Monday, September 15, 2014

Actress Laverne Cox wows an audience of 2,000 at UMass

Actress Laverne Cox challenged a high-spirited audience of 2,000 at the University of Massachusetts, Sept. 11, 2014 to "have difficult conversations across differences" while treating each other with love and empathy. 

People often have misconceptions about those who are different from them, but if they get to know each other, they will find their differences "melt away," she said.

Cox, is a star of the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black," based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Piper Kerman, a Smith College graduate, about Kerman's year in a women's prison on felony money laundering charges.  The book is this year's Common Read selection for UMass freshmen and the Fine Arts Center quickly ran out of 2,000 tickets for the free event.

Using clickers that allowed them to respond to questions and have the results appear on a screen in real time, 52 percent of audience members said they were freshmen. Seventy-five percent of them said they attended because they were drawn to the speaker.

As a "black, trans, working class woman," she is hardly from a "celebrated class," said Cox, who was greeted with a standing ovation before and after her speech.

Sixteen percent of the trans population have been incarcerated. Seventy-eight percent have been bullied, Cox said. But she has gained acceptance, is now an Emmy-nominated actress with her own television show "TRANSform Me," and advocates for transgender rights.

"Ain't I a woman?" she said several times to applause, quoting the title of an 1851  speech by Sojourner Truth, a former slave and anti-slavery activist.

Cox described growing up in Alabama, a twin, with a single mother who made sure they were aware of the history of racial oppression and resistance to it. 

Cox's mother was not supportive of Cox's gender non-conformity, though; nor were her teachers. When Cox's third grade teacher saw Cox fanning herself like Scarlett O'Hara, "feeling very 'Gone with the Wind' fabulous," it led to a call home from the principal, who told Cox's mother she had better do something or "Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress."

As a child, Cox was bullied every day, but she found inspiration in dancing and in her rich imagination. "If we find something we truly love it can be lifesaving," she said.

Still, she tried to kill herself by taking pills when she was in the sixth grade. Forty-one percent of all transgender people attempt suicide compared to 1 percent of the general population, Cox said.

Cox and her twin brother went to a high school for the fine arts, where they developed very different kinds of "self-talk," she said. Her brother prefers the term "practicing homosexual," Cox said. "He thinks 'gay' is a bourgeois white construct." 

It was in New York City, where Cox transferred to Marymount Manhattan College after attending college in Indiana for two years, that she found acceptance for her identity and eventually received her first hormone shot. It was the age of the "club kid," gender non-conforming young people like herself who gained ready admission to exclusive clubs. "I felt like a star," Cox said. 

Cox still faces discrimination, though. About a year ago, she was kicked in New York. People on the street sometimes call her a man. 

"I've come to believe that calling a transgender woman a man is an act of violence," she said. Cox said there is a whole mythology that transgendered people deserve violence. A transgender woman named Islan Nettles was murdered in Harlem over a year ago and the case remains unsolved, Cox said.

She recounted an experience where two men, one an African-American and one a Latino catcalled her. Then, realizing she was transgender, one called Cox the n-word. It was an intersection of misogyny and transphobia with racial components, Cox said, illustrating how complex interactions across race, class, gender preference and other categories can be.

Cox said people in minority groups police each other. "It has to do with respectability politics and pain and trauma," she said. There is a history of the literal emasculation of black men, Cox said, the kind of trauma, which causes victims to lash out. "When you exist in a world that tells you you're less than, it's traumatic." she said. "Hurt people hurt people."

The path to healing, she suggested,  lies in creating "spaces of feelings of love, so we can mourn the shared spaces we have."

Friday, May 16, 2014

What a beautiful ending to "The Great Beauty," a wistful and deeply moving movie about an aging Italian reporter and observer of the city (Rome).

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Our trip to Iceland

Nicky and I returned this week from a wonderful 4-night vacation in Iceland. I highly recommend it for  an easy, low-stress yet exotic vacation. It's only a 5 1/2 hour flight from New York City; the people are friendly and you can try healthy Nordic cuisine. The best part for me was visiting the Blue Lagoon, a salty, geothermal outdoor swimming area/spa. Oh, and it never gets dark. Here is a 1 minute-20 second video of some of the places we visited with a musical excerpt by the Swedish band Goat (and below that a link to an informative professional video):

"Visit Iceland" video

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why I love the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge

My little niece Meghan and Ana at the Red Lion Inn

Here we are at my favorite inn, The Red Lion in Stockbridge.  I love this photo, because it reminds me of the TV character Gidget, played by Sally Field, a happy-go-lucky California teen whose zany adventures are morally instructive. 

What I like about inns and hotels is that they can transport you to another time and place like reading a book or watching a movie.  As a rule, I  like a mid-sized inn or hotel like the Red Lion best, because it's big enough that you can roam around and get lost among the other guests, but it's not so large as to be impersonal. (Another time I'll write about another favorite place - the very large Boca Raton Resort.) 

I don't like bed-and-breakfasts as much, because I feel like I'm in someone else's house and it's not as easy to imagine living there. I feel a special connection to the Red Lion because I worked as a waitress there for a few months after I graduated from college in 1979, before I joined VISTA and moved to Oklahoma.

Meghan and the Red Lion's house cat Simon

No matter what size the hotel or inn, I always look forward to the touches that make it a special experience. The Red Lion has a lot of them, including:
1) An affectionate house cat
2) Fresh flowers everywhere, including a single daisy in all the bathrooms
3) A fireplace that makes the inn smell homey
4) Friendly employees-- KEY to a great experience!
5) Vintage decor and more antiques than any other inn I've ever seen
6) Locally made chocolates on your pillow at night
7) In-house pub 
8) Year-round heated outdoor pool and hot tub
9) Someone playing the piano near the lobby at intervals during the day
10) Herbal bath salts 

Ana and Meghan playing Clue in the lobby 

It's reasonably priced, too, especially during off-season. According to one of the friendly receptionists, it's good to check the website on Tuesdays, when discounts are offered if there are unreserved rooms.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Favorite restaurants in and around Amherst

My LA-based daughter Ana is coming visit, so it's time to review the ever-changing local restaurant scene and write a list of where to go, beginning in Amherst and circling outwards. I know I've probably forgotten some great places and there are some others I haven't been to yet, but this is a start:

Nieces at Amherst Go Berry


High Horse -- Maybe our new favorite restaurant in Amherst. I've enjoyed the delicate trout with parsnip puree a couple of times; the winter vegetable curry is spicy and rich, and Brian likes the "classic daiquiris" - NOT FROZEN. We liked their desserts, but lately we skip dessert and go to Go Berry!

Go Berry -- I was never a frozen yogurt fan, now I love it -- thanks to the delicious Go Berry. The yogurt's made from local milk and available every day in the regular and two delicious flavors like key lime and chai tea. I always get berries and crushed Oreos for toppings -- but the plump whole figs I saw a couple of nights ago looked tempting. (There's a Go Berry in Northampton too.)

Johnny's Tavern -- In the Boltwood Walk area. I've been told the hamburgers are the best around; the sun dried tomato dipping sauce is great on the truffle fries and the butterscotch mousse is one of the best desserts I've ever had. Easygoing ambience.

Bertucci's -- So it's a chain, the rolls are great; I like the wood-fired pizza crust and I love the pizza with the arugula on top and the lemon cake.

Mission Cantina -- Love the Mexican food. I wish the restaurant weren't so tiny that you're almost guaranteed to have to wait for a seat.

Miss Saigon -- Fresh Vietnamese.
                                Vietnamese pancake at Miss Saigon

UMass Faculty Club - Really old Colonial ambience. I keep forgetting it's nearby!

Places I haven't tried yet: the new Chez Albert and Lumberyard.

I miss: The old Lord Jeff, the location of SO many good memories, including my dear late Dad's 75th birthday party. The authentic old colonial inn ambience has been ditched in favor of California wine bar-inspired.


Zoe's Fish House-- Good fish restaurant and not too expensive. I like the creamy seafood casserole. This appears to be THE PLACE TO GO FOR BRUNCH. There's an old-fashioned carving station, tons of steam trays with casseroles, blintzes, bread pudding etc.

Esselon Cafe-- Good coffee and lunch. I like the Mediterranean salad plate. Good beer selection. I like sitting on the porch in front of the radiant heaters.

Arizona Pizza -- A small chain, across from the movie theaters at the Hampshire Mall. The pizza is wood-fired; there's a good spinach salad, and it's got a comfortable ambience.

Carmelina's -- Upscale Italian, a little on the expensive side. I like the Sicilian pasta with nuts and raisins in it.

Mi Tierra -- Typico Mexican ambience and food. The Margaritas look delicious;  I wish they would make them with rum.

North Hadley Sugar Shack -- Don't miss it during maple season! You can watch the syrup boiling and the kids can visit the petting zoo out back.


Food 101 -- Elegant, good food; a good place for lunch as it is expensive. I wish they would change up their menu a bit.


Sylvester's -- In Sylvester Graham, of Graham cracker fame's house. Only open through lunch. The coffee and pastries are so good and so are the pancakes and salads.
                                             Peanut butter latte at Sylvester's

Joe's Pizza -- Classic; strong salads. The pesto primavera pizza we get every time is greasy but in a good way.

India House -- Friendly and I love the mango lassis.

Amanouz -- Tasty and reasonably-priced Middle Eastern food.

Pizza Paradiso -- Wood-fired pizza and good salads.

Side Street Cafe -- Never disappoints. Great mousses.


Apollo Grill - Best retro theme! Check out their cool website with a tiny vintage TV that shows a YouTube video with retro space-themed music.

Tavern on the Hill - Great view, especially at sunset and a cozy fireplace.


Brewmaster's Tavern -- Colonial atmosphere and Opa Opa Red Rock beer is one of my favorites.

Big Mamou -- Valley outpost of the Springfield original.


