All posts by bfiggefox

Smart Connection

I had never heard of Christopher Smart, though as an English major I should have. My passion was Renaissance and 20th century poetry, and I kissed off the 18th century with one semester.

At the Poetry Circle at my elder residence, Stonebridge at Montgomery, curated by my new friend Hope, some read selections and some listen. Yesterday the coincidental links were giving me, as a wanna-be English teacher, delight. Perhaps “time present and time past” lurks in lots of poems, but every poem read that day — by Joyce, by Len, by Lois and by me — seemed to connect to that subject. Len’s contribution, a poem that he wrote to go with one of his collages, was even called ‘Connections.’

My contribution was potentially daunting: ‘Burnt Norton,’ the first of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. I had lived into these lines in college and choreographed a dance about them:

….Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
….

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always presen
t.

but since I’d handed out copies and distributed the reading, everyone happily dived in to share Eliot memories and favorite lines. So satisfying.

Then Nancy came up with a long but wryly amusing selection written by 18th century poet Christopher Smart. Drat, I thought, that’s the only poem read today that doesn’t have something to do with time. It doesn’t have a connection to the others.

I like connections. Sometimes I allow myself the belief that they are arranged by a higher power.

This morning I reached for my daily devotional guide, couldn’t find it, and absentmindedly opened a book that I hadn’t allowed myself the time to read, Lawrence Block’s’ The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, given me by button friend Ann Wilson, who promises that ‘buttons’ are featured in the plot. Fast skimming to page 19 and, lo, there is Christopher Smart, explained as a contemporary of Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith. Says the first person narrator: He was unquestionably talented, but he was also mad as a hatter, and given to fits of religious mania that led him to implore his fellows to join him in public prayer. “I’d as soon pray in the street with Kit Smart as anyone else in London,” Johnson allowed, but others were less tolerant, and Smart spent the better part of his mature years clapped in a cell in Bedlam, where he wrote a line of poetry every day.

I choose to believe that it was not a coincidence that I picked up that book, read to page 19, and found the connection to what Nancy read the previous day.

You may believe what you will. And I won’t ask you to pray in the street.

M

This Policy Bit Back

Edward Tenner’s “Why Things Bite Back” investigates the unintended consequences of tech revolutions. Better football helmets encourage more violent play, antibiotics breed more dangerous bacteria, imported wildlife that overwhelms native species, and so on.

I wonder if Tenner would include standardized aptitude tests in his lexicon of bite-backs. I had heard that the Educational Testing Service — one of Princeton’s largest employers — has had to defend its mission and tactics on various fronts. But I had not heard this history of why the College Board wanted to develop the SAT. As published in Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac for today, June 17.

But the biggest proponents of intelligence testing were college officials who were concerned about the rapid influx of immigrants — especially Eastern European Jews — to their student body… These college officials believed that immigrants had less innate intelligence than old-blooded Americans and hoped that they would score lower on aptitude tests, which would give the schools an excuse to admit fewer of them.

How wrong they were.

I would like to get self righteous, but before I point a finger, I need to look at my own heritage. I need to admit that I inherited a very dark pot of prejudice. I’ve scrubbed it up, but I’m not the one who should call the kettle black.

Use stillness – or movement- to meditate?

I choose “move.”

Told by a shrink that I really really need to find a meditation class, I dabbled in various mindfulness techniques but never found one I could stick with. First, because I am Christian, and when they start talking about chakras, I get an uncomfortable feeling about polytheistic religions. I am fine with however anybody else wants to worship their God or gods, but I need to keep my own wandering and curious spirit reined in.

I choose “move.”

Second, I don’t do “Same.” Routines are supposed to be calming, I’ve been told, because you don’t have to make those minute by minute decisions. (Decision making is another of my weaknesses.)

Third, most meditation techniques emphasize quiet stillness. Since for all my 80 years I have probably had undiagnosed ADD, I have trouble sitting still.

