Thursday, February 22, 2007

They Say Memory is the 2nd Thing to Go. . .

Well, I am once again a duly licensed driver. But, there was a moment of panic there. Pennsylvania ties its photo license timing to your birthday. With my birthday in February, I got a photo license renewal notice back in November. This is an every four-year ritual. My husband, being a most methodical and organized spouse, immediately sent the renewal in with the requisite payment.

When it came back, in late November, he said--now, all you need to do is go to the main Department of Transportation building and get your photo. I tend to relax when the crisis is not at hand. So, I put the paperwork aside, and thanked him, and said--I have plenty of time.

On February 19, my husband was lying in bed awake. Now, he could have/should have been able to sleep in a tad--it was, after all, Washington's birthday and his work place was closed, like many others, for the annual Presidents birthday observance. But, the dog didn't know that, and she got up early early early. In her usual, oh I am so happy to see you fashion, she awakened him. After he took her out for morning bathroom needs, he came back to bed. But not to sleep. He lay awake, thinking. And suddenly thought, I wonder if Donna got her license renewed. When I awoke, he asked. I was able to IMMEDIATELY locate the set-aside paperwork. Sheepishly, I admitted all that plenty of time had vanished. I was now an UNLICENSED driver.

Of course, the state Transportation office was closed for the holiday. So, first thing on Tuesday, I got up and headed out to get my new photo license. The Transportation office was the model of efficiency, and in 15 minutes, with no penalty, I was once again legal. I came back out to my car. . .and it refused to start. It turned over, but no catch in the engine. It was dead. I knew instantly it was the battery. After calling AAA, waiting 1 hour and 20 minutes, I had a most helpful service man arrive who confirmed the battery's demise. He replaced it right there in the parking lot.

I am now really spooked about getting my photo license. Four years ago, when I got it renewed, we traveled off to Spain in a couple days, and I met the wallet stealing gypsy woman. There went my new photo license. Now, four years later--this. A dead car battery. I dread thinking what comes 4 years from now.

And, most of all, I really mind that I forgot something so important. What really bothers me is that I was always told that memory is the second thing to go as you get older. If only I could remember what the first thing was. . . Huh??!? Beats me.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Where All the Women are Strong. . .

In the past several weeks, I have had a couple of women credit me as influencing them at some point in their lives. In one instance, a high school girlfriend told me that I was one of the first "progressive" people she had met. She reminded me that as someone who grew up in a Navy family, she had never been around anyone with progressive ideas. The second instance was a chance encounter with a former colleague in a restaurant. We had worked together almost 30 years ago. She was ebullient, reminiscing of our working days together. Then she said--"you were one of the first women I knew who had everything--career, family and home--and kept it all balanced. I really admired that."

Well, I had no idea that I served as such a role model. But these encounters made me reflect on the women who had been my role models.

I grew up with strong women. Among the missionaries were three types of people--at least so classified by my childish brain--men who were married, women who were married, and women who were not married. I didn't know it at the time, but these women were going against the norm of the bland 1950s.

In an era when women were largely defined by being married and having children, these women were different. My guess is that for a good number of them, they might have wanted to be married but were not asked. They redirected their lives--they went to college, became teachers, nurses, doctors, administrators. I don't doubt that some of these women also heard God's call and decided to go into mission work. Perhaps they were asked to marry but when they learned the man asking wanted to stay on the farm, or wherever, these women demurred. They believed their lives held a different path and purpose.

As a young girl, I had a favorite missionary "aunt" (we missionary children called all women aunts) who was a registered nurse. I adored Rhoda. It seemed she could do everything. Having never married, she had an independent career. She was not all work--she could also knit, smock, tat--she knitted various sweaters and smocked dresses for me. When my sister died (written about
previously), she helped other women line a simple wooden coffin with fabric.

One time, on the mission station in then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), someone brought a dog to her. The dog had been in a nasty fight with another dog--and its side had been ripped open. Rhoda operated on the dog, stitching it up. My recollection is that, in spite of the heroic effort, the dog did not survive.

When my parents were moved to another mission, this time in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Rhoda was also there. She was the sole medical provider in the small mission clinic. She delivered many African babies--and, given the quasi-colonial atmosphere of the times, she would sometimes allow me to name the babies.

I do remember one specific medical emergency. The mission station was near a major road, and one night word came that a bus had overturned. There were multiple injuries. As the only medical provider, Rhoda was the one who worked to remedy the severe injuries--crushed limbs, crushed bodies.

The marvelous role models of strong independent women who made their mark in the world through their vocations greatly influenced me. I never doubted that I would go to college, that I would have a career. While I certainly hoped to find a life mate, and to have children, the example of these women helped me know that my personal definition did not come only from being someone's daughter, wife or mother. I could be a strong woman in my own right.

Brief addendum: my best role model of a strong woman has always been my mother--some day, I will have to write about her.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Welcome Winter! (or How I spent Valentine's Day)

My oh my, but winter has arrived. I am one of those folks who genuinely likes cold weather, but with the storm that blew through the northeast over the last several days, I may have to change my preference.

(I took this photo out of a window this morning, then saw Cathy's wonderful icicle shot.)

I mean, when I said I like winter, I didn't mean WINTER. And that's what we got with this storm. I know, I know--all the folks in upstate New York would trade for our piddling snow piles. Or folks in Manitoba might say--you call that snow? Sigh.

We had snow, then sleet, then rain, then snow. The result was a leaden soggy heavy icy mess. Yesterday, my husband and I cleared out the driveway and sidewalks. We are good township citizens and try to honor the 24-hour clear sidewalks rule.

Ten years ago, we bought a new snow blower. It is to regular snow blowers what Tyrannosaurus Rex was to regular dinosaurs. It is a behemoth.

It all started this way. A bit more than ten years ago, our son and his fiancee were living in Troy, NY. When they decided to move to Pittsburgh, they asked for our help, which consisted of my husband helping them to move, and me staying here and caring for pets--theirs and ours. Right about this time there was a ridiculous snow storm which dumped about 4 feet of snow on central PA. To avoid the snow, my husband took a most unusual route to get from Troy to Pittsburgh--basically, he traveled to Buffalo, then headed south! Who would think that the Buffalo route would be the one to avoid snow.

Anyway, I was staying at our house, watching the snow pile up. We had a snow blower, but when it came to blowing snow 4 feet plus to get over the existing snow banks, well, it just couldn't do it. That's where behemoth blower comes in. Right after that storm, we purchased the new blower which could clear 4 feet easily. And, of course, global warming set in, and we have barely had to use it in 10 years, so it sat in the back of the garage waiting.

Until yesterday. Yesterday, my husband dressed warmly, even breaking out new boots (!) and headed out. He started up the behemoth -- oops, blower -- without too much trouble. And then the moment of truth. It was like trying to snow blow a frozen pond. Because the last part of the storm was rain it had mostly sealed the top layer. So, I went in front of him with an edger chopping up the hard crust so the teeth of the snow blower could dig in. Well, we won. But only after over-doing our muscles and exhausting ourselves.

I had a passing thought about women in Africa who I have seen beating corn maize in a large mortar and pestel arrangement. And that's how I felt chopping up the snow.

Ah--Valentine's Day, when two people who love each other and have been together for a long time, want only to spend time together and . . . clear the driveway!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day—and that means flowers. Our local public radio station has been running a “buy roses for your sweetheart” for an annoyingly long time. We all know flowers come from somewhere, but where?

I certainly don’t mean to play “Can you top this” but having read a recent post by Mary, when she talked about her view of a greenhouse, I was reminded of a "greenhouse" trip my husband and I had during our trip to the Netherlands.The Netherlands is a genuinely charming country to visit. Everywhere, as in most places in western Europe, nature is much tamed. A good portion of the Netherlands is land reclaimed from the sea, and consequently actually sits below sea level.

On one of the days of our vacation there, we went to see the Aalsmeer Flower Market. It was the most amazing place—an interior that is the size of 125 football fields. Flowers are flown in from all over the world; they are shown, bid on, bought, then shipped back out all over the world. All this action takes places in auction rooms. The auction rooms look like amphitheaters with 3 computer projection screens, flower carts on tracks rolling through auction room. There are two circles on each projection screen—on left is count-down clock; on right is price. The bidders wait as long as they can, then hit their bid, punching in and locking in the price before time runs out.

While all this action is occurring, flower carts are rolling in on cart trains. There is a track, coming in on the left of an auction room, that winds around and exits on the right side of the auction room. In a perpetual stream, flower carts roll in from the left, and at a controlled speed slowly roll through the room, then out of the room on the right. The bidders know which flower lots they are looking at as the bidding clocks run down. All told, Aalsmeer sells 22 million flowers EVERY DAY.

