Holiday Shopping: Gun Control

Making your holiday shopping lists? Already hitting the stores and online sites?

Have you considered adding a bulletproof backpack for your children and grandchildren?

When my kids went to school, I packed their lunches and hoped they had whatever else they needed for the day: homework, musical instruments, gym clothes. Nevertheless, invariably I’d receive a phone call to deliver a forgotten item. I wasn’t always able to oblige. Parents now can add a bulletproof insert to backpacks. There are other products too: bulletproof fleeces, binders and briefcases.

Hey, this is America. There’s a market for everything.

Yesterday marked one week since the church shooting in Texas that left 26 innocent people dead. Tomorrow marks one week since Election Day that put some Democrats in office dedicated to changing the lenient gun laws that have allowed killers to purchase weapons of mass destruction.

On my way to and from Connecticut to visit my parents, I pass the exit for Newtown, CT. I worked there as a reporter and can’t help think about the murder of 26 people there, 20 first- graders among them. I can’t fathom the pain these families endure, only to have repeated efforts to curtail gun ownership repeatedly defeated. It’s like a constant slap in the face. Or more likely, it’s a middle finger, raised daily, with the accompanying epithet; a reminder that their children’s lives don’t matter.

It’s gotten more wintery in the Northeast. We had a warm October, thanks to climate change. On February 2nd, we’ll look for the groundhog, hoping for an early spring. Yet it’s been Groundhog Day in Congress for years. Connecticut Senator Christopher Murphy, campaigning for gun control after the massacre in his state, said after the Las Vegas gun rampage that killed 58 people, “I wish it didn’t feel like Groundhog Day- but one day it won’t.”

Here’s hoping. Or you may be buying weapons to put into backpacks next to the peanut butter sandwiches and gym clothes.

Keep up the resistance.






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Four Books & A Movie

When asked about what he looks for in a novel, actor and writer Tom Hanks told the New York Times, “ Authenticity. I want to see the world accurately, and history examined is search of the details of truth.”

Hanks’ collection of short stories, Uncommon Type is due out this week. Each story pays homage to the typewriter, an object that fascinates Hanks. He collects old typewriters, yet admits he writes on a laptop.

Good fiction to me also illuminates the truth and recently I’ve plowed through some amazing novels.

They are:

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel takes on how a child’s decision to change genders affects a family and community. When Rosie and Penn’s fifth son shows signs that he’s more girl than boy, the family responds first with secrets and then with openness.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent reveals the co-dependency that evolves from incest. Set in California, the author employs his knowledge of the natural world to create an atmosphere of survival. 

For insights into the immigrant experience in the United States, read Imbolo Mbue’s  Behold the Dreamers.   You’ll wonder about the lives of those “invisible” people around us- taxi drivers, housecleaners and so on. Jende Jonga assumes leaving Cameroon for New York will improve life for him, his wife and six-year-old son. He’s ready to follow the American Dream. But what happens when his dream falls apart?

In Lisa Ko’s The Leavers,   Deming Guo’s undocumented Chinese mother, Polly, suddenly disappears, leaving the bewildered 11-year-old who is subsequently adopted by a white couple and moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate. His story of finding his mother and his identity moves quickly and brings home the issue facing many today.

I’ve ordered the Hanks’ book and am reading Hillary Clinton’s What Happened. That’s a truth I’d rather not be reading.

Finally go see Marshall, the biopic about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. A sad reminder that with all the progress, much work remains.








Posted in Books, Civil Rights History, commentary, Family, parenting, Reading, reviews, teaching, teenagers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Ah, Burgundy!

When our friends Kevin and Allan invited us to join them and about 20 other of their close friends to celebrate Kevin’s 60th birthday for a week in Burgundy, France, we didn’t hesitate. They rented two chateaus in the little village of Mercurey, about a half hour drive from Beaune, a small medieval city. 

We drove from Geneva and thanks to not knowing how to program the car-installed GPS, ended up crossing mountains and traveling through villages. We rented bikes in Beaune and took leisurely rides each day through the vineyards and small towns. 

Each evening, we feasted, including taking our hosts to a three-star Michelin restaurant, Le Maison Lelemeloise, where we indulged in the three-course chef’s menu that in addition to three courses, included five little hor d’oeuvres called amuse-bouche, as well as tiny pre-dessert nibbles. We feasted on cheese and bread, drank local wines, and I, of course, ate my fill of fresh figs.

On our way back to the airport, we visited L’Hotel-Dieu de Beaune, a hospital for the poor established in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy and his wife, Guigone de Salins. 

Connecting with former neighbors  from where we all met in New Jersey, getting to know other friends of Kevin and Allan’s that we’ve met when we bike to their Pennsylvania farmhouse and meeting new people all contributed to a memorable and very special celebration.



(some photos provided by Melanie Urdang and Sarah Cherry) xoxox

Posted in bike riding, celebrations, Cycling, food, Friendship, Museums, galleries, Nature, travel, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Beach Day: Seal Release!

My husband had returned from the West Coast on a red-eye flight and suggested we go to the beach for the afternoon. We’ve been going to Sandy Hook National Seashore for years. A sunny, mild day, the beach, post-Labor Day, was quite empty. A National Park Service truck drove around the sand, parked, then set up a row of orange traffic cones. People started to gather by the cones. We’d seen some dolphin fins out in the water but wondered what was going on. A seal release! Grabbing our phones, we staked out a spot.

The seal, about a year old, had beached in Ocean City, MD in May, stricken with lung worms. She was taken to the National Aquarium in Baltimore for medical attention where she was also named Luna. Now ready to return to the wild, the aquarium transported her to New Jersey to bring her further north, hopefully avoiding any effects of Hurricane Irma. Rangers told us she could travel as far north as Canada and may reach as big as 1,000 pounds.

What a treat!

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Back to School: Teachable Moments

Visiting my sister Madeline last week, we took in the eclipse and did some errands before she returned to work as a teacher on Wednesday. She’d been into her classroom several times over the summer, labeling bookshelves, covering bulletin boards, and planning lessons. She has several days of preparatory meetings with colleagues before students arrive next week. Celebrating her 30th year in the classroom, she’s a pro; yet there are always new techniques to learn, methods to try, students that challenge like none before.

I’ve been thinking about teachers these days and while I miss teaching,  I don’t envy the responsibilities many have to assume that go way beyond teaching a particular subject.

Watch former National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García’s speech a couple years ago:

Additionally, there’s the challenge of teachable moments. Any teacher would be remiss to ignore them. But how to handle the barrage of current events?  A devastating hurricane? Climate Change? A nuclear threat from a foreign nation? Civil unrest amid racial hatred? How do teachers emphasize kindness and acceptance when the President behaves so badly toward others? A daunting task, indeed.

And yet, teacher salaries in many parts of the country hover near hourly wage levels as public school budgets are slashed by state legislators.

Take Oklahoma, for example. As Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy writes:

“Teachers haven’t had a pay hike in a decade, and 10-year veteran teachers who are single now make little enough that their own children qualify for reduced-price school lunches.” Teachers are leaving the state, finding high paid jobs in Texas and elsewhere.

Teachers should be trained like doctors, and receive equivalent compensation. They hold the future in their hands.








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Words Matter

Remember the ditty: “Sticks & Stone will break my bones, But names will never hurt me?

My mother would remind my siblings and me that when someone picked on us. Or we picked on each other.

Yet the events of the past week certainly prove: Words matter. They can hurt. They can stick. They can threaten. They can provoke.

I’ve been thinking about words lately, mostly some of mine. Particularly, I’m reviewing a play I wrote several years ago that caused pain and anger in a family member.

While the act of writing the play may have been cathartic for me, as a way to express my perspective on a challenging situation, for this person, the writing humiliated and embarrassed.

For this, I apologize. I never meant to hurt people I love.

While others found universal messages in the play, this person saw ridicule.

I apologize.

I’m reading books about family rifts, especially those between parents and their adult children. I recognize ways I have crossed boundaries and created tension with various questions and remarks that present either an invasion of privacy or expectations of behavior.

I apologize.

We are all human and we all make mistakes. We can learn from them and try harder.

Family and friends are worth the effort.


Posted in Writing | 5 Comments

Grandma Reading: Lemony Snicket!

When I saw my eldest grandson (age 7 1/2) reading The Bad Beginning, the first in Lemony Snicket’s 13-volume “Series of Unfortunate Events”, I asked him a couple questions. While I’d heard of the series and author, I never had read any of his works as they were published when my children were older.  

I jumped at the chance to read the book as my grandson did, offering to be able to talk about it with him. We chatted this morning about the book, discussing whether it’s too scary for kids, who our favorite character is, and agreeing that we should try to read the entire series. (I immediately ordered a boxed set to appear in time for next week’s long car trip to visit his other grandparents. I’ll get mine from my library.)

There’s not much better than talking about a book with a grandchild! These stories hook you and keep you wondering what will happen to the three brave Baudelaire siblings who find themselves in dangerous situations among unsavory characters.

My adult reading this summer seems to have been mostly non-fiction. There’s no time like the present to read Hyeonseo Lee’s The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story.  I learned a lot from Haroon Moghul’s How to Be a Muslim: An American Story, and am laughing aloud while reading Senator Al Franken’s memoir, Giant of the Senate.

I’ve been taking a playwriting course so had a hefty reading list of plays and I loved listening to Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last on tape while driving.

What have you been reading?




Posted in Books, Family, Grandchildren, parenting, Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments