The Clock is Ticking…

H  ow did the holidays get here so fast?

A  few weeks ago we were eating turkey

P  retty soon the stores were filled with Christmas

P  iles of gift catalogs throughout the house

Y  esterday we hung the lights outside

 

H  ow will we ever be ready in time for Christmas?

O  n December 17th we are leaving for Germany

L  ots of things to prepare for our trip

I   f only the next few days would slow down

D  estinations: Berlin, Dresden, Weimar

A  lot of miles to travel to see people we love

Y  es, it’s the trip of a lifetime

S  ee you in 2016!

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Teaching and Terrorism

Emotions and thoughts have been swirling through my mind since I heard about the acts of terrorism in Paris this past weekend. Paris is a city I love dearly, having lived there for over a year in the 70’s in my mid-twenties and returning many times to visit.

I first began reading about the banlieues (outskirts or suburbs) of Paris about a decade ago. This was not the Paris I first experienced. It had become a city of haves and have nots, with the native insiders living within the city and the outsiders/immigrants relegated to substandard lives on the outskirts of the city. These outsiders burned cars and trashed their neighborhoods as a way of expressing their frustration and anger.  Eventually things returned to the status quo and their frustration was forgotten.

This past year the news of the violence that took place at Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper whose cartoons mocked the Muslim extremists, reminded us of that anger. The lives of several French cartoonists and journalists were taken in another outburst of hatred toward French culture. The world responded with sympathy (“I am Charlie Hebdo”) and a renewed vow to celebrate “free speech.”

But this past weekend’s events, in which local terrorists took the lives of over 100 Parisians, remind us again that this hatred is not dead. More extreme and widespread violence has just begun, and we are now wondering what to do next to contain or combat extremists throughout the world.

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This is where teaching comes into the discussion. I am so proud of my profession; moreso than ever. In the United States teachers are the ambassadors of plurality, seeking to find ways to assimilate and educate our newcomers as they arrive at our borders and in our airports.

This is not to say that all teachers welcome undocumented immigrants and their families; prejudice and scorn often rear their heads in faculty lunchrooms. But even those who do not appreciate our tolerance for immigrants understand that our nation was built on their efforts and continues to flourish in many ways because of them. They also understand that building a wall is not the best way to solve the immigrant dilemma.  Supporting the assimilation of immigrant children and their families into our culture is how our nation will continue to sustain its principles of freedom and equality.

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I have often questioned my own beliefs as a teacher of English to immigrant students over the past several decades. But I have always come to the conclusion that becoming more understanding of people from other cultures, while helping their children to become better educated and assimilated, is the only way to continue to build a foundation of trust and strength.

I am particularly proud of my fellow English as a Second Language teachers.  We are often not held in high regard in our own schools or communities because of the controversial work we do, but we are the best advocates in our educational system for making sure that all children have equal access to a good education. Education is terrorism’s worst enemy and the best weapon we have for preserving our values.

Slowing Down the Holidays

This year we are doing something special for the holidays. We’ll be spending much of Christmas week visiting my daughter in law’s parents in Boston. She and my son are expecting their first child in April, so in many ways this is probably the beginning of other changes in our customary life.

With all that in mind, I was really looking forward to cutting back on all the stuff we usually do for the holidays. After preparing for days before Thanksgiving and then getting sick that night, I wanted to take a different approach, preferably one that wouldn’t be so exhausting.

My first plan was to ditch the big Christmas tree and get a very small one just for ourselves. After all we’d be gone most of the week at Christmas. Well, that idea didn’t last long because my son insisted we get a full sized tree. We compromised and got a medium sized one, but somehow that didn’t change at all the preparations for putting up the tree. All the boxes of Christmas paraphernalia still had to brought down from the attic and sorted through. My husband searched an hour for the silver garland we wrap around the tree. He still spent hours putting up the Christmas lights inside and outside.

I still have Christmas cards to send and I am slowly cleaning the house so it’s in good shape before we leave. Why bother? Because it’s no fun to come back to a topsy turvy house when you’ve been on the road for almost a week. And besides, I’m German. I can’t help myself. “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is the mantra I grew up with. Ugh.

There are still Christmas presents to buy. This requires hours of thought and in some cases searching for just the right gift. I spent hours last night on the internet looking for a weekender bag for my daughter in law that she could use for herself, or as a diaper bag if need be. I didn’t want the bag to scream “diaper bag” so I had to find one that would masquerade as one. In the wee hours of the morning I decided on a navy blue and white canvas bag which I had monogrammed in red with her initials. It would look “smart” I conjectured, and serve multiple uses.

However, in the middle of the night I had second thoughts and decided that I would not have the bag monogrammed after all. This would allow her to exchange the bag for something else she might prefer. I woke up early anticipating making the phone call to cancel the monogram. At 9am I called Lands End and…guess what? The bag had already been sent out! “Was it monogrammed” I asked, since the delivery instructions said an extra day or two would be needed for monogramming. “Yes, it was,” the sales person replied. “Oh well,” I replied. Disappointed, I adjusted my thoughts about it all and decided “It is what it is!” (I hate that expression, don’t you?)

The living room now looks like a bomb hit it with all the Christmas decoration boxes strewn everywhere; my curtains which I ironed a few days ago are still draped across the living room sofa; the cards still need to be written and mailed; and I still have a few presents to get. I DO NOT have to prepare for Christmas dinner which is a huge relief, and the house does not have to be whistle clean for guests like it was last year. But my daughter and did spend hours and hours searching for a suitable Airbnb for our family visit in Boston. Oh, and did I mention, my husband and I have been car shopping the past week because one of our PT Cruisers is not reliable to drive anymore.

My stress-free Christmas is turning out to be just another variation on the usual Christmas insanity. Next year there will be a new baby in the mix. Hopefully that will make it all worthwhile. What are you doing to reduce stress for your holidays?

Not Too Old to Learn New Tricks

“Clickbait” is an Internet slang term for online media or news content with sensationalist headlines that are produced by websites for the sole purpose of accumulating page views to generate advertising revenue. It is typically used as a pejorative for viral media and stories that spread through social networking sites despite their perceived lack of depth, quality, authenticity or accuracy.”  https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/clickbait

When I retired from teaching about four years ago I felt pretty confident about my command of a limited repertoire of computer skills. I knew, however, that there was lots more I didn’t know. In retirement I have had a fairly active email life and of necessity I have just begun to be able to text. My son just told me he was proud of how fast I’d learned about emojis and how adept I’d become at using them!

Other than texting, my technical skills really haven’t expanded much. I was able to create my own WordPress blog and have been blogging now for three years, once a week, on a site for teachers. When anything goes wrong with WordPress it causes me enormous frustration and I am miserable for days until I figure out how to fix what went wrong. But I have made a new discovery which I fear will become a dreadful habit; in truth, it already has.

Just before I go to bed, when the household quiets down and I am often the only one still up, I check my email. That was ok until I began clicking on the distracting news and entertainment stories filling up the screen. Now what was a five-minute ritual before bedtime sometimes becomes a 30 to 60 minute side trip through the junk available on the Internet. My daughter caught me doing it one night and said, “Mom, are you responding to click bait?”

In the month or so since I began my click-bait journey  I have learned about so many things I once knew nothing about. For example recently I read a fairly long story about a middle-aged man who has devoted his life to saving lions who can no longer be returned to the wild. I am deathly afraid of large cats, so I was glued to the screen as I saw him lying in their cages with them, stroking their heads and they in return wrapping their shovel-sized paws around his body and licking his face. I know intimate stories about politicians and movie stars who I normally don’t even care about. Do I want to know the source of tension between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle? You bet I do!

Before I retired the thing I most looked forward to was being able to read the NY Times at leisure with a cup of coffee. I still do this every day and feel pride in keeping myself well informed about global business, politics, social issues and so on. But what is this sudden fascination with things and people I attach no importance to? I am a fairly busy person so it’s not usually a matter of having too much time on my hands. This is a very new, very bad habit that has made me realize why I hear so many inane comments in public. This flood of pseudo information is taking the place of having real conversations about things that really do matter; it is much easier to absorb this junk than to search out real facts and information and come to grips with what it all means.

