Friday, June 2, 2017

The Paris Accord and Americans

The Paris Accord and Americans

By many reports yesterday the United States ceased to be a world leader. Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord on climate change that went into effect in November of 2016 and agreed upon by 195 nations.  His reason is that it is not good for American jobs even though three million workers are employed in the clean energy sector. He has called it a hoax even though there is scientific proof that any educated or non-educated person can clearly see and understand.

The good news is that according to Article 28.1 of the agreement you can only renege by a one year advanced written notice to the UN Secretary-General and then it takes three more years to take effect. So the earliest this can happen is November 4, 2020 (an election year!) Another part of the agreement is that it cannot be negotiated as Trump says he will do.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean that our environment cannot be compromised between now and than though. And that doesn’t undo the damage to US foreign relations and our status as a civilized, intelligent society.  That, in my opinion, is completely out of control in the mere four months he has been in office. 

Here is the other good news:  I believe that, as a society and individuals, we will continue to do what is right.  Trump said in his address that we should be helping Pittsburgh, not Paris (showing that he doesn’t even understand that the Paris Accord has nothing to do with Paris). But the Mayor of Pittsburgh said yesterday, “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Accord for our people, our economy and future.”

The heads of corporate giants such as Tesla’s Elon Musk, Darren Woods of Exxon Mobil, the head of Conoco-Phillips, Dow Chemical and Tim Cook of Apple, among others, have stated they will continue to honor the Paris Accord. Many of them advised Trump not to pull out. 

The rest of us little people will continue to do our part by recycling, not buying gas guzzling cars, not littering and doing what we can to protect and honor the earth that God gave us. 


PS - The notion that God will somehow save the earth is a whole other essay, but if you think so, ask yourself what God has saved or changed that we, as human beings couldn’t have done ourselves? Nothing.  He hasn’t stopped wars, saved hungry children, stopped terrorists, cured cancer…that’s our job. That’s why he gave us free will as demonstrated in the story of Adam and Eve. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dear Congress

Dear Congress,

If you approve the Trump budget you will eliminate the following: 

$1.2 billion for after school programs that serve 1.6 million mostly poor children - but then you will wonder why more kids are taking drugs, joining gangs and why we have to pay to incarcerate them anyway.

You will cut the $2.1 billion for teacher training and class size reduction but you will still complain about the public schools and wonder why they’re not thriving.

You will cut a $15 million program that provides childcare for low-income parents in college and then blame them for not taking personal responsibility.

You will cut $27 million in arts education and leave millions of children without a well-rounded education or exposure to something they might succeed at.

You will cut $72 million and eliminate two international and foreign language programs even though 21st century students need both to succeed and compete in a global economy.

You will cut the $12 million for the Special Olympics and  - you simply have no compassion or conscience.

You will cut funds from the following:

$168 million in grants to states for career and technical education and again, you will blame people for not taking having skills and jobs to care for their families.

 $96 million to adult basic literacy instruction and again, wonder why people don’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps….

$13 million from Promise Neighborhoods which supports children in needy communities - see the first cut….

Sincerely,

Diane Ferri
Special education teacher (30 years) mother, grandmother and GED tutor


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Chief Wahoo and the Cleveland Indians

As in all matters of conscience and compassion one must try to put themselves in another human being’s shoes.  So hear me out.

If you’ve ever been a Cleveland Indians fan I’m sure you have Chief Wahoo on something—I know I do—and no one will ever come and take that sentimental merchandise away. But just because we’ve seen something all of our lives doesn’t mean it’s right.  The use of Chief Wahoo is purely sentimental. It means nothing more than that. Should a sentimental desire be more important than the dignity and respect of a portion of our population that have lived in misery, poverty and discrimination ever since white people arrived here? Would it be possible to just give these fellow Americans a break for once?

If you love Chief Wahoo and think he is harmless consider this: Chief Wahoo is a caricature, which is defined as “a comically or grotesquely exaggerated representation of someone.” It’s a parody, a lampoon, a satire —none of which are complimentary. Native Americans do not have apple red skin, buck teeth and dopey grins. Did you know the Cleveland Indians are the only U.S. team to depict a race as a logo?

