Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year’s resolutions: Why bother?

New Year’s resolutions have their usefulness. Maybe it’s a silly gimmick, but as a retiree, I need help keeping track of my time. One of the great rewards of retirement—all that unstructured time-- is also one of the great dangers.

I just took a look at last year’s resolutions to take stock of how I did. As I wrote this time last year:

It's easy to let the days slip by without doing much of anything. The Italians have a phrase for this-—dolce far niente, sweet doing nothing.

Yes, it is pleasant to just relax and hang out, but I really want to finish Feminism in Philly: The Glory Years within the next few years. So I have to make sure dolce far niente doesn’t take over my life.

So how did I do in 2010? Not great, but if I hadn’t been keeping track, I’m sure it would have been much worse. Last year I made four resolutions:

1)I resolved spend at least 2 hours a day on my history of second wave feminism in Philadelphia while I have (I think) full possession of my faculties. I’m sitting on a treasure trove of archival material that a graduate student in history would die for. I’ve promised those who gave me this material that I would tell their story.

2)I resolved to spend 30 minutes reading books/articles in Spanish.

3)I resolved to swim or walk briskly for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week.

4)I resolved to spend at least 20 minutes a day on the kind of housework which is not done as part of my weekly routine: cleaning kitchen cabinets and junk-filled drawers, tackling a filthy basement and cluttered attic.

I failed miserably at aerobic exercise and house–cleaning; it was so bad I just stopped keeping track.

I didn’t do much better with Spanish and when our Spanish group dissolved (people on different levels, no group leader) I stopped keeping track. However, I think I may now be on a roll with Spanish. Thanks to my friend Fran, my husband and I have joined a really serious Spanish group. There is a professor and the group pays her; if you want to learn something, sometimes you just have to pay for instruction. I’m at the very bottom of the class, so it’s not great for the ego. But I’m really stretching, and as a consequence actually learning.

I had the most success with the book project--no doubt because it meant the most. I averaged about an hour a day over 2010 (not counting vacation time). If I hadn’t been keeping track in a very public way, I’m sure I would have made far less progress.

I am making the exact same resolutions this year. Since I have invested so much already in the book, it should be easier to step up production. Also, with my new Spanish group, I have the motivation to try to improve. I will no doubt stay at the bottom of the class, but maybe I can narrow the gap.

My husband and I plan to rejoin our swim club on Jan. 2. We stopped in September as the expiration of our membership coincided with the yearly pool cleaning which usually drags on for a month. We thought: Why not save a month’s membership and renew in October?

Well, October came and there were so many garden chores. We thought: Why not get our exercise doing garden work? We got seriously behind in garden chores, so decided we would work on leaf raking and bulb planting in November. December came and I decided I could get my exercise cleaning our 3 story house and getting it in shape for the holidays. Always an excuse. Well, no more excuses and we’ll be at the pool on Jan.2.

We still haven’t gotten all the leaves raked. They’ve been covered with snow the past week, but now just in time for our New Year’s Day party the snow is melting and we have an ugly mess of melting snow and sodden leaves. As our guests walk by this ugliness, they’ll probably wonder why two retired people couldn’t manage to rake their leaves.

So here I go again making my resolutions in a very public way. This has its advantages. Many of my friends and family members read my blog and sometimes will ask: How’s the book project going? Have you learned Spanish yet? (Nobody’s ever asked me if I’ve cleaned out my basement—-why should anyone care?)

Any body else out here going through this year-end ritual? If anyone has any suggestions for sticking to one’s New Year’s resolutions, please share.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Holidays are so much more relaxing now that I’m retired.

One benefit of retirement is that the holidays are so much more relaxing. When I was teaching I spent the week before the holidays grading papers and making agonizing decisions about final grades.

I usually got my grades in at the last minute so I had the maximum possible time for dithering. I envied my husband Rick who taught Math because he did not have to deal with the inevitable element of subjectivity. It was not so easy in Women’s Studies, the Humanities, English Composition to decide who deserved an A, a B or a C. [The F’s were usually clear-cut.]

And then what to do with good students who disappeared without a word of explanation and missed the final exam. Should I assume some horrible tragedy occurred and give them an incomplete? For my husband, the answer was clear. They got an F. Although that was my official policy, I could never stick to it. But that led to debilitating self-doubt-- could I really justify the incomplete to student X and the failing grade to student Y?

