Monday, December 26, 2011

Love of a Dog

Two furry friends share these days with me; Marvelous Molly and Timid Tobey. Molly is outgoing with a big heart - a shepherd, lab, rotty mix . Tobey - a sheltie - is so shy that he is frightened of his own shadow. But he sure loves his Miss Molly and he's not shy at all about showing that!
Tobey is afraid of noises. Afraid of lots of commotion. Not too good with changes around him. We got him at about 6 months old and it took a lot of work to get him to trust us. And still, at 2 years old, when he is scared it's hard to comfort and reassure him. He's just scared!
Today, we thought we lost him. A lot was happening in the house and suddenly, he was gone. We searched and called in and around the house - no Tobey. An hour passed. No Tobey. We began to search the neighborhood. We took Molly searching. No one had even seen him. Four of us checked inside the house. No Tobey.
A call to the Oil City Police, a post on Facebook and an amazing chain began. Word of mouth - text messages, people came to join the search. Strangers and friends alike, shared our concern as daylight grew short.
Those who know little timid Tobey knew, if he was out and about, it was not good. When he is afraid, he trusts no one - even those he knows. He could not tell his name nor where he lives. He would simply be afraid and run. As the sun went down, I imagined our little friend afraid and cold somewhere.
Suddenly out of nowhere he appeared. He is safe at home.
The Oil City Police were kindly searching. And many texts and messages poured around the community of our plight. Thank you to all whose prayers surely helped. Love of a dog is widely shared.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Family connections

Family connections are so very complicated - and yet sometimes so very simple.
Our years together mean more than any words could ever express. The sight of one another is full of context - memories - feelings - times that no language can touch.
It's as though the cells of our bodies speak to one another of things that cannot be understood. I know it most when I see the children of my closest cousin's. These children who grew in my absence. I see their grandmothers and grandfathers that I knew well. Without knowing them, I know them. I know how they will speak. I know how they walk. I know how they see the world because they see it all, they speak, they walk in the footsteps of those who brought them to this place.
Those children in their teens and twenties and thirties... the ones I did not watch grow up - have carried the past generations with them. They don't even seem to know it. I know who will be less tolerant and more prone to righteousness. I know who will be most able to see things that are not so obvious to most. I know who will be most likely to speak for those who seem unable to speak for themselves. It's in their genetic makeup.
Some carried a thread that came from their great grandmother to their grandmother to their mother - and maybe wasn't their mother's strongest trait - but it carried down to them.
I love to see the glow that is most certainly the best of the best of all of them. I wish they could truly understand when I look at them and say "you remind me of...." And when I say such things, how much they are a gift to me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Music on the Porch

Maybe inspired by some movie or long ago memory, I dreamed of getting people together to play music on the front porch. So, five or six years ago, my friend Pete and I started playing on my front porch. It was fun. My neighbors sat out on their porches, passers by would stop, and soon another guitar player, Dave, joined us.
Dave moved away, our lives got busy and we didn't find time to do it. I really missed it and sometimes my neighbors comment that they do too.
When Holly bought a house with a front porch twice the size of mine, my first thought was about how many players we could fit on her porch. Last summer the magic happened. Some nights there were so many people, we couldn't all fit on the porch. Everyone was singing or playing one of the funny little instruments we began to collect. Now we have a booklet with all the folk songs, spirituals and a hymn or two we like to sing.
We're an organized jam band.
I don't pretend to have great musical ability. In fact, when I wanted to learn violin in elementary school and took the music test, the music teacher said I had no musical ability. I begged to get into the program. He relented, but the next year I wasn't playing violin (screeched to much) - I played the cello. I joke that they disbanded the orchestra program because I was nearly old enough to join. In seventh grade, I had to find a new instrument. Hooked on strings, I chose the guitar. And now for many years it has been the prop I hold so I can sing.
The front porch dream has grown into a funny, funky little band. Very remarkable people! We get together once or twice a week - share a meal, music and a lot of laughter. The colder days have sent us inside and it seems to have inspired new ways of getting out.
Last Sunday, we raided Sonia and Bill's house which, of course, has a wonderful front porch. It was too cold to sing there, but a great place for photos. We took soups - homemade by Mary Beth. That was our exchange, along with music, for their kindness in giving us a great place for a photo session. Thank you Sonia and Bill!
Last night we played a second time at the Q (Queen City Cafe) in Titusville. We nearly packed the house (maybe two tables more to fill) and had a wonderful Christmas singalong. Happy that our honorary member, Barb Lake, joined us again with guitar, strum stick and dulcimer. And one of her friends played the dulcimer with us on a few tunes. We'll be playing the Q again next month and hope to fill those other two tables!
Tomorrow some of the group will be playing at the Oil City Presbyterian home.
We're doing another house sing at our friend Gail's during the holidays. AND, we are already booked for the Southside Neighborhood Association dinner NEXT November.
It's going to be a fun 2012!!! I'm wondering how many Oil City front porches we might be able to get our picture taken on..... Rock on Oil City, Yarn Bombing, Front Porch Folk photos.....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Things Money can't buy

Some people get frustrated during the holiday season because our focus seems out of kilter - about what we can buy each other.
I don't mind much. I enjoy times we set aside to do something special for one another. No matter what time of year, I most treasure those things that money just can't buy.
Behind those things are love and kindness and thoughtfulness.
On my wall is a present from my brother - one of his photos - which is a wonderful gift. But he gave me that particular photo because I was with him when he shot it! Priceless!!!
Kind words from a stranger, wisdom from a friend, a girlfriend cooking lesson, a poem just for you.... These are the things to cherish.
It's those moments, those gifts of time and thought that matter. Give me a special book or make me one - what you make me is priceless!
Taking a moment to right my path when you see me falter - that is a gift money cannot buy.
Speak up to defend me when you see me wronged - that is a gift money cannot buy.
Speak kindly of me, speak kindly to me - these are gifts that money cannot buy.
So, if you feel a little weary with Holiday madness, look for those things that money just won't buy. Be that person that gives a kind word to the stranger, wisdom to the friend, a cooking lesson or a poem. If not today - one day - the recipient may realize those are the things to cherish. And to those of who see yourself in this post - yes, I am thinking of you and thankful for you in my life.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gossip Buster

We need a for real life. If you aren't familiar with it, is a website that researches things being said across the internet and determines if they are true, false or a combination.
A community Snoops or gossip buster would be awesome - especially in a small town. It should be a regular column in the newspaper or an on-line community blog. Someone is thought to be spreading a lie, request the community Snoop to investigate. Gossip buster checks it out - really checks it out! And they publicly report results.
It could even generate a little revenue, but really should be a public service. It has to be someone with strong investigative skills and a commitment to exposing lies. Perhaps an off duty police officer or an attorney.
Lies can be damaging. Scammers lie. Usually small towns sort that out in time, but the scammer can fool a lot of people before hand.
What do you think folks? Does Venango County need a Snoops?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

You have the Power!

