Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ellen DeGeneres and Our Wives

My sister Pat keeps us up-to-date on the Ellen DeGeneres show. Last month she told us that Ellen was rapping about her “wife name Portia,” and the audience cheered. This week, she saw Ellen and Portia on Oprah in their first interview as a married couple.

Becky and I watched a wonderful You Tube clip of that interview. Oprah’s pride in the couple, Ellen and Portia’s palpable joy with each other, and all three of them so comfortably saying “wife” helped dispel the painful memories of the snickering I heard when lesbians began using that term a few years ago.

After our wedding, in September 2008, Becky and I started introducing each other as spouse rather than partner. But watching Ellen rap and seeing Oprah celebrate this legally married couple, Becky and I have begun calling each other wife. It feels wonderful. I wonder how much of other people’s discomfort with the term was a reflection of my own.

For those of you who missed hearing about our marriage at San Francisco City Hall, here are photos of me and my new . . . yes, wife!
(P.S. Thanks for Becky's sister Vicki Bohan for taking these pictures, ensuring that we had a visual record of this momentous event in our fifteen-year relationship.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Unknown Suffragist, Part 2

Sally Roesch Wagner, the executive director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation ( said in her lecture at the Esoteric Quest for Inner America conference that Gage, the 19th Century feminist and radical thinker, developed an intimate relationship with the Native peoples in Upstate New York. Gage was even adopted into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) nation.

Gage saw that it was the Haudenosaunee women who chose the chiefs. A man was automatically disqualified if he had committed murder or theft, or if he had abused a woman. The women made sure that the tribal chief had the best interests of their community at heart, rather than self-aggrandizement and power.

The women of the early feminist movement could see with their own eyes that unlike themselves, who had no status and who were considered property rather than persons, tribal women enjoyed respect and power. Gage believed that the Native people embodied the principles needed to transform society from one that oppressed women to one that was egalitarian, fair, and free.

In fact, many 19th century reforms were inspired by the Iroquois. Dress reform was taken from the Oneida women, who wore leggings. Food reform was inspired by the fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains in the diet of the Iroquois, who lived much longer than their white counterparts. Birthing reform was based on Indian women who had a healthy diet and exercised and who did not labor under the notion that the pain of childbirth was a deserved punishment due to Eve’s transgression.

Sally Wagner commented that even the holistic medical movement reflects Native American values. Conventional Western medicine, she noted, is based on religious principles—surgery and drugs “exorcise” the demon of disease. The Native Americans believe that the body is basically healthy and that effective medicine naturally supports the body and soul to regain health.

Wagner’s inspiring lecture made clear that the intersection of religious doctrine and political power is deadly. It crushes independent thought and democratic principles, while sanctifying the oppression of women and other “minorities.” The esoteric philosophies so popular during the mid-1800s attempted to transcend religious dogmas. In the end, the egalitarian principles of the Iroquois Nations were critical to the radical thinkers, feminists, and spiritual nonconformists of what came to be known as the American Renaissance.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Unknown Feminist, Part 1

Three women were at the heart of the women’s suffrage movement in the mid-1800s: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. Who the heck is M. J. Gage? Well, without her The Wizard of Oz might never have been published. But more on that later.

At the conference Nancy & I attended last week in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York (An Esoteric Quest for Inner America: Exploring the History and Renewal of the American Soul (, we heard a powerful lecture by Sally Roesch Wagner, Ph.D., on the early feminist movement, and Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898) in particular.

Both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage believed that religious doctrine is the basis of women’s subjugation. The Sin of Woman is the foundation of Christianity: If Eve had not laid lips on that apple there wouldn’t have been a need for a savior. America’s Founding Fathers adopted the Blackstone doctrine based on the Church of England canon law, which stated that a woman who marries loses her personhood and becomes property of the husband, giving divine sanction to men’s oppression of women.

Gage’s anti-religious radicalism, and that of the early suffragist movement, has been white-washed by historians who focus only on the work for voting rights. Later Gage broke with the mainstream women’s rights movement over the issue of religion. Her call for the dismantling of the Christian church is still radical—you do not hear many contemporary American academic or public figures talking about the need to do away with religion.

Gage’s more popular contribution to our culture was through her son-in-law L. Frank Baum. She encouraged him to publish his Oz chronicle. A slice of that story has become famous, but in the 14-book series, his vision of a matriarchal society based on social justice came directly from his mother-in-law.

Gage’s own book, Women, Church, and State (1893), was banned by the U.S. government. An analysis of the rise of patriarchy (including sexual abuse by priests), it is a clarion call for freedom from religious dogma. The opening of her book salutes the Native Indian culture from which we still have much to learn. More about that in the next entry!


Friday, August 28, 2009

Message from a Clan Mother

On Monday Nancy & I checked into the Menla Mountain Retreat and Conference Center nestled in the forested Catskill Mountains where every morning we see deer. We’re attending An Esoteric Quest for Inner America: Exploring the History and Renewal of the American Soul sponsored by the Open Center in New York City.

