Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why emptying a savings account filled my heart

This Christmas I learned beloved Jack in England passed away.

He was my cousin Audrey's husband, a jolly and witty English gentleman. Memories of him and of Audrey during their travels to see us in the U.S. extend well into childhood.

By the time Jack died a few weeks ago he was in his late eighties, so by most accounts this should have come as no surprise. 

But after the shock of hearing that he had passed away, a different feeling passed over me- parallel to the soft was gratitude.

Four and a half years ago I travelled to Europe because I was looking to find joy again in life. So much had left to be healed and I was trying to find some way to do that. 

On that trip, the one that cathartically and very purposely cleared my savings account, I took a bus out to Ripon to visit Audrey and Jack at their home. I had just finished a reunion in Oxford with my study abroad program and a whirlwind 2 week guided coach tour of eight different European countries. 

For most young adults, the idea of spending time for three days with a couple in their eighties who no longer got around much might seem pretty lackluster. However, I found this to be the most enriching final days of the trip. We sat and talked over tea and toast with Audrey's homemade lemon curd which I loved. And she loved lavishing me with gobs of it...and eagerly copied down the recipe. Jack mused about the goings-on of their little town and its quirky political ways.

This visit with them was very different however. It came with profound realization that aging was finally catching up to my seemingly 'ageless cousins' from abroad. As a child I had marveled at their stories and whimsy as they traveled by caravan everywhere the 'tred-worthy' world would allow them to go. They sought adventure and collected tokens from across the globe to fill the shelves inside their tiny bungalow upon their return. But in August of 2007 I saw two people who were at last coping with the effects of time. 

Jack had lost all but a tiny shadow of his sight. A driving enthusiast, he had at last had to turn in his keys, and his wanderlust that had been the open road. The whimsical drive we took with him through the rolling hills and dales of Yorkshire in the summer of '99...stopping for sheep and laughing at other motorists was just a faded memory. The darkness Jack was experiencing was the tightening grasp of macular degeneration.

Audrey whose gift for gab was unparalleled, too had changed. It became clear to me that although sharp, and still a teller of tales, her stories had begun to contain a significant amount of repetition. Audrey, although then undiagnosed, was in the early stages of dementia. 

I had been given a gift that summer. Three days of stopping from the hustle and bustle of travel and adventure to be with two heroes of my childhood. The adventurers who lit my imagination with stories of places I one day wanted to visit.

As they reminisced with me, the American cousin they'd seen grow up before their eyes, the magic seemed to be returning to their lips. Sharing with a captive audience, the stories came alive again. I longed to hear them because I knew it might be my last time. It's not to say this was pessimistic. It was realistic. Living an ocean away, I knew this would likely be a last visit.

The night before I left, Jack had delighted in treating me and Audrey to a dinner of fish and chips. With joy he took me to see the shop and ordered his usual. "You can't leave our fair England without such a treat."

I remember our final goodbye at the train station... 

"Off you go" said Jack softly as he patted my shoulder and "stay safe and mind the directions", said Audrey. They both seemed to love the role of care-taking, and I even relented, letting them convince this bold solo-traveler she needed their gentle reminders.
I felt tears come, but I winked them back and swallowed the lump in my throat. I rounded the corner and headed up the platform steps. I waved till they were out of sight. 

Audrey, according to reports from family in letters, is now quite deep into dementia and now she is missing her partner in life and all adventure. I am left with but a fond collection of recollections of my favorite globe trotters. 

I was so very lucky to have that time. 

If there are reminders in life that ring true, then this is one. 
Don't put off everything until tomorrow because the years creep up on you. Seize the day and spend time with the people you love even if it costs you a little something ( for me the better part of a savings account). In life this was a case where the reward far outweighed the expenditure.

Below is a link to the blog I wrote about that trip in 2007. If you scroll to the bottom, there is a video with the last message I taped of Jack and Audrey that I wanted to show to our family back home. 

"Don't wait too long now. We are getting along in years," Jack says. 

Memories are priceless.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The young and the blogless

2011 has been a shameful blog year for me. As I looked at my tally I realized that I have only blogged 10 times since January of last year. Sure, I have been splitting my time between the YP blog I do for the Democrat and Chronicle, but really? 
I need to change that.

I have tons of excuses for not blogging. Time is one of them. Yet, I'm going to try to get better at it- truly. I never realized how many of you were reading this until I got a few impassioned pleas that I resume the journal. And when I say a couple- I truly mean just a few. No one was drumming up a petition to bring it back. Let's be real here.

I have a couple interesting thoughts to share from time to time. But by the time I have down time to think about them- the good ones have sunk back into the recesses to be dug up later.

So here's all I got about yesterday's events:
Nutty Professor Has Nothing on Nutty Leah

Yesterday I was in the hospital ready with one of my favorite jokes for a teen patient who was admitted with a neutropenic fever (common affect of treatment). 

I was about to tell her the joke and then I scratched my head and stopped, started again and forgot the punchline. She giggled anyway. Just watching me attempt to tell a joke is probably more hilarious than the corny one I have.  Only take-away: I successfully triggered her smile reflex. Mission complete.

But here's the joke anyway. 

How can nurses stand to work in busy hospitals?
They have lots of patients.

Yuck, yuck, yuck...I know I'm a riot. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The personal record of gratitude

Personal records (P.R.s) aren't always about times. At least in my mind, I don't see them as that narrow of a definition. Ask the experts...but I'll tell you my take today is an exception to the standard definition.
With my sister and bro in law to my left drumstick
As I crossed the finish line: a tiny un-noted dot in a crowd of perhaps 5,000 runners in the Webster Turkey Trot... I made a P.R.! The time was about the same but something was very different this year. Crossing the finish line, I felt the breeze, the sunshine, the whole moment in real time...without the fuzzy and hollow disconnect of being too exhausted. One year ago it was only a second of my first running events ever. And last year it was not  a comfortable one to run. 
Today I felt good. No pain, no shortness of breath. And all around me- perspective. 

How do you fully appreciate each day?
 When you remind yourself of the growth you've experienced to date. 
When you remind yourself to continue to celebrate this growth. 

It's easy to fall into the negative box that contains life's yet unfinished accomplishments...and easy to dread things ahead that intimidate you. But when I look at (athletically) what I can do now that I never was able to do previously, having nearly two decades of my life in some form of illness...I look up and say thanks. 

**This post was written soon after I first started running. How's that for looking back in astonishment.

I was thinking today about the person I always think of when I cross these lines. Zach. It wouldn't have been done without you, buddy. More than a year after beginning training, the concept of finish line is now a plural consideration. Without Zach's influence I wouldn't have ever believed it was in me or been just gutsy enough to try running...or anything that followed. Zach is no longer here to pump me up in person, but I carry his lesson of gratitude with me and try (for the most part) to emulate. 

Oh, and one more thing. The song that played when I crossed the finish line today? It was the song they used as my theme song at First Descents this year, called the Underdog by the band Spoon. Our awesome camp photographer Beans chose it for me. 

I faced raging rivers in July with a vessel no one else piloted with me.  And as I listen to  Beans' song again-- it reminds me of the way I used to look at things- feeling always like the underdog. No more. That cliche: you've come a long way baby, though slightly silly, it really fits a new life I'm finding. My old life is slowly peeling away, yet still remaining to guide my purpose.

Hey, there's no Flo Jo here. Make no mistake. Sometimes I can still really rock the couch potato time, but to know the definition of myself beyond it- it's everything I always imagined it would be. Zach, you WERE right.

Gratitude- pass it on.

Friday, November 18, 2011

And a child shall lead them...

In my new role as program coordinator of the Teens Living with Cancer program at Melissa's Living Legacy, I spend a fair amount of time in the hospital. It's a place I've been a lot before, but in years past the purpose was different.

In the past, I can't say I ever saw the hospital for anything other than what it was to me in dire life situations: an inconvenience, a frustration and a place of limbo between old life and the new life I was reaching toward, but just barely touching. But lately, I've experienced some rather joyful moments that are easing my transition and my thinking out of the impression left by the past.

Yesterday I was giving a hug to a friend I saw in the lobby. Simply a 'good to see you' greeting. We pulled away and began to speak for a moment when I realized there was someone below me- about three or four feet below me, to be precise. Bundled in a pink winter parka, was a tiny girl of about two with outstretched arms. Suddenly her dad was closely on her heels.

She had seen my hug...and broken away from him to wait for hers.

Tears came to my eyes and I bent down to hug her...It was the most precious moment. That's what I love about children. They remind you of the most basic truths. A hug is an important thing. The feeling of sharing another person's energy is needed. And at that moment she decided she needed it.

Hospitals, with all the difficult life experiences that melt together inside, are mysterious places. Strangers converge in the lobby...cross paths with one another...and occasionally make eye contact. Though one's stride may carry difficulty, the weight of uncertainty or the joy of a new life, it is an experience locked and unshared with their passersby.

Both intimate and anonymous are the hallways of a hospital.
But here was one little girl who broke through that wall of void.
Lesson learned-  Hug someone today.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Finding Your Happiness in 'giving it a shot

Taken from
fellow author Karen Putz's blog

The book is out! My story "I Don't Quit" is featured in the newest volume of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. It's subtitle: Find Your Happiness.

A little background on this: I never expected to make it into this book. In the throes of last year's busy winter schedule I saw the call-out for stories on a flyer. I subtly noted the due date for submission and put it on my extensive to do list. Soon it was forgotten in the flood of other priority items in my day to day life.

But on 'D-day' after having worked a full day followed by evening meetings and then some, I returned home exhausted and dropped into bed at 10:30 with little creative energy remaining. It was a lost cause. The time the story had to be in to even be considered? Midnight.

'Forget it', I said softly. But then I remembered what I had originally intended to write was about not giving up. Certainly, this was a clear callout from the universe. What person in their right optimistic mind- one who believes in "not giving up"- gives up on writing a story about precisely that. I summoned up energy for a little bit more awake time and pulled out my laptop. 

As I tapped away at the keyboard, I was well aware of the clock ticking on and the time of final submission drawing near. I was struggling, trying to crunch an almost twenty year story into under 1200 words. But I kept at it. Midnight passed. At 12:35 I finished my story,
and clicked send. It mattered not that the deadline had passed. It was of little consequence that I had missed it, but that I had given it my best effort. 

But three months later...I received an email. My story had been chosen. Evidently the editor had looked past the post time- overlooked the clear guidelines they had set.

It's important lesson- you really never know the end result, so sometimes saying "what the heck" and giving it a go anyway can pay off. True story. Happy ending.

P.S. The publisher allowed us to buy 20 books at cost to benefit Melissa's Living Legacy Teen Cancer Foundation. I am happy to report that all those books have already been spoken for. If you are still interested in purchasing a copy for $15 please let me know. If we get 20 more interested folks, we may be able to purchase another box. The best part? Knowing you will not only get the book, but fund our TLC Tuesday program for teen cancer survivors!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Feeling Gravitys Pull

I had this poster size on my bedroom wall

On September 29th 1995 my parents, my sister and I and a few of our school friends loaded into our family van-- bound for Buffalo. 

The hour plus drive had been a serendipitous biproduct of begging, bargaining and outright pleading from this teenage girl whose whole continued existence seemed to be (at least then) dependent on one thing-----
seeing on stage.

Though there have been many concerts since it, and oh-so-many adventures after, this night is forever a source of family storytelling.

A tale of teenage angst and my Dad's earplugs.

My family circa 1995

I will never forget the mixed emotion. 
Namely because of the tug of war between love of band...and fighting the "uncool factor". 

Let me explain. 

The one condition of me going at all to this concert, at 17 years old, was that one of my parents had to take me to it. 
That condition was agreed however in desperation.

In the rush of learning about the concert we had to act fast. It was assured to be a sell-out at lightning speed! My sister had decided she wanted to go.* .My sister quickly said she wanted to bring friends. I too had to bring along a friend. The lucky parent would have two of our friends to chaperone.
*Though not previously a fan of R.E.M., the Monster album was making enough waves to pull her interest.

It was going to be not the jaunt I had imagined--but a family adventure all packed into our grey Astrovan. We were quickly assembling a van-load second only to the Partridges.

The rarity of this musi-trological event was not lost on me. Since I had fallen for the band hard core (in junior high) they had been in virtual shut-in studio mode- having taken an almost unheard of lapse in the pre-requisite world tour. 

This concert might have been my only opportunity... and believe me, I knew it.

Mary and I both blinked pleading eyes. Mom cracked open the phonebook to the T's. Ticketmaster. She took a breath and fired up our new cordless phone. She had that look--the parental sacrifice look.

As she waited on phone queue she looked uncertain.
I couldn't let her give up.  I reminded her of her own youthShe had seen Diana Ross, the Turtles and Simon and Garfunkel in concert. It was time she gave me "my spot in the sun". As timeless as those artists are and as much as I liked them myself--irony holds that she was listening to those artists while being placed on hold.*
Retrospective- defined by when the 'then cutting edge' makes its way to easy listening fare

She grimaced, probably thinking of the credit card statement. The minutes ticked off.I was using everything I HAD. My sister also paced curiously nearby- though not with my level of anxiety. 
For those of you born after 1995: Before internet there was the silent and deadly fear that accompanied concert purchases via phone.

Mom riggled through almost an hour of 'on hold'...she intermittently grumbled about Ticketmaster and their surcharges (however justified).Finally she got through and purchased six tickets!  We had our seats for the Monster Tour!

Second-guessing the impending experience she asked,
 "What kind of crowd is this going to draw?" 
Parents have a natural hesitancy about concerts and teenagers. My mom had her reaasons.

Just the summer before I had primed and prepared my mom for my entrance into concert going by getting her to take me to John Mellencamp. I had led her to believe John (formerly Cougar) Mellencamp was a "Christian" artist. That was my thought...convince her that he was going to positively "influence me." She had believed me until we arrived at the concert venue emblazoned with the name of the tour, "Dance Naked". 

The things we'll do to let our parents allow us to be participating members of the world of concert going.

At last she got through! Tickets purchased! R.E.M. was going to happen.

As September approached one of our friends dropped out. We were in a bind. We had one unclaimed ticket. Cost analysis enough was reason to blow a gasket in my parents mind. 

My mom asked to take a friend of hers---for parental back-up, I suppose. Uh oh.The balance of power was shifting. Then that friend of hers ...became my Dad.

Here I am- going to the concert of my dreams and now this!

A chance to be cool. 
A chance to experience...But I imagined the cinematic level of stigma, pictured myself sitting in between BOTH my parents, my sister? OH the humanity. 

I imagined the possibilities for utter embarrassment. There goes the cool factor.  However, I HAD to get to this concert- I swallowed my pride. It was this way or no way.

Concert Day.
There were two things going through my head.  

One: above all the excitement.
Two: the utter fear that my parents would embarrass the holy hairclip out of me for an unforgivable sin:  

being parents at a rock concert.

*please note this is my teenage mind recounting.

Highlights of the evening
  • My father asking the parking garage attendant where an extra set of ear plugs might be purchased.
  • Dad referring to Radiohead (the opening act) as Stereoface throughout the night.
  • Mom unintentionally interrupting a flirtatious moment with a high school crush of mine at the t-shirt table. 
  • Two ticket holders showed up at our row pointing to my parents seats and the duplicate seat assignment on their tickets. My sister and I thought God himself had sent this couple. Unfortunately, the usher "corrected" the seating issue (keeping our uncool intact). 
  • Michael Stipe circa 1995
  • Dad loudly commenting about the colorfully illustrated face of a young man behind us--a young man-- who clearly had a "crush with eyeliner".                                                         *Clearly Dad has the memorable gaff category in the bag.
As much as I tell of the teenage suffering at that concert- when R.E.M. took the stage I tuned all else out. It was fantastic. The rich sound of my favorite rock voice was swimming in my ears, for the first time without a radio or cassette player.
* Yes folks, I said cassette player

It was perhaps the quintessential experience of any kid who sits anonymously in Row ZZZ appreciating their favorite band. The kid whose parents don't have "connections" to get them better seats, but who is in seventh heaven just to be there. The kid who sits hovering above the top of a large stadium but not lacking rock glory. An "Almost Famous" level of wonder...from far away. 
Too distant for up-close encounters, yet feeling the reverberation of energy trickling up. 

I had to wait three or four songs before any of my old favorites were played. The Monster songs weren't the like the earthy jangly sound I loved.
I'm convinced had I had a past life...there must have been a lot of mandolin.

It became obvious that that from our nosebleed perch I was going to have to work hard to have a memory that was more than squinting and singing my heart out.
*Though the memory of my Dad readilly showing another parent his state of the art earplugs is stellar. I believe they exchanged notes and said other parent asked Dad if he had bought the pair there.
Parents find each other at rock concerts, trust me.

I needed that lasting memory. I came up with an idea! 

At the time the "Be like Mike" ad campaign for Michael Jordan was all the rage. 
I devised a catchy chant. By the time there was a lull in between songs my sister and our friends joined me in chanting "We Like Mike". 

Though our parents didn't exactly join in...the guy in the blue eyeliner did!
And his friends did. 
And then the next row. 
And so on.
And so on.
Our chant began to become louder.

It travelled a little farther...and just a little farther.... We were near the top section of the War Memorial...not to be seen by my favorite band...but I had to wonder if the message would travel to the stage.  

You can imagine the squeals of a 17 year old Stipe obsessed kid when, after singing an entire song with his back to the audience---the enigmatic man in question walked slowly to center stage---and simply said "I like you too".

Sixteen years later, I still like Mike. 

And P.S. I love my parents even more now for enduring a rock concert--because they loved us.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I love when good things are addictive

I've had a lot of things rub off on me...some of them not so good.
Like the paint on the Benches on Parade bench I sat in this autumn (that evidently was not quite dry). Whoops.

Mary is da bomb!
But one thing good that's been rubbing off on me is better choices. I've never lived an unhealthy lifestyle, per say. Yet, that could be debatable.

No matter what the verdict would be about where I stood from a fitness/health doesn't much matter.
The point is things has been steadily improving for the better. I move more. I eat less junk.
Now co-workers and witnesses who saw me partake of the cookies in the staff room-- I said less not no junk--I am still being honest here.

Making the changes that make you feel better-- well, all that stuff is really kind of addictive. 
It's addictive to feel good. 

The change can be seen on a narrow list of things: 

A crazy infomercial product 
A crazy uber-inspirational guru
Opportunities for adventure and activity wanting to change!

She never wants to take the credit, but how 'bout my guru? She helped me believe in myself in a way I just never did before- in that physical/active self. Zach started my wheels turning, but the encouragement to follow through was courtesy of Mary Eggers. She helped a whisper become a resonant sound.

I have to admit physical activity had been such a limited part of my life for so long. It wasn't that I was always unable...I lacked the foundation that allowed it to be habit forming. Having been chronically ill from the age of 14 on- it just didn't provide confidence for a once fearless active teen. it is 2011 and I am rediscovering the Leah who might have been previously. But she is on her way to being more of the Leah she wants to be...even now. It really is never too late. I believe that.

And as for addictive---my energy and enthusiasm is spreading--in the same way I, in turn, caught it from others. Last month at our Dharma-Rama teen cancer retreat we featured fitness as a session. Led of course by the fabulous and aforementioned Mary.

 It was by far the session with the most interest and questions. I loved watching the TLC teens get as enthusiastic about fitness as I was. I only hope we can continue to build the momentum and keep them as excited.

I am not saying I have become a different person. I'm not saying I won't occasionally eat a half a sleeve of Oreos when stress hits...slip ups happen.
What I will say is I know what the difference feels like...and the easy or lazy way is slowly becoming less appealing.

On this journey...since I first tested out a pair of running shoes almost a year ago (this April) I've learned a lot.

I've also been taking mental note of the fun discoveries. 
Here are just a few...

- A Magic Bullet Blender is not just a hokey tv novelty
- You can make practically 1,001 veggie/fruit Magic Bullet concoctions!
- If you bring said mixes into a high school...prepare for the ick comments.

- Running in ice and snow is no picnic...but it makes the hot cocoa taste better.
- Running on a treadmill makes you feel like a wuss, but a fit one.

- I am rediscovering muscle groups based on the aching quotient.
- Jack Lalanne didn't live to be a vibrant 96 year old for nothing.

Hope this inspires you...and I spread some of the addiction.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tickets to the trainwreck

The land of self-worshiping celebrities.
I stand by my statement: if you live a life that counts yourself as #1 without reaching out to fellow man on a daily basis---it is as surefire a way to slow suicide as any other drug. Empty meaningless narcism.

Charlie Sheen is reminding us in a big way--that we, unfortunately, live in a celebrity culture. We live in a land where people prize fame so much that they eat it for breakfast (sometimes from Wheaties boxes with their shining mugs on the front).

It's a culture we feed into. I'm not the first and I won't be the last to make fun of this weird world of "Love Me, Worship Me...I'm Famous" crap-ola.
Case in point...look to the right.
Some quite brilliant person just thought of using sweet bunny pictures emblazoned with Charlie Sheen's recent interview quotes. Frankly, it beats the "Hang In There, Baby" kitty poster in my book. Genius.

I guess I can't get too self-righteous about this. I feed into this celebrity culture too. At least for the purposes of mockery. Afterall, it's giving me a topic for my blog. 

I am not going to spend any more time singing a theme song of moral high-ground. You know where that would go. You blog readers, you know me by now. I won't even get into the multiple ways I'm dumbfounded at the financial resources and advantages these idiots squander that could benefit those affected by poverty or challenge-- in this country and beyond.
I digress.

Charlie Sheen joins a band of trainwrecks...some that more recently have included Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan---the list runs continuously in inkjet and Twitter tweets. We won't have to wait long for the next ticket to hot mess, trainwreck or just plain slow and systematic downfall. 

We can't save them all. But all is not lost. I have an idea. Instead of trying to get them to reform on their own, let's just think about how these trainwrecks could somehow help society. What if through the justice system we made their 'antics' and whimsical gaffs...all part of a money making machine...for charity?

Let's be honest about this--fools make money. And fools also make money off the sins of fools.  So, let's hook the 'celeb-trastophy' hawking up to the justice system and link it to small charities that are responsible with their funds. 
What do you think?

Let's start with Mel Gibson. I think we should make his penance be another film This film, like so many others would be one directed and starring Mel...but with a documentary feel. 
It would be Mel under a lamp of self examination. In black and white glory. 
Let's call it De-praved Heart. 
Place Mel in a room where he sits alone answering pre-recorded questions from an unseen source (a la Wizard of Oz). He would be hooked to a lie detector and with any time he answered untruthfully---Danny Glover would come out of a trap door with a Nerf bat (unlethal weapon) and just clonk him over the head. 
Laugh track would play at each of these intervals. 
It would take as long as it takes...for him to realize he's come to no good end.
But the end of the movie would feature a stern talking to from a row of three retired teachers/nuns from Catholic school. He would leave the set with the promise to take a vow of silence for 2 years. All proceeds from this film would go to battered womens shelters.

Now for Lindsay Lohan.
Oh Lindsay...Lindsay, Lindsay.
First of all...we would take her and make her re-watch Mean Girls with emphasis on how NOT to let a self-absorbed, status-obsessed, shallow life become your path of choice. Next, I would have her make another pop album. I am serious. Sure, she wasn't the best singer in the world. But I think she is due for another roster of songs. It could be entitled 'Don't Mess with Lohan' or if we made it a compilation album, it could be called Slammer Jammers. Team up Paris Hilton, Little Wayne and Courtney Love---all former members of the orange jumpsuit crowd-- each contributing a track.
It would sell faster than those NOW albums--what are they now on NOW 899 at this point?
ALL proceeds from the sale of this album would be split between amazing centers around this country devoted to helping teens chose positive activities---instead of substance abuse.

And last but not least, Charlie Sheen...the bunny quote posters are great.

But I've got a better idea. In honor (or in jest) of this over-inflated ego of his... let's create a carnival game called Take Pot Shots at the 'Hot Shot'. It would be a dunk tank where Charlie could face a tribunal of ex-wives, jilted porn stars, call girls and whoever else he wronged. 

And if that weren't punishment enough...

We'll make him watch his 90s movie The Chase (without alcohol).  

I haven't decided what charity cause would suit Charlie's tv show revenue...
but I am inclined to believe it would pull in so much money we could probably split it between many worthy causes.

And just in case you think I've taken unfair aim at these three-- why don't we drive the costs of production down (and the charity revenue up). 

P.R. by Lizzy

Production design/images by these guys.
All cinematography and photography would be shot FOR FREE by these stalkers and paparazzi that call themselves journalists. They would be intentured servants of this project and donate all their "skill" to it.

P.R. and promotion for the project would be done pro-bono by Lizzy Grubman...the dynamo who mowed people down in a Hampton nightclub parking lot.

There you have a nutshell.

HOW we could at least somewhat treat celeb-tastrophies of their apathy for the rest of the human race----and help out those who really need it.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Money can't buy it...

What do the possessions we have say about us? 

I was confronted in a very real way with this question as I sat amongst a pile of my Gramma's things yesterday. My two aunts are preparing to sell her little house in Syracuse. The house my mother and her family grew up in- the first house they ever fully owned. The house where I spent many holidays and good times. And tucked away inside it... are her treasures. Nothing she owned could have ever made a pawn shop man's eyes glaze over, but they mean the world to us--because they represent the hard work and love they had for their family. In many ways, they are a vestige of just a stitch in the fabric of what some call our 'greatest generation'.

I think I wasn't prepared for the tears that would come as I held in my hands the momentos of her life---those things tenderly immersed in the memories I was tied to--and those that were of a life before I was even born.

Things like this I don't have a story for unfortunately. This tiny peach pit carved into the face and body of a monkey was probably something from someone's vacation. It was carefully wrapped, this delicate souvenir, but no one remembers where it came, but likely from a tropical island she never set foot on.

Inside her jewelry box were many pins marking milestones of significance, my grandfather's high school graduation and her own. And this, my grandfather's pin from his service in the Navy in World War II. As I touched it, I thought about the tiny token of such sacrifice. I know that the pride with which she held her husband's pin was also inextricably mixed with so many tears while he fought overseas. Like so many wives, she had waited in fear and hope for him to return safe while she held down life at home with two young girls. This pin doesn't fully tell us his story, what he saw or experienced as he fulfilled what he believed to be his most patriotic duty. It doesn't fully tell us her story--the premature baby she lost (who might have been the aunt closest in age to my mom) just a few months after he shipped out. 

And this-- probably one of the more beautiful stories I have ever heard.
 A woman's watch and a man's watch. Both seem inconspicuous until I was told how they were acquired. The watch to the left was a gift my grandfather received for three plus decades of service, working for Allied Chemical. 
Yes, a women's watch. 
My grandparents were not rich people and finding out that he would receive a fine quality watch for his years of work, he wanted it to be a gift for her--one perhaps she never would have accepted otherwise. Such a fine gift would have been far too impractical. With conviction, he asked the company if they could instead of the traditional man's watch, give him a watch for his beloved Godelieve. The answer from the company had been no. It had never been done before. Workers were always issued a man's watch and no one had ever asked for such a thing. But my grandpa, as it was told to me, stuck to his request and did not relent. He didn't want anything if it couldn't be for her. On the day they honored him and several other employees (with cameras flashing), he was told not to open the box. He posed with the closed box. Inside was the women's watch inscribed 'to William Duxbury for 35 years'. When he retired a few years later, the company presented  him with a man's watch.

And this was upstairs. It is a lacemaking pillow. It belonged to my great grandmother, Emma DeClercq and came from her native Belgium. Before the family emigrated from Belgium, Emma and generations of women had learned to make lace on this stiff yet plush platform. The pillow still contains a partially finished strip of lace- the last to be made on it---in a craft not even Godelieve, nor her offspring would ever learn. A lost art from a country left behind. 

The importance of this heritage was displayed in the framed print hanging above Gramma's bed - Vermeer's the Lacemaker. As a child I never knew this was a famous painting. I once saw it in an art book at school and declared that it was my "Gramma's painting". I am sure some art teacher must have laughed inside at that remark.

A few years ago when I made my first visit to the Louvre in Paris...I barely made a quick stop to gawk at the Mona Lisa. I instead made my pilgrimage to see the woman who I had beheld (in replica) as a child so many times at that little bustling house in Syracuse. Feeling the silent comfort of my ancestors, and stories long forgotten, I stood before that masterpiece in wonder.

It isn't easy to say goodbye to a grandparent. Neither is it easy to hold their belongings in your hands and realize that the touch of their hands have long gone from them.

Just recently I was reminded sharply of my loss  while hugging a friend who had just lost her own grandfather. We prepare ourselves, knowing that one day nature and time ensure we will lose the grandparent(s) we cherish. Yet, inevitability doesn't make it easy. It doesn't ease the hole or the feeling of absence when they can't tell us in their own chosen words or we can't see in their eyes that recollection of history-- the one we never lived. 

But as I carried in the box of things I had selected into my apartment...and as I look on my nightstand at the gold necklace I took for myself--the one with her initials, I know I will carry Godelieve Valerie Duxbury with me---not in any vessel I can haul or store or put on a shelf---but in my heart.

Friday, February 25, 2011

My own February break

Every school year a week looms on the calendar that feels somehow like a heavensent offering. February break.

This year I miscalculated that break. In other words, I assumed it was the same week it had always been. I try to get away from Rochester (not that there's anything wrong with it) for my sanity. Each year I scrimp away and ask relatives for money for my airline tickets, in lieu of birthday and Christmas gifts. 
And my sanity becomes a plane ticket out. 

You faithful blog readers know I've been known to have "itchy feet". My older cousin Audrey in England swears I got it from her.

This year that miscalculation led to a trip that fell not on break, but the week before. No wonder the flight was only $200! We all know they jack up the rates for school vacations. Just before February break I went to Colorado. 
Though, I had to take two personal days from work to do it, I did make my way out of Rochester. Sanity was safely restored.

I spent one day with my friend Susan in Denver and 3 days in Breckenridge Colorado. Part of the trip was all in the name of friendship and fun, but I was also there to help my friend Tracy's think-tank for her new non-profit called 
SOLO Survivors, which is soon to be launched. It's going to be a resource for single people dealing with cancer. Tracy is forging ahead and she is going to do amazing things for people who often get overlooked in the cancer world!
Go Tracy!

AND then there was adventure...

The picture above was taken at Keystone. You can't see my face because I am laughing through tears. Also, I was trying to figure out how the hell I was going to get up. It is indicative of the pretzel like way I landed on my butt about two dozen times. Okay, laugh all you want.
Yes, on this trip I also had some fun learning to ski. 

I had never downhill skiied in my life. Sure, tons of cross country when I was knee-high to a tree stump, but not for at least ten years---and never downhill. So, leave it to me to take a stab at another Bucket List item in a big way. 

Heck no, I don't try it out at home first, I go straight to one of the highest places in our country to give it a shot. And amidst some of the most accomplished skiiers whizzing by me. Toddlers still sucking pacifiers ski hard and fearlessly the green slopes in Colorado!

Let's say it started out as a brave attempt---but my fears got the best of me before we made it all the way down the mountain. The altitude, the view of 11,000 ft peaks! Akkkkk! Okay, you can laugh again when I tell you the name of this slope was The School Marm

Ummm yeah...A story for another time when Sean (my fearless yet patient teacher) sends me the pictures that tell more of my first lesson.
Don't ask him about it, he will start chuckling before he even tells you how I did.

Thankfully, I really did have the best teacher beer could buy.
Beers and nachos with he and his roommate Ryan at the Dam brewery in Dillon, a little town nearby--- all he would accept for his lesson. :)

And now I write this from my couch, back in Rochester...a storm is expected today. Just when we think things are letting up. That's how it goes.
I'm whittling away at some paperwork...working on my taxes...back to reality.
But, I smile when I think back on the intoxicatingly beautiful combination of blue skies, sunshine, mountains and snow.

Rochester is home. But I can't help but heart Colorado. 
hahaha windy much up here?