Letter to the Editor

Are substitute teachers more dangerous than people carrying guns in public?

Having just submitted a substitute teaching application to the State of Minnesota, which required a background check through finger printing and pages of questions about convictions for drug or sex trafficking, I can’t help but ponder:

Does the State of Minnesota have uniform licensing requirements for gun ownership? No.

Does the State of Minnesota have uniform licensing requirements for substitute teachers? Yes.

Strict licensing requirements for both are essential.

“Minnesota does not require a license to purchase or possess firearms. Persons who wish to purchase a handgun or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon may apply to [their] local chief of police or county sheriff for a transferee permit, although a transferee permit is not required for the purchase or transfer of such weapons” (Giffords.org).

“Thoughts and prayers” will not make a society safer when there are more guns than people.

Stricter gun licensing requirements may be a start. Standing up to the gun lobby may be a start. Appealing to NRA members, who agree that stricter gun licensing requirements are necessary, may be a start.

For more information to help reduce gun violence, please visit: Giffords.org or Momsdemandaction.org. 

Sheila Wilensky


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 We’re in deep trouble. Discussing past historical horrors is horrendous in itself. Avoidance and lies only cause more trouble. 

   Consider the plight of my favorite Constitutional Amendment, the Fourteenth: “No state…shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Ratified in 1868, the essence of the Fourteenth Amendment has been tossed to the wind, although it’s the framework for any semblance of American democracy.

   Throwing out the evils of the past will not save democracy. Returning to the restrictions of voting rights will only inhibit progress into a clearly multicultural U.S. future. For those who deny this fact, “the objective is to win the war against progress and to freeze America in a yesteryear image of itself,” writes New York Times columnist Charles Blow.

   Yes, it took a century for Civil Rights legislation to finally pass in 1964. Despite the Fourteenth Amendment, the United States still required Congress to comply. For the first time, many Black citizens strode to the polls to vote — unafraid of recrimination — or worse. 

   The Fourteenth Amendment directed the U.S. Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage in Obergefell V. Hodges (June 2015).

   Truth has disappeared from our body politic like sugar water gulped by hummingbirds. Buzzing around so fast, without any evidence, lies are mistaken for truth. Social media sound bites whiz in and out of our brains. 

   Back in the 1990s, I told my Mt. Desert Island, Maine, high school students, “If you see me walking down the street thirty years from now what will you say?” 

    You would yell, Equal protection of the laws! The Fourteenth Amendment!

   There is no semblance of democracy without it. 

   Consider the current plight of my favorite Amendment:

    The NYT Magazine’s 1619 Project, which seeks to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative” created a right-wing backlash, instigated by former president Donald Trump’s “1776 Report” touting extreme patriotism, i.e. leaving out Blacks and minorities. 

   Weren’t we all immigrants who settled here, other than Native Americans?  (“The End of History,” NYT, Jan. 15, 2023.)

A pioneer white survivor by ONE OF THE WYETHS, Wichita Art Museum

    There are bright spots.

    At the end of 2022, a federal judge blocked Florida from enforcing the Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act (Stop W.O.K.E. Act) in the state’s colleges and universities.

    The order came in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union filed on behalf of seven instructors and one student in colleges across Florida to challenge the Act, which limits how “systematic” [a word critical race theory deniers particularly abhor] racism and sex discrimination can be discussed in schools or workplaces.

    In Florida, the ACLU argued the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it restricts instructors and teachers from learning certain viewpoints.

     “Parents and caregivers are children’s first teachers and play a powerful role in determining what children learn about history and in shaping children’s perspectives and our shared future. Discussing the history of slavery in age-appropriate ways can help children understand how that history influences life today. 

   The Southern Poverty Law Center’s new “Learning for Justice” guide, Talking to Children About the History of slavery in the United States: A Resource for Parents and Caregivers, compiles a list of recommendations for talking about slavery and race with children, offering age-appropriate information and resources to emphasize in conversations and in classrooms.”

