Happy Birthday, USA!

A lot of people start to scorn birthdays as they get older.  Not me.  I love my birthday.  I don’t see a birthday as an acknowledgement that I’m another year older (although, of course, I am).  Instead, I see my birthday as a momentary pause in the regular programming of life- a sort of public service announcement about the wonder that is me.  It is the one day of the year when I can feel justified making it all about me.  It is the one day a year when it feels right to sit back and reflect on who I am and what I have built and what I would like to accomplish in whatever time I have left in the world.   My birthday is an opportunity to celebrate me.

I bring the same notion to Independence Day.  The Fourth of July is a time to cherish our nation.  It is a time to think about how the country got where we are today.  It is time to allow our hearts to dream big for the future.

We live in a huge, beautiful, awe-inspiring country.  We ourselves elect the leaders who govern us.  We enjoy freedoms that much of the world would find almost anarchistic.  Despite the messiness that often ensues, our nation continues to work and to impress 240 years after its inception.  I am humbled when I think about the people in the past who helped frame what we now enjoy.  I wish I could say I have even a fraction of the vision, wisdom, and courage of the great leaders and beacons that came before us.

I celebrate George Washington leading a battle to liberty when the only evidence he had to suggest he would succeed was what his own heart told him. I am ashamed that I have dismissed beautiful ideas because they seem impractical.

I celebrate Abraham Lincoln demolishing obstacles to garner enough support to pass the 13th amendment.   He constitutionally abolished slavery while also maintaining a fragile balance in Congress to keep the nation from fracturing still further.  I realize that persistence and process do work if I just invest a little patience.

I celebrate Dorothea Dix standing up to a masculine monolith that insisted decent women had no place in medicine.  She created a professional nursing corps during the Civil War.  These nurses faced hardship and derision, but still provided invaluable service to their patients. I know I must be brave enough to offer my passion and talents to help others.

I celebrate Henry Ford creating an assembly line that ultimately made it possible for all classes of people to have tools and goods that otherwise would have been available only to the rich.  By questioning the way things had always been done and looking for just one way to improve his operation, he introduced a concept that would ultimately make it possible for millions to achieve their way out of poverty.  I realize that contributing just one idea to change one seemingly self-contained aspect of life sometimes results in changing the world.

I celebrate Teddy Roosevelt championing the creation of national parks. Even in a time when most Americans never saw the country outside their hometowns, he knew that the day would come when we would need to protect our geographic wonders.  From his example, I understand that we must conserve and preserve the natural and historic beauty of the United States.

I celebrate that later Roosevelt- Franklin- who navigated the nation through the dangerous waters of the Great Depression and World War II.  He helped create programs that would give many worthwhile Americans a hand up when they thought their lives were worthless.  He provided practical assistance and hope for the heart of the nation.  He did all this from a wheelchair. He proved that the power of patriotism and personal will can overcome the frailties of the physical.

I celebrate Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus after a hard day’s work.  She taught the whole world a lesson about value and equality in one simple, routine moment.   She reminds me of the power of dignity and integrity.

I celebrate Jaime Escalante coming to the United States as an immigrant and overcoming obstacles.  He taught a generation of young adults that learning is the most effective tool we have to improve ourselves and the world in which we live.  He taught students from low income, disenfranchised families.  They came to him believing that they could not achieve.  He proved to them that they were better than they thought they were.  His message was so powerful, it burst out beyond his immediate sphere of influence.  Because of his success, popular media shared his story.  His vision spoke to many people, who also learned that, through education, they could create something wonderful of their lives. I pray that all young people have someone in their lives to convince them of their possibilities.

As a child and as a young adult, I think I kind of thought everyone was sort of like me.  I knew that people were different on the outside because I could see that. However, I thought that everyone pretty much thought and believed and felt as I did once you got beneath the skin.  I left some room for some standard deviation level differences, but I thought most people would react to life in pretty much the same way I did.  As I matured, I realized this was not the case.  Everyone’s backgrounds and unique sets of circumstances will color how they see the world and what they can contribute to the common good.

