women…and the world…

Women have a way of softening the edges around acrimonious debate in which men often immerse themselves…and our world.

Would a woman…a daughter, wife, and mother…make a better President than her male counterpart? An intriguing question, which I hope will one day be answered.

Until that day…let’s continue to do what we do best…bring people together.

…couldn’t have said it…any better myself…

………hugmamma.

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a year without fear…part 2 (read part 1 first)

 
Always Postpone Meetings with Time-Wasting Morons

Image via Wikipedia

So here’s how Scott Adams, Dilbert‘s creator, set about “turning over a new leaf.”

     As 2011 approached, I wondered what would happen if, for the next 12 months, I said yes to any opportunity that was new or dangerous or embarrassing or unwise. I decided to find out.
     Shelly quickly embraced my new attitude and booked us on a trip to Costa Rica. That country has a huge population of monkeys and no military whatsoever–an obvious recipe for disaster. But my immediate problem was surviving Shelly’s idea of fun. This, as it turned out, included zip lining (less scary than it looked), an ATV trek through a dangerous and muddy jungle (nearly lost a leg) and, finally, a whitewater excursion down a canyon river in the rain forest.
     I should pause here to explain that though I have many rational fears in life–all the usual stuff–I have only one special fear: drowning. So for me, whitewater rafting pins the needle on the fear-o-meter. But this was my year to face my fears. I was all in.
     The first sign of trouble came when the more experienced of the two guides said that Shelly would be with him in his two-person kayak and I would ride with the new guy. This worried me because most reports of accidental deaths include the words “and then the new guy….” The second red flag appeared as the guide explained that when we hit the rapids through the waterfalls, we civilians should hold our oars above our heads and let the guides do the steering. My follow-up question went something like this: “Waterfalls?”
     Things went smoothly for Shelly and her expert river guide. I watched them slalom down an S-shaped, 12-foot drop. Shelly might have said something like “Wheeee!”
    My experience differed. My guide (the new guy) steered my half of the kayak directly into the huge rock at the top of the water hazard. My next memory involves being at the bottom of a Costa Rican river wondering which direction was up and holding my breath while I waited for my life-preserver to sort things out–which it did. Somehow, my guide and I got back into the kayak, only to repeat the scenario at another rocky waterfall five minutes later. If you think this sort of thing gets more fun on the second try, you might be a bad guesser.
     Our guides brought the kayaks to a resting area midway through the excursion. I crawled to shore like a rat that had been trapped in a washing machine. You know how people say you shouldn’t drink the local water in some places? Well, apparently you should also avoid snorting a gallon of bacteria-laden Costa Rican river water. I woke up the next morning hosting an exotic-microbe cage match in my stomach followed by an hour-long trip over winding jungle roads to the airport for home. I’ll summarize the two weeks that followed as “not good.” On the plus side, I didn’t gain weight on that vacation.
     So far, my strategy of being more adventurous was producing mixed results. My life seemed richer and more interesting–but it also involved a lot more groaning, clutching my sides and intermittently praying for death.
     It was time to dial back the risk-taking a notch. For our next adventure, I insisted on something more civilized. Shelly picked Hawaii. The most dangerous thing I tried there was swimming in the ocean, which I’ve heard on good authority is full of sharks. People who seemed to know what they were talking about said that the sharks leave you alone unless you swim at the wrong time of day and look like a seal. I hoped that the sharks in our area could tell time, and I did my best impression of someone who was very definitely not a seal. Apparently, I pulled it off.
     My friend Steve taught me how to cook a gourmet Mexican meal. He also taught me that when the executive chef says, “Wear gloves when you cut the hot chili peppers,” that’s more of a requirement than a suggestion. I spent the next four hours in agony while experimenting with the cooling properties of mayonnaise, milk and vinegar. I also learned that in a situation like that, when the executive chef says, “If you need to use the bathroom, take the bagel tongs with you because I’m not helping,” he isn’t joking.
     I had better luck with my evening of salsa dancing in San Francisco, in a neighborhood that was apparently zoned for salsa, murdering, carjacking and hate crimes. Our plan was to get there in time for the free group lesson, then to use our new skills to dance the night away.
     We arrived late, and the lesson was half over. But that didn’t matter because it was clear that not one of the husbands or boyfriends trying to follow along was getting it. It looked like a parking lot scene from a bad zombie movie. By the time the club opened for dancing, dozens of impressively unattractive single men appeared from some sort of crack in the space-time continuum. They were salsa nerds who knew they would be the only skilled male dancers in the place, and they had their pick of the ladies. I pushed Shelly toward the first salsa nerd who came our way and said, “Go nuts. I’ll be over there.”
     I also took up golf this year because I figured that it would be a good challenge. So far, the only problem is that in every foursome, there’s always one jerk who gives me a hard time for wearing a helmet.
    
My year of Living Dangerously is now drawing to a close. It turns out that some people handle adventure better than others. Shelly and her relatives, for example, are good at navigating through dangerous and unfamiliar situations like fearless gazelles. I’m more like a zebra with a limp who wonders why the other zebras are edging away from him at the watering hole. But now I’m a zebra with better stories, at least until I become lion food. I’m happy about everything I tried, and I’m happy about all the things that I plan to try in the next 90 or so years of my life.
     My advice for the coming year is that before you say no to an adventure, make sure it’s you talking and not the woodchuck who bent the front fork of your motorcycle. You won’t enjoy every new adventure, but I promise that you will enjoy being the person who said yes.  

 (Wall Street Journal, 12/31/11-1/1/12)

 
…it’s for sure adams and i…are made of the same stuff…pock, pock, pock  …said the scared chicken as she laid her egg…in the pan on top of the warm stove…where she went…to escape the icy rain…

…adams…dilbert…and me………hugmamma.

Cover of "The Year of Living Dangerously&...

Cover of The Year of Living Dangerously

a year without fear…

Dilbert (character)

Image via Wikipedia

…written by the creator of the cartoon character Dilbert…Scott Adams…and reprinted in its entirety below.

WHEN I WAS 15, a woodchuck that lived in a rock-strewn field in upstate New York taught me a valuable lesson about risk assessment. He was like an accidental Yoda, and I’ve thought about him often over the past year–which I’ve dubbed My Year of Living Dangerously.
     The woodchuck taught me to approach life cautiously–perhaps too cautiously. As I coasted into the second half of my life, I decided that it was time to unlearn the woodchuck’s lesson and loosen up, take some risks, face my fears and enjoy the fullness of life. Perhaps you have a woodchuck of your own that you need to shake off. Maybe 2012 will be your year.
     Here’s what happened: One summer, long ago, I was barreling through a field at about 25 miles an hour on my ancient Bridgestone motorcycle when the front tire decided to visit the foyer of a woodchuck’s underground lair. I’m not sure if anyone else in the world noticed, but while I was airborne, time slowed down for a few seconds.
     In the first stage of my flight, while I was still facing toward the sweet, sweet Earth, I noticed that there were many large rocks in the direction that gravity preferred. As my flight continued, I reminded myself that I’m not an adventurer. Some people are born to take one physical risk after another. They thrive on the adrenaline rush. I’m not one of those people. When my body feels adrenaline, it means that I just did something extraordinarily stupid. This was one of those times.
     About three-quarters into my aerial rotation, I accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and personal savior, just to improve my odds. And I made a promise to myself that, if I lived, I would follow in the footsteps of my ancestors and lead a timid life, far from danger’s reach. As far as I know, there has never been a hero in my bloodline–not one soldier, police officer or fireman. I don’t know what that implies about my genes, but I’ve never lost a game of hide-and-seek where I was the hider.
     By pure luck, or maybe because of my just-in-time religious conversion, I landed flat on my back in a rock-free patch of dirt. I was wearing a helmet and had no lasting injuries. But for about a week I could taste my brain. It had a cashew flavor.
     From that day on, I kept my promise to myself and avoided all unnecessary physical risks. My strategy got easier when I became a syndicated cartoonist; I told anyone who would listen that I couldn’t risk injuring my drawing hand.
     My danger-avoidance lifestyle worked, and I enjoyed a long string of injury-free years. But I always had a nagging feeling that I was missing out. How can you know if the chance you didn’t take was the one that would have enriched your life versus, for example, something that would have ended up with you chewing your own arm off to escape? Enrichment and arm-gnawing look roughly the same when viewed from the start.
     My low-risk strategy got more complicated when I met Shelly, the woman I would marry. Shelly comes from a family of adventurers. In the final months of World War II, when her grandfather was 19 and the oldest surviving officer in his unit, he got the order to liberate a POW camp. So he did what anyone would do in that situation: He crashed a Nazi staff car into the front gate at high-speed while his men laid down suppressing fire. I asked him if he was scared. He said, “Nah. Wasn’t my time.”
     The whole family is like that. They lack the fear gene, and they like doing new things no matter how good the old things are. Compounding this situation, they mate with people who are just as fearless. If you eavesdropped on a typical holiday gathering, you might hear the following snippets of conversation:
     “The Taliban were all over that area, but our helicopter only got shot up once.”
     “It didn’t hurt too much until the doctor scraped off the top layer of my skin to get the pebbles out.”
     “The second round hit me as I dove into the truck. I guess we shouldn’t have gone to that bar.”
     I noticed that all of Shelly’s relatives seem to be living life to the fullest. Did my brush with a woodchuck-related death in my formative years make me too cautious to enjoy life?
     Experts say that people need to try new challenges to keep their minds sharp. That’s especially important in my case because I plan on living to 140, and I don’t want to spend my last 60 years trying to find the TV remote.
     As 2011 approached, I wondered what would happen if, for the next 12 months, I said yes to any opportunity that was new or dangerous or embarrassing or unwise. I decided to find out.

If this whets your appetite for more…

…settle in for…part 2…

………hugmamma.  😉 

“same sky,” empowering women

Economically empower a woman—you change her, her family, her community, her country… and eventually, the social & economic fabric of the entire world.

On Inside Edition last night, not a program I usually sit and watch, more like I glance at the screen as I’m walking through the living room. When something is of interest though, I’ll sit on the edge of the closest chair. If it’s worth watching, I may settle in for a few minutes. Mention of “Same Sky,” an organization that helps empower the women of Rwanda caught my eye. So I gave my full attention to the broadcast.

In 1994, 800,000 Rwandans were massacred. During this genocide, women were enslaved as sex victims. As a result they were inflicted with the HIV virus. Bearing children, these new mothers were unable to care for their offspring because they suffered the effects of the disease. Filmmaker Francine Le Franc was moved to help these women help themselves, and their families. Le Franc began “Same Sky,” a cooperative wherein the women learned to crochet. With their newfound skill, they were able to make beaded jewelry. The necessary tools are shipped from the U.S., and the finished pieces shipped back for sale in retail stores, and at home parties, and trunk shows. 100%of the proceeds are put back into the business, thereby enabling more women the opportunity to participate.

Le Franc decided “Same Sky” was a befitting name for the business venture, because ALL women live under the same sky. “They see the same stars and the same moon. Every woman. One dream.” TV host Deborah Norville remarked, “And they’re sold for a profit. This is not a charity operation.” Le Franc added “It’s a trade initiative, not an aid initiative. It’s a hand up, not a hand out.”

Check out the SAME SKY website for further information, and see familiar faces, like those below, who have joined in supporting the cause. The jewelry may be a little pricey for most of us, but for an extra special gift, they might just work. Nonetheless, we can join in celebrating the self-liberating, empowerment of these women of Rwanda…hugmamma.

Halle Berry in Seafoam     

Goldie Hawn in Butterscotch and Jade Green

Ben Affleck in Men's Wrap

Katie Couric in Clear Sky

Ann Curry in Caviar

Chelsea Clinton in Seafoam

Fran Dresher in Fire Red

Meryl Streep in Starry Night

Queen Latifah in Chocolate Brownie

Jesse Jackson in Men's Wrap

Joan Collins in Fire Red and Starry Night

Geena Davis in Sky Blue

Donna Karen in Fire Red (photo by Joe Kohen/Getty Images)

McGarrett, no replacement

As I sit typing away at the keyboard, Steve McGarrett’s face lights up the TV screen behind me. The low, husky voice is enough to conjure up the handsome Jack Lord. I’m reminded that in “Hawaii Five-O’s” heyday, I had a crush on the actor. So while I was disappointed in his marriage to someone other than me, I took comfort in his wife’s dark-haired good-looks as indicative of Lord’s preference for exotic types.

Beyond Lord’s presence in the series, “Hawaii Five-O” was a favorite of locals because it was filmed in the islands. The production company’s home base was located a few miles from my mother-in-law’s house. Filming on location meant natives would be used not only as extras, but possibly in featured roles as well. I think one or more of McGarrett’s  detectives were island men. Not only did the series provide jobs for locals but they, along with the islands as a backdrop, gave the show authenticity. Viewing the show I could identify every place they filmed, streets, buildings, restaurants, night clubs, malls, parks, beaches, hotels, churches, temples, airports and more. It was thrilling to see local celebrities like Danny Kaleikini and Genoa Keawe perform. Don Ho also guested but wasn’t a favorite of locals, who viewed him as a cheesy rendition of the true Hawaiian artist. Besides, Ho was always seen with a drink in his hand. Islanders did not relish being dubbed as slap-happy alcoholics to an audience of television watchers.

While not knocking the socks off of critics, the dramatic series entertained “Hawaii Five-O” fans for years. I know my family watched it with regularity. We probably set our dinner schedule around its time slot. After all, watching the show was like witnessing real life as it unfolded on our streets, in our homes, in our work places, among our people. We weren’t watching look-a-likes, so imagining that “Hawaii Five-O” was about us wasn’t far-fetched. And Jack Lord imbued the Hawaiian spirit, if not in looks then in his love of the islands and its people. During the series and through his retirement, he and his wife lived in Honolulu, calling it home. We were as enamored of the man, as he was of Hawaii, its culture and the natives. So while another reprise of the TV series is in the offing, there’ll never be a replacement for Jack Lord, the one and only Steve McGarrett. I wonder if the theme song will be updated as well; the old one is like “comfort food.” Right now, watching the original “Hawaii Five-O”, I’m remembering the “good old days” of my youth.

they can try, but…hugmamma.

brit loves america

I thought the following TV Times piece was especially interesting since I have several good friends who are Brits. Some even read my posts. Here’s the article, in part.

“Piers Morgan loves America” by Kate O’Hare

He may be Irish by ethnicity and British by nationality, but Piers Morgan loves America, and over the course of several years as a judge on NBC’s “American’s Got Talent,” …he’s gotten to see a lot of the nation and its people.

He’s even written a book about his experiences, called “God Bless America: Misadventures of a Big Mouth Brit,” released in 2009.

“When I used to come here as a young show-business reporter for one of the London papers, I had a warped view,” Morgan says. “The only Americans I met were lawyers, entertainment agents, managers and celebrities, which is not a very good reflection of the real America. So, you end up thinking all Americans are like that, because they’re the only ones you meet.

“The same way, if you’re on holiday in Europe, and you see a bunch of football hooligans fighting, you go, ‘God, they’re a bunch of savages.’ “

As to what he’s learned during his travels, Morgan says, “What a huge country this is, and so varied. As I’ve traveled around with ‘America’s Got Talent,’ I’ve gone to the North, South, East, West–everywhere very different.

“The common ground, I think, is that American people are very courteous in a way, I think, Brits have unfortunately become less courteous. There’s a great spirit and energy about America. There’s a real can-do mentality, where you don’t have a social class structure. Your structure is based on achievement and people who have done well for themselves. You embrace that and encourage that.

“It’s intoxicating for Brits, where a lot of the time in Britain, it’s what kind of silver spoon you were born with in your family, is how you get on.

“So it’s nice, the can-do mentality. America’s not perfect, but it has a great spirit to it. Certainly if I was in trouble, I’d want to have a couple of Americans in my corner.”

We can take pride in being Americans.

hugs for us…hugmamma.

