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Here are a few words from the document that we celebrate on this Independence Day: The Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness… “

Some 240 years after this was written, we live now in a world where instead of working together toward a common goal, we cast blame on those we don’t understand when things don’t go our way.  It’s the gays, it’s the Muslims, it’s the Hispanics, it’s the women, it’s the African-Americans, it’s the baby boomers, it’s the Democrats, it’s the Republicans, it’s the Bush’s, it’s the Clintons, it’s the Christians, it’s the Pope, it’s the Communists.  You get my drift.  The list is endless.

The writers of the Declaration of Independence tell us that being an American is supposed to be about celebrating individual freedoms for everyone. That we are all equal, and we are all entitled to the unalienable rights (rights that cannot be taken away) of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Reread that last paragraph one more time before you read on.

But – It’s not always easy to be an American.

You may not like the person yelling in the street burning the American flag in protest, however, as an American it is their right to do just that.

You may not like the mosque in your neighborhood, but as an American the right to religious freedom is to be celebrated.

You may not like the people of color (any color) who just moved into your neighborhood, but as Americans we have the freedom to live where we choose.

You may not like folks protesting for women’s rights or gay rights or voicing their distaste for war; but as an American it is their right, and some believe their responsibility, to do so.

You may not like the Westboro Church protesting at funerals, but, it is their right to do just that. It is also your right to go and protest against them.

You may not like the politicians who are currently in office, just remember that your vote is your voice – use it.

You may not like the whole immigration thing, but remember; if you’re living in the continental United States; your family came onto this soil as an immigrant.  Just think about that.

So, when you wave your American flag and watch those fireworks this weekend; ponder the fact that we are all Americans. Every race, every religion, every gender. Every man, woman and child.

All entitled to the same rights and freedoms. All deserving, all human beings endowed by their Creator…

It really is something to celebrate.fireworks

 

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Ready or not – another year looms in front of us – which also means another year is behind us.

The question is – what will you do with this New Year – this 2015?

I am not a New Year’s resolution sort of gal. I have found that my resolutions – as great as they may sound – are too far-reaching – and in the end I am more disappointed with myself for falling short – once again – of the demands I have placed on myself.

There are no resolutions this year. No lose weight, no write a blog a day – no take a picture a day – none of that has even crossed my mind.

There are only the promises I have made to myself to be a better person. I can be kinder, I can be more loving, I can be more understanding, I can be less judgmental, I can be me.  A better version of me – but me.

I spent a portion of yesterday (New Year’s Eve) afternoon at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery.  There was a woman and her little daughter, both wrapped in blankets, sitting in lawn chairs beside the grave of a fallen solider. The grave was new – so this woman’s loss was new – our nation’s loss was new.

My heart ached for her loss – for her pain – for her suffering. It was in that moment that I realized I needed to live my best life, and it was in that moment that I made those promises to myself to be kinder, to be more loving, more understanding.

People are suffering every single day. They survive things I can only imagine. They beg for food – for money – for clothes. They live in boxes. People face Cancer, Alzheimer’s. They die in War…

I know I won’t be perfect every single day, I know I will make mistakes. Still – I’m going to be a better me.

How about you?

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Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery – Pt. Loma, CA – Memorial Day 2012

Memorial Day is the American Holiday observed on the last Monday of May, It honors the men and women who died while serving in war or while otherwise serving in the United States Military.

Originally called Decoration Day, it came into being in the years after the Civil War when Americans in cities and towns began holding springtime tributes to the fallen soldiers of the Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers, and also reciting prayers and poems to the fallen.

It became Memorial Day as we started to honor and decorate the graves of all of our fallen from all wars and conflicts.

Most cemeteries decorate the graves of our fallen with flags, and hold ceremonies reminding us all of the meaning of the words: sacrifice, honor, duty, Country.

No matter your plans for this Memorial Day weekend – please take a moment and remember why it is you have an extra day off work. Remember why it is you have the freedom to say what you please, write what you please, worship whomever you please, and cast your vote as you please.

I’ll be remembering and thanking my great grandfather, grandfather, father, uncles, cousins, friends who were in uniform during the Civil War, WW I, WW II, Korea, and Vietnam.

I’ll also be thinking of family and friends still living who need to be honored and respected for their service during Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan… War changes everyone – living or dead – and they all need to be honored.

If you can’t get to a cemetery to pay tribute you can honor the fallen in your own little part of the world. The US Government’s website tells us we can also “Pay tribute to the U.S. men and women who died during military service by observing a minute of silence at 3:00 PM, local time.”

To all members of our United States Armed Services, past and present – you have my heartfelt gratitude and thanks for your service.

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According to the online Wikitionary: To come full circle means:  To complete a cycle of transition, returning to where one started after gaining experience or exploring other things.

This is what I did last weekend –  I came full circle in my life that started here in San Diego some 32 years ago.

I was 28 years old when I moved to San Diego. My husband was in US Navy and was about to start his career aboard his first ship. He was excited about his journey and boarded his ship for his first deployment about a month after we found our apartment. I could understand his excitement but things were different for me.

From a small town of 1000 people to a city of over a million people – physically – this is where I was. Emotionally – I’m not sure where I was. I was married – I was a closeted gay – I was – well – I was a mess.

I remember sitting alone on my couch on Thanksgiving Day eating a small chicken breast I had baked for myself watching the Detroit Lions play football. My family was all gathered around the table at my Aunts in Pennsylvania and – for the first time in my life – I was alone. I wondered how it was that I got here and what exactly is was I was supposed to be doing.

So, the next morning, I got myself a paper and I found myself a job at Naval Station San Diego working in the MWR (Morale – Welfare – Recreation) offices. Basically, we sold tickets to all the local attractions and tours and concert tickets. We were there to help military folks find their way around Southern California.

It was at this job at Building 71 – in the Theater Building on Pier 2 at Naval Base, San Diego, that my life changed – forever. For it was here I met Susan.

Susan was – and still is – the sweetest woman I had ever met in my life. She was married – had four children and was full of life with a laugh that just melted my heart.  I knew I was in trouble the moment I looked in her eyes. I knew in that instant that this was the person I was supposed to be with. I didn’t know how on earth this would ever be – I only knew in my heart that this was the woman who was going to save me from me.

It was also here that I met Mary Ann and the woman we would all come to call Betty Mom.

Betty Mom was a force to be reckoned with. She was a strong woman from Wisconsin who took no crap and told all of her “girls” that we could be whatever we wanted to be in life. She was like no one I had ever met in my life. She always had a cigarette in her hand – and one at the ready. She had long blonde hair that was always meticulously wound on her head, and she was always dressed to the nines right down to her jewelry.

I had never had anyone in my life tell me I could do anything I wanted to do – I could be anyone I wanted to be. On a camping trip we all took together to the beach – Betty Mom told us this long, rambling story that none of us can remember – but the ending was this: “You can do whatever you want – just be discreet.” This we all remember to this day.

Mary Ann was also like no one I had ever met in my life. When I was told to go and work with her – I remember that my hands started to sweat just a little.  She called people “sport” and “buckwheat.” She raised her voice and hung up on people. She yelled at small children that were messing with the brochures and then yelled at the parents who were not watching the small children who were messing with the brochures.

The first time I went to work with her I stepped behind her counter and she looked at me and in a rather stern voice said: “Who are you – and what are you doing here?”  I swallowed the fear that had formed in my throat, and in a weak, quiet small-town voice, told her I was here for her to train…  That’s when the wheels fell off the bus!

I can remember like it was yesterday Mary Ann picking up the phone that connected us with what I would soon know as home base – and she proceeded to let the boss and anyone else who could hear her know – she was in no mood to train anyone, and what were they thinking, and a myriad of other remarks. When it was all over – I was still there – and some 32 years later – we are still friends!

There are many stories I could write about the years Susan, Mary Ann, Betty Mom and I spent together in that little haven called Naval Station San Diego.  The bottom line is that we all made mistakes, we all strayed from the litter every once in a while, but we were always friends.

Betty Mom passed away some twelve years ago – I was living out-of-state and none of us got the chance to say goodbye. This past weekend Susan, Mary Ann and I attended a Memorial Service for Betty Mom’s husband Chuck – the man we all affectionately called – Pop.

After the service and time with Betty Mom and Pop’s children, we made the 10 minute drive to Naval Base, San Diego. We drove onto the base, turned right, and made our way to the Theater Building, Building 71, at Pier 2.  Time seemed to be standing still as we drove toward the building. Things looked different, and yet they were exactly the same.

There is no longer a ticket office inside the Theater Building, nor a tour department, but the doors to go in and out are the same, and the Theater is still in operation and the number on the edge of the building is still: 71.

We parked across from the Theater  right by the water, and took the flowers I’d picked earlier in the day to the edge of the Pier. And there we were, Susan, Mary Ann and I hand in hand – remembering…

Mary Ann said a few words, Susan said a few words, and I tried to say a few words but nothing except the words: “Thank You” would come out of my mouth. I was thinking; “I miss you, I love you, I wish you could see how I’ve grown and become that woman you told me I could be.”

We dropped our flowers into the water and just stood there – silent – each of us wrapped in our own thoughts.  There were more than flowers that went into the water on that day.  Regrets, unsaid words, words that were said in anger, people who have come in to and gone out of our lives – all were thrown over the edge of Pier 2 and washed away with the tide.

We left Pier 2 and drove to every other place the three of us shared in the time we spent there. The Bowling Alley, the Navy Exchange, the Fleet Exchange.  Nothing was the same – in the space where Mary Ann first asked me who I was; there is now a gorgeous Starbucks.  The Bowling Alley bar where we spent way too many hours is completely different, but… the memories were so real and so thick I felt like I needed to take my hand and brush them away from my face.  But, I didn’t brush them away – I let them wash over me and take me wherever it was I needed to go in that moment.

Full circle:  To complete a cycle of transition, returning to where one started after gaining experience or exploring other things.  Susan, Mary Ann, Barbie – it is as it should be.

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My partner Susan and I were driving to the San Diego Zoo yesterday afternoon and we drove through the route of the San Diego Gay Pride Parade.  We started talking about maybe changing where we sit this year and in that conversation we then decided that we couldn’t do that because we’ve been sitting in the same spot for 10 years now and that kind of makes it a tradition!  I found as we were talking that my heart was just filled with emotion, and my spirit was lifted just remembering my first Pride Parade 10 years ago.

Gay Pride Parades aren’t just about gay men stomping about in tight short shorts and dykes riding their motorcycles in leather pants and no tops! Not that there’s anything wrong with either one of those things, and the motorcycles are certainly worth looking at, but, it’s really about so much more.

10 years ago, I was 50 years old. My life had been spent in hiding and had been filled with so many lies and so much hurt and anger, I never imagined there was a way out. More specifically, I never dreamed there was a way for me to come out.

But – there I was – this 50 year-old Lesbian, sitting on the corner of 6th and University in San Diego waiting to see my first-ever Pride Parade.  I was a stranger in a strange land – and yet I felt more at home on that street corner than I had ever felt in my home-town.

My move to San Diego and to Susan had been filled with doubts and fear and oddly,  this great sense of relief that I was finally away from most of my family who had then, and still have now, no tolerance for “the gays.” It goes against what they believe are their fine Christian values.  I had started a job here in San Diego at the La Jolla Playhouse that had placed me exactly where I needed to be to understand that being gay was not the end of the world – It was in fact the beginning of my life.  Friends like Candie, Thom, Terry, Jenny, Gigi – all openly gay – all living this life I had only dreamed of, showed me on a daily basis how life is just life and who you love and can never, ever be questioned or regulated.

Susan insisted that seeing the Gay Pride Parade would change my life and I remember thinking – really? A parade is going to change my life?   When the “Dykes on Bikes” came roaring up the street to lead-off the Parade – my small-town eyes flew wide open. I’d never seen anything like this in my 50 years, ever…

The Parade was filled with floats and bands and organizations walking the walk of gay pride openly, without fear.  Policeman, Firefighters, churches all showing pride and banners for tolerance and acceptance.  It was nothing I had ever seen or heard in my life.  I clapped, I laughed, I cried.  At the end of the Parade there is this huge rainbow flag that people put over their heads and walk under it down 6th avenue to Balboa Park.  The flag must cover a full city block. It was an amazing sight to see.  Susan insisted I get under this flag, grab hold of it and walk the remaining blocks to the Park. I whined – it was hot – I was tired – blah, blah, blah – Susan insisted.  The moment my hand touched that flag I started to cry, and I cried the entire way to the Park.  I cried for the 50 years that I lied about who I was, I cried for the freedom I was now feeling, I cried for the peace that had entered my heart, I cried for finally, finally understanding and accepting this person I had become, I cried and cried and cried.

Every year we go and sit in our spot on the corner of 6th and University. Our Granddaughter usually joins us along with our close friends, and neighbors.  We yell and run into the street and hug our friends who are marching with the military folks, and our friends who are walking with their church.  I laugh, and sing, and enjoy these few hours of peace and sweetness. At the end when that big rainbow flag comes down the street filled with people whose hands are holding on to that flag with tears running down their faces – I cry right along with them…  Susan was right; The Gay Pride Parade had changed my life.

Gay Pride Parades are about so much more than tight shorts and motorcycles…

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So, this Sunday will be the second year without my father here to wish him a Happy Father’s Day.  It gets easier every year without him here; still there are times when I find myself picking up the phone to call him, or times when I just want to talk to him.  It’s on these occasions that I go to the wonder of voice mail, and I listen to his voice. Some days this gives me comfort, other days it just brings more pain.

When I was a little girl – there was no one quite like my daddy.  I was one of the lucky ones – I actually had a Daddy.  He worked the 11-7 shift when I was really young, so I got to play with him during the day. I was his “little one” and pretty much got whatever I wanted when it came to my Daddy!

I learned in my teenage years that Daddy wasn’t to be messed with when it came to following the rules. Mother was usually the one who made and enforced the laws of the house, but… when Daddy raised his voice I knew that life as I knew it was over.  I only remember him striking me once, and that was because I told my mother to shut-up, and that was not acceptable at any time, for any reason, no matter how old I was.

When we stood at the back of the church on my wedding day – he held my hand and looked me in the eye and said: “Are you sure you want to do this?” I was only 19, and I knew I was running as fast as I could from my knowing I was gay, but… it was 1972, I was living in a small, conservative town and telling anyone I was a lesbian was just not something that was done.  I wanted to say NO I don’t want to do this Daddy, and run from the church. But… I said something about Mother killing me if I left, the music started, and the rest is family history.   I understand now that he would have been just as proud had I said No, and he and I had left the church.

When I finally had the courage to come out I was 50, and my father embraced me without hesitation. I don’t believe he ever understood, but… it didn’t matter.   We never discussed it as our family doesn’t talk about anything, especially things that have to do with emotions or feelings – it just isn’t done. But, he never wavered in his support of me and he embraced my partner Susan as he would another daughter.

In the last few years of his life, and since his death, I’ve discovered that my father was not the man I knew him to be.  Some of his decisions from years ago still tear apart a family who is simply trying now to put the pieces of the puzzle together.  Pieces that fit into place show a man who acted foolishly, and put his personal interest above that of family, and we are left to wonder why and how a man who could be so kind and loving, could be so selfish. I struggle to understand.

What I’ve discovered is that my father was searching for something. I believe that the only time he ever really felt alive was on his Minesweeper “The USS Raven” sweeping the English Channel before the start of D-Day in June of 1944.  He knew that his actions on that day had made a difference; he had helped to shape the world, he had made a difference in millions of lives.

My father searched the rest of his life for that same feeling. He wanted to be loved, he wanted his life to matter, and he wanted to be something to someone.  I hope he knows now that he was all of those things – he was my father.

Rest in Peace, Daddy…   Happy Father’s Day

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Did you know that Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor those who have died in service to the United States of America?  Did you also know that Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day? I hate to burst your 3-day weekend bubble, but, it’s not about heading to the beach, drinking beer, and throwing some meat on the grill.

I come from a military family.  My great-grandfather fought at Gettysburg, my grandfather in WWI, my father in WWII, my brother in Vietnam, my ex-husband in The Persian Gulf, my nephew in Iraq and Afghanistan.  My mother drilled it into my head and my heart that to serve one’s Country is the highest of honors, not just for the person, but for the family.

When I was little there was a parade down the main street of our little town.  My little tricycle had the red, white and blue streamers, and the veterans marched proudly and waved and smiled at the folks who lined the street. I may complain from time to time about the conservative politics of this little town, but when it came to their veterans; It was Americana at its best.

As I’ve gotten older, I also understand that Memorial Day isn’t just about honoring the dead; it’s also about honoring the living.  Their service changes their lives forever. Whether they see combat, is not the issue, it’s the service to their country that changes who they are, and it changes forever the family unit.

It’s the service of the Mother or Father left behind to comfort the children, pay the bills, and deal with the everyday life that can be simply overwhelming.  Not enough money, not enough love to go around, not enough community support, not enough government support…

In 2000 President Clinton signed the “National Day of Remembrance” resolution which asks all Americans at 3p.m. local time, “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.” Take a moment and honor them all.

Susan and I will be heading to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery to honor our fallen veterans, and then to the USS Midway to throw a flower in the water over the ashes of my father.

Memorial Day isn’t about how you feel about war. Memorial Day is to honor those who do the fighting and the dying, and those who “keep the home fires burning.” To those veterans and their families who may be reading this…  Thank You ♥

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