Did you know the feather (in Wahoo’s cap) is a sacred symbol to Native Americans? How would you like it if a sports team used a symbol that was meaningful to you in a flippant way?  What if a team decided to be called the Cleveland Christians and use a cross in a disrespectful way, or the Cleveland Jews and use an image of the Torah along with a goofy face.

Native Americans have been pushed off their own land, mistreated, discriminated against, and are the poorest people in this country. Thirty-six percent of Native American families live below the poverty line compared to 9% of the rest of us. They live on reservations with no running water, no electricity, plumbing or phone service. We recently witnessed them being treated like lesser citizens again on the Standing Rock Reservation for trying to protect their sacred land and access to clean water and they lost once again.

For over forty years Native Americans have been asking the Cleveland Indians to stop using Chief Wahoo as a logo.  If you don’t think Chief Wahoo is a racist symbol then I’m guessing you have never experienced racism.  Many racist and offensive traditions have gone away for good reasons. For example, my mother sang in minstrel shows in the 40s with a blackface and she thought nothing of it then. That didn’t mean it was a good idea. Have you missed those minstrel shows?

Will you be less of an Indians fan without Wahoo? If so, you’re not much of a fan. Will you enjoy the games less if the players donn’t have Wahoo on their sleeve? If so, you must not be a baseball fan after all.  Like I said, how about giving these fellow Americans a break? It won’t hurt you at all, but it hurts them.





Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why Didn't They Graduate From High School?

When I retired from teaching I wanted to do something worthwhile, to reciprocate for my good fortune and to use my teaching skills. I spent my career teaching children with learning disabilities and wanted to work with adults—people who had a deep desire to learn and came to school of their own volition every day. This brought me to Seeds of Literacy. 

In the past several years I have worked with many students and they are always appreciative and friendly. I admire their determination to make a better life for themselves and their children.  Many of them are middle-aged and some even older. One woman I tutor is older than I am. When I asked her why she was doing this she said she just wanted to get a job—at an age when some of us are retiring.

My teaching career was spent in an inner ring suburb of Cleveland, so I am familiar with the struggles and challenges of poverty and lack of education. I dealt with so many families just struggling to get by and school was often low on the list of priorities when compared to paying the rent or feeding their children. Students moved in and out of the district regularly. The lack of stability has a terrible effect emotionally and educationally. The social challenges of making new friends as well as entering into a different curriculum can lead to discouragement and behavior issues. By high school some students were angry and discouraged because school was a place of failure and they could never hope to meet the expectations.

I knew single mothers working a third shift and leaving the children with a teenaged cousin after school. Students often showed up at school hungry or distracted by a painful situation at home. I taught twin boys who would enter my room visibly upset and focused on each other because of an unhappy interaction at home. One of them was in need of medical intervention for severe asthma but never received it, and his day would be wasted in the clinic.

At Seeds, I overhear conversations while tutoring, and they remind me of the lives of the children I taught. Sometimes it is between the students sitting together at a table. They share their reasons for not completing high school, and it’s eye-opening. In many instances, the decision to leave school was completely out of their control. One day, two young women at the same table told me they were both forced to drop out of high school to watch younger siblings. They didn’t want to leave school then, and now it is so much harder.  

One of those women now needs her eldest daughter to watch her younger children when she works. The young teenager may struggle to find time to do her own homework. This mother may have no other option but to work to support her children. Imagine how overwhelming life might be to work, care for a family and study for a GED at the same time.  As a society we expect people to be responsible and move forward, but how many of us realize the obstacles and sacrifices that takes every day?

Another student worked all morning with me on writing a personal story. I learned she had a baby boy when she was seventeen and her family kicked her out. She lived on the streets for eight years “hustling” to take care of her son. She would drop him off at a friend’s house, make some money and buy her friend’s family some food to repay their help. One day her sister went to the babysitters, took her son and put him up for adoption. She said, “My reason for living was gone. I didn’t see him again for sixteen years until he found me.” She continued to survive alone for many years and was incarcerated several times. She told me she wanted to make her son and her two grandchildren proud of her by finishing school. But I have not seen her for months and we don’t know why she left.  The circumstances that kept her from graduating from high school are probably still there, and making a commitment to education is still difficult for her. 

