Monday, January 30, 2017

Quiet Man, Good Man

If there was a word to use to sum up Fred Rogers, the wonderful children's icon, to me it would be goodness. He exuded gentleness, kindness and an all-around goodness. With his soft voice, simple sweet songs and adorable world of make-believe, this man warmed many hearts and was father figure to some, friend to others.

I was fortunate enough to have met him one time in my life; a very dark time for me. As a young girl of twelve, I lay in a bed at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in the nineteen seventies. I had curvature of the spine, or scoliosis, and would be undergoing major surgery--the kind that was very serious and extremely frightening. There had been talk of paralysis for some of the girls who had the surgery before, so it was a very real possibility. Also I knew that I would be wearing a plaster cast over most of my body for many months. Twelve is an age of body awareness and the discovery of boys. But for me, it was a time of much uncertainty.

The plaster body casts were always put on before surgery in those days, and then cut for the procedure later. It was a day my parents hadn't arrived yet for their visit. I lay in a bed in a ward of twelve girls or so, but because I was unable to move, sit up or anything, all I could do was feel sorry for myself and succumb to a feeling of gloom and depression. I heard a bit of excited chatter and wondered what the hoopla was about. A few moments later, Mr. Rogers appeared in our ward, stopping to talk with each of the girls, tarrying longer with some, but always speaking kindly--gently. When he arrived before me, I was able to manage a smile. This was a Pittsburgh celebrity, and even in my morose state, I felt honored to meet him. He put out a hand to touch my face and exclaimed, "What a pretty girl." I don't remember much else, but that moment shone for me in an otherwise dark time.

Many people through the years mentioned how much my own father resembled Fred Rogers. He and Dad could have passed for brothers with their looks, but it was much more than that. My father exuded many of the characteristics of Mr. Rogers as well. He had a soft-spoken way about him; an imagination, humor and charm. During my surgery, my father stands out in my mind as the one person who was such a rock of strength, but also of humor. He would bend over backward to make his little girl smile.

My father was a postal clerk and he had a zipper sweater that resembled the one Mr. Rogers would zip into and out of during his television show. One evening a friend of mine and I were watching t.v. when Dad went into his best rendition of "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" zipping himself into the sweater while two little girls giggled. It's a memory I will cherish forever, much like the few moments I was blessed to have met one of the most wonderful men ever--Fred Rogers.

Dad on my porch . . .

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Keeping it real

I'm exhausted this week. Dog tired. Pooped even. It's been that kind of time in my life. I feel like a hamster in the proverbial spinning wheel, going ever round and round the same old way. I want to scream, and then scream some more. I want to punch a few pillows, and I just may do that later.

What am I doing instead? Eating. Yep. Those twelve days of my New Years resolution to not eat any junk went right out the window the other day. Why? Nerves of course. I am a nervous eater and I admit it. "Hello I'm Karen and I'm a nervous eater." There, I feel better.

It's been stressful. We are soon to be short-handed at work. Do we have another employee yet? We do not. Why? Because the boss man drags his feet. So, pregnant dental assistant may drop this baby at any moment, and we will be stuck, or I will be stuck assisting when I have a thousand other duties to attend to. With arthritis in my back, assisting isn't something I enjoy any longer. I love my desk job, and I adore the mountains of dental insurance I have to work on. Well, I guess adore isn't exactly how I feel, but it gives you an idea of which duty I like better.

My mom was in the hospital recently too. Then a rehab facility. Mom has dementia. And in some ways, I see it worsening. She asked me the other day if Matt, her grandson, was my son. That was a bit terrifying. She's forgetting more and more about some of our cousins and which families they belong to. Yet other times, she is silly, fun and childlike singing old songs and imitating movie quotes. You have to hear her doing Anne Ramsey from "Throw Mama From the Train." Boy does she sound like her!

When I first thought of this blog post tonight, I was going to write it on a somber note. Then I realized something. Wouldn't it be more fun to laugh a little about all that's going on? Lighten up a bit, girl! Poke some fun at yourself even. So that's what I'm doing tonight: making light of the seriousness going on around me.

No, I'm not trying to downplay that we all have those kinds of days, or weeks, or months. It certainly has felt like a full year now of issues and stuff. Lord, a little break would be nice, okay?

Yet there are many wonderful reasons to be grateful right now. I still have my mom. I don't know for how much longer, but then again, who does know the length of our years? Only our Heavenly Father. And He approves of me--stress-filled and all. He calls me His beloved, even though I feel like I've been failing miserably with my up and down mood swings and sharp tongue. He understands and forgives, even when I can't forgive myself.

Yeah, I still have heartburn from that wonderful cupcake at work with the delectable cream cheese frosting. I was a bad girl and ate every precious bite. Maybe tomorrow I'll get on track again and try to eat more healthy. Maybe tomorrow my work day will be different, and one of the girls we are setting up for an interview will actually show up. Maybe tomorrow my problems will all disappear.
Nah. No matter what tomorrow does bring, I know for certain that the Father's love surrounds me and will sustain me. May we all laugh at ourselves a little and know that God must certainly have a sense of humor.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Heartfelt, Inspirational, Free!


 My parents are a testimony to a great marriage, and my father's patience with Mom's failing memory touched my heart. Though we lost Dad only four short months ago, we are still finding love letters and cards that he wrote my mother through the years. This is something Mom is enjoying more than ever. She reads some of the passages out loud to my brother and I, almost blushing like a young schoolgirl. I had never known the depth of my father's love for this woman, and even into their passing years, the way he looked at her and how he spoke so kindly to her, showed me a love that would last beyond time.

For a short time, the book that was inspired by the real life love of my elderly parents and my mother's dementia will be free on Amazon kindle. Let the story of Harry and rose bless and inspire you. It's never easy to see our loved ones aging, but the ravages of time, memory problems and health issues cannot stop true love.


Monday, January 9, 2017

A most creative reuniting

Social media can be a wonderful tool when wielded properly and in the right hands. Seriously, think about finding long lost cousins, uncles, aunts and friends. Think about how cool it is to type a name in a search engine and find someone you knew from way back when.

In the early nineteen-eighties, my mother and father owned a small Mom-and-Pop grocery store in my old hometown of Ambridge, Pennsylvania. During their few years there, they met many interesting people and rekindled friendships with people from their past. One such lady stands out head and shoulders above the rest.

Her name was Norma Jean and she and my mom knew one another from childhood. I had heard of her, but hadn't met her until the Eighth Street Dairy (the Mom-and-Pop). Norma and my mother became as soul mates. Two kindred spirits who'd found one another again and spent countless hours gabbing and laughing when there was down time in the old store. Norma was one of the most witty ladies we'd ever known. Her humor was deadpan and clever. She also had a heart of gold. It still warms me to think of her, though she'd passed away many years now.

Norma had several sons, and I later wondered what had become of them. I eventually moved from my town, and lost contact with so many people. Enter Facebook: that wonderful social media tool. I found one of Norma's sons, a chap who is close in age to me. Through cosmic magic, we began chatting and formed an online friendship. His name is Vincent and I can certainly see a lot of his mother in him: Intelligent and witty, with heart. Yes, he is certainly a testimony to good parenting.

I found out that friend Vincent is a Living History Primitive Pre 1840 Rendezvous encampments & Heritage Education for the Public, in period correct dress & using period correct accoutrements, camp gear and cooking re-enactor. Phew, I know. That's a lot of words. But to properly explain the wonderful thing he did for me recently, you need to know what he does.

Vincent has helped edit and critique several of my writing projects, and for that I am grateful. But when I saw another talent of his recently, I couldn't believe it. You see, not only does he dress in the clothing of a bygone era, but this man has a gift to recreate period piece items. And I just happen to be totally enamored of a certain period, owing it all to Ms. Diana Gabaldon for coming up with the most wonderful world of "Outlander" and Jamie and Claire Fraser.

"Outlander" is perfect escapism for me and so many others. It is well-written, well-acted and just darn good. I have a small bracelet from the show, but I spotted my old friend making Sporrans. What, you may ask is a Sporran? Well, I am going to show and tell. Jamie Fraser and his band of Scottish rebels always have their trusty Sporran aka "man pouch" belted 'round their kilts. They carry precious items, or perhaps weapons, but all I wanted was to own one of these beautiful items. To feel more kinship with these imaginary, but totally real-in-my-mind characters.

So I kindly asked Vincent, and he kindly obliged. I'm not sure any arm-twisting or begging went along with it, but as you will see by the pictures below, and hear in his own words, the painstaking process of recreating such a fine article.

Ah the joy of anachronisms, that ever enjoyable search for the charming artifact, accoutrement or trinket from what we intuitively feel is a reminder of the romance from a bygone era!

Well, in reality in those bygone days, life was harder, shorter (on average across all ages of people), more dangerous and survival depended upon being able to make any article quickly and made to last.  In fact old worn items we consider charming heirloom are affectionately known as "antiques."  Way back when, the folks of the olden days ALSO called their great grandma's old beat up articles "antiques," but they used that term derisively, synonymous with "antiquated!"

Enter my reproductions of good old leather bags and pouches from 300 years ago.  I make these to last, I have methods to make these articles quickly but well constructed to last at least two or three generations.  I don't sell them, mainly give them away at reenactor rendezvous gatherings as prize donations or occasionally in trade with friends in exchange for their own skills or transfer of knowledge. 

The sporran (Celtic for "purse" ) was just a simple drawstring pouch worn over a kilt belt in Scotland, to contain a few coins, some food, and other sundry supplies. 300 years ago no one had pockets (except the lady who wore a cloth bag tied on her apron, actually  termed a "pocket!"), let alone a kilt wearing Highlander!  So the sporran was a necessary accoutrement if said Scotsman wanted to travel or even go out in the windswept heather in polite company (sporrans also held the kilt front from lifting up!).

I try to re-create these items using original methods, darkening the leather with iron acetate made from vinegar and chunks of iron as has been done back to ancient Roman times.  I stitch only with hand waxed linen or hemp thread. 

Having said all that, I still maintain, "Get over the charm, People!  It's just a drawstring pouch!  Waxing poetic over it is the same as getting excited over a DSW shoe store paper bag or one of those cloth environmentally friendly shopping bags!"  (Well maybe 300 years from NOW!)

I'm certain that a little eyeball rolling may have gone along with this project, for you see, my friend patiently listened to my Outlander-inspired fanaticism. I must admit. . . I did ask for Jamie Fraser's name to be stenciled or burned into my own Sporran. Check it out.

  But being a good sport, he had this to say:

 While the maker jokingly disparages what he calls the romance of bygone days, yet there is a magic and a continuity to looking back, having a tangible reminder of those who've gone before us, cementing a bond and a bridge from their lives to ours, that keeps us on a level footing and allows us to carry on our lives with an honor and dignity that we believe they'd approve of.

Here's to social media then! For bringing friendships back together. For letting us reconnect with truly amazing people. Raise a glass the Scottish way! Slainte!