Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve...the Herald of 2015

This morning I awoke to a world of white.  Snow covered everything, and the temperature was in the teens, though with the blowing wind, it felt more like zero or below.  This is our first real snowfall of December.  Likely it will be the last snowfall of December as well since it is now clear and sunny and the ball drops in Times Square in about 9 hours.  Right now we are ranking this as the third least snowy December in history for our area.  This is in stark contrast to November, when Mother Nature dumped close to 2 feet on our heads.  It seems that even our weather world has become one of extremes.

Before I embark on my bucket list for 2015-2016, I need to get my office purged and organized.  I’ve done a good bit in the last week, but I know I still have a long way to go.  This is evidenced by this morning’s find on my work table of a small brown paper bag containing a piggy bank and a Christmas ornament personalized with “Olivia” for the baby daughter of an old friend.  Olivia is now 12.
I am also determined to unearth some special Christmas ornaments I know I purchased at “Art in the Park” a few years back.  I was disappointed that they were not hiding on my office utility shelf, which is the one thing I have managed to completely purge and organize.  I did some paperwork reduction by taking the 9 months of paid bill receipts that were spilling out of a small gift bag, throwing out whatever was unnecessary, such as return envelopes and inserts, and stuffing it all into a Saucony shoebox.  It’s not sorted, but it is now manageable.

I may or may not return to the computer before the bell tolls midnight, but if I don’t, then I wish you all a very happy, and healthy, and prosperous New Year, filled with only the challenges that make you grow in wisdom and in love.  

Remember, the joy is in the journey!

Resolution or no Resolution? No even a question!

Resolution is such a restrictive word.  Is it any wonder so few people manage to stick with the resolutions they set for themselves? I have found that if I make a 2-year bucket list, I manage to accomplish better than 50% of the items on that list.  For 2013-2014, there were 22 items on the list.  I have only 9 items remaining as of today.  These 9 items will be at the top of my 2015-2016 list.  Of course, I can always add to the list anytime during the 2-year period.  I certainly don’t want to run out of goals.

What exactly does someone look forward to if there is no anticipation of completion?  The joy is in the journey, and once the destination is achieved, a new journey needs to be planned.  I can’t imagine having nothing to work toward.  Knowing that I’m moving forward, rather than rooting myself like unwanted vegetation, makes me happy.  I feel sorry for those who look forward to retirement as a time when they no longer have to do anything.  I know people who retired and ended up dead in six months because they had nothing to replace the job in their day-to-day living situation.  The human mind and the human spirit were meant to be challenged.  And only challenge keeps us moving forward. 

When people have the type of jobs where they work and work and work with no end of the project or task, they become very unhappy.  Those who have goals to accomplish and a light at the end of that tunnel, feel fulfilled when the task is complete, and are more than willing to take on a new task.  They are happy, relaxed and suffer less depression when they know there is an end to the project.  Yet when you ask them what they feel best about, it is generally their ability to work hard and stick with it until finished, not the end result in and of itself.

And so, my bucket list for 2015-2016 is momentarily complete.  It is a thing in motion, and I will add to it as needed.  But I feel confident that I will accomplish my first 9 list items. 

Isn’t it time for you to make your own bucket ist? 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mom...

Had she lived another year, my mother would have turned 90 today.  I think of her every day, but she was prominent in my thoughts today.  I wanted to write something meaningful about her, about her life, about what she means to me, but I am still having difficulty putting my feelings into words.  This seems a bit strange for someone who describes herself first and foremost as a writer.  And so I decided to post the eulogy my brother, Tom, wrote and delivered at her funeral in the fall of 2013.  I don’t think I could do justice in describing Mom as a person with as much eloquence as he managed at such a sad time for us all.

“I want to thank Father Tom and the music director for making this a holy and special mass.  I want to thank all of you who have come, for celebrating this mass with us, and for your prayers for Mom over the recent past.”

