“Dum spiro, spero” (Latin, ‘While I breathe, I hope’)

“Snow at Montmartre,” by Hippolyte-Camille Delpy (1869, oil on canvas)

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” ~ Confucius

Well, the clock is ticking down (not that clocks tick any more), and the end of 2009 is upon us. I have so many things going on in my head, so many thoughts about this past year that it’s hard to know exactly where to begin, so I thought that I would begin with the following quote by Frederick Buechner as it seems so appropriate:

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts. We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.”

I imagine that many of you out there are thinking about this past year and the new year that is only hours away. For our family, 2009 has been a year of extremes. The things that have happened have all been intense and for the most part, not positive. I lost a favorite uncle and an aunt who had been like a grandmother to me. Corey spent another year without being able to find a job, but not for lack of trying. Eamonn graduated from high school and seemed to become even more distant emotionally. Brett had a very rough year in the beginning, but it has seemed to get better for him. Alexis, too, has had a hard year, and I’m not sure exactly what changes she needs to make so that she can find some happiness.

"Rooftops Under Snow," Gustave Caillebotte (1878, oil on canvas)

Our financial situation is no better, and after Corey’s unemployment ran out in September, things got much worse. We are still renegotiating the mortgage, and don’t know when to expect any word, especially since they have lost the paperwork twice. I am on my third appeal to the Social Security administration regarding my disability.

My other mother-in-law, Yvonne, seems to be getting much worse with her Parkinson’s disease, and my other father-in-law was admitted to ICU two days ago with pneumonia. My mother took a tumble down the stairs right before Christmas, but she seems to be doing better. Watching those you love age before your eyes is more painful that I ever could have anticipated.

Friends have fallen by the wayside. I don’t hear much from Jammi, and Rebecca has a new man in her life, so I haven’t heard from her in ages. Mari is still living in Massachusetts, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to see her again. My friend Sarah has been going through terrible times with her own family. I don’t remember the last time I actually spoke with Kathleen.

Tillie had a couple of seizures, a new development. Alfie escaped from the yard and was picked up by Animal Control. As a result, he had to spend the night in doggie jail, but we were glad that he was safe. Shakes developed some kind of skin rash that makes him chew at himself all of the time, but otherwise, he is still fat and happy.

Corey’s truck died this past summer, and we know that it needs a new transmission. The Trooper died on the side of a mountain on the way to Ohio in July. We still don’t have the gas turned back on, and our credit rating is completely in the toilet.

“And if you ask me whether I regret starting out
my voice rises like flocks of finches at dawn
and blows across the deep blue sky.” ~ from St. Nadie In Winter by Terrance Keenan

"Morning Light," Walter Elmer Schofield (1922, oil on canvas)

Of course, it hasn’t all been bad. Corey’s parents really came through for us this past year. They supplied us with a Ford Windstar van and paid for repairs. They have sent us money for gas and supplied us with food from Angel Food Ministries. Corey’s brothers rescued us when the Trooper broke down in Maryland, drove six hours one-way to get us, and then drove us back to Lima with the Trooper in tow. Their generosity has been overwhelming and one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal year.

Kindness has come from unexpected places, as well. Sarah’s church donated some gift cards and a bit of cash, which came at a moment when we really needed it. My mother helped out as much as she was able.

Alexis did manage to find a job after being out of work for quite a while. Eamonn did manage to graduate even after missing way too many days of school and was accepted to the local community college. Brett did survive his junior of high school even though his mental state was precarious. Corey and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. In other words, we all had our personal victories, some smaller than others, others more significant.

But probably one of the best sources of support has been from the readers of my blog, who write me constantly, support me, and help me to keep things in perspective.

So it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, far from it. Sometimes, it takes putting things down on paper (screens) to be able to weigh the past more accurately, assess issues more clearly.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” ~ T. S. Eliot

So that leaves 2010. Wow. It’s weird just typing that number. I remember in 1999 being completely overwhelmed at the thought of a new century, a new millenium. I never thought that the end of the world was going to come or even that my computer was going to explode. But 2000 seemed like such a milestone.

"Winter Twilight Along Central Park," Paul Cornoyer (1900, oil on canvas)

I rang in that new year on a friend’s boat, docked in the harbor of downtown Norfolk. There was a whole group of us who were celebrating together, and I had a great time because I parked my car in the garage, left it, and slept on the boat. We watched the fireworks, which were more amazing than any I had ever seen, and I went to sleep wondering what 2000 would bring.

Well, 2000 brought me Corey at a time when I was looking for no one. It brought me a change in jobs, also something for which I was not looking but should have been seeking. It was a year of many, many changes, and the past decade has brought more changes than I can possibly list.

Honestly, though, I have a good feeling about 2010. I’m not sure why, and if you pressed me, I couldn’t substantiate it with anything more than a feeling in my gut. I mean, our luck has been so bad for so long that we must be due for a change. If Karma works in the way in which it is supposed to, then our family should be about to move into a new, more peaceful, less tumultuous period. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

I feel re-energized about my writing. Eamonn is about to begin college. Brett is entering the second half of his senior year. Alexis, well, I don’t know what changes are in store for her, but I hope that they are good. And Corey? Well, his new job was supposed to start at the beginning of the new year, but his last conversation with the man from Van Brothers was a bit more vague, as in sometime in February. But we’re not giving up hope.

“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” ~ Oscar Wilde Hope.

"Garden Under Snow," Paul Gauguin (1879, oil on canvas)

Hope—that small word that carries within it so much weight. Hope helps to bring the soldier through the battle. Hope wends its way through the heart looking for love. Hope is the wisp of smoke that eludes the individual keeping watch over a loved one who is gravely ill. Hope is the reflection of the stars in the night sky when everything seems without light. Hope is the sound of the wind and the rain, the birds and the ocean, affirming that life does indeed go on beyond the realm of our lives. Hope is the northern star that guides us when the path is unclear, and the anchor for our ships when we feel adrift at sea.

It would be so easy to give up, to say no more. It would be a relief not to fight against the machinations of the bureaucracies that threaten to overpower us. It would be less taxing to just sit back and say whatever, do your worst. And I admit that there have been times when these options have floated through my mind. But I do not succumb. I have a good man who loves me, cherishes me, respects me. I have three tremendously talented, intelligent children who are just beginning to find their way in the world. I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge. And I have the love and support of family and friends who never let me forget just how much they care.

Whatever 2010 decides to throw my way, I will face it, whether or not I am ready, whether or not I feel able, whether or not I feel beaten down. I have no choice because hope does not abandon the individual, rather, the individual who abandons hope gives in to hope’s fouler relative—despair. And my friends, I refuse to give in to despair.

May you stay safe on this New Year’s Eve. Remember to be smart out there because not everyone else will be. My very best to you and yours for a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year.

More later. Peace.

From “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou

. . . Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

“Same Old Lang Syne,” by the late, greatly underrated Dan Fogelberg . . .

“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.” ~ Stephen King

 

 

“In the end, writing is like a prison, an island from which you will never be released but which is a kind of paradise: the solitude, the thoughts, the incredible joy of putting into words the essence of what you for the moment understand and with your whole heart want to believe.” ~ James Salter

Yosemite Valley Flower in the Snow by Laurie Withers, Sunnyvale, CA

I was thinking about what I wanted to write about today, and it occurred to me (while I was in the shower contemplating how very little hot water is available from our hot water heater) that before I jump into 2010 I should probably pause to reflect on my blog itself: As in, is the format readable? Does my header grab a reader’s attention in the 10 seconds or so in which it flashes on the screen in a blogroll?

You know, earth-shattering questions such as those. So I decided that I would try to look at my blog with a critic’s eyes, find its weaknesses and strengths, etcetera.

Need I really explain how fruitless an endeavor this was? Being my own worst critic, I began to rip apart my blog (in my mind of course). Why this font? What’s up with that positioning. Why such a long title? Realizing that I could not accomplish what I wanted to do alone, I decided that I would turn to you, dear reader. Hence, the following questions for which I would appreciate true answers. 

“Writing is the most personal form of prayer.” ~ Franz Kafka

Before I begin, let me step back and explain a few things of which you may not be aware:

Crocus Flowers in Snow by Oswald Skene

The title—Lola’s Curmudgeonly Musings About Life, Love, and Other Trifles—is long, but not really if you are at all familiar with my writing. Lola is my alternate ego, so to speak. She is the one who rants and raves about politics, ignorance in society, and unbelievable atrocities and events happening all over the globe. Curmudgeonly is perhaps the one best word to describe both Lola and myself. I do not suffer fools gladly. The last part of the title, musings etc., arose from the fact that I realized that my blog was going to be about a little bit of everything.

Since I began writing, I have found that Lola does not appear nearly as often as I thought that she would. Instead, Poietes, the moniker with which I dubbed myself years and years ago seems to be the name with which most people are familiar. Poietes is an ancient Greek word meaning poet or maker, maker of words. I have had POIETES on my license plate for almost 16 years, the only exception being currently as our vehicle is not actually ours, and I cannot get the plate that I would like. People recognize the moniker as being me, both in print and in person.

One other thing, my blogs are actually blongs, i.e., very long blogs. I know this. I acknowledge this. I realized many, many entries ago that I could not say what I wanted to say in 300 words, 500 words, or even 750 words. On average, my blogs are about 1300 words long, with quotes. As for the quotes, they did not make their appearance immediately, but they have since become a mainstay. As I have said, I have collected quotes for years. I have pages and pages (translated to Word files) just filled with quotes on different topics.

“Writing is nothing but a guided dream.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that background information out of the way, here are the questions that I would like to pose to you. I understand that most of you don’t have time for deep thoughts about someone else’s blog as your deep thoughts appear on your own blogs, but I really would like to know what you are thinking. That being said, who knows how much I will alter my blog as I am fickle (pun on name, yes), but your feedback is always appreciated.

  1. Should I change the title of my blog to something shorter and catchier? What about the word musings?
  2. Should I change Lola to Poietes?
  3. Do you have a suggestion as to how to combine Lola and Poietes (no, this isn’t a way to get all of my various personalities in check)?
  4. How about the format? Should I change to a different template?
  5. I’m asking about the format as I am considering buying the upgrade for the CSS so that I can personalize the format, change default fonts, colors, etc. Would you recommend doing that, or is my current format readable?
  6. What do you think of my use of quotes?
  7. Are there any topics that you think that I should tackle?
  8. Is there one particular subject that you would like for me to write about in a post?
  9. Should I make my tags more creative?
  10. How do you feel about my use of images?

Bonus question: What was your favorite post and why?

“The only time I know the truth is when it reveals itself at the point of my pen.” ~ Norman Mailer

Snow on Flowers

To be perfectly honest, though, how this blog looks may seem to be insignificant, but I have found from years of experience that the old maxim content dictates form is actually true.  Those of us who write blogs usually do so because we want to share our thoughts with other people. We want other people to read our words, and if we are fortunate, people make comments about what we have written, which lets us know that someone out there somewhere is reading us.

Yes, the content, the words, are the most important aspect. But if something about the format makes it hard to read the words, then something needs to be altered to remedy that problem. For example, white on black lettering is extremely hard to read. If you believe in color psychology, and I do, red backgrounds appear to be antagonistic. San serif fonts are supposed to be easy to read, but books are never published in san serif fonts. These are all considerations.

“Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” ~ Stephen King

So keeping all of that in mind, what do you think about how my blog looks? But more importantly, what do you think about the blog’s content?

Admittedly though, I would continue to write this blog even if no one read it. This forum has become immensely important to me as a means in which to voice my personal truths, to share my thoughts, to expound on that which is important to me.

Snow-capped Tulips

And so it become a creative circle of writing and reading, reading and commenting, commenting and creating.

As 2009 closes, I send my thanks to those of you who have taken the time to visit, to comment, to support, to nudge, to engage. Years ago when blogging began I thought that it was one of the stupidest things I had ever heard of—putting your journal out there for anyone to read. Now I realize that blogging is so much more. Blogging has become a mainstream means of communicating about everything from recipes, to travels, to politics, to biographies, to history, to celebrity, to sports and on and on.

Thank you for sharing your lives and opinions with me. My world has been enriched through the words, images and music that you put out there for the world to see.

More later. Peace.

Loreena McKennitt, one of my favorites, performing “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which is based on the poem by the same name written by Christina Rossetti in 1872.

 

 

In The Bleak Midwinter (first stanza)

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

 

All quotes in today’s post found on Whiskey River.

“Words are the voice of the heart.” ~ Confucius

This is my attempt to recreate the post that was eaten by my computer last night . . .

 

“The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.” ~ Gustave Flaubert

Things I accomplished yesterday:

  1. Finished addressing Christmas cards, ready to go to the post office today
  2. Finally packaged my friend Mari’s birthday present along with her Christmas card in a mailer, also ready to go to post office
  3. Did not eat an entire one-pound bag of peanut M&M’s whilst doing the above
  4. Cleaned off most of my desk in an attempt to find the Christmas stamps for the cards; did not find stamps on desk as I had put them in a very safe place (always risky)
  5. Also managed to find paperwork that I had put in a very safe place, just not the same very safe place as Christmas stamps
  6. Did not put fist through computer monitor when I lost blog post that was almost finished
  7. Realized that I am not supposed to try to accomplish two major tasks in one day as one of them most certainly will become an epic fail

Felt rather pleased with myself right up to the moment when I went to save my post, was redirected to the WordPress sign in page (for some unknown reason), and then returned to blog post only to find that nothing, absolutely nothing that I had written was there save for the quotes.

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” ~ Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

I’ve been having very vivid dreams lately. One that was particularly disturbing dealt with my mother dying. My Aunt Ronnie, who died earlier this year, was walking me through my mother’s house, pointing out things. I remember feeling very comforted that she was there with me. Woke up crying after that one.

But two dreams in particular have stuck with me, and both of these dreams dealt with words and my relationship to words.

The first dream:

This dream was very long and detailed. I was back in college as an undergraduate. I sat down in the common area of the Arts & Letters building, and the person next to me turned and spoke to me. I hadn’t realized that I had sat down next to one of my creative writing professors (it was him, but he looked different in the dream). He asked me if I was going to show up for his class that night. I replied that I had only missed two classes because of my illness, not dropped out, and reminded him that I had submitted the work that was due.

He said that the work was substandard, which really surprised me. Then he told me that the final exam was that very night. I panicked and began to hyperventilate. I told him that I couldn’t possibly take the exam because I wasn’t prepared. I begged him to let me take the final later, but he refused. I went to the department chair’s office and explained the situation. I reminded him that I had doctors’ letters explaining my health issues, and I asked him to give me some leeway since I was a member of the department.

The chair spoke to my professor who asserted that I wasn’t sick; I was on acid. I argued that I wasn’t on acid, that in fact I had never in my life taken acid. My professor again said that I was a drug addict and that he wasn’t going to do anything for me.

I sat down in the common area and put my head in my hands. Two female professors from the department walked by and said loudly enough for me to hear that they thought that my writing professor was only doing this because he hated women (not true in real life). I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who were enrolled in the class with me; several of them were holding papers—newspapers, pages torn from magazines, cards. One person said that I had to do something extraordinary to prove to my professor that he was wrong about me.

I asked him what I should do. He said that I needed to take the pages that they had all collected for me and create something. I began to look through the pages, and words started to stand out. I began ripping words from the pages and arranging them on the floor. I was creating a poem from the words. Someone gave me scissors, so I began to cut out more words.

My writing professor walked up and observed what I was doing, but he said that he wasn’t impressed, but by that point, I no longer cared about him or his class. I was creating for myself. I couldn’t collect the words quickly enough. The poem soon grew to be about five feet long and just as wide. It was massive, and I wasn’t finished. I needed more words.

I looked up and realized that below where I was working on the floor was a gap and that trains were moving through the gap, but instead of coal in the cars there were small colored rocks, larger than sand, but much smaller than coal—vivid blues, bright yellows, greens. I realized that I needed to get to the other side of the gap to collect more words, so I jumped down onto the first car, which contained blue rocks, My feet began to sink into the rocks, and the blue began to swirl about my legs. I jumped from one car to the next until I was on the other side. When I reached the other side, I suddenly realized what Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” really meant: It was his poem about life, only with paint. I smiled to myself and went in search of more words.

The dream ended there.

“The smell of ink is intoxicating to me—others may have wine, but I have poetry.” ~ Abbe Yeux-verdi

Second dream:

I was working in the newsroom again, but this time, I was a clerk responsible for typing and filing. I was speaking with a reporter with whom I had a good relationship, telling him how glad I was to be back in the newsroom again, even if it meant that I had to do grunt work.

I remember the hum of the actual newsroom in which I worked while I was an undergraduate. An undercurrent of creative energy was always suffused in the air. I felt that in my dream. I looked about me at all of the reporters and editors, and commented that I wished that I could be out there in that pool of people and not stuck in a clerical position.

