Archive for May, 2010

Yesterday I was with my cousins who were visiting from Illinois, and their son, who lives in Cambridge.  It was great to see them, and we went for lunch to a new place in the area between Porter Square and Harvard Square.  We’ve all done lots of dining out, and the Cambridge resident and I are both cooks — good ones.

So there we were, catching up on family news and wanting to have a nice lunch, at a place that turned out to be…just barely mediocre.  A wait-person who wasn’t well-informed or proactive about taking care of us was there, and we were served food that was …food.

As I contemplate what I’m making for dinner tonight at our house I’ve got grilled lamb with persillade, grilled vegetables with balsamic glaze, an orzo/wild rice/lentil pilaf, and a salad with feta, red onion, and fresh apricots on the menu.  Plus homemade mint iced tea, and cupcakes with a dark chocolate buttercream for dessert.  The cupcakes are from a box, the buttercream is not.  Not bad.  And not difficult, either.

So why is it that we seem to be moving toward culinary decline at such a clip?  I see ads every day on TV and in the newspapers for chain establishments offering “nine entrees for $12.99” or “unlimited pasta” or “share an appetizer, get two entrees, share a dessert all for $19.99″…or whatever.  And people are flocking to those places and spending money they don’t have or have scrabbled to make on a crummy meal.  The sauces are full of corn syrup derivatives, the protiens are lousy, and the rest of the prep’s not so great either.  And we pay.

Have we lost our way?  What would Julia Child say?  Or Ina Garten or Giada DiLaurentiis, current goddesses of easy, fine cuisine?  I learned to cook from watching my grandmother and my mother.  Then I added my own touches.  I watched Julia on TV and said, “I bet I can do that.”  And I screwed up occasionally, but mostly, I learned.  I wonder if the ability to cook is going by the wayside.  I remember being at the home of a friend of my daughter, when they were pre-schoolers.  The child ate peanut butter and nutella sandwiches, and not much else.  Dad, who had a good job, ate at Mickey D’s every day.  What was up?  Turned out neither parent knew how to cook, nor were they interested.

As garden season approaches and the locavores rev up, I know that other people can learn how to cook, too, by buying the local stuff that will soon be coming in to farmer’s markets or raising the stuff in our own gardens, and watching Ina on TV or picking up a cookbook and opening it.  It ain’t that difficult.

More than that, I’m convinced that at the same time, we would learn something about using our money well.  Long ago, I told my husband that I’d rather have really good roast beef less often and enjoy it.  So I watch for the sales that come once or twice a year on prime rib, and when they hit ($4.99/lb, 3 days only) I buy and freeze.  I watch the other supermarket sales and then riff off of those for our menu, or what’s in at the market or in my garden.  It works, and it’s economical too.

I’ve been whacked by the economy, too.  And I like to go out as much as anyone.  I love fancy places, and I love dives…places that are really informal and have great local, cheap food. So my point is not about going for high-falutin’…I’m talking about quality.  These are tough economic times, and we have to use what we have, sensibly and well.  And that means no bad food, cheap.

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The news is full of the latest on the oil leak disaster in Louisiana.  Every day it gets worse…now, folks in the Gulf are reporting signs of illness, tar balls are starting to wash ashore, oil-covered turtles are being found, and there are clear indications (as well as reluctant admissions from BP) that the oil gushing out of the well is dumping many, many more gallons each day than previously stated.  Further, the gulf stream is moving the slick toward a path that will soon take it up the East Coast.  This doesn’t count animal and marine life being sickened and killed, individuals put out of work, the economic impact that will come in the food chain from all who used to eat fish caught in the oil-polluted waters, the devastation of coastlines for generations, and oh, so much more.

Like lots of folks, I’ve gotten more and more disgusted as I hear BP and Halliburton, and some of the government agencies involved, throw up their hands, shrug, and say, “oh dear, but what could we do?”  There is no solution to the problem, and the response, given the fact that some of these companies continue to reap billions even with this disaster, is just hideous.

