a good old flowing stream of female consciousness

schlitz-1952-dont-worry-darling-you-didnt-burn-the-beer-660x330There is this page on Facebook I follow called Her Voice Echoes.  In their own words:

Her Voice Echoes presents letters, editorials, articles and other documents written by and, sometimes, about women. A few voices will infuriate you. You may even find them abhorrent. Others will uplift and enlighten. Some will make you laugh, others cry. Hopefully, we’ll learn from all of them what it means to be human and the struggles that we share across centuries, social class, ethnicities and nationalities.

They post some great stuff and sometime things I roll my eyes at ever so slightly. Today, or last night probably, they posted something from Oprah.Com called The New Midlife Crisis. It’s about women, for women and Hallelujah we’re finally allowed by society to have a midlife crisis? Is that what it is?

I do have a problem with the article in the context that it seems directed at Gen X women.  So yo do only Gen X women feel these things? I am 54 and I can tell you this article resonates with me.  And not because my life is so terrible, it resonates because of what a decade ago almost my life could have been.

As the author of the piece Ada Calhoun starts to dig into her article she indroduces us to who the article is aimed at:

As I cooked dinner the other night, I thought about the women I had been talking to. They’re just entering, slogging through or just leaving their 40s. They belong to Generation X, born roughly during the baby bust, from 1965 to 1984, the Title IX babies who were the first women in their families to go to college. Or go away to college. Or to live on their own, launch a career, marry in their late 20s (or never) or choose to stay home with their children. They’re a Latina executive in California, a white stay-at-home mom in Virginia who grows her own organic vegetables, an African-American writer in Texas, an Indian-American corporate vice president who grew up in the suburbs of New York, and dozens more. They’re smart. They’re grateful for what they have. They’re also exhausted. Some of them are terrified. A few of them are wondering what the point is.

Read more: http://oprah.com/new-midlife-crisis.html#ixzz5fLptxLg0

Oh Ms. Calhoun? Umm Gen X women are not the only ones experiencing this.

Someone I know turned to me recently and said she felt like she had no purpose.  This almost broke my heart because this is a person whom I find to always have purpose, someone who has very quietly done some very amazing things.

I said to her that I think purpose as in our life’s purpose can shift and change and is always multi-faceted.  I also said I think purpose can change as we change and age and life situations change.  What might have been our intended purpose in our 20s isn’t the same as when  we hit our 30s. Our 40s. Our 50s. (and so on)

I also think if we stop to breathe, and open our minds and hearts, purpose can indeed find us.

The author of the Oprah.com piece Ada Calhoun continues:

The complaints of well-educated, middle- and upper-middle class women are easy to dismiss as temporary, or not really a crisis, or #FirstWorldProblems. America, in the grand scheme of things, is still a rich, relatively safe country. (Syrian refugees do not have the luxury of waking up in the middle of the night worried about credit card bills.) Although many women are trying to make it on minimum-wage, split-shift jobs (and arguably don’t have so much a midlife crisis as an ongoing crisis), women overall are closing the wage gap. Men do more at home. We deal with less sexism than our mothers and grandmothers, and have far more opportunities. Insert your Reason Why We Don’t Deserve to Feel Lousy here.

Fine. Let’s agree that this particular slice of Generation X women shouldn’t feel bad. And yet, many do: Nearly 60 percent of Gen Xers describe themselves as stressed out. A 2009 analysis of General Social Survey data showed that women’s happiness “declined both absolutely and relative to men” from the early ’70s to the mid-2000s. More than one in five women are on antidepressants. An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed. What we don’t talk about enough is how the deck is stacked against them feeling any other way…..Part of the reason we don’t know much about women’s midlife experience is that the focus has often been on men. For them, the “midlife crisis” (a term coined by psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in a 1965 journal article) usually involves busting stuff up—marriages, mostly—but also careers, norms, reputations….Other research suggests that women’s happiness bottoms out around 40; men’s, around 50. (Maybe that’s another reason the female experience isn’t much discussed: By the time men start thinking about these issues, women seem unaffected, but only because they’ve already been through it.)

Read more: http://oprah.com/new-midlife-crisis.html

More than one in five women in the US are on anti-depressants I personally think  in part is because doctors don’t want to doctor, it’s easier to satisfy big pharma and prescribe a pill.

Goddamnitall women don’t just want to be given a pill, sometimes they just want someone to talk to and to listen to them because trust me they do not always get it at home.  For the first part of my 40s I often felt a panic because at that time I was in a relationship with someone who preferred the sound of his own voice to anyone else’s. Fortunately for me, that is not what my life held for me and that person exited my life…in a blizzard (I loved snow that year.)

-1950s-usa-kissing-sexism-the-advertising-archivesBut if I think back on it and that relationship in particular, taking into consideration this Oprah.com article did I subconsciously stay in that relationship far longer than I should have because of some unexpressed and somewhat unknown fear at the time of being alone or not doing what was sort of expected of me? I am thinking that is true because it wasn’t until that relationship was over did I realize again that I did NOT have to panic, I could survive on my own, and I had value as a human being.  And at that point, I began to breathe again and rediscover who I was.

I am not a Gen Xer as I was born the year before they designate the appropriate time frame (1965 to 1984). I will tell you that my friends and I feel like we were of the last generations of women groomed to be more highly decorative than highly functional.  If we were highly functional it was either a happy accident or an act of rebellion.

85d6c911dea88d1fab9d4bea935b0f23--vintage-food-vintage-adsNice Main Line girls were groomed at home, at school, at dancing class.  When I was at Shipley there was still afternoon tea. It was served in part by alumnae.  My late mother-in-law would even put in an appearance. Only she is someone who had I been given the opportunity I would have paid more attention to because she was independent and a maverick of sorts. I can still tell you what it was like when I watched her come into Shipley for trustee meetings, but I never actually met her then or had a conversation with her.  She carried herself like a cross between a dancer and a queen.

