Category Archives: Fun Savvy

A Milestone Birthday and Summer in My Garden

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Today is a milestone birthday for me.  But, savvy woman that I am, this post was written in advance, so I’ll share some reflections as I close out this decade of my life.

As I’ve shared in this blog, I have spent the summer helping two of my adult children move apartments, traveling and growing a vegetable garden.  It occurs to me that all of these activities share some common themes: putting down roots, exploring the world outside of home and engaging in strenuous physical activity.  These themes have defined my life and pretty much describe my personal outlook.  I believe in strong roots, connection to my culture and home.  I believe that a secure foundation helps us feel confident about leaving home to seek out new experiences, be they far afield or in our own environs.  I also believe that a strong sense of identity helps us create our own values and keeps us afloat in a turbulent world.  And physical activity builds strength, both inside and out.  Developing the discipline required to commit to exercise or sports keeps mind and body engaged.

At one point during the latest move for my son, as I was schlepping yet another box from the truck to his apartment, I looked at him and proudly reminded him of my age.  He smiled and said, “I know mom, you and dad aren’t like other parents.”  Well, that may or may not be true, but I felt good knowing I’ve maintained my health and fitness and can enjoy an active life.  I plan to continue working towards greater strength and stamina and look forward to another physical challenge (though the next move will involve professionals!).

This last ten years has been one of incredible emotional growth for me, and for my family.  Our move to Nashville was difficult.  Much of the time I have felt like a small dinghy being blown about in a storm.  I’ve struggled to find my balance and today I am stronger for weathering it.  I’ve built a great life, found amazing friends, started a business and created a comforting home.  The toughest part these days is living away from my children.  In fact, each of us lives in a different city.  I’ve worried that leaving their childhood home would make them feel adrift as well.  I’ve come to realize that they are creating their own homes and building lives that is unique to each of them.  I also now, finally, understand that we are always a family, regardless of where we live.  When we come together, we are as we’ve always been, The Dab Family.  And, this weekend, they have all planned a wonderful family vacation to celebrate my birthday.  I am truly a lucky woman and have much for which to be grateful.

And as for my garden, well, it’s a little out of control.  I have four rather large pumpkins developing, several spaghetti squash, gobs of cucumbers, bushels of tomatoes and some tired sunflowers.  The broccoli and cabbage have not thrived, but the jalapenos are doing great.  I’ve made a batch of fresh gazpacho and grilled some zucchini.  All in all, it’s been a successful summer season.

My hopes for my future have evolved, too.  I no longer wish for material things, bigger houses, more prestigious career moves.  Instead I wish to continue on the path I’m already traveling.  I wish for more years to enjoy my husband and children.  I wish for more joy, good health, connection to my community and my spirituality.  I wish for contentment and to recognize when I have enough and when I am enough.  I wish for these things for all of you, too.  Oh, and world peace (ref. “Miss Congeniality,”).

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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My Precious Hummers

I get so excited every year when I see that first hummingbird darting around the feeder! I am so amazed. These tiny birds find their way across miles and miles of land and sea back to my little patio and the “nectar” I put out for them. Folks say they’re likely the same ones each year. I wish I had a way to know for sure.

My dear friend, Leslee, in West Virginia, introduced me to the idea of feeding the hummingbirds. She had feeders under the eaves all around her Victorian bed and breakfast and the little darlings absolutely swarmed her house. Then, Nancy and I had a feeder at the house in Ashland City and we would sit quietly on the deck watching our “hummers” flit and flutter around it. The first time I put my feeder out at my condo here in Ashland City, I wondered if and how anybody would ever find me and my red feeder with yellow “flowers.” Wow! No sooner did I hang it out than there they were. Or there it was anyway. Through my kitchen window, where I watch them daily now, mostly early mornings and at dusk, I saw a hummer. I was thrilled.

According to beautyofbirds.com, the hummingbirds typically found in Tennessee are…

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are natives. Migrating males are usually the first to arrive in April and the first to depart in or around October. The females and the young usually follow about two weeks later. I definitely have these in my backyard family.

