Some Books & A Play

Books I’ve read recently:

In Boris Fishman’s A Replacement Life, magazine journalist Slava Gelman interviews old Russian Jews in Brooklyn, NY, and files Holocaust restitution claims on their behalf, massaging the facts a bit here and there to fortify the applications. What’s truth? Is he justified in stretching it?

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clarke will make your food shopping trips take even longer. Chemist David Leveraux works as a flavorist-in-training, testing a new artificial sweetener, “Sweetness #9.” He notices unusual side effects in the laboratory rats and monkeys, and years later, his wife becomes obese, his daughter unresponsive, and his son speaks without verbs. Is the sweetener to blame?

Barbara Kingsolver novels are usually provocative and Flight Behavior is no exception. Climate change in the form of a strange monarch butterfly migration in rural Tennessee provides the background for Dellarobia Turnbow’s transformation. Full of characters—local townsfolk, scientists, and media caricatures. Funny yet serious.

Unlike Edan Lepucki’s California. This apocalyptic story, an  end of the United States as we know it, due to extreme weather—hurricanes, earthquakes, snowstorms—offers little hope and a huge dose of cynicism, yet I still felt compelled to finish it, eager to know how and if the protagonists survive.

Ash Thompson is a soldier for the Union in the Civil W and a woman in disguise. She left her husband to tend the farm so she could do her part. Laird Hunt’s Neverhome portrays the horrors of war through Ash’s eyes and voice.

And finally, a play. William Luce’s 1976 Tony Award winning  “The Belle of Amherst” brings us inside Emily Dickinson’s 1883 home. A one -character play, this revival stars Joely Richardson. Told through letters and poems, we hear the despair the writer felt upon her constant rejection of her poems from the Atlantic Monthly. She describes her life, dispelling her image as being shy, offering bits of childhood memories and her black cake recipe. This quote stuck with me: “Hold your parents tenderly; the world will seem a strange and lonely place when they are gone.”



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Football Fumbles

It’s fall. Pumpkins and cider. Foliage and sweaters. And football.

While the NFL struggles with its own public relations nightmares— accusations of child abuse and domestic violence, here in New Jersey incidents involving the sport are grabbing headlines.

In Sayreville, the school board cancelled the high school football season after reports of hazing by senior players against freshmen. The details are starting to emerge, including sodomy, that occurred on a daily basis.

The superintendent shared that his own son had been a victim of bullying, and given the criminal nature of the allegations, bravely cancelled the entire season. The community is outraged, claiming how football is in its blood. Little attention is given to the victims, who I imagine are afraid that by coming forward, they’ll become victims once again. The bystanders—who witnessed the crimes and others who knew about them—have remained silent.

In Lakewood, four football teammates were arrested for alleged involvement in a series of armed robberies.

In my town, Summit, last month, a silly tradition – blocking an open doorknob between adjoining locker rooms with a banana intended to prevent opposing teams from overhearing or peering in – was interpreted as a racial taunt by an opposing team comprised of mostly African American players.

Despite claims that this wasn’t the intent, the incident is being investigated by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and the school has repaired the broken doorknob.

Looking at what’s going on at the national level, it’s not hard to imagine that some of this behavior began early. Bullying is repugnant. Victims aren’t the ones to blame; they need to be protected so they’re comfortable naming names. The players involved in these incidents and fellow team members need to reflect on the behavior and find productive ways to use their time.  Let’s hope they learn about bullying and work to prevent it.




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Turning Night Into Day

Turning Night Into Day. Reblogged from Naomi Baltuck.

A perfect Yom Kippur message.

Posted in art, holidays, Judaism, parenting, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Not my Grandmother’s Honey Cake

The mixed aromas of honey, strong coffee, whiskey, orange juice and cinnamon are wafting through the house. I’m making honey cake in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that begins tomorrow at sunset. Honey cake and dipping apples in honey symbolize the wish for a good and sweet year.

My mother, in her kitchen, is making her famous chicken soup and matzo balls, which we eat on every holiday not only Passover. Hers are the fluffiest and lightest ever, made so by the addition of some club soda. My daughter in-law is gathering the traditional foods associated with the holiday, beets, dates, pomegranates and fish heads among them. She’s baking challah with the help of two of the grands.

In my kitchen, I think of my grandmothers, who dutifully prepared for holiday meals. My paternal grandmother Rosie made the best apple strudel. Her recipe, passed to my siblings and cousins, doesn’t include exact measurements. She expertly knew how much of each ingredient to add. My grandmother Mae made chopped liver and chocolate cake. Neither used recipes for soups and stews.