Lately I am reminded of how important it is to be careful where our thoughts and energies go. If we want good things in our lives, we have to be focused on good. We have to surround ourselves in good and positive thoughts and deeds. We have to surround ourselves with good, positive and thoughtful people.
That is not always easy. It's an inside job. We get our spirit in line with what we truly desire.
The world is not always good and positive. People are not always thoughtful.
There have been years of my life lost to trying to change someone else or waiting for them to change or be changed by force. My thoughts and energies became consumed with them - what I wanted THEM to do. All that happened is, my energy was drained. Nothing good or positive came about. I became unhealthy. I gave them power over me.
I had dozens of reasons that I had to continue that course - had to fight the good fight.
One night I asked for a sign - something definitive. The next day I had a stunning revolution that was the complete opposite of what I had been so certain was MY intended course. It was shocking. And I may have dismissed that sign if I hadn't already been preparing my spirit for good and positive things. The sign was shockingly brutal but very clear as I allowed the reality to set in.
And I will tell you this - If you feel you are a victim - If you feel someone else needs to change or DO something to correct YOUR circumstance - you have it all wrong. You are giving that person power over your life - your spirit - your energy - your thoughts.
Get your own spirit in line. Get your own energy where it needs to be. Stop giving them your thoughts. Stop giving them the power. Stop looking for justification to remain a victim!
Learn your own power. And accept it when it becomes obvious what that power is. It may be completely the opposite of what YOU thought it was. Be ready to see it. Then seize it.
On the other side of it, I am in complete awe. The answer to your problem may be completely opposite of what you think they should be and may even seem a little outside your comfort zone. But so amazingly perfect if you just open your eyes and open your spirit. See. Hear.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Salvation is a path, not a one time event. It is a path of enlightenment. It is a transformation of our soul to focus on goodness, truth and beauty. It is not an external happening. The responsibility is ours and it is an on going process.
During the course of our lives we develop corrupt habits following those around us. We learn to blame our situations on others and lack understanding of the connectedness of all things, including how our own actions cause calamity in our lives. Focusing on these negative things around us - allowing negative people in our lives - screws our focus away from goodness, truth and beauty. We attract more of the things we focus on - the things we think about - the things we do - both good and bad.
Salvation is the focus on goodness, truth and beauty. It the practice of goodness, truth and beauty in our lives - A practice of service, honesty and revelation of creation.
Most religions and spiritual practices have these elements as part of their teaching. However, many splinter off into additional conditions of faithfulness. And so we war with one another. We separate each other and fear each other. If only all of humankind would accept this path of salvation - humankind would truly be saved.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Utopia??? Just askin'....

One of my favorite books is "Herland", a utopian novel written in the early 1900's by Charlotte Perkins. It's a short, fun story that turns some of our common assumptions on their head and offers a glimpse into what true communal living could be.
Two male explorers hear about an isolated land believed to be inhabited only by women. This most amazing tale captivates them and they plan a risky airplane exploration to this place to learn for themselves. They find the land and discover the tales are true. And they become stranded, taken in by these women in a very foreign country.
They learn that 1000 years before, the men of the country had all gone off to war. Some sort of disaster had cut off natural access to their land and the men never returned. Suspend disbelief a moment. Apparently there were no boys left. Quite amusing is how the society thrived, without men, for 1000 years. Procreation???? Well, it happened miraculously. Suddenly one special woman became pregnant - with a girl, of course. And her offspring were able to spontaneously procreate.
Through the eyes of one of the explorers, we learn about their entire society. They carefully groomed the land and planned for future generations. They worked together to solve all sorts of problems and shared many duties. They cared for children in a communal life. The explorer described a utopian society without greed, without need, free of violence and full of great joy.
Of course, the explorers, once they learned the language, shared information about the society from which they came. When the explorers explained Christianity, the women were quite confused. The thing that confused them most was the idea that in several thousand years, nothing had been added to the book of understanding about Christianity. This one important guidebook stood still and could not be added to or revised or better explained. Their book of understanding had been added to, edited and revised continuously throughout the years as they learned better ways. If this was the most important book of their society, how could it be that no more was learned in 2000 years?
Of course, much has been written in many of our religious communities around the world. Teaching in all religions has continued and been revised in many ways. But the questions Herland raised in my mind are: Why don't we have a better understanding of the human condition? Why have we not been able to follow a guidebook that actually works to create a better society?
Just askin'.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ticket to Heaven

I ask a lot questions in my head and hesitate to ask them out loud.
Things like - If Jesus died for our sins, then what is our responsibility?
It seems like a rather mixed up thing to me. No matter what you have done in your life, if you "pray that little prayer" letting Jesus take responsibility, you have the ticket to heaven. And once you have prayed that prayer, the ticket holds. It's like a "get out of jail free" or get out of Hell free card. From that point on, claim the "sinner" role and that Jesus saved you and the responsibility is not really yours. It's all the pre-birth condition.
On the other hand, no matter how you live your life or what you believe, if you have not said that little prayer, Hell is it for you. If you take full responsibility for your life and your actions, NO ticket. That thinking says someone like Ghandi is not in heaven. And many like him who served to better the world around them, in the manner Jesus taught, cannot go to heaven if the salvation teachings is correct. But someone doing great harm in the world who, at some time in their life, prayed the right prayer, is going to heaven.
How is that different from our young people thinking they don't have to pay their bills - their parents should? Or I just show up for work and my employer needs to pay me no matter what I actually contribute?
I believe Jesus' life was more about showing us how to live and that was the salvation. This is the salvation of mankind: Heal the sick. Feed the poor. Love one another. Shed your need for material wealth. I believe Jesus was saying "walk like me" - "this is your salvation" - "no other path will work".
As humans, we are always looking for that quick fix - the easy pill - the solution that requires the least effort. Let someone else pay our bill. I really doubt that is a new human condition. My guess is that people have been looking for shortcuts for a very long time. And, I'm sorry, but the whole "salvation" focus feels like a shortcut to me.
I believe "Heaven" is where people treat one another right - a place of pure joy. I need to learn that before I can be in heaven. I have no idea what happens between here and there. No one from heaven has spoken to me to tell me how they got there. And there isn't any documentation I have seen of anyone who was actually in heaven to give a first hand account of how they got there.
I truly believe there is something more - a heaven - but the path to get there must include some sort of accountability - some sort of growth - some sort of careful filtering.
Or maybe if you pray the right prayer, you get into the Heaven training program. Maybe the whole salvation thing is about buying a ticket there. I really don't know.
All I know is that salvation or no salvation, I want to be trying to do the best I can right now. I am much more interested in how Jesus lived and what he taught than any thing else. I'm much more interested in how people like Jesus lived and what they taught. What can we be doing today? What is our responsibility to humankind today? There are no shortcuts here or to get to heaven. Our ticket is learning to live the heavenly way today.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Planting Seeds.

Seeds can grow. Of course, they don't always grow. And they will sometimes grow in the most unlikely places. If you have spent any time in the woods, you surely have marveled at the tree growing from what appears to be pure rock. But, a thousand seeds bounced off that rock and didn't grow. At the end of that Rock tree's life, what will remain. Most likely nothing.
If we want to really plant seeds that grow, we go to fertile ground not among Rocks.
It's not about one harvest or one tree making it - it's about generations of harvest - generations of seeds growing and re-plenishing. At the end of my season, I want to have hope that the seeds I planted create multiple harvests. I'm looking for fertile ground to plant those seeds.
Throw thousands of seeds in the Rocks - maybe - maybe - one grows. When it is done - it is done. It will have split the very foundation on which it grew. The only thing it has to show for its life is destruction.
Plant those same seeds in fertile ground and hundreds of seeds grow. And those hundred seeds grow a hundred more. That is where my energy is going - I'm seeking fertile ground! It's not about me - it's about how far and how long the seeds continue to grow.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Downsize to upscale

A young musician friend told me to never leave the audience on a sad song.
My last post may have sounded like a sad song. It was a message and the message is this - if you want good things in your life, shed the bad.
There will never be room for positive things in our lives if we hang on to negative things. Walk to the light! Walk in the light!
Friends tonight were talking about helping people downsize. Interesting that we get to a "certain age" and realize we have filled our lives with clutter. Now I am wondering why we can't figure out earlier and on our own what is clutter and what is not?
In recent years I have been most impressed by people who don't let "clutter" fill their lives. They can focus on what is important and what matters. Over the course of years, they have developed filters. "In with the good and out with the bad." They hurt sometimes. They care deeply. But they have clear visions of what they want their lives to be and what they want for the community around them. They CARE! They carefully filter out those people and things that are non-productive. They don't put energy where it will not grow into something positive.
Downsizing is about scaling up - focusing - seeing what is really important. It's about NOT wasting time and energy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Danger from no stranger

It can be terribly embarrassing and personally devastating to realize you have been taken in by a con artist. It happens every day to very smart people and often goes un-reported. If it is reported, law enforcement and the justice system are ill equipped to deal with it in small communities. Especially if it is someone you know who is scamming you - a sociopath who will lie to you and everyone around them to get what they want.
I like people. I trust people and I nearly always root for an underdog. If you are too, then please read on. You could, like me, be an easy target for a con artist. You need to know how to spot a sociopath. I've learned a lot about it in recent years. It's not a pleasant topic and I have followed the ultimate recommendation of what to do - Get as far away as possible from this person!!!! I will say proximity makes you a potential target or useful in gaining access to a new target. A sociopath uses whatever means, whomever possible, to get what they want. Proximity makes you complicit - that simple.
What are the characteristics of the type of sociopath I'm talking about?

1) Aggressive and Antagonistic in dealing with people
2) Manipulative and deceitful - lies about even simple things
3) Never feels guilty about anything
4) When confronted with a lie, creates confusion and distraction
5) Takes from you and gives back little
6) Often appeals to pity, pretending to be the victim
7) Does not take responsibility for harming others - blames everyone and everything else
8) Does not acknowledge others contributions - even taking credit for what others have done
9) Needs to dominate - to WIN
10) Takes advantage of others kindness

The con artist has had no verifiable income for many, many years. For some reason those things they claim to have had as income, don't bring them income now. Peter doesn't know what Paul just did to help to this person. The con artist will use many methods to ensure that Peter and Paul don't talk with each other.

You read all this because you suspect you are being taken. TRUST your instincts. Walk away and don't look back.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Make a Difference!

Today something reminded me of work I did long, long ago on the other side of PA working with Volunteerism. There, the County Commissioners had a vision to promote volunteerism. Under a Human Services Development grant, they hired me as a consultant to promote volunteer involvement in two counties. Along with some dedicated volunteers, I had the privilege of working with amazing people - paid and unpaid - providing many services in the community. My job was connecting people and telling their stories. How very cool!!!
We became a center for recruiting, training, and advocating for volunteer programs. Well organized, long term volunteer driven programs quickly began helping smaller and newer programs. Our center provided a volunteer bank for one time, unusual or short term needs.
Tonight I am reminded of some of the more touching stories that linger these 25 or so years later. I got a call from a man one day saying he had heard the radio ad calling for volunteers. Would I meet him in the parking lot of my office in 15 minutes? He would be in a red pick up truck. In 15 minutes a pick up truck arrived and I walked up to his door. He said, 'I can pick up and deliver anything you need done, but someone needs to be waiting to load and unload the truck." He opened the door to reveal that he had no legs. He was on disability. But he wanted to serve the community that had served him.
Another day a woman called to say she was house bound but she loved to make personalized cards to send to people. She didn't know how that might help and she might need postage but she would like to do cards for people. I was working with all of the nursing homes in the area and asked if they had people who didn't get visitors or mail. (This might not be possible today but...) I got lists of names of people who started receiving personal greeting cards to brighten their day. And I found donors for postage.
Another day a middle aged women entered my office in tears. She was blindsided by a divorce and had not worked in 25 years. She needed to get back to work but had nothing on her resume. Could I help? She believed she had the skills to be an office manager, but had nothing to show she could. There was a well known and respected organization looking for a part time volunteer office manager. We let them know that she was trying to get experience for her resume and might not be there long term. They understood, loved her service, and within a year she had a full time job as an office manager. When I saw her the second time, she was a new woman.
What I learned in those short years is that volunteerism is as much about serving personal needs for dignity and respect as it is about serving the community. As we ask people to serve, we need to do all we can to serve their needs as well. It's a two way street. When we recognize that and serve that need, everyone gets a chance to make a difference - Those who ask and those who answer the call!

Monday, August 29, 2011

How did they make you feel?

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou

I read that quote and a thousand words and faces flooded my mind - or perhaps more appropriately a thousand feelings with faces and my subtitles. Who made me feel? Who made me feel worthwhile? Who made me feel useful and motivated to do more? Who gave me hope? Who lifted me to a greater understanding of the world around me?

A teacher shaped who I am more than she could ever know. I've no idea where she is or if she is even still a teacher. And I believe that, at the time she most influenced me, she was in a great state of change in her own life. She was a tough teacher and I felt, she demanded much. I had her for several English courses in high school and I believe she moved on shortly after my graduation.
In high school, I felt like an alien. Now I understand that most high school teens share that sentiment but this one teacher linked me to something that led me to a better understanding of myself. She introduced me to MS Magazine. As I recall, which might not be quite accurate, she laid a copy of the first issue on my desk back in 1973 or 4. In any case, I got my first issue of that magazine, due to her. The feeling I remember from her is that I could be more and could do more than anyone else around me was telling me. And in the classes I took from her, she was demanding more. She knew I could. That feeling of more out there and more within has remained through these many decades. I write today because she opened that door to expression in me.
While I would mark this as my driving force for social activism, my sense of community responsibility is more deeply rooted. My father is a charter member of the Sandycreek Volunteer fire department. We grew up with a fire phone in our house and were all trained on how to answer and respond to an emergency call. My sisters and I were encouraged and supported in fundraising efforts for the Cancer Society, Heart Association and church sponsored efforts to help those in need. It was a great part of our family culture. I am thankful for that and know that it continues to "make me feel" that community is very important. I don't remember what all we said or what all we did but I remember the feeling and carry that today. From those days, I carry a great sense of commitment to community service.
But then - there was a long lull in my community service and activism. I volunteered through my Air Force days where, against advice, I volunteered for everything and loved it. It lasted through my college graduation. It lasted through my first post military job where I become a contracted volunteer advocate. Why did I suddenly then become uninvolved?
Fear. Fear. I became afraid.
I got a job teaching. And the people I was closest to then told me that if I was known for who I really was, I could loose my job. And six years or so later, I went to work for a corporation and many of same people told me that I could not be known for who I was or I would loose my job.
I've tried to explain this fear to friends and it is hard. But I will try to take you to that moment when I decided fear would not drive me.
That shall be part II of this post - How did they make you feel?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Is it the place?

Have you ever gone back to a place with which you have an emotional attachment? Maybe the house you grew up in, a favorite hang out, your elementary school....
Going back, you realize it doesn't have the same energy it did then. Often the space even feels smaller than you remember. It just isn't the same.
The energy that comes with our memories isn't about the place itself but we associate it that way. Our emotions are about the people who occupied that time and place with us. That energy has changed.
We may be able to make new connections, build new energy and create new memories in that place but we cannot get back what was in those past times.
Sad but true.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why I sing spirituals

