what defines redefining beauty?

I took this photo of my friend Melinda in 2013 after she had finished chemotherapy and her hair was just coming back. She looked brave and beautiful because well, she is. She survived breast cancer and chemotherapy. She didn’t shave her head on a whim.

Social media is buzzing about a woman (not the woman above, she is a breast cancer survivor) who shaved her head. This other woman is not ill and undergoing chemotherapy.  She does not have alopecia like a woman I went to college with.  She did not shave her head to donate her hair for locks of love.  She did it “just because.”

No, I am not posting this other random woman’s photo. Yes a lot of them are public, but they aren’t my photos.

Essentially she did it for the attention is my humble opinion.  I don’t buy that she did it to empower herself  à la G.I, Jane.  We’re not talking a cute buzz cut, we’re talking shaved her head and then had a salon fix it.  I guess that makes sense because the first time I clipped a dog years and years ago they looked like they were groomed by moths (as in what woolens look like when clothing moths chew them up.) Dog grooming clippers and human grooming clippers are essentially the same and they take some getting used to.

I am a breast cancer survivor. I was lucky and had radiation only, although I did have some hair loss as well as thinning and a hair texture change. However, I had to come to terms with the fact I might lose my hair before I had my surgery in 2011, and also had to come to terms with if what they found when they went in was more than they thought or worse than they thought, I might also lose one breast.

I stood in front of the mirror imagining what both might look like.  For weeks. It is how I came to terms with what might happen. It wasn’t empowering, it was daunting. It was scary. It made me cry. Breast cancer does a number on your whole self body image. You come face to face with your own potential mortality. It’s hard.

I decided that if chemotherapy came to pass, I would do bald without wigs until my hair grew back. But again, I was not deciding this because I wanted to be part of a female buzz cut trend. I was not deciding this for attention, or a whim. I was deciding this because I needed a plan if I had to go there.

I have another really dear friend who has sported a gamine look for years.  Not a buzz cut. But it suits her. And she has been this way for years. Her cuts are feminine and have style. They aren’t abrupt.

I have a friend who lives with metastatic or stage four breast cancer. When she has to do chemo, she loses her hair.  I have never imagined that is fun for her. I do a happy dance when her hair grows back in because that means remission to me.

This other woman on social media  (and I am entitled to my opinion) looks scary now.  It seems like intensity and defiance emanate from her and the new photos.  But she doesn’t look happy. I find that sad (also an opinion I am entitled to.)

Female buzz cuts have been a topic again (I think) since Rose McGowan emerged from the shadows with the whole Harvey Weinstein/#metoo thing. However, she has been sporting a buzz cut since 2015. Sinéad O’Connor also has sported a buzz cut forever.

It’s nothing new, but in 2018 it is topically trendy.  Not only the #metoo movement but because of the teenager in Florida who survived the recent Parkland shootings. Emma González decided before Parkland to get a buzz cut, not because of it.

I had a friend in college, a sorority sister, who had alopecia.  In other words, she was born with baldness issues.  I thought she was one of the bravest people I knew at the time.  Like I did with my friend Melinda years later.  Brave and beautiful.

But doing things like this and then seeing people that do it to make a statement and/or for attention? It just doesn’t sit right with me.

As women, we have to define what is beautiful for ourselves. I am sorry, but in this case it hits me wrong.  I hope this person finds peace and comfort in their decision. But they really can’t expect everyone to be the same about it.

To me bald female heads represent chemotherapy.  Right or wrong that is where it hits me. Those women represent strong and beautiful and brave to me. Somehow this other woman doing a head shave just for kicks seems disrespectful of women who have to do it because they have no other choice.  As a friend of mine says, to each their own. But that is how it made me feel.

keystone collections group

My mood is like that sky out there right now.

Many of us as residents in Chester County have to deal these third party tax collectors for the local taxes. Like Keystone Collection Group out of Irwin PA. 

Since May they have been harassing me over a tax year I was NOT a  resident of Chester County. I was at that point only dating a resident of Chester County. As far as I am aware that was not a taxable event?

When they sent their first death threat masked as a tax collection nasty gram, I promptly sent them my federal return that clearly shows (and was professionally prepared, no less) my address, municipality and county of residence and so on. My federal tax return gave them every piece of information they needed to say “I’m sorry we made a mistake” and  then close the books on this.

Instead, they sent me a second letter basically telling me that a federal tax return was not acceptable proof and a long laundry list of items for me to prove where I lived.

Being somewhat outraged at this point I called them. Basically I was told that a federal tax return was not good enough and unless I sent them all this other information I was a liar.

Then the person on the other end of the phone says something to the effect of well maybe I was confused about the years. And I said no I wasn’t confused about the years it was the year I was treated for breast cancer I know exactly where I was all year long.

So I sent them everything they asked for and it was remarkable I had some of what they wanted which included copies of old bills with my  address at that time. It’s only because I’m such a paper pack rat that I had any of those old bills as I had shredded most of them. They also got a W-2 and the state return I had filed with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for that year. And oh did I mention when I called them they told me that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania directs them to do this?  Really? 

I sent them all of this  additional information and it should have once again been  the end of it with them sending me an apology and closing the book on this but they haven’t. 

I have even contacted my elected representatives offices regarding this. And Keystone has gone back to them saying now they wanted my federal tax return even though I sent that in the first place and as per their instructions on their last correspondence I have satisfied everything they requested and they told me a federal tax return wasn’t sufficient proof when I submitted it several weeks ago. They already have the information.

I am done. I gave them what they asked for, they have made a mistake with this particular year, and they won’t let it go. At this point they are harassing me. I have complied with the requests and it should be case closed.

The other problem with dealing with this company is there is no secure way to send them information. When you have to send a company like this your personal information wouldn’t you rather do it with some kind of a secure email or fax? How do we really know what they do with the documents you send them that have your personal data on them?

I have heard many, many horror stories regarding this company Keystone Collections Group. I don’t know why they find this so difficult it’s really very cut and dry: I wasn’t living here as a resident then. I was a visitor, albeit a frequent visitor. I was a resident of not only another municipality, but another county entirely. 

