Four More Years

With the end of a harsh campaign season, the USA has finally voted. Though the president won comfortably, this country is still divided, with some Americans feeling hopeful again while others are afraid for the future. If the vote went the other way, there would be the same split of emotion with merely a flip of who felt what.

What I find sad is how close to the edge Americans now stand, staring at each other across a chasm of our own making, trying to tug some invisible knot  over to our side. If we care about our country, we will drop that knotted rope and extent our hands.

Neither side is stronger. Neither side is ‘right’. Both sides have value to add to the discussion. Both sides simply need to listen – and act – for the betterment of the country, not a party, an ideal or an agenda.

It starts with each of us and ends with the demands we make on our representatives – and on the motive behind our demands. Insist on compromise, not on stagnation, and this country’s focus will soon go back to being of the people, for the people and by the people.

And ‘the people’ is everyone of us. We all bear blame. We all bear responsibility. We all bear the brunt of dysfunction. It’s time to demand better from all. For all.

Shootings at Theater Nine

I know we’re all stunned by the shooting in Colorado, and that our hearts and healing wishes go out to everyone involved, but I can’t stop thinking that each time we talk about “the victims” we minimize who they were (WERE, not are) as people.

They were daughters, girlfriends, sons, fathers, boyfriends, sisters, brothers. They were special. They were loved.

And now, through some disgusting and senseless act, they are gone, no longer to be hugged, to be part of a conversation, a meal. If we feel gutted by this, just imagine the families of those who were hurt or killed.

There is no punishment harsh enough, no words soothing enough. No logic. It could have been any one of us.

Our hearts ache yet I doubt it helps.

Imperfections Make the Memories

Every fourth of July, my family heads out in search of the perfect spot from which to watch the fireworks display. We’ll stroll through town to see what the neighbors are doing, we’ll sit in traffic as we inch toward the city along with all of the other last-minute planners in town. Ultimately, every fourth of July, we wind up watching the Macy*s display on TV because, in truth, that is the best view. We’re comfortable on the sofa, not standing or straining our necks to see the sky. We’re surrounded by a/c, not shoulder to shoulder with strangers in the sweltering July night air. And we have snacks.

Last year, however, we planned early and headed up to Rye, New York where, at Rye Playland, there would be an evening fireworks display. It was going to be perfect. The first live, professional display we would see as a family.

We arrived early and enjoyed some brain-scrambling rides and a mind-sorting stroll along the boardwalk. When the heat became too much for us, we found a shady area where we could sit, relish the lush coolness of overpriced ice cream and watch a bandshell performance. With tummy’s too full for more rides, we spent some tokens in the arcade at the ice hockey and skeeball tables then sinfully noshed on food items we’d deem questionable at any other venue.

And then, as the air grew slightly less humid, and the sky turned gorgeous shades of pink and blue, we headed toward the paths overlooking the Long Island Sound. We plucked our way through a growing crowd until we picked a perfect and comfortable vantage spot from which we’d wait for the start of the show.

We waited standing. We waited leaning against the chin high wrought iron fence. We waited sitting cross-legged on the ground. We waited, fanning ourselves, as the cooler night air no longer seemed cool. We commiserated about the long wait with strangers sitting beside us. We laughed. We chatted. We met people from our own neighborhood who had taken the drive as we did. We met people from France and Poland. We complained at how late it was getting with nary a hint of celebration in the sky.

And then music blasted over Golliath-sized speakers and we all jumped, covered our ears, then laughed and rose to our feet, eager for the show to finally begin…and with a sputter, it did. The music faltered as the first rockets shot into the air. The music started again. Fireworks were suddenly absent. Silence fell and we waited. Faces tipped to the sky. And then another blast of music and crash of explosions sounded above us, beside us, in all directions as glorious showers of light streaked through the sky.

