Saturday, December 31, 2011


My heart is open
Real estate, available,
For rent or to own

Saturday, December 24, 2011


My soul has a clamp
It keeps me from telling truth
My lover guesses

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Grand D

She remembered how Grand D would keep his big hand wrapped around the remaining deck while he carefully considered the solitaire tableau before him. He played deliberately, breathing in a way that she could hear him from the other side of the room where she sat on the round hooked rug, playing with her paper dolls.

"Hmph," she would hear him say before dealing out the next three cards in a careful fan. His blue sweater smelled like mothballs when she went over to kiss him goodnight, Grandmother holding tightly to her hand as she guided her over to his side. "Well, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite." He didn't smile big because he didn't have his teeth in.

He cheated. He would shuffle the deck when he wasn't winning. She didn't know it was cheating then, only later after he was gone.

But she remembered.

Her pink pajamas were soft and smelled like the sunshine and the salty air coming up from the ocean. She had seen them hanging out on the line that day. There was sand in her bed and Grandmother swept her hand across the sheets once, twice and three times. But she could still feel a little down below her toes when she stretched her leg all the way out.

She went to sleep smelling the cigar smoke that drifted in her window. Grand D always smoked a cigar at night, sitting out on the screened in porch with his glass of brandy. His best customers sent him boxes of cigars when a deal went well. She never got tired of watching him open the boxes. He always looked so excited. Watching him made her dance a little with her own excitement.

Mama woke her up when they came in from the dance. "Alice, dear, we're back. I wanted to give you a kiss." Then Papa came in too. "Let the girl sleep, dear." And then she was asleep again. Maybe she just dreamed it?

In the morning there was oatmeal that Grand D had soaked in milk overnight. It was creamy with big, plumped raisins. Grandmother added a little brown sugar. "Do you want to go swimming today, Alice?" But she didn't. She wanted to play with her paper dolls. How beautiful they were! There were costumes for fancy parties and hats to match. There were play clothes and different shoes. She talked for the dolls, walking them through different scenes, each with a little something that was scary, from which the dolls would always be rescued.

At nap time, Grand D read her a story about a blue balloon and its travels across the world. Alice dreamed about Africa, with its wild animals. But she wasn't frightened. In her dream, she rode a lion and talked with zebras and the zebras talked right back. Grand D told the story so well it was alive in her dream.

Now Grand D was gone, but she remembered.

She remembered.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

strawberry fields forever

United Healthcare declined to cover the cost of anesthesia during the extraction of my #15 molar. As a result, I was offered nitrous oxide as an alternative. I asked questions. Will I still feel pain? No, we will also use Novocaine. The nitrous oxide will relax you. Will I remember? Yes. Do people have allergic reactions? No. Okay, let's do it.

Back went the chair. On went the mask. Breathe deeply through your nose. Try not to talk because it will take longer for it to take effect. Okay. When did you last eat? This morning. What time? 9 a.m. What did you eat? Peanut butter toast and coffee. I thought I wasn't supposed to be talking? Okay, breathe deeply through your nose.

I don't feel anything. I like that radio station. How are you feeling? Fine. Ohhh, what is that? My arms feel really heavy. I can feel my breathing. My heart is racing! Calm down. Strawberry fields forever. How appropriate. In. Out. Whoaaaaaaaaaaa. I want to jump out of the chair and run out of the room. Calm down. They will never know you are feeling whacko if you don't say anything. Is this normal? Should I feel this way? Or am I going insane and just think I'm okay? Are you doing okay? (Nod.) Open. Open wide. Wider. Good. Again. Wider. Annnnnnnnd. There we go.

Is it over? Wow, that was easy. Hmmm. In. Out. Big breath. Strawberry fields forever. How long have I been here? Each song only lasts three minutes. That's the same song, isn't it? I love the Beatles. John Lennon. I feel psychedelic. Giggle. Did I just giggle out loud? Opening one eye: Who is that sitting there? Oh, she's monitoring me to make sure I don't die. That means it isn't over. Oh, you fool, that was just them giving you the Novocaine. They haven't even started yet. Giggle. Did I just giggle again? She must think I am high. At the church. I'm bringing a covered dish. I have to have it ready for the 6 p.m. What? Ohhh, what is that? I can feel my hair growing. Why do they keep talking? Do they know how talking sounds & feels to someone on nitrous oxide? They should shut up. No talking, except about the procedure. I just got off the phone from xcrs7yt (unintelligible). She asked me p9sx63#nw (unintelligible). Can you believe it? (Everyone laughs.) Why are they talking about other patients in front of me? That is unprofessional. And it freaks me out a little. What will they say about me after I leave? Am I a good patient? I wish they would shut up. SHUT THE F UP. Did I just yell that? No, I just imagined it. This is taking FOREVER!!!!

How are you doing? Are you feeling a little funny? Oh, yeah. It's the 60's over here. (Everyone laughs.) Okay, let's see what we've got here. Open. Open wide. Open. Okay. Little pressure. Good. Suction. This is weird. How many people are in the room? Am I still in the little room where I started? What if I stopped breathing right now? Would they save me? Can I trust these people to save me? They laughed at that other patient. Daddy is out in the waiting room. What would he do if they told him that I stopped breathing? He might have a heart attack. 

