Monday, September 29, 2014

The Hunt for Boots . . .


Every couple of months we use the excuse of going to the mall to make a family day out of it. We shop till we drop and then go have dinner. Saturday was one of those days. Both of my girls needed new boots for winter. I thought it would be a good idea to get out early in the season so they would have a nice selection in their size. My older daughter has a small foot, so they don’t order too many shoes in her size. My younger daughter has a popular size foot and that size tends to sell out fast. I thought I came up with the perfect strategy to shop for boots before the rest of the world figured out winter was around the corner. We all have a job on this mission. My daughters pick out and try on the boots. I offer some petite criticisms on the boots and the situation. My husband carries the boots.

First stop is at JCPenney, where we have had luck before. My younger daughter finds two pair she likes and wants to try on. I take them up to the clerk. Problem. There is only ONE clerk in the whole department who is trying to get several customers shoes while tending to the cash register. We put the boots down and decide to look elsewhere and/or return later. Off we go to Steve Madden to check out their boots. Both my daughters find a pair they like after four or five sales clerks ask us if we need help. No shortage of help here! As soon as they find boots a clerk is right there to go get them each a pair. My younger daughter is lucky, they have her selection in her size in stock. My older daughter is not as lucky. They do have her size, BUT it’s the display pair which we can clearly see is scuffed up and scratched. She doesn’t want to pay $200 for damaged boots and I would kill her if she did. The salesperson says it’s a popular style and it’s flying off the shelves. She wants to give her 10% off the display pair to make the sale. My daughter says no, it’s not worth it. So the clerk comes up with a plan B. They will call other stores and see if one of them has the boots in stock and then they can mail them to the house. Fine. I mention to the clerk we do not want a display pair from another store. They call around and finally find a store that has them. My daughter hears the salesperson say are they the “display pair?” because the customer has a problem with our display pair being scuffed. Now my daughter is annoyed that they are making her sound crazy and also because I told the salesperson we don’t want a display pair from another store. After twenty minutes the transaction is complete and the boots should be here in a few days, hopefully undamaged.

Now we return to JCPenney, and it seems they have a second clerk on the job in the shoe department. We find the boots my daughter liked and ask for them in her size. The short, black pair fits fine, the tall gray pair seems impossible to get on and the zipper sticks. I talk her out of getting the gray pair. It takes her long enough to get ready for work without spending an extra 20 minutes trying to put on these boots. Besides, I have a feeling the zipper will break in a week’s time, so we leave with the one pair. We will return in a couple of weeks or so and try again. But, seriously, it shouldn’t be so hard to get boots in September!

To complete this “boot” mission, we end up at The Cheesecake Factory, where we all enjoy a nice dinner and some family banter. Then we order a couple of slices of cheesecake to go. Now we are all satisfied.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Reconnecting With A Friend . . .

A gift from a friend

I have been talking to people on the internet from the moment my computer was up and running with AOL back in 1999. So a few days ago, when I was messaged on Facebook out of the blue by someone asking if I was the person they chatted with over 13 years ago, my mind drew a blank. She told me her name and where she used to live and said we had lost touch after 911, but it wasn’t ringing any bells for me. I wrote and asked for more specifics, but she probably felt she had the wrong person and didn‘t reply. I trusted her memory more than mine, so I started to think back. I was getting a vague memory of a young mother, in her twenties, with a son. She was very sweet and seemed to be struggling with something. She needed someone to talk to. Not everyone has someone to talk to. I replied once again asking if she was a young mother with a son. Still no answer. She must have thought she had the wrong person. I wasn’t 100% sure either, but something told me she was right about it being me.

As fate would have it, my brother came over yesterday and a memory crossed his mind which was totally unrelated. It was also something that happened online years ago and I went to get my notebook where I had jotted notes on this incident. On the page next to those notes were the woman’s name, address and phone number! That was all I needed to confirm we had known each other years ago.

I soon recalled how I chatted almost every morning with this young woman. It was hard for her to open up. Then I remembered a gift I had gotten in the mail long ago. It was a small basket with note stationery. I have kept this gift in my kitchen all these years. I even had a few pieces of the stationery left. I took a picture of it and sent one last reply with the photo. I asked if she was the one who had sent me this gift and told her how I still had it.

