Category Archives: Parenting

Pickleball article posted on USAPA website.

The USA Pickleball Association, located in Surprise, Arizona, has picked up my recent article on America’s fastest growing game for its website. Thanks to family and friends from the United States, Canada, England, and Wales who contributed to my story with their personal accounts of the game.

“Pickleball makes a dink shot among sports lovers of all ages.” USA Pickleball  Association website. October 26, 2018. Click here.

WHO BY WATER, AND WHO BY FIRE?

 

fullsizeoutput_2cad.jpeg

Headlines from the Orlando Sentinel

During Yom Kippur, we Jews recite the Unetanneh Tokef, a prayer in which we ask G_d to inscribe us in the Book of Life for the coming year. This prayer will take on special significance for my husband Larry and me as we look back on our experiences with our first Florida hurricane.

The National Hurricane Center had been tracking Hurricane Irma since late August. Reports of its potential destructive path through the Caribbean and Florida were headline news by Labor Day. Despite the warnings, Larry and I decided to go ahead with our planned trip to visit an elderly aunt in Myrtle Beach. On Tuesday, September 5, we drove to St. Augustine, Florida, for a day of touring before driving the rest of the way to South Carolina. We were confident that we had plenty of time to return home by Friday to prepare for Irma’s predicted landfall that weekend. 

That confidence quickly faded. News of the devastation in the Caribbean from Irma was being updated hourly. On the streets, fellow tourists and residents, some who had just recently moved back into homes that had been damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, were on their cell phone making evacuation plans. We filled our car with gas moments before the pumps ran dry. We stopped at the supermarket for some basics, only to find that the bread and water aisles were picked clean. Continuing north was out of the question. We drove back home the next morning.

By that time, Larry and I were being bombarded with phone calls, texts, emails, and Facebook posts from worried family and friends. Were we okay? Were we going to evacuate? We assured them that we were fine, but we were staying put. Our homes were built to withstand hurricane winds and rain, and Central Florida was not subject to storm surges. Furthermore, we were not in the path of the storm. We were more concerned about our family and friends who lived and/or owned homes on the coasts of Florida.  Which coast? As of Saturday, meteorologists were still trying to determine where the monster storm would make landfall.

So we, like the millions of other Floridians, completed all the necessary preparations. We stocked up on water, canned goods, toilet paper and wine-lots of wine. We filled both cars with gas. We brought everything from our lanai and in our  yard into our house and garage. We pulled out our emergency crank radio, candles and matches, flashlights and batteries. We filled our bathtubs and large pots with water and our freezer with bags of ice. We prepared a “safe room” in a walk-in closet in case of extreme winds or tornadoes. We checked in with neighbors to make sure they were ready. And we watched the “spaghetti models” on The Weather Channel for hours. Stupefacente! (Amazing in Italian)

Speaking of amazing, in between all these preparations, Larry and I were still living our lives—the calm before the storm. We went to the movies, celebrated our anniversary with dinner and champagne, took long walks around the neighborhood, and even went to a Pre-Hurricane Irma party on Saturday night. 

On Sunday, we hunkered down and waited for Irma’s expected landfall on—we were told—Florida’s west coast. Winds began to pick up outside our windows in the afternoon, followed by several hours of torrential rains and strong winds. Around midnight, just when we thought the worst was over, The Weather Channel announced that Irma was changing course. She was veering farther east and going over Polk County—sixty miles from our house. The next two hours were terrifying—at least for me. Larry had gone to sleep before the warning was issued. By  two a.m., with wind gusts reaching  between 74 and 100 miles per hour, I woke Larry and begged him to join me in our safe room. Larry refused, so I spent the next hour huddled in the closet with my laptop while Larry snored ten feet away. Once the winds calmed down, I joined Larry in our now safe bed.

By late the next morning, the weather had improved enough for us to venture outside. Yes! Our house was intact. Outside of a few missing shingles and some small downed trees, it appeared that our entire community had made it through the hurricane without serious damage. We never lost power or water. We had survived Irma! We even saved a catfish that was flopping in the gutter at the end of our driveway by tossing it back into the lake. 

Our relief was short-lived. We quickly learned of the extent of destruction outside our community. Millions of people across Florida were without power and water. Homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. In Polk County alone, eighty percent were without power. 

In the week that followed Irma, Larry and I have questioned how such different situations could exist only a few hours or even blocks apart. Disney World and Universal opened for business as usual on Tuesday while people who lived on the Florida Keys could not even get back to their homes to assess the damage until Sunday. Residents of our community were playing mah jongg, watching movies, and doing yoga while friends in Naples and Boca Raton were dealing with gas shortages, mold, extreme heat, and sewage back-up. A member of our neighborhood blog wrote a post complaining about their recyclables not being picked up when less than a mile away residents near our community were waiting in long lines for water and FEMA packages. 