After Shipley, we girls were invited (or not invited but in those days people could not just dictate and shove their way in) to dance in the Cotillion of the Charity Ball.  Or if your parents had the money and the pedigree you could be a full-fledged debutante. If you had a proper Mayflower or Early American pedigree you also/or did The Assemblies.  As I had neither in my family tree, I was never sure which it was, only that until recently if you weren’t part of a select family you couldn’t attend even as a guest.

My two standout memories from the 1981 Charity Ball? My enforced blind date my mother chose photographed on a bench in the Bellevue reading the program book appearing in the 1982 Charity Ball Program with some sarcastic comment underneath it….and boy was my mother furious. The second memory is being ready to go out with my cotillion partner and praying Bobby Scott wouldn’t murder my last name. Seriously.

So we as girls/young women went to college, some on to graduate school, medical school and so on and so forth.  But the message was always confusing: were we supposed to be independent and strong women or bits of fluff that looked good at dinner parties? Or both?

Ada Calhoun further noted in her Oprah.com article the following:

Women our age sometimes romanticize the freedom we used to have as kids in the ’70s or ’80s, but sociologist Linda Waite, PhD, director of NORC at the University of Chicago’s Center on Demography and Economics of Aging, has done extensive national surveys of middle-aged people, and she says Gen X was at a disadvantage from the start. Our parents’ choices often led to instability at home. Four in 10 Gen X children were likely to have divorced parents (the divorce rate, which peaked in 1980, recently hit a 36-year low). The effect was both financial (when your father leaves, it’s much less likely he’ll pay for college) and psychological.

“If your parents are divorced,” Waite says, “you see the world in a fundamentally different way. You see the world as unstable. That left people cautious.”

If our childhood in the late ’70s and early ’80s was a time of massive changes—the first generation of latchkey kids, high crime rates in the headlines, missing children’s pictures on milk cartons, the AIDS epidemic beginning—our transition to adulthood was equally rocky. Many of us started our job hunts in the early ’90s recession, which was followed by a “jobless recovery.” If you were born later into Generation X, you might have entered the workforce around the 1999-ish stock market peak, but the tech bubble started to burst, landing us in the 2001 recession.

I did not have divorced parents, but sometimes I question where emphasis was placed.  I often felt out-of-place and unheard.  I was supposed to do what I was told. Period.  I will note that this is something my husband has felt on occasion marred my abilities as a step-parent because of what I learned by living through.

offending_deodorant2-e13893829729241In my house growing up there was very heavy emphasis on how you looked and how you behaved.  Ok fine, no one wants to be godless and immoral but what does this do to self-body image and self-worth? In the junior high school and high school years I could prance with the best of them, but it was often just a survival charade so weakness wasn’t smelled in the air by the mean girls.  To be honest self-worth was an epiphany when I was going to turn 50 and self-body image? I still struggle with it thanks to breast cancer.

Ada Calhoun talks about women our age  (ok I will just say “our” since I was only born a year before her age range) possessing a bone-deep, almost hallucinatory panic about money (almost a direct quote from the article) and I can’t disagree. And she points out that experts say social security may or will run out in 2040. Or when I am into my 70s. Lovely.  I pay my taxes, have paid into social security for years and in the end will the U.S. government just rip millions of us off? I do not think I will ever relax about money.  It’s a love hate relationship.  If you have ever worried about falling down a financial rabbit hole, you understand the fear rational or irrational.

When my parents were in their 30s and 40s they had a nice house and so on.  When I was in my 30s and 40s I was still struggling on occasion and shock and horrors, I was single.  I swear that is what was hardest on my mother, that I was not married.  I remember when my sister and brother-in-law threw my parents a fancy 40th anniversary party. I was told by my mother I could not attend without a DATE. Yes seriously. In the end I did indeed attend without a date and much to mommy’s chagrin I did not in fact turn into a pillar of salt or something.

But that whole single thing was stressful and depressing at times.  Not because I was upset particularly but because everyone else was.  Because I was single so long it was always funny to see things I was left out of. It’s like I was viewed as a freak or unnatural. Sometimes married couples viewed me as suspect. One time someone told me once they couldn’t include me at a dinner party because she didn’t want an odd number and she was sure I would understand.  No not really, that was kind of rude.

The article goes on to say that a lot of us feel stress and depression because we feel stalled in our careers.   I don’t quite see that for myself personally because when I survived breast cancer my doctors literally sat me down and told me I had to change my life, job, and reduce stress. That was when I left my former industry. Truthfully, it was one of the best things I ever did for myself.  It was scary because the unknown was/is  scary but it was incredibly freeing.

You could say I joined the gig economy after a fashion. A gig economy is defined as a free market system in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.  Otherwise known as freelance.  Sometimes it is frustrating, but it’s not so scary and it is doable. Sometimes you just have to hustle.

What was also freeing? Finding the relationship I had always wanted slightly later in life.  Knowing more of who I was and who my partner was made all of the difference.  We came together because we wanted to be together, not because it was expected to be so. My husband is an amazing man, and yes I feel blessed every day that he loves me and I love him.

That love and understanding for me has been all the difference.  I won’t say I still don’t have my occasional midlife panic moments but I am more grounded now I think and actually supported. When you feel supported as a human being, the panic of crisis points will subside.  You are not walking a tightrope without a net when you have someone you love and trust implicitly.

Slowly I am learning you are only as stuck as you allow yourself to be. I never truly knew that before.  When you run around in your head from thought to thought you do get stuck sometimes.

And from In Her Words a New York Times Column I subscribe to, I learned about this old column from 1931:

petty

Dean Douglass was certainly ahead of her time.  I also saw something else I took note of fly by on Facebook today also on Her Voice Echoes:

saw this

Also today and again from the New York Times In Her Own Words column? A snippet on early feminists from a larger article.

They refer to a letter written by one of my colonial favorites, Abigail Adams, to her husband John in March, 1776:

…I feel very differently at the approach of spring to what I did a month ago. We knew not then whether we could plant or sow with safety, whether when we had toild we could reap the fruits of our own industery, whether we could rest in our own Cottages, or whether we should not be driven from the sea coasts to seek shelter in the wilderness, but now we feel as if we might sit under our own vine and eat the good of the land.

I feel a gaieti de Coar to which before I was a stranger. I think the Sun looks brighter, the Birds sing more melodiously, and Nature puts on a more chearfull countanance. We feel a temporary peace, and the poor fugitives are returning to their deserted habitations.

Tho we felicitate ourselves, we sympathize with those who are trembling least the Lot of Boston should be theirs. But they cannot be in similar circumstances unless pusilanimity and cowardise should take possession of them. They have time and warning given them to see the Evil and shun it. — I long to hear that you have declared an independency — and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.  Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend….

Doesn’t.That.Just. Blow. You. Away???

Where am I going with this post? Not sure at this point. It started as one thing, has segued to other things like a good old flowing stream of female consciousness. Sorry, not sorry I have a busy brain.  Sometimes it takes a while to turn it off.

The article on Oprah.com is huge and I think really interesting.  I will finish with one last quote from the article:

And I think of what my friend who grew up in Mexico once told me: “The 30s are the adolescence of your adulthood,” she said, “and when you reach 50, it’s a restart—empieza de nuevo—a second chance.”

Well dayummm. Like Miss Jean Brodie I am in my prime now I guess?

Thanks for rambling. Stay dry and warm this evening and Happy Valentine’s Day a couple of days early.

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are women really liberated?

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I took this photo of the Woman’s Lib Barn in Malvern about five years ago (I think – it could be longer) from across the road. The colors have been played with courtesy of filters, so pardon the artistic license.

So. Are women really liberated?

Yes, I am serious. I was thinking about it last night and this morning.  And no, I am not and never have been a text-book definition of a “women’s libber”. Unless speaking my mind and being somewhat independent minded make me one?

As history likes to tell it, The Women’s Liberation Movement was a political alignment of women and feminist intellectualism that emerged in the late 1960s. This movement was heavy into consciousness awakening and if you follow the historical timeline, grew out of civil rights.  The predecessor movement was the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century which enabled women by their hard work to obtain the right to vote. All of this had roots in a theory that social freedom was necessary for women to no longer be second class citizens.

And we were. But I have to ask if we are to an extent today or is it just a weird feeling because so much seems to be regressing right now?

Yesterday I wrote a post about politics and the mid-term elections which occur next week. The post centered around one writer’s article and another’s editorial. Interestingly enough, a lot of the greatest umbrage taken by my thoughts added to what others had written were from other women.

One woman said I was endorsing specific political platforms and vis-a-vis candidates because I suggested people read these pieces because I found them interesting. She went onto basically describe me as reprehensible for doing so.  I wasn’t telling anyone how to vote, I said it was an interesting read and what I was thinking about. They said specifically ““Well worth taking the time to read” is a political endorsement. Your message is not sharing information but suggesting endorsement of a political view that many in Chester County find reprehensible.”

The second woman came in via a rather strange comment and said : “You most likely have lost me as a follower. You sucked me in with Chester County Ramblings. I have enjoyed your writings over the past few years, until today. I want to hear about the history and happenings in the county that I adore. One thing I sure do not want to read are your political ramblings, pro, con, undecided or what you color you are wearing today. If this is route you plan to continue in your Chester County Ramblings, count me out. Ruined a good thing.” (I am guessing she missed the part where I write for myself and what interests me? Or that no one is compelled to read every little thing they stumble across?)

This is the stuff that blows my mind. The pretzel logic here is women are supposed to be free and liberated now for decades and allowed to express their opinions as long as their thoughts are sanitized with bubble water so everyone can float along on fluffy blue clouds?

So are women really free if other women feel the need to tear us down because we express our opinions and/or have an opinion they don’t care for?

This is some of what I was thinking about when I was in my garden working on my flower beds this morning.  It amazes me how quick women are to tear other women down.  That has always amazed me.  It’s so…well…high school.  If you do not conform to someone else’s comfortable notions you are bad.

Take an article which appeared in The Daily Local this summer about The Women’s Lib Barn:

….The Keegans plan on staying in the home they’ve loved for the past 50 years and have no plans on removing the unique message. They’ve had people ask about the barn, including a woman who recently asked for permission to make a painting of it, though they found it annoying when some bloggers posted stories on the barn without having all the facts.

“People today don’t understand it, they think all of a sudden it appeared. They don’t know it’s from the ‘70s,” Ronnie said.

“It isn’t women, it’s woman,” she stressed. “It’s my statement.”

I am guessing the lady is referring to this blog? What I have posted is what I have found elsewhere about their barn, including old articles but it got all lumped together seemingly at me? That baffles me.  Her barn is literally one of my favorites if not my favorite because it is quirky with its painted statement .

This barn was even part of my photography show at Christopher’s in Malvern a few years back in 2015. She sent me a note because one of my photos hung was of her barn. And to kind of criticize me for changing the meaning (in her mind) by cutting off the question mark at the end of her statement. (Well truthfully it wasn’t cut off, I did canvas prints and it was wrapped around the side.)

She invited me to come sit on her porch and she would tell me the story.  I emailed her back promptly to say I would love to hear about how the barn came to be the woman’s lib barn and that I would also love to give her the photo…and I never heard another thing.   I followed up again, and then just sort of thought “oh well” and went about my life. And then the reference to me (I presume) in the 2018 article someone I know wrote for the Daily Local. And then I again wondered if women were really liberated or just liberated enough to criticize other women?

