Wednesday, June 21, 2017

OH POCO OH POCO OH POKE-OH

It is Wednesday morning and Democrat Jon Ossoff lost the special election in Georgia and those G.D. Republicans are making mince meat out of the nation's health care program and they're doing it in secret, evil evil men that they are.

But we all need to take a break from MSNBC and the overwhelming miseries around the world.

So here I wil tell you about going for a walk with Poco. Or not going for a walk.

Well, actually that's just the point: she is quite happy resting. Endlessly!

Naturally, we take her out and play in the yard, but when it comes to walking, forget it.

She delights in sleeping for hours on the futon in my husband's study. Or on "her" chair in the living room.

This is the way it goes:

Poco is lying curled up in her chair. "Hey Poco, let's go for a walk."

No motion whatsoever.

"Come on you little Poke, let's get those legs working."

Nothing.

I lift up her limp body and carry her outside, set her on her feet and affix the leash. And then I attempt to walk.

She squints her eyes, and looks off in the distance, and hunkers down. She isn't going anywhere any time soon.

This isn't the behavior of the other Havanese I know so well, my daughter Lindsay's dog, Milo. When I visit Denver, ten-year old Milo is always wildly excited when she sees me pick up the leash. We go for long distances in the park close by Lindsay's house.

Back to Poco in the driveway. After extensive cajoling, and tugging on her leash, she takes a few baby steps.

Then once again, she is glued to the driveway.

"Oh Poco come on!"

When and if she feels like it, she takes a few more very pokey steps. Or if I'm lucky, she walks half-way down the driveway.

"Wonderful, good doggie!"

She stops, sniffs, and sniffs, and sniffs and sniffs, and then she ambles on a few more inches.

And STOPS. And won't budge.

One day recently, she and I faced off for about 10 minutes. I held the leash demanding that she walk. She sat there, stubbornly refusing to move.

Until of course,  having other things to do, I finally gave in and carried all 13 pounds of her back to the house.

This is what Lindsay would call a "first world problem." And I agree totally.

So what if the dog doesn't walk every day? Play with her in the yard and let it be.

(Well, actually, the vet said she is borderline chubby! So we reduced her food.)

Meanwhile, there is one sure way to get her running like a bullet:

BERT!

I drive her up to our old neighborhood in Lenox whenever possible so she can tumble around with her boyfriend.

She practically explodes out of the car.

We are now trying to arrange a few playdates with other dogs nearby.



Like I said at the start, this is hardly earth-shaking.

But at a time when so much news is scary and heartbreaking, and we feel helpless to do anything in response, it helps to think about something else.  If only for a little while.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Sister Mysteries" is Ready for Editing



Do you speak fluent Spanish? I am looking for someone to translate passages in my new novel, Sister Mysteries.

My friend Nina read it. She knows enough Spanish to say that I REALLY need help making the Spanish sound authentic.

I would, of course, compensate the translator!

Here, this evening, the novel is sitting in my new perennial garden at our lovely new home.

I am so delighted to have finished this novel, which took me -- are you ready? 22 years!

When I started writing it, in January of 1995, I was 42 years old.  I had no idea it would take me half that lifetime to produce this book. My first novel, Dreaming Maples, took six years. My second novel, Seeing Red, took me about SIX WEEKS!

This goes to show you there is no accounting for what happens with art!


I am toying with the idea of using the image below, which I painted several years ago, as the cover art for the novel. I would love to hear your thoughts on this choice. BE HONEST!!











Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May 31st Sunset

There was a brief rainstorm tonight and as the rain moved away, it left an amazing sunset in its wake.



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How High Does the Collusion Go? I Bet it Lands in Trump's Lap!


I think the collustion goes all the way up to Trump's back door.

It's been two weeks since the mess started and I haven't written a word about it.  I figured that trillions of words were being written by so many others - no need for any additional verbiage from me.

But when I saw that photo of him wearing a yarmulke yesterday and standing before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, I flipped.

No other sitting President has staged a photo op at this most sacred of sites in Jerusalem.  And here, he has the nerve to do it. Give me a break. He is so decidedly not sacred.

Supposedly he was praying. I guess if I were facing the disaster that is his presidency right now, I'd be praying too.

Like so many people, I've been glued to MSNBC every night for two weeks, watching one red banner after another at the bottom of the TV screen, endless breaking news about Trump's attempts to quash the FBI's investigation into the collusion between his campaign and the Russians.

Each day he digs himself deeper into the morass.

And last night,  The Washington Post's big scoop: Trump called on two top intelligence officers, asking them to deny evidence of collusion in last fall's election.

As MSNBC's Chris Matthews suggested, Trump has been trying to run the government as if it's one of his companies, with everyone working for him. When FBI Director James Comey refused to toe the line, Trump uttered two of his favorite words on TV: "You're fired!"

Well, it ain't working that way for him anymore.

Last night, MSNBC raised the obvious question: why is Trump trying so hard to suppress the investigation? Doesn't it make sense that he is personally responsible for the collusion?

It certainly makes sense to me.

Those of us who lived through Watergate can't help drawing connections between that momentous episode and the one unfolding with Trump.

I was a junior in college when Nixon tried unsuccessfully to fire those investigating his coverup. In a very real way, Watergate affected my life. I was a biology major, intending to apply to medical school But I was also keenly interested in journalism. (I worked at the campus radio station.)

In the summer of 1973, during the Watergate hearings, I was taking organic chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. That fall, I took a semester off, trying to decide if I really wanted to be pre-med.  I spent the semester working as a secretary at a Berkeley hospital. Meanwhile, I interned at an alternative weekly magazine across the bay in San Francisco.

Little did I know that Richard Nixon's impeachment and resignation in the summer of 1974 -- my senior year at Brown -- would influence me so personally. Watergate was the reason I dropped the medical school idea. Watergate was the reason I believed so fervently in the power of journalism to change the world.

I came to see that reporters chasing good stories aren't typically motivated by such lofty ambitions.

But now and then, with some top notch investigative reporting, the media uncovers corruption or reveals some egregious violation of the law that affects million's of peoples' lives.

Watergate and Love Canal -- the uncovering of a massive toxic waste dump that sickened thousands in a Niagra Falls, New York neighborhood -- were two of those investigations.

At those moments, it give me such great pleasure to see the villains twisting in the wind.

Mr. Trump, hire some good lawyers for yourself. And prepare for your demise.

This post appeared first on The Huffington Post.




Monday, May 08, 2017

The French make better baguettes than we do too...

From The Washington Post:

"Le Pen concedes French presidential election, saying the country has 'chosen continuity'
The far-right leader acknowledged falling short after projections showed her losing by a wide margin. Meanwhile, supporters of Emmanuel Macron gathered for a celebration outside Paris's Louvre Museum. The outcome will come as a major relief to Europe’s political establishment, which had feared a Le Pen victory would throw in reverse decades of efforts to forge continental integration."

So they bake better bread than we do.
And clearly, they have their heads screwed on right -- or should I say correctly.

Obviously, French voters see what is unfolding here in the U.S., the tragedy that is the Republicans and their vile leaders. The war they have unleashed on health care, and a slew of other vital services that help poor Americans squeak by.

Not only did French voters choose "continuity," they chose sanity too.

FBI Director James Comey testified recently that he was "mildly nauseous" about his decision to release damaging information about Hillary Clinton just prior to the Presidential election.

Well, we are so much more nauseated to witness what's transpired in the last four months -- only four, dear God save us from this disaster!!

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Wonderful new book about fictional landscapes!

If you want to read a fabulous new book about three famous novels and their "landscapes," then you need to come to my friend Sharon Flitterman-King's book signing this Sunday!

Sharon Flitterman-King, Ph.D., has written a brilliant account of the three amazing novels -- Wuthering Heights, The Mill on the Floss and Tess of the d'Urbervilles -- and how the authors created settings that feel so real.

When I wrote my first novel, Dreaming Maples, I felt like I knew the Vermont sugar bush where it took place. In fact, it felt as real as my own backyard. I could see the white farmhouse, the trees, and the fields that sloped up to the sugarhouse. (I could also imagine all of the characters.)

Now Dr. Flitterman-King has written a definitive book -- ARTICULATE TERRAIN -- about this very topic. Relying on the works by Emily Bronte, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, she has demonstrated how the authors relied on landscape or setting to inform these great Victorian novels.

"Ideas of place reflect ways of seeing," Flitterman-King writes. "This study of setting... examines fictional place from the phenomenological perspective. It sees created space as the unique translation of each author's perceptions of space, time and fact. Through this study, the worlds of the novels become necessary landscapes, or articulate terrains, guiding us to see more clearly each author's own world view."

The book served as Dr. Flitterman-Kings' doctoral dissertation in English from the University of California, Berkeley. She also earned her BA (Phi Beta Kappa) and MA from UCBerkeley.

In addition to Articulate Terrain, Dr. Flitterman-King is the author of A Survivor's Song, a wonderful story about a young girl who survives the Holocaust in the home of a friend.

Come to the book signing and meet this author on Sunday, May 7th from 2-4 p.m. at the Great Barrington Bagel Company, 777 South Main.

Articulate Terrain is available on Amazon. It is also available through The Troy Bookmakers, the publisher of the book. 



Sunday, April 30, 2017

GMOs and why they are a No No!

This piece ran first in the Spring issue of Edible Berkshires.

Maybe you’re like my friend Dalija Merritt. She buys as much organic food as she can afford. She avoids trans fats and hydrogenated oils, and BHT and BHA preservatives, all artificial dyes and sweeteners and in general, any food item with a list of ingredients exceeding two lines.

But when it comes to GMOs  -- genetically-modified organisms -- Dalijia is quite confused. So are a lot of folks as it turns out.

“I would like more clarity,” says Merritt, who owns the East Gate Inn, a B&B located adjacent to Tanglewood’s main gate in Lenox. “What emblem do I look for? And what foods have GMOs? Are they in dry foods? Are they in canned foods? I try hard to give my guests only the best natural foods.”  

Confession: before I began research for this article, I didn’t pay much attention to the brouhaha over
GMOs. I vaguely knew that the pro-GMO camp argued that we’ve been eating foods with GMOs for more than 15 years and there’s no evidence that they are harmful to humans. But I also knew consumer and right-to-know groups were more convincing: they contend that there haven’t been any long-term studies to determine the safety of GMO exposure over a lifetime.

Then there is the Frankenstein issue. It’s kind of creepy to think about scientists tinkering with the genetic makeup of the plants and animals we eat! According to a Consumer Reports survey of 1,004 representative Americans, ninety-two percent favored labeling GMO-containing foods. GMO labeling is mandatory in 60 countries.

Why not the US?

Until last summer, many states, including Massachusetts and New York, were well on their way to passing legislation requiring manufacturers to label GMO-containing foods. These states were following in the footsteps of Vermont, the first state to pass a mandatory-GMO labeling law in 2014. 

The Vermont law survived a court challenge and was on its way to implementation when the agribusiness and food industry mounted an all out campaign – spending millions -- to convince Congress to put a halt to all state efforts to require labeling legislation. As often happens, industry won.

On July 1, 2016, Congress passed the Safe and Affordable Food Act preempting all state regulation, and making GMO labeling exclusively the responsibility of the federal government. The USDA was given two years to implement the labeling disclosure regulations.

Martin Dagoberto, an activist who led the consumer-advocacy campaign for mandatory labeling of GMOs in Massachusetts, says the new federal law favors manufacturers and food growers. “This law was written by and for industry,” he says. “It’s not a consumer protection law at all.”

Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, says that under the new federal law (which Consumers Union opposed) manufacturers have a choice as to how they will meet the labeling requirement. The system is complex and two of the three options require consumers have access to either the Internet or a cell phone.

“They created a labeling system for rich young people who own computers and cell phones,” Halloran said. “We were totally opposed to the gizmo choices because half the people in rural areas, as well as half those who make less than $30,000 annually, don't own smart phones, nor do more than two-thirds of older people.”

At this point, the USDA is “now undertaking the very wonky process of implementing the law,” says Consumer’s Union policy analyst Will Wallace.

Under the legislation, a comment period should have begun by now. But it just keeps being pushed back. Under the Trump administration, it’s anybody’s guess as to how the USDA regulations will be implemented and enforced.

President Trump's executive order mandating that for every federal regulation implement, two must be slashed, ultimately could spell doom for the labeling legislation. Massachusett's consumer advocate Dagoberto points out, however, that the executive order applies to regulations issued in 2017; the federal labeling regs don't go into effect until 2018. Of course Trump could extend the order.

"Nothing is certain," says Dagoberto. "We just don't know how it's going to roll out."

Meanwhile the demand for non-GMO labeling continues to grow.  Increasingly, food companies recognize the value in voluntarily submitting their products to the not-for-profit Non-GMO Project, an independent organization (launched in 2010) that certifies products as non-GMO. The Non-GMO Project Verified Seal – with the bright orange and black butterfly against a sky blue background -- has certified more than 40,000 products across the U.S.
Those butterfly seals appear on two varieties of Klara’s Kookies, a Lee, Massachusetts cookie producer. Husband and wife owners Jefferson Diller and Klara Sotonova decided to seek non-GMO verification four years ago. “We don’t like to bring products into our home that are not safe for our family. We feel the same way about the cookies we sell to others.”

The certification process costs $1,500 per year for each product. And it requires a small mountain of paperwork.  Diller says that as a food producer, he had to trace back each ingredient used in the cookies to a certified non-GMO manufacturer.  For example, he said, “we had to prove the eggs and egg whites we use are non-GMO verified.”

The case for non-GMO verification became crystal clear to me when I learned the following from Jean Halloran at Consumer’s Union:

Monsanto has for the past two decades genetically-engineered corn and soybean seeds. Why? “It’s part of a production system,” Halloran says. The GMO plants are engineered so that they can survive being dosed with huge amounts of the herbicide glyphosate (known by the brand name Roundup.)

 "They are using 15 times more Roundup than they were 20 years ago,” Halloran says. The herbicide is still being studied for its carcinogenic properties. Meanwhile, there are now “superweeds” that have developed immunity to the herbicide..

So there you have it: Monsanto makes money engineering and selling the GMO-modified seeds and then the corporate giant makes money producing the herbicide used on the crops. What a racket!!

What is a consumer supposed to do?

Easy. Buy products that boast the orange and black butterfly, that is, the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal. The more that consumers buy and demand non-GMO products, the more likely companies are going to seek certification labeling.

So that’s what I am telling Dalija. Look for the butterfly wherever you can.



Monday, April 17, 2017

Spring Springing


This piece appeared first in the Spring edition of the magazine, Edible Berkshires.

March 17th

March Madness. I had a son who played high school basketball so I know all about the NCAA tournament.

But I’m talking about a different sort of madness here.

The kind where you’ve absolutely and totally had your fill of winter. And then some. But there’s at least five or six weeks of it left. You just don’t think you’re going to survive the last gasps of snow and ice and that bone brittle cold.

In three days the calendar says spring will arrive. Who are we kidding?



What about that mid-sized glacier blocking my back door?  I need hip boots to get to the bird feeder.
Who decided spring was in March anyway?

In 2009, my husband and I lived in Washington, DC, where I saw dark purple and yellow pansies thriving in FEBRUARY!  And the first week of April, there is the miracle of cherry blossoms. 

Hundreds of trees, each looking like they are wearing a delicate pink ballerina’s skirt fluffing around them.

Back to the misery that is an early Berkshire County spring. I am remembering a May 20th when we had to light the damn woodstove.

OK, enough of this miserable complaining.  For a moment this morning, stare at the beautiful meadow outside the window.

There now. It’s sunrise and the willow trees are glowing a pale orange. The buttery disc that is the moon is setting over that beautiful hillside you are so fortunate to see.

Before you decide you are moving to Miami, open the back door and inhale the absolutely pristine country air. Let the throaty racket that is the morning’s birds settle deep into your heart and soul.

Soon you will start to feel the continuing miracle that is Mother Nature.

Meditate on the fact that despite the cold and snow, the sun is up once again and it’s another glorious day in the Berkshires.
********
April 17th

Finally, thank God, it's here. Hard to fathom what’s happened in the last few days.


It was winter-looking even on Sunday. The pond still had some white ice.

The backyard glacier was still the size of a sectional sofa. There, lying everywhere in the backyard, were those crystallized eyebrows of snow.

And then of course, was the mud. Where there wasn’t snow there was the misery of goo that we have to endure between winter and spring.

But whoosh! Monday came and its mild temps erased the ice. The glacier was no bigger than a dinner plate. The mud was drying up.

Now there's a hint of spring in the lawn. Green shoots have popped up everywhere, and amidst the crusty brown leaves appears the first purple crocus!! Soon we will have the ecstasy of daffodils and tulips.

The birds are doing their sweet singing, too, and those wonderful spring peepers are making a racket, which always sounds a bit extraterrestrial to me.

At the feeder today, there are brilliant yellow goldfinches. And a redwing blackbird. And nuthatches. And then, our one true harbinger of spring: dozens of robins are bobbling around right where that glacier used to lay.

Will the rose-breasted grosbeak return come May?

Open the windows and all of the doors. Let it all in: the sun, the budding trees, the spring breezes that smells like warm earth.


After what we in Berkshire County have endured, there is no end to this mighty miracle that is spring!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What if the water in your sink poured out black and stinky?


If you were listening to All Things Considered on NPR last evening, chances are you heard a very moving story about a special education school on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. The school, which has been operating for 40 years, offers services to about 60 children and adults with moderate to severe disabilities.

Saint Michael's Special Education School has a water problem. A BIG problem. The tap water often pours out black and foul-smelling into the sinks. The school is forced to buy its water in big jugs, which costs the school thousands of dollars a year. St. Michaels needs clean water, and there is now a project underway that would supply that water.

Amazingly, the foul water meets national drinking water standards -- the so-called primary standards. As NPR correspondent Laura Morales reports, the water is not poisonous. But it doesn't meet the secondary "aesthetic" standards which affect how the water tastes, looks and smells.

Enter Dig Deep, a California-based non-profit organization devoted to helping communities dig and maintain low-cost water supplies. Dig Deep has a filtration plan for St. Michael's water system. That water project costs $100,000. They have raised $75,000 already. Can you and the people you know help them reach their goal?

As the young Navajo girl tells the camera in a video on the Saint Michael's website, "WATER IS LIFE!"

Indeed, water is a precious resource. Here in the Northeast, we so easily take clean water for granted. Lately, though, even before I knew about St. Michael's problem, I have been thinking a lot about water, and how it's in such short supply in so many western states. It makes me turn faucets off, do less wash, take shorter showers, flush toilets fewer times.

To donate to the water project, go to Dig Deep's website. Fortunately, we don't have to dig too deep in our pockets to help make clean water flow on a reservation in Arizona.

This piece also appears on The Huffington Post.





Tuesday, April 04, 2017

NASA: 235 trillion miles is close by in the universe!

On February 22, 2017, The Washington Post reported:
"A newfound solar system just 39 light-years away contains seven warm, rocky planets, scientists say. The discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, represents the first time astronomers have detected so many terrestrial planets orbiting a single star. Researchers say the system is an ideal laboratory for studying distant worlds and could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth."

 It's been weeks since the discovery was announced.  
By
now
I suppose I should have fathomed this news.
But as many times as I read accounts
of the discovery, I am awed. My brain can
absolutely make no sense of the distance. 
NASA says that these exoplanets
can be reached in 40 light-years.
40 light-years, huh?
That equals
235 trillion miles, a distance that 
NASA says "is relatively close to us."
Double HUH??
Why do I keep coming back and 
coming back and coming back
to what I call one of the deepest
mysteries I can recall.
I was talking to my son-in-law Evan, a rather
brilliant scientist, about light-years.
He calculated that if you were traveling at the speed
of light, you could circle the Earth
seven times in one second!
Maybe it's just me, but I believe that
all of this is rather impossible
to take in.
It's a little (just a very little) like standing
at the edge of the Grand Canyon and
trying to absorb the vast pink and brown and orange 
glory before you.

This news is definitely in the category of 
things I will never ever comprehend.
It's right up there with staring at a baby
or a flower or somebody's eye

and all those other miracles of Mother Nature.
I could spend each day for the rest of my life
contemplating all of this and I am quite sure
I will always end up in the same place
Mystified and oddly, comforted too,
that there is an INFINITY of 
of miraculous things and us? Hardly a speck of dust in the Universe.