Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lisa Scottoline: The Joys of "No!"

Lisa Scottoline: her to-do list shrank 

On leaving my newspaper career, I  was given this advice:
Learn to say "No."  
As any parent of a toddler knows, we're born programmed to say "no."  So you have to wonder how standing up for yourself and your precious free time gets so problematic with age.
Women, especially, are taught to please.
Mystery writer and columnist Lisa Scottoline takes on the say-no issue in her column in the Philadelphia Inquirer. For her, it's a skill that should, like a fine wine, improve with age.
In her ode to aging, she says her guilt and need to make others happy had turned her life into a big to-do list. "And it wasn't even my Things to Do List," she writes. "It was everybody else's."
It took her 50 years to figure it out, but she discovered that when she said no, "I didn't die. On the contrary, I started living my own life."
But like a glass half empty or half full, there's some risk-taking in saying "no." You might also deny yourself the opportunity for a new experience. When my children were little, I loved the now out- of-print Richard Scarry book, Pig Will and Pig Won't about two sibling pigs. One was the good pig who always said "yes." The other was the stubborn, negative piggy who always said "no."
Guess which one ended up having the most fun?
The trick for us who are "new and improved," as Scottoline calls herself, is to know when saying "no" to others is really giving ourselves the permission and the time to say "yes" to what we really want to do.
Whatever that is.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bah! Humbug! and "Funeral Face"!

I cracked up this morning when I read that Pope Francis had chided? berated? his inner circle for such things as walking around with a "funeral face." He also accused the Curia of "spiritual Alzheimers" and  "spiritual petrification."
Is it because they are high-ranking clergy? Or simply because they are a bunch of  "old" guys.
I don't use the term "old" often on this blog, since I feel it is more a state of mind than a state of body.
You can have a young spirit that makes a face light up, a body appear to prance. But an old spirit….
Pope Francis:  Scrooges all around

That's really what Pope Francis is talking about.
"Funeral face" doesn't need much explanation. It's the outer manifestation of someone who has lost his or her sense of humor. Who only sees the negative, not the opportunity. Who's likely to say "no" to any new idea, any adventurous proposal, anything that takes then out of their ever-narrower comfort zone.
"Spiritual Alzheimers," according to Pope Francis, is a "progressive decline of spiritual faculties" leading people to live in a "state of absolute dependence on their often imagined, views." That, to me, sounds like they're stuck in their own reality or unreality.  Not listening; talking over others. Hibernating -- atrophying --  in their own thought vortex.
Another of the 15 "spiritual diseases" which Pope Francis outlined is "existential schizophrenia" -- a phrase that deserves recognition. This, he said refers to a "double life, a result of the hypocrisy typical of mediocre people and of advancing spiritual emptiness, which degrees or academic titles cannot fill." You might call it "resting on your laurels," as if what you did or who you were in the past is enough for the future. We must keep on growing, adding ever more to our CV of life.
As for "Spiritual emptiness..." Let's hope you're not feeling this way this holiday season. Open your windows, let fresh air blow in.  Take a walk. Put a smile on your face. If you practice smiling long enough, you will really smile. That's a proven -- and free -- remedy for what ails the spirit.
Thanks for reading my blog and have a Happy and a Healthy New Year.!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Kurt Herman: His Voice Still Heard

Arriving in U.S. in 1939, Kurt Herman, 9,  is just left of life ring; the Krauses are in the center.

I remember the twinkle in Kurt Herman's eyes, his smile, his joy in life. After all, he was one of the rare survivors. When Gilbert Kraus, a Philadelphia lawyer, and his wife Eleanor arrived in Vienna in 1939, determined to rescue 50 children, Herman's parents offered him up.
The mission became the largest kindertransport to the United States out of Nazi Europe, and more recently a movie and a book.
Kurt Herman, who died yesterday at age 85, featured in one of my first blogs. And for reasons only social media can explain, it has garnered the most "hits." Maybe because his story is that of a miracle. After all, few escaped Hitler's mass murder machine.  Or maybe people are drawn to the unbendable determination on Gil Kraus, who argued his way through torturous red tape on both sides of the Atlantic to accomplish his mission.
Or maybe it's simply because this is an unfathomable chapter in world history whose tellers are leaving us.
Kurt had that kind of double-edged view of life that comes from hard experience. He was an optimist and loved every moment; he was also a realist, saying "friends are great but you can only count on family." His friends, he said, abandoned him the moment Hitler arrived.
These are words he shared with hundreds of Philadelphia school children over the many years that he would go out and speak to them, despite his big jobs as an accountant. They are also words he would share with his grandchildren, as he did with me in an interview on YouTube.

Also here is a story I wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Kurt's funeral is 9.30 a.m. at Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael Sacks, Second Street Pike, Southampton.
His story, and that of the other children, also will live on in the movie and the book-- 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Mission into the Heart of Nazi German, of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, by Steven Pressman. A journalist, Pressman married the Krauses' granddaughter and unearthed
Eleanor's diary.
Thanks for sharing so much with us, Kurt. Let us pray that the world remembers your lessons.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tom Thomas: You Can Row Home Again

Tom Thomas: Coaching city kids is his passion
Rowing. That’s what William C. "Tom" Thomas Jr. really loved -- even as he married, raised a couple kids, worked in college administration and as a lawyer for 27 years.
That and coaching young people.
So Tom was in his element on the Schuylkill River as I watched him coach city youths a few weeks ago in a non-profit program called Philadelphia City Rowing.
You can find him working by the river almost every afternoon. He makes sure the boats, housed in a narrow shed at the end of clubby Boathouse Row, are shipshape. He encourages the teens to erg on rowing machines, do push ups and jump on and off a balance beam to strengthen all the muscles in their bodies --virtually every one of them is used in the strenuous sport of rowing.

Philadelphia City Rowing: sweating and erging

And, you’ll see him out in the coach boat with his megaphone, urging his charges to swing their bodies in rhythm with the pull of their oars in the exquisite choreography of sculling.
As I tried to hear him over the buzz of the outboard motor on the coach boat, Tom told me how he had come to help city kids get onto the river and learn a sport for which they would otherwise have little access.
Throughout the history of Boathouse Row, the high schools that have dominated rowing were the prep schools and the Catholics -- and more recently suburban public high schools. With only a few exceptions, the city’s public school kids haven’t had a crack at this sport, which involves costly boats and boathouses, unaffordable in a city that barely supports music or libraries.
Philadelphia City Rowing, funded by foundations, private donors, and a handful of dedicated staff and volunteers, is finally making it happen. Besides the rowing, the students are expected to keep up their grades, so PCR coaches them academically, as well, and gives them college counseling. So far, every kid who stuck with rowing through his or her senior year has made it to college.
Every muscle gets used
Tom said that as a student at Washington-Lee High School, in Arlington, Va., he had the luck to row for legendary coach Charlie Butt. He also spent summers as a lifeguard at the Jersey shore in Ventnor “under the watchful guidance of Stan Bergman,” who coached at Holy Spirit High School and was later head coach at the University of Pennsylvania. Tom later rowed four years at Rutgers. Still, he knew he would never be the athlete his father was. “My dad was extremely competitive, a national caliber runner, all-state football in high school.  Very accomplished.”
With his son rowing, his dad, too, became excited about the sport and bought a double scull after retiring from a 30-year career as an Air Force pilot. Father and son competed together in the Head of the Charles in Boston in the 1980s. “In his 60s, when I’m rowing with him, I’m trying to keep up with him and I’m in my 30s! My dad inspired me. Though I had his shadow to kind of walk in,  I always felt it was an encouragement, not an ‘I can’t measure up.’  I didn’t worry about it. I just did the best I could.”
Time passed. Suddenly Tom was in his late 50s. With his kids grown and a law career that left him unsatisfied and wanting more, he circled back to his first love.
“I’m here all day, every day. It has to be done,” explains Tom, who works as director of PCR’s rowing program.
Tom: working to create opportunity
This fall about 80 city high school kids from very diverse backgrounds came out, a record for the five-year-old program, though the number is likely to settle somewhere in the 60s.
How does he feel about his post-vocation avocation?
“In almost any non-profit you don’t get what you’re worth. By the same token it’s a matter of trying to make this program do something and you can’t do it with 20 or 30 hours a week. You’ve got to put more in.”
Before the kids arrive from school,  Tom's out in the sliver of land PCR has wrested from Boathouse Row, fixing boats, getting practice plans together, watching coaching videos and keeping abreast of the sport. “I can’t sit on my laurels,” he says.

His reward? ‘Just watching these kids work harder and grow into rowing.”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gifting to Me: So Egg-cited!

Out with the Old
For months I searched for a gadget I love. You may laugh. It's an electric egg cooker.
Not just any electric egg cooker. I wanted the exact same one my mother gave me that my husband and I have been using for decades. A vintage Sunbeam, probably from the 1960s.
For all the excitement about having new adventures with my so-called free time in unretirement, there are some things I just want to keep boringly and contentedly the same.
It's bad enough that with every phone or computer upgrade, I have to take a course in how to work it. Why should I challenge my graying matter to relearn how to make a perfectly runny soft boiled egg?
My mother had several such devices, each a little different. A couple of my daughters have them now and they offered to give them back to me.
Daughter's cooker (not the same thing)
No, I wanted the exact same Sunbeam automatic that I have  -- without the  cracked top and broken-off handle, on which I've tested numerous types of glues over the years. (Gorilla glue worked best.) I tolerated those repairs; the electronics were still perfect. It was when holes emerged in two of four plastic poacher compartments (which I marked with a x's with a black Magic marker in case I wasn't wearing my glasses in the morning), that I finally decided I had to go shopping.
What a shock! On ebay, they were selling the same appliance -- used -- for $40 to $80 plus shipping. (Anyone who shops ebay knows that people are making plenty of money on shipping these days, jacking prices up to $10 to $12.)  At Zabar's in New York, I found a half dozen egg cookers for under $40,  but who knows if they're as good as my tried and true? And Amazon had some with chicken heads that were really ugly.

Bed Bath & Beyond barely had a selection. And some didn't poach -- they just created hardboiled eggs for an army at Easter.
After lurking on ebay and watching numerous egg devotees shell out big bucks for these antiques,  I finally found MY SUNBEAM  for $40 with free shipping. The plastic top and poacher are pristine. The metal inside is only slightly rusted.

 Happy Holidays to me! 
Victory: When Old Is NEW!

Friday, November 21, 2014

On a Scary State of Being: Boredom

Here's what people contemplating retirement fear most:
What will I do with myself? they say. How will I spend my time?
Boredom, it turns out, can have serious psychological consequences. So their fears may be justified. (Though in my experience, few people actually end up at loose ends with their time.)
 Boredom "correlates with depression, aggression anxiety… and it leads to addiction and other risk-taking behaviors," says Sandi Mann, a psychology professor at the University of Central Lancashire in England. "Boredom is the modern-day stress."
She's among a number of researchers quoted in an an article  in the Philadelphia Inquirer  looking at new studies on the psychological impact of boredom, a mostly ignored field. According to the story, some people would rather be subjected to electric shocks than the torture of being bored.
Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University,  says that being bored means confronting ourselves, a potentially terrifying proposition.
"Boredom, like anxiety, brings you face to face with the world without any distractions," the article quotes philosopher John D. Caputo as saying. Which could be a good thing. It's "an opportunity to think, mull things over and really ask about how you live your life."
That's a question many of us should probably be addressing, regardless of whether we are bored or not.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nat Sloan: The (Still) Dancing King

Nat Sloan, the new 90
How many 7th grade science teachers make an effort to keep up with their students? All through life? I know of only one -- Nat Sloan, who for many years taught at Quaker Ridge School in Scarsdale, N.Y. The proof came last weekend at his birthday party -- his 90th. And celebrating with him -- dancing with him -- were his students from 50 years ago and more! His smile was as broad and infectious as ever, his spirit as lively as his footwork.
I loved that science class. He told scary stories of getting trapped overnight on "Copperhead Island" -- a snake infested spot not far from our school that he refused to reveal the location of.  And I got to take home the class garter snake at Christmas. Showing it off to my younger brother was the only time I ever willingly held a snake -- and then it pooped on me!
What I didn't realize was how much "Mr. Sloan" loved us, his students. As the years went by, as the decades went by, he would make extraordinary efforts to keep up with us  -- like showing up at our parents' funerals. Of course, we would be there.
"He is interested in their stories," said Nat's daughter, journalist Karen Sloan.
Aging usually means losing friends. They move to be near grandchildren, or to be somewhere warm, or because they fall ill.  The circle dwindles.
Nat's post-career project was keeping fit and keeping friends, making sure his circle grew.  He plays tennis, lifts weights, creates art and boogies -- check out this  video.  And yes, he goes to funerals, though at this point he's outliving some of his students.

"Somehow over the years, I’ve been blessed with an enormous store of loving friendship," he said Saturday, as he looked around the crowded room at the Saw Mill Club in Mt. Kisco. This is my real wealth and I’m a multi billionaire on this account. There are some wonderful people here, a lot of them former students and I was lucky early in life to find a niche in life just meant for me as a junior high school teacher of science. I’ve always had a love of science from my childhood on. I was out in the woods, in the fields, climbing trees, capturing butterflies, capturing snakes and just being a part of life of so many young people for 30 odd years. It was the best way to spend a lifetime. 
"There are strange mixtures of people still here. I have a cardiologist who’s also an architect. I have a cardiologist who is also an attorney. What a mixture! I have friends and family, cousins and nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews as well. … Some of my friends here go back to college days over 60 years ago. My students go back to over  40 years ago."
That line was greeted by laughter as guests shouted out, "50 years… 55!"
Also here, he continued are "some of my club tennis buddies. I have my curb ball buddies. I don’t know if you remember what curb ball is. Some of you may remember it as stoop ball. We’ve been playing together for over 20 years and I can still compete with the best of them. One of them is also a student. 
"Life has brought a lot to me. We’ve all had our vicissitudes in life  but we’ve come through it and we’re still here and we’re still going to go on. In November  2019, there’ll be another shindig.
Be there!!!

Monday, November 10, 2014

On Death-Defying Feats

Jane von Bergen: tackling 60

Scaling heights. Or rather, descending them. 31 flights down the side of a building in a harness, hand over hand on a rope.  That's what my former colleague at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jane von Bergen, decided to do to prove -- mostly to herself -- that at age 60, she was willing still to take on new challenges.
It's what so many people in my 'unretiring' universe are choosing to do, even as they move well past 60. They do not "pull back," as the word "retire" actually means. They push forward, trying new things. Not always physical, but sometimes. I started this blog to test and grow the tech skills I felt I would need to stay current as the years passed, if not in the vanguard. A recent vacation to northern Peru and the Amazon found people tackling travel  to remote places for the sheer thrill of the adventure. Even fishing for piranha.

Others have left careers to put their skills to use in new venues. The other day Sharon Greis, a former speech therapist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told me that she had surmounted new challenges as  a professor at La Salle University. "I was nervous about supervising students who were working with children with a variety of speech disorders that I had not worked with in many years," she said. "But I did it."

Susan Orkin is pushing herself to take her piano playing to a new level and even went to music camp this summer. She calls it a journey of "learning and self improvement."
And so it goes.
Jane von Bergen, writing of her experience, seems way too young to be saying: "Not dead yet."
Jane, my dear, you could easily have another 30 years ahead of you. Think of all the stunts you'll have time for. You can even jump out of an airplane at 100, like Eleanor Cunningham, who took up skydiving at 90.
Readers of this blog: share your story of challenging yourself and why you do it.
Send me an email and I'll post it..

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why I Don't Hope to Die at 75

Some people just get better. With age, they are more creative, wiser, better at what they've been working at their whole lives.
In this essay, in the New York Times,  we read of such aging dynamos  -- businessman T. Boone Pickens, Supreme Court Judge Ruth Ginsberg,  jazz musician Roy Haynes, naturalist Edward O. Wilson, and painter Carmen Herrera -- who, by the way, sold her first painting at 89 and is now 99.
Of course, this is what we want to hear. People exuberant about living. Refusing to stop. Relishing every moment. We don't really want to hear what Ezekiel Emanuel provocatively declares in his essay, "Why I Hope to Die at 75," in the Atlantic magazine.
Shocking words -- which is exactly why everyone (of a certain age) is talking about it. Yes, most of us will slow down. Yes, most of us will ail. Yes, Dr. Emanuel, thanks for reminding that the best is in the past.   But as the Times writer Lewis Lapham points out in his essay, citing a 1777 letter by Dr. Samuel Johnson:
"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
Which is why I recently challenged myself by racing with my cousin/niece who is 20+ years younger.  We didn't care (too much) about how long it took us. Mostly, we just wanted to finish.
Kati and Dotty after Head of the Schuylkill race

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Come See this Wall of Shame

Happy Fernandez had big plans for helping develop women leaders in the non-profit world. Women in particular, she felt, could benefit from mentoring by other women who, like herself, had made difficult ascents up institutional ladders and were now reaching the end of their careers.
The politically savvy former college head pulled together some 20 women -- leaders in the non-profit  sector -- who began meeting to come up with a plan for giving back. (She included me, thinking some day I'd write about their initiative.)
Then,  very suddenly nearly two years ago, Happy died.
With her spirit and energy still in the room, her rump group continued to meet, following up on one of her ideas: to study the gender gap, both in numbers and salary, among non-profit executives in education and healthcare in the Philadelphia area. Thanks to the Forum of Executive Women,  that report was published this week -- a new addition to the Forum's annual look at corporate salaries.
The good news: the percentage of women at the helm of non-profits or on their boards is far greater than for public companies in the Philadelphia region. A survey of the area's 100 top companies in 2013, found that only 12 percent of executive positions were held by women. That compared with 26 percent of executives in health care and 29 percent in colleges and universities.
The bad news from those same numbers: even in the non-profit sector where women generally reach higher rungs, only about 1 in 4 executives are women, according to the latest data, from 2011.
Plus, most of the medical and educational institutions with significant numbers of women in leadership are those that were historically women's schools and/or Catholic institutions where nuns had significant roles. Their numbers skew the totals.
Look at the pitiful number of women on boards of some big non-profit institutions based on 2011 data:
Thomas Jefferson University -- 4 of 39 board members were women; Temple University (4 women out of 36), Virtua health system (1 out of 12),  and Kennedy Health System (1 out of 11).
Women, after all, account for most employees in both education and health. Those are areas of care and nurturing -- roles that women in particular have claimed as their dominion (though thankfully more men are stepping up at least on the home front.)
Although the numbers of women leaders at public companies (vetted by the accounting firm PwC) have been edging up,  the results remain dismal. Fewer than half the companies  (44 percent) have no women at all as top executives, according to their 10K filings. Comcast, now a big national company, in 2013 had no top executive women, no top salary earners and but one female member out of 12 on its board.
There's more:
--35 of the top 100 public companies in the area had no women on their (well paid) boards;
--Only eight companies had three or more female board members
--Only seven companies had a female CEO
And by my count, 21 of the 100 companies were all male bastions, with not a single woman on either their boards or among the top ranks of their executives in 2013, according to the report, which failed to break out that tally. For the record, let's name those without  any women leadership: Triumph GroupDFC GlobalJ&J Snack Foods (what, women don't eat pretzels?); Dorman ProductsBrandywine Realty TrustFive Below (we know who shops for the toys); StoneMore Partners (owners of funeral homes and cemeteries); Vishay Precision GroupPhotoMedex (a skin care firm); SL IndustriesDover Downs Gaming & Entertainment (maybe that's why its shares are worth only 81 cents); Omega FlexRCM Technologies; Resource America; Lannett (a drug maker); Dover Motorsports (owners of Dover Speedway); WPCS InternationalInTESTInnovative Solutions; JetPay (a payroll company); and ProPhase Labs (which makes ColdEEZE).
While many of these are industrial and technology companies, what do their leadership choices say about their commitment to women in STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, Math) jobs?

The report also found women lagging men financially, both in public companies and "eds and meds":
Of the "top earners":
--Women comprised only 10 percent of top earners at the 100 public companies;
--Women comprised 32 percent of top earners at health-care systems;
--Women made up 27 percent of top earners at colleges and universities.

Jane Scaccetti, one of three women directors of Pep Boys, a car care company, explains why getting more women on boards can make a difference in decision making.  Not naming a company with just one female board member (herself), she gave this example: "I watched a board committee become enthralled with a candidate because he was once a great athlete. They asked questions mostly about his athletic accomplishments…After the interview, when I questioned the shallowness of the candidate's answers to technical questions and experience, a member looked shocked that I was challenging a great athlete."
At Pep Boys, she said, adding women to the board has changed its dynamic. "As a lone female board member when I voiced an opinion or raised an issue," she says in the report, "I would hear, 'She said.' When there were two women serving on the board, things improved to 'They said.' Now that there are three women, we hear, 'What did you say?'"

Happy, who had just stepped down as president of Moore College of Art, was seeking a way to channel women's leadership experience to help others up the ladder as her "unretiring" project. A way to give back.  Her legacy is inspiring other to find ways to do that. For one, the Forum of Executive Women offers mentoring in the corporate world. What else is out there? Do you know of another programs? Have any ideas?