Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Who were those ancient Romans who figured out that it takes about 365 1/4 days for the Earth to orbit the sun (Denver Post today)?  Then, once they figured it all out, how did they ever come up with a calendar to accommodate the 1/4? I know I've learned all about this Leap Year stuff several times over, but it still surprises me when we're in a Leap Year. And all that math - and figuring out that an exception had to be made for years ending in 00, not divisible by 400?  I'm sure glad nobody posed those questions on the GRE's or a job application form.  It's still a leap of faith for me that all the calculations and numbers are true, but I keep taking the leap. Surely there is a good reason that we add a day to February, but I can't imagine what it is. If asked, I would have chosen June.
I've been through several attempts by universities to change calendars, to move from semesters to quarters or quarters to semesters; I've watched professors and administrators assign credit hours based on hours in the classroom or hours studying or 'contact' hours - slicing and dicing to make sure the summer course doesn't get more credits than it 'deserves,' pruning and turning.  I've added my opinions, charted the contact hours for a study abroad course, and all I can say is I am most thankful - and you all probably should be - that no-one ever asked me to come up with the Gregorian or any other type of calendar. I'm also thankful we aren't trying to figure out all of this today - imagine the meetings, imagine the world-wide collaboration, the arts, humanities and sciences coming together on one calendar. Imagine presidential elections coming and going, imagine world leaders coming to a summit and agreeing on a 'one calendar fits all' schema.
Taking this Leap Day to be grateful for the maps, calendars, months, days, hours, minutes and more...all those things we are blessed to have in place. Or, at the least, in place for now.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Breezy, Re-visit.

  No Politics today...Just some Reflection and Celebration


 Celebrating the day my mother came into the world, ninety-four years ago. She's not here to celebrate, but no reason not to have a cupcake in her honor. She died twenty-six years ago at the age of 68.
Last night at a meditation class, I watched a 93 year old woman doing yoga, bending over, hands touching the ground. This morning, in a writers' workshop, I gave 93-year old Thelma a check for $30 for tickets to the Arapahoe Symphony. She plays the violin in this prestigious group. The gifts of life, laughter and grace of these two women provided me the crystal ball to visualize my mother had she had another twenty-six years to flourish.  She acquired her nickname 'Breezy' in college and was breezy right to the end. Beautiful Breezy.

Rather than write up another homage to her today, I've decided to lift a piece I wrote about her when I was living in London in 2009.  I think it's ok to plagiarize one's self, but we'll see if the posting police come after this. I've changed nothing in the post. I remember writing this in the tiny back room of our Hampstead flat, so have the joy of double memories today. 
 It is December 7th, 2009. Birds trill, tweeter, and flutter as if it were springtime in London. Must be the generally warmer temperatures, the lack of radical fluctuations, that prolong their stay in the city and its suburbs.  Or perhaps Hampstead Heath, with its abundance of bushes, trees, and wildflowers, offers sustenance enough to keep the birds at home.  In the neighborhood the more stubborn, resilient roses still blossom.
December 7th.  Anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  Sixty-eight years ago, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  I was not yet eight months old.  First child, love child, born of parents late to the priest.  Helen Breene Phelan and John Fenton Phelan.

When my mother was 68, she walked into the doctor’s office on December 7th, with a painful throbbing in her shoulder that she hadn’t been able to shake.  She thought it was from moving dirt around in the yard, dirt that had been hardened by an earlier frost.  By the end of the day, she knew she was riddled with cancer and would probably be dead within four months.  Pearl Harbor for Helen Breene Phelan.

From December 7 through the end of Christmas Day that year, she celebrated the holidays with the same robust fervor as she always had.  She loved nothing more than arranging the little stained glass angels, in shades of blue, rose, yellow, and white, in the picture window of her little cape house on John Smith Drive. Once again, she decorated the tree with as many colors and shapes as could fit, twirled the tinsel throughout the tree and set those blinking lights up for the season.  Sent out her cards, and continued her beloved Friday square dancing festivities with Happy Hal and his crowd.  She and her sister Mary spent Saturdays together, as they had for years, cleaning, shopping, drinking coffee, and solving the world’s problems.  They wrapped presents together that year.
Christmas day, as usual, she made the gravy for dinner at my house, brought bags of love and presents for Rob and Chris, and paid attention to everyone.  After driving home with her sister Mary, she walked slowly into her house, sat by her twinkling tree for an hour.  And then she called us.  One by one.

“I had my own Pearl Harbor Day this year. I didn’t want to ruin your Christmas, but….”  Only person she couldn’t call was Mary; had to have a son convey that message.  For years she and Mary had planned to travel, take ships to Alaska and various islands where the sun would beam on them.  My mother had recently retired, taken her husband, Finny, through the last stages of his cancer and death and was ready to enjoy life on her own terms.

She didn’t last the four months.  Having spent her whole life battling her weight, she spent the last of her life unable to eat or drink anything.  She cleaned her house, packaged items, gave things away.  Even took one last trip with Mary.  Among the items she had left on her bureau was the box of carefully re-wrapped stained glass ornaments with a note saying, “For Sheila.  Christmas next year.”

So here I am, on December 7th, at age 68.  Healthy and happy, preparing to leave London, go back to my Denver home, eager to get out the decorations, head for West Hartford and see all of my precious, extraordinary family.  Never having figured out how to make gravy, I’ll have to make some other contribution.  But I still have several of the stained glass angels.

I wouldn’t be living this life filled with grace, love, and strength without her.  She had always put up with my tantrums, tirades, terminal case of knowing everything, and self-absorption.  She stood by me, by all of us, right or wrong.

In her college yearbook she is acclaimed ‘Most Beautiful’ and ‘Takes Life Most Easily.’  Her nickname was Breezy.

Her beauty never faded, but the easy life sure did.  Her decades were filled with suffering, bad patches, disappointment, and just plain hard times.  Yet, there is no-one who ever smiled more.  Burdened with a heavy heart, she’d throw out that smile and the space around her would glow.  Selfless for herself, but ferociously selfish for her kids.  Always kept her eye on the prize for a better life for the children she brought into the world.

In the twenty-two years since she had her own Pearl Harbor Day I have continued to call on her strength and inner wisdom.  I always take her on my travels.  I see her smile during my bad patches, and rely on her indefatigable determination and love.  I pay witness to her with gratitude on this day in London, the anniversary of the world’s Pearl Harbor Day and her Pearl Harbor Day.
May the Molly Bloom roses bloom and Hampstead Heath nightingales sing to Helen Breene Phelan (Breezy) tonight.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Who's Sorry Now?

Consensus. Unanimity.  All Republican presidential candidates agree. The President of the United States should not apologize. And most of all, he should not apologize to any alleged enemies. What kind of male leader apologizes?  Lose your testosterone in the vapors of the intellectual world?
What is it with these guys? They have a right to disagree, to go looking for blood somewhere, I suppose.
But to say, as Santorum certainly has, that the burning of the Quran was a mistake...unintentional, so doesn't deserve an apology, makes me wonder if he (and they) ever apologize for anything?
I don't know about you, but I spend a fair share of time apologizing for mistakes.
 "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
"But you did,"
"So sorry, I didn't mean it. I apologize."  Should I say, instead,
"Hey, that's the way it goes. Win some. Lose some."?
Not apologizing at all for not living in Arizona or Michigan today, no apologies for skipping the local news there.
I suppose the good news is that the candidates, Rush Limbaugh et al were busy with politics last night and not fixed on the Academy Awards when an Iranian film won its first Oscar. You know those liberal Hollywood types, all unAmerican, all interested in the arts. By the way, if you haven't seen A Separation, the film from Iran that won best foreign film, put it on your Must Do list. Stunning. One of the best films I've ever seen - everyone seemingly acting with good intentions and it all unravels. Brilliant ending. The audience at the Mayan just didn't move or talk for at least five minutes after the film. And it wasn't because we were all sitting back reading the credits in Farsi. Transfixed.
And it goes without saying that this was a perfect year for a black and white film with no dialogue to win Best Picture. Sheer joy.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Looking for Leaders

Pick your leader:

Well, the bookstores know what the leaders are for: sales. And it's all set up for you to pick your all-American male
leadership style.  Who you going to put your money on ?  One is an easier read (guess?) and the other tells us too
many things about leadership that some people don't want to know.
For reasons you really don't want to know, I've read them both. I'm a come lately Tebow fan, but a longtime fan
of the enigmatic Jobs. And I loved Isaacson's book because it was so honest, so human, so...this may not be 
the role model you thought you were looking for book.
I took these photos a couple of weeks back, so I'm sure the few remaining bookstores have changed their leaders
and their themes. These two books were not exactly Black History Month books, so let's hope they've been there.
By now, the books made into films, ready for Oscars, must be foregrounded.
Speaking of leaders, I was in a meeting this morning brainstorming on possible international leaders to bring
to the International Leadership Association conference this fall in Denver. If nothing else, the meeting reminded
me that I need to learn more, follow up, examine and understand emerging leaders - local, national, and international.
My list of leaders are all in the prime of times. Also, as we talked about social justice, leadership and technology,
it became apparent that tracing and understanding the role of new leaders isn't easy. Do we call a man who set
himself afire in the market a leader, a beginning of the Arab Spring moment or was/is twitter the strong arm of
leadership? It's the Occupy Movement and the Arab spring that seem to hold the keys to some understanding of
leadership, or, at the least, the keys to how emerging leaders are using technology that helps develop followership.
All very interesting. Worth spending some time over the weekend on this topic. Enjoy

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Past and Present

Do you remember when you got your first birth control pills?
Seems I've been mulling over the same themes for at least a week, and can't move on.
It all started with a play reading I attended. In the play, a couple is decided whether or not to move into a community that exists in the '50-60's.  Not exactly the kind of time-traveling as in Stephen King's epic, as there would be no back and forth. But the opportunity exists: move into a community where life is as it was during those times, the good with the bad...martini lunches, cigarettes and coffee, simple family values. Maybe.
The combination of Black History Month and politics keep me muddled in the middle of things. Then Barack Obama said the other night, 'some day people won't remember a time in the USA when there were Black and White water fountains...or something close to that. Stunned by the comment, I realized I lived in those times, I was there. Well, not exactly there, because New England wasn't the deep South. But I was alive when Black and White life was so codified. No Kodak moments there. In some odd way, I cannot believe that I lived in those times. It might be my grandmother's past, but not mine. So long ago. Living in my own little time warp these days.
Last night I attended a Woman for Obama event (just in case you didn't know my politics) and the discussion of the Catholic and conservative right's attitudes towards contraception, abortion, choice, and the devolution of 'family values' was hot on the agenda.
A segment of us,  the women of a certain age plus got stuck in the quagmire of an innocent 'Do you remember when you got your first birth control pills?' question. Oh my, such stories, such similarities, Catholic and non-Catholic, shared about the planning, the scripted scenarios, the fear of the examination, the joy in the success of the quest. One would have to hope that upcoming generations of women won't ever have to go through that drill again. Enovid was the name of the pill, I think. That even seems as if it was a time before my time, but it's back.
Lots more, alas, on all of that, but just want to take a little turn on the medical focus. Yesterday afternoon I spent far too many hours in the radiology, CT scan, ultrasound section of the medical office (not worth knowing why).  I watched a middle-aged man shuffle from the waiting room into the doctor's care, and listened to his wife and daughter chattering in Spanish, arms around one another, while he was gone. About an hour later, the medical office door opened and out walked the man with an enormous, beautiful grin. Most beautiful smile I've ever seen. The wife and daughter laughed and cried, ran to him, and the three of them, full of smiles and laughter, walked slowly out the door. A miracle of medicine, the good news machine, or something equally fabulous had happened for them. I looked around the waiting room. Everyone, nurses, attendants, clients were grinning. Good times, good feeling.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sing Me Some Blues

Oh to be at the White House for celebration of the Blues tonight.... B.B. King, KeMo, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck and the young Trombone Shorty will be performing in the House tonight. Only other place that might be just as powerful an experience would be in New Orleans tonight for Fat Tuesday. Those beautiful blues made their way from the spirituals on the slave ships to the slavery in the South and right on up to the development of rock and the psyche of the U.S.  Is there anyone out there who doesn't know the blues? Tonight's part of a larger piece of celebration of American music that Michelle Obama has co-sponsored  to celebrate, as the Washington Post says, another chapter in the American songbook.
Personally, I can't help wondering about the song list if one of our present presidential candidates would have put up for this chapter. . . of if such a chapter would even be included in that songbook. Just wondering.
They'll be wailing the blues tonight in the White House - maybe wailing a little louder, a little more soulfully after hearing today's news that the Supreme Court has decided to take up the the case against the University of Texas concerning the use of race in admissions.  Just once, I wish someone would sue a University based on the Legacy category. Why does it appear to be more offensive to some white students to think someone 'took their rightful place' based on skin color than to have that slot given to a trust-fund baby?
And, as I think I wondered just the other day, why are we still talking about Race as if there's a white race, a black race, any race?
Contraception, abortion, civil rights. Sing me some blues and have food fun on Fat Tuesday.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Just Words...

So everyone knows who Jeremy Lin is. And a good number of people know ESPN booted an editor and suspended some others over a headline after the Knicks (and Jeremy Lin) lost a basketball game. Chink in the Armor was the headline.
And in a moment similar to last week's vision that I had been thrown in reverse to the 50's, this headliner brought me smack back to Archie Bunker in the early 70's. Archie Bunker would have made that remark with a twinkle in his eye, and his son-in-law Mike would have ranted about Archie's prejudices. The remark would have gotten lots of laughs in living rooms around the USA.  Archie Bunker was everyone's Lovable Bigot. He represented a white, middle-class, family man, expressing the feelings that others felt, but were learning not to express.
That was a long time ago, a time that couldn't imagine President Barack Obama, Facebook or Twitter.
They weren't the good old days, they76 just were the days - lots of good going on, lots of changes, lots of good music and churning thoughts.
I'll accept the ESPN editor's statement that he meant no harm, and certainly did not mean to pun or be cute or anything of the sort. Don't know what his Asian wife thought, but I suspect she wasn't thinking anti-Asian prejudice. I'll give him a break on this. (Well, I'm sort of hedging my bets on this - it's hard NOT to think that a seasoned sportswriter, writing about a team's loss and commenting on the relatively weak play of its Asian player, didn't have some inkling of where he was going. Trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but...

Way back, just post-Archie Bunker time, as a semi-know-it-all university instructor of composition, I  suggested to a student that 'chink in the armor' could be perceived as racist (I know, back then I was just figuring out that race) was a social construct, not a reality - as in "What race are you?"  Anyway, the student declared that my comment was the most outrageous thing he had ever heard. Ever. Actually, given the context, I secretly and silently agreed to myself that he was probably right. Why didn't I just right 'cliche' on his paper and let it go at that?
Predictably, SNL did a screamingly funny skit on the whole event. Unpredictably, at least to me, for now all the YouTube videos of the skit have been taken off. This is one complicated world.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pick A Decade

Granted I was in the paradise of Costa Rica last week, so my mind might be over-relaxed from yoga, meditating, hanging out and just plain doing nothing, but I think I've been thrown back into the wrong decade. Maybe the 50's. Problem is, Margaret Sanger is missing, along with other harbingers of freedom.
But those guys I see on every television channel or read about in print, those men in suits, are sure looking kind of 50's - all pondering and pontificating; speaking of pontification, the Catholic Church choir from the 50's decibels have risen.I sure don't understand what happened while I was gone, but it happened ever so quickly. Some say Obama started it all with his healthcare and religion resolutions. If he did, good for him, because I had no ideas that propagation was such a virtue, a value close to all those slick cartoon characters running for president.Let's see how things stack up:  Viagra for Men (let's keep the erection functioning):  Unanimous YES vote.  Contraception for women (maybe some cause and effect with the Viagra)?  MAYBE, BUT MAYBE NOT.  Abortion (maybe some cause and effect, maybe a health, rape, incest issue): PROBABLY NOT.
I'm here to tell you I heard it on TV, read it in the papers. But when I went looking for my cigarette, mac and cheese, lime jello and whipped cream, all I could find were sushi and bean sprouts. No luscious fatty skin from the chicken to scarf down, just a chunk of tofu. Starbucks, but no Maxwell House. No ashtrays in sight. Who 'owns' this decade?
Where am I and whose narrative am I in?  I learned all too long ago that it was good to have a 'willing suspension of disbelief' when reading fiction. But I thought the fiction was on my Kindle and the non-fiction in the news. Has that changed also?  Guess it's all for entertainment. or not.
Rant for the day...hoping things will calm down. Scared to think that this is were the dialogue goes when the economy gets a bit better. But there is some irony in the recent madness. In the end, Clint Eastwood Made His Day for Obama. Not bad. And Bruce Springsteen is back, maybe with some lyrics to trick the candidates (see: Bush and Born in the USA).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Funny Valentine

No blog today. Checking out links on political issues, cultural contexts,prime time news didn't lead me towards anything particularly positive today. Figured it wasn't a good day for whining about my white hair, my back,or the hundred other things that seem to irritate me at the moment. Stay away for a day, I think.
For the past 18 years, on Valentine's Day, I have been awakened by the sound of My Funny Valentine playing on a little boom box that's been placed next to the bed.
So, instead of the usual bloggage, here's a shoutout to love everywhere for everyone...We're all funny valentines, aren't we?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Paradise Still Exists

