What Happened to That Girl?

It was Tuesday.  At 11:00am. In my kitchen.  I was standing over the sink, lamenting the countless water spots that littered my stainless steel sink.  With absolutely no hesitation, I reached under that sink, pulled out my Weiman’s Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish plus two fresh reusable, recyclable dishrags and began to earnestly polish that puppy.  In no time, the sink was more shiny than glitter in the sun.  Job finished . . .But then my eyes caught something else . . .  those pesky streaks stretched across an otherwise clean and uncluttered countertop. I began to pull out the homemade vinegar/water spray bottle solution and more dishrags, when I just stopped.  I just froze.  I stood.  I stared.

And at that moment . . . the light when on and time seemed to be moving backwards.  It was as if the bulb not only was turned on, but had somehow maxed out its ability to shed one more ounce of  light.  There I was, in the kitchen, holding my Weiman’s, at age 61 and 1/2, looking at a glistening kitchen, recognizing that I had successfully and honestly turned into my mother.  I was Izzy.  It finally happened.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my mother, God rest her soul.  She was everything to me.  A great, great mother.  A great mother.  And I miss her dearly. And Isabelle Washford Greiner spent a large chunk of her life . . . in the kitchen.

The kitchen happened to be in the center of my childhood house, and was on the small side.  In that crazy tiny kitchen, she cooked up a storm in there, clinking and clambering those pots and pans until she produced a meal.  And as the family finished eating, Isabelle would be cleaning that kitchen with the gusto of a race horse in first place headed for the finish line. Tidy in and tidy out, morning, noon, and night, each and every day.   And now, I was doing the very same thing, in much the same way, as my mom had long ago done.  Holy transformation, Batman!

Really – as a youngster, no one accused me of being neat and tidy.  In fact, I was just the opposite.  My clothes never saw a closet they liked.  My bedroom floor was too littered with junk, trash, and other assorted sundries to ever be seen.  Pencils, pens, paper, books, dishes, laundry, etc. were piled high. I am sure that even bugs detested the quality of life in my room and scampered away. But, I was one happy camper there.

My mother’s kitchen was perfection.  My room was beyond a catastrophic failure.

And all I could think was . . .What happened to that girl?

I looked at my kitchen at that moment and began to think way more deeply than I expected.

What happened to that girl who was so sure that she could solve poverty . . . eliminate hunger . . . end war?  What happened to that girl who protested for change . . .participated in every sit-in in the near metro vicinity . . . fought for social justice.  What happened to that girl who listened to hard rock music full blast, wore clothes that represented the meaning of the 70s, jumped off cliffs, slid down mountains, and in general approached life by taking risks without ever thinking about potential consequences?

What happened to that girl?

Never in my wildest dreams in my youth did I ever think I would own a kitchen, let alone have one with granite, stainless steel, hardwood, and recycled crown moulding. I had no idea that I would be married for forty years, have four children, and spend a lifetime working in education. I had no idea that  there would be so many twists and turns to my life and that there would be so many choices to make in so such a short amount of time.

What happened to this girl was the same thing that happened to my mom.

We grew up.

And in growing up, we both learned similar lessons in very different generations.

I have learned that world change comes slow.  I may want it to be faster than the speed of lightening and more powerful than a locomotive, but it still comes slow.  I have learned that fights worth fighting won’t fall off my radar.  I’m still out there doing my part for poverty, hunger, and war.  I’m just not as dramatic or over-the-top about it.

I have learned that there are ways to protest beyond carrying a handprinted sign and marching through the streets, that sometimes what we don’t say or do is much more powerful than too many words and too much action.  I have learned to love more than one category of music and one type of apparel.  Luke Bryan and flannel shirts are my friends.

And finally, I have learned that it is very important for all of us to continue to take risks, every day . . . in every way. Growing up doesn’t mean settling. Not at all. Today, I may be unable to jump off roofs or ride a bike with no hands or backflip off the trampoline into the swimming pool, but I can still be a risk-taker.

We can step forward even when it is uncomfortable.  We can work for those who can’t work for themselves.  We can walk on the edge of life and feel that wind on our backs.  And we can spend everyday anxiously anticipating the next adventure that lurks around the corner.

My phrase can’t be “What happened to that girl?”  It must be “The ride of her life is going to happen to that girl.”  Let the crazy fun continue.

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Waving on the ride of my life

 

 

We Are Many Parts

As I glanced around the room, I felt that time had finally stood still.  All of us had obviously changed, grown, aged, but none of that change seemed to matter.  It was clear that many years had rolled by us, but somehow we were collectively channeling back to what had been such a glorious time in our lives.  We were chatting, laughing, gabbing, and smiling with each other as if we hadn’t missed a moment, as if we hadn’t aged.

There was plenty of food, lots of drink, and a band that beat all bands.  The weather was stunning, the setting was appropriate, and the cost was a drop-in-the-bucket of what it should or could have been. Our conversations were incredible – bringing forth the best in all of us.  It was an evening for the ages as the 1974 graduating class of St. Thomas Aquinas High School had reconvened in full force to celebrate its fortieth anniversary – in style.

We danced, we drank, and we ate.  More importantly, we talked.  Denise become a grandmother three times over earlier in the day.  Jerry traveled to Italy with his entire family.  D’Anne found a bottle of wine with our high school name on it.  Bought it and brought it, of course.  Viv sang with the band.  Larry had rehabbed a house. We all sat and listened to the stories of our lives, and learned a great deal about the actions and activities that had happened over four decades.

I initially thought that what kept us together was that we graduated from the same place many moons ago.  We all attended a Catholic co-educational high school, with rules out the ying-yang, faculty whose behavior today may have been cause for alarm, classes that challenged us to the bone, and tuition that forced our parents to sacrifice.  It was a tough school, whose primary goal wasn’t to produce students who scored well on standardized tests.  Nor was its main purpose to ensure steady and successful transitions to college and or employment.  As a youngster, I didn’t really know why it existed.

I do now.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to care.  I listened to story after story from my classmates about my classmates finding themselves in situations that required caring and self-less attitudes and actions.  Folks volunteering to help newborns and their mothers.  Men and women reaching out and helping relatives in any way possible,  moving moms, dads, aunts, and uncles into their homes if necessary.  Classmates participating in fundraising activities and, in general, looking out for those who can not do so for themselves.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to think.  We studied algebra, chemistry, world religions.  But, we learned to problem solve, critically think, innovate.  It wasn’t about ensuring that we would forever and a day be able to remember and use the Pythagorean Theorem.  It  was ensuring that we could and would create a successful life for ourselves and our families.  At the reunion, there were folks who had recently retired, who had started new jobs, opened their own companies, raised successful families, and in general, used their wits to live glorious lives. Everyone had different narratives, but all of them seem to indicate lives worth living and lives lived to the fullest.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to be accepting.  And on this one, I was most surprised for the 1970s weren’t necessarily a time where people embraced differences.  In fact, differences were often shunned.  But somehow, the Class of ’74 seemed to have pushed beyond the past.  The 80+ people gathered for the reunion were quite different from each other.  No two characters were alike.  But, we – forty years later – were capitalizing on those who were unique – which was everyone – and details on that which made us different, not on that which made us the same.

Learning to care, learning to think, learning to accept are topics for the ages.

To me, these topics are just as relevant today as they were in 1974.  High school students have an inherent tendency to focus more on self than others.  Placing them in settings where they are forced to put others first does build that first needed foundation for caring.

And teaching students to think is a learning gift – a gem. My high school used quirky and unconventional methods in this area, but they worked.  Classroom days built on the pursuit of learning about learning will build a society of great thinkers.  Class of 1974 – case in point.

