Author Archives: Teri

Pushing past the patriarchy

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The Art Minnow, by Polish painter Robert Bubel

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My 27 year-old daughter and I are sitting at a nice bar, having a glass of wine. It is mother-daughter weekend, we’ve been Christmas shopping all day, and we have chosen this quiet, mostly-empty pub near our hotel to get off our feet before deciding what to do about dinner.

A long stretch of thickly-glossed bar fans out on either side of us, unoccupied, and yet a man sidles right up, leans his large body between us, and yells for the bartender. “Hey buddy, can I get a vodka and soda down here?” Then he turns to my daughter and asks her name. “I’m sorry,” she says politely, inching her barstool closer to mine. “Could you excuse us? I’m talking to my mom.”

But the man trains his gaze on her, touches her shoulder, and makes a face like she’s hurt his feelings. “Can’t a guy by a girl a drink?”

This is what it’s like to be a woman in the world. Apologizing to men we don’t know for affronts we have not committed.

I was worried about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying before the Senate Judiciary. I was worried because I knew what would come next. Something maybe happened to the poor lady, but gosh, Judge Kavanaugh says it wasn’t him, and they were in high school for crying out loud, so even if it happened like she said, it was probably just a big misunderstanding. I mean, he doesn’t even remember knowing her, boys will be boys and all that, horsing around. Couldn’t she take a joke? Nothing that bad happened.

I consider what “nothing that bad happened” means. The many nights I had to drive drunk businessmen—married men, churchgoing men—back to their hotels while both shoving their hands off me and trying not to make them angry? The friend’s husband who always hugs me while he’s sitting down so he can press his face into my breasts, then laughs and tells me to lighten up? The stranger at the bar who touched my daughter, feigned offense, and refused to leave?

Boys will be boys, and the old boys club is alive and bitter. Last week, the president shamed a female reporter on the Whiter House lawn, “That’s okay, I know you’re not thinking, you never do.” Senator Chuck Grassley, when asked why there are no women on the GOP side of the Senate Judiciary, replied, “It’s a lot of work, maybe they don’t want to do it.” And Senator Joe Manchin said, “I have reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing,” but voted for him anyway.

I was 26, my daughter’s age, when Anita Hill testified, and I specifically remember a group of men friends laughing at her testimony about the pubic hair on a Coca Cola can. What a great prank!

Days before the final vote on Kavanaugh, “as hundreds of supporters cheered, Trump delivered a crude imitation of Ford from her testimony, in which she vividly described a violent sexual assault.” This, after Dr. Ford had testified, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense.”

The president is coming to Kentucky this week, and I suspect women and Dr. Ford will be atop his hit list for cheap laughs. What kind of citizen, what kind of Christian, attends a rally where they know they will be called upon to cheer, to mock, another human being’s pain? Is this how, in the words of WKYT, we “stand for Kentucky”?

The day before Senator Susan Collins took the Senate floor to lecture us about what a good man Brett Kavanaugh is and how he deserves a seat on the Supreme Court, I stopped at the grocery store on my way to a meeting. I was running late, in a hurry. A man approached. “Is it Spring?” the man said with a big grin. “Because you are so pretty it must be spring.” And then he stood there blocking my path, waiting, like for a thank you—can’t a guy give a girl a compliment anymore?—and honest to God I wanted to run him over with my cart.

I did not run him over with my cart. But I also did not smile nor give him the thank you he waited for. I did not, for once, stuff down my own discomfort to make a man I do not know feel good about himself. I simply pushed past him. Progress.

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Fear of drowning

 

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I used to have nightmares about drowning.

When I was little, kids I knew took swimming lessons, but I was never amongst them. I was not a country club kid, nor could I afford the 35 cents per day for the town pool. It was the 1970s, and I was being raised by a single mom who worked shifts at the hosiery mill. I stayed home alone on summer days; had changed schools five times by the 7th grade; when my period started at age 12 we could not afford sanitary napkins, so my mom taught me to tuck old cleaning rags into my underpants. Who had the cash for luxuries like swim lessons?

Like many of you, I am feeling overwhelmed by the drama of the Kavanaugh hearings from last week, and I’ve been horrified at the views that we have no choice but to believe him because the woman has no proof, it could be mistaken identity, and she waited too long to tell anyone.

I know this storyline well. I waited 34 years. I have no proof. And like Dr. Blasey Ford, I knew the guy. You do not mistake the identity of someone you know.

We have been drowning in daily, sometimes hourly, drama since Trump won the presidency. This is no accident. It works. We are too overwhelmed and exhausted to keep up, and they know it.

Just confirm the guy and move on, conservatives scream. It’s a witch hunt! Enough! And there is much ado about how long Senator Feinstein kept the accuser’s name a secret, the timing of the allegations, how senators will vote depending on who is and is not up for re-election. And let’s not forget the GOP’s favorite, if tired, punchline, “the Democrats are obstructionists!”

But it all boils down to this: if the allegations are true—and there is now more than one allegation—does Kavanaugh deserve a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court?

After 34 years, I finally told a few friends, my husband, and my kids. Telling made me feel small, ashamed, and enraged all over again. I am in awe of the courage displayed by Dr. Blasey Ford in testifying, as I would rather do anything other than retell/relive those details. Anything. Like swimming, ironically enough.

I no longer have nightmares about drowning. I never got the pricey lessons, and I do not know a single proper technique, but I swim almost every day now, and I can go for a good 45 minutes without rest. Nothing makes me feel less weighted down, or more resilient, than my time in the water.

The White House, under pressure, has called for a one-week investigation. But friends, I have no illusions. The GOP does not care whether or not he assaulted that girl; they care about winning. Pro-life conservatives have already sold their souls, and they are hellbent on seating their dream-justice.

Kavanaugh seems to me a man entitled; a man who has had the best swimming lessons money can buy; a man who, unlike me, with his wealth, elite education, and history of D.C. connections, knows a thousand ways not to drown.

Fit the man for a robe. Clarence Thomas is saving him a seat on the bench.

On Kavanaugh: Just what do the women have to gain by coming forward?

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Photo credit: Erin Schaff, The New York Times

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A good friend—I’ll call her Alice—was sexually assaulted in college. She had been going out with a boy she knew, a boy she trusted, a boy she liked. One night, she walked him back to his dorm and he became aggressive, sexually assaulting her. Alice never told anyone, until she told me, 40 years later.

We reserve a specific, accusatory language for women. What was she doing out at that hour, we ask, in his dorm room, what did she expect? Was she drinking, wearing too short a skirt or too tempting a blouse? She was probably asking for it. Why would she put herself in that position?

Women do not sexually assault themselves. And yet, the way we speak about the horrors perpetrated upon women, men—especially men from well-educated, elite backgrounds—are not only unquestioningly believed, they are not even in the room: “She did this to herself.”

Such is the case with Brett Kavanaugh as he awaits his lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. He is assumed to be a paragon of virtue. The women must be lying. Where is the proof? Why now? If it’s true, why did these women wait so long to tell anyone, to report it?

I know why, because I kept my own secret for 34 years. And what happened when I finally, at age 50, told my childhood girlfriends what had happened? They told me what I’d known all along: no one would have believed you, even we would not have believed you, you would have had to leave school, and it would have ruined your life.

I know because, after I shared my story in the newspaper, I received an overwhelming number of emails from women telling me they never reported their assaults either.

I know because I am a writing teacher, and students often take my class to learn how to write about their assaults, the secret torments they’ve carried for decades.

Still, we have many self-proclaimed experts. “Fox News host Tucker Carlson has slammed sexual assault survivors who don’t report their abusers, labeling them as ‘part of the problem’ for not fulfilling their ‘obligation to tell us.’”