The conference opened with remarks from Freida Jacques, an Onondaga Iroquois clan mother. She told us about her people’s deep spirituality. Instead of worshipping, they give thanks to everything in creation. People spend a long time enumerating all that they are thankful for: the trees that provide shade, nuts and fruits, and syrup; the four-legged animals without which humans would be so lonely; the four winds—the south wind that brings warmth, the north wind that brings the cold so that the earth can sleep and renew itself, etc. They like to say “I am thankful for what I have; I have what I have.”

The Onondaga do not have casinos. A casino would mean:
· Having to sign legal papers
· Having to give up a chunk of land
· People gathering not in thanksgiving, but in greed, the “antithesis of contentment”

When the colonists landed in America, they found flourishing societies where women had rights and power. The clan mothers selected the chief. Since clan members felt responsible for each other and shared everything, they could do without all the laws the colonist brought with them from Europe.

Freida Jacques expressed alarm at the level of violence in our culture. Her clan does not allow children to play games (especially video games) that involve killing anything, whether human or monster. They believe that killing in play is unhealthy, instills a lack of respect for life, and models unsafe behavior.

When the founders of the United States were formulating our government , they borrowed concepts from the Iroquois Nation, including the separation of powers and a republican form of representation modeled on individual tribal governance (state government) and councils comprised of a union of the tribes (federal government.) Ben Franklin, who was familiar with the Iroquois, wrote in 1770 that no “civilized” person who had lived with the “savages” could “afterwards bear to live in our societies” (Franklin Papers, vol. 17, p. 381).

Freida Jacques was one of several presenters who acknowledged the deep debt owed to the Native Peoples for the wisdom embodied in this country’s founding documents. Her talk, at least for Nancy and me, grounded the entire conference.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Button Bay Memories

When I was 16, I was chosen to attend the third International Senior Girl Scout Roundup. Ten thousand teen-aged girls from every state and many other countries camped from July 27 to August 3, 1962, at Button Bay State Park on the shores of Vermont’s Lake Champlain. The requirements were stiff and the competition fierce for this tri-annual cream of the crop campout showcasing the best of Girl Scouting.

With seven other lucky girls representing the Peace Pipe Council of southwest Minnesota, I boarded the train in St. Paul for the 2-day trip to Burlington, VT. We wore our green dress uniforms and white gloves. Our gear was marked with the number on the official dog tag around our neck so that any lost items could be returned to their owners. (I occasionally run across a beach towel on which I had inked 4M1032, more indelibly imprinted in my memory than my social security number or any address I’ve had since.) We each carried hundreds of little gifts showing facets of our home town or culture, items we had made ourselves to exchange with Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from around the world in “potlatch” ceremonies.

Thousands of army tents pitched in a huge grassy field housed and fed the girls, our troop leaders, and the many volunteers who ran this temporary city. I threw myself into the Roundup, attending as many activities as I could, and meeting hundreds of fabulous girls. I walked to the amphitheater in my beloved camp uniform – sleek forest-green shorts, a crisp white blouse, green Girl Scout socks, and my straw Roundup hat. I sat on the grassy slope overlooking Lake Champlain for the opening ceremony, as moving as any Olympics opening ceremony. Imagine singing “Make New Friends” in harmony with 10,000 voices, the first part beginning about 2 blocks away, with each part coming closer until it was your turn.
We sang all week. One afternoon at the amphitheater, I thrilled to Basque Girl Guides in brilliant native costumes performing complicated Basque dances. I was from a rural village. If you had given me a map of Spain before that day, I couldn’t have pointed to Basque country.
I stayed up late around campfires, singing the Girl Scout songs we all knew and making many new friends. I wanted the week to last forever. I vowed to attend the next roundup as a staff member so I could experience the magic again. (I did, in 1965, in Farragut, Idaho.)
This week, Becky I visited Button Bay State Park. We had a picnic and walked a trail through the forest to Lake Champlain. It was even more beautiful than I remembered. A park ranger pointed out a tall white pine tree that the Girl Scouts had planted in the meadow 47 years ago. Suddenly I remembered the tree-planting ceremony. He suggested we look for a commemorative plaque at its base.

There it was, a testament to the creative genius of an organization that, although it called off the huge, expensive Roundups after Idaho, continues to support and empower girls all over the globe.

(To learn about other Roundups and inspiring Girl Scout experiences, you can read my book On My Honor: Lesbians Reflect on Their Scouting Experiences, available from on-line book dealers or directly from me.)


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stowed Away!

The annual Manahan reunion has flown by, the seven days filled with fun and relaxation. At the checkout at the end of our stay, several people rated it an A+. Winding Brook Lodge was perfect. This rambling 1940s resort has 15 bedrooms and a large living room where we all could gather. Secluded nooks invited playing cards, putting together a puzzle, or reading. The huge well-stocked kitchen, with four sinks and a six-burner stove, made cooking for 42 almost easy, and the dining room seated us all. But the crowning jewel was the swimming pool—the 14 children practically lived in it, and the adults loved both swimming and sitting around the edge watching the kids frolic.

Nancy and I learned to love letterboxing—an outdoor hunt for a hidden box with a notebook and rubber stamp inside. It’s a great way to get kids outside and practicing navigational skills. Our nieces copied the directions for the searches from websites such as Pictured above is a find of a red fox stamp off the 5-mile paved Stowe Recreation Path.

We took several hikes along this beautiful biking/walking path sans letterboxing, and also an hour’s stroll through Wiessner Woods, an 80-acre preserve just a half mile from our Lodge. The trails wound through fragrant white pine, and the path was littered with needles, making our footfalls soft and silent. At the base of one pine tree, a gnome surprised us.

One afternoon Nancy and I went to the nearby Ben & Jerry's plant. We took the tour for $3.00, saw an inspirational documentary about the visionary ice cream makers, and sampled a flavor released last September 21 on the 39th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s legendary “Bed-In for Peace” event. Imagine Whirled Peace features a sweet cream base with swirls of caramel plus toffee bits and chocolate peace signs. It’s delicious. Ben & Jerry's (now owned by Unilever but with social and environmental responsibility as part of its mission) donates a portion of the proceeds to Peace One Day. Way cool.
We are impressed with Vermont! The forested hills and mountains remind me of the Black Forest, and I can see why Maria Von Trapp’s family settled near Stowe. The Trapp Family Lodge (pictured left) is a couple of miles up the hill from Winding Brook. It's a mini-version of the Austrian Alps. Nancy & I occasionally couldn’t help but break into a tune from “The Sound of Music.”

Reunions are an unparalleled precious time to reconnect and tighten the bonds of family. This week was manna for the Manahans . . . and for me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On to Vermont!

After spending a couple of weeks at home in Minneaapolis, Nancy and I again took to the road. This time the high road . . . to Vermont via Canada. The drive across northern Wisconsin and southern Canada was more beautiful than we had expected, with mile after mile of dense pine and fir forests. We lunched at wooded rest stops beside pristine lakes and rivers.

After a night in Escanaba, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we crossed an enormous bridge at Sault St. Marie which spans the rapids of St. Mary’s River connecting Lake Superior to Lake Huron. Picnicking in a park beside the water, we raised a root beer in honor of our first hour as a legally married couple since our California honeymoon last September. The whole wonderful country of Canada recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Our second night was in Sudbury, Ontario, an old copper mining town on a picturesque island-studded lake. The closure of the mines has hit Sudbury hard, and that evening we walked through a run-down neighborhood past a homeless shelter to Bell Park, pictured above.

The third night we stayed with our friend from Costa Rica, Ghislaine Yergeau, and her husband, Bill. They live in French-speaking Gatineau, Québec, just across the river from English-speaking Ottawa. Ghislaine doesn’t lock her car, and didn’t hesitate to take us for a 9 pm walk on a paved path along the Ottawa River.

On our way through Ottawa the next morning, we walked around Parliament Hill, marveling at the huge stone copper-roofed government palaces. We were impressed by how gorgeous and green Canada’s capital city is.

Two and a half hours east of Ottawa, we lunched in Montréal’s old quarter, enjoying the narrow cobblestone streets and quaint shops. An example of an interesting restaurant exterior is pictured below. Nancy struck up a conversation with a bicyclist resting beside the St. Lawrence Seaway only to discover, when the woman answered in rapid French, that our English, Spanish, and high school French might not be that useful in Québec.

Onward to Stowe, Vermont for the annual week-long Manahan family reunion. This time the border crossing was quick and easy. (We could have taken the fresh Ontario peaches we left with Ghislaine.) We snaked up winding roads through Smuggler’s Notch, a pass in the Green Mountains where American slaves escaped to Canada and decades later, Prohibition bootleg liquor flowed into Vermont from Canada. At Winding Brook Lodge, nestled in the mountains, we met up with 40 of Nancy’s nearest and dearest family members. After a day of this many Manahans, I’m going to take a nap!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Voyageurs National Park

The only national park in Minnesota (and one of the few in the whole Midwest) is Voyageurs National Park on Kabetogama (pronounced Cab-ah-TOE-gah-mah) Lake on the Ontario, Canada border. It is part of the waterway that the 18th and 19th-century fur traders used. These French-Canadian voyageurs paddled 300-pound birch bark canoes 2000-3000 miles to fetch the beaver pelts so popular for European men’s hats that the beaver came close to extinction.

