Not Squirrel Hill

Stronger Than HateA friend posted on Facebook yesterday afternoon about an active shooter in Pittsburgh. I quickly learned that a gunman had opened fire on the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

No. Please, no. Not Squirrel Hill.

Squirrel Hill is where I bought my first house as a single woman in my late 20s.

Yes, it is a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh. You would often see whole families walking together to worship on Saturday. I thought that was incredibly cool. A pedestrian, family-friendly neighborhood. A tree-lined, quiet, peaceful neighborhood of well-kept houses, with people pushing baby strollers, holding hands with each other, or walking their dog. You always saw people milling about.

But what really drew me to Squirrel Hill was how vibrant the community was…its little downtown area bustling with cafes, ice creameries, theatres, bookshops, boutiques, coffee shops, and the like. It was and still is incredibly eclectic. People of all faith and ethnicity live there in peace. My husband, who grew up in Utah, would sometimes shop at the Giant Eagle grocery store in his Birkenstocks and Hawaiian “lava lava” as mother called it, essentially a long skirt. No one batted an eye. This was nearly 20 years ago.  This was the same Giant Eagle where a long-haired hippie-looking violinist would play classical music on the sidewalk as you shopped. We hired her to serenade us and our guests as we stepped outside of the church after our wedding.

Squirrel Hill

Yep, you could walk the streets of Squirrel Hill any time day or night and feel perfectly safe. It was the first time in my life I felt I had come “home”. Man, I loved that community.

My love for that neighborhood and for Pittsburgh as a whole go hand-in-hand. For years I dreamed of moving back to that city and it was because of this funky, cozy little bustling community of friendly people, a hop, skip, and jump from downtown. Ok, that and my lifelong love of the Steelers.

Fred Rogers (aka “Mr. Rogers”) literally lived in Schenley Park, the neighborhood next to Squirrel Hill. His kindness and gentleness wasn’t a fluke. It seemed to me like everyone was that kind. Everyone was your neighbor.

To hear that 11 people were gunned down in Squirrel Hill yesterday, innocent lives who gathered for worship, is beyond heartbreaking. I don’t want this incident to define Squirrel Hill. I don’t want hate to define America. I’m sick of this happening.

I even had a Jewish friend of mine mark herself as “safe” on Facebook. I can’t believe this incident touches people I know. Frankly it doesn’t matter if it does or if it doesn’t: violence of this kind is abhorrent.

How can people be so incredibly fearful of and hate people they don’t know? How could this deranged human think it was plausible to connect the dots between peaceful Jews in going about their day in Pittsburgh and a “caravan” of Central Americans headed north at the Mexico/Guatemala border seeking asylum from violence themselves as a threat to himself or other Americans?

This gunman: did he feel like a man, a “real American”, gunning down 97-year-old Rose Mallinger  with his AK-15 assault rifle? These citizens ranged in age from their early 50s to 80s with Rose being the oldest. What a pitiful human this guy, needing to feel superior using an assault rifle to kill elderly people gathered to pray.

I’m tired of people saying that gun control won’t help. If it has any chance of stopping future home-grown terrorists by making it harder for them to get a gun they don’t already own, then let’s do it.

I just don’t understand the hate. I am stunned by Americans who take issue with immigrants and those who seek asylum. Americans who criticize or hate somehow think they’re special because they or their ancestors got here first. As I shared with some friends recently, 100+ years ago, the Irish, Poles, Italians, and Slavs were despised, spat upon, and discriminated against but now we wouldn’t bat an eye hanging with someone with that ethnic background today.  Today, Blacks, Jews, Arabs, and Hispanics are hated with slightly more tolerance for Asians. The fact is virtually every single one of us is the descendant of immigrant or is one.

What will it take? Alien invasion for us to realize we are one and the same?

The vast majority of people who come to or live in this country want to live in peace. Why can’t we just live in peace? What will it take to reverse the crazy?

God rest the departed souls who lived in peace as my neighbors once upon a time. God comfort those they leave behind. God help us all.

Me, March 1996, on the front porch of house I just bought by myself

Alone Time in Sin City

jonathan-petersson-607955-unsplashSitting here in my hotel room in Las Vegas, contemplating my professional life. I know how funny that sounds. A personally know several dozen people who would tell me my priorities are screwed up and I ought to be out right now, enjoying the night life here.

Eh. Vegas isn’t my favorite city in the world. The incessant ding-ding-ding of the slot machines the minute you get off the plane, the faint but lingering scent of stale cigarette smoke, the couples pushing baby strollers at 2 am, the cost of you-name-it here, the sparkling pasties attached to DDs on the Strip?  Eh.

I mean, God love Donnie and Marie, Celine, and everybody else here who has or ever once had a show.  The shows are pretty good. And I do love me some Cirque du Soleil. I make a point to catch at least one of those every time I come. But that was Sunday night upon arrival.

Now it’s Tuesday.  Tonight I need a little me time.

Besides, we may be back in the spring with the kids in tow! This is not a place I would normally prioritize bringing them, but the hubs is in conversations about teaching a master class at a university here so we all might tag along since his portion of the travel is a work expense. We do try to show the kids every little thing about the US so I guess it’s time to open their eyes to Vegas.

I’m sure the pasties will make an impression. Good thing we are up front and talk to the kids about everything. We don’t hide too much from them. We try to explain what the world is really like so they’re prepared for what they’ll see and encounter when they’re on their own.

Enough of that.

I came for a three-day conference on, get this: ethics and compliance. In Vegas. Isn’t that funny? It’s not really a town known for….ethics.

The conference is good stuff. Hearing the speakers lit a spark in me. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but honestly I could have spoken on a few of the topics. I’ve known that about myself for a while, 20-30 years at least. I used to teach our consultants, a few clients, and fellow auditors in the region when I worked at Protiviti and PricewaterhouseCoopers, so this isn’t an epiphany.

It’s simply been a while since I’ve done it and being here reminds me that not only should I teach classes again, but also I should do it on a national level. Besides, speakers often get comped for the conference fee and lodging, so why not? It’s a quick way to get known nationally for your work, and that is incredibly helpful especially during recessions and times like now when whole industries are being disrupted.

And so far, the blog is fun but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Besides, our CFO told me I would make for an awesome college professor because I can take an esoteric topic and make it tangible. Yes. Yes, I can.

Forget for a moment whether I’m doing that in this blog. I’m just sitting here typing tonight, stream-of-consciousness style, because this stuff is on my mind and I needed a little alone time in Sin City.

Sigh….the thing is, it’s been far too easy to just sit back, learn a few things, and passively collect my continuing education credits at these conferences but I get incredibly antsy if the speaker is bad. Or if they pull a bait-and-switch on the topic, like the one session that was supposed to be about artificial intelligence but turned out to be a 101-level class on data analytics for compliance purposes.

I can’t just sit there and listen to drivel. Nor can I just walk out all that easily. Truly, I’m there to learn (ethics and all….) but by the time I get up and try to find another worthwhile session, I’ll miss the crux of the conversation, so I stay put.

Sometimes you can get a nugget or two out of the talk. But sometimes you can’t. It’s situations like that when I start making a personal list of what groceries we need, what tasks I need to tackle for the kids if only I was home, what updates I should make to my LinkedIn profile, what work emails I need to send, and what I should be doing to market myself better.

And that leads me to my final point of the day.  One of the interesting tidbits that came up this week, echoed in recent conversations at work too, is how valuable authenticity is, especially to Millenials. And let’s face it….the torch is passing right now from the Boomers straight to the Millenials so it behooves a “middle-child” GenXer like me to pay attention to what Millenials need since they’re the economy of the future.

Millenials don’t want posturing. They don’t want fluff. They want people to be real with them. And I think I’m a pretty down-to-earth realist. I don’t try to sugarcoat. I DO try to be positive, though. So why shouldn’t I be me, and use humor to teach people the business concepts I work with every day? Why shouldn’t I share the knowledge I’ve gained? I’m a woman who understands technology, risk, and ethics, and I have a knack for communication. Why shouldn’t I give that a go?

Doesn’t this world need new leaders to step up? I’m not a new leader but it is time to step up. Time to roll the dice.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash




Wait: You Do What?

A colleague of mine and I had a funny exchange the other day. He manages our company’s business continuity planning program while I lead our enterprise risk function. We were talking about the difficulty of describing our jobs to non-business people. For that matter, even business people have a hard time grasping the nature of our respective lines of work.

ash-from-modern-afflatus-443916-unsplashHis job function is relatively easy to understand: it involves all the advanced prep needed to keep a business running in the event of a disaster, natural or man-made. Mine is similar but broader in scope: it means anticipating all of the highly probable hazards that could befall a company (e.g., strategic blunders, talent shortages, data breaches, loss of customers, you name it….) and that would negatively impact it in such a significant way it cripples the company’s competitive position or even its ability to remain in business. Anticipating what could very likely happen allows you to take smart steps now to prevent, avoid, or minimize the risk. The larger the company, the bigger the impact, and the more complexities you need to consider.

Now of course, any hazard is also an opportunity to show customers and investors that you are prepared to handle whatever comes your way. It can be a strategic advantage to your business if you deliberately position it that way. Not a lot do.

Sometimes I cringe when people ask me what I do for a living. It’s not like “director of enterprise risk” rings a bell and is immediately obvious to anyone. I could tell people I’m a coach, or a teacher, or simply a businesswoman and all of it would be true. But it’s not quite right.

So this is where the conversation with my colleague got good: when he described what he did for a living to one of his friends, the friend remarked,

“So you’re telling me you’re a professional mom, but for business. You think of all the things that could go wrong. You make sure your kids check in when they’re doing something big or facing danger on their own. And you ask them if they’re wearing clean underwear before they leave the house.”



Nailed it. 🤣

Gonna have to use that explanation from now on.

Photo by Ash from Modern Afflatus on Unsplash

No Shade, No Tea

thomas-kolnowski-780791-unsplashLast week our elementary school hosted parent-teacher conferences so I dutifully reported in the evening to get the scoop on our youngest two kids.

Our daughter is now an “upper classman” as a 5th grader. It seems like every year, I’m surprised by what the kids are learning as I just don’t remember all of those sophisticated learning objectives being shared with us when we were kids in the same grades. We just absorbed whatever was taught by rote. I don’t recall us learning strategies or reasons why the subject matter was important. Color me impressed.

For the record, my husband normally attends these conferences with me, but one of his music gigs got rescheduled for the same night so he had to bail this year. The conversations with the teachers would have been much more interesting, as you’ll see!

The 5th grade teacher shared our daughter’s self-assessment with me. A self-assessment! In 5th grade? Get out!

The first thing that struck me is how very self-aware our daughter is. She seemed to understand exactly how she was doing in each of her subjects, and what she could do physically to prepare herself better for school.  More sleep and better nutrition was her response.  Her dad and I talk with all the kids about the importance of a protein breakfast to start the day off the right way, and there she was acknowledging it was important.

Mrs. T, her teacher, noticed that our daughter is a little hard on herself. I sheepishly acknowledged she got that from me.

There’s just no escaping the things you need to work on in your own life. If you don’t work through them on your own, you just might give birth to them, to relive all over again. Maybe that’s what they really mean by reincarnation. But I digress…

Her teacher asked an open-ended question at the end of the self-assessment: “Is there anything else I need to know?” to which our daughter responded,

“No shade, no tea, but I think we need to talk about friendships at school. No one in particular, but it can distract from my schoolwork.”

Mrs. T looked at me to decode what it meant, not so much the dynamics of 5th grade with hormones a-blooming everywhere and all, because we all know to expect with those, but the “no shade, no tea” part.

I was as perplexed as she was. Now, Mrs. T’s gotta be at least 10 years younger than me, so I figured she was in the know, way better than I am. But here she was, genuinely asking me for the scoop.

Part of me wondered if it was a test. Ok, maybe I had a smidge of paranoia creeping in, but I brushed it off.

I had to admit I didn’t know. So I went all “Indiana Jones” and tried to be a linguistic archeologist about it:

“Well, ‘no shade’, I think means no disrespect…no talking smack, in other words. But the ‘no tea’ part? Where did she get that? I’ve never heard her say it at home and we don’t say it. You really got me! But you know who would know? My husband! He knows all the teen lingo.”

It’s true. Although my husband is a musician, he teaches percussion privately to students of all ages. He’s also on staff with three school districts, teaching and advising the percussion students in the music department. Allow me to translate: this means he is on staff for marching band season and I don’t really see him but one day a week from early July through early November. He is surrounded by teens for days and weeks on end and subsequently HEARS. IT. ALL.  For at least the last 17 years, he has.

I would bestow an honorary teen psychology degree on him, if I could, with a certification as a skilled linguist in teenspeak, to boot.

No lie, I would use random words in daily conversation with him, and he’d jerk upright, stop what he was doing and stare at me all wide-eyed to say, “You can’t use that word anymore!” And I’d look at him all skeptical and wide-eyed in return, totally disbelieving him and exasperated that yet another precious word was now off-limits. This would go back and forth a few rounds until he’d coach me to look up said word on Urban Dictionary. You’d find little old sheltered me slack-jawed and horrified at how language has been hijacked for nefarious means.*. Sometimes I hate talking to him because I learn stuff I don’t want to.

Genuinely curious, I got home after the conference and promptly Googled my daughter’s slang and here’s what popped up:

The slang expression “No Tea, No Shade,” meaning “No disrespect, but …” is common in the drag community, where T means “truth.” The related phrase “All Tea, All Shade,” means, “This statement is true, so I don’t care if it offends you or not.”
May 20, 2016
A Way with Words | No Tea, No Shade

I dug a bit further. Apparently, the T in “tea” is frequently mistaken for truth, but it is really is “tea”. It’s a reference to ladies in the Old South who would sit around, sipping iced tea and gossip. I feel like whomever coined this phrase nailed it. I can totally see that happening! So I took our daughter’s words to mean, “no disrespect and no gossip, but here’s what’s really going on.”

Part of me smiled that my daughter was strong yet wise enough to confess the real scoop at school without throwing anyone under the bus, so speak.

I wrote to Mrs. T and told her what this fancy new lingo meant and even explained that, um…we don’t really have an association with the drag queen community so I am just as intrigued if not a smidge confounded (alarmed? Is alarmed the word I’m searching for, haha?) how in the world our 10-year-old girl heard this phrase. Not that there’s anything wrong with the drag queen community. I’m just sitting here in small-town Ohio trying to piece this together.

Then it hit me: our 5th grader is a huge fan of YouTube star and 19-year-old makeup artist extraordinaire James Charles. Yes, a guy who wears makeup. I assume he says “No shade, no tea” a lot. I could be wrong, but the logic is coming together like the stars in a constellation, baby. Close enough for me.

And for a brief moment, I wonder if we need to put some parental controls on YouTube, but really…James Charles is fine. Frankly, I could learn a tip or two from him. He’s actually pretty good with brushes on a human canvas.

Back to our daughter. I’m tickled she found a clever way to make her point.

But I’m also proud of her for noticing that the friendship dynamics at school can cause some drama, and it’s distracting from what she ought to be focused on. And she’s not calling anyone out in particular, but she’s AWARE that social dynamics are starting to be an issue she needs to resolve. Mrs. T affirmed that our girl really does try to be friends with everyone but the dynamics of the various friendships in 5th grade are getting frenzied, shall we say.

Now, we parents discuss friendship drama with our 5th grader, you know: who’s friends with who, who’s feeling jealous and why, how to include people so they don’t feel left out, how not to feed the drama dragon, how to talk directly to a person with whom you are having an issue so you can work things out instead of avoiding it, etc.

I might even go so far as to one-up the phrase and say “no shade, no tea, no Oscar” as a motto for how to manage friendships in these preteen and junior high years: no disrespect, no gossip, and for heavens’ sake, no drama either!

I don’t have quite the same reach as James Charles, so hard to say whether my little turn of phrase will take flight but you heard it here first.

Three cheers to all the 5th grade girls and their awesome teachers who battle raging hormones daily, year after year.

Photo credit: Thomas Kolnowski on
* Don’t believe me? Look up “taint” in Urban Dictionary if you’re brave enough, and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And no….I honestly didn’t know there was an alternative meaning. I grew up sheltered and sweet so I’m just sitting here shaking my head, resigned over the death of my innocence. Then again, I’d much rather be in the know…

Women, Weddings, Friendships, and Homecomings

My trusty red Jeep Renegade Roxanne carted my two youngest children and I to southern Indiana this weekend for the wedding of two beautiful young people, the bride being the daughter of a life-long friend of mine. My spouse and oldest kid had marching band duties and couldn’t join us for the celebration. When your husband is part of the administration responsible for enforcing attendance at band competitions, you can’t very well kidnap him and your band kid for a wedding, no matter how good of friends they may be.

It was a long drive, six hours away from my home. I’ve made this trip only two other times before. We drove down Friday night after work let out and got in past midnight. I don’t remember the last two hours of the drive all that well. Both kids had passed out in the back seat in an Oreo coma right before Louisville. It was dark, and I was slapping my cheeks, drinking cold water, and singing to stay awake. So dangerous! I know I should have pulled over to rest, but I figured I would then wind up sleeping for hours on some random interstate rest stop with two kids in tow. I really didn’t want to do that and be a mess the entire next day, if not the whole weekend. Because, let’s be honest: six hours down meant six hours back.

We three got a good night’s rest and it was time to get ready for the ceremony so I suited up the kids. My daughter chose a tasteful preteen black dress with matching flats. We had to curl her very long hair for effect. I let her wear nude eye shadow, mascara, and a hint of lipstick. To top it off, I let her wear some dangly earrings I brought along. Not overdone but subtle and pretty.

That afternoon I learned that my son outgrew his first holy communion suit in just six months’ time. I just assumed it would fit. The jacket did, but we could barely snap the pants which were almost a full two inches too short. Say what? I whispered to myself he was going for the Brooks Brothers look with no break in the pant leg. Or maybe he was super stylish with a LeBron James capri-length suit. Uh huh. Whatever. I topped off his look with suspenders and a bow tie, and let me tell ya: he was a tiny little stud when it was all said and done. We even put a little gel in his hair to get it to stay put.

I debated between the three dresses I brought, waiting for inspiration to hit me in terms of what look to shoot for. I finally chose a black and white geometric print maxi dress, flat sandals, and bright red lips. The red lips were not subtle. The flats were for dancing. I intended to celebrate.

Much to everyone’s surprise, it was 87 degrees this first October weekend in Indiana but there was virtually no humidity (also surprising), and as we pulled up to the venue, I discovered it was an outdoor wedding. A lovely, flower-laiden arbor was placed beside a small, pretty lake with white folding chairs assembled for those congregated. Afraid we might melt a little, I learned we didn’t have to worry too much. It didn’t feel that hot and a little breeze blew now and then to make the afternoon perfectly pleasant. Correction: picture-perfect.

Right away, I searched the crowd for my friend Stephanie, and found her at the edge of the gathering, working through logistics of the venue.

Mother of the bride! I have a friend who is mother of the bride! She was absolutely gorgeous in a brownish taupe dress with beading, her mid-length blond hair pulled back in curls and waves. Her large, light blue eyes were sparkling. It struck me how beautiful she is and always has been, and the joy on her face made it clear how happy she was that her only daughter was getting married.

Steph had kids when she was younger, and in contrast, I had mine when I was much older. I got to meet her little girl for the first time when I came to visit their home as a single woman. I distinctly recall this beaming, bouncy little 3 or 4-year-old brunette with large, brown, shiny eyes. We bonded. I painted her toes and fingers a sparkly orange while she sat transfixed. She was absolutely adorable and one of the prettiest little girls I had ever seen. I was so happy that my friend had two wonderful kids.

I had only seen this daughter one other time, at the high school graduation party of her older brother. Over the years though, I felt I knew her because I watched her mother recount her life in Facebook pictures. What a joy to watch her achievements over the years in softball, to marvel at her senior pictures, and to monitor her college years and dating life from afar…always with admiration.

At some point her daughter friended me online.  I was completely tickled to have her friendship. Even though her family and I have always lived far apart, she knew enough about me to befriend me, and I was touched by the gesture.

My friendship with Stephanie is over four decades long, and dates back to kindergarten. She grew up a block away from me, across the street from our elementary school. For years, we played together almost every day, and fought like cats and dogs, kinda like sisters would but I never did with my own because they were so much older than me.

Monday I would drag my baby doll and crib over to her home to “play house” in her basement. She had, hands down, THE COOLEST play kitchen set. Her pretend husband was Donny Osmond (in retrospect, an admirable choice) and mine was Tony Orlando (really? OMG).  The next day, she’d drag her stuff over my house to play “Little House on the Prairie”, “Happy Days”, Wonder Woman & Isis, or Barbies. Our days would end in a fight or tears or both…yet the next day we’d start all over again, ad infinitum. Our mothers would roll their eyes.

I was terrified of her terrier and her older sister. She was terrified of her older sister, for that matter. At some point her sister warmed up to me and started to call me her “little sister” too. That felt really nice, to think I had won her over.

Somewhere around 5th grade Steph and I grew apart. I had become best friends with another girl in our class. Actually the three of us were known as the Three Muskateers…we lived in the same neighborhood and hung out together but at any given time any two of us got along better than all three simultaneously.

This was around the same time Stephanie was allowed to go roller skating and hang out with boys on Friday nights at St. Joseph’s Catholic School gymnasium around the bend on Route 40 from our neighborhood. Skating and boys during junior high were strictly disallowed in my house.

This is when she started styling her hair while I hadn’t even figured out how to comb mine consistently. She always had the best clothes. I felt a little jealous about that. Ok, maybe a lot jealous. I had polyester hand-me-downs that were any where from 5-15 years out of style.

You see, Steph and I attended grade school in the 70s. Girls wore blue jeans every day in the 70s, but not me. I was stuck wearing dresses with bobby socks, in the 70s. My mom was 45 years older than me and routinely argued that poor people wore blue jeans in the Depression when they didn’t have two nickels to their name. We didn’t have money for things like clothes as it was, but for sure there was no way she was going to dress me in jeans no matter how much styles had evolved since the Depression. It was brutal.

Finally my mom broke down and bought me my first pair of jeans in the 5th grade. I had one pair, and only one, with red satin bands embroidered on the back pockets. Man, I was so proud of those pants. I wore them weekly until they were at least three inches too short for me.

Stephanie clued me in that the kids at school made fun of how I dressed, at how severe my “floods” were. It hurt like crazy to hear it but I appreciated the honesty so I could figure out a way to manage it in the years to come. I still have hang-ups when it comes to clothes.

In 6th grade, I finally learned to ride a bike so we’d tool around our hamlet of Lansing on our ten-speeds. Once we rode to an abandoned construction site of sorts a couple of blocks from our home. I don’t remember why this field was torn up like it was but a giant pond had formed. We took a bunch of boards and rocks that were laying around and tried to build a bridge across it. Engineers we were not. As we tried to cross the pond, one of the boards flipped and we both fell onto our bottoms into this mucky water, LOADED with tadpoles. Neither of us were really outdoor kids. It was the grossest thing EVER to fall into the Tadpole Hole but we howled about it all the time afterwards. I’ll never forget walking stiff-legged out of that pond, just imagining where we might find tadpoles. Ewww…

By the time high school started, our friendship really blossomed again. One of the days I walked across the alley to the elementary school to catch the bus to the high school. She met me half-way across the alley, with crazy eyes, a distraught look on her face, and her hand thrust before me. I remember thinking it was really strange for her to walk toward my house when the bus stop was across the street from her own house, but then she directed me to look at what was missing: the class ring from her long-time boyfriend no longer on her finger. They had broken up and she was devastated. I remember feeling so badly for her…but I can’t remember if I hugged or tried to console her. Some memories are missing. I can only hope I was a good friend to her in return.

We used to laugh about how her mom would critique her hair, makeup, and clothing for the day before she was excused to leave for school. She called it The Twirl. She had to “twirl” in front of her mom so she could take in the whole ensemble. Her mom was tough on her but it was clear her mother loved her. Over time I grew not so much jealous of their relationship, but certainly wistful. Steph had something with her mom that I never had with mine.

In contrast, she always thought my mom critiqued my grades but I had to explain that my parents didn’t pay a lick of attention to my grades unless they weren’t “As” in which case I would get an earful, like the time my dad berated me for getting a B in art. I made sure crap like that never happened.

Still my mom got a kick out of Stephanie. Steph still recites my mom’s favorite line when she was in a good mood: “Dig, dig, dig….” and we laugh.

Her mom Carol liked me, it seemed, and liked her in return. I remember being blown away by this beautiful portrait of her mom in her late 1950s/early 1960s wedding gown that hung in their living room.  I had never really seen a portrait of a bride before, in anyone’s home, so this was unusual, and she was breath-taking.

At some point Steph got a car and then drove us both to school for class. It was awesome. She gave her car a name which I have forgotten…and that’s why I named Roxanne and most of my cars to this day.

Senior year I was named to our homecoming court. Right after school that day, Steph showed up at my house with some other friends to honor me and bring me flowers. I have never forgotten that kindness. It could have been incredibly easy for friends to abandon me – and some did over the years – but she never did.

In the mid-80s, we graduated from high school, and before you knew it, Steph was engaged to be married to a guy that wormed his way into her life. She felt compelled to marry him not because she was in love with him but because he just showed up at her house every single day to visit with her mom, whether or not she was there. He didn’t give her any space to be anywhere but with him.

She asked me to be in her wedding party and I gladly accepted. What did we know? We thought maybe this was how grown up relationships worked. Can you imagine?

I remember coming along to see her getting fitted in her wedding gown and I burst into tears on the spot, seeing a childhood friend all dressed in white.

About a month before the wedding, Stephanie called me in tears to say she was calling it off. She had the guts to admit she didn’t love him but felt coerced by her fiancé into a marriage she never wanted. She was afraid I would be disappointed in her. I couldn’t believe she was worried about me being disappointed. I wasn’t upset. Instead I was incredibly proud of her for being strong and knowing what was right for her. The strength that took! She found it in herself to speak her truth. So incredibly brave of her.

She and I went on vacation to Florida together within the year, visiting Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, and Disney. It was awesome to hang, just the two of us as adult women. And when we landed in the Columbus airport after the end of this trip, her then new boyfriend, now husband, was slated to pick her up. It was the first time I met him.

She and I lost touch shortly after this. They married in a quiet ceremony on New Year’s Day at some point.  Who knows where I was then…in Columbus, traveling like crazy for work? Maybe I had moved to Pittsburgh by then. Hard to say. Distance and work demands got in the way.

I remember arriving for our 10-year high school class reunion, and as I walked in the door, she was the one to grab me in the biggest bear hug, the most thrilled to see me. Honestly, hugs from Stephanie are my homecoming. I can always count on a bear hug from her. Her love and kindness are genuine.

So much has changed from the time we grew up. We both moved far away from little Lansing. They closed our elementary school, tore down our old high school, and replaced it with a new one in an entirely different location. My mother died, too young. Her sister became ill. Her father passed away far too young himself, shortly after my mom. She moved to Indiana with her husband, and her mother soon followed after selling her family and grandmother’s houses. They moved her sister out to Indiana too, so they could all be together. Her mom eventually remarried. My father died 11 years after my mom. We sold our family home to a family member 20 years ago and I haven’t stepped inside since.

I almost never visit Lansing now. Our little neighborhood isn’t the same, especially since our beautiful little houses have lost the pride and love that cared for them and the people inside. The corner candy and ice cream store we used to visit is torn down. The Tadpole Hole is long gone. Nearly every single thing that was my home and my memories of growing up, are, in a sense, completely destroyed. I almost feel like an Ohio Valley refugee, still wandering and trying to find a home 30 years later except I no longer have a physical home to go back to.

But Stephanie? Steph is home to me. And this is where my memory fails me….kinda like that Maya Angelou quote. I often forget what people say or do – shoot, I often forget what I say and do – but I never forget how someone makes me feel. Stephanie and her hugs – her warmth – is home personified no matter where we are when I see her.

So I drove six hours to witness the vows her gorgeous daughter made beside the love of her life. I took pictures, not so much of the bride and groom but of my beautiful, lifelong friend who was radiant. She has maintained a fantastic relationship with her own mother 30 years longer than I ever got with mine, and for 20-25 of those years, she has fostered the same kind of love and devotion with her own beautiful daughter. She clearly adores her daughter and it’s mutual. I got to witness this family and generations of this love pour forth as Buppa (grandma) Carol proudly walked down the aisle, followed by elegant daughter Stephanie, and then finally by their equally lovely granddaughter Cadie. And while this was happening, I blew silent kisses to Steph’s grandma Mary in heaven as she too had to be bubbling over to witness the beauty of the day, this long line of incredible women.

43274533_10216882941967198_2431152004379181056_nYes, there I was, taking pictures of my beautiful friend, who had the kind of joy beaming from her face that I can only hope other parents experience when they see their precious children get married to the love of their life. I watched Stephanie Jo in a quiet joy of my own, gripping the arm of her handsome husband, a good man who is her equal, watching her face smile as it changed through several stages of emotion with elegance and poise, and then finally resting her head on her husband’s strong shoulder knowing their work in raising their daughter, into the confident woman she is today, was done. With overwhelming happiness and content, they witnessed their handsome new son-in-law walk arm in arm with his gorgeous bride on a sunny, warm, October afternoon, taking their first few steps as husband and wife.

That is a happy memory I will carry in my heart forever.

She and I danced a polka at the reception. I meant to tell her I discovered after all these years that I am technically half-Polish to her 100% Polish. Maybe we are related after all! Yes, we did the polka, not the easy, cheating way where you dance side by side one another but the kind where you dance as a couple and swing around. Then I dragged my own daughter out to the dance floor and the two of us old friends tried to snap her out of her pre-teen moodiness with Uptown Funk dance moves. My daughter was close to pulling a muscle with her eye rolls. She almost started laughing at us but the pre-teen attitude within her was too strong. Her arms stayed crossed, and she issued the standard, “Moooooooom….” that comes out in two syllables, not one.

Stephanie cupped my daughter’s face in her hands more than a few times and planted a couple of kisses on her cheek. My girl didn’t know what to make of it. I tried and tried and tried to explain to her who this cherished friend was to me, but I don’t think it really sunk in. I told her that when she marries, hopefully no less than twelve years from now, Stephanie and her husband are invited. Who knows if they’ll be able to come? Who really knows what the future holds? It’s nice to imagine it, though.

Time passes so incredibly fast and simultaneously slow, but in the span of a single day, I lived almost all 50 of my years over again, remarking over a friendship that has endured all this time despite the distance of many miles and the challenges of raising kids in wholly different generations from each other. She still loves me, despite the crazy, often annoying political stance I’ve recently taken that’s very different from her own. She still loves me even though we don’t get to talk or see one another that often. She still loves me, despite our daily cat fights over Barbies and baby dolls once upon a time.

And I still love her. I always will. She is my warmest reminder of home. She is my homecoming.

Kavanaugh Chaos

rawpixel-1055781-unsplashNo way can I stay silent about a major cultural moment in our country, the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

His nomination was high stakes from the start. Trump chose a candidate that is likely to swing hard right, and could possibly serve to reverse Roe v Wade. In doing so Trump threw a bone to an Evangelical base hungry for reversal. Yes, the president has the authority and privilege to nominate a candidate of his choosing. However I admit I am skeptical of anything our Misogynist-in-Chief proposes.

It’s not that I’m a big fan of abortion. I’m not. I could never avail myself of that option. But I’ve seen enough abuse and control of women to know that the government has no role dictating what ought to happen to a woman’s body.

And bear with me here, it seems that Kavanaugh is no fan of women’s rights on the bench or off.

Republican senators had a game plan to slam this confirmation process through as quickly as possible. Their games included withholding significant reams of historical and background paperwork on Kavanaugh, and waiting until the eve of the confirmation hearings to release them, preventing their Senate peers from adequately preparing for the Q&A session. It was particularly ingenious of Republicans to be in position to say they provided full information on the candidate, even if it meant failing to provide adequate time to digest it.

And let’s not forget an early warning sign into the character of Brett Kavanaugh: Fred Guttenberg, father of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School victim Jamie Gutenberg, extended his hand to Kavanaugh in introduction at a lunch break during the hearings and upon hearing the man’s name, the judge turned his back to him without shaking his hand in return. The Republican public relations people brushed it off, claiming an “unidentified man” approached Kavanaugh, but you can clearly see on tape that Guttenberg introduces himself to the judge who then deliberately snubs the victim’s father. I haven’t forgotten this. Have you?

I try hard to give people the benefit of the doubt, I do, even if I don’t like them. I have professional experience judging actions and character. I worked many years as an auditor. My job involved gathering facts and sometimes investigating people accused of wrong-doing, to ultimately support an opinion one way or another. When facts point to something unusual or out of the ordinary, you dig further until you come to a fair conclusion. And if you don’t gather enough solid evidence to form a conclusion one way or another, you say so. In other words, I’m not a novice when it comes to judging people and situations. I have a couple of decades of experience under my belt.

That said, I support a real FBI investigation in light of these accusations. We should have had it going into Thursday’s hearing. And by this, I mean an FBI investigation that is reasonable and not limited or narrow in scope. The American people deserve due diligence in this matter.

I’m not really a political person either, but I can’t turn a blind eye to what’s going on in our country. My interest level in all things politics really heated up in the summer of 2016 and has been on high alert ever since. So given the crazy political climate we find ourselves in, I have been more keenly interested in this Supreme Court nominee than any in prior history. Frankly, I don’t like what I see.

As if it couldn’t happen – and I suspect we should get used to this – the crazy got dialed up not just a notch to full effect in this nomination process.

We all learned that Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers. Senator Dianne Feinstein was first provided this information since it was directly relevant to the nominee. She released this information after the confirmation hearings but before the vote.

Sure, the timing seemed designed for maximum negative impact. At first Ford wanted to remain anonymous but within the week she agreed to be revealed. Then she agreed to testify. Arguments and threats flew about whether she would, when she would, and the circumstances under which she would.

Finally she spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee this past Thursday. We learned she was a doctor, a professor of psychology no less. I missed part of her testimony but heard snippets as I drove the two hours home from a conference. I heard Kavanaugh’s appearance on the radio live. Once I got home, I watched huge parts of the interviews of both.

I found Dr. Ford to be credible. She clearly would have preferred to remain anonymous but she had the courage to testify in front of those senators on a world stage. It’s plausible for her to remember the bits and pieces she did and not other parts. She remained cordial throughout the entire process. Her life and that of her family has been turned upside down because she chose to share what she knew. She didn’t have to come forward but she did. Despite endless flack from people regarding her motives, it doesn’t appear to me that she was there for political gain nor do I consider her anyone’s pawn. I have sympathy for her pain. Bottom line, she was there because our senators are about to give lifetime judicial authority to a man who may not respect women’s rights on and off the bench, and it is important they know that.

You can criticize Senator Feinstein all you want for releasing this information in the first place, not to mention the timing of it. Sadly what comes around goes around. Republican senators have not been forthright and honorable in this process either. You play dirty politics, you get them in return.

In contrast, Kavanaugh’s performance on Thursday thoroughly surprised me. I can understand anger on his part, but to come out swinging wildly that this whole thing was orchestrated to smear him in revenge for the Clintons was the most surprising comment I could imagine him making. Here he is, nominated to serve as an impartial judge for the highest court in the land, and he readily played a partisan hand. Does he not understand he is still interviewing for the job?

All accusations aside, how on earth can this guy be expected to remain impartial at this point? He lost all credibility in that regard with his opening statement. No one coerced him into saying it. He volunteered this information.

And I agree with several others – had he been a woman who behaved that same way? They would have called him hysterical. Unhinged. And frankly, he was. But no one calls him that because he’s a man, subject to “understandable” pressure.

The double standard in our society is ridiculous.

He vehemently defended his innocence again and again. However, it seems Brett Kavanaugh had – and maybe still has – a drinking problem so severe that he has experienced memory loss. I suspect he has blacked out more than once and doesn’t remember what he did. I also think Brett Kavanaugh has a drinking problem so severe, he doesn’t realize how bad it actually is because so many in his social circle behave the same way.  Perhaps his friend and admitted alcoholic Mark Judge is the only one who cops to the problem. People who knew him at Yale are coming out to say he had a drinking problem and engaged in lewd behavior. True there are those who argue in favor of him.

I think America has a drinking problem it doesn’t want to admit.

The stories I heard of Kavanaugh’s high school and college life ring completely familiar to me. I was surrounded by binge drinkers.

For example, there are a couple of big dances each year in high school. Yes, this was over thirty years ago for me. I attended one of those senior dances with a friend who was also a classmate. There was an after party, and I had to drive my date’s car home afterward because he had passed out from too much drinking. It was his sister’s car and I was uncomfortable with driving her car the 1.5 hours home given the situation, but because I didn’t drink, it was the only option. I was the defacto designated driver. I’m certain my date doesn’t remember how he got home that day. I am certain it never even crosses his mind, whereas me driving home with him passed out on my shoulder was one of the only things I remember about the whole weekend.

Whether it was high school or college, there was no escaping the underage and binge drinking. I didn’t drink but pretty much every one of my classmates did…there was no getting around it. So while I could give a pass to those who did – because who on earth could I count as a friend if I shunned everyone who drank? – what I couldn’t tolerate was anyone who drank to the point where they no longer have control over what they’re doing. No good comes of that, ever.

And it’s not to say that I never drank. Once I graduated from college, had a job, and finally had money to go out (the latter being key), I did. And surprising to me, my work colleagues were even bigger binge drinkers than anyone I met in high school or college.

However never once did I black out or pass out and fail to remember the night before. But boy did I know people who did. I generally tried to avoid them. Again, no good comes of that, ever.

So back we are with this Brett Kavanaugh situation. Dr. Ford seemed completely credible in her testimony. Sure, it’s easy to forget some details and not others 30+ years later. Sure, Kavanaugh was vehement in his denial of committing sexual assault. I think he really believes that. But when questioned whether he ever blacked out from drinking too much, he evaded the question. He evaded a lot of direct questions. He even had the audacity to turn Senator Amy Klobuchar’s question around on her, and asked her whether she had ever blacked out from drinking! That was another completely stunning moment to me. If he didn’t build his own coffin with his opening statement, I thought that was the final nail.

His belligerent behavior in the interview chair, his insistence on answering questions with redirected facts to make him seem like a choirboy, his unhinged accusation in his opening statement, and his refusal to answer direct questions about his drinking all point to someone who is crafty, evading the truth, if not outright lying.

Do we have enough information to convict him of a crime? No. But do we have enough to turn him down for the job? Yes. He is not entitled to the job by virtue of being nominated. Ask Merrick Garland. Kavanaugh’s behavior Thursday was completely undignified. I can’t believe we would seriously consider him for a position on the Supreme Court at this juncture. I truly wonder whether our senators have a sense of decency and honor to latch onto in times like these.

Yes, I am going to bet that Kavanaugh has a bigger drinking problem than he realizes or is willing to admit, and he is capable of assault but doesn’t remember it because of the number of times his drinking was out of control and he blacked out. Whatever FBI investigation takes place needs full reign and time to go there and explore these possibilities.

This is a job interview for the highest court in the land. I personally believe there is enough troubling information about Kavanaugh to pass on him now. And for Senator Lindsey Graham to complain that this confirmation process is the most unethical thing he’s ever seen? I would remind him that Justice Merrick Garland wasn’t even given the courtesy of a review. That is unethical. 

Mostly I am extremely disappointed that our government has become the three-ring circus it has but we can expect no better from the Clown-in Chief contaminating the Oval Office. You reap what you sow.


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