Fortunately, most members of our community, as many others across the state, pitched in to help. Many opened up their homes to friends and family until the victims could return to their homes. A group is collecting food, water, and money to aid people who work in our community but live in affected areas. Many are contributing to organizations such as the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and the Jewish Federation of Florida. 

Who by water, and who by fire? We were spared from serious consequences, but others weren’t. Now it is our responsibility as Jews, as human beings, to help others through tzedakah, through charity—to relieve the burden of the thousands of others who were not so fortunate.

Loveys “Make It Better!”

 

Rerun, like his distant English relative Paddington Bear, has had quite an interesting life.

Two days after my daughter Julie was born, “Big Brother” Adam visited her in the hospital with a brown stuffed bear in tow. He and my husband Larry had picked it out at the toy store that morning. They named him “Rerun,” the moniker—hats off to Charles Schultz— we had given my increasingly growing tummy during the pregnancy. Rerun took his place at the corner of the hospital bassinet, allowing Adam to recognize his sister in the nursery. Julie reciprocated the day she came home from the hospital when Adam found a Spiderman doll waiting on his pillow.

Thus began Rerun’s journey through Julie’s life. He was a permanent resident of her crib, her “big girl” bed, and her college dorm room. Rerun traveled cross country with Julie when she started her new life in Colorado. He even had a place on Julie’s bed stand after she married Sam.

And now my daughter’s daughter has her own lovey. Sylvie latched onto Foxy when Julie brought  the big-eyed Beanie Boo home from an airport gift shop. Sylvie carries him with her everywhere, tucked securely under her arm. When he isn’t being held, Foxy watches over Sylvie when she eats and when she takes her bath. And every night, Foxy accompanies Sylvie to bed, where they are joined by Rerun, who now has a special spot in the crib.

While writing this story, I posted a request on Facebook for people to share their  “lovey” story about a toy or item with which they or someone they knew were totally attached. Over a dozen people responded—with tales as far away as Israel. Anne Rothenberg shared that her grandson Amiad is attached to large stuffed dog named “Clavlavi” (“puppy” in Hebrew).  The dog has been a part of their family for almost a decade. “He is pretty bald from years of stroking and washing,” Anne said, “but the whole family loves him so much that he is included in all family pictures.”

People reached back decades into their own childhood to talk lovingly of their favorite toy or blanket. Lee Ryan, my former student, wrote, “At age sixty, I still  have Teddy.  Of course, I can be without him, but I am grateful he’s still around.”

Susan Lenigan recalled that over sixty years ago, her sister Judy had her “Kitty.” As time went by, the stuffed animal’s eyes fell out and his face became faded. During one of her visits, their grandmother  decided to “fix” Kitty while Judy was in school. She sewed on new button eyes  and painted on a new face.When Judy came home and saw Kitty, she cried and ran away from her precious companion. She gradually—and grudgingly—accepted the imposter.

Linda LaFlure Nelson also learned that loveys often were best untouched. She and her daughter still remember the sad day that Linda washed Sara’s beloved “blanky” “Sara burst into tears sobbing that it no longer smelled like her.”  Linda said. “I felt like a bad mommy.” Blanky ended up as nothing more than a smelly knotted ball of tattered material. Nevertheless, Sara, now in her thirties,  has “Blanky” tucked away in a drawer in her home.

And like Rerun, loveys have traveled the country—and world. Becky Silverstein’s daughter Evey had a crocheted pink blanket with yellow edging that Becky received at her baby shower. Whenever Evey was hurt or fussy, Becky would sing “Mr. Blankey makes it better, yes, he does.”  Evey held it all day, flipping the corners back and forth repeatedly, self-soothing and settling herself down.  It went everywhere: in the car, in the crib, in the high chair, in the playpen, on every family vacation.  Eventually, Mr. Blankey also went with sixteen year old Evey for a two week stay in Scotland and for a three month trip Israel after she graduated from the Jewish Day School in Maryland. Mr. Blankey then went to college in Boston, moved with her and her fiancee to California, and went on their honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean.  Now Mr. Blankey has a place of honor on their bed in San Jose, California, providing a cozy napping spot for their dog, Kiwi. As Becky said, “Mr. Blankey still makes it  all better.”

Losing loveys can become  a major emergency. Sharon McLelland’s daughter’s cow, which still is “alive” with more stitches than body, once was FedEx’d overnight soaking wet as he was so needed. And those emergencies sometimes spill over to adulthood. Lynn Urgenson’s daughter Sue had a hand crocheted  “Blan-key”that she slept with even up into her adult years. When Susie moved to Israel, it was the one item Lynn forwarded to her. Unfortunately, it got lost in the mail. When the package finally was returned to Lynn six months later with “Address Unknown”  stamped on it, Lynn decided to avoid further heartache and deliver the tattered blanket in person next time she saw Sue. “My granddaughter Sarit has a beautiful one I made for her,” said Lynn, “but she doesn’t have same attachment!”

