Where is America the Beautiful?

A good friend of many years emailed me, among others, the other day and asked how we could change the mood in our country after the election, no matter who wins it. And I agree with him. How can we release the hate, the violence in our hearts, the antipathy that has been generated in large doses during this campaign season?

This is my 18th or 19th presidential election, and never… NEVER… has there been this much division and/or outright hatred. I don’t remember any violence, other than some painted messages in a recent year’s local election. Even when Jack Kennedy, an Irish Catholic, ran for the presidency, there was none of this hateful rhetoric, the name-calling, the blatant–and unfounded–accusations of illegal activity. The campaigns, from both sides, were run with mutual respect and common decency.

I could say the current feelings all began with one candidate’s outrageous statements encouraging bullying and violence but that’s (letting our feelings interfere) exactly what I propose that we run away from. As fast and as focused as we can.

We have to forget the diatribes, the heated accusations and allegations and insinuations of these past few months. We have to sit back, relax, take a deep breath and think rationally. We have to behave as we were brought up to behave, be polite to strangers, kind to neighbors, helpful to those in need.

These are not unattainable goals. These are behaviors that are, or should be, basic to all humanity. And if we don’t all work together to achieve normalcy and peaceful coexistence again, I truly fear where it will end. We must be civil. We must be understanding. We must be cooperative. (Are you listening, Congress???)

We must be American. Oh, please, let’s go back to being great.



For some reason, in my shower this morning, I began to think of the word ‘detritus.’ I had just used it in a story I’m in the process of writing and I began to wonder if I use the word in all my stories. Truth be told, I really love the word.

I have several favorite words. Lovely, fantastic, wonderful… I use them a lot in my day-to-day conversations, so they are probably favorites of mine. There are also a couple four-letter-words I use—sometimes often, depending on what kind of day I’m having. I don’t know if that qualifies those words as favorites or not. Since I’m a sweet little old lady, I’ll say that they are not favorites, but rather something like anomalies. Frequently used anomalies.

But, getting back to detritus… It’s just so much fun to say the word.  For instance, you could say, ‘The yard was littered with junk and trash.’ (How gross!) OR:  ‘The yard was littered with detritus.’ Here’s another pair:  ‘The old yearbook was filled with yellowed, crumbling pages.’ OR:  ‘The old yearbook was filled with the detritus of yesterdays.’ (Ahhhh. Now isn’t that a picture?)

I’m so disappointed when I think of all those years I missed saying, “Honey, would you take out the detritus, please?” Just watching/listening to his reaction would have been better than an I Love Lucy show.

And how about renaming our DPW organizations to Detritus Pick-up Workers? Can’t you just picture their backs straighter, their heads held higher, their trucks less squeakier? (Now, there’s an oxymoron—another good word for perhaps another day.) (And yes, I know the descriptive phrase should be “less squeaky,” but I didn’t want to break the “-er” pattern. Poetic license. ‘Nuff said.)

Now I must go do my laundry while I walk the elongated circle of my basement for half an hour’s exercise and avoid any notice of the detritus lurking in the corners.

The Darkness

Each Christmas, I write a children’s story for my great-grandchildren. I write one story, but customize it so that each child has a copy in which he/she is the personal hero. This year, because the kids are getting older (all around 6), I wrote a little adventure. There was a big, bad guy on another planet they visited.

In a quiet moment after he had read the story, I asked Daniel, 6, if it frightened him when Kaos came after him. He said, no, he’d just kill him to protect himself. I’m thinking blood, guts and gore galore as I said, “How?”

And he said, “I’d kill him with The Darkness.”

Hmmm. What a concept! Although childlike in its simplicity, it’s actually an adult-designed product of the video games Daniel plays all the time, The Skylanders. But, isn’t it perfect? Isn’t The Darkness one of the worst things we have in our lives? Maybe even the deadliest?

Darkness descends; it envelops; it smothers; it overcomes us. It wraps us in misery and loss. It deprives us—of light, of warmth, of cheer, of health.

If there are 50 shades of gray, there are a hundred shades of Darkness. There is gloom, melancholy, anger, fury, depression, rage, hate, vengeance, grief, sorrow, illness, death. I could go on, but it’s too… dark.

If we look at history, we see periods of Darkness. We remember that Darkness when we hear the music, read the novels (think Russian) and see it in the art. The Darkness can be all encompassing and can affect thousands at once. Today, we can see it in the news, day after day.

At first I thought Darkness was mostly a result, a reaction, or like a passive verb, something being acted upon. But then, I realized it’s also a thing, not just a subject, but a force, a power, an evil. A killer.

And it’s there. It’s out there. It’s waiting for you. Be careful. Be very careful.

Anatomy of Love

I’ve always said that love is the most important ingredient in life, especially when bringing up your children. I’m a firm believer in a) letting your children know you love them, and b) knowing and feeling that love will keep them on the straight and narrow and help them lead meaningful adult lives.

But love is much more than that, does much more than that. It can be shown/demonstrated in so many different ways. And it can be infused, appreciated, embraced in so many different ways.

In our very recent life, we’ve been inundated with completely emotionally and physically draining informational overload. Bad informational overload. Actually, the information isn’t bad, the problem it’s dealing with is bad. Seriously bad. So, our emotional stamina is at a record low. Or, at least it was until we were also inundated with love—which has been very sustaining, empowering, strengthening.

See, love is when an old friend calls you out of the blue to reaffirm the friendship and offer her own trials and a listening ear for ours.
Love is when a granddaughter, graduating soon as a Therapy Masseuse, comes to give you a fantastic massage. And a grandson surprises us with a visit immediately after his plane lands from Oregon.

Love is when another granddaughter and grandson just come over to have lunch with us, clean the kitchen, bring in my groceries and put them away, bring up my clean laundry and help me make my bed, put the second load of wash into the drier, move a little furniture and put away blankets and pillows–remnants from our rearranging for new furniture (a recliner chair).

Love is when my sister calls me, as she travels with her husband to family for Thanksgiving, just to check on how we are, how things are, and to part with encouraging words.

Love is when the assistant manager at the store where we bought the recliner chair (so Paul can sleep comfortably) sends us a card wishing us love for the holidays, thanking us for “making her day” when we were there, and letting us know that she had personally taken care of the delivery fee.

Love is when yet another grandson rushes over to set up our computers, making them functional and compatible, and proudly shows us the home he hopes to buy soon.

The love within and between us has grown immeasurably and nourishes us as we accept and relish that of our friends and relatives. It is the very essence of who we are, of what we are meant to be, and the most important ingredient of the common, strengthening link in our circle of life.

Healthcare Cyberattack

Oboy! I am really pissed. (I hate that word and never use it, but right now, it describes my emotions/attitude/condition perfectly.)

In the mail today, I received real, live letters. But before you get excited for me, let me explain. One letter, addressed to my mother, was from Excellus Blue Cross/Shield, and explained how their files had been cyberattacked and her information may have been “accessed” by the attackers.

My mother died at age 97 in 2002. And they still have her information in active files? (Joe said they could archive her records now—more than ten years. See below.) When I called the number “where you can get more information and/or ask any questions you might have,” the woman stated that there was no way anyone could use my mother’s information if she was “gone.”

Excuse me! How many times have we read/heard in the news that identity thieves check obituaries all the time so they can use the Social Security numbers of the deceased to get credit cards, passports, and Lord knows what other nasties they come up with.

So, Customer Service gave me absolutely no help with that question.

On to my next letter. This one, from Lifetime Healthcare Companies, was addressed to me and both letters were signed by Christopher Booth, President and CEO. I read through the letter, discovering that, not only were they cyberattacked on August 5, 2015, but the initial attack was on December 23, 2013. I can only imagine all the fun those criminal geeks were able to generate since 2013—and nary a soul in the Healthcare Companies figured out what was going on.

Back to this letter from Christopher Booth (does anyone have one of those lists of CEOs and their annual salaries?—just curious.) Each paragraph had a bold-face type header. What happened? What are we doing to protect you?… Where can you get more information?

