Views From My Car Window

Though I don’t consider myself a photographer, I do like to take pictures. I find that, as long as I don’t get too caught up in the mechanics of it, it helps to notice the beauty around me and to solidify the memory in my brain. I snapped a lot of pictures on our trip through the southwest, many from the window of the car as we were speeding down the highway. Gary prefers to drive so I ride shotgun, doing the navigating, but mostly taking in the scenery. Here is some of what I saw as we passed through parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. It seems to me that almost all of southern Utah could be a national park. I hope you enjoy the views.

It is a spectacular country that we live in. I am grateful I got to see a portion of it – and that I got to see it with Gary, the best travel companion I could ask for.

Road Trip (and More)!

I originally planned this trip to the southwest of the United States in 2019 long before I had ever heard of Covid-19. We were supposed to go in May of 2020 but had to cancel, much to my disappointment. Well, we are taking the trip now!

This past Friday we flew from Albany to Albuquerque, New Mexico, leaving very early in the morning. Other than a misunderstanding about our hiking sticks – I thought they could come on as part of my carry-on baggage, TSA disagreed. They characterized them as ‘weapons.’ You’ll never guess who won that battle. We had to leave the security area and check our bags. We were early enough to get to the Delta check-in counter and back through security a second time so there was no issue. Otherwise, our travel to Albuquerque was uneventful, long (because we had a four-hour layover in Atlanta) but uneventful. Given the horror stories one hears about air travel these days, I am grateful.

We picked up our rental car and promptly got on the road to Santa Fe which is only a little over an hour drive. As we exited the small airport and got on the highway I did look around Albuquerque trying to find evidence of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, to no avail.

On the road in Albuquerque

The landscape looked about what I expected. It got prettier and prettier as we approached Santa Fe.

Snapped from our moving car

We checked into our hotel, the Inn on Alameda, a mere 14 hours from when we started our day. But it was still early enough to go explore a bit and get dinner. The gentlemen who checked us in was friendly, efficient, and provided us with good information about restaurants and nearby attractions, and a map (I love maps!).

Though we had not planned it to coincide, this was the weekend of Fiesta in Santa Fe. It is an annual celebration of the city’s Spanish heritage. The festival has evolved over recent years in recognition of the complicated relationship between the Spanish settlers, the indigenous people and the Mexicans who also ruled the area for a time. From our perspective, as tourists, what it mostly meant was that the city square had food and craft booths set up, as well as a stage where various performances were featured. It made for a fun, lively time.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel in a light rain. We basically collapsed in our bed so we would be ready for our scheduled walking tour the following morning.

We met up with our tour guide at a lovely coffee shop. He gave us an overview of the area’s history as we sipped our coffee. Then we started our tour. Here are some scenes from our tour:

The tour ended at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. We enjoyed looking at her work and learning  her history. Women who are brave enough to forge their own path are inspiring – and she certainly did that. Plus, I like many of her paintings.

Not a ‘typical’ O’Keeffe, but I appreciated it. She did live in New York City for 20 years after all

We came back to our hotel, legs aching more from standing than walking, we had been on our feet for about 4 hours. Rather than make life complicated, we had lunch at our hotel. They had delicious offerings, as it turned out.

After a brief rest, we headed out again to explore – this time to Canyon Road where many of the art galleries are located. It is amazing how many talented people there are in this world. The paintings and sculptures were breathtaking.

Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel. I couldn’t leave Santa Fe without getting a magnet – I make a point of collecting magnets from wherever I travel. The wall in our mud room has metal sheeting attached so I can put them up and remind myself of all the fabulous places I have been. I neglected to get one as we were wandering around on Saturday, so we drove over to the Five and Dime (that was the name of the store!) and I found a great addition to my collection. Now we could move on.

We had only 7 hours of driving ahead of us! – to get to Antelope Canyon, Arizona. Gary and I don’t mind long car rides, though this was pushing it. Some observations: The northwestern part of New Mexico is kind of depressing. Some of the landscape is beautiful, but some of it is dreary and desolate. You also see the poverty of the native peoples – pawnshops, scrap yards, and not much else in the way of industry.

Here are some photos shot from the car as we drove through New Mexico and into Arizona

Our destination was Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, where the Colorado River emerges from the Grand Canyon. We finally made it. We started our day in 55 degree Santa Fe. We emerged from our car into 90 degree blazing sun. It was a 1.5 walk from the parking lot to the site. Fortunately, we had water with us, though within minutes the bottled water was hot! But hot water is better than no water in that climate! The walk was well worth the effort.

Then it was on to our bed and breakfast – only 30 minutes away. Our host provided a beer for Gary and a glass of  well-chilled Chardonnay for me (a generous pour, too!). Ahhh! Lovely. We caught a beautiful sunset and moonrise before going to sleep.

Moonrise

We have finished 3 days of our vacation, 6 more to go with so many more magnificent places to see (Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are coming up) before ending our journey in Las Vegas. By the way, did you know that there is a Las Vegas, New Mexico? We were confused by road signs for it as we drove to Santa Fe. We know our geography well enough to realize that Las Vegas is not 125 miles from Albuquerque. Who knew there was another one? One of the many things I learned on this trip. Apparently, New Mexicans refer to it as Las Vegas, and call the one in Nevada ‘Vegas’ to distinguish them.

Can’t wait to see what else I learn.

