November 12, 2014


Upon hearing yet another story of someone close to me ending a relationship because their partner continually did things to sabotage it, I feel sad. I was in such a relationship, and now, some 30 years later, I think I know what was going on. My former partner really didn't think he deserved a good relationship; actually, he probably didn't know what a good relationship was, considering the alcoholic, selfish, neglectful partnership his parents shared. Every time there was an event, it involved liquor. We'd go over to their house in the afternoon, and there they'd be sitting in the TV room, half-gone gin and tonics sitting on the coffee table. His parents continually berated him, even as an adult, for silly things like a frayed buttonhole on his shirt. I know, as a child, he would be locked out of the house. He was often spanked. Other behavior like making him and his brother spend endless hours in a parked hot car while his parents shopped for antiques doubtless resulted in low self-worth.

Drinking is usually a factor, I've found. People who don't feel they deserve good things often self-medicate with liquor or other drugs (although it's mostly drinking, for some reason, in my experience, anyway). They drink, and pick fights, flirt outrageously with other people, forget important things like picking their partner up somewhere, do something outrageous at work to get them fired, or simply disappear. They also seem strangely accident-prone -- some kind of self-fulfilling fate, I suppose. My ex-partner did all those things and more. When I questioned anything I was often told that I should just leave. As a young wife, I didn't understand, and I thought (of course) it was my fault. My pride and desire to make everything better resulted in staying for 10 years! But after awhile, I figured it out, and also realized that I deserved a better partner, someone who knew they deserved me.

Isn't it sad, though, that there are all these otherwise usually charming, smart people who won't ever have a loving relationship? Why can't they make up their mind that, yes, they deserve someone who cherishes them, a job that fulfills them, dreams that can happen?

September 5, 2014

Promises Made to My Land

I love my backyard. I always feel like I'm in an embrace of all the trees, the sky, the air. It always smells so nice, flowery and woodsy. So I was sitting out there this evening, the temperature was perfect, just a bit tangy. And I was feeling that protected feeling, and finding myself saying "thank you." Although the half moon was nearly set, I could see very well. The clouds were reflecting whatever light there was. I always appreciate the silhouettes and shadows of the trees. I'm beginning to feel familiar with the shapes of the trees; the tempos of the biophony. I promised my land, the 5 acres of it at least, that I'd take care of it. I thought of all the things they do for me - shade, color, the wildlife it attracts... and I began to hear bells, little tinkly bells among the regular symphony. They stopped. I carried on with my thankfulness feelings.... and then they came again. That went on for awhile, and now I'm here, writing about it. Think I'll go wrap that night around me and go to sleep for awhile.

September 4, 2014


I think I remember when I last really doodled. It was when I had an office job where we had a lot of meetings. I did some awesome doodles. I designed stuff to embroider.... or just for fun. I hated meetings; I still do. But now I fiddle with my fucking phone when I'm bored.

I loved to doodle in high school. I hated high school, too. Soooo much. My art teacher loved my doodles. I loved spirals, and I could draw them forever. It was meditative. And being in a meditative state, or a really stoned one, was the only way I could deal with the rednecks and pushy jocks. And I was just so bored. I can't remember most of what I supposedly learned. Oh, wait.... "BRITTANIA EST INSULA"!!!! What was that Latin teacher's name? Mrs. Livingstone?  She was huge, and somehow, misshapen. And old, very old. She walked with a limp, she might have had a cane. But she drew pictures on the chalkboard as she told us stories in Latin. It was great. But I do remember "Brittania est insula."  I had a really awesome 11th grade creative writing teacher. I can't remember her name but we had some really nice talks. But the rest of high school sucked. I just hated sitting still in a chair all day when there was life going on outside the classroom. I frequently skipped school. I'd just stay home, and maybe bake some bread or something.

Anyway, I found something I must have done in high school. I miss doodling. Think I'll pick it back up again.

August 31, 2014

Prove it

Both the parties here in WV are in a contest to prove who is the best example of how you can't tell the two apart. They are busy trying to kiss the biggest piece of King Coal's ass. Check out the two articles that appeared one right after the other when I searched for "West Virginia candidates."
According to the first linked article,  "Coal is key" during the first debate between Senate candidates. Then in the very next linked article, we find out that a poll shows that coal is not West Virginian voters' top priority.

So who's feeding who here? The coal mining industry is insisting that it is important to West Virginians, and spending the money to convince politicians that they are.

We all know what's going on. 

But here's the flip side, WV Progressives and Liberals. Picture this. You're one of 15,000 coal miners in West Virginia. You're this guy. Your daddy was a coal miner. His daddy was a coal miner. Ever since they came to America, dad's been a coal miner. You've put food on the table, bought a nice little house, have a nice little family. You quietly know that mining and coal is bad for the environment, as well as your own health, and you know you should care. But it's hard to think about all that happening so slowly, while your family is growing up so quickly.

But, just suppose, an exciting new business is coming to the area. Maybe it's a builder who installs solar panels, or a solar panel or geothermal manufacturer, maybe a research facility.  The company is paying for training. The hourly wage is at least $5 more than you're making now, and their benefits are amazing. The work environment is totally healthy and 100% safe. The business is owned by some metrobillies who also got some of that government money. The owners knew their political leaders would never figure it out, or admit that it was possible so they're doing it themselves. They  know that once people see this new economy in action, they'll realize how they've been lied to by the coal industry. And that is why the coal bosses are so afraid. 

So you go to work there. At first you feel disloyal to your old job, but then you start to learn new, leading edge skills and feel proud of yourself. You are so grateful that you were able to get involved in the ground floor of this thing! It makes you hopeful for your children.

Or, maybe a bunch of those metrobillies bought a few hundred acres of land -- and built a wind farm. But instead of making a profit, they decided to form a co-op with the entire area, so they could all own it.

Who knows who will win these elections. The only way to prove to people that there is alternative to fossil fuels, is to prove it ourselves. Let's form partnerships, actively go after green manufacturers, buy acres and acres of land. People have the power! And they can OWN it too.

August 8, 2014

Finding the cabin

me and the sisters: pond mermaids
  That cabin. Weekends as a child with my family spent roaming in the woods, swimming in the pond, tobogganing down a woodland path...When I got older, sometimes I was allowed to take friends out to the cabin and we'd scare ourselves silly thinking there was a vampire in the woods. In one of those nebulous, dream-like memories, I remember taking my first boyfriend out there one afternoon....and  there are specific memories, such as Margaret getting drunk and sending us into hysterics when we found her passed out on the toilet: NUH! And the night we girls went with our babysitter Annie Ziegler, we sat in her car, while she sang along with "Angel of the Morning" on the radio.....Jerry Stern and his sea monster act in the pond, slithering around in the mud and pond scum to our delighted disgust. 
Then there is This cabin. The one where I returned to live full time in June 1977 with my husband Jay and 3 month old Phoebe. So many long walks in those woods with Doodah the bloodhound and sometimes Porker the pig, Phoebe slung snugly against me. There were no paths; we would
phoebe on moving day 
follow the beautiful little creek for awhile, and then find something else to follow. Mostly good days. There was the terrible storm, and some other not great things, but I loved that little cabin. It's where we celebrated Phoebe's first Christmas with a tiny little tree we cut down on Christmas Eve at sundown. It's also where Doodah is  buried.

Soon after we moved out of the cabin, my dad sold the cabin to the people who owned the neighboring cabins.

I wanted so much to find it but I couldn't remember how to get there. I stared at the Penn  Run area on mapquest for a long time before I drove out there yesterday; one of those remarkable breezy, perfectly sunny August mornings. I realized there weren't that many roads around Penn Run, and if I just drove around a bit, something would feel familiar. I did remember some things: a stretch of road with pine trees growing at perfectly spaced intervals. I remember thinking as I drove past it  so many times, that, with the sunlight just right, an epileptic would probably have a seizure because of the strobe effect of the resulting pattern of sunlight and shadow. And I remembered there was an unmarked intersection. Arriving in Penn Run, I first drove nearly all the way to Clymer before realizing no, this wasn't right, and turned around. After a few more rather aimless tries, something started clicking. I thought I found the trees, and wasn't sure until, yep, there was the intersection. As I drove on, it looked different enough to make me doubt myself again: the road seemed more narrow, because all the trees are so much bigger. There are a few new homes there, I think mostly weekenders. Then I remembered to also look for fishing creeks, and all of a sudden it was all in front of me: that beautiful little creek, and my lane. "Cool Waters: established 1966" The sign is still there. I had forgotten about that until I saw it today. I drove up the lane very slowly, wanting it to unroll so my mind could absorb as many details as possible. There's a new home on the right, close to the road. They might live there full-time; there were cars parked. The A-frame is still there where a  nice older man used to stay. I visited with him a few times and talked about wildflowers and what wild animal had been heard the night before; I think he felt sorry for me because I was often alone out there. Anyway, the other cabins are still there too... And then there it was. I actually saw the pond first, because it was so sparkling.
When I got out of the car I ran right over to the pond.... I was feeling so many emotions that I practically felt dizzy. For some reason, Loss was the big one. Loss of what? Being that young girl swimming lazily in the pond? The teenager who brought her first boyfriend out here? Or the young mama with her baby or, realizing that the man you shared it with is no longer on the Earth, although you were lost from each other long before that? I don't know, but it was there. At the same time, I felt happy, too, seeing that the land was well taken care of. I walked up the muddy lane to the stream, remembering how, in the spring, hundreds of little peepers emerge all at once, crossing the lane into the woods. I got a rock from the stream to take home with me.
that is not a snake! it's a hose fyi
 I felt enveloped in green, lush, sultry green everywhere. I love the house I live in now for the same reason I love the cabin: The trees surround us in an almost protective circle. The grass was soft and lush. It was absolutely quiet except for some birds and crickets and the air smelled sweet.  It felt like paradise. I enjoyed it for a few more minutes, trying not to dwell on memories, just to simply be with the cabin as it is now. 
 I decided to leave a note saying "Hey, I used to live here, and thanks for taking care of this place " on the door. And got back in my car and drove back down that lane, slowly. 

August 5, 2014

The most ignorant bumper sticker ever

"Work harder. Millions on welfare are depending on you."

That's what I saw on my way to work today. Yes, I am planning on working hard today. But am I begrudging of those who might be eating tonight because my tax dollars are funding a food stamp program?NO

When I was 20, I became pregnant. This was 1976, during one of the worst recessions Western Pennsylvania had ever seen. My husband (now ex), a Vietnam Veteran, had a job but fell off a ladder and hurt his back. His less-than-scrupulous employer didn't offer workers compensation or even unemployment: he must have been paying under the table. There were very few jobs available, but he finally found one working at a mental health day care facility, but it paid barely enough. I found out that we were probably eligible for Medicaid and food stamps, so we applied. We were also eligible for a small monthly stipend. It was a relief to be able to take my baby to regular medical checkups, get her immunizations on time, and have good food to eat. We were very poor, but had enough to scrape by until I could go back to work or my husband got a better job.

As relieved as I was, I was also embarassed to be in this situation. I was raised in an upper-middle class home; my mother was a school teacher and my dad was a university professor. Growing up, I wanted for very little. I am an intelligent person. I didn't like the way cashiers looked at me when I used our food stamps, and I felt like the people in the doctor's office were judging me. I told my mother how I felt. She said this to me: "Honey, I've been paying taxes almost all my life. It's about time that I see that money helping something I believe in."

Through the next couple of years, things did get financially a lot better for us. My ex-husband went to computer school under the veterans bill and got a good job in DC as a computer programmer, and I learned all I could about the emerging PC industry and got a good job on Capitol Hill. We eventually broke up, but it wasn't over money. When I thought back to my other, past life, I felt little of the shame I had before: now I felt incredibly grateful that the help had been there for us and we had used it to make ourselves better.

I am not naive. I know, especially in my current job as a family practice office manager, that there are some people who would rather sit around on their butts all day and do nothing, just collect their unemployment, or disability, or welfare or live off their parents. But I truly believe those people are in the minority. Disability and welfare pay very little. I would think a person who was content living on that tiny income would have to be truly needy. Then there are those square pegs that will never ever fit into the neat round holes of society. Are they bad people? Are they stupid or lazy? Most of the time, no, they are not. They're just different. Maybe for whatever reason, they can't hold a regular job. Perhaps they suffer from agoraphobia, or they're mildly schizophrenic. Who am I, or anyone else, to judge? There are truly people who will never make it our current framework, for whatever reason. Should they die of hunger, or illness? The fact that you are born into a world that you can't manage shouldn't be a death sentence. Yes, there should be intensive work programs to get people back to work. But for those still in the midst of getting that help, or who still can't earn a living, there should be at least a minimal support system, paid for by the taxpayers. It makes us all better people. Do we really want to live in a place where it's each person for themselves? I for one am glad that we do not.

August 3, 2014

Andrew Bernat

In answer to a friend's query about my father's father, upon finding out that an in-law had Bernats in their family tree:
Andrew Bernat, my grandfather, was of Polish descent (I thought). He was born in Johnstown and worked as a postman.  I know very little about him, since he and my dad were pretty much estranged most of his adult life. I remember meeting him a few times as a small child.  Once while visiting a restaurant with a friend years later, I recognized him while he was eating there. I had to introduce myself to him, perhaps making things awkward for the lady friend he was with. Ironically enough, this old man outlived both his kids. I found out he had died because now and then I'd google him and last time, I found his obit. That son-of-a-bitch didn't even mention either of his children (my dad, Robert Bernat, or Elizabeth Morin, his daughter), and certainly none of the grandchildren.  Curiously, it doesn't mention either of his wives - my father's mother Pearl Willey, or the one he married after she died. Maybe the family was worried that my sisters and me would come after Pop-pop's enormous fortune. Ha!