Take Back the Night (April 2)


In 2012, I was asked to be one of the speakers at Take Back the Night. I was honored.

And dismayed – because really, nearly two generations later this ought to be a non-issue. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now.

Here’s what I had to say that night:

I’d like to welcome everyone to the 34th annual Take Back the Night rally and march.  I’m Sabra, and currently I sit on City Council.  So I’m here to represent the City of Ann Arbor.  But I’m also to represent all of those who have come before you – and me.

In its own way, this is a momentous anniversary.  After all, many of us at this event weren’t born in 1978, when I first marched through downtown determined to join my voice to other demanding safety and respect.  But in another way, the fact that we are still marching after 34 years demonstrates how difficult it is to change our culture, and how important it is to never settle for ‘good enough’.

The City of Ann Arbor is committed to enforcing laws against sexualized assault, and to educating each of us about what that means.  When we fail – and we all fail from time to time – that’s reason enough to work harder to get it right.

So we all hear it again:  Sexualized assault isn’t about sex.  It’s about power.

We know we have the power to say NO.  We expect the people in our lives – people we know and people we have never met – to have the power to HEAR no.  This is what my generation – and the generations before me – fought to give to you.

I stand before you as a woman of a certain age – one who took part in that first march, but regrets that we find safety and power marching along Ann Arbor’s streets in a group.  We will really have won this battle when we can walk alone on Ann Arbor’s streets – any where, any time of day or night – and still feel unthreatened.

Our community supports Safe House in a variety of ways – from direct contributions to pajama collections and volunteer activities.  But sexualized violence hasn’t decreased – and neither has the need.  Our City remains committed and, in a time of conflicting priorities, hasn’t forgotten those among us who need a safe haven.

I believe this, and will work to make certain our commitment doesn’t get lost in short-term demands.  And as we walk together tonight, let’s hope that 34 years from tonight, all people can walk safely and alone thought our streets.

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Ginger Bread, or creative problem solving

I like a good vanilla.  I’m quite fond of thyme.  Coriander adds a little kick.  But I love ginger.

Today, though, it cloudy and stormy and cold enough.  I want gingerbread.  And I don’t want to go to the store. Time for some creative problem solving. I’ve done this enough to know how to innovate.

Problem:  I don’t have any molasses.

Solution:  I have some leftover black treacle from holiday baking a couple of years ago, and I can use that.

Problem: I don’t have a cup of treacle.

Solution: I can eke out enough by adding some dark corn syrup.

Problem: The recipe wants 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar.  But my sugar is hard.

Solution: I can heat the treacle, corn syrup and sugar with a little lime juice and the butter.

Problem: I don’t have any candied ginger left (OK.  I must be on a ginger kick, because I ate the last of the candied ginger yesterday.  I’m clearly not planning ahead.)

Solution: I can add more ground ginger and some nutmeg and mace, making the gingerbread spicier.

So here goes – as adapted from the most recent Joy of Cooking

Mix together 1 3/4 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 tablespoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon mace, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

Heat over low heat until the sugar is dissolved 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1 cup black treacle, 1 tablespoon sweetened lime juice from concentrate and 1 stick of unsalted butter.

Add sugar mix to dry mix, stir until all the flour mix is incorporated.  Add one large egg to the mix, beat until smooth (I use a wire whisk).

Pour into a buttered 9-inch pan and bake about 45 minutes at 350


Ginger cooked with pork or chicken makes the dish – whether I’m cooking something oriental or something European.  And speaking of European, there’s nothing quite as great as adding ginger to beef to make sauerbraten.  Which I made once, marinating brisket in crushed gingersnaps, vinegar and wine for a couple of days.  

Add ginger to apples and improve a pie.  Be judicious with ginger to bring brightness to pears.  Mix dried fruit and raisins with ginger, and make something that seems like Christmas. or just make gingerbread, and address that craving.

The kitchen smells really good, and now I don’t need to munch on anything.  I’ll cut the gingerbread after dinner, and serve it with a little lemon glaze.

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In honor of Martin Luther King Day

A couple of years ago (2011) – before I started this blog – I was honored to be asked to say a few words at the NAACP dinner.  Hint: Never ask anyone in public office to say a few words.

The theme of the evening was ‘education’.  Here, without the obligatory thanks, is my take on Martin Luther King and education.


I take my texts from the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

I think I’ve learned the value of an education, especially as the world continues to change.  It’s one thing to learn how to use a computer; it’s a completely different thing to learn how to think, to ask questions, and to constantly learn.  During my brief life I’ve found the computer a constant challenge, but one I was able to tackle.  But learning how to evaluate the information I receive, how to question authority – even in myself – and how to be ethically honest has been more demanding.

Sometimes we forget what the purpose of an education really is.  It isn’t to get a job.  Few of us will work for only one employer in our lifetimes.  It isn’t to be employable, either.  Many of the skills needed on the job aren’t the ones the educational system taught us.  Those skills – being prompt, being responsible, being reliable, taking pride in what we are doing – those skills we learn in life. 

But a good education teaches us those things – in the classroom or out of it – that allow us to think intensively and critically.  We learn that we are always ignorant, and always striving to know more and be more.

Rarely do we find people who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

Education – the kind that leads to hard, solid thinking – isn’t something we are handed.  We need to work at it, acquire it from our teachers, and recognize that ‘teacher’ includes parent, pastor, neighbor and friend.  If we get our vision of the world handed to us, if we never learn to question the quality of information we receive, then others control our thoughts and actions.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

It’s that willingness to be sincere in our ignorance and intentional in our stupidity – and we are all stupid from time to time – that allows others to control our thoughts and our actions.  Each piece of wisdom we are given must be questioned, tested, and folded into our own world view.  That’s because wisdom cannot be given – it must be earned.  And our failure to become wise encourages us all to make decisions based on our ignorance and our biases.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.

We each face a lot of pressure to conform.  That value – that nothing would change unless our world vision was challenged – often goes unconsidered or under-appreciated.

Tonight there are folks all across our nation, sleeping out in parks and public spaces because they are protesting.  They are protesting an economic system that is failing them – and us.  The Occupy movement should make us all rethink our vision of America – our vision that hard work is rewarded, that each generation will be better off than the one before, that progress is defined as better technology.

I suspect that everyone in this room is part of the 99%.

According to The Economist, the data showing the difference between the top 1% and the rest of us is dramatic and feeds into two existing prejudices. 

First, that a system that works well for the very richest has delivered returns on labor that are disappointing for everyone else. Second, that the people at the top have made out like bandits over the past few decades, and that now everyone else must pick up the bill. Of course it is a little more complicated than that. But this downturn ought to test the normally warm feelings in America of the 99% towards the 1%.

Is it testing your warm feelings?

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

Finally, I need to remind us all that, if we are the 99%, there are still others who are the bottom 1%.  While the top 1% has seen its income grow significantly in the last 20 years, and the rest of us have seen our incomes stagnate year over year, the bottom 1% has seen an actual decrease. 

As we approach the traditional giving season, please think of those who are forced to live without – and of those on the streets, reminding us of our duty to each other.


So little has changed since I wrote these words.  Protesters are not sleeping in the park, but others still are.  And as a reminder, life’s most persistent and urgent question remains “what are you doing for others?”

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‘Tis the season

I took a very informal poll. I asked ‘What is your favorite Christmas memory?’.

So I’d like you to share.

I’ve heard about the favorite toy – the one that meant as much as a BB gun meant to Ralphie.

I’ve heard about how a child learned that there is no Santa Claus – several different versions.

I’ve heard about food, a bit. But people always talk to me about food.

I’ve heard from people who don’t celebrate Christmas, but still have stories.

In the spirit of sharing, here are some of my memories.

Back in the ’50s, we could decorate our tree with plastic icicles – the kind that you exposed to sunlight, and then they glowed all night. I don’t know how those were made, but fear they were something we’d never allow now. The gentle blue glow was something, though, and I’m sure they were more reliable than electric lights or candles (both of which adorned our tree in different years).

One year, sometime before I was 9, the teacher in my class (or was it my brother’s?) gave us the class tree – unadorned, but still, our own Christmas tree. Some years my parents hadn’t gotten around to putting up a tree much before Christmas Eve, so this was a treat. We kept this tree in our bedroom (all of us were young enough to share a bedroom – something pretty unheard of, now). I don’t remember the tree my parents chose, but I do remember lying in bed, looking at the tree in our bedroom.

Everyone in my family sang – some sang very well. My eldest brother had perfect pitch; my second brother’s voice was true; my father was a lyric tenor and my mother a mezzo soprano. By the time my brothers’ voices changed, we all had out parts down – mine was alto. We’d go Christmas shopping, and we’d sing in the car all the carols we knew – and some we were learning.

We took that musical desire further. The scout troupe to which my brothers belonged would go caroling at ‘the old people’s home’. We don’t have such things now – preferring assisted living and nursing homes – but I remember that we never practiced, and that the people in wheel chairs and beds always seemed so happy to have children making noise.

Christmas is – for me – more about giving than getting. We made presents for our grandmother; we baked and gave away plates of cookies and candies. The making of things was my reward; I never wondered, as a child, whether the gifts would be welcome.

By the time I was 10, we were living in a different house, and each of us had a bedroom. My eldest brother was most excited about Christmas, and he started us ‘training’ for Christmas by helping us stay up all night for weeks in advance. He marked the stairs with chalk, so we could learn which parts of the treads squeaked. The goal was to get to the tree early.

And yes, my parents knew, and yes, they told us to go to sleep and refused to get up at 1 minute past midnight so we could open our presents. (I think they didn’t always have them wrapped much before midnight, anyway.)

In the spirit of giving, close your eyes, find a good memory, relive it and then share it. With a friend, a family member, or the world. Whether you think about the smell of cinnamon, the taste of anise, the sound of the bells, or the feeling of inclusion – or being different – those memories are gifts you can give.

I wish you all a merry and happy day.

Sometimes I close my eyes, and hear my father’s voice soar through a solo of ‘O Holy Night’.

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I don’t make transitions well. Changing seasons can make me ill; the low-angled light, the changes in air pressure and temperature seem to gang up on me. Travel to new time zones is only slightly harder than switching to daylight savings. Travel to different altitudes can lay me low. Delayed meals will cause digestive upset.

Time change isn’t the only thing that makes transition difficult. I get motion sickness – not just air sick or car sick, but also bus sick and train sick. Which means I don’t eat much when I’m in motion, and that’s another thing to which I make my body adjust.

It’s the body I’m stuck with, so I have learned to accommodate.

This means that I have to control my environment. I need to get up at the same time every day and eat meals at about the same time. If I cannot go to bed at the same time every night, I still have to try to get the same amount of sleep. And I don’t nap well.

This is all prelude, of course.

Because I’ve travelled three hours west, my body is failing to make the transition well. Even by my usual terms, eating dinner at 9 pm is way too late. So add three hours. Devastation. Going to bed at midnight is fairly standard for me – but add three hours. I forgive myself for knocking over the glass at dinner, spilling sparkling grape juice on the floor, table cloth, and my new sweater.

Some months ago, I read an article about how some people are much more physically constrained. They get motion sick; they don’t adjust to time changes; they require regularity. I’d quote that article, but it’s entirely too early in the morning here, and I can’t figure out the necessary query to dredge it up.

So, one could reasonably ask, ‘why travel?’

For all that my body is no help, I love to see the sun rise over water. I like to smell mountain air, deeply perfumed with evergreen. And I really like my family. So, as the sun rises over the mountains – even though I cannot see the coast, or smell the mountains – there’s no place better to be as the season turns toward spring than here – where my extended family-by-marriage welcomes me as a sister, mother, cousin, friend.

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This old house, or painting beadboard

When I moved to Ann Arbor, I had one real ambition – to live on the Old West Side in an old house. It took more than a decade of living on the Old West Side – and nearby – before I realized that dream. We were married in the dining room, but within months had to find a new home. And that’s the short version of how we moved onto Broadway. The longer version involves the process of buying a used house.

Big Ed’s Used Houses

By the time my spouse and I started looking for a house, most of our friends were already home owners. And almost all of them had bought a used house. (Almost all of them still live in used houses, for that matter.)

Those were the days. I never heard anyone complain about the old wiring or old plumbing; they were aware that they might need to sink some dollars into the infrastructure. Were the hallways narrow? They learned to pass in a friendly fashion. And if they needed to update the infrastructure, some of them learned how, and some called a professional. (This is, of course, a joke. Everyone complains about their children, their house, and their taxes. It’s the American way.)

But to get those used houses, nearly everyone turned to Big Ed and his staff of used house sales men and women. We did, too. And we read the ads in the paper, went to dozens of open houses, and talked with each other about what we wanted. I learned that my spouse would like a house with only one floor – maybe because he grew up in such a house. In turn, I wanted a house with a dining room, bedrooms on the second floor, and a basement – because to me, that was the essential house. In the end, we didn’t find our house on one of Big Ed’s used house lots. We purchased directly from the owner. And after that, we had the constant task of maintenance. After nearly 27 years, we are still trying to maintain this place.

How to paint beadboard ceilings

My office, such as it is, is on the sunporch that’s attached to the back of my house. This isn’t a standard porch, as the only way to enter or exit is through the house itself. We expect that it was built as a ‘sleeping porch’ around the beginning of the 20th century, when folks imagined that sleeping in fresh air would prevent tuberculosis. Sometime around 1930-1940, the porch was enclosed. And then, around 1970 the porch was updated, with the old, mullioned casement windows removed and new, sliding windows installed. Drywall was put on the exterior walls, and before we bought the place the entire room was painted a uniform landlord white. I wish for the old windows, which were elegant in comparison, and I’ve added reglazing to my list of things to do.

When we moved in, we pretty much left things as we found them in the sunporch. Over the years, we decided this was going to be where I used the computer, and so it has become. But after more than two decades of making incremental changes in the house, it is time to tackle this room.

Since it started life as a porch, it still has the original beadboard ceiling. And beadboard is notoriously time-consuming to paint. Most do-it-yourself instructions suggest painting before installing. I’m afraid that hasn’t been an option. So here’s my set of instructions for painting a 100-year-old ceiling in place.

Fix the roof

You may laugh about this, but before spending hours of time prepping the surface, patching holes and getting sweaty, make certain the roof is in good condition. A few years ago I decided to paint our bedroom, moved all the furniture, scraped, sanded, and patched. Because there was a crack in the ceiling, I also fixed it. I didn’t investigate the cause of the crack, because I imagined it was decades old and caused either by settling or by someone walking in the attic – which isn’t really for storage. After all, we had had the roof replaced fewer than 15 years before, and I didn’t imagine a roof issue.

The next winter, the roof leaked. All my new plaster work bubbled up the new paint. I had to wait until the roof was fully rebuilt and then carefully remove the loose plaster and repair the surface. I still haven’t repainted. The process was discouraging.

We’d had the roof over the sunporch rebuilt about five years after we bought the house, because we kept getting leaks. When we had the house repainted, the painters found lots of dryrot; we had that wood replaced. And later, when I had squirrels and bats coming in, I found that the fascia on the south side had rotted. I fixed it temporarily, but when we had the main roof repaired, I asked that the roofers remove the roof over the sunporch, fix all the fascia boards, find any other areas of concern, and completely replace the insulation. We even had new downspouts installed.