The flowers that have been bid on and bought are then transferred by cart trains from the sale side to the bought side. When the cart trains are not on the tracks, they are towed around. The means of motoring—golf cart like vehicles pulling the carts behind them, in long trains.

These carts are constantly moving, zipping around outside the auction rooms in seeming random action. They moved so quickly it looked like crashes would always occur. We did see the aftermath of one crash—a cart tipped over and flowers spilled all over.

Note crashed flower holders in middle, surrounded by red golf carts--to block from view?

They were quickly cleaned up and whisked out of view.Visitors are free to walk around the market in an overhead walkway. No visitor is allowed in the auction rooms, so there was no chance we would inadvertently buy millions of flowers! Also, visitors are not permitted to buy any flowers there!

Who knew that flowers were such a commodity? My view is a little simpler—I think flowers are pretty. They don’t have to come all the way from Aalsmeer. Just from someone you love!

Happy Valentine's Day!

I Like It Just Fine. . .

They say that when asked how she felt now that she had reached the "advanced" age of 60, Ingrid Bergman replied: "I like it just fine, considering the alternative."

I don't know if the story above is true, but if it isn't it should be. And it is most apropos for me today--my 62nd birthday.

There's no need for me to ruminate, ponder, muse or even mumble--I have done my thinking about aging. And tried to capture some of my thoughts in poetry. So, herewith:


They say that Elizabeth, that great queen, aging,
In fear of losing her young lover
Banished all mirrors from her sight.
Why seek confirmation
Of what the body shouts
Lines of grief and pain—
Then one day after he was gone
She recalled them—and with looking glass
In hand, she searched her own face
And chuckled. For what? Lost youth? Spent dreams?
How well I understand that search
As I gaze at my own face
And hear my own chuckle.

By Donna F. W.
© April 2006

Life Blood

To the poet
All things private are public.
Nothing is hidden—
For when you lay bare
The chambers of your heart
Nothing remains to catch the blood
Valves spent
Vessels worn
Blood shouts its tale.
All things private are public.

By Donna F. W.
© April 2006


This is a road on which
The only detour is death.
The body ages undeniably
There is no turning back
So helplessly you watch—
As skin sags
And flesh congeals
But you keep on living

The lure of living is knowledge
In death there is no knowing
So you live because you want to know.

By Donna F. W.
© March 2006

Friday, February 09, 2007

A View from the Window

Dr. Virginia Kauffman died today.

Now, that may be a strange way to start a blog, but she was a remarkable woman and certainly merits the attention of one of my blogs. I knew her when she was a missionary doctor in then Northern and Southern Rhodesia (the countries are now called Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively).

While there were other mission doctors from time to time, she was the one I remember the most because she cared for me through a childhood illness. When I was 12 years old, home from school on holidays, I complained to my parents that my arm felt funny, that I couldn't always control it. At first, since this was the mid-1950s, my parents were very concerned that I might have contracted polio.

So, Dr. Kauffman was contacted, and she came, did a thorough physical exam and took a blood sample. The diagnosis--rheumatic fever. Of course, I couldn't have the usual symptoms--I had to develop St. Vitus' Dance, a spastic condition that renders a limb or limbs uncontrollable. That explained my quirky gait and the fact that my left arm would suddenly fly out to the side.

I have written before, in My Sibling Stories entry, about some of the things I did during that illness. I was confined to bed with complete restriction on any movement, excepting to get out of bed to use the toilet. What I did during that time I remember somewhat. Since my mother was pregnant with my sister, I was cared for by one of the missionary women who was a nurse. And weekly, Dr. Kauffman would come to see me, and draw blood. What she was doing with the blood was allowing the blood to settle to see how quickly it would separate into liquid and sediment. Frankly, I don't know why. Caused by A Streptococcus bacteria, rheumatic fever is nothing to be messed with, as it can leave residual heart valve damage.

Photo from

One of the things I did during that time was look out the window. From my bed, I could see a stand of tall eucalyptus trees that was on the mission station. When the wind caught the leaves, they moved gracefully dancing and flashing. I stared out the window alot. So, when I heard that Dr. Kauffman had died, I looked out my study window. Not quite the same view, but evocative nevertheless.

Obviously, I was very grateful to Dr. Kauffman for the care she gave me. In addition to the weekly visits, she started me on penicillin and instructed me to continue it until past my teen years. I did, and whether from that, or good fortune, or her care, I rebounded with no residual cardiac damage at all.

