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Friday, September 9, 2016

Alone or With a New Person? Is there Life After Caregiving?September 16, 2016

Facebook reminded me it's been 36 days since I've posted a new blog. Why?

I have been entertaining and being entertained by out of town guests whom I've invited to share my time in New York.I have been reading and thinking about freedom, consideration of others and about self-protection. I have been debating in my head the relative merits of being alone.

This is not the first time I have contemplated these weighty matters and it takes time to sort things out well enough to write about them, especially while I am having fun at the same time. When I was divorced, I had three children to rear by myself. They were then 12,9 and 4 years old. The stress was enormous as I became responsible for their economic welfare as well as all the parenting their varied ages and genders required. I always take every part of my life super seriously and in addition, I wanted a boyfriend to share my adult life with me. 

I could not do eveything I wanted to do, so I concentrated on continuing my education so I could provide for my children and for myself financially. My parents helped me by attending most of the fun part of parenting, going to school plays, taking the children out to eat. My mom sewed on all the buttons and name tapes, hemmed their pants and provided a backup for me from her home several miles away from mine. But I could not include a partner in my life then.

The children grew up and went off to live their lives and I was fortunate to meet the man I could have fun with. He made me laugh, we traveled, enjoyed the good life until he developed Alzheimer's disease and I became the responsible adult once more. The stress was enormous again as I felt the weight of caring for him and for providing as much independence and dignity and fun for both of us. My firstborn son rose to the occasion and provided much needed backup for me. I succeeded in this task as well until my dear husband passed away last year, but I did not have freedom or much fun.

Now that a year has passed, I have relaxed from the stress of caregiving, of being the sole responsible adult for others. I have time to devote myself to my friends and family who wish to share time with me and to enjoy my favorite city--and the Jersey shore. But is there room in my life for another partner?

All of us whose Alzheimer diseased spouses have passed now ponder this question. What is the cost/benefit ratio to venture into a new relationship, fully aware of what the future may hold?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Alzheimer Disease Memories August 3, 2016

As I was using the back of printer paper to write a shopping list, I found the following very short story  I wrote for a class. It is titled Rosh Hashonah 2010. 

Two tickets...too far to go to family this year. Dinner with closest friends. Niece Jeanie, newly remembered. Raisin challah and honey, wine, apples and candles.
Bob carries home the groceries. Adele will bring the fish. Chicken, noodle kugel and tzimmes. Bob peels and slices sweet potatoes, carrots, apples. Working together well as in days gone by. Bob  sharpens his knife on the stone.
In the morning, he's tired, wants to sleep. I go alone.
When guests arrive, he says "Who?" Groggily.
"Why are you here?"
"Aren't you glad to see me?" Jeanie is confused.
"Do you want us to go home?"

On the surface, I am doing so well, but the hurt is buried deep. A melody on Saturday mornings brings me to tears, as it was sung so sweetly at the funeral last year. The gravesite which felt like an open field where the Army Sargeant played taps on his cornet is now row on row of similar granite monuments.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Social Change at the Jersey Shore July 27, 2016

I am a first generation American Jewish woman, spending a few days at a middle class part of the Jersey Shore, where my parents took me and my sisters every summer to escape the heat and the threat of polio in the city. We stayed in rented rooms with kitchen privileges, the first one in 1940 in Asbury Park, where I remember clearly being delighted by pushing the wicker rocking chairs on the wide wraparound veranda. The expansive boardwalk was the tourist and
community center where families and teens walked, bought fudge and soft ice cream and screamed in joy on "the rides." We were probably a diverse group with many different origins and family histories, but very few were Black, Chinese, Indian or Hispanic.

After that initial summer, we rented rooms in the southern blocks of Bradley Beach which became known as the Jewish section. To the immediate north, Italian families congregated and further north Black families began to arrive after the war ended. There is a town between Asbury Park and Bradley Beach, which is the Methodist town of Ocean Grove which always welcomed anyone who wished to worship with them.

And that's the way I experienced segregated life at the shore until 1953 when my parents moved from the city to the suburbs and we no longer spent the whole summer at the beach.My grandparents continued to rent rooms however and I spent a week with them for the next few summers. 

Life in the suburbs was no longer spent in the comfort of other Jewish families living in one section of the city; I was but one of five Jewish girls in my high school class. I was treated cordially by the other girls, but only one of the Jewish girls was invited to the Sweet Sixteen parties of the others. Her family had lived in town for a very long time. We were ostensibly newcomers whom the parents of our classmates had not met and never did. We had one Black family in town; their daughter who was my age was not invited either, to my knowledge. She was really alone.

Thirty years later, I returned to what I consider to be "my" part of the Jersey Shore for weekends alone or with girlfriends. When I remarried, my husband joined me each summer for my seashore "fix." This is my 33rd summer here, once again alone. But not in Bradley Beach or Asbury Park, which went through very difficult economic times and are only now recuperating as tourist spots. Every summer I "walk the boards" from Belmar to Asbury Park, a distance of about four miles and what I am seeing this year is surprising in a good way.

The beach and boardwalk are filled with beach goers of all ethnic groups, families of 10 or 12 Indian, Chinese, Black and Eastern European people and a few Muslim families, mixing with the local population, bringing coolers and picnic baskets, umbrellas and sand chairs, sand toys and blankets to spend the day at the beach in Belmar and Ocean Grove, where everyone was generally welcome, to Asbury Park and Bradley Beach and Avon-by-the-Sea. The middle class is alive and well; it is just no longer all-white.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Fifth Stage July 9, 2016

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross studied about death and dying. She concluded that we all travel through five stages when there is an impending death. We also expereince these same stages when we are waiting for a possible diagnosis, we wait before we are told whether we have gained access to our chosen university or college and whether we have been accepted for the great job for which we have applied.

When someone we love dies, we go through all the stages again, although we've been down this route, through the initial fear that our loved one may be ill, through the Alzheimer's diagnosis, which may take years for the doctors to categorize, through each step of our loved one losing connection with us and with their world.

The stages are expressed differently of course, each time we pass through them. When my father died, I was angry with him for dying young and depriving me and his wife, his daughters and his grandchildren of his presence. He made the choice to try an elective surgical procedure which was successful, except that his heart was not strong enough to endure the surgery. I denied how sick he had been and I expected him to cope with his illness for our sakes. When he died, I bargained for my own health, I began to exercise, to watch my weight, to stop using anything with aluminum, including underarm anti-perspirant. After a time, I accepted that I had to care for my mother and get on with my life without his support and help.
When my mother died of Alzheimer's disease, my anger turned toward the disease and my frustration that there is no cure and very little knowledge. I am still angry about that which is why I have written this blog for so many years and why I wrote my book Put That Knife Away. My bargain then was to try to enjoy life, to travel, to appreciate each day.

When my husband died one year ago, after losing his battle with Alzheimer's disease, I couldn't get in touch with angry feelings. I felt relief, at first, that his suffering was over. He had had so little quality of life for so long. I certainly was not in denial any longer and the bargaining I had thought about had worked--the medications we tried, the move to Arizona, his workshop and his backyard had kept my husband's life as active and full as we could provide. He had independence and dignity, plus kindness and caring surrounding him. I had my family around me.

Then I began to feel anger -at my loss. I began to miss the person he was before he became ill. I missed my lover, m y companion, my cook ( he loved working in the kitchen) and my travel partner. I tried to travel without him, denying the reality of my loss. I am strong. I can carry on, but it is certainly not the same.