President Trump does not know Kavanaugh personally, but he takes his word for it, calling him a great gentleman and one of the highest quality people, saying, “the second accuser has nothing. She admits that she was drunk. She admits time lapses.”

Senate Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell said, to a standing ovation, “In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court…. So my friends, keep the faith, don’t get rattled by all of this, we’re gonna plow right through it.”

Don’t get rattled? Plow right through? No one seems to care if Kavanaugh was or was not drunk or experienced “time lapses.” No one cares if he was at the party or in the room, or whether or not he sexually assaulted a woman (or women), because if he did, why would these women wait so long, 30 years, 40 years, to tell?

I am not asking you to automatically believe women, to unquestioningly believe Kavanaugh’s accusers. But I am asking you to consider motive. What motive do these women have to lie? They are not getting a lifetime Supreme Court appointment; they are getting a lifetime of their name and their reputation being connected, publicly, to their perpetrator.

These women have requested a full FBI investigation into their charges. Would you ask to be investigated by the FBI if you were lying?

My friend, Alice, was sexually assaulted in college. She pulled on her clothes and walked home alone in the dark at four in the morning, shaken and in shock. What had just happened? How could this boy she knew, her friend, have done this to her? Had she been too flirty and somehow asked for it? What would her parents think? Would they blame her, make her file charges, take her out of school? Then what?

As Alice walked, arms wrapped tightly around her body, a police car pulled alongside. They stopped, rolled down the window, and asked if she was okay, if anything was wrong. “No no,” she said, trying her best to appear together, composed, like the good girl she was. “Thanks, I’m just trying to get home.”

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You can reach me at KentuckyTeri@gmail.com

 

The joyless president

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Photo credit: The Boston Globe

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The day I tour Monticello, the beloved, mountaintop home of Thomas Jefferson, our current president is holed up with his iPhone, tweeting in his habitually artless manner. “The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead,” he blurts, and then, “THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY.”

I sigh, turn my phone off. And I wonder, what would Jefferson—a man who found so much joy in books, art, history, science, architecture, and the philosophical debate of ideas—make of a man like Trump?

Regardless of party, we hold, in our collective American consciousness, joyful images of presidents. There is Ronald Reagan on his Santa Barbara ranch, riding his horse next to wife Nancy. There is George H.W. Bush, playing golf with this grown sons in Kennebunkport. There is Barack Obama hosting the cast of “Hamilton” at the White House.  There is Bill Clinton playing with his dog, Buddy, in the Oval Office. There is John F. Kennedy on a sailboat off the coast of Hyannis Port, his smiling face tiled toward the sun while little Caroline rests her head on his shoulder. There is George W. Bush driving his truck across the property of his Texas ranch, with his beloved dog beside him in the cab.

We have no such images of President Trump.

The Monticello tour guide is a retired high school teacher, and despite the blistering August heat he wears a crisp, white, long-sleeved shirt and a light blue tie. From the South Square Room to the Library to the Cabinet Room, our guide tells of Jefferson’s reverence for his predecessors and peers, how he preferred paintings of brilliant men in lieu of landscapes in his offices. He explains how Jefferson amassed his library, enjoyed tinkering with gadgets, and how he preferred the fresh vegetables grown in his own gardens to meat.

And yet all I can think about is Donald Trump. Where are the candid photographs of this presidency, the images that make a president human, one of us? Where, and in what, does this president find joy?

Is he a football, basketball, or baseball fan? Where are the pictures of him on Opening Day, of him cheering on his team or sitting in a box during a Final Four or a World Series Game 7?

Who are his friends, his confidants? Has he ever called upon any of his living predecessors for counsel or to seek their friendship?

He skipped the latest Kennedy Center Honors, even though they marked the event’s 40th anniversary and coincided with with President Kennedy’s 100th birthday. Does he enjoy music or the arts, plays or movies?