Recently a student shared that he is sixty-six years old and his children do not know that he never finished high school. In his last semester of high school his mother became sick and made him quit to be “the man of the family.”  That set a difficult course for his life. Now retired, he wants to complete his education. 

Not everyone has grown up with the  same advantages and family support.  When I grew up in suburban America, I understood that I would graduate from high school and go to college. There are few, if any, obstacles in our way. My parents helped me with homework and raised me in a safe, healthy environment. I never came home to an empty house or heard gunshots outside my window. I never lacked for basic health care or went to bed hungry. I was never neglected or discouraged from reaching my goals. 

I’ve realized where and to whom each one of us is born is pure chance.

What if you were raised with very little guidance or love? I’ve heard teenage mothers say that a baby gives them the unconditional love they’ve never had before. I was born in the middle class and spent my childhood feeling a sense of belonging and love. I did no have to go out and look for it in ways that could be harmful to me. 

The students I work with left high school for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, poverty and the limited options that come with it don’t go away just because someone grew up. 

I have seen people come to Seeds of Literacy for months and suddenly disappear. They were attempting to do what our society asks of them even though our society might not fully understand where these adults are coming from and what they’re living with.  Giving these adults and their children a chance at a better future benefits all of us. None of us did it alone and neither should they.




Sunday, February 19, 2017

Half of Us

Half of Us

Half of us remember the water and air pollution of the 1970’s when streams and lakes were too filthy to swim in, air dangerous to breathe, animals and birds endangered and nearing extinction. The EPA worked for decades to create a healthy, safe environment for Americans.  Half of us now think that a manufacturer has the right to pollute public waterways and air in favor of making more money. Half of us do not care about the health of the next generation—corporations are more valued.

Half of us value public schools that have provided free education to all American children in their neighborhoods.  Half of us want school choice that would drain the resources from public schools and still only provide choice to the lucky ones who have parental advocates and a quality charter school within their neighborhood. This would possibly provide a better education for some, not for all.  Half of us believe we simply need to support and help public schools reach their potential not continue to take from them—then every child will benefit. This also starts with reform for fair and constitutional funding of all public schools.

Half of us say that government should stay out of our lives, but think it’s okay to tell a woman what to do with her body and make decisions that will impact the rest of her life. The other half of us are most likely not in favor of abortion, but understand that we are not in that woman’s shoes and cannot possibly know her circumstances. 

Half of us call ourselves pro-life but are not concerned about the lives of poor unwanted children after birth or that 30 million American children are hungry everyday. Half of us want to take away preventative care, prenatal care, contraception (which prevents unwanted pregnancy) and check-ups for those who have no where else to go, but call themselves pro-life. Babies, children, adults and the elderly—all are alive.

Almost all of us can trace our family history to immigration, yet half of us have decided that all immigrants should be demonized for the actions of a very few. Half of us boldly proclaim our patriotism but deny that freedom of religion applies to every religion, not just our own. 

From 2005 to 2015 there were 24 American deaths from terrorism. In that same decade 280,000 Americans died by gun violence at the hands of other Americans. Even though there are no recorded instances of someone saving others with a gun and there are thousands of instances of innocent bystanders being killed by guns, half of us think gun rights are more important than the right to safety and life.

Half of us are vocal and vigilant about defending the American flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. Those traditions and ceremonies do not make America great unless they apply to all Americans no matter their race, religion or gender. Discrimination of our fellow Americans is still overwhelmingly present in our society. 

Half of us revere the Constitution yet disparage those exercising their First Amendment rights when we do not agree with their stance.  Peaceful protest has brought about change in this country from Civil Rights to the end of the Viet Nam War to Women’s rights to vote. Freedom of speech and assembly applies to everyone—all the time.





Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why People Choose to Believe Lies

It seems we are surrounded with lies and "alternate facts" and the worst hypocrisy we have seen in our lifetimes.  I am not an alarmist and I do not believe in living in fear, but I do believe we must DO SOMETHING to oppose the lies and unsubstantiated claims that are being made by Trump and his spokespeople, otherwise they will think we are all falling for it.

