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East Coast USA, United States
Lowcountry porch sitter. Appalachian Mountain lover. Finger Lakes dreamer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It's not fatal if we shepherd change.

A seven-year old has a natural curiosity to understand the world around them. Everything is new and most anything invariably involves asking why it is so. That was most certainly true in 1970 in Huntington, West Virginia. 

I recall that evening in October when my father came home from the Marshall University campus after students protesting recent drug raids were tear-gassed. As an Episcopal minister it would not have been unusual for my father, also an adjunct teaching social work at the university, to believe his campus presence a necessary protocol as a member of the faith community. He certainly would have been easy to identify with his white clerical collar. Whether he chose, was asked or just happened to be on campus that evening one thing remains vivid in my memory and that was the sense of relief my mother expressed when he returned home. (Tragically this unfortunate event was followed by the plane crash on November 14, 1970 that claimed the lives of thirty-seven members of the Marshall football team, its coach, its doctors, athletic director and 25 team boosters. To say that Huntington as a community introduced me to the art of resilience is an understatement. It remains a special place.)

Flash forward to Ithaca, New York in October of 2015 when a campus wide assembly was
called by the Ithaca College administration to address racism and cultural bias. I remember catching the clerical collar out of the corner of my eye and denoting the gentleman’s location in the lobby as I, along with other alumni, members of the staff, faculty and student population proceeded into the College’s Athletics & Events Center. Truthfully, this assembly was crafted as poorly as prior attempts for fostering genuine dialogue. A heavy uniform presence, staff instructed to marshall attendees to fill seats on the floor, a panel of speakers comprised of white-haired caucasian men...all the trappings and appearances of inflexibility. However, what made this particular evening different was a student protest by POC at IC who took to the stage to verbally deliver a bevy of information recounting the campus experience for students of color. When the students concluded their remarks they asked the audience to join them in walking out on a panel prepped to talk at them rather than include them. By my estimate 75% of the audience elected to leave the assembly and I was part of that procession.

At the onset I intended to listen fairly to the discussion, taking in all that was to be said, but one look at the panel suggested my good intention would be lost on yet another misguided, maligned attempt to control the conversation. I grabbed a quick video clip of the procession out of the building, walked up a short flight of stairs on a mission to locate the man in the clerical collar. When I found him I hugged him, whispering quietly to him “Father, I think we’ve been here before.” I gingerly gripped his arm in recognition and walked away. In that moment, hugging a man of the cloth, it was as if I had the chance, some fifty years later, to understand fully my father’s commitment to his faith and to the students at Marshall University that fall evening in 1970.

While one can deliver instruction on recognizing discrimination and embracing an ever-expanding definition of diversity it is wholly another challenge to grasp the impact of bias academically, economically, and culturally. Change takes time. That is especially true when it seems to be languishing in the bureaucracy of decision-making and disingenuous dialogue on a college campus. Thus, sometimes negotiating a new way forward necessitates action. 

As similar calls to action are made at several institutions of higher education I imagine those with the greatest to lose are those seeking to avoid or negate the conversation about doing things differently.

Frankly, presidents, Board of Trustees, administrative heads, alumni, faculty, staff and students at any of these institutions will find they are compromised by inaction perhaps even culpable. It's only fatal if we don't take action to shepherd change. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Random act of pet kindness

A true cat tale follows...While our home boasts about its dog life most days we also have a resident feline named Chickabee (BeBe for short). Said cat has decided that indoor life is just too boring a way to spend a day in the life of a feline. As such, she has been quite successful in escaping out the front door as the dogs enter and exit for daily walks. 
Recently, as I'm corralling my feline after yet again another escape [this tale picks up at the point when I was 30 minutes into cat prompts, cuss words and dropping treat trails] a generous young man walks over to me (holding a feather) and says he saw me walking around the neighborhood and asked if he could help me. I, in utter cat frustration, reply "Well, if you think you are a cat whisperer by all means jump in." Without flinching this young man responds "Mam' I AM a student at the Vet College." 
So somewhere over there at the Big Red they teach the first rule of thumb with a confident, sassy, utterly frustrated pet owner: shut them down by framing a reference around who you are. WORKS. I immediately recoiled at my reaction to his offer of assistance... here's this guy with a feather in his hand and I'm throwing out some ridiculously clouded emotional response (what a poor excuse for a human I was in this instance). I paused long enough to quit chiding myself for seeming so ungrateful and thanked him for being so kind and said, out loud, that I indeed needed his help. 
Now here's the back story. This guy had just pulled up into the parking lot so while he's helping me his very large dog named Drake is sitting patiently in his master's truck watching the two of us pull our stealthiest cat retrieval moves. For about 20 minutes the dog waited and watched and this Cornell Vet student managed a frantic human. It's safe to say, as for Chickabee, having two humans in the game of catch me if you can just made it more fun. And it ended quite undramatically when she decided it was time to go home and walked unsolicited right up to the front door to be let in. It would have made a perfect periscope moment for viral feed this cat parade.