Nevertheless, while I yearned to hear the still small voice of God, to experience the “still point of the turning world,” I remained mired in a “place of disaffection…distracted from distraction by distraction” [Burnt Norton, T.S. Eliot.]

Seven weeks ago, I found my answer. On weekdays at 7 AM and on Saturdays at 8 AM I zoomed for Wake-Up Meditations led by — amazingly — a member of my United Methodist church, who had been tapped to be the lay leader of the Adult Education Ministry Team. Claudio Lamsa Da Silva has studied a wide variety of meditation techniques.

 “In my twenties,” he says, “I explored different ways of practicing monasticism through the lens of various religions…. I explored Hinduism in ashrams in India, Buddhism in Nepal, Zen temples in Japan, and Sikhism through my wife.” In 2005, he served as a monk in Zen monasteries in Japan and after that walked the 900-mile Ohenro pilgrimage alone in complete silence. ” DaSilva employs all these concepts, and his ecumenical vocabulary accommodates all religions, but I can be personally comfortable praying to God the Parent, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

As for the formerly despised Routine, I am a changed woman. No longer a night owl with disrupted sleep patterns, I conk early, awakening at 6:15 (or 6:30) to stumble into the kitchen for the prescribed lemon water and lukewarm tea. After tuning in from 7 to 7:30, I am able to be, as we say, “present in my life” and have set my intention to govern the day. This IS what I need to do to age well.

Most valuable to me, the fidgety dancer, is the chance to emphasize a particular thought with movement and touch. Some is the same and some is different every day, Monday to Friday, because each day has a different focus. The movement is easier to do than describe. Anyone interested, I encourage you to take advantage of the free trial for Daily Wakeup Meditation, currently May 31 to Jun3 4 at 7 AM Eastern Standard Time. The daily classes are ordinarily $10 but half that price if you go by the month. Email Claudio@reconcilewithlife.com for information and the link.

If you do, you will join me and people from around the world without having to leave your house. In Da Silva’s words:  We explore together the dimensions of our being (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) and of our living (relationships with others and with life) through breathing exercises, contemplative meditation and adjusting movements. 

Photos from Reconcile With Life web page and Facebook page.

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Dear dear Dr. Ruth

Here’s my confession: I’m such a Dr. Ruth fan. A couple of decades ago, when I was scheduling an interview with her, she left a message on my phone mail that I kept for weeks, delighting in that throaty signature voice.

Here is Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s prescription for Covid positivity, published in the AARP newsletter. Memo to freelancers: she pitched her own story. It wasn’t the editors’ idea but they bought it. Memo to photographers and stylists: This is how to make an elder look good!

Mem

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Wassail Memories

My family in 1954. I’m on the right.

Wassail – the drink and the song – evokes pungent memories. At Christmas my Senior Girl Scout troop went caroling to the Baltimore County jail. Singing our way, “Here we come a wassailing.. Love and joy come to you…” through the cell blocks, we tried not to be daunted by what we didn’t want to see.

Yet wassail, as a festive drink, is a jubilant memory. My parents made it by the gallon jugs for our four-hour Christmas open house.  Creating the base required simmering spices and sugar; later they added squeezed-by-hand juice and cider. I still have my father’s aluminum citrus squeezer.

Our house was small, so the nearly 100 guests came in waves – medical school colleagues from 1 to 3, friends of my sister and me from 2 to 4, and everybody else from 3 to 5.

Because the hot wassail was such a spicily unusual drink, the teen boys judged it “spiked” and claimed the bowl, ignoring the (delicately flavored with very good whisky) eggnog. Everyone looked forward to our Smithfield ham (an annual gift from a former med student) and cocktail shrimp (in the early ‘50s shrimp was not yet standard party fare).  

At these parties I learned to love to entertain.

When my parents brought wassail to me at college, I learned how much parents will do to help their children. They brought not just one jug of wassail, but enough for more than a hundred people. With the modern dance group at Duke University, I had produced the first-ever multi-art Yule Fest. We danced to Christmas carols, accompanied by a medieval combo plus recitations by drama students. After the applause, dancers came down the aisles of the ‘theater in the round’ with glass cups of hot wassail for all.

Here is the Figge family wassail recipe in the small quantity (with medium and largest quantities in parentheses). My father’s notes say the largest quantity will be enough for 50 people (if you also have 3 gallons of eggnog!)

Boil 2 cups sugar (8 cups or 5 lbs.) in 2-cups water (8 cups or about 1½ gallons water) for 10 minutes. Add

6 cloves (24 or48)

1 stick cinnamon (4 or 8)

6 allspice or ¼ t ground (or 24- 48 allspice

1 T grated lemon rind (or 4 or 8 T)

1 T grated orange rind (or 4 or-8 T)

1 T chopped ginger (use your judgment for larger amounts)

Cover, stand 2 hours. Put in gallon jug, preferably glass. (At this point you can store the base, outside if it’s cold).

On the day of the party, strain it into a large kettle and add

 1 1/2 cups orange juice (6 or 12 c) preferably fresh squeezed

3/4 cups lemon juice (3 or 6) preferably fresh squeezed

2 cups sweet cider (or 8 or 16)

Before you reheat and serve this, dilute with 2 quarts cider or water, by taste.

Dancing with Carols

The songs we call carols are not just for Christmas! In Medieval times, the Old French word carole meant dancers in a circle, singing and holding hands. In other words, a folk dance. or a winter solstice celebration, or a religous procession to sung music. Not just Christmas music.

From now through December, let’s get creative with movement! To bring joy to a dark winter, let’s DANCE our way through the next two months. Turn on those familiar hymns- or the less familiar Renaissance tunes — and dance. On your feet — walk in rhythms, circle your arms. In your chair, sway to and fro, choreograph your hands.

Tell me what tunes you are dancing to. Need ideas? Invite me by Facetime or Zoom — we’ll dance together.

We can get through this winter: Praise God! Praise him with timbrel and dance!

The Day After

Brandice Canes-Wrone, whom I know as member of Princeton United Methodist Church, weighed in on the election in this podcast on the day after the election. A political scientist she is Director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics

Brandice asked, what happened with the polls, again? Traditional wisdom is that the polls reflect shy Trump voters. “In some parts, that’s true, but it’s not true in rural Pennsylvania – and other Trump strongholds.”

Collins has won Maine, and everyone thought that wouldn’t happen. But Trump loses statewide by huge percentage points. She cites other examples of split tickets, down ticket votes going to more traditional Republicans. “But that doesn’t mean they need to scrap reaching out to less well-off voters.”

Also scheduled for this panel were Michael Calderone, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Ali Valenzuela, Eddie Glaude Jr. and Keith Whittington

Prepping for November

Did I write this just so I could use this image of a protest poster? not really.

Of all who read this, SOMEBODY will be unhappy after the election, so I offer a link to a class in making protest posters, here, led by the Princeton University Art Museum on November 5.

Hopefully, it won’t be MY side needing to make the posters!

Meanwhile, the more overtly political department of Princeton University offers some prescient talks.

Here’s one on how Wall Street can be less heartless and more helpful, Wednesday, October 14.

And here’s a chance to hear how Isabelle Wilkerson, the author of Caste: the Origins of our Discontents, addresses white supremacy history, on Thursday, October 15.

And if you REALLY want to know what precipitated the great divide during the Trump era, attend on Monday, October 19.

I’m going to TRY to go to these, but my priority lies with dance classes and spiritual development. For dance, I recommend online classes at the Martin Center for Dance, where I take a class for older adults and a ‘dancey” exercise class with Mary Pat Robertson and Gabriella Proffitt. For spiritual development, I’m in small groups and studies at Princeton United Methodist Church. Because, after all, health and spiritual delight will carry us through whatever is going on in Washington.

Social Media Mavens

Preservation New Jersey’s Zoom Webinar on Social Media on October 8, 2020

At the Preservation New Jersey Webinar, I picked up some excellent tips to use in my work with Princeton United Methodist Church (where, in our historic building, we have some amazing stained glass windows, including one by Louis Comfort Tiffany) and with the New Jersey State Button Society.

I met three women, leaders in their fields.

Melissa Ziobro of the Ocean County Historical Society and Monmouth University and author of American Heiresses of the Gilded Age, an Audible book.

Tara Maharjan of the Rutgers University Libraries

Emily R Manz of Preservation New Jersey, and also of EMI Strategy and Have You Met Newark.

And I learned so much!

Helping One Helps All

Best Buy’s landmark employee handbook

Reading this post I watched an interview with a nationally known HR guru on how taking care of caregivers can help everyone – including the employer.

Charles Montreuil, SVP of Human Resources at Best Buy, was interviewed by Alexandra Drane, co-founder and CEO of Rebel Health and ARCHANGELS, a national movement that recognizes and honors caregivers.

Montreuil broke new ground in ways for a corporation to care for its workers who are caregivers, and as both a recipient of care and a caregiver myself, his ‘corporatized empathy’ has special meaning for me.

Charles Montreuil and Alexandra Drane

At minute 23 came my AHA moment about why my church’s new arrangements for “taking care” are so meaningful. Montreuil says that having a caregiving system in place will reduce stress — not only for the employee caregiver — but also for everyone who works with or who knows that person. Stress for one person affects those around her. When the employee’s friends – her team – know that she can get help if she needs it — they can relax too.

I tend to carry a lot of that kind of stress. As an empath and a diagnosed worrywart, I am prone to worrying about who isn’t being taken care of. Ten years ago I helped manage an informal team to look after a beloved church member who lived alone but had dementia and other health problems. Refusing to move from her fourth floor walk-up Palmer Square apartment, she charmed everyone in sight, inspiring them to help her. But it took 10 of us to manage all aspects of her care.

What org”>Princeton United Methodist Church lacked then was an organized system of tracking who else needed care. We did have had other formal systems in place. In addition to the pastors, they included:

Stephen Ministry, which I knew pretty well since my late husband worked, as the lay leader, with then -pastors Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash and Rev. Catherine Williams and the lay team of Stephen Ministers — caring Christians trained to walk alongside those in need for as long as necessary to provide emotional and spiritual care.

From Stephen Ministry grew a caring group for widows and widowers, called Love Lives On.

The Prayer Chain, for as long as I can remember, offers solace to many. To be able to say “our prayer warriors will pray for your loved one” seems to help even those (perhaps especially those) without a firm faith.

Until Covid, several 12-step groups had, for decades, found a warm and welcoming meeting home in the church’s building on the town’s main drag. (After Covid, they will return).

Then. last year, Pastor Ginny Cetuk and an experienced lay member, Laverna Albury, put together a program, Circle of Care, to try to ensure that no one in our flock would “fall through the cracks.” This 12-member team “provides services and support to individuals or families who find themselves in acute distress due to illness, injury or family stress. ” When Covid came along, Circle of Care was in place and ramped up its efforts.

My AHA moment: When Best Buy’s HR guy, Montreuil, acknowledged that help for a stressed out caregiver could reduce the stress among that worker’s associates. “When you take care of one employee you are influencing the rest of the store. ‘Look at how this store takes care of us.'” Just knowing that respite care is available for the co-worker makes everyone breathe easier.

Yes! I realized. With the Circle of Care in place I can put that particular worry, that particular reason to be anxious, on a shelf. Other folks are in charge!

Full disclosure: I found this video on the website of my daughter, Susannah Fox. She bills herself as an “internet geologist” who helps people navigate healthcare and technology. At the end of her post she gave a link to Best Buy’s caregiver handbook.

The photograph below shows the elder in the fourth floor walkup, barely able to walk herself, charming a 10-yea-old stilt walker.