Sooo nice to get away, and a bit of a shock on the return. I have more e-mails that go into the 'automatically delete' category than anything else. I keep saying I'll take the time, one of these days, to get off some of those lists. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to get off the Sweaty Betty messages that come in regularly from the cute little yoga store in Hampstead, England. Don't think I'll be stopping in any day soon. Too many like that to count.
Still there are others - upcoming meetings, discussion and commentary on writing, new friends, old friends and all the not yet sent messages that now are really behind schedule.
I lost almost two days just trying to get out of Denver to Costa Rica because of the storm and other problems (the pilot who never showed up, etc.) so it was a relief to get there.
Our group, under the tutelage of Ken McRae, had 29 people and quite a variety it was. I had met six of the attendees at a yoga retreat three years ago, knew Ken and Bahvani, and, of course, my good friend Linda. But everyone else was new. Lots of Tex-Arkana accents, upper Michigan, Maine, New York, California. Two couples, one single male, and ages from 25 to 75. Staying also at Pura Vida were a Bikram yoga small group, a small interpersonal psychologists group, and some people on their own.
Mix all that with the shamans, body talk experts, intuits, astrologists, watsu experts, and your run of the mill massage therapists and imagine what you get. Just imagine.
I avoided the shamans this time, as the last shaman I spent some time with was hungover, always on his cell phone, and as it turned out, groping the breasts of all the younger women in the group. Taking a brief sabbatical from shamans right now.
But as soon as I catch up with my self, I'll share a few stories.
Only news we even talked about during the retreat was the Super Bowl (lots of fans, and yea for the Giants) gay rights, women's right to choose and the chance that those rights would be trampled upon by the right. Contraception and Abortion. How often do those issues have to be foregrounded in political races? I still love the old bumper sticker: If you are against abortion, don't have one. How simple is that?
And, miracle of all miracles, I read some incredible books. Finally finished The Paris Wife and In the Garden of Beasts, and also knocked off How It All Began, The Sense of an Ending, Raw Edges: A Memoir. How's that for paradise?
Oh yes, then the food. All fresh from the local farms, all organic, fish and chicken, no junk food to be found on location.
Now to catch up with myself and find out where I need to be and when. Good to be back and chatting with you all.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Change of Plans

Long story short...I had in mind that I was going to Costa Rica Friday night. Had it in mind right up until an e-mail from my friend Linda, in CR already, saying "See you tomorrow."
So it's 7:44 and I am frantically packing. You are thinking: Why didn't you start packing at 2:00. I started, but also thought I better call the doctor because of a few things bothering me (you don't want to know), coupled with some pain in my back.
Given my history, the oncology nurse thought I should go to the emergency room.
So...that's where my afternoon went. Good news is that nothing serious is wrong. Nothing at all. BUT the doc and nurse wanted me to stay around. I finally persuaded them that I would take the horrendous medicine they prescribed the minute I got to my room in Costa Rica tomorrow and not make any plans for the day. I agreed.
The fabulous low-scale, friendly place, Pure Vida, where we stay has no radios, no televisions, one pay phone, one computer for use, and a couple of spaces that are wired. Thinking I won't be on the net much, so won't be sending any posts.
Actually, it's the wireless, non-media ways of this place that I love so much.
See you in ten days.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Legislative Privilege?

The police apologized. The legislator, Laura Bradford, didn't ask for immunity when she was stopped making a wrong turn, alcohol on her breath, and had her licensed hand gun in her car. That's cleared up. Turns out the officers had asked her if she was coming or going from a legislative session. She said yes. Happy Hour at a local bar attended by lobbyists, lawmakers and Capital staff. Turns out there is a legislative privilege that says
"The members of the general assembly shall, in all cases except treason or felony, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at sessions...
and in going to and returning from the same..."

Who knew? Maybe more people will run for office knowing this info. I don't know Laura Bradford, don't even know her political affiliation, but she's hit the news big time.Sorry, but I've never understood why anyone, anywhere in this country needs to carry a concealed weapon. Just doesn't work for me, and a concealed weapon in the car after happy hour? Really. Most of all,the legislative 'privilege from arrest coming and going' makes NO sense at all.
Many tasks to do, which is why this post is early today. Urging Susan Komen Foundation to change its mind and continue supporting Planned Parenthood and petitioning to overturn legislative privilege have to be squeezed in.