A fabulous day!

… That was yesterday. My daughter Leila successfully gave birth to her second child, Alfreda Rose, at the end of a sometimes difficult pregnancy. She got great medical care, nearly all of which was covered by the contract that she and other teachers in the NY public school system have as a result of the continuing strength of their union.
Baby Alfie weighed in well and seems to be very healthy. Leila said she had a hard time in labor but in the photo her husband sent of her and Alfie shortly after the delivery, Leila looks transcendentally beautiful. I shall join them all in New York tomorrow, G-d willing.
(I mention the teacher’s union thing because there is a vicious campaign here in the U.S. to slash the power of the teachers’ union and all other public-sector unions. Do these people want to support and retain great teachers like Leila and her colleagues or do they want to drive them onto the street?)
… Anyway, this is one of the reasons I’ve been a bit distracted in recent weeks.
Yesterday’s news about the Fateh-Hamas reconciliation deal was also, imho, very positive. If I have time I’ll put up a separate quick post about that.

Back from a break

I got back home to Charlottesville this afternoon after a great family reunion in Philadelphia, to celebrate my youngest child’s 25th birthday. Wow, how time flies!
My other two kids were there, too, along with Matilda the best grandbaby in the world, Emmy the sister-in-law, and Bill the spouse. So we had a fine old time. The weather was beautiful, and Philadelphia’s a fabulous walking city. (Matilda, aged 17 months, wanted to do a LOT of walking on her own. It was adorable to watch her striding determinedly along the broad sidewalks, to the bemusement of many passers-by… )
Prior to the Philly trip I was working really hard on a quick consulting project for the American Friends Service Committee, and I’ve also been pushing my Big New Project ahead pretty well. It should be ready for unveiling (along with the new design for the blog) by mid-April or so.
Sorry I’ve been a bit absent from the blog– and not paying enough attention to all the sock puppets etc in the comments section.
There’s certainly a lot to blog about. Watch this space.


I’ve had a wonderful time, these past few days, hanging out at home with Bill the spouse, doing a bunch of work on my (soon to be disclosed) Next Big Project, getting my blogging voice back here on JWN, etc. But it hasn’t been all work…
We’ve hung out with several good friends. I did a couple of sewing projects that really needed doing–altering two pairs of rather tricky tailored trousers that I bought a couple of years ago and that never fit me well until yesterday. I finished crocheting a dress for the Best Grandbaby in the World, and now I’m knitting a pair of socks according to a slightly complex pattern my daughter Leila urged on me… I’ve done a few cooking projects, and some yardwork. Bill and I have been playing our favorite One-Minute Perquackey (word-game) in person, rather than by videophone. I’ve been wrestling with some demonic Ken-Kens. And today I spent a lot of time Quakering. Our monthly Meeting for Worship with a concern for Business was today: It feels good to once again be fully present in and with the Meeting.
All of which makes me aware of how incredibly blessed I am. I love doing just about everything that I do these days! I get real pleasure out of all of it. Well-fitting trousers? Yay!!!! And I made them that way, after doing a bunch of intricate hand-sewing down the center-back of both the main fabric and the lining… Yardwork? Yay!!! I revel in my body’s strength at doing it, and am delighted at the daffodils that can now grow straight and true after I cleared the weight of old, packed ice and snow off them… Working on my new work project?? Yay!!!
… All this also makes me really grateful for the excellent education I received. My parents sent me to two private, all-girls’ schools back in England. We really did receive a good, well-rounded education… including in art, needlework, carpentry (an elective I rushed to take), cookery, music, dance, and sport– as well as in Latin, Greek, French, complex mathematics, the sciences, and all the other usual subjects. So okay, a long time ago I left the art, music, sport, and classical languages behind. But I got basic skills in all those areas, and had the experience of doing some substantial work in them; so now I get to choose which of any of those areas I can go back to, at any point.
I’m afraid the formal curricula in the schools my kids went to here in the US weren’t anywhere near as rich as mine. Even though two of my kids went to the famed “Sidwell Friends School” in Washington DC… But Sidwell, I concluded along the way, was much more of an academic forcing-house than it was a truly Quaker (Friends) educational environment…. My son actually got a far better-rounded curriculum when he went to a non-Quaker boarding school up in Maine, than he ever did at Sidwell. And my daughter Lorna, who went to public (government) schools all along, in DC and here in Charlottesville, had a generally fine school experience.
None of them ever had needlework classes in school, though. What a pity!
… Now, my daughter Leila is a fourth-grade teacher in a New York City public school in Manhattan. From what she says, it seems like a good school. They have “clubs” after the formal school-day ends each day, and each teacher gets to lead the clubs of her or his choice in six-week sessions. So far this year Leila’s led a couple of clubs in knitting, and one in felting. With the knitting ones, she had the kids start out by making their own needles from dowels, and doing a little carding and spinning of sheep’s wool, so they could understand the whole process (which is what Waldorf schools do, I believe.)
So anyway, I really am very blessed. I have three amazing children, a fabulous, supportive spouse, work that I love, a whole range of different right-brainy things I can do when I need to unwind… and the immense privilege and pleasure of being able to make real choices about how I spend my time. (But then, being a Quaker means that when you have a privilege you also have this nagging feeling that you have a big responsibility to use it wisely…. Ah well, that’s okay… Did I tell you I love being a Quaker, too?)
Have a great week, everyone!

Home-library discoveries

The home library that Bill the spouse and I have built up over a total of 90 years of adulthood, between the two of us, now sprawls over seven rooms in our Charlottesville home and one in our DC apartment. (Oh, and he also has may yards of bookshelves in his professorial office, too.) So okay, it’s not completely surprising that often individual items get mislaid…
This morning I was reorganizing some of the space in my home office, to make room for the new project I’m working on. It’s always a good task to do. For me, it helps me focus on whatever I’m about to launch into while also reminding me of many of the resources I’ve gathered for past projects, that can often very helpfully be repurposed today.
Three great discoveries this morning:

    1. Two good, clean, printouts of a lengthy series of articles I wrote about Jerusalem in 1995. Yay! I’ve been thinking for a while I should look for those on a ‘floppy disk’ (remember those?) and then find a way to read the floppy disk and re-use the articles in some way. Now all I need to do is scan one of these printouts into a PDF. I even recently bought a new program called ReadIris that’s pretty good at converting PDF’s into regular word-processing programs…. So now I’m just about set with repackaging/ re-using that now almost “vintage” piece of 1995 reporting.
    2. A copy of Elizabeth Monroe’s great 1982 study Britain’s Moment in the Middle East 1917-41. I was looking for that book with some urgency just the other day, and couldn’t find it. This morning, as I restacked some books from my study onto a shelf in our guestroom, there it was!
    3. Archibald Baxter’s We Will not Cease, which is a most amazing testimony by a young New Zealander who underwent horrendous privations when he tried to uphold his religious principles as a conscientious objector during WW-I. New Zealand made no provision at all for conscientious objection during that war. When Baxter refused to put on the uniform they shipped him in a troop-ship in his underwear to France and at one point in the lengthy narrative even tied him to a cross for two or three nights, in a military base in northern France, during a snowstorm… I actually wanted to quote a few excerpts from the book when I wrote here recently about the enlistment in the N.Z. Rifles in 1914 of my great-uncle Cyril Marlow… But I couldn’t find it at the time. Now I have. Yay!

So, just more reminders that doing a good office reorganization from time to time is a really good idea…

That corporate thang

Well, it’s been quite the mindshift transplant for me the past couple of days, getting my head around budgets, HR policies, management structures, etc in my speedily assumed new job as Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest.
When I say “national interest”, I mean– as readers of my book Re-engage will surely remember– “the true interests of the American citizenry”, and not simply the interests of some big US-based multinational corporations, working in the arms industry or whatever…
Last weekend, I was talking with my fabulous son about some of the lifestyle changes involved. He’s an environmental engineer on the west coast. I was telling him, “You know, this past week I’ve been trying to train myself to be ready for this. Up till now, I would get up around around 7 or 7:15, do some leisurely yoga. But now I’ve been setting my alarm at 6:40 and– ”
“Right,” he said, “then doing frantic yoga instead…”
I love his sense of humor. I love and admire all of my kids so much for what they do in the world, and who they are.
But anyway, yes. Frantic yoga is kind of what it’s all been feeling like this past couple of days.
So, ommmmmmm.
People, if you support what I’ll be doing at the Council for the National Interest, or if you want to express appreciation for what I’ve done here at JWN, I urge you to support our work at CNI with a donation.
Also, okay, I understand that getting up at 6:40am and putting in 9- to 10-hour days at an office job is what a lot of people do. It’s no big deal. My daughter Leila gets up at 6 each morning to look after her baby and then go off and teach a class of fourth graders in New York City. You can see why I admire her! But still, if you support what we’re doing at CNI, please do consider giving as big of a donation as we can. this organization can– and will– become so much more effective than it has been until now!
That’s it for now. End of corporate thang.

Something a lot better than grandstanding…

… is grand-sitting, which is what I’ve been doing for the past three days.
My grand-daughter Matilda is now eight months old, and totally adorable.
I had forgotten how much WORK baby-care can be. Yup, this reminds me (once again) just how darn wrong Thomas Hobbes was when he defined the “human condition” by saying that “men grow like mushrooms out of the ground.”
Baloney! Who looked after Thomas Hobbes when he was a baby? Who tended him, fed him, hugged him, supervised him, taught him the language in which later he would communicate and indeed make his nice easy living… Who?
Another human person, that’s who. Most likely, a female person. Most likely, his mother… And as was the case with just about all the other philosophers of the western “Enlightenment”, he completely ignored the real work that is involved in child-rearing– along with the rights of the (overwhelmingly female) people who still do it to this day.
No way you can discuss the “human condition” unless you take into account– and give due honor to– the work people do in rearing the young and tending the old, sick, and infirm. Then, once you’ve done that, there’s no way you could think that the condition of being “human” is one of being self-sufficient and meeting all other humans on an essentially equal playing field… No way you could be a market fundamentalist, either…
Anyway, I know you all want to know how Matilda’s doing. She’s amazingly fearless and determined to physically explore the world around her, using her four limbs, her mouth, and on occasion the full weight of her head.
Her legs are sturdy after kicking a whole lot both after and before her birth. So now, she’s pulling herself up onto her feet in the crib and doing some little wobbly steps of proto-walking (while hanging onto the crib bars with at least one hand.)
She’s crawling quite well, though still tentatively.
She’s amazingly sociable and good-natured, and favors everyone with a big smile.
Right now, her fourth tooth is just coming in– It’s the right front tooth on the top. Her two middle bottom teeth are well in, so her open-mouth smile is particularly adorable.
With the new teeth coming down from her top jaw, she’s evidently fascinated by what’s happening inside her mouth. So often, now, when she smiles, she does so in a coy, closed-mouth way that allows her to carry on enjoying the movements of her tongue around the inside of her mouth.
I’ve been trying to stretch her hand-using capabilities. The one hand action she’s easily able to imitate is ‘drumming’ the hand on some nicely reverberating surface. When I open and close my fingers in a kind of stylized “bye-bye” hand-wave, she doesn’t yet imitate me by raising her hand in the air, but you can see her starting to work (in this case, a little more than twitch) her fingers.
When I sing her the French children’s song “Ainsi font, font, font, les petites marionettes… ” with the twirling-hand hand-gestures that go with it, she is always, without exception, fascinated by my turning hands. (Okay, most likely not by my singing voice.) But while she watches my hands closely, she doesn’t (yet) seem to be making any attempt to imitate the gestures.
I am fascinated by the whole theory of mirror neurons and the role they may or may not play in mimetic learning.
But mainly, I’m just really amazed by this whole process of grand-parenting. Thoughts of human continuity, appreciation for my foreparents, and concerns for the world that this little girl is going to be becoming an adult in all come crowding into my head.
I had a small number of these “universalist”-type thoughts back when I was the mother of small kids. But that situation was one marked by so much sleep deprivation, uncertainty, anxiety, and just plain stress that I really did not have time to dwell on those thoughts much, or articulate them in any focused way.
Grand-parenting: I can’t recommend the experience highly enough. (And if you don’t have grand-babies of your own to play with, remember there are always plenty of babies in tough home and community situations who need your loving attention in places other than a family member’s home.)

Thinking of My Son the Lieutenant

(This is Scott writing…. and reflecting)
It’s been a month since I last saw my son Keith, at a dinner where we said our farewells. I miss him; I am concerned for him. It’s taken me too long to write about this.
My angst comes in knowing he leaves for Iraq soon. As I’ve noted here before, my son Keith is an officer in the Virginia National Guard. His engineering unit is now in final preparations in chilly Wisconsin. He will be leaving soon and directly for Iraq, part of a region I’ve dedicated my own career to studying.
No, I don’t want him to go, not under these circumstances. I’m not like Governor Sarah Palin, who last June proclaimed from a church pulpit how her son going to Iraq was somehow “a task from God.” I think too highly of Providence to be so presumptuous. My prayers for Keith are more modest, and, for the moment, private.
The day after 9/11, Keith volunteered to serve his University’s rescue squad. He joined ROTC and earned a scholarship. Not a path I would have chosen. My late father, once a West Pointer, would smile. From all accounts, Keith is today a good officer; he feels honored to be doing his duty.
We see the Iraq war rather differently. Yet our recent conversations and our last dinner were not to be about the cause, but about… Keith and his family. I was speechless; still am.
Helena at the time helpfully reassured me that “for Quakers, being speechless is our most common and usually deepest form of spiritual connection.” I like that. Just being with Keith, his wife, and my grand-daughter was precious. (Jessica is the one who so kindly delayed her birth until my birthday – 9/11 – last year. She’s an angel, just now learning to walk.).
Yes, I did manage to talk a bit, listened hopefully a lot more.
My son is an engineer in training, with a focus on bridge building. (for VDOT) If only he could be doing that for Iraq! I gather his unit will be engaged in “horizontal construction.” (roads & such) I wonder just why it is that Iraqis could not perform such tasks. It seems “trust” remains in short supply.
At a family briefing day in September, I was struck that most of the speakers inserted quick lines to the soldiers about “how much we appreciate your service” — without quite mentioning what it was they were to be doing. We were mercifully spared any of the Bushisms about a “war on terror” and undefined hoo-ahs about “victory.”
We were there vaguely as “a band of families,” even as we are dispersed up and down the east coast. Most Guard member families are isolated; I doubt my son’s neighbors in Augusta County even know he’s been deployed.
Like Vice President elect Joe Biden, when speaking about his son, I wanted – and tried – to tell Keith I am proud of him, that I admire his courage, that I can celebrate his maturity, his achievements in his own right, that I know he will make good decisions, that he is a good leader
Maybe I didn’t get that all out quite right; I had lump-in-throat disorder.
When Keith was told that his former middle school was asking about what they could do for him, what things they could send, Keith at first was a bit defensive. As his unit’s executive officer, he takes pride in making sure his troops are well supplied. (Think Radar — as a Lieutenant!)
But then he swallowed hard and asked quite earnestly that any care packages be sent to his daughter — Jessica — that she gets extra love and attention while Daddy is away….
In that sentiment, I could not be prouder of my son. I salute you Keith.

My grandchild, your open thread

My daughter had her baby yesterday. I cut short my tour in California to come and be with her and her husband. Thank God mother and baby are doing well.
This is my first grandchild. In recent weeks I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the life of my maternal grandmother, Blanche Mary Marlow, nee Williams. She was born in London in 1888 and died in London in 1981. Her only brother was killed in WW-I and her only son in WW-II. For the rest of her life she was a very sad woman.
The world has changed a lot in the past 120 years. I am deeply convinced that we have the chance to make the 21st century a much better time for the flourishing of all humankind than either the 19th or 20th centuries. But that depends on all of us– especially those of with relatively privileged positions in the world order– acting with foresight, wisdom, and compassion.
Anyway, I’ll be spending the next few days snuggling the grandbaby and helping out the newly enlarged family. (While Obama is saying what must be a poignant farewell to his grandmother.)
I’ll leave this thread open for readers’ comments.

After the wedding

I am still in post-wedding mode, after the extremely moving wedding held Saturday of my son Tarek and his lovely, talented bride, Liz Jackson. Liz and Tarek had put a lot of loving care into the ceremony itself, and into a series of activities that brought families and friends together for a weekend in northern Vermont.
The wedding was marked by huge optimism regarding the future, though with a few notes of sadness. (Isaiah Berlin once wrote, “There is no community without loss.” In Tarek and Liz’s case, one of the sad notes– for us east-coasters– is that they will soon be moving to the west coast of the USA for a few years.)
The ceremony was held in an open, grassy meadow surrounded by wildflowers, overlooking spectacular views of nearby mountains and under a broad blue sky. At the end, those present sent the couple off with successive shouts of “Mabrouk!”, ” Mazel tov!”, and “Huzzah!”
I give thanks to the Almighty that these two beautiful, and wonderfully complementary, spirits found each other.
As for me, I’ll be back blogging toward the end of the week.