Friday, November 8, 2013

Time Travel is Possible: In Your Dreams

Although I experienced loss (my parents) at a young age, I really didn't know anyone close to me that would die until much later.  My first experience was at age 17 when a high school friend died in a car accident.  Prior to that it was my pets that came and went that taught me about the fragility of life and the inevitability of death.  Now that I am older, however, deaths of both human and animals that I know (friends and colleagues) and love (close friends, family, and beloved pets) is happening more and more frequently.

When I have lost someone I realize that they are gone for good; they've left the planet and no longer exist in bodily form.  It really affects me as I know it does anyone who experiences loss.  Just like wishing I could go back in time to when my girls were babes in my arms, I often wish there was a time machine so I could go back and reconnect with lost loved ones.

When that show Quantum Leap was on, I so wanted it to be true that we had the ability to time travel.  But I realize that we all do have the ability, just not in the way that Hollywood or H.G. Wells have portrayed it.  My time machine (and yours) is in our head.  It's called dreaming.

I received a text this morning from a friend who said she had a dream about her long-lost beloved pet, a Pomeranian she adored that crushed her when she'd died.  It reminded me of the dreams I have with my grandmother, the woman who was my mother-substitute; yes – when I awake I realize it was just a dream, but for a time I was really with her.  We talked, did things together, and shared space together just like we did when she was alive. 

I have never had a dream about my mom and dad because I was so young when they died that I have no memories.  But I have vivid dreams of so many others that have come and gone in my life.  I am so grateful to have those stored memories so I can revisit Nancy, the friend who died at age 17; Maya, the terrier that gave me so much cuddling joy; and Elizabeth Montgomery, who I never met in person but who made an impact in my young life (I wanted her to be my mom!). 

Yes, time travel is possible, when we are asleep everyone we love is alive!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

History, big or small, matters to us all

Years ago when I was old enough to know that my family history was unique, I became a rebel.  

Those that I grew up around hoped that the story of my parents' life and death would fade into obscurity because it wasn't a "nice" story, in fact the very nature of it brought shame to the family name and brought up memories too sad to be recalled. 

First I asked questions out of pure curiosity: why was I raised by my grandmother?  Why were there no photographs of my parents?  Why, when I asked questions was I met with, "Never mind.  It's in the past.  Let it go." 

A persistent child and adult, I began to dig.  Those efforts, of finding out the truth from uncovered documents, as well as interviews with people who knew my mom and dad, has turned me into the historian I am today.

To me, facts, dates, and stories matter. 

Today is the anniversary of my father's death.  Nine days ago it was my mother's; both died in the same year, nine days apart. 

So many years have passed since that fated month.  That's what I tell myself when I notice the dates: October 17 and October 26.  I ask myself what does it matter?  It is just another day.  My life is full and happy, I have so much to be thankful for that I should not dwell on the past.  That is so much easier said then done.

I am a historian and dates matter. 

Teaching students about history on a global level is all about making sure they know when historic events happened, where they took place and who was involved.  It the story of human history.  The story of my family is a much more personal, intimate one that concerns very few.  But the impact of the events that took my parents from me, leaving my three brothers and I adrift in life with questions that can never be answered are as important to us as any major world history event.  It happened in our world and we have been forever changed.

History matters; whether it affects a few or an entire population, remembering it is a debt we owe to those who made it and left behind a legacy, no matter how big or small. 

No, that don't have to hold me back, but it is okay to remember.

Today, many years ago, my father died.  His story and that of my mother has not been forgotten.  That's my job as a daughter - and as a historian.

Joseph and Patricia Gioia with
sons Michael, infant Jimmy, and Joseph, Jr.

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's the Journey AND the Destination that Counts

It was 1979 and I'd returned from a cross-country trip with Mike, the man who would, over time become my husband and the father of my two children.  I'd recently graduated from the EATM program.  In an old car and an (adorable) teardrop trailer, Mike and I went to my home in New York, stayed a few weeks and headed west again.  Instead of going back to southern California, he took me to an out-of-the-way place called Happy Camp in northern California.  There we stayed the summer and it was the first time I'd laid eyes on the Pacific Northwest, an experience I was never able to shake. 

