Category Archives: Memoir

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.

The Ordinary Made Holy

liturgy

Sometimes “chance” happenings are just too grace-filled to be chance. On August 2, Rebekah Anderson’s sermon text and a chance-read book “happened” to coincide with (shh) my colonoscopy prep. A former church member gave me a book her group had read, “Liturgy of the Ordinary: sacred practices in everyday life,” by Tish Harrison Warren. I perused the first chapter. It was about making your bed in the morning and it helped me to enjoy doing that.

This morning, with creaky bones and foreboding spirit, facing a 36 hour fast for my colonoscopy, I happened to pick it up again. The next chapter is about “living in a body” and it was so perfect that I feel impelled to share this passage.

Jewish faith, the soil from which Christianity sprang, is delightfully, at times shockingly, earthly and embodied. Observant Jews use a prayer called the Asher Yatzar, which they recite after using the bathroom. 

Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollows. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if even one of them ruptures, or if even one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for a short period). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.

It’s embarrassing and perhaps a bit uncomfortably graphic, but there is a baldness and beauty in this Jewish blessing. it dares us to believe that the God who holds the planets in orbit deigns to be involved with even the most mundane, pedestrian, and scatological parts of human embodiment. It calls us to gratitude and worship in the most undignified parts of our day. 

Then the author, who began the chapter by pondering on the act of brushing teeth, continues  ..these small tasks of caring for our bodies, as quotidian as they are, act as an embodied confession that our Creator…who mysteriously became flesh … has made our bodies well and deserves worship in and through our very cells, muscles, and teeth. 

Oh yes, the text for that Sermon “An Invitation to New Life,” available on video here.(at minute 35, and at minute 25 is an amazing handbell solo). The text was Isaiah 58:

ALL ABOUT HOW TO FAST!

Dancing at 20, 50 — and now 80

1990 group birthdayIn six months I’ll be 80.

I’m dependent for my health and strength on Pilates, as taught in the Anthony Rabara studio, and I’m learning new strengthening moves at Princeton Fitness and Wellness, but nothing beats actual DANCE.

Dancing (modern dance) used to be my life. I danced a lot, in college.  Some, in my 30s. Less, in my 50s. (The image* is of my 50th birthday party, led by my then dance teacher,Esther Arnhold Seligmann.  Even less in my ’60s, though with Alma Concepcion I did try to learn flamenco, until I realized what it was doing to my knees.

Absolutely no dance in my 70s.

Now, on the cusp of 80, I have rediscovered the joy of moving through space.

SPACE.

You don’t get it in Pilates, you don’t get to move through space in a gym, you can move through space only in a dance studio, and dance studios are notoriously unfriendly to old bones.

mary pat robertsonSo I am beyond thrilled to find a dance class geared for seniors, one that satisfies my desire (yea, my need) to move through space but honors my arthritis. Mary Pat Robertson,who had extensive experience in Merce Cunningham technique as well as being a master teacher of ballet, has begun a class for mature dancers of 50 plus years (that’s me), ranging from beginners to former professionals (I’m in between), to”retain flexibility, balance, and core strength.”

It’s at the new Martin Center for Dance, established by Douglas Martin and Mary Barton martin center logoupon their untimely exit from American Repertory Ballet. (This article in U.S. 1 explains some of the details and here is an earlier Town Topics article by Anne Levin).

I had studied Humphrey/Weidman technique and ‘experienced’ Graham technique, and I’m finding that Cunningham technique is kinder to old bones. Robertson merges what she learned at the Cunningham studio with what she experienced at a special “over 50” class in London.

It’s good for me. It’s fun. It has me moving (safely) through space.

Intrigued? Come and see! Robertson teaches the “over 50” class on Mondays and Thursdays, 11 AM to 12:30 p.m. at the Martin Center for Dance11 Princess Road, Suite 5. What used to be a warehouse is now a stylish space for two dance studios and a black box theater.

*Recognizable faces in the 50th birthday picture: top row, Mary Hultse, Sandy Goettinger, Barbara Palfy, ?, Ann Yasuhara, ?, Pat Hatton, Joan Crespi.  First row, Esther Seligmann, ?, ?, Barbara Figge Fox, Anna Rosa Kohn, Brenda Fallon, Nicole Plett. (Additional IDs welcome. With little provocation I will show you the video. It reflects Esther’s amazingly free spirit.) 

Dear Abby: elders need to share family history

dear abbyDear Abby:

In your column today, “Not Interested” kvetches about his mother, “obsessed with family history and preserving attachments to relatives…her house is stuffed with furniture, books, legal documents, photos, and the like. Each has a story that goes with it.”

Instantly I identify with both of them, the young person who yearns to accomplish goals in the future, and the old person who wants to pass down her heritage (memories, objects, collections, pick one) to her descendants. I was that young person, dealing with a memory-preserving mother, and at age 79 I still share the lofty goal of :making a difference’  with the time I have left to me.  I am that old person, yearning rather desperately to leave ‘something of me’ behind.

Abby, your advice was practical but insufficient. You tell the son to find other relatives who might want the collection. You tell him not to make any promises he does not intend to keep.

As a former print journalist, I honor your word limitation. But you failed to acknowledge the deep almost desperate desire of elders to preserve their heritage. Perhaps later you can suggest ways for young people to help us do that. Videotape us telling our stories. Photograph our objects and make a book for us to keep. Set up storytelling sessions with our grandchildren. At the very least, be lovingly polite about our desperate need – as we face the end of our lives — to pass along a bit of ourselves.

And on the other side, we elders need someone to help us face the River Styx. Someone to remind us that, regardless of the objects that anyone keeps or does not keep, whatever we said or did in the past is what they will remember.

PS. Here’s a shout out to my sister, RosalieAnn Figge Beasley, and family genealogists everywhere. Those of us who don’t want to do that work now — we are likely to be grateful later.

 

 

 

Swimming upstream in the workplace

At the time, I didn’t notice it, how hard it was. In the ’60s and ’70s, we moms didn’t even think of having it “all” or “leaning in.” We thought we were lucky to have a smidgen. We were swimming ‘in the water.”

Then I read Tom Watson’s account of how the Watson dynasty built IBM  (“Father, Son & Company..”)  and I came across my old yellowed copy of a Rockefeller funded book project to encourage women to enter the workforce entitled (get ready) “How to go to work when your husband is against it, your children aren’t old enough, and there’s nothing you can do anyhow.”

You may have my copy of the latter. It was put out by Catalyst, founded in 1961 to make workplaces better for women. That was the year I graduated from college and — newly married and out of the workforce — I had NO idea how hard things were for women.

Watson’s book is a good read. But if somebody like Watson had published his autobiography in the ’70s, I might have recognized how badly the deck was stacked against women.  Everywhere where you  might think Watson would refer to “they,” “employees,” “managers,” whatever term — he uses the pronoun MEN. There simply weren’t any women in his ken. All men. 

That was the way it was, then. It was ordinary. When my husband went to a summer training program at IBM, the class picture had two women and 30 men.  It was in the water.

Einstein Ever Fascinates

einstein house
Einstein lived at 110 Mercer Street, now a private home with no house number.

While on duty to give tours of the Tiffany window at Princeton United Methodist Church, I encountered a visitor who wanted to take an historical tour, shorter than the ones offered by the Historical Society of Princeton.

Princeton Tour Company is your answer, I said, but you will still have to hoof it.

Vainly I looked in online files to find one of my 20 minute driving tours, titled “Gossips’ Guide to Princeton,” but I did find this “Einstein Tour,” written in 2005. It’s longer than 20 minutes if you get out at each stop. I’ve updated it a little. It begins:

Einstein has always been Princeton’s most sought-after celebrity. Visitors from Europe who are visibly unimpressed by “old” buildings like Nassau Hall, and those from other continents who turn a deaf ear to stories of the town’s role in the Revolutionary War – they all know about Albert Einstein and are eager to view any signs of the great man’s legacy.

Continue on the Einstein journey

The newest addition to the Einstein tour might be the sculpture that intends to represent Einstein’s brain, pictured in this article on the Arts Council of Princeton website. 

sculpture of einstein's brain

Finding your ender: Here’s help

 

DSCF3202
Tabernacle by sculptor Adam Kraft at St. Lorenz Kirche in Nurnberg.

Good writers supposedly know how they will end an article before they start. Enders were always my burden (as in this gratuituous photo of a 15th=century stone sculptor). 

From Medium, here is extensive help, by Jason Shen, filed for my personal  use and perhaps useful to you.

How Great Writers End Their Articles: What you can learn from the final paragraphs of 100 top feature articles from Malcolm Gladwell, the Atlantic, Fast Company, and the New York Times

In lieu of a card

 

plane more
My Christmas Card: before dawn, Rochester New York

I probably won’t get around to answering your cards this year, again. Sometimes I have sent New Year’s cards. Or Valentines. Or St. Patrick’s Day cards. 

Instead, here is a list of resources that are helping me face 2019.

