Sunday, November 29, 2015

Showing Up

For most of 2015, I have been hiding out. I turned inward, writing poems to capture memories and feelings that I had kept to myself for so long. Even this blog about nothing is an exercise in staying in my comfort zone. With few exceptions, I write about safe topics. Now and then, I send a link for a particular post to someone. For the most part, I am the only one reading these bits and pieces of ideas.

This is about to change. This week I will be showing up at the annual WOW holiday party for the first time in years. WOW stands for Women of the World, a group of professional women in Orlando. Since landing in this strange land, I have gone to more "women only" events than in all of my previous professional life. Is it because I am in the South? Whatever the reason, this place is more gender-segregated than any place I have lived. 

On Wednesday, I am going with Betty Jo to a fundraiser for Hillary. It is not to show my support, which is quite tepid. To me, Bill and Hillary are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. (I will not express this sentiment at the gathering.) I am going to make connections for the upcoming campaign. I need a sponsor for voter registration activities in early 2016. 

Next week, I am going to the holiday party of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee. I was a member from Spring 2010 until after the 2014 General Election. I ran out of patience with the dysfunction and bickering of the monthly meetings. According to Robert, the situation has deteriorated under new leadership. I had been thinking about rejoining, but that is now off the table. Again, I will be looking to reconnect with people for the coming campaigns. 

Also, there are some people I do like who may be at the party. It is the holidays. I will be a little social. 

Science on the March!

1. Reading the papyrus scrolls of Herculaneum. Discovered in 1752 under the debris from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79, the scrolls are so debased that most efforts to read them have resulted in their further deterioration. Now modern imaging techniques from medicine and physics are being used to reveal their ancient texts. Success has been limited, but scientists continue to search for the lost texts they believe the scrolls contain. It's all about knowledge.

2. Producing genetically modified salmon. New techniques for replacing genes are being used in all sorts of interesting ways. Salmon have been genetically modified to grow bigger and fatter more quickly than salmon in the wild. It's all about the money.

3. Connecting the rise of agriculture to genetic changes in humans. Techniques for analyzing the human genome of people living and long dead continue to improve. They are also much cheaper than they used to be. A recent study shows that human DNA changed through natural selection as agriculture replaced hunting/gathering in Europe.. It's all about the knowledge.

4. Raising dairy cows without horns. The genome of dairy bull cows has been modified to delete the gene for producing horns, thus eliminating the need to remove them surgically as the young bulls mature. The American Veterinary Medical Association says the procedure is quite painful. I still think it's all about the money.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Watch Out for Those Flowers!

A dear friend sent me a floral arrangement for my birthday. I am sure that the picture of "Sunflower Surprise" looks sweet and lovely on the web site. In person, however, the effect is quite disturbing.

The eight blooms in the arrangement are not even close to shrinking violets or delicate rosebuds. They have large dark centers and florid yellow petals. They are aggressive, thrusting themselves out of the square vase into my personal space.

Whenever I look at them, I am reminded of the people-eating plants in "The Little Shop of Horrors." I am afraid to turn my back!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy Birthday, Baruch Spinoza

Happy Birthday to Baruch Spinoza. Oh yes! My birthday is November 24th, too. The first modern man and I have a great deal in common. Our approach to the universe is more cerebral than emotional. I am definitely not a faith-based person. I don't like labels, so I will not call myself an agnostic or an atheist. I do like the scientific method. With scientific rigor, you cannot prove there is a supreme being. But neither can you prove that one doesn't exist. If there is a god, I hope she has a great sense of humor.

Speaking of the universe, tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of Einstein's General Theory of Relatively. I am reading an article about it in the New York Times science section in today's paper. As a birthday present to myself, I am not reading the main section - too depressing. The world can continue its spiral into complete disaster without my attention for one day.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Tigers Are So Last Year

Even a 3-year-old can become jaded fast. I got a decidedly cool response from Sebastian when I tried to share the wonderful photos of tigers and elephants that Juancarlos and Sam have been posting on their Thailand adventure. It seems that Alejandro and Melissa took him to a nature preserve last year where he met his very own tiger. When he was originally shown a photo, he told Alejandro, with a shrug, that they had already done that last year.

Tigers are so last year!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Nessun Dorma

I first heard Luciano Pavarotti sing Nessun Dorma in the early 80's in Chicago. His concert in a major hall had been cancelled because of a snow storm. The make-up performance in early spring was in a more intimate space; Linda invited me to join her as a substitute for a friend who was not free the new date. I was transported.

