On July 4th: An Open Letter To Speaker Pelosi

Image of John Hancock statue, represents the 4th of July.
Photo Credit: Lisa C. Johnson.  Taken Monday, July 1, 2019. Statue of John Hancock at Hancock Adams Common in Quincy Center, Massachusetts.

It’s July 4th, 2019. The last time that I wrote a blog post dedicated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on July 1, 2007.

Being aware of her love for chocolate ice cream, I created a recipe for chocolate ice cream in her honor celebrating her becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

I hadn’t looked at that 2007 post in years. Reading it again now, I noticed my disappointment in Pelosi’s refusal to consider impeaching President Bush. Impeachment was “off the table” as far as she was concerned.

Well, here we are again. Almost 12 years ago to the day. Same Speaker. And shockingly, an even worse president. And that’s saying something. Looking back, Bush doesn’t seem quite as horrifying as he did back then.

I don’t believe that will be the case with Trump, if this country survives as a Democracy for 12 years to look back on with a different president. The horrors his administration has inflicted are too many to name.

For now, let me just say that my heart is breaking for the atrocities being committed in this country. Not that unspeakable horrors against people of color is new in the United States. It’s literally what this country was founded on – the theft of Native American lands and the genocide against Native American people. Then the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans for centuries. Just last century during World War II, the property of Japanese Americans was stolen and they were rounded up and placed in concentration camps.

No. This country does not have a good human rights record. And I am skipping over a lot. But we are supposed to do better. Now it is brown immigrants from Mexico and Central America who are seeking asylum after fleeing violence, that are being rounded up and placed in concentration camps.

This past Monday, I took the picture above and I wrote a letter to Speaker Pelosi. Since it seems to fit the theme of July 4th, I’m sharing the letter below. You can submit a letter to Speaker Pelosi as well by clicking the link here.

Open Letter To Speaker Pelosi

Dear Speaker Pelosi,

The news that I read each day about the people being held in detention shakes me to the core. I have cried over this. We have concentration camps on our soil. The treatment of these men, women, children and babies is deplorable, cruel and seem to be crimes against humanity.

I understand that there is virtually no chance that the Senate would convict and remove President Trump. But I still think that an impeachment inquiry in the House should begin. Please start the process. At least there will be televised hearings, so that more people in this country will see the reality of what is happening.

Soon after President Trump was elected,  I remember hearing that his team was looking into the Korematsu decision. Between that, Trump’s greed, racism,  lawlessness and the growth and profitability of private prisons, I thought that there could be concentration camps here. It was only a matter of when and who would be in them. Now we are here. I don’t know how we fix this, but as I prepare for the 4th of July, I am taking the words of the Declaration of Independence to heart.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

I live in Quincy, Massachusetts and today visited a memorial to John Hancock, stating that he was the first signer of the Declaration. He was born here. Just a few miles away from where I am writing now.  I understand there is much hypocrisy involved with the Declaration. I am a black woman and my rights and humanity would not have been acknowledged at the time of the signing. But we are supposed to be better than that now.

For the love of God, please use your power to ease the suffering of those who have fled violence to come here looking for safe haven and are now essentially being tortured. I beg you.

Sincerely,

Lisa Johnson

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Current events may have many of us contemplating a bit more about what it means to be American. So much happening in this country is heartbreaking, unnecessary, and to be frank, criminal.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We the people can make a difference in very tiny ways. Even if only calling our House Representative and Senators to tell them how we feel. If we each do something that resonates with us, we can make this country better than it ever was.

Along with fireworks, picnics and barbecues, on this July 4th, it’s the perfect day to reflect on this nation’s founding — and think about how we can reset, striving towards a more perfect Union.

{You Pick Six} An Interview with Author: Crystal King

Many years ago, I worked at a software company with Crystal King. I didn’t really see her face to face much, because we both worked from home sometimes and worked in different departments. But I do remember seeing her on lots of emails! So it’s quite fitting that we reconnected on LinkedIn.

Then recently, I noticed that Crystal posted about writing her latest novel. Latest?! Call me impressed!

When I read further about her novel, The Chef’s Secret, I noticed that it was inspired by a real Roman cookbook from the 16th century, written by one of the first celebrity chefs – if not the first. I was intrigued and naturally wondered about her experiences with food.

By the way, if you’re looking for a late Mother’s Day gift and your mom is into food, Rome and history, this novel would be a great gift for her! Or maybe you might just want to get it for yourself.

Also, as a special gift for readers of this blog, you can request a free digital companion cookbook that contains 27 recipes!

Now let’s learn a bit more about Crystal and resume this ongoing interview series with the 23rd interview of You Pick Six.

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What is a favorite simple recipe to prepare at home?
My favorite recipe is tortellini soup. I make it all the time in the winter. It’s super simple. Slice up a chicken or pork sausage and sauté it in the bottom of a saucepan. I will deglaze with a little bourbon, then add in enough good broth (this varies depending on what we’ve got at home…we make broth from duck, pheasant, chicken and more) for the two of us. I usually throw in chopped carrots, sometimes potatoes, and a slew of herbs of my fancy that day. Thyme, rosemary, crushed red pepper, paprika, turmeric. Add the fresh tortellini after the carrots have cooked, then when they are floating to the top, I add frozen peas and cook for another minute or so. When served, I add grated Parmesan or Romano on top. Super fast, super easy and delicious.

I also like making Parthian chicken,which is a holdover from my novel, Feast of Sorrow. It’s a 2,000 year old recipe and one of our favorite dishes for the dinner table.

What is a favorite quote?
The controversial NYT literary critic Anatole Broyard once said, “Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city.”   Oh, Rome, where my heart is.

What is a favorite childhood food memory?
When I was young, my mom would occasionally travel to some convention for whatever thing she was selling, whether it was Princess House or Avon. My father would cook and that was always an adventure. I remember one breakfast where we had the big tabletop casserole/griddle out and he made one monster pancake, and the three of us kids all had to help him flip it. We loved when he did stuff like that with us when mom was gone.

What is the best meal you ever had and where was it?
This is hard! There are two that stand out, for very different reasons. é by José Andrés comes first to mind. My husband and I went for one of my milestone birthdays, shortly after it opened (it’s a secret restaurant behind Jaleo in Vegas), when it was nearly impossible to get in. Everything about that meal was amazing, from the presentation, to the show the waiters did, to every delicious, surprising morsel of food.

And last year, I was in Caprarola, Italy, visiting the Farnese palazzo to research my third novel. We stopped in a little spot, Trattoria del Ciminio, that was pretty much empty.  When the lunch crowd did start to filter in, we were the only tourists. The salumi was hyper local from deer and wild boar. I had a goose tortelloni that was to die for, and a smoked duck carpaccio that was pure heaven. I’ve not had anything else like it in my travels. My husband and I keep talking about that place.

What is a favorite cookbook?
Another hard one! But right now, my big soft spot is for [L’Opera] the cookbook that my main character, Bartolomeo Scappi, published in 1570, to great acclaim. It is the inspiration for my novel, The Chef’s Secret.  There are over a thousand recipes in its pages, as well as woodcuts that show you what a papal kitchen was like back in the Renaissance. The recipes are fascinating and many of them still delicious to palates today.

Tell me about your book.
The Chef’s Secret is about Renaissance celebrity chef, Bartolomeo Scappi. Scappi was the private chef to four Popes and the author of one of history’s best-selling cookbooks. We don’t know much about his life, or the life of his apprentice and nephew, Giovanni. Which meant that I was able to turn on my imagination and create lives that perhaps they might have lived.  In my story, Giovanni is on a quest to find out the truth about his uncle and the fifty-year love affair that the chef hid from the world.  It’s a book full of food and feasting, a bevy of historical figures, and of Rome and Venice during a time rather different than we know today. It’s a mystery and a double love story. It was great fun to write, and to sample the recipes from the Scappi cookbook as I plotted it all out!

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Thank you so much for participating Crystal!

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Photos: Provided by Crystal King.

Angela Davis Returns To Brandeis University

On Friday, February 8th, Angela Davis returned to Brandeis University. My aunt and I are both alums, and were thrilled to see her speak at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Department of African and African-American Studies.

If you haven’t seen Angela Davis speak in person, go see her while you have the chance. She is 75 years old, and a living legend with much to teach us all. I will definitely be reading her autobiography soon.

Hearing her talk about her life, I realized that much of what many of us think we know about her is not true. There is “an idea” of her out in the ether – the mythology of a violent militant angry Black communist woman with a big afro who was a member of the Black Panther Party. A stereotype that was attributed to Michelle Obama and to many other black women generally.

Based on this idea, I had always assumed that she had been part of the student takeover of Ford Hall in 1969. She actually graduated in 1965. She was long gone when the takeover happened! Her studies at Brandeis focused on French and Philosophy.

Davis spoke about how she was never part of the Black Panther leadership and doesn’t know how that idea started. She only briefly worked with them and thinks that most people don’t understand that most of the Black Panthers were women.

I was fascinated to learn a while back that one of the biggest impacts that the Black Panthers have had on American society is free breakfast for school children.

I could have listened to Davis speak for hours more and hope to see her speak again. It was so interesting hearing the influence that she has had on decades of Black Brandeis alumni. So many people in the audience stood up and told her that they decided to attend Brandeis after learning that is where she graduated from.

There definitely is a certain amount of pride to be associated with the same school that she attended. To see her during Black History Month at this time in history was especially poignant. What a gift.

If you’d like to see the video from the event, you can watch it online.

Boston’s Alexandra Hotel

*Updated 12/4/2020*

Scroll down for updates.

You know that specific period of time when lottery jackpots get higher and higher?

Frenzy reaches a fever pitch. Reporters ask random people in line buying lottery tickets what they would do if they win.  Most people mention that they would pay bills, buy a car, help their families, go on vacation, give to charity. Pretty normal stuff. Nothing too exciting or specific.

Maybe they have more detailed ideas in mind, but don’t want to share them. I would do all those too, but for about 30 years, I’ve had a very specific thing that I fantasized about doing.

I would buy the Alexandra Hotel on the corner of Washington Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. Then I would restore it. Live in it and run a Bed & Breakfast in it as well. My scones would be on the breakfast menu everyday!

I have never felt a more magnetic pull to a location than I did when I first noticed the old Alexandra Hotel building. Although, I did love the Wollaston Theatre too. But I never truly wanted to own it.

Since the 90s, I have failed to win the lottery, but I continued following the building and always thought something would be done. It’s a majestic presence that has been woefully neglected for such a long time.

When I learned that the Church of Scientology owned it, I thought that I would see construction. But it never happened. The blight remained. The church agreed to sell it eventually and there were several possible buyers. But the sales fell through.

Now there is a proposed renovation project and a possible buyer for the Alexandra Hotel. I read about this latest development just in time to attend a public meeting last night. It was a full house and the audience was lively, filled with many community members and city officials.

Andrew Wang of CBT Architects gave the presentation showing possible future plans for the hotel. Jas Bhogal of JB Ventures answered some questions on behalf of the investor group that currently has ownership of the proposed project.

Nina LaNegra and Bill Singleton of United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury, Faisa Sharif of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, Boston City Councilor Kim Janey, and her Community Relations Coordinator Saynab Maalin were also in attendance.

The project proposes to retain and restore the facade of the building, construct a new approximately 150 room, twelve story boutique hotel, with a restaurant and cafe on the ground floor, outdoor seating and a rooftop bar/restaurant.

The cost to restore the facade alone is 9 million dollars and right now the anticipated cost of the new building is 66 million dollars. Jas stated that the number of rooms is the minimum needed in order for the project to be “successful.” The rooms will be very small and they will need a variance from the zoning code for the proposed height.

Many issues were discussed and some key takeaways are below.

1) The project is not using historic tax credits, but there are still standards that need to be adhered to based on the historic nature of the building.

2) Ownership is currently private, but additional investors are anticipated to be added to the project. Right now ownership is not open to the public. Community members hope that they will have a chance to buy in and have ownership and participation when the project is complete.

3) Diversity in ownership is a concern and the community wants diversity for people hired to work on the project. Jas, who is Indian, mentioned that he is the diversity in ownership right now. Community members want to ensure that diversity includes Black people and includes women.

4) The Silver Line stop in front of the property may be moved slightly in order to allow for picking up and dropping off. There will be no designated parking area, but there will be valet service.

5) Right now no eminent domain is planned.

6) Neighbors are concerned that the height of the hotel could block the sun and cause shadows on their homes. There will be a shadow study.

7) Someone from the building and trades union was there and mentions that he hopes that the jobs offered will be good paying permanent union jobs. The sentiment was reiterated by Councilor Janey. There was discussion that the hotel union should be involved as well.

8) If everything goes according to plan, work will start this summer and will be finished by the spring of 2021.

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The comment period is open until January 23, 2019  February 13, 2019 and comments are encouraged.

It will be interesting to see if this will be the winning project to go forward and bring the Alexandra Hotel into the 21st century. I still love this building and have secretly believed that the reason none of the attempts to restore it worked were because I’m supposed to own it. Well, time will tell. I still have a lottery to win and it needs to be a big one.

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*Updated 12/14/2019*  When I first wrote this post, almost a year ago, construction was to have started this past summer. From what I know, it does not appear to have started. Things appear to be behind schedule. In October, The Boston Sun reported a “lawsuit has been filed by the Tenants Development Corporation (TDC) against the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) regarding their decision to approve the Hotel Alexandra rehabilitation project.”

As I mentioned before, this property is my obsession, so I will keep you updated!

*Updated 5/14/2020*  Since COVID-19 has brought most everything to a halt, including construction, I was curious what was happening with this project. The last I had read, there was ongoing litigation. According to a December 26, 2019 article in The Boston Sun, the parties reached a settlement. However, it’s unclear what’s happening with the project currently. The BPDA website has a question mark next to project phase.

*Updated 12/4/2020* It looks like the brakes are on this project and the property could be up for sale again, according to a September article in The Boston Sun.

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Photo Credit: Nina LaNegra

Bye Bye Beetle . . . Again

Yes, this is a toy car. When I saw it in a store several years ago in Las Vegas, I knew that I had to have it. For any longtime readers of this blog and it’s previous iteration, you may know my long history with the VW Bug.

When I was a little kid in the early to mid-70s, I loved Beetles. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to have one when I grew up. Then they stopped making them and I was crushed. Like a bug.

I grew up and bought my first car, a Nissan Sentra. Then VW started making the New Beetle. I was elated! After a good solid 12 years, my old car started dying and the only car I wanted was a Beetle. In late summer 1999, I bought a 2000 New Beetle. I was overjoyed and loved that car!

Me and my Bug had many adventures together over the years. The longest drive was to Montreal. One of the funniest stories, except for the blatant sexism, was when I had to get a Bug Jump. Here’s an excerpt from that blog post.

In all the scenarios for my battery deciding to die, this was one of the best. I went back inside and made some phone calls while waiting. I was told that someone would be there within forty-five minutes. They arrived after forty minutes. Shocking!

So I walk outside and the guy takes my keys, opens the hood and starts looking for the battery. He starts making comments about Beetles and says he doesn’t see the battery. He says it must be in the trunk, I said, “No, it’s a new Beetle.” He ignores me and calls me “sweetheart” whenever he refers to me. He’s not condescending about it, just matter of fact and kind of cute, so I let him keep looking and of course he doesn’t find it.

He calls in to headquarters and says he has a Beetle and can’t find the battery. I tell him again, “It’s a new Beetle.” He ignores me and keeps talking to the guy. He seems to be on a two-way radio, because I can hear the other guy saying, “We have a Bug jump!”

He could have saved himself the time by listening to me, but at least I got a good story out of it. But I digress. So all was well and good for the most part with my beloved Beetle until around 2013, when things started to go very wrong. I stopped making long drives, because I was too nervous driving it. It started stalling. I noticed similar stories from other people with Bugs purchased around the same time as mine. People were giving them up. I was so emotionally attached to the idea of it and I didn’t want to give it up.

Then things got real. Real dangerous. The car gave up the ghost at the end of 2013. I started 2014 by getting a Toyota RAV4. My 20th century self would be shocked. I realized that I loved the car way more than the car loved me. I needed to get over my attachment to things. Although truth be told, if I ever came into a lot of money, I would get one of the old Bugs and get it souped up.

So what prompted this post today? I just learned that VW is stopping production of the Beetle again. But I’ve seen this story play out before. That saying “the more things change the more they stay the same” is a saying for a reason. It’s true. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the Beetle comes back again in another 20 years or so. We’ll see.