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.