In our tradition, after the year is over, it is time to leave the grief and mourning aside and get on with life. It is time for acceptance. The marker is on the gravesite, but I really don't feel my husband resides there. He is with me always, as I reminisce about our time together as well as when I experience new travels, when I see new stores opening where our old favorites have been, when I revisit places we have shared together. I experience short bouts of longing, of sadness which don't reach the level of depression any more. And I recognize how fortunate we both were to have had our time together, which no one can take from any of us who survive. On to a new year of promise, of learning, of new friends and old, enjoying our newly expanded family and perhaps I will begin a new book project.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

On Traveling Solo June 14, 2016

I traveled by myself to Greece one year. It was in the mid eighties, when I was a divorced mother of three, administering a clinic for the evaluation of children and adolescents for mental health issues in a large city. I had planned the trip with an enthusiastic younger single woman who worked with me at the clinic. The itinerary was set, the airfare saved, the tickets purchased --when she met a man who changed her life. His birthdate was the same as hers. This was her destiny and therefore mine as well. I decided to travel solo. Athens, the Peloponnesian Islands, the Oracle of Delphi  and Corfu. I was intrigued at how I was perceived by others. All the waiters and other service help proposed that I meet them after their shift was completed. They spoke halting English with an accent that was adorable and I received excellent service. I rode the hop on hop off bus and saw the Acropolis, visited the museums and I enjoyed the Meridien Hotel's amenities. My guidebook kept me company at dinner time, but the weather was fine and I often dined outdoors at a cafe where I watched the coupled world go by. Dinner is the loneliest hour for me as a solo traveler.

When I climbed aboard the large bus for the Peloponnesian Island tour, I was among many Asian travelers, who spoke no English. Anyway no one spoke to me. We stopped at each site, hearing the description of the site through our earpieces which were available in several different languages. We visited the places where each of the discoveries I had seen in the museum originated. I bought a tatami mat and slippers and spent some quiet time on the rocky beaches, reading favorite mystery stories based in the Greek islands. I took the overnight ferry to Corfu and remained on deck all night. The below deck cabin was suffocating and the motion of the boat made me dizzy. I was looking forward to some comraderie at the pensione I had booked for the week. I was also anticipating speaking French or German to fellow travelers.

The reality was quite different. As a solo American woman traveler, no one except the staff spoke to me. When I asked if I could join folks at table for meals, they were polite, but turned to each other and continued whatever conversation they had been having. I asked to transfer to the HIlton Hotel where there were other American tourists where I felt more at home.

My subsequent travels over the next thirty years were with my husband until he died last summer after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. I am a solo traveler once again, but this time I decided to go with a group that caters to us. We went to Sicily; the group met for the first time at the airport in Palermo. I arrived by myself, after receiving lots of email and brochures with all kinds of advice about packing, the anticipated weather and portage services which would be provided.Three others arrived at the airport within a certain time period and we drove together with a company representative to the hotel. I was in a foreign country but I was with American tourists. What a huge difference immediately.

There were four recent widows in the group, one of whom is much younger and two who knew each other prior to the tour. The younger one aligned herself with a group of three, a mother and daughter and the partner of the daughter. The rest of the group included three couples and two sisters traveling together. We were busy, we had fun, the organized time and activities were enjoyable and I relished the free time for shopping by myself. I generally prefer to shop alone, except when I need encouragement to purchase a piece of jewelry I love, but hesitate to spend the  money to purchase.
Lunch and dinner "on own" as the guide described it, were the most difficult for me, as usual. Once, the two widows invited me to join them but the next time, they chose a cheese and sausage restaurant that was unacceptable to me and I joined the group of four women for a delicious cod ceviche lunch at a delightful spot nearby instead. I felt tolerated. There was interpersonal tension within the group that I felt, but no topic I introduced was accepted, even about the food we were eating.

One evening turned out to be a charm. We were in Catania. Our guide had suggested a restaurant near the hotel, but on the night he mentioned it, the restaurant was closed. On the following night I decided to try it, thinking perhaps I would meet others who were similarly intrigued by the name or by the young couple who had recently opened the space. Through the restaurant window, I saw an empty space at 8:40 PM. The door was open, but no greeter was present and no one was seated at either of the two long white-dressed tables in this white-painted room. I hesitated to enter alone and I walked away. At the corner I spied one of the two other widows. She was by herself. Her friend had claimed tiredness and wanted some alone time, so I invited her to join me at this restaurant. We were able to learn much about each other's lives in this one on one situation, we enjoyed the well prepared fresh local food and we drank Mount Etna white wine.

So, why travel solo? What is it I am really looking for? Adventure? Putting another red pushpin on my imaginary world map? I had fun in my young thirties traveling with a friend to a Club Med site and speaking French or German with other participants in Martinique. Is it fun I am after? On this trip the joy I found was mostly tempered by the pain involved. I visited the recently found Jewish ritual baths of Siracusa, Sicily. They hadn't been seen since Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews in 1493.I climbed Mount Etna--in the bus-- and rode on donkeys who walked on volcanic ash which came from volcanic explosions which happen as frequently as hail storms. I saw the twenty foot high piles of cooled and cooling lava that stretched twenty miles toward the sea in 2002. I admired the meticulous placement of gold mosaic pieces on a concave apse of a magnificent cathedral in Montreale, outside of Palermo.We ate wonderful bread and many fruits, apricots, strawberries, mulberries that have not been Monsantoed--read genetically modified. And we drank delicious, rich coffee imported from Brazil?? Why so far away? It seems that the coffee may be accompanied by cocaine on its trip from Brazil to Sicily.

When we saw how the Phoenicians saved drinking water and how they buried their dead, we recognize again how much people knew so very long ago. The Greeks built their temples with perspective, the columns were indeed narrower at the top than at the bottom--to make them appear larger to potential invaders from the sea. The Christians built their cities around the cathedral, the Greeks surrounded their cities with temples.

In today's world when we use the categories of countries, we can't speak of a unified group of people. We are all fractured, diverse in our adherences, in our beliefs and in our practices. "We the People" does not seem to exist anymore,

So why do I travel? To make new connections. With history, with the Jewish People, with new friends in all walks of life, to connect over a cup of coffee in an airport, a dinner or a ride in a bus with someone I ordinarily would not have met in my daily life. The solo part is still hard for me and lonely, but this organized trip for solo travelers makes it so do- able it becomes fun.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Final Days of the Sicily Trip

We introduced ourselves and pointed to a map of the United States which is in a prominent place on the wall. Concetta began telling her story. She was chosen as a bride when she was 15 and very cosseted by her family. Salvatore came to visit on Wednesday and Friday evening plus on Sundays and they had to wait two years to get married. Nine months and one day after the wedding, their first child was born. They have four children, none of whom want to be farmers. He is now 69 she 58. They have never had a vacation since their honeymoon to visit relatives in Germany.
They manage 30 cows, a half dozen pigs plus a new litter, lots of chickens, Guinea hens, rabbits and dogs.

We watched as Concetta and a neighbor Graziella made sourdough bread dough. They used a paddle to help knead the dough and we helped form rolls and breadsticks which Concetta baked in a wood heated oven as we walked to the fields to feast on home made ricotta cheese-which we watched them prepare.

Salvatore grilled chicken and sausages which they served with the freshly baked bread and a salad for lunch. Desserts were rosy, ripe sweet apricots, pudding and coffee. We drank local red wine all afternoon and we all slept on the bus during the hour ride back to our hotel in Ragusa.

Connie's suitcase arrived this afternoon, ten days late!!! Louise and Felicia invited me to join them for dinner on our own. We met Ann and Lyn and we all ate together at an outdoor cafe. Susan and Dan arrived and then our leader, Mauro, who bought himself new clothing. He said he never has time to shop in Palermo, where he lives. We leave for Siracusa and Catania tomorrow. Only three days of our trip left with the Mount Etna highlight still to come.

