Behind the Walls

In my South Jersey house, the older children once slept in the unfinished attic, with its wooden floor and exposed wooden beams. The baby, however, slept downstairs.  He didn’t have a crib, so his mother tucked him in every night, safely in a dresser drawer. It was 1924, and my house was newly built.

When Joe and I moved here in 1993, we were welcomed to the neighborhood by a kind man who has shared the history of this neighborhood and our house with us. He has become a role-model and a friend.  Earl is 93 years old now and his initials and childhood hand print are still visible in the cement landing at my back door.  It makes me smile to imagine him sleeping in a drawer in the exact spot where my refrigerator now sits.

This house has seen a lot of change since Earl’s childhood days.  New owners came and went and newer owners arrived. Woodwork was painted, stripped, and painted again. And long before Joe and I took up residence here, that unfinished attic was finished, becoming three distinct rooms, each with actual walls. But about ten years ago, Joe decided it was time to open those walls up, with big plans for improved insulation and energy efficiency. But behind those walls, we found a few things we didn’t expect.

Newspapers, small wooden toys, and even a military dagger and belt were tucked away in those walls.  The dagger had belonged to Earl’s father, who had served in WWI before moving to this house.  While Earl had no explanation as to why his parents had chosen to entomb the weapon, I had a few theories. After all, that dagger may have been tied to a time in life that Earl’s dad was willing to bury away.

But what about the shoes?

A pair of lace-up leather shoes and one single woman’s slipper had been scattered, each sealed in a different wall. Now why would someone seal a shoe, or three, into the walls of their home?  I could not imagine that any shoe could possibly represent memories strong enough to warrant locking them away in a wall forever.

Those shoes were decaying and musty. Some of the stitching looked to be done by hand and the soles were attached with tiny little nails.  I don’t know what it is about those shoes, but I just loved them.

McEwen shoes

Mcewen shoes3

Earl and his family had gratefully taken the WWI dagger back into their family. But what to do with those dirty shoes?  No one seemed too excited about keeping the deteriorating and moldy shoes, well except for me.  To me, those shoes felt deeply connected to the history of this house. After all, they’d been with the house longer than any other object here.  So against my family’s wishes, I kept them, and they have been quietly sitting on a shelf, in my living room, for the past 10 years.

But finally, after all this time, the internet has clued me in as to why Earl’s parents might have tossed those shoes into the open space as the walls were being sealed.

Concealed shoes, or concealment shoes, have been discovered in buildings around the world, but mainly in Great Britain, Western Europe, and the Eastern United States. Folklore says that hiding a shoe, especially a well-worn shoe, can provide luck, and can also ward off all types of ill-fortune, including evil, ghosts, and even witches!

Northampton Museum, in England, is home to the Concealed Shoe Index, a detailed list of nearly 2000 accounts of shoes, all hidden within the walls and under the stairs of houses, cottages, public buildings, churches, and even monasteries and colleges. Most concealed shoes are found near the possible entry points of buildings, like windows, doorways, and chimneys, and children’s shoes are much more common than adult’s. Concealed shoes have been found from as early as the 15th Century, but the practice seemed to be most prevalent from the 1800s through the 1930s.

Silly superstition or traditional wisdom?  Either way, my hope is to put those shoes BACK into our walls some day.  Perhaps I will even add a shoe or two of my own!

Because if Earl’s family wanted those shoes in the wall, then I will abide. After all, those shoes have done right by my household all these years.

On a different note, Earl’s momma also could teach us a lesson about unnecessary spending.  Who needs a fancy and expensive bassinet when you have a dresser drawer?



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Can We Fix It? Yes We Can!

Back when Jake was just a tot, the show Bob the Builder was a staple in our household. And whenever Bob asked his enthusiastic and optimistic question, “Can We Fix it?,” it was near impossible not to answer with a confident “Yes, We Can!!”

But in the real world, things are not always as easy to fix.

Over the past few weeks, Jake has been working on a project for school.  The high school Physics Olympics remind me of the Engineering Contests of my college days where once a year, all of the Engineering students gathered on the roof of the tallest building on campus, and dropped eggs off of the ledge. These aspiring engineers had each built some type of protective vehicle to shield their delicate egg from harm as it fell five stories to the hard ground below. For them it was a day to prove their engineering prowess. For those of us outside of the Engineering school, it was a day to either avoid the area entirely or to test our ability to dodge debris falling from the sky.  I was never that fast of a runner so I hated egg drop day!

