Latest Articles, Columns, Short Stories

-Doris Duke Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Americans like to say that behind every great fortune is a
great crime. But that is hard for me to imagine as I walk
through the bucolic Duke Farms on this sunny autumn day.
My guide is my gardener, William. He grew up near this
2,000-acre estate in Somerset County and became fascinated
by its bountiful trees and plantings. And he was equally
fascinated by Doris Duke, the remarkable, star-crossed
woman who inherited this extraordinary place. She led a life
filled with money and all the misfortunes it can bring.
Doris was the only child of the exorbitantly wealthy tobacco
manufacturer James Buchanan Duke, the philanthropic
maker of Lucky Strikes and Camel for whom Duke University
is named. When he died in 1925, the bulk of his estate went to
the 12-year-old Doris, whom everyone then named “the
richest girl in the world.”

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Pia de Jong: Teaching Math in America

US 1 Newspaper

-Math In America Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Is there anything more di0cult than being a public school teacher
in America? Yes, being a math or science teacher in New York
City. If you are teaching in New York, you start with the problems
that all teachers struggle with: students with behavior problems,
demanding parents, apathetic parents, administrative burdens,
paltry resources, long hours, and skimpy wages. Many teachers
take two jobs just to get by. Then in New York, you can throw into
this combustible stew the social issues around inequality,
violence, and racism. Add to that the particular obstacles math
and science pose for many students.
There are nearly two thousand public schools in NYC with more
than a million children. Many teachers have so little money for
their supplies that they dig into their own pockets to buy pencils
and paper for their pupils. Little wonder that some give up and
are lured to Wall Street, where the salaries are many times higher.
What’s the solution? Begin by throwing a party.

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-Microaggressions Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

There is a fast-growing inequality in American life — in political correctness and its consequences. You can see the fault lines most clearly between generations. The baby boomers and older people are acting and talking the free-wheeling, damn- the-torpedoes way they always did. Politicians routinely resort to offensive language, the president ridicules the appearance of women, and the government itself tries to reverse LGBT emancipation. Younger people like millennials, on the other hand, are becoming more and more Dnely sensitive to offensive statements, and never mind how small or unintended. This subject is central to the curriculum taught to students on every high school and college campus.

Last week I greeted one of my daughter’s Latina friends from across the street. “Hi, Louisa,” I called. My daughter turned to me in shock. It was not Louisa, but Mariana, another Latina girl. “Mom,” she protested. “That is one of your typical micro- aggressions. You give the impression that you think all Latinas are the same.”

I did not deliberately intend to insult the girlfriend by confusing her with someone else of the same ethnicity, but of course it was too late. I did not get away with saying that their hairstyles were very similar. No, I was unintentionally a racist.

It was time for my daughter to give me a crash course from her school curriculum about “micro-aggressions.”

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The Weather Girl

The Princeton Echo, Noeember 2018

-Hurricane Florence Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

I used to have a little weather house that looked like an Alpine chalet. When the sun shined, the cheerful girl in a dress came out her door. But when rain was forecast, she vanished indoors and the little man appeared with his umbrella. That meant closing our windows and getting out our rain ponchos.

The modern weather house is the television. When bad weather is ahead, such as recently with Hurricanes Florence and Michael, the meteorologists appear on the screen, decked out in rain suits, waders, sou’westers, and of course gripping a huge microphone while they shout into the teeth of the wind.

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-Golden Apples Of The Sun Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Summer can be like the guest at your party who was welcome when he arrived but does not take your hint about when to leave. Even as the days grow shorter and my shadow falls longer on the garden path, the heat of August lingers well beyond its welcome.

Until one recent morning when for the first time I noticed a diaphanous mist hanging over the grass. It was a gauzy curtain that turned my favorite trees into insubstantial shadows. The gate to the garden seemed to float mysteriously in the air. When the fog cleared later that morning, I saw what I had not noticed until now. The leaves were proudly glowing with autumn colors. Deep red, ocher yellow, burnt purple. A loamy aroma rose from the earth. Some trees were already bare ruined choirs, their branches grasping the sky.

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-Hollow Tree Library Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Marquand Park is a beautiful 19th-century jewel that’s around the corner from me. When I walk into the park with my dog, I am always greeted by a cheerful buzz of activity. Small children bake pies in the sandbox, bigger kids twirl in feverish circles on their tricycles. When it starts to drizzle, everyone quickly gathers their things and vanishes. As the park falls empty and silent, I tug up the collar of my raincoat and walk my dog through the greensward on Magnolia Hill.

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Raising a Foodie

US 1 Newspaper, August 8, 2018

-Foodies Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

The first time our elder son seemed to understand food was at a McDonald’s. During a vacation, we had picked up a hamburger for him. He approached it with caution. First, he began to carefully dismantle it. He removed the pieces of onion, the ketchup, and the slice of pickle, then the wilted lettuce and the meat. The result was a soggy piece of bread with a slice of tomato that must have turned red from embarrassment. Thus was born the delicious “tomato sandwich,” still a fixture on our family menus.

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-Third Semester Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

In American colleges, the academic year has a secret third half. You know about the first two — the fall semester, then the spring semester, both crowded with books and lectures. But then, here comes a surprise: the third half of the school year, the one that arrives on tip-toe in early May and for the next four months suddenly leaves students as abandoned as if on a darkling plain.

The reason is that colleges want to use dorm rooms for their summer programs. So undergraduates are expelled from campus and become academic refugees. They gather everything they can carry and fly all over the world to their original breeding grounds, where they will wait like migratory birds to fly back to their college rooms in September.

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-Rfk Train Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

Fifty years ago, Rich Rein, a tall, slender man who is now 71, was the editor of the Daily Princetonian student newspaper. On June 6, 1968, the day after the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, he received a call from the Kennedy campaign office. Would he like to attend the funeral and ride on the train that would carry Bobby’s body from New York to Washington for burial? The newly widowed Ethel Kennedy had thought that college students should be among the journalists to report on the event. And so Rein ended up on one of the most extraordinary train journeys in history.

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-Fireflies Eliane
Illustration by Eliane Gerrits

It’s finally summer in Princeton. We had to wait until late spring to get warm, but now the roses are blooming and the air is dripping with fragrant honeysuckle. The town is slowly settling into the lazy hazy days of summer. My daughter prepares to say goodbye to her classmates who will be traveling all over the world. She already misses her brothers, who flew the coop last year. “I thought that we would always be together as a family,” she says, sitting by herself at the kitchen table. Now she has to make do with us, her parents, who give her just a bit too much attention.

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Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition
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