Friday, October 25, 2013


We had lunch with Kate today. Four of us who had met, and assisted, or edited, or project managed, or whatever, at Saunders College Publishing, at one time or another. Lauren and Kate also went to college together. Kate lives near me, but our paths rarely cross. She teaches college English. Ellen is now subbing in elementary schools. Lauren got a PhD, taught, then started her family later than the rest of us. With her sons in junior high, she writes and volunteers, Beth, the lone chemist, is the last of us still editing textbooks. We all have kids. We all have husbands.

Except Kate. She lost Jerry to a heart attack a couple of Sunday mornings ago. He collapsed while jogging. Kate was cleaning up the kitchen, and he just never came back. The cops knocked on her door. Do you know where your husband is?... Kate suddenly must go it alone. Their two sons, a college sophomore and high school junior, have not yet left the nest. They had a good life together, Kate says. She has no regrets. It is good to hear; it is good we are here. We came to comfort Kate, but she comforts us.

Thus the reason for our lunch. Girlfriend time at Tokyo, good feng shui in Skippack. Hugs, wine, sushi, bento boxes, teriyaki. Warm coral walls and high ceilings frame tall picture windows: the reds, yellows, and grays of a sunny autumn afternoon punctuate our conversation, which now seems sacred: Jerry, how they met, what happened, the funeral, teaching, publishing, books to read, craft shows, dogs and cats. My gaze wanders outside: I sat on that patio with Gary, just last summer, celebrating our own anniversary. So much has changed. Now Kate is facing the autumn without Jerry, much too early in their lives. This could have been any of us. Life may be short; or it may be long. We have no idea. Girlfriends: in it together. Call us, we tell Kate. On a good day, on a bad day. Whenever. I recall Anne Lamott's Help, Thanks, Wow. For Kate, I ask, please Help.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Adjunct Event, Memoir Workshop - A Stimulating Weekend

Blogs should be short, right? Well, Saturday I attended an adjunct event at Montgomery County Community College. The session on Classroom Management was helpful, and on Blackboard Collaborate/Smart Notebook, eye-opening. Long breakfast and lunch sessions allowed conversations with many adjuncts—Leslie from English, John from Computers, Alfonso from Chemistry, Don from Philosophy, and Camille from Instructional Design. I met Tracey from Nursing, who ran the event, and Deb, who has been sending out Assessment info. She and Camille are working on a grant right now. The afternoon session broke out by department. The Humanities session fought against becoming a bitch fest perpetuated by one adjunct, but we all did at least get to introduce ourselves and continued with more civilized conversations afterward. It was great to talk with Obed (Art), Marleen (Art), and Maureen (History). Also met Jane, Judy, and Leslie from English. Way too much negative energy in that one (unsupervised) session, however. The day ended with adjunct volunteers advising the others on various topics--Obed showed his website; Leslie explained the ins and outs of using Blackboard to save class work from semester to semester. All I can say is the food, served in the Parkhouse atrium, was great, and the info and networking were well worth spending a Saturday on campus. I'm sure I'll be talking with many of these people. We really forged some bonds.

On Sunday, it was much the same. The free memoir workshop was run by Rosemont College's MFA program from 12 noon to about 4:15. Carla Spataro, a classmate of mine at Rosemont (she was an MFA candidate, and me an MA), now heads up the MFA program there. Four speakers (Beth Kephart, Linda Joy Myers, Robert Waxler, and Jerry Waxler) addressed memoir topics and challenged the audience with exercises. Their insight and encouragement were invaluable. I found myself volunteering to read my paragraph exercises aloud, a first for me and surprising. I met Paulette and her friends, who all read as well, and talked with Jerry about his newly published Memoir Revolution. I cornered Bob Waxler about his program to read literature with inmates and renewed my acquaintance with Carla. I also met MFA student volunteers. Tara's dress was lovely (it was a blue/gray floral affair, comfy, made of t-shirt cotton, but with long sleeves) and I told her so--she got it from an English-Irish catalog. She has two teenagers; I gave her my Empty Nest business card. I also met Angela (with a face like an angel, freckles, blue eyes); she drove down from Williamsport to hear Linda's talk. She has a 7-year-old daughter named Nadia. She left early, so I never had a chance to say goodbye.

Whereas we spent last weekend sailing our Thistle off the coast of Annapolis, this weekend was more of an inward journey—with the goal of becoming a better teacher and writer, and meeting more people interested in doing the same.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with Mom

Gary, Mom, and I visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on Wednesday evening. It was a bit of a last-minute decision, but a very good one, as it turned out. Gary had mentioned seeing an article about the Society's recent remodeling in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Then, on Tuesday, I spied a follow-up feature that detailed highlights of Wednesday's celebratory open house: a handwritten draft of the U.S. Constitution, printer's proofs of the Declaration of Independence, one of three known copies of "The Star-Spangled Banner" written and signed by Francis Scott Key, a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln. Such treasures! On Wednesday, the HSP doors would be open to the public from 12:30 to 8:00, and admission would be free.

I called Mom. We had been trying to schedule a visit with her. Would she like to meet us in Philadelphia and check out the Historical Society? Mom is into Americana big time; the Revolutionary War is her specialty. Her rec room is donned floor to ceiling in red, white, and blue: American flags, pillows, throw blankets, wall hangings, and figurines. You name it; she has it. Yes, she was up for a trek into the city to see the "real deal."

We met Mom near Suburban Station about 4:30. Gary let us off at the Historical Society (13th and Locust), then parked while we registered. We were greeted at the huge doorway (the Society occupied the premises since 1824, but the building is much older) by several docents bearing give-away maps that listed the exhibits and tours. We took in the magnificently high ceilings, fresh paint job (in "celery"!), and newly tiled black and white checkerboard-patterned floors. The effect was breath-taking. Floor-to-ceiling "digital walls" cycled greatly enlarged images of items from the collections—manuscripts, art, and photos—really bringing them to life.

Once Gary joined us, we enjoyed some complimentary refreshments, then headed into the main display room, where we took our leisure, perusing the many artifacts we had read about through glass cases. It was difficult to believe that items of such deeply significant value to all Americans were just inches away from our eyes and our hands!

Once we had our fill of the displays, we decided to join a tour of the second-floor Archives. There, we met a Society staff member who was quick to point out the rows and rows of very new, and very high, gray metal shelving. She discussed the recent renovations, which, she said, gave the Society about 30% more storage space. And at the rate donations were coming in, that should (only) be enough for about another 10 years of collecting! She explained what it was like to catalogue and preserve a donation—how long it actually took. An archivist (there were two on staff) went through the box(but many times, boxes upon boxes) painstakingly, listing each item in a record, then carefully labeling each artifact and placing it into an acid-free envelope. I thought it would be somewhat boring (all of those letters in dusty boxes!), but the idea was actually quite fascinating, once I thought about it: Each donation documented events in people's lives, events that touched many others' lives, and the archivist quietly perused, documented (and also touched!) each item. A privilege. And, the materials would then be available to almost anyone who made an appointment to see them.

Before returning to the first floor, we stopped to take in a book binding demonstration. The spines of many old books and manuscripts that come into the Society need a new covering, in order to preserve and hold together the pages inside. The young woman we spoke with had been a printmaking student at University of the Arts. When the opportunity to work with the Society came along, she jumped at the chance. She said that it is kind of funny, on some days the staffers and volunteers will joke around about their work, "What, more of that guy Washington's stuff?" as if yet one more find concerning our nation's first president could ever be boring. But, she intimated, they do see a lot of it. Something she really did get excited about recently was finding a recipe for peach pie that dated back to the 1800s. One never knows what might turn up in a donation.

Our last stop was a tour of the Reading Room, on the first floor, and a talk on the Library's services. Our guide, Dan, was a former professor at Hahneman University. With a rich Southern drawal, he relayed anecdotes about collaborating with the Library Company next door (a staff member from that organization was in our tour group) and working with geneaological researchers. The walls of the stately, quiet high-ceilinged room were lined with volume upon volume of birth, death, and other family records. (The Society had acquired the holdings of both The Geneology Society of Pennsylvania and the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies. They also partner with, but the Historical Society has more records.)

Individuals can make appointments with the Society to research their family's history. (About 50% of the Society's researchers are family historians; the other half are professionals—researching for masters' theses or PhD dissertations, or authoring books to be published.) If any particularly rare artifacts or records are requested, the researcher is asked to sign out the items and view them in "the cage," a fenced area of the Reading Room. The items are then signed back in afterward. And, if you're not living locally or are pressed for time, the Society will do the research for you—for a fee. Check out their site to learn more.

After we were satisfied that we left no historical stone unturned, we headed out to the nearby Caribou Cafe for dinner. The fabulous "bar menu," boasting quiche, crusty sandwiches, and crepes (and a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine), made a perfect end to the evening. I'm sure Mom will make a follow-up visit to the Historical Society, however, to research her family (or Dad's), or just to assuage her own curiosity, for at dinner, she just couldn't stop talking about it. Mom is nearly 85, but she still has a lot of miles to go—places to see, people to meet. If anyone retraces our family's steps, it will be her. It was great to see her devouring that small slice of American historical pie so enthusiastically. It held her interest more intensely than did the Roasted Chicken with Brie.

Friday, October 11, 2013

America's Cup 34 Recap by Gary Jobson

Recently, Gary and I had the opportunity to hear Gary Jobson, ESPN broadcaster and former America's Cup skipper, give a talk about the 34th America's Cup, and we jumped at the chance. The event was hosted by the Corinthian Yacht Club, in Essington, PA. We'd heard Jobson speak before, but it had been years.

We had followed the America's Cup on TV and thrilled to watch the graphic-enhanced broadcasts of the races, held in the San Francisco Bay, within sight of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Along with every other spectator, we were stunned to watch Oracle USA climb, one race at a time, from an 8-1 deficit, to take the cup back from Emirates New Zealand, 9-8. And, we learned so much from Jobson about what went on behind the scenes. What a night! I had forgotten what an engaging speaker he was.

First, Jobson showed some scenes from the recent Cup events. Then, he made his first observation: that, although the boats have come a long way, the sport has never really changed: No matter how rich or how experienced the team, one can never predict the outcome. Evidently, Jobson was the only journalist to accompany the race committee out on the water (pretty exciting at over 50 mph). He also had the opportunity to ride on both the challenger and the defender’s boats (although not during the races).

The race may not have changed over the years, but the technology sure did. There were five mics and seven cameras on each boat, Jobson divulged. This enabled viewers to feel what the skipper and crew were feeling. Every spray, every bump - it was like you were there. This is all new to the sport. That, and the other technical marvel - the boats themselves: catamarans 72 feet in length, with hydraulically manipulated 130-foot high "wings" (a rigid mainsail, with traditional soft jib), and carbon fiber adjustable "foils," which keep the boat aloft - yes, I mean hovering above the water; these are catamarans, mind you - and pitched at just the right angle. These babies achieve speeds of up to 48 knots (56 mph), or three times the speed of the wind. Eleven crew members struggled to keep all that power under control, and teams of up to 150 people worked behind the scenes to keep the dream alive day after day.) The races were truly amazing to watch. Listening to Jobson, I was glad we had actually made time to watch the races (either when they were broadcast, or shortly afterward when Gary recorded them, as was the case on weekdays, when they began at 4:00 p.m.).

Jobson also offered a glimpse into the history of the America's Cup and reminded us that in the beginning, it wasn't the America's Cup at all. It was a race around the Isle of Wight held by England’s Royal Yacht Squadron, and in 1851 an American yachtsman named John Cox Stevens (then Commodore of the New York Yacht Club) went over there, won the trophy (a huge silver “cup”), and brought it home. After that, the cup was renamed the America's Cup (after Stevens’ boat America) and the cup stayed in U.S. possession for about 130 years, until 1983, when Australia defeated defender Dennis Conner and the New York Yacht Club. Oh, incidentally, in 1820 Stevens built a catamaran—a precursor to today’s America’s Cup yacht design—which he named "Double Trouble" In addition, Stevens also founded the New York Yacht Club, under whose mantle he sailed when he won The Cup from the Brits. One impressive sailor.

Next, Jobson provided commentary on the 2013 races: The 40-minute time limit was "ridiculous." (He claims the number was picked arbitrarily.) That, plus the very narrow arc the wind was allowed to have in a race, and the max and min wind speeds, really limited the window of opportunity for races to be held. (These limits affected the Kiwis adversely in at least two races.) And, of course, the technology used to referee and report on the races was stunning: In addition to umpires out on the course, there were also umpires onshore, watching the races from every angle, on multiple graphic-enhanced TV screens. The two groups compared notes via headsets, and together, they decided the calls. The reasons for Oracle coming behind (remember, the score at one point was 8-1 New Zealand; they only needed one win then, and every race thereafter as Oracle crept toward their 9-8 victory) was tweaking of the foils, tweaking of the crew (the tactician was replaced early on, as was the crew member who was working the foils), and small tweaks made by the designers - an aero team from Boeing - each night.

Finally, the crowd learned what Jobson’s predictions—or at least his own wish list—for the 35th America’s Cup: (1) The price tag: The boats must be more economical to build. Billionaire Larry Ellison financed Oracle, but the Kiwis had the backing of a number of organizations as well as New Zealand’s government. There must be a cap on the spending to encourage more to participate. (2) Nationality: There were only one or two Americans on Oracle, although Emirates boasted mostly, although not all, New Zealanders. Boats should be (mostly) crewed by citizens of that country. (3) There should be defense trials. Oracle didn’t race until the finals, whereas in the past the defender participated in the trials, which gave the defender more sailing time and contenders the opportunity to see what they were up against. This practice should come back. (4) Fleet racing, rather than match racing (one on one), should be the norm. (5) Catamarans are here to stay, despite some who are longing for mono-hulls, and the “good old days.” Jobson knows what he wants; it will be interesting to see if they come to pass.

Jobson concluded the talk with plug for his new book (due in 2014) about the Barnegat Bay Sailing Association, on the occasion of their 100th anniversary, then a Q&A session that further entertained the crowd of several hundred people. Sailors of every stripe and every age were richer for attending, as Gary Jobson brought stories of the 34th America’s Cup close to home.