A Gratitude Shout Out

Science March, Washington, DC
Thanks to N.Y. Times

Thanks to Bill Maher, I no longer feel guilty over my wake-up habit of checking my I-Phone to get a reality check on our president’s nighttime tweets. In last week’s broadcast, he rued the day-to-day anxiety of Trump’s unpredictable behavior and copped to his own habit of waking in a nervous sweat, needing the safety of facts to begin his day. I was so taken with Maher’s mirroring my own behavior, I yelled at the screen, “Me, too, Bill. That man makes me nervous.”

What helps is the sheer gratitude I have for all those folks who are engaged and active in resisting the capricious and arbitrary edicts of Trump’s administration. I have a cast of journalists, reporters and writers who ground me. Every day, I read news and opinions in my favorite  outlets and varying articles suggested by my peeps on Facebook. I listen to Maddow at 9:00 every night. I relate to her broad perspective and close tracking of issues that spell “danger.”

Yesterday, in particular, the occasion of Earth Day, combined with the Science March, highlighted two of my main concerns: the well-being of the earth and the well-being of all living creatures who inhabit the earth.

This blog is a shout out to the thousands who turned out yesterday here and Boston and all through our nation to march for Science. It seemed unbelievable, the need the educate, never mind to organize a march, to emphasize the importance and worth of scientific thinking and reasoning for the growth and safety of our nation.

Eager to get a close-up of the Washington events, I logged onto the Washington Post live stream from the podium. Rain drops clouded the feed just a tad but did not deter my appreciation of the crowd trying to stay warm and dry as they listened to the speakers representing scientific organizations of every realm. It was clear: we are a nation under siege from our executive branch and now is the time to step forward to protect what is precious.

Like many fellow writers, I turn to the written word to shout out, to express my concern, and to try to make a difference. In the lead up to the planning for the march in Washington, The New York Times posted a book review column titled, American Poets, Refusing to Go Gentle, Rage Against the Right. The columnist, Alexandra Altra, caught my attention in her description of the poet, Jane Hirshfield.

The poet Jane Hirshfield has never thought of herself as an agitator. A self-described “genuine introvert,” Ms. Hirshfield likes to spend her days gardening, hiking and writing verses about nature, impermanence and interconnectedness.

But a couple of months ago, to her own surprise, she emailed the organizers of the March for Science in Washington and urged them to make poetry part of the protest. At the rally on Saturday, Ms Hirshfield will read her new poem “On the Fifth Day,” which addresses climate change denial and the Trump administration’s dismantling of environmental regulations.

I am grateful to identify with a sister poet/gardener and offer her poem, On The Fifth Day, for your reading. Just click on the title above or continue on.

On the fifth day

the scientists who studied the rivers

were forbidden to speak

or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air

were told not to speak of the air,

and the ones who worked for the farmers

were silenced,

and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,

began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak

and were taken away.

The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

Now it was only the rivers

that spoke of the rivers,

and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees

continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,

and the rivers kept speaking,

of rivers, of boulders and air.

Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,

the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,

code writers, machinists, accountants,

lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day,

of silence.

 

 

 

Passover 2017: We Continue On

Beth conducting Seder

When a word sticks in my head, appears and re-appears in my consciousness, I know something is brewing. On this, the 6th day of Passover, the day I will prepare charoses for our family Seder, hosted for the first time by my daughter, Beth, the words pass over cry out for attention.

The event of Beth’s stepping up to host the Seder marks the passing over of the beloved and sacrosanct family Seder to the next generation. Last year at this time, my first cousin Sid, then 99 years old and living in an assisted care community, carried on the tradition to host my mother’s extended family of cousins and friends, a group of 40 plus.

Sid’s death this past fall marked the ultimate passing over, the end of a five generation Passover gathering of my mother’s family.

Sid’s older brother, Lew and his wife, Selma welcomed Marv and myself as a newly arrived couple in the Boston area. Spring, 1958, the sight of an elongated “T” table set with Selma’s personally constructed Haggadah set the scene. Lew, as eldest son of Kunah, my mother’s half sister, an articulate and wise lawyer, held the reins, insisting that each and every participant read aloud in English or Hebrew, that we all take part. The mood was irresistible: we were grateful to come together, to re-tell the story of our ancestral exodus from tyranny, to raise our cups in thanks, to sing with verve and spirit.

As a child, I had little sense of the meaning of Passover. My father read the entire service in Hebrew from a black bound book lacking pictures, transliteration and songs. In contrast, Selma’s 8×10 bound Haggadah was printed in English and Hebrew, and included songs and pictures drawn by all the children.

When Selma and Lew passed, Sid and his wife relocated the Seder to their home in New Jersey. For two decades, I took over hosting our own small version of the family Seder. Using Selma’s Haggadah, I followed the tradition of my mother’s extensive menu of hard boiled eggs and salt, gefilte fish with horseradish, chicken soup with matzos balls, brisket, tsimmes, fresh green asparagus, my own baked macaroons and fresh fruit.

When my children married and started their own families, each one continued the tradition— Craig, returning home those first years and ultimately taking Selma’s Haggadah to the Midwest and Beth, still in the Boston area, joining with me, cooking the chicken soup. To continue on, we adapted. To include family members from afar, we shifted the Seder to a weekend date. In time, to accommodate restless children,we shortened the story telling and experimented with new and modern Haggadahs.

I recall my gratitude a decade ago when Sid relocated and re-instated the family Seder. With his passing, I am grateful that Beth has stepped up to host this first year with her family and close friends. Yesterday, I spent the afternoon scraping and cutting carrots and sweet potatoes, mixing the dried fruit, orange juice and spices to blend the flavors. My mother, Goldie’s hand written recipe card, alongside my favorite New York Times recipe, guided me. I am grateful to continue on.

Show Up, How To Advocate — Part 2

What You Can Do Now Training
photo courtesy of Ashiaray.com

For those of you are trying to focus on a way to make a difference, I offer Part II on Training To Make A Difference. I’m grateful to those of you who weighed in on my last blog and offered feedback about how difficult it is to focus on one issue. Scrambling events, scrambled minds seems to be the order of the day. All the more reason to call upon what is common knowledge about mindfulness— to pause, take a deep breath, and seek resonance to what calls you.

SOLIDARITY is the byword: Pick an issue you’ve never thought about, and show up

Initially, I scratched my head at this suggestion and then, thinking about the big picture, the element of weighing in, the surprise of commonality made sense.

  • It’s as simple as showing up. Be a body among others.
  • Especially at local levels, public forums: 10 more people can swing how a room feels
  • You don’t have to agree on every single thing an organization does to recognize and support the common fight

Be Brave 

  • Braver than officials are or can be 

How many times since Trump took office have I been amazed, surprised, pleased, grateful for the throngs of citizens who show up at public forums, at the doorsteps of their representatives, in marches, with placards, unafraid to shout out what is essential for their well being.

Practical details of Contacting Your Representatives

Request a specific action 

  • Methods in decreasing order of impact. Write OpEd Letter to the Editor, plan 1:1 meetings, attend legislative office hours, write letters, make calls, participate on social media, send e-mails. DON’T FAX 

Know critical information about what you are requesting, make it personal 

  • bill number, current sponsorship http://magov/Bills/Search
  • re: bill he/she have sponsored—ask how you can promote
  • keep staffers’ email addresses
  • Remember: officials and staff are real people
  • suggestion: “I think you are the kind of person who can do the right thing.”

Make It Local

  • If you’re federal representative isn’t listening, go local

Stay informed & spread the word (examples are from MA. check your locale)

Following the training, there was a lengthy Q&A session. The following points are salient and useful in understanding the impact of participation.

  • Re: increasing turnout: detach from an individual, attach to ideas
  • What doesn’t work: Data suggests that “the sky will fall if X wins/loses” is a failed model
  • What works—engage on issues: go door to door to engage on a specific issue that regularly affects your life (social security, education, healthcare)
  • one study on this approach: 18% increase in turnout
  • In relating to those with different views—1. if you start with your values, you open a discussion about how to fix a problem. 2. if you start with your policy position, most people will assume you are closed to their point of view.

I close with gratitude for the opportunity to share this valuable advocacy training experience with my readers. In highlighting the information I felt most compelling, I have a far greater sense of how each and every one of us, in stepping up in small and big ways on issues that relate to our values, can make a difference. As always, I am grateful for the give and take of comments and look forward to your sharing.

 

 

 

Grateful for Advocacy Training—Part 1

What You Can Do Now Training
photo courtesy of ashiaray.com

For weeks, feeling like a small cog in a big world, as I’ve absorbed the outpouring of tweets and network news about our nation’s challenges, I’ve wondered how to focus and weigh in, how to make a difference.

This past Sunday afternoon, I joined about 500 others in an What You Can Do Now 2017 Advocacy Training event, a day of activism and #resistance training organized by the Newton, Massachusetts Democrats.

The scene: Newton South High School Cafeteria, stripped of tables and warming stations, lined up with row after row of chairs. I came early for the keynote but all the seats were filled. I was fortunate to sit on the edge of a table, up front, to the right of the speakers. The visibility and sound were great!

The Keynote speakers: Jordan Berg Powers, MASS Alliance and Brian Barrish, Legislative Director and General Counsel in the Office of Massachusetts State Senate Majority Leader, Harriette Chandler.

Both men were incisive, spirited, knowledgeable, and filled with specifics on issues which they imparted with spirited, spunky, no nonsense “can do” language. In this and subsequent blogs, I will offer highlights taken from my notes and a transcript—

FOR NEW ACTIVISTS—IT’S NOT HOW YOU DO IT BUT HOW TO THINK 

Stop labeling issues 

  • Lead with values and real people (underlines are mine)
  • Make real the terrible things we see around us
  • Policy has the power to destroy or create people’s loves
  • “criminal; justice reform” vs. “decriminalizing poverty” or “no one should go to jail because they cannot pay a $50 fine.”

My Take: Be mindful. Focus on details, tell a story, use metaphor, allegory, a visual reference that shows understanding, embraces empathy, can stick.

Stop expecting your representatives to be leaders

  • Their job: to get 51% of the vote in their next election
  • Our job: building a progressive future
  • By definition, a candidate cannot get so far out in front that they lose their followers.
  • We will lead us and they will respond…or not get elected.

This was an eye opener— the idea that if an elected representative gets too far out in his/her vision and mandate, the voters will lose faith. Tone, the step by step shaping of a vision, in pragmatic terms gets my attention. I lean towards representatives who have a keen grasp of the English language and can paint a verbal picture that resonates with my values. I miss Barney Frank— his passion and sense of humor.

Expect to fail…and dig in

  • 90% of this work is failure and anticlimactic wins.
  • Wins just happen: there’s no parade, no balloons.
  • Typically, there’s 10 years of work behind any major bill.
  • The left spends a lot of time worrying about winning vs. trying and learning from doing.
  • If the conversation is, “I don’t know if this will work,” WALK OUT OF THE ROOM.

My takeaway on this was huge! I felt enormously grateful for how these speakers encouraged empowerment of each individual to make a judgment and to sign onto causes, movements, ideas, in which there is engagement, passion and a belief in “can do.”

Be Brave and creative

  • This fight will demand both. “We are going to see the things we love destroyed.”

A Hard Truth: Destructive decisions targeting the EPA, the environment, immigrant safety have been disheartening. This administration’s avarice for power fuels my #resist imperative.

Don’t be a “nattering nabob” of negativity

 Don’t be this person: “That’s not going to work,” “you’re doing it wrong.”

  • If someone’s being brave, encourage them!
  • The litmus isn’t “will it work?” The litmus is, “Will it move the conversation?”
  • If you think it’s not as effective as it could be, make it more.

Takeaway Warning: We all want to be accepted. In the back and forth discussion of political imperatives, new activists can be intimidated by strong, skeptic voices. Build a team with risk taking folks who are not afraid to speak truth to power—those folk who need to clean up their power over posturing.

Dig in on SOMETHING

  • Find one thing you care about, and go deep
  • There is always work to be done….websites, press releases, photos, op ed pieces, etc.