But these modern Physics Olympics pose many other complex problems in addition to the classic egg drop scenario. Jake was charged with creating a car with no electronic parts that could self-propel and travel a predetermined distance and then stop on a dime. The winning vehicle will be the one that gets closest to a wall without hitting it.

Jake’s car is powered by rubber bands and wing nuts and some mechanical engineering stuff that I only half understand.  Frankly, when he explained it all to me, I only heard Charlie Brown’s teacher saying “Waa Waa Waaa Waaa Waaa.”

But by golly, it worked. That super light combination of balsa wood and Elmer’s glue made it to within an inch or so of the wall, every single time.

And then, yesterday….Physics Olympic tragedy struck. Walking in the hall at school, after testing his car again, Jake stumbled.  And sadly, balsa wood and a fragile egg have a lot in common when they hit a hard tile floor.

So at 5 pm, the night before the competition, Jake sat with his vehicle in pieces; many pieces.

Taking in the remains of what was once a competition contender, I asked, “Do you think you can glue it all back together or maybe use duct tape?”  My tone wasn’t very optimistic.

“Nope,” he replied, but without a hint of defeat. “I asked Dad to go to the hardware store for supplies. I’m gonna build a new one.”

Now that seemed impossible to me, knowing that the first car had been built in stages and remembering that glued pieces were often left overnight on my dining room table to dry.

But then I saw that spark in Jake’s eye and before I knew it, he was sawing and drilling and sanding once again.  Of course, modifications had to be made, so instead of allowing glued pieces to dry overnight, he shortened the drying time for each stage to a mere thirty minutes and added hot glue in places as a quick replacement.  Jake was upbeat as he worked and he seemed confident that things would to come together okay.

He was channeling that optimistic YES WE CAN attitude that Bob had taught us way back when.

I, however, watched the clock and quietly panicked. Pessimistic thoughts were racing in my head. He is going to be up all night.  This will never work. He is going to have to go there tomorrow with no sleep. This will never work. How can he possibly get this done in a few short hours?  Oh this will never work.  


But to my amazement, by 9:30 pm, Jake was holding a finished car.  And to my further amazement, car #2 performed just as well as the original.

jake car

It remains to be seen how the actual competition will go today. But win or lose, Jake and I (mostly me) learned a valuable lesson about the power of a positive attitude.  Without my negative-nancy mindset, Jake managed to keep a cool head and focused on the task at hand.

So good luck to the West Deptford Physics Olympic team today!

And a special note to the egg drop competitors: if you need additional materials to protect your fragile egg, just go see Jake.  For transporting his car to the competition, he isn’t taking any chances and  that little car is packaged in corrugated cardboard and enough bubble wrap to drop a dozen eggs from a roof!

Also- take a look below before you drop. If you see some slow moving social work student passing by, please give her some time to get out of the way before you let that egg go!




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I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor                                                                                                                        No one’s ever gonna keep me down again


It’s usually Joe standing there on the edge of the deep and very dark yard. But instead, it was me, feeling apprehensive.  RoofTop Chalie, looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to lead the way, as Joe surely would have. Was it my imagination or was something or someone rustling in the leaves out there?  Glancing at Chalie and seeing how his fur was standing upright and bristling, I was really missing Joe.

The dog, RoofTop Chalie, is afraid of the dark. So on his potty breaks in the big yard, Chalie relies on Joe, his big strong man, to lend him confidence. But this week, with Joe away for work, Chalie felt vulnerable. Unfortunately, I share Chalie’s strong dislike of the darkness.

“Go on, then,” I told him. “Daddy’s not here. Just go potty. Try to be a normal dog.”

I didn’t mean to berate him, but any other dog would have been bounding around in that big dark yard, hoping to catch a hold of whatever was making that troubling noise. But greyhound Chalie was not like other dogs and he held my gaze and held his ground. Sooner or later, he wanted me to know, I would have to woman-up and lead the way into the scary dark.

Just a few hours earlier, Helen Reddy’s 1972 mega-hit was blasting on my car stereo and for reasons unknown (except to the girl-power universe), neither of my sons reached for the tuner or asked to change the station.

It was one of those spontaneous teaching moments where, as a parent, I get to share tidbits of life advice. So after first embarrassing (or irritating) my children with my raspy bellows about being a strong and invincible woman, I shared the history of the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, and told the tale of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The language of the proposed amendment was simple and to the point: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Sounds obvious, right?  But the Equal Rights Amendment had been presented in Congress every year since 1923, and had only managed to pass one time, in 1972.  To become part of the Constitution, though, it needed ratification by three-fourths, or 38, of the States.

