Holiday  Guilt…or Not

 

 

Discussing the holidays can be the proverbial landmine topic, as there are so many permutations of celebrating and every family is different in terms of traditions, how they relate, how things change over the years and our ability to navigate it all and feel as though it is a special time of year for each of us!

My family has many redeeming qualities individually and fallibilities, as all families do.

However, speaking in general, when all biological members gather combined with those who have married into the family portrait, it can go either way…having a good or less than satisfying result.

Depending upon the  generation, parents view their brood in various ways. Parents who grew up in wartime  want to  maintain eternal bliss so they ignore and deny bad behavior of their children, focus on the past, or make excuses. After all, did they not grow up in an extended family with all under one roof in which everyone pulled together and made it work? Certainly!  Even with millennials returning to the nest out of financial necessity, there’s no guarantee that family bliss will prevail.

Those families who “are tight” and maintain close relationships and communication 365 days a year have the best chance of riding out the rough seas and appreciating the good times.

Those who get together out of a sense of obligation may not  fare as well. They may cling to their past images of family members, not acknowledging or making room for the growth of individual members, do not celebrate achievements for they are caught up in their own realities that may not include you.

If we impose other realities of life such as tragedies and loss of every variety- homicide, missing persons, addiction, divorce, other mental health issues, financial loss,  poor physical health, loss of jobs- a Holly, Jolly Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa is even less likely!

In my experience,  of observing and writing about others in this “tapestry of life” for six plus decades, I have noticed that those who have the least in terms of material goods tend to enjoy , appreciate and have the most generous hearts of all!  There is no room for selfishness, narcissism or controlling behavior.  It’s all in the attitude. When survival is a daily consideration and juggling this or that helps you get by… somehow helping others takes the focus off of your troubles.

37630efbce8ad98c05225092d4b30fdcSmall children are the “great bonders” of family during the holidays! The joy and sparkle of anticipation is evident where we all vicariously become a child for a few hours through their eyes. Family tensions, hurts, disappointments dissolve as we watch them open their gifts.

Communication styles definitely have an impact too. Some may seethe in silence about an old hurt and not forgive; others in the family may have no filter and say whatever, whenever or mercilessly tease others because of their own insecurities. Some may confine themselves to “safe topics” only ( i.e. don’t bring up the member who was the victim of a crime or  so and so’s “brush with the law” Whew!)

There are those who try to maintain a totally religious focus in the face of endless commercialism.  For example, how is Baby Jesus supposed to compete with X-Box and Harry Potter?

What about gifts? Just because you are biologically related does not obligate you to give gifts to everyone.  Whether they are homemade, offering a service or store bought, the sentiment should be the same if it is sincere. Don’t get sucked into, “He’s the only  relation”

– (You fill in the blank). If that person makes no attempt to keep in touch, save your time and effort. You are not obligated just because others chose to make additions to the family.

Some families set a dollar limit or do a secret Santa grab bag to keep costs down or only buy for a certain generation.

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If you change your family tradition, hold firm and do not give in to weakness or some sense of misplaced guilt you got from a Norman Rockwell.   Rather, my message is that you must live with the bad and good , but also BE TRUE TO THYSELF. If you cannot abide by any of the scenarios described above, I recommend that you start a new tradition that gives you joy. It can include selected family members or not. Perhaps you can give to your favorite charity instead of buying gifts OR plan an event for your favorite non-profit. Whatever gives you joy during the holiday season – as long as it is GUILT FREE!   Happy Holidays!

 

Taking a Wrong Turn Too Many Times-The Tragic Death of an Appalachian Hiker Gone Missing

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The story of 66-year-old Geraldine Largay’s adventures on the Appalachian Trail and what led up to her tragic death is unusual. There were many accounts giving information which would seem to contradict her behavior…and so many missed opportunities. It didn’t have to end in death …and it was never meant to end in death! A lover of the outdoors and seeking adventures past a dedicated career should reflect new chapters of enlightenment and excitement…not disaster.

Geraldine began her training to navigate the wilds of the Appalachian Trail with a trainer who had the reputation to be unorthodox in his methods, according to an article by the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. Her mission was to cover 14 states, encompassing roughly 2,175 miles.   She nicknamed herself “inchworm” as her trail name. She and friend Jane Lee began on April 23, 2013, trekking ~1,000 miles from Harper’s Ferry Virginia. As of June 30th the women were in New Hampshire whereupon, Jane left to lend to a family emergency.  This was the beginning of flirting with a disaster which would create a domino effect of trouble ahead. Geraldine was insistent that she continue on alone. Actually, the system in place was to have her husband of 42 years act as a kind of “wagon train” meeting her at pre-determined spots, bringing her supplies and driving her to motels for showers etc.

Geraldine’s body was found less than two miles from the trail 26 months later by surveyors on October 14, 2015, in Maine.

I really tried to find an equal balance of positive and negative factors to relate, thinking that this was just a fluke that this woman went missing, seemingly forever and then died. But, no, the negative far outweighed the positive in this tale.

Gerry was a retired nurse whose medical skills would supposedly serve her well for such an ambitious trip. She was a friendly person on the trail, not “keeping to herself.” She had the physical stamina to carry a full pack, hiking 16 miles a day.  She also kept a journal after she got lost that provided insight into her journey (as well as over 1,500 pages from the Maine Warden Service and the Medical Examiner.)

WHY?

unknownHuman error, poor judgement, the harshness of the terrain,  over-reliance of certain equipment and not using other techniques, lack of survival skills taught by her instructor, (no curriculum to speak of) and  a medical condition and her family’s lack of knowledge of just how unprepared Gerry was, all contributed to this “perfect storm.”

In summary some of the factors that worked to create this tragedy were:

  • She was afraid of being alone, but yet she insisted on “going it alone “when her friend had to leave;
  • She suffered from anxiety and may not have been taking a prescribed medication for her condition making her vulnerable to panic attacks;
  • Her hiker friend told investigators Gerry had a poor sense of direction and became flustered and combative when she made mistakes such as making a wrong turn;
  • She had a SPOT beacon, (a GPS device that sends emergency messages to a satellite when it is activated.) BUT, she left it in the lean-to before she left for her final hike;
  • She over-relied on a cell phone to communicate….

Gerry left the marked trail to go to the bathroom and lost her way. According to experienced hiker David Miller quoted in the National Post, he stated that as part of the maintenance of trails, the Conservancy re-routes paths yearly after floods or restoration projects. New paths are cut and they attempt to block the old paths, but the “blazing” – looking like paint on trees, is not adequately removed and mistake the old route for the new routes,

Largay did not follow her instructor’s informal advice to go “Downhill and downstream.” This instructor also recommended that if lost, you should stay put and do nothing.  Maine investigators have disagreed.  Instead, Gerry tried to go to higher ground hoping for a signal for her cell phone.

Gerry died in the summer within a sleeping bag in a closed tent, which ultimately made it difficult for search dogs to detect a scent through the air.

The Warden Service was able to conduct three dog searches only due to the lack of volunteers able to navigate the harsh terrain that had been used by the military in the past.

The medical examiner’s report stated that her last campsite was a mixture of hardwood and evergreen with a tree canopy covering  75% of the campsite from above (with a black tent) which made visibility from the air and the immediate surroundings very challenging. She waved her shirt to a passing plane and helicopter, but she could not be seen.

Her path to the end – Several accounts report that she was last seen on alive on July 22, 2013, on Polar Ridge lean-to. As there have been torrential rains afterward, speculation was that she had trouble crossing the Carrabassett River or “got turned around on the trail.” Evidence from the Computer Crime Lab indicated she had gotten to an abandoned railroad bed crossing and the Orbeton Stream.   She missed her scheduled stop to meeting her husband for supplies in Wyman Township. She continued north but reported left the trail to go to the bathroom and got lost.  This area was very dense with fir trees, rugged with thick underbrush.

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In fact, Gerry was found less than two miles off the trail and waited a full month for rescue before dying officially from Inanition (exhaustion and lack of food and water).Some of her remains were intact within the sleeping bag, while animals scavenged and dragged her a few feet away.

Before the month passed, Gerry appeared resigned to death, with her journal messages, following her failed text messages to her husband. The cover of the Journal said, “George, Please Read X0X0”

At 11 a.m. on her final day of hiking, her unanswered text said, “In some trouble. Got off the trail to go to br. Now lost. Call the Appalachian Mountain Club to c if a trail maintainer can help me. Somewhere north of the wood road. X0X.” She prayed the Rosary too!

On August 6th she wrote, “When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry. It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you find me.  No matter how many years from now. Please find it in your heart to mail the contents of this bag to one of them.”  She also wrote a long letter to each of her family members, apologizing, saying that, “No hike was more important than them.”

Parting thoughts:

I have many questions about why  Gerry was so ill prepared and why her family agreed to this vagabond system of travel agreed to, for a woman with an anxiety disorder without medication, without sufficient survival training and someone who did not like to be alone.   We’ll never know why so many common sense factors went by the wayside for Gerry! It is sad and senseless. Perhaps she was a loveable but “stubborn ol’ broad” who didn’t like to listen to others.

P.S. Gerry was less than 200 miles from completing her goal of 900+ miles –half of the trail that she began in West Virginia months before.

References: 

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/29/maine-hiker-missing-2-years-died-in-sleeping-bag-inside-tent/

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/27/us/missing-hiker-geraldine-largay-appalachian-trail-maine.html

https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2016/08/24/when-you-find-body-the-last-days-hiker-gerry-largay/DcaZf6RcojOTN2LNsOXm0K/story.html

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/17/at-instructor-ill-fated-hiker-disregarded-common-sense/

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/former-instructor-says-trip-was-perfect-storm-for-missing-hiker-found-dead-in-appalachian-wilderness

 

Close Encounters on the Highway with a Pipeline to God

Donna's car

As one of the 3.5 million or so commuters headed to work in the State of Connecticut, we know the risks as drivers, the inherent “bad spots,” the bottlenecks in traffic, the “It’s a parking lot and I have no choice” areas…and the potentially deadly zones when the “unexpected but perfect storm” is created.

As a driver with an unblemished record in my home state for many years never did I think that I would have the close encounter that I experienced last week! Sometimes, when you have as much perceived tragedy racked up as I over the years – 59 surgeries, a paternal homicide, etc.; you think that your “dance card” was filled long ago. Surely, God would not re-visit this person with more tragedy. You may get a false sense of security along with your vulnerabilities.  Despite super resiliency, it’s just not fair to fill my card anymore!  And then it happens out of the blue, without warning or responsibility on your part – BAM!

One of the most dangerous and potentially deadly traffic spots on our highway is the area prior to the Samuel Colt Historic Building (With the blue and gold-starred dome) on the left driving on Interstate 91 North with the Connecticut River on your right. Read this lengthy, but informative 2015 Connecticut Crash Reportblue dome

In this area, if memory serves me correctly,  5 plus lanes converge with drivers madly trying to go over a bridge in an easterly direction from Route 15, one lane to go West as you proceed north on Interstate 84, and two lanes to continue north on 1-91. Typically, in this area is an underpass with the bright sun to the east to contend with as well.   I have traveled this route for many years, gingerly expecting the routinely rude drivers, (Speeders, lack of signals, passing on the right etc.).

But, while I am carefully merging one lane over at a very low rate of speed and a car comes out of nowhere on your right at about 80 mph- wildly cutting across 5 lanes of traffic (to gain maybe 2 seconds) to ultimately continue north and hitting my right front fender – heading north without slowing or stopping, it was a freaking miracle that I maintained control of my car, did not hit anyone else, nor sustained any bodily injury.

The perp’s car was a later model red sporty, perhaps a Ford with a spoiler on the back with a green license plate (denoting the State of Vermont). He whizzed by me like Mario Andretti, went under the highway in the 84 West lane and then back up onto 91 North in the same direction I was headed to work, just a mile or so away.  I could not stop at the point of impact (even though the first Trooper on the phone yelled at me for not doing so) near the Colt’s Building, as I would have been struck with no breakdown lane to call the police. So, I tried to engage in a little careful pursuit to get more info on the car. However, three of four cars separated us in heavy traffic and I neither could get closer nor obtain his number! The second best option was to proceed to work, as it was still drivable and call the State Police. How very arrogant, irresponsible, and utterly prosecutable the perp was if I was able to get closer!  I was informed that if a license plate number was obtained then they could go after the person, but without it, forget about it! GRRRR!

I examined about 20 CCTV cameras on the DOT’s website and was horrified to learn that there is no camera directly located in this very perilous area. The closest cameras to the point of impact may be CCTV #84 at this link http://www.ct.gov/dot/cwp/view.asp?a=2354&Q=411702 “….Be advised that the Department’s traffic cameras are used for live monitoring of traffic. No traffic camera recordings are available for disclosure because no  recordings exist.” 

What? A lot of Government gobbledygook!  Do you mean to tell me that if by chance, there was a camera there and someone happened to be monitoring at the moment, maybe I would have stood a chance in hell to identify the perp?  A colleague who worked previously for the DOT told me that it would be very unusual for the agency to pursue unless there was a fatality! (So they can’t use this technology because they can’t record?  So what good is it??)  Adding insult to injury, I learned  from my insurance company that I  may have to be my own car adjuster with a third-party tech company in order to download an app and take several photos (with incomplete directions, not accounting for different types of phones, despite some phone support!) What a mess! Although my “car wound” is not terrible for its age, in this instance, it is the principle of trying to get a modicum of justice!

If I am going to die, or nearly so, I will not go quietly, as this person has damaged my psyche and increased my vulnerabilities! That is also unforgivable for a crime victim!  As our Governor has proudly touted his efforts to improve our overall transportation system in many ways, this “highway purgatory location” apparently has been virtually ignored for years!

I placed a called to the DOT’s Commissioner’s Office who referred me on to the Bureau Chief of Highway Operations & Maintenance in order to tell my story and to advocate for this to be one of the future transportation projects to be addressed. Return call pending…

Thank you, God, for not taking me yet. I have about 30 good years left, hopefully!

Addendum:  About a week after the incident, I contacted an Administrator in the Department of Highway Operations & Maintenance following an initial call to the Commissioner’s office.   My call was referred to a Traffic Engineer 3. We discussed the fact that the data showed there were 104 crashes beginning in 2015 through September 2016; 79- fender benders, 17 minor injuries, 8 with fractures, thankfully no fatalities (perhaps because of the relatively slow speed most people use while changes lanes.)   However, the driver who hit me, I am guessing was travelling about 80 mph and gave my car a glancing blow in an attempt to overcorrect as he wildly cut across all lanes without ever slowing down! Reportedly,  this entire “spaghetti system of merging routes” is on the “slow track for change” to begin in five years! This does me and others no good as daily commuters in the meantime.

I brought up the he possibility of placing another monitoring camera just beyond the underpass in which all of the various routes merge in crossing traffic in an effort to provide some monitoring.  This request is supposed to be sent up the chain of command. Due to the engineer’s other responsibilities and project deadlines, it has not been addressed to date and remains very hazardous for all travelers, particularly those  who are unfamiliar with the area.   I thank the DOT for appearing to take somewhat of an  interest and trying to do a temporary fix in the future.   I hope they are not just “giving lip service.”

It would have been far more satisfying for me if this perpetrator could have been caught and prosecuted.    BOTTOM LINE, THE REAL SOLUTION IS DRIVER RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY!  As members of the public we must all take an active role to hold people accountable as the police can’t be everywhere, nor can a state agency solve all  the ills of society.

I am confident that “the squeaky wheel will get the grease” in some way, because that’s just how Ladyjustice rolls….  I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

Stalkers in the Movies

Stalker

As a crime topic in and of itself, we don’t hear much about stalking. It may be part of an intimate partner or family violence crime. Stalking was officially recognized as a separate crime in California in 1990. This crime can include a myriad of unwanted behaviors such as –writing, calling, accosting, harassing, threatening in person or via use of social media, following a person, spying, waiting at locations, leaving, sending unwanted flowers or other gifts. 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics as of February 2016, 14 people in 1,000 are typically stalked within a 12 month period. Actual prosecution differs from state to state regarding the amount of emotional distress, fear or reasonable expectation of fear.  The range of prosecutable behaviors can range establishing the benchmark of emotional distress, establishing fear of death or severe bodily harm. BJS data indicates that those at highest risk of being stalked are those who are separated or divorced (34 in 1,000 people).  Those women ages 18 to 24 – 1 in 6 women are stalking victims while 1 in 19 men are stalked). 

This blog will discuss two examples taken from the big screen in different eras. Both films were billed as psychological thrillers.

  1. “Play Misty for Me”- Released November , 1971 ; Initial Budget – $950,000, Box Office Gross- $10.6 Million

   Starring: Client Eastwood, Jessica Walter and Donna Mills. 

Summary –A radio disc jockey, Dave Garver, broadcasting from a studio in Carmel by the Sea gets entangled with the wrong woman, Evelyn Draper, who wreaks havoc on every aspect of his life.  She begins her staking as a repeat caller, requesting the song ”Misty,” followed by a date, casual sex, after which she “just shows up” at his home,  restaurants with business associates,  she escalates her psycho demands,  there’s a suicide attempt, an invasion of Dave’s home and subsequent murder of his housekeeper.. more trouble, plot twists and turns.  (‘Don’t want to be a Spoiler!)

Trailer – for “Play Misty for Me”  “Get Off my Back…”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFLwJpW6cDw

  1. “Notes on A Scandal” Released December, 2006; Initial Budget – $15 Million, Box Office Gross- $49,752,391 Million. Filmed in London.

Starring: Judi Dench,   (Barbara Covett), Cate Blanchett ( Sheba Hart,  and Bill Nighy (Richard Hart)

In my opinion, this movie is an intellectual treatment of a topic with many  sophisticated layers as compared  to “Play Misty for Me.” Examples of the layers include the cultural British realm, a bohemian family with a child with Downs Syndrome,  an affair featuring an older woman pairing  with young adolescent, (versus the usual older man meets girl adolescent)  and a spinster, manipulating, obsessive, lonely lesbian school teacher who “blackmails in the name of love” thus creating yet another fantasy relationship in her mind alone, a knock down drag out fight. And…there is also a history, a back story of Barbara’s prior  torrid want to be love affairs  before setting her sights on the new teacher in town, Shelby.

Barbara looks for the weakness, the most vulnerable in her prey, weaves her tangled deceitful  web, feigning friendship, she inappropriately inserts herself in other’s lives as all stalkers do, and uses a dangerous affair initiated by Sheba to seemingly get what she wants.  There is a very effective use of voiceover narrative throughout this movie by the character of Barbara,  self talk and extensive diary entries. 

I will not reveal more, as it is so effective to view this movie live and in person. 

Trailer- Notes on a Scandal- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVcHKNgViyU

Postscript-  Why, why, why do movie producers delight in always portraying lesbians as psychos? It’s so unfair!   The extraordinarily talented Judi Dench  is “family” although it is not clear whether she is L or Bi…and it clearly does not matter!  I’m waiting for that mainstream “normal lesbian movie” maybe  by the time I’m 90. 

As for stalking, it is not letting go turned criminal. Watch out for stalkers. They may say they are motivated by love, but the cause is rooted in mental health issues , the inability to move on and inability to form healthy relationships.

In the words of performer Bonnie Raitt –

 “…’Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t; You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t…” 

  

References – http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=973

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_Misty_for_Me

http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/bonnie+raitt/i+cant+make+you+love+me_20022611.html