Sunday, October 8, 2017

In Furtherance of Mediocrity, Participation Trophies & Pandering to Underachievers - High Schools Drop Tradition of Naming a Valedictorian~

This morning I read an article in the Wall Street Journal, one of the few news outlets that doesn’t tend to skew right or left and reports on the absurdities of life in modern America, about the trend that public high schools have taken towards eliminating the naming of Valedictorians and Salutatorians as hurting the feelings of those who just barely managed to graduate. 

Knowing that my posting the link to the article on FaceBook would cause a knee-jerk reaction among some liberal educators that believe in group think, dumbing down curriculum, giving participation trophies, passing students who should be flunked, grade inflation, and eliminating competition at such a tender age, I proceeded with some amusement. 

Most of my peers agree that actions such as this, which masquerade as fairness, only serve to continue the downwards slide of the education system in America that was once the envy of the modern world. The USA spends more per capita on education than any other first world nation; however, we rank far down the list on the success of our students. The skidding towards the bottom can be attributed to the changes in the system which promotes mediocrity, insists on teaching to the lowest common denominator, inflating grades so that an underachiever doesn’t feel like a loser, passing those who should be held back in an attempt to increase self-esteem, and creating a curriculum that panders to special interest groups. 

The system is broken when it becomes paramount to focus on the psyches of those for whom a high school diploma is the highlight of his or her life. No wonder people want to send their children to private schools where the students are challenged and where success actually means something. 

To me it is tragic that one would even suggest that graduating from high school at the age of 18 should be the pinnacle of one’s existence. I personally know and love numerous people that graduated from high school, did not go to university and still succeeded because of hard work, intelligence, a drive to be accomplished and better oneself and the acceptance that nobody owes us anything. Why should a school system eliminate an award to help underachievers feel good? I am appalled and perplexed.

In the REAL WORLD there are no participation trophies. If 30 applicants post for a position in the corporate world a company doesn’t find the room or the budget to create 30 vice-presidents. There is one successful applicant and 29 that must accept the reality, refrain from complaining, and keep on working, and work harder or smarter for the next opportunity. 

The local Winchester Star recently wrote about an organization holding classes to teach millennials life skills they didn’t learn in school. The American education system should be embarrassed that 30 year old educated adults need to be taught life skills because the students were so coddled that they didn’t learn how to lose, fail, fall, get back on the horse, find resilience, rise from the ashes like a phoenix, grow a pair, understand that life isn’t fair, that there are consequences for action and inaction, that money doesn’t grow on trees, that parents can’t fix everything, that self-sufficiency is empowering, that credit cards eventually must be paid, that good credit is really important to get a mortgage, that the bank doesn’t care if you bought shoes instead of paying the mortgage, that tattoos really don’t help one get a job, and that somebody always winds up on top - the Valedictorian. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Finding Affordable Beautiful Shoes that Provide Comfort & Style

Marc Joseph Cypress Hill Mocs

Paul Green
There was a time when I could run through Dallas-Fort Worth Airport wearing 4 inch stiletto pumps. For at least two decades I felt no pain, instability or discomfort despite having a repeatedly sprained right ankle since 1979. Wearing gorgeous heels was a badge of honor, a message to all that I represented was professional women with the poise and were-with-all to always look like I would take no prisoners. 

Eileen Fisher Bailey
Then I moved to the country 12 years ago and began telecommuting. Working remotely rom home 80% of the time I morphed into donning loafers, sandals, ballet flats or low heeled ankle boots. The ligaments in my legs changed; the muscles became used to the flats. Whenever I tried to wear professional attire including previously loved heels my legs and ankles rebelled. My beloved shoes became the enemy. Ultimately I could barely totter on my stilettos in the house much less navigating the treachery of stairs. Despite overt rebellion it became abundantly clear that my vanity was losing ground. I found it necessary to identify kitten heels or comfort brands that would save my vanity and my lower extremities.
Stewart Weitzman Poco

Rockport 75 MM

It became my mission to identify brand of footwear that were stylish and wearable for women of a certain age. 

