Friday, December 22, 2017

All-Of-A-Kind Families

Last week, my sister asked me if I remembered reading 'All-Of-A-Kind Family' by Sidney Taylor.  Of course. Thinking about that book and the following one 'More All-Of-A-Kind Family' brought back memories of visiting the Carnegie Library in our small Nebraska town.  The front doors creaked when you pulled them open and the Children's Department in the basement was filled with treasures, worlds to be explored. We visited frequently, while our mother selected her books upstairs.

Sidney Taylor, whose given name was Sarah Brenner, was the daughter of Jewish immigrants and
lived from 1904 to 1978. She was the fulfillment of the promise made to all those who come here for a better life. Your daughter can grow up to be a published writer, even if you arrive poor or unable to speak the language or without an education yourself.

I re-read 'All-Of-A-Kind Family' about a year ago and what struck me, reading as an adult, was the vivid portrait of life on New York City's lower east side. These children were 'city kids' and their lives followed the Jewish calendar. What I remember from my childhood reading was just that this big, happy family was different, and yet the same, as my own.

I recently read '97 Orchard, An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families In One New York Tenement' by Jane Ziegelman.  It's a little like a non-fiction version of the book I loved as a child.  What it shows us is that each group of immigrants to the United States brings their own customs, foods and traditions. As they settle here, their ways combine with those who came before.  Children of immigrants marry partners whose heritage and religion is often different than their own.

Today, I read so much about people in power who somehow manage to ignore this great thread that winds through our history. They feel justified in excluding immigrants they do now know from our country out of fear of the unknown.  When they do this, they waste one of our greatest resources. Most immigrants come to this country hungry for new life, for success and for a better life for their children.

Maybe we should assign 'The All-Of-A-Kind Family' to the power brokers in Washington. It might remind them that we are all immigrants, some of us have just been here a little longer.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Tricky Business of Spring

Everyone has different markers for spring.   The rhubarb is up in the the yard so I say it's official: spring is here.  Of course, in Nebraska,  it could still freeze or snow for a few more weeks.  There has been a lot of talk about this in the neighborhood.  I figure we should just enjoy each day and not worry about what may come.  There are plenty of things to worry about if you feel the need to fret.

Spring really doesn't care much about the calendar anyway.  Like most important things in life, it arrives in it's own time.  There was a great Mary Oliver poem on the Writer's Almanac this week titled Spring.  It began "Somewhere a black bear has just risen from sleep and is staring down the mountain..."
What a great beginning for a poem.  You feel that moment of possibility.

Our two-year-old great nephew was at a family dinner here last night and he is the walking (or running) definition of possibility. He always has a huge smile on his face and he is happiest when he is discovering something new.  Toddlers, with their beautiful soft skin, duck fuzz hair and goofy first words are all about beginnings and possibilities.  You look at them and wonder what joys away them.

The poem continues later with a line that says "There is only one question: how to love this world." It's easier to love a world filled with happy children, spring sunshine and the rhubarb.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Change of Scenery

A week ago Saturday we left Omaha and six hours later we stepped out of the airport in Libera, Costa Rica, where it was 90 degrees and everyone in our immediate area was a surfer dude.
We slathered ourselves with sun block, put on hats and T-shirts and stayed in the shade while enjoying the glorious warmth.

We traveled with a group of six friends and friends-to-be.  Mark is always happy in a crowd but I tend to be a bit of a lone wolf so it's good for me to mingle a little.  I have more moments when I would be happy to hide behind a book.  One morning I gathered my coffee and toast and prepared to sit quietly and enjoy the sun on the deck only to find, after about 2 minutes, that someone wanted to join me and talk about everything planned for the day.

There were other moments when I was out of my comfort zone as we call it these days.  I went zip-lining for the first time although I did pass on white-water rafting later that same day.  I wasn't sure my heart could take it.  On a boat ride down the river I had a monkey crawl across my shoulders.  While everyone else was saying how cute he was, I was holding my breath.  All the birds were wonderful and I was fine watching them from the river but wasn't really ready to get close-up and personal with the wildlife.

All in all it was a great experience and I would go back there any time.  Now I'm back to knitting and reading  but that little bit of warmth and daring will hold me through the rest of the winter.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Perfect Snowy Day

Well, it finally snowed.  We have been waiting all winter.  Not that I am complaining about all the balmy days we have had.  The sun has been wonderful but somehow, you need a few beautifully snowy days to remind you that you live in the Midwest.

When we woke Saturday, the world was covered in a blanket of white and we had no power.  Mark thought we needed to shovel.  I thought we needed to figure out how to get a cup of coffee.   Let me just say right here that Mark loves to do things that begin with bundling up and end with rosy cheeks.  I, on the other hand, am happiest staying warm.

When he came in from a little work on the driveway to find me already in my coat and hat, he knew it was time for a trip to the coffee shop.  We took the papers and headed over for coffee and a scone.  Lots of folks had the same idea so it was a sociable outing.  We ran into a book club friend who said he and his wife were headed out to cross country ski later and invited us to join them.  Mark got that look again: the bundling up, rosy cheek look. I on the other hand, planned to knit and read the day away.  So that's what we did.  Mark skied and I hung out here.

This morning after church Mark suggested that I really needed to try going cross country skiing with him.  I had planned on another afternoon of serious knitting but he looked so excited by the prospect, I said yes.  I haven't been on skis for about 30 years so I didn't hold high hopes for a great outing but we took it slow and Elmwood Park is fairly flat.  On the way home, Mark asked if I needed another cup of coffee.  I'm not sure I'm ever going to be a great outdoor gal but it's good to share interests.

 Tonight we will watch the Superbowl for an hour or so and then switch to Downton Abby.  A little of both is OK. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Out To Coffee With The Girls

I was sitting in the coffee shop with four of my friends last week.  A man we all know, a business man and husband of another friend, stopped by the table for a minute.  "How are all you girls?" he asked politely.
I'm pretty sure if it had been Mark, he would have said 'ladies' and honestly, I'm not sure anyone else even noticed or cared.  Does it matter?
Mark's brother, who now lives in the South and has developed an accent to match, always talks about how he couldn't get along without the 'girl' who runs his office.  Every time he uses the word, my toes curl a little inside my shoes.  I want to ask how old she is, but I don't think he would get it and Mark would probably rather I just kept my mouth shut.
I suppose I could take it as a compliment to be called a girl but somehow it always feels a little demeaning. If we are girls, we must not be doing anything too important.  When we see a group of men, we don't call them boys, maybe guys but not boys.
Of course I wouldn't have said anything at the coffee shop.  That's the heck of it.  Who wants to be the crank that makes everyone uneasy over something as trivial as that?  I do write the script later in my mind.  It would be a great start to a short story.  I'll think about that for a while.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Day Plus Two

We had a great Thanksgiving Day.  Drew and Em were here and although it sometimes seems like there should be a crowd around the table, we were OK this year with just the four of us.  Mark and I were just home for a short, lovely trip to New York City so we had plenty of hustle and bustle and were ready for a few quiet days.

While we were in NYC, we decided to visit the new Ground Zero Memorial.  It was kind of a whim.  On Monday, the museums are closed so we wandered down to the tip of Manhattan.  It turned out you needed a timed ticket, something we would have known if we had planned ahead but it was all improvised.  We walked over to the temporary headquarters and got a ticket without much trouble.  The 'Occupy Wallstreet' protester had been removed from a block right there the day before and the police were out in full force waiting for them to return.  Part of me wanted to hang around and watch the drama unfold but we didn't have time to get arrested so instead we spent the hour before we could enter the memorial in St Paul's Chapel, which has been continuously open since 1766.  We walked through the doors that George Washington walked through on the day of his inauguration, which seemed like a very American thing to do.

Once inside the Ground Zero Memorial we were struck by the beauty of the day and the fountains.  There really is a sense of shared grief and peace.  As we watched, a young woman, accompanied by an older couple, make a rubbing of a name. All of the 2,819 deaths are memorialized on the fountains.  We were glad to have made the time to visit.

Back home, it feels like a long way off and yet, a part of all our lives.  We ate our turkey and counted our blessings.  It's best not to be afraid of joy as the holidays begin.  Embrace it, I say, or maybe the theme this year should be 'Occupy Happiness.'

Monday, November 14, 2011

Knitting As Therapy

This week a dear friend of mine started chemotherapy for breast cancer.  It's a tough path to start down and those of us who have known her for a long time are trying to walk it with her, to offer what support we can, both practical and emotional.

She has scheduled an appointment to have her head shaved in the next few days.  We will go with her and then join our husbands for dinner to 'celebrate.'  It's a gutsy move but I think I might do the same.  It seems less depressing than watching your hair fall swirl down the drain one clump at a time.

It's probably in response to that thought, but I have been knitting hats like crazy in the past few weeks.  In general, I'm more of a mitten person.  My hands are always cold and I love all the beautiful color work in the mittens.  However, all of the hat patterns have been calling to me so I am knitting hats and giving them to my friend.  I just finished a soft cotton cap she can wear around the house or to bed if she needs something to keep her head cozy. One of the things I hadn't thought of until a nurse mentioned it while I was with her at the clinic is that her head might get cold at night.

When someone you love is sick or facing tough times, you look for just the right thing to do.  Mostly that is for them, but a little bit of it is, selfishly, for yourself.  It's easy to worry and fret.  The truth is that you can't make someone better.  You can only offer them your love and support.  You can walk with them, cry and laugh, and somehow, get through it together.