Monthly Archives: March 2018

Tales from the Matzo Meal

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Many years ago, well after Moses began his journey with his backpack full of matzo, was my childhood, full of Passover nights.  While my grandmother and one of her sisters (that she actually talked to) lived in the Bronx, my father and I would make the pilgrimage there for both nights.

We would leave Jackson Heights, Queens, at about 4 p.m. when sunset was not even close, and drive about ten miles to my Oma’s apartment.  Some years we would pick up my uncle and cousin and we would all sit in traffic for several hours. I was sure I saw a direct descent of   Moses, and his brother Aaron, driving in a van on the same road.  I also thought I saw a small child in the window mouthing the words “Let my people go” as they would try and get into our lane. It  might have been my imagination as we were trapped on the Major Deegan Highway or Bruckner Expressway.

My sister and mother were exempt from the official dinner because my mother believed that my sister could not sit still during the Seder.  Since my mother and paternal grandmother were not best buddies, this was a very good excuse to not have to endure what seemed  to be an endless night.

My grandmother was an excellent cook with a military method of preparation and precision.  Her matzo balls were all the same size and there was quality and quantity control. She would put them in glass jars and on top of the jars she would indicate how many matzo balls were inside.  She kept a cabinet of jars for the occasion and she was probably one of the first recyclers that I knew.  She also kept wax paper, “silver foil”, string and brown paper because everything had two sides, didn’t it?

The Seder would commence with the traditional washing of the hands and prayers and more prayers, followed by lots of wine and grape juice.  My great-aunt, Selma and her husband, Uncle Moishe, would sing along to every song.  Selma had a soprano-like voice and Moishe didn’t really carry much of a tune.  If there were 20 stanzas, my grandmother would “encourage” her sister, brother-in-law, and my father to not miss a beat or note or passage.  Even as she was preparing the plates for distribution, she had a keen ear and if there was a passage missed, she would step outside the kitchen and remind my father to go back and try again.  I was often recruited to carry plates of steaming soup and sometimes the roasted chicken or brisket.  I was happy to help if it meant getting up from the table to stretch my legs and arms.  Sitting for hours was a challenge.  My role, besides waitress, was to say the Four Questions, as I was always the youngest at the table until seders were held at our house years later.  My hebrew school skills (or lack thereof) came into play as I recited the questions both in English and in Hebrew.  Once the meal was served, and clean up was done, we would go back to the table and finish the seder,every word.  The next night we did it again.  It was like the movie Groundhog Day, but far more boring.  My grandmother had a laser like glance when I was moving in my seat.  The sun had long set and night had fallen.  The sounds of the traffic in the Bronx, often competed with  the chanting of Deyanu which had excessive stanzas as far as I was concerned.  The evening passed into the morning as my father led me to the car for the ride home.  I would lean against the cool glass window and fall asleep. The roads were quiet at midnight and we would get home and park the car.  My father would smile at me as we took the elevator up to the fifth floor.  He would say he was glad I had been with him and looked forward to the second night.

I didn’t really enjoy it or understand the purpose of ritual when I was a child.  It seemed like a long night with the retelling of the same story, year after year.  Now I understand it and enjoy it. I recognize that  it was more than the story of the Exodus, but was the opportunity to sit with family and re-tell  history through songs and symbolism.  I raise a glass of grape juice to my father and my Oma who brought me out of the land of childhood into the history of our family.

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Marriage Word Salad

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So, yesterday I was puckering up for what I thought was going to be a chaste kiss between my FHB and me, while I was doing some paperwork at the dining room table.  I lifted my chin up so he would not have to reach down too far and the words out of his mouth somewhat killed that moment.  If I remember them correctly, or in paraphrase perhaps, he said “When you put your neck up like that you look just like  a whale who has a neck full of krill”.  My retort “…so you are calling me a whale?” and there went the romance, out to sea like Ahab looking for the Great White One, elusive and ridiculous. He walked away, muttering.  Maybe he was saying something meaningful but I am pretty sure that it was closer to a mumble than a romantic comeback.  Ain’t love grand.

