The Clock is Ticking…

H  ow did the holidays get here so fast?

A  few weeks ago we were eating turkey

P  retty soon the stores were filled with Christmas

P  iles of gift catalogs throughout the house

Y  esterday we hung the lights outside

 

H  ow will we ever be ready in time for Christmas?

O  n December 17th we are leaving for Germany

L  ots of things to prepare for our trip

I   f only the next few days would slow down

D  estinations: Berlin, Dresden, Weimar

A  lot of miles to travel to see people we love

Y  es, it’s the trip of a lifetime

S  ee you in 2016!

Advertisements

Teaching and Terrorism

Emotions and thoughts have been swirling through my mind since I heard about the acts of terrorism in Paris this past weekend. Paris is a city I love dearly, having lived there for over a year in the 70’s in my mid-twenties and returning many times to visit.

I first began reading about the banlieues (outskirts or suburbs) of Paris about a decade ago. This was not the Paris I first experienced. It had become a city of haves and have nots, with the native insiders living within the city and the outsiders/immigrants relegated to substandard lives on the outskirts of the city. These outsiders burned cars and trashed their neighborhoods as a way of expressing their frustration and anger.  Eventually things returned to the status quo and their frustration was forgotten.

This past year the news of the violence that took place at Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper whose cartoons mocked the Muslim extremists, reminded us of that anger. The lives of several French cartoonists and journalists were taken in another outburst of hatred toward French culture. The world responded with sympathy (“I am Charlie Hebdo”) and a renewed vow to celebrate “free speech.”

But this past weekend’s events, in which local terrorists took the lives of over 100 Parisians, remind us again that this hatred is not dead. More extreme and widespread violence has just begun, and we are now wondering what to do next to contain or combat extremists throughout the world.

image

This is where teaching comes into the discussion. I am so proud of my profession; moreso than ever. In the United States teachers are the ambassadors of plurality, seeking to find ways to assimilate and educate our newcomers as they arrive at our borders and in our airports.

This is not to say that all teachers welcome undocumented immigrants and their families; prejudice and scorn often rear their heads in faculty lunchrooms. But even those who do not appreciate our tolerance for immigrants understand that our nation was built on their efforts and continues to flourish in many ways because of them. They also understand that building a wall is not the best way to solve the immigrant dilemma.  Supporting the assimilation of immigrant children and their families into our culture is how our nation will continue to sustain its principles of freedom and equality.

image

I have often questioned my own beliefs as a teacher of English to immigrant students over the past several decades. But I have always come to the conclusion that becoming more understanding of people from other cultures, while helping their children to become better educated and assimilated, is the only way to continue to build a foundation of trust and strength.

I am particularly proud of my fellow English as a Second Language teachers.  We are often not held in high regard in our own schools or communities because of the controversial work we do, but we are the best advocates in our educational system for making sure that all children have equal access to a good education. Education is terrorism’s worst enemy and the best weapon we have for preserving our values.

A Latin Art Exhibit Inspires New Learning

The Hecksher Museum in Huntington is showing a Latin American Art collection that will close on March 31st. Yesterday, Presidents’ Day, was an opportunity for me, my husband and my daughter to see this exhibit together.

I am a self-taught art lover.  I have learned to love art by visiting museums and art exhibits whenever possible and have developed a cumulative knowledge of European and American art, supplemented by reading information about art or artists in newspapers and magazines. But my knowledge of art is limited. For instance, I know next to nothing about Latin American artists. I am very familiar with Diego Rivera’s work (see painting below) and Frida Kahlo’s, and I can spot a Botero anywhere.

 

Today was my opportunity to begin learning more about Latino artists and their artwork.

Whenever I enter a museum, no matter how big or small, I feel a small rush of excitement because I know that what I will be seeing will be stimulating to my senses and my imagination. Sometimes paintings conjure up memories, or desires to visit certain places, or familiarity with other works by the same artists, or complete newness. Sometimes it is the originality of the work or the ambiguity of the artist’s rendering that creates curiosity. Just as often it can be the artist’s painting techniques or innovative use of materials that inspire awe.  I love knowing I will be experiencing art on a deep level and consequently, for me,  it will be a learning experience. These are feelings I tried to share as a teacher when introducing my students to new art or poetry.

This exhibit proved to be everything that inspires me and more! There were about forty individual works of painting and sculpture from a personal collection that spans forty years: the Joan and Milton Bagley Collection. Museum guests were invited to place a paper heart next to the piece we liked the most. I was unable to choose since I loved each and every piece I encountered. The half dozen sculptured pieces were exceptional. The materials, marble for the most part, were gorgeous; both the black and white marble were lightly veined and satiny in the way that beautiful marble can be. All of them were of the human form: family groups, women in various poses as this goddess of the sea holding aloft a boatful of immigrants,

and my favorite…a black Mexican marble sculpture of a seated indigenous woman cloaked in her shawl reminiscent of all peasant women throughout Mexico, and South America. The overall shape of the piece was distinctly Latin American in its echoing of Pre-Columbian art. My daughter suggested it would fit in well with my Native American art collection.

It would be impossible to describe each of the paintings without writing a book, or at least a very long essay about them. What was most striking to me were their subject matter and the vivid colors. There were many street scenes and scenes of the local countryside that were of course different from those in European paintings.

By focusing on the details in these paintings I  learn so much about the region without having to actually be there. In many of these paintings there is a lushness and a bigness of scale that is in stark contrast to the finely detailed European scenes I am accustomed to seeing. There is a much freer use of bright colors splashed across a canvas that clearly reflects the importance of sun and light in these cultures.

woman and birds

Figures in the paintings are often very large and iconic like those in murals,

which makes sense in a world that often de-emphasizes the individual in favor of the celebration of  the “common person.”

One of the paintings which stands out in my mind from this collection is of a large multi-unit apartment building which is in a state of dilapidation, yet reveals many details about the poor inhabitants who once lived there. It’s like seeing the interiors of the favelas for which Rio de Janeiro is so famous, evoking the crush of humanity that once occupied the building. These overcrowded, neglected dwellings are so characteristic of places where the poor live in Central and South America that they have become icons.

latino tower of babel with myself

I was very impressed with the quality of the art work in this exhibition. The tags provided information about how highly qualified and talented these artists are. Most studied in the highest institutes of art in their countries and were friends with well known artists both locally and abroad.

After seeing this outstanding exhibit I am left feeling that my personal art studies have been lacking; I have been mostly ignorant of a whole world of art that I find refreshing and stimulating.  I am reminded of our bias in the Western World toward Western art and how this bias must change if we are to understand and welcome students from other parts of the world whose art exemplifies and reflects what is most memorable about their cultures. As teachers we must make more of an effort to know more about and to celebrate these artists and their works in our classrooms.

It’s Always Something!

Today’s post will be necessarily short. Why? I awoke with a very painful left thumb joint. Never had this before. Have been having similar pain in middle finger of right hand. Something is happening…and it’s not good. Thought I’d accomplish a lot today while husband is having minor surgery. Got up early to take him to hospital. The best laid plans… groan. Does this mean I have to see the doctor? Recently I joked with a friend who asked me how I was doing…”I’m maintaining.” We laughed because we both knew what that meant. Today I’m not even maintaining…thumb hurts and somehow this week, after losing six pounds this month, I’ve regained four and I can’t figure out why. Not my best day.

Old Squaws on Super Bowl Sunday

Sunday was a perfect day for a late afternoon walk. There was no wind, unlike most of the past two weeks, and the temperature was in the high 40s. Somehow, after a leisurely Sunday brunch and a few chores, we didn’t leave the house until 4:30.

My daughter and I set out for one of our favorite strolls, along the shore of  the Long Island Sound in Huntington. We were hoping to find some Old Squaw ducks hanging out close to shore. They are my daughter’s favorite and she hasn’t seen any yet this year.  She loves the way they constantly squawk, like chickens in a hen house. In the bird book we use one of their identifying characteristics is how vocal they are. She also loves their common name: Old Squaw. Some people refer to them as Long-tailed ducks.

Eureka! We spotted them almost immediately…a few dozen.  And they were squawking away! My daughter was thrilled, so we stood and watched them through our binoculars for about fifteen minutes. Mixed amongst them were a few Buffleheads, Mergansers and lots of sea gulls.

We continued our walk along the Lloyd Neck Causeway, a narrow stretch of land, which is being reconstructed and repaved since a destructive storm that removed part of the walkway last year. We were literally walking on a 1/2 mile road that connects our community to a nearby community over a vast wetland.  I am sure it will be entirely gone within the next 10 years at the rate the seas are rising.  Something else will have to be built to connect the two communities since there is nothing but wetlands on one side of the road and the LI Sound on the other.

Next we came upon another group of Old Squaw, but there was a type of duck we had never before seen mixed in with this group. We did our best to memorize its features and when we got home we checked the bird book and learned that they were Scaup, another common sea bird in these parts. The sun was setting; it was getting colder. Time to leave.

Not bad to see four species of ducks in a half hour of walking. There were no other people outdoors besides us.  Then we suddenly realized: It was Super Bowl Sunday. While most of America was watching the Super Bowl,  we were outside quietly enjoying watching our own halftime show…ducks bobbing in the rough seas of winter.

It takes a village…

( Image above: FIA Females in Action)

Egads!  Has it really been a month since I last posted?  I knew I’d be taking a couple of weeks off from posting to make time for a family trip to Boston over the holidays.   I also knew that once we returned we’d be facing a difficult several weeks as we prepared to fight our biggest battle in our hometown since we started our SaveHuntingtonVillage campaign about a year ago.  Those several weeks have been even more challenging than I thought they’d be.  We were preparing for a big event that took place about three days ago.  But things didn’t happen as planned.  Let me explain.

Our mission as a community group that has named itself Save Huntington Village has been to put an end to overdevelopment in our lovely town.  Developers have swooped down on the town for the past couple of years, bought a lot of property in the heart of the village and on the fringes, and have been rapidly changing the face of the town. We have gone  from a medium-sized quaint and historic community, with lots of artistic venues and local restaurants, to a community of apartment buildings on steroids popping up everywhere.  This is largely due to a change in code by the previous administration in 2006 which allowed for hi-density development over commercial properties in town.

A year ago members of SHV discovered that one of  the town’s oldest bars, admittedly a dive bar, was going to be torn down and replaced by a four-story building with retail shops and three floors of apartments.  Admittedly, the bar is an ugly duckling but it’s as much a part of Huntington as the library, the old First Presbyterian Church, the Revolutionary-era cemetery, and the school that was turned into a beloved community center.  In addition, it sits within the boundaries of a very precious eco system protecting Huntington Harbor. My son and his girlfriend started a petition to save the bar.

In our research to save the bar, we learned that it was sitting on delicate marshland that  is part of the  watershed of the Town of Huntington.  This means that all rain water and runoff in our town and nearby communities runs downhill  through this wetland area until it reaches the harbor.  By government contract, nothing is supposed to be built on this marshland in order to preserve its health and its function as a living natural drainage area in times of flooding.  It is a vital part of our natural resources.

One discovery after another led to learning that many sites that have already been developed in town were built despite restrictions on the land, but there had been no local oversight. The members of our town government were happily making deals with developers while the townspeople remained uninformed (and some willfully ignorant) about what was going on. Because of this illegal situation,  we invited  three environmental experts  to one of our Town Hall meetings to enlighten the public that our harbor is one of the most polluted on the North Shore of LI.

Because we are  a family devoted to conservation of the natural environment, these discoveries fired us up even more and have led to a year of attending Planning Board, Zoning Board and Town Hall meetings as often as we can to keep up with the latest shenanigans in which the town is engaged.  We have also  gathered 1600 signatures for a petition to change the building code and made many presentations before the three boards regarding the undesirable development and environmental destruction taking place in our town.

We have had some small victories.  We have stopped (for now) the sale of the bar due to environmental concerns; we have stopped (for now) a  collection of apartments that were poised to be built on the edge of a creek which is part of the underground waterway system of the water shed, and we have done a good deal to educate the townspeople about the fragile nature of our local harbor and wetlands surrounding it.

Our biggest and latest battle was to stop a new development that would knock down an entire block of small businesses in the heart of town adjacent to a precious historic area,  to be replaced by a four-story apartment building with a parking garage beneath it. This is equivalent to allowing the Queen Mary to pull up alongside some village shops on a narrow country street. All the apartments recently built in town are advertised as luxury apartments with rents ranging from $3000 and up to $5000. These are rents that no one in our town can afford but are meant to attract outsiders who are “downsizing” and no longer wish to own a home. Consequently most residents between the ages of 20 and 30ish have nowhere to live except at home with their parents unless they decide to leave town altogether.

We had succeeded in building up a sizeable group of locals resistant to the idea of this latest imposition and the Zoning Board meeting that would finally decide its/our fate was held last Thursday night.  The night before this meeting the Planning Board actually “strongly” recommended to the Zoning Board that the project not be allowed to go forward. So many residents showed up for the meeting, it had to be rescheduled to accommodate everyone in a larger space.  We knew this was a delaying tactic but there was nothing we could do. Now we are planning for the next meeting despite our exhaustion.

