Tag Archives: friends

Downsizing After 35 Years

5 Mar

It has been a wacky five weeks in my life, which has left me without the energy to write. But finally, I think I can articulate my mixed-up emotions. We are moving. Leaving the only house we ever owned. Leaving the house that we brought both our children home to. Leaving the neighborhood we have lived in for 35 years.

And it is my fault!

I told my husband several years ago that we needed a smaller home. We needed to be living on one level. That he needed to stop mowing the lawn, raking leaves and shoveling snow. It was part of my wise aging plan, we would chose! Last summer he acquiesced. In August I started the search for a reverse 1 1/2 story that had some maintenance free accommodations. At the end of a January I found the house.

Bringing my husband to see it when he was not feeling well might not have been fair as he lay on the floor of the empty great room and told me if I love it get it. But I took him at his word. Also he knew I had seen a multitude of homes before getting that feeling of home I felt in this one.

The house became ours on March 2. Before that was inspections, arrangements for buying, and me coming down with the flu even though I had the flu shot this year as always. The flu for me is always horrific! And this was the same. Five days of fever was followed by an unhappy asthma attack. I have basically been feeling ill for over three weeks. But a second round of steroids seems to have finally moved me forward from my malaise.

But all this has been happening as I started packing for the move while I, along with my husband and children began sorting through the shrines of this home and discarding pieces of the past. My son comes when he is not working to clean out his room and his stored items in the basement. He and his girlfriend are also searching to buy a home. They will take some of the furniture and items that are not moving to our new home.

What my current house looks like

My daughter, who lives overseas with her husband, surprised us on her birthday showing us her ticket home. She arrived two days later for 8 days of intensive sorting. She and I went through our immense library of books, taking just 40-45 boxes and leaving the rest behind.

My children and I went through the house with different color tape as we chose art work. I had first choice, but then they chose what they liked. My heart swelled as the amicably made their selections. I thought how happy I was to do this with them while I was alive and could see what they liked and how well they got along. That is a parents joy. And after cleaning out my parents’ homes after they died, I was determined to make it easier for my children!

At the same time, we were finding paint samples, running to plumbing stores and remodeling companies as we planned the updates in the new home. And I was still dealing with my asthma. I think I was in a state of suspended reality the entire time. She also packed up her entire room, while also ridding it of the residue of her 34 years. She came with three empty suitcases that flew back across the Atlantic and Mediterranean filled with pieces of her life. When she left, I felt a bit bereft, but thankful she came.

But finally this morning I woke up after sleeping an entire seven hours feeling like I could really breathe! Our new house has a swarm of workers busily updating. Yesterday nine people were painting, hammering, removing, and updating. And with the painters painting away, new hardwood floors are being installed, the electrician fixing all the issues, the plumber ready to come, the alarm company updating, the tree service and roofer and gardener all set up, I can relax. All I have left to do is to keep packing and sorting. I honestly cannot have an outside company pack. Downsizing means things have got to GO!

Pre work great room
Carpeting gone.
Floor going in.
You can see the new color off to the left!

However, I have to admit one more event probably eased my anxiety. I was supposed to go on a mission to Europe with a group. I did not fear getting ill, but the timing was so bad with the move less than a month away. And I would be gone a week as the remodeling continues. I woke up at 4 am each morning uneasy. Going through all that still needed to be done at home, while at the same time trying to get my work completed at my job. High anxiety on top of excitement. On top of trying to breathe. But yesterday the trip was postponed due to the Corona virus. It actually is a relief!

I am thankful for my friends and family who have pitched in to help! Our realtor, who has been in our lives for over 25 years, has gone beyond her role to help me in the remodeling. My walking artist buddy has Helped me chose colors. My son’s girlfriend, with her great mind for detail, was with me during the inspections. Offers of help to pack. Allowing me to put some of our extra trash in their garbage cans for pickup. Looking through things as I try to decide what to keep. And being there. My husband and I are blessed with family and friends.

Some give away stories. My daughter and I found a box of remnants from my son’s bar mitzvah. Kelly green visors with the word celebrate imprinted. We first thought trash. But then I thought friend. My walking buddy teaches catechism at her granddaughters’ school. Would they like 100 Kelly green visors for St Patrick’s Day. They are donated and at the school ready. And our 100 extra Kippur from our children’s b’nai mitzvot and friends’ life cycle events are at our synagogue in the kippa box where they are being used for services. Other items are also finding new homes. Sleeping bags we no longer use are going to the homeless through a friend’s church ministry. A Halloween ceramic plate is going to a friend who loves that holiday. And my daughter’s 25 year old Barbie camper is going to a friend so her two granddaughters can play with it. I love seeing our cherished items get a second life!

But most of all, for me, I am happy that I finally had the energy to write.

Oy, An Egg Kichel! Delicious!

9 Jan

Amazing how the taste of a freshly baked egg kichel can bring back so many joyful memories!

It started with a Facebook post by a friend.  She posted something from My JewishLearning.com, entitled “Kichels Recipe: Jewish Bow Tie Cookies.    (See link below, it includes the recipe.)

A few of my friends started commenting on the post about how much they loved these cookies, including me.  I commented: “My grandpa made these in his bakery and continued making them for us.  I loved them.  I would glad to be a tester for you!”

Next thing I knew I had committed to meeting a different friend and making them.  What a delight! She had posted that her Bubbie made these treats.  And she wanted to make them again.  I was all in!  (I do feel a bit of guilt that we did not have the person who posted the article with us!)

You do not bake egg kichel, you fry them.  You do not need much, just flour, salt, vinegar, eggs, oil and powdered sugar.    Mixing bowls, a mixer and a frying pan, along with lots of paper towels are required.  I promise you an hour or so of fun, and then a delicious reward.

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One of our early batches.  A bit too thick!

We learned something from our foray into making them.  The dough does have to be paper thin!  It is best to have all the dough rolled out and cut into strips before heating up the oil.  And really, you must make sure the oil is hot, hot, hot before you start putting the dough strips into the frying pan.

My friend was in charge of mixing, then rolling out the dough, and making the paper-thin morsels for us to fry.  The learning experience commence with our first frying. The strips were too thick.  So for the next batch, she started cutting the strips and rolling them out again. SUCCESS!

The excitement once we did it correctly was encompassing.  Each rectangle of dough would almost instantly turn white, bubble up and float to the top of the oil.  In a few moments one side would be golden brown, and I would flip them over.  Watch them a few moments more and then out into the towel to soak up extra oil.  Then I sifted the powdered sugar over them.

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I combined some batches.  But here they are letting the oil soak out!

We had to try one from each batch to taste the difference.  The thinner the dough, the hotter the oil, the crispier the fried kichel, the better it tasted.  We had six batches, so we had to try six. YES!  We really did!

I am so happy my friend not only said that we need to make them one afternoon, she set a date! It was not only the fun of tasting and frying, it brought back the memories of cooking with our grandparents.  We cannot bring them back, but we can in our minds relive happy moments like this!

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 Mine are on the right!

Even after tasting, we had so much left over.  We divided them up relatively evenly.  I suggested she keep extra as she has a grandson living close by to help in the eating.  But I was happy to bring a plate home for my husband and me.

My husband doesn’t have the same memories.  He never tasted egg kichel.  A Shanda!  Can you imagine never eating them?  I cannot.  But then he did not have anyone to bake traditional cookies and treats when he was growing up.  Both of his grandmother’s died very young.

For me, however, each snap of a kichel in my mouth along with the melting of the powder sugar gives me joy.  Oy!  Egg Kichel!  It is so delicious

 

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/the-nosher/kichels-recipe-jewish-bow-tie-cookies/?utm_content=buffer717d6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=thenosher&utm_campaign=buffer

 

Watermelon Helps Make Summers Wonderful

28 Jul

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I love watermelon.

In the summer, on a hot day, it is the MOST refreshing of all fruits.

I love eating it cut up in chunks. I love eating it in wedges.

I love it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I eat watermelon for snacks.

Buying me a watermelon is buying me joy.

This week, with the temperatures and heat index going above 100, I knew I had to get one.   So I went to Costco, walked to the giant bins of bright green watermelons and searched for the best. I picked a few up and thumped. And finally I heard the noise I liked the best. I had found my perfect watermelon. Total Joy!

When I was little my brother and sister taunted me by singing, “Ellen, Ellen Watermelon.” I actually remember all the cousins and other children at the bungalows singing it as well. It was my Catskills nickname as a child. In fact, there are a couple of adult friends of mine who still call me Ellen Ellen Watermelon. It might have bothered me a little bit when I was younger. But truth be told, I love watermelon. So now I do not care at all.

I always got a thrill when I saw my Dad bring a watermelon into the bungalow. He would be the one to cut it up, not my Mom. He would usually cut it into quarters and then make triangular strips. That meant it was really just for us.

If he cut it out of the rind and made chunks, that usually meant he was making it for lots of people and it might be part of a fruit salad. My Dad would make one side of the watermelon into a giant bowl and put the fruit salad back into it. I never do that. But I always helped him by making the cantaloupe and honeydew balls with a special scoop.

I learned to make fruit salad from my Dad. Now, I love to make fruit salad. I like chopping up fruit to make the best combination of fruit flavors. It brings me memories of Dad, and for some reason chopping fruit relaxes me. Whenever I go to a pot-luck dinner, I bring the fruit salad.

