Taken for Weakness

I recently made some very off-color remarks about my ex-husband in a small gathering of friends. Emboldened by a few too many beers – which I know is a poor excuse – and FINALLY feeling more comfortable around my friends in the firehouse after a many-year distance, I said some things that I know I shouldn’t have said.

After this incident, my best friend called me on my behavior, expressed how disappointed she was in me. She pointed out that, after so many years of my taking the High Road and working so hard to remain classy and respectable, I had taken a major left turn. I had undone some of the progress I had made since my divorce and the Ugly Moments that nearly killed me. I have abandoned that High Road in one stupid moment. Her disappointment was justified and true. My best friend wasn’t wrong and I do admit that it was one of my least classy moments.

I have broken myself trying to prove that I could be better than two people who broke every moral, social, and emotional code that I can think of. But, as Rihanna says, “all of my kindness is taken for weakness.” I truly believe that the people around me didn’t recognize or respect the fact that I was trying to be a good person. I think they just saw me as weak and unable to confront my own demons. But those people are wrong, I’m not weak or afraid – I’m just sad and angry.

And it’s a bitter pill to swallow to admit that I am still angry after all of these years. I funnyquote-innerbitchwould love to be able to forgive and forget – I pray for that every day of my life. But that little seed of anger has just remained, buried deep and masked by my smile, and it just sits there waiting for moments of bad behavior when my Inner Bitch comes out.
I’m not going to hide my pain or mask my anger any more – I’m putting it out here for the world to see. But I’m not going to let the Inner Bitch drink and go on a rant anymore, either, and let it out in quite so classless a way again. I will try to take back that High Road. But I am willing to admit to myself that the toxic anger is still there – and needs to be worked on. I WANT to be kind, I WANT to forgive, and I WANT to be strong. And that Inner Bitch needs to be locked up tight.

Thank God for friends who call us out on our bad behavior and help us to be better people.

Paddle Your Own Canoe

When I was a teenager, I worked at a summer camp. I’ve talked about Sprucelands before and it is not at all an overstatement to say that place and its people literally made me into who I am. The life lessons I learned there stay with me every day.

One summer, I don’t know why we as the staff got to talking one day about the concept of paddling your own canoe (I think maybe that was the summer with the theme of Native American culture?) and how we are each responsible for taking care of ourselves and piloting this journey called life. Yes, things will happen to you and outside forces will batter your boat – but it is up to you to not sink, to not let things drag you under. One of the older counselors, a woman who I admired then and still admire to this day as a wonderful mom and mentor to her young boys, drilled it into my head for the rest of that summer how my canoe is MINE to paddle.

Now that I’m an adult – and a highly damaged one at that – I have FINALLY grasped the 20180607_104258concept. I have discovered that I’m completely able to pilot my own life. I can stand on my own two feet and be an adult, I can change my own light bulb and shoot my own pistol. My sense of independence is probably highly annoying to all of the people around me but dammit, I’ve worked hard to be ok on my own. My canoe hasn’t sunk, despite many outside efforts to swamp me. I have weathered some storms but I’m still paddling – and getting better for it.

As Kenny Chesney sang, I’m learning to build a Better Boat.

I ain’t lonely, but I spend a lot of time alone
More than I’d like to, but I’m okay with staying home
My how the last few months have changed
I’m smilin’ more despite the pain

I breathe in, I breathe out
Got friends to call who let me talk about
What ain’t working, what’s still hurtin’
All the things I feel like cussing out
Now and then I let it go
I ride the waves I can’t control
I’m learning how to build a better boat

I hate waiting, ain’t no patience in these hands
I’m not complaining, sometimes it’s hard to change a man
I think I’m stronger than I was
I’ll let God do what He does

I breathe in, I breathe out
Got friends to call who let me talk about
What ain’t working, what’s still hurtin’
All the things I feel like cussing out
Now and then I let it go
I ride the waves I can’t control
I’m learning how to build a better boat

I breathe in, I breathe out
Got friends to call who let me talk about
What ain’t working, what’s still hurtin’
All the things I feel like cussing out
Now and then I let it go
I ride the waves I can’t control
If it’s working I don’t know
When I get done, the thing may not float,

But I’m learning how to build a better boat.

