Monday, March 29, 2010

Women: Valued Citizens or Worthless Pawns?

It's both distressing and amazing to me how far women have fallen since the dawn of Christianity. Once revered as Goddesses, priestesses, wise nurturers, teachers and leaders, the source of all life and of much wisdom, women were cast down into subservience, only deemed capable of surviving in the small, orderly universe of the home.
Gradually, women were given "rights," and were told they could be everything that men were allowed to be, in a shrewd distraction designed to placate the restless.
Women can vote for leaders, we can die on battlefields, but not one of us has achieved our nation's ultimate position of honor - the presidency. Women are still fighting to be at least equals, and at most leaders of the world's largest, richest churches. Women are still waiting to receive equal pay for equal skills and responsibilities in the work place. Our reproductive, health-related and societal rights are still largely in the hands of men. You get the picture.
Considering the above, it was perhaps surprising that while browsing this morning's headlines, I noticed that the lion's share referred to women. Not surprisingly, I soon realized that the references were not positive and/or substantial.
The big one, of course, referred to the "Black Widows," a group of Chechen women who have lost male relatives - brothers, husbands, fathers - in the 20 or so year long battle with Russian forces.
The Black Widows have banded together in retaliation for their losses, I suppose in the only way they know how to, covertly and with violence.
The women carried out two suicide bombings this morning during rush hour in Moscow's subway system, one of the largest and most-populated subways in the world.
Female suicide bombers, armed with bolt and iron rod-filled bombs, "successfully" murdered dozens of commuters as of this morning's count, injuring and terrorizing an undetermined amount of others.
I have to guess that these women were never taught that they are/were worthy as individuals, with or without men in their lives. I have to wonder if they acted in such a desperate way because they felt powerless to use their intellect, or the intellect or influence of others, to retaliate, to improve their condition or to bring about change. I feel safe in assuming that they weren't privy to psychological counseling or support groups as they suffered the deaths of their loved ones and the destruction of war daily and for decades.
I doubt these women were educated in any meaningful way. I doubt they were offered or possessed the knowledge or resources to express their anger and grief in any form but violence and murder.
Another headline, not far from the first, with a sense of self-satisfied jealousy, promised details of actress Kate Winslet being spotted without her wedding ring. Winslet is an Oscar-winning actress. She's arguably among the greatest talents of our time, yet headline worthy interest in her is based on her marital status? Sad!
Glancing down the page, I was riveted (just kidding, I was actually sickened) by a headline touting the association of both Kate Gosselin and Sarah Palin with The Learning Channel. Wow!
I may be beating a dead horse here, but I've said it before and I'll say it again. What in heaven's name is wrong with our society - our world - as humankind
continues to accept the wasteful, despicable, degrading standards by which women are treated, ignored, hung out to dry and encouraged to judge their self- worth and importance and power as individuals?
From women such as the Black Widows, who waste their potential and the potential of others for lack of a sane path away from desperation, to women in our own home towns who measure their worth in terms of the man or men they keep company with, the clothes and accessories they adorn themselves with, the number of children they have aimlessly brought into a world that was long-ago over-populated and strained to breaking in terms of resources, or the immoral reality "stars" with whom they empathize, this world has rendered useless and condoned and facilitated the blatant waste of millions of girls and women. Americans and other citizens of the world have allowed and accepted the glorification and adoration of women who exploit and psychologically abuse their children for profit and a narcissistic need for celebrity, pine over and accept cheating husbands, rate opinions regarding plastic surgery way above opinions regarding politics or the state of humanity, quit important jobs before they have fulfilled their obligations, and carelessly distribute misinformation regarding important issues and incite violence by Americans against Americans, to the end of nearly annihilating the value of strong, moral, intelligent, independent women.
By accepting the ridiculous and reckless behavior of many, we have minimized women whose main concerns aren't who is cheating on whom & who has the most stream-lined nose or biggest boobs.
To the opposite extreme, we have accepted that some women are worthless & hopeless; fated to deciding who will blow herself up today because her government hasn't bothered to educate or care for her. We've accepted that some women are simply disposable pawns of war or of extremist views.
Am I being unreasonable in feeling that women of substance are steadily being devalued? Am I sounding an overly urgent alarm in my belief that the relevance of the average woman's life, overall intelligence, and social awareness have actually deteriorated over the decades since the first shots were fired in the women's liberation movement?
I believe that an intentional dumbing-down, cheapening of women -and of society as a whole - is taking place in an effort to distract the average person from the real & vitally important issues of our ineffective governments and of our dying planet.
I honestly and urgently believe that through our indifference as a society we have indicated that it's OK to give up, give in, and not to give a damn about oneself or the state of one's family, community and world - and that has to stop.
Stop accepting and supporting the glorification of people who degrade themselves and the world, start expecting higher standards regarding what is important, and what should be celebrated and exalted by society and our media outlets. Speak out about the state of the world, about governments that ignore and devalue entire segments of their populations.
What do you think? Be well & happy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Snakes in the Grass

Benjamin Franklin's 1754 political cartoon was a plea for unity during the French and Indian War. The rattlesnake, by way of the Gadsden Flag ("Don't Tread on Me"), had earlier become a symbol of the American Colonies during the Revolution.
I often find myself astonished and/or quietly amused by the thread that can be clearly seen winding its way though history's events, circumstances both great and small, and lives, that may at first glance appear not to be connected at all.
I once knew a wise man, an historian and a professor of ethics, who time and again warned, "If you don't know where you've been, you won't know where you're going."
From an early age, I have witnessed a common current that runs through the world and the ages, the seasons and people's lives, illuminating connections and lessons for any one willing to take the time to look, think, and realize.
Follow me now as I trace the thread's latest journey through time and events as I have witnessed it.
Earlier this week, the S.O. discovered a six-foot-long snake skin on our lawn near a boulder and some large rocks. By visual identification, he quickly recognized the skin as belonging to a rattlesnake. Me being me, I looked up information to either confirm or dispute his conclusion.
To my initial dismay, I found that indeed, the skin belongs to a rattler. Gopher snakes are often mistaken for rattlers, the difference being the size and shape of the head. Based on expert descriptions, this one, with a noticeably large and angled head, could only be a rattler.
The good news is that the knowledgeable describe both the eastern rattler and the diamond back (which this one seems to be), as docile when compared to western counterparts and when left alone.
I find it hard to fathom that we haven't seen evidence of this rattler before, considering its size and close proximity to our house. So I find some peace in knowing that the appearance of a snake skin is simply a sign of the season, a sign of life continuing along its course.
I also find comfort in knowledge. Knowing, and sharing with my son, that a rattler's bite doesn't necessarily spell death, is a step in the right direction. Ignorance, in this case, is not bliss.
It turns out that when calm and knowledge are applied in reaction to a snake bite, the event is quite survivable. We'll steer clear of the boulder area, and we'll be aware of our surroundings. The snake can strike from a distance of half its length, so we'll be very aware of a circumference of three feet in every direction.
This discovery, however disturbing, reminded me that through the ages, snakes have been associated with Spring, rebirth, fertility and strength. Call me crazy, but I find that comforting.
As is the case with many "A.D" symbols of Christianity, the Easter egg is rooted in the pre-Christian tradition of the World Egg laid by the Goddess and split open by the Sun God's heat, celebrated at the Spring festival of the Sun. The caduceus of Hermes shows the God and Goddess coupling as snakes, and producing the World Egg, a snake's egg.
The popularity of the cock as the bird of resurrection, connected to Apollo's son Aesculapius the healer (Orphic mysteries), saw the snake egg evolve to a hen's egg, eventually settling in the Druid tradition. The egg was colored scarlet to honor the Sun, paving the way for colored Easter eggs.
Despite the Biblical portrayal of the snake as demonic, tradition and logic have prevailed through the eons, cementing the snake's image as one of strength, unification and abundance.
The widely-held (however quietly) "superstition" among American Colonists and patriots that a snake cut into pieces had the ability to wholly restore itself if placed together before sunset, and the fact that eastern & diamond rattlers were unique to the American Colonies, only striking if harassed, made the rattler the perfect symbol of unity, individuality, and freedom.
So I find it disturbing that today, many Americans have chosen to forsake the snake's very American qualities of unity and strength in violent and cowardly reaction to the representatives who supported the Federal Health Care legislation. Embracing and demonstrating the qualities of the demonic snake, citizens have turned on representatives, carrying out terrorist-like attacks such as hurling bricks through windows ( at least 4) and recorded death threats (at least 10) against democratic representatives.
In Virginia, a Tea Party activist's post of the address of a representative's BROTHER, led to a propane line at the brother's house being cut and to the brother receiving a threatening letter. Former vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, has posted a map complete with gun imagery of circles with cross hairs covering the districts of 20 representatives who voted for Health Care Reform on her facebook site. The 20 districts supported the McCain/Palin ticket two years ago, so I suppose Miss Sarah feels the folks in those districts will take her wishes as commands. Here is a woman in a position of power who could very well use her strength, individuality and stature to make the world a better place, to heal and nurture the nation, and indeed, the world. But she chooses to be the hysteria and violence inciting mouth piece of the "conservative,"greed-driven establishment. How can any sane, intelligent, responsible leader encourage the masses to become violent and irrational? It's beyond me.
Our government is working. It may not, for the first time in a long time, be working in favor of the powerful establishment, and violence is the response! Very sad.
It is refreshing that the states, the actual segments of the strong and unified snake, are exercising the rights of their citizens by bringing suit against the federal government, claiming that the Health Care Reform is unconstitutional, based largely on the provision that citizens must buy insurance or be fined.
Thirteen states initially have filed a united suit, an interesting and historically symbolic number. The fourteenth state, Virginia, to be among the first to peacefully protest the legislation, filed a separate suit, as earlier in the year it was among the first, along with Idaho, to enact legislation stating that health insurance coverage is not mandatory.
An attorney for the states stated that the legislation exceeds the scope of proper constitutional authority of the federal government and tramples on the rights and prerogatives of the states and their citizens. Simply put, opponents believe that the legislation is an unconstitutional takeover of state institutions and programs.
Legal eagles on the flip-side of the coin opine that the legislation will survive challenges, and point to a long thread of precedence of Congressional regulation of economic activity dating back to the New Deal.
I say hurray for the state attorneys general who have brought this non-violent and legal action against the federal government. It is the right of the states and their citizens to peacefully and vigorously challenge the federal government.
It is not right for far-reaching organizations, such as the Tea Party organization, and public figures who claim to be true-blue American and wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, such as Sarah Palin, to in any way shape or form incite or condone violence against elected officials or citizens.
Don't let history's thread become a noose by which our nation, ideals and values are choked out and die. Write to your representatives, tell them you do not condone violence against Americans, elected officials or private citizens. Vote and become involved in defending the American qualities of freedom, unity, peaceful opposition, hard work and generosity- all traits glorified by Christians as well as by patriots.
Embrace the ideals of the ancient snake, of the snake that graced the "Don't Tread on Me" flag of the brave and unified American forefathers.
Recognize the thread that runs through all of our lives and through all of our experiences - keep it strong and vital through your actions, beliefs and example.
What do you think? Be well & happy! Have a wonderful weekend. A new post on Monday.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Simple Pleasures & New Beginnings

Life saw promising new beginnings and simple pleasures realized this past weekend, both large- and small-scale. The most obvious, of course, was the beginning of Spring at 1:32 p.m. Saturday afternoon. My son and I attempted to balance an egg upright at that moment, and for about 10 minutes after the moment, with no success. Later that night, he managed to balance an egg.
I've done it before, but it's always a bit of a thrilling surprise (It doesn't take much these days- lol)!
We celebrated Spring/St.Patrick's Day with a delightful gathering of my sister, her husband, my S.O., my son and me. We enjoyed yummy hors d'oeuvres of stuffed mushroom caps, shrimp,cheeses, fruits,veggies and munchies. The mushroom caps make an easy yet delicious treat. I used to stuff them with alouet cheese. When that became too pricey, I recently switched to jarred spinach dip.
Bake the stuffed caps at 350 until the caps collapse, but before the dip escapes- about an hour. My guests actually preferred the dip-version to the more expensive cheese.
My son and his uncle had a blast metal-detecting in the warm and sunny outdoors. My sister and I always have a good time visiting, and the S.O. moves between the groups, however small, with ease.
For dinner, we feasted on traditional corned beef, soda bread, a twist on cabbage - chopped and sauteed in olive oil with a sprinkling of caraway seeds, a generous amount of grated ginger root and dried cranberries - and roasted red potatoes with olive oil and garlic.
I have fun experimenting with cabbage. I've also sauteed it with ginger, raisins and grated carrots.
We toasted the new season with Guinness from a can in crystal goblets! The feast was topped off by individual pistachio pudding pies topped with heavy whipped cream and green sprinkles. Again, simple but visually appealing and very tasty!
I like to keep entertaining simple, so I can enjoy the people and avoid becoming exhausted and/or harried. I've become accomplished at relaxed entertaining in spite of my former, type-A self - it's glorious!
Another small, personal pleasure came in the form of my daughter, the almost-23-year-old, who fell on hard times after a bad relationship, but who kept working to right her life. She found a nice new apartment above a private home nearer to her job and farther away from the former boyfriend. It's in a safe, residential area. I'm thrilled, and so is she!
And finally, the biggest, simple pleasure - perhaps of all time - the ability to enjoy decent, affordable health care. The just-passed Health Care Reform Bill promises to reduce the deficit by $143 billion over its first 10 years, and to expand coverage to 32 million Americans who are currently uninsured.
The Bill places an increased tax burden on individuals who earn more than $200,000 a year, and couples whose income exceeds $250,000 annually. It cuts Medicare ($500 billion over 10 years!) , and broadens the range of Medicaid for the "poor," many of whom until recently, counted themselves among the middle class. It places an excise tax on "Cadillac" health-care plans.
And in one of those "I love it but I can't believe it" measures, places a 10-percent excise tax on tanning - no kidding! Take that, artificially golden people! Lay out in the sun like us poor people (and/or purists) do! I suppose taxing tanning is akin to cigarette taxes. Both cause cancer. Very interesting move.
My daughter, the one described above, expressed fear that she would be fined for not purchasing insurance through work. As a student, she can't afford to buy health insurance through her employer. As many of the holding-on-by-the-skin-of-their-teeth middle class can't afford to buy in to employer-offered insurance. It should be interesting to see how that plays out. I'll be watching!
Obviously, if your wings tip to the right, this development is no victory. Obviously, the haves are being tapped to help the have-nots. I've been both a have and a have-not. It stinks to be a have, working your tush off and feeling like every one is sucking the blood out of your veins. It stinks to be a have-not, knowing that the inability to afford health care is a life and death dilemma. As I've said, it will be interesting to watch this situation unfurl.
But one thing is for sure, as simple pleasures go, health care should be one that every American has access to and enjoys on a regular, affordable basis. Generally, it was a great weekend for simple pleasures. Let's hope it all works out for the greater good!
What do you think? Be well & happy!
As Spring is here, I'll be spending more time outdoors. I'll be posting on Mondays & Thursdays until further notice! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

One Fish, Two Fish, Will Plankton Be Our New Fish?