Actually, love is pretty great 99.99999 percent of the time.  The other .00001 percent is just annoying.  I actual revel in the bantering since later that day, I looked at myself with my neck stretched up and made a funny face in the mirror, while we stood side by side at our respective sinks.  I commented, innocently of course that “I look more like a lizard, right?”.  My FHB, ever the non comeback kid stated, for the record, ” I have long since given up responding to your comments”.  He told me that I didn’t look like a whale, just the lines on my neck.  I turned to him and suggested he was merely changing feet in his mouth and left it at that.  And so it goes.

It’s difficult to measure the timeline when we went from loving romantic comments to non-filtered observations.  It seemed like the wind shifted and here we were or are, comfortable in the knowledge that we love one another but words sometimes just get in the way.  The nuances of language paired with the honesty of the passage of time in a relationship sometimes is fraught with sharp edges.  Perhaps couples should have stop, slow down and yield signs to put up when the terrain is getting dangerous.

In the morning I have a routine, much like other folks and I go through the preparation of breakfast and lunch for us both since I leave about an hour before my FHB does.  I wake, put the cat bowls in the sink to soak, rinse and refill while the cat gives me the stink eye as she is clearly hungry.  I start the water for coffee to go(for me) and perhaps oatmeal for us both or something pretty portable to bring to work.  While this is happening, my FHB fills our big water bottles with ice and water to have for our day.  He also is in charge of getting our vitamins, supplements and assorted meds together, mine to go and his to take.  Somehow, in the space that we share in the loft, he is always in my way.  I am never in his way, believe me.  It reminds me of raising children and having a hungry dog underfoot.  No matter where I am, they are, slowing down the process.  I am relatively silent in the morning.  However, when there is an invasion of my personal prep space, I kind of growl.  It is one of those moments when I could say “excuse me” but I choose to mutter to myself about the lack of space for two of us to coexist.  I am not so delightful, I guess. I am grateful for the pill sorting and the water filling.  He is conscientious and precise.  I am moving like a short order cook with a diner full of boy scouts back from a hike.  I then decide to shower, and hope  that afterwards,  that the coast is clear to finish my tasks, gather my stuff and leave the loft to start the day.  Now dressed, made up and refreshed, I  re-enter the kitchen area, take a step back and look at the man.  He is usually sitting on the couch, watching the news.  I can’t help but smile.  The mornings would be nothing without him and neither would I.  I always call out I love you” , and he doesn’t miss a beat and says he loves me too.  Day by day….

 

Say Sorry…

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Today I took a step back to a time when I was in junior high school.  I was about eleven or twelve years old.  Those were pretty difficult years for me filled with awkward moments and memories which I have tried to move past.  People were not very kind to me and I was the target of some girls who bullied me.  There was name calling, and prank phone calls, and cars that drove by the apartment building with kids that screamed out my name for all to hear.  I was shy and tried not to draw attention to myself and yet somehow my demeanor must have provoked others to pick on me.  Fast forward fifty plus years and today someone did something that hurt my feelings.

I was at the high school today,  and the crux of the moment was that someone asked me a question, which I answered, and apparently she didn’t like or approve of my answer and as I turned away I saw her, out of the corner of my eye,  make  “a mean face” at me. I was a bit surprised but when I turned toward the person on the other side of me, she as the “tattler” mouthed the words “she made a face at you!”.  Like a time traveller, I was transported back and the sickening feeling that I experienced then, I felt now.  My face felt hot and I walked away, just like I did so many times so long ago.

Several times this week, the theme of conversations that I had with students centered around the art of the apology.  These are constant discussions we have, to bring to light what it is like to hurt someone with words, and to try and rectify the situation.  Many students easily acknowledge that they never say they are sorry and that in their families apologies never happen.  Neither parents, nor children feel the need to take responsibility for hurtful words and try and repair and move on.  For some they report it is a matter of pride. For others, it is a matter of power and control.  It is difficult to convince them that saying “I’m sorry” can be a big step toward empathy, compassion and kindness.  They do report that they have felt hurt on many occasions but they would rather be on the offense than the defense.  They don’t want to give someone the satisfaction of allowing them to know they are vulnerable.  Instead they get nasty and aggressive.  Kindness goes out the window.  It becomes more and more difficult to impart  on these children that as they deserve apologies when they have been hurt, that they need to know how to take the step and offer an apology to someone else.  Today’s eye opening moment for me made me recognize that they kids witness this behavior not just in their peers but in the adults around them.  It makes it harder to convince them to do the right thing.

The “tattler” told me that we need to all be armadillos and have tough skins.  I imagine that she might have seen the sadness in my face.  I wondered why she didn’t offer comfort and wondered if she had also been the target of the other person’s bad behavior at one time or another.

Having been on the receiving end of bullies so long ago has not made me a bully.  I am not one to fight fire with fire.  Instead I tend to emphasize kindness and I offer apologies readily, if I know that I don’t always say the right thing when I feel angry or discounted.  I try to not say something hurtful, but I can have a temper which then is filled with feelings of regret.  The person who made the “mean face” is someone who is over twenty years my junior.  I know that she has sharp edges, but not all the time.  I don’t know why she felt the need to do what she did when she did it. I won’t ever know.  By tomorrow I will move this moment out of my heart and release it.  There is truth behind the saying that suggests we don’t know what someone is dealing with, so being kind is the way to go.  She took the low road and I’ll take the high road.  It’s all I’ve got at the moment.

 

Becoming Them

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At a certain point you come to the realization that your behaviors and traits are creepily familiar and then you realize….cue the organ music…you have become THEM!  Yes, we are, at times, much like our parents.  The genetic matter is usual obvious in our appearance.  I was mostly told that I resembled the paternal side of his maternal side of my father’s side of the family.  Of course, my mother remarked that I was very much like her mother and had similar behaviors.  To me it was a crap shoot.  I decided long ago that I didn’t want to be like anyone else. I wanted to be myself, my own person.  There were things my mother would do that my sister and I found completely annoying.  We would remark to one another “there she goes again” and silently promise one another that if we ever behaved like that, the other one would have to kill us.

For several years my sister took pleasure in finding birthday cards that essentially said  “Happy Birthday.  Another year closer to looking like mom!”.   We would laugh out loud but silently I knew that although I didn’t look like her, I was beginning to act like her and him.  I started with my father’s puns.  They were awful.  Mine are pretty bad.  He would laugh at his own clever jokes and puns.  Whereas he got the gold, I only achieve the silver…but give me time.  His words would become my words and slowly I would give him the credit, long after he had died and start many stories or sayings by remarking “as my father would often say”.  I will say things like “tomorrow is already today” and comment on the “haves and the have nots”.  My father was an almost PhD in economics and quoted Malthus and his theory of population.  I realize that I listened to his commentary on economics and slowly embedded it into my understanding.

My father found joy in small things like nature and music and perhaps that is part of my inheritance.  My FHB and I took a ride to Cape Cod yesterday because although it was quite cold, it was sunny and bright.  I drove and turned to him and said “I have a million things to do at home and yet this is what I want to do”.  I felt my father looking over my shoulder and telling me not to drive so fast.

My mother has much more insidiously “invaded ”  my days.  She baked for the world.  She showed her caring through cards and brownies.  She remember things that people might have told her once.  She crocheted baby blankets as much for the new babies as for herself.  It made her believe that she would be remembered for a long time.  She never said those words, but it is my thought when I crochet a blanket.  She could be silly and embarrassing.  I am silly and embarrassing.  She liked her alone time. I write at night alone with my thoughts.

They were not perfect but perfect for one another.  My FHB told me shortly after his mother passed away that he made a conscious effort to remember those moments about his mother that were positive.  He knew that she was difficult, but also knew that she cared about him, in her way.  My parents and I did not always agree on how to do things. They had a lot of shoulds and oughts.  I certainly have those threads but try hard to  be aware that in parenting, I need to let things happen organically and allow my children to find their way.  At times, while growing up, I felt that I could not or perhaps would not meet their expectations.  They were stubborn.  I am stubborn.  They are with me every day.  I can’t avoid a memory.  I am their child.