 

 

The male has a ruby-red throat, a white collar, an emerald green back and a forked tail.

 

 

 

 

The female has a green back and tail feathers that are banded white, black and grey-green.

 

 

Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) are regular visitors. These hummingbirds are usually found in gardens and at feeders. These birds are fearless, and are known for chasing away other hummingbirds and even larger birds, or rodents away from their favorite nectar feeders and flowers. I do have a couple of rather aggressive “chasers,” but they don’t look like these.

 

Males can easily be identified by their glossy orange-red throats.

 

 

 

Females have whitish, speckled throats, green backs and crowns, and rufous, white-tipped tail feathers.

 

Black-chinned Hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri) are considered “accidental” visitors. I think I have a couple of these, too.

 

 

The male has a black, shimmering throat with a purple edge and pale feathersbelow that create a collar. However, unless the light is just right, the head looks all black. His back is green and there are some green feathers covering the chest.

 

 

 

The female is pale below (sometimes with a slightly speckled throat) and her back is green.

 

 

“Like all hummingbirds, ruby-throats are precision flyers with the ability to fly full out and stop in an instant, hang motionless in midair, and adjust their position up, down, sideways, and backwards with minute control. They dart between nectar sources with fast, straight flights or sit on a small twig keeping a lookout, bill waving back and forth as the bird looks around. Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds aggressively defend flowers and feeders, leading to spectacular chases and dogfights, and occasional jabs with the beak. They typically yield to larger hummingbird species (in Mexico) and to the notoriously aggressive Rufous Hummingbird.”

These are my guys for sure. My friend and co-writer, Brenda, caught this guy on camera one evening. We have begun a tradition of working on our songs while our humming friends fly around our heads. (Big smile as I write this…)

 

 

Are hummingbirds the most unique birds on earth? I sure think so. https://www.beautyofbirds.com/hummingbirdsinterestingfacts.html

About Jan Schim

Jan is a singer, a songwriter, a licensed body worker specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, and a teacher. She is an advocate for the ethical treatment of ALL animals and a volunteer with several animal advocacy organizations. She is also a staunch believer in the need to promote environmental responsibility.

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We’re Better Together

On Saturday, July 14th, about one billion people watched France win the FIFA World Cup.  No other sport draws as big an audience and only the marriage of British royals can draw a similar global audience.  July 14th is also Bastille Day, a celebration of the French Revolution when France transformed from a monarchy to a democracy.

Both events demonstrate the benefits of globalization. Football (soccer to Americans) is the most popular sport in the world. Players leave their country of origin to compete in the top leagues in the world which makes them better players when they represent their country at the World Cup.

The winning French squad included individuals who play their club football in Spain, Germany, and England. Croatia, their opponent, has stars that play in Italy, Spain and England. The English Premier League is expected to suffer a loss of top talent after Brexit due to immigration barriers and the loss of passport-free movement around Europe.

The U.S. also benefits from this international trade. Several of our top players are honing their skills in European leagues against the top players in the world. Our domestic league, Major League Soccer, has many stars who are national team players in their countries of origin.  (The same is true for our national women’s team and league.)

The other big French event, Bastille Day, symbolizes the globalization of democracy.  The French revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity flowed across Europe with their armies and eventually around the world.  The concepts inspired popular uprisings in 1830 and 1848 as oppressed Europeans fought to overthrow oppressive governments.

The “losers” of these European revolutions fled to the U.S. where they became soldiers in the Civil War, homesteaders, business owners and politicians.  They helped build the U.S. into a world economic and political power.

After World War II, the U.S. used its economic and political power to create a global system anchored by democracy.   Political stability is maintained through the United Nations and similar international organizations. Economic stability is supported through the World Trade Organization and multilateral trade agreements.