Bottom line is Lifetime Healthcare Companies is tightening their cyber security. (Better late than never, I suppose.) Period!! Beyond that, we (the victims) can call several different places for “more information,” none of which is Lifetime Healthcare Companies. Their gratuitous solution for us is to enroll in Kroll’s identity theft protection services for two years—free.

So, I went to the given website and began to sign up for this service. At the end of—yes—giving my information out again, I read the “Agreement” before securing the service. Good thing! Turns out that they will alert you if they find this or that, but they are not responsible for anything bad that does happen. Also, they automatically renew the service without any notification to you and you have no recourse for a refund should you forget to notice the end date of your service. (Read on…)

It is obvious to me that Kroll provides no real service that we can’t do for ourselves: check our bank statements, our credit reports, our credit card statements, etc. etc. These things, Kroll advises us to do anyway.

The thing that really, really, gets me is that over a week ago, I needed a new prescription filled for my blood pressure. We (doctor and I) had tried several drugs to keep it under control, and found this one to be successful. My doctor had been giving me samples from her office, but the samples are no longer forthcoming. Hence, the prescription.

BUT, Excellus told Wegmans that it cannot fill the script until forms are filled out and sent in to it explaining why I needed that drug, if we’d tried others, etc etc.. After two weeks, we still do not have approval and, if/when we do get it, I’m willing to bet the co-pay will be close to or maybe more than $100. (My doctor was able to get samples of part of the drug—I have to cut it in half—and a script for the other part.)

So, what are we to do? I refuse to be duped, especially after being victimized. I called the number given in the letters for answers to our questions, which was useless. The woman didn’t know the possibilities out there regarding misuse of my mother’s information and tried to assure me that nothing would happen. And she had no capability of letting the CEO or other officers about the objections callers might have.

Not to be deterred, I got the telephone book out. (Remember what that is? The website for Lifetime Healthcare did not have a phone number for it listed.) Lifetime Healthcare Companies’ corporate office is located on 165 Court Street, Rochester 14647. The phone number is (585) 454-1700. Press 0 to speak to a person. (I asked for Christopher Booth, CEO, but of course, he “wasn’t in his office.”) But I was persistent and did get to speak with an Alisa. She said I’d hear from someone who could help me within five days. (Surprise. They’re inundated with phone calls.)

Very shortly thereafter, I received a call from “Joe.” (By this time, I’m on my fourth glass of Diet Pepsi, which I haven’t succumbed to in years!) And I have to say, Joe saved the day. He said Kroll will indeed notify us immediately of infiltrators and will not automatically renew the service without letting us know. And then, we actually get four years of the service for free. (I know that’s what he said, but I don’t know if that’s just for me, because I’m such a b—-, or all of us.) He is also getting me some help on the blood pressure medicine, whose co-pay is indeed $95.

I gave him the rest of the day off.

I’m switching to water now.

The Road of Life

Life often has been bumpy—sometimes those bumps closer to mountains—for me, but lately it has been really good. I’ve been almost euphoric because of the good things that have been happening. Some serious synchronicity!

But I wasn’t watching the road. Bumps are one thing; pot holes quite another. So, when I was enjoying this season’s premier of NCIS, I was completely unprepared for the little segment in which Gibbs flat-lined in the operating room. During the few seconds when the drama escalated in the operating room procedures to save his life, Gibbs, in his new consciousness, spent the better part of a day with his little girl, who had died, with his first wife, in an auto accident many years ago.

Mark Harmon doesn’t get to really act in NCIS very often, so his look of tenderness and love and longing as he discovered his daughter was actually there for him again was emotionally overwhelming for me. My immediate reaction was, oh, it would be so worth flat-lining if I could just spend some time again with Mary Kay, my own daughter.

