PBS offers a lot of great programming, and I’ve been delighted with several shows that have become my favorites, from Downton Abbey to Mr. Selfridge to Grantchester; the writing, sets, plot lines, and characters keep me coming back. One show that is a must-see for women is Call the Midwife, now in its 5th season, that focuses on the nuns and midwives of Poplar, East London, and their struggles and triumphs. The show is based on the memoir by Jennifer Worth.
I’ve said it from the beginning: the thing I like best about the show is it focuses on women’s friendships, the sincerity of them, and what makes and sustains them. The relationships highlight the support and love the women offer each other; the pure acceptance of each other and their mistakes, failures, and successes; and the notion that women are not afraid to go out on a limb and let the other know that love means acceptance of who you are as a person.
Friendships between women sometimes come easily. At other times, friendships are tested. This show proves that the underlying success of friendships is the withholding of judgment. Tender, honest, loving relationships between women are constantly evolving; and whether that evolution proves to strengthen a friendship or nullify one, the lessons we learn from Call the Midwife help us understand that it’s often a misjudgment that can kill a friendship.
Unless you have actually walked in your friend’s shoes or know the full scope and complete background of someone’s life, you honestly have no idea what her situation is—for better or for worse. That’s my takeaway from the show. More love, less judgment. It seems to work in fiction. If we examine the friendships portrayed on the show carefully, maybe those lessons have a chance to resonate in real life.
When I read the reflections my students wrote at the end of last semester, I was surprised so many of them cited an article by writer Tom Junod as their favorite. It wasn’t because Junod isn’t a fantastic technical and creative writer—he is; I find him brilliant—but rather because they were so moved by Junod’s storytelling. Can You Say…Hero? is Junod’s 1998 profile piece from Esquire about Mister Rogers. That’s right…the late Mister Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, that iconic PBS show that lasted for decades. And some of my students barely knew who he was.
The article is a glimpse into the real Fred Rogers, and he isn’t too far off from the man we saw on television. Junod crafted a masterpiece, one filled with Mister Rogers’ beliefs, love, and charity toward fellow man. He was humble beyond belief. But perhaps what moved us most of all is the ending: a single prayer Fred Rogers urges the writer to say when he is at a complete loss. The prayer consists of three words: Thank you, God.
I found myself uttering those exact words yesterday morning as tears filled my eyes. I had to hold it together when a specialist doctor who examined my daughter for something the general pediatrician discovered during a routine visit told me: “She is fine.”
Immediately, I thought of Junod’s article, the power of spirituality, and Mister Rogers, who humbled us all and made us understand so powerfully what one little prayer can do.
I’ll keep this post short and sweet because it’s Friday as well as Father’s Day weekend, and I don’t want to be glum or morose, but…
The other day, a former student of mine passed away in an unfortunate car accident. She graduated in December. Those who knew her are saddened by her death, especially at the young age of 22. When someone passes at that age, it’s unexpected, and we have to come to terms with a loss like that. And while that in itself is difficult to grasp, it is no less sad when someone older dies. No matter what age, when we love and care about someone, we always wish we had longer with them, and I’m sure my whole family would say that’s true about my grandparents. While we did have some time, we never believe it’s quite long enough.
So, as we move on from talk of death, we take with us sharp reminders–that life is precious, and we owe it to ourselves to not just say we’re going to live life to the fullest and live with gratitude, but to actually do it.
Have a safe an happy weekend, all. And Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful dads out there.
In memory of Ebi Short, July 13, 1993 – June 14, 2016
Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice.
I remember dearly my great grandparents. In fact, my great grandfather outlived my own grandfather, who died of Leukemia at the young age of 63. I bring this up because we were having a conversation the other day about our earliest memories—things we remember from being a kid. I have some distinct early memories as a child growing up in New Jersey before we moved to Maryland when I was five years old.
