Saturday, July 28, 2012

Unconditional Love

Unconditional love. You know it when you feel it.   I feel it when baby Chase sees me and gives me the biggest smile of pure joy, his blue eyes sparkling. It's the same for my daughter Michelle, Chase's mother.  Chase sees her now and can barely contain himself; he's off crawling toward her as fast as he can, stretches out his arms, wants to be in her loving embrace.  He's in heaven. He is safe.  Loved.  I feel it when my grandkids run to me with big smiles on their faces, bring me gifts, tell me jokes, tease me, want to visit me.  My daughter Elissa feels it whenever her grandson Philip jumps into her arms with a big smile on his face and joy in his heart.. 

Elissa remembers feeling it first whenever she ran into the arms of my dad, her beloved grandfather (photo of photo right, Elissa at 3-years-old).  And with my mom, too, her beloved Nana.  Michelle remembers.  We lived in Toledo and my parents lived in Rochester, NY, but the distance did not diminish the love.  Every few months we went to Rochester or the grandparents came to Toledo, always laden with gifts and goodies for their precious grandchildren. Once my mom brought an Easter bunny cake. It was pure love, all the way around.    

It’s harder to give and to receive unconditional love as we grow into teenhood and then parenthood. Teens struggle to find themselves, to be their own persons, want to discover who they are apart from their parents.  Parents, for their part, want to protect their children from mistakes, shield them from harms' way, teach them values, right from wrong, so we love them but with conditions, with concerns. 

That anxiety and strong sense of responsibility for raising our children seem to vanish when we become grandparents.  Yep, the grandparents-grandchildren equation is easy and enjoyable, the reward you can get for getting through parenthood!  It’s just so easy to love our grandchildren, to kick back and simply enjoy them, and for them to love  us in return.  Unconditional love.  You know it when you feel it.    

 I'm enjoying the unconditional love flowing between 
Michelle and Chase, mother and son.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Sylvania Historical Society and Museum: Preserving Our Past for the Future

visit us at our new website,

One of the institutions that creates a community spirit in the town of Sylvania, Ohio, is the Sylvania Historical Society and History Museum, which preserves manuscripts, artifacts, memorabilia, and stories of Sylvania history.  It’s a vital part of the complex of buildings, old and restored, that compose the Sylvania Historical Village.

The purpose of the museum is to collect, preserve and disseminate our local history.  It houses memorabilia, letters, artifacts and antiques, including the original village safe in need of restoration;  has a great collection of history books;  organizes informative exhibits (the current exhibits focus on Ohio businesses and homemade quilts); and presents regular history programs for school-aged children as well as public programs.  I enjoyed a Chautauqua-type  program on great women in Ohio History and explored another on Sylvania's underground railroad before the Civil War, which I am learning was a substantial part of the secret system that helped slaves escape to freedom. The Lathrop House, for example, still standing, was the site of one of the most important stops, or "stations," along the road.  I had no idea that so many slaves escaping from the South had been sheltered right here. “The Underground Railroad and Sylvania’s Historic Lathrop House,” by Gaye E. Gindy, tells the fascinating story.  It demonstrates as well how local history adds to the national story all Americans share. 

As an historian, I appreciate the efforts of the historical society and museum.  I was recently elected to the board of directors for a two–year term and look forward to serving. Great thanks go to the stalwart leadership of the Historical Society, including Bob Smith, president; Pam Rohrbacher, vice-president; Liz Stover, treasurer; and Polly Cooper, secretary and newsletter editor.  Also on the board are Mimi Malcolm, Tedd Long, Read Backus, Paul Roebke, Sandy Gratop.  Former board member and member-at-large Don Painter also deserves kudos. I look forward to serving with these great Sylvanians, helping to grow the Museum’s membership and to keep Sylvania and Ohio history alive for today and future generations.

MEMBERSHIPS ONLY $18/year @ Sylvania History Museum,  5717 N Main, Sylvania 43560, for free visits, newsletter, special invitations to public programs, history books and gifts galore, and the pleasure of belonging to YOUR history society!  We also have a new website thanks to board member Tedd Long.  Visit  New email:  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nantucket Redux

A flood of memories rushed over me when I saw Nantucket Island from the air.  I’m returning to the island for a vacation with daughter Michelle and her kids.  It’s been years.  Such a tiny place for so many larger-than-life memories.

