Thursday, October 05, 2017

So excited, I have found the perfect publisher for my new book, "Sister Mysteries!"

I am making last-minute changes to Sister Mysteries, (otherwise known as the nun novel) because that is the nature of this book. It's fluid, it's all energy, it's alive and it has been in process for almost 135 years! (It's only taken me 23 years to write it!)

Meanwhile, I am about to sign on with a publisher that specializes in spiritual writing. And while Sister Mysteries is a "novel," it's like no novel I've ever read.  It is also a very compelling tale of a woman on a long and very rich spiritual and healing journey.

Here is the most recent tidbit I've added. You can read more bits and pieces at the Sister Mysteries blogsite. I am hoping for an April/May book release.

GINA

No warning. Here I am in the hotel bar, cradling Antonie’s bloody head.

          I look up.  I see the brass chandelier with its circle of white candles, the golden flames flickering.
         
         But wait.  How can this be? It is now 8:33 in the morning in North Egremont, Massachusetts, and I am sitting in meditation on my living room floor.

          No matter. The chandelier overhead begins spinning, so slowly I can hardly see it move.

          I close my eyes. I am trying to concentrate on my breathing, on observing my thoughts, on emptying my mind.

          Instead, I am in the hotel bar and Antonie's forehead is bleeding into the white cotton skirt of my nun's habit. 

          “Please, Tango, get the doctor!” I scream. He goes, but so slowly.

          After an eternity, Dr. Astorga is kneeling beside me, swabbing my cousin’s head with warm soapy water. He wraps the wound with a fresh white bandage that he passes beneath my cousin’s chin.  I smell iodine and alcohol and sweat.  I look up to see Señora with a basin and a rag; she is bathing Antonie’s feet.
         
          Señora and Tango and I carry him back upstairs.  Astorga has given Antonie something that has put my cousin to sleep.
         
          Tango leaves, and I tell Señora I will keep Antonie company until I am absolutely certain he is out.
         
           Señora leaves, and I settle in the chair beside his bed. I decide to pray the rosary.  I reach to my waist for my beads.  But then I realize my feet are sore, so I need to take off my shoes.
         
           I bend down to unlace the ties.  That’s when I eye the pale blue pages beneath my cousin's bed.
         
          I reach for the pages and begin to read. 
         
        “Bar Dancer.”
         
          How could my cousin, in his desperately ill state, still manage to write this filth about me?
         
          I read and read, page after page, and my head spins faster and faster.  I don’t want to be in that room anymore.  I want so much to be sitting in meditation. I don’t want to read my despicable cousin’s words.  I want to wash myself clean of his endless lies.        

         “Please, God,” I say, “let me go home.”

           I concentrate on the air passing in and out of the tip of my nose. I focus on the bed where my cousin is lying, inert. I observe the blue pages folded in my hands.

           And then it happens. I am sitting on the floor in meditation.

           Time passes. I decide to chant the vowels that correspond to each of the seven chakras in my body.
         
         The sound starts in my tailbone and it snakes up my spine to my mouth. My teeth vibrate. My tongue wallows. 

          The chanting seems like it goes on forever. It is loud enough to carry over into eternity, and certainly, into another century.





Talk about gun violence? Not today. Not tomorrow. How about never?

When Trump visited Las Vegas yesterday, he was asked if the massacre would prompt the nation to deal with gun violence.

Trump replied, "We're not going to talk about that today."

Terrific. So what day can we schedule? Will there ever be a day when we can talk about the guns that have caused so many atrocities in this country?

Appropos of that topic, The New York Times' editorial writer Thomas Friedman composed a stunning piece that asks the question,

What happens when the terrorists aren't Muslims, or ISIS operatives, but rather, very sick Americans who stockpile military assault weapons in hotels and houses and then turn them on innocent people?

Don't miss his piece.




Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Here is a farmer you will want to meet!

This piece appeared first in "Edible Berkshires," a magazine "celebrating food, farming and community" in Western Massachusetts.

There are jobs and then there are callings, and farming is definitely the latter.

Take Lisa MacDougall, owner of Mighty Food Farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont. She works 12 strenuous hours a day, seven days a week. She worries endlessly about drought, pests, weeds, frost and disease. She has to get her product to market while it’s still fresh. She has every headache imaginable in running a small business, and she has to shoulder those headaches alone.


But don’t for a minute think she regrets her decision back in 2007 to become a vegetable farmer.

“It’s a dream come true.  I have worked countless hours to get to where I am.  It’s still a lot of hard work and long days, but I try to keep the big picture in mind.”

The big picture just got a lot bigger. After farming 20 acres on two leased parcels in Pownal, Vermont for ten years, MacDougall, with the help of the Vermont Land Trust, bought a gorgeous 155-acre farm last year. 

Previously a horse farm, there is still a lot of handsome white fencing on the property. The fields have been well maintained and the barn is in good shape.

MacDougall, who is 32, was moved to buy a farm because it’s not ideal to rent as a farmer. “You invest so much in the soil that you want to be able to reap those investments and energies.  The old farm in Pownal had very poor infrastructure, an inadequate land base, and my landlord was increasing my rent at an unprecedented rate.”

It was 2011 when she first started to shop for a farm. She offered bids on five other Vermont farms, all of which were rejected.  “It’s hard to find something affordable,” she says. It’s also hard to find the appropriate piece of land.

Standing in the middle of her new spread – flat open farmland on a high plateau with the Green Mountains peeking up at the horizon -- MacDougall is tan and her face is a bit sunburned. She smiles easily. Clearly she has landed in a spot where she and her farm can thrive.

Helping her are eight full-time and two part-time salaried workers (she uses no migrant labor.) Her property includes 90 acres of forest and a beautiful, four-bedroom house as well.

Ironically, MacDougall is now tilling 15 acres,
five fewer than in Pownal. She says she was over-producing for many years.  “This past winter I really dug deep into my records, sales, and production to try and pinpoint the right quantities for my markets. I don’t plan on expanding.  My goal is to increase yields and to have a higher net profit out of less acreage.”
Like most 21st century farmers, MacDougall relies heavily on computer technology to aid her in running the farm. “In the winter, I spend a lot of time crunching numbers and producing a lot of spreadsheets.”

MacDougall’s move has created quite a buzz in the Berkshire farming community. “Lisa is remarkable and inspirational," says Barbara Zheutlin, director of Berkshire Grown. "We are always very excited when a farmer like Lisa decides to expand. She is not alone. Her vision and ambition are at the heart of what is going on today in the Berkshires. This is a new generation of farmers inventing farming anew."

A survey of 142 farmers in this region conducted by Berkshire Grown in January of this year indicates that a majority of farmers responding are interested in expanding their businesses in the next five years.  Berkshire Grown provides support to farmers in a variety of programs aimed at supporting that expansion. These include education and outreach, increased community access to locally grown foods, and networking between farmers and food buyers.

"We are big champions of farms and local food. Berkshire Grown aims to create a strong local food economy that will help expand farmers' businesses," Zheutlin says.

Another organization helping to bolster expansion in local farming is Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, a new non-profit organization dedicated to providing financing and technical assistance to farms and food businesses in the region. In its first year, BAV has provided about $140,000 in financing assistance, and $95,000 worth of technical assistance, to 13 farms and food businesses in the region. Among them are Marty’s Local, North Plain Farm, Skyview Farm and Hosta Hill.
“One of the most rapidly growing and promising segments of our food sector is in the demand for sustainably and organically grown products, and especially those that are grown locally,” says BAV Executive Director Cynthia Pansing.  She adds that “demand often quickly outstrips the supply, creating a shortage.”

BAV takes a very positive approach to address this challenge: “We say, 'For every barrier in the local food system there is an opportunity for addressing it’ – and we help expand those opportunities and bring more local food to consumers."

Moving a farm to a new location is no small affair. For MacDougall it meant taking apart eight monstrous greenhouses, transporting them to Shaftsbury (she had help from a neighbor), and reassembling them again.

But the biggest challenge, of course, was how she was able to buy the farm. Mighty Food Farm submitted a proposal in a competitive bid process conducted by the Vermont Land Trust, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to making more land available to farmers.

