Monday, August 31, 2009

Villagiano Italiano - girls just want to have fun or wine, pizza and the US Open

The aforementioned is my local pizza eatery in Hartsdale. In fact, it was one of the first places I sought out when I moved here almost two years ago. I visited all of the locally owned stores and shoppes, and interviewed all of the owners, from tailors to dry cleaners, cheese shops and my favorite interviewee - Kat from Giangemi Tailors. I was hoping to create a "Local First" group here. That project has now been taken over by some interns in the amazing Paul Feiner, as in, Greenburgh Town Supervisor's office. Paul Feiner is an absolute genius and along with Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy has served several terms and should be the exception for term limits.

Fast forward two years almost and I was in that eatery ordering pizza for dinner, having driven my mum's car to pick it up. I don't get to drive frequently as I don't have a car these days The bus and subway can get me pretty much anywhere I need to go and if not, I rent a car with a friend. It works

I don't eat pizza often as I have lost 50 pounds and am trying to be healthy. I saw two friends engaged in conversation. One of the women had a beautiful purse. I had to compliment her on it. Turns out it came from a local store - we traded stories about deals we had gotten and I told her to check out Kat at Giangemi custom tailors. As fate would have it, she already knows Kat and has been to some sort of purse trade shows with her. Girls just want to have fun and fun was had last night by us all for a few minutes in Villagiano Italiano - Ciao.

I came home and we watched the US Open women's match where we watched Venus kick butt, wounded knee notwithstanding. We munched on the delicious pizza and drank Pinot Grigio from another local wine store (I love local stores) and rounded out the evening watching a couple of episodes of Scrubs from season 8. I love my son and my family.

I am blessed indeed.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Do teachers need education degrees?

In the August 16th Room for Debate in the NY Times online edition, Robert Stolarik asks this question in a provocative piece.

According to reports and this article, President Obama is considering tying teacher salaries not to their education, but to the success of their students. This man is good - when he gets it right, he just plain gets it right.

Years ago when my kids were in school, they would, on occasion come to me to whine to me about a particular teacher who was giving them a hard time in their perception. I would invariably tell them that their job was to be a good student and to always remember that their teachers already had their education - their job was to get theirs now, too.

Obama has struck on one of the fundamental and core problems in public schools. The reason children continue to fail in inner city schools and why charter schools are on the rise is simple: Teachers continue to get paid no matter the graduation rate of their students. If their pay were tied to success, we would see a mighty change occurring in our school system.

I taught preschool in a former life, my children attended both private and public schools. I became a parent volunteer in the public schools when private school was no longer an option. I knew that it was the only way for me to truly know what was occurring in the schools and with the teachers. I was not wealthy by any means - indeed, I stocked the shelves in a 24 hour mega store in order to be at home for those times when I needed to be in the school volunteering with my children. I had great relationships with all of the teachers of my children. I worked alongside them and they trusted me. My children all did exceptionally well in school and one was even on the National Honor Roll.

When I divorced and was forced to work full time during the day, I was no longer able to be in the schools and had moved to the state in the nation with the lowest per capita student spending - Utah. Not only was student spending an issue, but the textbooks were old (President Reagan was listed as being President in my son's text book when he was 12 - he is 23 now - you can do the math) - and minority students were dropping out of school at an alarming rate. Indeed, they continue to do so with no intervention from either the UEA (Utah's teachers' union), nor the Legislature. I am convinced that if Mormon kids were dropping out at the same rates, there would be special sessions convened at the Legislature until the issue was adequately addressed.

Fortunately for me, two of my children are now in college (the oldest is on hiatus, en route to Puerto Rico and will reconvene his studies in a year when he has established residency) and the youngest is on the honor roll in his elementary school. The forgotten and left behind child is currently serving time in a Michigan state prison and is working on his GED. I raised this beloved child with the same goals and parameters, the same expectations, but he has two disadvantages - he suffers from depression and has a learning disability. No-one but the most dedicated teacher/guidance counselor could have saved him from himself.

The appeal to Senator Hatch's office is in the works and we are awaiting a decision.

