My Strange Decluttering Audio Track

I have been battling with clutter for at least thirty-five years. I don’t fall into the hoarder status, I’m just very messy and I love the thrill of a bargain.

In the 1990s, I used to yearn for simplicity (even though I knew full well that I was the one responsible for the complications in my life) I read mountains of books on the “Voluntary Simplicity” movement popularized by Duane Elgin and Janet Luhrs. I loved to lie on my cluttered bed reading these books as if I was reading about an Antarctic polar expedition or a trip to outer space.

I dreamed of a magic formula that would help me to take concrete action toward getting control over my mess. Was it the perfect storage system? Did I need a bigger house? My perfect storage systems were fun to shop for but always ended up as more clutter. The bigger house thing was something I got to try out. We rented a mansion for a pittance in return for caring for the house. We just ended up with a lot more mess.- In fact we had a ball room full of stuff that other people unloaded on us because we had so much space.

What I needed was a coach who could hang out with me and give me permission to throw things out. I did have a close friend help me a few times but she was so ruthless, I ended up curled in a fetal ball when she left.

Later in my much smaller home, I listened to audio tracks while I would work. Some audio versions of clutter books had me laughing more than decluttering. I turned off anything that asked me to take a complicated quiz to see what category of clutterer I was. Many of the tracks were too “nuts and bolts” to fit into my style. I found that the most helpful were:

Brooks Palmer’s audiobook, Clutter Busting was soothing and spiritual. With Brook’s support, I felt that I could throw out anything and still be OK.

Louise Hay 101 Power Thoughts. This is so soothing that my inner intuition works at full throttle while listening to her.

Denise Linn’s Secrets of Space Clearing and Energy Strands

 Space clearing is not just about putting things away or throwing things out. Space clearing is also emotional and spiritual. I decided to make my own short action track to see if I could get closer to what I needed.

The following short track has been years in the making.

I have been doing audio narration for a free public domain site, Librivox, and learning audio software so that one day I could make very my own decluttering playmate.

In the end, I had to ditch my equipment in favor of my I Pad’s Garageband. It’s not as smooth as I would like but I think it will do the trick. The meditation app, Insight Timer just accepted the track and all proceeds will go to charity. I hope to help one fellow clutter-er at a time.

my active clutter tape.

Please Keep The Puppy Out Of The Room While I’m Manifesting

my puppies 2021

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article entitled, Manifesting, for the Rest of Us A new generation has turned to an eons-old practice of envisioning positive outcomes. Of course, I was interested! I have been using manifestation my whole adult life, however, my millennial children often poo poo my ability to “manifest” despite the fact that I had a big role manifesting them. If you have read some of my other posts, you will notice principles of New Thought throughout (New Thought is basically a Christian philosophical movement which has has strains of Epictetus, 12 step recovery, cognitive psychology, Christianity and Buddhism at its core) … but I need to keep it on the “downlow”. I know that not everyone buys into the ideas of the laws of attraction or even that we may control more of our reality than we think. Manifestation is certainly not just for millennials or lazy, selfish dreamers. What I found particularly offensive in the article was this citation:

Gabriele Oettingen, a scholar and professor of psychology at New York University, underscores the point. “Dreamers are not often doers,” she writes in “Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation,” a study of the sources and perils, of unexamined optimism. “The pleasurable act of dreaming saps our energy to perform the hard work of meeting the challenges in real life.” NYT Jan 20, 2021)

Perhaps I was offended because there is a kernel of truth in this. I certainly would rather dream/visualize a clean home than actually get out of my recliner and wash dishes or vacuum. I would certainly rather visualize my skinny toned body than diet and go to the gym. In most cases, my imagination is almost always better than the reality. I have learned that manifesting is a balance between dreaming and doing.

 Just to digress a little, I would like to point out that the world of woo woo management consulting wasn’t always so big on “doing”. My poor husband was branded as a “doer” over fifteen years ago in a week-long management seminar. His billable hours were top in the company, he is fast and efficient but he just wasn’t a “Dreamer” and as a consequence he was treated as a work horse not a visionary. Over those fifteen years, managers, rainmakers and dreamers have come and gone and yet he remains at the company -which is pretty amazing in the field of advertising and the gig economy. My husband refers to me as the “one who pulls us forward” because I am a dreamer but he has also helped us to materialize these dreams.

Let’s face it, how can anyone move forward if they don’t have a picture or map of what the goal is? The value of creative visualization (the name given to manifestation when I started practicing in the 80s.), is that you can refine a vague ambition- a thought- into a material reality. Every thing starts with a thought. Let’s take some very concrete examples of how this has worked for me.

After I graduated from College in the 80s, I had a job as a corporate paralegal in a large New York Law firm that had a reputation as a sweat shop. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Mergers and Acquisitions law was not for me. I understood and liked the clients: corporate management and investment bankers far more than the attorneys that worked for them. I was miserable soothing temper tantrums and collating large documents. When I did a little “career imagining”, I was led to one of the best tools for career manifesting. I enrolled in a workshop based on Richard Nelson Bolles’ work, “What Color is your parachute?”. The key to this work, is taking an inventory of your skills, what you love and imagining an ideal future job. From that work, I was able to become a headhunter for investment banks.

