Friday, August 28, 2009

The Power of Words

Words are so very powerful. I think we underestimate the impact of the things we say - the words we write - the words we say.
I can mark a number of turning points in my life. Words people spoke to me that resinated and influenced me to make a decision. Most I can name, but one I recall and will never remember his name. And I am certain he would never remember me at all. Each are single conversations at a moment in time where I was making a choice or about to make a choice.
My 5th grade teacher whom I met by chance on the street while I was in college the first time. She inquired about my major and told me it was wrong for me. "You should be studying Literature, journalism..." She was right. Within the year, I was in the Air Force as a military broadcaster. Hadn't even imagined it at that moment.
Then the program manager at the local radio station that I met some months later told me he had gotten his start in Armed Forces Radio. Then the career counselor in Boot Camp who told me what to do to get into the field.
None of them will ever know the impact of the little things they said. They offered them with sincerity and positive intent. And I latched onto them.
I write. I blog. I speak. I sing.
This last week, I've had a number of reminders of how meaningful it is to offer positive and sincere words. What if my 5th grade teacher had not shared her thoughts? What if the program director had not shared his experience? What if the career counselor had not shared his knowledge?
So often we are afraid to say a thing. We are afraid to share our experience. We are afraid to offer true counsel.
Write. Blog. Speak. Sing. If it is sincere - from the heart - from what you know to be true - it is needed in the world and can make a world of difference.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rooting for the Underdog

A little over 20 years ago (where did the time go?) I was contracted in Franklin County, PA to develop volunteer services for that area. My job was to market, promote and help place volunteers in the various county run and non-profit organizations in both Franklin and Fulton Counties. It was a very humbling experience. So many programs and projects were underway and I met the most amazing people. From the Chamber of Commerce, the Red Cross, Area Agency on Aging, March of Dimes, Easter Seals, Drug and Alcohol, Crisis Center, Exchange Club, Lions Club, Kiwanis, Junior Women's Club, Family Services, the Hospitals and so many more.
Most of us are totally unaware of how many people in our communities are serving everyday. While the causes are all worthwhile and needed, one touched my heart more than all the rest. It offered the greatest promise, the greatest challenges, the greatest rewards and also the greatest dangers. It was the Exchange Club's Parent/Child Center. Volunteers train to become mentors for parents who are at risk - most often single mothers who are stressed, uneducated and in need of mom's themselves. It's a huge commitment and often the result of a referral from Children and Youth services.
I'm one of those people - and I know there are many of us - who love to see a story about someone overcoming adversity. I saw that with the Parent/Child Center and having been intimately involved, I understand the many sacrifices it took by many people to see the success. I remember the ones who didn't make it. I remember the frantic calls in the night with a crisis that threatened to tip the balance the other direction. And I remember some that tipped the wrong direction on those frantic nights.
One young woman had 5 children to 5 different fathers. She was faltering. Someone "in the system" believed she had a chance. She was referred to the program and matched with a volunteer. That volunteer promised 2 years of her life to mentor that young woman. By the time I left the area, that young woman not only graduated from the program but earned an Associate Degree and had become a Parent/Child Center volunteer herself.
We cannot know who is going to make it and who is not. The best we can do is provide opportunity for someone to begin to make the right decisions. THEY need to make the right decisions. Sometimes they need someone to guide them toward those decisions.
I will always root for the underdog when I know they are truly working to overcome adversity. We cannot let adversity become an excuse for not doing the right things. It's a great balance we all face. When it comes together - combined energies - it grows like a a perfect wave and we can all ride it through to the shore. 20 years later, I still remember one underdog who rode the wave, and all the people who helped create that wave.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Say No

