The Read

Oct. 19, 2018

I walk ~ a lot. It’s an obsession. Washes several birds in the same bath; get some exercise, a shot of nature, and private time to contemplate just about everything. There’s a path that takes me past a small nature preserve, then slips me into the hood next door, (there’s only two streets on our side, so I borrow theirs for a daily two-mile jaunt.) Whoever paid to have the path paved is my hero.

The nature preserve is a kaleidoscope of constantly changing color. With all the rain the East has seen this year, at one point the wild flowers and weeds were towering over my head. A farmer came and harvested the field for feed, setting the stage for the fall growth; new hues and heights. It’s all very pretty and peaceful, but the primary backdrop for my walk is the picturesque little neighborhood beyond the pasture. It’s finely trimmed, compact lots, offer city style living in the middle of forever farmland (Amish horse and buggy carts own the roads.) When I say picturesque, I’m not exaggerating, it’s the prettiest little hood. The residents care about their homes and community, it’s obvious. Feels like I’m strolling around my own private sanctuary, canvassed with arbors, play-sets, patios, porch swings and fire pits. And flowers, good Lord, the flowers. The builder obviously offered white picket fencing as an option because it’s a predominate feature throughout. Classic stuff. Large grassy common areas run down the middle of the main road, and in between several of the side streets. The biggest boast a pergola and a gazebo. A haven of middle-class America.

Would not be surprised in the slightest if someone told me the ghost of Norman Rockwell hangs out there. This place is the quintessence of community. Charming and hospitable, it regularly tugs at my heartstrings. In my daily strolls the Rockwell paintings are life-sized and animated. Razors piloted by little kids race down the same street that houses the sisters who jump rope on a different day and older boys who practice their slap shots in the fall, net perched in the middle of the road. This also happens to be the road of the two Charlies. A sister and brother from a litter of adorable, fluff ball puppies, (born on the other side of the neighborhood,) who ended up with the same name, on the same street, three doors away. (Was told they have regular play dates.) There are backyard flockers, sidewalk chalkers, and dog walkers galore. All of them kind and neighborly, (have had my share of chats.) Then there’s the gaggle of teenagers, dressed in Homecoming couture, waiting for the limo to arrive, (early evening is my sweet spot.) Their parents on the periphery, phones put away, high school moment in the books. Have even witnessed a wedding reception, (avoided my normal path so I didn’t intrude,) the big white tent and the beautiful young bride were hard to miss. The groom and his entourage were tossing a Frisbee in the common area. Every evening there’s pleasant interactions, sometimes in person, and sometimes just the artwork of their lives. Rockwell’s Americana, home at its best. The little hood that could, the perfect metaphor for the best in us all.  

Home, you might have noticed, is a recurring theme with me. It’s the archetype of what’s safe and good and right. At least it should be, lately it’s become symbols of just the opposite. Our own citizens aren’t safe from those who are supposed to protect us, even in their own homes, being that we’re now a nation in the business of peddling division, hatred and fear, don’t think we fall in the category of good anymore, and when it comes to right and wrong, our compass isn’t only malfunctioning, it’s worthless. Beyond all the talk that tries to normalize dishonesty, beyond the cheating to get ahead in business and politics, beyond exploding the national debt for the sake of greed, and beyond the obliteration of healthcare, especially for pre-existing conditions, beyond all that and more, children, the most vulnerable among us, are being separated from their parents and housed in internment camps. Can we stop a moment to fully grasp the significance, we’re talking about appalling abuse of children. The United States, our home, is inflicting crimes against humanity. And why, because that’s the U.S.’s humanitarian way? It’s too hard to take, we’ve allowed ourselves to be dragged down to the basest of behavior through a narrative of bullying, debauchery and lies. Passionate and convincing lies, again and again, and we’ve swallowed the storyline. It’s incredible.

We’re making history with a government encircled by talk of affairs and porn stars, tax evasion and bankruptcy, rape and pedophilia, law suits and death threats, nazism and conspiracy theories, misinformation and sensationalism; the list goes on and on. Avarice drives legislation, from health care to gun control, money wins. Power hungry politicians care more about their millions than their countryman. And God help you if you’re a journalist. It’s mind-boggling watching the murder of, Jamal Khashoggi, play out through our government officials. They couldn’t be more transparent in their lack of concern and greed.

