Friday, June 12, 2020

It's Been a While . . .

I am sitting in a small office in a house in California. Much has happened since I last wrote for Carpe Diem. The Covid-19 pandemic is running rampant, and Donald Trump is President. I have been trying to get back into writing again, feeling in my soul that it's important, and wondering why and how I got away from it . . . and I came upon an idea: Look up my old e-zine, "Empty Nest." Will it inspire me? So I did, and I found not only fabulous access to my thoughts from a former time, but also a link to this blog. I feel like I've come home.

Maybe that's because I have.

We're embedded with our daughter Amie and her family, to keep our granddaughters, now 5 and 2, out of daycare during the pandemic. I earned my Senior Adjunct title from the college this May, while teaching fully online for the first time, as the school closed for the remainder of the spring semester. It remains closed through the summer. I am now also a tutor with the school (where tutoring also has gone online), and I am co-advisor of the student newspaper. My lucrative, yet in the end troublesome, textbook publishing career is ancient history. Leaving it was still the best idea, ever. Since then, I joined the Editorial Freelancer Association and have helped many writers polish their works: in history, technology, education, psychology, sociology, leadership, and medicine. At present, I'm looking into a music project.

I have become more politically active and run an Indivisible group. (That said, I've been taking a hiatus in what I'm calling "Hotel California" during "Covid Break"; the most I've done lately is to submit an absentee ballot in the PA primary election.) I look forward to getting back to PA to help influence the outcome November's general election.

But, writing on what I care about, my life and my own personal evolution - which now includes spending time with my grandchildren and influencing the next generation - must, if not come front and center, then at least have a place. Writing and leaving it behind is all we have of ourselves, our own legacy. All of our memoirs together comprise the TRUE history of the world. With this new beginning, let's see what we can do.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Where Our Kids Take Us: Sarah's in India

What our grown kids do, we do, too, from a distance. This is Week 2 of our daughter Sarah's first business trip to India. She was nervous about going at first, but, like every other brave thing Sarah's done (acting, college in NYC, semester abroad, traipsing around Europe, settling in NYC), she embraced the challenge. Her emails home have become a kind of "journal": day-by-day madcap recaps of eating "thali," buying lip gloss, surviving a holiday (sightseeing), being a woman and visiting a liquor store, the joys (and necessity) of having a driver, training people who don't speak your language (or share your culture). And, we've been hanging on her every word. She "Oovoo'd" me once after a long, exhausting day. (When the Delhi workday is over, it's 9:00 a.m. at the NYC office, so she troubleshoots for them in the evening.) Evidently, talking to Mom made things better. And, hearing from Sarah made my day. When she was 12, Sarah's choir traveled to England, and we opted to go along. At 28, she's going it alone. But we're with her in spirit. (Photo of Taj Mahal by Sarah Bonner)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Silver Linings: Kids Live Far Away? Go Visit Them

I just spent the weekend with my daughter Amie, who lives near Santa Barbara, California. It's our annual mother-daughter get together at her place. Yeah, during the rest of the year, we email and text all the time, and I probably talk to her twice a week. But nothing beats hugs in person. When she got her dream job 10 years ago (since she was a kid, I knew it was coming), I made up my mind I'd make the best of it. Since then, I've seen a lot of Southern California, and also Yosemite, Monterey, the Sierra Nevada, and more. This weekend we picnicked at our favorite winery (Sunstone) in Santa Ynez, lunched in San Luis Obispo, hiked along the coast near Morro Bay, and visited the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens. We ate in, ate out, watched movies, popped popcorn, got some exercise, and went wine tasting. I had more time to myself than I had had in a while and she got a break from work. My son-in-law, Todd, joined us on many outings; it was such fun to have him along. Yes, my kid lives far away, but the silver linings are terrific...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Afraid to Try New Things? It May Be Your Mindset

You want to make the most of your empty-nesting years. Yet, your willingness to engage in new activities may be affected by how you think about your innate capabilities and your capacity to learn. Are you afraid to fail? Do you work hard, or do you think success should come to the talented without much effort? Columbia University psychiatrist Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, says you can play the viola, you can learn French, and you can take up tennis. But, first you may need to change your "mindset." Read her book to learn more: What you find out about yourself may surprise you.

Friday, October 25, 2013


We had lunch with Kate today. Four of us who had met, and assisted, or edited, or project managed, or whatever, at Saunders College Publishing, at one time or another. Lauren and Kate also went to college together. Kate lives near me, but our paths rarely cross. She teaches college English. Ellen is now subbing in elementary schools. Lauren got a PhD, taught, then started her family later than the rest of us. With her sons in junior high, she writes and volunteers, Beth, the lone chemist, is the last of us still editing textbooks. We all have kids. We all have husbands.

