Respect in the Real World – “cutting in line”

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear Dan Rather speak as part of the Auditorium Speaker series at the American Library Association Conference in Anaheim, CA.    I was a little worried that the Dan Rather I had remembered watching on television would not be the Dan Rather I would hear speak.  He did not disappoint. To be honest he was “plugging” his new book, Rather Unspoken, but he told amazing stories and issued a cautionary tale of the future of our news agencies that are presently controlled by large international corporations. Very interesting and thought-provoking.  After his presentations there was a book signing. So myself and  many other people got on the line to get his book.  We assumed we would be purchasing the book but it was actually free. 🙂

It took a few moments to figure out which way the line was going but within minutes we had all fallen into a “que”. There were two young women right in front of me who seemed to know each other.  For the sake of the story we will call them Friend One and Friend Two. Friend One was holding a boxed easel, portfolio and other supplies.  Her arms were full.  It appeared to me she may be giving a presentation at some point.  Behind me were three ladies who also knew each other. There was small talk and this being the year 2012 many people myself included were busily looking at their smart phones.  After a few minutes I realized there was someone new (Friend 3) standing in front of me.  I thought where did you come from, did I miss seeing you standing there.  The lady behind me caught my eye and gave me a knowing look and commented she wasn’t there before.  I thought “oh well that is a little rude but whatever”.  Now there are three young women in front of me who seem to be friends. Are you confused yet?  Friend One with the easel asks if Friend Two to hold her place in line so she can go deliver the easel to its needed location. “Sure, no problem” So off she goes.

The line is moving slowing but people are chatting with each other.  Since the line went one direction and then doubled back the person standing to your left  and sometimes right changed depending how far into the “maze” you were. A woman commented to me about my lymphedema sleeve and we had a brief conversation about being cancer survivors. I notice that a man’s name badge says Qatar and commented that he is far from home.  There are several comments wondering about if there will be enough books.  Then a woman comes by and she is counting the number of people in line.  She stops less than 10 people behind me and says “after this person we can’t promise that you will get a book. You are welcome to stand in line and meet Mr Rather but you probably won’t get a book.”

Friend Two and Friend Three have been talking and seem oblivious to the”count”.  I say “excuse me but the woman just counted all of us and you may want to tell her that your friend isn’t here so she can include her in the count” Friend Two looks concerned, thanks me and gets out of line to go talk to the “chief counter and line organizer”.  She comes back and states that they can’t hold a place for Friend One.  She seems genuinely upset.  In my mind I am thinking Friend Three should get out of line and give the spot to Friend One.  I mean Friend One was there first.  Granted she did leave but her arms were full. I can hear soft whispers from the ladies behind – oh my, how is this going to go down. After awhile Friend One finally returns and Friend Two shares the bad news. Friend One goes to talk to the “chief counter and line organizer” and we can all see much head shaking. Friend One walks back and states that she wasn’t counted and has no book and  then stares at Friend Three. I think she excepted her to give up her spot since Friend Three had elbowed her way in.  But Friend Three doesn’t  say a word and she doesn’t make eye contact. There is a pause and Friend One walks away, Friend Two seems embarrassed and Friend Three is checking her phone.  And what really make this whole situation fascinating was the day before  Dan Ariely , author of  Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions had given a presentation on studies he has done on “cheating”. Wow, I think this book signing line could have been part of his study.

I do now own a signed copy of Rather Unspoken as do Friend Two and “Friend” Three as well as the ladies behind me.

Where I am today

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I am writing this blog while I am sitting in a library.  Which isn’t an unusual thing for me, I love libraries. What is unusual is where the library is. The library I am sitting in is in Holy Cross Monastery.  There are no voices to be heard because it is after 9:00pm – the Great Silence has begun.  Until 8:30 tomorrow morning there will not be idle chatter or cell phone calls or deep conversations. In the morning, there will be bells tolling, monks chanting, and delicious food being served at breakfast. Holy Cross Monastery is a beautiful 110-year-old monastery overlooking the Hudson River.  It is situated right across the river from the Vanderbilt Mansion.  There is a certain feel of the building and the big black doors that remind me of my fifth grade field trip to the cloisters in NYC.  The chanting of the monks also reminds me of visiting the market and the cathedral in Chester.  Chester is a walled city in the north of England.  My mother’s hometown is Chester, England. The summer between my fifth and sixth grade year I would spend 6 weeks in England  visiting my grandfather, great-grandmother and my “cool” uncle.  My “cool” uncle was only 10 years older than me. He was into popular music and “cool” stuff.  Once when he visited my hometown of Waldwick, NJ he was mistaken for one of the Beatles. He was the right age, had the hair cut and the accent but he wasn’t John, Paul, George or Ringo.  He was actually chased down our street by a group of young teens.  My cool rating went up.

My dad would join us in England for 2 of the 6 weeks.  My dad loves history so while he was in England we would visit “every castle in the whole country” or so it seemed to a 12-year-old girl.  My dad would read all those little signs on items in museums and cathedrals and castles.  It would make me crazy but now I get it.  As my dad always said,”travel is wasted on the young”. I am grateful for those experiences but I didn’t appreciate the significance of them at the time.

I was also reminded today of another experience that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time.  While sitting on the porch today sipping coffee with a fellow workshop attendee, I realized her coffee cup said “Desmond Tutu”.  Years ago, a friend and I preformed a liturgical dance at a service in the Newark Cathedral.  Reverend Desmond Tutu was the keynote speaker.  It amazes me that I had that opportunity. Just wish I had appreciated it at the time.

In case you are wondering why I am at a monastery.  I am attending a writers workshop.  Actually I am hanging out with some terrific people who someday I will be able to say “oh I knew __________ before they were the best-selling author.  We were at a workshop together”

Respect in the Real World – Flag Day

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Today is Flag Day. It is also my mother’s 80th birthday. My “book club” friend’s birthday. Fifty plus years ago on this day I was a flower girl in my aunt’s and uncle’s wedding. A few years ago my nephew was wed to his true love on this day and they are expecting their first baby. And last but not least thirty-two years ago today, Bruce and I got married in a little white church in New Milford, NJ. Bruce’s mom had also said she would put the flag out the day he got married. Thus we picked Flag Day as our wedding day. That reason and  it was a week after the recital – can’t get married before a recital – too busy. In the days after September 11, 2001, there were flags flying everywhere. I remember commenting that Bruce would have loved seeing that.  I am grateful for the 21 years we shared and look forward to seeing him again when eternity comes.

I have been pondering the flag the last few days. Thinking about why I am so moved when I see the flag, thinking about what it stands for. I think for me it is a symbol of who we are 50 states made up of millions of people trying to live and thrive together. And we had a small beginning of only 13 colonies and people were willing to give their all so we could be the United States of America and some still give their lives for our freedoms. I am proud to be an American. I love my country. I am saddened that so many of my fellow citizens and non citizens are out of work and out of hope.

When you look at the rest of the world, we are a young nation. I remember being in England with my girls and there was a poster “rulers of Great Britain” going back thousands of years. I pointed to the last couple of inches on the bottom of the poster and commented “this is how long the USA has been around.” I think of the USA as a teenager. And teenagers think they know it all. Teenagers sometimes make impulsive choices and throw out traditions that they will miss as they get older. Teenagers don’t listen well to older and wiser counsel.  The teenage years don’t last for long and then the real world knocks at the door and you have to take care of yourself. The web site About.com Homeschooling states: “Called the “Stars and Stripes,” or “Old Glory,” the flag is one of the most complicated in the world. No other flag needs 64 pieces of fabric to make. The current flag has 13 red and white alternating stripes (representing the original 13 states) and 50 stars (each star represents one of the states of the Union) on a blue background.The American flag has also changed designs more than any other flag in the world.”  Sounds like us – complicated and changing. Happy Flag Day.

somewhere between Mary Poppins and Mrs Doubtfire

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I spend quite a bit of time with children.  Of course when I was teaching dance I spent more time than now. Even now between children’s ministries in my local church or district events or at the Tribute Center, I have at least a “weekly dose” of children. But that is different that spending 24/7.This past week I have been helping to care for my 3 grand-nieces and 1 grand-nephew all under the age of 6.  And I have been reminded of things I forgotten about life with little kids. I had forgotten how long bath time, bedtime and getting in the car can take.

I had forgotten that little kids have no sense of personal space. Years ago I went to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. They had this very interesting display of footprints showing how in different cultures people stand different distances apart. The display explained where it is culturally correct to stand. I was reminded of that display this week as I was saying “could you move back a little”, “please don’t stand on my feet”, “you are too close to me”.  Of course the plus side to that is a 3-year-old crawling into your lap and giving you a hug. Or a 2-year-old saying they want to sit next to you at the dinner table.

I had forgotten that little kids wear more clothes in one day than grown ups wear in a week.  Not because they have gotten dirty but because they change their clothes constantly.  This may be just a girl thing.  I remember my girls doing this especially if they were playing dress up. This week we had daily “fashion shows”  complete with music and many wardrobe changes. Also sizing of children’s clothing is weird.  How can one child wear – 24 months, 2T and 3T.  It makes sorting laundry tricky for visiting aunts.

I had forgotten that little kids “lie”. Bill Cosby has a great bit about this. You can probably find it on YouTube. Anyway I love how they look you in the face and say what they want to hear. Then when you call them on it, they play the “my mom or my dad said” card.  Which is just their way of trying to pull rank on you. I usually counter with “okay, I will just go ask them”. Wow, I am no fun.

On Sunday, I joined my niece and her 4 kids at a Bar be que for her MOPS (mother of preschoolers) group.  I was the oldest person there by at least 20 years. Anyway this 4-year-old boy is climbing on the backyard fort/jungle gym and is starting to climb on the top (where kids aren’t suppose to go). I comment to him that maybe that isn’t a good idea and he looks me straight in the face and says “my dad says I can”. So I respond “really maybe you should go confirm that with him.” – he didn’t appreciate that comment.

At this same party, there was supposed to be a kiddie pool. Since we weren’t sure how the pool thing was going to work, I brought my swimsuit since my niece just had a baby and can’t go in a pool.  My thought was I can put my suit on with my coverup, sit on the side and watch my 3 grand-nieces. Surprise, it is a 4 foot deep above ground pool. There are kids everywhere but no parents in the pool. There is no way the grand-nieces can swim unless Aunt Ann goes in. So I put on my suit and went in. Of course an above ground pool means going up the little ladder, turning around at the top and getting in. Thankfully the water was warm and only 2 out of 3 grand nieces wanted to go in. I was the oldest adult there and the only one in a swimsuit and in the pool.  I felt like I was perceived as somewhere between Mary Poppins and Mrs Doubtfire. I will admit that a couple of the moms asked if I wanted to come and watch their kids for a few days. I can’t believe the situations I get myself into.

This past week has been terrific. I have snuggled with a newborn, sat next to a 2-year-old at every meal, been delighted to hear a 3-year-old sing VBS songs and taught an almost 6-year-old to play War. I have chuckled under my breath, exchanged “knowing” looks with my niece and felt totally blessed to spend time in Minnesota with family. I have also been reminded of an essay that was poplar in the early 90’s.  I have included it for you. Enjoy!!

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

by Robert Fulghum – an excerpt from the book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had a basic policy to always put thing back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

© Robert Fulghum, 1990. Found in Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, Villard Books: New York, 1990, page 6-7.

all in the family

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I am spending a few days with my nephew and his family. Well, he isn’t really my nephew because he isn’t the child of one of my siblings.  He is my husband’s nephew but to be honest I don’t distinguish that way. In the family tree he is a nephew and he and his amazing wife just had their fourth child. They had a son to add to their beautiful family of three daughters. My nephew is in the National Guard and his two weeks of active duty is falling right after they have added this fourth bundle of joy to their family.  They had asked if I would be willing to spend a few days helping out with the kids while he is away.  I said yes and actually came a couple of days early so I could see him.

Even though I didn’t have the luxury of spending hours and hours with him and his siblings as they grew up, I am receiving the priceless gift of a “grown up” relationship. My sister-in-law and her family have always lived half way across the country. They were in Kansas and we were in New York.  We made a two “treks” to Kansas and they would travel to NJ to visit my husband’s parents.  There were always Christmas  and birthday cards and gifts exchanged and telephone calls every now and then.  Unfortunately distance and the expense of travel, raising children and working doesn’t make frequent visits some thing that happens as often as you would.

When we got married, Bruce and I decided that Thanksgiving would be spent with “his side” one year and “my side” the next year. I have continued to alternate that way ever since we started that tradition.  The great thing about that is I have never cooked a turkey.  Even when my mom stopped hosting, my sister started hosting and her husband started cooking the turkey.  Four years ago I did host Thanksgiving at my home but my brother-in-law cooked the turkey. Two years ago I hosted at the Barn but my brother-in-law cooked the turkey again.

This past Thanksgiving was a Van Hine year.  As I started thinking on that I realized I couldn’t expect by 93-year-old mother-in-law to cook and I probably couldn’t get her to come to my house.  As I pondered the situation, I had a little thought that would become an amazing blessing.  I asked my mother-in-law if she would like to travel with me to Kansas to have Thanksgiving in her daughter’s home. First I mentioned this idea to my sister-in-law and she stated “mom will never travel to Kansas”.  I just had a thought that she would.  Last September my sister-in-law was in NJ and we went out to lunch with my mother-in-law.  And I asked my mother-in-law “Do you want to go to Kansas with me for Thanksgiving?” And without hesitation she said “Yes”. Wow – okay, road trip with mom. So I made our travel plans. Keep it simple was my goal. Non-stop, don’t fly too early, easy parking, request a wheelchair. After the plans were set, I explained to mom that I would drive to her home in South Jersey, spend the night and then we would drive to the Philadelphia Airport.  We would use a parking service that I had used before so it was simple.  Go to parking place, they drive you to the airport in your car so you don’t have to get out or move your luggage. And it worked.  But it more that worked because my sister-in-law and her hubby arranged with their kids and their families to all show up in Kansas over Thanksgiving weekend.

The day after Thanksgiving my mother-in-law got to see her 3 grandchildren, 2 of their spouses, 5 great granddaughters and 2 great grandsons.  It was busy and loud and wonderful.  And I got to reconnect  and spend time with my nieces and nephews and thus the trip to Minnesota this week. So today I taught little girls ballet, played with playdoh, washed dishes, folded clothes, encouraged a tired mom and held a 2 week ago baby – it doesn’t get better than that.

One of the things on my bucket list is to take a train across country and visit family, friends and acquaintances along the way.  But I think I might just have to get on a plane in the next year to visit a niece and her family in Chicago, a nephew and his family in Fort Collins, and another new baby – my brother’s grandson due in a few weeks in South Carolina.  The great thing about family is those bonds that bind you together can always be strengthened by spending more time to together.  Airline ticket – $$$, first piece of luggage -$$, food on the plane – $, spending time with family – worth every penny.

my little brother

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Today would have been my brother’s birthday. He died suddenly in December of 2008. He was my younger brother by 2 years. And I loved introducing him as “my little brother”. You see what made that such a funny way to introduce him was the fact that he was 6 feet 4 inches tall. He wasn’t little. In High School his nickname was “rhino” – he was big. But I remember him more as Jimbo, my little brother.  He had a great sense of humor which wasn’t always appreciated by my mom. When my mom would be disciplining him, many times he would answer in some strange accent.  Pretending he was German ala Colonel Kling of Hogan’s Heros or Pakistani. He loved to tease my mom about being an alien because she had a green card. He would actually call her “mum” and speak of the “mother country”.

My brother and I were very different. During our teen years,  I thought he was weird. I was really into ballet so to me “to live was to dance, to dance was to live”.  He enjoyed watching Star Trek with my dad. He read Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.  He would see films and talk about the symbolism. He wore earth shoes, a chaftan and had long hair for a few years. He loved Monty Python and George Carlin. He would talk about politics and government. He didn’t really like school. One year, he had the same teacher for science that I had for chemistry and my parents didn’t really believe him that the teacher was bad until I started to complain about the same teacher. Guess that proves, the old adage about crying wolf or it shows I was “goody two shoes”. When my brother turned 18, he walked into the guidance office and asked to see his “file.”  He said he was now considered an adult and should know what was written in it. They weren’t amused.

My brother would go to college, fall in love, get married, start his career and have a child before I even left home. In my eyes, he was the adventurer. In August of 2001, he and his wife would move back to the East Coast.  And that would prove to be such a blessing to me. In the days, weeks and months following September 11, he was there for me, my girls and my parents. In October of 2001, we were invited to the Concert for New York.  My daughters wanted to go so I invited my brother and sister-in-law to join us.  Actually, I figured my brother would be “good protection” if something went wrong.  I remember my sister-in-law brought us all ear plugs – great idea.There were bands and celebrities that I recognized and some my daughters knew and I didn’t. At one point in the concert, my older daughter turned to me and said “who is that?”, I said “The Who”, she said “who??”. Still makes me chuckle.

On December 9, 2008, I was driving home from the studio and I drove through Boston Market to pick up some dinner.  My cell phone rang and it was my sister.  She said “Are you driving?”, I responded “yes”. She said “I will talk to you later”. I said “hold on” and pulled to the side of the road.  And then she said something that was so unbelievable that it didn’t even make the list of bad things you think could happen. She said “James is dead”  Who, What, How???  This may sound silly but I have never gone back to that Boston Market. I remember the date so easily because my sister’s birthday is December 10. Scripture says “sorrow lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning”.  That verse had been important to me after Sept 11 but after my brother’s death it holds even more meaning.

You know what I remember most about my little brother.  I remember the big hug he gave me the last time I saw him which was on Thanksgiving.  He gave great hugs.  I remember him walking down the street to the Tribute Center to visit me one day when he was also in Manhattan. Because he was so tall you could see him coming from the top of the block. I also remember a note from him and his wife in April of 1984, that said “we know you have just bought a house, and we know that unforseen expenses can come up and we want you to know that we would gladly help if you need it.” I cried when I read that 28 years ago and that offer of help still makes me cry today.

I miss you Jimbo, my little brother.