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Do you take offense easily? Are you wedded to being politically correct in everything you say and do? A few years ago I took a course on Buddhism at UVA. The first project our instructor asked us to do was to write down a list of words to describe ourselves. You can imagine when we gathered them together on the blackboard what that list looked like – lots of “mothers,” “fathers,” “friends,” and family ties and occupations galore. I probably added “writer,” and “wife” to the mix. The purpose if I recall correctly, was for us to banish all those words from our consciousness, words that separate us into different groups by clan or class or religion or education, and think in terms of a more universal, inclusive identity. We are all human, deal with it.

Now I’m not writing this just for Bob, who absolutely hates political correctness. He has since the term first appeared. I have to admit that what first attracted me to him was his iconoclastic nature, so even when I’m disagreeing with him about something, I understand his position, for the most part. So when I read this essay in The Spectator by Nick Cohen, I immediately forwarded it on to him. Can we really change the world simply by changing the words we use? I grew up when “mental retardation” was considered a birth defect, and calling someone “retarded” wasn’t cursing, it was just a fact. These children were not mainstreamed and so we knew very little about them. Then later we used words like “intellectual disability.”

Worry about whether you, or more pertinently anyone you wish to boss about, should say ‘person with special needs’ instead of ‘disabled’ or ‘challenged’ instead of ‘mentally handicapped’ and you will enjoy a righteous glow. You will not do anything, however, to provide health care and support to the mentally and physically handicapped, the old or the sick. Indeed, your insistence that you can change the world by changing language, and deal with racism or homophobia merely by not offending the feelings of interest groups, is likely to allow real racism and homophobia to flourish unchallenged, and the sick and disadvantaged to continue to suffer from polite neglect. An obsession with politeness for its own sake drives the modern woman, who deplores the working class habit of using ‘luv’ or ‘duck’, but ignores the oppression of women from ethnic minorities. A Victorian concern for form rather than substance motivates the modern man, who blushes if he says ‘coloured’ instead of ‘African-American’ but never gives a second’s thought to the hundreds of thousands of blacks needlessly incarcerated in the US prison system. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/nick-cohen/2014/04/you-sexistracistliberalelitist-bastard-how-dare-you/

Cohen believes the right and the left are equally responsible for pitting one group against another, and fighting pretend wars so that all that exists really is the argument. Think about that video of Obama saying something about the middle of the country, or was it PA, “…clinging to their religion and their guns.” Think about that leaked video of Romney at that $50,000 a plate dinner where he said it wasn’t his job to win the 47 percent of voters who were committed to President Obama, because they are “dependent on government” (and he will) “never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” That pretty much deep-sixed his campaign. And I think it’s true. The media is always making it about us and them, except every now and then when a clear voice cuts through the rubble.

“As the late and much-missed Robert Hughes said, ‘We want to create a sort of linguistic Lourdes, where evil and misfortune are dispelled by a dip in the waters of euphemism’.”

Words of course can hurt, and they can heal. We returned last night from Great Grandmother Ada’s Passover Seder. We read through a whole book of words in English and Hebrew before a dinner filled with symbolism and meaning. It’s meant to recall our journey from slavery to freedom, to cement our Jewish identity, and it happened right after some KKK nut job in Kansas yelled “Heil Hitler” after killing three people. He will be charged with a “hate crime.” But Jewish people everywhere know it was so much more than hate. We remembered the six million in our reading of the Haggadah. Until we can break down the mental barriers that divide us, by race or sex or religion – and not just with words but with real legislation and dialogue devoid of political semantics – what should we expect of our politicians.

 

Fashion Rules

Whenever I see a newsworthy writing prompt, I keep it in a folder for a rainy day. And even though it’s stopped raining, this one has been calling to me for weeks. “Rejoice, Dressing Your Age is Dead,” by Erin G Ryan in Jezebel. http://jezebel.com/rejoice-dressing-your-age-is-dead-1515208677?utm_campaign=socialfow_jezebel_twitter&utm_source=jezebel_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

Despite the best efforts of survey respondents and dating advice columnists, women aren’t necessarily heeding the social directive to stop caring about fashion once Hollywood stops casting women their age as the love interest in action movies. Gone are the days of No Miniskirts After 35. Women well into adulthood are storming Asos to deplete its supplies of unicorn sweaters…

First of all, I hate unicorn sweaters. And I hate those fashion magazines that deign to advise us how to dress at “any age;” we see the layouts for our 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Then what happens? Are we supposed to sail out to sea like a Viking warrior, put on grannie shoes and call it a day? Here’s how you dress in your 60s ladies – however the hell you want!

I got my start in the newspaper business with a very tongue-in-cheek essay called, “The Fashion Hot-Line.” It was 1980, and I was all about the local custom of wearing flannel everywhere. Big hair and bling hadn’t quite made it up to the Berkshires. To be honest, the whole fashion thing had eluded me for years. Except for the occasional trip to Loehmann’s while visiting Grandma Ada, my style was more mid-century mama – ie, comfy.

Still, I admit to not liking the look of young girls and their moms dressed alike. That whole leggings and sweatshirt Falshdance craze just seemed too contrived. But matching Laura Ashley dresses? Now that I could understand. The Bride soared beyond my stilted fashion sense while she was still in high school; even cautioning me not to wear what I had worn in the 1960s. Which does not mean I don’t love hippy-chic baby clothes for the Love Bug!

In an industry that must change every season in order to maintain exceed its sales, I’ve always given short shrift to trends of any kind. Florals are IN for Spring, how original! If malls are dying and no one knows where teens are buying their clothes these days, as Ryan says in her article, then maybe that’s a good thing. They are probably raiding their mother’s closet, going to thrift stores, and shopping online at TopShop with the occasional trip to TJ Maxx. Maybe they are even saving their money?!

My 20 something Rocker has another modeling gig in LA. Remember when the band did that photo shoot for Paris Vogue? Well they want the boys again! I never would have thought my sweet son, who wore a black armband for weeks over his grungy surfer tee shirts 20 years ago when Cobain died, would be the fashion forward face of our family! Everyone always said the Bride should model, she was so tall, so svelte. But fashion is fickle, Rock on Dude!

2 Guitarists: the Rocker on Top

2 Guitarists: the Rocker on Top

 

Risky Business

Raising a child today can be fraught with danger. There’s the fear of strangers to instill, not to mention all the little accidents that could end in bone or tooth shattering chaos.

I’m being facetious, sort of…it’s no wonder young working parents of today spend more time with their offspring than the last couple of generations ever did. Certainly my foster Mom Nell would let me bike around the neighborhood until dark, learning important lessons in survival. And I would deposit my kids at The Beach, where they could get into all kinds of mischief and usually did!

So I had to laugh when the Bride told me to read the latest article in the Atlantic, “Hey Parents, Leave Those Kids Alone!” It’s all about how children need to challenge themselves in order to grow up healthy and strong, emotionally and physically. They need to force themselves to do the thing they are afraid of, “…in order to overcome their fear.” http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/

Children need to:

  • Explore Heights – like I did when I walked alone across a log over a river and fell, and knew how it felt to have the air punched out of your lungs.
  • Handle Dangerous Tools – like the Rocker did when he fashioned a sword out of a stick (which he did often) and beat the crap out of a bee’s nest; he knew what dozens of bee stings felt like. Or the Bride zip-lining across our backyard.
  • Be Near Dangerous Elements – the Bride and Rocker both spent most summers around the ocean, barely supervised; so yes, they did learn how to swim.
  • Rough and Tumble Play – did I mention they were building forts with lounge chairs and climbing up lifeguard stands and jumping off and such?
  • Speed – yes, that was the Rocker’s middle name. For him it was ice skates and rollerblade hockey on the street, but the Bride could also rollerblade out of my sight in a quick second.
  • Exploring on One’s Own. Probably the most important element of all.

Things started to change around issues of child safety when lawyers started to sue towns and municipalities for damages resulting from playground equipment. Grassy areas became covered in rubber, some equipment disappeared entirely, like that metal merry-go-round that kids pushed and could eventually jump on. I can still remember the thrill of that ride. When I think about it, it was around the time my children were growing up that things started to change – the first handbook for public safety equipment was published in 1981.

I remember my nana allowing me to walk into the town of Scranton, PA to buy an ice cream cone by myself under the age of 10. The risky thing about it was getting the change right! The Bride walked up the street herself to her piano lessons in the Berkshires; the Rocker routinely disappeared at the beach. But like the newfangled idea of a semi-supervised, wild, junkyardish playground called The Land in the Atlantic article, a day at the beach offered many of the important elements of danger and excitement to fuel a young child’s growth.

I think if we are anxious parents, we will raise anxious children. When we scoop up our child to remove them from harm’s way, we do not allow them the opportunity to fix something themselves, to overcome an obstacle. And when we go out of our way to accommodate our child’s fears, we reinforce those fears. Of course this is all age-dependant. A toddler may need a little scooping every now and then. “Fear Not, Child,” by Jerry Bubrick http://www.nature.com/scientificamericanmind/journal/v25/n2/full/scientificamericanmind0314-46.html

Can you find the Corgi?

Can you find the Corgi?

 

 

 

 

Kugels are being frozen, matzoh balls rolled, and families are getting ready to gather again for their annual Seder. It’s been a rite of passage for me ever since I married into my husband’s huge Jewish family. Don’t get me wrong, my stepfather was Jewish, but the Irish Flapper didn’t do Passover. This holiday is unlike anything else, it can’t be compared to Easter, because Easter was a direct result of the Last Supper, which was a Passover Seder, if you get the drift. This is more like a Jewish Christmas. Everybody has got to get home for the Seder.

We sit around a large table and tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and our path to freedom. There are prayers and songs and finally food. Every single Jewish family around the world is going to be doing this in eight days. My specialty, as you all know, is the haroses – a delicious condiment of apples and dried fruit meant to symbolize the bricks and the labor that was used while our people were slaves. It happens to be the star attraction on Grandma Ada’s Seder plate.

I remember my first Seder with the Baby Bride, 1980, like it was yesterday. Driving from the Berkshires back to NJ. All the relatives cooing over her, holding her, giving her presents. A great tradition was being passed down and I knew it was important to pay attention. Bob would one day lead the Seder, recline at the head of the table, and ask questions just to keep us on our toes. Last year the same rituals were repeated, only the Love Bug stole the show.

But this year we’ll be missing our north star. Judith married Ada’s nephew after a long and hard divorce. She brought him back to us, a happier healthy man. She was a counselor, whose smile could light up a room. A devout Jew, her parents had survived the Holocaust with numbers on their arms to prove it. It was the first time I had ever seen that horrific symbol, alive on a real person, not in a history book. And yet, somehow, they raised an angel of light.

Judith, the woman who brought a profound sense of meaning to our gathering every year, died yesterday. Her Hebrew kept Bob on track during the Seder, she would be the one to lead us through long passages, to sing without having to look at the words. Her Judaism was a living breathing tribute to her parents. Her loving spirit a balm to her husband and her son, her stepdaughters and her grandchildren. And I can’t tell you how many times she took me aside at the Seder to reassure me on my road through this long and winding family dynamic – to tell me that everything will be alright. These are just rough passages, we’ll plow through.

She battled cancer with the ferocity of her Biblical namesake. She was too young, too kind, it was too soon. And this Seder, along with all the rest to come when the Love Bug brings her baby to meet the  family, Judith will always be remembered.

Black Dogs

 

Daddy Jim and Corky

Daddy Jim and Corky

My very first dog was a black dog, his name was Corky. He was named after the County my foster/father/Daddy Jim’s ancestors were from in Ireland, County Cork. I’m not sure how he came to reside in Victory Gardens with us, but he was my constant companion and set the stage for the rest of my life – a life that always had a canine presence. In fact, until Buddha died, we were mostly a two-dog family. Either you are a one OR a two/or/more dog family, and we were definitely the more the merrier.

Our first married dog was a German Shepherd named Bones. He was named after the doctor on Star Trek of course, and because Bob’s first dog’s name was Doc and well, because he was a skin and bones stray when we found him at the pound. He loved porcupines, and to our utter astonishment couldn’t stop chasing them in the Berkshire Mountains. Shepherds are supposed to be smart dogs, but our Bones just never gave up despite many needles to the snout.

Anyway, over the years we seem to have adopted brown dogs, except for the Bride’s first dog, a tri-color (black, brown and white) Corgi, and Buddha, who was 100 pounds of long, fluffy, pure, white Samoyed-mix fur. With the exception of Corky, I’ve never owned a black dog. Here is our current canine

Brown Bean Burrito

Brown Bean Burrito

The Rocker's First Dog

The Rocker’s First Dog

The first time I heard about the troubles with black dogs was a few years ago when the Bride and Groom adopted their first married dog, a black Shepherd-mix rescue in Nashville. “He was going to be euthanized,” she said, “because they told me that nobody wants black dogs.” Maybe it was because she was going through her Trauma rotation at the time, that I didn’t give it another thought.

Until I heard about this MA photographer, Fred Levy, who has made it his life’s mission to showcase black shelter dogs for all the world to see.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/27/black-dogs-project_n_5037181.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000010

Through doing this project, I’ve found that it’s really important to share the idea that there are always so many dogs in need of a good safe home, regardless of what the dog looks like,” Levy told HuffPost. “Maybe someone will see this and consider the gravity of owning a pet, no matter what color it is.”

Who knows, the syndrome is called “Black Dog Bias,” and maybe it started with the superstition against black cats? I know my Irish Nana didn’t even like a black bird to fly in front of her. I get the fear of American Pit Bulls, although I don’t agree with it. I truly believe a dog, any dog, is what its owner makes of it, along with centuries of breeding to make it fetch or swim or herd or whatever. We had to train our Corgis not to nip at children’s ankles when they run, after all that will only do for cows. I asked Bob on a recent outing to get some fresh air, if he wanted to walk through the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA (CASPCA) and look for an older black dog. http://caspca.org

He said, “Maybe next time.”

Photography by Fred Levy

Photography by Fred Levy

 

Funny or Die

Since it’s a well known fact that humor helps one heal, I’ve been actively seeking the punch lines in my not-so-funny mountainside life. Even if it makes Bob cough up a lung, I’m sure it will be that pesky right-lower-lobe one. So follow along online http://www.funnyordie.com

We watched the latest Hangover movie and agreed with the President on the web series “Between Two Ferns,” some movies are better left standing and not reincarnated with sequels. As much as President Obama was making his pitch for millennials to sign up for Affordable Health Care, I was happy to see that much of what went on with Zach Galifianakis was really good improv – “If I ran a third time, it’d be sort of like doing a third Hangover movie. Didn’t really work out very well, did it?” http://www.vulture.com/2014/03/president-obama-between-two-ferns-making-of.html

But does humor and/or laughter really boost our immunity and help us fight off germs? If we’re talking evidence-based science here, the doctor is out! According to an article in Psychology Today, “Can Humor and Laughter Boost Your Health?” we haven’t thoroughly studied the effects of humor on the body, the research just isn’t there. In fact, humor writers and comedians seem to die younger than other career choices; still pretty anecdotal when we think about all those late nights and before/banning/cigarettes/from smoky bars.

The challenge is to conduct well designed studies which take into account possible confounding variables. One of the main things that needs to be accounted for is the separation of humor and laughter. If humor does have some analgesic effect, the question is, is it due to the cognitive enjoyment of the joke or is it because we laugh? Laughter releases endorphins in our brain and could hold the key for any health benefits. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/humor-sapiens/201202/can-humor-and-laughter-boost-your-health

This morning on CBS Sunday Morning I saw a Harvard scientist light up the brains of people watching Seinfeld in an MRI machine. Now first of all, I wouldn’t call Jerry laugh out loud funny, but maybe that was his point. Like the New Yorker cartoon you don’t get and then, wham! You get it. His finding was that it’s not just the funny part of the brain (in the amygdala) that is stimulated, it’s that pre-frontal cortex where all our critical thinking takes place. So a joke not only has to be wacky, but wise to a certain degree. To hit that sweet spot between silly and serious.

In a world where mud can start sliding in Washington, and the earth can start shaking in Southern California, and when Vladimir Putin just walks into a country because he can, not to mention a post-flu pneumonia that nearly lands your hubby in the hospital, our species needs a little light entertainment. There has to be a Yiddish saying about this. You know, “Man plans, God laughs.” So thanks for that picture on Vogue Kimye, cause the satirical reiterations are hysterical. We’re a ride or die family over here, just sayin.

vague-cover-the-muppets-lead-2

 

Functioning mostly this week as a caretaker/nurse has a few disadvantages. For one, we’re missing out on a TEDx day in Richmond today, sorry Anita. For another, I’m eating more ice cream because doesn’t that soothe a sore throat? I’m making more soup which maybe makes up for all the ice cream. And instead of pulling out the yarn to work on one of my favorite knitting projects, I’ve been watching mindless TV with my sick couch mate; old shows like Castle and Bones. And in between all the coughing and detective drama, I caught sight of the latest Supreme Court case.

First of all, I’m troubled that the Supremes even took up the Hobby Lobby case. But OK, let’s not argue over spilled milk. Are they trying to steer our country back to the 1950s, when women knew their place? And that place was barefoot and pregnant! Let’s look at the big picture, which is what anyone who’s ever dealt with policy-making decisions before would naturally do – it’s like chess. What could be the permutations and consequences of saying that any employer, not just a Christian employer, could discriminate in its contract with employees.

So the owners of an Advance Auto Parts store will supply health benefits thru the Affordable Care Act because they have to, but they are practicing Christian Scientists so they won’t pay for immunizations. After all, they believe that prayer can heal anything.

The owners of a Michael’s are devout orthodox Jews, so they won’t pay for certain organ transplants coming from cadavers. They will only pay for a living transplant, like a kidney.

We have to decide as citizens of this fair country if every religious belief that resides within our borders gets to trump our first attempt at universal health insurance reform.  So now the insurance company we choose cannot deny life-saving treatment for our child who had been previously diagnosed with cancer, but wait. Our boss can? Because that’s the very definition of a slippery slope. And it started when the Supremes thought Citizens United was a good thing. And according to this article in Salon, it really is a religious right-wing conspiracy! http://www.salon.com/2014/03/27/hobby_lobbys_secret_agenda_how_its_secretly_funding_a_vast_right_wing_movement/

The owners of Hobby Lobby are one of the biggest contributors to the National Christian Charitable foundation which is funding challenges in Arizona against marriage equality among other things: “…its legislative agenda ranges from requiring intrusive ultrasounds for women seeking abortions to HB 2281, a bill that, if passed by the Arizona Senate, would exempt religious institutions from paying property taxes on leased or rented property.)…The document shows that Hobby Lobby‑related contributions were the single largest source of tax-deductible donations to National Christian Charitable’s approximately $383.785 million in 2009 grant revenue.”

Outside of the Supreme Court case, little has been reported about Hobby Lobby’s political ties. The company is owned privately by the Green family and generates more than $3 billion per year in revenue from its 602 stores. The family proudly promotes its philanthropy to churches, ministries and Christian community centers, dedicating half of the company’s pretax earnings to Christian ministries. In 2007, Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO, billionaire David Green, pledged $70 million to Oral Roberts University, bailing out the debt-ridden evangelical university. In 2012, Forbes reported, “Hobby Lobby’s cash spigot currently makes [Green] the largest individual donor to evangelical causes in America.”

Last year they didn’t carry any Hanukka decorations because hey, it’s a Christian store. It’s OK with me since moving to the South I’ve made my peace with the elusive box of matzah, and Hanukka gelt sold at Easter. But fundamental to our very democracy is not favoring one religion over another, remember King George and all those Puritans who wanted to escape the Anglican Church. Remember good ole Tom Jefferson who built his library in the middle of our university, and specifically NOT a chapel.

Contrary to Hobby Lobby’s argument, it’s not all about Plan B and who gets to decide when life starts, and feminism either. Well maybe it’s a little bit of women’s rights since they are targeting women of a certain reproductive age…I just hope the justices take the long view. Religious freedom is a misnomer, we need to be free of religious policy makers.

When I went to Walgreens to pick up a nebulizer for my sick honey, I saw this display front and center at the pharmacy. And I remembered when I was in college and felt so cheated when I learned you had to be married to even request an Rx from a doctor for the pill. And I remembered friends flying to Puerto Rico for abortions. We’ve come a long way baby, Plan B is OTC, but the fight wages on. Maybe I should pick up my knitting needles again.

IMG_20140327_170845_368

 

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