As we strive to be the best, to achieve the best, and to create positive outcomes for the broader community, we have to SAY NO to those who obviously seek the opposite.
I remember our playground bully - DH. He pushed to the front of the line. We didn't say anything. He took things that didn't belong to him. No one stopped him. He'd pick on certain kids and said horrible things to them and about them. No one stopped him. We were all afraid of him. And if he wasn't directly picking on us, we didn't want to get involved. The minute he stepped on the playground, we were all tense. Of course he had a couple of buddies at his side who were too stupid or afraid not to follow him. Even the teachers seemed intimidated by DH or simply didn't want to intervene. He had big stories to explain why he punched or pushed somebody. They appeared to believe him.
One day on the playground, he was picking on somebody and one girl - alone - stood up to him. She didn't hit or punch him. She just stood up and said what everybody else would not. She told him that all the kids on the playground were sick of his actions - sick of his talk - sick of the way he treated everyone. She told him he needed to stop. And it stopped. The reason it stopped is because all the other kids gathered behind her and agreed.
DH didn't bully on the playground again. We all realized that, together, we could say no. We took care of each other.
Bullies are liars and if they have an audience - if those around them remain silent - they are empowered. They will keep bullying until everyone tells them NO. Tell the bully NO next time - this has to stop!

"The Secret"

In a dark hour not so long ago, I met a woman who recommended this movie - "The Secret". It was the third time I was prompted to watch it. I did. As a result of that movie, the following is posted on my refridgerator. It is so profound that it will take a few minutes to read and a lifetime to master. I believe it is the essence of every great religion - it is what "the Master" intended us to grasp.

"I promise myself

To be so strong that nothing can disturb my peace of mind. To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person I meet. To make all my friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them. To look at the sunny side of everything and make my optimism come true. To think only the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best. To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as I am about my own. To forget the mistakes of the past and press on the the greater achievements of the future. To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature I meet. To give so much time to improving myself that I have no time to criticize others. To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong fro fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble. To think well of myself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud word, but in great deeds. To live in the faith that the whole world is on my side, so long as I am true to the best that is in me."

Christian D. Larson

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Live like there's no tomorrow

A friend is challenged these days by his teenage daughter as she pushes the envelop. She's breaking rules, defying direction and generally stressing both mom and dad as they try to keep her safe. She's sure she knows better and is very angry when she gets caught in lies.
As I watch the pushing and pulling, I am reminded of all the things I was told at that age. "There are consequences for what you do." "Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn't mean you should." "Don't be so egocentric." (I had to look that word up.) "If you want to be treated as an adult, you have to be responsible and be accountable for your actions." "The choices you make affect everyone around you."
I'm not sure how I got through those adolescent years without hurting myself or someone around me. I really wanted to live like there was no tomorrow. Very short sighted with a very narrow view of the impact of what I was doing. Living by impulse. That's not so unusual for adolescents.
As I look back over the things I was told as a youth, they still apply. There are consequences for what we do. Be careful who you follow. Don't be egocentric. If you want your freedom, it comes with responsibility and accountability. The decisions we make very often affect more than just ourselves. Those are solid values.
It's about seeing beyond your little fenced in yard and beyond what feels good today. There are other people around you. There are days ahead. We need to look ahead. We need to plan ahead.
We see a lot of adolescent behavior throughout our society and a lot of it comes from adults. Banking institutions create "products" to quickly make a buck. Many politicians make decisions based primarily on pole numbers. Many corporations make decisions primarily to get their stock prices up. As individuals we spend our money as fast as, sometimes faster than, it is coming in. No tomorrow - it feels good today. Very adolescent behavior.
Time to be grown up.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Invest to combat fraud

I sent this as a letter to the editor of the Derrick which ran August 21, 2009. Coincidentally, on the page before, a story ran about a local business fraud investigation.