For a while, during high school and my first year in college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. No doubt I was influenced by the fine example of Dr. Kauffman. But, then in my freshmen year, I ran head long into chemistry--two semesters of it. And once I got a C the first semester, and a D the second, I determined that maybe I wasn't meant to be a doctor after all.


Normally, Friday is a day where most of us say--Yippee! Made it through another week; weekend is ahead, etc.

Well, not me, not today.

Here I sit in my nightgown, with long silk underwear, and socks (all in white, so I look like a ghost). I am sick. Blecccchhhhh! I am always so careful about taking care of my health. In fact, on Wednesday I went for my annual physical--everything pronounced A-okay. Then on Wednesday evening, my throat started hurting. That night, I kept waking up with my feet freezing. Understand, I am normally a high heat burning machine. Not just now. I am full in the grip of chills and fever.

THE FLU! Has to be. What irony. I get flu shots faithfully every year. Of course, when CDC decides which flu strain to use for the development of the flu vaccine, they are playing the odds. Which of the viruses emerging in Asia (where many flu viruses seem to emerge) will travel around the globe and eventually hit America. Of course, I get a strain that was not what my flu vaccination guarded against!

I know that as someone who teaches college freshmen who are, let's face it, less than healthy, I have to be careful. I get papers handed in by students, grade them, and return them. I always try to wash my hands after grading papers. But, maybe I forgot.

Or I didn't wash my hands after we had "Passing of the Peace" on Sunday morning. Our church has a wonderful ritual of pausing during the service to "Pass the Peace." You shake your neighbor's hand and say "The peace of God be with you" and respond "And also with you." Immediately after this ritual, some of the congregants break out the liquid hand santizer. That always seems ingracious, but I do try to remember to wash my hands when I get home. Maybe I forgot.

Who knows--all I know is that I woke up shivering, with a sore throat, dry cough, mucho body aches and pains, and a headache--classis flu symptoms. It will pass, of course.
Tipper doesn't look too alert, now, does she?
Allie, likewise, not exactly on the spot.

Thank goodness, Cassidy is alert--however, he is saying--DON'T even think about taking my picture.

Until then, I will drink hot tea, bundle up, read a good novel, play with my new camera, and rely on my faithful pet buddies, until my husband gets home.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Smoking Jackets and Practical Coats

One of the most formative events in shaping my personality is the fact that when I was 15 my parents, who were missionaries in Africa, returned to the mission field. We had been home on furlough, a year long respite, and it was time for them to resume their service. Since I was in 10th grade, and a typical mission term at that time was five years, we pondered long and hard.

My parents very much involved me in their decision making—should I return to Africa with them only to have to come back in three years for college, or should I stay here from the outset? As a young (and foolish) teen, I was rooting to stay here. What teen wouldn’t say—oh yes, I can manage on my own? Well, not really on my own, as I would stay for one year with my aunt, my mother’s sister, then for the remainder of the five years, with my uncle, my father’s brother.

So the decision was made—I would stay in the U.S., my parents would go to Africa with my younger brother and sister.

When I moved to be with my uncle and aunt, the adventures began. They had never had children and suddenly here they had not only a child for whom they were in every way responsible—but a 16 year old at that!

With the long view of time having past, I can look back and know how good they were to me. They were very strict—I can remember lying in my bedroom with my pink plastic radio listening to. . .rock ‘n’ roll, with the volume turned down oh so low, so they wouldn’t hear. I was not allowed to date at all. When I would be out with girlfriends, I kept saying—I have to go, my uncle and aunt expect me to come home.

And they did not drive me to any school events. Somehow I managed to be in a play in school and hitch rides to get to practice, to be in school choir, and to get to all the home football games.

Perhaps the strongest memory I have is of my aunt insisting, when I would buy clothing , that I make sure whatever the item was be practical. The one shopping trip that I remember so clearly was when we went to buy me a winter coat. We drove to downtown Harrisburg to Pomeroy’s Department Store. I have no recollection of what types of coats we might have looked at, but I most certainly remember what I bought.

My aunt picked out a pea-soup green wool coat. It was straight from shoulder to knee with a small Peter Pan color. She admired it and said “It is so practical.” I recall that I instantly disliked it. Actually, make that HATED it. I assume there were other coats I liked better that weren’t practical. But I bought the practical coat.

Around this time, and completely disconnected from the coat purchase, another aunt—who has always been one of my favorites—sent me a gift. My father’s sister, she is 14 years my senior. When I was growing up, she took me to symphonies and movies, which seemed such a grown-up thing to do. It is hard to capture in words my affection for her. But she always seems to do the right thing unbidden.

The gift she sent me was a lovely velveteen blazer style jacket. It had an unusual pattern of deep greens and blues, almost peacock like. It was immediately dubbed my smoking jacket, because that’s what it put me in mind of—those old-fashioned brilliantly colored jackets that had no use except to be worn in drawing rooms where cigars were smoked!

Oh, how I loved that jacket. It was so utterly impractical, yet I wore it as much as I could. Over time, it wore out and was consigned to a clothing bin or the trash. Recently, while out shopping, I saw another blue and green utterly impractical jacket, and snatched it up without a moment’s hesitation.

Oh—the pea green practical coat? I wore it rarely and grudgingly and hated it every minute. Soon after I married, when we were living on a tight budget, I asked my husband if he minded if I got a new winter coat—and ditched the practical one! He didn’t mind at all.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

And they're off!

Well, another semester has begun. I have one section of English 102 (emphasis on argument and rhetoric) this semester, and a Tuesday/Thursday day time schedule--the best of all possible schedules. That leaves M/W/F for whatever it is I do when not teaching.

It looks like my section this semester will be a "good" one--that means, thoughtful students, who give every appearance of being interested in learning, who participate in class discussions, who take notes when I lecture (with the help of PowerPoint) and who actually read the text from time to time.

But, not everyone has a good section. From my colleagues, I have heard that students have made the following comments: "do I have to do this work at the beginning of the semester? I took the course last semester and have already done this work." This from a student who failed the course last semester and, in retaking it, has the same instructor! And another comment--"I didn't come to class today because you didn't list it on the syllabus that we have class." The exasperated instructor points out that the syllabus lists classes by the week, as in "the week of February XX, read these pages" etc.

I have had bad sections in the past. One semester, the students just seemed to feed off each other's misbehavior. They talked over each other, and over me, they made totally inappropriate snickery comments, they made racist and sexist comments. They did not read any assignments, they resented every requirement of the course. And so on. In desperation, I asked my husband, an educator, what to do. He pointed out that groups go through "storming, forming" times--when they first get together, they test the limits and boundaries, and then settle into whatever norm they will hold. Well, this section certainly stormed, but never formed. Then my husband noted, there are some groups that NEVER settle down--they are bad at the outset, and stay bad. Yeah, that was that group.
Thankfully, every semester ends.

But, for now, we are at the beginning--and as the semester moves along, I will learn who will mysteriously stop attending classes and not tell me he or she has dropped the course, who has more excuses for not attending than there are days of class, who actually does the work, who writes well, and who cannot put two words together and make any sense.

Friday, February 02, 2007

For the birds

It is with some personal bemusement that I reflect that among the blogs I try to read daily are a good many bloggers who love birds.

Among these able writers are people who are nature experts and authors, people who do their part for community betterment by volunteering, people who like to take walks (with or without pets) and in the process observe the wonders of nature, including birds. Many of these bloggers are photographers—some experts, some talented amateurs. You can read some of them
here, here, here, and here.

Now, I love birds—I am fascinated to watch them in flight, I day-dream about the wondrous view of the world birds must have, I try to figure out what type a bird is when I see it, I have obsessed over peregrines.

But, when it comes right down to it, I do not photograph birds—I never have my camera with me when I have a close encounter, or even if I had my camera along, it is a basic camera with minimal zoom capability, so I would miss the bird shot. I also do not seek out places to see birds. Even though we live within easy driving distance, I have never been to Hawk Mountain. I do not have a life list, although, given my youth in southern Africa, I have seen some birds that people here are unlikely to see—for example, the Mzilikazi roller (lilac-breasted roller).

And, believe me, the last time I had an urge to get up at the crack of dawn, or even before that, to go birding was when I was in college and it was required for a science course!

So what am I?

I have finally decided that I am a bird-enabler. My husband and I faithfully contribute to many environmental causes that are designed to help preserve habitat, rehabilitate wounded wildlife including birds, educate people about the wonders of the web of life that sustains us all. The organizations we support are national: Audubon Society, Greenpeace, National Wildlife, Nature Conservancy, the Wilderness Society. And local: Hawk Mountain, the local chapter of the Audubon Society, and on and on the list goes.

So, there you have it. I am a bird-enabler. I make it possible for people to do all that is necessary to help preserve birds, and their habitat. I will keep on reading, keep on giving, keep on cheering all the birders out there—I just won’t be joining them.