Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shedding our skins

New Years approaches and our thoughts turn to resolutions, to-do lists, and yes, diets. All of these themes can be boiled down to one topic: change. Even if 2008 was a good year, there are aspects we'd like to never do again or at least improve.

Change requires energy. Change requires discipline and resilience and fortitude. And change requires letting go of what is and reaching for what could be.

Nature knows about change. Season change requires a passing of the old before the new appears -- think of summer and its leafy trees passing into autumn and the bright foliage to winter where all is bare and covered with snow. Or as this quote points out:
It seems necessary to completely shed the
old skin before the new, brighter, stronger,
more beautiful one can emerge. . . . I never
thought I'd be getting a life lesson from a snake. --
Julie Ridge

What do you need to shed before you can succeed at change? Of course, if you notice a snake sheds a skin, but underneath is a brighter, newer copy of the same. Is 'shedding' a skin enough change or do we need to recreate the pattern and texture of our lives? It is a good time to look at:
  • Attitudes
  • Habits
  • Ignorance
  • People/Friends/Enemies
  • Time wasters
  • Accumulation
  • Baggage
  • Pain
  • Health
  • Thoughts
  • Joys
  • Sorrows
  • Disappointments
  • Accomplishments
Ask yourself why we have such a difficult time at making changes in our lives? When I think of change, I think of that law of physics about an object at rest stays at rest -- inertia is my biggest detriment to change. But then I read:
Since we live in a changing universe, why do people
oppose change? If a rock is in the way, the root of a tree
will change its direction. The dumbest animals try to adapt
themselves to changed conditions. Even a rat will change
its tactics to get a piece of cheese. --
Melvin B. Tolson
Rivers curve around to find the easiest course. Why do we always try to plow ahead regardless of easier ways to get where we're going? Maybe 2009 can be the year that we find our way around our problems and forge a new path to our goals, success, and a happier life.

Are there some specifics to be achieved in 2009?
  • Travel more?
  • Learn more?
  • Love more?
  • Care more?
  • Smile more?
  • Do more for others?
  • Share more?
  • Give more?
  • Meditate more?
What's the first step to change. What can we do today to help us succeed in 2009? Change one thing you do today.
  • Eat oatmeal for breakfast instead of a pastry.
  • Take a walk around the block before sitting down to watch television
  • Write a letter to someone you have neglected
  • Clean out one drawer -- and throw something away!
  • Hug your Mom, your Dad, your daughter, your son, your spouse -- for no reason
  • Smile at a stranger
  • Adopt a charity to support
  • Make a phone call to someone you've thought about recently
Maybe the secret to success in 2009 is simply doing one thing each day and at the end of the year you have 365 things accomplished. Rather than expecting to lose 100 pounds this year, expect to eat 100 healthy meals. Expect to take 100 walks. Sometimes baby steps are the best way to start a journey.

Remember that in this life we started out flat on our backs before we learned to crawl, and toddle and walk and then run.... Perhaps a few days flat on our back, seeing the sky -- stars and clouds -- and noticing the world around us, getting reacquainted with our environment. That's a good point at which to begin this journey.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tis the Season?

The holidays seem to bring out the best and worst in people. Sometimes the worst behaviors in some bring out the best in others.

Down under at the Tauranga Foodbank thieves broke in and stole food that was being amassed to donate to those in need. In addition to some frozen foods and sweets, the thieves stole most of their teaspoons. The foodbank director couldn't explain why they would do such a thing or why anyone would feel the need to steal from a foodbank.

At the same time, as word spread of the crime, businesses have stepped up to help replace the stolen articles and the foodbank is collecting about $400 a day in donations due in part to the despicable thieves' actions.

Across the lower 48 and perhaps even into Hawaii and Alaska, there have been reports of stolen creche, lawn decorations and a few attacks (with knives) on Frosties and other Christmas inspired plastic inflated icons.

The Lincolnshire police site offers a 'menu' of ways to deter crime this season. One I hadn't considered was: "Never leave car keys or handbag downstairs at night -- take them to bed with you." And speaking of handbags -- a colleague at work pointed out that sometimes the handbag is the reason for the theft, heck with what's inside. A Louis Vuitton purse, valued at around $1000 might be worth keeping and ditch the checkbook and credit cards. I have no fear of every owning let alone concern over such a pricey purse being stolen.

What I do have is a strange sense of humor and evidently I'm not alone because this compilation of Christmas crimes from 2006 makes me shake my head and smile. For example the parade float driver who led the police a merry chase after having imbibed a bit too much of his own eh hem holiday cheer. Or:

In Chicago, 32 plastic baby Jesus dolls were stolen from nativity scenes set up in people's front yards. The kidnappers then lined up all the dolls along the fence outside a Chicago woman's home; she rounded them up and turned them over to her parish priest.

Similar creche crimes occurred in 35 cities from Fayetteville, N.C., to Mission Viejo, Calif., according to The Catholic League, which tracks nativity vandalism.

And then there is the young woman who delivered a Christmas card to her incarcerated boyfriend -- seems innocent enough and filled with the right kind of holiday spirit. But the police took offense at the marijuana included inside the card....

And if you really want a bizarre view of Christmas and crimes. Check out Freaking News.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

From crap jobs to world changers

Are you working one of those low life, entry level, no respect jobs that pays just enough to keep you off food stamps? Or maybe not even pays that much.

Do you schlep books at the library with the cute title of 'page' or check out groceries, clean bathrooms, work in a fast food restaurant where you never get the smell of grease out of your clothes or hair? Clean up hospital rooms? Maybe you assist nurses? If so, you have the perfect fodder for a best seller.

Just ask Anne Sams, the long suffering checkout girl at a grocery in France. Her book became a summertime sensation in that country and now is being made into a play, a graphic novel, and has been translated into several other languages. Check out managers are handing out copies of the book to their new hires. And yes, Ms. Sams quit her job after her advance, the equivalent to her annual salary of approx. $26,400. I didn't realize that checkout clerks were paid that well....

She has even been hired as a consultant for a manufacturer of checkout equipment and the government has asked her opinion on groceries being allowed to stay open on Sundays. Read more about her rise to stardom in the Washington Post article.

Sams, unlike Barbara Echrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, did not go undercover 'as a low paid worker.' Sams lived the life. She worked her way through college as a check out clerk, but when no jobs materialized after graduation, she stayed on. A student of modern literature, and obviously of life, she wrote a semi-humorous book, Tribulations of a Cashier. She catalogued the boors and mean-spirited abuses, the managers and their part-time schedules that took a chunk out of every day, as well as the ironies of her day to day encounters for eight years from behind her beeping counter.

It takes a certain amount of courage to write about the horrors and abuses of such a job when it is what you depend on for survival, yet if no one uncovers the dirty little secrets, how will things ever change? Sams began her journey to authorship with a blog that attracted quite a readership including journalists and evidently a publisher. The phenomena of blog to published book is still rare enough that the Washington Post saw it as news, but still, for those struggling to write their first book -- a blog may be the first step.

Recently my husband and I watched a television program devoted to a man who went around with his video recorder documenting his local police officers breaking laws. Parking in no parking zones, running stop lights, parking in bus stops and declaring a trip to the deli for coffee as an emergency.... Another man follows prostitutes in his neighborhood, trying vainly to clean up the area where he is raising his children, stopping johns and hookers from performing 'business' on children's playgrounds or in public places.

We can all make a difference. Sometimes it begins with simply saying, "I don't understand." Or the act of admitting to not agreeing with the person in charge. Or just asking, "Why?"

A favorite story that I heard when I was a newlywed told of a young wife fixing a ham by first cutting off one third of it and discarding it. When her husband asked why, she shrugged and said, "That's what Mom does." When she asked her mother why she cut off part of the ham before baking it, her mother said, "Because my mother always did." When grandma was finally asked her ham baking method. She said. "I had to make it fit in the only baking pan I had...."

I wonder how many times we do things 'traditionally' without knowing the tradition. I wonder how many ways there are to more efficiently or better do a job but no one dare speak up for fear of dragging down wrath upon their heads? Do you see problems? Find a solution. Then tell someone who can cause change.

"Today's world needs change, alteration, renewal, and corrections of errors. It needs new ideas, new approaches, methods, plans, procedures, and new ways of doing things." --Wilferd A. Peterson

Sunday, December 7, 2008

No more piling on!

As I write this the interview between Barack Obama and Tom Brokaw is playing out on Meet the Press. I'm hearing a real discussion, not just sound bites and platitudes.

The election is behind us.

I'm breathing easier than I have for nearly a decade. That sounds strange, I'm sure, because we are probably in the worst situation economically and globally than in my entire life. But finally, I feel that we actually have a mature, capable, ethical, moral, problem-solving man at the helm. I see him building a reputable team to assist him.

The last few weeks I felt relief and hope filter into my thinking. But it became obvious that I have kept alot of frustration, stress and concern -- alot of just plain fear -- bottled up. I question everything and doubt most of what I hear from everyone. And I expect the worst.

When everything came to a head a few days ago, I realized that I needed to find a better way to deal with life's problems. I reached out to friends and colleagues on my favorite writing community, Internet Writing Workshop, and asked for their recommendations for meditation online, books, whatever. And while their suggestions began arriving in my inbox, I began doing my own search.

I believe in the divine. I believe that there is no such thing as a coincidence.

So, when I 'stumble' across a site, I have this faith that something has led me to it. And right now, I'm glowing with that synchronicity that brought me to the wisdom of the Living Life Fully website.

I shared the site with my fellow writers and just this morning I received this response:

"Thank you for this! I've been receiving the meditations for two mornings now. Wow! They are inspiring. This was a true gift. " --Ann

That's how I feel!

The first message I read on this site was exactly what I needed to hear after having been yelled at by my supervisor at work. While I was feeling like I was living the wrong life and wondering where the real 'me' has gone, I read:

Don't feel sorry for yourself if you have
chosen the wrong road--turn around!

Edgar Cayce

After a few paragraphs discussing this concept, it ended with another quote. Almost verbatim what a couple of friends -- fellow muses -- had been telling me:

When you find yourself overpowered, as it were,
by melancholy, the best way is to go out and do something.

John Keble
But the first quote I received in the daily meditations sent to my inbox is now copied and hanging in my locker at work:

Hold up your head! You were not made for failure, you were made for victory; go forward with a joyful confidence in that result sooner or later, and the sooner or later depends mainly on yourself.

Anne Gilchrist

I discovered that simply hearing positive reinforcement, an understanding voice, soothes my throbbing emotions and helps me find a better balance. We are all our hardest critic, worst enemy when it comes to cheering ourselves on. It is time that I stopped piling on when everyone else is down, or yelling or frustrated or attacking me. I don't need to 'feel hurt' I need to raise my chin, smile and remember that I am not made for failure.

With that in mind I can keep things in perspective and realize that it isn't so important what others think of me -- especially those who are not actually looking or listening or are aware of who or what I am. What is important is that I realistically see myself and ease up a bit and just let me enjoy life. Perfection is not my goal. Growing, learning, improving, and most of all enjoying the process -- that's my goal.

No more piling on! The goal has changed and I am the one in control of reaching it!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday

Shop til you drop takes on new meaning. Hearing about the deaths and injuries sustained during the mass movement to the malls in the post-Thanksgiving Day shopping Bacchanalia is appalling. A WalMart employee trampled to death? A pregnant woman thrown to the floor? A shoot out in of all places -- Toys R Us? It almost makes the terrorist attack in India seem sensible by comparison.

What has it come to that 'shopping' will improve our economy? And the ones doing the shopping are the very people who will be turned out on the street the moment the rent comes do and they don't have a job, don't have income to make the payments?

Why are people rushing to stores to buy 'things' that are mass produced with little regard for quality or even safety? Didn't we learn from the China toy syndrome that invaded the U.S. last year? Toxic paint and killer toys seemed to be the item on everyone's Christmas list. Now we want technology that will cost us several months of rent money for something 90 percent of us will never figure out how to use. Like houses and cars, bigger televisions must be better! Which reminds me -- what is it about mcmansions on itty bitty slivers of land? Used to be clapboard houses on acres and acres and ACRES of land that had been in families for generations. I miss that. Now the only one with acres and acres of land are developers who have no love and even less regard for what they own. It isn't anything more than dollars and profits.

A writer wrote of a character in a short story, a little boy who had been abused. No one protected him. Consumers face the same situation. Advertisers lie. Openly, straight faced, and without regret. Buyers must constantly be wary, knowing that a bargain is never truly a bargain. Our government's oversight departments are a joke. Corporations run rampant, treat us like indentured servants whether we work for them or are buying from them and yet we bail them out.

My husband recently bought a new Ford van. Yes, right in the middle of skyrocketing gas prices because he needed a way to transport his wheelchair. This was the only recourse. Seems that Ford was the only company whose vehicle could be converted to accommodate the lift and his wheelchair. We purchased it. Now every time something goes wrong --and it has -- we have three companies denying responsibility. Ford, who we understand knows this is a problem in this van model, says, "Oh no, the company installing the hydraulic lift for your wheelchair, screwed it up. Not our problem."

And the lift company declares it's Ford and possibly the company who lowered the floor and converted the van in preparation for the lift and other equipment. In the meantime, the passenger seat belt doesn't work. Minor I suppose with all of the things that seem to be working. Oh, right, there was the time last week when the lift would neither go up or down and held my husband captive on it until he was able to slither out of it and get help. And the driver's chair that was to be installed and hasn't been ordered yet. But hey, we had to have the money in their hands, the papers signed, the debt shouldered before they'd even screw, I mean work with us.

It is only by luck that what I bring home actually lives up to expectations. Even the underwear I buy is made to self destruct after so many washings. Research went into making a product fall apart on schedule. Breast cancer can wait, the important research devotes to finding how to make fabric fail after fifty washings. NASA has been doing some fine research. Did you hear -- soon the astronauts on the space station can drink their own urine? I can't wait to see the first urine fountain here on earth. Actually, it may be a great idea -- the concept definitely needs some PR work. I guess us Americans prefer to be lied to. Don't tell me its urine, call it enriched?

Other products are mere illusions. The grill we used to roast the Thanksgiving turkey was advertised as having a 'rotisserie' and we paid extra for that. A contraption made, not to perform the job, but to give the illusion of such a possibility. The prongs, made too short to adequately hold the bird. The motor not strong enough to turn it. The near impossibility of maintaining the proper temperature. Did the salesman know how inferior the product was? How much of an out-and-out lie he was telling when he guaranteed us that it could handle a 12-pound turkey?
We won't even mention the stainless steel sales feature as I watch it rust away on my back porch.

I hate to shop. It feels like I'm asking someone to kick me. Lie to me. Oh please abuse me again. The adage of buying U.S. products hasn't even been heard this year -- do we actually make anything in the U.S. any more?

When I lived in Ohio, there was a little company in Ada, Ohio, where they made footballs. Little Ada, Ohio populated mostly by farmers, factory workers and college professors, the home of The Ohio Northern University. The whole town, the whole region, took pride in this little company whose footballs were used in the pro games on television. Wilson. Every kid had a Wilson football or basketball. The company, headquartered in Chicago, made us proud to be contributing a quality product. Working in a factory took on new respect. "I work for Wilson...."

The company in Ada, I believe, is closed now. No products produced there. It seems that, like the stock market, manufacturing has hit a new low and both are driven by greed and profits.

For some reason this weekend I've watched two movies and both hearkened back to the Great Depression. Seabiscuit and Cinderella Man. Both tell of a down and out, loser if you will, who makes a comeback. We all seem to be pinning our hopes onto someone else when maybe we just need to have more self respect, make wiser choices, and stop buying inferior products.

After all, where are the majority of last year's presents now?

Three ways to help the economy and your own bottom line:

  1. Do not go into debt, only spend what you can afford on the holidays. Go to church, not to WalMart to find the spirit of the holidays.
  2. Write to your congressman and senator and the new president about your concerns, about your suggestions for a better future. Perhaps a way to help small businesses grow new products or a consumer product oversight agency that doesn't seem to be looking the other way. Maybe give Ralph Nader a pat on the back! Hold someone accountable for the junk being poured into the consumer's market.
  3. Get creative. Recycle some gifts from last year. Make something. Get crafty. Get sentimental. Give the gift of family heirlooms or history -- scrapbooks or albums, framed photos of ancestors, something that will promote your own family instead of funding the CEO's next trip to Costa Rica.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Veteran's Day revisited

What did you do to celebrate Veteran's Day? If you're like me -- not much. Most continued the work week uninterrupted -- I work a government job so I sat at home and got paid for it. I can only imagine what someone in the military felt. I've never been there. Maybe they felt a reverence for those brave brothers and sisters who died or sustained wounds for their country; may be they felt the heart breaking pain of rejection, their contributions unappreciated.

I'm often reminded that I have a Polyanna perspective of war. Or perhaps it is more a one-dimensional, read-it-in-a-book kind of feeling about it. I tick off the cost of the war with a counter on this website. That doesn't begin to count the cost.

Now and then something crosses my path that makes me sit up and stop taking for granted that people will continually be there to put themselves in harms way to preserve my freedom, my country. Today it was the realization that volunteers continue to devote their lives to the care and maintenance of strangers' graves. All of these years after the end of World War II, people maintain graves for soldiers -- American, English, Australian.... Men who died and were buried on foreign soil. One web site "In Honored Glory" drives that message home and provides a few stories behind 'he gave his life for his country.' The photo below shows the well kept Margraten Cemetery in the Netherlands.

A dear friend is compiling information in a book -- the stories behind the names that grace military installations around the world. Fort Hood. Ramstein Air Force Base. Camp Lejuene.... The men and one woman who performed beyond all expectations and are honored with their name linked to a military installation -- yet we have forgotten who they are and what they did. I hope she soon gets the book out in stores so we can read it and never forget.

Looking through the 85 stories on In Honored Glory, I met Carl Genthner. He was probably the first man shot at a picturesque Belgium town, Malmedy. Carl Genthner was a medic, an ambulance driver, one of the few people out there bent on saving lives, not taking them. Malmedy will aways be associated with Carl's death and those of more than a hundred American prisoners of war.

"By about 1400, 113 Americans had been assembled in the field by the Café. They included 90 members of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion (all except three from Battery B), 10 men from the five ambulances, the military policeman who had been on traffic duty at Five Points, the 86th Battalion engineer and 11 men who had been captured by KGr. Peiper before reaching Baugnez–eight from the 32nd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, two from the 200th Field Artillery Battalion and a sergeant from the 23rd Infantry Regiment." -- History Net

These men were herded into the center of a field and German soldiers began shooting them, one by one, like target practice. They were infected with the blood sport and took more and more pleasure in their shooting prowess. A convoy of German soldiers drove by during the massacre.

There were five who lived to tell the story.

It may be painful to read, yet there's something powerful and even hopeful in knowing that we are part of a country that includes such people who can rise to the occasion even unto the point of giving their lives. The men who were senselessly used as targets and those who gave their lives to save innocents or their fellow soldiers. Each war has too many of these stories. Each person who died had lived and left a footprint on this earth and their contributions to protecting freedom should mean more to us than a date on a calendar.

Another website, The Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes offers the opportunity to send Christmas cards to our soldiers. If anyone missed celebrating our heroes during Veteran's Day, here's a second chance to let them know, if not how much we appreciate them, at least let them know they are not forgotten.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Americans What Have We Been Thinking?

Do you ever wonder what the companies who inundate the airwaves with their commercials really think about the very consumers they hope to attract? And how do those commercials make you feel, especially if you are a member of the target audience?

This morning the Capitol One credit card commercial, in the wake of the events last night and McCain's and Obama's words of unity and working together and sacrifice and making a change, seemed to reflect America consumers who need to rethink their priorities.

We have laughed at Captain Armadillo who retreats inside his shell when confronted unexpectedly with his wife. My husband says I over think these things for hidden messages. But it looks to me like we have a man who puts the needs of the universe on hold so that he can design a credit card. A card that is made simply to feed the greed for luxury and living beyond our means and purchasing things that polluted our environment in the making, cluttered our lives, pushing out what is truly important, and then ends up in landfills -- a whole 'nother problem.

In addition, he puts a photo of his family on the card and is proud of this 'image' of the perfect family. Yet, when confronted with a real flesh and blood wife offering him avocados (not sure what they represent) he, faster than a speeding bullet, insulates himself inside his protective shell and by the end of the commercial has not re-entered the world nor faced his wife.

Another Capital One commercial features a Captain Nemo type sea captain. He is more concerned with putting his darling Captain Barkey pet's photo on his card than rescuing his first mate who is in the clutches of a giant squid. Yes, I see the humor. But when you put the commercial in the context of a corporate giant seeking consumers -- I don't feel the love or respect. Is that how we are seen? Self-serving, selfish, blind to the needs of our fellow man, more devoted to our pets than to our fellow workers? Obsessed with more credit? Buying? Spending?

Perhaps now that we Americans are hearing a message from our leaders other than 'go out and shop', our behavior and priorities seem so shallow and well, embarrassing.

Would we be in the situation we are, economically, if we had more self-respect and civic pride? I wonder what our world would be like if we actually all gave 10 percent (or more) to improve our world, rather than improve our image of wealth.

Talk about a house of cards. Americans buying larger houses, adding technology that costs hundreds of dollars just because it is new and wearing clothes that copy the style of the rich and famous -- all purchased with plastic bringing us payments we can't afford. We work two and three jobs to maintain a fake lifestyle. When do we get real?

Maybe the change starts with a make over of each American in the image of our forefathers and mothers who knew what the priorities were and didn't spend their days worrying because the neighbor had a better lawn or designer dress or the latest appliance or technology. Yes, we must be consumers and grow the economy, but perhaps we need to make our purchase choices with a more discerning eye and look toward tomorrow, not just instant gratification.

And maybe we need to take another look at the commercials and determine just what those companies think of us? We have been gullible. We have fallen for the snake oil sales pitches. We have spent money we didn't have and never will. We have been childish in our choices saying "I want," rather than "How can I help." And we have taught our children these behaviors.

We all feel the need of change. I hope it will start with us.

Do I think Capitol One is the only corporation who has led us down the garden path to in the name of profit? No. Do I think the commercials will stop? No. It is up to us to make informed and responsible choices. We've made a good first step with choosing to elect a president out of hope, rather than fear.

Brainy Quotes offers several 'definitions' of Hope:


A desire of some good, accompanied with an expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable; an expectation of something which is thought to be desirable; confidence; pleasing expectancy.

One who, or that which, gives hope, furnishes ground of expectation, or promises desired good.

To entertain or indulge hope; to cherish a desire of good, or of something welcome, with expectation of obtaining it or belief that it is obtainable; to expect; -- usually followed by for.

To place confidence; to trust with confident expectation of good.

To desire with expectation or with belief in the possibility or prospect of obtaining; to look forward to as a thing desirable, with the expectation of obtaining it; to cherish hopes of.

And one step forward from hope -- faith: "...the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Let's put our faith to work and see what happens! Change, it happens one step at a time. One decision. One effort from every one of us.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Great art in little bitty viewing space

Being technology-challenged leads to much head scratching on my part. Quite often I scratch because I wonder how to use some gadget. I was fascinated watching a tour guide use her blackberry to make phone calls, look up phone numbers and addresses and check her messages both email and verbal, and research the locations we were visiting.

Yet, more often I wonder why people use them for the things they do. Oh the blackberry usage made sense to me in her professional capacity, her out-of-office situation where she needed to carry as much information with her as she could. But when people begin downloading art to their cell phones, I tend to wonder why?

A year ago Boston's Museum of Fine Arts began selling downloads to mobile phone users. Downloads of works of art. Monet? Hopper? Sargent? Some of the paintings and works of art that rarely appear in exhibits for fear of damage due to light, will be included in that list of downloads. Would I enjoy seeing The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit via a two inch by three inch window? The original painting is approximately 87 by 87-inches square. Would I feel the same sense of isolation, loneliness, disconnect and sadness as I do when viewing a larger image? Although I admit that the first time I saw the painting was online, so it was only a 17-inch screen's eye view. And since then I've enjoyed a two-page spread of the painting in an art book. With the dark interior that fill the center of the portrait, I find either venue difficult for discerning what lies within those shadows. The four little girls almost disappear within those shadows. And for two of the sisters in later life, madness lurked. It is a sad family and maybe Sargent had insight that influenced his choice of black background and engulfing shadows.

The four sisters' father shared the same profession as Sargent. He was an artist. But his work seems to be brighter, more hopeful, and of interesting locations, not so much about people. I've included a photo of a poster that is for sale online of Boit's Rio Di San Barnaba.

No matter what shape it takes, Sargent's portrait of the four sisters haunts me. Knowing that the two girls shrouded in darkness succumb to mental illness and none of the four girls marry. Sargent's portrait seems prescient, prophetic.

There's just something ironic about Monet's dots being turned into waves and zipped through the atmosphere to the mobile phone of your choice for a mere $1.99 per download. What would Sargent or Boit think of seeing their hard work digitalized? Perhaps they would be, as probably I would, so thrilled and honored that their work is still revered, they wouldn't care what form it was taking.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Missed Messages?

Synchronicity brought me in contact with Carol Wiebe's art on her website and featured one of of her amazing quilts, Messengers, on my Subversive Stitchers blog. Her words that seek to explain the art made me pause and think:

The messengers are gathering in prime formation: 2 butterflies, 3 dragonflies, 5 angels, 7 crows, 11 stars. To truly hear their message, you must kill the ego. Egos are wont to kill the messenger when they dislike the message they are receiving, but that is a useless tactic. The message will simply find you another way, through another messenger.What in the world does this mean?

Accompany that with the quote she included on the work itself -- "Think of yourself as an incandescent power, illuminated and perhaps forever talked to by God and his messengers." -- Brenda Ueland -- and my imagination was piqued.


My search for a topic for my next NANOWRIMO contest entry brought me on this quest. I did a Google search and came up with a long list of references to Islam. But that's not the direction I wanted to go for 50,000 words.

Another response to 'messages' was not what I expected: Jimi Hendrix! From his song May I Whisper in Your Ear? From the art here, "Stairway to Paradise" by Thomas Kincaid, I bet you were expecting Stairway to Heaven.... No it was Hendrix. May I whisper in your ear
from my heart so you’ll clearly hear...

May I take you away
from the evils of today
to the dreams of tomorrow.
You know that Heaven...
Has no sorrow.
You know that Heaven...
Has no tomorrow....

Here comes some news...
Coming down like lightning...
Straight for me and you.
People of destruction
your time is out of date...
People who’s living crooked,
better start getting straight. --Jimi Hendrix

Surprised at the lyrics from a rocker who was outside my modest taste in music, although I admired his abilities and talents and lamented his short life and enjoyed his version of the Star Spangled Banner, I never checked out the depths of the man....his lyrics surprised me. My youngest son saw him with clearer vision than I who lumped him in with 'devil music that will take you straight to hell.' A thought taught by my local church....

And then I clicked on another site and sat up in surprise.

In July, a Sommerville, Mass. resident opened his garden to anyone, invited them to leave messages. Not just any message. His ambition, a bit more cosmic perhaps, invites the sharing of deepest secrets - fears, joys, failures, goals - and leave them behind as an anonymous note, on a scrap of colored paper, to the universe. He agreed to respond to them.

Within 30 days he received 100; now more than 700 and he hopes to receive 1000 before the end of the year. He's established his website crossing the abyss to post his answers as well as the messages.

What messages has the universe tried to tell me? What have I ignored? Should have I acted upon the impulses that urged me to reach out to others, help, smile, share, console? All of those times that would have made me step out of my invisibility and become vulnerable, fearing rejection? Should I have been stronger? Were they as afraid as I? What if I had given more money, food, friendship? What would it have cost me and what would have been the rewards and where would it have all taken me? Paths not taken are certainly ripe for speculation based upon hindsight.

The idea of messengers in our lives intrigues me. I was raised on scripture and the concept of angels in our midst, but our particular sect focused more on social aspects of church and avoided the more mystical aspects of the religion. We celebrated communion, and all of the holy holidays of course. But the holy spirit, speaking in tongues, prophesying, angels, well, we just avoided those scriptures. So now I'm wondering what vital messages have I missed and is it too late?

What is the universe telling me today? I liked Kincaid's words that accompany this piece of art:
"In the most important ways, my life has been a progress. I have been blessed to see my love of painting grow and flourish, my relations with family and friends deepen and mature." — Thomas Kinkade
Gotten any messages lately? I think the one that was meant for me today came from John H. Rhoades:
Do more
Author: John H. Rhoades
Do more than exist; live.
Do more than touch; feel.
Do more than look; observe.
Do more than read; absorb.
Do more than hear; listen.
Do more than listen; understand.
Do more than think; ponder.
Do more than talk; say something.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Seven Wheelchairs off and rolling

Dear, dear Gary Presley has made his debut as an author on the talk show circuit and has done spectacularly!

Who knew he had a sexy drawl and looks pretty flashy in red! Listen to the audio interview recorded on October 3, with Ben Kieffer of The Exchange on Iowa Public Radio. Gary also did a reading at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City.

Seven Wheelchairs, his memoir, currently ranks at 77,822 on Amazon.

Way to go Gary!

Here's a copy of the review I posted at Amazon:
"I've been fortunate to read bits and pieces, essays and writings of the author's for several years as a fellow member of the Internet Writing Workshop, including much of what is his memoir. But it wasn't until I sat down to read the finished product that I realized what an emotional and insightful read it would be. It is a given that this is stellar prose. The writing alone is enough reason to buy the book and read -- and reread it.

But the truth and power of those words. He answers the questions I never thought to ask beginning with the memory of those last steps before polio took away his legs. He told of being confined in an iron lung, not with pity or melodrama, but through the eyes of a devastated, angry teen age boy who was confused and frightened. A boy who had gone from working on his lay up shots to a non-entity swallowed up by a machine. And we move forward with him. We see him making an independent living, but more than that we see him coming to terms with his physical limitations, learning the landscape, what it means to live with disabilities in plain sight, in mainstream culture. We see him moving beyond the anger to find something we all wish we could find -- his true niche where he belongs and can accept and be accepted for the man he is, not for the equipment he must use.

Since this is written in connected essays, much of the problem that arises in first memoir and fiction is left behind. No awkward transitions, no tap dancing to get from one important moment to the next. It is a tightly written, powerful book that takes readers inside of the world of disabilities as none before. And inside of the life of one very human, but determined man.

I met Gary Presley when I joined the Internet Writing Workshop. His writings, his self-deprecating sense of humor, his truth, and his generous supportive ways drew me to him. When my husband became disabled, Gary jumped right in and helped us find our way through that alien culture called 'disability.' Who knew better this new landscape than a man who had been wheeling through it for nearly a half-century!?

He's never maudlin nor melodramatic. It is a book that can be read in pieces or as a whole and the writing itself stands strong alongside the best. A must read for anyone who knows someone living a life fraught with disabilities. A must read for anyone who has ever seen a person in a wheelchair and looked away."

The photo was taken by Ruth Douillette's husband.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The many lives of Dawn

My name has a more exciting life than I have. It is true. For proof, just google my name and see what you find. Melissa Ursula Dawn Goldsmith speaks at symposiums concerning music in a way I can't begin to understand. There's a grad student who shares my name and surveys natural springs. I mostly talk to my cats and stare out at the lagoon behind our house.

Lyra Dawn Goldsmith is new to the world. The blog where I found her is more than a year old, so I suspect she's beginning to do some serious exploring about this time. Another Dawn lives in Twickenham, Middlesex, United Kingdom. Ahhhhh, man, I wish I could visit her! My idea of exploring is finding my way home from the town ten miles north of here. Thanks to whomever invented Map Quest!

There is a Dawn Goldsmith on Face Book. I have yet to figure out what Face Book is, so it isn't me hiding behind something in that photo. Apparently this Dawn has several friends. That's always nice to have. If any of you remember Gilligan's Island -- MaryAnn was played by Dawn Wells, shown here in a mug shot taken in Idaho.

Another Dawn has a listing with Amazon for her reviews. I admit that I have written several reviews for Amazon, but the one that pops up is most definitely not mine. It is a review of Rick Steve's travel book to England -- see above about my 'explorations.' And besides I would hope to never mistake Whales for Wales as this reviewer did. Makes me shiver to think that one of my editors might see that goof. She's from St. Louis, but I don't think that should be an excuse for not knowing the difference between a mammal and a country. Good thing she isn't going to Whales, she'd be so disappointed!

Melissa Ursula pops up quite often between the listings for my writings. She probably isn't as excited to see my contributions under a name much like her own. Mine definitely do not weigh as heavily as her academic contributions. She even writes about the Doors musician Jim Morrison.

My nephew is studying to become a nurse anesthetist. I found a Dawn who has already graduated and is hard at work. Not sure I would want to trade places with her -- blood and bodily fluids and all that yuk. But a part of me feels more connected to health care, just knowing my doppelganger works there. Another Dawn is a biology student. It isn't quite fair -- me being so weak in math and science and so many Dawns excelling in those fields. I guess that shows there is a balance to the universe.

I've always enjoyed sharing my last name with Olivia and Oliver Goldsmith. Sadly both are dead, but their contributions to literature gave me hope that maybe there would be room for a Dawn on the list of published authors. Maybe Melissa feels that way about Jerry Goldsmith when it comes to music....

And then I see Dawn and James Goldsmith are married. I think of young love and new beginnings and sigh, having been married to the love of my life for decades. I wish them well.

Dawn Marie Goldsmith worries me. She's a young poet -- everyone who knows me, knows I do NOT do poetry. But yet, I cringe to think an editor might run across her poem, a spin on a John Lennon song. I think I heard a shriek from the other side when I read her poem. But we all must start somewhere. I send her my best reqards, but still wish she would use another name.

At one time I googled and found that a Dawn Goldsmith wrote for the Hong Kong news or something like that. It sounded so exotic and adventurous and so NOT me, but maybe it could have been me in another life. Another Dawn offered testimony in an assault case. I don't know if her side one. But I wish her well.

And then another site predicts: "Dawn Goldsmith: At age 60 you will be hunted by a strange apparition resembling Andy Griffith, and subsequently commit suicide after the stress proves to be too much." Oh my!

And then there is the wedding announcement David and Dawn Goldsmith's son Rhett is getting married. Obviously someone was a Gone With the Wind fan, so they must be lovely folk.

Then I find Dawn Goldsmith, the contact person for Poppit Sands Holiday Cottages in Wales (not Whales). I wonder if I could put together a tour and visit the various Dawns? Wouldn't that be fun? I could spice up my life at the same time. And maybe I'd have more to write about than just a google search for my own name.

Now if you get into different versions of my name, it turns up some interesting and shocking people including a porno queen with an amazing bosom. Sorry, no link provided for that one!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Where are you David Foster Wallace? Why?


I liked that song about suicide -- the theme song to the M.A.S.H. movie -- Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes....Mike Altman was 14 when he wrote the lyrics. Who better than a 14-year-old to know about angst and wishing oneself dead? It bothered my parents to hear the words -- I don't think hearing the word, discussing the topic or even romanticizing the afterlife will convince someone to participate. Suicide is, in my opinion, a get-even act. But, when I 'get even' I really like to be around to see it. Suicide, so far, has not appealed to me.

I also know too many who have chosen that as an exit strategy when life threw too much at them. It is if you will, a 'get even and goodbye' act. I can perhaps understand that a bit more.

If nothing else, my parents and I enjoyed the tune, written by Johnny Mandel.

I checked on Wikipedia, choosing that medium for lack of knowing where else to look, and found 50 other songs that refer to suicide. Euro Puppy Blog lists only 24 songs about dogs. Perhaps if more people had the love of a good dog, there would be less songs about suicide.

I wonder if David Foster Wallace had a dog.

He's dead you know. Wallace, not the dog. That sounds flip and I suppose it is because the moment I let myself feel the loss, I get angry.

How could he be so selfish to take himself, his truths, his words, his angst, his needs, his contributions, his self-loathing and insecurities and smile and potential out of this world? How dare he give up on being human?

He was in pain.

Well, aren't we all?

Didn't he know his words helped me deal better with the pain, at least to better understand what I was feeling? I didn't know him or his work, his story, his life, nothing until someone on the Internet Writing Workshop announced that he had died. I did a search for the name and found a voice that resonated with me, helped clarify the human condition, and shared the growth pangs as I strive for maturity.

He told a graduating class at Kenyon:
"The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day."

Or was he just tired of us? Maybe he was ready for the next plateau and he couldn't handle the mundane, mediocrity of this life? The lack of stimulation and interesting fellow humans?

His interview with Charlie Rose certainly gives insight into some of the pain and frustration he was feeling.

I'm not a member of his generation, at least chronologically, but I recognize truth when I see it and in an interview with Salon, he said this about living in America around the time of the millennium:
"There's something particularly sad about it, something that doesn't have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It's more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. Whether it's unique to our generation I really don't know."

We are all diminished by the loss of each life. Whether it is a child who has turned to terrorism and is killed in the streets of his hometown, a soldier killed by the terrorists, a woman dying in childbirth in Africa, a child dying of malnutrition or AIDS or drugs, or abuse, a child lost to abortion, or even if my 96 year old mother closes her eyes and doesn't awaken. We are diminished by the loss of each life. A life cut short, whether by his own hand, by accident, or by violence of some kind -- we all suffer the loss. Needless loss makes me furious.

I'm angry at David Foster Wallace and mourn him, regret not knowing him, and hope that his life and even his death will help others find their way -- a better way-- to living life fully and with joy and with understanding and yes, with self-forgiveness.

P.S. According to quotes in a New York Times article from his father, Wallace had been on heavy medication to fight depression and nothing was working. His father was quoted as saying, “He’d been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.”

That kind of hopelessness -- soul killing hopelessness. I pray you've found a better place David Foster Wallace -- and peace.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Stuff defines you?

Feeling tired? Inertia got you stuck in your chair? Procrastination rules your life?

It isn't your fault.

Blame it on the junk mail, the fast food condiment packets, the orphan socks. The skinny clothes hanging in your closet and aunt Isabel's china that you inherited when she downsized and moved into her little apartment. These are sapping your strength.

Stuff. That's the problem. Bob Graham, essayist and computer programmer, suggests:
"A cluttered room saps one's spirits. One reason, obviously, is that there's less room for people in a room full of stuff. But there's more going on than that. I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what's around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting."
Getting rid of 'stuff' is exhausting, too. And almost heart wrenching until it is gone. Then our brains and bodies adjust, block out the memories of the stuff, now gone, and expands to fill the space with pleasant relaxing appreciation of the simplified landscape.

For a full week I devoted every waking hour to eradicating my house of clutter and 'stuff.' If you ever watch these 'get organized' programs on television, they begin by emptying the room of everything and then just bring back what fits, what is needed.
Knowing my pragmatic nature of less is more when it comes to work and house cleaning, I needed to trick myself into taking this first step. An object at rest should stay at rest if you ask me. Why move it if you're just going to bring it back in and put it in nearly the same place? The answer of course was right under my feet. Carpet. I needed to steam clean the carpet. To do that, aha! I was forced to remove everything from the room. I felt vindicated as I hefted chairs and coffee tables, piano and love seat, filing cabinets and book shelves.

There is something quite promising about an empty room. Hope perhaps of a new beginning? In the bedroom I took the opportunity to paint the walls as well as clean the carpet. What was once green is now blue. What was basic white undercoat, now a clean and comforting tan. If a person ever needs a new beginning, a get-out-of-jail free card, a freshly painted room shouts 'overs' and lets its occupant start anew.

Like the master of ceremonies of a HGTV program, I walked through the house and pulled from every room to decorate my bedroom. The overstuffed chair from the family room. The bookshelves from my office, the flower arrangement from the bathroom and the assorted books and nick knacks from the fireplace mantle. By the end of the day I had created a retreat. My little haven from the world soothed my frazzled nerves and invited me in to sit back in the overstuffed chair and put my feet on the matching stool.

While contemplating the day's work, my thoughts wondered to why people surround themselves with stuff. I came up to the conclusion that if a person lives in the moment, he needs no 'stuff.' If he lives in the past, he surrounds himself with history, either his own or the history that interests him. And if he lives for tomorrow, then he organizes 'things' so that he can find and use them in upcoming projects and events. And, if a person just exists, blown by the winds of chance and circumstances then he basically lives in chaos. Every inch of his environment filled with odds and ends, so overwhelmed that when he needs something, he cannot find it.

My brother told of a co-worker who dragged leftovers, cast offs and unused bits and pieces home from the electrical jobs they worked on. He stored them in a barn next to his house. I had the chance to see that barn. It was literally so full that to walk from one end to the other, we walked on boxes of items he'd collected. When he set to remodeling his home and needed the very things he'd dragged home -- he couldn't find them. Instead he went to the hardware or supply store and bought new. Eventually he or a member of his family brought a fork lift and other equipment and took all of his accumulation to the dump.

That's pretty much what I've been doing this week, taking out the trash. Maybe I subconsciously made a life choice -- I choose to live in the moment and prepare for tomorrow, organizing the things I need, the things I truly want, so that I can use and enjoy them.

The house is almost Zen-like in comparison to the clutter from before. I still hold on to just about every book, fabric, and family-related ephemera. But we have jettisoned old clothes, even those with memories of our youth. We finally donated that old computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse. Threw out papers, papers and more papers, a collection of plastic ware for which I can never find the right lid and lids for which I can never find the right container, assorted fast-food condiments, an unopened bag of flour that expired in 2006. Oh yes, and a pair of tennis shoes so old and worn that the rubber had crumbled.

Two rooms, well, one if you don't count the garage, still need to be sorted out. The garage and my 'craft' or as I currently refer to it as 'crap' room. The books I can't part with. I need to invest in shelves so I can organize and use them. The fabric -- I'm looking for a good home for several pieces. And the items saved when Mom gave up housekeeping -- those I still cling to. So, I admit, I am a person who lives in the past -- but I'm moving into the moment with my face turning toward the future.

My motto, taken from a book I found in my diggings is one simple Latin irregular verb: abicio. It means simply: to throw away. Interesting that this particular verb is second in an alphabetical listing under the heading "Principal Parts of Common Irregular Verbs beginning with the verb abdo, which means to put aside or hide. As I read down the list I see resolve grow with each word: abigo (drive away), abripio (tear away) and accendo (set on fire).

Perhaps those ancients, creators of the Latin language, suffered from the accumulation of 'stuff,' too, and it shows in their 'irregular' verbs. What is at the end of their list? Volo -- be willing, wish; volvo -- roll; and last of all voveo -- vow.

(Photo: Our cat, Mal, sitting in the 'crap' room. Yes, I still have a lot of work to do!)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The tale of two talkers

Two men visited my house last week. My husband invited them both, then disappeared pleading obligations at his office, leaving me to entertain them. If it sounds like the opening of a love triangle or rectangle -- you don't know me very well.

No, just another saga of dealing with service representatives. In this case we needed someone to fix a leaky roof.

The first man we phoned had been referred to us by the contractor who recently rehabbed our bathroom. We liked him immediately, a referee -- my husband was a referee for almost 20 years. And we were astonished when he suggested that the roof might be under warranty, maybe we should try contacting the company who installed it. We thanked him for the advice and called the installer.

The company installed our roof shortly after Charlie and friends blew through in 2004, hired by the previous owners as part of the house sale agreement. The roof actually wasn't installed until 2005. A blue tarp covered part of our roof for several months before they could fit us into their busy schedule. Florida looked liked a blue-tarp-nation after those storms passed through ripping off roofs and tipping trees over onto otherwise sturdy houses. Ours damage was a combination of the two -- shingle ripping and tree tipping.

The crew finally arrived, no one spoke English. A supervisor strolled by now and then and we'd try to snag him and ask questions. Nails, parts of shingles began floating down into our yard as they tore off the old. I listened to nail guns popping for a couple days and then silence. The neighbor came over to apologize -- he works many commercial sites providing plumbing for large projects. He's well versed in the construction arts and always curious and has to check out projects in the neighborhood. He said he hoped we didn't mind, but he intervened a couple of times when he saw the workers making mistakes and forced them to redo a couple of spots. We thanked him profusely and should have taken his warning that perhaps the men working on our house were not prime roofers. We trusted.

The roof leaked -- just a little -- in a couple of places. My husband kept putting off calling about them. Now almost four years later we have major leaks -- he finally calls. Surprise, the roof is under warranty.

Last week their sales rep raps on the door. He's harried and in a hurry. He has twelve more calls to make -- Fay has stepped up his business considerably. I show him the spots on the ceiling, he walks around on the roof and tells me parts of the roof must be ripped up because boards have lifted, etc. He'll have a crew put a tarp on to protect us from further damage.

We wait.

No tarp.

But a few days later we receive an estimate for almost $2,000 worth of work -- no mention of warranty. We phone the referee again and ask for a second opinion. He quickly adds us to his busy schedule -- Fay has been good to his company as well -- but manages to visit us within 24 hours. He greets me at the door, hands me his card, follows me looking at and assessing the damage to the ceiling, offers his sympathy and moves on to the roof. He climbs around, I shout up to him what I know. He scratches his head. Asks to see what the other company had suggested was wrong. He says, "I don't see that. The boards are raised and wavy because they used particle board. It just does that. It is consistent throughout your roof."

I had noticed that too, not as ascetically pleasing as I would like, but my husband, a former lumber salesman, had explained about the boards rippling tendency. No, the man standing on my roof said, "I think the problems are nail pops and improper installation of flashing around the chimney."

He jumped down, got a caulking gun from his truck, lifted a few shingles, applied a little caulk here and there, pounded a few nails in and removed a few others and came down off of the roof. He wiped his hands, mopped his forehead, and sat at the table writing up his recommendations and estimates while cooling down in the air conditioning.

He recommended that we return to the first company and explaining that all that was wrong should be covered under the warranty. I stared at him. This sounded like an honest assessment, not profit based spin.

He handed me his assessment and estimate which came in lower than the first, and did not involve ripping up my roof in several spots. It did involve replacing the flashing and shingles around the chimney. Even I saw that the water problems started in that location.

Then to my surprise he added. "What I did today may be all that is needed to solve the problem."

My stomach clenched. I asked, "What do I owe you for today's work?"

He shrugged. "If it works -- send me a check for $50. If not. It's just part of the estimate if you use us. If you go back to the original company, which is what I suggest, then forget it. It wasn't worth paying for, it didn't fix the problem."

He wished us well, genuinely wished us well. Shook my hand and left.

Yesterday we had another gully washer. With Gustav in the Gulf and Hannah howling in the Atlantic we knew we were bound to get some 'weather.' It rained, it blew, it was a deluge for more than four hours. I was at work through all this and expected to come home to a river in the family room.

But the roof did not leak. Not one drop stained our ceiling anew. The 'estimator' the man who took a few minutes to repair the little problems that he could with a caulk gun and hammer and a little bit of elbow grease 'while he was up there' just saved us money and helped me have faith again. He didn't just talk and tally up profit for his company, he provide customer service, gave of himself without expecting a reward or payment. Perhaps he knew how effective honesty and integrity are in customer service?

I gladly tell you that I met an honest man: Jeff Sleeper of Gilileo Roofing Service.

I don't know much about the company he works for, but if anyone asks me to recommend a roofing company -- I will give them Jeff's name and contact information. He's been with the company for 13 years. It would surprise me that a man of that kind of integrity could represent a company that doesn't hold to his standards.

Oh, and the contractor who recommended Jeff -- he has our seal of approval and undying gratitude for a job MORE than well done: James Ashley of Barrier Free Lifestyle, Inc. But, that's another story!

Friday, August 22, 2008

A wet week of blue and gold

It's been a busy week with us gearing up for Fay's visit, then trying to carry on a normal life in nonstop rain for past three or four days. Amazing how dark and dreary Florida becomes without sunshine! The photo shows vehicles traveling through a flooded section of US Highway 192 in Melbourne, Florida, Aug. 20. More than 15 inches of rain from Tropical Storm Fay fell in some parts of Florida causing streets and homes to be flooded. EPA/CHRIS LIVINGSTON

I realized how difficult it is for government and school officials to decide when to cancel schools. I guess they figured out that weather is not an exact science, but still managed to listen to the forecasts and cancel school before the storm hit and fill the schools and buses with kids when the winds and rains built into a facsimile of a tropical storm. Yet, I think all worked out and safety prevailed.

But I'm thankful for the rains, maybe those along the coast see things differently, but we needed the rain and our damage was minimal. A leaky roof. The good news it is still under warranty from when it was replaced shortly after Hurricane Charlie visited. (Is it ironic that our governor's name is Charlie?)

If I were back in Ohio, this week would have been devoted to the Allen County Fair. A friend wrote to tell me about her 'goat boys' that her granddaughter raised as 4-H projects and showed at the fair. They earned a respectable 5th place and their involvement made their days at the fair even more special. Relatives showed their 4-H projects and took home the blue, while Olympians participated in Beijing. It's been a good week.

The photo features Presley Burden, 9, and her feeding calf Turbo. Burden competed in the fair this year with two feeder calves, one heifer and one steer. I bet her parents and grandparents did the same thing when they were her age. There's something satisfying, hopeful, about a multi-generational family tradition.

The Christian Science Monitor published my essay about the fair and lemon shake ups in their Home Forum section, if you want to check out my fair memories. Of course those barely scratch the surface. For several years I worked in the fair office during fair week and it was the most fun and exasperating time I've ever spent. We'd laugh, we'd kick boxes in frustration, we'd greet Alan Jackson, Reba, Arizona, and all of the other big names who added our little fair to their performance schedule. My days were filled giving directions to people trying to find the fair. They'd call from home, from their car, from pay phones. We pointed people to various locations on the fairgrounds, announced lost kids and lost parents, and gave updates on special activities about to begin. I miss that involvement and that energy that took hold of us during that week we had prepared for all year.

All seems to balance out this week, tipping a bit toward world peace and faith in our next generation and less towards disaster and fear of world wars. Maybe if Russian President Putin visited the Allen County Fair, he might forget about bombing Georgia.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Hair, New You

I visited a website and saw the statement: "The world is a scary place when you stop liking yourself."

Truth be told, whenever I head for the hairdresser, it is because I can't stand being the person beneath that head of hair for a moment longer. That moment for me came two weeks ago, but my Zophia was headed out on vacation and I couldn't get an appointment with her until this past Tuesday. In desperation I considered going elsewhere, maybe back to the girl who had immigrated from Vietnam and cut every middle aged white woman's hair in the tried and true old traditional style. But her husband creeped me out. She enlisted his help to wash hair before she cut and well, it was just too much to think of him hovering over me with that fake smile and his hot breath on my cheek. I waited for Zophia. After all she transformed me once, I had faith she could find that same woman again.

Tuesday Zophia cut and whacked, whacked and cut and in the midst of the cut convinced me to go for color. Get rid of the gray.

My kids said, "Age gracefully. You're old. Accept it."

Zophia had other ideas. She stamped her foot and in her delightful Polish accented English declared, "Color would be the last thing I would give up. I'll be coloring my hair when I'm 80!" Zophia is also a size zero with great bones and curves, but that's another story.

She chose the color based upon my natural brunette tones and slathered it on with her trusty paint brush. After a good steaming and a thorough rinse and shampoo, I sat pensively as she dried and styled. I looked at this stranger in the mirror. Who was I kidding? That wasn't me.

Poor Zophia was heart broken that I didn't react as excitedly as she was. She called on some man waiting for me to get out of the chair so he could get his haircut. "Tell her," Zophia urged. "Tell her how beautiful she looks."

He gritted his teeth and I saw the look. He saw fat, old me and no haircut would take his eyes off of thunder thighs and angel wings. Immediately I recalled a junior high trauma. Jerry Woolum laughed at me in my gym shorts and got his cohorts to do the same. Looking back with 20-20 hindsight, I should have ran up to him, gave him a shot to the groin with my chubby knee and laughed as he rolled around on the ground, his friends grabbing their crotches in sympathy. Or, maybe that wouldn't have been the best way to handle it, but I'd like that story much better than me running into the shower room in complete humiliation.

So, I must agree with that opening sentence. Not only is the world scary when you don't like your looks. It is downright painful. According to an article in The Star Phoenix, "[A] 10-country survey revealed that two-thirds of females aged 15 to 64 will disengage from normal activity if they feel badly about their looks."

A bad hair day can make imbeciles of us all, it seems. We stop giving our opinion, stop interacting and stop putting ourselves out there. We hide, seek invisibility and turn mute.

One hair care company has trotted out a marketing strategy aimed at improving self esteem. "Children's hair care brand Soft & Beautiful Just for Me! launched the second phase of its national self-esteem program on August 4 with a new book and a six-city book tour. The book, Trip in Time, is written by A'Lelia Bundles, the great-great granddaughter of hair care legend Madam C.J. Walker."

Walker's formula helped African American women feel better about their image, whether they thought they looked more white, or were simply taking care of their hair and themselves, their self esteem grew. It also made her the first female American millionaire. Women lined up and paid a month's wages for whatever Walker was selling. Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, Ms. Walker knew that women, hair and self esteem fit together.

That need to look good never ends. Anyone running a nursing home or provides health care knows that the way we look influences our recovery or health. Every Monday Mom, age 96, visits the beautician. After getting her hair washed, curled, dried and styled, she's ready to face the world. One of the nurses' aids skillfully applies makeup and Mom is a new woman. She fights to keep her head up and face whatever new pain or ailment her body throws at her -- beautiful hair turns out to be one of her best weapons against the blues.

The topic fascinates people around the world, in every culture. If you looked at those National Geographic magazines and their photos of near naked natives, you might recall that hair played a big part in their rituals. Braids, specific styles for each position within the community. Or the Amish and the custom of not cutting a girl/woman's hair. The Muslim need to cover the hair because it will be too great a distraction and may lead a man to sin.

Grant MacCracken explores what makes "those dead strands of protein extruding from tiny pores on our heads the cure-all for self loathing and insecurity" in his book "Big Hair."

Growing up in the 1960s with the hit song and Broadway show "Hair", I know that hair makes a big difference in how you feel about yourself and how others react to you. My father hated long hair on men. Of course those of my generation with long hair would point to pictures of Jesus and say -- "What about his long hair?" Which could lead to a whole 'nother discussion about styles through the generations and what they mean.

But for now let me say, "I like my hair. I am adjusting to the new color, and my coworkers tell me it looks great. Some of them wouldn't lie and others I'd know if they were lying. So for now it is short, dark and beautiful and I like myself a bit better for it.

But, Zophia! I have to talk to you about the expense of this self esteem and beautiful hair care! Seeing a shrink might be less expensive. But then again, having someone wash my hair -- what great therapy. And I don't know any psychologists or psychiatrists who provide such service.

Note: the photo and many many more galleries of hair cut photos can be found online.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

When did a closet become one of the most expensive rooms in the house?

I glanced through a flyer last night -- the Home Mag. The "Anything and Everything for your Home" magazine.

We are coming to the end of a major bathroom remodel in our house, so decorating, remodeling, even cleaning are on my mind. Who knew that the air conditioner would suck up that fine drywall dust and spread it through out the house? I wanted to get away from dust, so I opened the magazine. I ogled Spanish roof tile and closets by design. A chandelier in a closet? A closet bigger than my master bedroom? More cupboards, drawers, doors, than can be found in my kitchen? Just who would want to come out of that closet? The photo looks sexier than my bedroom. There is more cupboard space allocated for shoes than I have for simple storage in the attic or garage. And who has that many shoes? I know, Imelda Marcos. I haven't owned that many in a lifetime.

And don't get me started on the garage! The magazine's back page sports an ad featuring this pristine room lined with maple cabinetry, a polished tile floor and an invitation to "Win a Mercedes-Benz for your Ultimate Garage."

Do people really fall for this? When did life become a race to build the most beautiful storage area? When did hiding possessions become so important? Are we ashamed of the things we own? I can't imagine it is because Americans are humble and don't want to flaunt their possessions.

Closets -- they're a recent concept aren't they? I recall moving into a house built around the turn of the century -- the twentieth century -- and the 'master bedroom' (biggest bedroom) closet consisted of one pole hung down the middle of a room just big enough to give my clothes a hug when I shut the door. Mom said they used armoirs when she was a kid and I see they have made a comeback -- most house TV and computer equipment, but still I like that old world charm of a movable closet, so self contained and compact.

Wall to wall clothes certainly had a different meaning in that tiny space than it does in these echoing chambers. These tributes to consumerism and dare I say waste? They resemble a high-end department store showroom rather than a storage room. I think I'd be embarrassed to have a closet like that. I certainly couldn't hang my Target, Kmart, or even Sears purchases on those racks! And who would clean it? Now that I've reached a certain age and the kids are gone, so I have no slave labor, I judge acquisitions based upon 'who cleans them,' 'how hard is it to clean them,' and 'why would I want to clean them.'

I've watched my share of the HGTV shows devoted to organizing one's clutter and I should practice what they preach. When we made our latest move, we downsized a truckload of accumulated junk to the thrift shops and I felt better for it. I can't think of a thing we gave away that I have missed. Those who browsed my garage sale commented, 'Wow, three decades of stuff -- 60s, 70's, 80s...." I looked around that sale and saw my life and realized how drab it was if these 'things' were what defined me.

Some of the things cluttering my house, my life, have to do with family history. I save them for my children so they will have a sense of belonging, so they will know the line of people from whence they spring. Instead of housing these artifacts in dusty boxes, maybe I should design a closet museum in which to display them -- complete with chandelier and espresso machine. I could see a room in which my family photographs, letters from Uncle Homer in the 1940s or our ancient family tree that stops at the turn of the century (20th Century) would be displayed in splendor and beauty. There's nothing more important than family, is there? Uncle Homer would appreciate the chandelier.

But in my utilitarian life, the last thing I need is a closet showroom for my dirty sneakers and ratty sweatpants. I think it is time we all came out of the closet, stopped lusting about better storage and start jettisoning possessions. The people on the Titanic would have gladly thrown everything overboard to keep that boat afloat -- maybe we need to focus more on life and living and less upon trying to own more. It is not true, do not believe that "he who dies with the most, wins."

He who dies with the most only ensures that his progeny will fill several dumpsters before able to sell the house and get their inheritance. So give it away, throw it away, recycle it, donate it, but get it out of the house! Who wants to spend weekends dusting a chandelier in their closet?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Germans take knitting seriously!

Did you ever have one of those odds and ends days? You know the kind that seems to tie up a lot of loose strings? It is the day I finally made the batch of cookies I've been thinking about for a couple of weeks. The day I transplanted the spindly tomato plant and fed the palm some magnesium sulfide or something like that. And it is the day I finally sat down at watched the knitting videos a friend recommended when I absolutely could not figure out how to turn the heel on a practice sock. What I quickly learned was that I have been knitting wrong all of these years.

Let me explain. I grew up in the aftermath of World War II and Korean Conflict. Decades later wounds and prejudices were still raw. Anything German, Japanese or Russian were on the list to avoid at all costs.

I am a mutt when it comes to genealogy-- a little French, a little Swiss, and a whole lot of German. But in those days, admitting to being German just wasn't done. So I grew up disassociating myself from my roots. And I tell you this because the knitting method I should have learned as a child is labeled continental or more accurately: German knitting.

I hesitated when I heard that. Old habits and all. But I watched the videos at and sat in front of my computer learning all over again how to knit and purl. Some aspects were easier than I expected, but in many ways the frustration of stumbling over each stitch made this old dog want to forget about learning any new stitches.

While struggling to hold the thread in my left hand instead of the right, my thoughts kept wandering to German women knitting blankets for their sons and husbands, brothers and uncles -- the ones who went to war against the United States, England, France and their allies. I felt a kinship to those women, knowing that Mom and her mother knitted squares that were sewn together for blankets and lap roads for our own soldiers. It didn't seem to matter which side their loved ones fought on, the same love formed each stitch.

That was World War I, but still, women tend to do what they can to give comfort in any situation.

As with most things, my odds and ends day opened up a host of new projects yet to be finished. I set aside the knitting needles, resting my brain and fingers by telling myself that tomorrow would be better. But let me tell you, once I got over my German angst (us Germans can be a hard headed lot), I discovered just how seriously 'we' take our craft.

Earlier this year, April 4-6, a speed knitter challenge was held. (See above photo). Guinness World record holder Miriam Tegals hosted the German Speed Knitting Finals at the Handarbeit and Hobby Show in Cologne. By the way Miriam knits 118 stitches per minute to achieve that record.

More than 155 knitters took part in the competition, 11 of which knitted over 200 stitches in three minutes. The new German champion is Angela Mühlpfordt who achieved 220 in three minutes, sharing second place were Doris Wingerath and Ursula Barth with 216 stitches
. Angela is shown receiving her prize.

I knew Germans excelled at speed skating, but speed knitting? I never thought of knitting fast as a goal. For me keeping all of the stitches on the needle is a challenge. 220 stitches knit in three minutes. Ohhhhhh my!

Friday, July 18, 2008

When the going gets tough -- go to the movies

Americans find their strength in the theater.

Presidents give speeches, John Wayne molds heroes.

Teachers guide young minds, "To Sir With Love" reaches the heart.

And when the economy is going to hell in a hand basket as my mother liked to say, we troop off to the movies.

Here in our house we've pulled out the old West Wing DVDs and are watching season after season as a way, I think, to deal with the lackluster political choices, the spiraling costs of living, the falling stock prices which drags down our retirement funds with them. We forget our concerns about health care coverage and insurance, or worries about job security. All that waits in the shadows while we watch Jeb Bartlett deal with those hostile Republicans or quell an uprising around the world or kill off a terrorist posing as a Saudi friend. Right now we're commiserating with the president over his daughter's kidnapping and lamenting that we're too quickly approaching the last two seasons, one of which we haven't purchased yet. So perhaps this type of head in the sand approach to dealing with reality will help the economy in the price of season six's DVDs.

Mom, now 96, spoke of going to the movies during the Great Depression. For ten cents admission price, the girls swooned over Valentino and forgot they hadn't bought a new dress in two or three years and their parents were losing their farms. Another outlet at that time was music. Mom has a collection of sheet music, I suppose it would compare to buying CDs today, and the hope in those songs -- Side By Side talks of "Ain't got a barrel of money, maybe we're ragged and funny, but we'll travel the road, sharing our load, side by side."

That song got my husband and I through the 70s when we were all making our own clothes, quilts and socks. We baked our own bread and preserved everything we harvested from our vegetable gardens. "Love Story" and "Towering Inferno" got us through the tough times, at least we were together and not facing a fatal illness nor trapped by a raging fire in the world's tallest building.

The 1940s, a terrible time when the good guys and bad guys were at war -- really at war -- produced a long list of amazing movies and people flocked to see them and the special features from the war. "Casablanca," "Citizen Kane," "It's a Wonderful Life," The Maltese Falcon." The list goes on and on.

Today the biggest box office draw, maybe surpassing Harry Potter movies, is a sequel featuring a dead movie star -- Heath Ledger.
Less than 24 hours after "The Dark Knight" opened to record-breaking crowds, reports that more than 1,300 performances nationwide are still sold out. This includes more than 220 in New York City and Los Angeles alone. All this, combined with a move into the Top 5 Pre-Sale List of All-Time, and sky-high approval ratings from users, combines to pack a powerful punch. -- PR Newswire
Other movies in the top five include:
1. "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith"
2. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
3. "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
4. "Dark Knight"
5. "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert Disney Digital 3D

I'm not sure about number five, but the first four seem to have memorable villains in common. Darth Vadar and those who turned him to the dark side; Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter's nemesis; Sauron who wants to destroy man; and of course The Joker played by Heath Ledger.

Americans love a worthy opponent, adore watching good triumph over evil, and most of all we like being able to easily discern between good and evil. That last one isn't always easy to figure out in the real world.

Thank heavens for movies -- they get us through the tough times. And during these hot days of summer -- the air conditioning is a nice perk, too.