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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…

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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.

I write today in memory of a truly good human being named Brian. I write today in memory of a quiet and thoughtful young man – I think he only ever spoke about 100 words to me in the 6 years I knew him – but that beautiful brain of his was always working. I write today in 00f1941db3c9c3a5f36a38418b9b6a25_20170427memory of a talented ceramics artist – his works were an amazing mix of abstract and whimsy, color and form  – just like the artist himself. I write today in memory of a ukulele prodigy – he could randomly strum out tunes with a natural ear that made mediocre musicians like me jealous. I write today in memory of this strong young man with a quirky and unique sense of self – from his cheerful skull-and-crossbones jammy pants to his big charming smile, he embraced being different and special. I write today in memory of an avid outdoorsman, whose love of camping and scouting made him strong and independent, perfectly content in the silence of the woods or the beach.

One year ago today, we lost this special young man as he passed into paradise. After surviving one serious car accident two years prior (thanks to the staff of Shock Trauma and his own amazing will to recover) this beautiful human being spent 2 years trying to recover his memory, his happiness, his mental and physical health, and his newly-graduated-just-heading-out-into-the-real-world life. He struggled so hard to get back to himself and he was on a good path. And then the Lord called him home. I watched his family and friends shatter as they tried to make sense of the loss. And yet I was so comforted in knowing that he is in Heaven, watching over us and just shaking his head in that way that he had.

Today, I want to remember this wonderful young man for what he was – a truly good human being. Throughout the struggle of his last 2 years, he tried so hard to be strong and happy. He didn’t want his demons and his pain to beat him. His legacy, I hope, won’t be one of pain or anger. I hope that we all can remember his sweet smile, his artistic soul, his boundless love, his individuality, his strength. And so I pen this small tribute to a really good kid…

Nineteen years ago today, I was in college when the tragic events of Columbine High School unfolded with the eyes of the world watching. I know it wasn’t the first horrific act of terrorism in the world – but it was among the first that my generation had ever witnessed. I remember watching in horror the footage of high school kids, themselves columbine_window_escapejust a few years younger than me, jumping out of windows and running from their school covered in blood and mute in terror. Our tears flowed as security footage showed teachers throwing themselves in front of students to shield them from bullets. Shocked, we watched news footage of law enforcement teams struggling to respond to what was then unplanned-for and unheard-of attacks against children. We organized vigils on campus to raise awareness of the violence that had befallen our generation. We sold ribbons [one of which to this day adorns my work bag], to raise money to send to the fund organized to pay for funerals for the fallen students and teacher. We tried in vain to wrap our young minds around the senseless violence, the hate, the anger, the bloodshed.

Almost twenty years later, we now sit in the aftermath of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. And the same feelings pour out – fear for our children, sadness that our world has devolved even further. I shudder to think of what kids must feel when they go to school now, wondering if one day one of their classmates is going to go off the deep end and bring an assault rifle in his tuba case. These children are now organizing walkouts of the classroom to raise awareness for their fear and their desire to be safe – further, and to my mind much more aggressive, steps down the pathway that I started down all those years ago on my college campus. From candlelight vigils to protest walkouts, young people are the ones who are begging adults to take note of their fear, their sadness, their desire for a better world. I just hope that those same kids that are walking out are now also making pledges to be kinder, more giving, more loving human beings. I hope cyber-bullying and “Mean Girls” will become distant memories. Just as we should have done after Columbine, we have to teach our children how to be loving, functioning adults who don’t need guns to solve their problems.

Unfortunately, from Columbine to Parkland, there have been hundreds of mass shootings in between. All perpetrated by people who are seriously mentally ill, monumentally angry, and completely lacking in conscience and moral guidance. We, as a society, now see these shootings on such a regular basis that I’m afraid we are becoming complacent to them. I fear they no longer strike the fear and horror in our hearts like Columbine did. How can we accept these acts of hate as everyday events?

I recently went through a training with our town police representatives on active shooter responses. In our world today, after September 11th and all of these domestic terrorist attacks, I no longer train just for everyday house fires or car accidents – now we have to drill on active assailants and mass acts of terror. Hearing some of the unedited 9-1-1 calls and radio transmissions from Columbine, I was physically ill with the sounds of the abject terror and bewildered shock in those kids’ voices. And those same scenes are just replaying and rerunning at every one of those mass shooting incidents. And now to think that teachers are having to be trained in defense techniques and combat skills to protect kindergarteners from lunatics with rifles! What is wrong with our world? How can we fix this? The same questions that ran through our minds 19 years ago after Columbine are still begging for answers now.

When the cracks first began appearing in my marriage, a male friend of mine tried to help me understand the male psyche in a way that would sink into my confused mind. His advice to me was that Male Brains are Like Waffles, Female Brains are Like Spaghetti.** 

At the time I didn’t fully grasp what the hell he was talking about. Yes, men like to eat. Yes, men can eat endless amounts of carbs and sweets and never gain an ounce. What the hell, Rob, how is that going to help my marriage? 

13658370_1177496062280931_1439568095_nWhat he meant is this: men think of things in tidy little squares. They are able to compartmentalize not only their feelings but also their experiences, their reactions, their entire life. They can keep everything in tidy little boxes and only tackle the sections that they need to at any given time. They can even keep the syrup contained in the areas where they need to.

Women, on the other hand, are a jumbled bowl of pasta, with each strand tangled up in another one and covered 1408069256188totally in sauce. Emotions, experiences, daily moments, they all jumble together and make one massive meal. We aren’t able to separate things out as easily and so can often get confused on what part of life is what.

And yes, males and females are of the same species (follow the metaphor here, we’re both carbs) but are very different. Each are individual creations that can display dizzying arrays of variations (chocolate chip, coconut, plain with butter, pesto sauce, marinara, blond, brunette, thin, fluffy, tall, short, etc). Yet we have to remember that each is undeniably and fundamentally different from one another – which needs to be respected and handled. We need learn to communicate with the other type of food as best we can and to understand that we may never fully comprehend them. A big syrupy strawberry waffle may never be able to understand the bowl of spaghetti ala vodka sauce. But together they’d make a damn good (albeit high calorie) meal. A happy mating of carbs – and humans.

**[I know now that he actually read this theory in a book called “Men Are Like Waffles–Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your Differences” by Pam and Bill Farrel but at that time I was giving him credit for total brilliance. Definitely read the book, its extremely enlightening and very helpful in opening lines of communication.]