Why I’m obsessed with USPS…

A friend asked me why I care so much about saving the USPS. It’s in my genes. Grandfather O’Connell, who was an eye surgeon in the US Army, would travel the world, sending his son, my father, stamps from places he traveled or wanted to see. In the beginning, it was just stamps commemorating events in the USA. My dad did not use the stamps for correspondence. He saved them. Yes, my father was a big stamp collector, but the only stamps that went into his stamp album were the canceled stamps. He placed the uncanceled stamps in his safe deposit box. That was where Grandfather O’Connell kept his, and he assured my father that they would continue to increase in value. So they kept saving stamps. And writing letters.

Grandfather O’Connell wrote my dad in August 1947, enclosing stamps that he said had come from his safe deposit box. In his letter, and through the years they wrote each other many letters, he told my dad that their value “was enhanced.” Dad had two kids then – my sister and brother – and thought of the stamps as an investment for the children’s future. These stamps were from British colonies, in denominations of two to five cents. They all looked similar, with two sovereigns on each stamp, but a different colony under the faces. Dad kept them in his safe deposit box until 1998. He needed money to care for mom and himself, and asked me to retrieve them, as well as the USA stamps. I tried to sell them, to no avail. They were worth just what was printed on each USA stamp, and the British stamps had no value. Did I tell him that? I can’t recall. I only remember giving him a check for whatever he needed – an amount that we could afford to give.

1947 letter with stamps of “enhanced value”

When I was in elementary school, my father tried to get me interested in his collection, and I did enjoy looking at the stamps and learning the history behind them. He encouraged me to collect them, too. It was an easy and inexpensive way to become familiar with the world. I should have paid more attention. By looking at the stamps, and discovering their origins, I might have done better in World Geography classes. But I was not as ardent a collector as he was. I kept his album, adding stamps to it whenever I got a different one from friends with whom I corresponded. Then I set it aside, and forgot about it. I did enjoy using my stamps – writing letters and postcards to people that I loved or wanted to know better. Each time a commemorative stamp came out, I bought it and used it. I still had his album when I taught at River Ridge High school for twenty years. Some students would show an interest, and flip through the pages. The album of canceled stamps was on one of my shelves at River Ridge High School when I retired after a 35 year career in education. I don’t know it is there or if it was discarded.

The uncanceled USA commemorative stamps that my father collected are still in my possession, as well as those from the British colonies from the early 20th Century. As far as I know, none have increased in value. When I brought them to a local Stamp Expo, several exhibitors told me that they were worth only their face value. If I use them on letters or postcards, I will need a lot of stamps for today’s postage. An envelope large enough to accommodate 30-55 stamps would require more than the normal fifty-five cents postage. As for the British colony stamps, they can not be used for USA postage. Once in awhile, if I need one or two cents more in postage, I use stamps from the O’Connell collection. Each one reminds me of my dad, who passed away in 2008. Using his stamps on snail mail makes me happy.

Some of Dad’s stamps

So that’s why I am obsessed with saving the Postal Service. The love of stamps is in my blood. The love of writing is also in my blood. I enjoy writing letters, cards and postcards and I’ll keep writing until my handwriting is no longer decipherable. Then I can do what Grandfather O’Connell and my dad did – use a typewriter. Oh, wait. We don’t have those anymore. I guess I’ll use my computer and print out my letters.

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When Mom was Mom, even when she forgot me.

Mom and me in my first year. . . . 

In 1995, my mother fell. She didn’t break anything, but she couldn’t get up. My dad couldn’t lift her up, even with my help. My husband was able to help her up, with Dad & I assisting She was not a big woman – 5’2”, 145 pounds. The next day, she fell again, and my husband and I could not drive the 45 minutes to their home to help. They called 911, and an ambulance transported her to the hospital. That was the day that everything changed between my mom and me, and my mom and the rest of the family.