Old Timers’ Day – Take Two

One of many ballpark rituals: standing for our national anthem

Let’s go Mets! Or, in this age of social media, #LFGM! But, let’s keep it old school for the time being. We did just go to Old Timers’ Day at Citi Field, which took us back to an earlier era.

Months ago, when it was announced that the Mets would host an Old Timers’ Day for the first time in almost 20 years, Gary jumped on it. Contrary to Gary’s take, I believe our son, Daniel, called it to our attention, not me. Anyway, Gary bought a bunch of tickets, not necessarily knowing who exactly would go, but wanting us to be there. Saturday, August 27, 2022 was the big day.

It was our first return to the stadium since the pandemic. It felt both odd and natural. I was excited mostly because I knew it would be special for Gary since he is a lifelong Met fan.

I did not grow up as a Met fan. I loved the Yankees. Bear in mind, that the Yankees of my youth stunk. This was the mid to late 1960s, before George Steinbrenner bought the team(in 1973) and bought success. I loved Mickey Mantle – I am not old enough to have seen him in his prime. I think I loved his name more than anything. My Yankees were the Yankees of Roy White and Horace Clarke. When Ron Blomberg came along in 1971, a Jewish player – a rarity and much beloved in New York City – I had even more to root for.

Another reason for my affinity for the Yankees was likely that two of my main nemeses growing up, my brother Mark and my Uncle Mike who both teased me relentlessly, were Met fans. I hated Tom Seaver. I don’t know if it was because I perceived him as arrogant or because my brother loved him – either way, I preferred my Yankees. I didn’t, however, hate the Mets as a whole and I couldn’t help but get caught up in their underdog 1969 season. As a serious sports fan, I watched the games, knew the team (I could name all the position players and knew the pitching staff even though it wasn’t that common for a 9-year-old girl to follow that stuff) and was delighted when they beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series – even if my brother and uncle reveled in the victory, too.

Fast forward a decade and my enthusiasm for sports in general subsided. I still enjoyed watching games, but no longer felt a strong allegiance to the Yankees or any other baseball team. Steinbrenner made it hard to remain a fan. In 1979 when I got together with Gary, it was easy enough to put the Yankees aside. During our long marriage, I have supported his passion. Together we have raised our children to continue the tradition as Met fans.

Eight of us converged on Citi Field this past Saturday. Our son, Dan and our granddaughter; my brother Mark (yes, the one who teased me relentlessly and still does, though not relentlessly but is a loyal and loving brother too) and his wife, Pam, their son, Sam (also a passionate Met fan), and my high school friend, Steven, joined us. We took the subway, along with many other Met fans. The first leg of the trip on the 1 line, the subway car wasn’t air conditioned, but fortunately it was a brief ride and not too crowded. We had more luck with the 7 train, it was air conditioned, so we arrived at our destination in relative comfort. The 7 line travels above ground through Queens. I couldn’t help but notice the changes in the borough – so many high rises! The areas we passed have transformed from small residential and industrial neighborhoods to gleaming skyscrapers. New York City is ever-changing.

We arrived at the stadium with hordes of others but made it through the security checkpoint and entry gate without too much delay.

The turnout of players and fans was impressive. The seats were full. Representatives of the original 1962 Mets were present, as well as members of the Miracle Mets of 1969 including Cleon Jones, Art Shamsky, Ron Swoboda, and Ed Kranepool. There were players from the championship team of 1986, too. Obviously, the guys from the 1960’s teams are ancient, and some were infirm. It was nice to see them though and have them get a warm reception from the crowd. There was quite a range in how fit the players were, even among the more recent retirees. Endy Chavez, who made a spectacular catch for the Mets in the 2006 NCLS, looked like he could still patrol centerfield capably even though he hasn’t played a major league game in 6 years.

The players and fans were having fun. I was having fun, too, especially as I consumed a very large hard seltzer. I am no fan of beer, the usual stadium staple. I am so glad ballparks have expanded their drink options!

Among our group, five are serious Met fans (my sister-in-law, my four-year-old granddaughter and I don’t qualify). We played musical chairs so the five of them had chances to chat with each other. Gary compared Met notes with each of them. I was gratified to see everyone enjoying the conversation, taking in the event, and happily walking down Met memory lane. I engaged our granddaughter – can you spot Mr. and Ms. Met! Can you find six orange things?  – as best I could, hoping to give our son some time with his cousin who lives in the metro D.C. area. Dan and our granddaughter stayed for about 4 hours, deciding to leave before things could go south – a wise choice. Leave while it remained a positive experience.

It was a long afternoon, evening, and night at the stadium – between the Old Timers’ introductions, the ceremonial game, and the actual game, it was about six hours. It was warm, but there was a breeze, and we were never in the sun. Our seats were great – behind third base. The Mets won their game against the Colorado Rockies, too, continuing a successful season.

We were all in high spirits as we exited Citi Field and headed to the subway. Not surprisingly, the trip back into Manhattan was a mixed bag. Once again, the 7 went well, it was an air conditioned express! The trip uptown on the 3 was very unpleasant – slow, crowded and no air conditioning! It stopped for a bit between stations – the worst! We sat sweating, hoping we would start moving again quickly. Thankfully we did after a long few minutes. It was a relief to emerge into the relatively fresh air at 96th Street and Broadway. You know you have been uncomfortable when 80 degrees and 70% humidity at 11:00 at night in Manhattan is a welcome improvement! I knew it would only get better after I showered.

Upon arriving in our apartment, I did just that and then got into bed. It had been a long satisfying day. One from which memories are made.

Seems Like Old Time(r)s

Note: This essay was written by my husband, Gary Bakst. Thank you, Gary!!! I will be sharing my take on this same event tomorrow.

It had been 2 and ½ years since I attended a live sporting event, a concert, a movie in a theater, any sort of in person event.  I surely don’t have to tell any of you why – everybody knows.  We have all made our own decisions about how to deal with the threat of Covid.  Some have been yet more cautious than I have but many more less cautious.  And I accept that there is a range of choices people can make that may fit for them. 

For me, it was time to go to a Mets game.  Linda looked ahead and noticed months ago that Saturday, August 27th, was Old Timers’ Day at Citi Field where my beloved Mets play their home games.  I have been a Mets fan since my father taught me about baseball.  We watched ballgames together, making the occasional pilgrimage to Shea Stadium to see our favorite players win or lose.  I remember one game in which Willie Mays -yes, that Willie Mays – was playing for the Mets.  He was old for a ball player and no longer capable of the elite level of performance that defined his many years with the Giants, but he was still that legend. 

I have fashioned my children into Mets fans, cajoled Linda into supporting them and now my grandchildren are being educated early about the importance of supporting our Mets.  I figure, if I can suffer, so can they.  Most years, being a Met fan does involve quite a bit of suffering.  It makes one tougher,  better able to deal with other disappointments in life. 

This year has been different.  The Mets have had other good years in their history, most notably 1969 and 1986.  But, unlike their crosstown rival Yankees, they are not perennial contenders for a championship.  It is a rare and exciting moment, a meteor streaking through the sky ever so briefly, not an annual expectation.  Perhaps with our new and improved ownership, that could be changing. 

After being away for such a long time, it seemed like the right time to head back to the stadium.  Covid surely remains a risk, but the risk of severe disease has diminished, it is an outdoor event and the special occasion of Old Timers Day combined to convince me to purchase tickets.  I went online and bought 8 tickets for the game.  I was not sure which family members would be able to make it, but the limiting factor was not going to be too few available seats.  

As an aside, the Mets have a policy for getting these online tickets that I found cumbersome and less than straightforward, so I tasked Linda with converting their emails into actual access to the stadium.  She found it easy and quick which did not surprise our children. 

My new-fangled ticket to the Old Timers game

Ultimately, we had a nice group coming to the game.  We had Linda and I, our son Daniel and his wonderful daughter, Linda’s brother Mark, his lovely wife Pam and their very nice son Sam who is also a Mets fan.  And Linda’s good friend Steven who I enjoy talking Mets baseball with over the many years we know each other.  The only person missing was our daughter, Leah, (who I have also successfully indoctrinated into Mets fandom, too) but having just had a baby three months ago, and living in the Boston area, made her attendance impossible.

Linda and I drove down to the city; we took the number 7 subway line to the stadium.  It was filled with orange and blue clad Mets fans.  The vibrations were all positive, the sun was shining and the world was a happy place.  

We all arrived in time for the Old Timers’ game.  They had assembled quite a large number of former Mets from players who were there for the Mets first season in 1962, to the 1969 Mets and the 1986 Mets and more or less every era of their existence.  The introductions themselves were fun and the former players exulted in the attention and adoration which the packed stadium poured out upon them. 

At the end of the introductions, there was a surprise.   The Mets were retiring uniform number 24 which Willie Mays used to wear.  It was a heartwarming moment and surely a signal that current owner Steven A. Cohen was ushering in a different era compared with the Wilpons who are widely despised by Mets fans.  He is doing so many things the right way, and this was just one lovely example of that. 

The Old Timers game itself was so much fun.  Some of those guys can still move pretty well and some really cannot.  Most still retain the amazing hitting and throwing skills that separate them from we ordinary humans.  It was pure joy watching them out on the field again.  We were enjoying the action on the field, the food, the drinks, the opportunity to spend time together chatting.  Baseball is unlike football and basketball.  It is slower.  Many people keep trying to make it faster.  Perhaps that is a good thing but sometimes slower has its merits.  I loved the slowness of the game. 

When the real game with the current crop of Mets began, it was more fun.  They led by 1-0, then 2-0, then 3-0.  It was a low scoring and well-played game.  They made enough good plays to overcome the visiting Colorado Rockies and the crowd exulted as the final out was recorded.

Our granddaughter spent about 4 hours there which is remarkable for a child not yet old enough to have any idea what a ball or strike is.  She was delightful and in great spirits and eventually Daniel left with her and they made it home without issue.  

The rest of us found our way onto the 7 train when the game ended, and we caught an air conditioned express train back to Manhattan.  While on the train, we learned from one of the many Mets fans crowding that subway car that our main opponents, the Atlanta Braves, had lost in the bottom of the ninth inning and the subway car erupted in joy. 

We got back home late and tired and sweaty but very happy.  Getting back out and doing something to divert my attention from my daily concerns was such a pleasure and going to a baseball game and watching my favorite team win was exactly the right salve.  I can enjoy watching any team play but if it is my Mets, then I really want them to win.  If the trip is easy and the weather is great and the food is delicious and they lose, then the bottom line is they lost.  It is unlike a movie or a show where I might say it was very good or pretty good.  This is binary: win/lose.  And they won. 