As my skills and passions changed, my goals for manifestation changed and I have experienced all of the careers that I ever dreamed of. In many cases, I went to job interviews for one job and then I would describe my dream job only to get hired for the new vision. You might even call it sales- which is the overall trajectory of my working life.

Twenty-two years ago my house was acquired by manifestation. Molly, a friend who was starting a new career, offered to help me . We worked on the phone to manifest the perfect house for my family; a home that was close to a train to Manhattan, walking distance to shops and schools. Now that I had a vision for what I wanted, I still had to do the legwork of looking at actual homes but I had a much better blueprint of what my priorities were.

Once I found the perfect home, I remember stressing about the move so much that a large heavy doll house kit in a box fell down on my head in now bankrupt craft store when I was taking my pre schooler in to get supplies for a project. It was very scary and I was quite injured. I joked to Molly, that the “weight” of buying the new house was manifesting on my head.

The Times article continues with fleeting quotes of a need for control during a Pandemic (which might be fueling this manifestation trend) and this particular observation:

Yet the practice of manifesting remains suspect and associated with youthful self-absorption. “It’s all about me,” said Dr. Fournier, whose treats a number of 15, 16 and 17-year-olds in her practice. She points to “a culture of specialness”: the use of spirituality to create this idea of being exceptional, supremely gifted. The thought is: ‘How can I use my spirituality to serve my own person?’” she said…NYT Jan 20, 2021

There are rules for manifesting that I have learned over the last few years. Manifesting is not just a self-obsessed exercise; it is training for controlling the mind and accepting what cannot be changed with graciousness and non-attachment.

Manifesting is not just about what I want. It is about what is for my highest good and the highest good of those around me. I daily manifest inner peace and acceptance when I get rattled by the year long construction next door. My biggest challenge now is circumventing my inner complaining to accept the reality as it happens. Let’s face it, what use is it to complain about the cold? Because the need to control is a very difficult thing in a world that is shifting paradigms daily, I am working to control my reaction to all of outside events. That said, I have also been manifesting a picture of myself in a temperate aging hippie community with good healthcare, no wild fires, earthquakes, and tsunamis for my next phase.

Long Haulers and COVID-19

Plate V 1771 by John Hunter, The natural History of the Human Teeth

Last December, my son laughingly showed me a video that was going viral of representative Louie Gohmert of Texas making a speech while his tooth fell out of his mouth and he proceeded to roll the tooth around without stopping.

“Don’t laugh he probably had COVID and now his teeth are compromised” I said. With a little digging in the papers, I read that Gohmert did test positive for the virus in July, so it would not be unreasonable to conjecture that this well-known anti masker was losing his tusks over his obstinate political stand.

As someone who has suffered from a lifetime of chronic infections due to a primary immune disorder (mine is rare and genetic), my main concern is not only can I survive Covid-19, but can I live with surviving COVID-19? There are just people out there who can’t really shake the virus. Moreover, we still don’t know exactly how long immunity will last and even how the virus can affect the body. We are just starting to see long term neurological, cognitive and even psychotic disorders that start after bouts with the disease. For those who develop chronic illness, we call them “Long haulers”.

According to William A. Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor and founder of the university’s cancer and HIV/AIDS research departments, “(COVID) interacts with our immune system in complex ways, resembling polio in some of its behavior and HIV in others. … But the cold causing coronaviruses, just like HIV, also have their tricks. Infection from one of them never seems to confer immunity to reinfection or symptoms by the same strain of virus—that is why the same cold viruses return each season. These coronaviruses are not a hit-and-run virus like polio or a catch-it-and-keep-it virus like HIV. I call them “get it and forget it” viruses—once cleared, your body tends to forget it ever fought this foe. Early studies with SARS-CoV-2 suggest it might behave much like its cousins, raising transient immune protection. “Scientific American October 2020)

 My personal immunologist has been very busy studying the cognitive effects that COVID long haulers have endured. In my last virtual check-in, she described some of the pen and pencil tests she administered to her long hauler patients. “Wow that sounds like the concussion tests my kids had when they played Rugby!” Indeed, she noted “Often cognitive difficulties (from COVID) correlate with previous concussions.”

What are the political health implications? We now have a new variant that is a LEAST 50% – 70% more transmissible here is the US. The variant was discovered in the UK and it is believed that it developed during a strict lock-down. I can only imagine a near future world of 15-year olds with dentures, the rollout of portable iron lungs, dementia wards created just for ex athletes… and my 26 year old daughter placing me in front of cartoons so she can get some work done. It’s just better not to get it. Please be careful.

Additional Resources

Understanding long covid: a shortcut to solving ME/CFS? (ME RESEARCH REVIEW)

Some Covid Survivors Haunted by Loss of Smell and Taste (NYT)

Six months after leaving the hospital… (NYT)

The Problem of ‘Long Haul’ COVID (Scientific American)

COVID-19 Can Wreck Your Heart, Even if You Haven’t Had Any Symptoms (Scientific American Health & Medicine December 2020)

What If You Never Get Better From Covid-19? (NYT note: my own doctor has a short quote here. There are so many doctors researching this now)

So You Want to be a Contact Tracer in New Jersey?

