Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Vistitor From the Beyond

Another wonderful story from a member of my writing class.  I realize not everyone is a believer, but there are so many of these stories that I'm not sure how they can be doubt.  Even I have had some unexplained phenomena as well as my mother and my son.  Not everything has a clear explanation, but I do know that we, as humans, do not have all the answers and keeping an open mind is always the best.  Enjoy this wonderful piece.

                      HE VISITOR FROM THE BEYOND


Preface:  I Valerie S., (surname withheld), being of sound mind and body and never haven partaken in the recreational use of any mind-altering drugs past or present, do hereby delclare that the events you are about to hear are real.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — One of the most defining and devastating moments of my life occurred on the morning of Feb. 18th, 1985. At 6:30 am the merciless ringing of the phone jolted me awake from my heavy-eyed dreamland. The unsteady, sobbing voice on the other end was my mom telling me that my father had passed away.  True to himself, my dad died on his own terms—at home, in his own bed, and next to his beloved, Alice, his wife of 48 years. He was 76 years old. That year a deadly pneumonia virus had brutally swept through the country killing hundreds in its wake among them my dad. That day the world as I knew it ceased to exist, and the once steadfast walls of my foundation crumbled beneath me. It would take me years to sort through the rubble and destruction and find the strength to move forward and make sense of my life again. I soon learned that I would not be alone as I navigated the murky waters on this tumultuous journey. Support and guidance would come in the form of a familiar and prudent visitor from the beyond.

Great Neck, New York — In June of 1985, I returned to my childhood home for a visit. I barely recognized my mom. In the four months since Dad’s death she had lost weight and had become frail and lifeless—her energy and sprit depleted. She was an empty shell of her former self. The once animated, feisty, red-headed-blue eyed Irish woman I called mom was gone.  She reminded me of a small, scared lost child. It was heartbreaking. The second night of my visit as my three children peacefully slumbered in the next room, I crawled into the security of my childhood bed and quietly cried myself to sleep. At one point in the night, I gently stirred as I heard the familiar creaking of the bedroom door as it opened. I assumed it was just mom checking up on me as she did when I was a child so I rolled over to continue my fitful sleep.

Then I heard the squeaking of the bed springs and realized that someone was sitting on my bed. I presumed it was mom needing to talk so I rolled over to an upright position. It was not mom, but Dad. It was my Dad. I literally threw myself into his arms expecting air and a vanishing vision. Instead, his arms encircled me and held me tightly. It was real. Dad was actually there. He was solid and warm. I put my head on his chest and could hear his heart beating. He was dressed in his favorite outlandish paisley-print shirt—the one that mom despised. I checked his shoes, and as always, they were buffed and polished to a high sheen. I could smell the scent of lingering stale cigarette smoke on the fabric of his clothes. The aroma of recently consumed coffee drifted from his breath. He lovingly stroked my hair while he repeated his pet name for me, “My Wallerie (Valerie with a W), my Wallerie.”

We talked for what seemed like hours. He said he had already looked in on my children, and they were sleeping peacefully. He related that mom was tossing and turning unsuccessfully trying to rest in their marital bed. He asked me to watch over her and assured me that he would be around whenever I needed him. I watched him leave the bedroom.

I awoke the next morning with a happy heart, but in a state of confusion. My Dad’s fragrance still permeated the room and was now on my nightclothes. Had I been dreaming? My bed covers were askew, and on the spot where Dad had rested, there was an imprint. It had been real after all. I kept this encounter to myself not wanting to upset anyone and realizing how crazy it would sound if repeated. Three months later, my husband’s work transferred us to Wenatchee, Washington. I was forced to move to the opposite side of the country from my mom just nine months after our loss of Dad.

Wenatchee, Washington — Since relocating, things on the home front had gotten worse. My abusive husband’s drunken rages had increased in frequency and escalated. Many nights, unable to rest, I would wait until everyone was asleep and quietly slip from the house. I aimlessly roamed the streets enjoying the solitude of night and the obscurity provided by its cloak of darkness.

One evening as I approached the elementary school, I caught sight of a shadowy- silhouette propped against the chain link fence of the schoolyard. It appeared to be a man smoking a cigarette. Unnerved by his presence, I crossed to the other side of the road. Suddenly, a glow radiated from his being, and I heard him say, “Wallerie, it’s Dad.” Stunned, I remained frozen in place unable to move until a mysterious magnetic force compelled me across the divide.

Crying, I found myself submerged in Dad’s warm comforting embrace and mesmerized by his soothing words of wisdom. We sat on the wet dew laden grass and chatted until the sun began to rise in the sky. My heart was full and happy as Dad sent me home in time to greet my awakening children. 

My husband was already in the kitchen and eyed me suspiciously, as I appeared. He interrogated me as to where I had been, why the seat of my pants was so wet, and why I reeked of cigarette smoke. I just smiled and went up to wake the kids for school.

Dad came to visit me regularly for many years. He always seemed to sense when I needed him, and he never failed me. Sometimes I would see him in a crowed mall, a store, a parking lot, or a park. Dad had the magical gift to make time stand still. Everything and everyone would become frozen in time and motionless around us. Dad would spend the lapse in time, dispensing his sage advice and encouraging me to be a warrior and not a victim. He wanted me to take a stand and believe in myself just as he always had. He urged me to be hopeful and not hopeless. Then suddenly time would resume, and the movement around me would coincide with dad’s covert departure. These are to this day some of my most treasured moments.

In 1998, my mother passed away, thirteen years after Dad’s death. She was 80 years old. She may not have died of a broken heart, but she definitely died with one. Finally, Alice was on her way to be reunited with the love of her life. Shortly after mom’s funeral, dad paid me a visit.

Over the years, thanks to his support, guidance, and encouragement, I had been able to get my children and myself out of our abusive situation. By this point in time, I had been divorced for seven years, had sole custody of the three kids, owned a small home, and was gainfully employed by the Wenatchee School District. My children were thriving and so was their mother. With the help of my dad, I had finally turned a corner.

This particular evening, I felt compelled to return to the schoolyard where Dad and I had our first Wenatchee encounter. He was there waiting as I approached and after a warm embrace we exchanged pleasantries and caught up on the children’s activities. Dad said he wanted to show me a very special place, and he reached for my hand. I found myself standing in the midst of the most beautiful garden I had ever seen. It was breath-taking and hypnotic at the same time. The sweet floral fragrance was magically alluring and soothing. It was like a sea of beautiful colored flowers and lush green foliage interspersed with divine fountains of cascading waters. Carefree residents meandered through plush and vibrant landscape laughing, smiling and conversing. They donned flowing white robes. There were men, women, and children. The magnificent garden was punctuated with exquisite white marble statues. It was the most peaceful place I had ever been.

The sun shone brightly, but I was neither hot nor cold. As I took it all in, my Dad continued to lead me down a path lined with magnificent life-like figurines. Dad finally halted at a spot that gave us a full view of a stunning pool of light blue water. There was a radiant woman sitting on a bench singing a beautiful mesmerizing melody. It took me a second before I realized it was mom. I wanted to run to her, hold her in my arms. Dad held me back. “She can’t see you or hear you—no one here can.” He continued, “I wanted you to see our new home and how happy your mother is. This is how I want you to envision us every time you feel sad or miss us. This is where we will all eventually be reunited as the Southard clan once again. Yes, Wallerie, this is Heaven.”

I found myself back in front of the school. For the first time since I lost my beloved father, I felt whole.  Dad never visited me again. Thinking of them both now evokes a feeling of contentment and puts a smile on my face. They are where they belong-together. Their love story continues.

After this, I finally mustered up the courage to share my encounters with my sister. As I told my tale, she listened intently never giving me a hint at what she might be thinking. When I finished, she let out a monumental sigh of relief and confided that dad had visited her too on multiple occasions. She too had been to heaven to see mom! Maybe we were not crazy after all, but if we are, then at least we can blame it on genetics! Until we meet again Mom and Dad! Love you!

Epilogue:  On Sept. 23, 2011, John Blake authored an editorial for CNN discussing the phenomena of paranormal encounters with people who had died. He gave what happened to my sister and me a name—crisis apparition. He explained, “A crisis apparition is the spirit of a recently deceased person who visits someone they had a close emotional connection with usually to say goodbye. Although such encounters are chilling, they are also comforting. These encounters suggest that the emotional bond often transcends death and is not erased.” 

It happened to me, and it is my reality!  

Valerie S.

April 19, 2017

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

RootsTech, Feb 8-11, 2017 Salt Lake City

RootsTech is just around the corner, and many of you may be going.

I will be presenting on writing  your childhood and family stories and on the basics of using DNA for genealogy.

For those planning to come, here is my schedule.  Stop by and say hello!

Feb 9 Thursday - 12:00 - MyHeritage Lunch, Room 355B

Feb 10 Friday - 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. - The DNA Q&A at MyHeritage book, booth RT17

Feb 10 Friday - 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. - Writing Your Childhood Memories and Family Stories, Room 155D

Feb 10 Friday night - After party at the Marriott City Creek Grand Ballroom

Feb 11 Saturday - 3:00-4:00 p.m. Supercharge Your Research with DNA, Room 150

I will have a few copies of my book with me, but must sell them outside of the conference.  Please designate which book is of interest:
     "Memoing" Your Memories:  A Simple Technique for Writing Your Family Stories
     Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond

You can email me to bring one for you, also.  This way, I am selling it here and just delivering it. Email:  aulicino (at sign) hevanet (dot) com

AND...most importantly, you can download the schedule and all the handouts for free by adding the RootsTech 2017 app to your smart phone.  (Just scroll to the bottom for the app or find it in the App Store on your phone.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Smart Phones

Isn't it just like our children to push us into the 21st Century.  Our writing group found this story hilarious, and no doubt Dede's inflections kept us roaring.  Thank you for sharing Dede!  Enjoy, everyone!

Smart Phones

Christmas day brought us kicking and screaming into the modern world of social media. Our daughter Joni gave each of us a smart phone. We have been resisting getting one while declaring our preference for our old tried and true flip phones. To tell the truth we are technically challenged. The new ones came with cases, charging wires, batteries, and a tiny little instruction book. They could do anything a computer could and also had GPS capability. We wouldn't have even considered new phones but Jerry's case had worn out and was no longer made while mine had recently taken a trip to the county jail with one of my grandsons and try as I might I couldn't get it released. But that's another story.

I hadn't been too happy with the new one I got from Jitterbug, it wasn't living up to its advertisements. They say their phones are simple enough for even an old person and big buttons. I wasn't having much luck with mine. So, I had been talking about changing phones. After oohing and awing and thanking Joni we looked at each other with misgivings. Joni reassured us that she would teach us to use them we began the adventure of punching buttons and cursing. After activating them she explained how to use them. It seemed crystal clear. Just swipe the phone and see all the pictures of different functions, then just press what you want the phone to do. OK we tried it out and everything worked just fine.

The next day while sitting in our matching old people recliners, clutching our shinning new phones we tried to make some calls. Oh boy, what fun. I swiped and swiped and Jerry swiped up, down, and with vigor. Nothing happened, nothing. luckily Jerry had his flip phone still working so we called our ever-patient daughter for help. It turned out we had missed a step in our eagerness to learn. You tap the phone twice then swipe it she reminded us. Oh, and don't forget to set up your contact list was her cherry sign off. So, we got the phones on and spent the rest of the time setting up our contacts. I entered home phones, mobile phones, addresses and even e-mail addresses. Needless to say, after doing that we agreed to wait another day before doing anything else.

Another day came and with it much frustration. At least we were both doing the same thing and could help each other. "How do you do this, and what does this thing mean?" echoed through our living room. Plus a few, "blast it I will have to start at the beginning again," and "I hate this phone". Trying to send messages with our new numbers went smoothly but trying to retrieve their messages was, pound the phone frustrating.

Next, we tried the camera out. Jerrys took a nice picture and he snapped happily away taking pictures of the TV, fireplace, his feet and so on. Mine was stuck on taking picture after picture, close up of a horrible looking old lady whose face got angrier and angrier as I kept trying different things to change the camera away from selfie mode. I was in despair seeing myself so close up and looking down which ages you ten years. I did finally find the delete button and got rid of fifteen pictures. Time out. I said, I'm not touching that thing again today.

Another call was made to Joni and she cheerily agreed to come over after work and help us out, by then we had tried some other things and failed but we were getting used to some of the functions. Have you looked at the instruction book she asked? The book is a little 3"x4" thing with, (get your reading glasses out) tiny print. A minimum amount of instructions is covered. Things went well after she spent some time with us. We were confident and bragged to each other how we had learned so quickly. I guess all that yelling, pounding, and cussing was soon forgotten.

Alas someone told Jerry that he could press a function and just speak into the phone and it would do anything he wanted. Good he said; I'm tired of texting. He decided to try it out by calling me.

"Call Dede" he said.

"I don't understand you", a nice lady replied.

Again he said "Call Dede", same result.

Time after time he repeated himself, with the lady saying over and over "I can't understand you.

He started saying rude things to her and cursing her. From the kitchen where I had retreated I suggested he just hang up and forget it. Oh no, he was determined, "Call Dede", "Call Dede" getting louder and angrier, followed me downstairs to my haven in the basement. I don't know what finally happened, and I didn't ask.

Every day brings a new challenge but we are more comfortable with our phones. The other day Joni brought me a Bluetooth for my car so I don’t have to pull over to answer a call, sounds great, you just push a button!  I don't know----

Dede K.

Jan 2017

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Another true story by our writing class' best humorist! And you thought the holidays were stressful! Thank you for sharing Valerie!


The story you are about to hear is true! The names have not been changed to protect the innocent. The actual events, which are about to unfold, all transpired in the god forsaken town baptized Palestine, Texas. This abyss is located 120 miles southeast of Dallas and 150 miles northwest of Houston. One might say that it is the Texas rendering of the Bermuda Triangle. What could possibly bring a person to such a place you ask? I blame my wedding vows for this predicament:” for better or worse, in sickness and health, till death do us part.” Apparently, this encompasses your spouse’s transfers for his company to unimaginable black holes of civilization. Let the nightmare begin!

The joy of the holiday spirit had permeated the house throughout and it had been transformed into a magical Christmas Disney wonderland. That year the entire Mickey and Minnie Mouse posse of characters enthralled my two little elves ages 5 and 20 months. The tree was bedecked with miniature plush replicas of: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, Huey, Louie, Dewy, and of course the two little culprits Chip and Dale. Underneath the tree, the Disneyland Express could be seen and heard chugging its way around the perimeter.

The children cuddled against me as we sat on the couch in front of the crackling roaring fire for our traditional Christmas Eve reading of Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. The little ones then hung their stockings with care in hopes that Santa would soon be there. The customary cookies and milk were lovingly placed on the hearth and the little angels were now nestled down in their beds while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.

There were still Santa duties to be done. The presents were strategically placed under the tree and the stockings were filled to the brim as the children would soon see. Mama in her kerchief attempted to retire for a long winter’s nap, when all of a sudden there arose such a clatter, my scared son flew into my bed to ask what was the matter. I told him it was Santa out by the tree and that he needed to be quiet so he crawled into bed with me. When the child was finally asleep, I slipped out of the room to investigate the source of the commotion and what to my wondering eyes did I see, but my drunken husband passed out on top of our new fallen Christmas tree! Obviously, he had overindulged in Christmas spirits at the office party. After a quick recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, I made a grisly discovery. There were dismembered Disney character body parts strewn everywhere – arms, legs, heads, torsos, and tails. The scene resembled a horror movie. Perhaps my inebriated husband had suffered an insatiable attack of the munchies. Then there he was standing in the corner with part of Pluto hanging from his mouth. The mass murderer had been caught in the act. The dog did it! Explaining this catastrophe to the kids was my biggest concern at that moment in time.

Securing a body bag, the epic bulk extrication began. With all evidence removed from the scene of the crime, the next phase was mass cremation. The lovely town of Palestine did not have garbage service, so at 2:00 a.m. I was in the backyard at the burn barrel committing what surely must qualify as some sort of sacrilegious act. Somehow, I had the strange feeling that I had just been inducted into the Manson Family.

Returning to the living room to recreate some semblance of Christmas, the husband was removed from the tree and placed not so gently in bed. With the tree returned to its original vertical stance, the presents were rearranged and wrappings and dents repaired. Suddenly the unquestionable sound of a retching dog resounded in my ears. Now what? Undigested pieces of Santa cookies were spewing from his mouth along with some Pluto’s legs and Mickey’s head. Is this Christmas ever going to end? Another round of cleanup had to be launched. 

At 5:30 Christmas morning, mama had not yet been to bed. The stirrings of excited children were heard throughout the house. My son bounded into the living room and stared in utter disbelief at our now barren tree. “Where are all my Disney friends?” he demanded. This was going to have to be the performance of a lifetime! Then baby sister added to the festivities by uncontrollably crying over her defunct tree. With both tykes nuzzled in my lap, I told them about other children in the world that didn’t have any ornaments for their tree and how sad that made them. Santa wanted all children to be happy. The story continued with all little ears hanging on every word. I continued. “Santa woke me up last night and told me how proud he was of both of you and how special you were. He asked me if he could take the ornaments from our tree to hang on the trees of children who didn’t have any. They would wake up Christmas morning and be so surprised. It would be a present from the two of you delivered by Santa.” My beaming son gave me his high five of approval and the children simultaneously sprang from my lap rambunctiously ripping open their presents. That started the family tradition of donating ornaments and toys to less fortunate children.

At 6:30 a.m. the 24-pound turkey was placed in the oven. We were sharing our holiday dinner preparations with friends and the turkey and pumpkin pies fell into my domain of responsibility. The children remained in the living room gleefully entertained by their new toys. Suddenly my son started to scream. I rushed into the living room to see what was the matter. In the middle of all the presents stood the dog, bent over emitting unpleasant substances from both ends. The kids were crying so I explained that the dog must have eaten something that upset his stomach. If only they knew! This never-ending Christmas nightmare was getting old fast!

The husband finally showed his mug around 11:00 a.m. He was a sight to behold with tree burn all over his face. He complained about having a headache. There may have been some sarcastic retort on my part about wishing reindeer had pranced on his head. Due to my age and failing memory at this writing, I am unclear on that precise point. Pies were completed and placed on the table waiting for the turkey to be done. At 12:30, it was time to remove the bird. Upon opening the oven door, I was surprised to find an unheated oven and a stone cold turkey. The oven element had failed. Dealing with a bad cold, my sense of smell was nonexistent that day. Standing there holding a foil pan housing a 24-pound turkey an unforeseen development took place. The bottom of the pan gave way and Tom turkey fell to the floor. Stunned, I found myself looking through now bottomless pan at the spectacle of my dog greedily licking his new found best friend.

The dog was immediately banished to the garage for his own safety, and the chaos continued. Realizing the uncooked pies were now MIA (missing in action) from the table, a full investigation ensued. At that moment, there was the sound of uncontrollable giggling wafting from the dining room. There they were my two little angels from heaven finger painting on the pristine white walls with uncooked pumpkin puree. Is Christmas over yet? HELP!!!!!!!