From shellfish to lowly tile fish to high-end & much-desired blue-fin tuna, United States fisherman have been accepting (however reluctantly), complying with and learning to co-exist with government restrictions, scrutiny and quotas for nearly as long as I can remember,
Beginning in my youth with pollution-driven restrictions on the clamming industry in Long Island's Great South Bay, to restrictive and industry & life-altering quotas imposed on tile fishing, (as i recall, the last species in the area to fall under quotas) in the 1990s, the subject of restricting catches has been one that I and countless others have been intimately familiar with, and in the short term, adversely affected by, for many decades.
In the long term, all involved must reasonably and eventually conclude that fishery restrictions are for the greater good of the health and welfare of the entire planet. But in the short term, it's heart-wrenching to lose your home or to be forced to stop doing a job that's entwined in your heritage and genetic make-up; to be unable to support your family, and to be forced to move from your hometown and everything you know because of the greater good.
But life changes and stuff happens and humans are adaptable. We have to roll with the punches and come back fighting even harder.
One of the most vocal and dramatic tile fisherman I encountered and interviewed back when the first quotas were imposed , a fellow referred to as "Iron Jack" for his fishing prowess, eventually dried his eyes, sobered up and went on to captain a tug boat in the New York City area. While the waters of New York City are in no way comparable to the splendorous seas off Montauk Point, where Iron Jack tile-fished, they are, none the less, simply at the other end of the long island (literally Long island, NY) on which Jack resided. Although he had to endure a long commute, he kept his home on Long Island's East End. In a perfect world, the outcome might have been better. But in the real world, it certainly might have been worse.
I myself have reacted emotionally to criticisms of commercial fishing. After dropping 20 bucks on the cute singing penguin movie, Happy Feet, I was outraged to find an anti-commercial fishing message tucked neatly inside the happy little story. That 20 bucks had, technically. come from commercial fishing, in the form of my late husband's social security. Along with our hard work, patience and determination, the commercial fishing industry had funded our married-with-children life on the East End rather nicely. Considering that the industry we were involved in had, although difficulty, come to terms and strict adherence with government restrictions, I found the added sting of an anti-fishing message wrapped in my 8-year-old's penguin movie irritating and personally offensive.
Until last night, I didn't know that our fisherman here in the United States are among the only fisherman who are playing fair regarding restrictions and quotas. Until last night, I had not realized that the European fishing industry and the Japanese fishing industry are largely thumbing their collective noses at conservation efforts that may or may not be able to save not only fish, but the seas themselves. Unlike a majority of our fisherman here in the U.S., foreign industries are casually and regularly breaking laws, thereby endangering the health of the planet and all of its inhabitants.
Last night, I watched the documentary, "The End of the Line," made in 2008 and based on the book by environmental journalist Charles Clovers.
Any and all responsible citizens of planet Earth MUST SEE and adsorb the facts of this movie, and IMMEDIATELY act accordingly.
First of all:
  • Our oceans comprise 70 % of the earth's surface
  • Scientists estimate that 90 % of large-species fish have already been depleted
  • As of 2003, 1/3 of all species were in a state of "collapse"
  • By the middle of this century, around 2048, all fish stocks that humans consume will be depleted, leaving oceans brimming with algae, plankton and worms. Naturally, water quality will seriously decline, as it already is in a serious downward spiral. The endpoint, coming in our lifetime(assuming we enjoy longevity) will be a"highly simplified ecosystem of mud and worms,"and that's a quote from a scientist in the movie.
  • Already, lobster populations are exploding in the north Atlantic around Canada because cod fish are all but a dead species. I never imagined, with the ever-present cod cake on the plate of my Catholic childhood, that cod fish would disappear from Atlantic waters. Cow-nosed rays are running wild in mid- and southern Atlantic waters, as a result of the lack of sharks and other predators. If you prefer a leathery ray to a succulent tuna steak or scallop, then you're in luck. But one can't escape that the swell in ray populations stands as testament to the looming death of our seas. Shrimp have become hyper plentiful in many areas, again because of the near-extinction of predators. Jelly fish are running more rampant than ever, closing beaches and serving as another signal in what should be world-wide alarm.
  • During a 2007 meeting of the European Union fisheries ministers, blue-fin tuna expert scientists, whom the world relies upon to set quotas, recommended that to simply avoid collapse of the species, only 15,000 tons be caught. A recommendation of 10,000 tons was made to rebuild and recover the blue-fin tuna species. Sit down for this one, the European Union ministers set the quota at 29.5 thousand - 2 times the amount of avoiding collapse, 3 times the amount to allow the species to recover. And they characterize us as "Ugly Americans." Holy cow-nosed ray!
  • The UK's own fishing minister, Ben Bradshaw, who served form 2003-07 (I guess he was booted after standing up) said of blue fin tuna,"It's species as endangered as the white rhinoceros and yet it's being hunted to extinction in the Mediterranean. It's being exploited at more than twice the levels it should be. Those countries who have over fished are not being forced to pay back what they have over fished. This is not a day in which the EU (European Union) has covered itself in glory." Another unidentified man commented that the quota was "a political quota, negotiating with biology and you just can't do that and expect the biology to survive."
  • In the year the 29.5 thousand ton quota was set by the EU, the Mediterranean blue fin industry, based in Malta and primarily comprised of Italian fisherman, ignored the quota and took 61,000 tons of blue-fin tuna, or 1/3 of the entire blue fin population. The Italian fleet uses planes to spot tuna, a practice outlawed for 10 years!

While watching this horror unfold, I kept thinking, "What about fish farming?" No dice there, either. Turns out fish farming consumes more fish than it produces. As one scientist put it,"You're converting fish from one species to another- you don't make more fish." On average,it takes 5 kilos of wild fish to produce 1 kilo of salmon. Of 100 million anchovies- a prime ingredient in fish and animal feed- caught world wide, 40 % are ground into fish and animal feed. Anchovies are fit for human consumption, relatively plentiful, and very nutritious.

Now here's the good news. As one scientist termed it, "It's not rocket science." We have the answers now, and we have to act now as part of the solution. Every one of us is part of the solution.

  • Ask if fish you're buying is sustainable
  • Tell your politicians to respect science and cut the fishing fleets and encourage other nations to set realistic quotas and enforce laws against their own fishing fleets.
  • Join the campaign to establish a world-wide network of marine-protected areas and responsible fishing. Establishing marine-protected areas will run into the billions of dollars, but isn't saving the planet worth it?
  • Look for the Marine Stewardship Council seal on fish products you buy. It ensures that fish come form a sustainable source. By 2011, Wal-Mart has promised to sell only Marine Stewardship Council fresh and frozen fish. WalMart sells 20,000 lbs of fresh fish per year!
  • Birdseye foods obtains 2/3 of its fish from sustainable sources.
  • Go to www.endoftheline. com for more information.

And finally, in January of 09, a paper in "Science" stated that it has been proven that fish droppings help the oceans absorb carbon dioxide, the first link between over-fishing and global warming.

What do you think? More importantly, what will you do? Be well & happy!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Who put the Irish in Lizzie B.? or A Leap of Faith & Love

Thanks to Leon for leaving a comment. It's gratifying to hear from readers. It makes this less of a one-way conversation!
After days of rain, it's a beautiful sunny day here in NEPA. I hope the sun is shining and the waters are receding where ever you are!

Who Put the Irish in Lizzie B.? or A Leap of Faith & Love

As it's St. Patty's Day Eve, I decided to retell my version (as with all good and often-told stories, there are several versions) of the story of my Irish grandparent's journey to Ellis Island and these American shores. As always, I hope you enjoy it!

