Empty Mansions

A couple of years ago, while visiting a small book store in Newport Rhode Island, I came across an interesting book titled, Empty Mansions. I didn’t buy it then but strangely enough, my brother gave it to me as a gift several months later. I always meant to read it but for some reason it sat on my reading shelf for over a year.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago and one of the blogs I really enjoy following is Book Club Mom. If you’ve never visited, I highly recommend giving her a look. Barbara does a terrific job reviewing all kinds of books and opening up interest where none existed before.
Coincidently, she reviewed Empty Mansions just as I was beginning to think it might be a good time to read it.

I have included the link to Barbara’s review of the book below since I could never do it as well as she did. In short, it is a story of Huguette Clark, an incredibly wealthy woman, who owned and maintained palatial homes in California, New York and Connecticut, though some remained empty and not visited for over fifty years. It’s the story of a woman who, in spite of her wealth, lived the last twenty years of her life in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health. She was 104 when she died, choosing to live in the strangest form of seclusion.

But there is much more which you will find here….

https://bvitelli2002.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/empty-mansions-is-the-story-of-huguette-clarks-reclusive-life/

One of the things which touched me the most and, in some ways, helped me to understand Huguette, was an old French fable titled, The Cricket.  Sometimes it is called, True Happiness and is included at the end of the book. It was written in the late 1700’s by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian.

The Cricket

A poor little cricket
Hidden in the flowery grass,
Observes a butterfly
Fluttering in the meadow.
The winged insect shines with the liveliest colors;
Azure, purple and gold glitter on his wings;
Young , handsome, foppish, he hastens from flower to flower,
Taking from the best ones.
Ah! says the cricket, how his lot and mine
Are dissimilar! Lady Nature
For him did everything, and for me nothing.
I have no talent, even less beauty;
No one takes notice of me, they know me not here below;
Might as well not exist.
As he was speaking, in the meadow
arrives a troop of children,
Immediately they are running
after this butterfly, for which they all have a longing.
Hats, handkerchiefs, caps serve to catch him.
The insect in vain tries to escape.
He becomes soon their conquest.
One seizes him by the wing, another by the body;
A third arrives and takes him by the head.
It should not be so much effort
To tear to pieces the poor creature.
Oh! Oh! says he cricket, I am no more sorry;
It costs too dear to shine in this world.
How much I am going to love my deep retreat!
To live happily, live hidden.

The fable, which was a favorite of Huguette, has a powerful lesson.

The book is both fascinating, and sad.

Ramblings

I’ve been away for a bit but my mind hasn’t completely shut down. There are all these little thoughts that my brain manufactures, or things I’ve seen, and I’ve missed getting over here to write them and interact with you. So I’m going to make an effort, starting with this post, to write when I can and hope some of it makes sense. So here it goes….

I read several days ago that a private practice nutritionist suggested that having pizza for breakfast was a better option than cereal. Where, in God’s name, has she been all my life? I have to believe her private practice is going to blow up in her favor. Anyone who favors pizza over cereal for breakfast must have some other unique nutritional value suggestions we’ve been waiting for all these years. Finally, someone who speaks our language.

On the flip side of the pizza hunt for red October, I watched a documentary on Netflix recently, called Forks Over Knives. It’s essentially a suggestion that a plant-based food diet can help to eliminate any number of health related issues we may be having, including but not limited to heart, diabetes, blood pressure, etc. The studies they conducted and the results that were shown by individuals were pretty interesting. I’m not sure I can give up bread and chocolate but a halfway point might be considered. Anyway, if you have 90 minutes to spare one day, its worth exploring.

Finally, one last food topic. Some weeks ago riots spread out across France when supermarkets offered steep discounts on Nutella. France is one of the best trips we’ve ever taken and even though it’s been quite a few years since we’ve been there, I’d book a flight tomorrow if they ever pulled that Nutella trick again. Nutella is crazy good and my impression of the French people, while already high, moved up several more meters on the good crazy scale.

Our Ninety year old Aunt, who still drives, doesn’t take a single medication, has never been to a doctor and has all her facilities, received a one thousand piece puzzle as a gift recently. Of course she has no use for a puzzle that size so she decided to give it to us. Except she placed the pieces in a plastic bag and threw out the box it came in. She didn’t think anyone needed the box, or the picture on the front cover. I’m not a fan of puzzles anyway so it worked out in my favor.

We saw the movie  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, last month. One of the better acted movies I’ve seen in some time. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend it.

On the television front, binge watched Stranger Things, on Netflix. I’m not a big sci-fi fan but I really enjoyed this show. We also watch The Amazing Mrs Maizel on Amazon. Very funny and well acted. Set in the late 1950/ early 60’s. Recommend both if you have the services.

We went out for a late lunch the other day and were seated near a table of nine older women who were just finishing up. I heard the waiter apologize as he was giving them their individual bills because he only had seven pens. When they left and he came over to us I was teasing him about having to write-up nine bills but he just laughed it off. I asked him if that was normal for both men and women and if it varied by age. His answer surprised me. He said the two categories for separate bills, in his experience, are older women and younger men. The older women didn’t surprise me but the younger men did. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to lunch or dinner with anyone where we just didn’t split the bill, even if I thought I ordered less. But everyone is different. I just didn’t think younger men would fall into that category.

Fact…..if you’re painting a room and cover everything completely, a drop of paint will find the tiny little crevice that became separated between drop cloths. It just will.

I enjoy going shopping with my wife and I consider myself to be a pretty patient person. However, I think I’m more patient when there are a couple of chairs strategically placed in clothing stores. It doesn’t have to be fancy or especially comfortable. It just has to have four legs and a seat. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. It’s hard to believe  that retailers can’t figure out that when a women is shopping with their significant other, a place to sit goes a long way in the length of their visit, the mood they might be in, and more importantly, the direct correlation in how much they end up spending. I just don’t get it.

A few weeks ago I read that a woman from Concord, New Hampshire won 559 million dollars in the lottery but has yet to claim it because she doesn’t want anyone knowing who she is. Apparently, if she would have set up a trust before she signed the back of the ticket, the person in charge of the trust could have signed their name and she could have remained anonymous. Now I understand wanting to remain behind the curtain, but you just won life changing money and you knew the rules going into the game. She may yet win her case but at the end of the day that’s a whole lot of money. I’m not sure I’d want her problem, but I’m not sure I’d turn away from it either.

Sorry this is so long, but if you stayed till the end, ice cream is on me tonight. Whatever flavor you would like.

 

 

If You Make One Resolution This Year…..

Some of you may have noticed that I have been absent from our blogging world since the end of November. Then again, some may have not noticed at all…) I understand either way…) Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way and prevents us from following our normal routines or pleasures. In this case, the reason is breast cancer.

My wife was given the diagnosis in early December, had surgery a few days before Christmas and will begin treatment shortly. The good news is that the tumor was small and we caught it early. The not so good news is that chemo and radiation is ahead of us, but the outlook is very promising.

My purpose in writing this post is not so much for us, though prayers and good wishes are always welcome. My purpose is to let you know that this cancer was caught very early through a yearly mammogram. Because it was so small and deep, it could not be felt through self-examination or by a doctor, only through a  mammography.

Her decision to be tested yearly probably saved her life. My hope is that my words here may encourage someone out there to go for a test they may have put off for too long. Whether it’s a mammogram, colonoscopy, yearly physical, blood work, dermatologist visit or whatever else you should be checking, please take the time to take care of yourself.

I don’t know if anyone dislikes going to a doctor or for tests more than me. It’s unnerving, stressful and easy to convince yourself that you’re feeling fine and don’t need to rock the boat when the waters are calm. But we recognize, in time, that waters don’t always stay calm.
I also recognize that some people don’t believe in tests as a preventative tool and I’ll be the first to admit that not all tests are necessary. So let’s get that excuse out-of-the-way and focus instead on those tests that may save your life. You know what they are.

If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then do it for those who care about you. Do it so you have no regrets. No what ifs. Do it so you have the joy of living life to its fullest, even if that means a test reveals a detour that takes time away from the things you planned. Do it so you have many more days to make plans. Do it because you understand that while time is a depreciating asset and we can’t control everything in life, there are things we can do that just might help us, help ourselves.

I recognize this is not an uplifting post and it’s a topic we sometimes shy away from. But I’m hoping these words encourage just one person to make a phone call and do what you’ve been putting off. Making the appointment is the hardest part. Don’t wait.

Do it for those you love.

Little Blessings

 

A few days ago I was grocery shopping and I walked up to one of those stands where you rip off plastic bags for produce. I approached it about the same time another gentleman did but he ripped off the bag first and then smiled and handed it to me. It was the smallest of kind gestures but it stayed with me these last few days.
The more I thought about it, the more I understood that it really doesn’t take much to show someone else a kindness. We all have opportunities to extend ourselves during the course of a day. Some small, some a little larger. These small acts of kindness that we show others may only take a moment of our time but the lasting impression we leave on others may last much longer.

So whether or not you are celebrating Thanksgiving, my wish is that each of you receive and extend a kindness today, because we never know where little blessing may lead.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Silent No More

“In practice, the standard for what constitutes rape is set not at the level of a women’s experience of violation but just above the level of coercion acceptable to men.”
                                                                     Judith Lewis Herman

It seems I can’t listen to a news broadcast or read a newspaper the last couple of months with seeing another article or story relating to a powerful non-female harassing or abusing women. (Sorry, but I refuse to use the word man when referring to these individuals). Almost everyday there is another woman, or group of women, describing, in detail, the degradation they endured while working or attempting to find employment in the field where these sub humans wielded the power to destroy a career or make their lives so miserable they would suffer humiliation and fear rather than speak up. Children were also part of this disgusting behavior, as evidenced by the more than 100 children, (now women), who were abused during their gymnastics careers by a renowned team physician. Producers, actors, doctors, clergy, journalists, politicians, CEO’s, studio heads; the list of those individuals abusing power for their own satisfaction is endless.

In many cases years have gone by since these incidents took place and yet I don’t question a woman’s reasons for not coming forward sooner. Unless any one of us is in that position, how can we ever try to understand their thought process. Fear and intimidation are powerful weapons being used by powerful people. Circumstance is not ours to judge, especially in a society that continues to view women differently than non-females. A society that has failed to mature and grow up to the standards each of us deserves.

In these cases, the more powerful the abuser is, the greater his ability to define and arrange his arguments. Power is always wielded against the most vulnerable amongst us.

What angers me as much as the abusers are all those who knew about the actions of these individuals and did nothing about it. They share equal responsibility. They swept the complaints under the carpet, created non disclosure agreements, ignored the repeated problems that continued to be voiced and generally maintained the good old boys club be kept intact. They turned away. All these powerful and outwardly respectable sub humans didn’t think the voices that were raised were worth the words that were spoken.

How sad is that?

My guess is we’re in the infancy stage of this story, though I do question whether the press will ever reveal the true extent. Too many friends in high places, too much money to be lost by revealing the truth. But we’ll see,
Equally important is what happens now. How we move forward from this. There are more layers to this problem than what’s been revealed. While where we’ve been should never be forgotten, where were go from here is a question each of us must answer in his or her own way.

The responsibility is ours.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” 
                                                                                              Abraham LIncoln

Double Edged Laughter

Interesting headline, don’t you think? So what was the first thought that came into your head when you read it? Come on, be honest. How about the second thought?

The real story behind this sports headline from several years ago was that Alex Rodriquez (A-Rod) hit a homer, (goes deep) and the Yankees pitcher, Chien-Ming Wang, (Wang) was injured running the bases in the same game. Did the newspaper intentionally print a suggestive double entendre headline? I’m sure they did. Did they accurately report the facts? Absolutely.

But here’s the thing. There were people who read that headline, like me, and laughed at the creativity and fun you can have with language, while others rolled their eyes, found it distasteful and hid it from the kids. I sometimes wonder what leads us to our individual reactions.

Personally, I can trace mine back to my mother. She wasn’t exactly June Cleaver. (Sorry, some of you may not remember this all American mother from the 50’s). She was different, someone who wasn’t afraid to say what she was thinking, even if those thoughts made some people blush. My mother didn’t really swear. She’d occasionally use the word hell or ass in a funny way but not in general language and nothing beyond that. Instead, she preferred using the double meaning of words in a humorous way. Sort of like the headline above.
She was funny. She loved to laugh and she loved seeing others laugh, which is why there were always people around her at a party. She loved hearing a good joke as much as telling one and if it was a bit racy, that was fine with her. She taught me about the power of humor early on, how it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself, how it can bring people together, the broad scope of it and how to play with the language in a fun and sometimes irreverent way. She had few boundaries and didn’t worry about who might be in the room. If someone was offended, she’d laugh and say they had “delicate ears.”

I was young when we started sharing jokes. If I heard a good one, I couldn’t wait to come home and tell her. I would watch as she made people laugh by twisting words into different meanings. My mother was Italian but father’s side of the family was very English and more conservative.  I can still see my very conservative Aunt Lydia blush at a story my mother was telling and laugh so hard her face turned red and her eyes watered. I can see my Aunt Sadie, whose lips never came near a curse word in her life, laugh so hard she couldn’t catch her breath, which in turn made me laugh just as hard. It was suggestive,  harmless fun.

Would all these relatives and friends be better people/christians/parents/spouses/aunts/uncles/cousins,  if they turned away from her suggestive humor and questioned her parenting abilities? Would my brother and I be better human beings if we never heard those jokes? Would we have been kicked out of Catholic school, the church and  not allowed to be altar boys for as long as we were if , God forbid, the priest and nuns knew of this “sinful” humor? Seems to me we grew up pretty well, married great ladies and raised terrific children. I don’t think anyone was scarred by her brand of humor and the jokes we heard or she told us.

As far as I know, laughter that wasn’t mean or hurtful never scarred anyone.

I just know that when I think of her, I smile. When I remember the irreverence of her stories and language, I laugh. Humor had few boundaries for her. She was a good person who enjoyed laughter and loved  sharing that laughter with others.

I would say that’s a life pretty well lived.