I keep saying to myself and to anyone I tell this story to...if this is how this kind human starts his career in veterinary medicine he will go far. Moral of the story? There is indeed hope when things seem impossible and if there's a vet student at hand most assuredly makes that true.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Finding place in a shifting world

Seeking solitude or simply stepping back from the hectic pace of one's life isn't uncommon. In fact, I suspect quite common as the world shifts and our lives seek greater balance in what some interpret as turbulent times.

As some of you know from previous posts I spent the better part of a decade in the Ithaca, New York area before heading south. An era before recessional trends and gray hair. In this rally into my golden age I find I am a constant interloper of the Finger Lakes. I give myself permission constantly to hold this region tight while also keeping my feet firmly planted in the sands along the coast of South Carolina. As if placing myself in the lush natural surroundings means I'm cheating on the wide swing tides of the Lowcountry.

It's the places I find myself occupying during these retreats that make it sweet...

The City of Ithaca has successfully completed a reinterpretation (repair) of its Commons where a young mayor (Svante Myrick) brings his youthful enthusiasm to the concrete and civic endeavors found in his backyard. From Hip Hop concerts to public coffee talks with the local police chief to cutting the ribbon on another new entrepreneur's business. What one individual does makes others take notice. Check out the mayor's parking space at City Hall, here.

An uncommon space and constantly evolving is Mimi's Attic. One need not be in the market for their wares, simply checking out the staff's talent to recreate living spaces on the shop floor every day is entertainment enough on any given day. In my mind, no one in the interiors market has anything on the sharp marketing and design skills of this team.

Then there is the Meeting House at Boiceville Cottages, a common lodge where members of the community can gather either serendipitously or in planned celebration. I've met some remarkable people simply by spending a few hours a week in this community space. Some weeks it's a graduate student writing a dissertation, others a book club discussing their latest read, or a yoga class bringing everyone to center and sometimes it's simply young people parking their bicycles on the curb to grab a quick cartoon.

Spending time with James Rada in the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College in planning to bring students to South Carolina in the days leading up to the primary in February 2016 gives me the chance to engage in my home state even when away. James accompanied students to Washington DC in 2013 as they covered the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for NBC and PBS Newshour. In March 2015, he joined Ithaca College students as they travelled to Alabama to cover the 50th Anniversary of Selma for NBC News. They will come to South Carolina in 2016 to shed light on the new and old south during a key democratic process. I'm proud of my alma mater for interpreting the experiential nature of its curriculum as key to its students success and lucky enough to have the time to share in the journey.

Discovering my place in this world simply by being where I am.

Monday, July 27, 2015

How to vacation charitably

Once upon a time taking a "vacation" meant complete abandonment from life's routine.  No schedule,  no agenda and certainly no expectations or planning. The act of going on vacation meant a time to rest and relax by putting away the world that engulfed my existence in any other given moment.

There were the teenage years of inviting friends to accompany our family on the annual summer excursion to Surfside Beach. Those years were memory makers.  However, as family members passed away the location grew to become a stark reminder of absence. Family vacations then became a means to keep grief at bay. There were destination shifts to Ocracoke, North Carolina, Destin, Florida and Tybee Island, Georgia. Each location with undeniably beautiful attributes never really kept those feelings of loss from surfacing, they simply didn't reinforce it.  Looking back, my relocation to South Carolina in later life was driven by a desire to reside in the landscape where those warm family memories were made.

The young adult years entailed being invited to join others in their adventures near and far.  This period spans both coasts of the United States. Road trips with sorority sisters, conferences for professional development, packing and moving to accept a new job, and attending weddings (there were a lot of these). These years are memorable. However, notably missing in these jaunts are many of the in-between states that we either flew over or slept through.

Decades after graduating from college vacation travel became fodder for exploration both of self and places outside the United States. Cruises, canal tours, sandy beaches, mountain top retreats and a myriad of food and music festivals.  These years created a presence of just being. Several earlier blog posts allude to destination travel and while it's habit to denote these experiences via FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter there's a notable shift in my thoughts on how vacation time should be spent in present day tense.

I'm definitely late to the notion of vacation as a philanthropic opportunity. Congregations of people and civic groups have dedicated themselves to mission work, student exchanges, and immersion programs for far longer than I've been alive.  A recent visit to Eleuthera, Bahamas was a catalyst in viewing time away in a different light.  I met a librarian at a bar. Truly, a serendipitous  meeting, while picking up a pizza at the Rainbow Inn in Rainbow Bay.  Turns out the individual, Susy Siel, is the executive director of Freedom to Read, Inc and she endeavors to build settlement libraries in Eleuthera every summer.  Outside summer months, she's a media specialist at a high school in Wisconsin. It was not so much meeting her, but the post conversation exploration of the organization's website and FaceBook page that it dawned on me, someone who believes that reading is fundamental and who has even tutored reading in her local community, that here's an individual that gets it right. Susy through community development and a league of committed volunteers is making an investment in young people, creating a legacy that reaps benefits beyond the books that stock the libraries shelves.

While it's still important to escape the daily routine either in union or isolation there's a host of opportunities to do good work, make a difference and give back.  Perhaps embracing this concept gives rise to the desire to step back from life and incorporate charitable endeavors into a ritual once reserved for self indulgence.  I don't doubt that there was purpose in the universe placing Susy and I in the same location for that brief period of time.  It was my aha moment.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A fisherman's daughter

Every vivid memory of my dad involves fishing. He absolutely LOVED to fish. If he had down time that's what he did, fish. If you wanted time with him then you were relegated to know how to bait a hook. Even in his last months of life, going to the pier to watch others fishing or simply to gaze out across the water and eating fried flounder where tops on his list. I caught myself on the boardwalk lingering this Father's Day morning to watch the early morning fish charters roll out of the sound knowing I was every bit my father's daughter.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pond Life

A body of water, whether fresh or salt infused, immediately reminds me how complex simplicity can be. Above, below and even around it natural life teams with activity. That is very much what I found here while retreating at Flat Bottom Pond in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts. 

A wide variety of birds announce daylight's entry whilst casting their melodies across a landscape glistening fresh with dew. The course of the day continues the same until evening heralds a shift. Once night has taken over, pond frogs replace the birds and lightening bugs add a twinkle to the darkness. Each day the same, but no less brilliant than before.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Stormy skies

The landscape of the coast shifts greatly with a change in the weather. Sitting on the enclosed porch at 11th Street Dockside in Port Royal, SC we captured a glimpse of this inland storm moving off the coast.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Skate or Ray?

The Lowcountry is beaming with natural wonders and low tide provides for a glimpse at some of what we may not capture when the shoreline is flush at high tide. Walking along the boardwalk at the port of Port Royal, South Carolina we got a glimpse of what is either a skate or ray. The big debate, which is it?! One onlooker said a "Southern Ray," another indicated the fins at the end of the tail discern the difference. Seems fitting to use #WorldOceansDay to make a trip to the Port Royal Sound Foundation to get a final say on the matter of designation.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

I'm a classic stumbler

I was recently asked what appeared on my "bucket list" of things to do (before I die) and the individual making this query was taken aback by my answer, so much so they repeated the question to ensure I had the opportunity to provide a more befitting reply.  Each time I responded in the same manner; however, in the second go around I pre-empted my response with the explanation that I had already been fortunate to have lived many of the experiences others typically place on lists such as this.  Also citing the recent loss of a family member and the travails that follow in sorting through what is relevant and what gets cast aside.

While I appreciate the sentiment of the question there is an entire website offering a means to fulfill one's dreams (, a host of inspirational books dedicated to it and a plethora of movies depicting the quest to fulfill it,  most notably "The Bucket List" in 2007.  I approach the question of what I must do before I exit life from the standpoint of creating presence past my physical ability to be in the moment literally.  I'm bound you might say by the "eulogy virtue" as explained in a column authored by David Brooks in the New York Times "The Moral Bucket List." I am most certainly the classic stumbler...

"The stumbler doesn't build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquility. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated  her much better than she deserves."

For the sake of not wanting to appear devoid of "list" material I can conjure at least one place I'd like to spend time in before I kick the bucket. I'd like to scan the rim of the Grand Canyon before some developer strikes a horrific blow to its landscape, all the while trusting that the possibility of destruction never comes to fruition.  Beyond that, I'll stumble my way toward an aim in creating meaningful memories indefinitely. 
Life Enrichment is like a travel and learn program...offering infusions that make every day life thereafter far more interesting! ~ Ann-Marie Adams, Reflections on a Meaningful Life