Journal of the
              Lecture Series

 Volume 3, Issue 1
In This Issue
Welcome back! The WMG 2018-2019 program year has gotten off to a predictably fascinating lovely to be able to write such a thing!

Your patience with the timing of these Journal issues thus far has been humbling; we thought we would repay that patience by publishing them in a much more timely manner this year.   In this first issue, you'll find recaps for the first five speakers, as well as photos from the New Member Tea. 

We are also trying out something new - a "book reflection." It struck me as curious that we are always ready to support our speakers through book purchases, but then never talk about them. To remedy that, you'll find Cathy Bamji's reflection on Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken, by Monica Bhide, who spoke at WMG in November 2016 (Journal, vol. 1, iss. 2). We would love to include more of these: a few personal thoughts on how a book affected you, or maybe didn't. If you have some to share, drop a line to, and we'll find a home for your thoughts. Going forward, we hope this Journal will become more of a two-way street....   Enjoy!   
Adrienne Athanas
The Ninth Hour
Alice McDermott--September 12, 2018

Alice McDermott
Photo from

The first lecture of the new program year found the membership cheek-to-cheek and shoulder-to-shoulder; in fact, it was SRO! Why the fuss? Well, of course, we were glad to be back. And we were excited by the return of author Alice McDermott. She spoke to WMG in 2000 and 2007, and the publication of her novel  The Ninth Hour in paperback brought the nationally acclaimed Bethesda author back for a visit. Needless to say, we were not disappointed.

Ms. McDermott seemed to relish the visit as well, saying she was "among her people, as a Bethesda mom." She noted that she had basically put The Ninth Hour to rest after an extensive, multi-city tour when it was published in hardback last year. Going back out on tour for the publication of the novel in paperback was "sort of like being on your honeymoon with your second husband    [a new book], and being asked to talk about your first!"

She then took us on a brief journey of how the novel came to life -- the odd bits of inspiration found in sometimes unlikely places. A friend of hers mentioned a distant memory, of a family member in Watertown, NY having lived with a man for years, unrelated to her, who it was said had served as a substitute for one of her family members in the Civil War. As she explored this odd footnote of history, she discovered that this was a fairly common practice in the past, with immigrants and ex- and escaped convicts frequently playing this role. It provided necessary income; by the middle of the war, a law was passed codifying payment at $300 -- a tidy sum in those days.

The Ninth Hour
book cover
Though she was not interested in writing a historical fiction, the idea of substitution -- the willingness to stand in for someone else, which she felt was an "incredible act of selflessness" -- took hold in her imagination. The tension between the two aspects of this practice -- of selflessness vs. selfishness -- triggered her "Roman Catholicism -- he that died so that we might live."

During her research, another untold bit of history caught her eye -- a surprising number of stories about suicides in the latter part of the 19th century and into the 20th. This spurred more questions, revolving around obligation, survival, and whether one has the right to "claim his own life." 

Finally, she delved into her own family history, sharing that her mom was raised by a widow after her own parents had died; the nursing sisters in the parish were a huge presence in her mother's young life. Again, she contrasted the selflessness of the nurses with acts of suicide and selfishness.

She shared some thoughtful comments both before and during the Q&A: "Every time you start a new story, you are a novice again; all past expression is basically irrelevant." For Ms. McDermott, language is primary and the story will follow; she finds "writing is like an incantation" to bring the story to fruition. She also believes that the first line of a book is crucial: "how will this connect to the last line?" That is the goal -- that everything is intentional, and the reader should be able to appreciate as much by the time she finishes the story.

She shared another inspiration -- W.H. Auden's canonical poems, specifically "Nones" from Horae Canonicae. To read that poem, and others in the collection, click  here.

To learn more about Ms. McDermott and her work, go  here .
Adrienne Athanas
Recap by Adrienne Athanas

**********Editor's Note**********
I had read The Ninth Hour not long before Ms. McDermott spoke with us. Though I enjoyed her writing very much, I felt as though I was left with many unanswered questions. The beauty of hearing directly from authors' is that their experience writing the book can deeply inform the reader's understanding and appreciation of reading it. For me, that meant changing questions into answers...and finding new historical avenues to explore.

Invited by Deb Carty

Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection
Eric Friedman--September 26, 2018
Eric Friedman
Photo by Lisa Charles

Handling as many as 20,000 phone calls and investigating around 1,500 formal complaints each year, The Office of Consumer Protection has been a valuable resource to Montgomery County residents for 47 years.

The Director, Mr. Eric Friedman, gave a lively, informative and, at times, humorous account of the services that this unique office provides to Montgomery County.  Mr. Friedman is an attorney, and has worked at the Office of Consumer Protection for 38 years - first as an investigator, handling thousands of cases in retail sale, construction, and credit counseling - then as Director of the organization.

This office employs 17 people, including nine investigators and one certified auto technician, in addition to a volunteer staff of language translators - all to handle Montgomery County citizens' consumer complaints. These range from deceptive marketing practices, overly aggressive towing, and caller ID spoofing to internet scams and nuisance robo-calling.  They even maintain a running tab of alerts and scams! The biggest case that his office has handled involved deceptive marketing practices by a heavily advertised plumbing company. Around 10,000 residents in Montgomery County were affected, and the case was settled for $1.6 million. 

Mr. Friedman had high praise for the Montgomery County government, calling it "clean, transparent, and staffed with hard working people."

When asked, Mr. Friedman recommended Checkbook Magazine - available by subscription, or in the local libraries - as the very best source of unbiased information on local businesses and services.
Recap by Kristin Szumlas

With luck, most of us will never have to interact with Eric Friedman and his staff - but it is reassuring to know they are there if we need them! 

To learn about the work of the Office of Consumer Protection go here.

To learn more about Checkbook Magazine, click on this link.

Invited by Harri Kramer

New Member Tea

On Sunday, September 30th, Ilene Rosen, Naira Darius, and Katee Neal hosted a splendid tea party in honor of our new members. Attendees had the chance to get to know each other, and Laura Forman provided an overview of WMG and answered questions. The event, an annual tradition, was held at Ilene's lovely home.

We extend a warm welcome to our new members: Cathy Bamji, Lizzie Bowlin, Kathy Broadwater, Linda Dean, Bonnie Harkness, Shelby Harper, Sherri Holdridge, Kirsten Jones, Lauren Kafka, Jo Kolman, Lisa Lerner,  Lisa  Luse, Isabel Marbury-Mauro, Sandra Matus, Monica Medrek, Andrea Mones, Maria Leonard Olsen, Carole O'Toole, Marsha Ellen Reichman, Judy Rodgers, Eileen Rose, Jean Schlesinger, Susan Schweitzer, Nicolle Singer, and Mary Jo Veverka.
A Personal Story
Michael Cole--October 3, 2018

Michael Cole
Photo by Kirstie Saltsman
What's it like to be in the audience for an interview with a famous celebrity?  We had a taste of that today. Our guest speaker was Michael Cole, an award-winning actor perhaps best known for his role as "Pete Cochran" in the 1968-1973 TV drama series, The Mod Squad. The program was groundbreaking in its time for its cutting-edge content as well as its young lead characters -- a white guy, a black guy, and a blond girl -- in roles as undercover police detectives. The show was unprecedented in television for its portrayal of sensitive issues including racism, drug abuse, child abuse, sex education, and the Vietnam War. It was an international sensation that catapulted Michael and his co-stars, Peggy Lipton and Clarence Williams III, into the fast-paced world of stardom. 

After Michael's opening remarks, Joan Wolf led an interview with him that revealed much to us about his background and view of life. Fame did not come easily. When Joan asked about his role models as he was growing up, he candidly -- and surprisingly -- said he had none, other than his mother. She raised him and his brother alone; his father abandoned them when Michael was born. They lived in poverty most of his young life, at one time needing money so badly his mother "sold his brother's bed for a dime." Alcohol became his diversion and comfort; he was an alcoholic at age 11 and long into adulthood. He was rebellious in his teen years, never finished school, and for many years led a vagabond life. He credits his mother for having faith in him and his gift and passion for acting to turn his life around.  Somehow he did, literally despite himself.
I Played the White Guy
book cover

When approached about the part on The Mod Squad, Michael balked. Though sleeping under bridges at the time, he defiantly said "no" and told the producer Aaron Spelling the show "sounded stupid -- kids playing undercover cops!" -- and he hoped it would never get on the air. Mr. Spelling pushed back, Michael took the part, and the show and his career took off. 

