M.O.B.

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If you are lucky or blessed enough, you get to be awarded the title “Mother of the Bride” (or M.O.B. for short) for at least one day during your life.  It means that you are not only the mother of a bride, but the mother of a daughter, one of God’s greatest gifts.  Being a M.O.B. is a singular honor and not without its moments of terror, exhilaration, worry, joy, exhaustion, delight, disbelief, and magic.

My daughter Grace recently married the love of her life and looking back on that day, I have to say it still seems a bit surreal to me, because it was a perfect day and exceeded all our expectations.  You plan and work for more than a year to make it the best day ever, not only for the bride and groom, but for your guests, and making sure that 100 family members and friends are happy, well-fed, and enjoying themselves makes for a certain level of stress.   However, significant quantities of alcohol and an amazing resort staff who fulfill every guest’s needs does help you feel blissfully less tense; so does seeing your daughter so happy.

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The emotional kaleidoscope that spins through my mind as I recall the moments of the day inspires a rainbow of gratitude for me – grateful for my loving family, grateful for the extensive network of authentic friends who made the effort to travel to the wilds of New Hampshire, and grateful that my husband and I had the financial resources to help give Grace and Matt the wedding of their dreams.

A friend of mine who has held the M.O.B. title told me that the best part of being a M.O.B. is realizing that it is not just a celebration of the bride and groom, but a celebration of your life.  You made this happen, she told me, with the choices you have made and the friendships you have nurtured.  I had never thought of a wedding in this way, but she is right – all that is good in our lives was there for me to witness and hold and love at the wedding.

Grace and Matt asked me and Matt’s Mom, Peggy, to give reflections during the ceremony.  My reflection follows.   Better than anything else, it sums up how being a M.O.B. has affected me and how it communicates how much the heart can hold.

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On behalf of Bill and myself, I would like to thank you all for traveling near and mostly far to share in the joy and magic of this special day and special place.  It truly means the world to us that you are here and we can’t thank you enough.

Now, I would like to address Matt and Grace directly.  

Matt, I knew that you were a keeper when, during Grace’s second hospital stay for her kidney, you absolutely refused to leave her side, not in the ER, not in the Recovery room, not even in her hospital room when I kindly suggested that you go home and get some rest. You also insisted that I sleep on the couch while you slept on a chair next to her bed.   And whenever Grace needed something, you would leap up faster than I could and attend to Grace, even if it meant running down the hall to get her ice water or wiping her chin or mouth because, well, we know why she needed that.   I knew then that you were going to be there for Grace, for better and for worse, no matter what.  I also knew that I was going to love your Mom because she raised you to be a fine gentleman and a wonderfully caring human being.  Way to go, Peggy!

Grace, as you know, your Dad and I got married 35 years ago this past May.  At my wedding my Dad told one of my friends that he didn’t know if his pride in me exceeded his love or if his love exceeded his pride.  That is certainly how I am feeling about you today.  You have made us proud in so many ways, whether earning a scholarship to Bentley or a promotion at Sunlife, whether driving us fearlessly all over Ireland on the other side of the road, whether giving up a week of your life to spend it in West Virginia with me and 50 crazy teenagers trying to answer people’s prayers, or just by being an authentic friend to so many here.

As for love, we have a very short time here on this third rock from the sun, and none of us escapes hardship and pain and loss.   The only thing that makes the tough times bearable is love.  The love of family, the love of friends, the love of a parent for a child, and the love of husband and wife.  I am sure that there are as many definitions of love as there are stars in the sky, but my definition of love has always been a simple one – love is putting someone else’s needs above your own.   I have witnessed this countless times with you both.  You are so supportive of each other, and so generous and thoughtful in how you respond to each other’s needs that I have no doubt that your love is an everlasting one, and that no matter what happens to you in life, you will live happily ever after.

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Being the English Major nerd that I am, I wanted to find a fitting poem or lyric to end my reflection.  I consulted the great lyricists of our time:  Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Snoop Dog….

I finally chose lyrics from a Phil Collins song, “You’ll Be in My Heart”.  I chose these lyrics because, for me, they express, in a very powerful yet simple way, not only the enduring love of mother and child, but of husband and wife, the love that I feel for you both, and that I know you feel for each other, a love that means someone will always have your back, that they will be in your heart forever.

And so, I will end as the song ends, “Just look over your shoulder, I’ll be there always.”

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Time Flies

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The bad news is time flies.

The good news is you are the pilot.

Michael Altshuler

When I retired, I was sure that time would slow down.   My life was no longer a series of fires to be put out, round-the-clock appointments to be kept, harried customers to be appeased.

Boy, was I wrong!   Time seems to be moving at a clip that makes supersonic travel appear glacier-like.  OK, so I am still working part-time on some projects for my former company, and I am on the board of three non-profits, and my daughter is getting married in less than a month, so yes, you could argue that I have no one but myself to blame that my days are not always my own.

However, on days when I don’t have a board meeting or lunch date or appointment, I do find that I need to add structure to my day, even if it isn’t much.   I vacillate between wanting to complete a “To Do” list versus just winging it.   There is much to be said for spontaneity and just going with the flow, but the task-oriented genes in my brain crave satisfaction as well.

I remember a time long ago when I first started in college publishing – sales reps used to have most of the summers off.   We were still officially working but it was a best-kept secret that since colleges were mostly closed for the summer, sales reps were not expected to make sales calls or do much of anything beyond answering an occasional phone call.   This was long before email, so we didn’t even have to check that daily.  I remember during those summers that I found myself having to impose a structure to my days, or they would sail by and I would find that I was wasting a lot of time.

So now I find myself thinking back to those days and comparing them to my current life style where my days are no longer regimented around a 9-5 plus work day.    I don’t have to finish tasks by end of day – or even by week’s end.  Yes, I still have responsibilities to the organizations where I volunteer, and to my family, but nothing compared to when I was working full-time.

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Grace then, and now, soon to be a married lady

Yet, I find that time is still flying by.   My daughter is 28 and the wedding that we have been planning for a year is now weeks away.  My son, who just yesterday was sitting in his Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, is turning 30 this year and just got back from a two-week cruise around the British Isles with his girlfriend.   It’s been 45 years since I graduated from high school, 41 since college graduation, 37 years since I started my sales career, 35 years since I got married, 22 years since we bought our home.

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Walt in his Cozy Coupe, many years ago.

My best friend, who is my age, recently presented me with this thought – we have lived two-thirds of our lives!  So that means we only have a third left?  How terrifying!

But then again, old age is a privilege denied to many.   I certainly don’t feel old, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have whatever time is left to continue to be the pilot of my life.   Time to be the woman who makes her own pesto and bread, time to read more than two books a year, time to have quality time with multiple friends and family on a regular basis, time to create and learn and exercise and appreciate a sunset.

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I have turned into that woman who has time to make bread.

I would have missed so much in the past year and a half if I had still been working.

When my best friend made the remark about our having lived two-thirds of our lives, I asked her, “Why are you telling me this?”  Her simple, wistful and questioning response, “Didn’t it go fast?”

Yes, it has and I suppose it will continue to do so.   I guess the challenge for all of us is, whether in retirement or not, to make whatever time we have count.  And making it count can mean whatever you want it to mean – making a difference, making memories, making a life.

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Salut!

 

 

Unpack your Heart

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Roland with our squad on our finished porch.

Those of you who have been faithfully following my blog for the past year know that I am very involved with a non-profit called The Center for Faith Justice.  The Center runs a week-long service trip in Dunlow, West Virginia, which lies about as far southwest in the state as you can go before hitting Kentucky.  For the second year in a row I made the arduous 9-hour trip to Dunlow, along with 50 teenagers and 7 of my fellow adult volunteer advisors.  Adapting to driving a Suburban van was easier than I thought, and thankfully all seven vans made it safely to Dunlow.

I have to say this was the best week that I have ever spent on a service trip.   The student volunteers had come from the same two schools, Mount St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s, Metuchen, as last year, but there was something very special about this group of teenagers – something hard to quantify.  Most of them didn’t know each other prior to the week, so there was an openness about them, but that didn’t explain the authenticity, playfulness, and kindness that made me so glad that I was a member of this merry little band.

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All hands on deck as the stair frame got lifted onto the base

The teens were divided into seven service groups, each with a project or set of projects to accomplish by week’s end.  My service group was comprised of four boys and three girls, and our task was to build a porch (really a deck but they call it a porch in Dunlow) onto the front of a trailer owned by a woman named Wilma.  Wilma is mother to an autistic and blind adult son who is confined to a wheelchair, and the expression “salt of the earth” applies to Wilma in spades.

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Wilma with Hunter and her niece.

Coached by our able crew chief, Roland, my squad immediately launched into the work of  building the porch frame, digging 18 inch post holes (horrible work), and generally following his instructions as we learned how to construct the porch.  Other than using the power saw to cut the boards and posts, my squad did everything, and with Roland teaching them, they quickly learned how to measure, use a level, and most of all, operate a power drill.

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The Charlie’s Angels of drilling (Annie, Abbey, and Gaby)

For some reason that I might never understand, my team of seven bonded with me in a way that no other group had done before, and an instant family was born.   Maybe it was my treating them all to ice cream at the end of the first day, or maybe it was just their personalities, but the affection was strong and mutual from day one.

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CJ and Riley were determined to get the 18″ post holes dug – horrible work!

My job was making sure that everyone was kept busy, that everyone listened and carried out Roland’s instructions safely.  If there was a task that only required two people at a time, I rotated the volunteers in and out, so that everyone got a chance to work on a part of the structure and thus take ownership of the entire porch.   The girls were just as eager as the boys, and soon the porch took shape, first base, then decking, then railing, and finally stairs.

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Girl power

Wilma had come out the first day to introduce herself, and quickly became a favorite of the group, along with Roland, whom the kids decided was a “god” and Dexter and Shadow, the two dogs who had the run of the place.   Wilma’s two nieces visited and Rachel, her elder niece, helps Wilma care for her son Chris two days a week.  Rachel’s toddler son Hunter became a source of entertainment for our gang, and he proudly wore a pair of Thomas the Tank Engine underpants over his diaper that by divine intervention, I had happened to purchase in his size in Target before leaving NJ.

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Hunter with his mom Rachel and a lollipop that Darryl gave him

Wilma eventually wheeled Chris out to meet us and told us that he really liked 80s music.  We had a Bluetooth speaker, so we started playing 80s songs, and the moment he heard the theme from the movie Ghostbusters, Chris broke out into a huge smile.   It made our day!

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Wilma’s son Chris on hearing the theme from “Ghostbusters”.

Speaking of music, on our trips back and forth each day to Wilma’s home, we would sing all kinds of songs – some I knew, like the Spice Girls and Bruno Mars, and some I didn’t, but the music increased the bond among us.  Who could be miserable when singing Spice Girls on the top of your lungs?

We would eat our bag lunches on a picnic table under a tented awning that Wilma had set up for us, which afforded us some much needed shade since whenever we were actively working, we were in bright sun and the temperature was over 90.   One day Wilma came out with fried zucchini, vegetable pizza, and zucchini bread, all made with produce from her garden.   It was so sweet of her and indicative of the generous people you encounter in Dunlow, people who may not have much, but share what they do have.

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Vegetable pizza and zucchini bread made by Wilma for us from her garden vegetables.

There was only one day that we didn’t go to Wilma’s and that was the day of the monthly Food Pantry.  Bill and Addie Likens have been running this Food Pantry for 15 years and it just seems to get bigger every year.   Addie spends days driving around collecting donations of food and clothing, and our volunteers all spent time helping to sort, categorize, and box the donations.

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The girls and Darryl sorting cans for the Food Pantry

The morning of the Food Pantry, we helped Addie make a pulled pork sandwich lunch for 150-200 people.   Then at 1 pm the Food Pantry began and it was all hands on deck.   Everyone had their assigned location and task, and 150 boxes of staples, meat, produce, even laundry detergent was handed out and loaded into the good people of West Virginia’s cars by our teens.   This was my third Food Pantry and despite the number of volunteers and families we served, it went amazingly well; I never had to search for volunteers to carry boxes out to the cars – the teens were always right there to pitch in and carry.

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Playing with one of the young girls at the Food Pantry

We really want our teenagers to encounter the folks they are helping and the Food Pantry is a great chance for them to interact, chat, and meet the locals.   There were babies and children, and our teens loved playing with them, but they also spoke with adults, and some heard really terrible stories.  They witnessed an abusive husband and father, and they heard the tale of a 13-year mother who tried to kill her infant by feeding her Xanax in her bottle.   But thankfully the majority of interactions were friendly and warm, and it was obvious that we were appreciated and even loved by the locals.

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Will with one of our Food Pantry teams

On Friday, we finished the porch, having put together the final piece – the stairs.   Our porch was solid construction, looked great, and Wilma loved it.   We all signed our names underneath the deck.  In addition to impressing Wilma, Roland told me that he loved that our teens didn’t have to be told something twice and that he was very pleased to see how hard they had worked all week.

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The finished porch with Shadow and Dexter in the shade under it

One of the goals of our organization is to try to instill in the teens that this is not just about a single week of service.   We want them to realize that when they are helping others, they are answering prayers, that God is using them to do His work on earth.  We challenge them that if they like how this week makes them feel, that they figure out how they can continue to do God’s work next week, next month, next year – for the rest of their lives.   They don’t have to join the Peace Corps or become social workers; they can make service an integral part of their lives in a variety of ways, and we have them share ideas about what they will try to do moving forward.

My fellow advisors, including Grace, could not have been more fun, hard-working, and as genuine as any of the teenagers.   They were ideal role models for our teens, and we had so many laughs that my sides still hurt just thinking about them.

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Grace and Tracey leading a group on our woodland hike

When the week was over, I have to say that, along with my squad, I got a bit emotional.   Not only did they work hard, but they were so much fun to be around.  As we gathered together for a final photo, we formed a huddle, and I tried to tell them that I hoped that they would never forget that they had special gifts that I knew they would all share with the world, but the words got caught in my throat.   When they realized that I was getting choked up, they all teared up, and the hugging went on and on.

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Saying goodbye to Annie

So, to CJ, Riley, Darryl, RJ, Annie, Abbey, Gaby, and to all their fellow teens who shared our week in Dunlow:  Please know that I could never have asked for a more amazing group of people to spend a week in service to others.   You will always remain in my heart and I know you are all destined to do great things with your lives.   Thanks for inspiring me to be a better person, and until we meet again, always remember our week in Dunlow and unpack your heart whenever and wherever you can.

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Our Dunlow squad – Darryl, Annie, Abbey, Gaby, RJ, Riley, and CJ

To learn more about The Center for Faith Justice, visit http://www.faithjustice.org/

 

 

It’s Greek to Me

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Mykonos at sunset

Two years ago, a dear friend of mine proposed visiting Greece together.   Last summer we met, created a list of the places that we wanted to see, and booked a Globus land/sea tour that would get us to our wish list of must-see Greek locations.

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The Temple of Athena on the Acropolis in Athens

On May 14th we arrived in Athens and began our adventure in Greek culture, history, mythology, language, and customs.   Along with 43 other fellow travelers and guided by an incredible Tour Director named Lida and an intrepid bus driver named Yannis, we toured Athens, Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Nauplia, Olympia, Delphi, Meteora, and Thermopylae.   Then we boarded the cruise ship Celestyal Olympia at the Piraeus port and visited Mykonos, Kusadasi (Turkey), Ephesus, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete, and finally Santorini.   An extremely capable and caring Globus onboard host Christiana managed our excursions off the ship and got us back to Athens for our flights back home.  All of this in the space of two weeks!

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The view from the top of what is believed to be Agamemnon’s fortress in Mycenae

There are pros and cons to traveling overseas these days – certainly the threat of terrorism, and the security measures associated with it, make flying a chore to be endured.  I have never mastered the art of traveling light, so dragging my stuff through airports and trying to get my suitcase to weigh less than the allotted 50 pounds was a constant concern.   Seeing so much in a short span of time – the old “if this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium” tour – required getting up before dawn every day and going almost non-stop until late at night.  And just about every Greek site required a significant cardio climb up steep cliffs.

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The windmills of Mykonos

However, the pros certainly outweigh the cons when it comes to Greece, a worthwhile and wonderful place to visit.   When you live in a country like the United States that has only existed for a few hundred years, it is mind-blowing to discover places where someone built a palace with 1400 rooms and plumbing 4000 years ago!  That’s 2000 years before the time of Christ.

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Sallie and her gal Athena

When I was in high school, we read Edith Hamilton’s MYTHOLOGY, and my best friend Kate and I just soaked up the mythology of the Greeks.   We loved the stories, and to hear them again and visit the temples that the Greeks built to Athena and Zeus and Apollo was just surreal to me.   Our tour director Lida (she is named for Lida, who was visited by Zeus disguised as a swan and who bore him a child, Helen of Troy) shared not only the history and architecture, but the language of the Greeks.  Gymnasium, from the Greek gymnos which means naked, the place where Olympic athletes worked out and competed naked.  Cemetery, from the Greek koimētḗrion, which means a sleeping place.  Even the ever-present cypress trees mean eternal life to the Greeks and the olive tree is a gift from Athena herself.

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The view from the top of Mt.Parnassus looking down at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi

But it was the places themselves that kidnapped me, that captivated both soul and mind as we encountered them.   The Acropolis of Athens and it’s jaw-dropping views and Temple of Athena.  The original Olympic stadium now green and serene watched over by a Temple of Hera.   The Temple of Apollo at Delphi where thousands came to hear the predictions of the Oracle.  The monasteries of Meteora which perch atop limestone cliffs like nesting eagles.

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The monastery of the Holy Trinity at Meteora

And then the islands – Mykonos with its windmills and golden sunsets.  Ephesus – an entire outdoor museum of a city on the coast of Turkey.   Patmos, where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation while exiled in a cave.   Rhodes, with its own acropolis at Lindos and its remarkedly intact medieval fortress built by the Knights of St. John while fighting the Crusades.  Crete with its Palace of Knossos, the center of the Minoan civilization.  And finally, the jewel of them all, Santorini, with its white-washed towns draping the shoulders of volcanic cliffs like pearl necklaces.

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The town of Oia on Santorini

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Returning to our ship on the caldera with the town of Fira in Santorini

My friend Sallie and I had the pleasure of sharing these magical places with delightful fellow travelers – Americans as well as Canadians, Australians, and one New Zealander.   You form a unique bond; for a very short time, you eat, sleep, and share all the same spaces with total strangers, and the opportunity is always there to engage and learn.   We had a Penn State sophomore, an egg farmer, two pharmaceutical reps, a retired nurse, and a Catholic priest, just to name a few.   All of them were considerate and kind fellow travelers, and the trip would not have been the same without them.

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Our merry band of fellow travelers in Meteora

In addition to our friends on the tour, the Greek people were wonderful hosts.   Each morning began with a Kalimera (good morning), and we couldn’t say efharisto (thank you) enough.  The food was delicious and both Greek and American cuisine was available at every meal.   Many of our hotels had balconies with views and we even had a view of the Acropolis for our last night in Athens.

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The view from our balcony at the Hotel Europa in Olympia

I don’t know if a return trip to Greece is in the cards for me, but I do know that I won’t ever forget its magnetic charm, its stunning beauty, and its incredible people.   Adio, Greece and efharisto for everything.

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Sallie and I toasting our evening in Santorini (me with Vin Santo)

 

Wonder Women

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“Oh I don’t know what you’ve been told
But this gal right here’s gonna rule the world
Yeah, that is where I’m gonna be because I wanna be
No, I don’t wanna sit still, look pretty
You get off on your 9 to 5
Dream of picket fences and trophy wives
But no, I’m never gonna be because I don’t wanna be
No, I don’t wanna sit still, look pretty.”
Song by Daya

The lyrics to this song won’t win any awards but I love the message behind them.  I first heard the song while watching Pitch Perfect 3, and it perfectly captures the Bellas’ sassy charm, irreverent humor, and girl power.  But more than that, it reminds me of the women that I know; none of us, young or old, are sitting around waiting for Prince Charming to come and rescue us.   We have become the heroines of our own stories, and we own them, from preface to happily ever after ending.

I am inspired almost every day by remarkable women, women who come in every shape, size, color, and age.

There are the women of Impact 100 Garden State, a national organization with local chapters, who decided that they wanted to give back to the communities that had given so much to them.  They do this by running an entirely volunteer organization that this year will be awarding $300,000 to three local charities.   Over the course of five years our Impact100 chapter has raised over $1 million, and every dollar goes to grant recipients like Oasis, a haven for women and children in Paterson, that has created programs designed to feed, clothe, and educate, to break the cycle of poverty.  Or Project Self-Sufficiency, helping families who live in poor, rural areas who are isolated from social services, schools, and supermarkets.  They will be using their grant money from Impact100 to purchase an RV to take a full range of social services “on the road”.  Or Roots & Wings, an organization that serves aged-out foster children.  These are just 3 of the many non-profits that have won grants from our Impact 100 Garden State.

There are the women of FISH, who have been running a food and children’s clothing pantry out of basements for more than 30 years.   They serve a local population that social services can’t often help, bringing food right to client’s doors.   A woman’s abusive boyfriend steals her rent and FISH helps her pay it.  A man with throat cancer restricted to a liquid diet and FISH delivers a weekly supply of Ensure (and he survives!).   A hotline is manned seven days a week by volunteers, and the women who deliver food and clothing on a daily basis are truly my heroines – they have devoted themselves to lifting others up.

There are the women of my sorority who, upon hearing that the current sisterhood was about to be kicked off campus for behavior violations, created an alumnae association that forged a partnership with the college administration and current sisters to instigate cultural change and get things back on track.   It took three years but thanks to this partnership, it looks like the college-imposed sanctions will be lifted this May.

There are the women of the Center for Faith Justice, an organization that takes a quote from the New Testament, “faith without works is dead” and tries to teach young adults that to be Christian means to be called to a life of service and commitment to those in need.  Despite the lack of support from the institutional Church, they forge ahead and try to inspire, one mind and heart at a time.  Their programs serve the needs of the disadvantaged in Trenton, Philadelphia, and Appalachia, and what they do takes a huge village to successfully plan, administer, and execute.  The Center is not exclusively women, but women are the power behind the mission.

These women have hearts of gold, brains of titanium, and nerves of steel.  They see a problem, devote a tremendous amount of brain power to figuring out a solution, and then work hard in executing and sustaining organizations whose impact is immeasurable.  They are all Wonder Women.

And these are just the women that I know personally in these small local operations.  Think of the women who are making a difference every day – in the #MeToo movement, the teacher’s strikes, the Women’s Marches, the list goes on and on.   I look at my daughter’s generation and I see women who never doubt for a second that they can make the world a better place.

Everywhere that I look I see women becoming active citizens who aren’t content with sitting around and looking pretty.  It gives me hope!  Thank God!

 

 

 

 

Reflections on a “Seme” Retirement

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It’s been just a year since I turned in my company car and laptop for lowered blood pressure and seven-day weekends.

My former job used to be fun, exciting, rewarding and all the things that make it worth getting up in the morning.  However, a few years ago it stopped being fun and became 24/7 stress.  Kissing that good-bye has been exhilarating, amazing, crazy, surprising, healthy, wonderful, and liberating.

What I miss:

Certain colleagues and customers

Sales bonuses

Not having to pay for gas (company car)

Visiting certain charming, idyllic campuses

The caliber of people I met daily

Learning cool technologies

Any sales meeting we’ve ever had in Arizona

What I don’t miss:

Certain colleagues and customers

Sales goals

My company car (a big perk, but for the 1st time ever I am driving the car of my choice )

The NJ Turnpike

The 6 am alarm ringing

The system being down

Any sales meeting we’ve ever had in Texas (sorry Texas friends!)

People wonder what I do with my life, if I am bored, and many tell me that they can’t imagine their lives without their employment.  I have not been bored a nanosecond and I have found that my days fill up with all sorts of things – some planned, some not planned.

Serendipity rather than a paycheck now manages my schedule.

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I find I have more time for old friends and for making new friends, time to cook and bake bread, time to exercise and go to the movies, time to read a book and do counted cross-stitch, time to volunteer, time to clean out closets and basements, time to travel, time to write and create, time to drink more wine, time to be thoughtful and kind.   I have realized that most days are spent doing what I want to do, not what must be done.  I notice more sunsets, remember more birthdays, read more books, do more puzzles, walk more steps, and generally spend time with people and things in places that make me happy.

I am more preoccupied with filling my soul rather than filling my calendar.

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I do have a confession to make.   Three months after I retired, I was approached by a Marketing colleague from my former company about working part-time on some projects just for a few months.   That “temporary” gig is still ongoing, so some could argue that I am not really retired.  However, retirement is as much a state of mind as a state of employment, and this part-time consulting is at my own pace, during the hours that I choose, stress-free, and it’s work I enjoy doing.  Plus, it’s additional income and we are hosting a wedding this year.

So, I can joke about my “seme” retirement, but for those of you who have faithfully been following me for the last year, I am sure you can see that “seme” retirement agrees with me and that I agree with it.  I am so grateful that we have the savings so that I could retire, and I encourage all of you to save as much as you can so that you can experience this wonderful passage of life when that time is right for you.

It’s a passage of possibility, and I am still imagining what those possibilities will be for me.

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Come Together

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Political activism has never been a passion of mine.   Like most people, I have had little interest in the workings of government and looked at politics as distasteful, dirty business full of phonies.   Plus, I didn’t have the time to get involved while I worked and raised a family.

However, retirement has once again afforded me an opportunity to explore new interests, and when Lindsay, a wonderful college friend who lives in Fairfax, VA, invited me to stay at her house and participate in the Washington Women’s March, I jumped at the opportunity.  Not because I am a rabid rabble-rouser, but because I have started paying attention.

We were lucky that it was a beautiful day, not frigid as it had been the last few weeks.  The stage for the speakers was set-up at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, and we lined up on both sides of the reflecting pool, which was frozen.  Though the crowd was not as big as last year’s historic march, we estimated that between 50,000 and 75,000 people were there – and not just women.

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Speeches were scheduled for 11 to 1 pm, and then the march was supposed to go from 1 to 3 pm.  However, because of the government shutdown, members of Congress were still in Washington, so additional speakers were added at the last minute, like Senators Kaine, Blumenthal, and Gillibrand, as well as Nancy Pelosi and many Democratic congressmen and women.   Most of the speeches were short and sweet, and the general theme of the day was energizing the electorate for the 2018 mid-term elections.   The most encouraging news shared by the speakers was that more women were running for office in 2018 than at any other time, thanks in part to the consciousness raising of last year’s Women’s Marches.

This was best summed up by the quote, “If you are not at the table, you’re on the menu.”  It was so soul nurturing to hear that the protests had resulted in action!

However, the crowd got restless when speeches continued past 2 pm, and many of us started to leave the Lincoln Memorial site and head out to march.   By far, this was the most fun of the day.   Everyone was fired up but also respectful, considerate and well-behaved, and every few minutes a chant would go up.

“Tell me what democracy looks like.  This is what democracy looks like.”

“We need a leader and not a crazy tweeter.’’

“Hands too small, can’t build a wall.”

“Build a fence around Mike Pence”

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”

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One of the best parts of the marching were the signs people carried.  Not only were they creative, but they showed a sense of humor that was wickedly clever.  This next one was my personal favorite:

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We finally made it to the White House (supposedly he was home) where we continued to chant before leaving.

You may be thinking at this point, good for you, Deb, but it’s not really going to matter.   Those in Congress have been bought and sold to wealthy special interests and it is only those donors who have their ears and souls; we no longer have a true democracy.  I do agree with this sentiment, and I too am often cynical about the possibility of seeing any real leadership from our political parties.

However, it does lighten my heart to see so many men and women come out and make the effort to make themselves heard, and to know that so many ordinary men and women have been inspired to run for office because they are fed up with those who are supposed to be representing them.  If nothing else, we must constantly remind those in power (and it is exhausting) that we are paying attention, and that we still have the right to vote them out if they don’t listen and respond to their constituents.

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One of my friends who marched with me, Cathleen, told us that her greatest concern is the divisiveness that has grown exponentially in this country, and that we must sit down and listen to each other and get past our differences.  I agree wholeheartedly with her.  We must make the effort to really listen to those who sit on the other side and be open to their points of view.  I truly believe that, when you cut out much of the crap, 99% of us care about the same things – the health, happiness, and well-being of our families, friends, and our communities.

No one wants to drink toxic water or breathe poisoned air.  There should be a happy medium where corporations are regulated so that they are incentivized to protect our environment without having those regulations cripple them.

No one wants anyone to lose their home or choose between feeding their children or getting them medical care because they can’t afford health insurance.  There must be an affordable option for everyone that is fair and cost-efficient.

No one wants to see children who were brought here as babies deported by the hundreds of thousands.  Figure out the rest of the immigration issues later but protect these dreamers now.

No one wants their children to be at a disadvantage and unable to earn a decent living because quality education is not available to them.  We must make education more equitable and make higher education less expensive.

No one believes that it’s OK for women to make less money for the same jobs as men.  Make it against the law.

I believe that more women in leadership positions in government will help us come together and work to solve our problems.  Most women excel at bringing people together.  I see evidence of that every day in the organizations where I volunteer.

We cannot let them divide us, for as the great man whose statue we stood below on Saturday warned “a house divided cannot stand.”

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Christmas Letter 2017

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One of my favorite Christmas words

Even though Walt and Grace are now adults in their late twenties, the best part of Christmas for me is still getting up on Christmas morning and watching them open presents.  It makes me continue to believe in the joy and magic of Christmas.

There has been much joy to go around these days for us.  The happiest news is that Grace and Matt got engaged in August and are planning a September 2018 wedding in Mt. Washington, New Hampshire!   In addition to those glad tidings, both Matt and Grace were promoted this year – Matt as an Analytics Manager with Wayfair.com, and Grace as Associate Director of Strategic Planning and Market Intelligence with SunLife Financial. 

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Matt, Grace, me, and Matt’s Mom Peggy at the Boston Holiday Pops

Walt moved into his own apartment with Lexi in Westwood, NJ, which is closer to his office at Crestron.  He is still working as a software engineer as well as doing consulting work for a small healthcare company.   He and Lexi have had a lot of wonderful adventures including a fall cruise with Lexi’s parents to New England and Nova Scotia.  

Bill stayed busy working with a contractor friend on renovating a cottage that we rent, and it really turned out great.   Of course, I had some input into many of the design features that were made (all those hours watching HGTV finally paid off).  He and Brandy, our one-year old female St. Bernard, are constant companions, and she is one spoiled but lovable mutt.  Bill also treated all of us to Hamilton tickets this fall, and it exceeded everyone’s expectations.

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Selfie at Rockefeller Center

As for me, retirement has really been a blessing.   I haven’t been bored a nanosecond, and I had no idea how bad the stress from my old job was until it was lifted off my shoulders.   In addition to starting a blog, I have done a lot of writing – some part-time for Cengage, some creative writing, and some for one of the non-profits where I volunteer.   The women that I have met through these organizations never cease to inspire me.   I have also become involved with the alumnae board of my old sorority, Delta Nu, and spending time with women whom I haven’t seen in 40 years has been a blast.   In October Kate and I spent our annual vacation week in the Great Smoky Mountains at a Folk School, and I can now make a mean loaf of French bread!  Kate and I celebrated 50 years of friendship this year! 

The opening scene of the movie Love,Actually shows the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport with the narrator saying, “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport.  General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that.  Seems to me that love is everywhere.  Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there.  Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, old friends.  When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people onboard were messages of hate or revenge, they were all messages of love.  If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love is all around.” 

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That scene of happy families and friends joyfully embracing at the gate gets me every time I watch it, and it reminds me that despite all the crap that goes on in Washington and elsewhere, especially this year, I must remain hopeful that most people are still really good at heart.  

May your Christmas and holidays be filled with all those you hold dear, and if I haven’t seen you this year, let’s see if we can rendezvous in 2018.

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Folk School

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Sunrise in the Great Smoky Mountains

Imagine that you had the luxury and opportunity to devote an entire week to learning how to make something, and you didn’t have any other responsibilities or distractions to keep you from your creative endeavor.   What would you want to create and can you even begin to imagine such a week with everything that there is to do in your life?

Last week I had the luxury and the opportunity to spend a week with 129 other like-minded people.  I decided to master the art of baking bread and my best friend Kate choose quilting.   We drove 12 hours to the John C. Campbell Folk School, located in the northwestern part of North Carolina, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains within spitting distance of Tennessee.   The Folk School was started in 1925 by two women who had traveled to Denmark and studied the folk schools that were a way of life for the rural population, and decided to start a similar school in Appalachia where people could live and learn together without credits or grades.

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The beautiful campus

The campus of the Folk School is extensive, and most of the students live in housing provided by the school.   Meals are served family style in a dining hall so that students can get to know each other and learn about what others are doing in their classes.   I would say most of the students were of retirement age, but many were not, and I was surprised at the number of men who attended, many with their wives.

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The Dining Hall at Folk School

There are variations in the classes offered every week, and the week we enrolled classes in writing, weaving, painting, woodworking, mosaics, felt art, Blacksmithing, clay, and stained glass were offered in addition to bread making and quilting.

Classes ran from 9 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday, and there were optional “Morningsongs” before breakfast where local musicians and story-tellers performed.  During the afternoons after class and in the evening various events were held, like a Blacksmithing demonstration or musical performance, and the week culminated with an exhibit where all the classes showed off their finished works of art.

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Kate’s Quilt

There is something very therapeutic about making bread.   I am not talking about pulling out a quick bread mix from the shelf and whipping up a loaf of banana or cranberry nut bread.   I am referring to the art of making bread from scratch, from feeding the yeast through the entire process of mixing, kneading, punching and folding, letting it rest and rise, and then baking it in an oven under the optimal conditions of temperature and steam.

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Jane, Linda, and I with our sticky buns, a team effort

Our bread instructor Emily had a chemistry degree, and so we not only learned the how, but the why of the bread making process.   When you are making bread that requires what is called a “preferment”, it is a process that takes time, which is the number one reason I had never attempted it before retirement.  You combine the yeast with water and flour, and let the yeast feast on the mixture for hours before making the bread dough.   There is something very primal and satisfying about seeing your preferment rise and double in size overnight, the top laced with dozens of tiny carbon dioxide bubbles.

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Yeast doing its thing

Depending upon the kind of bread you are making, once you add the dough mixture to the yeast mixture, you may need to let it rest again, and then you knead it.  Some people hate to knead, but I loved it!   It is an intensive upper body workout, and except for the ciabatta dough which is a very wet and sticky dough, I kneaded all my dough by hand.   Mixers with spiral dough hooks were available as an alternative to hand-kneading.

Another period of resting takes place, and then you pre-shape it, let it rest again, shape it and score it.   You spray it with water so that steam is present in the oven, and then you check it for doneness with a thermometer; all bread is done at 190 degrees F.   That is the temperature at which the glutton or starch has broken down.

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French bread shaped and ready to be scored, sprayed and baked

There is nothing better than eating the bread the moment it comes out of the oven, and we shared most of the bread we made; some we froze to take home.   After the first day when we all made French bread together, we were encouraged to make whatever we wanted.  Emily had provided us with recipes and there were dozens of cookbooks on the shelves.  In addition to making rosemary French bread, I made focaccia, Irish soda bread, bagels, English muffins, sticky buns, and ciabatta.

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My focaccia loaded with peppers and tomatoes picked from the garden outside

None were difficult to make – they just took time.   As I continue to re-imagine retirement, I find that I am most grateful for this gift of time spent on fun not work.   One of the best parts of the week was meeting so many wonderful people from around the country who attended classes at the Folk School.   Kate and I bonded with some lovely ladies from Florida, and we also got to know our fellow students in our classes.   Travel and spending time in a new place with new people is always a spirit-renewing experience, and the Folk School offers that and more because it includes the act of creation which nurtures the soul.

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The six amigas

Here’s the bread-maker’s blessing, a take on an old Irish blessing, that Emily recited to us on the last day of class:

“May the dough rise to meet you, may the cloud of flour be always at your back, may the oven shine warm upon your face, the steam fall softly upon your loaves, and until we meet again, may God punch and fold you in the palm of His hands.”

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My baking class buddies

To learn more about the John C. Campbell Folk School, go to: https://www.folkschool.org/

Processing the Unimaginable

Like many of you, I am still trying to process how something like the Las Vegas massacre could occur in this country.  No one yet knows the motivation of the shooter, someone who doesn’t fit the typical mass shooter profile.  Thoughts and prayers are fine, but action is needed, and I am afraid that our so-called leaders in Washington will once again dodge any real leadership, wait out the public outrage, and do nothing because their souls have been bought and paid by the NRA.

My husband is a gun owner, and I am not against owning guns.   However, my husband strongly believes, as I do, that there is no possible need for the average, non-military citizen to own any kind of assault weapon.   They should be banned in every state.   Their only purpose is to kill and injure a lot of people quickly and efficiently.  They are an instrument of war.  I don’t buy the argument of the NRA that if legislation is passed to ban one type of gun, that opens the door for the banning of all guns.   And if you tell me you need an assault weapon to hunt deer or moose, then you’re a damn lousy hunter and you should never be allowed to hold a hunting license.

Why is it that the right of this man to legally own dozens of assault weapons outweighs the right of 59 people to pursuit life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not to mention the hundreds of injured whose lives will never be the same?   People will argue that the guns didn’t kill these victims, this lunatic did.  But he couldn’t possibly have inflicted the horrific number of casualties without the assault weapons that he possessed and bought legally.

Any one of us or our loved ones could have been at that concert.   My daughter is a big country music fan.   Someone like this shooter could be living in my town, in my state, and someone I love dearly could be next.

Do we need to look elsewhere besides gun control for answers?   Why are there so many angry white men out there?   Women aren’t committing these mass shootings.   This guy supposedly was a millionaire so he wasn’t someone who had been screwed by society or had a grudge to bear against a group of country music lovers. He was the son of a psychopathic criminal – was it written in his DNA and was his heredity his destiny?

I don’t have answers.   All I know is that every member of the House of Representatives is up for reelection in 2018.  It’s time to start holding every single one of them accountable.   If they don’t vote for some kind of common sense gun control, we vote them out.   I‘m not yet cynical enough to believe that this country is beyond all hope of redemption.  I do believe that most of us are good and kind and strong and we need our representatives in Congress to be the same.

If there is anything that history has taught us, it’s that good can triumph evil and that we should “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead