Monday, November 11, 2019

The Meaning of Veteran

A veteran is someone who has 'been there, done that, and while there, did it to the best of his or her ability. You won't find this definition in any dictionary, but I've coined it so everybody who reads this blog will have a clear understanding of where I'm coming from.

I was born in 1944 when World War II was winding down. My uncle Tom was stationed in the Phillipines and was finally coming home. Years later, my Baba told me of the huge parades held in Pittsburgh to welcome our boys back from a long and devastating conflict. Uncle Tom hardly ever talked much about the war, but he had pictures stashed away in a cabinet that my brother and I loved viewing. Seeing him in his Army uniform made us so proud, he was our idol for sure. He was a veteran who gladly went to serve his country knowing that he might not come home again like so many of his buddies who gave their very lives so we would be free. I think he carried this pain of loss with him until the day he died.

My dad didn't serve in World War II because his flat feet were considered a disqualification. Some folks thought less of him which caused embarrassment and guilt. But he was a veteran none the less. Dad worked for the USS company in Homestead, PA, He was a quality assurance supervisor, a job he took great pride in and gave it his all every single day. On May 16, 1948, while checking that a 5 ton furnace door was properly installed, it came unhinged and started to fall. My dad ran as fast as he could, but tripped and was crushed from the waist down. He died three days later. At the age of 38, and a veteran of the steel mill, he sacrificed his all.

My brother, Dan, was a veteran of our educational system. For 35 years he taught History and Spanish, first at Munhall High, and later at the newly-formed Steel Valley complex. Although Dan never engaged in battle, he enlisted in the Army and was stationed in Okinawa for four years.Upon returning, he began his teaching career, able to instill love of country and the notion that when duty called, it was the responsibility of every18-year-old to gladly take up the flag. He believed it was the duty of those physically fit to defend this great land of ours which had provided all of its citizens with so much.

I too am a veteran. While serving the families in Clairton and the North Hills in the Sixties as an elementary school teacher and a nun, I diligently worked to give the children a solid foundation in reading, writing and arithmetic. In those days it was common to have a classroom of 40 youngsters without any help from an aide or coworker. After dinner, I spent time in the wee hours of the night correcting papers, preparing lessons for the next day, and devising ways to reach the needs of every student under my care. When I left the convent, I continued teaching for over 30 years in one capacity or another. I gave all I could to the best of my ability to make sure those who depended upon me to do my job were prepared to do likewise as adults in their chosen careers.

Today we are celebrating the veterans who have served in the military; those who have enlisted, worked, fought, and died for our freedom and those who currently continue to serve this great country of ours to preserve the rights of each and every American. They deserve our gratitude, our respect, and above all, our constant prayers for their safety not only on Veterans Day, but every night we bend a knee in thanks to the Lord above.

But by my definition, we are all veterans because we have been there, done that, and while there, did whatever to the best of our ability. Be proud of your service as well, no matter for how long and in what career field you gave of yourself to the fullest.

Happy Veterans Day! Blessings and Peace to all!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Who's Training Whom?

So we've had this little terror, Raven Sky Bleu, for almost two months now and are in the throes of training her to be a civilized member of our family. If you think getting a dog to pee and poop outside is the hardest and only behavior you need to perfect, you'd better NEVER decide to bring a puppy home. Raven was house-broken in less than a week. Seriously, she had one major poop in her cage and a pee on the kitchen floor....she now goes to the door signaling me that she needs to go out and has been doing her 'business' in the yard ever since.

It's the jumping up on you, scratching your arms, legs, and any other part of your body exposed, nipping your fingers and toes, putting holes in every piece of clothing you're wearing at any given time, gnawing on furniture you prize, running off your property to meet-and-greet every person or animal who happens to be walking by before you can hook her up!

I purchased two cords, a sixty footer and a twenty-fiver...hooked them together so that Raven could pretty much have the run of the backyard and still be able to join us on the patio. Two problems arose immediately...#1 no matter what, our sweet girl got wrapped around a tree, bush, chair, stump, rock, etc. and ended up crying to be released, and #2 I had to be out there the entire time to unwrap her!

After talking to a few folks about how they confined their puppies, I was convinced an electric fence was the answer...actually ordering one from Walmart. However by the time it reached the store, I had decided to return it and stick with the 85 ft cord until next spring. Dumb decision! Back to the same old, same old...wrapping, stuck, unwrapping, wrapping, stuck, crying, unwrapping, etc.!

Upon searching online for some 'miracle' device, I found this little gadget that sends out a high-pitched sound undetectable by humans, but highly annoying to dogs. No lie, within two days Raven knew her outside boundaries and adheres to them about 99% of the time. Only when my one neighbor came out whom she adores did Raven cross the line...ONCE! Now much to Raven's delight, the neighbor comes across the road to visit.

Although we're still working on some of the bad behaviors mentioned above, for the most part all I need to do is show Raven the device and she immediately ceases and desists doing whatever it is she shouldn't be doing.

I spend a lot of time training my little buddy to fetch, sit, stay, come, and a number of other appropriate actions. She's very smart and picks up these commands in a very short time.

I was patting myself on the shoulder for doing such an amazing job when something hit me...who's training whom?

Raven has taught me to get up off my butt when she stands at the door, Raven has taught me to unwrap her when she gets caught by whining and crying, Raven has taught me I needed to find an effective method of keeping her within outside boundaries, Raven has taught me how to use the device sparingly to nip her other unacceptable behaviors in the bud as well.

What I didn't realize until yesterday was that Raven has taught me that being outside playing with her for hours is so much more fun than watching the boob tube or punching computer keys! Getting exercise and fresh air is healthier too!

Now I truly believe both Raven and I have trained each other and will continue to do so for years to come!


Monday, October 21, 2019

Definitely Worth Repeating!

I first wrote this post on December 11, 2017 to help someone very dear to me deal with the devastating symptoms of depression. I believed then as I do now that by sharing difficult stories of my life gives others the opportunity to learn that they are not alone and if I could overcome debilitating conditions, they certainly could too.  Unfortunately we've been taught that speaking about unmentionables such as mental illness is not appropriate and would be better to suffer in silence than expose ourselves to humiliation and isolation. Because of this societal practice today's young people are choosing suicide instead of seeking help. If they had only known that their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, etc. might have suffered in the same way, perhaps these bright lights would not have been prematurely extinguished.

I urge all of you that read my post today to share it with your family and friends. Have the courage to add your own experiences to mine so together we can offer the much needed support that can literally save lives...we must start this conversation NOW!

Blessings and Peace

Monday, October 7, 2019

Mama, Don't Let Your Boy Play Football!

After seeing Mason Rudolph get knocked out cold by #23 something Thomas of the Baltimore Ravens, I decided parents who allow their boys to engage in that kind of sport, especially at a young age, are asking for trouble. These kids idolize the home team's stars and want to emulate them before they turn four! Out of my six grandsons, three of them play football, but I'm not their mom or dad, so I can't say anything about their choices. I wish I could though.

When the camera focused on Rudolph, he wasn't moving at all. I looked at his chest and didn't see any signs of breathing. In that fleeting moment, my heart dropped, I actually thought he was dead. It took at least five minutes to revive him and two strong men to carry him off the field. According to reports, the Steeler's QB was hospitalized with concussion symptoms and his return to the team was up in the air.

I have been a football fan for over 40 years. I've cheered for the Steelers and had favorite players that, in my opinion, were unstoppable. Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jack Ham, John Stallworth, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, Big Ben were just a few of the players I ranked at the top of my 'all-time favorites' list! In the beginning of my love affair with this sport, the action was mesmerizing, Watching Stallworth catch a Bradshaw pass and gallop into the end zone was thrilling. I will never forget seeing Franco pluck the ball out of thin air, which later became known as the 'Immaculate Reception' and score a touchdown in the cold dead of winter! Heather Miller was one of the best tight ends the game ever had! For many years, he was mostly used for blocking. Miller never complained and did his job flawlessly. Towards the end of his career, Heather served as a receiver and did so with humility and grace. What a guy!

During those years, hauling a player off the field due to unsportsmanlike conduct was unheard of. I'm not even sure such a call was part of the ref's repetoire! Sure guys got hurt, a few even losing their careers due to serious injury, but their misfortune wasn't the result of intentional dirty play like it is today. There are rivalries in the league today, like the Steelers vs Ravens, where certain players intent to 'take out' their opponent even before the 60 minutes begins! These guys are huge, strong brutes who will do whatever they deem necessary to maim and mutilate, behavior not only unbecoming to a professional athlete, but disgusting to say the least! For this reason, watching football isn't fun anymore, and playing it is downright stupid!

Hopefully Mason Rudolph will recover, but I wouldn't hold it against him if he hung up his cleats for good, actually it would make me very happy to see a young man value his health more than his uncertain career. If he decides to continue, Mason will be in my prayers each time he takes the field.

As for my three grandsons, I can only hope their interests in the game will gradually wane, and they will consider being artists, scientists, entrepeneurs, forest rangers, or whatever makes them happy...and doesn't cripple them or worse!

Blessings and Peace!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Kids Deserve The Truth

As parents we want our children to grow up to be strong, accomplished men and women of good character who someday will contribute to the positive development of our society. We make sure they are fed, clothed, educated, and morally grounded in childhood so that they will have the necessary tools to do just that. We strive to be excellent role models for them, teaching acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness, and, above all, love for one another. 

However we seldom if ever talk to our kids about the mistakes we've made along our journey, shy away from exposing our inadequacies, and absolutely refuse to share the many failures we've endured over the years. Thinking such discussions would be detrimental to their development, we bury them deep within our psyche never, ever to see the light of day. 

Unfortunately these are the very experiences our children need to hear from us, but we are afraid to expose the ugly truth. God forbid they should realize their parents have made mistakes throughout life, have been less than perfect, and have FAILED to achieve goals many, many times. They need to see that we are human, that our lives have been fraught with error and disappointment.  

Muster up the courage to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of your life's story, it will do more for your children's sound growth and development than any tale of success. Start out slowly and gradually you'll shed those parental fears and be the role models your kids deserve!

'Each Story Told' is one of the poems included in my first-ever published poetry anthology, "Soul-Powered Poetry: From the Gates of Heaven to the Depths of Hell" Although I write under my pen name, Lindy Starr, every word in every stanza in every verse are the thoughts derived from listening to the whisperings of my Soul. Hopefully when reading it aloud, you'll understand what today's post is trying to convey.  Blessings and Peace

             EACH STORY TOLD

               Each story told                                                
              Of a life lived                                                   
              Is valued more than gold. 
              Every milestone reached
              Is meant to teach
              Time to break the mold.                                                                       

              Be candid then
              Of course, you should,
             ‘To thine own self be true.’
             Yes, tell the good,
             In what you speak,
             But share the ugly, too.

             Please be real
             In how you feel,
             Have courage to commit.

             By doing so,
             They will know
             To err is human, admit.

             Always striving,      
             Not merely surviving                
             Yet failures do ensue.              

             Revealing the worst,
             For the world to see
             Takes raw humility. 
             Expose your sins,
             Tout your wins                                            
             Perfection is but a myth.
            Pressures set                                           
            Causing regret,                           
            Magically disappear,  
             Guilt erased,    
            Freedom they’ll taste 
            Nothing more to fear.

            Thanks will be yours
             In being so bold
            To share… EACH STORY TOLD


Monday, September 23, 2019

Sronger Than The Mighty Oak

Eight years ago we planted a mini dogwood tree in our front yard. Not paying close attention to the spot we picked, as the tiny sprout grew it began to block the walkway leading to the front door. Except for the mailman and the UPS driver, everybody we know comes to the side door which leads to the family room and the kitchen. That's where we'll usually be...watching TV or stuffing our faces!

At the end of July, after hearing my hubby complain about being smacked in the face by the dogwood's lovely outstretched branches for the umpteenth time, I grabbed the pruner and hacked away! When I was finished, all that remained was the skinny trunk and a few amputated arms. I felt horrible. I have never destroyed anything I'd planted before, heck I even catch the stink bugs in the house and throw them outside instead of drowning them in the toilet. The only living things in Nature that I will kill are flies...I hate flies!

Every morning when I would open the blinds, the ugly truth of what I'd done was staring me in the face...the skinny trunk with a few amputated arms. My self-loathing was unbearable.  How could I have snuffed out the life of one of God's most beautiful creations? Hell, there's even a poem immortalized in 1913 by Joyce Kilmer, a famous poet, that raises the statute of a tree's elegance to heavenly heights. In case you've never heard of Kilmer who happened to have been a man, or his exquisite poem, I've taken the liberty to include it here:

 "Trees" (1913)
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.[2][3][19][n. 2]

Twelve lines that would haunt me until my dying day, I feared!
Then, lo and behold, one day as I was pulling weeds out front, I noticed a small leaf had erupted from one of the severed arms. I rubbed my eyes and looked again just to make sure I wasn't delusional. Sure enough the leaf was real! And although it was tiny, it elevated my spirits immensely because it symbolized the incredible strength of the mini dogwood, stronger than the mighty oak in this situation,which had somehow managed to sustain the brutal attack I had inflicted upon it and was still ALIVE! Praise the Lord!
Each day more and more leaves appeared, brilliant in color, beautiful in design! When I called my hubby's attention to the fact that the tree was growing once again, I couldn't believe his response, 'I felt bad about what you did,' he murmured, ' I really liked that tree!' If I wasn't afraid of going to jail for life without the possibility of parole, I think he might have been my next victim! WHAT I DID? HE WAS THE ONE WHO GOADED ME INTO COMMITTING THIS UNSPEAKABLE CRIME FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE! MEN!
Every morning now, I can't wait to open the blinds to see the progress of the mini dogwood. I marvel at how intent she is to regain her strength and grow upward and outward despite what she was forced to endure. This tree in our front yard is a constant reminder to me that no matter how much pain and desperation life throws at us, the will to live is the strongest motivation in the human spirit...we need only to tap into our Soul which is stronger than the mighty oak and certainly as strong as this mini dogwood to not only survive but to thrive!
Blessings and Peace!

