Archive for February, 2014

Tis the season for whale watching, and so our family has gathered here in Mexico to bear witness. Humpbacks have returned from the north to mate and give birth in warm water. They are showing off their skills like proper Olympians; breaching the water to turn and flip over on their backs like circus aerialists in the Sea of Cortez. And even though we can see their fins and spouts from the terrace in our resort, yesterday we boarded two boats to get up close and personal.

I heard one before I saw it. The sound is like an elephant underwater when it surfaces to breathe and trumpet its arrival. We had a baby following our boat and the mama was underneath. It would surface and flip its fin at us as if to say, “Hey guys, want to play?” The marine biologist on the boat gave us a crash course in whale life. Babies weigh about 2,000 lbs and are 12 ft long and put on about a hundred pounds a day nursing! Adults can live 60 years and weigh up to 30 tons. Our baby, she told us, was born last month.

Just when I was about to say we had yet to see a breach – when the whale propels its entire body out of the water – it happened. A bull, most likely the daddy, erupted from the surface and took everyone’s breath away. The show continued with the mama flipping her tail at us.

It was thrilling! Time stood still. Such beautiful, ancient mariners, a paradox of evolution, underwater mammals who must breathe air every 30 minutes, who jump toward the sun in their mating rituals were swimming alongside us.

Ada had never seen whales in their natural habitat, and neither had I. Thank you Ada Flora, for bringing us all here.


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You know that saying, “It’s not about the destination it’s the journey.” Bob and I travel well together. We’ve learned to pack light. And this time, for some odd reason, I was off by a day; all packed and ready to go a day early. This is a good trick for future flights, just fool yourself into thinking you’re leaving tomorrow. Try not to let anyone disabuse you of the facts or your folly.

It was still dark, the sun was getting ready to rise. We were just waiting for our first flight when Bob said, “Look I think that’s Kath over there!” Now I am a ‘mind my own business type of traveler’ and Bob is more of a ‘let’s see who and what everybody else is doing’ type of traveler. So I looked over at the cute blonde he was referring to and said, “That can’t be Kath, she’s all alone – no baby Maze, no husband Matt.”

Then I went back to checking on all the important news in my Facebook feed. And there she was, Kath our famous Cville food blogger with a post of her yellow bag and how little she has to carry without baby in tow. I glanced over and sure enough, it was Kath sitting next to a yellow bag in real life and simultaneously seconds ago in digital life.

She is so sweet. And we chatted up our trips – hers to a dairy conference (first time sans baby), and ours to a 90th birthday celebration for Ada with the entire clan. Yes we are all 19 people arriving at the same place at the same time to watch some amazing wildlife and fete one incredible MIL. The same woman who told me 34 years ago she would always be on my side!

We’re on the second leg of our flight after meeting some good friends in Charlotte. The Love Bug and crew are in transit, after sending me some super airport pictures. Nashville airport is like Disneyland for kids. I’m going to leave our destination up to your imagination, but suffice it to say, this journey continues to surprise me!



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On a morning when most of the news involves the ecstasy of Russian Olympics and the agony of its bordering state, Ukraine (where the city of Kiev is about to implode), the ratio of 1:5 is what sticks in my craw. According to the White House, one in five women in college will be raped. I don’t know about you, but I found this to be rather alarming.

Equally infuriating is that one in three teenage relationships has experienced dating violence. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26263171

Our little town has been singled out recently for two contradictory things: 1) Charlottesville has been voted the second most “Friendliest” small city in America http://www.movoto.com/blog/top-ten/friendliest-small-cities/; and 2) the One Love Foundation has developed a new App to help students and their friends assess their level of dating danger http://www.joinonelove.org.

Just weeks before her graduation from UVA in 2010, lacrosse player Yeardley Love was killed by her ex-boyfriend. Her mother and sister have started the One Love Foundation in order to address dating violence and educate students about the signs and symptoms of a relationship on the brink of chaos.

The “One” represents the number Yeardley wore on her jersey during her high school and college lacrosse career. The number has since been retired by the University of Virginia in her memory.

The Bride volunteered at a rape crisis center on her Duke campus. And I’ve just found out that my cousin Anita, in Richmond is being trained as a volunteer advocate for rape and abuse cases in her local hospital’s Emergency Department. I was surprised at my immediate reaction to this news; I was proud of her at once, while knowing deep down I could never do it.

It pains me to admit it, but I know I would want the women to immediately leave their abuser, to get a restraining order, to go into the witness protection program if need be and move to Arizona. I’d buy the plane ticket! This is most likely the same reason I could never see myself becoming a psychologist, like my MIL Ada or my brother Dr Jim, it’s just not in my DNA to suffer for days and weeks and years on end vicariously with patients.

It’s not that I don’t feel compassion for the abused, but I would have trouble feeling empathy. I cringed when I wrote this, so I had to look up the word – empathy “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” And I guess it’s true, because I myself would be the first one out the door if a man ever tried to hit or rape me, I can’t really identify with women who stay. I learned to love from my foster father Jim Mahon, and it never included a raised hand or a harsh word.

And I get that the abuse comes on slowly, that the abuser is so remorseful and kind after the incident and soothes his victim into thinking it will never happen again; he just has to stop drinking so much or she just has to make his eggs a certain way. I know it’s a slow insidious dance of death – if not physical, an emotional disconnect from her family and friends that strangles any hope of salvation.

I wonder if an App can help a victim understand she is in danger, or can it help one of her friends in our friendly city to alert her parents or a counselor? If it can, then I applaud One Love, which means more than just a number on a jersey. If we never learn to cherish and love ourselves, we can never expect others to do the same.


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Driveway before the rain

Driveway before the rain

Sometimes we get the juiciest bits of information as an aside. Most journalists know this, we get the agenda to the meeting, but it’s in the stuff we hear in the hallway where we will sometimes find the true story. Or at least, an alternate story. This is why I will always and forever love secretaries; (whoops, the Bride called here) insert – because they knew where the bodies were buried!

Take for instance the latest edition of “This American Life” with Ira Glass. The Bride and Groom happened to hear him speak at the Ryman over the weekend, and coincidentally I caught his latest show in the car. Normally  I’ll catch up with Ira on his older podcasts while driving to Nashville, rarely am I listening live stream. But there I was, left listening the other night in my driveway to “Except for That One Thing!” #518

I was hooked right away. A young couple buy their first home in New England – Check! Bob and I bought our first home in Windsor, MA. They were trying to furnish it by going to auctions, because of course there were no real furniture stores or malls – Check! She got carried away with raising her paddle and put them into debt. I used to go to estate sales and get so frustrated because dealers would outbid me and then try to sell to me afterwards, making a slight profit. What happens next, when she finds the perfect dining room table on eBay, will surprise and delight you. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/518/except-for-that-one-thing

And this is what Glass does so well with radio. We are better able to identify with someone we cannot see.  Judgement is suspended. Their story becomes our story. He manages to find that edge, where reality and humor can border on tragedy, that middle place where we find ourselves most days.

The place between arcane and insane.

Yesterday, I was visiting with my Richmond cousins and was almost trapped in the mud luge also known as my 1,000+ ft driveway when I returned home at twilight. Tires were spinning and my CRV was churning a mighty brown spray. Just a few short days ago Bob and I had sprinkled salt and sand down our steepest hill after the plow had scooped up most of the gravel and snow. I had just heard about my MIL’s weekend travails, cousins and friends sliding off her snow and ice-packed driveway sideways into the woods. A comedy of errors. And as I sit in my aviary listening to the slow and steady drip of snow melting off the roof, I thought of a new episode for This American Life –  “Life is a Driveway.” https://soundcloud.com/tadpoles-shouldnt-drive/rascal-flatts-life-is-a-highway

This is how Ms Bean feels about winter

This is how Ms Bean feels about winter

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What d’ya know! We actually did get a foot and a half of snow just in time for Valentine’s Day, and the next day it was sunny and melting. Unfortunately, I gave away my beloved cross country skis a long time ago, the pair I had kept in a sacred shrine in a NJ garage. In the Berkshires, I would just strap them on and take off into the trails behind our farmhouse at the edge of a bird sanctuary. Eventually, I gave up hope. We just never got enough snow at the Shore to matter, and I figured that moving to VA would be the end of my snow sporting days. Little did I know.

We do have a small ski resort here in Central VA. Really, I was surprised too. Wintergreen is where some people will go for the weekend with their kids and snowshoes and skates. It’s one county over, and a few miles higher in elevation, a short car ride although we’ve never been. I guess when you come from a landscape that was filled with snow and winter activities, the idea of actually paying for fun in the snow – snow that was mostly manufactured anyway – just wasn’t the same. And let’s face it, our knees are a bit rusty too. Still, watching athletes compete in Sochi…

I have to ask, what makes somebody want to hurtle themselves down an icy track at 60 miles per hour, face-down on a sled the size of an old iPad? The Skeleton, kinda crazy right? But it was one of those events, like car accidents, you can’t seem to stop watching. And the US beating Russia in Ice Hockey, brilliant! But Figure Skating left me switching over to House of Cards on Netflix. Now that was a rush, holey moley. Frank Underwood is the newest Soprano-like villain; a man you love to hate.  

I celebrated Valentine’s Day last night with my man, since he was working on Cupid’s night. He shoveled a path to the grill and we had an amazing dinner; some surf and turf, some cauliflower gobi with sourdough bread and of course Ben and Jerry played a supporting role at the end. We Virginians also celebrated a major victory in marriage equality. Our 2006 ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a woman judge on Valentine’s eve: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2014/02/virginia-same-sex-marriage-ban-ruled-unconstitutional.html For a state that was supposed to be “For Lovers” and made its name in history by finally ruling that interracial marriage was in fact, constitutional, it was poetic justice.

Judge Allen began her opinion by quoting Mildred Loving, the plaintiff in the famous Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which declared bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional, and went on to quote Abraham Lincoln, who said, “It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just … the same thing—fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.” She then applied his message to same-sex couples: “The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court’s power, they and all others shall have.”  

Thank you Judge Arenda Allen! VA joins the progressive march to freedom for lovers everywhere. Proving it’s not who you sleep with, but the slow, sleepwalking pace of justice that will win in the end. So there you go Putin.  



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This post is early because chances are I’ll be buried in snow tomorrow, and our generator only powers the heat and the lights in the main part of the house. Which means my office will be down and wi-fi will be out.

Forecasters are predicting another “historic” snowstorm for VA. Like the kind we had the year after we moved into this mountain abode.

But this time Bob is home; he hasn’t camped out at the hospital and left me alone for days on end. When we lived in the Berkshires and the kids were little he did shift work, so he was home a lot. Which was good since we had to feed our woodstove all the time, especially when a Nor’easter hit and dumped 2 feet of snow in one fell swoop. I remember when the VA contractor asked us if we wanted wood burning or gas fireplaces in this little house, and we looked at each other and said “Gas” simultaneously. Bob is sure he wrecked his shoulders cutting and stacking many piles of wood on Windsor mountain back in the day.

I’ve heard there’s a shortage of snow boots in the North East. If I didn’t get the kids their boots and snow suits and mittens and hats in August, I was out of luck. We couldn’t order online in the 80’s, all we could do was go down to the main street in Pittsfield, MA and search by hand. We used to have ice skating Valentine’s parties on our pond, it was expected, this snow and ice. New Englanders are always prepared. Kids built snow forts while they waited for the school bus. We were a hardier crew. Or is it just my memory? Am I starting to sound like that old timer who walked 20 miles to school, through rain and snow and ice?

The snow has just started and I’ve got to finish some laundry and get dinner under way. Hope all of you stay warm and safe over the next few days.

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The Bride in the Berkshires

The Bride in the Berkshires

The Love Bug broke her arm over the weekend. She was jumping on the couch, apparently practicing her basketball skills after seeing her first live, basketball game. The doctors did what they always do, they discussed it among themselves and then I got to hear about it, in the best possible light. It’s only a little “buckle” fracture, she’ll probably only need a splint, what’s for dinner?

The Groom is a man after my own heart. Instead of letting his Bride take their tumbling toddler into the ER and splint her – why is it all emergencies happen on the weekend? – he insisted they take her to “another doctor who is not the parent” for treatment. When mine were little, I’d let Bob look into their ears on occasion, but they saw our pediatrician for most things. What is that saying; “Physician heal thyself, or don’t even try and heal your family members or whatever?”

The Bride broke her arm the night before the first day of First Grade. I remember coming home to my little family trying to get out the door with her arm wrapped in magazines, a temporary Boy Scout-like splint. It’s one thing for your children to catch cold, but it’s an entire other thing when we parents realize that we sometimes have absolutely no control over our child at all times. For me it was finding out that the Bride needed to wear glasses at the age of 2!

How could that happen? I didn’t wear glasses and neither did Bob, we had 20/20 vision. But I’d been noticing my little girl’s eyes were asymmetrical. I thought she had an ocular muscle problem and brought her to see an Ophthalmologist. It turns out she was squinting in one eye because she had a severe astigmatism, in other words the world looked like a Dali painting on one side of her brain and normal on the other. If we hadn’t caught it as such a young age, she would have been that pirate Kindergartener wearing a patch with glasses to encourage her eye to see normally.

As it was, she wore a tiny pair of glasses with a band around the back of her curly blonde head for a year, until her cornea grew to correct the astigmatism. And like it or not, I felt like I had failed as a mother, if only my uterus held her in the upright position, maybe I shouldn’t have played racquetball? It felt like some part of my gene pool had failed me. Now I realize we are none of us perfect. That thinking we have a tabula rosa on our hands with a brand spanking new baby is idiotic, because that baby has all the genetic material of her parents, and her parents’ parents, and back through the ages.

Temperament is ingrained. They will or will not develop allergies; they might confuse letters. They will or will not jump into the water, they will or will not climb that tree and fall out. Some children hesitate, and some take on the world like a mini Evil Knievel. Some, like the Rocker, will run straight into the ocean or take the ski lift to the top of a mountain, and leave his family in his wake. And I must admit, the Love Bug seems to have a bit of her Uncle’s daredevil streak; what others may call stubborn, I see as determination and persistence. When they are stopped in Nashville city traffic now, the Bug will yell, “GO! GO! GO!” from her tiny car seat! Remember we called her mother, “The Girl Who Stands With Hands on Hips.”

It’s all in the perspective.                           photo

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Londoners wouldn't get Woody

Londoners wouldn’t get Woody

Have you been following the Woody Allen pervert/or/not show? I had not, although I’m aware that I no longer flock to the latest Allen movie. There was a time, around Annie Hall, when I loved him. His jokes, his angst, his heroines, especially Diane Keaton. A sister-in-law from MS once told me you had to be from NYC to “get” Woody Allen, and I suspected she was right. For the longest time I would quote him:  “80 percent of life is showing up,” because I truly believe it! And I dressed like Annie Hall, in a sort of androgynous mix of comfy meets funky vests.

But after Allen was given a Cecil B DeMille Award at the Globes and Mia Farrow and kids took to bashing him on Twitter, I found myself wondering again if he did it. He was accused of fondling his adopted daughter Dylan at the age of 7 in an attic. Now we all know he married his other adopted step-daughter Soon-Yi (who was actually Andre Previn’s adopted daughter), which was creepy enough. That was about the time I had seen Mia Farrow at the Big Apple Circus, in the first row right across from me. She was surrounded by so many adopted kids I was reminded of the woman who lived in a shoe, “…she had so many children.”

Maybe because my BFF had been an assistant DA, and she once told me that kids never lie, I was predisposed to believe Mia’s story, even when a judge and many investigators never found any evidence credible enough to bring charges against Allen. That was when I stopped going to his movies. Knowing what I do now about the proximity of the abuse charges to their separation over Soon-Yi, it does seem possible that Mia may have been vindictive enough and possibly “coached” Dylan to say that he touched her. Will we ever know the truth? Finally Allen is speaking out: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/feb/08/woody-allen-denies-abuse-allegations

And so is Dylan’s brother, another adopted child, Moses Farrow now 36, now speaking up in defense of Allen. He likened the atmosphere in their home as dysfunctional at best.  “I don’t know if my sister really believes she was molested or is trying to please her mother. Pleasing my mother was very powerful motivation because to be on her wrong side was horrible.” http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/feb/05/woody-allen-dylan-farrow-moses

Whatever happened over 20 years ago we may never know. But I did happen to watch Blue Jasmine on Netflix recently and it was incredible. Allen takes us back out to overly sunny California with a lapsed heiress, Cate Blanchett, who is exquisite in the role. It is a study in social class and psychology, in love and betrayal. It’s a modern day Streetcar. “Blue Jasmine feels like tragedy without catharsis—an interesting thing to pull off, but not particularly moving or maybe even admirable.” http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2013/07/movie-review-blue-jasmine-woody-allen

It left me feeling strangely sick, and singing Blue Moon for days.

“I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories. The horrible are like, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s very lucky, to be miserable.” Annie Hall

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Had a short talk with Bob yesterday about Philip Seymour Hoffman. And we both thought it’s a shame, but not for all the general reasons everyone’s been talking about, like his life and character and talent. Because ever since some 19th Century chemist decided he could change morphine into heroin –  thereby making it much more euphoric, easier to administer, lasting longer and with lower dosages – people have been overdosing on this drug. A drug that is still used medicinally in the UK…because for really sick, terminally ill people, there is literally nothing like it. It is the opiate on steroids! For many years people, I mean ordinary brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, black, white and brown, have been dying for/on heroin for over a century.

What’s different is that now another celebrity has died of addiction. But really, what’s different? A bag of heroin costs about $10 and an oxycodon pill costs $40, so that’s different. PSH had the money to go out and buy a week’s supply of heroin, he didn’t have to perform a sex act on the street to get high, so that’s different.

Doctors are encouraged to “Treat Pain,” nurses have us rank our pain on a scale of 1 to 10, in fact in some states if a doctor or NP doesn’t “treat our pain” he/she can be sued. There are whole buildings being built to deal with pain management in health centers across America. So in the same way we’ve become aware of the dangers over overprescribing antibiotics, doctors need to become more aware of the addictive powers of pain killers. Because for some of us, as Jim Carrey said of PSH: “For the most sensitive among us the noise can be too much.” 

I might say after knee surgery, “That pill makes me feel funny,” so I stop taking it. But the addict, probably 10% of the population, has a part of the brain that recognizes that narcotic in a primal center of their neural cortex, the addict says, “More please.”  Someone I knew well once said, “There are no 50 year old junkies.”

But here is a conversation we need to start in DC. Why not make Naloxone (aka Narcan) available over the counter? This is a miracle drug which can bring a dying, overdosed person back to life, and instead of waiting until an EMT or ER doc is available to administer it, which is often too late, why can’t families and friends of addicts purchase the drug as a nasal spray to keep in their home? Well they can in a program in MA, oh God I love that state! I knew it when they went for McGovern!

The problem has become more urgent: Heroin overdose deaths in the U.S. nearly doubled over the last decade, from 1,725 in 1999 to 3,278 in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the same period, deadly overdoses from opiate-like drugs, including painkillers, have nearly quadrupled, from 4,030 to 15,597. Naloxone works by blocking certain drug receptors in the brain. It has no effect on alcohol or cocaine overdoses but can be used against such painkillers as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/naloxone-drug-overdose-antidote_n_1456531.html

There was no one with PSH at the time of his overdose, so having Naloxone nearby may not have helped him. But once the rest of the country follows MA’s lead, we may get the chance to save more lives, because I believe recovery is possible. One day at a time. read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/04/13/naloxone-debate-fda-hears-testimony-about-making-an-overdose-antidote-nonprescription/


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What would you do if you came home and your front door was ajar? You went into your bathroom and noticed some drops of caked blood on the sink and the rug? Would you take a shower? Then, let’s say you did take a shower, and you noticed another toilet in the house hadn’t been flushed.

And let’s just say you are 19, and studying abroad where your knowledge of your host’s culture and language is limited.

It took the poopy toilet for panic mode to set in for Amanda Knox. The year was 2009. In her mind, she’d been explaining away all the other little things: a broken latch; recently pierced ears or maybe menstrual difficulties. But the toilet was another problem entirely. Just days earlier her roommate, Miranda Kircher a British student, had mentioned in passing that Amanda needed to clean the toilet after every use, this was the European way.

Hailing from Seattle, Amanda was more of a water conservationist, but she understood  – when in Peugina, Italy, you abide by their customs. And when she couldn’t open Miranda’s locked bedroom door, she did what every other red-blooded American girl would do, she called her mother!

You may have heard that last week, Italy’s highest court decided that Amanda and her ex-boyfriend, Raffaela Sollecheti, have been convicted again, found guilty again, in the murder of her roommate Miranda.

And I remember at first back in 2009 thinking, oh sure enough, they did it. Amanda sounds like a compulsive liar. I rarely gave it another thought – then after serving 4 years in prison, they were found innocent by an appeals court. It had been a comedy of errors. A provincial police department ignored and/or contaminated evidence, they held back key pathology reports. There was a prosecutor who was being investigated for improper conduct around a “satanic serial killer.”

So when I heard the Italians had changed their minds again, found the pair guilty of murder again, the Agatha Christie in me just had to come out. I read Amanda’s memoir, “Waiting to be Heard.” I devoured every news article I could Google. And it turns out Amanda was guilty of a few things – her demeanor and facial expressions were inappropriate – she had demonstrated some yoga moves in a police hallway at the urging of a cop, she had been filmed chastely kissing her boyfriend in the driveway at the scene. To her detriment, she waited 4 days for her mom to arrive and to help the police who were framing her for murder. And sleep-deprived and naive, she was forced into a “false confession” that implicated her boss at a café in the murder. The real murderer would be arrested in Germany after his DNA was found all over the murder scene.

The theory of a sex game gone horribly wrong was more or less a fantasy of the prosecutor. And all it needed was a willing Italian press to spread its discrepancies and lies. And sell newspapers.

And I remembered sending the Bride off to Paris for her Junior year abroad. And sending the 15 year old Rocker to visit her along with her roommate’s brothers for Thanksgiving, 1999.

On top of the Eiffel Tower

On top of the Eiffel Tower

And even with some anti-Semitic graffiti in the 16th Arrondissement, I felt sure that they would be fine. They lived in an apartment above a French family, it was probably once the servant’s attic atelier. The girls ate with them weekly.

Now if I were Amanda’s mother, I’d be getting our passports in order.

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