Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Not to be boxed in, to be able to transcend boundaries: for an artist, it’s essential.
–Shahzia Sikander

Also applies to kitties.


Boundaries: Weekly Photo Challenge


Megan McFadden

March 9, 1981-August 29, 2015

IMG_1803When someone so young passes from this earth, the shock reverberates for days, weeks and months, as it seems impossible that Megan will no longer be with us.

As Megan came into my life, I watched her as a year went by, and I saw how she was working through the difficulties of her past to move forward into a new day. We thought this new beginning would be bringing her success with her art. 

We will miss you, Megan. We’re so sorry.

Her Father’s Eulogy

When you have a drug-addicted child or sibling, you live in dread of the phone call that tells you she has overdosed and died in some abandoned house. My son Jim, her best friend, and I got that call on August 29th about Megan.

Rather than mourn over Megan’s tragic death at 34, let’s celebrate what was wonderful about her. She was a sweet, beautiful, and funny little girl. She had an adorable little speech impediment until she had it fixed at therapy in first grade. We had a squirrel that visited us on the deck of our apartment almost daily. We asked her for a good name for him. She said, “Mistoow Sqwool.” From that good day on, he was Mr. Squirrel, “Mistoow Sqwool” to Megan.

Megan was all her life a gifted artist and was passionate about it and lived for it. She was enrolled in school to pursue and enrich her passion, but was taken from us just before she was to begin.

She left a great legacy with her son Michael, who has brought great joy to every person he’s known in his 13 years. Good job, Megs.

The only consolation that we, her family, friends, and all the people who knew her, was that she was a person of great worth. What we can take from her death so young, is the knowledge that her pain and struggles are over, and the belief that she will find the peace with her heavenly Father that she was unable to find in this life.

Pro-Act Recovery Walk, Philadelphia, September 19, 2015



Philadelphia Photo League

Philadelphia Photo League Photographers, Konrad Jones, Mike Browna, Spencer Lewis

Philadelphia Photo League Photographers, Konrad Jones, Mike Browna and Spencer Lewis

Several week’s after Megan’s passing, I received a notice from the Philadelphia Photo League about an upcoming event, the Pro-Act Recovery Walk. In 2012 a group of area photographer/activists, who were committed to social change through documentary photography, established a mission to assist civic organizations to affect change through photography. Photo League members have photographed the Recovery Walk in past years and shared their photographs with the Pennsylvania Recovery Organization–Achieving Community Together. By participating in this year’s photography project, I hope that I might help in some small way to document the event.

Morning has Broken

As I approached the staging area at the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, the sky appeared gray and dark as the fog began lifting from the Ben Franklin Bridge. As the presenter led a prayer from the stage, the clouds opened to a magical reflection on the river. Sun beams streamed down to the water–it was as if the universe was blessing the gathering.


Participants in their colorful t-shirts began gathering in front of the stage. The photographers took photos from the vantage of the stage, and then we split up to cover different aspects of the walk. I took a position at the start of the parade on the Chestnut Street Bridge under the  balloon arch. As marchers began to stream under the arch, I began to video the walk. What amazed me was the diversity within the crowd: young and old, men and women, abled and disabled and all ethnicities represented.

Yellow shirt copy

The participants kept coming, walking, cheering, as those standing on the sidelines clapped.  Group after group, representing organizations advocating for recovery, passed in front of me. These people have endured the  challenges of addiction. Society could mediate these tragedies by implementing social policies that bring people out of addiction without stigma. To be immersed in this experience became a humbling moment, realizing that these warriors are ready to continue their fight for freedom from alcohol and drugs. Last year 600 people died from drug overdoses. It seems that a tainted batch took Megan as well as other victims, one evening in August.

Will we stand with the 25,000 Pro-Act crusaders? Our society failed Megan, we cannot fail again.

