Archive | January, 2014

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Grandmas’ Forever Canasta Game

25 Jan

Every day, unless it was raining, the grandmas at our bungalow colony at Kauneonga Lake played canasta. They had a special blue, wooden table that was designated for them.  No one else ever sat there.  We knew that at some point during the day, the grandmas would wander over and a game would begin.

It was such a peaceful setting.  Cool breezes, shade from trees, people enjoying the nice weather…and the grandmas and their canasta game.

Grandma Esther, my father’s mother, always played with her sister, my Great- Aunt Minnie, as her partner.  My mother’s mother, Grandma Thelma, partnered with her best friend:  Nana was my friend Vicki’s grandma.  Grandma Rose, my cousins’ grandma, she sat nearby to be part of the conversation.  I do not remember Grandma Rose playing canasta, but she was always there.

The games were intense.  Often my grandmothers would yell at each other or at their partners.  God forbid if the wrong card was thrown, or if a canasta was not made, then the yelling commenced.

“How could you throw that card?  Weren’t you paying attention?” One of them would comment.  Often there would be a sigh of disgust.  I sometimes wondered if my grandmothers would ever speak to each other again!  But after a cooling off period, they always did.  However, I think sometimes Grandma Esther and Aunt Minnie would stay angry a little longer.

There would be silence as the tension in the game increased. But when the game ended, the yelling would start up again.  “How could you do that?” Someone would say.  None of these grandmas liked to lose.  I learned to stay away near the end of a game.

For me there was an extra tension.  When I would walk over to ask a question, I had to be careful to make sure I treated each grandma equally.  If I said good morning first to Grandma Esther, I made sure the next day, I said hello first to Grandma Thelma.  A hug and a kiss were always expected.  They always sat catty corner to each other, so it was a simple matter to hug one and then the other.

“Good morning Grandma. Love you!”  I would say, then turn to the other one. “Good morning Grandma. Love you, too!” Then Aunt Minnie, Nana and Grandma Rose each got their hug and good morning. It was an expected routine.

I learned canasta by sitting between my grandmas and watching them play.  I learned very early in my life not to say anything.  When you are watching two people playing against each other, it is not a good idea to reveal anything about the cards in their hands.  You do it one time and never again! I learned how to keep a ‘poker’ face.  If I had a question about a card thrown, or why something happened, I would tap the grandma and whisper in her ear.  There was definite pressure not to give anything away!

Occasionally one of them would let me hold the cards and play.   My grandma would sit behind me to help with the hand.  That was great fun and made me feel very grown up.  I was playing canasta!  My friend, Vicki, would come and watch sometimes as well.

When it was windy, all the children would start running to find pebbles to place on the cards so they would not blow away during an important game.  There was a gravel road that led to the parking area.  We would run as fast as we could to the road to get the right size pebbles.  Not too big that they covered the numbers, but not too small that they did not hold down the cards!

My grandfather would complain that he had to get more gravel each year to make up for the canasta playing stones.

If it got too windy, we would run over to the game to help gather the cards and bring them inside.  We tried as hard as we could to keep the cards in the right order so the game could continue.

I cannot imagine how many hours they played cards each summer.  And I also cannot imagine a summer without the grandmas playing canasta.  The games seemed to last forever, as do the memories.  In my mind I see them sitting in the sunshine playing canasta forever.

My Days in the English Department Office at NBHS

19 Jan

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I basically spent the last two years of my North Bergen High School education hanging out the English Department office or in a journalism office working on the school newspaper or yearbook.  I am not quite sure how that happened.  I know my senior year I did an independent study research and I used the English office as my office.  I sort of took over seventh, eighth and ninth periods. 

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Mr. Vecchione, Mrs. Whitehouse, Mr. Polente, and Mr. Boyle were my verbal sparring partners. When I was not actually working on my project, I was sort of, helping out in the office. Sometimes I was arguing with the teachers over some cause I believed in…mainly women’s rights.   I think I was an English Department aide?  Who knows?  I cannot remember.

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But even before senior year, I had developed, what was for me,  an important relationship with Mrs. Whitehouse and Mr. Vechionne.