I can’t tell you much about what happened through the rest of that show. I was either crying, wiping my eyes and nose, or trying to pull myself together. Bedtime wasn’t much better, but I did finally get to sleep. Only to awake about 3:00 a.m. with absolute sobs. I’d alternate between visions of Jethro Gibbs smiling at his daughter and my daughter smiling at me. (I know—this is really feeling sorry for myself, but that’s what transpired.) Actually, the images I had of Mary Kay were of times we laughed hysterically together at pretty much nothing in particular. We were always in a public place where hysteria was inappropriate, which, of course, struck us funnier yet. So, the moments I shared with her in my reverie were, at least, fun moments.

When I finally was exhausted enough to fall back to sleep, it was about 6:00 a.m. I awoke about 8:00 with a huge sense of longing. The tears were gone, but the longing for her was humongous. I thought, frustratingly, about how I’m convinced our minds have the capability of reaching another state of consciousness whereby we could communicate with our loved ones who have passed. After all, they communicate with us, in very basic ways, I agree, but they do communicate. I won’t get into all the times/ways I’ve heard from my departed loved ones; maybe another blog someday. But I’m sure many or most of you have been with a terminal relative who suddenly will smile, looking somewhat upward, and greet a long since gone relative. My mother, at age 97, saw her mother, who had been gone well over 60 years. Even in her dying (and comatose) state, my mother’s eyes lit up, she smiled and said, “Mama! Oh, Mama…” A few days later, she saw her brother-in-law with the same warm welcome.

My point being: why can’t we figure out a way to achieve that level of consciousness in which we can reach and visit our departed loved ones? Not to bug them constantly, but when the missing them gets so raw, you’re practically dysfunctional, a brief visit would be so therapeutic.

Anyway, I moved along in my day, determined to persevere. I had a pre-arranged Reiki exchange with my Reiki Master at 10:00, so I went to that. By this time, I was in control, steady. But when Bette Laders gave me Reiki, I came away re-balanced, energized, and completely at peace.

The rest of the day went smoothly, although somewhat rushed. But I got done what I had to and was able to go to my granddaughter’s (Mary Kay’s daughter) presentation at the MuCCC as part of the Fringe Festival.

1902043_10151870045241765_1759523776_n_002mary kay moms 80thFirst of all, when Brittany came out through the doorway onto the stage, my mouth fell open, all the air left my lungs, and I’m sure my heart skipped a beat. It was Mary Kay! She walked across the stage to the lectern, smiling, and greeted us in the audience with confidence. She spoke of what it’s like for a young artist to try to “make it” in today’s society, breaking down the requirements to three basic points. She had interviewed other young artists, a band leader and a ballet school director, to offer their perspectives. It was a very informative, well documented, and instructive talk.

But, for me, she spoke like her mother, ending many of her sentences with that down-toned voice, the finality of the aural period. And, like her mother (and me, as a matter of fact), she switched ever so slightly from one foot to the other. She’s beautiful, her long brown hair hanging in soft waves to just below her shoulders—just as Mary Kay used to wear hers when she was younger. Brittany is a petite five feet, like her mother.

The upside of the evening—aside from the fact that the show and book signing were successful—was that I had a half hour to spend with, listen to, and look at Mary Kay. In addition, we had a little celebration at a local pub (the Tap Mallet?) afterward so that we could all celebrate Brittany, which I was delighted to be a part of. (Never mind I kept calling her Mary Kay, not even realizing it until someone mentioned it.)

So my road is smooth again. For now. I’m ever watchful for the bumps, but it’s those pot holes that can do you in. You have to be careful—some of them can develop into sinkholes.

Interview with Author Brittany Touris

Allow me to introduce Brittany Touris, author of the debut novel, “Stars Melt to Milk,” available in hard copy and electronic at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com and the Kindle version at IBookstore.

britt n miles 1

Brittany with nephew, Miles

stars melt to milk


JB: Good Morning, Brittany. Another busy day scheduled today?

BT: Of course. I worked my part time job this morning and am taking care of some other work right now. There’s always more to do!

JB: I’ve read some really great reviews of your book on Amazon. How do they make you feel?

BT: It’s always great to get good reviews. I especially appreciate honest reviews. Ones that can point out the books strengths and weaknesses. Getting feedback is the best way to improve and reach my readers. But of course seeing that people enjoyed the book is always nice.

JB: How has this book changed your life? Or has it not changed it at all?

BT: In a practical way, not much has changed. I still have a lot of work to do before I see my writing changing my life in concrete ways. But I have felt a shift in my mindset. Now that I have a novel published, I’ve felt more of a pull towards being a fiction writer. Before I was mostly known as a “social justice blogger” to people—it’s how I thought of myself too! Now I feel more like a novelist who also blogs about social justice issues.

JB: I really admire how you dedicate your full day, every day, to your writing. Almost every writer I know has a problem with setting aside time just for writing. How do you manage that and still maintain creativity?

BT: A lot of writers set a certain word count goal for the day, others get on a routine schedule, others set a certain amount of time. They’re strict with themselves. I don’t do any of that—although I’ve tried all of it. I write when I’m inspired and give myself general tasks to complete. There really aren’t any tricks to dedicating yourself to something, you just have to tell yourself to do it.

JB: You’re scheduled to present at Rochester’s Fringe Festival later this month. Tell us about that.

BT: I’m going to be giving a talk at the Rochester Fringe Festival on September 23rd at 7pm at MuCCC.  (Multi-use Community Cultural Center, 142 Atlantic Ave., Rochester, 14607) It’s free and will last about a half hour. I’ll also be selling and signing my book. Here’s a brief description of the program:

Young Rochester-born author Brittany Touris chronicles the struggle and allure of being a local artist. Through her own tales, as well as those of other artists in the community, she shares some insights and oddities about “making it” with an unconventional career in this city.

JB:       What is the Fringe Festival, anyway?

BT:      The First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival is one of the many Fringe Festivals worldwide. Since its start in 2012, it’s attracted more than 30,000 attendees. Its focus is on the arts—all kinds of arts. You’ll see a lot of eccentric and creative pieces. It’s truly inspiring and I’m incredibly excited to have a part in it this year.

JB:      In your novel, Stars Melt to Milk, you have two, three really, characters who are struggling with the reality of Life and all its demands, rewards and punishments, the third character in a peripheral sense. Do you have a favorite among them? If so, why?

BT:      It depends on what you mean by favorite. Janis is definitely the character to admire. She’s strong and passionate and never gives up. I relate to her artistic inclinations and the way she views life. So I definitely love Janis.

Ray was always a really interesting character to me. He was the one man in the book who was as kind-hearted and passionate as Janis, but he was just a kid. I like to think sometimes about what he’d be like in five or ten years. Maybe we’ll see him in a possible sequel? I just feel like there’s so much to explore with his character that I haven’t yet.

Charlie, however, was my favorite to write. Despite most people liking Janis better, I genuinely think I did a better job writing Charlie. He stirs more of an emotional response in readers from what I’ve noticed—even if it is negative. A lot of times while writing I found myself bursting out in laughter at something Charlie did or said. It’s all just so … Charlie. I think I’ll look back in years to come and really appreciate what I did with Charlie’s character.

JB:       I’ve heard you say that you’re beginning to work on another novel. Is it a sequel to Stars Melt to Milk? Or…?

BT:      I haven’t started work on a sequel for Stars Melt to Milk, although I’d love to some day.

I’ve actually begun work on a series, titled The Gold Dust Odyssey. I suppose I’d have to place it in the adventure category, but that’s debatable. It’s about a young woman, exploring a series of fictional realms, taking a philosophical lesson from each place.

JB:       There’s no doubt in my mind that the writing/reading world will hear more about Brittany Touris. How and where can we keep in touch with you and your progress?

BT:      You can get updates via email by subscribing to my blog on oshitbritt.com. Also like me on Facebook (Brittany Touris), follow me on Twitter (@oshitbritt), and follow me on Tumblr (oshitbritt.tumblr.com). Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel too! I’m trying to hit that 1,000 subscriber mark by the end of the year.

JB:       Thanks so much, Brittany, for your thoughts on the creative process that so many of us call writing and for letting us peek into your writing persona.

BT:      It was my pleasure!

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