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.