What else could possibly happen? As though on cue my husband entered and with great concern for only himself asked, “When is dinner? I’m hungry.” The till death do us part segment of my wedding vows rushed through my head as I started to step toward him. Concerned for his safety, I joined the dog in the garage.

Finally, I thought there might be an infinitesimal shred of hope that this miserable day might end. Guess again!  My son’s bellows quickly shattered that dream. “Mom the toilet won’t flush, and it’s throwing up poop all over the floor.” The concept of sewers was foreign to the inhabitants of Palestine. This would not be a simple plunger fix. This was a dirty job, but it had to be done. Armed with a shovel and a special unclogging tool, I made my way outside to the sceptic field of dreams. I was fashionably decked out in all things rubber: gloves, boots, poncho, and mask. Thus began the archaic dig to uncover buried treasure. After two hours, the dastardly deed had been triumphantly accomplished. Then the most unbelievable Christmas magic unfolded right before my eyes.

I was covered in poop from my head to my toe

I found myself wishing for some new fallen snow

It had been one hell of a day, I want you to know

When up in the sky there appeared such a sight

It was a shooting star with a very bright light

 I made my wish and decided to call it a night

As I disappeared into the house you could hear me exclaim

Merry Christmas to all and by this time next year, I hope to be SANE!

--Valerie S.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


       Another wonderful slice of life from a member of my writing class.  Many of us can relate to this one, and if not, put it in your pocket as someday it will all ring true to you!  Enjoy!


Last week my son-in-law was lamenting the decline of his aging Honda Pilot. Its speedometer had logged over 100,000 miles. The tires needed to be replaced for the third time. The air conditioner was sporadically blowing a fuse. The transmission was in need of a $2,500 plus service overhaul. Over the years, it had been a dependable and trustworthy family member. It had reliably transported the clan on their copious outings and adventures. It had safely delivered both their daughters home from the hospital. This automobile was an essential member of the household. Now the car was getting up there in years and beginning to exhibit signs of wear and tear requiring more service visits and more money. My son-in-law’s conclusion, “We need a new car!”

I could totally identify with this vehicle and its physical and cosmetic decline. Hell, I am this vehicle! Unfortunately, trading myself in for a new and improved version is not an option open to me.  Since the list for the joys of getting old can be correlated to the movie titled “The NeverEnding Story,” I will stick to the highlights as I see them.

I fondly remember the good old days when I could hold my liquor. College consisted of boundless keg parties and for those of us with palates that were more sophisticated, Ripple and Mad Dog were our poisons of choice. Recently, I was shopping in Safeway and stopped to taste Champagne samples offered by a vendor. There were three varieties available with one being a $100 Parisian brand and the other two, progressively cheaper. I started with $100 kind. I was given a sample in a diminutive plastic cup and smugly chugged the few drops. Instantaneously it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was well on my way to being inebriated. I declined the offer of more tasters and spent the next 30 minutes in the store trying to clear my foggy brain so I could drive home.” How pathetic,” I thought to myself.

Speaking of not being able to hold my alcohol anymore, heck I can’t hold my water either! My most pressing thoughts anytime I leave home are bathroom locations. Let us not forget the recurrent nightly bathroom excursions! Too bad you can’t earn frequent flyer miles for this malady and at least be looking for bathrooms in tropical exotic locals!

Another drawback of aging is shrinkage! It reminds me of back in the 80’s when my children placed a large colored flexible sheet replica of an object or character in a heated oven and it would reduce to a small hard form. They were aptly baptized Shrinky Dinks. The same phenomenon has happened to me sans the heat as a catalyst. My three-plus inch loss in stature has earned me the nickname “Shorty” from my, now taller than me, grandchildren. Reaching higher than the second shelf in my kitchen cabinets has now become a futile mission without the aid of a step stool. My once powerful, well-toned body has lost most of its muscle mass leaving me to live in a squishy sack of osteoporosis-ravaged bones. My five-year-old granddaughter finds it very entertaining to make my spongy skin wiggle and jiggle like jello. Are we having fun yet, Shorty? 

I remember as a kid that one of my favorite cereals was Rice Krispies: Fill the bowl, pour the milk, and listen to the magic cereal snap, crackle and pop! Now days, to get the same sound effects all I have to do is walk!

As you age, memory starts to fade. I constantly find myself searching for some misplaced item. I ransack my house only to find the missing culprit right in front of me in plain sight or, as in the case of my cell phone last week, in the recycle bin! Don’t ask! It gets worse as your diligently seek the lost item and then suddenly can’t remember what it is you are looking for—a double whammy! Now what was I saying? I forgot—never mind!