The teardrop trailer that had everything we needed
After returning to the Los Angeles area, I grew tired of the relationship and in typical Lisa fashion, I left the state in order to leave a boyfriend.  Where did I go?  I headed north again.  I had heard from one of my teachers in the EATM program, a hardened old former circus animal trainer, Wally Ross, that I might get a job in southern Oregon with an old friend of his.  Without first checking to see if I would find employment, another impulsive behavior typical of me, I purchased an old Willy's Jeep, a cabover camper to go with it, filled it with my few material possessions, as well as my most precious ones: my dog, cat and bird and headed on to a new adventure.

"Babe", my faithful companion

I got the job, working as an animal trainer for Dogs for the Deaf.  I also took on a job as a waitress.  I lived in the camper until someone offered to rent me, for $25.00 a month, a little travel trailer.  I also lucked out and found a place to park my mobile home, right along the Applegate River.  There I lived, for the first time in my life, all by myself.  It was a wonderful, albeit small existence, but one that changed me forever. 

The experience didn't last long; Mike was a persistent suitor and shortly after the new year I discovered a whole new life awaited me - that of a first time mom.  Once again, with Mike as the driver of both my Jeep and my life, I found myself on the road again. 

Throughout the subsequent years, through all the trials and tribulations of a life well lived, I have thought fondly of that little trailer by the river and the place that reminded me so much of the country life I lived as a child.  I wondered if I'd ever get the chance to live there, or someplace like it again.

It took a long, long time, but I did make it back to a place that is surrounded by old-growth trees, the four seasons, and water.  Oh, how I missed water: rain, rivers, creeks.  While I still have to call Las Vegas "home," I can finally say that I'm on my way to recapturing what I thought I might have lost forever.  The temporary home I live in is a bit bigger than that trailer, but not by much, yet it suits me because I am warm and safe and it's the outside world that interests me most.  Surrounded by nature that includes vegetation and wildlife, I am literally in my element. 

The view from my back porch
I have found much inspiration here in my little writer's retreat.  I can't wait to see what I produce.  I have to sign off now; it's dusk and the wild turkeys are getting ready to roost.  I just have to step onto my back porch to watch.

Time for bed

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Night to Remember: My Date with The Monkees

My rock concert experiences have been few and far between.  Although as a kid I was more into the Jackson Five (the animal lover in me listened to Michael Jackson’s Ben over and over) then the Osmonds, I saved up my allowance money to take my favorite aunt to see them in Buffalo for her birthday.  My next concert was another teeny-bopper affair: David Cassidy had me joining in with all the other screaming girls.  As I matured my music tastes didn’t get any more sophisticated than Elton John, whom I have seen a couple of times and have never tired of the way his music touches me.
I am a loyalist when it comes to musicians and bands that take me back to my childhood; my iPod is filled with the sounds of music that makes me feel good.  So when the opportunity came recently to see The Monkees in Las Vegas, I felt like a preteen again, hopping about in anticipation before, during and after the event.  The experience was everything and more for me and I wish, like every other fan there that I could express to the group how much they mean to me. 

I attended with my Las Vegas BFF Linda, whose enthusiasm nearly surpassed my own.  She and I are the same age and come from the same region in New York, so our childhood experiences with Monkee Love are the same.  I told my husband it was a good thing he wasn’t going with us because we were sure to make fools of ourselves.  Thank goodness we were in good company; the other concert-goers took no notice of us as they were screaming and dancing in their seats the same as us. 
Davy Jones was, of course, missed.  Mike, Peter, and Mickey (he and Davy were my crushes) did a beautiful tribute to their lost band mate when they said that “Daydream Believer” belonged to the fans so they brought a guy from the audience up to lead us all in singing we watched a montage of Davy scenes from the television show. 

During the entire concert I wondered how I would put into words the feelings I was having so I could write a blog post.  Although I have conveyed here a little bit of the experience, I really am at a loss for words to share everything I was feeling.  My emotions were mixed with nostalgia and joy, but there was so much more that I don’t know how to express.  To have been able, in my fifties, to see and hear live a group that I only dreamed of being in the presence of as a kid is, well – I have no words to express.  That is perhaps why music sometimes says it better and while I swayed, sang, jiggled, and screamed during the concert, I let me emotions do the talking for me. 
It was a magical night. 

Check out the video:

Monday, August 12, 2013

Taking a Trip Takes Its Toll, But I'd Do It All Again

Summer is winding to a close and before it does I wanted to finish my chronicle of the summer trip I took with my eleven-year-old grandson, Aiden. 

My last post had me picking Aiden up from a sleepover with his "cousins."  It was Saturday and his next stop was to the home of his mother's friend to spend the day with more kids.  After a goodbye, I headed down the road to the reason I had come to New York at that particular time - the Batavia Ramble Music Festival

My friend Mike Murray, a guy I knew ages ago in high school and thanks to Social Media we have stayed in touch, is one of the organizers of this annual event.  He's been pushing me for years to come to the Festival and I finally made it.  The Batavia Ramble is a chance for several bands to play on stages in Batavia's Jackson Square and for old friends to reconnect. 

Mike Murray jamming with pals at
O'Lacey's Irish Pub

I was really looking forward to seeing friends I'd long left behind. 

It was a typical NY summer: hot and muggy.  I just don't look my best when I'm mopping sweat from my face and trying to keep my hair from turning into a frizzled mess.  But it was all worth it because I did get to see many old friends and catch up on the years since we'd last seen each other.  All of this catching up, however, had a detrimental effect on me.

I'd woken up that morning with a dry and scratchy throat, a result I was sure of my previous late night out and talking too loud.  Personally I didn't feel that I'd done an inordinate amount of talking, after all it's what I do (see Call Me Chatty Cathy).  In any case, by late afternoon my voice was weakening.  I felt fine, just tired.  I said my goodbyes to old friends, picked up Aiden and headed to see more people.

Before I headed to one of my favorite places, the large farmstead of one of my dearest friends, I took Aiden to meet yet more cousins and see my brother and his wife.

I wasn't much good company, however; the heat was draining me and my voice was little more than a whisper.  A good night's sleep and I'd be alright I told myself.  Once I'd arrived at Kathy and Danny's in the town of Medina, I was ready for some shut eye. 

The next morning my voice was completely absent.  We went to breakfast at this great place that was serving a Sunday Pancake Brunch made from the berries they picked on site.  Danny's aging mom was there, a really nice woman whom I hadn't seen since 1997 and I couldn't talk to her at all!  The rest of the day was a blur of activity, which probably didn't help me try to recover my strength.  In these small towns of NY going to visit isn't just a "hop, skip, and a jump."  You have to travel many long miles to get from one place to another. 

I had agreed to take Aiden to see his paternal grandfather.  He lived 60 miles from Medina.  But it was worth it because he was so happy to see his little grandson.

From there I invited us back to my brother, Mike's house.  While I rested my brother took Aiden to a local treasure: Vidler's 5 & 10 Store

To say that Aiden was like a kid in a candy store is an understatement; Vidler's IS a candy store and much more.  It was even highlighted on Martha Stewart's now defunct television show. 

After a great meal made by my big brother, Aiden and I slept.  I woke up no better.  We had just one more full day in NY and I was hoping to make the best of it.  It included one of my favorite activities:
a hike in the woods

where we found an abandoned cabin to explore

and more visits
Aiden walks with Kathy around her Water Lilly-filled pond

Nothing like a tractor ride!
the eating of more great food, and then to bed early so we could catch an early flight home.

It took another week for my voice to return to normal.  I developed an accompanying cough and eventually had to go on antibiotics, which worked to finally get rid of whatever bug I must have caught.  Was it worth it?  You bet.  I can't wait to take another memorable trip with Aiden.  Next stop: Orlando, Florida to go to Sea World, where another old school (college) friend works with marine mammals and he wants to give Aiden the chance to pet a walrus and then to Disney World to experience the World of Harry Potter. 

Nana and Aiden.  Picture taken under the famed Erie Canal

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Time and a Place: for my Grandmother's cooking

My grandmother taught me many things, but the tradition I carry on most and with great relish is that of her cooking ability.