Food for Thought

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Sometimes opportunity presents itself in an unexpected form. You may not recognize it in the moment but when you do, change happens.  A little over a year ago my FHB doing his due diligence as a partner and a man, with little coercion, went to have a prostate exam.  The news came back that the numbers were rising and he was told to have another test in a few months, which brings us to almost a year ago.  The short version is that the numbers again had gone up and some decisions had to be made.  Treatments were explained  and risks were calculated and the long version is that this January the  the forty-four radiation treatments came to an end and the most recent blood work was good news. The PSA level was very low and the doctors said all was well.  There will be a regular visit alternating with the urologist and oncologist and the hope is that the good news stays the good news.  Watching your spouse face cancer and take it on day by day is watching someone you love transform from a gentle pragmatic person to a warrior ready to do battle. You can’t go into battle, although I sat in the cancer center waiting room on as many days as I could, but you can be on the sidelines watching it happen.  You can be the support and be a witness.

So, about nine months ago, our nurse practioner student/son and his  nurse practitioner partner, began talking about what other changes we should consider beyond the traditional radiation, hormone therapy, and other medically supported treatments.  They gave us readings to do, and videos to watch, and a constant barrage of information that in tandem with doctor’s opinions and considerations, were beyond overwhelming.  We listened, and watched and read. My FHB confronted doctors, health insurance companies and a battle plan was put into place.  Almost six months ago we made what is now called  a “lifestyle” change.  We stopped eating meat and shifted how we looked at nutrition, and knew that once we made that step by step move, that we wanted to see some positive results that we  knew to be part of our own plan, not a doctor’s recommendation.

Admittedly we were not sure what this might look like.  We didn’t eat what would be considered an traditionally unhealthy diet.  We rarely ate fast food and always ate lots of vegetables.  I am chronically anemic so that is always a player in my intake of food.  We had to rethink this and make this something for the long haul, like for the rest of our lives.  Food is a big deal in our house. We like to cook and we like to eat.  Last September we chose to stop all red meats, the other white meat, chicken and any other poultry, cold cuts and breakfast meats.  It was like ripping off a bandaid. Quick and then stop and look at what was there before.  It became a challenge but in a good way.  We read recipes and began to explore new horizons and ways of cooking.  We made discoveries that delighted us in that this “vegan/vegetarian” endeavor did not mean what we had previously believed.  Chocolate cake without butter, eggs and milk is outstanding.  We have found our protein in beans and grains and lots and lots of greens, oranges, yellows and other colors.  I bake and cook and I am pretty fussy about things but I have fallen in love with beans, spinach and kale like it was the first time.

We now forage through supermarkets discovering that the world of plant based eating is closer than we knew.  Today we went to a favorite market and found new things to try.  We have found vegetables in every restaurant that are satisfying and delicious.  Our latest find, as of a few weeks ago is a dish called Gigantes Plaki (Greek Baked Giant Beans).  It is something that is soul food of a new order. When you walk into the loft after the beans have cooked for two hours, it is a new Thanksgiving.  Opportunity knocked and we invited it in for dinner, and lunch and breakfast.  And that is a hill of beans.

A Cockeyed Optimist

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When the sky is a bright canary yellow
I forget ev’ry cloud I’ve ever seen,
So they called me a cockeyed optimist
Immature and incurably green.

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we’re done and we might as well be dead,
But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
And I can’t get it into my head.

“South Pacific”

I had a good day today.  I forget that yesterday was not particularly good, I was extremely tired and could’t wait for the day to call it a night.  Today I paid attention more than usual and found that I could listen better, understand more clearly, and actually be more effective in my interactions with everyone.  I stood patiently in front of a somewhat frazzled secretary and took  a picture of the flowers on her desk.  She apologized that they  were wilting. I remarked that they were lovely in their current form enough to make me want to remember them in a picture.  It seemed as though I could only see the sunshine and the good moments.  I also knew it was the end of the work week.

