Tag Archives: Crafts

What I learned About Hopi Pottery and Navajo Jewelry

21 Mar

As part of our study of the Hopi and the Navajo cultures, we did not just go to museums, we also learned from people who live on the reservation.   Learning about the crafts of Hopi pottery and Navajo silversmithing increased our knowledge about how these crafts passed from generation to generation forming a bond that helped their families survive harsh times.

On the Hopi reservation we met and watched Dorothy Ami as she taught us the art of Hopi pottery. Although her first interest in pottery was just for enjoyment, she eventually apprenticed herself to her cousin, Mark Tahbo, who was a well-known Hopi potter. Both Dorothy and Mark were descendants of Grace Chapella, who learned her craft from one of the original Hopi women who re-introduced pottery to the Hopi Reservation, Nampeyo of Hano.

Our morning with Dorothy was inspiring as we watched her create a pottery bowl; viewed her finished items, and watched her finish painting another bowl.   She spoke to us as she worked explaining the history of Hopi Pottery, about her family, and the way the clay and sandstone come together to form a pot.

Hopi pottery is not spun on a wheel, instead it is made by free hand. She mixes the clay and sandstone, using different colored clay for different types of pottery. She knows when the mixture is ready by tasting it! To make a pot she first forms the first bowl.  She then makes coils of clay and builds the pot, which she then smooths and then burnishes with a river bed rock.

“I let the clay take over,” she told us.  “I cannot force it into a shape.”  After she burnishes a pot that is formed, she thinks about the design for that pot and draws it on a piece of paper.  She knows what each color clay turns when it is fired.  And what the different natural colors that she uses to paint turn as well.

Her pottery pieces were lovely.  To see them in each stage, being formed, burnishing, painting, painted but not fired and then fired, added to my appreciation of what she does and how her art has helped her family survive in a situation where many are unemployed. Hopi pottery making is a skill and a craft that spans generations.  Her children and grandchildren are also now making pots.  And one of her prized possessions is a pot that her grandmother made that she was able to purchase off of EBay!


Dorothy’s grandmother’s pot.

Our guide, Azalia Begay, is also an artist.  A member of the Navajo Tribe, Azalia learned the craft of jewelry making from her grandfather who was also a silversmith.  Like those who learn Hopi pottery, the Navajo who learn silversmithing always have an opportunity to have an income in a tight economic situation as exists on the reservations.

For the Navajo people, the art of jewelry making came mainly after they were forced off their lands in the Canyon De Chelly and forced to walk to Fort Sumner in New Mexico.   Many learned the skills of blacksmithing while they were imprisoned for four years at the Fort.  When they returned to Arizona and their Reservation and lands, the skills they learned as blacksmiths became skills that could be used for silversmithing and jewelry making.

The use of turquoise came even later.  The color of turquoise represents the sky to Navajo and it is a symbol of good fortune.  In the late 1800s the Navajo artists combined their silversmithing with the turquoise and an art form was created.  Azalia told us the differences about natural, stabilized, re-constituted and block turquoise.  Don’t ask if it is real.  All of these are real to a degree.  Ask more detailed questions!!!

Azalia uses silver, turquoise and coral to make her lovely designs.  We had the opportunity to watch her make a piece of jewelry as she told us the story of how she learned to make jewelry from her grandfather and the story of the first pendant she made.

After her demonstration, she asked if we would like to see her work.  Of course we did!  There were three pieces that I fell in love with and would like to own.  That was a bit out of reach.  But one piece called my name, and since it was soon to be my wedding anniversary, I thought I needed it.  Azalia makes turquoise and coral into beads.  My necklace is a five-strand turquoise beaded gem!   The other two pieces I loved were also purchased by women on our trip.   We all were delighted with our new original and one of a kind Navajo jewelry.

An added bonus of buying the anniversary necklace was that Azalia helped me search for the perfect pair of earrings to wear with it. We found them from a jewelry vender at the stop in Monument Valley by the John Ford Point, which also has meaning in my life. ( See blog below.)

Learning about a culture includes learning about the crafts that they use to beautify the world around them.  Learning about Hopi pottery and Navajo jewelry enhanced my knowledge about life on the reservations.







Making The Chuppah For My Daughter’s Wedding Brings Me Joy

17 Nov

My daughter is getting married in less than ten months now. Although they announced their engagement six months ago, and I should be used to the idea, I am still excited and a bit anxious. I want it to be a beautiful wedding. And I wanted to do something special for her. So I decided I would crochet her chuppah, the wedding canopy.

Cotton thread

The cotton thread which will become the chuppah for my daughter’s wedding.

I am a crazed crocheter. I make doilies and baby blankets out of cotton yarn. Crocheting is how I relax.   For my son’s bar mitzvah, I made over 60 head coverings for the married women who attended the service. Of course we bought kippot for the men. But I wanted the women to have something special as well. And even though his bar mitzvah was 12 year ago, I still occasionally see someone wearing one of the coverings I made at our congregation.

I did not make anything for my daughter’s bat mitzvah. She occasionally would mention to me what I did for my son’s event, and not for hers. But I explained that I was not crocheting as much then. And eventually I would do something for her. The time has come.