Unlike my honey cake. I read different recipes. My daughter in-law asked me to make the one I made in May for a grandson’s Upsherin, eaten to symbolize the sweetness of learning that begins at age 3.  I couldn’t remember which recipe I used. Loaded with ingredients, it’s hard finding the right balance of not too sweet and not too dry. Hadassah magazine features a recipe it claimed never fails, as long a you follow the directions exactly.  I compared it to ones I’ve made and decided to try it.

On Thursday, I’ll listen to my son blow the shofar at the Columbia University Chabad. Later in the day, we’ll walk to the Hudson River and join thousands of New York City Jews in the Tashlich ceremony, symbolically  casting away our sins into the water.

L’Shana Tova, Happy New Year to all.


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California Cycling


Through redwood forests

We spent five days cycling through Napa and Sonoma counties, taking in the vast panoramas of California, from hot desert climbs to cool coastal descents.



Open roads, no traffic


Small bridges


Bikes get premier parking.

Bikes get premier parking.

And park where no car can

And park where no car can


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Conquering Fear: The Golden Gate Bridge

We’re in San Francisco for a few days visiting our daughter before a 5 day bike trip touring Napa and Sonoma wine country.

My husband assembled our Ritchey bikes—called breakaways—that come apart and load into such huge boxes that people often ask if we’re in a band. He put them together (I went to a yoga class a the local Y), and we wanted to test them out before the journey begins tomorrow. Everyone suggested  we ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and then take the ferry back from Sausalito, a picturesque residential community across the bay.



I knew the bridge would make me nervous. Though a strong rider, I’m not good with large crowds, high winds, and narrow bike lanes, especially when the traffic is two-way. I’m not a city rider, preferring bucolic country roads over buses and trucks. San Fran is a bike friendly city; bike lanes and paths prevail and bike rental companies abound.

We rode along the Embarcadero waterfront through the park before the bridge. I hesitated before joining the steady stream of cyclists. When among riders of varying abilities, on all sorts of bikes, one can’t anticipate speed or sudden stops. It was windy and traffic quite heavy for a Saturday, though the bike lane is safely fenced from both the ocean and cars.

And then I went. I rode steady and slowly, keeping eyes ahead; ignoring both the scenery and the water below. There are three curves, where the lane circles the bridge supports that made everyone slow down, some were taking photos. At one point my husband stopped to take his camera out, I told him if I got off I’d never get back on. A woman fell in front of me, knocked over by the wind. She missed my wheel by an inch and grazed her knee. She admitted it was her first time using bike clips for her feet— not the best way to start out I thought.

The end was in sight and I made it across, happy to dismount for the photo. The ride to Sausalito took about 10 minutes and we returned to San Francisco by ferry.

Today we’re hiking in Marin County and Monday start the bike tour.


Bike tools & pump available for all to use on the waterfront.

Bike tools & pump available for all to use on the waterfront.




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Grandmother Dairy: “Snunch”

My eldest grandson wanted his own grandma day since his sister had one while he was in camp. I planned we’d hike at a county park and visit the nature center there.

In the car, we listened to his favorite cds by storyteller and singer, Bill Harley. When my kids were small, we often vacationed in Maine, driving from New Jersey. We discovered Bill Harley and became addicted to his wonderful stories and songs that appeal to every age. It is truly a delight to see how our son’s children, especially the eldest grandson, loves the same stories his father did. I’ve given many cds as presents—they are perfect for long car trips and truly engage the entire family. Between Bill Harley and the story telling from his father and grandfather, SY is learning to tell his own stories. He told his father, “I never get bored because I have so many stories and songs in my head.”

It was a hot day to be hiking so we chose a short trail, then visited the nature center, where we learned about nocturnal animals in a “night theater,” and then the playground. Returning home, I realized we hadn’t had a snack and it was nearly lunchtime. My grandson dismissed the idea to skip snack and just have lunch and suggested we have “snunch,”  to ensure we had both.

Later in the day, while waiting for his parents to arrive, we read books that I’d saved and were favorites of my kids.

Here are some titles they love at the moment:

Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen.

The Paper Princess by Elisa Kleven.

The Bookshop Dog by Cynthia Rylant.

Solomon The Rusty Nail and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.

School starts next week. I’ll see them less and they’ll be tired after their school day. I can’t wait to hear their stories and read them more books.

photo-58 photo-57 photo-59



Posted in Books, Education, environment, Family, Grandchildren, Museums, galleries, Nature, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments