What’s your favorite?

I started this blog on a rainy day in September on a whim, a way to check off an item on my life’s bucket list. I had always wanted to write my own column or blog, but had never put a line in the sand and made it a priority.

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I figured I’d post a few blogs and that would be it. However, once I got started writing I found very quickly that I got more out of the blog than I ever could have imagined. I’ve been writing the blog for only a few months, but I’ve already learned a ton.

For example, I’ve learned that the more honest I am with my thoughts and emotions, the more satisfied I’ve been with the end result. Like most things in life, the more you put into, the more you get out of it.

Looking back on what I’ve posted so far, I find it challenging to pick just one favorite. Saying that, I was pleased with one of my recent ones: the one I wrote about my mother walking away from the Amish church at a very young age. Despite ranking low in terms of hit totals, I also have a strong affinity for a blog I wrote right before Christmas envisioning the birth of Jesus through Mary’s eyes and my very first one, that started all of this and describes how I first started writing.

In any event, I hope you have gotten something from my blogs. If you have a moment, I’d love to know what you think. (I’ve included a short one-question survey below. Let’s hope my formatting works.)

I also continue to appreciate your readership and comments. The comments that I’ve gotten via the comments section or outside of the blog have meant the world to me.

In short, thank you for your feedback and well-wishes.

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An Amish girl leaves home to create a new way of life

When my mother was 16 years old, she left everything she knew and held close to her heart. She left her home and family to start a new life.

My mother grew up Pennsylvania Dutch or Amish. Her family had no car or electricity, living instead a simple life with plain dress and few modern conveniences. My grandfather worked as a carpenter and owned a farm, where they grew corn and a small herd of cows. My grandmother kept the house full of kids and managed everything else.

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My mother loved her parents, she was close to them throughout much of their life. And she loved her 10 brothers and sisters. As the third oldest, she cared as a second mother for her younger siblings. However, when she turned 16, something clicked. She finally had a chance to make a decision for herself and decided to choose a different path.

She went to live with a family friend, who was Mennonite, stopped dressing in black dresses and white bonnets, and paved a new path. She was the first in her family to leave the Amish order. A couple of others in the decades to come would follow her path. In short, she was a rebel.

Several years later she would meet my father in an auto parts store called Joe the Motorist’s Friend, where she worked part-time to cover her bills. My father, back from serving in the Army in Germany in the 1950s, and my mother would date and later marry, settling down to raise my two brothers and myself and build a life together.

As a kid, I would tell friends in school about my mother’s Amish roots and I would get a million questions and the occasional odd look. I didn’t care that much about the odd looks, but I do regret now that I didn’t puff out my chest with more pride in telling her story.

As for the questions: no, I never rode in a horse and buggy. No I don’t know any Pennsylvania Dutch. No, I didn’t have a bowl haircut as kid ― in my family it was a crew cut when we were too young to know any better, combed straight ahead in our elementary school days, and feathered-back like David Cassidy in the 70s or Rick Springfield in the 80s when we were in high school. And no, we didn’t wear black with straw hats as we lounged around the house watching college football. Yes, my Amish grandparents were different and I didn’t know them well, but I always felt that they loved me. They didn’t really have an understanding of my life ― try explaining Halloween trick-or-treating or pee wee football practice to a hearing impaired, elderly Amish couple ― but they liked hearing that I worked hard, stayed out of trouble, and was a “good boy.”

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I knew that I had a different story and ancestry from other kids, but it took adulthood to truly understand it. I’ve come to respect my mother much more and the challenges she faced at such an early age. At an age when most kids are living day-to-day, willy-nilly, with barely a care in the world, she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. She knew that whatever decision she made would impact the rest of her life. I can only imagine the thoughts that raced through her mind the first night she stepped out from the Amish umbrella.

I asked her recently if it was a tough choice to leave. She said that it would have been a tougher choice to stay. A big reason that helped drive my mother’s decision was the death of a sister from cancer years.

My mom was ten-years old when she watched her sister die and felt that Amish church leaders, including the local bishop, stepped in the way of her parent’s efforts to help her sister. She felt that more could have been done, should have been done to find a cure or even ease her sister’s burden. Her parent’s own faith was questioned by the bishop because they sought medical help and intervention. When that happened, my mom made a promise to herself that she would never let a bishop or someone else get in the way of getting help for someone she loved.

So when the time came and she had her chance, my mom put the naysayers out of her mind and carved a new path. Since she never officially joined the church, my grandparents didn’t have to excommunicate or “shun” her. She lost a few friends in the process and created a few ill feelings with others, but she kept her faith and belief in something better.

My mom has had other highs and lows, but she has often said she couldn’t imagine how it would be if she had not followed her conscience. I’m certain of one thing: her life would be foreign to us today. We probably wouldn’t be able to even recognize it.

In the end, I’m glad she fought for what she believed in. I’m glad too that age has helped me to better understand and truly appreciate her sacrifice. I hope I live my values like she has hers.

My mother is the most passive woman that you’ll meet, but I’m left with one overriding image: my mom, the rebel.

Thanks Mom!

Taking a walk in Mary’s footsteps

(The Nativity story through Mary’s eyes.)

My beautiful, beautiful baby boy rests peacefully in my arms. We’ve both been busy. My husband Joseph and I welcomed him into the world tonight.

I’ve seen many babies born over the years. I’ve even helped my mother deliver a few babies in the village where I grew up, but none has been like this. When I gave birth to my little boy tonight, he let out a long cry, but when I whispered his name, “Jesus”, he quickly settled down, searching out my voice and my touch. Joseph let out a big joyful laugh and I wept tears of joy.

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My baby is not just any baby. Jesus is the one the prophets have been calling for, the prince of princes, who will free us from our persecutors. An angel came to me earlier this year to tell me the good news. Can you believe it?

I’ve trusted in God throughout this journey. I’ve kept faith that He would watch over and protect us. I must admit though that things didn’t look promising tonight. We came into Bethlehem for the census. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen so many people in one small town, the streets were overflowing. There were people everywhere. We arrived at night and every distant relative and inn we went to was packed. Joseph begged each innkeeper we approached to take us in. He pleaded for any extra space they could spare. He was so strong and upbeat for me. He never wavered or lost faith.

When it looked the worst, though, I knew the Angel Gabriel would come through for us. I knew everything would turn out for the best. And finally, the nice man who owns this inn said we could use his stable.

Keeping warm into the night

Joseph set up straw and hay and set up blankets to keep me warm. I had everything I needed. God provided for my every want and need. The innkeeper’s wife came down from the upper mezzanine where she and the rest of her family live and gave me warm wash clothes. She stayed to help me through the birth. At first, she didn’t smile at me. I could see that I was keeping her from her family and guests, but when she saw Jesus’ face, when she saw our savior’s face, a smile leapt across her own face. She apologized for the sparse surroundings. My little baby has been on Earth less than an hour and he’s already melting hearts and touching other people’s lives. I know he will touch so many more in the hours, days, weeks and years to come.

The temperature outside is cold enough to send chills through your body but in the stable, I’m surrounded by goats and sheep and their warmth fills me with pleasant, happy thoughts. They’ve brought a peaceful calm to this glorious night.

I hold Jesus close to my chest. I can’t take my eyes off of him, his angelic little face, his precious little hands and arms that will one day grow taut with the muscles of a carpenter like his father, his little legs scoot and wiggle and will one day walk these dusty, desert roads. His sigh matches my sigh. His little chest rises with the beat of my own heart.

The three of us are so blessed. We do not need much. Another tear trickles down my cheek as I think about our amazing journey and how it began earlier this year.

A surprise visit

The Angel Gabriel gave me quite a scare when he came to my hometown of Nazareth to tell me that I was going to be the mother to our savior. I had been betrothed to Joseph. We were making plans for our wedding.

I was helping my parents, doing chores when Gabriel surprised me. I could hardly breathe, I was so scared. He looked at me calmly and said: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”

Favor with God. Conceive. Bear a son. I couldn’t comprehend everything he was saying. I was in shock. I’m a descendent of King David, but I’m just a poor girl.

And then he told me: “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

I stopped him. I was troubled by his words and told him that he had to be mistaken. I’ve always wanted a son. I’ve dreamed of it since I was a little girl, but I love Joseph and would never do anything to hurt him. I told him that I had been faithful to Joseph. I asked how I could be pregnant when I hadn’t been with Joseph or any other man.

The Angel Gabriel smiled, like he expected my question, and said: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

I found those words . . . his words . . . so powerful. I barely had time to let them sink in when he told me that my cousin Elizabeth who has wanted a child for so long and we all thought too old to have one was, in fact, pregnant too and was going to have a son.

I was taken aback, but I knew in my heart that what Gabriel had said was true, that nothing is impossible for God, and that there was one true response, one answer to his announcement. I told Gabriel that “behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

As soon as I said that, he disappeared. (Luke 1:26-38)

Facing Joseph

My mind raced. Gabriel’s news changed everything. I ran through town to find Joseph and tell him what the angel had said and how we were to be blessed. When I finally found Joseph, he listened, but I could tell he was angry. He tried hard to believe, he wanted to believe, but he had his doubts.

He grew quiet and pensive over the next several days. Finally he told me that he didn’t want anything bad to happen to me, he would stand by me for a few months and then divorce me quietly to reduce the amount of shame and gossip that the villagers would spread about me.

Our Jewish law permits men and women accused of adultery to be stoned to death, so I appreciated Joseph’s understanding, but I knew that I had to follow God’s call for me. When I thought about Joseph’s decision, my emotions welled up inside and I sobbed. I’m not sure how long my crying lasted, but I prayed and reminded myself that God had a plan. I resolved to put my worldly worries behind me. God would protect me. He would protect his son, our blessed savior.

When I saw Joseph’s reaction and that of others, I packed a few belongings and left to visit with Zachariah and Elizabeth. I knew she would need me now in her time of need. I knew too that she would understand.

Finding a believer

When I saw Elizabeth, I saw immediately that the Angel Gabriel had been correct; she was indeed pregnant. Before I could give her a hug, she said in a loud voice: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

I looked back at her in amazement. So she knew my good news, that I was pregnant too. And that’s not all ― she knew everything.

Elizabeth continued: “And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:41-45)

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I burst out in tears. I felt so happy to be in Elizabeth’s presence. She too looked joyful. In fact, I’ve never seen her so happy. During my visit, I learned that Gabriel had made Zachariah mute when he expressed doubt that Elizabeth was going to give birth. Despite not being able to talk, Zachariah seemed to never be without a smile or a hug. I teased him that if only he believed then he would still have his voice. The angel took Zachariah’s voice, but it didn’t take his sense of humor. Zachariah laughed so hard at my joke that he knocked over a bucket of water. I was pleased for Zachariah when months later, shortly after the birth of his son John, his voiced returned.

Those were happy days for me staying with Zachariah and Elizabeth. I stayed with them for three months and then returned home.

Joseph’s change of heart

One night while I was visiting Elizabeth, Joseph had a dream. In the dream the angel of the Lord told him: “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”

Joseph told me later that the dream felt unlike anything else he’s ever experienced. He said he could reach out and touch the angel. He was as real as “you standing here next to me.”

The angel went onto tell him: “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

When Joseph awoke, he went to look for me. (Matthew 1: 19-25)

A long journey into the wild

As Jesus grew and grew inside me, Caesar Augustus issued a first-of-its-kind census decree that ordered Joseph and me to register in his family’s birth town. We knew the trip would not be timed well. We would need to travel from our town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David. We estimated that we would need to travel more than 80 miles and we expected with a donkey it would take us three to four days, maybe longer if the pregnancy tired me or if I didn’t feel well.

We packed only a few belongings for the trip. The one extra: We made sure to pack a manger that Joseph had made himself. He had etched our family name onto the side of the manger. It was a beautiful piece of furniture and I took pride knowing that Joseph had made it for our son.

As we mapped out the trip, we planned to stay with other Jewish families along the route or, if necessary, camp out. We hoped to travel as much as we could with others traveling for the census since robbers and bandits hide in the hills along the trail and prey on defenseless travelers.

The trip was long. It took everything I had. I walked when I could, but mostly Joseph worried about me and encouraged me to ride on the donkey. Joseph took on the brunt of the work. He looked so tired, but never complained.

Pilgrim after pilgrim passed us on the way to Bethlehem. Despite our slow going, however, we safely entered Bethlehem late on the fourth day. It looked like everyone in town had already bedded down for the night. Joseph and I both looked at each other concerned. As calmly as he could, Joseph told me that all would be fine, that he would find a place for us to stay for the night if he had to knock on every door in the town.

Silent Night, Holy Night

As soon as the innkeeper gave us permission to use his stable and we walked inside, I knew we were about to begin our next journey. I could feel the pressure building inside my body, then, finally, felt my water break. Whether we were ready or not, Jesus was coming. A few hours later, here He was! What an amazing night!

What do you say when you give birth to the savior of the world? How do you act? I wasn’t sure what to say or do. I simply thanked God for the glorious blessing. I thanked Him for standing by our side.

After Jesus’ birth, I held my little baby boy for the longest time. He looked so peaceful in my arms. We had traveled so far over the past nine months. I wanted to cherish the moment and hold onto it forever. However, somewhere deep in my heart, I know that far too soon, I will not have Jesus all to myself. He is mine, but not just mine. He has a bigger purpose.

Finally after our quiet time together, I pulled out several warm blankets that Elizabeth had so thoughtfully given to us as a present, wrapped Jesus in a swaddled blanket, and placed him in Joseph’s beautiful manger.

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I thought Jesus might sleep, but he stared wide eyed at the friendly animals in the stable. He seemed to gurgle and be amused at every sight and sound. My job now as his mother is to protect him, but tonight on this most glorious night, I feel safe with him. I love without hesitancy, without question. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this one moment.

Nighttime visitors

Soon after I put Jesus in the manger, we were greeted by several shepherds who had come down from the hills to see the savior. The shepherds told us their news. They said they were bedded down for the night, keeping watch over their flock, when an angel appeared in the middle of the night. They were fearful and grabbed their staffs, but the angel said: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”

They couldn’t believe the news.

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

And then they told us the even more wonderful news. After the angel spoke, there was a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on Earth to those on whom his favor rests.”

One shepherd, just a few years older than Joseph, bowed down and cried openly. I touched him lightly on the shoulder and he shuddered even more. Another one smiled broadly. He seemed to have a light shining from the inside out. I told him to come closer to touch and see Jesus, but he said he was blessed just from where he stood.

The shepherds stayed for a while and then left to share the good news with others. They wanted to glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen. They thanked us for inviting them into our temporary home and were on their way. (Luke 2: 7-20)

A shining light for us all

I tire now and will soon try to get some rest. The exhaustion of this journey is catching up to me. My baby will soon need me. He’ll need to be fed and changed. I know in my heart that we all soon will need him too. I’m excited for his wondrous future. I know as the prophets have foretold: He’ll do great things.

I have faith in God and Him. I know that my job is to raise him and help lead him to his heavenly father . . . but still as a mother, a new one at that, I worry. I would never think to change his destiny ― I know that God only wants good things for him ― but still as a mother I want to protect him.

Oh, yes I worry . . . but I put my faith in God the most powerful. His glorious and everlasting will . . . be done.

[I’ve always been fascinated by the thoughts and feelings that Joseph and Mary must have experienced throughout The Nativity Story. I hope you’ve enjoyed my story. I’ve tried my best to stick to the details spelled out in the Bible. I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions that I might have made. Thank you for reading and, most importantly, Merry Christmas!]

 

 

The long trip back to college

I’ve had a busy semester. It’s been a long 16 weeks. I’m worn out from challenging tests, ten-page papers, and formal research-based presentations. I need a break.

No, I haven’t taken a test or written in a blue book in years. I haven’t laid out my research or outlined any long term papers. I haven’t even stepped foot into a college auditorium.

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Instead, I’ve been on the sidelines watching my daughter. I’ve watched as she’s gone off to college and created a whole new life for herself. I’ve been the one on the other end of the phone asking about how she did the previous week and what tests or projects she has coming up over the next couple of days.

Oh I’m careful to watch that I don’t become a helicopter parent, one of those parents who take an overprotective interest in their life of their kids. I know that when I went off to college I needed space to make and learn from my own mistakes. And boy did I make a ton of mistakes. I needed that time to figure out who and what I was. I needed to see on my own that college wasn’t cheap and it was up to me to make something of my life.

So I’ve tried to step back, but I’ve still found myself trying to protect her. I’ve still had my instances of fatherly failure. Need an example?

I was sitting in a meeting at work recently. It was an important meeting, one where I needed to present my best foot forward. I was giving an update on a key project that I’ve been managing for the past year. Everything was going well. I was getting the buy-in my project needed. People were shaking their heads and agreeing with what I what I was saying. I should have been jumping for joy. Instead, I looked down at my watch. Of course, my project sponsor, the guy I’m trying to build a strong relationship with, noticed the look of concern on my face and asked what was wrong.

“Um, it’s just test time.”

Huh. Fortunately for me, no one heard me mumble under my breadth and I quickly regained my footing and the meeting. However, I couldn’t help but laugh. Test time? My daughter was the one with the test. Not me.

In any event, I’ve found that I have to let go and let all of my kids have their successes . . . and not so great successes. And isn’t that what parenting is all about.

So to my daughter, good luck  . . . but remember to ask questions in class; go to your prof’s office hours; proof-read your paper before you hand it in; stay ahead in the reading; highlight the book, but don’t highlight it too much; thumb through your notes before every class; and blah, blah, blah, blah.

See, I told you this “parenting thing” was tough.

 

 

Life’s first steps lead to a lifetime of surprises

I love surprises. I can think of a few over the years that have given me goosebumps:

  • baby-203048_1280The first time Erin rolled over on her side when she was a baby. The look of surprise on her cherub-like face was priceless.
  • The first time Sean slid down the sliding board, he toppled over and instead of breaking out into a cry, he burst into the biggest belly laugh.
  • Stephen took his first steps and raised his arms up in excitement like he had just scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.

When your kids are speaking, walking or running for the first time, there’s a moment of surprise and shock. You come to expect something new every day. It’s a wonderful time.

With one kid in college, another driving with a learner’s permit, and another in middle school, I thought most of those moments were over, but I’ve noticed lately they keep happening . . . just a bit differently than I ever expected.

For example, here’s what happened the other day:

  • Erin called to say that she set up an appointment and got her flu shot. No prodding. No nagging. She just did it on her own. When did my daughter, become an adult? What’s next? Filling up the car with gas and paying for it on her own without being asked? Scheduling her annual physical?
  • I’m driving Sean to school and he looked tired. I asked if he got much sleep. My first thought was that we should consider taking away his X-box. “No I was up to midnight, studying for my History and Psychology tests,” he said. My tongue-tied response: “Oh.” Again not what I was expecting.
  • Later in the evening, I sat in the audience waiting for Stephen’s Jazz Band concert. I knew Stephen had been practicing his trumpet regularly, but I still was not looking forward to the concert. The lights dimmed. Stephen’s group came on stage. I closed my eyes . . . and it sounded really, really good. In fact, it sounded great.

My children are well past their first steps, but I’m finding the excitement for them and me is still very fresh and real.

When I retire: Sign me up!

When I retire, I want to be just like Luella.

I met her when I was a junior in college earning extra money by doing the occasional free-lance story. She had spent her life as a small-town school teacher and was getting ready to join the Peace Corps. The editor I worked with at my local newspaper sent me out to interview her before she left for her assignment in Western Asia where she was going to teach an English as a second language course.

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We met just that once, but her decision to become a Peace Corps in her mid-70s has stuck with me over the years. “When the Peace Corps first organized I filled out an application, but I never mailed it back because I got married soon after. At the time lots of people thought it would be a flop and it wouldn’t last long,” she told me.

She became interested in the Peace Corps a second time after she read a newspaper article that detailed the shortage of English teachers in underdeveloped countries.

When I neared graduation, I too considered applying to the Peace Corps. I specifically remember standing in Carnegie Building on Penn State’s campus and reviewing a Peace Corps application. I even went through the process of folding a piece of paper into halves and creating a lengthy pro-con list and possible budget.

I too started to fill out the Peace Corps application, but life soon got in the way. I had student loans that needed paid. I was deep in debt. I was itching to get started on my career, to actually start making money. In addition, the world looked to be falling apart and soon would see Iraq invade Kuwait. I still thought occasionally about applying my first year after graduation, but by that time I was buying a car and, as it turned out, I was spending every other weekend traveling to Washington D.C.

Luella ended up working two years as a peace corps volunteer in Yemen and passed away a couple of years ago. When I think about my retirement, I sometimes wonder about following Luella’s lead. The world is a different place now, certainly less safe for western foreigners than ever before, and I would want to be very choosey in where I volunteered — for example, Yemen has experienced a civil war and a number of other security worries and would certainly be off my list — but the desire to help and see the world still exists.

Kathy, what do you say? I have it all planned. We’ll sell our house. We’ll hike the Appalachian Trail for six months – like how I slipped that bucket list goal in there — and then once we’ve accomplished that, we’ll head to the Peace Corps, volunteering preferably somewhere sunny and warm. Yes, I know Key West, Florida and San Diego, California are not Peace Corps supported areas, but I’m sure we could find a place suitable to our needs. What do you think?

How many people get to help on important local work on climate change, pandemic disease, food security, and gender equality and empowerment? How many people get to teach and make a difference thousands of miles away? How many people get to change a life for the better?

Yes, we’ll need to get used to mosquitos, bugs, third world diseases and a million other concerns, but think of the change we’ll be making. Think of the lives we’ll be helping. Think too of the acts of kindness that we’ll be passing along to the next generation.

And oh yea, of course, we’ll have the rest of our life to live in the lap of retirement luxury. I wouldn’t miss out on that. What do you say?

 

Protesting life’s little wrongs . . . at least on paper

I shook my head recently as I walked out of Wegmans grocery store. Earlier that morning, I forgot my lunch bag on the kitchen counter when I left for work and was forced to find something quick to eat before my next meeting. So despite my best laid plans, I walked out of Wegmans $15 poorer. I normally love the options Wegmans’ offers, but I was annoyed that my short little trip was so costly. I was at the mercy of the store and I ended up paying for it.

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As I thought more about my situation, I remembered how some of my former newspaper coworkers used to have a name for places like Wegmans. We used to call them rackets and we used to harp and complain about people and institutions that we felt slighted common folks like us. The good reporters that we were, someone started to record them in a ripped-up 4 x 8 inch reporter’s notebook that we titled “The Book of Rackets.”

I happened to look through the book recently and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Some of the better listings:

  • Hospital gift shops.
  • PennDOT. Who hasn’t wondered where our traffic dollars go. A later entry got more specific, listing the name of the spokesperson we had to work through to get information on a major highway upgrade. He was a nice-enough guy, but we were never really sure of what role he played and was very worthy of inclusion.
  • Elected officials who don’t list their home numbers in the phone book.
  • Human Resources professionals.
  • Public Relations experts.
  • Appliance warranties.
  • Wal-Mart.
  • Lawyers
  • Local politicians who work the system to fight the Freedom of Information Act.
  • F. Lee Bailey.
  • Ed Rendell. Putting politics aside for a second, Ed “I never met a newspaper story I didn’t like” Rendell is the epitome of a racket. He’s his own PR machine. Lest someone try to paint reporters as biased or preferring one party over the other, the book also included Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, H. Ross Perot, and a more than a few local politicians.
  • Newspaper weather react stories. We hated these stories, but being a local paper we had to write them. Fifteen inches of snow, go talk to the local hardware store to see how snow shovel sales are going. A month without rain, go talk to the local farmers to see how their crops have been managing. A crisp fall afternoon, check in with tourism officials to see if business has been on the up-tick. I’m not sure how weather is a racket, but nonetheless, we felt the need to rail against it.
  • Juror #3 from the Hall Murder trial calling the newspaper three times in one hour to offer insight on the deliberation, each time making sure we “keep my name out of it.”
  • Out of state car registrations.
  • 50-50 drawings.
  • University classes meeting in bars. I don’t know who listed this one, but I always wanted to know. I think that’s a class I would have liked.

Some of the listings made you go hmm:

  • The 700 club.
  • Woodstock.
  • Barbra Streisand.
  • Runners.
  • Oliver Stone and Kevin Costner.

And finally others were just wrong, but you still had to laugh.

  • Santa Claus. I’m not sure how the big guy made the list, but he does have a pretty good gig.
  • The Amish. If I recall correctly, the writer who included them had a problem with frequently getting stuck behind Amish horse and buggies.
  • The Popemobile.
  • Grandmothers who load their grandchildren up with sugar and then hand them back to their parents.
  • Mega-Theaters.
  • Apple pie, George Washington, and the Fourth of July.
  • Fat-free Christmas cookies.

The book would be passed from reporter to reporter and more or less took on a life of its own. We later started adding interesting quotes, but they were less frequent. The funny thing about the notebook is that someone at one point must have been on the phone with a source and needed something to write on and started to take notes in the book. So right next to the OJ Trial, the State Police Commander leaving work at 3:30 p.m. , VW bugs, and early retirees are notes for a long forgotten, but hopefully scintillating story about flow control (sewage).

Now that many, many years have passed, I can admit that I made my way into the Book of Rackets on one or two occasions. The racket that seemed to draw the most ire: the fact that one February I took off from work on a Saturday, Sunday, and Monday , then worked two days, and then took off another four days. I personally viewed it as good vacation planning on my behalf, but my coworkers obviously didn’t see it the same way.

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In any event, as I walked out Wegmans to get into my car, carrying my lunch purchase and already fifteen minutes late for my afternoon meetings, I thought about the Book of Rackets. I thought too about some of the great activists in history and how they stood up for what they believed. I may not have their pull or advocacy skills, but I made a note to start a new Book of Rackets.

And what will be my first entry? Wegmans, of course.

The power of memories

The mail sometimes brings funny things.

The other day it brought a complimentary issue of Reader’s Digest. The publisher in a marketing blitz was looking to sign me up as a subscriber. I haven’t read Reader’s Digest in years, in fact decades.

IMG_7598I skimmed through the October issue and the smell of the little magazine brought back a lifetime of memories. In particular, the magazine reminded me of waiting for what seemed like hours on end for my mom to get her hair done. When I was really young and we lived in Allensville, Pennsylvania, a small town with only a few hundred residents, she would take me to her salon to get her hair cut and styled.

I’m not sure why my mom took me along with her every time she got her  hair done, but I hated it. I suspect she worried my brothers would beat me up or let me wander off down the street. In retrospect, it was probably a good move on my mom’s part.

In any event, I hated the hair salon. It smelled weird. It had those strange professional hair dryers that you sit in and form a half circle over your head. And most of all, I hated the salon because there was nothing to do.

I’d usually bring a few crayons and a coloring book. If I forgot them, my last resort was to read the magazines, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Garden, etc. None of these magazines interested me much. The only one that raised an eyebrow or two was Readers’ Digest. The small little magazine and it’s various sections including “Life In These United States” and “Laughter, the Best Medicine” helped the minutes pass by until my mom was trimmed and primmed and ready to go.

The funny little stories helped me to become a better reader. I started to understand that reading wasn’t just for school. It could help pass the time too. I can’t say I ever looked forward to going to the salon, but I certainly learned how to make the time go by faster.

It’s amazing how a smell or a picture can take us back and the strange places it takes us. From that Reader’s Digest, my crazy brain wandered off to high school, acting in our senior class variety show, and then off to college, living first in cavernous East Halls and then in the fraternity. I got to thinking too about my lame attempt at trying to climb a fence in State College in slippery dock siders. For some reason, my friends and I were too lazy to walk to the front of a friend’s apartment complex. The apartment had enough serpentine wire to make it look like a prison and we still tried to climb it. No they actually climbed it . . . I failed miserably.  I ended up gashing up my shoulder and underarm pretty badly. I swore to the doctor the next day that alcohol had nothing to do with the accident. Yea, he didn’t buy it either. And certainly not one of my finer moments.

From there my walk down memory lane took me to Washington, D.C. and getting down on bended knee to propose to Kathy; standing by her side as we had each of our kids and a million other memories that we’ve made over the past 23 years.

All from one little magazine.

I wonder if Erin or Sean or Stephen will one day open their laptop or click on their phone and think of memories running through a store shopping for Christmas with me or eating out at Five Guys or some other crazy memory.

I hope so.

Choosing to be grateful

I trudged off to work the other day in a funk.

I fumed that my car was still in the shop and I cracked my iPhone screen for the second time (really the third time, but that’s a story for another day.) I worried about a project that I’m working on for work and where I stood with several of my deadlines. I worried too that Stephen forgot a book on the kitchen table that morning and possibly forgot his homework.

phone (2)My head was filled with anxiety. To top it off, I hadn’t slept real well, got a late start getting out the door and it was raining again.

We had dropped Erin off at school earlier in the week in the rain. The long ride home was in the rain. It had rained buckets the previous day and I nearly got sideswiped by another driver. And now I was off to work again in the rain.

Let’s just say, I was pensive, grumpy and wet when I finally made it to work. And then I saw one of those silly meme’s that a friend had posted on Facebook. It wasn’t rocket science, just simple homespun advice:

You have a choice each and every  day.

I choose to feel Blessed.

I choose to feel Grateful.

I choose to be Excited.

I choose to be Thankful.

I choose to be Happy.

I’ve heard this advice before. Heck, I’ve given this advice a million times to my kids. But for whatever reason, it seemed to make sense.

I told myself before heading into my first meeting of the day that I was going to choose to be grateful, blessed, and happy. I was going to listen to those around me. I was going to focus as much of my attention in the moment as I could. I was going to be positive. I was going to worry less and trust more.

There were no angels coming out of the sky . . . but oh how I wished they had, since that would have really woke-up everyone else in the meeting. And the skies did not open up with a bright all-encompassing light or a deep booming God-like voice. Can you imagine everyone’s reaction after that meeting?

No, my problems were still my problems. My deadline for my project hadn’t changed. I still had a day full of meetings. When I called about my car, the garage still didn’t have an answer on when I would get it back. And I can’t say I had any newfound wisdom.

Instead, I found that in simply taking each minute as it came, my problems seemed more manageable. I was relaxed. My breathing was calmer, my head clearer. When I looked out the window, the rain didn’t seem to bother me. I seemed to actually enjoy it. There were no miracles, but I certainly seemed to change for the better.

Now if I could just remember to think like this everyday, then maybe I might be a better husband, father, son, co-worker, leader, etc.

In any event, thanks Carol for the post.

To have and to hold from this day forward

We sat in the old church and watched the young couple hold hands. They had worked hard to get to their long-awaited day, their wedding day, and they looked so happy and peaceful.

We were honored to join in the young couple’s day. As we waited for the ceremony to start, I found myself staring occasionally at two or three older couples in the church. They talked quietly or held hands.

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Later when the priest talked about how the three most important phrases to a married couple are: “I love you;” “I’m sorry;” and “I forgive you,” one of the couples shared a knowing glance. The wife, in her early 60s, whispered something under her breath, barely visible to those sitting around her, and the two quietly laughed. I imagined that that she joked that she had never heard her husband say he was sorry and he responded with “Who me?” or something else to that effect. In any event, they giggled like newly-weds.

Another couple, who I’ve met only once or twice over the years but know has faced some health challenges in recent months, barely said a word to each other and sat tightly-knotted together. They held so firm that it looked like it would take extreme force to pull them apart. In fact, they seemed to be holding the other up. Their smiles glistened in the bright lights that hung from the old church’s ceiling.

I found it reassuring to know that the couples still counted on each other and that they were as madly in love with each other as the day they had met. Could I have been imagining their depth of their love? Could I have misunderstood the knowing glances. Possibly, but it sure looked like the real thing.

As we left to enjoy the rest of the night, it was reassuring too to know that young and old love still exist and flourish. It made me think that we need both kinds: the kind that gets us excited and full of boundless energy and the long generational kind that’s ready to face everything and anything. The kind that’s true to you “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

I certainly hope the clichés is true that love — no matter its’ many different shapes or sizes — endures and conquers all. I’m counting on it.