“Over the last week many people (such as nurses and doctors) have asked about Mom.  What did she do for a living?  What organizations did she belong to?  What did she like to do? Etc.  At first I was embarrassed because I was drawing a blank.  Don’t get me wrong, I had lots of wonderful individual memories that I could have shared, of happy moments, of sacrifices she made, of her strength, or her sense of humor.  I’m absolutely sure that everyone here who knew her has their own favorite memories, and we should be sharing these with each other.  But her life seemed very simple, so, I answered the questions by saying, that she was a really great mother, and a great wife, and a great cook (as you can plainly see).  And I also felt, at the same time, that I was leaving something out or saying something that was inadequate.”

“In the last two days I realized what was wrong.  I was trying to evaluate or describe or even judge her life (at least the parts I knew) based on the way I have to evaluate the importance of the many people I encounter in my life and my work:  what important jobs they have, what great things have they accomplished, what successes have they had, what obstacles have they overcome, what important people do they know, and how many peoples’ lives did they change.  This is how the world around us might judge our importance, or our greatness.”

“But the problem is that none of this stuff really defines greatness.”

“In the end the only thing that will determine our true greatness is how much we loved.  How much we loved.”
“It is the singular teaching of Jesus Christ, who Mom loved and worshipped.  It is the singular focus of the life of Mary, who she honored.  And each of the saints that she learned about and respected and had a special fondness for.”

“When Jesus caught his disciples arguing with each other about who was the most important he told them 'anyone wanting to be the greatest must be the least, the servant of all'.  I believe that that kind of love was at the heart of most of the things Mom did in life; the focus of her life, despite any flaws she had.  She LOVED.  She loved greatly.  And because of this, we were in the presence of someone great even though her simple life kept it from being obvious.”

“She was not a great cook because she liked cooking; she became a great cook because she loved the people she was cooking for so much.  She certainly could not have always loved being a mother with all the trouble and heartache I must have caused her; but she became a great mother because she loved her children so much, despite all the flaws we had, even the ones that she was powerless to fix.”

“Now what I wanted to say to all the questions at the beginning of the week was clear.  This was a person of greatness.  A great daughter because she loved and still loves her parents; a great wife because she loved and still loves her husband; a great grandmother (no pun intended) because she loved and still loves all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren; a great friend because she loved and still loves her friends; and she is now saved, because she loved and still loves Christ, and is with him in that love right now.”

“I hope that my memories of her will inspire me strive for her kind of greatness, and that your memories of her will inspire you as well.”

“Thank you Mom and God bless you all.”

Monday, December 22, 2014

Another Case for Respect...

Freedom of speech is guaranteed under our constitution.  What exactly does that entail?  According to multiple Supreme Court decisions, it includes the following rights:

The right to not salute the flag
The right to not speak
The right to wear armbands in protest
The right to used offensive language to forward a political message
The right to make political contributions
The right to advertise (most) commercial products and services
The right to use symbolic speech and actions such as burning the flag during protest

But the number one thing that the First Amendment DOES NOT guarantee is the freedom to use speech to incite actions that cause harm.  It is illegal to shout fire when there is no fire.  And it is illegal to do or say things that incite riots, wars, or terrorist acts.

In a previous blog (It’s a Matter of Respect – Part 1), I talked about the need to have respect for our president, who deserves it simply by virtue of taking on the responsibility of the office.  This same respect should be accorded to the leader of any country, friend and foe alike.  Just as with our president, they deserve a certain amount of respect by virtue of the office they hold, whether you like them or not.

The ultimate in disrespect toward a foreign leader would be to make a movie that pokes fun at that leader and even worse, to make it a movie about assassinating that leader.  It takes a unique type of stupid to think that this is funny.  It takes even more stupid to think that there won’t be any kind of reaction, repercussion, or retaliation, especially from a foreign leader who everyone agrees is a few bricks shy.  If they had made such a movie about our own president, the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security would be hauling them in for questioning and making their lives a well-deserved misery.
For my money, making this kind of movie about a live, seated foreign leader is no different than shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  The idea men, the director, the producer, and the studio should be prosecuted for inciting terror.  That would not only hoist them on their own petard, it would likely assuage the bad feelings now brewing between our country and the country in question. Theoretically speaking, we could end up in a military confrontation over a MOVIE, and we all know exactly where that responsibility rests.

Respect is simple.  We need to get back to it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

It's a Matter of Respect - Part 2

Prejudice comes in many forms.  It is disrespectful toward the victim, and it magnifies the flaws in the perpetrators.  Racism is the most often “reported” type of prejudice, as evidenced by the current rash of police violence against young and often unarmed African American men and boys.  Hateful language and actions against anyone of a race or religion that is not our own is abhorrent and defies every religious concept that the perpetrators claim to hold so dear.
The bile being spewed (whether it be racist or race baiting) sickens me.  It doesn’t seem to matter to the perpetrators of such actions whether the victim is young or old, Mexican, African American, Jewish, Muslim, Indian, Chinese, Buddhist, Sikh, or any other race or religion.  They attack what they don’t understand.  They seem to think that their supposed Christianity or their genetics make them superior to others, or better than others.  They see those others as a threat to their insulated way of life and they lash out.  They live and breathe lives of hypocrisy.  They are emulating the Nazi way of thought and action…those who don’t learn from history’s atrocities are bound to repeat them.

Prejudice can also be more insidious, coming in physically non-violent, but just as damaging, verbal attacks.  It affects not only those who endure it by virtue of their race or religion, but also those who are different in other ways, be it mentally challenged, physically infirmed, poorly dressed, or overweight.

I have been on the receiving end of prejudice and assumptions made by those who saw me as a fat woman rather than as a woman.  I can tell you that it was emotionally and psychologically damaging.  However, I have the option of putting forth enough effort to be thinner...I could change the perspective and opinions of those who see and judge me.  This is not the case for a woman of color.  When a very good friend of mine posted an open letter to an obviously racist woman who assumed she was a waitress simply because she was African American, I was fuming.  I’ve spent the last several days thinking about how much more difficult it is for women of color to endure such wrongs.  No amount of effort on their part can change the perspective or opinions of those who see and judge them, because that judgement is based on the color of their skin.

My friend Liz is terrific!  She is warm, smart, funny, and well educated.  She is now retired, but when she was in the workforce, she was an attorney, a journalist, and a published author.  She volunteers her time running writing workshops that helping veterans tell their stories.  It is a wonderful program that is incredibly beneficial to young and old veterans alike.  Her husband Larry is a Vietnam Vet and extremely active in veteran’s organizations.  They were attending a Disabled American Veterans Christmas party, and they were the only African Americans in the room.  You can read what happened in Liz’s blog “Headblind” posted December 16th.

I have run through a million scenarios on how I might have handled what happened, but none would have been as classy and non-confrontational as the way Liz reacted.  I think I might have gotten a root beer for the woman and dumped it in her lap, then apologized profusely while stating that I really had no experience as a waitress because I had been too busy as a lawyer, a journalist, and an author.  But then I realized that as a white woman, I could get away with that action and would just be considered a fat (and therefore stupid) bitch, but had Liz done it, she would have been vilified as an angry, race-baiting, African American woman.
Prejudice is a game with no winners.

I am disheartened by what I see in our country.  We have become a nation of spoiled, enabled, haters.  We need to change the paradigm before we lose all hope of recovering our national pride and our place as the premier democracy on the planet.
Shooting young black men, deporting immigrants, and preaching hatred and death for those who don’t conform to some rigid belief system is not the way to become a great nation.  It is the way to become the Fourth Reich.

Regaining our national perspective starts with respect.  It is simple.  Treat everyone the way you wish to be treated.  


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


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 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.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Surrounded by silence and water...

I know I’ve been silent of late.  This is a function of three things.  First, I was getting ready to leave for a week.  Second, I left for a week.  Third, having been gone for an entire week and virtually incommunicado, I returned to a week of turmoil.  But today, I’m just going to talk about part two…leaving for a week, because it was glorious!

I arrived on Middle Bass Island around 6 on Sunday afternoon…August 17.  After driving to my temporary domicile, clothes, food, and computer equipment were moved inside and I got busy getting my living situation organized.  Stacked on the dining room table were two manuscripts I had printed at home for reference and notes.  There had been a glimmer of hope that I could sit still long enough to finish both books in my time on the island, but after due consideration (how far along I had gotten in the actual writing and how recently I had worked on each story), I decided that I would concentrate on the coming of age (or should that be coming of middle age?) book.  With organization, decisions, dinner and a glass of wine behind me, I crashed early, hoping to get a good start on Monday morning.

