Time

 How we kept time before iPhones...

How we kept time before iPhones...

Here it is the end of September, and I haven’t posted since March. How did that happen?

Dad always said that time passes faster the older we get and he was right. It makes sense in a relative sort of way, if you think about it.

When we were kids, each season that passed was a much larger percentage of our lives than now. Just think – each year that blurs by now is merely 1/61st of my life versus the 1/6th or 1/8th or 1/10th when I was a kid.

I’m also in that part of my life where busy-ness is a habit. If I’m not “doing” something – well then, I must be sick. And I rarely get sick.

So I find projects that need to be done around the house, and with a 113-year-old house, there’s always something. Or I create projects by inviting people to a dinner party, or scheduling a cook out, or planning a trip, or taking up embroidery (fact!), or.. the list goes on.

Time is precious, however – and how we spend it matters.

I have things I want to get done that get lost in busyness – and suddenly, I realize – whoa! Time is passing.

There are stories I want to share with you – we learned so much on our epic road trip at the beginning of the year about what separates us as Americans, and what holds us together.

I have a remarkable story I really want to share about finding relatives I never knew existed.

Each of these stories requires the discipline of writing, which means less busy-ness based on the habit of it all, and more focus.

And focus is the other thing that passes as quickly as time.

Wonder if I can develop new habits over time?

This Land is Our Land

 ...on the roads of America...

...on the roads of America...

We left the bubble of Minneapolis this winter – more like the ice castle of Minneapolis this year – on an epic road trip to see the landscape of those whose experience of this country is so different than ours.

Context is important here – we live in a friendly neighborhood located between two of the loveliest city lakes in this City of Lakes. Our neighbors are all solvent and our home values go up year over year in this growing and prosperous city. Our kids rode their bikes to community parks and graduated from a top public high school. Life is good here.

Believing that our bubble of bueno was shared by most in this great nation was a mistake. And it was a mistake we needed to fix because we each believe strongly in the importance of politics as a way to achieve meaningful change for this country we love. Politics as the art of solving problems, of negotiating solutions, of achieving compromise in how we approach big issues in this country.

So we hit the road, heading south because – well, it was winter and Minnesota is on the North Coast of this country meaning most of the rest is south of us.  

Big headline learnings?

America is a gorgeous country with the landscapes that take your breath away well balanced by those that inspire long exhales. We are fortunate that a hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson realized we should preserve the fragile reminders of the earthquakes, volcanoes, and overall movement that created rolling hills, majestic mountains, buttes, cliffs, canyons, rivers, and swamps millennia ago. Our national parks are truly a treasured legacy of good planning that we need to value.

Americans who work in gas stations, hotels, and restaurants are wonderfully friendly and helpful souls. In six weeks of travel, we didn’t encounter a single human who was grumpy or mean. This isn’t a surprise. Most humans are good people – it’s the extremists of all stripes that give us a bad name, and those extremists don’t seem to work in customer facing jobs.

More Americans live in manufactured housing of all kinds than we had imagined. This includes mobile homes, doublewides, and RVs in community after community. We were surprised by the winter communities that spring up in the desert – more than 250,000 RVs annually show up in Quartzsite, AZ to enjoy the swap meet community and flea markets there. There is something uniquely American about this – the freedom that comes from choosing a place to live that can be picked up and moved when circumstances or weather says it’s time to go.

America’s Interstate Highway system is a marvel – and could use a reboot. The highway engineers who completed a coast-to-coast solution to our itchy desire to take road trips were remarkably creative and disciplined. Thanks to Dwight Eisenhower for championing the nationwide network – and it’s time to update the roadways for the 21st Century.

America has always been a nation of change fueled by technology. We drove by and through a number of ghost towns and shadow cities where the reason for being in that place had been eclipsed by progress. Former whistle stops for steam engine trains, cities on the edge of old copper, gold, and silver mines, and ancient native villages tell the stories of lives lived with hope and promise before some form of progress made viable livelihoods impossible.