Unfortunately, the benefits of globalization are being undermined by populists.  Like the royalist forces in 1789, 1830 and 1848, they believe in an illusory past glory when they were the “winners” and the condition of others was irrelevant.  If the populists succeed, I expect to pay more money to see a lousier game of football.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see my weekly blog HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which publishes every Wednesday morning. To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Heading Out: Vacation Prep Blues

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As I write this, I’m about to head out with my husband for a two-week vacation.  It’s the longest we’ve been away in years, and I am a bundle of stress.  The past several weeks I have been occupied with visits from my three adult children, something I enjoy but that also distracts me from the daily life I have constructed for myself.  So, my mind is most definitely not engaged in vacation prep.  Not only that but my youngest, who has been living with us for the last couple of months, has taken a job in another city and will be leaving just four days after we return.  I feel both excited for him and for my return to normalcy, but also somewhat sad to be missing out on some quality time during his last weeks at home.  Oy!  I am quite literally a mess of emotions.

I’ve written before about the pressure we women put on ourselves; the pressure to perform, the pressure to look great all the time, the pressure to succeed, to be perfect in every way.  For me, I add in the pressure to be the perfect mother for whatever stage my kids are in their development.  These days, as young adults just starting out, that takes the form of regular texts and phone calls for recipes, work advice, fashion input, roommate issues, financial planning, dating, the list goes on.  And of course, there is “Mom’s Moving Service,” which is always at the ready to help with apartment hunting, box schlepping and the assembly of Ikea furniture.

For the most part, it’s great fun to watch, and participate, as their adult lives take shape.  God knows I wish I’d had the same encouragement and support when I struck out on my own young adult life.  But it’s also physically and emotionally exhausting.  I walk the line between respecting their boundaries and giving input, all the while remembering their sweet little baby smiles, their sticky faces, their hurt cries and the tiny arms drawing me close to say goodnight.  Yep, for me it’s constant work to refocus the picture of them in mind as fully-grown adults.

And actually, they are all doing a great job of building their lives.  Each is on a different path with widely varying careers and lifestyles.  Each is financially self-sufficient and two of them have higher degrees.  This is not a brag on my kids, but the way, it’s me reassuring myself that they are all fine and well so that I can get on with my life and my vacation!

At this point, our bags are mostly packed and ready, save for the last-minute carry-on items, we’re checked into our flights and tonight our son will drop us off at the airport for our overnight transatlantic trip.  I’m hoping that somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I’ll drift off to sleep (with the help of some Ambien and a glass of wine) and by the time I wake up I’ll be recovered from the “Kids’ Visit Hangover.”

As you read this, I’ll be arriving home, hopefully with some new stories to tell my children when I see them next, and a refocused perspective on who we all are in this world and where I intend to go next.  Here’s hoping…

P.S.  The recent rains have made my garden go crazy!  Enjoy some pictures of my sunflowers, tomatoes and squash!

 

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Loafing

 

A friend recently gave me some words of wisdom that I found shocking.

She said, “You’ve been through a lot over the last 18 months – now it’s time to focus on relaxing and self-care and fun.”This perception on her part was shocking in several ways – but most importantly, it invited me think about what HAS been going on in my life.

In the last eighteen months I have had three major surgeries, the trip of a lifetime, selling of a childhood home and subsequent downsizing process, purchase of a new home, loss of my best friend to early-onset Alzheimer’s, a home disaster in our new condo that resulted in almost five months in an extended-stay hotel, my daughter’s first pregnancy, exposure of our cats to the lethal effects of eating an Easter lily (they are fine), and the birth of a granddaughter.

WOW. Or better said, YIKES! Talk about a roller coaster!  No wonder my friend had this perception.

Living life is like being in a river.  The current is constantly flowing, and we are in that current.  It is ongoing, ever-changing, sometimes stormy, sometimes swift and challenging, sometimes slow and lazy, but never the same.  Taking the time to climb out onto the bank to observe one’s self in that current can be challenging – and sometimes it takes another person looking in to help us see what has been going on.

My friend’s comment did this for me – and helped me realize something about my own process.  I don’t take the time to step back, to rest, to recharge.  These last months have really been about “good soldiering”.  One step in front of the other, don’t look back, don’t look ahead, just slog on, keep your head down, that’s the best you can do.