Can one avoid disaster with back-ups? My daughter has two more Foxy’s tucked away in case Sylvie loses her constant companion. Sometimes, however,  even that plan backfires. Judy Lynch’s daughter Katie slept with a stuffed panda. When Katie was twenty months old, Judy went back to work and bought a second Pandy so one bear could stay at home and the other could stay at the sitter’s. Katie became attached to both Pandys and had to have both of them in both places.  Judy recalled,”Who knows how many times we had to drive back to the sitter’s when we realized we’d left a Pandy behind!”

Fortunately, some children accept change. Jackie Betters’ grandson had a blanket named “Meme” that he slept with every night. His mom washed it so much from his dragging it everywhere with him that it got really thin. She folded it in half and sewed it. After several more washings, it got thinner. So she folded it again into a twelve inch square and, eventually into a six inch square. His mom has it tucked away in her dresser just in case he should ever need it again —even though he is a grown man with a newborn son of his own.

Now that children and parents are gearing up for school opening, don’t be surprised to find loveys hidden away to provide needed security. Over thirty years ago, Julie Thompson Berman’s son had a beloved “blankie.” All through kindergarten he carried a tiny piece of it in his pocket. He never took it out, but  he would just put his hand in his pocket, touch it, and be comforted.

Rerun. Foxy. Teddy. Clavlavi. Kitty. Pandy. Assorted pieces of tattered, smelly blankets. Each one treasured, loved, and often still part of their owners’ life.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

According to the Bipartisanship Policy Center, our country’s history of working across the aisle can be traced back to as early as 1787. Our founding fathers, struggling with congressional representation regarding the populations of the colonies, reached what later was know as the Great Compromise. It was decided that our new government would exist with a proportional House of Representatives and a Senate with equal representation. Once adopted, both sides felt vindicated.

At their best, and despite their differences, presidents and parties have work together to use compromise for the common good of our country. Lincoln created his “team of rivals” because he believed that he had no right to deprive the country of its strongest minds simply because they sometimes disagreed with him. In the last sixty years, the Civil Rights Act (1964); putting man on the moon (1977);  the Endangered Species Act (1973); the American’s with Disabilities Act (1990); welfare reform (1996), and No Child Left Behind (2001) all were put into effect because of compromise.

In the current political climate, compromise appears to be all but impossible. Lines have been drawn in the sand, pitting the Republican majority against the Democratic minority with unprecedented rancor. Nuclear options, closed door sessions, and  a proliferation of  what is regarded as “fake,” exaggerated, and even inflammatory news have torn our country apart in ways that many of us — from gifted historians to concerned citizen—cannot remember.

The battle has spilled over to our personal lives, dividing family and friends. The situation has become so flammable that recommendations on how to get along with family and friends with differing political views have become hot topics on everything from television to newspaper articles to Miss Manners. How do we deal with its aftermath when where one stands—whether to the left, to the right, or in the middle—when politics become personal?

I myself had become caught up in the “us versus them” mentality.  In the months before the election, I had spent hours watching television, listening to podcasts, and reading articles—usually with left leaning perspectives. Sharing all this news became my first priority, either through social media or animated, face to face conversations.

And it hurt me. I had cut off contact with a relative after a  Facebook fight about the election last fall, reconciling only after four months of protracted tension. One of my new neighbors, knowing how I felt about the November 8th outcome, had purposely avoided me with little more than a smile and hello. Friends invited me to their get-togethers  but suggested I leave my politics at the door. As a result, I decided that I could still do what I need to do—stay informed, call my legislators, volunteer to work during the next election cycle. However, as Miss Manners suggested in her June 25, 2017, column, I was no longer going discuss politics in social situations without mutual consent to do so.

While organizing a small dinner party, I realized how difficult the situation had become. One of the guests, whose leanings were unreservedly to the left, called to see if I was inviting a couple known for their strong Republican views. When I asked him the reason for his request, he told me that he recently had had a heated exchange with the couple regarding politics. He and his wife would feel uncomfortable attending if they were going to be there.

Even though the “Republicans” were not on the guest list for that evening, his request troubled me. Since the elections, I had heard similar comments from other friends who had questioned my continued friendship with any of “those people” who didn’t vote the way they had. I also observed many friends drawing lines in the sand. I came to the realization that enough was enough.

I didn’t have a good response for my dinner guests during that phone call, but I do now. When the issue comes up, I tell people, “I will be friends with whom I want. Politics will NOT be a decision in my friendship.”

In his book, “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked,” Chris Matthews, the former Chief of Staff for House Speaker Tip O’Neill and MSNBC journalist, reported that the political battles between the House Speaker and President Ronald Reagan  were “legendary,” but they respected and even liked one another. Reagan often had both Republicans and Democrats—including O’Neill—over for cocktails. “After six,” O’Neill would insist, “we are all friends.”

The only difference with me, the avowed liberal Democrat, and Tip O’Neill is that I won’t limit my friendships to after six o’clock.  As Thomas Jefferson so wisely said over two hundred years ago, “I never considered a difference in opinion on politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause enough in withdrawing from a friend.”

So I will continue to have friends for dinner, no matter our political affiliations. We will break bread. We will drink wine. We will laugh and enjoy each other’s company. And maybe, just maybe, once in a while we will “reach across the aisle.” We will discuss politics, learn what divides and unites us, and, if necessary,  agree to disagree. I only wish the same for our president and the members of our United States Senate and House of Representatives.

Misplacing things, but holding on to the small stuff

I have spent  half my life looking for things I’ve misplaced. I have spent the other half finding things for Larry that he claims I lost to make his life more difficult.

Recently I was visiting my daughter Julie, her husband Sam, and my granddaughter Sylvie in Colorado. That morning, I had unplugged my charging cord for my phone from the power strip next to my bed. I was sure that I had plugged it into a kitchen outlet. Later in the morning, however, the  only charger, looking mysteriously larger than mine, was connected to Julie and Sam’s iPad.

“Sam, are you using my plug to charge your iPad?” I asked.

“No,” said Sam. “That one is mine.”

I spent a good chunk of the next few hours looking for my missing cord. I looked in my traveling charger case, my pocket book, my suitcase. I rechecked the outlet next to my bed and every other outlet in the house. After we returned from a walk and lunch on  Main Street, I rechecked the outlet, my charger bag, the pocketbook, the suitcase. Then I pulled off all the bedding (maybe it got tangled in the sheets when I was making the bed?) MIA. Julie just rolled her eyes. Mom has lost something-AGAIN.

Misplacing something is part of my personality. Keys.Cell phone. Favorite water bottle. Sun glasses. Larry has grudgingly accepted that every time we head out, we have to allow enough time for me to make one more frantic trip into the house to search for my frequently lost or left behind items (which I refer to as FLI’s)

I know that my misplacing things is not tied to cognitive impairment, a concern as I work my way through my sixties. I have not yet found my cell phone in the freezer or my keys in the microwave. Thankfully, my losses are usually a result of multitasking or not giving myself enough time to put the item in its proper spot in the first place.

To compensate, I have established assigned places for the FLIs. My keys go on the key rack next to the door. The cell phone goes on the kitchen counter, plugged into the permanent charger. My favorite water bottle gets rinsed and put back into the refrigerator. On my good days, the system works.

I’ve given up on the sunglasses. After several last minute scrambles,I finally purchased several additional pairs for my pocketbook, each car, the beach bag, the lanai. This system also works—on my good days.

Larry, on the other hand, rarely loses anything. His keys, his wallet, the checkbook, even his clothes, are organized in such a way that he can find them quickly and without angst. He even has a system for items on his desk, where he can locate exactly what he needs from the piles that totally defy my sense of order.

Unfortunately, as we share the same house, our lives—and stuff—intersect. For example, we share laundry duty, but it is usually on my watch that one of his socks goes missing.

“What did you do with my Smart Wool?” he demands.

“You’re missing one?” I respond. And the search begins. The washing machine. The dryer. Then the rest of the laundry to see if it got stuck to a recalcitrant tee shirt or pair of shorts. The loss is yet to be permanent.

The second most FLI is the checkbook. Larry has a particular Spot for it. There are times, however, that I need it. Invariably, I either don’t put it back in the Spot fast enough or I don’t put it exactly where it belongs. Then, the scenario begins.

“MAR-i-lyn! Where is the checkbook?” The situation is quickly resolved. (EXCEPT when we moved into our Florida house, and one of us put the checkbook in a “safe place” before we left for a long trip to Colorado. If anyone has any suggestions as to where our “safe” place was, please contact me! Two years later, and the checks are still missing.)

Remember I said that Larry rarely  loses anything? Let me relate the Famous Missing Fleece Incident.

While still living in Upstate New York, our son Adam came home in July for a visit. One surprisingly cool morning, the three of us went on a bike ride. Larry had Adam use his road bike, and he took his hybrid.

A couple of weeks after Adam left, Larry asked me what I had done with the University of Rochester fleece he had worn on the bike ride.

“I have no idea,” I said. “I probably washed it and put it in your closet.”

“Well, it’s missing,” Larry said.

Thus began a three-month intermittent search. I checked our closet and every other closet and dresser in the house. I called Adam and asked if he had taken it back with him to California. Nada.

“Maybe you gave it to the Salvation Army,” Larry said. “I can’t believe you would give away my favorite fleece.”

At the end of October, Larry and I decided to go on a bike ride. The roads were wet from a recent rain, so we took our hybrid bikes for better traction. Halfway through the ride, it began to rain again. Larry paused to put his phone, which was in a case on the handlebar, into the saddle bag to better protect it.

