Carpe Diem…Outside!!

Let’s applaud the retailer REI for closing its doors on Black Friday and urging folks to spend the day outdoors. Where would you rather spend that day, your tummy stuffed with Turkey Bird chowing excess?

Here, jammed cheek-to-jowl with crazed shoppers…

Shoppers waiting to start shopping

Or here, as REI suggests on its website…

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Take a road less traveled 11/27/15…

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Do’s and Don’ts Dept.

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Strangers on a Train

Hey, how about those three American fellows who subdued the would-be train terrorist in France. Kind  of a good news/bad news thing here. Bad obviously that the event ever took place, but good that this mighty trio – Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler -showed such courage and did the right thing, standing up against an AK-47.

When we lived in France a few years ago, a perky elderly Frenchman lived in an apartment below ours. When he heard we were Americans, his eyes watered as he told us about a memorable tale – repeated to us on several occasions – from decades earlier. As a young child, he remembered being picked up by an American GI just after the war and given a piece of chocolate. His story moved us, too, and continues to whenever I think about it. No heroics here, but an unforgettable show of  generosity, too often missing in today’s world.

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“Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy,” –The Beatles 

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Then, on the other side of the Atlantic, we have, well, generosity, but with a big hitch. Joan Weill (photo), a well-known philanthropist, wants to give $20 million to Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks. However, there’s an egotistical string attached. In accepting the weighty sum, the college’s board must agree to change the name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College. Talk about a mouthful. We hope Ms. Weill will note this comment on the college’s Facebook page and change her thinking: ”I appreciate her donation, but a true benefactor or philanthropist does not expect anything in return but good will.”

The kind that our American train travelers have just fostered, asking nothing in return for their good deed.

Data Yadda Yadda

Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge in the classic 1951 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol"

Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge in the classic 1951 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

“And the workhouses are they still in operation?…Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I’m very glad to hear it.” — Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol

Have no fear Ebenezer. You need only look to Amazon for a Dickensian workplace. Tales have surfaced of folks crying at their desks, emails arriving at midnight then followed up by a tongue-lashing encore at 12:01 demanding to know why you haven’t responded. “When you’re not able to give your absolute all, 80 hours a week, they see it as a major weakness,” said one employee who took an unpaid leave to care for her dying father and never returned. When she cut back working on nights and weekends to care for her father, the employee was blocked from transferring to a less-demanding job and told by her boss that she was “a problem.” “Data is incredibly liberating,” notes one apparently-contented Amazon employee. And exhausting, too!

Oh, and Amazon employees, did you happen to see the latest study that says people who work 55 hours or more per week have a 33 percent greater risk of stroke and a 13 percent greater risk of coronary heart disease than those working standard hours? Those especially vulnerable, according to the study:  employees with “job strain,” ones with jobs of high demands and little control.

What ever happened to the compassionate, caring employer? Sure, the hours at Fairchild Publications were I worked for many years were long and deadlines could be stress-provoking, but a heart lurked beneath the craziness at 7 E. 12th St. in New York. Exhibit A:  When hearing of my impending divorce, my boss said, “Pamela, do you want to work out of Los Angeles? Would that help?” I turned down the generous offer, but it was the kind of treatment I often received during difficult personal times. When my mother was dying of lung cancer I took off half-days midweek with no questions asked, as my workload fell to others to complete.

Maybe I find the Amazon story so irksome cause I’ve just returned from a retreat, the antithesis of a stress-filled environment. Stay tuned for what I learned about feeding my body and soul in Crested Butte, CO.

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Money Talks…

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I was sitting in the lobby of The Mansion House, the hotel which also serves as our health club, reading before my 8 a.m. yoga class. The place was packed with kids, some with parents in tow. Apparently there was an ice hockey game with an off-Island team later that day. Two kids sitting across from me were into their electronic devices. The dad of one was roaming nearby when he stopped and turned behind the couch were his son was sitting. “Hey,” he said. “I’ll give you $20 for every goal you score.” Dad turned the corner just before his son said to his pal. “If I can score 4 goals that’s $100 and I can buy a TV.” (An update: Yes, it appears our stellar student needs some help with addition. Should have commented on same, but just was so focused on that $20!!)

Four goals = one TV

Four goals = one TV


Wow. $20!! My eyes widened in disbelief. It was enough to think about dusting off my skates and heading for the rink.

A few hours later I was taking in the last of three meditation workshops offered free at our YMCA, ironically next door to the ice arena, site of the big game. At the workshop we heard about the three poisons: Greed, Anger and Ignorance. I’m simplifying here, but Buddhism alerts us that the 3 P’s are sources of all illusions and desires – not good. These three poisons continuously pollute people’s lives, and are obstacles of Enlightenment.

I couldn’t get that $20-waving dad out of my mind. What kind of message was this rich reward for his son, now focused on attaining his current desire, a TV. OK. If you gotta go the reward route, at the very least, why not attach some educational value to it? Let him pick out a book of his choice, even if it’s an electronic one.

"There are pleasures to be had from books…the pleasure of being challenged; the pleasure of feeling one's range and capacities expanding; the pleasure of entering into an unfamiliar world, and being led into empathy with a consciousness very different from one's own; the pleasure of knowing what others have already thought it worth knowing, and entering a larger conversation." --Rebecca Mead, "The New Yorker"

“There are pleasures to be had from books…the pleasure of being challenged; the pleasure of feeling one’s range and capacities expanding; the pleasure of entering into an unfamiliar world, and being led into empathy with a consciousness very different from one’s own; the pleasure of knowing what others have already thought it worth knowing, and entering a larger conversation.” –Rebecca Mead, “The New Yorker”

Swept Away…

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I was prepared for a high grump experience. Don’t most appliance repair sagas end on a low note? Can’t get the part, weeks go by without word and OMG the bill. Second mortgage time.

So, I ventured to Cape Cod Vacuum prepared for more of the same. One of our summer renters had broken the hose connector attachment, rendering our workhorse Miele useless. It was due for maintenance as well.

I arrived at the Mashpee store as Bob, my hero, was opening up. The place was spotless – sparkling vacuums lined up like soldiers ready to do carpet battle. Yes, we have the part and oh, let me show you where the filters go. They were reversed, of course. Bob patiently explained about the maintenance and when our Miele would be ready – in three days. AND IT WAS!!! Forget Walmart, Target, Amazon. After our Mighty M has sucked its last dog hair, I’m heading right to Bob for Miele 2.

Why rhapsodize about a vacuum repair emporium you ask? Why not!! We live in an easy-come world where soon Apple’s Apple Pay will enable people to pay for every day goods with their smartphone. Apps could regularly replace checks, cash and credit cards. But getting good service? There’s no app for that. So, attention must be paid when it comes your way.

Making Peace with “War and Peace”

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Visual and other aids add to the reading experience

Visual and other aids add to the reading experience


Well, who would have thought I’ve got a literary leg up on John Lahr, whose biography,
Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, has just been long-listed for the National Book Award? When asked recently by The NY Times what books he was embarrassed not to have read yet, Lahr replied, “Too many to mention, but War and Peace is the most egregious. I’m saving it for my fast-approaching old age.”

I’m 600+ pages into Leo Tolstoy’s weighty tome thanks to the incentive issued by Betty Burton, the adult programing guru at the Vineyard Haven Public Library. The library is currently offering a lecture series on W&P, anchored by the great Phil Weinstein, recently retired Engish professor at Swarthmore. Phil, who has taught Tolstoy’s classic, brings enthusiastic insight to this multi-layered 19th century novel.

True the 1,000+ page count turns many away from experiencing this work. But I’ve found once I got the dizzying number of characters straight, the battles more or less understood, W&P became my latest page-turner, especially with outside help. My friend Myra put me on to Andrew D. Kaufman’s Give War and Peace a Chance, a kind of primer for the novel that also highlights its relevancy in today’s world. Download it.

My first introduction to W&P was via the silver screen, the King Vidor-directed 1956 film. The cast included Audrey Hepburn as Natasha, Mel Ferrer as Prince Andre, Henry Fonda as Pierre and the voluptuous Anita Ekberg as Helene. I saw it the following year on a sweltering day in Paris. My brother and I had gone to the movies, of all gauche touristy moves, to escape the heat. This particular movie theater was one of the few air-conditioned spots. Even at 9, I was hooked by this truncated version.
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Natasha (Audrey Hepburn) and her Men - Pierre (Henry Fonda) and Prince Andre (Mel Ferrer)

Natasha (Audrey Hepburn) and her Men – Pierre (Henry Fonda) and Prince Andre (Mel Ferrer)

Ironically, on the day of the first W&P lecture, The Times had one of its periodic advertising inserts, Russia Behind the Headlines. Normally, I don’t give a PR-slanted “newspaper” such as RBTH a read, skeptical about its content. But my eye caught a small item: Log on to Leo: Tolstoy’s Diaries and Notebooks go onto the Web. How fortuitous is this, I thought. I could hunt down Leo’s own words on W&P. I eagerly typed in rbth.com/39655, the link to this treasure trove. One big problem: It’s all in Russian. An English translation is in the works.

But my curiosity was piqued after spotting another link, tolstoy.ru, where one can find many photos of the master. Take a look…

A dashing Tolstoy at the time of the Crimean War, 1854

A dashing Tolstoy at the time of the Crimean War, 1854


Tolstoy and his wife, Sofia, who reportedly copied the entire text of "W&P" 7 times

Tolstoy and his wife, Sofia, who reportedly copied the entire text of “W&P” 7 times