Except Kate. She lost Jerry to a heart attack a couple of Sunday mornings ago. He collapsed while jogging. Kate was cleaning up the kitchen, and he just never came back. The cops knocked on her door. Do you know where your husband is?... Kate suddenly must go it alone. Their two sons, a college sophomore and high school junior, have not yet left the nest. They had a good life together, Kate says. She has no regrets. It is good to hear; it is good we are here. We came to comfort Kate, but she comforts us.

Thus the reason for our lunch. Girlfriend time at Tokyo, good feng shui in Skippack. Hugs, wine, sushi, bento boxes, teriyaki. Warm coral walls and high ceilings frame tall picture windows: the reds, yellows, and grays of a sunny autumn afternoon punctuate our conversation, which now seems sacred: Jerry, how they met, what happened, the funeral, teaching, publishing, books to read, craft shows, dogs and cats. My gaze wanders outside: I sat on that patio with Gary, just last summer, celebrating our own anniversary. So much has changed. Now Kate is facing the autumn without Jerry, much too early in their lives. This could have been any of us. Life may be short; or it may be long. We have no idea. Girlfriends: in it together. Call us, we tell Kate. On a good day, on a bad day. Whenever. I recall Anne Lamott's Help, Thanks, Wow. For Kate, I ask, please Help.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Adjunct Event, Memoir Workshop - A Stimulating Weekend

Blogs should be short, right? Well, Saturday I attended an adjunct event at Montgomery County Community College. The session on Classroom Management was helpful, and on Blackboard Collaborate/Smart Notebook, eye-opening. Long breakfast and lunch sessions allowed conversations with many adjuncts—Leslie from English, John from Computers, Alfonso from Chemistry, Don from Philosophy, and Camille from Instructional Design. I met Tracey from Nursing, who ran the event, and Deb, who has been sending out Assessment info. She and Camille are working on a grant right now. The afternoon session broke out by department. The Humanities session fought against becoming a bitch fest perpetuated by one adjunct, but we all did at least get to introduce ourselves and continued with more civilized conversations afterward. It was great to talk with Obed (Art), Marleen (Art), and Maureen (History). Also met Jane, Judy, and Leslie from English. Way too much negative energy in that one (unsupervised) session, however. The day ended with adjunct volunteers advising the others on various topics--Obed showed his website; Leslie explained the ins and outs of using Blackboard to save class work from semester to semester. All I can say is the food, served in the Parkhouse atrium, was great, and the info and networking were well worth spending a Saturday on campus. I'm sure I'll be talking with many of these people. We really forged some bonds.

On Sunday, it was much the same. The free memoir workshop was run by Rosemont College's MFA program from 12 noon to about 4:15. Carla Spataro, a classmate of mine at Rosemont (she was an MFA candidate, and me an MA), now heads up the MFA program there. Four speakers (Beth Kephart, Linda Joy Myers, Robert Waxler, and Jerry Waxler) addressed memoir topics and challenged the audience with exercises. Their insight and encouragement were invaluable. I found myself volunteering to read my paragraph exercises aloud, a first for me and surprising. I met Paulette and her friends, who all read as well, and talked with Jerry about his newly published Memoir Revolution. I cornered Bob Waxler about his program to read literature with inmates and renewed my acquaintance with Carla. I also met MFA student volunteers. Tara's dress was lovely (it was a blue/gray floral affair, comfy, made of t-shirt cotton, but with long sleeves) and I told her so--she got it from an English-Irish catalog. She has two teenagers; I gave her my Empty Nest business card. I also met Angela (with a face like an angel, freckles, blue eyes); she drove down from Williamsport to hear Linda's talk. She has a 7-year-old daughter named Nadia. She left early, so I never had a chance to say goodbye.

Whereas we spent last weekend sailing our Thistle off the coast of Annapolis, this weekend was more of an inward journey—with the goal of becoming a better teacher and writer, and meeting more people interested in doing the same.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with Mom

Gary, Mom, and I visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on Wednesday evening. It was a bit of a last-minute decision, but a very good one, as it turned out. Gary had mentioned seeing an article about the Society's recent remodeling in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Then, on Tuesday, I spied a follow-up feature that detailed highlights of Wednesday's celebratory open house: a handwritten draft of the U.S. Constitution, printer's proofs of the Declaration of Independence, one of three known copies of "The Star-Spangled Banner" written and signed by Francis Scott Key, a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln. Such treasures! On Wednesday, the HSP doors would be open to the public from 12:30 to 8:00, and admission would be free.