Open. Wider. Lot of pressure now. Okay. Good. Wow. Look at that root. Let me ... let's put this chair back a bit more. Can you see that? Yes. That is something. I have long roots. I think I remember hearing that before. Got it. Good. Wow. Strawberry fields forever. I need to work on my presentation for Phoenix. Do NOT start thinking about work right now. No matter what you're doing, you're always thinking about work. Whoa. I feel floaty. Floaty. Floaty. Floaty. Did they pull the tooth? Was that the tooth being pulled? I think the tooth is gone. Good. Oh, I like that song too.

Okay, let's get this laser fired up. No. That's it. Okay, open, let's put a little gauze there to protect your teeth. Bite down. There you go. Good. Gag. What is that smell? That is the smell of my flesh burning. Gross. Annnnd ... all done. You'll feel a little hole in your lip. It'll fill in. We'll send that off for a biopsy, but I expect it will be just fine. I can stick my whole tongue in the hole in my lip. I hope it doesn't look weird. Nothing could look more weird than that thing that was on my lip. I hope it isn't cancerous. What if it is? What if I've been working all of these years so I can have a happy retirement and then I get lip cancer and die? Can you die from lip cancer? Probably. Especially if you wait for almost two years to get something checked out!!! Stop it. Do not yell at yourself.

Now we'll just give you straight oxygen and you should feel a little more normal soon. I can not imagine feeling normal. Okay, you did real good. Laurie is going to go over your aftercare and we'll see you back here next week. Whoa, I feel really funny. I'm standing, but I feel like I floated into this standing position. Should I be up already?

I'll walk you out to the reception area. Loooooooooonnnnnnnng hallway. It's like that scene from Willie Wonka or Alice in Wonderland. I still feel pretty loopy. Do you want to sit in recovery for a while? No, I'm good. Teenagers tell us they like it. Okay, here you are. Susan can check you out. That will be $100 for the nitrous oxide and we'll send the rest to your insurance company. Let me just get your prescription for Vicodin. Look at all the colors on the file labels. The room is small, but laid out just right for the number of people in it. How long have I been standing here? Here you go and you can go right through that door there.

There's Daddy! Are you done? (Nod.) Can you talk? Yes. Ready to go? Yes. How was it? Weird. I feel floaty. Let's go home. Okay. Thank you for bringing me Daddy. You're welcome, my dear.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

epiphany, scintilla, gambol, mondegreen

Does every writer have a love of language? Or are there writers that just write, without any thought of the beauty of the individual word? I love the sound of some words.


My parents were both Methodist ministers, so this word first existed in my life as a day in January on which Christians celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God. Throughout my childhood, we listened to the recording of Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, the opera that tells the story of a young boy whose home is visited by the three kings who are following the star to the manger where the baby Jesus waits. It was so exciting to imagine each scene as it unfolded.

Later, the word took on a broader meaning for me as I began to read the great authors and noticed that main characters in novels often had an epiphany that would change the course of the story and/or would signal some change in a person's willingness to continue on an existing path. I can remember thinking that I had a choice about each step in my life.

But I love the word most because of the way it sounds in its spoken form. It is an elegant word and one that would typically only be known to someone with some education. Hearing someone use the word would signal to the listener that the speaker was in touch with a thought process that existed slightly above the fray of daily living. I love that moment in conversation with a new acquaintance when it becomes clear to me that the person is a thinker and a reader.


Courtroom dramas often feature someone uttering the phrase "without a shred of evidence". The first time I heard the phrase "without a scintilla of evidence", I instantly understood the meaning. It made me smile, because I love coming into contact with a new word. I often do acrostic puzzles and I love it when this word is included.

Scintilla feels like a feminine word to me because it sounds curvy. So it's appropriate that one of the X-Men female characters is named Scintilla. You won't have heard of her unless you are a comic book reader or collector. Scintilla had the power to shrink herself, which came in handy during battle. (Where'd she go?) She served as a member of the Imperial Guard in the Shi'ar Empire.

I-Scintilla is a band out of Chicago, Illinois that offers up a driving beat and loud guitar riffs, coupled with a gyrating female vocalist who is prone to heavy make-up and tight clothing - just the thing for young males who enjoy listening to electric-techno-rock. I am NOT a fan of this genre of music, but even I have to admit the appeal of Prey On You, the lyrics of which sketch the story of a leader who leads with lies. I wonder who ...


I can't decide whether this word sounds like it is moving because I already know the meaning or whether it is similar in nature to words like gallop or cruise or tumble, which each sound like the movements they describe. The image that comes to mind when I hear this word is that of a grown person skipping & dancing about in a merry fashion, without a care in the world and without a single worry about how he looks or how he is being perceived. I fairly hear the "la-la-la" singing that must accompany the movements.

But of course there is more. Gambol was also a powerful character in the Batman comic series. He was a crime lord in Gotham City, leader of a Black mob. You may remember Gambol as the character who the Joker holds a knife to as he tells the "why so serious" story, explaining how he got the scars around his mouth that create his signature grimacing smile. EEK!

Gambol is also a lesser known game application for the iPhone or iPad which features a ball-shaped critter navigating courses and obstacles. It is similar to Sonic the Hedgehog, but not nearly as awesome in my opinion! It has not achieved the fame of Angry Birds, for instance. Chances are you haven't even heard of it!