Looking at the outline of homes left behind for millennia and centuries makes it clear that disruption of families and communities has marked our American landscape since. I just wonder if the residents of whistle stop towns in the 1880s were as fearful for tomorrow as we are today. The families who are at home in today’s industrial cities have the sense that the full employment of decades past will never return as it was. But the magnetic hold of home keeps them in place – and in a frightful place.

I’m planning to focus some time on sharing more with you about all we learned from our Six Weeks on the Road – but for now, these are the headlines of the experience. 

Now What...

 ...time to focus.

...time to focus.

Way back in the 1970s, I went to a liberal arts college in North Carolina and graduated with a degree in Politics. Not political analysis or political behaviors – that would have been instantly useful.

No, my area of study and fascination was more theoretical. It was all about learning how to “read” a culture and understand the conditions necessary for a “people” to choose to live within an autocracy, oligarchy, monarchy, anarchy, democracy, or socialist society. It was a somewhat esoteric pursuit, but at least I got my Water Safety Instructor’s certification so I could be a lifeguard after college.

Forty years later, after a career spent in public affairs, or as I like to call it “strategic storytelling”, I’ve become a student of human behaviors and the ways to engage various “publics” in understanding, valuing, or caring about issues important to my employers or clients. And I’m worried.

This grand 240-year-old experiment in democracy that we call America needs our focused attention now as it appears to be at risk based on some public behaviors and basic disregard for the tenets of our form of government. 

What do I mean? Historically, vibrant democracies relied on the engagement of an informed populace in making selections and choices at all levels of government. How will that be possible in a “post truth” era?

Yes, the Oxford dictionaries selected “post truth” as the international word of the year for 2016, saying, “Objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

As I’ve noted before, those of us involved in public affairs have always known that – but there was a certain amount of honor in deploying emotional appeals that were grounded in actual fact. Those days are over.

Now it appears bald-faced lies based on pure fiction can be turned into emotionally compelling online memes that are spread with abandon – and to great effect. That is a great risk for a democracy and for a country that appears to be quite reactive in its responses to inflammatory lies.

What to do?

1 - We need to aggressively protect truth – and be respectful in how we do that.

In this age of online fact checking resources, it’s relatively easy to check sources, check “about” pages to see who’s paying for those sources, and then use our well-founded American skepticism when “facts” align with the “interests” of those sources. Then call it out wherever you see it – with care. (Confession here – I saw a note on a friend’s FB page that I thought was an attack, and I called it out rather harshly. I was wrong, it was pure parody, and I apologized.)

2 – We need to support organizations that support our core values.

If you’re concerned about the future, support the organizations that specialize in protecting those assets. The environment – clean air, water, climate change? The Environmental Defense Fund is a highly rated choice. Ongoing access to reproductive health care for our sons and daughters? Planned Parenthood remains an important investment. Are you worried about protecting our constitution and the rights enumerated by our founders? (Now is a good time to check out the constitution by the way – easy to find online) The American Civil Liberties Union is a solid protector – I may not agree with all of their issues, but the solid protection of the constitution is admirable.

Concerned about Americans who may be vulnerable to hate crimes? As a Jew married to an immigrant, this one hits close to home for me… well, I’m donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center this year – they are strongly vigilant on this front.

There are others organizations, and I suggest you check any charitable contributions with Charity Navigator, an aggressively accountable website that reviews 501 c 3 non-profits and how they spend their (your) money.

3 – We need to get out of our “cluster bubbles”.

Humans tend to cluster with people who are alike. I realized over the past month that we tend to spend our time with people who are pale creative types with multiple degrees and financial security. While we really love our friends – and family – it’s time to break out and listen to those whose “pursuit of happiness” is distinctly different than our own.

We live in Minneapolis and have easy access to Somalis and their restaurants. So one recent Sunday night, we grabbed some friends for a meal. Big deal, you say? We were the only pale people there – and we were greeted with big smiles of welcome, great food, and yes – we’re going back. Choosing to spend time in a place where we are the “other” is a good exercise in understanding the common humanity in all of us.