  Eliminating key parts of our history for bogus reasons — like learning historical truths will make children uncomfortable – is a misuse of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

      On February 9, the Washington Post’s Laura Meckler reported that the College Board removed the mention of Black Lives Matter and reparations for slavery’s harm to descendants in its African American History pilot program, at the same time stating in a letter to the Florida Department of Education the “the changes were not made in response o Florida’s complaint.”

   Meanwhile, more than sixteen states are considering “Do Not Say Gay” laws. 

   To forge a true democracy, the Fourteenth Amendment must rule. “Democracy sprouts in public schools, where students grapple, together, with our messy history and learn to negotiate differences.” (“What Are Schools For?” NYT, September 4, 2022) No state or jurisdiction may deny to any person “equal protection of the laws.” PERIOD.

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Hugging Saguaros

I love being in Tucson, where the saguaros welcome us on the edge of Gates Pass. The mornings have been chilly. But by noon the sun shines down on the back patio. A trickling waterfall soothes me with one of my favorite sounds on Earth. Water. Immersed in the desert sunshine. Sparkling city lights at night. The Tucson mountains greeting us at all hours. Sunset ribbons of pink hovering over darkening mountain silhouettes every evening.

We’re not in Arctic Minneapolis anymore. One more month of Tucson magic.

Our daily mantra: Write; Hike; Read.

WRITE: I’m working on an essay about the end of history education. Neglected truths. “Alternative facts??” Dismal historical and civic knowledge. Once a history teacher, always a history teacher!

HIKE: Yesterday we hiked Brown Mountain, another new one for me.

I’m feeling very fit, realizing how tough it is for me to be housebound in the Minneapolis ice and snow. Not to mention frigid temperatures. Before we left in late December, I just had to get out and walk. Slipping as I crossed the street I fell on the back of my head. Yikes.

No concussion as far as I can tell. My brain seems the same — words disappearing in a flash, memory loss, more fatigue with every year over seventy. But I’m grateful for every hike we take.

READ: “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert, that’s my Minneapolis book club reading. The saga of Alma Whittaker enthralls me. I have around one hundred pages left before we zoom this week to include me in the discussion. I’m grateful to my new reader friends.

Happily, the book is definitely not “Eat. Pray. Love.” I highly recommend it, the life story of a wealthy Philadelphia botanist creeping into spinsterhood in the first half of the nineteenth century. I’m expecting that the final section will lead me to an even greater appreciation of Alma’s life: her courage; her curiosity; her doubts; her confidence and her anxiety.

Meanwhile, I’m hugging myself amid all the friendly saguaros (my man accompanied me for two miles on yesterday’s hike). Three big ups and three big downs starting up the trail behind me, totaling around 800 feet of elevation, 5.3 miles (see the previous photo to one of the tops).

Diverse saguaro personalities cheered me on along the way. Like my Tucson human friends. It’s so different being here on the west side of the city, exploring new hikes while trekking up old favorites like Rattlesnake Canyon and Douglas Springs.

I’ve never hiked Phoneline Trail in Sabino Canyon. Tucson pals, anyone want to go with me?

I’m happy. I hope you, dear readers, are too.

Posted in Bopping Around Tucson, For Love of History, Managing Minneapolis, Nature Girl, Old friends, Out West, Politics, Spunky Writing Hints | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

As Repugnicans have gone completely crazy…

Nope. My political views have become more left of progressive over time.

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Every Picture — and Road Trip — Tells a Story

Heading out of Minnesota Wednesday morning reminded me of the precarious black ice that threatened new young drivers on their way to and from Mt. Desert Island High School.

“Watch out for black ice” was my constant winter warning.

Yesterday we witnessed at least a dozen cars and trucks flying off the road, a few right before our eyes. Piloted off the highway like paper airplanes.

Twenty years later, black ice still threatens drivers. This time it was older drivers like us. We made it out of Minnesota safely. Away from the snow. Away from the ice.

I’m thrilled to report that our down jackets are packed away until late February, when we’ll return to Arctic Minneapolis.

Yesterday’s twelve-hour driving day transported us to Wichita, Kansas. It was in the mid-50s.

But we needed a respite Thursday morning.

Thanks to Tucson writing group friends Ron and Leslie, who urged me to visit the Wichita Art Museum.

What a dreamy, uplifting interlude! N.C. Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Thomas Eakins, Jean Marin, Diego,Rivera, Marsden Hartley. (Where were the women?)

I think this N.C. Wyeth was my favorite. A young widow out on the prairie alone.

Plenty of Maine paintings were on view, including Marsden Hartley’s “End of the Hurricane.” Most were new to me, never appearing in any books or other exhibits I’ve seen.

Along with a few of Edward Hopper’s mysterious New York paintings:

The Wichita Art Museum is an educational mecca. An ideal opportunity for children to create imaginative stories about art. A special living room with small tables and chairs invited kids to exercise their imaginations.

The museum is such a welcoming, glorious place for all ages:

This cheerful Dale Chihuly design greeted us in the upstairs lobby.

Today we drive on to Albuquerque, where we’ll visit my friends Marla and Mark (I haven’t seen them since my first night out of Tucson on my way to live in Minneapolis in July 2021.)

On Saturday it’s on to my former home in the Sonoran desert! To saguaro cacti! To geckos doing push-ups!

We’ll get to celebrate New Year’s Eve with my oldest dear Tucson friend.

We’re lucky. A fabulous art museum, old friends, and a two-month respite in the sunshine.

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Serving Up Democracy

It’s the questions, Stupid! Back in Bill Clinton’s day it was “It’s the economy, Stupid!

That’s not the case anymore. We’ve gotten ourselves mucked up with too much political hypocrisy, lies, and general incompetence. (Look at Herschel Walker, an incompetent projected by Republicans onto the Georgia political scene to become an Uncle Tom.)

Democracy is about learning to ask questions. Furthering any discussion by listening and engaging with more questions.

That’s what I always thought, first as a high school social studies teacher, then as a journalist. You can always look up an answer: Who cares how many historical dates one can rattle off?

We have the Internet, the greatest information gatherer in history!

I’m in good company.

Recalling my interview with “Democracy Now” host Amy Goodman, years ago, she talked about the importance of discussing/debating public issues around the dining room table. That’s how it was growing up in her family.

“Anything less is a disservice to our society,” she has said (I can’t find my old article that appeared in the Arizona Jewish Post.)

Amy Goodman on the set of her progressive radio show, “Democracy Now”

Disservices to our society are more widespread these days. A Georgia U.S. Senate candidate who stated “I would rather be a werewolf” than a vampire? (Check out former President Barack Obama’s witty comeback)?

In this “important” exchange, said Walker, Obama had taken his remark out of context.

Consider Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville, a former football coach who “misidentified the three branches of government as ‘the House, the Senate and the executive’ in an interview with the Alabama Daily News, following his election in November 2020.

Here’s an essential question: Why would any American want to be represented by a senator with little knowledge or consideration of how government works?

Please teach your kids questions that make them think! Not just identifying the three branches of government, but what do they do? What policies would you want your senators to pursue?

Or how to become a werewolf?

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November 22, 1984

I was one of the lucky ones. I lived in modern times.

It wasn’t easy opting for an abortion on Nov. 22, 1984. That day wasn’t a happy one. It emphasized another reason to dislike that November day, the first being JFK’s assassination in 1963.

Women must speak up about having had an abortion. That’s how I feel.

My ex-husband and I already had two children we adored. Starting a new chapter in my life, opening the OZ children’s Bookstore, excited me. Having a third child did not. I couldn’t do it.

Still, I occasionally grieve for that fetus I imagined becoming a second magnificent daughter. One I would have named Emma.

It wasn’t an easy decision to have an abortion. To his credit, my ex recognized that it was mine to make. He could have gone either way.

Judaism recognizes that “life is breath.” I don’t follow my hereditary Jewish religion, or any religion, but I sometimes feel proud of “Jewish law.”

  Does Jewish law state that life begins at conception? No, life does not begin at conception under Jewish law. Sources in the Talmud note that the fetus is “mere water” before 40 days of gestation. Following this period, the fetus is considered a physical part of the pregnant individual’s body, not yet having life of its own or independent rights. The fetus is not viewed as separate from the parent’s body until birth begins and the first breath of oxygen into the lungs allows the soul to enter the body. (National Council of Jewish Women)

So why are all women in the United States now forced to follow a primarily Catholic or Evangelical decision about their bodies? The U.S. Supreme Court’s biased Dobbs ruling is untenable.

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International Menopause Day!

Stunned as I listened to NPR the other day. Yes, It was International Menopause Day! Who woulda thunk it?!

Corporation heads and business people lamented missed opportunities to help their employees traverse menopause — mood swings, hot flashes, and the like.

And why hadn’t they given their employees a monthly day off to deal with menopausal issues?

Twenty years ago, such a day would have been unheard of!

Thirty years ago, we barely said the feared word. Some of us were terrified that we would go crazy, our personalities would transform, ad we would become more irritable.

When the storm came some of my friends had such horrible night sweats they had to change their sheets.

What was menopause like? My Mount Desert Island women’s group wondered back in the early 1990s.

What would happen to us? We knew very little about “the change of life” because older family members never discussed it with us.

Those women suffered in silence. Or not. We just didn’t know.

I had to know. I would sponsor a Menopause Festival at my OZ Bookstore in Southwest Harbor, Maine.

Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of “The Wisdom of Menopause” (1999), and other important women’s health books, agreed to come from Falmouth, Maine, to be the festival keynoter.

Packed with more than 200 women and a few hardy men, Northrup spoke of “the change” bringing positive opportunities to women’s lives. Go out on your own. No need to take care of kids or the house full-time. Pursue creative ventures. Live life without the monthly curse!

The good doctor suggested we eat a small piece of dark chocolate between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. The magnesium would be especially helpful to women during that chunk of time.

For the remainder of my work mornings, at 10 a.m., I opened my desk drawer where I stashed a purple pill holder filled with my morning meds.

I’ll admit it. Chocolate was enough for me to deem the festival a success.

Southwest Harbor didn’t quite become a mecca of learning about the hot subject. But some old-timers were hopeful when they heard about the upcoming festival.

“What do you suppose Sheila will do? Lead a group of naked women down Main Street?”

I wasn’t that hot.

Teaching during the late 90s, I often asked, “Is it hot in here or what?” My sly high school students replied, “It’s just you, Ms. W.” Many of their mothers were asking the same question.

We didn’t march down Main Street but we helped uncover a secret in many women’s lives. New possibilities were available to us all.

That sweet watercolor by Vera B. Williams was a gift to me for my 50th birthday. Vera pictured me contemplating my post-menopausal life.

On the NPR segment I heard the other day only one in five ob/gyns have been trained in menopause care.

I recall the first George Bush making fun of Geraldine Ferraro, Democrat Walter Mondale’s vice-presidential candidate, the first woman ever chosen for that post.

“Oh women are just too moody to be in such a high government position, so close to the presidency,” he said. Hardy, hardy, har.

Ferraro hurled the harsh criticism right back at Bush 1, when he went ballistic on national TV about some concern that I can’t remember.

And just today, Nancy Pelosi, at 82, resigned her role as the exemplary two-decade Speaker of the House. The first woman to serve as Speaker, history — or herstory — will recognize her as the best of the best.

International Menopause Day? We’ve come a long way, baby.

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From the Ridiculous to the Sublime, Part 2

Where we stayed on our trip to Olympic National Park took us from Forks, Washington to Port Angeles, Washington in one week.

In Forks, our tiny house on wheels was strange: no tissues; no indoor rugs; no place to put our luggage; no place to hang our clothes. The tiniest sink I’ve ever seen.

The tiniest sink ever

Following four days on the west side of ONP — it’s enormous, meandering between federal and local land — we drove to the big city of Port Angeles (pop. 19,000). We had the whole floor of a modern home, known as Rick’s Place (which we would highly recommend). A towering, talkative retired photojournalist, Rick washed our dishes and even did our laundry!

Rick’s Place

Another weird sink story: a deep kitchen sink was in Rick’s bathroom but there was no sink in the kitchen. Huh?

Consider this a public service announcement if you’re planning a trip to the magnificent ONP.

And I recommend that you consider the exotic, lushest green national park of all for your domestic vacation.

Expect the unexpected. Not just leaping up when a western jay snatched an almond from my hand.

Relaxing by the peaceful Lake Crescent with its Teddy Roosevelt leather furniture. Munching on the best non-greasy fried halibut at Calvin’s Crab Shack in Neah Bay, while gazing at the surprisingly long Vancouver Island. And visiting Cape Flattery, which we were told was the most northwestern part of the lower 48, jutting out into the Pacific (but it wasn’t).

What we did see was the six-mile Dungeness spit, which juts out and curves into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, named after a 1592 Spanish explorer, separating Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and British Columbia’s Vancouver Island.

The six-mile Dungeness spit

Visiting friends in Port Townsend for a night was a pleasure. Sitting on their porch felt like being at a camp cabin. Except the Pacific loomed down the road.

The next morning we rose in the dark to make the ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seatac airport. Being on the water always thrills me — whether it’s scary or sublime.

Don’t we require both to make a life (the thought just popped into my coffeed-up mind)?

Bainbridge Island ferry to Seattle

As I wrote in Part 1, there was way more “sublime” than “ridiculous” on this trip. We’re lucky. I hope we’re fortunate enough to someday visit Vancouver Island.

And that we have more sublime surprises to look forward to.

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From the Ridiculous to the Sublime, Part 1

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than s/he seeks.” John Muir

So it is in nature, and sometimes in everyday life. So it was with our week in Olympic National Park.

Not all of the week. What of the horrendous attack of the termites, dive bombing into our windshield, causing as much distress as a Minneapolis blizzard.

Luckily, we were close to arriving at our tiny cabin on wheels six miles outside of Forks, Washington. In the middle of nowhere.

Downtown Forks intrigued us, laden with gobs of Twilight book and movie paraphernalia. I knew of the teen vampire book written by Phoenix author Stephanie Meyer. I didn’t know that she chose Forks as a dreary place to set her super-popular tale, although she had never been there.

The Main Street Sasquatch shop harbored a lot of weird stuff, from towels to toys, to books with photos of old bearded guys on the covers.

We became regulars due to the mixed berry crumble pastries delivered each morning by a talented local baker.

And there, the sublime began, along with daily surprises.

Who knew we would run straight into “Where the Wild Things Are” on our way to the ONP Hoh Rain Forest visitor center? (They sold Sasquatch socks.) One of us bought a pair for a grandson. We drove on.

The Hall of Mosses trail provided a taste of our first rain forest experience. Like Tucson’s saguaros, each overladen bigleaf maple, western hemlock, or Sitka spruce — from 200 to 1,000 years old — conveyed their own personalities, just like humans.

I recalled a Tucson student in my government class, who announced when he heard I was from Maine: “The trees are so tall there. Driving down the highway they look so spooky.”

Hoh Rain Forest trees were so spooky, otherworldly, and bizarre. I expected to see exotic creatures crawling from moss drapes everywhere. At least snakes (which scare me). None appeared.

Today I’ve decided that this photo I took — of one of these giant embodiments of nature — would suffice.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

What do you see? I see a woman’s breast and a gargoyle eye.

I’ve read that trees communicate with each other through complicated root systems. Also, I learned that 130 different epiphytes (mosses and ferns) live on varied Hoh Rain Forest trees. Not as parasites, but as beneficiaries of nutrients and locales. A caring community of sorts.

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the most sacred Jewish holiday. I hardly subscribe to my ancient religion. Still, every year I do my bit. I dip apple slices in honey, wishing all my loved ones a “Sweet New Year.”

“In the coming year, may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life,” I say, extending my hope from family and friends to magnificent trees everywhere.

Nature’s mysteries speak to me more than any religion.

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