Category Archives: Jewish Life

Thank goodness they are only First World problems!!

The last few weeks have been consumed with what my friend Judy refers to First World Problems.

First World Problems, according to the Urban Dictionary, are “problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.” So I give my readers my permission to roll their eyes at my recent series of First World woes.

In all honesty, I actually brought some of this on myself. Tired of the original orangey-brown pseudo-oak cabinets in our kitchen, I convinced my husband Larry that refacing the cabinets in white would be worth the time and money. When the company’s time frame to do the work coincided with my planned trip to Colorado, Larry graciously turned down my suggestions to delay the work until I returned. He would handle the last couple of days of installation and most of the clean-up on his own.

The weekend before my departure, Larry and I emptied out the entire contents of our cabinets into our living/dining room. When I attempted to run one last load of dishes before we had to close up the kitchen for the next few days, the door on the machine fell down with a thud, almost taking out my knee. The door springs had unsprung.

My washing machine must have decided it would have sympathy pains. Less than an hour later, I attempted to run a load of laundry. In the middle of the cycle, the machine stopped, and all sorts of lights began flashing. A Google search informed us that it was either a lid latch ($) or motherboard ($$$) malfunction. We threw the soaked clothes into our fairly new dryer [the old one had died in November]. First thing Monday morning, as the crew descended on our kitchen to begin work, I made a phone call to an appliance repair company to repair the dishwasher door and washing machine latch. 

Unfortunately, the appliance people couldn’t help me with my crown on my back molar, that had fallen off that morning while I was flossing my teeth. And the dentist would have to wait, as I didn’t have time to get to his office before my trip. I stuck it back on and hoped for the best.

After driving me to the airport Wednesday, Larry returned to a torn-up kitchen sealed off in plastic and a house filled with the overwhelming smell of paint. Meanwhile, my attempt at self-dentistry only lasted until I bit into an ice cream cone I had grabbed at the airport while waiting for the shuttle to take me to my daughter’s house. An emergency trip to Ten Mile High Dentistry was for naught. After a valiant, 45-minute attempt to glue the sucker back on, the dentist gave up and recommended I think about pulling the remains of the tooth out when I returned home. 

Meanwhile, back in Florida, the appliance repairman was one for two: the dishwasher was an easy fix, but the washing machine’s motherboard was gone. Larry and I spent an hour on the phone choosing a new machine from a local hardware store’s website. While I was hiking with my family on a beautiful Saturday in the Rockies, Larry was waiting for the new machine to arrive. No worries. He had plenty to do in the meantime as the kitchen work was completed. Larry put most of the kitchenware back into the new cabinets, leaving the spice drawers and some other cabinets for me to organize to my liking. (Yes, I married a gem!) 

I returned Tuesday night, and by Wednesday afternoon, the kitchen was completely back in business—or maybe not. Our nine-year-old refrigerator was not only freezing the ice cream but also the eggs, milk, lettuce and grapes. We made another call to the appliance man, who said that repairs could run up to $500. Maybe we should consider just biting the bullet and getting a new one?Another run to the appliance store, another swish of the credit card, and we only had to live with frozen foods for six more days.

On Thursday day, I got a call saying the truck delivering our new side-by-side would be there in thirty minutes. This gave me just enough time to move the contents of the old refrigerator into laundry baskets and boxes commandeered for the project. When the deliverymen arrived, they pulled out their tape measures, stretched it across our front door, and shook their heads.“Sorry. Doesn’t look like your new frig will fit through the door.” Some quick problem-solving resulted in a “through-the-lanai-if-we-dislodge-the-screen-door” option. An hour later, the old frig was in the truck and the new one was sitting in the middle of a kitchen filled with warming and—worst yet—melting food. 

“The new hose for the ice maker doesn’t work. Wrong clamp.” Roy explained from the back of the machine. “I’ll attach the old one.”

“As long as it works, I’’m fine with that,” I said.

Ten minutes later, the refrigerator was ready for the final push into place.

