Archive for October, 2015

Halloween this way comes. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of my Facebook friend’s grandchildren dressed up like little pumpkins, monsters and Olafs…and if you don’t know who he is, well he’s like Frosty the Snowman. Only he’d rather be sunbathing.

After years of buying mini-candies and waiting for some Trick or Treaters, we’ve given up hope. Our dirt driveway is too long and too far off the beaten path for children. I would usually stuff my face with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and call it a night. Admittedly, these delightful morsels are the best thing ever invented as a chocolate delivery system, which is exactly why I never buy them. You believe me, right?

When I was little, my Slovakian foster mom Nell would dress me up as a gypsy. I didn’t really know what that was, but I enjoyed putting on make-up and wearing jewelry. At some point, usually in Middle School, our children all rebel and want to design their own Halloween costume. This should make life easier for the parents, but actually it becomes much harder.

I hate to sound stereotypical, but let’s get real – the boys all want to be villains or zombies, and the girls say so long to the princess look and decide to be sexy starlets. Not all, but certainly you’ve seen gangs of pre-teens roaming your neighborhood dressed like Whitey Bulger and Taylor Swift? You can see I’m off by a few decades; the Bride would chose to be some version of Madonna, and the Rocker?

He could get creative. A pirate, a gangster, a zombie. Surprisingly, never a rock star.

But this is their chance to try out being a “bad boy.” Because once they hit high school, the road narrows and their destiny can get kidnapped by peer pressure and the need to belong. Boys learn to ignore their emotions, they are taught not to smile. In most public high schools they have two paths – the sports route or the party route. And the party route can be dangerous. Some can never recover from that road. They wind up dead at 27.

My Rock Star was voted “Most Changed” in high school, probably because he didn’t fit into a neat category for this preppy, suburban school. He went his own way, he stayed true to himself and played guitar at every dive on the Jersey Shore. He found other outliers to jam with and by the time he graduated from school, his original metal band, Hypon, was in high demand, and he was their business manager and website developer. I only offered them snacks in the garage.

Did I wish he’d play baseball and want to go into finance? Sure, but that’s not our job as parents. We have to sit back once our kids become teenagers and marvel at who they are becoming, and continue to nurture their dreams. Not ours. If we did our job right in those critical early years, we can pat ourselves on the back. The pirate, wizard and Star Wars character will morph into the leading man of their own unique story.

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What to do, what to do. It’s almost Shakespearian what’s happening in politics today. In order to differentiate herself from Bernie Sanders, Hillary is not content with listing their voting record on gun legislation; no, she is crying “sexist” in her tea.

“You know,” she began—clearing her throat to signal the sound bite ahead—“I’ve been told to stop, and I quote, ‘shouting’ about gun violence. Well, first of all, I’m not shouting. It’s just [that] when women talk, some people think we’re shouting.” The audience hooted, screamed, and cheered. Clinton grinned. “I will not be silenced, because we will not be silenced,” she declared.       http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/10/hillary_clinton_is_smearing_bernie_sanders_as_a_sexist_it_s_an_insult_to.html

I’m guilty of picking up on it. Oh yes, Katy Perry was all dressed up like Super Girl Hillary and I double liked their Instagram message about how people think women are shouting, when in fact, we are simply talking. After all, any woman over 50 has had to face down sexism. The job interview that becomes a typing test, along with the lingering leg look (or boob look if you’re built that way). The calm training to be more “assertive” and less “aggressive.” The inability to receive credit in our own name! So I “liked” her message without realizing she was attacking Bernie – when in fact this is what he said in the Democratic debate:

“All the shouting in the world is not going to do what I would hope all of us want, and that is keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have those guns and end this horrible violence.”

Now I’m pretty sure Bernie didn’t mean all of the women shouting in the world. In fact his voting record on women’s rights is exemplary, and always has been. He not only cherishes women, he wants us to be equal partners in the world. And Hillary shook his hand when he defended her “honor” about the emails! So this ploy, in my opinion, seems entirely disingenuous.

