Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Conscious Coupling.... or Uncoupling....or ...... what?

Sometime in the past year or so, Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband (of Coldplay fame) divorced.   Ok....well, as a part of the never-ending onslaught of celebrity news, the separation or divorce announcement is not exactly unique or interesting.  In this case, the actress in question is known for her "elite persona", but I think she outdid herself here.   She announced that she and Chris Martin were "engaging in a conscious uncoupling".      The utter pretentiousness of this statement had me confused as whether to laugh or sneer - so I did both for a while.   Then I realized that this ridiculous description had become a literary ear worm of sorts for me.    For the love of God, why???

Maybe for me, it's not the issue of conscious uncoupling, but rather the opposite - conscious "coupling".   Now, as someone who's been married for 24 years, I think I understand marriage fairly well.   I tried for a couple of our first childless years of marriage to spend as much time with Bill as humanly possible because I just thought that's what you did.  We drove to and from work together, ate lunch together, went everywhere on the weekends together, and ....... started driving each other crazy. Thank God Mandy came along and put a stop to that madness.  Over the years, we learned - sometimes the hard way - that we love each other for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with our hobby interests.  And while we understand the need to support each other's interests, that is entirely different from engaging in these interests together.  And it works.... for us.

Enter the "conscious couples" of the world who seem to outnumber us two to one - and who don't understand us any better than we understand them.    I just shake my head sometimes - the first sign of a conscious couple is the joint e-mail address and/or Facebook account with a user name like "frankandmarysmith" (important that it be all one word!!) or even better, the indecipherable combination of initials and last names - fmyetalsmith@idiot.com.    I'm sure you have a perfectly acceptable reason for having only one e-mail address or Facebook account, but for the love of God, have some dignity and name the account something that doesn't invoke visions of circus sideshow conjoined humans.   <Sigh> - am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that people are protesting against corporate personhood, yet so many people make the conscious decision to throw away their individuality when they enter into the holy state of matrimony, taking the biblical "two shall become one" command a bit too literally?  The best part is when one of these couples join some group - together, of course, - and commit to some level of participation, but when one of them contracts the common cold, or a virus, or < insert any benign, non life-threatening, common, everyday affliction here>, they both stay home.  Really?  The last time I checked, I was an adult who did not need my husband to sit next to me and feed me chicken soup or whatever while I was sick!    In fact, when I am sick, I really don't want another human being anywhere near me.

I fully recognize that this is how these folks have chosen to live.   I assume that they are happy and comfortable living this way together, and while I may be smirking and laughing on the inside, I am quite respectful on the outside.  In return, it would be really terrific if I wasn't asked over and over why my husband is going here or there for a few days or a week without me and why I choose to go on chorus tours without him.  Or they give me that look reminiscent of a dog cocking its head, uncomprehending.  I am asked "Do you miss Bill yet?" with the appropriate vocal inflection - equal parts sweetness, concern and curiosity.  My answer - an abrupt "Nope"- never fails to startle the inquisitor in the most satisfying way.   It's not entirely true that I don't miss him.  I miss him, the person.  I do not miss the way I know he'd be behaving if I forced him to pay over $1,000 to be scheduled within an inch of his life.   I, the performer and anal-retentive time schedule freak, thrive on this type of experience.  He hates it.  Let's put it this way - people on these trips have gotten lost or lost track of time, and we've sat on a bus waiting for them.  My husband would "get lost" on purpose. And then I'd have to kill him.  Nobody wins.   So, stop asking me why he isn't coming with me or if I miss him.  This, in my mind,  is only slightly less intrusive than asking a couple why they "only" have one child (another phenomenon that I am familiar with).

My bottom line - years of pre-cana sponsoring taught me that marriage is a tough business and it's different for everyone.   Whatever works!

But, I reserve the right to snicker on the inside at "frankandmarysmith".

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Evolution of My Personal Faith

Anyone who was brought up in the Catholic faith will understand what I mean when I say that I've spent most of my life thinking that faith and religion were one and the same.   The routine was .... well.... very routine.  Weekly Mass, religious ed, etc ...  I was spared the indignity of being forced to attend Catholic school, but I sat in Mass each week like a good little soldier, and in my mind,  Mass=God=Faith= Eternal Salvation.  

As an adult,  I was exposed to other Christian religions and the Jewish faith, and I was sort of shocked to learn that these folks also thought that they held the key to the afterlife (well, some Jews don't believe in the afterworld, but whatever!).  When music re-established itself in life, I began to equate my participation in Mass as a musical thing that equated to faith.  The music liturgy seemed to define my devotion.  A fantastic music program at my church translated into me feeling quite religious and fine indeed.

So, what happened when the music liturgy was less than fantastic?  I was forced to actually listen to the Mass and the homily with mature ears.  And I wasn't sure I liked what I was hearing.  What else was out there?   Protestant churches?  Unitarians?  Universalist Unitarians....... New Life, Brothers of the Lord, Disciples of Christ, .......  huh?  The luxuries of  Protestantism beckoned.  Cushioned pews.  Welcome areas.  Pre- or post-service coffee gatherings.  Real choir areas not located at the top of punishing flights of stairs.  And the coat racks ... oh, the coat racks!  I digress.....  Even as I occasionally indulged in these trappings, I still felt like there was something missing.

I remember that famous line from the first Presidential campaign of Bill Clinton - "It's the economy, stupid!".   For me a few months ago, it was "Hey, it's Jesus Christ, stupid!"  I read some materials that dared to suggest that the actual commandments of Jesus were more important than anything spoken or written by his Apostles or any men who came afterward.   The more I read them and thought about them, the more I realized how little established religious practices have in common with them.   Gandhi was famously quoted as saying "Your Christ.. I like him very much.  I don't care for your Christians.  Your Christians are very un-like your Christ."    I wondered what would happen to my faith if I were to stop concerning myself with all of the superficial "stuff" that fills established religions and instead were to concentrate on Christ.  Just Christ.

As the months passed, I focused on the commandments of Jesus in my daily life.   What changed?  I was less critical of the religion of my childhood.  I realized that it could be an important social component of my life that could serve as a means to help keep me focused on the study of my personal faith.  As I looked at my fellow Catholics, I was surprised to detect thoughts and feelings very similar to mine.   Views toward sexuality, homosexuality and "traditional families" were leaning much more toward a "live and let live" philosophy...  this was new?  ...or maybe I just hadn't taken the time to notice before.

Where does this leave me today?   Today, organized religion is an activity that helps me to carve out time for my faith, but it does not define my faith.  For me, faith is mental.  For me, faith is a feeling and a conviction. Faith for me is:

 - knowing that if I try to treat everyone with dignity and respect, I will almost always come out on the other side having learned something.  Some of the most surprising experiences come when you acknowledge someone who you might feel totally disengaged or alienated from - for whatever reason.
- knowing that sadness, sorrow, personal tragedy and obstacles are part of a bigger plan that I may not understand now or maybe ever.
-knowing that moments of beauty and sweetness can exist within those tragedies if we allow ourselves to see them.
-knowing that one of the greatest joys we can ever experience is to pray for someone other than ourselves and to have those prayers answered.
-knowing that I am perfect in my imperfections and that I can identify and acknowledge those imperfections without bashing myself, because faith is an ongoing work in progress.
-knowing that the good things in my life are worth fighting for.   Because they won't always be joyful and perfect, but they will be sometimes challenging and always ever-evolving and always worth the effort.

Love one another as I have loved you.   It doesn't get any simpler than that.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving and beyond

It's been a most interesting week.  An absurd amount of snow dumped on the area south of Buffalo (and South Buffalo) last week.  Almost 7 feet in some towns and villages.  That's an entire winter's worth of snow in 72 hours or so.    And while the worst of the snow is behind them, there will be high winds and unseasonable warmth tomorrow and Tuesday, which could lead to intense flooding when all of that snow melts in record time just as it fell in record time.    We hold our collective breath and wait .  

How will this affect our Thanksgiving?  For me personally, I am thinking of it as just one piece of the big picture of my daughter's final year of college.   So far we have experienced:  the final dorm move-in, the final Parents' Weekend and now, as I type this, the final Thanksgiving Break.  Here's the thing: I know that wherever she lands after graduation, I can vow to visit her as often as possible, but life has a funny way of getting in the way of vows such as these.  I saw this when my brother's kids moved South while he was still working full time.    No pun intended, I will give it the "old college try", but I have to be realistic about the frequency of our visits.   There will be no more convenient school breaks.   It will be the next chapter of our lives, the inevitable progression of life, blah, blah, blah ...  So, I ask for pardon and patience as I am tending to approach these school breaks with even more sentiment and more of a sense of importance than usual.   I spent a good chunk of last week being unreasonably worried about the people I know who were trapped by this behemoth storm, defending Buffalo's good name on Facebook and focusing with laser attention on the effect that all of this might have on my daughter's flight into town on Friday.  I'm afraid that this might sound awfully self-centered to some people, but I am embracing that and accepting it.  My daughter will never have another Senior Year in college.

I am thankful this year for the health and well-being of my friends who survived the storm - SNOWVEMBER - as it is now called.   I am thankful that we are the people who we are here in Western New York, where a gang of over 200 people armed with shovels called themselves "The Shovel Brigade" and converged on South Buffalo to help dig out the unfortunate citizens still trapped in their homes.  This is just one example of the type of citizenry that inhabits these parts.

I am thankful for my family who used my 50th birthday to show me just exactly what I mean to them.  I am still overwhelmed when I think about that party.  I can only hope to continue to deserve this level of devotion and to be able to demonstrate it in return.

I am thankful for my best friend.   Since Thanksgiving last year, some things have happened that have tested our friendship.   What I have learned from these experiences is that we have radically different ways of dealing with high-stress and big-anger situations.  I must learn to give her space and room to digest her anger by herself, within herself.   In return, I hope she understands that my way of dealing with tough situations is to immediately discuss, discuss, discuss until I can visualize a pathway to a solution.  This is the only way I can stop my brain from processing the situation over and over and over - interrupting sleep, work etc.. and that if she takes too much time for introspective thought, I just might explode!    I am thankful that we were able to flush these things out.   While we have so much in common, are connected in so many ways, it is good to have some differences to keep us on our toes.

Mostly, some interesting things have happened since last Thanksgiving that cause me now to be thankful for being the 50-year old me rather than the 25-year old me.   I am thankful for the wisdom that comes with age.  A gift that can never be taken away!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Trying to Understand, Trying to Deal

Turmoil is not fun for most people.  I need to believe that only the most narcissistic, the most self-centered, the most non-empathetic person cannot be negatively impacted by organizational upheaval.  It has to be so.

Three years and four months ago, BCAS went to Washington, DC.  I was a singer and I was the Board Secretary.  At that time, the future was rosy and all was good with the world.  Our Board was comprised of a diverse set of personalities that somehow meshed in spite of our differences.  One woman in particular evolved from being a fellow singer and Board member into an occasional dinner partner with our husbands.  I liked her intelligence.  I liked her affinity for good food, good drink and good entertainment.  She was generous beyond comparison.  Her husband was quiet and witty, her young daughter was charming.

Now, let me be clear - this woman had her quirks.   She was not hurting for money, and she never missed an opportunity to remind all of us, the great unwashed, of that fact.   But she was such a philanthropist that it was easy to overlook the braggadocio. She loved to talk, and in particular, she loved to talk about herself.  This little quirk could actually drive those in her presence crazy.  Yet, once in a while ... when you could get her to listen...., she usually had something valuable, interesting or helpful to offer in return.    I don't want to make it sound as though we were joined at the hip or soul mates or anything of that nature.  She and her husband were our friends in the way that adult couples cultivate friendships with other couples.  Certainly my husband thought so too.  It was the sort of casual, no-strings friendship that people are supposed to have lots of.   We didn't have lots of them, so maybe we unconsciously placed too much importance on this one.

I'd have to say that things started to change after her second child was born.  Her family was squashed into a house that was too small.  Then, her employer started having issues.  What exactly triggered the changes in her, I'll never know.  We had to reorganize something in the chorus over the holidays, and she took it into her head that somehow three of us on the Board had clandestinely planned to pull off the re-org without her knowledge or involvement.  This could not be further from the truth, but to her, I was the friend who had betrayed her, and no amount of explanation on my part could make her change her mind.

In the months that followed, her behavior became more erratic and angry -  anger that (unless I was imagining things) seemed to be aimed at me.  Every week, I would compose my rehearsal notes to email to the chorus, and every week, I would hit the send button and hold my breath.  If I accidentally omitted something that she thought should be in the e-mail, I would start receiving a string of texts, usually punctuated with "I'M SCREWED NOW".....   If I was above approach, she'd start sending angry texts about perceived slights perpetrated by others.  This was a pattern that continued to the end.   If she was angry with anyone else, I would become her verbal punching bag.  One time, I had to finally text her back with a terse "I'M DONE.  TURNING OFF MY PHONE NOW".   Oddly, I heard through the grapevine that she was sorry, but the apology never made it to me.  I think her "revenge" on me was finally complete when she verbally attacked me at a concert after-party.  This, in turn, caused me to act out in spectacular fashion with others around me.   That, for me, was the final straw in the delicate shell of what had once been a pleasant casual friendship.

I developed a fairly effective defense against her behavior.  Indifference.  It was probably too effective, because that's when she started becoming a problem for the chorus in general and our fellow Board members in particular.  Her meltdowns increased in direct proportion to her paranoia that we were secretly meeting and making important chorus plans without her.  If we so much as had a 5 minute conversation without her, it was grounds for accusations.  Worst of all - her bad behavior became directed at chorus members.  Her unpopularity was palpable, and all the time, I kept thinking "where is that person that we used to have dinner with?"  It was so hard for me to make the connection between the person I knew and the person who was wreaking havoc in our lives.

In a nutshell, we believe she attempted an ill-planned coup of our Board along with two other equally-disgruntled chorus members.  She has now resigned from all chorus duties and taken a leave of absence.  We are all relieved - there are no words to adequately describe our relief, as a matter of fact.  But I am also sad,  Because I know in my heart of hearts that I don't want her to come back, and that even if she begged forgiveness for her behavior, I could never trust her again.  And that makes me sad. Maybe it shouldn't, but it does.  She never actually perpetrated anything wrong, but she just said such awful things in private and in front of people who did nothing to warrant them.  She struck verbally with the force of a viper and left her victims literally breathless.  But this was not the person I knew just three short years ago.  I don't know where that person is, but wherever she is, I hope she will miss me just a little bit and not hate me or think of me as a betrayer.  I can't explain why I care, but I do care.  I guess I just don't understand people sometimes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Absolutely Selfish Post

Warning:  this is going to be possibly the most selfish, self-centered post you've ever read.  If you are at all offended by selfish behavior, you may wish to back away now.  I am writing this because I need to get it out, and I think that this is what blogs are good for.  Proceed with caution...

I am now 50 years old.  If I thought that I was going to wake up on my birthday suddenly possessing good judgement and sage advise, I could not have been more wrong.  I am tired.  Tired of trying to meet other people's expectations, tired of apologizing when I don't.   All I can really do is to apologize.  So here's an apology to the people who I've wronged in the past and some who I seem to continually wrong on a regular basis:

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry I wasn't more self-motivated as a child so that I could have learned to play an instrument well and given my father something to be proud of about me before he died.

I'm sorry that my career is not a raging success and that I am a terrible housekeeper and could not give my mother something to be proud of about me before she died.  I'm sorry that she felt that she had to turn to my sister-in-law as the daughter she wished she'd had.

I'm sorry that I didn't make more of an effort to stay in touch with and visit my family in North Carolina in the years before the death of my nephew.  I'm sorry that I tried to make amends and probably just ended up looking pathetic.

I'm sorry I was such an insensitive bitch as a young adult.   For sure, I have reaped what I've sowed.

I'm sorry that I am married to a man who is compelled to display his love for me every few years with grand gestures, but that I know that he is making himself feel better about the fact that I am his on-demand verbal punching bag the other 364 days of the year.  I'm sorry that each dollar that he spends on these grand gestures represents a "F-You", or a "Go to Hell" or a "F-ing C-nt".   I'm sorry that I probably deserve this treatment because I am such a bad housekeeper and breadwinner and that I should be thanking God for a man who would do these wonderful things for me periodically.  I'm sorry that I don't have the guts to leave him because I know that practically nobody would sympathize or understand.  Except for my daughter who resents that I didn't leave him years ago.

I'm sorry that when my daughter has traumatic events happening in her life, that I try so hard to talk her through them in a way that is both loving and helpful, but that the pattern now seems to be that I end up failing and my mother-in-law rides in on her white horse and makes it all better.

I'm sorry that I have never taken psychology classes and that I have this unending need to find honorable intentions in everyone, even the people who seem to be the most dishonorable.   I'm sorry that I don't believe that any bad situation will be solved by automatically assuming dishonorable intentions.  I'm sorry that this clouds my judgement and causes me to betray the honorable people in my life.  I can't help but feel that I will someday pay a huge price for this, but I don't know how to change myself.   If hindsight is 20/20, then I should have bionic eyes.

I'm sorry that even when I am trying to be at the top of my game at all times, I will predictably let down my guard and screw up and fail to meet expectations and let people down.    This is really nothing new for me, but it seems worse to me now because I go through periods when I really do feel older and wiser - but it turns out to be an illusion.   I am never going to be older and wiser.   I am always going to be the person who fails to live up to expectations.  It is my life and it's who I am.  The sooner I accept this about myself, the sooner I will stop expecting that I will ever play an important role in anything significant.  The sooner I can accept that I need to question and second guess everything I do before I do it, the sooner I can decrease the disappointment that I am causing for others.

I can't tell if this really is the most incredibly selfish post or if it is just me trying to come to terms with who I really am and what I am capable of and what is beyond my capabilities.  Maybe I will be happier if I stop trying to be something I'm not.   What I know for sure is that I am tired of constantly being a disappointment.   I never thought of myself as being someone who is scared of her own shadow.   Maybe that's who I really am and maybe that's how I need to proceed from now on.

If you've read this despite the warning message, I am sorry if you are now completely turned off.  I tried to stop you, but, like most everything else I've tried to say or do, I've failed.   Don't feel bad.  You're in pretty good company.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


I am writing another blog entry this week in an attempt to lighten myself.    I feel heavy - in both the physical and mental sense.   I feel as though this blog is like cardio for the emotions.  That's what it's been for me in the past.  I really need it to be so now.

I feel physically tired, mainly because of my weight.  I am not going to write any more about my weight right now.  I am fat, period.  Everywhere I go, when I meet people for the first time, I feel their thoughts.  "Fat woman.   Pleasant.  Nice hair.  Fat."

I feel mentally tired.  I am trying to prepare myself for the challenges that may lie ahead at work.  The time for my manager to retire may be upon us faster than anyone planned.  This could mean big changes and big challenges for a few of us.  I don't know if I'm ready.

I feel emotionally tired.  Hormones raging, and my bodily organs and functions are unpredictable.  They betray me in various degrees on an almost daily basis.

The sadness grows exponentially by the week.  I simply don't know if I can work with these people.   I love to sing more than almost any other activity on earth, but these people have drained me of the desire to open my mouth.  Worse, they have made me afraid - something that I have never been before on this Board.   The idea of replying to what appears to be an innocuous e-mail request fills me with dread.    What am I afraid of.....   I am afraid of misinterpreted words.   Not misinterpretation by those who I don't care about.  Why would I be afraid of that?  On the contrary, I almost expect it.   No, I fear misinterpretation by those who I care for more than I care for my self.  Because......  I am not the only person who bears emotional scars.   I can stand almost anything that may come of this disastrous grouping, except for one thing.  I could not bear the loss of my friend.   I don't know exactly why I fear this, but I do and it is an irrational fear that I can't shake.    If I "speak" in an e-mail, I may say the wrong thing.  If I don't speak, I risk being unsupportive.  Either way, I lose.

Ok, so there it is .  And I don't feel any lighter.   What to do.  What to do.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Is E-Mail Evil?

My heart feels so heavy tonight.  I think that I'm a product of a bygone era.   While I am a huge user of social media, I have tried very hard to use it for useful purposes or for just plain fun.  I have not always been successful, but I have tried.  I do not post anything related to my job or any issues that I may be having with friends or family.

Then there is e-mail.  E-mail can be our best friend or our biggest enemy.  It makes our lives infinitely more productive because it allows us to reach as many people as we need to about a whole list of topics all in one fell swoop.  However .......

Unless your name is Ann Landers, Abigail Van Buren or Mother Teresa, you may occasionally word something poorly.  Or hastily. Without adequate thought, or adequate care and consideration. Imagine that this happens when you are addressing a whole boatload of people.    How many of us have had an occasion to admit that "perhaps I could have worded that differently..."  It does not take a super special idiot or evil person to word something poorly in an e-mail with a large distribution list.

And then there are the e-mails that never should have been sent in the first place.   It would seem that the art of calling someone on the phone is lost on the majority of the population.  You know, the thing is .....  most of us have a cell phone.  And in case you haven't noticed, lots of people screen their calls on their cell phones.   So, if you're really THAT nervous about calling someone about something, chances are pretty good that you'll be able to leave a message - preferably a coherent, thought-out message - which will give the recipient the chance to think about the topic before he or she returns the call.

If I thought anyone would take me seriously for a second on this topic, I would propose the following "Rules of Mass E-Mail Etiquette in the 21st Century":

(1) Topics that have the potential to be controversial or sensitive should not, repeat NOT, be discussed in e-mails.  Please discuss these in a group meeting, I beg of you.  For the love of God.

(2) If you are beginning your message with "I have left John Doe off this distribution list because ....", or " Please do not repeat this to Jane Smith, because .....",  you should probably rethink the purpose of the e-mail.  See #1, above.

(3) Don't write the next epic novel.  I've been guilty of this too many times myself.  Nobody wants or has time to read it.   Try to pare it down or turn it into bullet points.   Save the prose for your blog, or,,,, go ahead and really write the next epic novel.

(4) If you really need something urgently, don't send an e-mail and sit stewing while the minutes tick away without a response.  People are not glued to their e-mail.  Pick up the phone and call - see paragraph 4 above.

(5) On the flip side - if you are a group that relies on e-mail a lot, set some rules for responding to e-mails in a reasonably timely manner.

Since nobody will take these rules with anything but a grain of salt, I think we have two choices to ensure that e-mails do not bring down civilization as we know it:

(A) Use simple sentence structure and words containing no more than two syllables.   Bullet points whenever possible.  This leaves the least room for misinterpretation.  If the e-mail can't be composed in this manner, then it probably should not be composed at all.

(B) If you receive an e-mail that does not meet the criteria as described in (A), read it at least three times.  Then read it out loud.  If you find it offensive, DO NOT REPLY.    Give yourself 2 hours and read it again out loud.   If it still feels offensive to you, DO NOT REPLY.  This means do not reply, do not reply to some,  do not reply to all.  DO NOT REPLY.  Call the sender on the phone or meet the sender for coffee.   For the love of God, engage in real communication.  It will feel awkward at first, because you are so out of practice, but never fear.... it's like riding a bike!

Our grandparents are rolling over in their graves.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Is This What Crazy Feels Like?

So much is written about the mental health crisis in our country these days.  Everyone who commits a violent crime is someone who has mental issues, and then the second guessing starts.  Family and friends of the perp make statements about the person being "not right" or "showing signs of having problems" and people think that if only these people would have said or done something...

The thing is, when do people recognize their own issues?   How does a person know when they've crossed the line from stressed out or disturbed to psychosis?  Or maybe this is how people go nuts and shoot people up.  Probably they started out perfectly normal.  Maybe things started happening in their environment that stressed them out.  A lot.  And maybe they were predisposed to psychosis and didn't even realize it.  So, something is going on all the time that is stressing them out, and sooner or later the symptoms start.  Erratic behavior.  Altered perceptions of reality.   Emotional instability.  And then, one day - wham!  The person just goes off the deep end.  And nobody saw it coming because it just crept up on everyone - including the crazy person.

So, the question is this:  when things start happening to cause someone to believe that he or she is "losing it", what comes next?   People often say  "I'M LOSING IT" when they are confronted with a difficult or confusing situation.  But when is it really time to say "enough"?   How does someone recognize that she is on the edge of sanity?   Is it when your memory of events becomes a tangle of confusion in your head, or is it when you remember something with absolute clarity only to find out that you are not remembering correctly at all?   Or maybe it's when that crystal clear memory is surrounded on either side by tangles of confusion.

The biggest question of all:   Is sanity or the lack thereof proven by the questions being asked?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A New Twist on an Old Prayer

I am on the Board of Directors of the chorus for which I also sing.  While I feel that I still have many quality singing years ahead of me, I can't help but feel that my best years as a member of this Board are behind me.  My passion for it is gone, and it makes me sad, because we have great things planned for the next two seasons.  But, I am committed to these two seasons because I do believe in the ability of our Chorus to achieve great things and I still want to be a part of making that happen.  I want to believe that there is someone ready to replace me who will have the same level of commitment and passion that I brought to the table over the past 12 years.   The trouble is that there are members of this Board, new and returning, who seem to have personal agendas.  I wonder what would happen if these people were left to their own devices on this Board?  Would their agendas ultimately benefit this Chorus?  Am I so arrogant that I believe that my way (our way) is the only way or the ultimate way?  My gut is telling me that people who are self-serving will not ever  serve in the best interests of the Chorus.   My gut is telling me that when the "up and coming" people disrespect experienced veterans (as they have already done), that these people will always put their own needs ahead of the 100 or so people who elected them.   But ......  my gut has been wrong.  Frequently.   And I know that I will be stepping down in two years, and when I do, I have to find a way to accept my successor.

We are all meeting for our first Board meeting of the season tomorrow.   There have been major issues already - before we've even had a chance to meet.  I suppose it's preferable to have your opponent fire a warning shot instead of just ambushing you.  Except that these people are NOT supposed to be our opponents.   My plan for meeting prep?  Well, I thought about the Serenity Prayer this morning.  I don't see any way that I will be able to remain serene during this meeting.  Instead, I think I'll concentrate on remaining wise.

God, grant me the wisdom to enter into this encounter with an open mind.
Help me to know when to speak and when to keep my big mouth shut.
Grant me the discipline to allow all of my experiences - both good and bad -  with these people to color my actions.  
God, help me to use my intuition to be able to support my allies without being overtly partisan.
Give me the strength to take the high road and be the bigger person when necessary.
Above all, help me to remember why I am doing this, why I agreed to do this 12 years ago, and who I am really working for.    


Friday, July 18, 2014

An Energy Zapper and Albatross

Earlier this week, I sat in my doctor's office and attempted to explain my fatigue to the PA.

"I sleep soundly all night, but within 3 hours of rising, I feel like going back to bed"
"My extremities feel like cement."
"No, I do not have: chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness or swelling."
"Yes, I am in perimenopause, and it sucks.  I'm closing in on one year of this hormone hell and have learned to just expect the unexpected and to roll with the punches."

What I didn't tell her was that I am in fear of dozing off while driving and will blast the radio and roll the window down on the Thruway in an attempt not to do so.

"Am I depressed?   No."   I don't think so.... or ....... hold on, not so fast ........

I am not depressed about my family.  I was a few months ago, but I have been able to accept the realities of my situation.  While I think I have an uphill battle ahead, I am confident that I have to ability to create a new, different kind of connection with them.  Also, my daughter has been home now for almost 2 months, and I feel good about my ability to let her fly off to start her new life at the end of the upcoming school year.  I'm about 85% there...

I am not depressed about my job.  There are some new and interesting challenges presenting themselves to me that I am rather enjoying.

What does that leave?  So, over the years, I've listened to other people complain about being on the Board of Directors of this or that and how miserable and thankless of an experience it was.  I considered myself lucky that I didn't truly feel that way in my heart of hearts because I was serving a group that I loved, that we were performers, and I love to perform.

Well .......   musicians have massive egos, many are self-serving and like to whine, and of course, we are all HUMAN, but up until a couple of years ago, our Board was able to overcome this petty stuff because at the end of the day, we were united with a common goal.  This does not seem to be the case any more, and it is getting worse with each passing season, as Board members step down and new members are elected.

How illustrious are we this season that we've managed to have a blowout meltdown before we've even held one meeting.    It feels like a new low, and considering that I 've been at this since 2003, that's saying a lot.   I am just 110% tired of egos and drama getting in the way of productivity.  I'm already tired of new Board members who sit in judgement and think that they have all of the answers.   I'm tired of the lame duck President who drags his feet on almost everything, but when he does decide to act on something, he does it carelessly and independent of anyone else.   I'm tired of having to bend over backwards to accommodate the ego and insecurity of the Music Director who is so busy trying to involve herself in everyone else's responsibilities that she can't find time to fulfill her own.  I'm tired of trying to be understanding of her problems while receiving no such understanding in return.  Ever.  I'm tired of the Board member who verbally abuses us and never gets called on her behavior.  I'm tired of knee-jerk decisions that come back to bite us.  I'm tired of the general membership that wants everything "just so" ...... as long as someone else does all of the work.   The work.  The work causes a huge gray cloud to descend on my brain.  And my work on this Board has suffered.  I know that I myself am far from perfect.

The prevailing theme is that I'm tired.  Period.   And unless my thyroid or vitamin levels come back and point to something else, I have to conclude that I've now identified the issue.   Feeling physically ill 24-48 hours before a meeting is not normal or healthy.   Feeling my BP shoot up when e-mails from certain people hit my inbox is not normal or healthy.   Being constantly at odds with someone over something is not healthy (the issue and the person shifts, but the scenario is ALWAYS the same).  Being surrounded by judgmental people who attribute ill intentions to others' every move is not healthy.  All of this takes its toll after months of it turn into years with no end in sight.  The clincher is that I feel totally trapped.   I am not a quitter, and there are those individuals involved in this group that I will never, ever quit on.  So, here I sit.

This doctor's appointment was a total downer.  I now weigh more than I ever have in my life, and I simply do not have the energy to do anything about it.   And I'm not sure I can do anything about it, even if I want to.   I am now predicting that this season's Board will not survive intact through May 31, 2015.  The only question in my mind is -who will quit and when and why?  It won't be me, although if my physical condition gets much worse, I might no longer be in control of my mind and - subsequently - my actions.

God, help me to get through this to the other side so that I can begin the next phase of my life.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Day 2 - Love Myself Unconditionally

“I love myself unconditionally.”

Only on Day 2 and I am confronted with an almost impossible task.  How do I go about loving myself unconditionally when I don't even know if I'm capable of loving myself conditionally?

Stereotypically, I look back on my childhood and point out that my parents were not big on the whole "love" concept.   After they had both passed, my brother asked me one day "Did Dad ever tell you he loved you?"  I thought for a moment and replied "No, and neither did Mom".   There you have it, and we both have bent over backwards to not be that way with our own children.   Who or what did I love as a child?  I'm pretty sure I loved my parents, my brother, and -of course - my dog.   I guess I knew in some vague fashion that they all loved me.  It just was never expressed to me in any real way, and so I was never any good at expressing it myself.  No role models.   For most of my adult life, I have been atrocious at expressing real affection.   I told my parents, in their dying days, that I loved them.  I've told my husband and daughter that I loved them.   I finally said it to my brother and my niece last year.  Rarely have I said it to anyone else, but it's safe to say that when I do say it,  I really mean it.

So now I'm supposed to love myself unconditionally.   Well..... this is how I'm supposed to get there... here goes:

Self-hating thoughts:

 - I hate my body type and the fact that even when I weighed 110 pounds, I had no neck.
 - I hate that I can't express myself verbally as well as I can with the written word.
 - I hate that when I do express myself verbally, the words almost always come out overly harsh, sometimes dictatorial, occasionally even insensitive.

What is the reason or reasons for these thoughts:
 - I was chubby as a child.  My father called me fat.   Kids at school called me fat.  Even after I lost weight in Junior High and entered High School at 5'3" and 110 pounds, I was "Fat Chris".  When I looked in the mirror, I saw a fat person.  Luckily, I also loved food.  Anorexia was never an option.  I always had a flabby jawline, and I just always hated it.
- I don't know the reason why I can't verbalize my feelings.  All I can think of was that my self esteem or lack thereof just would not permit me to speak words that precisely mirrored my thoughts.

How do I change these feelings:
 - I'm not sure I can change both simultaneously.   It seems as though I would be better at verbalization if I were to feel better about my physical self.   Or vice versa?  My gut is telling me that I need to have physical self-assurance before I can attain verbal "prowess".   Maybe I need to work on one and just let the other one come along for the ride.  

Tonight I am going to take a lovely shower and indulge in a self-applied facial.  I have this exfoliation stuff that is a bit lengthy but really makes my skin feel good.  One of the recommendations is that I give myself a "self hug".   That's a tough one.  I tried.  I really did.  Part of self-acceptance is accepting that I'm not quite ready to give myself a self hug.  All in good time.

Check out the Day 2 affirmation at:  http://personalexcellence.co/blog/affirmation-day-2-self-love/

Monday, July 7, 2014

Day #1 My past does not define my future

“Today is a brand new day. My past does not define me. My future is mine to create.”

I am feeling good so far.  Given my recent reflections on family issues and weight issues, this is the perfect way for me to start this challenge.

I have made some potentially fatal mistakes in my relationships with my family, and for quite a while I've felt like I am reaping the results.  I must now tell myself that I cannot go back in time and erase what has been done.  The lesson in all of this is that there are rarely ever the opportunities for do-overs in relationships.  I can only go forward and try to work with what I still have and build.  And yes, I am once again thankful for Facebook.  Without it, this goal would be a lot more difficult to reach.

Ever since I graduated from college and plunked myself behind a desk in an office, my weight has been an issue.  This equates to 28 years of ups, downs, fitness highs and lows, and closet upon closet of clothing ranging in sizes from 6 to 16+.  Enough.  The future is mine to shape.  I know what I have to do.   Carbohydrates are my enemy.   My daughter, the culinary and nutrition expert, tells me that whole grains are an essential part of my diet and should not be ignored.  Yet, even when I eat whole grain bread and pasta and quinoa and spelt, I have the tendency to overeat.  I am going forward knowing that it is not realistic to completely eliminate grains and glutens, but I absolutely will not eat them at each meal.  My lunch today is a Trader Joe's Korean frozen entree with beef, rice and vegetables.  For a dessert/snack I have fresh fruit.  Almonds are at the ready in my desk.

I can't give up coffee.  I see it in my future, long-term, always.  Likewise chocolate - dark and sparingly.   This is my future, so far.   One day at a time...

Oops - almost forgot - here is the link to this 15 day affirmation challenge:


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Weddings, Funerals, July 4th and My Best Foot Forward

My July 4th celebration this year was like Mary Poppins - practically perfect in every way.  The only thing wrong with it was that it had to end.  Too soon.  Family gatherings that are this fun can be bittersweet when they are few and far between.

My husband says that I'm a chronic whiner.  He then adds the caveat that "it's ok" because my hometown breeds them, and for the most part, it's out of my control.    He's right.  Instead of dwelling on the inevitable months and years that will pass before such a celebration as this happens again, I need to instead smile at the memories.   Sometimes, it's easier said than done ..

Once upon a time, we all lived in the western half of New York State.   My generation stayed here and raised our kids here.  My brother married into an extremely likeable family.   Everything was an excuse for a party.  In addition to the usual holidays, there were Super Bowl parties, birthdays and huge family vacations in places like the Outer Banks, Myrtle Beach and the Adirondacks.  There was never any question that we all wanted to share significant events together.  For  a few summers, my sister-in-law's parents rented a cottage at Crystal Beach, and we would all pile over the border and enjoy the beach and company.  On one such adventure, the one and only toilet backed up.  It was a Sunday in Canada.   Faced with the prospect of hours without this vital piece of modern plumbing, we could have gone home but instead we chose to make multiple trips to Tim Hortons where I felt obligated to buy something every time I used their restrooms.   I ended up feeling like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  At the time, I'm sure we all felt that our "styles were cramped" considerably, but right now I'd love to go back in time and re-live that weekend.

Two things happened that signaled the end of this era - the aging of my parents' generation, and the migration of my brother's kids to North Carolina.    Gradually, the "events" became fewer and farther between.  When my brother's oldest grandchild was diagnosed with kidney disease, he began spending more and more time in North Carolina.  Conversely, they rarely ventured north.  Everything that we had taken for granted became an occasional luxury to be savored and cherished.  Late last year, we lost my brother's grandson - my great-nephew.    It was a pain that was so sharp, so big... yes, that's what it was - BIG PAIN.  Big, all-consuming, heart-squeezing pain.   After his funeral, we all sat around bemoaning the fact that we had gone our separate ways.    We talked about the week-long family vacations of the old days and how we should revive that tradition at least once.   In the middle of the sorrow shone a glimmer of hope that something good might come from this.

We had determined that there was one or two weeks in August this year that would work for just about everyone, and vacation houses in Myrtle Beach were usually reasonable in August.   For whatever reason, it never came to be.    I had saved most of my precious and few vacation days, but it seemed that the enthusiasm of the moment back in December had faded.   None of the movers and shakers who had planned these vacations in the past wanted to "make it happen".   So, July 4th it would be.   No more than that.  Six hours.    The reality is that I could have fashioned myself into a new mover and shaker.   I didn't.  Truth be told,  I feared rejection, and perhaps my fear was justified.  If my brother had wanted it to happen, it would have happened - with or without me.  He is that kind of larger than life person.   The larger than life kind of person that I could never be.

So.... I am back to the fact that I'm a whiner.    Sitting here feeling sorry for myself.   Tomorrow I begin the affirmation challenge and the clean eating challenge.    My belief is that they will go hand in hand in overhauling my mental and physical condition.   And then I need to figure out how to stop dwelling on the past and, instead, looking forward to the rest of my life.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July 7th

So.... why is the date of July 7th significant?

Well ....... maybe it won't end up being significant at all, or maybe.... just maybe...... it will be the start of something big for me.

I was walking back from lunch yesterday with two ladies that I work with.  Suddenly, one of them announced to us that starting next Monday, she was going to get her shit together and start packing a lunch. Because she was tired of eating grease and crap.   Uh..... yeah!!!   Since I have been feeling especially shitty myself these days, I immediately jumped on board with this plan.   The three of us will pack a lunch and eat our packed lunches together......

.... I've been down this road before.  It never becomes permanent.  I need to make it permanent.  So, as the little voice in my head tells me "yeah, yeah, yeah.... this plan will last about a week....."  I am reviewing my daily Feedspot e-mail, and I see a blog entitled "15 day Affirmation Challenge".  I like affirmations, but I've never really known how to actually put them to use.  I read one, think "wow, that's so true" or "yeah, man, that's a good one" ......  and that's about all.  This challenge claims to provide a daily affirmation and a way to actually use it.   Now they've got my attention.

Suppose I start modifying my eating habits and I sign up for this affirmation challenge at the same time?   Am I on to something here?  The worst that can happen is that it doesn't work and I continue my gorging, and maybe you'll turn on The Biggest Loser and see my face staring back.   The best is that something finally clicks in my brain that I am worthy of better - of looking and feeling better, sleeping better, etc.,...

It was suggested that bloggers blog about this 15-day challenge.  I will do that.   Anyone interested in checking out this 15 day challenge, which begins next Monday, can do so at:


This should be good, one way or another .....

Monday, June 9, 2014

...they say that you're stupid...

Kids, that is.   They reach a certain age - in my daughter's case, 14 - and suddenly and unexpectedly, you are the stupidest person who ever walked the earth.   You say the sun is yellow, they say it's orange.  If it's the 15th of July and 90 degrees out and you declare that summer has "finally arrived", they will argue that "summer starts on June 21st" in a voice heavily dripping with disgust, as if you'd just declared Pepsi illegal.

At some point, they reverse course and give you hope.  They're not quite so sensitive and critical of every blessed word that escapes from that hole in the front of your face.  You start enjoying each other's company again.  Don't buy it.

At the risk of sounding like some refugee from the set of the Golden Girls, this millennial generation is exactly what the media says it is.  Hyper-sensitive.  Not rebellious like the Boomers or complacent like the Gen-X'ers.   They are absolutely not happy to hear anything critical or anything resembling advice from someone older that could be construed as criticism.  And their answer to criticism is to somehow shame the offender into shutting up or to argue down the offender until he or she is so exhausted that the logical advice no longer sounds logical, because -after all- nobody over the age of 30 knows what in the hell they're talking about.  Because everybody knows that everything you ever needed to know about life and life's lessons are learned primarily on college campuses across the USA.

What I can't figure out is this - what in the world are these 21 year old paragons of wisdom and knowledge going to do with the rest of their lives that could possibly compare to the epic experiences of college life?  Once you've experienced utopia, what else is there in life that will instill the same worldly and deep-reached knowledge?  

When you reach the pinnacle with an estimated 60 years of life still in front of you, how do you cope with the inevitable letdown?  I'm not really sure if I want to be around to find out.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Time spent.... or a penny spent....

During my annual Christmas season rant, I usually pontificate about people (mostly women) who go on and on about their holiday to-do lists, and Oh My God, however will they get it all done????   And I think to myself - if they spent more time enjoying and thinking about the real reason for the season, maybe they (and I) might be happier in the month of December.

But I've read something that made me realize that this type of person doesn't just gear up for Christmas.  It is a 12-month a year occupation for them.  I just read a Facebook rant written by someone who was outraged because she bought something that cost $3.99, and the cashier asked her if she wanted the penny or not.   Well, she rationalized, that was HER penny!!  An astute friend observed that it was a new practice, probably because there is a movement afoot to eliminate the penny.  The penny is a loser, because it takes two pennies to produce one penny.  The penny buys nothing.    Canada has stopped making the penny.    Now, realistically, if we really want to phase out the damn thing, let's just charge $4.00 instead of $3.99 and take the drama out of the situation altogether.

But WAIT!   If you save 50 pennies, you can roll them and get .......(drum roll please.....) 2 QUARTERS!!!    Holy Mackinoly, can you imagine?  

People often ask me how I get as much done as I do.  I can answer that very easily:  I do not:

(1) Obsess over every dust or lint particle that lands on anything within the walls of my house.

(2) Obsess over every weed that crops up overnight in my flower beds.

(3) Obsess over decorations for every holiday known to man, culminating in the blowout free-for-all formerly known as the birth of Christ.

(4) Pretend that I am a domestic goddess.   I gave up on that years ago because I was not fooling anyone.

(4) I absolutely, positively do NOT roll pennies!

If women really want to be on equal footing with men, they might want to consider re-prioritizing just a teeny bit...   Of course, the real modern wonder is the woman who somehow manages to do all of this stuff AND pull off a really successful career.  Few and far between, those women are.  But I still don't believe that they spend their spare time rolling pennies...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I Told Myself I Wasn't Going to Read This...

2013 was a year of incredible sadness and loss for my family.  It started out bad and ended worse.  So here I am in 2014, and there are two stories receiving a huge amount of attention on Facebook and elsewhere.  In both cases, I read a snippet and concluded that I was not emotionally equipped to handle them.  But sometimes there are so many people talking and commenting that curiosity gets the better of you... you know?   So I started following both stories....

The first story I tackled was about a 26 year old woman from the Syracuse area, married to one of our men in active military service, who developed a rare pregnancy-induced cancer while carrying twin daughters. The cancer was not discovered until she had given birth prematurely at 30 weeks.   It's not clear at this point what I found more remarkable.  Was it the devotion of her friends to create and lovingly update this Facebook page on an almost daily basis, as this woman fought for survival?  Or was it the fact that in 95% of patients with this type of cancer, the babies are the ones that the cancer kills - not the mothers?  This woman lost her life almost two weeks ago.  The babies are cancer free.

The second story was, of course, that of Ben Sauer.  I really had made up my mind to ignore this.  Too close to home, I thought.  Blue for Ben, Red for Tanner.  It was too much.   Then one day, my niece re-posted a story written by a Dad about what it's like to bury a child.  Ok, I thought, if she can read this stuff, I can read it too.  One blog entry and I was totally drawn in.  This mother had a way of just putting it out there in its raw form - everything from Ben's initial symptoms to the diagnosis and treatment, their devastation when the treatment didn't work, and finally, his passing two days ago - that was just riveting and beautiful.  I feel like I know this family, and why are the most gifted children always the ones that this happens to?   As they say on social media   - SMH!  (shake my head).  Ben's mother Mindy is so courageous, not just because of what she is going through, but because of her willingness to share the story with the world.  As spoken by someone with a blog that I am not willing to share with everyone around me.

So, I've read these stories, cried for these people, and I realize that the thing that connects them is faith in God.   Pure, unadulterated faith.  In both stories, there is no doubt that the deceased is now with our Creator. How else can you go on after something like this happens?   What do atheists do or think at times like this?   I just can't wrap my arms around the idea that there is really nothing for them to believe in or draw strength from in times like this in their lives.  I know that right now, Jenna Hinman has greeted Ben Sauer with open arms in heaven, and she is telling him - "Look and see how much our families and friends love us.   Some day, before we know it, they will be here with us to share our eternal happiness."

I'm not sorry I read these stories.   Although I'm sad, I am also grateful for the inspiration that Jenna's and Ben's loved ones have given me.  I am grateful for the loved ones who are still with me.  No matter what happens, I have to believe that God has a plan and everything happens for a reason (two cliches for the price of one.  Ha!  - But both so true).  Tomorrow night has been declared "Light Up the Night for Ben Sauer" on Facebook.  The idea is to leave your front porch light on all night in his honor.   I wondered briefly what this would look like from outer space.  As quickly as I asked myself the question, the answer came back to me. It will look like love.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Year in the Life...

It has been one year and a month since my Mom passed.   As I look forward to Mother's Day tomorrow, I find myself missing her more than I did on Mother's Day last year.  It shouldn't be that way..... or are there no rules about these emotions?  My Mom loved buffet brunches.  Which is exactly how we celebrated Mother's Day with her every year.  And it is how we will celebrate tomorrow.

What I am thankful for are some of the really wonderful mothers in my life.  My mother-in-law, who is as loving and supportive as anyone could wish for.   She is one of the rocks in our life.  When she is in Florida for four months, it's like there's a huge hole somewhere.  Bill is devoted to her, and I will admit that there have been times in our history when that devotion has been been taxing for a variety of reasons, but here and now, I wouldn't have it any other way.

I know many fine ladies with young children, and they are all fantastic Moms.  One of them sings with me, and her overwhelming enthusiasm for her kids is almost infectious.   I have a very dear friend who continually amazes me.  She is one of the most loving and devoted mothers and grandmothers I have ever known.  In all fairness, I can't even say that I could ever hope to emulate her, because I believe that there are abilities that are just instinctive and inborn.  She is truly a wonder.

The nice thing about Facebook is that I know that there are others dealing with exactly the same feelings right now.  It helps to share.  There are an awful lot of great Moms up in heaven.  Here's to them.  We've known their love, their anger, their pride and their happiness.   Tomorrow is about all the great Moms - our own and everyone else's.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Puzzlement of Domestic Air Travel

In the past 16 months, I have flown to Florida, Rhode Island, and most recently Minneapolis, Minnesota.   There are some things going on in the domestic airline industry that give me pause.   I'm not saying that these things are good or bad.  I guess they make me enter into my own internal debate regarding their merit.

In no particular order:

Southwest Airlines.  They instituted the "revolutionary" practice of taking beverage orders as though there were 10 of us enjoying a leisurely restaurant get-together rather than roughly 120 of us hoping to get from point A to point B on time and unscathed.  The flight attendant takes orders on this inadequate-looking pad of paper, then he/she disappears for what seems like hours before serving the drink from an equally inadequate-looking tray.   Not particularly adaptable to turbulence.  Ideally, the drink would be consumed along with the snack, but, alas, no such luck when the purveyor of the snacks must wait until the entire unwieldy beverage service has been completed before even beginning their distribution.    I don't believe anyone has been able to tell me the advantages to this system, but since Southwest has been doing it this way for years, there must be something good about it.

Puddle Jumpers.  All I will say about these is that, in this age of high security and with terrorist acts being committed with alarming regularity, I find it strange that a plane holding upwards of 50 people would be allowed to deplane right out onto the tarmac.   Each time this occurred on my journey to and from Providence,  a scenario flashed in my mind of a deranged passenger breaking off and sneaking into a service vehicle unencumbered and free to then wreak havoc with some larger airplane.  If my simple brain can picture this, what in the world might a terrorist think up?  The gates in which these planes land and take off are bare bones in terms of equipment, and we now know that the pilots who fly these planes are woefully underpaid.   Enough said on this topic.

Connecting Flights......  will be the death of all of us some day.  It would seem that the latest trend in domestic air travel is for a flight to remain at the gate for an undetermined amount of time waiting for passengers from a late connecting flight to arrive and board.   I have no doubt that I would be extremely grateful if I were ever to be one of those late passengers.  What I know for sure is that when I am one of the other 90% of the passengers sitting in this plane for upwards of an hour, waiting and waiting and waiting some more, I just want to strangle someone.    And I think to myself that this practice has turned the airline schedule into a giant doctor's waiting room.  All it takes is for one plane to be late and the rest will fall like dominos.  So much for the on-time schedules that airlines love to brag about.

Luggage carousels.  This phenomenon is one that occurs only in specific airports.  Up until this week, I thought it only happened in Buffalo, but it seems that Minneapolis has subscribed to this practice as well.   Three planes land at said airport.  Said airport is not a huge airport, and traffic is rarely overwhelming.  It is off hours.  Passengers proceed to the luggage claim area to find four operational carousels but only one that is actually operating.     Luggage from all three arriving flights is loaded one after another onto one carousel.  It's anyone's guess as to which luggage from which plane was unloaded first.  Maybe the airport employees are having themselves a race with our luggage...   I'm not big on carry-on luggage.  I need too many liquids and I can't be bothered with that 3-1-1 rule, or whatever it is.  So, the handling of my checked luggage is somewhat important to me.   I try not to think about what went on with my suitcase before it made its appearance on that carousel.

All in all, I'm not about to give up on flying.  It's too efficient - when everything goes without a hitch. But it's a gamble, make no mistake.    And life is getting more interesting for the oddsmakers with each passing year.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Black, White and Colors

"The piano keys are black and white, but they sound like a million colors in your mind"    Exactly.

My father was one of those pianists who had a hundred songs (at least) memorized.  If we found ourselves in a home with a piano, more often than not, he would find himself playing it.  Some days, usually on lazy weekend afternoons, he would just sit and play one song after another.   And there I would be, laying on the living room couch with my eyes closed, just listening.   I'm pretty sure he was playing for his own amusement. I was the only one who would stop whatever I was doing and just listen.  The world just revolved around us - the pianist and his audience of one.   Our neighbors had an old player piano in their basement.  The basement was beautifully cool on a hot summer day, and they let me hang out and play around down there with the piano.  I was fascinated with it.  I could easily waste two hours making up my own tunes - and memorizing them.  I had no clue about what key I was in, what notes I was playing, or any other trivial facts.  I remember making one of those childish faces at people whenever they might insinuate that I should be taking lessons.  Dumb.

To this day, I don't know why I didn't want to take piano lessons.  For that matter, I was a complete disappointment when it came to instrumental music.  Not for lack of talent.  Not for lack of a love for music. Psychologically, I rebelled.  I now think that this was my way of sticking it to them for telling me "no" when I asked if I could take dance lessons.   More dumbness, and truly it was like cutting off my leg to save my arm, but in the mind of a grade-school child, I guess it made sense.  What's really stupid about it all is that I don't think I would have ever been more than an average dancer, even if I'd signed up at the age of three.

I never lost my love for the piano.  I also sang a lot. All the time.  Singing really was my first love.   But throughout school, I was always obsessed with the piano accompaniment.   In high school, our chorus had two accompanists (both students).  One was clearly more accomplished than the other, and I would be aggravated to the point of distraction if she weren't accompanying us.  It was at about this point in my life that I started regretting not learning to play.  But I thought that it was too late.  I didn't know of anyone my age or older taking beginner instrumental lessons - I might have even thought that such lessons didn't exist.   More dumbness.

But life goes on.  And when I got back into music as an adult, it was as a singer.  That was all I knew.  But I never forgot my Dad and his piano or how I could waste infinite amounts of time just playing around with a keyboard.    Bill started suggesting that I take lessons quite a few years ago.   What was stopping me...... time resources, for one thing.   Mostly fear, I think.   Fear of failure.  What if I didn't have the natural talent that I and others suspected me to have?   What if the teacher were a drill sergeant who would leave me emotionally scarred for the rest of my life?   I think that this is a big step for an adult. Children take lessons because their parents force them to (most of the time, if we're being honest).  The teacher is an adult who is just like all of the other teachers in their lives - authority figures, people who have all the answers to life (or are at least good at pretending like they do).   It's a whole different matter for one adult to seek out another adult for instrumental music instructions.  I mean, I feel like I'm really putting myself out there.  It's like making yourself vulnerable - especially at the beginning.  Not to sound melodramatic or anything.  My belief is that when both student and teacher are adults there really has to be a different level of trust.   I will practice as often and for as long as my schedule permits, and I will do my best to squeeze it into each day.  I am not gearing up for my NYSSMA solo, Carnegie Hall debut, jazz band jam session or any other similar activity.  I am simply playing for me.

I started lessons a little over two years ago.   It helps that the teacher is a friend, but on the other hand..... I would be less distraught if I were to disappoint a total stranger.   I suppose that's also where the trust comes in.   Some instructors demand trust without being willing to give it back to you.   Others inspire your trust with their total acceptance of you as a human being with your strengths, weaknesses, good days and bad.  I am extraordinarily blessed.   Thanks to my teacher, my perseverance, and my natural gift,  I now feel a connection flowing from me to the piano to my father that I've never known before.  In times of stress or confusion, I instinctively turn to the piano for comfort.  When I play, I feel his presence.   Music makes logical sense to me now, as it never did before.   While I will probably always consider myself to be a singer, piano has become another ingredient in the musical recipe of my life.   I don't know how I've gone this long without it and I don't ever want to be without it again.

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's "Come To Jesus" Time

Isn't it amazing how God uses the people in our life as conduits to send a message to us?  It's up to us to recognize the message, and apply it as we see fit.  Sometimes it's a joyful message.  Other times, it's a wake up call.  And no matter how in tune we think we've become with ourselves, the wake up call will always find a way to show itself anyhow.

Recently, an associate used the term "Come to Jesus" to describe something that he felt that needed to happen between another person and our organization.  What does this term mean, exactly?  Well, to my way of thinking, it means that someone needs to recognize and take responsibility for past actions, and, equally important, to accept the consequences of those actions.

I have done a lot of writing here about the person that I used to be and how I came to recognize that I was not the best person I could have been in my words and actions toward others.  I've also written about my new outlook on life, how much better my life has become because of my new outlook, etc .....  but I haven't really come to terms with the consequences of the first 25 years of my adult life.   Because, you see, 25 years of bad behavior can't be wiped out overnight no matter what you say or do.  In some cases, it can never be wiped out.  That's what I need to accept.

What am I talking about?  I am talking about people I've know forever who assume I'm going to act a certain way  - this would mainly be family members, since any old friends have long since abandoned me.   I'm talking about being at the bottom of their priority lists - because in the past, they were always at the bottom of mine.   I'm talking about the words that I speak being interpreted based on the person I used to be.   And this is me knowing that no matter how hard I work to accept these consequences, it doesn't make it hurt any less each and every time it happens.

The other side of this is that I have to realize that there is no magic wand to wave that will make me someone's darling.   I can't make up for 25 years of insensitivity by cramming every ounce of affection in my being onto the people in my life today.    I've come to realize that it doesn't ring true with those who've known me forever, and it just might be scaring those who haven't.

So this is what it all boils down to.   25 years of "F--K you, followed by "Come to Jesus" moments for the rest of my life.    This is my reality, this is my normal.  I guess the next step is to decide how to deal with the hurt so that it doesn't turn me back into the person that I used to be.  Because, I think that would be a "Welcome to Hell" moment.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Own It or Abolish It

The recent lawsuit brought by some former Buffalo Jills Cheerleaders has awakened a long standing anger inside of me.   "Anger" might be too strong.  Disgust?  Derision?  Whatever.  I am  more convinced than ever that this is, at its core, a women's' issue.  One that is bred in us at a very early age.

A few year ago I attended the Canal Fest parade.  They should have called it the "Cheerleader Parade", because it was essentially one cheerleader float after another - little girls, teenage girls, town groups, high schools, on and on and on.  And you know - on the surface, that's ok.  With all of the disturbing reports about childhood obesity and childhood diabetes being circulated, why not get your daughter involved in a physical activity?  I doubt that any of those girls I saw in that parade are plagued by type II diabetes.   Rigorous physical training, commitment to doing something that they presumably love.  What's not to approve of?  Nothing, until you take it to the next level.   What are they doing with all of this training?   Competing in teams at prestigious competitions?  Fine.   Parading around the sidelines at boys/men's sporting events?   Not fine.   Once they descend into this sexist and objectifying tradition, they have effectively removed themselves from the ranks of "athlete".

I was on a dance team in high school.  We danced with the marching band in the halftime show at football games.  Was it physically demanding?  Yes.   Did we consider ourselves to be athletes?  No way.  We knew what we were and why we were in existence.    This didn't stop us from wanting our moment in the spotlight at pep rallies, however.  On one occasion, we choreographed a dance for the season-opening pep rally and found out at the last minute that it went a minute over the time limit (time limit?  The team members knew nothing about a time limit.  It was ONE SONG, for God's sake).  Well - we performed it anyway, and the cheerleaders flipped (no pun intended) because they had to cut one of their FIVE or SIX cheer routines from the program.  Boo freakin' hoo.   This demonstrated an overinflated sense of importance embedded in high school cheerleaders that stays with some of them into their adult lives, as showcased so superbly by this Buffalo Jills lawsuit.

Lets's say it - plainly and bluntly.  If you are engaging in an activity that involves wearing short skirts and chanting and dancing in support of a male sporting event.......  you are window-dressing, you are entertainment, for some people you are a distraction, you are (to quote the Oakland Raiders) "seasonal amusement", and depending on your level of talent, you may be glorified pageant queens.  You are NOT athletes.  If you think you're an athlete, go try out for a girl's sport.   Think you're great gymnasts?   Why aren't you on a gymnastics team?  And if you think for one moment that you're not there as a symbol of male objectification, ask yourself this - why aren't you cheering at girl's sporting events?

If we take nothing else from this Buffalo Jills lawsuit, let's get to the bottom of what cheerleading really is.   Ladies of the cheerleading world - you are not the center of the sporting universe, yours is a HOBBY, not a career - not a profession.  And if you are wearing skimpy or extremely form-fitting uniforms while cheering on a men's sports team, you are part of a tradition of objectifying activities including but not limited to beauty pageants, sororities, and maybe even escort services.    Know this.  Accept this.  Own this.  Because, as women, we really make ourselves look dumb when we pretend that this type of cheerleading is anything other than this.   Let's own it or abolish it.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Downing in an Ocean of Unknowns

There was a Facebook post recently - posted by one of those witty, comical Facebook fan pages.  At the top of the picture was the title:   "Male Emoticons" - underneath was the neutral smiley face emoticon repeated several times, interspersed with the occasional smirking emoticon.   At the bottom of the picture was the title "Female Emoticons" - underneath was every stinking smiley face emoticon known to man arranged in a totally random sequence.  I laughed and thought to myself that there was a grain of truth to that analysis.  Today, I feel like it is a completely accurate representation of my feelings.

I can hardly wait for this job interview to come and go.  This weekend is a relief.  I have spent all week feeling off kilter - do I look like I'm "up to something"?  Am I acting like myself?   I feel somehow stifled, as though I'm afraid that I will accidentally and spontaneously blurt out "I have a job interview on Tuesday!!"  This is ridiculous, of course.  It is all brought on by my fear of the unknown and my intense dislike of not being in control.  Too many unknowns - how will I present myself - when asked about my lack of HR experience, lack of knowledge about HRIS systems, etc...  if I manage to somehow wrangle a job offer out of all of this, then what?  Salary - what is acceptable, desirable, reasonable....? Notice - how much notice should I give?   Would they even want me around?  I'm not taking an offer from a competitor.  Would they want me around for 2 or 3 more weeks.....?  What about the seminar in Minneapolis?  The major project that I'm supposed to be heading up?  I am putting the cart before the horse.  I can't help it.  This is my compulsive need to see the path that is laid out ahead of me.  It is my instinctive reaction to any situation where there are possible issues and no known solutions.  My brain can't rest until I can visualize the path to a solution.  Sometimes I feel as though I am incapable of just letting events unfold naturally.

Then there is my so-called hobby.   Going through the motions in a Board position that I have renamed as "Bored Position" in my own mind.  Resigning myself and willing myself to continue in this position.  Because it is the right thing to do, the easy thing to do.  But what about the rest of the Board - people who are important who may or may not run for re-election?   People who do run for re-election when they are unsuited for their current positions?  How can I force myself to be optimistic about another season of this?   Responsibilities not being met, a Music Director who becomes more entrenched in the immediate present and the past and less capable of planning the future with every passing season.  A  plan for our 50th Anniversary season that we, the Board, collectively seem to be incapable of moving forward on .  A planned concert tour that has so many balls in the air with time ticking, getting ever closer to the magic date.      I am worried - not because I don't have faith in the trip coordinator ((hugs)), but because - once again - it is my fear of the unknown that overwhelms me to the point that I feel almost immobilized - because if I just do nothing - just stand perfectly still -, maybe everything around me will stop too and allow me and everyone else around me to just catch up.   I don't expect to be ahead of the game.  I just want us to catch up.  I desperately need to catch up.

Too many unknowns.  My brain feels like it has a tornado inside of it  - whirling my thoughts around and around and around.   My first instinct is to just survive the next few days and months.  But I'd like to do more than just survive.  It would be nice to succeed.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

And so it goes....

I simply cannot come to terms with my religious loyalties, needs, feelings, etc.   This is what I know:

I believe in:

 - God the Father
- God the Son (aka.... Jesus!)
- God the Spirit       This means that, yes, I do believe in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
- the Blessed Virgin Mary (affectionately known as the "BVM").   Really now, do you think that just anybody could have done what she did?
- the Saints.  Let's be clear on this, now.  I do not think that the Saints are as important as any of the above.  Why believe in ancient Saints?  Maybe because there are 19th and 20th century saints whose miracles and amazing lives have been undeniably documented, and we know that these are not fabrications.  Logically speaking, the criteria has never changed, so it's not a stretch for me to believe just as much in a ninth century saint as I would in a nineteenth century saint.   Why wouldn't someone as incredible as, say, Mother Teresa, have more pull with God than your average Joe?  It just makes sense.  Also, there is evidence in my own life that asking a saint to intercede on my behalf actually works.   It's about faith.   If they know that you believe in them, they will help you.
-some sort of organized religion in my life.  This is not to be confused with faith or spirituality.  These things can be intertwined, or they can be mutually exclusive.  Simply put, it's just easier to stay connected with your faith if you use organized religion as a facilitator.
-the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood during Mass.  That's a big one.

I do NOT believe in:

- the infallibility of the Pope.  Sorry, but these guys are human beings who rise in the ranks of the Church just like someone rises in the ranks of any other organization.  Naming them as Pope doesn't change their humanness.  To insinuate that we, the great unwashed, need some sort of infallible conduit in order to fully commune with God is, frankly, insulting and unacceptable to me.  The Pope can and may be a great man, a holy man, a compassionate man, etc... but at the end of the day, he's still just a man.
-the Sacrament of Penance.   This really goes hand in hand with my feelings on the Pope.  I frequently ask for forgiveness for this or that.  Is this not valid because I didn't convey it via my Priest?  Nonsense.  
- Man-made rules of the Church that fly in the face of the real teachings of Jesus.  The litmus test for me are the commandments of Jesus.  If something doesn't ring true to me because it is ultimately harmful or judgmental of other people, then I'm not for it.  There is no real evidence in the teachings of Jesus to support the ban on artificial birth control, celibate priests, or the marginalization of women.   Homophobia is another issue for me.

So, at this point in time, I am officially confused.  Holy week has made me realize how much I love the rituals of the Catholic Church.  The new Pope has the potential to be one of the greatest in modern history.  But I can't deny the issues that I have with some of this Church's "rules"or the anger that is conjured inside of me when Catholic zealots go public with their cultish rants.  These people cannot represent ME!  I may spend the rest of my life attending Mass and wrestling with my issues, and I guess that's ok.   Better to devote conscious thought to this part of my life than to turn my back on it altogether.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Butterfly Kisses

Something just happened.  It took me so much by surprise that I had to write about it.

There I was, practicing my piano like a good girl when I decided to play around with one of my fun piano books.  I looked at the index of titles and saw "Butterfly Kisses."   I opened the book to this piece.  It looked like a pretty simple arrangement, and I thought it would be fun to learn it for Mandy's return home.

As I started playing it, I could feel the emotions churning inside of me.  I don't think anything has thrown me back in time so fast in a very long time.

I saw Mandy's pre-school graduation.  She stood proudly with her little friends, wearing a white dress shirt from her Daddy's closet and a white mini version of a graduation cap covering her blonde curls.  We were in the local grade school auditorium, and it must have been 85 degrees in there.  The slide show started.  One slide after another rolled by, and all of the girls in the class were featured as the strains of "Butterfly Kisses" filled the auditorium.  I began to cry.  The tears mingled with the drops of perspiration already rolling down my face, so I think my reaction was probably unnoticed, thank God.  In similar fashion, the tears flowed as I played this song in my living room for the first time.

The song followed us to grade school.  Every year, Mandy would dress in her finest and accompany her Dad to the St. Amelia School father-daughter dance.   And every year, they danced to "Butterfly Kisses".  It grew in my mind to symbolize a relationship that, on the surface was loving, but in fact was actually incredibly complex and remains complex to this day.

It seems surreal to me that I will be able to play this song on the piano.   It feels like an amazing gift.  Now I wonder if I will ever be able to play this song without crying...... hmmmm.........  I guess I'm going to find out.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

My Bubble, my Dilemma

At a meeting today, I first heard the notion of our interests as being akin to bubbles.  So, for instance, my job is a bubble?  Chorus is a bubble?  Church choir is a bubble?  As I ponder the bubbles in my life right now, it occurs to me that I am in conflict with each of them to one extent or another.  And what's worse is that I don't have any answers brewing in my head, no ideas about resolution at all.

It occurred to me that I  rarely refer to my job as "my career".   Maybe because I know that it's not what I was ever meant to be doing.  I don't hate it.  I also feel no particular passion for it, and I would not be bothered in the least if something were to happen that would render me unable to work in this particular field ever again.    It qualifies as a "bubble" only by the mere fact that it takes up 8+ hours of my day, five days a week.   I guess I've resigned myself to being stuck with this dead-end and not particularly well-paying profession.   I have no choice when my spouse is the one who pursued his dream.  I'm the stable one with the job with benefits.  That's just the way it's always been, and you can't have both adults just going off and finding themselves.... can you?  Not really.

So I try to turn to other bubbles for fulfillment.  I have always loved to sing for as long as I can remember.  I started in my church choir when I was 26 years old.  I am almost 50 and still in the same choir, but it feels very different.  I am having big conflicts with Catholicism.  So often I sit at Mass and know that if there were no choir, I wouldn't be there.  Twenty years ago, I would not have understood someone who felt that way, and the idea of leaving the Catholic church was foreign to me.  Now I think about it constantly.    I feel a strong connection to my parish because I grew up there, received all of my Sacraments there, but is that enough?  What is the whole premise of organized religion?

The other chorus is a completely different set of circumstances.    I am filling a role on the Board of Directors because I'm good at it.  Ten years ago I dragged the role out of the 1970s and made it more efficient which, in turn, allowed me to be more responsive to chorus members.   But .....  much like my job, I don't love it.   I am now in my 11th year in this position.  Probably the first five years, I challenged myself with new technology.  For the next three years or so, I performed tasks out of a sense of duty, and also because of the environment of the Board itself.   Sometimes Jupiter really does align with Mars, and you find yourself working with a group of people who work so well together that you feel really good about performing even the most mundane of tasks.  When you feel as though the sky is the limit, you agree to do just about anything willingly, for the good of the cause.   But, all good things come to an end, and I now know that one of the biggest challenges that we as thinking and feeling human beings will face in our time on this earth is to live in the moment.  Recognize how great things are while they are still great, and relish everything about them.   Nothing is forever.   Right now,  my reality is that I am continually asking myself this question.....  "if this is supposed to be my escape from the mundane and unfulfilling work life, how can I measure its success?"   How is it lifting me up and relieving from the rest of my day?.    How can I ever hope for it to do so, when not only do I not like what I'm doing, but I've become so busy doing what I don't like doing, I've left no time for singing which is why I joined the chorus in the first place!

This all sounds like a bunch of whining.  The problem is that I don't know the solution.  It is very frustrating to be committed to something so much that you can envision a solution, but you know that it will never happen because there are too many egos involved.  So, you are stuck trying to think of a lesser solution, but there really isn't one.   Why is it that other people are allowed to attach themselves to a role in a group after 1,2, or 3 years to the point where it is unthinkable that they switch jobs, even if they are unsuited to what they are currently doing..... and meanwhile, here I sit.....  ELEVEN YEARS!!!!!!!!   Have I earned the right to be angry and frustrated about this?   Has my behavior become increasingly erratic because of my anger and frustration?  Yes, and yes.    How am I supposed to feel when my only options appear to be  .....  suck it up, or quit entirely?    Both options make me want to throw up.     This is what is supposed to help me deal with my family responsibilities, my crappy "career", etc ,etc.    Frankly, it's a very deflated bubble right now.

I love my daughter more than life itself, and she is everything to me.   I have a friend who makes me want to shout to the world that this is what they are talking about in books and on TV when they describe BFFs and the person in your life who really "gets" you... and loves you anyway.

With these one or two glaring exceptions, my bubbles suck.   End of story.   I can only put on my best Scarlett O'Hara face and keep telling myself that tomorrow is another day.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Demise of Interesting TV - Just My Opinion

I have really been enjoying this new chapter of my television-watching life.   I no longer subscribe to cable TV or satellite dish TV.  I have an HD antenna for network television, and I have a Roku device for everything else.  My subscription to Netflix opens up the possibility of reacquainting myself with much-loved TV shows gone to the great network cemetery.  This weekend, I watched four episodes from the first season of The West Wing.  It felt like paradise to watch something so well acted and written.  I concluded that it felt that way because shows like this are an endangered species.  And I thought - "What types of TV shows drove me to arrange my schedule around them, and why do I no longer feel compelled to do so?"

I have been mourning the demise of the great sitcom since Seinfeld ended.  Why is is suddenly a crime to write a show that exists for the sole purpose of making me laugh?  I'm not talking slapstick here.  I mean truly clever writing and acting.   I know all about "Modern Family", but somehow I feel as though I would be tuning in just so that I could be politically correct or trendily liberal - not because I thought that the show was hilarious.  I watched it once.  It was funny, but in my book, it cannot touch Seinfeld or Frasier for the ability to make me laugh until I cry.  Oh well... back to Netflix and syndication for those...

Crime/Detective shows.  Enough with them already.   Exactly how many of these do we need on the networks at one time?  I can't keep them straight, and I don't care to.  I really like "Blacklist", but even that is starting to feel like "same old, same old" to me, and it's only in its first season.   I watched exactly three episodes of "Castle" and felt like I was watching a new millennium version of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.  And the writers apparently don't pay attention to history, because every show that has the main characters "finally become romantically involved after ____ seasons of fighting their growing attraction by pretending to dislike each other" has died a painful death in the ratings shortly thereafter.  Total audience adrenaline crash. Really, just dumb. And, with all due respect for the good taste of my friends....... Nathan Fillion.........really?  When I look at him, I see the high school pretty boy who strung 5 girls along before deciding 3 days before the prom which one would look best on his arm.  I'm sure he's a great guy.  But I need more than just a pretty face.  I find him singularly uninteresting. Next.

Reality TV.  Devoting more than 5 sentences to this "genre" is a crime unto itself.  If we need proof of the failure of the American education system, we need look no further than the millions of Americans who tune in every week to shows such as "Honey Boo Boo", "Duck Dynasty", and "Swamp People".  Enough said.

So, what are my favorite TV shows ever in my adult life, and why?

Seinfeld - how did someone literally write a 'show about nothing' for that many seasons that made me laugh so hard and gave me nicknames and catchphrases that I will probably use in conversation until the day I die? That kind of comic genius defies explanation.
Frasier - writing, writing, writing.  Some day I hope to meet someone who is that pretentious and that lovable all at the same time.  That show gave me hope that these people actually exist out there somewhere.
Sex and the City - this show was about so much more than sex or New York City.  It was about the power of the female friendship.  It helped me to identify what was missing in my life at that time.  To this day, I miss that show.
LA Law - the most clever lawyer show ever.  Period.  This show is probably the main reason why I couldn't stick with 'The Good Wife'.  I found myself continually drawing comparisons, and 'The Good Wife' always came up short.  Where is 'LA Law', anyway?  Episodes of this show cannot be found!
E.R. - the idea that some of this stuff might actually be going on in real emergency rooms was so horrifying that I had to watch - like a bad automobile accident, I couldn't turn away.  It produced the only episode of any TV show I've ever watched that left me traumatized for at least 24 hours afterward.  I still shudder when I think of it.
Ally McBeal -  If ever there was the perfect definition of the '90s "Dramady", this show was IT.   I was like a lone soldier watching this show, because it was on at the same time as "Everybody Loves Raymond" -which everybody else I knew was watching.   I didn't love 'Raymond', and I guess I wasn't alone after all, as Ally McBeal held its own for many seasons against him.
Friends - my guilty pleasure - sort of like.... Nathan Fillion ...... I guess .......
The West Wing - I've saved the best for last.  Maybe I loved this show because I love American history.  Maybe it was the amazing writing.  Maybe it was the incredible cast, impossible not to fall in love with.  Maybe it was Rob Lowe.  Rob Lowe - now there's a gorgeous package - with an interesting life story to go with it.  His comeback role, bless his little blue-eyed soul.  I digress.  Even after the show changed writers, it never got stale for me.  I mourned its end.  Thank God for Netflix.

There is not a show running today that comes close to any of these, in my book, with one major exception.  Downton Abbey.  I do arrange my Sunday evening schedule around it, and I am upset when I miss it.  In the same vein as Frasier, it gives me hope that the upper crust in Europe isn't so "crusty " after all.   Historically interesting, emotionally endearing characters, sometimes thought-provoking, unapologetically soap-opera like at times, it is everything that the majority of today's first-run TV shows are not.  Now .... for God's sake, they'd better let Lady Mary juggle her suitors for at least one more season (see my comments on 'Castle' above)!   How will they all react when they find out about Lady Edith's baby?  Will this show last until the Great Depression.....?  Think of that potential...  

I'm digressing again........  

I say again, thank God for Netflix and for outside interests.  I like to occasionally read about the reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire.  One thousand years from now, when they read about "the fall of the American Empire", I am sure that there will be a picture of Phil Robertson, Honey Boo Boo, and the entire cast of 'Jersey Shore' on the book cover.  I would bet my autographed picture of Rob Lowe on it.