It was then that I received a reply. She said that she did send it to me all those years ago. She told me I had sent her a Christmas ornament, with a friendship inscription, that she has been hanging on her tree every year. She said the reason she wanted to contact me was to thank me for being so sweet to her when she was going through a hard time and say hello. Her son has grown up and she has moved, but she has often thought about me all these years. We caught up briefly on what has happened during these 13 years and then she said she never forgot my kindness. And with that, we wrapped up our brief conversation.

We may talk again, we may not, but I was very glad to hear from her and to know that she is happy now. You never know what a few minutes of your time and a few kind words can do.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Domestic Abuse: It's All In the Family

Ray Rice is making headlines for abusing his wife in an elevator back in February and being released from the Ravens. I have to wonder what took so long? Is it really because the owner and team didn’t see the entire video? Is it all about damage control and disassociation from the scandal? Maybe something good will come out of this by shining a big spotlight on the epidemic of domestic abuse. It may even save some lives if it causes other women seek help before it’s too late. But it makes me wonder when did it become “acceptable” for men to hit women?

This situation brings to mind a story I have heard over and over again in my own family. My maternal grandfather was an abusive man. He came over from Sicily in the early 1900’s with no money. He brought his wife and children here for a better life. He also brought with him the accepted “right” that men in his culture had to beat their wives and children. I often heard my mother and her siblings tell stories of how their mother was beaten for basically no reason because she was a “saint.” My grandfather would go out gambling and drinking at night. My grandmother would worry and sit at the window waiting for him to come home. When he found her sitting at the window, he would accuse her of waiting for another man. Then he would fly into a drunken rage and beat her for this imagined offense. My grandmother was pregnant fourteen times, but only had seven children. It’s been said she was beaten while pregnant and lost seven babies. In those days there were no shelters and divorce wasn’t an option. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to grow up in a household with that kind of abuse and chaos.

The fact is that my grandfather also beat one of his sons. My uncle worked in a bakery to earn a little money to help support the family. He was very young at the time (maybe around 8 years old). He had to be at the bakery at four in the morning and help stack bags of flour. Often he would fall asleep at the bakery, from sheer exhaustion, after doing his job. He missed school once too many times. The truant officer went to see my grandfather about the problem, causing him to miss work. My grandfather was very angry and beat my uncle, kicking him with his heavy work boots. The other children were too afraid to come to the defense of their mother or brother. My grandmother often prayed aloud for ten years of peace after her husband’s death. She died almost ten years to the day after my grandfather died.

When my mother married my father, a marriage arranged by her mother, she told her mother if he ever touched her in an abusive way the marriage would be over. My father also came from Sicily with his culture and beliefs ingrained in him. One day, during an argument early in their marriage, my father raised his hand at my mother. Before he could lay a finger on her, my mother took off and went straight to her mother to tell her what happened. My grandmother stepped in and talked to my father. Whatever she told him, nothing like that ever happened again.

As for my grandfather’s legacy of abuse, none of his sons were abusive, as far as I know. None of his daughters married abusive men. The cycle of abuse ended with my grandfather. Thank God.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Plagiarism: An Ethical Dilemma

Years ago, when I was taking graduate French classes, there was a student in my class, a young French teacher, who was caught by one of our professors for plagiarizing his paper. The professor had called him up after class and was visibly angry. I couldn’t hear the verbal exchange, but word soon spread as to what it was all about. Plagiarism is very serious ethical charge against a student at a university and it places the professor in a very uncomfortable position. I distinctly recall that this professor made a point of emphasizing that plagiarism would not be tolerated and it was also boldly stated in the syllabus she handed out the first day of class. It’s no wonder she was angry.

