Saturday, December 30, 2017

Retiring my wood burning stove

For sale: Vermont Castings "Defiant" style wood burning stove
Excellent condition, barely used, dated 1975 
 $400 or best offer. Located in Grantham, N.H.
Contact me at

(For followers of this blog, forgive this posting, but I need a URL to post on social media--and even vintage items are beloved by many).

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Arguing for A "Democracy Movement"

Even before the 2016 primaries, even before Donald Trump was elected President, even before Americans began marching over concerns about immigration, women’s rights, the environment, health care, science, and more, Bruce Berlin was calling for a “Democracy Movement” that would mimic in size and impact such upheavals as the Suffrage Movement, the Civil Rights Movement or the Anti-Vietnam War Movement.
In his self-published treatise, Breaking BigMoney’s Grip on America,  Berlin argues that our nation has become a plutocracy, run by the “economic elite.“ The results, he says,  are exactly what we are seeing now:
--Lobbyists pushing the agenda of corporations and the wealthy, to the detriment of the people;
--Elected officials beholden to the big money that supported them – a reality only amplified by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United;
--A revolving door of corporate executives and lobbyists swinging into and out of government, bringing with them their agendas benefiting companies and the affluent.
“It is the curse of unbound capitalism,” he writes, “that America’s factory workers, farmers, housewives, machinists, shopkeepers, and others have toiled to build, or fought to preserve, democracy in our country only to have the economic elite reap disproportionate financial benefits while tens of millions of Americans barely get by, many others are homeless, and over 15 percent live in poverty.”

For Berlin, like so many of us "unretiring" folks, the book is a culmination of his life's work as a lawyer mediator and social justice activist.  It's clear he poured himself into it: the book, published in januariy 2016, is filled with real facts supported by more than 200 footnotes (about 2 footnotes per page in this slim volume). 
Even Obamacare, Berlin argues, was compromised by the influence of insurance companies; a health insurance VP and lobbyist helped the Senate draft it. 
(And who knows what financial interests are helping to draft the Senate's current health care bill, being hammered out behind closed doors.)

Half of the book outlines the problem; the other half spells out a route to mobilizing the Democracy Movement Berlin envisions. 
Given that the most expensive House race in U.S. history just took place in Georgia, it's clear that money alone will not create a "Democracy Movement." It's also clear that the money spent on that race -- some $60 million --- would leave the victor (it doesn't matter who) in serious debt to moneyed interests. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Notes from the Refugee Ball

Jason Dzubow, asylum lawyer

If you think the transition after retirement to "the next great thing" is huge, imagine what asylum seekers in the United States are facing. I got a glimpse of that challenge at an extraordinary event this week in Washington, D.C.: the Refugee Ball.
Among the 500 or so people attending were asylum seekers still in limbo as to their fate; those whose quest for a safe home in the United States had already been granted by the courts; immigration lawyers and those who support a compassionate immigration policy for victims of torture or persecution.  

As organizer Jason Dzubow, a prominent Washington asylum lawyer, put it in his address to the group:
"Critics of our humanitarian immigration policies will tell you that asylum is a gift, given to needy people because Americans are nice. And it's true that giving refuge to people fleeing persecution is the right thing to do.... But America did not create the asylum system to be nice.
"Since its beginning during the Cold War, asylum was about advancing our country's strategic interests. It was about demonstrating our moral superiority to our Soviet adversaries. We celebrated famous dissidents, athletes, and artists who defected to the West. Now the Soviet Union is gone, but asylum remains an essential tool of U.S. foreign policy.... 
"When we give asylum to interpreters who served with our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, we demonstrate our loyalty to those who served with us. When we grant asylum to women's rights advocates, we show our support for the cause of gender equality. When we support journalists, we show that we stand for free speech. And when we grant asylum to religious minorities, we reinforce our founding principle of Religious Freedom."
Artist Antonio Flores with Q-tip sketch made in detention

Among those I met at the event was Antonio Flores,  who came to the United States at the age of 15 – his mother has been here since she left him behind at age 4 in Honduras. With legal help from the University of Maryland, this aspiring artist, now 18, was out on bond from a detention center after being arrested as an undocumented, illegal immigrant.  He's never taken formal art lessons, but in detention learned that you can paint with the most meager of materials. Rub a colorful magazine (he used Food and Wine) with a deoderant stick, then touch the magazine with a Q-tip and you can get enough color to draw with the Q-tip.  

Michael Namalum,  who was in 2015 was granted asylum status here, would not talk about the torture he suffered in his home country of Azerbaijan, because, he said, children were present at the ball,  but he would not wish what he went through on his very worst enemy.
Coming to the United States, this human rights advocate faced more suffering after he was placed in a detention facility by ICE, he said. "I was insulted and humiliated in detention and my rights as a human being were outrageously violated. Well, isn't it a paradox? You come here, you seek protection and the next thing you know, you're sitting completely naked in a freezing room – like a refrigerator."

Nonetheless,  now he can speak out freely, and he is. His wish for America is that it will become a place where "no Arab guys would be kicked out from the plane for speaking Arabic, no hijabs would be taken down by force... no Hispanic immigrant would be attacked in Kentucky for taking a longer time at the cashier, no "N" words will be written on vandalized cars of African American people, no Nazi meetings will take place here in Washington, D.C.,  and no woman would be grabbed by her genitals against her consent.  That was my hope, that was my wish , and I'm still hopeful."

Mark Hatfield, president of HIAS – the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the oldest refugee agency in the world,"  founded in 1881, lamented the door that America slammed on immigration in 1921 and the many who perished in the decades after until our immigration policy was expanded.
He reminded those gathered of the many ways in which  refugees "made this country great." 

"America is a country that welcomes refugees, and i don't want an America that's any other way."


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Anne Boyle Gilmartin: A Pioneer of Women's Rowing

When she was Anne Boyle 

On a recent night, when I was talking about my book at the new Narberth Book Shop, Anne Boyle Gilmartin turned up. Now in her 80s, she is as enthusiastic about rowing and the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club (PGRC) as she was as a teenager back in the 1950s.

She reminisced with me about those days, when PGRC --the first competitive rowing club in the country -- was still struggling to find women to row against. "I heard about rowing and thought, 'that sounds interesting,' Anne told me as we sat in her Drexel Hill, PA home, sparkling with holiday decorations.

What followed was nothing but fun and laughter. She made friends. She flirted. She got great coaching. And she traveled. "We raced on the Potomac, in Boston, in New Rochelle, N.Y.," she said, showing off her medals.
Anne's medals

And she competed in the first major races that PGRC had against a serious women's team, in 1956 against Florida Southern in Lakeland.

According to the research I did for my book, PGRC raced against a sorority team. A Lakeland, Fla. newspaper called the match-up historic -- the day "women took over man's traditional eight-oared shell and launched intersectional competition."

Anne rowed that day with Ernestine Bayer, widely called the "mother of women's rowing," and a founder of PGRC in 1938. By 1956,  the intrepid Ernie was 47 years old "and not to be dissuaded from racing, despite criticism that she was too old," I wrote in my chapter on women's crew. PGRC lost, but only by a foot.

Anne remembers being coached by Tom Curran, a champion rower of the 1930s who by the 1950s was also leading La Salle College crew to victory. "He was a rogue," she said, laughing, as she remembered "the Bear." But he was tough, too. "If you didn't dance the way he fiddled, you were in trouble," she said.

Eying the photo of Curran coaching a men's eight  on page 116 in my book (a photo I wrote about on my Boathouse Row website), she spied Romeo Boyd and swooned. Sounding like Shakespeare's Juliet, she recalled calling out to him: "Romeo....Oh, Romeo..." 
"He'd take me and throw me in the water. We just had fun."

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Shun the phrase "This Stage of Life"

For reasons I don't fully understand, my Columbia University journalism school class has remained close for decades now. Maybe it's because we graduated in an era of "sensitive training," when on our own we organized a three-day weekend to learn to listen to each other. (After all, isn't listening what journalists are supposed to be good at?)
Maybe it's because we've had a list serve run by the same dedicated class member all these years.
Or because, every five years at reunion time, the same lovely couple hosts all of us at their New York apartment and we reconnect.
When one of us lost his health and then his job, the class stepped in to network and find him a new position.  When one of us, author Larry Leamer, announced that he had a play opening in New York based on the life of Rose Kennedy, some 40 of us flocked into the city to go to the opening of Rose.
So, of course, now that I have a book just published, I thought I'd share my good news with my J-School class.
Along with dozens of cheers and congrats --and book purchases (thank you!) -- came this note from a classmate,   Inderjit Badhwar. Indy, as we called him back in the day, has had an illustrious career as editor of the India Times and other international publications. Currently he's editor in chief of India Legal.
I had made the mistake of saying in my class email that it was fun to have a new career "at this stage of life."

Indy was indignant:

"Stage of Life" Dotty? duh! what a defeatist sentiment after you prove that life's the biggest stage on which nothing alive can be 'staged'. It does not age. There is no chronological progression. I've observed this as an editor and a novelist. I saw this most lucidly in the last two months when I met and dined and stayed with Michael March in Prague where he conducts the International Writers Festival featuring Nobel Laureates (this time [John Maxwell] Coetzee."

Indy then went on to remind me of others in our class, all climbing new heights at this so-called "stage," including  Jim and Jill Gabbe, who did a "magnum opus documentary on India/China, "To the Mountaintops." 
To that list, here are a few (not all) other classmates still very much engaged in a stage that doesn't age:  David Gumpert may well be the nation's expert on raw milk, having written three books on the issue of "food rights," and the government's efforts to regulate choice. Connie Bruck continues her award-winning writing in the New Yorker magazine and elsewhere.  And there are so many other who continue to leave their mark on the world...Michele MontasDon Ringe.
Among many others, all still very much on the stage. Thanks, Indy for ribbing me.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What "Unretiring" has Wrought!!

First big regatta on Schuylkill, 1835, Nicolino Calyo
It took me three years, but my book, Boathouse Row, Waves of Change in the Birthplace of American Rowing is finally out. Taking on this project has been transformational.
First of all, I was totally absorbed by the crumbling minute books, old newspapers, photo archives, and documents stashed in boathouses, people's homes and such repositories as the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company. The stories I discovered fascinated me. They took me inside a time when immigrants were pouring into Philadelphia and the country, a time when people clung to clubs and traditions for a sense of belonging somewhere. They had costumes, nicknames, and other strange customs. Gambling was rife, races were thrown, and Boathouse Row pushed for amateur rules for the sport. (They were the first amateur rules for any sport in the U.S.)  Hundreds of thousands would descend on the river to watch the most popular spectator sport of its era. You can find lots of photos and information on my website, BoathouseRowTheBook.
Then, too, I got to interview a lot of people with long memories of more recent times. Such fun, having an excuse to get to know some fascinating folks.
Signing my book at the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta
And picking the more than 160 photos for the book tapped into my experience as a projects editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where I focused not only on words, but how a big story would appear visually.
In other words, every skill I ever learned as a journalist -- reporting, writing, research, fact checking, visuals -- all came into play in this, the biggest project of my career.
As I look at the book on my kitchen counter, with its gorgeous cover, color photos, many stories and its heft, I'm stunned that I was able to create this.
Of course,  I could not have done so without Temple University Press and a generous grant to the press from philanthropist H. F. Gerry Lenfest. Daniel J. Boyne, author of several important rowing books, wrote a gracious blurb for the jacket.
As I am interviewed on public radio's WHYY  Radio Times  or excerpted in the Philadelphia Inquirer , or in Main Line Today, it's like an out-of-body experience for me. My calendar is filling with appearances and book signings.
Never could I have imagined that my journey to the "next great thing" would be so much fun.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Grandparent Data: What does it Mean?