So that is why I haven’t been writing my weekly posts. Instead I’ve been deeply involved in local politics (which I never thought possible) in order to preserve what’s left of our lovely environment.  My entire family has been involved. We’ve learned a lot about our local history, about local wheeling and dealing, about local ordinances, about creating a campaign and a following. But most of all, we’ve been making like-minded friends who share our concerns and our passion,  giving new meaning to the phrase “It takes a village to….” We are still in the fight!

Looking Forward to the Winter Solstice

Above photo: https://isthmus.com/arts/three-ways-to-celebrate-winter-solstice/

The winter solstice is the great turning point of the year. From time immemorial, people of the northern latitudes regarded this coldest and darkest time of the year with mingled foreboding and expectancy, for the longest night of the year was also the uncertain threshold of return towards the year’s fullness, when green things would grow again and life would be sustained. People felt a responsibility to participate in regenerative rituals to ensure the sun would wax again. Bonfires and candles, with their imitative magic, helped fortify the waning sun and ward off the spirits of darkness. These symbols live in our modern seasonal customs: the candles of Hanukkah and Christmas are kin to the fiery rites of old, which celebrated the miracle of earth’s renewal. © 2018 Paul Winter Site by Kay Friday

Lately, it’s been pretty dark and gloomy lately here on LI. I try to ignore the weather at this time of year and do things that will keep me cheerful. In less than a week it will be time to celebrate the Winter Solstice. December 21 is the shortest day and longest night of the year.  My daughter (who suffers from SAD…seasonal affective disorder) really looks forward to it because from that day forward the days begin to get longer, so for her, there’s HOPE.

Today after trying to keep up with Christmas preparations,  I announced that from hereon  I am going to stop celebrating the usual holidays and focus on the Winter Solstice.  The idea of it has always appealed to me ever since I first learned about it approximately 25 years ago.  I was home alone (my husband worked nights at the time) and I listened to the entirety of a radio broadcast on NPR that focused on the celebration of the Winter Solstice complete with a history of the occasion. I was spellbound.  The idea of there being revelry on the darkest night of the year really appealed to me.  I am fascinated by pagan rituals and how they continue to be celebrated.

New York offers a very amazing Winter Solstice celebration each year at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Created by Paul Winter and the Consort, (he is a tenor saxophonist who  plays throughout the performance), it is a celebration of night, of light, of music, and magic.  Each year there is a different theme and musical guests.  The first time my family attended, perhaps ten years ago, we were hooked.  Until now I have never found anything quite like it. //solsticeconcert.com/wintersolstice/

This year we will be attending Revels in Boston. We will be visiting my son’s in-laws for the first time at their home, and our first night will include the Revels and dinner in Boston. I am very excited to learn about a new (for us) Winter Solstice celebration and am eager to compare this one with the one I am familiar with in NY. Having said that, I know it will be unique and special in its own way.

So next year, I informed the family, we will gather evergreen branches in the woods, make animal spirit masks, make sure everyone has a drum or another instrument of choice and light a big bonfire. This is all a dream, of course, but it’s my idea of a carefree, stress free winter celebration…with some gloog of course to keep us warm.  I think the ancients really knew what they were doing when it comes to winter celebrations! Won’t you join us?

Photo: Courtesy of Eric Michael Tollefson/BANGOR DAILY NEWS

Slowing Down the Holidays

This year we are doing something special for the holidays. We’ll be spending much of Christmas week visiting my daughter in law’s parents in Boston. She and my son are expecting their first child in April, so in many ways this is probably the beginning of other changes in our customary life.

With all that in mind, I was really looking forward to cutting back on all the stuff we usually do for the holidays. After preparing for days before Thanksgiving and then getting sick that night, I wanted to take a different approach, preferably one that wouldn’t be so exhausting.

My first plan was to ditch the big Christmas tree and get a very small one just for ourselves. After all we’d be gone most of the week at Christmas. Well, that idea didn’t last long because my son insisted we get a full sized tree. We compromised and got a medium sized one, but somehow that didn’t change at all the preparations for putting up the tree. All the boxes of Christmas paraphernalia still had to brought down from the attic and sorted through. My husband searched an hour for the silver garland we wrap around the tree. He still spent hours putting up the Christmas lights inside and outside.

I still have Christmas cards to send and I am slowly cleaning the house so it’s in good shape before we leave. Why bother? Because it’s no fun to come back to a topsy turvy house when you’ve been on the road for almost a week. And besides, I’m German. I can’t help myself. “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is the mantra I grew up with. Ugh.

There are still Christmas presents to buy. This requires hours of thought and in some cases searching for just the right gift. I spent hours last night on the internet looking for a weekender bag for my daughter in law that she could use for herself, or as a diaper bag if need be. I didn’t want the bag to scream “diaper bag” so I had to find one that would masquerade as one. In the wee hours of the morning I decided on a navy blue and white canvas bag which I had monogrammed in red with her initials. It would look “smart” I conjectured, and serve multiple uses.

However, in the middle of the night I had second thoughts and decided that I would not have the bag monogrammed after all. This would allow her to exchange the bag for something else she might prefer. I woke up early anticipating making the phone call to cancel the monogram. At 9am I called Lands End and…guess what? The bag had already been sent out! “Was it monogrammed” I asked, since the delivery instructions said an extra day or two would be needed for monogramming. “Yes, it was,” the sales person replied. “Oh well,” I replied. Disappointed, I adjusted my thoughts about it all and decided “It is what it is!” (I hate that expression, don’t you?)

The living room now looks like a bomb hit it with all the Christmas decoration boxes strewn everywhere; my curtains which I ironed a few days ago are still draped across the living room sofa; the cards still need to be written and mailed; and I still have a few presents to get. I DO NOT have to prepare for Christmas dinner which is a huge relief, and the house does not have to be whistle clean for guests like it was last year. But my daughter and did spend hours and hours searching for a suitable Airbnb for our family visit in Boston. Oh, and did I mention, my husband and I have been car shopping the past week because one of our PT Cruisers is not reliable to drive anymore.

My stress-free Christmas is turning out to be just another variation on the usual Christmas insanity. Next year there will be a new baby in the mix. Hopefully that will make it all worthwhile. What are you doing to reduce stress for your holidays?

Not Too Old to Learn New Tricks

“Clickbait” is an Internet slang term for online media or news content with sensationalist headlines that are produced by websites for the sole purpose of accumulating page views to generate advertising revenue. It is typically used as a pejorative for viral media and stories that spread through social networking sites despite their perceived lack of depth, quality, authenticity or accuracy.”  https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/clickbait

When I retired from teaching about four years ago I felt pretty confident about my command of a limited repertoire of computer skills. I knew, however, that there was lots more I didn’t know. In retirement I have had a fairly active email life and of necessity I have just begun to be able to text. My son just told me he was proud of how fast I’d learned about emojis and how adept I’d become at using them!

Other than texting, my technical skills really haven’t expanded much. I was able to create my own WordPress blog and have been blogging now for three years, once a week, on a site for teachers. When anything goes wrong with WordPress it causes me enormous frustration and I am miserable for days until I figure out how to fix what went wrong. But I have made a new discovery which I fear will become a dreadful habit; in truth, it already has.

Just before I go to bed, when the household quiets down and I am often the only one still up, I check my email. That was ok until I began clicking on the distracting news and entertainment stories filling up the screen. Now what was a five-minute ritual before bedtime sometimes becomes a 30 to 60 minute side trip through the junk available on the Internet. My daughter caught me doing it one night and said, “Mom, are you responding to click bait?”

In the month or so since I began my click-bait journey  I have learned about so many things I once knew nothing about. For example recently I read a fairly long story about a middle-aged man who has devoted his life to saving lions who can no longer be returned to the wild. I am deathly afraid of large cats, so I was glued to the screen as I saw him lying in their cages with them, stroking their heads and they in return wrapping their shovel-sized paws around his body and licking his face. I know intimate stories about politicians and movie stars who I normally don’t even care about. Do I want to know the source of tension between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle? You bet I do!

Before I retired the thing I most looked forward to was being able to read the NY Times at leisure with a cup of coffee. I still do this every day and feel pride in keeping myself well informed about global business, politics, social issues and so on. But what is this sudden fascination with things and people I attach no importance to? I am a fairly busy person so it’s not usually a matter of having too much time on my hands. This is a very new, very bad habit that has made me realize why I hear so many inane comments in public. This flood of pseudo information is taking the place of having real conversations about things that really do matter; it is much easier to absorb this junk than to search out real facts and information and come to grips with what it all means.

I must get a grip and go cold turkey tonight.  Meanwhile, I’m dying to know, what is your dirty little secret about using the Internet (please use discretion when responding)?