I grew up in a time when society at large was just beginning to realize that patriotism didn’t necessarily mean supporting the status quo.  For a long time, a lot of people thought that loving the country meant not only appreciating what it was but guarding it against change. We feared that change would destroy.  In my childhood, innovative thinkers were beginning to remind us that the nation’s motto is not “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

In each generation, there have been challenges and experimentation and triumphs.  Changes have sometimes been difficult to manage and may have brought some negative aftermath. However, our country is not so fragile that change can destroy it.  Going forward, some proposed changes will bring about wonderful results.  Other ideas might address some needs, but bring about another set of unintended negative consequences. It is important to listen to all voices respectfully and curiously.  This is how we discern whether or not a new approach is going to help our nation thrive or not.  We will not all agree on whether some aspect of our national consciousness should change or how it should change.  Wisdom has many voices.  The chorus and harmony of those voices will eventually decide what our national song will sound like in every generation.

When I was a child, my parents taught me tolerance.  I learned that I should judge people, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  One of the positives of my generation was that we did begin with “tolerance”- but we opened the door for more.  As I experienced more of life, and reflected on what I experienced, I realized that the differences that we prided ourselves on “tolerating” are actually cause for celebration.  We can all bring the different talents and perspectives we possess to the common table of America.  We can use them to enhance our American experience and continuously use them to build an even better United States.

I think great Americans are sort of like saints.  Some of them are well-known and celebrated, their names printed in boldface type in the canon of history.  Others are anonymous, known only to those who love them.  We can and should count anyone who has shaped our country in a positive, evolutionary way on our list of great Americans.  I hope that list includes all of us.

So who do you think of as American “saints?”  There are so many.  Who are your favorites and why?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Celebrate today!

Terri 🙂

The Late Hatcher

There was big news at the pool today.  We have a brand new baby Sandhill Crane. 

The first litters of baby Sandhill Cranes, born in March, are growing fast.  People say you can almost see them grow in front of you if you watch them for any length of time.  After only about eight weeks, the little hatchlings are now almost indistinguishable from their mommies and daddies.  Sandhill Cranes apparently stay with their parents for about ten months after birth, but they cease to look like babies very quickly.  All of us human types have been watching this year’s crop of babies with keen interest.  Last year, we had three chicks. Sadly, only one made it to launch time ten months after birth. 

So it was a very big deal when Mommy and Daddy Crane strutted by the clubhouse this morning, proudly showing off their little late spring miracle.  As they paraded by, we all made cooing noises, expressing our delight in their achievement.  We have high hopes for our new little late hatcher. 

I think I am a bit of a late hatcher myself. I was a prissy, nerdy, know-it-all little kid.  I was an abysmal failure at being a teenager.  I married the first man who asked me, certain it would be my only chance.  I spent that marriage isolated and ashamed of whoever it was that I was.  I took a multi-part exam for a civil service position.  Although I scored extraordinarily well on almost every part test, I focused on the fact that I scored only one point above the minimum passing score on one part of the exam. I considered myself lucky to be offered any job at all.  I didn’t really consider whether the job I was offered was something that I would find interesting or satisfying.  I just took it and breathed a sigh of relief that the selecting officials had not noticed my ineptitude at that pesky Visual Reasoning portion of the exam. 

It wasn’t until several years into my career that I realized I actually had a number of attributes that were a perfect fit for success at the job.  I was an intelligent, quick learner.  I was kind and compassionate towards people.  I was an exceptionally hard worker.  In the absence of any real talent, I used these attributes to craft a successful career. 

As I became more competent, I felt like I had value and I gained confidence to try new things.  I became a collaborator and a teacher and a mentor to others.  I began to see some uniqueness in my contribution.  People began to respect me and, then, as they grew to know me, to like me.  I used to say people liked me because I was completely inoffensive.  It wasn’t that people gravitated naturally to me or that I had some special charisma or that I could offer others any particular benefit.  It was simply that there wasn’t anything to really not like about me- I was easy-going and would tend to go along with what others wanted to do.  I hated conflict and avoided disagreeing with anyone.  While people did often express appreciation to me for help I provided over the years and tried to reassure me of my unique value, I think I believed they were mostly just being kind.

I was quite shocked by the outpouring of genuine affection and appreciation when I retired.  It was a revelation I wish I had realized much earlier in life.   Somewhere along the way, I stopped being just someone who didn’t piss people off and became someone with actual talent and positive influence.  I’m not sure when it happened, but I am so glad it did.

Now that I’ve stopped working and have taken some time to reflect, the revelation is even clearer to me.  I realize that, somewhere rather late in the game, I started hatching and becoming the person I was actually always meant to be.  Now, in retirement, I am trying to break out of the shell that still remains.  Without the distraction of work, there is a wonderful opportunity to experiment with who I want to be.  As disorienting as transitioning into retirement can be, it is so worth it.  I never realized how big my world could be when I was struggling so hard to break through the shell.

So let’s hear it for the late hatchers! Maybe there is a little late spring miracle in all of us.  I’d like to think so.  Nobody should peak at 30!  Since the average lifespan for a person living in the United States is nearly 79 years, that would mean most of us would be looking at an awfully long downhill slide.  Once we think we’ve peaked, it might just mean it is time to start looking for another mountain to climb.  Or another layer of shell from which to hatch!

So what do you think?  Have you found new ways to hatch in your later years?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have a wonderful, wondering day!

Terri 🙂

The First Man I Remember

I have many warm memories of my father.  Most of them are as vivid and dimensional as if they happened just yesterday.

I remember waiting in line to go on the Matterhorn at Disneyland with my father when I was a little girl.  I was the only one who would join him on this first Disney thrill ride.  Thinking back, I can almost feel the anticipation and adrenaline building as we got closer and closer to the front of the line.  I usually had enough time to get good and scared by the time it was our turn.  I always came very close to backing out at the last minute, but I always boarded the ride… and loved it.  I knew, if I was with my Daddy, it was going to be okay.  The ride was always wild and frenetic and absolutely entrancing to my young self…. partly because it was an experience that was special for just the two of us to share.  My father was brave.

I remember my brother and I waiting in the car with my father while my mother visited my dying grandmother in the hospital.  It seemed like we were in that parking lot for hours and hours at a time, night after night.  I’m not sure what all we did during that time, but I have a very clear memory of my father entertaining us by singing navy drinking singing songs.  My father was funny.

I remember visiting the Kern River when I was about nine or ten.  I was a little fish as a child and loved being in the water.  Little fish can get carried away with the current and survive.  Little girls, not so much. I have a picture of my father sitting on a flat rock on the river’s edge.  He is holding three lengths of rope.   One is attached to me, one is attached to my brother, and one is attached to Baron, our dachshund-ish puppy, as our squirmy little bodies whooshed down the river with the current.  It still gives my mother fits that all that stood between her little darlings and certain death were the ropes my father tied around our tummies.  Since I lived to tell the tale, it is proof that my father passed basic seamanship.  He could tie sound knots and haul small bodies out of the brink.  I’m not sure anyone in the navy quite envisioned him using these skills to keep his children and dog from meeting a brutal end crashing against the rocky banks of the Kern River.    My father was innovative. 

I remember camping out in the backyard in a teepee my father made out of bedsheets he dyed the color of buckskin.  He decorated it by having each member of the family make a handprint with a different color paint on the fabric.  My father, for some completely unknown reason, just decided he was part Native American sometime in the late 1960s.  There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that this assertion was true, but my father willed it so.  I think he felt his interest and passion for Native American culture should have been enough to entitle him to at least some connection.  Even if there was no true bloodline connection, he loved his way into the tribe.  He and my little brother became extremely active in Indian Guides.  My father tooled leather and created war bonnets with feathered trains longer than he was.  He did intricate beadwork designs on moccasins.  He read everything he could find about Native American history and culture.  Long into his retirement, he and my mother rarely took a vacation that did not involve travel to some ancient Native American tribal location.  When my brother “aged out” of Indian Guides, my parents actually came very, very close to adopting or fostering another child so my father could continue.  When they decided that action might be a little too extreme, my father just continued his exploration of Native American lore, culture, craft, and history on his own…. a sort of independent study version of Indian Guides.  My father was passionate. 

I remember being honored at an academic awards ceremony in high school.  In my time, mothers were usually the ones who attended these kind of things.  By the time high school rolled around, it was even rare to glimpse a mother watching the principal award her offspring with yet another certificate indicating “big fish in a small pond” excellence in something or other.  In my family, my mother and father both held jobs outside the home by the time I was in high school.  My father had more vacation time.  My father was the one who always came to school to watch me receive awards.  He was always freshly showered and shaved and wearing his “good” clothes.  I remember the lime green velour pullover shirt with thin violet and turquoise pinstripes (remember, it was the 70s!) that he wore to “dress up.”  I wore that shirt for years after he abandoned it.  My father was never a demonstrative man or lavish with praise.  In fact, some would say that he was too critical.  However, I knew how proud he was and how happy he was with his family, especially on those award ceremony days.  I could see the huge smile that came from the very core of his being.  It was one of the moments that occurred from time to time that made me certain that my father believed that the best and most important touchpoints about his whole life were his wife and children.  It defined him.  My father was loving. 

I remember moving into the condo I purchased on my own.  My father came and stayed with me for about a week when I first moved in.  While I was at work during the day, my father painted things and replaced things and fixed things in the condo.  When I came home, I could hear him whistling and humming as I came up the stairs.  He was busy and active, truly shaping the home where I would live for the next 23 years.  At night, we would go out to dinner, talk about things that we had never talked about, laugh together, and watch television.  My father was a fixer. 

I remember standing by my father’s bed in intensive care as he was dying twenty years ago.  He was only 72 years old.  He had been fine when my mother went to work in the morning.  He was fine when she came home at lunch.  He was laying on the floor in pain from a sudden heart attack when she got home in the early evening.  At the time, I lived about 70 miles away from my parents.  By the time I arrived to say good-bye, he had been unconscious for some time and I don’t know if he knew I was there.  My mother said that he was waiting for the priest and for me before he left us.  When I got to the hospital, the priest was in his room.  I went in and told him I loved him and didn’t want him to go.  While I was there, he passed away.  My father was gone.

I’ve always said that my father could fix anything.  I believe that, had he been conscious enough to open his own chest and wrestle his heart from his body, he could have jerry-rigged some way of keeping it going.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. 

When my father died, my life changed forever.  That was one of the pivotal moments of my life when I could literally see my world transforming as it happened.  It was the end of being a child.  I was in my thirties.  One could certainly argue that I had not really been a child for a long time.  I had graduated college, married, supported myself, advanced significantly in a career, gotten divorced, and bought a home on my own.  Still, as long as my father was alive, part of me was his little girl.  My parents were a safe place to land if things did not go well.  They were the safe haven to protect me when being a grown-up got too difficult.  Once my father was gone, I not only lost his protection, but I also became the one who had to protect.  My mother has always been a strong, capable person.  Still, her loss of her life’s partner was even greater than my loss of my father.  It was now my role in the parent/child relationship to let her feel her loss, absorb as much of it as I could, and provide her with the safe haven she and my father always provided me. 

It has been a lifetime since my father’s lifetime ended.  I have continued to grow and change.  The way I look at life and death and joy and grief and protection and support continues to evolve.  That is as it should be.  Still, some part of me still mourns for that last bit of childhood I lost the day my father died.  I hope, even in Heaven, Daddy sees a part of me that is still his little girl.

Happy Fathers’ Day to all the fathers out there!  This Sunday is a dedicated time for us to thank “the first men we remember” for being our dads.  What are your best memories of your father?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂


Lunch With The Lemurs

One of the benefits of turning your whole world upside down is that you have the opportunity to try new entertainment experiences.  One of the most unique and entrancing new entertainment opportunities we’ve explored is the Giraffe Ranch in Dade City, Florida.

As odd as it sounds, before we moved, I goggle-searched to see if there was any place in central Florida where one could feed giraffes.  I was moving from a location close enough to visit the world famous San Diego Zoo often.   I’ve fed giraffes in a number of zoos and parks all over the country.  I’ve always felt feeding giraffes was kind of high on the “coolness factor” scale.  Don’t judge.  We all take our endorphins where we can get them.

The Giraffe Ranch is a little different.  It isn’t really a zoo or a theme park.  It is more like a sanctuary for exotic animals, operated by spouses Lex Salsibury and Elena Sheppa.  Lex is the former director of the Lowery Park Zoo in Tampa.  The grounds are on an abandoned cattle farm, adapted to create a home for dozens of species of animals.  Lex and Elena run tours of their facilities for no more than 20 people at a time.  They use their experience with African safaris as a model for their operation.

There are a number of options for touring the ranch, all of which include the opportunity to feed their giraffes.  The tour is a bit expensive, although not as costly as a day at an Orlando theme park.  It isn’t a whole day activity, but I think it is still worth every cent because of the uniqueness and exclusivity of the experience.  No crowds, no noise, no lines…. Just you and about 19 other people hanging out with the animals and discussing them.  And feeding them.  I’ve been there twice now.  It is way, way cool.

In addition to the basic giraffe tour, there are a number of optional extras that you can add for additional charges.  One of those extras is feeding lemurs.  Those of you who have seen the Madagascar movies may remember King Julien the lemur.  For those of you who don’t know what a lemur is, it may help if I tell you that they are about the size of a housecat and sort of resemble what might happen if a monkey and a raccoon could have a baby.  A baby with REALLY big eyes. There are many varieties of lemurs, all of which are endangered.  There are a couple of different types at the giraffe ranch.  I elected to participate in the lemur feeding, which involved interacting with ring-tailed lemurs.

There were basically four parts to the experience at the ranch.  The first part was a briefing when Elena told us about the history of the ranch and shared some basic information about the animals we would see.  The briefing came with visual aids- in the form of giraffe and zebra bones.  Next, we took a walk around the habitats close to the office.  We saw animals like gibbons and servals and kangaroos and pigs.  The third part was the feeding extras.  Finally, the fourth part was the safari tour in a 20-seat jeep type vehicle.

I really enjoyed everything the experience had to offer, but I was most excited about the lemur feeding.  After all, as much as I love feeding giraffes (and I love it a lot), I have done that often before coming to the Giraffe Ranch.  The lemurs were new to my animal-feeding repertoire.

When we got to the lemur enclosure, it was clear that those critters knew the drill.  It obviously wasn’t their first rodeo.   The lemurs attached themselves to the inner enclosure like peanut butter on bread.  They stared at us as we congregated in the little caged vestibule area that served as an anteroom to keep the lemurs from escaping as we entered their digs.  Elena gave us grapes (which seem to be the catnip of the lemur world, given their response) and instructions.  One of the most important things she told us was that we were not supposed to feed the lemurs near the door to the enclosure.  We were supposed to go over to a shelter at the center of the enclosure and only then offer the grapes.  This procedure was supposed to teach the lemurs not to congregate at the door. The idea was that, if the lemurs learned they only got the grapes well within the enclosure, they would not gather at the front door where they could tumble out into freedom (and, probably, certain death if the giraffe ranchers were not able to wrangle them pretty quickly.) It didn’t work.  I think there might have been one of three different reasons for its failure:

1)    There were sufficient people as impatient to feed the lemurs as the lemurs were impatient to be fed so the lesson was not consistently taught.

2)    Lemurs just aren’t that smart.

3)    Even in the lemur world, hope springs eternal and, hey, to a lemur, it’s worth a shot.

As the lemurs hung off the inside of the enclosure, they stared at us with their goo-goo-googly eyes, begging us to ignore the nice giraffe lady and hand over the grapes.  I’m sure those pitiful looks can be pretty effective motivation for early grape-feeding.  I, however, used to have a dog that employed the same technique, so it didn’t bother me.

Given the obvious enthusiasm the lemurs seemed to have for the possibility of grapes, you would have thought that we would have been trampled by dozens of tiny feet when we entered the inner enclosure.  I’ve been to petting zoos and have the goat hoof prints on my chest to prove it.  These lemurs were the politest creatures I have ever met, however.  Despite the emotional blackmail they employed unsuccessfully to get us to give up the grapes at the door, they amiably trotted behind us to the feeding shelter with no hard feelings.

I made my way into the shelter with the grapes hidden behind my back- another of Elena’s tips to make sure that the lemurs concentrated on one grape at a time.  These creatures are seriously charming.  Again, they produced the same pleading looks.  They exuded sweetness.  I was completely smitten.  In fact, I was momentarily enchanted into paralysis by the sheer cuteness of the animals.  That enchantment was detracting from valuable grape-gobbling time, in the lemurs’ humble opinions.  It wasn’t that they screeched or jumped or did anything obnoxious to jolt me out of cuteness overload and convince me to offer the grapes.  Just as I was struggling to come out of my adorableness-induced fog to offer a grape, one of the lemurs, with extreme courtesy, reached out with his soft little hand and patted me on the wrist!  Just a soft, sweet, momentary pat to remind me that he was there and waiting as patiently as his little lemur heart could wait for me to share a grape.  It felt just like a little human baby grasping your finger or patting your cheek.  And it happened over and over again.  With their pathetic looks and pleading pats, it felt like the lemurs were a bunch of furry Oliver Twists asking, “please ma’am, can I have some more?”

I offered grape after grape throughout this lemur happy hour.  When I found myself grapeless, Elena gave me more.  I could not stop smiling and cooing over the little creatures who took the grapes so daintily and licked my hands to make sure they consumed every drop of juice.  Adorbs.  Just adorbs.

When we finished the lemur feeding, we moved on to the vehicle safari.  As we bounded over the abandoned cattle ranch, Elena and Lex shared fascinating and entertaining animal information with us.  Among other critters, we viewed ostriches, rhinos, and zebras.  And, of course, the main headliner- the giraffes.

As much fun as feeding the lemurs had been, I was also really looking forward to feeding the giraffes.  It was awesome.  As I looked up into those huge dark, gentle eyes, I felt like those giraffes could feel me thinking.  And what I was thinking was, “you are just the most beautiful thing in the world.”  I am pretty sure the giraffes didn’t care what I was thinking as long as I kept the cabbage coming, but it made me feel good to think the giraffes and I were sharing a telepathic lovefest.  I was delighted by their warm smiles, lazy eyes the color of chocolate kisses, and the dexterity of the long tongues they employed to tangle my cabbage into their mouths.  I was lucky to be sitting in a front seat and Elena offered me a slice of juicy mango to feed one of the giraffes.    I’m not sure what is slimier- mushy mango or giraffe spit.  It doesn’t really matter.  They both wash off easily.

It was a great day.  After about three hours, I left proudly bearing my newly-purchased “I Fed The Lemurs” t-shirt.  On the way home, I thought about how lucky I am.  There aren’t many people in this world that get to lunch with the lemurs.

For more information about the Giraffe Ranch, you can visit www.girafferanch.com

So what are your thoughts?  What activities have you done that rank pretty high on the “coolness factor” scale?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful day!  Lemurs rock!

Terri 🙂