Voyageurs is a gorgeous wilderness, not as busy as the popular Boundary Waters Canoe Area on its southeastern flank. It was created in 1975 and abuts two Minnesota state forests where camping and trails are available. Voyageurs National Park’s campsites are accessible only by boat. Same with the trails, except for a small one by the visitor center, overlooking Kabetogama Lake.

We thought we might stay near Voyageurs, but the lodging was outside our budget--not surprising for a resort area. So we headed south and stayed at a mom & pop motel in Orr, MN. We heated our last hot dogs and beans in the lobby microwave, cracked open a Summit Great Northern Porter from our cooler, and enjoyed a picnic in our room. Perhaps not as tasty as our campfire meals, but we were clean, dry, and warm. Ahhhh! What a sweet end to our exploration of Minnesota's northwestern corner.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Franz Jevne State Park

Coming off the disappointment of Zipple Bay State Park, Nancy and I screwed up our courage for a bonus stop at Franz Jevne State Park. It wasn't on our original itinerary, but we were so close we thought we should stop.

We drove through rainstorms to get to this small, unstaffed park on the beautiful Rainy River separating Minnesota from Canada. We circled the cold, empty campground, disheartened by the 18 wet, dark, cramped sites. As we filled our water bottles from a creaky hand pump, Nancy asked me on a scale of 1 to 10 how much I wanted to stay there--10 being we absolutely must stay.

"Oh, about a .5," I replied. "What about you?"

"Point 2," she grinned. "Let's go."

We tossed our raincoats in the back seat, left Franz Jevne, and headed for home...but we were side-tracked -- the subject of my next blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Zipple Bay State Park

At last Nancy and I reached the park we had most looked forward to--Zipple Bay on Lake of the Woods, just 8 miles from Canada. Neither Nancy nor I had ever seen the huge lake that comprises the notch at the top of Minnesota, jutting into Manitoba. Lake of the Woods has 65,000 miles of shoreline (yes, sixty-five thousand!) and over 14,000 islands. It is an angler's paradise.

It was not our Garden of Eden, however. The campsites seemed neglected and inhospitable with long grass, scrubby vegetation, and fierce mosquitoes. There were clean outhouses in the campground, but the showers were at the entrance to the park, a long ways away. The lake was brownish-gray, too cold for swimming (though Nancy tried), and the beaches smelled like dead fish. We wound up staying only one night at the park that had been the original goal of the whole trip!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Hayes Lake State Park

Hayes Lake, a tiny park we had never even heard of, was our favorite of the whole trip. What a gem! We had moved east from the prairie, through aspen-oak stands and into coniferous forests. For the first time we were in the northern Minnesota that's familiar to us--the tall red and white pines, and a lake that could be in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area . . . except that it was created by a dam on the Roseau River.

We stayed two nights under the pines, enjoying the quiet, meticulous campground. It was clear that the staff takes pride in their park. The large picnic area and sandy swimming beach are lovingly maintained.

On the morning of our last day, we woke to deep pink clouds--one of the most beautiful daybreaks we have ever seen, a magical way to end our stay at Hayes Lake.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lake Bronson State Park

Lake Bronson State Park is a little northeast of Old Mill State Park, just 20 miles from the Canadian border. The WPA created the lake on which the park is situated by damming the Two Rivers, a daunting task by in those days. Given the extreme weather and relentless mosquitoes, there was a high turnover of workers. How bad were the mosquitoes? Well, they couldn't figure out why so many horses were dying, so they autopsied them and discovered severe lung inflammation caused by inhaling so many mosquitoes.

The stone work of the WPA is really magnificent, especially the tower/fire lookout station. It’s the only dual-purpose tower in the state park system.

We loved our two nights at Lake Bronson. The huge campsites were widely-spaced, and the trails through prairies in full bloom and aspen-oak forests were well-maintained. With so few campers, it was peaceful reading or dozing in a hammock. One morning we rented a canoe for a leisurely paddle up the slow, winding river past beaver lodges and what looked like moose hoof-prints. We had the entire river to ourselves.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Old Mill State Park

The first night of our camping trip to the northwest corner of Minnesota we stayed at Old Mill State Park, near the border with North Dakota. As Nancy and I sat by the campfire finishing our hot dogs, sprinkles started, and then rain blew in. The wet, cold, and wind kept us in the tent all night. But the next morning dawned clear, and we explored the park which contains both prairie and oak savannah. There's a lovely swimming hole created by the CCC in the late 1930s and a beautifully-crafted stone bath house.

The focal point of the park is, of course, the Old Mill itself. Lars Larson homesteaded the area in 1882 and built the grist mill, which became an important social hub in the Red River Valley. Hundreds of people used to gather for picnics there when they hauled their grain to be milled. Once a year the mill is started up and visitors can catch a glimpse of the way our hardy ancestors lived.

Eons ago this area was the lake bed of Lake Agassiz, which covered the entire state. The land now is amazingly flat and fertile. The fields of wheat and rape seed (canola) stretch to the horizon.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

North Dakota? What Happened!