Consider some of the brands and styles pictured here!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War | PBS

Cu Chi Tunnels

For those of us who grew up during the 1960’s it should be a moral imperative to watch the Ken Burns series The Vietnam War on PBS. Tonights PBS screened the inaugural episode, which resonated with me across the decades. The conflict in Vietnam had such an influence on me and my friends who came of age in the 1960’s and 1970’s, who watched the evening news, saw the collection of ever mounting body bags, and listened to the rhetoric of politicians and talking heads that claimed it was essential to stop the spread of communism in the world.

As children most of us were afraid that we would be drafted, forced to join the military and fly to a country across many continents to fight in a foreign land about which we knew nothing and was unlikely to have any effect on our way of life. I, personally, was against the war from the age of 10. While I believed we as a people had a duty to defend our shores from an attack from foreign invaders, I [even as a child] had no inclination to fight for the autonomy of a country thousands of miles away.

Even in my infancy I was aware that General Westmoreland and the federal government were spouting propaganda to support a war machine that should have been shut down. We had no moral authority to impose the will of the USA on a foreign government. Essentially, the US government sought to appease the post WWII French who wanted to continue an to expand its imperial influence. It is for this nominal excuse that we sent our young, often economically disadvantaged youth into the valley of death. To this day I am disgusted.

I have been to Vietnam and love its people, who are open, generous, kind and welcoming. It has been my privilege to walk in the footsteps of those who were compelled by government compulsion to visit this land and fight for somebody else’s mission.It is a beautiful land  transformed by miles of pristine beaches, mountains, rice paddies, lowlands, cities, and farm land, which has been transformed by its history and those who conquered or influenced the food, architecture, religion, ideology or technological status. It is a country of diverse political, religious, ideological, cultural or artistic sensibilities. The people of Vietnam are resilient, optimistic, artistic, capitalistic, and resourceful. 

My husband was somewhat concerned that the inaugural episode failed to address the insights and perspective of the original French colonizers. I did not feel the same sense of perplexing frustration. Instead I decided that this series is, after all, the story of Vietnam,its people, and the experience of those Americans who were affected by the Vietnam conflict and the American government’s misguided decision to intervene in the politics of a sovereign country that did not, in fact, request assistance.  It is the story of America’s misguided attempts to detour the spread of  communism, interfere in the machinations of an independent state, and exert influence beyond its borders. In my humble opinion this is not our right or duty. Instead, it is my belief that we have a responsibility to support whatever form of government that an independent country celebrates. We have no right to interfere. And by doing so, the US government launched a political rebellion and mistrust of government that has not abated after 40 years. 

It is time to retire the ghosts of Vietnam to history, move forward, accept the mistakes that were made, apologize to those who were vilified for fulfilling a duty required, and to accept that what happened, happened and that we cannot change the past. This is the only path to healing.

Monday, September 11, 2017

September 11, 2017 ~ 16 Years Later Has the Mainstream Media Forgotten?

We said we would never forget, those of us who watched in horror as the planes flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. We said we would always remember and commemorate the first responders and innocent civilians who died when the skyscrapers fell and carpeted downtown New York will layers of dust and toxic chemicals. We promised that we were all Americans and would stand together against the tyranny of foreign radicals spewing hate and jihad while avowing to believe in a god that promoted peace. We promised to remember the heroes and heroines on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in the fields outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania to prevent the terrorists attacking the White House, US Capitol Building or some other monument to American freedom. We vowed to always remember the sight of the cavity burned into the Pentagon, the symbol of American military might. 

We Americans lauded the selflessness of the first responders who ran bravely into the valley of the shadow of death with 60 police officers and 343 firefighters  paying the ultimate price in service to the people who relied upon them in valiant efforts to save those trapped by the raging fires.

The free world responded with support. America’s citizens put aside petty squabbles. Men and women volunteered to fight for America in the war on terror and deployed to the inhospitable lands of Afghanistan and Iraq. Celebrities performed concerts to raise money. Congress conducted investigations. The Department of Homeland Security was formed to eliminate failures of the various bureaus and security agencies to share information. 

For the first 5 years the horror was still raw. But life moved on. Despite saying we would never forget this first act of war by foreigners on the US Mainland, the resilience of the human mind contributed to people forgetting the devastation, fear and insecurity we all felt on 9/11/2001. People became accustomed to invasion of privacy by national security agencies. People acclimated to offensive intrusion by TSA officers. The American public slowly became “sheeple” but forgot why.

In the last 16 years our citizens have moved away from being a people united in celebrating our collective freedoms to a country divided by moral judgment and self-identity segregation. We risk decay from within rather than obliteration by attacks from without. 

If you have read any of the major newspapers or watched the mainstream television networks today you will note that the media would rather focus on Hurricane Irma, how UVA was ill-prepared for the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, how Hillary Clinton is still “sad” she lost the presidential election last year, and a HUGE leak about the release of the Apple iPhone 8. I am disgusted.

As many have reminded the masses, those who ignore history are likely to repeat it. 16 years is not a long time in the scheme of things. I, for one, refuse to forget.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Our Beautiful Weekend in Union, West Virginia

My husband and I were invited to attend a Heritage Days weekend in Union, the county seat of Monroe County, WV as mid 19th Century photographers. The weekend commemorated the skirmishes of the Civil War in Monroe County.

Despite the controversy surrounding Civil War re-enactments, living history events, and statues that offend people of modern sensibility, we decided to embrace the opportunity to visit a new location that boasted several ante-bellum homes in a community of less than 600 people that once was home to the two wealthiest citizens of Virginia. 

As we drove through the hills of Greenbrier and Monroe Counties we embraced the beauty of the countryside as well as the blight that one often sees in rural areas that the 21st Century has left behind. As we entered the city limits of Union, however, we found a community that seemed part of a different world filled with fascinating people who had relocated to this small town from Los Angeles, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Baltimore, Kansas City or Saudi Arabia to embrace the friendly atmosphere, history, or beauty of the mountains.

Although the citizens of Union supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, the people who live in Union today are enlightened, modern, open-minded people who want to remember what came before, understand the history of time and place, celebrate their ancestors because they are family, and renovate the beautiful buildings that artisans built 150 to 175 years ago.

This is a place where children can play without fear, people look out for one another and embrace visitors, and those who were born here return after making their way in the world. 

This tiny town boasts a couple of nice dining establishments including The Hall Tavern which has excellent hand crafted food and the Korner Kafe which offers delicious breakfasts including house made cinnamon rolls. 

We were charmed by Union and look forward to a return visit when we will have the chance to photograph the lovely historic buildings and countryside.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Feeling Awesome I Can Still Inspire as a Role Model at 58~

This evening I was somewhat shocked to discover that I was a role model for a couple of women more than 20 years younger than I at aerial yoga. The women using the trapeze next to me told everybody she was watching me for guidance.  I responded that I struggle with some of the moves - such as a back flip  - because I have problems focusing on using my back muscles instead of biceps. Never-the-less, she insisted that I gave her the impetus to try new potentially scary things.

To consider that as a women of 58 I am embracing new experiences and challenges and can give some hope to younger women that they can aspire to and achieve amazing thing thrills me. It is all about facing fears, celebrating the opportunity to try new things, working with patient  & passionate instructors that focus on positivity and encouragement, and making the decision that age does no define me. 

I love hanging upside down in the silk! I love swinging, building muscle tone and strength in a new way, climbing into aerial yoga positions and developing confidence in my 58 year old self in a new way. I have abandoned fear of falling despite the arthritis developing my hands. I have learned that I have strong bones that will withstand an occasional tumble because I’ve kept my muscle tone that protects my skeletal structure. I can fall and rebound without problems. My only physical limitation - the 45 year deterioration of my right ankle resulting from that ill-fated attempt to retrieve a cooling wine bottle from a third floor balcony at Harlaxton Manor in Grantham, England in 1978. The ligaments never healed. But  I haven’t let that stop me.

Perhaps the purpose of this entry is to encourage all women of a certain age to acknowledge her strengths and to celebrate them because it can give encouragement, guidance, impetus and hope to those who will follow in our footsteps. 

We women of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s changed the world. We cut through barriers, created opportunities for women to make choices, fought the good fight, entered the professional workforce into the hallowed halls previously occupied only by men, repelled discrimination based upon sex, developed off-kilter senses of humor, did not get easily offended, worked harder, learned that work / life balance really mattered, made smart decisions, accepted that it it not possible to “have it all”, decided what we did want, spread our wings to fly in ways we never could have imagined, and continually tried new things - like aerial yoga. 

If what I do can inspire even one other women to reach for her potential, I have been a success.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

A New Reality at 58 - Embracing My First Birthday Without Mom

This is what 58 looks like!

Last Friday I celebrated my first birthday without my mother. Since it was my 58th birthday  I realize that I’ve been far more blessed than many in that I had my mother for 57 1/2 years. In the early morning hours I lay awake recalling past birthdays with Mom & Dad calling and singing slightly off key, the beautifully thoughtful cards Mom made that incorporated photos or thoughts that resonated, the cake she make for my 10th birthday decorated with astronauts and the lunar module to commemorate the 1969 landing on the moon the night before, and the last birthday gift purchased in a boutique on the walking mall in Winchester, Virginia - a metal rendering of The Tree of Life created by a Haitian artist from an old oil drum.

Fathers Day 2017
Although I experienced a few moments of melancholy bittersweet memories where I fought back tears, I’ve reconciled with my new reality and made the decision to celebrate life, embrace my  good fortune and be kind to myself. 

Celebrating our 11th Wedding Anniversary in Charleston
Earlier in the week I’d attended a management training program outside of Philadelphia and had originally planned to spend Thursday night and drive home Friday morning. But instead I opted to drive home so I could wake up in my own bed with my husband by my side and then sip morning coffee on the deck enjoying the beauty of our back yard and the peace and serenity that fills me when I watch the humming birds at the feeder, the cats chase insects, the butterflies and bees pollinating, and listening to the song of the grasshopper, katydids and cicadas. 

While I’d originally planned to take the afternoon off work my plans were thwarted by the untimely death of my company laptop as it was necessary to ensure that the replacement, which had been inconveniently delayed by a suspiciously non-specific UPS “traffic incident”, had the requisite software and security authorizations before my next trip on Monday.

Loving the wind in my hair - still driving a convertible!
Fortunately, the technology angels were with me and ensured that my week long laptop frustrations had come to a favorable resolution at just the right time - 2:30pm - so that I could enjoy my birthday indulgences: a hot stone massage with lavender aromatherapy and a peppermint scalp massage followed by a pedicure. As the therapist massaged the knots of muscles from my neck, shoulders and upper back with the sounds of soft classical music in the background and the scents of lavender and peppermint in the air, the stresses of life oozed from my pores and I felt at peace with life and the world. 

I still enjoyed the delight of my dad calling and singing Happy Birthday from his new cell phone and listening to him tell me about his trip to the amateur circus in Peru, Indiana with a neighbor - the first time he’d been to the circus since we were kids. My heart smiles when I think how he continues to embrace all that life has to offer despite his losses. 

Civil War Era Machinists Hat by Dirty Billy!
To conclude my celebration of life and indulgence, my inimitable husband decanted an over-the-top bottle of wine from RdV, prepared the broiled-not-fried crab cakes that enticed me to marry him, presented me with cheesecake from Fresh Market, and watched a couple episodes of “The Fall” on Netflix. 

