Monday, December 30, 2013

Wishes for my Grandkids in 2014


My grandkids, 2013. The family collage: Christmas Eve at Casa de Mama.
I have pretty much the same wishes for my growing grandkids, now ranging in ages from 25 down to 2 years old, this New Year's Eve as I did last year. So, with a few updates, here are my wishes for them, and for all grandkids everywhere, in 2014. 

Who knows what the future will hold for my seven grandchildren.  The world, ever-changing, holds both challenges and opportunities. The environment is fragile--global warming, the Arctic, rising seas, devastating natural disasters. Technology advances at cyber-speed. My grandkids have so many choices in this world of rapid social change. 

I hope they chose wisely.  I hope their wishes come true.  I hope they stay safe and healthy. That the god and goddesses who watch over children are always with them.  That angels like my brother Loren sit on their shoulders at all times and protect them, encourage them, give them confidence.  I hope my grandkids stay positive about life, choose a good path to their future, take life’s inevitable ups and downs with strength, even humor, and remain resilient. Yes, resilient and strong, bending with the wind like reeds.

I hope they remember that the content of their character and good values are more important than material things, that their inner spirit is more important than their outer looks, that following their inner light is  more important than following other people's. 

I hope they remember they live in a global village, that some people are less fortunate than they are, that in gratitude and with compassion they can contribute to making the world and their environment a better place. 

I pray that they grow in wisdom, stay true to themselves, follow their dreams.  These are some of my new year’s wishes for my grandchildren, and for kids of all ages all over the world.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Florida Heaven before Home for the Holidays

The beach (near the historic pink Don Cesar), a white bird of paradise, with friends,
 some downtown decorations, full moon over palm, visit to Gulfport and iconic Casino.

It was great being back in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I had lived for 10 years before going to Ukraine with the Peace Corps and then moving back to the Toledo area.  I stayed with friend Sandie;  visited a former neighbor, 85-year-old Maria, still going strong; and also artist friend Sue and retired publisher Christopher, who helped publish my brother Loren's autobiography, An Asperger Journey. I couldn't do everything I wanted; time flew by.  I'll return next year, for sure!

Best was being in the downtown area, close to the Bay, on the waterfront, near museums, restaurants and shops. A dinner at The Moon, a favorite restaurant, was a special treat.  We ate out a lot, there are so many great choices and all in walking distance.  The holiday decorations along the waterfront are spectacular, and more so as the sun sets and a glorious full moon rises. The weather was perfect. The beach was wonderful.  Christopher reminded me that the heat is never far away, but I remember the winter months--December, January, February, March--the best time of the year in the Tampa Bay area. While snow and ice covered Toledo and places North, we basked in the glow of a Florida winter. No wonder those Allegiant airways flights between Toledo and St. Pete are always filled! 

Now I'm back home in Sylvania, negotiating colder temperatures and snow. But I have my Florida memories to keep me warm.  And the joys of a family holiday in the wings.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Grandkids and Holiday Shows

The Timberstone 6th grade band on stage and after the
 show.  Kyle, wearing a holiday tie, and his mom.
Tis the season for children's holiday concerts, plays, and performances.

My grandson Kyle, age 11, plays the trumpet in his Timberstone Junior High School's 6th grade band. It's his first experience with the trumpet, and his first in a band.  He's enjoying it. This week, Kyle's band performed at the annual holiday concert, which took place at Sylvania Southview High School.  The 7th and 8th grade bands also played, along with the high school Jazz band.   

The 6th grade band did a great job of  Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Jingle Bells, a Hanukah song, and a Kwanza song. These kids are learning how to read music, play instruments, absorb a repertoire of new and classical interfaith music, follow a conductor, and practice orchestral protocol.  It's learning for a lifetime.

The older kids showed the younger ones, and the audience of enthusiastic parents and families, how wonderful the progression is from one year to the next, in terms of mastering an instrument and the whole orchestral experience.  "The kids get better and better," my daughter Michelle noted.

I used to say "these concerts are a hoot" but that was before one of the kids took up the trumpet.  Still, I remember my kids' concerts, where no one was on the same page, forgotten lines were the norm, the sounds were, well, cacophonous, and it was all good!  

Kyle's band, and all the young performers at Southview, actually did a super job and performed at a pretty high level.  Kudos to them, and to their dedicated teachers!

The recent highlights of the season also include my great-grandson Philip's performance in his church's Christmas play. I think Philip played an angel.  He sure looked like one, in his jeans and white tee-shirt, singing merrily along. He went through all the motions and movements, with great gusto, to the thumping sounds of pop music and the good old classics, and read his lines perfectly.  My daughter Elissa, his Gran E, swears he winked at her a few times.  She restrained herself from jumping onto the stage to hug him.  Philip's mom, my granddaughter Julia, smiled with pride.

Kyle is too old to wink, but I think he looked up from his trumpet a few times to see his mom and I, and the whole extended family, applauding vigorously.  It didn't matter if the timing was a bit off.  To us it sounded like the trumpets of the Wise Men  welcoming the Three Kings.  Who knows, our Kyle might grow into a Miles Davis, or join the High School Jazz Band or, perhaps more important, become a young man who simply loves and enjoys music, all kinds of music.

I remind myself that my teenaged grandkids entertained us in the same way when they were six and eleven.   Now, they're off doing their own thing.  That's why the younger ones bring such great pleasure.  Two-year-old Chase is bringing up the rear, thank goodness. More performances to look forward to.

We know the magic years don't last forever, but the memories sure do!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

VW Bus: Rolling into the Sunset?

Painted VW van in Brazil.  Andre Penner/AP
I am mourning the end of the Volkswagon bus. Production is stopping at the last VW van plant, in Brazil. The end of an era. The VW vans driving off into the sunset? I can't imagine a world without them.

If we hadn't had our red and gray VW van, covered with flowers and peace stickers, we may not have travelled from Madison, Wisconsin, to Toledo, Ohio, in 1968. That beloved van carried our 3-year-old daughter Elissa and 3-month-old daughter Michelle, our German shepherd, and our possessions, consisting mostly of the hundreds of books gathered during our days as history graduate students at the University.  We clocked up hundreds of miles, many memories, and lots of laughs in that bus.   

When we rolled up the driveway to our new home on Robinwood Avenue in the Old West End a few years later, our retired neighbor, Mr. Shifflett, in his 70s, was heard to say to his wife,  "Goddamn hippies moving in, Gertie."

That VW van must have meant something different to them than it meant to us, but we soon became the best of neighbors and friends in spite of it. As we struggled with plumbing, electrical and other problems in this our first house, we would call Mr. Shifflett to the rescue.  Time and again.  He loved it. Gertie whispered to me that she was glad we were there, to keep Bert busy.  "He needs to have things to do," she'd say, as she puttered in her beautiful garden, and helped me start mine.  We were glad to help out. We kept him busy. 

We kept our VW van busy, too, hauling and crawling and carrying us from here to there.  We held onto it through breakdowns, failing brakes, travelling accidents in winter storms, heater problems, our engine overheating on the highway to Rochester, and finally some fuel pump or transmission issue that led us to think the unthinkable: maybe we should trade it in for a station wagon.

A station wagon?  For a VW bus? Yeah, it did sound awfully suburban. "But the kids are growing, we have Tryg now (our huge Norwegian Elkhound), and we need something bigger to take on family visits and our summer trips to Nantucket." 

We traded in the VW van, but not the spirit of the van. That stayed with us a long time.  So did the music associated with it, for me the tunes of the Who, Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead. The music and the memories.  We'd see a red and gray VW van on the road and one of the kids would yell, "There's our van!"

Actually, I have a feeling the VW vans will be with us in person for a long time, too.  They can't just disappear from the landscape of our lives.

After all. there are still millions of them on the road somewhere. I see them, colorfully painted, in Mexico.  I envision them in Brazil, in Africa, all over the world where they fix cars up and keep them going.  Heck, they're still on the road from Madison to Toledo.

It's hard to imagine a world without them: the iconic van on wheels rolling into eternity.

yahoo image. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mandela's Legacy: Handshakes for Peace

USA Today, Getty image.
Handshakes for peace.  President Obama shook hands with Raul Castro today at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa. A gesture of friendship, long overdue in my view. Obama is also trying to open dialogue with Iran.  Another positive gesture for peace in the troubled Middle East.  Any diplomatic overtures beat war. I hope our Congress gets this, as it listens to Secretary of State John Kerry today. I'm not optimistic on this score, given this Congress's abysmal record.

Nelson Mandela would get it of course; he would surely applaud these actions.  In the tradition of Gandhi, Mandela embodied the belief that reconciliation and dialogue are the ways to peace.   In forgiving his jailors, Mandela freed himself.  In loving rather than hating, in keeping his eyes on the prize, he freed a nation.

I remember hearing Mandela in Washington, DC in 1990.  My friend Suzanne and I stood in line for hours.  It was worth it, being in the presence of Mandela, recently released from jail. He was still married to Winnie Mandela; she spoke too. It was powerful. Moving. Electrifying. Mandela, free after 27 years in prison, seeking an end to Apartheid, finishing his life's work, with a grandness of spirit that overwhelmed.  Tears of joy flowed.

I never even considered his age at that time. I didn't see a 72-year-old man.  I saw a warrior for freedom, a youthful spirit, a transcendent soul. It was beautiful, for all of us, thousands and millions of us, many of us who had once joined in protests to free Mandela and end apartheid.  How often do we get to share a soul? How often are we in the presence of greatness beyond measure?

Obama knows this, acknowledged it in his eulogy: "He taught us to fight for a world united by our common hopes....[But] people are still struggling around the world....Our work is not yet done."  South Africa still struggles.  Deadly violence has erupted in the Central African Republic.  And not only in Africa.  All around the world, peace, justice, economic opportunity remain elusive.

Pope Francis is reminding us of this, too.  I see great hope in the Pope's journey.  He has joined the struggle.  He is keeping Mandela's dreams alive.

To continue Mandela's work and vision, this is, indeed, the very best way to honor his legacy.     

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sylvania Welcomes Holiday Art Trail and Santa

The American Gallery at Saxon Square (center), with art pieces around it;
  Michael Calandra and granddaughter Julia at Frameworks, Mayberry Square,
 where I bought a print (upper right). Also enjoyed For the Love of Art, on 
Holland-Sylvania, a great place for art supplies and art classes for all ages.   
Sylvania was hopping this weekend, with its fantastic 4th Annual Holiday Art Trail and Santa's coming to town to light our Christmas tree.

The Art Trail featured fifteen galleries and arts places all over town.  My daughter, granddaughter and I immersed ourselves in the fabulous variety of these cultural treasures.  We couldn't make them all, only a few, but we savored the galleries we visited, and promised to start earlier next year.

We then picked up my great-grandson Philip, who was practicing for a Christmas play at church, and went to greet Santa's arrival in Sylvania.  It was a sunny but very cold afternoon. "I'm freezing. I can see my breath," Philip said to his GranE, pulling his facemask down over his face so all we could see were his big brown eyes. Okay. Time to go a few doors down to the barn in back of the Sylvania Heritage Museum for hot chocolate and cookies.  That hit the spot.

As soon as we walked back down Main toward Maplewood, hot chocolate in hand, Santa came riding into Sylvania, not with his reindeer, but in an old horse-drawn haywagon.  Mrs. Claus was with him.  The reindeer were resting for the big night, we assured Philip, and Santa came early to let us know he wouldn't forget to stop in Sylvania on Christmas day. Philip is still in those magic years when wondrous things  happen, and we rejoiced in his wonder.  He pet the horses and starred in amazement as Santa pulled the switch to light the Christmas tree in the center of town. It sparkled!

We walked back to my place with Philip chatting away about his Christmas wish list. We know it won't be long before Philip stops believing in magic. We cherish his sweetness. We watched the sun set and a quarter moon rise.  It was a cold evening, but our hearts were warm.

My great-grandson Philip and me, and with his mom and GranE,
around lighted Christmas tree  photo (center); going for hot chocolate
at the barn behind the Sylvania Heritage Museum (upper right); and some
bright purple berries on a bush along the way that matched Elissa's boots! 



Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela Transcendent

"I am the captain of my soul." Nelson Mandela 

If there is a special place for magnificent souls in an after-life, in the quantum hologram of forever,  Nelson Mandela will now be there. 

Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1918 to December 5, 2013)  is one of the world's greatest  heroes ever. Few leaders touched our hearts more than this giant of freedom and forgiveness. 

After serving for 27 years in jail for his courageous fight against apartheid, Mandela returned to South Africa to finish what he had started.  He was 72 years old!  That fact alone astonishes.  In 1994 he became South Africa’s first black president. He served one term, then left politics to younger leaders. His dream lived on, and it will live on forever. Mandela united the global village in his heroic struggle for freedom.  His incredible journey, the last 23 years of his life, from 72 to 95 years of age, transformed us and the world.

My brother Loren would ask me, every time Mandela's name came up, which was often: “How many people could spend almost 30 years of their life in jail, for the crime of fighting for human freedom, and emerge with forgiveness in their heart?“

Not many.  "We'll probably not see the likes of Nelson Mandela again," President Obama said of him. He inspired the entire world by his example, his dignity and grace. He taught that "a big heart is better than a closed mind," Bill Clinton added.

"Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela, there's no one else like you," South Africans sing, as they now gather together, black and white from all walks of life, to celebrate his life and the triumph of the human spirit.  Creating a peaceful world through dialogue and reconciliation, in Africa, in the Middle East, around the globe, would be the very best way to honor his life.  Nelson Mandela transcendent.

Memory: My first participation in an anti-apartheid protest was in 1985 at the U. of Maryland, College Park. Signs said "Divest from S. Africa" and "Free Mandela!"   Lots of speeches.  After that I attended several protests in front of the So African Embassy in Washington, DC. I remember when Mandela was freed from jail, and joined joyful street celebrations. He came to Washington and spoke at the old Convention Center; my friend Suzanne and I stood in a long line for hours to get in, and we did.  It was thrilling, just to be in Mandela's presence. That was maybe 1995?  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Getting into the Holiday Spirit

The Sylvania Area Historical Society's home in holiday finery and lights along Main Street.
Below, my place on Main, December 2013.

Sylvania is sparkling in holiday lights, up and down Main Street and in the historic neighborhood around the downtown area. I joined in the festivities and decorated the front porch of the old house I live in on Main, a few doors from the Historical Museum, and the back porch entrance to my apartment.  

It is one of the loveliest times of the year. I put on the old Christmas music, classics like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, and remember the songs my Dad loved that filled our house as my mom fussed with the tree. It's a time for so many childhood memories and family traditions, which I now share with my kids and grandkids.

I'm not a big fan of huge malls and super-stores, but I enjoy the decorations and the wonders of the season.  Mostly, I try to "shop local."  Harmony in Life has jewelry, soaps, chimes, and other heavenly items, and so does Angela's Angels on the corner of Main and Erie.  The clothing shops have wonderful shirts, sweaters,  scarfs and colorful socks. ACE hardware has all the practical things you need, plus decorations and friendly service. And there are other small shops, like the Limelight, next to Sylvania Historical Village, that are great for gifts and stocking stuffers, as well as florists, beauty salons, and restaurants.   

And while you're on Main Street, why not tour the Historical Village and the Heritage Museum, now filled with beautifully decorated trees, some in historical themes.  These are treats the whole family will enjoy!

A walk down and around Main Street will get you in the holiday spirit. As soon as Santa gets into town, on Saturday December 7 around 4:30 pm, he'll light the Holiday tree. Downtown Sylvania looks like a fairyland, ready to welcome you.  

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