It’s not a process that is filled with rest, renewal, or any kind of joy.  It is called survival.

Many of us get stuck in this place of survival and adapt to it – it becomes the only way we know how to approach living.  To break that mold takes intention and some degree of support.  It takes claiming time for yourself to do things that perhaps you don’t normally do – whatever it is that you experience as relaxing and fun and outside the regular track of your life.

What am I doing?  I am puttering around with plants for my little patio.  I am taking a trip to hear music over Memorial Day.  I am going to my college reunion in June.  I am planning a trip to Charleston to see my other grandchild.  I am planning a trip to Florida to see dear friends.  On a daily basis I am asking myself this question:  How would you like to loaf today?

Answering that question may be the most important and the most challenging of all – because I don’t know much about loafing around (that means being unproductive – heaven forbid!).  Redefining loafing as resting, taking it easy, changing your pace, slowing down – these are new ideas for me.

When do you “loaf”?  Are you always on the move, always doing, always restless?  If so, you might need a dose of loafing to bring some balance into your life.  I know I do!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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Creative Camping

IMG_9991 (1)Having just participated in an art workshop for 3 days, it was so filled with adventure that I have come away comparing it to what kids might feel like when they go away to camp.  The busyness of preparation with getting supplies together, the trepidation of feelings, “Am I going to succeed at new tasks?”, and the exhilaration of “I am having fun!”  The fun, in addition to the satisfaction of learning something new, comes from being with other artists who encourage one another, give grace at the stumbles, tell funny jokes and some dumb ones, too, and express gratitude at the good days and the fact that we get to do what we do.   The other fabulous feeling comes from admiration that another human being can do something unique and to such a high degree of competency that it fills me with inspiration and a grateful heart for being shown the way.  Charlie Hunter, who has developed a style of his own, was so willing and generous to share his process and help us experience his way of working that I came away with faith that I will continue to find my bliss.  I was inspired and feel that I can paint and explore processes in any way that I want, and that I, too, will find my own mountaintop.  This is a good life.  I am grateful.

Painting en plein air is not for everyone.  There are challenges. First, logistics.  I am my mother’s child, and I want to have my needs met at any given time.  This means that I carry a lot of supplies – a rolling cart and usually another bag that holds the gadgets.  I want my favorite brushes, stool, umbrella (sun protection), water device, the right canvas, sketchpad, viewer, pencils, palette paper, trashcan, easel, and tripod, camera for photographing scenes and birds, hat, sunscreen, bug spray, beverages, snack, and now there are new gadgets, oh, but they are such fun, mark making, tools.

The joy of getting away and focussing on art is such a gift that it makes the logistics part bearable. I’ve had the pleasure of taking a class with Charlie Hunter through The Chestnut Group this week.  It was different than anything else so far, and frankly, I didn’t know that I would even like painting in this monochromatic, tonal style.  Let me tell you, it has drawn me in like a moth to the flame.

If you have ever wanted to try painting, or if you already paint and you are looking for a community of artists, consider us,  The Chestnut Group.  We will encourage you and share what’s been shared with us.

I will continue to negotiate the cold, heat, humidity, sun, weather threats, bugs, long distances to restroom facilities, logistics and unknowns.  The payoff is so worth it.  Painting and birding, two of my favorite pastimes, are afforded in one outing.  I am fortunate.

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About Renee Bates

Renee is an artist focused on growing a newfound ability to express herself through oil painting, leaving her role as executive director of the non-profit, Greenways for Nashville, in 2015. Renee is inspired by nature and enjoys hiking, birding, and the garden. To see what she’s working on, visit her website: www.reneebatesartist.com.  She contributes to HerSavvy, a blog featuring writings from a group of well-informed women wishing to share their support and experience with others. Married to David Bates of Bates Nursery and Garden Center, enjoying flora and fauna is a family affair.
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My Summer Garden

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My backyard in Los Angeles was an oasis. We had green space, a large pool, spa, four different citrus trees, a concrete sports court and a patio with a barbecue and seating. And since the weather was good all year, we really made use of our outdoor space. We had pool parties in January, and cookouts in August. But the one thing I never did in L.A. was grow vegetables. Ironically the great year round weather lulled me into feeling I’d get to it eventually, but never did. I did try planting pumpkins with my kids a couple of times, but they didn’t take, so we gave up.

Now that we live in an urban neighborhood near downtown Nashville, I feel a strong desire to turn our cozy little backyard into my garden retreat. So for the past couple of weekends, my husband and I have been researching, shopping, prepping, building and planting. And our city garden retreat is nearly finished. We have four raised beds filled with vegetables, two baskets of herbs, we cleaned and moved an old abandoned dog house into the yard for our fur baby, “Bentley,” planted a row of sunflowers (my mother’s favorites) for privacy and fun and built a rain barrel to give all these plants some fresh rain water. I plan to add some seating, maybe some garden sculpture and maybe even a water feature.

This is a pretty ambitious plan for me. I’ve never been very good at maintaining houseplants; in fact most of my indoor plants are artificial. But I just feel drawn to getting outside, digging in the dirt and growing food we will actually eat. There’s just something so satisfying about cooking with tomatoes you’ve grown yourself, snipping some fresh mint for a mojito (!) or baking some zucchini bread with fresh squash. I also feel more relaxed after a productive session working in the garden. And since I am once again a city dweller, gardening brings some peace and beauty to an otherwise hectic environment.

Beginning with this post, I’ll be sharing my summer garden experiences and pictures as it grows. If you have tips, advice or anything to share about your garden adventures, please comment here. I’d looooove to hear about your successes and your failures. As my garden grows, so do I!

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About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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I Wanna Live Forever!

Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu had many adventures together. Then Enkidu died. Gilgamesh was inconsolable with grief and loneliness. But he was also afraid of his own death. So he wandered endlessly in search of the secret to never dying.

Gilgamesh’s story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written between 2150 – 1400 BCE.  It was the first major piece of literature in the western world, predating even Homer’s stories about the destruction of Troy.  Gilgamesh was a mythical king of Uruk, a Sumerian city-state in what is now Iraq.

His story may have been written over 4000 years ago but Gilgamesh was not so different from us today.  We are still looking for the magical elixir of life.  Gilgamesh hoped the gods would tell him the secret to immortality but they never did.

Today, our “gods” are the allegedly scientific studies on the benefits of exercise and food.  I say alleged because the studies usually provide conflicting advice and are often sponsored by industries that have a stake in the outcome.  Consider how the definition of “healthy” food changes constantly.

Years ago a study told us not to eat eggs because they have cholesterol which is bad for us. Then a study told us that eggs are loaded with protein; so they are good for us. The poultry industry celebrated.  Another study told us sugar is bad for us. Then a study arrived claiming that lab rats died from consuming saccharine and other sugar substitutes.  Suddenly sugar is good for us again. Sugar beet farmers and sugarcane refineries rejoice.

Along with diet, we’re told to exercise regularly. What does “regularly” mean? One study tells us to exercise until our hearts are thumping and we’re soaked in sweat. The next study tells us that we can achieve excellent health and long life from as little as fifteen minutes of daily exercise.   Recently, a BBC news story cited a new study which claims that prolonged sitting will kill us no matter how much we exercise.

What no one ever admits is that if we live forever, we’ll outlive all our friends. Then we’ll be as lonely as Gilgamesh was after Enkidu died.  Instead of agonizing over living forever, I’ll support a scientific study that says we should enjoy life with our friends, our favorite foods and exercise when we feel like it.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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Havana: A City Caught in The Past But Looking Toward the Future

We recently spent two days in Havana, Cuba as part of a Caribbean cruise. As children who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, my husband and I know nothing of a world in which the tiny island was a hub of glamour, music, beauty, and of course, The Mob. So we were intrigued, and yet a little uneasy, to visit what is today a Communist country that is a mere shadow of it’s former self.

