Travels with Flat Monica

I have been neglecting my blog lately, but only because I’ve been traveling and having way too much fun. I particularly enjoyed a recent trip to the Big Apple with my new close friend Flat Monica.

Originally, the trip was conceived as an epic birthday gala for my friend Real Monica. We have a tradition in our book club of celebrating milestone birthdays with a special expedition. In the past, we’ve typically stayed closer to home in Southern California, but Real Monica decided, for her milestone birthday festivity this year, she wanted us all to visit Tracy, a book club member who moved to New York a few years ago.

We went about planning our trip, finding dates that worked for everyone, exploring various activities and shows, and coordinating travel schedules. Ultimately, three of us (in addition to Real Monica) committed to the trip.

A few weeks after we purchased our airline tickets, Real Monica announced she couldn’t go (it’s a long story). The rest of us conferred and decided (what the heck!) we would go anyway. Our imaginative and creative friend Kathy hatched the idea of taking Flat Monica (a takeoff from the old “Flat Stanley” craze I only slightly remember) and showed up with two laminated photos of Real Monica (now Flat Monica) for us to haul around New York City.

Flat Monica proved to be an ideal travel companion. She fit in our purses and backpacks, did not require travel costs, space, food or her own bed, went along with all of our plans, never complained or got lost, and, no matter what happened, kept the same smile on her face.

We had a ball planning, staging and executing Flat Monica photo shoots all over town and posting them on our group page. To kick things off, we filmed a video tribute of Flat Monica behind a pie with a lighted candle, while we sang happy birthday, ending dramatically as one of us (off-stage left) blew out the candle on cue. We photographed Flat Monica kayaking on the Hudson, enjoying two plays, listening to commentary on an architectural boat cruise, sampling rice pudding at a trendy eatery, and strolling through Central Park. In fact, at Strawberry Fields, in Central Park, we ran into two young men from Australia, one of whom was carrying a life-size Flat Mom (a photo of his mother) and we introduced and photographed Flat Monica with Flat Mom.

Some of the many Adventures of Flat Monica

Some of the many Adventures of Flat Monica

At one of the (Way Off-Broadway) plays, an odd affair involving puppetry and video, we took Flat Monica backstage post-play and photographed her with the star, a Flat Monica-sized puppet (he waived the “no touching” rule and put his arm around her). We took Monica to a 7-Eleven store on 7/11 and plied her with a free Slurpee, and then took her on a mine tour in New Jersey. And when we dropped our friend Sara off at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (where she was staying the following weekend while she visited her son) we photographed Flat Monica in the lobby with the ornate London-built clock and under the 800-thread-count sheets in Sara’s room.

Real Monica seemed to enjoy traveling vicariously through Flat Monica. And Flat Monica made a delightful portable companion, providing us with hours of amusement. All in all, I highly recommend taking Flat Friends along on travels, especially when Real Friends can’t go. Since I was the last to leave New York, I flew home with Flat Monica (in my carry-on, although I let her look out the window a few times, much to the amusement of the 8-year-old girl sitting next to me). As I now write, Flat Monica is smiling at me from the coffee table, and, since we had so much fun together, I’m seriously considering taking her along on more trips.

Speak Up!

Be_A_VoiceRecent events have caused me to think deeply on how I am called to be a woman of integrity in such a broken world. I find myself weeping over the hatred and violence in our daily news. What am I to say or do in the midst of such overwhelming pain? How can I make a difference? The political discourse has become so nasty that I often keep my thoughts to myself to avoid simply becoming another talking head, or worse, part of the problem. It occurs to me, however, that my voice is my power, and it may be more important than ever that I fearlessly use my authentic voice.

In her book “Faith and Feminism,” Helen LaKelly Hunt uses the story of Sojourner Truth to illustrate the search for voice, as one of the five stages of women’s ‘Journey Toward Wholeness.’ Sojourner Truth was a shy nineteenth century black female ex-slave who changed her name and courageously and effectively spoke out for the abolitionist and early feminist movements. Helen writes that Sojourner Truth’s life teaches us “when we are able to speak our truth we gain a new ‘name,’ a new voice – that is, a new empowered self-concept and identify.” “A search for voice is the search for self.”

Based on my own experience, and countless discussions with other women, I find that we too often experience a reluctance or inability to express ourselves boldly. We compromise to avoid hurting others feelings, or making waves, or appearing too aggressive. We find it easier to bypass the large or troublesome people in our lives rather than engage or confront them. We may have a trusted group of confidantes with whom we share our authentic selves, while putting forth a more guarded, or accommodating, public self with others. Although it is clearly not prudent to share everything with everyone, there are times when it is important to assertively express our true needs, beliefs and opinions.

This has been a lifelong growth area for me. Growing up the shy, youngest child with two older brothers, I had to work hard, in a military family that valued high intelligence and achievement, to be taken seriously. In school, I pushed myself relentlessly to overcome my own self-perception of insignificance, and vividly remember being pleasantly surprised to discover how talented and intelligent I was relative to my peers. I found that I had highly developed interpersonal skills, no doubt attributable to navigating my male-dominated family dynamics. On the other hand, I still carried that small internal voice which caused self-doubt and suppression of expression.

Over time, I grew very comfortable with the sharp verbal sparring favored in my male-dominated workplace and developed a thick skin. I could be a tough negotiator when it came to work-related issues and learned to stand up for my positions. But, to this day I know I often avoid expressing personal opinions contrary to others. I know I gravitate towards people with whom I share similar views, and avoid those who don’t. It’s just easier to share my beliefs with people who agree with me.

However, my inability or unwillingness to speak up only contributes to unbridged chasms (political, religious, etc.) in society, robs me of the opportunity to have healthy robust discussion, and diminishes my moderate, Christian, feminine point of view in society. I risk not being truly known by others, losing self-respect and not asking for what I need or want. I suspect there are countless other temperate voices who are silent for similar reasons.

Even within the church, if I am reluctant to question authority for fear of appearing sacrilegious or disrespectful, I may actually do a disservice to the church. As Helen LaKelly Hunt writes in Faith and Feminism, “if a religious institution does not support an issue that is based upon Christ’s teaching, it’s imperative to challenge the institution, not the teaching.” The early feminists understood this distinction and were instrumental in bringing change to church policies that suppressed, divided and excluded.

In short, my personal search for voice is a journey not only toward my own wholeness but the world’s. I was reminded of this recently when I stayed up until 1:30 AM (way past my bedtime) with two of my book club friends over a glass of wine. We were bemoaning the state of current politics, with two of us feeling it is rather pointless to publicly state our views on social media. My other friend passionately admonished us to speak up. She challenged us to think about chapters in world history where courageous voices made a difference, and conversely where silence allowed hatred, violence or intolerance to triumph.

“God’s wisdom is not a pathway of escape but a road of faithful engagement,” writes Mark Labberton in his book “Called.” “God’s wisdom breaks passivity and leads to action. If we don’t take action, our house is built on sand, even if we profess that it’s built on rock.”   Speaking up is action, with consequences, and we have responsibility to ourselves and to the world to speak our truth in love, respectfully, but with conviction. I may not change entrenched minds with my words, but I should strive to be a seeker and speaker of wisdom, and may then, through example, influence those looking for alternatives to the noisy mainstream talking heads.

Of courage, John O’Donahue writes in “To Bless the Space Between Us”:

“Close your eyes,

Gather all the kindling

About your heart

To create one spark

That is all you need

To nourish the flame

That will cleanse the dark

Of its weight of festered fear.”

Oh Lord, in this time of great strife, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and give me wisdom and courage in thought, word and deed.

Texas!

We just finished a three-week road trip, two weeks of it in Texas. Our excuse this time was to visit our son in Corpus Christi for Mother’s Day weekend. And since we’re retired, our thought process went, why not make it a road trip and do a little exploring?

Our rather random itinerary

Our rather random itinerary

We were pedal to the metal to get to Corpus Christ in time, but then took our time meandering home. Even so, it’s a big state, and we only scratched the surface. But, after a full two weeks in the great state of Texas, here’s some of my take-aways:

Everything is big! The state is big, the roads are long, and the steaks are huge. It was important to plan stops carefully as it’s a long way between towns and there’s extended stretches with no cell coverage to check hours and options. One day we visited Fort McKavett State Historic Park, which was 17 miles west of Menard. When we arrived in Menard at 11:30 am, it seemed too early to eat, so we continued to the Fort. When we returned at 2:10 pm, our lunch spot had closed (at 2:00 pm), so we continued to the next town. We reached Ballinger at 3:05 pm and found everything there shut at 3 pm.  It all worked out, though, as that night our appetites matched our massive rib eyes at Joe Allen’s Steakhouse in Abilene.

The weather can change on a dime. Being accustomed to Southern California, where we never think to check the weather before going out, I was surprised at how often, and quickly, the weather can change in Texas. We had a beautiful Saturday in San Antonio, and decided to drive to Austin on Sunday. About halfway there, we suddenly hit torrential rain. We had the windshield wipers working on high gear, and still couldn’t see ten feet in front of us. We continued our snail’s pace and got there safely. Fortunately, we were going to the LBJ Presidential Library, a perfect rainy-day activity. By the time we finished, it was bright and sunny again.

Texas wildflowers

Texas wildflowers

The wildflowers are spectacular. As we drove through the hill country of western Texas, the countryside was strewn with vivid displays of wildflowers in every shape and color. I especially loved one type of wildflower that had a red center and bright yellow petals. I’m not sure what it is, but it made me very happy.

Texans are friendly. People were very sociable, proud of their towns, and eager to talk to newcomers. My husband has a habit of blurting random things (like “looks like you got your hands full!”) to complete strangers (a habit our son found mortifying as a teenager) and he fit in perfectly. They’d smile and blurt right back, or even blurt first. When we ate at Joe Allen’s Steakhouse, the Texan with the boots and hat at the next table looked over at my steak and asked (loudly) what I was eating and if I wanted to share. I smiled sweetly and said, “Get your own!” which caused the whole group to howl with laughter.

One day we stopped in Beeville, where my husband did his advanced flight training in the late 60’s. The former Navy base is now an eerie ghost town, with the structures and runways still there, but abandoned. As we were leaving, we came across the general manager. When my husband explained our situation, he smiled warmly and offered to give us a personal tour of the old base. The GM, who turned out to be the same age as my husband and grew up in Beeville, was a wonderful host as he drove us around for almost an hour, filling us in on the fascinating post-Navy history of the facility.

Texas made my hair curl. I could gauge the humidity by my hair. The whole time I was in Texas, my hair was abnormally curly. I gave up trying to style it. I’d wash it, brush it out of my face and then let it go wild. Some days, I closely resembled a French poodle. I noticed that the further from the gulf coast we drove, the straighter my hair. If I ever lived in Texas, I’d need to learn and incorporate some humidity-busting tricks into my beauty routine.

They talk funny in Texas. This is one accent I really enjoy. For some reason, stories are funnier with a Texas drawl. And they seem to really enjoy spinning their yarns. In our conversations, there was rarely a quick answer to anything. Instead, there was usually a “great story” that bolstered any normal response, and I didn’t always understand the connection…but the tales were always entertaining. And the word “y’all” is sheer genius.

Thank you, Texas, for a wonderful trip. And y’all take care of my boy, you hear?!

Hurray for Keenan!

As most of my friends well know, I am an obsessed Keenan Reynolds super-fan. Keenan is the outgoing senior quarterback for the Navy football team, who racked up killer statistics in his four-year Navy career, with records and statistics impressive not just for a service academy player, but remarkable for any elite NCAA Division 1 player.   He finished fifth in the Heisman voting and I blogged about my extreme disappointment that he was not invited to the ceremony in New York City in What the Heisman Trophy Says About Us

Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I am so fanatical about Keenan. Certainly, his is a good underdog story, and we all enjoy the David beating Goliath tales. I also feel a pseudo- (or maybe psycho-) maternal affection for him, since he was my son’s classmate at Navy. (I find myself inexplicably tearing up over news of him, which is both touching and a little weird.)

But it may also be partly due to (my perceived) current shortage of inspirational national leadership. I am usually a political junkie, especially during presidential election years, but I can barely bring myself to follow this election. The news terrifies and depresses me. Instead, following coverage of Keenan Reynolds, who to me represents the good in our country and an example of a healthy role model, has been a welcome distraction. And it is frankly deeply comforting when, sometimes, good things happen to the good guys.

It all started because our son was one class ahead of Keenan at Navy, so we attended the majority of Navy’s home games with Keenan at quarterback. We met many of the players, including Keenan, multiple times at various events. It is easy to develop a maternal-like fondness for Navy players, as they are all such inspiring young men, each with compelling life stories and aspirations. I blogged about my growing obsession in The Basketball Tripleheader: My Life as a Groupie

But even among this impressive group, Keenan stood out as a leader of leaders. I believe he is an example of what we should look for, and nurture, in our leadership:

Humility and Presence

Keenan was given his first start at quarterback as a freshman (highly unusual at Navy), took full advantage of the opportunity, worked his tail off, and never looked back. I probably read or saw every interview featuring Keenan (as previously mentioned, I’m obsessed). As he became more and more successful on the field, I half expected a cockiness or arrogance to emerge. Instead, I watched, incredulously, as he developed steadily and surely from a somewhat reticent teenager (suddenly thrust into the spotlight of leadership) to a humble yet confident, engaging and endlessly impressive young man.

I recently read an interview with Scott Strasemeier (Sports Information Director for Navy), who marveled that Keenan, in his four remarkable years at Navy, has been under intense scrutiny and given countless interviews to the press, and that he has never once made a mistake. Not one flubbed speech or misstatement or missed opportunity to give credit to others. In fact, it was Keenan’s consistent insistence on deflecting praise from himself to his teammates and coaches, to putting the team’s success first, that initially made me such a fan.

Flexibility, tenacity and patience.

I am impressed with how Keenan has handled adversity. He has openly shared that playing in the NFL has always been a dream of his. However, he recognized and accepted that the five-year military commitment required of Navy midshipmen would be a significant hurdle to overcome (although recently there have been allowances made for exceptional athletes to facilitate their professional athletic careers). He stated emphatically that he would be honored to serve his country, pursuant to his own personal commitment, in whatever capacity he was needed, even if that meant never playing football again.

I learned this year that there is something called the NFL Scouting Combine, which is apparently a big try-out for college players. Keenan was not invited. He was invited to the East-West Shrine Game in January (another great opportunity to shine for the pro scouts), but as a running back not a quarterback. Despite all his records and success as Navy quarterback, he was deemed too small with too little arm strength for the pros. He later recounted that his father called him, somewhat angry that Keenan was not given a chance at quarterback, but Keenan was grateful for the opportunity to play, in any position. He reportedly wowed the scouts in practice but had to skip the game because of a back strain.

Accepting that the only chance he would have in the pros would be in a position other than quarterback (the position he played his entire life), Keenan worked out as a wide receiver with the Tennessee Titans and the New England Patriots and attended a pro day with the Baltimore Ravens, and began working with a punt receiver coach. All the while meeting his academic and military obligations at Navy, and consistently deflecting questions about his future and restating his commitment to the needs of the Navy.

Loyalty, Poise and Values

What most impresses me about Keenan, and what I believe is the bedrock of his leadership, is that he lives by a durable set of personal core values. His upbringing with strong, supportive parents, extended family and a faith community has provided him a solid internal and external support system.

A good leader should have exemplary character and must be trustworthy. A good leader “walks the talk” and in doing so earns the right to have responsibility for others. Keenan, as a “plebe” (freshman) quarterback, was put in a position of leadership on the field over others who mostly outranked him off the field. He had the strength of character to lead, not from ego, but through loyalty to his teammates, poise under pressure, an exceptional work ethic, and a selfless drive to make the team and his teammates better. He earned the respect of his teammates.

Good Things Happen to the Good Guys

After four years of watching Keenan blossom at Navy, it has been exciting to now see him recognized on a national level:

  • Even though he didn’t play at the East-West game in January, he was made a unanimous captain for the East team. Also during this game, he won the Pat Tillman Award, which “is presented to a player who best exemplifies character, intelligence, sportsmanship and service. The award is about a student-athlete’s achievements and conduct, both on and off the field.”

    Keenan's Navy Jersey #19 retired

    Keenan’s Navy Jersey #19 retired (Navy Athletics)

  • On February 28, 2016, the Naval Academy announced that Keenan Reynolds would be the last player to wear No. 19. Besides Keenan, only Roger Staubach, Joe Bellino, and Napolean McCallum have had their numbers retired by the school.
  • Following what I considered a regrettable snub by the Heisman committee last December, I was delighted to see Keenan honored with the James E. Sullivan Award on April 10, 2016. Presented by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), this award is given to “the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.”
    Winner of the AAU Athlete of the Year Award

    Winner of the AAU Athlete of the Year Award (www.navysports.com)

    Past recipients have included Tim Tebow, Michael Phelps and Peyton Manning. Keenan attended the ceremony with his mother and his speech (which of course made me cry) was a model of humility and grace, giving credit to his family, his faith, and his teammates for his success.

    Keenan at a press conference discussing his future with the Ravens

    Keenan at a press conference discussing his future with the Ravens (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun)

  • On Saturday, May 30 (I watched the NFL Draft live on my iPhone, something I have never done and never thought I would) in the 6th round, with the 182nd pick overall, the Baltimore Ravens selected Keenan Reynolds, as a wide receiver. I cried tears of joy as I watched the video feed of Keenan taking the call from the Ravens flanked by his mom, dad, little brother, and teammates.
  • The Secretary of the Navy has recently recommended that Keenan be allowed to play full-time with the Ravens, and that he fulfill his military commitment through the Reserves. The Secretary of the Defense must still approve this recommendation, but by all accounts, it is considered a formality.

I admit I am somewhat torn (as are many in the military community) as to whether Keenan should be allowed to play pro football full-time and immediately, without any active duty service commitment. Part of me would rather have someone of Keenan’s caliber protecting our country (his service selection was cyber-security) as opposed to knocking heads on Sunday. (And what if he gets a concussion? my psycho-mom-self worries.) However, it has been a joy, and an opportune diversion to watch the development and emergence of this fine young man. Wherever he lands, either in the sports world, the military, government, or business, he will be a beacon of light, and it soothes my spirit to know that we are producing the next generation of quality young leaders like Keenan Reynolds. And you bet I’ll be rooting for him on Sundays!

A Sibling Story

Last week was National Siblings Day.  Facebook made me aware of this special day, in addition to the many other special days I never knew existed. I enjoyed the photos posted by friends of themselves with siblings, but I was suspicious that National Siblings Day was merely an invention of social media. I learned from Wikipedia, however, that National Siblings Day was created in 1997 (before Facebook), that there is a nonprofit organization to promote it, and “the holiday is intended to be a celebration of the relationship of brothers and sisters.” Unfortunately, no further guidance is given on appropriate means of celebration.

