Quite Something

Archive for the ‘Family Life’ Category

My writing buddy

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

If you’ve read many of my previous posts, you know that, in addition to psychology, I’m very interested in the WWII era. My parents were married in 1942, just five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Last fall, I wrote a freelance article about a place called Solomons Island in southern Maryland, which is where the amphibious training took place before the actual landing in Normandy on D-Day. My sister lives on Solomons, and when I learned about its WWII connection, I decided to pitch a short article about it to Military Officer magazine. It was published in October of 2011.

My Uncle Dick was in the infantry in WWII, and wrote a book about his experiences called Normandy to the Bulge. Before he died, I helped him re-publish it on Lulu. If you truly want to understand the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, this is a good book to read. Even if you don’t like combat books, you’ll appreciate Normandy because it’s not gory. Based on his wartime diary, it covers more of the everyday experiences and the friendships that developed out of the hardships they endured.

In 2007, my mom and I self-published her WWII memoir, All on Account of You. It’s interesting to read these brother and sister books from the same time period. My dad was stationed on the homefront, in Key West, FL, during the war. Together the memoirs give you the whole picture of the time period.

Also, not long before he passed away, my uncle wrote a short book, Painting the Milkweeds, about their experiences growing up in the 1920s and 1930s. With the three books together, you can follow the evolution of one American family and their experiences in the first part of the twentieth century.

My uncle died several years ago, but when I re-read the stories, I can still hear his rich Irish storytelling voice relating them to us. We shared a love of writing and I miss his weekly letters of encouragement. I know he’d be proud that his books are still selling, and that I’m still writing.

Rocket relationships

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Yesterday my phone rang, and my caller ID read, “Phone Scam.” It turned out to be a recorded call about reducing my credit card rate, so it was not quite a scam, but I was impressed at how very helpful technology is getting to be these days!

When I related the incident to my brother, he mentioned that it would be cool if phones had lights to let you know how important the call was so you could decide whether or not to pick up. Perhaps a green light for my 93-year-old mom or one of the kids (especially when they’re in trouble), a yellow light for friends calling to chat, and a red light for those wannabe friends (with the never-ending lists of complaints) who just want to unload.

I took it one step further and decided it would be even more helpful if people had identifying descriptors written on their foreheads when you met them. “High Maintenance.” “Kind.” “Hopelessly Romantic.” “Snarky.” “Steer Clear at All Costs.” “A Definite Keeper.” Wouldn’t it be nice to know up front? But I guess part of the joy of friendship is in uncovering the mystery.

In Laura Berman Fortgang’s book, Take Yourself to the Top, she shares some very useful tips for creating the life you want. Most have to do with clearing out that which is not feeding you, and actively choosing people and activities which do. She describes three types of relationships:

• Those that will sink you. These are the energy-draining ones, which drag you down and, eventually, use you up. Fortgang says, however difficult it is to accomplish, those relationships simply need to go. You may feel some guilt when shedding them, but you will feel tremendous relief once you have done it.

• Those that will float you. These are more balanced, with give and take, and they’re pleasant enough, but they aren’t terribly special. It’s okay to have some relationships like this, but you don’t want to devote too much of your time to them.

• Those that will rocket you. These are the powerful ones that inspire you and spark your creativity. They give you energy and bring out your best self. You’ll want to spend the majority of your time with these types of friends.

As a highly-sensitive person, some people are simply too loud or demanding or intense for me. My tendency is to back off quickly, because I’m too nice, and too loyal, so once I’m in a relationship, it’s hard for me to disentangle myself from it. But I’ve learned recently that some relationships just need a little tweaking.

I may need to see someone less often, or for shorter periods of time, or do more emailing with them and less in-person visiting. At that level, even highly energetic friends with strong personalities can be quite enjoyable. It’s hard to set firm boundaries, and friends can balk at first when they feel us pulling back from them, but they can and do adjust. If they don’t get what they need from us, they eventually move on, and that’s okay, too.

We may not have lights on our phones that indicate how we should respond to others when they reach out to us. But we do have internal monitors that tell us exactly how we’re feeling when we’re with people, if we just pay attention to our gut feelings.

Now is a good time to do an inventory of your relationships. Consider which of your friends support you, light a fire under you, or make you happy.

Then you can decide whether it’s time for some paring down, or whether you just need to do a little tweaking.

Goodwill Abounds

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Today’s Good News story has two parts, and neither is about an individual.

The first is about a movement which is taking hold across the country. More than a few generous souls are anonymously paying off Kmart layaway bills so that other families don’t have to struggle so hard at Christmas. As you’ll read in this article, which my son shared with me, donors are specifically asking to pay the bills for young children, to make sure they don’t go without. And they are leaving a small balance to ensure that the account stays active. Kudos to the kind and smart donors.

My friend Bev shared a story about another kindness, this one performed by… a moose at a zoo in Idaho. No longer anonymous, the ironically-named Shooter was photographed during the act of rescuing a tiny (compared to him) new friend.

It seems the desire to help our fellow creatures is instinctual, if we only pay attention to it.

The Good News channel

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

My daughter, who will be 23 in February, frequently says that she hates the evening news and the 24 hour news channels because the stories are always so negative. She asks why there isn’t a “good news channel.” As the traditional news, particularly the economic news, gets worse and worse, I keep thinking about my daughter’s question.

So, in an effort to follow Ghandi’s advice to “be the change I want to see in the world,” I’ve decided to launch my own good news channel of sorts. It occurs to me that, all around me, I see people doing extraordinary things in an effort to make a difference in the world, or at least to the people around them. And I know that these efforts are being repeated, day after day, all over the world. It’s just that the shocking stories grab the headlines, and we’re all guilty of head-turning when we see the “Breaking News” banner on the screen, knowing full well it will not be positive.

None of the people I’m about to introduce to you consider their good works heroic or extraordinary. Most just started out wanting to help, to give back in some way, and somewhere along the way they became passionate about their causes. They’re humble, grateful people whose stories are inspiring to me and, I hope, to you. When you read about their efforts, you may feel compelled to contribute. Or you might feel that you’re not doing enough, compared to them. But my purpose is not to solicit on their behalf or to shame you. We all contribute something, in our own way, and on our own time, and most of us do more than we realize. My aim is simply to shine a light on some positive stories, to try to balance our negative worldview, which is sadly skewed because of our overexposure to one side of the story.

I thought this holiday season would be a good time to expose the warmth and compassion of some ordinary people I know who consistently act out of love for others. The good news starts tomorrow. Join me.

Getting to Know Dad

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Here is my tribute to the Greatest Generation, in honor of all those who were killed and injured at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today. First published in The News & Observer in 2007, it feels like an appropriate offering for today:

I was born in 1957, just twelve years after WWII ended. Like most Baby Boomers, as a youngster I was interested only in things that were new and hip. Bell bottoms, Levi jeans, Carole King records. I’m the youngest of eight children, so my parents were older when I was born. Middle-age parents with old-fashioned ideas were sometimes hard to bear.

By the time I was old enough to be aware of world events, the cultural revolution of the late sixties was going on. One brother had served in the Air Force in Korea; another was in the Army in Vietnam. To me, WWII was ancient history.

My father was a brilliant, but quiet man. He was a good dad. Like most men in his generation, he spent the majority of his time working hard in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. He wasn’t much on talking and, like a typical teenager, I wasn’t that interested in his life anyway.

Until it was too late.

We found his love letters several years ago while helping my mother pack to move to an independent living residence. Over fifty of them, by the time we were finished. Romantic, engaging, and inspiring, they revealed a side of him we had not known. They were filled with words of encouragement for my mother, telling her to keep her chin up during the troubled times. Perhaps they were also the words he needed to hear?

Embedded in the letters were also bits of history, details about his naval officers’ training and the progression of the war. Reading them, I felt such a mixture of emotions. Grief, for the opportunity, now lost, to know the real man. To hear his stories in person. To ask questions. Yet profound joy in the physical permanence of the letters. His beautiful handwriting, his struggles, his undying love for my mother.

Why didn’t he tell us that he’d been a “Ninety-day wonder” who trained almost every waking moment for months in order to join the war as soon as possible? That, as a young ensign, his best buddy was Wellington T. Mara, later the long-time owner of the New York Giants. He never mentioned Key West or Miami, where he was stationed, or blackouts, or rationing, or war bonds.

We never heard about “The Sylph,” the Navy yacht on which he trained for a few days despite seasickness fears. I wonder if he knew that the antics on the TV series McHale’s Navy were derived from Earnest Borgnine’s real-life experience as a first-class gunner’s mate aboard “The Sylph?” Dad didn’t tell us anything about the gyroscopes he studied at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for four months, training he never got to use because of an apparent Navy SNAFU. And although we’d watched the movie PT-109 together, he never once mentioned that he headed the section base that repaired the PT boats.

I guess to him none of it seemed worth the telling. It was just his life. All that had been long ago, when he was a much younger man, doing his duty during wartime. I’m sure he didn’t consider himself to be extraordinary, or to have lived through extraordinary times.

I’ve spent the last two years transcribing the letters and reconstructing the story of my parents’ early life together. My mother is 88 now, but she has an amazing memory, especially for that time period. Unlike him, she’s a born storyteller. I was able to verify much of what she told me via the Internet. I even located a copy of a Collier’s magazine from March 28, 1942, which featured the men of the Prairie State, the ship he trained on.

Together Mom and I went through bins of mementos, newspaper clippings, and photos. We found Dad’s Navy yearbook, The Sideboy, and a dance card from the ship’s farewell ball the night before his graduation and their engagement luncheon. No longer ancient history to me, this was living history, my history.

My dad was never awarded any medals, but I know he was a hero. They all were. The men who died, the men who lived, the women who went to work, the ones who waited at home and rolled bandages for the Red Cross, the WACs and the Doughnut Dollies.

Suddenly we’re the middle-agers, and many would argue that we’re still self-involved. But I think we know that the Greatest Generation is leaving us, and before long it will be too late to thank them for their sacrifice and tell them how fortunate we are to have known them.

Reading at The Storyteller’s Bookstore in Wake Forest

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Weather permitting, I will be reading from All on Account of You on Saturday, September 6th, at 3:00 p.m. at The Storyteller’s Bookstore in Wake Forest, as part of the store’s Grand Opening event. Please come by if you can! Here is the schedule:

Author Readings and Storyteller Events

Saturday, September 6, 2008

10-11am              Anita Stone, I Never Met a Flower I Didn’t Like
11am-12pm         Roz Grace, Trina’s Family Reunion
3:00pm-3:30pm  Elaine Klonicki, All on Account of You
6:00-7:00pm       Storytellers Ron Jones and Claire Ramsey

Sunday, September 7, 2008

3-3:30pm             Alice Osborn, Right Lane Ends
3:30-4:00pm       Sharon Wood, Writing From the Authentic Self

Drew Bridges, owner of the store and a semi-retired psychiatrist, opened the store in order to return to his English major roots. Drew Bridges describes himself as an “early career storyteller.” He is well known around the Wake Forest area, having performed at charity events and at local events including Herbfest.

Drew emphasizes his belief that, “Even in today’s world of iMax and iPods gee-whiz technology, there is still room for a more personal form of entertainment.”

The store is designed with open areas for activities and is furnished with a grand piano and a red leather antique barber chair, the “storyteller’s chair.” Paintings and photography from local artists adorn the walls and are for sale as well.

The Storyteller’s Book Store is located under the bridge, at 100 E. Roosevelt Ave, Wake Forest, NC.

For more information about the grand opening or other programs and activities at the store call 919-554-9146 or send an email inquiry to storystore@nc.rr.com.

The milkman

Friday, June 20th, 2008

We lost another WWII veteran today. My uncle, John Stanley, who was 98, served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Texas as a gunner’s mate. Like most of the men in that job, he lost much of his hearing while doing it. On my last visit out to Denver, where he and my aunt lived, he showed me his medals, and an amazing picture of a kamikaze plane just about to crash into the ship behind his.

You know all those old jokes about women falling in love with the milk man? Well, that actually happened to my Aunt Winnie. Uncle Johnny drove a milk truck and he delivered the milk to her house at 5:30 every morning. He fell for when he was 20 and she was 14. The story goes that, because of his affection for her, he left her a small bottle of chocolate milk every day as a treat. Unfortunately, her brother John woke up first, drank the chocolate milk, and never mentioned it to anyone. Uncle Johnny had to wait for two years to date Aunt Winnie, because she wasn’t allowed to date until she turned 16. They were married when she turned 21, and have been married for 71 years! They have seven children.

Uncle Johnny was a numbers man. After the war he got a job selling Prudential insurance, the perfect job for him. He had an incredible memory, and loved trivia. Every time we saw him, he would say something like, “Do you know how many bricks it took to build the (fill in the building or structure)?” Of course we’d have no idea, but he’d tell us exactly how many bricks. Or how many men it took to build it. Or how many man-hours. The numbers were always in the millions, but he’d remember them down to the last digit. He was an affectionate guy, and would always hold my hand when he talked to me. He loved to sing, and made up songs about working the milk route.

For most of his life he was strong and healthy, but he had occasional, bizarre health issues that would have set others way back. Not him. He was blind for an entire year when he was a senior in high school, until his dentist figured out that a wisdom tooth was pushing on a nerve. Once they removed it, he could see again. In his mid-80s his vision was failing again, and he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor which needed to be removed. He had to shop around to find a doctor who was willing to anesthetize him at his age. We were all very nervous about the surgery, which was quite serious, but he was undaunted. Of course he came out of it with flying colors.

The last time I saw my aunt and uncle in Raleigh was a few years ago, when they flew in to visit my mom. I have an image of them in my mind that I’ll hold on to forever. The two of them were in a guest room in the residence where my mom lives. They were sitting on a bench at the bottom of the bed, side by side, like birds on a telephone wire. The bench was pulled up close to the TV so they could see and hear it, and they were holding hands, as always.

Uncle Johnny was a lifelong Catholic, and up until two years ago when he had a stroke, he was still acting as a Eucharistic Minster at his church, giving out communion at mass. He was also still driving, and attending weekly Rotary meetings. He contributed to his country, his family, his church, and his community in ways too numerous to mention. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

So long, milkman.

  

Bill, Angie, John, and Winnie

 

This photo was taken in 1992, at my folks’ 50th wedding anniversary mass. My mom and dad, Bill and Angie, are on the left. Uncle Johnny and Aunt Winnie, my mom’s sister, are on the right.

 

Viva Las Vegas!

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

As promised, here are some of the highlights of our recent Las Vegas vacation. Just for fun, I decided to use the categories from my last vacation article Bringing you the North Hollywood news, which was published in the News & Observer in April of 2006:

MOST AMAZING: The Fountains of Bellagio, a choreographed water, music, and light show. Every fifteen minutes, a new show begins with fog rolling out over the lake in front of the building. The fountains undulate with the music, and the spires of water rise to impressive heights, with the water coming out of the jets so hard at times that it creates its own percussion. I could have stood there forever, listening to the music and enjoying the show.

MOST FUN: For Gary, Doug, and Doug’s girlfriend, Carrie, it was seeing The Police (with Sting) and Elvis Costello at the 17,000-seat Garden Arena in the MGM Grand. Next were the roller coasters, especially the one at New York, New York. Not liking speed, heights, and especially the combination of the two, the most fun for me was the gondola ride in the Venetian with Jenny, and the Godiva chocolate-covered fruit basket we ate while waiting for it.

MOST SCARY: Jaywalking on Las Vegas Blvd. Don’t ask me why, but there is no crosswalk to help travelers cross the street from the Hilton Grand Vacations Club on the Las Vegas Strip, where we stayed, to the Sahara Casino and Hotel, which is the closest place to hop on the monorail. We stayed at the Hilton because of the deal we got for listening to a timeshare pitch. We’ve never done this before and it was scary how good their pitch was. But we stood strong and resisted all of their best sales efforts.

MOST DELICIOUS: Our meal at the Tao Asian Bistro. After spending an hour online looking up places to eat which we could get to from the monorail, we gave up and decided to take our chances in one of the casinos. Tao was the first place we saw as we entered the Venetian and, since we all love Asian food, we went for it. Not only did we get seated right away and have a really good waiter who said he regularly waits on Tom Cruise, the “small plates” and sushi were outstanding.

MOST FREQUENTLY HEARD SAYING: While we were there, it was,“How long are you staying?” Everyone there is either coming or going. When we got back, it was, “How much did you lose?” We only gambled the $40 in free chips we got from the time share deal, and we broke even. We also got a $25 gift card for food, which we spent on asian noodles in the 888 Noodle Bar.

MOST SAD/MOST FUNNY: An older woman in a motorized chair who was trying to exit the monorail by driving out backwards. She kept turning the wheel the wrong way and, the harder she tried, the worse off she got, until finally several guys simply hoisted up her chair and deposited it and her outside of the monorail, seconds before the doors closed.

MOST WEIRD: The fact that nothing in Vegas is true. Locals told us that you have to add seven degrees to the temperature given on the weather report because it is under-reported so that it sounds more appealing to tourists. The road signs sometimes send you the wrong way. Even the $9 coupons in the Spirit magazine (Southwest’s excellent airline publication), which we so diligently collected on our flights on the way out, were unnecessary, because the normal daily rate IS only $9. (The sign on the monorail actually says $15, but it is crossed through and marked $9, as if it were recently discounted. Doug has been to Vegas before and he said it’s always that way.)

MOST GREEN: The one million dollars in cash in a glass case in the Paris Hotel. $5,000 stacks were made up of $100 bills. The thing is, it didn’t look like that much money. You could have fit it all in a large duffel bag. We didn’t see any big security guards around, so the case must be made of some special kind of glass

MOST WASTED: Our new friend Chad who we met at the hotel pool. He had a bottle of Jack Daniels with him which he was mixing with Coke in a cup. He offered us some, although he confessed he didn’t have any more cups. Chad is one of those guys who knows everything, has been everywhere, and you wouldn’t let near your daughter. His family owns a hookah bar in L.A. If we’d only known when we were there…

MOST BEAUTIFUL: The 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers by Dale Chihuly, hung from the ceiling of the Bellagio. Which we almost missed, because we saw one large hand-blown bouquet at the floor level and assumed that was the whole deal. We had seen some Dale Chihuly work before, but the size and scope of this celing display was mind-boggling, and the flowers themselves were breathtaking.

MOST AMAZING VIEW: The one from our hotel room on the 15th floor of the Hilton at twilight. We could see the lights of the strip, and the spectacular Spring Mountains to the west in the background. If you go, you should know that there are three Hiltons in Vegas, and their names are ridiculously similar: 1) The Las Vegas Hilton, 2) The Hilton Grand Vacations Club at the Las Vegas Hilton, and their newest hotel 3) The Hilton Grand Vacations Club on the Las Vegas Strip. Go figure. 

MOST THRILLING: Seeing Robin Williams in the lobby of the MGM Grand. We saw the crowd with their cameras flashing before we actually saw him. While we were still star-struck, Jenny threw her digital camera at her dad and ran over and wrapped her arm around Robin for a pic. Here it is:

Jenny and Robin Williams at the MGM Grand

I guess our “Sin City” adventure was pretty tame compared to most. But for us it wasn’t about the gambling or the glitz. It was just a chance to be together as a family. Until you’re parents with kids who have moved away, especially to the opposite coast, you don’t realize the joy of having everyone together again.

Gary, myself, Jenny, and Doug at the Luxor

 

 

Everything upside down

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

“Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life.”
                                                                                         Daniel Francoiseprit Auber

 

My mother said a funny thing the other day. She was frustrated that her sewing machine was acting up, and she said, “I know I threaded it right. I’ve been doing it for centuries.” She’s nearly 90, and it probably does feel to her like she’s been doing some things for centuries.
 
Her machine has been giving her trouble since she had it serviced a month ago, but she sounded defensive, as if I would question her skills. The thought hadn’t occurred to me, and I wondered at first why she felt the need to explain herself.

It made me think about what it must truly be like to be her age, to have people question what she is doing and how she is doing it. Even without Alzheimers, older people become aware that, over time, they are losing the ability to do things they once knew how to do.

As we watch our parents age, it’s easy to get impatient. We experience the changes in terms of how they affect us. They start to repeat themselves. They lose things. They don’t pay their bills. They forget to take their medications. They become, for us, like another one of our children, and we begin to speak to them in the same hassled tone.

We truly forget that it will happen to us one day too. And it will, if we live long enough. There’s no getting around it. Imagine for one minute what it must actually feel like to have your child treat you as if you were the child. To have them remind you of things, explain things to you, drive you places, speak to people on your behalf.

I’m going to try to hold that picture in my head the next time I visit my mom.

 

The agony and the ecstasy

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I was having a tough day today, mostly due to the torture I received from the substitute dental hygienist at my dentist’s office, until I saw a blog post by Scott Francis. Scott writes a new book marketing blog for Writer’s Digest magazine called Living With the M-Word: Marketing Your Writing Without Selling Out Your Muse. I had commented on his blog yesterday for the first time, and today he mentioned me in his post. Check it out.

Commenting on other people’s blogs is supposed to help bring traffic to your website. I figured I might as well start at the top. Writer’s Digest is the number-one rated writers’ magazine. I suscribe to the print version, which arrives in my mailbox six times a year, and also read the online newsletter, which is where I heard about Scott’s blog. As he says, it’s all about community, and sharing information.

My day got even better late this afternoon when our daughter Jenny arrived home from college. She just finished her freshman year, and is relieved to have her final tests and papers over with. Earlier in the week, her dad and I helped her edit her paper on the reputation of the Monguls. Jenny struggles with writing, but she’s making progress. She and her brother think I’m unbelievably weird because I’m a writer. They like to tease me about writing what they call “term papers” for a living.

I can’t help it–I love to write. The marketing I could do without. But, like Jenny, I’m getting there, and maybe I’ll get there quicker by reading Scott’s blog regularly.

For now, I’m going to go do some other M-word (Mommy) stuff and nurse Jenny through the M-word (Mono) she brought home from college. Wish me luck.