Now when I ponder things like this, I do not extricate myself from the woman equation.  I can be as guilty as the next woman in the criticism of other women category.  But it does make me think again and again what are we liberated from exactly?

As time goes by and the seasons fold into one and other, I grow more at home here in Chester County and love the feeling of belonging.  I kind of love that I have shed my Main Line skin and enjoy the simplicity and beauty I have found.  I love my garden, my little house, my family.  The thing about Chester County which I have never felt anyplace else in my life is I can just be. Maybe it’s an age thing where I now realize I do not have to live up to everyone’s expectations, nor do I want to.

Yet occasionally I pause and ponder and marvel at the boxes women are still expected to be put into…even by other women. Like is the case with this blog and some of what I write.   If it’s my blog and I am the writer, aren’t I supposed to write about what I think about or enjoy or dislike? I am not a compensated blog, so I am not paid for my writing in this format of this blog.

I also wonder if my younger self was more of less free and liberated? Does this all vary with age and responsibility?

I accept that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s impossible to be that person because we are all different and it should be o.k. to be yourself not a mirror image of every other person around you.

Like many other women I find it irritating when people contact you just so you can tell your husband something for them.  Every time it happens I imagine myself as a 1950s housewife complete with apron and starched hair.

Or then there are the occasions when you are having work done inside our outside of your home. I have had those who preferred to speak only to my husband. Not because I couldn’t grasp the tasks at hand but because they wanted to deal with a man.

This summer I wrote a post “life in the land of women” – it seems this post has been a continuation of that so I will close with what I said then:

We can’t teach tolerance if we can’t be tolerant at least some of the time ourselves.

We can’t teach the value of individuality and independance if we constantly go after those the least bit different from us.

Are we really free if we are confined by the perceptions of others?

 

life in the land of women

People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I believe that.

I have been really blessed in my lifetime friends. Some of them go as far back as grade school. (Including teachers!)

I have people who have come into my life for various reasons, and over the last 20 or so years a lot of it has to do with community things I am involved in or have been involved in. Or other commonalities. Or even through mutual friends.

And then there are the people who come into your life for a season. Those of the ones that can be the tough and bitter pill to swallow.

I don’t pretend to be perfect but I am a decent person and a loyal friend. Until you hurt someone I care about whether it’s friends or family…. or even me. I have let people into my life who have talked a good game and then used me. I have had people in my life who were just in the end disappointing.

It has been incredibly hard to learn to just walk away from these types of people. But as I get older, I’m getting better at it. Slowly, I am learning it’s life, stuff happens. You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue to put one foot in front of the other.

Sadly, I have experienced some unexpected negativity that I am choosing to work through by writing it out.

I have written over the past few years since my move to Chester County that although living here in this amazing and beautiful county, it has not been without challenges. Moving to a completely new area after living in one area for literally decades is an adjustment. It has had parts that have been hard.

As an individual when you have lived in one area forever, it’s sort of like Cheers. People recognize you on the street and in the grocery store. You’ve known all of your neighbors for years. When you go somewhere completely new, while a whole new adventure, it’s also when you realize things you may have taken for granted. Like the pleasant simplicity of seeing people you know in the grocery store.

When I first moved here I experienced old friend/neighbor drop off. It was like I had moved to Iowa, not Chester County. Some of them just stopped talking to me. Not because of an argument or disagreement, but merely for the fact that I was no longer geographically convenient.

One of the people who did this used to live around the corner from me and I was in her wedding party. That was very hurtful losss and took a couple of years to process because I was literally grieving a loss.

Other people made it easier. We invited them to get togethers in our home, and they just blew them off. No RSVP, just radio silence. Flat out rudeness. They made it easy to walk away.

But slowly I started to meet new people here in Chester County. That has not been without missteps as well, sadly. I kind of took it for granted that it would be easy. I didn’t honestly expect that it wouldn’t be as easy at this stage in my life as it was when I was say, in my 20s.

Over the past few years I have made the acquaintance and friendship of some truly amazing people. I have also met a few that have ended up not so amazing.

I have made the acquaintance of people running for public office that were all smiles towards me and friendly until they got elected. After they got elected, it is often a differentr story. One in particular told me that she couldn’t possibly be real friends with me because I was…. a blogger. I write, therefore I am walking poison ivy was the take away here.

Then there were the people I was warned about by other Chester County friends that there were these types who collected new people in order to use them, basically. I only really fell into this trap once and it was a lesson learned. Because sometimes with people like this when you don’t give them what they want, they can be quite unpleasant. But again their whole attitude, and treatment of fellow human beings makes it easy to walk away. However, it’s still disappointing.

Sprinkled in between were a few people I knew from before, but came to know again out here. Sadly, they weren’t keepers. Sometimes people whom you knew at a different stage in your life who were a lot of fun “back in the day”, but at this stage in my life were not completely palatable. So I chose to let them go. Not easy, yet not hard, and the right decision.

Recently I had another experience I shall not soon forget. Someone I met, thought was so fabulous and bright. I even had them as a guest in my home. Sadly, twists and turns in this person’s life have also resulted in my perceiving this person quite differently. Surprisingly they have ended up in the sad category of an adult petty mean girl. This one shocked me, truthfully.

It is a real grown-up lesson when you realize that although you know realistically that people come in your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime that sometimes you end up quite surprised as to which people end up in which category.

Also recently I have experienced some rather odd types taking me to task over my blogging. Again, women.

One woman declared she was no longer following my blog because of my purported agenda of “liberal propaganda.” I am not sure she actually knows what that phrase means and it’s ludicrous. Those who know me well, know I am not necessarily liberal. My politics have actually evolved from being a life long Republican to becoming an Independent. I am beholden to no political parties. I blog about what interests me, and it doesn’t make me necessarily an internet vacation.

Am I supposed to be an internet vacation?

Another woman declared me a bad person because (if I have it right) I have a nerve to post news items, local issues and so forth while including my opinion. Ok do they know what a blog is? Or what blogging is?

A blog is defined as a website containing a writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites. So yes a blog is something that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer/blogger.

That makes this first and foremost, my space. My blog has a Facebook page. That has similar rules.

Other things I think about?

I am not some bra burning feminist by any stretch of the imagination. What I find astounding at this stage of my life is how awful a lot of women are to one and other. On a regular basis.

Where is the sisterhood? Where is the mutual support? Where is the basic human decency and tolerance of the difference of others?

Ladies we don’t want to be Stepford Wives….or do we?

But I choose to remain open. I appreciate all of you who accept me for who I am.

And for those for whom it is a virtual experience, I appreciate that you are supportive of how I write and what I chose to explore.

As for those who don’t or can’t ? Or those who are either super judegemental or think it is your job to “school” me? Well the practical reality is I can only control me and my behavior. I can’t control you and I am not responsible for your personal happiness, am I?

It’s one of those sorry not sorry moments.

But ladies, really. We can’t teach our children and grandchildren to be kind and to not bully or be mean if we can’t do it ourselves.

We can’t teach tolerance if we can’t be tolerant at least some of the time ourselves.

We can’t teach the value of individuality and independance if we constantly go after those the least bit different from us.

Maybe our current adult society is in part a reaction to the political climate in which we live? I’m not really sure, as I don’t have all of the answers. But it’s what I was thinking about this morning.

Time for me to garden. Enjoy your Sunday.Thanks for stopping by.

thoughts on ash wednesday

8614157810_f24ca9eb63_oThis is a post that some may have a problem with.  But it is my opinion.

Today is Ash Wednesday.  I am Catholic.  It is a very holy day, the first full day of Lent.

The voices of many priests float through my head “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

When I was a child, I loved being Catholic.  We lived in Society Hill and we had two amazing churches right in my neighborhood.  Across the street was Old St. Mary’s and down a little bit on Willings Alley, our church where our family pew still sits, Old St. Joseph’s, Philadelphia’s oldest Catholic Church founded by Jesuits in in 1733.

I was baptized and received my First Holy Communion at Old St. Joe’s.  I received my catechism from Father Drain, one of the Jesuit priests at Old St. Joe’s.  He was a marvelous man.  I still remember the room in the rectory – full of stiff and formal Victorian furniture.

The Jesuits were my foundation as a Catholic.  A couple of weeks ago, some fellow Catholics on a Facebook thread said Jesuits weren’t even really Catholic.  I found that sad and offensive.

As an adult, I have had a love hate relationship at best with the Church and with being Catholic.  I have yet to join a church in Chester County, as a matter of fact.  Maybe that means my immortal soul is at peril, I do not know.

My love hate relationship lives in the pomposity and hypocrisy I see today in the Catholic Church.  Let’s start with the whole sexual predator priest issue.  They excommunicated a priest and put him back in the neighborhood where I used to live and he roamed free for years until he was arrested a second time and went to jail on a guilty plea as a sexual predator.  Until he was convicted, we the neighbors had to watch him because no one else was.

Then there was the Monsignor from a parish in Wayne I was introduced to at a viewing.  He berated me in front of people at a viewing for the fact that at the time I had said that I would be choosing NOT to be married in a Catholic church and that I found modern Pre Cana to just be about the money.  He was awful. Ironically, he was removed a few  years later as a pedophile priest.

I move out here, and one of the first Catholic things I am hit with are exceeding graphic pro-life signs along the property of a large Catholic church.  Horrible glaring and angry signs.  Who is the God they worship? Is he mine? I don’t recognize anger commingled with religion as healthy.

Recently, attending a funeral of a friend, I was actually in a church that finally did not feel alien to me. Philip and James in Exton.  I found out later it was also designed by a friend’s late father.  It was the first church in years that felt welcoming and warm when I walked in.  And their stained glass windows were beautiful.  As a Catholic struggling with the faith of my birth, it was a really positive experience.

15217657474_a8fb2ac33d_oThen came the recent issue of Villanova University and the larger than life crosses over Lancaster Avenue.  It is something I have never understood and right or wrong, I think the university president is wrong.  It’s not about his legacy, it’s not about a Catholic institution, it’s about the multi-faith world we live in. And a public road, a state highway.

I came home from East Whiteland’s Zoning meeting and flipped on Radnor Township’s commissioners’ meeting.  What I saw was Villanova’s attorney in full Napoleonic glory brow beating Radnor into submission. Ok it is his job, even if he is always unpleasant when he represents Villanova.  However….

I am Catholic, and if this was solely on Villanova’s campus NO ONE would care. But this footbridge is going to cross a public road that gets public funds, and to build this they will get some public funds, correct? This is NOT being anti-Catholic or a being a bigot it’s a question of a PUBLIC road. Not everyone in the world is Catholic, so how others feel about this bridge being overtly religious over a public highway should matter.

I challenge everyone to look at the  bridge over City Line Avenue St. Joe’s University bult. It manages to be there without throwing Catholicism in everyone’s face.  But then Saint Joe’s is a Jesuit Roman Catholic University and Jesuits aren’t really Catholic, right?

We live in a world of many faiths.  I think if the bridge design featured crosses on the piers in bas relief, it would be in better taste. It would represent the religious foundation of the school without non-Catholics feeling as if someone else’s religion was being shoved at them.

As a Catholic I have always felt it was wrong to foist the religion of my birth on anyone.  I know who I am, and strangely I retain my underlying faith, so how is it I am a bad Catholic because I agree with the critics of the bridge design? Look, we are not living in medieval Spain or France, we live in a country that is a melting pot of religions. We can maintain our own religious identity while being sensitive and considerate to the religions of others, right? Or we should be able to?

One of the critics of the bridge of crosses is a very close friend of mine.  She is a senior citizen and a grandmother.  She gives more to her community in a year via her generosity than most people give in a lifetime.  Her comment about the bridge was that perhaps a more ecumenical approach to the bridge was better in today’s world.  She also had the thought of why couldn’t the crosses be more subtle, carved into the stone piers instead of challenging everyone over a public road.

My friend feels the frightening aspects of attacks on certain religious groups quite keenly as her 17 year old granddaughter works after school at a Jewish community center and is being trained on how to evacuate children and adults in the event of threats like the recent bomb scares.  This is the world legacy we are foisting on our children.  It’s the whole hate begets hate.

Because my friend was interviewed by some media and expressed her opinion publicly, albeit very gently and politely, she has been demonized and vilified. Publicly, including in the media.  She has even had conservative radio show hosts want her to come on the air, and I know damn well it’s not because they want to fairly represent her right to her opinion. It’s because  they know she would be ratings gold if they put her on the air so people could phone in an essentially abuse her without accountability.

So she is now branded an anti-Catholic and a bigot and “she must have a bunch of pink crocheted hats.”  She and others of a similar opinion, which I guess must include me are being compared to perpetrators of hate crimes. Hate crimes, you know like those horrible people who destroyed gravestones at historic Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia. Now these same critics are saying that even more people are anti-Catholic because not enough media attention and public attention was paid to a similar desecration of gravestones at Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Philadelphia. Doesn’t matter that no one can control the if it bleeds it leads philosophy of what is newsworthy to television station managers and newspaper publishers, right?

I am sorry but do these people HEAR themselves? People with a different opinion are anti-Catholic? Even if they are Catholic?  Jesuits aren’t really Catholic even thought the current Pope himself is a Jesuit? It’s like committing a hate crime to say maybe rethink all those crosses on a footbridge crossing a public road driven by people of many different religious beliefs?

Religious pretzel logic.

Yes…religious pretzel logic.  I am sorry but it is upsetting.  And it’s why people struggle with being Catholic, or with any other faith when people are pushed to slavish devotion with no room for individual thought.

I was not raised to be this type of Catholic.  Have I ever felt people went out of their way to make me feel bad for being a Catholic? Sure.  How many Ash Wednesdays did I go to Our Lady of Victory in Lower Manhattan for ashes to return to my trading desk where I worked to have way too many people tell me I had schmutz on my forehead? And that continued for over a decade in my old office in Conshohocken every Ash Wednesday when I went to St. Matthews at lunch for ashes.

I found it offensive but I said nothing.  It was not worth getting into it.  I knew who I was.

But today after the past couple of days, I once again question the faith of my birth.   I just do not understand how people who call themselves Catholic and Christian can spout what I feel to be such ugliness at the onset of one of the most holy seasons of the year?  Maybe this is just a by-product of the ugliness of the politics that swarms our country at present.  Whatever it is, it is sad.

Norman Rockwell had a painting truly appropriate for this post.  Here it is:

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cooking up sunday “gravy” memories

My father’s mother, my paternal grandmother was not an easy woman. She was incredibly strong, the oldest breast cancer survivor I ever knew (savage mastectomy in the 1940s, lived into her 90s), and her relationships, including with all of us was a complicated relationship at best.

She and my father had periods of detente and I know they loved each other but there were many years were they just didn’t get along, especially after my grandfather died. I still remember the night as a little girl when my father came home after seeing his mother after Pop Pop had died. 

My paternal grandmother, whom I called Grandmom, in a photo taken by either my uncle or one of my cousins. She would’ve looked like this when I was a teenager.

Anyway, I remember creeping down the steps to see him, and stopping in the doorway to the living room and silently going back upstairs. I will never forget the visual of him sitting next to a single lit lamp in the living room on 4th street smoking cigarette after cigarette, staring off at I don’t know what.. At his feet were boxes of his childhood – books and what not. 

I loved my paternal grandmother, but some times growing up I didn’t like her very much. She is a woman who was truthfully better with adults than children, and she had a closer affinity for my aunt and uncle’s children because they were closer to her than my father was. Truthfully my aunt and uncle and cousins seemed to resent having to share her with my immediate family at any time, it was like they felt they had proprietary rights to her or something.

And that was OK with me. I understood it even when I was little and really didn’t understand it, if you know what I mean. They just needed her more for whatever reason. 

 But sometimes the relationship was more normal with Grandmom and she would do things like come out to our house and babysit us while my father traveled on business when mother had to accompany him.
That is where my memories of her Sunday pasta sauce, which she (Grandmom) and my great aunts called gravy, came from.

I remember being a teenager and younger with the smells wafting up the stairs to my bedroom circling the rooms like a comfortable quilt. The smells were intertwined and co-mingled: fresh coffee perking and onion and garlic cooking. There she would be, at the stove with a big wooden spoon stirring the sauce in an apron she made – she made great aprons – I still have one somewhere.

Me as a little girl with my grandmom and the German Shepherd my father hated named Lily Marlene who eventually went to live with my Uncle Jack.

So much like the smell of Christmas cookies baking in the oven, or Thanksgiving dinner aromas filling the air, the smell of pasta sauce being made on a Sunday morning is very much a feeling of home and family for me.

She would start with the onion and garlic and if there were peppers or mushrooms, those as well. They would meld together in olive oil with salt in the bottom of a crazy heavy cast aluminum pot that had a wooden handle and the wooden knob on the lid. My mother whom she gave this pot, still uses this pot to this day. I use my vintage Dansk Dutch oven.

If she was making meatballs or sausage she would brown her meat in a frying pan. I don’t do that anymore, I cook everything in the oven and drain off the grease. My grandmother always had lamb or pork neck bones to add to the sauce. The lamb and particular adds a level of flavor that I still find amazing and prefer to this day. But it’s often hard to find these little neck bones as there are fewer and fewer real butchers out there.

To the vegetables in olive oil in the pot once they were cooked down almost to the point of caramelization at times, she would add tomatoes, tomato purée, and tomato paste. When I was little I also remember going through this ritual at my great aunts with the tomatoes that came out of my Aunt Rose”s garden that my Aunt Josie would put up at the end of every growing season.

The tomatoes were canned in the basement kitchen that my great aunt had for this purpose. I still to this day can see in my mind’s eye how beautiful all the jars of pickles and tomatoes were lined up next to one and other like little rows of soldiers.

Me at Easter as a baby with my mother and my maternal grandmother whom I called mumma

My great Aunt Rose and her husband my Uncle Carl, lived in the “country” as it was referred to by the others. They had moved to Collegeville after they were married and build a house on a large plot of land next to a farm that had horses. Of course today, what was their house, sits set back off of busy Ridge Pike in the midst of commercial and residential development. But I will always remember it with the memory of a child: next to a farm and lots of apple trees and a big kitchen garden and a sort of gruff German Shepherd named Lancelot.

The thing about all of my great aunts, and the reason I write about them so often, is because the memories I have with them in particular are very, very happy. They did not get into the middle of the battles between my father and his mother and his siblings.  

Mind you, I never really blamed my father for any of this because I don’t care for my aunt and uncle, and as an adult after we buried my father, I pretty much decided right or wrong I was finished with those familial relationships. I remember something my father used to say when I was little and it was “sometimes, guilt is just wasted.”


Sadly, my father’s siblings made it easy for me to reach this decision as an adult. My aunt is just not someone I’m ever going to be close to, she just is who she is. I am somewhat ambivalent when it comes to her because I never really grew to love her as a child, felt her coldness, and as an adult she never really chose to know me. So after a while you just stop trying with people like that, even if they are family.

My uncle, however, is a very different story. When my grandmother was in her final decline before she had passed, she and my father had made their peace with each other. He was actually spending time with her almost regularly and I think it was good for him. But there was this one day when my father and I had gone to visit Grandmom in her nursing home and my uncle had driven down from Buffalo to see her.

My father with Aunt Josie before one of his Saint Joe’s Prep dances

There we were, all standing somewhat awkwardly around my grandmothers bed – her deathbed if we’re honest about what was going on. My uncle brings himself up to his full height (he was a little taller than my father – my father was 6 feet tall) and he looks at my father with righteous indignation and tells him how my father was a “bad son.”

 And it went on from there.

At first I was shocked. I couldn’t believe even with all the animosity he exhibited towards daddy over the years, that anyone would be so cruel as to do this over their mother’s death bed. Never shying away from anything (even when I probably should), I told my uncle off. Right there, right then, in that moment. The thing I will never forget about that is my grandmother did not say a word, but she looked at me from her pillow…..and smiled. 

When my father died, my aunt was there. I don’t remember if any of her kids were there but she was there. My uncle, my father’s only brother, wasn’t. He made some lame excuses how he was just “too busy” to come to the funeral. That was the moment I decided completely free of guilt, that I was done trying to pretend to care about and have a relationship with my uncle. And I pretty much sent him a letter telling him so.  

I did try, out of respect, to have a relationship with my aunt one last time after my father had passed, but I came to the sad realization that she didn’t really want a relationship with me, there was too much water I think under the familial bridge. I let that relationship just go. I think my sister hears from her occasionally, but I really don’t know and I don’t ask. 

 I have a memory of my father’s  sister from after my grandmother died, and I’m not sure if my father was still alive or not.  I had contacted her to ask for some of my father’s baby pictures, so I’m thinking he was no longer with us. And I received a box in the mail of photos of my father ripped out of family photo albums I never knew existed in the first place. It was really odd to go through the photos as I have never seen any of them before. Part of me wondered what the rest of the photo albums look like, and the other part of me realized I never would know.  I was grateful to receive the photos and thanked her properly, but it was still all a little odd.

Now that I let my aunt and uncle go the ones I stay in touch with the most are the cousins my father loved the most. The children of his beloved Aunt Helen. Much like my great aunts, they are just lovely people with hearts full of love. They don’t judge or criticize or critique, they are just happy to be family. I love them too.

It’s weird how the smells of cooking something in my adult kitchen can provoke so many memories. But when the memories bubble to the surface I like to write them down now. I want to remember all the memories and the happy feelings these people gave me as a child. And that’s not because I had some kind of an awful childhood, because I didn’t. These people are my roots.

Something I feel is really important are roots. So many people are rudderless today, and they never pay any homage to their roots. I might’ve spent a childhood that some people considered breathing rarefied air between Society Hill and the Main Line, but always more important than any of those experiences, were these old people in my life. 

And not just on my father’s side, but on my mother’s as well. Being from pure peasant stock is actually kind of cool. And I like to acknowledge it because I think it makes up who I am as an adult in my own right. I also acknowledge them because they always got me, which is something I appreciated in them even as a child.

My paternal grandparents on their wedding day.

I’m only sorry that these people aren’t around today to see my life, to see me happy with my own family. But somehow for every pot of Sunday gravy or sauce that I make I think they know.

I write these memories down because I have no daughters and I do not at this point have grandchildren, so a lot of these traditions passed me may eventually die with me, if I don’t write them down and try to pass them on. So I think if I write these things down, the traditions won’t be lost and someone, maybe someone I don’t even know will carry on these things I learned to cook in the kitchens of my great aunts and my parents.

And out of the older relatives, predominantly it was the women who made an impact on me as a girl growing up. All of these women were strong independent individuals in their own right. My memories of both my grandfathers and my Uncle Pat (P.J.) are more fuzzy and less defined because I was young when all of them passed away. I have photos of my maternal grandfather, but sadly I don’t have any photos of my paternal grandfather as he would’ve been when I was a little girl before he died. Nor do I have photos of P.J.

Now I’m going to go back to my own sauce- it’s time to add the herbs and spices and tomatoes. And when the sausage comes out of the oven it will go into the sauce and it will all simmer, filling my house with the smells and memories of my childhood.

Happy Sunday.

old friends

29732668866_c470dbcae2_oLife is sometimes this windy path that takes you away from people, and then leads you back to them.

From the time we are little children, people are in and out of our lives for any multitude of reasons. Life takes us in different directions, quite literally.  People move, start families in other places, and get busy with the every day of their lives.

All of a sudden, years have past, and you still think of those people, but then you are busy too, so you don’t reconnect even if you think of these people.

And then, just like that, something happens, and you are back in each other’s lives and that is such a neat thing when it happens.

It happened to me today.  A four hour conversation with one of my oldest friends from high school.  Yes, those Shipley connections and friends I have written about before. That school gave me a wonderful foundation and the best relationships in my life, truly. This woman and I were thick as proverbial thieves for years, and then life just took us in diffferent directions, on different paths.

I will tell you how it came to be, this phone call today….

Recently the younger brother of a friend died of leukemia.  I have now lost several people I knew, admired, and cared about to virulent forms of leukemia.  This man was the brother of my friend I spoke with today.  He fought this disease so valiantly and was so positive.

He passed away and the first thing I thought of was my friend, one of his siblings.  So I looked up her address and sent her a note. We had not spoken in a few years, but how could I not? She was the one who introduced me to all her siblings, and well I have these memories of her brother as a little kid because of her.  He was this funny, very bright burning ball of energy with a very funny sense of humor.  And a very messy bedroom. Truthfully, all of her siblings were truly nice and interesting, even as kids.

When he got older he went to boarding school and then off to college, so I did not really know him for many years, and was just getting to know him as an adult with his own family when he got sick. In the intervening years, his one sister who was my friend and I grew apart. And it was for no other reason than time and distance.  She was in another state far enough away starting a family that we just lost touch, and became disconnected.

Yesterday in the mail, was a note for me.  Handwriting I had not seen in so many, many years. It was from my friend.  I opened it, read it, and wept, It was so good to hear from her and she is so sad about her brother.

So today she called.  And it was like high school again. It was such a marathon phone call that in the back of my mind I was waiting for one of our parents to pick up another phone in the respective houses and yell at us to get off the phone and do our homework.

Speaking with her, the years melted away like no time had past even if so many years actually had.  But that in and of itself is the value of real friendship – it is O.K. the time has passed, and now it is time to catch up.

This is my friend who introduced me to Chester County more than any other person had when I was a young adult.  She went to West Chester University and for a few years she lived in Malvern Borough too.   So speaking with her today after all this time, made me so happy, because when I moved out here I started to think about her a lot.  Every time I drive by Raintree in Malvern Borough I remember when she and another friend shared a condo there.  Or when I drive way down King until it almost meets Lancaster Ave and remember the places she was a hostess and waitress while in school.

Back in the day we would go to the restaurant festival in West Chester, the “Gobble Off” that used to be at what was the Bar and Restaurant the night before Thanksgiving with other friends, hanging out at WCU’s the Rat before she graduated, hanging out with people at the Marshalton Triathalon, dancing at Lionshare and Main Lion and more.

We were also roommates at the beach in the summer for a while.  We had a lot of fun together.

And then she moved and the years passed and we lived kind of separate lives, connecting here or there with a random phone call or letter.

When you meet people who are so disappointing, you remember the friends like this. I am a fortunate women to have so many of my old friends still in my life.  Thanks to her brothers we are reconnected.  That makes me happy. I wish her one brother was still with us to know, but somehow I  would like to think he does.

Life is short. Don’t waste it.

Thanks for stopping by.

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unexpected memories of childhood past


I saw the notice of a house sale on a Facebook yard sale group page for West Chester. What caught my eye was the print above.

The subject is now a man not far from my age named Mark. They were done by his late father when we were all kids in Society Hill.   It’s a set of four originally, there were three available.

The artist was Harry Niblock. He and his former wife also a tremendous artist, Margery Niblock, were dear friends of my parents and Margery is still a friend of mine. Our whole family has pieces of their art, and a lot of memories attached to the art especially because as a child I remember when a lot of it was actually created which is really cool.

So I went to the sale. What I wasn’t expecting is I would know the person whose house was having a house sale. She wasn’t there, but she was a woman I knew from the time I was a little girl. 

This lady was widowed twice. Her first husband I knew as a little girl and her second husband I also knew for a lot longer, because he had been married to one of my mother’s closest and best  friends and my mother had introduced the lady and this gentleman when they were both widowed. They subsequently married and he died.

So walking around the sale was a little emotionally loaded. I saw items from the households of two different couples, and their years together. I think what really upset me the most was the fact that there were items that belong to the second husband’s army career. Even a baby picture of the son, his namesake.


 Seeing his various stages of career Army uniform is hanging on a rolling rack actually brought tears to my eyes and upset me. This man did some time in Vietnam. A couple of tours my mother said, and she also said she only ever remembers him talking about it twice. Ever. He was a great guy, a true soldier who loved his family too. I have really fond memories of him.


So I bought some things, namely Harry’s prints and one of Margery’s I didn’t have but remembered fondly. The Margery Niblock prints for sale or the series of prints her friends received every year in lieu of a Christmas card for years. I have quite a few framed and hanging on my own walls. I don’t know how valuable they are, but they are extraordinarily sentimental. Margery taught me as a girl to do linoleum and wood block.

Now I’m sitting in my car before I go home writing this down because it was  almost a surreal experience.  Flashback memories of two different families and my own childhood.
I hope the lady who is moving enjoys her new home. What a morning for memories.