Archive | April, 2017

Costume Characters Just Made My Children Crazed

20 Apr

I know that people have the best times taking photos of their children with big costumed characters.   Not just the Easter bunny or Santa Claus, but also characters like clowns or at Disneyland and Universal Studios. This did not go over well in my family for several reasons.

First, since we are Jewish, I never took my children to have a photo with Santa or the Easter bunny. But that does not mean that we did not have encounters that shook us to the foundation. Second my daughter, and then my son, were petrified of costumed characters. Just seeing their oversized heads could start a squall! Finally, both of my children were shy.

When my daughter was three, we were walking though a mall’s lower level, a few days before Easter. Along came the Easter bunny and his helper. My daughter was the only child around, so the Easter bunny decided to walked over to say hello. Ad my daughter looked up, I noticed you could see a man’s face through the mouth in the costume.  I had a bad feeling.

My daughter started screaming, “The Easter Bunny ate someone!” Full out screaming. Needless to say the Easter bunny ran away as quick as he could, while I was left with a screaming traumatized child. True story. 28 years later. I still can hear her screams in my memory.

When she was young my daughter had panic attacks whenever she saw a clown. This was unfortunate, as her great-great Uncle Mike worked hard to make her a beautiful ceramic clown. It was lovely and colorful. However, she would not sleep at night with the clown in the room. I had to put it away, in another room. Eventually, the fear abated. But when she was small, clowns were an emphatic NO.

Our Santa experience was less stressful in some ways, but more in others. We have all seen and spoken to the many Santa’s who collect money for the Salvation Army.   We always put money into their collection pails whenever we could. And at first this created no problems. As long as they did not speak to her we were fine.  She would shyly walk up and drop the donation in the slot.

But when she was about six, she had an epiphany. “Mom,” she asked as we drove away from the mall, “How can there be so many Santas in one place?”

I was not thinking. I just told the truth. “Honey, there really is no such thing as Santa. He is a made up character. “ I immediately knew I had made a mistake. Her best friend was Greek Orthodox. Her quick response was, “I have to tell my friend.” That would not be good! OY! Dilemma of high magnitude!

Quickly I came up with an answer. “Wait. Not all Santa Claus’ are fakes. These are really Santa’s helpers. The real Santa Claus cannot do everything. So he has helpers.” Whew….that seemed to help. And I hope she never said anything.

With my son, I was no longer surprised by any fears.  I just avoided the malls during the heavy holiday season. Or at least I did not take my son there. But then came an experience I did not expect. When my daughter was 5 and my son was one, we went to Disney World. My parents came along. I expected a fun-filled adventure. But no!

I had booked a special Goofy breakfast with some of the Disney characters. But it did not go as planned. My son was petrified of all the big characters: No Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, or Donald for him. They could not come near him without screaming emanating from his little body.

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A breakthrough! My son allows the Dream Finder a high five as my daughter looks on.

We had a minor miracle in Epcot with Figment and the Dream Finder, when my son was three. Thank goodness the Dream Finder looked like a real person, without a big head. Figment, of course, was cute and adorable. My son and daughter came home with their own Figment plush toys.

But the fear does eventually end. Years later we went to Disney World again. My children were older and ready to meet all the characters. My son even got an autograph book for all the characters to sign. We still have it. He ran up to the characters and led the way to the autograph areas. I am glad the childhood fears are gone.

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My Time As A Candy Striper

16 Apr

My 45 year old Candy Striper cap.


I still have the red and white searsucker cap that I wore as a Candy Striper at Hudson County Hospital, New Jersey, in the 1970s. I am proud of the time I volunteered to cheer up patients and help the nurses. 

Our job then was pretty easy to do, we did whatever the nurses asked us based on the rules issued by the office of volunteers. For me it was important to help others, and visit the sick. 

Several days a week, after I finished my classes at North Bergen High School, I would go home and change into my white and red pinafore and take the bus along Park Avenue to the hospital.  Once there I would check in to the volunteer office and get my day’s assignment. I usually worked for two hours. That was perfect as my Dad would pick me up on his way home from work. 

My favorite assignment was to go and visit with the children who were in the hospital.  I knew how to create creatures from paper having learned the art of origami when I was 10.  I often brought some square origami paper with me.  When I ran out the nurses would find colored paper for me to use with the children. It was two hours of fun for all of us!

I tried to visit every room with children. In those days visiting hours were restricted. Parents could only be with their children for several hours a day.   I knew from my own stay in the hospital how sad and lonely it can be. 

Making origami figures


 

It made me happy to bring a bit of joy to a younger child and leave behind a little gift of a bird or box or frog. 

But I did not always get assigned to the children’s ward. To be honest I did not like having to help in the adult rooms.  You never knew what you would see, especially on Mondays.  Often on Mondays, the results of a weekend of carousing were evident in hospital beds filled with adults who had been in car accidents.  I really did not like to see people in traction and stitched up.  I would get a little sick to my stomach when ever I entered a room. But since, in those days I wanted to be a nurse, I did whatever I was asked. So into a room I would go carrying the sheets or other items as requested. 

My time as a Candy Striper lasted not quite two years. It was on a Monday…accident day… that it ended.  I remember entering a room,  then waking up in the volunteer office and seeing my Dad talking to the director.  It was my last day. 

I did not do anything wrong. Just walked into a room, as I was told to, and ended up being there just as a man died.  I passed out. I am not proud of that, nor of the fact that I did not go back. But the sight of blood and death did not make a positive impression. I realized then I would never be a nurse. 

It made it difficult, years later, when I married a medical student.  While others would visit their spouses when they were on call, I did my best to avoid the hospital. For me heading over to the hospital for a chat was just not my idea of fun. 

As the years pass, I learned to let go of my discomfort in hospitals.  I no longer get a sick feeling in my stomach when I enter a hospital. I am aware of the good aspects along with with difficult ones. 

Overall I have good memories of my time volunteering as a Candy Striper at Hudson County Hospital. I believe that the time I spent with the children and helping others were the part of my upbringing that enhanced my belief in the importance of volunteering. My time as a Candy Striper made a positive impact on my life. 

Matzah Brie 

15 Apr

Why do I only make matzah brie during Passover?  I truly love it. I heat up my frying pan and make it at least twice each year. And I always make enough to last two days. But once the holiday is over, my desire for matzah brie disappears. 

I have learned over the years that not everyone makes matzah brie the same way.  Nor do they call it the same thing. I say matzah brie, others say matzah briet or matzah brun. There might be even more names. 

My husband’s cousin would break a piece of matzah in half and soak both halves in a egg mixture before deep frying them. It was delicious, but not my style at all.

 I wonder if the area of Europe a family came from or perhaps where in the USA they settled impacts how the matzah brie is made? 

Making matzah brie is something I learned as a child. In my family we make the same batter we do for French toast. Eggs and vanilla mixed together.  Then we run the matzah under water, breaking it down to smallervand smaller pieces till we crumble the matzah into the batter.  The number of matzah we use is determined by the number of eggs we use; about two pieces of matzah for every egg. 


I then take the mixture and place it into a frying pan that I have place a small amount of oil and have  preheated. I smooth out the top of the mixture and make sure I fill the entire pan. Then it cooks. I like mine golden brown. I use a spatula to divide it in half to easily turn it. Then cook the other side.  The smell is enticing. 


Finally I cut it to smaller pieces and I am ready to eat. In my house there is just one way to it eat, with sugar sprinkled over the top. I know some use syrup, but I am a sugar purest. 

Another delicious Passover memory.  But I know when the holiday passes, I will once again crave my Sunday morning challah French toast. All thoughts of matzah brie wil be gone till next spring! 

Hope everyone is having a zissel Pesach! 

I Kept Waiting For A Connection 

13 Apr

Through Tracing The Tribe, I became friendly with another member, Amy Cohen. We would read each other’s blogs and comment. We became Facebook friends. Another friend of mine did research that overlapped her research. There were just many connections. 

As she continued on her path, I kept waiting for our lives to intersect.  I just knew we had to be related somewhere.  Finally her research brought her to the Midwest.  Then I knew for certain our genealogies would intersect.  In the plain states, the Jewish population is intermingled.  And my husband’s family has tentacles that cover several states. 

Finally just before Passover the first tentacle reached out. Her distant relative was married to one of my best friend’s sister. But that was not enough.  I kept waiting and reading, and on Seder day it happened.  Another of her distant cousins was my husband’s uncle (by marraige).  More than that, the cousin who married my friend’s sister was related to our uncle. 

Now all sorts of connections are occurring as different Midwest family and friends read the blogs.  Click click click, the pieces fall into place. 

But to be honest, I still think there must be another connection that is more direct.  I keep waiting. 

We are one people. 

Cruise Conversations That Linger In My Heart

6 Apr

When I travel I have learned to expect the unexpected.  You never know who you will meet or what will occur.  The best is to be flexible.  But occasionally you meet someone who makes an impression.

The first time this happened was on a cruise over 25 years ago.    At lunch time, on a cruise, you get to sit with many different people.  You never know who you will meet or what you will talk about.  On the second day of this Caribbean cruise, we ate lunch with an older man, who when he reached across the table,  I saw numbers tattooed on his arm, numbers obviously from Nazi days.

I said nothing.  I remember as a child, in the early 1960s, I saw numbers on the arm of my parent’s friend.   I asked the question, “Why do you have numbers?”  The room grew silent, and I was taken from the room and told never to ask that question again.  It wasn’t until I was much older I understood that  in the early 60s people did not talk about the numbers.

But this was the early 1990s and I was no longer a child.  Since we were seated next to each other, I waited.   When most of the people left, I asked.  I had the most interesting conversation.  The man next to me was a retired priest.  He was on board to hold services.   He had been in the camps as a young man because he and his parents resisted the Nazis and were part of the intelligentsia and were ardent Catholics.  He and I had several conversations over the week-long cruise. We spoke about his experiences and the death of my grandfather’s family in the Shoah. Although I have forgotten his name,  I have never forgotten him.

But when we went on a cruise this past March, I did not think I would meet another survivor. So many years have passed, and among those survivors who are still alive, few still travel.   At lunch one day, I found my husband speaking to a much older couple.  The man was obviously elderly and perhaps recovering from an illness.  But he spoke strongly with a distinct British accent and he had a much different life experience.

His story touched my heart.  He and his brother were sent away from his home in Germany on a Kindertransport to England when he was 14.  He was one of the lucky ones.  His parents survived as well!   “We had a wonderful life in Germany,” he told us.  “We were more German than Jewish.”

But of course that did not help.  His parents were quite wealthy and aware enough to start the search for visas and relief early on.

When he turned 18, he enlisted in the US army and was sent to the United States.  His service helped him become an American citizen, because until then he was a man without a state.  While in the USA, just before he left for Germany, he became a US citizen.  His commanding officer advised him to change his name from Adolf and the very Jewish last name to something less Jewish sounding.

“If they capture you in Germany with that name, they will not keep you as a prisoner, they will kill you,” his commander told him.  Since he was getting citizenship he should change his name now.  So while he traveled to court he kept thinking of a good name.  He decided on Ralph for his first name.  For his  privacy I will not relate his last name.  He did go to Germany and was a translator for the Army during the closing days of the war and afterwards.

I have read about the Kindertransports and heard speakers discuss these train rides to freedom,, but I never actually met someone and had an informal conversation with someone who survived through this path.

Although I have read many books about the Shoah and spoken to many survivors, these two men will remain in my memory. My conversations with them linger in my heart.

Missing the Frank Gehry Museum, My Only Regret

2 Apr

Now that my trip is over, I must admit my one disappointment: not seeing Frank Gehry museum building in Panama City. 

Although I have never studied architecture, there are certain architects whose works intrigue me. I have written about Gaudi and Hundertwasser in a previous post (see below). 

But I also love the work of Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry. I just love his whimsical style just as I love the unusual designs of  Gaudi and Hundretwasser, who built structures before him. And although they worked in more natural materials, for me Geary’s modern  metal structures seem to meld into my love of slightly weird edifices. 

I think I also have an affinity to him as he was born one day after my mother’s birthday in February 1929 to an  immigrant Polish- Jewish mother, as was my mom.  

I love the Stata Center, the University building he designed for MIT in Boston. Walking around and inside and outside of this building just gave me joy. I loved the unusual angles.  

In Minneapolis viewing the museum from a bridge.


In Minneapolis we enjoyed time meandering through the Weisman Art Museum he designed near the University of Minnesota campus. When we walked away, I noticed a bridge which I immediately said had to be designed by Gehry as well.  I was right. My confirmation was a quick text to a young women I know who studied architecture at the university. 

Concert time


In Chicago I have enjoyed concerts at Millennium Park in the outdoor Jay Pritzker Pavillion theater that Gehry designed. The massive metal structure that surrounds the stage provides great acoustics and, for me, a welcoming embrace. It seems to reach out and say, “Pay attention!” I have meandered along the Millennium Bridge in the park. And I have yelled at teens trying to skate board along its lovely metal sides.

I have seen Geary’s famous fish sculpture in Barcelona, the city of Gaudi. This gives me joy I love that there are structures built by both done a century apart.  Although Gaudi’s famous church is still under construction. 

At the Museum of Pop Culture, the Gehry alien.


I visited the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle and loved the Science Fiction Museum inside. I, of course, love the alien inspired figure over the entrance to the science fiction section. I enjoyed walking along the outside of this unique structure, loving the different forms and bright reddish color center.  

So it is not a surprise that I had signed up for a tour of the Biomuseo in Panama City that Gehry designed. Unfortunately, this tour was cancelled due to lack of registrations. How frustrating!  People signed up to go shopping in Panama City, but not tour the museum. 

And no we could not go on our own. We had docked in Colon for a short stay. The only way to get there was by a ship offered tour. I would have loved to really see the building, not just photos. Also the topic focusing on the changes in Panama due to the Canal would have been fascinating. 

So I must admit,  my only regret of our South American/Panama Canal vacation was missing a trip to this museum. I guess I will have to go back. 
https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/my-architectural-love-affair-with-hundertwasser-and-gaudi/

Cartagena, Columbia, Last Stop But Long Awaited

1 Apr

It was with both anticipation and trepidation that I arrived in Cartagena. I so wanted to see this city where one of my favorite movies, “Romancing the Stone,” took place. At the same time I was a bit nervous due to all I had heard about Columbia and its major drug cartel problems. 

But all was fine.  By taking a tour through the cruise, I had a bit more feeling of security.  And, although Cartagena has had a major influx of refugees from Venezuela and a large number of street venders looking to sell their wares, I felt safe. 

The Castillo


Our first stop was to see the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.  Although we did not climb to the top of this fortification that kept the city safe, just seeing it and hearing its history was impressive. We learned how it was built from the bottom up to keep pirates and English from overtaking this Spanish port.  

Next to the walled city of old Cartagena. Over 11 kilometers of a bastion was built to surround this island city which basically became a fortress in its own right. Although Francis Drake did destroy half of it at one time, after his short time there the city’s defenses were reinforced.  

This lovely park hides its history s the place the Inquisition used to burn people to death.


We visited three important stops within easy walking distance in the heart of the city. Walking along the narrow streets in the heat and humidity did make me feel for those who lived here without air conditioning. But it was well worth it. 

The entrance to the Palace of the Inquisition

First stop the Palace of the Inquisition.  As our guide said, not really a place to welcome some one. Over 4000 people were tortured and put to death here in the 200 years the Inquisition was in Columbia. And if you were denounced by someone you were presumed guilty. The park in front of the building was once the place where so-called heretics were burned alive.  This horrible practices only ended in the early 1800 when the slaves were freed and the slave trade stopped. In Columbia the Inquisition targeted Africans who continued their religious practices while professing to be Catholic. 

Among the many golden objects


From there a short walk to the Gold Museum to see the ancient treasures that the Spanish came to take back to Spain. It is sad to think that many of these objects were melted down. But the ones that still exist are stunning. Spain has returned some to Columbia and we were able to see them at this well guarded, secure, and air conditioned museum. 

St Peter Claver is entombed in this new altar.


We had some time here to shop for coffee and other gifts in some lovely little shops along several close by streets before we went to our final stop: The Church of St Peter Claver. Peter Claver was a Jesuit priest who focused on helping the slaves in Columbia.  The church and its surrounding garden and museum buildings are lovely. 

This  visit to Cartagena was much more than I anticipated. I learned that Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Orize Laureate lived there. I do enjoyed his books, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera.” I am looking forward to rewatching. “Romancing the Stone” when I return home and reliving my visit to Cartagena.