Nancy and I are on a road trip camping at state parks in the northwest corner of Minnesota. So what are we doing in North Dakota, and why did we spend an afternoon at one of THEIR state parks???

Well, we set out Tuesday morning driving toward the upper left hand corner of MN 350 miles away. But the thunderstorms and unrelenting wind buffeted us for hours across the wide-open prairie of western MN--miserable weather in which to set up a tent, much less to sleep in one.

So we breached the border, scooted up I-29, and took shelter in the Guesthouse Hotel in downtown Grand Forks, about 60 miles from our intended destination of Old Mill State Park. When the rain let up we walked the park along the Red River of the North, crossed the bridge back into Minnesota, and bought hiking shorts at Cabella's Sporting Goods in East Grand Forks. As we walked back to the hotel the heavens opened up once again and we got soaked in a thunder and lightening storm.

We spent Wednesday afternoon at Turtle Lake State Park with a beautiful prairie in full bloom, marchlands, forests, and hordes of hungry mosquitos. Several park buildings were erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), part of FDR's New Deal that put hundreds of thousands of unemployed men to work building parks and other natural resource programs across the U.S.

A beautiful stone building now stands in tribute to the CCC. It is now a picnic shelter, but originally it served as a bath house where the public could rent bathing suits and swim in the Turtle River.

With steady winds from 25-30 mph and dark, threatening skies, we decided to spend a second night in Grand Forks. Today we set out for the Old Mill State Park , the first of four Minnesota parks we intend to visit. More rain is predicted for today, and the weekend looks cool but dry. On with the adventure...and our long-johns!!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Amy and Al

"Are you on your way to work in Al Franken's office?" a man at the adjacent gas pump asked me in Pennsylvania as he eyed my Al Franken bumper sticker.

"I wish!" I replied. “But we ARE going to visit Minnesota’s other senator.”

He was one of many people who commented on the Senate race in Minnesota during our recent East Coast trip. People seemed to take a keen interest in the unresolved election and in the unusual situation of Minnesota’s having only one senator in Washington, DC.

As of noon today, with the swearing in of Al Franken, Minnesota finally has two senators. Thanks to Amy Klobuchar for doing double duty while seemingly endless recounts and legal challenges ground slowly to their conclusion in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling last week that Franken had won the election by 312 votes.

A few days after this exchange, Nancy and I visited Senator Klobuchar in her office in the Hart Senate Office Building. Every Thursday, she hosts a "Minnesota Morning" for constituents who are visiting the capital. We were among the 80-plus Minnesotans who showed up to sample pastries from the Iron Range (where Amy grew up) and kibbutz with our senator.

It was the first time I had heard Amy Klobuchar speak. I was so impressed! Her commitment to the causes I believe in (environment, sensible health care, education, agriculture, and alternative energy), her articulate command of the issues, and her down-home humor and friendliness knocked me over. Unlike so many politicians, Senator Klobuchar seems the real deal, authentic to the core.

Nancy and I gave her a personally inscribed copy of our book, Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully: A Journey with Cancer and Beyond. Perhaps now that she’s not handling all of Minnesota’s requests for assistance with federal agencies, she’ll have some time for reading.
We hope that Senator Franken takes a page from his Minnesota colleague. If he works half as hard as the first woman our state has elected to the U.S. Senate, he will serve his constituents well.

And now, at last, I can take the Franken bumper sticker off my car!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Antietam National Battleground

The dogwood was in full blossom at Antietam National Battlefield in late April when Nancy and I arrived at the site outside of Sharpsburg, Maryland. The serenity of the rolling landscape and the daffodils and tulips in full bloom made it hard to imagine that the bloodiest one-day battle of the American Civil War took place here on September 17, 1862.

We took a noon walking tour of the site. The park ranger gave us a 20 minute lecture on the battle on the lush grass outside of the Visitor's Center. Behind him in the distance lay the cornfield where the troops fought intensely and control of the area switched several times during the day.

The ranger lead us south to the Piper Farm and around to Bloody Lane. The Confederates used a sunken road as a protected firing line and caused great devastation to Union troops. Through much bravery and determination the Union broke into the lane and blazed their rifles down the length of the trench, slaughtering the trapped Southerners.

At the end of the day, the armies had suffered over 23,000 casualties of killed and wounded. While the battle was pretty much a draw, Lee quietly withdrew his army during the night, which gave Lincoln the claim to victory he needed to release the Emancipation Proclamation he had already written.

Nancy and I concentrated our visit on only a portion of the 11-acre site. Every month the ranger walk focuses on a different area or aspect of the battle. Of the twenty-some people in our tour group, we were the only ones who had not been to Antietam before...and most of the visitors had gone on previous tours.

