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When I first met Wendi, she was holding her baby boy. Her smile was like sunshine as she showed me around the property. We had finally moved to Virginia, and when the Bride and I first saw the house, she had been away on a business trip. My soon-to-be landlord was a fabulous designer, she flew all over the country installing the dreams of her famous clients.

Strangely enough on that crystal clear day in Charlottesville, Wendi was in New Jersey.

But at our first look, her husband, wanted us to rent their guest cottage. He knew the Bride was starting at UVA Medical School, and he was psyched about our Duke connection. As he led us through the main house and into the dining room, where an old Dutch master-like portrait of a man with a beard hung over a sideboard, I wasn’t prepared for this revelation.

“There’s a building at Duke University named after my ancestor,” he said pointing up to the painting, “It’s the Allen Building.”

In fact, Bob and the Bride were well acquainted with the Allen Building. Turns out it was named after a good friend of JB Duke in the early 1920s, a man from Warrenton, NC – George Garland Allen. Allen had started out as a bookkeeper for the American Tobacco Company in 1895, working his way up in the Duke organization.

My new landlord’s Great Grandfather, on his Mother’s side, had been known to say it was easier to accumulate his wealth than it was to give it away.

This didn’t stop us from moving our Welsh Corgi along with big Buddha Bear and Bailey Dawg (the Bride’s Lab) into the smaller “cottage” on their property. Wendi welcomed us with open arms, in fact she collected a menagerie of dogs too – from a sublime Great Dane to another ridiculous Corgi! When we finally built our house overlooking the Blue Ridge, Wendi had 2 small boys, and 2 matching Labs.

In contrast to her husband’s Southern lineage, Wendi was a California girl. She didn’t come from money; she had been a nanny in NY and then went to school for design. She built her own business from the ground up, and juggled 2 children with the demands of her world-wide clientele. I remember distinctly when she told me about this woman who would come in and cook you a week’s worth of meals on a Sunday and put them in the freezer.

Aha, so this was how working women who might jet off at a moment’s notice took care of their family. This was before GrubHub.

Wendi would throw great Gatsbyesque parties around their pond behind their home. She sent her boys to the public school and became one of the fiercest football moms around. She loved keeping tabs on the Rocker, and made sure her boys knew all about his band. When the Parlor Mob stopped by on a swing through Virginia, she treated them like royalty. When I became secretary of the local book club, she’d make a point of attending if she was in town.

She was one or two decades younger than most of us; a doctor, a few lawyers, a few teachers, and me, the one who could make an email list-serve. Wendi’s California blonde exuberance would always add the fun component to our gatherings. After her divorce, she started a new business of high-end consignment pop-ups that housed many of the pieces Bob and I couldn’t carry with us to Nashville.

Last month, after saying goodbye to her oldest son, who was heading to Australia for his college semester abroad, Wendi died tragically, she was only 53 years old. That baby, that I first met on her hip, is now in high school. When my old friend and neighbor called to tell me the news, I was shaking. How can this be? Didn’t I just talk with her about our trip to Tulum? Didn’t I just see beautiful pictures on Instagram of her December holiday in Puerto Rico? She’d found a new love, and life was looking good for my friend.

How can a light like that be extinguished? My lovely, vibrant Wendi, how can this happen? I hope you knew how many people loved you. Your outstanding sons are your legacy, your Valentines in football jerseys. Sleep peacefully dear heart.

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Democrats fall in love with their candidate, Republicans fall in line.

Spoiler alert! The last two (D) candidates to win both Iowa and New Hampshire were nominated and promptly lost their elections – Al Gore and John Kerry. Remember them? Kerry actually criticized Bush for the Iraq war, and let’s face it, that may have been too soon and his running mate, John Edwards, may have been too slick hiding a love child from his wife. But I still fell in love with both nominees, just a little.

This is why I’m not too concerned with the first NH primary today. I want a man (or a woman – love is love) who can flip the Senate blue. I’m waiting to see who will give me goosebumps. The way Brad Pitt did at the Oscars, gently scolding the GOP for disallowing witnesses.

Is it just me, or did anyone else not see any of the Oscar nominated movies this year? Well wait, Bob and I did see the first half of “The Irishman” in our local artsy theatre… but it was getting past someone’s bedtime, so we left via an Uber. Did DeNiro kill Hoffa? I’ll have to catch up on Netflix.

Netflix was the star attraction this past weekend when we joined some friends to watch “Knives Out” at their home. In this historic row house, a screen surprised me descending down a wall, with a projector hanging from the middle of the ceiling. It was almost like going to the movies! I have such serious home envy whenever I set foot in that home.

And to top it off, we had two big, fluffy dogs who would come to attention and bark whenever there were dogs in a scene!

Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery on a cold rainy night? I won’t spoil the plot of “Knives Out” by saying that current political issues figure prominently when the investigator, played by Daniel Craig with a Southern accent, focuses his attention on a nurse named Marta. The privileged white clan/cast cannot seem to agree on what South American country Marta’s family has immigrated from – Paraguay, Ecuador?  https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/11/the-unlikely-hero-of-rian-johnsons-knives-out/602701/

Immigration politics swirls around the story of my night table book, “American Dirt.” First of all, it was one of my monthly First Edition Parnassus Bookclub picks, that arrived in its burlap sack a few weeks ago. I’d already been hooked by American Dirt’s violent opening chapter when I started reading the criticism on Twitter. At first I thought well maybe the author, Jeannine Cummins, isn’t Latina, so undocumented folks and those who love them were skeptical. But she had also initially claimed her husband was an immigrant, without saying he’s from Ireland. Cummins cancelled her book tour.

The novel follows the story of a Mexican woman and her son fleeing to the United States after a drug cartel massacre.
Cummins, who spent five years writing the book, isn’t Mexican or a migrant. The book, which was just published January 21, immediately sparked debate about who can tell what story and diversity within the publishing industry.
It also faced criticism for its reliance on migrant stereotypes, with many pointing out that if an author is going to write about someone different from them, it must be done well. “American Dirt,” some have said, was not — though the book has also been praised by a number of prominent authors.  https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/29/us/american-dirt-jeanine-cummins-author-tour-cancel-trnd/index.html

Is this what we mean by cancel culture? Was Joaquin Phoenix onto something in his Oscar speech before he swerved into the cow/milk controversy? Urban Dictionary tells us this culture is a direct result of social media and people who are, “…quick to judge and slow to question.”

Let’s ask the hard questions of our our Democratic candidates as they head into prime time and super Tuesday. Bloomberg can understand what a single mom is going through, he doesn’t have to be one. I believe a writer should be able to write about anything – a man can write from a woman’s point of view, and vice versa. If I’m writing about the Jewish mob, I need not be a member of that group, I can do the research. And I’m not ready to cancel anyone out of our primary process. I haven’t fallen in love, not yet.

Except for these two chocolate-teeth cherubs!

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Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt, will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

What was it about the Nashville Symphony on Sunday night? Steve Hackman, a young conductor from LA, walked out to the podium with his long arms and long curly hair and faced the audience, telling us how he came to compose “The Times They Are A-Changin: The Words and Music of Bob Dylan.” He introduced the first violin; behind the orchestra sat row upon row of the Nashville Symphony Chorus, over a hundred voices strong.

As Hackman raised his baton to conduct one of the first pieces, “Tangled Up in Blue,” I could feel the knot in my throat constricting. Admittedly, I was already feeling blue – from the never-ending rain and the political parody of the last few years – from a week-long insult to our collective intelligence that was playing itself out on the Hill. I was feeling discouraged, resigned to a president who was like a demagogue, with an attorney general guarding his flank, and a lapdog/senator, who did his bidding.

Early one morning the sun was shining
I was laying in bed
Wondering if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red

As the music swelled and the chorus of voices swept through the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall, Bob and I looked at each other. This evening would turn out to be a metaphor for our lives together, for the 60s and the 70s; tender yet explosive at times. We somehow knew, through war and divorce, we would find our way back to each other. We would meet again “…someday on the avenue.” Next came “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

And it ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe
The light I never knowed
And it ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road

I forgot what it was like to be immersed in a musical experience, to close my eyes and allow the strings and chords to penetrate my soul. This wasn’t an Italian opera, the words were in English and they defined my generation. Tears were slowly rolling down my cheeks by the time the chorus began “I Shall Be Released.” Is this a plea for death to come, to cover us like a well-worn blanket? The last phrase is about standing in a lonely crowd, next to a man who swears he’s not to blame…”Crying out that he was framed.”

Any. Day. Now. Any day now, we shall hear what our senators are willing to do to keep their seats, to retain their power. Will they continue to cover-up his perfect phone call? To pretend our president wasn’t granting favors to other authoritarian leaders around the world?

In 2016 Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, for having created “New poetic expressions within the great American Song tradition.” He put off traveling to Stockholm to receive his medal, finally giving a reluctant speech about his influences in literature from grade school:  “Moby DickAll Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.”  Songs, he tells us, are unlike literature, they’re meant to be sung, not read.”

