Breathe in Springtime

Through the years, there have been a few constants in my life – maybe it’s same for others. The seasons of each year in New England set up camp, one after another, and then after a few months, they fold their tents, making way for the next one’s arrival. Spring arrives, insisting winter yield the ground to patches of lawn and roadside flowers and long, gentler days. By late June, she has finished sewing her finery and invites us outdoors to enjoy our rest and leisure.

We cultivate old flower beds, trim dead branches from shrubs, plant the most amazing living colors only nature can provide, and pause a moment when we find an empty bird’s nest in the rhododendron bush. We can hear the reawakening of our world which, having thrown off the cover of snow from her sleeping form, is wiggling her toes and ready to hop out of bed, ready to dance.

The recent pandemic with the panic it created and spread in our world, has kept us sequestered at home. When we venture out, our mask-covered faces cannot convey a friendly smile and our words are muffled, while our glasses get steamed up, clouding our vision. Hand shaking and hugging and standing beside another person is prohibited. Even if we are out in the community, we are losing the personal touches, the expressions which speak so loudly to one another, and this lack fuels the feeling of isolation. At home, our worlds have been small and two dimensional …. TV, internet, radio showing us shouting, accusations, riots, anger, hatred, and every soul-shriveling emotion know to humankind.

But, even as we have been prisoners of our homes during the sleepy winter months and the spring of Covid-19, there is release and liberty at hand, sitting in the yard conversing with a cat-bird in the canopy of the ancient maple tree or walking quietly along a sunny trail in our town.

No mask, no warnings, no social distancing are necessary. No worries, no rush, no pressure exist in those moments. Time, politics, economics, homework assignments, current events, even people, are pushed away. We can breathe and rest our brains, recharging our spirits with the world full of fresh air and sun and breezes, creatures, and growing things. We can be, for that short time, real humans in a real world. Under the trees or in the sunshine, we are permitted to have no opinion on politics or the economy

These are the moments when quiet and stillness smooth out the rough and jagged places in our lives. This is some of the best medicine I know to help cure what is ailing us and center our souls in true reality.

So, breathe and enjoy these still and nourishing moments.

Learning NEVER stops

Some people say I’m a ‘stubborn’ woman. Some are kinder and call me ‘independent’. Some are kinder still and use the word ‘tenacious’. I’d like to say my stick-to-it-ivness comes from my Dad who would admonish me by saying, “Whatever you do, don’t quit!” That old Marine Corps thing about just putting one foot in front of the other has taken me through some tough times and allowed me to enjoy the wonderful ones.

That characteristic (or maybe flaw) has kept me marching through various levels educational since 1956. In grade school, I lacked confidence in my academic abilities, which I carried with me through Junior College. On my miraculous graduation day, May 16, 1971, I swore that I was D-O-N-E with schooling forever! And so, I married, became a Mom, divorced, and worked at raising my wonderful son.

But something was missing. There was a voice at the back of my brain telling me that I had quit – I had not finished my schooling by earning a Bachelors degree. So, at the urging of a friend and with the financial assistance of my employer, I jumpstarted my academic career in 1986. After 13 years of night school, I graduated from Assumption College Magna Cum Laude! Who knew I could do THAT? So, my stubbornness saw me finish the long trek of college. I had not done it for my career, but for my own self…to prove I was smart enough!

After my service in Africa from 2000-2002, I returned home and resumed my insurance career. But guess what? Education had become a way of life for me. Before long, that pesky voice in my head started in on me again …. “what else can you learn? Keep going!” So, I started and finished a Certificate in Paralegal Studies at Mount Wachusett Community College. I did it because I have always love law (a childhood occupational aspiration). Once again, I said, “THIS is IT! No more.”

HA! There was one more mountain to climb. I stared up the face of the cliff called the Graduate School and for a whole year convinced myself that I didn’t have the ability to do THAT job. But the nagging voice was back and so I began in the fall semester of 2016. Truth to tell (and it won’t surprise anyone who knows me well), I really wanted to take a class called The History of Baseball and it was a Graduate School class, so I took the plunge and registered.

Two weeks ago, on June 2nd, the Board of Trustees of the University of Massachusetts (Worcester State University) voted to confer upon me a Master of Arts in History Degree. It feels as though I have reached the apex of my educational life. There is no higher (for me) to go. I would never have even started and certainly have never finished Grad School without the talented faculty, staff, and my fellow Grad students at Worcester State’s Graduate History Department. They kept me engaged and enthused and challenged. They believed in me until I finally beat the Imposter Syndrome and came to believe in myself.

The strongest lesson I learned is this: LEARNING NEVER STOPS – not ever! Our brains are just like everything else in the natural world: when an organism stops growing, it dies. So, sign up for a class. Start a book club. Write a novel. Learn the Pythagorean theorem (again). And then, teach the younger ones in your life.

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE !!

My Dad was and still is my hero. He’s been gone just 23 days shy of 20 years now but he was with me this morning for sure !

I had spent all morning working on some background information for a couple of fellow Grad Students. Mining the internet for obscure documentation is becoming a specialty of mine now so, since I have subscriptions to a half dozen portals of historical data, I volunteered to help them out. Finally, it was time for a break so I sat down just to ‘rest my eyes’ as my Grandad used to say. When I looked out the window, there was a proud red cardinal in the crabapple tree out front. He seemed to be watching me watching him. They say that cardinals are signs that a departed loved one is near.

Before very long I heard this unusual pattering noise. It sounded like rain or – don’t even say it: sleet – but there was nothing going on outside the window. I got up and walked around the teeny tiny house, listening carefully. In one part of the house the sound was louder than in another. I wondered for a moment if a large critter had somehow gotten into the attic but the noise was not coming from the attic space. It was coming from below.

So I put on my shoes and headed outside to check out the cellar. Opening the bulk head, the noise was really loud and I worried it might be a fire. But as I crept down the stairs and inched the cellar door open, there was a geyser of water leaking from a break where the sump pump is connected to the discharge pipe and water was shooting everywhere – up, down, and out ! It looked like a water main break in there.

I rushed in and wrapped my hands tightly around where the break in the pipe appeared to be and instead of shooting water back down into the dry well and keeping the pump running, the water was going where it should: out of the house through the discharge pipe. I was drenched but at least the water had stopped – momentarily anyway.

I stood there, hands wrapped around the pipe to prevent further leaks just like the little Dutch boy who stuck his finger in the dike. “Now what?” I thought to myself. Sooner or later I would have to let go of this to figure out how to fix it. First, I had to keep the pump from flipping on and then I had to find something to close the pipe joint until I could come up with a repair. So, I tied a string onto the level switch and weighted it with a full bottle of laundry detergent, necessity being the mother of invention. Then I hunted around for some thing to wrap around the pipe. I found a length of the stickiest tape in the world (you’ve seen it advertised on TV as patching a hole in a full bucket of water).

I worked a length of it onto the dried off broken joint, said a silent prayer, and slowly let the string off the pump switch. Voila! The temporary fix worked – for how long, I’m not sure but at least the pump works, most of the flooding water has been cleaned up, and it bought me enough time to check out ‘How to repair PVC pipe leaks’ on YouTube (thank heavens for the internet) and head up to Rutland Hardware for pipe cement and some clamps. The tape seems to have held for now and this afternoon, I’ll go back down and see if that PVC pipe cement really works. At least the sump pump has stopped running continuously!

When I came back upstairs, that beautiful cardinal was still in the tree outside my window – still watching over me – Dad was still watching over me. The thing is, my Dad taught me a lot of stuff. He taught me how to use tools and how to fix stuff and how to build stuff and how to think through a problem. He explained how things work, and what might be wrong if they don’t work. He gave me a ‘possibility’ mind set that has rarely left me. By that I mean that, if I can identify and understand a problem, I’m half way to fixing it!

I mention this as a cautionary tale for parents – and grandparents – to teach your charges how the world works, how to fix things, how to empower them to find solutions and act on them. If we can do that, we will have taught them that solutions to problem lie in fixing them, not just crying about them. There are plenty of things we can’t fix in this world but learning how to overcome those or work around them is just as valuable a skill as fixing them.

Now I need to get out of these wet clothes and pour another cup of coffee ! Have a dry day everyone !

Sand Castles

As a young girl of maybe 9 or 10, I was still an only child of two intelligent and adoring parents. I was treated to adult dinner conversations and engaged in all manner of activities designed to help me develop into an inquisitive and accomplished young woman. I collected and examined all sorts of back-yard treasures such as leaves and bugs and rocks and dirt. I captured fireflies at dusk in the hedge separating the Riley’s yard from our own and then made a chart of how many times the bugs would light up in a specific period of time. I learned fluid dynamics by diverting small rivulets of water that ran along the side of our detached garage and I learned about the effects of sunlight on the plants that would turn their leaves toward the life sustaining rays coming through my bedroom windows.

But some of my most profound lessons happened at the Rhode Island beach where we spent our summers. One particular set of lessons about life came from building sand castles. I wasn’t particularly adept at building the giant ones. My friends could make whole imaginary worlds complete with turrets and draw bridges made from drift wood and decorated with shells and seaweed.

I, however, loved to content myself with a more organic approach and eventually mastered the most difficult technique of all: drip castles. I could pass hours and hours, building mine with handful after handful of waterlogged sand dripping through my fingers. Little by little, the base would grow and the spikes of turrets would climb higher and higher as the water would drain out of the sand and leave the structure intact. My castles were not pretty or orderly or neat. They did not have clean lines or straight sides. I eschewed turrets and there was no room for pretty decorations. I think I tended more to the Grimm’s Fairy Tale style rather than the Disney castles of storybook fame.

Eventually the tide at the beach changes and when the foam edged water climbs closer and closer to your castle, your tension rises. My friends’ castles had the wonderful moats to protect them – for a while, whereas mine was swept away with just a few waves. But in the end, the power of the water to shape and destroy is inarguable. No matter the strength or size of your castle, no matter the materials or how cleverly constructed or how well protected, the castles will crumble. Often, we are disappointed by the ravages of time and nature.

But remembering that, while we cannot control the waves, we can control whether they will defeat us or we will begin the process of rebuilding once again, whether by drip, drip, drip, or scoop, shovel, and pile. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was that I have control of the rebuilding and no body can stop me – not even the timeless tides.

Du Courage

The sweat ran down the middle of my back and, even seated in front of the overworked fan, the air was what my grandmother used to call “close”. That is to say that the heat and humidity of the African afternoon pressed against my face, making me reluctant to move even my little finger. I closed my eyes and day dreamed about the cool September breezes in New England and pumpkins and apple pies and the start of another school year all over America. The annual ritual of back to school shopping, new notebooks and yellow wooden pencils and sweaters that matched knee socks, all reinforced the rhythm I had come to know as a girl and which was, to me, advent and Christmas and New Year all rolled into one. The first day of school signaled new beginnings, a clean slate, new opportunities, and all of it was inextricably linked in my mind and heart to September.

But here I sat on a crudely made wooden chair at an equally crude wooden table in a cement block three room apartment (with private latrine) in Benin, West Africa. I was a non-traditional Peace Corps Volunteer who, at 50 years old, definitely didn’t fit the stereotypical bright bright-eyed and bushy tailed newly minted college graduate. My short-cropped hair was the color of old sterling silver. The lines on my face were a map of hardship and challenge as well as of joy and love and accomplishment. My shape contrasted with those of my young fellow volunteers and belied motherhood and a sedentary occupation devoid of most physical exercise.

Everyone in my village knew me but not necessarily my name so they just called me “la vieille blanche” (the old white woman). And because I was obviously old, and college educated (I was, after all, a teacher), and American, I was accorded respect. But more than respect, we enjoyed mutual affection, especially between me and my students.
So, on that Tuesday during respite (like siesta), I was preparing lesson plans for the mid-October commencement of school. My second year of teaching was bound to be easier than the first. The bland khaki uniforms forced me to learn each student’s face. Their names, usually spelled with only one vowel, had at first seemed to impossible to pronounce, now rolled off my tongue with ease. I delivered interesting and even fun English grammar lessons, often acting out the verbs to illustrate their usage and I became a resource for the other English teachers at my school.

At my little table on that bright afternoon, I listened to the short-wave radio as I wrote exercises about the past perfect tense. My little portable set received only three stations during the daytime and only one of them broadcast in English. The mighty BBC was my savior which brought me church services from England on Sunday, Liverpool soccer on Saturdays, and various news from around the world every day. Tuesdays was usually book review day and the rather stuffy British accented voice coming out of the black leather cased radio sitting on the corner of my table sounded like Alistair Cooke had taken up a position in my apartment. On and on he droned about the overarching theme of the book and the plot line and the character development in the target of his latest review. I will admit I got lost somewhere between the story arc and my verb tense chart, half listening and half writing.

Suddenly the radio came alive as if it has become supercharged. The staid book reviewer sounded panic stricken and was almost unintelligible. I was able to catch the words he was nearly shouting now: World Trade Center, New York, airplane. An airplane had flown into the side of the North Tower. I couldn’t believe my ears. The breath caught in my throat and my eyes widened as if I were in a horror film at the movies. The breaking-news cue “doot-doot-doot-dah-doot” announced one update after another. I couldn’t move and the more I listened, the more transfixed I became. It couldn’t be true. It must be some horrible Bruce Willis movie stunt gone awry. I pushed the papers on my table aside and pulled the radio closer to me, staring at the antenna, still believing this was some horrible sick joke ….

Before long, the announcer was relieved by a real newsman at BBC and then came the report of the second plane striking the South Tower. Lower Manhattan was covered in smoke and debris. Not long thereafter came news of a plane being deliberately flown into the Pentagon and another supposedly bound for the White House crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

This was not joke. My country was under attack by unknown people with unknown motives and I was stuck in equatorial Africa more than 5,000 miles from home. This was unspeakable and yet it was happening. As the afternoon became evening, neighbors, students, even complete strangers appeared at my door with fresh water, palm wine, food, beer, and most of all condolences. “Madame, are you alright?”, “Have you heard from your family?”, “Who would do this to America?”, We are so sorry this has happened to your dear homeland”, and “Was Michael Jackson injured in the attack?” (Don’t ask … they thought all Americans know one another!).

The fact was I didn’t really know what had happened, why, to whom, or anything about my family (or Michael for that matter). I could not phone home because there were only 6 phones in the town, none of which I had access to. I had no television, neither did anyone I knew. I needed answers and I couldn’t get them in my village. So, I did the only thing I knew to do: I packed an overnight bag and left for the largest city in Benin which was home to the American Embassy and the Peace Corps country office.

Upon arrival in Cotonou, I descended from the taxi after a 90 minute ride, during which RFI radio out of Paris could report nothing but the attack and even though it was in French and I still only spoke Franglais (French and English combined) the urgency came through. The driver opened the car trunk and placed my back pack on the cobblestone street outside of the St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church and declined my payment of the fare. “No charge for you today, Madame.” After he left, I bent down to pick up my bag when I heard a voice – loud and clear and gravelly and angry. “Américaine!” I froze. My country was under attack, I was clearly American, I was in a strange country and I can hardly remember feeling more frightened and vulnerable than I was at that moment.  “Américaine!” came the summons again. Somewhere inside of me I decided it was time to stand up, be the person I wanted to be: proud, strong, kind, and most of all unafraid. I straightened up and slowly turned around to face my challenger.
There, on the sidewalk about 10 feet from me, stood a dark-skinned Beninese man in a functionary suit of a short sleeved gray shirt and matching pants. Around each forearm was a metal ring attached to rods with handles. They were Canada canes or crutches and it was then I noticed that one of his shoes pointed at me and the other pointed away from me in the opposite direction. This man had likely survived polio and the result was standing before me. He had overcome huge obstacles, surviving a deadly disease in a third world country, and succeeded in finding a job in spite of his deformity. “Américaine,” he said a third time and lifted his fists from the crutches.

I was readying for fight or flight at this point when, all of a sudden, his thumbs popped up out of his brown fists. “Du Courage, Américaine!” he said giving the universal sign that everything is OK. Then he turned away and hobbled away. Du Courage. Have courage. Don’t quit. Don’t be afraid. This man had with two simple words moved my world out from underneath the darkest cloud I can remember as an American. He bolstered my spirit, reminded me of what will be required in the coming days, and most of all, he showed me that he and the rest of the world was with me, with us, with America.

Upon my return to the United States at the close of my service the following July, I found my country covered with the American spirit, united in our patriotism, and taking the fight to our enemy, whoever he was. My 9-11 experience was unlike that of anyone I know because on that awful day, I was embraced and fed and nurtured by the love and protection of my village in international unity. And in my dark days, and there have been plenty of them since then, I remember that Beninese functionaire in Cotonou on September 11, 2001. Du Courage, indeed.

Dew Sweepers

The first few golfers on the course each morning are know as ‘dew sweepers’. As often as I can, I count myself among these lucky few. We arrive at the golf course before the world is awake and make our way to the first hole. Poking the spongy, wet ground with a new wooden tee, and placing the golf ball atop it, I step back to survey the target area of my dream tee shot.

Dawn has just barely arrived, and the familiar landscape spreads out before me like an old black and white photo, lacking color. It is almost as though I can hear my Dad explaining that God drains the world’s color palette into the ground at night and each morning draws the colors back up to paint our world once again. The grass in the fairway and beyond is coated with the silver dusting of dew and I can hear the plop of collected water dripping on the fallen leaves below the oak trees.

But the world is not dead and drab just because it appears colorless. Pausing now, I lean on the grip of my club and retune my nature’s antenna. I can hear the chorus of songs coming from the trees: the ‘thrip-thrip-threeeee” and the “who-hoh-hoh-hoh” mix with chirping and chipping of the bird population along the fairway. A nearby chipmunk mocks my exercise with a cheep-cheep-cheep before scurrying off into the dark underbrush.

Then, for just a moment, at the beginning of my day, I freeze where I stand and let the quiet envelop me. The smell of damp leaves mixes with the honeysuckle and fills my nose with the most delicious treat. I am connected with and at peace in my world. At this moment I need nothing else to feed my soul. One last deep breath of my surroundings and I step up to the ball, line up my shot, pull my club into a smooth backswing, and let the club fall back down along the swing path. Thwack! My ball rises from the tee in a soft natural arc and flies over the brook. The bull frogs croak and grunt in their cheering section as my ball lands 140 yards away in a splash of dew which I will soon sweep away with my next shot.

The fact is that, for me, golf is so much more than a game or a sport or, as Mark Twain called it “a good walk spoiled”. Golf affords me moments like these: where the noise that is hub-bub of the human world is turned down for a couple of hours and I receive the gift of being connected to the natural one. It calms me. It connects me. It restores me.

“R” is for Retirement

“R” is for retirement. In our 30s and 40s, we see retirement illustrated in the lives of our grandparents or parents. For many of us that looks like some kind of ideal existence. No more hauling ourselves out of bed to trudge off to a job we need but may only occasionally love. No more car pools, sports/dance/school schedule juggling. No more putting off art classes or book club or regular golf games.

Once upon a time, Aubrey Reed, the beloved CEO of our company, was retiring. I happened to be standing near him at the company-wide send off held for him on his last day. I will never forget his answer when asked, “What are you going to do in your retirement, Aubrey?” He was a big man – easily 6’3” tall – with a heart and personality to match. When he spoke, everyone listened and that’s one thing that made him a great leader.

On this day his reply was so simple yet so huge that it has stuck with me more than 25 years later. He raised both hands, arms outstretched, threw back his head and declared in a booming and joyful voice, “GLOBAL TRAVEL”! The reason I remember his answer so clearly was the absolute conviction with which he uttered that simple two-word answer.
But now that it’s my turn, I realize that retirement is not for sissies. It is scary and challenging and takes a completely different kind of work than any previous occupation I ever had. Retirement is a time for a lot of “R” words, none of them easy but all of them vital to continued happiness in this new phase of life.

So In addition to retirement, “R” is for respite, time to catch our breath and slow down a bit. And while you’re in your respite period, “R” is also for recalibration. Like every efficient machine, we need to take time to correct, to tune up, our life’s pace. Recalibration requires reassessment of priorities and of purpose. It’s a time to reimagine how and what we want our lives to be, what we want to be ‘when we grow up’. Responsibilities for those around us diminish a bit but recommitment to ourselves increases as we make decisions about and for ourselves. Retirement offers the opportunity to revise our goals, our lifestyles and our priorities. And it affords us the time to revisit the things and people and place that we hold dear.

But as I said, retirement is not for sissies. It takes courage to put away the most familiar things from the past half century or so. For busy people, there are few things so scary as having nothing to do. For retired Moms, it may be even worse because, in addition to having retired from the rhythms of the work place, you have also retired from the demands of family life as you assume a second-row position. Neither is it easy to face the idle person in the mirror who is not expected to be anywhere this morning.

January 1st I retired from a 40+ year career, mostly in the insurance industry. I decided to force myself to do nothing, make no commitments, no firm plans, no schedule for the first six months. I tried to sleep late and to overcome the guilt of binge watching tv or reading until 2am. I tried to institute an exercise program and eat health because now I ‘had the time’ to cook healthy meals. I turned my Grad School assignments in ahead of schedule and updated my (empty) calendar twice a day.

It felt like I was operating in a vacuum, waiting for something to happen. But this recalibration was necessary, and I learned to accept this as a process. The more I was available, the more I became reconnected to folks in my life in new ways. Research assistance support for my author friend became easier. Golf invitations came more regularly. Participation as a Grandkid chauffeur increased, offering more opportunities to engage in their lives. I could plan or postpone grocery shopping or day trips as I wished.

Gradually life has begun to fill up once again because nature hates a vacuum and so do people. Next time, I’ll address the whole new alphabet of words that life in retirement presents.

IMVHO (In my very humble opinion)

My nephew is a kind and thoughtful young man, whom I rarely get to see since he moved to Florida. He posed a question for me on my Facebook page this morning and it took me aback because we’ve never actually discussed politics before. He never had the benefit of hearing my father, Herman, hold court for a political discussion at the Sunday dinner table so I thought I would resurrect the great Vanderwart / Socratic tradition of a question and the answer.

So Tim posted a screen capture from abc News of President Trump at a podium, allegedly announcing his intention to establish a ‘Space Force’ to add to the family of Armed Services. To caption this photo, he wrote, “Karen Vanderwart Potter what are your thoughts 😂 😂 😂 😂 he’s a joke in my opinion”  Here is my reply to Tim:

Ok, My Dear Nephew. I’m glad you asked that question of me because you’re not going to get a knee-jerk reaction from this quarter. (And given the length of his answer, you may never ask me another question again…) The fact that you have to ask me, shows I’m sticking to my original pre-election position of not commenting on DJT as president, (He wasn’t my pick but he was elected.) I will share my following impressions/opinions/cautions:

1. We live in a dangerous and complex world. Overseas we face intransigence, deception, and hostility. All of those make up a spiderweb crossing and double crossing our best intentions and create the appearance that we (in the personage of Trump) don’t know what we are doing.

2. It is my experience that, for the most part, people around the world don’t hate Americans; they just may not like what America does from time to time. On this I am better informed than a good share of loud mouths in this country, having lived overseas for two years, and during which 9/11 occurred.

3. It is not America who is test firing nuclear missiles, slaughtering children of our enemies, starving the population while the oligarchs drink champagne, or allowing all manner of attacks against its own citizenry because they may hold a different religious or political belief.

4. I believe in the American electoral process IF it is conducted in a lawful manner. This man WAS elected to serve as President of the United States of America. He is a good sight better than the alternative that was presented on the ballot.

5. I believe that, just as there are forces at work overseas, which are trying their best to undermine the financial, political, and military security of my country, those same forces have a domestic detachment working to do the same thing. The erosion of core beliefs in this nation is disturbing at best and terrifying at worst.

6. Do I think our President is a fool? No. Do I think he’s a puppet of the ‘military-industrial right wing complex’? No. Do I think he’s a selfish unpatriotic boor? Only partly; he may be less polished than others who have served in that office and he certainly makes ill-advised use of social media but he is not unpatriotic. By that I mean, I believe he loves America, that he wants her to be the greatest power on earth because THAT is what will sustain and lift the people (analogy is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats), I believe he is really quite kind and, frankly not very complex. I believe that what you see is what you get. He certainly has a knack for success and I believe that he wants to use what he perceives as his skill set to help America/Americans succeed.

7. As for foreign relations, is he cagy? Maybe, but North Korea has been convinced to stop acting like a petulant two-year-old. We will see with regards to Canada, Mexico, Cuba, China, Russia, and the EU. Already Germany is collapsing under the weight of her ill-advised immigration policy, and the violent crime in England, Scandinavia, and Greece have become untenable – the people are beginning to push back on their leaders’ poor decisions to placate the Muslim world.

8. Is the idea of a ‘space force’ insane? Well, I was born when the moon was made of green cheese and most of my contemporaries could only imagine what space travel was like from science-fiction movies and comics. But then, a president had this crazy idea. Let’s be the first to put a man on the moon. No one can deny that the space race was not one of the single biggest events to lift the spirits, the technology, and the economy of this country – like ever. And no one can deny that the previously unimagined advances in medicine, science and technology, and even culture would have been delayed by decades (and certainly would not have been American innovations, in any case).

9. He has perhaps the most complex job in the world. Hundreds of people are giving him conflicting advice every single day. Conflicting agendas (personal and political) are being shoved in his face all the time. The press appears to be on a campaign to destroy him personally, politically, and professionally, seemingly without regard for the fall-out that will result, as America’s reputation and self-confidence are assassinated by those forces I mentioned in #1 and #5 above.

10. There is only one thing I can think of right now that will stabilize all of this and that is for everyone to stop sniping, stop harping, stop criticizing one another and our government. I’d like to see us declare a discourse moratorium and stop talking for one week. I’d like to see us catch our collective breaths, make no accusations or criticisms. I’d like to see us try to approach the table with only suggestions for solutions upon which we can all agree.
(Guess what? Trump, for all his faults and foibles, knows how get deals done – and at least his eyebrows don’t fall off … just sayin’)

You’ve got mail !

You’ve got mail! A popular 1998 movie (and admittedly, one of my favorites) contrasted the anonymity of internet e-mail and real life relationships. And as a premise for the movie, this is a fun idea. But lately, I’ve come to detest the very idea of opening my e-mail and here is a sampling of the subject lines designed to entice me to open these life-changing communications: 

WHAT POPULAR CANDY CAN DO TO YOUR MEMORY …
IS YOUR SHAMPOO CAUSING ALZHEIMERS??
WHAT PINEAPPLES DO TO YOUR BELLY…
$50 MARIJUANA INVESTMENT JACKPOT
FLASH SALE COUPON – ONE DAY ONLY
HOT ASIAN WOMEN WANT TO MEET YOU (clearly they have me confused with Kevin Potter, whoever that is!!)

I was pretty busy most of the early part of the week doing ‘retiree’ stuff (laundry, lists, watching the chipmunks and listening to the birds) and visiting the American Antiquarian Society (but that’s another blog entirely) and making beef stew for the week and watching the Red Sox games and taxiing grand kids.

So on one particular day, I didn’t really have a chance to check my e-mail. I have three e-mail accounts: one at Worcester State for school work, another is an old one I generally use for junk mail, subscriptions and my genealogy research, and a third is my active, personal e-mail address.

But that morning when I opened my personal e-mail, I had 95 items – in fewer than 12 hours – NINETY-FIVE !! How could that be? I don’t think I even KNOW 95 people! Here is a summary of just some of the topics the senders were dying to help me with:

Termite control
Legal marijuana business opportunities
CBD oil
Politics (candidates, issues, party) – 3 items
Red Sox (ok – I would never delete any of those!)
Social media (Classmates, Facebook, SnapChat, etc) -4 items
Writing craft – 3 items
Diseases (diagnoses, donations, cures) – 5 items
Crafting – 3 items
Book suggestions/selling – 3 items
Travel (general)
Retail stores – 4 items
Food, Wine – 3 items
Diet – 4 items
Golf – 4 items
Coupons – 2 items
History / Genealogy – 4 items
Money management
Entertainment – 2 items

When I perused the list of senders, I decided it was time to do more than just mass delete whole section of mail I consider junk mail. So, I began the process of ‘unsubscribing’ from those I don’t want to ever see again. The only problem is that you have to open each and every one to scroll down and find the Unsubscribe link in barely discernable, microscopic print at the bottom of the e-mail.

Once you click on “Unsubscribe”, you are taken to the exit point of your relationship with that mailing list. “Thank heavens,” you think ….. until the next screen contains a series of questions about why you want off the list. Along with the reminiscences of a petulant 2 year old asking “why” a dozen times, I am struck by the suspicion that this is just another ploy to create more internet cookies with my name on them.

For a moment I weigh the choices at hand: 1. Risk landing on yet another e-mail list by filling out this form, or 2. Save time and effort by just continuing to delete the original mails and hope for the best. Then I remember that e-mail lists are like those grocery store plastic bags in the drawer – one day you have two but by the next day, they have multiplied in the darkness and the next morning there are twenty trying to escape when you open the drawer to get a coffee filter!

E-mails multiply so “Unsubscribe” it is! Pray for my success. And if I don’t answer your e-mail right away, please understand I probably didn’t mean to mark it spam but you just got caught up in the purge …..

Disclaimer: no e-mails will be deleted from the “abrhs1969” e-mail account – I promise !!

 

Grammy’s lessons …

Today’s families are scheduled down to the five-minute time slots with school, work commutes, soccer/hockey/track, tutoring, committee meetings, homework. It doesn’t matter if there are two kids in the family or six – life can turn into a logistical nightmare even for the most organized families. So when New England weather throws a monkey wrench into the works, as it has done with four snow storms in the month of March this year, everyone’s schedule has to be a bit flexible. That is good news for otherwise idle Grandparents!

We get to step up, pick up, fill in, and be important teammates once again. Yesterday, when my granddaughter Victoria’s school dismissed two hours early, she needed to be picked up from school and I got to perform that duty. It gave us a serendipitous interlude in the normal race through the day which keeps her so busy we sometimes don’t see one another for a couple of weeks at a time. On the way home, we decided to stop for lunch and took a seat at Friendlies restaurant…just the two of us. With two hours to kill and no place we had to be, we laughed and talked and planned and laughed some more. I learned that her history class is about to cover the Emancipation Proclamation; that lead to a conversation about Abraham Lincoln and I learned she had just read (recreationally) a book about the capture of his assassin. We talked about the root causes of the Civil War and the sentiments in the country on each side.

Then we got to talking about religion and faith and science and karma and the season of Lent, Passion, and Resurrection (she attends St. Peter Marian Junior Senior High School, where such topics are still part of a young person’s development). Then we tied it all back to Mary Todd Lincoln and her attraction to spiritualism and mysticism. And just to round out our discussion, lest Vicki think I was smart and knew all that stuff by myself, I admitted to having learned a lot of it quite recently from my friend who is writing a book about some of this. I said to her, “We learn from each other – all of us – if we will only listen to one another…” and thankfully she agreed.

This morning, again thanks in part to the weather, I had the responsibility for putting my grandson on the school bus. In the 45 minutes between his drop off at the teeny tiny house and the time we needed to walk down to the bus stop, he had an opportunity to resume work on a short story he has been writing on my computer, to demonstrate his typing abilities, and to revise his plot line and characters a bit. Varick also shared with me that today at school, the students were scheduled for ‘enrichment’. He made it sound like a big deal. He explained that, right before gym period, they have an hour or so in which they participate in some sort of art enrichment and some sort of music enrichment. Now, I’ve been to plenty of his concerts at school in which all the students participate and I am truly impressed with the quality of those presentations.

But when I asked about the art activity, he made a 9 year old grimace and said, “We’re learning cursive writing.” I could hardly disguise my joy that his school was returning to teaching the valuable skill even if it was only in ‘art enrichment’. He wasn’t terribly impressed with my enthusiasm either! I love calligraphy and have always been fascinated by cursive writing, especially as an amateur genealogist who reads old manuscripts, diaries, and letters all the time. I tried to assure him that he could grow to like cursive writing and that he would find he could write faster if he used “script”. He remained unconvinced by my arguments. But I’m not done with my campaign to convince him – I think we should try pretending cursive is really like writing ciphers and see if that might spark and interest.

So from these, my two favorite students, I was reminded of three important lessons this week.  One is that if we can just find that about which we are passionate, we can ride the wave of wonderment and accomplishment, even as we have to do the unpleasant things life requires of us. The second is that, while we bemoan the teach-to-the-test and ‘common core’ curriculum which everyone agrees is not working, there are still ways to identify the passion in students and fire it up to result in satisfying accomplishment. The third lesson is that, every person in a youngster’s life – parent, sibling, grandparent, teacher, religious leader, neighbor, librarian, coach – has a part to play in lessons number one (help find the passion) and two (fire it up). Maybe it’s just the frustrated teacher in me but I find that role fun and exciting.

Oh, and by the way, we can do the same for ourselves if we haven’t forgotten how to dream….