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Family Stories

10 May
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Left to right, Karen Foltz (my Mom), Anna Foltz (nee Stein, my Grandma), and David Foltz (my uncle)

I come from a family of storytellers. There are more than a few interesting ones to tell about family history alone. Some family members, my Dad and paternal Grandmother among them, are/were amazing oral storytellers. This made my childhood quite colorful and gave me the gift of imagination. The gene for telling stories was not passed on to me, but I can write decently enough to help continue sharing them. So I do.

Among the true stories, some are easier to tell than others. Today I was thinking about my Mom and my maternal Grandmother, as we get ready for Mother’s Day 2014. Much of my childhood, my Mom was housebound dealing with severe agoraphobia. She didn’t really leave the house for years, pretty much from the time I was five until I was in high school. I have a close relationship with my Mom and learned a lot from here during that tough time, mainly about resilience and spirituality. Thanks to modern-day anti-depressants, Mom doesn’t have to stay stuck at home anymore, which is a great thing.

My Dad was busy working most of the time when I was a kid, when Mom was sick, so my brother and I spent a lot of time at my Grandma’s house. She was the caretaker for a well-to-do family in Reynoldsburg named the Hafts. They had a large house on a bit of land right off Main Street. Inside the house was a bar, which was a real sign of wealth as far as I could tell. Their old stable had been converted into two apartments behind the house, and Grandma lived in one of them. I could walk to kindergarten from there, and every day I passed by a house where a monkey lived in the backyard, on a chain.

Grandma took care of the elderly Hafts to make a living, and my brother and I played in the little woods between her home and the Haft’s house. We rode our bikes up and down the lane and climbed high in the pine trees and sat up there for hours, getting sap all over our hands and legs, and were difficult about coming down when Dad picked us up.

From those trees we could see the awesome set-up of a neighbor family that had bought a trampoline for their kids. It was, according to all adults in our family, an irresponsible thing to do and sure to result in injury. But we loved to watch the kids jump on it and wished we could, too. When we were not in the pine trees, we could see the kids’ top halves flying up above the six-foot fence. It really wasn’t fair, but in the end we had the woods to run around in, and they didn’t.

When Grandma wasn’t stuck in her chair with back problems, she was getting herself in trouble with my Mom by trimming our bangs (unevenly), encouraging us with art projects (she was quite the artist), or patiently listening while I played the first Wings album over and over again. I remember her being patient when I flipped out over any TV shows featuring UFOs. Much to my brother’s disappointment, she made us turn off any program involving guns (including “Bonanza” and “Big Valley”). I remember that she helped us save a baby bird we found under a tree. We put it into a shoebox with some old cloths to keep it warm. It died anyway, but we tried.

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Robert Foltz

Much of Grandma’s life, and by extension my Mom’s, was greatly influenced by my Grandfather, a man I never met. His name was Robert Foltz, and he left for WWII when my Mom was five. While overseas, he met a Canadian nurse and sent Grandma divorce papers around Christmastime. I’m not sure what year it was. He was very intelligent and handled logistics for the Army, and I believe he worked for a long time after his service in high-level corporate positions dealing with transportation.

He passed away a few years ago, and in his obituary his family thanked his long-time personal nurse. When my Grandma passed, I was in my mid-20s. My parents were away on vacation, so someone from the nursing home called to tell me that she had “expired.” I was devastated, really, because I’d always had a close relationship with her. But I had just visited with her and was the last to see her alive, so I was glad for that.

My husband often uses my Grandma as an example for why Social Security exists. She worked her entire life in various creative ways. After her husband left, her older brothers and sisters let her live at the old family house, which she rented out as a home for unwed mothers. She did the women’s fashion window displays at Lazarus in the 50s, and she worked in the paint department at a store in Florida. In the 60s, she was a house mother for Grant Nursing School. Over the years, she always worked but never made a lot of money, and died in a place that took Medicare and Medicaid. My Mom and uncle ate a lot of ketchup sandwiches growing up, and my Mom’s toes are curled because she never had shoes that fit. My Grandfather did pay back child custody years later, after my Grandma took him to court, but that was after Mom and my uncle were grown. I don’t think that his second family really knows much about us.

There are always two sides to every story. I have no doubt that my Grandmother, as much as I loved her, was not an easy person to live with. So I’m sure that Robert Foltz had some reasons for deciding to leave. But I think it haunted my Mom for years, and still does. He never wanted to have any contact with his old family. I think Mom talked with him on the phone from time to time. She always wanted to see him but never did after he left. Sometimes when people go, there’s just an empty hole that the people left behind have to find a way to fill.

I wish I’d met him, too. He sounds like a person I would have liked, despite the family history.

 

 

 

Campus Life

31 Mar
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winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twenty-five years ago, I was a college freshman at The Ohio State University.

Now, I am starting my first term as a lecturer at OSU.

What a difference 25 years makes, in some ways. The buildings are nicer. Gone are the ugly 1980s orange chairs in the Ohio Union. Now that orange is back again, there are new orange chairs in an au courant hue, in a completely renovated Union that’s actually a cool place to hang out. It no longer smells bad or has dark corners. The area that once held Mark Pi’s and Hardee’s now has much healthier and better-smelling food options, with natural lighting and comfortable seating. Students want to be there–a far cry from my student era at OSU.

Despite the infrastructure makeover, some things have not changed. You really can’t get much better than spring on campus. People wearing shorts and playing frisbee on the Oval. Students crossing College Avenue with zero awareness of oncoming traffic. A general sense that the future is full–of promise, adventure, prosperity, and new information.

When I looked out at the faces in my Masters seminar class in the John Glenn School, I got a little bit choked up. It seems just yesterday that I was in their shoes, looking at the world as a glass nearly, if not entirely, full. My primary goal in teaching them is to share some knowledge that can help them to drink from that glass with style and grace.

I am acutely aware that many of my professors when I was a graduate student were about the age that I am now. At the time, as is the case with all “young people,” I thought they were “old.” And now, because of the cruel laws of logic, I realize that my own dear students probably feel the same way about me. The fact that I do not feel old is immaterial.

And so it goes…I am doing my best not to use the words “why, back in my day,” “you young whippersnappers” and the like. It really puts things into perspective to know that when I was a graduate student, most of them were not yet born.

Despite this awareness, I have realized that my perspective on life has not changed very much at all since I was a young student. I am still a glass is mostly full type of person, and I honestly believe that just about anything is possible if you work hard and want it enough. Some people may think this is immature or naive. I prefer to think that it helps me to not have preconceived notions about what can and cannot be accomplished. In my new-found “campus life,” it’s refreshing to be in the company of so many like-minded souls.

First Kiss

6 Feb

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In my continued theme of “I’ll write whatever strikes my fancy,” here’s a topic to consider:

How much of a predictor for relationship success is a first kiss?

This is something I’ve pondered through my own personal experience as well as wondering about my kids’ impending dating adventures. I can only hope that they encounter some talent in this department, although I’m sure I’ll not hear about it from them…they are both pretty private.

Just like a firm handshake, a first kiss makes quite an impression. Flub it and you have the equivalent of the limp handshake or the overly exuberant arm-pump. Both turnoffs, at different ends of the spectrum.

Beautiful or not, every woman or man has an opportunity to gain interest and respect through that kiss, or to be written off completely. Suffice it to say that I can count the men I’ve kissed on one hand. We are not looking at a sufficient sample size here to draw any conclusions. So I know that this is nowhere near scientific.

Nevertheless, I have observed some things about technique–some of which have little to do with the kissing part of the kiss:

1. It is best to ask permission before a first kiss.

2. A first kiss should not be a suction experience. Keep the vacuum cleaners in the closet, at least for the time being.

3. There must be some level of sophistication to it. It should begin and end subtly with something thoughtful in between. Nothing too fancy. Stick to the basics.

4. Don’t rush things. That could leave a bad taste in the mouth. This is not a race. Or a marathon. Think of it as a test run. You will be moving at a fair pace and not belaboring the point. You are “testing the waters” and not overdoing it.

For the record, the man that I married was the most talented. And still is, from what I recall of the competition.

The Black Keys

11 Dec

Image: Pixomar / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I rarely get the chance to go to concerts, so when I do it had better be worth my money and time. March 4, The Black Keys are coming to Columbus, and I am going with someone who likes them as much as I do and is willing to pay what I paid to scalpers for great seats. Who’s in?

Since I started playing guitar again, I’ve become more interested in the band. My guitar teacher knows the guy who is their recording studio technician. They record on tape (analog), not digitally, which makes their raw sound even more “real.”

Another interesting item of note: They tested out the sound of their last album, “Brothers,” at local custom guitar-building experts Fifth Avenue Fret Shop (owned by the inimitable Phil Maneri, who is my kids’ godfather). They wanted to listen and compare the sound of the CD to the playback on tape, and Phil has all of the right equipment.

These guys are down-to-earth Ohioans who also happen to be very talented. Kind of amazing that their hometown, Akron, also produced Chrissie Hynde and Devo. It’ll be a bit strange seeing them in such a large venue–at the Schott.

Anticipation for this sure to be stellar show is another way to get through winter.

Bed Bugs and Buddhism

23 Aug

The bedbugs have made me into a better Buddhist. Or Catholo-Buddhist. Or whatever mish-mash of “religions” I’ve become.

Here’s why: I have been a disciplined practitioner of eliminating my attachment to earthly things over the past days.

Meaning I have thrown out A LOT of stuff in a very short period of time. To quantify: One dumpsterful plus a double-load for bulk pick-up.

I thought it would be interesting to explore some Buddhist and Christian quotes on attachment and “worldly” living, made all the more interesting thanks to my new frenemies (props to Eric Calvert), the bedbugs.

Starting with this Buddhist quote:

The greatest generosity is non-attachment.

So, I’m being generous to the city dump, since no one wants my bedbuggy stuff? (Well, I suppose that’s not technically correct. See here for more on people who grew attached to my stuff, thereby taking on my former attachment with the added bonus of bedbugs.)

This next quote (also Buddhist) unmasks the illusion of the uniquely human trait–saving face:

The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

This is a special shout-out to any of my neighbors still speaking to me, after the several days of trash piled on my front lawn, followed by the dumpster sitting in my driveway after that. Now, we’re just back to the small pile of mulch at the bottom of the driveway, with several small trees growing out of it.

Hey, what can I say, that mulch pile was several feet high at the start of the summer. That’s what I call progress! So, even though I appear to be “that neighbor,” I’m really an extremely upstanding citizen wholly focused on saving the world, starting with absolute bedbug elimination.

Here’s one from the Bible:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that
friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a
friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(James 4:4 (ESV))

Ignore the first part. It’s just a pithy lead-in to the meat. What this quote really means is that I am VERY close to God. I now despise my worldly possessions. Every time I throw a new load in the dumpster, I both curse AND say a little prayer. No matter that it mostly focuses on a swift death to all bedbugs in my near vicinity.

To further emphasize my hatred of my worldliness, all of my earthly possessions are now encased in giant trash bags, so that I cannot even tell what they are. It’s now as if I own almost nothing. I am no longer a friend to the temptations of acquisition. Less is more, because it means fewer bedbugs and less hassle for me.

I’ll admit that I have felt a bit like Job with this bedbug business. Why me, God? I didn’t do anything (seriously) wrong!

Much like Job’s protests, mine haven’t done anything to change my circumstances. Life happens, and it’s up to us to figure out how to deal with it. For now, apparently the best course of action is to downsize.

(P.S. Out of sheer curiosity, I did check for Biblical and Buddhist references to bedbugs and found none (although a host of other insects, including white ants, do crawl into certain verses). But I did find this interesting commentary on whether or not Buddhists are permitted to kill bedbugs. The post also explores some interesting thoughts on what it means to be reborn as a bedbug. Wow.)

Breaking Away

19 Jul

At my new employer, there’s a saying that goes like this:

In school, we get the lesson, followed by the test.

In real life, we get the test followed by the lesson.

Oh so true! And I can speak from personal experience. Back in 2004 and 2005, I was at a “mid-term” (okay, yes ,”mid-life”) point, soul-searching in both personal and career matters. On both fronts, there were situations that tested me more than I’d ever been tested.

Up to that point in time, I’d been pretty lucky. Happiness had not been difficult to find. I’d married the man I loved, had two lovely kids, a house in the suburbs and a respectable career. I didn’t have to fight to reach any of those classic milestones in life. Not saying that I didn’t work hard and deserve my lot in life. Just saying that my path was never unnecessarily complicated or challenging.

Then, suddenly, I felt the need to ask myself some pretty deep personal and professional questions:

Do I like where I am?
Do I like who I am? Is this what I want to be when I’m ‘grown up?’

Because ‘grown up’ is now.

Annoyingly, a mentor of mine kept asking me this:

What is the lesson?

At the time, I’m not sure that I knew what the test OR the lesson was! The only thing that I had in mind was:

Gee, life is really difficult right now, and I’m not really having all that much fun.

I felt like reading a lot of Sartre, and I’m glad I didn’t do too much of that. Enough existential angst running around my head already!

Now, looking back on that time, I can better understand the test, and the lesson. The substance of it doesn’t matter, but the process does.

We’ve all had these moments in time. For me, they’ve hit at predictable developmental points in my life and in my career. Like my mentor’s question, this is also annoying. Because it just goes to show that I am not much different (aka better) than anyone else. That’s the first part of the lesson.

If you are at a point of feeling “stuck” in life, with family or career questions bombarding you, you may have reached a critical turning point–a time that will define what’s next.

Here’s a good checklist to help you build up momentum again and head in the right direction:

  1. Know thyself (and don’t snow thyself). Everyone is capable of lying to him- or herself. Don’t fall into this trap, because it’s a deep hole and requires a superhuman effort to climb out. Be clear about and stay true to your own values, and the choices you make will reflect them.
  2. Keep close friends (and friends close) and listen when they question you. Trust the counsel of your allies, even when it’s hard to take in.
  3. Change is a funny thing. Sometimes is best made quickly and cleanly. Other times it requires a lot of endurance and has to be made over time. Before you make a change, consider the short- and long-term consequences. Think through all of them and imagine yourself there. While changing can be cathartic in the moment, it may not feel that way after a few years. Think before you leap. Conversely, sometimes slow change creates needless pain over time. Better to yank off the band-aid than to draw out the agony. What type of change would this be for you?
  4. Seek out evidence that will help you to “pass the test” and “learn from the lesson.” If you get past an obstacle and it was just by luck, you’re going to run into that obstacle again. Guaranteed. So save yourself some heartache and learn it the first time, even if the lesson is painful.

One last piece of advice from another mentor of mine:

Keep your head on straight, and be true to your heart.

In the midst of even cataclysmic change, this will not steer you wrong.

The Guy from Philly

6 Oct

I put up post a while back about kindness. Last weekend, it happened again.

While in D.C. for a conference, we took time to sightsee on The Mall and at the Smithsonian. Josh and I needed to eat lunch, and I wasn’t particularly interested in the fare at the McDonald’s in Air and Space, so we went to a cafe at The Castle.

There was a ragtag group working that day, and it was late in the afternoon, 3-ish. A march had just finished on The Mall, and there was a crowd forming for food. The staff were not at their best, and frankly neither were we.

Josh and I made it all the way through the line, only to find that despite the cafe’s credit card signs, their machine wasn’t working. And of course I had no cash, because I never have cash in situations where I should.

The cashier wouldn’t budge, and I was not inclined to put everything back and give in to the McDonald’s. A guy behind us in line groaned loudly. “Okay, now we are going to have a scene. How could I be such an idiot!”

And suddenly, I realize that the loud guy with the big arms full of tattoos is really being very kind. He’s handing me a $20 bill to pay for the food. I politely declined, but he insisted.

When we got through the line, he said, “I just thought of being in that situation with my kid. Just mail me a check for $15.”

We exchanged addresses, and that was that.