Wednesday, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015

I don’t think I understand much of anything, anymore—and I’m not certain if it’s because I’m getting older, or because life on this planet is getting more convoluted.

I don’t really understand why we’ve had a couple of year’s worth of weather upheaval. There’s barely been a news cast in the last few months that didn’t have headlines about record cold, record storms, or record heat. Weather patterns? Personally, I think Mother Nature has been doodling while drunk on Sangria.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, it seems this may be a year of record wild fires. Just look at a map of the west coast of the United States, and you have to wonder. Is there anyone living out there not being forced to breathe in smoke every day? Of course all these fires underscore a reality we humans have failed to accept. Seriously, I would have suggested years ago that we need to reconsider where we build houses, and allowing nature’s forest rejuvenation program—before humans, there were forest fires that burned until they went out, and then, there was renewal. That is how the giant sequoias came to be—well, giants. I would have suggested that, but it appears nature has just gone ahead and done that very thing this year.

And it’s not just natural disasters lambasting us these days. I don’t understand why the stock market is picking now to go crazy. Yes, yes, fears of this and worries of that drive the prices up and down, up and down. I had no idea that the main prerequisite of managing other people’s money in a large investment fund was the propensity for turning into Chicken Little.

Now, because of all this damn panic by the money managers, people who really have little say are worried, and on the surface, I can understand that. You’re working hard, building your 401K and all of a sudden, it’s worth substantially less than it was, just the day before. We’ve had similar setbacks in years past in our own retirement funds, so I get that. But I also get the only people who should really be worried are the ones set to retire in the next few months. For them, my heart aches.

Everyone else needs to take a chill pill, because if the markets can regain the losses and even surpass the big blow out of 2008 (just seven years ago), then they can overcome this, too. So everyone who has at least a couple of years of saving time left, you need to stay calm.

Fear and panic seem to be contagious. All you have to do to catch either of those two states is to be near them. Sometimes, I wonder if “they” don’t use those two emotions as tools. It suits “their” nefarious purposes to whip everyone up into a lather from time to time. The person who’s afraid or in a panic sure is easy to direct—and maybe is too worried about what they’re worried about to pay attention to other stuff.

That’s a cynical thought for me—but then since I hit my 60s, my inner curmudgeon has been coming out to play a lot more often. I like to keep a positive attitude but I don’t want anyone to think I’m blind to machinations of some people.

After all, God gave us free will. We can choose to uplift, or tear down; we can choose to do good, or to do evil.

If we let it, life can chew us up and spit us out. There are always things happening, events that cause concern. In any given year there are natural disasters, outbreaks of disease, and financial woes. The Internet, that I applaud for allowing shut-ins to keep in touch, and providing educational connections to those who might otherwise not be able to get an education—that same Internet spreads worry and woes faster than a California wild fire.

Because we all are so darn connected to each other—not just individuals, but nations—we know of things and hear of things at an ever dizzying rate of speed. The constant spate of news, mostly about negative things, keeps us all in a near constant state of anxiety.

So let’s all relax, if we can. Take a deep breath and step back. Begin to think of what you can do to make things better.

And then look for the opportunity to do so.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

August 19, 2015

We enjoyed our annual trip to Hazleton to visit our friends who live there. I also use the time while in Pennsylvania to do some research into the history of the area, and the people, as I’ve been working on a story that takes place in the northeastern portion of that state.

During past trips, we’ve visited various museums and historical areas connected to the boom times of the coal years. We’ve also ventured to Gettysburg, and the Civil War museum and State Capitol building in Harrisburg.

We’ve gone to the haunted jail in Jim Thorpe, taken a tour of the Lackawanna Mines (though I declined to go underground with my husband and our friend) and have twice visited Steamtown USA—the national railroad museum—in Scranton.

We’ve driven through what’s left of Centralia, the borough that became deserted after the mine fire that began burning beneath it in 1962—and is burning there, still.

It’s interesting to get to know a region, little by little over the years. My husband and I both think the area we go to is coming back a bit from the worst of the recession of 2008. Our friend, who has lived there all his life, assures us there are still those who believe the mines and associate industries of the region’s boom times will come back—just as soon as everyone gets over this silly Internet craze, and trying to import new businesses into the area.

It’s taken me a few years to understand that there really are people who actually think like that. Of course, we know that technology never—in the history of the inhabitants of this planet—has ever gone backward—starting with fire, and the wheel. Maybe it will happen one day. Maybe we’ll come up with some form of technology that seems good, and isn’t, and in fact threatens us so badly that we will ban it all together from the face of the planet.

But I’m not holding my breath.

In essence, the truth is that technology in and of itself isn’t good, and it isn’t bad. The only “good versus evil” is found in the souls of the people who use the technology—and in what they use it for.

I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to the Internet, the programs I use for writing, and the social media scene that I’m a part of. Not bad for a woman who will never see 60 again. There are some, older than I, who are also computer literate.

Of course there are a lot of people who aren’t. My brother is one. 10 years my senior, he doesn’t have (nor does he want) a cell phone. He has no idea of the uses of the items that are displayed on the cover of the Best Buy catalogue, and he barely surfs the web at all. His wife is one up on him there as, while she will never own a cell phone or an e-book reader, does look everywhere on line to find her amusements.

My brother doesn’t understand the allure of Sudoku games at all.

Spending time with our friends in Pennsylvania just underscored this divide in thinking. Our friend is a bit younger than us and quite Internet savvy. His mother, of course, a woman in her eighties, doesn’t understand the attraction, nor does she want to. They have satellite television now, a new innovation he convinced her to try because it was more cost effective than the local cable company. I’m not sure how many hundreds of channels they have available to them. She—our friend’s mom—will travel between the same five or six channels she knew on the cable system. And that is all.

She also gets quite annoyed when her daughter and family come over to visit because they are on their cell phones constantly—texting or updating social media, instead of actually visiting.

Having experienced such a visit from them while we were in town, I can understand the older woman’s annoyance. But again, that has nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with the people using the technology.

Mr. Tuffy accompanied us to Pennsylvania, as did our daughter. He traveled well, again, and was a perfect gentleman while visiting. He clearly remembered the people and the place from last year—and that following our friend when he went out to the kitchen was certain to net him a tasty tidbit.

All in all, a good time was had by all.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

 August 12, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I came upon one of those postings on FaceBook, the kind that urge you to use it to change your status for an hour if it’s something you can identify with. The words that caught my attention were: “A person who loses a partner is called a widow. A child who loses a parent is called an orphan. But there is no word that describes a parent who loses a child because the loss is like no other.” The meme, for lack of a better term, went on to invite others to share it, in memory of lost loved ones of their own, or people they know.

I felt moved to post this and almost immediately people responded. That, right there, is what I love so much about the Internet. Before this platform ever existed, thousands of people went through life feeling isolated, because they had experienced something that no one else they knew had experienced. Be it the loss of a child or grandchild, or almost any negative circumstance you can imagine, people who suffered from such an event often felt alone.

We are born alone, and we die alone, but we don’t have to always feel alone. If we’re lucky, we live our lives among friends and family and find a communion of spirit that uplifts us, and helps us to make sense and meaning of our lives. But even when we’re among loved ones, we can sometimes feel isolated and alone.

We need this wonderful technology of ours so that we can reach across cyberspace and touch those who know what we have endured. There are just times when you need that connection—not only to receive comfort, but to give it as well.

 I recall my first experience going online. It was in 2003, in the aftermath of my open heart surgery. I had a long, slow, and difficult recovery. My daughter brought her computer over for me to use one day, and told me that I was going to go online—because she didn’t like to see me just sitting around doing nothing. That proved to be a Godsend because I really couldn’t do a lot, physically. The ultimate goal, of course, was for me to get writing. I began to look for writing contests that I could enter as a first step toward pursuing that long held dream of mine—becoming a published author.

But writing, and researching writing, wasn’t all that I did on line.

I discovered Pogo games. They had word games and Bejeweled and solitaire and Word Whomp. They had bingo! I used to love to go to bingo both alone, and with my daughter once in a while before my surgery, so that was something for me to do online that was fun. Pogo is a free game site, or you can buy a membership and skip the “ads”. They have all sorts of games, and the basic structure is that the games are organized in “chat rooms”. So while you’re playing bingo, or crossword, or hidden object games, you can, if you’re so inclined, chat with others who are doing the same.

Some of the women I “met” in these rooms I also later met in person. And some of the women I met there online were what we used to call “shut-ins”. They were in wheelchairs, and older, or recovering from heart surgery, and rarely got out to socialize. But when they played bingo every afternoon, they were really getting together with their friends. They’d agree to go to a specific ‘room’ (the rooms all have names) at a specific time. Each would first get their coffee or tea, and then they would settle in for a couple of hours of bingo, and chatting. The conversations were lively and uplifting and funny, sometimes so funny that you’d be close to tears.

What a wonderful thing the Internet was for these people! And really, it’s still a life line for those who need it to be one.

Of course these days, I don’t go onto those game sites the way I used to, before I was published. I do work a crossword puzzle in the morning, and a couple of other games that help to wake up my brain and keep my mind active. Every single morning, I play just two or three games, or maybe it’s four or five. But honestly, I play these games so that I can jump into my workday fully alert, and functioning.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

 August 5, 2015

As I awaited the arrival of my new, expensive coffee cup, I soon learned that the fall-out of losing my old one on my birthday was not over.

Now, my daughter is a good daughter and she loves me, but she doesn’t always get me. She doesn’t understand the concept of a place for everything, and everything in its place; she doesn’t understand that for me there is a right way to fold towels or make the bed or fold my lingerie for my too-shallow dresser drawers.

She doesn’t understand that for some people there are indeed preferred coffee mugs.

I used to tell her that my favorite mug was my favorite because of how it felt in my hand, and that its dimensions, with coffee, creamer and sweetener combined made the coffee taste just right. All of that was true. But she didn’t ever really buy that—and, she told me, especially since we got our Keurig and the coffee/water combinations are always the same.

She came in the day after the cup broke, shaking her head in confusion. She told me she’d just been with one of her ladies (my daughter is a nurse’s aide, visiting clients in the community). She told this woman about my coffee mug and how upset I was over its demise. She admitted to me she’d let this woman see her true response to the situation—that her mother was just being silly, again.

The lady responded with genuine sorrow for me. When my daughter said to her, “but it’s just a mug”, this lady said, “But you make me my tea in the same mug every day.”

Her response was, “I just use the mug that’s there.”

Her client nodded. “Yes! Exactly. I set out that mug for my afternoon tea. That mug,” my daughter said she pointed to another, different sized one in the cupboard, “is for my morning coffee.”

I didn’t let my daughter see me giggle. I just nodded sagely. But that wasn’t the end of it.

My daughter visited me on Friday, three days after my birthday and brought me a birthday gift of—you guessed it—coffee mugs. They were about the same shape as the one recently lost. Though not of china, they were very pretty and of course I thanked her for her gift. She immediately washed one of them and made me a cup of coffee.

 It was an ok cup of coffee—but, as I said, the cup was not made of china.

The day after she’d brought me my gift, she showed up again with her sister—my second daughter. To remind you, Sonja is the daughter of my heart, not of my body. She’d been engaged to my late son, but they parted ways before he died. She is the mother of his two children, and she and my daughter have called each other sister since they met.

Sonja brought me a large gift bag for my birthday. She handed me a card and told me it was the first card I needed to open. I found in the envelope not a birthday card, but a sympathy card. And inside she and my daughter had altered the text to read, “Your loved ‘coffee cup’ was so very dear that it’s so hard to find words to ease your recent loss and bring you peace of mind”.

But the fun didn’t stop there. In the bag she’d brought, there were....cups. LOTS of cups. I am now the proud owner of: A huge mug (bigger than a soup mug) with “Happy Birthday” written upon it; a plastic “Disney Princess” mug. I nodded and told Sonja that since she is the only princess in the family we’ll save it for her use when she comes to supper; a big red mug inscribed with “Stay Calm and Move On”; an 8 ounce mug that declares itself “My Mug”; a “chalk board mug” complete with chalk for writing on it; a plastic travel mug that you can plug into your car’s cigarette holder, to keep the contents warm; and last, and certainly least, a sleeve of disposable paper coffee cups with lids.

As I pulled each item out of the bag I laughed, and thanked them warmly for their thoughtful gifts.

And I felt genuinely grateful, too. They might look at me and make fun of my little idiosyncrasies. But the example of smart-ass I’ve set all these years clearly has not gone to waste.