Monday, September 16, 2019

'The Raven'...EVERMORE!

Sorry I'm so late with my Monday post, but our new pup, Raven Sky Bleu, takes up a considerable amount of my morning; going out to relieve herself, running thru the grass like a tornado, spying on the birds, chasing the fleeting leaves, etc. Then it's time to come in, have a breakfast treat or six, play tug-o-war for at least 15 minutes, greet Pappy, play more catch and fetch, and before you know it, it's lunchtime. And so on and so on and so on!

We were extremely lucky to get our Lab-Pointer mix from the Yukon Humane Society on Wednesday of last week. After much thought and lots of trial names, we decided upon, Raven...of course she's silky black with three white-tipped paws and one completely black. She has a white star on her chest. Raven is remarkably smart, she is almost completely housebroken and is aware of the outside yard boundaries in less than a week. This pup is crated at around 9:30 p.m. and without a whimper, is asleep until 7:00 a.m. the next morning. I kid you not!

Barry and I were sure we'd never, ever again have a dog, losing Shadow was devastating for both of us. It's only been 10 weeks since she's been gone, but it seems like forever. Yet I feel Shadow led me to Petland that day to find a pup, not to replace her, but to give us the joy we needed once more in our home. We know Shadow approves of our choice.

Having chosen the name, Raven, we never thought that Edgar Allen Poe's poem, 'The Raven' would have such a clarifying impact on us regarding the loss of Shadow and the grief that still lives in our hearts. We also never believed that the joy she gave us for almost 17 wonderful years would return. Thankfully, in the form of an independent, happy-go-lucky, inquisitive pup we aptly call, Raven, it has!

Here are two stanzas of the poem that Poe wrote in 1845 with an analysis for each of them. I've highlighted the parts that are most meaningful to the adoption of Raven.

Seventh Stanza

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
He makes an effort to fling open the window, and with a little commotion, in comes a raven. The narrator describes the raven as one who looked rather royal, and like it belonged in the righteous or impressive times of the past. The raven does not even acknowledge the speaker, and he simply flies in with the airs of an aristocrat, and rests on the statue above the chamber door of “Pallas” (also known as Athena the goddess of wisdom). Then, it just sits there doing “nothing more”.
When the character embraces the realization of the cause of his insecurity (opens the window), The raven comes flying in. The raven is the most important symbol in this poem, which explains the title. This raven is signifying the loss that the character has suffered. Through the window of realization, his loss comes flying in to face him. The raven is described to be grand in its demeanor, much like the loss of Lenore that intimidates him. He is quite fascinated by it and glorifies it. The interesting thing to note here is that the raven takes a seat on the statue of Pallas (Athena goddess of wisdom) which discloses to the reader that this feeling of loss and grief that the character is feeling is literally sitting on his wisdom. It has overpowered his rational thought.

Eighth Stanza

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
The entrance of this raven actually puts a smile on the face of the narrator. The bird was so out of place in his chamber but it still “wore” a serious expression as it sat there. The speaker then turns to treat the raven as a noble individual and asks him what his name is in a very dramatic manner. The raven simply replies with ‘nevermore’.
When given the chance to face his loss and grief so directly, it seems amusing to the character. So he speaks to the bird. He asks it’s (the bird/his grief) name, as it looked so grand and uncowardly even though it came from the world of suffering (the dark night). The raven spoke and said “nevermore”. His feelings of grief and loss (the raven) are reminding him of his greatest pain : nevermore. The raven speaks to him clearly and relays to him that what he had the deepest desire for in this life of his, is now strictly nevermore.
When I first saw Raven, I felt a tightness in my chest, she reminded me so much of Shadow. I actually walked past the cage, telling myself I should look for a dog who had no resemblance to our girl. But something made me turn around and come face to face with my grief. I know it was Shadow who had already chosen this pup for us. Instantly a smile spread across my lips as those dark brown eyes jumped up to meet me. I could see that being pent up as a shelter animal with little chance to run and play was making her sad, but she was 'grand and uncowardly.' Her energy was electrifying, her spirit, captivating! Raven was in search of someone to give her wings... 
'Nevermore' would Raven be homeless, not for one more single solitary moment...we are her forever family. 

'Nevermore' has been replaced with 'Evermore' or at least until our time together is done.
Blessings and Peace