Category Archives: Colorado

Pickleball makes a dink shot among sports lovers…

Pickleball, Pickleball, how I love the game,/Pickleball, Pickleball, what a silly name/ When I play, every day, my body is in pain/ But you know, I can’t stop, unless it starts to rain!! (Parody sung to tune of O Chanukah!)

What? You haven’t heard of pickleball! Have you been living under a marinated mushroom?

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. According to the USA Pickleball Association, there are over 3.2 million pickleball players in the United States alone, 5,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the United States; and at least one location in all 50 states.The game is being introduced to kids and teenagers in physical education classes in middle and high schools.

Pickleball was the brainchild of former Washington State representative Joel Pritchard. Summer, 1965, he and two friends came home from golf to three bored families. Their attempt to play badminton was thwarted by the fact that a shuttlecock was no where to be found. Undaunted, they retrieved a Whiffle ball, improvised some paddles with some plywood, and lowered the badminton net to compensate.  His wife Joan dubbed the game “pickleball” after the “Pickle Boat” in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats

Although pickleball languished in obscurity for almost fifty years, that all changed when Baby Boomers began to retire. Many “seniors”  still wanted to compete and win at a sport but lacked their youthful running abilities According to an article on the AARP website, pickleball, which  combined elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis, filled that need. Games usually last 10 to 15 minutes, so players can take frequent breathers. Since the court is small and most people play doubles, there’s no serious running — making it easier on the knees. The lightweight paddle and plastic ball reduces the chances of tennis elbow; having two people on the team reduces the area of play. 

My husband Larry picked up the game when he turned 65 and joined Southern Saratoga YMCA in Clifton Park [New York].  Larry had been involved in sports his entire life—basketball, baseball, and track in his youth and running and cycling as an adult. In pickleball, he has found camaraderie as well as the ability—to quote Jimmy Buffet—“to grow older but not up.” He has participated in several tournaments but prefers to play for the exercise, the fun, and the socialization. During the summer, Larry plays with the Summit County pickleball league in Colorado. As the group plays at over 9100 feet, their tee shirts proudly proclaim, “We Play With An ALTITUDE!”

When we moved to Florida, one of Larry’s  requirements was that the community had an active pickleball presence. Solivita, which is isted by www.55.com as one of the top five 55+ communities for pickleball, has seventeen outdoor  courts. The Smashers, the largest sports club in Solivita, has over 1000 members and growing. Along with hosting the Polk Senior Games, the club also holds Sadie Hawkins, Halloween, and Yearling (new players) games. 

Tom Leva, the Smasher’s president, first played the game in pickleball in 2007. After moving to Solivita in 2008, Tom, who had a history of heart problems, lost 40 pounds and was soon playing the game competitively and teaching new players. Although reoccurring cardiac issues has curtailed his game, he has remained on the board and has been behind the expansion and improvements of the pickleball courts. 

When they moved to Solivita in 2015, Dave and Patti “Smith” were tennis players who were not going to ever play that silly game called pickleball.  After their neighbors gave them paddles and took them out to play, they soon became self-professed pickleball addicts.  They enjoy sharing their love of the game with others and meeting so many interesting people. Patti is looking forward to playing in the Florida Senior Games in December.

Sandie and Howie Vipler, fellow YMCA pickleballers, recognized soon after picking up the game in 2012 that Clifton Park lacked outdoor courts. Howie reached out to Phil Barrett, the town supervisor, who agreed to fund painting pickleball lines on  some of the town tennis courts. They have moved themselves and  their equipment to Virginia, where they continue to play almost every day. 

Meanwhile, Sandie, who has a sports resume that includes downhill skiing, kayaking, cycling, and golfing, regards pickleball as her favorite. She plays pickleball 5 to 6 days a week for 2 to 3 hours a day. She revels in the compliments she gets from new competitors, including “You play tall for a short person” and “Wow, look at the wheels on her!” At 68 years old, Sandie vows that she will be playing until she can no longer walk.

That hasn’t stopped Brenda Taylor. Brenda had to have a leg amputated after a 1998 motorcycle accident and desperately wanted to find a way to get exercise while in her wheelchair. Except for an extra bounce before returning the serve, the rules are basically the same. Her proudest moment playing the game is when people compliment on her backhand shot. 

Mel Toub had played tennis and racquetball in his youth. Now in his late sixties and facing health challenges, he has mixed those two sports with pickleball. “Pickleball has wide appeal to both folks who used to play racket sports in their youth and to seniors who wish to remain active but no longer have the stamina or physical ability to play more demanding sports like basketball, soccer, and tennis,” said Mel.   “The learning curve to play pickleball at a socially acceptable level is fairly quick, so pickleball becomes a route to a new activity and new sets of friends.”