And now we get to my favorite word, although it isn't the actual word that appeals to me this time. This word doesn't trip off the tongue like the previous three words do. It is the meaning of the word that carries the delight for me. It describes a word or phrase that is misheard, often to comic delight. The origin is from a 1954 essay written by American writer Sylvia Wright, who coined the term based on a poem she had misheard as a young girl. When her mother read her the poem, which featured the phrase "and laid him on the green", she heard "and Lady Mondegreen". So she proposed this new word to describe situations in which we mishear poetic verse, which later included song lyrics.

One of the most famous lyrical examples of which you will no doubt be aware is from the song "Blinded by the Light", which features the phrase "revved up like a deuce", which has famously been misheard as "wrapped up like a douche". I absolutely remember sitting with friends, playing that part of the song over and over again, discussing it and giggling. Then there was also the famous Jimmy Hendrix lyric that was misheard by so many. He sang "excuse me while I kiss the sky" and many people heard "scuze me, while I kiss this guy".

There are so many other words that I love, but I will stop here. What are your favorite words? Why?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

brick layer, cake maker, indian chief

Years ago, I imagined that I would retire at the age of 50-something, then embark on a journey that would call on me to do a different job every year. I would start my new job on January 1st or 2nd of each year with the plan to work until the end of the calendar year. For some crazy reason, I thought I wanted to spend one of those years as a bricklayer and one in a bakery shop. I have no idea why those two jobs popped in my head, but there they were and there they have stayed.

My plan included a fantasy to write a small book about each experience, which would lead to a book series, which would lead to appearances on Conan and Letterman (never Leno, although let's face it, I would so do that show if it was the first one to come calling). Naturally, the publicity would lead to increased sales which would end up where all of my fantasies end up - with me not having to work for a living.

At the rate I am going now, I will be working until I drop into a grave. There will be no bricklaying. (I'm sure a bricklayer would read this and think - she really thinks she could learn bricklaying in one year?) Also, one day working under a blazing sun would probably lead me to run as fast as I could in the opposite direction from bricklaying.

But a girl can dream, can't she?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


My friend Alice is trying to make a major decision in her life. She wants to stop working, but really can't afford to do so, unless ... she lives in a double wide trailer in a 55+ community. She is not the type to live in a trailer, but she can't stop thinking about it.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful," she asks me, "if we could use our days to help others? I'd be the youngest person living there. I could really make a difference in the lives of the people around me."

"But how would you pay bills without an income?" Naturally, I am stuck on the idea of how I would eat without income. And how will she survive without the Internet? Cable?

"I can cut back on food. I survived college with next to nothing to eat. And my daughter will have me over for dinner every now and then. And the clubhouse is wired for Internet. I could carry my laptop over there every day. And do I really need HBO?"

No HBO??? This is survivalist mentality. I'm trying to be supportive, but the thought of missing Boardwalk Empire ... is that a fair trade for not working?

"You could buy the unit next to mine. We could have a lot of fun!"


Monday, August 29, 2011

cheney's new book

I love, love, love this reader's comment following an article about Dick Cheney's new book:


Title of the book should have been:

"Dick Cheney -- a shining beacon of brilliant foreign policy strategic planning and all-around righteousness, filling the dark void of Washington ineptitude and cowardice" ... an objective, non-revisionist tome by that bastion of patriotic selflessness, Dick Cheney.

Available in the discounted fiction aisle wherever petty, vindictive hubristic autobiographies are sold.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

irene and joy

We all hunkered down in our homes to ride out the storm: I, in Eagleville, PA; my sister in Hoboken, NJ; and my father & stepmother in Allentown, PA. Irene came in softly at first, raining lightly for hours and hours on Saturday. That night, the winds blew, but not too badly.

I kept updating my Facebook wall. Friends posted messages of prayer and support that made me feel less worried. Many of my former students are now in their thirties and forties, with children of their own. A very few even have grandchildren! Keeping up with their lives brings me so much joy.

I went to bed at about 10 p.m. Saturday night and woke up during the night feeling sweaty and hot. I looked at the clock and realized that we had lost power. I tossed and turned for almost an hour, worrying about how I would cope without electricity and wondering how long it would be off. With no power, the lack of air conditioning caused the 100% humidity to steam up the place. I couldn't open the windows because of the rain. I listened to the wind softly singing and was glad it wasn't worse.

The power came back on at around 3:30 a.m. I turned the lights on and got up to celebrate. CNN was re-telling all of the accumulated stories of the storm, from North Carolina to Maryland. The network anchors also talked about all of the things that could go wrong in New York City. They played tapes of Mayor Bloomberg's speeches about the evacuation and preparation. My goodness, he really can talk and talk and talk! CNN said very little about Pennsylvania. I finally went back to bed at 6:00 a.m.

At 9:00 a.m., my cat, Joe, decided it was time for me to get up and started pestering me. I lasted 30 minutes and was defeated at 9:30 a.m. I knew there was a good chance that the Schuylkill River had flooded during the night because it had done so twice in the 13 months I have lived here. But I wasn't super concerned because it had never reached my building. So I actually started coffee, fed the cat and fixed breakfast before I went out on the balcony to look.

What I saw when I did finally look still boggles my mind. The water was very high and very deep and was much closer to my building than I had ever seen it. I got out my camera phone and started taking pictures. I ran up to the loft to check my email and found one from the apartment manager. She indicated that the river would not crest until 2 p.m.

I called my family. Everyone was okay. My sister's street in Hoboken was flooded and she had no power, but she was fine. All morning, I checked on the progress of the Schuylkill every 30 minutes or so. I could not believe how quickly it continued to rise. I wasn't worried since I live on the 5th and 6th floors, but it was amazing to watch!

I checked on various members of my management team. Everyone was fine. The river finally crested at almost 4 p.m. Thereafter, every time I peeked out, the water got lower and lower. I stopped worrying.

At 5:24 p.m., the welcome news came that one of my co-workers had given birth to a sweet baby boy, 8 pounds, 7 ounces, 21 inches long. Baby Chase had arrived! Wonderful excitement. They even sent me pictures! I quickly forwarded them to the whole management team. Excited responses came back from everyone.

What a wonderful end to a rather stressful two days!!! In the moment, as I celebrated the birth of that new baby, I thought what a wonderful example of the highs and lows of life these 48 hours had been: the anxiety of the approaching hurricane; the fear that accompanied the loss of power; the adrenalin that came with my first look at the flooding; the relief at seeing the waters beginning to recede; and the sheer joy that bubbled up with the news of Chase's birth.

Then, a few minutes ago, my phone rang. It was my older brother calling me from Rochester, New York. He had just been talking to our mother and she mentioned that we had survived Irene, so he called to check on me. My brother is a bit of a recluse and has probably called me less than ten times in the last thirty years. Usually, if I want to talk to him, I have to call him! So hearing his voice was a real balm at the close of this stormy weekend!

I feel so grateful to be alive and I feel so blessed by family and friends. No matter what happens, something joyous is just around the corner, waiting, giggling secretly, knowing it will make me smile and laugh. I look forward to all the times that joy will visit me in the future!!! I hope that you do too!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

list of titles

I haven't been able to trace the origin of this meme, but the idea is to bold the titles I have read and italicize the titles I have not read.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (I certainly can't claim I have read every word. I've read quite a bit!)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare - read some, but not others...
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth.
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt.
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Sunday, July 17, 2011

single at 52

What I think I look like:

What I really look like:

Who I want to attract:

Who I really attract:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

maybe tomorrow

You know, I will never get used to being a slob. It is almost 3 in the afternoon and I haven't even finished laundry in order to pack for my vacation. There are other things I really need to get done. And yet ... not doing them!

I'm lazy when it comes to cleaning and straightening. I live alone and I just don't care all that much. I know that my spirits are brighter when my surroundings are clean and clear. But making myself do anything is hard.

Maybe tomorrow ...

Monday, June 6, 2011

leaving room

When I give my coffee order, I ask the person pouring to "leave room at the top", so I can add sweet cream to the coffee. We are peculiar creatures when it comes to coffee. Each of us learns to like it in a unique way. Some of the orders I hear when I'm standing in line at Starbuck's leave me shaking my head in wonder. Are they successful because their coffee is good? Or are they making millions by nodding their heads in approval to every weirdo who has a specific coffee order that requires a multitude of syllables to request? By handing over a cup of coffee made to the exact specifications of the patron, aren't they saying, "Pay no attention to anyone else, you are NOT weird, you are UNIQUE."

Well, I like cream in my coffee - or half & half - or milk. There is nothing more depressing than to be stuck with 2% milk when stirring up a cup of coffee. You can put in a quart and you will never achieve that perfect coffee color and flavor. I love cream. So I leave room at the top. When I get coffee from McDonald's or Burger King, I am usually in the drive-thru. As soon as I am away from the building, I roll down my car window and pour off the top inch or so of coffee so I can add the cream.

I was reflecting this morning that there must be a similar "leaving room at the top" for life. As Americans, we are often guilty of over-scheduling our lives, especially if we have school aged children. We work hard and we take care of other people and we forget to add the cream - the moments that are just for us. Or if a moment presents itself, we are too tired to take advantage of it!

I hereby resolve to pursue the cream in life! How about you?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

what do you have to teach me today?

WARNING for my readers who don't like cuss words OR who are religious to the point of intolerance towards religious beliefs that are different from your own OR who are squeamish about body parts & bodily emissions: You should skip this blog entry! Don't say that I didn't warn you.

This morning, I was watching a wonderful documentary called "Everest Rocks", which chronicles a 14 day trek through Everest country to benefit The Nepal Cancer Relief Society. The trekkers were cancer survivors from various countries and musicians such as Mike Peters (The Alarm), Slim Jim Phantom (The Stray Cats), Glenn Tillbrook (Squeeze), Nick Harper (legendary UK folk artist), Cy Curnin and Jamie West-Oram (The Fixx) and local Nepalese artists. The documentary was produced by Alex Coletti (the acclaimed producer of MTV’s ‘Unplugged’ series).

The documentary detailed not just the trek, but the personal stories of the trekkers. And at each stop, the guitars came out and various musicians performed well-known pieces from their careers, as well as other songs, known and unknown. The Nepalese Sherpa and porters clearly enjoyed the music. Scattered throughout the documentary is, of course, the spectacular scenery. Wow! There are several serendipitous moments during the trek, where you feel the hand of God (or some may say Fate) on the shoulders of the trekkers - or on the shoulders of people they meet along the way.

I was particularly moved by the stories told by the cancer survivors. A common theme was "getting through it", taking one step at a time with a determination to survive. One woman spoke of seeing her cancer as a blessing from God. Each speaker spoke of survival in different terms, depending on his or her religious beliefs (or lack thereof). This was particularly moving to me because I have always been very relaxed about multiple people believing different things and have always been deeply offended by religious groups that demand that their way is the only way. Here, I thought, was a bird's eye view of my thoughts - different people handling the difficulties that came their way - with the widest possible variety of belief systems, all going through this trekking experience together. It made me smile!

As I was watching the documentary, my old cat (Joe) was sitting in my lap. At one point, Joe jumped down to pursue whatever was next on his agenda. I glanced down and spotted something on my pants leg. I leaned over to get a closer look. It was a tiny piece of shit, which must have come from Joe's hindquarters. GROSS!!!!! I grabbed the bottom of the pants leg so I could lift up that portion without touching it, limped into the bathroom and deposited it into the toilet. Joe's litterbox is in the bathroom, so I also noticed that I needed to police it, which I absolutely HATE doing. Then I went to my bedroom to change my pants! As I changed pants, I was muttering to myself that this is the LAST animal I will ever have because I am sick of dealing with shit!!!

But the recent viewing of that documentary on cancer survival inspired me to change direction with my thinking. EVERY relationship and EVERY circumstance comes with some shit! I changed diapers for my son - shit. I clean litter boxes - shit. I walked my dogs - shit. And what about metaphorical shit? My boyfriend is always late - shit. My mother is never satisfied with my choices - shit. My brother is a recluse - shit. A friend over-reacts to everything - shit. My boss questions my decisions - shit. My car won't start - shit.

So, initial logic would guide you to avoid shit. But maybe the answer is to welcome it. Because without it, life isn't happening. And since we know that shit can also be fertilizer, maybe we look at each appearance of shit to guide us to new growth. Welcome, shit, what do you have to teach me today??? I know, I'm crazy again. But since I have already learned to embrace my lunacy, I'm going with this! (But that doesn't mean I won't be checking Joe's hindquarters the next time he jumps up to sit in my lap.)


Thursday, May 19, 2011

fire train

Betty Ann

Fire train rumbles by, waking me up from a dream about a dog. That dog was crying cause he couldn't find his supper dish. He was rooting around the kitchen floor, sure he had it there a while ago, but now it was gone. His mournful little whine was the sound of my dream, slipping rapidly away as my eyes come open.

I don't have a dog.

My nightgown is sticking to me, like my hair to my forehead. A full moon lights up the bedroom and I see that Frank hasn't come back yet. I look at the wind-up clock sitting on the table. It's 12:11 a.m. Well, maybe he went to drink some beers with his buddies. That's alright.

The smell of something rotten drifts into my nose. I should have taken that garbage out back. I sit up, swing my legs over the side of the big brass bed and feel around the floor for my slippers. My right foot finds a slipper. Now where is - there. I stand up, feeling an ache in my lower back. I lay one hand against my lower back and dig in a bit with my fingers as I shuffle through to the kitchen.

Sure enough, that smell is last night's fish supper. The heat has gotten to it and it's smelling up the place. I draw the bag up out of the plastic trash can and pull the ties to close it up tight. I tie those in a knot and open the back door. Out on the porch, I listen as the last of the train clanks around the bend and fades away. The big outdoor trashcan is just a few steps away and I head that way with the bag. I'm setting the bag down in the can when I see him.

He's taken a folding lawn chair and carried it down to the side of the lake. I can't tell if he is sleeping or just sitting. I call out to him, quiet-like. "Frank?" He doesn't move. I take a few steps in his direction. I speak a little louder. "Frank?" He turns his head towards me. "Hey, Baby." He reaches out a hand to me, beckoning me to come closer. I walk towards him. When I get there, I take his hand and he squeezes, but he is staring out over the water. He's still dressed in the clothes he had on when he left the house a while ago.

"What are you doin out here, Frank?" I ask him, worried he's still angry about the words we exchanged at the supper table. It was a stupid fight and I'm sorry that I brought the subject up at all.

Out on the lake, a fish jumps up and splashes back into the water. Maybe the moon has fooled that fish into thinking it's daytime. Frank pulls me over until I'm standing in front of him. A welcome breeze blows lightly across our bodies. The night sounds are all around us. I hear a dog barking way away from us. Is that why I was dreaming about a dog? Frank looks at my face and smiles. "I love you.", he says, and I watch as one tear leaks out of the corner of his eye and slides down his face.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

wear pink!

There were over a thousand women in the room at the Atlantic City Conference Center. We came in every possible size, shape, age, stage of life, career, etc. We were all there to attend the 2011 New Jersey Governor's Conference for Women.

I ate my continental breakfast with two women I was meeting for the first time because I had not yet located the five work colleagues I was meeting up with at the conference. We shared information and chatted about what had brought each of us to this event. In a lull in the conversation, I marveled at the sound of all of those women's voices. It was such a beautiful sound to me. Women are so powerful and strong, I thought. I smiled.

Our speaker at the breakfast was Kim Guadagno, Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey. Her message for the day was "wear pink". I'm still not sure what she was getting at. She also told us to wear high heels. Apparently when she was a Sheriff, she was told that she really shouldn't wear pink or heels and it got on her nerves. Maybe she was trying to tell us to be true to ourselves and to be feminine, even if we were in traditionally male roles? Anyway, she was cheerful for an early morning speaker!

I found my colleagues and we spent a few minutes looking over the program, deciding who would go to what session and chatting about work. All five of these women are strong and caring people. We all have very different personalities. But we all care about our students and are very loyal to our company. It was a joy to spend even a little bit of time with them. I know that they would do anything for me and I would do the same for them! What a wonderful feeling!

My first session was entitled, "Release the Entrepreneur Within". There were three speakers and a moderator. The speaker who REALLY stood out was Barbara Smith O'Neal, Regional Director of the New Jersey City University Small Business Development Center. Barbara clearly knows what she is doing and did a marvelous job outlining some of the more important aspects of starting your own business. (Full disclosure: I really misunderstood the intent of the workshop, probably because I did not read the description! I was expecting a talk about keeping your entrepreneurial spirit alive despite the fact that you may be working for someone else. Clearly, I was mistaken! I have no desire to open my own business!!! That is hard!)

The best speaker of the day, at least for me, was Trisha Meili. She is the woman who came to be known as "The Central Park Jogger" in 1989 after she was brutally attacked while out for a run in Central Park. This session was entitled, "Resilience". Every chair in the room was filled and many people (including me) sat on the floor or stood along the walls. Trisha started us off with some breathing exercises, which was an interesting touch. (It made me want to investigate meditation.) After that, she simply told her story and the many blessings she had encountered along the road to recovery from her injuries, both physical and emotional. Hers is an incredibly inspiring story. She tells it in a soothing voice that is very easy to listen to.

Our luncheon speaker was the amazing Star Jones. I was prepared to dislike her based on how she has been presented on this season of The Apprentice. I should have known better than to trust any edited image on television. She was very humble, but she made it clear that she has high standards for herself and for others. Star spoke about reinventing yourself when the need arises to do so. She called it "Plan B". She spoke about women's remarkable ability to bounce back from adversity or disappointment. She used examples from her own life. I really appreciated her message. And yes, she alluded to the troubles she had with NeNe! It was pretty funny, actually.

My last session was "Retirement Can Work For You!". Again, I should have read the description. This session was about NOT retiring!!! People are living to be much older these days and often start whole new careers after they retire from the first one. I cannot imagine anything worse!!! I didn't stay the whole time.

All in all, it was a great experience! I hope to return next year.

There was one embarrassing moment. (How could I avoid it???) I caught the heel of my right shoe on the hemline of my left pants leg and fell on my butt in front of my colleagues! Leave it to me. They hoisted me to my feet and I shook it off. But hours later, I am really feeling where parts of my body made contact with the sidewalk. Ouch! I'm worried that I am going to be even more sore tomorrow. Time will tell!

Monday, May 2, 2011

osama bin laden is dead

From the comments section on a CNN report of Osama bin Laden's death: It wasn't him. We need to see a picture. Obama interrupted Celebrity Apprentice on purpose to make Trump mad. Obama is making the whole story up to try to get re-elected. Obama had nothing to do with this victory. It's suspicious that they 'buried' him so quickly. Obama is taking credit for what the military did. We want a DNA test result. Etc. Soon, Trump (or Palin or Bachman) will be suggesting a conspiracy theory - or simply an anti-Obama message - that will echo some or all of these ideas.

I never cease to be amazed at some people's need to demonize or minimize our sitting president. It seems that there is nothing he can do that is right. Often, these are the same people who suggested that criticism of Dubyah was 'unpatriotic' because we were at war and we should all support our president when we are at war. Right. Now, it's patriotic to disagree with the sitting president because we are in America, where we can freely disagree!!!

I'm glad that Osama bin Laden is dead and buried. I'm proud that President Obama gave the order to take him out. I'm proud of the Navy Seals who pulled off this mission, and the many service men and women who put their lives on the line every single day. I'm proud to be an American!!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

the nesting dolls

The oddest items, events or scents can trigger powerful memories of my childhood in Nishinomiya, Japan. The family was home on furlough when I was born in 1958 and we returned to Japan in 1959 when I was about ten months old. I'm told that I learned to walk on board the ship as it crossed the ocean. Maybe that's why I don't get seasick?

Sometimes it is as simple as hearing the Japanese language spoken. Hearing it makes me smile. I spoke fluent Japanese as a small child. My English, however, was atrocious. That created problems when we returned to the States - more about that later.

Today, the trigger for memories of Japan were some kokeshi (Japanese wooden dolls). I came across them as I unpacked one of the last boxes I brought to Pennsylvania in late July. These kokeshi were painted red and green, one nesting doll set was boys, the other was girls. The Japanese celebrate Boy's Day, which is coming up on May 5th, and Girl's Day, which just passed on March 3rd. There are many, many boy/girl doll sets in Japan.

The dolls I came across this morning were nesting dolls, which means if you opened one up, a smaller doll was inside. As I handled them, the old paint flaked off just a bit. This flaking of paint made me feel very tender inside. I immediately had the thought that my own paint was starting to flake a bit too.

Sometimes I wonder how much of my personality was shaped by those early years in Japan. Yamada-san was an older Japanese lady who lived in a small house attached to our slightly larger house. Her adult daughter and grandson lived there with her. Yamada-san took care of me, her grandson and my sister. All three of us were born within the same 10 month period, so it was like having triplets, I'm sure. How did she do it? She fed us Japanese food. To this day, the scent of soy sauce or the taste of ginger brings a warm, satisfied feeling to my soul. She must have loved us very much.

I put the dolls on the secretary where I could see them every day. They'll make me smile, I know, each time they catch my eye.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ready for spring!

The heat didn't kick on during the night and I felt no need to bump up the thermostat when I woke up this morning. Could this be a sign of impending spring-like activities? Punxsutawney Phil did say that we can expect an early spring. Oh, I hope that is true!!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

snow delay

This morning, I got up at about 4:15 a.m. so I could begin the process of determining whether I should close my campus for the day, have a delayed start or just open as usual. I have employees and students who must be at the campus by 7:00 a.m., so I try to make the decision no later than 5:15 a.m. This gives me time to record a message on our Inclement Weather Hotline and contact the local television and radio stations. Getting that done early allows the commuters to avoid driving to the campus, then turning around and driving home.

Here is my process:

Step One: Turn on the television and check the three major networks and the weather channel to hear the weather reports and see if there are any school closing reports. This morning, the news reports indicated that all public schools were delayed and that main roads were pretty clear, but the secondary roads were still dangerous. I knew right away that we would open, so now the decision would be whether to have a delayed start or not.

Step Two: If possible, get in my car and drive to the main road, which is about a half mile away from my apartment building. This morning, the snowplow had not gotten to my section of the complex. But I could hear the scraping noise of the plow, so I walked around the side of the building and watched as the plow made a long, slow first pass in front of the long building next to mine. It was quite a sight. There was a beautiful spray of snow that flew up through the air on either side of the machine, so it looked like it was snowing again. He actually stopped the machine when he was close to me and got out to make some kind of adjustment. I waved to him and he came over. I asked him when he thought I might be able to drive up and look at the highway. He said he would clear a path for me next. I wanted to ask if I could ride in or drive the snowplow, but I instantly had a fantasy photo montage in my head of me driving the snowplow over a row of cars and into the Schuylkill River. Maybe not.

Step Three: Back inside, I climbed the stairs to my loft where my office is. I started up the computer and checked to see what all of the other private colleges were doing. This morning, all that were listed were announcing delays, most until 10 a.m. The University of Phoenix was actually announcing an 11 a.m. start.

Step Four: Compose message for Inclement Weather Hotline. I always type this on my computer and read it into the phone when I call to record the message. That way, it will sound smooth and I will only have to record it once. But I don't record it yet. I want to consult with colleagues first.

Step Five: Text my counterpart at my sister school in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. We like to compare notes and we typically take the same action. This morning, she was having an in-service, which meant a later start with no students in the building. I was on my own this time.

Step Six: Drive up to the highway. I just like to look at Highway 422 to see how the road looks and to see how many cars are out there on the roads. This morning, 422 looked pretty good. The plows were still clearing, but cars were beginning to get through.

Step Seven: Check again. This time, more schools had posted delays. I made the decision to go ahead with the delay.

Step Eight: Text my supervisor with my decision. This gives him an opportunity to weigh in on my decision. This morning I waited a while, but did not hear from my supervisor. It was getting close to 5:30 a.m., so I went ahead with the delay.

Step Nine: Call Fox news and go through the automated process to announce our delay. Usually this takes a while because everyone is calling in at once. I usually get a busy signal the first 3-5 times I call. This morning it was more like 7 times! But I finally got through.

Step Ten: Call our own Inclement Weather Hotline and record a message. This morning, I changed my message slightly because our students got a little confused last time.

Step Eleven: Call all managers, just as a courtesy. This is not strictly necessary, since we have the Hotline, but I like to do it just to make sure. Some of them like to call their employees, so I call them to let them know.

At this point, it is about 5:45 a.m., sometimes closer to 6 a.m. I am wide awake, so I go downstairs to make breakfast. That first cup of coffee is wonderful after all of this activity.

I have to say that this is a process that I absolutely HATE. I would love to abdicate the decision to someone else, but that really isn't an option. It is really impossible to make everyone happy. A closure or delay makes some people happy and other people furious. NOT closing or delaying makes some people happy and other people furious. It is simply a no-win situation. And no matter what you decide, multiple people always step up to question your decision and tell you that they would have done something differently. But then, that is the description of all leadership decisions, I suppose! But I will admit that it is very hard to listen to the criticism of any snow day decision! It makes me want to punch people in the nose! I always think that if they knew what I go through that they would just shut up!

All over the country, there are school administrators that are faced with this decision when there is bad weather. I truly sympathize with them, especially public school (K-12) administrators. They get the worst feedback. Like me, they simply can not make everyone happy. But again, it goes with the territory.