Throughout the day I knew that Mom would have been proud to know she had raised me to be resilient, to appreciate experiences and the people that share our lives instead of things, and to keep on living a joyful life. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Still Struggling to Locate My Lost Muse

It has been a little more than 6 months since Mom died and I’m still struggling to locate my literary muse who has taken an extended sabbatical. While I am endeavoring to focus on my blessings, the flexibility my job offers, my good fortune of sharing my life with my inimitably understanding spousal unit, and our focus on creating an Eden from the hardscrabble rocky terrain on our ridge at the edge of the Shenandoah Valley, my interest and ability to write has been impaired. It has been so much simpler to play Candy Crush, watch Jeopardy, drink an extra two glasses of wine, or sit on the deck staring up at the night sky with lightning bugs flashing through the trees than to try to recapture my voice.

But I feel compelled to try to recapture my ability to write my blog which has provided me with a creative outlet and an opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions whether anybody ever reads what I write or not. This type of writing I find therapeutic. But I’m still trying to adapt to my new reality and continue to experience writers’ block.

The writers’ block does not extend to my professional world. My job involves a great deal of technical or legal writing that must send clear messages to internal and external customers about contract analysis or evaluation of risk that an insurer must consider when determining how to value a tort claim. This type of written communication must be clear, concise, fact based, analytical, politically sensitive and an awareness that any note, letter, email, text or missive could be scrutinized by a judge sometime in the future. 

Alternatively, my blog posts are personal reflections / opinions of where I am in my personal life, what I am thinking at a particular moment in time, how I feel about various disparate issues, what shoes styles intrigue me, which flowers make me happy, how I am dealing with aging or grief or what is on sale or whether Civil War re-enactors make an effort at authenticity or whether I envision drones delivering my wine when I retire so I don’t have to engage with the general public at Walmart or how yoga benefits me physically, mentally and spiritually. 

Then again, perhaps my excitement over the impending 7/16 return of Game of Thrones is enough to bring me out of my self imposed hibernation, reinvigorate my psyche, and give me the impetus to get back to my blog.  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Failure of the US Political Class

Republicans and Democrats are decrying the inhumanity of the budget proposed by the current administration as Draconian because pet projects, redistribution of wealth from those who work to those who don’t work would be curtailed, and the increase of so called “entitlements” would be slowed. 

The definition of “entitlement” is the “belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges”. Please understand that the ONLY things that American CITIZENS are entitled to are the rights specified by the Constitution. Nobody is entitled to health care, a university education, food stamps, a job, a “safe space”, a world free of controversy, free lunch, a car, a cell phone, a house, designer clothes, soda, Cheetos, alcohol, cigarettes, welfare, the Internet, a good grade, a raise, insurance of any kind, television, a computer, payments by the government for not working, disability payments, a living wage, Medicaid, subsidized housing, a drivers’ license, cable, free passage across national borders, heat, credit, respect, or a job.

It is unconscionable to expect taxpayers to continue to subsidize unprofitable enterprises or subsidies to operations that cannot survive independently. Businesses divest themselves of divisions that are not profitable. If farmers cannot make a go of operations without subsidies, so be it. It Medicaid cannot support free healthcare for persons of a certain state that the state cannot fund, it is not to the wealthier state or citizen to fund that.

Everyday I see people with physical challenges working at companies such as Costco or Walmart, contributing to their own welfare and society. Those are the people I am willing to help. God and most Americans would gladly help those who help themselves. But we are a people of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” citizens that, for the most part, believe that people should fend for themselves. Too many people use the excuse of disability to avoid work because they don’t want to work for minimum wage. People of my generation and those that came before were taught that no work is dishonorable. Sacrifice was lauded. Making do the norm. People worked extra jobs to make ends meet. Society did not OWE anybody anything they did not earn.

Progressives preach that every human is “entitled” to basic human needs.In an idealistic society, that would be true. But we do not exist in Utopia. If society is meant to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, then society will fill the void that government does not fill.

Our republican government was not established with the expectation that the employed, motivated, educated, world focused citizenry would pay taxes to subsidize lazy, undereducated, uneducated, unmotivated, undocumented, unintelligent, disabled,  unemployed, underemployed, narrow minded, underemployed, entitlement minded people. The fact that politicians of both major political parties care far more about retaining their seats in Congress than governing with an eye towards fiscal responsibility, national security, common sense, and pragmatism means the system is broken and likely cannot be rehabilitated.

It is my greatest hope that the United States of America does not go the way of the Roman or British empires and trickle into obscurity as an abject lesson in failed governance. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Needs vs Luxuries in the 21st Century

There are reasons that affluent societies eventually fall. The people become accustomed to ease, forget the lessons of the past, lose the stomach for controversy, and believe they are entitled to luxuries. Hopefully, the America that we know and love will hit the reset button and revert to some extent to the values that created the greatest nation on earth.

There seems to be a belief among Progressives, Liberals, and apologists that every American, US legal resident or even illegal residents should be entitled to what those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s  considered  luxuries.

Those of us who fall within the Baby Boomer Generation grew up at a time that was considered an affluent post WWII America. However, the affluence that everyday American’s enjoyed during those times would be considered abject poverty by today’s standards.

My husband, my friends and I came of age during a time where the average home had one telephone ( a black Bakelite rotary dial phone that was connected by a cord to the wall and then to the telephone lines outside). Long distance calls cost extra. We didn’t make long distance calls except on special occasions such as a birthday, Christmas, or a death in the family.

My family owned two cars. My parents paid cash. They saved their money to buy a new car every few years. If they couldn’t pay cash, they didn’t buy a new car. 

My family did not have junk food. We did not drink soda except on special occasions such as my Aunt’s wedding or when we visited Grandpa Copeland, or when we split one 7 Up on Saturday afternoons when Dad popped popcorn for lunch. We drank milk, water, or Kool-aid.

We did not have potato chips, candy, steak, fresh fish, Cheetos, Fritos, pizza, fast food, or desserts regularly. Mom cooked daily and stretched the meat by using rice, macaroni, or spaghetti with hamburger. After school my siblings and I were allowed 3 cookies each. 

Our house had one television with the basic channels — far less than 13. We played cards or board games or read books or visited with friends. There were no computers or video games. We played outside until it was dark. Our exposure to TV was limited. We couldn’t afford to go to the movies very often and snuck our own home made popcorn into  the cinema.

My siblings and I wore hand-me-downs and were grateful to have them when somebody with a “cool wardrobe” shared. A new outfit was a treat. We only bought shoes on sale. Yet we never felt deprived. And the fact that our parents were thrifty allowed us to go to college and travel.

Too many people living in the USA today believe they are entitled to luxuries paid for by the taxes of those of us who have worked hard, paid our dues, studied, worked crap jobs for less than minimum wage, fought to break barriers for women and people of color, endured hardship, overcame abuse or bad marriages and survived the vagaries of life. We deserve to keep what we have EARNED! If we have achieved a certain level of income through sheer determination, it is unjust to take our earnings to redistribute to those who are able bodied but unwilling to put in the same effort. Our parents were children of the Depression and knew deprivation. They were thrifty in adulthood and passed their experiences on to us. They washed and recycled plastic bags and tin foil. 

Most of those on public assistance today live far better than many of us who came of age during the age of Camelot. That is why I have no tolerance for 21st Century “Entitlements”. It just isn’t just!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Rituals of Death, Burying Mom’s Ashes & Remembering the Past

Before Mom died I never really focused on the rituals surrounding death in Western society beyond how to accurately portray mourning in the mid-19th Century as a Civil War Living Historian. While I experienced the loss of innumerable friends and family members over the years, I often grieved at a distance because of geographical distance, money, time, the passage of years separating us, thoughtlessness, not knowing what to say, or psychological inertia.

Funerals provide us with a ritual that allows us to publicly acknowledge a loved one has died, bring together the community of those who want to give love and support, to remember a life, to process the death, and give an opportunity to openly grieve. People come together to console one another and share remembrances.

Because Mom chose to be cremated and my dad didn’t want Mom to be buried in the cold, we waited until Mother’s Day to bury her ashes — approximately 4 1/2 months after the funeral. We had learned many years ago never to forget Mother’s Day; so it was appropriate to celebrate her life on this day. I was fearful the burial would serve to rip the scabs off the gaping wound in my heart and return my heartache to ground zero. But that isn’t what happened. Instead, my Dad, my brother, my sister, my husband, my parents’ neighbors of 58 years and a close family friend gathered at Mount Hope Cemetery in Logansport, Indiana to bury the urn that contained her ashes. We scattered rose petals on her grave and the beloved relatives nearby, including my baby brother Bruce, Grandpa & Grandma Conroy, Aunt Lerna and Aunt Esther. There were no tears. Dad placed the urn in the ground. I tossed a bit of earth into the hole. But we ultimately concluded that Mom wasn’t there. She wasn’t in the urn. She wasn’t in the hole. Instead she was living in our hearts and at one with the Universe. 

Over Mother’s Day weekend she gave us signs that she was in a good place. Pennies on the sidewalk or a chair; a Black Hills gold bracelet appearing on the dresser; the owner of the house next door that Mom had wanted to buy and tear down for decades coming by to offer the property for sale; and even a sign that she was looking out for the little girls who had been murdered 20 miles away in February.

The next day my husband, my sister and I went back to the cemetery to look for the graves of family members who had passed many years before — my maternal great grandparents, Aunt Kate, Uncle Mart, Uncle Al and Aunt Marguerite. That is when it struck me that the rituals of death, burial, headstones and  memorials provide us not only with solace, but also a window into the past, a reminder of those who came before. There is something peaceful and fascinating about looking at tombstones of those who walked this earth in another time, reminding us of the continuum of time, the power of the Universe, the vagaries of life, the knowledge that life is finite and to celebrate each moment we have. I am reminded to be grateful for each day. Perhaps that is the gift of the ritual. 

I love you Mom and miss you every moment of every day. But we are better for having had you in our lives and know you will be with us in our hearts as long as we live. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Landscaping Therapy~

When we purchased our home on a rocky ridge at the edge of the Shenandoah Valley in 2006 it never occurred to us that 11 years later we would still be wondering if it were possible to tame this wild land. After much trial and error we ultimately learned that to give a perennial, shrub or tree a fighting chance at survival it would be necessary for use to rent a bobcat with an auger, create holes that look as if a herd of gargantuan moles have invaded, supplement the microscopic particles of soil that have hidden amongst the shale with peat moss, organic matter, and various chemicals, invest in native plants that flip evil deer the finger, spray fungicide and deer repellant copiously, and pray.

This spring it was decided that if we want our outdoor environment to provide the lushness we envision while we can still ambulate to the back yard / deck, it was time to accelerate the plan. Over the last month we removed the rudimentary stone walkway that had become overgrown and replaced it with a professional quality flagstone path and retaining wall that caused me to think I may have been a stone mason in a prior life.

This weekend - trees and shrubs that are appropriate for the landscape, planting zone, sun exposure and infertile soil. Plaintiff is therapy for me. Creating an outdoor space that is filled with beauty as a result of our collective vision and physical labor brings a feeling of accomplishment like no other. Whenever a plant successful roots and thrives I feel such an abundance of hope and positivity and wonder at the miracles of our Universe.

Landscaping, plaintiff, gardening, digging in the soil, smelling mulch or harvesting rocks rests my brain and soul. I completely forget about the stresses of my regular job, heal, and recharge. There truly is no better therapy. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Remembrances of Easters Past

This is my first Easter since Mom passed away; and it was interesting to reflect on my memories of Easter from my childhood. In the 1960s Easter was a time of renewal, which also included new clothes — an Easter dress, an Easter hat, and a new spring coat. Mom would sew nearly identical coats and dresses for my sister and me. New clothes were not whimsical purchases. We were treated to new dresses at Easter, a birthday, the start of school and Christmas. There was no such thing as casual shopping. A new dress and coat at Easter was a treat that just happened to coincide with the need for a spring coat.

Looking at old images it is mind boggling to recall that one had to wear a hat to church! Head covering was not optional. I also remember shopping at Grants [a local 5 & Dime}  for spring hats. We laughed hysterically at some of the outrageous offerings. I remember in particular a white knit hat shaped with cardboard that had multitudes of black beads hanging l like icicles in rows surrounding the pillbox. 

Mom continued to tradition of hunt for Easter eggs and filling our baskets with chocolate eggs,Peeps, jelly beans and plastic eggs filled with dimes until we were in our 20’s — because it was fun. Then we would gather for the traditional Easter meal of baked ham, blueberry muffins, green bean casserole, and (bleh) candied sweet potatoes (which I was not forced to eat for reasons best left unsaid). 

When I awakened Easter morn this year knowing Mom was no longer available to call to reminisce about those fond memories of childhood, I asked her to send me a sign that there was a heaven, that she was okay, that she could still hear me, that I wasn’t alone. The rest of the day the same thought kept repeating in my mind “ This is the day the lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad”. 

I can state with absolute certainty that outside the confines of a Catholic church that phrase never entered my mind. And yet, all day yesterday the thought cycles through my brain. I knew it was Mom telling me that she was okay, that there was a heaven, and that I needed to celebrate life every day and embrace whatever the Universe offers. I have today. I must celebrate each day with joy and gratitude for having the good fortune to wake up, hop out of bed, get dressed and greet with open arms and an open mind what opportunity is available. 

While the phrase did not resonate with me previously, I now understand what this means: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. 

Thank you, Mom.  I miss you!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wishing for Harmony & Collaboration in the Political Process

The political environment in the USA is so challenging that it is difficult to consider any concept of collaboration or focus on what is truly appropriate for the majority of the American people. The polarization of the political ideology is frustrating. If Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil could find a meeting of the minds, why have those elected to office after this generation been so obstinate?

We are a people of individualism, oriented towards freedom, filled with compassion, focused on the underdog, but intent on exploiting out “can do” attitudes to elevate ourselves to success. We as a people do not promote or condone passivity, seeking handouts or a government nanny state. Only those who seek to profit from the hard work, endeavors or toils of others truly look to the government to give hand-outs. 

The founders of our republic believed did not foresee our abrogating independence to ensure domestic safety. Those who sought “liberty or death” did not believe that giving up rights in exchange for the perception of safety or a safety net was of value. Liberty, freedom, independence, free thought, the right to exist without undue taxation, the belief that people should have certain rights that should not be curtailed by an oppressive institution, are the foundations of our Constitution.

The federal government was envisioned as a system of checks and balances that did not favor one viewpoint exclusively. The Senate provided equal representation for each state; the House of Representatives provided representation based upon population. The Supreme Court is meant to keep Congress or the executive branch from abusing powers. But modern political process fueled by lobbyists, special interests, political polarization, pandering to voters, and the attempt to grab a few media soundbites has compromised the process. I am disgusted.

Essentially, the political parties have devolved into liberals who advocate for socialism that has failed in every environment in which the experiment has been tried vs. conservatives that want to foist their own skewed view of morality on the populace while funding pet projects and talking out both sides of their mouths regarding “entitlements”. 

The country is essentially 50% liberal and 50% conservative. Most folks believe in a strong military, continuing social security and Medicare since those who have actually worked pay into the system. Religion and morality cannot be legislated and should remain outside the purview of Congress. Those cities or counties that flout the federal government by offering sanctuary to illegal residents should lose funding. If I ignore the law, there will be repercussions. Municipalities do not have a right to my tax dollars funding their programs. Frankly, the federal government should not subsidize any municipalities. States, counties, cities, towns, townships, boroughs, etc. should pay their own way.

The entire process if fatiguing. The arguing is mind-numbing. I’ve lost respect for the entire political process. Neither political party represents my interests. I am disgusted.

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