 

creative passion, “fountain of youth”

I’m living proof of AARP’s recent article GENIUS! Not that I’m a genius, but I can vouch for the fact that “our creative horizons need not narrow with age” as the article states. Gay Hanna, head of the National Center for Creative Aging says “We never lose the potential to learn new things as we grow older…In fact, we can master new skills and be creative all our lives.” So the old adage IS true “You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.” Contributing to the discussion is David Shenk, author of The Genius in All of Us, “Genes impact our lives,…but our lives also impact our genes–the brain changes shape according to the experiences it has. …Most of us don’t understand that our true inner potential is quite extraordinary. Not just at age 20 or 40 but well into our elder years. The main reason people stagnate is that they limit themselves through their mind-set or habits. Or they simply set their sights too low.”

Sixty-five-year old Mack Orr had been a cotton picker in Mississippi in the 50’s, as well as a heavy-equipment operator when he moved to Memphis in 1965. Along the way he became a husband, father of 4, and the owner of Mack’s Auto Repair. At 45 he “…was listening to the radio in my auto-repair shop,…They were playing an Albert King song–‘Walkin’ the Back Streets and Cryin’–and it sounded real good. …I went down to the pawn shop, got me a guitar and amp, …And I carried that guitar everywhere I went. If I went to work, I carried it with me. If I went fishing, I carried it. I stayed on it day and night.” Within 3 years his hard work got him gigs as a blues guitarist around Memphis. Daddy Mack, as he is known to friends and fans, has since jammed with Keith Richards and Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones, performed at festivals across America and Europe, and recorded 4 CDs–including Bluesfinger, his latest. Daddy Mack confesses “I never dreamed I’d go to the places I’ve been…”

In the 60’s and 70’s, Judithe Hernandez was known in Los Angeles for her murals. Resettling in Chicago in 1984, marriage, motherhood and a position as a university art instructor sidelined her artwork. Her creative passion took a back seat but she continued to draw, though infrequently, she “…had all these ideas stored away in file drawers–and in my head. And I never let go of the dream that someday I’d come back to it.” At 62, with the end of her marriage and her only child off to college, Hernandez returned to L.A. and resumed her artistic career with renderings of symbol-rich pastel drawings. Evidently she made the right move for in January 2011, Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art will feature her as a solo artist. Hernandez compares herself to an artist years younger “It’s the difference between a sauce you make in five minutes and one that you reduce and reduce and the flavor gets more intense and deeper. You’re left with a smaller amount, but the flavor is amazing.”

Painting literally saved 54-year-old, abstract painter Audrey Phillips. Losing her mother to a brutal murder traumatized Phillips so that in the years that followed she lost her job, her faith, her second marriage. In 2000, a friend with whom she was visiting in New Mexico urged Phillips to start drawing, since she’d been a student of graphic design. “Abruptly, the pictures tumbled forth. The subject: the killer’s face–one version after another in wild, furious, almost brutal renditions. ‘I had been thinking about it a long time,…And it came out with such energy–I probably had 30 pieces of art when I was done. I was like, ‘Thank God that’s out on the page and not inside me anymore!’ ” Phillips, an award-winning abstract artist, living in New Smyrna Beach, Florida confirms that “Painting catapulted me through my final phase of grieving and loss…It basically saved my life.”

According to the article “Of all the qualities that distinguish older artists, perseverance may be the most vital.” In her 9th decade, author Eugenia Lovett West had her first novel, Without Warning, published in 2007 and its sequel, Overkill, came out in 2009. Two more books are in the works. West hopes her story “…inspires older writers to persevere. It’s a blessing to wake up in the morning with the urge to create.”

So here I sit at 12:31 a.m. still typing away at the keyboard, husband snoring in his favorite recliner, with the TV “watching” him, and pets slumbering comfortably nearby. Will I too be allowed to rest, or am I doomed to give voice to the “genius” of my old age without let up?

 “fountain of youth,” may be the death of me yet…hugmamma.

“freddie the leaf, the fall of”

The only author I can wholeheartedly call my favorite is Leo Buscaglia. Otherwise, I select books according to their subject matter. But I’ve enjoyed reading every one of  Buscaglia’s books. A postscript to one of my favorites, reads:

“Leo Buscaglia approached life with joy and enthusiasm. He pursued a path of perpetual learning that took him to places of wonder, excitement, and enlightenment. His sense of urgency to live life now and explore all that is possible was contagious to all who knew him. His life was dedicated to the single concept of ‘Love’ and all the beautiful and positive elements that it encompasses. …He died of heart failure on June 29th, 1998, at his home in Lake Tahoe, Nevada at the age of 74. A note was found on his typewriter the next day. It read, ‘Every moment spent in unhappiness is a moment of happiness lost.’

In 2004 I was in Chautauqua, New York, visiting my daughter while she danced in a summer program. Browsing through the bookstore housed in a charming building, I happened upon “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” by Leo Buscaglia. Tucking myself away in a corner, I read it. A lump formed in my throat for the story was written to assuage a child’s loss of someone special, to death. The book, in its 20th edition, is a “beloved classic that has helped thousands of people come to grips with life and death.” I’d like to share it with you now, in the hopes that it might someday do the same for you.

Spring had passed. So had summer. Freddie, the leaf, had grown large. His mid-section was wide and strong, and his five extensions were firm and pointed. He had first appeared in Spring as a small sprout on a rather large branch near the top of a tall tree.

Freddie was surrounded by hundreds of other leaves just like himself, or so it seemed. Soon he discovered that no two leaves were alike, even though they were on the same tree. Alfred was the leaf next to him. Ben was the leaf on his right side, and Clare was the lovely leaf overhead. They had all grown up together. They had learned to dance in the Spring breezes, bask lazily in the Summer sun and wash off in the cooling rains.

But it was Daniel who was Freddie’s best friend. He was the largest leaf on the limb and seemed to have been there before anyone else. It appeared to Freddie that Daniel was also the wisest among them. It was Daniel who told them that they were part of a tree. It was Daniel who explained that they were growing in a public park. It was Daniel who told them that the tree had strong roots which were hidden in the ground below. He explained about the birds who came to sit on their branch and sing morning songs. He explained about the sun, the moon, the stars and the seasons.

Freddie loved being a leaf. He loved his branch, his light leafy friends, his place high in the sky, the wind that jostled him about, the sun rays that warmed him, the moon that covered him with soft, white shadows.

Summer had been especially nice. The long hot days felt good and the warm nights were peaceful and dreamy. There were many people in the park that Summer. They often came and sat under Freddie’s tree. Daniel told him that giving shade was part of his purpose.

“What’s a purpose?” Freddie had asked. “A reason for being,” Daniel had answered. “To make things more pleasant for others is a reason for being. To make shade for old people who come to escape the heat of their homes is a reason for being. To provide a cool place for children to come and play. To fan with our leaves the picnickers who come to eat on checkered tablecloths. These are all reasons for being.”

Freddie especially liked the old people. They sat so quietly on the cool grass and hardly ever moved. They talked in whispers of times past. The children were fun, too, even though they sometimes tore holes in the bark of the tree or carved their names into it. Still, it was fun to watch them move so fast and to laugh so much.

But Freddie’s Summer soon passed. It vanished on an October night. He had never felt it so cold. All the leaves shivered with the cold. They were coated with a thin layer of white which quickly melted and left them dew drenched and sparkling in the morning sun. Again, it was Daniel who explained that they had experienced their first frost, the sign that it was Fall and that Winter would come soon.

Almost at once, the whole tree, in fact, the whole park was transformed into a blaze of color. There was hardly a green leaf left. Alfred had turned a deep yellow. Ben had become a blazing red, Daniel a deep purple and Freddie was red and gold and blue. How beautiful they all looked. Freddie and his friends had made their tree a rainbow.

“Why did we turn different colors,” Freddie asked, “when we are on the same tree?” “Each of us is different. We have had different experiences. We have faced the sun differently. We have cast shade differently. Why should we not have different colors?” Daniel said matter-of-factly. Daniel told Freddie that this wonderful season was called Fall.

One day a very strange thing happened. The same breezes that, in the past, had made them dance began to push and pull at their stems, almost as if they were angry. This caused some of the leaves to be torn from their branches and swept up in the wind, tossed about and dropped softly to the ground. All the leaves became frightened. “What’s happening?” they asked each other in whispers. “It’s what happens in Fall,” Daniel told them. “It’s the time for leaves to change their home. Some people call it to die.” 

“Will we all die?” Freddie asked. “Yes,” Daniel answered. “Everything dies. No matter how big or small, how weak or strong. We first do our job. We experience the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain. We learn to dance and to laugh. Then we die.” “I won’t die!” said Freddie with determination. “Will you, Daniel?” “Yes,” answered Daniel, “when it’s my time.” “When is that?” asked Freddie. “No one knows for sure,” Daniel responded.

Freddie noticed that the other leaves continued to fall. He thought, “It must be their time.” He saw that some of the leaves lashed back at the wind before they fell, others simply let go and dropped quietly. Soon the tree was almost bare. “I’m afraid to die,” Freddie told Daniel. “I don’t know what’s down there.” “We all fear what we don’t know, Freddie. It’s natural,” Daniel reassured him. “Yet, you were not afraid when Spring became Summer. You were not afraid when Summer became Fall. They were natural changes. Why should you be afraid of the season of death?”

“Does the tree die, too?” Freddie asked. “Someday. But there is something stronger than the tree. It is Life. That lasts forever and we are all a part of Life.” “Where will we go when we die?” “No one knows for sure. That’s the great mystery!” “Will we return in the Spring?” “We may not, but Life will.” “Then what has been the reason for all of this?” Freddie continued to question. “Why were we here at all if we only have to fall and die?”

Daniel answered in his matter-of-fact way, “It’s been about the sun and the moon. It’s been about happy times together. It’s been about the shade and the old people and the children. It’s been about colors in Fall. It’s been about seasons. Isn’t that enough?” That afternoon, in the golden light of dusk, Daniel let go. He fell effortlessly. He seemed to smile peacefully as he fell. “Goodbye for now, Freddie,” he said. Then, Freddie was alone, the only leaf left on his branch.

The first snow fell the following morning. It was soft, white, and gentle; but it was bitter cold. There was hardly any sun that day, and the day was very short. Freddie found himself losing his color, becoming brittle. It was constantly cold and the snow weighed heavily upon him. At dawn the wind came that took Freddie from his branch. It didn’t hurt at all. He felt himself float quietly, gently and softly downward. As he fell, he saw the whole tree for the first time. How strong and firm it was! He was sure that it would live for a long time and he knew that he had been a part of its life and it made him proud.

Freddie landed on a clump of snow. It somehow felt soft and even warm. In this new position he was more comfortable than he had ever been. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. He did not know that Spring would follow Winter and that the snow would melt into water. He did not know that what appeared to be his useless dried self would join with the water and serve to make the tree stronger. Most of all, he did not know that there, asleep in the tree and the ground, were already plans for new leaves in the Spring.

The Beginning.

Having purchased the book as a keepsake for my daughter, I turned to the first blank page and penned the following inscription.

Summer 2004

Dearest daughter,

I discovered Leo Buscaglia in Chautauqua this summer. Reading his  words was like looking at my soul through a mirror. He wrote, and lectured about, and lived a life of love, always having a positive attitude. “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf ” continues Buscaglia’s outlook thru to the final stage in life. 

 Live each day to the fullest, love hugely and passionately, strive always to have a positive attitude toward yourself, others and life. These are what I leave to you, when I fall from the “Tree of Life.” And I know you will do the same for your children, when your turn comes.

I will always be with you in spirit until we are together again, where all leaves spend eternal springtime together. Think of me as your “Daniel.”

All my love, forever…Mom

my sentiments for you, as well…hugmamma.

bear bells

Our neighborhood backs up against a mountain where wildlife abounds. We’ve heard of black bears raiding bird feeders in back yards and garbage cans left at curbside. I’ve spoken with a few neighbors who have had sightings or encounters. Fortunately, I’ve not had the pleasure; nor do I want to. I admit the hair at the back of my neck does bristle when I’m walking my dog. With an abundance of mature landscaping, bears, and cougars, can be lurking anywhere.  I don’t mind if they look; I just don’t want them to touch…me.  Knowing my dog, she’d run straight for the animal, barking all the way, dragging me behind her. Stopping right in front of it, she’d drop down on her belly, not hesitating to offer me up as sacrificial lamb. My defense? Bear bells!

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Bear bells hang on the leash my dog wears when we’re walking outdoors. They’re suppose to warn bears, and cougars, that I’m coming so they’ll clear out. I guess they work; I’ve not crossed paths with a wild animal…yet. And I’m not planning to test the theory either. I don’t hike in the woods, and I’m not about to start. So where did I learn about bear bells?

When she was 15, my daughter traveled to Banff, Canada for her first summer dance program. I accompanied her, booking us a room at the exquisite Banff Springs Hotel, where we would stay for a couple of days prior to the start of the program. We had a great time sightseeing, but the day arrived for me to escort her to the dormitory where she’d be living for 5 weeks. We went by taxi because of her luggage, but on my return trip to the hotel I decided to walk.

Uncertain about directions, I asked someone who pointed me toward a path behind one of the dormitories. I proceeded as directed, trodding on a wooden walkway hidden on one side by tall shrubs. As I was about to descend a short flight of steps, I heard loud shouts from above and to the rear of me. Turning to look through the thick forest of tall pine trees, I barely made out the figures of people waving their arms and screaming. Unable to make out their words, I turned back thinking they were calling to someonelse. Pausing on the landing at the bottom of the stairs I looked up. On the path ahead of me, some 30 feet or so, a humongous black bear had turned toward the shouting. Sitting on its haunches, I could see his snout. I didn’t know if he saw me, but I wasn’t going to wait to find out. I slowly turned on my heel and climbed back up the stairway. I imagined the bear would be on my back in seconds. My heart seemed to be in my feet. Drained of adrenalin or numbed by it, I’m not sure, I was able to get behind the tall shrubs at the top of the steps. I unexpectedly met a man walking toward me. I explained the situation, wondering what we should do. Off in another direction we saw another path leading away from us. I fantasized we’d take it together and if the bear caught up with us, I’d jump on the stranger’s back letting him fend off its attack for both of us. Of course, I didn’t tell him what I had in mind. He’d have thought I was crazy, and I was. I was crazed with fear of being mauled and eaten alive, while my daughter sat unsuspecting in her dorm room. What would she think if I didn’t come to watch her in class the next day as promised?

Well I was amazed that the stranger barely paused to consider the circumstances before continuing in the direction from which I had just come. I wasn’t sticking around to hear what happened. I booked it back up toward the dorms and located a couple of campus security guards who pointed me down a road that exited the grounds.  They were aware of the bear’s presence, so went off in search of it. As I walked on the paved road, I saw a police car which stopped alongside me. The policeman asked if I’d seen a bear and I gladly explained my encounter. He too left in search of the animal. As I continued on my way, my heart finally returned to normal, pounding fiercely in my chest. I wanted to talk with someone about my experience. Since I knew no one in Banff, I got on my cell phone and called…my husband, who’s always there, when I need him, in his office in the U.S.

Unable to do much else, my husband asked if I was okay, and so on, and so forth. It was comforting to hear his voice, but I still wanted to talk to someone in person who would share my fear, and my excitement. I walked about the small town, amongst hundreds of tourists. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs “There’s a bear! Run for your life! Hurry, get away!” But of course I remained cool, calm and collected…on the outside; on the inside I was “jumping out of my skin!”

I wasn’t sure how I would defend myself against a repeat encounter, since I planned to walk back to the campus the next morning. Wandering in and out of shops, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. On my last stop, a bookstore, I found the answer…bear bells. Accompanying literature explained that they would forewarn bears of my coming, so that they would escape in another direction. No weapon, no mace, no pepper spray, just li’l ole bells.  Paying for them, I related my story to the salesgirl who “burst my bubble” when she proclaimed that bears in town were not an unusual sight. In fact, walking to work one morning, she’d seen a bear huddled in a tree right in the midst of town. “So not a  big deal,” I thought to myself and left, making my way back to my hotel.

The next day as I wend my way through the campus where my daughter was ensconced, I jingled my bear bells. The only animals I passed were a couple of huge elk, one standing and one reclining on all fours. I eyed them across the street, and they eyed me. I wasn’t sure if the bells would repel, or attract the elk. They didn’t run, and their gaze never left me. It was disconcerting to say the least. Being trampled by elk would have the same outcome as being attacked by a black bear. I would be no more.

After watching her ballet class,  I told my daughter, and anyonelse within earshot, about my adventures. In turn she told me about the elk and deer that would wander near the dormitory, a couple settling down to rest outside her window. Needless to say she had a unique summer in Banff, the only American dancing with, and learning from, exceptional Canadians. Add to that wild animals; what could be more perfect?

not sure if I’ve seen my last bear…hugmamma.

preservation of a people

Prominently featured alongside “Google Agonizes on Privacy As Ad World Vaults Ahead,” is another article, “In Alaska, a Frenchman Fights to Revive the Eyak’s Dead Tongue.” It’s undeniable that the internet giant Google is more relevant to millions worldwide. But for me, the struggle to keep a native people from disappearing altogether is of greater significance to humankind. Obviously the editors of the Wall Street Journal feel both Google and the Eyak’s deserve equal attention by deciding to feature both on today’s front page. Kudos to the Journal!

Twenty-one year old, French, college student Guillaume Leduey, proficient in French, English, German, Chinese and Georgian, and able to sing one Lithuanian song, has made it his mission to save the Alaskan Eyak language from extinction. “Mr. Leduey’s Eyak odyssey began at age 12, when he happened on the language while trolling through an online dictionary of languages in his hometown of Le Havre. By searching more online, he discovered Eyak appeared to have only one native speaker, Ms. Jones. ‘I was like, “Wow, one speaker left. I must do something to learn the language,” ‘ Mr. Leduey says. His parents were less than thrilled. ‘They don’t think it’s useful,’ he says.”

An aspiring sculptor, Leduey had never left Europe until June when he made the trip to Alaska to study with 75-year-old Michael Krauss, a linguistics professor at the University of Alaska who knows conversational Eyak. “While as many as 20 native dialects remain in Alaska, Mr. Krauss says Eyak is considered extinct because there are no fluent, native speakers.” Sequestered in a room together for 5 hours each day, they pored over Eyak documents. As a diversion, Leduey sang Eyak songs to the professor’s Norwich Terrier, Scamper.

Immersing himself into the culture, Leduey journeyed to Cordova, “where the Eyaks made their last stand against being swallowed up by civilization.” Rival Tlingits helped white settlers in the takeover of the Eyak territory. Some part-natives took Leduey to visit a demolished village site and Child’s Glacier, a natural attraction. There a harbor seal leapt out of the icy waters to which he exclaimed “Keeltaak,” the Eyak word for the animal. To complement his education, Leduey learned the tradition of cooking salmon in the ground. He dug a shallow pit in the front yard of an Eyak descendant, then tended a crackling fire in which 2 red salmon roasted in giant skunk cabbage leaves. Still raw after 90 minutes, however, the salmon were thrown into the oven to finish cooking.

Several have sought lessons from Leduey, like 50-year-old Mr. Lankard and 53-year-old Ms. Curry.  Her “…mother, Marie Smith Jones, was considered by Alaska historians the last native Eyak speaker when she died in 2008. Her descendants and others didn’t become fluent in the language because of a stigma around speaking anything other than English in Alaska’s native villages.” Curry, eyes brimming with tears, viewed a film in which her mother spoke in the Eyak tongue at a tribal ceremony. To understand the words, however, Curry turned to Leduey to translate. She thanked him saying that it was beautiful. To which he replied “It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you God. ” Curry feels that learning her native language, which had been passed down through storytelling,  is the right thing to do now in spite of the past stigma. “‘This will help keep my mom’s memory and spirit alive.”

The extinction of the Eyak language and potentially its culture, reminds me of my childhood growing up in Maui in the 50’s. My mom was a native who spoke Hawaiian fluently with her family and native friends. She did not, however, speak it with us, her children. Prominent, powerful landowners were lobbying to make Hawaii the 50th state, for obvious business reasons. To support these efforts speaking English and studying  American History were a mandatory part of school curriculums. Our native language and culture were virtually squelched.

As her friends passed away, my mom had fewer and fewer people with whom to speak Hawaiian. Long before she died, she had ceased speaking it, having lost much for lack of use. Not until long after my husband and I graduated from college and moved away from Hawaii, did a movement among the natives slowly bring about a resurgence in an appreciation for the language and the culture. Today they are taught in schools statewide, including at the University of Hawaii. Proud of their culture, islanders are more than happy to share their food, song and dance with new communities, when they relocate to other parts of the country.

While there is a strong comparison between the plight of the Eyaks and that of the Hawaiians, the latter did not face extinction. Westernization did not eradicate their culture. It was ingrained as much in the land, as it was in the people themselves. The gods of the earth, sky and sea would not relinquish their hold, nor would the natives abandon their attachment to the islands without bloodshed. That is the history of the Hawaiians. And it has been preserved through the ages by the monarchy, and following their demise, by natives and others  loyal to their memory. Kamehameha School has long been an institution dedicated to educating children of native descent, not only in the academics but in all aspects of Hawaiian heritage. It remains at the forefront of yielding young adults not only well versed in their own culture, but in the world-at-large.  And they confidently take their place in society, a credit to their native roots.

We should applaud the efforts of Guillaume Leduey for taking on the preservation of a culture almost singlehandedly. It seems when others ask “Why?” Leduey asks “Why not?”

a people depend upon it, that’s why…hugmamma.

a godsend, so cherish

Our daughter was born after my husband and I were married for 16 years. She was our “miracle baby” for we thought we’d never be parents. Had she not happened, we might have adopted. I did not want to endure testing to learn why we were not blest with a child before her, nor did I want to subject myself to methodical, medical procedures to become pregnant. Before she was born, I can remember sitting in our tiny, 100-year-old, New England, church during a Mass where 8 year olds made their First Holy Communion as Catholics. Tears welled in my eyes for I wished one day that my child would be among the communicants. From my lips to God’s ears, for my prayer was answered. I have always felt that our daughter was a gift that He placed in our care. She is ours to nurture and love, but she is not our possession, she is God’s gift. And “what he giveth, he can taketh away.” So I cherish our daughter more than life itself, and I never take one day with her for granted.

“Resilience” is written by Elizabeth Edwards, infamously known as the woman with incurable breast cancer, whose husband had an affair during his bid for the 2008 presidential campaign. They are now divorced since efforts to heal their marriage were unsuccessful. Elizabeth has borne these crosses publicly, but she has carried another in the privacy of her own heart, the untimely death of her teenage son. How can any mother, or parent, recover from such loss? Elizabeth shares her thoughts, on her own journey towards rebound.

Wade was 16 when he died. On April 4th, 1996, the wind blew across a North Carolina field and pushed his car slightly off the road. Slightly but not enough. When he tried to bring it back on, the car flipped. The air bag came out, the seat belt held, but the roof collapsed on him. The other boy walked away. Some dishes he was taking to the beach for us were unbroken. Our boy was killed instantly. It wasn’t speed, it wasn’t inattention, it was a straight road on a clear afternoon, and it simply was.

And what that wind took at Easter was a cherished boy, a remarkable child with the character of a man. I try to find, in this narrow place, a way to explain his virtues. He was a loving son and brother; holding our hands, hugging us, no matter who was around to see. He was a loyal friend, always there when his friends needed him, but never succumbing to peer pressure. He never drank or smoked. When a parent who came on the accident asked if drinking was involved, the boys there all answered, “Wade Edwards? No way.” He usually drove home those who did drink. He was intelligent and determined. His conversation in the car that day was about how he wanted to be a lawyer; but he didn’t want to take anything from his parents, he wanted to do it all himself, like his father had. He was humble and shunned the spotlight. During the week before he died, his English class studied “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway. He participated in four days of discussion but never mentioned once that he had climbed Kilimanjaro with his father the previous summer. How many among us could have sat quietly? He went to Washington as one of ten national winners of an essay contest two weeks before he died. He did not even tell his closest friends, who only later saw him on television. He was fair-minded. When asked on Martin Luther King Day how we could make the world a better place, he answered, “Look at the inside of people, not the outside.” He was seven years old when he wrote that. Though he had many gifts, he never thought of himself as the tiniest bit better than anyone else. And he chastised those who treated others poorly.

I have tried to think about the nature of the bond between us. I guess the fact of “bond” assumes we are two people, such as would need a bond to hold them together. And I never really felt that degree of separateness that lets you describe the existence of a bond between two different things. His joys were my joys, his pains were multiplied to be my pains. I woke to him and slept only after his lips grazed mine. As private as he held some details of his life, protecting those he cared about from my judgment, his broader life was open, bare before me. I was the witness to all things he valued, most of which were intangible. His weakness, his strength, his vulnerability (which had worried me so), his sense of who he was and what this living business was all about, he laid that open. The truth of life, I would have guessed, could not be found out in sixteen years, and we would be fortunate to have a glimpse in sixty. Somehow, this child knew. Knew that we all fought too much over foolishness, that our vanity and our insecurities kept us from truly helping one another, that true love and friendship were marked by humility and loyalty that disregarded self-interest. And he more than knew these things, he lived his way. His mark will endure, because only these truths of life do endure. The good we do really is eternal, as we had told him, and now that axiom is a charge to us–not just to keep his memory, but to live his life message.

We know that we can never make sense of his loss. He had done it all right. Of all he wanted, he wanted most to be a father someday. And what an unbelievable father he could have been with his compassion, his warmth, his patience. He was a rare gift.

He wrote in a journal during Outward Bound when he was 15:  “More than any other goal that I have set for myself I want to show my love and appreciation to my family for all that they have done for me. I know that I don’t deserve all that I get but I hope that I will someday be able to say that I deserve it. I really want to do something great with my life. I want to start a family when I grow up. I am going to be as good a parent to my kids as my parents are to me. But more than anything, when I die, I want to be able to say that I had a great life. So far I have had a wonderful life and I hope it keeps up.” Well, it didn’t keep up as long as it should have, but we are thankful for what he left us. And he left everyone he touched the better for knowing him. We stand a little straighter in his shadow.

Our daughter has blessed our lives in EXACTLY the same way that Wade blessed the lives of the Edwards family. She has always been singular in her demeanor. She leads, without pressure. She’s seen, without being showy. She’s considerate of others, without their knowing. She gives, without expectations. She laughs, cries, worries, endures pain, gets sick, has self doubts. She is, as a choreographer recently told her, “genuine.” Our daughter is that, on and off the stage. Who you see is exactly who you get. She is a melding of my husband and I, but there’s a quality, an innate God-given sense that she is but an instrument of his handiwork. While proud of her accomplishments for one so young, our daughter is humbled when she sees others as accomplished as her. She easily relinquishes “center stage”, professionally and personally, giving others their moment in the “spotlight.” She has never been about herself, she has always been about others, even as a child.

I am a better person for knowing her…hugmamma