Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sometimes Life is Full of Deceptions

For the past eight years our county has been “led” by a county executive named Jack Johnson. Before he was elected as county executive, he was the State’s Attorney for a period of time. So, as you can see, he earned his Juris Doctorate many years ago and spent time in the legitimate legal world. However, I had a lower opinion of him than most people. For some reason, I disliked his politics and didn’t trust him. I couldn’t believe when he was elected to a 2nd two year term by the citizens in our county. All through his tenure there were rumors of his involvement in suspicious activities.

Flash forward to 2010, November to be exact. As I was walking into work one morning, there were “breaking news” alerts on the TV. Mr. Johnson had been arrested following an investigation into his activities by the FBI. His house had been raided and, in one of the more comical aspects of this case, he was on the phone with his wife (who had recently be elected to serve on our local county council) telling her to stuff close to $80,000 in cash into her underwear as the FBI agents were knocking at her front door (this exchange was reported as the result of Mr. Johnson’s wiretapped phone). His wife was also taken into custody.

In the spring of 2011, their trials were taking place and both were found guilty, with sentencing to be scheduled in the early fall. In the theater of the absurd, his wife continued to do her work on the county council until July when she finally stepped down from office. Fall 2011 came and their sentencing was postponed until December.

The week of Thanksgiving there were some newspaper articles referencing to the sentencing memorandum for Mr. Johnson. Since this debacle had captured my attention for the better part of the last year, I was curious to see what was in this memorandum and searched through court documents and eventually was able to locate said document. What I read has made me furious and disgusted with the healthcare system where I work. It appears that Mr. Johnson (who prior to being arrested was limited by term limits to 2 terms in office) had worked out a plan for our healthcare system to hire someone he had appointed as chairman to a special hospital authority commission which had been created to try to find a buyer for our hospital system. This person would become the president and chief executive officer for our organization. The former chairman of our corporate board of directors was, in essence, forced to arrange the hiring of this appointee in order secure a $20,000,000 grant to be released to our system to keep our organization afloat. The next part of this scheme assured that once Mr. Johnson had left office, he would obtain a $10,000 - $15,000 per month consulting fee from the hospital system so that he would make a six figure salary without having to work. In his own words, “I don’t want no job.” All of this was worked out many months before this commission had ended its term.

In my seventeen years at this healthcare system, I don’t think I have ever felt so betrayed, disgusted, and disappointed. The morale at our organization was already at an all-time low (prior to the release of this sentencing document). As more employees read this document, the morale has dropped to a level I have never experienced. Mind you, the current CEO is not named in the document, as this is still under investigation, with more indictments to follow. Many conversations and meetings were wiretapped and make no mistake, the “hospital official” named in this document is our current CEO.

To make matters worse, this CEO has appointed a significant number of people to positions within the organization for which they have no skill set. In turn, these people, feeling they have the complete support of this CEO, have played havoc with employee’s livelihoods – forcing people to transfer from one job to another (these people didn’t want to transfer – they were forced to transfer). Several people have been “fired” (long term employees – 20 and 11 years respectively) just because the vice president they reported to had issues with them (i.e., disliked them). I think these people could file hostile work environment cases against this vice president. It remains to be seen if they will do that.

My plan was to work for another four years before retiring, but now I’m trying to decide if I want to work for an organization that is so corrupt at the top. My hope is that our board of directors will take a stand and put an end to this madness.

How sad that our healthcare system has become so deeply involved with the political ramifications of the downfall of this county executive. What a shame that our employees have to work with leaders who only seem to care about themselves and can’t see the harm they are doing to our system. We have struggled financially for years, providing uncompensated care to patients in our area. We have been on the brink of closing on several occasions. Now we have to endure a potential scandal of unbelievable proportions, all because of the greed of a few people. To be caught up in something like this is something most of us would never imagine

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Let the Holidays Begin.

We had a wonderful choir practice today after church. While our choir is normally on the smaller size, today we had more than 20 people show up for choir rehearsal. What a difference a crowd makes. We only have a short time to learn the songs for Christmas but with the range of voices and talents we had in that room today, I'm sure we will know the music in no time at all.

One of the songs our choir director selected is one of my favorites - Were You There on That Christmas Night by Natalie Sleeth. The words are moving and the music is simplistic but so lovely. The choir sounded so good today and I'm excited to sing this piece with them.

I have an affinity toward Natalie Sleeth's music. Several years ago, as some of you may remember, I was a member of a large choir - the Washington Family Singers - and our wonderful choir director Sheena Joyce loved Natalie Sleeth and we performed many of the songs she wrote. But I think this piece is my favorite of all the ones we learned. Too bad my blog doesn't include sound, but I think you'll be able to get the spirit of the words as you read them:

Were you there? Were you there?
On that Christmas night.
When the world was filled with a holy light.
Were you there to behold as the wonder foretold came to earth?

Did you see? Did you see?
How they hailed him King?
With their gifts so rare that they choose to bring?
Did you see how they bowed as they praised Him aloud at his birth?

Did you hear how the choirs of angels sang at the glory of the sight?
Did you hear how the bells of Heaven rang, all through the night?

Did you know, did you know it was God's own son?
The salvation of the world begun?
Did you know it was love that was sent from above to the earth?
Did you know it was love that was sent from above to the earth?

If you have never heard this song before, Google the title and listen to some of the videos on line.

As if choir rehearsal wasn't enough, tonight I went to a fireside at our stake center to hear Senator Orrin Hatch speak (or should I say Brother Hatch). He is always a dynamic speaker and tells some wonderful stores regarding his faith and the people he comes in contact with. It was disappointing that so many people missed the opportunity to hear this stalwart member of our church speak up close and personal.

Even though it's not quite Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the start of this holiday week as it leads into the Christmas season. It's days like today that makes us remember what the season is truly about.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Observations on Life

It's been awhile since I've written anything and since I've been at two conferences in the past two weeks and I'm more tired than usual, I've been noticing a lot of things which has led to this post. Maybe I'm getting grouchy as I get older, but here goes:

I can't understand why people are not more observant. I've been on several shopping excursions lately (grocery store, Costco, small specialty stores - you get the picture). Why is it that when someone is shopping with a grocery cart, they think it's okay to leave the cart in the middle of the aisle instead of moving it to the side so that other shoppers don't have to fight their way down the shopping aisle?

Once a person enters a grocery store, they suddenly lose their common sense and mathematical acuity when getting in the 15 or less express check out line and piling all of their 15+ items on the belt without a care in the world. Pity the poor soul who is behind them trying to purchase 3-4 items in the express line. And why doesn't the cashier say something to the line invaders? Then these invaders get to the register and after the cashier tells they what they owe, at that point they begin to rifle through their purse/wallet to find their cash/check/credit card and their frequent buyer card. Is it right then that it occurs to them that they have to pay for their purchases? I forgot to mention that these people are generally on their cell phones at this moment as well. 

In the past few days while driving the car, I have observed the rudeness of drivers in the Washington, DC area (but I think this happens all over the country). You are stopped at a stop light and the second the light turns green, the person behind you honks the horn to get you to move faster. There hasn't been a nano second since the light changed, but the driver behind you thinks you've taken too long to put your foot on the accelerator. This same person is normally on their cell phone as well.

Here's another driving situation I've noticed. We all know there are laws that protect pedestrians in marked walk ways. But since these laws went into effect, it seems as if this has given the pedestrians the freedom to walk across the street at any given moment, not caring whether or not they are crossing with the light (and have the right-of-way). I have seen so many near collisions between people and cars as the pedestrians walk right into the middle of the oncoming traffic and then the driver has to slam on their brakes in order to avoid hitting the pedestrian.

As I mentioned before, I've been at two large conferences over the past two weeks. Apparently good manners leave one's persona at a convention. People will walk right in front of you, in some cases, bumping into you and then they keep on walking. Miss Manners would be astounded - not a word of apology (pardon me, excuse me, I'm sorry) - they are in too much of a hurry to get to where they are supposed to go to take a moment to acknowledge their behavior.

Enough of my venting - I'll end this with something in a more positive vein. As some of you know I'm involved with a large group of people throughout the country who make afghans for wounded soldiers. These people knit or crochet 6"x9" rectangles and 49 of these rectangles eventually become individual afghans which are sent to military hospitals throughout the country as well as Germany and Afghanistan. I don't knit or crochet very well, but I am a collector of these rectangles.

Right now I have over 3,400 rectangles in boxes in one of our spare bedrooms. Next month I'll have the rectangles separated by color to take to a put together event, where the rectangles are designed into afghans. I love collecting the rectangles - I get some of the most wonderful notes from people who send me their rectangles. I love to open a box and see all the different stitches that are used. I get a kick out of opening a box to see how much care the sender puts into the shipping process. Some people wrap the rectangles in tissue paper, or enclose them in plastic baggies, and most times these wonderful craft people will write me a nice note, thanking me for collecting the rectangles. There are too many people to acknowledge on a personal basis, but I appreciate the time they take to let me know how much they appreciate what I do, while I am the one who appreciates their talents with knitting or crocheting. This project makes me proud to help with this project and turns my mood around after a hard day at work (or dealing with the types of people I mentioned in the first four paragraphs).

Now I think I'll go start to crochet some of those rectangles together to make another afghan (I'm working on my fourth one right now). Next time I'll post about our trip to Lancaster, PA and the wonderful bed and breakfast we stayed in last month.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Tropical Storms - Just Another Summer in DC

We have really had several interesting happenings in our neck of the words over the past several weeks. On August 24 just before 2:00 p.m., a 5.8 magnitude earthquake jolted our area (actually, it was pretty widespread - from the middle of Virginia all the way up in the northeast. As luck would have it, part of our chimney came down. My DH was driving home from a dentist appointment and came down the hill to witness the neighbors throwing bricks from the street onto our yard. He got out of the car and asked what they were doing and they pointed to the chimney. The bricks flew off the chimney, hit the roof on the side porch and bounced into the street. There was several holes in the roof (the bricks were solid, from the early 1930s - not like the bricks they make today). When I got home from work, we were picking the bricks off the yard and I couldn't believe how heavy they were. Of course we called the insurance company, only to learn that we didn't have any earthquake coverage (why would we -when is the last time we had a 5.8 earthquake in our area?). We began the process of getting some estimates since this repair would be on our dime. After contacting a few companies, we choose one who was reasonably priced and the chimney was repaired.

On August 27th, Hurricane Irene paid a visit to our area. There was a lot of rain, but the winds seemed to be what I noticed more. And the thunderstorms (thunder and lightning for hours on end). After all was over by Sunday afternoon (they called off church on Friday as the storm approached), our next door neighbor lost a huge tree, as did the neighbors who live in back of us. Fortunately for us, we have no trees on our property except a lovely crepe mrytle, who was spared (unlike when we had all the snow during the last 2 years). Lots of yard debris to clean up but we escaped relatively unscathed.

Then, on September 5th, Tropical Storm Lee came to pay a visit, and boy did he overstay his welcome. We had torrential downpours for 5 days - estimates of 10-15 inches of rain descended on the area. Again, we were lucky. We live in the middle of a very large hill (our section of the city is called Hyattsville Hills) and despite all the rain, we didn't experience any flooding (thank goodness the sump pump we installed in 1988 worked overtime and kept the water out of the basement). Schools were closed, and so many roads were flooded for days. Many people were less fortunate and suffered flooded basements; mobile home parks were totally destroyed; roads washed away; and people lost electricity for up to 10 days (again we were sparred the power outages). How could any of us predict we would have had three major geological and weather events in such a short span?

What did we learn from these events? If you feel the earth moving, it probably did. Listen to your inner voice and make sure you are prepared in case another significant event occurs (stock up on your food supply, especially food that doesn't need to be refrigerated, keep plenty of water on hand, maybe purchase a generator), and don't be alarmed if nature's wrath comes calling again. Methinks we might see more strange occurrences going forward.

Monday, May 23, 2011

April's Passing Milestones

April is an interesting month. It is the month in which both of my parents died. My father died on April 13, 1961, when I was 11 years old. We all expect our parents to die at some point, but to have that happen at so young an age is not the norm. However, I vividly remember several other elementary school friends who lost parents in 1961 and 1962 so maybe it was the norm back then.

If I am thankful for one memory of my dad - it was the memory I have of him the night before he died. We had the best time that night. He left for work early in the morning at 4:30 a.m. six days a week (before we awoke for the day so we didn’t get to see him until he returned in the early evening). He and his brother owned a poultry business on Maine Avenue in Washington, DC. Occasionally we would take a “field trip” to visit him at the warehouse. It was so cold there (and I guess he was used to that temperature because he would sleep in one of the bedrooms with an air conditioner set to around 50 degrees). I remember lots of chickens and turkeys (on occasion) strutting around the warehouse. It never really occurred to me what happened to the chickens after we left – but I remember eating lots of chicken while I was growing up.

On Sundays, he would drop my sister and I off at church (back then I was a Methodist) and after church he would pick us up and take us to visit his mother, our dear grandmother. She lived in an apartment about 20 minutes from our house, with her spinster sister as my grandfather had died several years before. On the way to grandmother’s house, my dad would sing songs to us, and he didn’t have the gift of music that I was fortunate enough to have inherited. He sang off key on the entire ride to her house. It was always a fun time for me.

My grandmother always had a bowl of vanilla ice cream with Nabisco Brown Edged Wafers for us when we visited. She was a very gentile Virginia woman and I loved our weekly visits with her. I used to feed the squirrels outside of her apartment each week. They would come right up to me to get the peanuts my grandmother would buy for the squirrels.

Anyway, the evening before he died was so much fun. We laughed and joked around all evening. I remember something about one of the Marlboro Man commercials on TV that we laughed about. We had such a great night and when I woke up the next morning, my aunt was at the house. I thought that was strange and she said that my mom had taken my dad to the hospital in the middle of the night because he wasn’t feeling well.

A short time later, my mother came in the door and asked my sister and I to come with her to her bedroom. There she told us that our dad had died. She said he had a “small heart attack” at home and the ambulance came and took him to the hospital. It was at the hospital that he had a second massive heart attack which killed him. I remember thinking what a great night we had just 12 hours earlier and how everything had changed in the morning.

The next several days were busy with funeral preparations, relatives, friends and neighbors visiting the house and bringing food, and lots of phone calls. I also remember discussing the funeral arrangements with my mother and making the decision not to attend the funeral. Fifty years later, I have never regretted that decision. I have such wonderful memories of my dad from the evening before and that is how I will always remember him.

My grandmother died about eleven years later and I did go to the funeral – she was 97 years old and although she looked like she was sleeping, I still remember her in the casket. Her poor body gave out, but she was an amazing person with wonderful memories to share with everyone, even up to the end of her life. She was alive for the first Wright Brothers plane flight and the first walk on the moon  - what a time period she lived through.

Fast forward to April 26, 1986 – the day, twenty five years ago, my mother died. My mom had been sick for awhile and was in need of a heart transplant, however, with her medical complications and her age, that wasn’t an option. I spoke to her the night before she died. Our local neighborhood group was participating in our city parade the next morning. Each family in our group represented a different decade, beginning with the Gay 90s through the turbulent 60s. We had great costumes and even won a monetary award from the city. When I got home, there was a message on the answering machine – my cousin said to call him. I knew when I heard that message that my mom was dead and sure enough, when he answered the phone, he didn’t have to say anything – I said, “I know, she’s dead.” My sister had stopped by to see her and found her dead in her condo. Once again, going from a “natural high” from the parade to a “natural low” from the news of her death.

I was 36 when she died. My children were 12, 10 and 6. I indicated that I didn’t want an open casket at the funeral home. Instead we had lots of photos of my mother throughout the room. I remember how many comments we received that evening about all the photos – people thought it was a great idea and they were able to remember my mom as she was – with a smile on her face, throughout many decades with clothing to reflect those decades. We had a graveside service for her as she joined my dad in the cemetery (with my grandparents) in the same area. Since then my aunt and uncle were buried near them so it’s kind of like a family reunion to visit the cemetery.

When I look at the calendar, I marvel that their death dates were within two weeks of each other, in the same month, although 25 years apart. And now it’s been 25 years since my mom died and 50 years since my dad died. I’m so grateful that my children have had a totally different experience with their parents and hope we will be around for many more years to come. For some reason, those numbers really struck me this year.

I know that losing my dad at such a young age taught me a lot of things and made me grow up faster than if he had died when most parents die – in his seventies or eighties. I have a painting in my house that my mom had commissioned from a photo of my dad and he has a small grin on his face in the painting. I can totally remember him looking like that when I was a little child. I sometimes wonder what life would have been like if my dad hadn’t died, but then I remember we all are given situations we have to learn to live with and that, in the end, makes us who we are. I am just so grateful for the childhood memories of that wonderful night before he died. I think he would have been proud of the woman, wife and parent I became.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Helping Those Who Serve

A few years ago I was reading the newspaper and saw an article that caught my attention. It was an article about a woman who started a project called Homemade Aghan Project or HAP for short. With the help of some of her friends, they began knitting or crocheting 6" x 9" rectangles. Once 49 rectangles were completed, other volunteers would crochet the rectangles together and complete the afghan. The completed afghans were then shipped to military hospitals in this country and overseas and given to wounded soldiers.

The article indicated they needed donations to help with the cost of mailing and so I sent some money in. When I first saw the article, the group had completed over 2,000 aghans. There are over 1,500 volunteers who help out - some make the rectangles, some collect rectangles, some design afghans at the quarterly Put Together Events (PTE) that are held in Maryland, some put the rectangles together to complete a blanket, some wash the finished afghans and some help with deliveries or mailings.

Fast forward to 2010. The project organizer put out a call for additional help. Since I don't knit or crochet I was wondering what more I could do to help out with this project. Since there was only two collectors in Maryland I thought I could help out and volunteered to be a collector. Another person also volunteered and so there are now four people collecting rectangles and finished aghans. Several times a week envelopes and boxes arrive at the house. This is where the fun begins. Picture a dining room table filled with rectangles 12" deep, assorted by color. Imagine a dining room filled with bags of assorted rectangles - in zip lock bags bigger than I could ever imagine. Imagine going to a PTE with all those bags and putting them with other bags in a large room. Tables are put up and people begin designing afghans with the rectangles. At the last PTE, over 300 afghans were designed. Volunteers contact another HAP member who sends design kits to be put together. These completed afghans are then sent to the collectors who get them to the project organizer who washes the blankets, photographs them to put on the website, puts them in plastic bags and attaches a note of thanks to them. She then mails these handmade afghans to military hospitals throughout this country and overseas.

Since I first became aware of this group two years ago, they have now completed more than 5,200 afghans. Can you imagine this - more than 3,000 in two years! The project needs each and every person who has volunteered in order to make this work. There are volunteers from all 50 states, Canada, and Mexico.

I love to get the boxes and open them and see the beautiful handmade rectangles that arrive. There are many different crochet patterns that are sent. Sometimes I get 7 rectangles and sometimes I get 174 in a box. I love to get the completed afghans to see how these rectangles have been designed and the uniqueness of each and every afghan. Each rectangle with made with love and made for our soldiers who have sacrificed so much to make our country free.

The term "it takes a village" really speaks to what this project is all about. I'm so glad I'm a part of this project and hope that those who receive these afghans know how much their sacrifices are appreciated by all the volunteers in this project. Now if I could just teach myself how to crochet...