When Hurricane Sandy dropped a tree on our house last October, destroying our yard and patio, an important part of the security and serenity of our world came undone. To call that event “stressful” would be an understatement, but like many negative things in life, there are lessons to be learned and even a positive outcome or two.
When Spring arrived this year, we began to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again including lots of reseeding and replanting. Just outside our kitchen door was our favorite place, a lovely, shady, patio. The steep bank that protected and provided privacy for that patio was totally rearranged when the giant tree that lived there came crashing downÂ leaving a crater reminiscent of WWII and a slash of muddy earth that had once been a lush barrier to the outside world.
The landscaper did his best, within the limitations of our budget, to restore some semblance of green, but there were lots of barren brown patches and we knew it would take at least another growing season for that “scar upon the land” to heal.
One day I noticed a plant that had seemly sprung up overnight and one we definitely didn’t plant. It looked like a squash of some sort, but in its early growth stage I couldn’t tell. I asked my husband, a prolific gardener if, for amusement, he had planted something. No, he hadn’t and why would he plant a large vegetable in the middle of our hoped for butterfly retreat. The invader grew quickly and started climbing across and up the bank for some twenty feet. Soon it was covered in what were obviously yellow squash blossoms.
The blossoms have finally revealed their bounty… beautiful dual-colored decorative gourds, just like the ones I had in a basket by the front door last October when Hurricane Sandy came calling. The circle of life and a life-lesson wrapped up in a lovely little green and gold package. It reminded me that…
Life’s storms, both emotional and meteorological, can strip away everything you’ve worked for: Someone dies; someone doesn’t love you anymore; your children move away; your job is eliminated. The peace, security, and beauty that surrounded and sustained you are gone. Allow yourself to grieve, then take a deep breath and figure out the best way to move on. Begin again, planting as you go.
And most of all, remember, sometimes unexpected surprises may take root in your life…in the midst of your lovely new garden. Don’t look at them as weeds, as uninvited intruders, instead celebrate the chance to try something entirely different than you had planned. You may end up finding an exciting new life… or with a basket full of fall gourds.
Well do you…do you believe in magic? I do, and sometimes it is what keeps me going during those times when you think you’re never going to be happy, or successful, or appreciated, again. I believe that out there, somewhere, is always the possibility that lightening will strike and offer us mere mortals one of those rare moments when all the stars align.
Such a moment happened recently to Sarah Horn. Sitting in a Hollywood Bowl audience of 15,000 at a Kristin Chenoweth concert, Sarah had no idea that her lightening strike moment was coming. Chenoweth often chooses someone from her audience to come on stage to “sing” with her. Last Friday evening Chenoweth stopped in front of Sarah, who due to a ticket mix-up was in a different seat, to ask if she knew the words to the song “For Good” from the musical Wicked.Â The result of this random audience selection is usually an endearing amateur effort followed by a quiet return to their seat.
Not this time: The video of Horn’s performance with Chenoweth has gone beyond viral with nearly two million hits. No wonder, it’s the kind of moment we all dream of having…of getting our shot. But this was so much more, Sarah Horn was ready; an unknown vocal instructor from Riverside, California, she had in her own way been preparing for this all her life. She had the goods and she delivered, knowing this would never come again. She got up on that stage in front of thousands, stood next to a Broadway star and held her own…it was magic.
Sarah Horn’s inspiring performance provides a real life-lesson for the rest of us: Never give up your dreams; always believe in magic; and most importantly, be prepared to wow ‘em when your moment comes. Oh yes, and when they make a mistake with your ticket, trust that your fairy god-mother is on duty and move post-haste to the new location.
When I was growing up, one of the most frequently uttered threats from my parents was, “You will sit right there until you eat everything on your plate. Don’t you know children are starving in China”.Â My knowledge, at the time, of starving children was limited to hearing about them over cold, soggy peas and I couldn’t find China on a map. But the American middle-class message, imparted to my generation of Baby Boomers by millions of Great Depression/WW II parents was clear: Waste not, want not; Be grateful for what you have; Remember those less fortunate, which, along with the country’s Judea-Christian values, is likely why the United States ranks as the most charitable, generous nation in the world.Â
That generous nature seems to have trickled down to the following generations with a slight twist: If I set up a charitable foundation and give to the less fortunate, I can spend as much money on myself and live as lavishly as I please. To wit… The recent wedding of, according to Vanity Fair, “social media baron”, ala Facebook and Napster, Sean Parker, to singer – songwriter Alexandra Lenas.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a free-market capitalist. If you earn it fair and square, it’s yours to spend however you like. Mitt Romney has an elevator in his garage, John Kerry and Teresa Heinz between them own five expensive houses, and David Tepper, of hedge fund fame tore down a perfectly good mansion in the Hamptons to build an obscenely bigger one with a sunken tennis court.
But in shear “I have it so therefore I spend it” fantastical audacity, the Parker-Lenas extravaganza takes the cake, the nine foot wedding cake that is.
The theme was “Lord of the Rings”medieval and the backdrop was a primordial forest that cost over $4.5 million to rent. The photographs, which appear in the September edition of Vanity Fair magazine and at VF online are simply breathtaking.Â They also stretch credulity that mere mortals could create such a scene in the middle of nowhere for the sole purpose of one night’s revelry.
As I clicked through the photographs, followed by reading the story in the magazine; I’m a long-time subscriber, I had mixed emotions about the amount of money expended for such a self-aggrandizing reason. My artist’s soul was mesmerized by the beauty and creativity, the attention to every detail resulting in the closest thing to a living fairytale most of us are likely to ever see. And then there was my practical head which in I heard my mother’s voice saying, don’t you know there are children starving… if not in China, then somewhere.
This past week has refocused my thoughts on the importance of “international relations”, how important it is for humanity to get along and live together on this planet without killing each other. Every tiny step toward that goal is reassuring even though it often feels like one step forward and two steps back.
For the past eleven years I’ve participated as a “Visiting Executive” in Lehigh University’s Global Village for Future Leaders. Each summer Global Village brings together over one hundred mostly 20 somethings from around the world for an intensive month or so of international leadership training. These are truly some of the best and brightest from nearly fifty countries. Following an afternoon of my lecturing onÂ “Modern Leadership”, their asking questions and challenging my assertions, and one-on-one interactions about their hopes and dreams, I came away, as I do every year, with the same belief…and prayer, that by the time their generation assumes the world’s leadership roles running governments and international conglomerates, they won’t want to blow each other up. I remain hopeful that such a new global attitude is possible.
One of the reasons I remain hopeful about the big picture is because in my work and travels I have witnessed many small victories taking place all the time, seen what good people can accomplish on a micro scale; how one person can indeed make a difference.
My first trip to Afghanistan occurred in 2006. I accompanied Toni Maloney, co-founder of the Business Council for Peace, (Bpeace), and a group of volunteers on a mission to assist Afghan women to become entrepreneurs. On of our goals was to help Habiba grow the first real daycare center/pre-school program in Kabul, which she was operating out of small house with a courtyard. The children had few toys and no outdoor play equipment. From the time we spent with her it was obvious that what they did have was a lot of love, patience and support from Habiba and her staff, but they needed to provide a proper facility for the children. My generous friends and colleagues contributed $4000 that went directly in to the construction of a new school building. Bepeace’s total effort raised over $30,000 so the children of Kabul could have a safe, clean daycare center.
A few days ago, I received a photo from Toni of Habiba today, watching over a new class of students. She and the daycare center are still going strong providing early education to the next generation of Afghans. I’m very proud of the role that I and so many others played in that outcome. Just as I am proud of all the young, smart, savvy Villagers who will return to their countries with a broader knowledge of their global neighbors.
Until that next generation is ready to lead, the world will most likely continue to careen between crisis and hope..from civil war in Syria, a coup in Egypt, to a new proposal of Israeli / Palestinian peace talks. What we can do in the meantime is light candles in the darkness and use them to show the way.
I wonder what Edward Snowden was willing to trade when he divulged the inside workings of the US NSA surveillance set-up. He has most certainly changed his life forever and at the age of 29, that’s saying something since he likely has much more life in front of him than behind. Believed to be hiding out in Hong Kong, a place that has already indicated they will likely extradite him if the US government requests it, he’s gone from “The world is my oyster international consultant” to one of the world’s most wanted men in the blink of an eye. Being at the center of a media feeding frenzy is almost never a good thing unless your last name is Kardashian.
The personal fate of Snowden aside, he has raised the bar on the issue of “what price” and “what will we trade”…Â Now that we know our own government is spying on us, following our communication trails, and storing that information, what price are we willing to pay to stop the bad guys and how much of our privacy and freedom are we willing to trade to do it? On your trade-off sliding scale will you tolerate the intrusion of your government in to your private, constitutionally protected rights in return for the promise from that government that will keep you safe?
As for me; I don’t live in Alaska because the beauty isn’t worth freezing nine months of the year. And as much as I think Edward Snowden should be dragged home and put on trial as a traitor, there is a part of me that is grateful to know the information that he revealed because I also don’t believe my government needs to intrude in the lives of its citizens to this extent.
By now, almost everyone who earns one has received their first paycheck of 2013. Depending on your income bracket and your budget the reality of what the expired Payroll Tax Cut means to you is starting to hit home. 2% more out of your paycheck probably didnâ€™t sound like much in the abstract when you hear it on the news, but now that the actual numbers are staring you in the face, the reality is something else entirely.
One night this week, just after dark, our doorbell rang, not a common occurrence for this empty nest. It was the young man who does handy work for us. Bob, not his real name, is sincere, hardworking, and trustworthy. He holds down a full-time blue collar job managing a small warehouse, helping his â€œmoonlightingâ€ customers at night and on weekends. Heâ€™s single, has his own apartment, and drives a beautiful extended cab truck that is his pride and joy. Weâ€™ve come to know him well enough to know heâ€™s not a party boy; he keeps a schedule and a budget.
When Bob stepped inside I could see how upset he was. Pam, he said, Iâ€™ve stopped by to see if you have any extra work for me. I got my paycheck today and the new taxes are going to cost me over $100 a month. Iâ€™m not sure what to do.
What I didnâ€™t have the heart to tell Bob is that our fist paycheck came, too, and the amount our budget will have to be adjusted is a bit more than $100 a month. We do know what we have to do: We have to cut back on discretionary spending like how much we give to charity, how often we go out to dinner, and how much we use services such as a handyman.
This story is playing out across the country at every income level. Yes, there is a segment of the population that will be much less effected than others. The $1200 a year loss that has Bob in a panic is pocket change to some, but for most of us the impact of this change in income has consequences.
The ripple effects are already a topic of conversation across the blogosphere and social media: The hash tag, #YourPaycheckIsLowerThisWeek has been one of the top trends on Twitter, and no less than liberal bastion MSNBC posted an article titled “Americans Feel Austerity’s Bite As Payroll Taxes Rise”
Iâ€™m no economist but if I read the situation in Washington correctly, better buckle your financial seatbelts because unlike Thelma & Louse, we may not have gone over the fiscal cliff, but this is just the first mile on a very bumpy road ahead.
What does the Payroll Tax Increase mean to you?
I love the start of a New Year for the nostalgia and introspection it inspires. I have a tradition on New Years Day of reflecting on where Iâ€™ve been, the people Iâ€™ve met, the experiences that mattered and the lessons learned; the cumulative effect of victories won and wisdom gained along the way that I can take with me moving forward. Each year I seem to journey to a different time and placeâ€¦
I used to have a television program on PBS 39/WLVT called â€œA View from the Valleyâ€, of which I was quite proud. It was a â€œlive to tapeâ€ show shot with no script and broadcast a day or two later with no edits. What happened in the studio was what you saw on the screen, just not in real time. I suppose if someone had used a bad word or keeled over in their chair we might have stopped the cameras but it was never necessary. I was the executive producer and on-air host. The program aired for five years and I loved every minute of it.
With more than a little help from my friends like Mike Bruckner of Muhlenberg College and James Harper from Lehigh University and other well-connected PR & communications buddies, I had the opportunity to interview the likes of erudite and charming Gennady Gerasimov, former spokesperson for Mikhail Gorbachev during the end of the Cold War; the magnetic and dynamic former Prime Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres; and Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, who was the only human being Iâ€™ve ever encountered that I thought actually had an aura around himâ€¦an other-worldly light and energy. Such renowned leaders made for great interviews that to this day hold up when I see themâ€¦and when I see me.
Beyond my little walk down memory lane, the point of this exercise is how impactful it can be to look back on ones younger self in action. Not just a one dimensional photo or an often blurred memory, but a walking talking avatar of an earlier version of you. Such a journey can be rejuvenating, or not, but either way I promise it will be enlightening, and isnâ€™t enlightenment what weâ€™re striving for.
Not all of us have taped evidence of our more youthful â€œI can conquer the worldâ€ self to propel us in to a New Year. If you donâ€™t, you can still take that journey in your mind. Call up the image of you that believed in luck and miracles and immortality; turn them loose to dance across the room and in to your dreams with wild abandon. Then tomorrow, tuck them in your pocket and venture forth in to the New Year.
Wishing you the blessings of health, happiness, and love, and the wisdom of the past, in 2013.
Technology is wonderful except when it isnâ€™t. One of the times it isnâ€™t is when you need information or customer service and you find yourself hopelessly tangled in a maze of â€œPush 1 if your problem is Xâ€ options or even worse, you hear the dreaded â€œWelcome to the automated attendant service where we have answers for all your frequently asked questionsâ€ . No you donâ€™t, and I want to speak to a live person, NOW.
With necessity being the mother of desperation, I recently went online searching for a phone number that would lead me to a human being who could resolve the issue I was having with my Verizon FIOS service.
Iâ€™m a pretty savvy online explorer; being a good researcher is the life blood of being a writer. After nearly an hour of clicking every link and every page of the Verizon site map, I came to the conclusion they do not want to have those nasty customers bothering them. There was no information that would lead you to real time answers. Even the â€œautomated attendantâ€ said he wasnâ€™t available. Itâ€™s pretty bad when a cartoon character and a computer wonâ€™t talk to you.
I turned to Google and it was there that I found a wonderful place; GetHuman.com. Here is a company whose motto is â€œGet Customer Service Faster and Easierâ€! Itâ€™s FREEâ€¦.and to make it even better, it works. I typed Verizon FIOS in to the search box and up came a choice of five numbers to call and it even rated them according to site user feedback as to how effective that number is at getting a real person on the phone, average wait time, and satisfactory result of the call: Manna from Heaven.
The first number I dialed produced exactly the desired result, a very nice man who said he was located in Pittsburgh in the Pennsylvania Verizon Call Center, solved my problem in ten minutes. Why that number is not readily provided by Verizon, I have no idea.
So if youâ€™re looking for information on a product or service, or resolution to a problem, I highly recommend going to GetHuman.com. They even have an app for mobile devices. I hope the remainder of your holiday will now be merry and brightâ€¦and much more stress free.
The story of Christmas is about so many things; faith, kindness, and the triumph of the spirit even in the poorest of conditions. So is the story of saving Starâ€¦and in the process, saving ourselves.
Super storm Sandy was on her way; the weather maps showed her imminent approach. To ease my concern, I scrolled through Facebook to find comfort in the collective conscience of social media. I came upon a conversation between two acquaintances, one a realtor who had spent the day looking at potential listings. What she found in the back woods of Salisbury Township was a horse that appeared weak and underfed. Confined to a field with almost no shelter, the poor thing had only moldy food and little water…and he was about to be in the middle of a hurricane. Horses are survivors, they can withstand harsh conditions, but not if theyâ€™re malnourished or dehydrated.
I messaged the only â€œhorseâ€ friend I have, explaining the situation. Wenda Howe Boyer responded as I knew she wouldâ€¦ â€œWe have to do somethingâ€ was the consensus. We talked options: It was too late to trailer him to a safe place until the storm was overâ€¦her trailer was stored miles away, the storm was about to hit, and a horse trailer would get blown all over the road. The most practical option was to take him food and water in the hope that if properly fed, he could weather the storm.
Wenda would go to her barn for supplies, Iâ€™d get directions from the other women and weâ€™d pick a spot to meet. After multiple attempts to verbally describe the horseâ€™s location and then to find it on Google Maps, it was clear the animal was truly in the middle of nowhere. The other two women bravely offered to go along to lead us to the horse.
Iâ€™m a country girl; I know how to dress for a storm. As I appeared in the kitchen in my slicker fastened with metal bolts and my Wellie boots, my husband, with an astonished look on his face, said, â€œWhere are you going?â€ After decades of marriage, the fact that I was about to head out in a hurricane to rescue a horse didnâ€™t seem to surprise him. I heard a deep sigh as he rolled is eyes and said, Good Lord; you canâ€™t go out there alone. Iâ€™ll take you in the four-wheel drive. We traversed Allentown from the West End to the South side, picking up one of the rescuers along the way. The other would drive her car to meet us.
It was now dark out and the wind was whipping across the parking lot of a CVS pharmacy as four of us sat waiting for Wenda. When her pick up truck turned toward us, I laughed out loud: Her husband was behind the wheel: Another good man following his determined woman in to the fray.
By now, power outages were everywhere. Starting the climb up South Mountain on a narrow road it was hard to see twenty feet in front of the car. Branches and entire trees littered the road. Those that couldnâ€™t be seen could be heard crashing in the woods. A scene from the movie â€œTwisterâ€ flashed through my mind. To add to the tension, after the first two turns, I had no idea where we were.
Finally we turned onto a rutted dirt lane. It was pitch black, rain was coming in sideways, and the wind was now a steady 30 miles an hour when we pulled up to a single-wire fence.
Six flashlights began searching the darkness, when a pair of eyes caught the reflection. Heâ€™s hereâ€¦We found him. Even in those conditions; violent weather, flashing lights, loud voices, he came toward us. Wenda took the lead, carrying a fresh bale of hay in to what can only be described as a filthy, run-down lean-to. Hunger overcame shyness and he took some food from her hand, and then ran off to hide in the darkness.
Assessing the condition of the lean-to; it needed repairs and a good mucking-out, we concluded there was not much more we could do that night. Just as that consensus was reached, an enormous gust of wind, the worse so far that evening, almost knocked us off our feet. It was clear the storm was worsening quickly. We needed to find our way out of the woods and back to civilization, leaving our equine friend with fresh food, water, and our prayers.
On Emaus Avenue, our little band of rescuers peeled off one by one, wishing each other well as Sandy bore down on us. My husband and I retraced our route through Allentown and were crestfallen to turn up our street and find it in total darkness. We were cold, tired, and despite my best efforts, soaked to the skin. There would be no warm house, hot shower or cooked food.
Less than an hour after returning home, while sitting at our kitchen table, bathed in lantern light, a blast of wind with a velocity that made it sound like a jet plane, shook our entire house. The wind seemed to subside, then we heard a creaking and cracking that became louder and louder until it was a giant roar followed by an enormous bang.
My husband tried to open the back door but could only create a gap large enough to extend his arm and the lantern. I heard him gasp. The giant Hackberry tree that stood on the bank up over our patio had come crashing down on the house.
We were relieved to see the flashing lights of the Allentown Fire Dept who came to rescue us in the midst of the storm, and grateful to our friends Vic and Jody Mazziotti for offering us shelter in the middle of the night.
The next day as we surveyed the scene surrounded by engineers, contractors, and equipment, more than one expert commented on how fortunate we were that such an enormous tree had miraculously fallen at a slight angle and not straight down on top of us, how if it had, we would have never escaped unhurt.
I have always believed that the energy you put out in to the universe comes back to you.
Call it karma, or fate, or whatever you like. And so, in the middle of one of the worse storms to ever hit our region, I believe the â€œhorse angelâ€ saved us… Our personal, October version of a Christmas miracle.
Epilogue: The beautiful white horse that six adults risked their lives to save is named â€œStarâ€. Wenda visits him regularly with his favorite treat, carrots. Through her contacts she found his owners and has been able to â€œmotivateâ€ them to take a little bit better care of him, although not at the level that she and I think is appropriate. I accompanied her last week to see him and am glad to report that he has gained some weight. Heâ€™s a beautiful creature with soulful eyes and I pray for his comfort and safety. I will continue to tell you about him as his story unfolds.
Photo courtesy of Wenda Howe Boyer
My theory about getting older is; we may intellectually be able to look in the mirror and accept what we seeâ€¦signs of middle age and all. But somewhere in the recesses of our mind lives the younger version of us, the persona weâ€™ve created of who we think we were back then. Photos from our youth often reinforce our memories through the family stories that accompany them. â€œOh that was the day you caught a bigger fish than Uncle Johnny up at the lakeâ€.
By the time weâ€™ve looked at those photos a hundred times, we donâ€™t â€œsee themâ€ anymore, we have long ago invested in the younger, mythical version of them. So when recently, out of the blue, an old friend who is retiring and selling her house, presented me with a photo from our shared teenage years that I didnâ€™t know existed, the jolt was visceral. Who was that girl, and where in my self-directed tableau did she belong.
Looking out from the crinkled paper with staple holes in it, was an earnest young woman with a slightly coquettish smile and beehive hairdo, proudly displaying the letter sweater of her current beau. I stared at her for a long time, enlarging the photo so I could study her face. She stared back from within a gorgeous autumn day; one of those rare gifts of Indian Summer, filled with golden warmth and colored leaves. Off to a football game perhaps or about to go for one of the last rides of the season in a convertible.
The photoâ€™s focus is sharp, the colors still crisp, but the subject remains an enigma, unrecognizable in her youth and naivetÃ©.