Sircusa - we have a Syracuse in New York. Perhaps there are others. I never imagined I would someday be in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy. Before the trip, Mauro, our guide, wrote to each of us, asking us to describe ourselves and list our objectives for this trip. I told him about my lactose intolerance and that I am interested in any sign that is left of a Jewish presence in Sicily. Of course we know that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, when they became the rulers of Spain, decided that Spain should be a Catholic nation and everyone who was not Catholic would be asked(forced) to convert, be killed or leave the nation. Some Jewish people nominally became Christian and kept some behaviors and rituals of their faith, but most left or were killed. Italy was ruled by Spain for centuries, so all the Jewish people disappeared in 1493. Buildings that were synagogues were converted to churches; mosques were converted also. What signs are left?

Mauro showed me some street signs in Palermo, I saw indications of a Jewish residential zone in Mazara del Vallo and I had heard of a mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath that was still in existence in Siracusa.
Mauro was not sure we would be able to visit; there is flooding underground, so he was not optimistic.
However, when he approached Valerie, our city guide, she walked through the artisan section of town and through the Jewish section which existed from the ninth century until 1493. Although there was an attempt made to change the street names, several names remain. There are two synagogues, one was 100% known Jewish and they found a mikveh underneath the sanctuary. Valerie told us all the history and purpose of the ritual baths and we were permitted to descend and to see the three pools in one room and two small rooms with one bath each. There was a Greek well in one room which feeds the clear water from a below ground stream. Hence the flooding today. Amazing!
About the second synagogue we visited. Valerie grew up in Siracusa and she knows the building was abandoned during her youth. She attended outdoor movies in the space which no longer had a roof. A few years ago a rabbi moved with his family to Siracusa. He lives with 6 other Jewish families in the modern pat of Siracusa, where they worship in a room in a small building. Valerie believes the local priest was afraid the rabbi would claim this synagogue, so he applied for permission to rebuild the space as a church and claims the Vatican has proof it was built as a church.

On the altar, on the eastern wall there are Hebrew words inscribed. They are in fact upside down. What is the truth? I don't know. But I was delighted the whole group chose to participate in this activity. Then we had lunch by the seaside and took a boat ride to see the grottoes. The sea was calm, the weather was pleasant, the day was super. 

Wednesday was our day to visit Catania, the second largest city in Sicily, with 400,000 inhabitants which we did in the morning with Caterina as our guide. In the afternoon we visited Taormina, the shopping Mecca for tourists. Many visitors including a cruise ship joined us today. The architectural highlight is a Roam era Greek established theater. The views of the sea are gorgeous. The view of Mount Etna was cloudy today. We visit Mount Etna tomorrow, our last day in Sicily.

I didn't know what to expect on Mount Etna. Certainly Mount Vesuvius with the ruins of the destruction of Pompeii was amazing, when my husband and I were there on our honeymoon in 1990. This volcano is an active volcano, with steam and gas emanating all the time and craters forming often. Sicilians call it the "fat" volcano because the shape has crater bulges all along the thirty mile stretch of the volcano. We drive up and up around hairpin curves. The bus driver honks the horn as we approach to warn cars, trucks or buses on the way down. There is no room for the bus and another vehicle on the turns, which are marked 2, 3, or 4 degree turns. Our boisterous guide joins us and points out the changes in vegetation, from the brightly yellow blooming "broom" trees, whose stems are so supple they were used to hold up grape vines,
to the 5000 acre stand of pine trees. For  a June religious festival the streets were lined with these blossoms which are said to last 19 days after being cut.
We stop for a coffee and a baker's kitchen. He shows us how to prepare hazelnut cookies, from the multiply ground nuts, sifted confectioner's sugar, egg whites and salt. We taste and meet Serafina, the wife of our guide (whose name I have already forgotten) who will prepare our lunch later.

Further along we stop and meet Salvo, our guide's son who has several donkeys we ride to learn more about the volcano. The donkeys are used with special needs children for whom our guide runs a camp. Today we take turns riding the donkeys as two, month old mares frolic among us. The volcano has explosions which spew volcanic ash and create craters and eruptions, the last one was in 2002 that created 21 craters and dumped 20 feet high of lava for 20 miles, covering everything in its path. The lava couldn't be touched for several years as it was still too hot.
We were told to be prepared for rain and cold, but the sun came out! We were guided in a short meditation to enjoy and experience nature. It was an emotional moment with all of us holding hands in a circle, with the vast amount of lava, the donkeys, the vegetation that was beginning to grow and our enthusiastic, upbeat local guides.

We drove to their restaurant which they built on the site of their wine preparation center. Now done "with the push of a button" the old way of stomping the wine and using a hand turned press was explained to us after we tasted his home grown wine, his home pressed olive oil, his wife's home baked bread and the lunch she prepared of "Polpettes" which are meatballs, salad and home made sausages. Serafina then sang Volare and O Solo Mio for us and invited us to dance and sing with her. Good fun!
We said goodbye to our bus driver as he delivered us to the hotel in a sudden downpour. Tonight we have a farewell dinner and I leave for the airport at 4:45 AM.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Trip Continues

We returned  to Mazara del Vallo for a rest, a shower, then a drive into town for dinner in a local pizza parlor. We were served swordfish roll ups, which to me tasted wonderful just like French quenelles. I miss my husband on this trip. Comparing foods we had shared was a big part of our life together. Once again I was served an alternate dessert with small amaretto cookies and sweetened sheep milk ricotta cheese which I find easy to digest.
 We left the next day to  drive to Agricento and we visited the temples of the Greeks which were consequently destroyed by the Romans. This is described as the first of two devastating civilian events in Sicilian history, the second being the expulsion of the Jews by Ferdinand and Isabella, the first Spanish Catholic rulers who wanted Italy to be wholly Catholic.The Jews were in Agricento  from the 12th to the 15th centuries, had their own section of the city, their own butchers and were the business community of Agricento.
Then we drove along the southern coast of Sicliy past the place where the Allies landed in 1943, the site of Sicily's oil refinery and on to an agritourisme where we watched a wedding reception, had a lovely dinner and we will leave early in the morning to beat the Germans and the Japanese to see the mosaics at the Roman villa which was recently uncovered having been covered for millennia by a landslide.

The mosaics were wonderful. We were the first group to enter which was great, but Katya rushed us through as other groups were encroaching on 'our' space. The mosaics were wonderful but not as racy as we saw in Pompeii when the old man opened the locked doors with his keys.
We drove to Ragusa, learned about Ragusa superiore and Ibla below , the earthquake in 1692, the reunification of the 2 Ragusas by Mussolini and the competition between Ragusa and Modica. Walked to the cathedral in upper Ragusa, ate dinner together --snacks, pizzas, veggies for me, ice cream for everyone else. I was exhausted from riding on the bus so I did not go to see the parade,concert and fireworks celebrating St George's feast day, but went back to the hotel for an early night. But Carolyn and Sam's room opens to a patio with seating, so we joined them and Susan and Dan joined us with a bottle of Marsala wine which we drank before we retired.

That was Saturday. Sunday we left at 9:15 and walked 350 steps down to Ibla with Graziella as our guide. It was rainy and I used the poncho Phyllis leant me in Cuba(thanks Phyllis) We stopped under an overpass, then in a museum to get out of the rain. The city is lovely with narrow streets, wrought iron balconies and pastel-colored painted houses all attached to prevent more damage from an earthquake. We met Salvatore, an old man without teeth who lives in a house with so many antiques my grandparents would have felt very much at home, but spread out in many more rooms. He played the piano for Maria Callas in 1962 and for us. On our own for lunch I joined Ruth, Dana, Adreinne and Mary. I  had  cod ceviche with a Sicilian sauce made of capers, olives and tomatoes, not cooked. 
Free time was used up by waiting for the bus that never came.

