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The Art of Kintsugi is Changing How I View The River of My Life

12 Mar

I recently learned about the Japanese way of repairing broken ceramics through a process called kintsugi.  When a beloved pot or plate or mug or bowl or vase breaks, we usually throw it away.  There is not good repair for these items. But the Japanese developed a way to bond them together and make them more beautiful.   After a resin used to bond the broken pieces together and the edges are smoothed, the repair is completed with gold (kintsugi) or silver (gintsugi) painted into the mended areas.  They form golden veins.  This ‘Golden repair” makes the object more beautiful than before.

When I first read about kintsugi, I had one of those moments of epiphany that occurs when two totally different areas of my life combine.   I was going to be facilitating an evening class with my friend.  We had 19 women signed up to do a project called “the River of Life,’ which is part of the Wise Aging program designed by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.

My friend and I participated in a two-day workshop to become instructors several years ago.  We had taught a full class on the topic of Wise Aging, but this was our first class in a while.  We were only going to touch on this one area where participants look back through their life, remembering the stories that were important to them, while seeing the threads and trends that impacted how they journeyed through life.

Sometimes people have a difficult time looking back on their lives. Events occurred that bring them distress because they have been unable to overcome the emotions that those memories bring to them.  They cannot get past and cannot move forward.  They see this as a broken thread; an unresolved flaw in their river.

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Although not Kintsugi, the turquoise embedded in the bowl’s cracks and flaws makes it more beautiful

It was while I was preparing for this class that I was reading a book for my job called, “The Growth Mindset Playbook, A Teacher’s Guide to Promoting Student Success.”  In Chapter 5, subtitled as “Failure As A path to Success,” the authors ended the chapter with information about kintsugi. In the book the authors wrote, “These restorations are not seen as a flaw in the piece, but as part of its history and something that makes it uniquely beautiful, and more interesting and valuable than before.”

YES!  The journeys we take in our lives are like the rivers with bends and falls and excitement, thrilling moments followed by peaceful floats.  Events occur that we cannot control.  We can only control our reactions to these events.  We have some control of the boat and the steering, but oftentimes events shatter our world.  We feel broken.  But we, like items repaired through kintsugi, are actually more beautiful and interesting because of our experiences.  We learn through each event we see and experience.  We become wiser and we can provide so much guidance.

Through failure we learn.   But is it really failure?  I think not.  Each episode or event in our life enriches our understanding of ourselves and of others. Empathy and compassion for others is increased when we can see the world in their place.

I am feel emotional attachment to those who suffer from infertility, because I too suffered though this.  I also underwent procedures and surgeries in an effort to have a family.  I feel what they feel.  But the golden veins of repair have helped me be a compassionate friend.

I saw kintsugi as the perfect way to explain this philosophy to the class.

The important aim, for me, is to always keep positive.  I want to see my life’s journey completed by golden and silver streams of repairs. Each one making me stronger and more lovely.  My outlook on the world might be different then before I needed the repair. When I look back at my life I want no regrets.  I want to believe that all that happened made me stronger, just as the repairs increase the strength of the broken ceramics

I believe, like kintsugi, each of our journeys through the river of our lives is uniquely beautiful.  It just takes us opening our eyes and seeing the best and not focusing on the hardships that will get us through.

The Purloined Blankets: A Winter’s Tale

30 Dec
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Blue purloined blanket and plaid purchased blanket.

With the bitter cold weather, I am thinking about my Dad and one of his lessons to me.

Always keep a blanket in the car during the winter months, especially when driving long distances.  His insistence about blankets used to drive me crazy.

My parents would come to Kansas to visit and not understand the Kansas winter mentality. Many people here do not wear winter coats most of the time.  Since we have a ‘drive up to where you are going attitude’ in the suburbs.  We really do not walk around that much.  We get into our cars and drive to where we are going, then run in.  So why wear a winter coat? A sweater is more than enough. I admit when I was younger, I would do the same thing.  But I always kept my children bundled up.

This attitude sometimes backfires on our children.  My god son went from the Kansas City area to Madison, Wisconsin, for college.  His mom suggested that he take long sleeve shirts and a winter coat up to college with him, his freshman year.  No, he did not want any of that.  Then came Thanksgiving break.  His main request was a hat with ear flaps.  He was so cold walking across campus.  Winter coat, gloves, scarf and long sleeve shirts returned with him to Madison.

My daughter went to college in New Jersey.  She also was impacted by winter in this unexpected manner. Walking across campuses really is different than Kansas ‘run in and run out.’  Her request that first winter was a coat that covered her tush. I quickly agreed to that request.

But back to my Dad.  When my family was young, we often drove to and from St. Louis in the winter months.  My husband’s family lived there. It made my parents nervous.  So they purchased a plaid blanket for my car in case the car broke down.  Having a blanket in the car was their idea of safety against the cold of winter.

He also purchased a car emergency kit for me that had a first kit, jumper cables and a flash light. Even though that kit is long gone, I have made sure we always had one in every car. That makes sense to me. So I never argued about that.

It was the blankets in the car that really drove him crazy. He wanted me to have a blanket for each person in the car. What would happen if we were stuck? We needed a way to keep warm. His passion became stronger after the time my husband, children and I got stuck in a snow storm on the way back from St. Louis.  But we spent the night in Columbia…at a hotel… I told him.   It did not matter.  He was now truly concerned. I  needed blankets,  now!

Dad did buy me another blanket.  But I have to admit, even though he was an honorable, kind and gentle man, my Dad had one flaw that I hesitate to tell you about. But I will.  He was a bit of a goniff, a thief!  He stole the blue blankets from airlines. Do you remember them?  We used to get one each time we flew…not any more.  But years ago, they always had a blanket and pillow on every seat. (His favorite airline blanket….Continental.  The airline no longer exists, except for the many blue blankets in my life.)

Dad would not use his.  He would bring in to my house still wrapped in its plastic bag. It made me crazy. When he flew to visit in the winter time, he often would come off the plane with a blanket. When he got to my house, he would pull it out of his carryon bag and quietly place it in my car.  I soon had a collection of blue blankets. During the winter, I kept a canvas bag filled with blankets in my car in case of emergency. Some purchased, some purloined.

We had disagreement after disagreement as the blue blankets continued to enter my home.  Finally my Mom had enough.  “Don’t tell him not to bring you the blankets.  The more you complain, the more he does it,” Mom demanded.  She was right, once I stopped yelling at him and arguing, he stopped taking the blankets off the planes.

Dad passed away in 2011.  I no longer worry about the blankets in the car.  Or so I thought.

My son’s girlfriend lives over an hour away. They drive back and forth every weekend. One coming here, or one going there.  It is so cold today and she has to drive home, so I asked, “Do you have a blanket in your car?” The answer, “NO.”

Oy,  I feel my Dad’s spirit rising up in me!

The plaid blanket my Dad purchased for me over 30 years ago is going into my son’s girlfriend’s car. My son will get the canvas bag filled with purloined blankets.  When it is this cold, you do need a blanket in your car for long distance travel!

As we enter the new year, I realized more and more that we do become our parents. My sister also has our Dad’s safety gene. She gave me a Vera Bradley blanket that folds into a pillow for Hanukkah. It is my new car blanket.

Wishing everyone a safe, warm, and happy memory filled year!

Wow…It Is An Email Generation

13 Jun

I had an awakening at the post office today while I waited on line to mail a package.  It was a moment that had a bit of deja vu about it.  I remember when touch tone phones came out, and people quickly forgot about dial phones.  In fact,  I remember my children seeing a dial phone at a local children’s museum and asking me how to use it.  They tried pushing the numbers; they did not realize they had to spin the dial.

Today at the post office I realized what the email generation was losing… the ability to mail a letter.

As I was standing in line a young man, about 18-19 years old, walked up to the clerk with a card and envelope in his hand.  The clerk took it and said,  “What do you need?  This already has a stamp on it.”  The boy said, “I need to mail this card.”

“Oh,” the clerk responded.  “Is this one of our cards?  Do you have to pay for it?”

“No,” the boy responded.  I just need to mail it.”

“Okay,” the clerk said, looking puzzled.  “You need to put the card into the envelope.”

The boy did that and handed the enclosed envelope to the clerk.  It was addressed.

“Now you have to seal the envelope,” the clerk said.

“How do I do that?” The boy asked.

By this time, I was listening in absolute amazement.  He honestly did not know how to mail a card.  The clerk helped him seal it, and the boy left.

Then came, to the same clerk, another young man.  He was a bit older, maybe 20.  And he handed a stamped, sealed envelope to the clerk.

“There needs to be an address on this envelope,” the clerk says.

“I know,” the young man responded, “But how do you write it?  Do I write it across the top like an email address?”

He was not joking.  He had no idea how to address an envelope.  The clerk helped him out, showing him how to put the address in three lines: name; address; city, state and zip code.

To be honest, with the first boy, I thought it was a fluke.  How could that be with someone who was the age of 18 or 19, I did not know.  But obviously he had not mailed a letter on his own.

However, when the second guy got up there and had no idea how to address an envelope, I was almost laughing out loud.  I controlled myself.  But I flashed back to my grandmother. She was born in 1898 and died in 1993.  I remember her telling me about the times before cars and technology.  And how everything was changing so quickly. And then my parents.  Although my Dad did learn to use the computer and email, my Mom never did.

Now we are launching the Email Generation.   Postage and envelopes might become obsolete.  I still get an occasional letter or card from a friend. Not very often.  But I think the email generation will lose the joy of opening mail.

Missing Mom’s Passover Recipes

13 Mar

The recipes filled a bag.

There were many little issues that appeared during the year that my parents died. Little things that you do not realize will cause distress. But for my sister and me, one of these issues was my Mom’s recipes. They were gone. We searched the house and could not find them. Most recipes we knew because we continued to make them.

But a few seemed lost forever, these included her Passover recipes. Since we used them only once a year, they were not etched into our memories. And so we had to use recipes from books or from others, or just not make that item. Without her recipes, we felt a bit lost.

My parents would come to me each year for the second night of Pesach.   They did the first Seder in New Jersey with my siblings and their families. Mom would cook her share of the meal, and leave all the leftovers for my brother and sister’s families. Because the next morning, bright and early, my parents would fly out to stay with me for second Seder and the rest of the holiday.

My children went to the Jewish Day School, so they were off that week. It was a perfect time for my parents to have grandparent adventures with the children.

Mom would arrive and join me in cooking. We always spent the first seder with other families at friends. But I alternated second night seder with another friend, and so often it would be at my house. Eventually, second night became my domain.

Whatever the case, there were certain foods I did not make until Mom got here. She knew exactly what to do, even though she might have had the recipes written down. After making seders for so many years, she knew her recipes. Whereas, my sister and I depended on her memory to help us.

So I should have known what happened to the recipes. But it never occurred to me.

About a year or so after both my parents passed away, they did so quickly and within nine months of each other, I finally cleaned out the bedroom in my house where they always stayed. We had already cleaned out their condo apartment in New Jersey; had told the managers of the apartment they rented in Florida to take what they wanted and donate the rest, and we had mostly cleaned out the house in the Catskill. So now it was time for me to do the final cleaning and pack up and donate what they had left behind in my house.

They had their own space, and I had avoided going into it, but my son wanted to move into this larger room, with its own separated entrance.

I finally opened the closet and packed my dad’s jeans and shirts and jackets. I started cleaning out the drawers. Putting tops and items into bags to donate.

There in the bottom drawer, covered by tops, was a small, stuffed plastic bag filled with papers. Recipes. Lots and lots of recipes. She was in the process of rewriting in her beautiful teacher’s handwriting. Passover was back: Vegetarian Chopped Liver, Matzah balls for 10-12 people, Farfel pudding from Sylvia, Baked Gifilte Fish from Lola, Potato Kugel, Stuffed cabbage.

Mixed in were many other recipes, including Hamantasch from Phyllis and my Uncle Stanley’s cookie recipe, which she called Cookies by Stanley. (He was baker and passed away in January 2017, a week before his 90th birthday, on my Mother’s sixth Yahrzeit.)

I would like to say I used these recipes. But I did not.  I put them in my room, in a box, waiting to be used.  I did not share them.  I did not look at them.  I just could not.  Now, I know I need to scan the recipes and send them to my brother and sister. I know that. But for four years they have sat in their bag while I have looked at it as a locked time chest, unable to really sort through the notes left by my Mom.

I decided this year was the time. I was ready.   We are done missing my Mom’s recipes.

Why The Same Old, Same Old Feels Good Now

14 Feb

When I was young, I never understood why my grandmother ate almost the exact same breakfast every morning: Cottage cheese, a piece of toast, fruit, water for her pills and coffee. “Isn’t that boring?” I asked. For me breakfast needed to be an exciting start to the day, especially in the summers.

But now I understand. Each morning I start the day with basically the same breakfast … everyday.  I like it.  Why change?  Occasionally I switch it up, usually when I am traveling.  But when home it is the same old, same old. It feels comfortable. Why change? I have become my grandma.

But I find my need for consistency goes beyond breakfast.  I like to shop in the same stores. I know which clothes lines and which shoes fit me well. Why should I venture to another store when I know I can always find clothes and shoes that fit at Chicos and Clarks?   Yes I sometimes go into another store and find something, but usually it takes more time to figure out where the items I might like are located. But I do go to discount stores that I enjoy like DSW, where I can find my favorite shoes at a less expensive price. 

I am even happy with my usual grocery shopping selection. Friends have tried to get me to go to two newer, more hip, places to do my grocery shopping. But I have my big three depending on what I need. I used to start with Costco for some items, but with no children at home I do not often need bulk food. Instead I buy smaller quantities at a local grocer/supermarket.  Occasionally, I do venture to the newer stores, but I feel a bit out of alignment when I shop there. I have to search the aisles for what I need. 

I often dash over to a nearby Target for sundries. Two years ago they totally remodeled the one I shop at.  The changes were nice, but the disruption made me realize I was getting set in my ways. I like the same old, same old. Although I now love the changes, I feel a sense of loss.  Now I have to readjust my habits to find the items I need. However, I will admit when my favorite brunch place renovated, it became much improved! 

But lately I find that I just like being at home. Especially when I am home.

My husband and I travel … a lot.  We are fortunate that our son lives close. He  moves back to our house to care for our cats when we travel.  But with being on so many trips, the joy of just being at home sometimes is the best.on one hand I know I am getting set in my ways. However,  it just makes the same old, same old feel good. 

Brothers and Sisters Must Stick Together

19 Jan

“Brothers and sisters must stick together,” my parents would continually make this statement to my brother, sister and me throughout our childhood.  If we had a disagreement, they would intone this mantra. It was used in many ways.

If a friend of my brother’s bugged me, he would stop it. But then he would bug me.  Brothers protect sisters from others, but that does not mean he could not tease me. His interpretation of this saying.

Over the years my sibling and I have come together many times to help each other.  And this sentiment fills my mind and my soul. We will always stick together.  We repeated it many times when our parents passed away within nine months of each other.

As we cleaned and divided their homes, my brother would say, “Nothing is worth fighting over.”  And we knew that “Brothers and Sisters must stick together.”  It helped to hear these words from my parents. It was an emotional time, and sometimes we needed this reminder.

But I have to say my parents and their siblings took this to the zenith degree.  My Dad and his sister passed away within days of each other. It shocked us, as we sat shiva for both.   My Dad called my Aunt almost every day after my Mom passed, but even before they spoke often. And each winter spent months together in Florida. At the time I remember thinking that they could not survive without each other as they were so close. So although I was shocked when it happened,  I was not really surprised.  Brothers and sisters must stick together.

But this week it really amazed me.  To be honest my Mom and her brother had a separation.  They did not speak to each other the last years of my mother’s life. This broke her heart. Although she often spoke of her brother, Mom passed away before the rift was ended. Her mantra of “Brothers and Sisters must stick together,” did not help in this instance.  But my cousin, who I always kept close with, came to see her. And that help to ease her.

In the past six years the family has healed.  My siblings and I have visited with my Uncle. We see our cousins.  We help in times of need.  Brothers and sisters sticking together. The family has reunited.

Yesterday my Uncle passed away.  He had been ill for a while, but this week he went into hospice. I spoke to my cousins multiple times during the week.  And texted in between.  I love her and I knew this was so difficult.  And then he slowly slipped away, just days before his 90th birthday. When I got the call I was not surprised. But a few minutes later it hit me, this day was my Mom’s yahrzeit, the religious anniversary of her death.

I texted my cousin: her response was perfect, “Maybe now they will make peace.”

But to me it was a sign. To my siblings I texted, “Brothers and sisters must stick together.”

It is a GRAVE Matter…Really

6 Jan

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My parents and grandparents are all together.

Over the years I have avoided one important part of my estate planning.  Buying a gravesite for my husband and for me.

I know this is important. But the thought of buying a grave made me sad.  I do not know why. My parents planned ahead. They purchased their graves as part of a family plot in New Jersey. In this same shared area rest all four of my grandparents, my parents and my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side.  When I was a child, no one was buried there. Unfortunately, now all but one of the assigned graves are now filled. 

At the time the graves were purchased, only my two uncles’ names were placed on the contract, as the cemetery would not allow  three names to be on it.  This left my father out. It was not a big deal until my mom died, and we found out that we had no authority to open her grave.  Same thing with my dad.  Luckily we are a close family and my cousins immediately did all that needed to be done. In fact my one cousin went out of his way to help all the cousins as he not only arranged for us to purchase perpetual care for the graves, he has also kept close watch on the care.  When we suffered the loss of our parents and his mother within a year, it was this cousin who made sure the that all three stones were placed properly. We are so thankful for his concern. As we suffered multiple losses that year.

Every year when I go back east, my sister and I make a pilgrimage to the cemetery.  Besides visiting all of our relatives, we take a short stroll to the resting place of my cousin’s other grandparents and relatives.  They are all so close together.  Remembering to bring the correct number of stones, is the hardest part.

Across from our parents, my sister and brother have a resting spot that includes their spouses. Unfortunately one grave is already occupied.   In fact it was this death about five years ago that started my quest and my inquiries about cemeteries.  But it has not been easy for me.

It was convenient for my siblings to buy for all of them as they  live in New Jersey.  But for me it is different.  My husband is from Missouri, and we live in Kansas. We have no family here.  Our daughter lives out of the country. And though our son lives near us now, who knows where he will end up.  So we have been indecisive about what to do.

Where should we eventually be buried?  OY! The best was to ignore this nagging and difficult choice.

This fall one of my close friends, a walking buddy, spent an entire walk telling me about the arrangements she and her husband recently made for their final home.  She also wanted to be sure her children would have no worries. The decision is made and paid for in advance.  It made me start thinking about our grave matter once again.

To be honest my husband does not care where we end up.  “When we are dead we are dead,” he says. “It won’t matter to us at all.”   But I think it will matter to our children if they do not have to worry about this decision in the midst of emotional turmoil.  It is hard enough when a parent dies without having to make this decision as well.  I knew my obsession had to be dealt with when I found myself reading the cemetery plot ads in the Jewish Forward.  That was a bit too much even for me.

As I am interested in genealogy, it was important to me that  our descendants  to be able to find us. I have seen the joy of discovery as people find the graves of their grandparents, great grandparents and even further back. It is so wonderful to have these in one place. So even though we belong to two synagogues, and we could buy plots in their cemeteries,  I do not want to be alone, away from everyone. It might be crazy, but that is how I feel.

The issue came to a head this past November, when my husband’s stepmother died.  She always planned to be buried on one side of my husband’s dad.  He and his first wife, my husband’s mother, are already buried there, as well as my husband’s grandparents. But things did not go as plannned.  Even though there are four empty graves in the plot, my father in law had never designated her to be buried there.  And with my father in law and his brother both deceased, the four plots are owned by the five adults in the next generation.  Since we are out of contact with my husband’s cousins, we were not allowed to bury her in this grave. It made for a tense few days. But the cemetery’s executive director would not  allow it.  (We assume the cemetery must have had lawsuits in the past over similar issues! )

No matter,  she had to be buried in a different cemertary.   But at least it was with her family. A cousin of hers who had purchased multiple plots donated one to her.   I was glad she was not alone.

This situation, the days of trying to figure out what would happen, increased my determination that our children should not have to deal with the issue of a grave site.  I was so upset. I do not want my children worrying about where to bury me. I want it settled.

But now I had a plan.  It is stupid for us to go to New Jersey especially since there are four perfectly good plots in St. Louis.   I am on a mission.  I am working with the cemetery to track down my husband’s first cousins.  It seems we are all joint owners of these four graves. I want two of these plots. It is stupid for them to stay empty when they can be used.

Even the woman I am working with at the cemetery agrees it is foolish to leave them unused.  But she says it happens often. Families drift apart and move away.  The original owner is long dead.  And the ownership continues to pass on to the next generation involving more and more descendants. And the cemetery is stuck, unable to let anyone use the graves.

Well one thing I have learned through my interest in genealogy, and my great contacts on the “Tracing the Tribe Facebook” group, research.  The person at the cemetery told me she could not find my husband’s cousins.  I took that as a challenge.  Within 90 minutes I had their names, their spouses’ names and the names of their children.  I have sent that information on to the cemetery’s office for them to be contacted.  (My research did remind me that my father in law and his brother died just over a month apart.  Even though they had not spoken to each other in perhaps 25 years, they had this connection: One died two weeks before 9/11 and one three weeks after. )

I have another back up plan as well.  My sister in law in St. Louis also has a group plot with her brothers and parents. When I unloaded my stress over finding a grave, she told me that they had some extra plots.  “You probably could buy two plots from us, if that would make me feel better and calm you down,” she laughed as she made this suggestion.  But my loving niece understands.  She promised me that she would come to visit ” her crazy aunt” in St. Louis.

My new year’s resolution for 2017:  I am focusing on resolving this grave matter.   I hope to find my husband’s cousins and come to an agreement about the graves.  Or purchase two plots from my sister in law’s family.  It is my resolution to buy two graves…   NOT that I want to use them anytime soon.
Update: we have two graves with my sister in law and her family in the St Louis area. I am at peace. My children will have an easier time with this knowledge.