Once upon a time in the 1920s, in a place called Kilkenny, Ireland, lived a young woman named Mary Browne. People affectionately referred to her as "Molly," not to be confused with the "unsinkable Molly Browne" of Titanic lore.
Molly was a small girl, short in stature but well-endowed, with wavy auburn hair and large, kind blue/gray eyes. She was humble, yet strong and carefully outspoken. Molly was Earthy and wise from an early age.
In this same place, lived a wild young man named John Brennan, or Jack to those familiar with him. Jack was tall and impressively built. His face shone with dancing brown eyes, round, ruddy, high-placed cheeks, a strong nose that turned up ever so slightly when his full, sculpted lips parted in a smile, revealing beautifully straight white teeth. His head was crowned by thick, wavy brown hair.
Jack was a sight to behold, but given his tendency to dive head-long into trouble, he wasn't the sort of young man a father would trust with his daughter. Jack had fought bravely and was decorated for heroism in World War I. But he came back to a world of political deception, and he reacted as many young men might, with passion and unwise furor. But enough about that aspect of the story.
Young Molly's father had promised her hand to an admirably thought of and much-sought after young soccer player. Molly would have none of her father's arrangement. Being a respectful young woman of carefully chosen words and definitive actions, Molly quietly arranged passage on a ship to America.
Always with his ear to the ground, so to speak, Jack caught wind of Molly's plan. You see, Jack admired and came to love Molly from a far. Somewhat of a rogue, but still deep down a respectful gentleman, he didn't dare defy Molly's father while on Kilkenny's soil.
But Molly's daring plan changed everything. Jack's heart leapt with promise and joy, and his keen mind quickly led his feet to the docks, where he secured a job on the ship Molly would be sailing to America on.
As far as the years have told, both Molly's quiet escape and Jack's plan to win her went off without a hitch.
The years, and Molly's modest ways, have blurred the details, but I like to imagine my young, beautiful, hopeful grandparents, on the cusp of the greatest adventure of their lives, holding hands in the moonlight poised against the ship's rail, as they gazed out into an ocean of possibilities.
As the ship entered New York Harbor, the drama intensified, if only momentarily. Jack had no papers. So Jack being Jack, determined and bold and strong and in-love, leapt from the ship's deck into the Harbor and swam for shore. It makes sense that my family's life in America began literally with a daring leap of faith.
He and Molly met in the City, and began a life that would include 9 children, many grand children, and great grandchildren ranging (today) in age from 25 years to 1 year old, and knowing my younger cousins, there will likely be more descendants in the days to come!
I will always be hugely grateful to Jack & Molly for the bravery, determination, and love that led them to these shores. I surely wouldn't be who I am if they hadn't persevered.
Molly loved her children, grand children, and the two great-grandchildren she met here on Earth, and she loved her new country. She voted in elections until her death at age 89.
She died on April 29, the anniversary of her marriage to Jack. Upon her death, I imagined through tears and pain that Jack was waiting for her, hand outstretched, eyes dancing with delight, as they set off together down a new path to a new adventure.
Jack enjoyed life, without a doubt, but he wasn't blessed with longevity. I only knew Jack through my father's loving revelations and visits to his grave, marked by a Celtic Cross and under a towering old evergreen tree.
I liked to imagine that Jack lived on in that tree, nourishing its roots, just as vibrantly as he lived on in me and my siblings and cousins.
Molly now rests under that tree with Jack, and with her brother & his wife, a daughter & her husband, and a son beside her. My father and a beloved brother lie just up a hill from Molly & Jack. Molly's nephew, whom she sponsored as an immigrant the year I was born, and his young son, a wild colonial boy who died just as he came into adulthood, also rest nearby.
Today, I miss Molly as much as I ever have. I gave birth to a daughter, also named Molly, a little more than 9 months after Molly died. She is beautiful and strong as Molly was, well-endowed and short of stature, as Molly was. My daughter has Jack's large, dancing brown eyes and mane of sun-kissed brown hair. My daughter is adventuress, fun-loving, and independent.
Molly was full of love and strength. And as I end this tale, I will repeat a sentiment that Molly quietly shared with me and lived by and that I now live by:
"Always hug the children, so they will feel your love."
Happy St. Patrick's Day! Be well & happy!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Modern Days to Remember & Celebrate

My Grandma once told me that as long as you're learning, you'll remain alive. Naturally, I'm big on learning something new every day. I learned minutes ago that today is "Pi Day," as in the mathematical constant 3.14.
Math has never been my forte. But I recall understanding "Pi."
If you haven't figured it out yet (tough Saturday night?), it's "Pi Day" because it's 3/14, or March 14.
It's a wonder that there aren't more mathematical/science/technology-based holidays in this technologically-fueled world. Perhaps one day in the near future we'll be celebrating the birthdays of technology's icons, such as Bill Gates and Steven Hawking, just as, or if not more enthusiastically than we celebrate President's Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
I'd be a strong advocate of sanctifying Albert Einstein for a day of remembrance - a scientist with a soul who actually had the character to caution against a certain and devastating use of his own discovery.
And while we're at it, why not a John Glenn Day (1st American to orbit Earth, 1962) or a Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin Day (1st Americans/people on the Moon, 7/20/69) or a Yuri Gagarin Day (1st person of any nationality to orbit earth , 4/12/61)? Or what about a Sally Ride Day, for the first woman in space?
But for now, Happy Pi Day to all you mathematicians out there. Long may you calculate in health & happiness!
Speaking of space, I've been meaning to mention NASA's Space Shuttle Program. As a child of the 60s, I was a keen and enthusiastic observer of the space race. I understand the value of exploring the unknown, but I've always struggled with the justification of huge space expenditures when weighed against starving children, uninsured Americans, etc.
And the idea that once we've screwed up this world to the point of no return, we'll blast off and find a new world to ravage, well, that simply makes me sick to my stomach. If space tourism becomes a contributing element to the greater economic good of the nation, then God's speed to cosmic vacationers.
As far as the space shuttle is concerned, it's personal.
A month or two ago I read with dismay that the last shuttle launch ever will take place in September. Postponements may change that, but none the less, the space shuttle will soon be relegated to the past. And as I've said, I understand the need to move on.
But I have to tell you, the space shuttle launch is one of the most truly spectacular, breath taking, emotion-stirring events I have ever witnessed.
The first launch I witnessed was by day, and was quite a surprise. Sitting behind my desk at a newspaper office in Indian River County, Florida, I noticed my co-workers exiting the building in a large pack. Cigarette breaks were not unusual by twos and threes, but this was everyone at once.
I nonchalantly (as the head of the news staff, I didn't want to appear ignorant of whatever situation was developing) rose and fell in at the back end of the exodus.
Everyone was looking up. Could the sky be falling? And where was that pesky Chicken Little?
"Space shuttle launch," came the gruff voice of my news photographer in a knowingly discreet whisper.
"Are you kidding? " I replied in a sequestered hush. But the hush wasn't as secret as I had intended it to be.
"Sure, Liz, " came the matter-of-fact, but never discreet, southern drawl of one of the sales women.
"You can see the shuttle launch from right here. It's just up a ways in Brevard County," she added.
With that, the group encircled me, the newcomer & novice, gently maneuvering me to the front of the pack, each adding a home-spun tidbit of what a wonder this launch would be.
As the shuttle appeared, I froze in awe of the striking sight. My heart literally began to beat harder as the shuttle soared up, up , and finally away, in billowing, ethereal white and almost-blinding silver. It sounds corny, but I felt as though I was one with the astronauts, and with my crowd of co-workers, and with all who were witnessing that thrilling, glorious launch.
I saw one more day launch, but the most beautiful was the night launch I witnessed.
I was camping in the Ocala National Forest, due west of Daytona Beach. I was told we would see the shuttle launch in the pitch black of the southern night sky, but I never imagined how vividly we would see it.
A brilliant ball of flaming, pulsating orange-red light & energy sliced upward through the night sky, accompanied by a streaming, glowing tail that grew, then lingered, then finally disintegrated into oblivion in a sparkling flourish, as the fiery orb ascended and finally disappeared into space.
Again, breathtaking, indescribably moving, the very real feeling of being one with the shuttle astronauts, of being right along side them, shooting into space, heart beating wildly, as though it might leap from one's chest and into one's mouth, and on into the vast beyond.
Simply awesome.
My former husband used to schedule business trips to Florida around the space shuttle launches. I understood from his enthusiasm that the launches must be a sight to behold. But never in my wildest dreams could I have conjured the stirring spectacle, visually and emotionally, that I experienced first hand.
I've seen a few headlines in the past days indicating that Florida senators are trying to save the shuttle program. Obviously, that's what state senators should be attempting for the good of the local job market and economy.
But if the shuttle program becomes a thing of the past, I'll always be honored to be able to say that I witnessed a truly wondrous event.
And if others who have witnessed space shuttle launches feel the same way, and I can't fathom that they don't, maybe someday soon we'll be celebrating National Space Shuttle Remembrance Day, perhaps on January 28, the anniversary of the dark day in 1986 on which the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off.
Official day of remembrance or not, I will remember the space shuttle launches that I was privileged to witness until the day I die - and perhaps beyond!
What do you think? Be well. Be happy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Good News & a First Step on the Road to Recovery

Not snowstorms, not the credit squeeze, not sky-rocketing unemployment numbers, could deter stalwart consumers from opening their wallets and spending last month, and that equates to good news, however cautiously.
Morning news reports sang joyously of the Commerce Department's statement that retail sales rose 0.3 % in February, the largest gain since last November.
Sales were expected to decline 0.2 %. The overall gain was restrained by a 2 % decline in auto sales, but auto sales aside, sales still grew by 0.8%.
Sales increases were widespread and largely across the board; signalling that consumers may be coming out of hiding and fearlessly loosening their money belts. The hope is that the trend will continue, triggering a chain reaction of businesses rehiring some of the 8.4 million positions eliminated since December 2007.
Rehiring will trigger the revival of household incomes sufficient to support spending growth. Considering that consumer spending accounts for 70 % of our total economic activity, those are high hopes we should all be putting our positive thinking/energy behind, if not our hard-earned cash.
Of course, any one with psych.101 under his or her belt might surmise that the millions of snowbound consumers, refusing to surrender to the winter doldrums, plowed and shoveled and skidded their way out and spent last month simply to preserve sanity and overcome being reduced to shut-ins. Did consumers resolve to make do with less in their pockets this month, with the promise of warmer temperatures on the horizon, to maintain collective sanity in the face of February's seemingly endless blizzards?
One person's hope can be another's "Catch 22," as economic naysayers forecast the grim news that as long as jobs growth and wages remain weak, and creditors continue to pile on the interest for some and lower the ceiling or altogether snatch away the credit lines of others, the acceleration in consumer growth will come to a dead stop.
Whether one is hopeful, or among the naysayers, or simply too focused on where the next gallon of milk is coming from to expend energy speculating, there's a lesson to be learned from this harrowing economic mess that humanity has made for itself. And if the lesson isn't learned I fear, if it's not already too late, life as we knew it, in terms of prosperity, will not be reclaimed.
My grandparents were born in the late 1890s & the very early 1900s. Two of them were adult-immigrants, one was the daughter of immigrants.
Although they were hard-working, innovative, remarkably prosperous people who provided for their (many) children while owning warm, cozy homes and successful businesses, I'm sure they never owned a credit card.
Although I'm sure that any merchant would have extended any of my grandparents credit, I can't remember being in a grocery store or any other sort of a shop with any one of them and hearing talk of credit. Cash was the means by which they participated in the economy.
I suppose that if they couldn't afford something in terms of cash, they did without it. They had lovely homes and belongings and social lives, but didn't over indulge.
My parents were born in 1930 & 1931. Like their parents, they worked hard, achieved college educations, provided for their children and had a warm, cozy home.
Their first home was modest but cheerful and clean. To save to buy the first home, they sucked it up and lived in an apartment on the third floor of my grandmother's house in the Bronx. They did without a social life, for the most part, and didn't indulge in extras.
Their second home was definitely a step-up, in size, location and overall style, but they worked and sacrificed for it. They had a Sears credit card early on for emergencies. Later on, I recall a Macy's credit card and maybe a JC Penney's card. But they put their children's material needs first, and didn't over indulge or careen into debt to keep up with society's delusional dictates or with the neighbors.
My former husband and father of my 4 kids was born in 1950. I was born in 1962. Although we partied hardy, once married, we got our acts together. We owned 2 cozy, warm, nicely furnished homes; the first a small one that we flipped and doubled our money, the second we had built; and provided for our kids.
Like my parents, we sucked it up and lived with my mother for maybe a year while saving money to buy a home. The only things we spent money on were essentials, food, rent, phone bill, life and car insurance, medical expenses, etc .
We owned a business and eventually had some very nice extras, such as a lovely and large built-in pool.
We began our life together with a Sears credit card, and added a couple of others, but we never over indulged financially. We never lived beyond our means or beyond our ability to pay later. My ex actually paid off my college loans just before we married.
For approximately the past 20 years, I've noticed a disturbing trend. Although young people still go to work and want nice homes and well-provided for children, many also seem to have no financial self-control. The extras have become essentials that many people, if not a majority, will dive head-long into debt to possess. There's no such thing as saving money for a home, it's just a given that some institution somewhere will spit out a mortgage, regardless of ability to make payments or to maintain the home and property so it retains its value, or increases in value.
Professionally manicured nails, big screen TVs, artificial tans, Prada bags, I could go on and on, have become essentials, rights, paid for by pretend money.
And partying has taken on a whole new meaning. An alarmingly large number of young people continue to indulge in alcohol and substance abuse when expecting a child and after the child is born. It's a really frightening trend.
And now that the bottom has fallen out of the economy, they're all standing around scratching their heads, wondering what the heck to do without their big screen TVs and their Gucci leather goods.
I could go on, but again, I won't.
I will simply say that the economic mess we're sinking in has the same roots-causes as the environmental mess we've watched pile up for more than 40 years. We made it. We allowed it. We acted (or stood by and tolerated the trend) as if credit was a God-given right, from home ownership to fake nails and phony tans. We allowed our politicians to lull us, hypnotize us, into the brain-washed state where everyone is entitled to everything and anything he or she desires - on demand and on credit.
We freely and/or apathetically fell in line, condoning and embracing (or not speaking out against) the "anything goes and at any price" mentality that plagues society.
There are no privileges, only rights. We have compromised our language, our culture, and apparently, few of us have learned a damn thing from history or from our mistakes.
We have become the Roman Empire, and we are falling.
What is the solution? I don't know. But I do know that every journey, no matter how arduous and long, begins with a one step. (Where have I heard that before?)
We have to stop glorifying things, possessions, we don't need. We have to get back to basics. We have to embrace minimalism. Since my divorce and the death of my ex and the fall of our business in the last decade, I've honestly and profoundly learned that people are indeed, more important than possessions.
I have learned that one can be happy while living without non-essentials.
I've learned that I spend a lot more time with my 11-year-old than I did with my 3 adult children because we live more simply. For instance, my son and I decided to forgo cable television more than a year ago. We can afford it, but we decided the money would be better spent on camping trips or on other "together activities," or simply saved.
We take walks and play board games together and read (and discuss) books together and watch (and discuss) movies together. It's really cool.
We discuss issues that we read about in papers and on the Web. We are much more aware of each other and much more thinking and aware than most families. But it all takes discipline and determination. There are times when I miss TV and other "stuff" that I now live without. But I don't need all the "stuff," and neither do any of us!
So perhaps as the first step, along with collective positive thinking for a continued, if gradual, economic recovery, we should all try to give up a non-essential, if we haven't already exhausted our supply of non-essentials, in an effort to live more responsibly for the greater economic and environmental good.
What do you think? Be well & happy!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Of Ice Cream, Addiction, Purpose and Love

Welcome to new follower Lizz, a neighbor right here in the NEPA town where I live! Lizz's son and my son are very good friends. Her entire family has made my son feel welcome and comfortable in their home. My son is, for all intents and purposes, a "lonely only," as his closest sibling is 9-years his senior and living more than 1,000 miles away. My boy loves Lizz's family, and has learned what it's like to be a big brother, thanks to her adorable little daughter. With delight, wonder and humor, my son keeps me updated on the little girl's accomplishments and adventures. Thanks for following, Lizz. And thanks for sharing your family, kindness and patience with my son!

Of Ice Cream, Addiction, Purpose and Love

Knowing yourself, weaknesses as well as strengths, is half the battle won toward a purposive life. Throughout my adult life, I've tended to be, in some aspects, immature regarding men. I've jumped head-first into relationships with all but one of the men I have desired, with little regard or thought given to exactly what I was diving into.
As Twitter and facebook became flustered and flabbergasted by a risque line uttered during last week's episode of a popular TV show, I reacted by matter-of-factly agreeing that my heart, as well as my brain, had quite often been in my vagina. (I hope I haven't offended any one. We are all adults here.)
I've wondered for at least the past 10 years if I have ever truly been in love, or if I was instead, smitten and consumed by lust. I've also asked myself if perhaps, love and lust are simply entwined, one unable to exist without the other, two parts that contribute equally to the whole. Once upon a time in the 80s, I loved the man I married wildly, irrationally, more than I loved myself. How then, did I fall out of love with him? Or did I not fall out of love?
Well, those are questions that may never be answered here on Earth. But I have learned that I do have maturity/control/judgement issues when it comes to men, alcohol and sweets.
I've addressed and conquered the man-based immaturity by admitting to a long-lusted after and much-admired (for his brain, kind and nurturing demeanor, and success) friend, that I felt desire for him.
I admitted and thanked him for being "the one" who allowed me to learn that he means more to me as a life-long friend than as a lover. I've finally matured to the point that I know not to screw-up a friendship by surrendering to lust. It didn't hurt that I really like his wife (he was divorced upon my admitting that I had a thing for him, but still . . .), or that more than 1,000 miles separated us, or that I was already in a long-term relationship.
None the less, I had desired him, loved him, for so many years, that fessing up was as painful and tearful as it was a relief and an act of maturity that strengthened our friendship.
I've addressed and conquered the alcohol-based immaturity by admitting and embracing that I'm just one of those people who can't drink. I used to be able to drink most men under the table, which was really hazardous to all involved. Once pumped to the bursting-point with booze, just one more irresistible drink - disguised in a pretty glass and all-dolled-up with fruit , olives, an umbrella or a cute stirrer - sends me into black-out oblivion. I'll simply say that having spent the first 38 years of my life in close proximity to bodies of water easily accessible to an impaired driver, I'm fortunate to be alive. I didn't drink often once married, but when I occasionally did, it wasn't pretty.
I also can't drink because of diabetes and cardio vascular difficulties.
Additionally, I quit smoking, cold turkey and permanently, more than two years ago because of health issues. I feared that I would never quit smoking. I really, truly enjoyed it. But maturity prevailed when push came to shove.
I do sometimes wax nostalgic for the days of margaritas and martinis expertly shaken or stirred to perfection at a restaurant called B. Smith's overlooking a yacht-filled harbor in the bucolic village of Sag Harbor, N.Y.; and along with a heavenly concoction, a long drag on a cigarette; but I've matured to the point that I know and control my weaknesses. I'd rather live less recklessly and less indulgently than die.
I've conquered men, booze and tobacco. Why then, can I not turn a cold shoulder to ice cream? More specifically, the creamy dreamy yummy goodness of a chocolate milk shake?
I hate to sound stupid, but in this respect, up until yesterday, I was.
I know that each time I give in and turn into the drive-up line - which isn't often, but more often than it should be - I'm indulging in a self-justified treat that will, in no uncertain terms, shorten my life.
A woman who checks her sugar regularly (except after a shake break-down, because I just don't want to know how bad it is for me!), reads labels and counts calories, carbohydrates and sugar content, becomes a self-destructive fool in the face of a milk shake.
Talk about being immature. Images of a foot-stomping five-year-old, eyes clenched tightly against reality, insisting that if she can't see you, you can't see her, come to mind.
But yesterday marked a turning point in my war against chocolaty sweet temptation in a take-out cup.
A headline inquiry of "What's Really in Your Food?" on MSN Health leveled the playing field, placing victory squarely in my corner. Now I know and have admitted and accepted how undeniably bad the commercial fast-food chocolate shake is - and oh, baby, it's BAAAAAD!!!!!
A McDonald's large milk shake contains a whopping 1,160 calories! Add its 510 mg of sodium, 27 grams of fat (16 of those saturated), and 168 grams of sugar, and I may as well ask McDonald's to install a drive-up adjacent to the cardiac intensive care unit of my local hospital for the sake of convenience!
The news continues to improve, as I looked up (at the calorie and nutrition count of a homemade chocolate shake.
With 1 cup of whole milk from a local dairy and 7 ounces of chocolate ice cream (that's twice a single serving according to government regulations), a homemade shake passes the lips with 500 calories, 208 mg of sodium, 20.8 grams total fat (12.8 saturated), and 40.4 grams of sugar.
There's just no reason, except lack of self-control, not to forgo the commercial shake for one made at home, if one must indulge. And now that all the numbers have been revealed, I'll be denying the homemade shake-cravings much more often than not!
Another triumphant step toward sane and healthy purpose, another step away from addiction and ice cream. Mature, refreshing, honest love remains, as it continues to lend more joy than sorrow to life.
What do you think? Be well and happy!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Squeezing Good News from Bad

Back in my days as a comfortable (yet often desperate!) housewife (hw), I ran with a fellow hw who was in no way, shape or form cut from ordinary cloth. Along with being the mother of 2 and a wife, Donna was a rather well-known psychic. She boasted corporate clients such as Conde Nast and Citibank and celebrity clients who shall remain nameless. She (with me as her some-time producer and occasional sidekick) hosted a cable TV call-in show, "Psychically Speaking with Donna McCue."
Always striving to move onward and upward and to spread positive energy throughout the cosmos, Donna one day came up with the idea of "The Good News Show."
As I remember, like "Psychically Speaking," "Good News" was a call-in format. But before the caller was gifted with a free psychic reading, he or she was required to contribute a good news item, either personal or news-based. I never ceased to be amazed by the hemming and hawing that went on more often than not upon reminding a viewer that they had to tell of good news to pass go.
Despite grumpy viewers who were only in it for the free reading, we had a blast putting both shows out. A particular "Good News Show," that will always stand out in my memories featured a senior-aged work out enthusiast as the guest. As bald and wrinkly as he appeared, the fellow was really physically spry and emotionally uplifting. The three of us ended up ridiculously wiggling and laughing our heads off as we danced the macerana on NY-metropolitan-area cable TV.
Donna and I were a lot like Lucy and Ethel. Always working the angles, always looking for the next big idea, inspirational gimmick and golden opportunity.
As I was scanning the headlines this morning, I thought of Donna and the "Good News Show," because frankly, the headlines were mostly dismal. Aside from one of my favorite actresses winning an Oscar, the reports screamed of bombings and earthquakes and dead bodies of young girls. Not good news, to say the last, and I was hoping to be inspired.
Always one to fashion a silk purse from a sow's ear (or at least try my darnedest to), I spotted the New York Times headline, "Deal to Save Everglades May Help Sugar Firm."
In my opinion and experience, it's never a good idea to help a sugar firm. Sugar firms, while providing revenue, rape the land and exploit workers. It doesn't matter on which side of the political fence one sits, I am here to tell you that I have met and interviewed migrant farm workers and their families in Florida. They love their children, they go to Church, they send their kids to school and take pride in their achievements. And when they become part of a community, although at first it's only for months out of a year, they give back.
I've met migrants volunteering in churches, schools, libraries, homeless shelters, for charities, and at community events. I've met migrants who have become citizens, built homes, and have started successful businesses. I regularly interacted with the son of a migrant who along with owning his business and home, served his community as a city councilman.
I am aware that this pretty scenario is not the case in all places frequented by migrant workers. But in Florida, the migrants I was inspired and enlightened by knowing were family and community-oriented-people, returning to the same cities and towns season after season, with many eventually settling in those towns and cities.
Additionally, sugar is just bad for every man, woman and child on the planet. Just take a look out your window at the obese, out of breath, legion of type 2 diabetics - both young and old- that wanton sugar consumption has created. Enough said.
Back to the Everglades. The first time I laid eyes on the Everglades, I was astonished by its beauty, and that's an understatement. There's no point in searching for words, the Everglades, with its harmonious palate of bright, glowing greens and sparkling blues tinged with earth-tone browns and yellows, and wonderfully teaming with life, is simply awe-inspiring. It's a unique, subtropical wetland; one-of-a-kind and evaporating into obscurity, doomed to eventually die because its simple yet vital thirst for clean water is going unquenched.
"The River of Grass," as locals call it, is truly a national, global treasure that must be experienced first-hand, and that must be reclaimed, rejuvenated and preserved.
Interestingly enough (this is, after all, the NEPAFollies) a native Pennsylvanian who happens to be Florida's well-tanned 44th governor put forth a plan to do just that, reclaim and preserve the Everglades.
Politics aside, Charlie Crist is, as far as I was able to surmise, a decent, down-to-Earth guy. I'm basing that opinion on a very personal need - the need for politicians to take or return the calls of reporters before press time. When Crist was Florida's attorney general(2003-07), and I was a newspaper journalist, he never left me in the lurch, so he's OK by me.
Originally, and before the economic down-turn exploded into an economic A-bomb,Crist's plan (as governor) was to buy out Everglade's landowner U.S. Sugar to the tune of $1.75 billion. Crist characterized the huge expenditure as a gift to the Everglades, to the people of Florida, to all U.S. citizens and to the planet.
Public ownership of U.S. Sugar's land was a crucial link in restoring the Everglades that Crist deemed, "as monumental as the creation of the nation's first national park, Yellowstone."
Long story short, by Spring 2009, Florida could only afford to spend $536 million on 72,800 acres. The state retains purchase rights for the remaining 107,000 acres, but the fact remains, the winner here is largely U.S. Sugar, as it pockets $5.3 mill. and its operations continue buzzing along, spewing sugar to the obese masses, and further choking out the River of Grass.
Although the down-sized plan still offers the best hope immediately available for restoring the Everglades, the current deal leaves six large disconnected parcels, a huge deterrent to restoration.
So where's the good news here? I see good news in the fact that the New York Times is reporting about restoring the Everglades in a supportive manner. It's good news that you're reading this, and I hope it's good news that you care. It's good news for my personal campaign against stress that I was reminded of an indescribably beautiful, serene place I once had the opportunity and honor to visit and to revel in.
And perhaps it will become good news that a fellow Pennsylvanian-turned-Floridian will receive the national support needed to save a global treasure from extinction.
What do you think? Have a wonderful day!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Teach Your Parents

I'm a day late, but there's good news!
If you're a fan of great second-hand/consignment shops and you live here in NEPA, or if you're just passing through, you've got to stop by the Hen's Nest Country Variety Consignment Shop in Mt. Cobb (570-503-0536).
Having come to NEPA rather suddenly (upon the death of my brother, intending to lend support to my mother, another stranger-than-fiction chapter of my life!) I've been searching for an affordable, comfortable, visually appealing, clean and smellin' pretty used or new couch.
I left the bulk of my beautiful, less than 4-year-old furniture in Florida, as I had a terminally ill/financially strapped neighbor who really needed decent furniture, and in an effort to cut moving costs so I could financially concentrate on repairing my mother's very dilapidated, 100-plus-year-old home.
Since arriving in July 2007, and even before that, I've been to many, many second hand shops, and I've looked at just as many, likely more, second-hand couches. Either due to appearance, odor, or unreasonable price, no couch I've perused has come close to being the one I'd spend my hard-earned dollars on.
I was both surprised and delighted upon entering the Hen's Nest last weekend, to find not one but three couches I would deem fit for purchase. The couch I bought is the cleanest, most comfortable, best-looking, most odor-free couch I've ever seen among used furniture. And the price was, in my experience, a steal at $200, for a couch with working recliners on either end.
The other two couches are still waiting for a home, and are both very good deals for the prices being asked. Both are clean, attractive and odor-free. All of the other furniture for sale was some of the best-looking that I've seen in a second-hand shop.
I also bought a $30 cardio glider- another huge bargain- and still with some of its original wrapping on!
So if you're a lover of recycling, treasure-hunting, and saving money, check out the Hen's Nest. The employees and atmosphere are very pleasant, as well. Call first, as it's closed on Tuesday & Wednesday, and I think on Sunday, too.

Now on to "Teach Your Parents"

There are few circumstances more worrisome, deeply disturbing and/or painful, than knowing your child is being hurt, taken advantage of ,or behaving self-destructively. Add all-alone and far-away to the mix, and the cool, calm self one has achieved can dissolve into a puddle of quivering nerves in a heart beat! The degree of parental anguish, of course, depends on the severity of the child's situation.
Extreme situations are blatantly, cruelly, vividly, frighteningly illustrated by the recent suicides of young adults whose parents happen to be well-known.
I have a child (the older sister of the 21-year-old and the 11-year-old) who behaves very self-destructively, and at the same time works harder to succeed than most of her peers.
One moment, she is a slurring, self-pitying addict, the next, she's a well-spoken, brilliantly intelligent young woman. I never know which one I'm going to encounter. I have readied myself, as well as any parent can, for the middle-of-the-night phone call informing me that she's dead or grievously injured or in jail.
The entire time my older kids (25 in June,23 in May, just turned 21) were growing up, I was certain that they would be socially and psychologically better-off than my generation (teenagers is the 70s) and my ex-husband's (their father's) generation (teenagers in the 60s) had been.
After all, my children had the advantage of drug resistance programs taught by friendly uniformed police officers from the very early years of elementary school.
As their grandparents may have been unaware of the wild lives their children were living, their father's generation had pretty much invented free-love and the drug culture, and their mother's generation had taken up the freak flag and joined in and carried on with gusto and reckless abandon.
We were parents who would not be blind to our children's attempts at covert activities.We were parents who knew it all, who had done it all and whose kids would see us as infinitely cool people with whom they could discuss any subject.
No one ever told us (early enough to stop us) that drugs were really bad for your body and brain. To the contrary, those older, oh-so-intriguing children of the 60s told us the wondrous stories of seemingly endless and glorious adventures induced and fueled by hallucinogenics, booze, pharmaceuticals and the like.
My eyes literally welled with tears of joy when I first learned that drug resistance would be taught to my kids in school by an authority other than me when they were still young enough to be convinced that users are losers!
Also from an appropriate age, I taught my kids, and repeated often, that life is a precious commodity - a miracle, a gift. Once life is over and done with, it's just that, over and done, you can't get it back. Dead is forever, and dead simply sucks.
The James Deans and Janis Joplins and Curt Cobains of this world may make suicide and reckless behavior seem all sexy and dramatic and self sacrificing and noble, but that's just an adolescent, hormone induced illusion. Death is heart-wrenching. Death is hollow and sickening. Death is stone-cold, rock-hard, maimed-beyond-recognition ugly.
Of course, I've witnessed the beauty in death, but for my purpose, which was preventing my kids from surrendering to the despondence that leads to suicide and putting oneself in mortal danger, I had to leave the possibilities of peace, blessed relief and becoming more evolved, happier beings out of death.
If they felt suicidal, depressed, anguished, they needed to tell me, their dad, a teacher, parents of friends, some one in a position to help and provide counsel, immediately if not sooner!
Additionally, when they became older, car-driving teenagers, I taught my kids that in the course of their experiences, they had to be sure that they were in the company of some one with whom they could trust their lives. I retold stories of kids who over-dosed or became injured (and of one kid who was murdered by acquaintances from his neighborhood) while hanging out with friends, only to be left to die or end up in a vegetative state when their frightened cohorts fled the scene in an effort save their own butts.
I have taught and encouraged my kids to fight the good spiritual fight. Evil exists, and it sneaks into your life in many forms. Give evil even the slightest opportunity to slither in, and it will, and you'll lose control.
One of the most frightening, daunting challenges regarding my children came with the terminal illness and death of their father.
My little guy was six when his Dad died, and I didn't believe he would survive his Dad's death.
He and his Dad were "buddies," "best friends." His Dad taught him to cook and to clean house. His Dad made him feel larger than life, a confident equal. He was the person his Dad could depend on. They shopped together at Wal Mart and at flea markets, buying both essentials and things that neither of them really needed, but that my son now treasures, mostly model ships. He wasn't a baby lost in the crowd of school, or siblings or life in general when he was with his Dad.
My little guy attended a Christian School at the time of his Dad's death. His classmates and teachers prayed for his father daily, hopefully, and with great optimism.
When he died, they held a ceremony at school that included messages to Dad tied to balloons, and lots of support and sympathy.
My boy began to see images - while awake and in the living room- of his father being dragged off by hostile, cloaked spirits. He dreamt of his Dad falling from the sky, landing violently in the middle of a highway, and being struck and killed by a car over and over.
With the help of his loving teachers and classmates, and a Hospice counselor, my little guy persevered and became whole and happy again. The demons subsided and went away.
There is still sadness, such as when my little guy realizes he's forgetting his Dad as the years progress. But during those times, we talk and reminisce. We laugh and we cry and we take out the photo albums and write our memories down so we won't forget. We've learned to heal ourselves and to carry on.
During her father's demise, my older daughter, 17 at the time, allowed herself to plunge head-first into a world of drug use and self-destruction.
She was there with bandages for her Dad when his skin was paper thin and bleeding, and when he needed to be reminded to take his pills and potions.
While in a drunken and/or drug-induced stupor, she was beaten and sexually assaulted by peers at a party only months before her Dad died.
To this day, I don't know which was sadder, seeing my ex sitting in the emergency room, his face gaunt and sallow, his body devastated by cancer, or seeing my daughter lying in the emergency room, stitches in her tear-stained face, her body bruised and battered and violated.
Her outcome is not as clear-cut as her brother's. She has survived. She has even persevered. But the demons are still with her. Still taunting her, tempting her, and I fear that the demons may well eventually take her.
The point is, that from life-altering, devastating situations, to simple, every day dilemmas, my children have taught me that when all is said and done, I can't protect them or control them or save them from themselves and their demons.
I can only be supportive. I can encourage them and help them fight to be strong. I can relate my experiences, and have faith that they will follow the right path.
I've laid a foundation on which they must now build. The building may be strong and straight, or it may be weak and topple into dust.
As I brought my prized second-hand couch home yesterday, I was reminded of a recent phone call from my 21-year-old.
She was seeking advice, reassurance really, because her roommate had purchased a used couch and chair from Craig's List. The furniture is stained and dirty, to the degree that my daughter won't sit on it. This is a young woman who has been on her own since shortly after her high school graduation (with honors), when I left Florida in 2007 and she stayed to start college.
The roommate paid $300 for the furniture and expects my girl to pay half.
My girl works hard at two jobs and attends school. I told her to nicely but matter-of-factly tell her roomie that she will rent a steam cleaner and buy whatever supplies are necessary to clean the furniture, but that she won't pay for half of the furniture.
The strength and depth of my conviction was intense that my girl not let herself be taken advantage of - that she not put her hard-earned money toward junk.
So I suppose that when even the smallest of problems presents itself, the claws will momentarily spring forth, the blood pressure will quickly spike and (hopefully) recede.
But finally, my children have taught me to treasure the moments of goodness and peace and beauty and success.
They've taught me to have faith in myself and in them and in fate or God or in the natural order of things or in whatever one believes is humankind's guiding source.
And the next time I begin to react with stress to a child-related situation, I'll take a deep breath, recline on my new/used couch, and turn within myself to draw on inner peace, calm, and strength.
What do you think?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Teach Your Children, Part II

Welcome, Trish! Trish contacted me via e-mail. She agrees that something must be done about the health care crisis at the grass roots level -that's us! (see "Solving the Health Care Crisis @ Home")
I let Trish know that I've mailed a letter to the Pa State Medical Assoc., asking for assistance/advice/direction. I'm also working on a couple of other ideas.
As I've said, the longest, most arduous journey starts with one step. Thanks for stepping up, Trish!

While being treated (!) to lunch yesterday, I noticed a little fellow of about 4-years-old enthusiastically entering the restaurant. I've gotten to the delightful point in life, where if a kid isn't behaving like a demon from Hell, I can appreciate, even admire, even smile at a tike expressing his or her individuality and confidence.
This little guy literally buzzed in (he was making a buzzing noise) and glided directly to the ice cream station of the Chinese Buffet. Within mere moments, he was buzzing back to the dining area -directly to the booth he was sharing with Mom and Dad- with two hands holding a generous mountain of chocolate ice cream balanced quite skillfully atop a waffle cone. Yum!
The garlic chicken is wonderful, the egg rolls crispy, the Chinese cabbage cooked to perfection, but to me, the splendor of a chocolate ice cream come is unsurpassed, and naturally, I'm a diabetic!
As I enjoyed dessert vicariously though the little guy, it struck me, as I have been similarly struck in the recent past, that by allowing their son to go straight to the ice cream, Mom and Dad may well have been setting an example of parenting at its best.
The little fellow moved swiftly, but he wasn't running or yelling or cutting in front of other diners. Once seated with his cone, he engaged in acceptably-toned conversation with Mom and Dad.
The little guy appeared to be very healthy, not fat or too thin. He demonstrated intelligence by his ability to calmly converse, and very well-developed fine motor skills in the ice-cream scooping department. By all indications, he's a well-rounded, physically and mentally fit little tike.
More importantly, he's a self-confident, fearless and aware-of-his-surroundings child.
Having been a shy little kid, and having had a first child who was in certain situations painfully shy, I rejoice when I see a child who is confident at an early age.
Having often been afraid as a child, I revel in witnessing a kid who is in control and polite, but fearless. Mom and Dad never let him out of their sight, and the tike knew not to enter the restroom without his Dad.
Having stressed and toiled and sometimes battled to raise kids who behaved in public while eating the healthy food first - kids who usually waited for Mom to make the first move - I applaud these parents for either consciously or instinctively knowing that as long as Hell isn't breaking lose, it's OK to eat your ice cream first, or to eat ice cream only on a special occasion, such as lunch out with Mom and Dad.
Now that my first three kids are all adults and the younger guy is 11, and sadly, their Dad is long dead, I've recently come to realize that parents shouldn't sweat the small stuff. I had a great time with my older kids for the most part, but I really regret not having been lighter and less stressed on many occasions.
The memories of raising my kids are wonderful treasures, but the treasure box would be much fuller, indeed brimming over, if I had just stepped back, taken a moment to breath and to simply observe and be delighted.
I had the brains to realize that letting my kids sleep late and watching them sleep late during summer vacations and days off provided everlasting moments of beauty. I was aware enough to conclude that watching their every triumph through the black and white screen of a video camera, while spasmodically maneuvering for the best shot, was no where near as good as the actual moments and memories.
These days, my 11-year-old and I often eat dessert first, and on occasion, dessert only.
If that little fellow in the restaurant remembers yesterday at all, he'll remember a happy, stress-free lunch with Mom and Dad - certainly a moment to treasure.
He'll also remember that his Mom and Dad taught him to be confident, self-sufficient and at ease in his surroundings - in my opinion, an invaluable lesson that's profound in its simplicity and wisdom.
What do you think? What's the most important lesson that you've taught your (a) child(ren)?