December 20, 2009

Snow Stories

Thank goodness for neighbors! I went out today to find my car, which was buried under yesterday's snow. We got over 20" here so the only thing I could see of my car was the very tips of the windshield wipers I had pulled up and away from the window on Friday night. The rest was nothing but one big lump of white! At least I don't have to worry about shoveling the sidewalks. That's one good thing about living in a condo -- someone else does that part.

So, I went downstairs with my snow shovel and push broom to see what I could do. There were several neighbors out, so I chatted with my downstairs neighbor, Jim, as I worked. I started to shovel a spot where I could walk from the sidewalk to my car. I got through about 4' x 1 shovel width and knew that this was going to be a big job! We had at least 20" of snowfall yesterday. I'm not very tall, so it was slow moving.

After a few minutes, a nice-looking young man (probably a 30-something) from across the parking lot walked over. He said, "I have an offer for you. If you'll let me use your shovel [he didn't have one], I'll dig out your car." I told him he was welcome to use it, but didn't have to shovel mine, but he insisted. I'm no fool -- I graciously accepted his trade. I handed over the shovel so he could dig out his own cars first, then I took the broom and used it to clean the snow off my car. Fortunately, it was a very light snow, but it still took quite a bit of effort. Not only am I short, but I'm no spring chicken, so it took me about 30 minutes just to clean off the car itself. It was very hard for me to move around the car, especially as the snow came off the top and added to the height of the snow around me. I got it done, told Garrett (the young man) that there wasn't any rush to get mine done because I'm not going anywhere any time soon, and went inside. I was soaked through all my layers, so I stripped down and threw my clothes in the dryer.

I just looked outside about 20 minutes ago and the area around my car has been cleared completely. I saw Garrett heading for his apartment, so I dashed down to the landing and hollered "Thank you!" to him. He wouldn't accept any payment; I guess loaning him my shovel was payment enough for him. I've never met him before and I'm not sure I'd recognize him again, but I'll remember him for a long time. He's restored my faith in human nature! There ARE still a lot of nice people out there in the world. Thank goodness for this one!

November 29, 2009


"Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody..." That's kind of how I was feeling last night. It had been a busy day, so I crashed at home, as usual. I was feeling kind of "itchy", though, like I wanted to do something, but didn't know what. I didn't have anywhere to go...didn't feel like sitting at the computer...didn't have the patience to read a book, so I was channel surfing on the TV. I kept switching programs because there was mostly crap on to watch, none of which really appealed to me. Then, just before 11:00, I was looking at the online TV guide and noticed a show coming up on CNN called "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute". I decided to give it a try...and, boy, am I glad I did!

This show was about normal, every day people -- people like you and me -- who have done something extraordinary to change the world and make it a better place. For example, there is a man who was a contractor working in Iraq in 2004 who discovered a need for child-sized wheelchairs, so he started a foundation to raise money and purchase them. He even puts them together and delivers them to the children themselves. Now, this may not sound like much, except there are thousands of children -- some of them hurt in the fighting going on there -- who are carried around by their parents or who literally drag themselves through the streets because they have no other way to get around. Since 2004, he has bought and distributed 650 wheelchairs!

There was a teenager who lost his legs in a boating accident. Fortunately, his family had good health insurance and he not only survived, but was able to get prostheses to enable him to lead a "normal" life. He found that there were many children, though, without adequate insurance (or any at all, sometimes) who could not afford prostheses, so he started a foundation to raise money and provide them. I learned that a child usually needs a new prosthetic every 18 months as s/he is growing. This young man has dedicated his life to making the lives of other children better.

There were something like over 7,000 people nominated around the world for this award and 10 were chosen to be honored in the program. Each received a $25,000 grant to continue their work. One was chosen as the "CNN Hero of the Year" and received an additional $100,000.

It was an incredibly inspiring show to watch, especially after seeing so many awards shows lately that honor people for being able to sing or dance or entertain. I'm not minimizing those awards, but there is something inherently wrong in this country when we hold entertainers or sports figures in higher esteem than people who are doing grassroots work to make this world a better place by putting the needs of others ahead of themselves!

This awards show is going to be repeated tonight, Sunday, November 29, at 8:00 and 11:00 pm ET/PT. I encourage you to watch it or, if necessary, record it to watch later. I think you will find it just as inspiring as I did. If you can't watch the show, then go to and read about the 2009 recipients. You can also nominate someone for the 2010 award if you know anyone who is worthy of the honor.

Please don't miss it. It is well worth the time to watch!

November 26, 2009

I'm Thankful for Thanksgiving

Well, I tried, but I fell short this past week. I wanted to write every day about something I'm thankful for, but I missed a few days. I'm a little disappointed in myself and yet, in an odd sort of way, it's the reason that I say I'm thankful for Thanksgiving. Here's the point -- we all get so busy with our day-to-day lives that we don't always stop each day to give thanks, even though we should. So I think it's a good idea that at least one day each year is set aside to stop and think about all we have and say out loud that we are thankful. It's a tradition in our family, as I'm sure it is in many others -- before we dig into the buffet, an abundance of food, for sure, we all stand in a circle and go around and say what we're thankful for. Even if a lot of it is repeated -- we're thankful for family, friends, good health, etc. -- it's okay because it's the act of giving thanks that's really important, not originality. It's also good to remember that this holiday isn't just about the food; it's much more than that.

So, since I didn't get to finish writing about all of the other things I'm thankful for, I offer up this additional list on this special day of Thanksgiving:
  • I'm thankful for good health for me and for my family and friends.
  • I'm thankful every day that I wake up on the "right" side of the grass (think about it!).
  • I'm thankful for my wonderful big sister, Judy, who has been one of the most important people in my life from the day I was born! I'm closer to her than to anyone else on earth, except my children, and know that I can turn to her at any time for anything I need. I don't tell her often enough how much I love her and admire her!
  • I'm thankful for Judy's husband, Ed, probably the best brother-in-law in the world. How many BIL's would put up with a sister-in-law living with them for 9 weeks! Well, he did when I was recovering from ankle surgery two years ago. He is a great companion and good friend and, even though he's sometimes a pain in the butt, I wouldn't trade him for anyone!
  • I'm thankful for my nieces, Sara and Rachel, and their respective families. I've watched them grow up and blossom into beautiful, loving, intelligent, successful women. I couldn't be prouder of them if they were my own daughters!
  • I'm thankful for all of my friends and I am fortunate to be blessed with so many of them! I think I have one of the largest support groups in the world!
  • I'm thankful for growing older, as strange as that may sound. My parents both died way too young -- Dad was only 54 and Mom was only 56 (she died 5 years after my father). I have already lived longer than either of them and had the opportunity to retire, something they never did. So even though growing older has some down side to it (memory's not so good, more doctor visits and medications, etc.), it still beats the alternative.
  • I'm thankful for the life I've lived the past (almost) 59 years. It hasn't been perfect, but then, no one's life ever is! My heart is filled with memories...some good, some bad, some bittersweet...but I've learned something from all of them. I've been blessed with a good life so far and I hope it continues for another 40 years!

So that's it for this Thanksgiving. The food has been eaten, the leftovers put away, the dishes washed, the football watched, and thanks have been given. May we all be blessed in the coming year and be able to come together again next Thanksgiving to do it all over again!

Happy Thanksgiving to all....and to all a good night!

November 23, 2009

I'm Thankful for Home Sweet Home

Sorry I didn't get to post yesterday. It turned into a pretty busy day and I just never got to it. I guess I spoiled my plan to write a post every single day until Thanksgiving, but I'm doing my best. At least I'm writing more than I was before and I've had a lot of friends and family tell me they're enjoying reading my blog, so I've accomplished that much.

I was trying to think of a good subject to write about tonight and as I was driving home from my chorus rehearsal, I found one. It's a rainy, miserable, cold night out there tonight and I started thinking about how happy I would be when I arrived home to my lovely, dry, warm apartment. And then I started thinking about all the people who don't have homes to go to this night. I thought about all the homeless people in our town, in our Nation's Capital and throughout the country. With these tough economic times that seem to be going on and on and on, I'm sure the number of homeless is higher than ever. So I thought that today I would give thanks for the roof over my head! It's not fancy or lavish; it's usually even kind of messy and cluttered, but it's mine! (Well, mine and the bank's! LOL) I'm thankful that I was able to purchase a home and that I've been able to keep up the payments on it. I hope that never changes, but if it ever did and if, Heaven forbid, I ever lost my home, I know that I would be able to turn to my family and friends for help and would not have to sleep on the streets.

May God bless all of those who are not as fortunate as I and bring them comfort in this miserable weather.

November 21, 2009

I'm Thankful for a Special Friend

Today I spent most of the day with someone who has been a special person in my life for over 40 years. I call her Karpe, a nickname she was labeled with when we were in Girl Scouts together back in our high school days. I won't bore you with the story, but she has always been "Karpe" to me and my family. We're the only people in the world who call her that.

Forty years. It's hard to believe! It's hard to fathom what my life would have been like without her. I was 17, a senior in high school when we met; she was 15 and a sophomore. We were both going through difficult times in our lives. My father was recovering from his first bout of cancer; Hodgkins Disease, to be exact. Her father was an alcoholic and she was having a hard time dealing with it. We turned to each other for support and a lifelong friendship was born.

Since that time, we have been through thick and thin together...literally! Our lives have been filled with peaks and valleys, as everyone's are, and we were right there for each other whenever we were needed. We've celebrated more life events together than I can ever count and we've cried together more times than I would like to remember. We can be just as silly today in our "middle age" years as we were as teenagers, maybe even moreso! Or maybe it's just that we enjoy laughing together at ourselves or at other things.

I have received so much from her over the years and I've had the opportunity to give equally as much. I took her for chemotherapy treatments when she battled cancer, not once, but twice. She was there to help me pick up the pieces of a broken marriage. She's come over and helped me clean my house when I needed it and I helped take care of her when she was recovering from hip replacement surgery...twice.

When I told her I was going to do a 3-day breast cancer walk in her honor back in 2000, she immediately signed up to do it with me. What fun that was...especially on the very first day when we were the absolutely last two people in the group of 3,000 walkers, and the only thing behind us was the ambulance waiting to see if we needed a ride!

Our weekend shopping trips became infamous, although they started simply enough. I remember it was 1988 and she had finished her treatment for breast cancer, her first bout with the disease. It was also the year we were celebrating 20 years as friends and I suggested we do something special to honor both occasions. Our children (I had two sons by then and she had one) were still pretty young and, being boys, weren't very interested in shopping for clothes. In fact, we usually had to take them kicking and screaming to the stores! So Karpe and I decided to "escape" our families and head up to Reading, PA to try our hands at outlet shopping. We left early on a Saturday morning in the fall, shopped till we dropped at the Vanity Fair Outlet (mostly for the kids, but also for our husbands and ourselves), then stayed overnight in Lancaster. The next day we stuck around a few hours to shop some of the outlets there, but once her station wagon was filled with bags and ready to burst at the seams, we headed home. We had spent the whole time talking, laughing, shopping and eating -- a perfect weekend!

The following year, we left late Friday afternoon when we finished work. That way, we'd have more time to spend in Reading. By the third year, we were taking the day off on Friday so we'd have three full days to shop....and the rest is history! It was our special time together...a time when we could be by ourselves and talk about anything, serious or not. We made that trip every year for 13 years! By then, the boys were grown and she had a daughter who had reached the age where she wanted to pick out her own clothes. We still go shopping together, though, but her now teenaged daughter usually comes along, too.

Now our lives are so busy that sometimes weeks go by before we get a chance to talk on the phone; months pass when we don't get to see each other, even though we don't live very far apart. We're always together at family events, though, because she and her family are as much a part of my family as if they'd been born into it! We make the time to see each other and spend time together -- whether it's going to a craft show, like we did today...or having dinner together...or when she comes to my chorus or quartet performances or I go to her school to watch her kindergarten students perform. She's even an official groupie for my quartet! She came with us to Ocean City last April for our first competition and I'm hoping she'll come with us again next April for our second try.

We'll be together again for Thanksgiving as we are every year, this time at her house. My whole extended family will be there and I'll be helping her prepare the feast. Like I said, it really doesn't matter what it is we do when we're together; we just like to be in each other's company.

I'm thankful for Karpe, my bestest friend!

November 20, 2009

I'm Thankful for My Children!

I have been blessed to be the mother of two fine young men, Paul and Dan. I look at them and still can't believe they are all grown up! Dan (my "baby") is going to be 26 next week and Paul will be 30 in January. Wow! I look at them and wonder how they ever started out as little, tiny infants. Where did the years go?

I'd like to say that raising them was easy, but there were plenty of times it wasn't. We were much luckier than many parents, though, because our boys had no severe disabilities or handicaps to deal with. They never got in trouble with the law or harmed another person. They're good, decent men.

We had our share of illnesses, broken bones, various sprained body parts, etc., as they were growing up, but for the most part, they were healthy. They weren't perfect, but then, neither were we. We went through tough times with them emotionally, as many families do. We've dealt with depression, low self-esteem issues, ADHD, drug use (just one of them), divorce (and its aftermath), etc. But that's behind them now and they have both turned out to be fine, upstanding citizens.

My relationship with them has gotten much closer the last 7 years since my husband and I separated and divorced. A year later, he moved 3000 miles away and that really took its toll on my sons. I think they felt abandoned, so they turned more and more to me for support. Even though they were both grown up by then, I was the "resident" parent and they took turns moving in with me, then out, then back in, then out.... Now they are both on their own and handling things fairly well. I still get an occasional call from one of them for some financial help, but I've also been able to turn to the other one now and then when I needed a few bucks myself. It's good to know that we help each other -- we're all adults and our relationships are on an adult level. Still, they'll always be my little boys in my heart.

One thing that I really appreciate is the way that they've become very protective of me since the separation. They check up on me, call several times a week (if not daily), listen when I've had a bad day and need to talk about it, and come help me with chores that I can't handle by myself. They both have wonderful hearts and reach out to help others, often before being concerned about themselves. What more could a mother ask for? They turned out good!

I am thankful every single day for my sons. They are the light of my life!

Thankful for Medical Science

This is supposed to be my post for Thursday, even though it's now officially Friday since it's after midnight. However, I haven't gone to bed yet, so as far as my body and mind are concerned, it's still Thursday.

Today -- actually, this week -- I am very thankful for the advances in medicine that have taken place during my lifetime, especially in the last 20 years or so. Why? Because this week, two of my good friends had surgeries and came through them with flying colors. ML had a knee replacement on Tuesday. Imagine that! When I was in my 20's or so, I used to watch "The Bionic Man" on TV and think how silly it was for a human to have man-made parts "installed" in his body. If only I'd known then that it would someday be a reality... ML is the 4th or 5th person I know who's had this surgery. I understand it is quite painful and a long recovery, but everyone I know who's been through it has never regretted the surgery for one single moment! I wish ML well and a speedy recovery.

Another friend had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, very common these days. Yet, I remember not too long ago when all that could be done was exercises and physical therapy. The surgery wasn't always successful. Truth is, it still doesn't work 100% of the time, but the success rate has gotten much higher and the surgery is now done quickly and easily, sometimes using lasers instead of scalpels. She should be feeling much better in a day or two.

I think I've mentioned before that a dear friend (and my niece's partner) recently had surgery for breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy and has to have radiation, but she also was told for sure yesterday that she will not need any chemotherapy! Hooray! The lump was found early enough that it was very small and self-contained. The amazing part is that the doctors were able to test the tumor to determine definitively what kind of cancer it was, what the chances are of it reoccurring, whether or not a course of Tamoxifen would help fight it off, and much more. These tests and medications have all come about within the last 10 years or so. My best friend is a breast cancer survivor (20+ years) and was part of the study that looked at lumpectomies vs. mastectomy. That's how relatively new this treatment is, yet it is now the treatment of choice. Just a little over 30 years ago, two of my cousins each contracted breast cancer while in their late 30's/early 40's; each had a radical mastectomy, but died just a few years later. Look how far medicine has come since then!

I also think of several friends I have who have battled colon cancer and won! Nobody likes to go through a colonoscopy, but it's such a great tool for early detection, why wouldn't you have one if your doctor thinks you should? My father died of colon cancer in 1973 at the age of 54. They didn't have anywhere near the diagnostic tools or treatments that are available today. Another wonderful advance in medicine.

These are just some of the reasons that I've always been a big supporter of the American Cancer Society and other organizations that fight this dreadful disease. The money I've raised for ACS has gone to help fund research to find cures, ways to prevent and diagnose cancer, as well as treatment programs. I've seen a lot change in my lifetime. Hopefully, by the time my grandchildren (when I have some) grow up, cancer will be a thing of the past, along with many other diseases.

So, today I am especially thankful for medical research and breakthroughs. We've come a long way, baby!

November 18, 2009

I'm Thankful for Laughter

I received an e-mail from my good friend Laurie a little while ago. It was a whole bunch of puns, some of them ridiculously bad! And yet, they had me giggling and laughing out loud!