Bub's Barbecue -- When you're really hungry. There's all-you-can eat sides and you can sit outside on the picnic tables under the tent when the weather's nice.


Berkshire Brewing Company -- Not a restaurant, but the tours they give on Saturday are really interesting and the beer samples afterward are generous.


Hope and Olive -- Maybe the best restaurant in the Valley! The food never disappoints and it's got a great living room-like nook for when you're waiting for a seat. Cool website!

People's Pint -- Where I usually want to go on my birthday. Great Salvadoran pupusas, salad dressings, beer and dessert. A triumph of a place.


Cafe Martin -- So sad it's closed!  Shelburne Falls is the prettiest town around.


Student Prince -- A Springfield landmark and a must-visit! Old world German atmosphere with an extraordinary collection of steins and bottle openers.
                               Just a few of the bottle openers on display at the Student Prince

Max's Tavern - Simple and elegant. In the same building as the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is a fun museum even for non-basketball fans like me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 highlights and activities for kids around Amherst

Five of six Carey siblings and families got together for Thanksgiving this year and to celebrate our youngest sister Maureen's 40th birthday.

There was quorum of Carey cousins.
My brother and sister-in-law would be the elder statesmen -- except for Brian and me.
A La Fiorentina (Springfield) birthday cake.
A great kids' activity: making marzipan figures. Almond paste from Deals and Steals, Northampton = $2.

Candlepin bowling at Shelburne Falls Bowling Alley.
We're thankful for technology, so we can stay in touch via smart-phone with Ana, who's in Mercedes, Texas for her grandparents' 55th wedding anniversary.

And talk to the relatives via Skpe.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hiking at the Notch

The Notch is the first place that comes to mind to take a hike in Amherst, and my brother and I had a good 2-hour hike this week. But beware -- the trails are not marked as thoroughly as some casual hikers like me would like. No wonder the police get calls to rescue people there!

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Halloween snowstorm as seen from our Amherst backyard

The night of the pre-Halloween snowstorm was so light because of all the snow you could take photos with the daylight setting. There was also a strange lightning which might have been transformers blowing up.

On Sunday, we learned that 100 percent of Amherst had lost power. We got it back at 5 a.m. on Monday, but 60 percent of Amherst residents still didn't have service this afternoon and almost nobody at work did. It seems towns in higher elevations didn't have as much tree damage and power loss, because the snow, although there was more of it was lighter. We lost a couple of arborvitae, and our neighbor's maple trees were damaged, but that was minor compared to all the trees that were down all over.
Saturday was beautiful and much of the 9 inches of snow in our yard melted as the day went on.

Our plastic Adirondack chairs looked overstuffed.

All the lilac trees were bent over but bounced back.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

17th Annual Amherst Trivia Bee -- My office was the runner up!

My office team came in second in the 17th Annual Amherst Trivia Bee 1st runners up -- Team NWDA Just-us/ Dave Sullivan, Mike McHale, Steve Greenbaum and Linda Pisano.

These are some of the members of my old team, The Daily Hampshire Gazette's. One year, we won.
Another year, we won the costume contest, when we dressed as Sarah Palin and friends.

State Rep. Ellen Story, the master of ceremonies, is always the best-dressed person at the bee, always in the same blue dress.

Here are the questions Team Just-us answered:
1) Caligula made a senator of whom? (His horse)
2 )What's the connection between the 21st and 18th amendments to the Constitution? (The 21st reveals the 18th, which is Prohibition)
3) Walter Ray Williams had the most career wins in what sport? (Bowling)
4) Brontophobia is a fear of what? (Thunder)
5) What was Scotty's first name in the original "Star Trek"? (Montgomery)
6) Heade ├╝llatuste maa means "country of good surprises" and is the motto of what country? (Estonia)
7) what child star received 100,000 presents on her 8th birthday in 1936? (Shirley Temple)
8) Donald Kaufman, a fictional character was nominated for what honor? (an Oscar)
9) On May 3, 1809 Mary Kies became the first woman to be awarded what? (U.S. patent)
10) A recently discovered planet was given what comic book name by NASA? (Super Earth)
11) Entrepreneur Milton Levine invented what childhood science project?
(Ant farm)
12) From 1784-1811 Britain opposed a tax on what clothing item? (The hat)
13) Which U.S. president gave the first televised State of the Union address? (Truman)
14) What color does amethyst turn when heated? (Clear)
15) August is what invasive species awareness month? (Asian longhorn beetle)
1) Atychiphobia is fear of what? (Failure)
2) In Welsh Arthurian legend what is the name of King Arthur's dagger? (Carawennan)
3) Harry Potter's character Luna Lovegood was a member of what Hogwarts house? (Ravenclaw)
4) Aerosmith's song "Walk This Way" was inspired by what movie" ("Young Frankenstein")
5) Who was the only U.S. president to remain a bachelor? (Buchanan)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fall pics

Shelburne Falls
Bridge of Flowers
We'd never checked out the bowling alley in Shelburne Falls. It's beautiful.

Hawley road and cornfield