We were so impressed with the visitor's center--the movie, the displays, and the educational programs--here and at other historic parks. The quality of the preservation and presentation of our national heritage sites is a credit to our tax dollars well spent.
Note: Photos are from the U.S. government website cited above.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Still Married!

Nancy and I were disappointed at yesterday's ruling by California's Supreme Court upholding Proposition 8 and denying marriage to same-sex couples. We are grateful, however, that the 18,000 marriages--including ours--that took place last year before the proposition passed in November are valid. That means we're still legally married in the states that recognize gay & lesbian marriages.

The Huffington Post carried an interesting story regarding the decision (click here to see). It said that conservative lawyer Ted Olson (yes, he of Gore v. Bush) will represent a suit in the federal courts that asks that the ruling and Prop 8 be set aside under equal protection. He asks what would happen if a state passed a proposition outlawing inter-racial marriages.

We view yesterday's court decision as a temporary setback. When even ultra conservatives like Ted Olson are stepping up to the plate in support of marriage equality, the world really is changing.


Sunday, May 3, 2009


Nancy & I are having our best road trip ever. Why? Because of our new GPS, “Geepers.” We bought a refurbished 765 Garmin for under $200 through Best Buy’s on-line store. (Refurbished indicates an item returned to a store, tested, and put back on sale.)

The GPS takes 95% of the stress out of driving in new territory. It directed us 1200 miles from our Minneapolis home to the front door of our friends’ house in Silver Spring, Maryland. It allows the passenger to enjoy the scenery—and naps—without having a finger and eyeball glued to a map. It eliminates confusion over which road to take, whether to turn right or left when exiting a parking lot, and when we should arrive at our destination.

In addition to guiding us through spaghetti bowls of freeways, tricky exits, and obscure streets, the GPS has enabled us to:
  • Locate nearby hotels as we whiz down the freeway. It gives us their telephone number, and as we approach the town, we call them on our cell phone. In Champagne/Urbana, the first motel was full. The second motel only had smoking rooms available. The third motel was expensive. The fourth one had a non-smoking room within our budget. We bypassed the first three and drove directly to the fourth motel. Our GPS/cell phone combination eliminated 3 futile stops and frustrating delays when we were tired and hungry. It also listed nearby restaurants, so we didn’t have to drive around searching for a place to eat dinner.
  • Avoid traffic delays. In Virginia, a road sign warned of a major traffic delay. We punched in the detour option and Geepers determined a new route. Within a quarter mile we were off the road and sailing along the charming back roads of Virginia, bypassing a three-mile long back up
  • Find attractions from Antietam Battlefield to the Jamestown Settlement, the birthplace of America. One day, we were craving some Trader Joe’s treats. We typed in the name and up popped several locations, one within a mile of where we were parked. How would we ever have known?

In short order, we have become converts to this wonderful and miraculous technology. In upcoming blogs, we’ll share more of our explorations of the Mid-Atlantic states with you.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Tip o' the Hat to the Wee People

A tip o' the hat to the Wee People on this St. Patrick's Day. And a fine morning it is, with the sun out and shining like a pot o' gold.

When my parents, Cecil and Ruth Manahan, lived on the small farm outside of Madelia, MN, my father put toy furniture in the hay loft of the barn--a tiny table, tiny chairs, little beds, and even a mineature plastic toilet. This is where the Wee People lived, he told the wide-eyed grandchildren.

On their visits to Grandma and Grandpa's farm, the children would sneak up the wooden ladder to the hay mow and creep around the pale-golden bales of hay searching for the Wee People's living quarters. The furniture moved from spot to spot, and the kids never knew where they might find it tucked into a corner.

Although they never managed to spot the very shy Wee People, it sometimes seemed as though they had just left their little chairs. It was thrilling to imagine these wee families living in our very own barn, a parallel universe that almost no one knew about.

My father, a staunch Catholic, always maintained his deep Irish appreciation the world of fairies, leprachauns, and wee people, and he passed on that delight in the mysterious to his many grandchildren. I salute Dad's memory and will raise a glass in his honor today, wishing I could join him and my half-Irish mother on the farm for their famous Irish stew party, waiting for the moment when the grandchildren would steal off to the barn in search of the magical Wee People.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Sacred Architecture

Homes are re-creations of the world, we learned last Thursday night in our "Our Call to Sacred Places" class at the University of Minnesota.

After weeks of looking at slides of various sacred places and spaces from around the world, including ancient Greek and Roman temples (Pantheon pictured left), Gothic cathedrals, Buddhist temples, and majestic mountains and enormous canopied trees, we are left with the overwhelming sense of how important the vertical is to sacred space.

Temples and churches are filled with vertical and open space, drawing our attention to the heavens. The buttresses of Gothic structures mimic trees, as does Gaudi's cathedral in Barcelona (pictured right). They have columns that stretch from earth to heaven, representing both the upright human's spinal column and the path to the heavens.

Hindu and Buddhist temples and structures such as Japanese tea gardens don't point so much upward and they remind us that the divine is all around and within. They stress the sacred as imminent, rather than as transcendent.

In the last class we turned our focus from Chartres and the Pantheon to our homes.

The house, at least in temperate zones, is a vertical structure with a basement, street-level floor, perhaps an second floor, and an attic. It reflects an archetype of the sacred: the Tree of the World that so many cultures embrace, with the roots (underground/body), the trunk (center/mind), and the canopy (heaven/spirit).

Nancy and I have talked about how sacred our home feels. Each area has its individual personality, but they blend together to make a pleasing whole. Bill's bedroom, office, and bathroom are in the finished basement. My office and bedroom are on the first floor. Nancy's office and dressing area are in the finished attic. We each spend hours in our respective spaces, at our computers, on the phone, and reading. Perhaps the sense of space and the vertical explains why this is such a harmonious arrangement.

Even our fireplace provides a sense of the vertical. The chimney breaks through the roof reaching toward the sky and the trap door on the bottom of the hearth lets ashes fall down a chute to the collection box in the basement.

The old saying of "your body is your temple" may be true. However, we can also say our house is our temple, with the vertical connecting us to the earth and to the sky, to our bodies and to the Infinite.

Really, the whole world is our temple.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Surviving Our First Minnesota Winter in 7 Years!

For the first time in seven years, Becky and I are spending most of the winter in Minnesota. Although it has snowed several times with temperatures hovering near zero, it hasn’t been nearly as rough as we anticipated.

First of all, we were reminded of the magic of Minnesota winter when four days after our January return from Mexico, we skied 3K in the dark on a candle-lit Minneapolis lake. (See our Luminary Loppet Blog entry below.)

Second, thermal underwear! What a difference the new high-tech stuff makes, at home and outdoors.

Third, we try to go outside every day. When it’s 20 degrees or above, we take our usual one-hour walk around the neighborhood. Other days, we barely make it around the block, our cheeks and our tears frozen. One housecleaning day, we dashed out on the deck to shake rugs and dust cloths in shorts!

Fourth, we were finally here for our family’s annual Oscar party, with a cast of around 40, fabulous Indian curries, and guests arriving in costume. (Imagine Richard Nixon, Harvey Milk, and lots of little niece and nephew slumdogs.) Becky correctly picked all 6 winners, thereby winning her own Oscar, which she gets to keep until next year’s party.

But the best winter treat is the leisurely pace we’ve fallen into this first Minnesota winter of our retirement/inspirement. There’s no urge to ride my bike around a lake or take a swim. No thoughts about the garden. No yard work. No free outdoor concerts or Shakespeare in the park. No camping, hiking, or canoeing. Just delicious hours of reading, writing, cooking, baking, watching DVDs, talking to friends and family members, and then reading some more. Together we do about forty hours of book promotion per week, deeply engaging and satisfying work.

I would never have predicted that the pleasures of our last six winters in Costa Rica would be rivaled by these quiet Minnesota joys. I've finally found the scholarly, contemplative life of service I longed for all my life. I didn't find it in the convent in my twenties, nor in academic life during my thirties, forties, or fifties. But now, in my sixties, here it is, unimaginably sweet, precious, and fulfilling.

(Photo from our hooneymoon in Yosemite National Park, September 2008.)


Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Mother's Kringlas

Every holiday season when I was growing up in Madelia, MN, my mother, Edith, would bake hundreds of Christmas cookies, scrolls, and kringlas--a Norwegian pastry twisted into figure eights and flavored with anise. She'd put the goodies in big round cookie tins and store them in the unheated porch off the dining room. The treats would carry us through Christmas and well into the winter.

It's been a long time since I've tasted my mother's pastries. Twenty years ago she hung up her apron, unable to follow the recipes or operate the oven. She was seventy-five. Since then, Mom has become less and less verbal, but she can be alert, follow a conversation, and communicate what she wants.

Although she doesn't say much, Mom's sweet tooth has not diminished. She loves pecan pie, chocolates, cookies, and ice cream. She may pick at the meat loaf, baked potato, and green beans at the Madelia nursing home, but she spoons up every last bit of her brownie.

As a special treat for her 95th birthday this week, I baked a batch of kringlas. I had tried in the past to make them from a recipe she wrote by hand in an old spiral notebook. The results looked like kringlas but were dry and tough.

Recently my sister sent me her recipe for Mom's kringlas (see below). This recipe said to chill the dough overnight before rolling it into ropes. Doh! I made another attempt, and this time the results were . . . well . . . surprisingly good.

I will never equal my mother's baking skills, nor attain her artistry in creating uniform figure eights, but my new kringlas have the taste and the texture I remember. I hope that the anise-flavored pastries will trigger some long dormant synapses in my gentle mother's brain.


Edith Bohan's Kringlas

1 cup sugar
2 Tbl butter
2 eggs
1 tsp anise 1 cup sour cream
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt

Mix sugar, butter, beaten eggs and anise. Stir baking soda into the sour cream and add. Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Refrigerate overnight. Roll, rope fashion, cut in strips and fold in knot or figure 8. Bake until light brown at 375 degrees.

Note: Dough must be chilled well. Work with small amount at a time.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Luminary Loppet

As we were basking in the warmth of Mexico and thinking about our return to a Minnesota winter, we decided to not let the cold and snow keep us indoors. We would go outdoors and, by gosh, we'd enjoy it!!

True to our vow, five days after arriving home, Nancy and I clicked into our cross country skis for a lap around the frozen Lake of the Isles near downtown Minneapolis. We were part of the annual City of Lakes Luminary Loppet that draws thousands of participants into a crisp January evening. (The term loppet, Swedish for citizens’ race, refers to a recreational cross-country ski event popular in Scandinavia.)

Candles placed in nearly 500 small and large hollow ice blocks lined the 3-kilometer circuit. Bonfires blazed at select points where kids and adults could roast marshmallows and sip hot chocolate or apple cider. A one point there was a group of ice pillars with candles hanging inside. At another point, a five-foot ice pyramid glowed eerily atop the dark, silent, snowy lake.

Thanks to cell phones, our friends, Ann and George, who entered us in the event, found us in crowd and the dark. It was fun to join up with them and also pleasurable to be on our own, whizzing along, with only an occasional candle to show the path, trusting the ski tracks in a strange meditative state of consciousness.

We skied under a wedge of silvery moon and eyed Orion's Belt, a favorite sky-mark on our night walks on the beach of Isla Mujeres, now latitudes away.

It was a magical evening...perhaps the greatest magic being back in winter and enjoying it!


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama Esperanza!

We were walking through a local neighborhood in Isla Mujeres the morning after the inauguration. A gray-haired Mexican man was sitting in a lawn chair in front of his cement house, taking the sun and reading the morning’s news. He looked up, smiled at us, and called “Obama!” He held up his newspaper for us to see. The front page banner cried “Esperanza!”


We grinned back and said, “Si se puede!” Yes we can!

Did he know we were Obama supporters? We were so happy that morning, perhaps we glowed. On the other hand, he no doubt had read the news the week before that for the first time in history, a US president-elect met with the Mexican president in Washington. D.C. Taking time to do so just days before taking office surely sent a message that Obama cares about US relations with Mexico. That gesture of respect may give people here a bit more hope.

The day before, we had spent several hours at Jax, a local open-air sports bar/restaurant. About 40 Americans watched the sea change happen in Washington. A passerby might have thought there was an important football game on because the bar was packed and everyone was totally focused on the five TV screens. Newspapers were spread out on the tables with big photos of Obama and headlines like “Sueno Realidad” – Dream Reality, referring to Martin Luther King’s dream being at least partially realized in the election of our first African American president.

On this Caribbean island, we cheered, we cried, and we got goose bumps witnessing this pivotal moment in U.S. history. We felt close to the other Americans, friends and strangers alike, who cheered Bill and Hillary when they appeared, who roared when the camera first picked up Barack, and who rose at the end of the ceremony, tears spilling from many eyes, to sing the national anthem. We were proud of our country, proud of the course correction we are making, and thrilled to have shared this moment in a small bar in Mexico where the people seem as happy as we are to have a new US president.

A couple of days later, we were on the mainland doing errands in Cancun. Our taxi driver told us that his ex-wife and their grown children, who live in Dallas, are delighted by the election. They have, he confided, “Obamamania.” Not a term we ever anticipated hearing from a Spanish-speaking cabbie.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In the Yucatan -- Your Family Awaits You!

As we visited Mayan ruins last month, Becky and I were delighted to discover that highways in the Yucatan are smooth, modern, and well-signed. They also are one continuous course in driving safety and etiquette.

One day, on our way to the archeological site of Uxmal, we passed large glossy black and white signs every 50-100 meters. First the basic instructions.




And after 50 kilometers, we saw a gracious remark:

Once drivers know that the signs are not to be maltreated, the signage moves to a higher level of instruction.


(There are many solid yellow lines in the rolling hills of southwest Yucatan. The entire Yucatan is not flat, as we had supposed.)

These and other cautions are repeated over and over. That’s probably wise since apparently it takes a minimum of seven repetitions for a message to make an impression on our brains.

But our favorite sign of all was --

This message shifts drivers out of our narrow individual world to the reality of the larger social network and the people who love and depend on us.

Finally, during our 1000-kilometer trip through the interior of the Yucatan Peninsula, we saw virtually no advertising billboards. Wouldn't US highways be safer if we had fewer distracting ads and more reminders to drive carefully because our family awaits us? That's a sign I would never grow tired of seeing.