Tuesday, July 2, 2019

SOLTuesday: Bookcase Finds

            No, this is not about books, although I’ve been doing a lot with my books lately.
            Recently, three shelves collapsed on one of my many bookcases—I’d had books two rows deep, and those shelves just weren’t built for that. I had to cull, and quickly, to get those books off of the floor.
            Having done that job on one bookcase, I thought I’d tackle the others before I was forced to by more collapse. But as I got started, my daughter reminded me that my husband used to stash emergency money, maybe $100, in “a book,” and since Jack’s no longer among the living, I can’t ask him which book it was. So Christie and her husband came over to help, riffling through books on four shelves of the “fiction” bookcase.
            In the process, they found, stuck behind books, a month’s worth of New York Times Book Reviews from 2005—and a brown paper bag. I know exactly what that bag is for.
            Jack used to buy a small container of yogurt at a neighborhood
deli as his movie snack, and often he didn’t get a bag to put it in. So he made a point of saving small paper bags like this one for his movie yogurt. Usually, he put the bags on a top shelf in a kitchen cabinet, but I guess this one never got there. It just ended up in the secret world “behind things,” out of sight, out of mind.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

SOL Tuesday: Bird’s Eye Views of the Grand Canyon

This was the perfect SOL for last Tuesday, when my daughter and I were on a Road Scholar tour of the Grand Canyon. The day started with a flyover of the canyon in a tiny DC6, and proceeded to long walks and a visit to the Geology Museum in Grand Canyon Village, and by the end of the day I was too exhausted to write. So here it is today. Maybe I’ll do another one for today if an opportunity presents.
            Our little plane had maybe 12 people (and there was another plane with the rest of our group) and everyone had a window seat. Here is a shadow of our plane as we took off from Grand Canyon Airport (“since 1927” and they offer helicopter flights as well). 
            But it's taking a really long time to upload the videos to this blog, so I'll just add a couple more amazing, awesome, unbelievable—adjectives just don't do it justice—photos of what we saw. And I can't figure out how to move the photos so they are next to each other, so that's why layout looks so silly. (Any other Blogger users out there who know the trick?)
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Friday, June 7, 2019

52Essays New Wave #7: Ironing

            My aunt gave me this housekeeping tip many years ago: if you don’t have time to iron immediately after doing the laundry, you can wrap up the damp clothes, put them in a plastic bag, and keep in the freezer until you do have time. Of course, she was thinking the next day, perhaps, or by the end of the week. She definitely did not mean months and months and months.
            I hate to iron. When I was a teen, my mother enlisted me to help her with the ironing, which included sheets and pillow cases, and my father’s dress shirts and boxer shorts. Everything was white, boringly white. Boxer shorts had hard-to-figure-out geometry, but at least they were small.
            The dress shirts, on the other hand, were interminable. But I never forgot the approach: first iron the collar, both sides; next, the sleeves, wrists first, then the whole sleeve, both sides; third, the yoke, which you had to fold along the seam line so it would lie flat; lastly, the large right front with buttons, back, left front with buttonholes. Even in the summertime, he wore long-sleeved shirts to work, and it seemed to take forever to iron just one. Even though my mother’s ironing board was adjustable and I could sit, it was so much work. I vowed I would do as little of this chore as possible when I grew up.
            Fortunately, jersey fabrics and polyester in the 1960s and ’70s made this vow easy to keep. When I bought silk blouses, they’d go to the dry cleaners. And when Jack and I married, I made it clear I would never iron his shirts. He didn’t care; he took them to the laundry, and eventually he found a place to work where he could wear T-shirts. (My father didn’t like starch in his shirts, which is why his didn’t go to a laundry.)
            Then my aunt’s tip. By this time I had accumulated a few rayon blouses and washable silk. Ironing sometimes was required. So into the freezer they went, and a few months later, maybe when something was on TV (I was ironing when the U.S. invaded Iraq), out would coming the adjustable ironing board and iron.
            But some time ago, I washed a summer dress I had made and a blouse I bought in Montreal in 1985, packed them into the freezer, and there they stayed. For years. It’s possible they’ve been there for 10 years.
            Today, I’m packing for a trip and needed to touch up a shirt I want to wear. Why not iron those clothes in the freezer? That turned out to be harder than I thought.
            The blouse seemed frozen solid. It took at least half an hour to thaw, with the iron, and unroll it, bit by bit. The fabric doesn’t seem to have been damaged, even when I had to pull it apart—I wonder if there is liquid built into the rayon cloth.
            I should have taken a photo of it all rolled up, but you can see (1) part of it partially undone, (2) ice crystals; and (3) ironed product. I do love this shirt. Why did I leave it in the cold for so long?