I called Mom. We had been trying to schedule a visit with her. Would she like to meet us in Philadelphia and check out the Historical Society? Mom is into Americana big time; the Revolutionary War is her specialty. Her rec room is donned floor to ceiling in red, white, and blue: American flags, pillows, throw blankets, wall hangings, and figurines. You name it; she has it. Yes, she was up for a trek into the city to see the "real deal."

We met Mom near Suburban Station about 4:30. Gary let us off at the Historical Society (13th and Locust), then parked while we registered. We were greeted at the huge doorway (the Society occupied the premises since 1824, but the building is much older) by several docents bearing give-away maps that listed the exhibits and tours. We took in the magnificently high ceilings, fresh paint job (in "celery"!), and newly tiled black and white checkerboard-patterned floors. The effect was breath-taking. Floor-to-ceiling "digital walls" cycled greatly enlarged images of items from the collections—manuscripts, art, and photos—really bringing them to life.

Once Gary joined us, we enjoyed some complimentary refreshments, then headed into the main display room, where we took our leisure, perusing the many artifacts we had read about through glass cases. It was difficult to believe that items of such deeply significant value to all Americans were just inches away from our eyes and our hands!

Once we had our fill of the displays, we decided to join a tour of the second-floor Archives. There, we met a Society staff member who was quick to point out the rows and rows of very new, and very high, gray metal shelving. She discussed the recent renovations, which, she said, gave the Society about 30% more storage space. And at the rate donations were coming in, that should (only) be enough for about another 10 years of collecting! She explained what it was like to catalogue and preserve a donation—how long it actually took. An archivist (there were two on staff) went through the box(but many times, boxes upon boxes) painstakingly, listing each item in a record, then carefully labeling each artifact and placing it into an acid-free envelope. I thought it would be somewhat boring (all of those letters in dusty boxes!), but the idea was actually quite fascinating, once I thought about it: Each donation documented events in people's lives, events that touched many others' lives, and the archivist quietly perused, documented (and also touched!) each item. A privilege. And, the materials would then be available to almost anyone who made an appointment to see them.

Before returning to the first floor, we stopped to take in a book binding demonstration. The spines of many old books and manuscripts that come into the Society need a new covering, in order to preserve and hold together the pages inside. The young woman we spoke with had been a printmaking student at University of the Arts. When the opportunity to work with the Society came along, she jumped at the chance. She said that it is kind of funny, on some days the staffers and volunteers will joke around about their work, "What, more of that guy Washington's stuff?" as if yet one more find concerning our nation's first president could ever be boring. But, she intimated, they do see a lot of it. Something she really did get excited about recently was finding a recipe for peach pie that dated back to the 1800s. One never knows what might turn up in a donation.

Our last stop was a tour of the Reading Room, on the first floor, and a talk on the Library's services. Our guide, Dan, was a former professor at Hahneman University. With a rich Southern drawal, he relayed anecdotes about collaborating with the Library Company next door (a staff member from that organization was in our tour group) and working with geneaological researchers. The walls of the stately, quiet high-ceilinged room were lined with volume upon volume of birth, death, and other family records. (The Society had acquired the holdings of both The Geneology Society of Pennsylvania and the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies. They also partner with, but the Historical Society has more records.)

Individuals can make appointments with the Society to research their family's history. (About 50% of the Society's researchers are family historians; the other half are professionals—researching for masters' theses or PhD dissertations, or authoring books to be published.) If any particularly rare artifacts or records are requested, the researcher is asked to sign out the items and view them in "the cage," a fenced area of the Reading Room. The items are then signed back in afterward. And, if you're not living locally or are pressed for time, the Society will do the research for you—for a fee. Check out their site to learn more.

After we were satisfied that we left no historical stone unturned, we headed out to the nearby Caribou Cafe for dinner. The fabulous "bar menu," boasting quiche, crusty sandwiches, and crepes (and a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine), made a perfect end to the evening. I'm sure Mom will make a follow-up visit to the Historical Society, however, to research her family (or Dad's), or just to assuage her own curiosity, for at dinner, she just couldn't stop talking about it. Mom is nearly 85, but she still has a lot of miles to go—places to see, people to meet. If anyone retraces our family's steps, it will be her. It was great to see her devouring that small slice of American historical pie so enthusiastically. It held her interest more intensely than did the Roasted Chicken with Brie.