We spent summers there when my kids were growing up, the best way to see their dad’s family and get in lots of fresh air, ocean breezes, cool nights.  We had family picnics on the South shore, collected tons of seashells,  picked blueberries on the moors, stalked ghosts at the Lucretia Mott house and the Whaling Museum.  There were movies at the Dreamland,  icecream at the Sweet Shoppe, shopping up and down Main Street from the Harbour to Orange Street and the Nantucket Bake Shop. 

The gray shingled houses, blue hydrangea, and  winding cobblestone streets echoed with the sounds of whaling ships coming home after two years at sea; of women searching anxiously from their “widows watches, ” those look-outs atop houses; of whaling captains and owners building mansions still standing; of  Quakers manumitting their slaves and Frederick Douglass speaking at the Athenium; of black Nantucketers building their own schools, churches and burial grounds; of fog horns warning boats and fishermen to come ashore.    

My girls still love the Island, though the house they might have continued to visit every summer, that they might have inherited, on property once part of farmland owned by the family for generations, was sold to strangers.  They  will never forget that. Nor will I.  They were broken hearted. The rest of the family tried desperately to save the place, an almost sacred piece of land,  but they couldn’t raise enough money to meet the sellers’ demands.  Just another dream shattered, another expectation dashed.   

My girls still dream of Nantucket.  They still see, hear and feel the sights and sounds and scents.  It’s in their blood, they say.  They get back to the island rarely, when they can.   A few summers ago and this summer Michelle rented a place across the road from the house and grounds she remembers as a child.  She wants her four kids to have the Nantucket experience she cherishes.  My granddaughter Alli says she wants to buy a Nantucket house for her mother, a place she and all the kids can go every summer. She knows how much it means to her mom.  Family values.  The power of honoring legacies.  Elissa hopes to get there sometime, too, maybe next year, she says in a whisper, but it’s awfully expensive.  I want it to happen because I know how much it means to her, too.  I told her I had mixed feelings about going back.  “At least you get to smell the ocean,” she said.  “I miss that.  I will always miss that.”

So here I am back in Nantucket after so many years. We've all made peace with our island history. In many ways it is just the same as I remember it.  Sure there's more building, less oceanfront, more houses, less open space.  But the Island retains its beauty. The flora and fauna, the bayberry and wild roses, the privet and scotch broom have grown up enormously, joyrfully, and the island looks lush.  The honeysuckle and bayberry still line the sandy road to the cliffs and the beach on the North side of the Island.  It feels like it did some 40 years ago, when we were young and hope sprang eternal. 

The foghorns blow forlornly through the gray night.  The eagles circle the moors, and the vultures dive into troubled waters.  Sharks cruise the shore.  Dreams have a way of shattering into a million pieces, where they float on  ocean waves under a full moon.  Peace has a way of dawning, and that's the best thing of all. 

I wrote a poem about the sale of the Nantucket house and property, responding to my girls’ pain, shock and sadness.  I’ve long since reconciled with the reality, and so have they. They will always have Nantucket in their blood. Now their kids do.  The poem reflects the heat of the moment, anger that has passed, which as we know, as we learn as we go, is just a small marker on life’s path.

No sentimental attachment to familial obligations
stood in his way.
He rode roughshod across generations,
Flung sand in the eyes of dreamers.
Watched impassively as honeysuckle choked roses 
along the lane to the ocean.
The dreamers watched, too, as a bayberry-gray fog rolled across the moors            silencing the stories of ancestors and the dreams of the  living.   

Now, on to new chapters and new adventures. Looks like Michelle is going to make it back every summer.  Nantucket is in her blood.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kyle and His Nana's Little Adventure

Mitchell's on one side, Harmony in Life on the other, my apartment
house in the middle, and two elegant clocks, the fancy one dating to 1642.
On either side of my house are two small businesses: Harmony in Life, an eclectic shop that sells gifts, candles, some jewelry and offers yoga classes and massage (both very popular), and Mitchell’s Clock Shop, which sells and repairs clocks and watches. 

“Have you been in these stores,” my 9-year-old grandson Kyle asked one day, after we had lunched at the Dragonfly (where, uncharacteristically, he ate a whole chicken salad sandwich). We were strolling leisurely up the street to my apartment house, a few doors away.    

“Lots of times in Harmony,” I answered, “but never in the clock shop. Can’t believe I’ve never been in there.”

“Well, let’s go the clock shop,” Kyle said brightly!  I admired his sense of adventure. 

“Have you ever been in Harmony in Life?” I asked Kyle. He had not. 

“Okay, well let’s go there, too!”  And thus began Kyle’s and my little adventure.    

Kyle liked Harmony in Life.  It smells good, of sweet soap, candles and incense, and it has lots of interesting items for the mind, body and spirit.  The lovely owner, Gale, was happy to meet Kyle and urged him to look at the collection of stones for sale especially, all kinds of wonderful stones with special spirits and magic powers.  Kyle took his time looking them over and selected two stones.  I picked out one.  We had shopped locally, chatted with a neighbor, and left the shop with those lucky stones in our pockets.   

Then we walked past my apartment house to the clock shop.    

We were greeted with a big smile by owner John Mitchell, whose bright blue eyes twinkled as Kyle and I oohed and ahhed at the clocks he had.  “Call me John,” he said.  He showed us around and talked about his shop and the house it’s in, which turns out to be “the oldest house on the block.”   Wow, Kyle and I agreed.   

John Mitchell pointed out a masterpiece, too: A clock made in Holland in 1642!

 "1642!" Kyle repeated, appreciating its antiquity. It was beautiful and still going.  I have to go back and ask John for more details, but my historian’s curiosity got to me. I wondered if that elegantly crafted clock had been brought to America by Dutch immigrants who had first settled in New York state, maybe in the town of new Amsterdam, NY, then had moved West to Ohio, bringing their prized possession with them.  I know there’s a great story behind that clock, I said to Kyle, who nodded at the possibilities.   

Another clock, which had a shining gold pendulum and looked old, was new by comparison, John said, perhaps an early 20th century piece. 

The clocks are so pretty, I said to John.  “I’ll tell you what’s pretty,” he responded.  "Those flower pots going up your stairway. I look at them every day.“ Well, thank you! Such a lovely compliment. It pleased me and Kyle. I never met a clock man I didn't like, I thought to myself.  Such gentleman and scholars. I smiled at the thought.

"Aren't you glad we went into the clock shop," Kyle asked as we walked over to my place.  "I sure am. I'm especially glad I went with you. Thanks for a great little adventure!" Kyle smiled. We were both happy as could be.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Jud's Wonders and Watercolors

The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine.  I remember passing fields of Sunflowers that went on forever.  Jud’s watercolor sunflower captures “the bright hope and deep pathos” of the Ukrainian people.   

Jud says he started doing watercolor paintings in earnest when he was a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Ukraine.  He’s a Presbyterian minister, retired nonprofit director and AARP exec (in Maine and DC), and now a RPCV (Returned PCV).   

We trained together in Chernigov, not far from Kyiv, the capital. We were raw recruits, learning as we went, adapting as we learned. We walked and explored the town together. We learned how to take marshrukas (mini-buses) here and there. We processed. We were in the same Russian language group with the great teacher Larisa, and for a few weeks with another dedicated teacher, Tamila.  Intense.

Some three months later Jud was assigned to Konotop, in northern Ukraine, and I went to Starobelsk in far-eastern Ukraine.  Different towns, but mostly the same experiences.  We stayed in touch, struggled with our Russian, got to know the train system and how to navigate geography and culture.  We shared ups and downs.  We met often in Kyiv and other great Ukrainian cities such as Odessa, Lviv, Uzgorod, and Slavsky.

We traveled together to Istanbul, Egypt (photo at the pyramids), Budapest and Krakow, staying in funky youth hostels, having fun, exploring new places. 

Jud now lives in Washington, DC, up in the Van Ness area (that is up north from  Dupont Circle where I lived for 17 years), and I live in Sylvania, Ohio.  We stay in touch.  I visited him in Washington last autumn, the trees changing and the colors awesome; I’m trying to get him to Sylvania, maybe not as easy as communicating and communing by email and skype.  

Jud stays busy and involved, teaching English to Russian students, teaching watercolor, decorating his condo, tending his garden, engaged in all the activities DC offers, planning trips, like an upcoming sojourn with a UCC group to do a construction project on the Pine Ridge Resevation in SD.  He's also a reader, and we share books.   

He just finished Tom Rob Smith’s “The Secret Speech,” which I mailed to him after I read it.  It’s a devastating story about the effects of Stalinism and its demise in Russia and in the former Soviet Republics like Ukraine.  It's about the speech Krucshchev gave to the 1956 Communist party meeting and the enormous ripple effect it had on all of Soviet society, which unraveled in the most cruel ways. The insights are enormous and painful, riveting Jud called it. I had a tough time finishing the book, but Jud and I agree it makes us marvel at the resilience of the Ukrainian people and their heroic efforts to survive. It helps us understand, more than ever, the significance of the Soviet past and how the struggles have shaped  what I call “the psychology of the culture.” 

