!Like so many of us during this pandemic I find myself home alone snuggled up with my fur kids this holiday season. Recalling a historical moment that I witnessed first hand makes this time of Covid fear accompanied by vaccine rush and Russian hacking even more surreal. I worked as a journalist at The White House New Years Eve ushering in 2000, the millennium. It was an evening I’ll always remember, one that despite terrorism fears, enabled frontline memories of optimism for the new century, memories unlike the gruesome ones facing healthcare workers today just 20 years later. I was fortunate to work both sides of the rope line at President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton’s White House party of the century. It was truly Hollywood on the Potomac and looking back, a time that seems almost a fantasy world.
With Covid-19 raging, the economy, civil unrest, public health concerns and fear votes won’t be counted are in the forefront. The resultant panic has contributed to a pressing need to vote and simultaneously for many, apprehension about going to the polls and the legitimacy of the election. The radical division in our country amplifies the urgency of Tuesday’s upcoming election. This year, for the first time, an unprecedented 100 million people took advantage of early voting by three days prior to the election. For the first time in U.S. history votes are likely to surpass 150 million.
When I interviewed then Republican Congressman Lindsey Graham in 2002 he was running for his mentor, Strom Thurmond’s South Carolina Senate seat. He described himself as “butter pecan,” perhaps a rebel fave, certainly not vanilla, but not meant to be a popular “nut” as some would characterize him. Others describe him as an opportunist.Today Graham is fighting a tight race for his fourth term against Democrat challenger Jaime Harrison. As Chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee he’s instrumental in deciding the fate of Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
It was March 2013 and I sat in on cabaret legend Marilyn Maye’s packed weekend master class at Don’t Tell Mama in NYC’s theatre district when a woman, who was an old friend of Maye walked in and sat down at my table. She looked familiar but I didn’t realize who she was until Maye stopped the class to greet and introduce her.
Words of wisdom imparted by many parents to their kids: “Never get in a car with a stranger.” Yet, when we hail a LYFT or UBER from the app, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Laws vary from one jurisdiction to another; a valid drivers license and car inspection is all that’s required in some.
Barely a trace of hurricane damage, but there is an abundance of island sounds and smells and plenty of sunshine at the southern most tip of the US. Only 90 miles from Cuba, Key West is as close as you’ll get to the Margaritaville state of mind. This town has a personality of its own.
Who are the people seeking to cross our border? Award-winning reporter and artist Betsy Ashton combines her unique talents and curiosity to find the answer. “They are like you and me,” declared Ashton. “For the most part, they are a self-selecting group of gutsy, entrepreneurial and courageous individuals who have struggled through hardships to initiate a new life in America. That is the foundation of America.”
We talked over a relaxed dinner at an intimate K Street bistro, Romeo and Juliette, and later in his office where, between votes on the House floor, we shared a little brandy – the Spanish brand, Fundador, Ryan’s favorite – to celebrate the imminent recess.
Women are reshaping America’s leadership as evidenced in the November mid-term elections. Now a former First Lady has been packaged as a seductive rock star the likes of Madonna, Cher, Oprah, Beyoncé and now, Michelle. Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Jessica Parker are expected to be along as well when Michelle Obama launches her book tour in her hometown of Chicago, Nov. 13. Her inspirational memoir entitled “Becoming” is the first of a two book deal with Crown, part of Penguin Random House.
The upcoming midterm elections are more important this year than perhaps ever. That’s because the country is more divided than in the past. The Democrats are pushing to win the House as the party out of power traditionally does in midterm contests. The Republicans are fighting to keep the Senate. A lot is at stake from the Supreme Court to the stock market, gun violence, healthcare, women’s reproductive rights, immigration policy, China and trade. All are reasons to get out and vote before the Tuesday election.
Woman are running this year in greater numbers—more than 3,200– most on the Democratic side attempting to close the gender gap. A lot is at stake—all 435 House seats and one-third of the Senate. America’s future is in the hands of voters.
Roughly 40 percent of voting-age Americans don’t exercise their right to vote — and we often assume disenchantment or indifference keeps them away from the polls. But that’s not always the reason. One in six eligible voters has a disability—that’s more than 34 million people— and for many of those, that is what keeps them away from the polls. The challenges are many.
