Tuesday, June 30, 2009


A rainy, windy, rumbly evening in the Adirondacks, when it is just me and Hedgehog in the little cabin by the lake, could set a girl's imagination on a rather dark path...

It is my very favorite sort of evening, we have no expectation of activity beyond supper, hot chocolate, a book, the knitting project in my lap...but as the sun goes down on the drear, and the last light, though dim, fades, and the windows rattle and the curtains stir, the hundred-year-old pines press closer around the house, the dark forest behind and the darker lake before us seem to swallow up the little house in their insistent primeval wildness, and I...

am, I will admit, just a bit...


The feeling is deliciously shivery and cozy all at the same time, until the hour grows later, and longer, and I am the last one awake, and I begin to feel that I am somehow the night watch, and...

I am not sure that I want to be the night watch, after all...

I do not want to watch for anything...

and I do not want to listen for anything...
not for the movement in the trees, the slight hitch of latch...

or even my own quiet intake of breath.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Victorian Dream

Last night I dreamed very vividly that I was visiting a blogging friend's house--let's not say who it was, I'll retain some dignity--and I caught a cold. This friend had a servant (yes, a servant, do any of you have servants?) prepare a posset for me to drink in bed, propped up against some very large white feather pillows in a very grand room. The greater part of the dream consisted of this friend telling me in detail the ingredients of the drink: cream (hm), 1 tablespoon of the very best whiskey in the house, spices, then filled the rest of the way up with the poorer whiskey and heated nearly to boiling. I have no idea whether this is a proper posset, let's just say it is the recipe for a proper dream posset. It was served in a thick white mug, and I could actually feel the steam on my face. The posset was delicious (I could taste it in the dream) and salubrious. So salubrious that I woke this morning feeling physically bolstered. Can I attribute it to the imaginary drink? Perhaps.

Why did I dream this? A number of months ago, readers offered cold remedies for my consideration. That has been hanging about in my subconscious. And it may have had something to do with the fact that I've been reading a combination of Henry James and Mary Burchell, and have been writing a great deal as well, and so am thinking in terms of descriptions of things, and then too I've been thinking romantic, Victorian thoughts during my waking hours. Perhaps in one of these books a servant, on behalf of a solicitous hero, even brought a posset to a girl with a cold, I can't remember.

I ask you, have you ever dreamed of this strange inchoate interwebs shadow-world? Has it ever been made corporeal during your sleeping hours, have the half-faced people ever come, fully realized, to life? It's never happened to me before last night, and I'm not sure whether I like it entirely.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Adirondack Light

outside my kitchen door, 6/24/09, 8 p.m.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

--W.B. Yeats

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Husband

My husband, as a young soldier in the 101st Airborne. That's him, back row far left, squinting into the sun. He really was just a boy!

He's my hero. He's brave and loyal and has done many things that I have only read about. He's also the smartest person I've ever met, and a true intellectual. He's tough when he must be and also kind when you least expect it--in fact, he has a sweetness and generosity of spirit that inspires me every day. All of this makes him absolutely impossible to pigeonhole. You just can't categorize the fellow, now matter how much you might think you can, knowing just one set of facts about his life. Most of all, I love how he consistently astonishes the people who try to stereotype him. He is a living reproach to anyone who thinks that people can be packaged up into neat little boxes; in this age of division and thoughtless ideology I meet more and more people who believe in easy labels. My husband's entire complex existence proves them wrong.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Our house in Brooklyn is nearly 150 years old; once long ago it was right by the docks, now the docks are cut off by the expressway...but sometimes I swear that I can still smell the salt smell coming in on a breeze, especially on a summer night when my imagination is hard at work.

I like to climb the narrow spiral staircase to our crooked little roof deck, and lean on the wooden rail that looks out over the rooftops to the East River. Sometimes on nights like these, I think that Brooklyn is my suitor, a rough and beautiful boy pressing close next to me, whispering so quietly that I can't even hear the words, offering me the water and the windows all lit up with people's lives.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Leah in the Mediterranean Sea

Megan posted here about her favorite picture of herself and, well, go visit her because it's a beautiful post and you should read it for yourself.

I'm taking up her challenge and posting my favorite picture of myself, taken years ago when I was a rabbinical student living in Jerusalem. Here I am standing in the Mediterranean. The sea was so lovely that day, and I felt lucky to be there in the midst of that loveliness. I remember everything about that moment, the smell of the water, the warmth of it, the sun on my arms. I was so happy and felt so connected to nature, to God, to the world.

It also reveals a funny thing about me, which is that although I am a water baby and must swim every chance I get, in ocean, lake, pond, or pool, I cannot stand bathing suits! I've never liked them, that clammy clinging feel is so claustrophobic. Hence the rather prudish-looking outfit pictured above. If I had my druthers I'd always be kitted out in those crazy Victorian striped things, or a calico dress like Laura wears to the swimming hole in "On the Banks of Plum Creek." Or to the other extreme and perhaps best, nothing at all...which is, I believe, how we are really meant to swim; if you've ever done it, you know...and if you never have, you must...(I know I digress)

So then, too, this photo shows me embracing my quirks without apology. When I look at this, time telescopes obligingly so that I am back there, my toes in the sand, the water rushing about my ankles...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Burning the Candle

I'm working on a book. Good lord, who isn't? but what the hell, I like my own writing so I figure I'm just keeping myself entertained, if nothing else.

This book was brewing for awhile, and I've mentioned it before; I wrote a hundred pages or so, and then put it aside. But in the last couple of weeks, it's come to life again, seemingly of its own accord. The problem is, it wakes up at night. Late, late at night. After everyone goes to bed but me, the characters need attention.

So I drink an entire pot of coffee and go at it. I haven't been getting to sleep before 4 a.m. I'm up at 7:30. I feel certain that's not enough sleep. Seriously, I'm a girl who needs 9 hours.

But I find that I'm almost enjoying the strange, dreamy feeling that I have during the day. Perhaps it's just that I'm not quite sleep-deprived enough yet. But I like the middle of the night too, the privacy. And sometimes I think of all the people I run into here, from other countries and time zones all around the world, up and about in their daylight hours while I sit writing in the dead dark of the Brooklyn night. I like that thought.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Back In

I've been due for a crush on someone other than Severus for a long time now. Robert Pattinson didn't really take. Thankfully, into the breach steps Jack White. Crushes on imaginary people, I have found, are the glue that holds my marriage together. I would say that I am as true to Sarge as anyone has ever been since the dawn of marriage, with nary a flagging faith, never an episode of indiscretion of any sort, and I would also say that he is my best and only love on this earth. However, I seem to be genetically programmed to have crushes. They're not on anyone real, but goodness are they potent.

In life, I have cast my lot in with a consummate man, a strong sort who is never ever dull, but who is always there right next to me.

In fantasy, I seem to prefer these louche sorts, pale and ironic, Byronic, perhaps in possession of a slightly weakened moral center.

Golly, will you just look at that pasty dodgy balladeer with the unfortunate white socks? I'll bet he's a biter.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I Love/I Hate

First of all, I love memes. I can't help it. This one came from Megan. Sort of like the equivalent of summer beach reading. Not too taxing, but fun.

Things I Love/Things I Hate:

1. Most Loved Food: Pizza. Boring, I know. But I love pizza and could eat it for every meal for a year.
Most Hated Food: Cooked green pepper.  Ugh.

2. Most Loved Person: Two-way tie between Hedgie and Sarge.  And I've just got to throw my sister and mom in the mix there too.

Most Hated Person: I can't say it here.  So I'll go for my second-most-hated person, Hitler.  Yes, Hitler is only my second-most-hated.

3. Most Loved Job: Teaching college.  Sometimes I really miss it.  

Most Hated Job: Door-to-door for Greenpeace.  Honestly, I wasn't even sure what they did.  I couldn't defend the organization against the hollerers.  And frankly, I wasn't keen on interrupting people's dinner anyway.  I sucked at it, and quit after three terrifying days.  Funnily enough, I'm still not sympathetic to the Greenpeace-ers when they ring my doorbell.  Oh and a well-kept secret of Greenpeace is that a large portion of your donation goes directly to pay the door-to-door nudges.  

4. Most Loved City: New York City

Most Hated City: New York City

5. Most Loved Band: A tie between The Pogues and The Who

Most Hated Band: Rage Against the Machine.  

6. Most Loved Website: 
The Onion

Most Hated Website: Any website that prominently features any celebrity.

7. Most Loved t.v. Program: M.A.S.H.

Most Hated t.v. Program: Rachel Maddow.

8. Most Loved Movie: "Velvet Goldmine"

Most Hated Movie: "Religulous" and I've never even seen it!

9. Most Loved Artist: Courbet

Most Hated Artist: Monet.  It's just too pretty.  His art is like the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction."  It's become a cliche and I can't even see it clearly any more.