When Helen Reddy wrote I am Woman, she was excited by the strides women were making in society. In the 1960s, Reddy had lived in a world where women earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the same profession, a world where only 38% of women worked, and where women were kept out of many professions entirely. In 1960, women made up only 3% of American lawyers and only 1% of engineers.  Banks could refuse women credit, back then, on the basis of gender alone and contraception was rarely discussed. But in a short time, Reddy had seen progress. She saw the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and she saw the legalization of contraceptives for married women. The times, they were a-changing, and Helen was excited.

Of course, Reddy had no way to know that the ERA would fall short and would be ratified by only 35 States when 38 were required.  She couldn’t have known that groups would vehemently campaign against the ERA  and that 30 years later, women would still be fighting many of the same battles.

Today, women are earning 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the same position.  Of new engineering graduates, 18-20% are now women. And we are still battling for access to contraception, epitomized by the recent Hobby Lobby decision, where the Supreme Court confirmed that an employer CAN refuse insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization coverage for its employees.

But Reddy’s anthem reminds us, even now, that the strength in women lies in our resilience and persistence.  We have come a long way.  But we still have a long way to go.

“You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger”

So given the history of women in this great country, I am confident that, some day, the ERA will pass.  And I am proud to be a woman and to continue to do my part, standing up for equality for women here in the US and worldwide.

“I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman”

So channeling Helen Reddy, I took a deep breath and stepped into the dark night, proud to be leading the way for RoofTop Chalie.  

Nope.  Nope.  In actuality, I just stood there, until my poor dog looked at me in disgust and headed into the dark alone.

But let’s face it, my dislike of the dark has NOTHING to do with gender equality. I run my household extremely well, in Joe’s absence, although I miss him when he travels.

I am a strong and invincible woman!

Just maybe a little less so at night when things are rustling around in my yard in the dark!


strong woman coasters



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Vinyl Revival

record bowls

The media says that vinyl records are making a comeback. New bands are starting to produce their music on vinyl and record stores are emerging, once again, all over the country.

This month, a new record exchange, or used LP record store, opened near us.  Jupiter Records is a really cool place, and on opening day, I expected to see my stereotype of a record store crowd. My expectations were only partly met, however, as I took in the handful of hipsters, a few facial piercings, and a cool young guy with mutton chops working the register.  Among the wall-to-wall crowd of about a hundred, though, the majority was made up of middle aged men, sporting short hair, beer bellies, eyeglasses, and collared polo shirts. Soon, my sons and I lost track of my husband in the crowd and my 23 year old joked, “Its really hard to find dad in here. Everyone looks exactly like him!”

I chuckled and remembered what this group would have looked like 25 years ago, envisioning a sea of rock and roll t-shirts and long hair.  I wondered to myself if this is the crowd that is leading the so-called vinyl revival.

But if my husband’s crowd is, in fact, bringing back the vinyl that they loved so much, what other revivals from their youth might they spur as well?   The last things I want to see are the revival of the flannel shirt, the bandanna, the Disco Sucks shirt, or the mullet.


This week, I was a seller at the Clearview High Band Parents Craft Show, a big and bustling craft event where I was excited to share, and hopefully sell, my upcycled housewares and vinyl LP bowls to the holiday shoppers.

My LP bowls, melted and reshaped from actual LP records, are usually a big hit among those males in the 40-something to 50-something set, the same guys from the record exchange.  Most of these fellows, after all, still have 300 or 400 albums carefully stashed in their attic crawlspaces.  Some still play their LPs, but many don’t, but they sure as heck aren’t parting with them anytime soon.  In vinyl’s heyday, these men worshiped their record collections, studying liner notes and sleeve art, and spending hour upon hour listening, via really giant headphones, to the stereo separation on tracks by the Cars and Pink Floyd.

But with this demographic, I have to offer a disclaimer immediately, as soon as they approach my craft booth.

“Don’t worry, I only melt an album that was scratched or damaged. I would never ruin good vinyl,” I tell them, truthfully, as they approach.

“Oh thank goodness,” most of the graying men reply, with visible relief. “When I saw what you had done to these records, I started to get upset.” Then they look through my stock and typically pick some Kansas or Yes bowl to purchase.

At today’s craft show, though, my first customer was a teenage girl, around 15 years old.

Usually teens approach my wares with a look of puzzlement. Often, they lead by asking, “Are these those taco bowl makers from TV?” And then I offer a mini-tutorial on records and record players, and the teen politely excuses him or herself and walks away, clearly bored.