But let's end on a beautiful note. Here is a lovely photo of the Schuylkill River in the snow. This is the view from my apartment complex. Isn't it gorgeous? It makes me hate snow just a little less - but not much!!! Stay warm, everyone!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

In 1985, I accepted a job as a Human Resource Technician, Sr., at a mental health center in South Georgia. My job was to meet with mental health clients and make an assessment as to how they were doing on their current regimen of medication. There were four of us at the mental health center; a woman who served as the center director, a woman who provided day treatment activities, a woman who performed secretarial duties and me. All three of my co-workers were natives of the small South Georgia town.

On Tuesdays of each week, I conducted intake appointments with brand new clients. Theoretically, we had an M.D. on staff, but in truth we had a retired, hard-of-hearing, elderly doctor (age 91), who really depended on us to diagnose and determine starting dosages of the psychotropic medicines available at that time.

I had a great big Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) on my desk, along with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). I was given a list of the most common psychotropic drugs and told how to determine starting dosages for the most common mental disorders. I would meet with a client and run through a barrage of questions designed to determine what their problem was. Sometimes I had a little information before I met with them. (“Johnny exposes himself to the grocery clerks at the Piggly Wiggly. He says Jesus tells him to do it.”) Sometimes I didn’t know a thing.

After I had met with the client, I would go to see the doctor. I would present the information I knew, in a very loud voice, along with a suggested diagnosis and a suggested medication and starting dosage. The doctor would say, “That sounds fine”, and then he would sign my case notes in the client’s file and sign the prescription that I had written up.

All of this seemed very reasonable to me. Years later, when I was working on my graduate degree, I realized that I could have killed someone, or that a misdiagnosis or an inadequate dosage could have caused the client to go do something terrible, which could have caused harm to someone or to themselves. But I didn’t think about any of that at the time. I was just following directives given to me by the director. It didn’t occur to me that she might be being stupid herself. She was a LOT older than me and had been working in the mental health field for a long time. She seemed very confident in my abilities and I stupidly allowed her confidence to persuade me that all of this was quite normal.

I was so unconcerned about what I was doing that if I had talked about my 15 months working there any time within the first two years following my departure, I would not even have mentioned the fact that I was diagnosing patients without the benefit of any training beyond a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. No, what I would have talked about is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

You see, the three women I worked with at the mental health center all used the N-word with ease. To them, all African-Americans were called the N-word without hesitation. They weren’t angry or being combative when they used the word. That was just what they called people who were African-American.

My parents raised their children to believe in the equality of the races. They worked very hard to ensure that we understood the importance of race relations and they made sure that they taught us to be keenly aware of racism and the insidious nature of inequality. By the time I was working at this mental health center, I had lived in North Carolina, Japan, Massachusetts and Georgia. I had spent quite a bit of time in Virginia as well. I had seen racism and I had heard people say shocking things and I had seen people do shocking things.

But these three women purported to be professionals in the field of mental health. So I was shocked! I made a critical error when I spoke up about how I felt. I specifically asked that they not use the N-word around me ever again. I said that I was deeply offended and would appreciate their cooperation. But they saw me for the unarmed, inexperienced woman that I was. My request simply incited them to do everything in their power to annoy and offend me.

That brings me to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday of 1987. My boss told me that although that Monday was a holiday, that they would all three be coming to work and that I needed to be there too because it was a stupid thing to be taking a day off to celebrate the birthday of that n!&&@$. The other two women laughed when my boss said this to me. I summoned up enough courage to say that I would not be in and not to look for me. They harassed me up until the minute I left the office that Friday afternoon. “See you Monday!”, one of them yelled out as I exited the building. I could hear them laughing behind me.

Like I had on so many other days, I went home and cried on my husband’s shoulder. I was five months pregnant with my son and I’m sure my hormones were a wreck, but the situation created enormous stress. I would cry and cry when I got home. Then we would fix dinner, eat, watch TV, and then go to bed. I would wake up during the night and cry some more. This pattern continued for the entire length of my pregnancy.

I didn’t go to work on that Monday. Instead, I attended the MLK Day event at a local university. The speakers focused on perseverance and doing right and God’s expectation that we treat each other with dignity and respect. Sitting in that auditorium, in the midst of men and women who were celebrating justice and good, I felt so empowered and comforted. My battle was such a small one. I knew that I would survive and that things would get better for me.

Things did get better. My healthy son was born three weeks early in April. I used all of my sick leave and all of my vacation time. Then I quit. I was never so happy to leave a job, before or since! Within the next six months, I started a new job at that same local university where I had attended the MLK event. I would be working with high school students, many of whom would go on to be the first in their family to go to college. Those students lifted my heart almost every day. Many are still my friends today.

So, for me, MLK Day is symbolic of embracing the lessons of the past, both small and global, and letting my heart be filled again with the hope that there will be better days ahead. This lesson never ceases to be fresh for me. I need to learn it over and over again! So I thank Martin Luther King, Jr., for teaching that lesson to me. Happy Birthday, Dr. King!

Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Gwendolyn Brooks

A man went forth with gifts.

He was a prose poem.
He was a tragic grace.
He was a warm music.

He tried to heal the vivid volcanoes.
His ashes are
reading the world.

His Dream still wishes to anoint
the barricades of faith and of control.

His word still burns the center of the sun,
above the thousands and the
hundred thousands.

The word was Justice. It was spoken.

So it shall be spoken.
So it shall be done.