The reason many people believe what they hear or read without question is because they consider the sources to be authority figures.  People who voted for Trump will believe him now because if they can't believe him then they will have to admit that they made a mistake by voting for him. That extends to anyone who speaks for him.  Kellyanne Conway coined the term "alternative facts" and it has been made fun of in the press, but some will find it acceptable because she helped get Trump elected. People often don't want to think for themselves if it's easier for someone to do it for them.

I lived through a situation like this. It is a microcosm of our country now but it revealed a lot about human nature to me:

I treasured the church I grew up in. It was a second home to me. The church stood in a prime location on the main corner of my community for 150 years, but the building was about 50 years old. The denomination was declining, but our church attendance was good.  The minister decided that we should build a bigger church (which would clearly be a feather in his cap.) At first I thought it was a joke, but he put all of his efforts into convincing people we needed it. He even (unethically) gave sermons on it. The congregation was divided and a months-long battle ensued.  I unwittingly became the leader of the opposition. We were in the papers and on TV. 

When I asked people how they felt they would reluctantly tell me they really didn't want the church to move but "Rev. Cummings says we need it." I was amazed how many times I heard this. I would remind those people that the church wasn't his—it was our church. He worked for us.  

One of his biggest points was that we didn't have enough parking. Yet, when you looked in the parking lot there were always spots. We had an agreement that we could park in the grocery store lot next door if needed. In addition, there was an empty house sitting in the middle of the parking lot that had formerly been a home for the ministers but now unused.   We could just tear down that building and gain dozens of spots. People chose to completely ignore what was literally right in front of their faces.

I spoke with dozens of people who blindly followed his logic on every point and never questioned whether it made sense.  That is what is happening now. The POTUS is an authority figure and we were taught as children to obey authority. Years ago I stopped looking at physicians as authorities when I discovered they often did not have answers or were incorrect in their diagnoses. I do not disparage them, but I do not see them as all-knowing either. In the same way many people will readily take a doctor's advice without question. 

I said we must DO SOMETHING and that does not mean argue with our Facebook friends. That means write an email or make a call anytime you read or hear a false statement, especially from one of your Senators or Representatives. Remind them that they represent you and you will not accept lies and half-truths.  Make sure they know you are watching and catch them in any hypocrisy. Their jobs are in our hands.  If we allow "alternate facts" to become the norm it will be our fault for remaining silent. It's all we can do now.

PS - The church. moved five miles away into another county, split the congregation, broke up lifelong friendships as well as my heart.  They insisted they needed 30 acres for a compound of sorts which still is empty except for a medium sized church—but they have lots of parking. The pastor retired, left the congregation with a mortgage and went on to counsel other people how to break up their congregations.


Friday, February 3, 2017

For the Love of Winter


My abundance is in winter.
I dwell in the peace of the silent snow,
sitting by the yellow light of a lamp
with a blanket and a book,
or comfortably close to him on the love seat.

I find joy in the lack of humidity and
the offensive noise of lawn mowers.
I feel happy covering my homely limbs
with sweaters and jeans instead
of sticky sunscreen and sweat.

There is beauty in the stark outline 
of trees and squirrels against whiteness,
or watching my little dog sniff deer tracks
and race inside with a snowy nose.
To come out of the quiet cold

into the warmth of a home,
to hear the furnace kick on,
to snuggle up to a warmer body
under chilly bedsheets
is the abundance of winter.

by Diane Vogel Ferri

We Walk Through Italy

We Walk Through Italy
by Diane Vogel Ferri

On Roman blocks and bricks older than conception
we walk roads of infinity stone, of an empire adept 
at every human need and invention, we walk through
the glory of light-filled domes, basilicas where

pure unencumbered art gushes in 
a cataclysm of the muses in full bloom,
on walls, ceilings, floors, mosaic, marble,
Mary and her baby crucified.

We traverse walking bridges in the city of water streets;
barnacles and mold climb the drowned foundations
in some kind of warped beauty, in our gondola we watch
floating buses and taxis move people through the narrow canals.

St. Peter’s is the spiritual sky, the solemn truth where
our murmurings become muted in Mary’s sorrow.
Pompous sculptures surround us and swell our dreams in 
a reunion of the old world and the new.

We see the white ecstasy of David in the present distance,
it pins our eyes wide open and static in our circular view.
The sacred Sistine Chapel slows our breathing
in the required silence, arms are at a sudden rest.

We ride along the winding coast of a turquoise Naples Bay,
buildings precariously stacked like toy blocks,
rock mountains and little green hills, a volcano at rest,
millennial fortress towers stand on guard.

When the crowds of picture takers and posers suffocate us
we look up, look up to ancient structures still proud,
into a singular previously unknown world 

and we are reborn, we are redeemed.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Why the Marches Were Necessary in 2017

For those who have disparaged the marches/protests that occurred all over this country the day after the inauguration:

The First Amendment not only allows peaceable assembly (and it was peaceful in all 600 marches) but “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” This means we have the right to complain or seek assistance from our government without fear of punishment or reprisal.

Other have reduced the events to an abortion rights march. Not even close. The Cleveland march had 6 speakers. Only one spoke about reproductive rights. The others expressed concerns about Trump’s campaign promises to take away affordable health care, LGBT rights, environmental progress and to build a wall, as well as his many bigoted, misogynistic and racist remarks throughout the campaign—and making fun of the disabled.

There is great support for Planned Parenthood because they provide preventative and basic women’s healthcare as well as contraception, which, by the way, prevents unwanted pregnancy and abortions.

Although there were many men at these marches it was a women’s march because our new president has repeatedly shown his disrespect for women. He has been accused countless times of sexual misconduct. He has been recorded admitting to being a sexual predator, he rates women’s looks, calls women names like pigs, slobs, and nasty. He finds women’s menstrual cycles and breastfeeding disgusting—and we’re supposed to be quiet?

We are concerned about the Cabinet being filled with unknowledgeable billionaires, most of whom don’t believe in the their post:  A science-denier to run the EPA, an opponent of public education to head the Education Department…

On election night Trump promised to be a president for all Americans. But on inauguration day LGBT was deleted from the government website. That’s over 8 million people and their families that he is ignoring already.  He had a great opportunity to reach out to the concerned and fearful citizens about the marches, but instead in his tweet he asked why we hadn’t voted. 

We did vote Mr. President. We are the three million MORE that voted for Hillary Clinton. We are the majority. Get used to it.



Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Day After the Inauguration

Cleveland is not a large city but this is a photo of our Public Square today. I was proud to be an American as I stood with thousands of men and women in concern for human rights in this country under the new administration.  It was a peaceful, respectful and calm day. (It was 60 degrees and sunny on a January day!) It is a grassroots movement happening not just all over America today, but all over the world, in solidarity with us. It is exhilarating, it is hopeful, it is democracy in action.

Yesterday was not an encouraging day for the majority of Americans. Many of us despair at the thought of going backward into the inequalities of the past. We are afraid for our daughters and millions of women not having access to health care and contraceptives. We are afraid for our grandchildren and the unsafe and unstable planet they may live on. We are afraid for our LGBT friends and family that may have their basic rights reversed. We are afraid of our immigrant neighbors enduring even more discrimination and bias than they already have.  We cannot tolerate a leader who makes fun of disabled people and blatantly disrespects women. 

As a retired teacher I, and all my teaching colleagues, are horrified at the nominee for Secretary of Education. She does not know the most basic education laws or issues. She is against the public schools and supports charter schools that have been nothing but failure and are not for ALL children, just the lucky few. 

When I looked at the many and diverse homemade signs today I saw what people are FOR not AGAINST. We are FOR our fellow Americans and their rights. We are FOR healthcare and  excellent  education and saving our planet.  The opposers are AGAINST everything. They are about taking things away starting with affordable health care for millions of Americans. 

The new president already broke his promise to be the president of all Americans (stated on election night) when his administration removed LGBT rights and climate control from the government website. 

There was an estimate of 15,000 in Cleveland today, 500,000 in Washington, 175,000 in Chicago. There are hundreds of marches all over this country.  The president's Twitter account is strangely silent today. 

TODAY I am proud to be an American. What a difference a day can make. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Award Season

Art and creativity, in any form, is a good thing. I need to be creative in some way almost every day. There are many actors and actresses that have been born with a talent as well as a face or body that appeals to us on a movie or television screen. We enjoy what they do and many do it very well. But I have a problem with why they need to be constantly rewarded and adored for it.

There seems to be a televised event scheduled about every week for the next month or two.  I used to love watching these spectacles. When I was a girl I practiced my acceptance speech for my Academy Award because I was going to be the next Julie Andrews.  My dad and I would bet on who we thought would win.

Then slowly over the years I saw the self-congratulatory celebrity worshipping for what it was and I stopped caring who won or didn't win. Then I began watching to see the fantastic and over-the-top dresses on the red carpets. I dreamed of wearing something like that just once in my life (which will never happen).  My daughter had worked for a well-known fashion designer in New York City and it sparked my interest in fashion even though I have no visible fashion sense of my own. (Now I can see them in the news the next day.)

As the decades went by and award shows multiplied America became consumed by a celebrity culture and it became more and more distasteful to me.  Here are people who are exceedingly overpaid, privileged, worshipped and catered to because they are in the movies or television. They simply spend their lives pretending to be other people and on top of their success and fame they need to be constantly awarded for it! Actors appear to live in their own special world of self-importance and mutual admiration. They cannot get enough attention and praise. America contributes to this inequity by buying entertainment magazines, watching entertainment gossip shows and spending enormous amounts of money on movies and entertainment. 

I never got an award for teaching for over 30 years. Have you been extravagantly awarded for your job, your efforts, even for volunteering your services to help others? Where are the awards for the social workers, foster parents, hospice nurses, teachers—the people who work for much less and impact society in a positive way every day? The people who actually work hard under often inadequate conditions with no bonuses, privileges or accolades.  

I don't think movies or television shows are useless. They can be moving and thoughtful or just an escape from real life. They show the creativity of human beings and are often stunning in their imagination and their visual beauty, but that does merit award after award each year. The public  already pays a ridiculous amount of money to go see them in the theaters and now we pay for television too. 

Music is very important in my life, but music awards now consist of the most outrageous videos, dancing, costumes and performances. It is not about the music any longer. There are still unbelievably talented and innovative musicians in the world but they are not the ones you will see on award shows. It's just a popularity contest: who got the most attention, who is the most attractive, or sold the most records. It has nothing to do with quality and talent as far as I can tell. 

People should continue to use their creative skills to produce all types of art. But the incessant need for "awards" is of no value except to the overblown egos of those who already have been rewarded excessively in every other way.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Another Week, Another Shooting in America

When in Italy this fall I heard this unsolicited impression of America more than once: TOO MANY GUNS. 

Today it is a shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport. At least five innocent people are dead.  

Terror

There are not enough thoughts and prayers
worldwide to silence the breaking news
to give the President one more adjective for horror
to stop the cities from bleeding
and the suicide people from succeeding

There are not enough thoughts and prayers 
worldwide to collectively choose love over fear
tolerance over hatred, life over death
to save innocent black men and law enforcers
to end the onslaught of fatherless children

There are not enough thoughts and prayers
to uncover prostrate bodies in blood-filled streets
to quiet the sirens of terror
to restore humanity to humankind
or ever help us feel safe in a crowd again

There is enough media outrage and time to express
our sacred opinions on toy guns, assault rifles, Muslims
police officers, black men, gay people, public bathrooms, 
all lives matter, but our freedom gives us supreme access to hate
God help us as we think and pray

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Goodbye to 2016

A year is only defined by the changing seasons and numbers on a calendar, but God must have known that we needed to start things over once in a while.   As a teacher the end of August brought fresh hope for a better school year than the last. We had packed up the old year in all of our classrooms and then in two months time reopened them in anticipation. As 2016 closes I am happy to look on the number 2017 as a new start in my life even though it is only one day passing to the next.

In the past two years I have lost my father and my mother. They lived full and long lives, but sometimes that makes their absence even more painful. They were the two people in the world who were the happiest to see me when I walked through their door. No one will love me like that again. I know that now. It is a life-changing realization.

I spent most of this year dealing with their home and the possessions and memories of over sixty years—the only place that was truly home for me.  I had to empty it of every tangible item and relive my life and theirs along with each discovery.  I read their love letters. I found all my cards and letters to them. It was at once excruciating and also comforting.  I sorrowfully had to sell the home to a new young family—only the second family to ever live there. I feel unnaturally attached to them as I dream about their little boys playing in the same yard I did.

One year ago today my mother was in a rehabilitation facility—a place I despise with all my heart for its loneliness, boredom and isolation. She had clearly lost her will to live since my father had died one year before. To remember last Christmas is reliving a nightmare.  In two weeks time she would have a massive stroke and a week after that we would bring her home and wait for six days for her to die in her living room, not really sure if she knew she was there or not. It was not a peaceful ending to a well-lived life. 

All the formalities are complete; the graves, the memorial services, the sale of the house, the bills, the matters of the estate. Suddenly, I am left with a life bereft of the caregiving responsibilities. But not really....

In the month of May a new person was born to fill my heart with love. My second grandson. Two beloveds are gone and two have come from heaven to bring light back into my life. This is life. So in 2017 I will embrace the new hope that God has sent me and I will honor and treasure the losses of the past as we all must do.

Happy New Year

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My Cleveland Christmas Memories

This essay was previously published in the book Cleveland Christmas Memories - edited by Gail Bellamy

It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t born in the 40’s or I would have morphed “A Christmas Story” into my own Cleveland Christmas memories by now. However, there are moments in the iconic movie that are very reminiscent of my own youth.  To be born in the 50’s and raised in the 60’s in a middle class family meant that nothing much happened. 

It is difficult to describe the simplicity of those years to the current generation. It is the  scarcity of material possessions, the absence of media and ubiquitous electronic communication devices that make my generation's Christmas memories so unique.

The truth of the matter is that my memories, I am sure, are almost exactly like all the children of my era—those of us fortunate enough to have parents who took the time to carry out all the relatively new traditions of an American Christmas.

How unique is a Mr. Jingaling or the Captain Penny show he appeared on? What about the enormous Sterling-Lindner tree with basketball-sized ornaments? There were animated figures in store windows that were thrilling.  Cleveland was a greatly endowed city and the 40’s and 50’s were glory days. Downtown Cleveland was a shopping mecca before the malls appeared.

My great Aunt Irene worked at the May Company. She was the only person I knew with a connection to downtown—the place of buses spewing gas fumes and people of color I had never seen in my east side suburb.  (I was also duly impressed that she had Dorothy Fuldheim for a neighbor.)

My mother would dress me up in my best dress and patent leather shoes and we rode the bus downtown so my mother could shop.  We would meet Aunt Irene in her May Company office cubicle and I would be ushered off to a playroom with strangers who would look after me while my mom shopped. (Stranger danger!)  I can still picture the playroom as a dark cavernous space.

There is one distinct memory I have of shopping on my own. I had to return a gift and was allowed to choose another. I remember visiting one of the downtown stores and becoming completely overwhelmed at the sight of shelves upon shelves of dolls. Dolls were my favorite thing in the world. Never in my young life had I faced such a decision. After a long deliberation I chose an angel ensconced in a pink dress with wings.   That’s the whole memory, so why is that image of a wall of dolls still stuck in my mind from so long ago?  It is because of the sparseness of images our minds held in those decades. The abundance and onslaught of visual information that children now know from birth was missing. Every new experience was formidable and memorable. None were made from movies or television—they were real experiences.

Standing on a sidewalk in blustery Public Square to see mechanical characters in a store window would hardly be a destination now, but then it was a thing of beauty.  Christmas shopping at Twigbee’s with our few dollars or coins is nothing to the amount of time children spend at Walmart or Target now.


And Mr. Jingaling? What a weird old guy! Can you imagine treasuring a cardboard key? Yet, we did, and life was grand.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Give Thanks

Give Thanks 

When you take a breath, your lungs filling,
your heart pulsing with your life 
give thanks
for the daily unending gift.

When you gaze upward at the untouchable sky
give thanks
for it is infinite and awesome 
beyond human understanding.

When you look into the eyes of someone you love
and see those eyes looking back at you
give thanks
for only a loving God could create and sustain that love.

When you sit at a table with an abundance 
of food for your taking
give thanks
for you are among the privileged on this Earth.

When you look up from your day, your life,
your fears and sorrows
give thanks

and remember God.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I Just Want to Understand



I have read and conversed a lot about the election this week, not to fortify my side, but  in a sincere attempt to understand what kind of desperation in America led to this decision. Initially I was appalled that our country voted for such a contentious person, a man who seemed to offend everyone except white straight males who celebrate Christmas (and many of them too). We have reacted strongly, not out of anger, but out of fear. We don’t want him to be the role model for our children or grandchildren.  We wonder how someone who used his entire campaign to provoke anger and bigotry can then accept his win by telling us he will be a president for all Americans. 

I have read repeatedly that Mr. Trump is giving a voice to the working class. I will admit this was news to me.  It seems impossible that the unemployed and working class can relate to a billionaire who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but I am starting to understand why.  I’m sure that some voters truly are racist and would like an all-white America, but there are many more that are calling out for a better life for themselves. They can’t afford to care about the issues that  many of us put first and foremost.

I was a teacher and now am comfortably retired. I acknowledge every day how fortunate I am. But many years ago I was a single parent of two young children, I lost my job and was in debt. I will never forget the despair at the thought of losing my home, or the shame of ever having to ask for help. The only thing I cared about at that time was survival and keeping what I had. I had a college degree. I had done the right things and yet I was a poor person living in the suburbs.  If I had not been offered a teaching job on the day before school started that year I would not have lived the life I have now. That doesn’t happen to everyone.

I am nothing if not empathetic. I cry at the misfortunes of others on the nightly news and while reading the obituaries. But that is also why my focus is on social issues.  I equate social issues with progress and gaining equality for our fellow Americans.  But there is another side to the story of America. Like many Americans I have never been stuck in a dead-end job. I never had to go on public assistance to feed my family. I’ve never seen my town decimated by the closing of industries that sustained it. These are the people crying out for help. I now understand that the Republican focus on the economy and jobs is what is reaching working class Americans.  They are sick of hearing about the rights of other people. How can you care about the lives of immigrants if you can’t feed your own family? 

These struggling people deserve a better life, but at what cost have we ignored them? Why did we end up with what have been called the “two most unpopular candidates in history.”  The strongest leaders are most likely not willing to do the job. In the age of Internet trolls, 24 hour-a-day ranting on news channels and too many late night shows that make fun of them, most people wouldn’t subject themselves to exactly what we’ve seen this past year. 

The problem is that Mr. Trump should have never been nominated. There were plenty of others willing to do the job. The fact that a Republican won the White House is not shocking to me—that someone like Trump was even nominated is what disturbs me. What kind of desperation does that indicate?

You see, I am really trying to make sense of all of this. I will be heartbroken if advances Obama made on saving our environment disappear because I want a safe and healthy world for my grandchildren. I will be disappointed if the marriages of my gay friends are revoked because they are our fellow Americans. I can’t imagine finally gaining health insurance and then losing it.  I will be saddened if our Muslim citizens become more marginalized than they already are. We are already seeing reports of more bullying and white supremacy in this country. That is not acceptable. Maya Angelou wisely said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” This is what is scaring so many of us.

Trump supporters now want us to come together. Some are blaming the protesters for the division in our country even though Mr. Trump’s campaign set the stage for what is happening now. I read that his campaign insults should not be taken seriously. But if not, how can we believe anything he says?  If Mr. Trump truly wants to be a president for all Americans he should be addressing the protesters deepest fears right now. 

Those of us who felt despair at this election need to have the time to process what has happened. I cannot change what the next four years will hold for this country I love except to be the best citizen I can be and to live out my values and beliefs.


And as an American I will continue to try to understand.