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

SOLTuesday: Widows Galore

            Widows’ Words: Women Write on the Experience of Grief, the First Year, the Long Haul, and Everything in Between, an anthology from Rutgers University Press (which I have a piece in) had its pub date last Friday. On the weekend, the editor, Nan Bauer-Maglin, gathered together more than half of us for a book party.
            We were in the lovely Upper West Side apartment of another contributor, and most of us were meeting for the first time. In one case, five women had collaborated, sharing their experiences in writing with each other, while one who was a writer brought their experiences together—yet none of them had met face-to-face until last weekend. One woman had come from Michigan, another from Virginia, another from the U.K. Some brought new partners or husbands, others (like me) brought a friend—and in true small world fashion, my friend found
work colleagues there who were related to the contributor from the U.K.
            I knew the anthologist and one other contributor, and had met yet another contributor at another book party the day before, so reading their essays filled in details about them some of which I knew already, others I was learning for the first time. But it was helpful to see the faces of those whose contributions I was just reading; they can stick in my memory much better now that I can see the face of the writer.
            We will see more of each other as we hold more book events—one contributor is also an artist, and at the gallery where her paintings are now on exhibit, there will be a book reading in on Thursday, May 9. I’m not reading at this one, but probably will at a bookstore event in the fall.
            It was, as many experiences widows share, fun and bittersweet.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

SOL Tuesday: A Jolly Memorial

Memorials are generally somber affairs, especially when the “departed” are close family or friends. But the one I went to yesterday was almost a party.
            It helped that I did not know Jennifer, the young (48 years old) woman who had died. I was there with my cousin, who had driven up from Virginia, and she was a close friend of the woman’s mother, having met the daughter only once. But I know from my experience that it feels good to have a lot of people around as you commemorate or celebrate a life.
            The memorial took place in the Palm House at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, a light-filled space that felt very appropriate for the woman I heard described by her wife, sisters, college friends, and more recent friends. Under each of our chairs was a piece of colored paper and a Sharpie. At one point people were asked to write the word or phrase that best described their memory of Jennifer—and then to crumple up the paper and toss it to the person who was at the microphone, who then read each one. Not what you expect to do at a memorial.
            When the reminiscences were over, we had delicious catered food—Mexican at one stand, Moroccan at the other—outside, serenaded by a small band. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating well; it was chilly, and while some people sat at the outdoor tables, others retreated back to the Palm House.
           Later, children brought out boxes of party hats and glasses, like this pink one. And everything ended with the band leading a parade around the lotus ponds in front of the Palm House, and playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
            A friend of mine who died a few years ago from kidney cancer had a party while she was still able to appreciate it and so she could be present when her friends celebrated her. Jennifer, who apparently loved parties, turned down that suggestion. But she wanted her family and friends to have that party, even if she wasn’t there. And it felt good to continue life for the rest of us.
            And just to illustrate life and death going on all around us all the time, as my cousin and I were leaving the botanical garden, a heron swooped in, grabbed a goldfish from the lotus pond, and flew off with its dinner. 
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

SOLTuesday: Notre Dame

            I’ve been to Paris only twice and never went inside Notre Dame. My last trip, in September 2016, I went to the Ile de France and to another church there, St. Chappelle, which is beautiful. But when I got to Notre Dame, there were long lines, and I can’t stand for long without sciatica pain. So I’ve missed all that was burned inside. 
           I did, however, get this photo of the “zero point” from which all distances from Paris are measured. It’s embedded in the flagstones in the large place in front of Notre Dame. Later that day I crossed one of the bridges from the ile to the mainland and saw hundreds of padlocks attached to the railing. “Locking our love” I was told they symbolized. Jack was the true romantic in our relationship, so in honor of him, I bought a padlock and attached it.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

