Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The True Meaning of Christmas (Hanukkah, Solstice, etc....)

As constant readers may have gathered, we aren't the religious sort around here. We're big on presents  (because making people happy is fun) and food (because, FOOD!) for all occasions, not so much on rules and worship. But another circle around the sun is also always a good time to ponder the things are important to our lives. My year end thought for you is about what I find meaningful.

The other day a friend did a poll on Facebook about starting a new religion, and what your tenets would be if you were allowed only two.  I didn't even have to think about it. Mine were be kind and help whenever you can. That's all. And I really believe that covers most of it. My favorite Kurt Vonnegut quote (with apologies to my Australian friends for the backwards seasons) is from his book Hocus Pocus (and yes, it may well be the only good thing from that book ) “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”

So yesterday, on another Facebook page, (yeah, I do spend too much time on Facebook, so?) a fellow mom was frantic as her son had not yet received his call from Santa, even though her daughter had  gotten hers earlier that day. To make matters worse, it was her son's birthday. It was 4PM and he was losing hope. So (of course without asking, right?) I volunteered my husband to make the call.  I got all the information from the mom, the phone number, the child's name, what he wanted, some tidbits that only Santa would know, and marched over to tell my husband what he had to do. And yes, this is why I love him so, while he rolled his eyes at me for volunteering him with checking with him, he also put on his deepest "HO,HO,HO, MERRY CHRISTMAS" voice, scratched out a little script so he wouldn't leave out anything important, and called that little boy to save the day.

And also yes, if there is anything sexier than a grown man doing everything in his power to make sure there is a bit more joy in the world, I don't know what it is.

Wishing all of you a happy holiday season, sharing time with the ones you love, making the world a little happier place in whatever ways you can, however and whatever you choose to celebrate.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Political Activism,Sarah Lawrence, Indivisible and Me

I described myself, for the first time yesterday, as a political activist. In response to a question about what I do, at the luncheon for the Inauguration Ceremony for Sarah Lawrence's new President, Cristle Collins Judd. It was nice to finally be able to come up with the answer I've been looking for since the kids left for college. Writer, Yoga Teacher, never totally fit the bill.

I don't think I ever thought of myself as particularly an activist before, but listening to the Symposium on Inauguration morning, made me realize that is exactly what I am, and that it was SLC that allowed me to do so. I don't come from people who are politically active by any stretch of the imagination. I come from people who hide their political views so the Cossacks can't come take them away when the political winds change. But yet when I saw something I thought was wrong, it didn't occur to me that I couldn't fix it. And that is what I got from Sarah Lawrence College.

My activism began in the usual way. The dogs. Our little town park had hosted an off leash dog park for decades.  It was heaven, lots of space for dogs to run free, lovely community of dog owners, and one of the major factors in our choosing our house, easy walking distance away. Then a new administration came in and decided this illegality would no longer be tolerated. Five years later, after far too many Park Council Meetings (including one after a six month trial period where all involved agreed that the trial worked great and none of the feared dog incidents came to pass and yet they still weren't going to let us be off leash!)and City Council meetings, carrying sheaves of paper petitions, bending the ear of everyone in sight, and organizing a voting block that was devoted to off leash access at our park as our primary issue, we had a brand spanking new legal right to be in the park, off-leash, in certain parts and during certain times. A reasonable compromise between off leash owners and the people who didn't want to be near dogs. Good government listening to the people.

The strangest thing to me, was the number of people after the law was passed, who came up to me to tell me they never thought it could get done. It was just too much to fight City Hall. It was nice to hear their congratulations, but also really weird. It had honestly never occurred to me that with enough work, it wouldn't get done. We advanced a fair cause, with a reasonable compromise so everyone could feel safe and happy in the park and we had the numbers and facts to prove it.  Listening to the First Year students ask important, well thought out, and sometimes very pointed, questions of the eminent guests at the Symposium yesterday made me realize that it was Sarah Lawrence that gave me the unshakeable confidence to question the status quo and to advocate for what I knew was right and just.

Last fall with the kids off at college, I had the time to volunteer to make calls for Hillary Clinton. I called and wrote letters to voters in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. I was devastated by the  outcome of the election. I wasn't sure how I could live in an America that would vote in a reality-TV star over a stateswoman (although I'm pretty sure the awkwardness of the word stateswoman, is a big fucking clue). I was heartbroken and I didn't know what I would do next.

Then I went to the Women's March, and after the March, I attended a meeting organized by some of the women who had met there, in a little suburban church in a nearby town. The meeting was supposed to be in the church's basement and they expected about 200 people. Over 700 of us showed up. The church graciously let us use their sanctuary, so we could all hear and I learned about Indivisible and the Indivisible Guide. (seriously, check them out, they are awesome and find or found a local group.)  We broke down into small groups to put the Indivisible model into action and when no one else volunteered to run our group, I raised my hand. The most damning thing I found out was although Democrats enjoy a 2:1 registration advantage in Westchester County, we almost invariably lose local elections, because only 25% of us turn out to vote in these off-off years. My new goal became to work to change that. And I believe we can, but it's going to take some work.

So now I head up our local Indivisible 6&7 (Westchester County Board of Legislative Districts) facebook pages and send out a weekly newsletter. We've got 100 activists who show up for debates and Town Halls, make calls, knock on doors, write emails, advocate in person and to the papers and most of all are committed to VOTE! I also volunteer at George Latimer (running for County Executive)'s local headquarters and will be at our Farmer's Market tomorrow handing out cards for George, Catherine Parker (our BOL 7 representative) and our Moving Rye Forward (Dem Mayoral and City Council candidates) Team. I am able to speak in public about the things that matter to me, because Sarah Lawrence taught me that as long as I had the facts, I could back up any opinion. And for that I am ever thankful.

Our local elections are one month away.  November 7th.  And we are going to rock it.

(If you are not yet registered in NY, you still have time  If you need an absentee ballot, you still have time If you do not bother to vote, I will yell at you, and you will never again be allowed to express a political opinion in my presence. If you don't vote, you don't get to complain.)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and me (or my decidedly potty-mouthed opinion anyway)

I've been hearing quite a bit from all over the spectrum, but mostly from liberal, feminist, reliable types, both male and female, that we need to oust Nancy Pelosi from leadership, because the guy she whooped ass on in the last leadership election says so.  Or it's because another guy couldn't steal a seat in GEORGIA, that has been reliably red for the last 40 years.  Or because she's old.  Or because the GOP hates her and that's why they vote for their candidates in elections.  Or lots of variations on these themes.  I'm not saying that everyone who is falling for these lines of reasoning are doing so because of ingrained misogyny in our culture, but I am saying the logical inconstancies in the arguments point to some sips of some pretty strong Kool-Aid. (It also points to the political illiteracy of not understanding how Majority and Minority Leaders are voted upon, which unless you are in Congress does not include you having a say in.)

Here are my answers in broad categories:

A. She is a failed leader.  (this one falls under, oh a Jewish guy couldn't win a red seat in GA, quelle surprise)
My answer - under her Majority leadership, while she was able to introduce and shepherd through legislation we passed the ACA, Lily Ledbetter and Marriage Equality.  Three huge pieces of legislation that fundamentally changed the lives of every American for the better. There are lots more but those are my top three.  If that is is failure, please sir, can I have some more.  Anyone want to stake their firm claim that Georgia Republicans, trying to hold a seat they've held for decades, in a race seen as a referendum on the November elections, would have just stayed home in this race if only someone else was House Minority Leader? Under her Minority leadership we've lost four safe red House seats in special elections. BFD.

B. She is just too old and we need new blood in the leadership.
My answer - if you are not also calling for the ouster of Chuck Schumer, STFU. Leadership is given to the old guard in virtually every organized structure on our planet, specifically because they have the experience to get things done.

C. She has been so successfully demonized by the right that she is a liability because she makes their base vote.
My answer - (after are you fucking kidding me? we should reward them for their marketing by getting rid of the people they hate?) Did you also call for the ouster of Obama before the 2012 election?  Because they were pretty successful at demonizing him.  I think they literally depicted him as a DEMON!  And yes, their base does vote, no matter what, even if they put forth Donald J. Fucking Trump for a candidate, their base shows up and votes.  It is on us to make ours vote. (Not just Pelosi, all of us.)

D.  In two separate on-line conversations, on two different threads, with two different solid, reliable, (I'll even say well-meaning) leftie men, I was told that the elections were proof that the American people just aren't ready for women in these kind of roles, and so really the only thing we can do to win is stop putting women into them until the RIGHT (emphasis mine) can no longer keep women out of such roles.
My answer - fuck the fuck off.

(and the Clinton version of all of this is the reactions to the story that Obama could have screamed louder and more forcefully exposed Russian interference into our elections, and the collective shrug that "nobody is perfect."  With which I agree. But which is also more than a little galling after story after story about Clinton's "imperfect campaign and "imperfect political style."  The hand-wringing over how she was "flawed." Of course she fucking was.  As was every one else who ever ran for anything, ever.)

These women, Pelosi and Clinton) were born into a time where the only way for a woman to have access to power was by marrying it. So they did that, and more, gaining power on their own and being vilified for it, they pushed through ceiling after ceiling for us.  They are our Moseses, able to see the Promised Land but not allowed to touch it.  And our answer is "what have you done for me lately?"  Not mine.  No fucking way.  I will hold them up on the highest chair and say thank you while I throw roses at their feet.  Nancy Pelosi will leave as Minority Leader when she fucking feels like it, or when she loses an election of her own - which she fucking hasn't yet.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Anita Pallenberg is Dead

I have been trying to write this one all day.  It just still doesn't seem real. Last night, a dear friend from childhood sent me a Facebook message.  "Just heard Anita Pallenberg has died.  Are you OK?"

She was checking if I was OK, because not only was the late Ms. Pallenberg the Rolling Stones' muse, she was mine too.  And more.  In prep school, as a shy, geeky girl with giant front teeth, I found a girl who looked like me, but had power.  And as an adopted kid, she became my fantasy bio-mom.  She was my dead rock star guardian angel's one true love.  Surely we had to be related.  And surely I'd be recognized as something special someday, and rescued from my humdrum life.  In my novel I refer to her as Circe.  And that is something I fiercely longed to be.  She walked into a room and people noticed.  I wanted to know what that was like. She had power.  I wanted to know what that was like.  She was an actress and a model and a muse.  I wanted to know what that was like.  She was someone who walked through the world as if her desires were paramount. I could not even imagine what that would be like. She could be cruel, or kind, depending on her whim.  No one else seemed to matter.  Just whatever she wanted.  At 15, she was everything I aspired to be.

We have lost so many famous people over the last couple years, and of course demographically that will continue, but this one hurts me like no other.  I know for  other people the loss of other stars cuts deeper, but this one truly pains me.

This is her

this is me at 15 attempting to look like her

At one point during one of those celebrity doppelgänger games, I put up her picture as my Facebook profile picture, and even all those years after prep school later, I have to admit it made me happy people didn't know it wasn't a picture of me. I no longer wanted anything resembling a rock and roll life, but it was nice to hear people thought I looked like I could have one if I did want it.

RIP dear lady and thank you for getting me through the worst throes of adolescence.

this tribute by Keith is beautiful

and this by Marianne Faithfull

and these pictures

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Random things I have actually heard people say around here this week......

I need to start by saying I love my town.  It's a great place to live and raise a family and have dogs.  It's super safe and everyone is (nearly always) kind and nice to one another.  But it is a wealthy NYC suburb, full of people used to having everything their way and sometimes a teeny bit of entitlement bubbles up....just a scoosh...a little bit. Sometimes you can't help but notice. This week was one of those weeks when it got to be so noticeable I had to write it down. Mostly people admitting to violations and being appalled they were getting ticketed for them, and some just general nonsense.

"It was so unfair.  Ok, technically I was in the middle of the intersection, but I was stopped, and yes I was reaching for my phone, but only to turn it on to speaker, so that should count that I was trying to switch it, but I got a ticket for using my phone anyway. I had to miss tennis to go fight it."

"They are just looking for reasons to hand out tickets.  I live here. I better not get one. I know it says no parking, but I live here. I only have ten minutes here before Pilates. I have to park here now."

"I got an off leash, no registration, wrong area of the park, wrong time of day ticket.  It was super expensive! (said as if it was the officers fault for noting all her violations) And I missed tennis fighting it too!"

"You can have fun later! Right now you need to listen to me for two more minutes! Stop talking!"

"You can't go to your friend's benefit with raggedy nails. It's just rude." (OK, I might have heard that one coming out of my own mouth. No one is immune.)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

My First Dead Body

So, I saw a dead body the other day.  On the highway, directly under an overpass. (Well, OK first I swore for about 45 minutes about the traffic getting to Norwalk, and then I saw a dead body and realized I should shut up about something as small as traffic.)  The body was lying in the road, covered by a sheet, and surrounded by a ring of police cars and officers looking solemn, facing out, heads bowed, not joking or even interacting. The thing about seeing a dead body is, it shakes you up.  It makes you realize how fragile these meat suits really are.

It also made me think about how we treat the dead. Now I don't know anything about what led that poor, sad, sick, person to throw herself off the overpass (which, not for nothing has had at least 4 other people commit or attempt suicide there since 1998, maybe you want to think about putting up a FENCE, Connecticut??????), but my guess is that the police officers and the people driving by the scene both were treating that body with more care and reverence than they ever would have while there was a live human (female, Hispanic, 20-40, hairbands on her wrist, one blue, one green, as of yet unidentified) in it.

Imagine a world where we treat people like we treat the dead. Where all of us humans treat other humans with reverence and care.  What would it look like?  No one would be hungry, to start.  No one would lack for a winter coat.  Sick people would be taken care of.  We wouldn't shoot or harm each other.  Just think about it for a moment.  And maybe wonder, like I did, why?  Why do we act like remains are sacred, but not people? And what do we do to change?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Letter from Havana (typos and hyperlinks fixed by Jay Adams-Feuer)

OK, not technically FROM Havana, but a week after our return because I was sick as a dog after getting back.  My first comment on the trip is "GO!" and go soon, because it is still that odd combination of communist tourist spot, and soon I fear it will be just another Caribbean idyll. My second comment, is "Don't eat anything at the airport!"  Boy, did that one get me.  It was the only government food we ate, everything else was in private restaurants or homes, and it was the only place I got sick.  But, after five days of antibios, I'm back and ready to try and put some of my thoughts about the trip on paper (or not paper, but into 1s and 0s).

Cuba is a fascinating country, and I'd advise reading a brief bit of history before you go, since it will make things more clear.  Everyone has an education, healthcare, and a very small government allowance, but people are very poor.  In recent years people have been able to supplement the governmental assistance by opening restaurants, opening up their homes to tourists, and selling gifts and artworks.  You can feel a palpable sensation of a people longing to do more.  I don't think the way their Revolution has progressed is ideal, but by studying their history, you certainly get a sense of what happens when a people are pushed past their breaking point.  Our trip was to see museums and understand the people there, and spread some good will.  I think we succeeded.  We talked to lots of nice people, many Cubans, but also diplomats, vacationers from Mexico and the UK.  You are advised to bring small gifts, people really are grateful and happy to have anything.  Maybe they'll sell them.  Maybe they'll keep them.  I don't care.  I just hope it improves some lives.  We brought some silk scarves, costume jewelry, lipsticks, Tylenol, toothbrushes, hand sanitizers, and tampons, all things we were told were often tough to get there.  Shortages are common.  For three days there was no Cuban beer to be had anywhere, then all of a sudden it was back.  The Havana airport had no bottled water.  Zero.

Traveling with an adult child is fun, and challenging. They can go out drinking with you, but they don't have to do what you say.   I know we both wanted to do things the other just wasn't up for.  But we compromised, found stuff we both wanted to do, had a blast, and a lot of mojitos. (Although I bet she would have had more fun Saturday night if she was with someone who wanted to go out to clubs in the real people neighborhoods.)  I would advise staying in a hotel with a swimming pool and wi-fi, rather than at an AirBnB (or maybe splitting the time if you want to get a view of Cuban family life).  It was very nice to meet a Cuban family and try to understand them in my very basic and limited Spanish, but the beds and private bath we were promised in the booking on AirBnB were just barely that. We were in a room with two beds, but it was a concrete shell with no windows and an ancient Russian air conditioner (which worked just fine). The door was a plastic accordion with a flip over lock.  The bathroom was ours alone, but it was next door down the hall, not en suite, and the shower was a bit small - like couldn't lift my arms to shave under them, small.  I wanted to show my daughter I could still travel like I was an adventurer (stop laughing!!!!!!!) and it was a mistake.  At my age I need a few more comforts.  hell, at her age I needed a few more comforts. Still, we found a couple of great hotel lobbies nearby that were fun to hang out in, had bars and food, and wi-fi, so it all worked out, but I wouldn't do it that way again.  A pool would have been a nice way to cool off from the miles of walking we did.  Probably about ten miles a day.  .  I highly recommend the Hotel Mercure Sevilla and the Hotel Inglaterra both on Prado.  
The level of decay (and restoration) in Havana is kind of astonishing.  We went back to our rooms one night, and when we came out again the next morning, there was a giant pile of rubble blocking the sidewalk less than a block away.  It had come off one of the buildings in the night.  And the cranes never stop,  There is a great building boom going on as tourist hotels are being rapidly put up, and graceful old buildings restored after the most recent easing of sanctions by President Obama.  People are very anxious to find out what happens next (aren't we all?).

It was a worthwhile trip and I'd very much recommend taking your adult or older children to see it.  Highlights from our itinerary:
Day 1
cool purple classic car taxi from the airport

Had our first and located the BEST mojito in Havana - La Moneda CubanaSan Ignacio, No. 77 (really we challenged this claim, but he was right)
Dinner at La Terraza Prado 309 where a tropical thunderstorm punctuated our dinner on an outdoor, covered terrace

Day 2
Walked La Habana Vieja
Bellas Artes and Artes Nacionales
Walked Old Havana some more
saw the
Plaza Vieja, Plaza de las Armas, Plaza San Francisco and Plaza la  Catedral
listened to live music at
Bar de Lluvia de Oro
Rooftop bar at Hotel Inglaterra.

Day 3
Museum of the Revolution - don't miss the Hall of Cretins (I think they may have to make the hallway longer soon)
Back to Old Havana for more exploration and a visit to the Castillo de la Real Forza
Lunch at
Mama Inés Calle Obrapia 60 (have the Ropa Vieja) Restaurant by Fidel's former personal chef.
Happened upon a
Three Kings Parade
Had the obligatory too expensive daiquiri at The Floradita and took pictures with the Hemingway statue

Day 4
Memorial Jose Martí
Coppelia_Ice Cream Park: Humungous Ice Cream park - as if Disney had designed an ice cream playground for Tomorrowland
Attempted to go to the
Christopher Columbus Cemetery.  There are four sides and one tourist entrance.  By the time we found the correct entrance (after having been sent away from three) in the heat and humidity, we no longer wanted to see it.
Lunch at
Cocina de Lilliam, most expensive meal we had and well worth it. Calle 48 No. 1311.  Met Jorge and Catia from Ecuador, who were kind and lovely and had a private car, so they gave us a lift to the Hotel Nacional.  Where we met vacationers from Mexico City, a psychiatrist and his psychologist wife who hadn't visited in ten years and were impressed with all the changes.
More drinks and music out in Old Havana.  Cocktails are generally between 3 and 4 CUC (equivalent to dollars) Except at places like the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where they are 5CUC and well worth it for the view of the 1930s hotel and the bar going down to the sea.

Day 5
Amazing wind storm off the sea.  Temperature dropped to the mid 60s and waves were crashing over the Malecon.  It had to be closed to traffic.
Lunch at Casa Miglis a Cuban-Swedish Fusion restaurant.  Spectacular!  Laitad 120 e/ Animas y Lagunas

Day 6
Bus tour with Habana Bus Tour Company, double decker hop on/off busses for 10CUC for the day, out to see Marina Hemingway, nothing is there don't bother and Fusterlandia, which is an entire neighborhood covered in mosaics, and well worth the trip.  One man had a vision and started with his house, then after it was completely covered, he moved on to the neighbors'.  No one seemed to mind.  It really is a sight to see.

Met Mandy and Alex, tourists from Somerset
Long hard search to find the place with the best mojitos in Havana again.  Success was celebrated with mojitos!
Day 7
Home again, but first we had to endure the Havana airport, where you can buy rum at duty free, but they don't mention that if you have a connection, you have to put it in a checked bag, as they don't send it through.  What you can't buy is a souvenir shot glass or a bottle of water.  Not one.  Beer or Coke, and too bad if you don't drink those.  Do NOT under any circumstances eat anything there.  I was hungry (and mostly bored waiting around because you have to get there three hours before your flight) and had a pork sandwich. Big mistake!!!!  Huge. Also don't take a connecting flight.  Go direct if at all possible.  So much easier in every way. (and you don't have to switch all your rum to checked baggage.)

And just for fun, some of my stream of consciousness notes/tips from the trip:
1:55 Wed. "OK, now you are the bougiest person on earth. " Miranda van Dijk. (S.Pellegrino en Havana)
The bartender at the Bar de Oro at Lluvia de Oro. has the hard shake down.
No lock, no tp, no seat (many, many, bathrooms)
Met a kid from Rye on line at the churro cart in Old Havana, Sat. night
Ecuadorean diplomat Georgie and his wife Catia drove us from lunch at Cucina de Lilliam to get mojitos at The Hotel National de Cuba.  So nice!
This place makes me miss smoking.
My pace doesn't fit this island.
Bring $1US for tips
Don't change all money at airport. Hotel Sevilla was much better for US $
Best mojito in Hanava. We looked! And nice, kept backpack for couple who lost it.  Older guy totally didn't need to show off simply had the best mojito. Small sign to make sure everyone was paying attention.
Taxi prices are highly variable. And there are LOTS of taxis. So if someone gives you a price too high, bargain. If they won't accept, find another taxi.
Don't forget a TSA lock for your luggage even if you aren't checking anything. Best to keep it locked in room.
Not a place for those of us who don't drink beer. No water in the airport. None.
You can buy as much alcohol as you can carry at airport but have to check a bag at your connecting flight.