Saturday, December 13, 2008

New blog

Check out my new blog: It details my plans for a long walk to deal with my concerns about the threats of global warming. I will post some of my plans on this blog as well.

Friday, October 31, 2008

                                                                                            Photo: Guy Gray

Taking apart the fish
          Greta Browne, 10/31/08

Praise be to the deep blue sea
Where silver creatures dart in dappled sunlight then
Take the proffered bait
Fight fiercely the relentless tug of the brown man's line

The immigrant who used to fish on another sea
Knows how to bring in his catch
With gentle words, "Venga, venga, linda creatura
Pescado plateado - ahora es mio."

Thank you silvery beauty for your life
- as I cut slits in your striped flanks
anoint you with oil from aromatic olives
sprinkle you with salt and pepper
stuff rings of onion in your pink cavity
slip you into the hot oven - 500 degrees -
until you are crisp and golden

We feast for two days
Thank you for such bounty
Then pick the fleshy bones for
Fishcakes with yogurt and horseradish

Finally we boil all that's left
Thank you for such bounty
The head and tail and bones for
chowder with corn and peas,
carrots, yams and butternut,
onion and garlic
soy sauce and rice noodles

We ladle the colorful soup into our lovely bowls
And taste the rich broth and tiny fragments of
Flaky flesh and mysterious innards
Sweet and rich and deeply satisfying
All praise to the deep blue sea.

Monday, October 27, 2008

There can be no doubt that things in Washington are headed for a big change. Hopefully the Lehigh Valley will help bring about a new era for this country by replacing not only the president but also the congressman, Charlie Dent, who has helped create the culture of war, oil interests, and decreasing help for Main Street. We must elect Sam Bennett to represent us in Washington.

Sam will vote to bring universal health care to all Americans, better financial support for college students, and a more sane energy policy as the country moves away from dependence on oil. Labor Unions and Environmental Groups have endorsed her candidacy.

In 2004 and 2006 I ran as the Green Party candidate for the office of US Representative in the 15th District. Two of my major issues were PEACE / END WAR  and Sustainable Environmental practices. I have talked with Sam about my concerns and I trust her to represent me well in Washington. I urge you to give her your vote On November 4.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I posted this poem here by accident, but decided to let it stay. For readers who don't know, my mother is in hospice care in St. Petersburg, Florida. At the time I wrote this reflection we thought she was in the process of dying and I believed I wouldn't see her alive again. I said good-bye to her in mid-July, and when I came home to Bethlehem I found myself getting tearful. My reflection on the meaning of my tears resulted in this poem. I had intended to post it on, which I eventually did. 

The meaning of my tears

Never again
       dear Mother …


I am
     Letting go of the thought of calling you
            the idea of visiting
             the urge to share a photo
             to sing for you

I am
    Remembering the hurts and slights
            the misunderstandings
            the differences that never reconciled
                    Letting those go

I am
   Conjuring up memories
              your sense of humor
                    black bean ice cream on April Fool’s Day
              your love of beauty
                     wild flowers in a meadow
             your common sense
             your passion for justice
             patience and enjoyment of Daddy
             Chinese food
             wind in your hair
             sun on your face

I am
     Remembering too your bouts of asthma
                  your bursitis
                  your occasional afternoons in bed

   You by my bedside as I wept for the world
   you on the bus listening to my confessions
   you at the airport bidding me farewell

  You with my babies, laughing
  with my children, walking
  with my grandchildren, holding

  Me at your bedside singing
  offering you water
   holding your hand
  watching your face
  waiting for your smile

Never again
     dear Mother
  And always and forever

Friday, July 25, 2008

Petitioning vs Bonusgate

The Morning Call posted this piece on their online version, on July 30, 2008. I kinda doubt that very many people read it, but there were a couple of comments. (Aug.11,2008)

I wrote this piece as an Op Ed for the Morning Call. I haven't submitted it yet - hope to in the next couple of days:

It’s that time of the year again – just before the August 1 deadline - when a few stubborn idealists stand in public places or go door to door collecting petitions for their parties and their candidates. I’ve been doing this for many years here in Bethlehem and throughout the Lehigh Valley, five times to get my name on the ballot the, and also to get other Green Party candidates on the ballot.

The work is often difficult because of those who refuse to sign, especially when they’re rude, or still angry with Ralph Nader for running for president in 2000. But the rewards out-do the disappointments. People say things like, “Oh, I’m all in favor of getting more people on the ballot.” And, “Everyone has the right to run for office.” Or, “I approve of the Green Party, even though I’m a Democrat.” People get excited over the prospect of more parties and more choices. They get excited about issues that more mainstream candidates won’t address. They get fascinated to see politics at work in such a grassroots manner.

Sometimes it’s the rough and tumble American spirit that comes through: “I’d love to shake up the system.” “There’s got to be someone better than the crooks in there now.” I prefer these folks who sign, even out of spite, to those who insist they don’t and won’t vote. Though I can understand them too. They don’t trust the system and refuse to participate in something that they see as rotten to the core.

Do you wonder why they think this way? Just consider Bonusgate, the latest scandal from the hub of Pennsylvania politics. Basically Bonusgate consists of party officials, in this case Democrats, using tax-payer money to deny the ballot to candidates who were running against their own party’s candidates. It was a behind-the-door action to undo the grassroots work described above. Think of all those citizens who decided, in a real face-to-face moment with a petition gatherer, that ‘yes,’ they would sign their names to this petition granting their citizen’s endorsement of the candidate’s or the party’s right to be on the ballot. Now picture a bevy of state employees recruited to scrutinize those signatures and remove as many of them as possible, regardless of the intention of the signers.

In a subversion of citizen’s rights, they invalidated signatures of those who used their nickname instead of their full name even if all the other information on the line proved it was the same person. They dropped the name of someone who made the mistake of putting in their mailing location instead of their voting location – Bethlehem instead of Fountain Hill, for example. Or the name of the person who put in the zip code instead of the date. A whole sheet of signatures could be invalidated because one person wrote the wrong date and set the rest out of sync. Some of the cuts were legitimate, but many were simply ruthless purging.

I know because I was there. Dozens of us volunteered in Harrisburg in an attempt to defend the signatures of the people with whom we had talked – at their doors, at festivals, in movie theatre lines, at ball games, in front of the library or post office. People who had smiled at us and thanked us for what we were doing. We drove from the four corners of the state to confront the myriad of interns, clerks, lawyers, office workers, that the Democrats pulled together in Harrisburg to destroy our huge effort to collect almost 100,000 signature to get Green Party candidates on the ballot for US Senate, Governor and Lieutenant Governor. We witnessed their will to find tiny technical errors that would allow them to eliminate petitions. Now we hear that many of those workers were given bonuses from the state coffers.

You’d think it would make us mad enough to join those angry citizens who drop out of the electoral process. Oh sure, we’re angry. But we’re stubborn idealists. So we’re back again – maybe you’ve seen us – trying to get enough signatures to put our candidates on the ballot so that voters will have more voices and more choices when they enter the voting booth. It’s called democracy.

Greta Browne

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


June 24, 2008

Yesterday’s a.m. MAGAZINE (The Morning Call, 7/22/08) carried an article about a new occasion to celebrate in our already overstretched self-conscious calendar of special, designated days. The subtitle clarifies: “Lavish ‘push presents’ reward new moms.” What’s with it? Women and men have been having babies since the beginning of the human race, but now we need to reward women? Pretty soon we’ll be gifting ourselves for getting up in the morning.

I have nothing against people celebrating each other’s successes and giving each other gifts when they feel like it. Gift-giving is a wonderful expression of affection and relationship. This morning I found a little mouse that one of our cats left at the back door for us - a special gift.

What I oppose and decry is the establishment of a public expectation that will burden families that never had this custom in the past. In the article, a quote defines the push present as “a gift a husband gives his wife as a reward for nine months of carrying and then delivering a baby.” These presents can be “big ticket” consumer items like jewelry, cars and vacations.

Already an inappropriate level of entitlement diminishes our national character, causing us to believe we deserve more than most people around the world can afford. Such new consumer occasions as the birth of a child fuel our grand expectations and lay down the framework for comparisons and disappointments.

When my children discovered that some of their friends received money for every ‘A’ they earned in school, suddenly what had been a reward in and of itself – the good grade – was no longer as satisfying. Thank goodness my children were sensible and accepted my position that their grades represented the consequences of their own work and required no reward from me. They also seemed to realize that they didn’t need to get cars as rewards when they graduated from high school to prove that that they were loved and appreciated.

One of my therapy books addressed the issue of suffering saying that the pain of the wife whose husband has forgotten her annual roses on their anniversary can feel as acute as the mental suffering of those who lack essentials such as food and health care. It’s all in the expectation. A few years ago my daughter suggested that we start giving each other five dollar presents at Christmas instead of the more expensive gifts that had slowly increased in value from $25 to $40, 60 and even $100 or more. Everyone agreed and what a relief!

So let’s not set ourselves up with this new expectation of big ticket items to reward a woman for giving birth. Instead let’s remind new dads that time is worth gold and that there’s nothing better than tender words. Take time to hold the new baby, learn to take part in the everyday chores this new family member requires, and tell the baby’s mother again and again that you love her, that she’s beautiful and that she’s a wonderful mom. If you have a gift for her, fine – that’s between you and her, not a cultural expectation. If you have no gift, fine – enjoyment, love and caring are the greatest gifts in the world.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Talking about being overweight

In a recent article in my local newspaper, The Morning Call, a doctor talked about the difficult decision he was facing to start talking to patients about their weight. Apparently he finds it easier to bring up drinking and smoking than obesity, but he believes he can no longer justify this reluctance on his part.

In my job as hospital chaplain I see many gentle and beautiful people who are dying in part because of the burden their extra pounds put on their hearts, their backs, their knees and the whole system. I see the suffering of family members - spouses and partners, parents, children. 

I think about the extra pounds that I carry on my small frame - the bones are still strong but I'm getting older. I should lose at least ten pounds - twenty would be better. Recently I've learned that my self-image has changed over the years so that now I see my self as a plump woman with a prominent tummy - cringe, cringe. So I'm working on reconnecting with another image of myself, trying to know in my bones and in my belly that I, Greta, will be myself if I return to the image of my twenties and thirties. I've looked at photos where my waist is slender and then I check some favorite dresses that I was never able to discard and see that same slender waistline. 

Would I welcome my doctor's words about my extra pounds if she decided to raise the issue? I think now I would. Maybe in the past I could have heard her if she stuck to the health consequences of extra weight. Would words from her motivate me? I don't know. But I can think of two motivations that would make sense to me: lower insurance premiums for an improved BMI, and a safe place to post my success for others to see. The costs to individuals, families, communities, the work force, and the health system are huge, and it is in everyone's interest to overcome the obesity epidemic. I don't believe in shaming, but I do think that a stronger public approval for appropriate weight would be a good thing, while maintaining tolerance and compassion for those who are unable to reach the norm. 

In any case, I applaud the doctor in the article and hope that he will find successful approaches as he talks to his patients.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Today's media report that over half of all insured Americans are taking prescribed medications on a regular basis for chronic ailments. (The Morning Call, 5/14/08, p. A4) 

A few years ago I would have counted myself in the other half, and I resented the automatic question by health care providers "What meds are you on?" The assumption that everyone my age would be on medications implied that pharmaceuticals are a normal part of life, a reality that would obviously benefit the companies that produce these medications and spend millions of dollars to relentlessly promote them. 

Then slowly I began to take a few medications regularly, to control my stomach pain and my asthma. Eventually I added prescription pills for hypothyroidism and ointments for lichen sclerosis. I take aspirin for arthritic pain and to keep my blood flowing through plaque-lined vessels.  Frankly I'm thankful for the relief I get, and for the ability to do the things I want to do.

But I'm still very uneasy with the normalcy of 'taking meds.' I would argue that we do not lead normal lives in today's fast-paced, competitive, polluted world, where our food, water and air are compromised in so many ways. Instead of taking medications we would be better served by improving the conditions in which we live, something that we can do to a minor extent individually. However the policies of our government and the lifestyle models that dominate our media must be changed by a larger effort, starting with the dialogue and consciousness- raising that this blog intends.

I know that my medications are at least in part related to my lifestyle. When I went to Brazil for two months this past winter, after six weeks of breathing the air of the high central plateau, walking at least a mile every day, eating closer to the land, including milk, cheese and meat from grass-fed cattle, and living without the pressures and alienation that I've experienced in my US life, I was off most of my medications: no anti-histamines, Advair, aspirin, Prilosec.