U.S. Census Bureau
As I sit on a couch in my daughter's home, babysitting a sleeping grandchild, I am struck by a chart that the Census Bureau just put out, in time for Grandparents Day (Sept. 11). (By the way, is that a holiday that anyone celebrates? )

The chart looks at the percentage of adults over age 30 living with a grandchild. Interestingly, between 2000 and 2014, it is only white families that saw an increase in such households with a grandchild. All other groups -- African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics --  saw a decline. 

What does this mean? I remember in the era of crack-cocaine in the 1980s, when more and more minority grandparents were taking in their grandchildren as their own children struggled with addiction. This appears to be the opposite. 

A Pew study which looked at the numbers of households with grandparents after the 2008 Great Recession also found that while it is still less common for white grandparents to be living with their grandchildren than other groups, the trend is galavanting upwards for whites in particular.  According to the Pew study, "While grandparents who serve as primary caregivers for their grandchildren are disproportionately black and Hispanic, the increase in grandparent primary caregiving across the decade has been much more pronounced among whites. From 2000 to 2008, there was a 19% increase in the number of white grandparents caring for their grandkids.

So, peering through the windows of America, what does this mean? Any thoughts?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Identity Crisis: Is Marketing Me?

A New Row to Hoe 
"Don't think of yourself as a newspaper reporter and editor anymore," Susan FitzGerald, a former colleague at the Philadelphia Inquirer told me, when I called her in a panic. "Think of yourself as an author."
Faced with a whole new challenge  in my so-called "retirement,"  I had spent the morning on the phone calling friends who had written books.  My calls weren't about the issue of writing a book, or getting a publisher. My three-year adventure was now in the hands of the printer.
No. My identity crisis was about marketing.
With  the book coming out in two months, I had started to peddle it, sending out emails, calling people, networking on social media. A part of me was reveling in it. But another part of me worried that I was crossing a line.
In my former editing job at the Philadelphia Inquirer, one editor, Butch Ward,  had called me "The Nudge." Of course, because of that I accomplished a lot. But at the risk of annoying others.
Beyond that concern, I was having an identity crisis. Why had I plunged into marketing, something I had never really done in my long career in journalism?  On my dance card already for October are a half dozen speaking engagements, and it's not like I'm a natural at that, having hidden behind a typewriter or computer for all of my career.
"It's not you," a near-and-dear someone said to me. "Find another project."
That comment had really set me off.
If this wasn't "me," why was I doing it? And who was I now?
My author-friends resoundingly chimed in with lots of reasons I had not been able to articulate:
"You love what you've discovered writing your book. Now you can share your excitement with others who are fascinated, too."
"It's what authors have to do. If you don't push it out, no one will know about it -- so what was the point of writing it?"
"You'll meet so many interesting people, and that will lead to things you never imagined."
"You'll leave every event on a high."
And, as Susan told me several times: "You'll have so much fun!"
What could be better at this stage of life than having so much fun!
And since I've decided to go for the marketing, take a look inside my book,
Boathouse Row, Waves of Change in the Birthplace of American Rowing.
(The new me just had to put it out there.)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Snail Mail your "Stuff" to Friends

A very unusual envelope landed at my house recently. It was from my seventh grade teacher, Nathan Sloan, whose 90th birthday I attended -- and wrote about --  a couple years ago.
Inside was a sheaf of papers about an inch thick:  his collection of newspaper clippings and Xeroxed articles, mostly political, that resonated with him.
The stuff you cut out to think about later, but mostly never do.
With the batch, came this admission, "I know! I know! This is an enormous amount of 'stuff'...Hope you enjoy the 'library' I've sent. "
At first I was stunned. What was Nat doing? Sending me the stuff that most people who are downsizing would just toss?
Yet, this wasn't as if he was handing off an old lamp or a pile of textbooks. This was personal, and I couldn't help but open up his brain-dump, curious about this man whom I've rarely seen since high school but who tenaciously kept touch with so many of his students over the many decades.
In the collection  were such titles as "How Socialists Built America" and "Government by the People Campaign Builds Momentum."
Also included was a letter (undated) he presumably had sent to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, recommending a tougher stance against the Republicans. "Why haven't we learned that honey and civil discourse doesn't work with the likes of McConnell, Boehner, Cantor...We should be shouting that the 'trickle down theory' doesn't work."
In the pile, too, was a copy of the "Tillman Act of 1907" which, in case you never read it, prohibits monetary contributions to national political campaigns by corporations. What happened to that?
On a piece of lined notebook paper, in his careful capital letters, he wrote the names of 22 "Feminist Freethinkers," from Sarah Bernhardt to Alice Walker, to Marlene Dietrich and Clara Barton.
On 3 other sheets were the names of 133 atheists, agnostics, deists and secular humanists, which included, at the bottom of one column, right after Carl Sagan, his own name, Nat Sloan.
In 1999, he wrote a 'letter to the editor,' arguing that presidential campaigns should be limited to four months and contributors should immediately be revealed.
(I am sure I know who he's supporting for President).
Well, I took a lesson from Nat Sloan. Since I had been going through old newspaper stories I had written, debating whether to toss them or not, I decided to send a few on to my three daughters. One article in particular, I thought would resonate with them, since they are all working mothers. It was about one of my maternity leaves, which I spent working to save my local elementary school. The district was thinking of closing it just days before the echo Baby Boom revealed itself (my newborn included). The essay expressed my gratitude to the women who stayed home (at the time, it was mostly women), and fought the community battles that us working women did not have time for.
So, Nat, thanks for sharing with me your views and beliefs. It was a thoughtful gift that I am now having difficulty de-accessioning, as it were.
I'll close with a poem he included:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Method to His Mentoring

Chet Ross and myself share a show 
What to do with all the experience and wisdom we've accumulated? Listen to Chet Ross,  of Scottsdale, Arizona, and you'll hear the joy in his voice talking about his 15 years of mentoring those much younger than himself, trying to launch businesses.

I "met" Ross recently on Boomer Generation Radio, where I shared an hour's show. (You can listen to it here:  He was interviewed during the first half of the show on the phone from Scottsdale, Arizona; I was on the second half, sitting in the studio, talking about this blog.)

Ross got into mentoring after he retired because, he quipped, "I was lousy at golf.'"
As someone who spent his career in the manufacturing end of the water treatment business, he turned to a national group called SCORE, under the U.S. Small Business Administration, to find mentees.
He quickly discovered that his particular business background didn't matter. "The problems faced by the companies," he said, "were really all the same."

Asked what characteristics make for a successful mentor, Ross was quick to reply: not being judgmental.

Even if you think that your mentee has a bad idea, they need to come to that conclusion themselves, he explained. "Rather than saying that's a dumb idea, you pose questions like: 'Have you thought about... ?' and cite an example where something might not work well. Don't be judgmental, try to lead them to come to that decision. But at the end of the day, who knows what's going to be a commercial success or not," he said, referring the the "chia pet" phenomenon.

Beyond being non-judgmental, "You have to be a good listener, organized. And from the mentor's perspective, it has to be satisfying. I've gotten more out of it than I've given," he said. "It keeps you involved with other folks, perhaps younger, and helps you stay relevant." And there's the satisfaction of knowing you've been helpful. "People have told me that they were picked up and dusted off after a disappointment."

While most of the mentors still tend to be men, more and  more of the mentees are women -- about 60 percent female compared with a bout 40 percent men, Ross estimated.

Another example of how the workplace is changing.  And how, if you reach out to groups like SCORE, you can help change it for the better.