Sunday, December 27, 2009

No longer haunted by holiday depression



For much of my life I spent the holidays obsessing about not having the perfect family. I’ve always been haunted by Brady Bunch like visions of the big happy family. My family of origin was small and dysfunctional. And continuing the family pattern I went on to two unhappy marriages. I finally got the marriage thing right the third time around but the dream of the perfect family still eluded me--a loving partner, wonderful children, and a large, supportive extended family.

My husband I did not have children (which was the right decision for us) but one consequence was putting the Brady Bunch dream further out of reach. And my little son was stuck shuttling back and forth between 2 households in a tension- filled joint custody arrangement.

For the most part, I haven’t wasted too much time feeling sorry for myself because I don’t have this dream family. But the holidays always brought these anxieties to the foreground and there were years when I really dreaded the holidays.

Yes, I know how rare it is to have a happy marriage and to have an extended family free of tension, in-law problems, and ancient, unresolved quarrels threatening to disrupt the family dinner. It’s not like the whole world has something from which I alone am shut out.

For reasons I don’t fully understand I’ve gotten beyond my dream of the perfect family. I have my wonderful husband, my son, my sister and her family, and many wonderful friends. I will never have that huge happy family I’ve always dreamed about, but I’ve made my peace with that. And one consequence is that the holidays are no longer an ordeal to be gotten through.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A cautionary tale from Gail Collins: Or why we have to pass a health care reform bill



Today I received an email from NOW President Terry O'Neill. One of the reasons many feminists support NOW is to have an organization we can count on to look out for women’s rights. From Terry O'Neill:

The so-called health care reform bill now before the Senate, with the addition of Majority Leader Harry Reid's Manager's Amendment, amounts to a health insurance bill for half the population and a sweeping anti-abortion law for the rest of us. And by the way, it's the rest of us who voted the current leadership into both houses of Congress.
The National Organization for Women is outraged that Senate leadership would cave in to Sen. Ben Nelson, offering a compromise that amounts to a Stupak-like ban on insurance coverage for abortion care. Right-wing ideologues like Nelson and the Catholic Bishops may not understand this, but abortion is health care. And health care reform is not true reform if it denies women coverage for the full range of reproductive health services.
We call on all senators who consider themselves friends of women's rights to reject the Manager's Amendment, and if it remains, to defeat this cruelly over-compromised legislation.


Support for abortion rights is a litmus test issue for me. I’ve never voted for an anti-choice candidate, no matter how good that candidate might be on economic justice issues. And I don’t expect to ever vote for an anti-choice candidate.

I will write to my senators to let them know how outraged I am by the anti-choice language in the bill. I will continue to lobby to get this language out of the final bill, but I don’t want to ask my representatives to torpedo the final bill.

I have gone back and forth on this. What finally clinched it for me, was Gail Collins’ article which jogged my memory about what happened when progressives failed to work together to mobilize support for child care.

Collins relates a cautionary tale:
Back in 1971, Congress passed a bill aimed at providing high-quality early childhood education and after-school programs for any American family that wanted them…Then Richard Nixon surprised almost everyone by vetoing it. The social right, which was just beginning to come into its own, was delighted….
Meanwhile, there was hardly a peep from the other side. Children’s advocates had been enthusiastic at first, but as the legislation made its way through Congress, they squabbled over what kinds of community groups should be allowed to deliver the services…
In the end, the people who hated the whole idea were much more energized than the people who loved the idea, but disagreed on the details.
“People always think there will be another day,” said Jack Duncan, who was counsel for the subcommittee that handled the bill in the House. “Well, there might be another day, but not in my lifetime.”


At that stage in my life, I thought the 1971 child care bill was too flawed to support—-nothing short of free childcare for all would have satisfied me.
I didn’t realize at the time that we had just blown a historic opportunity which would have made an enormous difference in women’s lives. If there had been enough support from progressives to override Nixon’s veto, the bill would have in all likelihood have become stronger over time.

By now, Americans would view government subsidized high quality child care as a right—-just the way Europeans view child care as a right. We forget that social security was not widely supported initially, but there is now a consensus that financial support in old age is a right of citizens. Something similar is likely to happen with health care.

At this stage in my life, I am willing to take half a loaf to establish the principle that all Americans have a right to health care. We can’t miss this opportunity.

Friday, December 18, 2009

How I’m dealing with my depression about health care reform



This is not the way I expected it to turn out. No public option, no Medicare buy –in for people 55-64. But I don’t want to kill the bill.

I spend too much time reading liberal/ progressive blogs and am dismayed by how many on the left are making the argument that it’s better to scuttle this bill.

Many thanks to Nate Silver who kept me from falling into this defeatist way of thinking! One of my Facebook friends alerted me to
His 20 Questions for Bill Killers

Silver convinced me that passing this bill is so much better than starting over. Among his most compelling points:

8. How many years is it likely to be before Democrats again have (i) at least as many non-Blue Dog seats in the Congress as they do now, and (ii) a President in the White House who would not veto an ambitious health care bill?

11. Would base voters be less likely to turn out in 2010 if no health care plan is passed at all, rather than a reasonable plan without a public option?

[An aside: Nate Silver got me through the 2008 general election. Whenever I stated to panic, I went to fivethirtyeight.com and Nate’s solid, fact-based analysis calmed me down. Silver demonstrated that electoral arithmetic was clearly in Obama’s favor and that helped me get beyond the headline of the day.]

Silver’s arguments helped and a little bit of history helps. Major social reform has always been piecemeal. In order to get the votes to pass social security, FDR made a devil’s bargain with Southern Democrats to exclude domestic workers and share croppers, effectively excluding the majority of African-Americans.

In many ways the New Deal was racist, but it established the principle that the elderly were entitled to financial support. In the 1950’s the laws were amended to ensure that the principle applied to all workers. (Those who had been excluded from social security or their descendants should have been compensated.)

Medicare was similarly a work in progress, with prescription drug coverage not included. Medicare established the principle that the elderly were entitled to health care, but it took forty years for prescription drug coverage to be included, and even then, the prescription drug coverage passed during the Bush administration was deeply flawed. We are still working on fixing that one.

Killing the bill will kill reform for the foreseeable future and kill more of our fellow citizens who are dying for lack of health care.

And from Bill Clinton:
“Take it from someone who knows: these chances don't come around every day. Allowing this effort to fall short now would be a colossal blunder -- both politically for our party and, far more important, for the physical, fiscal, and economic health of our country."

Maybe Obama and the Democrats could have fought harder, fought smarter but the archaic senate rules have stacked the deck against change. It’s time to get rid of the filibuster and the 60 vote threshold required.

So I’m reconciled (sort of) to passing this flawed bill as a first step and trying to talk myself into a "don’t mourn, organize!” mind set.

I’m going to work like crazy to make sure the people who came out for Obama in 2008 come out in 2010 to give the president the votes he needs to fix this bill. Too bad Lieberman doesn’t come up for re-election until 2012.

Karen Bojar

Saturday, December 12, 2009

President Obama deserves the Nobel Prize


One downside of retirement is I have more time to obsess about what troubles me. If I were still working, I’d be too busy grading papers to be obsessing about Afghanistan and Obama’s Nobel Prize.

I am in the minority who thinks Obama deserves the award. I don’t share the disillusionment of many of my left wing friends with Obama. He inherited a horrendous mess. There were no good options in Afghanistan and the economic disaster was not of his making. And as for the difficulty of getting real health care reform passed, although the Democrats control congress, Obama does not have an ideological majority. A lot of those blue dogs might as well be Republicans.

But the escalation in Afghanistan gave me pause. I had hoped for a different decision. There is an argument for trying to stabilize a region in which there is a real possibility of nuclear weapons winding up in the hands of some truly scary people. But is increasing troop levels the way to forestall this? I've read some compelling arguments against Obama’s surge—even from Arlen Specter! So I’m very uncertain about all this and worried, really worried.