It’s also an important lesson that anytime we classify groups of people as having a specific characteristic – “all Somalis are…”, “all Midwesterners are…”, “all Southerners are…” - we’re missing a core principle of our world’s great religions - that each of us is unique in our ability to contribute.

4 – We need to practice aggressive, assertive kindness. 

While our traditional – and non-traditional - media channels are being distracted by tweets, we can manage the interactions we have that are right in front of us.

Many of you know the story of the old man walking the beach after a huge storm has washed hundreds of starfish ashore. A young girl watches as he throws one starfish after another back into the surf. After some time, she approaches the old man and asks, “Why are you doing that? You’ll never be able to save them all.”

“Maybe not,” he said. “But I made a difference for this one, and now this one, and…” well – you get the idea.

Few of us can wash away the irrational craziness we’re experiencing right now, but we can make a difference by protecting the pursuit of truth, contributing to organizations that protect our core values, befriending different cultures and people, and practicing kindness – although I’m not a Buddhist, I have great respect for the Dalai Lama, who says, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”  

Recalling Old Lessons

  Reflecting the pain of shattered assumptions...

Reflecting the pain of shattered assumptions...

Yes – Tuesday’s election results were a surprise for most of us. I, too, bought in to the “conventional wisdom” that Hillary’s machine would allow her to break the ultimate glass ceiling and become President Hillary.

However, I stopped watching cable TV news in the month running up to the election because I couldn’t stand the echo chamber nature of us talking to ourselves about our shared understandings. And that should have been my clue that the election was not what it appeared it would be.

Today I’m bootstrapping to tap into my normally excessive optimism about the future to figure out where to focus my energy and I’m starting with some old lessons that still prove true.

First, a disclaimer and a definer:  I am a privileged white woman who has benefited greatly from the hard work of those who came before me. My grandparents were educated farmers with college degrees earned in the late 1800s – gentlemen farmers, was the preferred term. They enjoyed classical music, were active in their communities and produced children who aspired to the professions.

My father and mother provided my brother and me with music lessons, organized sports team memberships, and all the attention and support children of the 1960s and 1970s could want. We both had access to fully funded higher educations, and I’ve been fortunate with my career opportunities – again, because women before me carved a path.

That career has been focused on the science and art of storytelling to influence behaviors, more commonly referred to as public relations, marketing, corporate communications, or public affairs. We all – companies and individuals – have a story to tell about why we exist, why we do what we do, and how that can make a difference for those who interact or purchase from us.

From consumer products to health care, public companies to non-profits, I’ve learned there are some core truths to this work that I ignored during this election.

1 – We buy – and vote – based on how we feel, not what we know.

This has been true as long as America has been the messiest of all forms of government, a democracy. We have to feel deeply to show up at a polling place and convince five to ten of our friends to do the same, which is a winning formula.

For a number of reasons – including the echo chambers of pundits and experts that convinced us Hillary would win – voters who resonated with Trump’s view of America felt far more motivated to show up with friends than did the Democrats.

It’s the same with consumer products. Is there truly a factually different impact from one hand cream over another, or do we buy what our mothers and friends use because it feels familiar and comfortable? I buy glasses now from Warby Parker because it makes me feel good to know that my purchase provides free glasses to someone who needs them, even though they’re not necessarily any better than those I can purchase from my eye doctor’s office. And yes – I recognize that my choice of Warby Parkers can be perceived as privileged and reflecting an elitism that would frustrate many who voted for Trump.

“What’s wrong, lady? Costco not good enough for ya?” Of course it is – but given a consumer choice, I will choose to make a purchase that I feel can make a difference, even if buying Warbys is also the trendy choice.

2 – It’s never about facts. It’s about story.

Now that neuroscience is unlocking the workings of our brains, we have the proof that humans respond better to stories that elicit feelings than facts that explain.

It’s ancient hardwiring that enabled us to survive despite large carnivorous animals and warring tribes who wanted our lands. For thousands of years, we have created myth and legend to explain the seasons and natural phenomenon. Even our religious books, including the Bible, are filled with imperfect humans wrestling with God or gods to overcome human disasters.

This always makes my university faculty friends crazy. They live in a world of scientific fact and data which will never be as persuasive as a well-framed story about a life improved because of their science. It’s powerful and important to understand that stories involving other humans are far more compelling and influential than stacks of data or facts.

It explains how the facts of Trump’s multiple business failures and shady or fraudulent business transactions had significantly less influence than the image of his business success projected by the big Trump jet, the big Trump buildings, and the gilded lifestyle he appears to lead. The image of the poor little rich boy who built an empire populated by attractive women and well-dressed progeny told a story that no facts could shake for voters who wanted to vote for an image of their own potential success. 

3 – We cannot hear or understand what we do not believe, or we only hear what we believe.

My friends and professional colleagues live and work in a world where calling people names, demonstrating overt racism, sexism, or denigration of anyone with a different past or belief is simply not done. Anyone who showed hatred would be ostracized if not fired or demoted.  So it was impossible for us to believe that anyone could hear Trump’s hate speech(es) and still support his campaign. We just couldn’t understand how any rational human could vote for hate.

And we weren’t paying attention to the right cues. His supporters were keying in on his “Make America Great Again” mantra, interpreted as they each believed he meant those words.

Yes - there are a few of his supporters – represented by David Duke and the KKK- Nazis – who want it to mean “Make America White Again”, and they need to be carefully monitored and rejected now.

But they are not the majority. Most of his rural, exurban, small town American supporters believed he was talking about making America understandable again and slowing down the pace of disorienting change.

My hometown is one such place that has lost its manufacturing base and a large swath of its middle class, while watching home prices decline and schools struggle. The professional class that’s left – the doctors and lawyers – are frustrated by the incomprehensible nature of health care reform and by regulations that make running a business more difficult. My peers remember robust civic institutions that brought cultural events to town, and we remember when the drug problem was a few longhaired guys who smoked pot behind the high school – not a rampant heroin and opioid epidemic striking down the “good kids”.

They’re scared of what’s hard to understand or manage or control, and a man who projects confidence that he can get it done can be comforting. When you believe your world is at risk, that everything you have believed in is changing for the worse, and you are living with an underlying fear of a group of radicals in foreign lands who are out to eradicate our western way of life, then you interpret “Make American Great Again” as a call to return to a time when things made sense to you. When buying a home was an investment in the future, not a financial burden. A time when schools were places to learn and grow, not just manage a range of behavioral issues resulting from neglect or abuse at home. A time when the challenge of technology was learning to use a remote, not losing a manufacturing job to a more productive robot.

In that environment, voters simply didn’t care that their candidate spouted language and engaged in behaviors that were beyond the boundaries of societally acceptable. When the world as you know and understand it is falling apart, screw society and vote as if your life depends on it.

Those are the lessons of my profession that I ignored this year. Now it’s time to help my clients and friends learn to navigate through the next few years. 

Attractive & Promises

 This is attractive - Adafina recipe at end...

This is attractive - Adafina recipe at end...

One of the echo chamber sidebars of this entire circus of an election involves the “discussion” of what it means to be an attractive person.

If you’re a woman, this is an old topic filled with ambivalence and angst. We’ve allowed large multi-billion dollar industries to convince us that make up, hair products, fashion, and shape are things to be acquired and desired. We exfoliate, hydrate, moisturize, blow dry, and revitalize to create sleek, satin-soft, radiance for our skin and hair.

The danger is that too much of that hydrated revitalization can lead to a plasticized version of the current trend in “beauty”. We’re told that at a certain age, it’s important to go lighter with our hair colors. We’re also told that crêpey skin and turkey neck are horrors that need to be covered with the latest turtleneck fashions.

OK – I loved the late, great Nora Ephron’s book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman” – and if you haven’t read it, this is a good time to grab a copy. The brilliantly expressed anxiety involved in the maintenance work of sustaining appearances is both hilarious and deeply sad.

Ah, what we go through to remain acceptably visible.

And then – if we’re lucky - we turn 60. At that age, there’s really no need to expend any resources on the products of beauty. We’re now physically invisible. And that’s a wonderful thing.

Now is the time when we can get back to what truly makes people – makes humans – attractive. It’s not the hair products. Some of the sexiest men alive are bald. And some of my most beautiful friends have spent their lives outdoors in the sun and wind – and their skin has become a testament to their experiences.

Attractive is really about being aggressively, assertively kind and generous.

Kind with the emotions that visibly beam through sparkling eyes.

Happy with the joys of discovering life’s wonders through curiosity.

Grateful with the recognition of the abundant gifts of friends and family.

I’ve found that humans are only ugly when they’re spewing anger and hate – and there’s been plenty of ugly recently.

No matter who wins – we have politicians already promising to ensure there will be no policy discussions, or true debate about how best to solve issues for this nation. Instead there will be more years of promoting hate rather than ideas, of denigrating different rather than celebrating diversity.

And that will make for a very unattractive nation.

 

And now a promise fulfilled – the recipe for Moroccan Adafina

This recipe comes from Saffron Shores, by Joyce Goldstein – with a few variations.

In orthodox Jewish homes, there is no cooking on the Sabbath, but it is also encouraged to have a hot meal on Saturday for mid-day. So the tradition was to prepare a slow-cooking meal that could remain in the oven overnight and be gloriously ready by noon of the next day. Or one can raise the temperature – cook for fewer hours, and have a great evening party.

·      2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

·      2 large onions, chopped

·      6 cloves garlic, minced

·      3-4 pounds stewing beef or brisket, cubed

·      6 potatoes, peeled and halved if large

·      1 ½ cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained

·      12 dried apricots, cut in pieces

·      1 teaspoon ginger

·      1 teaspoon ground allspice

·      salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

·      broth to cover

·      8 eggs, in their shells that have been washed

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. In a large, heavy dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and cook the onions until golden, 15-20 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients, tucking the eggs under the broth. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and bake for 8 hours, or until the meat and chickpeas are tender.

Or you can bake at 300 degrees F for 4-5 hours. To serve, peel the eggs – which will be brown and almost creamy to eat – and return them to the stew.

Note: I’ve also made this recipe by using 3-4 pounds of chicken thighs in place of the beef.

Enjoy! And stay warm.

Seasonal Shifts

 A classic Minnesota hot dish with cheese.

A classic Minnesota hot dish with cheese.

It’s getting chilly again.

This is a somewhat predictable occurrence on the North Coast in Minnesota. Yet it remains surprising when it occurs following a week of temperatures in the 80s.

One day, we’re working up a sweat in shorts and tees, and the next; it’s barely possible to counter the frigid air with two to three layers of increasingly fluffy material.

All of this, of course, leads to thoughts of kitchens, cooking, and food, and not just any old food, no.

This season calls for food that is simmered, stewed, or otherwise cooked in a slow cooker, or in a cast iron pot on the stove. It’s time for casseroles, cassoulet, dafina, or as they call it here, hot dish.

Up north here they put tater tots on anything with saucy ground beef and some form of noodle, and it’s hot dish for a party. This would be a huge step up from the recipes served in my childhood home.

Food, or preparing food, at least, was not one of my mom’s favorite things. Oh, she could cook. She had some great “salads” frequently requested for family gatherings that usually contained gelatin in one form or another. And she could pull together a meal when the occasion called for it.

Her domestic hero was Peg Bracken, author of “The I Hate to Cook Books” that required a cupboard filled with soup cans that were creams of nearly everything. 

The most famous of her inventions – and I honestly don’t know who to blame or thank for this one – was her version of a lazy lasagna. 

Just imagine this – start with a square glass pan. Spread a little tomato sauce on the bottom, and then arrange four slices of white bread on top. Yes – white bread, preferably without the crusts, but if that takes too long, just smush them in there with the crusts. 

On top of the bread, arrange half of a package of frozen spinach, preferably thawed, but again, not necessary if you, like my mom, have a distractedly busy schedule. Then the sliced cheese. She thought it was supposed to be sliced mozzarella, but sometimes there was only sliced Swiss cheese in the house, so that would do.

Follow the cheese with more tomato sauce, white bread, spinach, cheese, and …that’s usually where her interest and attention span ended.

She would push it all together, and then bake in the oven until the cheese was melted.

I can’t even think about it without a shudder. The first time she served the dish, we each put a bit on our plates, took a bite – and then moved on to the side dishes.

Those leftovers became a remarkable science project with the entire pan becoming fuzzy and turning an aqua blue-ish color where it came to rest in the very back of the refrigerator.  

The curious part is that she made it more than once.

And that’s why I learned to cook at a relatively young age. Self defense.

So – a beef bourguignon or Moroccan dafina, or maybe a Caribbean chicken stew – the weather is now right for any of those.

Traveling and Home

 Tangier from the sea

Tangier from the sea

I love to travel. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s a car trip to another Minnesota town or flying halfway around the globe, there’s something about exploring new landscapes, new geographies, and geometries of cities in the distance and close up.

Part of that love of travel is embedded in the knowledge that at some point, we will come home again. Returning home to the old familiar is as wonderful as the going away with its new adventure.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that dichotomy this month as the nation goes through its back to school/back to work season. In this country and a few others, this is the time of year when we get organized, go back to the grindstone, focus on professional goals, and buy new pens. More than January 1st, this is the time of year when I sit back and reflect on where I am and where I’m going.

The same happens when we travel. We always know where we’re going to board the plane and where the plane is scheduled to land. Now that we’re beyond the backpacking phase of our lives, we also have hotel rooms locked down and an itinerary in place when we fly off. Our suitcases have been packed, repacked, and pared down to carry-on status and we have a definite idea of what we are planning to do and see.

And then we land and the experience of it all takes over. The itinerary – the plan – becomes a mere outline to what circumstance and the weather determines is preferable. Sometimes the heat of a day will drive us into a cool museum or shady café with iced beverages when we thought a good hike was the plan. Sometimes a day by the pool wins out over seeing the Kasbah once more - just because.

The best part of travel is in the foreground of all those landscapes and geographies. It’s the people. There’s the friendly face that brings our morning café au lait in the hotel, the smiling and eager merchants on the street, and the head chef at the most popular restaurant in town.

Our waiter laughs with us as we try out Spanish, French, and a bit of Arabic while his English can easily handle our basic requests. But we keep trying to improve our meager language skills. We all know it’s good for us as our brains age – either that or we need to learn a new musical instrument.

There was the driver in Gibraltar who made a tour of the Rock doable in our available afternoon. His skill at vertical driving along switch backs combined with stories of serving in the tunnels of the rock during his service in the Gib national guard kept us all on edge – pun fully intended.

I always find the adventure of the new and unexplored so exciting because it’s a reminder that no matter where we go in this world full of the exotic, there are people who are eager to share with us – to share their perspective, their pride of place, their food or customs.

Then it’s time to come home – back to the lives we’ve created in the place we love. Unpacking, reengaging, reflecting on all we experienced in the places we explored.

It’s the final step of the itinerary of travel – the reflection part where we realize we’ve been changed by the experience of travel - that we’ve grown and learned by our interaction with those in other places. We recognize once again that the world is full of kind, engaging people who are interesting because of their differences.

The same is true here at home.

Even though we’re launching a very regular back to school year in the midst of a very irregular and divisive political campaign, this country remains full of kind, engaging people who are interesting precisely because they’re so different. I’ll try to hold on to all I learned from our travels as we move through this fall. 

An Ode to the Lovely Luscious Ladies of Linden Hills

 Moms in muumuus at the lake, missing a few more discreet madams - Sheree, Val, and Becky.

Moms in muumuus at the lake, missing a few more discreet madams - Sheree, Val, and Becky.

Years ago, a wise not-so-old Rabbi told a group of us that as life sped up, as the pace of change increased its velocity based on our hyper-connected, mega-mall society of choices, we should seek out safe and sacred communities of people to hold on to and nurture for our health.

At the time I asked, “Is this a ploy to get us to be active in our synagogue?” to which he replied, “This has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with being human.”

Today I have come to appreciate deeply the wisdom of his advice.

On Saturday, at the end of a(nother) long week of dismay, outrage, and overwhelming emotion, I gathered with one of my favorite safe and sacred communities – the Lovely Luscious Ladies of Linden Hills.

This group of women began based on shared geography alone. We didn’t go to the same schools, or work in the same industries, or even worship in the same manner. We raised our children together, living side by side and across the street in one of the loveliest neighborhoods in America. Yes, our differences were slight – we had different professional pursuits – an artist, a nurse, an extraordinary volunteer and homemaker, a consultant – and we were Catholic, Jewish, agnostic, and protestant. But what we shared proved important – a strong sense of fun, optimistic outlooks on life, and a desire to get outside during the glorious summers of Minnesota. That was it.

It started simply enough one summer Friday afternoon -- the youngest of the children were in the wading pool with older siblings showing off new bikes, trikes, and other devices with wheels. The older kids down the block joined in, showing deferential care for the youngest and appropriate goading to the older kids. And one of us parental types noted there were boxes of macaroni and cheese in the cupboard that would feed the collection of kids.

Another of the moms noted that the weather was just right for a G&T, and wouldn’t that be fun. In no time, Friday afternoons became a time to toast the end of another summer week and the continued health of our kids. It was a low threshold entry, wholly supportive and nurturing for the mothers and an opportunity to feed a collection of kids with one pot of cooking.

When we planned this year’s gathering six weeks ago, all we knew for certain is that we missed getting together with this group of women who no longer lived in the same neighborhood, and we thought it would be fun to spend a day together as we had when our children were young. We planned to walk to the city lake two blocks away, go for a swim to the diving dock, and return for an afternoon with the Tula Spa ladies who would provide massages and facials to a few at a time while the rest noshed, laughed, and shared deep thoughts on the porch. It was planned lusciousness.

It also turned out to be a blood pressure dropping exhale for all of us and a deeply therapeutic gathering for The Ladies.

When we met, we were so much younger, which means we all had more energy. And we had yet to taste the pains and hurts that human living can bring to the best of us. There was no hint of divorces, illness, addictions, or injuries much less surgeries to replace parts - and we were far from being the oldest generation in our families – parents were still visiting and making us feel that life was a very long journey.

Now we know better. Twenty-five years have passed since that first summer of gatherings. We now know that being human can be painful, that aging isn’t for wimps, and that life is fleeting and fast.

In the span of a lifetime, we humans tend to cluster with people who are just like us. It’s a tendency that is proving to be deadly and disastrous for our democracy. We tend to have little understanding and therefore tolerance for those who are different - with different perspectives, different experiences, different religions or cultures, and then we fail to see that we are all fundamentally human.

That’s why our recent Saturday together was so special. We know we’re all humans who don’t see each other often enough any more. We got busy with the doing, the raising, the coping, the ambitions, and the details of 21st Century lives. But the love and fondness and core optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary remains.

It turns out that this group of women is exactly the sort of safe and sacred community the Rabbi was talking about. We’ve learned that there is little we can say or do when we’re together that won’t be ultimately accepted and supported – the burden shared and thereby lessoned – and we continue to love the women behind the eyes we see with our bifocal lenses.