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Archive for September, 2010



People who live in Newburgh can’t see it, but there is a yellow brick road that stretches from the banks of the Hudson River up to Gidney and Powell Avenues.  The first brick of gold was laid in the spring of 1883 when a courageous band of sisters stepped off the Mary Powell and took ownership of the McAlpin property to open up a school. 127 years later, the YBR for the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh came, not to an end, but a detour of sorts.

On Saturday, Sept 25, I was invited to share in the sisters’ closing ceremony in the Motherhouse chapel.  You had to be there.  That’s all I can say. You had to be there to hear the story of the Dominican Sisters told by people who lived it or were forever impacted by the good sisters.

While I was listening to the speakers, I couldn’t help but think about the yellow brick road and how fortunate we are to travel on special bricks laid by very special people. Admittedly I have a soft spot in my heart for the Dominicans. I went to a Dominican high school and I had the distinct pleasure of working for ten years at Mount Saint Mary, the college founded by the Newburgh Dominicans.

I never met a Dominican sister I didn’t like. The Dominican habit might have been black and white, but the life lessons they taught me were in full, vibrant colors. I owe the Dominican sisters my undying respect for women. They taught me that in no way were they the weaker sex.

The Dominican sisters taught me about intelligence, love and courage. The Dominican sisters taught me that everything is possible. The Dominican sisters taught me how to walk the YBR with my head held up high.

Sitting in the chapel, surrounded by women who made countless sacrifices to teach others how to walk the YBR, my faith in people, lately challenged by some questionable antics by people who should know better, was restored.

The Dominican sisters’ full presence in Newburgh is no more, but the impact they had will never lose its luster. The Dominican sisters who stepped off the Mary Powell that day in 1883 left an indelible golden mark. That golden mark is embedded like DNA in the hearts and minds of the thousands upon thousands of people they touched over the years.

The Dominican sisters left Newburgh the way they arrived. Quietly. But the song the sisters sang in the closing ceremony will forever live in the hearts of those lucky enough to have been there.

My YBR is so much better because of the Dominican Sisters. I dedicate this blog to them, with special thanks to Sisters Ann, Agnes, Catherine, Pat, Francis, Peggy, Joanne, Leona, Jean, Barbara and….

Amen!

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Admittedly I am not a pet person. It’s not that I have anything against them, it’s just…

Let me begin at the beginning. I can vividly remember the day a man from the Bidawee home knocked on our front door. He was standing there with a basket filled with puppies. Okay, maybe not filled with puppies, but he did have at least three.

My parents had decided to let my sister and I have a dog. I couldn’t believe it, but there they were and we could pick one of them for our very own. I don’t know who got to pick out the dog, but I do know that I got to name him and I called him Boots because he had four very white feet that made him look like he was wearing boots. (We got boots before I had seen the Wizard of Oz or I might have called him Toto.)

That’s about all I remember about good, old Boots. I can’t remember playing with him, walking him, having him chase a stick or anything like that. All I remember about Boots is the day he got knocked into Sunday afternoon when Douglas Weberling opened up the door in the garage and hit Boots in the head.

Next thing I know and my sister and I are Bootless.

Now I’m wondering if I made the whole thing up. Maybe there never was a Boots. He could have been a figment of my imagination.

But you know something; there are times when I really miss Boots. (Oh Boots, we hardly knew you.)

All kidding aside, I suffered no trauma over losing Boots, but it makes me wonder how some parts of our life on the YBR don’t fully register with us. How is it possible that we can live through a period of life and have no memory of it?

I think Boots did teach me a life lesson. He taught me to appreciate the moments of life and to savor them. He taught me that life is very fleeting and we too could be somebody’s Boots, i.e. we too could someday be forgotten.

I say hold onto every ounce of life. I say never pass up an opportunity to do nothing but take in deep breaths of life and hold them as long as we can.

I sometimes try to close my eyes and think about someone I haven’t thought about in a million years, and when I do, I try to go back in time and relive some wonderful moments because aren’t the bricks of gold on the YBR moments in our life?

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It’s amazing how a long, leisurely walk on the YBR is not only good for your body but the perfect exercise for the mind and soul. When I take a walk on the YBR I leave the world as it is behind me and enter the world as it could be. The most amazing thing about a walk is that there is no agenda – no ‘to do list’ to bog down your brain. Instead, it’s literally all up in the air.

On a recent walk I started thinking about words and how they have both definitions and meaning.  In the real world we all seem to focus on the definitions of words at the expense of their meaning.

To those few who follow my blog but have no idea what I’m talking about, let me do what Lucy used to do…some ‘splainin.