I must get a grip and go cold turkey tonight.  Meanwhile, I’m dying to know, what is your dirty little secret about using the Internet (please use discretion when responding)?

Wordpress Hell

I am not sure whether I’ll be posting tonight since I seem to have landed in WordPress Hell. I tried on my own to search for how to fix the problem but have spent hours to no avail.

Just a few minutes ago when I found the word “contact” somewhere (I don’t remember how I did), I was able to connect with a WordPress community helper who advised me to try a link he provided with my user name which had somehow been changed (probably by me without realizing it.) That link got me back into my original posting site. (Thank you so much Community Helper with whom I’ve now lost contact!)

So if I manage to get this published, I’m going to call it a day since I’ve been working on this since yesterday! This may be my shortest Slice ever!

Visiting Hawaii in the Bronx

This past weekend was our 39th wedding anniversary. I can’t believe it myself! We usually have a pretty low key celebration, but this year my husband surprised me when he said, “Why don’t we go to that Georgia O’Keefe in Hawaii exhibit you’ve had posted on the fridge all summer , and follow that up with a nice dinner at the Hudson Grill?” Both the exhibit and the restaurant are on the grounds of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

I didn’t hesitate to say “yes.” Our anniversary was the final day of the exhibit and I was ready to see some art. (Full disclosure: I’m always ready to see art!) The dinner venue also sounded appealing as we had eaten there at Christmas with our grown kids and everyone really enjoyed the meal and the setting.

So, off to the Bronx we went. Of course, this being New York, it couldn’t just be an unpremeditated trip because you never know what you will run into. This time our conflict turned out to be the “Tour de Bronx”…a first-time bicycle tour of the Bronx which  might possibly interfere with our drive by creating extra traffic and possibly road barriers. We decided to take a chance.

The final mile and a half of the drive was very challenging thanks to the Tour de Bronx. There were clumps of ordinary local people on all kinds of bikes making their way to the same destination as us.  Fortunately, the Botanical Garden is a big place, so the cyclists were channeled into a different part of the garden. As we creeped toward the entrance our car was surrounded on all sides by kids on bikes doing extreme wheelies while weaving in and out of traffic and circling around our car. Of course, no one was obeying any traffic rules. Welcome to the Bronx!

The first part of the exhibit was in the library, a bit of a stroll from where we entered the park.  I marveled at the classical building that is the library, complete with a bronzed statue of sea nymphs in a copper-clad  fountain.

There was once a “golden age” of architecture in New York City when all sorts of majestic statues and buildings were scattered throughout the boroughs, and most of them, surprisingly, are still in good shape. I think it’s impossible to see them all in a lifetime.

The actual O’Keefe exhibit was small. It consisted of 21 paintings O’Keefe executed while she spent nine weeks visiting Hawaii. She had accepted a commission from the Dole (formerly the Hawaiian) Pineapple Company to finish two paintings that could be used in advertisements in women’s magazines. Her husband,  famous photographer Alfred Steiglitz, did not want her to go and dismissed the idea of working commercially as very proletarian; but off she went and I’m so glad she did. She obviously became very enamored of the lava landscape, the plunging waterfalls, the pounding surf, the neon green mountains and, of course, the exotic, erotic flowers.

When my husband and I were first married,  O’Keefe was very much in vogue and we bought and framed one of her posters of a white trumpet flower on a green background.

We were delighted to find it included in the exhibit and we now realized its origins. Several of her paintings of the Hawaiian landscapes and flowers showed signs of techniques she would continue to use throughout her life, especially her time spent living in the Southwest. She is a genius at capturing the sexual nature of blooming flowers as well as creating colors that no one before her had ever used.

We sat for a while in a small rotunda set apart for a film about her time spent in Hawaii based on her actual words written in letters to Steigliz, narrated by Sigourney Weaver. The film featured  the old Hawaii of the Dole plantation days, dark-skinned dancers dressed in grass skirts, warmly greeting with exotic leis the few tourists who managed to make the journey  to Hawaii which was fairly arduous at that time. It had taken O’Keefe nine days to get there crossing the U.S. by train then taking a steamboat to Hawaii.

We spent too much time in the library leaving barely enough time to walk to the Hudson Grill. Sadly, we did not have enough time to visit the actual flowers in the Conservatory which I know I would have loved.

Dinner was delicious, our drinks…Autumn Falls…were amazing. As we walked slowly and quietly back to our car, passing the few flowers and bushes that were still blooming in the garden, we were both lost in our own thoughts about our special day.

It’s Finally Fall and It’s Good to Be Alive!

Fall has finally arrived in the Northeast.  After several months of soggy hot summer weather, and a slow start to Fall, the temperatures are beginning to drop, and so are the leaves. For people like me who hate heat and humidity, when Fall begins I start to feel like I’m coming back to life.

Four years ago, Fall began to take on new meaning for me.  In mid-October of 2014, after three months of visiting all kinds of specialists who were having difficulty making a diagnosis, I began treatment for a fourth-stage metastasized cancer “of unknown origin in the lymph nodes of my groin. Despite numerous biopsies no one was sure where the cancer had originated which made treating me a guessing game.  My oncologist finally decided, for various reasons, that it was probably originally cervical cancer and began the appropriate treatment.

During treatment I withdrew into a cocoon-like state; everything that happened around me was a blur. My treatments ended in mid-November.  In late January I had a PT Scan to determine the outcome of my treatment and was scheduled to see my radiologist a few days later for the results.  I remember those few days as a period of intense awareness of the fact that the results of the scan would determine my fate.

The morning of the appointment with the radiologist, I was awakened by my husband holding the telephone toward me.  It was my radiologist saying “I have good news. You are cancer free!”  I was stunned.  Of course I had hoped for good results but I never dared to hope for complete remission.  It took a few moments for her words to register. “You don’t have to come in today for your appointment,  but I’ll see you in a month for your next appointment.”

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That was four years ago and I’m still (as far as we know) cancer free.  I don’t think any surviving cancer patient ever believes they are entirely free from cancer; there’s always a little voice sitting on your shoulder whispering into your ear: “Don’t get too confident; this could come back at any time.”  I know this because I’ve talked about it with other survivors. I’ve also learned from them to welcome each day I am alive and to experience life one day at a time. It’s true that having cancer is a life-changing event.  I am more compassionate with others who are struggling with health issues; I am more forgiving of myself for not being able to do many of the things I once did with ease; I am less tolerant of those who complain with little cause; and I seek what will bring me joy.

I am fortunate that I had just retired when I received my cancer diagnosis, so I have had the luxury of time to learn how to live my life in a better way.  I am as busy as I ever was before I had cancer, but now I do more of what I choose to do and less of what I “should” do.  In the past three years I have traveled extensively, joined a delightful senior yoga group, volunteered for educational programs at the nearby Walt Whitman Birthplace site, participate monthly in a Great Books  Discussion Group at the local library, read every book I can get my hands on and take walks whenever I can, weather permitting.

Fall has become my season of renewal; I hope I will be around to enjoy it for many years to come.  With the birth of my first grandchild, due in about six months, I have a lot to look forward to and be thankful for. Life is a gift that keeps on giving.

A Weekend Getaway in the Hudson Valley

(Above photo: Three legged Buddha at Storm King Art Center)

For the past ten years my husband and his brother and both sons, as well as a group of friends have gone camping in Fahnstock Park in New York’s Hudson Valley. They would wrap up the weekend with a trip into a nearby town, Cold Spring, where they enjoyed a hearty breakfast at The Foundry on Main St. My husband often told me how much I would like this quaint upstate town.

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On Columbus Day weekend, my daughter and I took a three-day trip to explore Cold Spring and the nearby region. We have often thought maybe the Hudson Valley would be a possible place for my daughter to live someday as she craves nature and open spaces. This was our chance to find out.

The drive was fairly short, about two and a half hours, but sadly devoid of any fall color as yet. The warmer temperatures have impacted the seasons by making the leaf turning much later in the fall. In fact, last year there was hardly any fall color at all on Long Island or in Westchester and Putnam counties. We arrived in Cold Spring and were delighted to find that the Main Street leads right down to the edge of the Hudson River where there is a gazebo and a town square filled with benches for enjoying the river and the mountain on the opposite shore.

download (1).jpegAfter sitting and enjoying the view for a half hour, we moved our luggage into our Air Bnb and set off for dinner in the local French restaurant. Guess what folks? Inflation is alive and well in the Hudson Valley! Restaurant prices were just as high as they are here in our town (Huntington) and there were no bargains in the local shops.

We discussed this with a local person who explained that the tourist industry has become the money making enterprise in upstate towns, to replace the disappearance of local industries. I am pretty sure that local salaries have not kept pace with inflation so I wondered how local people actually cope with the higher costs of just about everything. And there went the idea of my daughter moving to the Hudson Valley; it’s become just another place she can’t afford to live!

The next two days we spent visiting two highly acclaimed art venues in the region: Dia museum in Beacon and Storm King Sculpture Park an open-air museum located in Mountainville, NY.

dia 2.jpeg I have longed to visit both for the past decade or more, but the opportunity never presented itself. We loved both places. Dia is a former factory modernized into a state of the art major modern art installation venue. The place was a beehive of activity with many outsiders like ourselves enjoying the kind of art you can only find in a very spacious structure. Most of the art was comprised of light installations, playful explorations with space and depth, automobile scrap sculptures, and the piece de resistance, the major sculptural pieces created by Richard Serra called “the torqued ellipses.”

We concluded our art excursion with a visit to a local beer pub, and then dinner on the revitalized Main St. in Beacon.

Our second day of art involved a drive across the Hudson to Storm King which is very close to West Point. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, you arrive in a sheltered area and begin to spot the monumental sculptures that pop out of the landscape in all directions. It was exceptionally hot that day so we explored as much as we could on foot, then hopped aboard the tram which takes you around the entire site. You can get on and off at certain locations. Our goal here was to see the Andy Goldsworthy stone wall and the Richard Serra pieces.download.jpgI confess that I like the idea of Goldsworthy’s work more in concept than actuality. The wall, although well constructed, just didn’t have the same impact on me I thought it would. It’s a New England stone wall. Period. The Serra pieces installed on a hillside consisted of four large plates of steel wedged into the landscape…not at all as impressive as the Torqued Ellipses we saw the previous day in Dia. The surprise of the day was seeing a work by Maya Lin (who created the Vietnam War Memorial in D.C.). She basically transformed a hillside into undulating waves of grass.

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She is a genius at minimalism. The overall experience of seeing such awesome art in such a splendid natural setting made our pilgrimage well worth while.

Our second AirBnb was booked for two nights and turned out to be a gem. We were welcomed to a Frank Lloyd Wright knockoff home, the inside of which was decorated in very serene Asian decor. Our hostess was warm and generous and we settled into our cozy digs. The day of our departure it was raining (unexpectedly) but that didn’t prevent us from enjoying another satisfying breakfast at the Foundry, served by the world’s most genial waittress. Then we were on our way home, winding along the country roads.

We were fully satisfied that our time was well spent, but much as we liked the special beauty of the Hudson River and the low mountains snuggled along its shores, we were happy to return to our own busy hamlet, and of course, to our own beds! Could we move to the Hudson Valley? My daughter would if she could live on a small farm with llama, a pig, a couple of dogs and some chickens…and find a job to support herself. Could I live there? Much as I enjoy the mellow people and the open space, I think I have become a bona fide suburbanite used to our local beaches, our local art cinema, our wonderful library and all the culinary delights of a town full of restaurants and bars. Life may be just a little too slow-paced for me in the Hudson Valley.