Personally, for me just watermelon would be fine.   I like it best cut up into inch to two-inch chunks. Then I fill up a bowl and just snack away. I usually like it on its own, not mixed into a salad. Why mess up the best fruit ever, well except for blueberries, by mixing it with other melons. Yes some like cantaloupe and honeydew. But for me, only the watermelon is enough to make me happy. Although I have been known to mix blueberries and watermelon together for a special treat.

Watermelon has other uses as well.   There have been many a watermelon seed spitting contests at our home in the Catskills. And it is not just for children. I have seen many a grown man and woman spit out their seeds to see whose goes the furthest.

What other fruit gives you the joy of eating and the ability to play with it without anyone yelling, “Stop playing with your food.” Even my Dad would spit watermelon seeds. I remember one contest in particular that included my husband, brother, brother-in-law, Dad and a first cousin.   We were all adults. And we cheer them on.

Best fruit ever, watermelon always helps to make summers wonderful.

Happily Playing Stickball In the Middle of the Street

21 May

Today’s Moms tell their children constantly, “Don’t play in the street.” But where I grew up in North Bergen, New Jersey, in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s, we almost always played in the streets. It is not that our Moms said, “Go play in the street.” It was more, “Get outside and play!” And the street was the place to go.

It was a common event to see a group of children racing the bases in a heated game of stickball, running in the street. We often had ten or more involved in the game.

On our block, 78th Street between Boulevard East and Park Avenue, we had an upward battle to our game as we lived on a hill. So playing stickball was even more difficult. Hitting the ball and running uphill was a challenge. But we had fun.

I cannot tell you how many windows were broken over the years, but I remember at least two. When a window was smashed, we all went running. Eventually the truth came out.

But I can tell you that our mothers never told us to get out of the street. It was the cars that had to be careful, not the children. People expected the streets to be teeming with activity.

Stickball was played with a broomstick and a pink rubber ball (Spaulding High Flyer, my brother says), or whatever ball happened to be available. We had designated bases that changed each day we played depending on who parked where. A certain car, a telephone pole, a manhole cover, all of these could be named designated bases.

But besides stickball, the street was also the site of football, hide and seek, hopscotch, and any other game that needs a space to run.

I have to say that my favorite ‘street’ story of all concerns my brother. I know he was in high school, because he was already tall. He grew to about six feet. And that is what caused his problem. If he had been shorter, he probably would not have been hurt.

We were playing in the street My brother and his friend were playing football.  Tossing a ball back and forth across the street, in the street on the sidewalk.  But not just tossing, throwing it hard.   My brother caught the ball and turn to run, unbeknownst to him, a volkswagen had parked right where he turned to run.  Usually that car went into the garage, but this time it just was on the sidewalk.

My brother says, “So Jack throws me the ball and I spin to run, never expecting a car to be in the driveway and slam right into the car. Volkswagen’s at that time had a rain guard over the door that was steel. I hit my lip right into this and it split. Spilling lots of blood and needing two stitches.”

There was blood; lots of blood. I have since learned, as a parent, that the face bleeds much more that any part of the body. And my brother’s face was filled with blood, as was the street and the Volkswagen.

Luckily that day a parent was home. I do not say this sarcastically. We would come home from school by ourselves. Make a snack by ourselves and go out to play by ourselves. It was the same way for almost all the kids on the block.

Many other accidents occurred over the years.   I remember many of them, like when my brother’s friend got his hand caught in between a bunch of nails on a piece of wood.  Yes he did. It was a weird accident. My parents took him to the hospital, as his parents were not home.  He was holding the wood on his lap all the way and into the emergency room.

There was one grandma who lived on the block, and she was often the one to wipe away the blood and check to make sure the injured child would survive. She was there the day my sister’s front teeth were knocked out and took care of my sister till my Mom got home. We had some adult supervision. But with so many children on the block, any parent who was home took care of any issues that occurred…issues sometimes being arguments or sometimes being injuries! No one ever argued if a parent disciplined someone else’s children or took care of them.

But I digress. One this day, our parents were home. And my brother was taken to the emergency room at North Hudson Hospital. I was not there, but I have heard that the conversation went something like this:

“How did you get hurt?” The doctor asks.

“I ran into a car,” my brother responds.

“You mean a car ran into you. You got hit by a car,” the doctor says.

“NO, I mean I ran into a car playing stickball,” my brother was honest. “The car was parked. The car did not hit me. I hit the car.”

The doctor then had to laugh. I believe he even said something like, I have never had to stitch a kid who hit a car before.

