Words Fail

Even for wordy people, there are moments in life when words fail us. Sometimes the words seem inadequate to the task. Sometimes the awe is too great, the sadness too profound, or the joy too immense.

As I watched my youngest receive her Bachelor’s Degree, I felt a mix of all these emotions: awe, sadness, and joy, all coupled with enormous pride. Her elder sister’s accomplishments have also been amazing and this does not take away from those moments. Those were “firsts” for us. These are closer to “lasts”; thus, the sadness.

This is our baby who walked across the stage and collected her degree. This is our younger child, who has been literally racing to catch up since the day she was born. She is a competitor in life. Never interested in living in the shadow of her gregarious and talented older sister, this one began life intent to not just keep up, but to outdo. Today, she deserves all her own accolades.

This one started out holding onto just my pinky finger when her hands were too small to grasp my whole hand. This one started to speak, hesitantly at first, and then stopped speaking for several months until she started to talk again in complete and fully formed sentences. This one hid behind me sometimes, too bashful to say hello to people on the street. This one insisted while sitting on her hands at the age of three that she couldn’t pick up her toys because she “had no hands.” This one was tentative on the playground with other children. This one was always a “joy to have in class” according to her teachers, and something of a hellion at home, where she felt completely free to reveal her inner audacity.

Now she is beautifully grown and has entirely emerged from her shell to demonstrate her level of ambition to the rest of the world. She is direct and sometimes uncompromising. She expects a lot from herself. She doesn’t just reach for what she wants in life, she works hard to earn it. No one pushes her; she pushes herself. And she does it all with compassion for others, a deep belief in justice for all, and unwavering faith.

We are delighted beyond words that she is determined to create the life she wants. Those steps across the stage to receive a handshake and diploma represent the completion of her undergraduate education where she has flourished, and the beginning of her next steps which will bring even more challenges as she heads to law school in the fall.

I am delighted that our once curly-topped, coy toddler has blossomed into a poised and savvy young woman ready to start the next phase of her life. She moves on with all of our love and pride and joy, with just a twinge of sadness that our baby is fully grown. So just pass me a tissue when these emotions begin to leak from my eyes. I have no more words. They have failed me.

Mothers and Daughters

Mother’s Day is rolling around again and there are many, many thoughts in my head.

First, I think of my mom. At age 86 she is going strong; very strong. This weekend, my sister and I will pack up everything in her kitchen in order to get it ready for a complete remodeling job which begins Monday. We’ll leave her with just some paper plates, a microwave, and her refrigerator, all moved into a temporary space in the dining room. Once the demolition begins she will have to make do with cereal, sandwiches, and anything she can heat in the microwave. If this sounds like a hardship to you or you have ever lived through a kitchen remodeling project I will just point out one thing again: Mom is 86 years old. Also, she is very much looking forward to this (not the plaster dust and the work involved, but the finished product.)

It’s a thrill, really, to live vicariously through one’s own mother as she makes this home her own. When we first looked at the place last August she knew the 1950’s kitchen would need an overhaul. She hoped to have it done before she moved in in November, but that was not to be. Now, instead of one of the first pieces to tackle, it will be the final piece; the jewel in the crown. She has already made decisions about paint and fabric and furniture placement and storage options and appliances and a variety of other items that one needs to think about when moving into a new home. Throughout all of it she’s been a trooper. We can all take a lesson from my mother who may have slowed down a little physically, but in her mid-80’s is still lucky enough and healthy enough to establish her own lifestyle and quite determined to live life on her own terms.

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Me, Mom, and my daughters last April

Mom has thanked us many times over for our assistance as we have moved boxes, ripped up carpeting, painted, and hung draperies. Her comfort and enjoyment has been our reward. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! We look forward to working for you for a long time to come, and you’d better make us something delicious when that kitchen is finished!

Next, I think of my daughters. For 25 years I have watched them grow into the thoughtful, savvy, resourceful, caring, and purposeful young women they are. Next weekend we will experience the joy of family togetherness as we gather for the younger one’s college graduation. We’ll take Mom along so she can see her granddaughter walk across the stage and receive her diploma. There will be tears, mostly mine.

Being a mother has changed me in ways that I never knew were possible. I am simultaneously stronger and more emotional, capable and inept, confident and insecure. I was never a nurturing person, by nature, yet their very presence has brought out some of that spirit in me. I am definitely more cautious and more careful with my own health, mainly because I want to be around to see how they really turn out. I want to be there for all of the big events in their lives and the small ones, too.

When you are a parent, your needs will always take a back seat to the needs of your child. When you are the parent of grown children, you don’t stop caring or worrying about them. But if you are lucky, as I have been, you will see that those children whose scraped knees you used to bandage are now loving, thinking, independent people who may still need you once in a while and will still call just to let you know you remain important in their lives.

I did not set out in life to be a mother. There were many times in my life when I had no interest in raising children and was convinced I would be really lousy at it. As the years have unfolded, motherhood turns out to have been life’s greatest reward.

Shopping With Daughters

When you’re a mom of active daughters you get to do some fun things during their growing up years. You get to attend dance recitals, band and choir concerts, piano recitals, science fairs, and sporting events. You also get to shop with them for dress up occasions. Well, maybe “get to” is not the right phrase.

I have spent countless hours in my life loitering outside department store dressing rooms. Each daughter brings her own personality to the shopping experience. For years (maybe she still does and I am just not there to know it) one of them had a habit of trying on nearly everything in the store as she sought just the right dress. She would max out the limit on how many to take in and ask me to stand outside holding the remainder so we could trade them out. The other was very choosy before she even got to the dressing room, looking through all the merchandise on every rack before selecting a very small handful to try on. Prom and homecoming dresses were the biggest challenges. We often went from store to store to store, checking out every potential item and negotiating budget discussions.  I actually made a few special occasion dresses for them, sometimes with more success than others.

When they did try things on and showed me the results I was always very careful with my words. Very careful. Especially during the teen years. If I really loved something on one of them I was cautious about tempering any gushing statements so they wouldn’t reject it just because Mom liked it. If I hated it, I also had to temper my remarks with something like, “that may not be the most flattering fit for you.” If one of their friends was along for the excursion I always waited for the friend to comment first, then could usually second those remarks. My daughters will tell you a different story. They may, perhaps, remember me as too outspoken. They didn’t know I was actually holding back a bit.

Fast forward a few years and now they are picking out clothes far away, so I am nowhere in sight during the process. But amazingly, they still reach out for my opinion once in a while. With the younger one’s college graduation pending they have both been on the hunt for dresses recently. The soon to be graduate called and emailed a couple of times asking my opinion on some things she had seen online. We exchanged some ideas and links to various sites. When she finally chose a lovely pale blue dress that will look fabulous with her auburn hair, she said, “Thanks Mom. I trust your judgement on these things.” Not long afterwards her sister texted me a photo of a dress she was trying on, just to show me what she had chosen. It’s navy and white and looks spectacular on her!

I have also been on the hunt for an appropriate dress as the mother of the graduate. I found a couple that fit well, but one looked too business-y. The other was nice, but I was afraid the Kelly green might be too bright. The goal is to look dignified for a spring daytime occasion without standing out too much. It’s her day to shine and our day to stand next to her looking proud. I sent a picture to my daughter and she loved the green dress. Then a few days later I found some fabric I really loved, so now I am making a second dress. It also happens to be navy blue but doesn’t look a thing like the dress my elder daughter has chosen. As it turns out we will have a couple of different ceremonies and special events to attend on graduation weekend, so I’ll be able to wear both dresses.

Here’s the kicker:  my daughters were always very vocal when I was trying on clothes.  They were blunt and honest, using phrases like, “Mom, that is not your color,” “You’re not going to wear that, are you?”, or, “It makes your hips look bigger” (the kiss of death for any article of clothing.)  They never held back and for that I am grateful.

Yes, having daughters has had both challenges and advantages.  But it turns out we still rely on one another for shopping, at least a little bit, even from afar.  It also turns out that I really miss those long hours waiting by the department store dressing room.

Pogo, Perry, and the Primary

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Some of us oldsters know this as a quote from the long defunct comic strip Pogo. Walt Kelly wrote the iconic phrase as his main character, a possum named Pogo, overlooked a forest floor littered with tossed out junk. The comic was made into a poster to help promote the first ever observance of Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

The comic strip quote is a takeoff from a phrase coined by American Naval Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. After defeating the British in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1812, Perry had the presence of mind to utter two memorable lines: “We have met the enemy and they are ours,” and, “Don’t give up the ship.”

Strangely, these linked phrases from both Pogo and the Commodore have been on my mind recently. That’s not because Earth Day is coming up. Don’t get me wrong, I conscientiously do my part to reuse and recycle and to take care of Mother Earth. But the day itself doesn’t usually hold a lot of meaning for me since I firmly believe that we need to take care of our planet every day. No, the real reason I have been thinking along these lines which are oddly linked together is because of the New York State Presidential Primary.

IMG_4282Honestly, I have voted in this primary at every opportunity since I registered to vote at the age of 18. In all of those 39 intervening years my vote has essentially meant nothing. In the past the candidates have been all-but determined by now. But this year is a whole different animal.

For the first time ever we have seen major political candidates actually campaigning in New York State before the primary. We have seen and heard ads for the candidates. We have had auto-dial phone calls from candidates. This is unprecedented. I know for sure that it has happened in other states which traditionally run earlier primaries. But New York State has never been in the mix before, mainly because our primary falls rather late on the calendar and the delegates and candidates are almost always decided by now. This year, since no one has locked up the full delegate count from either major party yet, registered Republicans and Democrats in New Yorkers have a chance to make a genuine difference in choosing their party’s candidates.

Voting, to me, has always been more than just a civic responsibility. It is almost sacred. I never take it lightly and always vote. I vote on everything: school budgets, town council races, state representatives, questions up for referendum on the ballot – everything. And before I vote I always take the time to learn exactly what is on the ballot, who is running for what office, what those candidates stand for, and what the issues mean. I can’t understand people who vote only when there’s a race for governor or president. To me, every election is important, and that may be because I truly believe that government formed at the grassroots is the most sincere form of politics.

If you are a registered Republican or Democrat in New York State I strongly encourage you to vote in this primary on Tuesday, April 19. Because of the way our primaries run, registered voters from each party get to choose which candidate they want to see as their party’s standard bearer. Every registered Republican and Democrat gets a say this year. Even if you think you are voting for an underdog, your candidate still has a chance. So there it is, “Don’t give up the ship.”

Similarly, if you fail to vote and don’t like the outcome here in our state, you have no one to blame but yourself. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Polling places in Chautauqua County are open from noon to 9pm tomorrow (Tuesday, April 19.) If you are registered, there is no good excuse. Vote!

Android or Apple?

Having demonstrated that I am not afraid to step into controversial issues with this blog, I thought I would post a huge question today: Android or Apple? Your answers may actually show a greater divide than if I had asked “Hillary or The Donald?” Much like our major candidates, each operating system seems to have its own enthusiasts, but in this case I am still struggling with the “why?”

I admit I was a latecomer to the smartphone game. Just over two years ago I got my first data phone. It was an Android and it served me well. Both daughters had iPhones and couldn’t understand why I didn’t get an iPhone at the time. There were some very good reasons: the iPhone was more expensive at that point, some friends had Androids and swore by them, and did I mention the iPhone was really expensive at that time?

So I got the Android and plunged into using it like I do with every other piece of tech equipment or software that has crossed my path: full steam ahead. I have never been one to shy away from technology and if I don’t know something I will figure it out. So I happily went about the business of using my Android phone and became very accustomed to all of its functions and properties.

Now, fast forward two years. The old LG Android slowed down – way down. The battery still charged just fine and it did what I asked it to do, just very, very slowly. I cleaned up as much old stuff and made some moves to delete unused apps, old photos, and some other things, but it was still slower than a snail. I texted my husband last week about something, but it took so long for the text to send that I could have driven to his office faster. So it was time for a new phone.

phoneI told the guy at the counter that I was looking for a small phone. He showed me the iPhone 6, but it was too big. He showed me a Samsung that was still too big. He showed me a few other LG and other models in Androids that were bigger than my old phone and still seemed too clunky for my use. Most of these so-called phones are behemoth devices that look like you’re holding a small tablet to your ear just to have a phone conversation. “Smaller,” I said. Seriously, there is nothing dainty about me except for the size of my hands, so I don’t want a phone that doesn’t fit. Small was crucial. Then, he said, “There is a new iPhone coming out. It’s the size of the old iPhone 5 and you might like it.”

So, I have never been one of those people who orders the newest gadget before it’s even released, until now. Aside from the small form, one admittedly shallow reason for this choice was that you can buy some really cool cases for the iPhone, much more so than for my former LG phone. I am considering one made of burled maple, which is beautiful but a little more than I would like to pay so there’s no final decision yet.

I ordered the iPhone SE. It’s a SMALL phone, but all the reviews claim it packs a lot of power and functionality for its size. It arrived today and I am learning the ins and outs of it. It took me only about 30 minutes to get the phone up and running, including adding my social media apps and loading all the photos and contacts from the cloud onto the new phone. I can make and receive calls, send and receive texts, troll Facebook, scroll Instagram, waste time on Pinterest, check my LinkedIn account, and play around with the camera settings. I can check the news, weather, and email, and review any new stats on my blog. Let me point out that I did all of these things on the old Android, and am now doing them all on the new iPhone. Honestly, aside from a few minor changes in the way the phone functions, I am not seeing a lot of difference here.

I know all of you devotees of one or the other are probably rolling your eyes in disgust right now. But the reality is that they both seem pretty simple to use and both have done all that I ask of them. The apps are easy to download on both.  The camera is nicer on the new iPhone, but I would expect that two years gives everyone a chance to improve their technology.  Right now the Apple operating system seems a bit more cumbersome, but that’s only because I’m not completely used to it after just a few hours.  The more I use it the easier it will become, and I am open to the concept that my opinion on the two systems may change over time.  Anyway, I will use this new phone for a while and get back to you if I find any major differences. Call me a rebel, but at first glance I don’t see too many.

Oh, and as for that Presidential campaign thing, yes, there are MAJOR differences in those operating systems.

American Success Story

Last week’s post (and a few others) aside, I did not design this blog as a venue for political rants. My objective was to create a spot where I could explore the changing world around me as I charted new territory as a mom whose kids have mainly flown the coop. It has become a place where I choose to make my thoughts public while on my ever-continuing search for the meaning of life. My intention is to still not make this blog all about politics, but to occasionally write it the way I see it in all aspects of life: career, family, relationships, environment, and maybe once in a while politics.

Here is my reality: I am an American success story.

My father was the first in his family to go to college. The adopted son of Irish and Danish immigrants, he was truly lucky in life: lucky to be chosen by a couple who desperately wanted a child, lucky to grow up with an extended family that doted on him, lucky to be encouraged to chase his American dream, and very lucky to find and marry my mother, the daughter of Italian immigrants, who both loved and put up with him. Despite my dad’s college degree, he still struggled to put food on the table and a roof overhead for his five kids.

I was the first of my generation to go to college; an opportunity I nearly squandered, but then created chances to redeem myself later on. My husband, raised by a single mother,  was the first in his family to get a college education and a Master’s Degree. We never chose the highest-paying career tracks, but we have risen from our family of origins’ constant economic struggles to a comfortable very middle class status. It’s not always easy and we don’t have any luxuries in our lives, but we have a decent home and can always buy groceries.

Our elder daughter was the first in her generation to get a Bachelor’s Degree and then a Master’s Degree. She has used her education to launch herself into a career and a city that she chose, where she is now self-sustaining. Our younger daughter will graduate this spring with a Bachelor’s Degree and is headed to law school in the fall. They both work hard and make us very proud parents.

We are an American success story. We have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. Ever since my first job in high school flipping burgers and asking, “Would you like fries with that?” I have worked. I spent a couple of years working full time and going to college full time. I have spent more than a few years working two jobs at once in order to pay off debt and sock away a very small amount in savings. We have been able to help our daughters a little bit with living expenses as they struggle to get on their feet. We do not have enough in our retirement accounts and have never worked jobs where there are pension plans. Despite all that, we are an American success story.

Our parents emphasized education and hard work as a way up and a way out of poverty. They encouraged us to seek something better than what they were able to attain. We watched them eke out a living and strove to create a better life for ourselves and our children. We encouraged our children to go to college. Actually, we didn’t present it as one of several options, we always talked about it as the ONLY option. We wanted them to be able to choose a life that would provide personal satisfaction and allow them to pay their own way in the world. We wanted our kids to do better. Isn’t that what all parents want for their children? I am not talking just about earning power, but about lifestyle choices.

It would be glorious to think that every American can do the same thing. I am not naïve enough to believe that. Not all children are born into circumstances where they have choices. Many are born into extreme poverty either in inner city slums or incredibly rural areas where they literally cannot visualize a way up and out. Many have come from generations that have lived in poverty for so long they don’t understand any alternatives, and they may not be able to find one job, let alone two. There honestly are people in our wealthy country who need a helping hand from time to time and we should be generous enough to reach out to them.  We should show them the way to climb out of their oppressive surroundings and give them hope for a better life.

I believe strongly in growth through education. Even when our economy falters, those who have a higher education still make out better than those without. Even if an education doesn’t lead you into a higher socio-economic class, it leads you to become a better person. It opens doors you didn’t even know were closed. Education should be a life-long ambition so that we choose to never quit learning and continue to expand our brains well into adulthood. It is unquestionably harder for young people today to afford a college education than it was when I graduated from high school. I don’t think it should be free for all because I do believe in the value of earning something, but it sure would be nice to make it more affordable.

Without getting into a significant political rant today, I will sum up why this is important to understand. I am the product of immigrant ancestors and I am an American success story. My success has been made possible by hard work, determination, and circumstances in this country where it is possible to change ones’ life for the better. We don’t need some guy who was born with a gold-plated spoon in his mouth to tell us that we should make America great. He doesn’t get it and he truly doesn’t have anyone’s best interests at heart except his own. America is already great.  It has become greater during my lifetime as it grows more inclusive.  America remains the land of opportunity, and I believe strongly that everyone should have the same prospects for success.  Everyone.

Political Low Point

I use phosphate-free dishwashing liquid, and I vote. Well, I guess it doesn’t have the same weight that some other slogans carry, but don’t let that fool you. It doesn’t mean I don’t get angry. In fact, there are many days when I am close to incensed and today is one of those days.

I am incensed over this low point in our American political landscape. Not since the segregationist rhetoric of presidential candidate George Wallace in the 1960’s has there been a candidate who so blatantly incites racial divide as we have now with the current Republican frontrunner. And it’s not just racial hate speech that is creating a dangerous national agenda, it is hate speech against religious groups, women, and anyone who dares to challenge his positions.

When protestors are being removed from his rallies he loves to say, “Get ‘em out of here.” He doesn’t know who they are, but makes broad suppositions that they are unemployed and uneducated.  Obviously, no opposition will be tolerated. He very clearly has no respect for our First Amendment right to free speech. When he asked supporters during a rally in Florida last week to raise their right hand and swear an oath to vote for him, did that strike anyone else as odd, or even scary? This is not a “so help me, God,” oath, unless you happen to be one of his followers who drank all the Koolaid and are okay with the fact that he puts himself on the same level as the Almighty.

Let’s be clear about what we are witnessing: a systemic move towards squelching opposition and inciting violence against anyone who disagrees with the candidate, and a growing movement towards allowing violence in the name of an individual who is establishing himself as an authority figure and working to gain the highest office in the land.

Now let’s take a look at the definition of the word “Fascism”: a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Just for clarity’s sake I want you to read the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Here’s the text:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

So, you want to “Take America Back?” How far back? Clearly not as far back as 1791 when the Bill of Rights, written by founding father James Madison, was approved by Congress. Am I right? No, it appears that you want to take this country back to the days when it was okay to perpetrate violence against people who demonstrated a different point of view. Back to the days of segregation. Back to the days when war protestors were pepper-sprayed or shot. Back to the days when women were second class citizens, and so were blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims. Back to the days when Japanese Americans were interred in camps. Or maybe back to the days when my Irish and Italian ancestors couldn’t find work because they were looked down upon in a class system that we have worked to overcome for decades in this country.

Our President is Commander in Chief of our armed forces, has the power to make treaties, appoint Ambassadors, State Supreme Court Justices, and other officers of the United States government. The main job of the President is to make sure our government runs in a sound way so that it can provide service to the people of our country. So here are the qualities we should seek in a President of the United States: someone who is educated, experienced, compassionate, statesman-like, and able to converse in a civil and meaningful way with all types of people from students to laborers to business people to high level leaders from other governments. Let me add one other incredibly important quality: I want a president who is MATURE. Not a school-yard bully or an overgrown twelve year old with a preoccupation for scatological humor.

There are other Republican candidates with whom I do not agree on policy, but at least they can discuss policy issues in a rational and reasonable way. At least they have an understanding of the gravity of the office. At least they respect the American people enough not to engage in flagrantly embarrassing public behavior. And at least they are not inciting violence during every public engagement. They are, sadly, barely being given the time of day by their own party’s voters.

Unfortunately, the way the delegate count is shaping up right now it appears we will have many more months ahead to put up with a candidate who actually started out looking like a joke and has now gained so much strength that even his own party can’t put him back in the box. It appears the rest of this campaign will have nothing to do with policy issues and everything to do with hate- and fear-mongering. If terrorism that is imported into our country scares you, wait ‘til you see what lies ahead when the terrorism is truly home-grown and government-authorized. This slippery slope we are on is very dangerous, and frightening.

In the Cards

I may be in need of a new obsession. Facebook and Pinterest have become a little boring lately, and with a short lunch half-hour and not enough time to leave my office sometimes it comes down to one thing: solitaire. Playing cards on my screen with nothing but the finest microwaved leftovers for lunch is a cheap and easy way to waste thirty minutes. But here’s a question for you: why does computer solitaire keep score? It’s a game that pits you against the cards. Most often the cards win. But why do we need to keep score? Is it important that I was able to rack up 230 random points before it was flaunted in my face that I lost?

I am a naturally competitive person. I can’t help myself most of the time and simply must compete. So when it’s me against the cards you can bet that I am always seeking ways to maneuver the cards to my advantage. But even with this competitive streak I don’t need to know by how much I have lost or won. I simply need (want) to win. There are certainly far more important things in the world: clean water, breathable air, people learning to get along with one another, and whether or not my children are healthy and happy. Those are important. Whether I win a stupid computer card game should not matter. But in some small corner of my psyche it still does. It’s pitiful, right?

I learned to play solitaire as a child while sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table. My aunt, who was one of the most glamorous women I ever knew, would wash and set her hair and then sit under a hair dryer – one of those behemoth contraptions that looked like the head of a space suit was enclosing your skull. The noise from those hair dryers can be enough to render a person temporarily deaf. But my aunt would post that dryer on a makeshift counter top nearby and play solitaire at the kitchen table, waiting for the heat combined with the curlers in her hair to do their job. Adoring my aunt as I did, I would watch in awe, wondering what she was doing with those playing cards. So when the dryer went off, my questions flowed: What are you doing? How do you play? Why can only the red cards go on the black cards? My aunt was a patient woman and luckily for her nieces and nephew she adored us as much as we did her. So she taught me to play solitaire.

solitaireBeing a loner for much of my life, I can appreciate a game that pits just you against the cards. My introverted nature loves that there is no human interaction during these games, just the deck. As in all card games you learn one of life’s greatest lessons: you must play the hand you’re dealt. From the time my aunt taught me to play it has been a constant reminder that we play the hand we’re dealt, no matter the game. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. I prefer to win, but cheating is not an option and to win by cheating would never carry the same level of fulfillment anyway. That’s actually one great thing about computer solitaire: it literally will not allow you to bend the rules. It’s a cheat-free zone. I can tell you honestly, though, that truly competitive people understand intrinsically how important it is to win fair and square and that a win is only as satisfying as the legitimate steps you took to get there.

So I play, now on my screen with the clicks of a mouse instead of with a deck of cards at the table. But each time I choose to play solitaire a little voice in my head reminds me that this is a life lesson in microcosm and that it doesn’t matter how smart we are or how much money we have or how our hair looks on any given day (old-fashioned dryer or not) or how many people like or dislike us. What really makes a difference is how we play the hand we’re dealt. We can play a clean game and make the smartest moves and we may still not get the win, but we know that we have played by the rules and that’s what reinforces a civilized society and holds up our self-respect. I simply cannot understand those who see life differently. Now that I think of it, maybe winning a few points even during a losing hand is significant since it strengthens the incredibly important concept that we have played a clean game.

If you feel this narrative has perhaps too subtly strayed towards the thin line of addressing the current political and sociological climate you may be right. But there are a few things I know for sure in life and will carry with me until my last breath:  how you play the game is more important than whether you win or lose, cheaters and liars can never really win, and my beloved late aunt taught me some important lessons in life with a simple deck of cards.

Bucket List

An old friend recently posted a bucket list on Facebook: one that asks you to check off all of the things you have and haven’t done in your life. The list included a variety of items including travel to many places, relationship statuses, and a number of things that brought back vivid reminders of my misspent youth. I say misspent because at the time it seemed that I was doing nothing and going nowhere, with lots of free time on my hands to enjoy life. Some aspects of my teen years can definitely fall into the raucous category. But as I think about those days now I realize how much they have helped to shape the adult I eventually became.

Having done a few things in my life that I may not choose to share with the public (or with my adult children) does not make me a bad person. It makes me human. Don’t get me wrong, I would definitely not go back and do those things again. But when the question arises about whether I have ever done something that could have killed me and I honestly have to answer “yes,” it does give one pause. I have some extraordinary memories that I am proud to share with some exceptional people who are still my friends after all these years. We lived through those things, and came out on the other side (amazingly!) intact and stronger for it. That doesn’t necessarily make me proud of everything I have done, but it does make me who I am now.

A recent conversation with a co-worker reminded me that because I came of age during the 1970’s the decade itself most definitely helped to frame my personality. It was a time of great experimentation for many people my age and just slightly older. Those who grew up in the bookend decades of the 60’s and 80’s absolutely have a different perspective. While many of us fall into the Baby Boomer generation, that doesn’t do enough to frame our personae. The 70’s represent both disco and heavy metal. They were the post free-love era of the 60’s and the pre-conservatism of the 80’s. It was a time of turmoil in our country and as teens we felt all of that. We responded with some rather wild behavior, which I will not detail here for your reading pleasure.

So sure, I did some things back then. We had fun. Luckily, we lived to tell about it. In reality, it feels like a different life than the one I have lived for the past few decades. I often feel like my career moves have created a series of lives as I moved from radio news reporter to the non-profit world and into communications and marketing. It is gratifying to have carried some important people with me throughout these transitions.

Once all those memories were rekindled and considered, I got to thinking about what my bucket list would look like now. What else do I hope to accomplish before this life is over? There are still lots of things on that list: travel, making a difference, travel, writing and other creative pursuits, and (did I mention?) travel.

One place that would draw me back in a heartbeat:  Manhattan, as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge

One place that would draw me back in a heartbeat: Manhattan, as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge

So many places to go and so little money! That is the sad story of my life right now. If we won the lottery the very first thing I would do is make travel plans and drag my husband along for the ride. I would love to see places in the USA that I have read about but never visited, would love to see more of Canada, and would love to get to several European and South American countries. I would like to think that in some small ways I have made a difference for others, especially for my family, but always feel there is more I could do: more volunteering and more of being a change-agent for something positive in my community. Not sure what that is right now, but there must be something. Writing, photography, sewing, and other creative projects are always, always, always on my “to do” list. I have been writing quite a bit lately, just not sharing it with others. Often writing is a way for me to think through my feelings on a particular issue, but if it’s a controversial or sensitive subject I may not share it for all to read if I don’t feel like starting some type of firestorm online.

If only the need to earn a living didn’t get in the way! Just think of what you could do with the freedom to make choices! Financial and personal freedom could lead to some extraordinary options, don’t you think? The reality is that most of us live our lives in a hurry, rushing from one task to another without really taking the time to savor and enjoy much of what we do. The older I get the more I long to slow the pace and spend more time doing absolutely nothing. It might feel like being a teenager again, except without the cute body and wrinkle-free face, and without the head-long rush into dangerous situations without even giving it a second thought.

In some ways, my wish list has remained the same since I was a young girl: I would love to live in an RV and travel the country, writing about where the road takes me and who I meet along the way. That’s the real crux of my bucket list: travel, write, and take pictures along the way, and if I find someone I can help in some way on that journey it’s all the better. How soon can I leave?

R & R

After working a more-than full week weekends can be either very restful as I try to unwind from the grind, or very productive as I rush to get lots of things done at home. This particular weekend was so restful it I was nearly on the verge of comatose. Not really. But I did spend quite a bit of time relaxing.

Don’t get me wrong, productivity is what life is all about most of the time. I want to feel accomplished. No, I almost always NEED to feel accomplished. When I am seriously embroiled in a project, whether it’s at work or at home, I throw myself into it zealously. Whether I am sewing or building something or putting together some print publication or event, my goals are twofold: get it done, and get it done right. (I am actually still troubled by the relatively minor imperfections in my major chair re-upholstery project from last spring, but have not mustered the will to do over the seat cushions yet.)

We installed a new screen on Mom's fireplace:  the most productive part of the weekend.

We installed a new screen on Mom’s fireplace: the most productive part of the weekend.

But this weekend has been all about relaxing. If you can’t relax in January, you can never relax. The bitter wind outside makes the indoors so appealing. So I did some reading, a little shopping with my husband (who may have actually learned how to go to the mall with me after just 32 years of marriage), spent a little time on some minor projects at Mom’s, and spent a whole lot of time looking at lovely photos on Pinterest to get inspired for some future projects. A great deal of the weekend was spent doing a whole lot of nothing.

Every once in a while a weekend spent lounging around without a plan or a project or a deadline or a need to do something can feel really great. I can’t let myself be drawn into too much nothingness or I may get hooked and become a serious couch potato. But an occasional weekend won’t hurt.

As the new work week begins, I’ll throw myself back into the grind and the chaos and the projects. But I’ll do it knowing that rest and relaxation are possible and therapeutic. And even as I plan some new creative projects, I will look forward to another weekend soon when a sweatshirt, old jeans, and warm slippers reign supreme and a whole lot of nothing fills the day.