Thursday, March 15, 2018

Oh to be young again…

And not for the reasons you are probably thinking. Sure it would be nice to be thinner, have no body aches and pains, not need glasses, have no gray hair. But today I want to be young for a different reason.

I want to be one of the multitudes of young people peacefully demonstrating for gun control. I want to have the moxy, the energy, the foresight, the idealism to believe people working together can change the world.

I don’t want to be cynical and jaded. I don’t want to be coerced by money, anything else or anyone. I don’t want to step away when faced with roadblocks. I don’t want to shrug my shoulders, sigh and believe change is impossible because the NRA (or any group or individual) owns our politicians.

I want to be young again, idealistic and optimistic, believing people are fundamentally good. I still believe these things, but my optimism is tempered by a knowledge of history, my observations of people over decades, and the ascent of the current President.

The past couple of years my opinion that, when faced with the facts and a choice, most people will make an educated, thoughtful decision, has shattered. People who do not want to believe certain facts will deny their truth, ignore the facts, concoct fake news to counter what they refuse to consider, and actively work to turn challengers into enemies.

The change from friendly competitors to ruthless rivals in recent history occurred over a period of years. The transition began in the 1990s with two events - the elevation of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House and his Contract with America Congressional cohorts, and the rise of talking heads like Rush Limbaugh.

Today social media spreads communications instantly. Media corporations push biased news. Examples - Fox News and more recently the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Not only media companies and personalities influence public opinion. Individuals, companies and organizations, such as the NRA and the Koch brothers, pour billions into marketing campaigns and the coffers of politicians.

The trend gives rise to the question: Where does that leave the average citizen?

At a huge disadvantage.

The ‘other side’ contributes funds, forms organizations, influences politicians, but their effectiveness has been overshadowed by the right wing over the past couple of decades. Perhaps the pendulum is ready to shift center.

Watching young people around the country unite over an issue, single-minded in their effort to get results, offers hope their persistence and inspiration can overcome the power of the dollar. And fake news and the media.

Change is in the air.

People influencing political action in a short time period is an awesome event to witness. Florida’s gun control bill is a limited but encouraging step. Hopefully more headway will be made soon. Other countries have done it. It’s about time the U.S. adopts common sense gun control legislation.

Leave it to the young folks to take the lead.

There are risks and costs to a program of action. 
But they are far less than the long-range risks 
and costs of comfortable inaction. 
— John F. Kennedy 

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Angel Oak

Driving under a canopy of live oak trees on James Island outside Charleston, South Carolina, a small sign beckons the traveler: Angel Oak, with an arrow pointing to a dirt road. Hub and I detoured down the road, parked next to a dozen other cars and entered a fenced off area to view close up the Angel Oak, a 400-year-old tree around long enough to witness the first European adventurers walk the land.

The age of the tree is estimated. This variety of tree hollows inside as it ages, so the traditional counting rings method for calculating age does not work for this type of tree.

The Angel Oak is an impressive example of nature’s beauty. It is a miracle the tree did not succumb over the centuries to the forces of nature – hurricanes, earthquakes, floods – or surrender to the needs of men. Trees were used for shipbuilding, turned into lumber for homes and fed fires needed for warmth and cooking. Logging felled many of the Angel Oak’s neighbors. Somehow the Angel Oak survived the ravages of time and the hand of man.
Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong. 
- Winston Churchill

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, 
as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, 
that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. 
- Robert Louis Stevenson

I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. 
There was such a glory over everything. 
The sun came up like gold through the trees, 
and I felt like I was in heaven. 
- Harriet Tubman

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Doing the Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina, nicknamed the Holy City because of the number of churches ensconced amid stately homes and businesses, exudes a genteel Southern flavor.
Spring makes its appearance in Charleston!

Food is a major attraction for locals and tourists. A week of Southern cuisine took a toll on my body, unused to gobs of salt, sugar and salt (one example – fluffy, scrumptious biscuits), fried foods (vegetables, meat and potatoes) and lots of carbs. I developed a taste for fried green tomatoes and highly seasoned grits with cheese. The contrary terms ‘Southern food’ and ‘diet’ force me to be vigilant in my eating practices, beginning immediately upon leaving the Charleston city limits.

The city’s historic district is a vibrant area full of people on the go, most of whom are tourists. People, cars, pedi-cars and horse-drawn carriages travel everywhere. Charleston rates high on must-see tourism lists. Travel and Leisure’s readers rated the city #1 in the U.S. and #2 in the world in 2017. Why? Read the reasons here.  More than 4.8 million visitors a year attest to the city’s popularity. New buildings, mostly hotels, can be spied in various stages of construction throughout the city.

The historic district is a walkable peninsula full of stately 18th and 19th century homes and refurbished buildings now hotels, restaurants and retail establishments. A city ordinance bans buildings taller than the highest steeple in the city. Pedestrians do not feel overpowered by towering skyscrapers and the multitudes swarming in and out of them.

Hub and I spent a week in an airbnb a five-minute drive to a reasonably priced parking garage in the center of the historic district. We spent days leisurely touring the city and nights relaxing in our two-bedroom apartment with a fully stocked kitchen and family room equipped with a large screen TV hub could not fathom how to operate.

On our way into Charleston we stopped at a visitor’s center to stock up on brochures. The volunteer behind the desk made us an offer – spend an hour listening to a travel talk and we would receive two tickets to three different tourist attractions.

We were hooked.

Our horse and carriage
Our first morning in the city we drove downtown before tourists packed the streets and markets, stores and museums opened. A 45-minute presentation promoted a travel scheme –not a timeshare, the salesman stated several times – where we purchase a concierge-type travel plan. We declined the invitation, but received our tickets.

We passed the rest of the day on our FREE carriage ride, a great introduction to the city’s history and a leisurely, stress-free way to get an overview of the historic district before heading out on our own. We also enjoyed a FREE boat tour of Charleston harbor, relishing the sun’s warm rays as we cruised by Fort Sumter and other historical sites.

One afternoon a culinary tour found us strolling city streets, learning about Charleston’s food history and modern cuisine. We sampled local foods, including fried green tomatoes and okra, grits, red rice, oysters, pralines, cornbread, benne wafers and smoked pork sliders. (full disclosure: I skipped the sliders.) The main ingredients of French pralines, a cookie-shaped candy, are pecans and sugar. The key ingredient in paper-thin Benne wafers, a Charleston original, is sesame seeds (along with sugar, salt, butter…all the good stuff).
Navy vessels, Patriots Point
We saw a comedy-mystery show, toured a Navy destroyer and carrier, but one thing we did not do – the Charleston, the dance. Apparently the wildly popular 1920s dance originated in black communities on the islands outside Charleston. Speculation is that many of the moves derive from dances slaves brought over from Africa.

Enjoy this video of 1920s dancers showing off  their Charleston moves.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Cruising Carnival

A week between planned activities and the question arose, what do we do? Following five days in Savannah, GA, hub and I had a week before exploring Charleston, SC. I researched options and discovered a five-day Carnival cruise leaving from Jacksonville, FL, a couple of hours south of Savannah. The price was right. We did not care about the ship’s destinations (two ports in the Bahamas). 

Someone else cooked and served. Nothing to clean, except our bodies. Lounge chairs by the pool, free entertainment.

l booked the cruise.

We are not snobs, but friends who fit that description when it comes to travel would not sail Carnival, considered the low end of cruise companies. Hub and I did not care.

The result: a wonderful mediocre escape.

Mediocre food and accommodations. Varied entertainment. Friendly, helpful ship’s staff. The weather dawned warm and sunny every day – except for one downpour lasting less than half an hour.

Some standouts raised the bar above mediocre. An excellent pianist/singer wowed the crowd at the piano bar. Two hilarious comedians performed. The dining room wait staff presented a humorous ‘dance’ at dinner. Obviously dance skill is not a job requirement! We met interesting people from Canada and several states, although Southern drawls predominated.

Hub and I spent sea days lounging outdoors reading. I completed a novel (The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah), planned our Charleston stay, and read Flannery O’Conner short stories.

We strolled the streets of Nassau and Port Lucaya. We purchased $5 T-shirts. Who cares if they fall apart after a couple of wearings!
Sittin'  by the dock of the bay...Port Lucaya.

An eye-opening experience - the number of extremely overweight people observed over the five days onboard the ship. Large, bulky, unhealthily hefty individuals. Lots of them waddling around, plates piled high, wearing body-hugging outfits. What do they see when looking in the mirror? Do they look at themselves in the mirror? Age-wise I would guess most were 40+, but too many young folks appeared on their way to becoming members of this group.

My response to the scene? I skipped dessert, or ordered the low-cal, no sugar option. And went to the fitness center.

I now realize the seriousness of the epidemic of overweight folks facing this country. No wonder health care expenses soar. No wonder diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure overwhelms. I feel sorry for these people’s knees – so much weight to bear. Many used canes or wheelchairs. Thank goodness for elevators!

Hopefully hub and I disembarked weighing no more than a few days earlier.

I don’t intend to step on a scale to find out. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Go South, Old Folks

Too long bundled up in the cold, gray, snowy north, aging bodies longed for sun and warmth. So hub and I loaded the car with winter clothes, spring outfits and summer wear, prepared for whatever weather encountered during our drive down the East coast in search of balmy weather.

Meanwhile our Jersey hometown experienced a winter warm wave. We could have stayed home and soaked up the sun. For free. Instead we squandered our kids’ inheritance on our pursuit of fun in the sun.

Our tour group explored the history of
urban slaves. This sculpture of a slave
family in chains is on the
Savannah riverfront.
We are in the sophisticated, tree-lined southern city of Savannah, Georgia. The first part of our winter getaway is a 5-day Road Scholar tour of Savannah, comprising a stay in a renovated historic hotel, lectures, great restaurant meals – including a cooking class and the opportunity to enjoy our culinary endeavors - tours of historic sites, and the chance to meet fellow Road Scholars from around the country.

Savannah’s ever-expanding tourism industry (about 14 million visitors in 2017) can be traced to two 1994 events: the success of the movie Forrest Gump, and the success of the book and a few years later the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I admit I had not read Midnight before planning a Savannah visit, but finished the book in time to get a flavor for the city, its inhabitants and history before setting eyes on the place.

James Oglethorpe
James Oglethorpe, founder of Savannah and the Georgia colony, stopped by and regaled our group with stories about his Georgia adventure. I unlearned ideas acquired in school. For example I believed the state’s initial settlers were debtors and criminals. I was wrong. And I did not know the colony was an ambitious idea in an early form of socialism that ultimately failed.

A musical trio entertained us with songs written by, and stories about, Savannah’s famous and favorite son, Johnny Mercer.

The tumultuous growth many cities experienced in the 19th century bypassed Savannah. General William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops occupied the city during the Civil War (or the War Between the States as Savannahians call it), but Savannah escaped the fate of many Confederate cities. Union troops did not torch the city.

Savannah’s historic district today retains many of the buildings and ambience of the 18th and 19th centuries. The historic district embraces tree-lined streets, elegant Colonial and Federal style homes and small businesses, over 100 buildings comprising the Savannah School or Art and Design, and 22 squares landscaped with live oak trees, bushes beginning to flower, and monuments to events and individuals in Savannah history. It is a city well-suited to walking leisurely along shaded streets, reading historical markers, stopping for ice cream (Leopold’s the city’s best), and partaking in the slow-vannah lifestyle.

I think Southern hospitality is very... I don't think it's just a term.
I think it really exists. You can come to Savannah,
and the people are so sweet and so nice.
 - Paula Deen
(No, I did not visit her restaurants or store.) 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

More Grief, Another Shameful Spectacle and Still No Action

What is wrong with our country?

March, 1996, 16 children and one teacher die in an assault on a school in Scotland. As a result, Britain passes a Firearms Act restricting gun ownership.

A slaughter in April,1996, in Australia results in 35 fatalities. The country implements strict gun control laws.

Following shootings in Germany in 2002 (16 people killed) and 2009 (15 people killed), Germany enacts gun control laws.

Only one recent mass shooting – the 2011 attack in Norway (no mass shootings in Norway since) – was deadlier than the Las Vegas massacre. No mass shootings in Norway since 2011. The U.S. cannot say the same after Columbine…Virginia Tech…Sandy Hook…Orlando…Texas…Parkland…

Politicians utter messages of vapid prayers and empty words blaming mental illness, the community, immigrants.

Prayers from those who have the power to change things but do nothing are meaningless, the author a coward.

President Trump did not mention the word ‘gun’ ONCE in his message to the nation concerning the tragic deaths in Parkland, Florida. He and his accomplices turn their back on one of the greatest scourges confronting the country. Trump mentioned mental illness initiatives in his speech. Yet one year ago the Republican Congress passed and Trump signed legislation repealing an Obama-instituted law that prevented individuals receiving government-funded treatment for mental illness from purchasing firearms.

Hands outstretched, politicians kowtow before the NRA. The organization showers millions on men and women working to prevent any form of gun control. Grateful recipients of NRA largesse include:

John McCain – Republican Senator from Arizona - $7,740,521. Most funds received during his 2008 Presidential campaign.
The two Republican Senators from North Carolina Richard Burr - $6,986,620, and Thom Tillis - $4,418,012.
Roy Blunt - Republican Senator from Missouri - $4,551,146
Cory Gardner – Republican Senator from Colorado - $3,879,064
Marco Rubio – Republican Senator from Florida. He tweeted
, "Just spoke to Broward School Superintendent. Today is that terrible day you pray never comes."  NRA Contributions: $3,303,355
Joni Ernst – Republican Senator from Iowa - $3,124,273
Rob Portman – Republican Senator from Ohio - $3,061,941
Todd Young – Republican Senator from Indiana - $2,896,732
Bill Cassidy – Republican Senator from Louisiana - $2,861,047

Congressmen receiving substantial funds from the NRA can be found here.

Democrats collect NRA contributions, but not much. In 2016 Democrats received a total of $3,845,342 while Republicans got $19,074,616.

We must step up and do something besides feel angry, frustrated and powerless. The groundswell of support for sensible gun control must come from the bottom up, because elected officials do nothing substantive to stop the shootings.

Donate to organizations working for gun control such as the Brady campaign and Giffords Courage to Fight GunViolence

Contact your representatives and express support for gun control. You can fill out a form on the Everytown for Gun Safety website. 

Support officials advocating sensible gun control measures and vote on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. Elect Congressmen and women who will fight for effective gun control.

Additional ways to support gun control laws can be found here.

It is up to us to do more than pray.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Love, Loss and Life’s Disruptions

What’s worse than to wake with the alarm before dawn for an exercise class, dress, throw on a coat, venture out into the cold and dark, clear off an ice-coated car window, rev up the car, drive to the rec center, park the car, trot in the arctic air to the front door of the building, walk up the steps not-quite-eager but proud you roused yourself on this dreary morning?

Reading a sign posted on the entrance:


REALLY? Inconvenient? I had such good intentions…

Such is life sometimes. Good intentions shot down by life’s disruptions.
My yoga moment - I concentrate on the 'I'm hungry' meditation.
After my early morning awakening and preparations for exercise class only to find the class cancelled, I was unwilling to return home disappointed. A 45-minute zumba class warmed my muscles, got my blood moving and provided the impetus to move through the rest of the day.

I read a wonderful little book about life’s disruptions by Ilene Beckerman, Love, Loss and What I Wore, a couple of years ago. The author recounts her story in brief prose snippets with an accompanying drawing of the getup worn at momentous moments, and not so significant but remembered, life events.

Nora Ephron and her sister Delia also loved the book. They wrote a play based on the story, which debuted off-Broadway in 2009. A local theater group presented the play in my area this past weekend, and hub and I went to see it.

Before purchasing tickets, I warned hub he may not like/appreciate/enjoy the play, since it is so woman-centric, but he willingly joined me.

From earliest childhood to mature adult, the play’s monologues talk about the difficult, funny, heartbreaking disruptions and unusual events women face every day. Marriage, divorce, mother-daughter relationships, the “I have nothing to wear” syndrome, illness and lots more. Hub related to a lengthy monologue on women’s pocketbooks. He was always amazed and annoyed at his Mom’s oversized bag containing mainly junk, and regularly comments about my inability to locate anything quickly in my small but disorganized purse.

And while on the subject of love…Valentine’s Day is Wednesday. Hub and I may go out to dinner, or maybe not – depending on the weather, how tired we are, how crowded restaurants are. Maybe we will order in. Or, if feeling ambitious, I can cook!

This week’s Best of Boomers discusses Valentine’s Day from a variety of perspectives, and includes a Valentine’s Day story I posted way back in 2012. Check out this week’s Boomer blogs!