Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Full of Grace - Cheating Death

On Friday morning Martha mentioned that she had smelled something odd in the basement. All my seedlings are maturing so we just assumed it was an earthy smell.  Then around 9 o’clock pm all our lights suddenly dimmed. Martha went to check the power box and the smell of melting plastic and smoke was intense.  Wisely, she turned off the main power breaker.

I called a friend whose husband is an electrician. “Be over in 20 minutes”.  He took one look at it and said that we were minutes away from having a fire which would have spread through all the wires in the walls.  The house would have been consumed.

As required by law, he called the power company who came and turned off all power to the house. He said that we’d need a whole new box, new meter and service, and everything would have to be rewired, a 2 day job at least, then promised to be back first thing in the morning.

Martha and I spent the night, wide awake, being grateful for friends who drop everything to come and help and mostly thinking about what could have been.  What could have been.

Over the years I have had three different  friends tell me they had dreamt I died in a fire. It has always spooked me.  A lot.

And now there have been three times we came dangerously close to a fire in the house - once when an outlet overheated at 2 in the morning. Fortunately since it was New Year’s Eve the kids were up and noticed the smoke. Otherwise we would have all been asleep.  Once when my sauna heater went bad and started charring the cedar wall behind it. And now the main circuit breaker having a major meltdown and Martha miraculously noticing the smell in the basement before going to bed.  

I admit I’m having weird feelings about it. Have I cheated death? Is there some strange existential reason I am still alive?  Is there something I need to accomplish before being swallowed up in flames?  Is everything sheer coincidence?

Having no power for two and a half days (even my phone eventually died) gives one a lot of time to think. Too much time, perhaps : )

Whether there is some omnipotent force in the universe or not, today I am very grateful to be alive.

And to have power.

All sorts of power.

Life is grand.

Friday, April 21, 2017


From the Huffington Post:

Maryland Fails To Pass Bill That Would Take Away Rapists’ Parental Rights

Women in that state must include their attackers in any decisions about custody or adoption.

Maryland was poised to end a policy this week that would have stopped requiring that rape victims who get pregnant share parental rights with their attackers.
Instead, the legislation fizzled when a six-person negotiating committee ― comprised entirely of men ― essentially failed to iron out the final details before the state’s General Assembly adjourned for the session on Monday.
That means that in Maryland, a woman who conceives after a rape will still be legally required to negotiate with her rapist over custody should she decide to keep the baby, or include her rapist in any decisions regarding putting the baby up for adoption.
Maryland is one of seven states where that remains the case, along with North Dakota, Wyoming, New Mexico, Mississippi, Alabama and Minnesota, according to CNN. In many other states, an assault conviction is required to block an attacker’s parental rights.  
This is the ninth time such legislation has been proposed ― and failed to become law ― in Maryland, The Washington Post reports. That is true despite broad support from groups typically at odds with each other, including Planned Parenthood and Maryland Right To Life.
Different versions of the bill passed both the Maryland House and the Maryland Senate this year, so a smaller negotiating committee came together to hammer out the final details, hoping to get a final vote in the House and Senate before the current legislative session closed.
Notably, that negotiating group did not include Maryland Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery) who has introduced the bill into the state legislature year after year. In fact, it did not include any female politicians at all ― an oversight that national media outlets including The Daily Beast have been highly critical of. 
“Some of the legislators on the committee unquestionably care about rape survivors and co-sponsored the bills,” Lisae C. Jordan, executive director and counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which lobbied on behalf of the bill, said in a statement. “At the same time, the committee would have benefited from including women legislators.”
One of the negotiators told The Baltimore Sun that they could not pass the bill on time because the print shop in the State House could not work fast enough to get copies for a final vote in both chambers by the time the legislative session ended on Monday.
Whatever the reason for the failure, activists who work for sexual assault victims and reproductive rights are furious over the outcome.
“It is embarrassing that Maryland remains one of seven states without this legal relief afforded to rape survivors,” Diana Philip, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, the advocacy group, said in an e-mail to The Huffington Post.
“Year after year, the bill is introduced with both crime victim rights and civil liberties issues addressed. The strategy has been to allow members of the House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceeding Committees to make any necessary clarifications that would be in the best interests of all Marylanders,” she said. “But after a decade, the protections in the bill get watered down and concessions are made without any final result.”
According to The Baltimore Sun, Maryland legislators have vowed to revive the bill in 2018. 
But for Philip, that is not enough. 
“Maryland rape survivors do not need more time to fine tune this bill,” she told HuffPost. “They need it passed into law.”