But this young woman did not look puzzled.

Instead, she was studying my vinyl LP record bowls with a furrowed brow and as she ran her hand across the bowls, her face was stricken with concern and disapproval. This was a look I had seen many times before, only on the faces of folks a bit older.

“Don’t worry, I only melt an album that was scratched or damaged. I would never ruin good vinyl.”

“Oh thank goodness,” she said. “When I saw what you had done to these records, I started to get upset.” And then she added, “I really love vinyl!

She really loves vinyl?!

And it turn out that she is not the only one.

All day, teens were frequent visitors at my booth, browsing, asking questions, and buying.  These teens had a lot to say about vinyl and they excitedly told me about their turn tables and what they liked to listen to and about raiding their dad’s 300 to 400 albums from the attic crawlspace.  And in return, I told them about record exchanges and showed them cool LP features like the etching on the flip side of Paradise Theater.


So the vinyl revival is really happening.

And to my relief, it appears that it is NOT being led by middle-aged men.

So please encourage the teens in your life to embrace this vinyl resurgence.

Because I was there when Joe used to dress a bit too much like Garth from Wayne’s World and I am hoping to never see that again.



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Recycling, Upcycling, and Raising Strong, Confident Girls!

Any reason why are you defacing that book?” Jake asked me, eyebrows raised.  “You are a librarians worst nightmare,” he said, shaking his head.

I was methodically cutting 10 pages at a time, using a homemade stencil.  Scraps from the book, my own copy of Stephanie Meyer’s mega hit Twilight, were strewn about at my feet as I sat cutting.

I was making a paperback pumpkin, my upcycled craft for the Fall.  This book was becoming a cool and funky autumn decoration, but as an advocate for literacy and books in general, I knew that Jake’s accusation would require a rebuttal.

Normally, my policy with upcycled crafting is that I only disassemble items that are beyond use.  I take items worn and torn and ready for the trash and I try my best to breathe a bit more life into them.  My best finds at the thrift shop include children’s book, spoiled by the loving hands of toddlers armed with crayons or juice, and road maps, scrawled on with a felt tip pen by an enthusiastic traveler who excitedly circled his destinations.

As an upcycling crafter, I take these paper items, which are beyond use, and cut them up and make them into something new and maybe even better!

But what about the upcycling of Twilight?

Admittedly, this book could have been read again.  Nothing was spilled on it and it didn’t have a single mark from Dorito-tainted fingers.

So why upcycle a perfectly good book when I usually only upcycle items that are damaged beyond repair?   It seems that Jake’s admonishment might have some merit.

But, alas, I have a defense!

In advance, I will apologize to all of you Twilighters or Twihards or Twi-Moms out there. I get that you all love this book series, but I have to respectfully disagree.

Of course, Twilight was a fun read. But I have concern over the message that Bella and Edward were sending to young readers, especially young women. The female lead, Bella, is a  displace teenager who leans toward sullen and cynical quietude. And while I support a teen’s (or an adult’s, for that matter) right to be brooding and cynical, Bella takes it to a place that is whiny and helpless and wallowing and very dependent on a man.  Bella seems to lean on Edward the way a child leans on a parent and Edward not only encourages it, he seems to demand it.

This book, when it first came out, was a giant hit among the 15 and 16 year-old-set, the exact age group of my child at that time. And I got to hear the breathy and goose-bumpy responses of many young women, who were infatuated with the book, and with Edward and Jacob.  And to my chagrin, these young women were very comfortable with Bella’s dependence on Edward and her insecurity.  Somehow, they equated these characteristics with love.

The book’s sequel, New Moon, added to my concern when Bella, brokenhearted by her separation from Edward, remembers how he always came to her aid when she was in danger. So in a desperate attempt to either force his hand or to jolt her memory, she risks her own life and jumps from a cliff.

This is where the 15 year old girls all sighed with thoughts of true love.

So what to do??

First, I considered forcing these girls on a road trip to the Alice Paul House, a local landmark that was the home of a strong-willed suffragist who busted her corseted butt (I mean waist), to give me and my gal pals the right to vote.

Then I contemplated a group reading of the writing of my bad-grlll idol, Gloria Steinem, who infiltrated the Playboy club and let us know that objectification is not okay!

Then maybe we could follow all this up by a DVD viewing of the Battle of the Sexes, the triumphant tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs!

But instead of inundating these girls with the heroes of the fight for women’s rights , I took a simpler approach and talked openly and honestly with them.  I encouraged them to be independent and strong. I told them that while many of us will choose to enter a partnership with a man, it should be just that; a partnership.  No man, whether human or vampire or werewolf, should ever completely define us or render us incapable without him.

So those young women listened to my literary criticism and my life advice and hopefully some of it sank in.

But a few weeks ago, with my scissors and my stencil, I got to truly express my feelings about this book and its influence on our youth.  I got to put Twilight in the same category as an old map that is no longer accurate and that is stained with coffee.

So I cut it up and made it into something better.

book pumpkin

Hooray upcycling!

Next project….the deconstruction and upcycling of New Moon!!


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Big, Black and Not-So-Bad!

Happy Belated National Black Dog Day.

RoofTop Chalie reminded us today that October 1st was National Black Dog Day! Given how people sometime respond to big black dogs, Chalie wanted to make sure we knew that his kind have a special day to encourage people to be open minded.

Black Dog Syndrome is the name for the phenomenon that occurs in some animal shelters, where prospective dog adopters pass over black dogs in favor of lighter colored breeds.

According to the theory, a black dog is more likely to be viewed as potentially violent, regardless of breed.

Appearance is clearly very powerful and can affect how people interpret the disposition of prospective pets.  For some folks, unfortunately, when they see a big black dog, images come to mind of a junkyard attack dog….a dog with a name like Killer.

I had never heard of black dog syndrome until we adopted RoofTop Chalie, a big black greyhound dog.

If you have known any greyhounds firsthand, you are probably surprised that Black Dog Syndrome applies to them too.  Even among this quiet breed, black greyhounds are adopted at a significantly lower and slower rates than their lighter or brindle colored track mates.

Seeing a group of greyhound dogs who have come directly from their racetrack home to be adopted is an interesting experience.  These dogs lived their entire lives at a racetrack and before being presented for inspection to potential adopters, these pups have experienced a whirlwind few days. They have been plucked from a life of rigid routine and have traveled, sometimes for hundreds or even a thousand miles, in the company of strangers. Everything is different and their sense of routine is uprooted.

Other breeds of dog who have had such a shake-up might exhibit nervous behavior and you’d expect to see barking, scratching, howling, whimpering, chewing or even growling from those anxious and displaced doggies.

But greyhounds are not like other breeds.  Greyhounds expect a strict schedule and they cope with dignity by actually clinging to that routine.

So the first time we saw RoofTop Chalie, he was standing in a fenced-in field, with about fifteen other greyhounds and standing around.  There was no playing or running, or barking or sniffing or eating grass…..or anything.  These doggies didn’t look at all like a group of potentially loving and interactive house pets.  They were just standing there, averting their eyes.  Have you ever witnessed fifteen dogs in a fenced-in area who just stood there?  From a distance, this resembled a horse farm, except that horses would have been much more animated.  That afternoon, to me, that group of dogs looked more like a gathering of shell shocked refugees or like a group that had recently been returned from alien abduction than like a group of eager doggies ready for adoption.

But given their strict daily routine, standing around quietly and calmly actually makes sense.  Because on a daily basis, these dogs only had a few activities on their agenda.  So when they were put out into that field that day, they searched their activity agenda for what to do.

Hmm, is this running time?

Nope, is it eating time?

Err, is it potty time maybe?

Or sleeping time?

And when the answer to all of these items was a definitive no, standing around was the only logical choice.

Of course, after a few weeks or months in a loving and patient family home, these quiet and stoic and statuesque dogs all become loving and LOVED pets. They are sweet and playful and can become ideal companions.  They just need to be taught a new routine.

So given their disposition, how can anyone make an assumption and  lump these guys in with the big black dog syndrome dogs?

And for that matter, how can anyone lump ANY dog into this category?   Big and black or small and brown, get to know your dog before you decide.  Don’t judge a dog by his fur.

Here’s a few images to help you understand……

Scary black dog?

chalie in bed

Err…….Dangerous Black Dog????

chalie pup

Aggressive Black Dog?

chalie pup1

Destructive Black Dog?


Come on people- get out there and adopt a big black dog!   Making choices based only on appearance is small-minded and you may be missing out on the sweetest family pup!  Get to know your potential pets and don’t let size or color dictate your choice!!


Happy National Black Dog Day from RoofTop Chalie and me!!!


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Time + Effort = Ancient Chinese Secret

Need a fix for attaining your every goal?

Well like the old laundry detergent ads said, “Its an ancient Chinese secret.”

Its kung fu– but don’t worry; I am NOT advocating for nunchuck training or even for martial art lessons.

I am referring to the literal translation of the words kung fu.

Of course, when we say the words kung fu, visions of Bruce Lee kicking groins and punching throats do come to mind.  Or maybe you picture young students trying to snatch pebbles from the old, but quick, hands of wise teachers with giant Fu Manchu mustaches.

But quite simply, the words kung fu, or gongfu, are actually translated to time and effort.

Time and effort…..two things that certainly lead to success.. Wanna improve at something?  Apply gongfu!   Gongfu will make you an expert in mechanical engineering, cooking, or in mathematics, or in crocheting, or in candle making, or even in martial arts!  Because time plus effort equals results, in whatever you want to do!

But somehow, in America, we have been taught a different formula.  We have been taught that there can be a way around the hard work and time and patience.  Maybe its all this reality television that has skewed our perspective.  Maybe watching someone win a million dollars by eating bugs or by living naked in the jungle has increased out tendencies to cut corners. Some of us look for easy ways to accomplish things, without the gongfu.

When we want to lose weight and get healthier, we are quick to buy up gadgets and powders and pills from infomercials, all with the promise of results with no gongfu.  When we need money, we invest our limited money into playing the lottery. Again, no gongfu needed.

David Carradine , the star of the 1970s hit series Kung Fu, would be very disappointed in all of us.

Somehow, our society has trained us that miraculously, success and excellence can be achieved by hoping, wishing, or by just pure dumb luck.

But how can we expect to raise smart and successful children in this society of ours if we continuously model behavior that seeks immediate gratification and puts forth no effort?

The question of working (or not) for your accomplishments and accolades is discussed in many popular works of literature and film.  My favorite quote on the importance of doing the actual hard work comes from Jurassic Park’s Dr. Ian Malcom, played by uber-cool Jeff Goldblum.  Describing the accomplishments of the dinosaur park, he sums it up with: “I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it…….You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it….”

Now of course, most folks looking to cut corners, like those seeking easy get-rich-quick schemes or those wanting to change careers without any sacrifice or hard work, are probably not genetically engineering extinct dinosaurs in their basements.

David Carradine would be relieved over that, at least!

Cause while we all need to apply a bit more gongfu to our goals, at least our impatience and laziness won’t rise up and eat us once it gets dark out!

So my challenge to you all and to myself this week, when we are all seeking to improve ourselves, whether it is in the arenas of health and wellness or career aspirations or simply a hobby we’d like to improve at, let’s all employ a little bit of gong fu.

Can we do that, Grasshopper?

And if you decide to apply literal gongfu to training in kung fu, well that might just help with fending off the dinosaurs.


Hollywood Fun Fact:  Rumors tell us that Bruce Lee actually came up with the idea for the television series Kung Fu, about a Chinese martial artist traveling the Wild West, but that Warner Bros stole the idea from under his nose.  And then instead of casting an Asian or Asian-American actor in the lead, they cast a white man, David Carradine, to play the Chinese hero.  Back then, Asians were rarely seen in lead roles in American film or television.

Ultimately, though, both David Carradine and Bruce Lee went on to very successful careers in film and television.

Must have been dumb luck.


Silhouette illustration of two figures doing martial art stance


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What’s in a Name?

name tag

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as  sweet.”                                                                              -Juliet Capulet

In Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers were eager to redefine the expectations placed upon them by a society bent on division, in spite of their well-known surnames.  They were determined that their family names should not dictate to them or to their choices!

But what’s in a name, really? Can a name shape you? define you? change you?

A few days after my own wedding, way back in the 1990s, one of my sister split with her husband.  One week later, my two sisters and I joked over cocktails that we were all unified, once again, under our maiden name.  But that would all change if and when I got around to legally changing my name to my husband’s.

But I had given the question of changing my name a lot of thought. I liked being a Dunne. And I asked myself why societal norms should dictate who takes whose name?  Why should I have to change a part of my identity, just because I married?  Whey should I support a gender stereotype that originated back when marriage was more about the transfer of goods than about love and partnership?  Maybe my husband should take my name, eh?  eh?

So all pumped up on Gloria Steinem essays, I decided, defiantly, to remain a Dunne.

But as my family grew, I found that, in my small town, my proud Dunne name caused confusion.  My son’s preschool and early elementary teachers assumed automatically that Joe and I were divorced. No one ever assumed that I was his live-in (but awesome) girlfriend or that we were unmarried parents, which is common these days.  Instead, they always assumed divorce and separate households, again and again.

And even more annoying, the single moms in town assumed that Joe was available.  At little kid parties at the Chuckie Cheese or the Discovery Zone, I watched the small town rumors unfold and young women who didn’t know our family flirted with my husband, in spite of my presence nearby.

So after a few years of parenting as a Dunne, I started hyperventilating……I mean hyphenating.

I became Dunne-Jackson, not because I lost my feminist passion for holding on to my birth name and my strong grrrrl values, but because I was just plain tired of explaining.

Legally, I am still a Dunne. But nowadays, in the community, I am also Jackson, or Dunne-Jackson, all depending on who is addressing me.

So names do carry influence, even when you think they shouldn’t.

A few weeks ago, my book club read a novel about a gutsy young woman who went on a solo back packing and soul searching adventure for four months.  In the autobiographical tale, Wild, author Cheryl Stayed was facing a crisis of self.  Having lost her mother through no fault of her own, and having lost a marriage through quite a lot of fault on her part, she hoped that this trip would help her find herself.

What I found most amazing about Cheryl Strayed’s story is the origin of her surname.  When her divorce papers asked her to select her post-divorce name, Cheryl wondered at first if she should return to to her maiden name or hold on to her married name.  But after some research revealed a hole in her state law, Cheryl saw a name change as a potential game changer for her.

So instead of choosing between the two names in her personal history, she started afresh and selected something new.  Acknowledging that she’d made some hefty mistakes, Cheryl chose the surname Strayed. She felt that it was a fitting, given her life’s course so far.

But, instead of seeing her new name as proof of unchangeable destiny, she used her new name to become self-sufficient, braver, and to ultimately become more rooted in herself.

Names do have power.

So embrace your name. Let it root you and make you strong. If you are a woman marrying, don’t feel obliged to take your husband’s name. While only ten percent of American women keep their maiden name after marriage, it is your name and identity to choose. Choose what works for you.

For me, my own name(s) have given me a great sense of self, family, and community.  As a Dunne, I am connected to my Irish heritage and to my wacky and wonderful Dunne cousins.  I am the Dunne woman who was once a Dunne girl from Oak Valley, a girl with Dunne siblings.

As Lisa Dunne-Jackson, or Mrs. Jackson to the neighborhood kids, I am connected too.  I am part of the giant, loyal, kind and funny Jackson family and I am part of a warm and engaged vibrant community.

And to those of you who still buy into marriage name stereotypes, it should be clearer to you now that Lisa Jackson’s husband is not up for grabs!  Take note of that neighborhood ladies! (He may be older now- but just the same, back off! Otherwise the Dunne in me might come out, and that’s the scrappy side!)


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Men, Beer, and Yard Sale Shopping!

This post was first published in January 2013.  With excitement over the season of yard sales and backyard socializing, I wanted to reshare. 

At first I thought it was a simple potting bench. But then the female yard saler pointed out that the narrow wooden table also came with two wooden benches. “It’s a picnic table,” she said. “We bought it from Germany when we were first married. My husband is from Germany. But you could definitely use it as a potting bench. Five dollars.”

The unusual table had promise, but exposure to the elements had taken its toll. The wood was splitting, the paint was cracked and bubbling, and the metal folding legs were badly rusted. But a potting bench doesn’t have to be pretty, so I paid the price as the woman called her husband to help me lift.

The husband sighed as he lifted the table and perhaps I was imagining it, but he actually looked sad. As he was loading the benches into my minivan, he lowered his head to my ear and said in a hushed tone, “Do you have a husband?”

Now I am not the type of woman that typically attracts the flirtations of young, muscular, foreign, (did I say muscular?) men.  So I looked back at the woman’s husband curiously and told him yes, wondering what the heck he was going to say next.

He leaned in even closer, so I now felt his breath on my ear, and he whispered, “This is not a potting bench. Tell this to your husband.  This is a Bavarian beer table.  Tell your husband.” And without another word, he quickly walked away.

My exchange with the German was certainly unusual, and I left the yard sale a bit befuddled.

But it turns out that men really do know men.  Because when I did tell my husband, Joe, that I had purchased yet another piece of aged furniture that was battered and worn and would require a great deal of labor to restore, I expected his usual disapproval. But when I included the words “Bavarian beer table,” I was met instead with widening eyes and enthusiasm.

So my husband, who usually moans and groans his opposition to my projects, was transformed into a restoration work horse: sanding staining, and painting like the project had to be finished that very day!

In the end, the final product was a very nice beer table, and not the potting bench that I needed. The German had gotten his way.

So what is is about beer gardens and grown men? I think back and wonder what went through my husband’s head when he decided that this project of mine was worthy of his help, when so many others were not. Did he imagine that the refinished beer table would bring the unique Oom-pah sounds of accordion and tuba to our suburban back yard? Did he envision young women dressed for Oktoberfest doling out overflowing steins of a good German ale on a hot summer day right here in NJ?

I also wonder how that sad German husband parted with his cherished Bavarian beer table. Did giving it up mean saying goodbye (or adieu) to some part of his past or with his youth, even?

Perhaps one of these weekends, we should invite him over here for a beer!


After all that work, here’s the refinished beer table… real life.

The finished beer table in our backyard in real life.

And here’s that same table… Joe’s imagination.

The refinished beer table in Joe's imagination!


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The Haves and Have Nots


“Hello and good day,” the homeless man said to me as I neared.

He was seated on a wooden rail near my parked car and he was leaning back, taking in the sunshine.

“Hello,” I responded back automatically.  “How are you today?”

Immediately, I regretted my choice of words.  This man was homeless and living in a shelter.  Asking “How are you today?,” in my upbeat, energetic style as I sipped from a disposable $2 bottle of water seemed like the wrong way to go.

How was he?   Errrr…….homeless, that’s how.

This past weekend, Jake and a group of high school youth from People to People Student Ambassadors were scheduled to volunteer at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, working in the kitchen and in the warehouse of this amazing charity.

I was excited that Jake was having this opportunity, since this volunteer assignment involved working right at the shelter, with clients present.  Young people do not often have the opportunity to actually see the recipients of their volunteer work.  In fact, most volunteer experiences for youth keep them safely and comfortably removed from the problem that they are hoping to fix.  We often engage our children in fund raising and supply drives and while these undertakings are essential to the charities receiving the money or food or clothing that we gather, they also keep our children at a very wide berth from the people they are helping.

But at the shelter, the recipients of Jake’s efforts were present, indeed.  There were homeless clients in the parking lot, on the sidewalks, in the courtyards, and inside the building in the hallways and bathrooms.   Atlantic City has a serious homelessness problem, and many, many folk in need were taking advantage of the outstanding services available to them.

When we encourage our children to volunteer, most parents hope that we will instill a commitment to service and altruism in them that will last.  But we know that there are other lessons that get thrown in as well.

In our everyday life, it can be easy to forget to appreciate the things that we have.  If we are not careful, our life perspective can become focused on what is lacking in our lives, rather than what is abundant.  This is especially true at those times when life is stressful or feels unkind or unjust. During those times, the worry over the have and have nots can be hard to ignore.

But being in the presence of so many men and women who have so little and who are working hard to improve their lives was a serious lesson in perspective, the type of perspective that made my look down at my $2 water bottle and feel like an heiress.

“Hello and good day,” the homeless man said to me as I neared.

He was seated on a wooden rail near my parked car and he was leaning back, taking in the sunshine.

“Hello,” I responded back automatically.  “How are you today?”

The Rescue Mission’s client answered me without a shred of sarcasm.

“I am good and I am feeling very blessed so far today.  I have air in my lungs and the sun is shining.  I am feeling very blessed so far today.”

He smiled a big and genuine smile.  “And how are you?”


“I am feeling very blessed today too.”  As I said the words, I realized how true it was.

Looking back, I hope that the feeling stays with me long after our visit to the shelter fades into memory.

If not, I guess will just have to go back!


The Atlantic City Rescue Mission serves 600 to 700 meals daily, and is open 365 days a year.  They serve the poor and homeless community and they can provide shelter to 320 people. They offer extensive services to their clients, including workshops to prepare them for the work world, counseling on life issues, parenting classes, and if needed, literacy classes and addiction counseling.

They strive to solve the homelessness crisis, not only by providing food and shelter, but also by addressing the underlying problems that contribute to homelessness in the first place and by sharing a faith based approach to life’s difficulties.

The Atlantic City Rescue Mission needs all kinds of help.  They need monetary donations and donations of many types of items.  And they also need donations of time, because there’s a lot of work involved in keeping an operation of this scale up and running.

See their website below  to learn how you or your group can help.


If you enjoy RoofTop’s Blog, please consider “following” RoofTop by email.  Simply add your email address in the box at the top right of this page and click the “follow” button.  You will be notified by email whenever Lisa has a new post.  RoofTop also LOVES comments, so share what you think!

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