Ooo’s and aaah’s came from the crowd. Applause, pointing, random “wow’s” and laughter sounded all around and then…all went quiet. And dark. Again. And then a sputter, like a premature ejaculation, left us all with brows furrowed as we wondered over the anti-climatic conclusion to the show. Many people turned away, young ones skipping, smiling and happy about what they just saw. Older ones wondering if they should request a refund since staying for the fireworks required an additional park fee.

As they reached the mid-point toward the exit, the music started again. People stood in the exit paths, faces to the clouds again as the sky lit up and an awe-inspiring show ensued. The music and explosions were not in sync but at that point, no one cared.

We’d made friends with the people beside us. We’d shared quips about ‘poor performances’, and we bitched about poor planning. We also shared sympathy for the firework handlers since the whole thing had been planned quite properly but a computer glitch had sent the whole show – and all of the computer techs and summer part-timers – scrambling to get this once-per-year event back on track.

Here’s a look at the show as we saw it that night –

What does all of this mean? If the show had gone off without a hitch, we would have loved it, we would have thought back on it fondly and agreed to go back there again one day. But this night, with all of its mishaps, was our most memorable Independence Day celebration.

The imperfections of the night made it memorable.

And from that memorable night, I’ve taken this –

Strive to do the best you can but keep it personal, keep it real. Make it memorable.

Homeschool to College

There is a little corner of my word where magic happens. It’s not visible from the naked eye. It’s not always in the same spot. I have to chase it, happen upon it, close my eyes and conjure it. It is my imagination and of late, imaginings there have been quiet, the space taken over by real-life issues – good, great, and could-be-better.

I suppose the most exciting thing to have happened lately is my daughter’s change in status. No longer is she a homeschooled teen doing high school work. No. Now she is a college freshman, having started classes just yesterday.

The homeschool-to-college process isn’t a difficult one – though it was difficult for us. And yes, that means ain’t nothing easy in this world.

Our experience here in NYC is different from the experiences of homeschooled children elsewhere in the country…in the world. While NY State has fairly strict rules and regulations, New York City adds to those by labeling children ‘compulsory age’ until the end of the school year in which they turn 17. Just a mile away, on the other side of the city line, compulsory age is 16. That might not seem like a huge difference, but when you’re trying to get your child into college, it can be. Especially if you tend to trust the words of others more than your own gut.

During our six homeschool years, I’d researched homeschool-to-college methods and ‘knew’ just what I had to do. It wasn’t until last summer as we visited our local community colleges that I realized – or rather, believed – I’d been wrong. The key to a successful homeschool-to-college experience is to know your rights. Plain and simple. Private colleges will have their own rules, but community colleges are bound by the rules of the county in which they exist. At issue, though, was whether we wanted to fight to get into the very school system we’d abandoned back when my daughter was in sixth grade.

We didn’t.

And dealing with CUNY schools reminded us of that fact. Rules changed according to the person we speak to. Never was there someone of a higher authority available when we took issue with the ‘facts’ as presented to us.

Finally, after much angst and a year of stalling, we discovered a SUNY school that is not only homeschool-friendly but also offers long-distance degree programs. My daughter, at 16, is now a student at this school. Once she has her associate degree, she will no longer be a ‘homeschool’ student but a transfer student.

Which brings me right back to where I was when we first hit the pavement in search of higher education for my child.

Granted I’d made a mistake. I’ll explain it to you so if you’re looking to have your child go from homeschool to college, you won’t make it to –

From the time my daughter turned 14, we should have enrolled her in one or two college courses – ex. Eng.101, Global History101 – per semester. Courses whose credits naturally transfer. Three to six credits per semester would give a homeschooled student enough credits to transfer to a community college or university by the time they’ve passed compulsory age. At that point, they would transfer into a college and continue their education rather than first start the process as freshmen. 

Hindsight obviously doesn’t help us. But remember, planning is almost everything. Knowing your rights and not letting others tell you differently is everything else.

Good luck in your homeschool-to-college endeavors. It may not come easy but when it comes, it is a magical moment so much sweeter than the imagination could ever create.

A Must Read for Women

Yes, I’ve been awol from this blog, but please believe that I’ve been working – homeschooling, house stuff, office work, taxes, writing… yeah. Sad to say, in that order.

In the meantime, I found a phenomenal post by a doctor regarding the invasive and extreme legislation being passed around the US. The post is titled “Where is the Physician Outrage” and the opening line is, “Right here.”

I wanted to share this post because I found it empowering and encouraging. I hope you will, too.

The blog, Whatever, belongs to John Scalzi and I thank him for this post – Guest Post: A Doctor on Transvaginal Ultrasounds.

Lazy Cupids

Today is Valentine’s Day, the day romance is supposed to bloom. The day cupids around the world shoot arrows into tender hearts of men and women – suspecting and oblivious. Sometimes those cupids miss completely. Sometimes they just graze their targets, alerting the intended to something…but nothing definite. And sometimes, they hit the bulls-eye, and months later weddings are planned or babies are born.

February 14th is the day we’re supposed to buy chocolates and roses. Cards and romantic dinners. Candy hearts that come in pastel shades and taste like chalk or are tiny and red and so spicy your tongue sizzles and crisps the moment you pop them in your mouth.

February 14th. A day for romance.

Really?

In this world of high stress, of joblessness, of skyrocketing health care costs, of instant messaging, 24 hour news and constant American presidential campaigning – we have one day for romance? That’s our allotment?

Of course, we can express love on other days but no other day is quite so… hmm… obligatory. It’s like a school project you knew you had to do but had so much time to do it, you put it off but now it’s crunch time and you have to do something so you scrape by with a last minute flourish and pass only because you did it, not because you did it well.

What pressure.

Not that I would want to see chocolatiers, florists or card makers suffer on the one day when they seek to rake in the cash they didn’t rake in during the year, but wouldn’t it be nice if we – and our loved ones – didn’t fall into the trap of required gift-giving? Why not buy a box of chocolate on August 8th? March 23rd. A card that says, “You’re special to me”, on June 17th. Reservations for candlelit dinners once per month – once every three months. Why do we have to be reminded – forced – to say,  “I love you” on a given day. How true is an “I love you” that’s said when commanded? How true when it spontaneously slips through the lips of a special someone?

Some might argue that Valentine’s Day forces couples to slow down, to take time to express their love, to reconnect, rekindle. I would agree, though I find it sad we need such a forceful and commercial reminder to share special moments of the heart.

Buy those cards, hearts and flowers. Keep local businesses alive. But do something special, too. Something unexpected. Something to help you understand your partner in a more compelling way. Don’t just buy the commercial requirements of love. Reverse roles. For a few hours, do something he does regularly, let him do something you do. If you do the laundry, let him do it. If he cooks dinner, you do it. See what it’s like to be in the shoes of the one you love, appreciate what they do so often that it’s become the mundane and make it special. Show that you appreciate even those little things and you’ll both know the next time you do them that your mate understands… and that you’re probably a whole lot better at it than you thought.

Love isn’t just pink and red gift boxes. Love is a connection. A bond that we sometimes fight but holds tight.

If I were a cupid I’d be lazy too. Why flap my tiny wings and reach back into my quiver more than once per year if I don’t have to? The calendar says love should be expressed today, so I’d rouse early in the AM, aim my arrows and be done with it. Have you seen a cupid lately? They’re rather pudgy. They could use a little exercise. And so could we when it comes to love. Why not trick them, make them think love is to be expressed everyday – even if only for a few stolen moments. Make them work off those pounds. Fire those arrows. Stir us and keep florists and chocolatiers rolling in dough not once per year, but all year long.

Happy Hearts to you and to yours. Today and everyday.

A HAUNTING WE WILL GO – Old Bethpage Village Restoration

You would think with the winter months upon us, I’d be home in front of the computer pounding away at posts for this blog. Well, this winter in New York has been so mild, so lovely, that I’ve been out and about for much of it.