The student’s case was still pending when I met up with him again the following semester, in another French class, with a different professor. We were assigned papers once again and also had to present them orally in class. I couldn’t help but be curious if he had learned his lesson or had once again plagiarized someone else's work. Who would be so arrogant to even think of trying it again and jeopardizing their education and job? On a whim I used one of the tools that is designed to find plagiarized work online. Within a few minutes I had found that he had taken an article and claimed it as his own. The article was several pages long and fairly dated, so it wouldn’t readily appear on the top of a Google search. However, I searched for the specific words that he had read in class and was astonished to find a paper that was identical to his. He hadn’t just taken a few paragraphs or ideas, he had taken the whole paper in it’s entirety, word for word. The only things he changed were the name of the author and the date. There I sat, in front of the computer, overwhelmed by a moral and ethical dilemma. I wished I had never done the search because now it placed me in a bind and I was torn about what to do. I knew what he did was wrong, but he needed this degree to continue teaching. I also knew that a second blatant act of plagiarism, with the first still pending, would certainly be cause for expulsion from graduate school and the French Master’s Program.

I agonized over what to do for a while. I didn’t know where to go for advice. Then I thought about Googling “What to do if you discover a student is plagiarizing.” That search turned up a professor’s blog on plagiarism, and he had included his email address for readers. I decided to write to him about my dilemma in detail and ask his advice. I needed an objective opinion from someone who understood all the ramifications any action on my part would have and, at the same time I knew I didn‘t have to take the advice if it didn‘t feel right about it. I received a compassionate reply to my email not long after. He said it was evident that I was struggling with this issue and explained to me how plagiarism affects education and how serious a violation it was etc. He advised me not to get personally involved as the “whistle blower.” Instead, he suggested that I create an anonymous account in order to email the professor the link to the plagiarized work and leave the rest up to him. In the end, after some careful consideration, that is what I decided to do.

I still feel bad about exposing this student’s academic crime and the consequences that likely followed. At the time I felt that he had more than likely been using other people’s work to get through college and that these two incidents were probably not the only times he had done so. Sometimes doing the right thing for the right reasons doesn’t always make you feel good. However, thinking back on it, I feel it was the only thing I could do.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Catholic Church Opposes Ice Bucket Challenge . . .


The Catholic Church is one of, if not my biggest, pet peeve. This time I have a new reason to be flipping my lid. For maybe the first time in a very long time, ALS is getting a lot of attention and significant donations (42 million) are being made to fund research and medication. So what does the Catholic Church do, specifically the Archdiocese of Cincinnati? They come out against the Ice Bucket Challenge, which the biggest cause for hope and life that people afflicted with ALS have had in our lifetime. Only 30,000 people suffer from this disease in this country. That means it is not profitable for pharmaceutical companies or researchers to find cures or drugs for this small population. Without help, these thirty thousand people will deteriorate physically until they are in a vegetative state and die. No hope, no cure, no nothing . . . until now. But the church wants to put an end to this.

You may want to know why the Church would take such a stand? It’s urging all members of the church and telling principals of Catholic schools to stop students from taking the challenge. It seems part of the research being done for this disease uses embryonic stem cells and that goes against church doctrine. It’s not moral according to the Church. The ALS Association isn’t considered pro-life because of the type of research they fund. But the research they are doing is for the purpose of saving existing lives and ending suffering. They are trying to save the lives of mothers, fathers, young men and women that are their sons and daughters. ALS is a fatal disease that causes years of suffering. How is trying to end that disease, by whatever scientific means possible, not pro-life? How long will it take for other dioceses to jump on board and try to put an end to the hope all these people and their families have had for a brief few days? It’s unconscionable plain and simple.

ALS patients need a cure and these donations may well bring about one or at least get them closer to one. The Catholic Church has too much say over what we do or don’t do. They want to tell us what movies we can watch; whether or not we can use birth control; how much money we should put in the collection plate; who to vote for; and now what charity or causes we can donate our money to! Meanwhile, they have their own set of problems that they need to focus on. Priests are still abusing children. Victims of prior abuse are still suffering the effects of that abuse. They have a long history of immorality within the church and plenty of documents that they have hidden away or destroyed. How about they turn their attention internally and leave the daily living of our lives to us. We were given free will and a conscience to guide our actions and that is exactly what we should all do. I don’t think the Church, with it’s long history of immorality, should be counseling anyone about anything.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Mother's Worry Is Black and White