My social life has definitely changed because of my advancing years. I find myself spending more time going to doctor appointments than I do having lunch with my friends. What is even more distressing is that some weeks I use my medical card more than my debit card. I actually think I have more doctors than I do friends on Facebook! Now that is depressing! It is sobering life moment when you have to accept the fact that your new BFF’s name (best friends forever) is fiber! How do I love thee—let me count the ways!

Another big change for me in my twilight years revolves around my sense of style. My fashion credo simply stated:  If it’s not the big C (comfortable) then it’s not for me! My old age idea of a sexy negligée are sweats at least one size too big! Evening wear attire consists of jeans, sneakers, and a clean sweatshirt. Well ironed clothes—gone! My thinking on this is:  If I don’t iron my clothes then people will think that my crinkly attire and wrinkled skin are all part of my effort to put together a fabulous matching ensemble. Besides, ironing my face would be painful!

Physical changes abound, and every day it seems like you have to adjust to a new normal for your body. Your aging teeth are clinging to life, and the dentist has banned you from eating anything sticky, chewy, hard, or sugary. Your once dazzling white smile has a grayish yellowish tinge. Glasses are your new best friend when you can find them. The phrase “What did you say?” becomes a daily part of your life as you struggle to adjust to hearing loss. What you hear and what is said is not always the same thing. Someone says, “Do you want to go to dinner?” Your reply,” You really think I am looking thinner?” Hearing loss can be difficult in social settings even with a hearing aid; background noise can totally isolate you from the social interaction. Your once unblemished skin is now host to a variety of alien growths and age spots. When your five-year-old granddaughter asks if you are part leopard you have no other choice but to smile sweetly and growl!  I often find myself relating stories about some old folk that I encountered or observed. Then reality sets in and I feel obliged to fess up and explain to the listener that these oldsters were my age. Then I feel better until the next time when I end up doing the same thing all over again!

I took out my driver’s license the other day and realized that I now actually look like the worst picture of me ever taken. I must need new glasses because that just can’t be! That woman is old! Say it can’t be true!

As my grandparents and parents aged, they fell into rigid routines of doing everything at the same time every day. I found it amusing and monotonous as a younger person! Well, guess what. I have become them! I eat my meals exactly at the same time every day. I go to bed 11 p.m. sharp and rise at 6:30 a.m.  I go for daily walks at a designated time. They would get upset if something disrupted their schedule, and I have become the same way. I have lost a lot of my spontaneity. I addictively crave the comforts and safety of my routines and my home. I must add that I have lived alone for the last 20 years and am sure that has been a major influence on my lack of spirit of adventure. Stepping out of my comfort zone gets harder and harder for me with each advancing year. When I was younger, I promised myself that becoming old and boring would not be an option. I was so wrong!

“Would you like some cheese with your whine Shorty?

I could go on and on about this subject, but I won’t. This last leg of our life journey is often referred to as the “Golden Years.” Frankly, on some days they feel more like the “Rusty Years.” They are golden from the standpoint that at this juncture you get to sit back and witness the fruits of your labor. You watch your adult children with pride and love as they follow and fulfill their own dreams.  Then a lightning bolt moment strikes, and they grace you with the greatest gift of all–grandchildren.  An Irish saying puts it all into perspective, “Children are the rainbow of life. Grandchildren are the Pot of Gold.” Therefore, I can honestly say that yes for sure these are my golden years!
And by the way, Squishy Shortsuff prefers chocolate with her whine!

-- Valerie S.
Nov. 15, 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016


The following is one of my writing class members remembering another classmate for her coming memorial.  Jeanne died of cancer earlier this month. 

A building in Portland (Oregon) was named after her for the work she did for others. It is unusual for a a person to be living and have an ediface named in their honor.  She was very modest about it, and after another class member and I spotted her name emblazed upon the multi-story building, we pressed her for the story behind the naming. She complied and admited that she was indeed the same Jeanne Rivers.

It is unusal for me to post this type of writing, but she was very special to our community and to our class. Anne has captured a wonderful view of this grand lady.  Thank you Anne.


            I didn’t know Jeanne well, but I remember chatting with her briefly as we pulled out our car keys after Emily Aulicino’s writing class at the Woodstock Community Center. When she mentioned having worked on Skid Row we discovered an acquaintance in common. Jeanne had been on the Hooper Detox team scooping up the inebriated who were out of control or comatose on the streets of Portland’s inner city. Sister Kate St. Martin had practiced her nursing skills among the hotel dwellers around West Burnside. Among that idiosyncratic community their paths often crossed. Jeanne offered to lend me her copy of the book* that Kate and Ron Talarico collaborated to write about Kate’s Burnside encounters. I appreciated the insight it gave me into a unique ministry that was Kate’s, but also Jeanne’s.
            Jeanne wrote with the same ironic and clear-eyed wit that characterized her conversation. Her tangible descriptions allowed her listeners to accompany her in walking back into her memories. Two of her childhood stories stand out in my recollection. In one she recreated her family’s camping out in the hop fields around Mt. Angel, Oregon as they brought in the harvest as migrant laborers. As a little girl she tagged along wherever her family could find work. The second chronicle was of her wading into the swampy waters of Lake Oswego on a hot summer day (that just happened to be the day World War II ended) under the indiscriminate supervision of her older sister. Only the inner tubes to which three of them clung had any experience with floating or swimming.
            I have already missed Jeanne’s vibrant presence amidst our writing group. She has left a bright legacy of relationships behind her.

