Archive for October, 2017

Who will you be tonight for Halloween? Do you continue to dress up, as a family, in a creative coordinated way and prowl the neighborhood? Or do you sit in your doorway with some Snickers? One for you, two for me! It’s been many years since we’ve had any Trick or Treaters at all, so tonight our candy pumpkin will be full and standing at attention by the door. Ms Bean will be barking her head off at all the ghosts and goblins.

I have to think Nell’s family may have actually known some gypsies back in Czechoslovakia, because my only memory of wearing a costume is sitting on Daddy Jim’s lap as a gypsy. It’s probably because that’s the one Halloween picture that survived my foster care years, and I look pretty happy in my black mask, long skirt and bangles. When did we think it was OK to dress up like slut-scary working girls of the night with short skirts, teased hair and theatrical make-up?

But enough about sexualizing naughty nurse costumes for women, Bob and I were tasked to find a wig for our grand baby boy. You’ve probably guessed that the Love Bug will be going out tonight as Moana – her very favorite Disney Princess…so naturally her little brother wanted to be Maui! AKA the Demi-God Rock, a big, beautiful, strong Polynesian guy covered in tattoos! Why he’s a modern day Popeye, a super hero of sorts with a large personality and a big heart.

Only our almost 3 year old guy has glorious strawberry red hair and Maui has long brown dreadlocks. And finding a Maui wig was no easy task, even in Nashville where they have an actual Disney store. Bob and I were surprised to learn that though Moana outfits were sold everywhere, including in Target, a Maui outfit (with or without a wig) is non-existant. I was glad I’d ordered him Maui PJs for the Love Bug’s birthday, but surprised to hear the reason Disney Doesn’t Do Maui.  

The outfit had caused disquiet among the Polynesian community.

Hawaiian Chelsie Haunani Fairchild said it was offputting to have a child wear the skin of another race.

“Polyface is Disney’s new version of blackface. Let’s call it like it is, people,” Fairchild said. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/22/disney-pulls-maui-childrens-costume-amid-claims-it-is-offensive

The salesperson at Party City told us they didn’t get any Maui costumes or wigs. Now granted, Bob and I are certainly more liberal than most and pretty sensitive to stereotyping, but we were floored. Our little guy can’t emulate his favorite cartoon character because he’s not Polynesian, only part Jewish, Irish and German – and mostly full American?

There’s a difference between an adult Prince Harry dressing up like a Nazi and a 3 year old kid in PJs!

Can kids dress up like cowboys and Native Americans anymore? Am I starting to sound like my Mother? Hope my little story didn’t offend any people of Southeast Asian descent, and if it did, I apologize in advance.

Now go out there and scare some people! Happy Halloween! BOO!!


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The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Billy Collins was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. This may have been one of our country’s most fragile times, when more people sought peace from poetry. And he is a poet who gets us, and last night Bob and I had the distinct pleasure to listen to him read some of his poems at Salon 615. Everyone of a certain age has picked up a book in rapt anticipation, only to find a few pages down the line that it’s something we’ve read before. I admit it, and Collins makes it bearable in his poem “Forgetfulness.”

Like that moment when he realized he was older than Cheerios, at the age of 70, and so wrote a poem about it. He scatters serious sonnets in among his readings, so last night’s audience gasped and laughed in unison. Because poetry is “…a megaphone.” Because he loves to make up new words, like “azaleate” – which loosely translated means we’ve arrived at a place just before, or after, it’s signature event. Oh, it’s too bad you’ll be missing the peak leaf season here in Vermont, let’s say. Or:

Bob and I azaleated the lavendar blossoming in Provence this year. 

Collins writes about cats and dogs from their point of view. And he even writes about Tennessee Fainting goats! This type of goat freezes and keels over whenever it is startled or feels panic. It’s something I may be catching here in loud and noisy Nashville 🙂

What brought me nearly to tears was Bob’s reaction; he didn’t fidget or head for the bathroom. He actually loved listening to Collins, we poked and prodded each other at yet another small truth that bounced between the two of us. It was like going to Jacob’s Pillow when we were young and discovering that he enjoyed the ballet almost as much as I did!

Then, towards the end of the evening, he turned to that ultimate question all couples must grapple with, “Who will go first?” The universal hope that “…you will bury me.” But is that really true love, to want to go first and save yourself from grieving. Bob has told me so often that due to his genetics he will most likely go first, and I almost believe him.

But what if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow? A very real possibility in this busy city. He would still buy peanut butter and jelly, he would still drive like someone from NJ. Maybe he wouldn’t search for a beach house, or maybe he would?

Collins recommended a book, one that had inspired him in his youth, by a philosopher named Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space.” And I remembered the Bride showing us her Public Policy building at Duke, the light pouring in through modern-Gothic arches. And just last year, pointing out her son’s little hidey-hole inside his closet in their new home.

In the first and last days of life, it is the cosmos of the home that takes on the full weight of human habitation, as retreat and space of belonging. Bachelard’s greatest work remains a compelling reflection on the enduring human need to find psychological refuge in familiar places and spaces, though its author admitted that poets and story-tellers got there first. 


Here he is reading from his book, “The Rain in Portugal.”




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Sorry to be quoting a Russian, but we spent a recent evening at an art show to benefit the Love Bug’s school. And because we had a mini-tour the day before with Nancy and Great Grandma Ada, who has converted her family room into an art studio, we had a long conversation with one of the Lost Boys from South Sudan. James Makuac paints memories from his dreams of Africa. They are bright, vivid colors, and some are not for the faint of heart. http://jameskuolmakuac.tumblr.com

His work is about resilience, about people fleeing their homes in the midst of war, walking through rain with the ubiquitous yellow water barrel on a woman’s head.

And I thought of all the artwork my Sister-in-Law Anita collected over the years. She left my brother Dr Jim surrounded with bright California images and fragile pieces of art glass. He loved her with all his heart, their last years together spent tenderly caring for each other, collecting Amish quilts on sunny rides through the country. And as we tried to organize, to make sense of her collections, it dawned on me that she too was trying to recapture her home. To bring the Northern California aesthetic into her Twin City life.

And I wondered yet again, what will my children do with the things I leave behind? Will they find them beautiful, or will they be a burden?

One night, in the midst of my visit to Dr Jim’s MN home, we watched the Minimalism documentary on Netflix. It opens with the abundance of cheap stuff people fight over the day after Thanksgiving. And the take-away is that we should:

“Use things, and Love people!”

The Bride had wanted me to see the film, because she thought Bob and I are heading in that minimalist direction, divesting of “stuff” and living a simpler life in our two bedroom town home. And it is somehow freeing, to put out on a table or up on a wall only those things I love, that bring me joy.

For instance, I have an Irish ceramic vase that had lived its life on display in my VA guest bedroom, one of four bedrooms. It is now happily holding utensils on my small kitchen counter. I couldn’t part with it because it had been a gift from my Irish cousins, but I also loved its line. To me, it is beautiful.

Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “The world will be saved by beauty.” He also said

By interpreting freedom as the propagation and immediate gratification of needs, people distort their own nature, for they engender in themselves a multitude of pointless and foolish desires, habits, and incongruous stratagems. Their lives are motivated only by mutual envy, sensuality, and ostentation.

Maybe our country needs to adopt a new interpretation of freedom, because the American dream, like all dreams, is changing. We need to stop loving cheap shiny objects that appear at Walmart and on our Twitter feed, and make a point of listening to the people we love. Finding the truth in another’s story. Understanding why we are in Niger. Stop fighting proxy wars, and search for beauty in the world, and not on Google.

Painting by James Makuac




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It’s pumpkin patch fever in Nashville. The Farmer’s Market is filled with mums of every color and you can walk through an actual pumpkin house at Cheekwood Gardens. Tomorrow they will host the Halloween Pooch Parade! But yesterday, since Great Grandma Ada is visiting with cousin Nancy, we loaded up the grandkids and a wheelchair to stroll along the serpentine path of unique scarecrows as the sun descended through cypress trees. https://cheekwood.org

One scarecrow was dressed entirely in plastic water bottles, another was dressed like William Shakespeare covered with some of his famous quotes! One had a skirt made from crayons, and next to it stood an imposing black crow. One urged us to be the change we wanted to see in the world!

Civic organizations throughout the county sponsored each art installation, and I could imagine an Impressionist painter capturing the afternoon scene of families weaving through scarecrows in dappled light.

Late last night I foolishly wanted to catch up with the news I’d been missing since my travels to Minnesota. General Kelly’s speech, in defense of Mr T, was front and center and actually made my stomach churn. Making calls to Gold Star families is not something presidents should be doing. And why on earth would Congresswoman Frederica Wilson listen in on such a conversation? He was blaming the messenger, calling this Black woman who is a friend of the family, an “empty barrel.” We heard nothing about Niger and why these brave soldiers died in the first place. http://www.newsweek.com/niger-trumps-benghazi-four-us-soldiers-died-and-it-took-him-12-days-respond-688082

The soldiers killed in Niger were part of a 12-man team of Green Berets, training Nigerian soldiers in a remote part of the country. These soldiers belonged to the Third Special Forces group based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

As they were leaving a meeting with local community leaders on October 4, they were ambushed by roughly 50 fighters believed to be linked to ISIS (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is also active in the surrounding region).

The soldiers were driving unarmored pickup trucks and immediately returned fire. The firefight reportedly lasted roughly 30 minutes. It was eventually broken up via French air support and the soldiers were evacuated with helicopters.

At first only three soldiers were reported killed in action. One was separated from the group and found two days after the ambush by Nigerian forces. The Pentagon isn’t talking about this, the talk is all about how Mr T frames his Twitter feed. How he points his little finger at President Obama. How these soldiers knew what they were signing up for….

Sometimes I feel like I am walking through a nightmare of scarecrows, only they are real men, dressed in suits and trotted out to defend the indefensible.





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I was going to write about my trip to Minnesota. I was going to write about feeling like a kid again with my big brother and sister. I was going to write about minimalism…https://www.netflix.com/title/80114460

“People dedicated to rejecting the American ideal that things bring happiness are interviewed in this documentary showing the virtues of less is more.”

But because of the latest Hollywood scandal involving Harvey Weinstein, my Facebook feed yesterday became a communal confession from friends and family. Women I know and love proclaiming that they too, at one or maybe more times in their lives, had been sexually assaulted. I was sitting in the MN airport at my Nashville gate, feeling the love and courage of these women, and so I typed into my smart phone #MeToo

The first time when I was playing alone in the woods across the street from Nell and Jim’s Victory Garden’s home. I had jerry-rigged a seesaw with a tree trunk and a rock when I looked down the hill to a car that was slowing down. The man had his pants down around his ankles, we locked eyes and he sped off. I used to think that maybe I’d imagined it, because I was too young to understand it.

The second time I was about ten years old. My brother’s friend offered to take me horseback riding. My brother is 7 years older, so he was either 16 0r 17. He picked me up at our house, and I was sitting in front of him on the saddle. I’m literally shaking right now typing this. He exposed himself to me. When I got home I told the Flapper what had happened, she called the police and we went to his house to confront him with his parents sitting there, in the living room.

I think they sent him away because I never saw him again. Thinking back, I learned about courage and honesty from my Mother. I knew something was wrong, I was sobbing. She believed me.

The third time I was a teenager sleeping at a friend’s house, when a guy crawled into the bed. I woke up and asked him what the hell he thought he was doing. He left.

The fourth time I was going for a test ride with a car salesman to buy my very first new car in Jersey City. I was 21, a pre-school teacher in the Fremont Street projects.

I could keep going, but you get the drift. I was never raped, but my innocence was taken away. I was never hit on by a boss, most likely because I worked as a teacher and so my supervisors were always women back in the day. And I credit my beautiful big sister Kay, who was an airline “stewardess,”  for teaching me how to handle touchy-feely guys – you tell them you are flattered, but you’ve (insert the best excuse here for why you don’t want anything to do with them). I learned early to use humor and to flatter a man’s ego, in order to keep his hands off of you.

This Weinstein story, coming on the heels of Bill Cosby, may be the tipping point for this all too common phenomenon. I believe our generation taught our sons to do better, to BE better. To respect women, and honor their wishes.

It’s ironic that I remember walking through an airport, this time in Memphis, while watching Anita Hill testify on TV monitors scattered through the gates. I felt so helpless, like a lone woman in a sea of people who couldn’t care less about her experience. Today we women hold up half the sky, and men are listening.



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Oktoberfest ended with a little rain and a lot of dachshunds! And since our friend Eli was visiting with her son Leo, we all met the Bride’s family for the Annual Dachshund Derby in Germantown. Leo decided that Nashville should be renamed “Dogland,” since dogs of every variety strolled through the park with their beer drinking masters in lederhosen. Still, watching those wiener dogs race was hilarious. http://thenashvilleoktoberfest.com/dogtoberfest/

Ms Bean was delighted to sit on the front porch and watch the canine parade go by  behind the cover of a maple tree. She has staked out her territory thankfully, and the sidewalk is safe for most breeds. Corgi puppies and Great Danes stroll right by without looking up to see her eyeing them suspiciously. After all, she is a rescue mutt, origins unknown, and she’s proud of it! She doesn’t need some set of AKC papers to know she is a prey-driven lover girl!

Unlike certain people, who require validation in order to feel good about themselves. It’s not enough to be a professional for some, your pedigree must include only “The Best” schools, “The Finest” clerkships or residencies. These are the silent judges in our midst; constantly ranking others according to some inner calculation, one they are only slightly aware of and would never admit. It’s still a Dog and Pony Show world it would seem, no matter where you go.

You can usually sniff them out, the pretentious co-mingling of class and money. It’s a primal thing I suppose, as territorial as Ms Bean and my friendly mailman. Great Grandma Ada would call this person a “Noodge.” ie Someone who is a pest, an annoying critic of your every move. It’s exactly what we are currently trying to teach the Love Bug’s toddler brother to avoid – not to whine! “You’re not whining are you?” I’ll ask him. The etymology is probably Slavic, and:

likely from Yiddish נודיען nudyen ‘to bore, pester’, נודניק nudnik ‘bore, pest’, influenced by English “nudge”  http://www.jewish-languages.org/jewish-english-lexicon/words/417

Some people become lifetime complainers; their shoulders are burdened by a ton of self-generated worry. I’m sure Freud would tell us they got stuck at that two year old developmental stage, but the latest winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics may have a different answer. Richard Thaler started applying smaller psychological theories of human behavior to influence larger changes in public policy with his “Nudge Theory!”

How do we get someone to make good decisions? Bob explained Thaler’s theory to me this way – if his company offered employees the opportunity to sign up for a 401K, he would get a small minority signing up. BUT if he automatically signed everyone up for a 401K, and told them they would have to opt out if they didn’t want to save for retirement, the large majority would participate! I guess the human species is just lazy and we all need a little “nudge” in the right direction, to avoid being a “noodge!”

As for us, the rain dampened the number of people walking into lamp posts and spilling their steins of beer. Bob only had to pick up an occasional St Pauli Girl can every morning off our stoop. Things are getting back to normal in Germantown.



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Just the other day I was talking with my brother Dr Jim and my sister Kay. We like to conference call between the Minnie Apple and the Big Apple and now the Music City. Dr Jim told us, in cleaning out a closet, he’d found the original book titled “101 Poems” that the Flapper used to read to them while they were doing chores around the house, after our Father died. There was no TV or internet, the radio was it for entertainment; that, and the human voice.

I told them how I’d recite “The Owl and The Pussycat” for the Love Bug and her brother while they climbed into a box and pretend to sail off to sea in a ‘beautiful pea green boat!’ They would look at me with wonder as the lilting, melodious words tripped off my tongue from some region in my brain that has to be reptilian. I must have loved that poem as a child, and I can imagine the Flapper after our car accident, lying on a couch with her legs post-surgery straight out in front of her, reading it to me over and over again.

Today I awoke to the memory of yesterday, to all the emotions of another terrorist act on our soil, at a country music concert. And because the gun man is white, without an apparent motive, gun nuts would like to chalk this one up to mental illness. But maybe, just maybe, this time our Congress might see through the lies of an NRA lobby, and have some bit of courage they couldn’t summon after Sandy Hook. There is NO need for our citizens to carry assault weapons that can spray death from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort. NONE.

For my morning meditation I turned to poetry. Like music, words always help me cope with the unimaginable. And I found this couplet from a 1961 poem by Philip Larkin, “Ambulances”:

Sense the solving emptiness

That lies just under all we do,

And for a second get it whole

So permanent and blank and true.

If poetry is your prescription for pain, you may enjoy an anthology by William Sieghart of 56 different poems, an Rx to help process the curve balls life can throw our way titled  “The Poetry Pharmacy.” He actually tells the reader which poem to read for which ailment – anxiety or the loss of a loved one? Or do you just need to get motivated? Maybe you’re approaching the end of life, and you wonder what it’s all about…Alfie.  http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170927-the-words-that-can-make-us-calmer

Thoughts and prayers just don’t do it for me. I’d rather read a poem and then call Congress!



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