Finally, the trilogy is complete when students are taught to accept.  There are so many paths that lead high school students towards the low road of non-acceptance.  It can be a time of either fearing those who are different or fearing being different.  I hope – and pray – that those who are leading learning in today’s American high schools, much like those who did so at my high school, figure out ways to encourage students to becoming people who thrive on the differences in others.

At the end of the evening, I had hoped that I would have a memorable take-away.  I thought it would have been something more comical, something that may have happened throughout the event that raised eye-brows and caused chuckles.  Perhaps something that involved some kind of excess and the police.  Something to take me back to my high school days – and the moments when we broken the rules just enough to surprise, but not enough to cause concern.

Not the case.  My thanks to all my caring, thoughtful, and accepting classmates from STA 74.

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St. Thomas Aquinas 1974

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turn, Turn, Turn

“To everything . . . turn, turn, turn.  There is a season . . . turn, turn, turn.  And a time for every purpose, under Heaven. A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep . . .”  The Byrds, 1965.

At the time, it didn’t seem that small.  It just didn’t.  But, I suppose it was. Throughout the normal year, there were eight of us – six children (four boys, two girls) and our parents.  In the summer, however, the number increased.  Our grandmother arrived in May for a two month visit, and our cousin joined us in June for the summer.  And at least once each day – and sometimes two – the entire group would gather around the  wooden kitchen table  – oblong in shape with two benches and two end-chairs  – to eat.  With five to a side and my grandmother and father at the ends, it must have been elbow to elbow.  It just didn’t seem so at the time.

When it started, the home was 888 square feet – not including an unfinished full basement and a backyard. It had three bedrooms, one bathroom, and what would now be called an “eat-in” kitchen.  As I entered my teenage life, my folks expanded the house, tearing down the small bedroom wall to create a living-room/dining room combo, and adding a family room and a larger bedroom. Finally, well after I had moved out, they added a deck which spanned the entire length of the rear of the house.  Again, at the time, none of it seemed small.

There was a need for creativity, however, with only one bathroom and a minimum of eight residents.  On school mornings, showers started early and lasted a few minutes or less if possible.  The house had two sinks and it wasn’t beyond anyone to use the one in the kitchen to brush teeth or wash hair.  As the family aged, my father kindly set up a make-shift shower in the basement – weaving a hose through the ceiling joists, centering it over the floor drain, and encircling it with a shower curtain for as much privacy as a shower in the middle of an open basement could have.   It seemed luxurious and we felt lucky to have two showers.

Throughout the ensuring years, my parents added a large round, above-ground pool in the backyard – right next to the two story tree house, built by my brothers, and eventually secured for safety by my dad.  We had a one car garage which was fine during the time that we only owned one car.  As we learned to drive and bought more cars, we simply parked them in the street as best we could. Everything seemed to fit – nothing seemed too small.

In fact, our small house worked so well that on Christmas in 1976, my parents invited my aunt, uncle, and their four children to stay with us for the holidays. Total home population was fourteen residents, fifteen when my grandma arrived, with my parents welcoming many others on a daily basis to visit with our visitors.  For two weeks, we ate in shifts, showered on a schedule, slept wherever floorspace permitted, and, in general, made concessions on almost everything and anything related to space.  With a Christmas tree and presents filling up an already full family room, the space should have felt tight and cramped.  But again, it did not.

It never did.

Not too long ago, my husband, my son, and I went to that family home to stay overnight.  There were only three of us in the house at the time – as my father was staying at my brother’s house for the evening, and my mother had passed away a dozen years prior.   As we sat at the kitchen table, I thought back to the times when there would be a minimum of an additional five to seven individuals eating dinner in the same space.  Toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder, we would eat, talk, laugh, fight and cry with each other, meal after meal after meal after meal.

Something in the world has changed, however, because looking at that kitchen today with a yardstick and a ruler, it definitely would be considered small. It just would be. In fact, thinking back, there were times when rather than navigating through those sitting at the table,  the best way to walk through the kitchen was to exit out the back door, walk around and enter the front door.

The kitchen may have been small.  The bathroom may have been small.  In fact, the whole house may have been small;  but, what wasn’t small was the life of the folks living in that home.  From that small house, we learned a lot.

We learned to share – everything – closets, clothes, towels, bedrooms, shower space, radios, cars, food – nothing was sacred. In small spaces, individual ownership of things is tough – making sharing a natural, seamless, normal function. I look back on it and recognize that it was a blessing to learn the concept of sharing so prominently and passionately.

We also learned to be flexible.  People – cousins, grandparents, friends – moved in and out of the house all the time. In fact, the house seemed empty without someone staying with the eight of us.  We just shifted, moved, and/or switched places to meet the current needs without fanfare or concern.  A sleeping bag here – a blanket there – add a couple of pillows – and voila – we found the space.  With such flexibility, my parents reaffirmed the idea that it was our family that was blessed – to have so many folks who wanted to live with us.  We were the fortunate ones.  We were the lucky ones.

We learned that there was a time for everything. Everything was scheduled to make sure that life in the house ran like clockwork. Dinner time – 5:00pm.  Shower time – scheduled each morning.  Bedtime – on the half hour after 7:00pm depending on age.  Everything had its own moment, and it was best to capitalize on those moments.

Finally, as I march deeper and deeper into the 21st century, I only hope that I have learned to share well, to be flexible enough, and to know that “to everything there is a time and a purpose, under Heaven.”

At the edge of the world - a big and beautiful place.

At the edge of the world – a big and beautiful place.

Icicles

As a child, just the sight of icicles meant that my world was about to become very exciting.  Icicles meant winter. . . which meant cold . . . which meant time for action.  But there was always a lingering question.  Would it be cold enough?

Weather forecasting during my childhood wasn’t near as easy as it is today.  In the 60s and 70s, we would check the St. Louis newspaper’s weather bird, repeatedly dial the free weather phone number, turn on the television to watch the five minute 10:00pm weather report, and/or stick our heads outside and look around.  Even then, the long term weather forecast seemed like a guess.

When icicles appeared, it was most important to know that those icicles would be sticking around for several days – weeks – longer!  For if there was even a remote thought that a hard, down and dirty winter had arrived, the crazy-fun was going to begin.

My mother would stand at the front door with us – peering at the winter sky, thinking . . . pondering.  Isabelle was a petite young thing and a stay-at-home parent to six wild children (with the oldest 15 years older than the youngest), living in a home with one bathroom, in charge of anything and everything related to ensuring that my four brothers, one sister and I reached adulthood respectfully.

She wasn’t one to jump to conclusions quickly.  Rather, she would review the situation carefully, using a squint face which meant that her mind was somehow completing a unique mathematical calculation.  If after looking outside, she turned towards the living room closet, we were golden!  If not, our patience as children would be tested.

Sometime in the winter of 1971, I had just finished a grueling day of toiling at the local ice cream shop. (Yes, once I considered it hard work.  Now I see it as being paid to eat dessert, chat with friends, and occasionally serve food to others.)  Walking home from that job, which was only up the street from my home, I could see my siblings and mother all huddled around the front door.  Isabelle’s two eyes looked like slits as she gazed up at the house guttering.

As most would agree, winter evening weather can create an amazing hushed beauty.  Nothing is better than being outside on a cold, silent, clear, moonlit evening.  It can seem like the earth is on pause, standing still for just a moment.

And this time, my family’s anticipation only added to that beauty.

I walked off the sidewalk, talking the shortcut up my front lawn.  With each step, I heard the crunching of the frozen grass beneath my feet.   Life all around me was below-zero frozen.  And I slyly smiled because I was beginning to understand the scene.

