New Jersey Pump Our Own Gas? Forget About It!

There are many wonderful things about living in New Jersey.

From where I live, I can get to the beach, the forests, or New York City in under an hour drive. I’m about 20 minutes to an international airport too.

The biking is among the state’s best kept secrets.

The tomatoes and corn are like none other anywhere. It’s the Garden State after all.

Ok, maybe it’s one of the most congested states in the Union, but probably one of the most diverse. Every type of ethnic food can be found, whether at a restaurant or a grocery.

It’s got its share of famous people born here like Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen. Thomas Edison lived and invented here. And so on.

And one of the best things? You don’t have to pump your own gas. In fact, it’s illegal to hop out of your car and manhandle the pump. When the temperatures sink below freezing or rise above 90, it’s quite nice to stay in the car. And I don’t miss the gasoline smell left on my hands.

Now a few state legislators want to remove the 1949 Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act, designed to protect consumers from petroleum mishaps. They claim allowing motorists to pump their own gas would enable station owners to offer lower prices and stay open 24 hours without worrying about finding employees to work overnight shifts.

Only Oregon prohibits self-serve pumping but is also considering lifting the ban.

Public opinion seems to prefer keeping the pumping to the pros.  I sure hope so!

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NYC Ballet Day: Cousins!

Yesterday was our ballet day,  an annual spring tradition where I meet my mother at Grand Central Station in New York City and escort her to Lincoln Center where we join her cousin Robert for lunch and a ballet matinee. photo 3-4

Our selfie!

Our selfie!

Robert is seven years younger than my mother yet they grew up together (their mothers were sisters) and lived nearby, seeing each other often. Travels, work and life took them in different directions—my mother to Connecticut and farm life; Robert, an attorney, who lived and worked for many years in Atlanta. They’d get together at family events as schedules allowed.

Robert’s hobbled by illness and requires a walker, and my mother uses a cane to walk in public.   This meet up is truly special. Robert insists on treating us to the day; he purchases tickets well in advance and also books the restaurant.

After a sumptuous lunch at Lincoln, we settled into our seats at the Metropolitan Opera House, awaiting the curtains opening to the American Ballet Theatre’s afternoon performance of three ballets, Les Sylphides, Jardin Aux Lilas, and Rodeo, featuring African American ballerina Misty Copeland.

“Now we escape reality for a few hours,” Robert said. photo-99

Of course, the ballets were wonderful. Music, dance, costumes and sets.

I remembered how my mother used to take me and my sister to the ballet when we were kids. The trip to NYC by train from Connecticut was always an adventure. We’d take the subway and sometimes meet my mother’s Aunt Sylvia (Robert’s mother) at Bonwit Tellers, where she worked. She loved to show us off and we’d take advantage of her discount. While I don’t recall individual performances, I know the applause and copious curtain calls that brought the dancers outside the curtains impressed me.

After the performance, we attempted to hail a taxi. One driver stopped but when he saw that  two passengers required assistance and extra time, he left us at the curb. We finally got a cab and the two cousins sat together in the back seat, talking the entire time as if neither years nor distance had ever separated them. Robert even asked the driver if he’d just drive them around a bit more; alas, it was the end of his shift.

I escorted my mother to the platform and saw her safely onto the train.

Posted in art, daughters, Family, Music, New York City, Theater, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Krunch Kitchen: From Food Pantry to Granola & a Giveaway

After staying home to raise three small children close in age, Janet Schwamm C89A7191-Edit felt it was time to “come out from under,” and began volunteering at the Interfaith Food Pantry  about five miles from her suburban New Jersey home.

As the children grew and needed her less, Janet increased her hours at the non-profit organization, including serving on the board. Her pride in the organization is evident. “We started serving about 15 people a week; now it’s over 150.”

For Janet, a chemical engineering major who worked in technical sales and marketing, the food pantry offered balance between being at home, working part-time as a consultant, and volunteering in a cause she’s passionate about. “We live in one of most industrial countries in the world. The fact that many people don’t know where their next meal is coming from is a crime; to have the ability to do something and do nothing is an even greater crime,” she said.

Yet as her  children entered college, she wanted to contribute to the family’s finances. “I felt I still needed to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up,” she said, admitting she placed self-imposed obstacles before her. “I’d think about all the ‘buts and what ifs” that could take up my time and perhaps detract from my family life and the food pantry. “ (She also serves as a literacy tutor to 2nd & 3rd grade boys.)