But what if it is fear that’s keeping people from casting a ballot? It may not be fear of any potential candidate or of which level to pull — although some may claim that’s a problem, too. But there may be a very real fear of voting, of public places, waiting in line, signing your John Hancock in public or just feeling trapped in the voting booth – as an amalgamate of many different fears.
If while standing in line at the polls, your palms get sweaty, your heart pounds, you feel that your legs are on the verge of buckling under, your vision blurs, butterflies take flight in your stomach or your muscles stiffen and you want to run home to a safe place — you should know you are not alone.
About 8 percent of adults in the U.S. have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at any given time, according to NIH the National Center for PTSD. Returning veterans and civilians alike have been diagnosed with this and other anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia (fear of crowded spaces) and claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces). This feeling of being trapped can be incapacitating and paralyzing, both while waiting in line and while in the voting space itself.
Anxiety can be a master manipulator, so people often avoid situations that provoke it. Voting is one we can’t control — not just the election outcome, but our surroundings and often excessive stimuli.
One agoraphobic woman in North Carolina, after voting for the first time, told me she couldn’t remember whom she voted for. But she did recall, “My palms were sweaty. It was like going into a lion’s cage. I felt I had to do it, but then had to get out before he bit me.”
Maryland photographer Stuart Pohost admitted his fear of voting overwhelmed him. “It was the same anxiety I felt when going in for major surgery. I was standing in line at the polls in a perfectly safe place feeling like I’m not safe at all, like I’m going to die, or pass out, or lose control.”
Voting caused him such tremendous anxiety that his therapist once accompanied him to the polls as part of his treatment. “The thing that bothered me about voting was not voting per se, not making the decision,” Pohost said. “The problem was waiting in line, which is a commitment. It was feeling trapped and feeling like I couldn’t leave the line if I wanted to.”
Shannon Evans of Council Bluffs, Iowa, found a solution: “I don’t vote unless I can get an absentee ballot mailed to my house. Too many lines, too many people with unattended children — just the thought makes my head hurt and my skin sweaty.”
Accompanied by her service dog, Pamela Thomas voted in Oklahoma. “My nerves were bad. I was shaking. Buddy, my service dog, tried to get me to leave. I just marked stuff, got my sticker and left. I honestly have no idea who or what I voted for. My brain could not focus on anything. I sat for 15 minutes before I could drive home.” Thomas vowed that the next time, “I will make sure I take a human with me or do an absentee ballot.”
Jodi Aman, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Rochester, New York, and founder of “Give Fear The Boot,” agreed with this plan. “Bring a friend to support you.” She also suggested concentrating on the ceiling or on a spot under the curtain. And “take a few breaths; focus on feeling empowered to take some action.”
“Anything can be a trigger if associated with past trauma,” Aman said. It could be sound, smells, a voting venue in a church if you are a victim of past abuse, or the fear of not making the right decision. “If you messed up a decision in the past, that could create anxiety.”
The chaos of the election and our feeling out of control and overwhelmed also triggers uncertainty. “It triggers us to get ready, and it often means danger. When we have chaos, we crave order.”
Aman’s philosophy is: “Disempower anxiety and empower yourself to take some action.” This advocate of self-compassion penned, “You 1, Anxiety O,” which explores how competition causes anxiety in our culture. “Your vote matters, but it’s not the only vote,” said Aman. “Some anxious people may feel too much responsibility.”
The good news, according to Aman: “Anxiety is usually curable. You can overcome it.” Early voting in some states is a step to mitigate some of the fear. Time will tell how successful it was.
Marilyn Maye, the darling of New York City’s bustling cabaret circuit, is the ultimate entertainer who has perfected and carefully honed her stage skills. Called “the greatest white female singer in the world” by Ella Fitzgerald, Maye is still going strong at 90. Her expressive and interpretive style sets her apart from most current cabaret performers. But it wasn’t until her senior years that she made a comeback. She is now a true inspiration and one of the most active of the 1.9 million nonagenarians in the country.
Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are certainly not alone among married politicians when we talk about affairs of the heart. In 1958, only one Democrat in Congress lost a seat, and the loser was a woman. There were no steamy revelations about former Rep. Coya Knutson of Oklee, Minn. But there was a conflict of interest even in those innocent days before the Monkey Business and the “Hart” went out of Congressional romance.
Walking on water—that’s the surreal feeling I had at the Lake Austin Spa Resort in the Texas Hill Country. I arrived late evening to a welcoming, delicious picnic meal—a hint of what was to come! My cabin, one of 40, had a private fountain garden in the rear and a terrace facing the lake. Once I opened the bath salts, the fresh lavender aroma filled the comfy room. The soaking tub faced a lush garden outside and fresh flowers inside, perfect for a tranquil night’s sleep.
Austin has often been called America’s favorite city with its vibrant music and downtown renewal. Like many other guests I was so relaxed at the world class spa resort that once there, I didn’t want to leave—not even for a 30-minute car ride (or water taxi) to check out the downtown music scene. There’s something about the serenity of a lake, the ripple effect, and ions—in this case, the 19-mile long river—that adds another dimension to spa life, wellness and healing.
START THE DAY RIGHT
Although not a breakfast person, I couldn’t resist the avocado toast with crisp bacon and juicy tomato topped with a sunny side up egg in the lakeside Astor Café in the morning. I learned, too, that it was Michael McAdams and William Bucks who purchased the neglected 19-acre property and transformed it into a destination luxury spa and wellness retreat. That was twenty years ago and today it continues to provide excellence in health and wellness. The activity schedule includes not only water activities but also tarot classes, drumming for full body strength, hoop dancing, Pilates, floating meditation or acoustic guitar meditation: Self-improvement in all areas of life for those of us open to learning and unplugging. As difficult as it may be, leave your digital devices at the door. You’ll be relieved you did. You can do as much—or as little—as you wish. Chill in a hammock lakeside, embark on a mindful hike or work with an individual trainer.
After a morning yoga class in the tree house, I felt a call to the lake. Here, during a river cruise, Captain Chuck pointed out Blue Herons nesting in pecan trees along the shoreline during a river cruise. One side of the water is a nature
preserve and the other dotted with handsome limestone houses and a matching two-story boathouse and decks. Later, while peddling a hydro-bike, I watched a lone coot swimming against the lush green landscape. Also available to guests are Howie leg-powered stand-up pedal boards, stand-up paddle boards, and kayaks. Don’t miss this opportunity to walk on water.
HEALTHY INSIDE OUT
Hunger pangs are quickly satisfied: Fresh fruit, smoothies, and homemade frozen yogurt are available anytime—banana cream became a favorite. Enjoy lunch in your robe on the patio by the spa or in the main restaurant, which has the intimate feel of a friend’s lake house. Of course, calorie counts are listed, after all this is a spa resort. Executive Chef Stefane Beauchamp’s nutritiously creative preparations would lead you to think five-star restaurant rather than a spa. The bison burger was delicious at lunch as was the locally caught redfish followed by gluten-free key lime pie at dinner. The organic produce and herbs including 45 varieties of basil are grown on the property or sourced from local purveyors. Be sure to drop in for one of the winning French chef’s fun cooking classes with ample tastings.
Spa treatments are amazing, and like the classes and activities, try one
or all? The Neroli Blossom Sensory Massage and Texas Starry Night Massage were tempting, but I opted for the Weekend Warrior, one of the newly introduced body treatments—80 minutes of a customized deep tissue massage combined with assisted gentle range of motion exercise. My tight muscles felt like putty in the hands of the skilled therapist. Treatments focus on energy healing, organic skin care, water emersion therapies and oxygen facials. After your spa treatment, be sure to relax in the soothing Blue Room with gardens hand-painted on linen wall panels and while there experience meditation through coloring.
Lake Austin Spa has superb personalized service, activities, and treatments without “attitude” for the savvy guest. It’s a healing place for body, mind, and spirit. A piece of that energy is now a part of me. After a few days of pampering, I returned home with a feeling of renewal and a package of the fresh lavender bath salts to mimic that wonderful Zen feeling as though I was immersed in the organic lavender field overlooking the lake. . . What a delightful way to spend Congressional recess.
A mere 90 miles from the US mainland but seemingly worlds away! There’s a mystique about Cuba! Havana, an architectural gem and culturally rich destination, was founded under a large Kapok tree. It’s coffee beans and cane sugar, salsa and jazz, its warm people and rich culture were long forbidden fruit for Americans. As regulations loosened during Obama’s presidency, regularly scheduled commercial flights from the US made it easier for Americans to discover the lure of this enticing and emerging destination. Although restrictions were still in place, Americans could join sanctioned tour groups as long as they didn’t spend dollars there.
Having grown up in Washington DC, Presidential Inaugurations have long been a part of my life–first as a dazzled teenager invited to JFK’s gala, and beginning with Jimmy Carter, as a committed journalist. I am no longer impressed; frazzled is more like it. But an Inauguration is a historical and memorable event, and in addition to politics a new administration. There’s plenty of pageantry and tradition on January 20, 2017. And it may even be eye-opening for the most jaded.
The new film “Star Trek Beyond” opened this week, 50 years after the first NBC-TV episode in 1966. William Shatner aka Capt. James Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, now 85, says, “for Star Trek to remain in the public Consciousness 50 years later is a phenomenon beyond belief.”
Some 40 percent of voting-age Americans don’t exercise their right to vote, according to the Pew Research Center. It could be fear–not disenchantment or indifference – that keeps some people away from the polls.
Perhaps Donald Trump’s irreverence reached over to the dog eat dog world of Westminster. Even former Best in Show, Uno, was thrown out of Madison Square Garden this year. The Champion Beagle was “undocumented” according to MSG security.
According to legend, Scrub Island, was a destination for pirates seeking some down time from pillaging and scraping barnacles from the bottom of their sailing ships. Today, the island, aptly named, was transformed to a tranquil private oasis five years ago. One of the 60 British Virgin Islands and cays (pronounce that “keys”) in the Caribbean-only ten inhabited-it’s an enchanting retreat from New York winter temperatures and the rat race.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made headlines recently when he mocked a disabled journalist. Major media reported it as politically incorrect entertainment, just as though it was another “Saturday Night Live (SNL)” episode. Like, Serge Kovaleski, I am a disabled journalist. I, too, have covered presidents and presidential candidates, but unlike Kovaleski, my disability is invisible. But every so often it rears its unpleasant self. I don’t leave home without my tiny purse dog, a toy poodle, trained to alert me to a very difficult and troubling disability. Like Kovaleski, I cannot leave home to cover a story without my disability. If I could, I certainly would.
There’s no better interpreter of the American Songbook than Tony and Grammy Award winner Barbara Cook. Lyricist Maury Yeston (”Phantom”) called Cook “a living national treasure” as she marked her 88th birthday on October 25 with a musical tribute at the National Arts Club in Manhattan. The evening, which also honored award-winning lyricist Lee Adams - “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Applause,” “Golden Boy” and TV’s “All in the Family” theme song, “Those Were The Days”– benefitted the Encompass New Opera Theatre.
The secured gates of Winvian Farm in lush Morris, CT., offered no clue as to what we’d find within this pristine and peaceful 113-acre sanctuary a two hour drive from Manhattan. Upon arrival at the 18th century main house, tastefully restored with wood obtained from old barns on the property, we were greeted warmly, offered a chilled glass of Prosecco and directed down Meadow Lane to our cottage aptly named, Stable.
I’ve always looked forward to traditional Maine summers with lobster bakes in seaweed on the beach or picking up a “lobstah” roll local style with mayo inside a packaged hot dog bun or the whole boiled crustacean tossed live in a pot on the kitchen stove. In Maine, October is when the magnificent colors appear as well as country fair season – agricultural products and livestock are proudly exhibited. Folks walk around chewing on deep fried turkey drumsticks and bloomin’ onions. But Maine, today, is way more than that.
As a Washington columnist, I covered and got to know Jim Wright and his wife, Betty, during the final 20 years of the 34 he served in Congress culminating with his 1989 resignation in the midst of accusations of ethics violations. I once had the pleasure of introducing him when he was a guest speaker at the Women’s National Democratic Club in 1993. Former House Speaker Jim Wright died today at 92.