“It’s too wide,” said Roy. “I can’t get it into the space.”

“Just remove the molding,” I suggested.

“We don’t do that,” Roy informed me

“You are not leaving here until that refrigerator installed,” I said between gritted-minus-one-uncapped-molar teeth. “If I have to, I will remove the damn molding!”

Roy shrugged and tried more push. Miraculously, it squeaked in with centimeters to spare.Whew! After two hours of work, these guys deserved a tip, which I gave willingly.

Now let me offer a tip. Before the appliance people leave you with your new refrigerator, check to see if the ice maker and water dispenser work. As I write this, I am still waiting for the callback from the store to arrange for someone to come back and properly attach the line.

The good news is that the last two weeks’ fails join the Mr. Coffee, microwave, Ninja blender, electric tea kettle, toaster oven, and aforementioned clothes dryer that had all died since last November. How many appliances are left to replace? (Am I invoking the evil eye?)

In the scheme of things, these are all First World Problems. I only need to hear about another friend’s illness or read the latest headlines or see another heart-wrenching picture from the Ukraine, to remind myself that our challenges, as Rick tells Ilsa in the last moments of Casablanca, “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” A wise woman once told me, “If it can be [legally] fixed with money, consider yourself lucky.” We are grateful that we only have had to deal for a short time with unwashed clothes, dangerous doors, and frozen eggs. 

Whoops! Gotta go! Larry asked me to help him put together the floor lamp we had to buy to replace the one that snapped in two while I was in Colorado……

Yes, it was worth the mess!

First published in (Capital Region, NY) The Jewish World (April 14-28 issue)

Keep calm and carry on? A return to tradition

Flashback to March 14, 2020. COVID-19 was the top news story. My daughter Julie and her family were leaving for the Orlando airport after a week’s stay. We had spent a few days on the beach and been delighted  by news of the birth of our grandson in a San Francisco hospital. We had cancelled our planned visit to Magic Kingdom the day before Disney announced it was closing the park that weekend. Instead, we spent hours in a community pool making sure we weren’t too close to anyone else. 

Julie’s last words as she got into her rental car were, “Mom and Dad, promise us you will stay safe!” She begged us to skip our plans to see Death Trap, which was being performed by our local theater group that evening. She must have called her brother, because Adam FaceTimed us an hour before we were to leave for the play. “If you stay home, I will keep the camera on your new grandson for the next hour.” Seeing our grandson won. We had no idea we would be feeling its effects—masks; sheltering in place; cancelled trips; cancelled events; hours of Netflix’s and puzzles; new variants; tragically, loss of friends to the virus—for the next two years.

Within the first month of the pandemic, I decided that celebrating with a Sabbath dinner every Friday would bring some joy. I polished my grandparents’ candlesticks; bought a new Kiddish cup on ebay (I must have lost mine in our move); brought out my embroidered challah cover, and located a friend’s challah recipe I had always meant to try. With some difficulty—the whole world decided along with me to make bread—I purchased flour, yeast, and sugar to make the traditional Shabbat bread. And I mixed and kneaded and braided my first challahs. Delicious! 

The following Friday, I was a little more confident. I made four small ones, and shared one with president of our (closed down) shul and one with a friend whose wife had just been placed in memory care.By April, I had totally embraced not only the baking process but also the spiritual elements. I learned that it was appropriate to say prayers during the kneading process, a way of feeding the body and the soul. I initially prayed for my family as well as our country and for all impacted by the pandemic. But my prayers soon extended to the sick, the grieving, the lonely. I kept a Mi Shebeirach list on my phone as reminders and often played Debbie Friedman’s version of the beautiful prayer as I kneaded the pliant, soft dough.

We developed a rhythm: Every Friday afternoon I baked the challahs, and just before sunset, Larry would head off in our car, delivering two or three still warm fragrant loaves to needy people in our community. When I couldn’t physically share them, I attached pictures of the challah onto an email with a note. “I kneaded prayers of healing into this loaf of bread. Thinking of you. Love, Marilyn.”

By the time Larry and I were finally able to travel to see our children and grandchildren in June 2021, I was a seasoned challah maker—to a point. Baking bread in someone else’s kitchen proved to be a challenge. In San Francisco, I realized the sound of the mixmaster cranking out the initial steps of challah process woke my grandson from his nap. In Colorado, the 9100 foot elevation resulted in loaves that looked more like amoebas. I had to learn to work around nap time and altitude. 

Meanwhile, I was tweaking my technique. I replaced the butter in my friend’s recipe with canola oil, which meant less noise and more kneading time, my favorite party of the process. Rocky Mountain challahs, I learned, needed to go into the oven immediately after braiding to prevent over-rising. A straight egg yolk wash resulted in browner, shinier loaves, which Larry wholeheartedly approved “This is the way challah is supposed to look,” he said, biting into the harder crust.

Over the past two years, I have baked and shared dozens of challahs, many that were appearing on our shul’s Zoom services. As our world finally has begun opening up, however, finding the time to make the challahs on Friday has been more difficult. I “cheat”by making seven or eight loaves and freezing 2-4 braided unbaked challahs, to be defrosted and baked when needed. (I still feel Jewish guilt when I use that shortcut!)

Friends have asked me if they could buy my challahs or even sell them at our Farmer’s Market. I decline, telling them emphatically I am not starting a new career. Instead, I offer them my challah “recipe,” a nearly 3000 word tome with numerous tips. Recently, I even invited two friends over for a “challah workshop.” After we all enjoyed slices oof the warm loaves smothered with butter, they went home with a batch of the still-rising dough they had prepared. They sent me pictures of their finished creations, beautiful in their own right. I am just following an old Yiddish expression: “Give people a challah, and they eat for a day. Give them a recipe, and they become challah bakers!”

Initially, I was hopeful that this would be the last article I would be writing about the pandemic. Two vaccines and two boosters later, Larry and I have pretty much resumed our lives. But there are now disturbing numbers that show another upward trend. Will we have to resume mask wearing? Sheltering in place? Only time will tell. 

When I wrote this mid-April, I was on a challah hiatus. Instead, Larry was enjoying sponge cake, Passover popovers, and matzo brie. But Passover ended next Friday. I soon will be pulling out the ingredients for the challah and donning my special apron. Stay safe, my friends.Better yet, Keep Calm and Bake Challah.

Realizing What I Have Missed

Up until now, I thought that maybe I hadn’t missed that much in the past 16 months. My husband Larry and I had our health, had managed to keep a level of contentment throughout the pandemic. We missed our family terribly, but we had frequent Zoom calls with our children and grandchildren.

Even throughout our two weeks in California, I had felt pretty good. Larry and I had hugged our fifteen and a half month grandson, overwhelmed with emotion. I knew I had missed a huge chunk of his first year, but I took comfort again from the hours on Zoom and FaceTime. We were starting our in-person relationship late, but I didn’t dwell on what we had missed. He knew us. He came to us. We savored every minute with our visit with our son Adam, our daughter-in-law Sarah, and the beautiful little boy who had been named after two of his great grandfathers.

But then, after our flight to Denver and an easy drive  up to Summit County, we hugged our granddaughter. (She had been warned: We would be hugging her so hard that she would squeak!) But who was this taller, more beautiful, more poised person? Where was the little girl with whom we had last hugged goodbye in Florida in March 2020? The gap between her and this person who     poured her own tea, rode a two wheeler, swam underwater in her community pool was so great. Yes, we had missed time with her, with her new cousin, with all my children that we can never make up. 

And I hadn’t realized how much I had missed our time in the mountains. On our third day, I finally made the hike up to Rainbow Lake, a short distance from our daughter’s home and our summer rental. As I walked up the trail, I took in the columbines and the wild roses and the aspens. Then I reached the lake, my happy place, the spot in which I find peace and contentment. How could I forgotten how much I love this spot over 9100 feet above sea level in the Rockies? Had it been almost two full years since I had sat on the log and drank in the beauty that surrounded me?

Larry and I had spent the Fourth of July in Frisco for at least ten years. We watched the parade down Main Street with Sam and Julie, then, six years ago, Sam and a very pregnant Julie. The next few years, our granddaughter watched from her carriage, then her father’s arms, and then as a participant on a tricycle in the Cavalcade of Children. 

This year, however, we headed out of town and, by 11:30 a.m., five humans and one dog were floating down the Colorado River. Sam manned the raft while Julie completed the entire trip, including some level 1 and 2 rapids, on a paddle board. Larry, our granddaughter and I found spots on the raft and took in the beauty surrounding us. We spotted a bald eagle perched in a tree, Canadian geese gliding along the shore, red cliffs rising above us, the Rocky Mountaineer weaving its way on the train tracks above us, fellow travelers on rafts and kayaks and paddle boards and inner tubes catch the currents with us. It was a beautiful Fourth, made even more special in contrast to last year’s isolation in our Florida home. 

The day ended with our granddaughter reading Go Dog Go, one of our favorite children’s book, to Larry while sitting on his lap on a rocking chair in her bedroom. Behind them, the window gave us a view the sun set in the aspen tree. 

As we finish our time in the mountains, Larry and I  have also been able to connect with the friends and extended “mishpacha” (family) that we had not seen since August2019. We took in outdoor lunches and evening concerts with dear friends from North Carolina. We celebrated our granddaughter’s birthday with Sam’s family by riding the Georgetown Railroad, eating lunch along side Clear Creek, and singing “Happy Birthday” over cupcakes and a candle-that-refused-to-stay-lit in a breezy park. After two full years, we are again finding our Colorado rhythm. 

Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht is an old Yiddish expression meaning man plans and God laughs. Recent events have shown us how unpredictable life can be, whether exemplified in a terrible pandemic that has lasted for months or a catastrophic building collapse that happened in seconds. On a personal level, these past eight weeks of my reconnecting with family and friends has made me  realize how much I  have missed, how much time I have lost, and how important it is to never take what I cherish for granted. 

First published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World July 2021.

The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls

On a beautiful morning in theRockies, I weave my way up the two mile Mount Royal Trail. Geared up in hiking boots, pants, and my new “Mountain Mama” teeshirt, I enjoy the solitude, the sounds of mountain streams and chirping birds, and the sight of butterflies that lead me up the path. Small wooden bridges span the occasional creeks. Arriving on the bank of Rainbow Lake, I take in the beauty surrounding me before starting the trip down the Aspen Trail. 

Despite my pure joy of being in my “happy place,” I know my family worries about my frequent solo hikes. It would be generous to say their fear emanates from possible encounters with moose, elk, or bear. Unfortunately, it actually comes from encounters with rocks and roots. No, they don’t fear my being eaten by a forest denizen. They fear I might trip on the gnarled tree roots, the patches of loose stone, or the small boulders that are a part of the hiking experience. 

Not that their concerns are unfounded. Over the past 16 months, COVID-19 has not felled me. It has been my own stupid feet.

My first trip down free fall lane came early in the pandemic.” With pools and exercise classes in our 55+ active community shuttered, my husband and I were taking one of our long morning walks. It was hot, as usual. It was humid, as usual. What wasn’t usual was the dead snake lying on the sidewalk in front of us a mile into our walk.

“Watch out!” I yelled to Larry. He crossed his right leg in front of me to avoid the snake, and I I fell fast. And hard. And as I slammed face first onto the pavement, all I could think was “Damn that snake!”

I felt incredible pain and tasted the blood that was pooling in front of me. For one of the few times in my life, I was grateful my nose was more Barbra Streisand that Amy Adams, as it appeared to have taken most of the hit.

When I gingerly stood up, Larry and I assessed the damage. Scraped elbows and knees that did not require stitches? Check. Bones intact? Check. Teeth whole and still in mouth? Check. Ability to walk home. With the help of an ice pack wrapped in a towel provided by a Good Samaritan who had witnessed the accident from her front porch, also CHECK!.

Fortunately, outside of two black eyes and multiple minor scrapes, I had avoided major injuries and a trip to the emergency room.

My second adventure in face plants occurred twelve months later when the world was finally opening up. Larry and I were visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Sarasota, Florida, our first time we had been able to connect with family since COVID hit. On the second day of our visit, the four of us took a trip to Spanish Point, a 30-acre outdoor museum site. We were weaving through a section which was being set up for an evening concert. As I was wearing the required face mask, sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat, I didn’t see that the sound bar the sound technician had placed between the bottom rungs of two of the chairs. My foot caught on the pole, and I did a hard splat in the grass. It was a second lucky “break” in that I walked away with a scraped up face, another set of black eyes, and no ER visit. 

Three months later, my luck ran out. Larry and I were in San Francisco visiting our son, daughter-in-law and sixteen-month-old grandson. On a Saturday morning, we took an easy, scenic three mile round trip hike on the Tennessee Valley Trail in nearby Marin County. We were off the trail and walking over to our parked car when I tripped over a stupid rock—or is it that stupid me tripped over an innocent rock? Fortunately, I fell right in front of a doctor and his family who were about to begin their hike. He bandaged me up with the diagnosis that nothing appeared to be broken but the cut on my forearm was deep and required stitches.

After striking out at our attempts to get help at two urgent cares (One was closed; the second “didn’t do sutures.” ) our son dropped Larry and me off at University of California San Francisco’s emergency room. At first, judging from the number of people in the waiting area, I thought that I would get in and out quickly. Four and a half hours later, however, the ER manager announced that, along with those of us cooling our heels in the waiting room, there were at least 25 ambulances lined up outside with people in worse shape than us low priority patients with mere ear infections, head bumps, and cut forearms. We should expect a possible ten hour wait.

I was about to ask for a sewing kit and a prescription for antibiotics and call it a day when—thank goodness—I was taken into a room to get patched up. Six stitches and a tetanus shot later, I was good to go. Thankfully,I have had no lingering effects from Pratfall #3.

Initially I was worried that maybe I was having balance issues. In the days and weeks that followed, others of all ages have told me of similar situations that resulted in much worse endings—broken elbows, wrists, and legs. Yes, I consider myself lucky.

As I was getting ready for my first solo hike in Colorado, my daughter encouraged me to wait for her so that she could watch over me and make sure I didn’t fall. I said no, insisting that this almost-71-year-old body was still more than capable of hiking up and down trails, thank you very much. She did meet me halfway and showed me a longer but less steep trail that I have taken on my own as well as others with Larry and my granddog.Larry and I have also tackled longer, more difficult hikes without a scratch—or splat—between us.

Our most memorable Colorado hike this summer was the one Larry and I took with my granddaughter. When we reached the Rainbow Lake area, she insisted we ford a small stream by scrambling across the logs that spanned the water. Larry questioned whether she should attempt the crossing. “Don’t worry, Zayde!” she said. “I’m a Mountain Girl I got this..” Taking my cue from her, I successfully made my way across the logs, albeit slower, more cautiously, and certainly more awkwardly. But I did it. After all, as my new teeshirt proclaims, I am a Mountain Mama. I got this!

Epilogue: Soon after sharing this story with my writing group, Larry and I spend the afternoon exploring Vail Village. In one of the stores, I decided to try on a shirt that had caught my eye. As the salesperson led me to the changing rooms. he said, “Take the room on the left,There is a lip on one on the right, and I won’t want you to trip.” 

“Do I LOOK like someone who would trip?”I bristled. He quickly backtracked, “Well, even sixteen-year-olds have tripped over it.” Not surprisingly, I didn’t buy the shirt. Before I left the store, however, I sought out the salesperson and gave him my business card with my blog address. “My next article will be The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls,” I said.”Your comment will be in it!” 

First published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World August 5, 2021