Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Do You Dare?

This past weekend I was determined to slow down and take myself out of being in a state of constant hurry.

There is a time when quiet is needed.

A time to dare to dream.  A time to dare to just veg out.

Instead of picking up the newspaper first thing in the morning and digesting the day's hard hitting news with a cup of freshly made hot tea, I sat for about an hour and read a book of fiction.  It was great!  I went back to the newspaper much later in the day.  Loosing myself in my book was just what I needed; to mentally go someplace with someone I imagine I know.
When I was finished reading, I went through a pile of magazines and newsletters I received in the mail during the week that I hadn't had a chance to really explore.  Within one of the newsletters was this timely short essay on savoring life and all it has to offer us.
After you read it, maybe you will decide to do something different today!

Do You Dare?
By Nadine Stair

If I had my life to live over, I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.  I'd relax.  I'd limber up.

I would be sillier than I had been this trip.

I would take fewer things seriously. 

I would take more chances.

I would take more trips. 

I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.

I would eat more ice cream and less beans. 

I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I'm one of those people who live sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day.  Oh, I've had my moments, and if I had it to do again, I'd have more of them.  In fact, I'd try to have nothing else. 
Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.  I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a water bottle, a raincoat, or a parachute.  If I had it to do over again, I'd travel lighter than I have.
If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. 

I would go to more dances.

I would ride more merry-go-rounds. 

 I would pick more daisies.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Weekends Go Too Fast

I hope your weekend was a good one and that you had a chance to relax and renew yourself.
My weekends always seem to fly by and just when I'm feeling as though I have totally brought myself down from the workweek, it's time to begin a new one.
It's okay though; I selfishly wring every minute of down time out of the weekend that I can.  Even if I am grocery shopping or running other errands, I try to enjoy the outdoors and reduce the pressure to get everything done in record time!
I try to unplug myself, even briefly from my electronic gadgets because I think they make me less patient.  More and more is supposed to happen in an instant today and life doesn't always follow our wants.  We become frustrated when phones are busy, computers freeze up, ATM machines run slowly or the checkout lines are long.
Waiting for something to work is an opportunity.  It is.  Come on, you know it is.  This is what I tell myself because no matter how much I want something to work faster, it never does.

It's an opportunity to pump the brakes and slow myself down.  I may feel like I am trying to beat the clock when I set out to do my errands but I really don't need to accomplish all my wants in one day. 
So when I miss a green light or have to reboot my computer and open all my programs up again, I try really hard to use that time to take a couple of deep breaths and remind myself that whatever I am trying to do will get done. . .eventually.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

iPods Forever

I am deleting all of the songs on my iPod and starting over.

Here is a blast of a song from the '80's that I will be adding to my new song list.

I don't know what happened to Lisa Stansfield but I always turn up the volume when I hear this song:

I hope you are having a great weekend!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Today is Today

Who cares what happened yesterday. . . .

Today is today & this is what I am going to remind myself . . .

Friday, April 26, 2013

That's What Friends Are For

This is a beautiful and moving story about a husband and wife and their love and respect for one another.
Sadly, the time recently arrived for one of them to say good-bye to the other.
In the following column by The Washington Post's Courtland Milloy, he writes of the spirit of the union between Washington Post reporter Lynne Duke and Washington Post editor Phillip Dixon in the essential phrase "sometimes yin and yang, sometimes nitro and glycerin."
Milloy is an awesome friend, doing what friends do best, offering emotional support and condolences to Phillip Dixon, and at the same time establishing that important and necessary connection to his deceased friend Lynne Duke, making sure that others know what a special person and reporter she was while she worked at The Washington Post.

Friends want to take care of you and provide comfort when they see you in pain and we should let them.  Sometimes they don't even need to say a word.  When I was with my friends, they let me cry, they listened to me talk about how unreal it felt and sometimes they gently held my hand.  That meant the world to me and I still remember those gestures of friendship after my husband died.

My thoughts and prayers are with you Phillip.

Photo Courtesy of Rodney Brooks
Former Washington Post journalists Lynne Duke and Phillip Dixon
 enjoy a Valentine’s Day party

After death of a fearless Post reporter,
her husband reaches out

By , Published: April 23

When Phillip Dixon called to say that his wife, Lynne Duke, had died after a long bout with cancer, I did what friends do and put myself at his disposal.
“What you can do,” he said, “is look me in the eye and tell me that we’ll get through this, that everything is going to be okay.”
A simple request. But en route to his home in Silver Spring, it occurred to me that saying those words was not the same as believing them. I’ve heard people tell mourners things such as “Life goes on” and “This too shall pass.” But I couldn’t imagine such cliches actually bringing comfort to a grieving soul. And Phil would certainly know if I were just mouthing the words.
He and Lynne had both worked at The Washington Post. He was a gifted editor, able to intuit what writers were trying to say and help them say it better. She had been one of the newspaper’s most graceful and evocative writers. In 1995, at age 38, she became the Johannesburg bureau chief — the newspaper’s first African American female foreign correspondent.
They married in 1999, soon after her return.
Lynne died at their home Friday. She was 56. The professionals at Montgomery Hospice had helped Phil care for her until the end. He was grateful for their service and greeted me at the door with a hug. Men, especially hard-boiled 61-year-old former editors like him, don’t usually reach out so unabashedly for emotional support. In fact, we guys are often reluctant to show any kind of feelings that might make us look weak or needy.
Caring for Lynne during her struggle with lung cancer, however, had helped Phil see that such feelings do not make us look weak, just human. In reaching out, he was teaching me a thing or two.
“Lynne used to tell me that I wasn’t ‘present’ when we talked,” he recalled. “I’d say: ‘What do you mean? I’m right here.’ Now I know what she meant: being totally immersed in our conversations, intellectually and emotionally, in the moment, in the here and now.”
Ouch, I was guilty, too. Being present meant listening, not just hearing. If you told me about a problem, I’d feel compelled to give you the answer — sometimes interrupting in mid-sentence, never listening long enough to know that you just wanted to talk it out, not be told what to do.
“I wish I’d gotten it sooner,” Phil said.
Don’t we all? But at least he got it. Some of us never do.
If anybody knew how to make her point, it was Lynne. Diminutive, 5 feet tall, she was known as the “Duke of Africa,” as fearless a foreign correspondent as there was. She’d covered much of the continent south of the equator — evading extraordinary dangers while chronicling the tragic reigns of Mobutu Sese Seko and Laurent Kabila in Zaire (now Congo), covering the triumphant return of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, and then returning as bureau chief to report on then-President Mandela’s effort to rebuild a post-apartheid South Africa.
“I am neither an Afro-pessimist nor an Afro-optimist,” she wrote in her 2003 memoir, “Mandela, Mobutu, and Me: A Newswoman’s African Journey.” Rather, she was an “Afro-realist” with “affectionate concern for and loyalty to the African struggle . . . guided by legions of African people whose lives are built on extraordinary fortitude, unwavering hope and profound humanity despite immense odds.”
Most American newspapers no longer cover Africa — or any other place in the world, for that matter — with such passion, let alone send African American women to do it.
Lynne and Phil made a perfect match — a writer and an editor who met in the newsroom, went on to live under the same roof. Sometimes yin and yang, sometimes nitro and glycerin. Often laughing, sometimes arguing, always loving and fun to be around.
“I prayed that she would go peacefully and painlessly,” Phil told me. “This morning, I got on my knees and thanked God for answering my prayers.” He looked remarkably content, not distraught as I had expected, but like a man who knew that there was more to this world than meets the eye, that he’d felt the presence of a loving spirit when he needed it most.
“Everything is going to be okay,” I told him, convinced.
“I know,” Phil replied, smiling assuredly. Then it dawned on me: He’d known all along. Just wanted a worried friend to know it, too.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.

© The Washington Post Company

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lean In To Laughter

One of my brothers has a wacky way of making a joke exactly when it's needed.

His timing and dry delivery are impeccable.  Just when the situation is starting to get either too serious or is totally out of hand, I can always depend on my brother to throw an exclamation point into the conversation.


It's not an easy thing to do.  There's a fine line between funny and unfunny and once you cross over into unfunny, it's hard to undo and recover your mojo.

I've delivered some whoppers that have crashed on delivery but I don't try to cover it up by saying, "I'm only joking."  Usually when someone says that to me I know they are not really joking.  They're usually trying to tell me something by making it seem as if it's a joke.  NOT!

If I fall flat on my face, I try to own it immediately.  It's really the only way to go.

But the point is, making a joke gets me and maybe you through some rough times.

And humor also get writer Veronica Chambers through some life-changing moments with her husband.  As Chambers says, "I promise to laugh with my husband -- in sickness, in health, and everything in between."

Here's a short piece Veronica Chambers wrote for the February 2013 issue of O magazine that I think shows how humor diffuses those tense and  scary moments and puts life in perspective:

There's A Joke In There Somewhere
By Veronica Chambers
O Magazine/February 2013

Five years ago, I had an awful, soul-sucking year: During the birth of my child, my body went into organ failure, to the point where the doctors told my husband, Jason, I had begun to die.

Then my daughter, who was born weighing less than two pounds, spent three months in the hospital fighting for her life.  Then, just 14 weeks after we brought her home, my youngest brother, who was 28, died in a car accident, a crash that ended with an explosion so total there was nothing left to bury.

After his funeral, I drove to the Himalayan Institute in Pennsylvania for a three-day Ayurvedic retreat meant to bring things back into balance.  Thanks to 72 hours of vegetarian meals, yoga classes and sessions with a holistic doctor, I returned home hopeful.

But less than two weeks later, a chaplain from my local hospital called to inform me that my husband had been the victim of a hit-and-run.  "Are you f--ing kidding me," I shrieked.

At the hospital, when I saw his face, so bruised it was almost unrecognizable, I realized there was no right way to absorb this kind of pain.  My life had become a cruel joke.

And yet.  When Jason came home, he immediately began cracking wise.  And that set the tone for how we regarded his situation: with levity and something like grace.

Him: "My arm hurts.  Take your top off -- it's the only thing that will help."

Me: "You got hit in a crosswalk at 7 A.M.?  Dude, I think God smited you."

When a stranger asked how he broke his arm, he said: "Arm wrestling with my mother-in-law.  I won."

We laughed every day, and despite all that we had endured, I was happy.  I won't go so far as to say that his being run over was a gift.  I will say that the accident reminded me how remarkable humor can be.

My husband's laughter is like medicine.  When times get tough, he finds the funny -- and I just lean in for the joke.

Isn't this an amazing way to look at life?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Surfing Emotions

Photo Courtesy of Secrets of The Sea
Feelings are much like waves,
we can't stop them from coming
but we can choose which ones to surf.
~ Jonatan Martensson

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Widowed Fathers Reaching Out

I know a few widowed mothers and have great respect for how they handle the role of single parent.

I don't know any widowed fathers so I have always been curious about how they juggle the demands of raising children and handling their work careers. 
I imagine that a family member helps them; maybe a mother, a sister or even a brother.  Or maybe the fathers had already hired someone to help them when their wives sadly became too ill or were weakened by treatments.
But after reading the insightful New York Times story below, I found that widowed fathers and widowed mothers essentially struggle and try to deal with the same issues: school, bed time, personal responsibilities and housekeeping.

At the end of the day, it is not possible for one person to physically and mentally juggle it all.  It takes a lot of support to parent your children and take care of your broken heart all at the same time.  And it's okay to admit that.
You are not SuperParent.  You need help.
Asking for help doesn't mean you are weak.
Asking for help is a sign of good mental health.  It means you recognize that your efforts are not changing your situation the way you thought it would and something different needs to be tried.
Asking for help is a sign of strength.
It doesn't feel that way when it is happening but it's true.
I am always in need of help.  Many times I would call my grief counselor and my voice would be shaking and my hands would be shaking and I would try my best to keep it together but it wasn't happening.  Sometimes I couldn't even put together a simple declarative sentence.  All my words would come out in a jumble.
It's hard to put yourself out there when you are most vulnerable and in need of kindness and support.  And as a single parent, you feel you have to be strong for your children and show them the way to go.  I'm always asking other parents what's going on with their children and then telling them something that is going on with my child to see if a particular thing is common to them. 
"Well how did you get them to eat that?"
"What time does your child go to bed?"
"Have they asked about blankety-blank yet?"
Please read this great New York Times story below focusing on widowed fathers and the wonderful way these guys handled their unexpected situations:

A Lifeline for Widowed Fathers

Three springs ago, Joe Ciriano was living in a fog. He had just lost his wife of 21 years to breast cancer. He was now the sole parent of a son and three daughters, one with Down syndrome. The children, ages 6 through 19, all had different needs and levels of understanding.

Mr. Ciriano, 51, an accounts manager in Burlington, N.C., was riddled with doubts about his ability to carry on as a single parent and was struggling to keep his head above water. While deeply mourning his wife, he was unsure of how good a parent he could be.

“What is normal?” he wondered. What should he say to the kids about their mother? How should he treat them? Could he handle his family and do his job?

With no one to share day-to-day family responsibilities and decisions, and to help fill both his and his children’s emotional and physical needs, life felt “overwhelming,” Mr. Ciriano said in an interview.
Then something wonderful happened. He and Karl Owen, a 49-year-old software engineer from Chapel Hill whose wife had died, of lung cancer, three weeks after Mr. Ciriano’s, were asked to form a support group for fathers widowed by cancer who had children at home.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. Donald Lee Rosenstein, a psychiatrist, and Justin Michael Yopp, a psychologist, weren’t sure how openly these men would talk about their feelings and struggles. But the researchers saw a pressing need to help them and their children through this trying life experience.

Too often, they’d found, widowed fathers contend with social and emotional isolation — a profound aloneness — and suffer in silence.

“I’m not a support-group kind of guy who wants to talk about touchy-feely kinds of things,” Mr. Ciriano said. But finding himself “lost at sea,” he was willing to give it a try.

The result has exceeded all expectations. The eight widowed fathers who formed the core group, led by a professional facilitator, quickly learned that their feelings, doubts and concerns were shared by all and offered one another insights and suggestions on how to cope.

“All the men were exhausted and suffering a crisis in confidence, fearful of screwing things up,” Dr. Rosenstein said. “They faced countless daily issues — school problems, struggles with discipline, bed times, expectations and a tendency to let things slide a little, which really doesn’t work well for kids.”

Mr. Owen said in an interview: “A lot of things that seemed abnormal in our lives were common to the other guys in the group. Someone would bring up a situation, and the rest of us would nod, ‘Yeah, me too.’ These issues were very difficult to discuss with friends who hadn’t been through a similar experience,” said the father of two children, who were 9 and 12 when their mother died.
“We were all in a place in our lives we hadn’t prepared for,” he said, “and collectively we could share experiences and help each other navigate.”

Participants in the group developed a remarkable bond, a level of friendship and sharing that is rare among men, who even now are expected to be strong and resilient, and many of whom still avoid talking about deep feelings and doubts.

Three years later, four of the men continue to meet monthly and have benefited so much from the experience that they are reaching out to help other fathers newly widowed by cancer.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rosenstein and Dr. Yopp, who said they could find no similar support groups for widowed fathers, are trying to get others started at cancer centers around the country. They would like to conduct a formal study to determine “what is most helpful and what isn’t to these men,” Dr. Yopp said in an interview.

Ideally, he said, every major cancer center would have a support group for widowed fathers, whose experiences and needs are different from those of widowed women and older men. (More information about how the group works can be found at singlefathersduetocancer.org.)

Cancer is responsible for more widowed fathers than any other cause of death, Dr. Rosenstein and Dr. Yopp noted in an article in the journal Psycho-Oncology. An estimated 100,000 children are living with widowed fathers in the United States, and the trauma of losing a mother at a young age can seriously disrupt a family’s structure and the children’s development, sometimes with lifelong consequences, they wrote.

“There is a pressing need to understand the experiences of these widowed fathers and to develop supportive interventions for them and their children,” they said.

I can attest to the value of such support. I was 16 and my brother was 12 when our mother died of cancer in 1958, leaving my father emotionally, physically and financially drained by her yearlong illness.

To stay afloat, he worked two jobs and had little time to enforce routines and discipline at home. I soon departed for college, and my brother was left to cope on his own with the devastating loss of our mother at so vulnerable an age.

“Men traditionally do not play the role of the more nurturing parent; therefore, as widowed parents, fathers may be less likely to employ child-centric or nurturing parenting styles and more likely to feel unprepared than widowed mothers,” Dr. Yopp and Dr. Rosenstein wrote.

They said various studies had found a clear “link between the mental health of the surviving parent and the adjustment of the parentally bereaved child.”

A major issue for widowed fathers, Dr. Rosenstein said, is providing parental consistency with love and understanding. Good parenting requires structure, clear expectations, well-defined limits and reasonable consequences.

“What I’ve seen happen a lot is the former family order melts away and no new order is put in place,” the psychiatrist said. “This can be tough for kids, who feel cared for when there are limits and consistent discipline.”

The trauma of a young mother’s protracted death from cancer can be exacerbated by the patient’s understandable wish to live as long as possible for her family, Dr. Rosenstein added. These women often choose aggressive therapy until the bitter end, missing the comforts of hospice care and the opportunity to express their love, wisdom and wishes for the family.

In an online survey conducted by the two researchers, nearly half of 144 widowed fathers said their wives had had no chance to say goodbye to their children.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day -- Big Yellow Taxi

Today is Earth Day and I give thanks to Mother Nature for her endless gifts.
As we turn our focus on cleaning up and protecting the environment, events in Washington, DC (cleaning up the Anacostia River) and communities around the globe are being held today to remind us that our natural resources are precious and finite and shouldn't be taken for granted.  When we take better care of Mother Earth, she takes better care of us, giving us tranquil beauty and continual inspiration.
Nature also has the incredible capability to heal us: the fragrance of a flower, the cleansing sound of the ocean and the glorious rise and set of the sun.
When I spend time outdoors, I de-stress and relax and start to feel connected and much better almost immediately.  Whether its a leisurely stroll or an aerobic run, I take deep breaths and notice and try to enjoy whatever is around me.  Right now that would be the smell of freshly cut grass and deep pink azelea buds ready to burst open.
The first April 22 Earth Day was held in 1970.  I don't think it's a coincidence that the multi-talented and award-winning singer songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote and originally recorded "Big Yellow Taxi" also in 1970.  It's a great song that is known for its environmental concerns.
Do something green today, such as walk, buy locally grown produce in season, recycle, use cloth totes for shopping, or garden and sing along loudly to  "Big Yellow Taxi:"


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Your Inner Beauty

My son and his cousins were recently going through a box of family pictures that were taken decades ago.  One of my sisters and I were in the same room with them as they passed the pictures around and made comments about each picture as they looked at it.
You know the kind of pictures I am talking about; the pictures we all take at family weddings, baptisms, birthdays and first days of school.  The milestones in all of our lives.
There was a lot of talking and laughing going on and my sister and I were only casually listening to their comments until one of them said in a tone of surprise, "You all look so young!"
Then we went over to the box and looked at the pictures and then looked at each other.
OMG.  They. Are. Right.
The color of our hair, the expressions on our faces, the clothes we are wearing.  We were so much younger in a way that I didn't remember until I looked at the old photographs.
I'm not saying that I want to go back to that age because along with the way I looked, I also remembered what was going on in my life when those pictures were taken and it was good but I didn't want to re-live it.  I don't want to go backwards.
I feel I've worked hard to get to this place in my life where I am comfortable within my own skin.
Don't get me wrong.  I don't like seeing the lines that are now forming around my mouth or on my forehead and I really don't like it when I see grey growing into my hair.  My first instinct is to get rid of it immediately even though I know it's a battle I won't win.  Madison Avenue spends millions of dollars and airs countless hours of commercials to make me and the female population as a whole feel that these normal aging signs  devalue us as people and that our signs of age can only erased with the products they are selling.
Of course, I want to look and feel my best and I work hard to try and beat the aging clock through exercise, eating well and thinking positive thoughts.
These days, women have more options in life and therefore I think they are much smarter and more confident about the ways they present themselves to the world.  Some agencies, such as the one that recently produced this ad for Dove soap, are finally getting the message and responding to a woman's inner and outer beauty.
And that's a healing thing:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Gabby & Mark

I have written about Gabby Giffords in previous posts because she is a source of inspiration to me. 
She is the very definition of courage and resilience and lives her life with a great deal of passion.  Despite being shot in the head over two years ago, she continues to move forward and remain in public life because she wants to make the world a safer place.

Gun control is Gabby's top priority and today's post focuses on just part of the dialogue surrounding this issue.

Gabby Giffords & Mark Kelly
With her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, Gabby has been working non-stop appealing to the Senate and the public at large to support expanded background checks for guns.  Gabby and Mark make a formidable team.

You might not know that both Gabby and Mark are gun owners and they take the position that background checks are a responsible common sense measure to reduce gun violence.

Even though 90% of the American public supports expanded background checks for guns, the Senate Wednesday decided to vote the measure down.  But this is only the beginning of a grassroots movement to change current gun control laws in this country.

Frustrated but not defeated, Gabby wrote the following fiery and compelling op-ed in The New York Times.  Please read it and think about how it relates to your views on gun control.

A Senate in the Gun Lobby's Grip

By Gabrielle Giffords
April 17, 2013/ New York Times

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.
On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.
Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.
I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.
Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.
I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.
People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.
I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.
They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.
They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.
This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.
Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic representative from Arizona from 2007 to 2012, is a founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, which focuses on gun violence.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Possessions R Us

Though memories of a loved one who has passed on continue to be vivid and stored forever in a special place in my memory bank, isn't it incredible when one single possession can have the power to bring back all the complications of your relationship with that person?
For me, it is a red and blue knit cap with a New York Giants logo sewed on the front.

My husband treasured that hat and wore it every day that the temperature allowed.  The year after my husband died, my father gave me tickets to the NY Giants-Washington Redskins game at FedEx field.  Two of my husbands' sons and myself went to the game and of course we brought the hat.  None of us felt confident about wearing the hat into the stadium or during the game for we were sure that some annoyed and misbehaving Redskins fan would grab it off of one of our heads.  Instead, we held it our hands and raised it high when the Giants scored a touchdown.
We collectively felt his presence at the game and knew that the hat exuded some kind of connection to him that we instinctively needed at the time.  Today, the hat is framed in a shadowbox and hangs on a wall in my home office.
I was reminded of the hat and consequently of our marriage -- which was interrupted more times than I would like to remember by the schedule of the NFL -- as I read the story below.

In The New York Times story below, the author, Peter Orner, writes of almost the same kind of connection with his father.
Instead of a NY Giants hat, for him it is a pair of gloves.

Writing About What Haunts Us

I’ve been trying to lie about this story for years. As a fiction writer, I feel an almost righteous obligation to the untruth. Fabrication is my livelihood, and so telling something straight, for me, is the mark of failure. Yet in many attempts over the years I’ve not been able to make out of this tiny — but weirdly soul-defining — episode in my life anything more than a plain recounting of the facts, as best as I can remember them. Dressing them up into fiction, in this case, wrecked what is essentially a long overdue confession.
Here’s the nonfiction version.
I watched my father in the front hall putting on his new, lambskin leather gloves. It was a sort of private ceremony. This was in early November, 1982, in Highland Park, Ill., a town north of Chicago along Lake Michigan. My father had just returned from a business trip to Paris. He’d bought the gloves at a place called Hermès, a mythical wonderland of a store. He pulled one on slowly, then the other, and held them up in the mirror to see how his hands looked in such gloves.
A week later, I stole them.
I remember the day. I was home from school. Nobody else was around. I opened the left-hand drawer of the front hall table and there they were. I learned for the first time how easy it is to just grab something. I stuffed the gloves in my pants and sprinted upstairs to my room. I hid them in the back of my closet under the wicker basket that held my license plate collection. Then I braced myself, for days. It was a warm November.

When we finally left that house — my mother, my brother and me — I took the gloves with me to our new place. I took them with me to college. To Boston, to Cincinnati, to North Carolina, to California. I even took them with me to Namibia for two years. I have them now, on my desk, 30 years later.
I’ve never worn them, not once, although my father and I have the same small hands. I didn’t want the gloves. I never wanted the gloves. I only wanted my father not to have them.
Now that he is older and far milder, it is hard to believe how scared I used to be of my father. Back then he was so full of anger. Was he unhappy in his marriage? No doubt. He and my mother never had much in common. But his anger — sometimes it was rage — went beyond this not so unusual disappointment. My own totally unscientific, armchair diagnosis is that like other chronically unsatisfied people, the daily business of living caused my father despair. At no time did this manifest itself more powerfully than when he came home from work. A rug askew, a jacket not hung up, a window left open — all could set off a fury. My brother once spilled a pot of ink on the snowy white carpet of my parent’s bedroom: Armageddon.
His unpredictability is what made his explosions so potent. Sometimes the bomb wouldn’t go off, and he’d act like my idea of a normal dad. When he finally noticed those precious gloves were missing, he seemed only confused.
“Maybe they’re in the glove compartment,” my mother said.
“Impossible. I never put gloves in the glove compartment. The glove compartment is for maps.”
“Oh, well,” my mother said.

Emiliano Ponzi
He kept searching the front hall table, as if he had somehow overlooked them amid all the cheap imitation leather gloves, mismatched mittens and tasseled Bears hats. I am certain the notion that one of us had taken the gloves never crossed his mind.

Haunted by my guilt, a frequent motivation for my fiction in general, I’ve tried to contort my theft into a story, a made-up story.

In my failed attempts, the thief is always trying to give the gloves back. In one abandoned version, the son character (sometimes he’s a daughter) mails the gloves back to the father, along with a forged letter, purportedly written by a long-dead friend of the father, a man the father had once betrayed. I liked the idea of a package arriving, out of the blue, from an aggrieved ghost. I’m returning your gloves, Phil. Now at least one of us may be absolved.

The problem was that it palmed off responsibility on a third party. And it muddied the story by pulling the thief out of the center of what little action there was.

In a simpler but equally bad version, the son character, home for Thanksgiving, slips the gloves back in the top left-hand drawer of the front hall table of the house he grew up in, the house where the father still lives. This attempt was marred not only by cooked-up dialogue but also by a dead end.

“Dad! How about we take a walk by the lake?”

“It’s been years, Son, since we’ve taken a walk.”

“Pretty brisk out. Maybe you need your gloves?”

The moment arrives: the father slides open the drawer. Voilà! (Note the French.) Cut to the father’s face. Describe his bewilderment. I must have checked this drawer a hundred thousand times. Decades drop from the father’s eyes, and both father and son face each other as they never faced each other when both were years younger. The son stammers out a confession I could somehow never get right. He tries to explain himself, but can’t. Why did he take the gloves? My character could never express it in words and the story kept collapsing.

This is where the truth of this always derails the fiction. I can’t give the gloves back, in fiction or in this thing we call reality. If I did, I’d have to confront something I’ve known all along but have never wanted to express, even to myself alone. My father would have given me his gloves. All I had to do was ask. He would have been so pleased that for once we shared a common interest. This happened so few times in our lives. All the years I’ve been trying to write this, maybe I’ve always known that this essential fact would stick me in the heart.
Our imaginations sometimes fail us for a reason. Not because it is cathartic to tell the truth (I finally told my father last year) but because coming clean may also be a better, if smaller, story. A scared (and angry) kid rips off his father’s gloves, carries them around for decades. Sometimes he takes them out and feels them but never puts them on. When I see my father these days, we graze each other’s cheeks, a form of kissing in my family. I love my father. I suppose I did even then, in the worst moments of fear.

Well-made things eventually deteriorate. The Hermès gloves are no longer baby-soft. All the handless years have dried them up.
In 1982, my father wasn’t much older than I am at this moment. I think of him now, standing in the front hall. He’s holding his hands up in the mirror, pulling on his beautiful gloves, a rare stillness on his face, a kind of hopeful calm. Was this what I wanted to steal?

Peter Orner
Peter Orner is the author, most recently, of the novel “Love and Shame and Love.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I am constantly reminding myself to chill out: when I am driving to and from work, when I am at work, or when I am in a situation where my expectations are not even close to matching up to reality.
Add to the equation a traumatic event such as the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon and the resulting increased security and it's no wonder that you, me and others are on edge.  Stressed out.  And the toll that stress takes on our physical health and mental well being is daunting.
I don't think I am alone in feeling this way.  No wonder people are finding it difficult to get along.  The work-hard-get-ahead lifestyle eventually catches up with you whether you admit it or not.  If you don't feel well, you're not going to act well.
So I'm thinking that we all can take it down a couple of notches and play better together.  One way that I try to play better with others is to remind myself to lower my voice.  If I can keep my voice in a monotone volume when talking to others then that does a lot to calm me.  I have a tendency to get excited when I am talking and then have a bad habit of raising my voice.  I'm getting better at achieving this but it's still something I need to constantly work on.
It's all about inner peace; a state of mentally and physically being in a calm place.  Peace of mind is generally associated with bliss and contentment.
Looking within myself to quiet my conflicts and trying always to smooth the rough edges is one way for me to try and get to a place of inner peace.  If I don't try to find and practice inner peace, then I can't very well go out in the world and deal with others in a civilized manner.  It really starts within me.

The words to John Lennon's infamous song, Imagine, come to mind:
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
From big worries in your life to small inner butterflies, together let's look within ourselves and give inner peace a chance.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Divorce v Death

I'm not sure why people compare getting divorced to losing a spouse.

But they do.

Hmmmmm.  One of these things is really not like the other.

Yes, both situations are the end of something, but one is final and the other is not.

Both situations are traumatic and force you to assess your life and eventually rebuild it in a new way.

But the death of a loved one is final.  You will never see that person again.

With divorce, you might feel like you never want to see that person again but they're still alive.

Lots of widows and widowers hear this comparison but that doesn't make it true.

Shortly after my husband's death, I had a couple of people make the same comparison to me and I thought it was weird but then I heard from others about the same thing.  Recently, I read the following on another woman's Facebook page.  Having been widowed for six years, this woman thought she had heard it all until another woman said to her, "My husband had to work on Saturday, so I know what it's like to be you."  The widow thought to herself: "REALLY?  Did he come home for dinner?  Then, no you don't."
If you're still not sure of the difference between divorce and death, here is a short video made by a young woman named Kim Richardson.  She makes her point quietly and effectively.  The video was tweeted yesterday by a support group in South Carolina called Widows of Opportunity (www.widowsofopportunity.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tax Day

Today is dreaded Tax Day which means that people in the United States must file individual tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.

Not to worry for those who aren't prepared to file your taxes today.  The IRS allows you to file an extension which gives you until October 15 to file.  Thank goodness right?  There is more time if you need it!

Taxes are confusing under even the most normal of circumstances.  According to CBS News, the U.S. tax code is more than 73,000 pages long. Just figuring out what to pay eats up an estimated 6.1 billion hours of our time each year.

But if you are filing as a widow or widower this year for the first time, I send you my condolences.  I've been there and it's a hard place to be.  You are deep in grief and you just want everything to stop.  Yet the world around you continues to go on and it's jarring to face reality.  Taxes are just one more thing from a list of many that are now your responsibility as the surviving spouse.

With all of the emotional upheaval you are trying to deal with since your loss, I'm sure taxes are the very last thing on your mind.  Or at least they were for me.
Maybe your spouse was in charge of this responsibility and all you had to do was sign the papers.  Or maybe you were involved and helped gather papers, receipts and other financial essentials to prepare your taxes with your spouse.  Either way, your financial future is now in your hands.
But the good news is that there are lots of resources out there and if you feel overwhelmed by doing your own taxes then it's okay to get or ask for help.  Give yourself a break.

You aren't alone in your confusion.  I get help with my taxes every year and I feel good to have found an accountant I can trust.  Tax laws change all the time and there is no way the average person can keep up with them.  I use and need an accountant now and even before my husband died because neither one of us was good at that kind of thing.  We would gather our receipts and statements together, talk about some stuff we weren't sure of and then make an appointment to talk to the accountant.
The first year after my husband died was particularly difficult.  Going backwards in the checkbook and other financial papers forced me to relive the year and all of the ups and down of hospitalization, doctor's appointments and other events that I didn't really want to think about.  But the next year was a little easier and the next year after that a little easier too.
It takes time to figure out what works for you.  I did gain confidence in setting up my own system and keeping track of the household expenses and I bet you will too!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Good Luck to Marathon Runners

Good luck today to my son and a great friend of his who are
running a marathon in Richmond, VA!!
It's a beautiful day, perfect for being outside and running, and I hope their race is successful!!
Hopefully, no one pulls anything or gets dehydrated.
Stay strong runners!  Your efforts are amazing!!!

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Very Cool Sela Ward

Sometimes on Friday evenings, I watch CBS's prime-time hit series CSI:NY on television.  I love crime shows and one of the other reasons I like to watch it is Sela Ward, an award-winning actress who plays a very cool, straight-to-the-point detective named Jo Danville.

In real life, Ward is a busy mother of two children and a wife as well as a career woman.  Yet she always gives off this aura of being calm, collected and totally together; something I am constantly working towards.

This month she landed beautifully and professionally on the cover of  Ladies Home Journal magazine where she gave an interesting interview about taking risks in life and being open to unplanned opportunities that life may spring on you.

Sela Ward

I love Ward's honest attitude towards life and being courageous in your actions.  She's not afraid to admit to making a mistake or putting herself out there in an untested way.  She picks herself up and continually starts over again.  That takes a lot of guts!

While she talks in the interview about her determination with regards to acting, I think her philosphy of grabbing life and going full throttle can easily be applied to myself and anyone else out there trying to find a new direction in their life or just trying to discover new ways to make their life work in a healthy and creative way.

Here are just three of many insightful questions and answers from the Ladies Home Journal interview with the very cool Sela Ward:

Q: LHJ: Isn't it funny how we make plans for our lives, but so much occurs by chance?

Ward: Yes, but there's a drive that makes you keep moving forward -- and connects you to other people.  If you sit at home all day long or play it safe or say "I'm not going to go to that," then you don't meet those interesting people who can change your life.  You have to open yourself up to the world.  I open myself up to possibilities all the time.

Q: LHJ: In what ways do you keep moving forward, in your personal and professional life?

Ward:  When I was on Sisters, I'd be so bad some weeks.  I'd take a risk with a scene and fall flat on my face.  But I'd pick myself up, work with my acting coach, go back the next week and then be kind of good.  Of course the following week I'd fall on my face again.  I did this for six years.  By the time I was finished there wasn't one scene or script that I was afraid of.  I have that same attitude about life.  I know how to put in the hard work, I know what I don't know and I know how to figure it out.

Q: LHJ: Are you always thinking about what's next or is there part of you that is able to sit back and enjoy the here and now?

Ward: I try to live my life in the present.  If you think in terms of "This is it," not "Things will be better in my next lifetime," the choices you make are different.  For me right now it's about living my life in Technicolor.  There are so many opportunities and possibilities all around us.  Even though I'm not in that "35 and under" relevant category anymore, I've still got a lot to offer -- I've still got a lot I want to do.

Living our lives in Technicolor. . . Isn't that a great concept?  Sela is so wise!

Let's do it!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Heavenly Summer Wind

Happy Birthday Love today to a Special Person in Heaven.
The Birthday Boy was an abrupt-on-the-outside, marshmellow-on-the-inside kind of a guy who was my husband and my friend for 17 years plus.  He was an old school kind of Dad to five talented and fantastic children and took a HUGE amount of pride in his work as an award-winning reporter/writer.

He never forgot his New Jersey roots, having been born and raised in Red Bank, and was a die hard Giants and Yankees fan.  He loved everything about New Jersey: the infamous jokes about exits, the rumble tumble way of life and the edgy personalities of those hailing from the Garden State.
In honor of his birthday, I am posting a video of Hoboken's own Frank Sinatra singing one of his favorite songs: The Summer Wind.

Happy Birthday To The O:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Positive Attitude In Cancerland

I don't always feel positive about all of the situations that life throws my way but I do feel very positive about life.
Would I continue to feel positive if I were diagnosed with cancer?
I would hope so!  I would hope that my love of living, my love for my family and friends and my love of life in general would kick my fighting spirit into high gear and that I would become determined not to let cancer win.
But that's easy for me to say because I have not been diagnosed with cancer.  I know a handful of people who are battling cancer right now and I have learned a lot from them about life, mental outlook, pain and especially love.  I never take my good health for granted.  I work hard to keep myself mentally and physically healthy and by the grace of God, I will stay that way.
In the sweet story below, Joel Achenbach, a fantastic reporter and writer for The Washington Post, writes of his mother's optimistic attitude since her breast cancer diagnosis and surgery.  What a warm and courageous woman she is! 

Photo By Joel Achenbach/The Washington Post
Joel Achenbach's mother, selling plants at a spring garden festival
 soon after she has surgery for breast cancer

Cancer hasn’t dimmed my mother’s upbeat attitude. How far can optimism take her?

By , The Washington Post 

Published: April 1


A few weeks ago, I took my mom shopping for a refrigerator to replace the one that had been in the kitchen since the Nixon administration. Pleasantries with the salesman took a more somber turn when he revealed that his wife has breast cancer and is seeking to heal herself solely through the power of prayer. My mom listened attentively, then touched the salesman on the chest and said, authoritatively, “Carrot juice! And blueberries!”

She is a believer in the restorative powers of fruits and vegetables, and of wholesome living more generally. She doesn’t reject modern medicine, nor would she seek a miracle cure through prayer or New Age therapies. But she is not someone terribly interested in medicine, or technology in general, preferring to exist in a world that is like the one she grew up in — simple, natural, earthy. She has spent her years outdoors, growing plants, doing landscaping, surrounding herself with flowers. She has often ended the day with a cold beer under the grape arbor in her back yard. The yard is a two-acre botanical wonder where she and my stepfather, Jim, have their nursery, plus a robust garden, productive citrus trees and winding footpaths among native plants and towering trees.
I called to check on her the other day. After quickly assuring me she was fine, she launched into a prescription for how I might reduce some minor leg pain that’s been bothering me: “Point one foot at the North Pole and one foot at the South Pole and bend over and touch the floor,” she said.
Though full of medical advice for others, she doesn’t talk much about her own illness, and it didn’t seem to occur to her to tell the appliance salesman that she, too, has breast cancer, stage 3. Here’s the key fact about my mom: She doesn’t consider herself sick.

She’s the opposite of a hypochondriac, never missing a chance to brag about her unusually good posture and the physical strength that many women her age would envy. She informs doctors that her nickname is Tough Lady. When I asked her if I could write something about her medical situation, she said, “Make sure to include what I tell every doctor: ‘I’m not old, and I’m not sick!’ ”

No question, she has a wonderful attitude, and her sunny disposition if distilled and bottled would be sold in every drugstore on the planet.

A fine line

But an objective account of Emily Notestein’s health history, and of her attitude toward medicine, would surely note that she has not been a diligent student of her disease and that she showed no interest in seeking aggressive treatment when it first appeared. There is a fine line between optimism and denial. The power of positive thinking goes only so far.

How aggressively we deal with cancer hinges in part on age and whether the disease threatens to truncate a life dramatically or merely lop off some years in the final decade or two. And cancer in a septuagenarian can be more indolent than cancer in a young woman. Thus, an older person like my mother faces a different mental calculation than someone who is in the prime of her life. Cancer at 76 doesn’t feel like a tragedy.

My mother first had breast cancer two years ago; she had a lumpectomy and no further treatment. She insisted that she didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation or a combination thereof. A plausible scenario is that she was stunned by the high cost of the procedure, and lacked Medicare Part B coverage, because back when she was 65 she felt no need to sign up for something that would be useful only on the very off chance that someday she would have a medical problem. (“I was healthy!” she told me when I pressed her on it.) What’s indisputable is that the cancer came back in the same breast.

On my Mom’s 76th birthday, in late January, her surgeon performed a mastectomy and also removed 22 lymph nodes.

“Everyone was so nice to me!” Mom said that afternoon, groggy from the outpatient procedure. She didn’t feel as if she’d been mutilated. She felt that she’d been the star of the show.

The next week, she heard the pathology report, and it wasn’t good: cancer in all 22 nodes, officially stage 3 cancer. The initial chest X-ray showed no tumors in vital organs; a subsequent PET scan also turned up no sign that the cancer had spread beyond the nodes. “It’s curable,” Mom said, getting right to the point.
She’s being treated at a cancer center by an oncologist who has his hands full. Twice during the brief initial consultation, he was summoned from the small examination room by nurses dealing with emergencies.

I asked him if the cancer looked aggressive.

“It has some characteristics of being rapidly acting,” he said.

He went through the whole scenario: Chemotherapy for 18 weeks, then radiation for six weeks, then years of hormone therapy. Mom would get a port surgically implanted, then receive three cycles of cytoxan, epirubicin and fluorouracil for nine weeks, followed by three cycles of Taxotere for another nine weeks.

My mother took no notes. I later suggested that she research her disease thoroughly. But whereas I saw a problem to be solved, she saw one to be ignored to the extent humanly possible. Her doctor is the expert; she’s the plant lady. She’s going to live her normal life, and won’t spend time, mentally, in Cancerland.

Built to last

All is not as it was, of course. She’s slower since the surgery. She’s got less “steam,” she says.
She hasn’t had the easiest life, though her third marriage has lasted nearly four decades now. She was a divorced, single mother by the age of 25, working as a saleswoman at Sears while trying to take care of two semi-feral boys in an old wooden house with a leaky roof. We had some lean years, but my brother and I knew we were loved unconditionally.

My mother inherited a strong work ethic, and remarkable powers of endurance, from her forebears back on the farm in Indiana. Her family didn’t have indoor plumbing until she was 12 years old. My grandfather as a boy would plow the fields behind two Belgian draft horses, and would know it was time to come home for supper when his mother hung a sheet in the window. “Tell me about the horses, Dad,” my mother would say to my grandfather when he was deep into his 90s and clung to his murky memories as if they were handrails. He and my grandmother both lived nearly a century. So my mother is built to last, if she can just make it through her next challenge.

I can’t be sure of this, but she seems to be appreciating the world more than ever. My mother is not a society lady, isn’t a member of a club and hasn’t been to church in quite a while. But she is interested in everyone and everything. She is egalitarian down to her last molecule. When we went to Wal-Mart, it was hard to make much progress toward the kitchen section because she wanted to greet everyone along the way. She doesn’t seem to grasp the concept that the official Wal-Mart greeter is supposed to be an employee, not a customer.

Throughout her life, small pleasures have struck her as marvelous. A sandwich nicely prepared is a cause for rapture. In a field of weeds and rubbish she will see, and rejoice in the miracle of, the lone flower.

“Death holds no terror for me,” she always says.

Fear and anxiety are adaptive traits to some degree, and the perpetually sunny disposition may not invariably offer an actuarial advantage. I worry that her rose-colored glasses are blinders. But her attitude makes the process easier on everyone else. That’s a form of caregiving. It’s a gift from the sick person to those who worry about her.

I called her from Washington after her first round of chemotherapy.

“It was a nonevent!” she reported. “It lasted awhile and I got hungry, so afterward we went to Wendy’s and I had a baked potato. It was delicious!”

Chemotherapy, in time, will surely beat her up, and she’ll lose her hair, and her melodious singsong voice, her trademark feature, may weaken. But will she ever feel sorry for herself? I don’t think she’d know how.

As an analytical person, science-oriented, I find it hard to ignore the medical realities here, but my mother in her congenital sunniness is strangely persuasive. And so I have no choice but to believe her: She’s not old, and she’s not sick.

© The Washington Post Company