As residents of various municipalities out here we shouldn’t have to be paying for these people and their mistakes and their harassment. They are taking money out of residents’ pockets. As far as I’m concerned or municipality should be able to handle this in house, saving all of us money that could be put to better use.

Thanks for stopping by.

bucket lists in life

 Yesterday was kind of a big day for me. Yesterday was my fourth anniversary of my breast cancer surgery and being cancer free. Yesterday was also the day I checked another item off my bucket list.

When you have to look at your own mortality with a cancer diagnosis, you create a bucket list whether you acknowledge it or not. Because that is a defining moment in your life- you literally have to decide and very short order whether you want to fight to live or give it all up. I chose life. It sounds like I’m being overly dramatic but it’s kind of how it is. It’s very daunting to be told you have cancer.

And the oddest thing about having gone through breast cancer and breast  cancer treatment is that it freed me to do things I only dreamed  about. 

The other truth of the matter is is that I am also very lucky and very blessed to have a man and life partner who loves me and supports me for who I am. I didn’t have that before. Before him and before breast-cancer, the version of “supportive”  I lived with was having a person who put me down and put my dreams down. And as long as I towed their defined line and existed where they were comfortable everything was fine.

But life is a precious gift and it is too short to be held back by those who are in essence people who lead  very sad and uncomfortable lives. Life is about growing and changing, and sometimes people have a hard time with that. I get it. But I’m really glad that as I got a second chance at life post breast cancer that I have taken that chance to try new things and grow as a person with the support of an amazing love and the support of my family and friends as well.

When I started to take photos it was with a tiny point and shoot camera that was very basic. Eventually I moved up to larger and more grown-up cameras. I started seconding occasionally for a professional photographer when she needed help and she taught me a lot and encouraged me to keep shooting. 

Along with this apprenticeship of sorts, through the years I did the publicity and photography for First Friday Main Line, the Executive Director Sherry Tillman (who is also a dear and close friend as well as an artist in her own right and owner of a wonderful shop called Past*Present*Future) was the first person who encouraged me to show my work and enter photography contests.

So my love for photography has grown, and it ties into the things I love in life.  I don’t pretend to be an Annie Liebovitz, I am just me. I love taking my photos of Chester County and elsewhere, ordinary moments of everyday life that I find magical – farms, nature, gardens,everyday people, animals, pets.

And on my bucket list as a somewhat improbable item was having a solo photography show and as of yesterday I kind of checked that item off my list. I am the local artist of the month at Christopher’s in Malvern. Yes, it is a restaurant, but those are my photos on the wall and it is just a really cool feeling and such a positive milestone as we hung them up on the 4th anniversary of me being cancer – free. So maybe it’s not some fancy art gallery with the champagne and caviar reception, but it suits me just fine. 

I am thrilled to have been asked to do this! I love the restaurant and the owners are super nice and so is the staff.

If you want to see my photography and live in Pennsylvania, the images will hang the month of June at Christopher’s A Neighborhood Place on King Street in the Borough of Malvern. Go have a cocktail or a meal and I hope you like the photos!

Four years. Here I am looking forward. Get your mammograms ladies.

Have a great day!

from blue dress infamous to social activist

bully 2

From blue dresses and White House scandals before there was the television show Scandal, to a line of failed (?) purses (see article in New York Magazine from a few years back), to social activist, Monica Lewinsky has spent years being an unfortunate household name stemming from poor choices made literally as a kid while a White House intern.

She opened up about the blue dress years and the aftermath of being a fallen star in the Clinton universe in the June 2014 edition of Vanity Fair. It was her article and it was fairly well written and interesting, I must admit.

Like millions of others at the time I remember thinking “What was she thinking and why can’t this politician keep his pants zipped?” (Face it, Clinton might look like the grand papa bear of Democrat politics today, but the man has had his issues with the ladies à la Pennsylvania’s own Ed Rendell, right?)

I don’t have the moral code that is able to justify cheating, or justify why a very bright young woman couldn’t stay away from a married man who happened to be the President of the United States, except I am guessing that was exactly why she couldn’t stay away.  However, after the first few weeks of hearing about her and that, I felt as if it was enough already.  There were after all, far bigger issues going on in the Clinton administration, weren’t there?

So now Monica is what? About 40 years old give or take? And she made a whopper of a mistake and has spent almost 20 years paying for it.

Yesterday she spoke in Philadelphia  on the subject of cyber bullying.

I have to give her props for stepping out onto the stage at the Forbes Under 30 Summit.  That took guts, all things considered. I am sure she was amply compensated for her time but her topic was of personal interest to me. Her topic was cyber bullying and that is also apparently now her personal cause.

I listened to the replays of her speech and could totally understand when she said “It feels like a punch in the gut.”  After all, cyber bullying = abuse.

That isn’t the first time I have heard a similar description applied to being cyber bullied. Of course those who perform the cyber bullying always blame their victims. Much like abusers who tell their victims it’s their own fault they had to beat them.

I make no bones about the fact that I have perverse admirers, otherwise known as cyber bullies. In part, when you become a writer or a blogger it sort of comes with the territory.  It shouldn’t, but it does. Only my main bully doesn’t bully me because I am some random blogger she doesn’t like, for her it’s personal. She used to know me, and used to be in my life.

It is odd to think about this late middle aged woman from several states away being so angry and so hateful because well she was someone very supportive of  me when a few years ago now, my ex abandoned me and his old dying dog quite literally and then a year or so after that when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and isn’t that strange? How can someone go from being caring to being pathologically angry and hateful when there was no fighting or anything like that?  This person chose to leave my life so what was I supposed to do? It was her choice and I tried to respect it. It’s like she had this weird unrequited crush on me and I am being punished for ignoring that, and her. It’s truly bizarre.

It came as a shock when I realized I not only had cyber bullies, but they had been essentially stalking my life.  I am not a public figure. I am just an ordinary woman living my life.  Yes, I write, and I am not just a blogger given my published bylines here and there (albeit local and regional), but I am just a regular person. I write more about my recipes and gardening these days than anything else. I share my photography, as well. Apparently and ironically, it is very upsetting to people when you are happy. And apparently it’s all my fault they have to bully me because I am happy in my life and they are miserable and stuck. Bullies like other forms of abusers have a limited sense of personal accountability, have you noticed?

Since this cyber bullying and cyber stalking began shortly before my 50th birthday I have been fascinated by the people who have supported the efforts.  People I have never known or spoken to. And why do they cheer on negative and spurious activity that there are laws against? I guess because at some point in time I wrote something they didn’t agree with and isn’t that so bizarre coming from “adults”?

But as far as adults go, I have seen a lot of strange behavior. Especially recently.  Take for example parents of teenagers who not only support their teen’s scorched earth bullying behavior, but in essence bully other parents themselves and how crazy is that? People who are parents and who you know love their children but who can’t see right from wrong on their own?

People spend so much time hating and why put all that negativity out there? Its not so much a Zen or spiritual thought as it is  that I just don’t get people of any age who wake up with the intent to be mean or malicious. Life is a precious gift and having survived breast cancer I know full well we are all on borrowed time on this earth so why not try to be better human beings, not worse?

Cyber bullying is as pervasive and invasive as physical bullying.  And there is a certain disconnect from reality with it on the part of the bullies.   These bullies seem to think in their minds their behaviors are justified, and that they are invincible, which of course couldn’t be farther from the truth.   They also only have power if you allow them to have power because the truth of it is, bullies are cowards. They only accept their version of reality as the ultimate reality and get totally tweaked if you mess with their perception of how it should all be. With mine I marvel at how literally crazy and unbalanced they are and pity them at the same time.  This hatred is all they have to do all day, and that is truly and incredibly sad.

Cyber bullying is something, however, that not enough people take seriously even if it is illegal. So if Monica Lewinsky wishes to use her unfortunate celebrity to shine a light  down the dark rabbit hole of bullying, I am all for it. After all, bullying happens most often to the less obvious in this world: ordinary people both adult and kids.

Monica Lewinsky being a social activist will take some getting used to. Of course she was immediately trolled after doing this. In addition to the article excerpts below, follow this LINK and check out an interesting perspective in the Washington Post and another CNN article.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Lewinsky makes emotional plea to end cyberbullying

By Dan Merica, CNN
updated 6:46 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014

(CNN) — Monica Lewinsky told an audience in Philadelphia on Monday that her new mission in life was to end cyberbullying. Her speech — and her goal — come as the former White House intern steps into the public eye after years of trying to live privately.

“Having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive, too,” she told the audience at Forbes’ 30 Under 30 summit. “I want to put my suffering to good use and give purpose to my past.”

Lewinsky, who as an intern in 1995 had an affair with President Bill Clinton, said she was “patient zero” of online harassment.

“There was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram back then,” she said. “But there were gossip, news and entertainment websites replete with comment sections and emails which could be forwarded. Of course, it was all done on the excruciatingly slow dial up. Yet around the world this story went. A viral phenomenon that, you could argue, was the first moment of truly ‘social media’.”

Forbes:  Monica Lewinsky Speaks: ‘It’s My Mission To End Cyberbullying’

Clare O’Connor Forbes Staff

Monica Lewinsky has broken a decade-long silence to announce her campaign to end cyberbullying and today’s toxic culture of internet shaming.

In her first ever public address, the former mistress of President Bill Clinton revealed her plan to launch a “cultural revolution” against the sort of online harassment she experienced firsthand in the late 1990s…..Lewinsky described her life since the 1998 sex scandal that resulted in Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representative and subsequent acquittal by the Senate as one marred by a deep sense of shame and even suicidal thoughts….She intends to share her story with victims of cyberbullying and online harassment. There are many of them: almost 54% of young Facebook users describe being bullied or harassed online.

Forbes:Full Transcript: Monica Lewinsky Speaks Out On Ending Online Abuse

(Click on hyperlink above to go to the Forbes website and read the full transcript.)

are you thankful?

 

thankfulWhat is the thought process behind being thankful?

Are you thankful?  Why are you thankful?

I saw this quote the other day about happiness and being thankful. It is above, super-imposed over one of my photos.  It got me to thinking. (Yes, advanced warning this post is a flowing stream of consciousness.)  How is it we are thankful (and happy) and why?

Being thankful for what you have can be paid forward quite simply.  Human kindness, for example.

At fifty, have I lived a perfect life? No, but seriously, who here is without flaws on this planet? Life is a giant learning curve and we learn from our experiences good and bad, right?

I am thankful for my life, especially because it could have ended up so differently than it is now.  I got through the ending of an unfortunate relationship (and that is putting it kindly), survived breast cancer, and found the love and life I deserve.

If God and fate hadn’t done a literal lift-out for me a few years ago, I would have been quite literally stuck in a life that would have become rather unpleasant and devoid of love and affection. So I am honestly and truly thankful.

I have discovered that truly unhappy people are quite often very angry people.  They have a limited sense of personal accountability and are hyper-critical of everything and everyone around them.  The ex-factor and one of his sisters are prime examples.  I am truly sorry they aren’t happy, but their continued fascination with my life is well, psychologically interesting while also being creepy and pointless. It’s like they live on their own planet.

Obsessing over me is not only bizarre, but how can they waste so much negative energy? It’s just not healthy and well, life is short and they need to be responsible for their own happiness.   It has been almost five years, so why bother? Who cares? I sure don’t.

Will I reference things that occurred during a relationship that spanned nigh on a decade? Sure, it is part of my life experience. I write about all sorts of life experience and other relationships.  But why am I responsible for their happiness and/or misery of other people not part of my world? The answer is I am not, but  I have accepted they will probably never move on. However, that is their stuck, not mine.

People who are oddly warped like this make me really think about what it is to actually be thankful and happy.  I see what my life could have been and what it is now.  I have someone who loves me and shares their life with me and are committed to our family.  That is a far cry from being with someone who expected commitment but not only couldn’t really share their live, in the end even commit to a cell phone plan.

I am not the only person male or female my age (or younger or older) who has going through good and bad relationships. It’s life.  But for some reason, the simple act of being thankful and happy just drives some people cuckoo. Probably because they aren’t either thankful or happy.

