Inspiration

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Lately I have been thinking a lot about inspiration as I consider the retirement years ahead.   The word “inspire” comes from a Latin root that means “to breathe or blow into” and so it translates as “the act of filling someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

(For the purpose of this writing, I am only thinking about the positive, creative ways that people are inspired, not the malignant rhetoric that inspires hate-fueled destruction.)

It’s not every day that we feel the breath of some force or spirit filling us with the urge to do or feel something, but since retirement, I have found that finding and encountering inspiration has become a vital part of my life in a way that it hasn’t since I was in high school.

Back then, I copied down (in green ink!) quotations, poetry, and song lyrics in spiral-bound notebooks that I called my “poetry books”.   They include poetry by Edith St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, e e cummings, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, to name but a few; song lyrics by the Moody Blues, Carole King (the “Adele” of my teenage years), Bernie Taupin, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and others, and quotes from a variety of sources.   There is a scattering of my own poetry as well as that of friends and even the occasional boyfriend.

Whether it was “My candle burns at both ends” or “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye”, I drew comfort and inspiration from lyricists, poets, philosophers, and my friends.  Often it wasn’t about being pushed towards a creative act but being blown towards understanding and coping with the agony and the ecstasy of teenage life.

These poetry books became diaries, signaling through the words of others what was inspiring me at that specific point in time.

I turn a page and realize this is when my brother and I visited my grandparents’ home for the last time before they sold it….

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.

another page and verses on friendship appear, reinforcing my growing need for the lifelines of genuine girlfriends…

I’ve saved some sunlight if you should ever need a place away from darkness.

yet another page and the joy of first love illuminates my delirious free fall…

We need no words, we are complete.

followed by the heartache when that love was over…

I only know that summer sang in me/a little while that in me sings no more.

and then, after a soul-nourishing weekend with best friends…

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

Nowadays I find inspiration wherever I can.   I no longer fill spiral-bound notebooks but keep digital files on my phone and on my laptop of poems, quotes, and lyrics that blow through and breathe their magic to me.

I think the world needs a boatload of inspiration these days, especially for those under the age of 30, whom I find are desperately searching for meaning in their lives, and whose hearts are wide and receptive to enormous bursts blowing into their souls.  I pray that the right kind of breezes blow their way.

As I contemplate and envision this last third of my life, I want to be open to the winds of inspiration, whether they blow as gentle breezes or turbulent gales.   I have the luxury of figuring things out as I go, but there is still the temptation to make plans and set goals (those work habits die hard).  So, as I continue my journey towards living a meaningful life in retirement, I find inspiration in these lines…

…Allow your heart to beat, allow yourself to be loved, allow fate to take its course.   There are lovely days on this earth.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh

 To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that’s all.   Oscar Wilde

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A Famous Man

My Dad died many years ago and I wrote this poem a few months after he died.  I haven’t looked at it in many years, but this year it spoke to me again.  Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

“A famous man is one whose children love him.”

I

You left this earth

while I was sleeping

thousands of miles away

in one of your favorite cities,

Munich, the heart of Bavaria.

It took 24 hours for them

to track me down

before the call came.

They told me

your heart had exploded.

They tried for an hour

to bring you back

but you were gone

as I slept across the ocean

dreaming of Rhineland castles,

fairy tale villages,

and BMWs.

I had often wondered

how I might react

to such a loss.

I had studied the TV faces

of victims many times,

the mother of a mangled child,

the wife of a terrorist’s target,

the son of a doomed traveler,

but nothing had prepared me

for this —

your death.

II

It took me 24 hours

to get home.

I waited in airports

as they searched

for signs of terrorism

on those about to board.

They did not find

any terror on me.

Those eternal hours

of traveling alone;

I had to keep the loss,

the madness, inside me.

I was so afraid that if I let them,

my insides would come spilling out:

organs, blood, bone, and heart,

that heart made from yours.

And so I sat, buckled into

my window seat,

quietly choking back any emotion,

searching the clouds

for some sign of you.

I could not

find you.

III

When I finally arrived home

I let the monstrous madness out.

I fell, as if still from a great height,

into my mother’s arms.

I was the last to arrive.

The survivors had all converged

together yet apart

for grief is such a private thing.

In the days that followed

I looked for you everywhere,

on the living room rug

next to the fireplace

where you’d drink your beer,

in a porch chair

reading the paper

with donut in hand,

at your bathroom sink

surrounded by your toiletries,

those meaningless things

that now seemed so dear

for they were now proof

that you had

once existed.

IV

You would have been touched

(and humbled in your gentle way)

by those who came

to your funeral.

They came by the hundreds.

Your tiny church

looked sure to burst

from that shuttering,

sobbing, mob.

The minister, your friend,

reminded us of the butterfly,

that glorious symbol

of resurrection,

and found it difficult

to continue.

I sat, wearing a dress

I had bought for Europe,

a dress I did not buy for

your funeral.

V

In a metal box

you kept them all:

my letters,

homemade Valentines,

and cards – how I loved

to send you cards!

In my memory box

I’ve kept remembrances too:

your love of those

silly portulaca flowers

that you planted everywhere

and that as a child

I tried to pull out

(“They’re ugly,” I’d claim,

“No, they’re colorful and

very hardy,” you’d say),

our afternoon exploring

Manhattan’s art museums

lunching only on soft pretzels,

the many nights we talked

past midnight about

parenthood

(“You never know your mistakes

until after you’ve made them”),

religion

(“You have to live it”),

and the value of work

(“Everyone has to have

a reason for getting up”).

I often thought you corny

as daughters often do,

but you taught me

which little voice inside

to listen to,

and now you are the one

to teach me

about death.

It is a lesson

I do not want

to learn.

VI

After the funeral

we came home, spent.

I looked up, and saw

the brightest, biggest

butterfly, dancing over

a pot of your portulacas!

I stared, and smiled,

for you had somehow arranged

its visit.

You lived!  Somewhere

on the other side.

You got a message back.

That butterfly said,

“Grieve not, for

I will always be near.”

Life, death, and now

resurrection;

you had come back

to finish the lesson.

Death now seemed

a safer place,

as natural and

as miraculous

as birth.

VII

Time has passed and

you are still with me.

I see you everywhere:

in the star-like reflections

of sun upon water,

in the full moon as it rises

from the ocean,

in the clouds that

roll across the sky like waves,

the waves I once painted

for you,

the waves you once photographed

for me.

The sadness still comes,

but the despair is gone –

gone on the wings of a butterfly.

It was Father’s Day

when last we spoke,

and though I won’t be

buying any cards this June,

I will this year and next,

for as long as this heart holds,

say Happy Father’s Day

to you,

who will always be,

my father.

Dad and Me

Croatia? Yes, Please!

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Our first group photo in Saint Mark’s Square, Zagreb.

Croatia?  Where is that and why would I want to go there?   This was my attitude a few months ago when my sister-in-law Sara suggested I accompany her on a Roads Scholar tour.  I had already planned a bucket list trip to Santa Fe this summer, and I wasn’t eager to travel to a place that I wasn’t even sure I could find on a map.  But after researching the itinerary, viewing many photos on Google, and encouragement from my husband, I was IN.

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The funicular.

We met our fellow Roads Scholar travelers (just 20 of us plus our guide Dejan) in vibrant and cosmopolitan Zagreb, the capital of the country, its largest city (of 4 million who live in Croatia, over a million live in Zagreb), and one of the few places that we visited not located on the coast.  The Croatians like to describe that the country is in the shape of a croissant, and Zagreb is on the top right curve of the pastry.  We quickly discovered the funicular which took us up to the old town, where we were treated to a panoramic view of the city.  We also found one of the treasures of the old town, Saint Mark’s church, with its colorful, tiled roof featuring the crests of Croatia and Zagreb.

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Zagreb from the top of the funicular.

The next day we met our extremely capable bus driver Zoran who drove us west to the Istrian Peninsula where we got our first look at the Adriatic Sea and where we spent two days in Opatia, a seaside resort once favored by the Austrian-Hungarians.  There was a lovely promenade along the water from our hotel to the center of town, and I swear Opatia has more hotels than Atlantic City.  Across from our hotel was a famous chocolate shop, where many of us dropped a few kunas on hot chocolates that were thick like pudding and had to be eaten with a spoon.

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The seaside promenade of Opatia

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The hot chocolates eaten with a spoon.

From Opatia we made a day trip to Rovinc and Porec.  Rovinc was once an island but now connected to the rest of the peninsula; its Venetian influence was quite apparent from the moment we stepped off the bus.  Its patron saint is Saint Euphemia, a female Christian martyr whose statue sits atop her church’s steeple which was modeled after the Saint Mark’s steeple in Venice; in many ways, Rovinc was a mini-me of Venice.

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The lovely Venetian town of Rovinc

Porec’s claim to fame is the Euphrasian Basilica, loaded with the gilded mosaics seen in Byzantine churches.  The mosaics, both on the outside and inside the church, were definitely worth the visit to the town.

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One of the many mosaics in the basilica of Porec.

On our way to the Plitvice Lakes National Park the next day we encountered snow on the ground!  This is no more normal than snow would be in May in New Jersey; there is no disagreement here about what is causing all this weird weather – climate change.

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Snow in May – not normal!

I would have to be a more talented writer to adequately describe Plitvice Lakes.  Sixteen lakes cascade into each other, creating dozens of waterfalls over limestone rocks.  Can one ever have too many waterfalls?  You view the waterfalls and lakes from scenic overlooks, from walking on a network of boardwalks (many dangerously narrow), and from hiking through the woods for miles.   Thankfully the park is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site because it is a treasure and one of the wonders of the world.   Photos of Plitvice Lakes had convinced me when I did my research that I needed to visit Croatia.  The park did not disappoint!

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Look closely and you can see people walking on the walkways – waterfalls everywhere!

One of the places that completely exceeded expectations was the city of Split, Croatia’s third largest city; it was truly a revelation.  Split is a coastal town where the Roman emperor Diocletian built his retirement palace.  Unlike many other ancient sites, his palace is not in ruins, but is woven into the city, separated only by its original walls and gates.  People live in apartments that have been built in the palace, work in shops and restaurants, and scenes from Game of Thrones have been filmed here.  After Diocletian died, Christians took over the town, removed his tomb (no one knows what they did with his body), and replaced it with the sarcophagus and relics of Saint Dominus, one of the many Christians whose murder was ordered by Diocletian.  Everyone loved this delicious bit of irony and karma.

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One of the gates of Diocletian’s palace – restaurants, shops, and apartments within.

One of the gates leads out to a lovely promenade along the harbor, and the first night we were there, there was a huge festival in honor of Saint Dominus; we were treated to live music and fireworks. Our hotel was just steps away from the palace and our home base for three days, so we had lots of forays into the palace and surrounding city.

One of the highlights of our stay in Split was hiking up to a café bar on the side of a mountain that offered a panorama view of the city, nestled between the harbor on one side and the Dalmatian mountains on the other.  Much of Croatia lies between the mountains and the sea, and I think Croatia won the lottery when it came to carving up the former Yugoslavia because it kept most of its original territory along the Adriatic coastline.

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View of Split – the palace lies along the harbor – you can see one of its towers on the right.

From Split we visited Trogir, a medieval town built on an island and another World Heritage site, and the art museum of Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia’s most famous scuptor, whose statues are everywhere in Croatia (and here in the States as well).

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One of the shops in Trogir.

In order to visit Mostar, we had to cross into Bosnia-Herzegovina, which involved two border crossings.  Mostar is known for its bridges, and I had seen photos of its most famous bridge, so I was excited when we finally arrived.  The bridge was bombed during the 1990s but completely rebuilt as it had been, using the same limestone from local quarries.  The Mostar bridge was lovely, but the crowds of people made it impossible to really appreciate it as you crossed over it.

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The famous bridge of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mostar was once part of the Ottoman Empire, so the town has a Turkish feel to it,with streets lined with markets and a mosque calling people to prayer. Our local guide spoke about the horror of the war as a girl of 12; she and her mother went door to door during the night asking for any bit of food that people were willing to share, and her brother was sent to a concentration camp for many months.  She has no hatred towards any ethnic group (there are many in the countries that now make up the former Yugoslavia) and she hopes all can continue to live in peace.

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The view of the Mostar bridge from our restaurant with the mosque’s minaret behind it.

Finally, we arrived at Dubrovnik, which may be the best known of Croatia’s cities.  It is quite a tourist attraction and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Game of Thrones has filmed the King’s Landing scenes within its old city walls.   Our local guide Lydia grew up within the walls and her insider perspective provided us with a unique and rare insight into the city’s history and its people as we toured the city with her.

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Dubrovnik from the highway above the city.

The people who inhabited Dubrovnik were skillful traders and negotiators, and avoided war with both the Venetians and the Turks, remaining an independent city-state for over 450 years.   Even when Napoleon entered the city as its conqueror, it is widely believed that the city leaders reached an accord with him so that it wasn’t an actual conquest.

Despite the crowds, it was one of my favorite places; when some of us expressed interest in taking a boat ride around the city, Dejan arranged it despite the fact that it was technically his afternoon off.  Sara and I also climbed and walked the 1.2 mile length of the walls, which offered spectacular views from every direction.

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One of the magnificent views from the walls of Dubrovnik.

Our last two days were spent south of Dubrovnik, in the Konavle Region, where we visited an old olive oil press and farm, and later a local vineyard and winery for dinner.  We also visited two old mills, the seaside town of Cavtat, and enjoyed a wonderful farewell dinner at a farm with traditional dancers and singers.

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Sara enjoying the flavored grappa at one of the water mills.

The patriarch of the farm and our dinner host was 86 years old, quite proud of his home and especially his garden, which looked like the Garden of Eden.  It was therefore quite hard to imagine that during the 1990s war, the farm was bombed with napalm and his home had to be almost completely rebuilt.  It was a sobering reminder of this country’s recent troubled past.

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The farmhouse and garden where we enjoyed our farewell dinner in Cilipi.

I have been on travel company tours and loved them all, but I must say I was very impressed with Roads Scholar.  I loved the small group, the fact that all but two meals were included, the emphasis on learning, and the pace and organization of our travel; we never stayed in a hotel for less than two nights.

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Our fearless fashionista leader, Dejan, who wore the soccer shirt and orange glitter hat so we would see him in the Dubrovnik crowds.

I have to thank our lovely fellow travelers for being considerate, fun, and engaging; sitting next to anyone on the bus or at a meal always involved lively conversation.  Zoran, our bus driver, took us down country roads that didn’t seem wide enough to fit a motorbike much less a motorcoach, yet I always felt safe in his hands.  Dejan, our tour director, couldn’t do enough for us; he was caring, knowledgeable, fun-loving, and always eager to share a story or a laugh.  And finally, I have to thank Sara because I would not experienced this extraordinary country and people without her invitation.

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Girls night out in Split.

What will I remember about Croatia?  The paintings in the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art.  The liquid lace of the magical Plitvice waterfalls.  The marmalade-stuffed croissants at every breakfast.  The singing of the crowd in Split as the fireworks exploded across the night sky.  The labyrinths of narrow streets in Rovinc, Split, and Dubrovnik.  The panoramic views from atop the Dubrovnik walls and the café bar in Split.  The twinkle in Dejan’s eye as he shared a bit of irony or humor.  The evening Dubrovnik Chamber Trio concert whose musicians were all women.  The tiny pink rosebuds in our gin & tonics.  The camaraderie of our merry little band of travelers and our laughter and engaging conversations. The resilience of the Croatian people who have transformed their country after socialism and war into a unique, beautiful, and incredible tourist destination.

Now I know where Croatia is and why a person would want to visit it.  Go if you can.

I am so glad that I did!

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Our last group photo in the farmhouse in Cilipi.

 

Resolutions/Absolutions

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Sunrise and morning fog from the veranda of the Mount Washington Hotel.

As we all look back at 2018, I think the first thing that we should do is absolve ourselves from any 2018 resolutions that went neglected or abandoned.   What is the point of beating ourselves up?   As Carlos Castaneda wrote, “We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong.   The amount of work is the same.”

Last January I had the audacity for the first time in many years to write down my new year’s resolutions:  clean clutter, read more books, create more, save more money.   Notice that in my non-accountant, right-brained way, I didn’t set any quantifiable goals for these, with “more” being a highly subjective quantifier.   So here is my highly subjective scoring for how I kept these resolutions:

Clean Clutter:  C-

Read More Books:   A-

Create More:  B+

Save More Money:  F

Can I offer excuses for resolutions not kept?  Hell, yes!  Saving more money is the easiest.  It’s nearly impossible to save money in a year when your daughter gets married unless you are either a hermit or a miser.

There was some success with clutter – a person can now walk through our basement without having to wade through a flotsam of boxes, discarded small appliances, outdoor furniture, and an island of misfit toys.  But our attic is quite literally another story.

The act of creation for me this year expanded beyond what I thought would involve just writing.   I certainly could score myself high if it meant creating moments to remember.  My trip to Greece, Grace’s shower and wedding, our service week in Dunlow, West Virginia, and countless visits with dear friends at holidays and throughout the year enabled me to keep that resolution in spectacular fashion.   I did mostly keep up with my monthly blog posts and I have done some writing for my non-profits, but big writing projects remain works in progress, so that’s one mark against me.   However, 2018 gave me the chance to create bridal shower centerpieces, non-profit videos, and Shutterfly photo books, so all in all I would claim that resolution was more than kept, just not the way that I originally intended to do so.

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A magical evening in Santorini.

As for reading more, I read sixteen books in 2018 and though I didn’t track my reading in 2017, I know that was significantly more.   The books that I read, from nonfiction like Hillbilly Elegy and The Hidden Life of Trees, to fiction like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine to Circe, reminded me again and again of the power of writing to transform your day, your year, your life.

Reading that takes you to a unique place and time or a totally author-created fantasy world has the power to teach and inform and inspire.  One of my favorite authors is Anne Lamott and her book Small Great Things was the first book I read in 2017.  I love her writing, especially this:

This is what grace looks like – amazed gratitude and relief at my plain old gorgeous life.

Remembering to be grateful every day for “my plain old gorgeous life” is a resolution I intend to keep in 2019.

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The gang in “my plain old gorgeous life”.

 

 

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!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Come Together

crowd scene

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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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