Amadou Diallo Died February, 1999 

Last night I woke myself up, tossing and turning, and suddenly found tears streaming down my face. The picture of Michael Brown, the teenager killed in Ferguson, flashed in my mind. Unarmed and killed with his hands in the air by the very police who swore to protect the citizens of that city. He was going to start college the next day. Then more tears. I’ve been reading a lot about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri and it’s affected me deeply. I think back to Trayvon Martin, who was hunted down in Florida by vigilante, George Zimmerman, after coming back home with snacks he bought. He was walking through his own apartment complex, but he looked suspicious because he was wearing a hoodie in the rain. I recently read about John Crawford, the 22 year old black man who was shot and killed by police in a Walmart in Dayton, Ohio, for holding a toy gun. He was on the phone with the mother of his two children at the time. She heard the shots and his cries. And then there is Eric Garner, the man who was placed in a chokehold in Staten Island and died moments later. His crime? He wasn’t doing anything when the police went up to him. He did have a rap sheet and pending cases for selling illegal cigarettes. Illegal cigarettes have been sold on the streets of New York since I was a kid. My mother would buy a six month supply when the truck came up our block. It’s nothing new. Garner was not armed. He weighed over 300 pounds. He had asthma. Police say he resisted arrest. How much resisting could he do against four officers? Maybe he was resisting arrest or maybe he was resisting harassment. How far could this man have gone if they left him alone while they found a less forceful and legal way to arrest him? He even said, “I can’t breathe,“ six times. It fell on deaf ears. Now this man, the father of six children, is dead, killed by an officer with a record of falsely arresting and abusing people.

All this was swirling around in my mind. It wasn’t because I can relate to the black experience. I don’t know what it is like to be black in America. I only know what I have read and heard of the injustice and inequality, of the racism and hatred that still exists today. I never quite understood that black men, sons and fathers, could be shot and killed in cold blood, by police officers, for doing nothing. The first time I can remember being stricken by a similar story was back in 1999. A 23 year old immigrant from Guinea, named Amadou Diallo, was shot outside his apartment in the Bronx. He was mistaken for a rapist in the area at the time. Four police officers were involved. A frightened Diallo reached for his wallet to show them his identity and, as he did, forty-one shots were fired, 19 of them hitting the unarmed young man. His parents came to claim the body. The officers were acquitted. I was stunned by the outcome and never forgot it.

And, in between 1999 and now I learned that this is the “way” it is. Black mothers and all mothers who have black sons, have to worry about their sons being murdered for doing nothing at all. In America. They can be gunned down for wearing a hoodie, for reaching for a wallet, for carrying a toy gun, for selling illegal cigarettes . . . for just about anything. They can even be shot with their hands in the air. And their grieving mothers cannot even be sure of getting justice for their sons because they were killed by police officers who were “doing their jobs” to uphold the law and protect citizens. How do you live with that?

While I was tossing and turning and trying to go back to sleep, my mind wouldn’t let me. I kept thinking of all the mothers who lost their beloved sons. I thought of their lifetime of worrying that something like this could happen . . .and then it does. I understand the worry of a mother. I have two girls I worry about all the time. I worry when they are out driving, when they are sick, if they have to be in a parking lot late at night. As mothers, we all worry about our kids. When you have a child you will worry about them from the moment of conception to the last breath you take. You want the best for them. You want them to be healthy and happy in life. It’s unconditional love in it’s purest form. I worry about everything, but I never felt the need to worry that my girls would be shot and killed by the police for doing nothing. I can’t even begin to imagine having that kind of worry. No mother should have that kind of worry. My heart goes out to all the mothers, those who have lost their sons and those who have to worry it can happen to their sons, just because of the color of their skin. I pray for justice, I pray for peace, I pray for the America that should be, the one where everyone is respected and treated equally as stated in our Constitution. I pray for every mother who has a black son, that she will someday have one less thing to worry about.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Turning Sixty . . .


In less than a week I will be turning 60 years old. It doesn’t seem to bother me. “It’s just a number. You’re as old as you feel. Sixty is the new 40!,” are the wise adages we have created to help us feel better about getting older. But I don’t feel the need to soften the blow. At 50, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t expect to hit sixty. So, you better believe I am damn well happy about being able to celebrate this birthday, sharing it with my family and having a nice piece of cake.