“Hey! Look what I found!” Larry exclaimed. “It’s my missing fleece! I must have put it in there in July when it began to warm up on our bike ride with Adam!”

“YOU misplaced it!” I said. “Don’t you feel bad for accusing ME of losing it?”

“No, that’s okay,” said Larry. “All’s well that ends well.”

And the charging cord I “lost” in Colorado? Turns out that Sam had rolled it up and put it into a canister where he and Julie stash all their extra cords. So I actually wasn’t at fault that time either.

Elizabeth Bishop wrote: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master; /so many things seem filled with the intent /to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” In my world, losing “stuff” may be a problem. As long as I keep what is important—my family, my friends, my memories—it will just be small stuff.

Living My Values

fullsizeoutput_1a81

Larry and I at Special Olympics in Florida

The Shabbat prayer book in our synagogue includes the following meditation: ”I harbor within—we all do—a vision of my highest self, a dream of what I could and should become. May I pursue this vision, labor to make real my dream.”

On Tuesday, January 20, Donald Trump was sworn in as our forty-fifth president. Leaders as well as friends have asked us to give the new president an opportunity to prove himself. Based on his appointments, his actions, his continued negative rhetoric, the growing scandals, however, I refuse to stand with this man.

As an American and as a Jew, I shudder at the uptick of racist acts, xenophobic proclamations and bans, and the proposed loss of funding and support for public education, the arts, health care, civil rights, the disadvantaged, the environment—the list is endless.

Despite or maybe because of the current political climate, it is more important than ever for me to find “my highest self.” I must do what I can to live my values in a time where our country is led by an individual whose values do not come close to mine. I must use my moral compass  to point me in a direction that counters his rhetoric of hate. “Not all of us can do great things,” Mother Theresa said. “But we can do small things with great love.”

Up until this past presidential election, I did not consider myself a “political” person. I was—admittedly—marginally involved in the Vietnam War protests and the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment fight. Although I have voted in almost every local, state, and national election, I  have minimally involved in campaigning. The possibility of Trump becoming of president, however, stirred a level of activism in me that had me expressing my concerns on Facebook and becoming actively involved in supporting Hillary Clinton.

Now that Trump is president, I continue to be an activist. I have joined a local grassroots organization to effect change at a local level. Along with contacting my legislators through phone calls, emails, and letters, I have met with my United States House representative in House to express my concerns.

I volunteer at Special Olympics and support financially other organizations that align with those values. I subscribe to the New Yorker and the New York Times to stay more informed with media that does not provide “alternative facts.”

And I continue to subscribe to The Jewish World. For fifty years, the Clevenson family has been the voice of the Capital Region’s Jewish community. Their bi-weekly not only gives local news and events but also fair and unbiased information about the United States, Israel, and the world. If you have not already done so, subscribe to their fine paper, and consider giving a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

Tikkun Olam, the Hebrew expression translated often as “repairing the world,” is the Jewish  moral principal that states every individual should leave this world better than he or she found it. This is the vision of my highest self.  Through my voice and through my actions, I hope “to do small things with great love”—to make our country and this world a better place for our own and future generations.

My house was a very, very fine house….

Version 3

And Marilyn makes five….Me in Potsdam 1952.

 

My mother Frances Freydl Cohen wrote down many family stories to share with her children and grandchildren. The following story describes our home in Potsdam, New York.

In 1948, my husband and I were living in New London, Connecticut. Now that the war was over, my husband Bill was concerned that his job was insecure. When my brother Eli offered him an opportunity to become a partner in his retail-clothing store in Potsdam, New York, we decided to make the move.

The big problem was that there was a big housing shortage. The only place we could find to live was a small new two-bedroom house that was barely adequate for Bill, me, and our two children.

Our first winter in Potsdam was a very traumatic one. Our six-year-old daughter started first grade. She came home with everything but an education. First she came down with measles. One month later, she came down with the chicken pox. Each time, she gave the illness to her two-year-old brother.

Spring finally came and my parents were finally able to visit us. The couch in the living room opened to a bed, so our living room became our guest room. We bought a double collapsible bridge table and our living room also served as a dining room.

Laura wanted to take piano lessons, so my parents bought her a small reconditioned upright piano that just fit on one wall.

Things were running smoothly. Our children made friends. We made friends. We especially loved going to the outdoor movie theater in the summer. The admission for a whole family was nine dollars. We would dress the children in pajamas and they slept on pillows in the back of our red station wagon while we watched the movie.

Things changed when I realized that I was pregnant with my third child. Babies are little but take up a lot of room. The kitchen was so small that I could stand in one place, open the fridge and take a chicken out, turn around and wash the chicken in the sink, turn again and place the chicken in the oven. Where would I put a high chair in that small kitchen?

But Bill and I always planned on more children, so all the family was thrilled when our daughter Marilyn arrived in September.

Picture our home nine months later. In addition to our couch, two chairs, and a piano, we had the following in the living room:  a playpen, a baby carriage, toys, and shoes and boots on the floor as we did not have a foyer or a garage. The master bedroom now had a crib and a dressing table for the baby. As it was a new house with no trees and situated on top of a windy hill, the house was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. In addition, the basement always had water, the depth depending on the weather. Despite the crowded and less than ideal conditions, we were happy in our little home, which we called the “Rubber House” as it stretched.

We were even happier when my brother’s wife announced that they were going to have their first baby. Two months before the baby arrived, I planned a baby shower for her. The day of the shower, we collapsed the playpen and the baby shower and opened the double bridge table. Bill took our three children to my brother’s. I served tea sandwiches, dessert, and coffee to eight women. We all enjoyed opening the baby gifts.

Soon after that, I could no longer put off the gall bladder surgery that I needed since my first symptoms appeared when I was pregnant with Marilyn eighteen months earlier. The surgery was difficult and the recovery even more so, especially with three children. Fortunately, Bill and my brother waited until I recuperated fully to tell me that the store could not support two growing families.

In a short time, we decided to open a store in Keeseville, New York. Bill went to Keeseville to plan to open the new store, and I stayed in Potsdam to sell the house.

One day the agent called to tell me that he was bringing a couple to see the house. The sun was out, and it was 90 degrees outdoors and indoors. But miracles do happen. By the time they arrived, the sun went down and a strong wind came up. The basement happened to be fairly dry that week. When the couple arrived, they said our place was the coolest in town and our basement had the least amount of water.

Now that the house was sold, our family was ready to start a new chapter in our lives in Keeseville New York in our eight-room house.

Running for Katie

 

My husband Larry and I  met Judy and Charlie Lynch and their two girls in 1984. It was the first day of Clifton Park’s tee ball practice, and our two six-year-olds were assigned to the same team.  The parents and our two three-year-olds got to know each other while watching the games. Our son Adam spent most of his time in the outfield picking dandelions. Katie’s beautiful red hair couldn’t be contained under the maroon baseball caps all the pint-sized players wore.

In 1987, our families connected again at the Knolls Gang, a locally-run summer swim team. On the first day of practice, our daughter Julie brought over  “my new friend, Julia” to meet us. The two older siblings remembered each other from tee-ball. The four adults spent the next several years sharing conversation and stopwatch duties at the meets.

Larry and I left swim meets behind when Adam and Julie got involved in running. Charlie and Judy continued to breathe chlorine at various Capital District pools as their two girls continued competitive swimming. Our four children shared classrooms and proms and family get-togethers.

Meanwhile, as the years passed, Judy and Charlie became two of our dearest friends. We frequently met for dinner or a movie, a concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center,  or a leisurely tour of the Clark Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Katie was co-valedictorian of the Shenenehowa graduating class of 1996. She went to Drew University on scholarship, where she was the captain of her swim team. In 2000, she graduated with honors, got a job with Ernst Young in New Jersey, and eventually met a wonderful man. Friends and family waited expectantly for an email announcing their engagement.

In  September 2008, Judy sent out a completely different e-mail with devastating news.  “Katie is sick” read the subject line. Katie had been  diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), one of the deadliest forms of blood diseases. Because of her general health and young age, she had at best a 50/50 chance of recovery, and an aggressive medical approach was needed— immediately.

Katie, always one to accept a challenge,  determinedly underwent everything the doctors threw at her: chemotherapy, numerous hospitalizations, painful side effects and biopsies, and countless blood tests, and transfusions.

While Katie was undergoing treatment, friends and family reached out to ask how they could help. Judy, a runner, had heard about Team in Training (TNT) through her many years of running, the  flagship fundraising program for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). LLS is the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research, education and patient services. TNT volunteers, many themselves survivors,  train to complete a marathon, half marathon, cycle event, triathlon or hike adventure, while fundraising to support the fight against blood cancers.

In 2009, Judy signed up with TNT  to raise money by her participation in the New Jersey Half Marathon. Katie had gone into remission, and Judy regarded the race as a victory lap, with Katie and her now-fiancé meeting Judy at the finish line. Friends and family, including Larry and I, donated money to LLS in Katie’s honor.

Katie would not watch her mother complete the race. The cancer reoccurred, and she was in the hospital preparing for a stem cell transplant. Judy’s fundraising became her fight for her daughter’s life. She raised over $12,500.

Tragically, Katie’s positive attitude, her strong will to live, and the undergoing of every conceivable treatment were not enough. Less than fourteen months after her diagnosis, the Lynch’s beautiful, sweet, intelligent daughter died on October 26, 2009. She was 31.

Before and during Katie’s illness, running had been Judy’s therapy, her go-to for coping and figuring things out. After Katie’s death, it was her bridge into life without her daughter, a way to move forward and memorialize Katie. She would tell the world about Katie at the marathon, wearing a shirt with her picture, her dates, and messages to fight leukemia, donate blood, and join the bone marrow registry. Immediately after the memorial service, Judy signed up for the 2010 Boston Marathon. A torn hamstring delayed that goal, but she found other races—in Atlanta, in the Capital District, and in 2011, her first Boston Marathon.

Judy felt the need for something positive to result from Katie’s tragic death.  She made a personal commitment to do one event a year for TNT, raising as much money as she possibly could each time.

With Katie as her inspiration, Judy accepted challenges she never would have considered. Along with running races ranging from 6.1 miles to 26.2 miles, she expanded her fundraising efforts to include a triathlon and two one-hundred mile bike rides. This year, Judy will run the New Jersey Half Marathon, where she ran for Katie the first time in 2009. Her goal is to raise $15,000.

Charlie has been Judy’s number one supporter, and he himself supports her fundraising for LLS through his Craft Beers for Cures sales. Together, the Lynches have raised a total of over one hundred and one thousand dollars for blood cancer research.

“I run not only for Katie,” said Judy, “but also for the fighters, the survivors, those not yet diagnosed, and especially for those whose lives were cut short way, way too soon.”

On January 16, 2017, Katie would have turned 39. Through their tzedakah—their charity and giving, Judy and Charlie have kept Katie’s memory alive not only in their hearts but also in the hearts of their many supporters.

I often think of Katie’s determination, courage, and grace under terrible circumstances. And I deeply respect and admire my dear friends for their incredible fundraising efforts they have undertaken in memory of their daughter. Their hope is that other families can be spared the devastation of losing a child or loved one.

For more information or to donate, please connect to Judy’s webpage at http://pages.teamintraining.org/vtnt/nj17/JLynch.

Are You Listening? Really?

When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new. Dalai Lama XIV

So many stories if we just listen. Sitting next to someone on a plane, we often stick earbuds in our ears to make sure they don’t prattle on about nothing.  But sometimes there is much to be learned from hearing—and really listening—to what others have to say.

Some of us are experts at listening. Lou, a friend and former co-worker, not only hears what the person is saying but engages his entire body: he leans forward, plants his chin in his hands and his elbows on his knees,  and looks the speaker in the eye. He nods in agreement. You know he cares about what is being said.

I think of Lou, and I want to emulate him. I am as guilty as anyone, often not really paying attention.

How many times have I sat through a rabbi’s dracha —sermon— and spent too much of my time checking my watch? Even when I have signed up for a lecture sponsored by my community’s book circle, I often find myself thinking about what I need to do later that day rather than focusing on the topic being discussed. I have missed much by being not more mindful.

Our failure to focus often carries into our daily conversations. We often are not listening to what the person is saying but rather waiting for the moment to express our own “pearls of wisdom.” And, what is worse,  what we want to say takes the conversation in a different direction. “That’s great,” we comment. “That reminds me of the time I…..” Note the emphasis is on the word “I.” To quote John Wayne, we are “short on ears and long on mouth.”

We can learn from Lou and other good listeners. Young adult author Sarah Desson describes them well: “They don’t jump in on your sentences, saving you from actually finishing them, or talk over you, allowing what you do manage to get out to be lost or altered in transit. Instead, they wait, so you have to keep going.”

How much richer our lives can be if we allow the speaker to continue talking.

Larry and I recently spent time with a group of friends in in Key West, Florida.  Before the trip, Larry had played pickleball with several people in the group, and we both had shared time around the pool and eaten lunch together. But being together for a week gave us more time to learn about each other.

Stories abounded. One woman had contracted polio when she was six, just months before the polio vaccine had come out. A very attractive woman who was visiting from England had become an actress in her sixties and is a regular on a Welch soap opera. A couple’s son had left his career as a graphic designer behind and became a tattoo artist. Several in the group had served in the military and regaled us with their stories about their experiences in basic training, in fighter planes, in submarines. Again and again, I thought to myself, “Who knew?”

Four days into our trip, Larry said to me, “I love hearing everyone’s stories!” And so did I. So many stories, so much to learn. And as my friend Lynn tells me about her own life, “You can’t make this stuff up!”

In the months ahead, I will be sharing people’s stories with you.  My friend’s son, who we have known since childhood, is now a rabbi in New Orleans. A friend in our 55-plus active adult community has turned his lifelong interest in the Titanic into a post-retirement career, as he travels the world giving lectures on the infamous boat and its many passengers. A friend of mine, a thirty-eight year old resident Daughters of Sarah Nursing Home, was paralyzed from the neck down in a freak motorcycle accident when he was sixteen. Each has a story to tell, and we all can learn by listening.