Maybe now the roof won’t leak.

Buy a sander

Maybe, like me, you already own a sander. I have a rotary sander and a ‘micro mouse’ sander that my brother gave me. But a rotary sander won’t work on a ceiling, and the small mouse sander, while easy to handle, is too small. So, I had to buy a palm sander with dust catcher. Before I paint walls I don’t expect to sand as part of preparing the surface, but I had to treat beadboard as if it were a floor – an upside down floor. Since there had been leaks, there was a lot of alligatored paint, warped boards and peeling paint. I found the pencil marks my spouse made, shortly after we moved in, to indicate where the leaks were. I also saw all the gaps between the boards.

So I had to buy paintable caulk. I had to find the goggles we purchased years ago to keep stuff from falling into my eyes. And after I sanded, I had to sand again, as just the process of doing that loosened some paint.

Paint at least twice

I bought ceiling paint, which is much thicker, somehow, than regular wall paint. It’s not supposed to splatter –but it does. My advice is: don’t use a roller. But because beadboard has all those nooks and grooves, use a foam brush. Well, use lots of foam brushes, as they wear out.

I had the ceiling paint tinted. Well, blue is the traditional color for porch ceilings, and I do want a serene work space. I advise you to use caulk after the first coat – when all the gaps between the boards really show up. And use paintable grout which is intended for surfaces like wood and other materials that flex with humidity. Cleaning old grout out of the ceiling and from between the ceiling and the walls made me even more careful.

Traditionally, beadboard is painted with a semi-gloss; at least, beadboard on walls is painted that way. So after I paint the ceiling (which is matte) I’ll do a final coat of semi-gloss in the same color. It doesn’t need to be thick, and I can go slow.

Dripping paint on my hardwood floors is not the goal. Neither is dripping it on the furniture (which I keep moving), the computer or myself. So, I knew to buy dropcloths. You can get the cotton ones, if you are going to be painting a lot; I got the biodegradable plastic drop cloths, which will be sort-of OK when the cat takes a bite out of them. (Yes, the cat bites plastic; we try to keep it away from him.)

I try not to drip on cats when I’m painting, too – which is why, when I’m up on this ladder, I have a small amount of paint in a little tray. I don’t leave paint on the floor for the cats to further decorate the house. If you live with animals, you should consider how to keep them away or deal with the problems.


This part of the job is almost done. I have a little bit of paint patching to manage, and then I can start on the walls. Years of roof leaks affected the drywall, too. And some of the room was finished in (wallpaper covered) beaverboard. I have decided to repair that by using cheesecloth dipped in a thin mix of plaster – to create a reasonably good surface that wallpaper will stick to. I’ll prime it and size it before putting on new wallpaper – there is just no way I’m hanging drywall, and no other way to cover over 100 years of sin and neglect.

And of course, I have damaged drywall to patch, and curtains to hang.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Maybe you think I should spend my summer doing something useful, like, oh, running for office or figuring out ways to fix asphalt. But that’s what I am doing.

  • Be prepared for projects to last longer than you want. When making infrastructure repairs, there is no quick fix that’s good. (Ask me sometime about using a car door to patch the roof!)
  • Be prepared for both major and minor inconveniences. I’m learning new ways to enter the room while I move furniture around; sometimes I’m blocking all access points, so I’m stuck here working, and my spouse cannot enter. Creating roadblocks isn’t the goal, but it is one of the means to getting work done efficiently.
  • Sometimes you can fix the surface, but sometimes you have to get into the supporting structures and rebuild before you try to fix the surface – or you end up doing the work over and over again. I’m just lucky that I don’t have to pull wires or put in new water services.
  • Haste can really make waste – so if you want it done well, be organized, plan ahead, and consider contingencies. (I hadn’t planned on wallpaper until I stripped the wallpaper off of the beaverboard.)
  • Plan for a project to need a re-do in a specific length of time. We should have painted this room more than a decade ago, but we needed first to do the big stuff. Now that that’s mostly done (nothing is ever done) I’m recording this as a room that I should look at again before the end of this decade – because if I see any peeling paint or damaged drywall, I know I have a leak.
  • Don’t lose your temper, no matter how tired, hot and frustrated you get.
  • Smile, and thank your supporters. Really.
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Say something nice

I wrote this to the other members of Council. My spouse advised against it – he feared that folks would misinterpret it. But really, when finding a positive thing to say about someone else is suspect, what does that say about us?

To me, res ipse loquitor (the thing speaks for itself). These statements were made during Council comments, and said directly to each Council member.

I recently attended a meeting where each person speaking was asked to say something nice about someone else. At another meeting, each committee member was expected to say something positive about those committee members who had served their terms and were leaving.

I’m not planning for any of you to leave, but I want to take an opportunity to say something nice about each of you, without requiring a special event.

Council member Anglin and I came on Council together. Your ability to mobilize others, tapping into their energy and enthusiasm, helps bring your constituents together. You help provide a voice to those who want to turn the discussion in different directions.

Throughout her terms on Council, Council member Lumm has continued to focus on the budget and ways to make it reflect the community’s priorities. Your clear focus is a benefit to Council discussions.

Council member Taylor provides his analytic skills to many issues that face the Council. Your parsing of each issue, and your clear explanations of your thinking are a significant benefit to deliberations.

Council member Teall brings her positive and empathetic outlook to every meeting. Your personal commitment to social and economic justice shapes all you do on Council.

Council member Kunselman provides a passionate commitment to the issues that he finds important. Your reminders to Council that the debt on the old Y lot needs to be addressed and your determination that rules must be followed, bring discipline to Council thinking.

Council member Warpehoski listens carefully to the statements and ideas of others. Your natural skill as a consensus-driven participant coupled with your attention to detail help bring a cooperative tone to Council discussions.

Council member Petersen is both practical and pragmatic. Your ability to see opportunities for economic development, coupled with your willingness to share information and learn from your constituents helps move the Council discussions forward.

Council member Kailasapathy both supports and advocates on behalf of her constituents. Your desire to find solutions to problems, working with others to do so, is a strong positive benefit for our community.

Council member Higgins is deceptively quiet. She listens, spots the single point, and asks questions that help shape the issues. Your ability to work hard, let others take the credit, and take the long view toward resolution of issues helps ground the deliberations at this table.

Mayor Hieftje is also deceptive, in that way that leaders can be. Your ability to listen to many viewpoints and willingness to find compromise among them provides a balance needed in any group. Your knowledge of the issues and your concern about the individuals affected by those issues also provides balance – and balance is needed for any group effort.

Ann Arbor is made up of individuals. The best people to sit at this table present different personal styles and offer different perspectives. We are stronger for our differences, while those differences are tempered by a willingness to listen, to compromise, to collaborate – and to stick firmly to principals. You don’t get thanked often enough; thank you for your service.

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Watery Words and turns of phrase*

I’ve waded through the murky depths of policy

Drowning in a morass of unfulfilled goals,

Caught in the undertow of choices

Made before I stepped foot in these muddy waters.

Swimming upstream, I find myself sinking

Into the sloughs of despair,

Or ennui,

Or confusion, with too much information

Flow and too little understanding.

I’ve been swamped with data.

Small numbers and large float before me

When I close my eyes, each complex

Formula a small wave caught in the

Cross-current of calculation.

I do not travel along this river

Of hurt for myself, but then

I do, as I dig through muck looking

For enlightenment.

I have been inundated, flooded

With the interrelationships between

Water and sand and soil,

Beached on the shoals, lifted

Off by a larger sea, and left

Here, hopefully floating like


I seek both shore and sandy bottom.

I do not write this turgid text

In jest. I write in vein.

*After reading one too many books and papers on storm water management.

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Power and Glory – philosophical musings

Recently I attended a political forum, and listened to folks try to explain to me why they are leaders. It made me think about that intangible quality I look for in someone to respect – and to think about the ways people work with others.

I’m not much of a follower. I’ve actually lost jobs because I couldn’t conform to a new set of non-official rules. (On one job, everybody but me seemed to adopt the boss’ wardrobe choices, verbal ticks, and social cues. I left the table to eat by myself.) Although I’ve sometimes learned to read minds – in a way – it’s always been the mind of someone I understand, not just any mind.

I’m realistic enough to know that leadership doesn’t have anything to do with followership. Leaders don’t need followers – they inspire, they direct, they guide. At least, that’s what I think.

So what do others think? I went looking for words that, to me, seemed full of wisdom.

Leadership and women

Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

Margaret Thatcher

I’ve seen this in the movies. I’ve read it in the news. Person stands up in time of crisis and says ‘I’m in charge.’ That results in a footnote in the history books, as it invariably seems to turn out that that person was just . . . not really in command.

I’m thinking about Alexander Haig, of course, whose leadership in Vietnam remains unremarked by the many who think of him only as trying to shove his way to the front of the pack when Ronald Reagan was shot. Of course, that previous statement isn’t a true reflection of Gen. Haig’s career or of his intent when Reagan was shot. But it’s the essence of what people think. That’s why, when George W. Bush said ‘I’m the decider’ many of us laughed. If you have to say it, you aren’t.

My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and
those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there.

Indira Gandhi

This is a quote I could live by. I would like to be surrounded by folks who would live by this with me – those who don’t think competition is leadership, just a holdover from childhood. Of course, there’s always that issue of letting someone else take the credit – that fellow student who never showed up to work on the joint project, and gets the A you earned by yourself, that co-worker who steals your ideas and then sells them more successfully than you can. Life is a learning experience.

Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue
with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right.

Jane Goodall

This is a hard lesson to embrace. Most of us are willing to say ‘this is the right thing’ and then try to convince others that we know what we are talking about. It’s more difficult to talk with – not at – someone you think wrong (or merely misguided). What if, instead of changing that person’s mind, you find you’ve had to change your own? Where’s the virtue or leadership in that? But of course, I want the folks I engage to be able to change their minds – and that means, I have to open the door to the possibility that I’m wrong. By doing that, I have been able to shift their views a bit – and have been forced to shift mine. I think I’m wiser as a result, but not nearly as convinced.

Ancient wisdom on leadership

A leader is best when people barely know he exists,
when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

—Lao Tzu

Indira Gandhi’s grandfather may not have read Lao Tzu, but they shared a moment. (n.b. – Indira was not related to Mohandas K. Gandhi.)

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

—Proverbs 29:18

Hard work, vision, and a sense of direction. But there must be more to it than that.

To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.

—Andre Malraux

Some folks seem to have a hard time with the idea of being a ‘public servant’. I don’t mind getting the tea, bringing the cookies, picking up the papers afterwards. I’ll even set up the chairs. But I want you to help bring the ideas – to identify the problem and help find solutions.

Civility and leadership

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak;
be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid;
be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.

—Jim Rohn

The deeper I get into public policy, the easier it is to think I know the answers. Or to be intemperate about those who have different answers – because I know my answers are right. I try to take a deep breath, listen to others, and remember that I learn from them.

You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.

–Dwight Eisenhower

Don’t throw stones in public. Don’t tell everyone how smart – or wise – or right – you are. Let them figure it out for themselves. And maybe, just maybe, you aren’t all that smart or wise or right. Or anyway, that’s what I tell myself.

. . .the discontent of the people is more dangerous to a monarch
than all the might of his enemies on the battlefield.

Isabella d’Este

Words to live –or die – by.

(My thoughts are with the people of Syria and Turkey and others facing civil unrest and the risk of violence today.)

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Farmers’ Markets and Public Art

Sunset through the Golden Gate Bridge

My body doesn’t like to travel, but I do. While my body is busy resisting any opportunity to adapt to new beds, new foods, and different schedules, the rest of me is busy embracing the experience. And so, on a recent trip to visit my son and daughter-in-law, I fit in as much as I could.

The Friday farmers’ market in San Francisco was small and located close to the center of civic life – the Civic Center. It was also close to the Asian Art Museum – where we looked at the terracotta soldiers and a broad variety of arts from the Middle East through Southeast Asia to China.

While other times we might have gone to the Ferry Market – which isn’t like Kerrytown, but is – on this trip we looked for food to travel with, not food to consume. I bought some award winning goat cheese and a pound (!) of almond brittle, coated with chocolate.

I took photos of public art and parklets while there – because these are things that I’m thinking about, even when I’m not home.

And then, we went to visit redwood and wine country.

My son found a house for rent – for the weekend – in Sonoma County. Built on land that was once clearcut but has now regrown, the house was built to be restful, although it was in the midst of many other vacation and summer houses. I walked up and down steep roads, took photos and read.

I learned that redwoods grow from seed – but also in clusters from the base of a tree. So when a tree is cut down, more trees can sprout from the base, forming a circle. Some of those circles were really large, which meant to me that the parent tree must have been huge. But other tree circles were just from the base of a new tree, grown from seed. All of this made me wish I had more time to learn more things.

We bought food and cooked for the weekend. With some flour, sugar, and other basic ingredients, we made buttermilk pancakes, buttermilk biscuits, pasta and sauces. My own special meal was Sunday breakfast – with a cherry topping made from fresh cherries, strawberry jam, sugar, butter and a little sparkling orange juice. You might not think this would work – but it did. (We also learned that, next time we rent a house, Vanilla has to be on the shopping list!)

And when we wanted a snack, we had almond brittle. Eating the brittle made me wonder about how Almond Brittle differs from Almond Croccante and Almond Toffee (English Toffee). The answer? The butter.

Almond Croccante is just three ingredients – sugar, water and almonds. (recipes follow)

Almost all the recipes for Almond Brittle include some butter – from a tablespoon to a ½ cup. The brittle can be coated with chocolate, but it isn’t required.

Almond Toffee needs a pound of unsalted, high quality butter to make it good. I may share that recipe later.

Travel broadens my mind and gives me a chance to slow down and think about ideas. And of course, I benefit just from breathing the same air as my family.

Almond Croccante

3 cups of white sugar
½ cup water
5 cups of almonds
Enough butter to coat a cookie sheet, and no more.

In a saucepan, add the sugar and cook on high heat. Continue to stir until the sugar begins to sweat and liquefy. Add a bit of water to help, if necessary. Continue to cook until the sugar turns into a deep rich brown color. 

Add the almonds and mix well. Cook for a few minutes, making sure the almonds are fully coated. Remove the almonds from the heat and quickly pour and spread the hot almond-sugar mixture onto a buttered 
cookie sheet to the desired thickness. 

Let cool for 30 minutes before breaking it into smaller pieces.

Almond Brittle
This recipe yields almost 2 lbs of hard-to-resist goodness. You can substitute any nut or seed. The brittle will keep at room temperature for a couple of weeks if stored in an airtight Ziplock bag or Tupperware box.

2 cups (14oz or 392g) sugar
1 stick (4 oz or 112g) butter, chopped up into small dice
3 cups (about 12 oz or 350g) slivered almonds

Toast the almonds in the oven until lightly browned – this creates maximum almond flavor. Carmelize the sugar – heating it in a sauce pan until it melts. This works best by adding the sugar gradually. Once the sugar is evenly melted and a rich, caramel color, add the butter, stirring until all the butter is fully incorporated into the sugar, and the mixture coats the sides of the pan. Then add the toasted nuts, stir to coat, and quickly spread the mixture on a flat surface – a buttered cookie sheet, silpat sheet, or buttered marble slab to cool.

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