Since National Siblings Day seems to be legit, and proper observance and customs are rather vague, I thought I would celebrate (a week late) by recounting one of my favorite sibling stories. This is a story I have told for years, but just recently learned (from my sibling) a heretofore-unknown and shocking plot twist.

To set the stage, I have two older brothers, Tom (the oldest) and Jim. This particular story involves Tom, who is seven years older than me. During much of my childhood, Tom served two main roles in my life. One was as my protector. If anyone in the neighborhood was bullying me or giving me any problems, all it took was a word to Tom and he’d be off to “talk” to the perpetrator and I was usually never bothered again. However, his other, more problematic role, was that of my tormentor. Tom loved to scare me, for sport, usually through the telling of terrifying tall tales.

This photo says it all. Here I am as a baby with my brother Tom, already terrified. Even while kindly helping with my bath, he's already plotting his scare tactics.

This photo says it all. Here I am as a baby with my brother Tom. I look nervous. He’s thinking of a good horror story.

One evening, when I was around five, Tom was helping me get ready for bed, and the story he chose to tell me was The Lip Story. Now, Tom had a mole right over his lip, and there was some discussion in our household at the time as to whether he should have the mole removed now that he was getting close to shaving age. So, Tom asked me if I’d like to hear the completely true story of how he got the mole. Intrigued, I of course said yes.

Tom began by saying that, on a day before I was born, he was outside during the winter in Michigan (where my family was from originally). It was very cold, and Tom, in defiance of specific instructions from our mother, decided to see what would happen if he put his lips on a car door. What happened, he recounted, was that his lips froze to the door. Our mother then frantically called for an ambulance. The men in the ambulance, he said, were forced to cut Tom’s lips off his face. Thankfully, they took Tom and his lips to the hospital and sewed them back on. The mole, Tom explained, was connected by a thread to his lips and served as an anchor, holding them in place.

Finishing his story, Tom paused for dramatic effect, looked at me and declared, with all sincerity, “So, its very important that they don’t cut off my mole. [Another dramatic pause] Because, if they do, [pause] my lips will fall off.”

At this point, I ran screaming to my mother. When I found her, I was a bawling mess. She calmed me down and asked what was wrong. When I finally recovered, I spit out “Please, [sob] don’t cut off Tom’s mole!!!!!” [More sobbing] After calming me down again, she asked why. “Because, [sob] [sob] his [sob] LIPS WILL FALL OFF!” [Loud wailing]

At which point, as I recalled, my mother dismissed me and yelled “THOMAS ROBERT, COME HERE!” After which, as I also recalled, he received a very long, very stern lecture behind closed doors. And after which, Tom reappeared and sheepishly told me he was sorry he told me this untrue story and that his lips would not fall off if his mole was removed.

This is how I told this story for years, and the telling got more and more dramatic. It even became one of my son’s favorite stories. So, at a family reunion in July 2014, with both of my brothers and their children present, my son asked if I would tell The Lip Story. I of course obliged, and even acted out the more dramatic parts. It was perhaps one of my greatest performances ever. The entire family, young and old, was laughing hysterically.

And then, when I was finished, my brother Tom, who was very amused and still proud of The Lip Story after all these years, asked if he could add further details on the very long, very stern lecture our mother gave him. This being new information to me, I urged him to continue. I couldn’t wait to hear the details of how, exactly, my mother lowered the boom on him.

Tom picked up the story where he was called into a room with our mother for his very stern lecture. He said that Mom looked at him, tried for a moment to keep her composure, then burst out laughing. She laughed and laughed, silently, until tears were streaming down her face. Then Tom began laughing, silently, and the two of them rocked back and forth, giggling and weeping until they laughed themselves out. Then Tom left my mom, found me and apologized and then went to his room and laughed some more with my other brother.

I was stunned. Then I was indignant. This new slant put my sacred story in a completely different light. How could she?! All these years I thought my brother had paid dearly for his cruel joke. Instead, my mother and brother were in the next room yucking it up.

With my brother Tom, who still spins a great yarn.

With my brother Tom, who still spins a great yarn.

But, I’ve come to love The Lip Story even more, because my brother’s postscript sheds light on another, cherished, part of our childhood. Our new joint story reveals a mother who delighted in us all, who had a great sense of humor, and who was able to make each of us feel understood in the midst of this skirmish.

A wonderful gift from siblings is the insight they can provide about our parents. So, Happy Siblings Day to my two cherished brothers, and thank you for making my stories even better.

Ryan’s Bar Mitzvah

Our grandnephew Ryan at his bar mitzvah Maria McCarthy Photography

Our grandnephew Ryan at his bar mitzvah
Maria McCarthy Photography

I recently attended my first bar mitzvah, for our grandnephew Ryan. I knew generally that the bar mitzvah is the ceremonial marking of a Jewish boy’s religious coming of age (at 13). I did more research beforehand and learned about the meaning behind parts of the ceremony. And as I bragged to my niece Tamra (Ryan’s mom), when I was in fourth grade, we lived in a predominately Jewish community in Silver Spring, MD, and at one point in my elementary school career, I could recite the entire Hebrew alphabet and spin a dreidel like no tomorrow. So, I felt as prepared as any gentile could be. However, I wasn’t expecting such an emotional, spiritual ceremony, or such a great party!

Ryan is a sensitive, precious, often under-appreciated old soul. At our family party for my son’s USNA graduation last May, at the conclusion of the predictable toasts from the expected adults, out of nowhere dear Ryan’s voice piped up, and he spoke the most beautiful, heart-felt tribute to my son. (Until then, I had managed to keep my composure, but that’s when I completely lost it.)

Ryan’s mother Tamra came from a Christian background and his father Mike (her husband) from a Jewish.   Ryan was not raised in either faith, although he was exposed to elements of both. Neither Mike, nor Mike’s two siblings, had a bar or bat mitzvah. Imagine the surprise when Ryan, as a very young boy, announced he wanted a bar mitzvah. (Even more shocking, he wasn’t aware that gifts and parties were involved) Because of the huge effort involved, Mike and Tamra tried to talk him out of it, but finally relented after months (even years) of Ryan’s begging.

Ryan’s Hebrew teacher, whose more typical experience was tutoring young people pressured to have bar mitzvahs by their families, relished the experience of working with this diminutive boy with a big passion for his studies. By the time Ryan was midway through his lessons (about an 18-month process to prepare for the bar mitzvah), his younger sister Erin decided she would have a bat mitzvah and embarked on her own training.

Having just completed a study of Exodus with my church, I was eager to see how the Old Testament rituals and traditions might be expressed in the bar mitzvah.   It was moving to observe the customs, passed on for generations and thousands of years. Ryan wore a Talit (prayer shawl) for the first time, presented as a gift from his Jewish grandparents. As part of the ceremony, Ryan received the Hebrew name that he chose for himself, David Solomon, in honor of his cousin (and my stepson) David. (Here’s where I first lost it).

The ceremony continued with Hebrew blessings, prayers, and songs, the opening of the Holy Ark and the passing of the Torah from generation to generation (starting with Ryan’s grandfather and then from family member to family member, ending with Ryan). Ryan then read from the Torah, that week’s passage from Leviticus. I learned later that he was reading from the original Hebrew, containing no vowels, which meant he had to memorize the entire passage and follow along with a pointer, right to left.

Tamra, Mike and Erin each rose in turn and, while standing next to him, shared reflections on Ryan and his accomplishment. I couldn’t help but be struck by Ryan’s face, as he was able to graciously and openly (and without any apparent embarrassment or discomfort) receive public words of loving tribute from the most important people in his life.   (That’s when I really needed that package of tissues).

Ryan and his parents with the Torah  Maria McCarthy Photography

Ryan and his parents with the Torah
Maria McCarthy Photography

Finally, Ryan gave his speech, his word of thanks. Maybe I’m biased, but I would submit that it is highly unlikely such wise, heart-felt words have left the lips of any other 13-year-old boy. Ryan spoke of his initial dismay at apparently drawing the short straw for the Leviticus reading (which covered in great detail various unsavory health conditions and their treatments). But after further reflection, he said, he found the relevance of the passage for him and, in fact, decided it was “perfect.” He shared that his paternal grandfather and aunt are both physicians, and his mother (our niece) is battling advanced thyroid cancer, and then beautifully connected the scripture to his life. (Dang, why didn’t I bring a BOX of tissues!)

Following the ceremony was a party for the ages, complete with dancing, dinosaurs (Ryan aspires to be a paleontologist and that’s a whole ‘nother story), food and games. Ryan entered the hall to the heroic Jurassic Park theme and thunderous applause. We lifted Mike, Tamra, Erin and Ryan on chairs, we danced the hora, and we celebrated faith, family, and Ryan.   I danced until midnight, came home with my hair and make-up in shambles, with sore feet and a tender right hip (primarily from overexertion doing the Thriller dance number and the Electric Slide, both of which, in my opinion, I slayed) and hadn’t had that much fun in ages.

The more I reflect on Ryan’s accomplishment, the more I am impressed. As a pre-teen boy, Ryan chose a very difficult path, not for rewards or recognition, but for the journey and its significance. In his social world, his choice could have easily caused him to be ostracized rather than admired. He clearly heard a deep spiritual calling, and not only did he answer the call, but he followed it through. The grueling preparation and study required for his bar mitzvah was on top of an already heavy scholastic and extra-curricular schedule, and in the midst of significant family struggles. It is inspiring to see such spiritual depth and maturity in one so young, and I am proud to be part of his mishpacha (which according to Google, means ‘family’ in Hebrew). Mazel tov, Ryan!

 

Forty days (and forty nights) without Facebook

Forty days without Facebook...one day at a time

Forty days without Facebook…one day at a time

I have toyed with taking an extended breather from Facebook in the past, and decided this Lenten season would be the perfect opportunity for a 40-day break. Not that I am addicted to, have any particular problem with, or objection to, social media, but I sensed it would be a good discipline in making space for other things.

In my last post, Lent: Making Space for Loneliness, I wrote extensively about my extraordinary spiritual journey launched by giving up Facebook (and other social media). I don’t think it was solely the absence of social media, but rather the symbolic act of choosing to very intentionally create space, that paved the way for my rich spiritual experience. Aside from the spiritual, my break from Facebook was also an interesting anthropological self-study. Some of my lessons learned about Facebook (and other social media):

It is addictive. Although I don’t consider myself an abuser, during my first few days of cold turkey, I clearly exhibited minor symptoms of withdrawal. On Ash Wednesday, I posted a status update proclaiming I would be giving up Facebook for Lent and immediately got out of Facebook. I then fought several urges to go back and edit my status update (I of course had ideas about how I could’ve said it better) and to see if I got any likes or comments. I didn’t actually get the shakes, but I finally had to hide my iPhone in a drawer to avoid temptation.

The next day, I awoke and noticed how I reflexively checked my phone. I saw  that I had 4 notifications on the Facebook icon. It was really hard not to open the app. What if I was missing something important? What if someone posted something about me? What did people think about me not being on Facebook? Did they miss me?! I could feel the anxiety level rise. As I saw the number of notifications escalate, it felt like mild torture. I got an email telling me a new friend had sent a Facebook friend request and I spent far too long internally debating whether I should call her and explain. (What would she think of me if I ignored her for 40 days?!)  I thought about deleting the app from my phone, but when I tried, I got a warning about losing data, so I hunkered down for the long haul.

But you know what? By the end of the first week, I was perfectly fine without Facebook. I began to feel less anxious being completely off social media. It was one less thing to keep up with. It was like a high-maintenance person had left the room and I could relax.

It can be an escape. I began to notice that I often turn to Facebook and Instagram, or sometimes Twitter (which I don’t use that often), when I am bored or lonely. It can also be an incredible time suck. I can spend hours going down rabbit holes (Oh, look!  A video on Michael Jackson first doing the Moon Walk! Oh, wow! An interesting article on the train system in Italy!) when I intended only to quickly check my notifications. Not having social media as an option forced me to be creative when I needed something to do. I found myself reading more books and magazines, and paying more attention to what was happening in the real world surrounding me (rather than focusing on the virtual world). I began to wonder where I ever found time to spend on Facebook.

It is its own superficial and distorted world. I found, during my break from social media, that I was taking far less photos. I realized that when I went somewhere that might qualify as “fun” or “interesting,” I was too often thinking about getting a photo, only so I could share what I was doing or where I was on Facebook.  There is a huge temptation to “brag” about how wonderful our lives are. The first weekend of my Facebook ban, we went wine-tasting in Paso Robles, and I was dying to post pictures.   By the time we went to Spring Training baseball in Scottsdale, AZ a few weeks later, I didn’t even think about posting. Without the pressure to be constantly reporting on my activities, I found I was more present in my real world experiences and able to more fully enjoy the moments. Likewise, I discovered that constantly looking at others’ “perfect” Facebook lives can be unhealthy;  particularly when it encourages unfavorable comparisons or jealousy. It is hard to get a realistic picture of people’s lives solely through their Facebook posts.

It can be divisive.  Particularly in an election year, especially this election year, I often find the political discussion upsetting. I am all for freedom of speech, but the tone of discourse can, and does, get nasty. I grew up with my mother’s admonition that sex, religion, and politics are not topics for polite company and that is my own self-policing rule on social media. Mostly, I find the lack of respect (and common sense) in the virtual world distressing, and from that standpoint alone, the break was welcome.

There are positive aspects. I came to the conclusion that about 75% (maybe more) of the time I spend on social media is fairly useless and unrewarding – for example, scrolling through updates on people or things that are not that important or relevant to me. However, the other 25% is what I love about it. During my absence, I missed my core group of Facebook friends (scattered near and far geographically) with whom I treasure contact. I wondered how they were doing, and I missed seeing their updates and comments. I also found that, in some of my social groups (like my Book Club), we use Facebook very effectively as a form of communication and organization. At times, I felt out of the loop and had to more proactively reach out via other avenues to get information (which is not a completely terrible thing).

My new outlook. As the end of Lent approached, my husband joked that I would need to reserve the entire afternoon of Easter to catch up on Facebook. However, I felt surprisingly ambivalent about getting back to social media. Sure, I missed aspects of it, but I’d also become accustomed to the extra space without it.

On Easter Sunday, we came home from brunch, and I opened Facebook.   After an extended absence of 40 days, it took me about 20 minutes to catch up. Whereas before my break I might have gone through each of the 100+ notifications more carefully, now I simply skimmed for the things that looked important. I’ve since found that Facebook re-entry has been a tad overwhelming. After becoming accustomed to the relative calm of no social media,  I now pretty quickly reach sensory overload.  It feels like that high maintenance person has re-entered the room.

In the future, I intend to enjoy the positive aspects of social media that bring me joy, but I will strive to avoid or minimize the unhealthy parts. I also see the benefits of periodically taking breaks. I thought of Noah, who spent 40 days and 40 nights on the ark when God wanted to cleanse the world, and then waited another 40 days to open a window after it rained. The last 40 days have been a good cleansing for me; an opportunity to reassess the role social media has in my life. And now, its time to carefully re-open the window and enjoy the photos of my dear Facebook friends’ vacations and grandchildren!

 

 

Lent: Making Space for Loneliness

At a church service for Ash Wednesday (almost 40 days ago), responding to a spoken invitation to forego something that would “open space in my life,” I rather impulsively (and inexplicably) decided to give up Facebook for Lent. I then extended the ban to all social media, other than my blog, since I felt otherwise would be cheating. That decision inadvertently kicked off a rather miraculous process, during which over the course of the Lenten season, through contemplative practices, complete with a few wrestling matches with God, I gained some powerful insight.

Prior to Lent, and starting after the holidays, I found myself in an extended funk. I just couldn’t seem to shake the bad mood. In hindsight, I see that I was adjusting to yet another new stage of life, with our son now post-college and truly independent, and mourning the end of our family’s active USNA experience.   I was also facing the prospect of several months at home before our next trip. My husband and I really enjoy traveling together, but I find being home for long stretches challenging.

But even more, I was feeling an unmistakable and aching loneliness. I found myself irritated, feeling stuck in a boring house with a taciturn husband (my take, at the time, on the situation). The downside of Empty Nest and Early Retirement seemed to suddenly loom large. I began to look for external targets to blame, the most convenient being my husband.  It was his fault, after all, that I was feeling lonely, since he wasn’t being a better companion.

My solution was, as it has always been, to stay busy, and to schedule more time out of the house. None of this activity was necessarily bad; however, the problem was that it was coming from a place of resentfulness and blame.

During the early days of the Lenten season, however, I felt God grab hold of me, smack me upside the head and speak to me, in truly unexpected ways. Mainly because I had made space to hear. Through daily readings from my yoga teacher, to random conversations and emails with friends, to the sermon series at church and my weekly women’s Bible study (we have been studying Exodus), I was hearing a consistent encouragement to walk into the desert, to move toward, and actually embrace, that which I was afraid of. I felt a small but discernible shift beginning inside me.

One Saturday night, early in Lent, my husband and I were home alone together, but engaged in separate activities in different rooms. I suddenly felt an almost overpowering loneliness wash over me. Without access to Facebook or other social media as my go-to tonic, my initial, almost automatic, reaction was to become angry, to look for someone or something to blame for my loneliness, and my poor husband (being the closest in proximity) seemed the most logical choice. I actually became quite uncomfortable. But, rather than continuing to look for ways to avoid my emotions, or pass them off in the form of blame, I thought about the inspiration I’d received, and halted the hot potato blame game and allowed myself to feel whatever I felt.

For the first time, I connected to a wound deep within me. Although frightening, rather than avoid it, I sat with it and simply prayed for healing. This might all sound far-fetched, but I truly felt a definite, and intense, sense of restoration begin inside me.

I recognized that my loneliness is coming from within me, that it is nobody’s fault, that it is part of whom I am, and it will be a process to embrace. I became aware that, although I am not a generally lonesome person, I have struggled at times with loneliness for years, even as a child. But, in claiming this lonesomeness as my own, in engaging it, I felt a sense of freedom – it suddenly didn’t loom so big or scary.

In a sense, in this stage of life, I have found myself in a foreign land, living with more space. I no longer have the hectic job and business travel, parenting responsibilities, care of aging parents, and other activities crowding my world and absorbing my energy. The absence of those distractions creates more opportunity to confront parts of myself that I have feared and avoided for years.

While on a Silent Retreat recently, I reflected and read extensively on the topics of solitude and loneliness, and their role in our life – the American poet Mary Oliver, the Irish author John O’Donahue, and this from April Yamaskaki in her book “Sacred Pauses”:

“Loneliness is such a common human experience that most people…will have felt lonely at one time or another. It’s such a personal experience that you can feel lonely even when you’re with other people. Even while apparently surrounded by others, the psalmist still felt alone: “Look on my right hand and see – there is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me.” Psalm 142:4.

Even if we do all the “right” things – use the right toothpaste, develop a hobby, join a club or church, form good friendships, marry, and have children and grandchildren – we’ll still be lonely at times.

But in spiritual terms,…we might also say blessed are the lonely – not because it’s good, but loneliness functions as a spur toward God. Blessed are the lonely who are able to look beyond their loneliness. Blessed are the lonely who realize their own need and turn to God. Blessed are the lonely who develop a capacity for solitude.”

During the course of this Lenten season, I have felt a profound change within me. I now understand that the road to engagement and befriending of my loneliness requires acceptance and self-love. This means a gracious tolerance of myself, of my friends, of my circumstances, of my husband and of our differences. Finding companionship both with and without my husband is healthy if coming from a place of respect and genuine loving acceptance. I feel new freedom and delight in my life and marriage emerging from this authenticity. My current balance of activities, which now stems from healthier motivations, feels more joyful and genuine.

With the absence of career, and the addition of more quiet and space, retirement can trigger loneliness

With the absence of career, and the addition of more quiet and space, retirement can trigger loneliness

Befriending my loneliness means being comfortable with solitude. It means welcoming this space for God and my own spirituality. It means accepting loneliness as a natural part of life, not to be feared. On this Maundy Thursday, I think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the loneliness he felt as his disciples slept. It also means recognizing that loneliness may be signaling a legitimate need – that it may be necessary to take care of myself in that moment. I believe that self-love, and connecting that to God’s love, is also key to healing my internal wound. As my yoga teacher Lucy said recently, learning to be open to our difficult qualities and accept them as a part of us is the process of loving and accepting ourselves.

Much has been written lately about the high incidence of “gray divorce” and difficulties adjusting emotionally after retirement, and I see how post-retirement can be a vulnerable period.  John O’Donahue writes, “As you age, you will have more space to become acquainted with yourself. This solitude can take the form of loneliness, and as you age you can become very lonely.”  It can also be frightening to confront those wounds and those parts of ourselves that we’ve spent a lifetime avoiding. It is often easier to blame others, especially our spouses, for our discomfort. But, with some intention and contemplation, it can also be a time to make peace with ourselves. For me, this process has spurred a spiritual reawakening that is both exciting and deeply reassuring.

I left the Silent Retreat with a beautiful blessing by John O’Donohue, from his book “To Bless the Space Between Us”:

When the old ghosts come back

To feed on everywhere you felt sure,

Do not strengthen their hunger

By choosing to fear;

Rather, decide to call on your heart

That it may grow clear and free

To welcome home your emptiness

That it may cleanse you

Like the clearest air

You could ever breathe.

Allow your loneliness time

To dissolve the shell of dross

That had closed around you;

Choose in this severe silence

To hear the one true voice

Your rushed life fears;

Cradle yourself like a child

Learning to trust what emerges,

So that gradually

You may come to know

That deep in that black hole

You will find the blue flower

That holds the mystical light

Which will illuminate in you

The glimmer of springtime.

I am grateful I accepted the invitation to make space during Lent. Through my amazing, contemplative journey through the space and darkness, I am blessed to be now seeing the glorious glimmer of springtime.

My Second Silent Retreat

Two years ago I posted about my My Weekend with the Monks at my first Silent Retreat. Still recovering from pneumonia, I missed last year’s retreat, and looked forward to returning this year. (Especially after being in Sin City earlier in the week.) I again enlisted my quiet buddy Louise as roommate, and last Friday we were off.

Although the retreat is always brief, there is no agenda, I expect very little and very little is expected of me, I find it astounding how much I am affected. I took my laptop, my Kindle, and several magazines, just in case, but barely touched any of them. Instead, God met me in unexpected, and completely surprising, ways.

My first shock was to find among my fellow participants at the retreat six young military veterans, three men and three women. Our church supports the Veterans Resource Center at Pasadena City College, and these six were given scholarships to attend the retreat. I found their presence puzzling, as they were about the same age as my son, and I could not imagine him attending a silent retreat.  (I didn’t get the courage or feel the need until I was well over 50.) One of the young men told me that one of the other vets attended the silent retreat last year and enjoyed it so much that he talked the rest of them into attending with him this year.

The first night, before we went into our silence, we each offered a word to express our hope for the retreat. My word was “space,” in that my personal work during the Lenten season has been to embrace the new space in my life, including loneliness and solitude.

Meanwhile, I hadn’t considered this when I signed up for the retreat, but Friday was the 14th anniversary of my stepson’s death, and I arrived with a heavy heart. In feeling pangs of sadness for my stepson, I also found myself missing my younger son who is currently out of state busy with his military training.

The beauty and solitude of the High Desert. Looking down on the Monastery from the Cemetery

The beauty and solitude of the High Desert. Looking down on the Monastery from the Cemetery

On Saturday morning, I decided to take a hike up to the cemetery and spend some time in quiet reflection. After making it up the hill, I arrived to find the young vets huddled together on a bench, solemnly looking out over the rows of cross markers. As I found a spot, nearby but a respectful distance away, to sit and contemplate, I increasingly felt a sense of comfort in being with these young people. I wondered about the buddies they no doubt lost during their deployments. Despite their youth, who else would understand what it felt like to suddenly and traumatically lose someone close to them, someone too young? In that respect, I felt I was with kindred spirits, even though not a word was exchanged between us.

A poignant scene at the monk's cemetery - one of the young military veterans resting on the "altar" contemplating the landscape in solitude

A poignant scene at the monk’s cemetery – one of the young military veterans resting on the “altar” contemplating the landscape in solitude

One of the activities for the weekend was the opportunity to paint a wooden birdhouse (they were tied to a theme for the retreat). On Friday, I picked out the one I wanted, and after lunch on Saturday, I headed over to the main room to work on it. When I arrived, I found the three young male vets sitting around the table painting their birdhouses! I briefly thought about setting up at a smaller table so as not to disturb them, but decided to join them. They graciously made a space for me, and I spent the next 90 minutes wordlessly but blissfully painting birdhouses with three strapping young men. I realized that God had lent me three “sons” for the day to soothe my yearning.

Because of the gracious provision of balm for my grief and aching, I was free to more fully explore my interior space during the weekend. I walked and napped and read, and found myself curiously drawn to books I found on Celtic wisdom and Irish poetry. The silence this time around felt like an old friend, welcome and comfortable.