I’m proud to say that my canoe is still floating and I’m getting stronger every day in my paddling. My boat gets better – with time, with experience, with hurt, with heartache, with friendship, with love, with independence, and with joy.

The Paths We Choose

Last spring, my best friend Stacy and I went on one of our Nerd Girl adventures and visited Longwood Gardens. It was actually a kind of fortuitous accident – we intended to go to Winterthur but they were closed. So instead we took our picnic lunches (from the BEST deli in the world, Pure Bread) and headed off to the gardens. Both of our moms are gardeners so we have been well trained to love our flowers – and after a long winter, it was so exciting to see all the blooms and walk in the sunshine.

We hiked the wildflower meadow, we climbed in the fantasy tree houses, we took selfies in front of the Italian fountain garden, we explored the mile-long greenhouse full of exotic flowers and trees, we discovered the history of the gardens and the duPont family connection – that is to say, we made sure we had the full tourist experience!

As we were strolling through the tulip gardens and consulting the map to all of the various horticultural displays, Stacy asked me what we were going to explore next. My response to her was that it all depended on the path we chose. She looked me straight in the eye and said “there’s a blog in that, isn’t there?”. I laughed out loud because, of course, she knows me so well.

Life is all about the paths we choose. There are a million things to discover and endless 34638468_10214263482839057_3051223571138347008_npaths to explore, thousands of unique experiences to have and countless memories to be made. And we are the ones who choose the paths we travel – for good or for bad. Sometimes the choices we make cause us to miss out on certain activities or experiences (for example, if we turn right out of the Rose Garden, we miss the display of Orchard Trees) but by making those turns we get to explore other areas of life (like the Trillium Trail) that we otherwise might have missed. We sometimes end up on dark paths that we didn’t expect or we meet a snake or spider that spreads poison – but that’s all a part of life. And, by surviving the dark and the snakes, we get to emerge on the other side in the sunlight.  So, dear friends, take this as permission to go on adventures. Please choose any path that you want and live it to the fullest! Explore it, enjoy it, experience it. And don’t forget to stop and smell the roses once in a while…

Someone Like You?

I think Adele had it all wrong when she wrote “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you.” I don’t think I know anyone that is divorced or broken from a long-term relationship that looks for or has found a successful connection with a partner that is just like their last partner. If anything, I think most of us try to find a new person that is the polar opposite from what we had! In looks, in personality, in sense of humor, in hobbies, in LIFE – we need to want something different. We may be heartbroken and terribly missing20160723_111025 the person that is gone…but I can’t imagine looking for someone just like him. Not only would it be a terrible, constant, painful reminder of the person we lost, but the whole concept of “fool me twice” seems to apply. If we are healthy, sane adults, we do NOT want to recreate what we just had for fear that we will get hurt again.

I can honestly report to you that, in my post-divorce ‘market research’, I tried to find a man that was COMPLETELY different from my ex-husband. Well, no that’s not entirely true…I did date a few firemen, a Nascar junkie, another black guy, several local guys, and even a friend of my ex-husband’s. So, maybe I did go for “Someone Like You” just a little bit. BUT…those relationships didn’t stick any more than my marriage did.

So, moral of the random story today? Find someone different. Don’t try to recreate what you had with someone new – it won’t work. Say goodbye to the old partner and find someone NOT like him. It’s ok to mourn what is lost and certainly to feel pain that he is no longer a part of your life. The glory days are gone and that hurts – but it’s ok to move on and find someone new and different. 