We began our visit with a lengthy wait on the ship to disembark. The line of cruise passengers snaked through the ship, down the gangplank and into the terminal. After making our way through immigration, passport control and security, we stepped out into the blazing sun, unsure of where to head first. We had scheduled our guided tour for the next day and planned to spend this first day exploring on our own.  IMG_3852

We crossed to the square across from the terminal, narrow streets falling away in different directions. We headed off down one of them, following the crowd. As we wandered some people checked us out, some ignored us, several people approached as we walked asking if we needed directions or wanted to book a tour or hire a taxi. Skeptical American tourists that we are, we tried to put them off and keep walking. After awhile it became clear that for these folks, cut off for decades from the U.S., seeing Americans on their streets is a curiosity. They want to engage in conversation, to learn about the world beyond their island.

During this first day, the sights, sounds, smells, were overwhelming. We’ve traveled to many countries, but nothing prepared us for this. Havana’s decay is stunning. Once beautiful colonial buildings barely hang onto life as makeshift homes and shops. The cobblestone streets can rise up at any time, so it’s important to have a steady foot and sturdy shoes.  IMG_3855

The most famous attraction of Havana is, of course, the cars. Those relics from the 1950s are everywhere! Some have been beautifully restored and serve as government run taxicabs and cars for hire. Some are simply held together by screw drivers and duct tape and are privately owned cars that also serve as makeshift taxis.  IMG_3871

As we explored, the sky turned dark, the air thick with humidity and of course, it began to rain. We saw cabbies run to cover their cars, scrambling to put the tops up on the convertibles. We ran for a local hotel and headed for the bar. This particular hotel is part of a European chain, part of the burgeoning partnerships between the government and the private sector. After enjoying a Cuban beer and listening to some music, the rain finally let up and we headed back to the ship to get ready for our evening.

After freshening up and relaxing a bit, we made our way off the ship, again through immigrations, passport control and security; though this time it didn’t take but a few minutes. We found a cab, a more modern car, which took us speeding along the coast to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where we had reservations to see the Cabaret Parisien show. During the drive, we were surprised to see hoards of people hanging out along the sea wall, relaxing, talking, drinking.

The hotel sits atop a hill overlooking the ocean. It is one of the few buildings we saw that first day that has been restored and maintained. After we were dropped off, we entered the lobby and walked through the doors to the outside grounds. The patio was alive with people having a drink at the outside bar, wandering the gardens and listening to a strolling mariachi-style band. Overlooking the cliffs, off in the distance, a rainbow began appearing, creating a beautiful photo op.  IMG_3896

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That evening’s cabaret show was a feast of sights and sounds as performers wove a story of Cuba’s cultural history. Our small table was right next to the stage so we didn’t miss a thing. It is worth noting that the food, although adequate, was pretty much what we had heard about government-run restaurants: bland and uninteresting. This is due to a lack of spices, herbs and fresh vegetables, which are expensive and in short supply. But the Mojitos were great!  IMG_3911

Day two, we were up and out early and made our way to the hotel where we were to meet our tour. Our guide was a young woman named Sady. She explained the day’s events, which would include a walking tour of Old Havana while she educated us on the city’s history and architecture. Of course no tour of Havana is complete without stopping at La Floridita, the bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway where he would enjoy the traditional Daiquiri.

Midday, we stopped for lunch at the home of one of Sady’s friends. This is a privately owned Palidore. These establishments are popping up throughout Havana as families try to supplement their meager government incomes. Some families, as was the case here, also rent rooms in their homes. We made our way up four rickety flights of stairs to the rooftop. There, under a gazebo and surrounded by mint bushes, was a table set for our group. We happily gathered around the table to relax, drink some ice-cold water and relax. We watched as our hosts snipped sprigs of fresh mint to make mojitos, while enjoying a 360 degree view of Havana.  IMG_3974

Lunch that day was a delicious feast of chicken, fish, fresh vegetables, fruit, potatoes and flan for dessert. Although government run restaurants offer up bland, colorless food, this family-run establishment featured the best of traditional Cuban cooking. The herbs are all grown in their garden and there was no lacking for spice and flavor. The meal was prepared and served by the family.  IMG_3973

Following lunch, we headed out for a ride in the cars! We chose the 1956 Chevy Bel Air convertible, newly restored, red with white leather interior. Off we went, with our driver winding us down the coast away from Old Havana, toward memorials to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, through the neighborhoods where stately old homes abandoned by their owners during the revolution now stand as embassies, and through the Havana Forest.   IMG_3985

Our driving tour ended back at the Hotel Nacional where we gathered in the Mob Bar to relax and enjoy more Mojitos!  IMG_3998

During the course of our tour, I had the opportunity to talk to our guide about her life, her political views and her plans for the future. She lives with her mother and her boyfriend, has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and is currently studying for her MA in Sexology and Emotional IQ. When I asked what she plans to do once she finishes her degree she told me she wasn’t sure, but since the education is free, she wanted to study what was interesting to her. She also explained that the banks do not extend credit so people generally don’t have bank accounts and cannot own a home or a car since everything must be purchased in cash. I asked if she is able to travel beyond Cuba. She explained that while Cubans are technically allowed to travel, they must pay hefty fees to apply for a visa with no assurance they will be granted one. Most people don’t even bother since those fees are nonrefundable. We discussed the current American political scene and she said people in Cuba are worried about the new administration’s plans to roll back the advances made by the Obama administration to encourage tourism.

As we approached the memorial to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro I asked her what people in her generation think about the future. She said most are not members of the Communist party and believe things will change. “Communism is an interesting philosophy,” she said, “but it doesn’t work in the real world.” It has been reported that Raul Castro will retire in two years and, with no immediate successor from his family, it’s unclear who or what is on the horizon for the Cuban people.  IMG_3982

My visit to Havana has stayed with me and I hope someday to return and see more of the countryside. I am still processing the trip, though it’s been several weeks since our return. With an uncertain future, both inside the country and between our two governments, one thing is sure: the basic curiosity to know about those different from ourselves, and the desire to find common ground. Even those living under a regime, effectively captive on their island, have dreams, thirst for knowledge, the desire to improve the world around them, hope and love for their families.  IMG_3843

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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Was Duchamp Really An Artist?

 

duchamp2Marcel Duchamp is considered one of the brightest artists of the 20th century.  Not to me.  I pretty much hate everything he did and wouldn’t pay a plugged nickel for any of it.  But that’s okay because it’s my opinion.  Art is subjective. If a piece of art doesn’t “speak” to you emotionally, it’s not worth a plugged nickel.

I learned that lesson from an English professor who taught a class in Renaissance English poetry. (It was the only English class that fit my schedule that semester.)  At first, none of us wanted to voice our opinion on the poetry we were reading because we didn’t want to sound gauche or uninformed.  Then the professor told us that any work of art, regardless of the medium used, only has value if it speaks to us emotionally.  Without that emotional connection, art has no value.

Years later I was invited to a special exhibit in Dallas, Texas of the private collection of one of the city’s leading citizens.  The collection was a mishmash of Benin sculptures, Anasazi pots, Mayan knickknacks, some random Asian artefacts and so on.  It was a 30 or 40 year history lesson in art collecting based on what the avant-garde defined as “art.”  The owner of the collection had buckets of money but apparently collected only what everyone else collected.

That brings me back to Duchamp.  This guy is famous for displaying three panes of glass.  When one pane of glass was broken during transit, Duchamp claimed he liked the piece even more. It’s still on display somewhere with one cracked pane.

Most famously Duchamp put a urinal on display.  Viewers proclaimed that it had classic lines rather than pointing out that it was a bathroom fixture that should be returned to the men’s room down the hall.  No one wanted to be mocked by the avant-garde crowd for lacking artistic sensibilities.

It’s amazing how much guff and abuse we are willing to take to remain part of the “in” crowd.  Duchamp always reminds me of that human trait.  He not only convinced people that panes of glass and a urinal were “art,” he induced them to pay huge sums of money to own one of his pieces.  So I admire his chutzpah and think he was one of the greatest marketers of the 20th century.  But, in my opinion, Duchamp was not an artist.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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