Sixty years can feel like a long time or as though they went by in the blink of an eye, depending who you talk to. For me, the years went by pretty fast, even though I am living a fairly boring life. There was very little excitement to speak of, just the normal, every day challenges to deal with. I can probably sum up my whole life as: I was born, graduated college, married, raised two daughters, and you can fill in the blah, blah, blahs yourself. I lived the life I envisioned, the life I wanted to live. I can’t complain. I have been very blessed. I do the things I want to do, the things that make me happy. I don’t care what most people think of me, just those I am closest to. I have learned from my own experiences and those of others. I have given and taken advice. I have known the heartache and grief of loss. I have known the joy of love and happiness. I have acquired wisdom. It’s been a good life and I don’t dread turning 60 for one minute.

However, I can’t speak for all my body parts. Some of them are having a bit of a hard time dealing with the changes of this past decade. My eyeglasses need to be “tweaked” a little more often than they used to. Making the font larger on the computer seems to help them feel they as though they are as sharp as ever. The past year, my left ankle gets swollen every day. It needs a little pampering and elevation. I don’t want my right ankle to feel bad because I am favoring the left, so I put both my feet up during the day to keep them happy. My muscles, if you can call them that, ache with every little thing I attempt to do. If I carry a little shopping home from the store, my arms ache. If I bend to do a little cleaning, then my back aches. If I walk around the park for exercise, then my legs ache. It seems like my muscles have taken early retirement and forgot to send me a memo. My stomach, which has been fine digesting whatever I liked in the past, has decided to become much more finicky. Everything seems to upset it. For example, though I have been a meat eater all my life, but beef and pork have become difficult for me to digest. My stomach prefers chicken and fish now. Salads are great, except my stomach doesn’t like any kind of vinaigrette dressing and immediately acts up. Too much of anything upsets it: too much junk food, too much candy, too much fiber, too much fruit . . . it doesn’t matter if the items are good or bad for me, my stomach will only tolerate so much of it. Ironically however, that hasn’t stopped me from gaining weight or having high cholesterol. Hearing and memory diminish greatly with age. This is really difficult to adjust to because most of us need to remember the things we hear, that is, if we hear them in the first place. When my husband tells me something and then has to repeat it, I don’t know if I forgot what he said or didn’t hear it in the first place. To save face, I tell him he never said it. Sometimes I say something and repeat it five minutes later because I forgot I said it. It’s not always something that bears repeating either. Thank God my husband has the patience of a saint. I still have all my teeth, but some of them have become very sensitive to cold things. No one has tampered with these teeth that I have had all my life. The fillings are all the original ones I got as a kid. So why are my teeth causing me problems now? Maybe they don’t want to be left out? It could be peer pressure from the other body parts or maybe they just want some attention? Who knows? As for the rest of the body parts, they still work pretty well for now. I’ll have to reassess my situation a year from now and see if I have any more setbacks.

Last week I went to the salon to get my hair cut and colored. My hair is vain and still wants to look 40. While I was there, an older woman started chatting with me and asking me all kinds of questions. I am an open book so I volunteered the answers and then some. She asked me about my family and I told her I was 29 when I got married and have been married 31 years with had two daughters. Then we got to talking about my parents and how they were first cousins and had an arranged marriage. She said, “but they loved each other right?” I immediately answered with a drawn out and emphatic, “No.” To which she burst out laughing at my honesty. Then she asks, “How old are you?” I answer, “Sixty.” She almost falls out of her chair with disbelief and tells me it can’t be. I tell her I just told you I was 29 when I married and I am married 31 years, the numbers don’t lie. Then she tells me never to tell anyone my age because I look 40 and don’t have a wrinkle on my face. I think to myself, looks can be deceiving, as my other body parts would attest to. As I leave, she wants to know when I am coming in for my next appointment so she can meet me there and chat some more.

The next thing on my agenda is looking into taking a college class on creative writing, maybe even this fall. I love to write, but my imagination needs to be resuscitated, if it isn’t totally dead. We’ll see what happens with that adventure. If it doesn’t work out, I always have blogging.