Someone Like You by Adele

I heard, that you’re settled down
That you found a girl and you’re, married now

I heard, that your dreams came true
I guess she gave you things
I didn’t give to you

Old friend, why are you so shy
Ain’t like you to hold back
Or hide from the light

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited but I
Couldn’t stay away I couldn’t fight it
I had hoped you’d see my face
And that you be reminded that for me it isn’t over

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best
For you too, don’t forget me
I beg, I’ll remember you said
Sometimes it lasts in love
But sometimes it hurts instead
Sometimes it lasts in love
But sometimes it hurts instead yeah

You know how the time flies
Only yesterday it was the time of our lives
We were born and raised
In a summer haze bound by the surprise
Of our glory days

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited but I
Couldn’t stay away I couldn’t fight it
I hoped you’d see my face
And that you’d be reminded that for me it isn’t over

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me I beg, I’ll remember you said
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

Nothing compares no worries or cares
Regrets and mistakes they’re memories made
Who would have known how bittersweet
This would taste

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you
Don’t forget me I beg, I’ll remember you said
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me I beg, I’ll remember you said
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

Songwriters: Adele Laurie Blue Adkins / Daniel Dodd Wilson

Someone Like You lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management



Truth I Can Tell

Today should have been my 13th wedding anniversary. I wish I could tell you that every year I celebrate this as a Remembrance Day and salute my empowerment, my survival, my rebuilding. I wish I could brag that I am awash each year on this date with forgiveness and kindness. But those would be lies. I have to admit that this day always fills me with sadness, anger, bitterness, regret. Mostly its sadness for what I lost – or maybe never really had – with the end of my marriage.

But this year, I am going to try to remember how strong I am now, how much my life isworld-strong-women better because I survived that experience, how I walked through hell and came out the other side with my head held high. I’m very lucky, actually, because I was given the challenge to find a better part of myself – brave, tough, strong.

Every day is a challenge to rebuild myself. And someday I hope that anger and sadness go away. But for today, I just wish that part of my life farewell and tuck those truths deeper away.

“Praying” by Kesha

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become
‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’
I’m proud of who I am

No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come
‘Cause I can make it on my own, oh
And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known
I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain, oh
When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name
You brought the flames and you put me through hell

Ah sometimes, I pray for you at night, oh
Someday, maybe you’ll see the light
Whoa oh oh oh, some say, in life, you’re gonna get what you give
But some things only God can forgive

Songwriters: Andrew Joslyn,Benjamin Manusama,Kesha Sebert,Ryan Lewis
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.,Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC,BMG Rights Management,Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd

Back when it first came out, I went with one of my best friends to see the movie “The Help.” I recently just re-viewed it in the hopes of trying to catch some of the more subtle nuances that I might have missed in the first viewing. I have also now read the book on which the movie was based and can tell you that it is as good as the movie. I will try not to spoil anything in the plot  – but if you haven’t seen it or read the book, you might want to wait to read this.

The setting of the story is the Jim Crow South in the summer of 1963. Not only a dangerous time in American history but also a dangerous topic for moviemaking – Spencer1especially in our politically-correct, hyper-sensitive, still-racially-charged society. I admire any film maker that can tackle these subjects in any way and, while I do admit to some flaws in the movie, I still think it was one of those movies that made you stop and <gasp> think!

This is not a character review or a literary analysis of the storyline – I will leave that sort of thing to the experts. What I want to do is examine the issues raised in this movie and ask the important question – how far have we really come? What advancements have we made, as a society, since the moments captured in this story?

