Tag Archives: high school

End of the School Year Has Me Bringing Out My Old Yearbooks

11 May


With the end of the school year coming, I have an urge to look at old yearbooks.  I have every yearbook from high school through college, as well as ones I mentored as a teacher, and now ones from the school where I work in a non-teaching role.

It is strange to see me as I age from 14 to now.  But one thing stays consistent, I was on the newspaper and yearbook staffs of high school, college and my year studying overseas.

It is strange when I look back and see where I began my interest in journalism and writing, to where I am now.   When I first started working on my high school newspaper, “Paw Prints,” and yearbook, Prelude,” at North Bergen High School, I never intended to go into journalism.  I wanted to be a psychologist.   I just enjoyed being on the school newspaper and yearbook, moving up to become one of the editors, but never vying to be editor in chief.  Just happy in the role I had.  It was fun, but not my main interest.

In college, at Drew University, I had the same view.   College was a bit disjointed and strange for me.   I spent my sophomore year in Israel doing a year abroad.  Most people go during their junior year, after they have made an impression on their friends and professors.

I went a year early, because a friend of my parents was on the board of the Hebrew University’s Overseas Program.  As a college professor, he thought being gone junior year was a mistake, and pressed my parents to send me a year earlier.  In 1974, it was unusual for students to go overseas to study at all.  For my parents to even let me go, and to go a year earlier, I think they were brave.

In any case, I lost a year of making a name for myself at the school and connecting with friends.  When I got back, it was a bit awkward, as I had to reacquaint myself with everyone and sort of start again in the school atmosphere.  Also, I was changed by my year in Israel, arriving there less than a year after the Yom Kippur War.  The me who left Drew in 1974 was extremely different than the me who returned in 1975.  I was resolute, braver and knew myself!

While I was in Israel, I actually worked on the Hebrew University’s Overseas Program yearbook. I am listed as one of the eight students on the editorial board. I have vague memories of working on it.  Being in Israel at that time was so amazing, I honestly feel as if a different person was there, each memory more of a dream then a reality.

When I came back, I had to decide what to do next.  I had to declare a major.   I now knew that psychology was not for me.  I had taken a neuropsychology class at Hebrew University where we went to look at brains and studied brain damage and its impact on a person’s personality.  The professor and I clashed. He believed left handed people were left handed because of underlying brain damage.  I am left handed.  I still remember him stating: “Ten percent of the population has brain damage, ten percent are left handed.”  I told him his logic was totally off!  No matter, it left a bad taste in my mind for psychologists.

I came back to Drew and decided to become an English major, with a minor in political science.  Now I was really busy.  I had to take many of the sophomore English classes, as well as upper level courses, so I could graduate in time.  I was taking 18 credits a semester.  I guess I should say, in time, for me meant early.  I wanted out of college.  I set a plan of action to graduate in 3.5 years.  I had spent three semesters learning in Israel.  The entire summer I had studied at the Ulpan learning Hebrew. That provided me with 12 credits.  I decided that by graduating early, I could save my parents some money…which I did.

Upon my return, I joined the newspaper staff, “The Acorn,” and the yearbook staff, “Oak Leaves.”  I wrote stories, worked on layout, and made new friends.  I was busy with all my course work…lots of reading and writing… and I also became a research assistant for Professor Chapman. (See link to earlier blog below.)

I was on a roll.  Although I still did not have journalism on my mind.

In my senior year I became one of the layout editors for the yearbook.  I let them know in advance that I would be gone second semester. But all went well…for a while.  I still remember my first indignant protest as a woman.   I was out of town for the weekend when the editor in chief wanted my layout pages.  Why he needed them, I don’t know. But he got my RA to let him into my dorm room and search it till he found them.

I was incensed.  The invasion of privacy was outrageous.  I when to the Dean of Student Life, Elynor Erickson.  I had an earlier issue with her my junior year, so we knew each other.  I told her what had happened and how furious I was about someone going through my things when I was not there.  She agreed. The RA got in trouble.  As did the editor in chief at the time. It was so wrong!  It still bothers me. But I had to stand up for my rights!

In any case, I do not have an official photo in the yearbook. I think he got his revenge.  Although I am in a photo of the yearbook staff and I am still listed among the editors.  Of course, it could be that I just was not there during the time the official photos were taken.  I have to be honest.

During that fall semester I was trying to decide what to do next.  My Dad would joke that he had paid for an expensive finishing school with my degree in English literature.  Also,  I really did not have a career in mind.  But I thought about journalism, and when I applied to graduate school, I included a master’s in journalism on my list.  I still was not officially going into journalism as a career.

However, at Drew, there was a January-term program.  You could take a one-month class over winter break. That year there was a class in journalism, and I decided to take it. I loved it. I excelled at it.  This class marked the start of my career path.

I had applied to three graduate schools: Columbia University and University of Missouri-Columbia for journalism, and Hebrew University for a degree in Jewish American Literature.  I got accepted to all three. So now I had a great decision to make.

Professor Joan Steiner, my advisor, as well as Professor Jacqueline Berke, who was my independent study advisor, seemed to think journalism was the best for me.   It also kept me in the country. They were routing for Columbia University. (Especially Professor Berke, as she was a Columbia graduate.) On another aside, I still have my independent study paper I wrote for my personal class with Professor Berke, “Alienation In th Novels of Saul Bellow.”  Originally I wanted to do Bernard Malamud as well, but that would have been a master’s thesis.

But I had another source of advice, Cecelia Whitehouse, my high school English and journalism teacher. (see link below.) She and I had kept in touch all through college. She was the one who had told me about the University of Missouri in the first place.  She thought getting out of the NYC area would be an eye-opening experience for me.  She was right!

The University of Missouri won out. I accepted their acceptance.

Eventually I taught high school journalism for a few years.  During those years, it was me who was the newspaper and yearbook teacher.  I often thought of Cecelia Whitehouse during those years.  I would think about how she handled issues with students. And I modeled my teaching on her.

I kept in touch with her and my college professor, Joan Steiner, for many years.  They both were positive and important role models!

My life was forever changed.  It started with school yearbooks and newspapers.









My Birthday Sewing Machines

29 Jan

For my birthday my children bought me a new sewing machine.  I had been saying for two years that I needed one.  I would pass them in the store, see them advertised in a flyer, but do nothing about it.  It was an emotional decision.


The first sewing machine I used was a 1947 Singer portable that belonged to my Mom and Grandma.  It only could make straight lines.  In the beginning of my sewing career, it was fine; but as my competence grew, I needed something better.

My parents purchased a sewing machine for me as a sweet 16 birthday gift. I was so excited. It even made buttonholes! They also purchased a cabinet, so I could leave the machine out while working on a project. It was the best gift!


I used this sewing machine to make clothing for my grandma, mom, sister and me.  Once I had children, I made clothing and Halloween costumes for them.  I made curtains and drapes. I mended clothing.  Whenever my parents came to visit, they always had clothes that needed hemming or altering.

As the machine aged, my Dad would keep it going for me.  Once a year he took the machine apart, oiled every part and then reassembled it.  It was the best machine.  Then my Dad died.  And my machine broke.  And I could not sew anymore.

I talked about a new machine. But how could I ever replace the one that meant so much for me?  It had memories; it held love.

I took two sewing classes in high school. I learned to match plaids and design my own patterns.  I learned to make special seams and clean, well- sewn garments.  The lessons I learned in Mrs. Kilkenny’s sewing classes at North Bergen High School were the most practical. I have used these skills for my entire adult life.

My mom and I had a deal, whenever I made an outfit for her or my sister, she would buy me more fabric to make my own clothes.  I hated buying store bought clothes. They were never made well enough for my standards.  Where were the French seams, the good tight stitches?  I hated frayed fabric.  So instead, I made prom dresses, pant suits, even the dress I wore for my sister’s wedding.

I made dresses for my Grandma Thelma. She had scoliosis as a child in Europe and it was never corrected.  So one side of her torso was two inches shorter than other. I made her dresses so that no one ever could tell.

I made curtains for my Mom and Grandma.  And when I moved into my house, three months pregnant, I made all the curtains and drapes for my home!  I was crazed. I understand now I was nesting. But then it was an obsession.  And my sewing machine was there for me!

I made some of my maternity clothes. But once my children arrived, most of my sewing focused on them. I made dresses for my daughter and costumes for my son.

I made projects for their classes.  For a long time on the wall of the first grade class was a quilt I put together. I had each child sign their name on a square and quilted it for the teachers.  I made reading pillows, as well as, vests for a program.  If sewing needed to be done for school, I did it.

Then there was my son and daughter and their imagination. My daughter wanted to be gypsy or a princess.  My favorite costume for her was the Indian Princess, Tiger Lily, from Peter Pan. She watched the Mary Martin version over and over again.  And had to be Tiger Lily. So a costume was created.

My son needed to dress up as Pokeman as a dragon or a lizard. I was constantly making new outfits as his imagination soared.


When he was four, we took our children to see “Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat.” My son was entranced. He was Joseph. I had to make him a Technicolor Dreamcoat. He wore it all the time!! I have saved that one.

There were new curtains for their room to match the changing décor as they aged: purple for my daughter, green for my son.

My sewing machine never let me down.

The last large project I finished was valances and shades for the basement family room/rec room.   I was working on new valances for the family room when my machine broke.  When my parents died.


But now I have closed up the cabinet that holds my broken machine. And on top of it I have placed my new portable sewing machine that my children got me for my 59th birthday.  Now I can sew again.

Two sewing machines purchased 43 years apart. But both purchased with love.  I am so lucky.