Sometimes we get so bogged down in life that we forget that we don't have to take everything so seriously. I often say to people, "Don't ever lose your sense of humor. Sometimes, it's all you have!"

I was going to forward Laurie's e-mail to friends and family, but instead, I'm putting the puns here on my blog so you can all enjoy them! Feel free to copy and paste them into an e-mail to send to your family and friends or anyone else you think needs a giggle today!

ALL PUNS INTENDED (and absolutely no offense to anyone is intended, either!)
1. Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.
2. A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I'll serve you, but don't start anything."
3. Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.
4. A dyslexic man walked into a bra.
5. A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm, and says: "A beer please, and one for the road."
6. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: "Does this taste funny to you?"
7. "Doc, I can't stop singing The Green, Green Grass of Home." "That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome." "Is it common?" "Well, It's Not Unusual."
8. Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, "I was artificially inseminated this morning." "I don't believe you," says Dolly. "It's true; no bull!" exclaims Daisy.
9. An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.
10. Deja Moo: The feeling that you've heard this bull before.
11. I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day, but I couldn't find any.
12. A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!" The doctor replied, "I know, I amputated your arms!"
13. I went to a seafood disco last week... and pulled a mussel.
14. What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.
15. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, "Dam!"
16. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Not surprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.
17. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel, and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office, and asked them to disperse. "But why," they asked, as they moved off. Because," he said. "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."
18. A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt , and is named 'Ahmal.' The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him 'Juan.' Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."
19. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him a super-calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.
20. A dwarf, who was a mystic, escaped from jail. The call went out that there was a small medium at large.
21. And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

November 17, 2009

Giving Thanks - Day 7

This one was easy to come up with: I am thankful that the water damage to my downstairs neighbors' apartment didn't come from my condo!! I got a couple of frantic voicemails from them while I was at my class at the Library of Congress today. They had water coming into their laundry room and thought it might be coming from my place. I told them I hadn't done laundry in a week, so I didn't think that was the problem. To make a long story short, they had the water company out here to check things out, along with a plumber and a locksmith to get into another neighbor's apartment to check (under the watchful eye of a member of the condo Board). It turns out it was the other guy's washer that was leaking because he had turned on the washer before going to work this morning and didn't know the bottom had rusted out of it. Since the tub never was able to fill, the water just kept running all day!

I feel so bad for my neighbors, Jim and Jackie. This is the 3rd or 4th time they've had water damage that wasn't their fault! (Only once was it something from my apartment and then it was a minor fix.) They just can't seem to get a break!

I'm also thankful that none of the water came into my apartment. The last time we had a problem, it was from my upstairs neighbor and my place got hit hard! At least I don't have to worry about any more repairs and I'm not responsible for this one, so it won't cost me anything.

But, let this be a lesson to all who read this post: never, never turn on an appliance and leave home with it running! You never know what may happen!

November 16, 2009

Giving Thanks - Day 6

Although I just finished posting my thoughts from Days 4/5, I need to catch here's my thanks for Day 6: I am thankful for music!

Tonight is the weekly rehearsal for our chorus, the Heart of Maryland, so it's only natural that I spend today being thankful that I have so much music in my life. You may have just read how my quartet, Hearts Content, sang at Hannah's naming yesterday. These two groups -- or maybe I should say group (chorus) and sub-group (quartet) -- are a huge part of what defines me. Music has been a part of my life for as along as I can remember. I've always enjoyed singing, I started playing the piano at age 5 and the guitar at age 14. I've sung in chorus in high school and college, performed in numerous amateur shows, and discovered barbershop harmony over 30 years ago. I wasn't able to stick with it then, though, because I was about to become a mother and needed to concentrate on that instead. I went back to it -- and joined the chorus -- in November 2000, when my younger son was a Junior in high school. I've been with it ever since and love singing even more than ever!

There's much more to it than just the singing, though. This chorus...this wonderful group of women...opened their hearts to me and welcomed me into the fold with hugs and friendship, something we still do with every new member who joins the group! They have become some of my closest friends and have helped me get through the highs and lows of my life these past nine years. I don't know where I would have been or how I would have survived without them and without the chance to sing together. Even on my darkest days, when I really didn't want to go to rehearsal because I was too tired or depressed or feeling blah, I have forced myself to go and sing. It only takes one song -- sometimes even just a few measures -- to lift my spirits and chase the clouds away! One good chord and there's a smile on my face! I thank them -- and the music itself -- for that!

We end each rehearsal by forming a circle, holding hands and singing a special song, "How We Sang Today". It's a tradition that's been in the chorus for probably as long as the chorus has existed, certainly longer than I've been a member. I know it sounds corny, but it isn't. It gives us a moment to look at each other, smile and feel connected as we sing the words, "So take my hand my friend, I want to say, I'm glad we laughed and loved and sang together today." Those words ring true in my heart week after week, year after year! Singing -- especially with this group -- is downright therapeutic!

So, I'll close with one of my favorite quotes. I don't know who said it, but it's something I heard when I was a teenager and I have kept it close to my heart for my whole life....

God respects me when I work, but He loves me when I sing.

November 15, 2009

Giving Thanks - Days 4 & 5

I was away for most of the weekend at a scrapbooking retreat, so I didn't get to post what I was thankful for on Saturday or Sunday. I started to write this last night, but was too tired to finish. So, since I missed two days, I'm going to cover a big subject -- I am thankful for family!

Yesterday was the naming ceremony for my great-niece, Hannah. It was held at my sister's home where we hold most family events. What a beautiful ceremony and celebration it was! The house was filled with over 50 people, family related to both of Hannah's parents and many, many friends. My quartet was even invited to perform as part of the ceremony and for entertainment afterwards. We sang "I Hope You Dance" (originally recorded by Lee Ann Womack), a perfect song because it speaks about the future and how you should make good choices in life. It was filled with good advice for a young girl as she grows up, even though at 3 months old she was a little young to understand it.

I enjoyed the time spent with my family -- my dear sister and her wonderful husband, my brother and his wife (whom I hadn't seen in five years), my older son, my nieces, and all of my close friends, who are like an extended family to me! My only regret is that my younger son wasn't able to join us because he had no way to get home from where he lives almost 200 miles away. I know he wanted to be here, but just couldn't arrange it.

I've found that as I get older, family becomes even more important. Like I said, I hadn't seen my brother and his wife in five years. Somewhere along the way -- especially during the past 20 years -- he seems to have drawn away from my sister and me. We've never understood why and he's never really been able to explain it. My sister is the oldest of the three of us, so she has made many efforts to reach out to him and close the chasm between us. I think she may have finally gotten through to him this last time. She told him that we are all at that point where more of our lives are behind us than in front of us, and life is too short to continue to hold grudges. He accepted the invitation to Hannah's naming, and I spent a lot of time wondering how this reunion would go. I've been angry with him for a long time, but also hurt and longing for a real relationship. After all, he's my big brother and whether he knows it or not, I always looked up to him when we were growing least, when we weren't fighting, as kids often do.

It took him a while to warm up to us yesterday and I was feeling snubbed once again. But after most of the crowd had gone, I had a long chat with his wife and was very open about my concerns. She said that my brother wanted to reach out, but didn't really know where to begin. After we talked, I think she spoke to him and urged him to just start a conversation and open up. He came over and started telling me about how his son sang in an a capella group in college. We got to talking about my singing and comparing stories about being in chorus in high school, and before long, we were all laughing and joking and hugging each other. It was wonderful!

I hope this was the start of a new beginning and a new relationship, but only time will tell. We've been through moments similar to this in the past, but then things have gone cold between us again. This time, though, it feels a little different. He seemed like his old self again and I felt at ease and comfortable, instead of anxious and afraid of saying the wrong thing. My sister-in-law promised to have us all out to their house when their children and grandson are here for Thanksgiving. That would truly be a great gathering! I haven't seen my niece and nephew in more years than I can remember. And it would be wonderful to have the chance to meet my new great-nephew, who is almost a year old.

Let's hope we have finally put the past behind us. It doesn't matter what caused our paths to separate; it's water under the bridge. Only the future is important, and I hope that our future with my family will be even better than the past ever was!

November 13, 2009

Giving Thanks - Day 3

Well, today's thanks may bring a smile to your lips or even a giggle or two, but the way things have been this week, it has to be said: I am thankful that I am technically savvy!