Celia Whitehouse’ impact on my life was the most visable.  She provided the space for me to become involved in journalism and creative writing. Although I was never editor in chief of the yearbook or newspaper, I had editorial positions on the newspaper both junior and senior year, and on the yearbook in my senior year. 

Even when I was in college, I would come back to visit the English Department teachers and hang out in the office.  I knew that they had to be missing me.  And since my sister was in high school for three more years, I had an easy in.  So conversations with Mr. Vecchione and Mrs. Whitehouse continued. 

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It was Mrs. Whitehouse, who told me, when I was looking for graduate schools, that Columbia University was not the only place to apply.  In fact, Missouri had a really good school of journalism.  I applied…why not?

Thus it is thanks to Mrs. Whitehouse that I ended up living in Kansas (and meeting my husband). I was accepted to both Columbia University and University of Missouri- Columbia for graduate school.  My Mom said…. in 1977…”How will I sleep at night knowing you are in Harlem every day?”  So I moved to Missouri.  “You won’t know what I am doing, so you won’t worry.”  I told her.  “Thank Mrs. Whitehouse for telling me to apply.”

When in high school I was in honors English and was a member of the Merit Society, which meant I could leave a class if there was no exam.  I took that to mean I would be leaving class whenever there was a substitute, and hangout in the English office.  Giving me even more time to be in my favorite place.  Mr. Vecchione would just sigh when I showed up and invaded his space.

I loved high school.  Junior prom, senior prom, yearbook, newspaper, literary supplement, independent study, school plays, all were fun times.  Even my classes were fun for me.  I loved school; I loved learning.  We had a community of about 20 students who were in almost every class together.  And the memories are still strong.

During my junior year of high school, I became ill toward the end of the school year.  I spent a week in the hospital, not fun at all.   Mrs. Whitehouse not only came to visit me, she wrote me a book: Ellen and the Sorceress. Handwritten….no computers in those days.  I still have the book!

My honors English teacher, however, sent a take-home test to the hospital with my friend, Faye, who was afraid to give to me.  I still remember her telling my mom about it, even though I was quite sick.  My Mom was furious.  She called Mr. Vecchione, asking, “Who sends a test to someone in the hospital?”  Needless to say, I never took that test. 

But then they knew I was a good student.  And I was not maligning.  Believe me, a week in the hospital was not enjoyable. 

My days in the English department were not wasted.  I received my undergraduate degree in English literature.  I worked on the college newspaper and yearbook, continuing on the path I found in high school.  Then on to graduate school, where I earned my master’s degree in journalism.  I even taught high school journalism for four years: in a way my homage to Celia Whitehouse, Anthony Vecchione and my many hours in the English Department office.

Love of Mah Jong started in the Catskills

14 Jan

One rainy summer day in Kauneonga Lake, my Mom pulled out her mah jong set.  It was the start of my love of the game.  Soon my grandmother came over.  And for hours, my Grandma, Mom, sister and I played maj.  I remember it as if it was yesterday.

I don’t know exactly how old I was, but probably about 12 since my sister had to be old enough to play.

I just know that we sat in the kitchen of the bungalow, with tea and cookies, and played.  In the beginning it was slow, because they were teaching us. But by the afternoon, my sister and I began to play with more assurance, making the games quicker.

That summer we played every time it rained.  I almost looked forward to bad weather.  Almost, because compared to the allure of the lake and outdoor activities, mah jong was second.  But being together with my Mom and Grandma and sister, playing mah jong was just so much fun.

I was excited because my Mom played every week with a group of friends.  Each week they played at a different home.  When they played in our home, even though we were not supposed to disturb them, as I got older, I was allowed to watch for a bit.

Now I understood the game.  Now my Mom, my Grandma, my sister and I had our own activity; something just for us to do when the weather was dreary.

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Those memories remain.  And each time I play mah jong, a little bit of me thinks back to those days.  I now use my Grandma’s mah jong set, while my sister has my mother’s set.