After about a week of this, I was in a state of absolute and total exhaustion. Then there was the job of getting the house in shape for holiday parties. Rick and I have a division of household labor which works very well for us. He does all the cooking and food shopping; I do all the cleaning. (I’m a terrible cook and would so much rather clean a bathroom than make a casserole.)

So after total collapse for a few days after submitting my grades, I then had to tackle house cleaning. As I tended to do less and less cleaning as the semester wore on, by late December the house was a wreck and getting it in shape was a major undertaking. I was sometimes finishing the vacuuming seconds before the guests arrived. I frequently didn’t make it to holiday parties because I was just too tired.

Now there’s no late December collapse, no desperate attempt to get the house in shape hours before a party, and I have the energy accept all the invitations which come our way. And best of all no nagging little thought in the back of my mind: Will I be able to get all my course outlines done in time for resumption of the treadmill in January.

When I was young I loved teaching. As the years wore on, it became so same old, same old and so exhausting. As my friend Alison, a committed teacher in her 50’s said, “teaching is a young person’s game.” This may not be true for university professors teaching one course a semester, but for those of us in the trenches, I think Alison is onto something. (Yes, I know there are exceptions—-the teacher in her 70’s who’s as engaged as she was in her 20’s. But it was clear I wasn’t going to be one of them.)

Anyway for me freedom from that burden has made for a much more relaxing rewarding holiday season!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Obama supporter struggles with despair over the tax cut compromise

This has been really hard. As an early Obama supporter,Obama’s election was the high point of my political life and I had unrealistically high expectations. I’ve come down to earth.

Up until the tax cut compromise, I did not share the disillusionment of some liberal/progressives with Obama. He has an impressive record: the stimulus package which kept us from falling into an economic abyss; health care; financial regulations; the rescue of the auto industry and much more for which the President has not gotten anywhere near the credit he deserves. For a list of the President’s impressive list of a accomplishments see WHAT THE FUCK HAS OBAMA DONE SO FAR?

But I thought that letting the Bush tax cuts on high earners expire was an iron-clad promise. Okay, I understand that if nothing was done, the expiration of unemployment benefits and the expiration of tax cuts for the working poor would result in real hardship for struggling families. For those in the lowest tax bracket, income taxes would increase from 10 to 15%. The President could not let that happen.

Considering the cards he was holding, the deal was a lot better than most of us expected. I’ve never bought the argument that the President is a poor negotiator. (Read Jonathan Alters’ The Promise on the tough negotiating stand the President took during the bailout of the auto industry.)

Ironically there are more folks on the right who understand what President Obama managed to accomplish than on the left. From Charles Krauthammer:

President Obama won the great tax-cut showdown of 2010 - and House Democrats don't have a clue that he did.

In the deal struck last week, the president negotiated the biggest stimulus in American history, larger than his $814 billion 2009 stimulus package. It will pump a trillion borrowed Chinese dollars into the U.S. economy over the next two years - which just happen to be the two years of the run-up to the next presidential election. This is a defeat?
If Obama had asked for a second stimulus directly, he would have been laughed out of town. Stimulus I was so reviled that the Democrats banished the word from their lexicon throughout the 2010 campaign. And yet, despite a very weak post-election hand, Obama got the Republicans to offer to increase spending and cut taxes by $990 billion over two years - $630 billion of it above and beyond extension of the Bush tax cuts.

No mean achievement.

Krauthammer may be on to something. In a sense we have a second stimulus bill-–not the most efficient way to stimulate the economy but a stimulus bill nonetheless.

If I had had a vote in congress, I would have tried to improve the deal, but I would have voted for it in the end rather than let those unemployment benefits expire.

But why were we in this predicament? Why did the Democrats wait until after the disastrous mid-terms to tackle this? The White House claims it tried to deal with tax issue before the mid-terms. From The Hill:

The White House said Wednesday that Capitol Hill Democrats are partly to blame for the tax-cut deal they have criticized the president for negotiating....
... White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said President Obama wanted Congress to extend the tax cuts, but there was no consensus on how to do so in the Democratic caucus.
"He and the White House, frankly, urged the House and Senate to hold votes on this before the election," Pfeiffer said on the liberal Bill Press radio show. "But they didn't do that, in part because there's not unanimity in the Democratic Caucus on this."

The President put pressure on legislators to take tough votes on health care, financial regulation, and the stimulus. The capacity for tough votes seem to have been exhausted. Reid and Pelosi were both apparently dead set against taking measures they thought would jeopardize their re-election. I blame the congressional Democrats more than the President for not acting before the mid-terms when they had the votes. Robert Reich puts it best:
That Democrats have allowed themselves to get into this fix is a testament to either their timidity, obtuseness, or dependence on the campaign contributions of those at the top.

I am also really uneasy about the cut in the payroll tax and the long term implications for the solvency of social security. From Robert Reich again:
The only practical effect of adding $858 billion to the deficit will be to put more pressure on Democrats to reduce non-defense spending of all sorts, including Social Security and Medicare, as well as education and infrastructure. .
It is nothing short of Ronald Reagan's (and David Stockman's) notorious "starve the beast" strategy.

So am I upset about the tax cuts for the rich? Yes.
Am I worried about the threat to social security? Yes.
Am I angry with the Democrats for failing to deal with this issue when they had the votes? Yes.
Am I angry with all those Democratic voters who did not bother to vote in November? Yes.

Am I ready to pull the Obama /Biden sticker off our car? Not yet.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Contributions of Others to My Garden

This is a sad time of the year for gardeners. The soil is frozen and my perennials are an ugly brown mess. What keeps us gardeners going during the winter months are the seed catalogues and great garden writing. I received the following post from my friend Fran Waksler which reminded me of the rewards of gardening:

The Contributions of Others to My Garden

I have certainly purchased my share of plants, but I particularly treasure those that, in a variety of ways, came from others. Each tree or plant repeatedly reminds me of them.

When I was a teenager, my mother discovered the yew tree (pictured above) behind her garage. It was about a foot tall and with two short branches--not particularly impressive--but my mother fell in love with it. I moved it to a patch in front of her dining room window where it thrived and grew to about 4 feet.

When my husband and I bought a two-family house with my mother, I dug up her tree to bring with us. It was quite an adventure. The taproot went down forever and I only managed to get most of it out with a friendly workman in the adjoining schoolyard (who, unfortunately, got in trouble with his boss). Because of a snag, passing papers on our house was delayed for three months so the tree languished in burlap through the autumn into the winter. I finally planted it in December and was not optimistic but, as can be seen, it thrived.

As I walk through my garden, I have many fond reminders of others. The forsythia are from my mother’s yard; they were always her favorite. The crabapple tree (Alex and Frances) and rugosa rose (Peter and Susie) were housewarming gifts. The clump birch was a silver anniversary present from Jerry, Hannah, and Jim; it was supposed to be a silver birch, but the clump birch seemed a better choice for us. The dogwood is from Marjie. The kerria in the front garden is a gift from Denise; it came along with a bit of periwinkle that now covers the patch around the kerria. The asters are an indirect gift from Denise: she gave some to Assim who, when they spread too wildly, passed some on to me. The coral bells and sweet woodruff came from Peg. I had purple violets, Mary Ellen had white: now we each have both.

My two-story high white rose (pictured above) as well as my red rose come from my friend at the garden center, who gave them to me one spring because, as he said, “They look too bad to sell, but I’m sure they’ll grow for you.” And they did. (After I planted the white rose, and it was established and 5 feet tall, I realized that it was growing outward instead of inward against the porch where I wanted it. It what at the time I thought of as a bit of madness, I dug it up and turned it around. Despite my fears, it thrived.) And, of course, the purple phlox (and a stray white one) come from Karen, who always comments on how well they like my yard.

Walking through my garden is a visit with all those who have contributed to my garden.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

When a feminist activist retires: From recent retiree, Jocelyn Morris

I’ve long been convinced that there’s a link between happiness and political engagement and recent research supports this. Like my friend Jocelyn Morris, one of my reasons for retiring was to have more time for feminist activism. As the baby boom generation retires, my hope is there will be more and more women like the incredibly talented and amazingly energetic Jocelyn Morris: From Jocelyn:


I retired from the US Army Civilian Corps after 23 years and having been working since I was 14 years old after school for my family doctor. I have been working off and on for 50 years!

I went to Rutgers Law School in Camden, NJ, full time, at age 42 after completing my BA at Antioch Univ. My favorite Professor at Antioch was the President of the Philadelphia, PA, ACLU chapter. He took me to the Philadelphia City prison to interview, Mumia Abau Jamal, who was in prison for allegedly killing a Phila. Police Officer. He had me work on a Jailhouse Law Project where I assisted prisoners with their legal research. He encouraged me to go to law school.

At 42, I was older than all of my professors and students. The professors were so sexist I dropped out after the first semester and with my Active Duty spouse, moved to Sacramento, CA, where I completed my Paralegal Certification which taught me legal research skills which I use to this day.