My brother was fine. He had to get stitches in his face. But that was nothing new for him. He had had stitches before from when he played Superman off the front stoop when we lived on Third Avenue in North Bergen, and another time when a wooden train piece hit him in the head.

He came home with a great story to tell. We all heard about the doctor who thought he got hit by a car!

The next day my brother was back at playing stick ball and other games in the street. Games did not end because of one minor injury. We continued to happily play stickball in the middle of the street for years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stickball

The Turning 60 Blues! Or the Best and Brightest Blue Ever!

25 Jan

January 23 was not a date I was looking forward to reaching. I usually love to celebrate, and I love my birthday. But this year was different. This year I was turning 60. Somehow that age bothered me. I do not feel sixty. I do not act 60. To me being 60 meant I was not just an adult, I was old…a sage…a mentor, not a doer.

And I have been a doer my entire life. Was this going to change me?

I was having the turning 60 blues!

My angst really began to hit me in November. On the 23 of November I was getting ready to fly from India to Israel to visit my daughter. And it hit me that in two months I would be 60. What was I doing flying around the world by myself. I was almost old!! I had just spent 10 days in India with my husband. And now I was planning to spend another 8 days in Israel. Was I crazy?

No I was not. But I was really two months away from this terrible date.

When I got home to Kansas in early December, the dread continued. I started talking about my age at meetings. I was seeing things differently. At many meetings I was among the oldest women in the room, instead of one of the younger ones.

At one meeting of an executive committee I am on, I even said something about turning 60 and having a difficult time with it. The ladies were very nice. “You don’t look a day over 45!” One said politely. Another, who knows a bit better, said, “and you act like you are 12!” (Is that good? I wasn’t quite sure.) “A little older than 12!” I responded.

The president said, “Don’t worry, you are good at any age. “ And she is older than I am. So perhaps this would not be so bad.

A truly long-time good friend, one of best friends, asked if I was planning a party. Not really. I had thought about. But decided “No.” In January the weather is so iffy. No one would come. I was not in the mood. But she continued to bug me. She can be quite forceful at times.

When I told her I could not find a good place. She found a place. It was less than three weeks before my birthday. I went to the bakery/luncheonette and realized that it was a great place for a party.

But then I remember Miss Manners said that people should not throw a party for themselves. It was egotistical and unsightly, or some such words. And as for saying ‘no gifts,’ she considered that was rude as well.

Too bad! I decided to throw a party for myself, and say no gifts. But directed people who really wanted to do something to make a donation to a scholarship fund I had started in memory of my parents.

I started sending out email invitations, when my email was hacked. Which created an avalanche of aggravation. All my contacts were lost for two days till I learned how to recover. By then I had lost track of whom I had invited. So I had to send out groups of invites and individuals till I got everyone covered.

I sent out 50 invitations. The room only held 40. But 12 people lived out of town. So I was safe. To my delight two ‘out of towners’ were able to attend.  In all 36 people said they would come.  The only No’s came from people who would be out of town for the weekend.

The hearts I made for my friends.

The hearts I made for my friends.

I set myself some goals. I decided to make a crochet heart for every woman who came to my birthday tea. Each one of the people I invited had a place in my heart.   I decided we would all wear hats and just visit. No big plans. But I would introduce everyone from my different parts of life with a story.

And I had a moment of inspiration! I love the color blue. I love teal and turquoise, royal blue, navy blue. Any shade of blue makes me happy. So why was I thinking that turning 60 was giving me the blues in a bad way? Turning 60 should give me the blues in a good way.   Here I am! 60!

So I bought blue napkins and ribbons and decorations: None of this stupid over the hill stuff or tombstone stuff. I am bright and cheerful and happy to be alive.

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I decided that I would also have a cake for my family. I asked the woman at the bakery to make me a cake to share with my family that would have enough blue flowers so that everyone could have one with each piece. She made me the most extraordinary birthday cake covered with flowers and she made it look like a lovely spring hat. I love it!

I went back into celebration mode. I went out with my ‘mirthday’ (mirthday = middle of our birthdays) buddy. Her birthday is two days and one year before mine. We always celebrate with a lovely lunch and a shopping trip to Chico’s. The tradition continues.

I met another best friend and went to a local favorite, Andre’s. It was delicious and fun. She surprised with a lovely sculpture of a writer. It sits happily on my entrance desk.

And I went out with my husband and son for dinner and home for cake and gifts. As a family we accomplished a great success constructing the rebound trampoline I got for my birthday.

I might be 60. But last week I walked almost 70,000 steps.

I might be 60, but I still play a pretty sharp ‘Words with Friends.’

I might be 60, but I still work part time.

I might be 60, but I can still travel the world.

I remember when I was in my early 20s. I was visiting my aunt and grandma. My aunt said, “I went to bed a young woman and I woke up an old lady.” She handed me the newspaper. And there was a little article circled. It said, “Elderly man, 59, falls to his death.” My aunt had said she was 39 for years. So my response, “No Aunt Leona, what are you talking about ! You are only 39!” We all laughed. But that article has been haunting me.

Setting up for the tea party!

Setting up for the tea party!

The room for my party looked wonderful with all the brightly colored napkins and flowers and hearts displayed on the tables.  I even asked the bakery to make all the sugar cookies iced in teal!  I had only my favorite flavors for the desserts: lemon, raspberry and chocolate.  Everything looked and tasted wonderfully!

Lovely turquoise cookies and other goodies.

Lovely turquoise cookies and other goodies.

So today, to prove I am not elderly I have planned an exotic and eccentric tea party outfit to wear to my 60th birthday party. I am, of course, wearing blue: Blue dress, blue shoes, blue hat, and a lovely blue, turquoise and green sparkling and lightly beaded caftan-ish long jacket.

I am ready to meet my sixties without feeling blue…but being the best and brightest blue ever!

My Jawbone Up Is A Healthy Obsession, I Hope

22 Jan

On the news I recently heard that people whose spouses exercises are more likely to exercise. And even more important is to have an exercise partner. I am blessed, not only do I have a husband who loves to run and encourages me to exercise, I also have three walking partners, three devoted friends who exercise with me to keep ourselves healthy!

Friend one, Lynn, has been walking with me for 18 years. But not only walking, we meet occasionally with a personal trainer to work on upper body strength and balance. It has been a great plan. We work out Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. We have decided that we will continue walking until we are 92!  I hope we really make it.

Then there is Friend two, Roseann. We walk outside with her dog whenever the weather is nice, usually on Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays if possible. We have walked together for almost ten years or more. Friend three is, as she calls it, my Plan B. Marti walks with me when Lynn cannot. I text her at the last minute and she often comes with me.

I have many other walking buddies as well over the years and depending where we are.  Sue Ellen loves to walk the hills.  Vero is my great vacation walker.  Marcie walked with me when she lived here.  And of course my sister, daughter and sister in law have all spent many hours walking with me.

It has been great fun besides exercise, as we talk and walk. But my relaxed walking recently changed!

In October I was gifted a Jawbone Up from my husband. I got him one two years ago for his birthday, and he loved all the information he now had to help with his health. He knew how long he slept, how much exercise he did and with his My Fitness Pal, how many calories he was taking in.

I did not want one, as I had a bad history with pedometers. I think I broke or lost about ten over the years. I had switched to an app on my phone to register how many steps I took. But since I did not always carry my phone with me, it was never accurate. I had been using My Fitness Pal as well to keep track of my calories, but it did not interface with the step ap.

Finally, my husband said, “ Get a Jawbone Up. It is the best.”

But first we looked around. I checked out the Fit Bit, the Jawbone Up, and the Fitbit that clipped on instead of the wrist band. And finally I made my decision. A blue Jawbone Up. It is now my constant companion.

When I first started using it, I just wanted to walk between 4,000 and 6,000 steps each day. I had no idea how addictive walking and keeping track would become. I slowly worked myself up to the point where I work between 7000 and 10,000 steps a day. On the days I work and I know I will be sitting, I make an effort to walk around at home and use a treadmill to get some steps in.

The little messages reminding me how many steps I walked and how many more I need to make my average inspire to keep going.

But what really inspires me is my own obsessive needs. If I am at 7800 steps when I am ready to go to bed at night, I walk around my house to get 200 more steps! I hate being so close to another 1000. I just have to do it. It almost hurts to be so close.

I also love seeing how much I actually slept. And to be honest, since I started keeping track of my steps and my sleep, I am sleeping longer. I think the extra exercise is making my nights better as well!

I love my Jawbone so much that this holiday season I encouraged several people to get one. And three of them did. A small red, and two medium black Jawbones are now worn by people I know.

The small red one is worn by my neighbor and walking partner, Roseann. And If I thought I was obsessed, she is worse!

My Jawbone has to be plugged in to get my information, but hers is Bluetooth. And today when we were walking, she had her phone out and was checking her steps as we walked. I told her to STOP. We were walking. That was ridiculous.

She told me that her daughter informed her that she was obsessed about steps. I agreed to a point. I am obsessed, but she is crazed.

She has a rebounder in her basement. She informed me that using that gets her many steps. I use my treadmill, but perhaps something else would help as well. She has been averaging about 4000 more steps a day than I have been. But then I sit at an office when I work, and she moves.

However, with my birthday coming up, I decided that I needed a rebounder as well. These little trampolines help with balance and exercise, so I did not feel too bad about buying one for myself as one of my birthday gifts!

As for my other walking partner, Lynn, yesterday she informed me that she planned to get a Jawbone Up for herself as well! Another addict iniatiated!

As for me, yesterday was my all time high. I walked an astounding 7.1 miles, or 16,438 steps. I hope my Jawbone is happy now! Four times my original plan. I do hope this is truly a healthy obsession.

I Love Words With Friends, But What Rules Should be Followed?

4 Jan

I have a passion for words and puzzles. Combining these two makes it clear why I love word games. Like many word enthusiasts, my passion for word games started with Scrabble. This was the only game available when I was a child.

The difficulty was finding an opponent. When an adversary was available, I would play. But it had to be at a home with a board, which made it difficult. At home you have a limited audience.

Then Boggle appeared! I switched because it was much easier to carry the little cube around and I could play anywhere.

I had one friend, in graduate school, who loved Boggle as much as I did. We played whenever we were together and not studying. Sherry and I played hundreds of games of Boggle over the years. When we both lived in the same city, after graduate school, we played whenever we got together. We kept score and were extremely competitive. When she moved out of town and across country, we played whenever they came to visit. But we do not play Boggle anymore, although I still have my cube at home.

Playing word puzzles helped me when I traveled by plane or needed a quiet moment. I had books filled with word games throughout my house. I used these books all the time, working on word and logic puzzles.   I still keep one around for travel. But I no longer have one beside my bed and my chair in the family room. The Internet has overcome the book.

With friends all over the country and the world, I have turned to the Internet for my word games. For me, it seems that “Words with Friends” has won over my heart and my word play time.

I play “Words” with friends and relatives in New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, Pennslyvania, New York, Texas, Kansas and Missouri. Three of my combatants I know from my childhood in North Bergen. We all went to high school together. Three are college friends. Several are cousins. It is a great way to keep in touch with people I do not see very often. Some I have not seen since we graduated! But with “Words with Friends,” we reconnect.

I also play with friends who live in my community. We do not see each other as much as we play the game. The best part of playing with these friends is we can keep playing even when I am on vacation. This is great as they can update me on what is happening at home.

That chat feature is good for many reasons! Sometimes I use it to complain about my horrible letters. Other times I use it to compliment my opponent on a great move. Whenever someone uses all seven letters, they get a texted congratulatory message! But it is also used to keep up on the news and sometimes just to say hi.

I usually have the maximum number of games going at once. To be honest, when I am not at work, I check my phone several times a day to see if there are any games to play.

But I have some issues. Some concerns I just cannot work out. And I do not want to offend anyone, but I have issues:

For example, when a game ends, who goes first?   Since I play multiple games with many people, I have found that sometimes we both hit rematch. So we start two more games instead of one. Also, I have decided that if I win a game, I will pass the first move on the rematch. But if I lose, I should get to go first. Of course there are two times that does not work. First if I look at my letters and realize I can use all seven to make a word. Then I go no matter what. How can I give up such a good move? Second if I have a hand that contains only vowels. Then I cannot take my turn and I pass.

There is one application of “Words” that really bothers me. I dislike the nudge ability. I love to play. If I am not playing with you there is a reason. I am busy with other things. Nudging me will not make me play faster. I never use that feature with my friends because I figure they are not playing for the same reason. Those who like to play, play when they can. They do not need any pressure.

Then there is the issue of how difficult should I be? How strategic? Should I try to win always? Or should I let someone who does not play as well as I do win sometimes? Just so you know, I always play to win. If the other person wins he or she knows that it was a true win!

“Words” is much more than just being lucky with the letters you get. But, I will tell you that some people are luckier than others. I have a cousin who gets the best letters. When I first started playing with her, I did not get an 8 or 10-point letter for weeks. When I finally won a game, I felt wonderful.   She still wins most of the time, but I am slowly getting more wins.

There is also the strategy. Where you place a word is important. Those triple letter/double letter and triple word/double word scores cannot only help you win, the placement can help your opponent. I try to not set my opponent up for a great score. But sometimes, it is the only place to put a word.

There are also the people who use special applications (aps) that help them figure out the best word in the best place. I do not use any special ‘aps’ when I play, I just used my brain. Part of my reason to play “Words with Friends” is to keep my brain active, using an ‘ap ‘would defeat this goal.  However, stringing some letters together that look like a word sometimes works.  And I have noticed a large number of Yiddish words are accepted on “Words” !

Another issue: when should you resign.   There are times when I know I cannot win. Just recently a friend got two seven-letter words almost back to back. I knew I was doomed, but I kept playing. It was a loss for me, but a really good win for her. I would rather play to the bitter end than resign. I always have hope that perhaps I can pull it off, even if I cannot.

Yes, I love competing via “Words,” but I just want everyone to be following the same rules.

Growing Up In New Jersey Meant Having a Cuban “Family” For Me

19 Dec

Growing up in North Bergen, New Jersey, in the early 1960s, I will tell you that I knew many people who left Cuba. For some reason a large number of Cuban refugees ended up in West New York, New Jersey, the city where my Mom grew up and where she taught elementary school.

Among my Mom’s close friends were three women who had left Cuba after Castro took over. In Cuban, two of them had lived upper class lives, with servants and large homes.   The husband of one had had an important position in the previous government. He did not come over with her, as he was imprisoned.

Our lives became intertwined with the families of these three women, We knew their spouses and children. We went to their homes. Although I never learned to speak Spanish, I could understand it as I spent time with the grandmother who never learned to speak English.

They hated Castro. They had a good reason to hate him, as he had destroyed their lives as they knew it. But the years passed. They did make a life in New Jersey, although they always talked about the cold here and the beautiful island of Cuba.

My Mom and these women shopped together, ate together, had parties together. They formed a family at school that continued when they all retired. They took my Mom shopping and always made sure she was dressed appropriately!! They were much more formal at first. And knew all the great places to shop. Gloria, Elvira and Belkys were part of our lives.

At my wedding, it was Gloria who brought needle and thread for my wedding gown. She was concerned because I chose not to have a bustle made. Instead, I had a loop to put the train over my arm. She was right. I grew tired of that very quickly. And Gloria sewed an improvised bustle to my gown at the reception.

They shared happy events and sad ones with us. I remember at my Grandmother’s shiva in 1991, they all came, “the Cuban contingency,” as my Dad called them. At the shiva was a new friend of mine, who was Chilien. I cannot erase from my mind the vision of Gloria and my friend, Vero, standing opposite each other, hands clasped, as Gloria interviewed Vero in Spanish. Thank goodness she passed. We have traveled the world together and have become family, just as my family united with Gloria’s family decades before.

My father and Gloria’s husband, Raphael, drove into NYC together for years. My Dad took his car in, leaving from our home on 78th Street near Boulevard East, and pick up Raphael who lived on Boulevard East right near the border with West New York. They were a team! A comedy team at times!

These three women had an important impact on my life. They were always there. They were at my wedding, my children’s bar and bat mitzvah.  All family events!  They were there at my Mother’s funeral and a few months later at my Dad’s funeral. Their love for my parents and for us never wavered.

So as President Obama, Raul Castro, the Pope and Canada worked in secret to change the relationship between Cuba and the USA, I wondered what they would think of all this.

Perhaps by now their anger would have disappeared. It is over 50 years. The USA has made peace with Germany, with Japan, with Vietnam with South Korea, with China. Why not Cuba?   It makes sense. The world is too small for this distancing from a neighbor who is so close.

No other country has agreed and supported the USA’s blockade of Cuba. No other country has agreed with this decision.

If you read the history of the Island of Cuba (I recommend the book, Havana Nocturne), you would learn that the mob and the dictator before Castro, Fulgencio Batista, were not better than Castro. They were destroying Cuba. Castro, not that I am endorsing what he did, had a reason for the overthrow of the existing government.

Fidel Castro is no longer at the helm of Cuba. It is his brother, Raul.   I believe from the moment he took over, Raul Castro was looking to make a change. I have a personal story that endorses this belief.

My parents went on a cruise in February of the year Raul took over the helm of Cuba, for my Mom’s birthday. My Dad had a heart condition, but was not known to follow medical advice very well when it came to eating correctly. He became ill on the cruise going into congestive heart failure.

The ship had to make a very quick trip to the Grand Cayman Islands where my Dad and Mom were taken off the ship and directly to a hospital. There my Dad was stabilized and then my parents were flown by air ambulance back to the USA. As they flew, the pilot spoke to my Mom.

“Look out the window,” he told her. “That is Havana.   We are the very first air ambulance that has ever been given permission to fly over Cuba!”

Thanks to Raul Castro’s new government, the air space over Cuba was opened for medical emergencies, and my Dad lived three more years.

It is time to make a change.

While growing up in New Jersey, I had a Cuban family! I think the USA and Cuba could form strong bonds, just as the USA and Japan, Germany, and other former adversaries have formed bonds.

The Ghost In The Basement: A True Ghost Story

23 Oct

When I was 9, my family moved from one side of North Bergen to the other side, to a house on 78th Street and Boulevard East. It was a great house with a wonderful backyard on a street with lots of children and fine neighbors.

Next door, our neighbor grew peaches and when they ripened he would give us some. There were two other girls my age, plus children for my brother and sister to play with. Up the hill at the other corner lived James Braddock, yes Cinderella Man, the great boxer.  We were one block from the park and could easily look across the Hudson River to New York City. There was so much to do and so many places to explore!

I loved my street. We had great games of stickball, played at each other’s homes, and wandered over to the park. And we even had the Grandma of one of my friends watch over us when our Mom was still at school; Mom was a teacher. It was a wonderful community.

As for my house, I loved it sort of…well…. except for the ghost in the basement. From the moment we moved in, I knew he was there. I would see him or feel him in certain areas of the basement. But my parents did not believe there was actually a ghost. They thought I just wanted to avoid chores. When we first moved there, I was really scared. I would confront my parents and cry to them, “There is a ghost in the basement! Really. There is really a ghost. I am not making it up!!”

But nothing ever changed their mind. I still had to go help with the laundry and do chores. I eventually just came to accept the ghost. He never hurt me or really did anything spooky. He was just there, in the basement and on the back stairs. He just became part of my life. I stopped talking about him.

I set up a little house in the basement for my dolls, doll furniture and me. And I would often play there. I put down scraps of linoleum to mark the outlines of my house. I felt safe there, within my ‘house.’ I always felt a sense of warmth when I sat in my area. But at night, when it was dark, or on rainy days, I would get a different vibe from our basement dweller. And I did not want to go down the basement then.

When I got older, I dreamt about the ghost. I knew, in my heart, that he was from the Revolutionary War, and I knew he died in battle. But it did not make sense because even though my area of New Jersey was part of the original settlements. The battles around Ft. Lee were several miles from my home. I could not understand how a dying soldier could make it that far along the Hudson River and the cliffs of the Palisades. But I knew he was a soldier. I just did not know about any battles close to home.

Then recently, on the “Town of North Bergen” Facebook page, some one posted a link to a booklet: “North Bergen Yesterday” by Michael K. Kruglinski and others, published in 1997. And right on the cover it says “May 27, 1780, Patriots Attack British Blockhouse at the Top of Bull’s Ferry Road.” Oh My Goodness! Bull’s Ferry Road, the scariest road in North Bergen, is easy walking distance from my childhood home!!! There was a Revolutionary War battle right where I walked many times. So close to my home!

This was it! I remembered back to my childhood haunting, and thought, The Ghost is explained!”

Now before you think I am totally crazy, I am really not the only one who saw the ghost. He never came into to our kitchen. He haunted the basement and would come up the basement stairs to the landing to the back door off the kitchen and stand there. He never went outside. He never entered our living areas. He just liked standing in the entranceway, watching.

One day, when I was a freshman or sophomore at North Bergen High School, I had some friends over. We were sitting in the kitchen having a snack, when one of them started to scream. “There is a man standing there.”   She was looking behind me towards the steps. I knew exactly what she saw.

“No,” I said, “Don’t worry, that is just the ghost from the basement..”

My statement did not go over very well.

My two friends started screaming and headed for the front door to run out. Oh no! My brother had just arrived home. He was coming in the front door and popped his head into the window on the door to look in before he entered. He startled them! My friends really started screaming then. As he opened the front door, they ran out!!!

A high school senior, my brother thought we were all insane. I really never was scared of the ghost once I got older. But when my friends started screaming, I did as well. They did not want to go back into my house, so instead we walked around the corner to one friend’s apartment. Once we got there, and they had calmed down, I told them all about the ghost in the basement.

We all saw the same thing.   A young man standing against the wall in the doorway. He had long brownish hair in a ponytail and was wearing a dark/black ‘turtleneck’ type shirt…or so it seemed, and a long jacket. He always wore the same thing.

I told them that he was safe. Not to worry.

That evening at dinner my brother told my parents the story of my crazy friends running out of the house. None of them believed that the ghost existed.   My Dad said my friends were being ridiculous that I probably told them about it, so they thought they saw him. It was just a matter of suggestion!

“But Dad, “ I insisted. “I never told them about the ghost. I never told anyone about him. They saw something and mentioned it first; they started screaming, before I told them.”

He did not really believe me. But it was the truth.

My sister was home during the great ghost sighting, although she did not see him. She actually never saw him, although she admits that “the basement was creepy!”

However, I believe other friends saw my ghost over the years. He would just stand there, always watching. I never spoke about him outside of the house, except with friends who had seen him.

In fact over the years, I stopped thinking about him. Once in a while I would remember the day my friends got so scared, but that was secondary to my ghost.

So seeing this book and this sentence about a Revolutionary War battle so close to my home brought it all back, just in time for Halloween. I hope he has found peace and is no longer haunting my childhood basement and stairs. It has been 234 years. I think he deserves some peace.

But I do wonder if the people who live in my childhood home ever feel the presence of the ghost in the basement?