The game is growing internationally, with many European and Asian countries adding courts. Personal friends from England, Wales, and Canada have gotten hooked on the game after playing in Florida, Rob Harvey located an indoor pickleball facility near his home in Barhead, Alberta. “The game is great for eye-hand coordination. It keeps me  limber and helps the joints.” Pickleball also helps him keep in shape for his  summer baseball league.

Lynda and Steve Gorwill from Wales fell in love with the game after playing the game while on vacation in Florida. Last year, Lynda applied for and received a grant from Wales’ sports council to establish a pickleball league in her town. Although she has had roles in an English soap opera, Lynda still considers one of her proudest moments  was winning a silver medal in her first pickleball tournament in Abingdon Oxforshire, England.

Margaret and Peter Hunter were “kitted” with paddles and balls while visiting Larry and me in Solivita last November. “Within two minutes we were captivated, line, hook and sinker.” They are looking to returning to our area for another American Thanksgiving and another month of pickleball and miss it when they are at home in England. 

Not that pickleball doesn’t come with its hazards. Sharon and Rick McKelvey both ended up with torn meniscus surgery after a year of playing at Solivita. “That wasn’t fun,” said Sharon, another admitted addict,  “but it didn’t stop us from returning to the game.” Debbie Pratt broke a vertebra in her back after she took a bad fall moving backwards to return one of Larry’s volleys. She no longer plays pickleball, but her injury certainly didn’t scare off other women in her RV resort on the West Coast of Florida, who are appropriately called  “The Sweet Pickles.”

Marta Groess, a lifelong athlete and a member of Smashers, says that the most important feature of the game is that it is FUN! “I  tell new players that if they aren’t laughing, they aren’t playing the game right.”

Linda Kuhn, the Smasher’s treasurer, hadn’t played a sport since high school but now she is addicted, sometimes playing 2 to 4 hours in the Florida heat. “Pickleball gives me such a sense of contentment,, Linda said. The game  has reaffirmed my decision that as I age, I am going out with a roar!”

Is pickleball a Jewish game. Well, it certainly isn’t called “kosher pickle” ball! Until that happens, many people-Jews and non-Jews alike—can find America’s favorite new sport fun. 

Originally published in The Jewish World. October 4, 2018

Synagogue of the Summit Shabbat brings Shapiros solace

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Shabbat in the Rockies with Synagogue of the Summit

My husband Larry and I were enjoying our annual stay in the Colorado Rockies. As we had done many years before, we were hiking, spending time with our family, and taking advantage of all a summer in Summit County has to offer. The world surrounding us, however, was filled with troubling news. Both of us—especially me—needed to find peace and comfort. Fortunately, we were able to find both when we joined Synagogue of the Summit (SOS) for Friday night Shabbat service at Sapphire Point on this past June. 

The overlook sits at 9,500 feet between Keystone and Breckenridge atop of Swan Mountain Road. We placed our potluck snacks onto the waiting tables and set up our lawn chairs in anticipation of the evening service. We joined several SOS congregants for an easy hike along the half mile Old Dillon Reservoir trail, offering spectacular views of the Ten Mile Range and the Continental Divide. 

Barry Skolnick, SOS’s lay leader, began the service shortly after the hikers’ return. I will lift up mine eyes unto mountains from whence shall my help come, Skolnick said, quoting Psalm 121. My help shall come from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. Barry swept his arms to point to a perfect blue summer sky etched with the Gore Mountain Range as Lake Dillon Reservoir sparkled below. 

Skolnick’s beautiful voice and the guitar and percussion accompaniment of musicians Ron and Betsy Cytron immediately drew me into the Shabbat service. Some of the melodies and prayers were new, but others were familiar to me from our congregations in Upstate New York and Florida. Board members and congregants were called up to light the Shabbos candles (non-flammable, to conform to the fire ban in the mountains), and take part in readings throughout the service.

Just before the Kiddish, Leah Arnold gave a short dracha—sermon—on Parashat Balak, the Torah portion for the week, The passage from Numbers recounts the story of Balak, the king of Moab, who summons the prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel. On the way to his mission, Balaam is berated by his donkey (Yes, the donkey talks!), who realizes that an angel of God is blocking their way. Whenever Balaam attempts to pronounce his curses, his mouth instead pours out blessings.

In a moment of pure synchronicity with my own feelings, Arnold reflected that this particular week seemed to be filled with curses raining down on those who were trying to make the world a better place. “The possibility of turning back curses lies not directly with God or magical donkeys or angels,” Arnold shared with me later, “but with us, and our ability to channel the Divine within ourselves by following the prophet Micah’s words: ‘to seek justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God’” 

Her closing poem was a reminder to all that calling out for God to help us do what He wants of us  is more useful and effective than simply cursing our situation. “I meant to curse you.” Arnold said, reading from a poem by Stacey Robinson. “Instead, I called out Your name.”

