You ruined Thanksgiving

AngryManNovember 29, 2013 – There’s an ongoing joke in my family that if the slightest thing goes wrong anytime on December 25, whether it involves dropping a fork on the floor, bumping into someone’s chair, or having your cell phone ring during dinner, the person responsible is told, “Great, now you ruined Christmas.”

That same message should go out to the retailers across the country regarding Thanksgiving.

If you made it through the turkey and pumpkin pie yesterday without leaving the dinner table early to shop, I applaud you. It may not have been easy since many retailers have done everything in their power to lure you away from the family table (and the Trivial Pursuit tournament that follows dinner in my family) to snag the deals they claim to offer.

What prompts people to camp outside of stores, or worse yet, shop on Thanksgiving evening, is beyond me. So much for giving thanks. Unless you are giving away a large flat screen television or computer, I won’t consider shopping on Thanksgiving, and even then I probably wouldn’t do it. I don’t have a death wish to mingle with crazy shoppers or sales clerks who are forced to work on a family oriented and supposedly non-commercial holiday.

I prefer the appeal of Cyber Monday, and the retailers who place their Black Friday deals online prior to Thanksgiving. I finished my Christmas shopping last week and never visited a store.

Still, an estimated 195 million Americans make Black Friday part of their holiday tradition. If that is what makes you happy, go for it. The problem is retailers get greedier each year. It used to be that stores opened at 6 a.m. on Friday morning. Then they moved it up to midnight. Now, it’s 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, which means that many workers will have to miss a Thanksgiving meal with their families to get to the store and prepare for the crowds (that I hope don’t arrive).

I haven’t seen a Black Friday bargain yet that would make me change my mind. All of this Black Friday talk just charges people up and makes them believe they are getting the best deal. It’s been reported in several publications this week alone (including The Wall Street Journal) that Black Friday isn’t necessarily the best time to shop, anyway. The best deals often come deeper in December, especially if holiday sales start to slump.

That is something a retailer is never going to tell you.

A cold morning at Boathouse Row

November 27, 2013 — The temperature may have been in the mid-twenties, but the sun shone brightly on Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row on Sunday morning.

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Historic Boathouse Row is located on the east bank of the Schuylkill River. Fifteen boathouses sit along the row, belonging to social and rowing clubs. Most date back to the 19th century.

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Each boathouse has their own address on both Boathouse Row and Kelly Drive, which is named after Philadelphia’s own Kelly family, specifically oarsman John B. Kelly, Jr.

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Local universities including Drexel, Penn and La Salle row out of houses on Boathouse Row.

Boathouse Row hosts several major regattas each year, including the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta, Stotesbury Cup Regatta, The Navy Day Regatta, and the Independence Day Regatta. Pictured are some of the boats housed here.

The path of the races is along the Schuylkill River in beautiful Fairmount Park. It is one of the most famous and scenic rowing routes in the world.

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A river side view of the famous boathouses. At night, the boathouses are lit providing one of the city’s loveliest views. 

A name changing saga

thNovember 25, 2013 – I would have been married 30 years today.

It’s harder to comprehend that today is also an anniversary of a different color. It marks the 27th anniversary of my divorce. That’s right folks, we signed our divorce papers and it became official on what would have been our third anniversary. We know how to celebrate.

I didn’t mean to make you feel melancholy about my situation. I don’t. It was the right thing for all of us, my ex-husband, my son and me. I’m also not writing to air any grievances about the marriage or the divorce; instead, I want to share the bizarre ritual that takes place when a woman tries to begin using her maiden name again.

It all started on November 25, 1983, the day I got married. We went down to city hall in Philadelphia a few days prior to get our license, we took our vows and boom…I became Jane Conroy. I remember liking my new name because it was a simpler to say than Jane McMaster by one large syllable, and I told myself it sounded like an author’s name.

Three years later, problems began, and I’m not talking about the marriage part. I never officially changed my name from McMaster to Conroy with the Social Security Administration, which looking back may have been a sign.

After we got married and had a baby, I left my job and didn’t go back to work until the after divorce. When that happened, and without thinking too much, I applied for a job, was hired, and began to be paid as Jane Conroy. It wasn’t until after I got my first report from the Social Security Administration sometime later – you know the one that describes how much you will have to live on when you retire – that I realized there was a mix up. Both Jane McMaster and Jane Conroy had the same Social Security number, and that was causing problems. Instead of fixing it correctly, which I would later learn couldn’t be done anyway, the logical solution was to begin using Jane McMaster-Conroy. It provided a temporary fix, and at least I was in sync with the Social Security Administration.

Many years later, when my son graduated from high school, I decided to make the name change legal and permanent. I wanted to have the same last name as him when he was young, but now that he was almost an adult, I didn’t think he’d care if I began using Jane McMaster again.

I contacted Social Security to make it official, and discovered a huge assortment of problems. They explained that first I had to officially change my name to Jane Conroy since I never did that, and the only way that could be done was to visit city hall with my marriage license. It sounded like a lot of work, but it had to be done. I searched my paperwork for my license (I’m usually meticulous about keeping paperwork safe) and came up empty-handed. I found my divorce papers, but nothing that stated I was married on November 25, 1983.

The next step involved calling my ex and asking him to make me a copy of his papers. No big deal. However, a few days later he dropped a copy of our divorce papers into my mailbox. We both had those, but apparently neither one of us wanted evidence to the contrary.

My next stop was city hall to see if they could help me track down the license because Social Security wouldn’t accept the certificate from the church since it wasn’t the official document. During my visit to city hall, I discovered that the two of us had the gall to get married before technology allowed them to keep electronic records. The clerk further explained they would have to research in the microfiche department where the old stuff lived, and that was bound to take at least a few weeks. I waited this long, and because of my own stupidity, I would be forced to wait even longer. Again, I told myself it was no big deal. There was no rush.

A month or so later, I received a call explaining that they could not track down the license, and they think it may have been lost in a flood in the microfiche office years before. They told me there was nothing they could do, and I should contact the church that married us for a copy. When I explained the situation to Social Security, they told me there was nothing they could do, either. I had to prove I changed my name from McMaster to Conroy or my request could not be completed. I suggested that I just begin using McMaster again, since in reality, I never changed it in the first place, but they warned it could complicate matters even further. I was now known as Jane McMaster Conroy at the administration and without the right paperwork, it wouldn’t be easily changed.

That was about 12 years ago, and today I remain Jane McMaster-Conroy. Now and then, someone still says to me, “Oh, you’re one of those hyphenated last name women,” whatever that means. Yes, I suppose I am. And because I’m not sure what to do next, that’s not going to change any time soon.

The day Lyndon Johnson became president

21241November 22, 2013 – Fifty years ago, on November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed as he and his wife Jacqueline rode in a motorcade in Dallas. It was a turning point in American history, and one of the most significant events of my lifetime, though I was only three at the time.

The popular question from my generation and those before me asks where you were when you heard about JFK’s assassination. I don’t actually remember where I was, but my parents shared the story several times so I do know. I was sick in bed that Friday afternoon, watching television, “The Rifleman” to be exact, when Walter Cronkite broke into the program to share the news about the shooting. Cronkite referred to the shooter as a rifleman, and I ran to tell my Mom that “The Rifleman” a.k.a. actor Chuck Connors, shot the president. It wasn’t until she turned on the television downstairs that she believed me and understood what happened.

I may not remember that incident, and I certainly didn’t have all the facts straight when I shared the news, but what I will never forget the picture above of Jacqueline, Caroline, and John Jr. at the funeral. Talk about a photo being worth a thousand words.

Honoring and protecting our children

thNovember 20, 2013 – When I was a kid, each time we celebrated Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, I would ask, “When is kid’s day?”

My parents’ response was always the same. “Every day is kid’s day.”

Turns out, kids do have a special day, and it is celebrated today, and each November 20.

Universal Children’s day, established in 1925 is almost as old as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, first celebrated in 1914 and 1910 respectively. It holds more importance than a simple greeting card holiday, as it promotes the welfare of children around the world. In honor of this special day, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of a Child on November 20, 1989, which grants children the right to be heard in matters that concern them.

The day is also meant to bring awareness to children around the globe who are abused, exploited, and discriminated against. Part of the Convention on the Rights of a Child prohibits the worst forms of child labor including slavery, prostitution, and child pornography. Unfortunately, there are still about 153 million children worldwide between the ages of 4 and 14 who are forced into child labor. By raising awareness, Universal Children’s Day hopes one day to end those atrocities.