                                                                                    --Anne C.

*Fire in the Dark: Making a Difference in the World by Ron Talarico

Thursday, October 6, 2016


Most everyone supports the premise that teaching is one of noblest and most important professions. At the age of 21, I embarked on my chosen career path as a high school Spanish and English teacher in the small town of Brasher Falls in upstate NY. During this interval, I added a Master’s Degree and an administrative certificate to my resume. Years later on the opposite side of the country in Wenatchee, Washington, I found myself endowed with the dubious title of “correctional educator.” This change required an additional endorsement -- special education. For 20 years, I would practice the art of teaching at the Chelan County Juvenile Justice Center, a maximum-security facility.

It didn’t take me long to discover that this new direction came with its own set of specialized demands, challenges and mandates set forth by the Department of Corrections. My traditional classroom management style of the past would not be effective in this environment. It was like entering another world -- a subculture of society. I felt like I had become the Cinderella of the educational biosphere, “Cinderella do this, Cinderella do that.” People often asked me if I was an authentic teacher, and my fellow colleagues in the “real” schools did not show me the respect I deserved. At times, I felt professionally ostracized and devalued just like Cinderella.

Most teachers enter their building through the main entrance. Not me! Every morning I had to stand outside a secure metal-monitored door and push a buzzer. I would be asked to identify myself and required to hold up my county issued ID for the camera. After this routine, the door would stridently buzz and unlock. The beastly gate required all my upper body strength to tug it ajar.  It would then magically slam shut behind me with a deafening and chilling clanking clamor. I had to repeat this procedure at two more doors before I was in the actual bowels of the edifice. A short hallway brought me to my first destination -- the control room or as it was fondly known: the command center. Inside this room were the switches to every door and camera in the building. Its strategic placement and elevated stature gave it a panoramic view of all zones. The darkened one-way glass contributed to its ominous appearance. I then pushed a buzzer and a metal drawer would slide out delivering my keys and the daily roster.

My keys did not give me access to my classroom. Once again, I had to push a buzzer and have the door opened for me. I was virtually locked in my room and needed to buzz to exit, too. The unlocking instruments were strictly for my desk, cupboards, closet, and the interior office area. Everything had to remain locked at all times. My room was crafted from ceiling to floor with bulletproof glass windows on two sides and drab institutional yellowish cinder blocks on the others. It was like working in a fishbowl-on display at all times. The room was outfitted with multiple cameras scrutinizing your every action.  The space was also wired for sound meaning that someone heard every word uttered. Four bright red buttons tactically placed added a much-needed pop of color to this bland background. They were smartly embossed in bright white letters that said PANIC providing yet another possibly lifesaving resource if needed. Next order of the day was to retrieve my two-way radio from the inner office. I was required to have it on my person every minute that I was in juvenile -- another lifeline.

Mundane items that most teachers take for granted like pencils, paper, staples, paperclips, pens, etc. now had new monikers -- deadly weapons and instruments of destruction. Writing utensils were used in several stabbings of inmates and staff during my resident stay. To minimize the risk, I was required to personally hand out and retrieve individual pencils. If they needed sharpening, I did it. If the lead went missing at any point then the student was obligated to crawl around on the charcoal color carpet to find it. If that did not happen, the students were removed one at a time from class and searched. Being caught with the evidence resulted in a three-day confinement to their room. Pencil lead can be used to stick in veins and tag cells. During art class, the kids were handed a clear plastic container of assorted supplies. An inventory of the contents was prominently displayed on the front. I had to regulate this constantly and recount every item in the box upon its return. It was very time consuming. If anything came up missing, the kids knew the drill. Gang Graffiti antics was always a concern.

I previously mentioned the evils of staples, paperclips and paper. Staples and paperclips could be used to pierce veins or other body parts such as eyes or ears or used as a last resort to keep holes open for tongue and nose rings etc. They could also be adeptly fashioned into makeshift tattoo devices and therefore not allowed in the classroom.  Paper was my archenemy. We had to have it to do our work, but it was the catalyst for my biggest source of classroom disciplinary infractions. Tagging or defacing a paper in any way resulted in a time out and loss of school points for the day. Consequently, that affected their overall program score in detention and resulted in the loss of certain privileges. Missing corners or other torn off pieces meant a classroom lock-down and staff search. These could be used to exchange phone numbers, make threats or plot heinous crimes within the facility.