At one of the recent meetings of my writer’s group, one of the members shared a poignant story she had written about woman she had met twenty years earlier on a train stuck outside of Washington, D.C.  The writer—who was not wearing earbuds to block out conversations with strangers—learned that the woman was recently married to her childhood sweetheart. A month before the wedding, he was in a terrible accident and had suffered traumatic brain injury. Despite warnings from friends and family to back out of the wedding, the young woman realized her vow to love one another through sickness and health was sealed before the ceremony. By the time she finished reading her story, many of us were in tears. “How did you learn so much about a complete stranger?” we asked. “I don’t know,” she answered. “She talked, I listened, and I remembered.” Good advice for all of us.

I Can See Clearly Now……

img_5617

A lifetime of eye care is getting recycled!!

“Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who opens the eyes of the blind.” Morning Blessings, Shacharit

As our congregation recited the prayer this Rosh Hashanah, this line of the traditional morning prayers took on much more meaning. After struggling with extremely poor vision since elementary school, I will no longer have to rely on corrective lenses. As Johnny Nash sang, “I can see clearly now. “

No one was surprised when I needed glasses when I was six years old. Near-sightedness was rampant in my family, and my parents and two older siblings were already wearing glasses. My vision, however, was complicated by amblyopia, a condition when the vision in one of the eyes is reduced because the eye and the brain are not working together properly. In my case, the right eye wandered towards the extreme right. In 1956, surgery was not an option. Instead, I was given a black patch to wear on my left eye to force the “lazy eye” to get stronger.

I wish my parents had been more persistent, but I was embarrassed and defiant and refused to wear the patch. The vision in my right eye continued to deteriorate, and my left eye also was very near-sighted. By the time I was in junior high school, my glasses were noticeably  thick, only adding to the self-consciousness of  teenager who also suffered from acne and what I perceived as a Jewish nose. When I was sixteen, I was fitted for a pair of glasses by an ophthalmologist who told me my vision was too bad for contact lens and predicted I would be blind by my twenties. When I brought the glasses home, they were so thick they looked like coke-bottles. I threw them across the room and cried myself to sleep.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I was able to get another pair of glasses with lighter material that were not as ugly. But in my yearbook picture, the thickness of the lenses were the dominant feature.

When I arrived at University at Albany, I was very self-conscious of my glasses,  and they proved to be a source of embarrassment. One time, my roommates thought it would be funny to hide my glasses when I was in the shower. I burst into tears and begged them to help me find them, as I didn’t have the sight to search for them. I hit my lowest moment was when my girlfriend’s cute  but clueless boyfriend didn’t respond to me when I was talking to him. “Gene,” Linda said, “ Marilyn asked you a question.” “How was I supposed to know?” he answered. “Her glasses are so thick you can’t see her eyes.”

At the end of my freshman year, I was experiencing very bad headaches. Doctors at the  University at Albany health center referred me to a local ophthalmologist. “You are extremely near-sighted,” the wonderful doctor stated. “Have you ever considered contact lenses?” I wasn’t going blind. I was a candidate for contacts!  I was measured, fitted, and scheduled to pick them up the first week of summer break.

I will never forget the day I first put those tiny hard lenses in my eyes. I walked outside and saw the leaves on the trees in all their beauty. For the first time in my life, my eyes were causing tears of joy.

The lenses not only improved my vision but also my self-confidence. Behind those coke bottles were my family’s “Pearlman-blue” eyes, eyes the deepest color blue. Helped a little by the blue tint on my lenses, my eyes became my best feature. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most beautiful blue eyes?” strangers would tell me. “Yes, they have!” I would reply,””but you can tell me again.”

For the next fifty years, contact lens were an integral part of my life. I popped them in the minute I woke up in the morning, and I popped them out just before I went to sleep. I was literally blind without them, but the world was a bright, sharp 20/20 with them. I used eye glasses only when absolutely necessary. Regular eye appointments kept me on track.  “Lasik” surgery was not an option for many years because of the severity of my myopia. When the surgery was perfected, my doctor suggested I wait.  My family history, which had predicted corrective lenses, also predicted a high chance of the development of cataracts, a common eye problem seen in over fifty percent of the population by the age of eighty.

When I moved to Florida, I immediately established myself with a local eye doctor. Last fall, he told me that I had the beginning of cataracts. By this spring, the one in my right eye, which had been deemed as “insignificant” only months before, was growing fast and significantly impacting my vision. As soon as my husband Larry and I returned from our summer travels, I scheduled the surgery for the last week of September.

By Rosh Hashanah services less than a week later, I was able to greet fellow congregants, see the rabbi on the bima, and follow the entire service in our prayerbooks with no corrective lens in my right eye and my faithful contact lens in my left. The follow-up appointment has confirmed that my right eye is a nearly-perfect 20/25.  After surgery for the cataract in my left eye is completed, I will be free of corrective lenses for the first time in sixty years.

Because of my poor vision, I have  never felt confident climbing up the steps to the huge slides at water parks   As soon as I have medical clearance, however, a  friend and I are heading to Wet ’n Wild in Orlando.  Who knows what’s next? Sky diving?  Why not? I can see clearly now. Wheeeee!