I am grateful to share what you can do now advocacy training. Comments re: what you care about, where you might go deep, are welcome. To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plants: My Trump Winter Balm

Gaillardia & Gerbera
on the Windowsill

Two weeks ago in the Northeast, in the midst of the Russian /Flynn /election connection and the endless Trump twitter maelstrom, spring temperatures warmed the ground. Clumps of daffodils began their stretch to maturity. Lily leaves peeped out. Buds appeared on shrubs. I embraced the warm air.

Spring in February, a seductive distraction, seemed too soon. Within days, a  snowstorm blanketed every bud and plant with soft snow, a coating that is protective. After the spring thaw, some leaves will look fragile and need to be cut. Thankfully, the blossoms will emerge intact and open.

The seduction of spring stuck. Just as the plants began to stretch upward in the warming earth, I culled my garden catalogs and began to fantasize about rich colors and new plantings for my garden.

There is nothing more appealing to a winter-shut-in-gardener then the  sight of red, yellow, peach and pink primrose plants at the entry to the super market. My first choice was a red plant, my second choice, yellow. Primroses are easy plants. They like “wet feet,” meaning that every few days they require watering from the base up. It’s easy. I simply pop the plant into a bowl of water and let the plant infuse what it needs. I then place it in the sink to drain out the excess moisture.

The next week, I was tempted but hesitant to buy a bright orange gerbera. My prior efforts at growing gerbera in summer have resulted in wilt. But this was a winter experiment. I had the intuition to water my orange beauty the same way I watered the primrose. Gratefully, the plant has thrived and produced multiple blooms.  My hope is to set it in the garden along with the yellow and red gaillardia with its effervescent blossoms.

My gaillardia and gerbera plants on the sunny windowsill draw me into a practice of mindfulness. Every day I check each leaf, each bud for wilt, aphids, any sign of distress. When a blossom fades, I cut it off to engender more nourishment to new buds. A drooping blossom signals the need for water. Rotation helps the plant stay tall, otherwise it bends too far  into the sun. It’s about reading the signs.

As a child, I enjoyed  the freedom to indulge in flights of imagination and play in the backyard. Often, my dad joined me as he trimmed shrubs or cut the lawn. During World War II, I watched as he chose a half moon shaped tool to cut the edges of a bed and turn the soil for planting tomatoes, green beans and peppers. Every summer day, he tended his garden. It was part of the war effort. My father was a careful man; he understood the signs. At the right moment, he invited me to pick a lush tomato to bring to the table for supper.

I am thankful for the lessons of my father: gardens and plants engender beauty, food and connection to the earth; nature is nurture. Especially during this extended Trump winter, I am thankful.

 

Grateful My Mom Was an Immigrant

Goldie, My Mom

If my mom were alive today, she would be shaking her head in disbelief and concern about the stories of immigrants being rounded up and deported with little warning. At the age of ten, she journeyed from Lithuania to Boston Harbor with her mother and brother to join her father and half sister in Portland, Maine. Strangely, there were no stories or pictures of that time and all during my childhood and teen years, I never thought of my mother as an immigrant.

Unlike my great aunts and uncles, she spoke English without trace of an accent. A business school graduate, she identified as an American. She attended the Fanny Farmer Cooking School where she embraced modern cooking and hospitality. An adventurous and creative cook, she was known for her excellent baked goods and desserts.

In retrospect, it’s remarkable how little I knew of her first ten years in Lithuania. She enjoyed the “American Way” and relished the role of wife, mother and homemaker. I was about ten when I first realized Mom had a different life before arriving in America. We were visiting a family at a lake when the host invited us for a rowboat ride. In an instant, my confident and relaxed mother shook her head and said, not for me, and encouraged my brother and me to get in the boat and drift onto the water.

Years later, after another similar incident, she was willing to tell me the story of her nauseating and frightening 2 week voyage in steerage; she ate stale bread with water and lay on a hard bench for the entire trip. It would be many more years before I fleshed out the story of how my great grandfather, worried about the conscription of Jewish young men, made three trips from Lithuania to New York to assure safe passage for the entire family. Sadly, in the end, he was turned away because of a cough.

Last night, on television, I watched a segment about refugees, fearful of Trump’s ban and ICE roundups, finding their way to cold and icy Canada. At the border, an American and Canadian custom agent approached a lone pregnant woman. It was heart breaking when the American agent asked if she had a visa. Her body shrank in defeat as he placed her in a patrol car.

I’m grateful Great Zadie had the courage to forge the way for the entire family to undertake such a long and arduous journey. It was a time when health was a key requirement for admission. I believe Mom’s silence about what she endured was as much about her sadness for her beloved grandfather left behind as the upset from the listing boat traversing those miles of ocean swells.

I am grateful for the ACLU, the lawyers and many citizens who embrace and defend the safe harbor of America, the America who welcomed my mother, the America who sheltered and educated me, the America whose values we need to honor and protect.

Why I Stick With Gratitude

a grateful moment

In this fast paced, twitter-tweet-news-in-the-moment world, gratitude slows me down. When I consciously focus on the question—for what am I grateful today— the question in and of itself slows my monkey mind. After two and a half years of daily practice, I have trained my mind to slow and seek out the answer.

Lately, and to my delight, my friend Carol gave me feedback about her own experience of experiencing gratitude. She described it as a “process,” an apt description. In these weekly essays, I try to show how the process of gratitude engages one’s sense of self to include other human beings, the natural world and beyond.

The more I engage with the question—what encounter, what experience of noticing makes me grateful— the more I slow and go deeper within myself. In practice, the seeking is a spiritual quest, to go beyond the immediate and tap into what appeals and resonates with one’s being.

Yesterday, I attended a class with eight other mental health professionals. The topic, A Hot Button Intervention Model, was taught by Stanley Gross, Ed.D. Close to ninety, this was Stanley’s last teaching engagement on a subject he has studied and taught for much of his long career. We all have “hot buttons”—events out of the blue which set off reactivity and behavior that is familiar and often, uncomfortable.

I needed CEU’s for my professional license, and signed up in the hope that I would come to understand my quick, impulsive reactions in the face of a threating situation. Each of the participants shared a recent hot button experience. Mine was with a recent unexpected bout with vertigo. Stanley is all about process, and the need to take time to assess and evaluate the unconscious origins of a hot button reaction.

After six hours, I came away calmer, more aware of the how I over-reacted to this particular incident and its source in resurrecting a similar childhood experience. Stanley’s knowledge and teaching skills, a man in a similar life stage to my own, offered an experiential training. You can see how such a gift of new information and behaviors could bring immeasurable gratitude.

Additionally, I reconnected to a social worker/writer friend and renewed memories of a colleague we have in common. It made my gratitude experience all the sweeter.

In these Trumpster times, we need ways to move out and beyond the immediate, to give pause, to engage and refresh our senses. Each of the participants, all therapists who spend much of their workday dealing with others shared their relaxation practices. They included: swimming daily, dance, hiking, walking, working out, especially with weights. I practice David Dorian Ross’s Tai Chi Flow, a breathing/meditative/movement practice.

I am grateful to share my recent experience and the benefit that comes from a deeper engagement with unconscious aspects of myself. I am grateful to those of you who are reading this and would enjoy your comments about a recent gratitude experience.

 

No Gratitude in Trump’s 77-Minute Press Conference

Gratitude block on my windowsill, thanks to Beth

I was pretty shaken by the president’s recent lengthy press conference—77 minutes of on-my-mind-on-my-tongue comments. Afterwards, a question nagged. Where is President Trump’s gratitude for having won enough votes to win the country’s highest office?

His negative, belligerent tone gnawed at me. Here was a man whose parents — his mother, a Scottish immigrant, his father a successful developer—provided opportunities far beyond the average, setting the stage for the privileged and fastidious lifestyle he can indulge at any moment.

It is the United States government, its considerable resources and dedicated civil servants, its very working, which has provided the foundation and cushion of his life. Yet, by all accounts— from his inauguration speech, subsequent communications and impromptu tweets, he asserts that it is we who must be grateful to be saved from the catastrophe of living in America, 2017. I just want you to know. I inherited a mess, he declared last week.

We are fast learning that Trump must criticize, must tear down what is and has been operational and functional, so as to declare his place in history— the savior of a crumbling scaffold, to redesign, to replace the old and well-enough-served with the new. His mantra, “Make America Great” is intended to promulgate the belief that he and he only (with his chosen people) can envision and change the trajectory of our destiny.

No doubt, our scaffolding needs repair at significant junctures. But improvement does not appear in Mr. Trump’s plan. Straight out of the gate, he is compelled, driven to make good his promise of rooting out illegals, securing borders, building the wall, dismantling the administrative state. (Banner’s words)

Would that President Trump could offer compassion and empathy for the dilemmas of immigrants who have set down roots, yet have no clear path for citizenship. Would that he could embrace the possibilities of the range of immigrant resourcefulness to our national well-being.

After I printed out the transcript of the 23 pages from Trump’s press conference, I searched for words, thoughts and ideas, which might reflect thankfulness, a sense of personal gratitude. Thirteen minutes in, Trump had an opportune minute to express appreciation for the swell of voters who pushed him over the top. Instead, he offered, 270 which you need, that was laughable. We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes.

And that’s the way he and it goes, throwing out words as if they were real descriptors, set in stone, proof of the intent to deconstruct what I have lived and appreciated over the past years. At the very end, he did politely state, It’s a great honor to be with you. Thank you very much. Thanks.

I wish I could say “Thank you, Mr. President.” I am grateful to Fox News and the New York Times for the transcript; I am grateful for a discerning education; I am grateful for the freedom to write this blog.

 

 

 

The Robin’s Feast

Robins on the Back Hill,
February, 2017

I witnessed a flock of Robins foraging in the leaf litter on my back hill today. I’d been wondering about robins since yesterday, how it was the brown/orange female robin flitting around in my front garden looked so well fed.

Peter Guren, the creator of the comic strip, Ask Shagg, answered my question, in part. In response to a reader’s inquiry about why robins don’t eat from a bird feeder during winter, he replied, “ Robins that don’t migrate will hang around and eat fruit in the winter.” That made sense; a few red berries, blue berries, still tethered to my holly and juniper shrubs, though a little spongy, lay in wait.

I write this post at my kitchen table with a sweeping view of the back hill. The out door thermometer reads 58 degrees, a February thaw. I cannot say what drew my attention up the back hill, beyond the erosion/planter inserts filled with green pachysandra, to the bank of exposed leaves. The leaves were moving—flitting, fleeting, fluttering, leaping, turning. It was as if I were witnessing a live video on camera. But what was propelling all that action?

I stood at the patio door to focus up the thirty yards where the scene was playing out. It took a sustained and conscious effort to zoom onto what seemed surreal, my imagination at play, when I caught sight of the red/orange breast of one, two, three, ten, twenty or more robins in a feeding frenzy. The sight of so many in the common search for food, their coordinated dance, the sense of their innate radar— food for nourishment beneath the melting of new snow, the moist leaves abundant with earthworms, beetles, spiders, and more.

My anxious gut fluttered with gratitude, a release of pleasure, uncoiling with delight, this 30th day of Trump’s presidency,  The robins had not flown south; they had stayed close to home, this homestead surrounded by oaks and American Beeches, the branched lily tree in the front garden which nests 3 to 4 chicks each spring.

Since President Trump’s 77-minute press conference, his rant of free association, my mind craved grounding, a way to sort and sift what I had heard, a way to make sense of what made no sense. The birds offered a lesson.

I am grateful to be reminded of what lies beneath the surface, to refocus, to shift attention from the chaos of breaking news to the quiet rhythms of nature, music, reading, reflective writing, and once again, list making. My friend, Rosemary, offered an interesting response to my last post. “I think of lists as containment, ways to hold in place (if briefly) what can otherwise roam wild in our minds.”

The flurry on this hill—at first sight—seemed wild, out of control. Brown, matted down, leaves were being propelled by an invisible force. Orange/red rounded bursts, grey wing- shaped pulsations, caused me to pause and focus more intently until the full sweep of what was occurring came into view. I am grateful for the lesson.