Archive for March, 2012

Thank you to my friend Polli for uploading this article onto her Facebook newsfeed this morning:

Now you have to know Polli. She’s one of those moms with 6 kids and a clean kitchen. I could never figure out how she did it. Plus, she threw great parties and was the most welcoming hostess ever. The neighborhood adored her, and for some reason, she decided to befriend me. I was ecstatic to help her with flower arrangements for beach weddings and to call on her at anytime for parenting advice. I remember distinctly complaining about not being able to get the Rocker up for school, despite 3 alarm clocks, and she matter-of-factly said, “If he misses the bus, he walks.” Brilliant. I remember using this same philosophy many times. My motto was ‘to learn responsibility, you must give them some responsibility.’ Was I a bad parent? And BTW, we lived about a half mile down a dead-end street and the kids had to ride their bikes to the main drag to get the school bus. At some adolescent point – that being before they got a driver’s license – riding bikes was just not cool. But no parent drove their kids to the bus stop or waited for their return, unless it was sleeting freezing rain. I wonder if they are doing that now?

And I wonder, would I allow my 9 year old to ride the subway? Well since I can’t fathom the NY subway system myself, probably not. But if we lived in NY, maybe? The Bride was once reminiscing to a friend and said that I had told her never to smile at anyone. Stunned, I said I did no such thing. Then she reminded me of a trip by train into NYC. Walking through Penn Station, some seedy looking guys at a pizzeria were smiling and waving at her. Then I saw my eleven year old daughter smiling right back. Indeed, I grabbed her hand and told her NEVER to do that again! It was the start of suburban parenting meets city gorilla parenting, we needed to teach our daughters – don’t dawdle, walk straight ahead, don’t look up at skyscrapers, don’t act like a tourist, etc etc… I was not a Tiger Mom, and I tried not to be a Helicopter Mom, but we all want to know if we did a good job at parenting. Sometimes we get to ask them what they thought, and now on the eve of becoming a grandparent myself, I’m starting to reflect.

I did send the Bride at sixteen with her Maid of Honor and BFF to Paris alone one summer. Here they are hamming it up at the wedding.

You see their Duke University group was stranded at the Raleigh-Durham airport by a sudden storm, so they would miss their Kennedy connection. There we were, waiting at Kennedy in NY, and the BFF’s Mom and I made the executive decision that the girls were old enough to fend for themselves. And they did, riding the Metro, finding their housing, and spending one of the best weekends of their young lives in Paris unsupervised (all pre-cell phone). It’s a good thing nobody from the Today show called me! I might have been drummed out of the Corps of Good Parents.

Back to the recalcitrant Rocker. He was taking a sailing course at about age 9 in the land of Two Rivers, and one day they had to swamp the boat and get back in. I wrote about it in the newspaper. I said sometimes boats sink. Because that’s what parenting is, teaching our kids how to survive until they have their own IRA. How to be resilient, and move forward no matter what obstacle they may encounter. How to get themselves up and ready for school. How to get home on a subway, by themselves.

Here’s my advice to new parents – stop swaddling your children in cotton wool. The goal is to get them out of the house eventually, not to chew their food for them. Hello! And to that end, here are a couple of very good references:
Bringing Up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel
“Free Range Kids” Blog by Lenore Skenazy

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How many of you are the parents of boys? When the Rocker was born, Bob inexplicably started calling him “Sport” and sailing him through the air as if to say, ‘tough it out, you’re a boy!’ When my baby boy turned ten, he refused to smile for pictures anymore. For the life of me, I couldn’t get him to show his pearly whites. I was also informed he would never cry at a movie; “Never,” I said? Nope. Pre-adolescent boys are trying to figure out what it means to be a man, and with the right guidance, most grow into kind and caring, tax-paying adults who will dutifully smile for the camera and change their own baby’s diaper.

Trayvon Martin will never get that chance. He went out for some Skittles and got shot point blank in the chest. There are too many unanswered questions about this FL case: why was he tagged a John Doe when the ME knew his name and address; what was the “conflict” that made the initial prosecutor step down, and why did he ignore the lead homicide investigator who recommended that his killer, George Zimmerman, be charged with manslaughter that night; who leaked Martin’s school records;

…and most importantly why on the day of the killing, when the Sanford FL Police formally requested that the prosecutor charge Zimmerman, did the then Chief of Police, Bill Lee, state publicly that there was no “probable cause” to arrest or charge him. We can see in the newly released video, that Zimmerman, in handcuffs, is not in any distress and shows no bruising.

We all, and I mean all Americans black, white and brown, teach our teenage boys different variations of the same theme – stay safe, carry condoms, and please don’t jump off the roof cause your buddy did it. Yes, be respectful of police authority. One difference in our affluent NJ community was a history teacher, who was also a lawyer, and told her students that when they are stopped by the police – and believe me the Rocker was always getting stopped by the police – and asked if they could conduct a search of your car, that you had the right to ask if they had “probable cause.”

This is the Rocker at 17, post-dreadlocks and pre-Prom in our garage, or should I say his band’s music studio. He did have occasion to ask the police in our small town those two magic words. Because being stopped when your tail light was out, or your inspection sticker was overdue, or you were wearing a hoodie was never a good enough reason to search your car.

And carrying Skittles with your hand in your waistband is not probable cause for killing a teenage boy.

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Excuse me for waxing constitutional, but I’m one of those wild Americans who fought for Health Insurance Reform – meaning I signed petitions,marched and asked perfect strangers on the historic downtown mall to sign petitions, and regaled anyone I knew with its necessity. Granted, we progressives didn’t get everything we wanted, but leave it to VA to bring one of the first constitutional challenges to bear on the Affordable Care Act. My in-Laws arrived just in time to hear my complaints, and they left this morning while the Supreme Court continues to hear their own arguments.

So what better place to bring Ada and Hudson than to the birthplace of the Constitution itself! This living, breathing document first began life in James Madison’s mind right here in Orange, VA at Montpelier. Our fourth President was born in the foothills of the Blue Ridge but studied at Princeton (then called The College of New Jersey). He spoke and read many languages, including Greek and Hebrew and studied the history of the first Scottish Parliament from 1297. Most have heard of his beautiful wife, Dolley, but by all accounts his intellect and capacity for the politics of persuasion simply put, forged those 13 states into a democracy. Well, maybe Dolley’s idea to throw open the doors of the White House every Wednesday night to everyone who wanted to catch the ear of the President helped!

Now the question the Justices must answer is whether Congress has the power to require “almost” all Americans to secure health insurance or pay a penalty. The penalty for those intransigent enough to not acquire insurance would be payed to the IRS, so does that automatically make it a tax? Should Congress compel its people to purchase a product? All of us, at one time or another, will need some health care. Not all of us will need to purchase broccoli. We are required to buy car insurance when we drive a car, or pay a penalty. We are all driving our bodies through this life. All of us end up paying for those who cannot afford medical care anyway…for me, it hinges on our core American values. And I believe every American deserves health care, just like the rest of the civilized world!!

Madison wrote a document that was broad enough in scope to be amended when our country outgrew things, things like slavery. “The quest for a Bill of Rights helped to merge the two traditions of the Founders, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. After the adoption of the Bill of Rights, both camps were able to give their support to the new Constitution. The Bill of Rights provided the mortar that helped cement the new relationship between the states, the people, and their new national government.” In the First Amendment we read “…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” We did this 2 years ago. Now my son and daughter’s young friends can purchase health insurance. We cannot be denied insurance for a pre-existing condition. Don’t deny the American people this fundamental human right to health and wellness. Dolley would be very disappointed.

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Some tales just beg for retelling. Anita and I attended a Book Festival forum titled “Fiction: Retelling the Tales” which included Margot Livesey (The Flight of Gemma Hardy), Sharyn McCrumb (The Ballad of Tom Dooley; Ghost Riders), and Hillary Jordan (When She Woke). In some Jane Eyre was the starting point, but in “When She Woke” we are reminded of Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter. Politics and women’s bodies collide as they seem to do over centuries, and I bought the book about a woman named Hannah (like Hester) whose skin was dyed red because she had an abortion.

Then I woke this morning to a discussion about the new Tennessee ruling that will allow a science curriculum to include discussion of different theories on climate change and evolution. You got it. Evolution may be challenged by Tenn students who may want to talk about ‘creationism’ oh and maybe tell their teachers that the stork delivered them as Richard Dawkins so wryly put it. There is no room for real science in Tenn, the state that brought us the 1925 Monkey Trial; it’s a brazen retelling of the teacher, John Scopes, who was accused of violating the Butler Act. Yet again, teaching evolution in a public school is a dangerous business. And remember, they too want to brand publicize doctors’ names and women who seek abortion.


Anita and I left the Jefferson Library in 83 degree heat and saw a young woman sitting outside the frozen yogurt store. Her head was completely wrapped up in a fashionable plaid scarf so that only her eyes were visible. I thought about Sister Mary Claire who smacked me on the knees for chewing gum in mass, one of my oldest memories. At least I could see her mouth as she humiliated me. Then, believe it or not, I saw 3 very happy looking male monks, wrapped in white robes, holding pickets about the Affordable Care Act and Freedom of Religion! Maybe we do need to question our politicians more about religion. Hey Rick, do you really think you are drinking the blood of your saviour at mass? And Mitt, how do you feel about baptizing dead Holocaust victims?

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“Women’s rights are human rights.” Do you know who has made this the mantra of her life’s work? Well today, I looked out my windows at extremely dense fog, just barely glimpsing the evergreens that stand guard against the mountains. And as I walked upstairs to the aviary office, I began formulating today’s post in my mind about Cville’s glorious Festival of the Book; it began yesterday and the plan is to meet cousin Anita in town for an author’s program. Instead, Anita sent me an email with this link:


We all know Meryl can act, but she’s also a darn good public speaker. Sometimes it’s hard for an actor to play themselves. Witness Mitt doing laundry, trying to seem like everyman. But seeing the genuine love and admiration for our Secretary of State, hearing the praise and accolades of the women Hillary Clinton has touched, had a calming effect. Being totally ADD, I changed course from books to being real…and then back again. In the children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, the Skin Horse who was always truthful, explained to the Rabbit what Real really is: “Sometimes, when you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

Real means getting a country to care about fertility rates, and women’s reproductive health, while her own country is slowly and deliberately cutting away women’s rights state by state. Real means having the media focus on what you are wearing, or how your hairdo differs from last month, instead of her speech at the US Afghan Women’s Council where she stated: “Any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all. It is a figment that will not last.” The room burst into strong applause. Clinton admonished the Taliban for walking away from peace negotiations saying, “What the Taliban do is up to them.” She said it is their choice, in very much the same way our mothers might have said “I’m disappointed in your poor choice.”

On some days, the world gets foggy. On those days it’s good to know we have “The Real Deal” speaking for our great nation. Now, should Anita and I attend a reading by Award-winning foreign correspondent Kimberly Dozier from her memoir “Breathing the Fire: Fighting to Survive, and Get Back to the Fight?” Or a discussion with author Charles Flood on his book “Grant’s Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year?” How to survive a war, or how to win one? Of course I’d love to go to one about how not to start a war in the first place. It’s our decision.

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It’s official, the vernal equinox has arrived, and how do we know? Because Google tells us so with a happy doddle design by Marimekko. Known for its bright/big/bold prints, I happen to love this Finnish textile company. When the Rocker was 2 years old, I ordered blue and white sky fabric to make cloud curtains for his bedroom, desperately hoping that would help him to sleep through the night. And it did help, that and not being quite so desperate for sleep myself.

Two famous housewives are in the news lately. First there’s Nicolette Sheridan aka Edie Britt; her wrongful termination trial was thrown out of court. The jury was hung, so they quit in a life imitates art moment. Was she struck forcefully and intimidated then summarily fired by Marc Cherry, the creator of Desperate Housewives? Or was it all a playful swat, just a pattern of reckless hand gesturing that accidentally hit her up side the head after he had decided to kill her off anyway? We’ll never know, but chances are there will be a very nice settlement for Ms Sheridan.

Raising money is on the Spring to-do list of another hot TV mama. Eva Longoria has been named President Obama’s newest campaign co-chair; “Obama, for me, is the only one that understands that the success and the future of America is intricately tied to the success of the Hispanic community.” In the midst of celebrating her 37th birthday, Ms Longoria is also hoping to appeal to women voters.
Well Hallelujah!!

The latest attacks on women have seen New Hampshire Republicans putting forth a bill that would condone a doctor’s “right” to lie or withhold information on genetic abnormalities in a fetus from its mother. Kind of hard to believe isn’t it? Well of course it’s OK to sue for CP, but not for lying about a positive genetic test?!

And now for your further enjoyment, the great state of Tennessee has decided it would like to make the names of abortion providers – and the women who seek their services – public!
Honestly, sometimes I think the GOP would like to go back in time and just brand us with a letter. Come on ladies, lets all wear the big “S” on our arms and emblazoned on our shirts. If you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale in a while, it’s time to pick it up again. Here is my well worn copy, next to a picture of my Father’s family. He is sitting like the sun on a table, with his 4 sisters and a brother in orbit around him.

Celebrity star gazing is fun, but the trajectory of our democracy is in peril. Tonight the sun will begin to come back across our Blue Mountains and arrive at its other intersecting point in the middle of our ridgeline. We may be able to predict the sun’s path across the sky, but can we predict how we women will vote? Let’s not be despondent ladies, let’s organize!

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Who’s Your Daddy?

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When I was a low level reporter, I covered school board and town hall meetings. I reported about a ban on feeding migratory birds that raised a ruckus because it meant our kids could no longer feed the ducks. I gushed over one too many holiday home and garden tours. Until I reached a point in 2001, when I said, “No more.” We attended the Bride’s college graduation and threw her a celebratory clambake in our backyard that Spring. And that Fall, I stood at our town’s 9/11 memorial service, (we lost 13 and the town across the river lost 37 people) totally numb and in shock, thinking at least I was spared from writing about this because, “There are no words.”

Dana Priest is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Washington Post and she was a keynote speaker at our new town’s Miller Center. If you missed the part where I explained the Miller Center, check it out on the blogroll in the right margin. Priest has gone where most men fear to tread, deep into the heart of our military-intelligence complex to try and explain how we currently find ourselves fighting a War on Terror, and just what that means. It is humbling to listen to her speak. Her book is titled, “Top Secret America” and her take away? “We have too much redundancy and waste in our intelligence community.”

This woman did her homework; she started counting the secret government agencies (about 1,300), planes that flew rendition prisoners around the world to secret prisons, private intel companies (about 1,900), and people with top secret clearance in this country. Guess how many? 860,000 people – “…that’s about 2.5 times the size of the District of Columbia itself…The capital of Top Secret America is located around the National Security Agency, which is about 35 miles north of Washington, D.C.” Every year, starting in 2002, top secret agencies would more than double in size and produce 50,000 intelligence reports each year! That number just boggled my mind!

Before CIA Director Leon Panetta flew to Afghanistan to meet with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai about the latest atrocity committed over the weekend when an American soldier randomly killed civilians, he was preparing his budget. In an interview with The Post, Panetta said that he’s begun “…mapping out a five-year plan for his agency because the levels of spending since 9/11 are not sustainable. Particularly with these deficits, we’re going to hit the wall. I want to be prepared for that,” he said. “Frankly, I think everyone in intelligence ought to be doing that.”

But how can we be prepared for some clerk throwing books into an incinerator? How can we anticipate a soldier running amok? Investigative reporters like Priest are invaluable to a free and open society. She heard that she had, “…no need to know,” about her subjects too many times to count. But she persisted. At such a critical time in history, I’m planning on reading this book. Are you old enough to remember when women could only write housekeeping copy for newspapers?

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“It’s Springtime and birds do sing,” is a line from an old Shakespearean song and boy are they singing this morning. It seems to me they are heralding in Spring Cleaning; that age old ritual we all learned and promptly forgot in the midst of all-weather fabrics. Once upon a time there were slipcovers to change, curtains and blinds to wash, rugs to be beaten or shampooed; all along with a veritable bevy of mind-numbing chores to keep us busy. Quick, to the ladders with Windex! It’s no wonder we love to watch Downton Abbey – all those hard working servants, seamlessly in the background, keeping the manse in tip top shape. But now?

Not so much. We modern day homemakers have Dyson vacuums and Jetson-like self-cleaning ovens to make our lives easier. Still there is something in the air that makes us want to shake off the Winter blues and throw open our doors to sunshine and stink bugs. Maybe not the bugs. What’s an empty nester to do? No more stinky boy gym bags to disinfect. No need to upend drawers full of sweaters and woolen socks to pack away in cedar closets. That’s it! Organize your closets!! It’s amazing how cluttered a closet can get in one little year. And if that’s too overwhelming a task, start small.

Kaizen baby! The Japanese approach of using “small steps” to attack a bigger issue was first implemented for factory workers, probably at Toyota. It roughly translates to “continuous slow improvement.” I learned about it at a Canyon Ranch lecture eons ago. Let’s say your goal is to take better care of your teeth. You don’t say to yourself, “I’m going to brush after every meal and floss every night.” You start small, maybe saying “Tonight I will floss one tooth.” Then gradually you will accomplish your mission.

So yesterday I ordered a truckload of mulch for Bob, lucky man! And then I set about cleaning and organizing the space between our 2 sinks. It had become a pile of rarely used make-up, hair rollers, discarded travel samples, and anti-aging creams and contraptions. I opened the window and lit a clean laundry scented candle. And buried beneath the clutter I found a picture of me in a bathing suit in Sea Bright, NJ at forty. And now I have my mission!

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Recently Mother Nature sent a tornado roaring through the Bride’s city and then dumped 8 inches of unexpected snow on us. In the midst of all this, hunkered down in the basement with her dogs and laptop, my lovely daughter thought she’d send me an invitation to join Pinterest. Without thinking, without knowing exactly what it was I was doing, I said “Sure!” and clicked OK! Instead of writing, or drawing a bath for stress relief, I was trapped by snow in my study and started Pinning away…

All of a sudden I had 33 followers, most of whom I don’t know, and 25 people “repinned” a picture I tacked onto my virtual bulletin board of a lap pool; this means they copied it into one of their Boards. What is Pinterest you might ask? Well I’m sure whoever invented it is going to make a bundle for one thing. It’s a platform that let’s you tack up pictures you find online (not from Facebook mind you) under “Boards” that you can create and rearrange at will. Reminds me of those collages kids make in middle school on poster board. For instance, my lap pool was under a Board I called “To Build or Not to Build.” Look at people’s Boards and you get a pretty good idea of what makes them tick. Attention Dr Jim, my Psychologist brother. People are Pinning pining for lap pools, puppies and travel spots. They are posting pictures of food they either want to make or have made. The Rocker’s band (Parlor Mob is on tour now – http://www.theparlormob.com/tourdates) asked their fans if they should join Pinterest. Overwhelming answer, “NO,” make music please.

So astute! Another great way to waste your time alone, in front of a computer. And yet, it has become a guilty pleasure. Here is where you can yearn for something, express your creative self, find like-minded, creepy strangers? But the way I think of it is the way the Flapper would cut out pictures and hang them on the refrigerator. She was a big Norman Vincent Peale gal. If you just visualize something, your mind will make it happen. The yin and yang of build it, and they will come.

Whoa! Someone just “repinned” my picture of an Oak Bluff’s carousel horse. This was under my “Favorite Things” Board. It is the oldest, still standing carousel in the US on Martha’s Vineyard, and my kids loved it when they were little. I wonder if the person repinning knows anything about it, or if she just likes the picture? I made a new Board today called “Smart Women” cause I was tired of the sexist tilt our country is experiencing and seeing all these stick skinny or glam celebrity pictures on other Boards.

Who benefits? Probably it’s free ads for some and just fun for others. My favorite shoe store Scarpa


is doing their philanthropic thing this week – bring in your gently used shoes to donate in exchange for a discount on their designer duds: http://www.thinkscarpa.com/blog/ Totally love this idea. I have a few Scarpa Pins on a “Fashionish” Board. Can you tell why?

My Closet

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