MacDougall was chosen, and VLT raised approximately half the $640,000 cost of the farm. And with the help of the Vermont Economic Development Authority, she mortgaged the remainder. The bottom line is that MacDougall’s monthly mortgage payment is roughly the same as was her monthly rent back in Pownal.

Donald Campbell, of VLT, who worked with MacDougall on the acquisition, has nothing but praise for her as a farmer and a person. He says that MacDougall “made fund-raising easy.”

There were a number of good proposals for the property, many of which VLT would have liked to support. But Lisa’s was by far the best. This was an amazing piece of land and an amazing farmer. It was just a matter of bringing them together.”

Campbell says there were many reasons why MacDougall’s proposal stood out: her education (she was a Plant and Soils major at UMass), her extensive internship experience and her track record. Most importantly ­­– she demonstrated great tenacity.

“This person has worked really, really hard,” Campbell says. “She wasn’t born into” a working farm on an inherited piece of land.

Mighty Food Farm is supported by 200 local customers through the Community Supported Agriculture program -- this is a large number when compared to other CSA farms. MacDougall also supplies vegetables to three farmers’ markets and two Williamstown restaurants.

She has come a long way since she started farming in college. Her first job farming was the summer after her freshman year at UMass. “I fell in love immediately,” she says. She has been working on one or another farm ever since.

A native of Ipswich, Massachusetts, MacDougall’s mother is a psychotherapist and her father works in golf course maintenance. This may explain MacDougall’s love of outdoor work.

And work she does. The dirt is well embedded in her hands and fingernails, and her jeans are a study in mud. When asked if many people are wowed by what she has accomplished as a farmer, she offers a modest reply. “I think people see that I work hard and have respect for that.  I don't take compliments very well.  It makes me kind of uncomfortable.”

One thing that suffers when you are working non-stop is your social life. MacDougall says she took a day off recently to go to a concert. “That was my first day off in three months.”

But this is what happens when your job is your passion is your dream come true. MacDougall is philosophical about that: “It is what it is,” she says, smiling, and she wouldn’t give it up for the world.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Morning Mist on the Meadow


The woman in the video
would have us savor
every moment.

How about this
moment this
meadow
this
morning?

Cool white mist hovers over the field
a hint of sunshine glosses the grass.
No rooster,
but a crow keeps crawing and crawing
to some other distant crow.

Now the black bird
sails out from the trees
wings wide, tailing
over
the meadow
the meadow
is so

The crow takes a perch
on a distant fence.
And crows and crows.

The moment is so.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Do This for Four Minutes and See What Happens!

Thanks to a good friend, I came across a remarkably quick recipe to boost happiness.

We hear it all the time:
STAY IN THE PRESENT MOMENT. BE MINDFUL. SAVOR EVERYTHING.

It sounds so easy.  It is a simple idea, but it's really hard to put into practice.

The woman in this video says it in a way that I can hear. In a way that I really get it.

Try listening and see what you think. Her segment is only about four minutes long.

Go to 11 minutes, 17 seconds in

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wPeC4CLkLU

The speaker is Mel Robbins, a motivational speaker who appears on CNN.



Thursday, August 17, 2017

Heavenly New Mexico

There is so much stunning landscape in New Mexico it's hard to know where to start.

So here is one spot, unlike anything I have seen before:

Imagine if you can a bowl that is more than 13 miles across. Now fill that bowl with soft grass and fir trees, hot springs and streams.

Behold a caldera, the mammoth crater left over after a monstrous volcano blew its lid millions of years ago. It sits in the Jemez mountains of northern New Mexico. And it -- like so much of the state -- is enchanting.

A brand new addition to the National Park Service, Valdes Caldera National Preserve is home to thousands of elk that rely on the site for breeding, calving and foraging.

We hiked into the caldera, surrounded by prairie dogs, and smelling like sage. Afterward, we met Jorge-Silva Bañuelos,
a marvelous Park Service ranger and superintendent at Valdes Caldera. He spent half an hour answering our questions and pointing out different features of the caldera.

I can't fathom a volcano 13 miles across.

But then, there are so many things in this Universe I can't comprehend. How exquisitely humbling.


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.



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 collusion 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.