From early Monday morning through noon Tuesday, I read and reread the original 50,000-word manuscript, correcting inconsistencies in the existing document and fixing irritating timeline issues.  After lunch, I finally began the process of writing.  With doors and windows flung wide, the sound of gently lapping water, and the cooling lake breeze blowing through, the words began to flow.  When my eyes needed a break, I would look to my left through the open French doors into the garden
or I would look right through the open living room window to the lake. 
Every evening, I would take a glass of wine and head out the front door, and walk to a bench on the shore. 
Never did get a particularly good shot of the sunset, but it was nice to take that little bit of time for something quiet and soothing.

Other than the few early morning walks I managed to squeeze in, and sleeping and eating of course, I simply wrote.  There was no TV and no WiFi.  I barely had cell service, which was hit and miss at best.  Sometimes I actually had 3G…sometimes I had 1X…sometimes I had no signal at all, which was a particular pain if I needed to Google something for the book or use my online Thesaurus.

At night, I slept with the doors and windows open wide, the incessant sounds of crickets and water becoming the best and most soothing lullaby in memory.  I slept like the proverbial rock.  Quite honestly, I could have stayed there forever.  Of course, winter would be problematic…no crickets, and only crunching ice sounds.

I ended up staying an extra night, at the invitation of the owners.  The additional time enabled me to exceed my word count goal.  My 50,000-word manuscript had grown to 80,500 words by the time I departed the island.  Even now I find it amazing that I managed to write 30,500 words, more than 12 chapters, between noon on Tuesday and midnight on Friday.
Staying on Middle Bass was the epitome of distraction-free time.  It’s the type of time a writer can’t find at home, with family, laundry, cooking, phone calls, door bells, e-mail, and work issues looming.  I could use several Middle Bass weeks every year!  Now all I need to do is win the lottery…then I can buy my own place on Middle Bass.  In the meantime, I will continue working on the novel with a self-imposed completion deadline of end of September and edit deadline of mid-October.  With any luck, I hope to have the new novel for sale on Amazon and Kindle by November 1...just in time for Christmas.

I hated it when my idyllic week came to an end.  Life has a way of bringing you back to reality with a jolt.  My immediate one was learning that I had been driving on an expired license since mid-July.  So I drove off the ferry and directly into Port Clinton, where I paid a premium to regain my driving legality before heading home!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams: The Perseids are in Good Company

I delayed writing about Robin Williams because I wanted my words to be thoughtful, rather than reactionary.  I knew I had to wait because my reaction to his death surprised me.  I’m not what some might call a “fan boy” (or “fan girl,” so to speak).  I haven’t swooned over a celebrity since Peter Tork (of The Monkeys) and Justin Hayward (of The Moody Blues) were in their early 20s, and I was even younger.  For many years I’ve listened with interest as celebrity death announcements were made in the media.  Normally, I remember those performers fondly for their accomplishments and thankfully for the entertainment they have provided.  Once in a great while, a death will affect me to a much greater degree.
When they broke into the programming to announce that Robin Williams had died, I was completely taken aback.  I remember Robin’s first appearance on Happy Days and how we all laughed at his performance.  No one had ever seen the like.  He made the improbable and the impossible not only believable, but funny.  He launched a new kind of comedy that took the industry by storm; and he kept it up for 40 years.  He could bring down the house with a look, and no other actor or comic was able to emulate his improvisational genius…not then, and likely not ever.

As an actor, Robin showed us his other sides, his serious side, his sweet side, his emotional side, his angry side, his passionate side, and a side that was a more conventional version of funny.  He became his roles, and we believed he was Adrian Cronauer, or Alan Parrish, or Sean Maquire, or Patch Adams, or John Keating…even Mork, or Mrs. Doubtfire, or the Genie.  He breathed life into those roles and into our lives through them.

