28 April 2023

23S Week 8. Our Home:Taking Care of Earth

—with Paula Chandoha and Mary Rose Muti

Paula Chandoha gave a focus talk about how her family cares for their farm.

Mary Rose Muti introduced two videos of Robin Wall Kimmerer.
The first video was a Science Friday interview (29 minutes) 

27 April 2023

23S Week 7 Nature Walk through Mt Auburn Cemetery

—led by Mary Margaret Halsey.

We met inside the gate at 11 am on Thursday 20th April and were fortunate in having perfect day for our walk.

Our first objective was to locate the gravestone of our past president, Elaine Fisher.  This proved somewhat more difficult than expected, but Catherine finally spotted it.

In 2014 Elaine had given a focus talk on "What Matters to Me and Why". She showed many of her photographs, including the pair "Crossing the Street / Returning".  She chose the first of these images to engrave on her gravestone.  Elaine has now crossed the street never to return.  She added a haiku by Kobayashi Issa (Issa="a cup of tea") one of "the Great Four" haiku masters in Japan.

            A lovely thing to see:
            through the paper window's hole,
            the Galaxy

Entering the cemetery was like stepping into another world.  As we proceeded MaryMargaret taught us to listen attentively, to be really present.  I heard the sounds of birds I had never heard before.

One of the first things to take my breath away was this magnificent sugar maple with its tasseled flowers blowing in the breeze.
Many of the trees were still bare while others were covered in blossom and yet others had large leaves.

We were immersed in beauty.

MaryMargaret gathered us together to hear the prologue of Peter Wohl's book, Wild Mind, Wild Heart, a piece called "Sacred Scrolls" by Robert NashuWa, a Passamaqouddy Native American spiritual practitioner.

A final jewel in my time at Mt Auburn was to watch a very rare leucistic, pure white, song sparrow hopping from a garden bed to a bare bush and back again. (Unlike albinism, leucism only affects the color of the feathers not other parts of the body.)

Mt Auburn Cemetery is an inspiring place, an escape from all our worries and cares.  As Lindsa described it, it is a bubble, isolated from the rest of the world.

14 April 2023

23S Week 6.

Click here to hear Lindsa Vallee's focus talk.

The main lecture was given by Peter Wohl, author of Wild Mind, Wild Heart: Discover Your True Self in Nature, Zen Buddhist teacher, registered Maine Guide.  Click here to hear him.

Listen to the dragonfly....          by Ival Stratford Kovner

06 April 2023

Poem: I Dare You

by Dorianne Laux

It’s autumn, and we’re getting rid 

of books, getting ready to retire, 
to move some place smaller, more 
manageable. We’re living in reverse, 
age-proofing the new house, nothing 
on the floors to trip over, no hindrances 
to the slowed mechanisms of our bodies, 
a small table for two. Our world is 
shrinking, our closets mostly empty, 
gone the tight skirts and dancing shoes, 
the bells and whistles. Now, when 
someone comes to visit and admires 
our complete works of Shakespeare, 
the hawk feather in the open dictionary, 
the iron angel on a shelf, we say 
take them. This is the most important 
time of all, the age of divestment, 
knowing what we leave behind is 
like the fragrance of blossoming trees 
that grows stronger after 
you’ve passed them, breathing 
them in for a moment before 
breathing them out. An ordinary 
Tuesday when one of you says 
I dare you, and the other one 
just laughs.

 Copyright © 2023 by Dorianne Laux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

“‘I Dare You’ was written while in the midst of downsizing from a large house in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I taught at North Carolina State for thirteen years, to a small home in California where we retired. I had a party for my grad students and told them they could survey the house and take anything that caught their eye or fancy. They filed out the door with a white lace parasol, a red sequined cocktail dress, a tin angel, throw pillows, canned vegetables, rolled up rugs, pictures, potted plants, towels, posters and coasters of Dolly Parton, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Cher, the dining room table, and a roll of toilet paper. It was exhilarating! All that ‘stuff’ gone from my life. I’m a poet, so I wrote a poem about it. But it’s also a poem about aging and accepting that you too will be carried out like a broken lamp and buried in the dump we call a graveyard, or scattered into a plot of land, or poured out over the ocean. This exodus was somehow a preparation for the acceptance of this fact. I did not expect the final line, but when it came, I knew that other world I had belonged to was coming to a close. Youth. Remember when you’d do anything on a dare? On a whim? And that feeling of Why not? Poof. What remains between us is mirth.”
—Dorianne Laux


23S Week 5. Inspiring Women Leaders

The focus talk was made up of contributions from WomenExplore participants describing women who had inspired them.  Click here to hear what they had to say.

Main lecture:  Muna Killingback
Muna Killingback joined the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy with many years of experience advocating for and writing about women's and human rights, peace, and social and economic justice issues.  At CWPPP, she works with the 
Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy graduate programs, oversees communications, and assists with fund development. Formerly at the Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities after Disasters at UMass Boston, she had previously served as Executive Director of the Cambridge-based nonprofit organization, WomenExplore (formerly Theological Opportunities Program). 

She is a former director of communications for the World YWCA, headquarters of the global women's movement in Geneva, where she had been one of its first-ever Young Women Interns. As a freelance writer and editor, she specialized in the work and communications needs of nonprofit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including grant writing. She continues to be active in the World YWCA network and is a member of the Executive Committee of the YWCA World Service Council. She has also served on YW Boston's Advocacy Committee and is an appointed member of UMass Boston's Restorative Justice Commission, as well as serving on the McCormack Racial Equity Task Force and the Professional Staff Union's Committee on Racial Equity (CORE). Muna earned a Master's degree in International Relations and a graduate certificate in Human Rights at UMass Boston.  She is currently a fourth-year doctoral student in the Global Governance and Human Security PhD program, also based at UMass Boston's McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies where her research is focused on the feminist peacebuilding work of women's NGOs and faith-based organizations. Muna is also an affiliated faculty member in the UMass Boston human rights minor.

 Muna is a proud Arab-American, the daughter of an immigrant and refugee from the Middle East on her father's side and also has deep roots in rural Pennsylvania on her mother's side. 

Muna also asked a few people to come and each speak very briefly about what inspires them. They are: Julie Kabukanyi, Chanel Fields, Cassandra Porter, and Fernanda Costa.  They are all alumni of the Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy graduate certificate program or the Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy track of the Master of Public Administration program at UMass Boston. 

Thank you everyone for inviting me. It is always a great privilege and honor to be among you again! Sending lots of love to all & so happy you are still going strong. I wish you another strong 50 years of being a safe and thoughtful and inspiring space for women to be their authentic selves.


YWCA (it’s a totally secular organization in the US btw): https://www.ywca.org
If you are interested in peace issues, there is the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) that has chapters in the US. My very favorite US women’s peace organization is Code Pink btw.

Fernanda Costa to Everyone:
So sorry I have to leave soon for a meeting. But loved learning with you all and hope we can stay in touch. https://www.linkedin.com/in/fernanda-oliveira-costa/

There was a really good film about the women peacemakers in Ireland.

30 March 2023

23S week 4: Feminism's Gains at Risk: Stemming the Tide

Focus —Barbara Villandry

Barbara began her career working for Shawmut Bank, first in operations and then in Human Resources handling employee communications and activities.  Shawmut awarded Barbara a scholarship to Simmons College to attend a specially designed undergraduate management program sponsored by the National Association of Banking Women.  She continued at Simmons earning her Master’s degree in Communications Management.

     Barbara moved to academia when she became Assistant Director of her graduate program at Simmons College.  From there, she became Chair of the Communications Programs at Hesser College in Manchester, NH where she developed and managed a program in radio and television broadcasting, and a program in public relations. 

    Her home and garden have been her salvation during the pandemic where she has quarantined with her husband and pet poodle.  


    I’m hoping you will bear with me as I spend some time walking down my own memory lane.   I’ve been asked to talk about the changes I’ve seen happening for women in my lifetime.  I grew up in the 50s when there was an expectation that little girls would play with dolls and have imaginary tea parties.  I had a miniature porcelain tea set my grandmother gave me.  I loved it when she explained all the conventions of socializing while we would pretend to sip tea.  I cherished those moments, but when I was in my own house, I loved playing cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians with the boy next door in his basement.  I don’t know how many other little girls did that.   I never had girlfriends as confidants.  My mom tried to get me interested in dolls, but that really wasn’t my thing.  Finally, she settled on buying  me “storybook” dolls that were exquisitely costumed dolls designed for display.  I kept them in a cupboard high above my closet and they only came out when someone special came to visit like my cousins.  Other than that, I could be found outside hanging upside down off the bars of the swing set and walking the top of our fence with the boy next door.  

     When our family met for a family dinner at the country club, I had beautiful dresses that I loved to wear.  I understood that when the family was in public, I was expected to be well behaved, and I always acted like a young lady should.  My mom worked six days a week in her father’s jewelry store.  I knew that all of my friends’ moms didn’t work, but I never gave that much thought.  Fast forward to today’s world when I bought my great niece a tea set that I have yet to give her.  I have no idea if in today’s world that is an appropriate gift for a little girl.  I definitely haven’t bought her a doll for fear of pushing her into a stereotype of what a little girl should be interested in.  Last summer, I was truly astonished when my nephew sent me a video of his three-year old boy and five-year old girl riding bucking lambs at the annual rodeo….  Without living in proximity to these kids, buying gifts is a guessing game.

     In middle school, I had a girlfriend who was desperately ill once a month when she got her period.  The nurse wouldn’t allow her to go home.  She had to hang in for the whole day when she needed to be in bed.  My guess is that wouldn’t happen today, and if it did, the nurse and administration would be answering to my friend’s parents and perhaps a lawyer.

     In high school, girls had bouffant hairdos.  They would attempt to sleep with their hair wrapped around giant curlers.  I can’t imagine any girl doing that today.  The girls in high school were all required to wear dresses and nylons.  This was before pantyhose, so these were individual nylons with seams going up the back that were held up by a garter strap or a girdle.  So comfortable!  A couple of years later I was back home visiting an instructor at the high school, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  The girls were wearing pants and the guys were wearing colorful print shirts.  That was a bit difficult to wrap my mind around.  It looked more comfortable, but it was a major shift of expectations.

    In college, I attended an evening lecture of a visiting poet.  I was enjoying the lecture when I realized that I had to walk out so I could make my dorm’s 10:00 curfew.  The guys remained to hear the end of the lecture.  At the time I thought that this was so unfair.

     Then there was the time when I accompanied two of my housemothers to dinner.  Yes, housemothers were a part of my college experience!  A female student joined us who was a law student.  I was intrigued that she was training to be a lawyer, but it never occurred to me that I could go to law school.  I had a subscription for The Congressional Record delivered to me at school, but I couldn’t make the leap to think that I could become a lawyer.  When I reflect on that at this age, I’m stunned.  What I did instead was come to Boston to train as a court reporter.  

     The school recommended that I stay at the Franklin Square House, a women’s residence in Roxbury.  When I arrived with my foot locker and suitcase, they put me in a tiny long room that was so much smaller than the single I’d had in college.  Then, I learned that they had a 10:00 curfew.  I was beside myself.  Not that I was planning to close all the bars in Boston every night, but I have never done well with arbitrary rules.  There was a new YWCA residence opening on Clarendon Street in Boston.  I reserved a room, turned up at the desk of the Franklin Square House with my trunk and suitcase, and told them I was leaving!  I took a cab to the new YWCA where a lovely room was awaiting me, and where there were no curfews.  It was eight blocks from my court reporting school, and on a good day, I could walk there.  Later I made friends with a woman who was at The Franklin Square House at that time.  She was amazed the staff just let me leave.  My guess is that I looked older and professional, and they didn’t think I was a student. 

     I never became a court reporter.  I was working at Shawmut Bank in operations and the bank kept promoting me.  My husband and I were married in 1968.  It never occurred to me to keep my maiden name.  That idea gathered momentum a few years later.  There was one officer at the bank, however, whose wife insisted that he take her name.  I never could quite wrap my mind around that.  Today, I’m coming to terms with the fact that “husband” and “wife” seem to be terms that are passe, replaced by the term “partner,” which I always thought was only used by gay couples.  Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all these changes.

    Around 1979, there were many more young women college graduates hired at the bank into jobs that had never before been filled by women.  One of the things that struck me was they were all dressing in the same pinstriped suit with the required silk tie at the collar.  They were attempting to look like their male counterparts.  The fact that none of these women seemed to have any sense of style made me a bit nuts.  Somewhere in the mid-80s, one of the female banking officers became pregnant and was going to take maternity leave.  She was one of the few women Vice Presidents.  The bank administration was in a dither thinking that she couldn’t hold onto her VP title if she wasn’t working full time.  They did come to their senses and allowed her to keep her title.  She had her baby and returned to have a very successful banking career that included bringing in a lot of money for the banking division.

     About that same time, I went to a conference at Harvard that was centered on family and children.  It was the first session of the afternoon and I did a double take thinking that I’d misheard the speaker.  He was predicting a phenomenal increase in single heads of households.  He was chronicling what turned out to be a major cultural shift.  More women were choosing to have children without marrying the father, or were marrying the father but were not staying in the marriage.  And there were more women and men who were choosing not to marry or to have children.  

     I think back to a month before my high school graduation when all the female graduating high school seniors were invited to an event sponsored by the Association of University Women.  The soon to be high school graduates showed up all dressed in heels wearing hats and gloves that matched their outfits.  I’m sitting there listening to one of these speakers tell the audience there is an order for living our lives.  We should go to college, find a husband, marry, and have children.  I remember wanting to get up and walk out.  It wasn’t that I had other plans, but I thought it was extraordinarily presumptuous for this woman to tell us how we should live our lives.  I can’t imagine her horror as she watched the American social order turn upside down two decades later.

     The birth control pill came on the market in 1960, and for the first time, women had access to a reliable form of birth control.  The 1960s was labeled the decade of the sexual revolution.  Free love was talked about a lot, and Haight Ashbury in San Francisco was identified as the center of the counterculture.  That didn’t impact me.  I was a traditional college student for less than a year in Montana in 1963.  I was in Boston in 1966 training to be a court reporter and working at the bank.  I was married in 1968.  Having said that, the pill was what I was using for birth control until 1979 when I had my tubes tied.  Unlike a lot of women, I didn’t seem to have a ticking biological clock.  The one time I thought about having a child I asked my husband if he would come with me into the delivery room, a practice that was just gaining steam.  He said “no,” and I said, ”Well, that’s the end of that idea!”  

     My pilot undergraduate degree at Simmons consisted of banking women whose banks gave them fellowships to attend this special program to earn their degree.  Almost all of them deferred having children until they were older, some in their 40s.  When I was 24, I had a gyn tell me to have my children in my 20s when I had the energy to keep up with them.  I’ve thought that having children when you are older makes you a different kind of mother.  From my vantage point, it looks to me like my classmates have been very successful in their roles as moms.  My guess is there are tradeoffs between having children when you are younger versus when you are older.  I’d love to see the research on this phenomenon.

     At one of Simmons Leadership Conferences, I listened to Whoopie Goldberg who had just come from a women’s march on Washington.  She talked about bringing a coat hanger to show her young D.C. audience as a way of reminding them what women used to do to abort an unwanted fetus before Roe vs Wade was law.  Today I watch the news coverage of how difficult some states are making it for women to have an abortion since Roe versus Wade has been overturned.  I can’t help thinking that some of these states’ legislators might as well join the Taliban.  It seems to me that subjugating women to their rules, no matter how restrictive, is right up their alley.  

     One of the culture shifts that I’m still coming to terms with is the husband who stays at home and takes care of the kids while his wife works.  In my neighborhood I see men wheeling baby carriages on my street during the day taking the baby out for some fresh air.  Trust me, when I was growing up, there was never a man wheeling a baby carriage down the street.  In a different time, however, I think my parents might have adapted that model if it had been acceptable.  My dad had wonderful parenting skills and my mom had no interest in that at all.

     When my husband and I were first dating in Boston, we’d gotten into an argument, and he pushed me which frightened me.  I went to the police department to see if they could help.  I’m not sure what I expected them to do.  That was a really bad idea.  Their policy was not to get involved in domestic disputes, and I was quickly rushed out of the department and back out onto the street.  Today if I went to the police, they would be required to listen and follow up.  That’s a huge change because a woman’s voice is finally heard.

     Lauren is a childhood friend who wrote Jane Fonda and told her she admired her and wanted to work for her.  Jane hired her to find scripts that her production company could produce.  Because of Fonda’s connections in Hollywood, she was one of the first women to form her own production company.  After five years working for Jane, Lauren formed her own production company which successfully produced three films.  That was possible, although not easy, because women were just beginning to get a foot in the door doing jobs that had always been the province of men.

     Lore Anne is a high school friend who after her freshman year at MIT was told by her father that he wasn’t paying this kind of money for her to earn Cs.  Her dad made her transfer to Montana State University to complete her undergraduate degree.  She completed her PhD at BU, and went on to be one of the first women to head up a division at NIH.  She has two accomplished daughters, one of whom is an oncologist specializing in brain cancer at Einstein.  That would have been a career that was unthinkable for a girl when her mom and I were in high school.  

     So yes, I have seen lots of things change for women, and I’ve had many of my own expectations drastically altered.  And as encouraging as these changes have been, I’ve also been distressed to see the backlash created by folks who want things to be the way they always were.  The speed of change may depend on your perspective.  For a lot of us, these changes have been very slow in coming, but for some, they have come too fast to accept and to embrace.

Click here to hear Barb's talk.

Linda Ai-Yun Liu, PhD

Linda Ai-Yun Liu is a Lecturer of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She teaches and writes about feminisms, neoliberalism, cultural studies, and film and media studies. Her work has been published in Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies, and New Review of Film and Television Studies. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Faculty Staff Union at UMass Boston and is active in labor struggles to improve higher ed working conditions. She lives in Dorchester with her partner Joe, baby daughter Lila, and cat Hermes.

Click here to hear Linda Liu's lecture.


Talk at UMass Boston  "Armed Conflict, Gender and the Rights of Nature": Dr. Keina Yoshida, International Human Rights Lawyer  on Thursday 30th March 2023.  (Possible speaker for WE)

Interesting article about expectations for women to do emotional labor work in the workplace: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/mar/27/emotional-labor-work-women-career-gender


23 March 2023

23S week 3: Nurturing Your Spiritual Self


Focus: Ival Stratford Kovner
Click here to hear Ival's focus talk.

 Spirituality, Shekhinah Reflection

When I consider WomenExplore, I always recall with such a memorable sensation of a clear communal experience the day I spoke to this group in the Democracy Center.

Today I would dare to call this the presence of the “Shekhinah” within our group consciousness.   

 What would allow description when words tend to mute the actual experience? 

 I shared my Torah portion from my adult Bat Mitzvah wrapped in my tallit. 

For me, chanting Hebraic verses among others gathered  summons the Shekhinah.

I might further describe the Shekhinah’s presence as preventing panic and high tension in  near death situation.   Why was the shared glance towards one another so supportive and calming as a 7.1 earthquake struck Anchorage Alaska and we were ten stories above the street? 

Neither of us uttered any words.  I believe this was the Shekhinah in action.  

A sense of security filled the room in those moments.  

It was not an “ungodly” hour – it was our hour to find verify belief.  

Can the Shekhinah be experienced not within a communal experience?  

May Shekhinah intervene at other times? 

I burrowed down through exactly fifty years of time passing and  discovered another example. 

The Shekhinah was revealed in one split second as I was uninjured in a potentially horrific accident. 

The eight bicyclists who were struck and killed in New York City reminded me of the force of vehicles encountering bikes.  The terrorist was in court for sentencing recently.

We watched in Manhattan on Halloween, and cancelled trick or treating with our granddaughter – this had been her birthday. We hid the news from her and her younger brother – deciding to simply enjoy cake together.  

Had divine Shekhinah intervened, ever present, as a force pushing me away from certain injury and death?

Hearing Brandon Tsay recount his memory of an encounter with an armed gunman – had he felt the same push? 

I wish we’d gather all the “Go Brandon” shirts – whatever hideous message is conveyed in its reach – and add “TSAY” – on the bottom of the shirt. 


Ival Stratford Kovner, MS, MFA

Group consciousness may be felt

Encountered one by one

Within expressive, knowing eyes

Words shift, now we are nonverbal 

A rare otherness sensed

Name such moments,  Shekhinah ?

Consider Women Explore gatherings

Recall a memorable sensation

A clear communal experience

A shared communal wave

Dare to call this presence

The Shekhinah? 

How may words in each Focus

Convey a muted, transcended

Experience encased in memory.

Once I stood wrapped up in my tallit 

Chanting the tropes of antiquity

Shekhinah summoned in such actions.

Can we find the same presence

Locked within a couple’s eyes

As an earthquake rocked earth

One long moment they glance eternity

Husband, wife sharing mutual gaze,   

Securely safe,  wrapped in Shekhinah.

We know other scriptures describe

Miraculous visions of burning

Tongues descending down,

Upon disciples conveying knowledge

As eyes gaze in unison upward

Holy Ghost, Spirit, Shekhinah?

Evening mists descended a decade

Ago, December fourteenth, reporters

Whispered behind nearby sound trucks,   

A gurgling brook beneath foot bridge

Echoed loss here in Sandy Hook, 

Witnessing this palpable wail, Shekhinah.   

Small stuffed animals stood guard

As sentinels for the souls of children  

Echoes of communal loss, disbelief 

Hovered within darkness of night 

Damp night air hung thick with sorrow, 

Shrouded, Shekhinah wept.

Naming the mysterious warrants

Set limits, since sages caution

Study not mystery until decades

Of life pass, then bear witness

Search and recognize the mystery

Is this presence, Shekhinah?

Half century earlier in Central Square

A fast moving car careened towards

Me, straddling a half crossed street

On my bike. A miraculous nudge felt,   

I fell distant, avoiding being crushed 

Beneath the mangled bike, Shekhinah?

Can instant transcendence be noted 

As Brandon Tsay saw his last moments

On earth, then he sensed a tug and

Enabled, he tackled the gunman

Had Shekhinah intervened?


Let me share far more eloquent words written by

Rabbi Jill Hammer


The feminine image in Kabbalah

where Jewish mystics explored and extolled 

Feminine Aspects of the Divine:

Stepping through moments of creation

Shekhinah deepens her relationship  earth.

Spiraling through time, born within earth

She encounters change with each of us

We are shown the work of return

Repairing the world, through our actions.

Shekhinah also shelters within

Sacred places on the earth

Find protection within her wings.

Birthing the light, she kindles 

The fires of faith in the Divine

Offers strength in mortals.

She is the constancy of seasons 

And the world combined

She teaches her creatures not to fear

And shows them paths to move

Forward as she attends each moment

As laughter emerges in harmony. a

Suffering is given redemption

Powerless are freed from resignation.

Belief is instilled that all deserve a place.

The timeless is connected with world of time

Eternal,  sacred conversation endless.

It remains the lasting covenant.

She descends the mountain as a bride

Frailty and tragedy within her partner

For her spouse is the world, yet still

She shines in the shadows

And offers blessings for humans’ dark 

And uncertain journey.




"You Can't Have It All" from Bite Every Sorrow by Barbara Ras
Carrots and Other Poems by David Fedo