Thursday, December 11, 2014

All I want for Christmas is a good book!

My very favorite gift to receive for Christmas was always a book.  I was an avid reader, sometimes putting away a book a day.  I frustrated my mother when our weekly trip to the library required a box to tote my choices home.  As a general rule, I was allowed to read whatever I chose, but she did make me take Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales back unread.  I guess she felt it was too worldly and graphic for my grade school sensibilities.
 
Fast forward many years.  It was only natural that I would graduate from reading books to writing them.  My first completed novel is gathering dust, never submitted for publication.  It was a well-written romance novel, whose sole purpose for existing was to convince me that I could write a book from beginning to end.  As a writing exercise, it was perfect.  It accomplished the task, but it will never see the light of day.  Romance novels are not my genre of choice, for reading or for writing.

This Saturday, I will be signing my books for those wanting to give a gift of reading to someone on their Christmas list.  I'll be at Kosicek’s Vineyards from 1 to 5, along with fellow authors Margie DeLong and Tim McCarthy.  There will be something for everyone, book-wise.  If you don’t like to read, the wine is highly palatable!  So take a little drive out to wine country and enjoy the offerings!


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"...for you do not know the day, nor the hour..."

Never was a line of scripture more meaningful to me than this morning, when I learned that an old friend and colleague had been aboard the corporate jet that crashed into a house in Maryland yesterday.  David Hartman was a really good person.  He leaves a wife, Janet, and two adult children, Elaine and Andrew.  Only 52, David was the Vice President of Clinical Pharmacology, Pharmacokinetics, and Nonclinical Developement at Nuventra Pharma Sciences in Durham , NC.  We worked together here from 1991-2004 before he moved on to other adventures. He will be sorely missed.  May you rest in peace, David. 



It's a matter of Respect...Part 1

When I grew up, I was taught to have respect.  Respect your parents and elders.  Respect your teachers.  Respect public servants.  Treat everyone you meet the way you want to be treated.  Lying, cheating, stealing, and bullying were all forms of disrespect toward those around you.  The insidious part is that those things are also a form of disrespecting yourself.
 
There is no perfect human being.  We are all born with flaws.  We are taught to hate.  We learn bad behavior.  We learn prejudice.  We become hypocritical, professing to have Christian values while harboring vitriol and treating others in a way Christ himself would condemn.  We reap what we sow.

This was clearly demonstrated by the congressional aide who criticized the Obama children for acting like the teenagers that they are, and told them, in essence, that they were dressed like bar-hopping bad girls on the prowl, and that nothing better could be expected from them because “your mother and father don't respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I'm guessing you're coming up a little short in the "good role model" department.”

This aide is a perfect example of how to be disrespectful.  The fault she found in the Obama children is a reflection of her own self-loathing.  The fact that it took her “hours” of prayer and reflection and the counsel of her parents before apologizing leads me to believe that, like a typical self-absorbed teenager, she really was sorry…that she was caught in a quagmire of her own making.  She never really expressed remorse to the Obama girls for insulting them and then twisting the knife by insulting their parents.

We are guaranteed freedom of speech by our constitution.  That constitutional right does not give anyone a license to insult other people or be hurtful toward them.  Respect is a two-way street.  If you want people to respect you, then you need to respect them.  You don’t have to like someone to treat them with respect.
 
I find the blatant disrespect heaped on the President and his family to be unacceptable.  The insulting cartoons and obvious untruths that show up in my email or on Facebook are irritating in the extreme.  I delete them all.  I don’t pass trash on to other people.  The disrespect has to stop somewhere, or it will pull us down a rabbit hole from which there is no extradition.  Just to be clear, I didn’t pass on the Bush insults or the Clinton insults either.  Like him or not, Barack Obama is the President of the United States and deserves the same respect that Presidents Bush Jr, Bush Sr, Clinton, Kennedy, Ford, Nixon and all the others were afforded simply by virtue of taking on the responsibility of leading this nation.  It is a thankless, incredibly stressful job.  Anyone willing to take it on has my respect, whether I personally like them or not.

Perhaps those who insult the First Family should take an honest inventory of their actions and motives.  What kind of example do they want to be for their children?  They may find that their own children lack “good role models” if they are letting their likes and dislikes, their hatred, their prejudices, and their lack of respect for others, take the forefront in the example they are setting for their kids.  They may find that they are perpetuating the worst of themselves.
 
In the words of the Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle”

"And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me."




Sunday, December 7, 2014

Handel’s Messiah: a classical start to the Christmas season…

St. John Vianney, Mentor OH, Sunday - December 7th at 7 p.m.

From the time I was small, I remember hearing the Hallelujah Chorus during the holidays.  I think it was one of the cuts on a Mantovani album of classical music my parents used to pop onto the turntable while decorating.  I was about 28 years old when a friend talked me into joining the Messiah Chorus of Lake County.  I had no idea how extensive a score I would be required to learn, because I had never heard the rest of the piece.  At the time, I was a young second soprano, but prone to allergy driven bronchitis, so when the seconds had to sing the first soprano line, the muscles in my neck screamed.  I lasted until the half-way break, then moved over to the alto section where there was no straining to hit the high notes.  I’ve been there ever since.
 
This year, I’m singing Messiah for the 31st time.  I’ve only missed singing two years; once when heavily pregnant with Meredith and once when I was a confirmation sponsor at my own church on the day of the concert.  It sounds like a long time, but this group has been performing Messiah annually for 66 years, and one woman has sung in 65 of those!

I’m but one of 170 voices, singing in harmony with harpsichord, piano, organ, trumpet and strings.  The Messiah Chorus of Lake County is comprised of singers and musicians from all of Northeast Ohio.  They come here from as far away as Strongsville or Orwell or Middlefield or Mantua.  Our trumpet player comes from Kent.  Our concert pianist lives in Cincinnati.  Our professional soloists are scattered all over the area.  They come in questionable weather and sometimes on nasty, icy roads.  And yet they come.

They come from churches of all denominations.  Some come who don’t attend any church of any denomination.

They come to sing, to perform, and to raise music to the highest level.  Handel’s Messiah is not just classical music.  It is not only scripture put to music.  It is a profound and moving spiritual experience for those performing and for those attending.  But to get the full effect, the miracle of the music, the magic of the performance, you have to attend...and you have to stay to the end.  The piece is not over when the Hallelujah Chorus is finished.  Those who leave after the Hallelujah Chorus miss the best and most inspiring part of the concert.

Taken as a whole, it is a powerful, goose-bump raising, enervating evening that no recording can equal.  I urge anyone who has never before experienced a live performance of Handel’s Messiah to attend.  If you can’t attend the performance at St. John Vianney in Mentor, Sunday at 7 p.m., then find another performance in the area during this holiday season and make it a point to go.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Changes day by day

Apologies for my many weeks of silence.  In my last post, I wrote about change, the good and the not so good.  It was, in fact, a commentary on my work situation, which has been in a constant state of flux since the end of August.  I’ve been living and dealing with continually changing circumstances both at work and at home.  Coupled with scheduled weekend activities, such as Messiah rehearsals and holiday craft shows with Meredith, the draw on my energy and my creativity has been equivalent to the vacuum power of Dyson Cyclone technology!  Although my attitude remains positive, I’ve been feeling mentally fried for the last two months.

That being said, I decided to change things up for Thanksgiving.  Rather than turkey, I served roasted chickens with my infamous stuffing, mashed Klondike Gold potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole (but made with fresh beans, fresh mushrooms and homemade sauce rather than the typical cream of mushroom soup).  I also served Stone Dragon Bakery’s herb focaccia and my niece brought her very yummy salad.  Of course, I did make pies; two pumpkin and one apple.  Added a little tasty wine and the occasion was complete.  In spite of all the turmoil in our lives right now, it was a wonderful, relaxed, and very enjoyable dinner.  There were only six of us, our smallest holiday dinner in recent history.  Last year I cooked for 10 on Thanksgiving and for 30 the next day, so this year was a definite change.

Today, I stayed in sweats most of the day and spent some time dealing with the leftover situation.  As the carcasses boiled on the stove, I chopped the chicken and prepped carrots, celery, onions, peas and garlic.  I combined it all, thickened it up with some flour and chicken broth and leftover gravy, and made a chicken pot pie for dinner.  Then I divided the rest of it up into containers and put them in the freezer for future pot pies.  After dinner, Jim and I went out for a little wine at Kosicek’s and had the pleasure of listening to Alex Bevan play and sing.

I hope the rest of this weekend is as laid back and calming as yesterday and today have been, because I really could use the peace.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Comfortable?

Being comfortable is a wonderful thing.  We value comfort, in our homes, our cars, our clothes (especially our shoes), our communities, our relationships, our jobs.  We get angry and resentful when things upset our apple-cart of comfort.  It is much too easy to become complacent in our lives.  Everything’s smooth, everything’s normal, no disruptions to ruin our day, our week, our lifetime.  And we like it that way.

I had a boss who once accused me of being averse to change.  I told him I had no problem with change, as long as it made sense.  Changing work procedures for the sake of change, rather than to make things more efficient or profitable, made no sense to me.  He did not like my response.  But having worked in the same field for 25 years, I had a pretty good idea of where his change was going to put us 6 months down the line…and it did…and it wasn’t productive, efficient or profitable.
 
Those who know me best never know what to expect of me next.  They often refer to me as a renaissance woman.  Sometimes people ask me how I could possibly do all the things I have done in the last 20 years.  I admit, it’s not always comfortable to put yourself out there or try new things.  When my first book was published, a friend asked me how I found the time to write a book with work and home and kids.  She said that work and home and kids were all she had time for, so she had no other interests.  She had no idea what she would do with her time if she ever lost her job.  My response was that there were not enough hours or days left in my lifetime for all the things I would try if I had that extra 40 hours a week in which to do them.

The fact of the matter is, without change, we wilt.  Change is as necessary to a full life as water and sun are to growing plants.  Everyone needs to change and grow, to learn and think, to read and imagine.  Without these things, we may be comfortable, but we are not taking advantage of all the creative gifts we’ve been given.  When you expand your universe, you expand yourself.  It may not be a comfortable expansion, but in the end, you will be better off than you were when it started.

Then there is involuntary change.  When your universe thinks you need a boot in the butt, something inevitably happens that you don’t like.  You get angry and resentful and feel that you’ve been dealt a harsh blow.  And it’s true.  But if you wallow in those feelings of anger and self-pity, you don’t allow yourself to grow...you don’t allow yourself to think clearly and come up with a plan for handling the change that was thrust on you.  You can either say “Woe is me” or you can take stock of your life and make some voluntary changes of your own.  Chances are you were way past due in kicking up some dust in your comfortable life.

I know a lot of people right now, myself included, are on the receiving end of that kind of involuntary change.  It’s about as far from comfortable as you can get.  It feels as if all the security you’ve had for these many years has been ripped away from you.  How we react to that change will define our lives for months and perhaps years to come.
 
I thought to myself, for the first time in my life (and for a few short seconds), Mom never had this problem.  Dad worked and Mom stayed home and kept the house and kids in order.  She never complained and she did everything she did the very best she could because she was doing it for those she loved.  Dad brought home the money and all was well with the world.  Then I just shook my head.  I am not my mother.  I need to be out there working, doing old things, trying new things, meeting new people, writing new stories and singing new songs.

I’m not too old to change.  I’m not too old to realize the value of not getting complacent or comfortable, in my life or in my job.  And I’m a firm believer that all things happen together for good.  Even when something seems bad or hopeless at the moment, there is a greater, far-reaching purpose.  And I, for one, am willing to find out what that is!


Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Unanswered Phone - Redux

I never knew how much pain was involved in a call not answered.  But for thousands of Americans, the pain of the call not answered will never be over. 

I was running a few minutes late for work that Tuesday morning, and I pulled into the parking lot just as the announcement came over the radio that a passenger airliner had stuck one of the World Trade Center towers.  I grabbed my purse, hurried into the building, and raced to my office.  I announced to all who would listen that a plane had hit the World Trade Center and everyone started searching the web for information and turning on their radios…everyone but me.  I was dialing my phone, desperate to reach my son.  When the second tower was struck, I dialed faster.  And so began the worst 5 hours of my life. 


My son Chris was in New York City on job interviews.  We talked before he left, and he told me that he was very excited to have an interview at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning in the World Trade Center.  He thought it would be a neat place to work.  I tried to stay calm as his cell phone remained unanswered.  I stood with my fellow workers around the computer monitors and watched news film of the towers collapsing, mortified at the massive loss of life.  My fears grew.


Soon we heard that a plane had targeted the Pentagon and that another plane, heading to the White House, had made a u-turn over Cleveland and subsequently crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.  I watched in horror, but I kept dialing.  My husband got through to me around 11, wanting to know if I had spoken to Chris.  By that time, I was on the verge of hysteria.  Needless to say, no work was being done as we continued to take in with disbelief the events unfolding on the East Coast in real time in our virtual backyard.


Around 2:30 in the afternoon, I dialed for about the thousandth time.  Chris answered. 


“Oh my God, Chris, where have you been?  I’ve been calling you for five hours!”


“What’s up, Mom?”


“What’s up?  The world is ending!  Can’t you look out the windows in Newark and see the smoke?”


“I’m not in Newark.”


“Where are you?”


“I’m in Perry.  I just woke up.  What’s going on?”


“Then you don’t know.  Terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center towers around 9 this morning.  They both collapsed, killing thousands.  The towers are gone.  The Pentagon was hit, too.  And a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania.  It was headed for the White House.  I thought YOU were in one of those towers.  Dad and I have been frantic trying to reach you.  Didn’t you have a job interview this morning in one of the towers?”


There was long moment of silence.


“Yes, I did have an interview, but I finished yesterday’s interviews early, so I called the guy at the Trade Center and asked if I could come in right then, rather than wait until this morning.  He said yes.  So I interviewed late yesterday and headed back to Ohio.  I got in around 2:30 in the morning. I didn’t want to wake you or Dad, so I went to Brian’s and crashed there.”


My relief was palpable. 


Chris was profoundly affected by the events of 9-11.  He made a trip to Ground Zero as soon as it was plausible to do so.  I am sure that he still wonders, as do I, about the twist of fate that kept him so far away from a place he was scheduled to be at the exact moment of that most awful catastrophe. As a parent, I experienced 5 hours of the most intense fear I have ever known, but I am eternally grateful that my son was spared on that horrible day. 


And I am haunted by thoughts of the thousands of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and friends who spent hour after agonizing hour, on that day and in the days, weeks and months that followed, dialing phones that were never answered.