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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Stillness of the Woods at Christmas

I see the tall, barren trees outside my window. They appear lanky and dark and somewhat bleak as they lean crookedly in the snow. It is a stark beauty...the little woods behind our house. An austere and unadorned graceful scene. Silent and pure. A palpable stillness that seems to hush the noisy and frantic chaos that overwhelms the season this time of year.

I like this woods of ours. It reminds me of another woodland that I used to walk in by myself when I was a girl. I remember the peace and quiet of being the only person among the trees. I used to ice skate alone on a small patch of frozen pond hidden in the middle of my youthful woods. I was a bit fearful yet even at such a young age, I felt comfort in the serenity of the quiet wintry glade.

So it is today, I embrace the restful tranquility of the woods in winter. A light flurry of snow is falling now. Soon the trees will be draped in glistening white. At night the stars shine through the empty branches and the moon casts glimmering beams of light onto the snowy ground. Christmas is near. It's as if this little forest, in it's own unpretentious way, is preparing to welcome the Christ child.

   A very peaceful Christmas to one and all.
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Finding the Magic in Christmas

Let's face it. Things have been rough over the last several years. The economy is still horrific. Unemployment is rampant. You yourself might be out of a job or worried sick about losing one. Home values have sunk lower than 2 rats in a sewer pipe. Millions have lost their homes to foreclosure while others can't sell at a decent price. We're still at war in the Middle East. We can't even fly on a plane without first enduring humiliating gropings at the airport by security agents. And have you bought groceries lately?  Thirty dollars for ingredients to make a single batch of holiday sweets. Life is indeed rather messy and complicated.

Now it's Christmas time and we're supposed to be all hyped up, starry eyed and excited. Cheerful and joy filled and glowing and singing and making merry. However, given the world's gloomy circumstances, this year it's not all that easy for people to be merry and bright. Even if we're not feeling the holiday spirit, how can we embrace the magic of the season in a simple, unadorned, unpretentious, perhaps even childlike manner?

For myself, I find the magic in people around my neighborhood and in my community. I volunteer. I've prepared meals for folks in need. I visit an elderly gentleman who is all alone. I sit and chat with him and mostly listen to his stories. I bring him food and home-made holiday sweets. In him, I see the magic of Christmas. Although he's lonely and not well...he radiates hope, positivity and even humor. I never hear him complain. He inspires me to be a kinder, gentler, more understanding person.

I provide gifts to underprivileged children. Watching their little faces beam in anticipation as they grab each package and tear it truly priceless.

The other night, I looked up at the stark, cold but brilliantly clear sky and was amazed at how resplendent the stars appeared. I gazed at them for several minutes hoping to see a shooting star. No such luck. Yet I could see the constellations gloriously twinkling in the if a trillion diamonds had been tossed into the celestial firmament. I was humbled and impressed at the same time.

It's late afternoon and a gentle snow is falling. A winter wonderland outside our door. A friend of mine described watching the snow from her window to "sitting in the middle of a snow globe".  What an apt description. A blanket of white that hides the ugliness of the world...if only for a little while.

We live in a neighborhood of mostly boomer age kids. Last week, one of the neighbors had their grandkids over and playing outdoors. The youngsters constructed a trio of hilarious snowmen. They outfitted the snow people with silly hats and scarves, sunglasses and twigs for arms. One snowman was leaning sideways at a 45 degree slant as if the wind had blown him nearly over. I laugh every time I drive by.

At midnight, in the woods at the back of our yard, I can see the deer resting in the snow. The glow of the moon illuminates them as bright as they lie in the deep, white snowy mounds. Around them, scurry rabbits hunting for food or shelter in the stillness of the night. I can plainly see the rabbit trails they make, even though it is night time. High up in the trees I observe huge, dark blobs. It's the wild turkeys sleeping in the tall branches to avoid predators. What a fascinating world it is outside our wintry windows.

Snug and warm indoors, I light candles and turn on the tree lights and play soft Christmas music. Our adult children, spouses and grandsons are visiting this year. Cozy on the sofa with hubby, surrounded by loved ones and telling Christmas stories to our wide-eyed little grand boys as they listen in innocent, rapt the best magic of all.
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Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to Stuff More Cheer and Less Crap in Your Christmas

The holidays are upon us. But before you know it, they'll be over. And you'll ask yourself...What happened? Where did the time go? Did I really accomplish anything worthwhile? Where did all our money go? Why am I so depressed? For millions of people around the world, December is a whirlwind month that races by so fast and furious, it leaves many folks melancholy, angry, frustrated and deeply in debt.

But hold on. Back up. There's good news! This year, we still have a jingle bell window of opportunity to avoid or at least reduce seasonal meltdown and all the frazzled, crazy commercialized nonsense that comes with it. I have a plan, my friends, to bring more genuine cheer into your Christmas. More laughter. More simple joy. Follow just a few of my suggestions and you will reduce a lot of your holiday stress, anxiety, panic, self-loathing and those beastly migraines. And you'll still have some bucks left in the bank too.

OK. Now stick with me here. I'm not a miracle worker. It is entirely your choice. You've got to be willing to be bold and fearless. You can't be afraid of what your relatives and friends will think. You cannot be afraid at all. Replace fear with determination, creativity, positivity and old-fashioned thoughtfulness. Then take your check book and your credit cards and put them where you won't use them. Remember, you have to be bold.

Most Christians and many non-Christians, love the idea of Christmas. The decorations, tree lights, food, gifts, Christmas cards, Santa Claus, holiday music, falling snow, the look of children's faces on Christmas morning, the story of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem. We cherish all these beautiful Christmas images in our minds and then every year, we fall all over ourselves trying to achieve the perfect Christmas. 

Have you ever tried to downsize Christmas? Of course, I realize it's not a new concept. You hear people talk about simplifying Christmas all the time. Don't be extravagant. Cut back. Yet, it's mostly talk. But have you ever thought how absolutely insane Black Friday shopping is? This year many stores held a pre-Black Friday on Thanksgiving Day and thousands of folks skipped a traditional family Thanksgiving dinner to Some shoppers even carried guns thinking they could strong-arm their way to the front of the lines. Is it just me or is this just so wrong?

When you think about it, most of the Christmas images we hold dear are simple ones...a tree, cookies, the manger scene, nostalgic carols, snow, a cozy fire in the fireplace, glowing candles, a gathering of loved ones. It's the expensive gift-giving, extravagant parties, ornate decorating and other frenzied holiday hoopla that makes us crazy. So here are, in no particular order, a few ideas to help you have a more cheerful, less costly, less stressful, better organized, more-quality-time-with-family, simpler, peaceful and perhaps even slightly unconventional yet decidedly merrier Christmas.

1. Stop moving. Sit down by yourself with a pen and paper and contemplate before you do another thing. Think about what's really important to you and your family. Is it really all about the commercial gifts? Duh, yah...if you have younger children or teens...yah it's still all about the gifts. But if you plan well ahead and I realize we don't have a lot of time this might make them understand at least a little bit, that this year there will be more love and less loot under the tree. If they don't like it...strap them on top of the car and leave them there til New Years.

2. Dump decorations. Go through your boxes of holiday decor and toss out all the cheesy junk. Yes, some of it may be sentimental. But nobody would miss a lot of your silly chotzkees if you didn't use them. And obviously, I can't spell chotzkees. Stick to a one or two color theme. You don't need to unwrap and display all 347 of your Christmas collectibles. Arrange a handful of your favorite Santa or nutcracker collections all in one place rather than scattered about.

3. Candles, candles, candles. Use real ones or those nifty and safe battery operated ones. You can buy 100 tealights for under $5. Candles add a cozy glow, romantic light and a festive atmosphere for little money. Line the mantel. Put them in an unused fireplace. Set them on the coffee table. Of course, be careful with them around children.

4. Take a walk in the woods. Go by yourself, with a best friend or with loved ones. Luxuriate in the quiet. While you're in the woods...and you can find a wooded area or park someplace near where you live...pick up dead branches, evergreens, pine cones, all sorts of nature stuff to use for amazing decorations. And the best thing is you can throw it all away after Christmas. No storage needed.

5. Oh Christmas lovely are your branches.  I confess. I like having a Christmas tree. As a matter of fact, I display five trees in our home. At first that hardly sounds like I'm downsizing. But here's the thing. Use what you truly love and don't unpack the rest. We don't live in a mansion but we do have a nice, dry basement. So here's my trick for putting up and decorating five beautiful Christmas trees in less than 30 minutes. Call me the Rachel Ray of Christmas trees. I use realistic but artificial evergreen trees. I keep the lights and all the ornaments on each tree all year long. I secure the ornaments to the branches so they don't fall off. After the season is over, I cover each tree with a big white sheet and haul it down the basement for storage. It's easy and hassle free. Once the tree is set in place for the holiday, a bit of tweaking the branches and ornaments might be in order. But for the most part, the hard work is already done. I don't have to lug all the heavy ornament bins upstairs. I don't have to unpack ornaments or lights. I don't get aggravated trying to untangle the lights and arrange them on the trees or yell at my husband that he's got it messed up. I don't have to spend hours placing ornaments on the trees. And I don't have to waste time removing all the lights and ornaments and rewrapping and repacking everything. The concept of keeping the lights and ornaments on the trees year-round will save you a tremendous amount of time that you can use to bake cookies, tell your little ones a Christmas story or just sit around and wax nostalgic over the memories associated with each ornament that graces your tree.

6. Use remote controls. Simple. Easy. Time-saving. You can buy remote sets that need only one control panel that will turn the lights on and off of at least 3 trees. Use them for outdoor lights as well.

7. More love, less loot. Get really creative. Write a long, endearing letter to a loved one far away or even closeby, explaining all the reasons why they are special to you. Write a poem. Make your own gifts. If you're an artist of any kind, give an original art piece as your special gift. Whether you paint, make jewelry, build birdhouses, crochet, whatever...something made with love from the heart is what people treasure.

8. Give yourself as a gift. Offer to make 3 dinners for a busy friend or relative.
There is nothing more appreciated than a home-made meal...cooked by somebody else. Give your kids the gift of time...just you and them. No interruptions. Write a nice note or make your own personal "gift certificate" and wrap it up in a pretty box. If you take time to really think about this, you can come up with dozens of thoughtful ways you can offer yourself and/or your services to others as a Christmas present.

9. Make "no-bake" goodies. Instead of spending hours by a hot oven and messing up the kitchen with flour, rolling pins and bowls and cookie cutters... why not try making a bunch of "no-bake" holiday treats. Look up online and you'll find dozens of very uncomplicated yet truly delicious recipes...that yield showy and tasty gifts for the neighbors and yummy sweets for your own family. Ritz peanut butter chocolate balls and festive Oreo balls are just a couple no-bake recipes I'll be trying this season. It's all about saving time, enjoying the time saved and still participating in the spirit of the season.

10. Make family a priority. After dinner every night during the holidays, gather your immediate family by the tree and sit down and chat. Maybe it's just you and your mate or maybe you've got a haggle of little ones. It doesn't matter. Make some hot chocolate or sip some wine. Play Christmas music. Keep it relatively quiet and simple. Turn off the big lights and just enjoy the tree lights and your candles. Read aloud A Christmas Carol. Share Christmas memories. Even if it's only for half an hour...make the time count. Let the others share their day, their dreams, their feelings.

11. Enjoy the lights of Christmas. Take a leisurely walk around your neighborhood at night and notice the festive outdoor decor of your neighbors. Or hop in the car and visit some of the more extravagant light displays around your town.

12. Do not shop til you drop. If you have to gift shop and let's face it, most of us do....limit each person on your list to only three store-bought gifts. It will be the most difficult thing you'll do this season. But give it a try. Your kids will probably NOT thank you. But maybe they'll at least try to understand your attempt at downsizing Christmas.

13. Avoid hateful people. If you have friends or family members that give you uber migraines, this year....avoid them. Don't apologize. Make no excuses. Instead invite a lonely neighbor or co-worker over for holiday cheer. Volunteer... someplace...and bring your spouse and kids along with you.

14. Just say "no".  Make a list of all that needs to be done. Then edit it mercilessly. Cross off anything that you really don't want to do. Eliminate anything that adds more stress, more work, more time to your day. Learn to delegate chores to other household members. They may not do it as perfectly as you, but the job will be done. Maybe even better than your way!

15. Go ice skating. Or sledding.

16. Attend a holiday concert or local play.

17. Go caroling with friends.

18. Watch holiday movies at home with family.

19. Laugh more. Force yourself...if you have to. Don't take any holiday glitches too seriously.

20. Don't send cards. If you usually send out Christmas cards but really hate writing schmaltzy sentimental greetings to people you seldom see... Don't do it this year. You'll still get a sleigh-full of cards from others. And most likely nobody will even know you skipped cards this year.

21. Build a snowman. If you don't live in snow country...hug a palm tree.

22. Be thankful. Show gratitude toward others. Even in these dismal economic times, there are at least a few things everyone can be grateful for. Appreciate what you have. Embrace those you love. Share the Christmas spirit and pass on kindness toward a stranger but remember to be especially kind to those you love and to those you find hard to love.

Merry Christmas everyone!
And thanks so much for reading my blog.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Walk on the Mellow Side of Florida.

Florida is not my favorite place to visit. Too beastly hot. Too stinkin' humid. Too insanely crowded. And too many crazies all over the place. However, even Florida can occasionally have its placid moments of mellow beauty...mostly when it's cold and everyone is hibernating indoors. We visited Florida recently for a big family celebration and the weather there was about as chilly as it was in Michigan when we left!  Not that I mind. I prefer coolish temps to broiling heat and energy-zapping humidity any day. A sudden November cold snap (in the 50s) hustled most folks off the beaches. Unusually blustery winds churned the tranquil Gulf of Mexico into a roiling, rollicking surfer's paradise. Here are a few shots I captured off Englewood Beach near Venice, Florida.  

The Gulf of Mexico kicks up some righteous waves.
Rough surf and cool temps make for an uncrowded yet scenic day at the beach .
Vacant beach chairs look happy not to be hosting somebody's plump rump.
Surf's up, dude.  But nobody's around to hang ten.
Strolling home through a canopy of beach greenery.

Solitary lounge chair savors the peace and quiet.

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico at 5000 feet up.

Sky high sunset is breathtaking over Gulf at Clearwater Beach.
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Holy Cyclone!

Recently, the Midwest section of the United States was hit with a vengeful and freakish storm. It was a violent October tempest with ferocious winds, battering rain and tornadoes. Extremely unusual for this time of year. Meteorologists dubbed it the Midwest Cyclone or the Great Lakes Cyclone. Newscasters reported that it was the second worst storm on record to hit the Midwest in the fall...ever! They said the bariatric pressure was the lowest in recorded weather history! And apparently that's not a good thing. Lucky for us, where we live in Michigan, we dodged a major bullet. The hurricane force winds...that raged for three days and nights nonstop... uprooted some trees and created 25 foot waves in Lake Michigan. But overall, we escaped the worst of the devil's destruction.

Yet, even in this fearsome weather rampage amidst tornado sirens wailing, people cowering in their basements and winds blowing off rooftops...there lurked a fascinating beauty. I was able to capture some of the awesome power of this rare cyclone-storm in the photos tumultuous clouds bullied the skies over our neighborhood.
Holy cyclone. The storm is upon us!
Is this where the Wizard of Oz lives?

Is it just me or does that cloud resemble a giant rhinoceros about to attack?

OK, clouds. Now you're really scaring me.
Even in celestial fury, there is heavenly beauty. Cue the angels.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Cabbie and the Nun...a Halloween Tale

A cab driver picks up a nun. It's his last fare on a very dark, rainy night. Although she's cloaked in a black nun's habit, the cabbie can see she has an attractive face. 

Sitting in the back of the cab, the nun notices that the driver is intensely staring at her. 

Why are you staring at me?  the nun asks nervously. 

Oh, sister, he replies. I don't want to offend you.

Don't worry, my son, the nun assures him. Since I've been a nun, I've seen and heard just about everything. I'm sure there's nothing you could say that would offend me.

Well...says the driver. My greatest fantasy is to have a nun kiss me.

Hmmm, says the nun. Perhaps there's something I can do about that. But on two conditions: You must be Catholic and you must not be married. 

All excited, the cabbie says: Yes! I'm single and I'm Catholic. 

So the nun says: Alright then. Pull over and stop the cab. 

The cabbie slams on the brakes and quickly hops in the back seat. They embrace and the nun plants a great, big, honking, slobbering, tongue-tingling smoocheroo kiss on the cabbie's lips that sends quivers up and down his spine.

Then the driver gets back behind the wheel and they take off again. Suddenly the cabbie starts crying. 

My heavens, why are you crying?  the nun asks. 

Forgive me, sister, he confesses. I lied. I'm a married man and I'm not a Catholic.

No problem, the nun laughs. My name is Kevin and I'm on my way to a Halloween party. 


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Walmart Greeter Strikes Again

So after landing a job as a greeter at Walmart,
not a bad gig for retirees...
I only lasted for one day.

About two hours into the job, I encountered a very nasty, loud, unkempt, unfriendly and downright ugly woman. She was hauling two kids with her and was shouting obscenities as she entered the store. 

As pleasantly as I could, I said: 
"Good morning. Welcome to Walmart. 
Cute kids you have there. Are they twins?" 

She abruptly stopped yelling, turned to me in disgust and shot me an evil laser eye.
"Hell no. They ain't twins. One's seven and this here one's ten. What the devil makes you think they're twins? They don't look like twins. 
Are you blind or just plain stupid?"

So I replied as sweetly as possible: 
"Mam, I'm neither stupid nor blind. 
I just couldn't believe somebody slept with you twice. 
Have a nice day and thank you for 
shopping at Walmart."

               Another silly but could easily be true, tale from old Maxine.
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Friday, October 15, 2010

Weird Things to do with Pumpkins

Mt. Pumpkinmore in the great state of North Dakota.
Autumn is the season for pumpkins. What would Halloween be without scary Mr. Pumpkinhead on the front porch? We all know the usual stuff you can do with pumpkins. Jack-O-Lanterns, pumpkin pie, table decorations and so forth. But here are a few lesser known yet fascinating uses for our perennial, plump, pumpkin pals.
  • Even as far back as colonial times, settlers came up with novel ideas for pumpkins. They used pumpkin halves as guides for hair cuts. Hmmm...they must've had really big heads back then.
  • Rugs. Native American Indians cut pumpkin shells into strips, dried the pieces and used them to weave mats and rugs. Today that same process is used for making hair pieces for members of Congress.
  • In Boulder, Colorado, townsfolk place carved pumpkins on their heads and run naked though the streets for the annual Naked Pumpkin Run.
  • Pumpkins can actually float which is why Windsor, Nova Scotia holds a Pumpkin Paddling Regatta each fall. Participants gouge out giant pumpkins into "boats" and paddle them across a lake. Unfortunately, pumpkins cannot swim.
  • In some cultures, pumpkins are used for removing freckles and curing snakebites. Snakes are afraid of pumpkins.
  • Pumpkins can be mashed and brewed into beer...which tastes especially good with pumpkin chili.
  • Pumpkins are sometimes used as a substitute for golf balls. They're easier to hit and provide welcome stress-relief on the course. The down side is they don't go very far.
  • Another exciting pumpkin sport is a variation on lawn bowling. You need a big, steep hill for this game. Have one team of people stand at bottom of the hill. Line up a hundred pumpkins at the top of the hill. The starter team furiously rolls the pumpkins downhill aiming for as many opponents as possible.
  • Pumpkins make colorful yard decorations and offer an amusing way to offend your neighbors.
  • Pumpkin Chunkin' is a competition that involves hurling pumpkins into the air with medieval-looking catapults called trebuchets to see how far they "fly". The general rule is that the pumpkin must remain whole after leaving the device for it to count. Pumpkins that explode immediately upon firing are known as "pumpkin pie in the sky".
  • Need a house in a hurry? Super-size pumpkins can be converted into cozy little bungalows. Peter Peter Pumpkin-Eater was awarded the first patent.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Relentless Courage

As I write this, the entire world is witnessing the dramatic rescue of those 33 miners in Chile as each one is slowly pulled from their dungeon nearly half mile under a mountain. They've been entombed in the bowels of the earth for 69 days. That's over two very long, terrifying months trapped together in a black, sweaty cavern. It's been reported that temperatures in the mine average about 90 degrees.

To me these men are an absolutely amazing example of courage under extreme adversity. They are by all accounts, unassuming, uneducated, blue collar laborers...who toil at a physically demanding, dirty and dangerous job...most likely for not much pay. For the first 17 days after the mine collapsed...they were huddled together...with no communication from the outside world whatsoever. That's nearly THREE weeks of wondering if anybody up there would ever rescue them. I can't even imagine what it must have been like in that dark, slimey pit with very little food or water. Wondering day after day after day for 17 days how long they could survive. I'm not sure I could have lasted even one week without going stark raving mad.

For the first 17 days...when no hope of salvation was imminent...the miners defied the odds. They did not panic. They did not lose hope. They did not turn on each other. They did not form survivor alliances and try to outsmart one another. Instead they formed a brotherhood of solidarity. They organized. They prayed. They remained calm and courageous. They rationed two teaspoons of tuna per man per day for 17 days...among 33 men. Incredible!

After 17 days in darkness, rescuers were finally able to bore a narrow hole down to the mine and communicate with the trapped men. Eventually workers began funneling down food, water and other necessities. Yet even then, the miners were informed that a rescue tunnel might not be completed until possibly Christmas. It was to be another 52 days before a hole wide enough for a narrow steel rescue capsule was drilled all the way to the miners' chamber. Yet through it all, the miners were upbeat, cheerful, optimistic, watchful over one another and brave.

THIS JUST IN: All 33 of the miners and their rescuers have been pulled up to joyously blinding daylight! And how about those 6 brave men who volunteered to go DOWN the hole in the untested capsule to assist with the operation? Now that's heroic! The Chilean rescue team with help, support and equipment from around the world, put aside personal differences and egos and worked with due diligence to save these humble yet noble miners. The entire operation was executed with precision, swiftness and flawless ingenuity. The jubilant and successful outcome is truly a testament to the power of faith, fortitude, love of your fellow man, humility, compassion, persistence, tenacity and above all...relentless courage. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, October 8, 2010

Long-lost Friends Don't Die...They Resurface on Facebook

It's been a long, long time since my elementary and high school days. The crazy thing is that I still remember most of the names of the kids I attended school with way back in the BC Age (before computer). Names...and...faces of those classmates from so long ago readily surface to my memory if ever a mention of them pops up. I think most of us have this same weird selective kind of memory. If somebody ever asked me: "Hey, remember Petie O'Brien from 7th grade?" Instantly, an image of a cute Irish boy with red curly hair and an impish grin would surface on my brain. Petie was friendly and sweet and popular with the girls and used to hang out at the A&W Rootbeer stand. And occasionally, he'd smile at me.

I'm thinking about all this now because over the past year, I've happily reconnected with numerous old classmates on Facebook. Even met up in person with a group of long-lost girlfriends at a mini-reunion this past summer. Up til then, I really had no inclination to recollect about high school days, much less...grade school. That period of my life has been off my radar screen for 40 years. But these days, social networking sites have an eerie way of jettisoning our long-dismissed past smack up to the full frontal present.

So it is, that old school mates seldom die. Instead they resurface on Facebook. I haven't thought about Petie O'Brien for decades and suddenly this week, a photo of Petie flashes across my Facebook wall. It's like being catapulted into another world. My long-lost world of YOUTH.  Is this a good thing or a malevolent techno nightmare? Personally, I think it's more a matter of curiosity than anything else. After all, isn't it kind of sweet to learn that the ugly duckling, shy, young girl back in ninth grade has now become an award-winning, successful business woman and glam fem fatal? Or ain't it a hoot to find out that some of those snooty, stuck-up high school brats who shoved us aside in the halls have finally got their comeuppance? Take the once svelte, hot lips, back-stabbing cheerleader who could snag any guy she wanted. Frankly, I'm doing the happy dance knowing that over the years she's morphed into an obese, thrice divorced, wrinkled old hag living in a trailer in south Florida, hawking plastic alligators and socks at the weekend flea market.

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a catchy email from Will, a tall, devilishly handsome, former classmate who demonstrated remarkable brilliance and humor in high school Spanish class. Turns out he reads my blog and was responding to one of my posts. Out of the blue his name appeared on my screen. And without hesitation, I remembered him. Like no time had passed at all. If only I could just as easily recall where I put my reading glasses.

Of course today, we all look different. We're older. Wrinkled. Rusty, dusty, even musty. Different hair color. Some have no hair. Many of us have been physically reshaped for better or for worse. We're accomplished. We're experienced. We're parents and grandparents and a few great-grands. We've been to war, some to jail. We've had exciting careers and intriguing lives and fascinating adventures. We've traveled, captained our own sailboats and flown our own planes. While I and many others have lived all over the country, a good number chose to remain close to home. We've weaved our lives into different patterns. Some more intricate than others. Yet our joys and sorrows have probably been similar. Collectively, we're wiser and I bet a whole lot kinder and nicer than we were back in high school. 

Which brings me to the subject of bullying, especially college kids, high schoolers and even grade school kids. I find it horrifying. I worry about my own grandchildren and I wonder what frightening tribulations and outlandish ordeals they will have to endure when they become school age. I'd be lost without my computer now. But I'm actually glad computers weren't around when I was in school. True, we lacked the immediate information gratification that the computer age engenders. But our generation did not have to deal with the complications, humiliations and ramifications of online threats, personal attacks, confrontations, hate and intolerance horrors faced by computer savvy young people today. Without a doubt, we  had our teenage angst and dramas back then. Yet overall, I think our class for the most part, was an extremely decent, good, honorable, smart, responsible and compassionate group who grew into productive adults. That's not to say we didn't have problems. I was even bullied by some mean girls. But I never thought of it as "bullying". No one gave it a label. Luckily I survived. I never told anyone. But I never forgot it. Nor have I forgotten the name of the person who instigated it. And thanks to Facebook, I know where she lives........

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Fall on the Farm

There's just something extraordinary about a Fall day in the country...especially when it comes on the heels of a warm, humid summer. Crisp, refreshingly chilled air, heavenly blue skies, vivid colors of reds and oranges and yellows. Pumpkins, apples, fresh cider, glorious autumn leaves and giant flower pots overflowing with crysanthemums. The old farmsteads come alive with corn mazes, hay rides and harvest stands. Without a doubt, Fall is my favorite time of year. Here are a few glimpses of a recent visit to the countryside.

Century old barn stands in glory under cobalt blue skies.
Ancient weathered barn...if those walls could talk.
Nerdy scarecrow oversees the apple harvest.
Hey you lazy pumpkins...look lively now...customers are coming!
Why do they paint barns red?
Old school weather vane meets high tech cell tower as a cluster of gourds look on. pie, apple cider, apple strudel......
The pumpkins huddle together to plot their escape.
Ya, I'm a llama and I'm the boss of this place. You gotta problem with that?
You lookin at me?  Scram.

                                                 THE END
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pumpkin Wisdom


Every fall we make our autumnal pilgrimage out to farm country to pick pumpkins from the pumpkin patch. Over the years, we've harvested a good crop of pulp wisdom which I'm happy to share with you now.

  • Pumpkins do not make good doorstops.
  • Sooner or later, we'll all run into an evil scarecrow.
  • Positivity is when your head is carved up into a jack o' lantern and you're still grinning.  
  • The good thing about being a pumpkin is that plump is pleasing.
  • Perfect pumpkins get picked first but odd looking pumpkins are more lovable.
  • Under your arm, carry a homely, mis-shapen pumpkin with plenty of bumps and gnarls...and you'll get noticed at any party.
    • If you're bright orange and can't dance, pumpkin pie is a good back-up plan.
    • Pumpkin chucking is not the same as up-chucking except for the end result.
    • When you're tethered to a know you're in trouble.
    • Pumpkins make good friends because they look up to you.
    • If you hang around with're very weird.
    • Life is like a pumpkin always gotta watch where you're stepping.
    • When you're sitting on the front porch with a candle in your mouth, pulp up your nose and a goofy smile on your face,  you know you've had too much to drink.
    • If politicians were pumpkins, they'd have thick heads and mush for brains. Oh wait...they already do.
    • We all get to shine for a little bit and then our light goes out and we're left to rot in the dirt.
    Pumpkin people are often misunderstood.


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    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Eat, Pray, Love, Nap

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading Elizabeth Gilbert's best selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. It's about a divorced woman who spends a year of soul-searching in Italy, India and Bali. I've not seen the movie with Julia Roberts but I doubt whether it's as good as the book. After finishing the book, I was beset with a compelling desire to visit an ashram in India as Gilbert did, don a sari, cast all my worldly worries aside and immerse myself in solitary meditation for months on an effort to discover the real meaning of my own mind, body and spirit. Iconic photos of the Beatles flashed in my head...John, Paul, George and Ringo...clad in Nehru jackets with auras of hashish smoke drifting above them, gleaning the secrets of life along with tips for playing the sitar at the feet of some long-bearded, wizened, old codger who resembled Ghandi. It all sounded so...quixotically mesmerizing and exotically self-absorbing. 

    Then I started to visualize what it would actually be like...hunkering down in an Indian ashram...which is a tranquil, secluded place for spiritual enlightenment. Reality quickly set in: Sitting crossed-legged for hours on a hard stone surface. I haven't sat cross-legged since 1989. 120 heat and a steamy 320 degree humidity. Sort of like being roasted alive. Creepy, crawly things wiggling and flying over and about me. Sweat dripping into every miniscule pore of my body. Similar to bathing in the Ganges River. Reciting a mantra over and over and over and over. I can't even remember my cell phone number. Not to mention, that the privilege of sitting on your butt and doing absolutely nothing in an ashram costs thousands of dollars. Oh and I'd need to hire my own personal guru to help me master the exquisite art of meditation. Mo' money. Mo' money.

    Don't get me wrong. I know people who do this sort of thing and I'm not mocking them. Really I'm not. I admire their tenacity, their inner calmness and their proclivity for transcendental self-exploration. In many ways I wish I could follow this kind of spiritual quest. But I simply do not have the patience. My gosh, I don't even knit.

    So after careful consideration, a couple glasses of wine, some fast calculating and a distaste for all things hot, humid and crawling...I decided that an ashram in India is not for me after all. But I have uncovered a personal self-truth. The way for me to pursue my own sense of peace, harmony and tranquility is with a good, old-fashioned...afternoon nap. Pure blissful luxury and it's free. No guru required. Sphere: Related Content

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    Thanks a Million!

    I'm baaaaack. Surgery's over. I'm doing fairly well considering I had a tumor the size of a tennis ball removed from my neck. A million thanks to all my pals around the world, across the country and down the block who warmly touched my life with your support and encouragement. What a difference a few heartfelt words of kindness, love and cheer can make to another human being.

    As I recuperate, I've been thinking about all the positive energy, good vibes and prayers I received from old and new friends far and near, not to mention cards, flowers, phone calls, tons of email and Facebook good wishes. Without a doubt, it is nice to be remembered...while you're still living.

    Several years ago in a different state, I hung out with a bunch of fun and friendly women. One day, one of the gals tearfully announced to our group that she was afraid that nobody would come to her funeral. She sobbed, "I don't want my children to be embarrassed that nobody thinks enough of me to attend my funeral."  Every one of us was quiet for a minute and then we all admitted that we shared the same concern...that very few people would be at our funeral. Sounds like a silly, frivolous, vain thing to fret about...especially since none of us will be around to count mourners...or lack thereof. But I suspect it might be a universal worry that we all secretly brood about from time to time...especially as we get older. Right then and there all 9 of us raised our wine glasses and solemnly pledged to attend each other's matter what. One for all and all for one...we swore to be there.

    Hate to say it but there's no sweet ending to this little anecdote. Our group disbanded. Most of us moved away and we've lost touch. So much for Pinot Grigio-laced funeral fidelity oaths. On the other hand and we've heard this a million is important to remember people while they're still alive and kicking. I try to do this in my own acknowledge individuals who have blessed my world in countless ways with their kindred spirit, their compassion, true-blue friendship, understanding and unselfish nature. These are the kind of folks who've proven they can be absolutely/positively counted on to be there for you in good times and bad.

    It's very easy to take for granted all the good people that come your way. I've been burned several times from people I thought I could and should trust. Haven't we all? But I've learned to discern the phonies from the rock solid. As a result, I appreciate and acknowledge even the smallest act of kindness someone does for me. To be honest, whenever anybody does something nice for the likes of an obnoxious, old fossil like me, I am stunned and deeply grateful. Yet, I was surprised, pleasantly several considerate gestures that came from acquaintances I don't even know all that well. It amazes me that people went out of their way to offer expressions of concern during my medical ordeal. Still, the resounding silence of a few who could not be bothered, thunders painfully.

    So now...a toast to you my faithful readers, to my dear friends, beautiful children, my sweet husband, some wonderful cousins, new friends and cherished old pals, thoughtful neighbors and my loving 90 year old mother who called long-distance ceaselessly...I am grateful indeed for your support, prayers, inspiration and good cheer.  Margaritas all around! Sphere: Related Content

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    The Five Wishes

    Two more days til I have major surgery and I'm keeping my mind off it by staying busy. Already rearranged the living room...twice. Did a 4 mile hike. Enjoyed a scrumptious "last meal" dinner with my husband at a favorite restaurant (last meal because I won't be able to swallow solid foods for months after the surgery...which is not entirely a bad thing.) Went for a beautiful and leisurely afternoon drive in the sunny and lushly green countryside. Stopped at a roadside custard stand and treated ourselves to a chilled and tasty raspberry custard cone. Framed some recent family photos. Sewed a new pillow for adirondeck chair. Installed extra shelving in the tool room. And finally, I set aside some quiet time for reflection, personal thoughts and...filling out a health care directive. Oh ya...can I knock the fun out of a party or what?

    Stick with me here and...doom and gloom aside, I think you may find this interesting. I never even knew exactly what a health care directive was until my husband and I did some research on it. We found something that I think is important to share with all of you because let's face it...ya never know when you're gonna kick the bucket. Many of us have made a "bucket list"...trekking to Macchu Picchu, hang-gliding over the Alps, sailing the Greek Isles, exploring the Grand Canyon or whizzing along a zip-line above a tropical rain forest. But how many of us have  provided written directives about how we wish to be cared for in our final days? Granted, that's not nearly as thrilling as following your guru to an ashram in India or kayaking the Amazon.

    But if you think of a health care directive as a greased zip line to a peaceful might find this information worthwhile. We've all heard of the living will. Well, that's been improved upon with what they call a durable power of attorney advanced health care directive. Yet there's another health care directive available today in most states that offers patients and their loved ones a dignified, compassionate and easily understood plan of action that walks people through the steps of how they'd like to be cared for in the event of serious illness or injury.

    This document is called the Five Wishes. It allows you to control how you want to be treated if the inevitable happens. It covers your personal, emotional and spiritual needs as well as your medical wishes. It was inspired by a fellow who worked in a hospice run by Mother Teresa. I'm not going to delve into all the particulars of the Five Wishes but I strongly recommend you look up information about it online.

    The really cool part about the Five Wishes is that it gives you a chance to express your own up-close-and personal thoughts in a clear, friendly, almost conversational manner. And it relieves your loved ones of some degree of stress and worry. It talks about forgiving others, making amends, even organizing your own memorial service. (Did somebody say organize? I'm on it.) It's a down-to-earth way of handling serious and emotional subject matter that most of us would rather avoid. It even provides a section for you to write down how you'd like to be remembered. In the grand scheme of things, it's your opportunity to finally get the last word. As for me, I've had the time of my life.

    OK. Enough said. Just thought I'd pass this along as a community service. Til next time, my faithful, kind-hearted, lovely, dear and brilliant readers.

    P.S. And just in case my public service post has been a bit too's a little tune to get your feet a tappin'.

    Peter Allen - I Go to Rio
    Uploaded by GaleMcDonald. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more. Sphere: Related Content

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    Killing Time

    In a few days, I'll be whisked off for surgery to have Doogie Howser slit open my throat and yank out a big, nasty, blobby, bulging cyst---the size of a lumpy cucumber...that's been wreaking havoc as it slowly strangles my thyroid, vocal chords, tongue and assorted other neck organs which I presume to be kinda vital for a pleasant quality of life.

    I had not planned to write about the operation---which for the curious is called a Sistrunk Procedure to remove a thyroglossal duct cyst---because I was scared to death. My surgeon matter-of-factly told me I may lose the use of my vocal chords...permanently. Then he calmly rattled off a few other minor complications that could happen: like finding a malignancy, blood clots, stroke, seizures, choking, thyroid troubles, tongue impairment and for good measure...that pesky old nemesis they call...flat line. 

    After much hand-wringing, imagining the worst for months on end and watching ghastly YouTube videos of the surgical procedure over and over and over, I finally decided to stop obsessing about it. It was time to dump my negativity and channel positive resources. You might think I'd invoke something uplifting and inspirational like: Let go and let God or Put it in God's hands. Now don't get me wrong. I do strongly attest to the power of prayer. And believe me, I've weaseled myself onto the prayer lists of a vast multitude of friends and family. So I've got all that good spiritual stuff going for me already.

    But when it comes to really taking my mind off worrisome things, the tried and true solution for me is to head to the inner depths of our household closets and...reorganize. The thing is...I'm already a notorious neatnik. I've been that way my entire life. I love order and orderliness. To me it makes perfect sense to keep things well organized because knowing where everything is and being able to find things in a flash---totally simplifies your entire life AND it gives me so much more freedom. Personal time do so many more things. Not only that but putting things in order is relaxing therapy for me. Call me crazy. It is what it is.

    As you can well imagine...if you've ever known a super organizational freak...our clothes closets were already organized more brilliantly than Martha Steward on steroids. They were already decluttered, alphabetized, color-coded, super sorted, lined with neat bins and boxes for socks, scarves and lingerie and sported custom shelving to hold shipshape stacks of finely folded shirts and shorts and jeans. I'm sure this sounds quite pathetic and utterly insane to most normal folks. But it works beautifully for us.

    So this time, instead of reorganizing again...I decided to purge. I went through all our closets and pulled out stuff that we hadn't used in a year or so. Clothes, outdated computer stuff, cooking utensils that I never use any more, newer books I've already read and didn't like, some tools, several knick knacks, garden implements, a few furniture items. It took me several days to accomplish all this but eventually I ended up with a rather substantial and needless to say tidy pile of household goods. Most of the items were fairly new but seldom or never used. We gave it all away to the Goodwill and our church.

    Now my sweet husband and I have even less stuff but more space in the house and more time to do things together. In the process, I stopped dwelling about my upcoming surgery. Only thing is...I have four more days before I go under the knife. Still gotta find things to keep myself occupied otherwise those mesmerizing YouTube surgery videos will be luring me back. Maybe I should reorganize the silverware drawers or restack the toilet paper shelf or rebuild the storage racks in the garage, or......... Sphere: Related Content

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010

    Michigan Changes Everything

    My husband and I moved to Michigan from Florida, five years ago. What? Are we crazy? A few people questioned our sanity at the time. But we have never regretted our relocation north. For us, Michigan means four dramatic and distinct seasons, easy access to four of the stunning Great Lakes along with bountiful, beautiful and uncrowded beaches. A short drive brings us high atop some of the highest fresh water sand dunes in the world with magnificent views in every direction and not a mangy palm tree in site. Up and down the Michigan coast line, more than 100 lighthouses stand sentry. There are vast walkable areas of pristine wilderness to hike and thousands of lakes and rivers to kayak...with not a single alligator, Burmese python or snowbird in any of them.

    Cherry and apple orchards, vineyards and wineries, green grassy hill sides and farm lands saturate the state with their colorful hues. You can pick fresh fruit right from the tree, go fishing in a cool stream, sit in a shady glade and get snookered on cherry wine...all in one afternoon. Of course, that would be on a summery afternoon. In cold weather, you can snow-shoe through silent, snow-covered forests, cross-country ski, zip about on a snowmobile, go sledding, build a snowman, cuddle by a cozy fire can winter in Florida.

    For us, our move north was all about nature, a better quality of life and being able to venture outdoors in the summer without having to change sweat-soaked underwear umpteen times a day. Up here, we can step out to retrieve the morning paper without melting into a pool of sticky, damp mush from the steamy, toxic humidity that zapped our energy in Florida. Now we actually feel healthier and we're much more active. Less traffic, less congestion, fewer but friendlier people. Wholesome Midwest values. Yes, there is abundant snow in the winter but we've learned to embrace it. Summer, fall and spring are glorious with very little humidity, clean fresh air, and we hardly ever have to turn on the A/C.

    It's true that Michigan like many states, has been devastated by the disastrous economy. Detroit suffers from massive urban blight, drug violence and rampant crime. But Detroit does not define the entire state. In places like Grand Rapids not far from Lake Michigan, where we live, there exists a sense of vitality and enthusiasm. This is not intended to gloss over the problems Michigan shares with many areas of this country. There is much room for improvement and many people are suffering from economic hardships. On the other hand, cities like Grand Rapids stand out as vibrant, self-sufficient communities with residents who are hopeful, hard-working and entrepreneurial.

    Whenever my husband and I explore the attributes that Michigan has to offer, we feel invigorated. Whether we're relaxing in a shady green space at a park under a sprawling canopy of genuine, hard-wood oaks and maples instead of a sliver of shade offered by a scrawny Florida palm tree...or standing on the peak of a mountainous sand dune bluff that overlooks miles and miles of the vast, cobalt majesty of Lake Michigan...we are amazed. We appreciate the awesome diversity of the seasons and the breath-taking beauty Mother Nature bestowed on the exquisite landscapes of this often overlooked state. Here's a sampling of some of our favorite spots.

                        Sand dunes above Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. 

                                 Grassy bluff over Lake Michigan near Glen Arbor.

                                 The vastness of Lake Michigan is awesome.

                   Historic lighthouse at northern tip of Leelanau Peninsula, near Traverse City. 

                                          Cheerful daisies sunbathe by the big lake. 

                           Beach goers brave big waves on Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
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    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    Despicable Me

    Something happened to me today that was so utterly frightening, bone-chillingly scary and mind-blowingly weird that I thought I was in a parallel universe. And it all started innocently enough with...Facebook. I use Facebook and I like it. I make no excuses. I enjoy following family and friends on it. It's fun to see messages and photos and keep updated on the happenings of people I know from around the world.

    But let me start at the beginning. Although I use Facebook, I'm not very technically savvy on a lot of its applications. Today I decided that I wanted to post a video from YouTube onto Facebook.  I had no clue how to go about doing that. So I googled the info...which led me to the "help" section of FB, which I should have checked out in the first place. 

    I went to my WALL page on FB and opened the publishing box where you post messages. Following directions, I clicked the video icon at the bottom of the publishing bar. I was just about to insert the YouTube link inside the space when suddenly this hideous image appeared on my screen. It looked like something out of a horror film...a grotesque distortion of a human face...a repulsive, ghoulish hag of a woman. A frightful old gnome with a garish look of surprise who seemed to stare straight into my eyes. What the...? Somehow I screwed up. Missed a step in the directions. Inserted the wrong link. What a friggin doofus I am. I can't even figure out a simple...

    But wait...Mother of all Nightmares! To my astonishment, that sinister old shrew on the screen...was ME!  Somehow I had inadvertently activated the built-in web cam on my laptop and created an instant video of my own face!  And before I knew what was miserable mug in all it's no-makeup, bad hair day, up-close-and-personal Grand Canyon size wrinkles and fiendish full blown horror, splashed across the Facebook world. For several surreal seconds, I did not even recognize my own sorry self. Suddenly that Michael Jackson song, Man in the Mirror reverberated through my brain. Dear was a truly bizarre moment. Eventually, I gathered my wits about me (the few I had left) and hit the "remove" button...most likely saving my entire Facebook nation from suffering an early morning heart attack.

    The moral of this little horror story is: whenever you're fooling around with Facebook, be sure you know the location of the "delete/remove" button. Otherwise there's a good chance you could bring supreme embarrassment, shock, outrage or disabling nausea to yourself, your entire family, friends far and near and assorted acquaintances. I'm just thankful that I didn't get nabbed by the FB police for publication of offensive material. Sphere: Related Content

    Monday, July 12, 2010

    Oh Those Sexy Soccer Boys

    Did you happen to catch any of the World Cup soccer matches? Seems like the games lasted for months with every single country in the universe participating. I'm not much of a spectator sports enthusiast but I did watch some snippets of the soccer finals including the pinnacle battle between Spain and the Netherlands. And I came away with a few interesting personal observations.

    If a sport can be considered is a TEN. The sport is rugged yet graceful as ballet. As for those magnificent players.....they're gorgeous! The soccer lads are downright hotties...trim, masculine and muscular without an ounce of fat/blubber on their striking, magnificent physiques. Nearly every soccer player sports astounding 6 pack abs that practically jump out of their sweaty jerseys. In comparison, a good many American football hulks resemble overweight, helmet-clad refrigerators as they lumber across a football field.

    Soccer players are in top notch physical condition because they are constantly in motion. Unlike football games that seem to stop action every 2 minutes, soccer matches run for 90 minutes or longer without a break. The limber soccer guys sprint like gazelles exuding an amazing sense of balance, strength, endurance and incredible dexterity. It's one thing to catch a ball in your hands but try juggling, kicking, flipping and passing a ball...with your feet. In my opinion, it takes a whole lot more skill to play soccer.

    Soccer players wear shorts, for goodness sake. Talk about self-confidence. This makes them fearless in my estimation. No helmets, no shoulder or knee pads, no mouth pieces, no chin guards, no fat, thick layers of padding strapped around their legs. The only thing between a soccer player's bare flesh and a violent thrust to his a flimsy T shirt. Players do have very sharp, fiendish cleats on the bottom of their shoes...which must really, really hurt should an opponent jam his flying foot into your face or chest.

    From my brief stint at watching a few soccer matches on TV, I've gained an appreciation for this thrilling, non-stop sport. However, I will concede  that the scoring is less than exciting. Because the soccer ball changes "feet" so frequently, many games result in ties or very low scores. I prefer to see a definite winner and loser in a sports game. You almost feel cheated when the score results are so laughably low. Case in point, Spain finally pulverized the Netherlands for the 2010 World Cup supremacy with a beefy win of: one to zero.  Whooptee do. But the crazy thing is...the players severely injured and nearly killed themselves fighting for that humble score.

    Finally, my last word on soccer: Vuvuzelas...those colorful but annoying, loud, raucous, monotone horns blown by enthusiastic fans during soccer games. It sounds like 100 zillion ear-splitting kazoos all blaring at the same time. If soccer players can withstand a stadium throbbing with deafening vuvuzelas...and emerge from a game with their sanity (and their hearing) intact...then they truly are indeed...the bravest athletes in the world.

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    Friday, July 9, 2010

    Lindsay Lohan Meets Judge Judy

    Lindsay Lohan should consider herself lucky. Wonder if she'd been served up justice by Judge Judy? Do you think no-nonsense Judge Judy would coddle little Miss "It's not my fault" Lohan with a measley 3 months in jail? Not only did Lohan miss NINE court-ordered alcohol counseling sessions, but she painted the F word on her fingernails and flashed them to the judge throughout her court appearance. Over recent years, Lohan has been arrested for drunk driving, cocaine possession and other felony drug use. She appears to be unrepentent and has not accepted responsibility for her problems. Now she's whining about going to jail.

    You think Judge Judy would have put up with Lindsay's no-show appearances, lame-brain excuses and crocodile tears? As in "Sorry your honor, but I was on a fancy shmancy yacht in Cannes with Dom Perignon and I just couldn't tear myself away to visit your lowly courtroom?"  Judge Judy would've smacked down such narcisstic drivel with her now legendary retort: "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining."

    Can you just imagine how furious the irrascible Judge would be if she saw Lohan flaunting the "F" bomb on her fingernails? Take-no prisoners Judy would've thrown the sassy little actress in the slammer faster than Lohan could say: "Baby needs a cocktail."  Then she'd order the poor trembling starlet to share a cell block with the likes of such lovely lady offenders as Ronda, the Fist, Lewinsky and Shakita, I'm Your Worst Nightmare, Jones. Instead of sporting expensively obscene manicures, Lohan could very well be hustling cigs in the big yard, sharpening up shivs and shanks and comparing tatoos with real-life mean girls of the prison world....all if Judge Judy justice prevailed. Sphere: Related Content

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    Cowboys of the Wild Blue Yonder

    The Blue Angels rule the sky. They are the cowboys and cowgirls of the wild blue yonder. Yes, some of the pilots are female. They put on an amazing performance at the annual Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Michigan over the Fourth of July. These pilots are extraordinary. Fearless. Gutsy. Nerves of steel. Daring. Brave. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound with brilliant precision control.

    It was an absolutely gorgeous, not-a-cloud-in-the-sky kind of day. Perfect weather for these F/A-18 Hornets to roar across the skies at a speed of up to 700 mph over the calm, cobalt waters of Grand Traverse Bay on majestic Lake Michigan.

    My husband was especially interested in the show because he shares a history with one of the aircraft. As a Navy man during the Viet Nam War, he flew reconnaissance missions in a giant, hulking monster of a plane called a C-130T Hercules. Today, over 40 years later, that very same C-130 airplane participates in all the Blue Angel shows. Fat Albert, as it's affectionately called, is used to transport personnel, gear, parts and communications equipment. Amazingly, it can carry 155,000 lbs. of weight and take off in 15 seconds like a rocket...full throttle, nearly straight up. My husband was thrilled to see his old sky ship again after all these years. I asked him if he had scrawled any graffitti in the cockpit all those many years ago. He smiled but didn't say a word.

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    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Of Photographs and Memories

    A picture is worth a thousand words. The old adage rings true even more today in our high tech world of ingenious devices that snap photos and whip them around the world in seconds. A single image such as in a photograph freezes the essence of the moment. Faces and places are forever held still in time. A simple, crinkled old snapshot taken many years ago captures a time or a place or people that may have vanished from our lives and nothing can ever bring them back again. A photograph reminds us of what we forget. It's a touchstone to our past that enriches our lives.

    For the past week, I have been reminded of the priceless value of old family photographs. Last winter our home suffered a devastating flood as a result of a broken pipe. The walls and ceiling literally fell down because of the force of the water. We were out of town. But our neighbor who lives in the attached condo next to us...told us when we returned home that he heard the pipe break and that he heard the water rushing through the pipes nonstop. And yet he never notified anyone in the management company or any of our many neighbors. If he had told somebody right away, the water could have at least been turned off and our home would not have been so severely flooded. As it was, this man sat by and heard the water run for over five days...without doing a single thing about it. It was only when we returned home that we discovered the damage...and found the water was still running.

    But this story is not about the apathetic old coot who lives next door. This is about the importance of treasured family photographs. After the flood, we eventually had the house repaired and restored good as new. All the wet, soggy stuff was thrown out. And the water was sucked out with special hoses. Later, water damage restoration specialists came with nifty little meters and checked and rechecked for the slightest evidence of mold or mildew or even a spec of dampness. They found nothing. We felt a great sense of relief. Not a trace of mold or mildew was apparent anywhere. Or so we thought....

    Last week, I just happened to be searching through several large plastic bins where I stored all my old photo albums that date back 50 years and more. As I delved deeper into the containers, I saw it. I smelled it. The dreaded MOLD. Dank, ugly fungus spores encased all my photo albums. It looked like somebody had thrown a shovel full of slimey black dirt into the bins. All the albums were sopping wet.

    It was as if an arrow had pierced my heart. I instinctively knew that most, if not all of my precious photographs were ruined. The visual memories of our entire past life no longer existed. We could replace the carpet, replace the walls, replace the ceiling. We could buy new furniture and other tangible items. But old family photographs are simply irreplaceable. 

    After a great deal of sobbing and wringing of hands, I lugged all the bins out into our garage. For the past week I have been meticulously going through every single determine if any of the photos are worth saving. I've been snapping pictures since I was ten years old. And I saved every one of them. No jumbled shoe boxes for me. I stored all my photos very neat and tidy, labeled and organized in ancient, bulky, over-sized, old-fashioned leather albums. In recent years, I've been uploading photos to my computer. But I had saved thousands of hard copy Kodak moments from over the past 50 years.

    Miraculously I was able to salvage some of the pictures. But most of them were lost to water and mold damage. It turns out that when water splashes on a photo, it literally washes the color away leaving nothing but empty white paper. And so it is that all of my college yearbooks had to be trashed. Tons of photos of family gatherings, first communions, Christmases, our kid's first days of school, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, sailboat trips, vacations, beloved pets, various houses we've lived in over the years, weddings...all destroyed. 

    Photographs are more than preservations of the past. They are our link to people and places and times that we hold dear. We immediately recall how we felt when we look at old pictures. Just for an instant, we are able to touch people from our past lives...loved ones no longer with us. Friends we haven't seen in decades. We can see ourselves as we once were. We can watch our children growing up. We can see our elders, grand parents and great greats. The funny clothes they wore. What their houses looked like. Their furniture. Their old jalopy cars. Photographs have the uncanny ability to restore our youth, if only for a moment. Photographs rescue time. They represent a fleeting history of our lives. 

    I feel like a part of my life has been stolen. I feel like my past has been plundered. My memories ransacked. These old family photos showed people I loved with goofy looks on their faces or serious scowls or happy-go-lucky grins embracing life at the instant the photo was snapped. The people, their poses, their expressions, the surroundings, the stories behind the me they are paper treasures that are now lost forever. 

    In the hit 70's song Kodachrome, Paul Simon wrote:
    They give us those nice, bright colors
    They give us the greens of summer
    Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah
    Mama don't take my Kodachrome away
    Mama don't take my Kodachrome away.

    I will dearly miss those cozy, old Kodachromes...those sunny, bright colors and the faded black and white snapshots of years past. But when all is said and done, I still have those memories pressed between the pages of my mind and sweetened with the passage of time. Still and all, my old family albums were like a sumptuous feast of priceless memories that I could see and touch and recollect and laugh over and reminisce about with family members. Now I start with a clean slate. I have a new camera and a passionate create and preserve brand new memories for our children and grandchildren. I will store them all online...with plenty of backup. OK now...everybody smile and say: Kodachroooomme.

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