His sudden fame and fortune were unanticipated and life-changing. Though he appeared in numerous plays, movies, and television shows after The Mod Squad, he spoke openly about how his heavy use of alcohol undermined his career long-term. He credits his wife, Shelly, for encouraging him to seek treatment. He did and now has been alcohol-free for 24 years.  

Michael reminisced with us about his years on The Mod Squad and touched on themes in his recent memoir, I Played the White Guy. Though a "cop show," he commented that its recurring themes were about caring, loyalty, friendships, and doing the right thing. He also spoke of how he and his young co-stars challenged the show's producers who wanted them to carry firearms:  throughout the series, they never wore or used a gun.
Recap by Karen Deasy
What was really striking about Michael was his warm and self-deprecating manner and his openness about his "struggles with internal demons." Also touching was the warmth between him and Shelly, who accompanied him and spontaneously prompted him throughout the morning.  When asked his favorite word, Michael unhesitatingly responded "Shelly."

Invited by Joan Wolf
Taking Action to Fight Climate Change
Mike Tidwell--October 10, 2018

Mike Tidwell
Photo by Chesapeake Climate Action Network
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says "we have ten years." This is how Mike Tidwell, the founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, began the story of his journey to becoming an avid climate activist. Mike grew up in the south where he was introduced to the outdoors, fishing, and camping along the White River in Arkansas. He developed a deep love of the Appalachian Mountains while on a Boy Scout backpacking trip when he was 11 years old. At that very formative age, he discovered how the beauty of nature could feed your soul. After college, he served in the Peace Corp as a fisheries volunteer in Zaire and the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1984-87, raising tilapia in fishponds, which he felt was a transformative experience.
When he returned to the United States, Mike read Bill McKibben's book  The End of Nature.  Published in 1989, it provided compelling arguments of how humans were changing the chemistry of our planet. Transformed again, Mike's mantra became "Climate is Destiny," as he traveled the world in the 1990s as a freelance writer. His work led to an assignment for  The Washington Post in May 1999 to go to Louisiana and write whatever he chose.
Mike was drawn to Cajun culture, the Cajun prairie, and Cajun bayous. He chose to focus on the latter as bayous are the "roads" of southern Louisiana. He embarked on a "Huck Finn" experience -- hitchhiking on boats and interacting with both Cajun and Vietnamese fishermen, and the Houma Indians. Not only was he savoring this cultural gumbo, but as he did so, he became immersed in stories about the ecological disaster throughout the region: The river no longer flooded and was clogged with sediment from two thirds of America. The land was sinking...the fastest disappearing landmass in America. There were far fewer barrier islands and marshes. All around was a forest of dead trees.  In 2003, two years before Katrina, Mike published a book,  Bayou Farewell, predicting the coming disaster. This was the story of modern coastal America succumbing to environmental degradation: the oil and gas industry had taken command of the canals and we were losing land mass the size of Manhattan every 10 months. 
The Louisiana experience led Mike to ask where else this might be happening. In 2002, he formed the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). Since then, Mike has had numerous successes towards his goal to keep fossil fuels in the ground and to move to clean energy. A long list of victories can be found on their website.
Recap by Mary Jo Veverka
When asked what are the top three things we can do as individuals to make a difference in meeting the challenging climate change goals, he responded:
  • Develop a relationship with one group fighting climate change. He illustrated how individuals participating in CCAN events have influenced actions at the state level within Maryland.
  • Eat lower on the food chain. Meat is the highest contributor to carbon impact, more than driving.
  • Sign up for Community Solar Power. This is a crowd-sourced solar farm development that Pepco is building on a landfill in Prince Georges County.
In 2006, Mike authored  The Ravaging Tide that documents his Call to Action.
To learn more, or to purchase his books from Politics and Prose, check out these links: 


To learn more about CCAN's community solar effort, visit  here  .

CCAN is partnering with Neighborhood Sun to bring community solar to Marylanders

Invited by Brenda Bachmann
Rob Scheer--October 17, 2018

Rob Scheer
 Photo by Lisa Charles 
Rob Scheer shared his intensely personal journey through the foster care system, not only as a foster child but also as a foster parent. His experiences prompted him to found Comfort Cases five years ago. Each year, more than 437,000 kids are in the foster care system; this national charitable organization provides pajamas, toiletries, and more to children entering the system. 
Scheer grew up in an abusive home and entered the system himself at 12 years old, after both parents died. He carried his belongings in a trash bag, and he struggled to assimilate to a new home of strangers. Once he turned 18, he was homeless. 
"I truly believed I deserved better than this," Scheer shared. "Everyone had given up on me, but I'm not going to give up on myself." This faith pushed him to continue striving to improve his life. Scheer later found success in the corporate world, and met and married his husband Reece. 
Yet these successes were not enough for Rob. They decided to foster-to-adopt children and when their four foster children arrived, he was astonished to see they also carried their belongings in a trash bag. After watching their daughter smile for the first time when she was removing the tag from a new nightgown, Scheer asked her what made her smile. She shared that she had never owned a new nightgown before. This prompted the Scheers to take action and create Comfort Cases. In 2017, Comfort Cases delivered more than 11,000 cases to children in the foster care system.
"Because they should not have to ask" for a toothbrush or shampoo or a book to read, Scheer said. In his CNN Heroes video, he shudders to think that these kids carry their personal belongings in something we throw our trash out in; the message it sent was unacceptable.
Recap by Katee Neal
Scheer implored WMG members to "do something. Impact our community." 
Comfort Cases welcomes donations and volunteers. To find out more, see their website.   Scheer also has a new memoir,  A Forever Family: Fostering Change One Child at a Time ; sales benefit Comfort Cases.
View the CNN Heroes video about Scheer  here.

 **********Editor's Note**********

Olney Theatre is holding their second annual pajama drive, to benefit Comfort Cases. If a visit to Olney is in your plans for this holiday, you might want to check out  for more information.

Invited by Julie Goodman

Karma And The Art of Butter Chicken,
by Monica Bhide
(WMG Journal. Vol. 1 Iss. 2)
Reflection by Cathy Bamji

Cover of Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken 
Photo from  Goodreads
I am always looking for a good story that provides insight into a different way of life, teaches me a few things, and helps me appreciate different perspectives. This is what I found in reading Monica Bhide's novel, KARMA And the Art of Butter Chicken. The tone is set by page 30, when the monk says to the main character, Eshaan, "When you understand what your real mission is, then you won't need their gratitude, and their approval or disapproval will not matter." 
The story takes place in modern-day Delhi, India. Set mostly in a monastery where Eshaan lives with a group of monks, we follow his journey to feed the poor. Despite multiple obstacles, not the least of which are his own perspectives, opinions, and beliefs, Eshaan persists, and when given an opportunity to participate in a national cooking competition, his fate is changed forever. 
Reflection by
Cathy Bamji
Bhide does a delicious job of providing opportunities for us to both support and chastise her characters. All are flawed but well intentioned, they move through their lives, bumping and bumbling through encounters and the resulting consequences of action and inaction. Through these intertwined stories we glimpse what life is like in India and are forced to engage our own opinions and beliefs about love, life, sacrifice, and success. 

If the sign of a good story is one that teaches, moving the reader to a more enlightened conclusion, then KARMA hits the mark. Readers are left with new understanding, enriched by visual and sensory detail. And it makes me want to go cook some butter chicken! 
Don't miss out on the notes at the end of the book, and check out recipes at the author's website .

The WMG meets most Wednesdays, September to June, at the
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church,  9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda, MD

Laura Forman

Adrienne Athanas

Kirstie Saltsman
Adrienne Athanas
Pat Cascio
Karen Deasy
Harri Kramer
Cathryn Meurer
Melinda Robbins
Kirstie Saltsman

Lisa Charles