In these tough economic times, scams and white collar crime are reportedly on the rise. Small towns and areas like Venango County are particularly vulnerable as they know there are few (perhaps no) trained resources in the police departments and throughout the justice system that can be dedicated to investigating such crimes.
Recently a friend's debit/credit card information was stolen and used to attempt to purchase items. Her credit card provider caught it. She had a pretty good idea how the information was stolen and a lead that it was device fraud, but local law enforcement could not help and referred her to the FTC website. Perhaps they simply didn't know what to do. They are not trained for it and with other seemingly more pressing crimes... But if it was your credit card and you felt there was a local tie, you would want someone locally to take an interest. The bank protected her, but who's protecting the bank?
As a community, we want to be welcoming to investment and potential investors. And sometimes they just won't be able to provide the results they thought they could. But sometimes, they never intended to provide what was promised. When it appears that is what has happened, when there is evidence that has happened - but it is not investigated because there simply aren't enough resources to investigate - the community is at risk.
This is a very tough issue for communities like ours because our resources are stretched thin. In difficult economic times, scams and white collar crime rise. We all pay for it somehow.
So, what do we do? A few years ago, Greeley Colorado faced this issue. Through fundraising efforts, the County Commissioners raised money to hire investigators. Funds came in from banks, businesses and victims.
It's a good investment. It makes the community a safer place to do business.
Most important, if you feel you have been a victim of fraud – a scam – a white collar crime – report it to law enforcement, your magistrate, or the District Attorney. If you don't report it, they can't help and will never know the depth of the problem. Fraud is not a civil matter. It is criminal.
Linda Henderson, Franklin

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Black Tie Barrow

Last night's fundraiser event at the Barrow Civic Theatre was a great success. An amazing group of people have worked very hard to keep this wonderful place alive. At this event, they took the opportunity to pay tribute to many of those people while showcasing what the Barrow has to offer - ballet, opera, showtunes, dance...
I'm sure many in the audience, like me, took a bit of a trip down memory lane. I remember going to movies there when it was the Kayton. I remember when it was a sporting goods store. I remember when the Civic Operetta performed at the Franklin High School.
While I have never been significantly involved with the Civic Operetta or the Barrow, I have been positively affected by experiences with them. One of my teachers asked me to volunteer as an usher for shows at the High School. It provided opportunity for me to see the shows. I saw 1776, Little Abner, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Fiddler on the Roof. LOVE IT! If I hadn't been asked to volunteer, I probably would not have gone to the shows. Theatre was outside the realm of my family experience.
I believe those shows influenced me beyond simply opening my eyes to live performance. Each of those shows told stories about different times and different cultures. As I left Venango County and traveled to other cultures, I was more open to experiencing them with an open heart and mind. That is the importance of art and live performance can open hearts and mind in a profound way.
Live performance, whether it's music, dance, or drama, creates a unique energy especially when the performer and the audience truly connect. As we struggle to save and fund the arts, this is the most difficult thing to quantify, yet it's the most important benefit that art provides - an uplifting energy the connects people. Our differences melt away. There's no experience like it and it cannot be recorded or reproduced. It happens uniquely in that time and place.
That is what makes the Barrow Civic Theatre and performance spaces like it, so important. They are uplifting. They connect people in a unique way. They open hearts and minds.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mail Order Guitar

There are probably a lot of things you shouldn't buy mail order. I'll leave that to your imagination. Today, I got a mail order guitar. And it has brought back memories. My first guitar - a Kay electric - under the tree. Very exiting Christmas. I was about 12, I think. Then I somehow got a little F hole acoustic soon after. Played that past the neck bowing till my fingers hurt to play it.
Then, my biggest purchase. I was in the Air Force, stationed in Greenland and had a Jumbo Yamaha shipped to me there. LOVED that guitar. Carried it to Spain and back - all across the US and back. That mail order guitar suited me fine and served me well. Sold it thinking I needed something better. And the next guitar was a nice one - is a nice one - my nephew has it now. And I've been playing it a lot lately. Oddly, it just didn't feel the same to me any more.
So, I got a bug to mail order a guitar - like I did way back when. Now, back then, I knew the exact guitar I wanted. This time, I just picked what I felt I could afford right now. It came today and I've been playing it. It's not the Yamaha. It's not an Oscar Schmit or a Guild or a Martin. But playing it just now - it suits me fine.
I knew it when I found myself playing a little bluesy rift I've done off and on for years but have never found words to give it. I didn't find words yet, but suddenly little parts of the rift I long forgot to add came out. I was playing what I felt and it felt ok. The little $99 special guitar can stay and I'll keep it in the hard case that looks like it should be holding a $600 guitar.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Garden Update

As I watch the garden, I note that while much of the cucumber plant is dying, there are ends continuing to survive and even little cucumbers sprouting.  In fact, they have grown up around the sunflowers and whatever else they can find to climb.  So, I just keep tending and watering them.  Maybe I will have a few freeze pickles yet.  Maybe the lesson is just don't give up.  And I have been reading a lot for planning next year.
My tomatoes plants grew huge.  Much larger than I ever had before and certainly didn't expect.  So, they overshadowed the pepper plants.  And they are not so happy.  But, it looks like I will have lots of tomatoes - probably enough to can some.
I am seeing signs of a full 8 ears of corn - some will be blue from Arizona - don't know which yet.  And my second planting of green beans are now about to produce.  I never plant enough of those.  I eat them raw fast as they grow.  Perhaps that will be my goal next time - plant more!!!
Soon I will have an eggplant and more are promised.  All in all, things are too close together and there are far too many weeds.  It's a pitiful garden but it pleases me to have tried.
It's not a total failure and next year - next year - it will be more productive.
The morale of the story is - do nothing and you will get nothing.  Do something without fully planning and researching and you will get something - but not what could have been.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dying on the vine

My cucumbers are dying.  Such a sad sight
.  I've been watching the blooms - watching the growing cucumbers - anticipating.  And slowly, they are dying.  I saw little predators and odd signs along the way and tried to stop it.  But alas, I am not a master gardener.  I planted seeds.  I mulched.  I weeded.  And at the start, it all looked wonderful.  And then, the bugs showed.  
Tonight, sadly, I read about the cucumber beetles.  Insidious little creatures - the very ones I spotted and tried to thwart.  But, by the time you see the signs of damage, it is too late to save the plants.  The damage has been done.  It's all about prevention.  Prevent them to doing their terrible damage ahead of time - when you plant the seeds and seedlings.
And now I am concerned about how broadly the damage will spread.  It could affect other plants in the garden.  I do not like chemical solutions to such things.  I see that some careful planting of other seeds could have prevented this disease.  Ultimately, the cucumber bug spreads disease and you simply cannot let it in the garden at all.  You have to block it's ever entering in the first place.  Once it's in, the damage is done and cannot be undone.
I sigh.  Such hope of freezer pickles - now all dashed.  Can the tomatoes, peppers, corn be saved?  It appears to be all right.  But the cucumbers looked wonderful not so long ago.
All because of an innocent looking beetle?  Geeze!  And all it wanted to do was eat.  But while it was eating, it was spreading disease that killed a whole bunch of stuff.
Is there a life lesson here? 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Amazingly Predictable

My friend Dennis teases me as he sees me hang up the phone day after day and just shake my head.  He says I'm going to be in a constant head shaking motion after a while.  And I have to love the laughter it brings.
There is an amazing predictability to things that becomes almost hilarious.  Odd dramas play out with this strange thing - like watching a movie and anticipating the next scene.  I guess I am amazed that even the irrational and unreasonable is totally predictable.  It's scripted.  Watch the character's in the movie carefully and it's obvious what they will do next.
So, what happens in the end.  Do irrational and unreasonable characters have the ability to predict?  It would seem, in a right world, that rational and reasonable will prevail.
Meanwhile, we should all laugh as much as possible and be care not to shake our heads permanently.

Monday, August 10, 2009

If you have nothing to say...

I love writing.  I think it's because you have time to choose your words more carefully.  I like to rehearse speeches or difficult conversations.  And one of my favorite sayings is "If you have nothing to say, never say it out loud."
I like to speak positive things about others and the world around me.  I prefer diplomacy over battle.  I would rather walk away than fight.  I'd rather focus on logic than emotion.   And while I am more likely to find something in the back of the cupboard than right before my eyes, I like to look for plain and simple solutions to problems.
I am a quiet person.  I hold emotion somewhat close but wear my heart on my sleeve.  I am an idealist and believe that good overcomes evil.  I further believe that good is the natural state of being and that evil is counter to the natural state of energy - the natural state of any human being.
I would like to believe that we all simply make mistakes and take a wrong turn but it's not the core of our being.  I would like to believe that.  But the jails are filled with people who insist that they did nothing wrong - despite all the evidence otherwise that convicted them.    Their probation officer broke their probation.  The police were out to get them.  No one told them they couldn't do whatever it was.  Their childhood was horrible.  A terrible person turned them in.  On and On and On without once accepting that they really should not have done whatever they did.
People can be so very convincing and so very human.  I recently watched the movie Copote and am haunted by the relationship that developed between murderer Perry Smith and Copote.  Copote was haunted by Perry Smith and it was very destructive to Copote.  He discovered a very human, very ordinary person behind the murderous Perry Smith that reminded him of his own life story.  Much as Copote may have wanted something other, that ordinary and human Smith, could not overpower what Perry Smith did.    In the end, Perry Smith was held accountable for his deeds.  Society was protected from the possibility that he would murder again.  Copote was forever changed by the experience.
The morale of the story - something I have to say - as human, as convincing, as understandable, as a story may be - we do have to account for what we have done.  If we choose to protect the wrongdoing based on that convincing, human, understanding part of ourselves - despite all the evidence - buy into that person's insistence of the need for pardon or placing blame elsewhere - it will ultimately be ourselves to suffer the pain of the conflict.  Ultimately, others will suffer at the hands of that one - that one - protected from accountability.  The balance of justice will have shifted to allow evil over good.  That cannot be.  

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sorting through the maze of life dramas

All relationships have some form of drama.  And it's human nature to have some form of emotional reaction to that drama.  That's life.  That's human.
As we face conflicts with our friends, family, co-workers, and partners that emotional reaction is stronger.  We find ourselves "taking sides" - forced to choose one person or the other's version of the drama.  The greater the emotional reaction by any party, the greater the drama.  And the closer to the situation, the greater the emotional reaction.
In my own dramas I'd like you to believe I am always right.  But I am not immune to emotional reaction either.  In these trying times, I most value those people I call my "board of directors".  These are the people who know me pretty well - warts and all.  I trust them to tell me honestly what they see.  And, while it may be quite difficult, I value those who will cut to the chase and say they see some flaws in my thinking.  Or push me to do things that I am not necessarily comfortable doing because it is hard for me.  
If you are truly my friend - on my "board of directors" - don't simply take my side.  Tell me the truth.  Seek truth for yourself.  Be true to yourself.  If truth is our common ground, we will never go wrong.  And, in my mind, best of all, our bond will never be broken. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Context is everything

There is a special culture in small towns.  It's about context and can drive outsider's or newcomer's crazy.  It drives natives crazy as well.  One of my favorite aunts used to say "Somebody farts around here and everybody knows about it."  
The web of connections here in my home area - Venango County, PA - is very intricate and runs quite deep.  For example, much to my surprise, when I closed on my house in Franklin in 2000, I discovered it had been owned and originally built by one of my relatives in 1905.  M.R. and Freda Henderson - Catherine Lamberton's parents.  M.R. was Justice of the Peace in Franklin and an early ham radio enthusiast.
My mother's parents, Leah and Howard Hawkins, moved from Indiana PA to Oil City's South side in the 20's or early 30's to start a "mom and pop" grocery store.  I have a wonderful picture of a string band posing in front of that store.  My mother was born in Oil City in 1936.  My love of music came from my mother and grandfather.  
 The Venango County roots on my father's side of the family go back more generations - to Thomas Law - I believe 5 generations back - maybe more.  And so, there are many offshoots of that clan - Law, Bennett, Osborne, Gilliland, Corbett, Henderson... and you get the picture.  All of which place me in greater context.  Someone hears my last name and asks if Bill or Carl - both teachers - are related.  And so, I am seen in light of them.  Fine light I might add.
When you are young and seeking your own identity, that can be unnerving.  Like being compared to your older sibling in school.  
But as I am growing older, I am finding great joy in it.  I come from a long line of good working class (and a few upper class) people.  Honest, hard working, fun loving people.  Kind people on both sides of my family who passed many wonderful values on to me.  It is a context I hope I will be viewed within.   And it is a light I strive to carry.