Several of my early memories involve my mom’s parents’ house on Myrtle Avenue in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. They lived in a Cape Cod style house—an adorable little thing with a back yard full of gardens, a bocce court, grape vines, and way in the back of the yard, train tracks that ran through Cedar Grove. There was a swing my grandfather (Poppy) put up for me in the back left corner of the yard. I remember swinging on the swing. I also remember that my grandparents were going to have a party one afternoon, and my mother made me take a nap at their house before people came over. I had a piece of gum in my mouth, and I slept in one of the two bedrooms upstairs. I did fall asleep, and when I woke up, the gum was mush in my mouth. I ran to the bathroom and stood on the toilet to peek outside the window. The party was beginning, and I remember not wanting to miss it.
Perhaps that’s why I have a love of parties and entertaining.
I also remember wanting to wear my aunt’s high heels. I went upstairs on another occasion and tried on her shoes. As a small kid, I didn’t realize those high heels would make it difficult to walk down the stairs of my grandparents’ house. I fell down the stairs—tumbled all the way down and gave my mother a pretty awful fright.
I’m blaming my aunt for my love of high heels.
Another distinct memory I have as a child is going visit my great grandparents; their home was not too far from my grandparents’ house. Nana and Old Pop had a cukoo clock in their house that did, in fact, cukoo. I loved that thing. I remember being mesmerized by it. I also remember the smell of Nana’s house—it smelled like a combination of old house, basement, and pizza dough. I can still picture Nana in the kitchen tossing pizzas in the air. I remember it distinctly.
I’m pretty obsessed with clocks, used to have my own cukoo clock given to my by my dad’s parents, until it no longer worked, and I make my own homemade pizza now.
I also remember when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. We were living in an apartment in Cedar Grove…I was four at the time…and we had a black and white television set. My mother woke me up very early so that I could see history take place that morning. I remember sitting on the green rug watching it unfold.
And finally, I remember riding my bike and playing on the driveway of my grandparents’ house with the neighbor’s kid Michael. We would play together when I would go over there. He was my first friend who was a boy.
When my grandmother died and I attended her viewing, those very neighbors showed up to pay their respects. Michael wasn’t there, but the parents were. I remember being so touched that they came, seeing as how my grandmother hadn’t lived in that house for many, many years when she passed.
And perhaps meeting them again was all it took to inspire me to write a story about two kids who grow up next to each other and fall in love in my first novel called Beneath the Mimosa Tree.
These are my earliest memories from childhood. What are your earliest memories from being a kid?
Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice
My husband and I were sitting in a restaurant in London one night trying to get in touch with his Italian cousin who is a surgeon in the city. We were there for vacation, but we had promised Massimo and his wife that we would get together during our stay for dinner. In our effort to contact him at work, we were failing miserably. The people at the table next to us recognized that we were struggling with the phone and our attempt at communication with the hospital and promptly invited us to their table. When we explained that the hospital said he was in “theatre” we assumed he was seeing a show; the British folks who were next to us giggled and explained that the term “theatre” in England meant he was in surgery—performing a surgery. Embarrassed, we thanked them for the help, and began to make our way back to our table, but they wouldn’t hear of it. They insisted that we stay and dine with them that evening—and we did. It ended up being one of our most memorable and enchanting evenings in London, and we still make references to the Stevie Nicks look-a-like who touted Steely Dan and told us that her kids didn’t understand what really good rock music was. When she continued to tell us the story of how she made them listen to her old albums, we all laughed heartily and she was one of the funniest people I’ve met. Our fleeting friendship ended with the couple and their friend inviting us to their house in the South of France, but our time was limited, our trip fully book, and we were unable to do it. But it sure was nice to be asked.
While travel does involve seeing the sights, taking in historic sites, and eating food, what I remember most about traveling are the people we meet along the way. From the man who told me I had a lovely neck at the Tower of London to folks we met in a French pub who shared an evening with us talking about the Cotswolds, each and every person we have met along our way has been interesting and has certainly added some magic to our trips. Even on our quick jaunt to California last week, a place my husband and I have not spent any time visiting, we were tickled by the friendliness of people. On a bike ride around the vineyards in Napa Valley, we stopped to take a photograph and were off our bikes. During those few moments, two sets of people in cars and on bikes stopped to talk with us and made sure we were okay—that we knew our way around and that all was well with our bikes. At the resort, The Carneros Inn, the staff and reception folks were tremendously friendly, inviting, and helpful. And, along the way during our wine tasting, we met some lovely native Californians, as well as people from all over the globe, who were there to experience wine country.
Similar to our experience in London, in Italy we made many friends. One older British couple in Florence ended up hanging out with us at the bar in the Mona Lisa Hotel where we were staying. We had lots of laughs with them and talked about the difference between American and British cultures. At an Italian family-style local restaurant, we ate side-by-side with folks as we shared plates of uniquely prepared pastas, cheese, and topped it off with good wine. In Venice, one of my favorite pictures of the trip is of my husband and me with a group of folks who invited us to their table—two women writers who wrote for PBS and a German professor and his wife. The six of us got pretty tipsy that night, shared stories, and swapped a lot of hilarious stories as we stayed together until about two in the morning.
Of course, there’s no discounting seeing the places where we travel and experiencing them fully, but traveling somehow brings people together. It has the ability to help you realize that the world is small—that we are all connected by and large—and that part of growing comes from having these interactive experiences.
Having just returned from Napa Valley and San Francisco, the success of that trip makes me eager to plan our next jaunt, and hopefully it’s a trip that our now 13 and 15-year-old children will experience with us. I can’t wait for them to become wide-eyed with wonder for all that the world has for us to experience and digest.
And meeting all kinds of people is a big part of that impressionable, magical journey.
She picked up the cellphone. The text message simply said, “Very clever.” It was his response to the previous text she had sent which stated, “It took me all this time to lose my mind…what on earth made you think I would want a piece of yours?”
She could picture him standing there holding his phone looking at her words and smiling. She liked the image of him doing that.
The funny thing was, she didn’t feel very clever in general. In fact, she felt quite inept, singularly stupid, and deliriously daft. She had only known him for a few weeks. What was she thinking? How could she have become so enamored so immediately? This behavior was unconscionable, ridiculous, juvenile. It went against every feminist bone she had in her body—her successful job, her financial independence, and moreover, the ability only to have to answer to herself.
“I’m not so sure how clever it is,” she typed.
“You know u r…and beautiful 2.”
She placed the last bit of stuff into her luggage and zipped it shut. She took a look around at the boxes that filled the apartment one last time, sat on the edge of her bed, and cried.
“Not so sure about anything, actually,” she typed into her phone.
“You r. U r just scared,” it beeped back.
This week’s Friday Fiction began with this short sentence prompt: The text message simply said, “Very clever.” I wanted to write a super short one to challenge myself to set a scene and feel a mood.
Egad! I’m really about to do this. (And did I really just used an expression that is as archaic as I feel lately?) The answer is, yes. I’m about to end my push to write mushy Valentine’s cards and create something truly magical this year and by wooing those you love in a different manner. (But if you do want to write a mushy Valentine to go along with an inexpensive night, that’s not a bad idea either. Click here for some suggestions). If you’re struggling for that perfect Valentine, rest assured. Your Valentine is really just hoping that the special day gets to be spent doing something together. That’s what makes the memory, not an expensive gift.
But if you’re sitting here at a dead stop and can’t even muster up the creativity to figure this Valentine thing out, there is plenty of magic you can do that costs very little. Here are Steph’s Scribe’s inexpensive suggestions that will make memories and not burn a hole in your pocket on February 14.
Bundle up and take an evening stroll in your local town or city. For example, we live right outside of Annapolis, Maryland, and there isn’t anything more romantic than walking the streets arm in arm as the city goes from dusk to dark and the lights illuminate the water. Grab a cup of hot chocolate, coffee, or tea and chocolate-covered biscotti and sit in the window of a coffee shop. Put away your cellular devices (or if possible, just leave them at home) and enjoy an old-fashioned, uninterrupted conversation with the person you love.
Set up a carpet picnic. For those of us on the East Coast who have just endured a tremendous amount of snow and are expected to see temperatures below 10 degrees this weekend, a little carpet picnic can be lots of fun. Spread out your favorite blanket and prepare a little basket full of goodies, from petite sandwiches to fruits, cheeses, and nuts, along with a decadent (but inexpensive) brownie mix, can set the mood for a sweet time together.
Dig out some old CDs or records and reminisce as you merge music with a new trend: coloring for adults. Take advantage of this hot trend and pour a glass of wine and color as you relax with the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, or John Coltrane playing in the background. When you’re done coloring your masterpiece, date your artwork and put it in your scrapbook as a Valentine memory.
Host a small gathering of friends and ask each friend to bring one dish for a potluck Valentine celebrate. Leave the video games behind and play a board game, Pictionary, or Charades. My friends and I have been playing a game of Charades that is so fun, it became a standard we played at all of our gatherings. This particular brand of Charades has left us with memories which we recall fondly. To have your group play, give each player three slips of paper. Have each player write the name of three famous people on each–people the group would all know from history or from today. Split into two teams [we like to play boys vs. girls]. Get a timer and set it for 60 seconds. Place all names in a hat or basket. You will play three rounds alternating turns; as each 60-seconds runs out, keep track of how many names that team got right and score the points. The first round is Charades with speech: you can talk and act things out to get your team to guess your person. When you have gone through all the names on the paper as each team has taken turns, that ends that round. Put the names back in the basket and mix them up. Using those same names, you are ready for round two. For the second round, no talking is allowed, and players must take turns acting out the clues of who the person is. When all the names have been acted out and there are none left, you are ready for the final round. Place all the papers back in the basket and shuffle. The third round is a bit more challenging. Players must get their team to guess the name on the paper by only saying one word to describe that person. Players are not allowed to act anything out, but only to say one word. The group at the end of round three with the most points wins. Trust me when I tell you this game is a ton of fun, costs nothing, and is only as good as the names of people you write on the piece of paper. If you have less people, I suggest putting five names on five slips of paper to make it more challenging. We have a ton of fun with it.
Make it black and white. This one’s easy. Order up an old black and white romantic comedy (or check it out of your local library) and curl up with a bowl of popcorn and a warm blanket. Sit back and enjoy the film. Some of the old black and white films are still classics today, and it’s a chance to walk down Memory Lane–or to see what Memory Lane must have been like–during your parents, grandparents, or for some of you, even your great-grandparents time.
Whatever you choose to do, it’s all about that old saying: it’s not what you do, but rather with whom you do it.
Wishing you all a love-filled Valentine’s Day, from us to you.
This past Friday night, I took my daughter to see Broadway Across America’s Phantom of the Opera in Baltimore at the Hippodrome. We were both excited for the show—she even more so than I because it was her first time seeing it. Truthfully, I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve seen it. My daughter may not be thrilled that I’m going to divulge this type of information here on the blog, but I think it’s important to share it, especially when it’s all quite natural. And, furthermore, because she and I are so very similar.
At the very end of the Phantom, something very meaningful and somewhat tragic happens. I won’t give anything away in case, perhaps, you have not seen it. But it is incredibly moving and sad and melancholy. The music by Andrew Lloyd Webber is hypnotizing and haunting, and the whole mood of the play as it winds down is quite somber. At the end of the show, my daughter began to cry. Fifteen minutes later when we were in the car and exiting the parking garage, she was still crying.
The show had moved her to tears.
While I felt badly that she was crying, I could totally relate; it was touching to see her affected by it so much. There are times when theatre performances or movies or books or art of any sort can do this to us. It’s quite powerful when it happens, and it means you feel something. You feel what is called empathy for the characters, and you can fully imagine what it must be like to be that character or to feel the way the character feels.
I, too, have cried at Phantom. I’ve cried over a lot of movies, but none so much as the two I am about to mention, and my own mother can attest to it. My mom and I went to see Out of Africa when I was a teenager, a stunning film starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. We had to drive nearly 30 minutes to see it in a movie theatre. I remember leaving the theatre and crying the whole way home.
Another film that had me weeping like a baby when I was a teenager was The Thorn Birds starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward. Again, my mother and I hunkered down to watch the mini-series. I think I hyperventilated when that was over. The sadness of that story lingers–and like Phantom–is haunting. Thankfully, that meltdown occurred in the privacy of my own home in my own bedroom.
I know my daughter and I are not alone in these emotional breakdowns and connections to characters and plot and story. We’ve all felt something powerful at some point, and sometimes we just can’t turn the waterworks off.
And sometimes, it’s not just tears that emerge. It could be that we feel happy, elated, thrilled, frightened, angered, or some other emotion from a film or book. In fact, on Saturday afternoon I felt something genuinely wonderful as I sat and watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theatre for the first time. It was as if someone had flipped a switch and I was my younger self, thirteen and standing in line for the fifth time to see the original Star Wars with my red t-shirt and a big crush on Luke Skywalker.
In those 2 hours and 16 minutes, I was a kid again. And yes, even then a tear I did shed.
Yesterday, after having been stuck in our home for several days due to the enormous dumping of snow we received over the weekend, the kids and I got out of the house. We ended up running a couple of errands, then stopped at Target. In their “discount” area when you first walk in, they had some pretty things in shades of turquoise, pinks, reds, golds, and it got me in the spirit for Valentine’s Day, which is coming up soon. I also bought some feminine office supplies, because typically office supplies aren’t really that attractive, but these were super cute. The folders came in packs of three and were $1 each; the two porcelain travel mugs were $3 each; and the binder clips were $1 each. The cards, pictured above, were also $1, and I purchased a collection of birthday cards to have on hand as well. So, without spending a lot and breaking the bank, I came away with some adorable accessories to start the semester.
P O E T R Y
I found this poem among my collection of poetry and writings. I’ve never posted it before and don’t even know when I wrote it. It’s a mystery, and perhaps, shall remain that way.
WHEN I LOVED YOU
When I loved you
The world kept turning—turning
Birds would sing and dance and play,
How happiness did move along.
When I loved you
Singer’s tunes would make me swoon
The skies above were crystal blue,
But that was oh so long ago.
H O M E M A D E V A L E N T I N E S
I’ve always been a big fan of the homemade card, poem, or written letter. If you’ve been with me for a while, you know how much I love words from the heart. This little card is perfection, and comes from littleinspiration.com. I found it on Pinterest, and it just makes you want to put something meaningful together for someone you love. There’s nothing like homemade ingenuity and little homegrown stuff from the heart.
The scent of a familiar cologne wafting into the room. An old song playing on the radio. The smell of spaghetti sauce cooking on the stove, the aroma of garlic filling the air. A black and white photograph of your great-grandparents and grandparents in a photo album together, smiling. These things remind us of people, and so…
Thanksgiving is coming, and it’s a time to stop and be grateful. To count our blessings in a world that at times seems dark and gloomy. It’s a time to be thankful for what is now at present. But it’s also a time to be thankful for things that were. For relationships that you’ve built and treasure and can’t live without; for relationships that you’ve lost along the way for one reason or another, for they were meaningful at one time; and for the precious time you got to spend with loved ones and dear friends.
So how did I move from thankfulness to heartbreak and death to love? Because it’s a part of life and what we need to recognize is just how fleeting our time can be. In the wake of the tragedy in Europe, we should be thankful—thankful for our safety, for our loved ones, for our friends, and for the very fine privilege we have here to be free. But it is not enough to just be thankful; be sure to tell people how much you love and appreciate them. How they have mattered in your life. How you are better for knowing them.
I could go on, but I will stop.
I’m so thankful this year. I really have so many things to be thankful for, and if you’re reading this, you are one of them.
The reason you become sentimental about certain gifts is because the gifts were given to you by people you love.
Okay, wait. Rewind. First we have to go back in time.
I’m writing this post today because I just displayed some sentimental treasures that were given to me 18 years ago when my husband and I married. My friends hosted a bridal shower—a high tea—at a cute little place called Paradise in a Teacup.
What was so special about that afternoon was that each friend, cousin, and mom and mom-in-law-to-be gave me a teacup as a remembrance of the day. Today, I unboxed them, dusted them off, washed them, and redisplayed them in my cabinet. When I moved here two summers ago, I sort of just put things in places, and didn’t take the time to consider all my sentimental items and where I wanted them displayed. These teacups stand for love and friendship, and I want to showcase them properly.
One of the most sentimental things about receiving gifts when you marry or have a baby is remembering fondly who gave them to you. These teacups are from England, Ireland, Austria, the United States, and many other places. Each one has its own personality and each lady chose one she liked. I think each teacup reflects each of their personalities as well.
I hope my dearest friends—the ones who attended and planned that shower—take a peek at this post and find the teacup they gave me that day.
When I put a call out to blog readers about what they wanted to see me write about this week, I received two good directions: blog about change and blog about Valentine’s cards. When I weighed the options, I liked them both, and since I’m heading out of town this weekend for a getaway with my girlfriends, I decided to write about both because, well, I aim to make everyone happy.
The idea of change can create fear, and in some cases, an extremely real phobia called metathesiophobia; the word is derived from the Greeks and is a combination of the word “meta” which means “moving” and the word “phobos” which means change. People fear change because they feel they have no control over their lives when change comes into play. It can be debilitating and can cause people to despair.
The Harvard Business Review wrote an article about leadership and why people resist change and fear it. The reasons are pretty basic. They cite loss of control, loss of credibility, the sense of surprise, and that things aren’t the same as they used to be as some of the answers. Sometimes we go through change that is welcomed; at other times we go through change because it is necessary; and during other strange moments we go through change just because we think it will be interesting or fun.
The very clear problem with resisting change, it seems to me, is that we all know change in inevitable. Things cannot always stay the same: we call that stagnation, and being stagnant may not be the enviable place to mentally reside. Opening up your mind to what positive changes can take place can boost your feelings on the subject. It’s the old adage: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
The very first thing you have to do to deal with change is accept it. Learn to be thankful for what is happening, because you cannot control it, you must live with it, and in the long run, who knows? It may end up benefitting you tremendously. If someone you love moves far away, while you won’t be able to see each other as regularly as you used to, look on the bright side! Keeping in touch with folks who live in other countries has never been so easy. With technology such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the world has become smaller because we can be connected at any time and with any place. Likewise, when you visit each other, you will most likely spend quality time together and make memories that will last a lifetime. If you’ve gone through a breakup and it didn’t have the ending you wanted, it does not mean your life is over. It means you get the chance to begin anew, perhaps even the opportunity to find someone who suits you better, understands you better, and loves you more. And if change has come into the workplace, just remember, it takes time to build and rebuild teams. If you are one of the lucky ones who has remained during a shift in leadership, hang on tightly. You’re still there! I worked for three different owners at the Orioles, and even though at times we wondered if we would still have our jobs or if the owners would bring in their own folks, we remained. There were few changes made, and we all retained our positions.
The truth is, there is no hiding from change. It happens daily. We win friends, we lose friends; we get jobs, we leave jobs; we get into one school then choose another; we fall in love, we fall out of love. At the heart of it all is the fact that change has the potential to be invigorating—it can force us out of our comfort zones and make us try new things. It can be good. No one should get too comfortable with the way things are…even things that are good can be better.
Maybe even a red pen.
Write someone a Valentine right now.
Stop what you’re doing and write. Write what you love about them. Write what you miss about them. Write what your future holds together.
Being able to put your thoughts into words that someone can save and touch and reread is so important. You want a keepsake? Then give a keepsake.
Think about how it felt that time in kindergarten or first grade when you received that first Valentine. Sweet. Innocent. If you were lucky, you got a chocolate heart to go with it. Sometimes, you had to guess who the sender was…and that was dreamy. Candy hearts from a sweetie…what could be better?
I’ll tell you what. A card, letter, or heartfelt poem or story, that’s what. Open up your heart and let the words fall onto the paper.
I adore you.
See there? I just wrote a Valentine. To whom, I’ll never tell.
Stephanie Parrillo Verni
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