52Essays New Wave #6: Braised Cabbage, Jewish and Italian

            About 25 years ago I was in Budapest for a conference. One night I ate at Kispipa, a restaurant the was supposed to be Jewish haute cuisine. (This looks like a common restaurant name, with several still in Budapest, but I can’t tell whether any of them is the one I ate at.) I ordered roast goose, which came with deliciously “steamed cabbage” and something called “onion potatoes” (according to the menu). The goose, the first time I’d ever eaten it, had “the texture of juicy but very well done pot roast,” I wrote in my journal. The cabbage was less steamed, more braised for a very long time, possibly in some stock. I wrote then, “It still had an astringent bit, but it was mellow, not sharp like sauerkraut,” and it was perfect with the rich goose. The potatoes were roughly mashed, just as I make them at home, with tiny bits of onion. The whole meal was delicious.
            Some months later, back home, I was looking through Marcella Hazan’s “More Classic Italian Cooking,” and saw a recipe for Smothered Green Cabbage, Venetian Style. It was fall, and I wanted some cabbage. It called for very thinly sliced cabbage sauteed with some chopped onion and garlic in a quantity of oil and a dash of wine vinegar, and then cooked very slowly for a long time, an hour to an hour and a half, stirring every 10-15 minutes to mix in the caramelized bits. When I ate it, it brought back the taste of the “steamed cabbage” at Kispipa. I’m thinking the only difference might have been the fat, goose or chicken fat in the Hungarian restaurant, olive oil in the Italian dish. I’ve made this cabbage many times since, and I always slice by hand, since I find that meditative.
            And a few more notes about that Hungarian dinner. It started with sour cherry soup, covered with dollops of whipped cream. And for my coffee, I asked for cream, which puzzled the waiter until he brought me—a bowl of whipped cream. 

It’s another year for the essay a week challenge, 52EssaysNextWave. If you’d like to try it, go on over to the Facebook page for 52EssaysNextWave and sign up. Or just read some of the essays that will be linked to there. I'm way behind this year (it's clearly no longer the sixth week of 2019), but going to try to catch up.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

52Essays Next Wave #5: Family History

The other day I went to a genealogy workshop at the Municipal Archives, where I learned what birth, death, and marriage information is available for New York City. I had the marriage certificate for one set of grandparents, but I was also able to find the marriage license, which included information about names and birthplaces of my grandparents' parents. My grandfather's parents were both born in the same city he was born, Vitebsk, in what's now Belarus. My grandmother's mother, however, was born in Vilno aka Vilnius, in what was Russia then and now is Lithuania. Since my grandmother and her father were both born in Lodz, then Russia, now Poland, I wish there were some way of finding out how my great-grandmother got from Vilno to Lodz—did her family move from Vilno to Lodz? or did my great-grandfather travel to Vilno and meet her there? I have no idea what he did for a living, but I know he died before my grandmother and her mother came to the United States.
            Also of interest is that a city alderman (the equivalent of a city councilman today) was the person who married them. Does this indicate a certain kind of status for my grandfather or grandmother? Or had they done some sort of service that generated a certain amount of goodwill on the part of the alderman, Herman Bauler? Was he from their part of the world?
            When I looked up my other grandparents’ marriage certificate and license, I found more baffling information. There were actually two sets of licenses and certificates. On March 28, 1917, my grandparents were married at City Hall by a city clerk, with a witness whose name, Thomas Douglas, makes me think he was someone at City Hall, not someone my grandparents knew. But then, on May 25, 1917, there’s another license and certificate stating that Joseph S. Somerstein, a “reverend” (not a rabbi), married my grandparents at 611 East 6th Street, with two witnesses, Abraham Blaustein and Abraham Sternthal, whose names suggest they were friends of either grandfather or grandmother.
            Why two weddings? One of the women working at the archives had this thought: one set of parents didn’t think a marriage at City Hall was a real marriage and they needed to be married in a religious ceremony. But why a “reverend”? Was Somerstein really a Christian minister or did the clerk filling out the certificate not want to write “rabbi”? Or was this a little dig by my grandfather, who I’m pretty sure by this time had become an atheist, so it didn’t matter to him what religion he was married in? (As a union organizer, he once told me, he would sit outside of workplaces and eat a ham sandwich; since God didn’t strike him dead for eating traif, this was supposed to show that the union wasn’t against God.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

SOLTuesday: Like vs. Such As

            I’ve been a copy editor most of my working life, at book publishers, the Village Voice, and Publishers Weekly, and for many years teaching copy editing at NYU’s journalism program. When I first started teaching I had come across an editorial in the New York Times on the topic of “like” vs. “such as.”
            Older readers may remember a TV ad for Winston cigarettes featuring the line, “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.” This is generally considered ungrammatical (“like” should be “as” in this case), and the ad was widely ridiculed at the time. But a side effect was to make some writers leery of using “like” in any comparative form at all. And some grammarians encouraged them in their fear. The result was the proliferation of “such as” in such sentences as “The reading list for Freshman English included classics such as Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and The Red Badge of Courage.”
            Maybe this reads okay to you, but that “such as” is clunky to me. It could be split: “...such classics as...” Or it could be replaced by one word, “like.”
            Where I am free-lance copy editing now, there is a proliferation of “such as.” It’s as though all the editors at this magazine were taught by English teachers who’d been spooked. So today, I went to the basement, where I have all my teaching files, and found the clipping of the 1985 New York Times editorial on the subject. I e-mailed the top editors at the magazine I free-lance for and made my pitch to change some of those “such as”s to “like.” I await their verdict.

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

SOLTuesday: Reminiscence

            Yesterday I needed a book for my book group, and it was available at a bookstore on
Columbus Avenue. I had a podiatrist appointment about a mile away, so I decided to walk. After I got my book, I walked around the corner to 82nd Street, where Jack and I lived our first three years in New York. Our second apartment was at 134 West 82nd, a (very cheaply) renovated building—there were large gaps between the baseboards and the floor in places. We had mice. I got a cat from a “cat lady” (she had many in an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen), who turned out to be sick and we returned him. (Our cat-loving friends now would probably berate us for not taking him to the vet to cure him, but we were both working, and young, and careless.) An apartment in this building recently sold for three-quarters of a million dollars.
            The bookstore is in a building, the Endicott, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endicott_Hotelthat has now returned to its original status, then at the turn of the 20th century a luxury “hotel,” now a luxury co-op, but when we lived at 134, it was an SRO (single room occupancy), aka
welfare hotel. At night we sometimes heard screaming. The original Endicott had a glass-roofed Palm Court, and in that same space a series of restaurants in modern times; when we lived there, the space often held local CORE meetings. In photo to the right, the gray building in the background is now a police precinct, but when we lived there, it was a city-owned vacant lot; when it snowed, the city never cleared the sidewalk, and after several months of snow and melting snow, the pavement was broken in many places.

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

SOL31: Sleep Monitors

            The Fitbit I bought a couple of years ago is supposed to keep track of my sleep, as well as my steps. However, it has never worked properly. And it’s not just this one Fitbit. The first one I had was lost, and the second and third ones just stopped worked after several months. Not one of them has recorded the sleep that I know I’ve had or haven’t had. In other words, when I have actually been awake for an hour or more in the middle of the night, Fitbit thinks I was asleep, while it often shows gaps of one or two or more hours when I am pretty sure I was asleep.
            Here’s how off it can be. Last night I got into bed around 11:40, read for a while, and turned off the light just after midnight. Woke briefly just before 1 a.m., again at 3 a.m., and woke up for good at 8:45. Fitbit thinks I lay down at 11:24 p.m., shows a period of wakefulness for a while, then thinks I was up and about between 1:10 and 3:09 a.m. I feel like the device is gaslighting me.
            My doctor last week recommended another app, for my phone, called Sleep Cycle, and it looks much more accurate, showing me asleep between 1 and 3 a.m., including at least one period of deep sleep just before waking at 3, and then going back to sleep.
            Do you use any of these apps for monitoring steps and/or sleep? What’s your experience with them?
I’m participating in the 12th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 1 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

SOL30: Life Begins on Opening Day...

            ...which was last Thursday this year, or was it a week ago Wednesday, when Seattle beat Oakland in two official games—in Japan.
            The baseball season used to start on Monday, the first day of the week. Then ESPN came along, with its Sunday Night Baseball, and two teams would start their season the night before traditional Opening Day. And this day would be in April, unless it was in late March, when it was more likely to snow.
            (Doing a bit of Google research, I learn that Opening Day was in Japan, on a Wednesday, seven years ago. In 2014 Opening Day was in Australia, but I don’t think we were paying too much attention that day as Jack was still in rehab at the nursing home. And in 1968, Opening Day was on a Wednesday because Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated the week before, and all sporting events were, along with others, postponed until after the funeral, on April 9. In fact, April 10 was the first time all Major League Teams started their season on the same day.)
            I like to score games when I watch, but I couldn’t watch the Mets’ Opening Day on Thursday because I had work to do. Today, however, I sat in front of the TV for the whole game, keeping score by a system devised by Bill James that is too complicated to describe here, but allows for keeping track of balls and strikes and makes it much easier to see who gets the RBIs. Here’s what it looks like. And hurrah, the Mets won, although they made it look harder than it should have. 
I’m participating in the 12th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 1 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Friday, March 29, 2019

SOL29: Polenta Problems

            I love corn on the cob. I love cornbread. And I like polenta when I eat it in restaurants. However, my attempts to make it at home have been been very successful.
        First, there’s that stirring, stirring, stirring, as the cornmeal thickens in broth, much like risotto. So when I saw a recipe that said that long stirring process could be skipped, I thought it was time to try again.
            The idea was to bring broth to a boil, add the cornmeal slowly, and stir until it begins to thicken. Then pour into a greased baking pan, cover with foil, and bake for 40 minutes.
            I wasn’t sure I’d gotten all the lumps out in the stirring process, but popped the pan into the oven. Forty minutes later, when I removed the pan, it had sort of separated, with a thicker layer on the bottom, but a still liquid layer on top. Clearly, this wasn’t working out as expected. At least I need a better method for adding the cornmeal to the liquid.
            Fortunately, I had some leftover rice that I could use as a base for the vegetable topping I’d made (leek, onion, asparagus). About half an hour after eating, I saw that the polenta had solidified somewhat, but didn’t have much flavor. Alas, I sent it into the trash.
            Have you made polenta? Do you have any tricks?  
I’m participating in the 12th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 1 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

SOL27: Postcards to the Government

            After Trump was elected, postcard parties were held around the country for people to send postcards either to the president or members of his Cabinet expressing their opinions about various actions or inactions being taken. I kept this up for the rest of 2017 and into 2018, but had slacked off a bit. But seeing the news today that Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Budget and Management and acting chief of staff, is the force behind the administration’s move to ask the courts to declare the whole Affordable Care Act unconstitutional galvanized me. Here’s my postcard to him today:

Dear Mr. Mulvaney,
What exactly do you have against people with pre-existing conditions getting health insurance? Why are you so eager to take away health insurance from people who’ve gotten it through Obamacare, when they could not afford it before? Do you seriously think that suddenly insurance companies will stop denying insurance to people who have had cancer in the past, or some other disease the company doesn’t want to cover? You are heartless.

      No doubt he’ll never see this message, but underlings in the mailroom will, and possibly it will get to someone in Mulvaney’s office. It might make a few people stop and think about what is going on.
I’m participating in the 12th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 1 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

SOL26: No More Cash?

            As my cold lingers on, I feel less energy to cook my own food. Tonight I went out to a Dig Inn, a Northeast healthy chain of “fast food” restaurants whose food is supposed to come from local farms. There’s a cafeteria-style setup, where you choose a grain (brown rice or farro), two vegetable sides (hot or cold, including cauliflower, sweet potatoes, kale, mac ’n’ cheese), and a protein (grilled salmon or tofu, roast chicken, meatballs).
            After I got my bowl of farro, salmon, beets, and slivered collards with quinoa, dried cranberries, and slightly spicy dressing, my next stop was the cashier, who said I owed $14.11. I got out my wallet and wondered if I had enough change for the 11 cents, when the cashier said, “We don’t take cash.”
            Oh, this is one of the new businesses that is giving up on cash? Okay, I got out my credit card and handed it over. But I also wanted to know, “Why?”
            The cashier seemed to not understand my question, because she just repeated, “We don’t take cash.”
            “Why not?” I asked again. Maybe she couldn’t hear me because my voice is getting a bit hoarse.
            There was a pause as she swept my card through the card reader. Then she said, “We were getting too many counterfeit bills.”
            Did she make that up? Is that what her training told her to say if anyone was gauche enough to ask? I have not heard about any rash of counterfeit bills being passed in local restaurants. I’d have believed her if she’d said it was a security measure, to avoid robberies.
            What do you think about this turn to cashless business?
I’m participating in the 12th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 1 of the 31-day challenge.  It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about.  Join in!