The thing about being truly thankful is acknowledging what it took to reach the path of happy.  As human beings we are a work in progress, but to be able to roll with life’s punches and blessings is an acquired talent.  For me, for that light bulb to go off truly, it took having breast cancer. Having to face your own personal sense of mortality shows you what your true mettle is. It also made me dig deep and look at what I wanted out of the rest of my life and the type of people I wanted to surround myself with.

A dear friend from high school asked us her friends, something interesting today:

 “If you were on of 10 people still alive on the planet, how would you live differently?

Would you still wear make up, get dressed up in fancy clothes, put nice things in your home?

In other words, do you do the things you do now to make yourself happy or others happy?

 

It might seem overly esoteric and philosophical to some, but you know, I get it.  So what would you do? I would continue to  do everything possible to make myself and my loved ones happy.  I would be thrilled to give up make-up for the most part.

Another quote I read made me think:

 “Life isn’t all about the happy times we have.  It’s about living through all the challenges life has given us, and all we have ever been through.”

And then there was this cool thing I found on the Tiny Buddha website:

Why the Grass is Never Greener and How to Be Happy Today

“If you worry about what might be, and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is.” ~Unknown

Lifestyle. Opportunities. Wealth. Just think how far we’ve come in the past 100 years—especially when you look at what we have today compared with our great grandmothers’ generation.

My great grandmother married very young, lived in the same place her whole life, and had 11 children. She never had a “career” and never got a chance to go on a vacation. Her life was hard, poor, and lacking in any real opportunity.

I wonder if she ever dreamed about moving to another city, or transforming her life, or about seeing the world with just a backpack. I bet she did, but back then there weren’t as many opportunities as we have today…..But when there is a wealth of opportunities, choices, and places where we could choose to live, you’d think we’d all be happy, right? Wrong.

…..We can’t settle on what we already have or be satisfied with what we’ve got because we’ll always be wondering about the next big thing.

It’s called “the grass is always greener” syndrome. We think someone else is having a better time elsewhere. We make ourselves miserable by constantly thinking about the unknown in an endless quest to find happiness.

We lie awake at night torturing ourselves over what we should do next, wondering if we’re missing out on something big. We feel we’re wasting our lives if we’re not doing something more important.

There’s also this sense of time pressure, particularly with my generation who had the saying “The World is your Oyster” drilled into us from a young age.

This means there can be a sense of urgency, because we feel like we’re running out of time and should be doing something greater or somehow we’ll fail.

We also think we’re special and that our lives are destined to be adventurous, thrilling, and hugely successful. And when they’re not turning out that way? We become depressed. We want more. We get “grass is greener” syndrome.

….Focusing on things we don’t have is a recipe for disaster. It only leads to a miserable existence and causes us to forget what’s most important—and that’s what’s happening right now.

As John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” And that’s certainly true……Mindfulness helps you to appreciate life as it happens. It stops us from agonizing over what might’ve been or what could be. It just brings us back to the present.….But whenever you feel yourself losing focus and wondering about where you’ll be happy next, bring yourself back to the present, look at what you already have, look around you and enjoy the moments that are happening right now.….Happiness is a state of mind.

Out of the mouths of others, but oh so true.

Life is an evolution. Part of that evolution is how we grow, how we love, how we appreciate life, and a sense of spirituality.

Thanks for joining me on my random flowing stream of consciousness.

Enjoy your weekend and be happy!

room(s) with a view

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I have used blogging for many things. Today I am using it as a form of pain management – a self distraction tactic. We’ll see if it works.

I had surgery this past Thursday. Not an elective, but rather a must-have-must- get -out -of -the -way kind of a thing.

Like many other hormone-driven breast cancer survivors with either pre-existing gynecological issues or who are BRCA gene positive, I had a full hysterectomy. Sorry to gross out my male readers, but it happened and I hurt. I am bruised and my insides have been augmented and re-arranged.

The Cliff Notes version is I am the BRCA negative, pre-existing gynecological issues variety of this surgery. I also had ovarian cysts and fibroids removed. I had no idea how big those suckers were so my surgery took longer than expected. Once again I don’t get how people undergo elective surgeries because BLECK this is NO fun.

I went back to the hospital of my birth and where I had my breast cancer surgery – Pennsylvania Hospital in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. My surgeon was amazing but wow the pain is intense at times right now. I have been trying to breath through it, so now I am trying to blog through it. Short puffy breaths while typing sitting up in bed is a challenge (and probably looks funny too!)

It was a hard surgery. Not because of what was happening because it was necessary. What made it particularly hard was two days before my surgery, my mother had open heart surgery. So it has been quite a few days. And I had room switches post surgery a couple of times.

I woke up early Friday morning in a room overlooking Mikveh Israel Cemetery. That is the oldest and very historic Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. Some might think it was weird or creepy waking up in a room across the street from a cemetery, but it didn’t bother me. My father, once upon a time was on the board of trustees of that cemetery with a friend of his. So in a weird, fey way, it was actually comforting. And I got to speak with my mother by phone right before and right after my surgery.

My hospital care was amazing and one of my nurses, named Kathleen,was from Coatesville. One thing that happened after my surgery that while some could over-react about , I found darn funny.

I was barely out of recovery and basically post-op gorked out of my mind and just in my first room when a very tall elegant female doctor with the inevitable trailing resident came into see I thought me. She was a neurologist. She introduced herself and asked me if I could tell her about my “episodes” .

HUH? I know my sweet man was calling me zippy longstocking right before they knocked me out for pre-op but recalled nothing else so I asked if something had happened while I was under anesthesia. Then this doctor looked totally confused and picked up my chart.

She was sent to my room, but the wrong bed. She was there to speak to my roommate- who along with the issues that made her wrong for my room post-op also had a very active head cold. They moved her.

What wasn’t amusing and a commentary on healthcare and hospital administration today was the next roommate they gave me: an elderly woman with full blown dementia and a very loud family. When they left, which was sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight, the woman turned on all the room lights on her side and the television. The television was set for the hard of hearing. And then she started to scream and cough. That lasted until the nurses moved me at 2:30 a.m. So waking up in a room with a cemetery view wasn’t such a bad deal, considering.

I came home Friday afternoon. Thanks to the poor design and conditions of PennDOT roads, it was a super long and truly painful ride.

So now I am home with my normal room with a view. It is so peaceful to wake up with my own woods around me in my own bed. Truly, there is no place like home. Now I need to rest, and that is a challenge for me since I am not used to being still.

Me having surgery and my mother improving but still being in the hospital really makes me take stock of my life. I am really lucky. I saw so many others in the hospital who weren’t. My mother came through surgery well but isn’t home yet.

Life has gone on around me while I was taking this surgical time out and I have heard from people who I had to tell I could not really talk to them that I had just had surgery and was a little out of it. I felt bad saying that, but it was the truth.

People being what they are, I have also heard from people who aren’t really my friends regarding my surgery. Some people love hospital tales and medical gore. I don’t get it, but different strokes for different folks.

I sleep a lot right now. But sleep will help me heal. When I sleep it is probably the deepest sleep I have had in years. I dream of my gardens yet to be among other things. I don’t remember most of the rest of it, but I remember the garden stuff for some reason.

I can’t wait to get back into the garden.

My friends and family have been amazing once again through this, I am blessed. I have also felt the love and support of my mother’s closest and oldest friends this time around. You know that book Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood? These are my mother’s Ya Yas. What a truly divine bunch of ladies. It’s like they rallied for me and my mother to buoy us through. Having a post surgical step-parent isn’t fun for kids so special kudos should be given to my step-son. It’s not cool to say a teenage boy is sweet and considerate but he is all that and more.

So guess what? I am sleepy again and the pain I was feeling has abated. So I guess blogging as pain distraction/management works!

What else? Can you believe it is supposed to snow tomorrow? Enough already, right?

And does anyone watch The Good Wife on CBS? If so what about that episode last night? Quite the emotional plot twist, eh?

TTFN faithful readers and thanks for stopping by.

b is for blogging, b is for breast cancer

I will update the post once the article is available online. I am doing my part for breast cancer awareness month and it doesn’t involve pink plastic bracelets.

Blogging Through Breast Cancer is on second page of this special section.

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this and that

DSC_0071The nature of humans and writing is a weird and complicated process, often because of what the reader expects from the writer.

Some posts write themselves in the middle of the night.  That is the genesis of this post.

Sometimes I do not sleep well.  I am on a drug for the treatment of breast cancer called Tamoxifen.  I have three years to go and one of its side effects is it can affect your sleep.  I don’t often talk about the whole breast cancer thing here, I have a dedicated (and well-respected blog for that.)

On this blog, I have had people who have taken issue with me speaking about my breast cancer. But  it is part of me and like it or not, and it has shaped my life experience.

Ironically, having had breast cancer has taught me many positive things including the value of life and living life well and being happy.  It gave me the courage to pursue my dreams, yes, like writing.DSC_0140

A lot of what annoys people about my discussing my breast cancer is when I measure it against other experiences. As it is the hardest and most difficult thing I ever experienced personally, heck yes I measure other experiences against it if the spirit moves me.

I have learned in life that often if your opinion differs from the comfort zone of others that can prove problematic.  Especially when you write.  You can verbally state your opinion more easily than if you write it down.  But the thing at the end of the day that people don’t get is I write for me.  Writing is first and foremost something I do for myself.  And I do actually do research things which I am curious about.

Maybe someday I will have a book in me and not just a blog or occasional byline. Maybe I will write the memoirs of a female blogger.  I will say I do have self-published photography books that I have done, and that was quite an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

DSC_0109As I make my way through this writing experience, I am often amused at what strikes a nerve. One of the first nerves was writing about West Vincent Township.  Then came horse rescue. Wow horse rescue is still one of the largest read topics on this blog with a close second to Justice for Argus and Fiona. And then there is of course my asking if a favorite restaurant would survive because of listings in both sheriff’s and tax sales lists coupled with an additional land purchase for another restaurant in another county.  Chicken little you would think the world was ending for verbalizing what quite a lot of people are still talking about.

Also amazing to me is how many people like my recipes and photography. I am so pleased about that.  Recipes and photos are something really personal to me, so I really am happy that people are receptive to both.

Not all, however, have been receptive to my photos.  Take for example the odd responses from the woman who grew up with the Women’s Lib Barn (yes I did do some research to ascertain it was a woman writing to me.)  To this day I shake my head at that – I loved that barn for so many different reasons and my photographing it was like paying homage to it.  But she so soured me on it, that now I just drive by….I don’t even look at it.

That was my favorite barn in Chester County.  It is the first one I really noticed when I moved here.  It spoke to me.  As a woman I find myself often torn between the old and new, and the old roles of women versus the women of today. It also speaks to me because to me it also represents the uniqueness, individuality, and independence of the people of Chester County – traits I admire and respect.

I also write about parenting on occasion, collecting (as in antiques and collectibles) and gardening. At my core, I am part Domestic Diva or Suzy Homemaker.  I love that for the first time in my life I actually have time for all of this, and can experience it without guilt or reserve.  I love sharing those experiences with people. I even write about childhood recollections.

I used to focus more on activism based blogging. That was what I did then, and while it still has a role in my writing, it is not the main focus. I will write about things that I find curious. Or strange. Now, I write about whatever strikes my fancy, and share fun things I discover along the way.

DSC_0096Recently I have written a couple of things that are in the category of religion and beliefs.  We should be able to talk about this stuff.  I have in the past too.  As a Catholic and as a human being I have expressed my disgust over pedophile priests.   I have also  touched on born again Christian stuff.  No one had a problem with that or pedophile priest discussions.  But when I touched on Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy, holy tomato Batman! It is like I personally corrupted the Holy Grail.

To me Anthroposophy represents communes and cult-like behavior. (Communes are intentional communities and intentional communities are communes, right?)  Oh my!  I have had people rear up….all associated with Waldorf or Steiner Schools.  Am I the first to question Anthroposophy or Steiner? No.  Go ahead, read THIS and THIS and THIS and THIS and THISWaldorf Watch a site devoted to this.  And then there is Waldorf Straight Talk and a lot of things submitted by former teachers to different sites. I am sure some can say they are all disgruntled employees or residents, but are they? I know one story personally.  It is not mine to share, but suffice it to say it was a former Kimberton Waldorf teacher and the person is hardly an axe grinder.

If you look at the comments regarding this touchy  topic I have this man who has popped up who told me I was “afraid of my neighbors” and that I had a “fear piñata” I swung wildly at. He is in addition to the woman who just seems angry in general that I have expressed an opinion on this.

The man wants to help me “confront” my fear and that by my opinion which as an individual I am entitled to have that I have instead performed an ad hominum  attack by “labeling” them. Oh and that I write in order to sound clever. And that I am not real.

Ah yes, the most devastating comment: because I don’t agree with what he is indeed trying to sell me, I am, therefore,  not “real”.

Am I a fan of CSAs, organic farming, taking care of the mentally and physically challenged in our community, and Kimberton Whole Foods? Yes to all of the above. Except when I measure saints among us, my definition of saints and Godly people are derived from a more traditional religious beliefs and practices. And yes I am aware that CampHill has done some truly nice things.  After all was it not CampHill Special School that took in the family of one of the defendant’s in the Milton Street trial a few years ago? That was very generous of them and honestly a good deed.

DSC_0247I am quite real, and I am clever, but not in the derogatory way the commenter intended.  And I am not fearful.  I merely stated my opinion based upon the research that I did.

It is always funny to me that people will feel free to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be writing about.  I have to ask why they aren’t writing if they feel so strongly about certain things?

Some accused me of perpetuating “hearsay” while stating my opinion.  I have to ask is the renowned publication The Atlantic “hearsay”? Is it only “hearsay” because they don’t want to believe people are writing about how they feel about Waldorf, Steiner, and Anthroposophy?

The Atlantic: Is This Grade School a ‘Cult’? (And Do Parents Care?)

 Nov 30 2012, 1:39 PM ET
Waldorf schools are popular with progressives. But how do you feel about a dose of spiritualism with your child’s reading and math?
Would you send your kid to a school where faceless dolls and pine-cones are the toys of choice? A school where kids don’t read proficiently until age 9 or 10 — and where time spared goes to knitting and playing the recorder? A school where students sing hymns to “spirit” every day?
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I am a fairly simple person with a complicated brain . I think about a lot of different things.

Things like why people abandon their homes, factories, churches, and farms and so on fascinate me.  You know I love to photograph the old and abandoned and there seems to be a lot of that in Chester County, unfortunately.  I believe it goes with areas that still have a rural component.

abandoned

Abandoned and desolate, this house suffers from not only overt neglect, but a dispute to its historical net worth. A friend was kind enough to share this photo. The location is (if I have it straight) is slightly west of Valley Forge Park , sort of behind VF Baptist Church.

Some days I write about things that make me go HMMMM and other days I also write about things I cook.  Other days I write about both. It’s just the way it is.

Like take this weekend for example – I made a tortellini saladtortellini salad with cucumber, shallots, string beans, tomato, tossed with fresh basil and Italian flat leaf parsley and rest with a homemade lemon tarragon mustard caper vinaigrette -The dressing ispeach pie homemade and came out of my head as I was preparing peach pie filling. Yes, I also made a double crust peach pie with the delicious peaches from Northstar Orchards whom I visit at The East Goshen Farmers Market.

And if Sears would ever come fix my oven, (even Whirlpool/Maytag is upset with Sears) I might roast tomatoes and write about it.  Roasted tomatoes make for awesome gazpacho as well as being delicious on their own as just a vegetable.

I also  write about simple fun things for my home when the spirit moves me.  I love the Smithfield Barn and Resellers Consignment for that reason.  This weekend at Smithfield Barn I got the vintage pie plate in which I baked that pie photo captioned above.

Some of the things I write about are things that I grew up with.  Like lamps.  My mother had these two lamps in our home growing up.  She hasn’t used them for years in her current home and had put them in a closet.  Over the weekend she passed them along to me along with for a lack of a better description, lamp parts.  You would be amazed how much better a lamp can look with a harp that gives a shade a different height.

The lamps are totally “me”.  The shades I plunked on them I had in the attic.  They came from a lady who used to be at Black Angus or Stoudt’s Antiques in Adamstown – she made these amazing pierced lampshades. I don’t even know if she is there any longer.  My friend Anna’s mother got me hooked on these lampshades as well as my mother – they both had this style of shade on lamps in their homes.

See the lamps – they are so fun:

lamp 1lamp 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lamps are in different parts of the house and I am so enjoying them! But as my mother said I like quirky lamps.  I think these are very cool!

I love old stuff. Not necessarily antiques, but vintage.  Setting my table with funky old dishes and vintage linens is total fun to me.

I actually organized my old linens yesterday.  I have accumulated them in essence for pennies on the dollar because I get them at thrift shops, tag sales, church sales – wherever I see them that I like them.  But I refuse to pay oodles of money for them. I love vintage linens basically because the quality is so much better than a lot of what you see today.  Also a lot of times it is just that much more fun.  I have a few kitschy 1950s and 1960s tablecloths for example – totally fun.

Also in the textile area are vintage and handmade quilts.  Again, I look at church sales, farm/barn and even on eBay.  I only buy what I can use and I am limited on what I am willing to pay.

Not one of mine. Made by a friend of mine for her granddaughter. A modern quilt that captured the vintage essence I love.

Not one of mine. Made by a friend of mine for her granddaughter. A modern quilt that captured the vintage essence I love.

What else is on my mind today?  Something troubling my friends who live in Schuylkill Township.  They are facing quite the unsavory and dense development more suitable for urban living on a parcel of land that makes some refer to it as Groundhog Day – apparently it is a bad repeating nightmare for residents in a particular spot where they have bog turtles, rare bats, serpentine asters, bald eagles roosting and the DEP, US Fish and Game, have all been involved in the past.  There are apparently steep slopes, egress and traffic issues.  It feels like an uphill battle to these folks where the developer always wins.  Who even cares about environmental and social degradation anymore is the last thing one friend said to me.

I know nothing except there is a public hearing TONIGHT.

Schuylkill Township

I know nothing much about  Schuylkill Township.  I think this is what has residents upset (click LINK). Here is their agenda.

I will fully admit that this whole create zoning to satisfy a particular developer or a slew of developers is problematic.  One needs to look no farther than Lower Merion Township in the heart of the Main Line.  When I tell you I spent years at meetings on similar development nightmares, I kid you not.  They have these zoning overlays that were in essence designed for specific developers so they could build (one developer who is familiar to Chester County even referred to one overlay as “his zoning” and a meeting.)  Another thing?  When new developers appear on the scene, they then append the original zoning to satisfy even more developers.

Now Schuylkill Township says (and I quote):

“Planned Residential  Developments” which are designed to afford flexibility to respond to growing demand  for housing of all types and design.  The  proposed Planned Residential Development Ordinance will allow mixed residential  uses on properties of at least 60 acres in Schuylkill Township.

The thing is this – I keep waiting for any of this zoning in any municipality to actually be about the residents with the best interest of the residents born in mind. I hate to sound jaded but it never is.  These weird zoning things are for the lining of the township ratables pockets and the developers.  The most bang for the buck on the profit margin side. If the zoning doesn’t fit the plans politicians want, they change the zoning. The flip side is when you try to get them to change the zoning to protect residents, environment, open space, you choose, it never seems “doable” does it? Or if they do regurgitate changes they are insufficient or weak enough that what people were trying to avoid happens anyway.

Zoning boards blame planning and commissioners/supervisors.  Supervisors/Commissioners/Planning Commissions blame the Municipalities Planning Code

Yes, community planning is a passion.  Where you live is a big deal.  And I hate to sound like a Myna bird but once open space is gone, it’s gone.  Once historic and older homes are gone, they are gone.  You can’t save everything, but communities should plan better to save some things.

I will also repeat my assertion that The Municipalities Planning Code is incredibly outdated and needs an overhaul.  How they looked at suburbs and exurbs and rural areas in 1968 is different from today. And the part of the code that Schuylkill Township is claiming like the divine right of kings has to do with Article VII of the  Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, Act of 1968, P.L. 805, No. 247, as  reenacted and amended. Now this portion was last updated in 1988.  Don’t you think a few more things have changed since 1988?

What does this portion cover? Here:

AN ACT

To empower cities of the second class A, and third class, boroughs, incorporated towns, townships of the first and second classes including those within a county of the second class and counties of the second through eighth classes, individually or jointly, to plan their development and to govern the same by zoning, subdivision and land development ordinances, planned residential development and other ordinances, by official maps, by the reservation of certain land for future public purpose and by the acquisition of such land; to promote the conservation of energy through the use of planning practices and to promote the effective utilization of renewable energy sources; providing for the establishment of planning commissions, planning departments, planning committees and zoning hearing boards, authorizing them to charge fees, make inspections and hold public hearings; providing for mediation; providing for transferable development rights; providing for appropriations, appeals to courts and penalties for violations; and repealing acts and parts of acts. (Title amended Dec. 14, 1992, P.L.815, No.131)

Note this covers Transferable Development Rights?  That is what many residents in West Vincent are fighting as they also fight to keep their tiny, rural community from being overdeveloped.

You know, to control things like this from happening:

cluster f

cluster f 2

clster f 3

Having nothing to do with Chester County, I also have the Syria of it all on my busy brain.  I guess I just have an Obamariffic problem with a purportedly peace-loving president who pulls troops out of places like Iraq and Afghanistan to send them to Syria. So yes, I am thinking in this case a little isolationism might be good for the United States. 

We can’t be everyone’s champion and big brother world-wide if we can’t fix issues on the home front.  We have people starving and dying every day in the United States.  We also have a crappy economy that could deal with a little love not a few more smoke screens to divert away the attention of the average American.

Anyway. That is it for the day.  Love me or hate me, this is my blog.  If you do not like what I am writing about, I will miss you, but will completely understand if you go find other blogs to read. But the reality of life is we can all have different opinions.

surviving in the land of women

downtonI am about to lead off into a post that might make people go “huh” in the first few paragraphs (or all the way through).  It is however, just something I have been pondering, so I decided to write it down.

My friends will tell you that I think some women on occasion are wasted space.  And I am not saying that to be mean, I just have great female friends and relatives and don’t have time for the games and the hormonal B.S. that exceeds P.M.S. in a lot of  “adult” women.

And face it, a lot of purportedly “adult” women are still pulling the same stunts they did in grade school and high school. I try not to be intolerant, and I want to be understanding always, but sometimes it is just not possible.

Such is the nature of relationships women have with other women. If we are honest with ourselves, that is. And if we are truly honest with ourselves as women, surviving in the land of women can be like navigating a maze or an obstacle course.  And in that vein, every woman goes through phases where other women make them want to beat their head against the wall.

I don’t expect everyone to like me, to understand me, to want to be my friend.  And I am quite o.k. with that.  I know who I am, so it’s all good. I do not pretend to be perfect; I am a human and I am flawed.  I am just me, have no desire to be anyone else.  Like everyone else I love, I laugh, I have experienced hardship and loss.

Those who have seemingly magical lives untouched by anything unpleasant are really, really lucky.  I will never pretend my life has been a continual paragon of perfection because all relationships take work and sometimes life circumstance takes us where we never expect.  Besides, acknowledging occasional bumps in the road isn’t a bad thing.  It is part of who we are, adds character. I guess I don’t understand when people are afraid to live life out loud and in color.

As women our differences and similarities shouldn’t freak people out so much.  But have you noticed how it often does?

Where I used to live, some of us (male and female) used to refer to this group of women as “the mean girls.”  And oh, were they ever.  They were like a gaggle of mean, pecking geese.  If you weren’t like them, didn’t share their politics or parenting style, you were literally a target.  They were rather parochial in their very limited bullying ways.  It was somewhat astounding and always amusing. Especially when they acted like  quasi well-bred alley cats and then lectured others on manners and decorum.

Of course one of the things I always found amusing was one of them who was always particularly critical and mean to others  had the worst body odor.  I often wondered if she ever knew the reason people backed away wasn’t always just because they did not want to deal with intimidation, but because she was rather odoriferous.

Even out here in my newer world I have found that it is not always easy to survive in the land of women.  One such creature contacted me unbidden the other day.  She said to me (and I quote)

“Stupid bitch.  It’s ok to have an opinion as long as it agrees with yours.  You’re ugly inside and out, blogging bitch.”

Amazingly enough this woman sent this to me with full disclosure of who she was.  Equally amazing is that this woman was never a friend or an acquaintance, had never met me, never had a conversation with me.  Nothing.  She just did not like my opinion is pretty much what it boiled down to.  Hopefully she feels better now.  Did I mention this woman is a grandmother I am told?  I am sorry I just can’t picture my grandmothers ever doing such a thing.

Other things about women that drive me occasionally crazy as an adult (and also did as a teen and in my early twenties) is the way some women can obsess over what others are saying and trying to divine what they are thinking, search for hidden meanings where none exist.  Some women can even create issues and drama where there are none to worry about. This happens a lot more today I think because of social media.

Have you ever had someone ask you if your Facebook or Twitter status is about them? Maybe some people roll that way, but I do not.  When someone did that to me recently, it actually creeped me out a little.  It also annoyed the bejesus out of me.  I am pretty darn direct and if something bothers me, I spit it out in person.

Does what happened bother me still?  No.  But I am writing about it because I think it is germane to what I am writing with regard to how women interact with each other. The person who did this will undoubtedly be upset to see this written down, but again, nothing personal please avoid drama- it just is a good example of the dumb stuff that happens.

Recently, out of the blue, someone I let go from my life easily fifteen or twenty years ago surfaced.    This is one of those people who always used to leave a trail of emotional wreckage and drama behind her.  She was one of those people you just let go of because among other things you get tired of hearing what she has done and living in the wake of unecessary drama.

As life always comes full circle, this woman is back again.  New husband, new life.  I am in truth, happy for her and wish her well.  But it doesn’t mean I want to pick back up.  I don’t.  The funny thing is she doesn’t get that  I feel neither hate nor animosity, but in truth, feel nothing.  Not being mean, but she is just not part of the equation of my life. Maybe it is file under once bitten, twice shy.  I don’t know.  All I know is I just can’t go there again.  And it should be o.k. to feel that way.

And that is at the crux of change sometimes: it just is, and it is not done for others, it is done for yourself.  After surviving breast cancer a lot of crap doesn’t matter to me any longer.  I have let stuff go and moved on.  I have also let go of people I did not feel were positive in my life.

It sounds a little zen, so maybe it is.   There are other things I want to do, other people I want to meet.  My core group of friends remains the same and I am blessed because a lot of them pretty much go back to the cradle of it all. But as for others?  Sorry, but I have to do what is best for me.  In some cases that means walking away and ignoring people, in other cases just letting people go.  Life is too short and often too hard to spend it around people who do not make you happy.

niaIn this odd land of surviving woman also comes something cool this week:  I will be reading  an advanced copy of actress/director/writer Nia Vardalos’ book Instant Mom.  I will then review it for this blog and possibly interview her.  She is one of my favorite actresses, so how cool is that?

I also have been published in a book that is a compilation of a book of essays written by breast cancer survivors.  A long while ago my friend (and amazing writer) Nicki Boscia Durlester told me she was writing another book.  Only this one would be different.  It would not just be her journey through breast cancer, it would be the stories of many.

Nicki asked me to be part of this, and I said yes.   And as the calendar creeps up on the 2nd anniversary of my diagnosis and the 2nd anniversary of my surgery, the book is out and published.

I am incredibly proud and rather emotional at being a part of this book.  There are a lot of survivor stories out there, and it is an honor to have been chosen to stand with all these amazing and incredible women.

Like every breast cancer diagnosed, no one woman’s story is exactly the same although you will find threads of commonality that bond us together.

It is called The Pink Moon Lovelies: Empowering Stories of Survival [Paperback] .  It is available on Amazon.com. And again, Nicki Boscia Durlester is the overall author, editor, and provides the inroduction.

Anyway, life is a journey.  And we all deserve to be happy.  But as a woman, sometimes I just find surviving in the land of women an uneasy sisterhood at best.  I am sorry if that upsets people, or others interpret this post as a weird betrayal because it is not.  Some of what I write is from my own life experience, and my writing mentors have always said “write what you know.” Well this is part of what I know.

Do I think women should be more supportive of each other? Yes, but we also have to be honest.  And part of that honesty means acknowledging to yourself and others that you are not going to get along with everyone, nor should you be expected to.  We are all different.

Thanks for stopping by.

wow…so real housewives of them

crap“The Scoop on Breasts”? REALLY?

Sorry, this is one of those things that drives me batty: the fact that so many people seem to feel that the only way a woman is sexy is if she supersizes her bust line and does other plastic surgery augmentation. If not that Botox beauty.  Or Juviderm to go.

You name it, a woman isn’t beautiful unless she has been sliced and diced and maybe had a glycolic peel or three.

I am a breast cancer survivor who had a partial mastectomy.  I am a little lopsided now but so what?  That bit of lopsided means I am alive to write this post.  I am also a woman who decided to forgo hair coloring and am graying here and there and you know what?  Less chemicals is beautiful. I think I am relieved to not have to spend the next however many years worrying about unnecessary chemicals and wondering if hair color makes me look fake.

I am not a bra burner by any stretch of the imagination but to infer (either directly or indirectly) that women are only beautiful if they consider boob jobs is just wrong. And ask your doctor how they have to manipulate breast implants for mammograms some time.

I have no problem with oh so pretty lingerie or a real bra fitting – that is a very valuable service.  But a book signing which is in my opinion just existing to sell more boob jobs? How does that help a woman’s self body image to send the not so subtle message she needs a boob job to be beautiful?

Ladies, you want to celebrate your sexy? Be self-confident in who you are and revel in it.  Be yourself.