Mom was never diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But gradually, over the next two years, she forgot how to do the most elementary tasks. She wasn’t brushing or flossing her teeth – a daily ritual she thought essential. Her clothes didn’t change, and it seemed that she wasn’t undressing and dressing herself. She was just living in the same clothes. Her bathing habits changed, and she looked at eating utensils as if they were foreign objects. She didn’t know what day of the week it was or the time. So many other daily rituals were forgotten and abandoned. The final straw was when she hallucinated loud, out of control parties in the backyard, and called 911. She could no longer live at home. By April 1998, she flew to California to live in a nursing home’s memory unit near my two sisters and my dad. They said she had dementia.

Mom was still my mom, even though she no longer knew who I was when I flew to California twice a year to see her. Every morning I would arrive at her room to be with her for the day. We’d watch television together – programs that did not require much thought, like PBS children’s programs and game shows. Sometimes I would read to her. When her food was delivered, I’d feed her. If one of the staff asked her about me, she’d say I was her mom, or her sister, and then she might remember and say I was her daughter. After awhile, she no longer spoke. Our roles were reversed, and she was like my child.

Instead of sitting with me when I was sick, holding my hand and telling me everything would be better in the morning, I was sitting with her, holding her hand, and praying tomorrow would be better. She loved writing letters to Dad when he was serving in the Army during World War II. She taught me to love writing letters to friends and family to let them know how my life was going. Now I was writing letters to anyone interested in her progress. Her hands could no longer hold a pen, or create legible sentences. She didn’t tell me what to say. I made it up as I went along. She loved to sing, and taught all of us to appreciate all kinds of music. Opera was her favorite. My sisters were better singers than I, but sometimes, I would sing softly to her, and she would smile. Books were also important to her, and we always had books to read. When I visited, I brought several books, reading to her until she lost interest, and fell sleep. Then I’d sit quietly and read to myself.

The last year of her life, she was in and out of hospitals every other month for respiratory infections. For my last two trips to CA, I visited her in intensive care units. I used hand sanitizer before suiting up in an isolation gown, gloves, shoe covers, and mask. My visits were short since she slept most of the day. Instead of staying with her all day, I spent time with my father, my sisters, or I drove around Los Angeles. In January 2006, she passed away in her sleep. I always wondered if she forgot how to breathe. No autopsy was performed, so we never knew if she had Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Doesn’t matter – she was and always will be my mom, even if she forgot me in her last eight years on this earth.

It’s Mother’s Day, and while I’m remembering the last ten years of her life, I’m also remembering the prior 44 years of her life when she knew me and raised me to be the woman I am today. She taught me so many lessons, but the best lesson she taught me was gratitude. She’d be proud of me as I always show gratitude for every act of kindness, great or small. With each act of gratitude, I think of her. She taught me that gratitude could be as simple as a written note or a phone call, or something bigger, like a gift certificate for dinner or a favorite store. This is my act of gratitude today, on a day I always called, or wrote, or sent her flowers, or took her out to dinner. Thank you, Mom, for teaching me to be grateful for everything and everyone in my life. I will never forget you.

Our 1981 Wedding with Mom, Dad, and sisters
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Please Mr. Postman. Or Ms. Postman.

When the Beatles sang this song in 1963 (“Please Mr. Postman” – written by William Garrett, Georgia Dobbins, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland, and Robert Bateman), everyone I knew looked forward to the daily contents within their mail receptacles. Now when the mail is delivered, many of my generation still look for something more than bills Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. The mailman, and also mailwoman, are less respected by the younger generation who rarely write anything in cursive or block letters via snail mail to anyone. Their preferred method of communication is text. Or blog. Maybe emails. Letter writing is a lost art, as well as a dying means of communication.

Recent treasured mail that Nelson delivered.

In the late 1990s, when mail carriers delivered cards and letters to appreciative customers, Kevin Costner starred in a 1997 movie, THE POSTMAN. It was a bleak look at a future in which society breaks down due to a proliferation of violent acts perpetuated by hate groups. War breaks out. The population is decimated by a plague. A drifter, played by Costner, becomes a Postman, offering hope to those who receive old letters he found in a deserted post office. We liked the movie. It did not make a profit. Millions of people may have seen it, but they did not like it. It was deemed a box office failure. Sure, it might have been schmaltzy and corny, but I loved the idea of a postman and his deliveries being an important way for an intelligent, sensible, cohesive world to communicate with one another. It’s still my preferred means of communication.

