Monday, July 24, 2017

Music Soars Under the Stars

This piece appeared first in the magazine, Edible Berkshires.

It’s a beautiful summer day in the Berkshires. You’ve spent hours biking or hiking, gardening, cutting the lawn, or playing golf or tennis. Or maybe you chose to dive into a good book lying in a hammock or out on the porch.

Now the sun is lowering. The sky is robin’s egg blue. The air is clear and in good Berkshire tradition, it’s cooling off nicely as evening approaches.

It’s time for a picnic. But not just any picnic.

You and your friends are headed to Tanglewood, where an extraordinary musical extravaganza awaits you.

A fixture in Berkshire County for more than seven decades, Tanglewood  attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every summer. In addition to offering up the best of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood also presents a wide range of other musical performers, from Bob Dylan to Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett.

The music is only half the fun. Plan yourself a moveable feast that is a picnic on the lawn. Figuring out the menu is half the fun!

Someone fixes cold chicken. Another is assigned cole slaw or potato salad. What else: cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, hummus and olives and grapes? Somebody bakes brownies for dessert. 

And of course, there will be plenty of beer and wine flowing.

Then it’s the getting there. Plan ahead, because there’s always a load of traffic coming into Lenox (for James Taylor’s performance, cars jam up the road leading from the Mass Pike!)
Be prepared to tote all your gear, too, including those awkward coolers. The walk from the parking lot is part and parcel of the experience. But it’s OK, because you’re moving en masse with a crowd of very excited concert-goers.

One of the nicest things about an evening at Tanglewood is the mood: mellow and magical. People feel like they’re going camping to celebrate a very special occasion.

As you and your crew pass through the gates, hundreds of others are already settled on the lawn. Then it’s finding the perfect spot. That means a bit of debate: should we sit here near one of the big trees, and how close to the shed? Tiptoe carefully between the blankets and chairs set up by others. 

And if you are meeting other friends, it may take lots texting to find each other.

Of course, you can picnic on the lawn and then, splurge for a ticket to and sit in the shed. It’s a lot more expensive, but one of my very best memories of Tanglewood is sitting in the front of the shed for a piano concert under the direction of conductor Claudio Abbado. I will never forget the thrill of the music: it was physical, the potent waves of energy from the piano pulsing and resonating in my chest.

As the evening wears on, the sky turns slate blue, and the stars are pinpoints of light. Some people choose to pack up the evening meal – but lots of others keep food out for grazing.

Soon the music is pouring through the shed, and the jumbo screens and gigantic speakers bring you right up to the stage.

Get ready. Sit back – or lie down. Music soars under the stars! 


Monday, July 17, 2017

God Works in Strange Ways, OR, John McCain, Maybe You Can Put the Screws to McConnell's Health Care Plan?

Ah, but for a little -- or not so little -- blood clot behind Senator McCain's eye, we might be seeing the godawful Republicans voting this week to pass their truly evil health care plan.

One would hope that Senator McCain will
emerge from this difficult surgery (and we send our sympathy), restored to health AND ready to do the right thing. Maybe, just maybe he will decide to stand up to that pouch-faced
Mitch McConnell and tell him to take the Republican bill and shove it up where it belongs.

When I heard about McCain's problem, and how it would delay the vote, I thought to myself (yes, with some glee) gee, what happens if the recovery isn't just a week or two, but perhaps three or four weeks or more? What then?

So imagine my surprise today when The New York Times reported that McCain's recovery from the eye surgery he had -- called a craniotomy -- may not be a speedy as first though. A doctor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City is of the opinion that "the recovery time from a craniotomy is usually a few weeks."

OK, as I was saying, what happens if McCain screws up McConnell's plans? What if McConnell and his henchmen are kept from ramming their plan down our throats -- a plan that will wreak havoc on Medicaid, take health insurance away from more than 20 million Americans and otherwise screw up our health care system more than it's already screwed up.

When I asked my husband Richard Kirsch -- a progressive activist who was key in helping to pass Obamacare in 2010 -- what would happen if McCain can't return to DC for several weeks, the first thing he did was laugh. Then he threw up his hands and offered these thoughts:

"The question is what happens to the rest of their agenda. Unless he can come back by mid-August, it will push the health care vote past Labor Day. Which is good news because the longer the delay, the more time there is for people to organize opposition and the less popular the plan will become."

Ah, but what a delight it would be to see McConnell and Ted Cruz and all the rest of them twist in the wind.

Does the future of health care rest -- improbably -- on a tiny clot in one man's left eye?

Could the eye problem, such a small incision, be some kind of divine intervention? As they say, eyes are the windows on the soul.

There are many ways to look at this situation, and I invite others to explain it in more rational lawmaker terms.

But as I wish Senator McCain a speedy recovery, I also take this opportunity to say another prayer that there is justice somewhere in the universe, or at least, occasionally in Washington, D.C!




Monday, July 10, 2017

A Beautiful Mansion is Home to a Very Special Group of Women

This article appeared first in the July issue of Berkshire HomeStyle magazine.

The elegant white house, overlooking the great wetland at 4 Ice Glen Road in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, has a rich history. But it has an even more compelling story to tell today.

Originally known as Konkaput Brook, for the stream that edges the property, the house is one of dozens of enormous Berkshire “cottages” erected during the Gilded Age, when industry, banking and businesses of all kinds were booming.  The newly-minted millionaires took their money on vacation, creating swank resorts in Newport, Bar Harbor, Saratoga – and Stockbridge and Lenox.  Dozens of opulent homes were constructed in Berkshire County as getaways for wealthy city dwellers who travelled to Stockbridge by train.

Constructed in 1912 on a 1903 design by architect George De Gersdoff, Konkaput was built for Frederic Crowninshield, a gifted painter and teacher and a designer of magnificent murals and stained glass windows. 

His murals and windows appear in numerous churches and public buildings in New York, New England and the Midwest. Some of his stunning stained glass windows appear in Emmanuel Episcopal Church and in First Church, both in Boston, as well as in buildings on Harvard University’s campus.

One room in the Stockbridge house was designated as a workroom; over the door in that room appeared the words: “Italia – Patria – Secunda,” translated as “Italy, my second home.”

Frederic’s son Frank Crowninshield was himself quite a character. Witty and charismatic, he landed himself a job as the first editor of Vanity Fair magazine, and was instrumental in creating the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

Fast forward to 1957 – 60 years ago -- when Konkaput was purchased by social worker Annette McKenna, who operated a program in Stockbridge that served  women with disabilities. That program, Riverbrook, was, and continues to be, one of the oldest facilities of its kind in the U.S. 

In 1976, social worker Joan Burkhard – who had been Director of Special Education for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District –- joined with her husband, Dan, and two other couples to buy Riverbrook, which at the time was a private, for-profit operation. The Burkhards, who emptied their pockets to make the purchase, had a dream of what could happen at Riverbrook, and they were willing to put everything on the line to try to make a go of it.

The going was rough, especially in the beginning.  At one point, the septic system in the old house failed. After four attempts to fix it, Burkhard says she “went on bended knee” to the town of Stockbridge, begging them to hook Riverbrook into the newly created town sewage system.

She laughs when she recalls the desperate campaign she launched to pay for the sewage hookup. She takes from a scrapbook a rather unique post card that Riverbrook mailed out as part of fund-raising efforts.

“One of our client’s fathers was a plumber,” she recalls, laughing. “So we had his daughter sit on the closed toilet, fully clothed, and we put a plunger in each of her hands.” The card read, “Houston – we’ve got a problem! 

When the state’s Department of Developmental Disabilities saw the card, “they were furious with me,” she recalls. But the unorthodox campaign went on to raise a much-needed $125,000 and resolved the plumbing issue.

After running Riverbrook for 20 years as a private organization, the Burkhards in 1996 converted the operation to a not-for-profit, and formed a Board of Directors.

Today it is one of the most successful shared residential facilities in the U.S., serving 21 women with developmental disabilities.


One thing that makes Riverbrook so unique and exciting  the opportunities offered to the women. The women select from a variety of activities – among them dance, drumming, swimming, horseback riding, acting, yoga, painting, sports, handcrafts, music and writing  -- offered in the community.

Moreover, Riverbrook women also work in paid or volunteer positions serving more than 20 local businesses and not-for-profit organizations. These include the Red Lion Inn, the Lee and Stockbridge Libraries, Kripalu, Elder Services, Meals on Wheels, the Muddybrook Elementary School, Miss Hall’s and Kimball Farms. Staff at Riverbrook work closely with each of the women to match them with positions for which they are enthused and well suited.

“The community has been so receptive to the women, and to their participation in the work of the community,” says Burkhard. “The work the women do is absolutely amazing and it keeps getting better and better.”

The relationship between Riverbrook and the Stockbridge community is a very positive one, Burkhard says. “It’s happened organically. We’ve been a presence in the community for a long time, and we are always respectful of everyone. The relationship grew by exposure over many many positive experiences. Over time, people in the community have embraced the pleasures and benefits of knowing the women they employ.”

Walk into Riverbrook and the overwhelming feeling is love. I first visited one summer day when I gave a ride home to a woman with Down’s Syndrome with my daughter’s small dog in tow. I walked this young woman to the door where a staff member asked me if I wanted a tour.

Something magical happened as we walked through the elegant two-story building. Women were smiling everywhere I turned. One woman hugged me. Others begged to pet or hold the dog. All the while I felt how homey Riverbrook was, each bedroom painted in beautiful colors, with handsome furniture and lovely views out of each window.

At the end of the tour, when the staff member asked if I wanted to volunteer, I said “sure” without hesitation.

That was July of 2013 and I have enjoyed every moment I’ve spent at Riverbrook!

It’s a family. It’s a place for growth and development and discovery. It is a place where love abounds. It’s a place where exceptional women live and thrive, now and in the future. 

It’s home.



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Gabriela's Moon, a short short story

By Claudia Ricci
She is lying here, a fallen angel, in a foot of fresh snow.  It is dark.  The middle of the night.  She has landed right in her own backyard, out near the row of pines.  See her arms and legs, akimbo.
She is watching the sky.  Waiting.  There are stars galore, the sky splattered.  But she is waiting for something more.
The email said, “Tonight will see the first full moon coincide with the winter solstice in 6000 years.  The last time this happened, Moses went up to Mount Sinai for the Ten Commandment stones.  Don’t miss this, a once-in-ten-thousand-lifetimes event.  
The moon will be so big, so bright, that you won’t even need your car headlights.”
Her eyes are glued to the horizon, just above the pines.
There are benefits, she thinks.  Surely, tonight there are benefits.  So what that she cannot sleep a wink when it is dark.  So what that she cannot close her eyes at night because the dreams are way too real.  Too frightful.
Read the rest of "Gabriela's Moon" at Two Drops of Ink.







https://twodropsofink.com/2017/06/06/gabrielas-moon/

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.