And he gave.  He gave his time, his money, his friendship and whatever else he could muster.  The Windfall Foundation that funds many charities, Comic Relief, many USO tours, donating performance proceeds to help rebuild Christchurch, New Zealand after an earthquake in 2010; the list of his charitable work is substantial.

Over the course of the last two days, I have spent much time thinking about why Robin Williams’ death has caused me to feel such a profound sadness.
  What I realize is that I am not sad for Robin Williams.  I am sad for all of us he left behind who will no longer have that bright, shining star to make us laugh and cry and know there is good.  

And Robin, he gave his wit, his humor, his brilliance, his genius, his passion until he had nothing left to give.  I would like to think that when he breathed his last, he said to God, “Beam me up, Scotty, I’m finished down here,” and laughing, God transported him on a beam of light to become a shooting star.  He has joined the Perseid’s as they streak through our sky and will sprinkle a little humor down on us every year as he passes by.  Safe travels, Robin.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sale starts today at 11:00 a.m. EST

I’m running a Kindle Countdown Deal on A Mystery in the Mailbox

In the US, the sale starts today, August 11, at 8:00 a.m. PST (11:00 a.m. EST).  The Kindle version of the book will be offered for $2.99, a 70% discount, for 32 hours.  For every 32 hours you delay purchasing, the price goes up by one dollar, the discount goes down by 10%.  The final sale price, $6.99, a 30% discount, ends at 12:00 a.m. PST August 18.  Then the price returns to the list amount of $9.95.

In the UK, the sale starts at 8:00 a.m. GMT on August 12.  The Kindle version of the book will be offered for £0.99, an 84% discount, for 32 hours.  For every 32 hours you delay purchasing, the price goes up by one pound, the discount goes down by ~17%.  The final sale price, £4.99, an 18% discount, ends at 12:00 a.m. PST August 19.  Then the price returns to the list amount of £6.99.

This could be your best chance to get A Mystery in the Mailbox, Kindle version, at a deeply discounted price!  Just remember, the longer you wait, the less you save.  And did you know you can "gift" Kindle books?  If your friend or relative has a Kindle you can buy the book for them, and it will automatically download on their Kindle.  Not a bad gift at $9.95 and an even better gift at $2.99!  Enjoy! 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Day 5 of the Challenge, posted a bit late

I’m thankful for Fridays, because they give all of us working stiffs a little glimpse of what retirement holds.  I am thankful for the many tremendous Northeast Ohio musicians who perform around the area religiously and most of the time for pretty low pay.  They lend an immediacy to the local creative scene that artists of other genres can not.  And finally, I am thankful for my health, something most of us take for granted.  It’s never too late to make improvements to our own condition!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Day 4 of the Challenge....

Here it is, Day 4 of the 5-day challenge.  I am thankful that my daughter received the marketing materials we ordered, with plenty of time to spare before her first fall craft show, The Shabby Chic and Attic Sale at Rider's Inn.  I am thankful that my husband suggested we attend the In Cahootz concert at Perry Park this evening.  I really enjoyed the music, and I love the lack of stress I feel whenever I am on the shore of Lake Erie. I also had the pleasure of running into several friends while I was there.  I am thankful that the new knee brace I ordered from Amazon is working so much better than the old one.  It looks a little funky, but it really decreases the pain.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Day 3 of the Challenge...

Day 3:  Things I am thankful for today...

I am thankful for Margie Delong (author of Grand Observations), who started a poetry group in Painesville at Your Vine or Mine, the first Tuesday of every month.  There were many wonderful poets there this evening.  I am thankful for the lovely Anne Payne, a member of Water's Edge Writer's Meet-up, who introduced me to her friend at Channel 5, which led to my interview with the venerable Leon Bibb.  And I'm thankful that I managed to prep tomorrow's report before I left work today, reducing my angst and the stress of meeting tomorrow's deadline!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Taking the Challenge...

I have been challenged by my friend Liz Petry to post three things for which I am thankful each day for five days. 

Day 1, my post appeared on Liz's face book page and read as follows:  I am thankful for my friends at work who make every work day a new adventure.  I'm thankful that I have all five of my senses, because having them is a privilege and a blessing.  I'm thankful for my car, which gives me the freedom and the ability to travel when and where I wish. 

Today, Day 2, I am grateful for surviving yet another Monday at work (they seem harder to tolerate as I get older).  I am grateful to my dear friend Liz Petry for, well, everything (inspiration, encouragement, laughter, conversation, writing partner, etc.).  And I'm grateful for my parents, who taught me so many things.  Wish they were still here.

My challenge to you is to post three things you are thankful for each day for 5 days.  Who's up for the challenge?     

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Whoa Mama! The Mystery of Going Viral...

Let me start with:  No, Mama Roberto’s did not pay me to defend them.  As a matter of fact, I stated quite clearly that the behavior of the cashier was inexcusable.  That was one person.  That is not the whole restaurant.  Do I think she should get a free pass?  Absolutely not.  Do I think that the amount of negative publicity vastly exceeds the crime?  Yes I do.
Was my blog an attack on Mrs. Basiger?  No it was not.  Was she partially to blame for the situation?  Yes she was.  She failed to read her own Groupon rules.  She ignored or was distracted from reading prominently displayed signs.  Is this a capital offense?  No.  Did she deserve a beat down from the cashier?  No.  Does she deserve an apology?  Yes she does.
Am I as “heartless as that cashier?”  No, I am not.  I don’t pick on sick people.  However, I think everyone should be treated the same, and everyone has to take responsibility for their actions, or inactions, whether they are sick or not.  The cashier was acting irrationally.  Anyone ever think that perhaps that might be the symptom of a medical condition as well?  Not all medical conditions have outward signs.  None of us know what lies behind that irrational behavior.  Everyone needs to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before they condemn.

I am sorry that Mrs. Basiger was subjected to that behavior.  I am sorry that she was upset and embarrassed.  I would have been, too.  Being upset and embarrassed by someone else in a public situation is something I’ve experienced many times in my life…people can be thoughtless and cruel, or they can have some other reason for their behavior…who knows.  But I have always been a believer in not sinking to the level of the perpetrator.  I say nothing and walk away.  I’m not saying I was not horribly upset by those situations, I was.  But even if I blog about it, I always attempt to present both sides.  No one-sided story is a complete one.
For those who feel the need to attack me personally, I say only this.  You don’t know me.  You don’t know who I am, or what I do.  You don’t know my thoughts or my motivations.  I can’t stop you from misinterpreting my writing as an attack on your friend.  Defending your friend is an admirable thing to do.  But think about what that cashier said to your friend, then think about what your comments on my blog were and ask yourself, do I really want to sound as vitriolic and irrational as that cashier?

In my writers group last week, we were discussing what makes a post, a book, a video go viral.  I hate to think that only negative things are shared and discussed.  So I’ll post this one more time.  This is how I really pick on sick people.  The Interview.  Somehow, I don’t think I’ll get the 5000 page views I had yesterday!   

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Furor over Mama Roberto's...

Why are we so eager to believe and share the most destructive of stories on-line?  I am talking about all the negative publicity surrounding an incident at Mama Roberto’s Restaurant in Mentor.

I’m not even close to absolving the cashier for her treatment of the customer.  The customer is always right, even when he or she is wrong, and heaping such a tirade on a customer is inexcusable.  But I am going to put forth a few observations, highlighting what I have seen and heard on Facebook and on TV, and what I have experienced as a customer of Mama Roberto’s.

First and foremost, there is absolutely no way to not see the sign that says how coupons are to be presented, with no exceptions.  It is the first thing you see when you walk in the outer door.  The sign is large and obvious and pretty much in your face.  The last time I visited the restaurant, I immediately stopped and read it, because it was not there previously.  I didn’t have a Groupon, so it did not apply to me, but if I had one, I knew exactly what to do with it when I walked through the interior door.  And if I didn’t know by then, there was an equally obvious sign immediately inside the interior door prominently displayed on the cashier’s counter.

Second, Mrs. Basiger graciously stated that “the meal was terrific as was the service, and the waitress was nice.”  So I fail to understand all the horrific comments I’ve been seeing on Facebook about the awful food and horrible service.  As a matter of fact, Cleveland Hot List 2014 named Mama Roberto’s one of the top 20 best Italian restaurants in Cleveland…by public vote.
Third, the cashier did not say anything about Mrs. Basiger’s disability, physical condition, or oxygen tank until after Mrs. Basiger used it as an excuse for not reading the signs and not reading her Groupon (which stated that it should be given to the staff prior to ordering).  I quote here, "Tracy said she was so embarrassed, she just handed the woman the extra money for the check and apologized, saying that perhaps, between negotiating the tables with an oxygen tank and feeling weak, combined with being seated instantly when they arrived, they'd missed the signs."  Rather than just pay, admit the faux pas, apologize and leave, she tried to justify herself using her illness in what some might see as an attempt to garner pity or simply to mollify a cashier who was obviously already out of control.  That was like pouring gasoline on a fire, exacerbating the situation.

It is evident to me that neither party handled the situation appropriately or intelligently.

I believe the cashier's reaction to the Groupon thing was way beyond normal, but I believe that it had nothing to do with Mrs. Basiger's illness.  I think the cashier would have had the same melt-down no matter who walked up and handed a Groupon to her at the end of the meal.  Irrational behavior does not discriminate. 

"I don't draw attention to myself," said Mrs. Basiger in her TV interview.  "It's hard enough to go out with an oxygen machine and everybody's looking at you."  If this is true, why in the world did this woman grant a TV interview?  If she didn't want attention, she would have said "no comment" and refused to allow the cameras into her home.  This just added more fuel to the fire already raging on social media.

There are those out there who want to put Mama Roberto's out of business.  The vile and nasty comments on-line have already forced the restaurant to take down their Facebook page.  This has not stopped the absolute torrent of hate on many restaurant review sites and by phone.  Rick Rhein has spent years building a wonderful business, helping the community and paying taxes into the local economy.  One admittedly bad incident by a single person, and the propagation of the on-line hate, threaten to ruin a perfectly wonderful establishment and a family's years of dedication and hard work.

Here is what I can tell you with certainty from my own personal experience with Mama Roberto's.  I've been a customer for several years.  I have never had a bad meal or lousy service.  The waitresses are top notch, always quick with orders, drinks and refills.  I used to take my mother there for lunch on Saturdays.  She was elderly and forgetful, but she was always treated with deference and kindness.  Everyone on the staff went out of their way to talk to her and make her feel at home.  She loved the Italian Wedding Soup, and ordered it every time we were there.  When she became ill and was placed in rehab, she couldn't keep any food down, and she lost about 20 pounds.  Desperate to get her to eat and retain some form of nourishment, I would stop at Mama's and pick up wedding soup to go.  It turned out to be the only thing my mother could keep on her stomach for weeks.  Without that soup, she never would have survived her rehab stay.

When Mom passed away last October, we were scrambling to get arrangements made so the out-of-town relatives could get back to their homes and jobs.  There was another funeral scheduled at the church, so they could hold Mom’s funeral service, but the church hall was unavailable for a gathering and meal afterward.  My brother and I ran down the street to Mama Roberto’s and asked if they could make their event room available on short notice and cater the meal.  Rick and Renee were unbelievably accommodating.  They had everything ready, the room was beautifully decorated, the food was hot and delicious.  The servers were quiet and efficient.  The Rhein’s went out of their way to take the burden off of me and my siblings at a very difficult time.  These are good people who work hard and don’t deserve the character assassination to which they are being subjected.
This is a free country.  Everyone needs to make up their own mind as to whether they will become or remain customers of Mama Roberto’s.  To those who wish to boycott the place, that is your choice.  Just remember that what goes around comes around, so be prepared when someone does something similar to you someday.  To those who wish to support the restaurant, knowing one incident does not make the owner or employees undeserving of having a customer base and a successful business, congratulations for not attempting to be judge, jury and executioner.

Seems like a good time to try to look at the situation from all angles.  Also seems like a good time to stop defaming, especially if you were not there to see the incident, or have never had the pleasure of eating there.  And it’s always good to remember that things are not always as they seem, or as they are presented in the media.