I enjoy mah jong so much I tried to spread the joy by organizing a special mah jong program through a local organization. We brought in the curator of a Mah Jong exhibit at the Battery Park Museum in New York City. As a way to advertise it, we played mah jong on the radio!

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People listened to the lecture and slide show, ate Chinese food, played mah jong, and examined sets that others had brought to share.  An important part of this museum exhibit was people playing Mah jong in the Catskills. They even had a photo of people playing in a pool!

I play in two groups.  One group I have been playing with for 13 years.  We started because we live in the same neighborhood and wanted to get out a bit.  We meet once a month to play this game that has been passed down from our mothers.  All of us have sets that belonged to our mothers, grandmothers or aunts.  I actually also have my mother-in-law’s set.

When we started playing our children were in still in elementary, middle and high school.  Now the youngest are still in college. But the older ones are working and living away from home.  We are empty nesters. 

When we come together we share memories.  We have helped each other though emotional upheavals: death of a parent, children moving far away, a spouse’s retirement.  We listen to stories about vacations, jobs, volunteer work.  We have been to each other’s children’s bar/bat mitzvahs, high school graduation parties.  We are waiting for the weddings to begin.

We planned special events. Like the time we all had our mothers in town over Easter, and decided to play.  Moms played at one table, daughters at the other.  Two generations enjoying the same game while laughing, snacking and sharing a memory.  Sometimes we go out for lunch, or celebrate a birthday.

Mah Jong is so much more than a game for me.  I often say it is the game I love to hate and hate to love.  But in reality, it is a game that brings back so many memories.   And teaching it to my daughter meant so much.  When she was in eighth grade I actually volunteered to teach a group at her school for students who wanted to learn.  Once a week the students played for an hour, while I and several other moms taught.  It was wonderful.  In fact my second mah jong group includes another mom who taught with me.

Although my daughter does not play now, I hope that one day she will remember fondly playing with my Mom and me.  And I hope, that just hearing the click of the tiles brings back moments of joy.

In the meantime, I promised one of my cousins that I would teach her to play mah jong.  This summer I hope we will finally have a cousins’ game in the only place possible for us to play: Kauneonga Lake, Bethel Township, Sullivan County, New York.

What’s my Problem with Football? Plenty!

9 Jan

Until I had a son, I never really had a problem with football.  My Mom and Dad had season tickets to the Jets.  Sometimes Mom and Dad went together. Other times my brother went.  When my parents gave up their tickets, my brother took them over.

I went to high school football games. And when I went to Mizzou, my husband and I went to almost every home game.  In fact the last football game I ever went to was a game at Mizzou. It was October 1990, the game with the fifth down.  It became famous.  

Why did I stop liking football?  I think because I realized that boys don’t tell you what is going on.  If they are hurt, they don’t talk about it.  And I started learning about concussions and injuries, as a mom you learn about these things.  It occurred to me that young boys probably don’t realize when they have a minor concussion.  It isn’t till things are really bad that a parent might find out. But by then it might be too late.

When my children were in school, I was very active in the parent organizations and school board committees.  I was the president of the middle school PTA for two years.  That is when my militant anti-football feeling really came out.

Why were we spending tens of thousands of dollars on middle school and high school football, when we were having to fire librarians, language teachers and other important educational staff?  It did not make sense to me.  I even went to town hall meetings to voice my opinion on football and middle school, especially.  We could save a job if we gave up middle school football. It was only offered in eighth grade, and there are many local league teams.  I could not understand why schools had to have football in middle school.  But I could not change the prevailing opinion.

But now with all the information we have about injuries and football, I am amazed that we still have football in the public schools.  When a child is injured and has multiple concussions, his ability to learn is impaired.  So why are school districts supporting a program that impairs their students.

However, I have noticed a change.  With major league football players suing, including Gale Sayers, over brain injuries; with the wives of these players speaking out about had difficult life is for these men, I am finally hearing about parents who do not want their boys to pay football. We are even hearing about studies that the suicides and aggressive behavior of these players are linked to these brain injuries.

Some people think they are helping their sons, believing they will get a college scholarship or go on to professional football and make a fortune.  But what is the benefit of that if they suffer permanent brain damage. Or die young  or be disabled because of the constant battering of their bodies?

Then there is college football. Yes it is a big business for the colleges and their athletic departments.  The students do not get paid; they missed lots of school; some never graduate because they have not learned anything in college.  And the colleges and universities make big money and pay coaches extraordinary salaries. More than the professors get.  The professors who are supposed be teaching the students. I honestly do not get it.

There are the percentages… Of all the students who play middle school or high school football, only a small minority go on to college football. Of those an even smaller number go on to professional football.

But how many have a fall back degree?

Yes things have changed over the years. There are many more rules about education. And more rules about helmets and safety. And more rules about playing after an injury. But when you come down to it, people get hurt.

I recently watched a playoff game between the Chiefs and the Colts.  I thought, okay, the Chiefs are in the post-season play for the first time in 20 years.  I will watch.

I had to turn it off.  In the end four Chiefs players and one Colts player was so badly injured they had to be removed from the game. At least two had concussions.

Parents, educators, really!!!  Students should be in school to learn…not to be battered.

Doing Good Will Make You Feel Good!

4 Jan

I guess the essence of me is to try to make the right choice.  Doing good things for others makes me feel good.  If I am in the grocery store and someone needs a bit more money, I always offer.  When someone is having a bad day, I try to think of something to cheer her/him up.  I am genetically disposed to be happy and help others.  It comes from my parents.

My Dad loved people.  He was president of his synagogue for 11 years.  Anyone who knows synagogues boards, knows it takes a strong, yet kind person to navigate this job.  But Dad loved to schmooze….talk to people about anything.  When he spoke to you, he gave you his undivided attention.  He made people feel good and loved.  Not saying he did not have a temper and could get angry.  But am saying that his overall actions were ones to help others and chat.  He loved to chat.

My Mom was the kindest person ever.  There is nothing else to say.  She opened her home and her heart to many.  For my sister’s friends it is her comment to a friend of theirs who arrived at our home late at night, waking my mom from a sleep.  My Mother’s comment….”Victor, are you hungry.”  Because anyone coming into the house had to be fed, no matter the time or reason.  My Mom possessed the ability to be calm and centered.

She and my Dad were intertwined and committed in their efforts to be good people, to help others and do good in the world.  Being a mensch, a good person; being a “gutah neshuma,” a good soul, was important.

They passed this belief on to their children and grandchildren. 

I remember stories about my Mom’s parents. They owned a kosher bakery during the Great Depression.  My Mom would talk about how my grandparents gave people food on credit.  Many years later, people would come to the bakery to pay back because my grandparents had provided them in those tough times.

So doing good things for people, speaking to people, chatting, feeding, helping and just being kind, is what I was taught to do.

Now I am not saying I don’t have a temper and I don’t get angry.  I am my father’s daughter, and my mother’s daughter.  If I see injustice, I get angry.  If I see someone hurting another person, I get angry.  I try not to have useless anger, for me the best thing to do is to do something.  And I try.

The way I try is to attempt the make the world a better place.  For many years, when my children were young, I was a PTA/classroom Mom.  Field trips, parties…I was there.   I served as a PTA president and on the boards of all their school’s PTA/PTO.  I served on standing committees of the school board, providing my input on important issues. 

As my children aged, my volunteering grew.  My son wanted to volunteer at the local animal shelter, Wayside Waifs.  For the first two years, I had to go with him.  It was a great time to bond and a great place to help.  My daughter and I volunteered together for NCJW and at our synagogue.

All the helping and volunteering made me feel so much better. Helping others brings you out of yourself.  I highly recommend it to all.  Feeling badly?  Find someone to help.  There are so many in need.

I have tried to do one good thing every day of my life.  Sometimes it is volunteering for an organization.  Sometimes it is donating money for a good cause.  Sometimes it is organizing a program.  If a neighbor or a friend needs help, I am there. (Just don’t ask me to cook for you.  That is not something I do well.)   It makes me feel so good to help someone else.

I read somewhere that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. And if you smile, you actually feel better.  So to all I say, doing something nice is like smiling, when you do it, you will feel so much better.

Have a great day!