Yet I still think President Obama deserves the Nobel Prize and am happy it was awarded to him—-largely because of what this says about the world’s changing view of our country. In less than a year Obama has dramatically changed the image of the US. In the first days of his administration he declared an end to torture, the intention to close Guantanamo, his commitment to a world without nuclear weapons and , in the truly remarkable Cairo speech, he reached out to the Muslim world. Granted it’s more promise than achievement, but after 8 years of Bush/Cheney such a dramatic shift counts for a lot. Obama has raised the hopes of people around the globe that just maybe another world is possible.

Karen Bojar

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More thoughts on the winter garden


A beautiful medititation on the winter garden from my friend Fran who gardens in Cambridge, MA:

I think of the winter garden as the place for stock-taking. The “bones” of the garden are evident and I, thanks to retirement, have the leisure to reconsider, regroup, and plan. This year I’ll try to do more with autumn flowers. I’m also looking for a good groundcover for a bank where the dogs run—plants that are low-growing, very hardy, and willing to spread. The ground phlox hasn’t been entirely satisfactory, but maybe more of it would work better. I always want something in bloom throughout the year but am far less successful than Karen. Maybe next year. Time to check out plant sites on the web.

Of course, a lot of what I see now is jobs that I should have done already—tie up the broom so it doesn’t get beaten down by the snow, prune here and there, do any odd job that cold and rain and snow will allow. And leaves always remain. Nonetheless, it is rather peaceful since there really isn’t all that much that I can physically do, but I can dream. And when snow comes it covers up all the problems and everything looks beautiful.

Like Karen, people ask me if I would prefer living where I could have a year-round garden and, like Karen, I prefer (actually need) the varied seasons. Seasonal change and weather are very important to me. I love the drama of storms and the comfort of warm sunny days. When spring comes, I really feel that I’ve earned it by surviving winter. A friend, a fellow New Englander, moved for a time to California and said she didn’t know how Californians developed any personality without weather to contend with! I also think that without the winter break from gardening I wouldn’t have that pause that makes gardening something to really look forward to. I await the snowdrops and crocuses as the first sign that, once again, spring will really come.

Reading gardening books in the winter is a special pleasure for me. I plan such wonderful gardens, even if they are only very partially realized. At the moment I’m reading Olive Pitkin, My Garden and I: The Making of a Mid-Life Gardener (1992). I prefer narratives like this one to “how-to” books. Pitkin does most of the gardening herself (aided by relatives and friends), which I admire. I can’t really identify with gardeners whose work is done primarily by others. I also can’t identify with those who seem to have unlimited resources. When the famous gardener Christopher Lloyd was laying in a garden on an estate, a road was in the way of what he planned so the owners had the road moved. That’s a bit more ambitious than I can manage. I’m content with my little city plot of ground in all the seasons that it passes through.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Winter Garden


This is a tough time of the year for me. We’ve had our first snowfall and hard frost, so there’s not much left in my garden—just a little bit of winter jasmine.

I try to have something in bloom for as much of the year as possible but December and January are tough. I usually get a snow drop or two in January, but that’s it.

Friends who know of my passion for gardening sometimes ask if I’ve ever wanted to move to a warmer climate where I could have an all year round garden. Not an option. Not only do I love my city, my house, my friends, I don’t think I could live without the drama of Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.

I’m sure that I would never burst into tears of joy at the sight of the first species crocus (usually in late February) if it weren’t for several months of ice and cold. Now maybe that sounds a little crazy—wanting the pain of winter to fully experience the joy of Spring, but that’s how it works for me. And then Philly winters aren’t all that bad; it’s not like I’m living in Maine.

I’ve tried to figure out why seasonal change is so important to me and I think it has a lot to do with growing up on English literature. My imagination has been shaped in a really deep way by all those references to seasonal change. Bits and piece of poetry pop into my mind when I am out in the garden. Right now it’s “bare, ruined choirs where once the sweet birds sang.”

And the Holidays for me are a Winter Solstice festival. I just can’t imagine the holiday season without cold weather and at least the possibility of snow.

The way I make sense of the world is bound up with seasonal change. Sure some of it may seem clich├ęd—e.g., the autumn of my life—but it’s powerful nonetheless.
Karen Bojar

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I’m glad I got it together to go to DC for the National Lobby Day to Stop Stupak



I’m glad I got it together to go to DC for the National Lobby Day to Stop Stupak and Pass Health Care Reform.

A diverse group of women from all over the country gathered in DC; the really good news is that the majority were young women in their 20’s and 30’s. I think many women in my generation breathed a sigh of relief when we saw all these young women determined to protect reproductive rights.

Lobby days can be tedious as you go to one office after another, usually meeting with staff rather than with elected officials. (Thanks to Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, one of the few elected officials who met with constituents.)

The lobbying may have been tedious, but the rally was inspirational. Leaders of major feminist organizations and women legislators with long careers fighting for gender equality affirmed their determination to stop this assault on women’s rights.

Many emphasized that that here has been a compromise in place for decades that federal funds can not be used for abortion but that women can purchase insurance coverage which includes abortion with private funds—-i.e.with their own money. The Stupak-Pitts amendment would overturn this compromise and dramatically change the status quo.

No other legal medical procedure has been singled out to be excluded from plans on the proposed newly created insurance exchange—just this procedure which applies only to women.

A common theme from the women legislators who have been fighting for real health care reform is “We are going to win this one. We are not going to pass health care reform which restricts access, which takes away a right which women currently possess.” As Carol Maloney (Dem. representative from NY) said, “I didn’t go to Congress to roll back women's rights."

We must make sure that in arguing that health care reform not undo the compromise in place for decades(the Hyde amendment), that we are not legimitizing this law's discrimination against low income women.

After we defeat Stupak, we will mobilize against the Hyde amendment which denies government employees and women on Medicaid access to abortion. And we will win!

Monday, November 30, 2009

I can’t believe we are still fighting for abortion rights.



I can’t believe we are still fighting for abortion rights. In 1973 after the Roe decision, I thought the battle had been won. How wrong I was.

When I went to a pro-choice demonstration in DC in the early 90’s, I couldn’t quite believe that we were still fighting this battle. But I was heartened to see so many young women there and thought that soon this would be settled and we wouldn't be wasting our energy fighting for this basic right. Wrong again.

When I dragged myself to DC for the 2004 March for Women’s Lives I began to worry that I might be fighting this battle until my dying day. Bush was president and had the power to shape the Supreme Court for years to come.

Now we have a Democratic president and a Democratic congress, yet we’re still fighting an energized anti-choice movement. But supporters of abortion rights are energized as well. According to NY Times , Nancy Keenan, Executive director of NARAL describes us old folks as “a menopausal militia”—women who can remember a world without access to safe, legal abortion. (Most women my age know someone, either directly or indirectly, who died from or suffered serious complications from an illegal abortion.)

Young women may lack this direct experience, but many see access to safe, legal abortion as a right and they don’t want health care reform to endanger that right. So I expect to see at a lot of young women at the rally/lobby day for abortion rights in DC on Dec. 2.

One concession to age: I no longer take the bus. There is no way I can get to Center City Philly by 6:00 and then return to Philly at 9:00 for a 17 hour day. I plan to drive down the night before, stay in DC overnight, and get up at a reasonable hour in the morning. I’ve paid my dues—40+ years of taking the bus to marches in DC. Unlike so many of my friends, I’ve never enjoyed the experience. I went out of a sense of obligation. I’ve always been a little phobic about crowds and was never really comfortable marching around with like-minded folks chanting slogans in unison. My politics may have collectivist tinge, but temperamentally I’m an individualist.

But there are times when you just have to stand up and be counted.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Who was sitting around your Thanksgiving dinner table? Family? Friends?



Holidays have a way of making me review my life—-memories of Thanksgivings past. When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was strictly a family affair. During my first brief, troubled marriage, I don’t recall our ever celebrating Thanksgiving. My second marriage was another mistake, but it lasted much longer, and about a decade of Thanksgiving dinners were spent with my ex's family. They were a very nice group of people who were very good to my son and I have fond memories of them.

My third try at marriage was a success and many Thanksgiving dinners were spent with my husband’s family in Rhode Island. Sadly, my husband’s parents and many of the relatives who sat around that Thanksgiving table are no longer with us and we are no longer driving up to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving. The common thread in all this is that the folks around the Thanksgiving table were all family—-traditionally defined.

My sister and a group of her friends have been having Thanksgiving together for years. And luckily for us they have taken us in. Much as I enjoy having dinner with my husband, a Thanksgiving dinner with just the two of us wouldn’t be much fun. Holidays are communal celebrations.

My guess is that in our increasingly mobile society with our changing notions of what counts as family, many of those communal celebrations are as likely to consist of a small circle of friends as of a group of relatives.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fall Cleanup: Here I am retired and still behind schedule.





My lawn and walkways are covered with leaves and I still have bulbs I haven’t gotten around to planting. For years I’ve promised myself that I would get my bulbs in the ground before the weather gets cold and miserable, but each year the mountain of student papers and my various volunteer jobs got in the way. Every year I found myself out there in the rain and cold, desperately trying to get my bulbs planted before the ground froze.

I was sure that when I was retired I would be all caught up on the garden chores. True, that trip to New England cost me almost 2 weeks of time in the garden. Even so, I’m retired-- I shouldn’t be so far behind!

My husband tells me: “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re supposed to be able to take it easy when you’re retired.” He’s not giving himself a hard time for being behind in leaf raking, his main garden job.

For other procrastinators out there: Don’t worry, you can plant until the ground is frozen (usually Mid December in the Philly area.) The bulbs will come up a little later in the Spring, but they’ll be fine. But you’re probably not going to enjoy the experience on a cold, gloomy late November Day.

Friday, November 20, 2009

There is a generation of young feminists out there ready to fight for reproductive rights.




Book Your Seat Today!
National Day of Action
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Washington, D.C.

There is a generation of young feminists out there ready to fight for reproductive rights. Many older feminists (myself included) have bemoaned the fact that we are having trouble recruiting younger feminists to take over our organizations. Maybe younger feminists want to form their own organizations rather than build those that emerged from second wave feminism. Maybe they’ll do both.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that there are young, energetic feminists committed to fighting for equality for women. I went to a meeting today convened by WOMEN’S WAY, a local foundation which raises money for organizations providing services to women and girls. The room was filled with young women determined to fight against any erosion of abortion rights in the health care bill before Congress. (If anyone doubts that the Stupak-Pitts amendment effectively denies coverage for abortion in the plans to be offered in the proposed insurance exchange, read George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services report on the Stupak/Pitts Amendment

These young women do not want to choose between expanding heath care and maintaining a right many women currently possess. One theme which emerged at today’s meeting was that the pro-choice movement has been energized by Stupak-Pitts. When we defeat this attempt to erode abortion rights, we’ll be ready to take on the Hyde amendment, which denies access to abortion to low-income women who are receiving Medicaid.

I don’t think young women are going to meekly stand by and accept the loss of hard fought rights. Something is happening out there.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another retiree in the city!

My friend Fran is retiring in Cambridge MA and values an urban area for reasons somewhat different from mine.

From Fran:

Like Karen, I plan to stay put in the city. I recently attended my high school’s 50th reunion and was amazed at the number of classmates who had retired to Florida. Not my idea of retirement, nor is moving to the country. Unlike Karen, however, I fear that I make very little use of the cultural resources available to me, abundant as they are in Cambridge, MA. I do, however, like being close to anything I want—gym, dog training club, library, garden center, lots of stores. I like knowing that I can go out for something I need in the middle of the night—though I have to admit that, except for medical emergencies or when the dogs got sprayed by a skunk, I’ve never had to make a midnight run.

Both my husband and I are homebodies and enjoy it that way. I live a pseudo-rural life in the midst of the city, spending a lot of time in my garden. I put up 30 jars of jelly from the grapes I grew (and have enough juice in the freezer for another 40 jars). I knit a lot and made almost all the sweaters my husband wears (and all the ones my dog wears). I love to potter around the house and yard. Just came in from raking leaves, which I enjoy—though unrealistically I expect them to stop falling anymore after I’ve raked. In the absence of gardening in the winter, I tend to my houseplants.

Perhaps this kind of life sounds boring to others, but not to me. I spoke with a retired friend and said that I’ve been so busy since retirement that I wouldn’t mind being bored occasionally. He said, “Ah, yes, I remember being bored one day in 1997.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Retiring in the city!


I finally have the time to take advantage of the cultural resources of Philly. When I was working, I was usually too tired to go to all the wonderful programs at our library, at our Constitution Center, the exhibits at our museums, the many forums sponsored by our civic organizations. Our city may not be rich in per capita income, but we are certainly rich in civic life and cultural institutions.

My husband and I have always tried to take advantage of the cultural resources of the city (e.g., our orchestra and theater subscriptions), but exhaustion often got in the way. Sometimes we just didn’t have the energy to go down town to the concerts we had already paid for. Sometimes we forgot we had tickets and so missed the chance to give away or donate our tickets.

Now I no longer fall asleep at plays and concerts. Thanks to all those Philly Funsaver discounts much of this cultural life is very affordable. And we have all these seriously good, affordable BYOB restaurants

I can’t imagine why anyone would want to retire somewhere out in the boondocks without access to concerts, theater, a wide range of ethnic restaurants. (My good friends who fled the city for rural Vermont can’t imagine why I would want to stay.)

Finally I have the time to enjoy the city I love! And it's not just within the city limits. There’s much in the Delaware Valley that I have never explored. Last week, my husband and I finally got it together to go the Barnes Foundation

Friends have traveled to Philly just to see this collection and could not believe that my husband and I had never been to the Barnes. (I’ve lived here all my life and my husband since his mid-20’s.)

Next week, it's the Brandywine Museum, another cultural resource that despite our many years in the Delaware valley, we have never visited.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Health Care reform must not come at the expense of chipping away at abortion rights



I had come to terms with the fact that health care reform would not be all I wanted. I assumed that like previous major social reforms it would represent a step forward and the inadequacies would be remedied over time.

But unlike Social Security and Medicare, this legislation takes a step backward by mandating that plans included in the insurance exchange, including the public option, will not cover abortion. Some women who currently have abortion coverage would lose the right to it.

Major social reform has always been piecemeal. In order to get the votes to pass social security, FDR made a devil’s bargain with Southern Democrats to exclude domestic workers and share croppers, effectively excluding the majority of African-Americans. In many ways the New Deal was racist, but it established the principle that the elderly were entitled to financial support. In the 1950’s the laws were amended to ensure that the principle applied to all workers. (Those who had been excluded from social security or their descendants should have been compensated.)

Medicare was similarly a work in progress, with prescription drug coverage not included. Medicare established the principle that the elderly were entitled to health care, but it took forty years for prescription drug coverage to be included, and even then, the prescription drug coverage passed during the Bush administration was deeply flawed. The proposed health care reform should improve it somewhat.

I had expected similar gaps and inadequacies in the current legislation, but I didn’t expect an erosion of hard-fought rights.

Tomorrow I will be contacting my Senators. We’ve got to keep this erosion of abortion rights out of the Senate bill!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day is very different now that I am retired.



For over two decades I have been a democratic committeeperson. In my radical youth I never expected to end up doing grunt work for the Democratic Party. As a young woman, I had no interest in working within the two party system; why bother choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee? I didn’t want to settle for piecemeal reform nor engage in the messy compromises that are part and parcel of participation in the electoral arena.

For me the wake-up call came in the early l980’s with the election of Ronald Reagan. It really did matter who won elections. This may not seem like a major revelation to most folks, but it was for me. I decided I could no longer afford to vote for protest candidates. (My first presidential vote in 1968 was for Peace and Freedom Party candidate, Dick Gregory.)

So in the 80’s I became a Democratic committeeperson. I don’t have the temperament (or inclination) to run for office, so I decided that I would work to elect good people—-particularly good women—-to office. It’s been a lot of fun, but usually I was simultaneously working at the polls and grading papers. A woman once came up to me at the supermarket and said, “Aren’t you the lady who’s always grading papers at the polls?”

For the first time, there were no papers to grade. No need to check my work voice mail and email to reply to those students who didn’t get my message that class was cancelled.