Nearing the front door, I could see what my family could see.  With a brilliant moon in the background on a starry evening at the beginning of winter, there it was . . . a long line of big, perfect, giant, shiny, stoic icicles hanging down from the rooftop of 200 Duquette Lane.  And happy smiles on everyone’s face.

2011February ice storm 045

From that point forward, the person we knew as a traditional hardworking, intentional-driven mom turned into this crazy-funny person.  Bedtime . . . forget it! Homework . . . not tonight! Safety . . . ignore it! Practicality . . . dream on!

She shouted and some of us suited up.  Hats, coats, gloves, scarves, boots – check.  The rest headed for the basement.  Acting like a volunteer firefighting brigade, my siblings unhooked the downstairs washing machine from its water source.  They secured a spray nossel to the backyard hose which was patiently waiting three feet away just for these occasions.  They attached the hose to the now-barren water source, and threaded it out the basement window to my waiting mom.

With all systems a-go, Isabelle gave the on-signal.  Now, all it took was watching, waiting, and spraying.

My mother, in her early to mid-forties, wearing non-waterproof everything, would stand in the dark of the backyard, on such icicle evenings, for hours – with or without the rest of the brigade – holding a cold, wet hose, spreading a thin layer of water on the lawn in order to create one heck-of-a-great time for the family.

The nearest commercial ice-skating rink was both out of sight in terms of distance and  cost.  But, with a little luck and a little elbow grease, the back yard of 200 Duquette Lane could turn into one of the finest skating arenas in the nation.

According to Isabelle, there was an art to freezing the backyard.  First, she would apply a continual fine misting over the grass.  Once the grass was covered, she would remove the spray nossel and use a flooding approach.

By the time she had completed step one, she, herself, looked like a frozen popsicle, with icicles hanging from the ridge of her gloves, coat, body.  We would help as much as possible, but this moment was hers.  It was a time for Isabelle to step out of her responsible mother role and do something so absolutely nutty, that it befuddles me even today.

Throughout the night and into the morning, she would pace the back yard, hose in hand, until every inch was covered in ice.  My father, who left for work before 5:00am each day was a trusty assistant, but could not lead this madness.  It was an Isabelle project all the way.

Upon waking, we would skate the heck out of the back yard – daytime, nighttime, before school, after school.  That crazy-funny ice rink with three giant trees in its middle was a winter treasure beyond belief. We had the time of our lives.

Isabelle?  She really didn’t like to skate, but she watched us like a mom from the nearby kitchen window.  And for as long as the icicles stayed, we felt like the luckiest bunch of kids on the face of the earth.  Who knew that a postage stamp yard in the middle of suburbia Missouri could become such a splendor-land.

Well maybe, only that squinting mother of six who saw icicles as opportunities.

The Greatest Love of All

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows.  If I fail, if I succeed – at least I’ll live as I believe.  No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.  Because the greatest love of all is happening to me.  I found the greatest love of all inside of me.  The greatest love of all is easy to achieve.  Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. – (Greatest Love of All)

Michael Masser and Linda Creed wrote the music and lyrics in 1977 with the most famous version of it recorded by Whitney Houston in 1985.  I listen to it often . . . usually while starting my evening run.  It has a good beat. Houston has a good voice.  And the song . . . has a great meaning.

I grew up in the 1970s, graduating from high school and college during that decade.  And that decade included the end of the Vietnam War, Kent State, Apollo 13, Watergate, Mark Spitz, Love Story, Soul Train, the skateboard, and hot pants. That time period was a strange mixture of longing for the simplicity of the past while yearning for what might be great changes in the future.  It was also a mere fifty years since the United States granted women of the United States the right to vote.

During the 1970s, women weren’t exactly encouraged to pursue their dreams.  It was certainly legal to go to college, bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan.  But . . . it wasn’t readily accepted as a way of life.  Change was still far off on the horizon.  We, as women, could see it, but it was distant, and fuzzy, and always just a bit out of arms reach.  But we, collectively, and I, individually, moved on, just putting one foot in front of the other, day by day, week by week, year by year.  Nothing was perfect, but it wasn’t chopped liver either.

What became clear to me early on . . . is that I had to believe in myself – believe that I could succeed, believe that I would be okay if I tried and failed, believe that I, alone, and no one else had control of my destiny.  That’s not to say that I stood by myself 100% of the time, but it had to start with me.  It had to start somewhere deep inside my world and gain momentum along the way.

The only way folks like Sandra Day O’Connor, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and my very own mother achieved the greatest they achieved – as I can unwind it –  was, first, loving themselves.  Not selfishly.  Not thoughtlessly.  Not inconsiderately. But supportively, sensibly, and courageously.  They seemed to know how to lead themselves before gaining the skills used to lead others.

Via Houston’s voice, Masser and Creed tell  us – regardless of gender – “never to walk in anyone’s shadow.”  They are certainly not the first folks to tell us so, but they do so in a simple, direct way.  And, in the previous stanza, they tell us to let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.

My six-year-old grandson is carefree, confident, happy, inquisitive, and has absolutely no fear of failure.  In fact, in his eyes, there is no such thing as failure – only unusual successes.  He definitely isn’t walking in anyone else’s shadow.  I am not even sure he has the ability to do so.  He certainly doesn’t have the desire.  He loves himself for himself.  Children are models in that regard, our inspiration.

I paused while running and took a photo of my shadow.

Though I have slowed down a bit with this activity, throughout my own children’s college years, I would routinely email the lyrics to songs like The Greatest Love of All to my sons and daughter, usually on what I called Motivation Mondays.   With each email, I would remind them of their own personal greatness and implore them to consider their talents in order to make a difference in their world, in my world, in the world.  My purpose behind Motivation Mondays wasn’t to stroke ego or make sure  that all 18-22 year olds related to me were attending college classes as scheduled; rather, it was to nurture the ability within them, within all humans to love ourselves in the best way possible.

For me, I hope and pray that the struggles of the 1970s are nearing the end, and that the solutions to today’s struggles are easier to reach.  I hope and pray that my own children have the Greatest Love of All, and that they recognize that it is being modeled for them every day, in every way, by the gentle giant of a six-year-old who is a fearless soul at this point.  And finally, I hope and pray that I continue to forge my own path, my own destiny, never walking in anyone else’s shadow.

It’s a story that hasn’t been finished.

On My Honor

On my honor, I will try:  to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times, and to obey the Girl Scout Law. – The Girl Scout Promise

I was a Girl Scout.

That’s right.  An all American, rock and roll, crazy-funny, dippy nerdy Girl Scout.  My troop number: 972.  Our motto: live, laugh, love.  My active scouting years:  1961 to 1974.  And not only do I still know the Girl Scout Promise by heart, but I am also quite familiar with the Trefoil Pin . . .  and the difference between a brownie, a junior, a cadet, and a senior . . . and the ten Girl Scout Laws, with the fourth (a Girl Scout is a friend to all and a sister to every other Girl Scout) being my personal favorite.

And I was an all-in Girl Scout.

I made, owned and used a sit-upon.  I proudly wore my uniforms from the brown Brownie dress and brown Brownie beanie to the green Junior jumper, keenly accessorized with a green badge-covered sash.  I read my handbooks cover to cover, making appropriate notations in the margins to ensure that I completely understood each and every Girl Scout rule.  I took pictures at my Fly-up Ceremony, was proud of the day I became a Senior Scout, and to me, the best thing to do on March 12th is celebrate World Girl Scout Day.

In my mind, the world of Troop 972 could only be described as the best type of crazy funny living that ever happened to me.  There was nothing better than me and nineteen of my closest Girl Scout friends sleeping in a lodge with no electricity and no running water in the middle of a cold Missouri January.  I can recall watching the snow shower down around us – hoping and praying for more.

As an eleven year old, the same group of twenty young ladies spent a week building primitive teepees, and a week living in them, again, no electricity or running water within a five-mile radius. Showers were built out of water-filled recycled Clorox bleach bottles tethered high enough to splash our faces.  At night, tin mess kits and battered canteens were kept in ditty bags and hung from trees, along with all food, far from the camp as we had no desire to encourage visits from nearby raccoons.

From eighth grade and throughout high school, Troop 972 bailed on lodges and teepees and took up hammock camping somewhere in the hills of Troy, Missouri.   And just before exiting high school, the gang decided that there was really no need for hammocks, as sleeping bags on the ground worked just fine.  Of course, transistor radios, flashlights, pocket knives, and rain tarps were must-have items.  Everything else was just something that had to be carried.

Throughout my Girl Scout years, I learned to tell the difference between a clove hitch and a bowline, cook anything in tinfoil packets, build fires quickly and efficiently, clean clothes in nearby streams, fend off spiders, and sleep in the great outdoors.  Though all insignia that we wore indicated that we were Girl Scouts, our hearts told us that we were more like modern American pioneers – discovering, inventing, creating, and surviving.

Today, as I look back on my scouting years, I am very aware that what I did as a young Girl Scout in the late 60s /70s would be impossible to replicate today.  For good or for bad, it just wouldn’t be allowed. It just wouldn’t.

Today, no one would allow a group of eleven year olds to winter camp, each of us carrying and using a hatchet to chop wood for the fire which warmed us and fed us for a week.  No one would allow twelve-year olds to live in teepees for two weeks without any access to any type of modern amenities including plumbing, electricity, and/or outhouses.

No one would ever allow thirteen year olds to hang handmade hammocks between two trees – the ultimate test of knot knowledge and skills – and sleep in them.  Truly the score was danger ten, safety zero.  And certainly no one would allow fourteen to eighteen year olds to march out for miles into the forest, throw down sleeping bags and set up camp in the middle of nowhere – with no functional means of communication to any parent – for seven to ten days.

Looking back, we were at best living on the edge and at worse, putting ourselves in the middle of many, many dangerous, age-inappropriate situations.  But we were Girl Scouts.  We were a group – a gang – of renegade young ladies, bonded together through scouting, learning to become the women we are today.  We didn’t really think about what could have happened to us.  We only thought about the next moment, the next challenge, and the next great adventure.

The good news is that we all survived.  We lost no one and encountered nothing that toppled Troop 972.  I am quite sure that I have long forgotten all of the awkward, anxious, and most likely, idiotic times that put me and my GS friends in some type of peril and only recall those that paint the rosier, heartier, and more captivating version of our history.  Today, I can see that had the troop been active during this century, its history . . . its story . . . its life would have been completely different.

And I can only think that it would be even better.

I still am a Girl Scout.

A Remnant From My Early Brownie Days

I’ve Got A Lot To Be Thankful For . . . But Am I?

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

I got a lot of great folks in my life all the way from my littlest nephew who is still learning to speak to my aunt-in-law who is in her mid-nineties and still is interested in me (and technically, I am only related to her by marriage). I have a great spouse, great kids, siblings, cousins, friends . . . and they are all very active in my life.

I have food on my table everyday, usual three times a day, and more if I needed it.  I have a great home that is heated in the winter and cooled in the summer.  I have a closet full of clothes, a car that runs, computers, books, musical instruments, and all the basic amenities that anyone would ever want. I have lots of time to think, ample space to enjoy, and good health on top of all that.

And for me, my good fortune is more noticeable in November at Thanksgiving time.

In fact, just the word Thanksgiving gets me pondering about everything that is good in my world.  The weather is usually wonderful with fall colors and smells everywhere.  The holiday season is just starting, so my bank account is still in tack.  Snow hasn’t entered the scene yet, and heck, it’s pomegranate season as well.  And as I said, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

With all that is good to great in my life, I am embarrassed to say and . . . must truthfully admit, I still find time to . . . (not always, but sometimes) . . . voice my fair share of complaints.

Daylight Savings Time is ending and my internal clock system will be off a little.  I just noticed that merchants have entirely skipped over Thanksgiving and hauled out the Christmas decorations already.  The price of gas is going up again.  The hummingbirds went south for the winter and didn’t bother to finish all the food in their feeder – which I now have to clean.  My cellphone keeps dropping calls.  My Bank of America debit card is going to cost more, and I can’t figure out how much or when the new fees will start.  The local department of transportation fixed the pot holes in the road, but left a dusty mess behind.  The post office changed its hours and it is more difficult for me to meet the new schedule.  No more free refills of popcorn at the local movie theater unless I go on Tuesday and who goes to movies on Tuesdays!  There is too much stuff in my garage right now: my car doesn’t fit.  The icemaker wasn’t working this morning. And someone parked in what I consider my parking spot at work.

Just reading those complaints, I have to laugh.

From that list, it is clear that sometimes I am very similar to that wacky teacher who speaks with a waa-waa-waa in the Charlie Brown cartoon series.  All I need to do to complete the picture is simultaneously furrow my brows, place my right hand on my hip, and wear a pencil behind my ear.

Continuing the analogy,  my conversations must sound more like . . . waa-waa-waa . . . Daylight Savings Time . . . waa-waa-waa . . . cellphone calls . . . waa-waa-waa . . . parking spot. I am quite sure that no one is listening to me.  Heck, I am not even listening to me.

Obviously, I need to change. But how?

Reflecting on my life, I grew up during a very unique American time period.  My early, early youth experiences include watching the final moments of the Civil Rights Movement and all the related activities. There was the Greensboro Four, James Meredith, the Selma/Montgomery March, the Freedom Riders and the protests surrounding these types of activities – all in full swing.

Continuing on in my world, my high school life was in complete sync with all the 1970s era protesting . . . including Kent State, the Harrisburg Seven, Woodstock, the ERA.  I was either part of the problem or part of the solution. I learned to stand up and say something . . . to jump forward and try to make a change.

During my undergraduate years, there was always somebody protesting something in the middle of the campus quad.  (In more hilarious moments, the folks protesting were streaking at the same time.  Have to love college life!)

As time has moved forward, the good news has been that many of the most egregious issues that have plagued the United States for decades have been solved.  Not to say that everything is perfect, but it certainly is better.  And gone is the grand scale protesting that once was commonplace throughout the nation.  Gone are Friday afternoon protest marches lining streets with hundreds of people carrying hand-made signs – for or against something . . . anything. Gone are mass letter writing campaigns aimed at filling the snail mail boxes of federal legislators in the hopes of righting some type of wrong   Gone are the once popular sit-ins which at times stopped traffic even in the busiest of city crossroads. It’s a new day, a new time.  Everything has changed.

Thus, my behavior must change too.

My first step to moving off of the waa-waa-waa podium is simple.  Just stop. Stop complaining.  Stop moaning and groaning.  Stop fretting about the inconsequential. Just stop.  It may not be so easy, but as my mother often said, “Good isn’t easy.  Don’t expect it to be so.”   So, just stop.

And my second step is equally as brief.  Just start.  Start to focus on the big picture.  Start to think about what was worth protesting in generations past, and make sure that my focus is centered at that point. Start to be more thankful more often. Stay the course by keeping in step with the good around me.  I may fail, but I had better not go down without a fight. So, just start.

And if steps one and two fail, I have a plan.  Just sign me up for the nearest-streaking-college-quad-march-protest-sit-in and give me a waa-waa-waa sign to hold.  Might as well go for some crazy fun.

City Traffic

Complaining about traffic is common; but, look how interesting and beautiful it can be.