I'm no computer genius and certainly would not be considered anywhere near being a geek, but I can use most of the common software programs that many of us use in our daily lives. Now, that may seem like a silly thing to be thankful for, but this week, I spent most of Wednesday afternoon helping my friend/chorus director, Karen, set up her new e-mail and learn how to record a show using her new Verizon FIOS DVR. Today, I was on the phone helping my friend, Sue, load music onto her iPod. I'm the Communications Chairman for my chorus, mostly because I know how to send out e-mails to everyone, with or without attachments.

I know not everyone is comfortable around computers, especially people of my generation or older. We didn't grow up using them like our children did. We lived through the days prior to remote controls, calculators, VCR's, DVD's, PC's, etc. I'm just lucky that I used computers a lot at work and had the opportunity to take formal training on things like Windows, MS Word, Excel, etc. I'm also not afraid of my computer and know that I really can't make it blow up by doing something wrong! That's what I try to teach my friends as I'm helping them.

I'm lucky in another way, too. I have great resources to turn to when I get in over my head or when something isn't working quite right. My older son, Paul, works in the field of computers and has for about 10 years. He's been a member of Geek Squad and can fix just about anything related to a PC or laptop, as well as video games, video recorders/players, etc. And if he isn't available, I turn to my brother-in-law, Ed, who is just as knowledgeable. I've learned a lot from both of them over the years.

There are lots of things about computers I'd still like to learn, like how to design a web page, how to put together a Power Point presentation (I've played with it a little, but need to learn more), graphic design, etc. At least, I'm pretty comfortable these days with Facebook and blogging, so that's a step in the right direction. I'll learn the other things sometime in the future. In the meantime, I'm thankful for what I'm able to do now and that I can help my friends when they need it.

November 12, 2009

Giving Thanks - Day 2

I've been giving a lot of thought all day to this concept of saying what I'm thankful for each day. It's easy to come up with what I think of as the "standard" things -- family, friends, good health, etc. I will address all of those in the coming days, but first, I'm trying to dig a little deeper and think about things that aren't quite so obvious. I'll save the easy subjects for days when I'm suffering from writer's block or don't have any fresh ideas.

So, today I want to say that I'm thankful for rain. I know -- if you live in the DC area, you're probably starting to sprout webbed feet because of all the rain we've had the last few days. Today was miserable to most people -- wet, rainy, windy, cold -- a good day to snuggle up in front of a roaring fire with a good book and a hot toddy. I agree with that and admit that it's a little bit difficult to actually admit I'm thankful for rain on a day like today. However, that having been said, I decided to look at the positive and think about all of the good things associated with rain.

First of all, it's better than snow! If all this rain had come down when it was 30 degrees colder, we'd have over a foot of snow, so I'm thankful that didn't happen. Of course, the most obvious positive is that rain is necessary for the plants, trees and grass to grow. Everything will be green and lush for the next few days, so that's a good thing. Rain shows that Mother Nature is still doing her job by providing the water that we need for survival, too.

The best thing about rain, though, is that sometimes, if you're very lucky, it's followed by sunshine and a beautiful rainbow. Not today...but last week, when I was taking a tour group from Arlington National Cemetery to the Jefferson Memorial, we had a quick storm and then the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. We saw the most magnificent rainbow (see my post "Stop the World" for a description). Times like that seem almost magical and we can't have the rainbow if we don't also have the rain!

Finally, there are times when you really do want to snuggle up in front of the TV or a roaring fire and just give in to being lazy and rainy days are perfect for that. I wish I could have had one of those days today, but maybe the next rainy day I'll be able to give in to it.

So, enjoy the rain, if you can. Splash in the puddles...bundle up your children and take a rain hike...or sit in your favorite chair, open the curtains and just watch it come down as you sip your tea or coffee. It's a good thing!

November 11, 2009

Giving Thanks - Day 1

My friend Jenny had a great post on her Facebook page today. It said:
Let's see how many people can do this. Every day this month until Thanksgiving, think of one thing that you are thankful for and post it as your status. "Today I am thankful for..." The longer you do it, the harder it gets! Now, if you think you can do it, then repost this message as your status to invite others to take the challenge, then post what YOU are thankful for today.

I love her idea, but I want to take it even one step further. I'm going to try to write a post every day between now and Thanksgiving to say what I'm thankful for. Yeah, it's kind of corny, I guess. But the truth is that we all get so busy in our lives and so often get dragged down by the things that go wrong that we really don't spend enough time thinking about the positives and being thankful for them. I've always tried to be a positive person...a "glass is 1/2-full" kind of gal, so this shouldn't be too least, not for the first few days.

So, here we go! A new adventure....a new focus for my thoughts.

Of course, today is Veteran's Day, and I am so very thankful for all of the Veterans who have served our country and all of the men and women in the Armed Forces right now, whether in harm's way or safe at home. Where would we be without them? I'm proud to say that I thank Veterans whenever I get the chance and, as a tour guide, I get plenty of opportunities to do so. If you see a Veteran or active-duty serviceman/woman walking buy, take a moment to say thank you to them, too. Also, check out the Gratitude Campaign by following the link on the right side of my page.

More tomorrow....

November 9, 2009

Stop the World! I Want to Get Off!

Has it really been more than a month since I last posted? I'm not really sure what that says about my life. It either means that I don't have one or that the one I have is way too busy and complicated to stop and take time to write about it. In reality, it's probably a bit of both.

I feel like I've been on a merry-go-round for the last six weeks and I can't get it to slow down long enough for me to step off of it. It started with preparations for our chorus annual show on October 3, which went very well -- one of our best. As co-chairman, there are always things to do towards the end to get ready. However, I'm also the Section Leader for Basses, so I was inundated with last minute quality control tapes to listen to and approve for the other singers in the section, and that took a tremendous amount of time.

I kept telling myself that once the show was over, I could relax, but of course, that didn't happen. At that point, I was busy putting the finishing touches on the plans for our "Tennessee Road Trip with a Little Alabama on the Side". For those of you who don't know about this...the Sweet Adelines International Convention/Competition was held in Nashville Octoberr 20-25. A group from our chorus decided to attend and enjoy the competitions (we were not competing). Since I had never been to TN or anywhere around there, I put out a plea for travel companions to spend a few extra days exploring the area. We ended up with a group of five fun-loving women who flew into Memphis the Saturday before International, rented a minivan and spent four days on a road trip through Tennessee, Mississippi (just passing through), Alabama and back to TN. It was fabulous!

We spent a day in Memphis visiting Graceland and getting a private city tour from a local guide. We ate the best barbecue I've ever had in my life at the world-famous "Rendezvous" in downtown Memphis -- a place I highly recommend if you're ever in town. The next day, we drove through MS to Huntsville, AL, where we visited the NASA Rocket and Space Center. Awesome! On Monday we hit the Unclaimed Baggage Store in Scottsboro, AL, then headed to Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, TN. Finally, on Tuesday we headed for Nashville....with a slight detour to Lynchburg, TN for a tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery!

We met up with the rest of our chorus buddies in Nashville on Tuesday. We spent some time watching the preliminary quartet and chorus competitions, but also took some time to see Nashville. We went on the General Jackson Showboat for lunch on Wednesday and took a tour that included Opryland USA and the Grand Ole Opry on Thursday. Unfortunately, my friend and roommate came down sick on Thursday night and I ended up spending all day Friday with her at the hospital and Saturday in our room taking care of her (mostly, watching her sleep 'cause she was knocked out by the medications). I didn't mind; she would have done the same for me. Aside from that, it was a great trip and one I'll remember for a long, long time!

After I got home, I figured that now life would settle down a bit. Not! The next weekend was the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and I had yet to do a single thing to raise money. Unfortunately, a dear friend and my niece, Rachel's partner, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy on the Tuesday after I got home from Nashville. The news is good -- doctors believe they got it all out -- so that's a big relief. I used Fay as my inspiration to raise money for ACS and wrote an e-mail asking for donations to send to my friends and family. In two days, I raised $500! There's still more coming in, too. I did the walk with my friend, Sue, and we had a ball. Since it was held on Halloween morning, we even dressed up with pink boa-covered bras!

Now? NOW? Did I finally get a bit of a break? Nope! I actually had a tour coming up the following week and had to prepare for it. A LARGE group of 8th-graders from Connecticut -- 7 buses/over 300 people -- arrived last Wednesday and I was one of seven guides to show them around through Friday. It was a wonderful group and I had a lot of fun with the students and adults on my bus! But it had been over five months since my last tour, so I was a little rusty, both physically and mentally. All went well, though, and we were blessed with three days of beautiful weather! We had a little rain on Thursday afternoon, followed by the shining sun, which created a gorgeous double rainbow that arched over the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial! It was so clear that we could actually see it all the way down to where it "touched" the ground on each end. I looked hard for the pot of gold, but couldn't find it. Rats!

So, maybe NOW things will slow down and the merry-go-round will stop spinning, right? Wrong! This week, I'm scrambling to update my resume for a big job fair for tour guides tomorrow...working on music for chorus because we have a coach coming to our rehearsal tonight...putting together the monthly newsletter for the chorus...completing a take-home exam so I can finish my requirements to move from Associate Member to Full Member in the Guild of Professional Tour Guides...getting ready to go to a scrapbooking retreat this weekend...working on quartet holiday music (including a new song) because we have a whole bunch of gigs coming up starting with Black Friday...looking forward to the naming ceremony and celebration for my great-niece, Hannah...still attending class at the Library of Congress....etc. You know, for someone who is "retired", I sure am busy!!

Maybe -- just maybe -- once we get past the naming, I can get a least, until Thanksgiving rolls around. My dear friend, Karpe, has offered to have the whole family to their place for dinner and I agreed to help her cook. We're both so busy lately (see above!) that we haven't seen much of each other, so I'm looking forward to it. It that's what it takes to get to spend time together, so be it!

The moral of the story is this: I wish I could post more often, but I'm doing the best I can. Thanks for reading when I do put things up and please check back frequently. I'll try to do better!

October 9, 2009

October 9

I've been in kind of a funky mood today...tired, bored, restless, uneasy. Is it the weather? No, it's been beautiful, a warm, sunny Fall day. Is it because of my crazy schedule? Well, maybe the tiredness, but not the rest of it.

And then it hit me just a little while ago. October 9. Of course. This was my wedding anniversary. For 25 years, it was a date that was celebrated and enjoyed. Now it's a day that brings on feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, loneliness. It's been seven years since my husband and I split years since I came home from work on a Friday afternoon to find he had packed up all his belongings in his truck and was waiting to tell me he was years since my life completely changed. Just when I think I'm finally over it...just when I believe that the hurt is gone...something happens to bring it all back again, like looking at the calendar and seeing what day it is. Maybe there are some things you never really get over.

For the most part, I'm very happy with my life. I'm a strong, independent woman -- always have been. That's how the women in my mom's family are. After all, my grandmother Sara was our example. She came to this country from Russia as a young girl, never even learned to read or write English, but spoke it fairly well (mixed in with some occasional Yiddish). She was widowed when my mother, the youngest of five children, was only four years old and Grandma ended up raising them all on her own. She never remarried, she supported them by herself; but every one of her children was successful in his/her own way. She did well by them, just as I try to do well with my sons.

Seven much water has passed under the bridge in that time. There have been a lot of trying, terrible days when I just wanted to shout "Stop the world, I want to get off!" I couldn't, though, because even though my sons were "grown up", they were devastated by their dad leaving, especially when a year later, he moved 3000 miles away! So I've been strong, not just for their sakes, but for mine, too.

I'm in a pretty good place now -- retired from one career and working on my second, surrounded by friends and family who love me, dealing with my two adult sons on an adult level now. I live by my own schedule, do my own "thing" and don't really have to worry about whether or not anyone else approves of it. I'm happy, and I know in my heart that the dissolution of our marriage was inevitable, whether he took the first step or I did. It had been in the cards for a long time, but that didn't make it any easier. And even though my life is better now, there are still a lot of long, lonely times, especially in the evenings, when all is quiet. Hell, I don't even have the dog to snuggle up to any more!

So forgive me for wallowing in a little self-pity tonight. It doesn't happen very often...but it usually happens at least once a year. On October 9.

October 3, 2009

What a Day!

Wow! I'm still flying high as a kite and it's almost 10:00 pm! No, I haven't been drinking and I haven't taken any drugs...not even a Tylenol! I'm high on life because today was our chorus annual show and it was GREAT! I was the Co-Chair for the show for the 5th or 6th time...I've lost track. I think this was one of the best ones ever! We sounded good, we were full of energy, we didn't have any major problems or goofs. Everyone had fun, and that's the most important part of all!

What is it about singing that makes me feel so good? I'm told studies have shown that when you sing, endorphines are released in your brain and you do get a sort of high. I believe it! There's something about getting together with friends and sharing the joy of singing that lifts me out of the deepest doldrums and makes me feel like I'm floating on air! The sound of harmony, especially when we "ring" a chord, gives me goosebumps and makes me feel giddy. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my friends, or linking arms or holding hands as we sing in a's hard to describe how good it makes me feel.

I'm so glad that I joined Sweet Adelines nine years ago, but I'm especially glad that I joined the Heart of Maryland Chorus. This wonderful group...these "sisters in song"...bring such joy to my life! It's a wonderful feeling and I hope it lasts for a long, long time!

September 17, 2009

R.I.P. Mary Travers

My heart is heavy this morning. The first thing I heard on the news when I woke up was that Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary had died. I knew she had been sick for years, suffering from leukemia, and that she had taken a turn for the worse over the summer, so it wasn't totally unexpected. Still, I feel like a part of my childhood is gone.

I first heard about PP&M when I was 12 years old and went to Girl Scout camp for the first time. Like millions of other people around the world, we'd sit around the campfire at night singing their songs: Puff, Blowin' in the Wind, Cruel War, and on and on. I got my first guitar when I was 14. I bought a PP&M songbook and a book of chord diagrams and taught myself how to play. That summer, my sister took me to my very first live concert -- PP&M at Carter Barron Amphitheater in Washington, DC. I sat with binoculars and watched the chords Peter and Paul played on every song. I sang along with them, as did the rest of the audience. It was magical!

I can't even count how many times I saw them in concert through the years. I introduced my sons to their music when they were just babies, and took them to see PP&M at Wolf Trap. The first time we took Paul to see them, I stood in line for hours the day that tickets went on sale. It was worth it -- we actually ended up sitting in folding chairs in the orchestra pit! We could see the sweat on their brows as they sang. Before the concert began, I saw the three of them standing in the wings, waiting to make their signature entrance (holding hands and running onstage). Mary actually looked at me and waved! Wow!

I remember when they broke up the group in the late '60's. They each wanted to try a solo career, but they were never as successful as when the three of them sang together. Less than 10 years later -- in 1978, to be exact -- they came back together for their "Reunion" tour. I remember going to Merriweather Post Pavillion and watching them, tears running down my eyes when they came out for an encore and sang "Like the First Time". The words: Like the first time, only better, we're a song that must be sung together. How true.

Think about what an impact these three people had on the culture and history of our country. They stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. at the March on Washington. They rallied people to fight against discrimination and apartheid; they fought for peace around the world. They were activists for almost 50 years!

To me, though, that was secondary to their music. The intricate harmonies, the moving lyrics, the funny children's songs -- so much talent and so much joy. I still choose to listen to their music most any time over any other artists I know.

So, farewell, Mary. It was a wonderful 50 years! Thank you for all the memories you helped me to create. I'll miss you!

September 9, 2009

Never Forget!

Today is September 9, which means that in just two days it will be 9/11 again. A day of remembrance....a day to pause and honor the thousands of men, women and children who died on September 11, 2001 when our country was attacked by terrorists. There have been many, many news articles, commentaries, blogs, books, etc., written about it, and there will be more written this week on the anniversary of the attack.

I'm no one special -- just an ordinary citizen -- and my words will be read by few people. But I believe that in many ways, I stand for the majority of Americans...for the every day citizens who weren't heroes that day, but whose lives were changed forever by the events that took place. And I'm worried because I think so many of us have come to view September 11 as just another day that falls between the 10th and the 12th of the month. How many of us really stop and think about it; stop and remember where we were, what we were doing, how we felt when we saw the images on TV. I guess if you're home on Friday morning or somewhere near a TV, you'll watch one of the morning news shows and see how they remember the day. Maybe you'll catch the evening news or watch a news special Friday night.

What will I be doing? I'll be sitting in a room Friday evening with about 200 other members of Sweet Adelines, learning about singing better and watching some great entertainment. For months, I've been helping to plan this weekend-long event, and it didn't even sink in that we were holding the first day on September 11! In my brain, it was just a date. And yet, I've been to the site of the attack on the Pentagon a number of times. I've taken tour groups to the new memorial to the 189 people who died in that part of the attack. I've visited the site of the Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania several times. I pass it every time I go to visit my son who lives near Pittsburgh. Why didn't the date register in my head while planning for the weekend?

I think it's because it seems so distant now. It's been 8 years, but it feels like 20. So much has happened since that attack, even within my own family: births, deaths, marriage, divorce, graduations, illness...good and bad. So much water under the bridge. But I -- no, WE -- must never forget that so many young men and women have died in the war that followed September 11 and is still going on today. We have been safe these past 8 years in great part because of the sacrifices they have made!

I'm lucky that I haven't had to send one of my sons into harms way, but I know plenty of others who have. In their honor, I'll spend some special time on Friday just thinking about them and all the other men and women around the world who are fighting to keep me safe. I'll say a prayer for their continued safety and for ours as a Nation. And I'll encourage my friends, family, and everyone I know or run across that day to take a few minutes out of their busy lives and do the same thing. If we don't do that -- if we don't spend time remembering that awful day of September 11, 2001 -- then it is bound to happen again. We can't let that happen!

Never forget....

September 3, 2009

One Month Old

I can't believe that my precious little grandniece (or is it "great-niece" -- I still don't know for sure) is a month old today! Again, I find myself asking where the time goes? It seems that as I get older, the days, weeks and months fly by faster and faster. I wish there were a way to slow down time.

Ah, but back to Hannah. She is so beautiful! I love babies when they're brand new. They're so helpless and cute. All they want is to be fed, changed and loved, and I've had a chance to do all of those things with her. Bless her mother, my niece, for giving me the chance to babysit for an hour or so earlier this week. It was nice to have some one-on-one time with this sweet little girl. It brings such joy to my heart to hold a baby in my arms again, even though I'm not the grandmother.

But it also reminds me of the emptiness and aching that lives in my heart every day because I can't see my own, true granddaughter, Taryn. Her mother has taken her away from us and won't allow us to be a part of her life. Taryn will turn 4 next month and it's been over three years since I last saw her. Every day I pray that her mother's heart will soften and she'll allow that beautiful little girl to rejoin our family. Some day....some day...

August 23, 2009

Does Anyone Know What Day It Is?

Geez, the past three weeks have flown by in a blur. It feels like I just turned around and August is almost over!

It started with the birth of Hannah on August 3, certainly the highlight of this crazy month. She is doing beautifully and will celebrate her 3-week birthday tomorrow! There are pictures of her all over my Facebook page, as well as on her mom, aunt, grandpa and godfather's pages! A friend says she's probably the most photographed baby in the world. I don't know about that, but she's certainly up there near the top of the list!

The day after Hannah was born, I had a small crisis at home. I live in a condo and the person who lives above me had a plumbing problem -- a leak behind the wall that she didn't know about. Of course, you know what that means -- I'm the one who ended up with a pool of water in my bathroom and a soaked carpet through about half of my bedroom! Nothing in my life is ever simple, though. She (my neighbor upstairs) is hearing impaired and wasn't responding to my text messages or doorbell ringing. I didn't know if there was water still running or if she was sick or injured, so I called the fire department, who came over and broke into her apartment to wake her and tell her what was going on. I felt terrible that it had come to that action, but she assured me I had done the right thing.

Anyway, I won't bore you with all of the details. Anyone who has ever had to deal with a similar problem knows that it takes time for the insurance company to act, requires a lot of phone calls and coordination to get everything cleaned up and dried out, then put back into place. The long and short of it was that I slept on the sofa in the living room for two weeks! Last night was the first time I was actually able to get back into my bedroom and sleep in my own bed. Ahhhh!

Oh, yeah, I forgot another little detail -- the week that all this happened, I was babysitting two little dogs for a dear friend and her family while they were on vacation! I love the puppies, but it just added a complication that increased the confusion and frustration levels that I was already reaching at that point. Add to it that I was helping my sister get her daughter (Hannah's mom) home from the hospital and settled in, working almost full time the past two weeks, trying to learn new music for chorus and our quartet, etc., etc. and so forth!

Now I guess I know where the last few weeks went after all! ;-)

Yesterday was a nice day, though, and that's what I really want to write about. I went with my 29-year-old son to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, VA. He had to visit a museum and write a paper on it for a class he's taking and this is the one he chose. We only got to stay for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon and got through about 1/2 the exhibits. What a fantastic museum, and what an incredible tribute to the Corps! It gave me goose bumps as I looked at the orientation film, then went through the exhibit about "Making a Marine", a detailed explanation of what boot camp is all about. There's a wonderful timeline that runs through the museum, too, starting before the beginning of the Marines in 1775 and going all the way to the present. It's well done, showing the different events in the development of the Corps along with what was going on in the world at the same time. A great way to put things into perspective. I highly encourage people who come to the Washington, DC area to take at least 1/2 a day to visit this most impressive sight. I've put a link to it in the column to the right if you want more information.

Now I hope that the next week or so will be considerably calmer....but I doubt it. My life doesn't tend to run that way! I have a lot of cleaning and sorting and de-cluttering to do, especially since the water episode. I just need to get myself motivated to get going on it! Maybe I'll take some before and after pictures and post them on this site. That might just give me the push I need to get it done!

Hope you all have a good week....and stay dry, inside and out!

August 3, 2009

Welcome, Little One!

Our family was greatly blessed today with the birth of my new grandniece, Hannah. She come into this world at 2:29 this afternoon, weighing 8 pounds and 20" long. She's perfect in every way! I had the chance to go visit her in the hospital and hold her for a while. What a miracle! My own children are all grown up now and it's hard to believe those two strapping young men ever started out so small. Where did the time go? And now, here we are -- our children are having children...the start of a whole new generation! I'm so happy for my niece, Sara, and her wonderful husband...for my sister and brother-in-law...and for all the rest of the family members who welcomed this little angel into our world today. May she have a long, healthy and wonderful life!

An Interesting Day

Sometime today, God willing, I will become a Great-Aunt! My niece, Sara, is in labor and may have even had the baby by now, although I haven't gotten "the phone call" yet. It's been hard to concentrate on anything else since she went into labor early this morning, so to pass the time, I've been doing a little net-surfing and checking out some other blogs.

My dear friend, AirmanMom, suggested I look at a blog called Ward57, which stands for the orthopedic ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. The blog is written by the wife of a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force who was serving in Afghanistan and lost his leg when he stepped on a land mine. He also shattered his other leg and suffered additional injuries. Her blog tells the incredible story of this young man's courage during his long recovery and of how much their lives have changed. I found it very touching and inspirational. I invite all of you to visit this blog by simply clicking on the link under "My Blogs" along the right column here. Please pray for this brave young man and his wonderful and supportive wife. They can use all the help they can get!

July 31, 2009

Music! Music! Music!

As you know from reading this blog, music is a huge part of my life. I sing in a Sweet Adelines women's barbershop harmony chorus and am also part of a quartet. A friend sent me a YouTube video of a championship men's barbershop chorus that blew my socks off! First of all, they have over 100 members onstage at the national competition. Our chorus is lucky if we can get 30 on the risers for our competition! Second, these men give an absolutely incredible performance of "76 Trombones", including singing, dancing, and a few little tricks, too.

If you think barbershop harmony is a few old guys getting together and singing old, tired songs, do yourself a favor and click on the picture of the "Ambassadors of Harmony" over in the right column. Be sure that your sound is turned up and watch it all the way through. You won't be disappointed, I promise!

July 23, 2009

There Oughta Be a Law

This link will take you to a wonderful article from Smithsonian Magazine written by William Ecenbarger. It's a whimsical description of what the U.S. Capitol might look like in 2509 if it were designed from C-Span videos collected over the years. Enjoy!

There Oughta Be a Law

July 22, 2009

Writing Experience?

I just finished an "exercise" that was quite new for me. I need a letter of recommendation for a new group I may be leading on a tour next spring and my supervisor at one of the companies I work with offered to provide one. She asked me to write something up and send it to her, which she would then sign and send to the requester.

I've never had to write a letter of recommendation about myself and wasn't quite sure how to approach it. How do you make yourself sound good without going overboard in the other direction and coming off as egotistical and vain? How do you point out your qualities without sounding like you're perfect and god-like? Do you mention your faults or do you just avoid them?

It took me a good part of the day to come up with something, even though it ended up being just three short paragraphs. I sent it to my supervisor and she said it was great. that because she wants me to get the job with the other group or because she's hoping I won't, so I'll be available to work for her instead. LOL!

I've always been a good writer...or so I've been told by friends, family, coworkers and supervisors over the years. Once I get going on writing something, it just seems to come flowing out. It's the getting started that's difficult! I asked my friend, AirmanMom how she manages to write so much in her blog and still keep it so interesting. I just can't seem to come up with things to write about. That's why my blog has big chunks of time when nothing has been posted. AM said she collects things to post as she sees them, gets them ready and saves them as a draft, then goes back to them when she needs something to fill in a day. I think I'm going to try that. I do get lots of interesting tidbits of information from fellow guides. Perhaps my followers would like to read them, too.

I'm not giving up...but I'm also not going to bore the world with this blog. At least, I hope not!! Stay tuned. This is definitely a work in progress!

PS -- I just heard back from my supervisor who said she'd send the reference. It turns out that she thought I was being considered for a job in the Fall, not one in the Spring, the busiest time of the tour season. She wrote back immediately and said that her company (my favorite to work for) would schedule me for those dates right now if I would give up the other request. No problem! I guess I wasn't too far off the mark with my comments a couple of paragraphs above! Gee, it feels good to have people fighting over you. :-)

July 10, 2009

A Tour Guide's Tribute to Security Guards

The tour season is essentially over for this year -- I have just one more day this weekend and that's it. Notice I said "tour season", not "tourist season". Summer is a very busy time for tourists in Washington, DC, but the organized tours -- schools, seniors, churches, etc. -- are mostly done in the spring, and those are the types of tours I usually lead.

It was a good season for me with lots of terrific groups! There isn't a single one that I wouldn't want to guide again. In fact, several groups have already requested me to be their tour guide next year. I had some adventures, both good and bad, but no major least, not with my groups.

I was leading a school group on the day of the shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, but I was fortunate because we were somewhere else when it happened. That doesn't make the whole thing any less horrible! I go to that museum every week. It could just as easily have been me and my group inside when the shooting occurred instead of another guide and her/his group. I know several who were there when it happened. I've heard the stories of how they had students hiding under the metal benches in the lobby or pushing groups back into the permanent exhibit to keep them away from the shooter. I can only imagine the terror that they had to deal with that day. Thankfully, all of the visitors were safe and evacuated without harm, but that memory will stay with them forever.

What causes people to hate others so much? I have never been able to understand why you would hate anyone just because of their color or religion or political beliefs. Maybe I'm naive....or maybe it's because my parents raised me to be open-minded enough to accept people for what is inside of them and not to judge them by the way they look or act. I'm certainly not perfect and I'm sure there's no one in the world who can say they are 100% unbiased all of the time. After all, we're human! But I just don't understand people who thrive on hating others. And, of course, the greatest irony of all is that the shooting occurred at the one place in our city that has dedicated itself to teaching and showing people how horrible the world can be when we are taught to hate others!

My thoughts and prayers are still with Officer Stephen Johns' family. I didn't know him personally, but many of my fellow guides knew him well from seeing him week after week. I'm told he was a kind, gentle man. It must be true because his last act on earth was to open the door to the Holocaust Memorial Museum for an 88-year-old man who was having trouble walking....the same man who raised a rifle and shot Officer Johns dead!

As a tour guide, we tend to look at all of the security checkpoints we have to go through here in DC as a pain in the butt. It slows us down, creates havoc when you have 100+ people to get through the magnetometers and x-ray machines. People who visit Washington from other parts of the country aren't used to all of the security checks. Many of them have only had to deal with it when they go to the airport, not when they go into a building to get lunch or enter a museum! I tell the students in my groups on the very first day of a tour that we take security very seriously here and it's just something we have learned to live with.

Since the shooting of Officer Johns, I look at these security checks in a whole different light. These guards who have to tell visitors the same thing a thousand times a day -- "empty your pockets...take out all electronics, such as cell phones, IPods, digital cameras, etc....remove your belts if they have large buckles..." and on and on -- are doing this to protect us! It may seem like they're just hanging around, waiting to give us a hard time when the buzzer goes off as we pass through the checkpoint, but they are there to put their lives on the line, if necessary, to keep us safe!

Since the shooting on June 10, I have made a point of thanking every single security guard I pass and telling them how much I appreciate what they do for us! It's not much, I know, but I can tell by their reactions -- a smile, a quick "thank you", a nod of the head -- that they are grateful that I do it. It's the least I can do for them. The next time you pass a security guard as you enter a building, you might want to say "thank you", too.

If you would like to do more, please visit the memorial page for Officer Johns and make a donation to the fund that has been established for his family. Just follow this link:

May 18, 2009

Tours, Tours and More Tours!

It's been a busy couple of weeks in the touring business. I've been tied up with tours at least three days a week and it's going to get even more hectic this week through my last day on June 19. I had a student ask me last week if I ever get tired or bored with it. The answer, unequivocally, is NO. Even though I go to see the same sights day after day, week after week, every time I go it's with a different group, so I'm seeing the sights through different eyes. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Last week, I was part of a 6-bus move of over 300 students and chaperones from Connecticut. As student groups go, they were pretty good, at least the ones on my bus. No major behavior problems, although there were a couple of them who were a bit "bouncy" -- always wanting to run or jump and talking constantly. That kind of goes with the territory, though, when you're dealing with 13/14-year-olds. As a tour guide, you have to go into a bit more history with students, such as talking about the anti-war movements of the '60s-'70s when we go to the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial or what it was like in this country during World War II when we go to that memorial. Sometimes the students are interested, but sometimes they just want to take pictures and move on. Every once in a while, though, I see something or am asked a question that tells me they actually "get it"! While at the WWII memorial with the CT group, I saw one boy go over to an older man wearing a WWII Veteran hat, speak with him and shake his hand. I asked the boy afterwards what he had done. He told me that they've been learning about the war in school and were told that if they ever see a veteran of any kind (but especially those who served in a war) US, to go up and thank them for their service to our country. How many 14-year-old boys do you know who would have the courage to do that, to go right up to a stranger that way? How many adults do you know who would do it? I told that young man that I was very proud to have him in my group and that he should be proud of himself for his actions. It was a moment I will long remember!

Over Mother's Day weekend (Saturday and Monday), I lead a group of senior citizens on a tour. We visited the same places I go with the students, but I clearly saw everything from a different point of view with the seniors. Not only did they know the history of all the wars, I had 3 WWII veterans in the group, one from the Korean War and one from the Vietnam War. The latter stopped along the wall of the Vietnam Memorial to "visit" a couple of his buddies. All of these years later, he still was emotional about losing them. Another memorable moment to store away.

Do I ever get tired of leading tours around DC? Sure I do! I'd be lying if I said I didn't. But it's a physical tired from all the walking, getting in and out of the bus, climbing up Capitol Hill and walking around Arlington National Cemetery with all its hills. At the end of the day, I hop on the Metro to head home and I collapse. Sometimes I doze off and people are kind enough to wake me when we get to my stop at the end of the line. Yes, it's very tiring being a tour guide!

Do I ever get bored from going to the same places over and over. NEVER! I take groups to see our national memorials, monuments, museums, landmarks, etc. I've lived in the DC area my entire life and I still get chills every time I look at the Lincoln Memorial...or see the U.S. Capitol lit up at night...or run my hand along a name at the Vietnam Wall...or hear Taps played during a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. These are the places that remind me how grateful I am to be an American and to live in this wonderful country! I hope that everyone reading this will take the opportunity sometime to visit these landmarks so you can feel the same way, too.

God bless America!

May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Thoughts

I guess every blogger in the country is probably writing about Mother's Day today, so why not join them? I've already had phone calls this morning from both of my sons, but that's nothing new. I speak to each of them several times a week, if not more. They're all grown up and I try not to bug them with phone calls to check up on them. Rather, I usually wait for them to call me when they want to, unless I have a specific reason to speak with them. I always enjoy hearing their voices; it brightens my day!

My own mother has been gone for 30 years. She died at the age of 56....I have already outlived her. I think about that often, especially today. It's hard to imagine my sons going through life at this point without having me there for them. It's kind of a strange feeling to see that loss from the "other side". My mother's death was sudden and unexpected and took a toll on me, my sister and my brother. Life was just never the same after she died. Yes, we went on with our lives, but I still miss her, even now.

Both of my parents died young -- my father passed five years before my mother. They were gone long before my sons were born, so my boys never knew their other set of grandparents. My mom and dad would have loved them and would have spoiled them rotten! I guess it's because of this that I long for grandchildren of my own. I want to be the type of grandmother that children want to spend time with, want to do things with, and can turn to when they need help. I want to be a grandmother while I'm still young enough and healthy enough to enjoy it, but I don't know if that's in the cards or not.

The truth is....I already am a grandmother. I have a granddaughter who is 3-1/2 years old, but I haven't seen her since she was 10 months old. Her name is Taryn and the last time I saw her, she was beautiful! She had a strong resemblance to her father, including a headful of red hair.

I won't bore the world with the details of the situation. Suffice it to say that her mother and my son did not get along well and things between them ended on an ugly note. The two parents agreed that she would not seek child support from him if he would not ask to see his daughter. As a result, I am unable to see Taryn, although she lives nearby. I've tried many times over the last three years to bridge the gap between me and the mother. I really don't understand why she has kept me from knowing my granddaughter except that it's a way to get even with my son and to completely sever the ties to our side of the family. I think of this beautiful child every single day! I wonder what she's up to, how she's doing, what she sounds like and looks like. I actually found her mother's Facebook page and saw a picture of Taryn at the age of 3. She looked so grown up with her long, red pigtails! My gosh, she's beautiful! She looks so much like my son, but her mother would never admit that, I'm sure. I sent the mother a kind, non-threatening note and asked if she would allow me to reconnect with them, but she immediately blocked me and everyone else I know from her Facebook page! All I have is the picture of Taryn that I was able to copy before she blocked me out.

So, although Mother's Day is wonderful because I have two grown sons whom I love very much, and with whom I have a wonderful relationship, it's also a day of sadness for me because of what I'm missing. I hope that someday, when Taryn reaches the legal age of 18, she will come looking for us and will choose to make that connection. We all love her and miss her! I also hope that someday I'll have other grandchildren to enjoy. If it is meant to be, it will happen. Until then, I'll live with the memories I have of holding my little granddaughter when she was an infant and will go on with an aching in my heart to hold her again.

May 2, 2009

100 Days

I can't believe that it's already been 100 days (plus a few) since the Inauguration of President Obama. Where has the time gone?

I started this blog to share my experiences as a tour guide during the Inauguration and yet here it is, 100 days later, and I still haven't been able to put it all into words. I've had the time, but I just haven't had the inclination and I haven't been able to figure out why. Now that some time has passed, I think I've come to realize what a momentous day it really was and what a profound effect it had on me to be a part of it. Maybe spending time writing about the details -- especially the logistical nightmares that I and all tour guides had to deal with that week -- would lessen the importance of the event. As it was all happening, I had to worry about so many different things -- where to meet my group; the best way to keep them together in the record crowds; how to be sure they were warm, hydrated, fed, etc. -- that it kept me from seeing the "big picture". Now that some time has passed, those details seem so unimportant compared to the historical magnitude of the event. I was a part of history! I stood there in that crowd and watched our Nation change as the first African-American became our leader. Wow!

I've done a number of tours in the past month; after all, Spring is the busiest time of the year for tour guides in DC. The details of the tours start to all run together after a while, even mixing in with the memories of the 5 days in January that were so special. Yet, every time I take a group to the Capitol now, I see it differently. I'm taken back to January 20 when the platforms were in place on the west front of the building and the hundreds of chairs were set up on the west lawn. I can still hear the cheers from the crowds all the way down the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial as Obama finished taking his oath as President, rippling eastward towards the Capitol like a great wave coming ashore at the beach. I remember the bitter cold of that day, even though I sweat in the Spring heat as we walk up Capitol Hill. I don't think I will ever look at the Capitol the same way as I did before the Inauguration because I'll always remember how it looked that day.

Life in Washington has pretty much settled down since January 20 and returned to normal, or so it seems to those of us who have lived here for years. Yet, just a couple of weeks ago I was leading a group of 8th-graders from New Hampshire who had the incredible luck of seeing the President's motorcade up close and personal not once, but twice in one day! The first time was in the early morning as he returned to the White House, perhaps from taking his daughters to school. The police stopped our bus right at the entrance to the south side of the White House and the motorcade drove right in front of us, close enough that the students could see the President in the limo waving to passersby! The second time was that evening, when we were stopped on Constitution Avenue and the motorcade drove right beside us going in the other direction. The students and adults on the bus were so excited! To me, it was just another day in the life of a tour guide in DC. We live with motorcades and security checkpoints every single day. How nice it is to be reminded by my groups that I shouldn't take these things for granted!

So that's as much as I've decided to write about the Inauguration. The stories about the hassles and triumphs seem old to me now. So much has happened in the last 100 days and every new day, every new group, every tour brings new experiences and new stories. I'll keep the memories of January 20, 2009 forever, but I'll keep moving forward, too.

April 27, 2009

What a feeling!

Today's post is a bit different. It isn't about monuments or memorials or tour groups. It's about one of the things I love most in my life -- music! This past weekend, my women's barbershop quartet competed at a regional contest for the very first time. Wow! What an experience that was!

We've been together as a quartet, known as Hearts Content, for a little over five years. We've performed countless times at our chorus shows (follow my link to the Heart of Maryland Chorus website), nursing homes, fairs, charity events, parties, etc., but this is the first time we really put ourselves "out there" to be judged by a panel of Sweet Adelines International Certified Judges! This was the first time we were on a stage in front of approximately 2000 people, performing just two groups after a quartet that ranked #4 in the International Competition last year! Talk about an adrenaline rush. Holy cow! But there was also a huge sense of vulnerability. These weren't just our friends that we were singing to; these were JUDGES! What if we totally "screwed the pooch", so to speak? Would we fall apart or would we be able to pick ourselves up and go on as a quartet?

No wonder It took us all of these years to convince ourselves that we could do this. Competing is so much more different from just performing for fun. We spent hours upon hours learning music, refining our performance, being coached, rehearsing, performing for our chorus, and on and on and on. We had discussions on every aspect of our performance -- costumes, make-up, planning, how would we react if we came in last, how did we think we would do, etc. It's been on my mind for months. And just like a wedding or a big party, after all of that planning, practicing and worrying, it was all over so quickly.

In fact, it was done in just 6 minutes, the maximum amount of time you're allowed onstage to do your two songs. It was the fastest 6 minutes of my life! It was also the most fun 6 minutes of my life! I can't even begin to describe the HIGH that I felt being up on that stage. I was the first one of the quartet to enter from behind the curtain and as I walked onstage, I glanced towards the area where I knew our chorus was sitting. There in the darkness I saw dozens of glow-in-the-dark sticks being waved at us. Our "Hearts" -- the members of the Heart of Maryland Chorus -- were out there cheering us on! I also knew I had non-chorus friends and family in the audience and all of that love pouring into our hearts onstage lifted us up and helped me overcome the nerves that I had felt earlier.

We sang our ballad, took our bows, then launched into our "uptune". In a matter of seconds (or so it seemed), we were taking our final bows and leaving the stage. We had done it!! We had lived through the experience of competing without losing our nerve and without leaving any bodily fluids on the stage (a suggested goal for first-time competitors from one of our coaches). We had performed well enough that we didn't embarrass ourselves, our chorus or our families! Just the opposite -- as we walked into the auditorium following our performance, we were enveloped with congratulations and hugs from our fellow chorus members, friends and family, telling us that we had never sounded better. They were all so proud of us for getting up there and singing. I have never felt such a strong feeling of love and support as I did at that moment! I was flying high as a kite and I'm not sure I've yet come down for a landing even though it's three days later!

So, you're probably wondering how it all turned out. Well, I'm proud to say that of the 44 registered quartets in our region of Sweet Adelines International, we are the 15th best quartet! To be just a little more specific, there were 15 quartets that competed on Friday night and we came in #15. That's right, we were in last place....but you know what? IT DOESN'T MATTER! It was such a wonderful, positive experience for our very first competition that the score just wasn't all that important! We didn't compete for the medals; we competed for the pure joy of singing....for the feeling we got by standing up in front of that huge audience and saying, "We've got the guts and confidence to do this!"....and for the renewed spirit of pride it helped to bring to our chorus because they once again had a quartet to cheer for! Sure, we'd like to do better and, hopefully, next year we will. We have a starting point now -- a measure to work from to show our improvement. If we work hard enough in the coming year, maybe we'll get the "Most Improved Quartet" prize at next year's contest. But even if we don't, we'll be proud of ourselves for getting up there and competing. After all, there are 29 other quartets still behind us because they chose not to compete. We used to be one of them....but not any more!

The positive spirit of the quartet competition also carried over to the chorus competition on Saturday. The Heart of Maryland Chorus went up 33 points over last year's performance and moved up one place to 14th in the region! We were thrilled! That was a huge improvement for us, event though it wasn't enough to get the "Most Improved Chorus" award. We're heading in the right direction, though, and had the best score that we've had in about 4 years! Hooray and hallelujah!

Now I have to put the competition weekend in the back of my mind and move on with the rest of the tour season. Today was a day off to relax, refresh and enjoy the peace and quiet. Tomorrow it's back to work with the first day of a 4-day tour. But the memories of the weekend will linger in my mind for a long, long time.