I am thankful I grew up in a home where my parents’ respected my rights, and allowed me to be a kid. I passed on those traditions to my child, and I hope that one day he will do the same. For all of those children globally who may not be as fortunate, Universal Children’s Day provides hope that someday all children will have the love and respect they deserve. That can’t come soon enough.

Cloudy day photos: Bryn Athyn Cathedral

November 18, 2013 — A little cloud coverage won’t keep me from taking Sunday morning photos.

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Bryn Athyn Cathedral in Bryn Athyn, Pa., was built in 1913, and sits about 10 minutes outside of Philadelphia.
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On a clear day, you can see forever. This morning was a little cloudy giving the area a mysterious look.
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The amazing carvings in the building are spotlighted in this shot.
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The arcade walkway. Arcade is a term for a series of arches carried by columns or piers, common in early Roman churches.
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The dark and the light.
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An interesting look at its sister cathedral next door.

Calling all budding songwriters

headingNovember 15, 2013 – Do you have a song in your heart and a tune rolling through your head that will not let go? If it is original, you may want to record it, and send it in to the John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

The international songwriting competition kicked off in 1997, and has accepted entries and named winners and runners-up a few times a year ever since. It is open to professionals and amateurs who submit their song in any of the following categories: Rock, Country, Jazz, Pop, World, Rhythm & Blues, Hip Hop, Gospel/Inspirational, Latin, Electronic, Funk, Folk, and Children’s. A panel of experts including Bob Weir, Jessie Harris, The Black Eyed Peas, The Bacon Brothers, and The Veronicas will serve as the judges.

The deadline for entries is December 15. For additional information, to enter online, and to read the rules and regulations, click here.

Songwriting is an art form that has always fascinated me. Music is a big part of my life, but I don’t have the talent to write a song with or without lyrics. I remember speaking with a musician several years ago, and asked about his songwriting process, and his ability to do it. He said it was no big deal. He could write music and lyrics, just as someone else can cook well, repair shoes, or hit a baseball. I suppose that is true, and that no one can explain natural talent, but his explanation sucked the magic out of process for me.

An important milestone in humanitarian aid

imagesNovember 13, 2013 — Forty-three years ago today, on November 13, 1970, a 150-mph tropical cyclone hit the Ganges Delta area of Bangladesh, killing an estimated 500,000 people. The tragedy is the 20th century’s worst natural disaster.

Today, the people in the Philippines are suffering a similar fate, with a possible 10,000+ casualties from one of the most devastating typhoons on record, which struck the island nation last week.

From the cyclone in Bangladesh, to the typhoon in the Philippines, and every disaster in between, when tragedy strikes, the power of human kindness emerges. We come together to offer assistance, whether by making donations through ourselves or our government, by volunteering in the devastated community, or by doing whatever we can to help those suffering. We overlook differences in race, religion or anything else that might separate us because our common bond is the same – we all want to protect and provide for the people we love.

With Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, for example, the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and the civil wars in the Middle East, we do what we can by supporting various relief efforts, such as benefit concerts, The Red Cross, and The Salvation Army, to name a few. We also sent in groups of volunteers to help rebuild communities and get people back on their feet.

As Americans, we sometimes receive poor reputations around the world for the choices that our government or we make, but we are usually among the first to offer relief, whether by cash donation, volunteer aid, or both. We even support efforts in countries that consider us an enemy, which makes me doubly proud.

The storm in Bangladesh all those years ago prompted George Harrison and Ravi Shankar to hold a benefit concert at Madison Square in New York City. Known as the Concert for Bangladesh, it raised relief funds and awareness for the victims. The concert produced a best-selling live album and a film documentary of the concert, which brought in more aid. Even today, sales of the live album and DVD continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF. The benefit concert was the first-ever of such magnitude, and it opened doors for other artists to follow by example.

Today is also World Kindness Day, first introduced in 1998 by a coalition of nations around the world. It is a day that “encourages individuals to overlook boundaries, race, and religion.”

While I am an American, I am also a world citizen. My hope is that all world citizens continue to support each other, whether through The Red Cross, The Salvation Army, UNICEF, or any other relief efforts that support to those in need. We’ve done pretty amazing so far. Let’s keep it going.

How to help the typhoon victims