I don't understand how rapists have parental rights in 7 states! 
I guess I have found my new political crusade.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Road Trip

Back in September my oldest daughter asked to take a relaxing vacation before she started her first professional job and would have no vacation time for quite a while. We went to Fort Lauderdale and spent several days being beach bums.  Lovely and relaxing. But then, of course, Peachie wanted a vacation too.

I had always wanted to go to Sedona and she was up for the adventure.  We decided to make it a road trip by flying into Las Vegas and then renting a car and seeing what was to be seen.  I started the planning months ago.

First was coordinating arrivals as she would be flying in from a business trip in Texas. I managed to find flights that had us arriving within 20 minutes of each other. Perfect.  We would spend the first night in Vegas and then begin our adventure first thing in the morning.

Then I found that Celine Dion would be there and got tickets for her concert which I kept secret because I knew that Martha and Beaner would be very jealous. However, after a couple of months I realized that everyone should go and made arrangements for Martha and Beaner to come with me on Friday afternoon, then make their own weekend itinerary and be back to work on Monday.

The concert was good (but nothing compared to Adele). Afterward we walked to the Bellagio to see the fountain show and then early to bed (which because of the time difference was damn late for me)

Peachie and I were up and out early, rented our little compact car and were off to the Arizona desert. Our first stop was to see a little of historic Route 66 which was just as I imagined. We ate at a place called the Roadkill Cafe and took a few pictures of the old cars parked at the old abandoned gas stations, and then back in the car for another couple of hours driving to Sedona.

Having spent 5 hours driving through a  barren, but interesting to us, landscape, all of a sudden we rounded a bend and saw the famous red rocks of Sedona. We quickly found our adorable boutique hotel, laced up our hiking boots and went out to explore.

Climbing silty sand and rocks is challenging but oh the views were spectacular!  Our first hike took about 3 hours and around every turn there were new awesome formations.

Up early the next morning we headed out for Oak Creek Canyon, rated one of the 10 best hikes in America.  The trail is through a deep canyon, forested with Ponderosa Pine with lots of stream crossings. I was wishing I had brought my high top, waterproof hikers as balancing on logs and slippery rocks was quite humbling for me.  

We went into town for a quick lunch and took an impromptu Pink Jeep tour which had us travelling over extremely rugged roads with outstanding views.  It also gave me a chance to rest my tired feet.  

Then off to climb Bell Rock which is also considered a vortex with a special energy. Although technically there are trail markers on this rock, basically one has to climb, scramble or otherwise claw their way up.  We sat up there for a long time just taking in the view and the air and quiet.

The next morning we started out for the Grand Canyon. Morning is not the best time to see it but it is magnificent in any lighting. We hiked around the southern rim for a few hours trying to take it all in which is, of course, impossible.

Our next stop was Page, Arizona where we arrived late in the afternoon, had the best BBQ and cornbread I’ve ever eaten and then hiked up to see Horseshoe Bend, an area where the Colorado River loops around a large rock formation 1,000 ft. below.  It is a sheer dropoff with no fencing or protection. Although others got close to the edge, I stayed a safe, wimpy distance back.

The next morning we went to tour the Lower Antelope Canyon on the Navajo Reservation.  Five very steep and narrow stairways bring you down into the space and then you just meander through.

These pictures were all taken with my phone, with no special lens, just snapping upwards as we walked along.  It is probably the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen.  I was simply awestruck.

After that, my legs and feet were begging for mercy so we rented some kayaks to explore the canyons along the shores of Lake Powell.  

Then back in the car for a couple hour drive to Zion National Park.  It was getting late when we arrived so we took a short hike on an easy trail, dinner and then fell into bed.  

We were happy to be up early to get back into the park as the lines to get in were already lengthening and the trailhead parking filling up. But I was happy to see kids and families outside enjoying these amazing natural resources.  It was rare to see anyone on their phones - although probably because there was no service.  Still is was refreshing to see.

Our morning hike was a bit more challenging as it was steep and rocky. Often the trail narrowed down to a 12 inch width, with sheer dropoffs.  I watched kids just skip across these areas whereas I was clinging to the walls for dear life. Still, the magnificence of the place made it all worth it.

And then it was time to head back. Another 3 hours drive back to Vegas.  I have to admit at this point I was ready to see some trees and denser vegetation.  

In 4 1/2 days we spent 11 hours in planes, 14 hours in a car, drove over 1200 miles, hiked about 32 miles and climbed the equivalent of 250 flights of stairs.  We also laughed, got lost, shared meals and dreams, helped each other over and across difficult terrain, sat silently together on mountains, saw unimaginable sights, breathed in pine filled air, and were constantly stunned by the beauty that continually changed with each curve in the road and the angle of the sun.

I gave this trip 5 stars.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Full of Grace - New York Edition

Up at 5:30 am to pick her up and catch the 7:10 train.

She had told me about this new place, DO, which sells raw cookie dough, scooped like ice cream. We were both excited about it but read that the lines are often a 2 to 4 hour wait.  Nonetheless we grabbed a taxi downtown to try.

We were very excited as we pulled up that there was no line at all.  But as we went to enter the store a woman politely told us that the line forms across the street.  Oh that line, half a block long. But what the hell, we were here, might as well wait.

We only waited about 20 minutes as they let people in about 20 at a time.  Meanwhile they passed a menu around so we could decide before we got in the store.

Strangely, everyone who has seen the menu knew exactly what I ordered. Apparently I have a reputation,

And oh was it worth the wait!  

If you magnify the picture you will see huge vats of butter and sugar in the background.

Yes, we made ourselves sick loving every bite.

Then, needing to walk it off, we strolled through Washington Square in Greenwich Village.  I was explaining to Beaner that “back in my day” this is where “hippies” gathered to protest the Vietnam War.  Things hadn’t changed much with singers and protesters against Trump everywhere.  And a naked woman sitting on the ground shaving her legs.  I wasn’t sure if it was performance art or she was just enjoying the suddenly warmer temperatures. (No I didn't take a picture of her. That would have been creepy)

Then onto Eataly which is a huge place filled with Italian foods and restaurants

It would be impossible to get the feel for it in one photo as there are 20 or more sections, each dedicated to either a certain food or a particular region.  Just the smell of the place is amazing.

And, of course, one section is dedicated to Nutella.  

We had a little time before curtain so we wandered up 5th Avenue to browse Ted Baker and Saks. She found lots she liked but nothing in her price range. No surprise there.

Then the highlight of the day,  seeing Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, her biggest celeb crush.

I bought the tickets months ago and and paid for premium seats.  Broadway theaters are small, but I like to be close enough to see the actor’s expressions in dramatic performances.  

A couple of weeks before the show they sent me an email saying that our tickets entitled us to a lounge area where we would be given a free glass of champagne and access to private bathrooms. Funny how the 20 something was most excited about the wine, the 60 something was most excited about the bathroom : )

The show was great and Gyllenhaal was amazing.  I’m not a Sondheim fan, but was truly pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this show.  And that Mr. Gyllenhaal can sing.  He plays the artist George Seurat and spends a great deal of the show sketching people in the park. Our 4th row seats paid off as Jake often sat on the edge of the stage, just 10 feet in front of us, netting me some serious ‘cool mom’ points.

At the end of curtain calls the lead actress gave a short speech about Broadway Cares, a charity dedicated to helping folks with AIDS.   Cast members would be in the rear of the theater with buckets if we wanted to donate.  And then she explained that Jake was really sketching during the show,  the cast held up and Jake autographed them.  Selling price?  $750 each.  The sketches were amazingly good but no, I was not that cool.

Off to a small Italian restaurant for dinner where the conversation centered around boyfriends and bucket lists and life dreams, and then back to the train where we promptly conked out.

Sharing a day in my favorite city with my daughter. Making memories. I have much to be grateful for.

Life is so very good.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Don't Wait

Friday morning started with a text from a colleague that said “Eileen passed away this morning”

Eileen and I worked in the same building for years although she worked in a department I rarely had to coordinate with.  Mostly we saw each other in staff meetings.

We were diagnosed with the same type of  breast cancer at the same time and became friends as we supported we other on our medical journeys.

My cancer was found by a routine yearly mammogram - 3 tumors, 2 in the left breast, one in the right. Within a week I had 3 biopsies and, learned the type and grade of the tumors.

Eileen had felt a lump in her right breast months before and waited seek medical care.

I immediately had a bilateral mastectomy and a couple of nodes removed that showed that the cancer had not spread.

Eileen had one breast removed but her nodes showed that the cancer had already spread.

I recovered from the surgery in a few weeks and started a regimen of estrogen killing drugs that gave me wicked hot flashes.

Eileen had to start chemo, was sick as a dog, lost her hair, her energy and a couple of months of work. But she never quite bounced back from the chemo and quit working.

I had had lunch with her  a short while ago and she was saying that she still was not feeling well and was going to call the doctor soon. Turns out that the cancer had spread to her bones.  By the time she went it was too late.

Friday morning Eileen died. She was 55 years old.

Saturday morning my daughter Beaner and I went to New York City to see a Broadway show. In a couple of weeks I am will be hiking in Sedona with Peachie.

Sunday afternoon Eileen’s her children gathered to mourn her.

I can’t help but think of the different ways our lives went all because she was too frightened to get medical help when she knew something was wrong.  Cancer is not like a cold. It will not go away with a good night’s sleep.  

I urge everyone to keep up with their routine screenings and preventive wellness. And if you suspect something is not right, get medical attention immediately.  Early detection and treatment does save lives and even in the 5 years since my cancer, they have made huge strides in treatment.  

While my daughters and I are out making memories, Eileen’s are burying her.  

Please don’t wait.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Full of Grace - Maple Sugaring Time

As is our yearly tradition - and I do love traditions - it is maple sugaring time in the northeast which means going to an All you can Eat Pancake Breakfast.

We try to visit a different farm each year - this year coming close to the Green Mountains of Vermont.

While sugaring used to be very labor intensive, having to tap trees, hang buckets and manually collect the sap daily, today’s large operations now do it with tubing and collections systems.  The sap is then put in wood burning boilers to cook off the excess water until it becomes nothing but sweet, velvety syrup.  

An interesting note - Before the days of boilers, Indians used to hollow out tree trunks and place the sap in the hollow. At night the water content of the sap would freeze and they would peel the layer of ice off. Done repeatedly until fully reduced to liquid gold.

Maple sugar farms open their sugar shacks for one or two weekends in March to give tours and serve their products.

This year’s choice provided some really great fiddle music.

There may be nothing better than being out in the woods on a cold Sunday morning, enter a steamy sugar shack, sit at a communal table to drink a cup of hot coffee and stuff yourself with steaming pancakes and sausage topped with fresh maple syrup straight out of the boilers.

And then going home with a collection of maple sugar products and recipes to try.

Unfortunately our warm winter has slowed the flow of sap and production will be low this year. In fact, they say climate change will eventually move maple sugaring further and further north, the impact already showing in just one generation. It makes me so sad to think that my grandchildren may not be able to enjoy this centuries old tradition.  

Or enjoy maple syrup straight from the tree

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Wildflower Seeds to Help Honeybees

Have you noticed that Buzz the bee has disappeared from many Cheerios cereal boxes? General Mills has removed the mascot’s as part of a campaign to raise awareness about the plight of real honeybees.

Bees of all stripes are currently in big trouble. The Center for Biological Diversity has found that more than half the species are in decline. Almost one in four is in increasing risk of extinction. The wide-spread use of bee killing pesticides are particular threats for honeybees and wild pollinators, and severe loss of formerly wild spaces due to development have all taken huge bites out of bee populations. This is bad news, even for people who don’t care about bugs— honeybees are responsible for pollinating 70 out of the 100 biggest human food crops.

The average person sitting down to dinner probably doesn’t realize the important role bees played in preparing that meal. Here’s something that might surprise you: One out of every three mouthfuls of food in the American diet is, in some way, a product of honeybee pollination—from fruit to nuts to coffee beans. And because bees are dying at a rapid rate (42 percent of bee colonies collapsed in the United States alone in 2015), our food supply is at serious risk. (National Resources Defense Council)

Things you can do to help bees.

Plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs in your garden and yard. ...
Weeds can be a good thing.
Don't use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn or garden.
Buy local, raw honey.
Bees are thirsty. Put out a small bowl of water
Get involved politically. Ask your representatives to pass, enforce and keep laws that will protect the bees.

To help in the effort, General Mills is giving away 100 million wildflower seeds. Go sign up, I hear they are going fast. And then get planting. I will have to wait for the 2 feet of snow this blizzard is dumping on me first. But as soon as Spring arrives, I will be doing my part.

 To further spread the word, General Mills is giving away 100 million wildflower seeds.