Unfortunately the miserable behavior, the ducking and the oh-so-sincere apologies, don’t help address the mess.  My chosen faith community, Unitarian Universalism, has issued a number of statements of policy around the environment, including one (1984) on Toxic Substances and Hazardous Waste and another (1994) on Environmental Justice.  No doubt some other religious organizations, not to mention social change groups, have issued similar statements of policy over the years.    So far, none of these groups have been able to bring enough pressure to bear on government officials or businesses to do more than act as a growing throng of witnesses to an evolving disaster.  In Belle Chasse, alone Plaquemines Parish, and now across the Gulf coastline into Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, people are beginning to scream, louder and louder, that more must be done, and soon.

But the lack of backup plans, and the inability of any entity to bring the problem under control, is chilling.  And the damage, while spreading more widely every day, has been impacting historically disenfranchised communities in far greater numbers than those who are part of established majority control groups.  Benjamin Chavis is the African American leader credited with coining the term ‘environmental racism,’ to refer to a “policy, practice, or regulation that negatively affects the environment of low-income and/or racially-homogeneous communities at a disparate rate than affluent communities.”  The poor communities along the Gulf — populated heavily by those who make their living from fishing — are being clobbered.  The people who struggled, and are still struggling to return to the Gulf coast communities most blighted by Katrina, are now being socked again by a disaster that big-money made and that no one seems prepared to clean up.

Today I’m thinking of my friend Tyronne Edwards, who led the efforts to reclaim the land from Katrina’s wrath and rebuild his town of Phoenix in Plaquemines Parish.  Phoenix is just up the road from Venice, where the tarballs are rolling in now.  Shrimpers and fisher-people live in these small, poor communities.  Once again people are faced with a disaster no one seems prepared to address.  And once again, the resilience of people who have, for generations, lived on this land in the Delta, may have to find their own way to restore their livelihoods and their land.  The folks in the Gulf are taking it on the chin – again.

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The ramp-up to the mid-term elections have yielded their results, and the electorate seems to be screaming from virtual rooftops and news rooms, like Howard Beale (“Network” – 1976) “We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it any more!”  Arlen Specter loses in Pennsylvania.  The first genuine Tea Party candidate to emerge, Rand Paul, pulls a major upset against the GOP establishment in Kentucky.  Middle of the road Dem Blanche Lincoln fails to pull a majority vote in Arkansas, forcing a Senatorial seat runoff in a few weeks.  And of course, the ball got rolling in my home state when former centerfold Scott Brown, driving his pickup truck around tony towns, trounced the well-spoken presumptive heir to Ted Kennedy’s seat, Martha Coakley.

Meanwhile hypocrisy reigns supreme.  The ‘perfect’ Democratic senatorial candidate, Richard Blumenthal, running for Chris Dodd’s seat in Connecticut, “misspoke” about his military record.  Oops. A conservative Republican congressman, Indiana’s Mark Souder, resigns from the House of Representatives in disgrace after he’s found to have had an affair with a female staffer.  He had spoken passionately about, among other things, abstinence-only sex education.  Oh dear.

The tea baggers are out holding rallies, whipped up by their darling, Sarah Palin, and everywhere there are cries from people wanting to ‘take back the government.’  And there are plenty of reasons for people to be unhappy.  A law has been signed that is not only discriminatory, it pretty much turns Arizona into a police state.  The US economy sure hasn’t recovered the way some predicted it would, and people are still facing foreclosures, mounting debt, and unemployment in near-double digit percentages.  And at the same time, the arguing and cheap games that politicians continue to play in Washington, demonstrated by the winks and nods that allowed a multi-billion dollar oil company to prosper in the Gulf while safety regulations were ignored, will ensure that we all pay a horrible price for such cynicism for generations to come.

People want heads to roll, and they don’t trust anyone in a position of power.

There are lots of reasons why I agree with this sentiment.  Too much has been accomplished in government circles, for far too long, based on who you know, how much money you can pony up, and how you play the game.  The HBO series “Big Love,” which sometimes approaches brilliance in its writing and storylines, this season offered up the main character’s run for the Utah state senate, guided and ultimately undermined by a Washington lobbyist (played smashingly by Sissy Spacek) who would do just about anything to pull off a win. The officials of Massey Energy Company and BP, expressing their sadness over recent disasters when they’re also in the courts and back halls trying to make deals, make me gag.  We know such people are out there, and in fact, due to a controversial decision of the US Supreme Court, lobbyists who engaged in arm-twisting will find their work easier than ever.

So yes, I share the frustration.  But I don’t share the tactics or the mode of action that we’re seeing more and more often.  Yes, there’s lots of corruption and mess to clean up.  How about adopting ethics laws that force different behavior, with penalties for ducking them?  How about changing government regulations that make it impossible for oil or coal mining companies to circumvent regulations or continually tangle the court system with counter-claims?  How about more discussion in the towns of America on what the moral compass calls us to do?

I voted for Obama, and I still like him.  I don’t like everything that has happened on his watch, nor do I like the delays in moving some things forward that I care deeply about.  But I have patience that extends beyond the mid-year election cycle.  “This is what change looks like,” he said when the watered-down health care bill got passed.

My husband is fond of saying, “Change doesn’t always occur in straight lines.”  Sometimes it happens when you take one step forward after standing still for a while.  Sometimes you go forward and then have to back up and try another path…and then you get through.  So I can wait a little while longer before I join the tea baggers and others who feel that now’s the time.  Maybe instead of being mad as hell and ‘throwing the bums out,’ we have to step up and speak for a different way of being in the world.  Run for town meeting.  Decide that no matter what others do, we will have a code of behavior that leads us down some other path. Talk to our kids to explain that just because someone is circumventing the rules, the rules are there for a reason, and we’ll follow them.

Because getting mad doesn’t always get what we want in the end…sometimes is just allows us to rant.  Change demands more.  And it starts with us deciding that we can be part of a solution for the brokenness in our society.  Quietly, without screaming, one step.  This is what change looks like.

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I’ve made a vow to get the clutter in our house under control.  We are not hoarders, like the folks who are subjects of some of those lousy but hypnotic reality shows.  I’ve been in the houses of hoarders and it’s a little scary:  boxes of stuff everywhere, not enough space to move, counters where you can’t really find any space, and more.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  There are three of us in our house and things just get laid down…wherever.  Papers, tape, pencils, pens, mail, newspapers, stuffed animals, jackets, shoes.

Our cleaning person, Martha, comes every two weeks, and her impending arrival forces a major Ten-Second Tidy (actually it’s more like a one-hour tidy).  It’s a good thing we have that schedule, because it forces a certain amount of discipline into our lives.  But the clutter never really gets tamed, just managed.

So I’ve decided to use my extra time to attack some of the clutter.  It will allow me to reclaim my desk and the computer work station, have pristine counters in the kitchen, and a lovely, well-organized bureau.  In order to not drive myself completely mad with frustration, I’m going to go at one room at a time, and I believe I will start with the living room.  From my vantage point in our dining room I can see CD cases sitting stacked up, blue painter’s tape on the coffee table, someone else’s shoes lying on the floor, and a fan in the middle of the room.

None of this will take long (at least, that’s what I’m telling myself until I tackle the office, which undoubtedly WILL take a real long time) and it will make a difference in how our house looks, how easily we can find things, and more.  No more disappearing bank statements or having Abby wander out asking where her moccasins are.  I don’t think I’ll ever get things as organized as my friend Debbie in New Hampshire, who HAS to have everything in its proper place and has a gorgeous house to show off, but a little well-placed effort might make for a more organized environment.

So look out, ’cause here I come.  I’ll be starting on that right after I play in the garden, take care of some correspondence, and take a nap!

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A number of Unitarian Universalists have already weighed in on whether it is advisable for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to pull out of Phoenix for the 2012 General Assembly (GA).  After a conference call meeting, the UUA Board of Trustees has decided to put the question to a vote of GA delegates at the upcoming GA in Minneapolis.

Now, my turn.  My very first GA was in 1987, in Little Rock, AK.  I remember being amazed and thrilled as Bill Schulz, then-president of the Association, took the stage and with passion, informed the delegates that the UUA would pull out of Phoenix (where GA was to be held in 1988) because of Arizona’s failure to support a Martin Luther King Day holiday.  People roared and cheered.  We were going to ‘show them’ what we stood for.  We said we would go back to Arizona after a King Day had become law.  We went, in 1988, to Palm Springs, CA.  As I recall, we had a perfectly delightful GA in a lovely resort area that was really luxe.  And, in 1997, we did go back to Phoenix.

And now, here we go again.  This time, the reason seems more powerful – Arizona’s new law, which discriminates against illegal residents and essentially makes Arizona a police state, is not only disgusting, it smacks of Hitler’s Germany, where anyone can be asked to show their papers to authorities, and questioned if those authorities think they might be illegally in the state.  And yet…we have to consider how we can most effectively witness our beliefs and values in a way that will be seen, and heard, by the residents of the state to which GA travels, and the authorities who govern that state.

There have been many other states where oppressive laws are in place.  For instance, many states have sodomy laws.  The UUA, which actively supports absolutely equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals, has found a way to witness against such laws, and/or bring financial and moral support to the local BGLT community, many times.  In other states where oppressive laws exist, we’ve held marches in support of abortion rights, environmentalism, and more.  In Cleveland, the GA witnessed against the offensive use of the Chief Wahoo character  by the Cleveland Indians, during a rain-soaked march and rally.

Do we stay or do we go? A friend of mine is a noted travel industry writer, and she’s working on a story which is about the economic impact on Arizona of conventions pulling out because of the law.  And she’s following the UUA to see what we do.  It will cost over $600,000 at a time when there is no money to spare and when numerous staff members have already been laid off and UUA programs ended or re-envisioned for lack of funds.

My belief – informed by years of GA involvement and commitment to effective public witness – is that our voice as faithful and committed people will be heard more if we stay.  The revenue lost by our relatively small convention leaving is ultimately not going to make much of a difference to the Arizona convention industry.  And if we go, our voice is out of the mix.  If we stay, and witness our faith and values effectively, the people of Phoenix and those who live in this repressive state are likely to know more about who Unitarian Universalists are, and what we believe in, than before we showed up.  Through our actions we can be known — and in being known, allegiances can be formed, and influence increased, and we can have the chance to really walk our talk, hand in hand with the immigrant community.

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Well, now I feel affirmed.  Maybe even a little smug.  In my previous position as electronic communication director of the Unitarian Universalist Association, one of the phrases I kept on my whiteboard was, “Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should.”  I was referring in particular to use of social media tools which proliferate and attract us because they are so new, so easy, offering such fun ways to use the internet to send out photos, tweets, videos, whatever.

I used to repeat the phrase to folks who would come in to talk about ideas around using these tools.  They were in love with the tools, the very coolness of them, rather than what it was they wanted to DO and how best to do it.

I have seen the down side of ‘over-sharing’ and it’s not fun:  each year I would take several calls from very unhappy people who were members of one of our email lists and who had discovered, the hard way, that their posts were archived and searchable on the web.  No matter that this was information we shared when they joined one of our email lists.  Suddenly they were faced with a crisis – someone had googled them and discovered something that they didn’t want “out there” and it all came tumbling down.

I have so many friends and acquaintances and colleagues who flock to use new stuff or get onto new social networks.   “Got to go get the newest [fill in the blank]” – because it is new…even if they aren’t sure how they will use it.  ‘Have you signed up for [blank]?  You can do so many things.’  Even play games…which require you to ‘friend’ more and more people who you don’t know.  And then, I watch as people post God-knows what…which all those ‘friends’ can see.

Now the New York Times has run a story sharing the buyers remorse an increasing number of young adults are feeling for having exposed their personal lives through social media.  The Times article notes, “The erosion of privacy has become a pressing issue among active users of social networks. Last week, Facebook scrambled to fix a security breach that allowed users to see their friends’ supposedly private information, including personal chats.”

And the concern has certainly made it into faith community settings as well.  I’m aware of situations where promising resumes bit the dust because the individual’s Facebook page portrayed a person who was intolerant and fixated on one issue, or news and information about a person was discovered not through their ministerial record, but through a web search that revealed a different story.  Ooops.

Yeah, I’m here blogging, and tweeting, and I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn.  And I’m paying attention.  Trying to focus on what I say, and how I post, and who I allow in the virtual door.  The Times quotes Yale student Sam Jackson:  “I am much more self-censoring. I’ll try to be honest and forthright, but I am conscious now who I am talking to.”

It’s an evolving art.  I try to repeat my own whiteboard phrase whenever I have questions about whether to engage with a new network, or post a particular item somewhere:  “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”  Because what seems like a good idea now may come back to bite you later.

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The title for this blog entry is taken from my daughter’s National History Day presentation.  Abby explored the role that the Pill played in promoting women’s rights…and she argued that the Pill was more important in supporting that cause than suffrage.  This week, Time Magazine and other media are focusing on the same issue, and since Sunday is the official 50th anniversary of the Pill,  I claim this spot to pay homage to the role my mother and other ‘ordinary’ women played in helping this story unfold in our culture.

My mother, Vera Weiner, was one of the women who were on the Board of Planned Parenthood of New Haven (PPL-NH) when it was closed by the police in the early 1960’s for illegally handing out birth control to women.  The Planned Parenthood workers knew that the ‘rhythm method’ of birth control didn’t work — and they wanted to make sure that women would not be subject to unwanted pregnancies that could derail their lives or the chance of a career.

When Estelle Griswold and Dr. C. Lee Buxton were carted away and charged with crimes for operating a birth control clinic in New Haven, the PPL-NH offices were shut down, and as most people know, these actions set in motion the landmark Supreme Court case, Griswold v. Connecticut.  While the uproar continued in the courts and the media, what people didn’t know was that PPL-NH continued to operate — out of our basement.

The windows were cardboarded over, and downstairs, typewriters and tables were set up.  There were boxes of birth control devices:  diaphragms, foam, pills, and a herd of women — many of them members of the Unitarian Society of New Haven — sent out letters to new mothers offering them contraception.  Nurses volunteered to dispense birth control pills.  And it was all secret.

I was warned not to tell anyone — sharing this information could result in the arrest of my mother and others — and so, day after day, the office operated with Mom, Dorothy Giles, Louise Fleck, Marjorie Ullman, and others continuing on, as the case ground through the courts, part of a struggle for affirming the right of women to privacy and control over their bodies.

The day the decision of the court came down in 1965, there was great celebration, including flowers for Mom and others, and Estelle Griswold and C. Lee Buxton had a reunion of the women who had kept Planned Parenthood operating in secret.  And I had a sense — even as a young teen — that something very important had just happened.  Over and over, my mother told me that I could be whoever I wanted to be.  Largely because these women said it again and again, and acted to make it so, I believed them.  And because of the work of my mother and her friends, a door that had previously been closed was now open for me, and others of my generation…and that effort continues to benefit the women of all the generations that have followed.

My daughters will never know what those days were like…when people had to visit clinics in secret just to make sure that they could determine if, and when, to raise a family.  That freedom, which we now take for granted, is worth remembering and celebrating.  So happy birthday.  And may the candles never be blown out.

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