After the closing prayers, everyone shared challah, wine, and the food attendees had brought. Larry and I were warmly greeted by many members of SOS. One had a daughter and son-in-law moving to Frisco, four blocks from my own daughter’s family. Another sported a shirt from a golf community near us in Florida. His wife and I, both writers, found we had been impacted by a collection of children’s drawings and poems discovered after the Holocaust and captured in the book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Another couple owned a condo in the building next to ours. As we made our way back to our car, I told Larry we had found our summer Jewish home in the Rockies.

Over the next few days, I learned more about the congregation through research on the SOS website and conversations with its synagogue board members.

Although Denver has had a significant Jewish presence—over 40,000 in the 1970s—the Jewish population of Summit and adjacent Eagle counties was small. Religious services were held in the Interfaith Chapel at Vail, requiring a ride over Vail Pass. A beautiful drive, but treacherous during the winter months in the Rockies.

Recognizing the need for a Jewish community in Summit County,  Sandy Greenhut of Dillon organized the Summit County Jewish community and formed Synagogue of the Summit in 1990. The first years barely drew enough people for a minyan—the required ten adults over the age of thirteen. Meetings and High Holy Day services, as well as a Sunday School for children, were held in people’s homes for the diminutive but enthusiastic group. 

By the mid-1990’s the population of Summit County grew, as more people discovered life in Colorado. The Jewish population increased. Many purchased second homes or moved permanently to the mountains. “SOS membership now ranges between 120 and 140 families. About half the congregation are permanent residents, while the other half spends two to six months in Summit County,” stated outgoing SOS president Jonathan Knopf.

Jackie Balyeat, the incoming president, is optimistic about the future of the synagogue. “As newer members move into the county, they bring their previous work experiences enabling the congregation to tap into a variety of talents allowing SOS to offer different programming as well.” 

Although the majority of the congregants are retirees, young families are always welcome and SOS has several. The synagogue offers educational programming customized to the age of the children. There have been one or two Bar or Bat mitzvahs each year. 

SOS has no permanent building, a situation supported by the congregation. “This gives the congregation the opportunity to hold services in places all over Summit County,” explained Knopf.  Activities have been held in Breckenridge Library, the Frisco Senior Center and historic chapel, and the Silverthorne Municipal Building. Churches have also opened their doors to SOS, including Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church and the Dillon Community Church, where High Holy Day services will be held this September. In August, Skolnick conducted  a Shabbat Morning service at the historic Temple Israel in Leadville.   The building dates back to the 1880’s when Jews were participating in the mining days.  Although it is no longer an active synagogue, it is open for special events like those offered by SOS. 

Rabbi Ruth Gelfarb, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, serves as the congregational rabbi six weekends a year. She also officiates at High Holy Day services, the annual Passover Seder, and special events. Whether run by “Rabbi Ruthie” or lay clergy, whenever possible, services and Torah studies are held at breathtaking outdoor locations throughout Summit County, including Sapphire Point, Keystone Mountain, and Lily Pad Lakes hiking trail. 

Along with spiritual events, SOS offers many social, cultural and outdoor programing.  Upcoming events this summer include potluck dinners, a hike to Shrine Pass near Vail, and a field trip to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. 

The congregation also is connected to the greater Denver Jewish community. Several members participated in the recent 22nd Annual Leadville Jewish Cemetery Cleanup Weekend sponsored by B’nai Brith. More than eighty people of all ages, are signed up to participate in the congregation’s first Annual Mitzvah Day on July 15th. The congregation will take on four service projects throughout Summit County, including trail clean-up in Breckinridge; landscaping of the Frisco-based safe house for Advocates for Victims of Assault; a path upgrade along Lake Dillon; and repair work at the Silverthorne Blue River Horse Center.

More information about Synagogue of the Summit is available through their website http://www.synagogueofthesummit.org

  

  

Onto Our Next Adventure

 

Now that Larry and I have become summer “residents” of Colorado. I have challenged myself physically more than any other time in my life. It is my Rocky Mountain boot camp. I return home thinner, stronger, healthier—and already thinking of our next adventures in the Colorado Rockies.

Our daughter Julie came out to Eagle County, Colorado, in 2003 for a one year teaching position at an environment school. Fresh out of college, she fell in love with Colorado, the Rockies, and Sam —not necessarily in that order. Fourteen years later, she, Sam, their daughter Sylvie and their dog Neva live in Frisco, Colorado, seventy miles from Denver on the western slope of the Continental Divide.

Until 2015, we would come out to visit them every year for a couple of weeks. Since our granddaughter arrived, we rent a condo close to their home for a couple of months to escape the Florida heat and to enjoy being Zayde and Gammy.