Video of Walk


Recovery Walks

Thousands march in support of and hope for addiction recovery

ProAct: Ambassadors for Recovery

Women’s Ordination Conference
 A Voice for Women’s Equality in the Catholic Church

“We have a church that’s misogynist and it’s representing the Gospel. We need freedom, equality, and the people’s capacities to participate in the conversation. I look forward to having this discussion in Philadelphia.” –Teresa Forcades

Teresa Forcades WOW

Teresa Forcades: History

As a supporter of anarcho-syndicalist movements, which advocate for democracy for the working classes in politics as well as the workplace, I’ve followed the news about the strikes against the Spanish government’s spending cuts, which create severe consequences for workers and their families. Following these events, I read about one of their leaders, Sister Teresa Forcades.For folks who have their doubts about capitalism, Teresa has launched a political manifesto to counter austerity measures by the Spanish government. The document calls for an independent Catalonia to carry out a more democratic and progressive agenda, including nationalizing banks and energy corporations. I visited Spain in 2013, and on my first evening in Barcelona, I attended an event, Women, Spirituality and Social Change, a dialogue between Teresa and Lekshe Karma Tsomo, a California Tibetan nun, who share the same commitment: to promote social change based on inner transformation.


A year ago I heard Teresa speak again, this time in my relative neighborhood, at Red Emma’s in Baltimore. Red Emma’s, a worker cooperative started in 2004, supports a bookstore, restaurant and community space and is “dedicated to putting principles of solidarity and sustainability into practice in a democratic workplace.” The namesake of the cooperative, Emma Goldman, a political activist known for her promotion of anarchism, is another woman I admire for her progressive views on women’s rights, prison reform, racial equality and right to organize our workplaces.

While some may consider Teresa’s ideas radical, I think of them as being common sense, such as viewing capitalism as an unethical construct. Sometimes when I’m talking with people about the problems of capitalism, they agree but then say, “Well, that’s the way it is.” Teresa says it doesn’t have to be that way.

When I learned that Teresa was speaking at the WOW conference in Philadelphia, I immediately signed up to attend.

Women’s Ordination Conference, September 2015

WOW Protest

WOW Prayer Vigil at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

The WOW Conference represents forty years of advocacy for women to become full participants in the Church by allowing women’s ordination. I am a former Catholic and what drove me away from the Church was thinking about my daughter’s perceptions of how affirming Catholic practice contradicts a fundamental belief that women must be treated as equals. The Church’s embedded bigotry against women, which arises from historical chains of oppression, undermines women’s liberation.

Teresa flew into Philadelphia just before she spoke, as she had to stay in Spain for an important leadership event on Saturday. Teresa presented an inspiring talk, a few of the highlights in the video:

I met Teresa after her presentation, and we talked about the political situation in Catalonia and her candidacy. She asked about my son, John. Truly a remarkable experience to connect with a woman who is on the world stage advocating for her fellow citizens and for equality for women in the Church.


Teresa Forcades Facebook Page

The Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

Coat in closet

I often purchase clothing that I believe is a great buy: on sale, has all the right elements of color and style, yet when I bring it home, the item remains hanging in the closet, with the tag still attached.

I found a coat in the bowls of my sister’s storage closet. I pulled it from the other temporary cast offs, attracted by the color and velvety fabric. I said to my sister, “It looks like it has possibilities.” And immediately tried it on. For six years the coat stayed in the closet. Was it time to release it from its confinement?

The coat felt heavy, and in response, I slumped my shoulders. The sleeves were too long and there was too much padding on the shoulders. Still, I checked it out in the mirror hoping it might recover if only I hem it or take in or something! In the end, all I could do was laugh with the realization that this coat would return into the back closet.

What do you think? Is this redeemable? Or should I pass it to a thrift shop? Or would this be best on a chair? Post your comment below and let me know what you would do.

“This week, make a grid the centerpiece of your photo.”

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Grid

Henry Avenue Bridge

Returning to Mr. Airy, Philadelphia


Commodore Barry Club

Driving from the Western suburbs of Philadelphia, I negotiate through the treacherous, if not beautiful, Lincoln Drive to get to the dance hall. The impressive Henry Avenue Bridge, constructed in 1932, extends over the road and the Wissahickon Creek. The heavily wooded gorge form part of the Fairmount Park system, but I can’t take my eyes off the twisting road for a minute.

This was the route I took several years ago when I found myself at the corner of  Green Street and Carpenter Lane, looking for Big Blue Marble Bookstore where I signed up for a writing course. Little shops lined the streets inviting me to stop in to visit. I’m back on Carpenters Lane once again where the sprawling Commodore Barry Club, or Irish Center, occupies a corner. A spacious ballroom, one of the largest in the area, is the venue for the dancing.

The Music: Borrowed from the Celts and English with Appalachian Influences

On my first visit, what amazed was to see a live band setting up on the stage. Each week a different group performs, filling the hall with traditional fiddle tunes. Reels and jigs are the most common tunes played, but musicians also play the hornpipe, waltz and polka for variety. To learn more about these music forms, check out this page for details, as the differences require lengthy explanations. Accordions, harmonicas, flutes, bass fiddles, violas may accompany the traditional instruments, such as the fiddle, piano, and guitar.

Free Raisins

Free Raisins

For this evening, The Free Raisins, a band from Boston and self-described as “fusing New England roots with a modern groove,” performed with Audrey Knuth on fiddle, Jeff Kaufman on mandolin and trumpet, Amy Englesberg, on piano and accordion. I enjoyed their contra music interpretation with a rock beat, and I noticed that some of the dancers improvised swing-like twirls to their moves.

Rick MohrRick Mohr called the dance. According to CDSS Country Song and Dance Society, calling for contra dances “is a fine art and a science, with subtle skills that can take a lifetime to master.” The caller instructs the dancers, usually with a run-through first without the music. The caller continues to announce the moves until the dancers have learned the steps, which may include from six to twelve figures, and then repeats. Dancers use smooth walking steps for movement between figures. The “swing” requires some practice, holding the right hip at the center while pushing around with the left foot. At break time, volunteers instruct dancers on the nuances of the swing.

The Dance

One website described contra dancing this way,

Contra dancing is social interaction, meeting people, and making new friends, set to music.
The rest is just details.

On my first visit, I joined the beginner’s lesson, which started half-an-hour before the dance. I could explain all the contra dance terms, but for the most part it is possible to learn as you take part. One of the moves is called a “gypsy,” where you circle around your partner without touching but keeping eye contact. Maintaining steady eye contact, as least for me, was a bit unnerving because it felt like staring, but this is common practice and underlies the importance as a social dance and connecting with folks. I found I couldn’t keep the gypsy without smiling.

The gypsy stare also helps reduce dizziness. Yes, while dancing the swing, you can become quite dizzy, which happened to me the first couple times. Partners turn at different rates and if you are paired with a spirited dancer, by the time you land back at your place, the room can still be going round and round–and there’s not a lot of time to recover as you’ve got to be ready for the next move. What I noticed was that if I fixed my gaze, I experienced less dizziness. If I glanced outward at the room, it was whizzing by in a blur.

I came without a partner, and because policy underscores the social nature of the dance, I could still dance every number, if I wanted. Dancers are encouraged to find different partners, and dancing with same-sex partners is perfectly acceptable and may have no relevance to orientation.  In reality, you dance with everyone in the room as you cross over or change partners. Couples form long, parallel lines, starting from the stage and stand across from or “contra to” their partner. Traditionally, couples move up and down the line as the dance progresses. When arriving at the end, you pause with your partner, which gives you a welcome but brief rest before joining the dance again.

Three Hours of Dancing! 

contra dance lineSnacks and water provide rejuvenation during a twenty-minute break, which gives me some time to reflect on the experience. I noted diversity of age among the dancers, from children to college students to seniors. People come to the dance from all over the city and neighboring states of Delaware and New Jersey.

After drinking three or four glasses of water, I’m back on the floor scouting out someone for my next partner. I especially enjoy the flourishes that some of the experienced dancers add to the steps, usually involving the woman twirling around once before settling into her spot. With new dancers, it’s great to help them out and encourage them if there’s a misstep or two, which adds a bit of humor to the experience in a shared fumbling moment. The dancing is so energetic, I think to myself, “Oh, I’ll never be able to dance the next one, and yet, I am back on the floor looking for that next partner.

Video: September 10, 2015 . . .a friend remarked to me after watching the video, “Dancing looks complicated, I could never remember all those moves!” Experienced participants prompt the newcomers, and they’re ready to dance!

If you like exercise tied with meeting new people and enjoying live music, find a contra dance venue in your area. If you live in Philadelphia, check out the Mt. Airy Contra Dance schedule. See you there!

Many thanks to the Mt. Airy Contra Board for their support for this blog post.


Wekly Photo Challenge: Monochromatic

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