Maybe it would have been better to have had those papers to grade—-something to distract me from the absence of voters. Finally I was free to chat with all the voters for as long as I wanted, but the voters were scarce indeed. Most were unfortunately not all that interested in the state-wide judicial races which were the only real contests on the ballot--a far cry from the long lines and incredible excitement of November, 2008.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Random thoughts about work and retirement


Three experiences this week got me thinking about my relationship to the world of work now that I am retired from the paid work force. One experience was very positive, the other disconcerting, and the third downright depressing.

First, the positive. I went to a meeting of the Community College of Philadephia Women’s Center Advisory Board. Although I no longer want to teach, I believe very much in the mission of the College and want to maintain a connection. And as the founding mother, the connection that matters is the Women’s Studies program.

I really enjoyed seeing some of my former colleagues. When I would go to meetings like this during my teaching years, I was often in a state of exhaustion and usually surreptitiously grading papers during the meeting. No more!

I left with a good feeling about the College and relief that I was no longer working there. I had always wanted to leave before total burn-out and when I saw signs of incipient burn-out, I got out. Of course, maybe I had a full-fledged case and just didn’t realize it.

Next, the disconcerting. I was downtown at rush hour watching the work force streaming out of the office buildings. In all likelihood, I will never again be part of the paid work force. This was my choice and I am engaged in meaningful work. (It’s easy to find all kinds of interesting projects if you are not interested in getting paid!) So why was I so thrown off balance? Intimations of mortality I guess.

Now the really depressing. A few days ago I attended the funeral of the brother of a good friend. He had just retired at the age of 67 and was looking forward to enjoying his retirement years. When he didn’t show up for his retirement dinner, two of his children went to look for him and found him dead, apparently from a stroke. If I had any lingering doubts about the wisdom of retirement, this wiped them out.

People who can’t think of anything they would rather do than continue at their jobs, should of course continue to work. But for those of us who long for more time to read, to write, to travel, to tend our gardens, to work for a cause, to follow our passion whatever it might lead, we should not delay (Assuming it’s economically possible.)

To paraphrase one of my favorite poets:

If we had world enough and time,
This ceaseless toil would be no crime…..

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The invisibility of older women


Now that I am retired, I have the time to open every email and click on any link which interests me. Today I spent some time exploring the website of Maria Shriver’s 2009 California Women's Conference which has as a major theme The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything—the “seismic shift” since women have become half of the American workforce.

One of the conference links explores generational difference:“The XX Effect: From Generation to Generation. What Do Women Want?” Access the website:
here

I was struck by the responses to "What do women want?” broken down into “twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties plus? Why “sixties plus?” Why collapse the experiences of women in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s into one category?

Surely the issues that women face in their 80’s are different from those faced in their 60’s? The 60’s are the decade when women contemplate retirement. Can I handle it economically and psychologically? Should I transition to retirement through reduced work load (assuming that’s an option)? How can I make the most of my retirement years?

By their 70’s, most women have left the work force and different issues emerge. As a retiree who recently turned 65, I would have like to have learned about the experiences of women in their 70’s, as I try to get a handle on what may lie ahead, assuming I get there.

When I was in my early 50’s, I became aware of the invisibility of older women, but I am still surprised when I see this in organizations/websites dedicated to the empowerment of women.

What’s behind this? Is it fear of old age? The women featured in the “sixties plus” category looked like they were in their 50’s—-a nod to our society’s obsession with youth which would have been a lot more difficult to pull off if there had been sections on women in their the 70’s, 80’s.

As the baby boom generation ages, just maybe we will see more honesty about age.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Will I ever learn Spanish?



We’ve all read the studies: learning something new helps ward off Alzheimer’s. So both as an anti –Alzheimer’s measure and because I would like to actually speak another language before I check out, I am trying to learn Spanish.

Why Spanish? I don’t think I have enough brain cells left to start from scratch. That leaves only 3 languages for this to be a realistic goal: Spanish, French or italian.

Much as I love traveling to France and Italy and hope to get back there someday, Spanish is a much more useful language for a traveler: there’s Spain and all of Latin America. The one upside to the drop of the dollar is that my husband and I started traveling in Latin America. So Spanish it is!

I didn’t want to take a formal class. I think I know enough of the grammar and just need to practice conversational Spanish, so along with some of the other retired folks in my neighborhood, we’ve pulled together a conversation group. I really like the people in the group. It’s a lot of fun but we’re not as focused on Spanish as we probably should be and the social dimension takes over. If we get really interested in a conversation, those of us who are less proficient (that includes me) tend to break into English. But the group has reactivated that long dormant part of my brain that has stored some knowledge of Spanish and inspired me to do a little (very little) reading.

Years ago (sometime in the early 70’s), I fell in love with One Hundred Years of Solitude. I re-read it when I included it in one of my literature courses at Community College of Phila. and found it just as magical as the first time—yes, there’s a reason critics called it magic realism. I did everything possible to try to get my students to love it as well, but I doubt if any of them read much of the book. I developed elaborate discussion questions to help them get through it, but it became apparent that my discussion questions were functioning as Cliff’s notes, a substitute for the book.

So I gave up on teaching it, but now that I am retired I decided I have the time to tackle it in Spanish. It is really hard. I read at most 2 pages every other day. At this rate it will take me about two years to finish, but that's okay. The good news is that I still love the book! I’ve been having some disappointing experiences reading once beloved books, but One Hundred Years of Solitude stands up to the memories.

Is it helping me with Spanish? To some extent, but I am probably getting more out of this as literary experience than as a language learning tool.

My other strategy has been to rent Spanish language films. Thanks to Netflix, with its great selection of foreign language films, there is an in inexhaustible supply. The problem is, if I get into a film, I forget all about paying attention to the Spanish and just read the subtitles. I think the films have helped a little in accustoming my ear to the sound of the language and I have discovered some great directors—e.g. Argentine Daniel Burman. His beat is the Argentine Jewish community. He’s a kind of Argentine Woody Allen but with much more subtlety and much less pretension.

I’m trying to make learning Spanish as painless as possible. But it may be true--no pain, no gain. Anybody else out there trying to learn a foreign language?

By the way, I just learned the Spanish word for retirement--jubilacion. Retirees are jubilados. Much better than retirees!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Vacations: The best thing about retirement


Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, October 12


Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, October 13


For many years, I longed to see New England’s spectacular fall foliage, but it’s just not possible for a teacher to take off a week or two in October. Southeastern PA is beautiful but we just don’t have all those deep reds and purples.

My husband and I just returned from our retirement gift to ourselves – a trip to New England in October. We were chasing that mythical “peak.” We just missed it in Vermont (but it was still beautiful) and we had a great time visiting with good friends.

Then off to New Hampshire in quest of the peak. Our innkeepers told us we were a little past peak. My reaction: if this is past peak, the peak must be unimaginably beautiful. We had one glorious day in New Hampshire—blue skies, brilliant sun. Then it SNOWED!

When we were visiting our friends in Vermont, I said, “It must be beautiful here in winter. I’d love to see it someday, but don’t think I could take the icy roads and cold.” Be careful what you wish for. In a few days we were experiencing a New England winter. We had a great trip (and a few more dazzling sunny days in Maine), but I sure had not expected the freezing cold.

Maybe next year we’ll catch that mythical peak on a balmy Indian summer day. Will I spend my retirement years chasing the mythical peak and not quite catching it?

An inn recommendation for anyone going to New Hampshire: The Notchland Inn at Crawford Notch, situated in the heart of the White Mountains. The 2 guys who run it do a terrific job; they make all their guests feel like old friends. They serve breakfasts to die for and great dinners Wed-Sun.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Today is Blog Action Day 09 and this year the theme is Climate Change.


Today is Blog Action Day 09 and this year the theme is Climate Change. Bloggers from 130 countries will be posting on this theme today. Here’s my contribution.

Although I‘ve always philosophically (and sometimes financially) supported environmental causes, environmental issues have never been my top priority as an activist. My focus has been on feminist issues, civil right issues, and economic justice issues. Although in some sense I understood there was a connection with environmental issues, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it.

From my admittedly sketchy reading of the literature about climate change, it’s clear that there is a powerful connection between economic justice issues and environmental issues. I need to pay more attention.

My contributions have consisted largely of personal gestures: My husband and I recycle, we don’t use pesticides in our garden, we compost our kitchen waste, try to remember to turn out the lights when we leave a room and lower the thermostat in winter.

Now all this may be offset by our house which has much more space than we need or use, but like most folks I’m not ready to make the big sacrifices. I love my house and am not willing to reduce my personal carbon footprint in a serious way by moving into a small apartment.

Yes, I could do more on a personal level but these individual actions count for little absent serious government action.

An article in the October 2009 Atlantic describes what government agencies which take climate change seriously can accomplish. Thanks to the actions of the California sate government, the average Californian uses about 40%less electricity per year than the average American. President Obama has moved to make some of the measures enacted into law in California (some of which were blocked by the Bush administration) a model for the rest of the nation.

Individual actions matter, but we need government to provide the carrots and the sticks to change the behavior of individual and corporate actors.

Maybe the work I (and countless others) did to elect President Obama made more of a contribution to addressing global warming than my lowered thermostat.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Back to work!

Lynne Abraham on the right


For me, the Fall has always been associated with back to work, but not this year.

I love having the time to hang out that retirement brings, but in order to enjoy the time to play I need the counterpoint of work. Freud was right that a meaningful live includes both love and work; I would add to that love, work, and time for hanging out.

My plan was to go back to work this Fall in the sense that I would finally complete my history of the second wave feminist movement in Philadelphia

I have been doing some work on this off and on for a few years, but it became clear that I would never finish this project while working at both my paid job as Professor of English and Women’s Studies and Coordinator of Women’s Studies/Program at Community College of Philadelphia and my unpaid job as President of Philadelphia NOW.

I'm retired from the paid job and will be from the unpaid job as of this December, so my job will now be completing my history of second wave feminist movement in Philadelphia.

I am going to enjoy this project but it's also work. That's why I’ve been avoiding tackling it. Although my original plan was to begin in September, I didn't bring the box of archival material stored on my third floor down to my study until early October.

My initial plan was to write a history of Philadelphia NOW. However, my conception of this project has evolved from a chronicle of the struggles and victories of Philadelphia NOW to an analysis which places this history in a broader context.

Most of the published material on the second wave feminist movement focuses on a few major urban centers—e.g., New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The Philadelphia story has been missing from the major histories of second wave feminism.

The historians of the movement are just beginning to fill in the gaps. So much archival material about second wave feminism is in boxes in closets and basements of feminists now in their late sixties and seventies. Several women in Philadelphia NOW have entrusted me with their valuable archival material and I have promised to tell their story. I have interviewed many of the founding members of Philadelphia NOW, but sadly missed two key interviews as I was not able to arrange the interviews before their deaths. In many ways, this project is a race against time.

Historians of the movement have begun to complicate the story of second wave feminism, which has often been viewed as largely white, middle class and centered in major urban areas. These more recent studies have focused on the role of working class women and women of color, and also on geographical locations outside the epicenter of second wave feminism. Several of these studies explore work by grassroots women who did not identify as feminists but whose work is clearly part of the feminist project. At some point, probably decades from now, historians will have the necessary distance to try to synthesize all of this. I hope to provide one piece of the puzzle.

I made a discovery which should be of some interest to Philly folks. Our District Attorney,Lynne Abraham, not very popular among local progressives because of her aggressive pursuit of the death penalty turns out to have been a feminist pioneer.

Monday, October 5, 2009

It’s getting embarrassing to be an old white person



It’s getting embarrassing to be an old white person. One of my Facebook friends recently wrote:

Witnessed two 70-something white people, who did not previously know each other, celebrating the fact that Chicago was not selected to host the Olympics in a Wawa in South Jersey today. Their glee was directly related to Obama "failing" and and... one of them even threw in a very thinly veiled racist comment for good measure. What is currently happening in this country is disturbing and alarming.

When I went to a local mall this week end, there were all these white people in their sixties and seventies holding up signs with “Say no to Socialism!” And “Keep your hands off my Health care.” The closest thing we have to socialism in this country is Medicare, which these seniors want to save. And yet some of them carry signs saying that government should keep its hands off their Medicare. Huh?

Now of course there are many seniors—such as all my friends--who support extending the benefits they enjoy to the rest of the population. (See my September 5 post, "There are a lot of seniors out there who support health care reform")

But the reality is that much of the opposition comes from my demographic. Of course it’s not just old people who march around brandishing pictures of Obama with a Hitler mustache or portrayed as a witch doctor, but old people are clearly over-represented.

The selfishness of some of these seniors is probably going to increase ageism among the young. How could it not?

I’ve tried to understand their fears and maybe muster some sympathy. These are people who see the world changing in ways they could never have imagined. And it’s not just having an African-American president. It’s seeing states (maybe their own state) legalizing gay marriage. And it’s seeing their children and grand children embracing a multi-cultural America and voting for Barack Obama.

I’ve tried to understand the fears underlying all this, but the ugliness and mean spiritedness makes it really hard.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I am so tired of reading about the death of print media



One of the things I was looking forward to most about retirement was spending a few hours each morning drinking my cup of tea and reading the morning paper. I’m a news junkie and I love having a newspaper which I can hold in my hand. An iPhone or a laptop just doesn’t do it or me. I guess that makes me a sixty something dinosaur.

I have read some thoughtful analyses of the impending demise of the newspaper industry. But Daniel Lyons September 27 Newsweek article, "Don't Bail Out Newspapers--Let Them Die and Get Out of the Way" was different—an almost gleeful anticipation of the death of the newspaper industry. From Lyons article:

I recently canceled my two morning papers—The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal—because I got tired of carrying them from the front porch to the recycling bin, sometimes without even looking at them. Fact is, I only care about a tiny percentage of what those papers publish, and I can read them on my computer or my iPhone. And I can rely on blogs and Twitter to steer me to articles worth reading.

Read the complete article
here

Lyons is missing a whole lot. Newspapers matter not just because a lot of us seniors like getting information that way. Just one example: having strong local newspapers is a powerful means of exposing political corruption on the local level. Internet sites tend not to have a local focus—they want as many hits as possible regardless of geographic location.

So what do you think? Will our papers disappear as Lyons predicts? How many of us care?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Change.org Launches Blog Action Day 2009; this year it's climate change

Receding Glaciers

I am not sure how climate change fits into my blog about women and retirement, but I am going to try to make a connection on Blog Action Day 2009. Other bloggers out there might also want to participate:

From Change.org

Change.org Launches Blog Action Day 2009; Expanding Team of Bloggers
Hey Changemakers, I am not sure how

We have two exciting announcements to make this week. First, Change.org has been asked to take the reins of Blog Action Day, the annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day.

A few weeks ago we asked bloggers everywhere to suggest topics for this year's event, and the overwhelming response was in support of focusing on the gravest threat to world today: climate change.

Blog Action Day itself is on October 15th, and we launched the new site this week at www.blogactionday.org to start accepting sign-ups. We've already received a flood of interest from bloggers around the world, with more than 1,800 blogs with seven million readers across 98 countries registered.

If you have a blog - either personal or professional - click here to find out more information and register your blog now to be part of the largest social change event on the web.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What happens when some good friends are retired and others are not?

Elizabeth Cuorato
What happens when some good friends are retired and others are not? Some are working because they love what they do and can’t think of anything else they would rather do; others would like to slow down, do something else, but are chained to their jobs for economic reasons. My sister sent me a post which made me think about how I talk about my retirement around friends who are still in the work force. Food for thought here:

From Elizabeth:

My dearest friend of over 40 years recently turned 60. We celebrated by spending the day in New York City and seeing the musical West Side Story.

I am fortunate to have two best friends from college, with whom I celebrate birthdays, holidays, and the ups and downs of our lives for over 40 years. They are “family”--a wonderful example of the friendships between women that sustain and enhance us.

We have navigated the developmental stages of life: the narcissism of the twenties, the responsibilities of the 30’s and 40’s, the challenges of the 50’s and now the decade of the 60’s. I now know that we will experience this decade differently. There is a chasm between those of us who are retired and those of us who are not.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am so happy for my dearest of friends. Barb is only two weeks into retirement. I see the bounce in her step, the burdens falling from her shoulders, the endless responsibilities of teaching in the Philadelphia school system a thing of the past.
.
She is relatively young, as is her husband who also retired from teaching. The world is their oyster. During our tip to NYC for Barb’s birthday celebration, our conversation was often punctuated with words of glee from Barb and Kristi as they described their leisurely days and travel plans . Barb plans to go to Jordan, Israel and Egypt. Kristi has plans set for another trip to Vietnam. Unlike me, they both have been avid, adventuresome travelers. Now it can be done at their leisure, anytime of year.

My retirement envy isn’t so much about the travel but the change in their daily lives. They were eagerly discussing plans for the Bruce Springsteen concert next week, scanning the cultural horizon for plays, movies, and concerts. It all seemed so freeing. It reminded me of my years as a child when the day was meant just for my friends and me. We would go out in the morning in the summer and play all day. Playing all day, what a wonderful concept that seems to describe retirement for my friends.

I am genuinely happy for Barb and Kristi and feel a vicarious thrill from their new lives. But there is another reality when I am with those friends who cannot retire. Sometimes we lament our fate and feel a new separateness from our retired sisters. In the end, we all made our choices early on. I love my career as a therapist in private practice and have the wisdom of a 62 year old woman to know it’s self-defeating to compare ourselves to others. We are all on our own journeys. My hope is to continue to find joy in my work and truly appreciate my health and each moment of my life.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Regular folks are talking more about racism and sharing their stories



As a retired person I have a lot of time to read the news, and although I welcomed Jimmy Carter’s forthright statements about race, it’s clear many did not. I’m stunned by some of the responses such as these reported by Politico:

Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards, who has represented a conservative, heavily white Texas district for 18 years, said he didn’t believe there was any evidence to support Carter’s assertion that racial factors had motivated Wilson.
“I just don’t want a divisive dialogue on race to become a battering ram of division for our country,” he said.
Alabama Democratic Rep. Artur Davis agreed. “It’s not a productive or healthy conversation,” he said.


Read more: here

No evidence?? Not a healthy conversation?? Sure I am worried that focus on the racism of right wing extremists might fuel opposition to Obama, but enabling those who are in denial is what’s really unhealthy.

I do think a lot of regular folks are talking more and sharing feelings and stories on a personal level.

I'd like to share the story I received from my friend and NOW sister, Jocelyn Morris about her experiences:

My Story:

I have worked as a civilian for 23 years for the U.S. Army. My current
position is a combat Developer in the Maneuver Support Battle Lab doing
limited and other types of experiments on new equipment and concepts
before material solutions are developed. We have 23 employees in our
department. There are only 2 Black Females and no other minorities.

Yesterday, is typical in that most meetings I attend I am the only Black
and only Woman in the meeting. Yesterday was a little different because
there were 2 other women in attendance. However, I was the only Black
and no other minorities were in attendance.

We were doing an update on our programs to the Commanding General and
other schools and directorate leadership. During the briefing, a lower
ranking Soldier comes into the meeting with a mug of something to drink
to give the General. When I told my husband about it he said maybe he
is the General's driver and assistant. My comment was it was a
continuation of the Slave Plantation mentality to have a Black Man
(Soldier) serving/waiting on a White Man (General). Don't they see or
get it at all? I can't remember a time when I have seen this
relationship any different. Racism at its finest!

Is it because I am Black, that automatically when I enter a room, I
notice whether I am the only minority there? Do Whites notice the lack
of minorities in the setting they are in (Work, social, sports, etc.)?
The "Old Boys Network (White and male) is slowly being infiltrated by
women (One at a time mostly), because organizations like NOW are out
there fighting a daily battle for Equality for Women and other
Minorities. We should not let these incidences of racism go
unchallenged.

My husband said I should contact our new Black General (One star pinned
on 1 Sep 09) and see if he has a White Driver/Assistant). I might just
do that (Smiles)!!!

Yours in Global Sisterhood,

Jocelyn P. Morris

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thank you Jimmy Carter!


Thank you Jimmy Carter! Finally one of our political leaders has spoken out against the racism underlying right-wing extremists’ opposition to health care reform.

I believe that a relatively small number of people are responsible, but their influence is magnified by media coverage of their attacks on President Obama. The extremists gain legitimacy when leaders of our society appear reluctant to condemn implicit and at times frighteningly explicit racism.

Although journalists (e.g. Maureen Dowd, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Joan Walsh) have begun to speak out forcefully, for the most part our elected officials have been silent.

Let’s hope Jimmy Carter's example encourages other leaders to speak out.

One of the advantages of being retired is that I have a lot more time to write letters to the editor and to elected officials urging them to speak out. My NOW sisters in Southeastern PA joined with me to write a letter to local newspapers posted at http://www.philanow.blogspot.com/

It’s time for fair-minded citizens to make their voices heard.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11


By a bizarre coincidence the night before Sept. 11 2001, my husband and I were talking about what safe, secure lives we led compared to our parents who experienced the depression, World War II and the horror of the holocaust.

The very next day that sense of security was shattered. As we drove home soon after the attack (the College where we both taught was immediately closed), my husband said, “The worst thing about this is what our government is going to do in response.” Minutes after the attack he was already focused on the erosion of civil liberties he saw coming in the aftermath.

I was focused on my fears of further attacks. It took me a while to get over that sense of foreboding that another attack was in the works.

But my husband was focused on the real problem. It turned out to be just as bad as he predicted—the war in Iraq, Guantanamo, torture etc. etc.

The tragic loss of life on 9/11 became justification for a far greater loss of life in Iraq.

With the Obama administration, we are slowly (much too slowly) beginning to undo the damage we inflicted on ourselves in response to September 11.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

There are a lot of seniors out there who support health care reform!



The Raging Grannies call for a health care plan for the nation that would expand Medicare to all.

I’ve been reading about all these seniors opposed to heath care reform but it sure doesn't comport with my experience. All the seniors I know are supporters of universal health care with a robust public option. Many would rather have single payer, but see that as a battle for another day. They are disgusted with the Republicans’ cynical ploys and scare tactics aimed at seniors.

The seniors I know are concerned about our children’s and grand-children’s access to health care, not just our own. Most of us are far more worried about a painful prolongation of our lives, about becoming a burden to our families than we are about someone pulling the plug.

At a local town hall meeting and at arecent Health Care for All demonstration I attended, seniors were well represented among the supporters of reform. I live in Philadephia, one of the bluest patches of what is now considered the reliably blue state of Pennsylvania. My Mt. Airy neighborhood is deepest indigo blue, and granted this kind of skews my perspective.

So I acknowledge the Philly bias, but still question whether the majority of my age cohort is really as selfish as the press would have us believe. In all these accounts of frightened seniors, there is a theme which tends to recur. There are seniors standing up to the Republican disinformation machine. From a recent NPR report:

At high noon on one of the hottest days of the summer, a small group of senior citizens sweated it out in front of state GOP headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., asking the Republican Party to stop using what they called "scare tactics" to turn senior citizens against overhauling the health care system. It could be the start of a silver backlash against what some say is a misinformation campaign about health care reform.


My hope lies with one of the seniors quoted in report:

Senior citizen Betty Zimmerman says she's trying to fight back. She spends a lot of time talking — to friends, neighbors, anyone who'll listen to her — about what is and is not in the health care proposals.
"You know the word goes from one to another," she says. "As senior citizens, those of us that are active just need to tell the people what's going on."

Read the full NPR report
here

This may very well be happening. Embedded in the reports of anxious seniors, I’ve been finding exchanges like the following:

Those Medicare cuts bothered some seniors at the Greenspring Retirement Community, where Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly recently held his town hall meeting.
"They're going to take it away from Medicare," Florence Arden, 86, said after the lively but civil meeting.
She said Medicare is at risk because officials want to "cut down on all the programs ... and spread it around."
"No, it isn't,"disagreed her friend and ballroom dancing companion Yvonne Fisher, 85.
"Yes, it is," Arden said.
"I think a lot of lousy myths are going around," Fisher said.

Read the full account
here

Thanks, Yvonne Fisher and Betty Zimmerman, for the work you’re doing. We seniors who support universal health care need to make our voices heard.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm inspired to do some real traveling again!


Reading my friend Barbara’s account of her recent trip to South Africa has inspired me to think about doing some real traveling again.

From my friend Barbara Roth, a dedicated, award winning teacher, who has just retired from an exhausting job in the Philadelphia public school system:

On my first trip abroad 35+ years ago, the contents of my backpack weighed only 15 pounds and I didn’t even pack an aspirin tablet. Now, newly retired and on a recent trip to South Africa, I took 2 suitcases half of which were filled with precautionary pharmaceuticals and enough fiber to float the Titanic. How times have changed!

I too have shared Karen’s feelings about long distance travel - the plane hassles only continue to get more random and crazier (like landing in Dakar at 2 am & having to sit in your seat with all your overhead baggage on your lap while “they” conduct a USA required search of overhead bins & seats). This all gets harder to deal with as we age along with the jet lag which now requires “daze” to recover from.

However, I’ve always thought the pluses of travel outweigh the inevitable trials. Travel makes me feel energized which is even more important in “the next stage”. Prior to a trip, I have something to look forward to and plan for and afterwards new memories for my old age.

When I went to Europe in ’71, it was with a copy of Frommers’ “Europe on Five Dollars a Day” and a splurge was a gelato. So, another benefit for older travel is being able to sit down in a real restaurant with actual tablecloths and good wine and not have to worry that I can’t afford to get home.

Travel also broadens my world. During apartheid in South Africa, I was simply living my life, only marginally aware of Mandela and boycotts. I had read “Kaffir Boy”, seen “Master Harold and the Boys” and watched the nightly news but it was not until I was there that I had a better sense of how devastating and all pervasive the policy was.

It was also amazing to observe on a tourist level a country trying to heal itself and the incongruity of my TV images of Soweto then and how it is today. In Capetown we had a ‘coloured’ or mixed race cabdriver relating horrid stories of the day to day reality of apartheid. The only problem was that he kept taking both hands off the steering wheel to emphasize his points! Travel places a human face on my world.

One of the best things travel does for me is that it puts me in the now in ‘yogaspeak’. When I’m away, I don’t make lists, think about the weeds growing or worry about the future and things I can’t control. I also realize that the best part of my trip is coming home and appreciating all the little pieces of my everyday life even the weeds.

My recent journey was also different from my first foreign adventure on another level. On my initial trip, I went with a girlfriend from college and on this, I traveled with my 30 year old daughter who shares my passion for travel, an experience I wouldn’t trade for my youth!

Monday, August 31, 2009

From Candelaria Silva: Technology Connects the Family

Candelaria Silva gave me permission to repost her essay on how the internet has helped her to stay in touch with her grandchildren and enriched her life in innumerable ways.

If you are reading this you are probably internet savvy, but you might have friends or relatives who might benefit from her post. You can learn more about Candelaria at her website at http://www.candelariasilva.com/




I have been emailed and IMed. I’ve been “friended” on FaceBook, My Space, Plaxo and Shelfari (my virtual bookcase). I have been Linked In. Couldn’t live without Skype or My Family and Ancestry accounts. I’ve been tested through texting and texted myself – although I still resist twittering. All of this technology has connected my far-flung family especially across the generations. Or rather I should say it has connected those family members who use the computer and its communication, social networking, resource sharing and data/info gathering capabilities

My daughter’s internet search skills uncovered a half-sister I didn’t know I had and found my biological father whom I hadn’t heard from (or even thought was alive) for 40 years. She is the keeper of the family tree on Ancestry.com and has gathered photos from relatives via postal-mail that do not have email or computers that she uploads onto the My Family and Ancestry accounts. She has traced the family on her father’s side back into slavery times with the aid of on-line resources. Her activities have gotten some of our computer-phobic relatives to get on board.

On Facebook I have been pleasant surprised by the number of connection requests I've received from many of my children’s childhood friends who remember the special meals, overnights and adventures we shared and reach out to connect to “Miss Silva” as they call me (no matter how many times I told them to say, “Msssss. Silva” because I haven’t “missed” anything).

The webcam and the application Skype have allowed me to reach across the miles and read books to my granddaughter, sing songs with her, watch her as she twirls around and takes a bow, or just plays in the background as my daughter and I have a virtual visit. My granddaughter knows me and is not shy when we see each other face-2-face. I AM HER NOT-SO-DISTANT GRANDMOTHER AFTER ALL! Skype also allows me to look into my drama-prone daughter’s face and see how she is really doing beyond what her words say.

Getting the rest of the family to Skype has not proven easy and I’m talking about the ones who already have computers. You would think I was asking them to fly to the moon. Except for two cousins, who also happen to be sisters, none of the family has gotten on board. We do, however, have an Uncle who forwards every joke and rumor on the internet. He doesn’t write messages or notes himself, rather he passes along jokes. Expecting this I can open them or not. This is his way of staying connected. Before he got a computer, we never heard from him at all. Other relatives will occasionally upload a photo every now and again. Still others are sharing recipes.
In the past year, my siblings have now begun to communicate more regularly via email than they ever did with postal mail. The three of us used email to plan the surprise party we gave my mother and stepfather for their 75th and 81st birthdays, respectively. It was an efficient way to share research, organize the details and update progress.

Technology is neutral; it is we users who determine its value. I have noticed that younger family members and friend play more with technology in ways that seem frivolous and often too revealing to me. I don’t want “ghetto snacks” or “to see what kind of gangsta I am” and other applications on Facebook. I have disconnected with many people who sent too many updates. Most of my family and friends within my age range use technology to communicate longer thoughts and ideas and rarely engage in shorthand statements. I recognize and work with our generational differences. At least we are communicating!

Internet technology is my friend and when it isn’t, I love the fact that it has an off-button that I can use to keep it from encroaching on real interactions in real time. The internet is keeping my family connected and shortens the physical distance that separates us. Before too long, I know that I will have my mother, sister, brother and son on Skype and we will get to see each other’s faces whenever we want and not just the once or twice a year when we are in the same place. I also anticipate it becoming commonplace for us to video conferencing capabilities to share weddings, graduations, and other events when cost and time concerns prevent some of us from getting to special events.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Kennedys, Obama’s Eulogy: What it all means to this aging activist


Watching the film clips about the Kennedys was like re-living my life. I came of age in the 60’s when the world was changing in all kinds of wonderful ways—racial barriers breaking down, patriarchy challenged, opportunities opening for women. The Kennedys were sometimes given credit for the incredible sense of possibility of those days, but the Kennedy brothers were responding to something bubbling up from the ground.

Life was not kind to us 60’s activists. As we entered our middle years with all the inevitable personal disappointments (marriages failing, career goals unrealized), we also had to deal with all those dreams from the 60’s crashing down. The long backlash against the 60’s which began with Nixon turned into a full scale assault with the election of Ronald Reagan, followed by all the disappointments and missed opportunities of the Clinton years and then the eight year horror of George W Bush .

But Ted Kennedy kept fighting the good fight through it all. As the years passed, I grew to respect and value him more and more. His last gift to us was his early support for Barack Obama, who may not have won the primary without it.

I never thought I would live long enough to see the election of an African- American president. I was an early Obama. supporter, although I didn’t come out of the closet until after Iowa. (As a NOW chapter president it was a little dicey.) Ted Kennedy and Carolyn Kennedy’s early support gave me (and no doubt many others) hope that Obama could make it.

With Obama’s election, I experienced for the first time in many long years that sense of social possibility I had not felt since the 60’s. (Granted that optimism is tempered by the enormity of the problems Obama inherited.)

And that sense of social possibility includes gender equality as well as racial equality. Watching all those film clips of Jacqueline Kennedy, I could not help but think of the dramatic contrast with Michelle Obama. Jacqueline Kennedy was beautiful in an almost unreal fashion model sense, but a deferential wife with her wispy little girl voice, silently enduring her husband's serial philandering. Michelle Obama is beautiful in a strong, athletic real woman sense, a Harvard trained lawyer with a confident voice, in a marriage which is clearly a loving partnership.

We have come a really long way. The long backlash against the 60’s appears to be finally over. Sure we have the crazy birthers and the tea-baggers. There are enough of them to create a lot of noise, but not enough to muster an electoral majority.

There is so much work to be done. It’s tragic that that Kennedy did not live long enough to see national health care passed. Let’s hope that his memory inspires others.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reflections of another 60 something gardener



From my good friend Fran Waksler:

My first serious gardening took place in a tiny plot behind our rented apartment. It didn’t allow for much scope but gave me a place to practice gardening. When we bought our house in Cambridge, MA, room for a garden was essential and we managed to get a place two house lots big. The yard, however, was a disaster. As I was looking at it and deliberating over where to begin, my friend and contractor came up and said, “You know what this yard needs?” “What?” “An old car on cement blocks.” He was right, that was the condition of the yard.

The back yard is now pretty much the way I want it—lawn, ferns, trees (a birch, a redbud, a crabapple), clematis gone wild, phlox, beach plums and grape vines (for jelly)--no longer suitable for an old car on cement blocks.

One of my many first projects, and one with which I am particularly pleased, was the narrow path on the north side of the house. It was overgrown with tangles of tall weeds. There was scraggly grass down the middle, impossible to mow because of limited space, sharing the path with moss. I finally decided that I would get rid of the grass and encourage the moss. It took a few years of weeding the moss of grass—fortunately I find weeding relaxing and rewarding—but now the path needs only minimal work. The heat has been hard on it this year, and I’m always walking on it, but rain—and an occasional application of sour milk--eventually brings it back.

The Concord grapevine grew from cuttings from a vine in the back yard that I threw on the north side to compost and then forgot about. Neglect can be a wonderful friend. The vine now has its own arched trellis and provides even more grapes for jelly. It fights with the wisteria but with pitiless pruning both behave themselves. And the ferns need little care, just an occasional curb to their enthusiasm.

I’ve never seen chaos in Karen’s garden, just lush abundance. Unlike Karen, however, who “wants to pack in as many plants as possible”, I think of myself as a minimalist. I like lots of green, even if the dogs playing means that I never have quite as much lawn as I’d like. Fortunately the volunteers (phlox, petunias, and—lucky me—clematis) in the back and front yards work to counteract my somewhat bland inclinations.

What has been most useful to me as I garden on in my 60s? A chiropractor, a homeopath, 3 days a week at the gym, a battery-operated lawnmower, a kneeling pad, sharp pruning sheers, and a realization that I’ll always be running behind and that’s ok.

I never had the ambitious garden that Karen had so I’ve stayed with some flowers but lots of green—grass, ferns, moss. I still do some things the old way (in line with my still drying clothes on a line instead of in a dryer).

My current project is handweeding the lawn—labor intensive but very rewarding. I thought it might be a crazy thing to do, but my arborist, who is in his 80s, said that’s how they always did it in the old days. No weed killer and lots of compost if I get to the weeds before they seed.

It’s been 36 years now and I’m still hoping to get caught up. Every year I fall short of what I hope to accomplish. Still, when I sit in the yard in the morning with my coffee I try to refuse the impulse to take stock of what needs doing and appreciate what’s doing thriving. I’ll try to take Karen’s advice: accept imperfection.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

More reflections of a 60 something gardener



My gardening ideal: The English Cottage Garden


Supposedly one of the consolations of getting older is that people get less neurotic as they age. I don’t know if I’m less neurotic in general, but I sure am less neurotic as a gardener.

For one thing I don’t obsess about dead plants. My guess is that I’ve lost about one third of what I’ve planted. From my unscientific survey of other gardeners, this seems to be par for the course. I’ve accepted the fact that some plants (like some people) sicken and die before their time. It happens.

Also, I can deal with the fact that some of my friends think my garden is a chaotic mess. I’m more likely to get a negative reaction to my front garden since I eliminated the lawn several years ago. I get comments like, “this is a jungle!” or "this garden has no rhyme nor reason!” I really did try to plan the front garden with a restrained color scheme and repeated groupings of plants, but sometimes my friends just see chaos.

I’m the kind of gardener who wants to pack in as many plants as possible. Whereas some see a jungle, I see a wondrous profusion or (for all you English majors out there) what my husband refers to as “Uncorrupted Nature's omnipollent benefaction.”

Austere Japanese gardens have always left me cold; I love the colorful jumble of an English cottage garden. If my attempts to recreate an English cottage garden in my back yard fall short, so be it. I enjoy every minute playing around in my imperfect garden.

And those imperfections include the holes slugs chew in my hosta leaves, black spot on the roses, and powdery mildew on the phlox. I don’t use pesticides. There have been quite a few times when I’ve had a particularly bad infestation and I decided I'd had enough of this organic gardening.

I’d go to a garden center and came home with some toxic substance, but then I would lose my nerve. Sure I wanted to get rid of the thrips on my glads, but I didn’t want to harm all the birds and butterflies.

This pattern of buying deadly poisons and then shrinking from actually using them has been repeated many times. I now have a cabinet filled with really toxic stuff that I need to figure out how to safely dispose of. But I am no longer tempted to seek a final solution for my garden pests and don’t expect to be buying deadly poison again!

So my garden tips: accept imperfection. Plants will die and gardens will sometimes get out of control despite your best efforts. A chewed leaf or two is worth it to keep the birds, butterflies and beneficial insects happy!

It took me a lot longer than it should have to get to this state of acceptance, but I think I’m there.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gardening in one’s 60’s


Rudbeckia, an indestructible perennial which blooms for about 6 weeks




Phlox, another indestructible perennial which blooms for about 6 weeks

In my early 40’s I developed a passion for gardening. Unfortunately, my gardening mania developed after my husband and I bought a house with a tiny backyard. We liked the house, which was certainly big enough, but the yard was a postage stamp. I longed for more space. Container gardening just doesn’t do it for me.

So 17 years ago we bought a house with a large lot. Like true Philadephians, we moved just a few blocks. Philly folks tend to hunker down in a neighborhood and stay there for life. I love my Mt. Airy neighborhood and have lived here for almost all my adult life. This was my dream come true--a big Mt. Airy garden.

The lot had an overgrown perennial garden. Maybe it would be more accurate to call the flower beds weed patches with a few perennials as accents. The perennials that survived were the real tough customers—-Siberian iris, perennial geraniums, phlox, rudbeckia, orange daylilies. And many of them are still in the garden (even some of the orange daylilies providing easy care, dependable color). At this stage in my life, I am so glad I did not get rid of them and replace them with fussy, demanding, over-hybridized plants.

I thought a lot about maintaining the garden as I got older and decided to replace many of the perennials with shrubs. You can get a lot of flower power from shrubs and some like hydrangeas bloom much longer than any perennial. And, unlike perennials, shrubs don't have to be dug up and divided every few years.

For late winter I have witch hazel and fragrant honeysuckle (an ugly shrub but with fragrant flowers to die for and in February no less.) I have quince in March, purple sand cherry in early April, lilacs and azalea in late April and early May, rhodies and viburnum in mid-May, mountain laurel in June, lots of hydrangeas which begin in mid June through late August, crape myrtle in late summer, camellia in late October.

They are all easy care (except for the camellia). And unlike perennials, they don't die back to the ground every winter. Instead of bare ground, I have all these woody plants, plus lots of hollies with glossy green leaves and berries most of the winter.

So what’s the downside? Here I am—-a mature gardener surrounded by all these mature shrubs. But my energy is waning and they are all (thanks to all the compost I’ve added to the soil over the years) flourishing. The shrubs are getting enormous and crowding the remaining perennials.

I control for size by cutting back. This is easier than digging and dividing perennials, and it helps to have a male friend or family member around.

My husband doesn’t share my passion for gardening, but he really enjoys hacking away at the over grown shrubs. When my son comes to visit, the only garden work I can get him to do is chopping down branches. They both always look happy and energized when they are chopping away at the shrubs. (This is the garden chore I like least.) I'm convinced there’s a gender difference here.

So my garden advice for anyone getting on in years (or anyone who wants a low maintenance garden) plant the tough customers and plant lots of shrubs in your perennial beds. Any more ideas from other sixty something gardeners out there?

Stay tuned: More old age gardening tips to come!