Friday, December 28, 2012

Perhaps a Singing Career is in My Future?

I thought I would provide an update on the nose situation.  If you haven't already done so, read "Oh to Breathe Freely Again!"

On Monday, Dec. 17th I went in for surgery. Three different procedures were scheduled: to straighten a deviated septum, add cartilage to my collapsed nostrils and a cleaning out of the sinuses. My best friend Nancy, was there when they took me away and when I woke up again. Husband John had to work and frankly, it's not a sight a husband should have to see. It was bad enough he chased me around the house before I headed to the surgery center, wanting a "before" picture of my nose. I did take "after" photos, but, ummmmm, they aren't for public viewing.

The days following the surgery were, to say the least, awful. With some contraption up the nose to keep it open and the other yucky side effects it wasn't pleasant, but I won't go into detail, especially on behalf of Linda Lou, who can't tolerate any mention of such things. I finally felt better on day #6, but then it was holiday time: driving to Los Angeles, arriving late at night, unloading the car, saying hello to those that waited up, and then trying to settle down enough to get some sleep before waking on Christmas morning to excited kids and all the chaos of the day. That was a quick trip, back to Las Vegas in 48 hours with two kids in tow for a grandparents/grandkids visit. Such excitement just days after surgery is not conducive to rapid healing, but I am pretty resilient and have fared pretty well.

The worst of it was the pressure in one eye; it felt like a migraine headache and I had to walk around the house with my hand over my eye and not turn my head too quickly. On top of it, the page proofs for my soon-to-be-published book, Showgirls of Las Vegas (which is, by the way, on pre-order sale at Amazon); which were not supposed to arrive until after Christmas, came three days before surgery and was expected to be back in the publisher's hands within seven days. Not one to call attention to myself, I did not, but should have, altered my editor that I needed more time. But, no, I got it done despite the one-eyed vision and the frequent need to take lie-downs.

This morning there was the follow-up doctor visit for a "proper cleaning" and I don't mean the kind the dentist provides. While really uncomfortable, it was a great relief to have the pressure removed from my clogged sinuses.

Was it worth it? Right off I can say that I believe I am breathing properly for the first time in my whole life. I never broke my nose so the crooked septum must have been a part of my anatomy all along. It takes some getting used to having this much air flow into my nostrils; sometimes I have to cover my nose with hand or scarf to warm the air as it enters. I am told my voice has changed somewhat; I sound different than the nasally voice that my seventh-grade chorus teacher tried to desperately to fix all those years ago. Maybe I can hit those musical notes now, after all.  I can’t wait to hear my voice on my next oral history interview.

So, the verdict is this: I’m glad I did it and here’s to modern medicine.  By the way, my doctor, Dr. Vincent Nalbone, is a great surgeon.  And, it helps he reminds me of my very first crush; he looks just like Andy Coppola, the boy I made a fool of myself over when I was a freshman in high school.

Happy New Year to everyone, and Happy New Nose to Lisa

Monday, December 17, 2012

Oh, to Breathe Freely Again!

After years of fighting a chronic sinus problem, which it turns out is not a result of allergies but due to the structure of my nose, inherited from the Italian side of my family, I am about to get relief.  I wrote a post about the situation, A Necessary Nose Job some while back, never really expecting that a nose job was in my future.  But, here I am about to go in and have "work" done. 

The doctor guarantees that 1) the nose I've come to love will not be altered in how it looks and 2) I'm going to feel a whole lot better (not right away, apparently this surgery takes a lot to recover from.  I'm in for several days of looking and feeling pretty gross.  I'm willing to go through it though; this persistent sniffing, hacking, blowing, and inability to breathe has worn me out. 

Until later...............  Have a great day!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Who's Your................... Family?

When a particularly important professional moment occurred for me recently, my fingers itched to send an email to a close family member to share my news as well as to hear those words every kid-inside-the-grown-up body wants to hear: “I’m proud of you.”  Then I remembered that I am no longer in contact with that person; that I had disappointed them to the point that shunning is my punishment.  While I felt a moment of sadness and regret that someone I love and was close to on so many levels is no longer in my life, the optimist in me began to see the silver lining.  Why?  Because I am no longer tethered to the need to please; I no longer harbor fear that I will be judged and rejected.  I am free now to be “me.”

That’s the thing about family; they have such power if you let them; power to build you up as well as to tear you down.  The cliché goes that you don’t pick your family; that’s true.  But, what is also true is that your family doesn’t have to define you.  With the loss of this person who played so many significant roles in my life, the greatest of which was surrogate mother, I am released from a sense of obligation to be the “good girl.”  I answer to myself and the husband I am committed to, as well as to my siblings and children, but to a lesser degree.  Do I worry that I will misstep and lose their loyalty, too? Sure, but I strive to give them unconditional love and support and hold the belief that it is reciprocal.  In addition, I’ve created an extended family, made up of friends who buoy me through rough times, who celebrate my accomplishments, and who are willing to give of their time and love, and anything else they can offer because it is a choice and not an obligation. 

It was over two years ago that I stepped out of line and paid the price with estrangement.  Between then and now I have experienced a range of emotions: shock, guilt, shame; then “angness” - that complicated, fluctuating mix of anger and sadness.   I have grieved the loss and finally come to terms with it with the help of time.  That optimist in me is grateful for the experience.  Now, who knows to what heights I’ll be able to reach with my new-found freedom. 

Who’s your family?  The one that surrounds you with love, that’s who. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go

How is it that the holidays can sneak up on me so suddenly?  It isn't the commercialism, although every year stores in my area set up their displays and crank out their Christmas music earlier and earlier; no, it's my anxiousness in realizing that there is so much to do to get ready.  Maybe it's because the grandkids are older now (Aiden is ten, Rain and Noble are 2 1/2) and I want to make sure that I am part of making wonderful memories for them to take from childhood to adulthood.  So I began my shopping already and can't wait to watch them open their gifts. 

But, the memory making is not all about the presents wrapped in Christmas paper.  It's about the time spent with family.  As a young child I was surrounded by family that came every Christmas Eve to my grandmother's home.  With the tree all decorated with pretty lights and tinsel, with its base stacked high with gifts, we gathered first around the food-laden table to eat,
Grandma's table, 1967
then retreated to the living room where the gift exchange took place.  It was a magical time.  The windows were fogged up from the warmth of the room while the snow and cold was kept at bay outdoors. 

I miss those times.  Our family is scattered all over the country so those memories with food, fights, and laughter are all just in my head and heart.   

This year, however, we get to be together.  As I await the true beginning of the holiday season, the one that starts with a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, I will remember those long-ago moments surrounded by people who are no longer near me, lost either to death, long-distance or discord. 

I can't wait to make some more memories!
Daughter Adrian on far left during a Christmas show, circa 1984

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gone, but Not Forgotten

I can imagine what my grandmother must have gone through when late one night in October of 1958 she received the phone call that her first born, her beloved Pat, had been killed.  The last time she had seen my mom was the day of the party she and my dad would be attending.  My mom came and borrowed a dress.  The next time she saw my mom was in a casket.  No parent should have to suffer the loss of a child, no matter how old the child is. 

Pat's high school graduation picture
All the time I was growing up in my grandmother’s home I never saw pictures of my mom, and most certainly I never saw one of my father. 
I believe the grief was much too present for her to have photographs as reminders; as it was, she had four small children, my brothers and I, as constant reminders of her great loss.
Here is Grandma surrounded
by several of her grandchildren

From the moment I could talk I called my grandmother “Mom.”  I have no idea when I came to realize that she wasn’t my “real” mom; possibly it was in school when I was questioned as to why my last name was different.  As my mom she taught me many of the basic things I would need to be successful in life, a domestic life specifically.  I make my meals without recipes.  I cook and bake the same things she did: beans and cabbage, spareribs and sauerkraut, chicken soup, beef barley soup, sour cream gravy and chicken, pasta sauce with a sparerib base, dumplings, and best of all, beet soup. 
  An amazing soup!
I learned to appreciate, crave even, the beauty of flowers. 
When I am cooking something I learned from her or am digging in the garden, then stepping back to admire my handwork, I am thinking of my grandmother.

I find myself saying phrases that she uttered, especially the one curse she used most often: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; although this was said in Polish and not English. 

My grandmother has been gone a while now, but she continues to live on in my heart and in the lessons I learned from her that I am passing down to my own children.  Erin is the gardener and soap maker; Adrian is the soup expert. 

Another thing Grandmas drilled into me?  Turn off the lights when you leave a room! 

For more on the things I learned from her, read my past posts:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Elizabeth Comes of Age

Uncovering a grandparent's early life is not an easy job. Things are much easier, of course, in this age of the Internet and that of genealogy enthusiasts. Still, the best source of information is the individual, but when that individual is reticent about sharing their life story, which is often the case, or worse, already passed on, gathering the pieces of the life puzzle is challenging to say the least, but exhilarating at best.

Elizabeth Wlkelinski was born in the mining town of Horning, Pennsylvania; a community near present-day Pittsburgh.  I seem to recollect that her father may have worked in the coal mines or at least in some capacity in that industry.  I do recall hearing that he was a bootlegger; transporting liquor during the Prohibition era.  At some point in time the family, including young Elizabeth, moved to Erie County, New York.  Before moving into a home in the city, the family lived on a farm in Lancaster, NY. 

Little is known on my part of her young womanhood years.

This picture shows her in the company of an unknown young man; maybe he's a friend, perhaps he is one of her brothers.

At some point in time Elizabeth met and eventually married Frederick Oberlander.  Fred came from a German family that immigrated to New York with several members settling in Onondaga, New York. 
Portrait of my grandfather, Frederick Oberlander

Fred had been married before his marriage to Elizabeth and with him came two children: Fred, Jr. and Olive. 

Elizabeth and Fred started their own large family with the birth of Patricia, also known as Patsy and Pat, in 1932.  Patsy would be joined by nine other brothers and sisters. 

Elizabeth and possibly infant Pat.
The farming life must have suited my grandmother and her husband as they purchased a 65-acre farm in Corfu, a community approximately 30 miles west of Buffalo. 

The farmhouse as I remember it.

I asked a lot of questions of my grandmother and sometimes she was in the mood to share. One story that I find so poignant and fascinating is her recollection of going to the family doctor and finding out she was once again pregnant.  She told me she asked the doctor, “How is this happening?”  This story by today’s standards might seem unrealistic, but I am pretty sure my grandmother’s telling of it rings true.  After all, she shared a couple of her own how-not-to-get-pregnant remedies with me: take a hot bath after intercourse and douche with vinegar.  Whether or not she tried these methods herself is up for debate; she did, after all, have ten children.

Discussing personal hygiene was not a comfortable topic in our home.  She was my grandmother, two generations removed from me and I did not learn the things I needed from her, but in my health class at school.  In fact, topics of sex were so taboo in our home I recall being shamed when I asked, after having seen a television advertisement, “What’s a tampon?”  Her strained response was, “Those are only for married women.  And never ask me a question like that again!”

But, based on these few precious photos I have of her in her youth, I believe Elizabeth was a fun-loving, curious woman who was a product of her time.  I know that every now and then during my time with her, she had a wicked sense of humor and knew how to have fun. 

"Lil" was my grandmother's nickname

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Granddaughter's Tribute

My maternal grandmother didn't talk much about her life, but she did share some stories with me as I grew up at her side.  I lived with her from the time I was an orphaned one-year old in 1958 until I left for college at age eighteen in 1975.  I never really lived with her again, but did "go home" sometimes, as all young people tend to do until they realize that they have been pushed out of the nest. 

My grandmother's nest was quite worn out by the time I left home, as I am quite sure was her patience with the younger generation.

I was child number sixteen that she raised. 

When she married she took on two stepchildren, proceeded to have ten children of her own, and then took on the care and raising of my three older brothers and me when our parents died.  Did I mention she did this all on her own?  Apparently my grandfather was a mean and abusive man.  One of the stories I did hear was that he treated my grandmother abusively, which she took for many years, but when he turned his violence toward his children she kicked him to the country road (they didn't have curbs where they lived!).

Where my grandmother learned her resiliance I don't know.  She came from a family that didn't approve of her choice in husband, didn't support her life on a farm nor with her propensity to keep having children.  Her familiy was everything to her; basicially it was her children that were dedicated and through them she found love and loyalty.

Here is the story of Elizabeth Antoinette Wlkelinski Oberlander, my grandmother. 

MaryAnna Wardynski and Anthony Wleklinski
Elizabeth's mother and father

Elizabeth was born in 1912 in the coal mining town of Horning, Pennsylvania.  She was sister to nine others, most of whom I either never met or was too young to remember.  She was quite close to two of her sisiters, Irene and Helen, both of whom I do have memories of spending time with.

When I was growing up my grandmother was, well - old, or so she seemed to me.  Here is a photograph of her as a young woman.  The man in the picture is unknown, but I can see the shadow of the future woman I would come to know in her young and beautiful face.

Stay tuned; tomorrow more pictures and more of my memories of her and the story of her life that I've been able to piece together.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Phone Flirtations Never Get Old

My cell phone vibrated while I was chatting with students from my history class.  Seeing it was from my husband I took the time to read the message.  Glad I did but I'm sure when I looked up to participate in the conversation going on around me I was blushing. 

My husband sent me a flirtatious invitation.  I was smiling that smile that lets others know you have a secret and are not sharing.

John and I will have been married 25 years in February.  I have been saying I want us to go off to a remote island somewhere to mark the occasion.  We've never done that and although I don't have the body I had when we first married, we have the same drive (ifyouknowwhatimean) and would have a wonderful time, just the two of us. 

But the other day he suggested we take a week and head up to the place where we are looking to spend the rest of our lives.  We could check out towns to settle in, land to consider purchasing, and businesses that maybe we might buy or open.  Not romantic, I know, but not a bad idea, either.

So if we don't head off to that desert island we always have our cell phones and sext (blushing again!), I mean text messaging.  Not a bad way to keep a long-time love affair alive, I'd say.

What do you do to keep the romance alive in your relationship?

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's the Destination, but the Journey, too

As this blog was created as a way for me to chronicle my life’s journey past and present, I guess it’s time to share the beginning of a new adventure so readers are brought along with me.  For this is a new journey I am about to embark on and for me, the anticipation of what is to come and watching the adventure unfold is just as enjoyable as the arrival at my next destination. 

I love it when friends call or write to check in with me.  Recently, I’ve had several such communications and most of them ask, “So how is everything going?”  I realize with pleasure that my response is much more positive then it has been in the last year.  I’m doing great; not as busy as I’ve been and making some exciting plans for the future.”

The last year or so I had been having a rough time; I was feeling overwhelmed, panicky, depressed, and anxious all at once.  It all stemmed from my typical behavior of saying “yes” to everything.  In my defense I did so because I was seeing my career - that of an historian, begin to really take off.  Opportunities were coming at me from many outlets and I didn’t want to miss a one.  But, of course, I spread myself too thin and did too much and none of it well.  I began to wish I’d get sick just so I had an excuse to not do something, a sure sign that I needed to take stock of my situation. 

What had me so busy?  See my post Do I have a head big enough for all those hats? 

In addition, I took on my biggest project of all - Showgirls of Las Vegas, a pictorial history of that Las Vegas icon.  It took six months of research and writing. 

Now that’s it is fall, my favorite time of the year, I’m a little less stressed.  The book is now in the hands of the publisher and is scheduled to be available February 2013 from Arcadia Publishing.  My classes are running smoothly.  I waited until the last week to get a new class up and running, which caused me panic that I wouldn’t get it done, but it turned out better than expected.  So, I’ve lightened my work project load a little, although I feel a bit guilty that I have relegated some of my obligations to the back burner. 

What’s next is what really has me excited.  This spring I’m headed to the part of the country that John and I hope to settle in soon.  It’s not so easy to find jobs or a place to live sitting in front of a computer.  Maybe it works for some but for me I have the best luck with opportunity when I am where I want to be.  So, I’m heading north in a few months to check out places to live and work. 

That’s all I’ll share for now; don’t want to give it all away at once.  I will, however, keep posting about the steps taken to realize a dream I’ve long held – that of getting out of the desert and to a place where I am more content: where the seasons change four times a year, where the soil is rich and yielding, and where my soul finally feels at home.

And another journey begins………………….


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Remembering Sharon

There is a little less laughter in my world when one of the funniest people I have ever known left it on August 4, 2006.  My sister-in-law, Sharon Mitchell Gioia died of breast cancer that day.  There was no laughter, only tears and a profound sense of great loss as we stood at her bedside and said goodbye.  Although it’s been six years, I can still hear that raucous laugh, hear that unique voice, and feel the love she had for the only thing that mattered to Sharon, her family.
I remember our first meeting, when my brother introduced Sharon to me in the little town of East Aurora, New York.  When my brother gets excited about something, his happiness cannot be contained.  Anyone in the presence of this couple could tell that there was something magical brewing.  Michael could not take his eyes off of her, and who could?  She had a pixie face framed by the most gorgeous long straight hair.  She was shy, but seemed to bask in the love enveloping her.  It was no surprise to me that the two would eventually marry.

I didn’t get a chance to attend the wedding.  In fact, living 3,000 miles away I missed a lot of the wonderful events that took place with my family, especially the birth of my nieces.  Maple came first, named in honor of the beautiful and magnificent tree; then Patricia, named for our late mother.  My brother is the first to tell anyone that it was this family unit that he was so fortunate to secure that saved his life and sanity many times over.  And it was Sharon that was the rock.
When I first met Sharon, I found her to have a timid voice.  My brother has an overwhelming personality but over the course of their 25-year-marriage, Sharon emerged as a strong, stoic woman and a force to be reckoned with.  When my brother’s health became an issue, Sharon knew just what was needed to keep him safe.  When she perceived a threat to her family or those she loved, she would assert her authority.  Once at a family gathering my husband and brother Jim tried to throw Michael in the pool, clothes, wallet and all.  Sharon singlehandedly rescued her husband before the he hit water.  Afterward, we laughed because Sharon said matter-of-factly that she wasn’t worried about Michael getting wet, it was the wallet she was protecting.
I have postcards, letters, and cards written to me by Sharon.  She was a most talented artist and would often put illustrations on her correspondence and then tell me about her day, share with me her feelings, express her gladness at being alive.  I treasure those mementos of someone so dear that is no longer here.
The 3 sisters-in-law: Sharon, Lisa, Kathy
(that's Patricia hugging Mom's leg)
Breast cancer took away my friend and cherished family member.  But it can’t take away the memories I have of her.  I find comfort in knowing that with her husband and daughters we can remember our Sharon and once again, thanks to her, bring some laughter into our world. 


Here is a message from Sharon in one of the letters she sent.  It is a message that helps me to remember the times we shared, rather than dwell on what I am missing:



Monday, October 1, 2012

I'm Back............................

Happy Anniversary to Me and Las Vegas
This month makes twenty-five years that I will have lived in Las Vegas.  For someone who has a hard time settling down, I find it almost inconceivable that I have lived in one place for so long.  Granted, practically ever since I got here I have been trying to leave.  Twice I packed up and left, both times heading to my home in western New York, only to come back to Las Vegas.  In my head I’ve been far away from this desert I have called home for so long, but why is it that I have never, ever felt like I belong here?  
Heading to New York in 1992.  We stayed 6 months this time
What brought me here in the first place?  Like many others it was an opportunity. 
In 1987 I heard about a little zoo in Las Vegas that was looking to hire.  I sent my resume, which by that time was limited as I had not worked much in the animal field since I’d graduated from the EATM program in 1979.  I didn’t expect much but kept my fingers crossed.  Surprisingly, a phone call came and I was invited for an interview.  I was hired and my job was to be assistant director and zookeeper.  The promises made by the director of the zoo were grandiose and exciting.  However, they never came to fruition.  In fact, after one year I had to leave that job; for so many reasons it was not right for me and I gave notice.

We had already purchased our first home so it looked like we were here for a while.  Las Vegas in all of these years has been very good to John and I; we opened a business, John has moved up the ranks in the casino business, and I fulfilled many a dream: two college degrees, work as an archaeologist and finally, as a successful and busy historian who is doing a lot of local history. Career-wise, we have given a lot of ourselves to Las Vegas and she has rewarded us well. Even better than that, I have met so many amazing whose friendships have been my lifeline.

Our first business: Acres of Animals Pet Store, 1989

View of the Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon
during one of an archeological surveys 
It’s been tough for me to live without certain things that I miss: rain, lush green vegetation, friendly neighbors, and family close by.But I see some great adventures in the near future; John and I are making plans and I feel invigorated about the prospect of change. Now that I’ve put some projects to rest and promised myself not to take on more than I can handle, I am back to writing my blog posts.

Stay tuned as I write the new chapters of my life. I think it’s going to be an interesting!

Bridge to Somewhere.........................

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Where in the World is My..............Memory?

Where in the World is My Memory? Trying to remember key moments in my life is like trying to find Waldo. 

Remember when we were in Big Sur?”  That was the question asked of me by Nancy, my lifelong friend and frequent traveling companion.  Nope,” I responded.  You never remember anything,” she exclaimed in frustration. 

She went on to tell me that we slept in our car during our trip there.  No memory of the event whatsoever.  I have a lot of those blank holes in my memory.  I told Nancy that I am grateful to have her in my life so she can remind me of things we did together.  I’m a visual kind-of girl; I need a picture in hand or an entry in my journal to help me recall things in my past.  With visual aids the memory is seared into my mind and I then have easy recall.  Otherwise memories are lost to me.   

I decided to test myself and over the last few days I tried to recall certain events of my life; ones that I have been reminded of and ones I know should have made a lasting impression. 

For example, after my freshman year of high school, my grandmother and I moved from the house in Clarence, New York to her farm in Corfu.  All I remember is how upset I was to be moving from Clarence, where we’d lived since I was in first grade, taking me away from my familiar.  I was a stomping teenager who thought the worst thing EVER! was happening to her.  What I have no recollection of is the packing up of the old house, the move itself, or getting settled in at the farm.  I tried and tried to retrace those steps but........ nothing.  Moving is supposed to be one of the most stressful, thus memorable events in one’s life, but I don’t remember how it took place at all.  Maybe because, being the “kid” I was, my grandmother did all the work herself and I just was a passenger along the way. 

I can recall with perfect clarity the many moves I made on my own; from Corfu to Spokane to Simi Valley and then Moorpark.  From there on to Jacksonville, Oregon, then back to Moorpark;  then, Las Vegas to Oakfield to Las Vegas to Attica to Las Vegas.  I’ve moved a lot in my life, haven’t I?  And I can recall the experiences of each of those moves.  Where was I then when we moved from Clarence to Corfu? 

The above is just one example of the many moments I can’t put a finger on and wish that I could.  Seems they've made their way into that black hole. 

The old memories are getting boring and I want to relive some fresh ones now. 

What was the first day like in that new school at Pembroke High School?  I don’t remember that but I do remember the moment when Diane Duken became my high school best friend.  I can recall where we were and what we talked about.  

Something I am extremely curious about is those first years, from age one and up when my brothers and I went to live with our grandmother and her children that still lived at home.  My parents were both dead; it must have been a grief-filled home, but I wonder how I was cared for.  Did my big brothers play with me?  When did I start walking?  How did I come to call my grandmother, “Mommy?”  I was told that while my grandmother went to work, some 40 miles away in Buffalo, I was cared for by the neighbor across the street.  I was told I loved sitting in a red velvet chair while there, but wish I could know more. 

Maybe I should try hypnotism.

There are so many pieces of the puzzle that is my life that I wish I could connect.

Perhaps that is why I spend so much time chronicling now.  Perhaps that was one of the reasons I chose the career path I have: archeologist (literally digging up the past) and oral historian (documenting life stories for the historical record). 

This is such an important issue for me that I have made sure my three grandchildren will know the particulars of their early life by filling in memories in  journals I began writing in from the first day of their lives  To Aiden, With Love).  At least they will have something to refer to when they have those profound questions. 

As for me, I’ll just keep asking those that I’ve known all my life to fill in the blanks!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rest In Peace, Maeve Binchy, and Thank Your for the Trip of a Lifetime

I love reading Maeve Binchy novels; she is such a great character writer. I owe her thanks for all of the hours of pleasure she has given me with her writing, as well as for the fulfillment of a dream that came about because of one of her books. Evening Class (1996) is a novel about a woman who returns home to Ireland after years in Italy. “Signora,” as the character is named, offers to teach a class in learning Italian to her Irish neighbors. It is a wonderful read and very heartwarming. It’s no wonder that my friend Nancy, another avid reader, enjoyed it as well.

I didn’t realize just how much that particular book touched Nancy until she called me one day in 2002 and said, “pack your bags, we’re going to Italy.” Seriously, she called and said that the two of us were going to use her travel miles and her Hilton hotel points to travel in Italy for 10 days. At first I said I couldn’t possibly go. John and I had very little money as we’d just gotten re-established in Las Vegas. But how could I pass up such an opportunity? True to my nature, I leaped without thinking and said, “Yes!”

With $350.00 to my name, Nancy I embarked on another journey (how we did it so cheaply is another story!). Needless to say, it was a trip of a lifetime. I have written about the whole thing in a travel essay; if anyone is remotely interested in reading it, just ask. I talk about every experience: the drive from Vegas to L.A. when I rescued an old dog that had been hit and left on the roadside to the flight in business class (the only way to fly; from the first hotel in Rome to the day and a half we spent in Sicily; from the welcome we received in Valledolmo at the agricultural farm/bed and breakfast owned and operated by the Gioias (Relations? We never truly established that) to my driving in Palermo; and from the train rides to the people, it was a magical, memorable and amazing trip.

How to thank my friend for giving me such a gift? When I returned home I looked on my bookshelf and found my hardback copy of Evening Class. I wrote a letter to accompany the book, included a 10 Euro bank note and addressed the package to Ms. Maeve Binchy, Dublin, Ireland. I crossed my fingers that it would reach her. I asked Ms. Binchy if she would sign the copy of the book, explaining that because of her writing gift and my friend’s generosity, I realized a dream I never thought would come to fruition.

A few weeks later I received the book back, signed with a loving inscription and autograph by the author. Also included with the book was the 10 Euro returned to me. I wrapped the gift and could not wait for Nancy to open it on Christmas day that year. To this day that remains one of my most creative moments!

(The Amalfi Coast)

(Palazzo di Montecitorio)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

In Search of the Big "O"

I am on the verge of losing my ability to access the big "O." Not that big "O", but one that I never had trouble obtaining before - Optimism. I always carried an optimistic attitude around with me, always rejoiced in life's everyday experiences, even those that challenged me. But, lately, I find I am more a prone to "o" than "O" and it's starting to really depress me.

Where's this attitude coming from and how do I get my "O" back?

In the past when something or someone encroached upon my characteristic happiness, I could always find the lesson to learn from the experience. For example, when I drove across the country in a 15-year-old van filled with two small kids and a menagerie of animals, I worried about making the 3,000 mile trek. Instead of worrying I'd break down in the middle of nowhere, my attitude was, "If we end up in Nebraska, I guess that's where we live now." I made the trip there and back and this is the truth, the morning after my return home after that big adventure, I went out to the van to start it up and it was dead, wouldn't start for anything.

In all the years I worked as a waitress, I could gauge the experience a customer would have based on the attitude they walked through the door with. The complainers always had a poor one: their food was undercooked, their coffee cold; I believed that their negativity bred more negativity and I pitied them their pessimistic outlook. In many cases my upbeat personality and gentle cajoling could turn their piss-poor attitude into one that had them smiling when they left the restaurant. My optimism was contagious.

I haven't watched news programs for years, preferring to get my daily dose of what's happening from the printed word because I can read only the bits that I want to read and I don't have the graphic horror stories imbedded in my mind from the visual and audio impact.

Sometimes I feel as though I won't be an informed person if I continue to ignore the news. I tried to watch the programs about this most recent American tragedy in Colorado, but I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep or function well during the day as I replayed the details in my head. Is it a Catch-22 we are living in? Where the violence and depressive stories, via news programs and Hollywood filmmaking, promotes violence in vulnerable individuals, which in turn becomes our next big News Story? I've heard experts say that we can't blame movie (or for that matter video-game) makers, that it's the individual that the finger should be pointed to, but exactly what is it that is making these individuals do what they do?????

I know that when I read and watch depressing stories I become depressed. That's why I had this idea that I thought would transform the world. I wanted to publish a newspaper called The Optimist

where the stories were all about the good that takes place every day, like the number of successful high-school graduates and not the dropout rate; like how many places in the world are showing advances in technology, self-sustainment, and cultural tolerance, not the starvation rate or massacres.

If negativity begets negativity, wouldn't the same be true about positivity? I'd sure like to find out. I know from just my own personal experience in this matter that I cannot function well when I expose myself to the horrors of mankind rather than the beauty that this world and the people in it have to offer.

I miss my big "O" and I am on a quest to get it back. Once I do, I plan on spreading it around.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Call Too Close For Comfort

There is only one thing in this world that I would risk my life for and that is for someone I love.  If one my children (grandchildren included), my husband, family or even a friend were in danger and I could help, even at the risk of harm to myself, I would do what I could.  Nothing else is worth taking chances with my life.  I write this statement now because I can, because not too long ago I tested that theory and almost lost my life. 

I had an obligation recently, some place I needed to be at a certain time.  I arrived at my destination and was waiting at the intersection for the green arrow so I could park and go in. 

To my right I saw a friend who was also going to the same place and I opened my passenger window and asked if we were supposed to park in another lot.  He was waiting for the light on his end to turn so he could cross the street and he said that I needed to go into the lot to my right. 

A simple U-Turn, my signature driving move, was in order.  But, for some reason, perhaps because the street at this location is not busy and I wanted to be on time, I made the choice to cross two lanes of street.  My friend, realizing what I was about to do shouted, “Hold on!”  But, I was already in motion and as I crossed the lanes I saw red in my peripheral vision. 

I didn’t see the red truck but from what my shaking friend said to me after was that it was big, it was moving fast, and it narrowly missed hitting my little Scion.  For the rest of the day I replayed my close call and realized how lucky I was in that moment and how my impulsive move could have been my last. 

I apologized to my friend; he would have had to live with the image for the rest of his life.  I scolded myself over and over, while at the same time wondering why I hadn’t been killed.  When another friend heard about the incident she said, “You had an angel on your shoulder.”  I’m sure I will get all sorts of responses like that: “It wasn’t your time” or “God was watching over you,” nice sentiments but for me it all came down to luck.  I had a lapse in judgment and because of that I almost paid with my life.  What I wanted to take away from the experience, because I was still alive to learn something, was that I need to be more careful. 

I needed to find a way to remind myself to disregard the things that can distract me, to think before I act, to remember that I have a long time to yet to live and to make a conscious effort to do so.  But, how?  There are so many things to distract us while driving, not to mention our need to drive offensively due to other drivers’ distraction. 

So, I placed something in my car as a constant reminder.  My daughter Erin gave me a pretty crystal necklace that I long admired. I added a little charm to it, one with an inscription in both Chinese and English that reads Happiness. This necklace now hangs permanently from my rearview mirror.

  As it sways with the motion of the car it prompts me to make a mental note to:

·         Check my surroundings
·         Stop completely at a stop sign
·         Use my blinker
·         Look before I put my foot on the accelerator

and most importantly to remember that I have people that love me and want me to be safe. 

As we move through this life it is so easy for us to forget the basic rules we learned when we were younger.  Perhaps refresher courses are necessary or maybe another read of Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. 

I am so grateful that my most recent episode gave me the chance to learn a lesson and I wish for all of you to be safe from harm.  

Friday, June 29, 2012

Last Dying Wish is Personal

I read on my Google homepage that the writer Nora Ephron had died and the cause was Leukemia.  The announcement through that avenue saddened me, but I was not surprised to hear it as a news story.  After all, I was not a friend of Ms. Ephron’s so I did not expect to have been privy to the private last days of her life.  I was surprised, however, that there had not been news stories preparing the world for a famous person’s demise.  But, I was even more surprised to learn that not even her closest circle of friends had any idea she was ill, much less close to dying. 

This realization made me remember someone close to me who chose to do the same, to keep her fatal illness to herself, or at least to a very small select few who were given the ultimate badge of trust and kept the secret until the last breath.  I didn't know she was ill, or I would have made every effort to see her before she died, to make sure she knew how much her friendship meant to me.  But, I never got the chance.  I received a phone call telling me she had died.

Then and now I felt that both my friend and Nora Ephron were a bit selfish, not allowing those that love and cherish them the opportunity to say goodbye. 

Then, I realized it is me that is being selfish. 

How dare I presume to know anything about a dying person’s emotions and needs and to have the gall to feel they owe me, or anyone anything at this most private moment in their life.  To reveal this most intimate of intimacies or not is every individual’s prerogative.  It doesn’t make the loss any easier to bear for those of us that are left behind without the chance to come to terms with it, but it is what it is. 

Writing this I realize perhaps I have a deeper reason for having this point of view.  I have the wonderful opportunity to spend several weeks a year with my daughters, grandchildren, and friend, Nancy, when all of us meet in southern California every few months.  I love those times; we laugh, talk, eat, and make memories.  When it is time for us to part; me back to Las Vegas, Nancy to Oregon, the moment of goodbye is hard to face.  Who knows if for some reason this is our last time together?  So, we make sure we all say, “Goodbye.  I love you.  Be safe.

I do not like to have such morbid thoughts about one of us being lost forever, but it is a reality that makes its appearance in my conscience and I have no control over it. 

Another memory resonates profoundly for me, perhaps the seed that started this need to be sure those I love know how much I hold them in my heart.  Years ago I remember my aunt sharing something about my mother - her big sister and by her account, her best friend.  On the night my mother was killed my aunt was present and heard much of the horror unfold, and the event changed her forever.  What she tearfully told me when she had the courage to talk about that night was that her sister Never said good night.” 

My mother never had the chance to say goodbye to those that loved and cherished her and it was the sister (and the children) that have been forever haunted by the lost opportunity.

There is that saying that we should all live each day as if it were our last.  To that I agree but would add that it is just as important to let those in your life know how much they mean to you and not worry so much about “goodbye.”  After all, it’s just a word and actions speak volumes more. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Summer Siesta

I have been so busy, but there are moments when my mind gets a moment to rest and when that happens I ask myself what am I forgetting to do? 

Updating my blog is the first thing that comes to mind.  I ask myself, "Isn't there a quick blog I could throw together?" but I am not one to just throw a few words on the page; my blog posts are written when I am inspired and tend to carry meaning beyond just what my day has been like.  Hence, I have several ideas that are crowding in my head but I don't seem to have enough hours in my already full day to devote to writing them down and publishing.

So, to ease my guilty conscience, I am going to say I'm taking the summer off. I wish I could say it is because I'll be laying about on a beach somewhere

but the truth is, I'll be chained to my desk

working on several projects and teaching summer courses online.  Don't get me wrong, I'm loving my work and wouldn't trade it for anything.  My good daughter, Adrian asked me, "When do you think you will slow down?"  My answer is "Not any time soon and not if I can help it." 

This IS my time to produce.  Yes, I'm older, my career could have started 20-30 years ago, but I was raising children then and devoted myself to them.  I am thrilled to have found a second (it's really my third) career that I love, am good at, and have more than I have time to do. 

So, I will beg the patience of those readers that visit my blog often.  Those of you that are here for the first time, perhaps you will take the time to get to know me by reading the posts I've published over the past two years. 

As I've come to realize, writing is my lifeline and I know that I won't be able to resist writing a post for the next three months; when I am inspired by a topic or an emotion, or a good story resurfaces, I will take the time to post it.  It won't be until the end of summer, however, that I will get back to my weekly posts. 

I wish it were me on the beach like my kids here.  I will be making a few trips to California, though and maybe I will just have to set aside work for a day at the beach and let them bury me in the sand.

Have a great, happy, and safe summer Everyone!  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ballerina Dreams

I know why little girls dream of being ballerinas.  I watched the Nevada Ballet Theater (NBT) performance at the Smith Center and was mesmerized by it all: the choreography and the costumes and the way the dancers seemed to float through the air. 

My eyes were drawn to the flow of the tulle skirts and the tutu as it bounced daintily with the dancer's movement as she tip-toed across the stage, and the way the light hit the subtle sparkles.  I was taken back to a time when I wanted to be a ballerina; a memory residing somewhere in the recess of my mind that I only recalled as I watched the beauty unfold before me in the form of dance. 

I must have wanted to be a ballerina as this picture of me with a gift for my tenth birthday attests to.
I still have this doll
I took dance lessons: jazz, tap, and ballet at Miss Laura Jean's School of Dance in Corfu, New York with my cousin Wende.

Not the best split because I HATE my kneecap touching the floor

I'm third from the left, next to Miss Laura Jean.
I also have a memory of my grandmother taking me to a dance class somewhere close to Buffalo.  It was during grade 7 and I was at the time living with my aunt and her family in Akron.  My grandmother would pick me up and drop me back off and the best memory I have is not of the dance classes but of the ride home when my grandmother would put the car in neutral as we headed back to my aunt's house down a hilly road; a scary and thrilling ride both!

While I watched the Nevada Ballet dancers, as well as the little girls in the audience with eyes big with wonder, I wish I could have asked my grandmother if she had hoped I would be up on a stage like that someday.  Did I disappoint her when I abandoned my dancing dreams?  I realize now the effort she put into my dancing; the time and expense, and I am pretty sure I never thanked her for it.  I wish I could do that now, but she has been gone since 1998.  If there was any way I could, I would tell her that she was with me while I remembered wanting to be a ballerina. 

Perhaps she would still be proud of the person I have turned out to be, even if I am not dressed in a tutu.