My day working the polls

Earlier this month I was asked to help work the polls during my state’s primary election day. Two of my neighbors who I also know from my women’s only gym have been working the polls alongside a small group of other women for decades now and I was honored to be asked to join them. In all honesty I had always admired the folks who “man” the polls during elections. I often wondered what that job was like. So, I said yes with no questions asked and showed up at 6 am with a soft packed cooler of food and drink and a book. I figured there would be some downtime during the day and I always like to have with me a book I am reading and a pile of magazines I am behind on reading.

I had voted several times in the three years we have lived in Hopewell Township and had casually seen the whole setup in the township building, but now I was going to experience every minute of it.

There were new voting machines to be put into operation and since this was during the whole Covid-19 global pandemic situation, new protocols were in place to keep the community safe during the voting process.   We had tape to place 6 feet apart on the floor for people to wait in line, lots of hand sanitizer and wipes for the machines to set out, cotton swabs for people to use to sign their names and also choose their selections on the machines. There were signs to put up everywhere. Mrs. Black was in charge and this is a charming woman in her 80s and I was amazed at her energy. We did what we were told and at 7 am we were ready and opened the polls.

We had an armed constable to keep the peace I guess and a parade of residents came in throughout the day. There were plenty of farmers fresh from the fields, several mechanics in uniform and covered with grease, families showing their young children and grandkids about the whole democratic voting process, couples, singles and people of all shapes, sizes and ages. What I did notice and I had already figured this out from living in this community, we didn’t have anyone of color come to vote. We live in a rural community where there isn’t a lot of diversity. It isn’t an issue, it just is.

I bring up diversity because at this time there were lots of protests, demonstrations and rioting happening in large and small cities around the country due to a recent horrible incident involving Minneapolis police officers and an African American man, but there wasn’t even a mention of any of those things here. This reminded me of a Norman Rockwell idyllic drawing of peaceful, caring people coming to cast their vote and visit with their neighbors and friends.

I loved seeing people gathering several feet apart but talking about and celebrating babies being born, showing concern for those who are ill or passed away, passing on information about who might need some assistance and help and everything in between. Many people were discussing the economic issues facing our local businesses. Many people’s businesses had been on a mandatory shutdown and we were all feeling the effects of living a smaller, closed-in life.  I was so pleased to meet many new folks and do some networking.

In the 14- and one-half hours that I worked the polls, there wasn’t one incident of anything even remotely upsetting or stressful. Yes, we had some blips with people not showing up on the record and one ballot wouldn’t feed into the machine, but all those minor and few issues were resolved and in addition to the previous mail-in ballots, we had a showing of less than 150 bodies come and cast votes. I learned the we had 600 registered voters in Hopewell Township and I was surprised at finding out who was and was not registered. I have always felt voting is an important responsibility.

In amazing and unexpected news, I was paid! When my friend Minna, who recruited me, announced I had paperwork to complete so I could get paid, I said, “I am getting paid?” Honestly, that had never occurred to me. I thought this was going to be yet another thing someone asks me to do that is a volunteer thing. Happy day! 😊 So, leaving the farm for an entire day was going to put a little jingle in my pocket. Cool.

There were plastic cards we gave everyone as they signed in and they were not surprisingly red and blue so everyone knew who everyone was voting for and in the primary, you could not do any straight party votes nor vote for the other team. It didn’t matter who you cast your vote for, there wasn’t any discussion, argument or anything. People voted and either ran out to continue the rest of the lives or hung out a bit to catch up with neighbors. I loved every minute of it.

When Shirley’s husband of more than 60 years I believe came in, seeing her get so excited and tell us all that her heartthrob was here, just tickled me. I was also excited when my husband came in and I had told the girls to prepare for long rock star hair on him. Since this was near the end of lockdown for hair salons, everyone came in with 3 months of roots and unkempt hair unless they were able to take care of those grooming issues themselves. Again, no one cared about any of that. Everyone was here to do their civic duty.

By the end of the day, we were all tired and even my usual perkiness was wearing off. The last resident came in at 7:58 pm to vote. Then we took down all the signs, packed away all the supplies, printed out the final voting tally, locked up all the machines, gathered all the important paperwork, signed off on everything and went home. I am really happy that I participated in this and was asked to come back in November so I guess I did a good job. Now, I can say that I am one of those people I admired who worked the polls and I was pleased to do it.

I also admired those women who run around in gym clothes carrying yoga mats and water bottles and look sweaty, fit and contented. I’m one of those gals too and look forward to seeing all my sisters from the voting booth at the gym now that this is again a place we can go!!!

I love that I have a community of supportive and active women who do all sorts of things, are so much to so many and are there for each other.

Who knows what adventure awaits me next but I’m looking forward to learning and doing it whatever it is! Bring it on!

#getinvolved #workingwomen #vote

The highs and lows, trials and tribulations of a professional berry picker!

When I was probably 4 years old, my gramma lived on a mountain in a heavily wooded area about an hour from where I have my farm now.  This was in Elco, Pennsylvania, a very small and rural town. She lived with my grandfather and aunt and her kids and they lived rather primitively.  For at least a while when my father drove and deposited the trailer on the land they purchased, there was no indoor plumbing from what I remember.  Until the trailer was dropped, there was an OLD outhouse for doing your business near an old shed and a nearby spring to gather water.  My cousins and I would fill gallons of plastic jugs with the water and carry it back to her trailer.  We made a lot of trips back and forth.    

At that time, I remember going to the general store in town and she purchased a bunch of peeps.  Looking back on it now, I don’t understand why they weren’t put into a fenced in area at that time, but I remember chasing around a little peep trying to catch her and it having a heart attack and dying.  In my memory, it sort of exploded which was traumatic and my first memory of chickens. but this story is about berries, so we won’t have any more dying chickens here. It is just a memory I have of the same time period I am describing so wanted to share that.

Photo by Delia Giandeini on Unsplash

On that mountain I was taught to pick blackberries with both hands and carried a container that must have been tied to me.  I just loved picking the warm, ripe berries and after we were done with the picking, we would get a bowl of berries topped with sugar and milk.  It was the most delicious treat. 

I would watch my gramma make pie crust from butter and flour and she baked many blackberry pies and made jam and jelly. 

On this mountain there were probably more than a hundred acres of beautiful land and the woods were filled with blackberry bushes. We could wander anywhere we wanted.  There were no neighbors, only a gun club at the top of the hill, but no one there ever seemed to notice or be bothered by us as we were playing on the rocks and picking berries.

Because blackberries have very harsh thorns, or jaggers as we call them in our part of Pennsylvania, we had to be fully covered with long sleeves and pants while picking despite the humid summer temperatures.  I would always get a lot of scratches on my hands and face but I never remember suffering from poison ivy as a child. That change to my tolerance happened in my late 20s.  I had moved to Ben Avon and found a walking trail where I took my dogs and I was delighted to find blackberries. 

The heat, mosquito bites, poison ivy and scratches are a small price to pay for all this free food though and to this day I feel that exact same way. Despite having to get Prednisone every year at least once, if I see ripe, wild berries growing somewhere, I WILL submerge myself into the thicket come what may!

I have been known to get out of the car while waiting in traffic to get into Star Lake Amphitheater in Burgettstown and yes, I know it isn’t called that any more.  If you are local to Pittsburgh and over 35, you know where I am writing about!!!!

Anyway, along route 50, the back way into that place, I have left the car, grabbed a plastic bag that inevitably would be under the seat for potential dog poop needs and go pick berries until we were moving again.  I have been golfing a few times too and inevitably there are wild blackberries growing along the wooded areas and I have stopped and pick some then too.  I just can’t help myself.   

Don’t even get me started about visiting my family in Bellingham Washington.  They have bike trails EVERYWHERE and bordering all those MILES and MILES of trails are the most giant blackberries I have ever seen.  They are a different varietal than we have here in PA and apparently are a nuisance there because they are so prolific, can you believe it?  The first time I saw them I thought, I need pickers!  I need to move here and hire pickers.  No one wants for blackberries in that beautiful place and probably never has to buy one single berry.

I am pretty sure I blogged about the yellowjackets that I stepped on while picking berries on my grandma’s mountain when I was about 9 years old.  I didn’t know they lived in the ground and as I stepped on them, they attacked me and I panicked and kept jumping up and down on their nest and aggravating them.  30 stings later I enjoyed my bowl of berries, milk and sugar once I calmed down and didn’t die from all those stings. Today, I carry an EpiPen with me as I am also now allergic to bees, yellowjackets and mixed vespids.  I’m still picking berries and keeping bees though.  Those are some of the more severe and dangerous trials and tribulations that I meant in the title! 

Photo by Halie West on Unsplash

Over the years I have picked millions of blackberries, tens of thousands of black raspberries and now I am on a huge elderberry kick.

Back on that mountain there were some elderberries, but I don’t remember there being a plethora of them.  I remember grandma making some elderberry pies and jams but not too much.  The taste was different than a blackberry for sure and they were so rich and PURPLE.  I did like them but largely I forgot about them for decades. 

Anytime I am hiking the dogs in a new place, I am always looking for more blackberries and was thrilled to see so many wild dormant berry bushes when we first looked at the farm.  I could certainly recognize those bushes even in winter.  The previous owner also showed me the berries he had planted.  In addition to a row of dilapidated grapes, there was one elderberry bush, two gooseberries and some honeyberries.  I had never heard of, seen nor tasted gooseberries or honeyberries but I was thrilled to be the new owner of such interesting and unique berries.  Turns out, honeyberries are similar to a small blueberry and the gooseberries are unlike anything I had ever experienced.  I will say when you pluck them from the bush, they come off with a small stem that needs removed before you do anything with them so those are a bit of a pain to actually use in any capacity, but I still enjoy them.

Last fall, I was visiting a friend up near our cabin.  This woman and her husband are true lovers of everything green.  They have a nursery at their home and sell tons of starter plants of all kinds.

I told them I was looking for more elderberry as my Mother Earth News magazine and the annual fair we attend had gotten me interested in making healing elderberry wellness syrup.  I decided to do that, I needed more bushes.  Why buy berries when you can grow your own, right?

They sold me one small plant and told me about a wild bush about 5 miles away right on the main road.  I was excited and immediately got my berry picking gear and went searching.  After some scouting, I did see them and the bush was COVERED with clusters of wild elderberries but they were probably 8 to 10 feet high and a few feet into the woods with no clear path to get to them.  I knew it would be impossible to get them so left them for the birds. 

Back in my younger days, I would have considered somehow catapulting myself to get to the center of the berries, but I am over 50 now and decided I better not.  If you have ever been deep into the woods where I find myself pretty much daily, you’ll know it is tricky getting through all those ‘jaggers” and all kinds of old thorny trees to get to the good stuff.  Nowadays, I also have to diligently look for poison ivy too and there are ticks EVERYWHERE and all matter of tangled trees, vines and whatnot grabbing at you.  Picking wild berries is definitely not for the faint of heart and you better not be afraid of spiders or their webs.  So many varieties of nature’s beings are trying to trip you up and the birds do not like you stealing their sustenance, so 40 + years of berry picking has resulted in all kinds of injuries, stings, bites and various booboos.  As I said earlier though, these are FREE and gifts from God, so I just plow through literally, to get to those giant luscious berries, but I TRY to be careful!!!!  I’m tough or crazy or a little of both!

Anyway, seeing those wild elderberries lit a fire in my belly and I decided I needed to stop focusing on blackberries and see if I could find some wild elderberry bushes near the farm.  I mean, there must be some.  So, back home I took a really good gander and found 3 or 4.  I was excited.  I have no idea how I hadn’t seen them before.  One was smack dab in the middle of a really good blackberry patch and 3 were planted around this old pony barn that is falling down.  The whole thing needs torn down and eventually we will get to that but for now, I could see some decent bushes and I was so excited. 

Then as I started to really recognize what the bark and the leaves looked like, I found one more.  This one was near the pond and covered on all sides by some really thick thorny bushes, but I figured, I could cut my way to it to harvest. I was motivated.

I showed Mitch all of these telling him that as he is clearing some old crap around the farm, he is never to touch these.  To me, these were like the fabled unicorn, something magical and I was beyond blessed to have found these.

Well, 3 weeks ago, Mitch went up to the pony barn to tear down the one part that was really falling down and while I did momentarily think I should remind him about the elderberries, I honestly never thought he would touch them.  I knew where he was going to be working with the backhoe and thought, only one was in the way and I was pretty emphatic when I gave the instruction to leave them.  Spoiler alert!  My next blog is going to be called Can You Hear Me Now and deal with Mitch’s significant hearing loss.  But suffice it to say, when I went up the hill to see what he had done, I almost cried.  I could not believe he had mowed down 3 beautiful bushes.  I went running back down to tell him what he did and I knew he felt terrible but I was so MAD and hurt that those things that were so important to me, he just didn’t see them.  Metaphor for larger things?  Maybe, but maybe not.  I took my snips and went back up to try and salvage pieces.  I was going to attempt to root them and make a whole slew of new bushes from those.  I was also able to pull the old roots out of two of them and Mitch helped me pot all the pieces and parts.  They are now in various stages of either dying or surviving and I told them that I will keep them in those pots until next spring and keep them under the grow lights and tend to them every day through winter if they will just PLEASE DON’T DIE.  We will see how all that goes.  I read a bunch of articles online and am hopeful at least some of them will take.

In the meantime, I started clearing a big area opposite our house.  It is still early spring and it will be easier to do this now than in summer and I needed something to do while the seedlings grow.  Outside work is still my favorite and though it has been largely chilly, we have had some decent weather days.

As I was clearing, I was struck by a few long stems with leaves that were emerging and looked so familiar.  Could it be?  Was this an elderberry?  I went up to the one planted in the grape field and compared them.  My heart started beating fast.  I thought YES.  So, I then opened my eyes and kept clearing and low and behold, I uncovered more than a dozen elderberry bushes in this area from a few feet to taller and with many shoots like they had been here for YEARS!!!!  At this early spring stage, there is not much growing yet so they truly stood out like a sore thumb.  Now that I WAS LOOKING for them, I could see what I had been missing.  I put little fluorescent flags at the base of each one and Mitch cleared out several old and gnarly trees that were blocking the sun from them and over the past two weeks, we have really cleaned up Elderberry Grove.  Mitch is forgiven and I told him maybe everything does happen for a reason.  If he hadn’t chopped those ones down by the pony barn, I wouldn’t have really looked at those plants in early spring and known what to look for.  Now, I am finding some more small ones here and there in the woods and marking each one so I can measure their growth and planning my new elderberry business.  I can’t wait to blog about the mountains of berries I will be picking.  Good times are coming!!! #berrypicker #farmlady #wildforallberries

My Elusive Friend Sleep and My Enemy Anxiety

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

I have had sleeping problems since I was a young girl.  As my parents were getting divorced, my mother moved us to Squirrel Hill from Ambridge. We shared a one bedroom apartment in a place that wouldn’t accept children, but they made an exception for me if I would be quiet. 

This was in the middle of first grade.  I was in a strange place. I didn’t know anyone and felt completely insecure about everything. I was having separation anxiety at school and at night I started sleepwalking. When I awoke, I was going through some sort of emotional and mental breakdown that I can’t even accurately explain except my mind was racing and I had this oppressive feeling that I was so far behind and had to start over again which felt daunting.  I couldn’t even explain what I had to start over, but it was the worst feeling in the world and it happened night after night after night.  I didn’t even want to go to sleep.  IT WAS HORRIBLE and really frightening and I was 7 years old. 

Eventually, I settled in to my new life and more or less normal sleep resumed.

As I grew though, in times of turmoil and great stress, I would experience problems sleeping and excess worry which I now know as anxiety.  I believe I was conditioned to worry by my mother.  She had a lot of coping problems.   Internalizing stress just became my natural response.   To this day, I still let things bother me and can really work myself up into a tizzy.  I have always been this way.

In my early 30s, I had undiagnosed health issues and this triggered a lot of anxiety and insomnia.  I called this the Circle of YUCK and this period was a very dark time.  I felt physically horrible, couldn’t eat or sleep, dropped pounds and mentally felt generally full of gloom and doom. 

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Doctor visits and testing didn’t seem to be coming up with anything wrong. I ended up seeing an endocrinologist who did a bunch of hormone tests on me and decided I had REALLY high levels of cortisol in my body.  I remember sitting in her office and crying.  I was so exhausted and just felt horrible.  She gave me a script for 30 MG of Temazepam and told me to take it before bed.  This was prior to GOOGLE so I couldn’t do what I would do now and research the heck out of Cortisol and the medicine.  I filled the script, took it before bed and slept like I maybe had never in my whole life.  It was AMAZING.  I thought see what ample sleep will do for you?   I was a new woman!!!!!

She had given me a form of VALIUM, so no wonder I felt rejuvenated and was able to sleep.  My whole mind and body just relaxed so I slept. 

On my next visit to her she asked how I was sleeping.  I stupidly told her that my husband could pick me up and move me into a whole other room and I wouldn’t wake up and she said well, that’s not good and immediately dropped the refill to 15 mg.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. 

To this day, I don’t know what if anything was wrong with me physically at that time, but my mental status of heightened anxiety had totally affected by body and I was making myself sick with worry.  I wasn’t particularly happy in my life and it affected my body and soul.

Some years later I was experiencing a bunch of changes at once or in quick succession.  My mother was causing severe problems for me which again I am not ready to write about, but it was a very stressful period.  My husband and I had borrowed money from everyone we could and mortgaged everything we owned to buy our own business and had been successfully running that for a few years.   I had given up my career to help run the business.  We were working pretty much nonstop.

Our dog Carly had died, (see previous blog about Wo”Man’s Best Friend) and soon after, the cats that I had for 16 and 17 years also crossed the rainbow bridge.  All those losses affected me.

We had moved to The Cork Factory (not my idea), which was the very first high-end rental apartment complex project in the Strip District.  That top floor 1000 square foot loft apartment with 17-foot-high ceilings of useless vertical space, one closet and an electric cooking stove cost as much as our first and second mortgage on our house that we still had not sold.   I was VERY concerned about money or the lack of it.  All of that sent me into what can only be termed as close to a nervous breakdown.   

I was freaking out.  I had a very heightened sense of anxiety 24 hours a day.  I could never come down to a feeling of normal.  I couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at night and I could barely function.  This went on for 6 months.  I thought my adrenal glands might overwork and I wasn’t sure what that could lead to.  I worried about having a stroke or heart attack. I WAS A MESS. If I could manage to fall asleep, I would wake up minutes later with what I describe as heart rushes.  I guess they are panic attacks.  Whatever they are, they prohibited me getting any rest.  I was a walking nervous zombie who was a mere shell of myself. 

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

My PC physician was not helpful and eventually I ended up seeing a psychiatrist.  Filling out that paperwork to just see him sent me into feeling panic.  It talked about involuntary hospitalizations and such which added a new level to the anxiety I constantly felt but thankfully, he knew what he was doing and after a bunch of written tests and a 60-minute appointment, he quickly diagnosed me as suffering from General Anxiety Disorder with slight depression.  In the beginning, he put me back on that magical Temazepam that I mentioned had helped me sleep years before and prescribed a little 10 MG pill named Celexa or generically, Citalopram. 

Photo by Maria Ionova on Unsplash

At the same time, Anna Nicole Smith died and I read her list of medications and immediately became worried that I would end up that way.  I know, that is completely irrational but that is where I was mentally.  I was assured by my therapist, that would not happen to me. She instructed me to take my medication, see her at therapy weekly and check in personally on how I was feeling and promised within a few weeks, I would feel like me again.  And I DID and it was the STRONG, CAPABLE me, not the weak, frightened and anxious me.  It was such a huge relief and after I felt normal again, I made some real changes in my life. 

Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash

Fast forward to more than 13 years later.

In the COVID-19 environment that we are collectively as a world living in, perhaps we are all experiencing real anxiety and the news is full of stories about just that.

I have been talking with my friends and everyone agrees we ARE feeling way more stress and frequent anxiety.  We have absolutely no control over this situation that worldwide we find ourselves in.  How long will everyone be staying home, perhaps not working at all or certainly not working out in the world, not attending gyms and dance classes, school, social gatherings of any sort, religious events, graduations, weddings, funerals or anything?

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

In this time of social isolation, I have looked into meditations and most recently brain reprogramming because as the psychiatrist said years ago, it will happen again and it is.  Now, I am not feeling even 1/4 of the level of anxiety I was back then, but I can recognize the signs and symptoms and do NOT want to return to that place.   

My sleep has been affected for the last several years but now again it seems to becoming a real problem.  The heart rushes are back which make it impossible to take naps or sleep deeply and I’m feeling more worried than usual.   So,  I made an appointment to see my good PC and will most likely ask for meds.  It is going to take a while to see her though and with the added risk of going TO a doctor’s office amidst the virus, I’m seeking ways to help myself. 

I truly am interested in reprogramming my brain to function better so once and for all I can deal with stressful situations in a way that won’t send me into a panic.  I have a friend who had brain damage caused by Lyme’s Disease and she recommended I check out www.neuromeditation.com.  On quick glance this looks like a really cool site.  I have been doing some guided meditations and working on changing my mindset to think positively that this situation will end and a new normal life will come sooner rather than later. 

My husband has taken this “down” time to delve deeper into his guitar practice and came across www.GuitarAcceleration.com.  The man who came up with this is also apparently touting reprogramming of the brain and I am learning some really cool ideas about increasing brain myelin which should help in all sorts of ways. Seriously Google myelin.  

Checking out those new learning strategies led my husband to researching The Vagus nerve and this is REALLY interesting stuff.  He brought it to me thinking learning about it and changing my breathing could help. I had never heard of this until he mentioned it a few days ago and then boom, on the TODAY Show, they had a whole segment about it. See, EVERYONE is feeling anxious and looking for relief.

We have all heard that a certain type of breathing can slow the heart rate and calm us, well it is true and you can train your sympathetic nervous system to work differently to diffuse anxiety and promote a more relaxed state.

So, I have many new ideas to learn about and test on myself while I am staying home like we all should and I really hope we come out of this on the other side, survivors and more healthy in mind, spirit and soul.  I’m certainly going to try!!! #conqueranxiety #learnnewthings #calmyourselfdown

 

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

That is the title of a 1997 song from REM.  I miss that band.  I have some time now so maybe I’ll Google what has been happening with them. We all probably have more time now.  It’s odd, isn’t it?

Usually we humans are rushing about getting ourselves and our family members to all the scheduled and overscheduled obligations with which we fill our lives.  And now, we are not.

While the world is experiencing a pandemic of COVID-19, we are ceasing all outside group activities, are stocking up on food and toilet paper and cleaning products and being told by our government leaders to stay home.  People who can are working from home.   Social gatherings are being postponed or cancelled and only really essential businesses are remaining open.  Everything else is shutting down.  It is a scary situation but hopefully temporary.

No one knows what is going to happen.  This is definitely unprecedented in the modern world.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I’ve done some research recently on the flu epidemic in 1918, and as everyone else who has internet access, I have an unlimited supply of articles to read.   Here is what I learned from Wikipedia.

The Spanish flu infected 500 million people around the world, or about 27% of the world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.

Most people have passed away who lived to experience that pandemic.  The last many generations have never seen anything like this, so therefore, may not be taking the protocols seriously.

In 1918, people weren’t travelling like we do now, or did until recently anyway, so I worry that if this really does become serious, we could have staggering loss of life. 

Photo by Morgan Vander Hart on Unsplash

Knowledge is power, but in this instance, I think it would be wise to STOP Googling things around the virus or watching news stories and just shut off the devices.   Instead, get back to the pastimes of the predigital age.   Read books, write poems, songs or stories, do crossword puzzles, play boardgames, exercise in your house by doing sit-ups and pushups, pull out the vinyl records and show your kids the amazing album covers and music of your youth, do some arts and crafts projects, learn a new skill and by all means, avoid human contact as much as possible.  

All of the professional speakers I know have had events cancelled or postponed through April 2020, and few groups are booking events for the foreseeable future either.  In just this one industry, think of the repercussions and lost business. Commerce in that sense has STOPPED for everyone.

Many people we know work at or own retail stores and gyms, work in restaurants and bars or provide non-healthcare services of many types and those businesses are not operational right now.  There is a real fear about making money to pay bills, but most of us are all collectively in the same boat.

Photo by Sophie Backes on Unsplash

The government is trying to stave off total economic panic by lowering interest rates, halting trading and implementing other things to try to stabilize the wildly fluctuating markets and economy.  I guess it would be a good time to refinance a mortgage, but I think we will just wait things out and see what happens.  We truly aren’t “buying” anything right now, and we most certainly are not checking on retirement account values.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

We are very lucky, and many say smart, to have left the city and bought our farm three years ago  We have been implementing homesteading techniques and learning to live simply which requires a lot of physical work and planning. 

At this time of year, I would always be tapping maple trees and making syrup, starting all the pepper, peas, eggplant, rhubarb seeds and also many lettuces and herbs.  I will say depending on what actually happens in the world, I will be planting WAY more vegetables than I usually do.  I have the greenhouse ready to grow many more varieties of vegetables, and we have some ideas about adding other crops as well.  I am also taking really good care of my chickens as they give us eggs. I bought a ton of locally grown and milled ancient grain flours and yeast to make bread. 

We were talking last night about putting the freeze dryer back into operation again and making a lot of dog and cat treats from chicken and cuts of beef.  We can also freezedry food for ourselves, which we haven’t done in a while.   

As long as things don’t really go crazy and we maintain electric service, we should be okay because we are pretty self-sufficient out here, but, electric is really important and hard to do without.  I made sure all the flashlights and oil lamps are loaded with fresh batteries and oil, and yes, we did some target practice this past weekend.

Am I getting paranoid worrying about everything that could happen during a complete social and economic breakdown and apocalypse?  I am an avid horror fiction reader and show watcher, so have seen in make believe what happens to cultures when we have some sort of massive shift change.  I worry about the what-ifs.  It is my nature. 

Photo by Dawson Lovell on Unsplash
Copy

I worry about our friends and family in densely populated areas.  People who live in crowded urban areas can’t easily escape masses of humans and the germs we can transmit.

I have German relatives and we have been Direct Messaging daily going over the latest developments in our respective countries.  Everyone is self-isolating.  Worldwide, schools are at least temporarily educating students online and people are practicing lots of healthy habits that honestly we should have been doing all along.

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purz

Being the daughter of a nurse, it was drilled into my head as a child to NEVER TOUCH YOUR FACE, wash your hands as soon as you enter from the outside and be as clean as possible with your personal hygiene and belongings.

I am lucky that I don’t anymore work in an office environment or a retail store.  I have worked in both types of places and definitely had more illnesses when I had greater exposure to humans, no matter how many times I washed my hands.  Germs are spread through the air and human contact, so this social distancing we are hopefully all practicing for two weeks or longer should help stop the widespread travelling of this virus.  We have to protect ourselves and others, especially the elderly and immunity-challenged/compromised.  

Yes, life has changed, and no matter what happens with this virus, whether we have mass casualties worldwide or the majority are spared with these good practices and healthy immune systems, our awareness about our fragility has changed and will be forever etched into our psyche.  After this is over,  I do not believe humans will as carefreely bebop around the planet without considering what we and others could be carrying around and giving to one another and what our actions do to each other.   I think there will be a heavy layer of innocence lost and that is not necessarily a bad thing.  I think we take for granted our 21st century healthcare and our ability to source everything we need quickly.  I wonder if we truly appreciate our democratic society that provides a nice place for us with pretty much all the goods and services that we need to survive. 

I think that as we all together face the unknown and the loss of income and personal freedom, the suspension of socializing for any reasons; weddings, funerals, sporting events, music and dance recitals, charity fundraisers etc., that we may gain a greater respect for what is truly important. 

Photo by Caleb Gregory on Unsplash

I think this could be a good opportunity to learn and practice more empathy, more caring, more kindness, understanding and compassion and gratefulness for what we do have even now.

Hopefully we will come out of this on the other side better people and stronger for the next pandemic that will eventually come.   I hope our world scientists find a vaccine and life returns to normal soon.

God bless us all.  #grateful #helpothers #wewillsurvive

 

Mentors are so important!

As we grow and develop into hopefully fully functioning humans, we most likely had a little help and guidance along the way.

Recently, I was thinking about people who took an interest in me and I immediately thought of three important people that definitely made a positive difference in my life.

I want to thank them.

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

When I was 14, I took tennis in gym class and started hitting balls around.  I really liked the sport.   When I was a small girl, I used to watch my mother hit tennis balls against a wall in Leetsdale and one day while she was doing this and I was walking along the broken fence passing the time, I slipped and got my ankle caught in the steel that was disconnected at the bottom.  That was my first stitches experience and trip back up the hill to Sewickley Valley Hospital where I was born and it was horrible.   I still vividly recall the whole ordeal. 

Anyway, fast forward 9 or 10 years and I bought a cheap used tennis racket at the thrift store and started hitting my own balls against any flat wall I could find. 

My mother was the kind of woman who really wanted to be involved in everything that I did so we would go to my high school and hit balls pretty much every day on one of the four hard courts.

One day, an old man with no teeth wearing a thin white t-shirt, raggedy shorts and really thin flipflops came up to us on the court and told me to work on my second serve first.  I didn’t even know what that was. 

His name was George Koernich and that may not even be the correct spelling of his last name, but he will forever remain in my heart. 

George was the kind of man who most likely played in all whites with the Rod Laver crew back in the long pants history of tennis.  He knew what he was doing for sure.  That summer he spent tireless hours with me teaching me everything about tennis.  My mother scraped up some money to buy me a new wooden Tracy Austin tennis racket at K-mart and I played the hell out of that racket.  I probably played 5 hours every day that summer learning everything I could and I loved it. 

I remember George bringing dozens of old balls from home that didn’t have any bounce left and we served hundreds and hundreds of balls with those.  They still had life for that!

He taught me how to slice the serve and return a slice, explained and showed me how to deal with topspin, taught me defensive moves like how to lob, play the net with volleys and really gave me appreciation for the game.   

At the time, Chris Evert was being usurped by powerhouse Martina Navratilova and I watched every match that I could, read every tennis magazine the school and local Laughlin Memorial library had in its archives and really did nothing but learn and play.

I will say that the local players were never kind nor helpful or encouraging to me, him or us but I’m guessing they watched the progress.

With George’s help I made the tennis team that first year and he and I even ended up entering some regional tournaments playing mixed doubles which yes he played in old flipflops.  George was one of a kind.  He tapped maple trees and brought me the water to drink and it was delicious.  Every time I put a tap in I think of George!

I ended up quitting the tennis team soon after I started my first job at the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe at age 16.  The coach was not understanding that I HAD to work to help my mom so I quit the team.  Priorities!  😊

Enter mentor number two, Andy Amygdalos.  Andy was an amazing man who passed away a few years ago.  Years later Andy told me that when I came in and filled out the application he thought I wasn’t going to be able to hack it.  He didn’t know about my tennis muscles!!!  I could lift those 50 pound buckets of chili and haul boxes of meat no problem!   It ended up being that I became his favorite and best employee of all time or so he told me.   I stayed there with Andy for 7 years.

I have blogged about that first job before but I didn’t say much.  Today I want to share tales about a man who was more of a father to me than my own and I loved him.

Andy had come from Greece and had loaned fellow Greek, Lou Pappan, money so he could open Pappan’s restaurant, which became a very successful Beaver County chain.  I know the fact that Andy worked tirelessly and hard for DECADES for can I say it, (a jerk) that he could have ROCKED his own restaurant no issue, but he didn’t.  Life is about choices.  Andy taught me that. 

Andy taught me responsibility and trusted me to count the daily register, showed me how to schedule employees, order supplies, serve and treat people, make tips, cook, clean and WORK HARD.  Within a year or two, he trusted me to train all the new employees and he knew I would do things as he expected.  I respected him. 

During the first year of college I lived on campus but came home on weekends to work and he always gave me as many hours as I could handle. 

To this day my biggest regret is moving home after Freshman year.  One day I will blog about my mother but not yet. Suffice it to say she was incredibly lonely without me and guilted me to come home. For three years I had to take two busses and spend three hours each day to travel back and forth but I did it and I worked the whole time as many hours as I could.  During college, I didn’t go to a single football game or do the fun college stuff but again, life is about choices and honestly, those “sacrifices” made me who I am today. 

Photo by Alex Samuels on Unsplash

Andy would let me study and do my homework when we were slow and he was always interested in what I was studying, and included me in his family.  I know he felt like I was a daughter to him and I felt it too. 

Andy had a bad heart and took nitro pills and once in a while he struggled.  One day he had to sit down for hours and rest and I ran the restaurant.  I LOVED that I could help him and wished he didn’t have to work so hard. 

Andy put his three kids through college and one son became a doctor.  I remember his daughter Julie’s graduation party where he made me a high ball drink which just about put me under the table!  He also filled me with terrific Greek food and taught me to speak conversational Greek.  The little old Greek men who spent their days at the counter, smoking their cigarettes and drinking coffee with just a touch of cream also helped shape me.  They sat and watched me, commented on any friends who would stop in, gave me gifts for my birthday and really became a needed family for me.  I still remember them and am so grateful that they also played a part in my development. 

For some reason as I write this on my 52nd birthday I think of the people who knew me between the ages of 16 and 22 and it is making me cry.  I miss them.  They loved me and it was so awesome!

Photo by Damir Kopezhanov on Unsplash

After college, I got a job through a temp agency at Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith in downtown Pittsburgh.   This was a really male dominated place but there were a handful of strong female brokers and I had the pleasure of working with one such woman named Marta. 

Marta still is a beautiful, smart and accomplished woman and successful at work and in her family life.  She has a great husband and a fabulous son who keeps her busy plus adult stepchildren and dear friends that she cultivates relationships with.   

Back in 1990 when I started there, I knew absolutely nothing about being professional.  Marta and the two leading ladies, Nancy and Karen who were the direct bosses of all us sales assistants, really helped shape me into a working woman.  They were encouraging to me and after a couple of years when I knew what I was doing, also trusted me to train new hires.  I loved that.

Marta was an only child too but she had a great upbringing with loving parents and included me in so many fun things that I would never have had a chance to experience.    And she appreciated how I helped her in her business and treated her clients and she spoiled me. 

I think Marta may be the reason I have taken on the role of mentor with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I mentor a growing girl because Marta’s friendship and love meant so much to me. I appreciate what Marta did for me so much that it was and continues to be inspiring in my life.

Even after I left that job 7 years later, she and I are still connected and she was there for me when I left my first husband and embarked on my new life.  That was a hard time for me and I love Marta for being supportive.  She will always be someone that I respect and adore.

Photo by Karina on Unsplash

I really hope that I can be a great mentor for my Little.  It isn’t always easy knowing if I am being a positive influence and teaching Maci how to be a full functioning person.  I want to expose her to all the things I can and give her experiences so she has a fuller life than what I had as a child.

It is a journey that is two years in and we have 4 ½ years yet to fulfil our commitment to each other. 

I am looking forward to sharing the lessons we both learn from this experience in future blogs.  Maybe someday she will take on a Little of her own! We shall see what life brings to us both but for now, I heartily thank the people who helped me in so many ways. They are definitely still with me!

Music makes the best connections!

A few times a year now as opposed to weekly like when I was a young lass, Mitch and I venture out to sing a few songs at a local bar.  We are still exploring the area around us in Washington and other points south of Pittsburgh.  We are also old now so instead of going out at 10 pm, if I can find a karaoke bar that starts at 8 pm, I jump up and down.  Add the idea of a NONSMOKING environment and this is the trifecta of perfect karaoke.  We recently had one of those nights and it got me thinking.

A few weeks ago, I was in line at the local post office where I often find myself and instead of scrolling through FB or IG I am known to engage my fellow waiters into conversation.  These are always fun chats.  I meet the most interesting humans in lines and it passes the time as well as opens the doors to new friendships.  It also gives me a chance to try and spread the word about my personal chef business.  I literally carry my business cards in a Seresto collar tin.  It is the perfect reuse for something that I hated throwing away.  I can’t tell you how confused everyone is when I pull that out of my purse!  😊   

One such day I was chatting up the person in line behind me and passing out cards when a stout little smiling man came in and asked about a photocopy machine.  He was told there was one up the hill at the Shop n Save.

I happened to glance at what he wanted to copy and saw it was a flyer about karaoke on Wednesdays 8 pm at the Bradford Lounge.  I knew exactly where that was.  I had toured the George Washington Hotel in the hopes to have Mitch’s upcoming 60th birthday party there but it was sadly booked.  This bar was part of that cool old venue.

“Hold it,” I said.  “I need a snap of that flyer.”  He gladly obliged.

This place is smackdab in the middle of town across the street from the beautiful and historic Washington County courthouse and steps away from Bradford House for which I’m guessing it was named.  Festivities for the Whiskey Rebellion are held every summer right in this area.  That is a terrific 3-day event full if history, music, storytelling, reenactments including a REAL tar and feathering and endless fun.   

Washington like many such towns in the Pittsburgh and surrounding areas have seen some hard times through the last several decades but just in the almost three years that we have lived here, I can see sparks of resurgence happening and I hope a continued trend upward becomes the norm.   

We have enjoyed some really tasty meals at several GREAT restaurants in town too but had yet to wet our whistle at this place.  I was excited!!!

At 8:05 pm we showed up and ordered drinks.  A quick look around the bar showed just 3 others in the place all crowded at the far end of the bar.  Mitch told me at that point he thought this was going to be on the boring side where we would sing a couple of songs and quickly go home.  That didn’t happen.

I informed the karaoke guy who was set up right at the front of the bar that we were there to sing and he smiled and gave me slips of paper and a pen.  OLD SCHOOL is what I thought. 

Back in the early days of karaoke, there were actual books, papers and pens all over and you pored over the books and wrote down your song choice titles, the artist’s name and your name and then passed it to the karaoke people and waited your turn.  Usually in every karaoke place I go, people are shy or need a drink or two to sing, so I start the karaoke,  but this place was different.  People kept arriving and adding their songs to the lineup and list.  I was 3rd in the rotation and everyone was WONDERFUL.  We quickly made friends, started sharing business cards and cheering each other on.  What we loved SO much was the many different kinds of songs everyone was singing.  It was glorious because this group was all folks in their 50-60s I would guess and the music and talent was incredible.  NOT that karaoke is about being good, but it certainly makes it more interesting when the singer can hold a tune and he or she chooses really cool music.

Who knew we would be in the company of Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Dennis DeYoung from Styx and more legends of the good old days?

The bartender who as soon as we started singing seemed to be a bit more generous on my pour, (Mitch was driving) came up and helped me sing The Chain by Fleetwood Mac.  She just ran around the bar, grabbed onto the mic and started belting it out with me.  I was thrilled she loved the song as much as I did.  The fact I had never sung that song in public before is amazing.  I keep waiting for more members of the band ( I have yet to find a Lindsey Buckingham) to show up and sing with me, but since karaoke has all the backup vocals, it was high time.  What a thrill!!!

During the next three hours, I did more Stevie Nicks, some Walking After Midnight from Patsy Cline, sang a little Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and more Fleetwood Mac.  It was an old time karaoke night for me which I adore.  Mitch sang a great Rolling Stones tune, some Mark Cohn, Tom Petty and rocked the whole place.   

The lady sitting next to us who sang some fun songs too wanted to tell me about her teenage years going to concerts at the Meadows, a local racetrack that has entertainment. I can’t even imagine what the place was like in the 50s! She regaled me about a night when she was a teenager and saw the Platters, the Drifters and The Coasters together and seeing the Beach Boys in her youth too.  I loved hearing her fun musical memories.

Everyone there shared stories of the bands that all have played in or still play with and the great musical acts they have seen.  The gigantic smiles of everyone there was a sure sign everyone was connecting through music.   

Being the only child of a single mother, I often stayed home by myself while she worked.  I played her records over and over and learned about singing harmony from the Mamas and The Papas, practiced my Soprano with Barbra Streisand and am still haunted by the song Suzanne by Judy Collins. 

Photo by Dmitry Bayer on Unsplash

The thousands of hours I spent listening over and over to those records seriously created the foundation for my musical tastes today.

I could recite albums front to back, and would never tire of listening to music.  As I have mentioned in previous blogs, music is my favorite thing and for my 40th birthday I had help creating a double CD of my favorite songs to gift all the party guests.  One CD was For the Heart and included love songs and the other was For the Feet and a dance compilation.  I borrowed that idea from the late George Michael. 

For my 50th birthday party, I made  a thumb-drive with my favorite 50 songs of all time with MP3 files.

I wonder what technology will exist for my 60th.  I am already thinking of what that musical gift will be and jotting down long forgotten tunes. 

#musicmemories #singkaraoke #karaokerocks