The Jersey Shore before the storm by Laura Stinchcomb

Finally! Last week the CDC recommended to congress that 30,00- 100,000 contact tracers be in place in the United States before a possible next spike in novel coronavirus, Sars-Cov-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) this September. Local New Jersey publications have been interviewing health departments throughout the State about their intent to hire contact tracers. However, anecdotally, I had seen little evidence of mass hiring in New Jersey.

Because of my healthcare knowledge, hospice volunteer training, ability to interview and make cold calls, I figure that I would make good contact tracer for COVID-19 and I am willing do this as a volunteer because I feel so strongly about containing this novel virus. This past May, I signed up and completed Coursera’s free contact tracing certificate program sponsored by Johns Hopkins. I also registered with the State of New Jersey’s database for people wanting paid/volunteer contact tracing jobs, received a 19-digit confirmation number and a subsequent email suggesting that I take another free e-course on contact tracing sponsored by ASTHOS (Association of State and Territorial Health Officials)- Which I did!

At least four of my well qualified friends told me that they also registered with the Department of Government NJ Contact Tracer hiring database and they also had received long verification codes but no additional word on hiring. Was the state too overwhelmed with responses from the legions of unemployed or were health departments trying to make due with the current staff and already contracted town employees to help fill the gap between need and declining state/town revenues?

The official COVID-19 Information Hub for the State of New Jersey says that it IS hiring aCommunity Contact Tracing Corps… at least 1,000 and as many as 5,000 contact tracers may be needed in New Jersey”  Efforts are to be spear headed by … “Rutgers University, led by their School of Public Health and including the School of Health Professions, School of Nursing, School of Social Work, and Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, we will launch the corps and create several hundred jobs. We will also be expanding the effort to include other colleges and universities throughout the state.”

Just this weekend, I spoke to a Dean of an urban New Jersey community college who is looking into continuing education programs to supplement New Jersey’s Contact Tracing training but everything seems to be on hold-or stuck. Last week, I called my town’s health department to find out where they were with regard to getting contact tracers on board (I told her that I would work Pro Bono). They too are in a kind of limbo and are waiting for ComCare digital platform -which will integrate the surrounding state with a digital platform- to get rolled out and further instruction from New Jersey.  My town’s health department supports 8 townships consisting of approximately 110,000 citizens and would love to have tracers who are familiar with local support services. I gave them my name just in case the Big Government database doesn’t really trickle over to them.

Contact tracing is a decades old method to contact those who are infectious with a communicable disease, identify their contacts – those who may also be potentially infected- and ensure that they are all compliant with medical treatment -or in the case of COVID-19- in isolation or quarantine.  I personally feel that for contact tracers to really be effective, there are far more issues than getting funding, training, a software platform, contact tracers and service coordinators in place.

Compliance for Quarantine or Isolation require services that we just don’t have in place yet or have been greatly displaced. Each state and town will have to have its own method and support structures for people who must isolate or quarantine themselves. In many places, I believe social services may fall short. Neither the Coursera course or the ASTHOS course are really able to describe what “real” support will look like because that will have to fall within each jurisdiction. In fact, in the ASTHOS one(a particularly difficult e course to navigate) the suggestion that the contact tracer might be also possibly send hand sanitizer and a thermometer AND refer them to social services,while certainly helpful, made me laugh. In the mock interviews in the Johns Hopkins course, the objections of the “cases” (those infected with COVID-19) to isolation are magically solved by some kind of sleight of hand where, as far as I can tell, magical services that don’t really exist are produced.

To get people to a place where they can miss work, take care of elderly parents or children, make meals for a family, clean and disinfect a house, isolate in a separate space with a private bathroom from the rest of the roommates all while possibly being really sick – will take resources which I have yet to hear of in my NJ town. I have resources and I could not even get a grocery delivery to my home at the peak of the pandemic.

We are experiencing such an unprecedented disruption to our economy combined with the need to socially distance. Many of the social services that people rely on are non-governmental and volunteer-based and have had to re think how they operate.  In a blink of an eye, my volunteer jobs in a hospice and long-term care facility and delivery job for our library’s Books on Wheels program evaporated. Moreover, the Presbyterian Church in Westfield had to suspend its volunteer-run Agape Community Food kitchen in the beginning of New Jersey’s stay at home orders in March due to the health risks. The church provided almost 200 hot meals once the of a week to hungry people in Elizabeth. AFTER THREE MONTHS, the church and Agape Volunteers have cobbled together a new “hyper local” supplemental food to delivery 30 needy families in Westfield, NJ once a week. Families displaced by the pandemic.

Clearly lots will have to be put into place, and I hope New Jersey really does have the next two and a half months to prepare for a possible next spike of infections. I also hope that the other states who are now experiencing their first waves can look to New York and New Jersey for help. Meanwhile, I will be promoting contact tracing to my friends so we can get up to speed.

Pandemic Deja Vu

Curbside Pick up for coffee beans at our local Boxwood.

I have been experiencing bouts of déjà vu frequently during the last ten weeks since New Jersey has had ‘Stay at Home’ orders that took effect March 21st. My daughter suggested that it is because I am only seeing the same few rooms in our house day after day. She is stuck in a Hoboken one-bedroom railroad apartment working from home with her partner and says that they are experiencing the same thing.

I planned for this though and in February, I cleared out huge piles of “stuff” so we wouldn’t feel so claustrophobic in our overstuffed small house. I am immunocompromised, and when in January, an immunologist suggested that I would have a lot to worry about during a possible emergence of Coronavirus in the Tri-State area, I started to plan. The doctor said it with a laugh that made me feel like a hypochondriacal, worry wort- because “it probably would not make it here”. I hoped he was right but I ordered all of the major newspapers to keep on top of world events just in case.

 By the end of February, I had stopped going to group activities and cancelled my gym membership. As part of my prep for a possible pandemic, I cleared the basement and stocked up with toilet paper, cleaning products, MREs and shelf stable items and fridge stable meat. I also cleared a space so that 18-year-old son to have a “workshop” in the event that the three of us would need to hole up at home. I fitted up the in a third bedroom quickly as an office. I bought office chairs, keyboards and clunky rowing machine for the family room. I did all of this just in time because within weeks many these items would be difficult- if not impossible to obtain. As I bought these supplies in Costco and Bj’s, at the cash registers, others on line would double take as my totals were rung up. I noticed that this was the first thing that separated us from many other families who would not be able to purchase three months of food when they were trying to live pay check to paycheck. Did they have enough money to buy the large size Tylenol because the base ingredients would soon be unavailable in the supply chain? Would they be able to keep safe? What made our family more special than these hard working people? I continued to plan with gratitude and guilt over our bounty.

I realize that my Pandemic is not everyone’s Pandemic. I have been acutely aware that my family’s experience is not the experience of many- even those who live down the street- in our affluent suburb of Westfield. On many levels, the stay at home orders have been a blessing for us and has allowed me to have some control over an uncontrollable situation. Many others are also feeling the same guilt over knowing that they are the haves in a world of unexpected early deaths, unemployment and hunger. I am just thankful that I don’t have to worry that my son will be a vector for the virus now that he is not going to his germy high school -where he complained that they could not wash their hands because there was “no soap and someone peed in the soap dispenser”. I have stopped imagining all the times my husband touches his face on New Jersey Transit and in his hip- but very open office.

The curve in New Jersey has been flattened – even deflated for now. I feel safer knowing that if I had to make a hospital trip, I might not have to be in the ambulance that has to wait in line for hours just to get me through the front door of the emergency room. My family has also gotten better at this. We know how to wear masks, wash our hand and socially distance. We have a better sense of how to gauge risk and we know a little more about the virus.

In a sense, the combination of recession, social protests and stay at home orders remind me of another time in my life-the 70s. In the 70s , trips to the supermarket were limited to fewer available shopping days, hours and stock. The proliferation of processed foods was just really getting started, so often food was still made from scratch. Also, did you know that there was panic buying for toilet paper in 1973?

The toilet paper aisle one month into stay at home. It wasn’t til I saw Charmin on the shelf that I felt we were turning a corner.
By mid April, so many people were baking…supply was low.
Making extracts to use up all of the Vodka that I bought hoping to make precious hand sanitizer-only to learn that vodka does not have enough of an alcohol content.

My natural apple cider vinegar developed 5 extra mothers and I ran out of red wine vinegar. Why risk a trip to the store when I could make my own.
In the beginning, everyone was making bread while stuck in the house. There was a run on yeast, so I made lots of gluten free sour dough…and all other sourdough based breads including Injera.
We all craved fresh produce so much that we started a victory garden.

Spinach salad from garden and homemade vinegar.

My Experience with the Master Key System

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite

As I sat in the podiatrist office sticking out my foot for my second injection of cortisone, I looked over my toes, met my doctor’s eyes and said, “You know I don’t need orthotics. I brought this on because I willed it.” The doctor and his assistants looked at each other with a twinkle in their eyes. “No really! A very athletic woman in my gym complained about a machine giving her planter fasciitis that was so bad that she had to go to the emergency room. I thought she was a big cry baby. I suppose I needed to get more empathy so I had to experience this pain myself” I did not remember what this pain felt like when I had it 20 years ago and could not have envisioned the three months of excruciating pain that my fluid filled inflamed heel would have. Perhaps on some level; I wanted the challenge because I developed my own fasciitis within weeks.  Was I experiencing the “Law of Attraction” in my life?

The concept of the mind being able to manifest reality has been the basis for a genre known as “success-literature”, proselytized by champions of positive thinking such as Norman Vincent Peal, and Napoleon Hill. The concept also is the primary premise of New Age writers such as Carolyn Myss and Louise Hay. The law of attraction is basically “like attracts like”;  negative thoughts bring poverty and sickness and positive thoughts manifest health and prosperity Much of the criticism of the law is that it gives the mind too much power over what many perceive to be uncontrollable events for the poor and the unfortunate. Does the curmudgeon deserve to get cancer? But this is an oversimplification of the law which at its core questions the nature of reality and deserves more space than I can give in a short blog post.

My most recent encounter with the “Law of Attraction” was when I happened upon a peculiar book at our town library’s used book sale. The book titled, “The Master Key” was very old and the copyright was for the year 1916. I had never heard of the author, Charles Haanel, but upon closer inspection, I found that the book was published by a St. Louis publishing company and it appeared to be an early form of correspondence course that offered the reader the ability to create, Power, Health and Prosperity. I bought the book with the intention to send it to my bookophile father from St Louis. I ended up buying the public domain book on Kindle for myself with the plan to actually go through the almost 100 year old course.

But I should have paid attention to Haanel’s warning that “modern psychology tells us that if we start something and do not complete it, or make a resolution and do not keep it we are forming the habit of failure; absolute ignominious failure. If you do not intend to do a thing, do not start; see it through even if heavens fall…” because my efforts -so far -have not gone past week three:

Week One: required tremendous effort because my exercise was to sit erectly in a chair for 20-25 minutes and not lounge. Week one actually took me two weeks to complete. If I could have lounged, I’m sure it would have been easier.

Week Two: required me to sit in chair and think of nothing. Haanel admits that this is difficult. The problem is that he does not suggest a thought or word to replace the “non thoughts” such as OM or I AM, so I spent time trying to channel Haanel’s spirit to see if he might have any ideas for me. He did’nt.

Week Three: required me to sit erectly, inhibit all thought and relax. It was very hard to relax because my thoughts were now busy concentrating on not lounging and falling asleep. At the end of week three, Haanel says that I should have very strong “Solar Plexus energy” –which is the sun of the body and source of great personal magnetism.


Haanel writes that we must first learn to control our physical selves before we can control our minds So far this process sounds like meditation and Chakra opening.  Haanel seems to have been very influenced by eastern thought. I do believe that he is on to something; after all he was a self-made millionaire. From what I have read of Haanel, Napoleon Hill acknowledged a tremendous debt to Haanel’s ideas in his own “Master Key System to Riches” other contributors to Hill’s “Master Key System” were Andre Carnegie, Ford and Edison –more self- made men. This hardly seems to have been main stream thinking for the day. As I became more curious to learn about Haanel and where he might have come up with this course, I learned that he was in correspondence with woman, Elizabeth Towne, who founded her own publishing company.

Towne was at the center of a movement in the United States called, New Thought, which drew its philosophy from many influences of the last two centuries such as Mesmerism and Transcendentalism. Towne’s self-improvement writings are much more accessible to me and quite frankly her Solar Plexus strengthening exercises are much easier since they just require lying down and taking deep abdominal breaths. I am sure that I am getting more and more magnetism every day.

 Since these New Thought author’s books are now public domain, you too can have access to the Master Key System! You will find that these old ideas are embedded in almost every self- help book you pick up today.


This post was also published on Open Salon.

What Martha Washington Can Teach Us About Politics Today

Portrait of Martha Washington-Hollow-cut silhouette on linen CA 1798. Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

The brouhaha which surrounds the David Barton book, Jefferson Lies, has made me wonder what is it that makes one history book more popular than another? Moreover, why do we persist on wanting to believe that our founding fathers (and their wives) were impervious to self-serving inclinations? Today’s politicians lead us into a grey area of morality yet we persistently raise up our founding fathers as examples of moral and religious superiority. To the historians, who dare to question this premise, we call them leftist revisionists – and in some of the rarer cases of explorations on these founding women, we call these historians:” feminists”. Coincidentally, I have just finished two biographies of Martha Washington; the first book was: Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty by Helen Bryan written in 2002 and the second: Martha Washington: An American Life by Patricia Brady written in 2005. The first 50 pages of both of the books are so similar that I wondered why Brady’s was not considered a copyright infringement on the earlier book. However, Brady’s seemed to be the more popular of the two

Brady’s book made it into paperback, and had a nice blurb from Cokie Roberts, additionally, even NPR picked up an interview over the sexy age regression-ed photo of Martha Washington that adorns the cover. Did Brady have a better editor or publisher? What exactly was cut out of those 100 pages? In  Bryan’s book there are many anecdotes about the gossip, lore and the technicalities of the laws of inheritance and slavery system which contained the essence for the perpetuation of the Washington’s large fortune.

A composite image of portraits of Martha Washington Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis and Michael J Deas

To read Bryan, one might see Martha as a much more calculating being than the love smitten Martha of Brady. It is the missing hundred pages which build a case for a very complicated Martha. In Bryan’s Martha, we see a rich widowed woman who chose George because she knew that her and her two children’s money would be better protected with him than many other suitors. Bryan maintains that it was essential that she remarry to sustain and manage the large plantations that she had just inherited from her first husband. Bryan’s Martha was a “clothes horse” who continued to buy imported English goods well after her patriot sisters turned to home spun in the northern states. Both George and Martha had very friendly relationships with the British appointed Governors during the turbulent late 60s and even attended a ball to honor Governor and Lady Dunmore as late as May 1774. In fact, early in the war, there were rumors that she and George had separated because she was actually a Loyalist (Many of the southern planters were slow to join the liberty movement). Martha made a calculated journey to winter headquarters to improve her image. Bryan refers to her trip in her homespun as an act of “spin doctoring”.

Then there was the slavery. Although Brady gives this incident a mention, she does not give it the treatment that Bryan does. While George and Martha lived in Philadelphia during Washington’s term as president in 1791, a new law was passed in Pennsylvania which allowed slaves to claim their freedom after six months of residency in that state. George and Martha prepared a plan to send their servants back to Mount Vernon on small errands to ensure that those slaves would not be eligible to meet the residency requirements. It is here that Bryan notes: “Although George Washington is often held up as a model of enlightenment who freed his slaves on his death, the truth is more complex and less comfortable. His response to the new Pennsylvania law shows one side of his ambivalent attitude about slavery…while George was happy to go on using slaves, he had to be careful about how he was perceived by the public.” A letter that Bryan cites from George to his secretary Tobias Lear substantiates his awareness of image as he made arrangements for the transportation of Martha’s dower slaves back to Virginia while they were both traveling.

…in case I shall be found that any of my slaves may, or any of them shall attempt their freedom at the expiration of six months, it is my wish and desire that you send the whole, or such part of them as Mrs Washington may not chuse to keep home-for although I do not think they may be benefited by the change, yet the idea of freedom might be too great a temptation for them to resist. At any rate it might, if they conceived a right to it make them more insolent in a State of Slavery. As all except Hercules and Paris are dower Negroes, it behoves me to prevent the emancipation of them, otherwise I shall not only lose them, but may have them to pay for (under the law, George had use of Martha money  and use of dower slaves) If…it is found expedient to take them back to Virginia I wish to have it accomplished under pretext that I may deceive both them and the Public…

Bryan is not a historian; she is a lawyer (a London barrister) who grew up in Virginia. Brady is a “real” historian (well… she has a PhD in History). I was shocked that Brady did not even acknowledge Bryan as a source except to make note in the afterword that Bryan accepted “post-Civil war family mythology… disregarding Martha Washington’s moral and religious character…” Moreover, interestingly many of the reader comments in Amazon regarding the book, refer to Bryan as a “feminist, liberal” suffering from Slave guilt. Read them for your self. Perhaps together we will come up with the conclusion that although the 18th century America was a different time with a different economic system etc., politicians are really not so different in many ways – and we still want to believe that our heroes are perfect.

Previously Publish on Open Salon August 17 2012 under Snarkychaser (What Can Martha Teach Us About Today’s Politicians?)

If I Could Have Sex With George Washington

grayscale photo of mans face concrete statue
Photo by Todd Trapani

This week I had a conversation with a historian about the possibility of George Washington’s  homosexual inclinations (my theory not his). Who are the historians who address this? I am still searching. Washington had some very close relationships with his aides. In snippets of Washington’s letters to Joseph Reed there is almost the longing of a lover. Is it safe to assume that in times of war, men may turn to each other to fulfill needs when women are scarce? Many historians that I read – even historical fiction writers- have such sterile references to colonial sex. Since I intend to write a “trashy historical” novel set in colonial New Jersey, I am obsessed with getting an accurate feeling for what colonial sex was like.

It would take a book to discuss the regional, economic, religious and social distinctions which would have had an impact of sexual relations in the colonies, so I will outline the universal. Of course you may think that sex is sex and I realize that we could have endless discussions on sexual orientation, fetishes etc. What can we speculate that may differentiate 18th century colonial sex from ANY variety of modern world sex? If I were having sex with George Washington what would I experience? If I were in a room with George…..

  • Smell– People smell here. Body odors are so pervasive that the perfume industry is thriving. George’s body odor has an overlap of Caswell and Massey’s “Number Six” (a cologne introduced in 1750 s and a favorite of George Washington).  Sometimes I wear the Floris “Rose Geranium”  that I had been able to order it from London before British products became difficult and expensive to purchase (Or I might just use George’s  Six since there is little gender differentiation for perfume).   In addition to my own everyday body odor, my stench sometimes includes a trace of dried blood from my period that I had in the prior week. I use a sponge bath everyday but you know how hard it is to clean blood when it is allowed to  Stream down your legs for so long . Of course George and I both have a lingering smell of feces. I know that the myth is that colonials used corn cobs to wipe our bowel movements -but I know George, he likes his luxuries and often uses devalued Continental currency. To wipe my filth, I have a reusable piece of muslin that I wash and use when I know that George will be visiting me. Of course if I were Martha I would have a slave lady’s maid do it for me. George might also have the smell of horse sweat on him.
  • Taste – George has very “bad breath”. His teeth are rotten but so are mine. In fact, most ladies have rotting teeth by 18. George is not much of a kisser since he is so self-conscious.  He does like to bite with his gums but I think that is just to keep me in my place. There is always a hint of pus and infection when he breathes on me.  He has a chronic sinus problem and since we don’t have antibiotics, he just lives with a general malaise.
  • Visual-I have been pregnant twelve times. I have stretched out skin around my lower belly but George never sees this since I always wear some clothes when we have sex. My sister has had twenty-one pregnancies but only two of her children have survived to adulthood. I never look at George without clothes.  It is very dark when we have sex since candles are a luxury and George does not really seem to want to look at me anyway. I have touched his “manhood” through his breeches. They are so tight I think it may rip the silk.
  • Touch– Sex with George hurts. He never waits until I am moist enough to accommodate his “manhood”. I have an itching that I can’t quite get rid myself of. It feels as though my insides are rusty. I have had some watery discharge from my woman’s parts for some time now -it has a smell of a dead dog but George does not stay long enough to notice.

Confessions of a Diet Coke Addict

Yes.. this shot was taken of my my passenger seat in 2015.


Society has a place for obsessive people. I believe that artists, scientists, lawyers, writers and countless others would never create or solve major problems were it not for their inherent obsessiveness but nothing is more boring that to be on the outside while someone is else is obsessive. Even if I might share an obsession (I did say might) like finding the perfect shoes, purse or spouse, listening to the endless and often nonsensical loops of others’ mental tapes in their quest for perfection can be an act of unselfish devotion.  Give me the summary please…unless of course you want to listen to me.

In any event, once I am off a subject, substance or person, I am usually done and find it hard to recreate why I wanted it in the first place. There has only been one substance for me, however, that keeps me hanging on and that is Diet Coke (or its aspartame sweetened caffeinated soda counterparts). What is it about Diet Coke that is so addictive? I last blogged in 2010 about my week of detox only to find myself back on it and trying to dry out in 2013. How did it happen? I am a smart, high functioning individual yet I have been swilling chemicals down my throat for over forty years. I have been letting myself be ruled by an addiction to the point where it dictates when I shop and where I will go on vacation depending on the accessibility of my drug. Do I have a secret death wish?

Maybe I would have given it up years ago if only one doctor had said that it could be the source of some of my strange health issues :wacky erratic heart beat, fainting, aches and pains, weight gain despite low calorie diet and failure to get into Atkins inspired ketosis while drinking aspartame and a genetic immune deficiency disorder, but when I told many doctors over the years of my very bad habit of drinking  15-20, 20 oz bottles of the stuff every day, most said that Diet Coke was completely safe and that I only needed to watch my caffeine intake.  In fact my immunologist is a Diet Coke addict herself. I never lied or was in denial (so often hallmark of an addict) in fact; I often came to appointments defiantly swilling a bottle in my hand just –in case.

When I was pregnant with my first child, my obstetrician even berated me for having switched to real coke for the sake of baby. He suggested that Aspartame was preferable to weight gain. I did not believe him and stayed off Diet Coke for my pregnancy. At that time, my only experience with Diet Coke withdrawal had been in my 20s and my short lived attempt to be free from addiction had precipitated a weight loss of ten pounds within the first two weeks. The flu-ish (low grade fever, sore throat and body aches,) feeling that I got after all of my attempts at detox, I either attributed to caffeine withdrawal or the state of pregnancy.

I dared to believe that Diet Coke might be a player in my inability to lose weight. For the past two years, I would chart my calories and show my doctors that I was exercising and eating at a rate that would place me well below my current weight using the calories in and calories out model. I suspect that some of these doctors did not believe that I was telling the truth. I mean let’s face it overweight people are just food addicts right? Addicts are inherently dishonest? One kinder doctor suggested that my weight gain (yes weight gain on 1500 calories, 30 minutes of weight lifting and30- 50 minutes of cardio a day) might be a result of my approaching menopause but suggested that I consult an endocrinologist. Three months ago, for the first time, a doctor, an endocrinologist actually told me that there was enough evidence to link artificial sweeteners to weight gain. But I wasn’t quite ready to give it up yet. I needed to mull this over…yes obsessively.

There seems to be widespread knowledge that studies show that people who drink diet soda are more likely to be fatter than those who don’t. The key is the studies do not differentiate between artificial sweeteners, however,  it is very difficult to find a diet soda without some small amount of Aspartame.

The mechanism is not understood. It is widely believed that the artificial sweeteners create a sense of false security and that people tend to eat more. It is also theorized that people develop a sweet palate and eat more. It wasn’t until I heard an interview with Robert Lustig speaking about the poisonous nature of sugar on the radio, when it hit me that perhaps my body was reacting to Diet Coke in much the same way that many people (according to Lustig) react to sugar— my body may be using calories differently because it perceived that sugar was actually being consumed. No longer calories in and calories out …perhaps my body was storing calories right away as fat because of some kind of insulin fluctuation. More research will have to be done and I hope that there will be funding available for it.

I can only say anecdotally that I after my first week of detox from aspartame in 2010, I was finally able to induce ketosis (which I had been absolutely unable to do on Diet Coke). In  three weeks I  lost five pounds eating more food than my usual 1500 calories. My face looked less puffy and I did not crave sweets. Aches and pains  disappeared. My heart beat was no longer erratic when I exercised. (My cardiologist was convinced that I had developed a sudden rhythm problem these last months but I knew that it was my Diet Coke intake that had increased). I believe that something in Aspartame may also affect the autonomous nervous system in some individuals. I have long noticed a correlation to Diet Coke and symptoms of vasovagal response in myself. I have heard that many parents of epileptics are told not to give their children aspartame. Moreover,  In 2016, when I switched to Diet Pepsi after they announced that they would stop using Aspartame, I was fine for months, until I started getting major dizzy spells again.  Would you believe it? Pepsi had put the Aspartame back after only ten months-without any media.

 I will not cite the numerous books and studies that I have read on Aspartame.  Since GD Searle and Monsanto held the patents to Aspartame (which were subsequently sold to  The Holland Sweetener Company and Anjinomoto or shared by a few companies after expiration of patent), many studies were just not done on its safety. It may very well be that ALL artificial sweeteners cause some of the same results.  However, I dare you to go out and find a diet soda without Aspartame! In any event, for years many main stream publications were very careful not to say anything against Nutrasweet. For instance in 2013, I looked at every old Atkins book that I could find for the passage that I recalled that mentioned that Nutrasweet was not as effective for inducing ketosis. All I could find were veiled references to artificial sweeteners with notes that Atkins products only use sucralose. This has changed a little since the popularity of Keto diets which seem to be very clear about not using Aspartame—remember Monsanto does not own the patent anymore.

For my conspiracy minded friends who are convinced that Ajinomoto might hire assassins to get me, I will just say that I hope they will consider its public relations and put as much money into developing new product. I hope that we will seeing more unbiased and multi funded studies of Nutrasweet or Aspartame specifically. 


Additional resources

What’s an Artificial Ingredient to Do? 2009



This post first ran on Open Salon under the name of Snarkychaser May 4th 2013. When Salon announced that the site would shut down, I transferred this in case any Diet Coke addicts needed a positive story. with updates from the last 11 years.

In My Gut.

Photo by Pixabay

I lie in bed and worry. Am I doing as much as I can for them? How has my husband influenced them? Who has joined them today? They only have life spans of twenty minutes or so and keeping tabs on them is a never ending battle. For the past two months, I have even gone on a special diet hoping to improve the chances that the good ones will increase and the bad ones will dwindle. Unfortunately, science is still only learning which bacteria are the best to have in one’s gut. For now, it might be the best policy to foster diversity.

When I first read that obese people have a higher ratio of Firmicutes and Bacterioidetes (classifications of bacteria) in their digestive tract than thinner people, I finally felt vindicated. Now when people smugly tell me that weight gain is simply “calories in and calories out and I must be eating too many calories if I am not losing weight”, I calmly reply, “The Firmicutes phyla of bacteria that convert calories more efficiently into fat. I must have way too many! Don’t you realize my bacteria are sabotaging my efforts? I am not in denial about my calorie intake; I really do have a slow metabolism!”

I started my quest to rid myself of any Firmicutes lounging in my colon. I tried to learn more about the kind of bacteria that I would need to ingest to be a thin healthy person (so far I can only tell you that Lactobacillus Gasseri is one strain that is linked with thin people)* Lots of research shows that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may change the composition of our gut flora-or a composition that might be found in thinner people- but not much is understood about permanent changes to this composition. We acquire a signature bacterial mix early in life which continues to evolve and though we may change the mix through things such as antibiotic use, we also may revert back to the old one just as quickly. Two months ago, I also learned that my Diet Coke addiction was wreaking serious havoc on my balance of Firmicutes and Bacterioidetes.For the first time, I was able to see every 20 oz bottle of non-caloric, sweet, fizzy, comfort for the poison that it was.

Getting in touch with my inner bacteria is new for me. I have always had a scorched earth policy when it came to microbes. When my teen-aged daughter worked in a lab over the summers experimenting with E. coli, it took all the willpower that I had not to douse her with Lysol every time she walked into the house exclaiming that she could not get the smell of E. coli out of her nose.

We are only just learning how bacteria play a starring roll  in helping our bodies adapt to the world around us. Only this week, I read an article that said that new research has shown that the antioxidants in dark chocolate only work because the microbes in our gut ferment the chemicals thereby making them accessible to the human body.  Martin Blaser M.D. writes,” without microbes, we could not eat or breathe. Without us, nearly all microbes would do just fine….bacterial cells substantially out number you own human cells. Seventy to ninety percent of all of the cells in you body are nonhuman.”** So what is the optimal composition of bacteria for me?

The easiest way to do this (given how little we know) might be to find a skinny person and do a homemade fecal transplant (For those of you interested in the digestive process, I recommend Mary Roach’s book,Gulp. She has a whole chapter on this procedure.) A fecal transplant could establish whole colonies of skinny person’s bacteria but I could also find myself with a case of something worse than a little excess weight. I recently took a Harvard Business School edX class called, Innovations in Healthcare Technology, I shyly suggested to my classmates that a “weight loss oriented fecal do it your self kit” might be a money-maker but the students were much more interested in saving lives.  I may consider doing this on my own. I have just given to the American Gut Project and for a $99 contribution; I will get a kit that I can send for a stool analysis.-which is a good start. Meanwhile I will be ever alert to not becoming that Fletcher disciple who is obsessed with his/her digestive system (and if you read any of the internet forums on digestive disorders, you will find many).

*Lactobacillus Gasseri …(as per The Microbiome Diet by Raphael Kellman, MD).

** From Missing Microbes by Martin J Blaser M.D.

also published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser