Archive for December, 2013

Happy New Year everyone! Tonight I will dress to the nines and attend yet another hospital gala, and believe you me I’ve seen many a silent night auction come and go. Someone will get falling down drunk, someone will bid on a puppy they’ll have to return in the new year, and someone will start singing Meatloaf’s Dashboard Light song with alacrity. Electric slide here we go again.

But this morning I’ll kick back and cogitate on a word – meme. What is a meme anyway? We’ve all heard it and let it roll right off the back of our heads like we know what it means. Well, according to dictionary.com it comes from the Greek meaning “mimic” as in imitating a certain behavior; more recently, it is a bow to biology and gene theory. Think of gene cells, how they mimic one another.


a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition and replication in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.


a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc.,that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way.
Medicine meet technology! There was a picture of Beyonce that became a meme; meaning it floated around the internet in different adaptations: Beyonce at a football game; at a WWF match etc. Just Google “meme” and her picture will appear.
But I love it when literary and pop culture collide to invent a meme. I happen to love Lena Dunham. The “Girls” creator is never afraid to show her body or try to explain the existential trip of 20 something women living in NYC. She is the present-day equivalent of Carrie Bradshaw’s “Sex and the City.” This year, the character who plays Dunham’s mother attended an academic conference and told her daughter, “I never thought I’d meet so many other women who feel the same way I do about Ann Patchett.”
And there it is – feminist fireworks! Ms Patchett, the owner of my favorite Nashville bookstore Parnassus and writer extraordinaire, is now a meme. A meme who spans the generations. In the past I thought of Ann Tyler as my meme (or maybe my muse?). Her writing spoke to me. Sometimes I’d have to pinch myself just to make sure I wasn’t caught up in one of her novels come to life.
So tonight let’s not list all the great and minor things of 2013. And let’s not try to predict the trends and memes of 2014. After all, it’s just one night in five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.  Let’s all take a deep breath, and stay in that electric slide moment. “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”  Unknown

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I’ve been thinking about giving. While driving through the Great Smokies, past cows and barns and more cows and barns on my way back to VA, I listened to This American Life podcast #514 “It’s the Thought That Counts.” http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/514/thought-that-counts But don’t we learn how to give by what we’ve received over the years?

When I was young, Christmas meant a special doll, one that talked or maybe wet itself. And as I grew older, a slip (remember those?) would invariably arrive in the mail from an elderly aunt in Washington. My foster Daddy Jim would always say he didn’t want anything for Christmas, that he had everything he needed in our little house in Victory Gardens. But Nell would make sure I gave him a pair of slippers and a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco.

Every day when he came home from work, Jim would have a present for me. Sometimes it was a tiny flower in his pocket, or maybe a piece of candy, but can you imagine, every. single. day! That was a hard act to follow for future suitors.

Some people can think only of themselves. We know these gifts, we open them trepidatiously. “What a beautiful book about art that you are interested in Uncle Sam.” Some people are pragmatic, like my aunt and her slip. “I really needed more socks and pajamas Aunt Helen.” Some people like to boast with their gifts, like the time my step father gave the Flapper a mink coat, “I’m speechless, how thoughtful.” But some people have a knack for gift-giving, like my niece Lisa.

She remembered something I had said in passing that must have resonated with her. Over the years I’ve made only a few close friends with each move. I’m not saying this is a good thing, in fact next year I should work on my friendship skills definitely. My motto has been it’s important to have a friend who knows where the spoons are in your kitchen.

And so Lisa sent me a gigantic spoon to hang in my kitchen! I smile each time I look at it.

In the past, I had searched endlessly for gifts that were actually made here in the US to send to Irish relatives, an almost impossible task. Something might be designed here, but chances are it was manufactured in Bangladesh. So like many, this season of endless giving has turned for me into some distorted, commercialized cartoon holiday. I avoid malls like the plague.

We Americans have so much in the grand scheme of things. I love it when the whole Secret Santa bit is employed to contain costs. Bob’s friend in Richmond passed out some papers to his relatives – only gifts for kids this year, which was always our style – the paper was to make a donation in the family’s name to the local food bank. Great idea Al!

So if you are planning on re-gifting or returning that salad bowl that doesn’t go with anything, take a minute to think about the thought that went into your gift as you trudge back to Target hoping that your credit and pin information is still safely tucked into their hardware. Are they telling you to eat healthy, or sending you a message to stop bringing them pie?

As the Stones famously said, you can’t always get what you want. As for me, I can’t wait till the Love Bug is old enough for a trip to NYC and the great American Girl Doll pilgrimage.  IMG_2349

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Dear Mama and Dada,

I understand more than you think. It’s the changing of the guard, and Grandma and Grandpa will be holding my juice for me and attending to my every need for a few more days while you guys go to those big white buildings in your white coats.

I’m going to miss Nana for sure, but please don’t worry about me. I’ll take care of things. I can bring them upstairs to play ball, drag out my blanket for a picnic with ALL the animals, especially Monkey, and take them for walks once it warms up to baby boot camp at the community center.

Please let them know that Nana lets me watch the Cat in the Hat on TV and we dance to the music. In fact, I’ll dance to anything they want to throw at me – Country, Rock, you name it. I’m here for the applause baby!

Oh and thank Grandma and Grandpa for all my presents! I love them. Actually, celebrating two holidays is spectacular! The latkes and cookie time should be every month in my opinion!

Lotsa love and big hugs and kisses,
Love Bug


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Christmas used to be tough for me. Once the kids left home, Bob continued to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas, and I was left to my druthers. Sometimes, a newly divorced friend might join me at the movies, but most times I was on my own to ponder the meaning of the universe. Now that the Bride has followed in her dad’s footsteps, she finds herself working on Christmas too. And lucky for me, I get to hang out with the Love Bug in Nashville, my own personal little Christmas elf.IMG_2317

Yesterday, she took me to the most amazing puppet show at the Nashville Public Library. http://www.nashvillescene.com/nashville/john-updikes-a-childs-calendar-at-the-library/Content?oid=1203840

Updike’s A Child’s Calendar is an illustrated collection of twelve poems describing a child’s life as the weather changes and the year goes by. This staging is the brainchild of Brian Hull, the Nashville Library’s director of children’s programming, who transforms Updike’s collection into a musical show populated entirely by child-sized puppets. Hull’s puppet fixation is part of a Nashville tradition dating back to 1938, when longtime library associate Tom Tichenor first began holding marionette shows at the main branch.

The puppeteers are dressed entirely in black while they manipulate an old man puppet and a young boy going through each magical month around a growing tree on stage. Birds fly overhead, and blossoms rain down from the sky. At one point a real boy tried crawling up on stage to catch a blossom, and the puppet motioned him away! The Love Bug danced and watched every move with wonder, her eyes open wide. I wanted to cry, with joy. Because this is one of those things we’ve forgotten as adults. The sheer delight of everyday life as seen through a child’s eyes. Here is what Updike had to say about January:

The river is
A frozen place
Held still beneath
The trees’ black lace.

The sky is low.
The wind is gray.
The radiator
Purrs all day.

Christmas holds hidden delights for everyone with children of a certain age. Some are watching a little elf who appears on a shelf every morning. He helps Santa keep track of every single child, naughty and nice. Some are going to see the Nutcracker for the very first time. And some are attending puppet shows and cuddling with their Nana. Instead of sugar plum fairies, grandparents galore are coming to visit!

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone! And tornado warnings or not, don’t forget that family comes first…and after that an egg nog latte helps. Cheers.

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If you’re not traveling by air this holiday season, or ever, this post is not for you.

But if you do find yourself squashing all your earthly belongings into one tiny carry-on, that you have to gate check anyway, all the while wondering if it’s worth it; standing behind a passenger in the security lane who “forgot” to pack her liquids separately; waiting while a person goes through the metal detector yet another time until he finds that nickel in his pocket. Line after line of  irate elders and squabbling children, like a Disneyland line to the outer limits of your sanity. Fear not. The airline industry is offering its fine, upstanding citizens a way around this mess.

It’s called Global Entry along with its caveat TSA Pre-Check! http://petergreenberg.com/2013/08/20/global-entry-vs-tsa-pre-check-which-is-worth-it/

Here’s the deal. If you manage to apply for this program online, which amounts to a criminal background check, you will be called in to your nearest international airport for a mini-inquisition with a TSA/Police?Immigration and Border Control-type guy. This week Bob and I made the cut. We drove two hours to Dulles and waited around a corridor along with other people awaiting their future – wary travelers like us mixed in with some who may or may not be allowed to enter the US. Tension was running high, then they called my name – Bob said he’d see me later.

The young man in uniform asked me to take a seat and look into the camera. There was no, “How was your drive?” “Nice day today isn’t it” I tried to smile at the round lens while handing him my passport and driver’s license. He got right to the point,

“Did you ever use a different last name?” I was ready for this, “Yes,” I replied, “I was married before for 4 years in 1969 and had a different last name.” I had to place my fingertips on a digital pad because I was being fingerprinted. “Not like the old days,” I said, then instantly regretted. “You know I had to be fingerprinted with ink back in the day…when I was teaching…” I was already starting to blush, feeling guilty for no reason.

“What’s this name?” he said, rather adamantly, ignoring my whole soliloquy. He was pointing out my maiden name, the one I was born with. Curses, I forgot about that one. And then, looking down at his computer, the ballistic questioning began:

“Have you ever been charged with a crime?” “No” Have you ever been arrested?” “No” But isn’t that the same thing I wondered.

“Have you ever had a DUI?” “NO”

“Ever got a speeding ticket?” “No” Finally he looks up, right into my eyes and says “Are you sure, you never got a speeding ticket?” Now I’m not so sure, have I? I must have gotten a speeding ticket at some time. “Well maybe I might have gotten a speeding ticket a long time ago, a very long time ago…”

I’m beginning to understand why people confess to crimes they never committed. As Bob and I were walking out of the airport I apologized for spoiling our chances at seamlessly going through security lines in the future. There will be no fancy fast lane for us; never having to take off our shoes, keeping our coats and scarves on forever more. Oh no, we were destined to line up like chattel. I was sure I’d flunked my test, ruined our chances at Global Entry.

Bob waiting/napping @ Dulles Airport

Bob waiting/napping @ Dulles Airport

Then Bob called me and said we’re in. Guess I’m not such a criminal after all?

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It’s still the same old story 
A fight for love and glory 
A case of do or die

Guess what? The world does NOT always welcome lovers, as Louis Armstrong so gallantly sang in Casablanca. Remember the 1st Grade boy who was charged with sexual harassment for kissing a girl? Thankfully that judgement was overturned http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/12/us/six-year-old-kissing-girl-suspension/

Well, in a week when we really should be looking critically at yet another school shooting, we have the case of an admitted “hugger” being suspended from his high school for a year for hugging his teacher. Yessir, in Georgia, a 17 year old boy who was 5 months away from graduating and going on to college with an athletic scholarship, has been forced to put his life on hold for a year.

Of course there are two sides to this story, and while I was sitting on a high school board back in NJ I heard all of them. I know that some hugs can hurt, I’ve actually had a rib crack from a friendly bear hug. And some hugs can be dismissive, as in one person is ready to forgive but you’re not quite there yet. Now we have the “inappropriate hug” which is open to interpretation.

But imho, the world can be divided into two camps – like Beatles or Stones? dogs or cats? –  huggers and non-huggers. Will the Love Bug escape her destiny? I’m afraid hugging will be inevitable in her case. IMG_2192

I sign many an email with the term, “Hugs!” I go in for a hug instead of a handshake most days. My kids are huggers, it’s almost genetic. We all know the stance of a non-hugger. Hands hang limp, body bends at the waist warily, head turns away. It’s like a sweaty palm in a perfunctory handshake, you wish you’d known they were non-huggers from the get go, but now it’s too late. You’re locked in an embrace with an automaton.

Sometimes a hug is all it takes. Like the time my next door neighbor’s house was burning down right around Christmas and I walked out into the night and found her, both of us shivering in our robes, and hugged her. She told me later how much she appreciated it and yet it wasn’t even pre-meditated, it was a reflexive reaction on my part. As that senior boy said about his teacher,

“She looked like she needed it.”

One of my earliest memories is of being kissed by a boy named Lloyd on the Kindergarten bus. It was a bit scary and thrilling all at the same time, which is why I remember it. What about you? Any early memories of that first kiss? Any inappropriate hug stories? Has zero tolerance become limitless ignorance? SIGH

And if you’d like to sign the petition to have the GA school board revisit such a calamitous disciplinary action for giving a hug to a teacher, here it is: http://www.change.org/petitions/gwinnett-county-public-schools-overturn-and-revisit-sam-mcnair-s-yearlong-suspension-for-hugging-a-teacher?share_id=RHbqsAXavU&utm_campaign=share_button_action_box&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

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I’d like to apologize in advance for flooding your mailbox with 2 holiday cards this year. But since I’ve never been one to check my emails constantly and reply immediately to anyone, I received this message from Shutterfly a day late and a dollar short: “We are writing to inform you of an error we have discovered with your recent Shutterfly card order.  When you placed your order, you selected Rounded Corners, Pearl Shimmer Cardstock, or both.  Unfortunately your order has shipped without those options.  Our print facilities are working around the clock to ship your corrected order as quickly as possible.”

I’d also like to apologize to the world for the news out of Texas this week. It seems that Judge Jean Boyd, an elected official who has said she will not seek another term on the bench, ordered a 16 year old drunk driver to a posh rehab facility in California for 6 months, followed by serving 10 years on parole. Well that’s it for him right? College dreams dashed, having to attend AA meetings and be randomly tested for drugs and alcohol until he turns 26. Poor thing. All for killing 4 people and paralyzing one friend, and leaving another in a coma.

I get the outrage about his sentence, but really people is this news? Maybe the term “affluenza” is new, although I’ve heard of it before. Every time a parent runs in to rescue a child from some disaster or another, that parent is saying, “Don’t worry Johnny, We’ve got your back.” Which translates to, “Anything you do, anything at all, has no consequences whatsoever.” A parent from the Country Day School on our peninsula in NJ (called a “tony” suburb by many where brokers, bankers and hedge funders live in Stanford White clapboard mansions by the sea) once told me a story.

Her friend’s child was about to attend a pricey boarding school. The Day School stopped at 8th grade, so many students were shipped off like the British system to fend for themselves at exclusive places like St Andrews or Miss Porters. The mom with lots of time on her hands decided to purchase a condo in the same town in order to “help” that child cope with things… affluenza is when helicopter, or severe attachment parenting goes ballistic.

Extreme wealth is like adding steroids to a cocktail of adolescent rebellion. Let’s see, how can we upset our perfect parents? Shall we dress in black and cut ourselves? Maybe driving drunk will get their attention? Who knew that rehabilitating rich kids is a billion dollar industry, and unfortunately growing? When your kid can’t make it at a regular old boarding school, there’s always Rocky Mountain Academy , a therapeutic boarding school in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The rules are strict, and the punishment is old-school hippie-based tough emotional love. Boot camps, where troubled teens face harsh treatment in the desert, and sometimes die, are for the middle-class I guess.  http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2002/1014/140.html

And jail time for a juvenile offender is for the poor.

Let’s save our holiday outrage for the real crime – for the children living in poverty who make one mistake and end up in the revolving door of foster care and prison because their parents or guardians cannot afford the lawyers with a “poorfluenza” defense. For the 200,00 children, some as young as 13, who have been charged as adults in our American justice system. http://www.eji.org/childrenprison I have no sympathy at all for drunk drivers, my own foster care was a direct result of someone’s carelessness. But I cannot deny a child of any race or economic circumstance a second chance.

At our Richmond Christmas party last night, I met a rescue border collie. Lexey was starting a new life with a loving family after spending years as a service dog. While petting her, I listened to some of our Big Chill group reminisce about their close calls with the law. I’ll spare you the details, but we all grew up to be tax-paying citizens. photo


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1993 A farm in PA

1993 A farm in PA

When I first joined Facebook, I thought it was a bunch of solipsistic nonsense, and I said so, all the while encouraging my friends to join. Why? Because for me, the youngest of 6 children to be raised as an only child, it seemed prudent. My foster mother didn’t know how to drive and she was old enough to be my grandmother – which in those days was really old! I was marooned, on top of a hill in Victory Gardens after the war, and to top it off I was sent to Catholic school.

Facebook was a way for me to reconnect; to see all the new baby cousins, to catch up with old friends, to stay in touch with our French summer student. Plus, it could interface with my blog!

Yet something was amiss. My friends noticed it too. And it’s not just people accounting for every minute of their day, or all the targeted ads popping up. It was all this preening in front of a camera, young people changing their profile pictures like you would change your clothes. The nuns would not have approved. And yet, here we are at the end of 2013, and President Obama is taking a “selfie” with David Cameron and Denmark’s Prime Minister, Helle Thorning Schmidt: http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/12/10/250027162/to-thy-own-selfie-be-true-but-not-in-all-places-at-all-times

Now who am I to say where one should take a selfie? After all, even our Person of the Year, the dear Pope Francis himself, allowed his selfie to be taken with a trio of Italian teenagers. He said he wanted to meet with them “…for selfish reasons … because you have in your heart a promise of hope.You are bearers of hope. You, in fact, live in the present, but are looking at the future. You are the protagonists of the future, artisans of the future,” the pope told the pilgrims.

“Make the future with beauty, with goodness and truth…Have courage. Go forward. Make noise.”

Well I certainly think it takes courage to attempt to take a selfie and post it anywhere on social media! Once I learned to actually push that little circular button to turn the lens around in my iPhone, I had to practice . Before, I might have snapped a picture in a mirror. Now I must hold the phone at arm’s length and attempt to push the button with the same hand – all the while getting into the “right” light and avoiding a double chin! Still a nearly impossible task.

As we are about to close 2013 and perhaps leave the word “selfie” on the scrap heap of history, I hope we can all laugh at my family selfies – a tasteful tutorial from the kids, and my feeble attempts at last weekend’s hospital party. OH, and at the top of this post is the latest profile picture for Facebook, which brings us into the 1990s with my Pretty Woman polka dot dress.

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There was a wonderful South African musician at the TEDx conference we attended recently. He talked about “Ubuntu” (pronounced “oo-boon-too”) and then he played a song about it; about how it is hard to translate from the Swahili, that it means much more than kindness. It encompasses reconciliation, forgiveness, and compassion. And when I think about it, it is something akin to that indescribable something that makes someone go out of their way for another, to treat a stranger like a family member. Unlike some people who are all about themselves – their needs and desires – a person with the spirit of Ubuntu is connected to humanity, writ large.

On this day when South Africa buries one its greatest leaders, Nelson Mandela who is the personification of Ubuntu, it seems only right to pause and think (or write) about it:

Lately, Bob has had to take my 4-wheel drive CRV to the hospital because of the snow and “wintry mix” weather we’re experiencing. Feeling a bit forlorn encased in ice on our hill,  I was lucky to catch the tail-end of a Morning Joe interview with the daughter of our Secretary of State, Dr Vanessa Kerry. Here is a woman from MA who also practices her life with the Ubuntu spirit.

A practicing physician and new mother, Dr Kerry managed to create a bold new system with the Peace Corps to make physician/provider training in developing countries sustainable. She started Seed Global Health – “..an innovative public-private partnership to place nurses, physicians and other health professionals as adjunct faculty in medical or nursing schools overseas in March 2012.” http://seedglobalhealth.org

Instead of joining a 2 week mission to treat patients in Uganda for instance in your specialty, something she called a “band-aid” in the scheme of things, young doctors can pledge a year of their time training another doctor, who will go on to train 10 more doctors, etc. And the caveat is that her non-profit will help defray the student loans most physicians have accumulated. Absolutely an ingenious idea! Health care in 57 countries suffers from a crucial shortage of approximately 2.4 million doctors , nurses and midwives.

We have a governmental agency in this country that is similar to Seed called the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). Instead of training other doctors, these practitioners provide direct care to over 9 million underserved patients in America. I had heard of young physicians working in disadvantaged areas in order to have their debt relieved – mostly primary care practitioners in Native American territories. But their website lists rural clinics in MA, MN and HI as well! https://nhsc.hrsa.gov/index.html

May the spirit of Ubuntu bless us all this holiday season. Let’s not quibble over greetings like Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Happy Holidays, or worry about who’s stealing what celebration from whom. We are all God’s children. And even if you don’t believe in God, just smile and say “Same to You!” My card this year says “Merry Everything” and I mean it.


And thank you Shutterfly, you rule!


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Over my morning cup of Keurig, I was trying to download an App. Redlaser “Shop Save Relax” is one of those barcode scanners for your smart phone, except instead of telling you how many calories or Weight Watcher points are in a serving of yogurt, this App will scan just about anything you want to buy and instantly compare prices!

Remember the days when you’d actually lift up a heavy/attached/to/the/wall phone and call a store to check if they had something in stock? Then you might timidly ask what the price is, only to be told they can’t tell you “over the phone” you’d have to get in your car and come on down to said store and find out?! Now you can see exactly who has the best price for whatever you scan, instore or online, and if that store happens to price-match, just call the manager over and voila. Instant discount.

My iPhone is now telling me that I succeeded in downloading Redlaser! It took awhile because everybody else watching Savannah Guthrie get schooled in Apps wanted this free marvel too. Why are these things free anyway? Somebody must be getting something out of this don’t you think – like my location, my likes and dislikes, my soul? But back to Thanksgiving week.

Pepe de Havana

Pepe de Havana

At one point I looked around and realized the younger generation was sharing their favorite Apps with us, and we were mixing it up too.

The Rocker and Ms Cait had us all playing Head’s Up! It’s kind of like Charades and Password; Ellen DeGeneres has been marketing it recently and she must be getting a cut because you have to pay for this one. It was pretty hysterical. Then I told Al about Hipstamatic, and before you knew it, we were all deeply downloading together!

In our younger days on Holden Beach we played the Mud Bowl, a touch football game that was usually played after a downpour for its comic relief. We played Pictionary and Trivial Pursuits. Sometimes, we’d all bring a favorite song to play and collectively try to guess who had picked it out; my Joni Mitchell songs were dead giveaways. I miss the music. We didn’t have any guitars on this trip so Sweet Judy Blue Eyes took a back seat to honky-tonks on Duval Street. But I’d sing my heart out to the Love Bug, IMG_2260and the Groom’s iPhone played Spotify for us.

The big tech news is that iPhones will be coming to China. http://www.knowyourmobile.com/apple/china-mobile/21528/apple-joins-worlds-biggest-network  It’s almost like Nixon! Billions of new App users. Last night via Netflix I watched the end of the first season of House of Cards on my Apple TV. I am seriously hooked on this political drama. A character was speaking Chinese into his smart phone in the middle of the night. Apparently, as much as the Pope would like us to shun capitalism, we want our color TVs Application Software.

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