Race Issues

  • The Home Health Sanitation Initiative created by Hilly, to encourage separate bathrooms and sanitary areas for blacks and whites, is the perfect example of prejudice and intolerance shrouded in ‘science’ and ‘governmental policy’. Not unlike the Patriot Act or some of the anti-immigration legislation of our modern times, these types of policies are designed to create a sense of exclusion and delineating the differences between “us” and “them.”
  • The Sanitation Initiative hinges on the idea of ‘protecting your home, protecting yourself’ from those who simply look different – fear-mongering at its most hypocritical, considering that those people who you are trying to “protect” from are in fact serving daily in your home. Again, not unlike the anti-immigration laws which try to exclude those (and ‘protect our borders’) from those that serve us every day in restaurants, grocery stores and thousands of other businesses that we could not survive without.
  • Hilly’s mother, after one of Hilly’s most vitriolic and apalling statements towards Minny (her black maid), states that “Daddy ruined you” – implying that the father was the openly racist parent in the home. This illustrates what psychologists have long theorized – prejudice as a learned behavior, not an inherent personal trait. Children are taught to hate and usually will be intolerant towards the people that their parents hate. This should sound familiar to our generation – the prejudice now extends beyond blacks into Muslims and Hispanics. Think about what you hear parents say to their children about people who look or act differently – then wonder what lessons those children are really learning?
  • Threaded throughout the movie are those awkward moments in which Skeeter forgets that she can’t share normal everyday events with her black friends in public in the Jim Crow South. The social stigma attached to ‘intermingling’, even during such mundane activities as sharing a meal, riding in the same car, or even conversing on matters other than groceries and cleaning was tantamount to social suicide for those caught doing it – on both sides of the racial divide. Interestingly, as the former wife of a black man, I am fascinated by this particular concept – I can’t even comprehend that there was a time when it would have been illegal to even share a meal (let alone a bed) with a black man. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his dream that one day we could “sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” This intermingling is now no longer illegal BUT I find that there are still some serious barriers up between the races – we can legally sit at the same table but how often do we do it? Are we still confining ourselves to our own communities and missing the opportunity to enrich our lives with diversity?
  • Minny asks Skeeter, who is writing the book from the perspective of the help, “what makes you think colored people need your help?” For whatever motivation Skeeter has for writing the book (other than her obvious goal to be a serious writer) the assumption was there that her actions was some sort of perverse philanthropy to the black maids. Fast forward 30 years to the creation of affirmative action – which you may or may not agree with – and the presumption that this racially-based assistance is a reparation system for past evils. What makes us white folk think that the minority communities need their charity or their help?
  • Hilly, who is perhaps one of the most cartoonish icons of the suburban white housewife with the prejudices of a common hillbilly, tells Skeeter that she is no threat but that she needs to be careful because “there are real racists in this town.” What truly makes me giggle is that, in Hilly’s mind, she isn’t a raging racist herself – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. But how many times have you heard someone make an off-color racial joke or call someone a derogatory name – and then follow it up with “but I’m not a racist or anything”? We somehow think that prejudice is on a sliding scale and that we MUST be on the lower end compared to, say, the Klan – and that we’ll be ok as long as we don’t start burning crosses. Hilly may be genteel and well-mannered in her prejudice – but that doesn’t make her (or us) any better than the charming skinheads in their white sheets.
  • The sight of Aibileen and Henry running for home and safety after the assasination of Medgar Evers sickens me – what is it to feel that sort of abject terror? What must that be like, to know that your life is endangered for something as inconsequential and uncontrollable as the color of your skin?
  • When Yula Mae is being arrested, Aibileen tells her not to fight, to go quietly. I don’t think this was any sort of homage to Dr. King’s message of nonviolence and peaceful protest – this is, I am sure, Aibileen’s purely practical advice on not riling the white police officers. Aibileen lived enough in the real world to realize that blatant resistance to authority will, at best, be an exercise in futility and, at worst, lead to violence or death. Have we really improved our relationships with our authority figures to no longer fear the system? As a woman who deals daily with “the good old boys’ club” and the bullying of a well-connected man, I can tell you that it is easier and safer to shut your mouth and suffer silently. People all over this country are stuck in abusive relationships, financially crises, and helpless situations because those in authority can’t or won’t help them.