I heard Pavarotti sing the great aria twice at the Met. The first time was thrilling. The second time was a bit tense. By that point, the peerless tenor of his day was having serious health problems. His legs had given out. He took a position on the stage and didn't move. He was clearly holding back early in the opera. But when it came time to sing Nessun Dorma, he reached down deep into his body and his soul to deliver a performance more beautiful than ever. 

I am so lucky to have heard him in person. Now I listen to the CD. I am still transported.

Salem Witch Trials

Stacy Schiff has just published a history of the Salem witch trials of 1692. Incited by hysterical teen-aged girls, the townspeople hanged 14 women and five men; another was crushed to death by stones. The trauma ended in less than a year.

Today, hypocritical politicians stand in for teenage-girls in the incitement of mass hysteria and fear. No, there were no witches. Yes, there are radical Islamic terrorists. There are no easy answers to combating terrorism while helping to bring stability to the Mid-East and Africa. Today's response - from both fear-mongering Republicans and spineless Democrats - doesn't come close to getting on the list of possible solutions.

Human nature hasn't changed in at least 40,000 years. We are more alike than we are different. And one way we are alike is in our propensity to see real and imagined differences in others as existential threats.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Understudy Grandparent

In the last year or so, I have assumed a new role in the village - understudy grandparent. I have been called on to take Gisela to soccer practice and matches, as well as movies aimed primarily at her generation. (What happened to those days of little art house films?)

Thanksgiving is the season of Grandparents' Day at schools in Orlando. Tomorrow morning I will represent my side of the family at Gisela's school. After a buffet breakfast, the students will present a program. Gisela was a fish in the school production of The Little Mermaid last spring. She told me she has a speaking part this time.

Next Wednesday, I will play my assigned role at Sebastian's school. I was there last year, too. I will be delighted to see his beautiful smiling face, missing a front tooth! 

Dinner in Hanoi

I have 500+ connections on LinkedIn. My Google contacts number in the thousands. I am often the go-to person when friends and families want to email or call someone and don't have the information they need.

A few years ago, Mozelle asked me how to get in touch with Bob about a business matter. They are both former colleagues from my days in investment banking and New York State government. I knew they had connected when Mozelle called me one evening. He said he was having dinner with Bob - in Hanoi! My network goes international.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cleaning House

I come from a long line of dedicated house cleaners. My material grandmother was renowned for getting down on her hands and knees to scrub the marble steps in front of 416 Hoffman Street. My mother was no slouch. From any early age, I learned to minimize clutter and keep the bathroom clean at all times, rules I still live by.

When I lived in New York, I had more money than time. Cora, a diminutive Filipina, kept my apartment spotless for 20 years. In Orlando, I have more time than money and do my own cleaning to fairly acceptable standards.

But then I met Nancy, of Mona Maids, who cleans empty apartments in my apartment complex before they are re-rented. Nancy is coming this morning to reprise her efforts of a year ago. Again, I will need sunglasses to behold the sparkling clean bath tub.                 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Four Friends and a Phone

Yesterday, Tara, Diane, Jean and I spent about an hour on the phone to catch up. This was highly unusual in the day of email, text and tweets. We worked together in Chicago from 1978 through 1983 and have stayed in touch with visits and calls since then.

There have been so many friends over the years, with a checkered history of staying connected. When I lived on Horrocks Street (6 - 17 years of age), I played Clue and Monopoly with Phyllis next store and got my first hint of the mysteries of sex and reproduction from Esther (who lived 2 houses away), who passed along the information from her slightly older aunt.

Sheila (Bunny) was a friend from the second grade through high school. We lost touch for decades, but I now stay with her when I go to New York. We see the world the same way, and our time together is very affirming for both of us.

There are so many friends from my "young-marrieds" phase. Leslie helped me get an apartment in her building when I moved to New York, and we were neighbors for years. I am making my plane reservations to visit her in Tuscon in January. 

Beginning after Thanksgiving, I am going to make holiday calls to as many friends as I can reach. I did the same thing last year. People were really surprised when I said I was just calling to wish them a happy holiday. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Running in Central Park

I wore my new running shoes this morning. The temperature was in the mid-60's and the sun's light, low in the sky, was muted by thin clouds. This was good running weather for Central Florida, but I was the only one taking advantage of the cool-down. As I ran along Narcoosee Road, I still thought about running in Central Park. I loved to see the changing seasons in the leaves of the trees. Even at 6:00 AM on a chilling February morning, there were other runners in the Park to provide a measure of psychic companionship. I was always close to a moment of magic.

The Gates

I arise in the chill pre-dawn to prepare for the ceremony
with footwear made for running and garments unadorned.
The Oracle at Delphi has foretold a time of celebration
in a great wooded area in the heart of the metropolis.

Saffron-draped gates lead from mundane to magical.
Greek drama and epic poems from school days come alive.
I am a hero, approaching the stadium under the saffron drapes
to be crowned with a laurel wreath for my valor and fortitude.

Months later, I stand guard over the heirs of Pheidippides,
holding back onlookers as the runners complete the final miles.
First are the elite women, fleet as gazelles; followed by the entire human family,
bound by their determination to cross the finish line and taste glory.

Friday, November 13, 2015

We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches

I take courage for the election battles ahead from one of my great heroes:

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender

Winston Churchill
June 4, 1940

Who Writes History?

Walter Benjamin said history is written by the victors. I am not sure that holds true for the American Civil War. 

I read in a recent issue of The New Yorker reviews of several books describing the pervasive effects of slavery throughout the country before the Civil War and the pernicious influence of Jim Crow after the war. Today, the South extols with increased vigor the glories of its heritage and the bravery of its Civil War soldiers, with little regard to the fact that all was based on the evils of slavery. The North maintains that its hands are clean and it is therefore absolved from dealing with legacy problems.

But wait! The Civil War was not about slavery; it was about States' rights, as embodied by the Constitution. And the problems of Jim Crow have been largely solved, according to Chief Justice Roberts, as he and the conservative majority ripped out the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

In our perverse present, the South is not only rewriting history; it is turning back the clock on progress made in the last 50 years to ensure equal rights for the descendants of the human beings that it once held as chattel property. 

I am close to despair. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Not Your Father's Army!

The Orange County League of Women Voters honored women in the military at their luncheon on Veterans Day. The four women veterans on the panel told their stories, which ranged from relatively upbeat to a dark tale of abuse and discrimination. There was no specific response to the report of years of harsh treatment and futile attempts to get help. The contrast between the benign setting (ladies and a few men having lunch) and the bleak tale (which did not have specifics to ground it) was not conducive to discussion. 

There was a moment of dark humor at the end, when the moderator, former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, asked about the new VA hospital in Lake Nona, Orlando (my neighborhood). It seems that the architects and planners used a decades-old layout that did not take into account the health care needs of the growing number of women serving in our military. Privacy for women did not exist. A woman veteran was quoted as saying "I won't be getting a pap smear here" after checking out the facilities. 

Hey guys! Wake up. This is not  your father's military.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


I introduced Gisela to the Motown sound on our return trips from soccer practice and games. Not the original sound, but the music as interpreted by Michael McDonald on his two Motown cover albums. She liked the songs and asked for more. Quality comes through across the generations. If she comes to stay with me one night, I will play the Ashford and Simpson DVD for her. At last, we have found music with both enjoy.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Walks on the Beach

Late Afternoon: Shelagh and I take our daily walk on the beach at Ocean City, NJ. Families with young children are packing up coolers, buckets and shovels, and umbrellas to head home for showers and dinner. The ocean waves advance and retreat from the sand with all-encompassing sound that evokes primal memories and calms us. We catch up on a year's worth of experience and share plans for the future. Although, superficially, our lives may seem different, we connect on a deep and intimate level. I miss those walks.

Dusk: David and I walk on the beach at Daytona Beach Shores. We comment on the architecture of the hotels and large condo buildings lining the beachfront. We find them wanting in interest and style. We stay on the alert for cars and other vehicles that are permitted to drive on the beach. When I first moved to Florida, I was shocked by news of people being killed or injured when they were run over on the beach. That would never happen in Ocean City, NJ.

101 Dugout Canoes

David and I went to St. Augustine, the first North American city, founded in 1565 by the Spanish. It changed hands several times before becoming one of the United States. Its history under European rule and statehood is dwarfed on the timeline by all that happened before. 

What made the previous history come alive for me was seeing a 500-year-old dugout canoe. It was actually a baby compared to other examples in a cache of 101 dugout canoes, some as old as 5,000  years, recently found in Newnans Lake by high school students. 

People have the very human tendency to give primacy to their own stories. When people rail against immigrants in this country today, I know we are all immigrants. Even the people who paddled those canoes 5,000 years ago had traveled to this continent across the Bering Strait long before. We are all part of the long and complex human story that started in East Africa. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Touch of Color at the Ankle

My sock fetish really took off when I moved to Orlando. I wear Puma sneakers most of the time, and I like a little touch of color at the ankle to complement my outfit. I have a large collection of socks in aqua, dark blue, green, orange, red, purple, and even one pair of white.

Decades ago, a popular stereotype was the little old lady in tennis shoes, the activist of the day. When I worked for the District of Columbia government, we decided to restructure the investments in the teachers retirement fund to get a better return. Notice went out to all the teachers. Unannounced, a little old retired teacher in tennis shoes came to my office to protest the change. It was confirmation that most stereotypes have some basis in reality.

When I wear my Pumas to collect petitions to protect the environment and to canvas for Democratic candidates, am I the little old lady in tennis shoes for today? Perhaps. But at least my socks are colorful and cute.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Where Shopping Is a Pleasure

There is a big difference between going to the grocery store in New York and going in Orlando. The checkout line culture sums it up.

The marketing tag line of Publix, the big supermarket chain in Florida, is "Where Shopping Is a Pleasure." That may be true if your idea of fun is chatting with the checkout staff while people stand in line behind you, patiently waiting for their turn to exchange mindless pleasantries. Or perhaps you have forgotten to take advantage of a BOGO offer. No worries. The checkout person will dispatch another staff member to run through the aisles to get the desired item. Oh, yes. The people waiting in line behind? That is just part of the enjoyment.

When I shopped for a few groceries at the West Side Market on my last trip to New York, I was a little concerned about the length of the checkout line. No worries. This was New York. The staff didn't chat; they checked me out with speed and efficiency in record time. That was a real pleasure!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Post 9.11 World

This Friday, I'm picking someone up at Orlando International Airport for the first time. After reviewing confusing information on parking options on the OIA site, I decided to try Express Parking. It seemed to offer short-term parking under the main terminals for a reasonable cost without the need for shuttle transport. I decided to test it out today. Little did I know I would be entering the deep paranoia of the post-9.11 world. 

Before being allowed into the parking area, I had to get out of my car; open the glove compartment, center storage area, gas cap, and trunk. The pleasant and friendly female security officer used a long-handled mirror to look under the car. I was expecting her to pat  me down, but that didn't happen. It seems that car bomb is the primary threat.

In an effort to bond, I told the security officer that I had been in New York on 9.11 and that I had not problem with enhanced security procedures. I also remembered the truck bomb that detonated under one of the Twin Towers in 1993. Even here, in the Land of the Mouse, those memories rise to the surface.

My car did pass inspection, and I completed my dry run. Now I know to leave some extra time on Friday to clear security.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Edith, My Avatar

As I grow older, I look more like my mother. I act more like her, too.

This Halloween was a good example. Pulling together a tee shirt and head band from The Party Store with shorts and tights from my own collection, I showed up at Melissa and Alejandro's house dressed as a Ninja Turtle groupie. Sebastian greeted me at the door. Smiling sweetly in recognition and comradeship, he called out: "Mommy, Tia Eileen is a Ninja Turtle!"

Thanks, Mom. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Scenes from a Wedding

Walk Down the Aisle: James escorts Kimberly, his beloved younger daughter, down the aisle. She seems to trip a bit on the beautiful bridal gown. Then, James lifts her veil, kisses her, and sits down by his wife. On his face, there is the tender, aching look of love and loss as father watches his cherished daughter walk to another man, with whom she will share her life.

Sunshine Appears: There was light rain in the morning and clouds during the drive out to Long Island. About 2 PM, as we take our seats for the outdoor ceremony, the clouds lift and the sun shines on the happy couple. They take their wedding vows against a backdrop of trees and bushes in rich autumn tones picked up by the roses in the bouquets of the bride and her attendants.  

Baby Beyonce Takes the Floor: About 4 years old, the little dancer takes the floor alongside the adults. Delighting in the growing attention, she goes far beyond the usual random movements of her age cohort to create a choreographed routine. You go girl!

Back to Her Roots: As the dancing continues, Kim leaves the floor to reappear in a stunning wedding cheongsam gown in honor of her heritage. The radiant smile on her face is universal.