Optimism is not always a popular path.  You would think that it would be, especially when we consider the counterpoint.  I am very excited to change the clocks this weekend.  I will not be up at 2  a.m. to actually go around and change the physical clocks until the morning.  I mentioned my excitement to those around me at work and was met with comments about needing that hour and struggling for the week ahead because they felt shortchanged.  Reminding them that they will absolutely get it back in the fall fell on deaf ears.  It was like being surrounded by existentialists, who are often a rather dreary group.

I’ve taken a new tack with regard to unneccessary apologies.  When someone apologizes sincerely for something that they have no control over or limited control, such as the woman who had 12 items and cut in front of me in the 10 or less line, I let it be. In fact, I find that I am saying things like “If this is the worst thing you have done in a while, I’m going to give you a pass”.  It seems to make them feel so much better, and I feel like Glinda the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz.  We all have days when our makeup looks green and we are pissed because a house fell on our sister and it was someone else’s fault.  Benevolence is good for the soul and can’t hurt.

This by no means suggests that when a right is wronged that I am going to go quietly.  I am going to open up my yapper and yap.  Keeping quiet is painful these days but being prudent with opinions is necessary to make the big moments meaningful.  I was a very quiet and reserved child, teenager and young adult. I am still more of an observer than someone who speaks first.  I make sure that if I do have something to say, that I am willing to say it and be heard.  This evening my FHB  and I listened to a program that highlighted Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who was shot by the Taliban.  She also won the Nobel Prize.   She is as strong a person as I have ever heard.  She has taken her encounter with violence and has become the voice of reason and hope for educating young women.  She is hope and promise.  She is one of my heros and she helps me to be optimistic.  She has known a bad day and has chosen to have good ones.  She is the definition of optimism and she knows forgiveness is in keeping her goal front and center.  We are a lucky species to have her in our world.

 

 

Feel the Earth Move

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Although I don’t know how it works,  I do believe in time travel.  I keep experiencing it.  I can remember a moment in 1971 that keeps repeating itself.  It was a defining experience in my life and probably in the life of my generation.  Carole King brought us with her through her album “Tapestry”.  It is the music that brings us back and forth every moment we hear every song. We sing along. We remember everything about the album…the cover…the playlist…the words. We remember where we were and how we felt.  It became our mantra.

I stood in the audience at the PPAC (Providence Performing Arts Center) after sitting through the show “Beautiful” yesterday afternoon.  The last moments of the performance had the actress who plays Carole King inviting the audience to sing along to “I Feel the Earth Move”.  We were in complete harmony,  in sync, and totally full of the joy of the moment and the memories of our past.  I stood next to my FHB and we sang our hearts out.  We knew all the words, and felt every word, and moved like it was 1971.  We didn’t know one another back then but in our collective minds, I was seventeen and he was twenty-one, and it was now, but it was then.  Eavesdropping on the awakening and the love life of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, as we witnessed the story behind the music, was bittersweet.  We knew how it ended but knew that this was where Tapestry began.

We all have our own stories of becoming our future selves as teenagers into adulthood.  We know the feelings  of love and love lost and unrequited love.  We knew what we wanted in our imagination, might or might not be our path.  My life began and ended and began again at age forty.  I remember listening to Tapestry at certain crossroads in my life and knowing that the songs and words would help me through. If it helped Carole get to where she was going, could I hope that I would also find my way?

There were a lot of tears yesterday as I thought of how I had gotten from then to now.  I don’t know how it happens.  They weren’t necessarily tears of sadness, but more of the recognition of shoulds and oughts. I should have paid more attention and as much as I remember, I imagine there is as much that I don’t or don’t want to.  As I often say, I am unique, but my story really isn’t.  I ought to be grateful, which I am as much as I allow myself to be, both then and mostly now.  Sometimes this aging thing takes my breath away.

We walked in quiet as we left the theater.  We held hands. For this time I have now, I am going to revel in it.

Listen up….