Gender Issues

  • Skeeter, the young female protagonist, is a recent college graduate who is excited to be taking her first job in what she hopes will become a burgeoning journalism career. Unlike her lifelongfriends, who have become wives and mothers, Skeeter envisions a life for herself in which she makes something different of herself than that which society expects. As Aibileen tells us in Skeeter’s introduction, Skeeter has “no man, no babies” and that is how she is defined as a person. When told that she is unlike any other woman because she says what she’s thinking, Skeeter does not cower or apologize – she states that she has plenty to say! Yet the women around Skeeter (until after the book comes out, when her mother appears to come around) spend a lot of time trying to silence Skeeter’s voice.
  • Then there is the idea that motherhood is not only an ideal rite of womanhood but one that women should compete to achieve quickly. “Once Miss Hilly had a baby, every girl at the bridge table wanted one too.” And while that has stalled a bit in modern times, we are now just encouraged to wait until later in life, not to abandon the idea of motherhood altogether if we want to. We are told that we’ll want babies someday and to just be patient – we are NOT told that it’d be ok if we just go through life spoiling someone else’s children.
  • “Eugenia, your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?” What is so great about dating, let me ask you? I’ve done 2 different rounds of it at 2 completely different phases of my life and it isn’t all that fun. No single female ardently desires to do the bar scene and the meat market, no matter what they may tell you! And that famed biological clock ticking mentality is still alive and kicking – we are told we must find someone before we get “too old” or “too worn out.”
  • And, of course, when Skeeter explains that dating (with marriage as the end goal) isn’t a priority, her mother then immediately begins to question if she is a lesbian. That still happens, don’t be fooled. As an almost-middle-aged woman, I have to be careful to refer to my other half as my BOYfriend, otherwise people make the assumption that my life partner is a woman. Because, of course, a woman that chooses to remain single and independent must be a lesbian <insert sarcasm here>.
  • Skeeter’s mother’s almost-obsessive emphasis on clothes, hair, and other elements of physical beauty has not changed either. Skeeter is considered the social oddity, considered so different from her peers because she is not wrapped up in hair, makeup, clothes or catching a husband. Sound familiar to any of my generation’s women?
  • Stuart admits in one breath that he admires Skeeter’s outspokenness, her quick mind, and her independence but then remarks that she is like no other woman – seems to be a backhanded compliment to me. He compliments her on her writing but, when her book is published and she is a successful author, he leaves her. Why is it that, even in fiction, a smart woman can’t win the handsome prince?

Some of the themes in this movie are relatively universal for all women, regardless of what time period and what socioeconomic or racial communities they came of age in – sister-friends, bonding through food, cattiness and competition, and facing the ‘mean girls’. The Hilly character is perfectly crafted to be the adult version of that one girl that we all hated in high school – primarily because she represented the worse elements of humanity possibly.

Class Issues

  • The Celia Foote character paints a painful picture of exclusion based on her “white trash” status in the community. It is painful to watch how isolated and alone she feels, how she struggles to try to adjust to being wealthy and interact with people who go out of their way to show her what “place” they think she belongs in. If you ever think that we’ve evolved as a society beyond this, spend an afternoon at a country club or a yacht club or visit places like The Hamptons or Talbot County, Maryland – the elite can still make you feel as though you don’t belong.
  • Statements like “with them, it’s all about money” is simply a way to justify keeping people in positions of servitude and menial labor. In the movie this is said about the black maids but I think, if we listened long enough, we’d hear that phrase in our present day to describe the hispanic population.
  • And sadly, the Hilly’s of the world still exist, trying to make those that they feel are beneath them feel it – the humiliation tactics, the thrill of inspiring helplessness, the emotional abuse inflicted simply for amusement, the superciliousness and assumed superiority. Is anybody else thinking about our President right now…?

But there’s hope…

In case you fear, my gentle readers, that I walked away from this movie with no hope of redemption for the human race, fear not.

“You is kind, you is smart, you is important” – this simple phrase taught by Aibileen, the black nurse, to her young white charge Mae Mobley – I think we ALL could benefit from this daily reminder.

There are some of us, like Skeeter, who do care about their fellow human beings, who are uncomfortable with accepting things as they are. As Skeeter says, “maybe things can change” and I’d like to think I’m not the only one that hears this cry of hope as a call to action. Skeeter, in her quest to give a voice to the voiceless, to share their perspective, should serve as an inspiration to all of us. I understand the maids’ reluctance to help her as it truly was “a hell of a risk” and the danger of repercussions was very real. But they all soldiered on and refused to cave to the fear and intimidation and personal loss.

The maid Constantine was right when she observed that “ugly is something that grows up inside you…”. The key, though, is to overcome that ugly, to be stronger and braver and not let the hate win. Actually, Constantine is one wise lady as she also asks  “Am I going to believe all them bad things those fools say about me today?” She can overcome hate and prejudice by sheer force of will – I’m jealous of that strength, honestly.

But it is Aibilieen who most defines the courage needed to make changes: “God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”

The life lessons to take away from this movie: courage is to be admired, never let others wound your spirit and your soul, ignorance won’t ever go away but you don’t have to blindly accept it, decent people do still exist in the world, mothers come around to accepting our lives, mean girls will get their comeuppances in the end, true friends come in all colors/shapes/sizes, people are grateful for the kindnesses you show them, and strong independent woman do not need a man!


There is nothing like the love between a girl and her….town. Ha, bet you thought I was going to say her man or her dog or her shoe collection. But in my life, one of the greatest love affairs I have is with a town – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

I’m not actually sure when this grand affair began. Way back in the dark ages, my father the high school social studies teacher dragged us on a family vacation to the site of one of the great battles of the Civil War. Actually, over the years of family vacations, he dragged us to a LOT of battlefield sites. My family15871684_10209931371738987_7309570217601696129_n didn’t do theme parks and tropical beaches – we did museums and battlefields (the nerd life is genetic, what can I say?). I actually think we made several pilgrimages to Gettysburg when I was young, although the vague memories I have all sort of blend together into one montage of the electric map, the rocks at Devil’s Den, the campground shenanigans, and Pickett’s Buffet. Long ago, happy childhood moments that certainly didn’t comprehend the scope of the history and suffering that occurred in that little town. Happy childhood memories tucked away and forgotten…

Until, somehow, as an adult, I found my way back. About 6 years ago, I went for a quick and quiet camping weekend. And now I’m in love. In love with the amazing history and opportunities to learn and discover in the town’s museums, lectures, tours, and programs. In love with the kind and friendly people of Pennsylvania who are always ready with a smile and a truly welcoming feel to their town. In love with the hallowed ground where history literally lives in the soil and stories are just waiting to be told. In love with the unique fervor that surrounds Civil War history – only in this little town can you find ghost tours on every street, costumed reenactors waiting in line at the Dairy Queen on any given summer night, kids in kepis waging war on their siblings over the rocks in Devil’s Den, a life-size Lincoln replica shilling sodas on sale at the local grocery store, and large groups of tourists following the rangers like sheep on hikes through the fields of Picketts Charge under the blazing July sun. In love with the small-town feel of the community that somehow still manages to host a million visitors a year. In love with my favorite wineries, bakeries, cider houses, and boutiques where they literally know my name.  

I hope everyone out there reading this has somewhere in the world that they think of as their own special place. A haven, an escape, a place to find peace and comfort and joy. I hope you have somewhere that you love too. But, in case you don’t, please think about making a trek to my little town this summer…visit the military park and listen to the rangers paint the pictures of the men who fought and suffered there, listen to the nightly sound of taps ringing out through the national cemetery, explore the shops and restaurants on the streets around the town square, enjoy a horseback ride with me over the battlefield, visit the farmers market for fruits and veggies literally fresh off the farm. Join me and immerse yourself in history, good people, and amazing summer memories. Maybe you’ll just fall in love too…

Lost My Sparkle?

As life goes on and as I grow older, I have begun to worry that I have lost my sparkle. I didn’t realize when I was younger how very important it is for a woman to have her diamond-sparkle-700x394sparkle – an inner glow, an intense shine that defines your heart, your soul, your vitality. A woman’s sparkle is the light that glows in her and as my life has changed, I started thinking maybe my light had gone out.