Every holiday and birthday a friend I worked with for a year (1981-82) sends me a greeting card, and she receives one from me. We’ll keep up this practice until one of us is too feeble to go out to buy a card or can’t remember who the other one is. This practice helps to keep our friendship vital – even before we discovered the internet. Loved ones receive birthday cards annually even though some of them prefer social media to celebrate the occasion. When we’re on vacation, we send postcards to those we would normally see if we were home. Those folks don’t have social media accounts! The mail carriers are still revered by them and us.

During this COVID-19 experience, we look forward to seeing our mail carrier more and more. He has always had a somewhat solitary job – driving alone with mail to be delivered. Now we interact a little more with Nelson, or a substitute mail carrier when he is ill or on vacation. We ask how he’s doing. We inquire about the impact of social distancing on his job, and if he’s concerned about getting the virus. He continues to be upbeat and positive. We continue to offer a smile, a wave, and/or a bottle of water – even if he only delivers bills and junk mail. If you think of it, thank your mail carrier today. Just stay six feet apart.

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If we couldn’t laugh … (fill in the blank)

Is there an app for that?!?!?

Since the start of 2020, and the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic statistics, my friends and I have relied on humor to buoy our spirits and to cope with the overwhelming news about this disease that consumes the daily morning, midday, early and late night news shows. Instead of watching and listening 24/7, we open up our social media apps, eager to hear the latest musical parodies, see the recent political cartoons, and interact with friends to share humorous anecdotes or personal stories. Anything that makes us smile or laugh is considered lifesaving.

Husband shared a photo of himself on Facebook yesterday. It was his idea for an app to help anyone who needs a face mask right away. So far, no one has taken him seriously. So far, this is his best joke yet. His sense of humor is one of his best traits. That and his laughter, his willingness to live with my unicorn collection and all my other collections for the past 39 years, his ability to iron anything that’s wrinkled whether it is his or mine, his work ethic that is continuing past a 48 year career in photo and video journalism, and so many other positive traits. He’s not perfect, but he’s perfect for me.

Being perfect for each other is a good thing. We enjoy each other’s company, before and during this stay-at-home period in our part of the world. Some folks roam freely, unaware or uncaring of the impact that their presence might have on others now and in the future. So be it. Can’t live someone else’s life or dictate how to live it. Just avoid them if their lifestyle negatively impacts your own. We do go out, but only one at a time to get food or medicine. We use home made masks when we venture out – not husband’s app, which isn’t as effective or comfortable. But it does have one advantage. The app prevents the dissemination of any information.

So many people are disseminating information these days – on social media, on TV and radio new shows, in print, on the internet, and in blogs like this one. My forte is light hearted wordplay. I was an English teacher, not a scientist or statistician. If you are an expert in a field that I need information about, I’ll go to you. I won’t try to do your job. In fact, I’ll share the information you give me! So share with me. What should I know during these unusual times? Share something to make me laugh. Share intellectual data that causes me to think. Just don’t share your germs. I can get those anytime I leave the house.

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Welcome to my world

It’s only a 2 mile walk round trip to a major thoroughfare (US HWY 19), but it’s a wondrous journey to and from, especially during “stay-at-home” times. No, I’m not being bad. During these CoVid-19 conditions, Gov. DeSantis says we can venture outside to exercise. Under normal circumstances we do that daily. Today, I walked alone, and documented my world. It’s beautiful & mysterious.

Not just any sidewalk…this is the sidewalk from my neighborhood to the world beyond.

When Husband doesn’t walk with me, and he didn’t today, I walk up to an office building on US 19. It’s three stories, so I can build endurance by walking up and down the stairs. It’s also home to my orthopedic surgeon. Seven years ago he recommended a partial knee replacement so that I could keep walking. After the surgery, I visited him here. I also frequented the physical therapy center next door, which used these stairs to help me get back in shape. Its now across the street in a one story building. This place is an ideal place to walk when it’s hot, as it has a water fountain on each floor. It also has bathrooms, one which I used to wash my hands today after touching door handles & banisters. And if you need to see an orthopedic surgeon, try FK&OC.

 

The Florida Professional Building … home to The Florida Knee & Orthopedic Center.

Today was not hot. I didn’t need the air conditioned building – I just needed the stairs. This morning it was 60°, with low humidity. Outside it was sunny, with puffy white clouds in beautiful blue skies. On the way to my stair stepping activity, I took time to stop & smell the azaleas by a neighbor’s fence & yellow daisies growing wild by a drainage pipe. Neither had much of a scent, but they were lovely to see. Usually when I walk I’m intent on my time & pulse rate, and listening to my audiobook, but today I noticed everything around me.

Azaleas
Wildflowers … Yellow daisies? Or another kind of flower?

One of the mysteries I encountered along the way was a building for a PA that has been here for more than 30 years. We don’t recall seeing one or more cars parked here – ever. It only recently acquired the barbed wire fence around the perimeter. Before, I would cut through, picking up trash to deposit in a nearby dumpster. That trash was usually beer cans and food containers. The owner of this building definitely had a trash problem, necessitating the wire & ominous sign. No more shortcuts or garbage picking for me!

If the sign doesn’t deter you, the barbed wire will.

Driving to the FK&OC, I neglected to look behind the building. Once parked in front, I’d go inside, and after my appointment, I’d leave, never looking around outside. You might think you were in the country if you saw photographs of its backyard. In fact, if you stop and look at any particular part of my neighborhood, you might forget you are in an unincorporated area of a large city. It’s peaceful & green. Birds sing and squirrels scamper about. Rabbits and deer sometimes come out, foraging for food. Just don’t look around too closely or you’ll see the trash discarded by someone too lazy to find a garbage can.

Behind the Florida Professional Building, housing the Florida Knee & Orthopedic Center
View behind the building next to FK&OC

Walking home, I walked behind the Ace Hardware store, and as I rounded the corner next to the second hand sporting goods store, I spotted this sign above me: “Smile. You’re on Camera.” It’s good to know that my actions are being watched. I hope they are being recorded so that if I fall or get accosted, Husband can request the footage to help me. When I’m throwing trash in the dumpster, which is adjacent to this sign, no one can accuse me of dumpster diving. I’m doing the opposite. And no need to tell me to smile. That’s second nature to me.

It’s nice to know that someone is looking out for me.

Coming and going, this sign perplexed me: “ I found your box.” Since I didn’t lose a box, I know that sign was not meant for me. It intrigued me. What box? Where? How does the box owner contact the sign maker. Is the box valuable? Is it necessary? Or is someone thinking out of the box, and the sign maker wants him or her to get the box back right away to avoid creative, inventive thinking? It’s a sign!

Perhaps YOUR box is the missing box.

I’m home now. Sitting behind my house, I’m watching the squirrels scavenge the bird seed knocked out of the bird feeder. They can’t climb the pole anymore, so they have to wait for the bluejays to knock the seed out of the feeder. In case you don’t know, bluejays are big and finicky. They make the bird feeder sway when they land, so birdseed gets knocked out. They are also particular about what they eat, and swish out that which doesn’t please them. The squirrels don’t care. They eat anything. So does the bashful rabbit that lives beneath our shed. But they rarely eat at the same time. Squirrels can be intimidating. The other birds are smaller, and simply land and enjoy what is there. I could watch this wildlife show all day, but time is passing. I have a list of “To do today” items that should get done. Time to at least attempt to get some of the items on that list done.

Just one of several backyard squirrels
Resident rabbit caught on camera before heading home.