Finally, Dylan quoted The Odyssey: “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story.”

In this New Chinese New Year, have I become just another Cassandra, writing prophesy that no one will believe, warning my readers that our democracy is at a tipping point. That we are doomed to repeat the past if we simply stand by and do nothing. Nixon knew enough to leave, and Clinton knew enough to apologize for lying. This lying, malicious president knows nothing, which is far worse.

Today is T’ai Chi Tuesday, a form of mindful meditation. I will find my center, and try to balance the dark with the light. I will keep calling my senators, will you?

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What’s a person to do in the middle of this Impeachment Trial, this theatrical show, a “foregone conclusion” as Andrew Yang has said? After reading that Republican Senators have been leaving the room, fidgeting with finger spinners, looking “weary and bored” according to the Associated Press, I thought our neighborhood association had a splendid idea – wine tasting!

My Go-To wine lately is “A to Z Wineworks” from Oregon, but I was willing to expand my horizons.

On Friday night we all gathered at Richard and Linda’s townhome that sits on the edge of a park. Our sommelier Calvin was delightful; he poured a delicious chardonnay from the Finger Lakes Region, “Fox Run Vineyards.” I happen to like love unoaked whites, and he told us the climate in upstate NY is similar to Chablis in France. The motto on their website is “Drink wine, Be happy.” https://foxrunvineyards.com/

Unfortunately, drinking wine hasn’t been making me happy since 2016. But I’m willing to keep trying.

Did you know some of the best wines today are coming from Virginia and Texas? Still, one of the finest unoaked chardonnays hails from California, at $90 a bottle – Williams-Selyem 2017. “California makes more wine than any other state in the United States. Not only does the state grow a variety of noble grape varieties like Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, there are also plantings of lesser-known varieties such as Nebbiolo, Roussanne and Mourvèdre to name just a few.” 

Ever since the Rocker and KiKi moved out to LA, I’ve imagined myself a California girl. A most Progressive state, with no humidity, no mosquitoes and plenty of sunshine! So naturally Mr T hates it, why else would his administration threaten to cut federal aid unless the state drops its requirement that private insurers cover abortions. Governor Gavin Newsom said:

“California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

The California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, tweeted: “We will fight this by any means necessary.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/health/abortion-california-insurance.html

It’s hard for me to think of a more vindictive and malicious president in our history. He has been impeached, and knows he will most likely NOT be removed from his office, he will continue to hold his radical right-wing “rallies” and run again for a second term. Like every good con man, while we are all (A) looking at the Senate, bemoaning the lack of civility, he is (B) attacking a woman’s basic human right – to have control over her own body.

Again, this bully of a president threatens to withhold funds, but now instead of Ukraine he attacks California to please his base of white Christian zealots. “Let’s start by acknowledging that women are not things. Before we talk, like we have to, about what the attacks on abortion access mean for this anxious, awful political era, let’s establish as a ground rule that women are not vessels, or incubators, or an undifferentiated natural resource. Women are human beings whose human rights matter.”  https://newrepublic.com/article/153942/criminalization-womens-bodies-conservative-male-power

This is why your vote matters. This is why senators should actually be listening to Adam Schiff’s arguments, paying attention and not just getting their panties in a twist over his “head on a spike” comment. The GOP needs to stop whining and do their damn job! Remember that the GAO said Mr T BROKE THE LAW. Remember you can actually call on witnesses that were in the room. Remember the documents you are demanding are being withheld by the White House… We now have a tape of him saying Lev should “take her out” about the Ukraine Ambassador.

Our democracy is being held together, tenuously by our free press. Calvin and Linda are welcoming us into a new decade, this next week will no doubt set the course.

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This morning while scrolling through Twitter, I saw that a new Ms America was crowned last night. While I was group texting with the kiddos about the Democratic Debate out in LA, a Virginia Tech Hokie walked away with the crystal tiara in Connecticut. And get this, Camille Schrier is a biochemist who didn’t have to strut in a swimsuit competition; she did, however, demonstrate a cool science experiment as her talent!

The new Miss America told the crowd during introductions that she plans to get a doctor of pharmacy degree at VCU, in Richmond, Virginia. She has undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and systems biology from Virginia Tech.  https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/19/entertainment/miss-america-2020-trnd/index.html

But let’s return to the debate. The best take-away from Twitter is that Amy Klobuchar is the Goldilocks candidate: “…she’s not too young, not too old; not too hot not too cold; not too left, not too right.” She was the only candidate in the room with Chuck Schumer and Nancy and Mitch, trying to iron out the rules for an Impeachment trial in the Senate.

Amy brought her Minnesotan Nice self into the dust-up between Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth warren when they were discussing “wine caves” and “purity tests” and who has more money than whom –

I did not come here to listen to this argument,” she declared. “I came here to make a case for progress.” Of course, she added, she herself had never been to a wine cave — although she had visited “the wind cave in South Dakota.”

 

It’s time to take a breath, pour some egg nog and take the Grands to see the Nutcracker!

What could be better than Tchaikovsky and magical Christmas dreams? I remember actually using a steel nutcracker to crack open walnuts around the holidays, I even remember sticking cloves in oranges; today we light candles for scent and buy our nuts pre-cracked, in bags all ready for baking. But according to a German folktale, nutcrackers symbolize strength and power, with an ability to guard the family against danger – like Russian dancers, or an army of mice.

Kind of like a Ring doorbell for that matter!

Old traditions are changing with the times. Beauty pageants are no longer all about perfect measurements and teeth. Science can be sexy. Women and gay dudes can run for president and maybe even win in the new year. And dancers of all colors can twirl on their toes under the spell of Herr Drosselmeier.

But the big news that’s not getting much coverage is that Billy Graham’s publication, “Christianity Today,” is calling for Mr T to not just be impeached, but removed from office. The editors called his attempts to shakedown a foreign leader for his own personal gain “…profoundly immoral.” I wonder if his legions of devoted followers will listen, or even care?

“He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”  https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-12-20/trump-outrage-tweet-christianity-today-impeachment

If Mr T is removed from office, Mike Pence would be President; no moral confusion there. Enter the guy who can’t be alone in a room with a woman other than his wife

So Happy Holidays Everyone, whatever holiday you’re celebrating!

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Happy October from Nashville, the home of a seemingly endless summer. Yesterday it was 101 in my car! And Happy Jewish New Year to everyone, now is the time to do a deep dive into our souls. Right up until Yom Kippur, Jews everywhere will be condensing years of therapy into this holy week, asking ourselves what we might want to change or do differently in the future. In other words, let’s make some New Year’s resolutions.

Resolved:  To worry less – Lately I’ve been worried about early onset dementia. What will Bob do if I suddenly start dialing the microwave in hopes of making a phone call? Also why am I getting dizzy every time I lay down? Maybe I shouldn’t list all my worries right now if I want to worry less.

Resolved:  To laugh more – Finding humor in the strangest places is my God-given right –  and self-deprecating humor is an Irish tradition! For instance, I was telling everyone on erev Rosh Hashana what a thrill it was to steal an olive in an Italian abbey last year, which led to stories of petty vandalism by everyone. Belly laughing ensued.

Resolved:  Never to steal again.

Resolved:  To bake more – I secretly want to be a contestant on the Great British Bake Off! The Flapper was an excellent pastry chef, and her specialties were coconut birthday cakes and banana cream pies. Therefore, in the past I’ve limited my cake skills to carrots; but I’ve always been a pastry snob, never touching a dessert at a party unless it was home made. So for my birthday I made a savory olive and ham cake. I found the recipe on a French paper towel.

Resolved:  To disconnect more from social media – and the news for that matter. I’ve been thinking lately about what we would do before everybody had their necks craned at an odd 30 degree angle. Hint – We’d talk to one another! Whenever I leave the house without my iPhone (refer back to my first “worry” resolution) I first become alarmed, and then I settle into this nice homeostasis of contentment. Nobody can find me! I am FREE to flutter about without checking Instagram or responding to another Trump joke.

Resolved:  To bloom where I’m planted – I married a gypsy. Let’s face it, Bob’s not happy unless he’s moving or planning a trip. I hear, “Where should we go next?” and I think, “Why not walk over to the Farmer’s Market.” He’s global, I’m local. I’m starting Pilates to go with my T’ai Chi but I need to work on staying present, and all that new/old/age stuff. If Ms Bean can suddenly start heading up the stairs at bedtime with us for the first time in 2 1/2 years, I can get over any fear! Right? I mean she’s older than me in dog years.

Resolved:  To try not to experience too much Schadenfreude during this whole impeachment inquiry thing –  Well, let’s face it, you had to see it coming. We are going to need a new name for this debacle, maybe not one with the suffix of “gate.” After all, Watergate was a condo complex, and “Ukrainegate” doesn’t do it justice. But my pleasure in seeing Trump’s fall, like Gulliver all tied up by his larger-than-life ego, may be supplanted by pain if Pence takes the oath of office. Still, a little Schadenfreude is good for us:

“…if you’re more science orientated… In the last 15 years, evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists have got very interested in Schadenfreude as a functional emotion – as opposed to deviant, diseased passion which is how it has been seen in the past. It makes sense that would have evolved to enjoy seeing justice done, and transgressors get their comeuppances. Studies show that seeing bad people punished even if they don’t know they’re being punished, like when we see a waiter spit in a rude customer’s soup – activates the reward centres of the brain, the dorsal straitum.”  https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/12/18/why-taking-pleasure-in-others-misfortune-can-actually-be-good-for-your-mental-health/#2b174cb46526

Republicans need to do some serious soul searching this Fall. It’s time to stop the old bait and switch mentality and stop using words like “traitor” and “civil war.” Running our country like its his own personal fiefdom is about to stop. The shofar has sounded. This “witch hunt” is over!

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“Where the wind comes sweepin down the plain.” That Rogers and Hammerstein musical was my first taste of show biz. I was new to public school and new to ninth grade, so naturally I tried out for the school play! My first boyfriend was a drummer in the orchestra; a nice, Irish Catholic boy who gave the Flapper the impression he would watch out for me after school at rehearsals…

I’ve thought about the theme behind the play many times, about how the farmers and the cowboys can’t really be friends. About building walls and fences to keep certain people out, and certain people in. It’s about conflict with a capital C, and are we going to blame others for our problems or try to cooperatively fix things – “Flowers on the prairie where the June bugs zoom. Plenty of air and plenty of room. Plenty of room to swing a rope!”

Well, states’ AGs have decided to treat our country’s big problem, the opioid epidemic and our addiction to pain-killers, in the same way they treated our addiction to nicotine – by blaming corporations. Yesterday, Johnson & Johnson lost their landmark opioid trial and was ordered to pay $572 Million to the Sooner State.

Surprisingly J&J stock went up, because the decision fell far short of the 17 Billion judgement the OK state was asking for – from the New York Times:

“In his ruling, he (the judge) wrote that Johnson & Johnson had promulgated “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns” that had “caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction, overdose deaths” and babies born exposed to opioids.

Johnson & Johnson, which contracted with poppy growers in Tasmania, supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients that drug companies used for opioids like oxycodone, the state argued, and aggressively marketed opioids to doctors and patients as safe and effective. A Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, made its own opioids — a pill whose rights it sold in 2015, and a fentanyl patch that it still produces.”

Bob tells me that it’s kind of difficult to abuse a patch. But what made me chuckle just a little was the actual law on the books the judge used to cite his landmark decision, the “Public Nuisance” law! 

What constitutes a public nuisance, one might ask? This law is the bread and butter of local government: you let your lawn grow into wildflowers till it overtakes the sidewalk; you play your music too loud and for too long; or more broadly, you act (or fail to act) on something that endangers an entire community.

In 2017, 117 people died in Nashville due to overdoses, though it’s hard to find out if the drug was pushed via needle or via mouth. For some reason the TN death rate due to drugs has been going up every year: https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/health/2019/07/19/opioid-crisis-tennessee-overdose-deaths-climbing-heroin-fentanyl-meth/1550137001/

I’m wondering why a smart AG shouldn’t treat gun violence with the same strategy? How many people were killed with guns in your community last year?

Why not go after Sturm Ruger or Smith & Wesson also known as American Outdoor Brands? Allowing people to walk around town brandishing an assault weapon, even though they managed to get an “open-carry permit,” might also fit into this “Public Nuisance” category. https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/03/04/can-you-guess-the-biggest-gunmaker-in-the-us.aspx

After all, gun deaths are on the rise. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/gun-death-statistics-cdc-study-says-gun-deaths-are-on-the-rise-after-years-of-decline/ While drug deaths due to prescription opioids have been going down in most states (exception TN), albeit deaths due to fentanyl laced cocaine and meth have been going up. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/its-not-just-opioids-deaths-from-cocaine-and-meth-are-surging

I remember when Rumson passed a Noise Ordinance law, though I’m not sure how they managed to enforce it. Mostly driven by extremely early sounds of lawn maintenance equipment on the weekends; the Wall Street traders in town wanted to sleep in, while the townies who did their own lawns wanted an early start. It’s always the cowboys and the farmers.

This was me at 15, rather a drawing my big sister Kay did of me as a Can-Can girl in Oklahoma.

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