When I was younger, the sparkle that I had was a sort of glitter – like the roughy, gritty bits that you sprinkle on art projects and kids’ crafts. I was rough myself, not worried about being particularly girly or feminine. I had my horses, I had my books, and while I wanted to be popular and pretty, I managed to forge my way as the girl next door, the reliable friend, the good student, and the non-threatening nerd. Ask anyone who went to high school with me, I wasn’t a standout for my sparkle. But that sparkle was there like that pretty glitter on paper – naïve, youthful, unsophisticated, yet reflecting a light that glowed within me in its own childlike way.

As I became a young woman, that glitter softened into a shimmery lamé material – like those glitzy cocktail dresses or fancy interior decorating touches, soft and pliant and molded into whatever is needed. As a college student and into my 20’s, I aimed only to be smart and kind and easygoing. I wanted to be pretty and feminine but often fell short and, in hindsight, never was quite as glamorous or exotic as I’d hoped. But I still shimmered, my glow was still there, it just softened and matured.

Now that I’m on my way to middle-age, my sparkle has been hardened into a diamond – formed from hardship and pressure but still shining like the sun and preciously valuable. Like that lump of coal, I had to survive in a dark place under intense stress and pain in order to discover that glitter and shimmer within my depths. I admit now that my sparkle is harder, more sharp and intense than it used to be, but thank God, still very much there.

So, ladies, if you are ever in doubt that your sparkle is gone, think back on your life. Embrace those experiences and relationships that have threatened to extinguish your inner light –and celebrate because they didn’t! Cherish those people around you who love you for exactly how bright you shine and allow you to be unique and precious and priceless. And please continue to let your sparkle shine – glowing, incandescent and proud!

 “I encourage you to remember that you are, indeed, as the stars. You glow with the same intensity. The answers that you seek outside of yourself may very well be found within the cosmic intelligence inside you. Go ahead; show the world what you are made of! Sparkle, shine, light the way, and brightly blaze as you are meant to do.”  ― Mishi McCoy

When I was a kid, summertime was by far the most exciting season of the year for me (behind Christmas, of course, even then I was sort of a holiday junkie). It wasn’t because I was off of school – I actually loved school even during those awkward middle and high school years. It wasn’t because of the warm summer-freedomweather either – heat and humidity suck when you grow up in upstate New York where most people didn’t have A/C 20 years ago. It wasn’t because of the ice cream trips that my parents would take us on – hot summer nights were defined by Perry’s ice cream flavors and that special family time. It wasn’t because of the carnivals and parades and special events that marked evenings and weekends – although I had the extreme honor of playing in the Alexander Firemen’s Band in my college years, a wonderful throwback to a bygone era of small town community icons. And it wasn’t because my birthday always marked the beginning of summer – although up until I was about 30 years old, it was awfully fun to celebrate my birthday.  It wasn’t because baseball season had rolled in – although there is nothing better than sitting in the bleachers of a ballpark with popcorn in hand and the crack of the bat ringing through the air. It wasn’t even because camping season had finally arrived – even though those Sprucelands days were the happiest times I’ve ever had, in the wide outdoors surrounded by horses and friends.

In hindsight, I think the reason summer was so wonderful was because it meant FREEDOM. The freedom from routine school days and regular mundane activities. The freedom from parental oversight, especially as I became older and went off to summer camps for the whole summer. Freedom from dark and dreary winter weather – try living in everlasting snow for one winter and see how you feel. Freedom from mean girls and social pressures in school. Freedom to enjoy the sunshine and green grass and fresh air. Freedom to be with my friends and to be myself. Freedom to spend entire days in the sunshine, teaching horses and kids how to be effective teams. Freedom to be silly and laugh and not be serious and studious and boring. Freedom to swim and read fun books and to lay in the grass stargazing with my friends.

I walked out of work the other night into a warm summer evening and, as I took a deep breath of humid Maryland air, I had a flash of that freedom once more. And though the summer is no longer defined by ice cream (damn lactose intolerance) and the fireman’s band (geography limits my piccolo time), summer is still freedom for me. I can still enjoy bright sunshine and camping out in the night air and grilled sweet corn and fresh-picked strawberries and priceless hours in the saddle. My life has changed so much yet I’m still so blessed to enjoy the FREEDOM of summer’s fresh air, frosty glasses of white wine, and friendship.

When I was a kid, I developed an obsession with the 1955 movie of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!. I don’t actually know why this movie was so interesting to me – I can’t even remember when I first became fascinated but I do know I drove my family crazy by playing that VHS almost daily. And I also remember that even then I had no interest in the character of ‘Laurie’, the female romantic lead. Besides one empowering moment of being a strong independent woman in “Many A New Day,” she generally is kind of a wimp. Given the expected roles of women and the gender norms of the days in which both the Broadway production and the movie were made, I shouldn’t be surprised that ‘Laurie’ was young and pretty and looking for a man to complete her, to dream only of making a marriage and of which handsome man will bid on her pretty picnic basket. In popular culture at those times, the characters that were instead allowed to be strong, independent females were usually older, widowed or spinstered women who could offer the sage wisdom of their years and experience.
Enter the character of ‘Aunt Eller’ in Oklahoma!. Even as a kid I recognized that she wasOklahoma_M (2) just plain amazing! She gets to be sassy and sarcastic, she gets to two-step with the cowboys and look at dirty pictures with them and wave a gun at the town leaders. She gets to be kind and loving to her niece and strong and supportive when things go bad. She gets the funny lines, the scene-saving moments, and the homespun charm of a lovable character.
When my high school put on the production of Oklahoma! in my senior year, I was devastated to learn that I had to choose between the honor of representing my region on a trip to the Model United Nations in The Hague, Netherlands OR to fulfill my dream of bringing ‘Aunt Eller’ to the stage. As my father loves to tell the story, I cried for weeks over this horrible event. In hindsight, I am eternally grateful that I took the chance to travel abroad and to have that incredible and unique lifetime experience in the Netherlands and Russia – BUT I can admit that I also regret missing the chance to be ‘Eller’ for even just those few months.
That regret stems mostly from the fact that now, as an adult, I can understand and honor the type of character and the type of woman that ‘Aunt Eller’s’ creators crafted. As a grown woman with more of that famous life experience and less of the high school naivete, I can more deeply appreciate the strength of this character.
Like her counterpart in Carousel, ‘Nettie Fowler’, ‘Eller’ is the foundation of the town and the support system to whom our lovelorn-clueless-tragic female lead turns to when life falls apart in the climactic moments of the show. Her advice when a character dies and threatens the beginning of ‘Laurie’ and ‘Curly’s’ marriage is:
“If you cain’t fergit, jist don’t try to, honey. Oh, lots of things happen to folks. Sickness, er bein’ pore and hungry even-bein’ old and afeared to die. That’s the way it is-cradle to grave. And you can stand it. They’s one way. You gotta be hearty, you got to be. You cain’t deserve the sweet and tender in life less’n you’re tough.”
As in Carousel, once more, a Rodgers and Hammerstein character reminds us to hold our heads high and to keep pushing forward when life gets difficult.
But to me, the quintessential Eller shines through in this one simple line: “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good.” It has taken me a lifetime to learn this lesson well, to realize that I don’t live my life for anyone else but me. I FINALLY have grasped the concept that no one, NO ONE, can sit in judgement of me or my life choices. I’m never going to be a millionaire or a Broadway star or a Rhodes scholar. I’m going to live a quiet life and hopefully make a small difference to someone. I don’t have anything that makes me special or noteworthy – I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else. But I am who I am and the older I get, the more comfortable I have become in my own skin. I have my scars and a chip on my shoulder and a list of mistakes that is 9 miles long. But I will no longer allow anyone to put me down or say that I’m not good enough – I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good.
So thank you ‘Aunt Eller’ and thank you Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for creating happy moments from my childhood and learning moments in my adulthood.