10. Most Loved Book: "These Happy Golden Years" by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Most Hated Book: "In the Belly of the Beast" by Jack Henry Abbott.  For many reasons, not the least of which is that it's crappily written.

11. Most Loved Shop: The Lion Brand Yarn Studio in NYC

Most Hated Shop: Salvation Army, Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn (don't get me wrong, I love Salvy, but this particular branch is where the cockroaches crawl off to die).

12. Most Loved Organization: The U.S. Army

Most Hated Organization: NAMBLA.

13. Most Loved Historical Event: When we elected the first woman president.  Oh wait, shit, that hasn't happened yet.  

Most Hated Historical Event: I'm with Megan on this one: The Holocaust.

14. Most Loved Sport: I don't follow any sports cause I'm a lame-ass girl, but I love the sound of football and baseball on the t.v. or radio when Sarge watches it or listens to it.  I think that sound is cheerful.

Most Hated Sport: ditto above.  

15. Most Loved Piece of  Tech: My ipod

Most Hated Piece of Tech: My cell phone

16. Most Loved Annual Event: The Passover Seder.

Most Hated Annual Event: The "Christmas costs less at Walmart" version of Christmas.

17. Most Loved Daily Task: tucking Hedgehog into bed and giving her goodnight kisses.

Most Hated Daily Task: Shlepping groceries up four flights of stairs.

18. Most Loved Comedian: Jerry Stiller

Most Hated Comedian: Janeane Garofolo.  Smug.

Your turn.  If you're bored or have insomnia and need something to do!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Easy Rider

Some might say I'm a glutton for punishment...some might say I'm an adventuress. Let's just split the difference and call me both.

My sis, Hedgehog, and I are going "abroad" in a few weeks on a road trip. It will culminate in Texas to visit some of the inlawish relatives, but the majority of the trip will be a drive through the deep South (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and on the way back, Tennessee and Kentucky), stopping willy nilly, hither and yon, wherever the mood takes us within reason.

We'll stop at Stuckey's (do they still exist?), and see the giant peach and maybe Graceland and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne--Sarge was a Screaming Eagle, so I have an especial fondness. Plus, the Fort houses the 101st museum, with all the Hitler swag they grabbed from his Eagle's Nest (a sterling calling card bowl, among other oddities). I've been there once, but I'd love to show Hedgehog where her dad was for part of his army stint...

We have other desired stopping points, major and minor, but I am welcoming all suggestions for good places to check out between Brooklyn and Texas--if you've been somewhere cool, if you've heard of something odd or fun to look at or eat, let me know.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Clock-Watching on a Saturday Afternoon in Brooklyn, circa 1955

My mother the other afternoon told Hedgehog a familiar story, while I listened in interest (not for the first or even tenth time) to a tale of Old Brooklyn, one without plot or denouement, but peopled by characters...

Every Saturday when she was young, my mother would visit her Grandma Katie in the old apartment on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.

Grandma Eva and mom would set off in the morning, in rain or wind or sunshine, and ride the subway to Great-Grandma's apartment building. Each and every Saturday bore a tedious similarity to the Saturday before and the Saturday to come, with few exceptions: on the way, they might stop at a deli for some luncheon meats and pickles to bring along. And on one memorable occasion, my grandmother bought my mother a gigantic stuffed pink seal at the old Abraham & Strauss down on Fulton Street. My mom lugged this thing to Ocean Parkway and back that day, and after its adventure it settled into a long lifetime, two generations of children loving it to gray, homely, fur-less oblivion...

But, as my mother tells it, these weekly jaunts were, by and large, an exercise in abject boredom.

There was a momentary flurry of excitement upon their arrival, as mom would run to check out the table; my Great-Grandma Katie was a talented baker, and invariably had laid out a spectacular display: rugelach, tortes and jelly rolls, babkas and cakes of all variety to tempt the family. However, accompanying this treat was the time-honored Jewish Catch-22, the passive-aggressive food-pushing/fat-commenting dichotomy which drove so many many generations of Jewish girls to the brink of despair. The innocent-looking sweets were in fact a cruel trap, of which one was aware but fell into nonetheless each and every time. My mother was allowed and expected to take a single piece of something. Were she to reach for more, as naturally any child confronted with a bounty of sweets would do, she would suffer a strident critique of her little female form, present and potential. But reach she did, how could she not? And stuffed before the commentary began...

--"Bubbe!" Hedgehog interrupts this, suddenly inflamed. "that's not fair! Why couldn't you have the second piece of cake?"

--"Hedgehog," says Bubbe sadly. "They were very punitive back then."

--"If you put out all that cake, you'd let me have the second piece though."

--"Yes, Hedgehog, I would."

After the Gauntlet of Sweets was thrown by Great-Grandma Katie and retrieved by mom, the challenge accepted and the consequence suffered, the shame swallowed along with the babka...the afternoon settled into dull torpor.

While Grandma Eva and her mother chatted and crocheted the hours away, my mother sought ways to prevent herself from slipping into a boredom coma. Every week, she says, she ventured into her grandma's bedroom and pulled a book from the shelf--always the same book--a biography of Ignaz Semmelweis, who discovered that by washing one's hands, one could prevent puerperal fever. Week after week, she lay on her grandma's meticulously crocheted counterpane and read of Ignaz Semmelweis and his great accomplishments.

--"Bubbe!" here Hedgehog interrupts again. "Why didn't you bring your own books and crayons?!"

--"Hedgehog," says Bubbe. "I never thought of it."

When she was done reading, she wandered from room to room, staring at the familiar worn trinkets and tzochkes, the antimacassars and china lamps, the few books and the Judaica, the view out the sparklingly clean windows of the wide Parkway, the benches, and the Saturday strollers. And of course, glancing at the clock every moment or two.

--"Bubbe!" says Hedgehog. "Why couldn't you just play a game by yourself for an hour or two?"

--"Hedgehog," says Bubbe, shaking her head. "I just didn't have the inner resources that you do."

--"Oh." says Hedgehog.

The visit would often end up, when the weather was clement, on the benches outside the apartment building. Ocean Parkway, enormously wide then and now, has a famously iconic median, lined with trees and benches, where babushkas, bubbes, and bubbelehs have clustered since time immemorial to idle away a Saturday afternoon.

My grandma and great-grandma would continue their conversation out in the sunshine, while mom sat on the wrought-iron fence behind the bench, staring into space, waiting and watching for her dad, my Grandpa Max, to pick them up in the car and drive them home again.

--"Bubbe!" Hedgehog pounds her fists in frustration. "why didn't you bring your roller-skates?"

--"Hedgehog, that's a good idea. I wish I'd known you back then."

--"That was a terrible visit, Bubbe!"

--"Yes, Hedgehog," my mom says laughing. "It was."

*Photo: "Bench to Infinity" by Buraianto, Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Travelin' Soldier

You don't ordinarily, in the course of things, grapple with existential questions, the really heavy ones, during an end-of-the-year school performance. But there was me today, sitting on the floor in the school lobby, listening to my daughter and her friends, and the whole second grade, sing "Travelin' Soldier," the tears escaping down my cheeks although I tried very hard to blink them away.

I felt an indescribable range of conflicting emotions, as I watched Hedgehog, who is emerging from the cocoon of childhood into an awareness of the world and her place in it, watched her sway to the music, singing with so much feeling in her little soprano voice, unself-consciously as only an 8-year-old can, about grown-up things, war and violence and desperate terror and  first love and loneliness:

Two days past eighteen
He was waiting for the bus in his army green
Sat down in a booth in a cafe there
Gave his order to a girl with a bow in her hair
He's a little shy so she gives him a smile
And he said would you mind sittin' down for a while
And talking to me,
I'm feeling a little low
She said I'm off in an hour and I know where we can go

So they went down and they sat on the pier
He said I bet you got a boyfriend but I don't care
I got no one to send a letter to
Would you mind if I sent one back here to you

I cried
Never gonna hold the hand of another guy
Too young for him they told her
Waitin' for the love of a travelin' soldier
Our love will never end
Waitin' for the soldier to come back again
Never more to be alone when the letter said
A soldier's coming home

So the letters came from an army camp
In California then Vietnam
And he told her of his heart
It might be love and all of the things he was so scared of
He said when it's getting kinda rough over here
I think of that day sittin' down at the pier
And I close my eyes and see your pretty smile
Don't worry but I won't be able to write for awhile

One Friday night at a football game
The Lord's Prayer said and the Anthem sang
A man said folks would you bow your heads
For a list of local Vietnam dead
Crying all alone under the stands
Was a piccolo player in the marching band
And one name read but nobody really cared
But a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair

I am not really a Dixie Chicks fan, they and I are politically an ocean apart and I admit to having been offended in the past, but some things pierce the protective armor of ideology, whether or not we want to let them in.  Give this a listen, and then imagine 60 8-year-olds singing it with sweet redemptive force:

*photo: "Vietnam 1969" by Bobster855 from Flickr Creative Commons