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A Letter To My Mom at Thanksgiving

Mom Presents the Turkey
Circa: 1953
Photo by Marv

Dear Mom,

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us and with it, a memory of waking to the smell of roasting turkey and the sight of you at the kitchen counter, hands white with flour, rolling out dough for your cinnamon-spiced, two-crust apple pie.

All these years later, I write to tell you how much I appreciate the devotion and thoughtful attention you gave to every detail— the bread stuffing infused with sautéed onions and celery seasoned with sage, the crystalized sweet potatoes with melted marshmallow, the creamy potatoes mashed by hand, the cranberries, cooked down to a sweet confection, the steamed peas infused with fresh mint.

It was generous, how you included Dad’s widowed sister, Aunt Betty and cousins Caroline and Sylvia, to celebrate Dad’s November birthday on Thanksgiving. Always, you managed to bake a two-tier, chocolate frosted cake in advance.

What a quiet marvel of organization you were. In retrospect, I have come to appreciate the days of planning, shopping and cooking in that 1941 small and square kitchen with a compact refrigerator, single-oven and the one long counter. It helped that our kitchen table sat smack in the middle.

You were, of course, my model for Thanksgiving. Even in your eighties and widowed, you managed to continue to gather the family. You were fierce about your independence and cooking was your passion. That last Thanksgiving, in spite of waning energy, you took such pride in your turkey, still moist and delectable, and your single crust apple pie, the filling as always, a tart sweetness.

I recall your pleasure, from the few times you joined us in Newton—at how I experimented with new recipes—sweet potatoes, sans marshmallow, just a little nutmeg and maple syrup. I never did perfect a piecrust. With a full time job, I sought out shortcuts; freezer ready crust filled with my own sour cherry filling (Marv’s favorite) did the trick.

We have three generations following in your footsteps. When it was time for me to stop hosting, Beth stepped up and I became a helper.

My granddaughters, Genna and Shayna, were nine and six the first time they helped prepare your “Grandma Goldie Stuffing.” I toasted bread in the oven. Genna sliced the celery and soldiered through onion tears, to create perfect cuts for sautéing. Shayna zested the orange skin for the fresh cranberry sauce and helped snip the green beans. The three of us mixed the stuffing.

This Thanksgiving, the girls now grown, Genna has taken over the stuffing preparation while Shayna will join me the day before  to start a new tradition. We plan to bake pumpkin pies, a new recipe, and of course, trim the beans in preparation for my traditional sesame green beans.

All these years later, I am grateful for the nourishment to spirit and body you ignited. As always, I will miss your sweet smile of contentment at the table.

Much love, your daughter,

Faye

 

 

 

Piano Lessons Redux

Faye at piano; circa 1953
Photo by Marv

These days, my time-out is at the keyboard, stretching my fingers, practicing exercises, rag, and blues pieces. After 9 years of classical training, at age 16, I precipitously walked away from my year-end recital. Likely cause: adolescent angst, frustration over a Beethoven Sonata’s arpeggios, my teacher’s adamant distaste of Boogie Woogie and popular music.

Two years ago, at a music store, I noticed a beautiful Roland electric piano. When I opened it and sat down to play the full keyboard, I was delighted by the sound. The price was right—reasonable as the two lowest keys were irreparable and this being a professional keyboard, it was not selling. On impulse, I bought it; a balm against anxiety during the presidential election.

Did I immediately sit down to play? My music memory muscle failed. I could no longer amble up and down the keyboard with Deep Purple or I’m in the Mood for Love, favorites I had played all during my young adulthood. Parenting and launching two musically talented children, a full time therapy practice, and marriage challenged all my resources; I had drifted far away.

I felt regret at the sight of the silent piano. I knew well the difference between my adolescent skill-set and my flailing Octogenarian effort. I needed help: a teacher who could relate and guide me. All these months of gratitude practice had taught me the benefits of embracing the beginner’s mind. My hubris long dissipated, I needed to begin again.

In September, I returned to the place where my children had grown as musicians: The All Newton Music School, which, thankfully, is ten minutes by car from my home. The woman in charge of new enrollees interviewed me on the phone about my preferences. “I’d like a teacher who can relate to an Octogenarian, but who also teaches children,” I said.

The first day, Kim, her eyes dancing, greeted me as I walked through the front door. “Are you Faye?” she said. I was her first student, 12:30 for a half hour. I told her my story, how far I had drifted from proficiency, my trepidation. She taught children in a group, had students of all ages, and instantly began to talk goals, how to proceed.

Eight lessons later, I am grateful to be coming into my own. I started with a simple version of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer and now am challenged by an intermediate version. The goal—to follow the music , maintain the tempo, integrate the offbeat rhythms, and keep my hands in sink.

Last week, as I expressed frustration over my dogged rendition, Kim explained that I was approaching the piece as I had long ago— counting methodically as if I were playing Bach. Joplin’s pieces are dance pieces, alive, fast, and driven by varying rhythms. I needed to tackle small segments, practice each hand separately, each day setting the metronome a little faster. In time, the hands would come together.

Gratefully, I report progress. Sometimes, the past calls with a treasure: a gift of engagement, a lost passion, waiting like the sound of Joplin, deftly played and up beat.

 

 

On Boundaries & Me Too

Sally Brecher’s Olin Birches

A friend recently mused how she was unable to feel gratitude these past two weeks, especially in the face of the Harvey Weinstein story and the implosion of the “Me Too” response. Her comment gave me pause.

How was it, in spite of all the awfulness, I am able to come up for air, take deep breaths, seek and find moments of gratitude. It’s about belief. I believe in balance. I believe nature provides balance and in as much as human beings are part of the natural order, the striving for balance is dormant within us.

The challenge, as I try to describe through this blog, is in the seeking and recognition of meaning. For each of us, it is different. To my friend, a talented artist whose soft edged images of slices of white bark trunks invoke the impulse to touch, I am grateful. Her talent in seeing and transmitting what she sees invokes my connection to nature.

Is this not how as human beings, we are wired? Has not the Me Too outpouring of the experience of hurtful boundary violations given rise to the opportunity for hidden voices to be seen and heard?

In The Boston Globe, October 21st column, “Me Too? It Was Started By Her,”Christela Guerra interviews Tarana Burke, who “originated the idea a decade ago through her work, particularly with young women of color.” I was grateful to read about Burke’s original intentions.

In many regards Me Too is about survivors talking to survivors. It was never really about amplifying the number of people who are survivors of sexual violence. It was about survivors sharing empathy with each other. But when I talk to young people, I use pop culture to promote the idea of Me Too all the time. We have to have something that reaches the masses.

Empathy is key. As a therapist, I specialized in treating women who had been sexually abused as children. Many came to therapy because of symptoms, the source of which they had dismissed or forgotten. Me Too is a call to women to speak out on serious boundary violations, which require the empathy of others to bear witness for healing.

As a woman of 85, I have experienced sexualized verbal and physical assaults. My first incident, at five years old, I was chased around my dining room in the presence of close family who laughed as my father’s friend grabbed inside my dress and placed his hands far down my back to grab the “bugs” inside. I screamed; everyone laughed. Boundary violation, Yes. “Boys will be boys,” the unempathic and uninformed explanation.

“Me Too,” is about candor, a space where people can say, in their own words, what has caused them fear and hurt, bewilderment, shame and grief. What of the difference between harassment and assault? Burke, to her credit, does not discriminate. She states,

If your Me Too was about sexual harassment versus sexual assault but it’s traumatizing to you, then it’s important for you to be heard and seen.

 The memory of strange and icy hands on my back has never left me. It likely planted seeds of gratitude for empathy and the humanness in a response that says you are not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

ON GRATITUDE STRATEGIES

Faye in Reflection

Given the preponderance of awfulness—awful violence, awful weather, awful words, awful politics— over the past two weeks, I turn to a consideration of simple, effective gratitude strategies that can be helpful in shifting our attention away from the negatives that swirl around us.

  • Intentionality is the key
  • Decide on a practice
  • Make gratitude a habit
  • Select a strategy

In this post, I will review 4 four key research-based principles for turning gratitude into a lasting habit recommended by The Greater Good in Action Website https://greatergood.berkley.edu/article/item/four_gratitude_strategies

  • COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS. Select a dedicated notebook. At the end of the day, write in detail about three things, large or small, that went well. Spend time with the details of the why and how each event left you with a sense of appreciation, happiness, or well-being.

Over this past weekend, my 13 year- old granddaughter, Zoe, accompanied my son, Craig, for a visit. One night, she prepared caramelized onions and asked, if I had a pair of protective eye goggles she could wear while cutting onions. “Will swimming goggles work,” I asked, pulling a wide framed pair from my catch-all drawer. Goggles in place, she cut and prepared the Vidalia onions like a pro. I experienced such pleasure in watching how carefully she positioned the cutting knife and how patiently she stirred until she perfected the texture.

  • MENTAL SUBTRACTION. This is a “what if” exercise that results in expanding the sense of positivity of a positive event. Consider a positive event such as a job opportunity, the meeting of a friend, an educational achievement. Reflect on what your life would be like without them.

Where would I be without this blog? Without the blog, I would not have the ongoing inspiration or motivation to continue to expand my dedicated gratitude practice and to step up on a regular basis to impart what I am experiencing and learning. The effect is a sense of aliveness in the challenge of daily living in these unprecedented times.

  • I’ve written at length about my practice of soul tracking where I suggest choosing a place in nature and paying attention to what attracts you— sights, sounds, smells— and pausing to reflect and savor. Researchers have coined this process The Savoring Walk—noting a 20-minute walk by yourself once a week, ideally a different route each time, has lasting effects one week later.

I am grateful for my winding garden path and tiny frog pond. Every day brings new possibility as unexpected lily blossoms open in October and tall zinnias continue to bloom. A ten-minute very slow walk can shift my mood and leave me content and happy for hours after.

  • SAY THANK YOU. All forms of acknowledgement of appreciation to others can make a difference to both the giver and the receiver. Research indicates that the effect of writing and delivering a gratitude letter has the greatest positive impact on happiness one month later.

 Dear Readers, Thanks to each and every one of you for reading this post and bringing the possible practice of gratitude into your life. I hope you will choose one strategy to try with the hope that you will find a measure and contentment as you embrace a practice. As always, please share your experiences in a comment.

On Empathy and Repair

Women with Buckets
Thanks to Ginnette Riquelme/Reuters

I spent my entire professional life as a social worker/psychotherapist listening to my client’s struggles, their questions, and feelings. Through it all, in every hour, with each person or persons, I learned that empathy for another, understanding of another, came from mindful attention to the details of another’s life.

Without empathy, I could not imagine the dilemma of others; I could not think through what it would be like to lose a mom at eight years old, to be a first time mom and deliver a stillborn child, to carry on in spite of losing a job to a younger person.

Perhaps, that is why, no matter how hard I try to move away from the subject of President Trump’s personality and leadership style, to consider and write about other subjects, I return to his influence on the mood and lifestyle of our country. His war mongering speech at the United Nations, his name-calling tweets and bullying threats days after Hurricane Irma’s shattering strike reek of empathic-deficit leadership.

Okay, that is the reality; but how does one live with gratitude and hope in the face of such astonishing and aggrandizing tone-deaf leadership? I have concluded that each of us must do our part, the best we can. Individual efforts, actions grounded in empathy, can and do make a difference.

I was transfixed by CNN and MSNBC’s empathic reportage of the Mexican earthquake, the lines of volunteers of all ages outside buildings, a decimated school, passing buckets of debris, energized by care, hoping to rescue adults and children from the crush of burial.

I watched images of rescue operations— electrical workers checking gear, loading trucks from sites all over our country readying to travel to Florida to help remedy thousands of outages. When I think of the networks attending to the detail of reportage, the camera crews on site, the reporters dressed in tall boots and rain gear sending out image after image, I am grateful for the details of efforts to rescue.

Yes, it rained a bit here and as it turned out, more than a bit in my home where water seeped into our solarium (once again) where windows open to sky and trees gave way to the pressure of an all night tropical storm, the after effects of Hurricane Jose on the East coast. I am grateful for an immediate response from Mike, a home team helper, whose attention to and knowledge of details traced the source and helped set the stage for repair.

In some way, we are all responsible for repair. It is in the seeking of ways to help, in the interest of others, to extend beyond ourselves, each in our own way, that will help right the imbalance in empathy. This day, I am grateful to readers of this blog; you inspire me to extend into difficult-to-articulate areas and to connect through writing. Please comment and share your own experience on this topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Accountability & The Media

Marty Baron, Exec. Editor, Washington Post
Thanks to Marv

First morning at Chautauqua, Judy Wolfe, the female partner of the Glassman/Wolfe in-house Road Scholar team, threw out the question, Are the media biased? Before anyone could respond, she said, Depends on who you ask.

I am grateful to distill and share some of my learning about how to discriminate truth from falsehood in the news from my Road Scholar’s week at Chautauqua. According to President Trump, all news is biased and must be called out except those outlets that adhere to his point of view. Despite being the number one target of Trump’s organized campaign to discredit mainstream press, the news media is alive and well.

  • Marty Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post and the former Boston Globe editor highlighted in the movie Spotlight and the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, is hopeful. It’s a great time to be a journalist, he said. His logic, clear and specific made sense. For a long time, people have taken journalism for  granted…in the last year or so…maybe people have begun to understand that you shouldn’t take quality journalism for granted.

I could not agree more. In fact, the whole premise of 52 seniors coming together to dig into media and the news was all about honoring and embracing what the 4th estate presently faces in the workings of our democracy.

  • Jay Rosen, the New York University professor of journalism and a self-described “loyal critic of the press,” held back no punches. There is an organized campaign to discredit the mainstream press in this country…And it’s working, he said. When journalists get to their desk in the morning, between 20% & 30% of the public, the electorate is already lost to them before they even log in.

 How dispiriting is that, especially when you consider the dangers inherent in a black out of investigative journalistic endeavors imbedded in fact checking and accountability.

  • According to Baron, quality journalism depends on accountability. The purpose is to find out what’s really going on…particularly when it involves wrongdoing, he said. Baron agreed with Rosen’s assessment that Trump is engaged in an effort to try to intimidate the press and maybe do more. He emphasized the Post’s priority in protecting the confidentiality of its sources through the use of encrypted online communication and entirely offline communication when possible.
  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson, FactCheck.org co-founder, introduced the dangers of viral deception, a term she coined about the usage of misleading or flat-out false narratives. Passed from person to person and friend to friend…misleading facts, narratives, rise in credibility as more and more people share them online. And with each additional click, public discourse is degraded just a little more.

 She warned, Deception is problematic because it can mobilize national action…mislead the electorate… invite non-responsive policy, impugn character, even endanger lives.

The good news is that we are learning how to manage our tendency as human beings to automatically accept and spread content we agree with…Familiarity equals perceived accuracy. (WRONG!)

I was dismayed to learn that a quarter of US adults have shared fake news and the relevant research reveals that misinformation tends to persist even in face of debunking.

 There is genius behind FactCheck.org as a possible antidote in that FactCheck.org deals with presenting long-form factual details rather than conclusions. I’m grateful to learn that long-form accounts which require the reader to follow a sequence of facts (upon which to reflect) can have a salient effect on short-order and untrue conclusions.

In brief, the mindfulness payoff in taking time to read, reflect and digest the detail accounting of events can and will keep facts front and center.

  • For accuracy, Jamieson recommends:
  1. Consider the source (who is funding?)
  2. Read beyond the headline (dig deeper)
  3. Check the author (Google or Wikipedia)
  4. Ask what the supporting evidence is
  5. Check the date (current or old)
  6. Consider if it’s a joke (ha?)
  7. Check your biases (not easy but necessary)
  8. Consult the experts

More, next blog. As always, I would appreciate comments.

 

 

 

 

 

GRATEFUL FOR CHAUTAUQUA

Amphitheater
Derek Gee/Buffalo News

As I write this, I am grateful to be anticipating and preparing for a week of learning, walking and socializing at Road Scholar’s Chautauqua Experience in Summer. This is Marv’s and my 4th summer!

The Theme of the Week: Media and the News: Ethics in the Digital Age. I cannot believe the timeliness of the topic. When we chose our date almost a year ago, we had no idea that Trump would be elected or that issues such as real or fake news, and ethical dilemmas in both the media and news would be so pertinent.

Every Chautauqua Road Scholar event has a resident scholar who provides a daily lecture on background and current information in preparation for the Amphitheater public lecture series. During two of our prior visits to Chautauqua, Marc Glassman, a radio and print journalist, and his wife, Judy Wolfe, a creative arts consultant, provided exceptional content through lecture and video examples. At luncheon and dinner, the couple circulated among our various tables to continue the conversation.

Gratitude for their friendship and a rich and varied learning experience influenced our choice for this summer. Who could predict the serendipitous possibility last July, over lunch, when we decided to join Marc and Judy for their gig in August, 2017!

Yes, I am up to my eyeballs in news, fake and real, trying to discern, stay the course, to be informed. I need a “chill” vacation and yet I need to understand more about how the news and media are influencing the day-to-day behavior worldwide. Just this week, with Trump’s impulsive shoot-from-the-hip Fire and Fury response to a news reporter, we are looking at nuclear warfare; the possibility of another Korean war outbreak is front and center.

How to manage what seems real from what is real? How to manage multiple perspectives? Hopefully, I will come away more able to discern, assess and distinguish what has heft and meaning from what is fear mongering.

Here’s the lineup:

Monday: Jeff Rosen, liberal media critic, writer, professor of journalism at New York University. He authors the PressThink blog on “the fate of the press in a digital era and the challenges in rethinking what journalism is today.”

Tuesday— Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication and the director of The Annenberg Public Policy Center. She runs Fact Check, an organization devoted to examining the factual accuracy of U.S. political advertisements.

Wednesday— Arzu Geybullayeva, columnist and journalist. She has been a co-director of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation since 2011, an organization that fosters relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

Thursday—Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of Time Magazine

Friday—Marty Baron, Executive Editor, The Washington Post, with Eric Newton, Innovation chief, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University.

I’m pleased with the distribution of men and women and their varied expertise. I’ll be taking notes with the intention to distill and share in future Gratitude is as Gratitude Does blogs. In the meantime, be mindful of options that can bring gratitude.