She prioritized. Food and the food pantry topped her list. “For me, I grew up with a grandmother whose motto was ‘food is love.’ And I believe it too.” Janet loves to eat, cook, read about food, and eat in restaurants, trying new dishes and learning about different cultures. She’d always made her own granola, having tweaked recipes for years and perfecting two Passover concoctions: matzo crack, a chocolate covered matzo nut brittle; and matzo granola.

At brunch with her family last December, she announced she was starting a granola business. Then she did nothing except dream about it for the next couple of months. Around the same time, she was recruited to work part-time at a non-profit that would have required she give up the food pantry due to time constraints. She then realized that in her mind at least, she’d already started her business and nothing could lure her away from the food pantry.

Her children helped her create the website and Krunch Kitchen  was born. Janet hosted an open house that drew 30-40 people and she’s filled more than 150 orders in less than six weeks. The granola business has taken over the first floor of her colonial home; though Janet hopes to find commercial kitchen space soon so she can cook larger batches.

Janet’s overall goal is combine her two loves: feeding her family by building a successful business, possibly adding other crunchy products like biscotti and toffee nut brittle; and growing enough to be able to hire some of the food pantry patrons to work with her.

Janet has offered to giveaway one 1 lb. bag of her original granola.

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Enter a comment below and I’ll draw a name randomly at the end of next week. (Continental US only). I can vouch for the granola. It’s delicious and I’ve already given a few bags away as gifts.


(photos by Abigail Schwamm)

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Evolution of a Matzo Ball


Mom’s matzo ball secret is out! No need to wait for a Jewish holiday– good all year round.

Originally posted on bestofbarbara:

At my daughter’s suggestion, and for the sake of posterity, I will share how I make matzo balls. It’s only a short while since we celebrated Passover and the family members are still craving my matzo balls.

When I was a young bride I was going to show the world that I could do every thing. In my first attempt at making matzo balls, (knadlach), I used the recipe on the box of Manischewitz matzo meal, which sounded pretty much like my mother’s and Marty’s mother’s.

Then we used chicken fat for shortening, and we’d render the fat with onions, which provided a distinctive taste and a wonderful aroma when cooking, but involved extra work and cleanup. Some years later, chicken fat was among the fats that were considered bad for the heart, and has gone by the wayside. I substitute melted margarine; not so healthy, either, but I don’t…

View original 428 more words

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Oh, Oh Freedom!

We joined my son and his family at his in-laws in Atlanta for Passover, the holiday that commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The meal, the Seder, includes the retelling of the story, often accompanied by songs and traditional foods, particularly the eating of matzo, the unleavened bread the Jews made in their hasty retreat from Egypt.

The day after our family Seder, we caught up with a college friend of my husband’s who is a Reform rabbi in the area. He’d spent the past two nights conducting Seders at local churches, who are eager to understand the holiday’s significance and create better understanding between different faiths.

While chatting about our children and his, he mentioned that his youngest daughter, a college junior, is spending this semester in Holland, having left five days after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris. He relayed how he told her “to not tell anyone she’s Jewish and to not wear her Jewish star necklace” given the potential for Anti-Semitism. He said he felt very strange giving these warnings as a rabbi.

Later in the day, we visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. Set within a peaceful garden,  photo-98the library and museum hold the documents, artifacts and videos from speeches and highlights of Carter’s term in office,

Carter's Oval Office

Carter’s Oval Office

1977-1981, and his Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Carter has dedicated his post-presidential life to bettering human rights around the world.

Our visit coincided with the 47th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I couldn’t help feel the connection between the struggles for freedom that continue to propel current events.

Indiana made news with its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law designed to protect business owners who cite religious beliefs as reasons to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers. Protests and backlash ensued, causing Republican Gov. Mike Pence to amend the law.

Back in New Jersey, we capped the weekend with a spring bike ride through Jockey Hollow, part of a national historical park where Gen. George Washington’s army spent the winter of 1779-1780 during the Revolutionary War. While cycling, I thought of the musical Hamilton  that celebrates the toils of the Founding Fathers seeking freedom from the British.

The desire for freedom continues, whether home or abroad, in speech, in religion, in the workplace, and in marriage.  The Passover Seder includes the reading of the  Haggadah, which describes the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

May next year’s Seders celebrate freedom everywhere.

Posted in celebrations, Civil Rights History, commentary, Cycling, Family, holidays, Judaism, Theater, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Hugs: No Longer Free

In the country where there’s a market for anything, hugs can now be bought. Not prostitution—that’s been around forever— but cuddles by a professional, at an hourly rate.

 The NJ Star Ledger  wrote about how the industry has taken off in the state, earning pro-huggers $80 an hour. Evan Carp started Snuggle Buddies just over two years ago as a way to cope with his own depression following a debilitating illness.

Part of me is saying, “what next?”

And another is saying, “how sad.”

What a commentary about society today that people are so lonely and alone they need to pay for a snuggle to lift their spirits. Perhaps it’s another example of how we’re so plugged into our gadgets, we’re ignoring basic human interaction.

Remember the Free Hugs campaign started by Juan Mann at a Sydney, Australia shopping mall? The movement spread worldwide (this was before the going viral phenomenon), allowing complete strangers to hug in public. Perhaps there needs to be more of these.

The benefits of hugging aren’t new. Relationship counselors have advised 20-second bear hugs twice a day as a way to relieve stress and allow oxytocin to be released, helping us feel better.

We are all trying to make sense of the horrific news this past week that Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz suffered from depression which may have caused him to crash into the French Alps and kill all 150 people on board. The issue of mental stability and illness surfaces once again in the wake of this tragedy.

A hug might not have prevented this event; but more awareness—and yes, more human interaction—may have.

Posted in commentary, Family, Friendship, health, news, parenting | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Hello, May I Speak to…?

“You answered the phone.” I can still hear my Grandma Mae, calling me at my first post-college job. I couldn’t tell if she was impressed that I was important enough to have a phone to answer or dismayed that whatever my job, I had to answer the phone. (The latter is correct.)

She called often, inviting me to dinner at their home in Flushing, Queens. I’d take a long subway ride from Manhattan and my grandfather would meet me at the station for the short drive to their house. We’d set a date and an approximate time. She’d caution me not to “look too pretty” on the subway. Miraculously, my grandfather always arrived on time, despite our lack of communication after the initial conversation.

The phone call apparently is dying. According to a survey cited by A.A. Gill in the April 2015 Vanity Fair, “Goodbye to Hello,” speaking into a phone is the “sixth thing” people use phones for.

As a teenager, I lived on the phone. I’d tie up the house line (the only line) for hours after school. No matter that I’d spent the entire day with my friends. From about 4 to 6, there was so much more to discuss, not least of which was what we planned to wear the next day. After dinner and piano practicing, the calls might resume, to compare homework answers, gossip and to confirm clothing plans. One couldn’t be too careful.

With cell phones, teen life changed a lot. When we moved to another town during my daughter’s high school years, I hardly got to know other parents. In a cell phone culture, kids make their own plans; there are no calling house lines, asking a parent if you could speak to your friend. Drop-offs and pick- ups at friends’ houses were curbside, no need to meet the adults.

Though I have a “smart” phone; I’m not that smart about using it. I don’t text and I don’t use too many apps. I use it to make calls (!) check email, and take photos occasionally.  What’s difficult about the reliance on these apparatus is we assume that if someone is texting or emailing, it means they are present enough to engage in a conversation. We had an experience this weekend with a lawyer and a realtor handling a transaction. Both seemed to have time to send emails; yet neither answered phone calls that would have saved time and prevented several emails crossing resulting in ambiguities and frustration. I guess I’m just not a good multi-tasker.

Customer service for the most part has been relegated to computers as we select what department we need from a menu of choices. Talking to a human is nearly impossible and often not much more helpful. The lack of human interaction pervades all industries.

I hopped over to London last week to see some cousins and friends. I stayed with an American friend, whose husband is British. Her three children have dual passports, making it easier to enter each country when flying back and forth. We chatted about how when she and children enter the US, they go through the faster lines at customs than her husband. She said she loves that when they come to the US, the custom official stamping their passports says “Welcome Home.” I shared that I have Global Entry, a status that allows me to scan my passport at a kiosk and walk through without waiting in any lines, no need to talk with anyone. Technology may make life more efficient but certainly not more social.




Posted in commentary, daughters, Family, Friendship, parenting, Technology, travel, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments