Monday, June 22, 2009

Still crazy after all these years

He was about my age, maybe a little younger. Standing in the elevator, he came up to my husband's shoulder so he wasn't a big guy. Still, his face clearly displayed the displeasure he was feeling.

It was another Tropicana Casino "event," a beach party indoors (another rain casualty) and a drawing for one grand prize of several thousand dollars. Attendees all received one entry, deposited them in a revolving drum and then went about the merrymaking. Our host was dispensing popcorn while around the ballroom various stations handed out other beach party goodies.

Howard and I didn't stay too long and ended up on the floor playing one of our favorite joker poker machines.

We promptly forgot about the drawing at 6 p.m., but as we got on the elevator to go to the players' club on the 20th floor for dinner, we asked the gentleman if he knew who had won. Naturally, this one time we'd failed to show up, our ticket would have been picked. We were sure of that.

But our usual luck (or lack thereof) held and he informed us of the winner's name. She was also a Smith but no one we knew. Then he said the following:

"If that drawing had been held in the '50s, she wouldn't even have had an entry."

I asked if he meant she was so young she hadn't been born yet. You see, I didn't get it at first, but he made sure his point was clear.

"Nowadays it's different than it was. They wouldn't even show their faces back then; now they think they run everything."

"I don't understand what you're saying," I said, as I felt Howard drawing himself to his full height in preparation for a nasty comeback. I was still hoping to be wrong about the man's meaning.

"I don't have to make it any clearer," he said. "You know who got elected."

Before Howard could react, the door opened and, as we stepped out, I looked at the pathetic rascist and said, "We don't think that way. Besides, we voted for our president."

Not giving him time to react, we proceeded on into the club and didn't see him again.

Now I know there are people out there who still nurse the old hatreds. I'm not naive enough to believe we've made complete national progress.

But it simply amazed me that this particular bigot would voice his animosity and hatred to total strangers. I suppose he didn't care if we were offended, but he did risk bodily harm had not the elevator doors swung open. Okay, maybe not bodily harm, but a good tongue lashing was certainly on its way.

Did he assume because of our ages we would agree with him? Did he assume we, too, had learned nothing over the course of the decades since the '50s? Did he simply not care who witnessed his bigoted ridicule? We couldn't decide what prompted him to vent the way he did except to chalk it up to total ignorance.

Regardless, we were saddened that our paths had crossed and very glad his name wasn't the one called as the grand prize winner!

Monday, May 18, 2009

A little of this, a little of that

Wish spring would show itself for more than a day at a time. Howard planted knockout roses yesterday in the back yard and with a little luck we'll get some more flowering stuff out there to brighten the view from the porch. We are such novices when it comes to planting anything! Especially me, with my black thumb and reluctance to go outdoors except to walk to the mailbox! Howard's good, though. He weeds, rakes, fertilizes, herbicides and plants grass seed. He frets over the health of our tree (yes, one tree!) and plants. I simply trust they will fend for themselves and either thrive or die. With that attitude, I'm not surprised that most everything I plant dies.

I'm troubled by the incessant publicity being given to Elizabeth Edwards on the release of her book, Resilience. Yes, she's been wronged. Yes, John is a cad who broke her heart. Yes, she has a right to vent her spleen and rail against his infidelity. But.... she will leave this earth as soon as the cancer she's fighting finally wins. When she does, her beloved children will be left with their father, a man they only know as a loving parent. How will this public shaming help them cope when Elizabeth's gone? To what purpose does she put his failings into the public spotlight any more than they already are? In the end, we are all imperfect humans who make huge, hurtful mistakes. Too bad she couldn't have left it at that.

As I write, there are echoes of banging, slamming and other noises that accompany the installation of hardwood floors. Finally, we have rid ourselves of the carpet that came with our house and replacing it with beautiful oak wood. Packing up the breakables and moving everything from the room was a chore and we will be left with a terrorized cat when the job is done, but at least we will have what we've wanted since Day One ... easy to care for, beautiful wood floors. Good things come to those who wait.

Happy birthday this Friday to the dearest of friends. Carol Panella and I met when I began work at the Evesham School District in 1998. We became dear and close friends two years later and we adopted one another as sisters shortly thereafter. She's been the shoulder I cry on, the patient sharer of health woes, the grandmother who tolerates my stories and always has incredible ones to share, the companion who joins me in stretching lunch hour to three or beyond and a loving, caring, compassionate person who makes my life easier and brightens my days. She knows all this, of course, but it never hurts to have it affirmed. Many, many more happy birthdays, my dear sister. Enjoy this one with your family. We'll celebrate later!

Kudos to our president on his speech at Notre Dame yesterday. Sad that those with opposite viewpoints should mar the glory of the day for the graduates. To his credit, President Obama set the right tone for the debate on social issues that often bring out the worst and most violent in believers and proponents. He showed his talent for conciliation, for bringing us together in spite of our differences. I was a proud Obama supporter as I watched his address. He was worth waiting for.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Longing for sunshine

Even though this lethargic feeling has a name, Seasonal Affect Disorder, I'm not comforted enough to pull myself out of the doldrums and move! Every gloomy morning that presents itself when the bedroom drapes are opened motivates me in one direction: to the sofa under the afghan with an old movie on the tv.

I love movies. Not all of them, mind you. I'm not really into action stuff and don't like any films about boxing (which I believe should be outlawed). Every year when the Academy Awards are presented, I lament that I've not seen one film that's nominated. They are too new, thus requiring a schlep to the theater, the purchase of tickets and the gamble that I'm not sitting in front of folks who use the movies as a chance to catch up with all the local gossip or to complain about their lives. At home, I curl up on the sofa, usually with my cat next to me, and get lost in the story. Often, my choice is almost inadvertent... luck of the dial, so to speak. Like yesterday.

I had grand plans for the day. So much would be accomplished! There was laundry, ironing, some cleaning and grocery shopping. When I opened the bedroom drapes, darkness and rain greeted me and immediately sapped my energy for chores. As I pulled the sheets off the bed, I flicked the remote and checked the guide for a listing of what I could use as mind-numbing fare for the work ahead.

Instead, I found myself staring at Liam Neeson, one of my favorite actors, portraying Oskar Schindler in the famous film Schindler's List. I'd always vowed not to see the film, despite its awards and raves. Shame for what humanity can do to humanity, for the silence of those who could have prevented or stopped it, deep and disturbing sadness for those involved, including the descendants who have this doleful history upon which to build their lives... all of those emotions determined early on that I would not see the film. Until yesterday.

Needless to say, nothing was accomplished except for the clean sheets. Even when the movie ended at about noon, I was still there, still in the power and emotional aftermath of Steven Spielberg's work. There was nothing in it I didn't know from history except the actual work of Oskar Schindler and the results of what his courage prompted him to do. I couldn't help thinking, as I watched him at the end of the film, grieving that he could not have saved more people, of the world leaders who could have saved millions, not just eleven hundred, had they stood up against Hitler, taken action against his genocide and motivated the rest of the world to condemn that man for the evil he was.

The Holocaust wasn't all Hitler's fault. He instigated it, of course, but he has help carrying it out. Not just from the famed SS or the Hitler Youth or any of the groups about which we learned in history classes, but from the leaders in the western world, the Pope and other religious figures and ordinary people who heard rumors of the slaughter but stayed silent and did nothing.

Today, I see that The Jane Austen Book Club is on HBO. As an Austen fan, I would dearly love to lose myself in that one, too. Lighter, easier on the psyche, certainly. But the work still wouldn't get done. And we now need milk, cereal, cat food and loads of other stuff. Rain or no rain, I have to go out.

Maybe there will be something really good showing this afternoon!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thanks, Meg Tilly!

I didn't check her blog all that often.
But when I did, I loved reading about her life and her family. She wrote the way I imagined she spoke... in a friendly, next-door-neighbor style that made me feel I really knew her.

I found Meg Tilly through a Google search aimed originally at Colin Firth.
Since he is my favorite actor, I occasionally check to see what's coming next in his film and TV work so I won't miss a single performance. That's when I found the link to Meg, who is the mother of Colin's son, Will. She and Colin worked together in Valmont, a version of the classic story, Dangerous Liaisons.

She lives in Canada, has long-since abandoned acting and instead writes books. She and her husband are raising their children and living, for the most part, like most of us do... struggling with social issues and worrying about our kids' futures in this unpredictable world. Her life is very different from mine, though. She cooks and bakes a lot. Imagine having the ingredients for made-from-scratch breakfast muffins on hand in your pantry instead of having to menu-plan and make a grocery list to be sure you have it all! She thinks nothing of whipping up a great, huge meal for her family without breaking a sweat and often shares favorite recipes with her readers. I cook because we have to eat, a trait I learned from my mother who was not a creative cook and didn't inspire me to want to become one.

I like Meg's philosophy of life, although I can't say I can be as fundamental and basic as she often is. I'm not a back-to-nature kind of gal and I laud Meg for being so mother-earthy. She seems happiest when talking about things family and I never detected any sense of longing for her earlier career pursuit, although she is still among the respected members of the acting profession.

Last time I checked into her site, settled at my computer and ready to enjoy a few weeks' worth of Meg's chatter, I was stunned to find that she'd signed off and abandoned her blog. She'd become too much of a slave to the computer, she complained, to the detriment of her relationships with family and friends. So she'd gone on a computer-free holiday, disconnected from the internet and returned to the simplicity of phone calls, visits and pursuing her varied interests without the interruption of e-mails and blogs. She was less stressed, she reported, and far happier than when the computer was her constant companion.

We part company there, I'm afraid. For me, e-mail contact with my friends and family and an occasional post on this blog are essential to my sense of well-being. I find that long months, even years, can go by without word from some cousins and long-time pals unless I take the time to initiate an e-mail that just says hello, how are you. Then I am rewarded with catch-up notes that reconnect us and bring them back into my life.

I've often said I don't know how people get on without friends. Meg connects with hers in her own way; I still rely on my buddy the computer for most of mine. Meg gave up her computer reliance for a less-stressful life; my life becomes more stressed when I don't have the means with which to chat with everyone on my list. Maybe I'm just not where Meg is. I'm quite certain I don't want to get there, either.

Still, I will miss your blog, Meg Tilly. You made me smile and enjoy reading about your wonderful family and your writing.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A not-so exclusive club!

Computer techs in India are savvy people.

My respect for their training, patience and skill grew immeasurably yesterday, particularly in the person of one young man, Amit, who spent nearly the entire day trying to rid my hard drive of a particularly vicious Trojan. When I was younger, a Trojan was something we girls giggled about. And, as I've gotten older and somewhat computer knowledgable, I did learn the new meaning of the word, but never had first-hand, closeup experience with one. Operative word ... had.

On Tuesday, my computer began reacting sluggishly to commands. Nothing to alarm me, mind you, just hesitance to obey my wishes. But Wednesday brought the frightful truth. I couldn't access the internet using Internet Explorer and found my browser taking me to strange, unrequested places without explanation or recourse. In a minor panic, I called my daughter and son-in-law, both of whom are my tech gurus who can solve any problem. Not this one, it turned out, despite both their efforts, mostly my daughter's. Terri researched the symptoms and found the recommended remedies, all of which we tried for several hours. By nightfall, we thought we had it under control and I went to bed, leaving my computer humming away as my Norton antivirus did a complete system scan so we'd be sure we'd succeeded.

Then came yesterday morning. Confident I would be able to boot up the computer and resume life as I know it, I dashed into the office and was terribly dismayed to find IE still sending me to points unknown, this time accompanied by an error message I'd never seen before. That's when good fortune led me to Amit.

After sitting through several calls to Verizon to determine that I was properly connected, I was sent packing to the manufacturer of my computer, Dell, who as most of us are aware, maintains its primary call center in India. With the first two techs stumped, I was sent to the young man who was touted as their malware expert. With a great sense of humor, super people skills and a tenaciousness that was admirable, Amit began his quest to eradicate my Trojan at about 9:30 a.m. (our time). He took control of my computer and then performed his magic, thwarting every effort of the sleazy virus to override his efforts. At times, the bug seemed to be winning but Amit pulled out every trick he knew and eventually slayed the enemy, restoring my computer to useability by about 3 p.m. Of course, none of this was free, but the cost was well worth it.

Now to the Trojan. I will never understand why anyone would spend brain power and time developing tools of destruction like viruses, Trojans and worms. Amit explained to me that the creators are well paid for their effort by people who stand to gain by disruption on a mass scale. Why???? I felt nothing but anger and resentment toward these disrupters as I struggled to rid my computer of their invasion and they gained nothing by disabling me.

I've learned a lot through this brief encounter with malicious codes. I will no longer open an attachment unless it is something I've requested from a person I know. I won't let a day go by without running an update of my antivirus definitions so stuff like this won't get into my hard drive again. And I will never join in any ridicule of the overseas tech support people. Granted, Amit could have solved my problem from inside the US of A, but he wasn't here. He was at a computer somewhere working for Dell. Most of yesterday, though, he was working for me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I hardly knew ye

My family was broken in half when my parents split up. I was two. Forever after, there was my mother's family, with whom I lived and interacted, and my father's, with whom contact was severely limited and closely monitored.

I didn't completely belong in either. I barely knew my father's side ... the myriad cousins and their children, only some of whom I saw occasionally, usually at funerals when we were all grown up and pretty much strangers.

And, after my mother died when I was 31, her side of the family seemed to turn into strangers as well. Not all of them, of course, but certainly most. I've spent entirely too much time trying to figure out why. Was it because I reminded them, not of my darling mother, but of the father they all despised? Was it because I don't hold the same view of the world they do, the same political and religious beliefs? Was it because I had been divorced, a failure as a wife and a Catholic? Like I said ... entirely too much time. I don't do that anymore.

The fact remained... the more years that passed, the less I saw or heard from them unless I was the one who made the overture. Years ago, I found that one cousin passed within a mile of my home several times a month on business and never called or stopped by. See what I mean?

Many years back, Leo, the son of my mother's brother, visited New Jersey from his home in California. I learned of the visit from a cousin I love and Howard and I drove south to visit. It was uncomfortable from the moment the door opened in response to our knock. They were gathered around the dining room table, looking over photo albums, sharing remembered times. One cousin, never a favorite of mine and vice versa, snickered audibly when I made a mistake and called the child of another by the wrong name. How could I be so obtuse as not to remember the names of my own family? No one asked about my life, my children, my work. I felt invisible except for the ridicule that seemed to emanate from the walls of the room in a house I'd hated and feared since I lived there as a small child. When next our California cousin visited, not many months ago, no one remembered to call to let me know he would be here.

Last week, I received an e-mail from that dear cousin who matters. She was sorry to tell me our California cousin had passed away. I knew from e-mails Leo had written to those on his list (me included, oddly) that he had a terminal cancer and, despite his willingness to fight hard, there would be no recovery. I read his obituary online and realized none of the names of survivors was familiar. I'd missed the last opportunity to see him and I know his children and grandchildren wouldn't even know my name.

They wouldn't know that his grandparents were mine, that his father was my mother's brother. That his parents gave solace to my mom when she was going through her painful divorce, the one that ultimately cost me all of them.

Now there is one less cousin in a very large family. May he rest in peace.

The family is still there, for the most part, but, without the glue that was my mother, it is still a fragmented memory.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Through the eyes of our kids

I am getting old. Who'da thunk it?

Chatting with Terri yesterday (or was it the day before?), I heard about the failing health of her grandmother, my ex's mom. Then we talked about her father's upcoming 70th birthday (he's two years older than I!). Somehow, we got from there to the fact that she and some of her friends were talking about their own parents ... and about how old we are getting.


Just because I'm on a committee planning the 50th reunion of our high school class? 50th!! Just because I think Chicago, the Eagles and the BeeGees are still the only music worth listening to besides my beloved classics? Just because I have to visit the beauty salon more frequently to keep that youthful blond look from descending into mousy brown and gray? Just because there's less hair to color these days?

Seriously, I spent a bit of time after we hung up thinking about being old. Guess it's a monumental joke Mother Nature plays on us as we plow through life ... she doesn't let us know we're old. She just shows the rest of the world how old we are. Honestly, I look in the mirror and see a few wrinkles ... okay, a lot of wrinkles. I see a few brown spots on my face and hands. I see sagging eyelids that could be corrected if only I had the bucks for cosmetic surgery. But, aside from those little things, I see the same face I've looked at all my life. It's me ... Jeanne, the 30-something youngster! Me, old?

At a recent reunion committee meeting (before the phone call from Terri), the five of us touched on the same topic. We remarked how unchanged we all were from the high school yearbook photos, although our outlooks on life and philosophical bents might have radically changed. We agreed we didn't feel 67 (or 68) and couldn't understand what all the fuss is about.

I'd rather stick to that notion. If I start mulling over my actual age, I may be forced to admit that I'm on the downward slope of my life. That I won't get to see my grandchildren into their 30s or maybe even their 20s. That there isn't an infinite amount of time left to do everything I've put on the back burner for 'just the right time.'

I'd rather enjoy my dear friends (some even more ancient than I), spend hours on the beach in summer, struggle with a dormant Muse who won't give me inspiration for another novel, keep trying to win that jackpot at Tropicana and plot color schemes for some drab rooms in my house. I'd rather play War with Adela and enjoy Nate's fabulous sense of humor. I'd rather marvel at the beauty and independence of my daughters, both of whom are also getting old (gotcha! Didn't think I'd figure that out, did you?)

They say age is only a number. I'd rather leave it that way.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Snow angels, bah!

Can't believe it's been over a month since I last blogged. So much going on! We took a one-week trip south so Howard could attend a trade show in Orlando and bumped right up against a cold snap that felt more like home than Florida. Natch. The Smiths are here ... it should be warm??? When we got back, Howard had hernia surgery and is slowly healing, a tough process that sneaks up on him when he tries to overdo. Tough not being able to work to capacity, but as a dear friend reminded him, he's not 18 anymore and won't heal like a teenager, either. Thanks, Joe.

I've had two YAG treatments, one on each eye. Fairly common after cataract extraction surgery, I'm told. Asked the ophthalmologist what the letters stand for and found they mean Yridium, Argon and Garnet, the three elements in the laser beam that is zapped into the eye to cut a tiny hole along the back of the retina allowing more light to get in and thus sharpen the vision. Voila! I can see much more clearly, except for night driving which can often be a challenge, thanks to halos and rays of light that shoot out from approaching headlights or streetlights overhead. Doctor Kindermann, the benevolent genius who has given me better sight than I've ever had, tells me I should be finished with procedures ... this is as good as it will get, and I'm very satisfied with it. No glasses ever ... except for magnifiers to read very, very fine print!!!

Like everyone else, I am following the economic situation closely, not that there's a cause for panic in our household. One advantage of having nothing is that one then cannot lose. No stock market jitters for us! Howard's business has been slower than normal, but winter isn't his best selling time anyway. We are hoping that our president's stimulus package will spur businesses to invest in equipment and energy-saving devices so Howard's phone will once again ring off the hook. Spring and summer will tell the tale.

I actually cried a few tears during President Obama's address to the joint session of Congress last week. He thinks! He can speak with clarity and inspiration! He isn't an ideologue but a pragmatist who places his trust in science, empirical evidence and the virtue of listening! We finally have a chief executive who seems perfect for the job at hand. He's here because his entire life has prepared him for the task at hand! He proves to me once again that everything happens for a reason. President Obama is where he is because that is where he should be. Thank goodness!

Taking some time this week to work on publicity for the Wellness Fair our over-55 community is sponsoring for residents in April. I'm not a joiner anymore (that was for my younger days) but it's nice to contribute something. Also on the committee for the reunion of the Class of 1959 of St. Joseph's High in Hammonton, NJ. You do the math. I can't believe the number! Do I feel old enough to have a @#$%# reunion? No.

One last note... my friend Bonnie and I saw "The Reader" last week. No wonder Kate Winslet won an Oscar! I love movies and this one just reaffirmed that feeling. Powerful, emotional and superbly acted. Don't miss it!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fickle eyes

After successful cataract extraction and lens implant surgery last April, I was flying high with 20/20 vision or better in both eyes and absolutely no need for glasses or any other correction. I wore real sunglasses that didn't get clipped on or cost a mint as a "spare" pair. I wore eye makeup that could actually make my eyes look younger. I could wear my hair very short knowing the little sideburns wouldn't stand out like semiphores when the glasses stems pushed them outward. In short, after nearly 60 years of glasses and contact lenses, I was FREE!

Note the operative word "was."

A couple of weeks ago, my vision started to blur occasionally, especially at dusk when I'd go from a well-lit room to a darker area. Halos formed around light sources and it was hard to differentiate their borders. It wasn't enough to trouble me, though. I attributed it to lack of sleep and stress. Then came last Tuesday.

Coming home from a wonderful visit with Terri, Adela and Nate, I drove blissfully along, aware that darkness was descending but unconcerned about any potential problems. Then, I drove onto Interstate 295 in Ewing Township and found myself nearly blind. Nothing but streaks of light and blurred images met my eyes through the windshield ... imagine my terror! Cars and huge trucks zoomed by at 70+ miles per hour as I struggled to see the white lines on the right side of the highway, where I clung desperately, too fearful to try to pass anyone or even to maintain anything over 55 mph. I crawled like that until reaching the exit for 130 where I usually travel a mile or so before picking up Rt. 206 which takes me home. A large truck in front of me obscured my vision of the route signs and I made a wrong turn. Trying in vain to see clearly enough to read the subsequent signs as they flew past, I finally used my own sense of direction to instruct me to find a way to turn around and retrace my route. Thank goodness for the Delaware River, which I knew should not have been directly on my right!!

Finally, after a harrowing trip, I pulled into our garage and sat there, trying to calm down. An immediate call to my optometrist came next and a day later I was sitting in his chair, my eyes dilated wide. I waited to hear a dire verdict ... retinal separation, diabetic retinopathy, corneal disease, slippage of the lens implants. Instead, after a thorough exam and vision tests, he scratched out some numbers on a pad and pronounced me in need of corrective lenses. My pitifully myopic eyes had enjoyed a brief respite from dysfunction and were now reverting to the need for assistance in order to keep that 20/20 ability.

At first I was terribly disappointed. Then I realized just how lucky I am. It could have been any of the dreaded things that passed through my mind. I could have been in need of further surgery and long recuperation. Instead, I'll have to adjust to being a wearer of bifocals once again. I'll order bifocal sunglasses and be happy to wear whatever it takes to clear up the glare and halos and allow me to drive home from my daughter's after dark without fear.

Oh ... lesson also learned. Pull over, stop and use the OnStar phone to call home for assistance. While I wasn't in imminent danger, my situation wasn't a good one and an accident could have been the result of driving without clear vision. As they say on tv, don't try this stunt yourself!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It's in the genes

What a treat! I've always known that the love of writing and the power of words are alive and well in our family's DNA, but now there is another piece of concrete proof. Daughter Terri has begun her own blog,, in which she chronicles the events in her young family. It's entertaining and filled with the kind of news her relatives and friends want to know but don't always have time to seek. Check it out!