 Dana, Adrienne and I finally took a taxi back to the hotel, just a half hour before we had to meet the group. We traveled to Modica by bus, then transferred to 6 Fiat 500 cars from 1957. Tiny, they drove us up and down the narrow streets, with hairpin turns, that looked like dead end streets until we drove right in front of a wall and suddenly turned right or left. San Francisco looks tame by comparison. Then we visited the highlight, well another highlight of the trip for me. Chocolate made without cocoa butter or milk. I tasted lots of different favors and bought out the store. Not really. Then we had a delicious dinner with fava bean soup, bruschetta, they had several cheeses and goulash. I ate orange and fennel and black olive salad. And plenty of white wine! On our way back to Ragusa, we parked the bus and watched more fireworks in Ibla,again celebrating the Feast of St. George. Made me less sad that I had missed out on the party the night before.
Tomorrow we visit a farm for the day.

A day in the life was the title of Monday's adventure into the countryside of southeastern Sicily. After an hour's pleasant ride among hills, olive trees, almond trees and wheat fields we arrive by very narrow road to a farm. All of the properties are divided by low stone walls created without the use of mortar or even mud to hold them up. On this property we first see six cows, under the shade of a few trees.Then we arrive to the hearty welcome of Ture, short for Salvatore, the farmer. Concetta, his wife awaits in the spacious courtyard where the many plants remind me of Arizona. There are succulents, palm trees as well as flowering plants and lots of birds flying around. Ann says they're swifts.
We are invited into a sitting room lined with chairs and sofas. They expect OAT travelers whenever they are in town, everyday for the past ten days and from today, a three day break! No tours in July and August. It is just too hot.

We are served  coffee and cookies made just like my mother made when I was a child, with a screw top machine that gets loaded with cookie dough and gets spit out of the front. This machine also made cookies, depending on the shape of the disc.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Sicily Trip Part Three, June 7, 2016

Last Tuesday, we left Palermo and drove along the coast to the Western tip of Sicily to visit Erice, (which is pronounced erichee) a medieval town on top of a steep mountain. We heard about the pagan gods, Venus, god of love and the church's conversion of the temple to Christianity after the Norman Kings took over Sicily. We climbed stone inlaid steep streets, heard Mauro sing with a local accordion player who arrives with his horse and cart and performs for coins.
We drove another forty minutes to an Agrotourism restaurant which was an amazing experience. We ate well, drank lovely wine grown from grapes we saw growing on the vines. The veggies were wonderful, grilled and or fried in home grown olive oil. I bought a pint.As some of the group hiked, we put our feet in the swimming pool and let the van driver get us back to the bus. On the way, we passed a Doric columned Greek temple, and the hikers. I got out of the bus and walked the rest of the way down with them..Another 45 minute drive to the hotel in Mazala where we had a so-so dinner and saw the lovely mirror pool, where we will swim tomorrow afternoon after out visit to the Kasbah.

A word about the food experiences so far, before I forget. On Monday in Castelbuono we had a delightful lunch of many different mushrooms, prepared with olive oil and spices. The others had a bread pudding which was the chef's mother's soup recipe, but since it is made with cheese, I did not have any. They had panne cotte for dessert. I had a cinnamon flavored jello. 

And now for our experience in Mazala del Vallo. There is no valley, but the name Wadi which means district in Tunisian Arabic was mispronounced and kept for posterity. Mazala has a talented mayor who is a ceramicist and had decorated his city with so many tiles, sephoras and designs, it is colorful and descriptive. We saw the satyr, a bronze statue which was rescued from the sea after so many centuries after the Greek Hellenistic period and now, preserved, flies in a museum here. Then we visited a few of the 100 churches in Mazara before we entered the Kasbah. It was described as a laborynth that kept the early Tunisians, and Moors safe from marauders by its design. Once inside I saw a  Via Guidecca and a ceramic design and plaque by the mayor who described a praying wall on the eastern side of the alley where there is now a bas relief ceramic sculpture as well. The plaque insists the Jews desired to live here, they were not forced to do so. Italians have no recollection of ghettoes before the Nazis forced Jewish people to be quarantined in ghettoes. Originally, of course, the king invited the Jewish people to come to their country and provided separate quarter for them, so they felt safe. Remember they were artisans and money lenders, so the fear was always about robbery.

We were guided by Moustafa, a local Tunisian who explained that since the 1960's Tunisians have come across the 120 miles to Mazala to settle in this now depressed area because it is cheap. There are about 1800 Moslems among the 50,000 Mazalanos today. They have a mosque without a minaret or a dome--no political power. We had lunch in an Arab restaurant. We ate cous cous with veggies and sea bass with cous cous, plus appetizer dips with bread triangles and dessert cookies which looked like fig newtons, but were made from cous cous flour and filled with dates. Tonight we have a Sicilian cooking lesson which we then will eat.Last night's dinner at the hotel was memorable for its negative qualities. Not recommended by anyone.Before dinner we visited a ceramic shop where I bought a Hamsa serving dish, which is a pain in the neck to pack in my suitcase, especially since we will spend one night in an agritourisme hotel where we re asked to pack in our backpacks and to leave our suitcases on the bus.

About OAT I have nothing but praise.The trip has been well organized to present the history of Sicily from 872 with the arrival of the Moors, a smattering of prehistoric invasions by the Phoenicians which we will see tomorrow, the arrival of the Greeks supplanting the Moors and the Normans invading from the north conquering the Greeks. We have hints of the Spanish control of the country for many centuries prior to the Unification of Italy in 1860 which did not help the Sicilian farmers who wanted control of their land from landowners who owned it since feudal times. It seems to me the Mafiosa were the middle men between the landowners and the peasants. They ripped off everyone by charging extortion money which enriched them.Meanwhile the peasants were able to make some money on the crops they raised and the absentee landowners collected their rents, minus a percentage to the Mafioso.

About the guide, I have already written my approval and delight. About traveling without a companion I still have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I have my privacy which, with OAT I would have even if I chose a friend to travel with. Taking advantage of their "no single supplement " policy is wonderful. I also have responsibility only to myself. I don't have to save someone a seat, look out for someone else' s welfare and at our age, their health. On this trip, however, everyone is paired off except for Ruth and me and Ruth is much younger than I and has no wish to pair with me. I can choose to be with Ann and Lyn whenever I wish or with Louise and Felicia who are New Yorkers and in my age group. Connie and Sam are also possibilities. They sat with me at breakfast this morning.

Dinner with the chef was delicious, but the chef, who imagines himself a actor wannabe was a bit over the top.He pretends not to speak English well, makes jokes, flatters the ladies, etc. but the food we made was good. I was on the thin crust pizza committee, complete with anchovies, pecorino cheese and a tomato sauce which was already prepared. We had eggplant lasagna, mine was made separately without cheese. We made tagliatelle  pasta in a hand grinder, the sauce was made with fresh tomatoes, red peppers, onions, blended not cooked . The dessert was made of sheep milk ricotta cheese and almonds. Mauro promises to send us the recipes.

Wednesday was the day for discovering the history of the Phoenicians in Sicily. We drive to the salt collecting ponds at the side of a natural lagoon formed by islands off the coast of Sicily on the westernmost side of the island. On one of these islands, called Mozia, an Englishman arrived, purchased the small island and began to excavate. His name was Whitacre and he found amphorae, small vases. When he died, he deeded his house to Sicily and it has become a museum. Sicilian and Roman teams have dug up the remains of city walls, burial sites, sculptures which document the occupation of this island for several centuries. They were defeated by the Greeks. We also visited the salt collecting museum with its hand operated salt grinder. The boat rides on the lagoon were delightful.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sicily continued June 2016

Sunday was our first full day together. We met Laura, a city tour guide who is so good at her job that even accidents work out well for her. The Bersalieri had a yearly anniversary in the center of Palermo today, but Laura took us first to Montreale, the amazing gold mosaic inlaid cathedral outside of town. Laura wanted to beat the Germans and the Japanese, whom she feels, camp out at the cathedral so they get there first and have the best views. After our visit during which she explained all of the Old Testament large scale mosaics on the walls, then the Christ story as if we were illiterate pilgrims, I bought a small flower mosaic with a gold Leaf frame and we rode in the bus to the new city gate where we not only watched and listened to the parade, we walked along with them until we reached the cathedral of Palermo. We investigated the crowning of King Roger by Jesus( not possible of course) in beautiful gold mosaic and in marched this year's group of First Holy Communicands. The children looked so lovely; the choir sang so beautifully. We watched in awe. We followed the Bersalieri reunion to the Four Corners where we left Laura and the parade and walked through the square where we saw two more churches, one from the Moorish times,, the oldest stones of the city, street names written in Arabic, Yiddish and 
Sicilian and then to the fresh food market. We saw zucchini two feet long, a swordfish head, chunks of red tuna, many eels, artichokes, really fresh beautiful Corona tomatoes and then we sat at a food stall and ate a wide array of seafood, fried potatoes and fried chickpea flour patties and salad for lunch.
We met later for a discussion about the Mafia, talking with the son of a convicted Mafia boss, whose life is hampered by his unwillingness to condemn his father's actions and the government and the people not willing to let him be.
I joined Ruth and the threesome for dinner at Vino and Pomidoro, we ate outside, salad and pizza.And we drowned two bottles of red wine of which Ruth did not drink.

On MOnday we drove to Castelbuono in the morning and Cefalu in the evening, both lovely cities along the northern Sicilian coast. In Cefalu I saw a sign Via Guidecca which means the street o the Jews and a sign indicate this was the Jews' gate, Porta Guidecca.. Mauro was hesitant to read to me from Google that this was a ghetto. He had no idea that ghetto was originally not a pejorative word.We walked by the sea, saw bathers and a sailboat, many wonderful waves against the rocks which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

Today was Tuesday. We left Palermo and drove along the coast to the Western tip of Sicily to visit Erice, a medieval town on top of a steep mountain. We heard about the pagan gods, Venus, god of love and the church's conversion of the temple to Christianity after the Norman Kings took over Sicily. We climbed stone inlaid steep streets, hear
Sunday was our first full day together. We met Laura, a city tour guide who is so good at her job that even accidents work out well for her. The Bersalieri had a yearly anniversary in the center of Palermo today, but Laura took us first to Montreale, the amazing gold mosaic inlaid cathedral outside of town. Laura wanted to beat the Germans and the Japanese, whom she feels, camp out at the cathedral so they get there first and have the best views. After our visit during which she explained all of the Old Testament large scale mosaics on the walls, then the Christ story as if we were illiterate pilgrims, I bought a small flower mosaic with a gold Leaf frame and we rode in the bus to the new city gate where we not only watched and listened to the parade, we walked along with them until we reached the cathedral of Palermo. We investigated the crowning of King Roger by Jesus( not possible of course) in beautiful gold mosaic and in marched this year's group of First Holy Communiads. The children looked so lovely; the choir sang so beautifully. We watched in awe. We followed the Bersalieri reunion to the Four Corners where we left Laura and the parade and walked through the square where we saw two more churches, one from the Moorish times,, the oldest stones of the city, street names written in Arabic, Yiddish and 
Sicilian and then to the fresh food market. We saw zucchini two feet long, a swordfish head, chunks of red tuna, many eels, artichokes, really fresh beautiful Corona tomatoes and then we sat at a food stall and ate a wide array of seafood, fried potatoes and fried chickpea flour patties and salad for lunch.
We met later for a discussion about the Mafia, talking with the son of a convicted Mafia boss, whose life is hampered by his unwillingness to condemn his father's actions and the government and the people not willing to let him be.
I joined Ruth and the threesome for dinner at Vino and Pomidoro, we ate outside, salad and pizza.And we drowned two bottles of red wine of which Ruth did not drink.

On MOnday we drove to Castelbuono in the morning and Cefalu in the evening, both lovely cities along the northern Sicilian coast. In Cefalu I saw a sign Via Guidecca which means the street o the Jews and a sign indicate this was the Jews' gate, Porta Guidecca.. Mauro was hesitant to read to me from Google that this was a ghetto. He had no idea that ghetto was originally not a pejorative word.We walked by the sea, saw bathers and a sailboat, many wonderful waves against the rocks which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The First Four Days of My Trip with Overseas Adventure Travel to Sicily, May 27- June 1, 2016

It was with a bit of anxiety, some excitement and a certain numb feeling that I left my New York apartment in a Dial 7 car for Kennedy airport last Friday evening.
There was so much traffic it took a half hour to get from my Upper West Side street to 125th St and Second Avenue to cross the Triboro just to head out to the airport. But the driver was knowledgeable and by taking the streets and not the highway, we reached the airport in an hour!! Miracle. The line to check in luggage at Alitalia was long, the staff looked harried, said their computers were slow, but finally I was ready for the security hassle I was promised. 
It didn't happen. Everyone was peaceful the lines moved along without incident and I was able to sit and eat my sandwich peacefully, windowshop the duty free store and embark on my eight hour flight on time.
Well, the plane had to wait for a while on the Tarmac, but we were only ten minutes late arriving in Rome. I remained "in transit" walking many steps on my Fitbit to get to my new gate, but again everything went according to airport time and my Overseas Adventure Travel greeter held up a sign to show me where to wait for our transfer to the hotel. Even my suitcase arrived at the airport contrary to expectations.
I met Carolyn, Susan and Dan and we were delivered to the Wagner Hotel in the center of Palermo, where, shortly after our arrival, I met most of the rest of our group at an orientation meeting.
The Wagner hotel is wonderful, Art Deco gold paneled,with a central staircase( some folks used the elevator) the hotel has five floors with a breakfast room on the top. There is a fitness center, but I never even found out where it is.

The lobby is wood paneled, the fireplace is dressed with cherubs, the rooms would look comfortable in an eighteenth century movie.
We were only thirteen travelers; the others had transportation difficulties. One couple who arrived after we had finished our dinner still has not received their luggage and we are on Day 4 today.
The sixteenth person cancelled, leaving everyone on the trip with a travel partner except me.
For dinner we walked to a restaurant that served tapas-like platters. This required group interaction as we shared the food. We sat at three separate tables, one for six people, two for five.Two people sat at the middle table, I joined them and then there ensued a minor scramble for seats as three people who arrived together wanted to sit together and there was no place for them to do that at the table  where I was seated. One couple left the first table and joined my table and the situation was resolved.
OAT does not believe in name tags, or, thank you OAT, in leaders with flags. We have to talk with each other and remember names as we get to know the folks on our tour.
The group begins with Mauro, our 35 year-old native Palermo-born tour guide.
In the beginning, it was a bit difficult for me to understand him, but by now, no one has any problem with him. He is delightful, knowledgeable, responsible, resourceful, helpful and a lot of fun. Happy, boyish, singing open fun.