The person with whom I was speaking asked me why I didn’t apply for a position. I told him that I didn’t think that I was good enough, but I remember thinking to myself in the dream that that was not a true statement, that it wasn’t a matter of being good enough but rather, a matter of being afraid. He told me that I should apply.

Many people who I had actually worked with walked through this dream. Some stopped to chat, others just walked by and nodded. I inquired about the City Editor who had been in charge when I worked there, and my friend told me that he had died. Soon after, I awakened, feeling very calm and reflective.

There is a saying that people who work for newspapers have ink in their blood. I know this to be true. The slow death of printed newspapers saddens me in a way that cuts to my very heart as I wrote my first pieces for publication for the local paper.

“Unclose your mind. You are not a prisoner. You are a bird in flight, searching the skies for dreams.” ~ Haruki Murakami

I have rerun in my mind both of these dreams several times, and what strikes me is that my psyche is sending me a message: I need to return to my writing full time, or rather, on a daily basis, which is full time for me. Obviously, I have words within me that need to be released, to be massaged into something concrete, and I have not been doing that of late. I must recapture the passion with which I first began writing this blog, and I must return to the discipline with which I so carefully honed my writing method: working at it for at least two hours each day.

The brain is but another part of the body that requires regular exercise lest it atrophy. By not working on my craft, I have regressed to my former state of writing only when the creativity hit me, rather than forcing myself to cull to the surface the creativity which resides within me.

In fact, I have been very lackadaisical when it comes to writing daily, and I know this to be true however painful it is to admit. But something inside of me is quietly rebelling at the passive approach to writing that I have been taking. Something—my inner muse, inner self— is sending me signals that there are words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs all waiting to be created, and that if I ignore these signals, then I am doing myself a disservice.

My birthday is next month. I will be yet another year older and no closer to achieving my dream of having a book published. I have no one to blame for this but myself as no one else controls my mind, my thoughts, my muse.

My love affair with words goes back to my childhood, to the time that I composed my first poem when I was five. Believe it or not, that poem had rhyme and meter: a quatrain with six beats per line. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to do something in my life that involved words, just as some people know innately that they want to work with numbers.

As any of my regular readers know, I have a passion for quotes; I have always had this passion. I have collected quotes for as long as I can remember, mostly because they inspire me. I used to use one quote repeatedly in cards that I sent to new graduates: “Only the dreamer can change the dream,” which is actually the title of a book of poems by John Logan. I don’t know when I picked up this quote, but it has always been very special to me.

My dreams about words were a reminder that only I can make possible what I want to achieve, that I am responsible for my path, that I must do all that I can do to make my dream become a reality.

Thanks to Crashingly Beautiful for the Marakami quote. More later. Peace.

I know that you have probably seen this video, but I love it, that and the fact that any videos of TSO in concert are bootleg, and the quality isn’t great. I did find a concert on Good Morning America in 2005, but it’s not the same in a small venue, and the light show really needs to be seen in person to be appreciated; otherwise, it’s just blobs of light in some parts. I give you the Trans-Siberian Orchestra: “Wizards in Winter”

ARGH!?@*?&@#*!

I just lost the post that I had almost finished writing. About 1300 words. Quotes . . .

Hit save, and was rerouted to sign-in page. Signed in, went back to post, nothing. Nada. May I just pause here to say CRAP!

Karma, man.

“Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.” ~ Mac McCleary

Snow completely covering a road in Clifton, Virginia during December Blizzard 09

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein. ~ H. Jackson Brown

Vintage Christmas Card

Today is the day I slated to do my Christmas cards . . . finally. Look. I used to be very anal about getting my cards out before the middle of December. In the past few years, I have found myself to be quite pleased if I managed to post them by Christmas day. This year, if they make it to the post office before New Year’s Eve, I will be content.

Anyway, we received so few cards this year that I am truly beginning to think that people just do not take the time to send things via regular post any more, and that, dear readers, is a shame. Opening Christmas cards and holiday greetings from friends and relatives is such a wonderful moment in time, even if the sender does nothing more than sign a name. I mean, at least the presence of the name in ink means that someone took at least a few seconds out of the ever-decreasing free moments in our lives to remember my family and me.

But this is not a discussion on the dearth of letters and cards that arrive in the mail, making all of the accompanying bills and flyers pale in comparison. No, this post is to update everyone on the saga of the December trip to Ohio . . .

The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers.  ~ Dave Barry, Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn

So, how was this latest trip to Ohio?

Oh, not bad. After the first twenty-four hours in the vehicle, your body is so numb that you really don’t care any more.

Twenty-four hours? Are you serious?

Actually, it was twenty-seven. We actually pulled out of our driveway at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 18.  We pulled into their driveway on Saturday, December 19 at 10:40 p.m.

DuPont Circle, Washington, D.C., December Blizzard 2009

No. It’s more like 696 miles, give or take, depending on which route we use.

So why so long?

I don’t know. Maybe it was because we were driving in snow, ice, and blizzard conditions. Or maybe it’s because once we got past Newport News, the traffic began to move at about 30 mph. Or, it could be that for every five miles that we traveled, we saw at least one car in a ditch, or on a tree, or upside down.

We had scanned the radar for the entire area, and the usual route through the western part of Virginia was out of the question. They were expecting 12-18 inches of snow, and there were warnings that some roads might be closed. That left going north around DC, into Maryland, and across to Ohio. Little did we know that there was no good route.

Then there was the little problem with the windshield wipers.

What happened to the wipers?

Well, at first, we thought that we needed new ones because one entire area of the driver’s side wasn’t clearing with the swipes back and forth. So when we finally made it to Fredericksburg, a trip that normally takes about two hours but took about eight (I mean, we didn’t make it to Richmond until after midnight, and that’s a 90-minute drive), we stopped at that bastion of American consumerism, Wal Mart, and bought wipers and Rain-X spray to keep the windshield from freezing because by then we realized that the wipers themselves were freezing.

That worked better, for a while, but then there was that whole Pennsylvania turnpike thing after we stopped for breakfast in Maryland. Of course, we only stopped because I threatened Corey with bodily harm if I didn’t get the chance to get out of the van and use a real bathroom. But trust me, I was only thinking of him . . .

I mean, Corey hadn’t had a break since the Wal Mart and he was getting grouchy (wonder why), so I suggested that we stop for a real meal and rest for a bit. We pulled into a Cracker Barrel somewhere in Maryland and ate. I drank about four cups of coffee and tried to convince Corey to let me drive for a while. No go. That whole male driving thing. Don’t ask me because it makes no sense whatsoever to me.

Doesn't even begin to depict the conditions

Why did you go on the Pennsylvania Turnpike?

More coffee and a bathroom. Actually, I thought that since it was such a heavily-traveled road that surely the snowplows and salters would be out (because they certainly weren’t out on the other interstates) and that we would be able to travel faster than the snow. Wrong. It was worse than I95, which was virtually a parking lot.  But by the time we stopped at one of the driver’s centers on the Turnpike, Corey was clutching the steering wheel so hard that I thought he might break it, so I decided to drive. He relented, but only from exhaustion. (More of that it’s not safe for you to drive in this, ya da ya da ya da. I lived in Blacksburg for God’s sakes. Snow is a way of life there.  Bah.)

As I was pulling out of the driver’s center, the driver’s side wiper broke, as in the arm just limped, kind of like a drunk slug. Of course that was before the flat tire.

What flat tire?

Well, we got directions from the first toll collector to an auto parts store so that we could try to fix the wiper. We found that store fairly easily, but when I was pulling into the parking lot, I ran over something, probably the curb that was buried under three feet of snow. One of the employees in the store came out and looked at the wiper and tightened it, and it seemed to be working again. 

Another stop for coffee, and then I drove off, feeling somewhat relieved until the wiper flailed and then died again as soon as I got back on the main road.

So we got off on the next exit as I was trying to see the road through a space of about 12 inches square and got directions from another toll collector for an auto store that was supposed to be eight miles down some state road. (Exactly why are there toll collectors on interstates that are paid for with tax dollars? Another story.) This particular store was not quite so easy to find, and we found a NAPA auto parts store first. We pulled in, and the guy next to us said, “Do you know you have a flat tire?” Lovely. Just lovely.

NAPA didn’t have a part of any kind, so Corey bought a can of Fix-a-Flat (another miracle product), and we tried to find the other store, but when we got there, it was closed. We pulled into the lot of a dollar store and Corey came out with the universal fix-it: duct tape. Apparently, the bolt was stripped, so Corey wrapped the tape around it, and we made a make-shift coupling.

Duct tape is a wonderful thing, just like Windex, but again, I digress . . .

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” ~ Douglas Adams

Beautiful but Treacherous

Corey went back to sleep, and I drove with the window partially down, sticking my hand out in the snow and then rubbing my face with my cold, wet hand. It was refreshing, and I knew that in spite of two gallons of coffee, I was not going to be able to drive that much longer. I just don’t have that y-chromosone-related driving non-stop thing going on. I made it to Washington, West Virginia (there’s a Washington in every state, by the way), which is right on the border of Ohio. By this time, it was about four on Saturday afternoon, and I had told Corey’s parents in the last update not to expect us before four.

Obviously that anticipated arrival time had come and gone.

Then what happened?

The duct tape held for the most part. We had wipers. The Fix-a-Flat seemed to be holding, and the snow finally lessened almost to a stopping point. There was the one incident around Columbus, though.

What happened in Columbus?

Corey missed the bypass, so we went through Columbus, and then we missed our turn. Consensus was to take one of the state roads the rest of the way in. I think that was when I started to see things.

It was probably due to a combination of the coffee, need to go to the bathroom, exhaustion, and the fact that my teeth felt as if cotton balls were glued to them. Of course by this time, we were all punchy from exhaustion. Everything was funny, even when it wasn’t.

But did you get there safely?

Safely is a relative term. No, we didn’t go off the road, although we did spin once. Our bodies were in one piece, but the van had all kinds of sensor lights flashing at us by the time we pulled into the driveway. And I believe that I aged at least two years in two days. Other than that and the fact that when I finally got into bed I had the spins (now that hasn’t happened in a long time), everything was fine.

“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” ~ Don Williams, Jr.

Plowed Roads on the Way Home

So ends the saga of our trip to Ohio. Our journey home to Virginia was the complete opposite. We left at 10:30 in the morning with the stated goal being 10 a.m., rather a record for us. We drove to Marion to get the wiper part, and then we headed down to Cincinnatti to go to a branch of Joseph Beth Booksellers, my favorite bookstore in the world, well, at least in this country. The best one is the original JB, though, in Lexington Kentucky.

We ambled through the store for about an hour, and then we had a nice relaxing dinner at Don Pablo’s, a chain Mexican restaurant that actually has quite good food. Apparently, Tuesday is all-you-can-eat tacos. Corey and Brett each had their fill. I abstained from coffee, and we got back on the road by our goal time. We took our preferred route, which is down Route 35 to I64 through part of West Virginia and into Virginia. No storms, no ice, no car problems (well, other than the sensor lights still going off in the van), no major drama—just the way I like it.

I have to say that I do enjoy visiting Corey’s family, and the time that we spend there is always full, but I really, really hate actually making the trip. Corey and I thought about it, and I don’t think that we have ever had an uneventful trip to Ohio, whether it’s the weather, car trouble, more car trouble, getting lost, not having enough money for gas, whatever. So with that in mind, we have decided that next time, flying is the way to go.

More later. Peace.

Traditional German Christmas Carol (no, not ready to stop posting them, yet): “Still, Still, Still”

 

“We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Marine White Gloves, Sand from Iwo Jima and a Red Rose Atop the Casket of Lt. James Cathy, image by Todd Heisler, Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer 

“Give me love, give me peace on earth, give me light, give me life, keep me free from birth, give me hope, help me cope, with this heavy load, trying to, touch and reach you with, heart and soul” ~ George Harrison

Well, it’s been over a week since I last blogged, except for my brief Christmas message. In that time so much has happened. I’ll get to the saga of our most recent trip to Ohio in a different post, but today, I wanted to share something with you that happened this morning: 

I was on my way to the bank, and Eamonn was in the car with me. Normally, I cut through a small neighborhood to get to the bank; it’s an old neighborhood, full of smaller houses. I was driving slower as I do on neighborhood streets when I noticed a marine in full dress uniform knocking on a door. Two other marines were sitting in a car parked in front of the house. 

When I saw that young marine, my heart completely sank. I knew what was about to happen. I have seen this scene in countless movies, but never in person. I explained to Eamonn what was about to happen: The day after Christmas a family was going to be notified that someone they loved had been killed. I explained to Eamonn that notifications are always done by someone official. 

The marine on the porch paused to watch us drive past; he was young, and his face was momentarily filled with anguish, and then the façade reappeared just as quickly as it had faded. 

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs.  The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” ~ William J. Clinton

I cannot tell you that I know how the family that received that notification feels because I cannot. Yes, I have known death, have watched it come, have held it, but I have never faced the death of a loved one in the military, of someone who has been killed in conflict by whatever means. Someone who was close to me has faced the horror of the knock on the door, and the pain that I felt for her was miniscule in comparison to what she felt, still feels to this day. 

But after this morning’s moment of great sadness I felt great anger, incredible indignation at what had brought this man to this family’s door. I am not naive enough to believe that we will ever truly have peace on earth. As long as human beings inhabit this planet, there will be war, conflict, evil. There is something within our species that is never content, something that always wants more—whether it be more land, more oil, more power. No matter how much millions of us clamor for it, rally for it, cry for it, there will never be lasting peace. Humanity is not capable of it. 

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that human beings are inherently evil or bad or malicious. I choose to believe the opposite. But I know that to erase intolerance of other religions, other races, other tribes, other beliefs, to do this is an impossibility because people with intolerance and hatred in their hearts will always exist. People with evil in their souls will always stake claims over the lives of others. This is life. This is the life that we have created over thousands of years, the life that we have accepted, will continue to accept. 

Kindness and generosity should rule, but they do not. Empathy and tolerance should be the way of the world, but it is not. And so, in spite of my great desire—a desire that is shared all over the world—not to send sons and daughters, mother and fathers, brothers and sisters to war, we will continue to do so, and families will continue to receive heart-wrenching news from someone whose unenviable duty it is to carry this message to their doorsteps. 

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” ~ Black Elk

Pulitzer Prize-winning Image of CACO Major Steve Beck, 2005, by Todd Heisler of Rocky Mountain News

I must pause here to acknowledge the marine CACO (Casualty Assistance Call Officer). Notifying a military family of the death of a family member must take immeasurable strength and courage of a different kind. I know that these men and women undergo rigorous training for their jobs, which includes notification, family support and assistance, as well as escort. Being a CACO becomes the primary duty of the service man or woman, and it must be a job fraught with emotional turmoil. 

I don’t think that the memory of the marine’s face will ever completely fade from my memory. If I am to retain my humanity, I pray that it does not 

However, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit that something deep within me was incredibly thankful that Eamonn was with me; perhaps he, too, will remember that moment and understand it for what all that it was: the fragility of life, the real consequences of war, the need for compassion, the ineffable sadness of loss. 

Witness creates impression in a way that all of the words spoken cannot. A hard lesson for the holidays. 

“Namaste. I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides . . . a place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honour the place in you where when you are in that place and I am in that place there is only one of us.” ~ Mohandas K. Ghandi

 More later. Peace. 

“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” by John Lennon with incredible images. 

  

 

  

For more information about CACOs and their relationships with military families, see the excellent book Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives, by Jim Sheeler. Click here for The New York Times book review.

Joyeux de Noel

 

Best wishes to everyone

 for a very

 Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

 

CREDO AT CHRISTMAS

At Christmas time I believe the things that children do.

I believe with English children that holly placed in windows will protect our homes from evil.

I believe with Swiss children that the touch of edelweiss will charm a person with love. 

I believe with Italian children that La Befana is not an ugly doll but a good fairy who will gladden the heart of all.

I believe with Greek children that coins concealed in freshly baked loaves of bread will bring good luck to anyone who finds them.

I believe with German children that the sight of a Christmas tree will lessen hostility among adults.

I believe with French children that lentils soaked and planted in a bowl will rekindle life in people who have lost hope.

I believe with Dutch children that the horse Sleipner will fly through the sky and fill the earth with joy.

I believe with Swedish children that Jultomte will come and deliver gifts to the poor as well as to the rich.

I believe with Finnish children that parties held on St.Stephen’s Day will erase sorrow.

I believe with Danish children that the music of a band playing from a church tower will strengthen humankind.

I believe with Bulgarian children that sparks from a Christmas log will create warmth in human souls.

I believe with American children that the sending of Christmas cards will build friendships.

I believe with all children that there will be peace on earth. ~ Daniel Roselle