Nothing left the classroom with the kids. At first, I naively let them borrow books but soon found out that they would be desecrated with graffiti, sexual slurs or even ripped apart and used to back up the toilets and flood their cells. I learned that lesson the hard way. One thing I did not have to fret over was inappropriate dress. Inmates were required to wear a hospital scrub like uniform. The boy’s was a dark drab army green while the girls donned a dowdy khaki tan. Everyone wore a short sleeve white cotton tee shirt under their top and white socks sheltered their feet. Shoes were deemed potential weapons and banned. During the winter months, the building remained quite cool and the kids sat in class shivering while trying to do their schoolwork. I always felt guilty wrapped cozily in a warm sweater.  When I first started the journey, the students were allowed to wear sweatshirts but after using them to clog toilets, choke staff and other inmates and for self-harming purposes they took on the nomenclature of dangerous liability and the privilege of warmth relegated to the past. 
Something as simple as taking my class to the computer lab always turned into a big, involved production. I had to make a request and wait until staff was available to escort us the 10 feet. It required being buzzed in and out of both rooms. The computer lab was similar in design to my classroom with the bulletproof glass and cinder-block walls, mirroring the same color scheme. I jokingly asked one time if a gun had ever made it into the secure area and was surprised by the response. “Yes! Several times.”  Eventually they were recovered during a cell search. Many knives and other contraband occasionally circumvent the intake process too. “The staff member glibly added, “You may not be as safe as you think back here.”

Custodial staff uniforms consisted of jeans, blue-collared polo shirts imprinted with the justice center logo and sneakers. They also donned the required utility belt housing mandated items. They were issued embossed navy blue sweatshirts. Although I was employed by Wenatchee School District, I was operating on the county owned property of the Justice Center and the inter-agency agreement between the two entities required me to comply with all rules, regulations and mandates set forth by Juvenile. Therefore, I was given a dress code which was similar to staff, but it allowed me the flexibility of not wearing the exact same thing every day. It made it easy to get ready for work, and I loved the causal and comfortable attire.

The innards of the detention edifice were windowless. It was like working underground. There was no natural light to brighten your day just the oppressive glare of fluorescent. The minute you set foot in the building, you felt cut off from the outside world, isolated -- quarantined. There was no stepping out for a breath of fresh air or the touch of the sun to warm your soul. The fortress seemed impenetrable. The classroom itself was an anomaly in comparison to its stark surroundings. It was like an unexpected oasis. It was typical of what you would see in a “regular” school setting. There were the standard student desks, overflowing bookshelves, student artwork plastering the walls and motivational posters purposefully placed. It was bright, cheery, warm, cozy, colorful and most importantly welcoming and comfortable a direct contrast to the rest of the monotonous institution decor. The students loved classroom #2. Every one of them, in some way, had contributed to the ambiance and with ownership came pride.

There is also the teaching component that needs to be addressed. My coed charges ranged in age from 8-18. Most of them were academically-behaviorally challenged requiring serious remedial intervention. Those that still actively enrolled in school were provided their own work. This last group was the minority. For the majority I was required to design individualized curriculum based on their performance levels derived from a battery of tests. Many of my students were in special education and I was responsible for revising their IEPs (Individualized Education Program) while they resided in my program. Trying to get parents down to the juvenile facility for IEP meetings was a nightmare. The average class size was around 14, but fluctuated on a daily basis. The faces changed constantly. Some kids were there for two hours before going to court and being released and others remained for months on end. It was like a revolving door -- round and round, in-and-out, in-and-out. There are also many interruptions to deal with during school time. Staff is constantly calling for kids to go to court, or to meet with lawyers and probation officers. More of the in-and-out, in-and-out syndrome. It is very disruptive and impedes the already questionable focus of others. All communication is done via the two-way radios. This frequent chatter is another problematic concertation buster that you learn to endure.

Upon departing at night, my morning routine is reversed. I enter the inner office and secure my two-way radio. I check to make sure my desk, closet, cupboards, and office door are locked. I then buzz my door, approach the control room, deposit my keys, and school points sheet in the waiting drawer. I retrace my footsteps and buzz through three doors, and each time the aftermath of the banging metal clamor resonates through my body. Finally, out on the street I take a deep breath of fresh air and remind myself how lucky and thankful that at the end of the day I am able to regain my freedom and go home to my family. My students are not as blessed.

The working environment of a correctional educator is definitely unique. You are constantly juggling your teaching duties with the safety and security demands dictated by another agency. It is an extreme sport, of sorts, with danger lurking around every twist and turn. There is never a dull moment and no two days are ever the same. It is addicting. How many people can say that after 20 years on a job? In the end, all I can say is that yes, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I do not regret one moment of that amazing experience. I loved that job, and it made me a better human being. I was blessed.

A special thanks to all my students. I will never forget you!  
Valerie S.
August 14, 2016

Thank you Valerie for sharing a very interesting and unique teaching position.  It surely makes my teaching experience a cake-walk!