I wonder how you have made decisions about such entertainment options.  Have you been going all along, have you picked some events as appropriate and others as not a great idea?  And which types of events take you away from your worries?  

#LGM

Post-Vacation Blues

Our granddaughter heading back to our place on our last night of vacation

How do you feel when you come home from vacation?

I just returned from one week away on a beach. It is now late Sunday afternoon, we got back around noon. I feel sad – though, to be fair, I am also happy and relieved and at loose ends and tired….so many competing emotions.

I’m sad that it is over because time away from the routine that I so looked forward to and planned for is done; and, our week with our children and grandchildren is in the rearview mirror.

I am happy that we had the time together – we laughed, we dug holes and built sandcastles on the beach, we relaxed, we had good food and drink, we chatted, we annoyed each other (as family members do) and then moved on to enjoy each other again. I got to snuggle my granddaughters and now I am having physical withdrawal from being deprived of their company.

I miss the beach – the sound and rhythm of the waves, the changing color of the ocean, the people-watching, the snow-white gulls against the deep blue sky, the bright pops of color of umbrellas and towels dotting the sand. The cool breeze off the north Atlantic (the water temperature was 65!) taking the edge off the heat of the sun (and it was extremely hot). I took several walks along the shore and felt my blood pressure was likely measurably lower for having done so. Now I return to reality, the same view out my kitchen window. It is a nice view, but predictable and the one I see while preparing meals and washing dishes.

At the same time, It is a relief to be home – my own bed, with our kitties, the known. It is only the two of us that I need to consider rather than juggling the wants and needs of six others.

I feel a bit lost – not sure what I should do with myself, not very motivated to get to chores. Years ago, when we’d return from vacation and the kids were young, as soon as we got in the door, I got swallowed up by their immediate needs. I might not unpack my own suitcase for days! Hard to imagine that now. I didn’t have time to think. Now I do. I don’t want to return to that hectic time, but there is something to be said for it.

I reflect on the sights and sounds of the past week. We stayed in Salisbury, Massachusetts. I had never heard of the town before but was looking for a shore spot close to Somerville where our daughter, who gave birth ten weeks ago, lives. Salisbury is about an hour north of Boston, just below the border with New Hampshire. It is an interesting place, caught in a time warp. The stores, restaurants and arcades are stuck back in the 1970’s, with a touch of seediness, but charm, too. As the week wore on, I liked it more and more – unpretentious. It had all the essentials. We explored the shops, sampled the food and our granddaughter who is four years old, rode the carousel (she called it, adorably, the carobell) and she loved it. The beach itself was quite beautiful, wide with soft sand. Our unit was beachfront with a balcony facing the ocean. It was hard to leave.

Our visit to the area coincided with Yankee Homecoming, a week of festivities centered in nearby Newburyport. In celebration of that, Saturday night there were two fireworks displays we could see from our unit – one from the front balcony (which were launching from Newburyport) and one from the back that was a good deal closer in Salisbury. In fact we could see the barge that was moored not far offshore from where we were. We watched from our balcony – oohing and aahing. As is par for the course for me, I had mixed feelings as I watched. The sprays of color were beautiful, but I worried that the bursts of loud noises would wake the little ones and frighten them. Never mind the little ones, I am uneasy with loud explosions but I do love the result.  

Now I get reacquainted with the ordinary. How do you do it? Does re-entry feel like a letdown? Or, do you feel energized? Or maybe happy to have left and happy to be home? I’d love to hear.

Sun sets on another vacation – until next time

The Threads that Bind Us

Our family gathered in Groton, Connecticut for a wedding this past weekend. We converged on the Mystic Hilton, coming from upstate New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia and California. On Friday as we were each on our way, my brothers and I received a text from our aunt reporting that she and my uncle ‘made a stop to tell our loved ones the good news about our trip,’ meaning they visited the cemetery in Saddle Brook, NJ where my father, uncle and Nana (among other family members) are buried and shared the happy news of the upcoming nuptials. She included several pictures of the graves. I appreciated that they had done that, as irrational as the gesture may be.

I don’t believe that going to my father’s gravesite puts me closer to his spirit, but at the same time visiting is a demonstrable show of respect. In the Jewish tradition, when you visit the grave, you leave a small rock or pebble on the headstone as a tangible sign that someone was there – at least that’s the reason I have in my head and heart when I do it (there is likely some obscure reason for the ritual that dates back to ancient time, but I have no knowledge of it). I was glad that my aunt and uncle did it on our behalf. When we gather for these milestone events, it is bittersweet. We are thankful that we have something so special to celebrate, but also painfully aware of those who are no longer with us.

While chatting with one of my cousins, I mentioned that my aunt and uncle had done this, and she explained that for her going to the cemetery was an empty experience. Her mother died 35 years ago, and she still feels her mom’s spirit with her all the time, she is in regular communication with her (just to be clear, she didn’t mean that literally) but she doesn’t feel anything at her gravesite. I know other people feel the same way and have no need to go. My cousin wasn’t casting judgment on those who find meaning in a visit, but it just doesn’t do anything for her. On the other hand, I have a friend who visits her parents’ graves regularly – she finds it comforting. I’m trying to decide how I feel about it – not just with respect to loved ones who have died, but also in terms of what I want for myself.

This isn’t a subject most people want to talk about – all topics revolving around death tend to make people uncomfortable. I have always found it interesting and, more than that, important. I want to sort out my conflicting emotions, in part to plan for it so my children aren’t left with painful decisions when the time comes.

I have a recollection of an irreverent George Carlin comedy routine where he lamented that cemeteries were a waste of space. He suggested the land could be better used for affordable housing! (He was equally merciless about golf courses). Seriously, it is reasonable to ask whether our burial practices make sense from a use of resources and an ecological point of view. Is it sustainable?

Some of our feelings about this are probably the product of the traditions, either religious or cultural, we observed growing up. In my mother’s family, when she was a child, they went to the cemetery at least annually to pay their respects. She even remembers picnicking there! For her those were warm memories. The departed were still included in their lives. Though that tradition was not continued in my childhood, we never picnicked, I was aware that Mom and her brothers went at least yearly to the cemetery. As an adult, after my dad died, I took Mom to the cemetery a few times. Dad is buried in Mom’s (the Spilkens’) family plot, he lies near his mother-in-law. In life he loved being part of their family, it seems appropriate that he rests there. There is a spot for Mom, when the time comes, next to Dad.

The photo my aunt, Barbara Spilken, sent

Cremation was not considered when Dad died. It is my understanding that cremation was frowned upon among Jews. That attitude seems to be changing, and apparently was not rooted in agreed upon Jewish law. More Jews are choosing that option these days. Then you have to decide what to do with the cremains – scatter, bury/place in a mausoleum or keep in an urn somewhere. For other Jews, like my husband, irrespective of tradition or law, the legacy of the Holocaust makes this an unacceptable option.

On our drive back home from the wedding I asked Gary what he thought about all of this, including whether it was meaningful to visit the cemetery. He finds comfort in the idea of leaving a marker behind. He also expressed a desire to go to visit his dad, who is buried in Liberty, about a 2 hour drive from our home. Regardless of whether we go regularly, or not, Gary believes it is fitting that his dad’s existence has a marker, a place and a stone that memorializes his life that will be there for decades, maybe centuries, to come. He wants that for himself, too. Gary noted that he had not visited deceased family, he was thinking especially of his Bubbe, who are buried on Long Island in many, many years. He would like to, but couldn’t see making a separate trip, it is long and inconvenient, only for that purpose. If we were traveling in the area, then he would make a point of going. The location of the cemetery is obviously a factor in the frequency of visits.

Though I can’t articulate my reasons, it is important to me that I visit Dad’s grave once in a while – I can’t say how often it should be, though annually feels about right. I think of my dad all the time of course, but there is something about the visit to the site that formalizes it. Time and effort are carved out to honor my relationship with him by being there, looking at the inscription on the stone and placing a pebble on it to signify my presence. I am glad I can pay my respects to Nana and Uncle Mike at the same time.

I am of two minds for myself. I like the idea of being scattered in the wind, in a particularly lovely spot. I also see the appeal of leaving a marker, even if my children and grandchildren don’t visit. There would be a place where my existence was noted. I suppose the two are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps that is the answer I’ve been looking for – my cremains strewn about a lovely spot, (could they fertilize a garden?), and a memorial marker somewhere (a bench in Central Park?). Maybe I’m on to something here.

Do you visit loved ones at the cemetery? Does it feel meaningful? What do you want for yourself?

It is ironic that this piece started with the family gathering for a wedding but explored our recognition of death, but that is the nature of life. We gather for these events. The judge who officiated the ceremony, and it was a beautiful one, began with “Dearly beloved….,” just a word away from “Dearly departed…” It is all of a thread.

Gratitude, Part II

Note: I wrote a blot post about gratitude a while ago (you can find it at https://stories-i-tell-myself.com/2019/03/11/gratitude/). The impetus for that essay was International Women’s Day and I reflected on the women in my life for whom I was most grateful. Interestingly, that post is the single most read offering among the 305 (!) posts on the blog. That piece was planned. The other day a feeling of gratitude crept up on me from an entirely different source and I was inspired to write about it. I wanted to share it – perhaps it will lead you to find gratefulness in something you might otherwise take for granted.

I plugged ‘Untermyer Gardens’ into my GPS and drove the designated route. It was simple enough to find, though I was not familiar with Yonkers at all. I had heard of it from several sources and knowing how much I enjoy gardens, I wanted to check it out. Plus, it’s free!

It was the day after taking Mom to see the pulmonologist, which went uneventfully, I’m happy to report. It wasn’t my best visit with Mom, but it went smoothly enough. Driving to Mom and back is a lot for one day (about 7 hours) so I usually do an overnight at my brother’s home or in our apartment in New York City to make it more manageable. I decided to reward myself by going to the garden before I headed back to Albany.

As I pulled into the small parking lot, I noted there were still some spots available. The website had warned of the limited number of spaces, so I was prepared to search on nearby streets. I was glad that wasn’t necessary; it was a good start.

As I got out of my car, I felt especially grateful, and not just for the parking spot. Gratefulness is not a feeling that sneaks up on me all that often. As I made my way to the entrance, I realized I was grateful for many things. Though it was overcast, rain was not in the forecast, so the weather was cooperating. More importantly, I thought about the fact that I had the wherewithal to make this trip, from Albany to Freehold, New Jersey, to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Yonkers and then back to Albany by myself over the course of less than 36 hours.  I had the time, the financial resources, and the physical ability to do this. Not every 62 year old woman can, not every human being can. I took a moment to appreciate my good fortune. I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t be able to walk the grounds of the gardens. My legs are pretty strong, by heart and lungs are in reasonable shape – I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I could climb up and down stairs, I can walk 3 to 5 miles without too much difficulty so I was confident I would enjoy the experience.

I write this not to brag, but to acknowledge my blessings. There are challenges in every life, mine included, and I tend to hyper-focus on those. Here was an opportunity to appreciate what I have and take pleasure in something that brings me joy, the combination of natural beauty and human creativity. Untermyer Park and Gardens embody both.

Turns out Mr. Untermyer, who established and bequeathed the gardens to the people of New York State, is also worthy of admiration. Samuel Untermyer, a Jewish-American born of German immigrants, was a successful lawyer who advocated for financial regulation to protect against corruption and monopolies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I was even more impressed that he initiated and campaigned for a boycott of Nazi Germany beginning in 1933. He recognized Hitler as a threat early on. Unfortunately, Untermyer’s efforts were not successful in isolating Hitler, but he was on the right side of history. It is uplifting to learn of people who made positive contributions to our world – someone I had never heard of before.

I went through the entrance and found a map of the grounds. My children tease me about always wanting to know the ‘lay of the land.’ Whenever we traveled, I looked for a map or floorplan so I could scope out where to go and what were the highlights. Much of this information is available today on smart phones, but I still appreciate a guide on paper. I set out to explore.

The Gardens are located in view of the Hudson River. It includes structures that borrow from the architecture of ancient times. Some of the buildings have gone to seed – in some cases the ruins have been incorporated into the landscaping. Sometimes it isn’t clear whether the decay is intentionally left, or if it will eventually be restored. Perhaps they don’t know. It made for interesting viewing.

In one case, graffiti decorated the walls of what had been a gate house (you know you are on an estate when there is a gate house). I posted a picture of the scene on Facebook and Instagram, asking if folks thought the graffiti added or detracted from the look.

The picture I posted on social media

Some thought it detracted, some needed more context (was it ‘allowed’ or invited, or if it fit in with the history of the place), while others simply thought it enhanced the view. My visceral reaction, while there, was positive. I liked the juxtaposition of the colors, the new art and the old stones, the lushness of the plantings and the intrusion of urban expression on a structure from a time long gone. When I read about it, after the fact, the guide says that the graffiti was “intentionally preserved as an artifact from a troubled time in its history.” That raises even more interesting food for thought.

After exploring for about two hours, I sat in a shady portico (see photo below) and considered the blessings of the day. I felt energized when I returned to my car. I headed north, stopping first to have lunch with a friend before continuing the long drive home.

I carry that gratitude with me now.

The Hardest Job

I visited with my mom the other day. She is 88 years old. I asked her what she remembered about becoming a first-time mother.

I had just come back from helping my daughter, who recently gave birth to a baby girl, her first child. Caring for my newborn granddaughter, changing her diaper, soothing her when she fussed, brought back powerful memories of my own introduction to motherhood. I was curious how my mom remembered her early days after her firstborn, my older brother Steven, arrived.

Mom gave birth to Steven in an Air Force hospital in Wichita Falls, Texas in 1955. When I asked her how she felt at the time, she responded, with some hesitancy, “I was frightened.”

I was surprised by Mom’s response, and, at the same time, I wasn’t. If asked how I felt upon being released from the hospital in 1987 with my newborn daughter I would have said, ‘Terrified.’

We don’t usually admit to those feelings. We are supposed to be overjoyed. For me, at least in the beginning, the fear outweighed the joy. It felt like such a huge responsibility; one I had no previous training to take on. I felt woefully inadequate.

Mom went on to tell me a story, one I had heard before, but was eager to hear again. Before they sent her home, the nurse showed her how to diaper the baby and gave her other instructions. While explaining, the nurse took Steven by his feet and flipped him over on the bed! He appeared unfazed by the motion, he landed safely. “He isn’t as fragile as you think,” the nurse told my stunned mother.

It is hard to imagine a nurse doing that when I had my daughter in 1987. Though Mom took some comfort from the nurse’s demonstration, she couldn’t help but wonder about her ability to meet the needs of the tiny, living, needy creature entrusted to her care.

In the 1950s women were not encouraged to breast feed. My brothers and I were bottle-fed formula from the get-go. During that recent conversation Mom told me the idea of nursing made her uncomfortable, she didn’t consider the possibility. Since bottle-feeding was the norm in that era, I don’t think she felt any guilt. When I became a mom, it was expected that you breastfed. It was assumed that unless you were physically unable to, you did it. I could be remembering wrong – it is possible it wasn’t quite that black and white, but that was my perception. I received some guidance from the nurse while I was in the hospital to get me started, and fortunately, I was able to successfully do it without much physical complication. That doesn’t mean there weren’t other complications. I remember being exhausted, on the edge of depletion. It seemed as soon as I finished a feeding it was time to do it again.

Tired anyone? Me holding Leah – at least one of us was sleeping

My husband and I decided, after two weeks, to introduce a bottle of formula so that he could take a middle of the night feeding. Despite hearing something about ‘nipple confusion,’ we decided to risk it for my sanity. Though I believed we did the right thing for us, I didn’t widely share our approach given the prevailing attitudes of the day.

I don’t recall getting much guidance or support navigating these issues. In a way, I envied the fact that my mom didn’t have to deal with the question of whether to breastfeed or not. She had confidence that a formula-fed baby would be just fine. By the 1980s the decision became fraught – there are extremists (as there are about everything in our society these days) who insist that a woman must do it given the evidence that breast milk helps the baby’s immune system. It is only in the last year or two that there is recognition that we should not be so dogmatic. So many things come into play. Nursing can be unbelievably time consuming. In the first days and weeks after birth it can be every two hours, leaving little time for sleep or physical recovery. Some women experience pain or have supply issues (some women who produce milk worry ceaselessly about whether it is sufficient). Others are fortunate to find it relatively easy and experience the emotional reward of bonding with their baby – but most women I know, though they ultimately may have felt fulfilled by doing it, had a bumpy road getting there. The process can be hard without adding the collective judgment of society.

Writing this in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe and deprive women of their right to choose, I see a consistent theme. Women shoulder huge responsibilities in bringing forth new life, but we are not supported in that work (yes, I called it work, labor is called that for a reason).

The myriad ways in which our culture fails us is breathtaking. From inadequate access to health care (from prenatal to aftercare for mother and baby), to the history of failing to research women’s health issues, to the lack of understanding of the demands of those first few months, and finally, on a fundamental level, not valuing us, women often feel alone and overwhelmed. Though I am well past new motherhood, all of those feelings come rushing back as I watch my daughter go through it, especially in the context of the court’s repudiation of women. I feel the anxiety and weight of the responsibility in the pit of my stomach.

Being a mother is the hardest job I ever had (and still have). I believe, from what I know of my grandmothers and mother, they would agree. Our society needs to reprioritize its values. Mothering, and all forms of caretaking, must move up many rungs. It deserves better pay (sort of a joke since mothers aren’t paid, but we should assign it value). Childcare should be far more financially rewarding. But, perhaps even more than that, the work of mothering deserves more respect. Mother’s Day is a trifling excuse for the recognition that is due to those who take on the role.

It goes without saying that the government has no place in deciding whether a woman becomes one. I am well aware that some are not up to the task; all the more reason to support reproductive choice and change the way we view and assist mothers. It does take a village to raise a healthy child. When will we accept that and make policy decisions accordingly? I hope for my granddaughters’ sakes we begin the change now.

A Remembrance of Aunt Diane

Note: I wrote and posted a piece about my Aunt Diane in September of 2016, not long after I started this blog. I have updated and edited that essay in her memory. She died Monday, April 25, 2022. She was 92. She joins her sister, Clair, who passed away this past November, and her brother, my dad, Barry, who died 17 years ago, in the unknowable great beyond. They were each unique and important to me and I miss all three.

When we met at the burial site for Aunt Diane this past Wednesday, the rabbi told us that death takes us all, no one is spared.  He went on to say that the ritual of gathering at the cemetery reminds us to recommit to living life meaningfully. He told us that we were fortunate to be able to leave that afternoon though Diane could not– we should make the most of the time we have. He urged us not to waste it. I stood in the chill wind, somehow it is always colder and windier at cemeteries, I took in the huge expanse of grave markers as far as my eye could see, and I understood the truth of his words.

It’s funny how I hadn’t noticed it before – the likeness around the eyes. The line of the brow. The particular shade of blue, flecked with gray. The first time I saw Aunt Diane after my father died, the likeness unnerved me. During subsequent visits it comforted me. I felt like I got two-for-one: a visit with Dad, too.

My father was the middle child, one sister (Diane) three years older and another sister (Clair) two and a half years younger. They were three of the smartest people I have ever known. It’s kind of amazing that three siblings could each be so sharp. They had different personalities to be sure, but they shared incisiveness, a capacity for insight and intelligence that was as impressive as it could be intimidating. They also shared lively, large, blue-gray eyes. I always wished I had inherited those eyes.

In a traditional Jewish family, especially of that era (Dad was born in 1932), the son was the prince. Typically the family’s aspirations were tied up in the success of the son. Not so in my dad’s family. While I take pride in the fact that it was the eldest daughter who became the doctor, it seems that my father was overlooked. By his description, corroborated by Aunt Diane, he was not given encouragement or attention by his parents. It is a mystery that will never be solved.

Visual evidence of the family dynamic: photo taken at my dad’s bar mitzvah in 1945: Diane (16 years old) seated in front, (l-r): Clair (10 years old), Selma (my grandmother), Leo (my grandfather), Barry (my dad, age 13).

Growing up I didn’t know Aunt Diane that well. We celebrated Passover and Thanksgiving together most years, but those were large gatherings and didn’t provide much opportunity to have intimate conversation. I knew that we all respected Aunt Diane and called upon her whenever there were medical issues that needed to be addressed. I remember her reassuring presence at the hospital when I had eye surgery, by an ophthalmologist she recommended, when I was 5 years old and again when I was 21.

But the relationship between my father and his older sister, while loyal and loving, could also be tense for reasons I didn’t understand. Or maybe the tenseness related to her husband, Paul. Dad and Uncle Paul had different sensibilities, they didn’t share interests or humor. They each liked to laugh, but not at the same things. It was not something spoken about, just something I sensed. It would take some unusual circumstances for me to get to know Diane on my own.

I was preparing to go to Columbia University for graduate school, but housing wasn’t available when the semester started. It was September 1980 and Columbia was rehabbing a building on 80th Street and Columbus Avenue that would be offered to graduate students. I reserved a studio in that building, but since it wasn’t ready, Aunt Diane and Uncle Paul offered to let me stay with them to spare me a 90 minute commute (each way!) from Canarsie. I lived with them for almost two months, making the easy trip from 104th and Broadway to 120th and Amsterdam where the School of International and Public Affairs was located. And, I got to know Aunt Diane. I can’t say I got to know Uncle Paul.

I spent any number of hours talking with Aunt Diane about a range of subjects, from national politics (lamenting Ronald Reagan’s nomination to be President) to Israel to health care policy to personal values. I learned she was a lot more liberal than my parents! I learned about her history, about the challenges of going to medical school as a Jewish woman in the early 1950’s where she faced both anti-Semitism and misogyny. She was a trailblazer and a free-thinker; a woman before her time, especially in terms of male and female roles.

One area where Aunt Diane was distinctly more progressive than my parents was in her attitude toward premarital sex. I knew she and Uncle Paul took a more relaxed view of the subject so I asked her if Gary could stay over with me. Gary and I had already been together for a year at that point and he was working at a lab at Columbia Presbyterian, even further uptown (on 168th street). Gary was living at home with his parents in Rosedale (Queens), leaving him with a monumental commute to the lab. Aunt Diane explained that she had no problem with it, but was not comfortable allowing something that would go against my parents’ wishes. While it was true that my parents would not sanction that in their home, I thought they would be okay with it if she was – after all, I had been away at college for the four previous years. I think my parents took an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to the subject. I suggested she talk to my mom about it. I was not privy to that conversation, but a day or two later Aunt Diane told me that Gary was welcome to stay over.

Aunt Diane was a pediatrician who worked at a clinic in a hospital on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, her patients were mostly children of immigrants. During one of those conversations she told me she didn’t believe money should be part of the relationship between a physician and her patient. As a result, she spent her career practicing in the clinic and working for the New York City Department of Health, organizing continuing education for doctors. I always respected that choice, but today as an adult fully aware of the implications of that decision, I admire it even more.

After Uncle Paul died in 2010, when Gary and I were in Manhattan, we would sometimes meet Aunt Diane for a meal, often at the diner in her neighborhood.  She still lived in the same apartment she shared with Paul on the Upper West Side, the same apartment I stayed in back in 1980, and the same one I visited when I was a child. We met her as she walked ever so slowly with a cane, making her way down Broadway. We took a booth at the Metro Diner and chatted. We talked briefly about her health status; she had medical issues, as any octogenarian would. But mostly we talked about other things, she told us stories of her adventures in Israel with Paul in the 1950s.  She asked us questions about our lives, discussed advances in medicine with Gary. As one of those meals concluded, she invited us to join her to see a movie, A Tale of Love and Darkness, based on the book by the same name by Amos Oz. She was meeting a friend to see the movie at 3:00. We would have loved to go, if only we didn’t have another commitment (which we really did have – her offer was much more appealing!).

Those meals became less frequent as time went on and Aunt Diane’s mobility and cognition declined. I will continue to think back on them, though, particularly whenever Gary and I go to that diner. I saw my father in her eyes while we sat in that booth, especially how they crinkled up when she laughed. I am grateful I got to see them for as long as I did, but also so sad that I will see them no more, a connection to my dad extinguished. I will miss Aunt Diane’s wisdom, her stories, and insights. Her memory is surely a blessing.

Dad with his sisters

Mom with her sisters-in-law

Strong Ties

When you have a group of friends, especially from college, there can be an ebb and flow to the connections. I was part of a group of four friends at SUNY-Binghamton that has remained connected for 46 years, from freshman year through graduation and the decades that followed. Wow! that is a number that is hard to fathom. Stretches of time pass without seeing each other, though social media has made it easier to keep tabs on one another, but when we gather again, we pick up where we left off. Alison, Dianne, Merle and I have all led very different lives since college but the essentials remain – our view of the world, our humor, our wish to see the best in each other are at the heart.

Most recently we gathered in Atlanta for a four-day visit. Sadly, the reason for our reunion was the death of Dianne’s husband after a grueling battle with pancreatic cancer. Dianne has lived in the Atlanta area since 1982, the rest of us remained in New York. Though our trip was prompted by her tragic loss, our time together included as many laughs as tears. There’s a Joni Mitchell lyric, “laughter and crying, you know it’s the same release” seems particularly apt. Our visit surely did not heal Dianne, a loss of that magnitude is too hard to process if it ever can be, though she is strong and resilient. Hopefully we provided comfort that she can draw on as she figures out her path forward.

The four of us bonded during freshmen orientation at SUNY-Binghamton. Alison and Dianne chose to room together, they were high school friends from Island Park, a working-class suburb on Long Island. Merle and I came from Canarsie (Brooklyn) and though we attended the same high school, we didn’t know each other well. Luckily, the four of us were assigned to the same dorm, Cayuga Hall. Many nights of drinking, dancing, studying, and talking – mostly talking – laughing and crying carried us through those four years.

Sometimes in friendships like ours there can be crosscurrents of tension where one person falls out with another or the dynamic shifts. That didn’t happen so much for us, at least not that I remember. Choices we made, classes, internships and jobs, may have separated us but the bond remained. We saw each other through break-ups, disappointments and achievements in those four years. It is kind of extraordinary that it was enough to sustain us for more than 40 years after we left college.

Some friendships are born of convenience, from work or your neighborhood, and when no longer convenient, they dissolve. Others stand the test of time. What is it that creates a stronger connection?

Scenes from Atlanta: