Wednesday, October 24, 2012


For some unknown reason, I’ve always been drawn to actress Jamie Lee Curtis.  I’m not sure why.  It’s kind of a superficial attraction I guess – I really don’t know an awful lot about her.  But her look and her demeanor and the few articles I’ve read about her have made me like her.  I know she fought alcoholism; I know she’s been married to the same person for 28 years; I know they’ve raised 2 children; I know that you rarely hear anything negative about her in the news (which is a blessing in itself!) Well, anyhow, I just read an article in Good Housekeeping magazine called “It’s Time For a Change” – about experiencing things for the first time, even our worst fears.  It got me thinking about my own life.  There have been a lot of “firsts” in the last few years – some unpleasant and some awe inspiring, but life-changing events nevertheless.
Life was never meant to be static or dormant.  Mine certainly hasn’t been.  Often the changes aren’t voluntary, but we all do change, every day.  Just look in the mirror – or maybe don’t.  Just take my word for it!  Most of us don’t really embrace the changes.  Just ask any beautician, plastic surgeon, cosmetologist, personal trainer – all of whom benefit from our attempt to cling to the past.  Our brains change too!  We don’t necessarily have the same opinions and beliefs we did 30 years ago but, in a way, we still want to stay in that comfort zone.  It becomes more and more difficult for us to try something new.  Well, why not?  It’s taken me 67 years to get to this point; I know what makes me relaxed and serene – and I know what scares the bejubees out of me. 

BUT, life really is about change – trying new things, challenging ourselves.  We encourage our children to do exactly that.  Now it’s time to practice what we preach.  Maybe we’ll find a new strength, or discover a great new hobby, or meet a new best friend.  And maybe we’ll fail miserably – which is okay, too, and not a bad lesson for our kids to learn either. Life will go on – and I’ve decided that mine will go on with lots of new and reawakened FIRSTS!

            MY  BUCKET  LIST  OF  FIRSTS!!!!
  • Writing this blog actually comes under the “reawakened” category.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but rarely took the time.  It has become a true joy and a discipline I both needed and treasure!

  • Kayaking –  We have tried this once in Abaco, but it was a number of years ago in a quiet blue lagoon – and I was a lot younger.  We’ve decided that we are going to rent kayaks right here in NSB and spend some time on the Indian River Lagoon.  This comes under the “scary” category for me, but I really want to try it. 

  • Growing a Clementine Tree on my balcony.  This may not seem like a big deal, but getting a finicky citrus tree to even survive in the salt air and windy conditions of a 6th floor ocean-front condo would be quite a first for us.  It’s an everyday project but it seems to be thriving against all the odds.  It does have its seasons mixed up though.  It should be ripening its fruit about now, but, instead, it’s just flowering and setting fruit.  Maybe we’ll be eating Clementines in the summer!

  • Church Sacristan – this will definitely be a FIRST.  I’ve been involved in different ways in different churches we’ve belonged to, but this parish is different.  My husband has always been more of a “say a prayer for me at mass” type rather than an actual visitor to the church.  Since we moved here last year, he began coming with me, especially during treatment times.  Now he goes willingly.  The pastor knows us by first names and gives the most interesting homilies.  A few weeks ago, we were approached by the Director of Liturgy and asked if we might have an interest in helping out with the Sacristan duties.  We weren’t quite sure what that involved and I thought Fred would give it a definite “No.”  Well, he didn’t say “No;” we went through a brief training; and we begin our FIRST month of duties in November. 

  • Surf fishing – again another “reawakened” past time, but one that we both enjoy -- yet we have let other things take precedence.  I guess the true FIRST in this endeavor will be giving it the priority it should have.  That will begin next week, as soon as Hurricane Sandy leaves our shore and our surf calms down.

  • Bike Riding on the Beach – this comes under one of the “scary” FIRSTS for me.  I’ve ridden a bike many times in my life, even on a beach once – but I’m not sure if my balance and endurance are up to it.  However, I WILL try it soon and face my fears!  I’m looking forward to it – but, oddly enough, I can’t bring myself to get the bike and just DO IT!!!  I’ll let you know when I do!  I would really love to make it a regular part of my week.

  • Write a book.  I’m not sure what kind or on what subject or if anyone would even read it – but it’s a goal I would love to see through to completion.

  • Be a participant in a clinical trial that helps bring an end to this vile, despicable disease.  Ironically, for many years, I worked in Clinical Research – conducting trials of new drugs for a variety of illnesses.  I even participated in one or two – but never a cancer trial.  That would be a very worthwhile FIRST.  I would truly love to have some brilliant researcher use my diseased tissue or cells to help bring an end to this plague.

 Well, that’s a good start.  I’ll let you know how my list is progressing.  

SURVIVAL TIP FOR TODAY:   Think about how your life is changing.  Are you learning something new every day?  We all need goals – no matter if you’re healthy or ill, young or old.  Challenge yourself!!  I know I intend to – God Help Me!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Somehow 50 years have gone by since I graduated from High School.  Last week, a large group of my classmates got together in New York to celebrate and remember.  Looking at the photos online and reading some of the e-mails between all of us brought back so many memories.
High School wasn’t a great time in my life.  My mother was very ill and my dad had to travel a lot for his job.  I’m not quite sure how my father managed it financially, especially with my mother’s high medical expenses, but I was fortunate to attend a small Catholic High School for girls – and I will be forever grateful. 

Education was a relatively simple fact of life in the l950s-- or so it seemed to me, growing up in Queens, New York.  Parents of teenagers had limited options: the local public high school or the 2 Catholic high schools – one for girls and one for boys.  All of my neighborhood friends went "public."  I went to Our Lady of Wisdom Academy – OLWA, commonly referred to by my neighborhood friends as the “Old Ladies’ Washerwoman Assn.”  I didn’t realize at the time just how much depended on which direction you took when you got off the bus each morning: East, to the public high school or West, to the Academy.

The first obvious distinction between the schools was the dress code.  It was 1958 and the public school staff tried to get their male students to wear shirts, shoes, and pants that occasionally touched the tops of their shoes.  The teachers usually settled for a white undershirt with one sleeve rolled around a pack of cigarettes, basketball sneakers, and "high-water" black chinos that were barely long enough to cover the boy's white socks. (OLWA girls thought they looked “cool.”) The girls were encouraged to wear skirts covering their knees, ladylike blouses with collars, hose, and shoes.  Each girl arrived daily in a very short poodle skirt, bobby socks, penny loafers, and a sweater set three sizes too small.

Two miles away, our school principal also struggled with the difficulty in getting teenagers to conform to her dress code. One student dared to arrive with a red barrette in her hair; another rebel had forgotten her blazer; still another brazen soul dared to wear seamless stockings.  Our Lady of Wisdom's dress code was very straightforward.  Each student was to wear the required navy blue jumper, white cotton blouse (buttoned up to her eyebrows), navy blue blazer with the proper "OLWA" emblem, stockings with seams, white bobby socks, and navy blue and white saddle shoes with bleached white shoelaces.  No makeup was allowed, nor was any type of jewelry or hair "bauble."  Mother Mary Annunciata, our principal, did allow bobby pins and rubber bands to be used, only to keep disobedient hair from straying.  We were told that this rigid standard of dress would prevent a fashion competition among the students, and, therefore, keep our minds on our studies.  I realize now that there was a second item to that agenda: to make us all appear as unappealing as possible to any member of the opposite sex whom we might encounter on our way to and from school.  The dress code was successful in both areas.

The second distinction between the schools was not quite as obvious.  At that time, the State of New York required ALL high school students to take a certain number of specific courses and to pass standardized Regents exams. My public school friends and I struggled through the required English, algebra, geometry, biology, and history. Their teachers, however, allowed the conventional length of time to cover each subject.  Our teachers, members of a religious order known as the Daughters of Wisdom, had never wholly adjusted to Eastern Standard Time.  They had all been educated in France (presumably by the Marquis de Sade).  They felt that a year was excessive for Freshman English--so I spent the second semester studying Beowulf (in Olde English).  Algebra, geometry, and trigonometry were over by the end of sophomore year; and most of us went on to calculus.
The public school students were allowed to fill their free periods with electives, such as typing, auto mechanics, woodworking shop, art, and music. All useful classes! At OLWA, we had a wonderful music appreciation class, to which I attribute my love of ALL genres of music.  We also had a choice of other electives.  Sister Mary Francis taught French l, 2, 3 . . . l2, l3; Sister Mary of the Crucifixion taught Latin l, 2, 3 . . . 47, 48.  Physics was a popular elective, as were theology and metaphysics.

In the New York school system, reading lists were common.  Students were given a list of books, essays, etc., early in the school year.  At "Wisdom," we were encouraged to spend our evenings, weekends, legal holidays, Christmas and Easter vacations, as well as our summers, reading selections from the "list."  I would gladly have traded with my neighborhood friends.  Their list was generally comprised of books that had been on my eighth-grade reading list and essays that were banned by our English Department. 

As important as dress codes and curricula were to the educational experience, the most enduring lesson that I learned at Our Lady of Wisdom Academy, and have carried with me throughout the years, is an ingrained respect for others.  Courtesy, consideration and respect permeated each classroom and augmented every syllabus.

At both schools in question, a loud bell would signal the end of a class period.  In one, the sound of the bell was nearly drowned out by the slamming of books, scraping of desks, and the clamor of scurrying students.  No one cared if the teacher was in mid-sentence. 

At OLWA, although the bell may have sounded, the class was not over until Sister dismissed us.  Heaven forbid a textbook should be closed prematurely; extra homework would be the result, usually for the entire class.  Following dismissal, we would exit the room in a respectful, orderly, ladylike fashion – we didn’t love it, but we did it. Respectfulness was right up there, next to cleanliness and godliness.

The nuns taught us to respect our parents, teachers, elders, those in authority, and each other.  We were taught that it was rude to speak while someone else was speaking and that it was cruel to hurt anyone's feelings. They taught self-esteem, as well as English; morals, in addition to sines and cosines; and worthy principles, along with the Gallic wars.  But most importantly, they taught personal responsibility – taking responsibility for your own actions.  That is very much lacking in today’s world.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not generalizing – really I’m not.  I’m speaking from my personal experience.  We had our share of problem students.  And by no means do I think that graduates of public schools have no manners.  For me, it was where I needed to be at that time in my life. 

I'm sure that, over the years, both school systems have turned out a proportionate number of scholars and fools.  However, I am equally sure that the potential public school scholars had more atmospheric obstacles and peer problems to overcome than we had at Wisdom.  I can’t speak for today, but in 1958, Catholic schools were more conducive (not to mention coercive) toward learning than public schools were at the time.

Subjectively, I am grateful for the coercion.  I will always be indebted to those French sisters, in their Flying Nun habits, for the education and life values I carry with me today.  I know that my faith and the core values I learned in OLWA and at home are what have gotten me through my ongoing health battles.

Survival Tip for Today:   Dig deep and find your core strength.  It’s there – use it to sustain your mind, body and soul through the tough times. Take responsibility for your own health.  Be an active participant in the direction your life takes.  Be present in every moment.  You’re worth it and you CAN do it!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The "SHORT SALE" - a New Oxymoron

I’ve mentioned before that we moved from a 2.5 acre rural property to a 6th floor, beachside condo late last year.  “A Lifestyle Change.”  That’s just another way of saying we were getting too decrepit to do all the work required by a small vineyard and winery, 12 citrus trees, blueberry and blackberry patches, a vegetable garden that would feed a small country, a swimming pool, etc., etc.  Wow, I’m tired just typing that!  Well, we began to look into condo living and wound up learning a whole new language in the real estate business.

I’ve always been fascinated by oxymorons – you know, those two words of contradictory meaning that are placed together for special effect, like “deafening silence” and “mournful optimist.”  A new oxymoron has come into our vocabulary in the past few years and it has had the predicted “special effect” on many people – like ME!  It’s known as the “short sale.”  It’s a real estate term that refers to a sale in which the proceeds from selling the property will fall short of the amount actually owed by the seller.  As someone who has become way too knowledgeable about the “short sale” process, let me advise you that it definitely qualifies as an oxymoron – rarely does a “sale” actually take place and “short” applies to absolutely nothing except the buyer’s  patience and the “special effect” is usually someone’s rising blood pressure. 

Initially these sales sound like a gift to potential buyers – a property being offered much below what it is really worth.  Who of us doesn’t love a bargain?  Of course, you must first get past the fact that the disgruntled owner has most likely moved out and taken, along with his/her personal belongings, all appliances, light fixtures, doors, window coverings, light bulbs, electrical outlets, wall switch plates, and the occasional faucet.  They do, however, generously leave behind dead creatures, crumbs, dust bunnies, what my Irish grandmother called “Irish Lace Curtains” (cobwebs), usually a foul, musty odor due to no electricity therefore no A/C, and the occasional odd undergarment.  I certainly do not intend to include ALL sellers of “short sale” properties – only the ones I have seen personally.   

As to our personal involvement in one of these oxymorons, the “short” part of the saying is truly a joke.  Our contracts were signed in early May of 2011 and, the “SUPREME BANKING MUCKY-MUCKS” finally agreed to kindly ACCEPT our money in late November. All those months, we were ready, willing, and able to purchase the property, but we didn’t have the permission of the “money lenders.”  Maybe that’s why Jesus threw them out of the temple all those centuries ago.  To make things worse, just because the property was listed at one price, the final negotiator wasn’t required to honor that price. He could legally request more or the contract would be cancelled – and he actually DID!  This is where the divorce lawyers almost got involved.  My husband went ballistic – but I was in love (or lust, I’m not sure which) with the apartment and the view!

As for the “sale” part of the saying, we could have bought and sold three other properties in the meantime – but it’s a bargain!  I repeated that phrase for seven months and I had visions of repeating it while the men in the white coats were carrying me away to the funny farm in a straight-jacket.  At least I would have had a quiet, peaceful place to live while the “short sale” negotiators continued to negotiate!

Well, as you have figured out, all that is behind us and we are really enjoying our beach-bum lifestyle – and our short-sale condo.  But just beware – if it’s sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  We love our new home, but, because of the horrible condition it was in, we spent months making it livable – not to mention the amount of money we had to lay out for appliances, plumbing repairs, a new air conditioning unit, new bathroom fixtures, tile, carpet, window screens, spackle and paint, cleaning supplies, etc.  But it’s done, we love it, we’re still married, but we definitely wouldn’t recommend it.  

Survival Tip for Today:  If you see something you really want, go for it.  Just remember that nothing worth having comes easy - but some things are really not worth all that effort.  Only YOU can make that decision.