Afterword: It’s not glamorous nor is it usually dangerous to be a writer. Writing is neither quick nor simple – if you are thoughtful, and mind your punctuation and grammar. That explains why I usually read others’ works & don’t do this as often as I’d like. For example, I need to see what’s in the fridge for breakfast – a meal I skipped before my walk – before it’s time for lunch. Dedicated authors sometimes forget to eat and lose track of time. They sequester themselves away, concentrating on intricate plots with multidimensional characters, so that all of us can read ourselves to different places with new people without leaving the comfort of our homes. Or they write opinion pieces, or expose the underpinnings of our world, so we can be motivated to think, or be better informed, knowing that good will triumph – or so I hope. Reading is my passion, and without authors, my life would be empty. So thank you you to you who write AND to you who read. Can’t have one without the other. I’m just a sometimes author, who started writing this over an hour ago, and I’m hungry. And I hear my “to do list” calling.

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2020 Resolutions

A new year. Will we linger on hindsight and be filled with remorse and regret? Or will we truly see what is possible and do it? We have possibilities in every day. That’s 24 hours to eat, sleep and do something for ourselves or others. I resolve to do SOMETHING & embrace my decisions.

Is this the real end of a decade, and a time to look back? Or is this what is touted publicly as the start of a new decade? Does it matter which is right? Discussion is better than absolute rights and wrongs, which leads to the absence of discussion. So let this be the start of a new decade. Or finish the last decade. Be open to the grey areas in this life instead of the extremes. I resolve to see both sides instead of just my own side.

2020 is the year for a presidential election that will determine four more years of what we’ve had or four years of new beginnings. Like what we have? Vote for President Trump and all he embodies. Want a fresh start, change, & less of what we’ve had? Vote for someone else. Whatever you decide, VOTE! Encourage others to vote. Apathy is feeling and/or doing nothing. I resolve to be and see more than nothing.

We are starting the new year with family & friends in a new place (Durango, CO), eating new foods (pistachio crusted grouper), and doing new things (Polar Express with snow all around). This will be a year of adventures in new places and familiar areas. We’ll continue to travel to see friends and family in places we’ve loved and places we’ve wanted to visit. We’ll stay in our comfort zone and venture past it. This year will be different from other years, and I’ll learn, enjoy, and accept every decision & experience with loved ones and new friends. That’s my resolution, and I’m sticking with it. What will you resolve to be or do?

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All the World’s a Stage …

If playwright William Shakespeare is correct, then we are all performers. Each day we write our script – in advance with pre-planning or impromptu as we go along. Our supporting cast of friends and family complete the daily story, providing their own dialogue in reaction to our behavior and words.

Would anyone pay to see or hear what we do or say? If so, we should be chronicling our journeys, to sell them to a Hollywood movie mogul, or to Simon & Schuster for a best seller. Or perhaps we should just write secretly in our journals, or publicly in a blog like this one. Priceless memories or ho hum activities? If it makes us happy, who cares? Are we writing as prophet or to profit?

The audience cares. We ourselves are part of that audience, for other’s actions & to bear witness to our own. “To thine own self be true.” First and foremost, Shakespeare once again knows the score. We must please ourselves, be content & satisfied with each day’s performance, and we must awake to a new day to continue or change our ways. To know how to proceed, we look for reactions from deep within our souls, and from our audience, the people with whom we interact. Second to our own feelings, most vital to our future is the front row.

In the front row of our lives sit the most important people in our lives. They give our lives meaning and provide inspiration for all that we do. When the stage grows dark, and dreary, they provide hope & motivation. Twists and turns in the plot give these VIPs the opportunity to conjecture what might happen, calling out ideas to create a happy ending. We need our front row people to block out the toxic critics and naysayers. We choose them carefully, excluding those who might create chaos, throw out roadblocks, or muddy the ending.

All’s Well That Ends Well” is a play by Shakespeare. It’s also the perfect way to think of our lives on this world stage. If we think well of ourselves and others, and act accordingly, we can sleep well, greeting the new day with a smile & serene heart. Embrace the good in this world, be good, and trust that good can triumph. We must speak honestly, act boldly, and possess only that which brings us joy. Then we might truly understand Shakespeare’s quote: Now I will believe that there are unicorns…” And in the end, all’s well that ends well.

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