Grandma Oberlander with great-grandchildren Adrian (on left)
and Erin (on right) in her well-used kitchen, circa 1985
I am fond of telling people that the Apple iPad is the “greatest invention there is.”  One of the reasons I love this gadget is it allows me to “FaceTime” with my grandchildren; we can talk face-to-face, in real time and I don’t miss the new haircut, they can show me their new boo-boos, etc.
Rain and Nana (in top right) captured on iPad during
a recent chat fest
The other day talking to my three-year-old grandson I said to him, “When you come visit Nana, do you want her to make you some beet soup?” 

Not in the mood to talk at the moment, he nodded with a big smile on his face because my Beet Soup is one this picky eater’s favorite foods. 
I share this little story because as I await the arrival of my grandchildren from their home five hours away, I am busy in the kitchen going back to a time when an iPad was as foreign an idea as space travel.  Today I am recreating meals my grandmother used to make and I’m doing it for my grandchildren as well as for myself. 

I miss my grandmother who has been dead since 1998.  I don’t think of her every single day, but I find myself recalling her in moments as I go through my day; something she may have said, the way she taught me to do a task, or when I’m cooking a meal that was one of her signatures.  Beet soup was just such a dish.  So is the Bean and Cabbage concoction I have simmering on the stove. 

These are meals that I rarely make.  If I cooked and ate these meals the way I did when I was a young girl, I would not be able to fit through my door.  During the time when I was growing up under the tutelage of Grandma Oberlander, I was witness to a way of life that was fast fading into obscurity. 

My grandmother was born in 1912.  She raised a large family on a farm during the Great Depression.  I recall her telling me she could make one potato feed her family of ten.  My aunt shared how she would watch her mother-in-law make bread, kneading a mountain of dough on a wooden table with the end result being the best bread she had ever eaten. 

My grandmother was of Polish extract; I assume she learned the basics from her own mother.  The foods she made (recipes for two follow at the end of this article) contained potatoes, beans, cabbage, bacon; all hearty and inexpensive, yet, filling and nutritious.  They kept my grandmother’s brood of children (she raised a total of 15) fed.  They have kept me hungering for my childhood favorites all of my adult life.  The combination of the ingredients are amazingly addictive: eat just a few bites and you are craving for more.  Trust me, it's true!

And, now I pass on the tradition to my own children albeit in small, excuse the pun, bites.

While my skinny-minnie grandchildren are in no danger of obesity from eating such carbohydrate packed foods, there is no way I could eat like this every day the way we did when I was growing up.  Not just the fact that I try hard to maintain some semblance of a trim figure, but think of the gastronomic consequences of those beans and cabbage.  I’d like to stay married, thank you very much! 

No, my diet these days is more typical of yesterday’s breakfast: a smoothie of kale, spinach, apple, and rice milk.  Can you imagine my grandmother’s face at the idea of that being called a meal? 

But on occasion it is so nice to return to the tastes of my grandmother’s kitchen.  There is a time and place for such nostalgic visits, and when the grandchildren come it is the perfect reason.  It gives me the chance to reminisce in my heart and to pass along traditions that began many generations ago. 

Yes, this is the time and my home is the place.  Thank you, Grandma, for the memories, great food, and traditions.

Beans and Cabbage

Great Northern White beans
½ head of cabbage
Vinegar to taste (approximately ¼ cup)
½ pound bacon
¼ cup of flour
Salt & pepper to taste
Soak beans overnight

In the morning, rinse the beans.  Place in a stock pot and cover with water.  Cook on medium heat, stirring often to prevent sticking.  Add salt and pepper.  Cook until beans are tender and water is reduced.

Chop cabbage into small pieces.  Add cabbage and vinegar to the cooked beans.  Cook about 30 minutes.  In a fry pan, cooked bacon that is chopped into small, bite-sized pieces.  Cook over low heat in a non-Teflon coated pan to bring out the fat.  When the bacon is crisp, remove it from pan.  Add the flour to the grease and whisk until blended.  Add the liquid from the beans and cabbage, a ladle-full at a time, then pour the thickened mixture into the pot of beans and cabbage.  Add the bacon bits.  Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.  Add more water as needed.  Cook on very low heat for 30 minutes. 

The recipe for Beans and Cabbage is from my memory.  My grandmother never used a recipe book and neither do I.  Sometimes the end result is off; sometimes it’s the best I’ve ever made.

Beet Soup

Ham bone (not from a glazed ham)
One large potato, cut into bite-size pieces
Two cans sliced or whole beets (not pickled)
Sour cream
Vinegar (approximately ½ cup, but maybe more, depending on taste)
Salt and pepper
Macaroni (elbow), cooked

Put the ham bone in a large stock pot and cover with water.  Add whole onion, salt and pepper.  Cook on medium high heat until water is reduced by almost half, 45-60 minutes.  Add the two can of beets, marjoram, vinegar (as my grandmother used to say, you can always add more but can’t take it out, so be easy on the vinegar.  Add it, taste it, add more as needed), and potato.  Cook until potato is tender.  

Turn the heat off of the soup and allow to cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl place the sour cream.  The amount depends on your taste; start with a ½ pint.  Add the lukewarm soup, one ladle-full at a time, whisking until about ¼ of the soup is mixed with the sour cream.  Transfer the sour cream/soup mixture to the large pot of soup. 
Turn the heat on very low to warm the soup, but NEVER bring to a boil.  You may add more sour cream at this time, depending on your taste.  Too much sour cream takes away from the nice ham & vinegar base of the soup. 

Serve with noodles.  Never put the noodles in the soup; store separately. 
Again, no exact recipe.  Sometimes it comes our perfectly, sometimes it’s an off day with too much of one thing and not enough of the other.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Next Installment of Aiden & Nana's NY Trip

When I’d planned out this weeklong trip for Aiden and I, I’d originally intended on visiting Civil War sites, even considered a trip to Gettysburg, but even the best laid plans……..  Oh, well, cemeteries and scenery would have to suffice. 
Aiden swears he saw a "ghost" flit from the
porch to inside this abandoned house!
Since we’d spent so much time in Amish country, it was necessary to stop for the night before making our way to Ohio. 

We stopped at a Days Inn in Erie, Pennsylvania and before we got settled, we made our way to Applebee’s Restaurant, a favorite of mine for their Santa Fe Chicken Salad.  I was disappointed to discover that they didn’t have that particular item on the menu; but aside from that the experience was memorable.  Why?  Because Aiden entertained the entire wait staff with his Amish puzzle. 
That coonskin cap he’s wearing, courtesy of his Uncle Mike, hardly left his head.  That alone brought attention to Aiden; his little trick just made him all the more endearing.  Wait until you see the pictures of him in the cap and accessorized with a fake mustache!

Once back at the hotel, I set up my computer near the pool so Aiden could swim.  I’d forgotten about intermittent rain in these parts and had to often shield my equipment from a drizzle.  As I sat under the umbrella Aiden awaited other kids to play with.  Before anyone else showed up, however, my little man showed a protective side to him.

I was seated on the far side of the pool and for some odd reason, a guy that came out of the hotel decided sitting in a seat next to me was the ideal spot, although there were empty seats all around the pool.  He sat down, put his hands on his knees and stared silently before him.  Within seconds, Aiden has crossed the pool, put his arms on the side and watched.  I raised my eyebrows to him, “What’s he doing?” my look conveyed.  Five minutes later, not a word spoken, the guy got up and left the area.  I thanked Aiden for looking out for me, my brave, eleven-year-old Man.

After a good night’s sleep, Aiden and I made our way to Youngstown, Ohio to visit an old Las Vegas friend.  Celeste and I met when in 1989 we opened Acres of Animals Pet Shop.  The store was located at Jones Blvd. and the 95 freeway.  We had to close two short years later, but my friendship with Celeste has endured.  Even though she moved from Las Vegas years ago, we have stayed in touch.  It was a great treat that I would be able to see her again.  And her daughter, Lisa, whom I’ve known since she was nine would be there, visiting herself from Colorado with her husband and four kids!  Aiden was also in for a great treat. 

July 4th was spent in the company of family – just the way I like to enjoy my holidays.  Celeste’s entire family, children, grandchildren, sisters, nieces, nephews, and mom all contributed to the potluck.  I was so happy to be there, and as you can see, so was Aiden.

The next days after our goodbyes, Aiden and I once again took to the road.  We were headed back to New York, but by way of Route 62, hoping to hit more Amish communities.  We didn’t, but the scenery we took in was everything I love about the northeastern woods – green trees, fields of flowers, and flowing rivers.  My enjoyment was palpable, but I started to feel a bit of anxiety as our arrival was expected by another family and I realized taking the back roads added hours to our trip.  Our four o’clock arrival time was pushed a couple of hours and I was feeling awful for holding anyone up.  Once we got on the New York Thruway, however, I knew we’d make better time. 
Next stop, Clarence, New York.  I’d spent nine years of my childhood in Clarence, leaving just after my freshman year in high school was over.  As I drove to our next destination, I was able to point out places to Aiden such as the location of the General Store where Nancy and I had gotten caught stealing candy (a great lesson on what not to do!), the street where I’d lived, the church where two of my brothers were married, and the Dry Cleaners that was once the location of a stop on the Underground Railroad. 

Finally, we arrived at the Gorny home.  Laura and her husband and five children waited their dinner for us.  Laura is the sister of my daughter, Erin’s husband.  We have spoken on the phone, gotten to know one another through Facebook, but it was such a joy to meet her in person.  Aiden was thrilled to have another set of kids, cousins this time, to play with.  The arrangement was for Aiden to spend the night while I went out with a few friends. 
The report I got back the next day when I went to pick him up was what a great time he’d had: exploring the woods behind the house and playing video games; this kid was racking up the summer memories, for sure!

Aiden (on left) with cousin Caleb

 Next Up………………. Chatty Cathy loses her voice

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Trip of a Lifetime: Aiden and Nana's Summer Vacation, Part I

In the blink of an eye my grandson Aiden will be all grown up.  On my fridge are photographs of him in his chubby, little boy phase.

I look at those pictures and can’t quite grasp the idea that soon he will have other, more important things on his mind than spending time with his Nana.  For now, however, he is happy to be in my company and I’m making as many memories with him as I can.  This summer we did another trip; just the two of us and we had the time of our lives.

Four years ago I attempted to cross the country with Aiden (See New York a Bust).  We made it halfway there then I decided I was pooped so we turned around and went back the way we’d come.  It wasn’t a failed trip; we still had some great experiences, but the final destination had been my hometown in New York State.  This summer we succeeded in making it there, thanks to Southwest Airlines. 

Aiden turned eleven years old on the flight from Los Angeles to Buffalo and he got the royal treatment: applause from the airline crew and passengers and a chance to meet the pilot and sit in the cockpit.

When we arrived in Buffalo, I took him to a local treasure, Antoinette’s Sweets, a place my grandmother took me to when I was a little kid.  They still make their own ice cream, whipped cream and candy right on the premises. 

When the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Morphis, were still alive, my husband and I became friends with them and we always got a behind-the-scenes tour.  This visit I was content to sit with Aiden and share some of those memories with him.

We spent the first night with my big brother, Dominic.  He took Aiden to a kid’s paradise: Vidler’s in East Aurora.  Aiden came back with a bagful of treasure and then we went to a local diner for some New York fare: Beef on Weck

and chicken wings.  I was home! 

The next day Aiden and I headed south through Pennsylvania on our way to Ohio.  Our first stop was to Amish Country where Aiden saw for the first time people that live without electricity, horse and buggy transportation, horse-powered field plowing, kids with funny haircuts (and bad teeth unfortunately, but a good lesson to him to keep up his own tooth hygiene), and a way of life so foreign to a kid that lives in L.A.  We went to all the different shops and his favorite by far was the Toy Store where Amish-made puzzles delighted him and where he plunked down his own money and came away with a puzzle that for the rest of the trip he stumped anyone willing to try the challenge.

On the road again we indulged in my favorite hobby, and now Aiden’s, and visited old, old cemeteries. 

This interest of mine is one I’ve passed on to both my girls and now Aiden will probably keep up the practice. 

We look for the oldest person, interesting names and seek out war veterans.

Our greatest find was an ex-slave cemetery, one I would have missed had I not made a U-turn to read the historic marker.

Next installment:  Fourth of July Fun in Youngstown, Ohio

Monday, July 1, 2013

"When I Was a Kid..............": what the younger generation doesn't know

When I was a kid, black and white television as still the “new” thing. 
I’m only 55 years old, but that little fact is very hard to believe because today there are so many technological advances. 
As a historian I think about people from my grandmother’s generation (most are all gone now) that saw their lives change from the horse and buggy era all the way through the invention of air travel and computers.  I can’t imagine what life was like before air conditioning, electricity, and indoor plumbing.  So when my grandson expressed curiosity about a piece of technology from my generation, I considered that he must be just as much in awe of how we “old folks” got by in such a primitive world. 
What was it that had him stumped?  A rotary dial phone!      

“I wonder how that thing worked,” he said aloud as we watched a television program in which a character used one to make a phone call.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that, Ummmm, I'm very familiar with how one of those contraptions works. 

We sure have come a long way with phones, haven’t we?  I don’t have to expound on that topic, but suffice it to say that I remember when, living in Corfu (New York) we had a party line and could hear the phone conversations of our neighbors and that my grandmother’s home sat on a township boundary line so that if we wanted to call the neighbor catty corner from our own house, it was a long distance call! 

Yep, I’m now of the generation of wonders: how did we get by without WiFi access wherever we go, phones that don’t just make calls but allow us to stream live TV, and Facetime? 
I wish I were going to be around to hear my grandson’s grandson say, “Hey, what was it like living on planet Earth?”

Friday, June 21, 2013

Learning from Life and Books

I’m having lots of flashbacks to my college days.  I’ve been having dreams about test taking and all the anxiety I experienced as a college student.  There are two reasons for this, I believe: I am teaching a new college course on biological & physical anthropology and I haven’t been immersed in the subject since my undergraduate days.  Second, my daughter is a full-time college student and shares with me her class experiences.  Yesterday she sent a desperate text message, followed up with a phone call, about how she completely bombed in her speech class. 
Her recounts bring to my mind my own experiences: the love of school, the fear of failing, and the times I, too, bombed on a speech, a test, or a project.  Now that I’m a college professor and used to student panics, I have a great deal of empathy for the college student, especially those who really care about their grades and have a real desire to learn.  And the truth is, that is the majority of students; at least in my experience.

Sure, there are those that sign up for a class then never show up.  They end up with a fail grade and to their dismay they discover that down the road, when they finally grow up enough to apply themselves that the grade point average suffers forever due to that “F.”   I’ve long since given up in trying to convince students to drop the course if they discover they can’t cut it; after two warnings I say no more about it.  It’s the students that see college for what it really is – that of a learning experience, that I put my efforts into.   Both my daughters fall into that category; when they are in school they love to talk about what they are learning, and the best part of all (aside from my pride in their accomplishments) is that I learn something new from them, too.  There’s lots of new stuff for me to learn; after all, it’s been a while since I was in school.  Life truly is a life-long learning experience, from real-life experience and from books, not just a stepping stone to a high income paycheck.

I have to say, I just don’t understand anyone who is not a reader.  So much knowledge can be gained from the written word and I can’t grasp the notion that reading for pleasure and for learning is avoided by some.  But, I realized long ago that what I think is best for me is not necessarily the case for someone else.  I recall a woman I worked with during my waitressing days who was single, no children, and hated her job.  I pushed and pushed her to either travel or take college classes for a degree and better job opportunities.  I envied her the freedom she had to do what she wanted; I was raising my girls, married, and waitressing didn’t bring in much money.  One day she shot back at me, “Not everyone wants to do what you want!”  or something to that effect.  I never forgot how strongly she said those words. 

Although it’s hard for me to this day not to try and tell someone how they can have a better life, improve their situation, etc., I know after several incidents such as the one I just described, people do what is best for them, and my idea of what that is may not necessarily work for them.  That’s what life experience has taught me. 

So, for me, I’ll continue to read and learn for my own benefit, knowing that my kids picked up the same initiative and hopefully, they in turn will pass the love of reading and learning on to their own children. 
I can hardly wait for the next dream – probably it will be the one where I have to give a presentation and I’ve forgotten both my notes and my clothes!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Write Right Now

My daughter, Adrian, was indignant the other day saying, "Why haven't you updated your blog?  You have readers and fans and you are disappointing them!" 

While I think that's an exaggeration, I know I have been remiss in writing new posts.  I've been lazy in that department but not in life in general.  My writing is more inspirational anyway; not in a religious sense but more when something inspires me I tend to feel a strong desire to write about it.  I have had many moments over the last several months that I probably should have written about but I held back; moments when I felt a strong need to get what was on my inside out and writing has always been that outlet for me.  But some of the emotions I was experiencing I felt I needed to keep to myself or to share only with a few people.

For example, when the Newtown, Connecticut shootings took place I experienced profound grief.  I could not, would not read or watch any programs about it.  Yet, I was forced to contemplate the debate surrounding guns in America, but I participated little in the discussion.  Ban guns or keep them for safety?  I can't decide.  On one hand it was a gun that was fired and changed the entire course of my life and that of my family; it brought devastation, heartache and profound grief.  So you would think I would be anti-gun.  On the other hand, if I was confronted with a bad guy or a member of my family was in danger from one, a big, man that could overpower, I would want a gun in hand for protection, to stop the evil.  In fact, I own a gun but I am petrified to use it.  As an educator I believe in knowledge and I know that I need to learn every aspect of safe gun use and not be afraid of this little powerhouse, yet I still know deep in my heart how dangerous a gun is. 

During my EATM training (that's the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College), I learned how to protect myself from dangerous animals.  I have been in situations where my life was at risk and my training kicked into place and I was able to protect myself or others from harm, so I am pretty confident that if I were confronted with a  person who meant to do me harm, I could shoot them. 

This is one of those posts I wanted to write but had difficulty bringing myself to share. 

Another is the Cleveland kidnapping story.  That is one media blitz I became engrossed in and watched and read all I could.  Yet, when I found myself in a deep depression, one that had me on the couch during the day and crying at all hours, I attributed my condition to over work; that is until I stopped watching the news about the crime and began to have the black cloud lift.  Why was I so affected?  Because I felt so sad for those women and what they endured; I felt a sort-of human obligation to reach out to them, to help them; I felt an immense weight of guilt that I should have somehow been able to prevent the pain and suffering they had endured. 

What was it about this case?  I can pinpoint it to how frightened I have always been about my own children and the possibility when they were young that they could be kidnapped.  I was raising my kids during the Adam Walsh era and all the stories of lost children that made the headlines thereafter.  My greatest fear is the loss and never knowing, so in a sense I felt the pain the mothers of those girls felt. 

This was another post I wanted to write but was too vulnerable to do so. 

Lastly, I wanted to write about the journey I am on in looking for a job again.  I've been employed for several years now as an adjunct professor, teaching both anthropology and history.  I LOVE doing it.  I teach both in the classroom and online; there are pros and cons to doing both. 

My students seem to enjoy me as their professor.  Win Win, right?  Not if the pay is barely enough for anyone to live on.  Which is what I have been experiencing these past few years.  Yes, working as a college professor has given me a great deal, most of which is freedom to pursue my writing (my first book published last February and lots of local history projects), but I can no longer live on what I make as a lowly college adjunct. 

So, I set out to get a "real" job once again.

A few weeks ago I flew to Florida for an interview for an amazing DREAM job, one that anyone would be privileged to get.  I haven't been given the Yea or Nay as of yet; I'll hear in a week whether or not I'm being offered the job.  The thing is, I experienced so many emotions and thoughts about it all.  You know what was holding me back?  The idea I would be so far away from my daughters and grandchildren (John, the husband, would of course be joining me - he's THRILLED with the idea).  Never before have I held myself back from opportunity or adventure; this was a completely new experience for me - fear of going.  But, trust me when I say this job would (and still might if I'm hired) make me the luckiest oral historian on the planet. 

So, this was another post that could have been written but I didn't write because I was either not ready to share or have reached a point where my writing is done on the inside rather than on paper. 

But, as you can see if you made to the very end of this long post - I needed to write and once I got started I blurted out a ton of information. 

Now, if my daughter, who has to be my fan because, well - I'm her mom, is right, my readers will be almost all caught up on my doings and happenings.  And, to tell the truth, I missed this outlet.  So, I will commit once again to my weekly (more or less) postings. 

Thanks for checking in!  I'll be sure to let you know the outcome of the job search.