OGHOST HUNTING - Old Bethpage Village Restoration - Conklin Dining/Sitting Roomne of my outings took me to Old Bethpage Village Restoration, a historically rich location that makes me think of Colonial Williamsburg and how it might have looked in its earliest planning stages.

Known as the Jewel of Long Island, Old Bethpage Village Restoration (OBVR) has been severely underfunded and budget cuts have cost it the “living history” part of its description since almost all of the full time costumed interpreters have been laid off. Fortunately, new management seems interested in revitalizing the Village and our hope is for a rebirth.

Meanwhile, as the Village stands cold and closed for the winter months, a skeleton crew – of sorts – is charged with maintaining and cleaning the buildings. Each house in the Village was brought there from another part of Long Island, each teaming with its own history. Some of the furnishings in the homes belong to the family that once lived there, other furnisOld Bethpage Village Restoration - Williams House Biblehings are mismatched.

All of this makes OBVR a prime location for paranormal activity. Because of that, one of the updates I would love to see in this village is a regularly scheduled lantern ghost tour. When I am in the Village, there is no question in my mind – Here, there be ghosts.

On a particularly sunny cleaning day, we brought our cameras and digital recorders. There wasn’t much activity that day, mostly personal experiences of cold spots, unease, dizziness and headaches. In each home, however, we captured whispered voices, barely audible. I will share four that seem the most vivid and urge you to use headphones for a fuller experience.

If I sound less than disappointed about our soft bits of audio evidence, it’s because of the phenomenal visual evidence we captured. At first, I was excited, then I became frightened. I don’t know what or who we captured in the pictures I’ll be sharing here, but as I considered it, I realized, we’ve never felt threatened in those homes so our perception of what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ looks like is just that, perception. We don’t know what’s on the other side and so we shouldn’t make judgments – can’t judge a book by its cover, right?

GHOST HUNTING - Old Bethpage Village Restoration - Schkank ParlourA word about the recordings on this page. For some reason, the player will play all of the recordings in succession. Just press pause to prevent if from continuing until you’re ready to hear the next track.

And so without further ado…

In the Schenck House – a home built in 1730 by a Dutch Farmer – We are standing at the front door having just walked into the house and locked the door behind us. I just noted the size of the floorboards and beams – HUGE gorgeous wood – when a light sing-songy female voice comes from the space immediately around us. We know it’s not us because it happens as I’m talking about the beautiful wood and my daughter laughs. We didn’t even hear this voice at the time.

SCHENCK HOUSE 2:06 Ghost Child – SCHKANK FOYER

The Williams House – build by a master house carpenter, Henry Williams, in 1820 – is known for its hautings and though presumption is its residual not intelligent, some of the otherworldly ‘comments’ tell us the opposite. Take for example this bit of recording while we stood in the parlour –

Listen hard for the whispers, there are two. The first is at 7 seconds, about two beats after I say, “You have a beautiful house”, the whisper sounds like, “What?” The second, at 11 seconds, sounds like a slow, drawn out, “They’re here.”.

WILLIAMS HOUSE – Parlour Ghost Hunting – WILLIAMS HOUSE PARLOUR

Eventually, we set the recorder in the family room and went about our work in the other rooms and upstairs. While the recorder remained alone on a table by a bible and spectacles, there were separate comments made – we, remember were in the other rooms or on the second floor and our voices, when heard, are distinctly ours.

Listen at 14 seconds. We hear “go”. At .21, .25 and .27, we hear, “That’s you.” “Go.” “Take them.”

WILLIAMS HOUSE BIBLE Ghost Voices – WILLIAMS HOUSE by Bible

At this point, we are upstairs, talking while we work. Listen at 4 seconds. We hear a frustrated – almost weary and bored of our presence – “Go home.” Just before the whisper, you’ll hear silence then us talking in the background.

WILLIAMS HOUSE “GO HOME” GHOST HUNTING – WILLIAMS HOUSE – GO HOME

And finally, at the Noon Inn, built in 1835, we climbed up to the attic. Well, I didn’t. I stood on the steps to the attic and had to come back down. I felt heavy, the air thick. Cold. My daughter followed me down and our friend remained on the stairs, feeling uncomfortable and asking me to take her picture at that moment because something did not feel right to her. The first picture you’ll see is the photo I took at that moment and cannot explain. Look to her left. Right there in black on the stairs.

BLACK MASS NOON INN

IMAGE DELETED

Please forgive me, but I’ve chosen to delete this image due to some ‘darker’ comments I’ve received (and also deleted) regarding it.

Not one of us ‘knows’ what is beyond this world. We can only judge by what we experience, what we believe and what we feel. In all my years visiting the Village, I have never felt that I or my family was in any type of danger and I would never want others to be turned off because of what they interpret from our experiences there. This image seemed too much of a hot button, and I thought it best to simply remove it.

This next photo is one I took once we were all down the stairs. I cannot explain this one either. Look toward the top right.

FACE NOON INN

Ghost Hunting - Face at Noon Inn

This last picture is one I took almost immediately after the one above.

NO FACE NOON INN

Ghost Hunting - Stairway without face Noon Inn

I’ll leave it to you to decide what these images mean. Your comments, opinions and/or personal experiences are VERY welcomed.

For more of my ghost experiences, check out my Ghosts of Gettysburg Posts – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Holiday Greetings

There is much contention over the proper way to greet others and wish them well during this holiday season. For ages, a majority of Americans have wished each other a Merry Christmas. No thought was given to the receiver’s religious affiliation or lack thereof. It was understood that a Christian holiday was celebrated by all – or at least most – of those around us.

America is the land of immigrants. People of all nationalities, all religious backgrounds, all beliefs and non-belief. To assume our neighbors are as we, is to ignore the flux of time.

For some, I have no doubt, a greeting of “Happy Holidays” is meant to minimize the religious impact of “Merry Christmas”. I find that sad. There is no room for politicizing if one truly wishes another well. I do believe, however, that the intent to insult is rare so if someone wished me a happy holiday, I would simply respond in kind.

Which brings me to my salutation habits for the holidays. If I am with people whom I know celebrate Christmas, I am quick to cheerfully wish them a Merry Christmas. And when in the presence of people who celebrate Chanukah? Happy Chanukah, of course. To wish either something else would be the same as wishing a person a Happy Thanksgiving when it’s their birthday. It would not apply.

However, if I don’t know the person I am with – like just last week when I bought stamps at the post office – but I want to wish them happiness in whatever they celebrate, I will happily say, “Have a wonderful holiday!” or “Happy Holidays!” Most often, the response is just as cheerful and inclusive.

I live in a highly diverse area. I love the various cultures – the cuisines, the attire, the traditions and languages. The more aware we are of those around us, the more accepting we are and the happier our communities. Why exclude others – unintentionally or otherwise – by spreading joy of one holiday and not another?

From the majority of well-wishers, the expression “Happy Holidays” is not an insult but rather the opposite. It is saying I value you as an individual and do not judge you based on your beliefs when I wish you the best in the days ahead. So please, try not to be upset when people around you wish you happiness. More often than not, it is with the sincerest intent.

How do you wish others happiness this time of year? How do you respond to specific or general wishes for your happiness? Are you offended? Do you correct those who would wish you a Merry Christmas if that is not the holiday you celebrate? Or…?

Whatever the case, you now know my intent so I wish happy holidays to all of you. Whoever you are – whatever your belief – peace, love, comfort and health are my heartfelt wishes for you.

Giving Thanks

On this Thanksgiving Eve in the USA, I hope we can all take a moment to remember what others have done for us without asking and without realizing how powerful and selfless their actions have been. I hope we remember to thank the bravery of those who have stood up for that which we hold dear and I hope, do hope, we can somehow come together, united in voice and vision for a future without arrogance, abuse of power or disregard for others.

The quest for freedom shall never be squashed. Hope and determination has coursed through our veins from the beginning of time, and it will until the end. Bullets and pepper spray be damned.

Vanderbilt Motor Parkway – Revisited

Now, the NYC Greenway

There are bits of history everywhere. Too bad we’re often too busy to notice it, or too uninformed to be aware of it – even if it’s right under our feet.

There’s a bike path in Queens near Cunningham Park – the NYC Greenway. It’s a hidden gem not just for biking but for walking, if you’re so inclined. It’s approximately 3 miles and walking/biking from one end to the other will certainly give you a workout. I know because we walked this path yesterday morning – from one end to the other and back. So peaceful there in the woods… actually, there are no woods. Just clumps of trees on either side of the path, with homes beyond them. Continue along and beyond the trees there is the highway – Northern Parkway to be precise. So here you are strolling in what feels like a surround of nature when in reality you’re smack in the heart of the city. Ah, but the woodsy scent, bird songs and rustle of leaves as chipmunks and squirrels dart here and there make you forget about what’s going on beyond the trail.

Motor Parkway today To Alley Pond Park

The trail was not always so quiet. In fact, it was not always a trail but a high-speed motorway designed, financed and built in 1908 by and for one of the Vanderbilts. William K., to be exact.

William K. Vanderbilt was a car racing enthusiast who built this highway with the intention of using it to hold the Vanderbilt Cup. The road was graded just so for racing, the curves meant to challenge. This private motorway was the first in the nation to use bridges and overpasses to avoid intersections.

Two years of racing on this road, however, proved disappointing. Some spectators were injured and others killed during a race in 1910, and New York decided to disallow racing on anything but raceways – and that included private roads. No longer able to hold the Vanderbilt Cup, and with a need for help to pay back taxes, William K opened the road to the public – amazing that a Vanderbilt would need help paying for anything, yes? Twelve toll ‘lodges’ were built to collect a total of $2.00 in tolls. I guess you could say the road was opened to the privileged, not necessarily the public at large. These socialites traveled the road at high speed – 60mph! – in order to reach the gold-coast party circuit, then travel it back after the parties wound down. Clear sailing from Queens to Suffolk County, New York. Forty-five miles of scenic road.

Toll collectors lived in the toll lodges. Reminds me of the guards on the Great Wall of China who lived right there on the wall – their lives spent patrolling and nothing more.

This is the Meadow Brook toll/lodge

With the birth of Prohibition in the 1920’s, the road had new purpose. Rum-running. As a private road, there were no obstacles to this process, and rum-runners certainly had the funds for tolls. Ah, but William K. didn’t approve and so brought in state police to… well… police the road and run the rum-runners out.

Eventually, the road became obsolete. The need for high speed ways to get from here to there was met by the city and state. Northern Parkway was built – a FREE highway with bends and curves more conducive to leisurely driving than racing. Motor Parkway was eventually given to New York in exchange for back taxes still owed. Fourteen miles of the original road have been modified for today’s use, but sadly, other areas of it have become obscured by time, weeds, neglect and ignorance.

The three mile stretch that still exists in Queens contains some of the original cement guardrails – 100 years old.

Old and new combined

(Old and new together – Early 1900’s cement guard rails in foreground, with early 2000’s metal guard in back.)

They show age, they show neglect. They don’t come close to showing us the grandeur they once proudly guarded. And yet, they remind us to ask questions and seek answers of a past long forgotten, and truthfully, can we ask more than that?

1 3 4 5 6 7 27

Welcome

fireplace

What others are saying...

COMPLETED!

Canyon Road

Pre-publishing

20 of 20 Chapters (100%) complete

Work in Progress

For Hire

Complete Revision

7 of 18 Chapters (39%) complete

Work in Progress

Bend at Mirror Pond

Plotting Phase

0 of 20 Chapters (0%) complete