When I first suggested making her chuppah, she told me that I did not have to take on such an extensive project. Then she posted a photo of a wedding gown someone crocheted on my Facebook page. It was beautiful. But I knew I could not do that. However, some of my friends (one in particular) went crazy and started sending me lots of Pinterest photos of crocheted wedding gowns.   They were stunning. But with my daughter living out of the country, I thought that would be too difficult.

So this summer I started working on a sample of the chuppah I thought I would make for my daughter to see when she came in to do wedding gown shopping. It was NOT a hit. She did not like the pattern I chose at all. I had to start looking again. She gave me some ideas of what she liked and then left it at that.

But her fiancée was more enthusiastic. His comments included: You can also make all the head coverings: kippot for the men and chapel covers for the women. How about you crochet me a new tallit. That would be great you can make me my tallit. I know how to but the tzitzi on.”

It is traditional for some Jewish families for the bride to buy her husband a tallit before they get married. I bought my husband his tallit.

I was not going to crochet a tallit. OY Gevalt. That was just too much pressure. I would like to say he was teasing to a degree. But I think a bit of him really wanted me to make one. (Actually my daughter says he really wants me to make one….but I do not think so!)

I still might make coverings for the women for the ceremony. But I do not think I am going to crochet all the kippot.

However, I am now working on the chuppah. I found a pattern my daughter likes and approves.   I have started making the squares and crocheting the pattern.   I am about 1/14 of the way. With just nine months to go, I have to keep busy. When my husband and I travel, I take part of the cotton yarn with me and I crochet the inner flower that will be at the center of every square.

Flight delays are a perfect time for heavy duty crocheting.   Volunteering at a registration table also serves as a perfect time for crocheting. Except when people keept asking what I was making and then want to look at it.   It reminds be that thread crocheting is almost a lost art. Many women, young and old, told me about someone that used to know who could crochet as I do, usually their mothers or grandmothers.   And it was my grandmother who taught me over 50 years ago.

They love looking at my work and telling me what their loved one made for them years ago. One woman told be about the veil another woman made for her daughter…a crocheted veil.   My heart is going there as well. But my brain says, STOP!

I get a bit anxious when I am sitting at a meeting and not crocheting. I feel like I should bring it everywhere with me. But would that be rude?   I am under a time crunch. And I want it to be perfect.

I will be honest, the chuppah I crochet will not be the only canopy over my daughter and her future husband.   We have the final tallit my Dad wore. When he passed away we buried two tallisim with him: his bar mitzvah and wedding ones. But this one we kept as our Mom purchased it especially when he became president of his shul. My son now uses it for services. But we (my siblings and I) agreed it would be used as part of the wedding chuppah for each of the grandchildren.

The beauty of the chuppah I am making is that after the wedding, it can be used as a tablecloth. It will have a life after the wedding.   I hope whenever they use it they will feel my love surround them and their marriage.

For now, all my other projects are on hold! I will stop making baby blankets and doilies. Well that is my plan, except people I know keep having babies. So perhaps I will have to sneak a few in.

And it is possible, just possible, I might have to add some crochet elements for my daughter’s veil. We will see.

In the meantime, I am making the chuppah for my daughter’s wedding, which brings me joy.


My daughter and son-in-law under the huppah I made.


Chuppah: wedding canopy

Kippot: head covering

Tallit: prayer shawl

Tzitzi: Fringes on the four courners of a tallit




Frogs Jumping At the Passover Seder

2 Apr

Over the years my desire to have an educational and entertaining Passover seder merged with my love of creating paper creatures using origami.

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding to make figures. Many have seen the origami crane. But it can also be used to make flowers, boxes, insects, and animals. An unlimited number creatures and objects can be created by the intricate folds used in origami.

I have loved origami for over fifty years. When I was in fourth grade I went to a birthday party for a school friend who was from Japan. As part of the party fun, her mother taught us how to make several origami figures including a crane and a box. I was hooked.   I have been dabbling in origami ever since.

My collection of origami books and special papers grew when I was in graduate school. My roommate, Pekoe, was Japanese. When she found out about my love of origami, she was intrigued that I was capable of making the more advanced figures. Upon her return to Missouri, after winter break, she presented me with the most beautiful handmade origami paper and several figurines. I still have them all.

I used origami when I taught. I used origami when I was a hospital candy striper while in high school. I used origami as a mother. Many times I was able to cheer up rainy days and airplane trips by the aspect of making origami figurines. I always carried the special brightly colored, square paper with me when I traveled. It entertained not only my children, but others as well.

Making origami frogs before the seder. Making origami frogs before the seder.

At Passover, Pesach, origami frogs became an important part of our holiday tradition. I was always looking for ways to make the seder more enjoyable, especially for the children who were with us. So I started giving my son and daughter enough sheets of paper to make a frog for each person at our Seder.

We always made frogs that could ‘jump.’   Did I tell you that the frog plague was always our favorite? My son loves reptiles, lizards and amphibians. So of course he loved frogs. And green was his favorite color. So we made many frogs of different shades of green. Whenever we made our frogs and hopped them during the seder, we sang the Passover frog song that ends with “Frogs here, frogs there. Frogs were jumping everywhere.” And then our paper frogs would start hopping.

Jumping frogs

Last year at Passover my children went bonkers. They made multiple origami frogs of many colors. They also decided to make paper locust. We used all these origami figurines to decorate our seder table.

When we read about the plagues, everyone tried to hop these frogs. Some jumped directly into the wine, the charosets and the seder plate. Frogs were really jumping everywhere. Everyone had a great time.

The frogs remained on the table throughout the meal. When we sang the end of seder songs, frog jumping took over. The aim was to get the frog onto a tissue box. Several of the young adults at the table were quite good at this. So while we sang songs like ‘Had Gad Ya’, we also had a group still making the frogs jump.

Perhaps it is not taking the plague seriously. But I know that everyone who attends my seder will always remember the plague of frogs. They will always have fond memories of the Passover seder.




Click to access The%20Frog%20Song%20lyrics.pdf

Crocheting Toddler Blankets Is Keeping Me Busy

26 Mar

Although I am not a grandmother yet, I recently became a Great Aunt. And I have more ‘grand’ babies on the way. I am excited. I love seeing a new generation and watch my nieces and nephews become parents.

I have, over the years, seen many of my friend’s children and former students become parents. And I have enjoyed buying gifts and holding these new arrivals. But it did not occur to me to start crocheting gifts for these beloved babies.

I think I was so wrapped up in my doily making that I forgot that I could make something bigger. I made lots of baby and toddler blankets and sweaters when my children were little. I stopped when I broke my elbow. I only made small items after the accident. However, I have been healed for years.

My other issue is that I love cotton yarn. I do not like to crochet with polyester and other synthetics. So what to do? Baby blankets are usually soft and cuddly because they are made with manufactured yarns.

Thanks to a post on a Facebook group that I follow, Crochet Addict, I had a answer. Someone asked what else could be made with Sugar’n Cream, 100 percent cotton yarn. This yarn is usually used to make kitchen towels and washcloths. I have made some washcloths for a good friend from this yarn. I love crocheting with Sugar’n Cream yarn, but did not know quite what else to do with it.

On the comment line, someone said they made baby blankets from this yarn. I was hooked. Baby blankets? I could do that. The next day I went to one of my local mega craft stores (Michael’s) and bought some brightly colored Sugar’n Cream yarn. I also bought a pattern book for crocheting “Blankets for Toddlers.”   And I began a new journey. The other thing I like about this yarn is that it washes so well. Since it is made for kitchen work, it is also strong. Perfect for use with little children.

First two blankets with Sugar'n Cream yarn.

First two blankets with Sugar’n Cream yarn.

My first blanket is slightly off kilter. I did not plan well with the weight of the yarn and the pattern. So it is longer and narrower then I wanted it to be. But then I saw that people make blankets this size to use in strollers. So it will be used. I am presenting it to a neighbor who just had a little girl on my husband and my 35th wedding anniversary. She is the first baby born since I started making blankets.

My second blanket has come out much more in the shape I wanted.   I went back to Michael’s when the store was having a yarn sale. There is one problem with this yarn. It is sold, at Michaels, in just 2 ounce and 2 ½ ounce skeins. It is difficult to find enough skeins with the same lot number to make a full blanket! (The lot number means that the skeins were dyed on the same day at the same time. If they were not dyed together, then the colors can be slightly off and fade differently.)

I solved this problem by buying three colors and putting skeins of the same dye lots together, while separating them from other dye lots with the other colors. It forms a striped blanket, using one stitch throughout. I think it looks darn good.

Now I am ready to begin blanket number three. I have to make four in all by September. I was out and about and decided to go to a different mega craft store, Joann’s Fabric. I was in for a surprise. At Joann’s, the Sugar’n Cream yarn comes in bigger skeins! There are both three and four ounce skeins. But more than that, the store sells 14-ounce skeins on the cardboard tubes. I can definitely get the same lot numbers there. I now have enough yarn to make my third blanket. And I have a plan in mind for blanket number four!

My new Clover hooks.

My new Clover hooks.

I am having a great time. Especially since with this blanket, I will be able to use my new crochet hooks. Clover crochet hooks were another great idea from the Crochet Addict group. Someone posted a photo of these wonderful European crochet hooks that have a thicker handle. That is the most difficult part of using this yarn for me, the slipping handle. I am hoping these new hooks work better and cause less stress on my hands.

Once I finish the blankets I have promised myself I would make for grand nieces and nephews, I know I will keep making baby blankets. I posted a photo of the two I finished and now some of my younger generation friends want one for their children. I am happy to oblige!

When I am done with those, I will still make the blankets! A friend I know makes them and donates them to a hospital NICU for new babies who need lots of love. I will crochet lots of love in each blanket I make.

I am so happy that crocheting toddler blankets is keeping me busy. And am happy that all my blankets will be going to loving homes.


How the Royals World Series Run Inspired Me to Finish my Mother’s Projects

30 Oct

I have a sense of completion. A sense of a burden lifted from my shoulders.   An empty container sits in my spare room. It held the pieces of an afghan that my Mom began knitting for my niece over seven years ago. This blue and white afghan made in Penn State colors was supposed to be used at college. That never happened.

But thanks to the Royals, I completed this afghan! Their drive to succeed and never give up gave me the inspiration to finish projects that my Mom had started years before she passed away.

My Mom started two afghans at the same time; a blue one for my niece and a green one for my son. She knitted large panels, completing five for both my niece’s and my son’s afghans.. She even started crocheting borders around the panels of blue that would one day become my niece’s afghan and green for my son’s.

But my Mom never finished either project.

My Mom working on the afghan for my son. My Mom working on the afghan for my son.

She could make the panels, but she never put them together. I have my opinions as to why she could not finish.   Partly I think because she had the pieces in two separate homes. Some she worked on in their apartment in New Jersey. Other pieces were completed at their home in the Catskills.

Any discussions of the afghans became a ‘tease.’ “Grandma, are you ever going to get them done?” She would nod her head and say she was working on them.

But she did not finish them.

My Mom died suddenly.  The afghans were left undone. But we were not thinking about them. We were trying to deal with life without a wonderful Mom and Grandma.

Nine months after my Mom died, my Dad died.

There were even more unexpected sorrows. My siblings and I left our parent’s homes untouched. The apartment and the house stood empty. We could not deal with the memories that awaited us. The afghans waited, forgotten.

In May of 2013, we began to clean my parent’s apartment. It had been almost two years since my Dad passed away.

While we cleaned, I found a container with some pieces of the afghans and some yarn, but not enough to finish the project. Since I am the only child who knits and crochets, I decided to send the pieces to my home in Kansas. Perhaps I could do something with them. But I knew she had completed more pieces. I just was not sure where they were.

In July of 2013 my brother and I went up to the home in the Catskills. I found the rest of the completed sections of the two afghans along with extra yarn, her crochet hooks and knitting needles, and the instructions she was using to make the afghans. My brother shipped these to my home as well.

I left the boxes in my spare room for a year, packed and untouched. I could not bring myself to open the boxes. I knew what was in them. I knew I needed to do something with them. But I just did not know if I could actually complete them.

But this summer, I finally tackled the boxes. A neighbor, a young woman I have known since she was in preschool, was raising money for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society by helping people organized.   Although I am usually organized, I needed help for this project. For my donation to the charity, I received five hours of help.

We went through all the boxes. We unpacked all the yarn, thread and instructions. We placed the pieces of the two separate afghans into two separate containers. I could see what needed to be done to complete the afghans. But I still was not quite ready to work on them.

I was not quite ready to pick up the pieces that my Mom had started so long ago. I was not ready to touch the afghans she had worked on so lovingly. My son and my niece both celebrated birthdays this month. Both are October babies. And with the Royals in the Pennant Race, I began to think more and more about the afghans. I felt that she wanted me to finished them this year. I could not give up on this project, just as the Royals would not give up on their October quest!

Game four of the World Series, Royals versus Giants. Since we live in the Kansas City metropolitan area, this is a very big event. My husband was out of town.   I was home alone, watching the game by myself. And I decided it was time. I could work on an afghan as I watched.

My niece's afghan, what my Mom had completed. My niece’s afghan, what my Mom had completed.

I brought now the tub that had my niece’s afghan. I put the pieces on the floor. I could see that my Mom had completed white borders around two of the panels, and started the borders around two others.   I set myself the goal of completing the borders while I watched the game. COMPLETED!

I then examined the pieces. My Mom had made each panel a slightly different size. I think this might be why she did not put them together. She did not know what to do.   I did not want to change these panels. I had three long ones (one very long) and two short ones. So I made a design using the shorter panels to go above and below the longer panels.

I began to sew them together, gathering as needed. I put the longest panel to the outside. And I finished that during Game 5! Then I began a border around the entire afghan. First I did a row of single crochet in white; then a row of double crochet in white. I knew my Mom would never leave a white border. So I added a single crochet of blue, and then a double crochet row of blue. It still did not look right. I then added a scallop. Perfect.

My niece's afghan completed during game 6. My niece’s afghan completed during game 6.

I finished it the day before my niece’s birthday, during Game 6. Yes even during all that excitement, I was able to crochet.  I mailed it to her on her birthday, in the afternoon before Game 7.

I thought finishing the projects my Mom started would be too painful to accomplish. But I was wrong. I felt a burden lift from my shoulders as I began to crochet. I think my Mom would be happy to know what I was doing!

The pieces my Mom finished of my sons afghna. The pieces my Mom finished of my sons afghna.

Before Game 7 of the World’s Series, I brought the container that held my son’s afghan into my family room. I took out the five pieces and decided what I needed to do. This border was different than the one my Mom had put around my niece’s afghan.   I began to crochet.

Sometimes my mind wandered to my Mom. I thought about her knitting and crocheting these panels. My stitches have a slightly different tension than hers. But it does not matter. When I crochet, I feel close to my Mom.

The Royals lost the game, but they showed so much vitality and good sportsmanship. Even when our catcher was hit hard in the leg with a pitch, he battled through the pain. I felt for him!

He never gave up.

Finishing my Mom’s projects during the World’s Series seemed like the perfect project to accomplish.   Soon my son’s afghan will be completed as well. Thank you to the Royals for a great October and for giving me the inspiration to succeed in a project as well.


Watching Antiques Roadshow Inspired Me to Donate My Great-Grandmother’s Matzah Cover

12 Jun


Matzah cover made by my Great Grandmother Chava.

Matzah cover made by my Great Grandmother Chava.

Watching the Antiques Roadshow, a PBS show, is one of my favorite television experiences.   I started watching it with my parents years ago. Whenever they came to visit, this was one of their favorite shows. They got me hooked on it!

I love learning about different items of furniture, jewelry and knick knacks. It is a history lesson along with seeing the beautiful items. But every once in a while, someone brings in a special ephemeral item: photos, letters, a diary. In my opinion, these items should really be in a museum, some place where researchers and students and others can see the items and learn from them.

It drives me crazy. I even say it out loud. Occasionally we find out that the family did donate the item. Like when a family had the musical notations of the “Star Spangled Banner.” They donated it to a museum, and that made me feel good!

I often wondered: would I be able to do that. Would I be able to donate a family treasure to a museum? The answer is yes.

When my siblings and I were cleaning out our parents’ apartment we found two items that my brother, sister and I all wanted, but knew something special had to be done with them. One was a program from the 1930s for a benefit to help the Jews of Europe, the other was a cookbook in English and Yiddish to help immigrants learn to cook American meals.

My sister contacted the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park and asked if they would want these documents. The answer was a resounding yes. So we donated them. This way they will survive, and others who might be doing research or want to know about life for immigrant women would have these items. They will be protected. The curator told us that they had only seen one other program like ours, but it was from a Chicago event. Ours was from a New York City event.

The three of us were glad that we made this decision.

I recently made another decision to donate.

I am donating the matzah cover my great-grandmother Chava made in 1901 to the same museum. I have thought about this for several years, and decided it was the best choice for this family heirloom.

The matzah cover is made of beige linen and a teal silk. I think the silk was originally blue. On the matzah cover my great grandmother embroidered the date she made it in Hebrew letters and the words: “Seder shel Pesach” (Seder of Passover) in Hebrew. It has beautiful cut work embroidery made into a Jewish star (Mogan Dovid) with embroidered roses along the edge.

My mother gave it to me about 25 years ago for several reasons: first because I was named for my great grandmother; second, because I also do embroidery; third because my parents would come and spend the second night of Pesach with me; fourth because my daughter is the oldest grandchild. I think they thought I would pass it on to her.

But I will not.

The matzah cover was made in Galicia before the First World War. I think it was made for my grandfather’s first birthday, as he was born in 1900 on the first of Nissan. It came to the USA in 1932. My Grandmother took my mother, then age 2, and her brother, age 5, to Europe for six months. They stayed with my great grandparents. And my great grandmother gave the matzah cover and some other family items to my grandmother to bring back to the United States with her family.

At some point my grandmother gave the matzah cover to my mother. And then it became mine.

I used it every year for Passover. I would cover the matzah on the table before the meal. But as soon as the food and wine came out, I would switch to a matzah cover that I made. I did not want anything to happen to this cover because I was not sure how I could ever clean it without destroying it.

As the years have passed, it has become more and more fragile. I want it to survive. My great grandmother did not survive. She and most of my grandfather’s family perished in the Shoah. This is the only religious item she made that remains.

I also thought about donating my matzah cover because I had a mild infestation of fabric eating bugs. Ugh. They are gone now. And the matzah cover is safe. But part of me was worried. What if they had reached the cover? Perhaps there is something better I can do with this item?

First I asked my daughter how she felt about my donating this item. She thought it was a great idea.

So I contacted the museum and the woman who helped us with the other donations. She asked for photos.

And then she said yes, they would like the matzah cover for their collection. She told me that the matzah covers they had that were that old were all stained and in disrepair, while mine was in wonderful shape. Which is true.

I told her I wanted to use it for one more Passover before I donated it.

2014 Passover Seder.  Matzah cover in the middle of the table.

2014 Passover Seder. Matzah cover in the middle of the table.

She asked that I take photos of it in use. Which I did and you can see here.

She promised me that anyone in my family would always have the right to come and see it privately when it was not on display, although we would never be able to touch it again. (Probably a good thing as fabric decays.)

In August I will take my matzah cover from Kansas back to New Jersey, and then to its new home at the museum. I hope by sharing it with so many people, it will have continued life, and perhaps help people understand how extraordinary Jewish life was in Europe before the Shoah.

I donated the matzah cover on August 12, 2014.

The Beautiful, Yet Horrible Blue Flowered Dress

1 Jun

I close my eyes and I can still see the four dresses next to each other on the bed in my Grandma Esther’s spare bedroom at the apartment in the Bronx. Four identical blue dresses, with Peter Pan collars, bright yellow and red rickrack and springs of tiny flowers printed all over the gingham dress. The dress had a built-in sash and dirndl skirt. Each dress was a slightly different size: one each for my two first cousins, also sisters, as well as one each for my sister and I. I must have been about seven, my sister three, my cousins were about eight and ten.

My grandmother had an urge to buy us matching dresses. I don’t know if it was a special occasion, or she just saw them while coming home from working and decided to get them. I think there is a photograph somewhere of us all wearing the dress at the same time. But I do not know where it is, or if it was really taken. I have searched in my albums looking for some photo of these dresses. But they do not exist. (If a photo did exist, my sister probably destroyed it.)

All I know is that this was a wonderful gift. And we all said, “Thank you!” to Grandma Esther, who was very excited about getting these dresses for us.

The dresses came home.   I wore mine for school, occasionally, after the initial ‘for special occasion only’ wearing. In the early 1960s, girls always wore dresses to school. I had both school clothes and play clothes that I changed into as soon as I got home. So it was fine to have another dress to wear. But really this was to be my dressy dress, for special occasions.

I loved the dress. Blue is my favorite color, and my Mom often dressed me in red or pink because of my black hair. I do not like those colors. So I was happy to finally have a blue dress. I liked the rows of rickrack running along the bottom and bodice. I liked that it had some three-dimensional treatments. I loved the pretty flowers.   I wore it happily. And when I was handed down my oldest cousin’s dress, I was happy to wear that one as well. To me it was just the best blue dress ever!

Notice the generous amounts of rickrack not only on her costume, but also braided to make the headpiece.

Notice the generous amounts of rickrack not only on her costume, but also braided to make the headpiece.

Because of this dress I developed a love of rickrack. I do not remember having it on a dress before this special dress. I fell in love with the feel and texture of rickrack. I also loved to say the word! When I had a daughter, I often made her dresses and costumes with rickrack on them, using all different colors.

As for my cousins, they do not have the same memories of this dress. In fact, they do not remember this dress at all. My sister and I were telling one of our cousins about the dress once, and there was a blank look in her eye.   I think because they only wore the dresses for a short time, and did not have the extra dresses to wear, they did not have as strong an impression.

However, my sister will tell you a different story about the dress. She learned to hate it, even though I think was a pretty dress. But she does have a relatively good reason.

You see, as stated earlier, there were four dresses. She was the youngest. My cousins only wore the dress one year or two. But as each cousin outgrew the dress, it was passed down to the next child. Because one cousin was only nine months older than I was, I did not really get that dress to wear. But my sister did. She wore the same dress for years, as each one was passed down to her.

I should add, that my sister wore the last of the same dress for an extra long time. My Mom saved that dress. She even said to my sister, “That dress still fits you. It has a nice big hem.”

My Mom realized she could buy matching rickrack and lower the hem, then sew the rickrack along the crease where the hem had been.

Because they were dresses for a special occasion, they were not worn out. I think my sister wore some version of that blue dress till she was about 11 or 12…so at least eight long years.

When we talk about the blue dress, my sister gets a sort of pained look on her face and tightens up her body.   It is almost as if she is trying to get the memory of even wearing it out of her mind.

Her daughter did have a similar navy blue dress made by her paternal grandmother. But instead of flowers, it had the alphabet printed on it and apple appliqués. My sister had a difficult time even putting the dress on her daughter. She had a visual and visceral pain seeing her daughter in the dress. After that, her mother-in-law always let my sister help pick the fabric for dresses.

Because of the blue dress, my sister was against matching clothes for our daughters. Whereas some families get matching clothes for family photos, we never did this. We might mention a color theme, but NO matching clothes.

And when I think about it, I cannot remember seeing my sister wear navy blue dresses even today. The impact and memory of the beautiful, yet horrible blue dress lives with her forever.

How My Grandparents Impacted My Life

15 May


Summer of 1979 in the Catskills.  Eight months before my wedding.

Summer of 1979 in the Catskills. Eight months before my wedding.

I am so fortunate to have had all four of my grandparents walk down the aisle at my wedding! Two of them were alive when my daughter was born, and knew her. And one of my grandparents survived and knew my son as well. They had a major impact on my life, especially since I spent every summer in the Catskills with all four of my grandparents near by.

My Grandpa Harry, born in 1888 or 1889, was my oldest grandparent. He did not have the easiest childhood. The oldest of five children, he spent two years as a teen searching for his father who abandoned the family. He found him in Seattle, Washington, quite far from his family in New York City. Grandpa returned home, became a tailor and supported his family. All of his siblings graduated college, a feat for women of the time. And Grandpa supported them. The saddest part is that after they were college educated, they treated Grandpa as if he was not quite good enough for them.

I took sewing classes beginning when I was 14, and Grandpa and I started to really talk! He was proud of the things I made and would check the seams and my work. Grandpa taught me how to match plaids, not an easy thing to do. But from him I learned that to make something well, you need to take the time and effort to make it nice. To this day, I cannot buy clothing where the plaids or lines do not match up.

My favorite memory of Grandpa Harry was his guarding the sweet table every holiday. My Grandma Esther was a great cook and baker. Each holiday had amazing treats set aside on special table. Grandpa would sit at the end. I think he counted how much each of the nine grandchildren ate. If we came back too often, he would intone: “The Trolley car stops, too!” From this I learned moderation. You need to take a break.

(From my cousins I learned that there were extra treats hidden in the back bedroom.)

Grandma Esther was also born in the New York City area, but in 1898. She was also one of five children, and was surrounded by cousins. I have written about her teaching me to crochet and knit (See “Grandma Esther’s Afghans Wrap Me in Love” and “Knitting and Crocheting Brings Love and Memories.”) But she taught me many other important concepts as well.

When I was old enough to date, Grandma Esther sat me down to discuss choosing the perfect spouse. She had already dealt with my Grandpa Harry’s family for years, so it was not surprising when she said, “When you get married, you marry the family as well. So be careful. Check out his family before you say yes. Find someone whose family is like your family.” And I did. Almost 35 years later, I can say, Thank you!

The most important help my Grandma gave me was teaching me how to nurse my daughter. Grandma flew out to Kansas when she was 88 years old to meet my daughter. (My sister and her husband flew with her.) When she saw my feeble attempts at nursing, 28 years ago, she was shocked.

First she said, “Only poor people nurse. Your cousins’ wives did not do this.” My response was, “Grandma, they say this is much better for the baby. I want to do it.” Her second response, “Well if you are going to do it, do it right.”

And she showed me how to do it the right way. It made such a big difference. I then taught all my friends the tricks my Grandma showed me. Our mothers had not nursed. So we needed someone who actually had done it to point out the way.

The last advice she gave me was in naming babies. She was one of five cousins named Esther. And she hated that each of them had nicknames. She was Curly Esther because of her hair. But there also was Topsy Esther and Meshuganah Esther as well. I never heard the other nicknames. So she made sure her children’s English names were different from their cousins, even though their Hebrew names were the same.

My Grandpa Nat (Nissan) was born in Europe in 1900. He spent two years traveling to get to the Golden Medina, the USA. He arrived in 1920. Grandpa was a baker (See “Bakery Aromas Bring Back Delicious Memories.”) But most important is that he had a great work ethic, as well as a great sense of humor.

Every spring we had to help get his bungalow colony ready for another season. He would say to my siblings and I, as he handed us paint scrappers, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Which is true. As an adult you have to have a job to get food. He was proud of our college educations. Having grown up in Europe and seen the treatment of Jews there, he said, “They can take everything away from you, but they can never take away your education.”

One of his fun, and my favorite saying of his, “It is as easy to follow a heavy cart, as it is to follow a empty one.” I am sure it is a translation from Yiddish. But it was his marriage advise meaning, try to find someone who has a little more assets. It will help in the long run. But all time favorite saying was “Every Pot has a Lid.” This might have been my Grandma Thelma who said this. But the main point is that everyone has someone.

Grandpa Nat loved us. His entire family, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, many aunts, uncles and cousins had perished in the Shoah. (“Speaking Yiddish Always Brings Me Holocaust Memories.”) But he never lost a sense of humor, and he always showed us love.

But the most important person to him was my Grandma Thelma (Tova). She was born in Poland in 1906. Grandma was strong willed and determined; she came to the USA when she was 16, worked all day and then went to night school to learn English. She read, wrote and spoke three languages. And she was afraid of Nothing.

Grandma Thelma sang Yiddish songs to me to put me to sleep. “Ofyn Pripetchik “ was my favorite. Grandpa sang to us as well. Their singing of the Yiddish songs was so heartfelt. Grandpa’s version of “Rozhinkies mit Mandlen,” “Was itz Geven Ist Geven,” “Tum Balalayke,” “Eli Eli” and “Schtela Beltz “ still echo in my mind. He had a beautiful voice. My siblings and I often sang along with him.

Advice from Grandma Thelma was never ending. She and I battled for power constantly. She called me the Machshefah, the witch.   But from her I learned to be strong. I learned never to give up. I learned to trust myself.

When I was at college, she would send me letters with a bit of ‘gelt’ (money) so I could buy stamps and write back. Wherever I lived, not matter what I did or where I wanted to go, she was my ally. We could fight, but she backed me up always. When I needed to stand up to my parents, to be who I wanted to be, Grandma was standing behind me.

Her shopping advise was intense,  “When you buy jewelry, always buy real. When you buy gold, always buy solid, never buy hollow.” Grandma taught me how to sew jewelry into clothing, because you never know. She kept silver coins in every purse. And money buried in the basement. Her experiences growing up in Europe scarred her, but she was defiant and not scared. Luckily I never had to use this final advice.

I am who I am because of my grandparents. I think of them often with love.

Building Projects Are Family Friendly

30 Apr

Whenever my parents came to visit, I always had a list of jobs around my house and yard that needed to be done. My Dad was not the type of person to sit around and do nothing. If he did not have a goal, he would just get too antsy.

Over the years he helped my husband put together bookcases, desks, closet organizers and more. They planned and dug flower and vegetable gardens. And spent hours together walking through home improvement stores and buying much needed equipment!  My Dad and husband loved going to home improvement stores together.  If they spent less than $100, I thought it was wonderful.  Most times they spent much more.

One year they built a giant closet organizer for my walk-in closet. They went to the home improvement store and brought home information on how to do it.  We designed it. Then my husband and Dad bought all the shelving and hanging poles, and spent a few days putting it together. I have had the best use out of that one project.

My son enjoyed helping as well. The first time he really got into putting something together, besides Lego sets (which he was quite good at completing), was when he was in seventh grade. I think it was because he was taking ‘shop’ in middle school. He got the urge to really build and use tools in that class.

My son builds his first project with my husband and Dad.

My son builds his first project with my husband and Dad.

The first project they all worked on was a desk that needed to be put together for my computer. My Dad, husband and son set up a command center on my dining room floor near the stairs. Why there? I am not sure. I think it was because my dad could sit on the stairs and direct.

They pulled out the instructions, got some tools and spent the next hour happily bonding through building. It was fun for the three of them. And, eventually, they actually finished putting the desk together.

These type of projects were easy. All the pieces came in a box. They only had to assemble it. My husband and son put together three bookcases for our basement family room with these box projects. There were drawers and closet doors, which was a bit more of a challenge. But they were able to complete their mission.

Building his first independent project for the cats.

Building his first independent project for the cats.

My son wanted a bigger challenge. He wanted to build a place for our cats to hang out. We had seen some of the cat platforms in the pet store. But the one he wanted was expensive. At the same time, I was reading a magazine for cat owners, in it was the instructions on how to make one at home.

That was all information my son needed. He begged my husband to help him build it. So they took the magazine to the hardware store and bought all the needed supplies. It took several weekends, and several trips to the store. But the time they spent together building the cat hideaway and platform was worth much more than the money spent to make it.   An added benefit is that the cats love it.

The cats loved the finish project.

The cats loved the finish project.

But my son is not the only one to get the building bug. My daughter was often right there with them putting things together. She had the patience to actually read the instructions. Her Dad and brother were more likely to go by instinct. Her help was always appreciated, as she used her calm to keep them on target when the building was not going exactly as planned.

When my Dad had a more difficult time putting things together, my daughter, who went to college near by, was the helper. But she was more than just a builder, she was often a tech support. Spending a weekend with her grandparents meant also fixing the computer, the internet connection or a television’s reception.

She was not the only one to help, but since she actually stayed with them, they often saved up chores for her to accomplish when she visited. My brother-in-law and nephew were the usual tech support because they lived close by. But I think they enjoyed the ‘vacation’, when my daughter could take over for a bit.

Cousins putting together a coffee table.

Cousins putting together a coffee table.

Years later, my nephew moved to Kansas for his master’s degree.   My children and I took him shopping for a coffee table. It came, of course, in a box. The three of them had a great time putting it together. Their Grandfather would have been so happy to see them on the floor with the pieces and the screws and the directions. I sat on a chair and directed…taking my Dad’s role.

Building is fun. But more important, in our family, it brings us together for a glorious time as we reach a common goal.  Dad would be smiling.

Grandma Esther’s Afghans Wrap Me in Love

28 Mar

Throughout my home are reminders of my Grandma Esther.   She spent much of her time knitting and crocheting for her three children, nine grandchildren and later 18 great grandchildren.

During the summers she stayed with my Aunt and Uncle in a bungalow in Kauneonga Lake, where my other grandparent’s bungalow colony once stood. Most days, rain or sunshine, Grandma crocheted.


I still have the first afghan that she helped me to make, when she first taught me to crochet. It was the first thing I made after a scarf.  This afghan began life as a poncho. But when I got tired of wearing it, Grandma helped me find matching yarn, and we made it into my first afghan with my Mom’s help when Grandma was not around.  This green, orange, yellow, brown and beige afghan stays in my sewing room/guest room.  It is starting to fray, and the stitches do not look so wonderful. But since it has to be about 47 years old, I would say it is in pretty good shape.


In my bedroom is the afghan she made as one of nine for her grandchildren.  My brother, sister and I each got one when we got married.  Mine is orange and green, because those were once my favorite colors (though not anymore). I keep it in my bedroom on a comfortable reclining chair.  When I am having a bad day or feeling sick, I wrap myself in my Grandmother’s afghan and feel only love and warmth.

My daughter has two afghans made by Grandma.  By this time Grandma only remembered one stitch.  So all the great grandchildren have the same pattern, just different colors.


She made one afghan when I was pregnant and presented to me as a baby gift.  The other afghan she made at my daughter’s request, using the colors she wanted…pinks and purple. (My daughter was almost seven when my grandmother passed away.)  But the green, yellow and blue one was made in anticipation of my daughter’s arrival.

Grandma was 88 years young when she flew from New York to Kansas to be here the week after my daughter was born. My sister and her husband flew here with Grandma. Nothing was going to stop her from seeing my daughter. She stayed for a long weekend.  It was a special time.  And these memories are there in the afghan.


A dark blue, kelly green and orange afghan was made for my son.  By this time Grandma has having trouble.  My son was born when Grandma was 92. Grandma had three great grandchildren born close together that year.  If I remember correctly, my Aunt helped Grandma complete these afghans.   She had several more to make after my son was born.  I think his is one of the last full-size afghan.  She made a matching pillow to go with it as well.

I keep his in a plastic bag in his closet.  When he was little he liked to sleep on the floor of his bedroom in a teepee wrapped in this afghan.  Now it waits for him to once again use it.  There is no room in his little college apartment.


On the back of the chair I work in, is a small lap afghan. This my Grandma made from scraps of yarn leftover from other projects.  She gave it to my parents, who used it for almost 20 years  after she passed away, until they also died. When we cleaned out their home, I took it home with me.

Besides my Grandmother’s afghans, I also have ones that I have made.  A purple one for my daughter when she was born is one of my favorites.


Each afghan holds love in each stitch.  The love I remember when Grandma taught me to crochet and knit.  The love my Grandma put into each afghan she made. And the memories she wanted us to hold with the little label sewn in each one that says “Made especially for you by Grandma Esther.”

A short update/ January 2022:  For the past seven years I have been making baby blankets for all babies born into my family, as well as for all babies whose parent’s invited me to their weddings.  Well over 60 blankets so far.  For my extended family, I make them in honor and memory of Grandma Esther.