I love to sing spirituals which might seem a little odd to those who know my religious views well.
I describe myself as spiritual - Unitarian - in that I believe all religions have some things right (and some things wrong.) And when I really start explaining what I believe, some of my closest friends have thought it means I am atheist or agnostic. The depth of it is simple. I don't believe I can prove myself right in my beliefs any more than I believe anyone else can. What's important is to believe in being a better person and treating other's better - study the human condition and be committed to improving it. If your spiritual path takes you there, I applaud.
I've avoided the very Christian churches I was raised in because I have felt for many years that they were all "hell bent" on selecting for themselves who could and could not belong to "God's Kingdom". They have seemed way too confident in their understanding of what God wants.
But I have never stopped singing and loving the spirituals - even favorite hymns. It is part of my history and heritage but there is something more. As a young teen, I recall learning to sing and play the spiritual "All my Trials" - probably the first slavery era spiritual I learned. I connected with both the pain and the hope of that song. It prompted me to learn about the origins of "negro spirituals". I learned about the Underground Railroad at the same time - 1969 - that the civil rights movement was at fever pitch.
The spirituals are filled with meaning. Some were coded messages meant to let other slaves know that an escape was coming. "Freedom Land", one of my favorites, says "I'm on my way to the freedom land.... I asked my brother...I asked my sister... I asked my mother... and then, "If they won't come, I'll go anyway". That is powerful stuff. The singer was calling for all nearby to abandon conventional wisdom and put ALL on a journey to a better place. And the singer was clearly stating that no matter what others decided, they were going. Freedom! The Freedom Land!!!!
I don't know anyone who is not moved by the message of Freedom. It's what I am searching to find. A place in the world to be me and to be free.
And so, I am back to the start of this blog. Is any part of your belief system impinging on another person's FREEDOM? Are you a Pagan afraid of Christians? Are you a Christian afraid of Muslims? Are you an atheist afraid of.... What is wrong with finding common ground? Let's sing! Let's find some songs we can sing together!! Let's find our way to the Freedom Land!!!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A dose of common sense

About 5 years ago I was talking with my nephew and said that I could not marry. He was genuinely shocked. He did not realize that laws prohibited same-sex marriage. It made no sense to him. I believe his reaction reflects the predominant view of his generation. They ask the same question he did, "Why? That makes no sense."
As marked by the increasing number of states voting in favor of gay marriage, lawmakers are finally realizing it makes no sense.
New York was interesting in that a Republican dominated legislature voted in favor of marriage equality. They made sense in terms of their principals as they explained why. Supposedly deep rooted conservative Republican values drive toward less government intervention in our lives - less regulation. I also respect their helping religious groups feel less threatened by offering protection from being forced to conduct gay marriages. In reality, that amendment was probably not needed but it helped legislators get beyond the religious issue.
We need to watch. It's no secret that the Republican party has been held in a choke hold by evangelical Christians. They may share fiscal conservatism but the approach on social issues is a bit odd.
Christian conservatives have latched onto Gay rights and Women's rights. Their objective is to eliminate or highly regulate the rights of both gays and women. They want to eliminate abortions but in the process, work to de-fund the best program in the world for eliminating unplanned pregnancies - Planned Parenthood. "Why? That makes no sense."
If it's all about ensuring that Christian values are part of our government, that's not constitutional. And then I would ask why other Christian values are not part of the agenda. What about feeding the hungry? What about healing the sick? Conservative Republicans are working to eliminate funding for widespread programs to serve these needs. Is that a Christian value? I think not.
If, across the board, the conservative position is that the government not intervene in peoples lives, I can respect that position. I may not agree, but it makes sense. But what they do has to be consistent.
I have a very difficult time with the idea of mixing religious values and views with government. Despite how the Tea Party wants to re-write history, that's not how this country was founded nor intended to be. We need a big dose of simple common sense, an awareness of common good, and an ability to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I am a deeply spiritual person. Perhaps an old soul trapped in this new body without the right words to express what I believe.
Truth is all around us. But often we are trapped into some sort of tunnel vision - unable to see - or unwilling to see. We hear but cannot hear. We see but cannot see.
Words - thoughts - prayers - are powerful things. What we speak - what we think - what we dwell upon have great power. And we have been told of such power. "God said, 'Let there be light', and there was light." There is a lesson there that we miss so very often. What we say - what we think - what we dwell upon - has a consequence. IT IS. It becomes.
We do not choose our words carefully. We say things we do not mean. We dwell on things we do not really want to become. Then we wonder why they actually do "become".
They become because we speak them. They become because we think about them. They become because we dwell on them. We underestimate our power to create the world we really want.
We need to speak what we really want. We need to think about what we really want. We need to dwell on what we desire.
This is the power of "God". This is the universal truth. This IS.

Monday, June 6, 2011

the Little Thorny Plant that Became...

Last Friday, returned to me, was a framed calligraphy of a poem I wrote nearly 25 years ago. It was a gift from a young woman whose name is sadly forgotten but whose story is not.
I was leaving as Director of the Volunteer program under which the Exchange Club Parent/Child Center ran. The Parent/Child Center matched trained volunteers with parents, usually single mothers, who were identified as "at risk" of child abuse or neglect. The volunteers became mentors and advocates, aiding these young parents in working through the system and working their way past the issues causing such risk. It was an amazing program. In the short time I was involved there were great stresses but there were also great joys. This young woman and her mentor were great inspirations. I remember the volunteer's name - Barb Nash. She was a most dedicated volunteer and saw this young woman's potential. She was an advocate, a surrogate mom and a cheerleader.
Each Parent/Child Center volunteer promised two years of service. Barb's parent was less than 20 years old and had 5 children to 5 father's as I recall. At the beginning of the program she had little hope and little vision for the future. With Barb's coaching, the young woman began to see her own potential. When this young woman did this calligraphy for me, she was nearly completing an associates degree at a community college and about to become a Parent/Child Center Volunteer herself.
Barb was this poem's voice - the one who said....

"The Little Thorny Plant That Became - by Linda Henderson

Once there was a little thorny plant that was scorned and mistreated. Nearby plants threw dirt on it, ignored it or said mean things to it. The little thorny plant grew weak and droopy.
One day a kind soul passed by. "Why are you so sad?" The kind voice asked. "I am just a worthless, thorny plant," the little one said. "Pay no attention to me."
"Oh No," the kind voice said, "Inside you hold great beauty."
But the little thorny plant did not believe. So, the kind voice returned each day carrying water, nurturing the soil and speaking softly of the great beauty inside.
After a while the thorny plant began to feel different. It stood stronger and taller. Then one day there was great excitement in the kind voice.
"Look! Look!" the kind voice said and pointed to the little plant's reflection.
The little thorny plant could hardly believe it's eyes. Right up top, a hundred times bigger than any thorn, was a beautiful white rose. A feeling of great peace came over the little plant. Though the thorns were still there, it did not matter. Now the little plant knew, inside all along, was a rose just waiting to bloom."

Looking at the calligraphy, I know the young woman's initials were KEH. Somehow I know in my soul, she is continuing to do good things. I am thankful to look at this poem she made for me!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Building our Community

Last weekend 6 friends went to the Butler Outdoor Extravaganza and took a class to build sailboats. Hopefully by the end of summer we will have 3 Puddle Duck Racers to sail about. I'm looking forward to more fun work days.
It reminded me of many positive childhood memories. Our extended family was really good at collecting and working on joint projects for one another. I remember aunts, grandma, great aunts and cousins gathering to go berry picking or to northeast cherry picking.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Margie had great gardens and in the spring they took the kids to a farm to shovel up the fertilizer. These were events. Always there was great food involved, laughter and hopefully cranking to make homemade ice cream.
Extended family spent many hours helping Dad put an addition on our house. It was hard work but I remember the shared times. I learned so much from those experiences. In addition to using tools, I learned about working together. There probably were tense moments but I don't remember them. I remember feeling good about helping each other and getting a lot done.
As we were working Saturday and these memories flooded my mind, I thought about our friend Robbie's pear trees last year. She had told us they were so full of pears she didn't know what to do with them and didn't get them harvested. DAG! My mommy and aunts and cousins would have made an event out that. We missed it.
I've been thinking since about home projects that friends have expressed feeling overwhelmed about. Could we make an event out of that? It takes trust and a cooperative spirit. But when people really work together on a thing, the work goes faster and we build something more than the project at hand. We lift each other up and we build a stronger community.
Most of us realize that in relation to building a float for the parade, or volunteering together on a project but we tend to draw a line at helping each other up close and personal. We need to be as close as family to do that. Hopefully more friends can be close as family. Our extended family. I think we could all use a little more of that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

IT just IS

In an earlier post I talked about visiting a few local churches and how transforming it has been for me - helping me get over fears of religious bigotry. In reaction to many difficult situations, I have to admit to having stereotyped Christian churches and church people. Despite having grown up in a Christian home and pretty much identified as Christian, I grew to dislike the word "christian" and reacted badly to it. I am thankful that friends have taken me to task on that and encouraged me to face this fear - to recognize this stereotype. I have felt welcomed in a Methodist Church, a Catholic Church and most welcomed in a Presbyterian Church.
The experience has provoked some very pointed and deep discussions about Christianity with some of my dear friends. With great love and concern, I have learned that their motivation revolves around wanting me to be with them in the "next life". Knowing that they view this "next life" as eternal, they must like me a lot. Why would you want to spend eternity with someone you don't like?
So, where am I in this journey? First, my assessment of "religion" of any form is that it is merely a philosophy. A philosophy is difficult to prove right or wrong - especially when much of it is based on what will happen after you die. Your guess is as good as mine. It appears to me, most people are trying to hedge their bets. Who is most convincing in assuring a ticket to the best outcome? What I hear is - "just buy the ticket, silly woman."
And then I think, "Silly woman, who has a ticket, really?" What's for sale?
It's all philosophy. By what standard are you going to live your life?
Do you believe there is a devil? Ahhhh, then, "the devil is in the details." If we are caught up in the "details" of everyone believing in the things we believe - it's a devil!
I believe there is a positive force that we can choose or not choose. To me, that positive force is God - however you see her or him or it. That is the source of all life, all death, all power. That IS the GREAT it IS. And perhaps I am even wrong in calling it positive or negative. IT IS. IT is the force - the energy of all things - IT is everywhere and always and ever will be. We can surrender to it or resist it but IT IS and always WILL BE. Our best hope is to understand that power and how to become one with it. I believe that is what Jesus tried to teach us. And I believe we lost much of his message along the way because humans tried to make it something else. IT just IS.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The garden of the Thankful

Each day stop a moment and count 10 people or things you are thankful to have in your life. If you mostly count material things, try again.
With every passing day I grow more convinced that true joy - joyful people - are most grateful for relationships. They treasure them - nurture them - seek them out - welcome them. Joyful people tend relationships in the same way gardeners tend their gardens. They prune, they fertilize, they water and they weed. And they celebrate every bud, every stage of growth with cultivation as rewarding as the anticipated harvest.
They expect the best but know it doesn't just drop from the sky. Relationships can be tender things. They need care. And the greater the care, the greater the joy.
If you are grateful for things, let them be things that build relationships. Count them and be thankful every day!

Monday, May 16, 2011


If there was one wish I could have granted for myself and the world, I think it might be to be fearless. When I think of fearless, I don't mean rushing out to slay dragons, I mean having no need to slay a dragon because the dragon does not fear me and I do not fear the dragon. Fearless, for me, means peaceful.
I believe it is fear that separates us. It's fear that drives anger and war. It's fear that keeps us from taking risks that could lead to big things. We lock our houses out of fear. We don't help a stranger out of fear. We don't talk to people because we fear.
Fear works well to alienate us from one another.
I've wondered often why bullies become bullies - why some people become mean spirited - why some people grow difficult to work with. I think it's fear. They are driven by fear of something and it is probably deeply rooted in childhood. They shove the fear deep inside and then it comes out in irrational behavior. I imagine them as a child and wonder what trauma's they endured to condition them this way. What a sad thing!
I enjoy working with dogs - especially young rescues. I know that there is a point that they cannot recover from past conditioning - they cannot overcome acting out of fear. By the age of 2, if they act out in some aggressive way or cower when there is no obvious need, it will not get better over time. If I cannot help them get over fears, fear will grow into bad behavior.
People are the same. While they may comprehend that their behavior is not accepted by most, they simply work harder to justify it. They learn to create bigger and bigger stories. They learn how to tap into our emotional triggers. It may be God, or a danger, or painting themselves as victims/martyrs for a cause. They can be very charismatic and very convincing for those who do not see all that they do.
But eventually they fall apart. These are the people who in their 50's and beyond wind up spending countless wasted hours alone or with few around them to hear their stories. Sadly, the few who stay, are victimized in some way. The mean old man beats his live in girlfriend or wife. Fear keeps her there or some odd sense of being able to save him somehow. The old woman gets a few church people to rally to her aid and keep her afloat without one questioning why she does not help herself. And why is she not spending some of those countless hours in front of the TV helping anyone else? They have internalized the many stories she has told of how she has been a victim and they overlook the irrational ways she acts. But for how long? How sad for all!
Well - I can't leave this on a sad and sorry note. What do we do about these difficult people? I say, be kind to them but keep a safe distance. They will bite you. Let them dig into their deep caves and don't go in with them. They will bite you.
Go out into the world and be fearless. Learn which dogs/people are beyond your reach. If they can learn to overcome fear, they will come to you. If not, they are best left in the cave on their own where they feel safe. If you go into the cave, they will deal with you on their terms. That is not a good thing. Stay in the light!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