Ann and Lyn are sisters who travel together; each is married and their spouses don't like to travel.They have been to China and Thailand and many more OAT trips. I think Ann has completed fifteen! Susan and Dan, whom I met at the airport have been married for thirty one years and traveled with Road Scholar last year and chose this as their first OAT trip. Ruth, whose husband passed away, moved to an island off the coast of Savannah and plays tennis and sails as crew on her friends' sailboats. She hangs out with the threesome, Dana, Adrienne and Mary who are from Oklahoma, two are a couple and the third is mother to one. Louise and Felicia are New Yorkers--well, Felicia is a social worker, retired, who lives in Brooklyn. Louise lives in Lincoln Towers, right near Lincoln Center. Carolyn is with Sam. They're from California. Our newest arrivals who are also from California are Connie and Jim. They've been married for sixty-one years!!! More adventure to share in the days ahead.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Progress in Alzheimer Awareness May 24, 2016

In New York, on the number 1 subway train there are cars with social awareness themes instead of advertising. One car reminds folks about being considerate of others, by giving seats to elderly or infirm     People, by saving litter for trash bins, by not grooming themselves on the subway, etc.
This week I rode in a subway car that had the following. "Are the bills piling up in the drawer?"
"Did you find the remote in the refrigerator?" And several more panels throughout the car.
Then the response. "It is never to early(or late) to get help for Alzheimer's disease."
Clever and available for all to see and to think about.

That's progress. It validates the experience some of us are having about ourselves or about those we love. It makes it socially acceptable to ask the questions about behaviors that seem "weird" or out of character. It reduces the stigma of this diagnosis.

My husband who died from Alzheimer's disease eleven months ago, feels so much closer to me when I am in New York, even though we spent the last years of his life in Arizona. Here he was healthy, vibrant, curious. Our home reflects the many collections he loved from the adventures we shared.

And this week I venture out alone again, this time to a destination that we had planned to travel together-Sicily. My husband will be with me in spirit. I will miss his acute sense of direction when we looked for a recommended restaurant. I will miss his knowledge of food--he could read the menu in Italian and know what to order. I guess I won't miss waiting for him to read every note on every item in every museum--except a bit nostalgically. I will be with a group; I will meet new people on yet another island with a long and difficult history. Life goes on and my life is certainly fuller and more meaningful as I remember the times we shared and the joy we each found in our marriage.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Cuba processing continued May 14,2016

Note: There are no ships in the Bay of Havana
This week I attended  a performance of the Malpaso Cuban Dance Company. I had seen them rehearse at the Sephardic Center in Havana, Cuba when we were visiting. We naively presented this group of dancers with toiletries, as requested by our tour company. Now I discover they have been on  15 city tour of the US and this is their second appearance in the states. Another friend said they were also invited to another venue here in New York earlier this year.I felt a bit as I said, naive. 
I also feel they are being exploited a bit. Not that they don,t like it They must love the attention. An American of Cuban heritage Arturo O'Farrill composed a work for them and his band was at the Joyce accompanying  them. Another American choreographer Trey McIntyre has been sent under the Joyce,s auspices to write for this group.
What could be better? They were reviewed in the NYTimes! A tepid review which compared the group to a worn loved sweater..
Cuba sells tickets this year.
Happily we went to the Sephardic Center on a Friday morning and my friend and I walked back in the evening for Shabbat services.The building has many uses including a gym, a children's educational program, social services and holiday celebrations. The congregation eats dinner together after the services. We were invited and we spoke with the young woman who sang the service so beautifully, her father explaining to us that about 200 congregants would spend the holidays together.
Later I discovered that for 40 years all religion was banned in Cuba and the Jewish people had a very difficult time. As many as could do so, left.
Cubans blame America and the embargo for their economic problems. Surely the embargo hurts.There are several lawsuits that will prevent the embargo from being lifted any time soon. The companies whose property was nationalized want financial compensation. Many are corporations like Domino Sugar and Hershey. Cuba has no money to pay them and will not allow any company to own more than 49 per cent ever again, and Cuba expects 50 per cent of the profits as well.individuals also have millions of dollar law suits against Cuba?s privatization of their homes and companies. The situation is complicated and will take a long time to get sorted, in my humble opinion.
We met several entrepreneurial people who fix their old cars, make music, dance and sing. But generally, the people of Cuba have been brought up to be receivers, not producers, compliant, not competitive. I was told the sidewalks where President Obama was to walk were repaired before his visit. We were shown the cathedral which was sandblasted clean before the Pope'svisit. The other buildings in the plaza where the cathedral its in all its splendor are not clean. The sidewalks when we walked to the synagogue were not repaired. We will take from Cuba whatever will benefit American companies. Sadly I don't think we will provide much for the Cuban people.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Cuba visit part two May 9, 2016

We were served Mojito's a the beginning of every meal and at many events. Mojitos are lime and mint drinks with a club soda base    ------and doused liberally with rum!!
Havana Club is the Cuban name for Baccardi which is in a disagreement with Cuba over the use of their name for the rum which is made in Cuba, but no longer owned by the family.
Cuba is suddenly in the news every day. A cruise ship docked in Havana last week, the first one in forty years. Coco Chanel's company paraded their expensive clothing on what used to be an upscale street  called the Prada, in the heart of Havana, but the locals were kept far away. They didn't even see the show--and no Cuban could afford anything in the show anyway. This week the Kardashians are in Cuba.
Lots of publicity! One good thing is that there is a dance festival in New York this week called The Cuban Festival and a group that we saw rehearsing in Cuba called Malpaso, will be here for three performances. I will try to get a ticket. They are sold out online! Will the dancers benefit from the proceeds? I don't know.
The Cuban people are resourceful, they fix their cars with whatever they can find. They fix their homes the same way. We went to one building project in Havana, being sponsored by a company called La Californie, that is providing the materials, paint, whitewash, plaster, etc. to fix up each person's apartment, one at a time. The family moves out and the supervisors help the residents fix the apartment. Then the family moves back in and they fix the next one. Our tour guide explained to us that the Cuban people are not good with quality control.They are so used to deprivation, they value whatever they have or can make and are not critical. They are not perfectionists. Except in their dance, their music, their playwriting and acting. I have not read anything literary produced by Cubans as I do not speak Spanish, but I'll bet the quality of all their artistic work is superb. I bought a painting from Martha Jimenez while I was in her gallery in Camaguey.
We visited what used to be a ranch owned by a Texan, the King Ranch. The property and the cattle were nationalized after the revolution, but the name stayed. It is now a tourist destination with a restaurant, horse drawn cart rides and a mini-rodeo. The cattle died, due to poor animal husbandry. There is now a small project aimed at improving the herd to withstand the Cuban climate. Meanwhile, beef is rationed. The Cuban's main source of animal meat is pork. When a cow dies, they butcher the meat and save it for kindergartens and the elderly. They even kosher slaughter a few for their Jewish citizens who don't eat pork. In a restaurant or at the hotels, the beef is imported from Australia.
I met a woman who is an engineer who speaks English. She was visiting in Havana, having moved many years ago to Canada. She is grateful her two sons grew up in Canada and now have professional careers. She comes to Cuba on visits. She felt unable to remain in Cuba to rear her children. My first son was born in 1959. Had I been in Cuba, I would have left too.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cuba Visit April 29, 2916

I am beginning to integrate my different reactions to my recent visit to Cuba. The reality we were presented was so different from my expectations. I knew the country was frozen in time from the beginning of the embargo in 1959.I knew the Russians provided for the Cubans until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
I did not know that the Cubans could not or did not keep up with ANY infrastructure maintenance or repair for 50 years. There is no road that traverses the island. It is 55 miles wide (north to south and 760 miles long east to west. It sits at the mouth of the Carribean with its north facing us. Havana faces north on Cuba's east. Santiago de Cuba faces south on Cuba's west coast.
Their cement factory is a closed up wreck. They make nails by hand, usually they are rescuing bent nails from ruins and straightening them for individual projects. They also rescue wood. They transport what little clay they have in the Western mountains for pottery which is hand turned.The people are very resourceful but not inventive, as far as we were permitted to see.
Our experience took us from Camaguey which is on the north coast almost in the middle of the country to Havana with intermediate stops in Remedios and Santa Clara, plus an overnight at the beach resort of Valadero. As we drove in our modern air conditioned bus, the northern keys of Cuba were described to us, but we were told that Americans are not permitted to visit, even to drive on the causeway to see the resorts that have been built to accommodate European and Canadian tourists.
The tourists arrive by plane, travel directly to the all-inclusive hotels and leave the premises only to drive bac to the airport. They don't need restaurants, trains or buses and the approach road is well-paved. Perhaps they rent a fr to drive to Havana for night life. That is one Cuba reality.
Another reality of Cuba. They have no middle class. The population is mostly young. The pedi taxis are manned by middle aged university-educated men who work for tips from tourists rather than in their trained professions in order to feed and clothe their families. Other middle and older men sit in the squares of the smaller cities all day. The only non-hotel or tourist workers we saw other than dance or music teachers or baseball coaches were hand rolling the famous Havana cigars.
Russia did teach Cuba how to run a communist educational system. Everyone wears a uniform, color coded by age, every child goes to school. There is a separate school for special needs children who often live there for their entire school experience. Children are assessed at age 7 and thse with special talents are sent to regional residential  schools that specialize in music and art and baseball. More Cuban realities will follow.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Passover Preparation April 19, 2016

I know you are all waiting for my report on my amazing visit to Cuba, but I am processing my views and I have not put my thoughts in any presentable order yet. The order I am engrossed in this week is getting ready for Passover.

Preparing for Passover requires quite a bit of shopping, cooking and cleaning. Each task I do lovingly, remembering my mother's household and the people we were so lucky and so thankful to have with us once more. I am of course referring to my grandparents who arrived at the end of January 1947 and soon thereafter celebrated this holiday of Pesach,  this holiday of freedom, this holiday where we welcome the stranger into our homes.

It was then, the first Passover I attended after learning the Four Questions during my first year of Hebrew School as many of you have read in my new book The Key, the Turtle and the Bottle of Schnapps. It has been my favorite holiday ever since then. I sat at my grandfather's right for the next twenty-two years as we moved from Newark, New Jersey to Millburn, from child to mother of my own children. I sat at my father's right for the next decade, continuing the tradition after he died at my mother's side as she cooked and cleaned, until she needed the help of her daughters to prepare the feast for the family of her grandchildren, always welcoming guests into her home.

Today I feel my mother's presence as I prepare the chopped liver appetizer. I render the chicken fat as she did, frying it in the pan with the onions and the five chicken livers. My mother only used the one liver that lived in the chicken she cooked for the matzo ball soup. Most of her guests preferred the sweet gefilte fish she made. My family prefers chopped liver. As I peeled the ten eggs, I missed my mother's wooden bowl and the curved chopping knife which I learned is called a mezzaluna. So off I went to the megastore to purchase a wooden bowl and a chopper, and the chopped liver is authentic to my memory of it.

After my trip to Cuba, the store was overwhelming. The Cubans have no such store nor any of the items in it. They have the same tools their mothers and their grandmothers used for cooking, but most likely  far less variety of ingredients than their grandparents had before the revolution.

For those of you who are also preparing and participating in this ancient ritual, remember those who are not yet free, remember the refugees waiting for acceptance and welcome the stranger in your midst. Have a sweet and just Passover.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Getting Ready March 28, 2016

I guess I have been getting ready for my visit to Cuba since last September when the decision was made. I am looking forward to seeing the 1950's cars, still on the road. I admire the people and their music, their spirit and their positive attitude. The details of our trip began to accumulate as I learned more about the group with which we will be traveling and the actual itinerary.

My husband and I travelled to China in 1999 before China was open to American tourists. Just as is now with Cuba, we had to be accompanied by a government guide and we had to adhere to previously established routes and routines with no independent travel. We will travel again with People to People Ambassador Program, an attempt begun by President Eisenhower to establish relationships with Communist countries. In China we were with 15 other couples, one partner of each group was a health care professional. The professional was required to attend meetings with our Chinese counterparts. We exchanged information about autistic children's education and generally we all learned from each other. Our spouses went on tourist destinations --I was envious of some of their trips and one day I played Hookey and went along on the spouses' trip. There was some free time to enjoy higher quality meals than the group provided and the health care professionals also did much sightseeing along the way. It was a memorable trip and a rewarding experience.

So I am looking forward to a bit of the same, although this group will have only 20 participants and will have no specific agenda. Except of course for Cuba to show us Americans ( by the way, they insist on calling us the United States, saying they are Americans, which of course is true.)the best of what their Communist country provides its citizens. We will be presented with a dance program, a music program and we will visit both a school and a tobacco plantation before arriving in Havana. 

Anthony Bourdain had a culinary visit to Cuba this past year which we all watched on television. I began to worry I will not be able to eat much of the food. We will not eat at high end restaurants and at the family-run establishments just about everything is made with some part of the pig. On the show, we saw how they boil the pig's head and use the broth to simmer vegetables. Yum for some, but not for me.  So I will bring tinfoil packed servings of tuna and salmon, order rice and make my own dinner whenever grilled chicken is not on the menu!! I also have lots of peanut butter crackers and Kind bars, even a can of sardines and one of herring!!! I am anxious, but I will not starve!

Lest you think I am really being shallow, I will share one more bit of preparation for this trip. We have been asked to bring gifts for the children and adolescents who will be performing for us. We are asked to bring toiletries and school supplies. I mentioned this fact to my neighbors in my yoga class. One woman exclaimed, "I am a retired teacher. I have lots of school supplies." Another woman said she donates to homeless people all the time and she has toiletries to share. Each woman brought me a box of gifts which are now stuffed into my suitcases. The larger one weighs exactly 44 pounds which is the limit for taking into Cuba. I hope they don't count my overly crowded carry-on!!!!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Willpower March 24, 2016

We all talk about will power. How we can limit or structure our actions to fit our goals. Mostly we talk about it in January or in the fall when we make new year resolutions. Not only does the Jewish new year begin in the fall, but school starts and it has always felt like a new beginning for me as I entered a new school year.
I use willpower well when I decided to walk around the lake after my yoga classes 5 monnings each week. The weather right now is perfect for a walk and I am encouraged by my new Fitbit device that sits on my wrist reminding me of the number of steps I need to walk to meet my daily goal.

I thought I was using willpower well as I attempt to reduce my food portions to lose the 5 pounds I gained during the winter months when I was not feeling well. When I had so little energy, I kept thinking I would feel more lively if I ate something. Only time made my lungs stronger, the extra food was mainly, I  see now, for comfort along the way. It is so hard to lose those few pounds once again! I lose 2 and regain them the following day.

So now I am leaving on an educational group trip to Cuba where there will be little I will be able to eat--or want to eat. I am allergic to foods that contain milk and I never eat anything made with pork--or beef. Well, once in a while I have some form of brisket, either for a holiday meal or in the form of a half of a corned beef or pastrami sandwich! So I figured if I get myself used to eating less, I will be less hungry on this trip. No matter what the scale reads, I was doing so well, until....

My friend and I had lunch at a Persian restaurant yesterday. We ordered 2 dishes we shared. One was a vegetarian sampler and the other was a soup-like mixture with pieces of chicken. It was accompanied by delicious basmati rice. We left a third of the meal which my friend had boxed to go. I was happy. Then the waitress brought us to a lovely well decorated table with snacks displayed and annotated for the Persian New year celebration which just passed.  And before I was even aware, a piece of caramel candy (tastes just like peanut brittle my friend said) was in my mouth getting stuck in my teeth!! 
So much for will power.
We give in to urges of the moment with no thought involved. A piece of candy is not much for me to worry about, but others accept "just that one" drink or cigarette. I understand and I wish I had shared my intention with my friend. I could have asked her for help in keeping to my goals. And not trust "willpower."

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Ides of March Sunday, March 13, 2016

As a young bride, the 15th of March and the days leading up to it were always a source of stress. I give birth to my firstborn son on March 15 for whom I was and am still grateful and delighted that he was perfect in every way. My husband was relieved; he wanted a son so badly and we had no way of knowing beforehand 57 years ago.
My father, although pleased to have a grandson and happy that I had come through the experience well and happy, was kind of wistful as he said that I had achieved a goal that eluded him. I was the first of his three daughters.He, too, always wished for a son.
But it was not birthday celebrations that made me anxious then and now. It was my discomfort at hav ing to get my financial life in order to present my bookkeeping first to my husband and then to the accountant. March 15th used to be income tax day until it was moved to April 15.
Now I set March 15 still as the day I have to get the tax prep done.
I confess publicly here and now that I procrastinate endlessly. Even writing this blog at 10:25 in the morning is stalling. I should be at the kitchen table organizing the piles of papers set up there. They have been waiting for me all week!
When I sum up the year's expenditures, it feels like a report card to me. I weigh how much I have spent  on editing and publishing my newest book and how little revenue has come in. I see what the ratio is of what I see now as self-indulgent expenses to the charitable donations I made.during the year. I could have done more, perhaps.
And this is the last year that my husband's name will come first on the tax forms. I review the expenses for his funeral and for the family to gather in New Jersey to accompany him to his final resting place.

Before the High Holidays each year, I judge myself and my accomplishments during the year. Then I am more lenient with myself and I feel rewarded by the time I spend with my family, my wonderful friends and with the folks at the various groups I lead during the year. I am delighted with the positive reception my book has had, with family and with strangers to the Holcaust experience.I am pleased that I attend lectures and concerts and support the artistic community as well as the synagogue community, not judging myself by monetary standards as I do before the Ides of March. 

Each year I think "Next year I will take no deductions, file the short form and leave all of these papers in the lateral file."

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Missing Person Alert February 28, 2016

I read today an announcement and a call for help in the West Side Rag, an online news source for the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I will spend the summer once again this year.

When my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease I worried daily that this article would someday be about him. "Police Put Out Alert for Missing UWS Man" In the beginning of his illness, I would leave him alone in our apartment and go to see my patients in my office a few blocks away. The door staff in our building kept an eye on him, but they could not restrain him or tell him to stay home. They talked with him and even asked what he was up to, where he was headed as he left the building. They worried, too, that he would become disoriented and not find his way home. He had a cell phone with a GPS but it had to be turned on in order to be effective and it was not yet sophisticated enough to pinpoint a specific place where a person with a memory disorder would be. 

My husband was a thrifty man, raised during the Depression and the Second World War. He turned the phone off when he was not calling someone. When he forgot to turn the phone off, he did not recognize the sound when it rang, nor did he recognize the vibration of the phone in his pocket or attached to his belt. Besides, he was often watching Con Ed workmen dig holes in the street which make lots of noise!

After two years of worrying, no one in the building disagreed with my decision to move to a gated single story house in a newly developing community in sunny Arizona. We purchased a plot of land in the center of the new community, away from main roads or highways where my husband could be involved in watching the construction of the other homes, which he loved, build a workbench (with my son's help) and outfit his garage workshop and work in his garden.

For another two years, this plan was effective. When my husband began to leave the house by himself, I installed a security system which alerted me when any of the external doors were opened. Just like a parent has to be alert when the children are quiet, which is counter intuitive because we like to get some work done when it is quiet, a caregiver to an Alzheimer person has to be concerned when it is quiet as well. Where is he and what is he doing that could cause him harm?

Caring for my husband had its rewards and its challenges, but luckily, he didn't go missing during the years of his illness. We are missing him now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Facts of Life After Being a Caregiver February 10, 2016

When my friends can't reach me when they phone, they leave a message which goes like this:"I guess you're running around somewhere."
If I don't answer a text immediately, I get comments like "This IS 2016, you know."

Both responses are critical of me. I am expected to answer my phone and to answer a text message, no matter where I am or what I am doing.I am supposed to read my email messages often during the day. WHY?
Don't folks realize that I am reacting to so many years in which I HAD to be constantly aware of the telephone when I was away from home, lest the memory care center where my husband who had Alzheimer's disease was residing, needed me to contact them? I finally am free of the obligation to be close to my phone.
I guess that I always was so responsive to the needs of others, it is now expected of me. But what is the excuse of folks who are only meeting me now?

Younger people especially want to reschedule meeting times and wish to text or phone me to extend the time, instead of being where we were to meet at the designated hour. Usually I am on my way or at the destination already. Don't they realize that my time is worthwhile also?

There is also the issue about location. If I am in the city, I walk and carry my phone in a pocket or a fanny pack. I know how old-fashioned that word is-- and that piece of equipment. In Arizona folks use these packs when we hike or otherwise are pocketless. Since we drive everywhere, our cars hold our possessions, including our purses in the trunk and many of our clothing items have no pockets. 

I am also well trained to be on time. Folks today think nothing of being on time and think that phoning or texting they will be late is perfectly fine. We try to fit so much into a day we don't leave enough time to get where we are going.

And then there are my age cohorts who don't turn their phones on , not wanting to use up their batteries. They see cell phones as for their own emergency use only. Some don't use cell phones at all, preferring their privacy. I guess I am old-fashioned in my expectations and I do not  yet wish to be tied to my smartphone.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

New thinking- Do we always need goals? January 20, 2016

A year from today we will inaugurate the 46th President of the United States. To me that is still an awesome event, but perhaps not to some.
New thinking sometimes leaves me nostalgic for the old.

Take the article from the Sunday NYTimes Magazine for example. It tells us we need cold, hard rationality to set our minds thinking clearly. Out with beliefs we cannot substantiate, out with expecting a problem to go away if we don't pay attention to it. Is this new to younger people?

January is the month we seek to renew our energy toward self-improvement. Okay, let's notice some of our behaviors and assumptions and begin to question them. Can we find the root causes of what we believe and of what we do? Can we use what we learn to make changes in our lives?

Can't we just do what we want to do?
Can't we just complain about everything we don't like, blame others for it and just go about our business as if we are the most important people and we know all the answers even if those ideas haven't worked for us before?                                                                      

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy New Year January3, 2016

New Year Resolutions

Appreciate Good Health
Work toward Achieving or Maintaining Good Health
Enjoy My Surroundings
Get Pleasure from Everyday Things
Slow Down at least for a while.
Increase Compassion for those whose lives are limited by pain.

I am so delighted to be well after a month spent recuperating from pneumonia. I just this minute completed a three mile walk in under an hour for the first time since I returned from New York in December. I had "practiced" by walking in the mall for the past few days when the gym was closed due to the holidays. And I had taken yoga classes for the two weeks prior, but every day I had to return home to rest for the remainder of the day!

Recuperating from pneumonia meant initially doing absolutely nothing. I had no energy for reading and I fell asleep while the television was on. I turned it off and listened to music on the radio. Finally I was able to read and I read mystery novels- four of them by Peter Lovesey, interspersed with snippets from a book titled Maimonides and the Book that Changed Judaism by Micah Goodman.

I next began to cook and bake because I could rest while the food was cooking; I had no patience to wait in a restaurant or to dress in anything other than gym clothes.
Finally I was able to share the fruits of my labors  with my family and friends who had been so patient and helpful to me, baking, bringing me food, driving me where I needed to go and inviting me to their homes.

If you are lucky as I have been, to be healthy and full of energy, perhaps you will understand how devastated I was to be sick for a month. Perhaps you will understand how blessed it is to feel well and join me in having increased understanding and compassion for those whom we know who are limited in what they can do everyday by pain and a lack of energy.