandmother and Grandfather Gioia

I haven’t even really started on my husband’s line yet, but that, too, is an amazing tale. My husband's ancestor is Charles B. Mecum, one of the survivors of the Death Valley 49ers, those brave souls who traversed the harsh desert landscape and made it out alive back in 1849. He is written about in books on the subject.

So I parcel out my time, trying to fit in all my responsibilities such as housework, work-work, and this hobby. Thank Goodness I am an ADHD; it’s the only way I can get all of this accomplished.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Judge Not Others, If You Can Help It

Like all young people on the verge of adulthood, I questioned the teachings I received from authority figures, the adults in my life responsible for my upbringing and education.

I went through the normal transition of discovering for myself my views on things that would transform me into the woman I would become. I often wonder just how and why I came to the various ideas and viewpoints that I am comfortable with, or at times passionate about. What I believe in comes to me from my fifty-years of experience, contemplation, peer influence, and empathy for others. My opinions and views are my own and my right as they are for each and every one of us humans.

Speaking my mind or sharing my opinions is something I have never been very comfortable with.

It is my opinion, and here I am contradicting the last sentence, that everyone has a right to their opinions and no one has the right to judge or condemn others for their personal beliefs. That is why I do not espouse on religion, politics, or lifestyle. To each his own. Unfortunately, not everyone is of the same mind. It is their strong belief that they must convince anyone who does not live according to their morals and values to change their ways.

I have learned over the course of my years that keeping quiet might prevent confrontation, but speaking up is necessary at times. I have met that challenge over the years and although I have lost some people who cannot accept me as I am and disappointed others, I have no regrets about being true to my convictions.

By the same token, I have found that I have wanted to convince others to do it “my way.” Especially when it came to my children, I would tell them how things should be done, share with them my ideas about things with the hope they would follow suit, which of course did not happen. They, too, had to go through their transitory period and eventually come to their own conclusions. I admit there were times I pushed my ideas hard, especially when I believed I could save them from eventual heartache or worse, a major mistake. Through experience I have found that while I have some influence resulting in a like-mind, it didn’t happen because I forced my beliefs on them; rather it was by living my life based on my beliefs so that I became a model to my children and others. From that they picked up from me what would work for them and created their own ideas, values, and convictions. That is at it should be.