"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Hollow Tree

A violent wind storm felled trees all over our area recently. It didn’t affect me directly; working indoors protected me from the raging winds and sideways rain. The worst I expected to happen was that the power would go out. Like it had been doing frequently. BGE couldn’t keep up with the crazy weather and lightning strikes.

Fallen tree beside the road. © JustHavingFun

Fallen tree beside the road. © JustHavingFun

Indeed, the power did fail. I was in the public library using a computer. The thrum of the air conditioning ceased abruptly with the lights and computers blanking out. Although emergency lighting blinked on within moments, the lack of air movement sounds and the yellowish tone of the spotlights lent an eerie quality to the space. Outside through the windows, it looked like night. I had been so focused on my work that I felt displaced in time!

I left the library only to stand by the entrance watching the rain cascade down from a black sky. Several other people huddled there; a few souls braved the downpour and ran toward their cars, with or without umbrellas. The rain let up a scant 10 minutes later and I walked gingerly to my car, avoiding puddles.

A surreal pall lay over the neighborhood as I drove through it after the storm. The gray sky loomed darkly above and held a threat of continued rain. Drivers behaved insanely with no traffic lights. Cars crowded the lanes and bunched together. No one could enter the main road from side streets. Branches and leaves littered the streets. Police car lights flashed where trees fell and blocked entire streets!

This tree alongside Western Run shattered from the assault of high winds. Spiky parts jut upwards from the remaining trunk. Its length lay in pieces beside it and in the road. I drove past this tree many times before the storm, never suspecting it was hollow. It took a great storm to reveal its inner secrets.

Isn’t life a bit like that, too?

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Fireworks

Independence Hall, 2006. Gezelle Rivera via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Independence Hall, 2006. Gezelle Rivera via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

The morning of July 4, 1976 —The Bicentennial—I was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at Independence Mall, the cradle of liberty. The Liberty Bell, which I had seen and touched several times in Independence Hall was being moved to a new display area—but I don’t remember that fact from that particular day. I remember standing with tens of thousands of others in the common area outside Independence Hall, looking upward at speakers mounted on poles, as various Important People discussed the importance of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Who spoke? I suppose I could research that but it wouldn’t release any memories. The morning sky shone bright blue, the excitement was palpable, and banners with the Liberty Bell hung everywhere. Philly shone.

Bicentennial Logo

Bicentennial Logo

I had been visiting my grandparents after my freshman year in college. I traveled alone, made my own schedule, had plans to visit friends in New Jersey the following week. A big shot. After the morning events, I went back to my grandparents’ home taking the El and then a bus. Later that night, I planned to go see the fireworks downtown. My plans for the night never, never had a chance.

My grandmother, Bubba Lena, forbade it, and I suppose my grandfather, Zayda Jack, backed her up. Bubba was a nervous sort, and couldn’t understand the glamour of being in Center City with zillions of Philadelphians watching the biggest fireworks display ever for an 18-year old no matter how much I begged, whined, cajoled, or reasoned with my shiny new “college girl” skills. Filial duty prevailed and Bubba’s law triumphed. I was afraid she’d have a nervous breakdown.

So we watched the fireworks on TV. With the sound blasting. Happy 4th of July!

Old TV. Andy Melton via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Old TV. Andy Melton via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Opal

Opal

I love to look at collections of gems and minerals. It makes me feel … happy! Who would have known that there is hidden brilliance in rocks? One type of rock shows it’s secret nature if broken in a way to reveal inner structures: opal. I’m intrigued by these mysterious internal fires. Opals seem alive in a way that other stones are not.

What the word “opal” brings to my mind is:

  • iridescence
  • opalescence (rhymes)
  • dichroism (bringing out my inner nerd)
  • glittering hues (the poet in me)
  • Coober Pedy (Australia!)
  • the elusive Black Opal (intrigue & adventure)
  • Opal, the character on All My Children (brassy soap opera women?)

Opals
Opals are relatively delicate, geologically classified as being an amorphous mineraloid, not having a regular crystalline matrix. They have their own history and lore. Their fire ranges in color from red to violet, and the background ranges from a milky color to black (rare).

Opal is a hydrated amorphous form of silica (SiO ·nH2O); its water content may range from 3 to 21% by weight, but is usually between 6 and 10%.

Though I’m fascinated by geology, that sounds so clinical and dry. I want to shout, “Oh! What G-d has wrought capturing light in solid rock, freezing color in momentary flashes!”

Now, how fun is this? And I don’t even have any opal jewelry!!!!!

Photo credits: Opals at Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois. By: “Vilseskogen” on Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Opal2

Oh Fear, Disappear

Oh Fear, do disappear
Disappear from my eyesight, my doorstep, my home
Take back what you gave me: the shivers, a chill
That sense of impending doom
And hie with your tail between your legs,
A whipped cur slinking back to his den.

Oh Fear, you cunning traitor
Who sets my pulse ajumping,
one hundred beats per minute or more
Whose icy chill drips down my neck
and voice rasps “no victory” though
the opposing army’s boots retreat across
smoking battlefields,
while you gnaw on enemy bones
stripped of flesh.

Fear, you lie and deceive and spread
tales to shock the feeble heart, rend us
wan and faint. You say we cannot paint in
rainbow colors, you quench the songbird’s delight.
Your talons scrape through diamond-tough skin
but never quite pierce.

You no longer walk beside me, Fear; be
stranded, hang from the precipice,
drip your ichor, nurse your bruises.
Lick your wounds in silence and agony, waste
your few remaining days in grief.
Oh Fear, do it now Fear,
Go. Disappear.

Night Terror

Night Terror. ©JustHavingFun

Jury Duty Duty

Juror 4067

Juror 4067

I prayed for more snow and school closures. Dismayed there were only 2 inches of snow at 11 p.m., I reluctantly set my alarm for 6-ish a.m., knowing I’d snooze it after tuning in to WBAL radio to learn if the City Courts would be closed. My first Jury Duty in Maryland loomed ahead in the morning—a morning after Baltimore suffered an attack of snow.

Handicapped Ramp looking north, uphill, to St. Paul Street

Handicapped Ramp looking north, uphill, to St. Paul Street

Baltimore does not react well to snow. Whether it’s due to being full of Southerners who become panicky at the first flake of the white stuff, or the fact that people are used to driving recklessly (i.e. ”normally”) and get frustrated because icy conditions force them to think twice about passing a right-turning vehicle on the right for a change, driving here after a storm can be fraught with danger and obstacles. Although I thought I’d built in enough travel time to arrive at the Courthouse—after finding the parking garage—by the 8 a.m. call time, I did not factor in how impossibly choked the beautifully plowed I-83 would be at that hour.

Woe, how naïve l am. I’m glad I had a thermos of strong coffee in the car.

“Accessible Entrance on Fayette Street” sign

Jury Duty was still ahead of me and I was worn out from the trip! Less than 10 miles from town, it took me the better part of an hour to get to the parking garage. Waze failed finding an alternate route; actually my phone is on its last leg (phone fail imminent!) and kept shutting down mid-calculation. Fortunately I’d looked at the original directions before leaving home so I wasn’t entirely lost. That is, I wasn’t lost until I started heading toward the Courthouse. I pulled up a map, and intrepidly started the trek … only to find myself four blocks northwest of my destination and panicky because it was 8:35. LATE! will I be fined? Jailed? Told to come back another day?

And then the phone battery died. Again. Time for a new phone, for sure.

Drizzle dappled my non-compliant phone screen. Happily a woman told me which way to walk as her son had been on jury duty last week.

Limping due to a sciatica flare up, I found the building and the Fayette Street entrance with a ramp (which the Jury Summons instructed to use; the building’s address is on Calvert Street). The clerk told me to go out, walk up the block and around the corner, to the St. Paul Street entrance.

St. Paul Street Courthouse Entrance

St. Paul Street Courthouse Entrance

A statue of Cecilius Calvert, Baron Baltimore, etc. (see link for entire title), graces the St. Paul Street entranceway. So does a familiar blue Handicapped Entrance sign—at the bottom of a dozen-or-so steps—directing one to the first entrance I’d tried! I pulled myself up the first flight using the cold, wet handrail. My coat’s belt set off the metal detector, but luckily the sandwiches in my bag passed. I muddled anyway to the jury assembly room at 8:50. I had arrived!

The Jury Summons had assigned me Reporting Number 4067. Happily, by the time I entered, 4000 through 4100 had been invited to line up, check in, and get paid. $15 will cover the parking and the $1.50 diet Pepsi I bought from the machine in the Jury Assembly “Quiet Room.” With a bad case of “dead phone-itis,” I whipped out my extra-long phone card and charger I’d thoughtfully packed, found a plug, and settled down. Hmmm, no wi-fi. Sigh. Now that my “duty” had been done, I was ready for Jury Duty.

Or was I, I wondered?

Calendar Page

“I wear my newspaper hat.” – Kate Ter Haar, via Flickr.

Tonight, the last glimpse of 2017 will fade. Finally, we’ll reach another year, one hopefully better, after this one of stress, change, and contention. It’s really just turning the page of the calendar though, isn’t it? What’s truly “new”? What’s the fun in standing with 2 million people, herded into their places up to 9 hours before midnight, to stand in Times Square, having no ability to leave and reenter? These people are willing to wait there hours and hours for a glimpse of a crystal ball descending from a tower on a night with a forecast of temperatures down below -10F due to the wind chill. Sounds like torture to me, not celebrating. But as my kids might say, “Ma, you’re old.” Not old, just cold.

In the early 1970s when my sisters and I were kids, our parents went out to a New Year’s Eve party. At age 13 or 14, I was left to babysit. Approaching midnight I got the idea to make confetti and noisemakers. We shredded newspaper, first into strips, then into chunks, and filled every every pot and every pan in the house. The TV was on and Dick Clark emceed the excitement. “5-4-3-2-1, Happy New Year!” we screamed, hoisting up the pots, broadcasting shredded paper all over the living room. We banged the bottoms of the cookware with wooden spoons. Bursting through the screen door onto the porch, we continued to bang away and yell our New Year’s cheers into the night.

It was over in minutes and we had a mountain of paper to clean up. The dog happily snuffled around in the shredded mounds, spreading the mess into the dining room.  Our banging had permanently dented some of the pots. [I learned years later that our elderly neighbors, the landlord’s brother and sister-in-law, were perturbed by our “wild” behavior, and this incident contributed to our lease not being renewed some time later.] My youngest sister pooped out with the cleanup and fell asleep on the sofa. My other sister and I collected most of the scraps and hid them in the trash. We coolly returned the pots and pans to the kitchen cupboards, hiding the evidence.

When the parents came home, some rogue confetti remained, as we discovered days later while cleaning under furniture and in odd corners. The folks had no idea that we had “celebrated,” too. But for the nagging recollection that Mom used these dented pots for the next 25 years or so, this memory would be lost to the nights when New Year’s Eve was always black & white and Dick Clark ruled the night.

African American Experience

Ida B. Wells. Why had I never heard her name? Born a slave in 1862, Ida was a journalist, early feminist, and anti-lynching activist, as well as one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her name should have been as familiar to me as Carrie Nation or Susan B. Anthony. But it wasn’t.

Slave Ship reality

Slave ship reality. © JustHavingFun

I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture (MAAHC) last week and could have spent a few days there. The experience started with a trip through time, in Africa before the slave trade began, illustrating the culture of tribes, nations, and many notable individuals. Then the story changed to the slavers in about the 16th century, displacing entire nations, devastating entire cultures. A darkened room held artifacts from a slave ship.

A nauseating quotation from Alonzo de Sandoval, a Spanish Jesuit priest, covered one wall. As we walked forward in time, attention focused on the introduction of Africans to the Americas and Caribbean and the subsequent development of the slave economy. Exhibit: a huge cauldron in which sugar was boiled and refined. Statistics: life expectancy for a slave working in a sugar plantation was a mere 7 years. Exhibits illustrating slave life—including two actual homes reconstructed in the museum—moved us closer to the modern day. I felt the bleakness of that existence.

I cannot give justice to the numerous exhibits surrounding the Abolitionists, the Civil War, and Reconstruction and its aftermath. The exhibits shone light on the formation of negative attitudes toward Blacks, and the spread of virulent prejudice against former slaves and their offspring.

Stereotypes: Sambo and Mammy

Stereotypes: Sambo and Mammy. © JustHavingFun

The Jim Crow laws developed as a direct result of these attitudes. If a person of African Descent was not viewed as a human, then why would someone care to treat them as such? I reacted strongly, sickened to my stomach, at the exhibits depicting our nation’s shame. I was especially tormented by the exhibits on segregation. My stomach churned. I grew up in the North where no overt, institutionalized de jure aspects of segregation met my view. I realize that as a child I was not attuned to the de facto social and institutionally segregated segments of society. School integration proceeded calmly at my elementary school in the late 1960s, although there were race riots at my mostly-white high school in the early 1970s. However, enforced segregation didn’t touch me directly. I had friends of color, but we didn’t discuss those matters.

It’s easy to think that everyone had the same experience as me. The museum exhibits showed me tangible evidence that this is not so. I have friends who grew up in Baltimore, and remember seeing signs enforcing separation of the races. That occurred within my lifetime? How can that be? Man’s inhumanity to man stuns me.

I cried after peering at the open coffin of Emmett Till, a solemn line of people passing by it. My stomach clenched as I read the account of his murder. In 1955 this 14-year old Chicago boy who was visiting relatives in Mississippi sustained a brutal beating and mutilation, was shot in the head and sunk in the river—likely because a white woman lied about him making a pass at her. An all-white jury acquitted the murderers. (She recanted her story recently, as told in “The Blood of Emmett Till,” by historian Timothy B. Tyson.) The Jim Crow laws set the stage for this heinous crime. My head swam. This occurred a scant few years before my birth!

The United States prospered upon the backs of immigrants. Some, like my grandparents, were willing newcomers, escaping persecution and dreaming of freedoms and prosperity they lacked in their homelands. Another immigrant group, however, had no choice in coming to America: enslaved Africans, who served as the engines of the Southern economy. Although slavery was abolished in 1865, the residual effects of this grim institution last until today. We live in a color-conscious society where sadly and shamefully, people are not judged solely upon the basis of their works and deeds.

“We were slaves in Egypt,” Jews recite every year at the Passover holiday, and “in each generation each person is obligated to see himself as though he personally came forth from Egypt.” We Jews remember our enslavement—and G-d’s mercy in redeeming us—every day. We were persecuted and murdered. In regard to the Holocaust, we intone, “Never forget. Never again.”

In our country, in our day, another situation must be remembered and not repeated. Museums such as the MAAHC provide vital tools for remembering the heartache and shame of the past. They bear witness and educate. They too intone, “Never forget. Never again.” I want to say that the story the museum illustrated had a shining happy ending, but it didn’t. The exhibits closer to today’s time, after the Civil Rights Act, showed advances in opportunity for African Americans and “normalization” of people of color in our society. I want to say the story has a happy ending, but there is no end to history. That’s why we must continue to learn, strive for equality, and squash hatred born of ignorance.

I won’t forget Ida nor Emmett.

Cacophony

Just viewing the photo makes my ears ring! The cacophony of car horns, traffic, and the swirl of people on an average day in midtown Manhattan makes me woozy. It’s too much: too much noise, too many people, too much aggression, everyone vying for their place.

NYC at Noon

NYC at Noon. © JustHavingFun

When I lived in New York City I learned to walk with arms akimbo, elbows out, so I could have my own space on the sidewalk and not be run over by some mindless drone looking at his cell phone screen while zooming down the street.

The endless jockeying and competition, the noise pressure, and the thump thump heartbeat of the City are a siren song for some but alas, not for me. When crossing the street became an art form as skilled as ballet, when maintaining my four-square feet of personal space became an obsession, when the subway became my greatest source of entertainment, I knew I had succumbed. I was indeed a New Yorker.

Ya gotta love it! Or hate it! But nobody can stay neutral about it: New York. Everywhere you look something new pops out. One day you may see performers, the next day pigeons, then the glitz of Broadway and Times Square, and the next day homeless people, but something always catches the eye.

But oh, the sounds! The noise. The cacophony of car horns and trucks backing up, scratching against the strains of street performers and buskers. The subway cars that sound like the opening strains of “Somewhere” from West Side Story: There’s a place for us…. Yes, there’s a place for us going uptown.

I took my fingers out of my ears and held up the decibel meter when the train approached the platform. It routinely topped 85 dB. “Mom, you look silly,” my children decried. “Nobody does that.” “I do,” I countered. My hearing and tinnitus thank me for blocking some of the extraneous sound.

Nowadays, out of the New York zone, I swallow fewer headache remedies, don’t need earplugs except when running my blender, and my ears are buffeted by the sound of rain drops hitting the pavement on my porch…

…and fire engine and police sirens of the uneasy urban soundscape which comprises Baltimore’s night.

New Beginning

Last month I started a new career. Finally after a long time searching, I became another full-time busy bee in our economy. I am so very grateful. G-d is putting me in a place where I can help others and strengthen our community. I will have a chance to make a difference in peoples’ lives. And I work with some swell people.

Monarch Butterfly on Zinnia.

Monarch Butterfly on Zinnia. © JustHavingFun

I’m feeling rather enlightened. The non-profit agency I work for does way more than I’d imagined. So many dedicated people pour their hearts and souls into the various programs. Their creativity sparkles. Caring blankets their work. People from various backgrounds pull together for one cause: betterment of peoples’ lives. As I pore through the agency’s historical documents and learn about the ongoing and future programs, I’m proud by association. Look what a small group has been able to accomplish and view the future through expansive eyes as more can be helped.

This boon fell upon me as millions of people suffer: Houston’s victims of Hurricane Harvey; Florida, Cuba, and Caribbean islands from Hurricanes Irma & José; wildfires in the western states; an 8.2 magnitude earthquake in Mexico; and daily murders here in our charming Charm City. It would be easy for anyone to sit back and refrain from doing anything in this troubled time. We feel there is little we can do—even sending dollars to help the needy doesn’t feel like enough. Helpless, overwhelmed, and confused, we watch the news as it informs of another catastrophe.

I have an answer to that feeling: Do Something. Not everyone has the good fortune of working in an agency like mine, but that should not be a deterrent. Maybe she can’t help Puerto Rico, but she can volunteer in her community: driving seniors, reading to the blind, stuffing envelopes, knitting for charity. Perhaps he has skills sufficient to tutor children, repair bicycles, or make phone calls.

If everyone took on one “charitable” project, what a world of difference it would make! Just like the butterfly effect, where the proverbial butterfly flaps its wings in one hemisphere and affects weather in the opposite one, our positive acts can effect worldwide changes.

A single positive action from each one of us can change the world. I’m so fortunate that I get to see positive actions accumulating favorable results every day. Talk about new beginnings!

 

New Fruit

We just celebrated the beginning of the new Jewish year, 5778, Rosh Hashanah, literally “head of the year.” Jews celebrate not with frivolity and booze, but with contemplation and prayer. We are entering the period before the Day of Judgement, Yom Kippur. We want to think about what we’ve accomplished, how we treated others, our relationships with people and G-d.

New Fruits for the New Year. (c) JustHavingFun

New Fruits for the New Year. (c) JustHavingFun

Many include a “new” fruit as part of their new year celebration. This beautiful custom entails eating a fruit that one has not eaten in a while or one that has not been encountered before. After making a blessing on the fruit, there is a blessing thanking G-d for bringing us to this season. Then the fruit is eaten.

Our local kosher supermarket, Seven Mile Market, stocked numerous “exotic” options to choose from: lychees, fresh figs on the stem, golden berries, jackfruit, and prickly pear to name a few. This year I bought lychees. (I chickened out from buying a slice of jackfruit.) I can’t remember if I ever ate fresh ones before! It was a delightful experience.

New beginnings are the theme of this season, returning our thoughts to our core values and making use of the ability to turn ourselves away from directions we may have taken that stray from the true path. I have the opportunity to make amends, to look inside and see where I’ve erred. G-d allows me to start over again, freshly invigorated and reoriented if I’ve gone astray.

I feel doubly blessed this new year having started a new position and new career after a long job search. It’s a new beginning in many ways, working for a non-profit organization that strengthens our community by helping neighbors acquire and maintain housing… among other benefits. It’s a chance for me to give back in Gratitude for the many kindnesses bestowed on me.

I’m sending all wishes for a good, healthy new year in 5778.

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