At Princeton United Methodist Church, we have embarked on a series called Relationships and Faith, based in part on materials from the Arbinger Institute. to  learn the difference between an Inward Mindset and an Outward Mindset. Pastor Jenny Smith Walz is undertaking the important and difficult task — to talk about difficult questions of gender and race within the church. Her challenging sermon series, titled “The Beloved Community,”  begins this month, focusing on “What God wants for God’s people.”  The ongoing study has workbooks available in the church office. Also here is a link to one of the Arbinger books,

I am also led to discover, and embrace, the work of Julia Cameron. Known for founding  The Artist’s Way, Cameron recommends — nay, requires — those pursuing creativity to write “Morning Pages,” three pages written in the morning, first thing, to clear the addlement from one’s brain. I found my first Cameron book in one of those “free libraries” on the street in DC in October, and it has taken me this long to convince myself it might work.

For the evening, I am trying to use a journaling system called Vertellis Chapters,  This “mix of mindfulness and stoicism practices” is a Netherlands-based journaling system (the Dutch are so smart!) and I found it at my favorite shopping spot – online.

Then, my old favorite, is the Upper Room Disciplines. a book of daily devotions based on the lectionary — the Bible passages read throughout the Christian church. So often, that commentary, that scripture, speaks to a current sadness or gladness of the day. My small group at PrincetonUMC, the Monday Morning Group, uses these readings for informal study.

Am I reading these, writing these, studying these consistently every day? No. 

George was a habit-driven person and I am the exact opposite. He did exercises daily without fail. When it comes to doing exercises daily, I mostly fail. 

But I am trying to create these habits. And I feel led to share them with whoever is out there, just as Jenny, Ginny, Gerri, Aimee, Anthony, Ineke, Judi, Mary Lib, Pat, Deborah, Susannah and so so many more have shared their inspirations with me.  

 

 

 

Gossip’s Guide: What to see in 20 minutes?

Antonio Salemme's Paul Robeson
Antonio Salemme;s Paul Robeson

 

Conversing with a reference librarian at the Princeton Public Library, I learned that visitors sometimes ask: “What can I do in an hour before I leave for the airport?”

With my Gossip’s Guide hat on – I suggest: 

In 20 minutes, more or less

The Quick Paul Robeson Tour: Check out the Robeson bust by Antonio Salemme in the Princeton Room on the second floor of the library. Walk past the Arts Council of Princeton’s Robeson bust (this site formerly belonged to the Colored YMCA) to the Paul Robeson house and Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, where his father preached. (Both visible only from the outside).

the Norman Rockwell “Yankee Doodle” painting at the Nassau Inn Tap Room (reminding the patron that it is NOT a colonial era building!). Check out the alumni headshots. If you have time, a free place to sit is the upstairs lounge, by the fireplace.

Princeton Cemetery. Available at the entrance is a new brochure. 

Tiger Walk:  Stroll from the tiger in Palmer Square and the tigers at the entrance to Nassau Hall. Keep going and you will find more.

The Comparative Architecture Tour: Enjoy the interior of the Princeton Public Library, a Taj Mahal of libraries, designed by the Hillier firm. Diagonally across, the work of postmodern architect Michael Graves. Contemplate the differences. Then check out the interior of the Arts Council and the current exhibit.

Dohm Alley: a startling array of thoughts and objects in a small narrow space. Plus, there’s a water feature good for contemplating, and it’s right down the street from the town’s college bookstore (never miss a chance to enjoy a college bookstore.)

In 30-40 minutes

A quick Einstein tour — the Einstein museum in the back of Landau’s plus the Einstein bust at the corner of 206 and Nassau Street, great photo op. (The house is too far to walk in a hurry, but I tell people to drive and park on Edgehill.) 

Morven, now made relevant by truthful and inclusive exhibits that tell the stories of female occupants and slaves.

Prospect Gardens, always attractive in any season.

Cotsen Children’s Library inside Firestone Library

Princeton University Chapel, always open and it has a brochure about the windows

Tiffany Window Tour at Princeton United Methodist Church on Fridays and Sundays noon-2.

Quick sculpture tour 1: Circle of Animals by Ai Weiwei and Picassso’s Head of a Woman, down by the former Dinky Station.

Quick sculpture tour 2: The Plaza in front of the chapel: statue of John Witherspoon, Song of the Vowels by Lipschitz, and (just inside the University Library, and open to the public) Noguchi’s White Sun. Throw in Oval with Points if you are walking that way.

This tour works if a Princeton native can direct the visitor. Later I may have time to add the links. What would YOU recommend?

 

Connect with your audience

EileenSinett_colorI was lucky enough to be able to take Eileen Sinett’s 4 Points of Connection  earlier this year. In this workshop I was able to put together a talk about social justice — not an easy task but she skillfully guided me through it. Her next presentation of this workshop is on October 18, details here.

Sinett knows how to connect with her students, whether a student is frightened to just open her mouth, or is an experienced speechmaker seeking to hone her skills. Everybody comes away more confident, more ready to step up to the podium.