The definition of a word limits a particular word to something very specific. And while a word might have more than one definition, I believe all definitions are alike in that they take all the color out of the word. You can only find the color in the meaning of a word. Words like freedom, joy, hope, love and happiness can be defined, but anyone who has experienced any of those words knows that the meaning of those words far surpass their definitions.

A definition is black and white. Meaning is Technicolor. And that got me thinking about the Wizard of Oz. The real world of Kansas in both the book and the movie is worse than just black and white. It’s grey—a term the author used over and over again in the opening chapter of the book. But Oz, again in both the book and the movie is in full, brilliant color.

I believe we are all living in a colorless world where words are thrown around without ever giving a second thought to their meaning. I even think that’s the reason why certain popular four-letter words are so popular. They each have a definition (black and white) but their meaning is so colorful and expressive that they even defy standard rules of grammar and usage.

Kids, before they are forced to abandon their imaginations and educated to pass state tests, don’t care much about the definition of a word, but are more interested in the meanings of words. By the time a kid grows up, graduates from college and enters the ‘real world,’ meaning has been replaced by definitions.

Sit in at any meeting of adults and listen to the way they talk all business like. Definitions fly around the room like arrows. Big, important words like ‘return on investment,’ ‘the bottom line,’ goals and objectives,’ are used.  It’s no wonder why so many of us lead very grey lives.

If communication is a tree, then I would have to say that words are the leaves and the art of conversation is what keeps those leaves alive and blowing in the wind. As of late, however, the art of conversation has joined the growing list of other lost arts of civility.

I get it that we live in a very concrete world where even words are made of cement, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it or like it.

Mining words for their meaning and using words the way a painter uses paint on a canvas is good for the soul. It used to be that people would go out to eat not just for a good meal, but for good company and good conversation.

Have you been out to eat lately? There’s no such thing as background music anymore. At most restaurants where the current generation hangs out, the music is loud and intrusive. It discourages conversation. People stand around downing expensive drinks yelling at one another.

When was the last time you had a conversation of any substance? Do you think in black and white or is your mind still filled with colors? Spread the good word.

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Time wasn’t on L. Frank Baum’s mind when he wrote “The Wizard of Oz.” Suffice it to say that Dorothy probably didn’t break any land-speed records on her journey on the YBR. Had she been given a specific time limit in which she had to complete her journey, the story would have missed the real point – that the human race is not a track and field event, but rather a timeless journey.

I admire the fictional Dorothy because she had the gumption to follow the YBR to find her heart’s desire. I am also a big fan of Calbraith Perry Rodgers.

Calbraith Perry Who?… you might ask yourself…and I wouldn’t be surprised if you did because most people have never heard of him.  So let me possibly be the first to tell you about a man who truly followed the YBR. And while Dorothy’s journey began once her house crash-landed in Oz, Cal Rodgers’ journey began once he took off in the air in his amazing Vin Fiz, an early Wright Brothers’ airplane.

September 17th marks the 99th anniversary of the first flight across the continent. And the amazing flight was made by a man who had had only about 90 minutes of actual air time before he took off at Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn for a flight that should have earned him a far better place in history than we’ve accorded him.

Cal Rodgers was a 32-year old adventure seeker. He wasn’t an idealist out to accomplish some great deed for humanity. No, he was in it for the money. The fantastically rich William Randolph Hearst announced that he was going to award $50,000 (about a million dollars today) to the first flyer who could cross the country in 30 days or less.

Rodgers was out of his mind. No one had ever done such a thing. No one, in fact, had ever thought it was possible, except for dreamers (Thank God for dreamers!). There were no airports, no navigation maps, no airplane fix-it up shops, beacons…no nothing! All Rodgers could do was fly low enough so he could follow railroad tracks and look for landmarks.

Cal Rodgers’ journey started out on the wrong foot when his ground crew set up the Vin Fiz at the wrong starting place. And it only got worse because he got lost over New Jersey when he followed the wrong railroad tracks on his way to Middletown, NY. Less than 24 hours after the start of his journey in the aerial YBR, he had the first of many, many crashes when the Vin Fiz got caught up in some wires when he took off from Middletown.

49 days and about 32 crashes later, Cal Rodgers touched down in Pasadena, CA on November 5. He missed winning the prize by only 19 days! He made it, but he wasn’t satisfied. Pasadena is not on the coast of California and Rodgers wanted to say he actually flew from coast to coast. So on November 12 he took off from Pasadena for Long Beach, a distance of only 20 miles.

How long did it take Rodgers to fly 20 miles? He didn’t land in Long Beach until Dec 10!  And why? Because he crashed twice and on the second crash Rodgers broke his ankle and had to recuperate.

In all it took Rodgers 84 days to complete his trip. He was only in the air for a total of 84 hours.

Maybe Rodgers didn’t have the brains of a scarecrow, but what he lacked in brain power he certainly made up for it in heart and courage.

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Once-upon-a-blog I wrote about carrying extra baggage on the YBR and how it can slow you down, not to mention weigh you down. The funny thing about the YBR is how often we think more about the destination than the journey. And while having a destination in mind isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it can prevent us from being totally engaged in the now. Life is filled with arrivals, i.e. getting to where we wanted to get, but it’s also filled with moments that happen along the way on the YBR.

If you’ve ever planned and executed a Thanksgiving dinner you’ll understand what I mean. (My hat is off to Patty for buying all the items used in a Thanksgiving dinner. Without her behind the scenes work, I would be a violinist without a violin. I was going to use a juggler as my analogy, but there are some problems with the way that one plays out.)

But I digress. Back to the kitchen. So you get up early Thanksgiving morning and begin preparing the feast – making fresh stuffing, peeling potatoes to be boiled and then mashed, readying the turkey that you had sitting in brine overnight, etc.  You put the bird in the oven, baste it…make the mashed potatoes, take care of the creamed onions, string beans, etc. and then eventually carve the turkey and set all the food out on the table. And in 30 to 35 minutes, you’re clearing the table to make room for desert.

The finished meal was the destination, but what about the preparation? The preparation is the time we spend on the YBR investing ourselves in the now as it unfolds. Of course the meal is important, but too often we forget about how important the preparation was.

That’s why we need to focus on our lunch box because what we store away in our lunch box are the moments that rarely get a standing ovation let alone get recognized. The moments we save in our lunch box are the very little (almost insignificant) moments on the YBR that make the journey all the more joyous.

The moments are seeing the smile on our child’s face when they come in the door after a day at school; seeing a pair of little sneakers by the front door; the sound of the ice cream truck as it enters your neighborhood; the feel of cool, wet grass on your feet as you cross the lawn on a summer’s morning; the smell of breakfast being made in the kitchen; the feel of a new pencil in your hand; the sound of your mother’s voice on the other end of a telephone; the joy you experience when you come across a picture you thought had been lost forever; the feeling you get when your bat connects with the ball in a little league game (I’m still waiting for that sensation); the sound the ocean makes as it hits the sand…

Those little moments taken together make up the life we live on the YBR. They need to be cherished.

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In memory of ALL the victims of 9/11

Today, 9/11/2010, marks the ninth anniversary of an event that not only shattered the fabric of life here in America, but around the world. We marked the day with solemn services at Ground Zero and at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania. To those of us old enough at the time of 9/11 to understand the tragic implications of the ‘attack,’ today will always have meaning for us. But what about those innocent children…around the world…who were born after 9/11? What do we tell them? What do we hope that they will come to understand about a day that changed the world…again. And I say again, because the YBR stretches back thousands and thousands of years, and in the past there were a number of events that changed the world…forever.

What do I tell my grandchildren? That we lived in the dark ages? That we allowed fanatically rulers and leaders to take charge of the world? That even though it was the 21st Century, we were people with an 18th, 15th, 12th century mind?

I would first tell my grandchildren that there were far too many innocent victims as a result of 9/11. And those innocent victims not only include the people who lost their lives on that day, but the families of all who perished, and their friends, co-workers and the unselfish fire fighters, police and other men and women who rushed in to save lives.  I would also like to tell them that each and every one of us alive at the time, no matter where we called home, was victims. And that list of victims even includes the people living in what we called enemy lands. I include them because while we suffered the loss of life, they suffered the loss of personal and individual freedom.

I would tell my grandchildren, if they asked me who was at fault, I would have to say that we were all at fault to some degree. I would say that because we live in a world where might is right and where far too many leaders still believe that it is far better to destroy than it is to build.

I would also have to tell them, as they got older, that history is a very sad story, and not because it has to be, but because we make it that way. I would even tell them that the three most powerful world religions are the enemy. I would hasten to add that the love that is supposed to be at the foundation of these three world religions is good and even holy, but the adherence to books filled with passages that call for the murder of ‘infidels’ is what makes the world such a dark and cold place.

I would tell my children that two forces are at war in the world: secularism and theism. Half the world accepts religious teachings, but only on specific Sabbath days. During the rest of the week, they try to keep the commandments, but their main purpose is to make a living. The other half of the world refuses to embrace anything that is secular and demands strict adherence to religious beliefs and teachings.