I joined Philadelphia NOW in the 1970's, then convened the Germantown NOW Chapter in the local YWCA on Germantown Avenue in the 80's prior to moving to California.

Retirement: I decided I wanted to work on Women's Issues full time so after being appointed to Co-Chair the NOW Combating Racism Committee and running for the Prairie States NOW Board of Directors seat, I decided it was time to let my day job go.

Money was not a real problem because I had saved 15% of my Army salary (GS-12 when I retired) since 1990 when I joined the Army FERS retirement savings program. Also my spouse has his Air Force Retirement and is currently a full time employee for the US Army.

If my internet system was better I would probably spend 6 to 8 hours on line doing research. I do outreach to organizations and people (Quite a few I find on the major news stations); books I read and contact the authors for more in-depth information and papers/reports shared by other NOW Board Members. Do not believe the HughesNet commercials you see on TV. On average I can only stay on line, at most 2 hours before my computer connection times out and when the weather is bad, I can't get connected at all!

Our Committee worked on the Anti-Shackling of pregnant prison inmates which was passed at the NOW National Conference in 2008. Two women (WORTH organization) who had been shackled in prison did a workshop at the conference which I attended. I helped them make contacts with NOW people who could help them draft and present their resolution on the conference floor. NOW has had staff and interns published a NOW Anti-Shackling Tool Kit in November 2010.

There are so many problems and limited time and resources (Computer access) that I find I need to limit myself to one issue at a time.

While I was in Springfield, MO, I found this book at Barnes & Noble, which focused me on my current issue which is the Mass incarceration of Blacks and Minorities under the Government "War on Drugs" program which was started by President Reagan in the 1980s. 80% of the young Black men living in Chicago, IL, has either been arrested, in prison, or out on parole because of the police focusing on minority neighborhoods in the big cities. Our Federal, State and local Government officials has decided to replace "Slavery and the plantation systems with the mass incarceration of minorities to provide a permanent underclass using the prison industry.

The book is:



Some other books which have helped focus my work are:














Just before I retired I read the book above and joined which has over 45 different discussion groups and over 1,100 people from around the world. One of my goals is to establish a global network of women's organizations and include women outside the US on NOW's membership rolls. Women are discriminated against in every country so we should all be working together to make this planet a better place for females.

I realized that one person can make a difference and I am giving it my best shot!

That's my story and I'm sticking to it, Smiles!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The first frost and my bulbs are still not in the ground!

We had an amazingly mild November, and I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Well it dropped. The hard frost finally blackened my dahlias which had been blooming (astonishingly!) until late November.

I'm face to face with the reality of another winter. I’ve written about how much I love seasonal change , but the older I get the more I wish the seasons were a little less dramatic, the winters a little less harsh.

The trees may be all “bare, ruined choirs where once the sweet birds sang,”
but I still have a little bit of color thanks to my oakleaf hydrangea and spirea:
photo taken on Dec. 3 2010

Granted I am living in the mid-Atlantic, not New England and I have flowers in my garden from late November until the first snow-drop in mid-to late January. It could be a lot worse. And poring over all those gorgeous seed catalogues on a cold winter’s night helps a lot.

The temperature’s now in the low 40’s and the long range weather report is for highs in low 40’s /high 30’s for next week so I can’t put off getting in those last bulbs. I ordered 705 bulbs(crocus, daffodils, hyacinth, fritillaria, tulips, scilla, allium and lilies) and am now down to under 100 bulbs. I was out there yesterday for about 40 minutes yesterday and about an hour today planting bulbs I should have gotten in the ground when the weather was much milder. If I manage to do this for about a half-hour the next few days I should have them all planted.

I had expected to be totally caught up on up my garden chores during retirement. Somehow it didn’t happen. I heard a great NPR post from Andrei Codrescu which explained what happened to me (and my guess is to to other retirees):

I had this crazy idea - not my first or my last - that one day when I retired from my more or less regular job, I would re-read all the books I once loved, and I'd also read all the books I never had time for.

And now that I retired from my more or less regular job, I find not only that I have no time to read, I don't seem to have time for anything. And so I think I discovered something: Hundreds of jobs that you never did when you had a more or less regular job are waiting patiently for you to retire. And the minute you do, they pounce on you. People you haven't seen in years appear on the phone, on Facebook and in person, and your guilt for neglecting them more acute. Things fall apart faster, and fixing them takes longer.

Listen to the rest at:

Thanks, Andrei Codrescu. Nice to know I’m not the only retiree having trouble getting things done!