Has President Trump ever loved a dog or considered getting a dog? Does he go fishing, hunting, sailing? Has he ever found joy in the grandeur of our national parks?

Does he, like Jefferson and so many presidents before him, enjoy books? Is he fascinated by Asian history or the British poets or southern American treasures like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston and Flannery O’Connor? Does he wind down of an evening by escaping into the latest best-seller or spy thriller?

We know, of course, that President Trump plays golf. And yet, we are rarely told with whom he plays: his sons, other politicians, the club pro, old friends? The president’s golfing life is private. There is rarely an official photograph.

Kicking off the Labor Day weekend with a rally in Evansville, Indiana, the president ranted inexplicably about how windmills kill birds; he called out the #FakeNews media saying he went to better schools than they did, adding sarcastically, “I’m president and they’re not”; he said he could not call immigrants “animals” because it would upset Nancy Pelosi; he called his own Justice Department a disgrace.

And then he played golf. And tweeted.

There is a line in Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “A Thousand Acres,” where Jess Clark comments on what it must be like to be president. “A president’s got to say, What do I want to do? What will make me feel good now that I’m feelin’ so bad? He’s like a farmer, you see, only the big pieces of equipment he’s got access to are weapons, that’s the difference.”

Leaving Monticello, I consider the joys of presidents in my lifetime. I easily call to mind JFK playing football on the Hyannis Port lawn with his brothers. I see W. throwing out the first pitch at a World Series. There is Reagan, beaming in a cowboy hat, at his beloved Rancho del Cielo. And who can forget Obama leaning down so a small black boy can touch his hair.

Of Trump, we are left with what he avails to us: his TV rallies and his Twitter feed. Where is the display of his humanity? What makes him feel good when he’s feelin’ so bad? What will history make of this joyless presidency?

To be free and rich in America

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Photo credit: CarBuzz

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Thirty-eight years in prison for a crime he did not commit; originally sentenced to death row, later commuted to life-in-prison; 8 of those years in solitary confinement; stabbed by a fellow inmate after being incorrectly labeled a snitch by corrections officials; granted conditional parole in November 2017.

I had the pleasure of meeting Joe—a thoughtful, educated, hardworking, peaceful man—while visiting friends in Virginia last week. He has been out of prison less than a year. He is learning what it feels like to live free.

This is who I thought of a few days ago when I heard that Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime personal lawyer, confessed in open court that then-candidate Trump directed him to commit a crime in order to win a federal election.

This is who I thought of when I heard that Paul Manafort, the president’s campaign manager during five crucial months, had been convicted on several counts of bank fraud. “Prosecutors built a case that Manafort for years hid millions from U.S. tax authorities in overseas accounts, spending the money to maintain a lavish lifestyle and lying to banks to generate more cash.”

There are now five convicted felons connected with President Trump. He revokes security clearances for lifelong civil servants who dare speak against him. He decries the media as “fake, fake, disgusting news” for not covering him as the beacon of love he ironically espouses himself to be. He has an enemies list.

Yes, an enemies list. But we are supposed to take him seriously, not literally, right?

The Washington Post reports the president has lied more than 4,000 times since taking office and, “not surprisingly, immigration is the top single source of Trump’s misleading claims, now totaling 538. Thirty times just in the past five months, for instance, the president has falsely claimed his long-promised border wall with Mexico is being built, even though Congress has denied funding for it.”

I can already hear the arguments: But I’m pro-life and/or pro-gun. The main stream media is #FakeNews. Immigrants are taking over our country. Democrats are obstructionists. I still would not have voted for Hillary Clinton. We did not elect a saint, we elected a businessman.

And yet, to quote John Dean advising President Nixon back in 1973, it feels overwhelmingly like “We have a cancer within-close to the presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily. It’s compounding.”

Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, tweeted in part, “Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”

And conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens tweeted, “I’ve been skeptical about the wisdom and merit of impeachment. Cohen’s guilty plea changes that. The president is clearly guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. He should resign his office or be impeached and removed from office.”

All of this brings me back to Joe, a man imprisoned and almost put to death multiple times for a crime he did not commit. For all the talk of impeachment and justice and the rule of law, I have zero faith in our supposed system, in the rule of law, that the president or any of the admitted felons who surround him will, in the end, pay much at all for their many crimes.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Donald Trump once said, and boy was he right. “You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” And therein lies the stomach-churning travesty of this sick joke of a presidency.

It was such an honor to meet Joe, to spend time in his presence. He now works for the Innocence Project, a program whose goal is to “free those who have been wrongfully convicted, and reform our criminal justice system.”

It was enlightening to have lunch with Joe and mutual friends in a Tibetan restaurant, to get a tour of his (first?) apartment, to hear about what it feels like to know you are hours from death only to be “stayed,” and to listen to him directly and truthfully answer any question, anything we asked, about what it was like to spend his entire adult life thus far, 38 years, wrongfully imprisoned.

At a 2017 Iowa campaign rally, the future president of the United States said, ”I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

Turns out he can. This is what it looks like to be free and rich and untouchable, even criminal, in America, while a man like Joe spends 38 years in prison. This is how our system works. Take it both literally and seriously.

Trump policies, rhetoric a long way from being Christian

Trump Church Politicking

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In a brightly lit waiting room, a man leans my direction. “I guess you’re a liberal,” he says, having, I assume, overheard a conversation I’ve just had with the woman in line ahead of me. “I have to confess I voted for Trump because I’m pro-life and a Christian and I trust in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but I gotta tell you straight up, I can’t stand the guy.”

He leans back, burden unloaded, and waits. I say okay and change the subject. He seems relieved.

I hear confessions like this on the regular, men ostensibly patting me on the arm to let me know everything will be alright and that I should rest my head because he has gone out and done the hard thing, the thing I could not bring myself to do, by voting for a man he despises in order to serve the common good.

Meanwhile, it’s been a heck of last few days.

After LeBron James spent millions of his own money to open an Ohio school where every student receives free tuition, a uniform and a bicycle, free food, and paid college tuition upon graduation, “President Donald Trump unleashed a withering attack on the state’s favorite son, savaging NBA star LeBron James in a late-night tweet that derided the intelligence of one of the nation’s most prominent African-American men.”

At a Florida rally where the crowd “chanted “CNN sucks,” and yelled “stop lying” and “liar”, with one man showing off a t-shirt reading “F*ck the media” the president kept them going, pointing at the media pen and calling journalists the “fake, fake, disgusting news.” He then tweeted, “the FAKE NEWS, which is a large percentage of the media, that is the enemy of the people!”

I think it is safe to assume there are Christian supporters at these rallies. Why are none of them publicly standing up to say the president’s behavior is decidedly un-Christian?

“What can’t be ignored is presidential behavior that might best be described as incitement,” writes conservative Bret Stephens. “Maybe Trump supposes that the worst he’s doing is inciting the people who come to his rallies to give reporters like CNN’s Jim Acosta the finger… [but when] journalists are dead because some nut thinks he’s doing the president’s bidding against the fifth column that is the media, what will Trump’s supporters say?”

Robert Jeffress, one of the president’s top religious advisors, tweeted on Aug. 5, “Pope Francis is dead wrong about capital punishment. God has commanded government to use the death penalty to demonstrate the seriousness of murder: ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.’ — Genesis 9:6”

Is this pro-life?

The president calls NFL players who kneel to protest police violence “sons-of-bitches”; refers to African nations as “shit hole countries”; calls everyone from LeBron James to Don Lemon to Congresswoman Maxine Waters “dumb” or “low IQ”. The list goes on. And he willingly lies. Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star tweeted, “Trump lied in June that U.S. Steel was opening six plants. Then he made it seven. Last week, at a meeting with inner city pastors, he said, ‘United States Steel just announced another two plants. They’re up to eight.’ It is restarting blast furnaces at one plant.”

Jacob Soboroff of MSNBC reports that “the Trump administration separated 2,551 migrant kids from their parents at the border. 572 of them are *still* separated. 410 have parents who were already deported. The government simply can’t find them.”

I often hear the argument that if parents did not want to be separated from their children, they should not have come here illegally. It is not illegal to seek asylum in the United States. But the president has a penchant for misinforming his supporters about immigration. The Washington Post reports that “immigration is the top single source of Trump’s misleading claims, now totaling 538. Thirty times just in the past five months, for instance, the president has falsely claimed his long-promised border wall with Mexico is being built, even though Congress has denied funding for it.”

And what of Leviticus 19:34. “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

The president has been in office a year and a half. The above represents less than a week.

To this president’s supporters who so often lean in to confess that they voted for a man they secretly despise, what makes you think things will be alright?

Is any of this, one word of it, what it means to be a Christian?

Strong women

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Photo credit: The Baltimore Sun

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Last week I celebrated my 53rd birthday. When a nice, well-intentioned man wished me, “Happy 29-again!” I both thanked him and declined. I get the sentiment, but when your mother dies at 56, you are happy, ecstatic even, about getting to 53. You celebrate.

I come from a long line of strong women, women who made good even as they spent their lives tied to men who cheated, bullied and demeaned them.

I say the women were strong because I bore witness. No matter the turmoil with our men—fathers, brothers, husbands, uncles, sons—the women taught me about tenacity and stability. They paid the bills on time; they made sure the clothes were washed, ironed, and neatly tucked away; they got a dozen kids fed and bathed and off to school; they banded together to tend to sick and elderly neighbors. Then they fixed their hair and drove off to work shifts on loud, dirty factory lines.

Women, I learned from my seat at grandma’s kitchen table, were the ones who got things done.

No surprise, I was looking forward to electing the first woman president, someone who was strong enough to ignore the noise and chaos around her and focus on women’s and children’s rights, make healthcare more accessible and affordable, value teachers, cut taxes for the middle class, and be a skilled negotiator on the world stage.

But then the unthinkable happened. We rolled out the White House carpet for a vulgar, unqualified bully who seemingly wastes his days obsessing over cable news coverage about himself, rage-tweeting, and playing golf at one of his country clubs. Or, as my grandmother would put it, “getting a whole lotta nothin’ done.”

The day after the 2016 election, I felt overwhelmed. Where to start? “No matter if it’s family, friends or neighbors,” I wrote, “we have lost the art of vigorous debate. There are so many topics to avoid: politics, abortion, guns, sexual assault, religious faith or lack thereof. There are so many things we were taught to never discuss in polite company.”

Yet, how can we solve anything without open dialogue and the willingness to work?

Which is why, with the midterm elections coming up in November, I was excited to hear about the Democratic Woman’s Club starting up again here in Anderson County. We held our first meeting on July 30, and I admit I was nervous. Would anyone come? Was I, as I have so often felt, all alone out here in Trump country?

Here’s to the 23 women who showed up to prove me wrong. And here’s to the two dozen more who could simply not make it the first night on such short notice. I am not alone. You are not alone. None of us are. And it just so happens that a great candidate—who happens to be a strong woman—is running for Congress in our district. It is time to get to work.

The next meeting of the Anderson County Democratic Woman’s Club will be held Monday, August 27, at 6:00 pm at the Senior Citizens Center in downtown Lawrenceburg. I invite you to come and take your seat at the table. Join the conversation. We need all the strong women we can get.

Last week I celebrated my 53rd birthday. Every day, I checked my mailbox, hopeful. But there were no colorful envelopes, no cards from anyone in my family. The women are all dead and gone. And it was then that I remembered: It is the women who remember all of the birthdays, isn’t it?