As Frisco is located 9100 feet above sea level, Larry and I take a couple of days to acclimate to the altitude. Once we have our mountain lungs, we take advantage of all the area has to offer.

Larry plays in a  pickle ball league three or four times a week—their motto is “We play with an Altitude.” On those days, I leave our condo, pick up my “granddog,” and Neva and I take the trail up to Rainbow Lake. It’s an easy one mile hike to the lake, only made a little tricky by its popularity. Neva and I have had to share the shoreline with up to twenty people and almost as many dogs. On quieter days, we have the lake to ourselves. We play Neva’s version of fetch: I toss a stick into the freezing water; she fetches it; I chase her down to retrieve it. Then we head around the lake, making our way back along a rushing creek home.

When Sam and Julie took us on hikes the first years we visited, I was intimidated by their longer excursions. Would we get lost? Could I handle the steep climbs? Would I fall off a narrow precipice, my body found by the rescue team a week later? Would we run into a moose or bear? After many years of hiking, my moments of terror are limited only to a few dicey paths that are a little too narrow or steep for my taste. “I’m scared,” I utter under my breath.

One of our favorite hikes, Lilypad Lake, takes us along a moderately steep path to a sturdy wooden bridge that spans a rushing creek. Climbing up the stream, we come to a section that overlooks Frisco and Lake Dillon. Another thirty minute climb through forest paths and wildflowers brings us to a lake on the left and a pond filled with lily pads on the right. As chipmunks beg for crumbs, we enjoy water and a trail bar before heading back down.

The longest, most difficult hike we took this summer was to McCullough Gulch, south of Breckinridge. The entire trip is in the shadow of Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s fifty-three mountain peaks that have an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. A few miles drive up a dirt road took us to a parking lot and a half-mile hike to the trail head. The path up the trail got steeper, muddier, and—in my wimpy opinion—less passable. At one point, a short section of small boulders required some scrambling. Above us, two mountain goats grazed. About one and a half miles up, we made our way to White Falls, a waterfall that cascaded from the lake above us. The sky, up to that point blue with fluffy clouds, got darker. From the waterfall, we made our way up to the glacial lake above us.

While not difficult to follow, the path got steeper and required more scrambling around slippery rocks. At one point, we got slightly off trail and needed to climb over some boulders. “I’m scared!” I whispered loudly. Although we were never in any imminent danger of falling, I was saying prayers for our safety. I tried not to think of what our children would say if the broken body of their sixty-something mother was found at the bottom of my imagined crevice. Just as we got to the top of the boulders, a young boy bounded past me to meet the rest of his family on the trail. Pretty embarrassing for me to be so afraid when child regarded it as standard playground fare.

After climbing a final steep grade, Larry and I reached the beautiful glacial lake at the top of McCullough Gulch. Beyond the lake was the magnificent site of Pacific Peak, a 13,900 footer. We had made it! We ate our snacks, drank some water, and enjoyed the spectacular view. Although the wind was strong, the sun was shining and the clouds were fluffy when all of that suddenly changed.

Hail! The skies opened up, and we were being pummeled with pea-sized pellets. We put on  our raincoats and slipped our way down the mountain, this time avoiding the “rock climb.” By the time we got to the waterfall, the hail had turned to spitting rain. A mile further down, the sun came out. Four and a half hours after we had started, we had completed the hike, tired but so glad we had done it.

Larry and I completed a number of hikes during our eight weeks in Frisco, each one providing breathtaking views of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and wildflowers. We experienced heat and rain and thunder and lightening and occasional bug swarms, but only once did we have to cut our hike short.

Our last weekend in Colorado, Sam, Larry, Sylvie, Neva and I hiked Black Powder Trail on Boreas Pass. Our two-year-old granddaughter soon tired of riding in her carrier on Sam’s back and decided to tackle the hike on foot. This worked until Sylvie and Neva found a pile of dirt created by burrowing animals that they regarded as more fun than further climbing. After a half hour of digging and snacks, all twenty-two pounds of her led us the way down the trail.

When I share my pictures on Facebook with friends and family, many comment on how strong and brave and fit we had proven ourselves to be. When I share descriptions of our hikes with native Coloradans, however, they are less impressed. “Oh yes! We did that hike in the winter with our snow shoes,” they comment. Or “If you enjoyed McCullough Gulch, you should try the thirteen mile hike up Meadow Lake Trail.” I can see clearly why GetYourFitTogether.com has named Colorado the most fit state in the country. And I know already that my  granddaughter and I will fit right in.

Colorado Jewish High

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Larry and I pose outside the synagogue, now a museum in Leadville, Colorado

While in Colorado for the summer, my husband Larry and I visited the town of Leadville during its Boom Day Festival, a celebration of the Old West. The streets were filled with gunslingers, burro races, mining skill contests, and over 100 food and craft booths. We got ice cream cones and wandered down West Fourth Street, past a mining skills contest, where brawny men and women competed to see how many pounds of rock one could pile into a truck. And just down the street, we found Temple Israel Foundation,  a museum dedicated to a thriving Jewish community that existed in this Rocky Mountain city over one hundred and twenty years ago.

Leadville, located at 10,200 feet above sea level, the highest incorporated city and the second highest incorporated municipality in the United States, boomed in the late 1870s with the discovery of silver, resulting in an influx of migrants to this small mountain town. At its peak, the population of Leadville grew to approximately 30,000 residents.

Among the many groups of people attracted to the minefields in the high Rockies was a group of recent Jewish immigrants who migrated to the West and Colorado. Representing only 1% of Leadville’s population, the three to four hundred Jews came to Leadville for the same reasons as their non-Jewish counterparts: to improve their social and economic status, to find adventure, even to reinvent themselves. As early as 1879, Rosh Hashanah services were held in the local opera house, and Hebrew Benevolent Society acquired a cemetery for Leadville Jews in 1880. Soon after, the Jewish community built a synagogue and held its first service on September 19, 1884, the first day of Rosh Hashanah 5645.

For the next thirty-eight years, Temple Israel served a surprisingly large and active Jewish community. As a booming mining town, Leadville’s residents had amble opportunities to spend their earning on clothing and household goods, liquor, sex, and gambling. Leadville Jews provided services in all these areas in the forms of dry goods stores, wholesale liquor and tobacco businesses, saloons, gambling houses, opera houses, and even brothels.

More well-known members of Temple Israel included David May, the founder of May department stores; Benjamin Guggenheim, heir to the famous family’s fortune made in Colorado mines; and Leopold H. Guldman, philanthropist and founder of Denver’s Golden Eagle Dry Goods Company. Despite its seemingly remote location, Leadville was a very modern industrial city. Jewish dry goods merchants offered the latest European fashions to the ladies and the better off gentlemen often sported diamond studs to accent their wardrobe.

By the first decade of the twentieth century, the boom was over, and the town’s Jewish population began to decline. In 1912, the last recorded event, a wedding took place.

From 1914 through 1937, the synagogue sat shuttered and unused. The synagogue was converted into a single family residence, and the building took on several other non-religious functions, the last as four rental apartments.

In 1983, Bill Korn, a New York City native, relocated from Boulder to Leadville to take advantage of low real estate prices and proximity to great skiing. He purchased and was in the process of renovating several properties when he learned of the former synagogue and the now overgrown cemetery. Motivated by his own German Reform Judaism roots and his belief in Martin Buber’s command, “If not YOU…then WHO? If not NOW then WHEN?”  he explored ways to obtain both properties.

In 1987, the Temple Israel Foundation was incorporated “to acquire, historically rehabilitate, and maintain”  the building, which was purchased in 1992.

For the next several years, Korn used the four apartment rental incomes to pay off the mortgage. The Foundation obtained a grant from the Colorado Historic Fund. Finally, ninety years after the temple shut its doors, renovations to bring the building to its former glory began.

Meanwhile, the Denver chapter of B’nai Brith led volunteer efforts each June to maintain the cemetery grounds and replace markers, The cemetery was reconsecrated and began holding Jewish burials again in 2001.

In 2012, a permanent exhibition opened that documents pioneer Jewish life with a collection of artifacts about Leadville, its resident Jews, Temple Israel as a synagogue, and life in a mining town in the 1880s and 1890s.

While not providing regular services, the building, with its Torah and bima, is now open for special events. Today, there are, according to Korn, approximately 80 to 100 Jewish people in the entire county.

Bill Korn oversees the museum, and from May through October, two full-time staff members work as both guides and researchers.

Over 3200 people visit the museum each year, said Korn, They come not only surrounding Colorado towns but also from all over the United States and even Israel. Korn said his most special guest was the granddaughter of Leopold H. Guldman, whose emotional response to the museum brought tears to Korn’s eyes.

Larry and I will be celebrating Rosh Hoshanah this year in Kissimmee, Florida, elevation 49 feet above sea level. Throughout the High Holy Days, however, we will be remembering that lovely synagogue situated in the highest incorporated city in America. We will think about Bill Korn and his generous efforts to bring that synagogue to life for future generations. And we will think the long-ago Jewish congregation  in Leadville celebrating Jewish life high in the Rocky Mountains.

L’Shana Tova!

Bubbe Butt Paste and Other Love Stories

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Soon after my daughter Julie and my son-in-law Sam told us that they were expecting our first grandchild, my husband Larry and I discussed what grandparent name we hoped to be called.

Larry determined quickly that he would be called Zayde. It was a family tradition, he stated. His father’s father was Zayde Max, and his own father was Zayde Ernie to his seven grandchildren.

Choosing my name didn’t come as easily. My friend Lynn, whose granddaughter lived in Israel, suggested the Hebrew  Saftah, but I didn’t think that would work for our future grandchild, who would be living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado at 9100 feet above sea level The other grandmother, who had a four year old granddaughter, already had dibs on Nana. Other members of the Grandmother Club told me about their sometimes unusual titles: MeeMaw, GG, G-Ma, CiCi, NayNay, Gemmy, and even (Graham) Cracker. Although Bubbe went well with Zayde, I dismissed it as too old fashioned. I pondered the numerous options over the next few months.

Larry and I were in Colorado the day Julie went into labor. While waiting for the Big Moment, we took a hike up to Rainbow Lake, a lovely spot a mile up the mountain near Julie and Sam’s home On the trail, we ran into another couple who, noticing Larry’s Syracuse University hat, told us they were also from Central New York State. After chatting with them about the Orangemen’s basketball team and the amount of snow that fell the past winter, Larry and I told them about our grandchild’s imminent birth. They congratulated us, stating  how much they themselves enjoyed being grandparents.

“What do they call you?” I asked the woman, whose name was—ironically—Julie.

“Grandma,” she said. “I waited a long time for grandchildren, and I am proud to go by the standard name.”

That sealed it for me. Meeting a Julie from Syracuse on a hike the day my grandchild was born was b’shert—meant to be.  I would stick with the classic “Grandma.”

Larry and I were introduced to our granddaughter, Sylvie Rose Massman, an hour after she was born. When I held her in my arms in that hospital room for the first time,I felt as if I were in heaven. I was finally a grandma!

We saw Sylvie several times over her first year. By the time we returned to a rented condo for another Rocky Mountain summer just before her first birthday, Sylvie was talking. We secretly hoped that, along with her rapidly expanding vocabulary—Dada, Mama, dog, bear, boo (blueberries), Yesh, and Dough (no)she would learn and say our names before we went back to Florida.

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Happily,over the next six weeks, we spent many hours with Sylvie, not only with her parents but also without them as very willing babysitters.As she sat in her high chair eating her meals and snacks, I determinedly coached her.

Sylvie,” I said,  touching her on the nose. “‘Dog,’” I said, pointing to Neva, who was waiting patiently for the next dropped morsel. “‘Grandma!’” I said, pointing to my chest. Sylvie would smile and laugh and offer me her smashed banana or mushed piece of challah. Nothing in her babbling, however, even came close to “Grandma.”

Four days before we were to return to Florida, Sylvie and Larry were playing on the floor with her blocks. “Zayde!”  Sylvie suddenly stated emphatically. Larry’s face lit up like the Syracuse University scoreboard. She said it again—and again. From that moment, Zayde became her favorite word. She called out “Zayde!” the minute Larry walked into the room, and she yelled it out if he disappeared behind a closed door. Talk about melting a grandfather’s heart!

As happy as I was for Zayde Larry, I was a little—well—make that very jealous. My efforts to hear Grandma—any version—intensified. “Grandma!” I said every chance I got. As the hour of our departure got closer, I became desperate and switched tactics. “Bubbe,” I tried, deciding an old sounding name was better than no name at all.

The morning before we were to fly back to Florida, I babysat Sylvie while Julie and Sam were at work and Larry was cleaning out the condo and returning the rental car. After her morning nap, I lay her on the dressing table to change her diaper. She looked into my eyes and clearly said,“Bubbe!”

“Yes, Sylvie! Bubbe!” I cried. Sylvie had spoken, and I was going to be Bubbe! I was over the moon! I immediately shared the news with Larry. Sylvie said  the magic word again after lunch and after her afternoon nap. When Sam returned home from work that evening, this Bubbe was bursting with joy.

“And she repeated this every time you changed her diaper?” Sam asked somewhat hesitantly.

“Yes! Every time!” I said. “She clearly said Bubbe!”

“I don’t know how to tell you this, Marilyn,” Sam said. “but she wasn’t really calling you Bubbe.  It’s her world for butt paste. She has had some diaper rash this past week, and—well—she likes to hold  the closed tube after we finish applying it.”

“Butt paste!” Larry chortled. “She is calling you Butt Paste.”

The day after we returned to Florida, Julie and Sylvie FaceTimed with us. The minute Sylvie saw our faces on the computer screen, she  yelled out, “Zayde!”

“And look who is with me, Sylvie!” said Larry. “It’s Bubbe Butt Paste!”

Sigh! I am sure she will be calling me Grandma soon. Until then, I will be happy to accept her smiles, her laughs, her waves, and her unconditional love—no matter what she calls me.

First published in The Jewish World, September 1, 2016

Big Wheels and Big Hills

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Summer mornings on our neighborhood in Upstate New York during the 1980s were quiet—until eight o’clock  At that hour—designated by the parents to be  late enough to ‘start the engines’— the garage doors on almost every house opened one by one. A fleet of children, all sitting low on seats of their Big Wheels, flew down their driveways and began circling the ‘track’ that surrounded the grassy knoll in the middle of the cul-de-sac The Daily Devon Court 500 was officially in session.

Biking had been part of  life since I was a child. I spent hours riding a second-hand three speed on rolling hills past apple orchards and Lake Champlain beaches  Larry and I pedaled through the back roads of Albany County, me on that ancient three speed and Larry on the bike he had ridden to deliver newspapers in Saratoga Springs. Once our children graduated from Big Wheels to two-wheelers, the four of us took family outings on the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Trail.

When we turned forty, Larry and I traded in our relics for lighter, more efficient ten speeds. Larry had to give up competitive running in 1996 due to an injury, and he began biking more frequently. He encouraged me to join him, and we pedaled our way around Southern Saratoga County.

Cycling became a social event.  For a couple of years, a group from Congregation Beth Shalom met on Sunday mornings in the synagogue parking lot for a ten to fifteen mile circuit. Larry and I were enjoying our biking.

And the length of our rides together increased: twenty miles, thirty miles at a clip. As a members of the Mohawk Hudson Wheelmen, we participated with several other riders in metric half centuries, one in which I rode the sixty-two miles in honor of my sixty-second birthday. Larry completed a hundred miler with a more hardy friend.

Despite all my biking, I never was totally comfortable on hills. While Larry gleefully viewed them as a challenge, I dreaded every long, steep incline. I usually made it with a great deal of effort. Once in a while, however, I had to resort to getting off the bike and pushing it to the top.

My fear of hills prevented me from taking advantage of all the all the biking trails near Julie and Sam’s home in Summit County, Larry had taken some rides with Sam, but I bowed out. On our visit in July 2012, however, I had several months of biking long distances in New York under my belt. Larry and I finally took Sam up on his offer to join him for what Sam billed as an easy, fairly flat twenty mile ride around Dillion Lake

“There is a little incline at the beginning of the trip,” Sam explained while we adjusted our seat height on our rentals and snapped on our helmets, “but I am sure you two can handle it.”

As Sam had promised, the first four miles on the bike trail, were flat and straight. Then we arrived at the bottom of Swan Mountain. I craned my neck to view the bike lane that ran along a fairly busy two lane highway. The summit appeared to me to be five miles away,

“Sam, this is not a little incline,” I said. “This is a mountain! How long is it?  And what is the increase in elevation?”

“We go from 9100 to 10200 feet, an 11,00 foot ascent over about a mile,” Sam conceded. “I promise we’ll take it slow.”

Within one half mile, I was huffing and puffing. And sweating. My shirt was stuck to my back; under my helmet, my hair was glued to my head; my socks were drenched. I even had sweat running out of my ear canals.

“I can’t do it,” I yelled to Larry and Sam, who were riding with little effort 200 yards in front of me. “I’m going to walk the rest of the way. I will meet you at the summit.”

“Are you sure?” Larry asked. They barely waited for breathless “Yes!” before they pedaled off and left me to push my bike to the top.

Fifteen minutes later, I met up with Larry and Sam at the Sapphire Point Overlook.

“I made it!” I said to Sam. “It’s all downhill from here!”

Then I took a look down the trail. Whatever goes up must come down, but this down was a steep descent on a narrow, serpentine bike path crowded with other cyclists

“What the heck, Sam?” I exclaimed. “I thought climbing up was bad, but I can’t handle going down this obstacle course!”

“Sorry, Marilyn, but it’s the only way back to our house without adding another ten miles,” said Sam. “Just take it slow.”

“Don’t worry!” said Larry. “I’ll be right behind you.”

Larry’s ‘right-behind-you’ promise lasted an even shorter time than Sam’s ‘we’ll-take-it-slow’ promise. Terrified and white knuckled, I kept hitting my brakes. Larry couldn’t bike slowly enough to follow behind and had to go ahead. I prayed all the way down to the bottom, where I caught up with Larry and Sam for the second time that day.

The remaining miles were less dramatic. And, by the end of our vacation, I had actually forgiven Sam.

Since my bike ride from hell, however, I haven’t attempted a repeat in Colorado.These days, I love riding through my mountain-free community in Florida—elevation in the Orlando area peaks out at eighty-two feet above sea level. Big hills—like Devon Court’s Big Wheels—are in my rear view mirror. And that is fine with me.

Bluebird Powder Day

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While visiting my daughter and son-in-law in Frisco, Colorado, I went cross country skiing for the first time in several years. It seemed like everything was in place. Clothes? Check. Skis and poles? Check, Beautiful snow cover? Check. Perfect temperature? Check. Ability to cross country ski? Not so good!

Julie had moved to Colorado after college for a “one year” teaching position at a science school near Vail. She fell in love with the mountains, the snow—and Sam. They were married in Moab in May 2007, and after completing master’s degrees and finding permanent jobs, they purchased a home in Frisco.

Larry and I visited Julie and Sam at least once a year, usually around the Fourth of July in time for the parade, town celebration, Julie and Sam’s annual BBQ, and the fireworks over Dillion Lake. Julie and Sam had fully embraced the Colorado winter life style and had encouraged us to visit them during the snow season. For many years, we demurred because of our work schedule. After we retired, Larry and I preferred to spend our winter months getting away from snow and cold, NOT heading in the opposite direction to 9000 feet and more snow and more cold. In 2014, as I missed my daughter, I made the decision that I would go to the mountains in the winter, even if Larry wouldn’t join me.

As soon as I entered the kitchen my first morning there, Julie asked me if I wanted to cross country ski. She and Sam live only a couple of blocks from the Frisco bike trail, and the snow was fresh enough for us to ski right from their house. I agreed to give it a try.

Julie fitted me with an extra set of boots, poles, and skis. I snapped my right foot into the right ski easily, but the left boot/left ski didn’t cooperate. Six to eight tries later, both of my skis were snapped in. By the time we finished, the bottom of Julie’s skis were stuck with snow. She took them off, went back into the house to locate scraper chipped the snow off her skis, and put them back on. Then she showed me how to lift up each ski so at a ninety degree angle and balance on the other leg while she removed the snow and ice from the bottom of my skis. Once we were done, we headed out of the driveway towards the bike path.

The snow was as beautiful as anticipated. I naively thought that cross country skiing would be like riding a bike: Once my skis were on, I would be gliding along the path like a pro. However, I was a little older, a little less flexible, and a little heavier. My progress was pathetic. Fortunately, Julie was a good teacher. She reviewed with me how to kick up my heels, how to glide, how to lean forward to get better momentum. But despite my attempts, I always was at least two hundred yards behind her.

A “Vail 11 Miles” sign soon appeared along the bike path. My mind went back to a show on the Travel Channel, where Samantha Brown did a midnight ski from Vail to Breckenridge. Watching her glide effortlessly in the moonlight, I had thought, “We should do that when we go to Colorado!” But after twenty minutes on the trail, I was bathed in sweat, breathing heavily to compensate for the altitude, and seriously questioning my ability to ski another yard, much less eleven more miles. I didn’t want to disappoint Julie. I soldiered along.

We poked along for a mile or so, and Julie suggested we scrape off the sticking snow from the bottom of my ski as we practiced at home. I kicked out my left ski, tried balancing on my right leg, and crashed to the ground. After several attempts to get up, I finally had to remove my skis and right myself. Now I had to get back into the bindings. Multiple unsuccessful tries later, Julie initial patience was wearing thin. She pointed impatiently to the spot on the binder where the boot snapped in. “Right here?” I asked.

“Yes!” she answered. I put my toe in and snapped the binding down—on my poor daughter’s finger. She spewed out a string of obscenities fit for an angry, drunken sailor.

“I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed. “But where did you learn that language?”

After a couple of more tries, I was into my bindings and on our way again. We had to stop a couple of more times to scrape our skis, but I was enjoying the experience.

Forty-five minutes later, we were home, cozy, warm, and sipping tea.

Sam came down from the home office where he had been working. “You’re back! How did it go?” he asked.

“I’m a little rusty,” I said, “but I’m catching on.”

“How far did you go?” he asked.

“Actual miles were around three,” I said. “For me it felt like we went the twenty-two miles to Vail and back. For Julie it must have felt like to hell and back.”

The next morning, I woke up feeling pain in muscles I didn’t remember I had. But when I went down to breakfast, Julie was ready to try it again. A half an hour later, we were back on the bike path. My skis had clipped in on the first try, and the wax helped me glide smoothly over the fresh tracks Julie broke in front of me. I could not stop smiling. When I fell down, I picked myself up with no trouble.

“You’re doing so much better this morning, Mom,” commented Julie. “Are you enjoying yourself?”

“Every minute!” I responded.

“This is a bluebird powder day,” Julie said.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It’s a Colorado expression,” explained Julie. “The sun is shining, the sky is a brilliant blue, the snow is a perfect powder, and the temperature is ideal.”

“You’re right, Jules! It is a bluebird powder day!” And we kept on gliding through the powder.