Not in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would be embarrassed of our country, I’ve always been proud to be an American. Proud we stood up against oppression and our brave men and woman offered their lives to fight alongside our allies, ensuring our freedoms (my Father was one of those men.) That kind of valor and honesty was once a standard for our leadership. Not anymore. How do we find the right path back home?

Speaking of that, returning from my walk yesterday, (oh, and btw, did I mention it’s a diverse neighborhood? Always a rainbow of kids playing together, the way it should be) anyway, when I got to the path, the wind over the pasture bent the wild flowers and weeds, toppling and twisting them in a dance that made me envy their freedom. They grew, side-by-side, different but the same, bolstering each other from what would take them down if they stood alone. No reason to fear the storms, they’re all in it together. No reason to fear at all.

 

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Jan. 1, 2018

Had a little chuckle making out Christmas cards this year. An address (hey Kate & Anthony) in Jersey was the culprit. Changed from the original name, Orvil, in 1908, Ho-Ho-Kus, (the capitols and hyphens are the correct spelling) was a tribute to the native Indians of the region. Read there’s some dispute as to the meaning, but nicely done on giving American Indians their props, Jersey. My guess was way off, put money on a magic connection, was tempted to finish the address with “Pocus” anyway. Must be kind of a magical place for the Ho-Ho-Kusites, (I kid you not, that’s the legit name,) in 2011 New Jersey Monthly named it the best place to live in the state. Wonder if they still hold the title?   

That research sent me down a rabbit hole looking for funky names, we have quite a few in the ole U.S. of A. Was familiar with the first one that popped up, Accident, Maryland. God forbid you have one while living there, talk about constant geographic salt being poured into a wound. Then there’s always, Hell, Michigan. Can see the signs now, Welcome to Hell, a real hot spot. Can’t take the heat? You can methodically pack up your belongings and move to Boring, Oregon. If a dreary and lackluster existence is too dull, spice things up a bit with a trip to, Intercourse, Pennsylvania. (Not touching that one with a ten foot…moving on. Although you might want to take a quick hop down from there to, Climax, Georgia, just sayin.) Then there’s always the waste related towns, Slickpoo, Idaho, where they recommend wearing shoes with good traction, and the ever urgent, Pee Pee, Ohio; their motto is a no-brainer, Urine a place that warms you all over. Who thought it was a good idea to name a town, Pee Pee? Anatomically, they’re more than just the butt of the joke. If you’re feeling the urge from those towns, you can pass, Gas, Kansas, people say being there is a real relief. When you’re done with all those hit, Embarrass, Minnesota, just to round things out.

Kidding aside, Willy Shakespeare had it right, a rose by any other name smells as sweet. Home is where the heart is, no matter what the moniker on the map. Boogertown, North Carolina might not be picked for the best name award, but pretty sure the residents there, (picture them with wads of Kleenex up their sleeves,) love it all the same. We used to live in a town called Finksburg. Bad name, great town. The kids conquered most of their school days there. It was an idyllic place to grow up. A picturesque country setting with lifelong friends just doors away, we Finksburgians, (yeah, that was just a shot in the dark,) had a home, sweet (smelling,) home. 

For real though, it’s no joke, home is absolutely where the heart is. The place we count on finding our comfort, our peace. For me, it’s wherever my people are. BK just recently moved home from his swinging bachelor pad, (SBP, in the family vernacular,) in Greensboro, North Carolina. His working down there necessitated two homes. For me, I scored a getaway. It was a nice, third floor walkup. Had a great porch, nestled in the upper branches of the trees; offered a bird’s-eye view of the hood. Spent quite a lot of time on that porch, was sad to see it go. The place had a great vibe, it was populated by a cool cluster of neighbors. All ages and nationalities; we were every shade of skin in the spectrum, all just happily doing our own thing. We didn’t get to know anyone personally, but there was always a kind hello. Was there all day without a car a few times and the porch served nicely as entertainment. The predominant scene below, bouncing between the buildings and the trees was happy children playing. Couldn’t have scripted a more peaceful setting. A little Nirvana. Home, at it’s best.

Isn’t that what we all want? A peaceful place to call home. A place to enjoy those we’re drawn to and have no reason to fear those we’re not. A safe place for our families, especially our children. Hometowns and neighborhoods where we can live free from fear. Communities where our shopping malls, theaters, schools and even churches aren’t turned into tombs and given ugly names, like massacre. Finding our hearts is at the root of it all. Turning from those who foster division and instead deciding to rest in reason; we’re all in this together, we should act like it.

Okay, sending you from here down to Arkansas, a place called, Hope. Here’s hoping for a prosperous and peaceful 2018. Here’s hoping our home is where the heart is.

Happy New Year. 

 

 

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Dec. 6, 2017

This is one of those, you-learn-something-new-every-day facts, at least it was a new one by me. Show of hands, how many of you know about, Blue Zones? The term refers to an anthropological model describing the characteristics and environments of locations with the world’s most centenarians. It was first coined in a 2005 National Geographic cover story by Dan Buettner; via some indisputable statistics, Buettner identified five geographic areas on earth with a large concentration of healthy and active people who live well into their 100s. Costa Rica is one of them.

My source of this little known tropical tid bit, the bus driver who ferried us from the airport in Liberia, Costa Rica, to an all-inclusive resort. We just returned from four days at a destination wedding. You may remember from The Read fame, my children from other mothers, Sully and Ashlee. They are now, Mr. & Mrs. M. (Congratulations, kiddos, we couldn’t love you more.)

To explain this incredible connubial excursion, will be employing a triple entendre. (How often does that opportunity show up.) The first one is in the books, the obvious definition, Blue Zones are not only cool and healthy places to live, they’re desirable; who doesn’t want to drink from the fountain of youth? Not a bad destination to plop down.

The second blue zone refers to the waters of our Costa Rican beach, translucent crystal blue, canvased by a floor of tiny white shells. At this particular resort, instead of sand beneath your feet, there are trillions of little broken shells that make up the terrain. Tough to walk on, (it doesn’t hurt, you just sink, the water doesn’t bind it like sand) but what a sight to behold. On the third day there we did a little snorkeling. Very little. The waves were too strong and insisted on muscling us into the rocks, (Shay and BK brought home some nasty scrapes as souvenirs.) Sticking close to the shore was the only safe option. The search for colorful aquatic life was replaced by an astonishing ambient spectacle. Floating on the spirited surface, the delicate white base swirled and danced below in a crystalline concert. Oblivious to the windy world above, with each churn, the only thing you could hear was the tiny shells skipping over each other, chiming a song of tranquility. Truly enchanting; the perfect metaphor for the final blue zone, Sully and Ashlee’s wedding weekend. 

When you look up “true blue” in Webster’s, it describes one who’s loyal, faithful and a constant source of support; no matter what. For me, the perfect description of family. Not always the blood variety, some of those have the name but haven’t really earned it, nope, talking about the people in life who love you unconditionally. The ones who would cut off their right arm for you if they thought it would help. This wedding was populated with that kind of kinfolk. People we could be separated from for long stretches, but it wouldn’t change a thing, the bond is precious and permanent.

A testament to the love Sully, Ashlee and their families have spread, they had over 40 people make the trek to Costa Rica to celebrate their nuptials. The joy of their destination wedding was amplified tenfold by the guests they gathered. The wedding venue, the Pangas Beach Club, was about a half hour from the resort and it was the stuff bridal dreams are made of. With an ancient Banyan tree that sat on the shoreline as their backdrop, Sully and Ashlee said, I do. Did I mention BK, (or his customary moniker for such events, Rev Kev,) performed the ceremony? Had quite a few of us a little wet of eye. After all, this is family, in the truest sense; heartfelt words are easy to come by. BK always puts the best of them together. After the ceremony came convivial pictures at sunset, phenomenal finger food, a divine din din, and then we all danced the night away. When it was time to head back, our busload sang Christmas carols the whole way. A memorable night, to say the least.

This was no ordinary event, think we all felt it, there was a serendipitous quality to the gathering. It was an unexpected gift. Kindness, laughter and love were on the itinerary. Like the magical waters, it was an enchanting journey. Four days together wasn’t enough, none of us wanted to leave. There’s no doubt about it, the wedding party, families and all the guests at this special occasion were in the zone.

The true blue zone; a perfect destination, no matter where you might be.   

 

 

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Nov. 21, 2017

Is it just me or do these things happen to everyone? Strange encounters that poke you in the chest and make you take notice. Maybe it’s the new norm, but if that’s the case, how did we get here?

Now that BK is going to be a bonafide Pennsylvania resident, there are administrative Ts that need crossed. He scored a driver's license but the illusive plates will have to wait for a subsequent visit to the tag & title vendor. What would a PennDOT (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation – even their name takes forever, couldn’t have a nice succinct MVA, DMV?) requirement be without multiple visits to get it accomplished. Took me three times (40 minute drive) to get my license. Don’t ask.

The establishment that set the stage for this particular tale of whoa, a tag and title storefront that does a little bit of everything involving paperwork for the state of PA, has a cartoon poster on the wall of a woman teaching a PennDOT class of counter assistants. She’s yelling, “You don’t have the right paperwork” with the caption instructing them on how to greet their customers. Good ole PA, at least they know how to laugh at themselves. 

Our visit was no different, we didn’t have the right paperwork. Our title still had a bank address on it, even though we paid the car off years ago. After multiple phone calls to secure faxed proof, we were still there an hour later. (It never happened, their fax machine refused to help us.) A lot can happen in an hour. Unlike the bellowing cartoon figure, our clerk couldn’t have been nicer. Young, adorable, and man did she know her job; cared for a cadre of confused customers like a proficient barista at the world’s busiest Starbucks. And she handled it all with a calm that soothed the annoyed, paperwork challenged beasts. 

One woman, the subject of our story, was sent away in need of tax documents. She was a calm and pleasant person too, unlike a few others who popped in and out. While standing at the counter, filling out additional paperwork, she walked up next to me and said she needed to get the documents of ownership on her home changed to her name, her husband had died two weeks earlier. My heart broke for her. We got into a conversation about how endless all the paperwork is with such a loss. At some point in the exchange, told her I was sorry for her loss. What followed was mind-boggling. She said, with utter conviction, “I’m not, he killed himself, I’m mad.” As, no doubt, the need to unload such events is therapy, she proceeded to tell the story. She and her husband got into a fight, he eventually grabbed his gun, pointed it at her and announced he was going to kill her. Conceiving what he figured was a more cruel option, he said, “No, I’m going to kill myself and make you watch.” He then shot himself in the head. What made the story even more poignant was her question when asked for a photo ID, she wanted to know if she could use her permit-to-carry. The photo was so much better than her driver’s license.

As a military brat, I’m not opposed to the 2nd Amendment. My Dad had a full and locked gun case in our basement, most of them were collector pieces, all of them were functional. But they stayed locked in the case, he never felt the need to wield any of them. Realized after he passed, while helping my Mom clean out his stuff, he had a pistol in his nightstand drawer too. We never knew. That gun never made an appearance, it was there for safety only, he understood the fundamental purpose of the 2nd Amendment. Personally, I want nothing to do with them, believe in the adage, live by the gun, die by the gun. Our fresh widow can verify that axiom.

Just wondering how we got here. Not to be puny, but who’s calling the shots? Do our lives dictate politics or does politics dictate our lives. How has gun ownership and the right-to-carry become the battle cry of our country? The statistics of gun homicide rates in the U.S. compared to every other developed country are obscene, more than double the next lowest country. We also hold the distinction of being the world leader in mass shootings, by a long shot. No other country even comes close. We should be ashamed of ourselves. There is no denying it, our political system has been hijacked, and we’ve allowed it to happen. The 2nd Amendment has become a weapon of mass destruction.

Can imagine how the scenario would have changed if our battling widow and her husband didn’t have guns within reach. An argument would have been just that, instead of a funeral and a bitter legacy.

Wonder what our country’s legacy will be, guess it depends on who calls the shots. 

 

 

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Nov. 9, 2017

Been a while. How goes it? From my end, there’s news, but we’ll get to that. Went back through the mound of half-baked columns I’ve started since I last posted and sifted through fillings to see what was ripe enough to serve. Of course, it’s a topic worthy of dessert, (usually eat mine first; hey, life is short,) luscious laughter.        

There are a select few people in my life who can consistently slay me with a well-placed cheeky comment. Words that from anyone else might be questionable but from this comic cohort usually elicit laughter that refuses to be contained, (guilty of a rather gaudy guffaw, try as I may to squelch it, it’s no use.) These jokesters, (BK and AK head the list, there’s an Oxx in there too,) are observers of life who all recognize that God has a sense of humor. They were obviously given marching orders when issued their flesh-suits, make people laugh, it’s good medicine.

So why don’t we do more of it?

Anyone who pays a modicum of attention to the news has little to laugh about, more like do your damnedest to keep from crying. Several columns ago, made the observation that humor had been kidnapped. It’s more than just that, who stole our decency and concern, our understanding?  The inflammatory and divisive rhetoric from the people we depend on to lead our country is in the line-up as one of the culprits. Makes me wonder if they somehow mistakenly believe that peace between the citizens of our nation is a joke. Not funny guys.   

Would like to circulate this in a government memo, a little yeast leavens all the dough, if it’s rotten, you make bad bread. Hoping that biblical bit of culinary wisdom isn’t too hard for them to understand. We all need to write it in our recipe books, remind ourselves to clear out the stuff that spoils everything. It’s not hard to recognize, it doesn’t build, it tears down. It feeds hatred and division. It covers our world with a darkness that leaves us vulnerable to people being gunned down in, of all places, a church.

Speaking of church, went to one recently with BK down in North Carolina that took me by surprise. Well, not the church, the priest. It was a new place for us, we were running short on time and found a spot closer to his apartment than we usually venture. As far as first impressions go, blew that one entirely. Sitting near the alter, waiting to give the homily, was an older priest. Let’s not mince words here, the dude was ancient. Was convinced I saw him drifting off, either that or his pre-speaking contemplation included a deeply drooping head warm-up. My neck hurt looking at him. Figured the next fifteen minutes was going to be a hot mess. Couldn’t have been more wrong. His was the most clear-headed and spot on sermon I've heard in a very long time. And his priceless instruction came packed with, wait for it…drum-roll…a heaping helping of humor.

This patriarchal pastor had us in stitches, in between hitting us over the funny bone with poignant instruction. He was cracking wise about a Sermonetics, (think that’s what he called it,) class he took in seminary. Recounted a criticism session after a particular student's practice sermon. He explained it was basically a class that polished public speakers through the encouragement and criticism of peers; the primary function was to hone mechanics, had nothing to do with content. Until this occasion. The gist of the story was a fundamental difference of opinion about the young seminarian’s substance. The class squared off on sides and a battle of epic proportions ensued. Helpful criticism turned into denigration, defamation, and condemnation. The professor sat quietly taking it all in for a while, then called for an armistice. 

The argument was about who understood the greatest commandment, one side said it was love of God, the other love of neighbor. After forcing the truce, their prudent prof told them they were all clueless, that love had nothing to do with turning on another human being, so viciously, over an opinion. Check me if I’m delusional, but doesn’t that hit close to our unhappy home of the brave? Our country seems hell-bent on bludgeoning each other over our opinions. And, unfortunately, that ignorance isn’t limited to politics, it’s everywhere, our work places, our neighborhoods, even our own families. We’re no less clueless than the young, ill-tempered seminarians.

His profound directive concluded by recounting the famous wedding fave, the Corinthians instruction about Love. He said more than knowing what it is, it was vital to understand what it is not; it isn’t envious or boastful, it doesn’t dishonor others, it’s not easily angered and doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. As old as my new favorite priest is, his teacher must be long dead. Too bad, he has my vote. That’s some fruitful yeast.

Ah, the interlude for news, told you we’d get to it. Our long wait to sell the house and be reunited in our new digs in North Carolina has come to an end. A real end, it isn’t happening. The man who makes me laugh everyday will be back in my life fulltime, in PA. We’re not going anywhere. BK got a job back in PA, being separated was killing us; especially me, I’ve grown accustom to a certain quota of laughter and my rations were dangerously low. Especially considering the current state of our country.

That brings me to my conclusion, you have to admit, laughter is luscious. It makes everything sweet. Who can laugh their ass off with someone and still walk away mad? Not likely. We need to put it back on the menu. A steady diet of sour, bitter and angry words is starving us of light, leaving us vulnerable to a darkness that will overtake us. Our individual actions feed us as a whole, expose us to the same, what we give is what we will ultimately get. Time to put some nourishing food on the table. And maybe a little background dinner music, can I suggest, Elvis Costello’s, What’s So Funny Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?        

 

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