This Mother's Day

I only knew her less than 8 years. She's been gone nearly 45 and I still grieve.
I imagine sometimes magically stepping back - a time traveler or somehow able to see through a looking glass - and watching her. How I would soak in everything about her - those things that are vague memories - how she walked - how she talked - the sound of her laugh - the kinds of things she found funny.
I've been told that I am much like her. And when I look at this picture, I think it might be true. I've always wanted to be like her and loved that Great Aunt Hazel, in her elder years, thought I was my mummy and called me 'Jeanne'.
I don't remember ever hearing her play the guitar or the bass but I remember that she played the piano. She played the bass in the Cranberry High School Orchestra where she also played basketball - the days of a six woman team. My Aunt Dorothy, her older sister, said she could play any instrument - could do anything she set her mind to - and was smartest in the family. I think Aunt Dorothy idolized her as I still do.
She was a tomboy, I'm told and was a bit of a daredevil. I've tried to look close at her knees in the picture above. I can recall asking her about black spots on one of her knees. Well....she had taken her brothers bike, which she wasn't supposed to do. And she got going too fast down a hill and crashed at the bottom - got cinders in her knee - and was afraid to tell her mother. The cinders healed over in her knee.
Perhaps part of my radical spirit came from her.
I remember her as a strong, quiet, caring woman. We went to the Franklin Library regularly together. I could choose a book from the children's area and she chose books - not just for herself, but to deliver to Grace - an older cousin I remember she often visited who had polio.
She was our Brownie Scout leader, served in the Ladies Auxiliary at the Sandycreek Fire Hall and was active in the Congress Hill Church of God.
Perhaps some of my community spirit came from her.
I had no idea in those days just how ill she was, though I do remember her in the hospital from time to time. Still, I felt her strong and active.
As a child, I simply had no understanding of it. I think that was the way she meant it to be for those around her. She did not see herself as weakened - would not. I remember her coming home from the hospital and in bed once. Dad had taken my brother, little Mikey, and I to the Atlantic station where they gave us really cool new "Super balls". I was so excited to show Mummy and set about bouncing the ball around her in the bedroom. Knowing she should rest, Dad started whisking us out. "No!," she said, "let them stay." And we played around her in the room.
I believe it was not long after that she had a most serious talk with me. We sat alone at the little kitchen table; she in her pink quilted robe. It was probably about this time in 1966. She showed me a picture of a heart and explained what doctors were about to do. Many times I had laid my head on her chest and heard the bumm bump shsssss of her leaking valve. She explained that the doctors were going to fix that. She explained that it was very dangerous.  But that day never came.
Just weeks later, she collapsed while giving little Mikey a bath. Everett, my Dad's cousin, was there and while he and Dad tried to save her, Mikey and I stood holding hands. He was 4. I was not yet 8. Not long before that night, the preacher had given a sermon about faith and praying in Jesus name. And so, with all the understanding and belief of a 7 year old, I held Mikey's hand and said we had to pray. We were children. The preacher said, if we prayed with the faith of a child and in Jesus name... And so we did.
In the days, months, even years that followed, I refused to believe my mother was gone. Dad tried to help me understand but even seeing her in the casket, I refused to believe it. 45 years later, it is still difficult to accept. And the day I turned 30 - the age she was when she died - I fell to my knees with the impact of how young she was and how little I had accomplished in comparison.
When I have imagined having a day to see her, I've tried to picture what day I might choose if only allowed one. While I miss my mummy, I also remember the many mothers who were there for me - many of them gone as well - both Grandmothers, Aunt Elaine and Aunt Ruth. So, what if it was a day when they were all together?
I see them all in a field, out on Pone Lane, picking berries together, kids in tow. The women in my extended family were close as girlfriends. They were strong, creative, hard working women. They loved, they laughed and they supported each other. I would want to see them all together and watch them all. If I could, I would stop and talk with them. Would I marvel at their youth or at their wisdom as I watch?
At 50 something, I still see my mother at 30 as being wiser. In the last picture I have of her there is a far away look in her eyes. Was she seeing something more that night in April 1966? Did she know more than I can know now? I like to believe that some day, some how, I will know.
What has carried me to this day is that I had many mothers. There was the first who gave me life and those formulative years of values. But, I had a large extended family. Both Grandmothers were there for me. Aunt Elaine, Aunt Ruth, Aunt Margie, Aunt Flocie, Great Aunt Dorothy, Great Aunt Hazel, Aunt Dorothy.... And I had a step-mother who did the best she could in a deep shadow.
For far too many years I felt sorry for the loss. This mother's day, I am thankful for what I have had.
I am my mother's daughter. Those early formulative years had a significant impact on me. I have hung onto the best of what I remember of my mother and desire to have those same qualities. I see none of her failings – certainly she had some – but they are not mine to own. How lucky I am to remember a perfect mother!
I have had many mothers. These were women who loved and honored my mother and thus cared for me. I probably had more puberty talks than most girls because they were each afraid none would tell me. How lucky I am to have had such strong, caring women that mothered me!
Happy Mothers day with all my heart to each and every one!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Where were you that day?

Millions of us are remembering where we were that day - 911 - how we heard the news - what we felt in those dreadful hours and days that followed.
Like millions of others, I was at work and got a call. Then another in our department got a call and another. As the company videographer, soon I was asked if there was still a cable TV connection in the auditorium and could I get it up and running. Just a few of us gathered to try to understand why a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers and were stunned to watch a second plane hit the other - live - right before our eyes. Within minutes the auditorium was packed. And the tragedy continued to unfold.
I live only a few blocks from work and decided to walk home at noon. It was a perfectly beautiful fall day - now cloaked in an ominous silence. Across the river there was no traffic on Route 322 - NONE. There was no sound of traffic on nearby streets. There were no dogs barking. There were no people anywhere. Silence! Until I neared my home. Then I began to hear the sound of the television broadcast from my neighbor's house. She was hard of hearing - had her windows open - and the broadcast was blaring.
We all grieved for the senseless killing. We all feared for the evil that may be yet to come. It changed our world into one of greater suspicion. Our nation was unified in a need for justice. We went to war.
Yesterday the man responsible for the 911 attacks was killed - 10 years later. Thousands of men and women lost their lives in this struggle. He created fear that has cost the world great freedom of movement. He was an evil man.
I cannot celebrate the killing of this man though I have shared the need for justice to be served. I do not wish to see the blood filled room in which he died. I do not share the need to decide who was right or wrong or should take credit. I grieve.
I grieve that these are the conditions of our world. I grieve that a religious cause created such a man and his followers. I fear that other religious people could create similar men and similar followers. I grieve that in the face of evil, any of us can be driven to want blood. I grieve that evil can inspire any of us to celebrate the spilling of blood.
I long for peace. I long for the safe return of all our troops who bravely serve believing they are preserving our freedom. I long for freedom in the world that can only come from peace. "When will we ever learn."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Focus Shift

In film and video I love to see shots that shift focus. These are shots where something is in sharp focus with surroundings out of focus, then, without moving the camera, the focus shifts to something else in the picture.
It's fun to do when the conditions are right. It requires setting the camera up with a narrow depth of field, planning the shift, then perfectly shifting the focus from one object to the other so the focus lands just right at the end of the shot. It takes practice.
All the same things are in the picture but our attention is moved - shifted - from one thing to another.
Oftentimes in life our depth of field is very narrow - especially when dealing with a crisis or a perceived crisis. We focus sharply on the problems but everything else is far out of focus. We see one tree in the vast forest around us. We see this day and cannot imagine different days in the future.
Some people live their lives in that narrow depth of field only acting on those things in sharp focus in that moment. There is no tomorrow with consequences from today. There is only a focus on "me" and all else, everyone else, is out of focus. The focus never changes.
Most of us feel uncomfortable in that kind of depth. When we become sharply focused on crisis or pity me or "me, me, me" it isn't a happy place. And when we see it in others, they are not happy people. It's an energy drain, not only for them, but also for those nearby.
So, how does a focus shift happen? It takes practice and effort. First, we have to realize that there are a lot of things in the picture that we're not seeing clearly. That's been a real struggle for me sometimes. It's something I have to keep practicing but here is what I have learned. Immerse yourself in positive thoughts. The only way to change what is around you, is to change how you are thinking. Shift focus.
That is really challenging when faced with a large crisis. At times, I've felt frozen - stuck in quicksand. I was so focused on the problem, I couldn't see an answer and my energy was drained to a point, I could hardly act on potential solutions. Focus shift.
I started waking up every morning and going to sleep every night recounting what is in my life that I am thankful about. I began reading positive things like "Live Now: Touch Today!" by Tambra Warner Sabatini. I began to connect more with positive people and carefully distance negative people.
I'm not advocating ignoring problems. But what I have found is that shifting focus to the positive, gives me energy to solve problems. And as the days pass, the problems are fewer and less dramatic. Everyday I suddenly have a flash - it's almost a surprise - 'I'm happy,' I think to myself. And I smile at myself - Why is that a surprise? Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Create Joy

I looked around a room of 20 women this morning - all gathered early for a Royal Wedding party - and realized how important it is to create simple joy. We wore hats for our own "royal" picture. Hats have become a humorous symbol of several groups of women I know recently. And perhaps the hats symbolize a simple embracing of fun and the creation of joy - a lifting of spirits for no other reason than to lift spirits.
A group of American women gathered in the wee hours of the morning to watch a Royal Wedding. To me, these were no ordinary women and it wasn't about watching a royal wedding. It's was about a reason to get together for a created special purpose. One with no agenda at all except getting together to comment on hats, the young couple, the pomp and have some coffee and crumpets.
I'm part of a facebook group of women who have been doing these kinds of events for over a year now. No one is in charge. Anyone who wants posts an event and whomever can come will come. Sometimes it's coffee in the morning. Sometimes it's an outing. Sometimes it's a birthday celebration. Sometimes a movie night. Always it is a creation of joy. We are building strong bonds as we get to know each other - with no agenda except to create and share joy.
I am learning from these strong women that joy is mine. But it is sweetest when it is shared with as many as possible. I am also learning that no one can steal our joy without our consent. So, don't consent!
If you are reading this and thinking 'it all sounds like a lot of silliness to me', you are right. And that is what makes it so wonderful. It's art. It's playtime. It's getting together for no other purpose than the fun of it.
Why is play time so important for children? Because they learn how to get along with others. From what I've been seeing in the news, on the internet, and on TV, I think we adults need to find a way to get along with others. Play time might just do it.
Over the past year it sure has helped me to see the human side of people I may never have gotten to know otherwise. If you would have asked me a few years ago if I would see myself getting up in the wee hours of the morning to watch a royal wedding with a group of women - some I barely know - I'd have laughed and said 'think not'.
I did. I loved it. I wore a hat. I've smiled all day about it. Simple joy.
Thank you Sonja - our special royal mayor.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Humor and Creativity

I am so thankful to be surrounded by people who have a great sense of humor and are full of creativity. If you don't have someone near you every day who makes you laugh - change that. If nothing else, become the one who makes yourself laugh. It is the healthiest thing we can do for one another.
It's not laughter at the expense of anyone else. That is not healthy. It's laughter about life. Finding humor in situations. Teasing each other into seeing our funnier selves. Seeking opportunity to create funny occasions out of any possible event. I so admire that in people and can quickly jump on board.
Laughter creates an energy of its own. It's renewing and refreshing. It's positive. It's uplifting and it's unselfish. Simple pleasure.
Work can be a stressful environment. I work with great guys who will find a way to make me laugh no matter what. How good is that!
I have great friends who love to laugh and they easily find humor around us. All of these people have one thing in common - they give to life. They believe life is a creation and they believe they can create something bigger than themselves. That bigger thing may be as simple as a better day for the person beside them but to me that is VERY big.
If every one of us could do just that - make a better day for the person beside us - how good could that be! It's happening beside me. Make it happen beside you!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I just read about the transformation of Louis J. Marinelli.

There are many layers to this story that stand out for me. First, LGBT people and allies kept showing up and kept talking. They were successful in presenting themselves in a way that reached Louis. It took time. I'm sure some contact with the LGBT community was quite confrontational but enough was patient and specifically addressed his position in a way that helped him see that his position was NOT one of compassion or reason.
We are not going to change hearts and minds overnight. But we need to keep patiently talking and showing up. I believe respectfully showing up, patiently questioning and carefully speaking truth will make a difference. It takes time. It's not easy.
Hearts and minds are changing dramatically - seemingly overnight - EVEN in Venango County.
The LGBT community is no longer silent and invisible. Openly gay people are serving in leadership roles all around the community - at the hospital, the university, on boards and in elected political positions. It seemingly happened overnight - right here in Venango County.
Why? Anger, division and lack of compassion get very old after a while. It drives people away. Venango County churches have seen the results in dwindling numbers. It doesn't lift anyone's spirits to be stepping on others.
My friends have recently encouraged me to visit churches with them. THIS was a tall request. I know about the petitions that circulated the Venango County church community that directly attacked me and my friends. One of my friends was forced out of the clergy because she openly declared her love for another woman. I have not felt safe or comfortable in a church for decades.
With great resistance, I have gone. Three churches now - I'm beginning to calm down a bit. There's no doubt that 90% of the church community knows who I am so if they accept or reject me, it is about who they think I am. Most don't really know me, of course. They just know what they have been told.
I am experiencing my own personal transformation. I'll likely have a lot more to say about this excursion into the Venango County church community. I'm told we will be visiting many churches and as this is evolving, I am enjoying the experience more.
Having been far from the traditional church for decades, my spiritual and religious beliefs are VERY far from traditional. However, I have often missed the feeling of a church family. I also love discussing philosophy and hearing messages that make me think about the human condition. Going with friends that I love and trust, who also love to discuss afterwards, is turning into a real joy.
So, how were these church visits? I will say overwhelmingly positive. Now that I am embracing the experience, I need to think about what my criteria are for finding a spiritual home base. And maybe it would be valuable for me to write about the experience. There must be others like me in Venango County desiring a spiritual home. If things are going to change, we need to be there. And I am beginning to believe, there are more welcoming churches here and churches in transition toward becoming more welcoming. If you agree - Say Amen!

Friday, April 1, 2011

It Gets Better

Previously I posted about producing an "It Gets Better" video for Venango County. Since then a number of people have agreed to be interviewed. And last Saturday, I met Cale who responded to my post. He is a Venango County native now attending Slippery Rock University; my alma mater.
He's a very thoughtful, bright young man and his interview reflects it. I so appreciate his reaching out and taking time to talk. It reminded me of how important it is to hear one another's stories.
One of his comments has resonated this week. It was about how important straight allies are and how often they will quietly say they are with us, then follow with a comment that they know many are not. Polls across the country - and I wager Cale's and my own experience - are telling us otherwise. Many are allies. Many believe in varying degrees of equality and many are actually beginning to feel safe to say so.
Just 5 or 6 years ago, I did not know what Cale knows now. He is experiencing acceptance as an openly gay man. He's in a fraternity and can take a boyfriend to events. He has simply opened up and stood tall. I admire him so and am excited to know about his experience.
Finding his way - getting comfortable with himself - came after he left Venango County.
That also resonates with me. Part of that is simply growing up. But part of that is finding safe spaces that are not readily available in Venango County. He noted PFLAG as the first place he found safe space. We have no PFLAG here. And not long ago, I had a friend seek my help in finding a support group for a friend of his struggling with coming out. I could only refer him to PFLAG elsewhere.
So what about Venango County now? Are there allies? Emphatically, I can say YES. I am surrounded by them. Wonderful friends who have let me know that they accept me for who I am - for my heart - for my talents - for my ethics - and value whom I choose to love. I hope some of them will offer words of encouragement for Venango County LGBT people who may not have learned that they are out there and do believe we are equally able - equally qualified to have all rights in our community.
We just need to talk. We need to build trust. We need to work side by side. We need to build understanding. Cale and my allies remind me that it is here. Silence is being broken in Venango County. Breaking the silence is breaking misunderstandings. We have work to do together. It is Better - It Gets Better the more we work together. Tell your story. Be part of a positive change.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why is Art Important?

Last night the Graffiti Art Gallery in Oil City held an artist reception for the current show listed below.

(Photographs of Nature and Architecture)
Sufana Chowdhury
Eleanor ter Horst & the
National Transit Studio Artists

If you missed the reception, don't miss the show! We are so fortunate to have a growing arts movement in our region! It's not only breathing new life into our economy, but more importantly opening hearts and minds to new possibilities.
Art - no matter if it is music, performing art, photography, painting, installations... - can provide a glimpse of someone elses vision of the world. It can open our minds to see our own world in a broader context. It can inspire us to express ourselves in new and interesting ways.
Learning to appreciate a wide variety of expressions helps us to learn to communicate better, to seek broader solutions, to think "outside the box." I believe art appreciation and encouraging artistic expression is the most important investment we can make to lead to a better community.
Why? Because it leads to invention. One must imagine something is possible before that possibility will ever be pursued.
Why? Because it forces us to see. We have to acknowledge that a problem exists before we can be motivated to solve it.
Why? Because we often overlook beauty and sometimes need to have someone put a spotlight on it to remind us that it is all around us.
Why? Because if we are to understand one another, we need first to learn that our point of view is not the only point of view.
Art can be shocking. It can be enlightening. It can be comforting. We need it all. We need to encourage expression. Encourage communication. Encourage understanding. If we can learn to do that in ways that may take us out of our comfort zone, in positive appreciation of varied perspective, we build better community.
I applaud the efforts of the Art Revitalization Movement in Oil City! And I am excited about the positive impact Art is having on the region at large.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Middle Ground

I am a great believer in middle ground. We each come from differing experiences and perspectives and more often than not, if we dig deep, opposing positions do really have some common goals. But all parties need to be interested in finding that middle ground!
So often we stand by in situations, not wanting to "get in the middle". We don't just look at who we believe is right or wrong but look at the outcome. Who is going to win? Let's make sure we are aligned with the "winning" side. Corruption reigns because of this attitude. Bullies win because no one wants to stand against them.
We moan. We groan. We talk among ourselves about how terrible the corrupt one is and all that they have done. But --- middle ground. "Do you stand a chance?", standing against them, ask the bystanders. If uncertain, the middle grounder will stay on middle ground waiting for the dust to settle.
On real issues, on those issues of corruption and criminal behavior, there is no middle ground! Standing in the middle when you are certain of corruption and criminal behavior is exactly the same as watching someone being beaten on the street and doing nothing. It is not middle ground. It is community negligence! Who is the next victim?
Are you standing on "middle ground" as a friend or neighbor is taken by a known con artist? Are you standing for anything at all?
Middle ground is the place we seek when all parties are truly seeking solutions and better community. Middle ground is not a place to hide from taking a stand toward solutions and better community.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"It Get's Better"

A Nationwide movement is taking hold and telling LGBT youth that life get's better. The focus is LGBT youth, but the message is a universal call for suicide prevention! In moments of darkness, don't give up - reach out - believe that holding on will result in a better day.
I recently visited relatives in Florida and heard an unexpected story. A cousin, Michael, whom I did not know, died last year. His dad and step mom shared his story with me and I felt they were searching for understanding. Michael was gay and believed they did not accept him. His death was a slow suicide. "He never gave us a chance", they said.
I am certain many of the friends and family's of gay youth who have chosen to end their lives face similar pain. What could they have done?
In my own experience as a lesbian, I now know I often did not give friends and family a chance. I believed I was not accepted and could not be accepted so I did not let them know how painful their words and actions were. I climbed into a dark hole. I was lucky because friends and family reached in and found me where I was. They loved me. And while they may have had a difficult time understanding LGBT issues, they opened their hearts and minds in a way that let me know they valued me!
It Gets Better is an important campaign to do that. No matter if you are gay or straight, you know dark times. What makes the difference in those dark times, is the love and support of family and friends - even if they do not completely understand the issues. It's about saying "You have value" and "I believe in you" and "it will get better".
I am joining the "It Get's Better" campaign. In the coming months, I am collecting video from anyone who wishes to give a message to LGBT youth or anyone who needs to believe beyond darkness. I am looking for positive people willing to give a positive message. Please contact me if you are willing to participate. Visit to see videos and understand the background behind this project.
I'm here to tell you - It get's Better! Even in Venango County - Out in the Silence.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Friend In Deed!

My Molly is a special friend! I've had a few with the same smarts and heart. But I must say, Molly tops the list.
It's often opportunity that shows great character and great heart. In her quiet way, she has found them. She just does what she does.
Last night she woke Holly at 2am to let her know pipes had sprung a leak and she needed to get up. She was persistent and would not listen when told to lay down - which normally she would obediently do. Our Mutt paw girl, said "NO, get up."
I cannot explain what sets one dog apart from another - why some seem to understand when something is amiss and others don't. There are thinking dogs. I've known a few. Molly is definately a thinking dog.
Her awareness is beyond broken pipes. Last spring a friend brought a little dog to me that he said needed a home. Little Sheltie, Tobey - 6 months old - was terribly afraid of everything and everyone. The instant he met Molly, he loved her. Everyone who knew Tobey was amazed. Molly is twice his size but treats him with such loving care. Tobey follows and watches everything she does. Slowly, he is learning from her that the world is not so terribly scary.
I wish Molly could tell us her story. The part I don't know. I think it contributes to why she is so special. She had to overcome some things. I believe she knows and remembers that.
The anniversary of our meeting is February 18 - 5 years ago. I had just lost a dog, Shadow (the mirror image of Molly). My other dog, Scooter, was failing. The vet said he was just aging and his days were numbered. I felt certain that it was grief. So, I began searching the Humane Society pages for a possible friend. My own grief over loosing Shadow left me wondering if I wanted to try another but Scooter....
The Venango County website featured a 9 month old, sheppard/lab mix they called "Shimmer" - not because of her beautiful coat but because of her "shimmering" personality.
So, on a snowy Saturday, I called to ask if I could bring Scooter to meet Shimmer. They seemed to hit it off and I brought Shimmer home. Soon I had my sister, Laurie, on the phone and we began testing names. When I said "Molly", my mutt pawed girl perked her ears. We had Molly.
I was off work the next week with our new friend. Scooter perked up and was quickly back to his old self. Molly was a perfect angel. She was house broken. She knew basic commands. I knew someone had really loved this girl and was totally amazed with the perfect fit.
I went back to work. WEEEELLLLLL, the next 6 months or so - Molly became the menace. She destroyed things. She ran away from home at every opportunity. She was not a happy camper. Worst - she suddenly showed a fear of children. It was pet therapy time!
It took a village to turn Molly around. The trainer told me Molly needed a crate. I had never used a crate and was reluctant. But one day she destroyed Laurie's Victoria Secret purchase and I had orders not to return home without a crate!!! As we were setting the crate up, Molly climbed into it. She needed a safe place.
The trainer said she believed Molly was running away because she was looking for someone like her previous owner - probably a man. I thought that odd, until I was walking Molly and we were in a parking lot where there was an 18 Wheeler parked. She ran right up to it and wanted to get in. I believe she was a truck driver's dog.
My nephews Dave and Ben spent time with her. Then Dave moved in with me. Molly stopped running away.
The neighbor children started spending time with her, bringing her treats and she became less fearful of children.
Molly and I attended agility training together and built a stronger bond.
I don't know what happened to her in those nine months before she met me. I believe whoever had her, loved her very much. I wonder if it was a trucker passing through who never meant to loose her and that she loved very much and never meant to loose. In any case, it took her some time to overcome whatever it was. I'm just thankful that she found a connection with me. And I am thankful for those who help me bring this girl around. Now Miss Molly Mutt Paws is passing it on.
She is a friend in Deed!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


The best thing in the world is to find like minded spirits to collaborate with; work, volunteer, or social. You know it's right when everyone involved is lifted up. The power of two... The power of more pulling in the same direction. Energy grows and some brand new energy evolves that none would have ever discovered on their own.
At work it's great to be surrounded by people whom you feel are more talented but act like you are the more talented one. In Volunteering we seek those opportunities that are leading us all in a shared direction of better community. Socially, we want to be surrounded by people who just make us feel happy and worthwhile.
As I think about the collaborations developing in my life today, I am feeling so blessed to have found all those listed above. I'm saddened as I think about the bad collaborations. The individuals I think of drain the life out of others. In bad collaborations, one party is drained - financially, emotionally, socially - and there really is no lift. One plus One should actually equal more than two. In a good collaboration, it does. In a bad collaboration, one is trying to lift the other toward equaling two. But what actually happens is that the one trying to fill the void becomes less than they would be if they were acting alone. One plus one equals less than one. Very bad. One is a vampire - taking life and energy away.
As I write this I see someone I once considered a friend. I watch as she is drained - financially, emotionally and socially. I have been there - collaborating with one who drains the life out of you.
We make choices. Choose carefully those around you. Be a lifter. Realize that those who are not, will likely never be, no matter how much you invest in them.
I am so happy to have learned that my the dearest of my collaborators today! 2011 is going to be a VERY good year.