My final love “wink” from God came on Sunday morning, when I headed back up to cemetery. I had previously noticed a grave marker for a monk whose birthday (month and day) was the same as my son’s. When I looked again, I noticed that the date of death (month and day) was the same as my stepson’s.

It was incredible how quickly time sped by over the course of the weekend. I didn’t experience any dramatic burning bush or road to Damascus encounters, but felt powerfully and deeply cared for and restored as I headed home. Once we could talk again, I tried to express my gratitude to the young veterans. I hugged them all and awkwardly explained to one (a former Army tank driver) how he and his friends had been such a comfort, to which he replied, “Thank you, Ma’am. Glad we could help.”

 

Only in Vegas, Baby

My husband and I just returned from a whirlwind two-night trip to Las Vegas. In my corporate days, I traveled there frequently,  but this had to be my most Vegas-y experience ever.

I know they say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but, since I’m basically an open book I’ll reveal what happened. I got a “free” Vegas trip. The “free” trip required attendance at a Mandatory Presentation. We dined at two fabulous restaurants, scored front-row seats at Cirque du Soleil and tickets to Celine Dion at Caesars Palace.  We bought a time-share for a day.  And we were barely two days in Vegas.

And now the full story.   My good friend Lakita called a couple months ago to offer me a “free” Las Vegas vacation that she couldn’t use. I had just been thinking about a Vegas trip, so I saw this as an omen. When I called “Ryan” (as directed by Lakita) to schedule my “free” trip, he demanded a refundable $200 credit card deposit and said we’d be required to attend a 90-minute sales presentation to receive our free gifts and our $200 back. I  almost hung up on Ryan at least four times, but he kept adding more freebies, including meals and shows. When I finally agreed to the deal and then broke the news to my husband (who hates sales pitches), a pained look came over his face, and he unconvincingly said he thought it would all be fine and we wouldn’t get swindled. Our agreed strategy was to say no to whatever they tried to sell us, and hope they didn’t separate and lock us in windowless rooms or clean out our bank account.

There's no place like Vegas!

There’s no place like Vegas!

Fast forward to Monday, when we arrived in Las Vegas. Our “free” hotel was adequate but certainly not posh and miles from the Strip. We walked to the discount ticket booth and picked up two half-price tickets to Mystere.  Prior to the show, we enjoyed a magical sunset dinner at Bouchon, a Thomas Keller restaurant (chef of French Laundry in Napa Valley) on a rooftop patio at the Venetian by a fountain. At the show, we were upgraded to middle orchestra seats.  Acrobats were flying overhead, and we could almost touch the performers. What a wonderful, fun night. Boy, was our trip off to an excellent start!

On Tuesday morning, we arrived promptly for our Mandatory Presentation in Just Say No mode and quickly discovered the sale items were time-shares. My husband won the fun group credit card bingo game and received ANOTHER dinner gift card. Then Jeff, the head sales guy, showed slides of all the fantastic properties we would own and spoke movingly of how our lives would be enriched by the program. Then we moved to a table with our assigned sales guy, Norm, who started the conversation by telling us about his late wife who died from cancer and the son he had to raise singly, and how he recently moved to Vegas to care for his aged mother. After which he hit us with time-share numbers and dollars and figures. Jeff came back and earnestly answered our questions. I could now hear the Sirens’ Song – time-share ownership WOULD be perfect AND a good deal with all the money we’d save on hotels – but I knew I had to stay strong and disciplined. Then they left my husband and me alone to talk it over.

My husband, one of the most skeptical people I know, looked at me very sincerely, and said that he thought a time-share would be great for us. That it would give us exciting new travel opportunities and a structure through which we could make great time-share memories together. I found this somewhat preposterous but I have never loved my husband more than I did at that moment. So the two of us, three graduate degrees between us, impulsively agreed to buy a time-share. After we signed all the papers (finishing at about the three hours mark) they took our picture, had us spin a roulette wheel and gave us another $100 VISA gift certificate prize, while everybody cheered.

How did this happen? We never had the slightest interest in buying a time-share; we always research the heck out of everything we buy, and we never make spur-of-the-moment major financial decisions. It can only be that we drank the Vegas Kool-Aid. A party atmosphere with balloons and music from our youth (designed to evoke warm feelings of family vacations?) combined with the lure of a great deal and a total play on emotions. I’m pretty sure Jeff made up most of his stories about how time-shares saved marriages and families and I’m doubtful that Norm even has a mother in Las Vegas.

When I later pulled out the freebies we received for attending the Mandatory Presentation, I discovered that the “free” $200 dinner was instead a couple of restaurant.com cards that are redeemable only at limited cheapo places, and the “free” show tickets were random two-for-one coupons for completely unappealing shows. So we headed back to the discount ticket booth and found low-priced tickets to a Celine concert (hoping to get upgraded again) and used most of our $200 refund to cover the cost.

Before the show, we used the rest of our $200 refund and our $100 VISA gift certificate on Delmonico’s, another great restaurant in the Venetian, and I was rolling on a gift card high. Another great evening!

Celine Dion, from our nosebleed seats in the Coliseum at Caesar's Palace. It was still fantastic!

Celine Dion, from our nosebleed seats in the Coliseum at Caesar’s Palace. It was still fantastic!

However, while waiting for Celine to come on, I Googled time-shares and the company we now co-owned, and I wasn’t happy with some of what I found. I paused to enjoy a beautiful, passionate and poignant show (its was Celine’s first week back after her husband passed away). Later, I continued my due diligence back at the hotel, and found we had only five days to cancel under the contract. Based on some potential red flags we uncovered, our lack of adequate research, and our newfound Buyer’s Remorse, we decided to pull out, and I drafted a written cancellation notice to deliver the next day.

After a fairly sleepless night, we showed up at the time-share sales office, and they seemed to know exactly why we were there. We were quickly ushered into an office with Jeff, who irritably and rather half-heartedly tried to talk us out of cancelling. He soon realized our minds were set and he was not nearly as nice as he’d been the previous day. He even asked us to return the $100 VISA GIFT card. Really?!

After a thankfully brief 10 minutes with Jeff, we were time-share divested and on our way home. We celebrated with a grand slam breakfast at Denny’s (since we were out of cash). But you know what? We had a blast in Vegas. The only real deal we got was a $15-dollar-a-night mediocre hotel, but it was all so, you know, Vegas. We sampled world-class food and wine, we saw two unforgettable shows, I used my legal training, we came home with a pocketful of discount cards. I learned a lot about time-shares, and we even owned one for a day.