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.

Italy…the Second Time Around

I’m old enough now to join the ranks of Baby Boomers who are traveling everywhere on the planet. Two weeks ago my daughter and I traveled to Venice, Florence and Rome in celebration of her 35th birthday. Although I visited Venice 10 years ago with a group of teachers, it had been 45 years since I’d been to Rome and Florence. I had fuzzy memories of my first trip when I was in my mid-twenties; this journey would reacquaint me with a few familiar places.

Although I would have preferred to end our trip in Venice, the travel arrangements had us going to Venice first. I jumped on the chance to join a group of teachers doing an art tour of Venice, Vienna and Prague a decade ago, and I loved it so much I hoped to return one day. My daughter’s pending birthday was my excuse to make plans to return with her to Italy.

To me, Venice is a mirage floating on water. It was even more glorious than I remembered it to be.

It doesn’t seem possible that a city built on wooden pilings pounded into the clay below the surface of the lagoon almost 1500 years ago could still be standing intact. As I learned from our tour guide in Venice, the wood used to build the impressive palazzos along the Grand Canal was brought from as far away as Croatia and Slovenia by boat. Then hundreds, sometimes thousands  of wooden posts had to be pounded into the clay with a wooden platform placed on top of the pilings to support each palazzo. Since wood does not deteriorate when it is completely submerged and has no contact with oxygen, but instead becomes stronger through a salt-water petrification process, these pilings have allowed the ornate buildings of Venice to continue to appear to float on the surface of the Grand Canal since the fifth century.

http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-europe/construction-venice-floating-city-001750

Yes, the sea level is rising and Venice is scrambling to deal with that problem since 2003 by constructing three strategically placed floodgates at entrances to the Grand Canal (the MOSE project) to hold back the occasional flood tides, similar to the flood gates in Amsterdam and London. Most people, however, believe this is a temporary solution and that Venice will eventually slowly sink into the sea which surrounds it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOSE_Project

And, yes, the quantity of cruise ships entering the lagoon over the past decade was doing irreparable damage to the Grand Canal which has now been addressed by new regulations preventing the cruise ships from anchoring inside the Grand Channel lagoon.

On the final day of our 2 1/2 day visit to Venice we did see a cruise ship being towed through the Grand Canal out to the Mediterranean. It was a ghastly sight; the ship loomed over the palazzos along the Grand Canal as it slowly made its way out to the Adriatic Sea.  I was so grateful our vistas of the Grand Canal  had not been affected by the presence of these ships (as they had been when we visited Greece last year), except for the hordes of tourists that would invade the city every day.

This second time around in Venice I was struck by the constant movement of water in the Grand Canal, caused by the ebb and flow of the tide.  This is accentuated by the constant traffic of boats of all kinds plying the waters of the canal. Since the city is criss-crossed by canals and foot bridges that connect the countless islands (originally 118) that make up the city, trucks and cars are not a viable means of transportation. We watched flat-hulled work boats carrying among other things, jugs of wine, water bottles, construction equipment, and fresh produce throughout the day, starting early each morning.

http://www.italyheaven.co.uk/veneto/venice/boats.html

The constant movement of water and boat traffic creates an overall feeling of restlessness in the city.  Things quiet down after midnight when the work boats are docked and the tourist gondolas and ferries are at rest. I ended each exhausting day of sightseeing by opening the shutters and the windows of our lovely room facing the Grand Canal to be greeted by the sight and peacefulness of Venice at night, under a full moon. Only then can you actually hear the water lapping at the foundations of the buildings, reminding you that this city is unique in the world and is a survivor.

I know I haven’t even mentioned the usual tourist attractions of Venice: St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Doges Palace, the Rialto Bridge and market and the hundreds of churches and squares that are pervasive. I will address them in a future post.  But for me, this second time around, I found I wanted to know more about the structure and inner workings of the city and how Venetians actually live their daily lives in this magical place.

Next time: A meet-up with an American violin-maker who moved his family to Venice and a reunion with a master engraver who is still capturing the beauty and timelessness of Venice in his engravings.

Tiffany and Tulips: A Perfect Mother’s Day Combination

Sometimes it’s a good idea to stay local. Having just returned from an adventurous but rigorous trip to Italy, I decided that I’d like to spend Mother’s Day at home relaxing with my family. We had a bagel brunch which I don’t in indulge in very often since it’s so calorie laden. But I love those lox! The mimosas were good, too.

In mid-afternoon my daughter and I visited our local museum, The Hecksher Museum, a small gem. The current exhibit features the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and his contemporaries in the decorative arts. Tiffany had a studio and lavish country home in the nearby town of Oyster Bay which he called Laurelton, an idyllic escape from his hectic life in his Manhattan digs, filled with his own masterpieces. For those not familiar with him, he was, among other things, a master of stained-glass art in the late 1800s and early 1900’s.  His work can be found in museums and numerous venues throughout the New York area including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Tiffany exhibit was small, but featured many lovely decorative objects. After examining each object, we moved on to an “activity” corner where visitors are invited to create something a la Tiffany. Although I do not consider myself an artist, I sat in front of a large white screen and created a digital still life of flowers in commemoration of Mother’s Day.

I found I really enjoyed the process of digital painting; in fact, it was rather soothing. Nothing makes me happier than the combination of art and flowers and my loved ones and today I had all three to enjoy.

We next decided to take a walk in the park outside the museum and stepped out the door into a tulip fantasia. There were tulips of all shapes, sizes and colors in bloom throughout the park. Against the background of a grayish day, the colors of the tulips were especially vivid.

It was extremely quiet in the park, just the way I like it,  with only a few other small families taking the same stroll. We were able to fully enjoy the panorama of tulips throughout the park, cherry trees beginning to bloom and the occasional colorful azalea. Even the birds were quiet today, except for two geese who honked incessantly at nothing in particular. I feel very lucky to have this lovely park within a five-minute drive, to enjoy whenever I feel like going there. It is a perfect retreat from the busier, noisier world and I am grateful for it.

The day ended with a sushi dinner at a local restaurant, my choice.  Again, the place was not too crowded so the ambient noise was tolerable.  With  lychee-nut martinis to enjoy, my daughter and I sipped them happily while my husband enjoyed his beer.  The crab/avocado appetizer was tasty as was the miso soup.  My daughter and I shared several sushi handrolls while my husband (who never eats sushi) happily enjoyed his basil chicken teriyaki.  We decided to have dessert at home: fresh pineapple with vanilla ice-cream.

It’s nice to return from a far-flung journey and enjoy the things we love most about where we live with the people we love most.  I am now waiting for the final event of my Mother’s Day: a phone call from my son and his significant other who live in Brooklyn. We agreed not to spend the day together since it would have required an arduous trip of about two hours each way for either of us. They live a very hectic city life and also recently returned from a trip to Atlanta and Savannah.  We’ll get together next weekend instead to celebrate my daughter’s birthday.

This was my idea of a perfect Mother’s Day and, yes, I absolutely do know how lucky I am.

Next week: Venice, the Second Time Around

 

 

 

Next Stop…Italy!

My daughter and I are about to embark on our next vacation…to Italy! I haven’t been back to Rome or Florence, which I visited in my mid- 20’s, for over 45 years. This will be my second visit to Venice; I went there about 10 years ago with a group of teachers and hoped I would get a chance to return. Lucky me!

There’s too much to see and do in each of the three cities  since we will have only 2 1/2 days in each. So the challenge has been to pick and choose and schedule our visits to monuments and museums. Pre-booking entries and tours to museums  is not an option because of the long lines in all three places and our limited time in each venue. This is NOT how I like to travel. I like to explore and people watch and soak in the local ambiance. And take my time.

I’ve had to employ my OLW…centering… in the planning of this excursion so I won’t forget to balance the busy-ness of our schedule with what I truly love about traveling. I want to leave room for the unexpected discovery since that’s often what is most memorable about a vacation. (Do you really remember every painting or statue you’ve ever seen in your travels?)

In my mid-twenties I arrived alone in Italy with a backpack and the clothes on my back. (A long wool red plaid skirt, button up brown leather boots, and a large backpack.) I “winged” it in terms of where I stayed (the accommodations were not plush) and basically just used a guide book to get from one place to another. I found Italy to be a joyful place full of sights and sounds and tastes, and the people were very friendly. I loved listening to spoken Italian; I even picked up a few  Italian words and phrases.

In just a few days I’ll be sitting with my daughter at a table on the Grand Canal, soaking in the glorious vibe of Venice. I wonder what impressions of  Italy I will be left with this time around. I’ll let you know when I return to TWT in two weeks. Ciao!

Are You a Bibliophile?

I have always loved books. My earliest memory of my relationship to books and reading is walking home from the local library as a child in Ridgewood, Queens, carrying a tall stack of books. I was probably carrying whatever was the maximum allowed number of books and I do recall usually reading them all in a day or two; then back to the library for more.  I remember having my own library card and the pride I felt in using it. I am guessing I might have been about 7 or 8 at the time.

No wonder, then, that an article in today’s NY Times caught my attention…about a bibliophile in….you guessed it…Ridgewood, Queens, NY!  He and his book collection reside in a warehouse type building in a more industrial part of Ridgewood than where I once lived. My neighborhood was predominately inhabited by people of German descent; my mother was a first generation American born of two German parents. At that time, most of the local businesses were run by Germans and German was spoken everywhere.

This dude, featured in the Times article, is a different type of bookophile.   He is an uber-Collector! Don’t get me wrong; I, too, have many collections of books throughout my house and in my basement.  But nothing like his.

(Click on the title for the complete article.)

Of course, now I have a reason to visit the old neighborhood and his warehouse.  He’s definitely unique (and maybe a little strange????)!

A Soul Restoring Getaway on Easter Weekend

(Briermere Farm on North Fork of Long Island)

With no guests coming this Easter, this allowed my husband and I and our daughter to undertake a last-minute outing on Saturday to one of our favorite places…the East End of Long Island. There are two forks on the East End: The North Fork and the South Fork with its infamous Hamptons and celebrities.

Long ago we decided we prefer the North Fork. It’s quiet, bucolic, inviting with its authentic farms and farmsteads, old farmhouses, and signs of lives of average people hard at work. When the kids were young, we visited twice a year: once in fall to gather pumpkins, wander in the fields, stop by one of the local beaches, and picnic. In Spring we liked to visit for walks on the local beaches and a quick lunch at one of our favorite spots. It was the ideal getaway just a 90 minute drive from our home.

We fell in love with a particular area called New Suffolk (just beyond Mattituck)  which reminded me (still does) of the undeveloped Long Island I knew as a child. The homes are modest, the lanes are narrow and inviting, the beaches are rocky and the water crystal clear, and the quality of light and air are very special. We often fantasized about owning a home here, which we could no longer afford. In the past decade the area has been “discovered” and home prices have skyrocketed. Sigh.

Our first stop on our journey is Briermere’s Farm Stand (see featured photo) which has become a widely frequented stop for all tourists and locals. We used to go there for our Thanksgiving pies, but gave that up when the lines began to trail out the door. We try to go on odd weekends now, hoping the place won’t be so busy. Today was perfect: we grabbed. peach-raspberry pie and a bag of chocolate-chip-pecan cookies.

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It’s too early in the season for fresh vegetables, so our visit was a quick one.

Our next stop was our favorite eatery: Love Lane Kitchen on Love Lane.

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It is my go-to stop for a Lobster Roll lunch which consists of a hefty portion of lobster salad atop a brioche bun, accompanied by a sizable portion of garlic fries. It is pricey, but I consider it one of my few culinary indulgences…and heck, I only do it once or twice a year.

We love the ambiance of the place: working and middle-class clientele; local artwork along the walls; quirky seasonal decorations; a young, local waitstaff;

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and a very sunny interior for bad weather days, or a quaint outside patio for good weather days. You won’t find any celebrities here; just a bunch of people happily eating delicious food.

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It’s a Norman Rockwell vision of a warm and welcoming community eatery. Every town should have one.

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(My husband and daughter at Love Lane Kitchen.  Do they look happy to be there?)

Our third, planned stop is the local beach. This stop had an unexpected surprise. An osprey nest, perched on a pole opposite the tiny post office, was occupied by two osprey who happened to be “at home” when we stopped by.

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We are big fans of osprey since their comeback after the DDT years nearly rendered them extinct. They are magnificent, wild-looking birds. In flight their wingspan is enormous with very attractive bands along the edges.

We tried to sit on a bench at the beach, but it was colder and windier than we had anticipated, so after about 10 minutes of gazing at beautiful Peconic Bay, and a bit of fantasizing about how we’d still love to live here, we retreated to the warmth of our car.

Our final stop was Pindar Winery. The North Folk is loaded with wineries and has been for several decades now. Pindar was one of the first to arrive and we haven’t been back in maybe ten years or more. Outside it was freezing!0331181803-2.jpg

We found the inside quite inviting, however, with many small groups scattered throughout the tasting area, some at the bar, some at tables. We purchased a bottle of their Chardonnay and sat at a sun-drenched table, gazing at the warmth of the wood-clad barn which once served as a potato barn, one of the East End’s primary crops. The stained glass window occupying one corner of the barn was magnificent, and I’m sure it was not part of the original barn.

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By chance we struck up a conversation with the cashier who turned out to be the son of the original owner, a Greek doctor. We traded some memories of days long ago when the East End was not a “destination” journey. We felt like pioneers going out to the original opening of this winery three decades ago.

Well fed, well imbibed, well rested and restored, we got back into our car as dusk began to arrive and headed for home with our peach pie, a bottle of Reserve Merlot, the memory of a tasty and satisfying lunch and another memorable day on the East End.

March Challenge: Beginnings and Endings

“By the end of the month we have all grown personally and professionally.” Arjeha (This line is lifted from a recent comment on one of my Slices by a fellow-Slicer.)

This is the end of another March Challenge
But it is the beginning of weekly Tuesday slices

This is the end of challenging myself daily as a writer
But it is the beginning of relaxing as a weekly writer

This is the end of worrying about missing a post
But it is the beginning of not-to-be-missed Tuesdays

This is the end of the overwhelming flurry of Slices
But it is the beginning of a year of enjoying each Slice

This is the end of meeting so many new writers
But it is the beginning of following old friends again

This is the end of amazement about the diversity of Slicers
But it is the beginning of enjoying that diversity

This is the end of learning new tricks from Slicers
But it is the beginning of practicing some old ones

This is the end of daily writing under pressure
But it is the beginning of writing weekly for pleasure

This is the end of four years of the March Challenge for me
But it is the beginning of a fifth year of Slicing!

Congratulations and best wishes to everyone who participated in the March Challenge this year. We’ve all shared another amazing month with our TWT mentors and fellow Slicers. Long live Slice of Life!

When the March Challenge Ends I Will…

When the March Challenge Ends I Will…

When the March Challenge ends I will
go back to making my bed every day.

When the March Challenge ends I will
read the New York Times every morning

When the March Challenge ends I will
pick up with friends left on the back burner

When the March Challenge ends I will
sit less and exercise more often

When the March Challenge ends I will
go to bed earlier and get up earlier

When the March Challenge ends I will
miss the discipline of daily writing

When the March Challenge ends I will
miss the excitement of reading new posts

When the March Challenge ends I will
miss receiving comments every day

When the March Challenge ends I will
return to projects left undone

When the March Challenge ends I will
began to prepare for my April trip to Italy

When the March Challenge ends I will
have more time to enjoy early Spring days

When the March Challenge ends I will
be proud I and so many others stayed the course…

When the March Challenge ends I will
resume my “real” life

When the March Challenge ends I will
start looking forward to next year’s challenge!

Sending love and
Feeling the love…
Barbara