Here’s the rub, I would tell my grandchildren. Secularism is a religion. And in America, secularism has its holy scriptures. Maybe not as old as scriptures of the three great world religions, but nonetheless, our documents, i.e. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are considered to be secularism’s holy writings.

Fortunately we do have a voice in secularism. To those who believe ‘our’ holy writings were set in stone and should go unchallenged, there are those who believe that those ‘holy’ writings are subject to change…with notice.

And how would I answer my grandchildren if they asked me if another 9/11 could happen in their lifetime?

I would tell them that I want to believe that 9/11/2001 was the end of man killing man in the name of God. But, I would tell them that the only way that could ever happen is if instead of seeing the world as a place of many nations, we see it as one world with one people.

Might my grandchildren say I’m crazy? I hope so.

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Unless a cat was the last one to use the toilet paper, there's no excuse for this!

Dorothy, the ever cheerful cherub with a buoyant personality that could cause a diabetic to suffer a severe insulin shock, never seemed to let anything get to her, i.e. ‘piss her off.’ Contrary to her perky persona, I believe there had to have been things that did annoy her. For starters, I think Toto’s nippy, little yelping might have irked the white socks off of her. I’m sure the Scarecrow’s rustling sound he made when he walked must have driven her slightly mad. And I can’t imagine how she could tolerate the Tin Man’s clinking and clanking and the way he whined all the time. Don’t get me started on the Lion. His voice alone was probably enough to drive Dorothy over the brink.

If I put my mind to it, I believe I could probably come up with a long laundry list of Dorothy’s pet peeves. But I’d rather invest what little blogging energy I have into enumerating some of my pet peeves.

A few of my more potent pet peeves happen in a supermarket while waiting to check-out.

1)      You’re standing behind a shopper who undoubtedly is lost-in-space while the cashier scans their items; otherwise the brain-dead shopper would understand that it’s customary to hand over some form of payment when the transaction is complete. It drives me insane when said shoppers give the cashier this dumb look when asked for payment. Why can’t they be prepared to complete the transaction? Why do they act startled and surprised? It can’t be the first time they’ve ever shopped in a supermarket. But lo and behold they act that way. Shoppers who pay in cash aren’t happy giving over the fewest number of paper money. No, they prefer to pay their $97.38 bill with mostly singles that they have to count out one at a time. And then they rummage through their purse looking for 38 cents. Those shoppers who pay by check can never seem to find their checkbook. And when they do, they don’t ever have a pen…that writes. If these numb nuts knew they were going to pay by check, why didn’t they have the checkbook out, the pen ready and most of the information written on the check before the transaction was completed! And lastly there are the shoppers who pay with a credit or debit card. Why do these shoppers always look at the credit card mechanism with such fear and dread? And why do they have to have the cashier walk them through the entire process? Unless it’s the first time they ever used a credit card check out machine, there’s no excuse.

2)      And then there are those grocery shoppers who like to use coupons. I like coupons, but if you know you’re going to use them, don’t hide them in your pocket book. Have them ready. And please, read the expiration dates before you attempt to use them.

3)      So you’re in line at a clothing store and you get stuck behind someone who must have been on a shopping spree because they unload about 76 items of clothing (all of them either on hangers or having those anti-theft devices attached to them). Why is it that so many cashiers decide that they need to handle each and every item with the delicate care only a bomb expert should employ? (The pair of women’s underwear size XXXXL is not going to explode because of rough handling!) But no, this cashier type likes to not only remove all the times from their hangers and fold them ever so neatly on the counter, they have to make chit-chat with the customer. And then once they have all the items in a tidy pile, they toss them wildly in a bag and hand over the wrinkled mess to the shopper.

4)      Driving is a source of my pet peeves. But one thing that drives me up a wall is the driver who is going to make a right hand turn. Listen, you don’t need to come to a complete stop to make the turn! Just make it already. And please, use your signal.  (Here’s a self-accusation. I am other driver’s pet peeve when I fail to turn my directional signal off. Sorry about that.)

5)      And lastly (since a long blog is the pet peeve of many readers), I have a recent pet peeve. It has to do with a common expression people use when talking about the recent departed. I hate it when people say, “They’re in a better place right now.” Unless that person is sunning on a beach in the Caribbean or strolling in San Diego, they are not in a better place. For all we know they could be in Trenton, New Jersey!

 So, what’s your pet peeve on the YBR?

(A note to my family: I know, I know. Many of my idiosyncrasies are your pet peeves. Get over them. I’m old and set in my ways.)

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