How Mama Met Daddy (And Other Spooky Stories)

Originally posted on Letters from Donna:

I always thought it was strange that my future husband’s aunt knitted a sweater ensemble for me when I was born and that she spent our teenage years trying to think of ways to introduce us. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who thought we would be perfect for each other.  Two other mutual friends conspired to bring us together, but I think even they were operating under the direction of someone else.

We grew up within a couple of miles of each other in one of the largest cities in the country, and a decade and a half later our families moved to the same small town and again lived a couple of miles apart. It wasn’t until we both went to college hundreds of miles in polar opposite directions from our common stomping grounds that we actually met. I was just home from college after my freshman year when our…

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An Open Letter to the United Airlines Worker at Gate A8 in Nashville on Tuesday

Lady, you’re a rock star at what you do.

Most people wouldn’t want your job even on a good day. We’ve become a nation of entitled people you know, and you deal with some of the most entitled among us, the “Do-you-have-any-idea-who-I-am?!!?” types who want what they want, when and how they want it. Boarding Group 1. Three over-sized carry ons.  No fees and on time.  Every time. No excuses.  God forbid their flights should be cancelled.

But cancelled they were on Tuesday when a snowstorm brought air travel to a grinding halt across much of the country.

Just as I arrived at the gate, you breezed in from some other direction, papers in hand, clearly on a mission to make an announcement.  I picked up bits of conversation in the crowd –  a large group traveling together, maybe a Teach for America group going to a convention. I’m not sure. That’s not the part that stuck with me. What I remember distinctly is that your calm and sweet voice told this group their flight was cancelled, something about missing a crew member and not being able to send them on without the proper paperwork.  You told them how truly sorry you were that they were experiencing this.  You oozed empathy and sympathy and understanding, and you meant every word. I heard it in your voice. I saw it on your face.  And I was blown away by your skill! After all, who can rise up and riot against THAT? You had them in the palm of your hand.

You didn’t stop there, though. You got on the phone in front of everybody and continued to search for a solution. As you talked, you made eye contact with those waiting and watching. You shot them a smile, a wink. I saw hope in their eyes, and I knew they knew you were trying – really, really trying hard – to get a Plan B in motion for them.

Your plan? A bus! You got them a bus so that they could stay together and get where they needed to go! The next day was the soonest it could happen, but your effort coupled with your masterful delivery of the news elicited a cheer from that crowd.  (Yes, folks, a cheer erupted at Gate A8 in Nashville when she delivered the news that this group would leave a day late and on a bus to their destination. Wow! How many of us could pull that one off, I ask you.)

But wait, there’s more! You came out from behind the counter and waved them over into a huddle with an excited, “We need to have a vote!” I watched them. Grins everywhere as some people jumped over luggage to join you while others took more conventional routes with a spring in their step. It looked for all the world like they were enjoying this! I couldn’t hear what was said in the huddle, but apparently it worked out because suddenly a roar went up from the crowd. Papers flew into the air in celebration. Applause erupted.

Disaster averted.

My flight was cancelled about that time, and I went back to the hotel. On television, the nightly news pretty much centered around the effects of the weather – city officials in the South hammered with questions about why they weren’t better equipped for the sudden shift in those upper level disturbances that brought unexpected levels of snowfall to their cities that rarely experience it (see Paragraph 1 re: we are entitled) as well as a fair number of feel-good stories about restaurants feeding  stranded motorists and stores allowing them to sleep on their floors. That’s when I smiled, remembering how you worked your magic on the stranded travelers earlier in the evening.  I was sorry I hadn’t caught your name so I could send a note to your supervisors telling them what an incredible thing you did for those customers – no, those people. So, I’m writing this instead. I hope it finds its way to you because I want you to know that I was completely and totally impressed by the way you handled yourself at work Tuesday – your unflappable demeanor, your focus on the needs – but more importantly –  the feelings of the people standing in front of you, and your never-say-die spirit. I had fun watching you.

United Airlines, take note.  You have a gem in this woman. Treat her well!

Laughter!

Laughter!! This is my Christmas wish for you.

When chaos surrounds your attempt to capture the perfect family photo, may you find  humor in the kid who refuses to smile or has puffy eyes from crying,

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the one with stitches on the chin, the black eye or a stain on that outfit you spent too much money on. Trust me. That will be one of your favorites when they’re grown and gone, so just laugh and remember what I’m telling you.

When your dining room is a total disaster because your family Christmas project is a Pinterest fail and all you have is a mess to clean up and no product to show for it, just laugh! If there is giggling along the way (and pictures to tell the story), it doesn’t matter if there is a perfectly finished gingerbread house in the end. The memory of a fun night is priceless!

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When things get too serious or intense, I hope you search for and find something to laugh at.

After all, laughter IS the best medicine.

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And finally, may the gift of laughter and the merry spirit of Christmas stay with you all year long!

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October in Salem: Witches and Ghosts

Salem, Massachusetts found itself shrouded in controversy almost from the beginning – factions bickering over politics, elections, visions for the city’s future – with accusations against each side always flying. Once the witch trials came to a close in 1693, a pall fell over the city that has proved inescapable since. The trials, often propelled by the passionate minister John Hale, also ended largely because of him when his own wife stood accused. He knew two things to be true – that this woman who never spoke an ill-word against anyone was incapable of the kinds of atrocities of which she was accused and also that others who made similar claims of innocence, but who were jailed and hanged, were also innocent of the charges. Yet, Hale knew they suffered and died- tried at his urging and sentenced to death at the hands of Judge Hathorne. He denounced his support of the trials, a crucial step in bringing them to a close.

In the aftermath, attempts were made by the city to absolve itself of shame and guilt and begin a new chapter. A visiting judge listened to the stories of the accused and of the families of those hanged. He awarded each a single, silver sovereign for their pain and suffering and overturned all guilty charges. It was something but not enough to lift the shroud of guilt from the city or clear the air of bitterness. Meanwhile, the meeting house in which many of the trials took place fell into disrepair over the decades and no one desired to breathe life back into it. Today, a monument stands at the site, now in a subdivision, but there is nothing left of the building.

Salem attempted to polish its image by becoming a center for shipbuilding and other maritime activities. Perhaps bringing wealth and commerce to the city would alter its course in history. Businesses cropped up in the city’s center with mansions erected along side them. Just across the peninsula, Plum Island gained popularity as a favorite spot for holiday-ers and honeymooners. Even then, the city was not to escape its bloody past, nor has it to this day.

The ghost of Captain Joseph White keeps the city’s bloody past alive at 128 Essex Street as he regularly looks out from the second story window and is captured on film by visitors every year. And each April 6th, the anniversary of his death, witnesses report seeing the murder spectrally re-enacted through the same window.

Captain White was an 82-year-old, childless widower living in a house bought and paid for with blood money. He, like many in Salem, made his fortune in the buying and selling of slaves. White’s fleets sailed to Africa loaded with items which were traded for people who were taken to the Caribbean, and those who survived the journey were sold as slaves for doubloons – gold that White used to fund his fleets, build his mansion in Salem, and serve as the fabled contents of an iron chest in the crusty old man’s bedroom. Captain White was cold. He told a local minister that, despite the fact that his slave business was illegal, he had no problem selling any part of the human race, and he used his money to manipulate his family, often changing his will to reflect who pleased or displeased him at the moment. While inarguably cold, White was not completely heartless. His one weakness was his great-niece Mary who grew up in his house. He loved her deeply, but when she announced her intent to marry a captain of one his ships, White became enraged and threatened to disown her. She chose love over money and married Joseph Knapp, and Mary’s uncle rewrote his will, moved Mary from his house, and fired Knapp from his fleet.

When White’s body was discovered on the morning of April 7, 1830, there were surprisingly few clues and many suspects. There was, indeed, an iron chest filled with gold in the bedroom, but it was untouched. The murderer or murderers entered through an unlocked second story window and killed the captain in his bedroom with either a club (There was a blow to the head), or they killed him in his bedroom with a dagger (There were thirteen stab wounds to his chest).

Once again, accusations flew in Salem. A secret commission was formed of citizens given the authority to “search every house and interrogate every individual,” and rewards were exchanged for accusations leading to convictions. Seventy miles away, a ne’er-do-well, an inmate, sent a letter through his jailer to the nephew of the slain captain claiming knowledge of crucial evidence. He claimed to have overheard two brothers, Richard and George Crowinshield, sons of some of the most prominent citizens of Salem and descendents of some of the city’s founders – men who grew up in the mustard yellow mansion adjacent to White’s own property – plotting to take White’s iron chest. Arrests were made, and a former defense attorney turned prosecutor, a man by the name of Daniel Webster, tried the case.

Before the proceedings, Richard hanged himself in his jail cell with two silk scarves, but the trial continued nevertheless. Ultimately, Webster proved that the brothers were paid $1,000 each to murder Captain White by none other than the disgruntled former employee, Joe Knapp, husband of White’s great-niece who mistakenly believed his mother-in-law would inherit a part of White’s fortune.

Despite efforts to the contrary, Salem’s reputation is sealed. The Puritan attitude was forever immortalized in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a descendant of the judge in the witch trials (and who changed the spelling of his last name according to some experts in order to hide the relationship) who was both repulsed and fascinated with his own personal history. Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” takes its inspiration, in part, from the White murder. And, of course, there are the ghosts of Salem that continue to tell their stories.

So, if you ever find yourself on holiday on Plum Island, drive over to Salem for a visit. Visit the house where Hawthorne penned The Scarlet Letter. Drive slowly past the house with the beautiful stained glass peacock window. Drive up Bridge Street a short distance past the site of the old Parker Brothers game manufacturers on the left, and turn right on Brown Street. Turn on to Essex where you’ll pass the mustard yellow mansion where the murderers slept after killing their neighbor, Captain White. At 128 Essex, stop and look up at the second story window, and be sure to have your camera. Captain White may be there to greet you, and if you’re there on the 6th of April, he may put on a show for you.

There’s Nothing I Love Better than a Beautiful Garbage Day

I love garbage day. It hasn’t always been that way, but you know how it goes.  We get older and things change.

I spent most of my life detesting that chore even when we lived in the city and the trash was collected right outside my back door. When we moved to the country, it was worse. Two hundred and forty four steps of rough driveway separate my house from the road where the bags were

244 steps to the road

244 steps to the road

picked up, and for 244 steps (or some multiple of that for multiple trips) I cursed my garbage-induced gag reflex. I was always glad at the end of that piece of unpleasantness that another one like it was a full week away – or more if someone else would perform that vile chore. It didn’t help that we were charged an arm and a leg for some company to send their over-sized truck from the city to the middle of nowhere to pick up our three or four bags. I understood, though. We do live in

the middle of nowhere.

the middle of nowhere.

Writing that big check every three months still made me sad, I have to admit, especially after it was just the two of us at home and we didn’t generate nearly as much to carry out.

Ah, but life changes and so do our paradigms.

What a wonderful community center we have that decided to collect garbage for a dollar a bag on Saturdays!DSC_0297

Now, I throw a bag – sometimes two – in the back of the truck and head that direction. It’s a beautiful drive no matter what time of the year it is, and there is much to see around every bend.DSC_0291

I smile all the way and back.

Leaving the house and heading to WhiteHall Community Center

Leaving the house and heading to WhiteHall Community Center

Coming home

Coming home

To Know a Thing, You Must Know Both Sides of It – an update on “I Refuse to be Anything Less Than Successful”

You should know that as I typed the title of this post, I spelled Succk before catching my mistake. Seems appropriate enough.

I have always maintained that to truly know something, you have to know both sides of it, and I normally use a coin to explain. You can’t know a nickel if you only know the front. It’s equally as important to know the back of it.  Success is no different, and the back side of success comes in lots of forms – lack of progress, backsliding, discouragement, failure. I have encountered all of these, and when I’m done, I feel like I will truly know success. Here are some things I’m learning along the way:

It’s taking longer than I thought

That’s ok. I think I understand now why people think they can’t lose weight – or at least why I thought I couldn’t. It takes time. Lots of it. Most people either don’t have the time or don’t mentally budget enough time for it to happen, and it’s easy to get discouraged or bored or any of the other things that make it easy to give up.  Lesson learned: Targets are moving objects. Be ok with that.

Losing weight/getting healthy is an emotional journey, and I don’t like that feeling

This part is hard for me, and I find I have to continue to hold my feet to the fire on it. I don’t like feeling this emotional about things, and it would be so, so easy to just step away from the discomfort. I am working incredibly hard at this, and it takes up a huge chunk of my day. The rewards are in such small increments and so often fall into the “two steps forward, one step backward” category that I find myself constantly having to psyche myself up to keep going. Lesson learned: It’s an emotional roller coaster. Try to minimize the impact and keep chipping away at it.

Losing weight is an emotional journey for  friends and family

It is, and that’s all I’m going to say.

I had to learn things about myself I never knew I needed to know

We’ve all heard it. If you don’t eat enough, you won’t lose weight. Ok, exactly how much is enough? Is it the same amount for everybody? I learned from my dietitian about a test that determines Resting Metabolic Rate- that magic number that determines my own personal minimum daily caloric needs. I breathed into a mask that was somehow connected to her computer and learned that I must eat no less than 1230 calories per day before my body goes into starvation mode. My husband did the same and learned he must eat at least 1340, so that makes a difference as we fill our plates. I learned  in order to lose 1.5 pounds/week  I must have a 750 calorie deficit each day, but my dietitian doesn’t want me to go over 1,000. Those gave me real parameters to work within. With all the other moving targets in the game, these are constants, and I think they are key in keeping me going. She provided a break-down of percentages of protein, carbs, and fats to strive for each day, a computer program that will track it for me, and she put me in an armband that tracks my activity and records it neatly into an easy-to-follow chart I can see  right next to the meals I record. I am so thankful I didn’t try any of the quick fixes that are on the market today. This is forcing me to know me and is teaching me how to move and eat in a way that works for me.  Lesson learned: Knowledge is power. Know thyself!

Little things make a difference

These things have shocked me beyond belief:

~what a difference 10,000 steps/day vs. not taking 10,000 steps/day makes

~how hard it is to budget 20 minutes of vigorous activity a day

~the definition of “vigorous”  activity (Personally, I would call it “near death” activity)

~how easy it is to run out of sodium allotment before you run out of meals

~what a huge effect eating out has on the scale

~how much effort it takes to undo the damage of eating out

~how much work it is to eat at home

I saw my doctor get super excited for the first time since I helped him find the weekend property in the country he was looking for

My goal, if you remember, was to raise my HDL from 24 to 50. There are only four good ways to do that, and since I don’t smoke at all or drink heavily, the only options left were to exercise and lose weight. According to HDL pundits, losing six pounds will raise HDL one point. Not good news. That’s 156 pounds for me and would pretty much leave me with only hair. I’m happy to report that my first check-up after starting this journey showed I had lost 13 pounds and raised my HDL 13 points. One point gained per pound lost. I can live with that. Literally! My doctor was so excited and wanted to know exactly what I was doing since it is extremely hard to raise HDL. Lesson learned: Based on the numbers and his reaction, I must be on the right track. Keep going.

Dream

I dreamed the other night that I found myself standing in the middle of the sky. Surprised, but utterly delighted by my unexpected new surroundings, I took a few moments to drink it all in.  Above and below, in front and behind and beside me, stars twinkled against a midnight blue backdrop. From my right, a man – a completely gold man – appeared and approached a tall golden table that held a golden disc. With his right foot forward and his left food behind as if to steady himself, he leaned across the table and placed his hands flat on the far side of the disc and began rotating it in a counter clockwise direction. As he pulled his hands toward himself, he stood straighter and then leaned forward and pushed the platter to complete the circle. The momentum from the first rotation seemed to make a second one slightly easier for him, and each rotation of the disc was followed by another.

That’s when I heard it. Softly at first and just a few notes, but after a few rotations, it was unmistakable. Music flew from the disc in a counter clockwise direction. Sound waves that could be heard as well as seen carried beautiful tones, melodies, and harmonies farther and farther from the golden table, moving always in that same circular motion until symphonies filled every void in sky and their sound reverberated through my entire being.

That’s when I saw it. The stars began to quiver ever so slightly. As sound grew greater, the quivering grew more pronounced, and then the stars began to move from where they were. Those to my left moved closer together, settling down and to my left, and others stars moved closer together in other parts of my field of vision. As the music continued to play, so the heavenly bodies continued to move, organizing themselves into distinct groups. Eventually,  some even circled others, and the word planet entered my thoughts, introduced as a new concept.

That’s when I knew it. I had witnessed the birth of a universe.

And that’s when I felt it.

Blessed.