Particularly when Ben Carson is equating abortion with slavery. Yessiree folks, that’s what he said, what if abolitionists didn’t agree with slavery but just said you could go ahead and do whatever you want? This soft-spoken former surgeon is living in a fundamental, Christian world of his own, with 1.1M Seventh Day Adventists in the US waiting for their savior to return to earth. “The church’s traditional, global focus is now bearing fruit in new ways. Newly arrived immigrants in the United States often come from parts of Latin America or Africa where Seventh-day Adventism has long-established churches, schools and hospitals.” http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-18-Adventists_17_ST_N.htm

The GOP and Carson’s kind of thinking, his religious fervor, have nothing to do with the way our country operates. Nothing! It’s enough to make this old feminist’s blood boil over. And Dems, don’t bring out the sex card unless you really mean it. Let’s stop dressing up like super heroes ladies, let’s act like one.

It’s time to screw our courage to the ballot box once again.

Bob's processed meat breakfast sandwich - the epitome of courage

Bob’s processed meat breakfast sandwich – the epitome of courage

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He sent his wife and child to the country so they could eat fresh strawberries. He hoisted the Union Jack above his residence, which he calculated was about three miles from a Federal garrison. In April of 1861, he actually boarded a dinghy in Charleston Harbor to get closer to the shelling of Fort Sumter.

Robert Bunch was the British Consul in Charleston, SC during the years of secessionist talk leading up to the Civil War, and I’m smack dab in the middle of reading the non-fiction novel by  Christopher Dickey, “Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South.” I thought it would help me understand the city while we were visiting it, but I was wrong. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-undercover-abolitionist-1437160470

Britain’s attitudes toward slavery were complex. In 1807, Britain and the United States had outlawed the trade, but unlike the Americans, the British were serious about it: The Royal Navy was charged with capturing slave ships off the African coast. In 1833, the U.K. freed all of the slaves within its empire. And yet, Mr. Dickey writes, “England hated slavery but loved the cotton the slaves raised [in the American South] and British industry depended on it.”

The African Slave Trade had been illegal for over 50 years. Now the North was enforcing the law, captured slave ships were being towed into the harbor for all to see; Dickey’s description of one is enough to make you sick. But Mr. Bunch was tasked with repealing the “Negroe Seamen’s Act,” which meant that any ship docked in the harbor, under any flag, must hand over every Black on board, free or not, to the jail until said ship left the port. The conditions of the prison meant that many men either died from disease or torture, while the lucky ones escaped to be captured and enslaved.

Still last night, during Hillary Clinton’s impressive marathon grilling on the Hill, I was struck by how many times she referred to Benghazi as a “19th Century posting.” So I wondered how present day Libya might compare to the pre-Civil War South. And it seems that communication is fraught with peril now, as it was then. That sense of distrust; Bunch (who was accepted by the aristocrats in the city, while he abhorred their sentimental reasoning for slavery) sent private couriers to Washington with his dispatches in code. He was a diplomat, a spy, and his own security force rolled up into one man.

All that badgering of Mrs Clinton, about how her email messages were received, if she was alone on the night in question, why Blumenthal had access, had she signed a waiver, if her diplomat had her private phone number…? It was maddening, and it was sad. Because it showed us, the American people, the antipathy, the malicious partisanship our leaders have wallowed in for so long.

I was reminded of Bunch’s “Smile of Indifference.” Hillary is our woman in Washington – a 21st Century presidential candidate, in a sea of Republican nonsense. “The frightful evil of the system is that it debases the whole tone of society — for the people talk calmly of horrors which would not be mentioned in civilized society.”  

The sign outside an H&M store in the Kress building

The sign outside an H&M store in the Kress building, Charleston

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While I was driving home from Isle of Palms, I put Bob in charge of playing podcasts. Like most things Bob, he had an opinion. He’s not one to listen to doom and gloom, and so I was prepared for an upbeat playlist. When I heard my favorite singer/songwriter, Sting, start to talk, well I just had to listen! It was the TED Radio Hour and the subject was “The Source of Creativity.” http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/351538855/the-source-of-creativity

If you live now, or have ever lived with a creative person, you know the drill. They are dreamers, they are never lonely, they find meaning in ordinary things. When the Rocker was little, his fingers were always moving, tapping out an inner beat. Once he held the guitar, it became a part of him and followed him everywhere. The music that was in his head finally had an outlet – it could flow.

Sting talked about taking risks, about not being afraid to fail, and how children are just naturally this way until growing up sucks that courage, the creative impulse, out of us. I remember seeing awards on a bulletin board in our elementary school, mostly for being “quiet,” mostly to girls, and I had a premonition. Would my son flourish here? He was always moving, he loved to make noise!

Early hours spent delivering milk with his father gave Sting the solitude to dream about a life outside of his working class English suburb. He spent decades making music, a most prolific artist, until he felt the music die within him. For two years he didn’t write another song. To get his creative drive back, he returned to his childhood, and wrote an opera. You have to listen to the podcast.

So we can all still tap into that reservoir of creativity. Elizabeth Gilbert likened it to a moving walkway in an airport – we trudge along pulling our baggage behind us, and every now and then a walkway appears and it becomes much easier to write. That analogy resonated with me. I always had a deadline, so I needed to sit myself down and sharpen my keyboard. But sometimes, time would stand still, and something else took over my fingers. As if the picture, the words were in my head and my ability to write them down was effortless…I didn’t worry about grammar, or spelling. My inner editor was turned off.

Which is interesting because when Dr Charles Limb, an otolaryngologist at Johns Hopkins who runs the Music Cognition Lab,  studied the brains of jazz musicians in an MRI scanner – yes, while they played a keyboard – he found that the self-expressive,  creative parts of the brain light up and are on fire only when the pre-frontal cortex, the self-monitoring, critical part of our brain shuts down. That ability to disconnect is what gave us Bach! So we all have to be willing to fail in order to create, which is exactly what Sting said…

When the Love Bug started to sing “Let it Go” at the beach, I immediately had to download the song so that I could learn the words (I know I’m a bit late on this one parents) and we could improvise a dance to the tune. Because there is nothing better than channeling your inner child to rev up the creative impulse. Nothing.

Here is our talented artist, finally allowed to give her baby brother a bottle, and thinking of her next project!


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Last night I met a stranger at a wedding. In the midst of glamor and cocktails,

We stood our ground and spoke profoundly about our journey.

Maura arrived at this spot, beneath the mountains via a sandy beach.

Still it wasn’t the sand that held us captive here.

It was our heritage, our ancestors from Ireland. She wanted to go back,

That longing was our introduction, so I told her about Deirdre;

Who runs a hostel on Achill Island, and Deirdre’s beautiful, old Mother

Who once taught Irish – the real Gaelic tongue – to schoolchildren

And their black and white working sheepdog howling at the TV,

Eating leftovers from the table, who must be gone now.

Maura’s two girls were Irish dancers, but without the wigs.

Caitly I must bring you there, to meet our family, your family,

To be surrounded by the warm and loving cousins

My Great Grandfather left behind in County Mayo “God Help Us”

When he was 19 years old in 1854 with four pounds sterling.

Can he see where we are now? Are the fields of Ceide missing his bones?

Last night Maura became a friend, and we hold a small piece

Of each other always in our hearts     IMG_3384

This is the poem I’m submitting to the Library of Congress’ Juan Felipe Herrera’s Poet Laureate project La Casa de Colores! You can enter too, just write about your Familia:

Theme for Oct. 15-Nov. 14, 2015
“Migrants: Portraits and Friendships”
Every inch of this land is woven with migrant trails. These are pathways from family to family, country to country, and most of all heart to heart. For this month, find a trail and travel through it to a new dream. What do you see in your travels? And how do you make friends along the way? Describe for me in the language of poetry—migrate into new words, use new landscapes of images.

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We are back in the Blue Ridge, except the mountains were orange this morning. And after almost a week in a news-free Curious George zone, I eagerly tuned into CNN for the Democratic debate last night. 

My ears picked up when Anderson Cooper brought up gun violence. And Hillary made a point about the special immunity gun manufacturers have from prosecution and civil suits. Bernie’s position on this issue seems to be evolving, but his reasoning about being from a rural state like Vermont didn’t ring true to me. 

The tide is changing. Two policemen in Milwaukee who were both shot in the face by a criminal – a guy who obtained his gun from a “straw” buyer – just won their suit against the gun store who sold the gun originally. This is a first. 

A jury found the gun store liable and ordered it to pay 6 Million in damages to the officers. 

It’s time we decided to tackle this issue head on, and to see Hillary come out swinging last night was a relief. 

If a car manufacturer sells a car with a faulty ignition, or a roll-over problem, or lies about emission controls, all hell breaks loose. We carry children strapped up tight in the back seats of our cars and we expect safety to be a number one priority. Yet we as a nation have allowed guns to be sold out of car trunks at gun shows. 

In other news, heroin deaths this year in VA have surpassed highway fatalities for the first time. The media is blaming doctors who write scripts for opioids. Of course I asked Bob how many Viginians died from gun violence this year in the state. He couldn’t find that data. 

The gun lobby doesn’t let the CDC collect those numbers. It’s time to study immune-resistant gun violence once and for all. 


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“Why do you always yell at me? I don’t really care what we do.” 

This was what the woman in the next car was saying to her presumed husband. I’m sitting in a parking garage waiting for the Bride and her family. It turned into a really rainy day so a trip to the aquarium was in order. This random woman was yelling about something Dr Jim had just told me about, the Abilene Paradox. 

This paradox is almost like “group think” or committee work, it occurs when a group of people decide to do something that is counterintuitive to each individual. In other words, it’s the old go with the flow. It’s like getting caught up in the Gulf Stream going the wrong way. 

Imagine everybody is sitting on the front porch and the grandfather says “Hey let’s go up to Abilene for dinner!”  He’s thinking aloud and hasn’t been there since he was a kid. The whole family agrees. Except the drive of 50 miles becomes interminable, the kids are cranky and once they arrive the restaurant is no longer there. One by one each family member realizes they didn’t really want to go to Abilene for dinner. 

If you’ve ever been vacationing with a group I’m sure you’ve experienced this paradox. How the heck did I get here? 

Well I’m glad we all decided to go to the aquarium. We saw an albino alligator named Alabaster. The Love Bug touched a starfish. And Bob found out what that bird was in our driveway – a juvenile White Ibis! Here is his buddy, an Egret!


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This morning we woke up in the Palmetto State. This trip to the Isle of Palms was planned months ago. Before surgery, before the thousand year biblical flood and dams breaking everywhere. Before we knew what we were made of. 

We passed fields of cotton in standing water, like white cranberry bogs. We passed lots of roadside gun shops. And because the Intestate was closed, we passed iconic small towns on two lane highways. I was tempted to go into a Lifeway Christian Store, maybe thay had a small model of Noah’s ark we could borrow?

But Bob brought along every navigational device known to man. He downloaded WAZE in order to be on point with crowd-sourcing traffic/flooding detours. I wonder if future generations will know what to do with a map?

We are no strangers to flooding; we moved to our mountain from the Jersey Shore and watched our tiny river swell its banks and invade our cars. We knew to watch the cycle of the moon and the tides. But what we didn’t know was how floods happen inland, and we didn’t know about Climate Change. We know now. 

Wish us luck, we have another 150 miles to go before we reach the ocean. Driving toward muddy flood waters wasn’t what I had in mind for this short vacation with the grandbabies. 

The sun is out and this is not a Bruce Willis movie. Still I wonder when the Waccamaw River will crest? Maybe we should fly?


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We’ve been visiting doctors lately. One gentlemanly Southern doctor in a bow tie plopped his black Doctor’s Bag down on the desk and introduced himself. He was young, meaning maybe 30 something, and I was surprised enough to mention his old-school bag. 

He pulled out the tools of his trade and did the most complete physical exam I’d ever seen in my life. Lots of hammering for reflex checks. Lots of listening via stethoscope. 

I’m not sure Bob ever carried a doctor bag per se. He always carried an old fashioned, beat up brown leather briefcase. Not as snazzy as DeNiro’s vintage case in The Intern, but just as efficient.

Bob carried lots of paper back in the day since he’s been an ED director for much of his working life. He remembers when he could no longer find his Mad Men briefcase in any store after using and abusing the original till it fell apart. That, he tells me, was a sad pre-Internet time! 

Today, in a small black duffle bag you’d find his iPad. The stethoscope still holds a place of prominence, but so does a Mophi for charging devices. This old duffle is getting threadbare. I asked him what most young doctors are carrying these days, and he told me backpacks. 

I was all set to get Bob a backpack – something with gravitas if possible – when we saw DeNiro pull his calculator out of his briefcase, right before trying to turn on his laptop. I laughed, didn’t he know there’s a calculator in his phone? Then I saw his flip phone. Later in the film, one of his younger colleagues found a sweet ancient briefcase on eBay.

So now I’m all about that Google search for a new briefcase. I know some hipsters carry old WWII messenger bags slung across their chests. And obviously some young docs have kept the mystique of the Doctor’s Bag alive, but there’s just something very 007 about the standard leather briefcase with a nice lock under the handle. Don’t you agree?   

Notice the handsome Darth Vader neck brace and the minimalist desk. Notice the body posture. Welcome back Doc!


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