Leaving Home

Tomorrow my mom is moving from the house I grew up in. The house my father built. The house where we celebrated birthdays, graduation parties, New Year’s Eve spectaculars and observed shivas. The house where I introduced my parents to my eventual husband and where a missile launched in a fight between siblings still marks the wooden bathroom door. (Did you know you can’t fill a dent with modeling clay, paint it with Cover Girl, and expect your father not to notice?)

I remember visiting the house when it was under construction. I wasn’t yet nine. One night my dad and I drove over to check on carpeting that had been installed earlier in the day. My room had a raspberry carpet. Raspberry! And I loved it. It was the only one in the house that wasn’t blue or white. I took off my shoes and just ran around and around my new room.

Some of you reading this blog may remember my house, having spent sleepovers there and playdates. And, of course, among you is my sister who shared her bed (still there) when I couldn’t sleep, and joined me in playing Concentration with Grammy and Poppa on the orange card table (also still there).

Much like the way we recall our precise whereabouts when we first learn of a catastrophic event like 9/11 or JFK’s assassination, recalling details of our childhood home makes the experience almost palpable. For a fleeting second we think that that 9-year-old kid still exists. I can picture where I did (or didn’t do) my homework, where I played with Barbie and Ken, creating a car for them out of a rectangular Kleenex box (convertible), where I hid my diary, where I watched my grandfather pull a treat from the inside pocket of his camel hair coat, where he loved to sit in the kitchen.

I remember retrieving from our front walkway the Philadelphia Inquirer in the morning and the Evening Bulletin in the afternoon, and riding my bike to Wynnewood Shopping Center to browse Wanamaker’s or the drug store. I remember being picked up by dates at the house and later, lingering just a little too long outside, provoking my dad’s reminder from his bedroom window that it was time to come in.

The side of the garage I wedged my mom’s Cadillac into has long been repaired. The cherry tree I loved to climb has been heartlessly pruned into a mass of stumps. My dad’s vegetable garden has been reclaimed by the yard, not having been tilled in years. The pool table and ping pong table, host of scores of challenges to my friends, are both gone.

My preoccupation with the infinite details of moving my mom into her new apartment has given me little time to reminisce. But now that the date is upon us, I can’t help but remember. Fortunately for me, while my raspberry carpet may be gone, the memories will hang around forever.


And the Real Tech Generation is…

When I ask my English Composition students to consider what has had the most impact on their generation they typically say technology. True, at eighteen or so that’s all they know. But I would argue that technology has had a greater impact on the preceding generations, the Gens X’s, Y’s and Baby Boomers.

Their lives have been revolutionized by technology.

When I was a little girl my grandparents had a telephone party line in their house. I would eavesdrop on the conversation of strangers by merely, and stealthily, removing the handset from its base and listen in.

Now I do that through social media.

I watched in wide-eyed fascination the first televised movie filmed in color, The Wizard of Oz. (Incidentally, the electric-green bad witch and terrifying anthropomorphic flying monkeys scarred me for life.)

Now I turn to Neflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes or I DVR. If I forget, I do it remotely from my phone.

As a teenager, I took pride in reading maps and charting a course to anywhere in the continental United States.

Now I no longer even think of asking for directions, much less squint at a map. My GPS has become like family.

Assigned a story as a news reporter, I researched by interviewing numerous people, in person and by phone, and probing the library and the newspaper morgue.

Now I Google.

I listened incredulously to a prescient college professor tell my class that one day we would all have a personal computer in our homes. Now it’s in my pocket. That same professor lectured that we would do everything on this personal computer, including shop, work, read and communicate.

Now I barely remember life without it.

I bought music in record stores, not online, and in the form of 45s and 33s.

Now I buy downloads with my Starbucks coffee.

I empathized with my late husband, Charlie, who left the military with a recurring case of jungle rot because his boots never fully dried out during monsoon season.

Now we send unmanned aircraft to limit those boots on the ground, literally.

I received breaking news – like when Jack Ruby ambushed and fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald – on one of the three television networks.

Now my phone alerts me 24/7 the instant something happens.

So when I ask my students to tell me what has most impacted their generation, and they say technology, they have to be willing to share ownership. Because while it might be commonplace to them, its effect on the generations before them has been nothing less than profound.

P.S. How’s this for a perfect crossover – a breaking news app with Walter Cronkite’s image and voice. And if you say, “Who’s that? Well….


A Recipe for Memories

I just spent one hour looking for my recipe for artichoke dip. Though it’s simple to make, consisting of three ingredients; artichoke hearts, mayonnaise and parmesan cheese, and I’ve made it every holiday for the past 25 years, I still needed to rummage for that dog-eared document.

It’s kept in a ragged, taped, gold cardboard box labeled Schrafft’s Miniature Chocolates, a vessel that affords me my yearly trip down memory lane.

All sorts of recipes are stuffed inside, some printed neatly on index cards, handwritten on scraps of paper or torn out of magazines, most of which are no longer in print. But they come from the people I have cherished throughout my life.

The largest number are from my late mother-in-law, Dorothy Fisher, or as she writes on the top of all her offerings, “Dot Fisher.” They appear in her handwriting with little added gems: “These can be frozen for later use and, in fact, are good eaten frozen.” I’m immediately thrown back to Christmas pasts, recalling how Dot’s buttery wreath cookies melted on my tongue. (I have yet to replicate her delicate perfection but I always make her cherry cheesecakes and chocolate chip cookies.)

Her son (my late husband) Charlie, was a great cook in his own right. So the recipe box includes some of his contributions. The one for chicken marsala is written in Charlie’s hand on a memo sheet from United Press International (my first job as a reporter).

Decades ago, my sister, Susie, started me on a collection of recipes, each one painstakingly handwritten on yellow 3 X 5 cards. A personal comment was added to each, such as on the one for 1890 chicken she wrote, “3 guesses where I got this recipe…” (Our mother.) Or her recipe for Chocolate Chip Cake that calls for a bundt pan. Knowing me to be a novice in the kitchen, she added, “A bundt pan looks like a jello mold pan (Again, a shoutout to our mother) with a round hole in the center. I’m sure you must have a dozen lying around.”

For some reason, a graduation card from my sister with a 1973 postmark remains in the box. I know it’s out of place, but I look at it every year and put it right back inside.

I have recipes from old friends, including two exceptional cooks, Carol Bress (all of hers are meticulously written on index cards with little heart borders and encased in plastic,) and Helen Bosley, who 20 years ago the day after I attended a cocktail party in her house and proclaimed how good her broccoli casserole was, a recipe arrived in the mail. The box includes recipes that remind me of my kids as preschoolers. One says, “Parents: We made Apple Crisp in school today. If you want to make it at home, here’s the recipe.” Of course, we did the next day.

Every time I pull the old candy box from the cabinet I think I really should organize the scattered pieces into a tidy collection of recipes. And then I just say, Nah, and replace the rubber band that holds the lid on the box.

I never did find the artichoke dip recipe.

But, I never actually needed it.


Under the Sky

For two days the consistently smoggy skies over Beijing were blue, sort of.

Then APEC ended and the heads of state, including President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, returned home. On cue, the skies returned to a murky, smoky pall, ending the brief respite from pollution and the rarified exposure to breathable air.

In the previous week, China had shut down its factories, sent workers on forced vacations, moved cars off the road, and stopped residents from firing up their coal powered heat despite the frigid temperatures. Foreign dignitaries arrived under a naturally blue canopy.

Clean air is that natural resource we sometimes take for granted in America. And frankly, something I worry about given how little environmental work gets done in Congress, and now, given the midterm elections, how much may actually get done, and not for the better.

I’m bothered by this on a couple of fronts. First, I hate how cavalierly some of us regard our environment. We ignore the recent reports from scientists, of no particular partisanship, advising that things are bad, really bad, and getting worse. I’m bothered that the students in my college classes are smart and hardworking but they’ve grown up hearing the terms “climate change” and “global warming” so often the phrases no longer carry any weight. Not unlike when we said Xerox to mean copying, and Kleenex to mean tissues.

I know it’s impressive that Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping last week reached an historic agreement to cut emissions by 2025, but according to an editorial in the New York Times, the amount of damage that will be caused in the next 11 years will pretty much make that a wash.

Still, I suppose it’s something.

I walked early this morning with a neighbor. A few clouds cluttered the blue sky. Many trees still held selfishly to their last clusters of brilliant red and orange leaves, their discards scattered at their bases like exquisite quilts. I thought: It’s gorgeous here. And there is no reason on earth why it shouldn’t be.

What occurs in China and the U.S. and elsewhere in the world matters to everyone. Climate change is not a local problem. No matter where we are, we share this space. Like the song from the movie “An American Tail,” And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby. It helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky.

I can’t seem to get that song out of my head.

Hopefully, neither can you.


Games of Yore

The other night while finishing chicken satay in a nearby Korean restaurant I watched Jon mindlessly use his chopsticks to pick up the empty skewers. It got me thinking about old fashioned childhood games.

Specifically, pick up sticks. I remember spending hours by myself or with my friends sitting cross-legged on the basement floor or on the front porch adeptly lifting each colorful wooden stick without jostling, even narrowly, neighboring sticks.

And that got me thinking about jacks.

Does anyone play them anymore? How much time did I invest in playing jacks, either alone or in competition with a friend? Ultimately, our goal was to successfully grasp a handful of metal jacks AND the ball.

And that got me thinking about dress-up. My girlfriends and I would don our mothers’ swing skirts and heels and pretend we were running a household. Today the dress-up costumes kids wear are fashionably different – think super heroes – and, fortunately, their role playing has evolved, too.

And that got me thinking about hide and seek.

All those humid summer nights congregating outside with the kids in the neighborhood. The thick interior branch on the massive Higan cherry in our backyard proved a favorite hiding place for me. In retrospect, it amazes me how many times I commandeered the same spot without getting caught. Eventually, my boundless confidence led me to climb higher into the tree.

And that got me thinking about stickball. Well, actually, it got Jon thinking. As a city kid he and his friends used a cut-off broom stick and a tennis ball and any yard or street as a suitable playing field.

And that got me thinking about board games.

Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, Clue, Monopoly, Life. Sometimes we’d play with friends, sometimes with our siblings. More often than not, it was cold and rainy outside, which served as justification for being indoors.

And that got me thinking about card games.

WAR, Concentration, Fish, Gin. My grandparents would sit at the card table where my parents held their monthly bridge games, and play cards with my sister and me. Remember, Susie, how Grammy used to say, “What a sad story!” when she got dealt a bad hand?

All of this, of course, got me thinking about today’s games for children. In a playing field vastly altered by computers and technology, it’s all okay – albeit very different – so long as they are still having fun.


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