Interestingly, Jud’s watercolor sunflower, above, captures this.  It's a sunflower, bright and sassy, but with a bent, a tilt not upward toward the sun, but downward into a blue and hazy unknown.  It doesn't stand tall and proud, but seems to be wilting, downcast, maybe in need of sustenance, maybe gathering strength.  The dominant yellow and blue are the colors of the Ukrainian flag, but the touches of red add pathos.    

A Ukrainian friend of Jud's must have seen something like this when she saw the painting and, with tears in her eyes, told Jud it captured “the bright hope and deep pathos of my country.”

I treasure this painting, and all the lovely watercolors Jud creates, all the flowers, winter scenes, and nature's gifts.  It's why I love the original  watercolor notecards he’d send me from time to time while serving in Ukraine:  “hang in there” notes;  after a friend from St. Pete died;  when my brother died, and I was in Starobelsk, a devastating loss.   

Now, I continue my blog and Jud continues his watercolors, his creativity flowing and flowering with his new life in the nation’s capital.  He lived there when he was with AARP, but now he's making a new post-PC life, with lots of new experiences and adventures under his belt.   

Maybe one of the most  important legacies we can leave, he says, is “a positive engaged life.”   Amen.  It's a Peace Corps lesson.  And once a PCV always a PCV, no matter where life takes you.   


Friday, July 6, 2012


Everyone’s sweltering, a heatwave rippling across the US from California to the Midwest to Washington, DC, New York City and the mid-Atlantic.  Temperatures over 100F and higher. Some 40 states "sizzling" now, according to the Don’t know if it’s global warning or not, but it seems that it’s unbearably hot everywhere (photo by via flickr).

I remember a heatwave in Ukraine a few years ago, over 100F for days on end one August. Still, life went on and I walked or biked daily around and about the town of Starobelsk. The Aydar river provided some relief, but not much.

It was the August Vera Flyat, director of NGO Victoria, was doing community outreach for the Know Your Rights grant (a Peace Corps Small Projects Assistance Grant with support of USAID).  I dutifully went along to five or so little rural villages without fans or AC (ha!) to talk about "Rule of Law" in sweltering halls, corridors and beer tents, to people who had come to hear Vera and a legal expert talk about Ukrainian citizens' legal rights, get a copy of the new "Know Your Rights" booklet, and see an Amerikanka.      

It was the August I went with a dedicated library committee (Natalia Dohadailo, Laura the librarian, and Julie L) to Lugansk, some two hours away, to buy English- language books for the Library with our Peace Corps Partnership Grant, gifts from many of you included.  We were excited.

We thought we were fortunate that the library provided a car, but boy we were in for a surprise. The darn thing was so old it could barely keep going in the heat, and to make it worse, much worse, the driver had to keep the heater on to keep it going.  That means it was way over 100 F in the car, blowing hot air directly on our legs especially.  I moved around constantly to keep from burning, literally; we all did.  Our two-hour trip became a four-hour plus nightmare. 

But what I remember most of all is that no one said a word.  The driver was silent. No one complained.  We just kept moving around, stopped to get the car going a few times, stopped once for water.  We looked at each other, beads of sweat dripping from our faces, our clothes wet, and said...nothing.  It was a trip from hell, literally and figuratively. 

When I look back on it, I don’t know how we survived.

I think the silence actually helped.

I also think it was knowing that we had just bought some of the best English literature, grammars and children’s books for the library to add to the generous gift of Toledo books.  Thanks to friends in America, we had  created the first English-language book collection open to the public in Starobelsk, Ukraine.  The sacrifice of suffering in the heat was worth the effort, worth the outcome. 

Heatwave.  It’s hard to  keep cool, but that book-buying journey with Ukrainian friends, and the outreach to rural villages with Vera, taught me a huge lesson in surviving the heat.  Breath deeply, think popsicles on your neck, drink as much water as you can, be silent and pretend the heat doesn’t exist. Easier said than done, I know.

But remembering is helping me survive our current heatwave in Sylvania.  It could be worse, I tell myself.  It’s a Peace Corps lesson: things could always be worse.  Just thinking about that can cool you down! 

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