No child left behind is a cute catch phrase - Obama has the guts to make it a reality.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Farewell to Ted Kennedy

For the second time in as many months, I write farewell to a great man - one who has touched the lives of countless people, one who struggled with personal demons and one who was extremely complicated.

First Michael Jackson and now Ted Kennedy - of course, the two men can hardly be compared in the same breath, strictly speaking, but they have left huge footprints on the world nevertheless.

No matter one's political persuasion, no matter what one's thoughts on adultery and Ted's alleged philandering, one has to recognize the enormity of his passing. The Kennedy family has suffered the death of too many members - yes, I know that Ted was not particularly young, but I wanted so much for him to see his life's work - the healthcare reform bill - pass before he left this world.

His legacy will now be carried on by someone else - someone with huge shoes to fill.

With any luck, Caroline will rethink her decision not to enter politics and return to the field in the future for a seat in New York City politics - heck - maybe even the national stage - and then I won't feel so sad after all.

God bless the Kennedys as they mourn the passing of this amazing man.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rainbows, Yankee games, date night with Donald and his wife

I was called a rainbow today by someone for whom I care greatly - it made my day. I suppose the fact that I am in love makes me more aware of couples these days.

As I made my way to the subway after bidding my friend "adieu", I reflected on how far we have come in our relationship in the almost two years we have been "not" seeing each other. I was on the subway, lost in my thoughts and not really doing my customary people watching as I was so preoccupied with having been called a rainbow - I was feeling really good about myself.

Shaken from my reverie, I noted an attractive all-American blonde couple board the train somewhere between Union Square and Grand Central. They were laughing and got separated from another couple during the melee that permeates the subway on days when the Yankees are playing. (During my brief interview, I learned that the four are friends and that while the other couple is dating, they are not married - yet).

I watched them almost envious, and then I remembered my farewell with my friend. They were very much in love - it was obvious that they were either newlyweds or had been married for a very long time. They teased each other in that intimate way that makes one feel amost like a voyeur when one observes it in public - it was so very tender and made me miss my friend almost painfully, though we had parted only minutes before. He teased her and patted her on the bum - she told him she was a married woman - he said in that case he would do it again - and so it went.....

Finally, I just had to ask them - I had to know how long they had been married. Donald introduced me to his wife of seven years - (forgive me, I do not recall her name and I neglected to pull out my always-handy notebook until after they had exited the train) - they have had 3 children during that time - it is her second marriage and his first - she had a first marriage in her young twenties - just like I did - he had never married and married her "later in life" she said.

They had visited Utah and we chatted briefly about my political work there. We spoke of my former boss, the mayor of Salt Lake City and his partnership with Governor Huntsman to get rid of private clubs and loosen alcohol laws - Donald's boyish looks reminded me of the handsome former Governor, Jon Huntsman - I told him so. I asked them how often they had "date night" - they told me they did so very often. They go skiing together, go to Yankees games together, live in New York City and seem to have a wonderful life.

I wish I had had the time to interview them properly for this story - I gave them my card so with any luck, they will email me with the name of the wife - apologies again - and maybe I can add some more to this post.

In conclusion, I was thrilled to be called a rainbow by this man whom I love so deeply, but to see this couple so obviously in love really made my day - not just for me, but for all the couples out there.

Statistically, this second marriage will be harder for her to maintain - this is his first and we know what those odds are - in their case, they are planning to stay married - they are spending time getting to know each other on a regular basis and know each other very intimately - I can tell.

Donald is one lucky guy and his wife is a lucky girl.....I hope they will write or call and maybe we can have a glass of wine at the Metropolitan Museum some Friday night during the classical music concerts that are so hugely popular among couples and friends alike. A double date, maybe?

Love really is forever.

What should colleges teach

There is a fascinating story in the NY Times late online edition from last evening.

Stanley Fish, a professor of law at Florida International University and a few other select fine institutions writes an amazing piece about core competencies taught in colleges, or not being taught, with particular emphasis on the lack of college writing being taught - as in - not enough or no grammar, rather the syllabus is watered down and students will learn anything from ideas about movies, novels, to having hot-button topic discussions and the like.

I am returning to school after an 11 year hiatus - I feel like a novice and certainly like a freshman. My bags are all packed with the requisite books and pens, including a shiny new highlighter and a book on grammar which I received at orientation last week - a book on grammer. Me the linguist, the trilingual speaker gets to have her very own book on grammar. No more stumbling around in the dark, struggling for sentence structure, verbs, adverbs, adjectives etc. I wil have at my fingertips a book that will help me to become a better writer.

I had originally intended to attend a college much closer to my home. On reflection and after checking into the courses, I decided to pursue an accelerated degree specifically tailored for working adults. While I work only part time, due to the economy and a debilitating disability (at times), I know that the demands on my schedule will be extraordinary - some 10-20 hours of homework and study time required a week as well as one night a week in class.

The core competencies are strongly emphasized at Concordia College in Bronxville, NY and I know that in the program I have found a perfect fit for both my personality and a path to place me on track to have completed my Master's in Public Administration or Social Work by the time I am 50.

I am a published writer and have been writing for years. Indeed, the last college course I took, my professor wanted me to enroll in the honors program, she was so impressed with my work. I had other commitments and declined at the time. Would that I had chosen otherwise. When I received my class schedule last week, I was surprised to see that I would be expected to take an Introduction to College Writing course. After attending the orientation, I immediately understood why. I needed the introduction course for a foundation to be able to write better papers during my college years - I have a fairly decent start, but one can always use all the help one can get - in this case - Introduction to College Writing - I have already started reading the text book and am salivating at the conversations we will have in class about grammar and syntax and the like.

Colleges are institutions for higher learning and thinking - critical thinking. They should truly be about the business of causing their students to reach down deep and engage in thinking that they never would have imagined prior to matriculating.

I have chosen well and am ready for my new journey. I might even finish that autobiography.

Concordia, here I come!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The princess problem

For a couple of years in another lifetime and when I had the luxury of doing something I loved and not needing to support a family, I had the blessing of being a preschool teacher. It was the one job I truly loved in my soul. I was good at it, my kids loved me, my bosses adored me and made me a trainer for their beloved science curriculum for other teachers and my supervisor wept when I left for greener pastures.

What I learned during those years of being around girls is that girls are by and large reared by their fathers (and yes, their mothers too) to think of themselves as princesses. Don't misunderstand me - I think that a natural part of a girl's development requires that she be a princess - she needs to feel special and pretty and have a dream that one day a prince charming might come along and sweep her off her feet.

Unbeknownst to my bosses, I would create stories for my children at story time that were not part of the curriculum - they were "Miss Annette" stories - I lived in Kentucky at the time and the title was a formal one. I would tell stories of broken families, families with no children, families with just one parent - children being reared by grandparents - In those days, I would not have dared speak of same sex parents, but I would today. I digress.

One of my favorite stories to recount to the children was about a princess. She was a beautiful girl and loved her father very much (her parents were either divorced or the mother had died - likely the latter, given the Disney angle that the stories took on for the most part) - she lived in a beautiful castle - of course - where else would a princess live? and had been raised in Europe (hey - I am European, so it is not a stereotype) in the breathtaking Alps. When she reached the age of maturity or coming out, her father set about finding her a mate. He searched through all the surrounding kingdoms and could not find a suitable man - he searched for years, all in vain. Finally, he wept and told his daughter that he had failed her.

His daughter was wise for her years (of course she was - she was my creation) - and told her father not to worry - she would find a husband herself. She decided that in order to have a husband, she needed a career, so she set about going to college, which was unheard of in that day, and learned how to be an excellent manager. Years later, she still had not found her prince, but she was happy and fulfilled in life with her circle of friends, her church and her volunteer activities.

One day, a man came into her life who turned out to be the prince she had sought - no white horse, no kingdom, nothing to offer but his love, support and a decent job - they lived together in bliss. The moral of the story, I told my enraptured little ones - was that they might grow up and find a prince, and they might not - the trick is to be happy with what you have in life, not with what you want and can't have.

And now to the meat of the story. A couple of weeks ago in a USA Today public forum piece, "The Princess Problem" came to light again. I have discussed this with a friend on more than one occasion. These are women who are raised to expect a man to take care of them. My friend and I believe that a man is more likely to be attracted to a woman who can take care of herself - indeed, if either wants to take care of a mate in a co-dependent relationship, someone should seek counseling - but fast!

The article speaks of professional women in great jobs who are just biding their time until they marry and can move to the suburbs, essentially - waiting for their prince.

Women still earn less than men on average, thank God for Obama's pay equality legislation - however, in this economic downturn, more and more women are finding themselves as the main breadwinner in their families.

I was most fortunate some 27 years ago - I met an amazing man with whom I fell deeply in love. The marriage did not last, but that is not the point of this article. What I loved about him the most was his willingness to let me choose for myself whether I wanted to be a princess (stay at home mother) or work outside of the home. The two of us were both devout Mormons at the time and that religion pretty much dictated that a woman stay home during the formative years of her children.

Being a full time mother was not an easy transition, and never was a very good fit, but I made it work, because my church demanded it and I thought that it would be the best thing for my children. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last. Fifteen years later, it came crashing down around my ears, and while I had taught preschool initially during the marriage to support my partner during school, knew that I would not be able to support my children on such an income.

The moral of the story is that we should not raise our daughters to be princesses - we should raise them to be educated, resilient and strong women - they don't have to "need" a man to feel "needed" - that is the icing on the proverbial cake - to be needed, that is - to have a man love you is the greatest and most choice blessing in the world - that is why God ordained marriage and why he/she wants us not to be alone - it is not the natural state of being.

Princesses, throw away those damn tiaras and glass slippers and quit looking - find your own kind of happy and he will come along when you least expect it - just don't expect him to "complete" you, or to provide for you - that is just not fair!

Feedback appreciated.......

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What men want

A friend of mine is going through his second divorce. When we met almost two years ago, he was emotionally shattered - a shell of a man. He is a devoted father to his children and when his first wife left him, he was shocked - she simply decided that she no longer wanted to be a mother to their three adolescent children. Fast forward a few years, he married someone else, not knowing her that well (they dated a mere few months) and after raising their one child together for a few years, she decided that she, too, would leave, taking the child far away and having the one thing she always wanted - a child of her own - her very own, that is - and some padding in her bank account. Fortunately, he has weathered the storm and has rebounded and is doing nicely - in a few months, he will be ready to date and who knows what will happen in his life after that - I predict only good things will come to him in the world of relationships - he has learned a great deal about women and himself with the help of a great therapist - thank God for those!

I just read an interesting story on AOL Health about this same scenario - that is, women who give up their relationships for their children. I was in the opposite situation in my marriage of 15 years - my former spouse spent far more time with the children than he did with me - to the point that I became resentful of their movie dates, football games and wrestling on the living room floor (I have four sons). Looking back, it was his way of telling me that he didn't want a wife (he is gay), but wanted the package of children - no surprise that three of the four boys live with him by their own choosing.

What men want is a woman who is devoted to them above their children - they have no desire to be second on the totem pole, and frankly, nor should they be. They deserve to have that same love and desire that brought the couple together initially - granted, those levels change some with motherhood, hormones and such, but basically, they want to be needed.

Men also want a woman who has a life - she needs to have a focus - a career, school, hobbies, volunteer work - something that she does with no attachment to her spouse - something that makes her who she is in and of herself.

Men want a woman who is not afraid to be vulnerable - I heard about that book "Why men love bitches" and was told to read it and decided against it - The men I know don't love bitches, they love good and caring women.

Just one woman's opinion, but I know men really, really well......

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Michael Vick - now with the Philadelphia Eagles

Michael Vick has managed the unthinkable - after being imprisoned for almost two years for his role in bankrolling dogfighting rings at properties he owns, he has been released, worked in his neighborhood in construction and now with children and has scored a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

I am thrilled for him and can only say that I hope he will not squander this opportunity. He has stated that prison was truly a turning point for him and that he does not desire to repeat his errors.

In America, we believe that incarceration is ultimately in place to correct the behavior of individuals - once that individual has served their time, no matter the crime, no matter the length of time served - they have satisfied society's rules.

Michael Vick has earned a second chance - I, for one, am rooting for him - think "Shawshank Redemption."

Robert's Rules of Order

A couple of years ago whilst employed as a political appointee, I attended more meetings than I care to even recall. They were mostly community council meetings, some city council meetings and other meetings, with a few town hall meetings thrown in for good measure.

I have been purposely quiet on the debacle surrounding the healthcare townhall meetings. It is clear that these attendees who have been sent there to disrupt these important hearings have never heard of Robert's Rules of Order - basically, meeting decorum 101 for dummies is a good analogy.

Most of the meetings I attended were respectful, well-led, appropriate and even when individuals did not agree with one another, there was a sense of decorum that presided, thankfully.

I respect the right of misinformed dissenters to disrupt these meetings, but maintain that there is a time and a place, and certainly a way to get one's feelings heard.

Enough said.

Who lives and who dies -

I was fortunate to live in the amazing and beautiful, albeit it economically depressed (highest unemployment in the nation as of most recent statistics) state of Michigan. I was there when Dr. Jack Kevorkian became notorious for his desire to help patients end their lives with dignity and respect.

I have a chronic illness - and while it is highly unlikely that I should become incapacitated as a result of this, I would always want to have the right to die should that be my choice.

I was happy to read today that a court in Australia has given a fully-functional (in his brain) quadraplegic man the right to die with dignity - the story is on CNN - feedback as always, is appreciated.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why gay guys are churchier than their straight brethren

I read this interesting story online today and wanted to share it.

Some years ago, after cutting ties to the Mormon/LDS Church, I found myself with many gay friends primarily because of the advocacy and outreach work I had been doing as a board member at the local Pride Center, a member of a PAC, Equality Utah and lobbying efforts to protect gay marriage in the state of Utah. As I reflect back on those happy days, I realize that the reason I became so aligned with gays is because as a woman of color, I totally understand their feelings of disenfranchisement, particularly vis-a-vis religion.

I left the Mormon Church because I felt disenfranchised as a woman of color living in Utah and recognized that their treatment towards gays was not unlike their treatment of my race prior to the ACLU threatening to bring a lawsuit in the late 1970's, which resulted in their extending full membership to all blacks who wanted to join the Mormon Church.

Gays are inherently spiritual, just as all of us are - we are all God's children. The judgements and mistreatments that gays experience causes them to reach out spiritually to one another and to organized religion - I attended many religious services with my gay friends, including my first commitment ceremony - complete with music, candles, two pianos and a wonderful loving couple who professed their love and commitment to one another in the state of Utah, which did not even want to recognize their being, much less their love.

I am happy to share this article with you today and welcome your feedback.

Here is the link:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cash for clunkers - "read my lips - no new taxes"

Cash for clunkers received a 2 billion dollar infusion from the Senate last week. Apparently the program is so popular, dealers are overwhelmed with the influx of individuals wanting to get rid of their gas-guzzling vehicles.

I have driven my share of gas guzzlers over the years, I am embarassed to say. Mostly it was out of necessity - I had four children and needed a large station wagon to get them around from point a to point b. Today, there are many more options for parents, as Hybrids and other fuel-efficient vehicles are on the market and at a reasonable cost.

It is questionable how long the program will remain in place, given its hefty price tag.

Some are wondering whether the President will find himself like Bush senior, having to renege on a campaign promise not to raise taxes on the middle class - that would be those earning $250,000 a year or less. While I now work part time and am headed back to college in the fall, I am no longer considered middle class, but will watch these developments carefully.

Bill Clinton in North Korea

It is with much excitement that I write to recount that the North Koreans have decided to release the two US journalists from captivity and a sentence of hard labor in a prison camp.

Secretary Clinton had asked for their release in talks recently and her pleas apparently did not fall on deaf ears. According the AP, North Korean Leader Kim Jong II issued a "special pardon" freeing the journalists while former President Clinton made an unannounced visit to the country.

Flanked by his security detail and looking determined, former President Clinton arrived in Pyonyang in order to accomplish his mission.

It would appear that two Clintons are indeed better than one.